Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pinching Pennies

A trip to Walt Disney World is expensive; there’s no denying it. Because (as all of you know) I’m here to help, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite money-saving tips. Hopefully, they won’t be as objectionable to members of the Disney community as say, the “throw-away” campsites and other controversial methods. After all, I don’t think I’d make a very cute voodoo doll. Here we go:

Time of Year: Disney charges far more for a room in late December than they do in September. They even charge more for food (I haven’t figured that one out yet). See if there’s any way you can swing a trip in the Value Season, as this can save you some serious moolah.

Food: Disney portions tend to be quite large, so my husband and I are fond of sharing a single appetizer and entrée. If we’re still hungry, this is the perfect opportunity to splurge on dessert! This saves us a lot more cash and calories than using Disney’s Dining Plan.

Water: Disney charges $2.50 for a bottle of water. I can sometimes get an entire case for not much more than that at Wal-Mart. My strategy is to bring down one suitcase filled with nothing but water bottles and breakfast items – cereal bars, Pop Tarts, oranges, etc. That way, I’m saving money on water and breakfast. I then use this empty suitcase to cart my souvenirs home (because there will be souvenirs. Hi, I’m Teri. Have we met?). And no, the irony of shipping oranges to Florida does not escape me. Also, Disney counter service locations will give you a free cup of water upon request. On a hot Florida day, this can be a lifesaver.

Strollers: Fortunately, this is no longer a concern for me. If it is for you, be forewarned that Disney charges $15 per day for a single stroller and $31 per day for a double. I’ve gotten rental cars at lower rates than that! If you don’t feel like lugging your stroller from home, my advice is to order one from (or similar) and have it delivered directly to your resort. You can get a canopied umbrella stroller for $20.44, plus $7.95 shipping. If you’re staying longer than two days, this will definitely save you money. At the end of your trip (if you don’t want to haul it home), just give it to another family in need of a stroller. Problem solved and good deed for the day performed!

Pre-Purchases: Disney mark-ups on everyday items are nothing short of nauseating. Make sure to have plenty of memory cards (or film), aspirin, Band-Aids, etc. I always purchase a few rain ponchos to take down with me as well.

Tickets: This is not an area where you want to get too cheap. Buying from an unaccredited source can land you in some hot water, as there is no way to look at a Disney ticket to see if it is still valid. Some slight discounts are available through AAA, Maple Leaf Tickets, Undercover Tourist and a few others. Ignore the billboards you see all around the Orlando area offering free or cheap tickets, because it just isn’t worth waste hours of your precious vacation time sitting through a timeshare spiel just to save a few dollars on tickets. And if I was your child and I was stuck listening to a sales pitch when you promised me Walt Disney World, I would be planning a coup. Something along the lines of Drew Barrymore in Irreconcilable Differences or a Stewie Griffin scheme would be entirely appropriate in this situation, in my opinion.

I’ve tried to stick to WDW-specific tips, but the standard traveling tips apply as well – comparison shop for airfare and rental cars, check for refunds to reflect any price drops, et cetera. Please feel free to share your favorite money saving trips on my Facebook wall, at!/pages/The-Disney-Gene/340155003315?ref=ts!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Not Disney

I never know if I should feel pleased or offended when people assume that any animated movie of quality was made by Disney. (Yes, I take these things a little too personally.) I started compiling a list of the films that most commonly get mistakenly attributed to Walt Disney Animation Studios and realized very quickly that they are generally they work of two Disney Deserters, Don Bluth and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Bluth became one of the chief animators at The Walt Disney Company in the 1960s. He first started as a directing animator for films such as 101 Dalmatians. In the 1970s he was an animator on the likes of Robin Hood, The Rescuers, and Pete's Dragon. His last involvement with Disney was the 1978 short The Small One.

At this point, the da**ed dirty trai – um, I mean disgruntled Bluth was allegedly upset with how the Disney animated features had "lost their charm" at the time. Along with two colleagues, Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy, Don Bluth defiantly quit. They left because of what they felt was a lack of regard by their superiors about the quality of the artwork, a deteriorating production process, and management's declining respect for the artists who built the studio. They quit in the name of Walt Disney, whom the three felt would never tolerate the way the current regime had let the animation department fall to such a low level. I think stealing eleven of Disney’s top animators to form Don Bluth Productions doesn’t seem like the best way to help the studio regain its former excellence, but what do I know?

The first release by the newly formed Don Bluth Productions was a short film titled Banjo the Woodpile Cat, and this led to work on an animated segment of the live-action film Xanadu (because nothing bespeaks high standards of quality like a film that has its stars spend most of their time on roller skates).

The studio's first feature-length was animation, The Secret of NIMH (1982), an adaptation of the award winning children's book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The film grossed twice its budget at the box office and many consider it to be Bluth's masterpiece. I’ll be honest; I loved the book, and I loved the film. I often do Jeremy quotes (“Ooh! oh-oh-oooh! A sparkly!”) that people seldom get, but are generally good for a laugh.

Teaming up with producer Steven Spielberg, Bluth's next project was An American Tail (1986), which at the time of its release became the highest grossing non-Disney animated film of all time, grossing $47 million in the United States and $84 million worldwide. The film’s feature song "Somewhere Out There", composed by James Horner and written by Barry Mann, won a Grammy Award.

The second Spielberg-Bluth collaboration The Land Before Time (1988) did even better in theaters and was followed by more than ten direct-to-video sequels. (A quick side note here – can anyone make an animated dinosaur film that doesn’t involve a bunch of herbivores trekking to a distant land to find food and escape the carnivores? LBT did it, Disney’s Dinosaur did it, and they even used that plot line in one of the Ice Age films. I’m really tired of this story line; that’s all I’m saying.)

