Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Teddi Barra's Swinging Arcade

A nice homage to an earlier time in the park is the facade of Teddi Barra's Swinging Arcade. While the arcade closed its doors in 2003 when Winnie the Pooh opened, the Imagineers were kind enough to leave the thinly veiled tribute to The Country Bear Jamboree stand. While now partially obscured by ivy, you can clearly see the name on the wall and this touch is appreciated by many. This photograph was taken by the author in July, 2007.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Splash Mountain, The Elder

The elder of two Splash Mountains, Disneyland's version is located within Critter Country nestled in the back of the park beyond New Orleans Square. Quite a bit of history resides in this area of the park; it was originally the Indian Village and then became Bear Country in 1972 with the opening of the beloved Country Bear Jamboree. (As I frequent WDW quite regularly, I have a long relationship with the bears and dearly understand the pain of bear fans based on the west coast.) In 1989, with the opening of Splash Mountain, the area became known as Critter Country.

Critter Country, is a bit like a one stoplight town. Don't blink, because you'll miss it. Other than a meet and greet, a place to eat, and Winnie the Pooh, there's not much here to keep your attention. Nonetheless, Splash Mountain is more than enough for me and most other visitors, too. The DL incarnation opened on July 17, 1989 and has hosted Brer Rabbit and company ever since plus many animals from America Sings. While the original is fantastic I must admit I prefer the WDW attraction. Obviously, it's a matter of personal opinion as both are fantastic but I love the younger attraction's queue and exit area. These photographs were taken by the author in July, 2007.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bobsleds, Anyone?

Ah; the Matterhorn Bobsleds. While the ride itself has lost most of its 'thrill' when compared to Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the like it's still an amazing attraction. My favorite aspect of the Matterhorn is the heft and theming you imbibe in the queue and surrounding area.

It's a bit hard to appreciate the size of the attraction, Expedition Everest in Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom is monstrous in comparison, but take a moment to walk around the attraction and you'll see for yourself just how much real estate this mountain takes up in the park. If not convinced, take a look at a Disneyland park map; that should reinforce the point.

The second aspect, the theming, is a bit more subtle and it must have been even more special when the Disney-Alweg monorail system was new, but the Austrian/Swiss feel is fun, even now. On special days the mountain is alive with climbers; that's an event not to be missed. And for those who can't get enough of yodeling, the queue music is sure to provide a quick fix.

Another great feature is the overall park placement as the attraction has alternatively been located in Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. For a great look at this fact and for some before and after shots of the Matterhorn Bobsleds refurbishment in 1978, take a look here at Yesterland. These photographs were taken by the author in July, 2007.

Friday, January 25, 2008

New Orleans Square Railroad Alley

If you shift in your seat ever so lightly and look to the left of yesterday's photo you'll see a wonderful piece of stage design. The Creole Hotel and the New Orleans Trading Company buildings, located opposite the railroad tracks leading into the New Orleans Square Railroad Station, are unique spots within Disneyland. While these buildings are non-accessible to guests, they add an air of authenticity to the location and the attention to detail, which is spectacular, is in keeping with the rest of the New Orleans Square area.

Next time you're on the Disneyland Railroad, take a look to your left as you exit the tunnel from Adventureland (seen at lower left in this photograph) to get a better view of this spot. For a better view, please take a look at Yesterland's post on the various 'non-functioning' hotels within the Disney parks. This photograph was taken by the author in July, 2007.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

New Orleans Square Railroad Station

A week-long series of photo clean-up and updated blog tagging caused me to stumble upon some shots I'd kept wanting to write about and this shot, taken from the ledge just outside of the Mint Julep Bar, is one of them. The New Orleans Square Railroad Station is located roughly in between the Mint Julep and The Haunted Mansion. Frequent guests will know the clackity-clack sounds of the railroad telegraph translate into Walt's opening day speech. What you may not know is that the work of an Annual Pass holder brought to DL's attention the message had unexpectedly been truncated when the move from tape to digital took place some years ago. (Google "George Eldridge Disneyland telegraph" and you'll learn a lot more.)

Visitors also might not know the building you see on the other side of the tracks is the former Frontierland Station; the addition of The Haunted Mansion changed the line of the railroad and the location of the station for this area. All in all, this is a great place to sit and listen. This photograph was taken by the author in July, 2007.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Disney Gallery

A favorite moment from my visit to Disneyland in 2007 was a visit to The Disney Gallery. Long a favorite of park visitors, the gallery provided guests with an opportunity to view a special slice of Disneyland history for 20 years up to its closing in August 2007.

