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The Top 10 Things to Do in Cleveland

Saturday, July 12th, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard

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Maybe you’ve never considered spending your hard-earned vacation time in Cleveland. It’s certainly understandable because many people only know the city as the “Mistake by the Lake” or the home of the burning Cuyahoga River. But things have changed on the North Coast, and you might be surprised at all the cultural attractions the city on the shores of Lake Erie has to offer — great food, museums, theater, and more. The RTA buses run between most Cleveland locations and Uber just announced that they’re starting service in Cleveland, which will make getting around even easier.

Here are the Top 10 Things to Do in Cleveland:

10. Little Italy

Historic Little Italy is on Cleveland’s East Side, located on “Murray Hill” not far from Case Western Reserve University. It features charming restaurants and bakeries, art galleries, and frequent festivals and art shows.  Our favorite restaurant there is Trattoria on the Hill. If you go, try the Shrimp & Gnocchi Trattoria, which features their gnocchi served in Trattoria’s homemade cream sauce with mushrooms, scallions, and a hint of cayenne pepper. If you’re not in the mood for pasta, try the Spinach & Prosciutto Pizza with black olives, white garlic sauce, and feta cheese.

For dessert, stroll down Mayfield Road to Presti’s Bakery for a cannoli or a delicious gelato.

The Feast of the Assumption is the biggest event of the year in Little Italy. Held in August to commemorate Mary being taken to heaven, the festival is an unusual combination of Catholic religious ceremonies, carnival rides, fireworks, lots of incredible Italian food, and heavy, heavy drinking.

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10 Ideas For How I’d Build A Star Wars Land At Walt Disney World

Thursday, July 10th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

Filmmaker George Lucas meets "Star Wars"-inspired Disney characters at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida

The rumors of a forthcoming Star Wars land at Walt Disney World keep raising their heads from time to time. So I thought it would be fun to put myself in the Imagineers’ shoes and (to use their term) blue-sky some ideas for a Star Wars land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Here’s what I came up with…

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10. A Mos Eisley Cantina Restaurant

One of the prevailing rumors surrounding a potential Star Wars land at Walt Disney World (and other parks) concerns a restaurant based on the Chalmun’s Cantina at Mos Eisley. A.J. Wolfe over at Disney Food Blog has discussed the idea of a Cantina-based quick service space potentially coming to Disneyland Paris as well as to Orlando.

This idea has a ton of potential. I can picture an animatronic version of the band playing music from the films and dishes themed to the Cantina, along with menu items that conjure up life on Tatooine. Of course, a Walt Disney World Cantina would have to be much more family-oriented than in A New Hope, but I imagine how much fun a Cantina could be for fans of all ages.

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More Star Wars Land Rumors Buzzing Around Walt Disney World

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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I’ve reported in the past about rumors of a Star Wars land coming to Walt Disney World. Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, two attractions are closing in the near future, and these closings are leading some writers to speculate that Disney is making way for a Star Wars land at DHS.

Disney Dining is reporting that the American Idol Experience, which opened to much fanfare in 2009, will close in early 2015:

The close is not that surprising.  The show has never really gotten solid traction and it seems Disney is ready to pull the plug.

A statement was posted between the Walt Disney World Company:

“After more than five successful years, The American Idol Experience will be coming to a close at Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park in January 2015. Our partnership with FremantleMedia and 19 Entertainment has been a great addition to the park and we are very appreciative of the amazing cast and guests who have devoted their time and talent to make this experience special and memorable. We are incredibly proud of the more than 2,000 Dream Tickets that have given guests a chance to live their very own Cinderella story and audition for ‘American Idol.’”

Over at Disney At Work, sources report that the long-running Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular will close soon as well:

My sources also suggest that Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular is also slated to close at the end of the year. All of this is happening to make way for the major Star Wars additions coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It will surround that end of the Echo Lake corner of the park, and supposedly extend further out as well, though in what direction(s) is uncertain. What is coming in remains to be formally announced, as the attraction is also being tied to a very anticipated follow-up series starting in 2015.

What’s interesting about the closings is that nearly all the vestiges of Disney’s Hollywood Studios as a “behind-the-scenes” park will be gone. Instead of the original park idea of a glimpse behind the magic of the entertainment industry, DHS is increasingly becoming a park about the movies, music, and television programs themselves. Do both closings point to a new Star Wars land? Of course, the outcome remains to be seen, but I’ll keep you in the loop.

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10 Free Ways To Have Fun At Walt Disney World

Thursday, June 12th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Let’s face it: a trip to Walt Disney World can cost a lot, but it’s absolutely worth it. But you may not know that not everything at Disney World is expensive. Resort guests can take advantage of several experiences that enrich the trip but don’t cost a thing. (Non-resort guests can take advantage of some of them too.)

