I thoroughly enjoyed myself for four days during the Great Disney Scavenger Hunt and Destination D WDW 40th events this past weekend. Our two-person team came in 98th out of 520 teams, so I guess that puts us at about 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 for Disney-Geekiness.
First my review of the Hunt. It was really a lot of fun for someone like me who thinks he knows the park to realize how much I don’t know. I felt confident I knew where to go for each question, but there was not enough time in the 3 hours allotted per park (4 for Epcot) to get to every physical location and find all the answers - some of which involved riding an attraction. I’m sure the teams that came in higher either had a photographic reference on their iPads or a truly amazing memory or both. I enjoyed the various types of questions. Some were simply to look for something embedded in the theming, like signs on the Streets of America at the Studios. Others were finding various plaques, and then looking for solutions to words puzzles based on counting the fourth word, 2nd letter, then sixth word fifth letter until it spells out something or has to be unscrambled to solve a riddle. The questions were not arranged in order by location in the park - they were random. It was definitely challenging, and it made the park feel completely like a new experience, even though I was relying on my many times in the park to know where to go to look for the answers. Although they recommended only doing two parks each of the two days, we did MK, AK, and Studios all in the first day - our feet were so tired by the end - we were basically running around from 10 am to 9pm. The second day we just did Epcot for 4 hours, and then had some time to take in a few of the Pixar Weekend exhibits. (Side note - too bad that the D23 weekend events were the same weekend as the Pixar guest speakers.) If you like looking for hidden Mickeys, the scavenger hunt is something you would enjoy, and actually the scavenger hunt did not have any hidden Mickey questions.
I would definitely do it again in the future.
As far as Destination D - it sure showed me a lot about the 70’s that I was too young to remember at the time - fringe, bell bottoms, and lots of guitar strummin’. What a time capsule. In fact, although it was a celebration of 40 years, it primarily focused on the first 20 or so, which is really the part that was the most nostalgic for the majority of the audience present.
The two days of presentations were very well done. I attended the Destination D Disneyland 55, and I am happy to report that the Florida version was completely different, with only a few minor repeat portions in the Weird Disney presentation.
The sessions opened with Steven Clark introducing the first ever Walt Disney World Ambassador - and she reflected on some of her memories from the preview center. It then moved into Weird Disney. They revisited a few of the same photos and clips from Disneyland 55, but claimed they could not find as much “weird” on Florida. It was clear by the end of the first day some of the “weird” simply made it into other presentation segments. The piece of Walt opening the Alice in Wonderland ride in California was still pretty funny the second time seeing it - and was definitely before the days of character integrity.
Dave Smith showed a really fascinating series of slides showing the construction of Magic Kingdom and Epcot. It just fun to see how the buildings looked part way thru construction, and the recognize them even in just their skeletal form. I think those slides could make a great picture book for the archives department to sell.
We were given two hour lunch and dinner breaks - any less would not have been enough to either go to another resort by monorail or walk to the Magic Kingdom and get food there.
The next session focus on the theoretical ideas of Epcot - and I think this presentation was one of my favorites. Steven Vagnini and Paul Anderson followed some of Walt’s big ideas and led the audience thru a series of images and research that showed that even though Epcot Center may have turned out more like a theme park, that the Epcot idea did come true in certain ways, including the underworld of the Magic Kingdom as a concept for how to deal with trash and deliveries, the monorail as a major form of transportation, and he even touched on Celebration. One video clip I had not seen before showed Walt talking during the press release about the Florida Project, and saying not only was he going to build Epcot - the City of Tomorrow, but he would also build the city of Yesterday focussed on the nostalgic, so you would have to come back a second time. Certainly, Celebration is Walt’s “city of yesterday”.
Tim O’Day and Rob Klein then moved into a presentation of video clips from the early days of Walt Disney World. I had not seen most of the material he presented, and the parts that I did remember vaguely at best I had not seen since they were actually on television years ago - and it was fun to see them again. Popular concepts of music were different - and it was really odd to see the tv special for the opening of Disney World begin with Glen Campbell playing guitar in what appeared to be a open field of grass and then as the camera angle changed he was suddenly walking under the monorail going overhead. It was almost as though the staging was supposed to be saying that large concrete posts shall become as idyllic as a meadow and as calming as a song.
Next was a really cool compilation of sketches and clips from Imagineer Tony Baxter to simulate what a ride on the Western River Expedition might have been like if it had been built. It was kind of cross between Pirates of the Caribbean, Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and some of the final scenes from Phantom Manor in Paris. He had edited the clips together with sound and music like watching a storyboard as a movie.
