Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Review: Project Future: The Inside Story Behind the Creation of Disney World, by Chad Emerson

By Chad Emerson
Ayefour Publishing: 2010

Project Future sets out to fill in the gaps that many books covering the history of Walt Disney World have left.  There is deliberately no talk of the construction of the park, its rides, hotels, or other attractions, as the author acknowledges that history has already been thoroughly documented.  Instead, Chad Emerson focuses on equally important, though easily overlooked, contributions to the history of Disney's Florida Project by outlining the real estate purchases and the legal foundation that set the new park up to enjoy success for years to come.

The book reads somewhat like a timeline, with each chapter including a date in its heading, and with the chapters more or less in sequence (there is sometimes an overlap timewise from one section to the next).  The content includes discussion of the search for potential locations for a second Disney park (following the success of Disneyland), narrowing in on a location in Florida, details about the individuals involved with the actual purchase of land in Central Florida, and a look at the legislative framework that allows Disney World to operate almost as a city unto itself.  These are some weighty topics and the book does follow through on its promise to cover them in more detail than others have done in the past.  Most people will find the subject matter somewhat dry, but Disney parks historians will enjoy it, though the book left me thinking the author could have shared more.

I'm glad to have read Project Future and think this book is worthy of inclusion in the library of anyone who studies the history of Disney World.  I've also had the opportunity to listen to interviews with Chad Emerson and it is clear that he is a knowledgeable and passionate person to tell the behind the scenes stories of the business side of Disney World's origins, but I fear he has omitted details in an attempt to reach a broader audience.  In the Acknowledgements section of the book, Emerson states, "My goal was to create an interesting book that would, whether relaxing on the beach, flying on a plane to Disney World, or anywhere else, provide the reader with a look at how the magic of Walt Disney World Resort came to be".  The goal of bringing this story to the masses is laudable, but I think the audience reading this book is limited to those seeking a deeper understanding of the park's origins than the 162 pages of text provide (there are a number of appendices tacked onto the end).  Emerson also chose to omit maps, diagrams, pictures, or any visual aids the supplement his words, which would have made it easier to following the story.  In doing so, he was able to produce a book at a lower cost to the reader, but the lacking the complete detail that the people likely to buy this book will expect. [NOTE: I know you can search for these visual aids online, but that is difficult to do if you are reading on the beach or an airplane].  Project Future does cover parts of the creation of Walt Disney World that you will not read anywhere else, but does not fully explain how the Reedy Creek Improvement District functions, how Disney was able to convince Florida lawmakers to allow the company to have such broad powers to essentially self-govern, and whether or not this model of private management of a large mass of land could still apply to companies today.  It is a good start for those seeking a complete understanding of the creation of Disney World, but not as complete as I was hoping.

If you wish to purchase Project Future, then use this link to  NOTE: Using this link will help support this web site, as amazon will offer (at no additional cost to you) a small portion of the purchase price of the book to our site.

If you enjoy this book, then you may also enjoy the author’s postings on the web site ( or his publishing company that has released several other Disney themed books (  Chad is also a regular contributor to The Season Pass Podcast (  To date, he has participated in the following episodes:

Monday, August 27, 2012

Summary of Reimagined Test Track Live Chat

The most newsworthy event from today’s chat was
an image of the new marquee for the attraction
This afternoon, the Disney Parks Blog hosted a live chat with Melissa Jeselnick, one of the Lead Imagineers for the redesign of Test Track in Walt Disney World’s Epcot. Jeselnick answered 25 questions, mostly submitted through the blog post announcing the event or from the moderator, along with a few questions from those watching live.  Below is a summary of what was covered.

To those familiar with Disney World’s Test Track, there will be some similarities to the previous incarnation of that ride, but Imagineer Melissa Jeselnick described the new Test Track by saying “that whole attraction is completely reimagined”.  First, though perhaps of marginal significance, is Chevrolet, rather than parent company General Motors, taking over as title sponsor.  More obvious changes will be apparent once you enter the attraction, where “the queue will look like nothing our guests are used to seeing it look.”  Before you board your ride vehicle you will have the opportunity to make choices that will affect your vehicle’s performance in four areas, which will correspond to four different show scenes while on the ride: Capability, Efficiency, Responsiveness, and Speed.  Guests will use “interactive design kiosks” to “shape your vehicle and add attributes - pick the colors, the tires, and make it truly your dream vehicle”.  Capability is described as “where your car is tested for rough road and weather conditions”, Efficiency is the environmental impact of the vehicle, Responsiveness “tests maneuverability”, and Speed is, well you guessed it, the speed of your creation.  Jeselnick added, “Everybody in the vehicle will have their ride design, whether they designed individually or as a group.”