Here are ten free ways to have fun at Walt Disney World…

10. Enjoy A Boat Ride Around Bay Lake.

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Guests know that transportation is a huge part of the experience at Walt Disney World. From classic trains and old-school ferryboats to innovative monorail and linear induction technology, getting around the parks and resorts is a big part of the fun.

Taking the boat that runs from the Magic Kingdom to the Contemporary Resort to Wilderness Lodge to Fort Wilderness is a nice way to cool off with a breeze and take in the sights around Bay Lake. In addition to the resorts, check out the “ruins” of River Country and Discovery Island, both of which you’ll see along the way, and marvel at the road that passes under the canal between the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake, near the Contemporary Resort.

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Mary Blair: Unsung Disney Artist

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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She developed the unique color palette for many of the iconic Disney films of the 1950s. She produced some of the most evocative artwork from the Disney Studio’s 1941 South America trip. She created the characters for a beloved classic Disney Parks attraction. She outshone the men she worked with – including her own husband. Yet for some reason, Mary Blair doesn’t have the household name she deserves except among Disney aficionados.

With his new book The Art And Flair Of Mary Blair: An Appreciation, animator and historian John Canemaker hopes to change that perception. (I’ve waited nearly two years for this book’s release, and it was worth the wait.) Canemaker explores a woman with priceless talent who led a difficult, sometimes tragic life – an artist who has gone woefully underappreciated. As Canemaker writes on one of the book’s final pages:

The general public’s knowledge of Mary Blair’s name and her art is limited. Only one of her children’s books is still in print, and the hundreds of conceptual paintings she made for animated films are stored at the Disney studio or are in private collections.

Mary Richardson was born in Oklahoma in 1911, but her family moved to Texas when she was a young girl. The daughter of an alcoholic, she asked for money from the family budget to purchase art supplies because she knew that her father couldn’t then spend it on drinking.

Her talent earned her a scholarship to the famed Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, and there she met Lee Blair, whom she later married. The Blairs harbored dreams of becoming fine artists, but the obvious need for money led them first to Ub Iwerks’ studio, then to Harman-Ising/MGM.

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The Executive Behind Walt Disney World’s MyMagic+ Will Leave The Company

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Disney Parks has announced that Nick Franklin, who held the cool title of Executive Vice President for Next Generation Experience at the company, is leaving Disney after 17 years. Franklin spearheaded the massive My Magic+ effort and has served the longest on Disney Parks Chairman Tom Staggs’ Executive Committee.

“Nick let us know that after 17 successful years with Disney, he wanted to help other companies innovate in how they provide products and services to their customers, much like he did here in leading the development of MyMagic+,” Disney spokeswoman Kim Prunty said. “We want to thank Nick for his tremendous accomplishments throughout his tenure with Disney.”

In 2009, Disney tapped Franklin, then the head of its global business and real-estate development teams, to lead a secretive project that was referred to internally as “NextGen.” That work ultimately produced MyMagic+, the many-tentacled technology project at Walt Disney World that includes a reservation system allowing visitors to book attraction times up two months before their trips and microchip-embedded wristbands that interact with sensors installed throughout the resort.

Franklin served as essentially a CEO for the MyMagic+ project, and his team grew from 35 to more than a thousand employees. The company has already hailed Franklin’s efforts as a success, despite rumors that the effort went over budget and took longer to implement than expected. Disney is looking to expand the program beyond Walt Disney World.

Although Disney executives have been hesitant to discuss MyMagic+’s financial performance, they say Disney World visitors are embracing the technology. The company’s chief financial officer, Jay Rasulo, told analysts recently that more than 75 percent of guests staying in Disney-owned hotels are now reserving ride times ahead of their trips, as are more than 25 percent of day visitors.

The company says that guests who plan more of their trip schedules in advance ultimately spend more time and money at Disney World, rather than visiting rival attractions. The project, which includes enhanced data collection, is also designed to make purchases easier and to give Disney more personal information about its guests, ultimately leading to more spending on food, souvenirs and other items.

Franklin also negotiated the deals that led to Hong Kong Disneyland and the forthcoming Shanghai Disneyland.

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The Ultimate Disney Parks Collectors Item Is Now On eBay

Monday, May 5th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Check out what I came across on eBay. This is the real deal. It’s the front car of Monorail Red from the Mark IV line, which ran at Walt Disney World from 1971-1989. Can you imagine what a cool conversation piece this would make for the front yard? Unfortunately, I can’ t get my hands on $189,000 for it – or a way to get it from Florida to Georgia, for that matter.

