D.I.S.N.E.Y. #3 – The Spinners

You know, a lot of blogs do write-ups on the big rides – Tower of Terror, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion – but the little rides are often neglected. So, I decided to do a D.I.S.N.E.Y. feature (Discovering Information, Scenes and Nostalgia by Exploring Yesterday) on the 4 spinners located at Walt Disney World.

Astro Orbiter (Magic Kingdom)

Astro Orbiter opened in Magic Kingdom in 1974 as Star Jets, as part of the Tomorrowland expansion three years after Magic Kingdom opened. The expansion included the opening of Space Mountain and the WEDway People Mover (now the Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover) and the relocation of Carousel of Progress from California to Florida.

While Astro Orbiter is based off the Disneyland version of the ride, originally titled Astrojets, the ride vehicles are different, modeled after space shuttles rather than rockets. Like its Disneyland counterpart however, it is placed on top of the People Mover platform, and guests access it by elevator. It was also adorned with the same Saturn V Rocket in its central hub.

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The attraction was renovated in 1994 and renamed Astro Orbiter, though the narration aboard the TTA People Mover refers to the spinner as the “League of Planets Astro Orbiter”. The Saturn V Rocket in the middle of the ride vehicles was replaced with iron-work tower that exists today, featuring various planets branching off of it, to give the illusion of flying and weaving between planets.

Triceratop Spin (Animal Kingdom)

This spinner is located in the Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama mini-land in DinoLand USA, and opened in 1998. Ride vehicles are Triceratopses, and the descent of the ride takes you down into a large fossil. The mini-land in which this ride is located is meant to convey the folksy fun of carnivals and fairs. This spinner is inspired by the midway spinners that often appeared at those carnivals. While a lot of people don’t like the hokey-ness of Dino-rama, rides like Triceratop Spin really add to what Disney Imagineer Joe Rhode was going for when he designed it.

Magic Carpets of Aladdin (Magic Kingdom)

The Magic Carpets of Aladdin is located in Adventureland and opened in 2001. The ride vehicles are magic flying carpets, of course, and the central hub is topped with the Genie’s lamp. Surrounding shops are designed to look like Agrabah (the fictional land in which the 1992 movie takes places), and a camel at the queue entrance will spit on passing guests, similar to the large Stitch model outside the World of Disney store in Downtown Disney/Disney Springs.

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Dumbo The Flying Elephant (Magic Kingdom)

Dumbo was an original opening-day attraction, opening in 1971, based on the 1941 film. In the original iteration of the ride, Timothy Q. Mouse stood on the central hub on a disco bill, holding a whip. He was later changed and held a magic feather, and now sits atop the main sign.

In 2011, Fantasyland expanded and a second Dumbo carousel was opened in Storybook Circus, which opened in March 2012, built next to the original. They spin against each other (one clockwise, one counter-clockwise), and a water feature was added at the base of the carousel.

The main feature of the spinner is a new indoor queue based on the big-top from the film, and ticket themed pagers alert guests when it is their time to ride. A play area is also located inside the queue building.

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Overall Impressions

My favourite spinner is Dumbo, especially at night. Not only are the views spectacular, but the nostalgia effect is high for me – Dumbo is one of my favourite Disney films. I would rank Astro Orbiter second – the views of Tomorrowland are wonderful and the space travel theme of the ride is one I really enjoy.

The Future?

Spinners have a tendency of being viewed cynically – they don’t require a lot of imagination, and the ride logistics tend to sour people – long waits, long load times, little payoff if you’re older than 5. However, they take up little space and are great for younger kids, so they often get shoe-horned into lands that require a people-eater (think Magic Carpets of Aladdin or Kang and Kodos Twirl and  Hurl over at Universal Studios). While I don’t foresee Disney building a lot of spinners in the future, especially with Universal Studios showing a lot of imagination with recent and coming rides – Escape from Gringott’s, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Transformers 3D, King Kong Skull Island, I can see them building two – one in the upcoming Star Wars Land, and one in the upcoming Pixar Place expansion, perhaps modeled after Toy Story or Monsters Inc, merely for the purposes of taking the strain off of whatever the E-ticket attractions in those lands will be.

Personally, I’d love to see a Swedish Chef spinner where you ride in a pot and he’s trying to club you with a rolling pin…

What do you think? Do you love spinners? Hate them? Let me know!

D.I.S.N.E.Y. #1 – The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

This was part 1 in a series called D.I.S.N.E.Y., which stands for Discovering Information, Scenes and Nostalgia by Exploring Yesterday. This week’s Storybook Radio episode focuses on this attraction!

