Monday, April 30, 2012

Attractions - The Art of Plussing (Haunted Mansion)

There is so much that could be written about this classic attraction.  From the “Doom Buggies” to the hitchhiking ghosts; from the stretching room to the graveyard scene, this attraction is a testament to the art of Imagineering.  As your ghost host carries you on a journey through the dark halls of this attraction, the imagery, sounds, and Imagineering tricks are woven together with one of the most memorable soundtracks of any attraction to create a totally immersive experience suitable for young and old alike.  And though this attraction is a classic, it too has been a focus of “plussing” over the years. 

Grim Grinning Ghosts have been socializing here since 1971, and in that time only a few minor changes have taken place.  The majority of updates to this attraction have been minimal or have had no real bearing on the storyline.  However, recent changes in the queue graveyard area add a greater dimension to the experience.  The most interesting point – at least to this author – is that Disney has chosen to invest time and money into making guest experiences in the parks more enjoyable on the whole, not just inside the attractions.  As you may know, lines do get long during certain peak times of the year.  Standing in those long lines, while trying to simultaneously control the heat and your children, may result in a less than fond memory.  To help alleviate those moments of stress, make the wait time seem shorter - or at least more enjoyable, Disney has focused efforts on improving attraction queues.  The Haunted Mansion is among the most recent of attractions, along with The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Space Mountain, to receive such attention. 

So, what might you encounter in the queue?  Well, for starters, you will encounter the sharp wit of the Imagineers.  Only Disney could make epitaphs that invoke the sparkle of eternal youth – laughter.  While some are simply funny, others give clues to encourage interaction with the queue itself.  For example, one tombstone claims that “He’s gone from the world of trouble and strife.  But a touch of your hand brings his music to life.”  Curious guests are now fully engaged in the attraction before ever setting foot inside the mansion itself.  Hands brush across the tombstone as music now fills the air.  Music isn’t the only way to engage guests.  Disney does a great job of trying to engage multiple senses in this process.  Another grave, for a sailor of course, squirts water. 

The last portion of this attraction to recently be plussed involves the “Hitchhiking Ghosts”.  For years the ghosts simply rode along with guests who refused the offer to fill the vacancy for one more resident.  Now, these intrepid ghosts actually interact with the guests to once again create a fully immersive, interactive and enjoyable guest experience.  So, “don’t close your eyes and don’t try to hide, or a silly spook may sit by your side…” because these grim grinnin’ ghosts truly do socialize.

Let us know what you think.  Do you like these changes?  Do these changes help reduce the feeling of long wait times?  Add your comments below.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Magical Memories: Disney Water Parks


I recently spoke with some friends who were planning a trip to WDW.  They were looking to spend a day or two away from the theme parks and wanted some ideas.  I asked if they had been to the Disney Water Parks which they had not.  The Disney Water Parks are two of the top water parks in the world and also the most visited.                                                                                                                     
 Tyhoon Lagoon is located across from the West Side at Downtown Disney, if you are staying at a Disney Resort bus transportation is provided at no expense.  Disney Legend has it that a typhoon "wreaked havoc upon a formely pristine tropical paradise".  As you walk around the park you will see ships, fishing gear and surfboards strewn about from when the "storm" hit.
 Typhoon Lagoon is broken up into different areas:  Mount Mayday, Hideaway Bay, Typhoon Lagoon, Shark Reef and Castaway Creek.  Within each area you will find many attractions including:  The Surf Pool, the world's largest wae pool; the Crush 'n' Gusher, a water coaster; Humunga Kowabunga, an enclosed flume slide; and Gang Plank Falls, a family raft ride.  If you are just trying to relax try lying out on lounge chair on the Sandy White Beach.
Fast Food and snacks are available in Typhoon Lagoon with The Leaning Palms being the main counter service restaurant.  If you are looking to save money coolers are allowed into the park and picnic areas are provided.  Typhoon Lagoon also features a full service bar.   

Blizzard Beach is located  in the Animal Kingdom resort area near the Coronado Springs Resort.  As with Typhoon Lagoon bus service is provided from the Disney Resorts.  The theme of Blizzard Beach is that a freak snow storm hit Florida resulting in the creation of its first ski resort.  The snow didn't last and the ski resort was turned into a water park.  As with Typhoon Lagoon this park is broken into different areas:  the Green, Purple and Red Slopes as well as the Ground Level featuring food and beverage as well as merchandise.

Attractions at Blizzard Beach include:  Summit Plummet, a 120 ft water slide; Melt Away Bay, a wave pool located at the bottom of Mount Gushmore; Downhill Double Dipper, which is one of the world's only side by side racing slides; and Teamboat Springs, the world's longest family white water raft ride.

As with TL food and snack options are available.  Coolers are allowed in the park (though glass items and alcohol are prohibited) with picnic areas provided.  Separate admission to both water parks is required.  See the WDW website for prices.  The Disney Water parks are a great place to go if you want a day away from the theme parks, with something for each member of your family.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Magical Moments - Disney Marathon Weekend

In 2004, I was at work when my phone rang. As I answered, the voice on the other end was laced with a mixed tone of excitement and uneasiness. “Tell me I’m not crazy,” my wife’s plea came through the receiver, “I just signed up to run a marathon at Disney.”

It took a moment, to be perfectly honest, for the news to set in. Probably for the same reason that she was asking me to reaffirm her decision to sign up to begin with – she had never run a marathon before. In fact, she had never run any race before. Not any race, anywhere for any amount of time. No 5K, no fun run, no Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, nothing; yet she had now signed up to run 26.2 miles through the parks and back streets of the Walt Disney World complex. After a moment of silence I answered “You’re not crazy. You can do it!"

Now you may be thinking, “That is crazy! You should have confirmed her fear that she had indeed lost her mind and then assisted her with finding a good psychiatrist. No one goes from the couch to a marathon without running some warm-up races.” Well, I tell you that not only did I believe in her, I supported her throughout the upcoming 3 months as she trained for her first ever marathon. Besides, it was Walt Disney who said “If you can dream it, you can do it.” And that is what makes the Disney Marathon Weekend, and my wife’s endeavor, truly magical.

“OK, great story,” you may now be thinking, “Probably scored you some points with your wife. But why does this matter?” On April 10, 2012 Disney opened registration for the 2013 Marathon – which also happens to be the 20th anniversary race. Marathon Weekend will take place from January 10 – 13, 2013. This event holds the key to some very magical moments, and may help you achieve something that Walt himself spoke so much about – Dreams.

What? You’ve never run a race before? No worries, with the help of Disney’s official trainer and former Olympian Jeff Galloway, you have plenty of time to prepare for the event.

Here is a link to one of Jeff’s training videos:

Now you might be thinking, “OK, so I can train. But is it really that magical?” The answer is an emphatic YES! Here are just a few things you might want to know about runDisney:

There are actually several marathons and half marathons at both WDW and Disneyland. For the purpose of this post, we will focus only on the main races happening on Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. More specifically, we will focus on the Walt Disney World Marathon, the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, and Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge.

Walt Disney World Marathon
This 26.2 mile race starts and ends in EPCOT, but takes you through all 4 WDW parks. With opportunities to take pictures with favorite characters or witness on-course entertainment throughout the day, this event is unlike any other marathon you may have attended. Participants will receive:
1. Champion® Unisex Long-Sleeved Marathon Tech Shirt
2. Commemorative 20th Anniversary Mickey Mouse Finisher medal
3. Official Race Program Guide
4. iGiftBag
5. Personalized bib (Must register by November 1, 2012 for name to appear on bib)
6. On-course and post-race refreshments
7. ChronoTrack B-tag timed race
8. Personalized results website

Walt Disney World Half Marathon
This 13.1 mile race takes place on the day prior to the full marathon. Like the full marathon, you have opportunities to take photos or enjoy entertainment. However, this marathon features Donald as the race “Conducktor”.
Participants will receive:
1. Champion® Unisex Long-Sleeved Half Marathon Tech Shirt
2. Donald Duck Finisher medal
3. Official Race Program Guide
4. iGiftBag
5. Personalized bib (Must register by November 1, 2012 for name to appear on bib)
6. On-course and post-race refreshments
7. ChronoTrack B-tag timed race
8. Personalized results website

Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge
Some of you may have thought my wife was goofy for trying to go from the couch to a marathon in only 3 months. Honestly, she may have been – though she did it! But, what really would have been goofy would be to run both the half and full marathon in one weekend. This 39.3 mile feat is known as Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge. Not only do you get both the Mickey and Donald medals once finished, you also receive a Goofy medal.
Participants will also receive:
1. Champion® Unisex Long-Sleeved Tech Shirts for the Marathon, Half Marathon and Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge
2. Special Goofy finisher medal, along with the Commemorative 20th Anniversary Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck finisher medals for completing the Marathon and Half Marathon
3. Official Race Program Guide
4. iGiftBag
5. Personalized bib (Must register by November 1, 2012 for name to appear on bib)
6. On-course and post-race refreshments
7. ChronoTrack B-tag timed race
8. Personalized results website

To learn more, or to register for any of the races, visit the official runDisney website:

Best of luck if you decide to register and race for those dreams – besides, you never know who you’ll see on the course!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Magical Moments - Star Wars Weekends 2012

Star Wars Weekends will be taking place this year from May 18th thru June 10th at Disney's Hollywood Studios. This popular event which has been running annually since 2003 celebrates the legendary Star Wars films as well as the animated television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Star Wars Weekends takes place over four consecutive weekends.
During Star Wars Weekends expect to see some of your favorite characters from the movies roaming the streets of Disney's Hollywood Studios, including Wookies, Droids and Jedi. Also look for Disney Characters dressed in Star Wars costumes: Jedi Mickey, Minnie as Princess Leia, Donald as a Stormtrooper, and Goofy as Darth Vader. Meet and greet stations will be set up for photo/autograph sessions. Several celebrities from the films and animated series will also be attending the event including Ray Park (Darth Maul, The Phantom Menace), Jake Lloyd (Anakin Skywalker, The Phantom Menace) and Daniel Logan (Boba Fett, Attack of the Clones). Be sure to use a FastPass to ensure your place in line at the celebrity autograph kiosks.
In addition to meet and greet opportunities, Star Wars Weekends features The Legends of the Force Parade which will take place daily during the event and will feature your favorite characters from the movies. The Jedi Training Academy is located to the left of the Star Tours attraction and allows kids under 12 to do battle with Darth Vader himself. Star Wars stars will take part in a question and answer sessions on the stage near the giant Sorcerer's Apprentice hat on Hollywood Blvd. At the end of the day stop by the Hyperspace Hoopla which features music, comedy and dancing.
Star Wars Weekends is a popular event and the crowds will be large. The average temperatures during the day at this time of year are between 88 and 91. If you attend this event be sure to get a park guide when you first enter Hollywood Studios, this will list all events for the day, as well as there times and locations.