Tuesday, August 15, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Tony Baxter: First of the Second Generation of Walt Disney Imagineers

By Tim O'Brien
Casa Flamingo Literary Arts (October 30, 2015)


Tony Baxter: First of the Second Generation of Walt Disney Imagineers is mostly a list of Tony Baxter's accomplishments during his long career as a Disney Imagineer. Among his many well-known projects, Baxter was took the creative lead on designing attractions like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Journey into Imagination, and the Indiana Jones Adventure in Disneyland, while also re-designing Disneyland's Fantasyland and developing the look of the entire EuroDisneyland park. The book is an honest, at times insightful look into Baxter's character, at what made him successful, what challenges he faced, and a taste of what it was like for others to work such a powerful creative force. All of this is laid out in a sensible structure, outlining Baxter's career, and then attempting to draw some conclusions.

The book starts right away, wasting no space with title pages or other filler, only a brief foreword and then Chapter One. The publisher describes the Legends & Legacies series, of which this book is a part, as "a quick and easy read," and that is an accurate description of this work. At only 90 pages of text, no topic in Baxter's life is covered in much detail. Events are presented mostly in chronological order, with little thought given to transition between items, which are presented in short segments within each of the three chapters. It would be easy to pick up where you left off if you put the book down, but if you read a chapter straight through there isn't a whole lot of flow from one topic to the next.

One thing that stood out when I first opened the book is the inclusion of color photographs, however, as I read the book I noticed these images appear randomly interspersed throughout the written words, with little or no connection to surrounding text. For example, early in the book we are introduced to Maxine Merlino, a college professor described as a mentor to Baxter, and she appears in photos with Baxter a few times later in the book, but nowhere in the text is any explanation of how she mentored Baxter in first place or how he kept in touch with her. There are a few exceptions where these photographs add to what was written, like Baxter standing outside in front of his property holding a model he used to design and build that house, but for the most part the photos are just images from Baxter's life that would be been better placed together in the center of the book or just left out.

The text also includes some minor errors, including several typos, such as misspelling Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn's name (as Steve Wynne) or sentences with extraneous words added, like this quote attributed to Baxter about the Abraham Lincoln animatronic in Disneyland, "I had hoped, with the all the advancements in technology..." Other items were presented in an (unintentionally, I suspect) misleading manner, including describing Journey into Imagination in EPCOT Center as opening on October 1, 1982, then shortly afterwards, noting the "ride premiered later on March, 5, 1983." While, technically, the Imagination pavilion may have opened (with just a 3D movie) on the same date (October 1) as the rest of EPCOT Center, it is generally accepted that the opening date for the Journey into Imagination attraction, five months after the park opening, is the relevant date. The author also presents some facts out of order, like a reference to the death of Disney President Frank Wells two pages before the author explains, "Frank Wells was killed in a helicopter accident on April 3, 1994." Some of these errors may be nitpicking, but suggest an overall lack of attention to detail.

The book draws primarily on previously published interviews (notably with The Season Pass Podcast), but supplements these with the author's own conversations with Baxter and a few people who worked with him, mostly his one-time bosses Marty Sklar and Mickey Steinberg, and his Imagineering colleague Tim Delaney. The result is very little new information on Baxter's well-documented career.

In addition to outlining Baxter's professional accomplishments, the does book touch on his personal life. From his "early introversion", frustration with cancelled projects, rejuvenation while redeveloping and building Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Disneyland, to confidence following the renovation of Fantasyland in Disneyland that "literally anything was possible," readers get a glimpse into who Baxter is as a person. One of the more striking comments on a topic I had never heard Baxter talk about was his admission, "It’s really hard for me to make space for others in my life. It’s never been an urgent issue with me." Although the author generally doesn't attempt to offer his explanation of what was shared in interviews, readers can gain some insight into how Baxter thinks after reading his thoughts throughout the book.

Despite the narrative being primarily driven by Baxter's own account of his life, the author doesn't shy away from controversy. Among those, include: enthusiasm over the start of Michael Eisner's tenure as leader of Disney to a frank assessment of the former CEO's later years with the company, the reason the company chose not build Westcot in Anaheim, cost-cutting measures in Disneyland, and even Baxter's own reputation for being difficult to work with, accusations that he took too much credit for projects were all discussed, and his status as a "celebrity" Imagineer. With these topics, the author generally generally lets the subjects he interviewed speak for themselves.

Overall, the book is a useful collection of often-repeated stories from the career of Tony Baxter, with some new information coming from the new interviews the author conducted. I learned more about Tony Baxter the man than I had in the past and gained a little insight into some of the challenges he faced. By seldom interjecting his own opinions, the book neither attempts to glorify Baxter's distinguished career, nor does it try to exploit his weaknesses. It is a fair presentation facts, which Baxter has described by saying, "everything in it is accurate." At less than 100 pages, the book doesn't aspire to be the definitive account of Tony Baxter's life and career, but it is a great place to start for someone unfamiliar with Baxter's career, and even avid Disney history fans will likely learn something new. Tony Baxter: First of the Second Generation of Walt Disney Imagineers is a useful biography to read, though you will have to decide if the relatively high retail price makes this a book you wish to own.



