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SAMLAND

Disney World Hits and Misses From The Mind of SAMLAND

Rating: 4 votes, 4.00 average.
by , 10-12-2011 at 07:17 PM



Like thousands of other Disney theme park fans, I made the pilgrimage to the Magic Kingdom to witness the Walt Disney World resort’s 40th Anniversary. Kevin Yee, Werner Weiss, and the Orlando Parkhopper have done an excellent job reporting on the events of that weekend. Samland is going to take a left turn so get ready for a column filled with my random thoughts about my experiences and observations of the “East Coast Disneyland.” As Hunter S. Thompson famously said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”



THE MAGIC KINGDOM

BIG THUNDER MOUNTAIN RAILROAD (BTMRR)
I just love BTMRR. There are a lot of runaway mine car roller coasters in theme parks everywhere, but none are quite as cool as the American bi-coastal twins. They are like twin sons of different mothers. Let’s compare shall we? Disneyland (DL) is set in Bryce Canyon, Utah. Imagineer Tony Baxter remarked that the real hoodoos in the National Park looks like they belong in DL. The Magic Kingdom (MK) is also set in Utah, this time Monument Valley. The mountain structures take advantage of the space available and are more majestic as a result. Plus, it skirts the Rivers of America. The MK version is about 5 seconds longer than Disneyland due to the inclusion of the flooded town scene, but the DL version has the goat trick (keep your eye on the goat in the helix after the 2nd lift hill for some extra thrill). The train travels clockwise in DL while it is counter-clockwise in WDW. After that…remarkably the same. All of the major show elements are in the same order; you drop into a tunnel and come upon bats, then you pass boiling pots of mud while on the chain lift. After passing the waterfall, you plunge down the first drop, pass some possums, dive into a cave, up the second lift hill past a goat, and then turn down toward another cave that exits in the helix. The next element is the head-chopper and then you enter the cursed mine. Finally, you take a few more turns, pass under some bones, and reenter the station.




One thing I did notice, and this is too bad, was the Magic Kingdom version was missing most of its railroad ties. Part of the magic with this attraction is that the tracks look like they belong on top of the mountain instead of the attraction looking like a roller coaster with a mountain built around it. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad looks less fake then Expedition Everest which truly tries to express two architectural elements – the track and the mountain.


HAUNTED MANSION



Three new elements were added to the Haunted Mansion since my last visit; the interactive queue, the enhanced graveyard, and the new hitchhiking ghosts sequence. I am here to report I enjoyed all three. As many know, touching is encouraged and can produce some beautiful music. Although the musical instrument reliefs were fun, it was the Ravenscroft organ that caught my attention. Sorry people. I know I was hogging the time but if you get it going just right you can imagine being the organist in the ballroom scene…


















Okay back. Moving books and a scroll that talks to you and asks you to talk back. The interactive is especially fun when you are there early and can play. While I was there, some of the effects were not working and that is one downside to the reliance in technology at a facility that has many users.












The enhanced tributes to the many artists who worked on the Haunted Mansion is a special treat and worthy of an in depth look.

Finally, there is the digital hitchhiking ghosts sequence. The familiar aberrations known as Gus, Ezra, and Phineas are there to greet us. Once you turn the corner and see your reflection in the mirror, everything changes. Instead of the familiar figure sitting right next to you, he gleefully decapitates you or commits other mayhem. I love it. This is one time when the technology works to the advantage of the story. It provides a more random experience and retains the playfulness of the final room. This could come west.

WDW 40TH ANNIVERSAY CELEBRATION





As I stated earlier, I won’t go into great depth about the ceremonies. Like thousands of others, I packed myself into the forecourt and took advantage of being alone. From one gap to another I found myself right at the base of the Mickey planter. It was there that a 8 foot gap of just nobody seemed to exist. Popped myself up on the wall and captured this look at the crowd. Once inside I hooked up with Kevin Yee and MiceAge/MiceChat readers from around the country and marched down Main Street to set up in the hub.




