Walt Disney's Magic Touches All of Us

Posts tagged ‘Walt Disney World’

Keeping Walt’s Vision of EPCOT Alive

October 1st of this year marked the 35th Anniversary of EPCOT’s opening day. Since there’s a lot out there on the web to help us relive or discover that landmark day in Walt Disney World history, I am going to stick to my mission statement and explore how one part of the redefinition of EPCOT’s mission statement still may carry some of Walt’s original ideas for what he called “The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow”. For those who would like to learn about or explore some of the Park’s background which Walt had imagined and planned, take a look at my previous posts The Unfulfilled Promise of  E.P.C.O.T. which offers Walt’s original vision for EPCOT and The Legacy of Walt Disney’s E.P.C.O.T where I look at the parts of his plan that are still evident throughout Walt Disney World.

I’m not sure that we can find any of the actual prototyping that the Community WaltWDW-Water-078 hoped would lure big thinkers to EPCOT and encourage the development of life changing creativity. It’s still has the vestiges of a community in the World Showcase. Visitors can interact with ambassadors from different countries who still bring a touch of far off places to the permanent world’s fair. Granted, they are mostly involved with selling something or showing us to a table and serving food. But, I’ve found it’s easy to strike up a conversation with the expat Cast Members who are usually happy to talk proudly about their home country and what it’s like to spend an extended time in the U.S. There aren’t too many places in the world where you can, if you take the time, immerse yourself in the culture, art and products of 11 different countries.

small world

Disneyland Small World dedication

Walt didn’t pass up an opportunity to remind us we lived in a larger world, filled with different people. The Disneyland opening ceremony of It’s a Small World featured over 50 foreign consulate representatives along with children wearing the traditional dress of many countries. Some of these children helped Walt pour water collected from every ocean plus major rivers and bodies of water from around the world into the flume, truly symbolizing the attraction’s theme of global unity. That message was re-affirmed at EPCOT’s opening ceremony  with a special “International Ceremony of the Waters”. Cultural representatives from 29 nations traveled to Epcot from around the world. Each one brought with them a container of water from their nation and poured it into the Fountain of Nations.

fountain of nations

EPCOT Fountain of Nations dedication

While the future of EPCOT is still up in the air and will continue to be redefined by 21st century Disney management and Disney Imagineering, I would be hard pressed to call EPCOT a view of tomorrow. That would have required more attention to the club coolexperimentation Walt had hoped would result in something that would change or improve people’s lives. The only real experimentation going on at EPCOT is trying Coca Cola products at Club Cool. That and Disney working on new things to keep visitors coming to the Park while they complete construction on new attractions in an effort to redefine the Park’s story.

However, I believe that Walt and the WED staff of the sixties and seventies, would not be unhappy with one growing part of EPCOT – the festivals that have become annual occurrences. Walt’s vision of EPCOT was shaped by his turn of the century birth and early 20th century life experience. It was filled confidence that science could solve many of the world’s problems.  Nascent space travel programs, the eradication of terrible diseases like polio were in the news every day, as were problems of poverty, hunger and a desire to move up the economic and social ladders in cities, here and around the world. Walt’s life was certainly defined by his generation’s versions of those changes and issues.

epcot downtown

Herb Ryman Concept Art

It does seem, though, that Walt’s original vision of a community that would attract industry and people to solve problems, educate and improve the world by developing and testing new applications of science and technology is giving way to Park that uses technology, some of it created by the Disney company, to entertain. But, that spirit to open people’s eyes to possibilities for a better world is in full display at the three annual festivals that lure thousands to a park that some would ordinarily have passed on (“Too much walking”, “So many attractions are closed”, “The attractions are so old” “Nothing new to see”).

F&W logo

The oldest one is The EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival. F&W expands the on the menus of the permanent World Showcase restaurants and adds culinary offerings from additional countries, including Belgium, Australia, Brazil, Greece, India, Ireland and others. Visitors get the chance to sample foods from around the world without reservations, big meal prices or long time investments. Themed offerings like Brewer’s Collection, Cheese Studio, Chocolate Studio, or Coastal Eats, make it possible to sample and learn more about culinary, ingredients, beverages, styles and regions. The festival features more than 100 inventive chefs from many countries and the Disney World property, exposing us to ingredients and preparation techniques we might not have had an opportunity to try. As someone who loves to cook, I’ve come back from the Festival or seen reviews of dishes, ingredients or techniques that I can incorporate into my own cooking. Food has become an ambassador, perhaps encouraging or inspiring some to guests to visit other places in the world.

epcot f&w

2015

Flower-and-Garden-Festival-2017The same spirit of invention and education can be seen at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. The Festival promotes the beautification our world. It’s also an opportunity to teach existing, new and innovative ways to translate professional landscape ideas and techniques to our homes and gardens. I would say anything that helps to reduce the destruction of green areas of our fragile planet is good for the Earth and good for us, its inhabitants. No one who visits Disneyland can miss the importance flowers, trees and other landscaping played in Walt’s vision for a modern them park. At the earliest stages of Disneyland construction, the team started planting, to insure Walt’s vision of a beautiful park would be realized on opening day.

