Monday, April 30, 2012

Test Track

Disney has recently released concept art for the new Test Track that will open up after a long refurbishment and down time sometime in the late Fall.

I loved the old Test Track.  I think that Epcot needed a thrill ride in order to stay on par with its theme park brothers.  And, in true Disney style, they didn't just make a thrill ride for the sake of making a thrill ride.  The theme was great and it fit perfectly into Future World.

The ride took you through the world of car testing.  The queue let you see various tests that cars go through during various testing phases and the ride itself put you in the place of crash test dummies as you put your car through a series of tests including a brake test, a hot air test, a cold air test and a swerving test.  All of this was leading up to the barrier test that you see in all of the car commercials.  Don't worry though, at the last moment, the barrier opened up and your vehicle flew out into a turn around the outside of the pavilion at over 60 miles per hour.

That said, I am looking forward to seeing what's next for this ride.  One of the issues that I hope they tackle is the fact that this ride is notorious for breaking down.  I remember the first year that I was down there when it opened.  We waited two hours in the queue line only to get front of the line passes for later because of the thunder storm.  It seems the ride is either too dangerous or doesn't function correctly if there is a lot of lightning around.

We went back to Epcot on our last day so we could ride Test Track.  We used our passes and got into our car.  We went up the first embankment and stopped.  They shut the ride down again and we were given more front of the line passes.

Did you like Test Track?  Are you looking forward to riding the new Test Track?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Disney and The Avengers

With the premiere of The Avengers only a week away, my wife and I are hosting a movie marathon this weekend.  We are going to watch all of the movies leading up to The Avengers (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America).

As we have been preparing I began thinking about the connections that these movies have with Disney.

For example, Howard Stark is very clearly modeled after both Howard Hughes and Walt Disney.  The scenes with him explaining the Stark Expo are definite call backs to "Uncle Walt" when he was describing his vision for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

Another connection between Disney and the Avengers movies is the Stark Expo itself, both in Iron Man 2 and in Captain America.  The Stark Expo is Marvel's version of the World's Fair in which Disney had a major presence with new technologies and rides, many of which eventually ended up in the parks (like It's A Small World).  Those of us who weren't around for the fair may be reminded of something else though.

Future World in Epcot is also modeled after the World's Fair.

Richard Sherman, who, with his brother Robert, wrote a ton of songs for both Disney movies (The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book) and park attractions (you can thank them for "It's A Small World").  For the Iron Man 2 soundtrack he wrote a song called "Tomorrow's Coming Today" which has allusions to another song he wrote for Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress called "There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow."

Incidently, the Carousel of Progress made its debut at the World's Fair in 1964.

Are there any connections that I missed?  What about The Avengers are you looking forward to the most?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Movie Review: Chimpanzee

My wife and I have made it a tradition the past few years of going to see the new Disneynature movie during opening week since Earth came out in 2009.

Overall, we really enjoy the series, but Chimpanzee is by far the best one to date.

The cinematography is beautiful (I could watch the shots of lightning all day) as is the music.  And Tim Allen is the best narrator that I've heard from this series (and I love James Earl Jones).  I enjoyed his commentary and the fact that he wasn't dry - his humor came through but he wasn't silly (and his reference to his Tool Time days was great).

What I find most intriguing about the movie is the story itself.  I realize that the movie was edited and crafted in ways to make certain points and make the story flow, but at it's core, this is not a story Disney made up.  They happened upon it, by accident.  They didn't know when they first started keeping tabs on this group of chimps that a unique bond between Oscar and Freddie would develop.

The story of the leader (in this case, the alpha male) adopting the outcast orphan is a story written by the original storyteller and it is played out beautifully on screen.

If you haven't seen it yet, check it out before the week is up.  During opening week some of the proceeds go towards the Jane Goodall Foundation.

How can this movie get you excited about going to the Disney Parks?  When I think about the Disneynature movies, I think of Animal Kingdom.  Rafiki's Planet Watch and the Africa land would be great places to bring Chimpanzee in.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Photopass +

Disney announced recently a new, updated version to their Photopass system.

If you're not familiar with Photopass, basically, whenever a Cast Member takes a picture of your group (in front of Cinderella Castle for example) they will give you a card that they scanned with that photo's information on it.  You can then hand your card to any other Cast Member photographers that you see throughout the day and add to your Photopass album.

