Monday, September 22, 2014

Maelstrom to be Re-branded as Frozen Attraction

Hey guys, I know it's been over three months since my last post but... school. And I know I dropped the ball on the whole Disney World thing but I'll probably get back to that when I can. My Disney World trip was a ton of fun and it was full of lots of interesting stories. But that can wait.

It's been rumored for a while--and finally confirmed--that Maelstrom, the Epcot Norway Pavilion's ride, is closing. It will make its final journey on October 5th, 2014. That's less than two weeks away, which means I'll never get to ride Maelstrom again. To say I'm disappointed would be an understatement. This ride is genius, and could easily be one of the longest-standing rides in all of Epcot. It has the imagination, the thrill, and the timelessness that most post-Walt rides fail to capture all at once. But this is Disney, and that means that we must make way for the new. Rides come and go, and our favorites are no exception.

The problem lies in what is to replace this glorious Norse adventure: a Frozen ride.

Now, if you haven't seen Frozen--just kidding, everybody saw Frozen. It is possibly the most significant animated musical since The Lion King. This movie is a phenomenon, a cultural staple, and it only makes sense that they make a permanent attraction out of it. DCA's The Little Mermaid ride (Ariel's Undersea Adventure) is one of my favorites in the park, and if they are able to achieve that level of storytelling, effects, and robotics with the new Frozen ride, then I can't wait for it.

However, I, like many other Disney fans, protest this change. It's an obvious cash grab, sure, but I'm not here to argue about Disney's ethical standards. The World Showcase is a tribute to the world, diversity, culture. And what could be a more pathetic, insulting way to pay homage to Norway than to present a 2013 animated movie as Norwegian culture? Maelstrom is educative, it's a construction of Norse mythology that gives children and other guests insight to medieval Norwegian folklore. Frozen is not Norwegian, and very loosely borrows aspects of their culture: namely Scandinavian names and settings. The story isn't even Norwegian, it's written by Hans Christian Andersen, who is from Denmark. In other words, they could have put a Little Mermaid ride in place of Maelstrom and it would make almost as much sense. The connection is a real stretch, and this setting is just massively inappropriate to use as the foundation for a Frozen ride.

You might think I'm a Frozen-hater because I stand so vehemently against this attraction. But that's not the case at all. I saw this movie twice in theaters, once at Disneyland and the other at an early screening before even you saw it. I was aboard the Frozen hype train before it even took off. I even have an Olaf doll in my dorm room.

"I like warm hugs!"
Is Frozen the greatest achievement in animation history? No, quite far from it. Is it a little overrated? Perhaps. But there's no denying that Frozen is a monumental franchise that will be remembered for ages. To expect Disney not to make a Frozen ride would be unthinkable. So I don't blame them in that department.

There are so many locations where they could have made this ride. It could have been in the empty lot that was once the Wonders of Life pavilion. It could have replaced another ride like Imagination (don't get me wrong, I love that ride too). It could have even been put in Hollywood Studios, they sure could use another ride or two. The obvious choice of course, would have been to build the ride somewhere in the Magic Kingdom.

The real reason why they chose the Norwegian Pavilion as the site for the Frozen ride is that they thought Frozen was vaguely "Scandinavian" enough that it could represent Norway. The minimal elements that could justify the existence of this ride in Epcot seemed to be enough for Disney to just go ahead with it. They figure that kids won't really know or care that this ride has almost nothing to do with Norway, a real place. That's the mistake they're making. They're trying to force the Disney label onto everything, including real countries, to somehow instill that Disney is this multicultural brand that represents everyone in the world. Take a look at the recent additions to It's a Small World in Disneyland. They've pointlessly added Disney characters to every country, that stand out and almost assault you with the Disney brand. They remind you that while yes, you are riding Mary Blair's beloved project and Walt Disney's gift to her, you're still at Disneyland. They were clearly reaching for the bottom of the barrel too, as the characters range from Lilo and Stitch to the Three Caballeros. How consistent.

Speaking of the Three Caballeros, they recently appeared in another Epcot World Showcase ride: The Gran Fiesta Tour.

This isn't as much of a problem, but it still doesn't really make sense. I don't completely object to having the Caballeros on that ride because it does fall in line with the spirit of the actual film. The movie is basically a tour of Central and South America hosted by the three birds, so why not allow them to appear in the Gran Fiesta Tour? The ride is still themed after Mexico, a real destination and culture unlike Frozen, and it wasn't re-branded as a Donald Duck ride. So I'll give it a pass.

