Friday, December 4, 2015

STAR WARS: Season of the Force - Star Wars Launch Bay

Last month I got to check out the new Star Wars Launch Bay, the somewhat grand reopening of Innoventions. As expected, this is not a permanent attraction--merely a placeholder to showcase Star Wars memorabilia and promote the new movie. Still, I was pretty disappointed by how temporary it feels. For the way this attraction was hyped up, I honestly expected more activities. It's virtually just an expansion of the Marvel floor upstairs; character photo-ops and relics from the movies. The Star Wars costumes and props are certainly cool to look at up close, keeping in mind that they're not the screen-used props from the movies. If you were at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim this year, or San Diego Comic-Con, you've probably seen most of the stuff on display here. Although I don't remember seeing Phasma's helmet at either, so that was pretty cool.

My best hope for this place is that it continues to develop as the main center for Star Wars, for the next three years until Star Wars Land opens. I can just see Star Wars Launch Bay in a couple years, decorated with posters and promotional models for the new land. So I have high hopes for Star Wars Launch Bay, even though I was probably in and out of there in five minutes total.

For first-timers and visiting Star Wars fans, definitely check out the Launch Bay. For regulars, you probably won't need to see it more than once. Expect a review of Hyperspace Mountain and Star Tours in the weeks to come.

Flame Trooper from Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Friday, October 30, 2015

Abandoned Desert Water Park

Author's note: This was the first post I ever wrote for Disneyland Report. Soon after I decided to adhere to a Disney theme, and this post was removed. However, I thought it was fitting for a Halloween post, so I'm bringing it back. I'm not sure about the state of the water park today, but this would have been from my Vegas trip around August 2012. 
Happy Halloween!

You're travelling down Interstate 15 just east of Barstow; Las Vegas bound. There are towering water slides sporting bright colors. Is it a mirage? No, it's the Rock-A-Hoola Water Park!

Or so it was.

This ambitious water park had a mere 6-year run before it faced total abandonment in 2004. Rock-A-Hoola featured 18 water slides, a lazy river, and other typical water park attractions. It was built by Bob Byers in 1998 as part of his famous man-made Lake Dolores water park, the self-proclaimed first water park in America. Rock-A-Hoola had a 1950's theme, paying homage to the musical greats of the 50's, as well as the historic Route 66, where the park stands. Guests could ride such attractions as the Doo Wop Super Drop and Big Bopper while listening to classic 1950's music played around the park. The park also featured a video arcade, cafe, and gift shop.

A few years after the park's demise, Rock-A-Hoola remained in remarkably good shape. The slides were left intact and there was a surprising lack of vandalism. That is, until no foreseeable future came to the park, and it was abandoned by security. Rock-A-Hoola's location on one of America's busiest highways between two of America's busiest cities make it one of Route 66's most curious landmarks. The park may be closed for business, but you can still check it out today.

The buildings have rotted away in the desert winds, and the paint has been done over by graffiti.

The Lazy River once carried people around the park. Now, it houses battered beach chairs and the broken shambles of old water slides.

The Lazy River Cafe used to feed hungry guests. It now stands as an eerie centerpiece for the park, with dilapidated soda fountains at each window.

Check out other images we took at the desolate Rock-A-Hoola Water Park:

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Fate of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

A couple of weeks ago, I went on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride with my sister. While standing in line, a kid noticed my Mr. Toad shirt and timidly asked where I bought it. I told his parents which store it was; evidently this was his favorite ride. As I saw the kid climb into his own motorcar (the true way to experience the ride) I thought back to my own childhood. Mr. Toad's Wild Ride always stood out among the dark rides. While Snow White's Scary Adventures and Pinocchio's Daring Journey are also dark and somewhat frightening, Mr. Toad is a special blend of madness--swerving, spinning, explosions, and even getting run over by a train and going to Hell--that's just awesome when you're a kid. While the other Dark rides (namely Peter Pan, Alice, and Snow White) have lost their initial object of making the rider the main character, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride still puts the riders directly behind the wheel of Toad's motorcar, as they romp through Toad Hall and the English countryside from The Wind in the Willows.

So I got to thinking... will future generations remember this ride? Most people have probably never seen the short film it was based on. Wind in the Willows was released during a slow period for Disney; the post-Dumbo slump which saw a dramatic cut in the animation budget due to World War II. Thus, a delayed production and limited staff never allowed it to develop into the movie it was intended to be, relegating this classic to a half-hour short. Having released in 1949, the cartoon was still fresh in memory when Disneyland was constructed--perfect for an opening day attraction alongside the likes of Peter Pan and Dumbo. But today it's mostly forgotten, and sticks out as an obscure theme for an attraction. None of the characters would be seen strolling around the park; they appear only on pins and a reference in the Storybook Land Boat ride. It really does beg the question whether this ride is becoming obsolete.