First, the basics. Tower of Terror can be found at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, at the end of Sunset Boulevard. It is adjacent to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith, the Beauty and the Beast Live stage show, and the Fantasmic theatre.

Tower of Terror is one of Disney World’s most popular attractions, due in large part to two main features – its detail and scale (it can be seen not just in DHS, but from various resort hotels and even from Epcot), and its status as a thrill ride.

What Is It?

Let’s get to the nuts and bolts of this attraction. You will begin the actual ride sequence in the “boiler room” at the back of the ride building. Your ride vehicle, a large freight elevator in which you are strapped in by a seat belt along with 20 other people, will meander into the the middle of the building along a track after a quick ascent. After another ascent, the elevator moves towards the front of the building; you will encounter some imagery along the way of various artifacts from The Twilight Zone, including the ghosts of the 5 people that went missing from the Hollywood Tower Hotel in 1939. Then, the elevator doors open, and you will be given your view of outside and just how high up you are – 13 stories high, in fact. You get this view for a second before your randomly selected ride sequence kicks in, meaning that you get a different experience each time you ride. Most ride sequences contain 3-4 drops and rises from various heights – actually, “drop” isn’t the right term because you are actually pulled down, faster than the speed of gravity no less, meaning you will come off your seat a little bit for an added thrill. The interesting aspect of this ride mechanism is that because you are being pulled, it allows greater control over the drops, meaning it’s actually safer than if you were actually dropped and stopped.

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Is It Scary?

This is probably the biggest question about this attraction, and the anticipation about the impending drops (in addition to being able to hear people screaming from more than 100 feet above you whenever the elevator doors open) often give people pause before climbing aboard. I was skittish myself, but like I said above, it has become one of my three favourite attractions in all of Walt Disney World. I would argue that the anticipation is the only “scary” part, in part because there’s a lot of it – forget the length of the queue in terms of minutes (you can generally find pretty short wait times at off-peak times of year). You make your way through a winding queue that uses a lot of forced perspective – and the meandering course the exterior queue takes is designed to actually disorient you a little before entering the hotel. Once inside, you wait to enter the library, where all the lights turn off and effects make you believe there is a heavy rainstorm outside (and it’s close to midnight) with lots of thunder and lightning. The TV mysteriously turns on by itself, and you are told that you will be recreating the doomed night of the 5 that went missing in 1939 when the hotel was struck by lightning. From there, you enter another queue, this time in the boiler room, where you will be taking the service elevator. All told, that’s a LOT of anticipation, with generally creepy effects, meaning that kids and adults prone to fear may find these devices too much. Once inside the elevator, you may wish for it to just be over with quickly, but no such luck – the ride is about 5 minutes long, with more creepy/spooky effects (ghosts, floating eyeballs, etc). However, this is where the fear stops. Once those doors to the outside open, this attraction is all about exhilaration,and you’ll likely be laughing and smiling all the way down. At the bottom, you may well wonder what you were so worried about in the first place.

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The History of the Tower of Terror

The Tower of Terror might very well have been an extremely different attraction if Imagineer C. McNair Wilson’s original concept had come to life. With Hollywood Studios (then MGM Studios) still in its infancy, and still operating under the guise of a “working studio” with shows and rides, as opposed to a theme park, then Disney CEO Michael Eisner (the creator of MGM Studios) believed that bringing writer and director Mel Brooks into a relationship with Disney was a perfect marriage – Brooks’ films would be Disney films, and an attraction would be built to celebrate that union. The idea was to build an attraction similar in story to The Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom – namely, scary and funny. The concept of “Castle Young Frankenstein” was born, in which a Bavarian village would have led to the aforementioned castle. This later changed to “Mel Brooks’ Hollywood Horror Hotel”.

Another concept was kicked around at this point – for years, Disney had toyed with the idea of having an actual resort hotel inside one of the theme parks – at one point, Mickey’s Town Square Theatre at Magic Kingdom was supposed to be the site of a hotel for guests to stay. The idea at MGM Studios is that the guest hotel and “hotel” building that would have housed the ride would have been connected (known by Imagineers as Hotel Mel). Eventually though, the plan was scrapped, and a hotel that would have geographically extended from the current Tower of Terror site to the park entrance was not to be.

After Mel Brooks decided to leave the project, Disney Imagineers had to come up with alternate ideas – eventually, they thought of the “moving elevator” track idea. With Brooks gone, they were no longer tied to a concept where parts of the attraction had to be funny, and they settled into simply making it a spooky thrill ride. Knowing that the ride would have more allure if it were based on a movie or TV show, Disney began to look for properties that were available, and came across the Twilight Zone. It became a perfect overlay for the attraction, and on July 22 1994, the attraction opened to the public.

