Destination D Trip Report: Day Two

In my Destination D Trip Report: Day One, I detailed the first day of the event (as well as a bit about the day before). There were a lot of presentations, some fun surprises, and it was all capped off by sitting on the beach of the Polynesian Resort and watching Moana before its release. An amazing day, to be sure, but only the first–the next morning we got up early and called a Lyft to take us from Port Orleans to the Contemporary for more Destination D!

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Ethan Allen’s new Disney collection, featuring a variety of Mouse-themed furniture, was on display in the convention room.

The second day began much like the first: we got to the Contemporary Resort, made our way to the Fantasia Ballroom, and found seats. When it was time to get the ball rolling, Dr. Albert Falls came out to welcome the crowd and to introduce the first presenters.

The first presentation of the day was by Disney historians Kevin and Susan Neary, who co-authored a book called Maps of the Disney Parks: Charting 60 Years From California To Shanghai. During the presentation, called “It All Started With A Map”, the authors showed various maps of Disney parks and talked about their historical significance. They also talked about the book itself, and the work that went into choosing the maps that were included. This was a fairly short panel, only lasting about twenty minutes, but that was more than enough time to get to see some really cool classic Disney maps (and we were so intrigued by the book that we ordered a copy as soon as we got home).

Next a pair of Walt Disney World Resort Ambassadors, Caitlin Busscher and Nathaniel Palma, came onstage and talked a bit about some of the new entertainment being offered at the Florida parks. Their focus was the new holiday show Jingle Bell Jingle BAM! at Hollywood Studios, and they brought up show director Tom Vazzana to talk more about the nighttime event. He explained how the show was created and then a video of the show was shown on the big screens. Tom gave a sort of “director’s commentary” while the video played, and at a few points requested that the video be paused so he could discuss specific points. I’ll admit that I didn’t have much interest in the show before, but his enthusiasm about it was infectious and now I’m a bit sad that I didn’t get the opportunity to see it in person.

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Tom Vazzana was bursting with energy and enthusiasm, and was probably one of my favorite presenters of the weekend. 

The next part of the presentation focused on Frozen at EPCOT, and Imagineer Wyatt Winter came up to talk about the new Frozen Ever After ride as well as how the real Norway inspired the movie. He delved a bit into the technology that went into the ride–the new audio animatronics and projections are amazing, and I’d expect we’ll see more of that tech coming in future attractions–and he showed photos from their research trips to Norway and how various art and architecture styles in the country helped to shape the look of the Frozen movie. It’s true that I have ranted about the Frozen/Norway connection before (thinking it tenuous at best, as I stated in the post Maelstrom of Annoyance), but hearing from an actual Imagineer on the project helped me to understand how the real country did influence the fictional world. Plus, I had just ridden Frozen Ever After for the first time a few days earlier, so getting a behind-the-scenes look at its creation while it was still all fresh in my brain was pretty cool.

After a short break, Imagineers Jason Grandt and Alex Wright presented “Magic Journeys: 45 Years of Walt Disney World Adventures”. They broke these adventures down into four categories: land, sea, sky, and space. First they talked about some adventures on land, looking back at Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and then a look at the past and present of Fort Wilderness. They then moved on to sea, with a short retrospective on Discovery Island as well as the short-lived Seven Seas Lagoon wave machine (which I’ll admit I had never heard of before). Next was a look at If You Had Wings for the sky segment, and finally they wrapped things up with space by talking about Space Mountain. They shared archival photos of these and more, and the presentation was a fun bit of nostalgia as they showed a lot of personal family photos from their trips to Walt Disney World when they were kids.

As a side note: throughout the event, the long-gone attraction Horizons was often mentioned or shown briefly on screen in context. Every time, it got an audible reaction (often applause) from the audience. Someone joked that they could probably do an entire Destination D just dedicated to the ride. They’re… probably not wrong.

After this look back at the past, we moved into what’s coming for the future. Film producer Jon Landau came up, but not as film producer Jon Landau. Instead, he was Marshall Lamm–the head of an outfit called Alpha Centauri Excursions (ACE) that offered guests trips to a planet known as Pandora. The gimmick here was that Pandora is a real thing and that guests, when they get to see it starting next summer, aren’t going to Animal Kingdom but to a faraway planet. After setting this up, he invited filmmaker James Cameron and Imagineer Joe Rohde to the stage. They kept this theme going, talking about Pandora as if it was a hot new tourist destination far away from Earth (the story of Animal Kingdom’s Pandora takes place after the events of the Avatar movie). They showed never-bef0re-seen photos of the upcoming Pandora — The World of Avatar land, and there were frequent mentions of the movie being a “documentary”. It was a cute way to present the information, as well as really show how important the story is to the project.