Walt Disney World was an even bigger job to tackle, since much of the parks are built on what was once swampland. At WDW, trees and greenery are used to separate and keep the theming in place. Trees at the Wilderness Lodge, for example, keep guests glimpsing, close by, non-wilderness sites like the Future World architecture. In the Festival Center they present, they have a section called Horticulture Heritage which gives guests a peek into the importance Landscape had and has at The Magic Kingdom. To put a bow on things, Garden Rocks, a mini music festival, runs concurrently. Natural beauty and music are good ways to get us to disconnect from our devices and use our senses to rediscover the world around us.

FlowerAndGarden-FestivalCenter-03012017-11

EPCOT_FestivaloftheArts_STYLEGUIDE_111416The most recent addition to the EPCOT is the Epcot International Festival of the Arts.  First presented in January 2017 it featured pieces from Disney historical artist Mary Blair and Herb Ryman art of Epcot, to current Disney artists Joe Kaminski and Costa Alavezos. I think it’s great that guests are being introduced or reminded of the artistic legacy that helped to build the entire Disney empire. Guests are not only surrounded by incredible visions, they’ll watch the creative process live. New art is created and revealed each weekend, so guests can look forward to a new experience every time they go. Other presentations include music and food. Study after study has shown how important the arts are to children and our overall happiness. Since 2018 will be only the second year of this Festival, I’m sure much will change as it has for the other two, more mature events. I would expect, given the planning and thought that Disney puts into all of its projects, that the Arts Festival will offer guests more reasons to visit EPCOT. This is the only EPCOT festival that I haven’t had the chance to experience for myself.

arts fest art

We’ll never know whether Walt’s original vision and purpose for EPCOT would ever have been realized. Recent and announced changes will continue to take the park in new directions that indicate movement away from the prototype community Walt had hoped to create. The Disney organization still l has a lot of work ahead to re-imagine the Park so it remains relevant and popular with guests. Walt had hoped that the Magic Kingdom would help to pay for the development and operation of his Community of Tomorrow, which was where he wanted to focus time attention and the financial means of the Disney Company to change the way we live. That lofty goal will need to be replaced by a more traditional Disney theme park that needs to attract guests and their vacation dollars in a park with unique entertainment value. There has been a recent flurry of announcements about changes to EPCOT including an update to Mission Space, a new ride based on Ratatouille, and replacing The Universe of Energy with a Guardians of the Galaxy coaster. There have been hints and rumors at more changes. I look forward to seeing the new park succeed.

walt film for epcot

Walt presenting “The Florida Project” 1966

Advertisements

Keep your own “Best Of” List

beast confusionThere are days when I feel as if there are forces trying to control how I think. No, I’m not going around wearing a tinfoil hat. And, I’m the last person to spread rumors or subscribe to websites claiming the government is using mind control methods on us like fluoridating the water (See Kubrick’s brilliant movie Dr. Strangelove for more on that cold war plot). But, because I subscribe to a number of Disney and non-Disney sites, I have noticed an increase in the number of emails that feature a “Best of” or “Worst of” or top ten, or top whatever list. Just like the 24 hour news channels are forced to fill the space with talk to keep us watching, it seems like everyone believes that we incapable of making up our own minds about things. So, in order to drive people to their sites, they have to tell us what to think.

listerineIn the past, product and service companies were the ones telling us that our breath was bad, we needed a better car or reminding us what cool people were wearing this year. I can understand a component of selling that needs to convince us to buy their product. This same approach has now become a staple of many Disney related and other websites. The Internet explosion has made us all information junkies. How many of you Disney fans have clicked on a list link thinking that someone knows something about Disney that you don’t, only to be terribly disappointed by the rudimentary nature of the list? In some cases they don’t even seem to care that much about what they’re espousing as the “best”. Where’s the inside info? I thought it was going to totally change my Disney plans or what restaurant I would eat at California Adventure or my outlook on life.

Critics have been at this for more than a century. Certainly, movie box office receipts are affected by reviews. And there’s no doubt that Broadway shows have seen their lives cut Anton-Ego-reviewershort by sharp tongued newspaper critics. Because the price of some of these tickets has become prohibitively expensive, I, for one, don’t want to regret spending my hard earned nickels and dimes, or in the case of a Broadway show, this week’s paycheck, on a bad production. On the other hand, I have thoroughly enjoyed some things that the “knowledgeable” reviewers thought were terrible. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. My choice to not see “Home on the Range” or pass on “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin” wasn’t based on other people’s opinions, but my sense that they were not going to entertain me based on the description.