Bluth broke ties with Spielberg before his next film, All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). Although it had only moderate theatrical success, it was highly successful in its release to home video. It was followed by several less successful films such as Rock-a-Doodle (1991), Thumbelina (1994), A Troll in Central Park (1994), and The Pebble and the Penguin (1995) (it’s not so easy to crank out hit after hit, is it Mr. Bluth?). Bluth scored another win with Anastasia (1997), with well-known Hollywood stars as its voice talent. This may be the film most commonly mistaken as a Disney production, for it follows a very familiar formula: a sassy and resourceful princess driven to become more than she is, a cruel and conniving villain who uses dark magic, a handsome and endearing love interest, and a comic-relief sidekick. Anastasia was Bluth’s last big hit.

The other influential defector was Jeffrey Katzenberg. In 1984, Michael Eisner became Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at The Walt Disney Company. Eisner brought Katzenberg with him to take charge of Disney’s motion picture divisions, including its ailing Feature Animation unit. As the studio head, Katzenberg was responsible for turning the studio around and creating some of the most critically acclaimed and highest grossing animated features that Disney released: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991, the first animated feature to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994). He also sealed the deal that created the highly successful partnership between Pixar and Disney and the deal that brought Miramax Films into Disney.

When Eisner’s second in command, Frank Wells, died in a helicopter crash in 1994, Eisner refused to promote Katzenberg to the vacated position of president. When Katzenberg pushed the issue, Eisner forced him to resign. Katzenberg launched a lawsuit against Disney to recover money he felt he was owed and settled out of court for $280 million.

Later that year, Katzenberg co-founded DreamWorks SKG with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. He was executive producer of Prince of Egypt (1998) and Joseph: King of Dreams (2000), released by DreamWorks, as well as Shrek in 2001. At this point Dreamworks became an established name in the industry, and people generally quit confusing them with Disney.

I realize that I may sound a tad bitter when I look at the careers of these remarkable gentlemen, but I just can’t help but wonder: what wonderful works could have been created if they’d stayed?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Disney Surprises

Dear Gentleman Readers,

I am assuming that you would secretly love to do some fabulous things for your significant others, but never have any good ideas. Therefore, I am here to help.


Okay, this may be a faulty premise on my part.

That said, Walt Disney World is a wonderful place to surprise a loved one with an extraordinary gift or a unique experience. Just in case you are a marvelous human being and would like to do something nice for someone special in your life, I have a few suggestions for you.

A Carriage Ride – There are a couple of these available, at Fort Wilderness and at Port Orleans. Prices start at $35. There are even seasonal options, like haunted hay rides at Halloween and sleigh rides at Christmas. Call 407-WDW-PLAY for details.

A Nice Dinner – Surprise that special someone with a fabulous night out (Disney will even watch your kids, for a fee). If you can really splurge, nothing tops Victoria and Albert’s, but that’s a hefty $125 per person, plus an extra $60 if you want the wine pairing. I can personally recommend Jiko and The California Grill as being absolutely wonderful. I’d really like to try Citricos and Narcoossee’s, as well, and I’d say you’d be pretty safe putting either of those options into play. Menus and pricing can be found at or

A Boat Cruise – Disney offers both daytime and evening cruises, some of which take place during Wishes or Illuminations. Prices start at $95, but generally run higher. Call 407-WDW-PLAY for additional information.

Behind-the-Scenes Tours – I would only recommend these as a unique surprise for a real Disney fan. That said, you can do everything from a Segway Tour at Epcot to Lunch with an Imagineer at the Brown Derby in Disney Hollywood Studios. How cool is that! Call 407-WDW-TOUR for more information (or 407-WDW-DINE for the meal).

Spa – There are some fabulous spas at Walt Disney World with some unique options, such as Adirondack Stone Therapy and Mystical Forest Body Masque & Wrap. I’m just saying.

If you want something totally unique and completely personalized, I recommend either turning to Disney’s Dream Makers or the pixies at Gifts of a Lifetime. Imagine this: You have just finished the aforementioned carriage ride. The driver turns to the two of you and says “It seems we’ve found the lady’s slipper”. He then hands your wife a glass slipper nestled on a pillow of carnations with a note “So glad the slipper fit. Happy Anniversary.” How wonderful is that?! I’m honestly welling up as I type this. And their gifts aren’t limited to the romantic sort. They don’t even have to be sent by a person at WDW at the time (the recipient does need to be at WDW, of course). Say you have a family member who has just gone through a traumatic experience, like battling an illness or a messy divorce. Why not send a Cinderella-themed floral arrangement to the woman who came through adversity with the grace a true princess? And engagements – you can make this not only an event to remember, but one you’ll be able to brag about for the rest of your life! These ideas and many more can be planned through

Gifts of a Lifetime ( is not a Disney company, but they do several Disney experiences tailored to your wishes, from scavenger hunts in the parks to decorating your room for Christmas. Prices start at around $175.00.

Of course, the coup de grace would be to greet your wife at the door with the suitcases packed and say, “Guess what? We’re going to Walt Disney World! I’ve arranged with your boss to get you off work, I made provisions with the kids’ teachers to get them out of school; I booked the airfare and made the hotel and dining reservations. Let’s go!” Since I’m guessing that’s about as likely as the moon turning to green cheese, I highly recommend my other suggestions to anyone looking to surprise their “special someone”.

Don’t worry guys; sometime I’ll write a post about things your wife can do for you. At Walt Disney World, I mean. Geez!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ain't Misbehavin'

Dear Fellow Disney Guests,

Are you acting like complete morons because you are far from home and assume you'll never see us again, or are you this stupid all of the time?


No, I'm not being too harsh. We've all encountered this person: The Stupid Guest. The loud, inconsiderate, annoying, rude guest. Are you "that guest"? Here are some signs:

1. Screaming Children -- I'm not blaming the kids here. Kids scream, and you can't expect to reason with a six-month-old. But if your infant is screaming non-stop in a theater where 2,000 other people are trying to watch a show, good manners would dictate that you exit the theater to calm your yelling youngster. Of course, there are always those lovely parents that are screaming hysterically at their kids. Nice example, really.

2. Attack of the Killer Strollers -- Here's a news flash: strollers are a mode of transportation for people too young or small to navigate the parks on their own. They were not designed to be used as battering rams by impatient parents.

3. Parade Patience -- If I've been waiting for 30 minutes in this spot to watch the parade, you have no right to cut in front of me. If you wanted to have this spot, you should have gotten here first.

4. Throwing Food -- I can't believe I even need to mention this, but sadly I do. Parents: don't let your kids throw food. I don't want the remains of your child's meal in my hair or on my clothes. Also, don't let your kids feed the animals. Feeding birds means aggressive birds, and more birds. More birds mean more bird poop. I've even seen people try to feed small alligators. Because teaching alligators to associate humans with food is such a good idea.

5. Characters -- Yes, I know your child has been waiting his whole life to meet Mickey, but so has everyone else's children. And for goodness sake, be nice to the characters. Pulling Tigger's tail or hitting Donald isn't funny; it's mean.

6. Swearing -- You are surrounded by small children. At no point does it occur to you that you may want to keep your F-bombs to a minimum?

7. Smoking -- I'm all about individual liberties, but at no point does your right to smoke trump my right to breathe clean air. There are designated smoking areas at WDW, and the line for Peter Pan's Flight is not one of them.

8. PDA -- I don't car if you're gay, straight, bi, young, old, black, white, green, or purple. Date/marry whomever you want, and celebrate your love everywhere, including WDW. Just do it in good taste. Holding hands and sweet kisses are fine, but a WDW park bench is not an appropriate spot for making out. Neither are the boats on it's a small world or Pirates of the Caribbean, for that matter.

9 Center of the Universe -- Issues happen everywhere, and how you handle them says a lot about you. By all means, let a cast member know if there is a problem. But does berating a 20-year-old kid making $8.00 per hour truly make you feel that much better? So, you didn't get the resort room view you wanted. Or Cinderella took a break right before your kid's turn to meet her. Or your waiter screwed up your drink order. Is screaming like a banshee going to improve the situation?

10. Public Nudity -- Do you really need me to tell you not to do this? Really?

11. Public Peeing -- There are restrooms about every fifteen feet at WDW, and they are all clean and well-maintained. There is no reason to let your kid cop a squat outside Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Or your drunk buddy, for that matter.

No, I'm not exaggerating. Sadly, I've seen all of the above behaviors exhibited at WDW. I try to remember that the people around me are hot, overwrought, and probably sleep deprived. But we're all in this together folks, so as Woody would say, "Play nice".

Monday, March 22, 2010

Candy is Dandy...

When we think of treats at Walt Disney World, our minds often drift to Mickey Ice Cream Bars and bags of popcorn. I'm here to suggest a few indulgences you won't have to share with the kids.

There is a dizzying array (if you'll pardon a pun) of alcoholic beverages available at WDW. Without further ado, I'm going to introduce you to my personal favorites:

5. The Beer Flight at Raglan Road in Downtown Disney. Or the beer flight at Rose and Crown in Epcot. Or the one at The Big River Grill and Brewery at the Boardwalk. Come to think of it, I'm not sure which of these I like the best. Maybe I should go back and recheck them. For research purposes, of course.

4. Anura Brut Cap Classique -- Available at Jiko in the Animal Kingdom Lodge, this is a sparkling wine blend, typically of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I seriously dream about this wine. It may be one of the top reasons I love that restaurant so much.

3. Fiesta Margarita, Mexico Pavilion (Epcot) -- I generally prefer my margaritas on the rocks, but this is a frozen concoction that I just can't pass up. Layers of lime, strawberry, mango & kiwi margaritas, all in one glass. Yum!

2. Sparkling Wine Flight, Flying Fish Cafe (Boardwalk) -- I believe this was the beverage selection that prompted my husband to observe, "You got this lit and it's not even Food and Wine Festival time? Dang!" 'Nuff said.

1. Grand Mariner Orange Slush, Les Vins des Chefs de France (Epcot) -- Here's the real kicker: I'm not a big orange-flavor fan. But this drink marries delicious flavor and alcohol kick in a mellow way that I've never seen anybody beat.

And some of you people wonder why I love WDW so much.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Behind the Scenes – The Haunted Mansion

When hinges creak in doorless chambers and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls, whenever candlelights flicker where the air is deathly still, that is the time when ghosts are present, practicing their terror with ghoulish delight.”

The first concept for a Haunted Mansion materialized as a pencil sketch in 1953, as WED (Walter Elias Disney) designers were planning Disneyland in California. The original concept, which placed the haunted house at the end of Main Street, U.S.A., was discarded long before the Opening Day designs were finalized, but the idea for a haunted house did not die. Some say it took on a life of its own.

In 1957, Walt Disney asked Imagineer Ken Anderson to develop a haunted house show for Frontierland. Ken researched all manner of ghosts and ghouls, and even made up a story about a haunted seaside retreat belonging to the spirit of a long-dead sea captain. He designed a decrepit southern mansion to be suitably creepy, with slamming shutters and a weed infested yard. Envisioned as a walking tour, a maid or butler would guide guests through the house, pointing out the secret passages, changing portraits, and inanimate objects that came alive. When Walt reviewed the show in October of 1957, he had a couple of concerns about the attraction. For starters, he was less than impressed with the low capacity a walking tour afforded. With Disneyland attendance rising, the demand for a new attraction also required that it have a high-capacity guest volume. The other thing that bothered Walt was the look of the drawing for the exterior facade. He did not want anything looking ramshackle in his pristine park, particularly a broken down, weed-ridden house. He was quoted as saying, “We’ll take care of the outside, and we’ll let the ghosts take care of the inside.”