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Technology

A big part of Imagineering is discovering the link between fantasy and reality, and Tower of Terror is certainly that. Having an attraction that would simply rise and fall wouldn’t do; one of the hallmarks of the Twilight Zone is the “fifth” dimension, meaning that ride vehicle would have to “float”, as if in an alternate dimension. The technology used to achieve this effect is the “Autonomous Guided Vehicle”, or AGV. It doesn’t use wires or rails; the AGV is propelled on a pre-programmed path set out by the ride control system. Basically, it’s a self-driving car that that moves in the area between the rear elevator and the front elevator, where you make your initial ascents (and then descents). For safety reasons, it is designed to stop if any thing (falling items for example) come in contact with the floor of the Fifth Dimension area.

Otis, the oldest elevator company in the world, was asked by Disney to help with the design of the ride vehicles and technology, which they found ironic, as they were being asked to simulate what they always try to stop from ever happening. Like all elevators, motors and cables are used to move the ride vehicle in Tower of Terror, and these motors are huge. Rather than dish out a bunch of stats, I will link to this excellent website for you to check out the specifics. What you should know is that you are pulled down at a rate of 39 miles per hour (63 kilometers per hour), which is faster than the rate of gravity. This means that you will get a feeling of weightlessness while you are being pulled down. Oh, and that wind you feel? It’s fake – generated by fans below the ride vehicle.

Additionally, numerous safety features have been built in to ensure that in the rare event of an actual free fall, all passengers will be safe. There are manual brakes and a padded bottom into which the car can fall if that were to happen. Additionally, night-vision cameras are in each car to ensure CMs can keep an eye out to keep everything safe.

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 Sequence and Story

You begin your journey into The Twilight Zone outside, in the gardens of the famed Hollywood Tower Hotel. The hotel is in disrepair, having been abandoned after five guests entered the passenger elevator in order to ride up to the Tip Top Club on the 12th floor. The hotel was struck by lightning, and the elevator – along with its unlucky inhabitants – disappeared, being transported into the fifth dimension.

Upon entering the hotel, you will see the level of disrepair into which it was been consumed; cobwebs cover luggage, furniture and light fixtures, dust has taken up permanent residence. A somber bellhop guides you into the library, where Rod Serling appears on a television that mysteriously turns on after the lights have gone out. He tells you have entered The Twilight Zone.

“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension. A dimension of sound. A dimension of sight. A dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into…The Twilight Zone.

Hollywood, 1939. Amid the glitz and the glitter of a bustling, young movie town at the height of its golden age, The Hollywood Tower Hotel was a star in its own right; a beacon for the show business elite. Now, something is about to happen that will change all that. The time is now, on an evening very much like the one we have just witnessed.

Tonight’s story on The Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This, as you may recognize, is a maintenance service elevator still in operation, waiting for you. We invite you, if you dare, to step aboard because in tonight’s episode, you are the star. And this elevator travels directly to…The Twilight Zone.”

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You step into the boiler room and walk through the machinery to your service elevator, where you will be seated by another hotel employee that hasn’t received the memo of its closure decades ago. The elevator ascends, and you are greeted by the ghosts of the five people that disappeared on Halloween Night of 1939. Serling continues his narration, inviting you deeper.

 “You are the passengers on a most uncommon elevator about to ascend into your very own episode of… The Twilight Zone. One stormy night long ago, five people stepped through the door of an elevator and into a nightmare.

That door is opening once again, and this time it’s opening for you.”

You will continue to move into the Fifth Dimension, through space and time. You will ascend once more, before the doors of that dimension open. Serling has one more warning for you:

“You are about to discover what lies beyond the fifth dimension, beyond the deepest, darkest corner of the imagination… in the Tower of Terror.”

The drop sequence now begins. Generally, you are shot straight up before being pulled down, but we had a great sequence once where we had a small drop first. Despite the bright Florida sun entering the ride vehicle, make sure you keep your eyes open – the views are spectacular, and you can even see some things you normally don’t get to – service roads and Cast Member buildings, for example.

Your ride ends with another bit of narration from Serling:

“A warm welcome back to those of you who made it and a friendly word of warning; something you won’t find in any guidebook. The next time you check into a deserted hotel on the dark side of Hollywood, make sure you know just what kind of vacancy you’re filling. Or you may find yourself a permanent resident of… The Twilight Zone”

And, it being Disney, a little tongue-in-cheek message as you wait for your seat-belt to unlock:

“Ladies and gentlemen, please gather your belongings and watch your head and step as you exit through the elevator doors. We trust your stay at The Hollywood Tower Hotel has been a pleasant one, and please do come back and see us again. Thank you.”