The gallery opened in the summer of 1987 as part of Tony Baxter's re-imagineering of the Pirate's queue. Tony changed the traffic flow into Pirates of the Caribbean and subsequently added the signature staircases which frame the entrance. It's my understanding Tony requested from Frank Wells the ability to use the space above as a showcase of Disney art and that's how the Gallery was born.

The space was originally conceived by Walt as an executive entertainment space to be known as the 'Royal Suite' as part of the New Orleans Square construction. Following his death Roy decided not to move forward with this plan, perhaps knowing the suite, with all of Walt's effort intertwined within, would be too personal and painful to bear. After construction was completed the space was leased out to an non-Disney entity for hospitality purposes and then became the offices for the various Disneyland International park efforts. As part of the 'Year of A Million Dreams' campaign, it was decided to change the space back into its original purpose - a suite. Beginning this year lucky guests will be able to spend the night at a very special place, indeed.

At the time of my visit, which was just one month prior to its close, the gallery was featuring items as part of the 'Inspired by Disneyland' show. This collection of items featured artwork from non-Imagineers, a first for the gallery, and a selection of cover art from the Disney group of Little Golden Books stories for children.

Even closer to my heart is the area music / background loop created specifically for The Disney Gallery. This loop, which includes 'So Dear to My Heart', 'Lavender Blue', and 'So This Is Love', is a personal favorite and truly complemented the items found inside. A highlight of The Disney Gallery was a visit to the interior courtyard, originally planned as the Disney family's getaway inside the park. These photographs were taken by the author in July, 2007.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Behind the Seeds

The Parks are full of special tours and I've grown to appreciate how valuable they can be to your overall enjoyment and understanding of an attraction or park. Although I've not taken this tour in person I've been assured it's worth your time (just one hour) and your dollars (just $14).

As a green thumb I've always been impressed by Epcot's ability to keep their greenhouse concept fresh and inviting and this tour provides some 'behind the seeds' looks at how they do it. Should you decide to book the tour, you'll meet on the main level next to the Soarin' fast pass station, at this very sign. This photograph was taken by the author in November, 2007.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Looks Like We Made It

I know, I know; Beatles/Carpenters one day and Barry Manilow the next. What can I say? After all, the writer's strike is still going strong and we have limited resources here at Photos from the Parks.

Regardless, after the thrills and chills from Expedition Everest: The Legend of the Forbidden Mountain pass, and you've been exposed to the typical "Buy! Buy! Buy!" message from the gift shop, you're treated to one last, breathtaking view of the mountain. This area is in keeping with the traditional Kodak photo spot (think the flume plunge from Splash Mountain and the waiting area for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad) but with a twist: the ambient story telling that kept you company lo the long hour in the standby queue hasn't left your side.

Just next to the fabulous and ubiquitous exit area is a collection of grave markers and stone tablets which underscore the persistent storytelling technique. While I've not been able to confirm my suspicions regarding this feature of the attraction I think this is an homage to Memorial Hill, an area near the actual Mount Everest base camp that serves as a reminder of those who failed to return from their trek. (Can anyone confirm or deny what this? I'd really like to know.)

And then, with one look to your right, poof! It's gone, and you're looking at Discovery River and you're back in Anandapur. What an attraction.

If you've not been with me the past week or so, let me say it again: What an attraction! I firmly believe Expedition Everest has restored to the Disney parks the very magic that's been AWOL for far too many years. I cannot tell you how impressed I am with the team Rohde put in place for this effort or how impressive their collective labors are. This, my friends, is story telling at its finest and a sight not to be missed. This attraction and it's queue is the best thing since sliced bread (okay, the best thing since the Hollywood Hotel Tower of Terror) and is worth 60 minutes of your time. Do not, repeat, do not fastpass this attraction until you've taken the standby route at least twice - most of the story is in the queue and is as much as Uncle Walt would've hated Chester and Hester, this makes up for 10 of those dogs. Let's put it another way; this attraction alone validates your admission to Disney's Animal Kingdom. I can only hope Joe gets as much of a kick out this as I do. Thanks, Joe, for Expedition Everest; this is Disney at its finest.

These photographs were taken by the author in November, 2007.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

A Ticket to Ride

After a few more twists and turns in the Yeti Museum (and an exhibit related to animal scat found on the base mountain - that's always a good conversation topic for your 6 year old) you finally reach the ride. And, amazingly enough, it's almost a let down to step out of that great queue and reach the next step of the journey.

