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Have you been to Downtown Las Vegas since the canopy of lights were installed more than a decade ago? The domed ceiling created by the lights enables them to put on a lightshow that is coordinated down the length of the entire street, rather than localized to small spots or simple patterns. In a word, they can “animate” with lights.

Well, Disney is now using the technology too, new this year at the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Specifically, it’s on the San Francisco street, where they’ve always had a canopy of lights.

Read what you’re missing...

When the light display originally moved here, the canopy over the street was static red. When the dancing lights started, the first year they added multiple strands over the same spot, so they could get different colors over the whole thing. In those first years, the “dancing” just meant that entire sections of light would turn on and turn off. Having the canopy be blue rather than red was a new thing.

After a few years, the lights were changed out to LEDs which allowed for multiple colors, by programming, with the same bulbs. So they didn’t need overlapping strands anymore. Yet this year’s innovation is different still. The LEDs don’t just blink on and off as an entire segment; now they are part of a larger “animation” that sweeps across the canopy—the whole thing is more programmed and more advanced.

Here’s a video (not mine) from 2008 showing the canopy as it danced then:

And here’s my video from 2011:

Pretty big difference, eh? They’ve really come a long way at Osborne, and I’m glad Disney isn’t standing still.

Epcot Turnstile/RFID Test

Epcot has been testing a new ticket method at the front gate. Your pass gets a Mickey sticker, which holds the RFID chip, and they you swipe it  (rather than insert it into a machine) and you are waved through (there is no actual turnstile any more). My friend David experienced it; here is his write up:

They set up some tables before bag check. First they put the Mickey sticker on your pass, then you move on to the next station where they scan the pass's barcode and the new RFID sticker and that way they pair them.

Then they asked us to go to the new turnstiles all the way on the left. There were 3 sets of turnstiles, with 3 longish lines. A CM was at the front of each line. They would ask how many people were in a party and they would send the whole party to the turnstiles at once. When that party was done, they'd send the next one.

You just put the sticker against the Mickey ball. First I tried waving it in front, but it didn't pick it up, I had to physically put the sticker against the ball for it to read it. Then a ring around the fingerprint scanner would light up white. You put your finger on it as usual and it light up green and you heard a chime meaning you were granted access to the park.

I can't say it was considerably faster, if at all, but it was hard to tell as the line was not constantly moving, but each time it moved, 3-5 people would walk up to the turnstiles. That was the most confusing part of the whole thing.

Video Slideshows

As a reminder, 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.”

I didn’t include my roundup of smaller updates last week, but they are still new for many, so here you go!

• Holiday decorations up at Magic Kingdom
• Posters down at Toontown train station; new structure visible
• Cheshire Café replaces Enchanted Grove; keeps menu
• FL construction pics: themed bridge visible outside Under the Sea; trees now clumped to prevent view of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train from Pinocchio Village Haus
• Mansion extended queue got several new directional signs
• New Sorcerer's location (with dual cameras) near re-opened Frontierland Shooting Arcade
• Sleepy Hollow Refreshments has new waffle sandwiches ($7); the sweet and spicy chicken was divine (and filling)!
• Holiday interlude in the castle projections include decorations as: wrapping paper, Christmas lights, candy canes, the cake castle from 1996, and gingerbread house.
• RFID entrance tested at Epcot; you get a sticker on your existing pass or ticket and swipe it; there is no actual turnstile anymore.
• New (new-ish?) pig family decorations at Great Piggybank Adventure; most are animated cutouts
• Canopy of lights at San Francisco Street in Osborne is the big innovation this year; programmed and bright, it looks and acts like the Fremont St Experience in downtown Las Vegas.
• Two tributes to the recently-departed Jennings Osborne: one blue angel in the sky is now white; and a razorback pig (he was a big football supporter) outlined in lights.
• Festival of the Masters was this weekend at Downtown Disney
• New World of Disney bathrooms; now not accessible from inside the store, and only from the side of the building
• Earl of Sandwich has holiday sandwiches again; the 'toy ornament' tree outside has no toys this year
• Blink by Wet Seal now open; replaces Magnetron in DtD
• Sunglass Icon store in DtD renovated and open; has a station where you can photograph yourself and tweet/upload the pic immediately
• Something Silver now open; replaces Magic Masters in DtD

Shrek the Halls

Gaylord Palms has, for several years running, offered an exhibit of ice sculptures. While I have previously paid for this experience out of pocket, I am now on their press list and was invited for a complimentary media preview. Because I’ve visited three of the last four years (I missed last year’s), I can say that they have really upped the ante with this exhibit. Much of the success probably comes from having a corporate sponsor (and, one assumes, the budget to go with it).

If you look at pictures of the exhibit as it used to be, you’ll find lots and lots of ice, as you might expect. Some of the ice was colored using food coloring before it was frozen, but most of it wasn’t. Any decorations done with (or on top of) the ice was also done with ice; this was a “pure” approach to ice sculpture.

This year, the amount of colored ice is staggering. What also makes things look different by comparison to earlier years is the decision to use non-ice decorations for faces and smaller accoutrements around the displays. On the one hand, it’s less of a “pure” experience now, but the trade-off is well worth it if you ask me. The level of showmanship has gone up, and the theming is more immersive.