Jeselnick described the attraction as having “the same physical ride that our guests know and love.”  Though she did not directly answer the question of whether the ride path will remain the same, it sounds as though that will be true, but the scenes inside will be completely different.  This reflects a new focus for the attraction that Jeselnick describes as “basically changing from testing to design.”  Despite the focus on design, it appears the “test” in the attraction’s title won’t be changing, so the Test Track name will remain.  Exactly what the attraction will look like and how it will work is still uncertain.  Also still not clear from today’s presentation was the balance between live and virtual experiences, though Jeselnick did add, “We're using a lot of new technology to tell the story, but it is still a dynamic physical experience.”

After the ride, “you can keep interacting with your ride vehicle.”  Your design will be scored, “not just with the guests in your car, but guests throughout the day” and there will be “other opportunities to play with your design with multiple interactive elements.”  It was not described what those other opportunities will be or whether you will have a chance to share your design online, as you can with your Spaceship Earth future or your designs from Sum of All Thrills.  You will also see a showroom with current Chevrolet vehicles and “different concept cars”.

Some additional details about the reimagined attraction that were covered include the following: the opening date was only announced as “late fall”, the 65 mph loop remains, there will be a new soundtrack, there will be a single ride line, and the attraction will still use FASTPASS.  A little less clear was how the attraction will work when bypassing parts of the full queue.  Jeselnick mentioned an “expedited queue experience”, but it is not clear exactly what that means.  Additionally, as a single rider, it is not clear how you will be able to participate in the design process for your ride vehicle.  Lastly, a number of people online have expressed their desire for the overhang in front of the pavilion to be removed.  One person asked about this in a five part question and the Imagineer did not respond.

You can read the chat in its entirety by following this link and clicking the “Replay” button:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Book Review: Mouse Trap: Memoir of a Disneyland Cast Member, by Kevin Yee

Mouse Trap: Memoir of a Disneyland Cast Member

By Kevin Yee
Ultimate Orlando Press: Orlando, FL, 2008

Mouse Trap is an easy read in which Kevin Yee provides a rare behind the scenes look at Disneyland from the perspective of an experienced former cast member. While I have not yet visited Disneyland, the brief glimpse into the orientation of a new cast member, hearing the inside terms, and reading descriptions of the backstage areas of the park helped me, a Disney World and theme park fan, have a broader picture of what goes into making the “magic” that I see in the parks. Having read one of the author’s books (Walt Disney World Hidden History) and some of his online work (from, I had confidence in his ability to deliver interesting material for a Disney fan and he did not disappoint. The prose is not always the most elegant, but Yee is an effective storyteller and has enough Disney experience to have a lot of stories to tell.

The book is divided into nine chapters, starting with the author’s Disney orientation and continuing through the end of his career as a Disney cast member. Yee admits to being taken in by the Disney magic, but is not afraid to be critical of the company. This is by no means a scathing tell-all attack of the company, but the author doesn’t hide some of the shenanigans that his co-workers were involved with. There are times when I felt like I was hearing stories where “you had to be there” to really appreciate, like when Yee mentions the early morning cast member canoeing practice or some of the other cast parties that the company used to hold, but things probably weren’t a whole lot different than company parties I was part of in my early twenties and knowing that Disney organized these get-togethers gave insight into how they formed happy and productive teams.

That leads to my biggest complaint about Mouse Trap, that it sometimes left me wanting to hear more of the author’s stories and more detail about some of those that he told. The “We are Family” chapter covered some of the aforementioned team building activities and employee celebrations in varying levels of detail, but many were glossed over. If they weren’t memorable enough to add personal anecdotes, then they probably didn’t need to be mentioned at all. The “Studying at the Disney University” chapter also left me wanting to hear more. In the previous chapter, the description of the CAST “four keys to success” offered insight into how Disney sets its priorities, and then the cast member training chapter listed a lot of courses, again with varying levels of detail, but all sounded like they would benefit employees in a wide range of industries. My last petty complaint about Mouse Trap is that many of the small black and white pictures were difficult to see in my copy of the book (I suspect this was a limitation of having the book printed at a reasonable cost, but perhaps the author, could or maybe already has, offer some of the pictures in greater detail on his web site) and the chart in the backstage chapter was difficult to follow (it is probably easier to see in color and it would help to have all of the descriptions of the numbered items on the chart on the same page as the chart itself).

Since my biggest concern about Mouse Trap is that I wanted to hear more about what I read, it’s easy to recommend this book to any Disney theme park fans. Regular Disneyland visitors will probably appreciate the book more, as they will already be familiar with most of the locations “on stage” that the author describes, but anyone interested in knowing what it is like to be a cast member at a Disney theme park will enjoy this book. The book isn’t for everyone, but Disney fans who like to know how real people make the parks work will find Mouse Trap well worth their time.

If you wish to purchase Mouse Trap, then use this link to NOTE: Using this link will help support this web site, as amazon will offer (at no additional cost to you) a small portion of the purchase price of the book to our site.  If you enjoy this book, then you may also enjoy the author’s blog ( or follow him on twitter @cafeorleans