My ride companion was my aforementioned 6 year old son so the photographs from here on out are a bit scarce as my attention was primarily focused on him. (This trip in November marked the blessed 44" height attainment and he could ride absolutely everything he wanted. This meant multiple trips on Rock n' Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Space Mountain [5 in one day!], etc.) The ascent takes you through the remnants of the tea plantation with a great view of the mountains ahead.

Another striking bit of detail is the cave dwelling or temple you see during the ascent; simply put, it's beautiful.

The sun as seen above was a distraction to my camera but I found it fortuitous as it perfectly aligned with the ride. As you pass underneath of this structure you glimpse a beautiful mural of the Yeti looking down at you; this bit of foreshadowing isn't lost on many!

And, of course, everyone loves the point in the ride where you literally stop while the track mechanism, in back of you, slides into place for a reverse slide into the mountain and into the arms of the Yeti. Stunning!

These photographs were taken by the author in November, 2007.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Lost Expedition

After an amazing collection of Yeti inspired art greets your eyes you are subjected to a display entitled, 'The Mystery of the Lost Expedition'. And, all of a sudden, whatever anticipation you felt starts to change into something more sinister; could the Yeti actually have caused this destruction? On further inspection, one notices the rampant terror the expedition force must have experienced based on the obliterated condition of their gear and the photographs on the wall. And, if you look up, you can't help but think this glance at the ceiling might be your last glimpse of civilization.

These photographs were taken by the author in November, 2007.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Professor Dorje's Museum

Attached to Tashi's Trek and Tongba Shop is the local museum. After one last warning sign, as seen above, which implores us to remember the various goods we need for our expedition, we step under the lintel and into the museum of the Yeti. (While I believe the glacier glasses and waterproof shell are appropriate for central Florida's climate the long underwear and down filled jacket might be a bit much to schlep around the parks all day.)

The museum's founder and chief curator is Dr. Pema Dorje, PhD, who received his master's degree in anthropology and a PhD in conservation science both from the Royal Anandapur University. Not only can you view his credentials in this alcove area but also read an article from the local paper declaring Prof. Dorje's belief in the Yeti's existence. In keeping with the accuracy and detail of this attraction, Pema Dorje may or may not refer to a Nepalese sherpa of the same name; I wonder if Rohde and company met Sherpa Dorje when scouting the territory during the ride's conceptualization phase.

Upon turning the corner we are officially welcomed by Prof. Dorje by way of the sign above which translates, roughly, into "Welcome, may everything be well with you." The museum then offers up a wealth of regional costumes, artifacts, flora and fauna information, and associated cultural and scientific information regarding the region and the Yeti.

These photographs were taken by the author in November, 2007.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tashi's Trek and Tongba Shop

Following the mandir and the outdoor queue past the small tea bushes you enter Tashi's Trek and Tongba Shop where the vendor proudly states, "We provide the finest in mountaineer equipments for all needs new and used". Just before you enter the shop you are able to glance the forbidden mountain one last time before entering the ride. It is at this point you realize there's no turning back.

It is, perhaps, in full understanding of your decision to move towards the Forbidden Mountain that Tashi's is quick to provide a diversion. Once inside, you are bombarded by all manner of goods available for purchase. Primarily a shop focused on selling you mountaineering equipment, Tashi's Trek and Tongba Shop is also your last chance for buying a drink before ascending the peak. Tongba is a Nepalese drink, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented millet. (While this doesn't exactly sound like a martini or a Bud to most, this drink, to those in Nepal, is analogous to what wine means to France, what sake means to Japan, what vodka means to Russia, etc., etc.) If you look closely at the menu board, you'll see that you can order some peanuts to go with that drink.

In addition to food and drink, the shop is full of hiking gear, both new and used, as the sign above the entrance indicated. You can take your pick of sleeping bags, mittens, tea pots, ropes, canned goods, lanterns, carabiners, footwear -- the list goes on and on.

As for me, I should've picked up one of those great Serka Zong t-shirts. Oh well, there's always next time!

These photographs were taken by the author in November, 2007.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

The Mandir and The Murti

As you depart the the offices of the Himalayan Escapes Tours and Expeditions you enter the area of the mandir. A mandir is a Hindu shrine or place of worship common to Asia and features a murti, which is an image of the primary deity for which the shrine was built. In Hinduism, the murti is considered worthy of worship once the divine spirit of the deity is invoked and is often the focus of devotion and meditation; the ringing of bells is one way to invoke a spirit. In Expedition Everest it's pretty clear to whom the shrine was built and to whom the village looks to for protection.