If you wish to purchase Tony Baxter: First of the Second Generation of Walt Disney Imagineers, then please use this link to amazon.com. 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 wish to learn more about Tony Baxter or hear his words firsthand, the search for his name in the archives of The Season Pass Podcast. There are hours of conversations with Baxter, over the course of several years.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Transcript of Epcot Announcements, from Disney Parks and Resorts Presentation at 2017 D23 Expo

D23 Expo: Disney Parks and Resorts Presentation - Epcot Announcements

There has been a lot of discussion already about the future of Epcot in Walt Disney World, following announcements made during D23 Expo, in Anaheim earlier this month. Let's look at exactly what Bob Chapek and Tom Fitzgerald said about that park during the Parks and Resorts presentation.



Date: Saturday, July 15, 2017
Location: Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, California


BOB CHAPEK, CHAIRMAN, WALT DISNEY PARKS & RESORTS:
Now, some of you may have been there when I said, "Teams are thinking big when it comes to Epcot." Today we will give you a peak at some of what we are doing, so you can imagine just how big we're thinking.

Now, our work on the park is centered around a few guiding principles: we want to keep it true to the original vision, while making it more timeless, more relevant, more relevant, and more Disney.

We're also insuring that these plans incorporate what we've been hearing from our guests, especially from our families with young children. They love Epcot, but they wanted to have a little bit more of that Disney, "wow factor."

And, that's why we asked an Imagineer who worked on the original plans for Epcot to now lead the teams at updating it. Many of you may recognize him from his role in Horizons, and he's earned a distinction reserved for very few, meeting his own animatronic.

Please join me in welcoming, Tom Fitzgerald.

Thanks for joining me here, Tom. We've got a great crowd here.

TOM FITZGERALD, PORTFOLIO CREATIVE EXECUTIVE, WALT DISNEY IMAGINEERING:
Happy to be here, Bob, although I have to say I still wish I looked like one of those two guys in the picture.

CHAPEK:
I don't think you've changed a bit. You look just the same.

FITZGERALD:
Thanks, Bob.

CHAPEK:
All right, so it's been about six months since we first hinted at our big plans for Epcot, and before we share some news about what's coming, Tom, I'd like to ask to ask you a little bit about how we're approaching this work, because Epcot means so much to all of our fans.

FITZGERALD:
Sure. Well, Epcot has always been, from day one, an optimistic celebration of the real world, brought to life through the magic of Disney. It's really kind of a living showcase to the world we have created and the world we continue to create together. It's a place where the real becomes fantastic, and the fantastic becomes real.

And, while Epcot gets ready to celebrate, believe it or not, it's 35th Anniversary, in Florida, in Glendale, our Imagineering team is busy at work planning for Epcot's future.

CHAPEK:
And, what a future we have in store. I mean, that's especially true when you consider World Showcase.

FITZGERALD:
It's a really special place, where guests of all ages can experience the cultures from around the world in a global community, and guests love it. And, it's no surprise that these beautiful countries, and their histories, have inspired many of Disney's most beloved films.

You all know that Norway serves as the inspiration for Disney's animated hit film, Frozen. And, last year we opened Frozen Ever After at our Norway pavilion. My colleague, Kathy Mangum, who is somewhere in the house, and her team did an incredible job, and it is a huge hit with our guests.

CHAPEK:
You know, Tom, in fact, they love it so much, they are requesting more FastPasses for that attraction than any other attraction in Epcot.

FITZGERALD:
That's great.

CHAPEK:
And, we want to build on that success, so that World Showcase celebrates both real countries and the world's they inspire.

So, I'm thrilled to announce we'll be adding a brand new attraction, Ratatouille, to the France pavilion.

FITZGERALD:
Fantastique!

CHAPEK:
We're going to add it to an entirely new area, right past the Eiffel Tower. It's going to be patterned after our popular attraction at Disneyland Paris. Guest are going to shrink down to the size of Remy, and join him on a crazy race throughout the kitchen and Gusteau's restaurant. Ratatouille is already the number one attraction at Disneyland Paris, and we really think it's going to be a great addition to Epcot.

FITZGERALD:
Agreed. And, we're also looking at enhancing some of our existing attractions. For example, we're creating a brand new film for the China pavilion, and we're doing it with some new technology.