Upon leaving, you’ll get to walk through the excellent Tower Hotel Gifts shop – one of the best on property. While I feel that 95% of items sold at Disney World are static throughout the gift shops, this one is fairly unique – they sell many items you can’t find anywhere else, including the white Hollywood Tower Hotel mug, as well as a really nice HTH keychain. The front-desk bells are also available here, as well as a variety of t-shirts and picture frames and other collectibles. If you’re a fan of Clue, make sure you pick up the Tower of Terror version of the game – it contains pewter pieces and a beautiful board. Well worth the price!

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Tower of Terror Trivia

Here are a few things you may not know about the ride, so impress your fellow travelers with these!

  1. The voice you hear narrating the ride – including in the video – is not actually Rod Serling (the narrator from The Twilight Zone). He was dead for a very long time before the ride opened. While the man in the video is indeed Serling, edited to make him look like he is speaking the words, voice actor Mark Silverman takes on the narrating duties – he was even approved by Serling’s widow for the role.
  2. Cast Members are instructed to be sullen and spooky. They also wear bellhop uniforms that go for over $1000 apiece, making them the most expensive costumes at WDW.
  3. The Tower of Terror is 199 feet tall. If a building in Florida is 200 feet tall, FAA regulations mean it has to have a fixed red light beacon at the top for airplanes.
  4. The front of the hotel has a large black scorch mark, depicting where it was hit by lightning in 1939. At night, this scorch appears in purple, while the letters spelling out “Hollywood Tower Hotel” are an eerie green. (Note: ride this at night, as well!)
  5. While in the fifth dimension, you’ll see a sequence similar to that in a Twilight Zone episode. A field of stars appear, and when they fade, they form a Hidden Mickey.
  6. There are numerous odes to the Twilight Zone throughout the queue and building. Here’s a good list.
  7. Your picture is taken twice on the ride. The first time is right after the doors open and is projected the pupil of the eyeball in the Fifth Dimension scene. The second time is when you are dropping faster than gravity.
  8. The hotel is based on a real hotel/condo in Los Angeles.
  9. During the pre-show, the little girl is holding a Mickey Mouse plush.
  10. Lightning has actually struck the Tower of Terror.
  11. The colour palette and architectural style of the ride building were chosen specifically because you can see Tower of Terror from World Showcase in Epcot; the building blends in perfectly with the buildings that make up the Morocco exhibit.
  12. The first Disney movie based on a WDW attraction is actually the fun and cheesy Tower of Terror movie, starring Steve Gutenberg and Kirsten Dunst. I love the movie. Plus, it was filmed on location at Walt Disney World, at the Tower of Terror!
  13. The ride building is huge, so make sure you take a poke around. You won’t be able to walk terribly far, but you can get unique views of it from the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster queue, as well as the Fantasmic theatre.

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My Tower of Terror Story

When I was 12, in 1994, my family went to Florida. MGM Studios was the only Disney World stop we made, but we got to ride Tower of Terror a month after it opened. At that time, the ride itself was different – instead of individual seat-belts, each row had a lap bar, meaning little kids might have all kinds of space between lap and lap bar. At that time as well, the pre-drop sequence was the same but the drop sequence was not – instead of a randomized sequence, it was just one big 13-story drop.

How much do you love Tower of Terror? Sound off in the comments section!

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Storybook Radio

I’m very excited to announce that the first episode of Storybook Radio, a podcast about the story-telling magic of Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, hosted by me and produced by the White Dragon Podcast Network, is now live!

We’re still working on getting the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher, but until then, click on the picture!

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Storybook Radio and Free Dining

A few days ago, I teased some big news was on the horizon, and that big news has indeed hit – I will be joining the White Dragon Podcast Network with my very own Walt Disney World show – Storybook Radio. Each episode will consist of a Walt Disney World segment and Universal Studios segment, as well as travel tips and other odds and ends. I’m very excited about this project, and the debut episode will air Wednesday May 13.

All about Free Dining

Long time readers will know that I’m a fan of free dining and have experienced the joys of it twice. There is a lot of conflicting information out there about the pros and cons of Free Dining, so hopefully I can help out a little with that now. Free Dining was announced Monday, so it may be difficult to secure now anyway, but it’s always worth having more information.

The promotion applies to a variety of dates between the end of August and the third week of December. The resort exclusions include Fort Wilderness Campgrounds, Deluxe Villas, All Star Sports, the Art of Animation Little Mermaid suites, and Port Orleans Riverside (but French Quarter is included, which is awesome, because it wasn’t last year!)