The presence of the murti provides a mystical form of communication with the Hindi gods, or Devas, and the mandir served as a place to make sacrifices and to request protection or favor. If, indeed, the village elders of Serka Zong are correct in saying the Yeti guards both the Forbidden Mountain, just outside of the village, and the greater Himalayas, it would make sense to find these shrines on your way to the mountain.

If you closely examine the mandir area you will find small offerings made to the Yeti, customary prayer flags displayed throughout the village, and beautiful wood carvings and lyrical bells along the path. As you make your way through the remainder of a the outdoor queue you're reminded of the Anandapur Tea Company and the role it plays in the village. After all, you're going to use the old tea train in your shortcut through the Forbidden Mountain, provided not too many people have unwittingly wakened the Yeti as they pass through.

These photographs were taken by the author in November, 2007.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Himalayan Escapes Tours and Expeditions

Upon entering the Himalayan Escapes Tours and Expeditions office in Serka Zong you are frozen in space, halted by the attention to detail and the copious amounts of 'stuff' in the office. Only then do you start to realize the emphasis Rohde and his team placed on ambient story telling for Expedition Everest - The Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. Ambient story telling, a feature of the best Disney theme park attractions, relies on subtle visual and aural clues to underscore for a guest the overall story line of the attraction.

In my opinion, it's ambient story telling that also makes the Hollywood Hotel Tower of Terror stand out and apart from other attractions at the parks. The Tower of Terror relies on this story telling art to help flesh out the storyline by including time and mood relevant background music, set design pieces that alert you to the fact not only hasn't the hotel been used in a long, long time but most likely it's haunted, and repeats the core tenet multiple times: that something odd and unusual happened in the elevator bay. In much the same way (only better!) Expedition Everest prepares you for the attraction through repetition of the key story line: a yeti protects the very mountain you're about to ascend.

The first building in the stand-by queue, as mentioned, is the Himalayan Escapes Tours and Expeditions office. Inside you'll find all manner of office items and picture homages to various mountain ranges. Additionally, you'll find personal keepsakes belonging to Bob and Norbu, the proprietors of Himalayan Escapes Tours; these include tour books, photographs, Buddhist statues, and other items which represent Himalayan culture. It's only after you leave the tour guide office and head into the mandir, or the dedicated shrine area of the queue, that you realize how important a role the Yeti plays here in Serka Zong as a protector of the mountain.

These photographs were taken by the author in November, 2007.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Road to Serka Zong

As you leave Anandapur and make your way toward Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Kingdom you enter the village of Serka Zong. Your first glimpse of the mountain is across the water at a shrine. An obvious picture stop, and a beautiful one at that, the respectful visitor would be wise to offer a gift of fruit and closely inspect the tokens left by others before you.

The approach to the forbidden mountain offers clues as to what lies in store; buildings on the path are constructed to be outfitters, hotels, and other similar businesses. Based on the goods hanging from the ceilings at Gupta's Gear there's much for sale. Sleeping bags, cooking tools, backpacks, and hiking gear beckon as you walk by.

Everything you see prepares you for the mountain; the stores and buildings are not the only items that provide an inkling of what lies in store. If you look closely at the prayer flags, the cycle tracks in the concrete, read the roadside stands, and listen to the background music you begin to realize this attraction has, in effect, the longest queue area of any Disney theme park attraction. Due to the spectacular attention to detail, Joe Rohde and his team have literally transported you from central Florida and straight to central Asia. The only way to describe this seamless transition from area to E-ticket attraction is for you to close your eyes and imagine the Hollywood Hotel Tower of Terror took you on a quarter mile walk past buildings, signs, and vistas prior to entering the hotel lobby.

Your penultimate destination, before stepping into the ride itself, are the offices of the Himalayan Escapes Tours and Expeditions broker. Next stop, Expedition Everest.

These photographs were taken by the author in November, 2007.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Tallest Mountain of Them All

It's amazing to me, how in the same park, one thing can be so bad and another so good. Monday's missive made it clear what I consider to be the weakest and most completely unnecessary element within Disney's Animal Kingdom. Please allow me to now tell you what I believe to be one of the best two attractions to ever grace a Disney theme park in terms of concept and execution.