I’m not the ultimate expert on everything Disney. I’m interested in what others think or learning something new. Some people look forward to Stitch’s Great Escape the way I can’t wait to get back on The Carousel of Progress. No amount of lists are going to convince me the CoP is an anachronistic boor and a waste of my precious time at WDW. I recently received an email from a reputable travel source touting that they had ranked every single ride at Walt Disney World. The article starts with, “This [meticulous] ranking of every [stellar must-see] 3D attraction, [perfectly] themed roller coaster, and out-of-this-world flyer will help you plan the [perfect] trip for speed demons and boat ride obsessives alike. (highlights are mine) Keep in mind that there are no real criteria for the ranking, except for the writer’s opinion. I will bet the money in my back account that my agenda for my last Disneyland vacation is very different from yours. Comparing the Prince Regal Carrousel with Space Mountain is like saying steak is better than chicken.

list

Can you take a vacation to a Disney theme park without consulting someone else’s list for what you should experience? I say yes, you can. There are plenty of websites that provide more than enough information about attractions, shows and restaurants for almost anyone to decide. (Here’s a list of the one’s that I look at regularly) Is there a possibility that you’ll be disappointed? Sure. But, whoever told you that life was always guaranteed to deliver on all our expectations? It doesn’t mean that your whole vacation will be ruined by finding that It’s a Small World was not for you. Doing even the smallest amount of research would have easily told you that it wasn’t going to be a thrill ride. Doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy yourself. At a recent trip to Disneyland I rode Alice in Wonderland for the first time. As a great admirer of Mr. Disney, shame on me for not riding one of the attractions that was designed during his lifetime. I enjoyed the attraction, but probably would not go out of my way to ride again. But, I wasn’t kicking myself for taking the time to give it a try.  Just as I’ve tried Stitch’s Great Escape but will definitely, not go on it again. The point is, neither ride is likely to be on anyone’s top ten. But, I made up my own mind. I didn’t have someone make it for me.

As much s I enjoy a Disney theme park trip, It think approaching every trip just like the last one is a sure fire way to make the the parks seem boring. Adding some new things and leaving time for the unexpected is just the ticket to making each trip more fun and memorable. It’s more than likely that my “Best of” list, including which parks to visit, where to eat and what attractions to ride are going will include some favorites and a rotating list of other things to do. Not only are there new attractions and shows to check out, but there is probably a different mix of people going. I’m getting to the age where the addition of younger children will make it necessary to start adding rides like Dumbo back into our itinerary. And, one never know what kind of surprise you  might stumble upon. Character interactions, street performers, maybe even some Disney magic provided by a cast member.

Even though life might be a crap shoot sometimes, you shouldn’t take someone else’s word for what might entertain or enlighten. Going on a Disney theme park vacation or seeing a Disney movie is a choice in the first place. I’m guessing if you want the thrill and adventure or white water rafting on the Colorado, you wouldn’t have picked a Disney vacation in the first place. Over the years our Disney theme park vacations and moviemice dice choices have changed as our kid’s ages and our tastes have changed. Walt’s original premise for Disneyland was for it to be a place the whole family could enjoy together. You don’t have to choose to spend the day watching your kids on the Carousel. They get to ride Dumbo and others get Space Mountain. Everyone ends the day having enjoyed themselves. Perhaps you ended up liking the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular more than you thought you would.  Part of the enjoyment of a Disney theme park vacation is making it your vacation. Not someone else’s idea of what the vacation should be.

yodaYes, we are an information addicted society today. With all of that great information, literally, at your fingertips, wisely you should use it my young padawans. Don’t think for one moment that someone else’s idea for a fun Disney theme park vacation will match your idea of a good time. Do some research and make your own choices. Only that way can we keep the mind controllers from making everyone’s theme park experience the same. Besides, part of my strategy for my trips to Disney involved waiting the least amount of time on line as possible. If everyone goes only to the same attractions and shows that are deemed “the best”, we’ll all be standing in line forever.

Keeping Disney Time

I’ve written in the past about collecting Disneyana (See Hooked on Collecting). One of the items, I have gravitated to are timepieces. In the book “The Mickey Mouse Watch, From the Beginning of Time” by Robert Heide & John Gilmen, they relate that Tim Luke, who was working then as the head of collectibles at Christie’s, called the Mickey Mouse timepieces pivotal and central to the theme of Disneyana collecting.

