Sunday, November 30, 2014

It's a Small World Holiday


If you go on one ride this holiday season, make sure you ride It's a Small World.

The Disney team truly went all out this year with the decorations and lights. I feel like I have never seen so many different colors in one place. The decorations and songs are totally overwhelming, and although we're still weeks away from the holiday season, this will surely get you in the spirit.


One of the many cool holiday additions is the holiday clock show, replacing the 15-minutely cuckoo clock show with a huge projection with characters and toys. It's awesome, although it seems to be the same show as last year.


As I've said before, the holiday season is my favorite time to visit Disneyland, and attractions like this are exactly why.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

DISNEY WORLD REPORT: Disney's Hollywood Studios

It's been a while since my last Disney World Park post, so check it out here and hopefully I will get to all of them. Now, as I was saying...

Disney's Hollywood Studios is the only Disney Park in America that I hadn't been to within the past 10 years, so it was a totally new experience for me. Having grown up in Los Angeles, it was absolutely bizarre to see an amusement park that was so heavily modeled after my hometown. Despite having the least amount of attractions to offer, this park was still a fun experience, and can easily occupy a day's worth of activities.

The last time I was here, it was called Disney-MGM Studios

Echo Park Lake, the namesake Echo Lake
in Disney's Hollywood Studios
As I mentioned before, much of Disney's Hollywood Studios is a replica of Hollywood, down to the street names, buildings, and even the lake. Some of the recognizable landmarks include Crossroads of the World, Carthay Circle Theater, Echo Lake, and literally dozens of others. The tributes to LA's architecture are both touching and accurate. It was truly inspiring to see so much care and detail put into an amusement park as an homage to our beautiful city on the other side of the country.

Hollywood Studios includes The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Star Tours, The Great Movie Ride, Studio Backlot Tour (now defunct), Toy Story Midway Mania!, and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. With the recent closure of the Backlot Tour in late September, only The Great Movie Ride and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster are unique to this park.

Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror

The Tower of Terror was a new experience for me, since I'd only ever been on the one in California. For those who don't know, the two are considerably different. Although both rides reach the same height, the tower in Florida is actually 16 feet taller, since the California one was built with all the machinery underground. Interestingly, the Florida Tower of Terror is 199 feet tall, since FAA regulations state that any building 200 feet or higher must be topped with a red light beacon.

Waiting in line for this ride was a schlep. A considerable portion of the queue is outside, snaking around the gardens and grounds outside the tower. Not to mention that the Florida temperature at this time was brutal. As with most rides, the wait time for this Tower of Terror is exponentially longer than its California counterpart. I went on this ride a few times just to get the feel of it, but I see no reason that I should ever ride it again. The elevator moves along a track before ascending to the drop tower, passing by strange images familiar to Twilight Zone fans. The whole extra show is dumb and pointless, and I think the decision to get rid of it for DCA was the right one. On the other hand, the building's facade is a lot more detailed and interesting, so it has that going for it.

Star Tours

Not much to say about this one. The line and outer decor of this ride are way cooler than the Disneyland version. It's got a large AT-AT and the entrance looks like the Imperial Endor Bunker from Return of the Jedi. Plenty of cool photo-ops for Star Wars fans. There's also a life-size speeder bike you can take a picture on. I did notice during the ride that the intro and outro segments are different, but the ride is otherwise the same.

The Great Movie Ride

Another ride that was a totally new experience for me. The entrance for this ride looks like the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood (it will always be the Mann's Chinese Theater to me). Being very familiar with that theater myself, I enjoyed that the interior really did feel like the inside of the Chinese Theater. You enter a large ride vehicle and pass by famous scenes from various movies recreated with wax figures while a cast member narrates. This ride is unique in that cast members actually interact with the scenery, stopping the ride and interacting with animatronics and performers. During the western scene, a cowgirl hijacked our ride vehicle, but the ride has multiple different possible scenarios. It was an interesting twist on the Disney dark ride formula. At the conclusion, you watch a montage of great films throughout history. An interesting tribute to Hollywood's rich history.

Studio Backlot Tour

This was an interesting experience as I had no idea the ride was due to close only a couple months after I went on it. The ride is basically a knock-off of the Universal Studios backlot tour, only without the historic movie sets. What it lacks in sets, it makes up for in awesome props and vehicles used in famous movies. The warehouse where you wait in line is filled with actual movie props cluttering the shelves. The tram takes you through the costume department where you get to look at famous costumes from iconic movies, and large-scale props like airplanes from Michael Bay's travesty, Pearl Harbor, and a Snowspeeder that was used in The Empire Strikes Back. There's also a demonstration of special effects, where the tram enters a desert scene with an exploding oil well. My least favorite part of this ride was the fact that they shamelessly branded historic airplanes with those stupid eyes from the movie Planes: Fire & Rescue. Shame on you, Disney. Using Walt Disney's private jet to plug your summer B-movie.

