Sunday, August 30, 2009

All Aboard the WDW Railroad

Many times the PFTP staff grow a bit weary during a visit to the Magic Kingdom and opt for a more relaxing means of seeing the world, via one of the steam trains on the Walt Disney World Railroad.

The Main Street USA Station serves as the anchor to the park and is a wonderful recreation of an early twentieth century station.

The inside of the station is just as beautiful as the exterior and guests are treated to a good idea of what someone would encounter inside a rail station of that period. We've discussed the interior before and still feel the murals on the walls are one of the best underlying storytelling techniques in the park.

Though not included in today's photos and 2-for-1 movie special are the items found on the ground level of the station. Take some time to explore the maps and paraphernalia located beneath the loading platform.

Once you've boarded, be sure to take a seat on the right-hand side of the train if you want an unobstructed view of the interior perimeter of the park. As you depart the Main Street Station, you'll see the continuation of some of the City Hall building on Main Street USA, the attention to detail regarding how and when the facade begins and ends is fantastic.

Soon you're swallowed up by trees on each side and the wonderful sounds of Adventureland fill the air. This is an interesting part of the trip as there's nothing to 'see' as you pass by the far end of the Jungle Cruise attraction; as such, Imagineering fills this visual gap with a detailed narrative describing the attraction. About a minute and a half into the tour the train crossing signal will sound as you cross over an access road located in the west side of the park, Caribbean Way (aptly named for the attraction it skirts by). It is here you see Desperation Outpost, one of the more interesting pieces of staging on the tour. Almost immediately after you pass the outpost you cross over the same access road and head towards the Pirates of the Caribbean tunnel.

It is here the narration changes to highlight the attractions located within Frontierland. As you draw closer to the next station the train crosses the Frontierland parade route; this is where parades in the Magic Kingdom either begin or end their trip. In this picture, we see cast members part of the Woody's Cowboy Camp street party exiting Frontierland.

Next is the Splash Mountain tunnel which features a live look inside the attraction, a la the Tomorrowland Transit Authority's look into Buzz Lightyear and Space Mountain. The Frontierland Station has an interesting history in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. In order to accommodate Splash Mountain, the original station was razed and relocated to where it stands today.

This station is quite a contrast to the old one, Widen Your World has an excellent page devoted to the original. If you have some time to spare, be sure to check out the details inside the ticket offices located on both the north and south sides of the station.

It is just as you depart the Frontierland Station that you can look over and into Big Thunder Mountain and the dry gulch. Keep your cameras at the ready as you leave the station as there's almost always a Big Thunder train that will pass you by.

As you cross the Rivers of America you're treated to a view of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad not provided to those who choose not to ride the rails.

The bridge was purchased and not designed by the Imagineers and is called the swing bridge as it can rotate on its center point to allow the Liberty Belle access to her maintenance area. It is also here that the Rivers of America connect via a causeway to the Seven Seas Lagoon.

Before you know it the narration changes over to Pocahontas; who knew Big Thunder Mountain was located right next door to Jamestown? If you're able to suspend your geographical disbelief as you pass through the Indian Village keep your eyes peeled for wildlife and critters who dot the landscape from here to Mickey's Toontown Station.

This long stretch provides ample time for the narration to provide details regarding the four steam trains that currently operate in the Magic Kingdom. Eagle eyed guests might take the 2 minutes it takes to reach the next station to look in towards the park across the scrub brush and pines to peer towards the backside of Fantasyland. At one point, you pass less than 100ft. from a parking area inside the park otherwise invisible. Soon you pass under the appropriately named service road, Magic Kingdom Drive, and before you arrive at Mickey's Toontown Station take a second to look to the right, where you'll see another set of tracks that lead to the Walt Disney World Railroad Roundhouse. The Roundhouse is in the same facility as the central bay for the WDW Monorail. Guests who purchase tickets to the Magic Behind the Steam Trains tour are treated to a once in a lifetime view of this area and also receive a chance to sit inside one of the engines.