I don’t wear any jewelry regularly, other than my wedding band. But, wearing a Disney watch seems like a way to make a statement without being flashy and it can be a great conversation starter. I have some very nice non-Disney watches that I wear regularly. But I also have some Disney watches that I find myself wearing often. All the items in the post are from my collection.

IMG_4230

LtoR: SII Marketing; WDW original artwork (they used to sell these at Uptown Jewelers on Main St); Seiko; early D23 gift; Kodak, WDW 25th Anniversary; WDW SE Collector’s Series

I also have collected some very early Disney watches which I don’t wear. Watches were not the first item Disney granted merchandising rights for. That goes to a simple pad of paper in 1929, shortly after the release of Steamboat Willie. Watches didn’t appear until 1933 and were first produced by the Waterbury Clock Company under the Ingersoll label . The first Mickey wristwatches were sold for $3.75.

IMG_4231

Because the watches proved to be so popular, (Macy’s in NYC sold 11,000 of them in one day and they outsold the World’s Fair commemorative 3-1 in 1939). Ingersoll sold more than 2.5 million watches between 1933 and 1935. A Mickey watch was sealed in the NY World’s Fair time capsule in 1939. The watch I own is from 1934, identifiabke by the addition of “Made in the USA”, added to discourage counterfeiters.

Ingersoll also produced a pocket watch version in 1933. The original box was red like the wristwatch. The box I have is from a later model.

IMG_4229

Once the watches popularity was established, Ingersoll added a deluxe version manufactured from 1937-1942. I haven’t been able to determine the exact year my watch is from.

IMG_4232

In 1933 Disney released the Silly Symphony cartoon Three Little Pigs, which became an enormous success. Not only was the short Popular, with audiences coming to the theaters to see the Pigs, not necessarily the main features. The song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” sold records, sheet music and was easily on everyone’s lips. The watches sold by the thousands. The wolf’s eyes shift back and forth on the pocket watch version. A larger table alarm clock was produced in 1934 and sold for $1.39.

My collection moves ahead to the  what I believe is the 1950s with these two very different alarm clock styles from Bradley. One is a simple windup alarm clock. The other is more in the old whimsical Disney style with 2 bells.


This “Official Mouseketeer” watch is probably from the 1970s revival of the “New Mickey Mouse Club”.

IMG_3609

These two mantel clocks from the 1980s. One is a Mickey Mouse 60th Anniversary. The other plays 6 melodies. both are by Seiko.

These are some more recent pieces I bought, because I liked the way they looked and they were limited editions.

Finally, here’s a pendulum style clock that I’ve been unable to track down any information about. Could be someone’s hand made piece. There’s no markings on it and the character image is very well done.

IMG_3331

Starting with the Ingersoll watches, Disney timepieces were part of the overall merchandising genius of Herman “Kay” Kamen, the man Walt hired to manage character licensing. Ever watchful of the Disney brand, every licensed item had to be approved for quality by the Disney Company. By the time Snow White opened a complete merchandising campaign was ready to go on day one. It’s no secret that the licensing fees have always been a significant part of Disney company revenues. Thousands of watches and clocks have been produced over the years. So, a collector should be able to find something of interest with a price tag to match the budget.

Because there were and continue to be many different Disney character timepieces produced, it’s often hard to track down specific information, particularly on some of the older pieces. Part of the fun, is the detective work that’s required to specifically identify dates and manufacturers for any Disneyana item. If anyone has reliable information about the pieces I’ve included here, please let me know through a comment or email. Those of you who are hooked on collecting, like I am, happy hunting!

 

A Foodie Travels in Walt Disney World

As I plan our vacations, (we’re planning one for Peru right now), once we’ve figured out where we’re going, pick a hotel and book a flight, I usually spend a lot of time choosing restaurants. I love good food and happily return to favorite restaurants and dishes. But, I also like trying new things. On a recent trip to Spain, we ate at our first Michelin three star restaurant, Akalerre, in San Sebastian. Not only was the food great, but it was an akalerre viewexceptional dining experience – impeccable service, beautiful, imaginative plating and a killer view. I know I’m not going to find Michelin starred restaurants at Disney theme parks. But, as an admitted foodie, I still spend considerable hours planning and picking restaurants for our Disney trips. So how does a foodie like me navigate the good, bad and pedestrian at the Disney theme parks? Before I answer, I’d like to offer some Walt Disney context.

Most theme parks before Walt built Disneyland (and still today) offered spartan, self-serve, cafeteria style food locations, with carnival style food – hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn, soda and ice cream. I consider this food as fuel, not the pleasurable experience I hope to have when I eat. Those of us who like thrill rides, hold our noses, stand in line and eat purely for energy. Other theme parks like Hershey Park and Busch Gardens Virginia, which I visit now and then to get my roller coaster fix, are beautiful. But, food choices are about convenience and suffering through the best of the worst.