If it were my decision, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride would stand until the end of time. I loved this ride as a kid, like countless children before me. And as I've learned from my last trip to Disneyland, it continues to be a favorite. Part of the magic of Disney is keeping the old alive and seamlessly integrated with the new. And Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is the embodiment of old Disney magic capturing the hearts of children and adults today. As Disneyland has made quite painfully clear over the years, virtually no attraction is safe from demise--the old must make way for the new. But the attention that they've shown in modernizing and keeping relevant the 1955 attractions is very promising. I have no doubt that a ride like Mr. Toad can stand the test of time, just as well as Dumbo the Flying Elephant or The Jungle Cruise. Maybe soon we'll see another Fantasyland overhaul: a complete re-imagining of all of our favorite dark rides. Who wouldn't want to see a grander, full-scale Toad Hall? Bumpy roads and sharper turns like Indiana Jones--scenes from the movie brought to life with projection and updated animatronic technology like we've seen on Alice in Wonderland and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in recent years. All I can do is maintain hope that I will never see the end of this glorious ride. Don't follow in Disney World's footsteps, Disneyland. Long live Mr. Toad!

If you have Netflix, do yourself a favor and watch The Wind in the Willows, it's on instant streaming as of 10/26. Help keep this Disney masterpiece alive, and may Mr. Toad's Wild Ride never close its doors.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Disneyland Raises Prices Again

Sigh, this is becoming an almost yearly post. This time, Disney has cut the Premium and SoCal passes out altogether, introducing the Signature and Signature Plus passports. The new highest price point for a Disney annual pass comes at a whopping $1,049. The cheapest option, the Southern California Select, now costs $329.

This is an experiment to see how much they can charge for tickets and still make a profit. Of course they're trying to squeeze as much money out of us as they can. And of course they need to cover the cost of Star Wars Land, which will be Disneyland's top priority throughout next year. And because of the construction, several attractions will be closed next year, namely the Rivers of America and Disneyland Railroad. My advice is that if you don't think the price change warrants admission, don't renew. Some people, particularly Premium passholders, will be upset with the change and I understand completely. However, I will probably be renewing my pass anyway, because I love Disneyland. If you feel like you're being gouged, or you don't enjoy going to Disneyland several times a year, simply don't get a pass.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Helms Bakery Lives On at California Adventure

On a recent visit to DCA, something caught my eye. In between Buena Vista Street and the Grizzly Peak Airfield, there's a Churro cart called Willie's Churros (evidently a tribute to the first Mickey Mouse cartoon). As I've been spending a lot of time in Culver City lately for work, I immediately recognized this as a replica of the famous Helms Bakery trucks that once puttered around Los Angeles.

All the iconic details are there, from the shield crest logo on the side, to the "W" in a familiar font on the back. The cart's slogan, "Delivered Daily!" is even reminiscent of Helms' "Daily at Your Door".

Helms Bakery had a relatively brief, but memorable existence in Culver City. From 1931 to 1969, the iconic blue and yellow trucks delivered all sorts of baked goods to homes around Los Angeles. The company's founder, Paul Helms, went to great lengths to promote his enterprise--including supplying bread to the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, thus coining Helms' catchphrases, "Helms Olympic Bread", and "Olympic Games Bakers - Choice of Olympic Champions". Helms Bakery continued to provide bread for the Olympics for years to come.

Helms even supplied bread for the crew of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, in a last-ditch publicity effort to save his company--and to become the first bread on the moon. But sadly, Helms could not compete with the rise of supermarkets, and his once-convenient delivery trucks were out of style.

Thankfully, you can still visit the sprawling bakery--or what once was the bakery--today. It's mostly just furniture shops and some pretty good restaurants, but it's a neatly preserved look back on an important part of LA's past.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Star Wars Land Announced

What we all pretty much knew has been confirmed. Yesterday at D23, Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger announced that both Disneyland and Walt Disney World will get their own Star Wars-themed lands. This is really exciting news!

So far, it's anyone's guess as to where this new land will be located. I'm hoping that the only thing that gets demolished and replaced is storage space, like the area behind Frontierland/Toontown. Unlike Disney World, Disneyland is very spacially limited.

In other Star Wars Disneyland news, more rumors were confirmed when Disney Parks Chairman Bob Chapek announced that the Star Wars Launch Bay, a Star Wars-themed attraction and activity zone, would be coming to the Disney Parks as well. This had already been heavily speculated, due to the recent closure of Innoventions, and the Star Wars Launch Bay coming to the new Shanghai Disney Resort.

