Monday, February 18, 2013

Magical Moments - Romantic Disney (Guest Post)

In 2011 and again in 2012 we introduced a few posts exploring the romantic side of Disney.  Today, we are happy to announce a guest post that continues in the spirit of those Romantic Disney posts.  Additionally, this post comes courtesy of Nikki Bechtel, who is no stranger to DLuminations as she may be best known to most of you as the author of an earlier guest post exploring life in the College Program.  So, without further ado, we humbly hand the spotlight to Nikki…
This summer, my husband Josh and I are planning to take a trip to Disney World.  Without our children. Eeek! I am so excited that I can hardly stand it. We will celebrate our 8th anniversary this year, and the trip is in part for that (even though 8 is a weird year to celebrate when you think about it). However, the REAL celebration is this: We are done having kids. Donʼt get me wrong, I love them to the end of this Earth, but I am excited that I am finished with that stage of my life. Our oldest will start school in the Fall, and it feels like the start of a whole new phase as a family. So we celebrate. I absolutely love to plan trips for us, and I certainly love it when those plans include the three most magical words I know. Walt Disney World. However, as the planner, there is little room for intrigue, adventure, and, yes, even romance. At the beginning stages of planning for this trip, I came up with a great idea that I think will help to feel more of the magic that I have kind of lost since I became our familyʼs official travel agent! We are going to be there for five days, and in the parks possibly for three. We have decided that each one of us is in charge of a whole day. The idea is simple: plan a day around the other. The only problem is that there are SO MANY wonderful things to do that it is hard just to plan one day. I think there are a few important factors to consider in making plans.
What does your significant other especially enjoy? Make a list a few months before, and start doing a little research on what fits. What have you not had the opportunity to do before? What are budget allowances for the day? If only our resources were unlimited...I could plan one SERIOUSLY awesome day. But they arenʼt, so sometimes I have to get creative.

Here is what one day might look like:  Joshʼs favorite park is Animal Kingdom and he loves camp-y things, so I might theme the whole day around Animal Kingdom and the outdoors. A pretty easy start to the day would simply be to spend the day, at least in part, at Animal Kingdom. We will start the day with the “Wild by Design” tour, which is a look into the Imagineerʼs development of the park and the animal keepers that work there. Josh usually comes home with more pictures of animals than people, so I think he will love it. Itʼs a three hour tour (hello, Gilligan) and finished by lunchtime.
On the way out of Africa, weʼll stop at the Dawa Bar so that Josh can enjoy an African beer (what can I say, my man loves beer) and I might enjoy a glass of wine myself before we continue with the day. We have always heard great things about Yak & Yeti, so lunch or a quick afternoon snack before the dinner menu kicks in is next in line. We have to be sure to experience Everest at least a couple of times because we never ride together anymore. With big plans for the evening, weʼll leave the park by about 2 or three in the afternoon.
Josh thinks the monorail is a very cool mode of transportation, so we will bus over to Epcot or Magic Kingdom just to catch the monorail for fun. If we have enough time, we can pop into Magic Kingdom just to ride Pirates, or stop off the monorail at a few of the resorts around the lagoon to see the theming (we are both suckers for a good Disney theme).
For dinner, we will spend the evening at Mickeyʼs Backyard BBQ. This does require advance reservations, so I would have to book to ensure seating. The food served fits right in with Joshʼs tastes, and I think he would really love the atmosphere. To cap off the evening, we could find a spot around the lagoon to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks and as a little surprise, Iʼll have a yummy cigar tucked away just for him.

Another dayʼs plan could go a little like this (if my husband reads this, YAY!): **Written from my husbandʼs point of view, if only he could read my mind**
My wife loves EPCOT.  With three little ones, it is often skipped in favor of Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom, so a morning wandering through will be right up her alley.  Living with the Land is her favorite attraction, and every time we are there, she comments about the Behind the Seeds tour. So, thatʼs what we are doing this morning. Itʼs only one hour and $18 per adult, so itʼs a great option for us. After the tour, we will hit a few attractions, and then head out of the park for the rest of the day.

While we were in Disney in December, we tried to go to 50ʼs Prime Time cafe, but it was a big fat bust. Today, we are trying again. Because we are already in EPCOT, we are going to take the boat from here to Hollywood to have lunch. Since itʼs the middle of the day, we will probably share an entree so that we are not stuffed. Because...we are off to the Tower of Terror. Nikki has either been pregnant or weʼve had little ones with us on our last trips, so she has skipped out on her favorite thrill ride. Not today! After we have had a chance to ride once or twice (maybe three or four times), weʼll leave Hollywood and head to Downtown for the evening.

Itʼs not often that we just get to stroll and shop, so thatʼs just what we will do. A few evening options could include catching a late night movie (which we NEVER do anymore), bowling at Splitsville (because although Nikki doesnʼt love to bowl, she does love kitschy retro, so itʼs perfect), or I might even take the plunge and suffer through La Nouba just for my wife, even though I will secretly enjoy it. Back at the hotel, Iʼll have a bottle of her favorite wine waiting so we can head back and relax. We donʼt often get to do that by ourselves.

