Survey Says!

A cryptic world hidden right before your eyes.
A hint to a clandestine mystery right under foot.
A sprawling network of clues cloaked from many, indiscernible to most, shrouded to all but the most inquisitive and yet visible to all in plain sight.
But first, it’s time for the Family Feud!

Nice shades
That’s right, the classic game show where members of opposing families go head to head trying to match the answers on surveys of the general population.

Nice suit
Richard Dawson, the original and still the best host of the show would take a break from kissing the more attractive female members of any given family to ask questions such as:
“Name something you would find in a baby’s diaper bag.”
My guess would be diapers…
“Name the worst Disney structure of all time.”
I’m going with giant ass hat at Disney Hollywood studios.
Or maybe:
“Name a secret world of treasure hunting going on all over Disney properties across the globe that you likely know nothing about. This hunt takes place in plain view and you are blissfully ignorant of it.”
Wait, what?  Secret treasure hunt… hidden in plain site… spanning the globe?  Is this the next sequel in the National Treasure franchise? Maybe it is some expanded version of the surprisingly not sucky Kimpossible World Showcase Adventure at Epcot?

Sort of sucky
No and No. What it is is part of a very popular and yet still not that well-known (Sounds like Dane Cook or Tyler Perry) global game called geocaching.  Imagine combining a scavenger hunt, adventure travel and hidden treasure into one high tech package.  Participants arm themselves with portable GPS units, download coordinates of clues or of secret hidden treasure chests from various web sites and then set out to track down the mystery items.  Stashed at the end of the hunt could be anything from a box filled with trinkets to a written story or simply an interesting artifact of sorts to behold.

SHOCK!  Not sucky at all.

Geocachers follow a set of rules that include always replacing an item you discover with another one.  They also relish in making the hidden booty hard to locate.  In some cases the GPS coordinates may lead adventurers to the middle of a lake where they must dive down to find the cache or perhaps high on a cliff side that must be traversed to be reached.

They are out there waiting for you.
The Disney properties are rife with such places to hide these geocaches.  Adventureland alone has endless possibilities and there are in fact geocaches constantly being left around Disney resorts.  Tucked into the gardens surrounding the Tree of Life, perched in a cave on Tom Sawyer’s Island or resting in a Moroccan bazaar in Epcot the possibilities are endless. Treasure seekers find some while others are whisked away by maintenance crews but they are out there… waiting to be discovered.

So many possibilities
Geotracking is in essence an elaborate and large game of hide and go seek.  Individuals leave clues for each other to find the geocaches they hid away.  But there is another parallel phenomenon, something that Disney themselves is involved with and something that you have likely walked right over and did not even notice it.

Surveyor Bill Hart, Walt, Roy, future CEO Card Walker and master planner Joe Fowler
(plus construction supervisor Joe Potter blocked by Walt) survey the situation at WDW.

Parkeologists need to keep their eyes peeled at all times, always on the lookout for secrets that may slip by the average park guest and the hidden survey markers (known as benchmarks or more scientifically as geodetic control points) strewn throughout the Disney parks and resorts are a perfect example of this.

Surveyor Matt Sheridan at work circa early 1971.
Disney like any landowner uses surveys to designate the boundaries of their property and other geological statistics. These “control points” allow Disney to understand their land and plan for its development. At key points benchmarks are embedded into the ground as a permanent marker of a specific location.  The markers themselves have become the treasures for many geocachers to discover and report the location of.  For the average person they are small (several inches across), unnoticed discs in the pavement, for a geocacher an undiscovered benchmark is pure gold.  Once a survey disc is found it is photographed, the coordinates are noted and the info is uploaded to various online registries; the goal is to document every marker there is, but no one really knows how many there are hidden amongst us. Between the two U.S. Disney resorts nearly 100 permanent markers have been discovered and documented to date.

Modern Disneyland and WDW benchmarks.
The locations run the gamut from smack in front of the castle to the farthest corner of a parking lot.  Many markers get lost in time, paved over, ripped out or removed as new developments come and go.  These markers (and the many thousands of other unmarked but noted and surveyed locations) are critical for Disney to do anything from mapping underwater ferryboat landings, to determining the trajectory of lasers used in an outdoor light show to designing the route of Kilimanjaro Safaris.  In short if Disney is going to build something they need to survey the land first and the most critical of these points are marked with benchmarks.

An older Disneyland style marker by Pirates.
The most amazing part of the benchmarks is how seldom people notice them.  If you have been to a Disney park then you have walked by, stepped on or at least been within view of a benchmark, have you ever noticed them?
Like the Matrix it is time to open your eyes and see the real world no longer obscured from site but now fully visible to you and available for your own treasure seeking adventures.  It is Kimpossible made real.
If a picture is worth a thousand words let me save you from reading a dozen pages more. These photos represent but a smattering of the myriad of markers out there waiting for you to discover them.  Have fun and say high to Nicholas Cage for me.

Like I said, hidden in plain sight
In Animal Kingdom
Soon to be no more at DCA

This one is cool

Any guesses where this one is?

Even Typhoon Lagoon gets in on the action.