Walt knew that to keep people in Disneyland, and to make maximize his profit, he would have to offer food, snacks and other refreshments. That was just good business. But, that wasn’t enough for Mr. Disney. He extended the same approach he took to attractions and the overall design and beauty of the park to restaurants and snack bars by integrating the eateries into the overall theming of the Land they were in. During the early years, you could go to the Tahitian Terrace in Adventurland or Casa de Fritos in Frontierland. And because he was the first to bring sponsors into a theme park, he managed to present unique food and snack offerings. Early restaurants included Aunt Jemima’s Kitchen (pancakes at a theme park?, check), Welch’s Grape Juice Bar and Sunkist Citrus House (that’s what passed for a healthier choice than soda back then). Take a look at this post from the Disney Food Blog for a more detailed look at early Disneyland restaurants and menus.

As someone who places a lot of importance on food during my vacations, how do I manage in an environment designed to deliver quantity (more than 1.6 million turkey legs are sold each year at Disney World) not necessarily quality? First of all, before you all start screaming at your screens, there is very high quality, inventive food to be found at Walt Disney World. Victoria and Alberts, Jiko and Narcoossees are examples of wonderful places to dine and deserve the high praise they receive, from critics as well as guests. They are also very expensive and should be treated as experiences that should savored and given the time necessarily accorded any fine restaurant. At some point, I hope to visit them all. The Disney theme parks do offer a wide variety of menus and price ranges.

Most of my reservations are for dinners, with the occasional lunch or breakfast, depending on what we have planned for the day. Breakfast is usually eaten at the hotel’s quick service restaurant like The Mara at Animal Kingdom Lodge, Capt. Cook’s at the Polynesian, or a food court, if there is one. Lunch is planned around the park we will be in, or back at the hotel if we are taking a break.

Where then, do I spend my hard earned dollars on food WDW? While quality of food is very important, I tend to gravitate to restaurants that also offer good atmosphere and Sci-Fi_Dine-In_3great theming. Since I live very close to NY City, there really isn’t any kind of food that I can’t eat, almost whenever I want. I can find a good hamburger in many places. But Hollywood Studios is the only place I can eat a good one, sitting in a “car” at The Sci-Fi Drive-In. I can eat a pork or lamb chop in many restaurants, but only at Be Our Guest, can I dine in the Beast’s castle.

I do accept lesser quality and, even, pay a premium for a Disney style experience. Good examples of this are San Angel Inn. At best, the food no better than a chain Mexican restaurant. But entering through the marketplace courtyard sets the scene for the san-angel-inn-restaurante-disney-orlandorestaurant in the same way Main St. USA prepares us for the rest of the Magic Kingdom. That’s pure Walt Disney design. I love the illusion of eating outside, inside, with the stars overhead and the mesmerizing Aztec temple scenery and active volcano. And, while waiting for a table we can take a ride on the delightful Gran Fiesta Tour.

Similarly, I will put up the so-so food, the unnecessary check in line (we all have a reservation) and rushed service at the Hoop De Doo revue. The many large tables to service and they need to get everyone served so the show can start on time makes it tough to provide good service. However, I find the showing funny and charming and, happily, go back again and again.

There’s not much in the Magic Kingdom that I rush to visit. If I’m looking for a fast lunch or late dinner, I’ll go to Columbia Harbour House where you can get some unique offerings like a lobster roll or Hummus. And, although it offers very limited seating, Casey’s Corner has great Hot Dog choices, if that’s what you’re craving.

In Animal Kingdom, the only restaurant I’ve returned to is Flame Tree Barbecue. The BBQ is so-so. But the seating has great views of the water and Expedition Everest. flame tree(Unfortunately, you can no longer sit here and eat a smoked turkey leg. A shame, since you have to eat it on the move everywhere else in WDW).  It’s hard for me to leave without a colossal cinnamon roll from Kusafiri Coffee Shop & Bakery, which I usually take to go and eat later.

Warm-Colossal-Cinnamon-Roll-2-Kusafiri-Bakery

I’ve already mentioned Sci-Fi Dine-In, which is a family favorite. My other favorite at the Studios is the Brown Derby. I love the golden age of Hollywood vibe which fits the general theme of the park. The recreation of the former Hollywood landmark is like going back in time. The service is first rate and, overall, I’ve found the food to be consistently very good. We’ve had some memorable meals at the Derby, including one with my 88 year old father on his first trip to WDW . He told some great stories from his youth about brushes with organized crime, his family’s deli being robbed robbed twice by the same guy and how pinball in the back room was played for money in the 1930’s.

brown derby family

The Kramer family at the Brown Derby 2015

But, I digress. In addition to San Angel, there’s another restaurant, big on theming and smaller on food –Biergarten Restaurant. Once again, the outside, inside feel of being in a German mountain village is magical and you can’t beat the show with your meal. But, biergartenJPGthe food, meh. It’s ok if you like meat and potatoes and mediocre ballpark food. And, other than strudel, what’s with those other desserts. Not exactly like being in Germany. On the brighter side of Epcot food , there’s Restaurant Marrakesh with its raucous
atmosphere, belly dancer and a menu of interesting choices.

marakesh

Moving up the quality food chain, Coral Reef serves up very good seafood and a killer view of that amazing undersea world.