The only problem I have with it is that only one of the characters is Mexican: Panchito. Donald Duck is American and Jose Carioca is Brazillian. Heck, Carioca literally means "from Rio" in Portuguese. So again, they sort of generalized the cultures on hand to fit the theme. It's not a crime, and it's not racist, but it's not entirely necessary either.

So all in all, I'm a little outraged that they're taking this direction with Maelstrom. I love Disney, I love Disney Parks, I love Disney movies, but there's a way that these things should be handled. Trying to incorporate every medium of Disney entertainment and intertwine them into every situation feels so conceited and forced, it just makes Disney World feel a little less special. Imagine if every pavilion was Disney-themed. A Mulan theme in China, a Beauty and the Beast theme in France, uhhh... a Brother Bear theme in Canada? It wouldn't work. If everything was Disney-themed, it wouldn't be a World Pavilion, it would just be Disney World. So no, I don't object to there being a Frozen ride. I object to the current executives tainting the very moral that this park was built on--that Disney isn't all about its movies and characters. It's also about being a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.

End rant.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

DISNEY WORLD REPORT: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

A new attraction has appeared at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom inspired by the classic 1937 Disney film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This junior roller coaster takes you through the mines and the cottage of the beloved dwarfs (dwarves was not popularized until JRR Tolkien's "The Hobbit").

For those who have been keeping up with the latest Disney World news, you'll already know that this ride has been drawing in hours upon hours of wait times every day. The first week of opening saw three-hour lines all day long. Additionally, FastPasses for this attraction are booked until August. Fortunately, I only had to wait 75 minutes, which is still a relatively long time to be standing in line. Not to mention that even with the hot Florida sun beating down, only half the line was air-conditioned. Yikes.
Like many Disney World rides, this one features
games for riders to play while they wait.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train replaced the old Snow White's Scary Adventures dark ride, which still exists at Disneyland. It's a little bit more thrilling, but still enjoyable for young children because it's a rather tame roller coaster. This might be considered the Gadget's Go Coaster of Disney World, but with more dark ride elements and animatronics (which look fantastic by the way).

Unfortunately it is short, with about a five-minute runtime. But it is easily one of the more unique rides at the Magic Kingdom, and definitely one I would write home about. One of its most unique features is the fact that the mine carts you ride in actually swing from side to side, making banked turns more unpredictable and thrilling. I wouldn't wait 75 minutes to ride this again, but I'm definitely glad I did. I only hope Disney Imagineering continues to use new rides to show off their new computer-generated animation and special effects (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Ariel's Undersea Adventure), rather than slap on cheap special effects and animatronics to traditional rides (Pirates of the Caribbean, It's a Small World). Creating completely new experiences while preserving the old is a much more "Disney" way of doing things, and something tells me Walt would have loved this ride.

Saturday, June 7, 2014


Last week, my friends and I graduated high school. To cap off our final year of school together, a couple buddies and I came to Orlando, Florida for a week of Disney awesomeness.

It's been four years since my last Disney World visit, so this time around I thought I'd give a brief tour of the parks, starting with the Animal Kingdom and ending with the Magic Kingdom. Here we go.

Disney's Animal Kingdom is the largest Disney Park in the world, covering 500 acres of land. It is home to 1700 animals of all kinds, from all over the world. The different zones of the park represent different habitats: from Africa and Asia, to the fictional DinoLand, USA. The park is highlighted by a massive tree sculpture, known as the Tree of Life, accented by 325 carved animals along its surface.

Along with the scores of zoo animals, Animal Kingdom boasts a handful of park-exclusive rides, including Dinosaur, Kali River Rapids, and the monstrous Expedition Everest.

The Dinosaur ride, based on the 2000 Disney film, Dinosaur, is the Florida counterpart to Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure. It features similar ride vehicles, and the same motion simulation technology. However, the film is outdated, and so is the ride. Despite Indiana Jones being a much more intense and inspired attraction, the animatronics on Dinosaur are pretty awesome, and with short wait times, this is hardly a ride you'll want to miss.

Another quick ride is Primeval Whirl, or as my friends and I took to calling it, "Primeval Hurl". It's a wild mouse roller coaster like Goofy's Sky School at DCA, but the cars spin. It's nauseating, but a lot of fun for up to four riders if you can handle it.