The short story was I was pleasantly surprised overall. It was more then I expected from them and not an over the top corporate wide synergy pitch. It was a tribute to the Magic Kingdom. I like the pin and the tribute map with the reproduction of the opening day map. Nice touch. By the evening, they were passing them out to people exiting the park. Disney writers and bloggers were out in force. Lou Mongello of wdwradiotoday with his body guards (not really). He and his crew were present at everything and produced a 40-hour live podcast. An amazing feat. Len Testa of touringplans.com at the Tequila tasting naturally.






Let’s take quick trip around the Magic Kingdom. Always start the morning with a ride on top of the Astro Orbiter. It is where it belongs. Way up high. Graduate Dumbo. The revised version of Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room is far superior to the one that got fried. But somehow the lack of the fountain and the rather trivial edits take it down one notch. As for the pre-show, was this funny back in the day? Because, it really sucks. Those are minutes I will never get back. The Hall of Presidents is a national treasure and should be required by all Americans to see at least once a visit. Main Street USA is nearly always void of vehicles and I feel that really hurts the immersive quality of the land. The lack of stuff going up and down the street is the difference between being a living center and a shopping mall. I miss the Country Bear Jamboree at Disneyland. With Disneyland’s current obsession with holiday overlays, what a great missed opportunity, eh? I got to ride in the pilothouse of the Liberty Belle. When I asked the Cast Member he looked at me funny and said that virtually nobody ever asks. But up we went. Best view of the park. Rode Snow White’s Scary Adventure a couple of times and will be sad to see it go. With all of the plussing that has happened at Disneyland as an example, the attraction could sparkle and delight once more - sadly it will soon become a princess meet and greet (no fooling). Finally, there is the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. According to the sign at the loading dock, it is simply known as the PeopleMover. Thank you. My favorite attraction at the Magic Kingdom.


DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
The thought that was constantly in the back of my mind as I toured the Studios was Disney California Adventure’s reinvention of its entry plaza to become Buena Vista Street. If the experience is similar to Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard streets at Disney Hollywood Studios, then we are in for a treat. In fact, the removal of such a miserable visual contradiction as the Hat in front of the Chinese Theater will only strengthen the central plaza and create a better sense of place. I also noticed just how small the Pan-Pacific Auditorium entrance is in comparison to its west coast clone.





Very special hidden courtyard



I enjoyed the refreshed Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream exhibit. I spent a long time in front of the Epcot exhibit. The new back wall exhibit is a powerful reminder that Disney is far more then just theme parks. The real treat however was hidden away in a different part of the Studios. A source that I shall keep secret escorted toward a spot that is actually very public yet overlooked. Back where you enter the shell of what was a pretty cool Animation exhibit is this little outdoor courtyard. Embed in concrete blocks are the hand prints, signatures, and pencil impression of the fabled Nine Old Men of animators that were around at the opening of the Studios. They include Marc Davis, Ken Anderson, Ward Kimball, Ollie Johnson, Frank Thomas as well as K. O’Connor.





More impressions. Werner Weiss schooling me in the art of trashcan decoration as a means to define different districts in a theme park with few identifiable gateways. Pulling the Indy rope and nothing. Walking on to Star Tours. Again and again. While people spend hours at Disneyland, a ten-minute wait is an eternity in Florida. As of this trip, I have officially experienced each Star Tours sequence at least twice (got to get a life…). Loved the 50’s Prime Time Café and enjoyed sitting at the bar, having a comfort food lunch, and not getting yelled at. Although the digital projection for Muppet*Vision 3D is brilliant, the penguins were stuck in the up position as well as a frozen Waldorf and Statler at the top of the show was a big disappointment. After watching Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show and experiencing the Studios Backlot Tour it seems the only question they must be asking is “Is Radiator Springs Racers too similar to Test Track?” with somebody in the back of the room shouting, “Look at how many Dumbo clones we have!”








