Teevtee’s Top Ten

It always has struck me that the phrase “paying homage” is a bit disingenuous.

It may sound very nice and may infer that the person “paying homage” to someone or something is in fact crediting the source and showing respect, however in truth it’s just a fancy French way of saying “stealing”.

For example Disney’s Catastrophe Canyon is “paying homage” to Universal’s Earthquake attraction.  It does this fine homage by ripping off every element, every effect and every plot point and then claiming it as its own. No two ways around it its just plain theft but it sounds a lot nicer this way.

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Paying homage since 1989

Well today I will be paying homage to fellow blogger Tom Bricker who earlier this month posted a list of his “Top 10 Disney Experiences (So Far)”.

Tom and I have a few things in common: Tom is an avid amateur photographer and he spends a ton of time on his various park shots (I presume he is the guy you seeing lugging a tripod all over the parks as you rush by to get on the next ride).  I happen to be a professional photographer working in a very different field (commercial advertising).

Tom has a love of the parks and of course so does Parkeology. Tom has traveled to see the overseas parks, as have I on several occasions (including right now).  So I think we would get along just fine.  None of this changes the fact that I am now stealing  paying homage to his idea but it makes me feel a little less bad about it.

Actually we love Top Ten lists around here and I know Shane is working on one about the Top Ten facial hairstyles of Audio Animatronic figures (I bet Famed Naturalist John Muir wins… but don’t tell him I told you). The idea of this list is also extremely personal… as personal as could be in fact.  It is MY top ten… not yours… though we would love to hear about your favorite park moments as well.

John Muir

Look at that famed beard

So here we go… From the Parkeology home offices my top ten most meaningful or memorable park memories in sort of kind of no particular order (though it is a top ten so I have to number them anyway):

10) New park anticipation

AK

Disneyland was opened long before I was born, and Walt Disney World opened when I was a kid… too young to understand. The opening of EPCOT was special and the opening of Disney-MGM Studios was great fun but perhaps a let down as I was in college at that time, past the perfect age window for such an event.  But when Animal Kingdom opened in 1998 things were different.  The Internet allowed me to follow it with great anticipation every step of the way. I was newly married at this point and visiting the parks had become something my wife and I both relished, here was the opportunity to see it happen from scratch.  I read all about it and looked forward to it and I will always remember the morning that we visited during its grand opening. Arriving at the gate before sunrise and seeing the sunrays pierce through the sky illuminating the dew filled leaves all around us. Hearing the exotic instrumental music waft through the pre-dawn air, I still remember the smell as well, kind of a citrus thing. We had such incredible anticipation and even though the park (which even today is often considered a half day affair) was not fully built out we spent DAYS there. For us the park was the experience… the levels of detail, the textures, the lack of signs (now they are everywhere) and feeling of true exploration… they nailed it.  And then we ran into Joe Rohde, the man chiefly responsible for designing the park.  All together it has created tactile memories that I hope never to forget.

9) Attempted Proposal

I’ve been married for a while now, since 1997.  I had gone on several really great trips to Disney with my now wife and so in the mid 90’s it seemed like a natural to propose to her at Disney.  I’ve never been a particularly lovey dovey kind of guy.  I tend to find most non-park related Disney things to be too saccharine sweet for my taste and certainly a faux romantic castle proposal was not going to happen.  However Disney meant a lot to us and I wanted to incorporate it in a unique and special way.  The Disney Yacht Club hotel allowed you to rent an old-fashioned wooden Chris-Craft speedboat to drive around Crescent Lake and the waterways around the resorts and Epcot.  Moreover you could do this at night during the Illuminations fireworks and laser show.  Well this sounded great to me!  What could be more special than romantically cruising the calm waters of Epcot as the resort lights shimmered off the tranquil planes of Crescent Lake?  As classical music drifted through the still night air I would find the perfect moment to slow the boat to a wake-less crawl and propose as the fireworks erupted in the background… it was going to be PERFECT.