I’ve taken advantage of Free Dining each of the last two years. In 2013, we were able to stay at Port Orleans French Quarter, which is a resort I would not hesitate to stay in again. Last year, we stayed at Coronado because both Port Orleans resorts were excluded – it’s too bad, because we really wanted to stay at Riverside and Coronado is not a resort I would be interested in staying in again. Given that guests now have the opportunity to stay in French Quarter – and staying at a moderate resort does provide the best Free Dining value – is pretty great.

A lot of people wonder if Free Dining is worthwhile. Many websites out there have posited that if you are fewer than 3 people (a couple without kids for example) it’s not worth it, but I contend that it is (you also have to be careful, because some bloggers and podcasters out there definitely seem to have an almost militant anti-free-dining bias). There are a number of things to take into consideration. Here are a few:

Is there a hotel discount being offered as well, or perhaps free park tickets? You need to do some math to see if the value of a dining plan, per person, is more of a discount than 20%-30% savings off of a hotel’s rack rates, often offered at the same time for the same dates. The reason that a Dining Plan is definitely a larger discount in terms of actual dollars out of pocket for a family of 3-5 (I believe 5 is the most number of people that can stay in 1 resort room) is because the cost of the hotel room stays the same while the cost of feeding your family goes up as the number of people in your party goes up.

Now, to get free dining, you have to buy an entire Disney package – hotel room and park tickets, and you can’t double-dip promos. That means that if you’re somehow being offered free park tickets, they’re likelier to be the better option than free dining.

At deluxe resorts, you’ll generally save more money with the room discount, though it still depends on how many are in your party. The Standard Disney Dining Plan is worth $60 USD per adult and $19 per child. If you have two adults and two kids, your savings with free dining is $158 per day. At Port Orleans French Quarter (and remember, at these slow times of year the rooms are already cheaper than at busier times), your per-day hotel room savings might be $40-$60 per night. The math is pretty simple on that one! But, on a deluxe room that normally fetches $500 per night, your 30% savings gives you $150 off per night. Now you have to do some thinking! In that scenario, you may be better off taking the room discount and splitting meals.

Do the people in your party have good/diverse appetites? There are a number of amazing restaurants at Walt Disney World, but if you have a picky 10-year old that will only eat hamburgers, you’ll probably be better off with more counter-service meals (you can get the Quick-Service Dining Plan if you stay at a value resort during Free Dining). It’s important to remember that at Walt Disney World, meal portions are typically large. Two people can definitely split most meals, an option that is essentially taken from you if you’re on the Dining Plan. If you have two people in your party and neither of you eat like horses, a Disney Dining Plan may be overkill and you’d be better off with the hotel discount. I eat like a horse, so…

Do you want to try a number of different sit-down restaurants? The reason Free Dining was important for me and my wife was because there were lots of great restaurants in which we wanted to dine, and many of them were in the “expensive” category. The Dining Plan therefore made sense for us, and over the last two trips we’ve had the opportunity to eat at Le Cellier, O’Hana, San Angel Inn, Via Napoli, Boma, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Tokyo Dining, Teppan Edo, Biergarten, Sanaa and more. I don’t think this would have been possible if not for Free Dining, because we would have been a little less cavalier with our spending on meals.

Will you use snacks? Will you use all of your meal credits? There’s no argument that Free Dining is only a good value if you plan to use all of your credits. If you stay for 8 days, and you have 8 snack credits, you can easily get about $40 out of it. Starbucks locations, now in all parks, are a great use of snack credits. Try the awesome Mickey pretzels. Go to Epcot’s World Showcase and go nuts! Seriously, if you don’t use at least one snack credit in World Showcase, you’re missing out. The Kringla Café in Norway is replete with wonderful snacks. Try the shaved ice in Japan. Not using your dining credits is bad too. I’m not sure why this would happen since you have to eat everyday, but if you do end up with a couple left over, grab some breakfast! The Dining Plan gives you two meals per day, and many people eat three times, so the math definitely works to not waste any meal credits.

Don’t Be Afraid of Two-Credit Meals. Look, most of the blogs and podcasts out there will instantly tell you to not waste 2 credits on one meal. A number of restaurants out there require diners to use up 2 credits for one meal – they are called “Signature Dining”. They include Cinderella’s Royal Table, Le Cellier, Jiko, California Grill, Narcoosees, Citricos, Hollywood Brown Derby, Monsieur Paul, Fulton’s Crab House and Dining Room at Wolfgang Puck. However, using up 2 credits at one go just means you’ll have to be creative another day – split a counter-service with your spouse, for example – easy to do. But, the value is still there. Consider this: at Cinderella’s Royal Table, adults shell out $55. However, unlike other meals where the Dining Plan only covers the tax and not the gratuity, your double-credit at CRT also pays an 18% gratuity. That means that you’re basically covered for around $70, plus you get to eat in a Castle and meet Disney princesses. Since most table-service meals come in at around $25-$35 anyway, I’d say it’s a pretty good value – and so are the other double-credit restaurants.