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Breaking Disney Parks Rumor: Is Soarin’ Getting A New Film?

Thursday, April 24th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Anyone who has visited Walt Disney World or Disneyland knows how cool Soarin’ is. In an earlier post on the 10 things you must do at Disney World, I referred to Soarin’ as “a feast for the senses” and “an engineering marvel.” The uniquely immersive attraction opened at Disney’s California Adventure in 2001 and at Epcot in 2005. Both attractions use the same incredible film highlighting sites up and down the state of California.

We’re now hearing a rumor that Soarin’ may get an update. The folks at WDWMagic, one of my favorite sources for Disney Parks news, rumors, and gossip, reports:

The use of the film from Disney California Adventure was felt by many as a temporary stop gap until Disney could shoot a movie specifically for the Walt Disney World edition of Soarin’, or a new version that could include both the east coast and west coast. We are now almost 10 years since opening, with the same California based film playing.

Well now it seems we are closer than ever to a new film for Epcot’s Soarin’. In the next month, film crews working on the new film are planning flights over Walt Disney World, and specifically Epcot. It is speculated that this new footage will be part of a Soarin’ over the World, which will include sights from around the world, including Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Keep in mind that we haven’t heard anything remotely official from Disney yet, and also that rumors of updates to the attraction have been around for years. WDWMagic even admits that speculation has been around almost since Soarin’ opened. But wouldn’t it be cool to see new footage? If you’ll indulge me to dream a little, wouldn’t an experience that changes every time you ride Soarin’ – like the new Star Tours – be so much fun?

What are your thoughts, Disney Parks fans?

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Disney and the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Part 6: ‘A Living Blueprint Of The Future’

Monday, April 21st, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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We’ve made it to the end of our series on the 1964-65 World’s Fair and Disney’s influence on it. If you’ve missed the rest of the series here’s where you can find the rest:

Part 1: ‘The Kind Of Service We Can Offer’
Part 2: ‘Something No One Has Seen Or Done Before’
Part 3: ‘I Won’t Open The Fair Without That Exhibit!’
Part 4: ‘At The Intersection Of Commerce And Progress’
Part 5: ‘It Says Something Very Nice’

In this segment, we’re going to look at the legacy of the Fair on Disney’s theme parks. As we discussed in the first week of the series, Walt Disney used the New York World’s Fair as a sort of testing ground for an East Coast Disneyland concept. The success of the Disney-designed pavilions convinced the company that their secret land purchases in Florida would pay off. As Jeff Kurtti noted in Since The World Began, his (sadly out of print) account of Walt Disney World’s first 25 years:

Ninety-one percent of the guests at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair attended at least one of the Disney shows. And although critics scoffed at Disney’s creations, their popularity convinced many in the Disney organization that the theme park concept was fundamentally reliable, regardless of geographic location.

Since the Fair, Disney has opened a resort with five theme parks in Florida, expanded Disneyland to a second theme park, opened a two-park resort in Tokyo and single-park resorts in Paris and Hong Kong – with a resort in Shanghai set to open in late 2015.

Each of the four pavilions that Disney designed and built for the Fair have left their mark on the Disney brand over the past 50 years. It’s A Small World, with its inimitable spirit and charm, has made its way to all five Magic Kingdom-style parks and has been consistently popular since its Disneyland debut. That attraction also inspired and informed the spirit of World Showcase, the half of Epcot in which various nations show themselves off to guests, living in harmony along World Showcase Lagoon.

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Disney and the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Part 5: ‘It Says Something Very Nice’

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Welcome to Part 5 of our series on Walt Disney’s contributions to the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York City. If you need to catch up on the rest of the series, here’s where to look:

Part 1: ‘The Kind Of Service We Can Offer’
Part 2: ‘Something No One Has Seen Or Done Before’
Part 3: ‘I Won’t Open The Fair Without That Exhibit!’
Part 4: ‘At The Intersection Of Commerce And Progress’

This week we’re looking at an attraction that made its debut at the World’s Fair and is still beloved today – It’s A Small World. It’s one of the attractions that appears at every Disney resort, on three continents. Because of its ubiquity all over the world, according to Disney, the title song “is always playing somewhere around the world.” During the course of a 16 hour day in any one of the parks, the song plays 1,200 times. Love it or hate it, It’s A Small World is one of the quintessential Disney attractions, but it almost didn’t make it off the drawing board.

A scant nine months before the Fair, Pepsi approached the Disney Studios requesting that the Imagineers develop an attraction that the company would sponsor to benefit UNICEF. Bob Thomas picks up the story in Walt Disney: An American Original:

A Disney executive, believing that three projects were more than enough to occupy WED, sent the Pepsi-Cola people to an engineering firm that specialized in children’s playgrounds. Walt was angry when he heard about it. “I’m the one who makes those decisions!” he declared. “Tell Pepsi I’ll do it!”

Walt detailed to stunned Imagineers his plan for “a little boat ride” in which guests would see simple, childlike figures representing the cultures all over the globe. He enlisted some of his most trusted artists to design the attraction. Mary Blair, whom Walt called his “favorite artist,” imprinted her unique stamp on the look of the ride. Marc Davis oversaw the animatronics, while his wife Alice and Joyce Carlson designed the costumes for the dolls. Claude Coats engineered the layout of what Walt would call “the happiest cruise that ever sailed.”

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Disney’s Billion Dollar Theme Park Gamble

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Guests travel to Walt Disney World seeking the ultimate vacation experience, and Disney continues to develop new ways to deliver the best possible vacation. The company has invested over a billion dollars in their MyMagic+ system, which employs wearable technology and RFID (radio frequency identification) chips to fine tune and customize guests’ experiences. Disney has high hopes for MyMagic+, but so far many guests aren’t sold on the idea.

A recent MSN Money profile on MyMagic+ reveals the technology behind this new system, Disney’s expectations for the program, and guests’ decidedly mixed reviews.

It’s a sweeping reservation and ride planning system that allows for bookings months in advance on a website or smartphone app. Bracelets called MagicBands, which link electronically to an encrypted database of visitor information, serve as admission tickets, hotel keys, and credit or debit cards; a tap against a sensor pays for food or trinkets. The bands have radio frequency identification (RFID) chips — which critics derisively call spychips because of their ability to monitor people and things.

That tracking power also is what makes them so important for Disney’s $14.1 billion theme park and resort business. Intelligence collected using the bands coupled with what visitors input into the related My Disney Experience app and website — all voluntary — help Disney determine when to add more staff at rides, what restaurants should serve, which souvenirs should be stocked, and how many employees in costume should roam around at any given time. Data about customer preferences could be used to craft e-mails or text messages alerting them to restaurant menu changes or sudden openings for reservations in an expedited queue at Space Mountain or the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

The goal is to offer people what Tom Staggs, head of the company’s parks and resorts unit, calls “a more immersive, more seamless, and more personal experience” — allowing Disney employees to address a child by name, for example, or wish someone a happy birthday.

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Disney Raises Theme Park Ticket Prices Again

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Over the weekend, Disney Parks announced a ticket price increase for Walt Disney World, effective this week. From the Orlando Sentinel:

Disney’s Magic Kingdom guests will have to fork over a few extra dollars for single-day park admission.

The tickets will cost $99 for adults and children 10 and up.

This $4 price hike keeps Magic Kingdom the most expensive Disney park.

A one-day ticket for Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios will go from $90 to $94.

“Our pricing reflects the high quality and breadth of experiences we offer and our ongoing commitment to investing in our parks,” Disney spokesman Bryan Malenius said Saturday. “We offer a variety of ticket options that provide a great value, and find that most guests select multi-day tickets that offer additional savings.”

This increase was the second in less than a year. The company did not announce a hike in prices for Disneyland on Saturday, but insiders expect an increase in the not too distant future.

Many of the Disney fans I’ve spoken with bristled at the higher prices, but it’s worth noting that purchasing multi-day ticket packages can ease the blow a little – and the no expiration option, though expensive, allows guests to save tickets for years at a time.

Over at Theme Park Insider, Robert Niles put the price hike in perspective:

As long as more people keep going to the parks each year, theme parks will keep increasing their prices. Disney World’s attendance is up, so it’s just supply-and-demand for Disney to raise its prices. If you think Disney World’s gotten too expensive, don’t bother complaining. Disney’s looking at attendance numbers when setting prices, not people moaning online.

The fact of the matter is that dyed-in-the-wool Disney fans and other guests who really want to visit Walt Disney World will suck it up and pay the higher ticket prices. Even with the increased admission, Disney World still provides a tremendous value.

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5 Attractions I Wish Were Still At Walt Disney World

Saturday, February 15th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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As someone who has traveled to Walt Disney World more times than I can count, I’ve seen attractions come and go. Disney closes and changes attractions for many different reasons – some rides become outdated, while others diminish in popularity or become too difficult or expensive to maintain. Other attractions go to make way for new ideas.

The Disney Dining site (a terrific site fill of great tips and fun list posts) recently produced their list of ten Walt Disney World attractions they wish were still around. While I agree with the spirit of their list, I didn’t agree with the placement of some of the attractions on the list, so I gave in to the temptation to create my own list.

Many of these selections stem from sheer nostalgic value, but I really do miss these rides. If you think of other attractions that you think should be on this list, feel free to share in the comments section below.

5. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1971-1994)

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The submarine ride 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea captured my imagination as a kid. In typical Disney fashion, the attraction was set up to immerse guests in believing they were in the depths of the ocean even though they were only a few feet underwater. Disney closed the submarine ride in 1994, but they didn’t fill in the lagoon for a few years. Part of New Fantasyland sits in that space now, so I suppose it’s a worthwhile tradeoff all these years later.

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Designing A Monorail And Kidnapping A Vice President

Thursday, February 6th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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The monorail systems at both American Disney theme parks serve as testimony to Walt Disney’s exciting futuristic vision. Monorails played a central role in the urban utopia of Walt’s Florida Project (and later on at Walt Disney World, of course), but many guests may not know that Disneyland has had its own monorail system since 1959.

Walt had wanted a monorail for the opening day of Disneyland, but his team had a difficult time finding a feasible plan for one. It took a trip to Germany for inspiration to strike.

During a visit to Europe in the Summer of 1957, Disney’s engineering group examined the experimental monorail developed by the Alweg Corporation, near Cologne, Germany. After further investigation, the group reported to Disney that this design appeared to offer the best prospects for economy, stability, and all-around practicality…

Walt asked Alweg to build a monorail for Disneyland, and he tapped Bob Gurr, an Imagineer who had worked on nearly all the other vehicles at the park, to work with the German company. Walt was pleased with the result and greenlit the Disneyland Alweg Monorail System, which opened June 14, 1959.

 This “Highway in Sky” featured two trains, each with 3 cabins and the now-iconic bubble top in front. Walt Disney’s hope was not only to provide a scenic journey above Disneyland, but to create a solution for mass transportation needs all around the world.

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Disney Parks From The Air Over The Years

Thursday, January 30th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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By now, most people have heard the story of how Walt Disney initially came up with the idea to open a theme park. When he took his daughters on daddy-daughter trips to amusement parks around Los Angeles, he sat on a bench while Diane and Sharon rode rides and lamented the lack of activities for the entire family. The original idea for a small “Mickey Mouse Park” across the street from the Disney Studios has grown to two huge resort destinations in the United States, one in Europe, and two in Asia with a third coming soon.

Aerial photographs show us in a fascinating way how much the American parks have grown over the years. Take Disneyland in Anaheim, California, for instance. The original Disney theme park opened in 1955 on 160 acres near sleepy orange groves and is now 300 acres in the heart of Southern California’s bustling metropolis.

The photo below contrasts Disneyland in 1955 with today. Notice how undeveloped the area around the park was, and compare it to the urban sprawl that even in the late 50s bothered Walt and led him to build Walt Disney World in Florida. You can also see how the parking areas have moved to make room for hotels and additions to the park – including a whole new theme park, Disney’s California Adventure, which we’ll look at next.

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Disney initially built Disney’s California Adventure Park on 67 acres at the southern end of the Disneyland property in 2001. The company retooled the park and expanded it six years later. The photo below shows the growth of the park between 2003 and today. While the growth may not look that drastic, you can notice in particular the growth in the southeastern part of the park as well as the major expansion of the Grand Californian Hotel at the center left of both images.

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Will Tomorrowland See A Makeover From ‘A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away’?

Saturday, January 11th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Back in the summer, I wrote about the rumors that Disney has plans in the works for a Star Wars-themed land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. So far, we haven’t seen anything more substantive than those rumors. But since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, fans and theme park experts alike have speculated how the company would fold its new acquisition into the theme parks. Now, rumors have begun to swirl that Disney is planning a rehab of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland influenced by the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII.

The typically reliable MiceChat recently offered up a full update on Disneyland’s traffic numbers during the Christmas season (up!) and the park’s plans for the future. For those who like change, there’s apparently good news. Some of it is definitely coming, but it may not happen as quickly or be as drastic as Star Wars fans may have hoped. On the bright side, however, much of it may involve specific details from Episode VII, as the Disneyland crew recently was given a rundown on the plot and new characters that will be introduced to incorporate into their designs.

Apparently, the Tomorrowland remodel has been split into two phases… The first phase will involve relatively simple cosmetic alterations. The Astro Orbitor, [sic] that giant eyesore little kid’s ride pictured above, will be ripped out, along with the deserted track from People Mover. The buildings will also all be redone to look like a giant space port. Then, down the road, phase two will involve scrapping Autopia and replacing it with a speeder bike ride, putting some kind of spaceship walk through on the People Mover track, installing a new Astro Orbitor [sic] closer to Space Mountain and more, all positioned in the backhalf of Tomorrowland.

For Star Wars fans, this rumor (sorry, regardless of the source, it’s still just hearsay) could generate some excitement, and hopefully it will lead to changes at Walt Disney World as well – whether the changes be to  Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom or to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Adding a long popular franchise that just happens to be part of the Disney family into the parks is a wise move for both the creatives and the business people.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the comments at the end of the article, where commenters complained that a Star Wars patina is a bad addition to Tomorrowland, since the films take place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Of course, these folks have lost sight of the fact that Tomorrowland at both American parks isn’t exactly futuristic today. Imagineers have given Tomorrowland in both California and Florida – along with portions of Disneyland Paris and Tokyo DisneySea – a charming retro-futuristic vibe, influenced by science fiction from Old Hollywood as well as the works of Jules Verne. Art Deco flourishes abound throughout both lands, and other touches show a decided 20th century sense of style. It’s not strictly futuristic, but it is a distinct feel for these lands.

The bottom line is that Disney knows what it’s doing. The success of the Star Tours attraction and the Star Wars Weekends events demonstrate that Disney’s partnership with Lucasfilm paid off handsomely long before Disney bought the studio. I can’t help but believe that adding a bit of Star Wars influence to Tomorrowland (and a Star Wars Land at Hollywood Studios – please, please, please) can pay off even more.

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Disney’s Tasty, Controversial Turkey Legs

Thursday, January 9th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Of all the food options available at Disney Parks, many guests swear by the Jumbo Turkey Legs. I’ve never had one myself, but according to some guests, the Turkey Legs are a sure bet for a savory treat.

Like other famous Disney Parks snacks – the Dole Whip and the Mickey Ice Cream Bars – the Turkey Legs have spawned a merchandise industry all their own. The Turkey Legs made their debut in the late 1980s and have increased in popularity over the years – so much, in fact, that the New York Times featured the treats in a recent front page article.

Disney parks are about selling memories, and a spokeswoman, Angela Bliss, noted that foods like turkey legs play “an integral part in the storytelling.” For instance, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, they have been sold as “dinosaur bones.”

Disney is also in the business of making money, of course, and a jumbo turkey leg sells for up to $11.79.

Naturally, something that so many guests enjoy is going to generate some controversy. On one side, Disney executives fear that the Jumbo Turkey Legs steer guests away from more healthy snack options. (Because we all spend our vacations seeking out health food.)

Still, some executives at Disney’s corporate offices worry that the craze is starting to obscure their efforts to improve overall food offerings and nudge customers toward healthier items. Of the 12 million children’s meals Disney serves annually, for instance, more than 50 percent now come with milk, juice or water instead of soda. Disney has also sharply reduced salt in its children’s meals.

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Each leg is roughly 720 calories with 36 grams of fat, according to a supplier, Yoakum Packing.

On the other hand (or leg, if you prefer), some poultry industry watchdogs and other assorted killjoys have expressed their concern about the sheer size of the Turkey Legs. In a response to the Times piece, Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns wrote:

Why are these Disney theme park turkey legs so big? Turkeys have been artificially bred to grow so large that their legs, big as they are, cannot support their body weight.

The disability of turkeys bred for the meat industry is well documented in the scientific poultry literature.

Clearly Ms. Davis didn’t read the whole article, because if she had, she would have read that the legs come from tom turkeys, which are much larger than the hens we see around our Thanksgiving tables.

Despite the frenzy, it looks like Jumbo Turkey Legs are here to stay at Disney Parks. Any item that sells in the millions (Disney projected that they would sell two million of them in 2013) is bound to withstand controversy.

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What Role Did Walt Disney World Play in the Breakup of the Beatles?

Thursday, December 19th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

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Thousands of people spend their Christmas vacation at Walt Disney World each year. Nearly 40 years ago, one of those vacationers was John Lennon – and that trip included a historic event.

In 1974, John was in the midst of his 14 month separation from Yoko Ono – a period he called his “Lost Weekend” – and he decided on a whim to take son Julian and assistant/girlfriend May Pang to the Magic Kingdom. He booked a room at the Polynesian Village Hotel, now called Disney’s Polynesian Resort.

Meanwhile, in London and New York, attorneys had finally put the finishing touches on the contractual paperwork that would solidify the Beatles’ breakup. The contract was four years in the making, and the other three Beatles were ready to sign.

After years of red tape and millions of dollars spent, the official dissolution papers were drawn up and ready to be signed off on at the Plaza Hotel in New York in 1974. George and Paul had arranged to fly in and be present, while Ringo signed the necessary documents at an earlier time, while still in England.

So as George, Paul, Apple lawyers and business managers grouped around a large table to dissolve the partnership, Ringo was on the phone to confirm that he was alive. Meanwhile, everyone in the room was curious about John’s whereabouts. This seemed especially ironic, given Lennon lived within walking distance of the Plaza Hotel.

The attorneys furiously worked to determine John’s whereabouts. May Pang picks up the story:

On December 29, 1974, the voluminous documents were brought down to John in Florida by one of Apple’s lawyers.

“Take out your camera,” he joked to me. Then he called Harold to go over some final points.

When John hung up the phone, he looked wistfully out the window. I could almost see him replaying the entire Beatles experience in his mind.

He finally picked up his pen and, in the unlikely backdrop of the Polynesian Village Hotel at Disney World, ended the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in history by simply scrawling John Lennon at the bottom of the page.

And that’s how Walt Disney World bore witness to rock history.

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3 Ways Walt Disney World Can Improve Transportation Around The Resort

Thursday, December 5th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

monorail

If you’re read much of my work here or at my own website, chrisqueen.net, or if you’ve spent more than five minutes around me, you know how much Disney means to me. I admire Walt Disney, his brother Roy, and the men and women who built the company. I’ve enjoyed most of the films and several of the TV projects over the years. Most of all, I love Walt Disney World and the history, culture, and secrets that surround Disney’s theme parks.

Even though I’m a Disney fanboy through and through, I’m willing to admit that the company doesn’t always get things right. One of the ways Disney falls short of excellence is in the transportation at Walt Disney World. From the earliest days of his parks, Walt Disney placed a premium on transportation not just as a way to get around, but as an experience too. From pleasant trains and boat rides to the sleek monorails, Walt intended for transportation to be part of the fun. Unfortunately, when it comes to getting around property, guests are more likely to encounter long waits for buses.

I’ve come up with three ideas for ways Disney can improve transportation around Walt Disney World. I admit that two of these ideas are pipe dreams, but Disney could implement one of them today if they wanted to. Let’s start with an idea that would honor Walt’s legacy in a really unique way.

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The Other 50th Anniversary

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Walt Disney on 11/22/1963

The anniversary of the Kennedy assassination has captured America’s attention today, as it has the last several weeks. What is somewhat lost to history is that today is also the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney’s decision to build a new theme park in Central Florida. As one Disney history site tells it:

Walt and his entourage of top executives are at the end of a tour of the eastern United States in search of an ideal location for a new theme park. The aerial view confirms Walt’s doubts about building a theme park by the ocean. They fly inland over Orlando, circling the forests and swamps for the very first time. From the air they see the good road network below (which includes Interstate 4, Florida’s Turnpike and McCoy Air Force Base – soon to be Orlando International Airport). Walt has a good feeling about this site. This is followed with a stop in New Orleans to refuel for the trip back to Burbank, California.

And from the Disney Parks Blog:

“Well, that’s the place – Florida,” Walt Disney reportedly decided on a flight from New Orleans to Burbank, Calif. on November 22, 1963 – 50 years ago today. Walt and a group of company executives had just toured east coast sites in an effort to find the best location for a “Disneyland East.” But those words confirmed Walt’s choice for his “whole new Disney World.”

At the refueling stop, Walt and his party learned of Kennedy’s assassination, and the flight back to California became a somber one. Disney closed Disneyland the next day in memory of the slain president.

Within months of Walt’s decision, the company began acquiring the land for what would become Walt Disney World. And the rest is entertainment history.

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The Top 5 Christmas Season Traditions At Walt Disney World

Thursday, November 21st, 2013 - by Chris Queen

IMG_0926

Walt Disney World possesses its own brand of magic 365 days a year, but from early November to shortly after the New Year, the World becomes something much more magical as the whole resort takes on the air of Christmas.

The holidays really are a special time to visit Walt Disney World. Sure, prices go up during this “peak” season and at times the crowds go up just as much, but it’s worth the extra saving to be able to experience the parks and resorts in their full Christmas regalia.

At night, Cinderella Castle transforms into a wintry ice castle. Each park and resort boasts its own unique tree, and the decorations match the theme of each land and attraction. World of Disney in Downtown Disney is the perfect place for gift shopping, while at World Showcase in Epcot, each nation features storytellers who share that country’s holiday traditions.

Above everything else, five events and experiences stand out. These traditions make a November or December vacation to Walt Disney World one the whole family will remember forever.

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Disney Parks Will See A Greater Star Wars Presence

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013 - by Chris Queen
(L-R) Bob Iger, Darth Vader, George Lucas

(L-R) Bob Iger, Darth Vader, George Lucas

Ever since Disney acquired Lucasfilm just over a year ago and announced a new film trilogy, fans of the expanding Star Wars universe have sat on the edge of their seats awaiting a release date for Episode VII. Now we have a date – December 18, 2015, and the announcement became the talk of Hollywood last week.

The same day as the announcement, Disney CEO Bob Iger appeared on Blooomberg TV’s Street Smart to talk about Episode VII, as well as the increased presence that Star Wars will have at Disney’s various theme parks:

The only thing I can share which, actually I don’t think we’ve really talked about much, is that there is a fair amount development going on at Disney Imagineering right now to expand the Star Wars presence in California and in Orlando and eventually in other parks around the world… It’s probably likely that Star Wars will be more than in just our two domestic parks.

Iger made a similar (but more vague) statement back in May:

In addition to the Star Wars feature films that we’ve already talked about, we’re also working on opportunities for television and our parks. It’s still very early in the process.

What will this mean – individual attractions? Meet and greets? Or perhaps an entire Star Wars Land at the parks? (I’ve said for a while that a Star Wars land somewhere like Disney’s Hollywood Studios would generate far more excitement and interest than the Avatar Land in the works at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.) In March, the company surveyed guests at Disneyland to gauge their interest in a Star Wars land, and I wrote about swirling rumors back in June. The success of Star Tours 2.0 in the American parks, as well at Tokyo and Paris, along with the annual Star Wars Weekends in Orlando and Anaheim, suggest that the idea of a Star Wars land isn’t that great of a gamble.

Obviously, this situation continue to develop, but as both a Disney fan and a Star Wars fan, I’m excited at the idea that Disney Parks will see something in terms of an increased Star Wars presence. Stay tuned – as I learn more, I’ll pass it on here.

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Disney Plans To Phase Out Star Wars And Marvel-Themed Slot Machines

Monday, November 4th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Star Wars Slots

In the last few years, Disney has made some of the boldest corporate moves, purchasing Marvel Studios in 2009 and Lucasfilm in 2012. In both cases, the company quickly incorporated both acquisitions into their brand, making and planning films and increasing their presence in theme parks and on television. Disney is also ensuring that both Lucasfilm and Marvel fit in with the company’s family-friendly reputation, announcing last week that they will phase out Star Wars and Marvel-themed slot machines over the next few years, according to The Guardian (UK).

A Disney spokeswoman told the NY Times the decision to phase out gambling machines linked to its recently acquired brands had been in place for some time, but was only now being made public. “Marvel discontinued plans to initiate or renew slot machine licensing arrangements as part of its integration with Disney,” the spokeswoman said. “The handful of remaining licence agreements have expiration dates within the next few years.” LucasFilm would follow suit, though it might take several years for branded slot machines to disappear altogether.

Taking on the lucrative gambling industry is nothing new to Disney. The company has fought attempts to bring resort casinos into Florida for several years, despite the protests of critics.

Disney is particularly determined to fight the proliferation of gambling in Florida. “We oppose the legalisation of so-called destination resort casinos because this major expansion of gambling is inconsistent with Florida’s reputation as a family-friendly destination,” said Andrea M Finger of the Walt Disney World resort.

Competitors, however, argue that Disney fears competition more than gambling. Michael A Leven, whose Las Vegas Sands Corporation hopes to open a casino in south Florida, told the Times: “Disney’s internecine warfare against integrated resorts in Florida under this pretence demeans them significantly.”

What do you think? Is Disney right to align its brands with a family-friendly focus? Is the company’s battle with the gambling industry a fight against the inevitable?

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Has Disney World Fulfilled Walt’s Dreams For His Florida Project?

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Florida Project

Less than two months before his death from lung cancer, Walt Disney wrapped production on a short film detailing his plans for the 27,443 acres his company had purchased in Central Florida. He shared his grand vision for what his inner circle called the “Florida Project.” With writing help from Marty Sklar, Walt explained his ideas for more than just a theme park:

Right now our plans include an airport of the future (down here in Osceola County), an entrance complex where all visitors will enter Disney World, an industrial park area covering about 1000 acres, and of course, the theme park area way up here. And all these varied activities around the Disney World will be tied together with a high-speed rapid transit system running almost the full length of the property.

But the most exciting, by far the most important part of our Florida project—in fact, the heart of everything well be doing in Disney World—will be our experimental prototype city of tomorrow. We call it EPCOT, spelled E-P-C-O-T: Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Here it is in larger scale.

EPCOT will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing, and testing, and demonstrating new materials and new systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world of the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise.

The futuristic city included a domed urban area with climate control for shoppers and hotel guests, along with transportation throughout the city via People Mover and Monorail. Residents of EPCOT (or Progess City, as some came to call it) would always have the latest technology at their fingertips. It was a bold dream, for sure, and some believed it would die with Walt.

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