The final segment of the evening was three film presentations and I think this was a segment where we got to hear the “River Country Song”.
We saw so much in the first day that its a little bit of a blur, but I enjoyed all of it and think that more of this material should make its way into new books or more editions of the “Disney Treasures” video tin set. I think the various presenters would make great narrators and hosts of this material in more formal video format.
The second day began with two series of Imagineer Panels. Jason Surrell and his two co-hosts kept the audience laughing as they presented their Imagineering 101 and various examples of some lesser known details around the park. The second panel reviewed Star Tours, the Art of Animation Resort and the new Fantasy Land expansion. He also reported that the Tiki Room would be returned to its original format as part of the 40th anniversary.
The afternoon was two panels of movers and shakers who dealt with much of the early creation of the park, several of whom have written books I now need to read. Having a panel of five or six people from that era is almost too much - I’m sure each of them could have talked for a long time and only told a fraction or their story. Its really a unique experience to have them all in the same room and see them in person.
The finale was a great concert that included appearances from some of the Kids of the Kingdom from the past, member of the main street marching band, one of the performers from the original Empress Lily restaurant, Carol from the Comedy Warehouse at Pleasure Island, and the Cast Choir and Orchestra. Richard Sherman was the headliner, as he was at Destination Disneyland, but it was nice this time to have the video component so you could see images that went along with the songs he was playing. There was even a surprise visit from Dreamfinder and Figment that had the audience on their feet in a mid show standing ovation when he sang the One Little Spark song. The cast choir did a medley of old school Epcot, including Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit and Universe of Energy - two of my personal favorite gone by not forgottens.
When I listened to the Disney records that I had borrowed from my local library as a kid, I never imagined that one day I would get to sit in huge space with 1000 people and sing them in unison with the man who had created them, and now I’ve gotten to do that twice, one time each at two of my favorite places in the world. So - next Destination D - how about Alan Menken?
Overall, I really enjoyed the events. I also thought that room layout and use of screens was much, much better than the hotel ballroom at Disneyland Hotel. At the Contemporary, they had three large screens, and stage was raised so you could actually see all the guests without feeling like you were looking through a sea of heads, even when the guests were seated. In DL, with the layout of that sunken floor, when the guests were seated you could not see them except on the video screens - so I’m glad that was better here this time.
I also thought the presentation has a better flow and built to tell story this time, whereas in DL the sessions seemed a little more random. Having the scavenger hunt first also worked, because after running around for two days I was completely fine sitting for the next two, and at DL I remember two days in those little banquet chairs was getting tough. The chairs were also a little more spaced apart this time, which was more comfortable.
The only thing that wasn’t done well was the queue for the merchandise on Friday afternoon. There was not enough staff on hand and I think we waited for over an hour to buy pins and shirts. The selection was really nice, and I got sucked in and bought more than I planned even with the wait. However, I will admit sitting in line was an opportunity to listen to other people’s stories, and I heard other people talking about sitting out overnight for Disneyland’s 50th birthday like I did, and in the end I think part of the whole D23 event program is to share stories like that with each other people who don’t think you’re crazy.
Other miscellaneous notes - I enjoyed the various “fake” announcements during the load-in and exiting - little bits that referred to lines of text from the rides and shows.
And it was also cool to get to talk with Tim O’Day just by chance while we were waiting in line to check in for the scavenger hunt.
It was equally enjoyable to take a quiet moment with one of the Archives castmembers in the exhibit room and get to talk and ask questions and share personal stories.
We had someone asks us on the parking lot tram at the end how it compared to the Disneyland one - and I guess I’d have to say it was a lot like the differences between the two parks themselves. DL is near Hollywood, and that affected how the concert was set up. Here the concert was more about the Cast. At DL, the sessions were more about Walt and his influences, at WDW it was more about how others carried his vision forward, many of whom met and worked with him before he passed. It is really showed some of the differences between the 50’s and the 70’s+80’s.
If you’re a fan and have wondered if the Destination D events are worth going to, this member highly recommends them. Even if you find you’ve seen some of the material or stories before, its fun to see them again with a whole big room full of people who think its just as cool as you do, and who all “get it” and understand the Disney mission of storytelling, great art and entertainment, and time with people.
I’m really looking forward to my first Expo this summer.
This then has been my report on the Destination D WDW 40th.
(I hope to get my pictures included in the next day or so.)