Friday, November 4, 2011

When you think of a trip to Walt Disney World what is the first word that pops into your mind? For me that word is “Magic”. The only thing that comes CLOSE to the magic that WDW can provide is Christmas. Luckily for us WDW does both. That's right! Too warm for snow? Good thing it snows on Main Street. Did someone tell you there was only one Santa? Think again! With the holidays right around the corner, I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a look at what they have to offer park to park.

Magic Kingdom: I mentioned the snow on Main Street USA above, but one of the coolest things you can see during the Christmas season is Cinderella Castle lit up with approximately 200,000 twinkling lights. It gives the illusion that it has been covered in a fine sheet of ice. Take a look at the video below for a better idea of what it looks like. I apologize for the audio quality.

Thanks to “Whoville” on Youtube for the vid.

Epcot: One of the coolest things you can see just happens to be in Epcot's World Showcase. Each country surrounding Bay Lake has it's own SANTA CLAUSE! Sure they may go by a different name, but they all represent the same spirit of Christmas. Every Santa has a different story to tell and it's very neat seeing everyone gathering around to hear the differences between them.

Mexico – The story of the Three King's journey to seek the baby Jesus.
Norway - Julenissen, a gnome tells a funny story.
China - The Monkey King tells a tale of whimsy.
Germany - St. Nicholas tells a story about great holiday traditions.
Italy - La Benafa talks about how Italy celebrates the Epiphany.
America - Santa and Mrs. Claus are presented in Santa's Workshop
Morocco - Taarji shares the story of Ramadan.
Japan - Daruma the doll seller talks of celebrating the birth of a new year.
France - Pere Noel reads a letter.
United Kingdom - Father Christmas talks about the traditions in the U.K.
Canada - Papa Noel talks about holiday traditions in Canada.
It's definitely worth the mile long trip around the world to hear.

Hollywood Studios: As if Cinderella Castle didn't have enough lights, Hollywood Studios has the Osbourne Family lights display (No, not Ozzy Osbourne). I'll let the video show you what it's all about.

It's a great example of how many lights have been strewn over the streets of New York.

Animal Kingdom: Unfortunately the Animal Kingdom doesn't do much other than Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade. Nothing much more than characters dancing and singing to holiday music while dressed in holiday attire. They do, however, have some amazingly tall Christmas trees with highly detailed ornaments featuring all sorts of animals. It seems that I like to avoid most things about the Animal Kingdom, but as a park that closes the earliest and has little to offer in the ways of Christmas it's kind of difficult to find something to expand upon.

So if you're ever in need of some holiday cheer just keep WDW in mind. They manage to keep that magic alive even with the larger crowd numbers during this particular season. When I was there for Christmas back in 2006 the crowd level was so high that we had to be re-routed through the cast area behind Main Street USA. It was actually kind of neat being able to see behind the scenes a little bit. It made the trip that much more special.

Happy holidays everyone!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Signage. Funny word right? It describes any sort of graphic design, symbol, emblem, or even words that give direction, or warning. Billboards, marquees, movie posters, and even the little blue and white placards indicating the men's or women's restroom are examples of signage. Walt Disney World uses signs to direct people where to go, what time things start, and where there are great places to take a quick snapshot with your camera. Today we'll start off with...

Entrance Signs: The most exciting part for me is arriving in WDW. There's no better way to feel more welcome than with a large sign making you feel like you're home. The entrance sign for Walt Disney World actually spans an entire 3 lanes worth of traffic. It's like driving into a portal leaving your daily life behind. It lets you know that you've least for the next week or so (depending on how long your trip is going to be).

Road Signs: You'll find a lot of them along WDW's main road (World Drive). Outside of the park and all over the U.S. You see the standard green, brown, or blue style of road signs indicating exits, parks, or places to lodge or eat. Inside the road signs inside are a bit different. Michael Eisner (still CEO at the time) hired the design firm of Sussman/Prezja to create 1,000 freeway, road directional, and regulatory signs. They broke away from the traditional look and uses colors like red, blue, yellow, violet, and even green (more of a turquoise actually). While the signs aren't as elaborate as the ones used in (for example) the Magic Kingdom they are a clear and easy way to find your destination.

