Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Winter is Coming

(That's right; a Game of Thrones reference in a Disney blog. I'm a geek through and through; accept it and move on.)

I'm sure that you've heard the same rumors I have, to wit: Epcot's Maelstrom will be shutting down this fall to either be completely redone as a new Frozen attraction or (far more likely) to receive a Frozen overlay.

Fan reaction to this (admittedly completely unconfirmed but highly likely) rumor has, of course, been mixed. (Poor Disney; for being arguably the most beloved brand on the planet, they must feel like somebody is always complaining.) When I discussed it with my stylist (young mother of two elementary-school-aged daughters), I swear that I saw tears of joy in her eyes. On the other hand, Disney fanboys across the internet have lit their torches and are sharpening their pitchforks. I'm going to try to take an objective look at both sides (admittedly not one of my strengths), and then give you my opinion (okay; that I'm good at).

Frozen fans – they are aplenty. I mean holy crap, these people are obsessed. And hey, I write a Disney blog, so I know a little about Disney obsessions. But I'm probably not the best person to comment on this. I mean, I liked the movie a lot, but I don't understand the mania that has swept the nation. I guess I'm fortunate that my daughter is nineteen, not nine. And while I love Idina Menzel and the collective works of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, I certainly don't get the whole “Let it Go” craze. Of course that's probably because I'm from Ohio, where it's miserably cold about nine months out of the year. The phrase “The cold never bothered me anyway” would pass my lips exactly never.

And let's face it: World Showcase doesn't currently have a lot to offer small kids. I'll admit it: when Epcot first opened, I thought it was boring. There were few rides, no characters, and to be honest, I had been expecting Magic Kingdom: Part Two. Epcot, in my considered prepubescent opinion, left a lot to be desired. And even though it's come a long way, I can see why it wouldn't have the same appeal for someone without a credit card or a valid ID that it now has for, well, me.

Also, there's the “change is good and new is better” philosophy. Some people have done Maelstrom repeatedly and are ready for an update. And when you add to that the “let's not have a repeat of The Little Mermaid” fear, where it took Disney around twenty years to get around to making a ride featuring a very popular character – well, you can see why Disney might not want to let the grass grow under their feet on this one.

In the other corner we have the Disney Purists: Epcot is supposed to be educational, characters (The Three Caballeros aside) don't belong in World Showcase, it's an insult to the people of Norway to replace the attraction designed to represent their culture with characters from a fictional film, and this is an attraction that belongs in Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland, not in World Showcase.

I think the fanboys have some valid points, as well. But my objections actually stem for a different source.

Let's look at Epcot as a whole. What would you say the two most popular attractions in Future World are? My money would be on Test Track and Soarin'. Test Track got an update in 2012, and Soarin' is rumored to be getting one soon as well. And to what end, I ask? To make them even more popular? Meanwhile, the Wonders of Life Pavilion idly languishes for the bulk of the year, and the Imagination Pavilion is just sad. And now Maelstrom, arguably the most popular attraction in World Showcase (certainly the one with the longest lines) and one of only two rides in WS, is slated for a refurb. My point? Look at the park as if it were a smile. Instead of replacing the teeth in the smile that are broken (Imagination) or missing entirely (Wonders of Life, all of the countries that could/should be in WS), Disney keeps polishing the teeth in the smile that are already pretty. How does that make any sense? If Fastpass+ is allegedly redistributing guests throughout the park with the goal of making wait times more equitable, couldn't this be done far more efficiently and with a far better overall guest experience by “plussing” attractions that really, you know, need it?

(Sigh) Of course, WDW management has a history of this “polishing the pretty teeth” practice. After all, how many updates do The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean really need, while their poor little stepbrothers Tom Sawyer Island and the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway get ignored? But that's a discussion for another day.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What Spaceship Earth Should Be

Like a grand and miraculous spaceship, our planet has sailed through the universe of time; and for a brief moment we have been among its passengers.”

Grand, inspiring words – that have almost no connection to the attraction that follows.

Don't get me wrong; I really enjoy Spaceship Earth. I've been on every version since it opened and loved them all. But in my opinion, the actual attraction really doesn't tie in well with its name or stated theme. It's the story of how humans communicate. That's a nice story, but I don't think it has a scope that deserves either its appellation or its location as your gateway into Future World.

So what should be there?