We all know that Walt Disney was a master at innovating, and throughout his career he created so many different storytelling and motion picture firsts. One of his favorites was CircleVision 360, which debuted here at Disneyland, and it's been a staple at World Showcase in Epcot since its beginning. Well, now, taking a cue from Walt, and the original CircleVision, we're creating a next generation digital camera system, much as we did for Soarin', and we're gonna be taking this rig on the road to film our very first seamless CircleVision show for the China pavilion.

CHAPEK:
So, I promise you, this is just a glimpse of what we have planned for World Showcase. So, stay tuned, because there's much more to come.

And, as you all know, there's a whole other part of this park, too. This evolution is designed to stay true to the DNA of Epcot, particularly those ideals of optimism, and hope, and awe and wonder of our world. And, as this blue sky artist concept drawing shows, we also have big plans for the front of Epcot. Now, it's going to continue to build on Epcot's celebration of creativity and ingenuity.

FITZGERALD:
That's right. Epcot is a reassurance that we are part of something great. If we can dream it, we can do it. And, Epcot has always been a place where the real becomes fantastic, where you can train to be an astronaut or you can travel beneath the seas, but it's always become a place where the fantastic becomes real. For example, talking to a Sea Turtle, named Crush or Soarin Around the World, in four and a half minutes, but now that fantastic is about to become real, in a whole new way.

CHAPEK:
That's because we're thrilled to announce today that Epcot will soon have a brand new, e-ticket attraction, based on the rockin', action-packed world of Guardians of the Galaxy. We think this epitomizes our goals for Epcot in a way that stays true to the original ideals. It's also more timeless, more relevant, more family, more Disney. And, it will really give fans that sense of "wow" that they've come to expect from Disney.

FITZGERALD:
So, the Guardians are going to take our guests on an out of this world adventure, but it will still be very rooted in an Epcot story. In fact, the reason that the Guardians have come to Epcot in the first place is that a young Peter Quill, actually visited Epcot as a kid. . . . . proof.

CHAPEK:
Who knew? So, Tom, how in the world did you get that photo?

FITZGERALD:
Rocket stole it from the Guardian.

CHAPEK:
That collector. Of course he did.

So, guests at Disney California Adventure already love stepping into the worlds of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and we're excited to give guests in Florida a chance to experience this world in a new way. Now, the teams that are working on all of this and more, in time for the opening of Walt Disney World's 50th Anniversary. Now, work of this magnitude, obviously is going to take some time, but in the meantime, Tom, tell them what's in store for guests starting this summer.

FITZGERALD:
Okay. Next month we'll be re-opening Mission: Space, and when we do, we're adding a brand new mission to join the already popular Orange mission. Our partners at ILM have worked their magic on making the Mars mission look even more incredible, but wait 'till you see what we've created with them for the all-new Green mission.

Guests are going to blast-off for an orbital adventure around our planet, and as you can see in some of these clips, it's kinda like soarin' around earth. And, with this Green mission, what's really great is that younger kids can join the adventure for the very first time.

CHAPEK:
And, this is just one more example of how we're looking to enhance what we already love about Epcot, and following one of our guiding principles to give families even more opportunities to enjoy the park together.

Tom, we've got some other extraordinary plans. What else would you like to share with our fans?

FITZGERALD:
Oh, there's a lot I'd love to share with you today, but I'll save that for the next time. I'll tell you one more thing.

We all know that guests love dining at Epcot. It's one of the real keys of Epcot, and the restaurants there really are out of this world, but now we're about to create one that takes that literally. Adjacent to Mission: Space, will be a brand-new table-service restaurant that will invite you to travel high about the earth, where you'll enjoy great meals, and an even greater view.

CHAPEK:
That's fantastic, Tom. I know all of us are wondering where we might see your next animatronic head.

FITZGERALD:
Well, I don't know where . . . gonna be, but from the looks of this and everything else we have on board I think I'll be spending a lot of time in Epcot.

CHAPEK:
Thanks, Tom. Tom Fitzgerald.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

D23 Expo 2017: Parks and Resorts Announcements


Disney announced quite a few changes, some that you won't see for years into the future and some changes that you will see very soon. Let's take a look at what Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman, Bob Chapek, announced in Anaheim at D23 Expo today.

Going

  • The Great Movie Ride will close at the end of the day on Sunday, August 13, 2017
  • Ellen's Energy Adventure will close at the end of the day on Sunday, August 13, 2017

Not Addressed at D23 Expo

While rumors persist about even more changes to Disney World in the years to come, not every rumor was address at the Expo. Some potential changes park fans have talked about in recent months and years that were not address include the following:
  • No new World Showcase pavilions
  • No replacement for Illuminations announced
  • No changes to the Imagination pavilion
  • No nighttime parade for Magic Kingdom
  • No details about any other changes to Tomorrowland besides the Tron attraction
  • No new name for Disney's Hollywood Studios
  • No new children's play area in Disney's Hollywood Studios
  • No changes to Animal Kingdom announced






Coming to Disney World

Disney's Hollywood Studios: Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge

Quite a bit has already filtered through electronic media in recent months about the new Star Wars addition to Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disneyland. Today, enough was officially announced that I wrote a separate post detailing the Star Wars announcements.