Ken Anderson began revamping the storyline and in 1962, it looked so promising that Disney special effects wizard Yale Gracey was added to the team. In 1963, a stately southern mansion appeared along the Rivers of America, next to an area that would soon be known as New Orleans Square. A sign outside of it read: "Notice! All ghosts and Restless Spirits... post-lifetime leases are now available in this Haunted Mansion! For reservations, send resume of past experience to: Ghost Relations Dept., Disneyland. Please! Do not apply in person!" Hopefully, guests did not hold their breath in anticipation of the scheduled 1963 opening. Even as the mansion was being built, Walt Disney was asked to create four shows for the 1964 New York World's Fair. Moving all of his designers to this major new effort, the Haunted Mansion once again sat empty, waiting for a show.

The lessons Disney learned at the World's Fair directly affected the Haunted Mansion. Imagineers created a breakthrough in show ride technology, the OmniMover system. This new system allowed Disney to transport large numbers of guests continually through a show. The individual cars could be programmed to automatically turn and tilt, directing the Guests' attention to a particular point at precisely the right time. The New York World's Fair shows had also propelled the new Audio-Animatronics system to sophisticated new levels, offering yet another layer of magic to this already magical show.

In 1964, Walt Disney assigned Imagineer, animator and character designer Marc Davis, and background artist Claude Coats to the Haunted Mansion team. Since everyone assigned to this team was already busy creating Pirates of the Caribbean, concept development for the Haunted Mansion was slow. Sadly, Walt Disney died in December 1966, just months before the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean.

Although Walt had personally supervised many scenes in the Haunted Mansion, his passing left the show to be completed without its creative leader. The team rallied, and on August 9, 1969, the doors of the Haunted Mansion finally creaked opened to curious guests for the first time. Two years later, this popular show made its debut as one of the Opening Day attractions at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Although the show itself was essentially the same as its Disneyland counterpart, the building's exterior took on a completely new look to match the colonial theme of its new land, Liberty Square. Rather than a sedate southern mansion, the Haunted Mansion was transformed into a gothic manor from the eastern seaboard. Dark bricks, stone finishes and ominous turrets created the perfect setting for a haunting. Over the years, the addition of a family graveyard, unkempt gardens, and a pet cemetery have kept interest in the mansion from "dying" out.

Someday soon, we’ll take a tour of this morbid mansion. In the meantime, special thanks to Disney Gene reader and former Cast Member Matt Dempsey for providing much of the behind-the-scenes information on this beloved classic!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Expanding Epcot

I love Epcot. While I don’t want to pick favorites amongst the Disney parks, I can tell you that when in WDW alone, this is the park to which I most frequently gravitate. That said, there’s always room for improvement.

World Showcase is a wonderful place for dining, shopping, and just wandering around. It is, however, rather lacking in top tier attractions. I can’t imagine anyone over the age of four considering Norway’s Maelstrom or Mexico’s Gran Fiesta Tour to be E-ticket attractions. And as for the films around World Showcase; well, I always thought as a kid that I would appreciate these more as an adult. I’m still waiting for my tastes to mature to that level.

Not one to point out a problem without providing a solution, I’ve planned out an entire pavilion as an addition to World Showcase. Several countries have been proposed by many people over the years; Brazil, Australia, Peru, and Spain have been top contenders. I propose Russia. Here’s why:

1. Architecture – A replica of Saint Basil’s Cathedral would be absolutely stunning. The Catherine Palace and Menshikov Tower would be rather striking, as well. As most U.S. citizens will never be able to visit Russia, I believe the exotic look of this pavilion would be an immediate crowd pleaser.

2. Thrill Ride – The origin of the roller coaster dates back to the Russian Ice Slides built in the 17th century throughout Russia. Hello, E-ticket attraction!

3. Dining – At first my entire menu focused around one phrase: Vodka Ice Bar. While I’m not abandoning that notion, I decided I should come up with some actual food options, as well. Considering the absolute debacle that is The Liberty Inn in the America pavilion, I thought it may be best to create an entire menu for Disney. Here it goes:

Zakuski (Appetizers):

Blini with sour cream and caviar or mushrooms
Pelmeni – Meat or chicken dumplings pan-seared and served with a sour cream and chive dipping sauce
Roasted Red Peppers stuffed with feta, cream cheese, and walnuts
Draniki – Fried potato pancakes with onion and garlic
Borscht – Because you’d have to serve Borscht


Cheboureki – Small fried pies with meat filling
Beef Stroganoff—Tender beef in a sour cream sauce served over noodles
Chicken Kiev -- Boneless chicken breast rolled around garlic butter with herbs, then breaded and either fried or baked
Fried Trout with Lemon
Potato Pirozhki -- Baked or fried buns stuffed with tender meat filling and sour cream (I am loving all of this sour cream!)
Midnight Chicken -- Chunks of chicken breasts stewed with carrots, onions, spices, raisins and fresh garlic in a sour cream sauce and served over noodles
Zharkoe Pork -- Pieces of pork sautéed with onions, mushrooms, potatoes and herbs
Golubtzy -- Cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and beef, and roasted in tomato sauce


Russian Teacakes
Pavlova – A baked meringue topped with Chantilly or whipped cream and fresh berries
Syrniki – A fried quark cheese (similar to cream cheese or ricotta) pancake, garnished with sour cream, jam, honey, or applesauce
Sambouk – Plum mousse
Russian Fruitcake
Charlotte Malakoff – A lining of ladyfingers and a center filling of a soufflé mixture of cream, liqueur, chopped almonds, and whipped cream and decorated with strawberries

4. Shopping Kholui and Palekh lacquered boxes make attractive souvenirs. Traditional and satirical Matryoshka dolls (Russian nesting dolls) should be available, as well as perhaps some toy bears. Another unique souvenir would be Khokhloma -- wooden cups, saucers and spoons painted gold, red and black. Dymkovskaya Igrushka are pottery figurines based on popular folklore characters. Engraved amber, Gzhel porcelain, Vologda lace and Fabergé eggs and jewelry would be highly sought after.

What do you think?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Strange but True

I’m all about debunking Disney myths, but sometimes the crazy stories are actually true. Is truth stranger than fiction? You decide:

1. The image of a topless woman can be seen in the background of The Rescuers. I can’t deny it. It’s on my VHS copy. About 38 minutes into the film, as Bernard and Bianca are soaring through the skies via Albatross Air Charter Service, naked boobies can clearly be seen in the background. According to Disney, these images were not placed there by animators, but appeared at some point during post-production. They recalled that video (I wonder how many they actually got back?) and reissued it without the risqué images on March 23, 1999. The DVD version is sans nudity.

2. Due to racial content, The Song of the South has never been released on home video. Well, I guess this one is partly true. This film has been criticized for “making slavery appear pleasant” or “pretending slavery didn’t exist”. In fairness, the film was supposed to take place after slavery was abolished. While I don’t want to stir up a hornet’s nest, I would like to point out that when it was released, the NAACP acknowledged the artistic merit of the film. And James Baskett, the actor who portrayed Uncle Remus, was the first live-action actor ever hired by Disney. Baskett even received an Academy award for his role, making him the first black male performer to receive an Oscar. Oh, and while Disney is hesitant to release this movie for home viewing, I am the proud owner of a copy on VHS. Yeah, I’m that much of a Disney dork.

3.In the 1958 Disney documentary White Wilderness, lemmings were induced to jump off a cliff into the sea to document their alleged suicidal behavior. Unfortunately for Disney, lemmings aren’t actually suicidal (at least not the ones I’ve met). This is an urban legend, and Disney fell for it. Oops.

4. Harlan Ellison was fired from Disney for suggesting a “porn Disney flick”. Prolific Hollywood writer (and Cleveland, OH native) Harlan Ellison was eating lunch at the Disney commissary his first day on the job. To his tablemates and fellow writers, Ellison jokingly suggested they “do a Disney porn flick” and proceeded to act it out, using the voices of several Disney characters. Unbeknownst to Ellison, Roy Disney and several other top Disney executives were seated at the adjacent table. Rumor has it that the pink slip was already on his desk by the time he returned to his office.

5. Several people have chosen “The Happiest Place on Earth” as their final resting place. Don’t think it hasn’t occurred to me. I realize that we all have to go sometime, and the idea of my remains remaining on Disney property for all of eternity does appeal to me. However, Disney has threatened to ban people caught making, shall we say, unsolicited donations of this type from the parks, and I don’t want to be responsible for getting my heirs booted from Disney property.

These are some of my favorite weird Disney stories. What are yours?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Disney Fear

It's a world of laughter, A world of tears.
It's a world of hopes, And a world of fears

I swear to you, as a small child, I was absolutely sure that song had been written about Walt Disney World.

A tiny tot can find a lot of things to be afraid of at WDW. This catches many parents by surprise, as their dreams of sunshine and lollypops encounter the harsh realities of tears and tantrums. Fortunately, a little advance preparation can help head a lot of this off at the pass.

My first WDW memory is one of fear (my next one is of food, but we’ll save that for another day). I was quite small and in a stroller (which means I was younger than four, at which time my baby brother was the only child in our family with stroller privileges), and I encountered a bear! Okay, it was Winnie the Pooh. I’m telling you though, I was petrified. For starters, he was huge. Also, he had these weird-looking eyes and this bizarre “Hunny” pot on his head. I was completely freaked out. My parents were flabbergasted by this. My general fearlessness in the face of danger gave my mother many headaches and nightmares, but one tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff could reduce me to a quivering mass.

This is actually pretty common amongst small children at WDW. Parents buy the autograph books and spend twenty minutes in line, only to have their children stubbornly refuse to pose with Goofy. I’ve found that a great way to deal with this is to introduce your child to the concept in stages. Start with the face characters – Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, the Disney Princesses, etc. The child can clearly see the person’s face, and interaction is much easier. From there, try a character meal, like Crystal Palace or Chef Mickey’s. The characters visit the diners in a laid-back, less structured manner that many children find less intimidating. At this point, children will usually accept the characters like the old friends that they are. Except the villains of course. Even older children occasionally have some issues here. Your kids know who the bad guys are, and often don’t see any good coming from hugging the likes of Captain Hook or Jafar.

Of course, the rides can be pretty scary, too. Disney does a great job with theming, and anxiety can start to build up before you even reach the queue. After my own terrifying experiences on Pirates of the Caribbean as a child, I thought I was totally prepared when I took my three-year-old daughter to Walt Disney World for her first trip. I’d start her off on the ride all children love, Dumbo the Flying Elephant. (Sigh) Apparently, my daughter is afraid of heights. Do you know what she did like? It’s a Small World. Over, and over, and over again.

When we returned when she was six, I thought these issues were behind us. After all, she had been talking about The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror for years, literally. She was so psyched to ride this! As we started to head down Sunset Boulevard, however, she started to change her mind. At this point, I actually resorted to bribery. We took her into a shop, and I let her select any hat she wanted. She chose this bright pink monstrosity that looked like a fishing hat with feathers around the brim. It was quite possibly the ugliest thing I’d ever seen, but it got her on the ride. She was obviously there under protest, however, and I started getting “the look” from other parents. You know, the “You are obviously a bad parent” look. I knew that she would really regret it if she didn’t ride it, however, and on we went. Of course, as we exited she declared it was the best ride ever and immediately wanted to ride it again. Is it possible to want to praise your child and beat it simultaneously? (I stuck with the praise, of course, with a tiny bit of “I told you so” thrown in. I’m only human, after all.)

