Saturday, July 30, 2011

Attractions - The Art of Plussing (Journey into Imagination)

Several weeks ago, DLuminations began a series of posts focusing on the "plussing" of attractions. In the first post, we took a look at the Enchanted Tiki Room and posed the question as to whether the "plussing" of this attraction was a positive, or a negative. This week, we continue the examination of attractions that have been "plussed", and once again pose the question for you to ponder and answer. This week's attraction of choice - Journey into Imagination.Journey into Imagination is another fan favorite gone astray. This attraction opened in 1983, a year after EPCOT's opening. I remember seeing Figment everywhere and also remember thinking that Disney must be positioning him as the main character of EPCOT. Figment would be the image associated with the brand that was Disney's EPCOT. The character who embodied that spark of imagination that fueled exploratory learning. But, then again, I was only 10, so what did I know?In 1998, Disney decided to retire the Dreamfinder, and gave the job to Dr. Nigel Channing (introduced previously in the Honey, I Shrunk the Audience attraction.) I can imagine how that meeting went down. Eisner and other Disney executives called the Dreamfinder in for a meeting. The Dreamfinder entered the room and noticed Dr. Nigel Channing sitting at the table with them already. Dr. Channing, it seemed, had formulated a different idea of how the attraction should move forward into the next millennium. Suddenly, the Dreamfinder found himself ousted from the attraction that he helped found. In short, it was a Disney version of what happened to Steve Jobs in 1984.

Nevertheless, this change called for a major overhaul of the storyline. It was also at this time that ImageWorks was closed in the upstairs portion of the pavilion.

Once reopened, the attraction was titled, simply, Imagination. Unfortunately, fans were upset (irate maybe a better assessment) to find the Dreamfinder gone and that Figment had been reduced to a very small role. It seemed that this change caused nothing more than one little spark of exacerbation! (I know, but I couldn't resist!)

Finally, in 2001, Disney decided to refurbish the attraction once more and brought Figment back as the star and central character. Though this has appeased many fans, it seems that there are many who will remain discontent until the Dreamfinder returns to his original job. Who knows, the re-emergence of the Dreamfinder may be like Steve Jobs returning to Apple, setting the ship straight again. Once more igniting the creative spark of imagination of all who pass through it's doors in order to produce a long-lasting, and highly desirable product. Though one drawback to that would be an attraction with an actual line or a wait once more.

Until then, maybe we can look forward to the Sequel to Roger Rabbit entitled "Who Framed the Dreamfinder?" It could show in the theater once occupied by Captain EO, or Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. But alas, we must be satisfied with the subtle reference to the Dreamfinder's contributions to EPCOT's early years by seeing the name "Dean Finder" on a door in the Imagination Institute.

Let us know what you think in the comments section below. Do you think this attraction was "plussed" or "subtracted"? Would you change it back to the original version? Would you bring the Dreamfinder back?

Don't remember the original? Watch these two videos to compare:

Journey into Imagination (1983 - 1998):

Journey into Imagination (2001 - present):

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Magical Moments - Hidden Mickeys

I guess any true Disney fan knew it would only be a matter of time before this topic was broached, but try as I might, I can't avoid it. I love Hidden Mickeys! No, I am addicted to them, as are my kids, and we look forward to seeking them out during each visit to the parks. So, here we go...

What? What's that? What are Hidden Mickeys? Well, imagine playing hide-and-go-seek with the leader of the Fab Five himself, Mickey Mouse. A Hidden Mickey is a partial or complete impression of Mickey Mouse placed by Imagineers and artists into attractions, resorts, restaurants and more. According to Disney, it started as something fun and unique by Imagineers. However, there is an "unofficial" story as to the origin of Hidden Mickeys. According to this legend, when EPCOT was in the design phase, Disney held the stance that the characters belonged only in the Magic Kingdom. The Imagineers held a different belief, so they found a way to slip the characters into EPCOT.

Whatever the official story may be, the existence of Hidden Mickeys is real and fun! So, how do I know when I see one? Well, let me first let me note that there is a debate over what an "official" Hidden Mickey is. Some you see are "design Mickeys" while others are "Hidden Mickeys". That aside, my family considers all of them the same. The three-circle silhouette of Mickey's head is the most common. There are also Mickey profiles, full body shapes and even 3-dimensional versions.

In fact, the largest Hidden Mickey could once be seen from the air, but was sadly covered a few years ago. When Disney created Hollywood Studios (MGM Studios back then) Mickey's entire face could be seen in the center of the park. The Great Movie Ride served as the chin. Sadly, this was covered by the addition of the Sorcerer's hat. Here, see if you can find him, go ahead...

Need a little help? OK, now try...