Mickey's Toontown Fair Station opened in 1988 and was the first additional station following the original 1971 Main Street USA and Frontierland stations. At its opening, it was called Mickey's Birthdayland Station, became Mickey's Starland Station in 1990, and obtained its current name in 1996. When the construction of Splash Mountain necessitated the demolition of the original Frontierland Station, the water tower from Frontierland was moved here and the trains ran from Main Street USA to this location, forward and reverse, until the new Frontierland Station opened.

This station was refurbished/rebuilt in 2004 with the new station very much like the previous in appearance. As many authors have noted, guests who depart the train here and take the walkway to Tomorrowland have an excellent location to take pictures of the train itself; this is a highly recommended walk that also provides great views of the TTA, Space Mountain, and areas beyond.

Guests who remain on board at the Toontown Station are provided a blast from the past: Andreas Vollenweider's 'Night Fire Dance', one of the older Tomorrowland background music pieces, still plays on the train helping to set the stage for Tomorrowland. (Check out PFTP's 'Old Tomorrowland' playlist at right, after the list of labels, in the blue section to listen to this track.) Guests are also provided excellent views of the Tomorrowland Speedway. (Note: the park recently changed the name from Tomorrowland Indy Speedway to Tomorrowland Indy Speedway when its 1999 agreement with IRL ended. Sadly, the Indy Car shell which sat in front of the attraction queue is also gone.) Be glad you're sitting inside the train and not the cars. If you're lucky, you might hear the dulcet tones of Tom Carnegie calling the race from across the track. Can anyone confirm if the WDW Railroad narration has been updated to remove the Tomorrowland *Indy* Speedway reference?

Just past the 7 1/2mph cars you can look upwards to the Tomorrowland Transit Authority and just past that is the Tomorrowland Light & Power Company and Space Mountain.

Most do not realize the WDW Railroad passes directly over the internal queue for Space Mountain and as you pass by the Light & Power Company you're treated to an unusual reflected view of the train to the right.

After two minutes, one bad pun, an abrupt shift in music, and long/short whistle pull later, you return to the Main Street USA station and can either disembark or remain on board. Many times the PFTP staff have been caught taking a quick nap on this attraction and we hope you might, too, one day soon. (Just watch out for the strollers.)

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

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Disneyland Railroad Station at Dusk

Dusk is a great time to take photos in the parks. While most of us glory in talking pictures in the full sun or try to get that 'just right' fireworks photo at night, take the opportunity to explore your favorite landmark or attraction at dusk. (If you're an early riser, dawn offers a great time to snap some shots of your resort.) When taking photos after the sun sets and before it becomes truly dark there a few things you can do to capture a great image.
  1. Consider using the landscape setting on your camera; this will increase your depth of field and assist in capturing the available light.
  2. Resist the temptation to use the flash. In fact, always try to go without the flash first.
  3. Find a railing, bring your tripod, or activate the vibration reduction feature on your camera. (You'll notice that up close, this image actually has a good amount of blur to it. Use a railing or trashcan if you can.)

This image was taken just before 7pm Disneyland time in February, or just over an hour after official sunset. There was still a good amount of light and because I chose not to use the flash the picture draws attention to the station and not the shrubs, railing, or trees which are closer to the camera. If you get the chance next time you're in the parks, try the above approach to your photos when it's after sunset but still not dark.

This photograph was taken by the author in February, 2009.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bobsleds at Dusk

The iconic image of this attraction in the mind is the Matterhorn itself; as a result, most photographs are of the mountain. However, the attraction provides a number of other photograph opportunities. This image, taken at dusk, is to the left of the boarding area and queue and provides many depth of field options for the amateur photographer. The image below was taken without flash on a one second exposure.

This photograph was taken by the author in February, 2009.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

All signs lead to. . .Splash Mountain?