During the presentation they also talked about the two attractions that will be a part of Pandora — The World of Avatar. The first, Flight of Passage, is a flight simulation thrill ride in which guests will become avatars and ride a banshee (the dragon-like creatures from the movie) through the skies of Pandora. Na’vi River Journey is a slow-moving dark ride–a boat trip through a jungle lit up with bioluminescent plants. The focus of this ride is the nature of the planet, and a music-based ceremony of a Na’vi shaman. They even showed a brief video of the “shaman of songs” from the ride, showcasing the incredible animatronics. Even this kept with the “story” of the presentation, as the character said how she was looking forward to seeing the assembled Destination D guests on Pandora and then looked off camera to ask someone how she did.

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In addition to the “swag bags” that we got at registration, throughout the weekend guests were occasionally given additional gifts–like a set of Pandora posters, a copy of Marvel’s Enchanted Tiki Room #1, and a Pinocchio lithograph and postcard (to celebrate the upcoming release of the Signature Edition Blu-Ray).

Right after the Pandora presentation ended, we were shown a video about a prototype bus. This “Sorcerer Class” bus is a vehicle that features colored lights, music, and announcements that play during the ride. It’s really just a proof-of-concept at this point, with no real plans to build more and put them into circulation, but it was cool to see one possible direction that they could go in the future. Then, right before we broke for lunch, they said that there was a Sorcerer Class bus sitting outside that we could go check out in person!

As soon as they announced the break for lunch, a good number of people immediately went to see the Sorcerer Class bus. We opted to go get food first, and then come back to see if the line would be more manageable in a bit. Which was a good call, since that’s exactly how it all played out.

Upon returning from lunch, we were treated to a short video about the “peaks” of the Disney parks–like the Matterhorn, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and other Disney mountains. Following that, Don Hahn once again took the stage to present another live-action movie trailer. This time, he showed us Treasure Island. Like his presentation on day one, and his previous movie trailer interlude, Don was very funny and just a lot of fun to see.

The next full presentation was by Imagineer Chris Merritt, who is co-writing a new book about Marc Davis. His presentation was, in fact, about the art of the Disney Legend and his contributions to the parks. Throughout this hour-long panel, Chris showed lots of concept art, videos, and offered descriptions about the work Marc did on attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise. He delved into the unique artistic style that Marc Davis brought to the attractions and highlighted specific aspects that he worked on. Chris played an audio “scratch track” of a kachina doll diorama that had been proposed to enhance or replace the Grand Canyon on the Disneyland Railroad, and he also showed pictures and concepts from the never built Western River attraction. This was the sort of thing that we really wanted to see at Destination D–a look at the concepts and the people who helped create Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Getting an inside glimpse at Marc Davis’s work was a pretty big deal to folks (like us) who love the history of the parks.

After Chris Merritt’s presentation, another video played–this one about the Disney Kingdoms comic books from Marvel. The short video showcased the various series that have been released, as well as the new Enchanted Tiki Room one that’s currently being published. I’ve been reading each mini-series as it comes out, and while I sort of wish they turned this section into a larger panel (I’d love to hear from authors and artists about creating the comics) it was neat to see them acknowledged.

Up next was a very cool presentation focusing in Imagineering, called “The Imagineering Adventure: Sparks of Inspiration”. The first part of the presentation was done by Tony Baxter, and was a look at how and why things happen in Imagineering. He talked about how timing, the needs of the park, and new technology all play into the creation of new attractions. He broke down each of those aspects a bit further, and as examples showcased a few different Tony Baxter projects (like the Indiana Jones Adventure ride in Disneyland). My wife and I are pretty big Tony Baxter fans–here’s someone who started by scooping ice cream in Disneyland and worked his way up to become (former) senior VP of creative development at WDI–and seeing him speak was great. His passion for these projects and his love of Disney came through when he spoke, and his presentation was fun and entertaining. He also, when talking about thrill rides, offered up one of my favorite quotes of the weekend: “fear – death = thrill”. My wife isn’t into thrill rides, but she’s tried most of the offerings in the Disney parks in part because she trusts in their safety and figures that they probably won’t kill her. In some cases, like Tower of Terror, she absolutely loved the experience and even though it’s still scary for her she’ll go on it any time we’re at Hollywood Studios. Hearing that mentality actually put into words by Tony Baxter was neat.

The second part of the Imagineering Adventure presentation was done by Imagineer Luc Mayrand, and focused on the new Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Shanghai Disney Resort. This new take on the Pirates attraction uses cutting edge projection technology and some new boat movement techniques to create an intense new experience (at least from what I’ve seen in the videos). It’s also focused more on the movie franchise than the domestic rides are. The videos from the ride were really cool, it does look like a lot of fun, but Luc Mayrand was fairly quiet and dry and not as much fun to listen to. Lots of great information about the attraction and its creation, but just not as strong a presentation.