Love Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Reminds me of the trip home after my flight into LAX. Finally, I got dragged to see Fantasmic. Don’t get me wrong, nothing against the show. Seen it quite a few times at Disneyland. However, shows are the time that veterans use to get through many an attraction. Some say that the Florida version was a poor imitation of the one in Anaheim. They would be right. But the crowd loved it, I got a nice gentle spritzing from the water screens, and I can finally check the box on my Disney geek card. Is it me or does that seem like the perfect arena for World of Color? Once again, these are my fantasies and do not reflect the opinion of anybody else.


EPCOT:




During the time of my visit, Epcot was gearing up for the Food and Wine Fest. Once again, others would be a better resource about the food, the wine, the spirits, and all that other stuff. I am not the kind of person who digs the standing in a long line to buy food that I have to eat on top of a trash can because all the tables and other spots have been taken. Maybe it was years of living above Grant Park in Chicago and dealing the Taste of Chicago event. But you've got to love the reproduction of some of the food pavilions as scale models which have been inserted into the G-Scale railroad at Germany.





There was one morning where I had a meeting at 9:30 am at the Bellevue Lounge at Disney’s Boardwalk and I decided I would just use the park as my path. So I got up early for rope drop (which seemed to be gone that day) and walked from one side of the park to the other. A quick stop for a Mission Space Fastpass (watch Gary Sinise’s forehead) and then I was on my way. Slowly. Alone. On a brilliant day that could have been transplanted from Southern California (read lower humidity). I was in heaven. Epcot is a very special park. It could be much, much more. But it does reach one of its original goals – to create a more adult experience without compromising the safety and reassurance that you would find in the family park.




One favorite moment was joining Len Testa and Laurel Stewart at the intimate La Cava del Tequila de san Angel Inn for a tasting. I enjoy collecting wines and never really thought about tequila. An excellent presentation about the production of the product and a lesson on how to taste was all we needed. We sampled Milagro Select Barrel Blanco, Centenario Reposado, and Chinaco Anejo. I did make this weird connection that most tequila is produce in Jalisco and that is the song that underlies the Three Caballeros boat ride is actually Jalisco. I admit this observation came after much tasting.

Epcot Impressions. Raise your hand if you miss Jeremy Irons (or Cronkite or the other guy)? Best burger on property – the Rose and Crown. And when our server recommended a beer, we knew this guy knew what he was talking about. Don’t ride Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros with Werner Weiss. The American Adventure still touches me and it is my favorite attraction at Walt Disney World.


DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM




I think this may be the case with many people, but when you are visiting Walt Disney World, there is one theme park that gets its half-day visit and you never seem to find time to return to it. For me, that has become Disney’s Animal Kingdom. As you recall, recently I went into great depth about this park.







Animal Kingdom Impressions: While most folks run toward the Kilimanjaro Safaris or Expedition Everest my first stop is the Maharajah Jungle Trek. No crowds, frisky tigers just being fed. What could be better then that, eh? This trail may be the most beautiful corridor with all four of the WDW parks. Placing predators across the path from prey is sheer brilliance.






I won’t talk about Expedition Everest and the frozen Yeti because it will spoil this trip report. One more thing. Dinoland USA is really, really ugly.



Don’t care about how complex the back story is. Or the amazing little details at the restaurant. Or the tongue in cheek humor. Sorry fans of Primeval Whirl and TriceraTop Spin. This land suffers from the same problems as opening day DCA.



And that's my 40th anniversary trip to Walt Disney World.


My Book Has Arrived In The Amazon Store!




Starting today, Walt and the Promise of Progress City is now available from Amazon. There is even a Kindle version for all you living the future life. Thank you to all of the early adopters who purchased the book this past week. To you I say Bravo!





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Updated 10-13-2011 at 07:10 AM by SAMLAND

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Comments

  1. Buh's Avatar
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    I'm sorry, but I have to disagree that BTM at Disneyworld is a minute longer. I'd say 5 seconds longer, tops. The track at WDW is literally 100 feet longer.

    However, I enjoyed the article. You always make interesting blogs!
  2. JeffHeimbuch's Avatar
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    I may be in the minority here, but I love the fact that you loved the new HM additions. While I haven't seen them yet myself, from everything I have seen about them (photos, videos, etc), I think they are wonderful. I'm a huge HM fan, and of course I was nervous about them, but I really can't wait to experience them for myself next month. Hearing that you enjoyed them makes me look forward to it more!