breathlessII

Hold on…. tight

This goes to prove that not every memorable moment has to be a good one.  The reality of what happened was not quite what I had imagined it to be.  First of all I would not be driving the boat, rather, we were informed, we would be passengers in the back seat as a Disney “captain” piloted the craft. Perhaps not the worst thing in the world… surely he would be a well trained and discreet. Then a young “dude” showed up looking like a reject from the X-Games.  His idea of a romantic cruise was a full-tilt high-speed “extreme” tour of the lake making sure that he hit every wake possible in an effort to catch some air.  Speaking of air it was unseasonably cold and the constant spray of ice-cold water pelting us did not exactly create a romantic mood.  As our daredevil captain swerved and swayed we were tossed like rag-dolls.  Frigid, soaked and seasick we were thankful that he slowed down and headed close to Epcot for the start of the show.

This was going to be my time… I may not have had the leisurely paced prelude that I was expecting but now it was going to all fall into place. Our captain brought us under the bridge to the very edges of the lagoon; these were prime seats for the spectacle soon to unfold.  I fumbled in my pocket to make sure I had the ring ready to go, I waited for the music to start and the romance to begin… and then:  BAM!  BOOM! WHOOSH! A deafening cacophony of fire erupted all around us. We were not near the fireworks we were IN the fireworks.  Bombs exploded, the sky turned red and areal reports thumped our chests as heavy smoke soon engulfed the entire area.  We were in the middle of what seemed like a war zone.  I could not hear anything other than ringing in my ears.  Our eyes watered as the smoke overtook us.  Soon we could not see our hands in front of our faces. We were dizzy and dazed while the captain high tailed it back to the resort dock.

breathless

It’s called Breathless for a reason… smoke tends to make you that way

Weeks later I proposed back at home on the couch.  Not what I dreamed of but looking back I would have it no other way.  It was something that could only happen at Disney.

8) Dad time

In the early to mid 80’s… shortly after Epcot opened my father had a series of work related meetings in Orlando… which gave me the opportunity to tag along and spend the days alone as an adolescent in the parks.  We would meet up later in the evening and this led to several of my fondest Disney memories.

BVP

Buena Vista Palace: Home of giant lobsters and phones of the future

There was the time I made him ride Space Mountain over and over until he was gripping his glasses so tightly the lenses popped out mid-ride.  We got off the coaster and he put on his frames sans lenses.  Funny and all, but he had to wear prescription sunglasses indoors and out for the rest of the trip. As an aside Disney found both lenses and mailed them back to us on different days… amazing.

There was the time we tried on Star Wars masks at the then sleepy Disney Village and seeing my Dad in some crazy alien mask was somehow just cool. But I think the one I recall the most is a visit to the Outback Restaurant at the Buena Vista Palace Hotel within the Disney hotel plaza.  These hotels are still there but not advertised nearly as much as they once were.  These were official hotels in as much as they could use Disney transportation but were all owned by lower cost alternatives to the Disney resorts.

Outback

Matches at restaurants, remember that! If not click here

The Outback was not the chain we are familiar with today but rather a more upscale steak and seafood house.  My dad ordered a MASSIVE lobster for himself, like 4 pounds of crustacean that he could not finish and then had to cram into the small refrigerator in the room.  Something about this has always stuck with me.  Later that night we called my mom using a “futuristic” speakerphone telephone booth they had in the lobby.  Some other time on one of these trips we ended up sitting side by side at a booth designed for couples at the top of the hotel in a fancy romantic restaurant.  I was 14 or 15 and only had sneakers and felt way underdressed.  Between sitting next to my Dad and the athletic footwear I was a fish out of water but those situations often lead to the most vivid memories. It was really about spending time with my Dad I guess, little moments and odd things can end up meaning a lot.