Attraction Signs: Probably the least ambiguous signage in the entire place. Quick and to the point, the signs used here are for one purpose: To tell you what you're about to ride. Like other signs you'll find they're themed to the area that they're in. The Pirates of the Caribbean sign is a mast sporting a black sail while Space Mountain's is a clean cut, sharp edged, vision of the future. No sign feels out of place so you know that you are right where you need to be. Attraction posters are a part of this too, but I want to save that for another post.

Wait Signs: Wait signs are exactly what they sound like. It's a sign that indicates how long you have until you can find yourself at the front of the line. There's an adjustable time display that clearly lets you know if it's worth the wait. It makes it easier to plan your day, or to see if you need to utilize Disney's Fast Pass system.

Directional Signs: The signs that point you where you need to go. Where's that restroom? Why it's right over there! Need something to eat? Head on over to Pecos Bill's. Just take a right! With a combination of maps, and signs, you'll always be able to figure out where you need to go. Even when asking a cast member where to go their hand turns into a sign: CLICK ME! (a pointer, and middle finger combination as it's the only non-offensive gesture you can use to point at something).

Construction Signs: Well not exactly construction signs. More like signs that are in front of a construction barrier. The parks are all about keeping up illusions Even these signs are themed for whatever area they're being utilized. We're never meant to see the process of an attraction or store being built so this helps keeps everything a mystery.

After reading all of this I bet you're going to look at the signs all around you. Are you going to check to see if they fit the area they're being used? Are they easy to read? Are they fun to look at? Signs don't have to be boring, or out of place. They can help an area become more interesting or help you figure out where you need to go, or even places you can't go. They're something people use ever day, but take for granted. If a lot of effort is put forth you will never have to second guess yourself when using them.

I'm including a Photobucket link below to show more examples of WDW Signage.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Monorails. Your highway in the sky to the Magic Kingdom, The TTC, and Epcot. Quite honestly my preferred method of travel when you just want to rest your feet and take in some scenery. What makes WDW's Mark VI monorail so magical compared to other forms of transportation? Lets take a look.

I'm going to start off with sound. These things are quiet! How quiet you ask? Try standing under the monorail track in Future World at Epcot (pictured) and not hearing one until it's right over top of you. This is all due to them being powered by a 600-volt electrical system. The rail it travels on supplies the power to the monorail through a busbar and puts it in motion without the help of a fuel powered engine. This keeps them quiet, and cleaner than a bus or a boat.

Scenery. Now this might not be very important to most people, but I'm the type of person who enjoys being able to see as much as I can while I'm on vacation. No better way to see the Walt Disney World grounds than taking the 14.7 mile monorail trip. In fact it's the only way to get a grand tour of Epcot, the Seven Seas Lagoon, 3 of WDW's 24 resort hotels, and the Magic Kingdom from above without having to take a helicopter ride. Not to shabby for a ride that you can enjoy without having to purchase a park ticket.

The cars. Each of the twelve MK. VI monorails in service (identified as Red, Coral, Orange, Gold, Yellow, Teal, Lime, Green (yes, there's a difference), Blue, Silver, Black, and Peach) has 6 cars that it uses to transport approximately 250,000 passengers daily. Inside of the cars you'll find soft blue seats that fit anywhere from 4-5 people at at time with plenty of standing room to spare. With it's constant gliding (unlike a bus which makes many stops due to traffic and lights) its very comfortable even when standing. Much unlike a NYC subway or Chicago Metra train, you're not going to find piles of dirt and graffiti. The cars are well maintained and stay as clean as the parks (which is another post all in itself).

The spiel. This is something you're not going to find on your average train ride. What exactly is the spiel you ask? An almost familiar voice sounds over speakers inside of the monorail cars to tell you what you're seeing, and other events that may be occurring inside of the parks. Below is a Youtube link containing one of the spiels from the late 90's (Sorry, I keep saying spiel).