Over the past month, I have fallen completely in love with Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. It's everything Epcot's Future World should be: engaging, enlightening, entertaining, educational, enthralling. And its theme is perfect for Spaceship Earth: it explores how we discovered the laws of nature and found our coordinates in space and time. Here we board the "Ship of the Imagination" (how Epcot-y is that?), the show's narrative device to explore the universe's past, present, and future. Host Neil deGrasse Tyson shows us where the Earth sits in the scope of the known universe, defining the Earth's "address" within it. He explains how humanity has not always seen the universe in this manner, and describes the hardships and persecution of scientists and free-thinkers as they've helped humanity move forward into new ages of discovery. Episode by episode, we are introduced to awe-inspiring concepts in a way that's easy to understand without being condescending. It does a far better job explaining our role as passengers on “this, our Spaceship Earth” than the attraction ever has.

And just think, we could end that ongoing debate over which narrator of  Spaceship Earth was superior, because the obvious choice for this improved version would be Tyson himself. His passion for the material shines through in every episode of Cosmos, and would give the attraction far more life than any of the hosts have thus far. Further, we'd then have both Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye the Science Guy in Future World attractions – and if the goal of Future World (as stated on its dedication plaque) is to “entertain, inform and inspire, and above all, may it instill a new sense of belief and pride in man's ability to shape a world that offers hope to people everywhere" – isn't that just how it should be?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Can What's Old Become New at Disney's Boardwalk?

As I'm sure you've heard by now, Kouzzina by Cat Cora at Disney's Boardwalk is closing September 30, 2014. And naturally, Disney fans everywhere are wondering about its replacement. Disney has been rather closed-mouth about it thus far, but I'm not about to let that stop me from speculating!

It's not that I necessarily think the Boardwalk is lacking in dining venues. The Flying Fish Cafe is (outside of Victoria and Albert's, which shouldn’t really count) quite possibly my favorite Walt Disney World restaurant. Chef Tim Keating is an absolutely amazing talent, and his attention to detail and desire to please guests is truly remarkable. Additionally, the sports fan in me adores the ESPN Club, and the bartenders there are some of my favorite on property. I've even enjoyed a meal or two at Big River Grille and Brewing Works...but then again, I liked Kouzzina, so that tells you what my opinion's worth. ;) However, since there will be an open space, I'm certainly not lacking for ideas!

The moment I heard about an opening on the Boardwalk, I immediately recalled some interviews I had heard with Disney historians/experts Jim Hill and Jim Korkis. Both had mentioned some of the previous ideas that had been floated for this area, and I found them absolutely fascinating. (Side note: As I discuss the information shared in their interviews, any “insider” or historical content is completely due to their knowledge and hard work. Any mistakes or misinformation would be my fault entirely.)

One idea that was originally floated as a dining option for the Boardwalk was a 900-seat supper club themed to The Little Mermaid. As the resort officially opened on July 1, 1996, I can see why this idea was appealing at the time. But much like The American Idol Experience at the nearby Disney's Hollywood Studios, this is a concept whose time I believe has come and gone.

On the other hand, I find the concept of Walt's Attic absolutely fascinating. This would have been a more upscale dining experience with music and entertainment – perhaps something similar to the Top of the World restaurant that used to occupy the space that is now home to the Contemporary Resort's California Grill. They were planning to join forces with the Disney Archives, so that you'd be dining surrounded by fascinating artifacts from Disney history. Just the chance to be up close and personal with the likes of Disney's special Oscars for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or early pieces of Walt Disney World concept sketches would be worth the price of admission alone! (Also, I really loved Top of the World, and I miss it. I also desperately miss the Papeete Bay Verandah at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort Hotel and found it vastly superior to 'Ohana, but that's another discussion entirely.)

Perhaps my favorite concept, however, was The Family Reunion. Do you miss the interactive experience of The Adventurers' Club? Then this may have been a venue for you. You'd have walked in and been greeted by a large man dressed in drag who'd be portraying your dear aunt (picture John Travolta in Hairspray). You'd be given a name tag (because apparently you come from a very extensive family), and would then be ushered into the “church basement” for the reunion. Cast members would portray zany, eccentric, and occasionally annoying family members as you are served old family favorite dishes in Pyrex and CorningWare. Maybe I'm just feeling nostalgic for the heyday of Pleasure Island, but I think this sounds like a blast.

But who am I kidding? The way my luck goes, we'll probably end up with a restaurant serving the typical menu of strip steak, chicken dish, pasta/vegetarian option, grilled fish, and the same Disney drinks and desserts you see throughout Walt Disney World. It could be worse, though; they could lease the space to Landry's for another Rainforest Cafe. (Okay, seriously, I'm just joking about both of those options. By all that is right and holy, I sincerely hope and trust that Disney will do neither of these things.)

What would you like to see Disney bring to the Boardwalk? Share your thoughts and ideas over at