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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.

Disneyland

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.

California Adventure

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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

Tomorrowland

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

John Lennon

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

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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

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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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Eating Your Way Around Epcot

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013 - by Chris Queen

International Food & Wine Festival

Our family loves vacationing at Walt Disney World in the fall. The weather’s perfect, the crowds aren’t as bad as in the summer, and Disney creates some unique experiences this time of year. Last week, I wrote about Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party – more specifically, about the crazy adult costumes you see there. While the Halloween Party takes place at the Magic Kingdom, another event at Epcot provides a different kind of delight for a more grown up crowd. The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival offers guests a worldwide experience of unusual flavors and native dishes.

This year’s festival, which runs from September 27-November 11, includes 30 pavilions featuring carefully chosen dishes from across the globe as well as booths for local specialties and items for those with special dietary needs. Each week the festival hosts celebrity chefs and winemakers in addition to once-in-a-lifetime culinary experiences. Many of the dishes in the pavilions are tapas-sized portions at reasonable prices.

This event has made its home at Epcot for 18 years now, and this year Scotland became the newest addition to the festival. Some of the booths offered tantalizing choices, including:

Australia, Introduced: 1997

  • Garlic Shrimp with Roasted Tomatoes, Lemon Myrtle and Rapini - $4.50
  • Pavlova (Crispy Meringue Shell with Fresh Driscoll’s® Berries and Vanilla Custard) - $3.25

Brazil, Introduced: 1996

  • Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans, Onions, Avocado and Cilantro - $5.25

Florida Local, Introduced: 2012

  • Florida Grass Fed Beef Slider with Monterey Jack and Sweet & Hot Pickles - $3.75
  • Florida Orange Groves, Key Lime Wine – $2.75

Hawai’i, Introduced: 2011

  • Kālua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole® Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise - $3.50

Mexico, Introduced: 1996

  • Shrimp Taco with Purple Cabbage - $5.50
  • Taco de Ribeye with Salsa de Chipotle - $5.50

Singapore, Introduced: 2005

  • Lemongrass Chicken Curry with Coconut and Jasmine Rice - $4.25

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The Scariest Part of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

Thursday, October 17th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Mickey's Boo To You Halloween Parade

If you’re a regular reader of my posts here (bless your heart), you know that I spent last week, along with three generations of my family, at Walt Disney World. We make a pilgrimage about once a year, and most of our last few trips have taken place on our local school system’s fall break. Going this time of year has afforded us the chance to go to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.

For the uninitiated, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is a special event at the Magic Kingdom that requires a separate ticket. Cast members usher non-party guests out of the park at 7:00, and the fun begins – including special parades and fireworks, trick-or-treating for everyone, and, most importantly, shorter lines for attractions.

Sunday afternoon, we set off for the Magic Kingdom, with my nieces dolled up in their costumes. My sister and brother-in-law put their girls in cute, late summer dresses inspired by Minnie Mouse and Snow White – not the actual replicas, mind you, but stylized dresses – while my brother and sister-in-law dressed their daughter as a hula girl. It didn’t take long for us to find out that those costumes were mere child’s play compared to some of the adults we saw.

Before I go any further, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never really been a costume kind of guy, and Halloween was never a big deal for us growing up. I grew up in a rural area, and few of our neighbors bothered with candy, so we just didn’t make a big deal of the whole costume and trick-or-treat thing. Besides, at Walt Disney World, I’m all about comfort. At the party, I wore a Haunted Mansion themed T-shirt that netted me quite a few compliments, thank you very much. But enough about me.

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Come With Me To Walt Disney World!

Friday, October 4th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Walt Disney World

If you don’t know by now how much I love Disney – and Walt Disney World in particular – you haven’t really paid that much attention. Every year or so, three generations of my family make a pilgrimage to Walt Disney World, and next week is this year’s trip.

Since I’ll be gone next week, you won’t see any posts from me while I’m gone. Instead, I’m saving those for when I get back and share some great stuff about this trip.

I’d like to invite you to go with me. No, you don’t have to pack your bag or ask your boss for time off. But you can join me and my family vicariously, and here’s how:

** Follow me on Instagram: chrisqueen
** Follow me on Twitter: chrisqueen
** I don’t think I’ll post much to Facebook, but you can like my author page just in case.

I hope you’ll join me on this trip. We’re going to have a good time, and you just might get a little extra context to go along with my posts when I get back.

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Disney Parks’ Fascinating Running Subculture

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Disney Marathon

Seven weekends a year, they come by the thousand. They arrive from all areas of the country and throughout the world, ready to get up early, put on their shoes, and run. Walt Disney World and Disneyland offer 31 races and challenges – and ten accompanying parties, of course – throughout the year, and the races have developed quite a following. These seven events, five in Florida and two in California, attract hundreds of thousands of runners every year. And they often bring their families along for the trip.

It’s been nearly two decades since the inaugural Walt Disney World Marathon, and Disney figured out quickly that the running culture meant big business. The company has even put together its own brand for runners – runDisney. In a 2012 Orlando Sentinel article, Jason Garcia wrote:

Disney began staging marathons and other distance races as a way to fill its hotels and theme parks during historically slow times on the calendar, and that is still the primary goal. But runDisney has also bloomed into a business in its own right; it organizes more than a half-dozen races a year in Florida and California; hosts industry “expos” in which exhibitors pay as much as $23,000 for a booth; and hawks a long line of merchandise, from training gear to commemorative pins, necklaces and — of course —Mickey Mouse ears.

Disney says runDisney is now one of the three largest race organizers in the United States, both in terms of the number of events and the number of runners, alongside San Diego-based Competitor Group Inc., which stages the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series,” and the New York Road Runners club, whose events include the storied New York City Marathon. RunDisney has more than 150,000 followers on Facebook — more “friends” than Disney’s time-share or weddings businesses.

“In most major markets, there are one or two top races a year. We have three, four, five top races a year, right here in Central Florida,” said Ken Potrock, senior vice president of Disney Sports Enterprises. “That’s incredibly unique. And these races are open to anyone, from 4-year-old toddlers to 90-year-old walkers.”

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Book Review: It’s Kind Of A Cute Story, by Rolly Crump & Jeff Heimbuch

Thursday, September 26th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

rolly

The employees of a company with a history as long and illustrious as Disney have plenty of stories to tell. I’ve read dozens of books on Disney history, including biographies of key figures in the company, and I thought I had heard everything. I discovered just how wrong I was when I began reading It’s Kind Of A Cute Story, the memoir of animator and Imagineer Rolly Crump (also available for Kindle for only $4.99).

Roland Fargo Crump was born in in Alhambra, CA in 1930. He began drawing at an early age and soon discovered his artistic talent. Crump’s only formal training consisted of high school art classes and six Saturdays at an art institute, but his dream was to work for Disney. In 1952 that dream came true, though he had to take a severe pay cut and a second job on the weekends. Crump toiled in animation for seven years until a display of his mobiles and propellers went on display at the company’s library, catching Walt Disney’s attention.

Walt moved him to WED – later Imagineering – where Crump worked on the 1964-65 Worlds Fair pavilions and attractions like It’s A Small World, the Haunted Mansion, and the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland. He went on to work on projects at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Epcot. In all, he spent over 40 years at Disney, and after he left Disney, he worked for a number of different theme parks and other clients before retiring.

In It’s Kind Of A Cute Story, Crump tells his story as only he can. His narration is completely first person, and he writes as though he’s telling the stories directly to the reader. He relates each episode of his life and career warts and all – including some profanity and a few off-color stories.

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Disney Changes Its Disabled Guest Access Policy

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Long line at It's A Small World.

Not long ago, I reported on the abuse of Disney Parks’ disabled guest access policy. Under the policy in place, able bodied guests hired disabled “tour guides” to get them to the front of lines. Disney has reviewed the policy, and they are making changes effective October 9:

Under the change, visitors will be issued tickets with a return time and a shorter wait similar to the FastPass system that’s offered to everyone.

Currently, visitors unable to wait in the regular line can get backdoor access to rides or go through the exit and wait in a shorter line.

The system “certainly has been problematic, and we wanted to curb some of the abuse of this system,” Disneyland Resort spokeswoman Suzi Brown told the Orange County Register.

The move was a response to the phenomenon of disabled “tour guides” who charge money, sometimes hundreds of dollars, to accompany able-bodied guests and allow them to avoid long lines. Others who don’t have a disability have been able to get an assistance card since no proof of disability is required.

“Given the increasing volume of requests we receive for special access to our attractions, we are changing our process to create a more consistent experience for all our guests while providing accommodations for guests with disabilities,” Brown said in a statement.

This news comes as a welcome development to those of us longtime Disney fans who have witnessed such abuses. However, the policy has upset some parents of children with special needs.

Rebecca Goddard said she takes her sons, ages 4 and 6, to Disneyland once a week. They have autism and can’t stand in lines longer than a few minutes before they start pushing other people.

“My boys don’t have the cognition to understand why it’s going to be a long wait,” Goddard told the Register. “There are so few things for my boys that bring them utter joy and happiness — to mess with it just makes me sad.”

Advocacy organizations are taking more of a wait-and-see approach to the change.

The advocacy group Autism Speaks consulted with Walt Disney Co. officials on the change and urged parents to see how it unfolds.

“Change is difficult,” said Matt Asner, executive director of the Southern California chapter. “I didn’t want it to change, but I understand there was an issue that needed to be dealt with.”

I for one am glad to see Disney take steps to combat the abuse. I’ll be at Walt Disney World the week the changes take effect, and I will be watching to see how if affects the daily operations at the parks.

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The 5 Most Overrated Experiences at Walt Disney World

Friday, September 20th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Journey Into Imagination

Last week I shared five underrated experiences at Walt Disney World. I always enjoy sharing what I love about my family’s favorite vacation spot — in fact, I’ve joked about becoming a travel agent specializing in Disney trips. When that post went live, my friend and editor David Swindle issued a challenge. He said, “Now you really have to do the 5 Most Overrated Disney World experiences.”

I thought about past attractions, like the lame 3D film Honey, I Shrunk The Audience at Epcot and its accompanying playground at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Or there’s Dreamflight, Tomorrowland’s late ’80s attempt to update the superb If You Had Wings with a new sponsor. I considered upcoming ideas, like the forthcoming Avatar Land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom – wouldn’t a Star Wars Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios make more sense, provide more fun and be more timeless?

After much deliberation, along with some brainstorming with my family, I chose to stick with current attractions. These are all experiences you can take part in currently. Some of them are attractions that have outlived their entertainment value or have become dated, while others represent time better spent doing something else. Regardless of the reason, you’re better off avoiding these experiences — or at least considering them strongly before undertaking them.

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The 5 Most Underrated Walt Disney World Experiences

Thursday, September 12th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Walt Disney World

A Walt Disney World vacation offers a ton of truly special experiences — from thrills and chills to charming family attractions. The resort has truly lived up to its reputation as the “Vacation Kingdom of the World.” Every year millions from all over the world travel to central Florida to enjoy popular attractions like It’s A Small World, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Expedition Everest, and Mission: SPACE.

First-time guests — and even a few seasoned guests — often miss out on off-the-beaten-path attractions and little underrated gems throughout Walt Disney World. Sometimes these experiences go unnoticed because they’re older and don’t take advantage of flashy new technology. Others wind up being “best kept secrets” for guests who stay on property. Occasionally, guests just walk by others without even noticing them.

Here I’m presenting a list of my top 5 most underrated experiences at Walt Disney World. They include a couple of Tomorrowland attractions that are retro-fantastic, a quaint getaway from the bustle of Adventureland, an entire resort that guests often overlook, and a special nighttime treat. The common thread between all of them — besides that fact that I think they’re underrated — is that they’ve all been around practically since Walt Disney World opened.

Without further ado, here are the top 5 underrated experiences at Walt Disney World. Enjoy…

5. Carousel of Progress

Carousel Of Progress

The Imagineers — going all the way back to Walt Disney’s day — have taken pride in their ability to tell stories in unique ways. One prime example of a quintessential Disney storytelling innovation is the Carousel of Progress.

Walt personally supervised the development of the Carousel of Progress for the 1964-65 World’s Fair. The attraction employs an inventive theater-in-the-round concept and one of the earliest examples of Audio-Animatronics to tell the story of how “industrial advances over the past century have changed everyday living for an American family.” Even the theme song, the Sherman Brothers’ “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” reflects a certain nostalgic exuberance.

Is it corny? Yes. Are the old-school Audio-Animatronics a bit outdated? You bet. Is it worth checking out? Without a doubt. At the very least, the Carousel of Progress is an air-conditioned respite from Florida’s often oppressive heat. But if you’re willing to let its message sink in, you’ll get an infectious glimpse into Walt Disney’s optimistic futurism. Let’s face it — the chance to see the future through Walt’s eyes makes the Carousel of Progress worth the ride.

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How Interactive Lines at Disney’s Parks Make Waiting For Rides Not So Bad

Friday, September 6th, 2013 - by Chris Queen
A child makes noise in the garden at the interactive queue at The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh.

A child makes noise in the garden at the interactive queue at The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh.

Over the last few months, I’ve written quite a bit about Disney’s commitment to excellence. From films to television to the ultimate theme park experiences, Disney has worked to raise the bar in every arena. So it stands to reason that Disney would throw a lot of effort into improving the experience of waiting in line. Over the last few years, the company has introduced interactive and themed queues that make waiting half the fun.

These queue areas take several different forms – Disney won’t settle for monolithic, even when it comes to waiting in line. Some of the queues provide learning experiences. The Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios offers a museum of motion picture history, complete with props and costumes, along with classic trailers on a giant screen. The waiting area for Mission: SPACE contains factoids about the history of space travel as well as drawing and models of potential ideas for space vehicles.

Other queues create hands-on interactive experiences. At The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh at the Magic Kingdom, the kids won’t get bored crawling through tunnels and putting their hands on different tactile play pieces. Over at The Haunted Mansion (also at the Magic Kingdom), the entire family can play together. Press a key on the organ, or push that loose book in on the bookshelf – The Haunted Mansion’s queue is a clever way to beat the heat.

Many of the queues set up the attractions that await in the most perfect of ways. The waiting area for The Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom features a jungle “radio station” broadcasting travel tips with an abundance of puns – perfect to prepare guests for the boat ride ahead. Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios as well as at Disneyland, Star Tours’ queue immerses riders in the atmosphere of “a galaxy far, far away.” The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disneyland give guests the feel of a dilapidated hotel, frozen at the peak of its popularity.

While guests wait in line for Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, they are treated to the fictional Yeti Museum, which prepares them for any encounters that may lie ahead. At Disneyland, the queue for Soarin’ Over California immerses guests in aviation history, while Space Mountain’s queue conveys the feel of an futuristic spaceport. Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure gives guests a quick tour of the archaeological site that Indy is working on.

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