Many of our favorite meals are in the resorts. Anything in Animal Kingdom Lodge gets a slot in our meal lineup. Combine a beautiful resort, with African animals, a great buffet with unusual and well prepared choices at Boma or the very African menu at Jiko and you’re in for a wonderful meal. At the Grand Floridian, we like the bright surroundings and straight forward food at The Grand Floridian Café. The Polynesian attracts us, if we’re not already staying there, for breakfast at Kona Café and the crazy atmosphere and inventive drinks at Trader Sam’s Grotto cocktails and a relaxed meal. Finally, the food and service are top notch at Artist Point at the Wilderness Lodge.

I hope this has been an interesting, thought provoking, albeit very quick tour of some of our favorite food stops in Walt Disney World. Food means different things to people when they are at the WDW Resort complex. For some, it’s quick service fuel to get through the long days. For others, it’s about the characters. For me it’s about good food in interesting surroundings. I, for one, am glad that the Disney people have continued Walt’s fun and integration of food with the environment. In my mind, that’s what sets the Disney theme parks ahead of the rest and the reason I’ll keep going back for seconds.

mickey waffle

The Pirates Paradox

Disneyland is celebrating the 50th  anniversary of the opening of The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in New Orleans Square in Disneyland. This was the very last Disneyland attraction for which Walt had direct input.

It was some of the most groundbreaking work ever put together for a theme park attraction, taking advantage of many things Walt and the people of WED learned from their work on the 1964 NY World’s Fair. This included the boat, ride system from Small World and Audio Animatronics from Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. The Pirates attraction is so popular, there is a version in almost every Disney park in the world. An entire Land is devoted to Pirates in Shanghai Disneyland, anchored by the ride in its newest manifestation. And let’s not forget the on-going movie franchise which continues to pack in the people.

This attraction is usually on everyone’s must do list for a Disney vacation. Visitors flockpirates closed to this attraction and cry real tears when it is unavailable during maintenance periods. But, what is it, that after 50 years and countless, repeat rides and the proliferation of competing, high tech, high thrill them park rides, that still attracts us? After all, in theme park years, it’s an outdated, and un-spin tingling throwback to a simpler time in vacation entertainment?

Maybe it’s Walt’s hands on involvement in every aspect of the attraction, including taking it from its early planning stage as a walk-through wax museum-like experience to what we now have today. But, while Walt’s guiding hand was undoubtedly important, it’s

walt and mark davis pirate

Walt with designer/animator Mark Davis and an unidentified Pirate

easy to point to the many Disneyland attractions that were abandoned shortly after the park opened and since then, that all had Walt as part of the design team. Perhaps it’s the attractions ability to manage as many as 2,400 guests an hour. Because, who wants to waste their precious, expensive theme park time waiting in line. Uh, but guests will wait forever to experience Peter Pan’s Flight, an equally family friendly attraction, which only services a paltry 800 guests an hour. Can’t be because the queue is in out of the sun.

Many other WDW and Disneyland attraction queues are either inside or protected from the sun. And, while Disney Imagineers continue to make breakthroughs in Audio Animatronics and there have been only a few high tech additions to both US versions, WDW and Disneyland attractions like Star Tours, Soarin’ and Fantasmic make much more liberal use of technology. So what makes Pirates of the Caribbean such a fan favorite?

Marc_Davis pirates storyboardHere’s my take. As with all of Walt’s successes, whether it was animated or live film or theme park attraction it begins and ends with telling a great story. The attraction plays like a novel or movie. It has an opening that sucks us in, like the first sentence of a book.

 

pirates_skulls

Psst! Avast there! It be too late to alter course, mateys.

It may not be Dickens, “It was the best of times . . “, but, it makes us want to go on. Next we get a little thrill to move us to the edge of our seats compliments of a drop (or two) in the dark. Then we are eased into the Pirate world through scenes that develop place and time. The setup is followed by an eye-opening “curtain up” into the pirate world.  The first unforgettable scene depicts the shelling of the fort by the Pirate ship.

