A review of Destination D - Disneyland ’55 at The Disneyland Hotel - September 24th and 25th, 2010. Since others have already posted pictures, my review is more in story and comment format.
I just got back from my trip to attend the first Destination D event. Since I was not able to attend the 1st Expo last year, this was my first “big D23 event”. I had attended the DVC Hawaii and Final Star Tours D23 events in Orlando where I live - both of which I enjoyed, but was looking forward to a more large scale event. As more was released about the program, I became more interested in going. I was debating, because I had just attended the 5th Anniversary Half-Marathon and was unsure about justifying the cost for a return trip so soon. The hook for me was when I learned Richard Sherman would be there - it sounded like a unique opportunity so I decided to make the trip.
While our previous trip was using DVC points at the Grand California, this sudden plan led us to find accommodations at the Best Western Stovall, at the corner of Katella and Disneyland Drive - just a short walk from the Disney Hotels. I can recommend the resort - the rooms were done in a nice modern style decor, and the landscaping was well maintained. The lobby was a little retro. Although I did not have time to use it, during my morning jog I discovered that their pool is home to a couple dozen animal topiaries in the back - very cute.
We arrived late Thursday, so did not have the opportunity to do the early registration and merchandise day - but as far as I can tell I didn’t miss anything - except for whatever items sold out early. They actually had two stores, one hosted by D23 castmembers, and one by the “park merchandise” group. I was excited to be able to get the entire set of Epcot patches! I’m 39, and the opening of Epcot was for me the first time I got to witness (via newspaper in Philadelphia) a new Disney park in my life experience. The merch selection was very nice - a variety of event logo pins and shirts, a grouping of retro Mickey Mouse club stuff, and some framed wall pin sets.
People were of course lined up waiting for the doors to open - which was fairly well civilized and maintained outside - but even though we chose to spend time that morning first looking at the merch, we still managed to get decent seats - but I would say the whole “waiting in line thing” was odd - more on that later.
Generally, I thought the variety of sessions was a good mix, and the 2 hour lunch and dinner breaks were definitely the right length of time. Like other seminars I’ve attended, the most difficult thing about events like this is sitting in the same room all day for 2 days. Although some of lighting effects on the walls were changed from “day” to “night” - I wondered if there couldn’t have been something more done to break up the monotony visually.
The event highlights for me were - first and foremost, the concert. Seeing Richard Sherman in person was the best part. John Tartaglia and the stars from Ugly Betty were also great - and it looked like they had a lot of fun performing fun songs like Pirates Life and Grim Grinning Ghosts. My second favorite was seeing the Mouseketeers, although since I did not personally grow up with them, my emotional association was limited. I enjoyed seeing the Imagineers and hearing them speak - especially the one’s old enough to have worked with Walt Disney himself. Hearing people who knew Walt was a distinction for me in who I enjoyed listening to the most.
The various video clips, merchandise finds and so on were a mixed bag - some were funny, others not. I would have preferred the speakers not be on stage more than once each. The historical construction photos and video clips were another highlight.
I also enjoyed hearing from George Kalogridis. It was nice to see another leader who was also a former hourly castmember - I think they make the best and most sympathetic leaders. He was both proud of his company and humble in his position. Although “media trained” he seemed well aware of his audience’s passion for Disney - and responded well to the audience questions - even the tough one’s for which there really is no answer.
Probably the most odd moment for me was hearing Tim O’Day “dis” one my favorite television specials. His presentation was called “The Happiest Place in Pop Culture” and he started out by showing various TV spots and clips from the 70’s. And then he hurt my feelings. He did not speak favorably about the opening number from “Disneyland’s 30th Anniversary” tv special. The opening number from that show in 1985, done to the Pointer Sisters song “I’m So Excited” has to be one of my favorite “music videos” - or at least one of my personally most watched. The song was re-recorded by other vocalists, and then video of all the various audio-anamatronic figures throughout the park are edited together so it looks like they are singing the words to this pop song - even Abe Lincoln is included! I think I watched that on my VCR over a 100 times during the afternoons after school. I really enjoyed getting to watch it on a large screen in clear condition - I still have that video tape and it was recorded in SLP so its not looking so good anymore. Tim O’Day continued on to slam David Hasselhoff’s performance, as well as the actual Pointer Sisters singing “Neutron Dance” with the Tron and Electrical Parade Characters providing the choreography. Clearly, Tim and I have different musical tastes. Ahh, the 80’s. As he continued to share his disillusionment I was sitting in my seat thinking - “nooo!! - it was great - how can you say that!”
Thankfully I was not the only one in disagreement with a few of the opinions expressed from the stage. Dave Smith called “The Fantasyland Motor Boat Cruise” the “most boring ride” and I could hear the lady on the end of my row indignantly responding “it was fun.”