Just look at all that side theming and smaller objects!

One thing that caught my eye was the attempt to theme even the ceilings. In the past, ICE was a decidedly 2-D affair, as if designers figured no one would ever look up. No longer. Now there are vines and such hanging from the ceilings as well.

The highlight for my kids was always the ice slides. That was true this year, too, until they went into the adjacent Snow exhibit. Here it’s warmer (about 50 degrees) and there is snow on the ground, encircling a playground. My kids mostly ignored the playground and instead tackled the snow. It’s hard-packed, so no snow angels are possible here, but one kid made a snowman immediately and they quickly got into a snowball fight; their first ever. My wife and I were less impressed by Snow, and we thought it was overall quite slippery and dangerous (there’s also a carnival style triple-dip slide – no ice – that is slippery on its own). But our kids had an absolute blast in here, so it’s hard to find fault too loudly when the target audience is enjoying it.

Roaring and Soaring

I also had the chance to attend Fantasy of Flight’s recent Roar and Soar weekend as a media guest (it’s been a busy month). This annual event celebrates the planes they usually have on display at this airspace museum, but adds a lot of other stuff, too, including motor boat racing and demonstrations, a classic car show, racing and time trials for modern cars, model airplanes (remote controlled) demo, stiltwalkers, and even BMX bike stunts. Kids will like the kite flying (there are quite a few in the air), the stomp rockets, and the waterball pool (where you climb inside a giant clear sphere and pretend you’re a hamster).

Since my last visit here, Fantasy of Flight has added new permanent attractions in the form of a zipline and a ropes course. I didn’t try these yet, so I can’t comment on their value relative to such installations at other venues.

But the Roar and Soar is always pretty kinetic—there’s a lot going on at any one time. Admission includes the Disney-quality museum that’s always there, so if this is a possible addition to your schedule for when the event returns, keep it in mind!

Book Number One: Disneyland Almanac

Speaking of it being a busy month, remember that I will have three books for sale this holiday season. The first, announced previously, is Jason’s Disneyland Almanac (coauthored with Jason Schultz), and it’s nothing short of a daily history of Disneyland Resort. Park hours, daily weather, and any significant event (VIP visitor, ride opening, ride closing, change of name, the debut or ending of entertainment, the opening or closing of shops and restaurants, etc) is listed here, and summaries of each year provide perspective. There are also summaries of each decade for a different view.

Gotta go back in time!

At the back you’ll find three reference tables: an index of people names, and index of everything else, and an attractions-only listing of openings and closings, so you can quickly find the dates for any ride. The book is in 8x10 format, has 334 pages, and the list price is $24.95. It’s available at CreateSpace (where we get the maximum royalty) and at Amazon.com. We are investigating a Kindle version, but it won’t come any time soon. The two-column format of the book resists easy conversion to Kindle and time has been short indeed lately.

Book Number Two is….

And the second book is: a Christmas in Walt Disney World book! (nicely timed for the Christmas season, eh?) I’m the third author on this one. Denise Preskitt, who runs mousesteps.com, wrote most of the text and selected the pictures. Jeff Lange, who sells DVDs of Disney park experiences, was a significant coauthor and historical fact-checker. I helped a lot with the book-side of things and weighed in when I could on the creative decisions, but I don’t want to hog credit—I’m definitely the third author here, and my name isn’t listed on the cover. I do receive my share of the royalties, though, so I had to get that out in the open from the start.

The cover shows the castle late at night.

It’s largely a photo book, with over 300 full-color pictures crammed onto 96 pages. It measures 6 inches by 9 inches, so it’s slightly larger than my usual books but still definitely portable.

Castle holiday projections recall the castle cake.

It has a dual focus, looking both at the present (we even fit in the holiday version of Magic, the Memories, and You! castle projections) and the past. For the present, the book tours the parks and resorts – you’ll perhaps be surprised by how much is at the resorts – and shows what’s there. For the past, the book provides images of things you just can’t see any more, like the Christmas tree outside the Great Movie Ride (and its train set at the base), bygone Christmas parades at the Magic Kingdom, and the much-loved and much-missed Lights of Winter at Epcot.

Big Al, like you won’t see him again, it seems.

One section you may find interesting is a photo walkthrough of the suite inside Cinderella Castle. The author got to stay there once, having won the experience as a day guest during the Year of a Million Dreams.

Animated and stuffed… but dressed up for the holidays.

The retail price is $22.95 (sometimes they put it on sale online). This book is available at CreateSpace (where the authors get maximal royalty) and Amazon. Given the theme, this would make for an ideal stocking stuffer!

A Kindle version for the Christmas book will take some months to convert, since images must be manually moved around. (it’s been, uh, busy around here).

We all miss the Lights of Winter!

The third book, yet to be announced, is probably something you can guess if you’ve been reading my column for any length of time. But it won’t be on sale until early December so I’ll leave it at that for the moment.

Let’s Discuss!

Click on this link to discuss this article on MiceChat!

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 was provided complimentary admission to OrlandoIce.

© 2011 Kevin Yee

Find Kevin on Social Media

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.