Pirate ship

Throughout the ride there’s humor and constant eye candy to keep us engaged in each of the scenes as the story unfolds. Each ride offers an opportunity to discover something new. Finally, there’s a socko, fire climax and the final scenes close out the story. All this takes place in a completely immersive experience of visuals, sound effects, dialogue and music. Who needs virtual reality when fantasy-reality can make us feel like we have entered into the world of the story.

Convinced yet why you keep riding again and again? Well, there’s more. Walt insisted that no detail was too small to be overlooked in the design and creation of park attractions. (Disney Imagineering continues this practice today). Canons don’t just fire from the Pirate ship, you feel the rush of air and see and hear the canon balls hit the walt with pirate headswater. When a Pirate shoots a gun, it doesn’t just make a noise, there’s an associated ping as the musket ball contacts an object, which might move as physics cause and effect demands. Costumes are finely detailed and crafted and each of the pirates have distinct facial characteristics. Most are appropriately dirty and whiskered .

While there is focus in each of the scenes on the primary action, like the Auction, across the river to our right are the potential bidders, calling out, laughing and making noise. In the Sacking of the Town scene, one of the bound prisoners shivers while waiting his possible turn to be dunked in the well.  Who hasn’t secretly fantasized about hopping out of the boat and boarding the ship in the harbor or exploring the town and finding out what’s behind those doors and windows. As many times as you ride Pirates, you might still discover new things.

So, we’ve looked at story, costume, makeup and set dressing. The last part of any good movie is the soundtrack. Not only does X. Atencio’s simple melody add to the chaos and activity in , but, I don’t think anyone leaves the attraction without humming the tune or trying to sing the complicated lyrics. As far as I’m concerned, this is the cherry on the sundae. That song is in your head forever.

Pirate musicians

So even though Pirates of the Caribbean is not the highest tech or thrilling attraction in the Disney parks, it maintains its status as one of the most loved and talked about creations of Walt Disney and his team of Imagineers. I look forward to experiencing it again and hopefully, getting a chance to experience the newer versions of the attraction in other countries.

pirates poster

Testing the Disney Magic, Part 2

In my previous post, Testing the Magic Part 1, I explained my challenge to the Disney Company. Unable to go to the theme parks, could I still get my Disney magic fix by only going to WDW resorts and having dinner? So in the final analysis, how well did the Disney magic hold during these visits to Disney Resorts and Restaurants?

On the plus side:

  • The high quality Disney service was no different. From the gate security to the front desk personnel who answered our questions we felt very well taken care of.
  • There was plenty to entertain us in all 3 locations. A ride on the Monorail got us pretty close to the action. And there’s very little that can beat seeing African animals up close (if you get the chance, check out the night vision glasses option near the pool). And you’d be amazed what a pleasure it is to take a boat ride from the Boardwalk to the Yacht and Beach Clubs on a warm evening and wander through the resorts without feeling rushed to be somewhere. Finally, watching Disney fireworks is always a treat. Nobody does it better night after night. WDW Monorail
  • Having a car means no complex combinations of busses and Monorails to get from resort to resort.
  • From the time we entered the resort until we left; there was no question we were in WDW. Theming, cleanliness, music and atmosphere were all around us.
  • Resort specific and Disney World souvenirs can be had at Resort gift shops. You can still take home a piece of WDW, and some of the items can only be found in the resorts.Wishes from Poly
  • Since we were not exhausted from a day of attraction hopping, we could relax, enjoy our meal and take in our surroundings.
  • We could explore and enjoy Deluxe Resorts even if we didn’t or couldn’t to pay the price

 

On the minus side:

  • Disney has homogenized some of its menu items. For example, we noticed that the special cocktail menu was the same at all the restaurants, even the bar at AKL. Part of the fun of trying different restaurants was having the whole experience be unique to the location.
  • There are many great restaurants that require a park admission to enjoy.Skinny-Mojito-and-Mojito-600x461
  • Unless we wanted to pay a high taxi fare, a car was required.
  • As with all offsite hotels, the magic ended when we left the Resort or restaurant.
  • There’s so much fun food not found in the Resort restaurants like Turkey legs.  Dole Whips can only be found at the Poly. You’ll only find fancy caramel apples in the Magic Kingdom and  hand dipped ice cream sandwiches are only available at Beaches and Cream. You won’t see a giant cinnamon rolls unless you’re in AK and there, no real exotic choices like Restaurant Marakesh or Akershus or experiences like the Living Seas or San Angel Inn.
  • Some rain forced us to find cover just before Wishes started. Fortunately, it stopped long enough for us to find a good spot to sit. And For some reason, we could not hear the Wishes soundtrack from the Beach at the Polynesian. It did detract from the experience, but I would still do it again.