It looks like some awesome changes are coming to the Disneyland Resort. I mean, nothing like Disney World's upcoming Avatar and Toy Story Lands, but Star Wars is good enough for me. Disney is bringing this franchise to life in ways that Lucas never could have done on his own.

I just got my Annual Pass renewed so expect more updates--I will definitely be keeping up with the Star Wars news. Is it too optimistic to hope for 2016? Yes, probably.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Disneyland All-Nighter 2015 RECAP

Disclaimer: I will be talking about the new changes to several Disneyland rides, in some detail. If you haven't seen these yet and would like to experience them for yourself spoiler-free, I suggest you stop reading here.

The chain has broken.

This year's all-nighter was absolutely spectacular. New rides, amazing fireworks, parades, decorations. It may have been my favorite one so far. Unfortunately, I didn't make the full 24 hours.

My friends and I arrived around 5 and got into the park at opening. The first ride of the day was Matterhorn, and I wouldn't have had it any other way. The new additions are fantastic. The lift hill effect is super cool, even terrifying. The crashed bobsleds are an awesome touch. But of course, the centerpiece of this new makeover is the updated yeti, and it is far from disappointing. Our new friend is much larger and much scarier: in fact, only his upper body can be seen. Rather than clawing at the air, the yeti now emerges from a cave and roars directly at passing riders. His movements are much more lifelike, and while I think the new roar is a little... I don't know, zombie-like? It's still quite chilling.

As I had been saving the Hatbox Ghost for myself as well, that was the second ride we hit. The new effect is really cool--it really does look like his head disappears. It's great to finally see one of the most iconic parts of the ride in person, especially because they finally had the technology to successfully pull it off. However, I feel that the addition of the Hatbox Ghost makes the ghost bride look even more lame by comparison. I hope they can update her with similar technology in the future.

At some point in the day we rode on Splash Mountain, getting far more soaked than usual. Seriously, they must have dialed it up for the summer because I have never gotten so drenched on this ride as I have when a tidal wave crashed over us on the final drop.

The park reached capacity sometime in the early afternoon. After jumping from ride to ride, we rode on Indiana Jones Adventure and were amazed to discover the new ride intro. We first saw the Fountain of Eternal Youth, and the second time around we saw the Observatory of the Future. The latter was really cool, even more so than before. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover these changes.

In anticipation of the new firework show, we decided to ride the Matterhorn while the fireworks went off. We got in line at exactly 8:30 to prepare for the fireworks at 9:30. We actually had to go around 4 times before the fireworks started, believe it or not.

By midnight, we'd been on almost every ride in Disneyland Park. We decided to try our luck at California Adventure, but the lines to get into either park were the longest I've ever seen. My friends and I went back to our hotel and went to sleep, though one of my friends got into DCA at 3 and saw the new World of Color. As I really wanted to see the new changes to DCA for myself, I will be returning soon.

This year with all the new changes coming to the park and with the 60th anniversary kicking off, it's no surprise that the 22nd was so busy. Hopefully in 2016 I can reach the 24 hour mark once again.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Disneyland All-Nighter 2015 Preview

This year's 24 hour Disneyland day is highly anticipated, as it will not only be celebrating the beginning of summer, but also Disneyland's 60th anniversary. Many updates are happening at the resort, and some will be unveiled on May 22nd, the day of the all-nighter. These include a new parade and firework show, and new and improved abominable snowman animatronics on Matterhorn Bobsleds. Not to mention the return of the famed Hatbox Ghost, which is happening on May 9th (tomorrow)!

As I have the past couple years, I will be recapping the all-nighter, and trying to once again hit the 24 hour mark. I have a strong feeling that this year's all-nighter will be the best one yet.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Getting Escorted off a Ride

Have you ever been riding along on a Disney ride, when the vehicle stopped suddenly and the lights came on?

If you are a regular Disney-goer, this has probably happened to you before. It could be technical difficulties, or maybe something triggered the sensors that force the ride to brake.

Something rare however, is the case of getting helped off the ride by a cast member. Sometimes you'll end up waiting in the vehicle for an extended amount of time, just so they can fix the ride before you get off. It seems the park really doesn't want to have to resort to escorting guests off the ride.

The other day a friend and I were on Pinocchio's Daring Journey. The ride broke down just as we were entering Geppetto's workshop. A cast member came through and rounded up each group by vehicle. So my friend and I took this opportunity to linger behind and take some sneaky (hence pretty crappy) photos. Since Pinocchio is a small ride, we got to walk through the rest of the ride on foot--a very different experience than usual.

This was my first time actually exiting a ride in the middle at Disneyland (I have however, had a similar experience at Disney World). Did it ruin the magic for me? No way. It's cool to see the ride from this perspective. If anything it added to the magic, being able to see how everything looks up-close.

The park works extra hard to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen, but every once in a while it just might happen to you.