Before the hat covered his nose, before Sunset Blvd. was added, and when the roof of the building on the left was painted like the lower half of a black oval, there he was.

The second largest Hidden Mickey can still be seen from the air, untouched by progress or expansion. Now, where could that be? On special occasions, you may also see another hidden character; my favorite is the Hidden Donald in the chair inside the Haunted Mansion.

OK, so what is so fun about hidden shapes? Well, Disney is notorious for long lines, especially in certain seasons. Looking for these hidden treasures is a great way to pass the time. In fact, you may get so into looking for them, this activity itself may become an attraction of sorts. One year, my wife and I went to Disney alone and spent the entire trip looking for them. It was a blast to find them, snap a photo, and check it off the list. The added bonus is that looking for Hidden Mickeys is absolutely free! Make searching for them a game and see who in your family can find the most. Maybe the winner can get an Ice Cream Sandwich from the Main Street Bakery!

OK, so my interest is piqued, where do I start? There are a number of resources, but I will recommend two specifically.

Hidden Mickeys, 4th Edition: A Field Guide to Walt Disney World's Best Kept Secrets by Steven Barrett. This $8 book can be found at any of the parks or at your local bookstore. It provides hints for finding the Hidden Mickeys and is setup in a treasure hunt format.

Steven Barrett's Hidden Mickey Walt Disney World is also available as an iTunes App. Yep, there's an App for that! And, it's worth it. Not only is this less expensive than the book, but it is interactive, and allows you to note and catalog the ones you have found.

If you are anything like us, once you get started, you will start seeing Hidden Mickeys everywhere. My son often finds them at home, in rug designs, billboards, books and more. So, for the real Disney enthusiast, the fun of this activity can last far beyond the days spent inside the parks.

What? You want to know where to find the second largest Hidden Mickey? Are you still thinking about that from a few paragraphs ago? OK, visit Google Earth and locate Walt Disney World. It should take you to the center of the Magic Kingdom. Go ahead, I'll wait...

Now, toggle (technical term) down toward the parking lot. There you go, now, go past it until you see the Disney Raceway, home of the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Now, look in the middle of the track. Do you see it? Yep, the lake is shaped like Mickey. There you go, your first one! Now, go find the rest.

Have you looked for Hidden Mickeys? How many have you found? What was your favorite? Do you see them outside the parks? Let us hear about them in the comments section below.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Resorts - Top 10 Reasons to Stay

I'm often asked by people, usually as I am being told they are staying off-site because it is less expensive, why anyone would want to consider staying on-property in a Walt Disney World Resort. Well, if your only concern is price, then maybe a Disney Resort isn't for you. But, if you gauge cost in terms of value, then I believe there is no better value than a Disney resort.

This is the point where people normally respond by saying "Value? What do you mean value? Isn't that simply a way to say 'more expensive'?" Go ahead, you can ask too...OK, I'll tell you. Disney Resorts provide value in that you will get a greater return for your investment. You will get more than what you pay for - so much more!1. Extra Magic Hours: If park admission is $85 a person, and normal park hours are from 9am - 9pm, then you are paying around $7 an hour to attend. Extra Magic Hours allow resort guests to take advantage of additional time in the parks. Depending on the day, you could gain from 1 to 3 hours in a given park. If you park hop, that number could jump to 4 hours. Those Extra Magic Hours factored into the $85 park admission could reduce your hourly rate to $5.30 - $6.50 an hour. That adds up over a week and when you are paying for more than 1 park admission. Moreover, Extra Magic Hours allow you to enjoy the parks with fewer people, because only resort guests are allowed during those times. That is value!

2. Disney Dining Plan: It is no secret that I love to eat! For me, eating is what makes vacation a vacation! Disney restaurants offer so many great themed restaurants, it would be difficult at best to explore their extensive menus without draining your finances. However, the Disney Dining Plan allows you to partake in snacks, walk-up meals (at locations like Cosmic Rays) and full service restaurants. These meals can come with appetizers, a main course, a drink and a desert. All at a reasonable price. Lastly, the plan allows you to remain in the parks to eat. That translates into more time inside the magical walls. And, as noted above for Extra Magic Hours, time directly translates into money. Still not convinced? OK, let me channel my TV salesman personality for a moment; "How much would you pay for this? $500? $300? $100? Act now and we will throw it in for FREE!" Yep, at certain times of the year, Disney has and usually does offer this plan for free to those who choose to book a stay in their resorts. I don't know about you, but I can eat a bit, and doing it for free is more than a value. As a Disney Vacation Club member though, I must pay for the Dining Plan - and still do. After adding it up over the years, I can say that I definitely come out ahead, and you will too.

3. Keys to the Kingdom: I'm not a big fan of carrying around a pocket full of keys, cards, tickets and receipts. When you stay at a Disney Resort, your room key also serves as your ticket and as a charge card. The charges from anywhere in the parks are then billed directly to your room. You can use one card to enter the parks, purchase souvenirs, and return to your room at the end of the day. If convenience stores can charge a premium for convenience, then I will consider this a value.

4. Package Delivery: After so many trips to Walt Disney World, one might think we have purchased just about every souvenir possible. For some reason though, we always tend find a multitude of treasures to ship home. The problem with purchasing souvenirs in the park, however, is that you are forced to carry them around the park with you all day. Trust me when I say that riding Space Mountain while trying to juggle a Big Fig in one arm, a Mickey clock in the other and a porcelain Jiminy Cricket between your knees is not fun. Sure, you could pay for a locker at the front of the park, but you would need to keep returning there after each purchase to unload your treasures. As a resort guest, I never have to worry about this predicament. The store will actually deliver the purchase to my resort room, or to the resort store. Again, convenience = value! Priceless value in my opinion.

5. Pools: As noted in an earlier post, some people just don't consider it a vacation without the ability to spend time in the pool. The Disney detail of the parks has definitely found its way to the resort pools, which offer a unique experience one might think only reserved for in-park attractions.

6. Transportation: As noted in an earlier post, Disney Transportation is not only a savings of money, but of time and hassle. Once again, value!

7. Luggage Check: Check out is normally 11am for most hotels. On our day of departure, we usually like to stay in the parks until late afternoon before we reluctantly return home. We also like to take Disney transportation to do so. So, we often have the resort keep our luggage in storage until we are ready to leave. Great service once again means value.

8. Changing Resorts: There are currently 25 WDW Resorts. These range in price and in amenities, but each offer specialized experiences focused around unique themes. If you travel to Disney once each year, it would take decades to experience each. One solution would be to stay in multiple resorts during your visit. Let's say you plan to stay for 7 nights. 3 could be spent in 1 resort, 2 in another and 2 in yet another. Not only is this possible, but Disney will actually move your luggage for you. Imagine waking up in one resort and going to bed in another, and never worrying about your luggage! What? What's that sound? That's the value train coming full speed ahead!

9. Character Wake-Up Calls: I know that this is 2011 and I can not only set my in-room alarm clock, but can also set my smart phone to wake me up in time to wait impatiently for the parks to open. However, I love good old-fashioned wake-up calls. There is something about having someone else wake me up per my request that makes me feel, well, presidential. So, I take full advantage of them. Alas, technology has also found its way into this service, as pre-recorded messages have taken the place of desk clerks. At Disney Resorts though, your courtesy call could come from Jiminy Cricket, Stitch, Goofy or even Mickey himself. Now, that is cool!

10. Welcome Home: At Disney Resorts, you get the same world class guest service from cast members that you find in the parks. Disney is world famous for providing impeccable service and providing the highest level of personal attention during your stay at their resorts. Disney anticipates guests' needs, allowing for a carefree stay; and it all starts with the simple phrase "Welcome Home" with which you are greeted upon arrival.

So, next time you plan a trip to Disney, we strongly recommend you consider staying in a Disney Resort. In the words of Lumiere, "Be our guest, Be our guest, Put our service to the test..."

What is your favorite thing about staying in a Disney Resort? Feel free to share it with us in the comments section below.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Dining - Eat Around the World

As the father of 4 kids, who also likes to visit the Disney parks several times a year, I am often tasked with ways to enjoy the parks in a less expensive, or fresh, new way. Fortunately, like Walt "I believe in being an innovator."

For kids, the World Showcase in EPCOT may be the most challenging area to keep fresh or interesting. For the most part, the World Showcase has few attractions that kids might enjoy (Rio Del Tiempo in Mexico, American Adventure, Malestrom in Norway). And, once you have seen these attractions seven or eight times, as an adult, they hold less of your interest as well. Couple that with the scientific fact that kids are starving to death every fifteen feet or fifteen minutes - whichever comes first - and you have a potentially bad or boring visit on your hands.

So, how "In the World" (yes, I love puns) do you enjoy the World Showcase? Well, one solution often enjoyed by adults is to Drink Around the World. However, I don't personally drink and neither do my young children, so we Eat Around the World.

I realize this may sound a bit taxing on your waist as well as your wallet, however, this tactic for enjoying the World Showcase can not only be fun, but can be easy on your belt and inexpensive. As you work your way around the World Showcase, select one snack item from the gift shops in each pavilion. One snack should be enough in most cases to feed a group of 6 or 7 guests. These snacks are generally inexpensive, and since you are snacking throughout the afternoon (or morning) you will find yourself voluntarily skipping lunch. Though a tad bit less healthy, that should pay for the cost of the snacks.

My family likes to try various treats and, if possible, change the selected treats each time we visit. We then compare our thoughts and determine our favorites from each pavilion or overall. The other hidden benefit is that snacking all day with kids, while walking around, helps keep their interest. This allows you to explore the World Showcase pavilions without hearing "Can we go back to Test Track" every 5 minutes.

Here are some suggestions on snacks to try:

Canada: Double Dutch Waffle Cookies with Syrup Filling. You can thank me in the comments section.

England: Border Crumbles. Nothing quite like a biscuit!
France: Any pastry will do. The cheesecake is my favorite.

Morocco: Marrakesh Sunset. This watermelon flavored Slushie is great.

Japan: Rice Crackers. I generally stay away from dried crabs!The American Adventure: Funnel Cake

Italy: Cannoli. "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli." (Couldn't resist.)

Germany: Large, Soft Pretzel.
China: Egg Roll.Norway: Lefse Potato Bread.Mexico: Churros.We would love to hear from you. Have you tried this? What were your favorites? Post replies in the comments section below.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Attractions - Top 10 Pools

For many, it just isn't a vacation unless you get to spend some time splashing around in a pool. This, coupled with the warm, central Florida sun, makes fun-time in the pool a must. At Disney, the combination of attention to detail and the understanding that everything speaks brings that hint of Disney magic which turns a normal pool into an aquatic adventure.

Although we can list many reasons for staying in specific Disney Resorts, what if our only concern was the pool? Well, that is the idea behind our Top 10 Pools list for the Disney Resorts. If swimming is your "thing", consider this list before booking your Disney vacation.

1. Stormalong Bay (Yacht & Beach Club Resort): This 3-acre pool takes first place by a landslide. Featuring a 230-foot waterslide that starts inside a Pirate Ship, floating lagoon (also known as a "lazy river"), and whirlpools, this pool features something absolutely unique - sand. Yes, sand fills the bottom of this salt-water pool, giving it a tropical feel. Sliding out of the ship gives the feeling of escaping from the Black Pearl. The pool is like an attraction unto itself. That's enough for us.

2. Nanea Volcano Pool (Polynesian Resort): Overlooking the Seven Seas Lagoon, this heated pool puts you in the middle of the Pacific Rim. Featuring a 40-foot high volcano with a waterfall, and a 142-foot tubular waterslide, this zero-depth-entry pool makes for great Magical Moments. 3. Luna Park Pool (Boardwalk Resort): This pool features a 200-foot waterslide called the Keister Coaster. The opportunity to shoot out of the clown's mouth at the end of this roller coaster inspired slide definitely makes this slide worth getting your "keister" wet for! The circus atmosphere is completed by elephants on the pool deck that shower you with their trunks.
4. Silver Springs Pool (Wilderness Lodge): Overlooking Bay Lake, this pool appears to be carved from rock over time. You also get the feeling of swimming in a forest. This, along with the waterslide and geyser that erupts hourly, fits perfectly with the resort theme.5. Uzima Springs Pool (Animal Kingdom Lodge): Swim in this 11,000-square-foot, zero-depth-entry, natural watering hole. The 128-foot slide couples with the zero-depth-entry to make this an enjoyable spot on a hot African afternoon.6. Spanish Fort Pool (Caribbean Beach Resort): This pool's Spanish fort theme looks like a lost scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, making the pool almost and extension of a park attraction. A waterslide, waterfalls, and water cannons make anyone feel a little more like Captain Jack.
7. Mayan Dig Site Pool (Coronado Springs Resort): This 272,000 gallon pool surrounds a Mayan pyramid. It also features a 123-foot water slide and the largest outdoor hot tub in Walt Disney World. You may leave this pool in the mood for dinner at San Angel Inn!8. Old Key West Pool (Old Key West Resort): The best feature found at this pool is the sand-castle themed waterslide with a large Hidden Mickey at the opening. The mere incorporation of the Hidden Mickey design gives this pool a top 10 spot.
9. High Rock Spring Pool (Saratoga Springs Resort): A cascading waterfall feeds into this zero-depth-entry, heated, freeform pool. A waterslide rounds off the great list of features offered here.
10. Grand Floridian Pool (Grand Floridian Resort): Overlooking the Seven Seas Lagoon, this zero-depth-entry pool features a waterfall and a waterslide. Private cabana's are available for rental and seem to fit the luxurious, 19th century, Victorian era feel of the resort itself.
What? Your favorite is not listed here? What is it then? Let us hear it. What is your favorite Disney Resort pool? What made it your favorite?