The monorail isn't something that is restricted to the parks alone. You can find them all over the world in larger cities transporting people to where they need to go. I wish it were something that I could take to work every morning. It would make an amazing start to the day. I think that's why they fit so well in WDW. It's just that little something special that you're not going to find in your average town.

Don't forget to stand clear of the door.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I know what you're thinking, “MATT! It's just a place to stand while you're waiting your turn for an attraction!” No. It's a bit more than that. If done properly the queue itself can be entertaining. Sure not as fun as the ride, but it's better than waiting around in an empty void, shoulder to shoulder with strangers. Below is an example of a queue found at another theme park (which will not be named).

Notice the cold metal, messy concrete filled with dead leaves, fluorescent lighting, and the plain white columns. If it weren't for the stanchions I'd say it looks like a gas station. I can't even tell what ride it is for. There's no set theme. I can't even make out an end, or beginning to the queue itself. This could be the line for the bathroom for all I know. Here's another example.

We see more bare metal, and signs that people just don't care what happens to the surrounding environment (the spots of chewed gum right next to the trash can). Even the trash cans are boring! I'll save that for another post though. To me (and I'm sure to all of you), it's very uninviting. I'd have more examples of this, but honestly all of the pics look the same. Now we'll look at what Walt Disney World has to offer in the ways of the queue. I'm going to use Pirates of the Caribbean as my primary example.

This is the entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean. If you'll notice on the right and faaaaaaar left we see a sign that says “Castillo del Morro”. It is welcoming us inside of a Spanish castle. We see the use of wood, and aged metals. Even the stanchions are decorative. A lot of thought and care has gone into this area as it is the most important part of the queue. It draws the guest into the ride. There is no chance that someone will ever feel the need walk up to a cast member to ask what ride they are entering (even if the cast members would be more than happy to help out). We'll go a bit deeper.

Now we're really getting into it. Inside we see the theme carrying throughout. We have lanterns to simulate candle light. We have a mast and sail of a boat off in the distance. Notice that there are two separate lines to get in. This is so that there isn't a mass overflow of people hanging outside of the ride blocking the walk way. This keeps everything neat and tidy. No one seems upset to be standing in line. It's even a nice temperature inside to cool you down from the hot Florida weather. We'll continue walking.

At this point the stanchions have been removed from the equation. The area is approximately 3-4 people wide and we are still inside of an old Spanish castle. The aging has been purposefully added to give the area character. It makes it feel as if people used the space. To keep it even more interesting we can peer through the windows on the right to see something like this:

Here we see a pair of pirates that have been in prison just a biiiiit too long. They're locked in an unbeatable stalemate during a game of chess (As designed by animator/imagineer Marc Davis). This is an example of staging. It's a sight gag to keep folks interested while they're waiting to get on the ride. If you'll notice there is no blood, or signs of violence. They're only skeletons because they've been waiting so long.

A little further up we see more evidence that we're in a castle. There's turrets, powder kegs, broken pieces of a crows nest, and even a cannon. Nothing feels more piratey than a cannon. You'll also notice that we're heading toward the outside of the castle. I know it seems a bit long, but keep in mind of the heavy traffic that WDW gets during the busy season. You have to make sure there's enough room for everyone. We're nearly to the end of the queue!

At last we've come to the end of our journey. Well...maybe it's the beginning since the whole point of the queue is to get to the attraction. Even at the precipice of the ride we're outside of the castle surrounded by more powder kegs, castle catacombs, and boats. We're even standing on a pier! If you'll notice the line splits in two again. It's all about keeping people moving even if things get busy.

I've shown you the horrors of waiting in line, and how much better waiting in line could be. It all lies in the theming, and the details in that theming. When you step into Pirates of the Caribbean you still remember that you are in Adventureland, and it carries itself even inside of the attraction. Really thats the whole point of WDW. You forget about everything going on outside, and you can allow yourself to imagine.