Star Wars Resort

Not much that wasn't already known was revealed about this resort, but I have included what was shared in a separate post detailing the Star Wars announcements from the Disney Parks presentation.

Disney's Hollywood Studios: Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway


Imagineer Kevin Rafferty spoke about the first ride through attraction dedicated to Mickey Mouse. Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway will replace the Great Movie Ride in Chinese Theatre at Disney's Hollywood Studios, taking you into a "two and a half D" world of a cartoon. Mickey and Minnie will appear in the style of recent cartoon shorts, a throwback of sorts to Mickey's origins in his earliest appearance on screen. Goofy will also appear as the engineer of the locomotive, which probably accounts for why this railway will be the "runaway" variety. The Great Movie Ride will close at the end of the day on Sunday, August 13, 2017.

Despite Mickey's diminutive stature, Rafferty described the forthcoming attraction by saying, "this is not going to be a small attraction, it’s going to be game-changing." Given the size of the show building, the importance of Mickey Mouse to the company, and the location of the Chinese Theatre at the focal point of this park, it sounds like it will, indeed, be something special, though it's not clear what the ride experience will be. Rafferty did promise "more hidden Mickeys than any attraction anywhere in the universe."

See Disney's official announcement.

Disney's Hollywood Studios: Toy Story Land to Open Summer, 2018

Toy Story Land was announced some time ago and there's been concept art posted on the construction walls around its future home in Disney's Hollywood Studios for quite a while. The news today was that it will open "next summer." The land will feature Slinky Dog Dash, what Disney describes as "a family coaster attraction," and Alien Swirling Saucers, which appears to be a better-themed version of a Scrambler-type attraction. Neither of these additions to the park appear to be headliner attractions, but both appear to appeal to all-ages, which should increase the appeal of the Studios to children.

D23 Expo guests viewed a short video showing "reconnaissance" of the new area by Sarge from Toy Story. There was no mention in the presentation or subsequent press release of any dining or merchandise locations within the new land.

See Disney's official announcement.








Epcot: Ratatouille

An attraction similar to Disneyland Paris' Ratatouille: The Adventure will be added in what Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald described as "a new space" adjacent to the France pavilion in Epcot. Guest will be shrunk to the size of Remy in what appears to be a 4D experience. The Ratatouille attraction in Paris uses a trackless ride vehicle, which should bring a fun, unpredictable family-friendly experience to World Showcase. The official release from Disney Parks says, "The attraction will expand the pavilion," so it appears that nothing will close as a result of this change. The attraction is set to open "by the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World Resort in 2021."

See Disney's official announcement.

Epcot: New Circle-Vision film in China

Tom Fitzgerald briefly mentioned that a new film will come to the China pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase. Disney has created a new digital Circle-Vision camera system that will allow a seamless presentation that past Circle-Vision movies were not able to offer. While it was not directly stated during the presentation, it seems likely this new film will eventually replace the current Wonders of China film.

A few days after the Expo. Disney Parks shared a story repeating Fitzgerald's comments.

Epcot: Guardians of the Galaxy

Fitzgerald announced a "new E-Ticket attraction based on Guardians of the Galaxy" will be coming to Epcot in the space currently occupied by Ellen's Energy Adventure. This attraction will be different from the Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout attraction that recently opened in Disney's California Adventure. The current Universe of Energy pavilion will close at the end of the day on Sunday, August 13, 2017. The new attraction is set to open "by the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World Resort in 2021."


Without revealing details of what this new ride experience will include, Fitzgerald described the new Guardians attraction only in general terms, as "more timeless, more relevant, and more Disney." Imagineers created a tenuous connection to Epcot's past by announcing Peter Quill, one of the Guardians of the Galaxy, visited Epcot as a child before his adventures across the galaxy.

See Disney's official announcement.


Epcot: New Mission: SPACE Mission

When Mission Space re-opens in Future World next month it will include a second separate ride experience. The "Green" Mission will now "be an [earth] orbital experience" that "younger kids can join." It is unclear whether we will see any changes to the existing "Orange" Mission, but adding a distinct and presumably less-turbulent experience was an expected and likely-welcome change to this attraction.

Epcot: Mission: SPACE Restaurant

In another effort to bring life back to a floundering pavilion, a new table service restaurant will be added next to Mission: SPACE. The setting for your meal will be somewhere "above the earth" and it appears that large windows (somewhat like the Coral Reef restaurant) will offer diners a look out into space. No details were offered about when the restaurant will open, but Disney's press release did say it will be operated by the Patina Restaurant Group, who also run Tutto Italia, Via Napoli, and Morimoto Asia.