Understand the time of year. Free Dining is offered at specific times of year because they are the slowest times of year at Walt Disney World. I’m a huge proponent of travelling to Disney World during hurricane season (late August through September/mid-October): it’s dead, it’s hot (consistently, none of these 45-degree days you get in November-January) and it’s cheap. Because of the slow time of year, Disney is trying to encourage people to get down to Florida. It means that travelling at this time will afford you more time to do all of the things you want to do – check out all the rides on your list, all the shows, all the parades, all of the nighttime shows. You’ll have time to stroll, time to smell the roses. You won’t be rushed. It’s a beautiful time of year to go – to me, going to Disney World when it’s slow means you can get most things, if not everything, done, AND for cheaper. That’s a slam dunk to me. It means that you’ll have the time to sit down and have that table-service meal you’ve been coveting without worrying about fast-passes or ride queues. It’s worth while!

Well, those are my thoughts on Free Dining. What do you guys think?

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Sensing the Five: Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth opened at Epcot (then EPCOT Center) in October 1982, and is sponsored by Siemens. It is a slow omni-mover attraction, themed to be a time machine carrying you throughout the events of human history, from prehistoric man to the modern era, and the progress of communication and human accomplishment throughout the ages. It is composed of a series of scenes of human evolution, made up of detailed sets and animatronics, a wave of sound effects, narration and a musical score playing all the while. The ride is about 15 minutes long, and takes patrons all the way up to the top of the geodesic sphere before turning the omni-mover cars backwards and returning patrons to the exit.

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Touch

While you can’t reach out of your Spaceship and touch the animatronics, there are opportunities for sense of touch to be tickled aboard Spaceship Earth. During the first scene, you ease past a video of a group of Neanderthal hunters trying to take down a Wooly Mammoth, and a breeze sweeps through, mimicking the wintery scene depicted in the video. At the end, as you descend back to Earth (backwards), your video screen comes to life and you are invited to answer a few questions using the touch-pad, your future soon to be depicted there based on your answers.

Smell

A few different smells are piped through this attraction, but none as prevalent as the one you’ll smell during the sacking of Rome – the smell of Rome burning is pretty strong and acrid. You’ll also recognize the scent of incense during the scene depicting Muslim and Jewish scholars, as well as that depicting Christian monks working on duplicating religious texts.

Taste

I know that this will be the most underutilized sense while on board a ride at Walt Disney World, but we’ll try anyway. When you’re done at Spaceship Earth, you may want to check out Electric Umbrella – decent as far as counter-service goes, and right around the corner.

Sound

The Spaceship Earth theme is absolutely fantastic, and one of my favourite ride themes in all the parks. The music changes based on the era you are visiting, and with the solemnity of the scene itself – the music is more subdued during scenes like the sack of Rome, and more upbeat during the invention of the printing press and the evolution of communication. The scene depicting the advent of the computer is alive with sound – a futuristic cacophony of the whirs and bleeps and bloops of machinery greet us in the most vibrantly lit scene of Spaceship Earth, seconds before we see a young Steve Jobs bent over a personal computer in his garage in California.

We can’t mention “sound” without a nod to the narration, performed by Dame Judi Dench. She’s the only narrator I’ve ever known on this attraction, but she is widely panned by those that remember past narrators like Walter Cronkite and Jeremy Irons with fondness. I like her narration, but could do with a more academic approach – the simplistic and somewhat inaccurate claim that the Phoenicians invented the alphabet (moreso that the narration says the Phoenicians invented the “A-B-Cs”), for example.

Sight

Spaceship Earth is a true feast for the eyes. The animatronics are great, and the sets depicting various feats of humanity throughout history are beautifully rendered with striking detail. One of my favourites is Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, as well as the scene showing an Egyptian at the water’s edge, pounding reeds flat into papyrus – paper. There are also the first scenes introducing us to modern communication – the telegraph, for example.

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Of course, there is also the visual beauty of the exterior of Spaceship Earth. It is an 18-storey geodesic sphere, greyish-beige in colour, composed of over 11,000 isosceles triangles and supported by 3 giant legs. It took over two years to build, and is a marvel to behold. Whether during the day or at night (and especially at dusk), the structure is a treat to photograph, and is second only to Cinderella’s Castle at Magic Kingdom in terms of most enduring theme park icons.