The ride queue plays no small part in this.

Below I am sharing a Photobucket link to other queues scattered throughout the parks. Just take some time to look at all of the little things they've added to keep the illusion alive.

For other WDW Queues Click here!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I'm going to start off by saying I am definitely not an electrician. I don't know what it takes to light a room beyond adding a few lamps and plugging them into a wall. What I do know is that I like it when a lighting technician is hired to make something come to life. To show us a side of a person, place, or thing that we can't see during the day time. No place does this better than WDW.
Specifically Epcot.

You've seen fiber optics before. They're used all around you whether it be your telephone, cable television, or even the internet. They can be used for decoration too. Even fake Christmas trees have them! I bet there's one place you'd never expect them: The pavement. One way Epcot likes to surprise it's guests is with the use of fiber optic lighting laid right into the ground you walk on. This is something you'll only see at night when you're passing through Future World.

It's like a little show in itself. The lights flicker and dance. Some of them just look like a star field, and can be seen from a few angles. I'll let this video handle the rest.

Thanks to Makin' Memories Photo on Youtube for the video.

I found a pretty amazing photo capturing just how cool it really looks when you're standing right in front of it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

This is a summarization of my idea of THE ultimate, no worries, great time, spared no expense WDW trip. Now, I don't think everyone will agree with me on every point as far as where to eat, or where to sleep, but they will agree on the feelings you get, and maybe what parks are better than others. We'll see.

Method of Travel:

This is where it gets kind of tricky. I would drive down there in a nice RV (for comfort), but I would choose to fly back. The drive down is nice. Everyone is excited about the trip and in a really good mood, but.....oh gosh....the trip home is so long (even if it's the same distance). People are angry that they have to leave, and tired because they've just spent 4 days walking 5-7 miles per day around the parks. Worth it if you ask me, but still makes you kind of cranky. The “See Ya Real Soon!” sign really doesn't help either. So flying is the only answer to get home quickly with little to no fuss. The only drawback of the RV going down is spending so much money on gas. They're not exactly the greatest on gas mileage. The only drawbacks to the plane are a possible transfer of planes, and they're not very comfortable.

Conclusion: Drive there, fly back (even if it is really out of the norm. I mean where are you going to ditch the RV?).

Choice of Resort Hotel:

There are 33 hotels on Walt Disney World property, but only 24 of them are operated BY the Walt Disney Company. With that being said, I want the best of the best, and that would be the hotels actually owned and operated by WDW. Things to consider are proximity to the Magic Kingdom (that being the favorite park out of the (4) available), is it a Monorail Hotel (Those being the Grand Floridian, The Polynesian, or The Contemporary), and lastly aesthetics. All of these are important in making a proper choice.

Some hotels are too far away from the resorts for a quick trip back for a rest (ex: Pop Century), some are easily accessible via the Monorail (the three mentioned above). Unfortunately the monorail only goes to the Magic Kingdom, the TTC, and Epcot. It leaves out 2 parks, and Downtown Disney. I wouldn't stay at the main (3) for that reason. The monorail is awesome, but buses are an easy way to get everywhere. This leaves the hotels that have villas. Bay Lake Tower is technically a monorail hotel, so that is out. Kidani Village and Jambo House are too far away from the other parks. I'm not a fan of the Beach Club rooms. Old Key West has the same problem. Everything is pastel colored, and really hurts the eyes with its saturated colors. The rooms at Saratoga Springs seem kind of plain compared to the others. It doesn't feel like there's a definitive theme.

This brings it down to The Board Walk, and The Villas at the Wilderness Loge. I think this comes down to personal preference. The Board Walk feels like you're inside a cottage next to some large body of water. The Wilderness Lodge puts you smack dab in the middle of Yellowstone park. I know first hand that the beds are comfortable. There are carved wooden headboards. They're very quiet. And the villas themselves have a separate lobby away from the main hotel for even more privacy.

Conclusion: The Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge.