Don Hahn then showed us one last movie trailer, this one for The Island at the Top of the World. Again, it was prefaced by Don setting up the trailer in a very entertaining way. Honestly, I would have loved a few more movie interludes with him throughout the weekend. They were a fun way to break up the flow of information. Also, especially when we were all getting tired here late in the second day, the laughter was a good way to wake up a bit.

We then switched gears a bit from the Imagineering of attractions to the science of real-life animals. Specifically, those that live at Animal Kingdom. The director of animal and science operations, Dr. Scott Terrell, took us through the work that went into preparing the animals for the new nighttime hours and entertainment at the park. He went into detail about the animal welfare studies that they performed, and showed some cool tracking data about how sound and light levels affected the animals. He explained how some habitats were moved or renovated to maximize the well-being of the animals while also working to add nighttime entertainment to Animal Kingdom. It was actually a really neat presentation–the Imagineering is incredible, but there are so many aspects to the Disney parks and getting a glimpse at a different one was very interesting. Plus, the diagrams and charts he showed on the screens were nicely simplified for those of us (like me) that aren’t as science-minded.

It wasn’t all science and charts, though–there were also live animals! First, Dr. Terrell introduced Beaker the black vulture. With the assistance of some fellow Animal Kingdom cast members, he talked about the bird and they even spread out a bit to allow him to fly from one person to another. After they put Beaker away, they brought out their second (and final) animal ambassador: Willy the aardvark. I’ve never seen an aardvark before, and he was cute and kind of weird looking and while Dr. Terrell talked about him Willy was happily moving around the stage eating the treats that his keepers offered him. They got him to put his front paws up on a box so we could see his impressive claws, and then they convinced him to go back into his carrier so they could wrap things up. I love live animal presentations, and this one was no exception. Getting to see a vulture and an aardvark amid all of the Disney talk was an unexpected, and very cool, surprise.

It was time for the final presentation of the day, and that was by Imagineer Joe Rohde. What you have to understand, before I get into the actual content of the presentation, is that my wife and I are pretty big fans of his. We follow him on Instagram and Twitter (if you don’t, you should. His posts are often fascinating). We’ve watched videos of him talking about his work on various Disney things. So getting to see him up on stage, talking right there in person, was amazing and yet another reason we opted to come to Destination D. We were not disappointed, either. His was a great presentation, fun and humorous and full of his passion for what he does. He talked about the history and the future of Animal Kingdom, from its early days to the upcoming Pandora — The World of Avatar land that’s opening in 2017. He showed photos and shared stories about some of his research trips around the world, and talked about the artisans that helped create the look of the park. He explained some of the Animal Kingdom concerns when they were designing the park, Disney’s conservation efforts, and a few of the relationships they’ve forged around the world. He talked fast and often branched off onto tangents, his excitement for the subject apparent. I’ve always enjoyed Animal Kingdom, though admittedly I haven’t spent as much time there as I have at the other Walt Disney World parks, but after seeing Joe Rohde and his infectious enthusiasm I really want to go back there and just delve into the details.

After that, it was time for the D23 staff to come back onstage and thank everyone for coming to Destination D. Before the event, the schedule just said that there would be an optional “in-park gathering” later that evening. There were some rumors about what that could be (a popular one was that we’d be getting an advance look at Animal Kingdom’s Rivers of Light show), but in the end we were all given tickets to get into Magic Kingdom for the remainder of the day. We were also told that the MagicBand 2.0 we had gotten in our swag bags were loaded with a (not time specific) Fastpass for the Jingle Cruise.

We headed over to Magic Kingdom right after the convention ended, grabbing dinner at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe and using the time to meet up with Herb from World of Walt for a bit (I’ve done many podcasts with him, but we’d never had the chance to physically meet yet). We did go check out the Jingle Cruise, as well as other attractions, and we watched the Once Upon A Time show that uses projections on Cinderella Castle.  It was a pretty cool way to cap off a great weekend.

When we first started researching Destination D back in the summer of 2016, there wasn’t a lot of information out there. We could find websites that explained what it was, and a little bit about the presentations from the 2014 convention, but there weren’t that many full trip reports that really described what one could expect from the event. So I knew, even before we got there, that I wanted to do a more detailed breakdown of what we saw while we were there. So maybe the next time a Disney fan starts hunting around online about Destination D, they’ll come across this and it will help give a clearer picture of what it’s all about. I hope this helps!

The entire weekend was simply incredible, and even better than we had anticipated (which is saying something, since we figured it’d be awesome). Getting the opportunity to hear Disney Legends and Imagineers speak and share stories, seeing videos and pictures about the past and the future of the parks, and interacting with other fans–it was a bit of a whirlwind but it was absolutely worth the price of admission. Honestly, we sort of figured that this would be just a “one-time thing” for us, but even before the end of the weekend we were already wondering if we’d be able to attend the next one (presumably in 2018, as this and the D23 Expo in California seem to alternate years). So if you read this and it convinces you to check out a future event, maybe we’ll see you there!

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