For those of you, myself included, who are completely enamored with Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain please note this attraction owes its existence to the death of the Beastly Kingdom concept. As part of the original Animal Kingdom master planning Beastly Kingdom would open in the second wave of DAK's projected life span and reside where Camp Minnie-Mickey currently sits. For reasons that justify the salaries and activities of a multitude of employees at Disney but do not make sense to the guest it was decided that monies originally slated for DAK development be poured instead into upgrades for The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney-MGM Studios. (The idea here is that park attendance in the older sisters would drop during DAK's first few years. If attractions were added here then attendance drops would be mitigated. Please see Jim Hill media and reference a three part story written in 2000 for more detail.)

These additions had problems of their own (e.g., Test Track) and some, thank goodness, were never built. Regardless, Beastly Kingdom never went into production due to a lack of funds. When the pocketbook reopened, many years later, the ideas originally planned for Beastly Kingdom had been 'pirated' by Universal's Islands of Adventure park. As such, it was back to the drawing board and Expedition Everest was the result.

As I said earlier, it's amazing when you compare and contrast the quality of this attraction to the Chester and Hester Dino-Rama area. Expedition Everest offers fantastic themes, wonderful story telling, and an E-ticket worthy of the Disney name. Joe Rohde is my hero!

These photographs were taken by the author in November, 2007.

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Monday, January 7, 2008

Carnival Rides

I'm sure many of you have, from time to time, looked at a new or refurbished attraction at a Disney theme park and said to yourself, "Wow; Walt would turn over in his grave if he saw this." And while change is necessary to keep the parks fresh and attractive to wide ranges of guests I, too, have my doubts from time to time. In particular, I have long held the belief that the addition of Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama to Dinoland USA in Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom is counter productive to the original park concept and a step in the wrong direction.

When I first visited Disney's Animal Kingdom in 1999 I quickly realized the park held a limited appeal for families with small children. A label had been quickly slapped onto the park that it was a half-day visit, at best. Besieged by relentless sun, poor signage, and a dearth of activities for kids, this new park failed to generate the excitement it rightly deserved. After all, DAK was a brilliant coup by Joe Rodhe; a Disney property completed dedicated to something not part of Walt's overall master plan and devoted to animals at that! DAK took a lot of heat but weathered the storm well and added a range of new attractions over its ten year history that make it very much a full-day, if not more, adventure. I am in love with the village of Anandapur, Expedition Everest, and the entirety of the Asia area; Harambe in Africa is also excellent in its overall concept and execution. However, the decision to add a kid-friendly area within Dinoland USA, while wise in its decision, failed in its execution.

The ground Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama occupies first hosted the Fossil Preparation Lab and the Dinosaur Jubilee attractions. (Not that these were highly popular attractions - try Googling them and you'll see.) These attractions were quite sedate, even by DAK standards, and I'm sure McDonald's, the Dinoland USA sponsor, was anxious to see more bodies visit this area of the park, especially those who are fond of Happy Meals. Chester and Hester's Dinosaur Treasures already existed and it must have been an easy transition from concept to planning to add more Chester and Hester when the decision was made to increase Dinoland's foot traffic. Dinosaur Sue, the primary reason to visit the original attractions, had been restored (there is a great story behind the purchase of the skeleton by Disney and McDonald's for the Chicago Field Museum) and a kid friendly area was soon in the works.

At some point a decision was made to establish a carnival type atmosphere for this area and this is what strikes me as odd. Prior and during construction of Disneyland, Walt was very clear it would not be a carnival and worked very hard to differentiate his park from other amusement parks of the time. Joe Rohde however, in an interview stated: "Walt wanted to get away from the reality of what carnivals are," said Rohde, "This will have the warm, nostalgic feel of what a carnival looked like to a child in the 1930s and 40s. It won't have the vulgar and offensive things we see as adults." As such, a decision to move forward with a carnival area would be sure to ring false with the purists and would need to be carried out in a way that validated the plan.

As images of the new area began to hit to web it became clear midway games and two attractions would comprise the new space. While the rides and games are innocuous they seem, to me, out of place and unnecessary. Just about every attraction, show, and building within DAK plays an important role in telling the overall story of the park. How does the addition of Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama help tell the story? Where is the value-add to the park?

Another glaring omission is the absence of any plant or animal life in this space and, in contrast, the abundance of concrete. This is a park that breathes flora and fauna and it strikes me odd that all elements have been removed in order to provide a carnival area for kids. Lastly, the removal of the previous attractions took with it a strong educational element to the park. I am one of the first to say the removal of the educational aspect of Innoventions and the closing of the teacher's resources within Epcot underscore the importance of entertainment vs. education and this pretty much follows suit. It's important to get people into the parks and entertain them. Likewise, it's important to protect the brand and keep the Disney theme parks unique and special.

These photographs were taken by the author in November, 2007.

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