See Disney's official announcement.






Magic Kingdom: Tron

The TRON Lightcycle Power Run from Shanghai Disneyland is coming to the Magic Kingdom "in a new space next to Space Mountain." Disney's official announcement describes this as "a coaster-style attraction where riders board a train of two-wheeled Lightcycles" and adds, "it offers access into the energy, lights and excitement of TRON’s high-tech universe." The light cycles are somewhat similar in shape to what visitors to Pandora's Flight of Passage may be familiar with, though the ride experience is very different. This is a fast-paced coaster style attraction that has drawn rave reviews from many guests in Shanghai and an exciting addition to the Magic Kingdom.

In recent weeks, some blogs fueled rumors that this attraction would replace the Tomorrowland Speedway, but given the way Chapek worded his announcement and the description of the location as "an entirely new area right next to the Space Mountain," it appears that nothing will close to build this attraction. It appears that it will sit mostly in on the opposite side of the Walt Disney World Railroad track, in an area currently occupied only by trees. Chapek announced the attraction will "open in time for the 50th [anniversary of Walt Disney World]," which means no later than October 1, 2021.

See Disney's official announcement.

Magic Kingdom: New Theater on Main Street USA

While many of today's announcements were confirmation of stories that had leaked in recent months, this one came completely out of the blue. A new theater will be built on Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom. The outside of the theater will be built to resemble the Willis Wood Theater in 1920s Kansas City, Missouri, intended to evoke a place where Walt Disney began his career in animation. What guests can expect to find inside the theater was not announced, though Chapek likened it to the Hyperion Theater in Disney's California Adventure, which is currently running a show based on the animated film Frozen. It does not appear that this theater will replace any existing buildings on Main Street.

See Disney's official announcement.






Disney's Riviera Resort

Chapek said very little about this new Disney Vacation Club resort, except that it will include a top floor restaurant with views of nighttime spectaculars in Epcot and Hollywood Studios. This appears to be the official announcement of a long-rumored DVC addition to Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort, though with a different name and it appears it will operate as a distinct resort. The folks at DVCNews.com have a pretty thorough summary of exactly where the resort will be located and everything else we know at this point.

A Disney press release adds some detail, noting the resort will include "300 units spread across a variety of accommodation types." The release also adds the expected opening date of Disney's Riviera Resort to be during fall 2019.

Minnie Vans

Chapek announced what is officially described as a "new transportation service featuring vehicles themed to the one-and-only Minnie Mouse." Chapek added that this would be "a new point-to-point transportation service." How exactly this will work in unclear at this time, but a Disney press release says that guests will request this transportation from their smartphone "and a Disney Cast Member will drive them wherever they want to go around Walt Disney World." In recent years, speculation has indicated Disney wanted to offer service similar to what guests experience with ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft (or, more specifically, they wanted to cash in on offering a service of their own).

While no other details were announced during the Expo, the red and white polka-dotted vehicles have been spotted on Disney World property in the days following the announcement. Thus far, Disney has stated that service will begin "later this month" for guests of the Boardwalk, Yacht, and Beach Club resorts. Rumors persist that cars will be reserved using the Lyft smartphone app and the cost of the service will be a flat rate of $20, but Disney has yet to confirm the price or partnership with Lyft.

See Disney's official announcement. and a post-Expo post from Disney Parks Blog.

Disney Skyliner

Plans for a gondola system connecting Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios to some nearby hotels have been floating around for the past couple months, but Disney finally made that news official today. The gondola system will be known as Disney Skyliner and in addition to two theme parks, it will also serve Disney's Art of Animation, Pop Century, Caribbean Beach, and new DVC Riviera Resort. The opening date for the Skyliner was not announced

The Skyliner will stop near Epcot's International Gateway entrance. There was no word where this will connect with Disney's Hollywood Studios, but that will likely soon be apparent when construction in that area begins. The concept art suggests these will be enclosed vehicles, which presumably means they will also be climate controlled. Chapek announced that some gondolas will include Disney characters, but it was not clear what that meant.

See Disney's official announcement.







Outside of Disney World

Bob Chapek announced quite a few changes outside of Disney World. Since our focus here is on the Florida parks, I will not cover those in much detail, but since those items may be of interest to some readers, I will mention them. Other new things coming from Disney Parks and Resorts in the years to come include the following:

  • Disney’s Hotel New York: The Art of Marvel - the existing Hotel New York in Disneyland Paris will be re-themed to feature Iron Man, The Avengers, Spider-Man, and others in a way "that would make Tony Stark proud"
  • Pixar Pier - the existing Paradise Pier section of DCA will be re-themed to feature popular Pixar movies and will open in 2018 with Pixar Fest
  • Disneyland will offer a New Fireworks Show during Pixar Fest
  • The Pixar Play Parade Will Run in Disneyland 
  • Paint the Night Returns - the nighttime parade will run in DCA, instead of Disneyland, possibly including a new float
  • Radiator Springs in DCA Will Celebrate Halloween - You may say cars in costumes
  • Marvel in DCA - Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout is "only the beginning of greater super hero presence at Disneyland Resort", with Spider-Man and the Avengers coming to DCA in the future
  • Fantasmic Returns Saturday, 7/15 - The show was set to return to Disneyland on Monday, but the opening was moved up to Saturday, with D23 Expo guests (who had already had park admission) offered special viewing locations
  • Disney Cruise Line Will Add a Third New Ship - Two new ships had already been announced, but a third will now also be built, with one new ship launching each year between 2021-2023 + each ship will be the same size, but offer "its own unique experiences"
  • A Beauty and the Beast Stage Musical Will Debut on Disney Cruises - No word when this will happen, but it will include two new songs and will use puppetry to portray the enchanted objects


Disney Parks Stars Wars Announcements from D23 Expo 2017

Disney made two significant announcements pertaining to the presence of Star Wars in Disney World during today's Parks and Resorts presentation at D23 Expo in Anaheim.

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge

The official name of the new land was announced, but opening dates were not. It was noted that the land will open first in Anaheim, then later in 2019 in Disney World. The lands will be essentially the same in Disney World and Disneyland, differing only in how you enter the area. The land will contain two attractions and at least one dining option, the cantina. The area will be populated by characters (including some droids), some familiar and some new, that will interact with you, supposedly based on choices you make during the attractions, and perhaps elsewhere in the new space. Disney released a video exploring a model of Galaxy's Edge, while Inside the Magic also have video of the model that includes an interview with Portfolio Creative Executive at Disney Imagineering, Scott Trowbridge. Trowbridge appeared during the Expo presentation and repeated a lot of what he told Inside the Magic.


The attractions both sound pretty ambitious. In one, you will pilot the Millennium Falcon, though it's not clear how that will work. It was suggested that it's possible to crash the ship, so guests will clearly be able to effect the ride experience, though Chapek also noted "everybody works as a team," which I interpret as "everybody in a particular ride vehicle will have the same result." One of Disney's talking points during the Expo has been that you will be commended for successfully completing a mission here, presumably by walk-around characters in the park or in restaurants, but if you fail you may lose galactic credits, then you might upset someone and find that bounty hunters are out to get you.

The second attraction will take place inside an Imperial Star Destroyer. Not much was said about this attraction beyond that, but the ride vehicle was revealed among the Expo exhibits. WDW News Today has a variety of photos of the First Order Fleet Transport. The vehicle suggests this will be a trackless ride system, which Disney has used effectively as part of attractions in different overseas parks. This adds a level of unpredictability, as you don't follow the same path each ride, so you will likely see and hear different things each time you visit.

Galaxy's Edge will also include what was only described as "the cantina," which would suggest it will be evocative of the cantina from the original Star Wars film (now Episode 4). A face familiar to Star Tours fans will appear inside this dining establishment, as Captain Rex, the original pilot from Star Tours, will work as the DJ. Those who remember Rex know that he has a habit of making mistakes, and it was implied that is likely to continue in his new role. Not much else was said about the cantina, except that blue milk will be available.

No other attractions, dining, or merchandise locations were announced. The only other specific entertainment (of sort) that was mentioned was a character with whom you can trade items. This sounds similar to the experience Jawas have offered in Disney's Hollywood Studios in recent years, though on a larger scale. I didn't catch the correct spelling of the name, but I believe Trowbridge referred to him as Dak Andar.

Within Galaxy's Edge, there are to be three distinct areas, a resistance outpost, a bustling trading post, and an area occupied by the First Order. Generally speaking, Trowbridge described Galaxy's Edge as a "stepping off point for adventures." It is clear that Disney intends for there to be much more to your Star Wars land experience than just riding attractions and eating food, as walk-around characters (human, alien, and droid) are supposed to interact with you and be familiar with the reputation you have earned. Presumably, this will be done by tracking your MagicBands or RFID tickets that will notify these characters what you have done in the land and how successful you have mean, which will further add to the unpredictability that the two attractions will offer. Trowbridge added that you will create "your own adventure." If Disney is successful in integrating attractions and other experience, then it will set a new standard for what is possible in theme parks in a way we have not seen since a long time ago.

See Disney's official announcement.






Star Wars Resort

Avid Disney Parks fans may have heard about this idea in April, when concept art from a Disney guest survey made the rounds on social media. Today, Disney officially announced a Star Wars resort will be built in Disney World, but did not say much else. In April, speculation was that the new resort will be near Disney's Hollywood Studios, but no official announcement was made about the location.