There are a couple of planning tools that can help with these issues, although they obviously don’t relieve them entirely. Disney has some planning videos that you can order for free, and they will give your child a brief glimpse of many of the attractions. There’s also a video Disney released in 1990 in their Disney Sing-Along-Songs series entitled Disneyland Fun. While this is technically of Disneyland and not the Magic Kingdom, they are similar enough that this will give your child a good idea of what to expect. It also teaches them several of the songs from the attractions, and shows other children interacting with the characters. I love this video!

The more familiar your child is with the movies that inspire the attractions, the more excited about the trip they will be, and the more fun they will have. Revisiting these classic films will also help fill the time until your trip time arrives. And who knew prep work could be so much fun?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Backstory -- Tower of Terror

"You are about to discover what lies beyond the fifth dimension...beyond the deepest, darkest corner of the the Tower of Terror."

Walt Disney World isn’t about thrills. It’s about story. Sometimes, however, thrills can help tell the story. A perfect example of this is The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

Back in the early 1990’s, Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) was considered a half-day park. The first major expansion was Sunset Boulevard, with the purpose of adding some much-needed high profile rides to the park, and even out traffic flow away from The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Star Tours, and Muppetvision 3D.

Several ideas were proposed; a Mickey’s Movieland, a Roger Rabbit attraction, and a Dick Tracy themed ride were all scrapped for various reasons. Disney then teamed up with Mel Brooks with the thought of creating an attraction based on Young Frankenstein. This "Castle Young Frankenstein" would have featured a Bavarian village with winding streets to the castle with a drawbridge. The idea later changed to "Mel Brooks' Hollywood Horror Hotel".

As time went on, Brooks lost interest in the project; partially because Disney wasn't building on Mel's original idea anymore, and also because he started work on the movie "Life Stinks". Once he had left, Imagineers started to re-imagine what direction the attraction would take. A haunted house collaboration with Vincent Price was considered, but eventually scrapped, as well. They then started leaning toward a Spanish Mission look as a better fit with the existing architecture on Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards. Disney still felt the attraction needed a movie reference however, and eventually settled on the Twilight Zone theme. In fact, the idea of a Twilight Zone attraction was tossed around for one of the opening day attractions at the Disney-MGM Studios, and was a fairly easy overlay. The one element that was lost with Mel’s departure was the comedy aspect, but with Mel gone, Imagineers focused on the eeriness and thrill of the attraction to enhance the Twilight Zone theme.

The Fifth Dimension idea played a strong part of the story from the beginning - and it became the ideal transition from ride shaft to drop shaft (early plans called for the 5th Dimension floor to be in the basement, having descended from the corridor scene, and then to rise to the top of the building and move into the drop shaft without a show scene.) To maximize capacity without duplicating everything, it was decided to have four ride shafts but only two drop shafts. This, and the 5th Dimension transition, called for a new type of ride vehicle. Imagineering had to have an elevator car, but one that could also move horizontally. It would then need to not only drop guests, but actually pull them down, so that they are in effect falling faster than gravity. With the plans finalized, construction of the Tower of Terror began promptly. On July 22, 1994, the brand new attraction opened its doors to the public.

Long before guests board the elevator however, the story unfolds. As you approach the once-beautiful hotel, signs of disuse and decay are evident. The story behind the hotel's elevators entices visitors into the elegant and intricately decorated lobby. Leather furniture, rich woods, and deeply colored tapestries give an authentic feel to the lobby, as do the Cast Members dressed in classic bell-hop attire emblazoned with the "HTH" logo of the hotel. An "Out of Order" sign stands in front of collapsed mesh lift doors, further drawing hotel guests into the secrets of the disaster that once occurred on a stormy night long ago...

Everything in the hotel remains exactly as it did when it was a thriving destination for Hollywood's beautiful and elite. Books, pipes, porcelain vases, and antique lamps adorn tables and shelves. But everything is dusty and unkempt, as though it had been suddenly abandoned and forgotten…

As you enter the library, lights flicker and an old television comes on. From there, Rod Serling fills you in on the story you have entered. You see, one stormy night long ago, an elegant honeymoon couple, a child actress, her nanny, and the bellman entered the main elevators of the Hollywood Tower Hotel during a terrible thunderstorm. As the group made the ascent toward their rooms, lightning struck the elevator shaft on the outside of the building. The lift itself plummeted to the ground floor - yet the bodies of the victims were never found, and are said to still roam the hotel, inviting unsuspecting visitors to enter the fifth dimension and learn the secret of that fateful night. The service in all the main elevators was lost that night, all apart from one service elevator that still works. In that service elevator, your destiny awaits….

Today, the Tower of Terror continues to amaze (and frighten) guests of all ages. This is deservedly one of the most popular attractions at Walt Disney World but remember, “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.”

Monday, March 8, 2010

North is UP, Right?

"The mighty Roman empire bridged three continents with a vast system of roads - the fastest information highways the world had ever known. East, west, north, and south - all roads led to Rome."

These are the words Jeremy Irons used to intone on Disney's Spaceship Earth. While that may be true in Europe, it's not the case in Walt Disney World. In WDW, all roads lead to Epcot.

I consider myself to have a pretty decent sense of direction. If necessary, I'll bet that I could traverse the 1061 miles from my front door to the WDW gates without the aid of a map. Once on property, however, all bets are off.

Maybe I'm too excited to think properly. Maybe I'm thrown off by the purple signs or have a hard time seeing around all of the buses. All I know is that no matter where I'm trying to go in Walt Disney World, I always seem to end up in the Epcot parking lot.

Okay maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration. I guess I've ended up in the Magic Kingdom parking lot by mistake a time or two, as well.

People who live in the area or who visit the parks several times a year tend to gush about how clearly the roads are marked, and how easy they are to navigate. I suppose they are, once you get used to the weird way they are set up. Therefore, I'm going to give you a quick primer in Disney navigation. Because, you know, I'm here to help.