For sure, the best part of the experience was being in a room with 1300 fellow Disney fans - and getting to react to the speaker in unison whether in laugher, excitement or nostalgia. Ever time someone mentioned the Peoplemover the audience applauded as though clapping might somehow bring it back to life like clapping to restore Tinkerbell to good health after she drank the poison.
Another “feel good” part of the event was the trivia competition. If Disney is learning anything about changing culture and social media - it should be realizing people want to be involved and be the “stars.” Certainly, that’s a big part of a fan club. I recently went to Celebration V (Star Wars Convention) and its all about the fans and what they are doing, the costumes they’ve made, art they’ve painted, model’s they’ve built - and not just the professional work.
My critique and suggestions for improvement focus primarily on the format. Firstly, that ballroom and stage have horrible sight-lines. The sunken seating area would have been the only place with a good view, and that was probably only about a fourth of the seats. (Ever remember going into a Disney attraction and hearing “our theater has been designed so that ever seat is a good seat, so move all the way across - clearly not the case here.) The stage is actually at the same level as the rest of the room, so when the speakers sat down in the “host” chairs, you really could not see them in person except between people’s heads if you were lucky, you had to rely on the video screens. The video was ok, but there should have been 2 cameras, not just one. The panning and scanning that occurs with only 1 camera looks really amateur. As well, when a speaker is giving a video presentation, they needed to do a split screen or dual screen where one screen shows the live camera on the speaker’s face and the other shows the slides. Otherwise, you miss all the facial expression of the presenter or panel - and that’s really a big part of seeing a presentation live. (Think Steve Jobs and Apple). The other thing I would give more thought to is the seating and queing. Obviously, there are people who wanted to be in the front for every segment, and they waited 2 hours in line every time. How about - “fastpass” or assigned seating - or even a premium seating option for a higher price? What about assigned seating based on when you bought your original tickets to the event? Or how about seating based on the number of correct trivia questions answered.
And now my ideas for the next one.
The least appealing thing I heard said when talking about the next Destination D for Florida was Steven Clark saying - I think we’ll focus on the same topics but just change them for Florida. Wrong Answer. Florida and California have totally different histories and different experiences, and on top of that, I don’t want to see the same thing again.
The focus should really be on Walt’s Dream - Epcot, and how over time it evolved into a theme park, but was then later revived in a way as the Town of Celebration. As well, these relate to his ideas of a city for the future, including the Utilidors at the Magic Kingdom and some of those great “cross section” drawings for Epcot showing all the transportation beneath. Another great topic could be “From the Jungle Cruise to Disney’s Animal Kingdom” - and how the evolution from animatronics to live animals actually reverses Walt’s concerns that live animals wouldn’t always put on the same show.
There are so many possible topics that would be different and here are a few more:
1. The lost parks: Discovery Island, River Country and Pleasure Island. (I think if D23 included a nighttime special event that “revived” PI it would definitely up the attendance).
2. The evolution from Walt Disney World Village to Downtown Disney.
3. Hotel Design - from The Contemporary to Pop Century - and their architects including the influence of Wing Chow who we rarely hear about.
4. History of the Disney Vacation Club resorts, Disney Cruise Line, and Adventures by Disney. (artwork, design)
5. Lost attractions - The Mickey Mouse Review, 20,000 Leagues, If You Had Wings, Mission to Mars, Alien Encounter, Mickey’s Birthday Land, the “25th Castle” make-over, Kitchen Kabaret, The Hydrolators and Original Living Seas, Horizons, World of Motion, the original Journey Into Imagination, original Universe of Energy, Wonders of Life and so many more.
6. The Original Epcot Songs (find the original vocalists and have them perform)
7. The Story of Reedy Creek Improvement District.
8. Backstage WDW - water treatment, recycling, laundry etc - maybe a special D23 Tour.
9. A segment with Ridley Pearson and some dramatic readings from the Kingdom Keepers including slides of some of the “control rooms”.
10. The brief history of actual animation and studio filming at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Clips from things actually filmed in the Florida facility.
I like the trivia competition idea for next year’s Expo. But what about another - to “up” the fan participation, how about holding a fan competition for a new ride, parade or show, to be pre-weeded by the folks at D23, but then presented in front of Imagineers and the attending D23 member audience like a reality show "vote off" or the American Idol Experience? I think that would be fun to watch, it would fan based, and would definitely be unpredictable. (With appropriate legal waivers I’m sure).
In conclusion, I had a good time, and I’m excited about the fact that the next one will be where I live in Orlando - I just hope it will be different enough that it doesn’t seem like the same thing again. To those that have not gone to either the Expo or Destination D, I’d recommend it - its a real sense of “belonging with your people.”