    I still have to hold steady in my belief that DAK is MORE than just a half day park. We should do a round table about that one day, haha!

    On a side note, I got an email the other day that my "pre-release" copy of your book was shipped. Can't wait to read it!
  3. MrTour's Avatar
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    I wish you would have done commentary on Splash Mountain. Superior to California, I feel it is the best ride in the park.

    Growing up in California, I never get used to the placement of BTMM, Splash Mtn, and HM. The layout of these in Florida just seems so "wrong".
  4. The Trout's Avatar
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    I'm not finding the Kindle version of your book. Has it been made available yet?
  5. SAMLAND's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Trout
    I'm not finding the Kindle version of your book. Has it been made available yet?
    Yes, messed up on the length of BTMRR and it is only 5 seconds longer. Made that correction. Good eye.

    I struggle with DAK because I think it is one of the prettiest theme parks around and have spent way too much time thinking about how it is glued together. But I just can't find a way to spend an entire day there.

    The Kindle version will be available on Tuesday. Right now, the book is only available for pre-order. The nature of Kindle is you don't have to wait. Until Tuesday. Then buy it multiple times please!

    Sam
  6. SAMLAND's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MrTour
    I wish you would have done commentary on Splash Mountain. Superior to California, I feel it is the best ride in the park.

    Growing up in California, I never get used to the placement of BTMM, Splash Mtn, and HM. The layout of these in Florida just seems so "wrong".
    Considering that the Western River Expedition was going to be so huge that the entire space that includes Splash and BTMRR would have been enclosed in one show building, I would agree. Splash messes up a whole bunch of subtle yet powerful theming elements. But that ride does rock compared to the West Coast version. At least it makes sense.
  7. wdwprince's Avatar
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    It's not Animal Kingdom. It's you. Frustrating to keep seeing the park maligned by people who don't take the time to explore all that the park has to offer.

    There is so much to do there. I spent two entire days there last week. Once you take in the message of the park, conservation and living in harmony with nature, a new experience will open to you. This park is not all about thrill rides. That's where people keep getting it wrong about being a half day park.

    Also, try taking a tour. It is more than worth the money.

    For the record, Animal Kingdom is the only park that reported an increase in attendance out of the four WDW parks. (excluding water).

    Whenever I see a comment about AK and half day, I just see ignorance.
  8. KENfromOC's Avatar
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    Big Thunder Disneyland is actually based on Sedona, not Bryce. Go online and compare what both areas look like with BTMRR Disneyland
  9. alanplm's Avatar
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    Sam will you be doing any book signings ? i'd love for you to sign my book !
  10. DisWedWay's Avatar
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    Skp who carved and detailed most of the final Big Thunder Disneyland model rockwork, did base it on Bryce Canyon where he used to go house boating with his family, and studied the Rockwork while vacationing. BTM Creator Tony Baxter wanted something that would pair better with the Sleeping Beauty Castle as they would be near each other. That is why Disneyland has the only Bryce Canyon inspired Big Thunder Mountain. The other 3 are based on Monument Valley which had more space from other land monuments. It's to bad they don't replace the track ties at WDW that you mentioned above, and replace the engines wheels on all the BTM trains that have been missing way to long. They look very odd without their drive wheels scooting around on the track. Gal pal Esmeralda, said you should try Paris Disneyland's Thunder Mesa's Thunder Mountain for the "Ultimate" themed experience. It's the Tallest, Biggest, Fastest, Deepest, Longest, Best Themed, and "the wildest ride in the west!" . PD
    Updated 10-13-2011 at 11:42 AM by DisWedWay
  11. JiminyCricketFan's Avatar
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    Loved your review! I agree with so many of your impressions. I love BTMRR and also Epcot. There is something special there. Loved your impressions of the Haunted Mansion. Thanks for the report.
  12. SAMLAND's Avatar
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    Love the comments:

    WDWPrince - As you may have noticed recently, I actually dig the underlying guiding principles of DAK. I think it is the prettiest Florida park. I spent almost 1/2 on the Jungle Trail alone last time I was there. I am disappointed about Everest because I rode it when it first opened. Once the Yeti froze it was just not the same. I also tend to hang out for a long time at the trail in front of the tree, the one that nobody knows about because it is not well marked. Unless I want to see the shows each time (that is a good 3 hours of waiting and watching) and stick around for the parade, I just don't find it a complete day. I don't think that is ignorance. I think that is preference. Glad you enjoy it.