Here’s a POV ride-through video.

One Year Down…

It’s been a year since I launched WDW Storybook, the main purpose of which was for me to nerd out about Walt Disney World and Universal Studios in my own way. A writer with a passion for something that lends itself to storytelling is a dangerous/wonderful thing, and I’ve had a lot of fun bringing you stories and, well, let’s call them “artist’s renditions” about various facets of Disney World as I see them.

I’ve learned a lot since beginning this site a year ago. I’ve learned that fellow Disney geeks can get travel tips anywhere (and from more seasoned visitors than me!). They can get Disney history from Wikipedia. But, I’ve learned that a lot of people really like to see that they aren’t alone in having an obsession that they probably can’t explain easily to incredulous friends and family. That ineffable quality of Disney is paramount to these types of discussions; we can’t explain it, but sure love talking about it, and talking about it coaxes memories to the fore, and that makes us happy. My wife and I are good friends with another couple that have been to Disney World a handful of times over the last four years or so, and the excitement is palpable when you get four people in the same room chatting Disney World experiences and looking through vacation photos. Everyone gets a big smile. It’s fun to talk about.

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Take this quote from Lifehack in an article about loving a creative person: “They Will Never Grow Up: Creatives long to see through the eyes of a child and never lose a sense of wonder. For them, life is about mystery, adventure, and growing young. Everything else is simply existing, and not true living.” I think this sentence really perfectly elucidates the feelings that people like us – I may use the term “Disney nerd/geek” a lot today – get when we walk into the Magic Kingdom and see Cinderella’s Castle for the first time, or catch that first glimpse of Spaceship Earth beckoning from Future World. If we could step into the Darling’s nursery from Peter Pan, or have an adventure with Woody and Buzz, we probably would. I’ve enjoyed having a medium over the last year to openly talk about this, and to have people actually read it and agree with it. It’s been very heartwarming.

I’ve also learned a number of things about Walt Disney World itself – actual touring. When you wish to adequately maintain a Disney World website, you read a lot more material on touring and history, and you listen to podcasts and relevant music. You go through your vacation pictures numerous times to almost tattoo the park into your mind. It’s fun to do your own “virtual tour” in your mind whenever you like, whenever you close your eyes – whenever you feel the need to escape.

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The biggest thing that I learned, and that I hope to impart to you, is that a vacation can only turn into a bad vacation if you let it. Things will go wrong. You can do everything right, you can plan everything perfectly, but there are variants you will never be able to prepare for. Weather can throw a wrench into things, even if you’ve brought your Crocs and flip flops and ponchos and hoodies. 10,000 other families may decide to pull their kids out of school at the same time as you, turning a “2” crowd level into a “5”. The Canadian dollar may go for a swim in the deep end and never come back, as is happening right now, instantly adding 20-25% to your vacation budget. The key is to remember where you are. It’s to remember that you’re on a vacation and not a business trip. It’s to remember that while you aren’t looking forward to the Mastercard bill you’ll get when you’re back home, your daughter just met her idol at Princess Fairytale Hall. The elation you’ll feel at the little moments are fleeting and temporary and you’ll miss them if you don’t look for them. But, what would you rather remember and focus on – a snafu at the hotel or an overpriced dinner, or that quick view of the Castle just before you plummet into the Briar Patch on Splash Mountain, or that sensation of weightlessness as your feet come off the floor on Soarin’? Think less about being elbow to elbow with fellow guests during Wishes, and more about probably the best fireworks show you’ll ever see.

I think that a big part of the kinship I feel with Disney World comes from the man behind it all – Walt Disney. He was a guy with sometimes impossible dreams, but he even made those possible, through hard work and a determination to allow nothing to avert the materialization of those dreams. Sure, he figured you can’t actually time travel, but it didn’t mean you couldn’t virtually do it – and just like that, places like Main Street USA, Tomorrowland, Frontierland, Spaceship Earth, Liberty Square and Carousel of Progress were born. The inability of regular joes to step onto a space shuttle didn’t stop him from dreaming of rides like Space Mountain. While he may not have lived to see many of his visions come to fruition, his fingerprints were all over them. Even today, we can see that consistent movement back to Walt’s original vision – rides like Carousel of Progress and Enchanted Tiki Room were rebranded to exemplify Walt’s dream, Walt’s ideas, Walt’s creativity. Haunted Mansion is his haunted house, not a cheap carnival walk-through. The Disney company could easily have gone cheap, or gone with easy after Walt died. His brother Roy, the man that helmed the Walt Disney World ship (Magic Kingdom opened 5 years after Walt’s death), was always the money guy. If anyone would have gone onto the cheap side, it would have been him. But, he realized that Walt’s dreams and vision were more important than money. He was right.