Well, it sure seems that way if you're in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. It doesn't matter if you approach Splash Mountain from Liberty Square or Adventureland, it seems like all sign point towards the wonderful 'you may get wet' attraction. (Restrooms, too, are important!)

PTFP staff are especially fond of signs in the park and these first two signs are just the appetizers; the buffet bar is coming up.

The next three images depict one of the all-time classic signs in Frontierland. Located right at the parade route entrance/exit, this whimsical sign is often overlooked by those who enter the area from Liberty Square.

If, however, you approach the first of the mountains from Adventureland you can't help but see this signpost which occupies a location past the former Frontierland Fries spot and just prior to the Kodak PictureSpot outside of Splash Mountain.

A great finishing touch to this sign is the Splash Mountain specific theme and the unique style applied to the Haunted Mansion sign. Next time you're in WDW's Magic Kingdom, be sure to stop and take a look at this unobtrusive, yet highly creative sign in the parks.

These photographs were taken by the author in November 2007 and 2008.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Exit Signs, Part 4 - WDW Frontierland Railroad Station

Yet another treasure trove of EXIT signs, the Frontierland Railroad Station in Walt Disney World is conveniently located next to the attraction highlighted in our last post, Splash Mountain. While not as extravagant as the Main St. USA station it, too, offers a two-story edifice with lots of detail. The PFTP staff is particularly fond of exiting the station on the right where you can catch some eagle eye views of the Splash Mountain queue and read up on the attraction as well.

The first EXIT sign guests see when arriving at the station is to assist in exiting the train.

As soon as guests depart there is another to guide them down the stairs and to the attractions.

Lastly, should anyone choose to ascend the stairs back into the station after departing, via the wrong queue, this beauty makes sure you choose the correct line.

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

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Exit Signs, Part 3 - Splash Mountain at Walt Disney World

Ah; there's nothing like the anticipation of a lazy ride down a river made more enjoyable by the story of Brer Rabbit and his 'frenemies', accentuated by a fifty-foot plunge and the refrain of 'Everybody has a Laughin' Place'.

Come to think of it, that's probably not what everyone looks forward to during a day in the Parks and as our intrepid staff can attest, at least one of our crack researchers doesn't want anything to do with this attraction at all. (How is that possible, you ask? We don't know ourselves.) To assist those fail to appreciate either Tony Baxter's brainchild or wet clothes (we're counting on the latter) the attraction within Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom provides ample opportunity to exit.

Guests in the queue while not treated to the same type of signage as in Disneyland that sets the storyline do experience a fabulous up/down, left/right area that keeps all ages entertained during the interminable wait. There are plenty of soft warning signs to indicate the adventure ahead may get you wet and these are all done in a beautiful style.

As you reach the boarding area there are several wonderful glimpses of signs in the open area. This is a sign geek's nirvana with exit signs everywhere.

As you walk towards the 'last chance to exit' sign with Brer Rabbit above, the sign below appears to your left. This, truly, is your last chance! Even better, the sign combines the ubiquitous hand pointer image along with EXIT. Is there a better place in the park?

There's one last look at the beautiful 'you may will get wet' sign as you board and you're off. (Looks like that one kid, at bottom center, has taken his eyes off the sign and is interested in our camera, instead. Consider yourself warned, kiddo.)

Once the fuss is over, there's one last gorgeous exit sign complete with a bluebird on top. This sign truly takes the cake and is a personal favorite of the PTFP staff.

Well, we've just about exhausted EXIT signs for Splash Mountain and to show we're an equal opportunity photo blogger, here's an Entrance sign!

These photographs were taken by the author in November 208 and 2009.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Exit Signs, Part 2 - Splash Mountain at Disneyland

Of all the attractions within the Disney Parks, Splash Mountain takes the cake in terms of creative and beautiful exit signs. (Of course, it helps when a guest is reminded every 200 ft. in the queue that 'you will get wet'; most of these indicators include an exit suggestion.) And while the overall theme is similar between the DL and WDW versions of this attraction each has its own unique feel.