    KENfrom OC - The Bryce Canyon comparison came from Tony Baxter, the Imagineer who designed the ride. See DisWedWay's comments.

    alanplm - Yes, I am working with the MiceChat crew on an event. Plus I will be appearing at the Walt Disney Family Museum in January. More information on that later.

    Thanks everyone.

    Sam
  13. Timekeeper's Avatar
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    You mentioned 'Don’t ride Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros with Werner Weiss.' Why? ;D

    Timekeeper
  14. Fukai's Avatar
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    Sam, you'll be pleased to know that Dinoland is going away: that's where Avatar-land will be going. Boneyard and Dinosaur rides will remain.
  15. danyoung's Avatar
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    Just for the record, you can do the goat trick in the MK, just like in DL. At exactly the same spot, right after the 2nd lift, just look in the place where the goat would go. Now, in DL the train circles to the right, and the goat is right there on the right. At the MK the train circles to the left, and even though there's no goat you just look in that same spot. And magic will occur . . . . .
  16. wdwprince's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SAMLAND
    Love the comments:

    WDWPrince - As you may have noticed recently, I actually dig the underlying guiding principles of DAK. I think it is the prettiest Florida park. I spent almost 1/2 on the Jungle Trail alone last time I was there. I am disappointed about Everest because I rode it when it first opened. Once the Yeti froze it was just not the same. I also tend to hang out for a long time at the trail in front of the tree, the one that nobody knows about because it is not well marked. Unless I want to see the shows each time (that is a good 3 hours of waiting and watching) and stick around for the parade, I just don't find it a complete day. I don't think that is ignorance. I think that is preference. Glad you enjoy it.


    Sam
    I'm happy to see that you appreciate some of the harder to find areas and attractions. AK is about discovery. There is still plenty to do beside the 2 shows. I have to admit that lately I like to see Lion King each time I visit. You don't have to wait. Each time I show up right at show time and get a good seat. People think they need to wait in order to get a good seat. The theater is in the round and every seat is a good one. So for me there is never a wait.

    Have you tried Rafikis Planet watch? There is so much to learn and enjoy there. Talk to cast members. You will be surprised the stories they will tell. Pet some animals. Go into one of the booths and relax with some audio in the dark.

    You like the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Have you ever noticed the prayer tree? Do you know anything about how people use it? Ask a cast member, they will also tell you about the "history" of the Trek and it's maharajahs.

    If you tried to hit every attraction AK has to offer, without even slowing down to appreciate the park, you couldn't do it.

    Also, I recommend taking one of the three tours available. I took Backstage Safari a couple of weeks ago and it was amazing. I learned so much. I now have an even greater appreciation for this great park.
  17. DizMiiLand's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SAMLAND
    Considering that the Western River Expedition was going to be so huge that the entire space that includes Splash and BTMRR would have been enclosed in one show building, I would agree. Splash messes up a whole bunch of subtle yet powerful theming elements. But that ride does rock compared to the West Coast version. At least it makes sense.
    True enough that the Splash layout and length in MK is superior, and really does employ a fairly completed storyline, I find the east coast Splash music to be just plain bizarre. I visited my first time in 2009 and was shocked (no drama intended) to hear the meloncholy, hillbilly, deliverance-like music in MK compared to the bright, playful, and energenic melodies found in the DL attraction. For this reason, I personally prefer the DL version, including its queue, which we could have another entire conversation about.

    Great article Sam. Thanks a lot.