1. Disney property maps are meant to be pretty more than informative. Just because it looks like a through road on a map doesn't mean it is one. Case in point: Epcot Center Drive. If you look at it on a map, it appears to be a road connecting World Drive and Buena Vista Drive. Don't be fooled! Whichever side you come from, it dumps you into the Epcot parking lot. Then you have to face the pity in the security guard's eyes as you explain your error and he redirects you. You just know he's muttering "stupid tourist" under his breath as you drive away, because you're already thinking it yourself.

2. Disney assumes that your real destination is a theme park, whether you think it is or not. Imagine this: it's 9:00 PM; you've just left the Magic Kingdom, and after fighting a tangle of cranky drivers, you have finally managed to escape the parking lot of the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) and are heading back to your resort. All of a sudden you see a sign that says "Magic Kingdom Straight Ahead" and you think (or actually scream like I do), "Noooo! I just got out of there! I do NOT want to go back!" Don't panic; it's okay. You aren't really heading back there. Disney just wanted to provide you with an alternate route (or several) in case you decided that you weren't ready to leave after all. Ignore the sign and continue on your way.

3. Disney seems to have some sort of weird prejudice against left turns. Again, you're consulting the pretty little map that your resort so kindly provided when you checked in, and you're thinking, "I'd like to go to Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge for dinner." and jump in your car to head over. You come to an intersection with the intention of turning left, and find it isn't possible. Here's why: Disney has designed many of their intersections to work more like highway on/off ramps. Sometimes, your exit will be on the right when you know you want to go left. It's okay; just go with it. Disney doesn't take kindly to you creating your own off ramps, as I've discovered to my embarrassment and dismay. Also, they may decide to have you bypass your destination entirely, turn left at the next intersection and then turn right into your destination. Again I advise letting Disney have their way, as other drivers tend to get upset if you start driving horizontally across their traffic lanes.

Finding your way around inside the theme parks is pretty easy (often much simpler than finding your way around your resort), but I would still advise picking up a guide map and park schedule as you enter. It will provide you with a lot of useful information like park hours, show times, height restrictions, ride closings, etc. One quick note, however. When I first went to Epcot, I was sure Disney didn't know east from west. You see, as you entered the park, Communicore East was on your left, and Communicore West was on your right. To my experience, that was not how east and west worked. It wasn't until years later when I looked at an aerial photograph of Epcot that I realized that as you enter the park, you are facing south. I just always assumed that the top of the park map was north, because north is up, right?

Friday, March 5, 2010

TLS' What Not to Wear

There's been quite the stir amongst the Disney internet community of late regarding a website entitled People of the Park. This site features photos of the "fashion challenged" that have been spotted within the Disney theme parks. Many people are offended, because they feel the site is mean-spirited and hurtful.

I want to preface this post by saying that I have no interest in picking on anyone because of their weight. As someone who has struggled with weight issues her entire life, I have no desire to cast stones on that front. Fashion choices are a different matter altogether.

If you show up at Walmart in sweats or even pajamas, I'll probably cut you some slack. I'm going to assume that you're quite ill and need to pick up your prescriptions. Whether or not that's necessarily the case, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Walt Disney World is a different story. I mean, first you had to buy whatever it is you are wearing to the park. Then you packed it in your suitcase. Finally, you put it on and left your hotel room. That means you had three opportunities to decide that this is what you wanted to be seen in. At that point, you're fair game in my book.

First off, let's discuss undergarments. Women, the girls are there for you, so you should support them. That said, if you can't get the kind of support you need from a strapless bra, then halter tops, racer-backs, and spaghetti straps are not for you. If I can clearly see what color bra or panties you are wearing, then you have obviously not grasped the concept of undergarments.

While being cool and comfortable is certainly the order of the day, keep in mind that other people can see you. And sometimes, your image is permanently burned into our retinas, whether we want it to be or not. When deliberating your apparel options, please make modesty a priority. There are just certain parts of the human anatomy that should only be viewed by mutual consent.

The most important fashion choice you may make at WDW is that of footwear. In this instance, I am not suggesting you go with the most fashionable choice. Even I don't wear heels in the park, and I do love my heels! You should also avoid boots, flip flops, or anything else that won't give you the comfort and support you need for walking five-plus miles per day. I recommend either well-broken in tennis shoes or Fit Flops. These little numbers are fabulous. You get all the convenience and comfort of a flip flop with the support of a tennis shoe. These aren't the most fashion-forward apparel items in my wardrobe, but they are the handiest when at WDW!

I've often said that a trip to WDW is a fascinating study in socioeconomics, and guests' fashion choices will certainly bear this out. When you see a perfect Stepford family who, at the end of a day in the parks, are still wearing neatly pressed white shirts and khakis without a stain or smudge in sight (seriously, how do they do that?), and all with perfectly coiffed hair -- well, you just know they are heading straight for a monorail resort. Meanwhile, the bedraggled woman who is sporting hair that has long since escaped its neon scrunchy, a t-shirt that's at least two sizes too small and, horror of horrors -- elastic waist knits shorts, is more than likely dragging her brood onto a bus to the All-Stars. Vilify me for saying it if you want to, but I'm really good at playing "Name Their Resort".

To quote Inigo Montoya, "Let me 'splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up":

1. Be cool and comfortable.
2. Wear appropriate, supportive footwear.
3. Remember that other people will see you (whether they want to or not) so please dress accordingly.