7) Secret Club

Club 33

Still the coolest door in all of Disney

I had first read about Club 33 at Disneyland when I was in college.  Back then it really was a very secret private club at Disneyland that not too many people had ever heard of, even die-hard fans.  This was prior to the instant communications of the Internet and for a guy much more familiar with Walt Disney World the concept of this club was incredibly intriguing.  I dreamt of going but it costs tens of thousands of dollars to join and had a ten-year waiting list.  You needed to be a guest of a member to get in.  I would walk past the ornate “33” sign on my visits to Disneyland and feel great jealousy of those privileged few who got to walk through the discreet doors. To cut to the chase just last year I finally had a chance to visit.  The food was typical average country club fair and way overpriced. The room was somewhat cramped and dated and the overly formal service was out of step with the casual setting of a theme park… and I loved it.  I loved everything about it. I loved that it was dated, I loved that the microphones originally installed in lights to interact with guests were still there, I loved that though Walt Disney never lived to see it’s completion I could see a 60’s era Walt hanging out up here with a Scotch on the rocks in hand looking out and surveying what he had created. It was exactly as it should be.  With news that it is all changing with a dramatic remodel and expansion I am forever grateful to have had the chance to see the original version and to walk through that door for myself.

6) Passing it on

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Come on, is that not the cutest? And the little girl is OK too.

Unlike Shane, I do not live a smoked turkey leg’s throw from the parks.  They are still trips for us.  We adopted our daughter when she was 9 months old but by the time we visited WDW with her for the first time she was a walking and talking, exploring and adventurous two year old.  She ran around the parks with reckless abandon and was totally fearless.  It was wonderful sharing experiences with her that were old hat to us (not the Tea Cups AGAIN) but brand new sensations to her. However the moment that I will always remember was a simple photo-op.  We were in the China pavilion at Epcot and I lifted her up to pose for a snapshot.  She wrapped her arms around me and pulled me tight smashing my cheek up against hers… it was totally unexpected and that photo and memory of pure love will always be meaningful to me.

5) WDW47

Shane and I have been friends for close to 20 years.  It is just amazing how time flies.  As we extensively documented last year we had never met face to face until there was finally an event of such magnitude that it forced us together.  WDW47 was an exciting, impossible adventure that has now inspired others to attempt it and I am sure eventually surpass it.  But we were the first.  We took on a challenge that was just so nuts that we had to try it, and we came SO CLOSE. (If you don’t know about WDW47 watch this)

WDW47

Come on, is that not the cutest? And the guy in the white hat is OK too.

This was the first time I had ever spent so much time in the parks with someone who knew as much about them as I do (well ALMOST as much).  It was an incredible time spent with a great friend.  After the fact, Shane told me that this day was perhaps his greatest day ever in the parks.  I know that he was just wrapped up in the moment but nonetheless the fact that he felt that way and enjoyed his time with me as much as I did with him meant the world to me. For a weekend, WDW47 was the most popular story on the Orlando Sentinel web site and we even became huge celebrities in Norway from it… but that’s a different story.

4) The greatest park ever

By the time 2001 came around I had been to all the parks in the U.S. many, many…MANY times and my wife and I had also checked out Disneyland Paris a couple of times. But Tokyo was lurking out there; it seemed so far away, so exotic so… well, so Japanese.

TDS

Looking at this stuff just never gets old. This was basically the view from our room.

I had always wanted to visit but in terms of Disney Tokyo Disneyland seemed too close to the Magic Kingdom to make the effort worth it (a poor assumption BTW).  But then Tokyo Disney Sea opened and it was going to be unique and new and unbelievable.  For years leading up to that time the embryonic stages of the Internet buzzed with anticipation and speculation as to what this wonder would really be like. The old AOL message boards (where I first met Shane) would debate every minutia of every concept art piece or press release that came out.  It was too much to resist… I could not stand knowing that this place existed on this planet and not see it with my own two eyes… and so our trip was planed for early spring of 2002… and then September 11th happened… and people were scared.  (We actually flew to Disneyland in September 2001 very shortly after the attacks and the paranoia and fear were real and palpable).  But we pushed on and in April took off for what has become one of my all time best Disney memories.

Mira Costa Pool

Wet-N-Wild Tokyo… oh wait, no, it’s the Mira Costa pool.

We went for it big time and stayed at the Hotel Mira-Costa… a room dead center looking out over the lagoon and directly into Mount Prometheus; the volcanic icon of the park.  We arrived late in the evening and so I had to stare out of that window and see the park and smoldering volcano bathed in a purple glow without actually being able to enter it for a full night (talk about a way to build anticipation).  When the dawn came my wife and I lined up at the special hotel park entrance and the excitement was electric… this was not the first time in the park just for us but also for the vast majority of the Japanese locals around us.  It was a communal kind of buzz that is hard to explain.