I'm don't fully understand the difference between the old Photopass and Photopass +, but it seems to be that the plus includes certain ride photos and dinner photos.  Again, I don't fully understand it because on our honeymoon, my wife and I were able to get our Test Track photo on the Photopass card, but maybe they were testing it out at the time.

After I heard about the new system and how it includes not only photos by Cast Members, but rides and dinners as well, I thought about how this could be beneficial to the trip that we're taking in the Fall with our friends.

The cost for the new Photopass is roughly $200 and since we have somewhere between 8 and 10 people going on the trip, that means somewhere between $20 and $25 a person.  This seems like a pretty good deal.  We'd be able to get a lot of group shots (instead of either a)somebody standing behind the camera and not in the photo or b)giving our camera to a stranger) as well as all of the ride photos.

Instead of having to pick and choose which ones we want, we could get them all on a CD for a relatively good price.

If it was just my wife and I, or if we were just planning on visiting one park, I don't think this would be worth the money, but because of the size of the group and because we plan on visiting all four parks - I think this is worth looking into.

What do you think about the new Photopass +?  Would you use it?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Game Review: Animal Kingdom Explorers

Disney has had a rough time in the video game industry. With a few notable exceptions (the Kingdom Hearts series, Epic Mickey and Where's My Water? for example) they tend to miss the mark.

Recently, Disney released a new game on Facebook called Animal Kingdom Explorers. The point of the game is to build your own wildlife reserve, complete with your own Tree of Life. In order to get the funds and experience needed to build your reserve, you have to find and re-find hidden objects in different scenes.

I really want to like this game, but I find myself quickly bored and not fully buying into it.

I enjoy building my own reserve. It reminds me of Roller Coaster Tycoon, a favorite game of mine as a kid. There are also several references to DAK, which I also enjoy finding.

The problem comes from the slow pace of the game. Earning money and experience either require you to wait while you, in essence, recharge or, you can pay Facebook to recharge you quicker.

I refuse to do the latter and the former takes too long that I get bored too quickly.

Overall, it's a good place for Disney to start with this type of video game, but there is definite room for improvement.

Have you played Animal Kingdom Explorers? What do you think?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Night Rider

You may think that it doesn't matter what time of day you ride the rides at Disney. That the ride stays the same morning, noon and night.

My 10-year-old self would tell you differently. As we approached the Haunted Mansion, I told my dad, "I don't want to ride this ride when it's dark. We'll be back tomorrow, we can ride it then."

After dark - everything changes.

Well, maybe not everything, but for certain rides, the experience changes dramatically from day to night. How much more intimidating is that haunted hotel looming in the distance surrounded by darkness?

That final drop on Splash Mountain can seem to last forever when you can't see the briar patch you're plummeting towards.

Next door, at Big Thunder Mountain, there is a completely new scene that you pass by at night. Seems the sleepy little town livens up after the sun goes down.

Both the Astro Orbiter and Dumbo give you beautiful views of the park during the day - how much more so at night?

And a leisurely ride on the TTA at sunset affords a wonderful view of Tomorrowland.

What other rides or attractions seem to change from day to night?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Video Saturdays - Flag Ceremony

I wanted to wrap up this weeks look at Main St. with a video of an often overlooked event that happens everyday. Usually, a veteran gets chosen to be a part of the flag lowering ceremony. Every afternoon, around 5, there is a small ceremony that takes place in the courtyard of Main St. in which the big flag gets lowered by the veteran(s) while the Disney World Band plays songs like the Star Spangled Banner. But enough talking, here's a video of the ceremony:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Music Review: Walt Disney World Band

Disney, as a company, is known for memorable music and the theme parks are no exception.

I can't even mention "It's A Small World" to you without it getting stuck in your head for the rest of the day (Sorry about that, by the way).

In recent years, Disney has realized that many of us would love to have these songs at home where we can listen to them and relive those memories whenever we want. The WDW Band CD is one of those realizations.

It is an interesting CD to release because a large portion of the songs are not Disney related and the ones that are related to Disney are older, less well known songs like the Mickey Mouse March and 'Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"

As someone who didn't grow up with the Mickey Mouse Club or the Three Little Pigs and was never in the band, I wasn't sure that I would enjoy this CD.

Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised overall. The most important thing, I think, is that it transported me back to Main St. The style itself, but also the song selection were big factors in taking me back in time. Had the songs been from the more contemporary movies like Aladdin or Enchanted, I wouldn't get the feeling of being in a small town at the turn of the century.

If you enjoy older Disney classics, marching bands or you just want to go back in time and revisit Main St., this is a CD worth listening to.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Street Performers

I was watching a Disney World special on The Travel Channel one day where they followed a family around the parks throughout the day.

One morning at the Magic Kingdom they were stopped by some of the citizens of Main St. There's many of them walking around - from a singing quartet to the mayor himself.

My first thought was, "I would be so anxious if we got stopped by these guys. If we don't get to Splash Mountain now, we'll have to wait, like, four hours in line to ride it. Move along people."

But, as I thought about it more, I realized that these characters are an attraction in and of themselves and an experience not worth rushing past.

In reality, Splash Mountain will be open all day long and there are other ways and times you can ride it without waiting that long.

Yes, there is a huge castle at the end of Main St. pulling us towards it as if it had some magnetic ability, but I want to learn not to hurry so much. It is a vacation after all, and who knows what memories I could be missing out on by rushing from ride to ride.

Friday, April 6, 2012

On Souvenirs

Let's be honest, souvenirs can be a huge budget breaker. There is so much to choose from and, honestly, a lot of it is not that impressive or cheap.

One of the souvenirs that I have collected for years is the squashed penny (also quarters, dimes, I'm not picky). For .51 cents you can get a penny that has been pressed, elongated and imprinted with a design.

My dad has never been a big fan of them, I guess because they seem not very impressive. In his words, "Give me two quarters and a penny and I'll give you your penny back." My response has always been, "If you can do what those machines do with my penny, then sure, you can have two quarters."

I have over a hundred pennies from all over the country that I've been collecting for at least 15 years. That's just over $50 that I've spent on these souvenirs. So, instead of spending $5o per trip, I've spent that much since I was 10 years old. Which is another positive aspect to this particular collection - kids can afford it, literally, out of their pocket.

Part of the fun in collecting them is the hunt for penny machines, but if you want a general list of where they can be found at WDW you can check here and here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book Review: The Kingdom Keepers Series

The fifth installment of Ridley Pearson's Kingdom Keepers series came out yesterday so I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring them up.

The series follows a group of kids who, through the use of special technology, can enter the Disney parks at night.

They realize that the characters and attractions come alive at night (a la "Night at the Museum") which is all fun and games until they discover that the Disney villians, led by Maleficent, are trying to take over the parks.

Now they, with the help of the last imagineer to work with Walt himself, must find a way to stop them.

Overall, these books are wonderful. My biggest criticism of the books is that sometimes they can get repetitive. The kids repeat themselves often, reciting various rules or boundaries over and over. There is even a repetitive nature at the beginning of the books going back and explaining the who's and how's of what's going on. This is only a small criticism because I think this technique works well for kids books (of which this series qualifies) - but I'm not a kid, so the repetition becomes tedious after awhile.

That aside, these books are very well written and researched. Having been to the parks multiple times over the years, I can see, in my mind, where the Kingdom Keepers are throughout the parks. And I love that he brings in other Disney related topics, like the movies, the Disney Channel, even the old Virtual Magic Kingdom game.

I need to catch up (I'm reading number three right now), but I love how the characters are interacting with each other and growing.

I also love how this series can serve as a bookend to a Disney trip - at the beginning to get you and/or your kids excited about the trip or at the end to help you remember your time there. Finding creative ways to extend your vacation in either direction can be a really good way to experience more without paying more.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Avengorail

I am a big comic book/superhero fan and I cannot wait for May 4th when the Avengers opens. I was also really excited when I heard that WDW was going to wrap one of their monorails to promote the movie is the same way they did with Tron: Legacy.

If you're down there over the summer, be sure to check it out. Also, you can see it on the video below

Fun Fact: Because Universal has the rights to Marvel themed attractions east of the Mississippi for the next few years, Disney had to wrap one of the monorails that doesn't go through Epcot so that there wouldn't be any Marvel in the parks.