Places to Eat:

This can be kind of difficult, but it can be made easier basing it on what park, or shopping center (downtown Disney) you are on any particular day. So I'll break it down by park and Downtown Disney. These are all assuming you've eaten breakfast at your resort hotel of choice. Food courts are a wonderful thing.

Magic Kingdom:

-Lunch: Honestly the quicker, the better. And no one does that like Pecos Bill's. The food is fast and tasty. The atmosphere is comfortable and clean....but the best part.... There is a mushroom and onion bar smack dab in the middle of the place. You can load up your burgers, or even just a paper dish with some condiments.

Conclusion: Pecos Bill's

-Dinner: I'LL COME BACK TO THIS! I was going to say Kona Cafe, but they've changed their since the last time I was there. They used to have an amazing cut of Prime Rib served with Asparagus and Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes. Now I'm not so sure where I would go. This may involve a little bit of research.

After a bit of thought, I would probably make reservations at the Hoop De Doo Review located in Fort Wilderness! It's dinner and a show. They serve fried chicken, corn, baked beans, corn on the cob all while singing and dancing around the place. It's actually quite enjoyable, and the food keeps on coming as long as you have room in your stomach.

Conclusion: The Hoop Dee Doo Review!


-Lunch: The Land is a MUST! Not only does it have the ride “Living with the Land” it also has an amazing food court called “The Sunshine Seasons”. I can't narrow it down to a specific meal, but this is a place that I like to the whole “whatever looks delicious” method. I can't imagine being in Epcot and passing up an opportunity to eat in this pavilion.

Conclusion: Anywhere at the Sunshine Seasons in The Land pavilion.

-Dinner: It definitely has to be someplace in the world showcase. I love the entertainment aspect of Teppan Ito in Japan. The familiar foods of the US of A at the Liberty Inn, but when my mind wanders I think about how delicious the Mexican food is across the way from the Mexico Pavilion at La Cantina de San Angel. They give you more food than you can possibly eat, and each bite is worth 1,000 descriptive words. I won't go that far though.

Conclusion: La Cantina de San Angel

Hollywood Studios:

-Lunch: ABC Commissary hands down. It's a value counter service restaurant, but it's quick, and I love the diverse menu. It goes from a cheese burger to Asian salad.

Conclusion: ABC Commissary

Dinner: What “ultimate” trip would be complete without eating at an expensive restaurant. I've never been lucky enough to eat at the Hollywood Brown Derby. They even have a Fantasmic dining package which lets you into the show early, and offers preferred seating. A real plus when you want to be treated like a VIP.

Conclusion: Hollywood Brown Derby

Animal Kingdom:

-Lunch: The Flamtree BBQ. There's no argument here. They serve an amazing BBQ pulled pork sandwich with a side of BBQ baked beans. The sauce they use is nothing short of delicious. A little tangy, and a little spicy. Not your average BBQ sauce. It really sets the tone for the rest of the day at the park.

Conclusion: Flame Tree BBQ

-Dinner: Unfortunately the park doesn't stay open long enough to get hungry and eat dinner there.

Conclusion: You're not going to get hungry enough to eat there in time.

Downtown Disney:

I always saw this as more of a dinner place. They have bigger restaurants, so it would be worth it to go someplace nice. With restaurants like Fulton's Crab House, Captain Jack's, Planet Hollywood, Rainforest Cafe, Wolfgang Puck's, Ragland Road, House of Blues, and T-Rex the decision can be a little tough. Rainforest is out immediately. You can find this place at any large mall, and honestly, I don't think the food is that great. T-rex is sort of the same type of restaurant. Just dinosaur themed instead of jungle themed. I live on the East Coast where seafood is the best in the U.S. So that leaves Fulton's Crab House, and Captain Jack's out since I can get that pretty much any time. Raglan Road seems to be the best choice in my opinion. I've always wanted to try a few things on their menu like the shepherds pie, or the mighty mixed grill. These are all foods to be shared with multiple people, so I think it would be a fun experience.