The last ride I need to talk about is of course, Expedition Everest. Considered by some to be the Matterhorn of Walt Disney World, this ride is a beast -- no pun intended. With a construction cost of $100 million, Everest is still the world's most expensive roller coaster. And it's clear why.

The ride queue takes riders through hiking equipment shops, a Nepali temple, and through a lifelike museum dedicated to authentic tales of the Yeti that protects the Himalayas. The actual ride is more of the same; the chain lift goes into a temple decorated with shrines and a mural of the yeti, and into the mountain itself. I won't give too much away, but the ride is full of twists and turns, backwards and forwards, and the reveal of the yeti is chilling.

Aside from the rides, there isn't much else that needs explaining. The decorations throughout the park are magnificently detailed, and every setting seems very genuine to the culture it was inspired by. Live performances by musicians from Africa, Asia, and South America are also something you won't get at Disneyland. There is also an awesome Lion King stage show, and a Finding Nemo one I didn't get to see. The animal enclosures are like any other zoo, but the Kilimanjaro Safari is quite a unique attraction that takes you up close to all kinds of African animals from giraffes, to lions, to zebras.

While it's not as large and extravagant as Busch Gardens in Tampa, Disney's Animal Kingdom is as diverse and enjoyable as an amusement park can get, and as a Disneyland annual passholder, it's my personal favorite Disney World park to visit.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Disneyland All-Nighter 2014 RECAP

For the second time in my life, I have spent 24 straight hours at Disneyland. This year, I decided not to show up for the opening of the park, because last year I just wasn't able to get enough sleep. Unfortunately, I missed the opening ceremony with Josh Gad from Frozen, but I saw plenty of other recognizable faces (most notably Drake Bell), wandering around the park. This year, my friends and I showed up at 7:45AM May 23rd and stayed until 7:45AM May 24th. We had just finished high school, and wanted to celebrate by having the time of our lives. Having gone to last year's all-nighter, I can say that Disney outdid themselves this year.

Everything that went wrong last year was fixed this year. No rides closed after midnight, as far as I could tell. Fastpasses were accommodated all morning, so I was able to use my Space Mountain Fastpass from 2PM, at 4AM. As expected, many rides shut down over the course of the all-nighter, but that was only a bonus, as it meant we could come back and use our Fastpasses later.

The only downside to this extravaganza was that spending that much time at Disneyland really puts the cost into perspective. I have an annual pass, and I still spent almost 100 dollars on food alone. Of course that isn't a typical Disneyland experience, but it made me realize how much I take for granted the ability to spend a day at Disneyland and bring my own lunch or eat outside the park. I have occasionally defended Disney's high price range, but I just think it's a matter of smart spending. With the upcoming price increase, I think my next annual pass will be a couple notches lower.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

UPDATE: Space Mountain Restoration Continues

In a previous article, I discussed how an ongoing lawsuit regarding employee safety had prevented the cleaning of Space Mountain's famed exterior. Well, with the new layer added to the roof, they can finally begin repainting it.

As you can see in the above picture, the new layer has been repainted white to match the rest of Space Mountain. Custodial crews are working to make the rest of the show building look equally fresh. Stay posted for more updates in the future!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Big Thunder Mountain Review

I was finally able to experience the new and improved Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Going in without any expectations, all I can say is that it sure lived up to the hype.

I had absolutely no idea what this ride had in store. After a 50 minute wait, I was blown away. Anyone familiar with this classic ride will immediately notice that the new tracks are immensely smoother than before. The Imagineers managed to keep the speed and thrill intact, while enormously improving the track quality. You will no longer be crushed by the person next to you, or be sliding across your seat.

As for the effects, the design team did a fantastic job with the new aesthetics. Nothing overly dramatic or flashy was added, but it sure kicks off with a bang! Overall, I'm very pleased with the result, and I'd say this is the biggest park renovation in almost a decade.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Shanghai Disney to Implement Pirate-themed Land

Finally some new information about Shanghai Disney Resort has been revealed. According to Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger, the new park will feature a land called Treasure Cove, set in the time of Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones.

Here's an early look at the project:

From the looks of it, this section of the park will feature many attractions, including a stationary pirate ship, possibly a restaurant like Captain Hook's Galley. It also appears to have an island--perhaps a potential successor to Disneyland's Pirate's Lair?

Treasure Cove is sure to be abundant with dining, live music and shows, and new ride technologies. With each new unveiling detail of Shanghai Disney Resort, I am more and more eager to see what awaits.