Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Loews Hollywood Room 1532

Pictures of Loews Hollywood hotel Room 1532 from October 28 - 30, 2012, part of the Backstage Magic tour from Adventures by Disney.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Brainstorming for Disneyland

[ED NOTE: Revised because I had omitted World of Color from my "must do" list, since a viewing was part of our tour, but it should be part of the list.  I also moved some items around thanks to the advice of Seth Kubersky and Guy Selga]

I'm going to Disneyland!  Just about four months ago, as I watched Cars Land open its doors I decided I finally had to see Disney's west coast park for myself.  The seeds for this idea were planted the year before when I first saw videos of World of Color, perhaps Disney's most innovative and spectacular nighttime performance, then seeing the landscape of Cars Land and the ride videos from Radiator Springs Racers inspired me to study Disneyland in greater detail.  I knew that park had history on its side, but I also found an impressive array of attractions packed into a relatively small space, giving the California parks a remarkable "fun density."  The only question was when I could find time to visit and who I could convince to make the trip with me.

Everything fell into place rather quickly when I learned about the Backstage Magic tour, offered by Adventures by Disney.  I'll cover the tour in detail later, but this seemed like the perfect opportunity for my father and me to travel to Disney's Southern California parks, along with some other locations that we couldn't just walk off the street to see, like the Jim Henson Studios and Walt Disney Imagineering.  As excited as I am for the tour and getting to see Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure, the constraints of the tour present some unique planning challenges.  Since Todd has been talking about planning in the context of our recent trip to Disney World, I thought it may be useful to share my thoughts in preparing for this trip out west.

When going on vacation I like to have a plan, or at least a rough idea what I want do each do while away.  Generally, most items on the plan won't be carved in stone (except sometimes for prepaid items, some tours or dinner reservations , or other items that may require advanced planning or would be difficult to reschedule), but at least I'll have an idea what I want to do.  This begins by brainstorming a list of things I want to do, then prioritizing that list.  This post covers the brainstorming steps.

As I've studied Disneyland I realized that there any many more differences in the park and Disney World's Magic Kingdom than I originally realized.  Thus, my priority will be to see things I can't see in Florida, but hopefully still with time to see some favorites that are also available back east.

Wish List Meals

Our Adventures by Disney tour includes a dinner at Steakhouse 55 and breakfasts at Goofy's Kitchen and Storyteller's Café on different days.  Some other meals are listed as "provided" without a location specified.  From what I can tell, we'll be on our own for two lunches and one dinner during the tour, then lunch and dinner when we stay in the parks the day the tour ends, and there may be time for lunch before leaving for the airport on our last day.  I will be traveling with my father, so I want to choose places that both of us will like (for example, the Blue Bayou gets good reviews, but my father doesn't like anything he perceives as "Cajun", so a New Orleans bayou themed restaurant won't appeal to him).

  • Carthay Circle - one of my father's favorite places to eat in Disney World has been the Brown Derby; I think Carthay offers a similar combination of upscale food and old-fashioned class
  • Flo's V-8 Café - Trying a newer restaurant is appealing to me and the views of Cars Land make this look like a pleasant place to sit and enjoy a meal
  • Hungry Bear Restaurant - The setting by the Rivers of America looks like a relaxing place to take a break for a meal
  • French Market - this was suggested and looks like a good place to eat, but I'll have to show my dad the menu to see if there's anything he would like

Wish List Attractions - Disneyland

I've organized this list from "must dos" (shows and rides that I would be disappointed if we didn't see) and into other categories in declining order of interest.  The idea is to see things that are unique to Disneyland or where attractions are not exact duplicates of what I've seen in the Magic Kingdom.

Indiana Jones (closed)
Pirates of the Caribbean
Haunted Mansion (want to see holiday overlay)
Finding Nemo Submarine
Castle Walkthrough
Mr. Toad
Roger Rabbit
Space Mountain
Storybook Land Canal Boats (closed)

Fantasmic (if show is running)
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
Alice in Wonderland

Snow White

Buzz Lightyear

Penny Arcade
Star Tours
Splash Mountain
Big Thunder
Jungle Cruise
Disney Gallery
Chip ‘n Dale Treehouse
Main St. Cinema
Riverboat / Sailing Ship
Tarzan’s Treehouse

Wish List Attractions - DCA

Radiator Springs Racers
World of Color
Little Mermaid
Luigi’s Flying Tires
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
Monster’s Inc Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
Toy Story Mania (my father hasn't ridden this in WDW yet)
Blue Sky Cellar

California Screamin’
Five and Dime
Tower of Terror

Red Car Trolley
Redwood Trail (if it is accessible to someone who has trouble walking)

Mickey’s Fun Wheel
Muppet*Vision 3D (this is still running Frankenweenie previews)
Bakery Tour
Goofy’s Sky School
Grizzly River Run (don't really want to get wet)
Sorcerer’s Workshop

So, that's what I want to see.  We'll see how everything works out in California.  I know I'll have fun no matter what, but thought it would be interesting to share my thinking before leaving home.  What do you think?  Do any Disneyland veterans have any suggestions for other things I should do? or, things that I should skip?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book Review: Building a Better Mouse: The Story of the Electronic Imagineers Who Designed Epcot

By Steve Alcorn and David Green
Theme Perks Press: 2007

I was initially disappointed by what was not included in Building a Better Mouse, but was soon taken in by the unexpectedly compelling story of the construction of EPCOT Center mostly from the perspective of the electronic engineers in California who designed the systems that operated the attractions in the park, primarily the American Adventure.  When I first purchased this book and read it (a year and a half ago) I hoped to read about all the pavilions in their early days and see pictures of EPCOT Center being built.  This book does not attempt to take on the ambitious task of documenting all of the construction of a park as vast as EPCOT Center.  Instead, the book attempts to put you in the shoes of some of the people who helped bring that park to life and does so effectively.  Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising, given Disney's history of impressive storytelling, that the authors would know how to tell a tale.

The book is rather short, with only 130 pages of text, and the edition I read would have been considerably improved by the addition of pictures and diagrams to better tell the story.  There is a new "30th Anniversary" version of the book, which includes a note that it is now "with Photos," so if you are considering purchasing the book, then I recommend the newer version [Note: At last check, Amazon was selling both versions of the book for the same price; our link at the bottom of this review is to the newer version].  Continuing my list of gripes is that with two different authors it can sometimes be difficult to know which one is telling the story, but my biggest complaint with the book is the casual use of first names.  Whether it be Mark, Marty, Jane, Brian, Jenny, or a host of other names I often felt as though I should have known who people were as they appeared in stories.  Early in the book more than a dozen engineers and managers are introduced within a few pages, so the second time I read the text I made note of all of their names and (when-provided) the descriptions of their jobs, but even after doing so I still found a host of new characters appeared in different anecdotes without a proper description of who they were or what role they played in the story.  Generally speaking, I could still figure out what was going on, but it would often have helpful to know who some of these people were - managers, colleagues, co-ops from college, engineers from another team?  Too often it felt like people telling inside jokes that I wasn't in on.

Despite that criticism, the story is otherwise very-well written, introducing the "normal" work environment of a Disney imagineer in California in the late 1970s and early 1980s and documenting how their lives and jobs changed as employees relocated to Florida in preparation for the opening of EPCOT Center.  The book documents the increasingly hectic days when the previews prior to the park's opening drew near through transcripts of an audio diary kept by engineer Glenn Birket.  This successfully conveys the strain everyone was under to bring the American Adventure online in time to the park to open, along with the seemingly impossibly long hours that were needed to do so.  The book also serves as a reminder that projects of the size of EPCOT Center don't last forever, and as much as building the park consumed the lives of so many people, it was not long after construction was complete that their services were no longer needed.  As the author's elegantly describe, their "ears were amputated."

"A project like this is so vast in scope it will take the cooperation of many people to make it a reality."  These were the words of Walt Disney, describing his original concept for EPCOT in a film promoting the plans for his Florida Project.  Near the beginning of the book the authors quote several paragraphs from that film that were part of the "pixie-dusting" of young engineers (and presumably others who built the park) as they started their careers as Disney Imagineers.  These words, in particular, serve as an important reminder that actual people, lots of them, built the park that so many of us look back upon with fond memories.  It is easy to remember the shows and rides, but Building a Better Mouse sets out to make sure we don't forget the people behind the scenes who made that happen.

If you wish to purchase Building a Better Mouse, then please 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 some of Steve Alcorn's other books, including another focusing on theme park design and a handful of novels.  You can see these books listed on his publishing site (  Alcorn also offers an online class in theme park design at ( and appeared on The Season Pass Podcast ( Episode 157: The Steve Alcorn Interview -

Monday, October 15, 2012

Summary of New Fantasyland Live Chat

This afternoon, the Disney Parks Blog hosted a live chat with Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Director Chris Beatty.  Beatty, the "overall creative director of the New Fantasyland expansion," answered questions, mostly submitted through the blog post announcing the event or from the moderator, along with a few questions from those watching live.  The presentation highlighted the new restaurants of New Fantasyland, briefly discussed the new Little Mermaid ride, and ended with a few other topics.  Below is a summary of what was covered.

Be Our Guest Restaurant

The presentation began with a video featuring imagineers talking about the Be Our Guest Restaurant.

As you first see Beast's Castle, imagineer Tim Warzech suggests, "when you're at a distance we really want you to see that you're being drawn to the castle itself."  Then, the story continues as imagineer Ted Robledo says you, "have to cross that iconic bridge, guarded by gargoyles along the way."


All of the imagineers, in the video, and during the chat seemed required to use the word "foreboding" to describe your entrance to Beast's Castle.  Above the doorway is a mosaic that tells story of Beauty and the Beast, but most of the rest of your introduction to the castle should evoke a feeling of trepidation, similar to what Belle would have felt when she first approached Beast's home.  Chris Beatty described the West Wing in detail during the chat:

The West Wing is meant to feel like any minute you’re in there that the Beast could come busting in the door. There’s a sense of foreboding to the room - the ambiance is very dark and heavy and it really takes on the personality of the Beast. You get this sense that you’re trespassing in some place you should not have been.

This portrait of the prince changes to Beast when all of the petals from the Enchanted Rose drop.

The "Rose Gallery" dining room will include a jar "in front of a set of windows that have a nighttime effect and as the storm approaches, the windows change color."  That room will also feature a large music box in the center of the room, that is designed to look like it was built by Maurice as a gift for Belle and Beast.  The designs for this music box are supposed to be visible as part of Maurice's Workshop, as seen during Enchanted Tales with Belle.  The music box will play periodically.  During the video, imagineer Warzecha suggests everyone look up to see the stained-glass rose above the music box, as it is a detail that could easily be overlooked amidst the impressive surroundings.

Inside the restaurant, portraits and tapestries on the walls feature Belle and Beast, along with their enchanted friends.  This will be the only place where you see those characters in the restaurant, as Beatty noted, "there are no current plans to have a character dining experience."

Gaston's Tavern

Inside Gaston's Tavern, look for the fist marks on the wall from the brawl that just ended.  There will also be "some fun hidden elements hanging from some of the antlers as if a party just ended."  Beatty also added that "there’s one more element that’s missing from Gaston’s Tavern that will ‘sit’ next to Gaston’s portrait," but did not offer any further information about what that might be.

Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid

In describing the queue for The Little Mermaid, Beatty noted, "it's important for us to start the story as soon as you approach the attraction."  Those who have seen the attraction thus far have been impressed with the detail you see while waiting in line and the ability to subtle interactions with the crabs that help Ariel organize her belongings.  Beatty said that the story of the Mermaid attraction in the Magic Kingdom is "identical" to that in Disney's California Adventure, but guests "will notice subtle differences throughout."  As an example, Beatty described fog in the cauldron of Ursula's Lair.  Beatty also shared a picture of the submarine from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea carved into the rock work before you enter Ariel's grotto.

Other Topics

  • Disney Parks Blog will host a Be Our Guest Meet-Up, with appearances by Disney Imagineers, at the restaurant on November 17, 2012.  Details about the event were not released, but it will be open to a "select number of Disney Parks Blog readers", so you will need to sign up in advance to attend.  This sign up "will take place in November".
  • In response to a question about whether the Evil Queen will be part of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Beatty said the ride "really focuses on the Dwarfs themselves, but I wouldn't rule out the witch making an appearance."
  • In response to a question about construction where the Skyway station used to be located, Beatty did not mention the new restrooms directly, but did say, "we looked at opportunities to enhance guest comfort."  He also noted "there are no plans" for character meet and greets in this location.
  • In response to a question about the "dress rehearsals" of New Fantasyland, the host of the chat, Jennifer Fickley-Baker responded, "there may be times when it’s necessary to suspend operation of a location, or even the entire area."  She also added film crews will be working in the area at times, to there are no guarantees New Fantasyland will be open before the previously announced November 19th preview date.

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