In Case of Fire, Please Use Stairs

I am on a mission to recover lost elevators, since Disney parks have a propensity for losing them.  Or for not adding them in the first place.  Remember when they re-opened the Sleeping Beauty Diorama at Disneyland?  And then instead of making it handicap-accessible, they simply added a TV waiting room, like at the dentist.  It shows a video of everything that goes on upstairs.
When only the best theme park attractions will do.
Why did the Sleeping Beauty Walk-Thru get this treatment?  Why not the Swiss Family Treehouse or Tom Sawyer Island?  Come to think of it, Disneyland did retrofit the fort on TSI with its very own 19th century elevator.  I think the Alamo had one just like it.
But there’s no doubt we all want this installed on the Treehouse.
It’s sometimes fun to find hidden elevators.  They’re all over property.  Some are more famous than others.  A lot of people know about the castle elevator that takes you to the Dream Suite, and of course there are elevators down to the Utilidors.  A lot of these are off-limits even to wheelchair guests.  Some, like the elevator to the Catwalk Bar, used to be allowed, but are no longer in use.
If, however, you need a Wonkavator, this site will actually let you buy one.  Seriously.
And let’s not forget Walt Disney World’s most famous elevators, the disappearing express elevators of the Hollywood Tower Hotel.  But seriously, if you’re stepping into an elevator on a stormy Halloween night, you kind of deserved to get zapped.  Of course, pointing out the primary feature of a major E-Ticket ride is beneath any parkeologist worth his or her salt.  What really has me intrigued here are the elevators that were intended, but perhaps have never been.
These last few posts are part of France Week, an annual parkeological holiday wherein we study the milieu of the France pavilion’s mis en scene to see if it is lacking a certain jes ne sais quoi.  We also recycle bad French jokes.
“What is the most common expression in France?”  “I give up.”
It all stems from a bit of information stuck in my mind from my many readings of Abrams classic tome, Walt Disney’s EPCOT Center.  Lately, during my walks through World Showcase, I find myself staring up at that iconic tower on top of the Palais du Cinema in France (I think it’s called the Earful Tower or something).  I’ve managed to hunt down several zoomed pictures of it on flickr, and those suckers can get pretty darn zoomed.
I’ve called out a few of the features, but note that I did not point out any elevators.  Duh, you say (or Deux, if you’re in France).  The tower is a scale model, a forced perspective thing that sits on top of a roof, inaccessible to any guest.  And that makes total sense, except for this passage from Abrams’s book:

At least the appears to be in the distance. It is a minor miracle of perspective.  Constructed to scale from the actual blueprints of Gustave Eiffel himself, complete even to its little elevators [italics mine], the tower rises a mere hundred feet. So you can’t ride up the Eiffel Tower unless you’re seven inches tall.

Did these miniature elevators ever really exist on the tower?  I seem to have vague memories of seeing them as a kid.
And in my memories they moved.
It’s possible that my mind is playing tricks on me, tantalizing me with visions of an Epcot Eiffel Tower that never really was.  Maybe Abrams’s info was wrong, and the tiny elevators were scratched at the last minute.  Maybe during the various Illuminations incarnations, they were removed.  But now I can’t rest until I learn the truth.  If anyone has any old pictures of the tower in operation, a sort of companion piece to Adventures Thru InnerSpace or that model train in Germany, I’d love to see them.  Or maybe I just need to visit the Twilight Zone.
Photo attributions:

Hot Haute Cuisine

One of the great things – possibly the best thing – about living in Walt Disney World is that you can look sneeringly at random vacation photos and haughtily announce that you know exactly where that picture was taken.
For instance, a close-up of a duck’s head with a smidgen of white rock visible in the background:  “Yes, that’s just to the left of the water fountains over by the baby station on Main Street, facing North, at about 2:00 in the afternoon.”
And when they say, no, it’s near the rose bushes to the left of the Imagination pavilion, you can just scoff and remind them that you are attending Star Wars Weekends and can’t be bothered to care about their stupid vacation pictures.
Happy 30th Birthday, Greatest Movie of All Time!
One of the side effects of this is that sometimes you can be leafing through old Disney World books, perhaps while researching a park history article for some self-important website, and suddenly come across an image that you don’t recognize.  Or rather, you do recognize it at first glance, but something is wrong about it, and you just can’t put your finger on it.
Or something is wrong about it and you don’t want your fingers anywhere near it.
Take a look at this little beauty.  It’s from Abrams’ giant tome Walt Disney’s Epcot Center, and is most obviously from the France Pavilion.  You can tell by how rude everyone is (I toyed with writing this article in a really bad French accent, but it kept coming out as Swedish/Italian, so I just went for cliché French jokes.  Get it?  “Cliché” is a French word!)
But anybody who has strolled through Epcot recently will know that there is no outdoor café anymore.  Bingo!  Instant parkeology post!
Where was this little restaurant, known as the Au Petit Café (literally, “Aw, What A Dainty Restaurant”)?  At first I wondered if it was somewhere over on the side that now faces International Gateway, but it didn’t seem to match up.  The building wasn’t right.  In fact, the only match is on the left side of the pavilion, the Chefs de France restaurant, but there’s no room over there for outdoor seating, right?  It’s a congested area as is; I can’t imagine adding a couple rows of tables.
But Disney has seen many changes over the years, and this picture is deceptive.  Back in the old days, these tables may have been outside for some fresh air, but thanks to additional building structures, the tables now spend all their time indoors playing video games and eating cupcakes.
Here are some pictures snapped a few months ago during a visit to Chefs de France to see the Remy animatronic.  It’s indoors, but take notice of the wall.  Look familiar?  That’s the same wall as shown in the picture.  You can spot the distinctive shapes of the doors, the lopped off corner of the building, and the stone trim work.  It’s not hard to imagine reasons for enclosing this area of the restaurant.  Who wants to eat heavy French food in the middle of a 95-degree Florida summer?
And as to that other French article I was researching, I guess it will just have to wait until next week.  See you at Star Wars Weekends!