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From Thursday to Monday this past week, Imagineers conducted a test at Disney’s Animal Kingdom of a new game. Called “Wilderness Explorer,” this game was offered only in the Africa section of the park, and it was just a test—it’s nothing permanent yet.

Tell me I’m not imagining this. Did they just re-use the “Taste of Africa” podium for this new game?

Read what you're missing...

Several discussion forums have been debating the merits of the “game in the park” concept. The timing certainly helps. The Wilderness Explorer game was being tested right when “Sorcerers in the Kingdom” is being installed in the Magic Kingdom. The latter is a Kim Possible-type game about which no details are known, but apparently it will not be based on the popular Kingdom Keepers series of books. A few installation spots have been spotted in Adventureland, including such things as speakers designed to look like walls, or a camera embedded within a window. It’s a good bet that Sorcerers will use dedicated cell phone hardware (you borrow it while you play the game, then return it when done).

Solve puzzles in Wilderness Explorers!
Photo courtesy of MouseSteps.com

By contrast, the Wilderness Explorer game tested this past weekend was analog, not digital. There’s no loaner cell phone; instead, you got a little binder/folder. That’s right—old fashioned paper. Your main goal in the test game was to collect stickers. In that sense, it’s not too different from the Race Around the World game from Epcot during Flower and Garden. Then as now, the goal was to get stickers from various locations.

The start of the Pangani trail announces the presence of Wilderness Explorer

But the similarities end there. With Wilderness Explorer, you don’t just show up somewhere and demand a sticker. Instead, you have to solve a puzzle, investigate the surrounding area, and – gasp! – learn something about the animals or habitats in order to get your sticker. You have to prove your learning by providing the right answer to a real, live human before you’re granted the coveted sticker.

Watch the 8-minute video from MouseSteps.com on how the game was played:

The emphasis on learning matches the consistent dual theme of education and entertainment (or edutainment) that has been the hallmark of Disney’s Animal Kingdom since it opened in 1989. I do have to give the park credit for its consistency in this regard. They certainly believe in the mission!

A clue! A clue! Oh wait, this isn’t Blue’s Clues.

The term “Wilderness Explorer” comes from the Pixar movie “Up,” and in fact there’s a Wilderness Explorer thingie at Disney’s California Adventure (it took the place of the Brother Bear installation in Redwood Creek Trail). I have to admit, I haven’t seen the DCA version.

Edutainment, as seen at DAK.

The test here at DAK was apparently different every day. We didn’t get word on whether that meant the packet (and questions) were different every day, but that’s possible. The version photographed here did not use the characters from “Up” – I wonder if that was true on previous test days as well? If not, the connection to “Up” was tenuous at best, and never made very explicit.

There were no fireworks or grand prize if you finished your packet on the test weekend. There was, however, a survey. Guests were asked such things as if they liked, and what they would have wanted as a prize (a button was not one of the choice offered, but it would be mine!) They did also ask if the “Up” characters were favorites.

I think there might be gorillas ahead.

So now the real question: is this ruining the parks? Is the shift toward games completely misguided?

Don’t get me wrong: attractions will always be the focus for me (and probably for many of you). People won’t travel across the country to experience the newest interactive game (digital or not), but they will come for a new coaster. Or even a new small dark ride.

But that said, I’m not convinced that the sky is falling when they install new games for kids. Has the World Showcase experienced been that diminished by the Kim Possible addition? It’s true that the dedicated cell phones are sometimes too loud, but on the whole this kind of repurposing of the existing properties is well-conceived. Players end up going into dark corners they had previously ignored. They aren’t getting in anyone’s way, and in the process end up seeing new details they’d previously just glossed over. Is this a problem?

The Kids Discovery Club game in Pangani in still here. It now has signs
(rather than the guide saying all of this).

As always, the proof is in the pudding, and what matters are the operational details. The exact execution of Sorcerers (not to mention Wilderness Explorers, if they choose to pursue it) will matter the most. There will be no arguing if the verdict is that it’s fun, nor will there be any sense in second-guessing a consensus if the crowd decides that it’s not worthwhile. Frankly, what works, works. That’s been a true formula in theme parks for more than half a century.

Answer to the Pangani Discovery Club: rhino.
Was this telescope always here to give away the answer?

So I’m willing to give Wilderness Explorer—not to mention Sorcerers in the Kingdom—an honest shot when these interactions open for real. Disney’s main goal in the theme parks is to provide fun and escapism. If the interactive experiences live up to that, that’s all that matters.

WDW Slideshow Update

As a reminder for those who cannot check YouTube, look below the video for a bullet-point list of what’s talked about. For those of you about to watch the video, don’t peek at the bullet points! They would be “spoilers”.

Highlights of the video:

  • Painted lines followed by trams at the TTC are now blue, not white (the world’s smallest detail!)
  • “Power Pack” kids meals for $5.49 (same price as regular kid meals) has five snacks plus milk, and no main entrée. A PB&J is thus “valued” at 3 snacks – this is more than fair.
  • Burrito-dog and pulled pork hot dog gourmet entrees ($8) at Fairfax Fare are flavorful and quite large, with a meaty hot dog.
  • Toluca Legs turkey stand unoccupied; legs now on sale up at Fairfax Fare
  • Giant billboard of Indy’s face missing at the Stunt Adventure
  • Characters are missing from the front of Toy Story Pizza Planet
  • Osborne Lights are being installed overnight
  • The LMA and Backlot tour area is dead, dead, dead at night. One hour before park closing, the shop and restaurant are closed and deserted. There is no soul anywhere.
  • Narnia walkthrough is finally (mercifully?) closed
  • On Great Movie Ride, the gangster car stays stuck in the ‘out’ position. The side alien stays standing up (instead of crouched down) until his moment comes.
  • The Lion King flower and garden topiaries are at DAK to announce Lion King 3D release in theaters
  • One side (the left) of Primeval Whirl has reopened. The other side is still boarded up.
  • Baby siamang born last week (no cute photo, alas)
  • Baby gorilla born a year ago is still small and cute
  • A second covering for outdoor tables has appeared at Yak and Yeti outdoor dining
  • Outdoor Foods (ODF) is now called Outdoor Vending (ODV) – the same name Disneyland has used for decades
  • Orange flags along Osceola Parkway mark where a new offramp will be built soon to get direct access to DHS from this street (they are planning to close the current back entrance)
  • Peeling signs are worse than ever, but some have been replaced. I think.
  • Mickey-Ghost (Mickey in a ghost costume, holding a pumpkin trick or treat basket) is on sale as a popcorn tin ($12) or as an actual trick or treat bucket.
  • Park-specific souvenir mugs are at many stores now. $4.89.
  • Restaurantosaurus has a Shrimp Po Boy ($10) on the menu now.
  • Park-specific Birnbaum official guides are now on sale in many parks.
  • Legoland preview from outside the main gates (photos)

40x40 Celebration

Want to meet up with other Disney fans while at Disney World? Kevin is part of a group that meets every weekend. Join the public Facebook group and get notified of events (the locations are different every time). Drop by to visit the "attraction of the day" with us. Newcomers are welcome!

Saturday, September 24th, we will meet at the Main Street Train Station (upstairs, indoors) at 7pm for the 8:00 Main Street Electrical Parade. For those interested, we'll also meet earlier in the day (2pm at the same location, in case you want to hang out all day with us!)

Kevin Yee may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally. FTC-Mandated Disclosure: As of December 2009, bloggers are required by the Federal Trade Commission to disclose payments and freebies. Kevin Yee pays for his own admission to theme parks and their associated events, unless otherwise explicitly noted.

2011 Kevin Yee

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Readers are invited to join Kevin on Facebook, where he offers regular "Where in Walt Disney World" photo quizzes.

On his public Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Google+ account, he also offers regular smaller updates on the parks.

Kevin's Disney Books

Kevin is the author of many books on Disney theme parks, including:

The Unofficial Walt Disney World ‘Earbook 2010 is a photo-rich volume of 70 pages that park fans will find especially useful if they want to know what’s changed at WDW since their last visit.

History was on my mind as I composed this book. As you might expect, there is a section on additions, another on removals, and a third on events. But I wanted to make sure to include some prices from January 2010 in the book, the better to capture in future years (and future generations?) exactly what it costs to buy admission, parking, a night at each level of hotel, or such food items as a turkey leg. I also wanted to provide a bit more specificity to the unfolding of events, so the various additions and removals, as well as smaller alterations and debuts, are laid out in a timeline broken down month-by-month.

In short, the book is designed to appeal to those folks who are similarly history-minded, as well as those who are hungry to know what changed at Disney World since their last visit. Or perhaps it’s a worthwhile keepsake for anyone who DID visit in 2010—it captures what was new, after all.

Also recently issued...

Walt Disney World Hidden History: Remnants of Former Attractions and Other Tributes:

As the title implies, this is all about those little things in the parks that have significance to insiders and long-timers, but are never explained or highlighted. When a ride closes, sometimes pieces or props from that ride are folded into the replacement attraction (think of the World of Motion car seen in the queue of Test Track). Other times, designers intentionally craft a tribute to the previous ride—an example of that might be the carving of a submarine in the cement tree created for Pooh’s Playful Spot where the 20,000 Leagues subs used to be.

The other kind of homage in the parks concerns not rides, but individuals. The designers, artists, engineers, executives, and people important to Disney’s history often provide the inspiration for names and titles used at the attractions. Sadly, these are almost always unheralded. All of these remnants and tributes are normally left for the truly obsessed to spot piecemeal. They are usually not even discussed in the official Disney books and tours. This book sets out to change that, and catalog all such remnants and tributes in one spot.

The final result is 225 pages of hyper-detailed historical factoids. Broadly speaking this is a “trivia” book, but remember that it’s a particular kind of trivia. You’ve known before that the Walt Disney World theme parks wove a thick tapestry of details and backstory into a seamless (and peerless) experience. But armed with the specifics of homages and tributes, you’ll become aware that the parks are even more alive, and layered with meaning, that you could have ever imagined.

Might this be an ideal present for the Disney fan on your shopping list? If so, please have a look.

Also written by Kevin...

  • Your Day at the Magic Kingdom is a full-color, hardcover interactive children's book, where readers decide which attraction to ride next (and thus which page to turn to) - but watch out for some unexpected surprises!
  • Mouse Trap: Memoir of a Disneyland Cast Member provides the first authentic glimpse of what it's like to work at Disneyland.
  • The Walt Disney World Menu Book lists restaurants, their menus, and prices for entrees, all in one handy pocket-sized guide.
  • Tokyo Disney Made Easy is a travel guide to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySeas, written to make the entire trip stress-free for non-speakers of Japanese.
  • Magic Quizdom offers an exhaustive trivia quiz on Disneyland park, with expansive paragraph-length answers that flesh out the fuller story on this place rich with details.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Disneyland is a list-oriented book that covers ground left intentionally unexposed in the trivia book, namely the tributes and homages around Disneyland, especially to past rides and attractions.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Walt Disney World follows the example of the Disneyland book, detailing tributes and homages in the four Disney World parks.

More information on the above titles, along with ordering options are at this link.