Have fun and try to avoid being a poster child for "What Not to Wear"!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Disney Debunked

When people find out that I love Disney, they enjoy inundating me with Disney “facts”. Some of these do sound plausible. Others, well, I swear you’d have to be more gullible than Goofy to believe them. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular:

Walt Disney was placed in cryogenic storage and interred beneath Sleeping Beauty Castle.” No one would like to believe more than I that Walt could return someday. I feel that the world was truly robbed when he passed away from lung cancer at 65. Unfortunately, he’s gone and he’s not waiting in stasis somewhere for a cancer cure to be created so that he can return. He was cremated on December 17, 1966 and his ashes reside at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

A phallus was drawn on the cover of The Little Mermaid video by a disgruntled Disney artist.” I’ll admit it; one of the castle spires in the background of The Little Mermaid promo art looks like a penis. There’s no way to sugar-coat it. (Wait; forget I said that.) Anyway, that artist who actually drew the cover has spoken on this topic. First off; he didn’t even work for Disney, so had no “disgruntlement” issues with the company. Further, that’s how castle spires look; surely you’ve noticed this elsewhere. The artist has also said that he was quite rushed to get the artwork completed, and simply didn’t notice resemblance until the controversy started. The alleged “phallic symbol” actually went unnoticed by the general public for about a year until Entertainment Weekly ran a story about in 1990. A mistake yes, but not an intentional attempt to -- what? Show penises to children? Subsequent artwork has be redrawn to eliminate this issue.

On this same topic, it kind of looks in this movie like the minister in the wedding scene is um, really excited. Sorry to deflate your – I mean burst your bubble, but this is actually the minister’s knee. If you study the different frames, this becomes apparent.

Walt was an anti-Semite. Just because you hear it on Family Guy doesn’t make it true. These rumors started as part of a smear campaign against Walt during the 1941 strike at the Disney Studios. The people who actually knew Walt defend him vehemently against these accusations. Per composer Robert Sherman:

Walt was sensitive to people's feelings. He hated to see people mistreated or discriminated against. One time, Richard (Robert's brother and co-composer) and I overheard a discussion between Walt and one of his lawyers. This attorney was a real bad guy, didn't like minorities. He said something about Richard and me, and he called us 'these Jew boys writing these songs.' Well, Walt defended us, and he fired the lawyer. Walt was unbelievably great to us."

Artist Joe Grant, who is also Jewish, agrees. "Walt was not anti-Semitic," Grant told an interviewer. "Some of the most influential people at the studio were Jewish. It's much ado about nothing. I never once had a problem with him in that way. That myth should be laid to rest."

Floyd Norman, an African-American story artist, also rejects the racism accusation. He recalls that, during the 1960s, several civil rights leaders tried to force the Disney studio to hire more minorities. "The funny part," he said, "was that minorities weren't knocking at the gates to get in. The jobs were there if they wanted them and if they were qualified. It's like the old ruse that Walt didn't hire Jews, which was also ridiculous. There were plenty of Jews at Disney. Personally, I never felt any prejudice from Walt."

And finally, the letters S-E-X are formed by a swirling dust cloud in the Lion King. In one scene of the film's original home video releases, it appears as if the word "SEX" might have been embedded into the dust flying in the sky when Simba flops down, which a conservative religious organization called The American Life League asserted was a subliminal message intended to promote sexual promiscuity. (Mind you, this particular group had already been boycotting Disney for awhile at this point because they thought Disney was too nice to the gay and lesbian communities.) The film's animators, however, have stated that the letters spell "SFX" (a common abbreviation of "special effects"), and was intended as an innocent "signature" created by the effects animation team. These types of "signatures” are occasionally found in Disney films, and are actually quite common in the Disney theme parks. Due to the controversy it had caused, the scene was edited for the film's 2003 DVD and VHS releases, and the dust no longer formed any letters.

I could go on and on (and I often do), but these stories are the most common. Maybe sometime we can take a look at some of the myths that fall into the "strange but true" category!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Great School Debate

Another great Disney debate is whether or not you should remove your kids from school for a Walt Disney World vacation. Let’s look at both sides of this issue, as well:

Crowds are heaviest during school breaks. Period. The week between Christmas and New Years is sheer hell. And prices; oy vey, the prices. A night at the Polynesian during September will cost you about $365. That same room goes for about $610 during the Holidays. Yes, that’s per night. I’ve had monthly rent payments lower than that. Spring Break is nearly as terrifying in both crowds and prices.

Of course you could go during the summer. Crowd levels and room rates are still bad, but not quite at that Holiday Horror level. But Florida in summer equals soaring temperatures, daily thunderstorms, and humidity levels that can make breathing difficult. Oh yeah, and it’s hurricane season.

I guess you can kind of tell that I’m in the “take your kids out of school” camp. Teachers everywhere are probably making voodoo dolls of me as I write this, so let me clarify. First of all, if your child is only a marginal student or typically misses a lot of school due to illness, then I say to suck it up and deal with the issues I just mentioned. But I missed a week of school every year as a child with no issues. My daughter has missed school for a Disney trip so far in first, fourth, seventh, and ninth grades and consistently brings home straight A’s. It can be done. Further, it teaches the child responsibility for the missed work. Instead of the relative ease of their normal day-to-day routine, the child needs to go above and beyond to make sure the work gets completed. Let’s look at a few other things a trip to WDW can teach you child:

Travel Protocol – As someone who has to travel frequently for work, I wish to heaven that schools taught people how to successfully navigate an airport, get through security, handle baggage claim, rental cars, etc. I seem to always be stuck in line behind a first time traveler who has no clue what’s going on.

Geography – There’s nothing like a 1061-mile trip to teach you about the places you’re traveling through. Or how to read a map, for that matter.

Math – Giving the kids a set budget to spend provides them with far more useful life skills than story problems like “If Mary is traveling north at 63 MPH and John is traveling south at 57 MPH and neither of them started at WDW…”

World Cultures – There are eleven countries represented in the World Showcase at Epcot, and each is staffed by natives from that land. This is a wonderful opportunity for children to learn about these cultures first-hand.

Restaurant Etiquette – It absolutely astounds me the number of children who have never eaten at a restaurant that doesn’t involve ordering at a counter. WDW gives them a child-friendly environment in which to learn not only how to act in a restaurant, but also introduces them to foods beyond French fries and chicken strips.

Travel does broaden the mind, and Walt Disney World provides a multitude of educational experiences that you and your child can discover for yourselves. Not all learning needs to take place in a classroom. Go explore; have an adventure!