In conclusion, I totally loved my trip to Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's easily the least notable park in Disney World, but it's still awesome. I think that a new patron who's never been here could easily spend a full day at the park, but seasoned visitors will likely only spend a couple hours before moving on to the next park. Especially with the closure of the backlot tour, this park is in dire need of some new attractions. However, it has plenty of shows and live performances, including live bands, a stunt show, and an Indiana Jones stage show. Not to mention that this park has some pretty rad restaurants, one of which I will be covering in a future review. Stay tuned!

...But wait, I forgot about Rock 'n' Roller Coaster! This ride is so epic, I felt that it needed its own article. So look forward to that in the near future as well. Happy trails!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Return of the Hatbox Ghost


Some belated Halloween news has just surfaced. According to MiceAge, the mysterious Hatbox Ghost will return to The Haunted Mansion in May 2015!

This ghostly animatronic was part of the original Haunted Mansion attraction, but mysteriously disappeared soon after. Despite his unknown whereabouts, the Hatbox Ghost has become the face of the Haunted Mansion, appearing on posters, memorabilia, and other Disneyana.

So at last, the Hatbox Ghost returns after 46 years. Who knows what other surprises await?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Top 5: Gruesome Deaths at Disneyland

Halloween is just around the corner, and that means that Mickey's Halloween Party is in full swing. But let's talk about something even spookier. Disneyland may be the Happiest Place on Earth, but it holds some dark secrets. In Disneyland's 59-year history, a total of 21 guests have died on Disneyland Resort property. Although most of them were the fault of negligent guests, some were under extremely unfortunate circumstances. Let's look at the top 5 most sickening deaths at Disneyland, Halloween style!

WARNING: The following includes graphic descriptions of death and injury at Disneyland. It is not for the faint of heart.


5. PeopleRemover




The PeopleMover has been responsible for many accidents over the years, but none quite as gruesome as its first. In August of 1967, only one month into the PeopleMover's operation, a teenager named Rick Yama was jumping from car to car when he tripped and fell onto the track. After being dragged a few hundred feet, the ride operators shut down the ride. His head and upper body crushed under the weight of the 4,100 pound train, Yama was pronounced dead at the scene. So after only one month, the PeopleMover had claimed its first, and certainly not last, victim.


4. Flailing Ship Columbia





In 1998, 33-year-old Luan Phi Dawson was spontaneously killed by one of the most seemingly harmless rides in the park: The Sailing Ship Columbia. Traveling at only 1.3 knots, it's hard to imagine this tame boat ride posing much threat to anyone. But on this fateful Christmas Eve day, a metal cleat strung to an elastic rope came loose, striking Dawson in the head and killing him. The horror of this incident is its unpredictability.

3. Splatterhorn



Surprisingly, the Matterhorn has had quite a clean track record in its 55-year history. But even the famed mountain bobsleds have taken the life of a patron. In January of 1984, 48-year-old Dolly Regene Young was riding alone, when she was thrown from her vehicle into the path of an oncoming bobsled. Young was run over, her head and chest pinned underneath the wheels of the vehicle. An investigation failed to determine whether she had deliberately unbuckled her seatbelt, or if the ride operators had neglected to ensure her safety.

2. America Screams



America Sings was a short-lived attraction in Tomorrowland, but in its 14-year run, it still managed to cause mayhem. On a summer day in 1974, 18-year-old Deborah Gail Stone, a cast member who greeted guests at the door, was crushed between the rotating walls of the carousel theater. Ride operators shut down the attraction when guests reported screaming backstage.

1. Blunder Mountain



In 2003, Marcelo Torres was in the first passenger car of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad when the locomotive car at the front derailed and landed on top of him, killing him. An investigation turned up evidence that the locomotive, purely used for aesthetic reasons, was not fastened properly. Along with Torres, ten other guests were injured in this horrible accident.


With over 16 million people visiting Disneyland every single year, it should come as no surprise that incidents occur. No matter how many safety precautions the park takes to eliminate accidents, they are inevitable. About four of the total Disneyland deaths were the park's fault, as most injury and death at Disneyland seems to be from guest carelessness. In fact, Luan Phi Dawson was the first guest to die on a Disneyland ride wherein the cause of death was the fault of a cast member. On that note, continue to enjoy Mickey's Halloween Party (I hope you weren't too disturbed by this article). I'll finally be back in the park next month with some updates.


HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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

DISNEY WORLD REPORT: Animal Kingdom

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.