Over all I think Walt would be pleased at how welcome we felt at WDW, even outside the parks. One of his biggest regrets when building Disneyland was not having any control over what the “neighborhood” became once you left the park.  He said he was planning WDW because he wanted to do it better. Better is a relative term and Walt set a very high standard for himself and his projects.  He carried over all of the good he achieved with Disneyland, but was able to take advantage of WDW’s size to create a cushion of magic around the theme parks in the form of shopping and resorts. There’s a smile on every Cast Members face and they go out of their way to make your “stay” enjoyable. We were never once asked if we were staying at the resort. A lot has been written about how the Disney parks were (are?) different than anything the public had experienced. Walt himself said he was creating a different kind of entertainment. The Disney Company continues to fulfill the promise of Walt’s entertainment vision, without becoming a stale money making machine. Don’t get me wrong, it makes a lot of money. But in the final analysis, I’d say that even a trip like this seemed to make it easier to part with my money without feeling ripped off.

Testing the Disney Magic, Part 1

“Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends”. Advice from, Walt Disney, one of the business world’s great marketers. I am a New York resident, so I don’t get to either of Disney’s theme parks in the US very often. Unlike my Mother, who saw the theme parks as only a money making machine (see my previous post “A Mother’s Gift“), I see them as a wonderful escape. So when my job made it necessary for me to travel to Orlando for training, (really, it wasn’t my idea) I was excited to think I would be so close to WDW.

Aerial view of the Magic Kingdom

Aerial view of the Magic Kingdom

But sad I wouldn’t be able to spend time in the parks.  Would today’s Disney Corporation live up to its creator’s marketing advice and lure me there somehow to spend my hard earned money? If so, would the experience be worthy enough to “bring my friends”?

Disneyland Entrance Sign

Disneyland Entrance Sign

My Disney brain was working overtime trying to find a way to take advantage of my close proximity to the “Happiest Place on Earth”. After the smoke cleared a bit, (I think my brain pan needs an oil change) I began to see possibilities. I had to eat, right? And WDW has some restaurants that feel, sort of like attractions, right? My wife was joining me and we planned the trip like many of our vacations (Disney or otherwise)– we plan our days around meals. Since my days were spoken for by my employer from 7am-7pm, the plan was to soak up as much of the Disney Magic at dinner as possible without buying a park ticket. But was food wasn’t going to be enough? Undeterred I pushed ahead.

We decided to pick some old favorites and one new restaurant for the three dinners we were planning. To maximize our enjoyment potential, I felt the Resorts might offer more than just a meal. Even though we were limited to Resorts, there were still many options. Boma was an easy choice. Not only is the resort a favorite, but I love a buffet and the African inspired cuisine is not something you find everywhere (even in NYC).  We also loved our stay at the Polynesian. While Kona has never been at the top of our list, it does have the great tiki-style drinks and sushi, which is hard to find in WDW. For our new restaurant, I had just read that Iron Chef Cat Cora’s Koussina was closing and we had never tried the food, which also offered some unique WDW choices. Now that we had our three restaurants, we were ready to find out if we could make an evening out of it filled with WDW magic.

Boma

kouzzinaKona-Cafe-Polynesian-Disney

Disney Boardwalk

Disney Boardwalk

Koussina at the Boardwalk seemed like a no brainer for things to do before and after a meal. The Boardwalk itself is designed as an entertainment center. There would be stores, busker-like entertainment, a dance hall, a piano bar and beautiful Crescent Lake to look at as we strolled the boardwalk. Hey, maybe, this wasn’t going to be too hard. Buoyed by our first choice, we confidently approached our second meal,

Disney Polynesian Resort

Disney Polynesian Resort

Kona Café at the Polynesian. We had loved watching the fireworks from our room overlooking the Seven Seas Lagoon during our last stay. After a little research, I learned that we could get the same view from the beach near the Volcano Pool. The Polynesian also had the closest thing to an attraction we were going to get this trip – The Monorail. I know it’s a bit of a stretch. But it’s a nice ride that gets us very close to the Magic Kingdom, goes through the Contemporary Resort and would give us a view of the Grand Floridian, all for free. There was some concern when we learned that the lobby might be under construction, but there would always be a nice walk around the grounds if we wanted the tropical feel.

Disney Animal Kingdom Lodge

Disney Animal Kingdom Lodge

Finally we tackled Animal Kingdom Lodge, a Resort that holds many wonderful memories for our family. (Although there was an infamous trip during which we lost, not one, but two digital cameras there). With its soaring main lobby, the African artifacts to see, African music, the Cape Town Lounge, and African animals, it seemed we could make an evening of that meal.

In my next post, I’ll reveal how successful Disney was at making us feel like we were part of the magic and whether Walt would be proud that his creation could “bring us back for more”.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: