Adventures of a Cast Member

As I’ve mentioned probably a thousand times before, I used to be a cast member at the (then) Disney/MGM Studios park. It wasn’t for a very long time, but it was still a pretty cool to do. You can read all about how I became a cast member, what the experience was like, and how it ended with these links to parts one, two, and three.

Over the course of my stint as a cast member, I naturally encountered a variety of interesting situations, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some of those tales. Most of them were just random little moments that I thought were neat, and there are a couple in here that (I hope) can act as lessons as how not to act when you’re a guest at a Disney park.

So hang on to your hats and glasses, because this… well, you know the rest!


Animated Conversation

One of the attractions that I worked most frequently was the Magic of Disney Animation. At the time, this offered guests a tour through an animation studio: they’d start by watching a short film (starring Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite) about how animation was created, and then they’d go into the studio where they could see people drawing and creating new Disney animated features. It was a pretty cool experience, in my opinion.

The animators worked on a different schedule than the park, though, and they often left at around five in the afternoon. After that, we’d just be showing guests a bunch of empty desks where the animators usually worked. It was less interesting. Since we still wanted to show something, though, the lights in the studio were kept on so guests could see the desks and equipment. We (the attractions hosts) would head down after closing to turn everything off.

One night, while myself and a couple others were making the final rounds of the night, we came across a lone animator hunched over her desk. She was far enough back that we hadn’t even noticed her all evening. We were going to just pass by and let her work in peace, but she took off her headphones and invited us to stay and chat for a moment. As she had been working solo for a few hours by this point, she admitted that she was starved for a bit of conversation. She showed us what she was working on, which happened to be a scene from Mulan. She flipped back and forth between some of her drawings to show the movement, and described a bit about what was happening. The entire interaction was only a few minutes–enough for her to sit up from her work and take a quick breather before jumping back into it–but it was a very cool moment that has stuck with me ever since.

IMG_2440

One thing I regret not doing: Animation tour guides had a standing invitation to come in early and watch the “dailies” with animators (a showing of the latest work done on an animated feature). I never wanted to get up that early, but in hindsight it would have been an amazing experience.

This Means War

This isn’t one that actually happened to me personally, but rather a tale that was passed down to me by some of the veteran cast members at the Magic of Disney Animation attraction. Whether it happened exactly as they said, or it was embellished, or it was complete fiction, this was one of those “legends” that the old-timers loved to share with us eager young rookies.

The story takes place during shortly before the release of Beauty and the Beast. The animators had been hard at work on the film, and things seemed to be plugging along as expected. Then, unexpectedly, word came down from above that a song was being cut. This meant that the scenes going into and out of that song now had to be “fixed” to ensure that everything flowed smoothly. The animators had to work some crazy hours to try and get this all accomplished in the short time they had left. People were working late, coming in early, and keeping their noses to the grindstones (or, in this case, pencils to paper) to get the film done on time.

Have you ever been so exhausted, so stressed, and so overworked that things got… a little weird? According to those that shared this story with me, that’s exactly what happened. You see, the animators had the usual office supplies at their desks–including rubber bands and paper clips. Someone shot a rubber band at someone else. They returned fire. Soon, things escalated into a full-scale battle in the studio. Animators were ducking behind their desks and firing off paper clips at coworkers, rubber bands were flying through the air, and no actual animating was getting done. So, when the tour guides brought guests into the viewing area, rather than getting to see artists hard at work on the next great Disney movie they were instead watching people run around the studio like children.

One woman in particular (so said the old-timers) was very upset that she couldn’t watch the animators work and didn’t want to just see them playing around. The cast member running the tour apologized and explained that they had been working for days at a breakneck pace trying to get Beauty and the Beast done after some last-minute edits, and that sometimes even professionals need to blow off a little steam. Whether or not that calmed the woman down, I can’t say, but supposedly the animators did calm down and go back to work.

Having met some of the animators myself, I could totally believe that they’d use a rubber band battle to relieve stress, and having dealt with guests I could very easily see one getting upset about seeing that instead of people drawing. Is it true, though? Who knows. Is it a fun story? Absolutely.

Moving Right Along

I guess this is less of a “here’s a cool thing that I did while working at Walt Disney World” anecdote, and more of a “guests can be rude but also funny” story. I leave it to you to decide who was right and/or wrong here.

One part of working at the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show was standing in the theater as guests filed in, asking them to keep moving all the way down a row to make room for everyone. Some people listened, others didn’t, but it was our job to keep saying it into the microphone until people either did it or pushed past each other so the seats got filled either way.

One day, a family got about halfway down an aisle and sat down. Despite my polite requests that they continue to move, they just looked at me and ignored my instructions. When someone came up and wanted to get by them to take a seat further down the aisle, they would just pull their legs in a bit and expect the other people to sidle past. Part of the issue, though, was that these people were large. I’m not saying that to shame them for their body type in any way, I’m just saying that it made it harder for people to squeeze by in the narrow theater rows.

Another family was coming down the row, with the equally large mom in the lead. There was simply no way that she was going to be able to get around the ones that were sitting. I tried again, asking if all guests could please move all the way down to make room for everyone, and again I was ignored. The woman sitting down simply pulled her legs in a bit to allow a few extra inches of passage. The woman who wanted to get by, though, wasn’t having it. She very firmly, and very loudly, told the woman that “the man told you to move down, bitch!” The seated woman stood up almost immediately, and moved all the way down the row.

Now, I’m not advocating the idea of people getting upset with one another at the Most Magical Place on Earth. I’m definitely not advising people to loudly swear in front of kids (especially someone else’s). That being said, it’s possible that the woman was actually the physical embodiment of what I wanted to say at that very moment. It took a considerable amount of effort on my part not to start laughing into the microphone.

Mermaid front sign

Strangely, every “difficult” guest that I encountered was at Voyage of the Little Mermaid. I didn’t have that many issues overall, but it just wasn’t a thing that I experienced at Magic of Disney Animation.

Gag Reel

At the Magic of Disney Animation, effort was made by the animators and staff to make sure that the attractions cast members (like myself) were given the tools that we needed to really be good at our jobs as tour guides. This meant that we were occasionally given behind-the-scenes access to the studio so that we could learn more about the process of animation.

On one occasion, some of us were given a tour of the areas that guests didn’t see: offices, editing, and more, in a building separate from the attraction itself. We got to ask questions and get an idea of what else was happening at the Disney/MGM Studios beyond just being a theme park.

I honestly don’t recall very much from the tour itself, it’s been a long time since then, but there’s one part that stands out just fine–getting to see an outtakes reel from the Back to Neverland movie that we showed at the start of the attraction’s tour. Given that the short film starred Robin Williams, you can imagine what things were like when he started going off the rails and improvising. I don’t remember everything about it, other than Robin Williams being his usual brand of insane and Walter Cronkite just being the straight man and trying not to laugh, but I do remember it being hilarious.

Interestingly, I’ve never seen any mention of the reel since then. Even with the vast power of the internet, I’ve never come across a copy of it nor anybody else who has even seen it (this was long before social media, so I never kept up with my fellow cast members). Every now and again I check to see if it’s made it onto YouTube or something, I’d love to see it again and maybe share it with the world, but so far I’ve had no luck. It remains locked away in some animation vault somewhere, forgotten by all but those of us who were lucky enough to see it.

Close Encounter

Shortly before the Alien Encounter attraction opened, cast members were invited to a special sneak preview. So a couple friends and I signed up, and met up in the park that day to check it out.

They had us all line up down in the Utilidors beneath Tomorrowland, so that guests wouldn’t see a crowd in front of the attraction and assume that it was open. Then they filed us all in and we got to experience the Extra TERRORestrial before the general public.

My friends and I were… thrown for a loop by the attraction. None of us expecting how intense and truly scary it would actually be. We left there a bit stunned, talking excitedly about some of the things that impressed us and wondering about bits that didn’t. I’m sure that this advanced “screening” was in part to gauge an audience’s reactions to it, and for the most part we walked away impressed–if more than a little surprised that it existed within the family-friendly Magic Kingdom.

Funny fact: I think that’s actually the only time I actually saw the Alien Encounter attraction. It opened shortly after, but I don’t recall ever going back to it. When I left Walt Disney World it was a while before I had the opportunity to return, and when I did I had my young daughter with me so we avoided the more thrilling experiences. It closed not long after.

I’m glad I got the opportunity to see the attraction, as it’s definitely one of those random things that sometimes comes up when talking about Disney history, but I wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for being a cast member when I was!


This is just a small selection of memorable anecdotes, though there were lots more–both good and bad–from my time as a cast member. Getting to see Pocahontas early, hopping over to Magic Kingdom to ride Pirates of the Caribbean with fellow workers after our shift, and one night when I walked part of the Great Movie Ride after hours with the lights on all stand out as fun little moments. There were also angry guests (including one who called me some unkind things because I wouldn’t let him cut in line), long hours in the Florida summer heat, and a lot of stress.

More often than not it was business as usual, though (by which I mean making magic in Walt Disney World for guests from all around the world). There were good days and bad, fun and frustration, and experiences that I’ll never forget from my time as a cast member at the Most Magical Place on Earth.

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Random Fun | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Legacy Of Magic

When I was very young, my grandparents moved to Florida. They lived not too far from Walt Disney World, so when we went down to visit them we’d generally go to the parks as well. As I grew up, my family ended up making the trip multiple times a year, driving from Massachusetts to Florida during school vacations, and we’d all go to Walt Disney World together. It was a pretty big part of my childhood, and (given that I write this blog) it’s safe to say that it has affected my adult life as well. I ended up going to college in Orlando, became a cast member for a bit at the Disney/MGM Studios park, and much more recently had a magical Walt Disney World honeymoon.

In 2008, my grandfather passed away, and early last year my grandmother did as well. This led to a trip down to Florida in order to collect their things, which resulted in me “adopting” a treasure trove of Disney merchandise that they had collected over many years.

So in this post, I’m going to share photos of some of that Disney stuff. It’s personal, but it’s also a collection of history and a showcase of their love for the parks.

Enjoy.


Cards

On the top left is a plastic card that identifies my grandfather as an annual passholder. On the back is written his name, as well as the fact that he was a passholder since 1982. It’s not an official pass, so I’m not too sure what its function was (other than Disney bragging rights). Next to that is a VIP pass to some of the Animal Kingdom shows, which may have been some sort of passholder special thing. On the bottom is a card they got after riding in the front of a monorail. I didn’t even know that they gave out cards for that (of course, riding in the front of the Walt Disney World monorail is no longer a thing anyway).

My grandfather was one of those types who made silly little jokes (as much to amuse himself as anyone around him) and he was prone to making the same ones over and over again. One of his favorites involved the speakers that were “hidden” in the plants and flowers to play ambient music in the parks. When we’d pass a spot with some foliage, from which music was softly playing, he’d always say something about wanting to grow musical plants at home and wondering what sort of seeds he’d need to do that. It was a fairly constant thing for years, to the point that I’ve caught myself doing it when I’m in the parks.

IMG_0163

A shirt from Animal Kingdom’s opening. I’m not sure if they were actually there on day one, but if not I’d assume that they went to the park soon after to check it out. They were into seeing the new things the parks had to offer, particularly stage shows or outdoor live entertainment.

Picture, AK opening

Another piece from the opening of Animal Kingdom. It was likely given out to guests (or maybe just annual passholders) around then, but I honestly don’t know much about it other than it’s a really neat piece. They had it framed, and it was hanging in their home for many years.

Back when my brother and I were really young, one of us had a hard time pronouncing the “s” in Disney. So when we said it, it came out like “Di-ney”. As a result, this was the way my grandparents said it for years (long after we could quite easily pronounce the word properly). We’d be at their house for a visit, and when we were planning to go out to the parks they’d say that we were “going to Di-ney”. Every now and again, as an adult, I still have to stop myself from doing the same, just because they did it so much and it became a “thing” among the family.

Disney dollars

Disney Dollars have been discontinued, but years ago we used them fairly regularly. My brother and I would sometimes get them as gifts before a trip, and there was a time when you’d rent a wheelchair (my grandfather needed one at the parks after he broke his hip) and get the deposit back as Disney Dollars when returning it. While most of what we got ended up getting spent, it turns out that they did kept a few for posterity.

One day, my girlfriend and I took my grandmother to EPCOT. By this point, she needed a wheelchair for this sort of outing, so we rented one and wandered around the park. We got to Test Track, which was in its first iteration and still sort of new, and we hadn’t ever ridden it before. I wanted to check it out, but didn’t want to leave my grandmother (she couldn’t handle a ride like that), so assumed that I’d have to wait for another chance. She insisted that we go on it, though. We found a nearby seating area shaded by an umbrella, parked her in her wheelchair, and went on the ride. As we exited, we saw the seating area… but no grandmother. We looked around frantically (she didn’t have the upper body strength to really move herself around) and I was panicking. Well, as it turns out, the exit to Test Track was around the side of the building, a bit out of sight from the entrance, and there was an identical-looking seating area by each. We were looking in the wrong spot, but didn’t realize it for a bit. We circled around, eventually came to the entrance and the seating area that we did leave her at, and sure enough she was right where we had left her. Which is good, as I wasn’t sure how I was going to explain to my mom that we had somehow managed to lose her mom. We obviously felt a little silly after that, though my grandmother (and my mom) thought it was hilarious.

Lanyards

My grandparents were annual passholders for many years, and had lots of exclusive merchandise to prove it. They liked to wear their pins at the parks, and got into trading as well. They also apparently did a Disney Cruise at some point (which I think I knew, but had forgotten about until I came across this lanyard).

Pins, passholder

Some of the passholder exclusive pins that they collected over the years. The Chip & Dale one and the Disney/MGM Studios one both have shiny star confetti in them.

Pins, characters

My grandparents loved Disney characters. I actually recall when my grandmother got that Tinkerbell pin–we were in Tomorrowland and she was wearing her lanyard, and a cast member stopped to chat and check out her collection. She ended up swapping a Boo (from Monsters Inc) for this one.

Pins, lions

My grandfather’s last name was Lowenkopf (which means lion head) and his first name was Leonard. He was also, as it happens, a Leo. Obviously, then, lions were a big thing with my grandparents. So they had a few such pins in their collection.

Pins, lands

I did some cursory online research, and discovered that these pins are from the early/mid 80s. So they predate pin trading by quite a bit. They might have been given out as some sort of promotion, as my grandparents had two of most of them (indicating that they each received one, as it’s less likely that they would have purchased two of the same pin). Out of all the pins in the collection, I think these are my favorite–and they’re definitely the most “vintage”.

Pins, events

More passholder exclusive pins, commemorating specific events throughout Walt Disney World history.

Pins, dated

Some miscellaneous pins from their collection. Check out the one in the middle, which is an official trading pin about Kellogg’s cereal. From what I’ve gathered through some research, it was a special offer through Kellogg’s in 2002: you had to collect three certificates from cereal boxes and then either mail them in or take them to Downtown Disney to redeem them for the pin (I’m guessing the latter is what my grandparents did to get this one).

Over the last few years, when my wife and I would go to the parks we’d set aside some time to meet with my grandmother (as well as the friends of the family that she lived with). Generally, if we were staying on property they would come out on some afternoon or evening during our trip, meet us at Disney Springs, and we’d eat together at Wolfgang Puck Express or Earl of Sandwich and then wander around for a bit. The thing is, the dinner (wherever we ate) was just the appetizer for my grandmother’s favorite part of the meal: ice cream. Going to Ghirardelli and getting a sundae was pretty much a required part of the outing.

Pictures, MSEP

My grandparents loved the shows and parades at the parks, and the Main Street Electrical Parade was a particular family fave. It’s come and gone a couple times over the years, as evidenced by the two different farewell posters they acquired.

Picture, MK anniversary

This poster celebrates Walt Disney World’s 25th anniversary (making it about twenty years old, since it just recently celebrated its 45th). According to my research, these posters were given out to guests that registered as “guests of honor” during the anniversary. Those guests were also given adhesive badges with the year of their first visit on them, but if my grandparents had those as well they’re sadly lost to time.

My grandparents enjoyed the rides and the characters, but they were particularly fond of the live shows. When we weren’t around and doing a family trip thing (which would generally involve rides and characters) they would often head out to the parks to catch something at the America Gardens Theatre in EPCOT or the Marketplace stage at Disney Springs. They also just liked the ambience of the parks, and one of my grandfather’s favorite things was to sit on a bench and watch people go by. If some of our party wanted to go on a thrill ride, or spend some time in a store, he was perfectly content to relax and observe the crowds. He also (because he was kind of a dirty old man at times) was occasionally heard to remark that when it rained it was like “watching a wet T-shirt contest”.

Pictures, cels

These cels were both purchased from stores on property. My mom actually has the exact same ones in her house, though nobody can quite recall when or where they were bought. They don’t commemorate any special event like some of the others, but they’re still neat pieces. I’m not sure if they’re sold anymore through official Disney channels. The Sorcerer Mickey one is dated 1988 down in the bottom corner.

I’m a Disney stockholder because of my grandparents. Many years ago, they bought both my brother and myself one share of Disney stock each. I don’t know if my brother still has his or of he’s since sold them, but I now have something like twelve shares that I actually keep a casual eye on. Not that I’d ever get rid of them, but it’s neat to watch the ebb and flow of the numbers (I know next to nothing about stocks). Mostly I just think it’s neat that I’ve got shares in Disney. I know that when they first bought us the shares they also got colorful stock certificates with our names on them, which were framed and hung on their wall for a long time, but sadly I haven’t come across them and have no idea where they ended up. They don’t give out those certificates anymore (though I think you can buy them) and it’s the one thing that I was actively searching for when going through the collection. I’m kind of hoping that it turns up eventually.

Watch and pen

Beyond the rare pins and commemorative posters and such, even many random household items had some Disney flair. Watches, pens, clothing, and more helped to infuse their lives with a bit of extra pixie dust.


These items are not only a showcase of Disney history, but a collection gathered over many years by two people who loved the parks. Whether it was going on rides or watching shows, eating at the restaurants or just soaking up the ambience, they enjoyed Walt Disney World.

I miss them, but I have many fond memories of our time together. Many of those include Walt Disney World, and this collection of items represents not only their fondness for the parks but a physical representation of that time together. When I look at the pins, or the pictures, I’ll remember two people who believed in a bit of Disney magic, and from whom I inherited a love of pixie dust.

Posted in Nostalgia, Random Fun | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Disney: 2017 Year In Review

It’s been a pretty interesting year when it comes to Disney news. There were a lot of announcements, a few surprises, some big movies, and even the opening of a new land. Some of the major changes that were announced ended up happening very quickly, while others we won’t see come to fruition until next year or beyond.

As 2017 rapidly draws to a close, I’m going to go through some of the major things that happened in the Disney universe. These aren’t in any particular order, and for each one I’ll explain what the news itself was and then offer some of my personal insight into it.


Baby Animals!

The news: Over the course of this year, Disney’s Animal Kingdom park has seen several new additions. Stella, a baby elephant, was born in January. In May, two red river hogs were born, and June saw the growth of the park’s warthog family with four new additions. In August, Animal Kingdom’s first two tiger cubs were born–a male, named Jeda, and a female named Anala. In baby giraffe news, Azizi was born in September and Gemma came into the world in October.

My take: This is not only a testament to the park’s conservation efforts and animal care, but it’s just all sorts of cute. I had the chance to see Stella while on the Caring for Giants tour, and I’ll admit that I really want to get back to Animal Kingdom soon so I can see the little tiger cubs (since I don’t think they’ll be little for very long).

IMG_3915

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from all my time in Blogger College, it’s to always start off a post with baby animals if possible.

A Whole New World

The news: In May, Disney opened Pandora – The World of Avatar in Animal Kingdom. Based upon the movie Avatar, it transports guests to the fictional planet of Pandora. The land features some incredible theming, from the unique plant life to the “alien” food, and includes two attractions: Na’vi River Journey and Flight of Passage. Overall the land has been very well received, with guests marveling at its beauty (particularly at night, when “bioluminescence” makes everything glow). Flight of Passage, a 3D simulation attraction, has been overwhelmingly popular, and wait times can still be a couple hours or more.

My take: I haven’t had the chance to experience Pandora – The World of Avatar myself yet. Folks say that it’s beautiful, that the theming is amazing, and that Flight of Passage is awesome. However, I think that the most mind-blowing thing about Pandora is simply that they made a land based on the movie Avatar (which, lets be honest, isn’t that good and it’s not exactly a mega-popular franchise) and really made it into something worth experiencing. Really, my biggest issue with it is just that I don’t think it has anything to do with animals or nature or the conservation of those things, so I question why it was built at Animal Kingdom in the first place (but, that being said, I still really want to go on Flight of Passage).

Lack of Energy

The news: At the D23 Expo in July, it was announced that Ellen’s Energy Adventure in EPCOT would be closing in August. Its replacement would be a new attraction based upon the Guardians of the Galaxy film franchise. Not much else was revealed about the new ride at the time (though since then we’ve learned that it’s going to be a “family friendly” roller coaster), and many fans of the EPCOT park in general and Universe of Energy in particular were very upset.

My take: I’ve written about my thoughts on the state of EPCOT (most recently here), and the closing of Universe of Energy seems to be just another nail in the coffin of what was once a unique and inspiring park. I’ll admit that I was never a huge fan of the Energy attraction itself (the dinosaurs were neat, though), but I appreciated the “edutainment” experience that it offered. Of course, while the information presented was wildly out of date, it still would have been cool to see something new in that same vein rather than some movie-based thrill ride. Something that addressed the energy issues that the real world is facing, and offering real possible solutions, instead of a talking raccoon.

IMG_3047

I like Guardians of the Galaxy, I just don’t think that it belongs in EPCOT. I can’t say that I’ll really miss Universe of Energy as it was, but I’ll miss the classic EPCOT Center vibe that it represented.

Computer Generated

The news: The Tron Lightcycle Power Run attraction, one of the most popular at Shanghai Disneyland, is coming to Walt Disney World in Florida. No release date has yet been given, other than before or around Magic Kingdom’s 50th anniversary in 2021, and it’s currently unclear as to whether the Florida version is going to be an exact copy of the Shanghai attraction or be modified in some way. The coaster will occupy a spot behind Space Mountain in Tomorrowland, and will not replace any existing ride.

My take: OK, I can’t accurately describe how excited I am for this. It’s mostly frantic hand motions with some weird high-pitched squealing, and it doesn’t really translate well to a written format. That being said, I am extremely excited that Walt Disney World is getting this attraction. I love Tron, and I’ve watched several different ride-through videos of this ride and I’m super eager to get the chance to experience it in person (without somehow affording a trip to Shanghai, that is).

Under the Big Top

The news: Cirque du Soleil La Nouba, which has been running at Downtown Disney/Disney Springs since 1998, will be ending on December 31, 2017. The show takes place in a theatre that was custom-built for Cirque du Soleil, and has been performed thousands of times since it started. A new Cirque show has been announced as La Nouba’s replacement, one will “pay homage to Disney’s rich history of animation” according to the Disney Parks Blog. No opening date for the new show has been revealed yet.

My take: I never had the chance to see La Nouba, so I can’t really say much about the fact that it’s leaving (other than a twinge of regret over never taking the time to check it out). I do enjoy Cirque du Soleil shows, and I love Disney animation, so I’m already very intrigued by the concept for the new show. I’ll have to be sure to actually see this one when it opens.

Fox and the Mouse

The news: Disney has purchased Fox, the entertainment company with a rich history in film and television, in a deal that’s worth about $52 billion. This gives the Walt Disney Company the rights to all of Fox’s movies, including the Alien franchise and Avatar, as well as TV shows such as The Simpsons. The deal includes an incredible number of titles, and also gives Disney a controlling stake in Hulu and European streaming service Sky. This is part of Disney’s larger plan to release their own streaming service, as it gives them not only the infrastructure to do so but an absolutely insane number of movies and shows (in addition to Disney’s own impressive library) across almost every genre. The deal did not include Fox News or their sports networks–Disney already owns ABC News and ESPN–as well as a couple other random assets. It also brings X-Men, Deadpool, and Fantastic Four back into Marvel’s control.

My take: I really don’t know how to feel about this. On the one hand, it does put Disney in a great position to rival Netflix and Amazon right out of the gate when they debut their streaming service. However, my fear is that it’s just further diluting the Disney brand name with just too many franchises. It used to be that when you heard “Disney” you thought of a certain type of entertainment and maybe particular movies, but now it could mean anything from Snow White to Die Hard. There’s also a worry that we’ll see even more popular movie properties shoved into the parks, which is already a concern. Now, I’ll admit that I don’t know a ton about business, so it’s possible that this is actually a really awesome thing that’s happening. We’ll see, I suppose. The deal did include National Geographic, which could be an interesting acquisition if they found a way to incorporate it into Animal Kingdom. Also, as a big Marvel fan, I’m interested to see if  the characters they got will be incorporated into their Cinematic Universe somehow.

Great Movie Rides Off Into the Sunset

The news: The Great Movie Ride, a day-one attraction from back when the Disney/MGM Studios park opened, has been closed down. The announcement was made during the D23 Expo in July, and in August the ride took its last trip through the movies. Its replacement is going to be Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, a ride featuring the classic Disney characters. Not much has been revealed yet, other than that the characters will be based upon their current cartoon art style and that it’s going to feature some sort of 3D technology. No release date for the new attraction has been given at this time.

My take: I loved the Great Movie Ride, and it’s been one of my must-ride attractions whenever I’ve been in the park. It’s definitely a classic, and when the closure was announced a lot of people were obviously upset. I’m actually pretty OK with it, though. Let’s be honest–the Great Movie Ride was showing its age. The last time I was there, it was balancing on that line between “charmingly vintage” and “desperately in need of a renovation”. I think creating a brand new attraction as the centerpiece to the new Studios experience is a good call, and I’m really excited to see this new Mickey Mouse ride.

GMR marquee

I’m sad to see the Great Movie Ride go away, and I’m sure every now and again I’ll walk by where it used to be and have a moment of emotion over it being gone, but I’m also eager to see what comes next.

Hall of Delays

The news: The Hall of Presidents closed in January, in order to add the newly inaugurated official into the mix. While this is standard whenever there’s an election, this was a bit different because of how long the attraction was shut down. Traditionally it reopens over the summer (the original date given this time was July). Then delays started, and it was pushed back to an undetermined time in the Fall and then again to Winter. Disney stated that this was due to a huge refurbishment project, with multiple areas–like the theatre’s audio systems–seeing improvements. Speculation ran rampant, with many suggesting that it was due to the wildly divisive political climate. Rumors even surfaced that the show would be shuttered permanently. Ultimately, though, it did reopen in December with all forty-five presidents in place and the current one featured with a speaking role.

My take: I personally have no interest in hearing the current president speak, and have no intention of visiting the Hall of Presidents as long as he does. I respect that the attraction is about representing American history, and that it’s about the office of the presidency regardless of politics, but there’s definitely a part of me that had hoped we’d see the attraction get closed and replaced with something new. To be fair, though, I’ve seen the show once in the last couple decades, so it’s not exactly a big fave of mine anyway.

IMG_3488

I had a whole bunch of great ideas on how they could replace the attraction with something new, which you can read about here.

We Wants a Strong Empowered Female Character

The news: An iconic scene in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction is being drastically altered. The bride auction, featuring the sultry redhead, is being reimagined and the character will become a rifle-toting pirate captain herself. No longer will it be about selling women to pirates, and now the scene will have the townsfolk dropping off their riches to avoid the redhead’s wrath. While Disney didn’t give specific reasons for the change, other than “creating exciting new experiences,” many fans assumed that it was a step towards making the ride more politically correct by removing what’s basically a scene about selling women. Lots of people were upset about the alteration, and were very vocal on social media (as were defenders of the change). Disneyland Paris has already had the new scene put into place, and both of the US parks will see it happen in 2018.

My take: I’m totally OK with this change. Sure, it’s a classic scene that’s been a part of the the attraction for fifty years (and it has the well-known “we wants the redhead” line). It’s one that I–like many fans–grew up seeing and there’s a nostalgic part of me that will miss it. At the same time, there’s no denying that the scene does feature the sale of humans and is perhaps in poor taste when that’s a genuinely real problem in the world today. I wrote an entire post about this, which you can read here, so I won’t rehash all of my thoughts, but I will say that I’m pretty excited to see this new redheaded pirate.

Sealed With a Wish

The news: Wishes: A Magical Gathering of Disney Dreams, ended in May of this year. The fireworks spectacular debuted at Magic Kingdom in 2003. It was replaced by Happily Ever After, a nighttime show that utilizes cutting-edge projection technology on Cinderella Castle to tell colorful Disney stories in addition to fireworks.

My take: I’m going to genuinely miss Wishes. It was an amazing show that really had an emotional resonance with me, not just because the themes really epitomized “Disney” to me but also because it’s been special to my wife and I–we saw it on our honeymoon, and it just kind of became important to us. So we drove to Florida in May in order to see it one last time before it was gone forever. We haven’t seen Happily Ever After in person yet, though we did catch a live stream of it from the Disney Parks Blog when it debuted. It’s amazing and very cool–those projections are stunning–but I don’t know (yet) if it’ll have the same emotional connection with me that Wishes did.

IMG_3506

We spent the extra cash and booked the Fireworks Dessert Party with the Plaza Garden viewing, just to insure that we got a great spot to watch Wishes one last time. I’ll admit that my eyes got pretty wet during the show. Must have been dusty or something…

Pier One 

The news: Paradise Pier, at Disney California Adventure, is going to get a new look in 2018. It was announced earlier this year that the area, currently themed like an old-style boardwalk amusement park, would be reimagined as Pixar Pier. Attractions will be getting facelifts–such as the California Screamin’ roller coaster which will become the Incredicoaster–and the land will be divided into separate “neighborhoods” which represent different Pixar franchises. Toy StoryInside Out, and The Incredibles will all be featured. The fourth area, which encompasses Mickey’s Fun Wheel, will be a mix of different Pixar properties (the Fun Wheel will retain Mickey’s face on the side, but the gondola cars will be repainted with Pixar characters). The land will be unveiled during a special event called Pixar Fest, which begins in April of 2018.

My take: I’ve got to admit, I was very underwhelmed with Paradise Pier. It was pretty, sure, but it just wasn’t very entertaining to me. I’m not convinced that Pixar Pier is going to be any better, but I’ll be interested to see if they really do give the whole experience an overhaul. I’ll reserve judgement until I see what they actually do. I know that a lot of people were upset about the announcement, in part because it has nothing to do with “California” and therefore goes against the theme of the park, and because they’re sick of seeing franchises shoved into the parks in lieu of actual creativity. I agree on both counts, but given my lack of interest in the previous version of the area (other than the corn dogs, of course) I’m at least casually intrigued to see if they improve it while giving it the Pixar facelift.

DCA Paradise Pier

Will this be any different once it’s been redone, or will it be pretty much the same thing but with a Pixar makeover? I guess we’ll find out soon!

Fail to the Chief

The news: John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, announced that he was going to take a six-month sabbatical to address “missteps” that he had taken in his time with the company. Reports quickly came out of sexual misconduct, included unwanted advances and physical contact towards female staff members, and accounts from both male and female employees described a pattern of creepy behavior that went back decades. There’s been no further word on his status with the company at this time.

My take: Frankly, he should be asked to never return. What he did is disgusting, and a six month vacation in response to behavior that’s allegedly been going on for upwards of twenty years just doesn’t seem harsh enough. There needs to be consequences for his actions, starting with never working for Disney (or anywhere) again. Full stop.

 Les Rats!

The news: Work has begun on a Ratatouille attraction at EPCOT, located in the France pavilion of World Showcase. The dark ride is going to be similar to the one in Disneyland Paris, and will be a “4D” experience that features trackless vehicles moving through different environments where 3D scenes play out on screens. No opening date has been given yet, though the announcement did say that it would be open for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary in 2021.

My take: I’m a bit on the fence here. I’ve heard good things about the Ratatouille ride in Paris, and the videos I’ve watched are cool, so I’m very excited to see it. More attractions, especially in World Showcase, isn’t a bad thing either as they can draw in guests who might otherwise just pass by some of the pavilions. At the same time, I’m still a bit grumpy (in an admittedly old man “back in my day” sort of way) about Frozen Ever After invading the Norway pavilion so the very idea of even more cute film-based rides in World Showcase may be coloring my view somewhat. At least Ratatouille actually takes place in France, rather than some fictional place loosely based on a real country, so there is that.

Guardians of the Tower of Terror

The news: The Tower of Terror attraction at Disney California Adventure was closed in January of 2017. In its place, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout opened in May. Similar in structure to Tower of Terror–in that a gantry lift brings guests to different floors before dropping them in a freefall–the new ride is the first Marvel attraction to open in the US parks. Many folks on social media were quick to point out their unhappiness with the exterior look of the new attraction building, which was pretty much Tower of Terror covered in pipes, though the ride itself has been well received since it opened.

My take: I didn’t get the chance to see Tower of Terror at DCA, as the line was always too long and I’ve already seen it plenty of times at Hollywood Studios (it’s slightly different at each park). I have yet to get to see Mission: Breakout, but I like the ride style and I like Guardians of the Galaxy so I expect that I’ll enjoy it. Though I have to agree that the building itself is kind of an eyesore. I get that it’s supposed to be a building that would fit in the Guardians universe and all, but it really does just look like Tower of Terror covered in pipes.

Moving Right Along

The News: Minnie Vans, a point-to-point transportation system similar to Lyft and Uber, started at Walt Disney World this year. For a flat rate of $20 per ride, guests can call a car (which is red with white polka dots, of course) that will take them anywhere on property.

My take: It’s a neat idea, and it can be good for certain types of guests: large groups who don’t want to deal with a bus, families with kids who want to get somewhere quicker, etc. I don’t know that I’d ever need to use one (though I have used Lyft to get around between resorts) but having more options to get around Walt Disney World property is never a bad thing.

A Hotel Room Far, Far Away

The news: A new resort Star Wars resort experience is coming to Walt Disney World. The stay will immerse guests in their own Star Wars story: special rooms in a luxury “space station” with windows that look out into space, character interactions, even costumes to wear to really become a part of the adventure. Everything about the experience will be focused on making guests feel like they’re staying in the Star Wars galaxy.

My take: It’s going to be expensive, so I should start saving my money now (or even sooner) so I can do this thing. I want to do this thing.

100_3389

Are they going a little overboard with Star Wars experiences in Disney parks? Probably. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t excited to see what’s coming with Galaxy’s Edge and this new resort thing, though.

Dining in SPAAAAACE!

The news: A new restaurant is going to be opening in EPCOT that will transport guests to a dining experience far above the planet Earth. The restaurant will be themed to make guests feel like they’re eating on a space station, with views of our planet far below. Not much else has been shared yet, other than that the restaurant will be adjacent to Mission: SPACE and will be operated by Patina Restaurant Group–who also runs Morimoto Asia, Via Napoli, and other eateries on property.

My take: I’m loving these new themed dining experiences–Skipper Canteen, Be Our Guest, etc–and I’m really excited about the idea of eating at an outer space restaurant. It kind of seems like a classic EPCOT Center-style thing, too, so it’s something I’m definitely interested in checking out.

The Magic of Theatre

The news: A big new theatre is being constructed in Magic Kingdom, on Main Street USA. The building is based off of the Willis Wood Theatre in Kansas City, circa 1920. No announcement has been made yet as to what sort of show will be featured in the space.

My take: It’s cool to see a big new addition to Main Street, especially one that’s an attraction and not just a shop (or a Starbucks). Plus, as a theatre professional myself, I’m always happy to see more live theatre happening. I’m eager to see what they end up putting in the space, and personally I’d like to see some sort of classic Disney experience that features Mickey and his friends. Really, I’m just hoping that it’s not Frozen


It’s been a pretty big year for Disney announcements, and it’s likely that we’ll see even more changes coming in 2018: not only will some of the things announced already open up, but I’m sure we’ll get more information about future projects and new revelations about things to come. That’s one of the most exciting things about being a Disney parks fan–there’s always something new to look forward to!

Happy New Year!

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment