Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Benches in Germany (and Epcot in Winter)

Fairly new to World showcase are regular, plain vanilla picnic tables (unpainted pine, even, by the looks of them) that sit waterside in Germany. This is a great idea, since Germany always sells food from vendors and has no place to sit. And there was a pretty large walkway along the water that holds plenty of room, which was just un-utilized before.

It's my favorite season at Epcot. Crowds are way, way down. Temps are down. The Wand is down! (yay!)

The Lights of Winter are up. The holiday fireworks finale is up. My blood-alcohol and thus my mood is up.

Benches? Sure, why not. Epcot is such an amazing park to have in my backyard, I can barely notice it when small things are added or taken away. Well, strike that. I notice it when they disappear. But this kind of small 'plussing' of the place keeps me going, and going, and going.

I suppose the occasional drink helps. Not that they make this easier. The beer stand at the UK, usually left open after Food and Wine, still stands but I haven't seen it open yet. In the UK pub itself, they've stopped selling those half-yards of beer or cider.

Doesn't matter. Epcot is still phenomenal. Especially at this time of year.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hong Kong DL: The reason Disney parks jumped the shark

Have you heard the term 'jump the shark'? It refers to Happy Days, when Fonzie jumped a literal shark on water skis, and the show started to go downhill from there.

When did Disney parks lose their luster and start to go downhill? A lot of people blame it on Eisner (and especially on the loss of partner Frank Wells).

That's mostly true. But another truth could be pointed to: the quitting of upper park management, the bi-coastal team of Dick Nunis and Norm Doerges. It wasn't until this week I learned why Dick had left the company - turns out for the same reason as Norm. Both of them were angry at Eisner for insisting on a park at Hong Kong.

Dick had wanted Australia - badly - and felt a communist country was the wrong place to be, just for political reasons. And that Chinese people didn't know the Disney characters. (He's right about that!)

When Eisner insisted, Dick had had enough. He'd been annoyed and burned once before (he wanted Spain for the Euro park, not Paris) and this was the icing on the cake. So he left.

When he left, the parks stopped focusing on the very things which had kept the cast happy and family-like for so many decades:

1. history
2. tradition
3. training

They went right out the window. I was there in those years and saw it happen. Hearing Dick reminisce about those times this week really struck a nerve with me.

Odd to think that a big, thus-far-unacknowledged part of the reason for such a huge change in the parks is Eisner's insistence that the company build in Hong Kong. I guess we all suffer for that little park that's still struggling.

Next big announcement: Hong Kong Disneyland

A little birdie whispered in my ear today that the next big announcement out of Disney, due any day now, will be about Hong Kong Disneyland. Something to rival the size and scope of the DCA makeover. Stay tooned.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

AT-ATs and Osborn

The Jedi training stage is there next to the AT-AT and it looks great. It's themed to the bunker entrance in Return of the Jedi. My wife joked we should jump on stage, hide in the sides of the bunker, and say the lines from the movie. We're geeks.

The AT-AT shoots water now (did it do that before? or just have the noise? or the noise plus lights?) and this soaks some people at night. Very amusing.

Osborn started up Monday night. Some thoughts:

1. there is more purple than ever before. pretty.
2. the dancing starts every 7 minutes, not every 15 minutes. this is much better customer service
3. the snow runs nonstop in the time when dancing is 'off', rather than saving money by only running some times. good customer service.
4. there is better choreography to the music this year. good show.
5. the new song is a lightning-fast version of jingle bells. I don't know if I liked it. At least it's more peppy than Feliz Navidad (which is just out place, it's so slow).
6. the 'side street' behind the Muppets exit is the barest I've ever seen. Where did the train go?

Friday, November 09, 2007

WDW After a Month's Absence

When you visit every weekend, you hit all four parks with some regularity (Epcot I see at least every seven days, for instance). So when you're gone for a month to Tokyo, you come back to seeing some changes!

Magic Kingdom
- Haven't been yet. But I've seen what the Xmas lights look like on the castle's facade during daytime, and it looks bad. Did they think we wouldn't notice? It's a bit like the Big City facade at MGM, how it looks during the day. The difference is that the castle is a major icon and photography target. I'll know more when I see it F2F, and not just via pictures online.

Christmas has come to all the parks early, actually. By the first of November, there were traces. Seems a bit like a long season to me, but what do I know.

- The highly embarassing line breaks and typos in the text for Lincoln (at the new exhibit in the American Adventure) has been fixed, I'm sure at great cost. Good for them.
- I saw traces of fresh paint on lots of things. In France, the Litfasssaeulen (a German word for those round columns with ads on them) are brand new, with presumably newly printed ads on them. They pop with color now.
- Half an hour before park closing, the 25th celebration room in West Innoventions-South was empty and awesome. The piped in nostalgia music really took me back in time. What a great reflective experience.
- I think I saw wine booths open from one week to the next. They are still adding wine capacity this late in the game? Lines have been long enough, during this F&W Festival, so maybe they are just maximizing profit.
- To Jim McPhee: thank you for NOT opening Spaceship Earth. It was either you, or an Imagineer in charge, who must have decided the show was not ready and thus would not open on time. I applaud this. Quality will out. I'd rather have it late and right, than on-time and poor.

- Catherine Jobson is still in the queue video for Safari, though not on the ride. Ironically, we had a ride where none of the onboard audio was working, so there was no Warden Wilson, just our guide speaking to us. I kind of liked it, actually.
- We got into line for safari 40 minutes before stated close time for the safari (due to sunset). The Standby wait time said 40 minutes. Coincidence? The real wait time was about 12. Am I cynical to think they do that on purpose to make sure the ride 'closes' on time for sunset? I guess they have to, to make sure the animals get back safely to their cages.
- Speaking of wait times, they inflate it badly for Everest Single Rider. It's not 25 minutes with ten people there. More like 5 or 10 minutes. In general, one person per minute moves from Single Rider into the ride.
- On our visit at least, Everest was totally dark in the backwards helix - they fixed the 'light pollution' problem! Hooray!
- Of course, the yeti was operating in 'b-mode' (not moving, and thus not lit up normally, but only lit with a strobe to imply movement). I'm one who thinks having a B-mode is a good thing. otherwise, the ride would be 101 (broken down) all the time, and that's a worse scenario.
- As someone pointed out in email to me, DAK has paper straws now, and has for some weeks. Hooray! Long overdue. And the animals will still be protected.
- At the Dino Dig kid's play area, there are some rope tunnels that are supposed to be 'one person at a time' but usually isn't guarded. On this visit, we saw a CM at each such tunnel enforcing the rule (it's on and off enforced anyway). It struck me as a waste of manpower, not to mention a horrible job to have to actually work. Do they endure lawsuits here, is that why they have to station a CM there?

- We saw ODF carts being rolled backstage at the end of the night, but not pushed by workers with bad backs. The carts were electrically controlled - there was a motor and the CM was merely 'driving'. Have they had this out here forever and I'm only now noticing?
- MGM closed at 8pm on our weekend visit. Sad, sad, sad. Bring on Pixar, bring on Lucas, and keep this sucker open til midnight.

- Saw a guest riding a segway around CitiWalk. I guess Uni lets them in. Disney certainly doesn't; they don't consider it an 'assistive device'.
- From the top of the Dueling Dragons lift hill, look ahead and to the left. You'll see a very large rectangle of ground cleared, with bulldozers pushing dirt around - that's for Hogwarts castle. Potter really is coming! Seeing the castle located there, you get a sense for how really big this sub-park is going to be, since it starts back by Poseidon.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


I meant to comment on the news that Uni-Orlando is closing 'Earthquake' to replace it with something else, in just a few short weeks (which implies a makeover, not a new ride), but reality intrudes and I have to say farewell to something else: Bruce Gordon.

Disney fan sites are all saying goodbye to Bruce, and I echo their sense of loss. It's even deeper for me, though, since Bruce was a guiding light to Jason and I when writing our first Disneyland books and a mentor about publishing in general. I'm more than mourning - I'm pissed at the unfairness of the world. Bruce was a great guy, at least to us, and his passing is bad news for just about the whole world. His touch wasn't always golden (witness DL's Pooh ride), but that could very likely be the cause of budget considerations beyond his control, and not his fault. None of that matters. We are all a little more impoverished with this news.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Epcot without Spaceship Earth

With Spaceship Earth out of commission until 2008 (probably February), Epcot is almost a different park. We find ourselves just a touch less excited about going there than had been the case before - is SSE really that central to the experience of Epcot?? I never realized it entirely. It's making me miss the older Epcot Center even more, when there were lots of AA extravaganzas.