What we do know is that the resort will make it appear as if you have stepped onto a starship and everything you encounter should further that theme. One noteworthy item was that Bob Chapek announced, "every window has a view into space." This suggests no actual windows into the real world (which would disrupt the theme), perhaps something akin to the popular virtual portholes on the Disney Cruise line, though on a larger scale. Chapek described the overall experience as "100% immersive," which doesn't mean a whole lot (except to serve as further proof that Disney believes it important to describe every initiative in their parks these days as "immersive"), but does suggest this will be more than just a hotel that looks like something you might see in Star Wars. In a similar manner to how characters are to react to your choices inside the new Galaxy's Edge land, it sounds as though the characters you encounter at this resort may do the same. Chapek said the experience "will culminate in a unique journey for every person who visits."


See Disney's official announcement.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Exploring Pandora: Food and Beverage

There are only two places to find food and drinks while visiting Pandora in Disney's Animal Kingdom, but both figure to be busy for the foreseeable future. I was fortunate to sample selections from each location during previews prior to the official opening on this new land and will share my thoughts below.






Satu'li Canteen

A large indoor dining area and covered outdoor tables make for a welcoming location for the newest quick service dining location in Disney's Animal Kingdom. Satu'li Canteen features a relatively short menu that still provides a variety of different choices. For lunch and dinner, adults choose between pods (steamed buns) or a "bowl" that they can customize to their tastes. Children can order small versions of the adult entrees or cuisine more familiar to earth-based travelers. I tried the bowls and the pods and the bowls are what have me looking forward to my next meal on Pandora.

Initially, the "Create-Your-Own Satu'li Bowl" might seem a little confusing, but it requires three relatively simple choices, and while I haven't tried them all, I suspect you won't go wrong with anything you order here. You start by selecting a protein, between beef, chicken, fish, or tofu. You also select a "base" (two different salads, potato hash, or rice) and sauce and then you're set. Each meal is also served with vegetable slaw and yogurt Boba Balls.
I chose the chicken bowl with rice and charred onion chimichurri for my bowl and was pleased with my selection. I might try one of the other sauces when I return (black bean vinaigrette or creamy herb dressing), but the rice was very good and the chicken was outstanding. A friend who eats a vegan diet also raved about the fried tofu bowl, ordering it again when we returned to Satu'li Canteen for a second meal.

I was less impressed with the Cheeseburger 'Pods.' It is an interesting idea and I appreciate the attempt to repackage a familiar sandwich in a different way, but it just struck me as ordinary. I also had some misgivings about the accompanying Root Vegetable Chips, but those turned out to be very tasty.

Satu'li Canteen also deserves commendation for it's beer list. There are only two choices, both of which are also available at Pongo Pongo (see below), but both are above average options. Since it seems breweries are scarce in the Valley of Mo'ara, Disney reached out to Georgia's Terrapin Beer Co. to create two beers that are (to the best of my knowledge) are only available on Pandora. You'll probably see a little of pictures of the green Hawkes' Grog Ale, a pale wheat ale that is more than just a novelty beer that should please just about anyone who enjoys beer. It's not spectacular, but a good solid all-around beer that left me pleasantly surprised.

Less impressive, but still a solid choice for those who prefer lagers is the Mo'ara High Country Ale. There wasn't anything special with this oddly named lager that calls itself an "ale", but also nothing wrong with it. If you want a cold lager on a hot day, then you'll be happy to drink one of these. Also available is a limited wine list an two beers that you can find anywhere on earth, along with sangria and a variety of self-service fountain drinks. If you collect novelty cups, then there's one available here for an additional $8 - $8.50, depending on what drink you want to put in it.

Satu'li Canteen also features a couple interesting desserts, but I haven't tried those yet. One other feature of this restaurant that is worth paying attention to is the ability to place your order online, through the My Disney Experience mobile app. You can enter an order there at any time during the day you are visiting Disney's Animal Kingdom, then return to the app to submit your order when you are near the restaurant. If you are visiting during a busy time, then this could save you a substantial amount of time waiting in line for your food. However, as of the opening of Pandora the app only allowed you to pay for your order by credit card, so there is not currently a way to pay using Disney Dining Plan credits or with a Disney Gift Card. If you are interested in details of how this process works, then the folks at Touring Plans wrote a pretty comprehensive blog post on that topic.





Pongo Pongo

Located just outside Satu'li Canteen, Pongo Pongo is mostly a drink stand, serving beer, bottled water, and some pre-mixed novelty drinks. As of opening, the menu did not include any soda selections, so you'll have to go to the full quick service restaurant if that's what you want.




I tried the Mo'ara Margarita, gold tequila mixed with strawberry or blood orange, topped with strawberry Boba Balls. This was a decent frozen drink that I wouldn't be unhappy having again, but not something I'll make a point of ordering during future visits (ie: it's not like the frozen slushes at the France pavilion in Epcot). it's more likely if I feel like I want a drink on Pandora that I'll order another of the land-specific beers that are also available at Pongo Pongo.