One more thing I’d like to say about my experience over the last year, and what is to come – progress was very important to Walt Disney, and it’s important to me. I can’t help it, I’m a creative type – I love to work on new projects. Over the next little while, I’m going to be working on a new layout and look to the site, and I am working on an e-book full of stories as well. I have a very big announcement coming soon as well, one that I’m extremely excited about.

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Thank you to all of you for reading and following the site thus far, and I hope you’ll tell your friends! Remember that you can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter, as well as Instagram and Pinterest. I also have a non-Disney website – www.businesshoursblog.com – where you’ll find a vast array of articles on a variety of topics – work culture, sports, pop culture, creativity and more.

Have a magical – and mouse-ical – day!

The Appeal of Disneyland

My wife and I were literally a few seconds and unabashed unpracticality away from booking a vacation to Disneyland for a few weeks from now. What stayed our hand was only the idea that while a theme-park view at Paradise Pier Hotel for a price of a standard room would have been amazing, a three-day trip doesn’t necessarily allow you to really appreciate that type of room, and it was still too much to spend. We wanted the standard room because it would have been much cheaper, but alas, they were all sold out. We made the right decision in the end, but the feeling still lingers – I want to go to Disneyland. I’ve never been, and I want to go.

Some people may be wondering why it is that I want to go further (about an extra three hours by plane), to a different time zone, to a smaller property, when I clearly love Disney World so much that I dedicated a website to it. There are several factors for me.

For one, there’s the Walt Disney factor. I’m a huge fan of Walt Disney. This was a man with boundless energy and ingenuity. He was filled with creativity and lived in his imagination on a daily basis. He dared not only to dream, but to dream big. I’ve always admired people like Walt Disney, so to see the pinnacle of his dream, to walk where he actually walked, and to experience the attractions that he actually experienced would be a big thrill for me.

Disneyland is full of “original attractions”. While Space Mountain is actually not one of them, I would really like to ride the original version of favourite attractions like Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise and Small World. I understand that there are some differences between the Walt Disney World and Disneyland versions of some of these original attractions, so that would be fun to see.

There are also a bunch of attractions that no longer exist at Disney World or have never existed there. The Matterhorn Bobsleds and the Indiana Jones Adventure aren’t at Disney World (though Dinosaur is apparently a reasonable facsimile); neither is Radiator Springs Racers, widely considered one of the best Disney rides anywhere in the world. The World of Color show looks amazing as well, as does California Screamin’, and I’m sure I’d get a kick out of other rides like Pinocchio’s Daring Journey and Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.

Disneyland also boasts Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, a ride replaced at Disney World with The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Snow White’s Scary Adventures is also still in existence at Disneyland, now defunct in Florida.

The hotel experience would be impressive at Disneyland too; step out of either Paradise Pier, the Disneyland Hotel or the Grand Californian and step into one of the two theme parks or Downtown Disney. No long waits for buses or boats. Expensive, but seems worth it. If compared to a Disney World vacation, where a deluxe resort can be just as expensive per night, a Disneyland trip may prove cheaper, given that most experts deem 3-5 days in California to be sufficient while citing 5-10 days as the ideal for Florida.

On the subject of Fastpass, I’m okay with either system, but my wife and I pretty much used the old paper FP system to its utmost efficiency. I’ve also seen the way that the new FP+ system at Walt Disney World has elongated the standby queues on many rides, forcing many non-headliner or fast-load attractions to require FP+ reservations to board with any sense of efficiency – The Great Movie Ride, Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan’s Flight, Pirates of the Caribbean. This may not be an issue at Disneyland.

Of course, being in a Disney park that isn’t Disney World would inevitably lead to some sadness at not being able to have certain experiences. Disneyland doesn’t have Carousel of Progress, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Expedition Everest, Test Track, Great Movie Ride or Kilimanjaro Safaris. It doesn’t have Spaceship Earth or World Showcase or Animal Kingdom. No Le Cellier. It has Sleeping Beauty’s Castle but not Cinderella’s Castle. I would definitely have to come to terms with not being able to do certain things that I am used to doing and enjoy doing.

Overall though, I really like the idea of travelling not only to Disneyland, but to all the other Disney Parks as well. They all have something unique to offer, but I hope Disneyland is my next Disney Parks experience.

Have you been to both resorts? What are your thoughts?