Conclusion: Ragland Road.

Park Order:

What this really comes down to is personal preference.

1) The Magic Kingdom – Not only was it the first park to be built on property in WDW it holds most of my favorite rides. I have been able to do everything there in my 14 visits to the parks, and I'm still not bored of it. I can go head to head against my brother in Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, and a few moments later I can be terrified by the 52 foot drop on Splash Mountain. The various lands you visit within bring you into their own world which makes it feel more “magic” than the other parks. And that really is the whole point to the Magic Kingdom. It's in the name!

2) Epcot – While not as whimsical as the Magic Kingdom, Epcot still holds a sense of wonder. The first view you get when stepping off the bus is a larger than life man made geosphere. And it's not just there to look pretty. There's a ride about communication throughout history inside. It's slow moving, and dark, but a really relaxing way to start the day. That and the line is never long. Epcot also has one of the world's largest aquariums. And it doesn't stop there. The entire south half of Epcot is host to the World showcase. Different countries with different cultures. It lets you visit them without having to plane hop. Epcot is a bit educational at times, but I love learning. And you should too.

3) Disney's Hollywood Studios – I love movies, and I love what it takes to get those movies made. That's what this park is all about. The Great Movie Ride brings you on a tour of some of your favorite movies, and puts you right in the middle of them. You are surrounded by places you wish you could visit when seeing them for the first time on the screen. This park, however, is smaller compared to the other 3. You can get through everything you want to see in one day, and not being much of a thrillride junkie, I don't often go on Rockin' Roller Coaster, or the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Those kinds of things take a back seat for me.

4) Disney's Animal Kingdom – My least favorite out of the (4) parks to visit in all 47 square miles of Walt Disney World. Don't get me wrong...I love animals. I love the Flame Tree BBQ restaurant, but I don't like the fact that the park closes earlier than all of the others. It doesn't have nearly as many rides as the other parks. The coolest of all here being the Kilamanjaro Safari (the ride itself takes up more square footage than the entire Magic Kingdom). Animals (sometimes) come extremely close to the ride vehicle. It is actually pretty amazing to be that close to animals you wouldn't encounter in the city. I'm a HUGE dinosaur fan, but I don't care much for Dinoland U.S. A. (which is a bit disappointing). At the end of the day it really is just a glorified zoo.

All of the parks should be visited at night too (with the exception of the Animal Kingdom which closes early so the animals can rest). They become a whole new place. The Magic Kingdom lights up with a beautiful warm glow. There's even an entire parade dedicated to light. Epcot is even more amazing at night. It's futuristic. Even the concrete walk ways (YES THE CONCRETE!) lights up with fiber optic patterns of light. Speaking of light. Hollywood Studios has probably the most amazing Christmas light display I have ever seen in my life. It can't be topped. Not in beauty, or sheer number of lights.

A good number of days to visit is approximately 1 day per park, and 1 day for shopping and other miscellaneous activities. With this being my ultimate trip, I could easily spend 2 days each at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios. There's more than enough to explore and be able to re-ride, or revisit and attraction. With a park hopper, you can even visit multiple parks in one day. Spend the morning at Animal Kingdom, and head over to Epcot at night to check out Illuminations while sipping on a margarita in front of the Mexico Pavilion.

In conclusion, I've found it a bit difficult to put down every little thing that I would want to do while spending time there for my ultimate trip, but hey! That's what multiple visits are for! Everyone's idea of a good time is different. It could be with your family, friend, or even a day trip by yourself. There's something to do and see for everyone there. If you've gone and had a bad time, that's your own fault. You didn't let yourself open up to what it has to offer, and how it can make you feel. The second you pass through the entry sign you are transported to another place outside of your normal life. That's what vacations are for right? Doing something you wouldn't normally do. Eat things you don't normally eat. See things you wouldn't normally see when looking out onto your own back yard (assuming you have one).

If you've made it this far into reading this, I think you are ready for your next trip.

Make sure you gather your belongings, and I'll see ya real soon!