Since I mentioned collectible cups inside at Satu'li Canteen, I'll note that drinks at Pongo Pongo can be served in a different drinking vessel you can take home with you, this time in mugs with "glowing unadelta seed". I've somehow managed to survive this long without "glowing unadelta seed" in my home and as much as I enjoy novelty glowing drinks I didn't need to pay double the price for my margarita for this souvenir.



That wraps up your food choices while you visit Pandora. I'd love to hear what your experiences are with these new quick service locations!


Keep a close eye on your drinks in Pandora, because you never know who or what might try to get their hands on it.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Why do I go to WDW? A Place Where People Look Out for Each Other

People often ask me why I go to Disney World so frequently and I've never been satisfied with the answers I've been able to articulate. It is a comfortable place, with a variety of fun activities, I know my way around, there is great food on property along with excellent cocktails served in beautiful seeings, and there are ample opportunities to practice different photographic techniques. So, the Disney parks and resorts fit well with some of my favorite hobbies and there's even a part of me that likes trying to outsmart the crowds and figure out how see and do more in a single day than most other guests would think possible. However, I could accomplish much of this without straying far from where I live, so there's more to why I choose to spend so much time in Central Florida and I will endeavor to answer that question for myself and for curious friends and readers in this series of blog posts.

Before leaving Disney's Hollywood Studios this past Tuesday I saw a sweet moment that I was able to capture with my camera. Goofy had just finished meeting with guests and was setting off on a break, when he looked over and saw a little girl with her father. I did not observe whether the little girl may have been agitated with someone that went wrong in her day or really excited to see Goofy walking past, but I did see that Goofy took her hand and started walking with her on his way to his break.

There are a couple ways to look at this. The most common is to say this was a moment of Disney "magic." However, I don't buy that explanation. What I do believe is that the environment inside the Disney World "bubble" is one where everyone is expected to behave differently than in other places. It is a world in which everyone is expected to be courteous and to look out for each other's safety and well-being. Those expectations are explicitly stated to Disney Cast Member's and [Spoiler Alert] there is an actual human being inside that Goofy costume who not only has been trained to try to make other people's days a little better, but has also been surrounded by other people trying to make other people happy. This Cast Member, who just spent half an hour picked kicked, grabbed, pushed, and shoved in 90 degree heat and humidity, while wearing an unwieldy costume he can barely see out of, could easily have rushed off for his air conditioned break and few people would have faulted him for doing so, but he instead chose to create a moment that this little girl and many of her family and friends will remember for a lifetime.






For the most part Disney Cast Members take great pride in fostering an environment where people look for ways to create joy and inspiration for each other, but it is not Cast Members alone that may Disney parks that happy places that they are. I can't claim to be an expert on human behavior, but it seems that we generally understand that there are different expectations for us in different places. I'm not talking about a set of rules posted on a wall someone, but rather that when we see other people giving gifts to other guests, checking to see if we can help a stranger who looks distraught, or just striking up a conversation with people we've never met before, then we seem more likely to emulate that behavior. We don't do this because someone said we would be thrown out of the park for failing to comply with a rule, but because we feel safe to do so and maybe because we think that if other guests are treated each other with this sort of kindness and respect that we should do the same.

I've experienced many examples of special guest behavior over the years, but one that stood out from my most recent trip was this past Monday night standing near the Partners statue in the Magic Kingdom Hub, waiting for the new Once Upon a Time fireworks show to start. Shortly before the show was scheduled to begin we heard a P.A. announcement that the evening's show was delayed. During the delay, a couple guests and I started talking about how the show wasn't likely to be canceled and speculating why the show wasn't starting when it appeared that rainstorms from earlier in the evening had passed out of the area. A little bit after the show's scheduled 9:00 PM start we found out why we were waiting for the show to start, when the skies opened up and rain began pouring down on us. I had my camera setup on a tripod to photograph the show and a couple thousand people stood between me and the nearest shelter, so there wasn't much choice other than to ride out the storm in place. I had ponchos for me and for my camera, but didn't have time to take either of those out of my backpack before this particular storm arrived. While I was scrambling to keep my camera (and eventually, myself) dry two people who I had never met before decided they needed to protect my camera and hold their umbrellas over top of it. I didn't ask them to do this, but I didn't need to. They understood that in Disney World we look out for each other.

Some people dismiss Disney parks as "fake" and contrived environments. Buildings are, indeed, often just facades and I realize I'm not seeing the original Eiffel Tower when I visit Epcot, but the parks are more than just buildings and attractions. The real Disney "world" is one in which people want to make a little girl's day better or where they don't want to see a stranger lose his camera to a surprise rain shower. We can do these things in the "real" world, too, but too often we don't, so until the rest of the world catches up, I'll still spend some of my time in Disney World.