Disneyland's Splash Mountain, the original, brings into play a bunch of visual cues and styles. This first example, in the ride queue, uses a similar style as the signs at the beginning, which help set the story.

The next image is of an emergency exit sign in the ride itself, with the added bonus of a State of CA code exit sign located on the right. This exit sign is in keeping with all of the signs guests see during the ride in that it uses the same font.

Following the plunge guests are assisted by the sign below that shows which way to, well, exit. This sign is intriguing if only due to the fact it aligns with other signs in the queue and not the ride itself.

As you exit Splash Mountain in DL, you pass through the baby-swap area where the signage returns to the more serious signs and also the storyline told in the full queue (that all this happened a long time ago, when critters were more like folks and folks more like critters).

Speaking of which, those 'you will get wet' signs are actually a bit more specific and are always the same in the attraction. These signs, highlighted by 'FIFTY FOOT PLUNGE AHEAD' are among my favorites and while not official safety signs (please see the very last image in this post), surely look like it. However, if you look closely, there's no 'expectant mothers should not ride' language. I wonder how Disney classifies these signs - those that occupy some middle area between code/safety signs and story signs. The image below shows the stand-by line entrance where the two occupy the same place.

And, finally, the 'you may get wet' and official safety sign under the watchful gaze of a code Exit sign.

These photographs were taken by the author in February, 2009.

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Exit Signs, Part 1

Ah, the EXIT sign; simply put, they're everywhere. In fact, I'd venture to say there may be more exit signs in the parks than anything else, perhaps more than Cast Members even (but certainly not guests). A by-product of codes and regulations, exit signs stare at us from all vantage points; within attractions, restaurants, shops, buses, and bathrooms.

Let's consider the plight of the standard exit sign, using the State of California Code of Regulations as a guide:

§3216. Exit Signs.

(a) Luminance. Exit and directional signs shall have a luminance on the face of such signs of not less than 50 lux. The words used on such signs shall be in block letters at least 6 inches in height with a stroke of not less than 3/4 inch. Exception: Existing signs may have the word "EXIT" in lettering not less than 5 inches high with principal strokes of letters of not less than 1/2 inch. Letters shall be of such color or design as to be in strong contrast to the background of the sign. Arrows or other directional symbols shall be of equal visibility to that stipulated herein for letters.

(b) Location. Exit or directional signs, or both, shall be provided at every exit door, at the intersection of corridors, at exit stairways or ramps and at such other locations and intervals as are necessary to provide the occupants with knowledge of the various means of egress available. Exit or directional signs need not be provided for the following:

(1) Any room or building having an occupant load of 50 or less;

(2) Dwellings units in Group R, Division 1 Occupancies;

(3) When approved, the main exterior exit doors obviously and clearly identifiable as exits. (Title 24, Part 2, Section 2-3312(c)(3).)

(c) Electrically Illuminated Signs. Exit and exit directional signs which are required to be electrically illuminated shall be lighted with two electric lamps, either one of which shall be sufficient to provide the required luminance on the face of the sign. NOTE: Radioactive isotope self powered signs with a luminance of not less than 0.02 lamberts during its useful life will be acceptable.

(Title 24, Part 2, Section 2-3312(c)(2).)

NOTE: Authority cited: Section 142.3, Labor Code. Reference: Section 142.3, Labor Code; and Section 18943(c), Health and Safety Code.

That's what the law states, and we've seen the evidence to support these signs are everywhere in the parks. However, what about all of the 'other' exit signs? The signs that kindly point the way to guests within the parks; signs that blend into the attraction and help tell the story? These are the signs worth examining in greater detail. A more attractive sibling of the utilitarian 'EXIT', these signs are just as ubiquitous and far more easy on the eye.

In this series of posts, PTFP will share a sampling of our staff's favorite 'other' exit signs, beginning with the one below. Does this one look familiar to anyone?

This photograph was taken by the author in November, 2008.