There are a MILLION options for fun at Disney World, whether you choose to visit a park or stay out of them altogether for the day. While I was writing, I started to think of all these wonderful things we could do just the two of us! There are excursions of all kinds, restaurants of all flavors, desserts of decadence all around, and creative experiences throughout the property!
A few of my favorite ideas not included in the “maybe days” above include:
* Keys to the Kingdom tour in Magic Kingdom. 5 hours, $74. Not too shabby for a unique experience, especially if you are a behind the scenes nerd like me.
* Spend a night at a “dream” resort. Mine would be the Wilderness Lodge. But, a bit too pricey for this time in our life. Maybe our tenth anniversary!
* A carriage ride at Fort Wilderness or Port Orleans. $45 for up to 4 people. During Halloween and Christmas, the rides are themed appropriately. Yes, please.
* Dessert at Ghiradelliʼs in Downtown, without my daughters wanting another bite before I can take my first.
The point is simply this: make them feel special. I am a wife, mom, teacher, cook, maid, crafter- all of these things and a hundred more that apply to so many women. Josh is a husband, dad, firefighter, lawn care guy, cook, garbage man, handy man; his list is long and exhausting as well. Make a list of what they love, match it up to great experiences at WDW, take a break, and just love each other for a day. Now, I canʼt wait to actually put a plan into action. And Josh, if you are reading this, take notes and donʼt expect that cigar.
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Monday, February 11, 2013

Attractions: Traditions - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

            A few weeks ago we began a brief series of postings that look at Disney’s adherence to traditions.  These homages to Disney’s past make the Disney Archives vitally important to what Disney does while adding fun for enthusiasts like us. 
This week’s topic is a fan favorite that I remember so vividly from my childhood - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. 
Though this area is now a part of the new Fantasyland expansion, when it originally changed to Pooh’s Playful Spot in 1994, a picture of Nemo’s Nautilus submarine could be found in the area’s centerpiece tree.  Now, as this location is home of Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, a few subtle reminders of the Nautilus can be seen with the occasional nautilus shells in the pathway of the attraction queue.  And, though this is more coincidence than planning I am sure, it is not lost that one song prominently featured in Ariel’s Undersea Adventure does in fact mirror the name of the location’s original attraction…”Under the Sea”.
How many references to old attractions can you locate?  Let us know which ones you have found and send us a photo

Monday, February 4, 2013

Attractions - Hurray for Hollywood

     Traditionally, this site has been and still is dedicated to reviewing or introducing ideas, tips and insights into WDW attractions, restaurants, resorts and magical moments in order to potentially increase your fun at WDW.  Today, however, we will take a slight departure from that approach.  Over the past few years, I’ve had many conversations with others regarding Hollywood Studios – specifically my ideas on how to make it a more premiere destination park for WDW.  The issue arose this past week in a conversation on our DLuminations Facebook page, which prompted more off-line questions regarding those ideas.  As a result, I felt that the topic may warrant a post, in the hopes that like Walt, we can dream about what might be possible in the hopes that it will become possible.

First and foremost, I must admit that I know three key points: (1) Disney does not take unsolicited ideas.  So, unless I get a job as an Imagineer, the probability of any of these ideas coming to fruition may be slim at best. (2) Disney is a business.  Though these ideas will require a substantial investment, the idea is to make money.  I have not conducted a cost/benefit analysis of these ideas, but do know that more people spending more time in any given park results in increased profits.  If Hollywood Studios suddenly became a park that required a longer day to visit and enjoy, the length of stay is extended which results increased profits from resorts, restaurants, and souvenirs.  And, as the new Fantasyland Expansion proves, we – as guests – are willing to pay for it if Disney delivers upon expectations.  (3) Universal Studios scored a big win with Harry Potter, and though I believe Disney still delivers a better overall experience, they suddenly found Hollywood Studios playing catch-up to a popular franchise taking a prominent role at Universal.

So, what can be done?  Touring Hollywood Studios from left to right, here are a few simple ideas – any of which may add to the overall park experience and ticket value.  Oh, and to help you visualize, here is a conceptual map of what the park might look like if all these ideas were added.

Indiana Jones:

    Over the past few years, Disney has made two investments that could single handedly transform Hollywood Studios.  LucasFilm is the first of those two investments.  The key to Harry Potter – for Universal Studios – is that prior to its addition to the park, there was a built-in, loyal fan base started through the series of books, and nurtured through the movie franchise.  This fan base spent years growing with the characters of the stories.  Indiana Jones – along with Star Wars – shares this very attribute. 

As you pass Echo Lake and come to the end of the path, there is a space between 50’s Prime Time Café and the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular that would be the perfect location for a new Indiana Jones attraction.  Currently, the space is home to a few topical souvenir shops and the exit for the stunt spectacular.  If the exit to the stunt spectacular could be re-routed, this could serve as the entrance to an attraction similar to that found in Disneyland.  Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye would tie-in with the current theme and also make the current stunt spectacular more relevant for years to come.   

Star Wars Universe:

     The new Star Tours upgrade has been a great addition to this park already.  However, imagine being fully immersed in the Star Wars universe.  Imagine a restaurant modeled after Mos Eisley Cantina.  Imagine a Pod-Car Race attraction similar to Test Track in EPCOT.  Imagine seeing X-Wing fighters or the Millennium Falcon flying around at night – shooting lasers!  (This technology is already available to Disney.  The para-hawk dragon that flew around Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom already proves it can be done.)  Imagine a playground across from the exit to Star Tours modeled after the Ewok Village.  Imagine a Jedi Outfitters that resembles what Disney does for Pirates in the Magic Kingdom, or at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique; a place where all kids can get fully outfitted with Jedi gear.  Lastly, imagine a dark-ride through Star Wars Saga attraction like the Great Movie Ride, but it takes you through the Star Wars story.

Streets of America:

     As of now, there are no real Princesses associated with Hollywood Studios.  Unlike Magic Kingdom or even EPCOT, this park doesn’t offer the possibility of a chance encounter for little girls with their heroines.  A simple, and relatively inexpensive, solution would be to add daily appearances for Giselle (from Disney’s 2007 movie Enchanted).  However, these appearances should be more than photo opportunities.  Instead, imagine Giselle suddenly making her way onto the Streets of America where she will sing “That’s How You Know”, while street workers and other extras dance along in a choreographed show.  What a better way to add relevance to a portion of the park that currently has none (other than during Christmas with the Osborne Lights) than to leverage this favorite of 80th Academy Awards?  

Marvel Universe:

   Marvel offers the same thing that LucasFilm does.  Imagine a Marvel Universe area behind – or instead of – the Lights, Motors, Action! Stunt show.  An Avengers Action Show, Spiderman attraction, X-Men attraction, or any single coaster or thrill ride based on one or two of the multitude of Marvel characters.  Make it happen, and watch Disney become the new destination to host Comic Con.  For that matter, what about a Marvel Marathon at Disney World!  If people will run 26.2 miles dressed as Cruella Deville, or Cinderella, they will do it dressed as Spiderman, Wolverine, Iron Man, or Captain America.  Instead of starting and ending at Epcot, do it at Hollywood Studios.

The Golden Age of Disney Movies:

     The neat thing about Disney fans is that we are loyal and we love tradition.  That is perhaps seen in no better way than when an attraction changes or is “plussed”.  The resulting buzz and debate goes on for years – if not decades.  There are still people who wish Food Rocks was still in EPCOT.  Disney needs to recognize and cash in on this fact.

Remove the Studio Backlot Tour.  For starters, it hasn’t been the same since the TV houses were removed, or since TV production stopped being associated with Disney in Orlando.  Secondly, the Catastrophe Canyon and Harbor Attack – though neat – have witnessed dwindling numbers in guests over recent years.  Replace this with a Golden Age of Disney Movie attraction.  Imagine a dark-ride combination of Peter Pan’s Flight and the Great Movie Ride.  Fly through the attraction in a Model-T (a la The Absent Minded Professor) while viewing scenes from The Shaggy Dog, Pollyanna, Parent Trap, The Sign of Zorro, Son of Flubber, That Darn Cat, The Rocketeer, The Newsies, and more.  Revive the past while celebrating the future of Disney live action film.     


     Like many others, I’ve heard the rumor about a Monster’s Inc Coaster – and I LOVE IT!  This should absolutely be added, and as soon as possible.  Beyond that, bring Cars Land to Orlando!  Lastly, add hints of UP! And other great Pixar films in various places in the area.  There is so much to work with here, and so much to come, it’s a natural add that guests would flock to.  Don’t believe me?  Look at Toy Story Mania!

The Golden Age of Disney Animation:

   In the words of Walt, “It all started with a mouse.”  I, for one, like Animation Courtyard.  I absolutely love attempting to draw the animated greats.  But, this needs to be where Mickey and the gang are celebrated for their contributions to Animated Movies.  Move Mickey & Minnie’s homes from the now defunct Toontown Fair.  Introduce more meet & greet opportunities for popular animated characters from the past.  A walk through attraction or continuous ride attraction that explored some of the animated greats like Robin Hood, Lion King, Bambi, Fantasia, and others would be ideal.  If all else fails, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, the Mickey Mouse Revue, and the Scary Adventures of Snow White could easily fit the theme here and would appeal to Disney enthusiasts and the younger guests who might not currently enjoy this side of Hollywood Studios.   

So, there you have it, a few simple ideas that would catapult Hollywood Studios from a B-Grade park at WDW to a premiere park for Disney.  What do you think?  Would you like to see any of this happen?  What would you do to improve Hollywood Studios?  Add your thoughts in the comments section below.