It’s amazing how the last 13 years or so has changed the demographic of the average visitor. At the time we were quite literally the only non-Japanese we saw the entire trip.  Now it is not uncommon at all to see Americans, Europeans and visitors from other Asian countries as well as Australia all over the park.  You cannot chuck a rock without hitting an American plodding around the place, but at the time we felt very special and unique.  And of course the park did not let us down, perhaps it even exceeded our expectations, as did Tokyo Disneyland, which was amazingly clean and well run.  I realized that visiting Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea is really like going back in time.  It is revisiting the way Disney ran its parks in the Walt and post Walt pre-Eisner eras.  Everything was perfect, everything worked, and everything was the way you wanted it to be.  I have been back multiple times since and in fact, depending on when you read this, I may be there right now… it’s great each and every time… but the first time will always be something special. As an aside we really fell in love with all of Japan and its people and have similar non-Disney related memories of our visits there in general. Having the opportunity to bring our daughter there has been a special memory in and of itself.

3) Dodging the Grand Prix bullet and saying hello to Mike

I was 18 and working at Walt Disney World on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  That was awesome enough but a specific series of events led to this memory:

Grand Prix

Not only is it hellish to work at but it was also partially responsible for the collapse of WDW47… some day Grand Prix… revenge will be mine.

First of all I dodged a major bullet when I was hired. After general training I was sent along with a group of other new hires to a manager’s office where we were assigned our positions.  Now I knew I was already lucky to be working on an attraction as opposed to say janitorial or food service… nothing wrong with those but I really wanted to work a ride.  We sat around hoping for something great… maybe I would get Haunted Mansion or Pirates! Then the positions were announced, my whole group would get either a rotation of smaller Fantasyland rides (think Dumbo and the Carousel) or we would get the dreaded Grand Prix.  The Grand Prix was outdoors surrounded by diesel fumes and loud motors all day… no cover… the sun beating down on you on blacktop in Florida in the summer… with motors roaring around you all day, every day.  My heart sank.

Then the phone rings and I hear the supervisor talking about “20k”, short for Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and how they needed someone to fill a spot.  This was an E-Ticket baby!  This was a marquee attraction and I wanted it… badly.

20kpostcard

The new Fantasyland stuff is OK but honestly this was better

As he was talking on the phone I just burst out; “20k!  I’ll Take it… can I work on it?”  He cupped the mouthpiece of the phone, looked a little confused and asked “You want to work on 20K?” … “YES I DO!” and so the proverbial squeaky wheel got the grease.  My compatriots were off to work carnival rides while I would be piloting the freaking Nautilus… SUCKERS!

Yet that is not the actual memory, as great as it is.  Later in the summer new CEO Michael Eisner came to visit us… he was now the star of the Disney Sunday Movie taking up Walt’s old position as host (nah, no ego on Mr. Eisner). They were going to air the actual movie Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and needed to film his intro on our ride.  Once again being shy was not going to get me anywhere… I started campaigning to my lead that I HAD to be involved.  I was into film and video and lighting… that was my thing and so I would learn so much from this.  That’s what I said at least, and while actually true my real motivation was just to be in and around the action.

So they closed the ride, brought in a huge crane with a camera mounted on the end.  Myself and three other guys got to ride the Nautilus out into the lagoon while standing at attention on the back of the boat.  Michael (as he was introduced to us, no “Mr.” Eisner at Disney) stood up front and read his lines.  Take after take we stood at attention until Mike finally nailed his scene. From meeting him and having the CEO of the company call me, the lowest level park employee, by my first name and then myself calling him by his, to seeing it air on TV months later was all awesome.

20K is sadly long gone but my memory will be with me forever.

2) Dawn of a New Disney Era

There have been at least two watershed events in my life that I was lucky enough to be the PERFECT age for.  I was 9 years old when Star Wars opened.  I saw it in a huge theater with a group of my friends and my Dad on my birthday… it was a big deal.  I love that I had that communal experience and that I was young enough to really be blown away by what I was seeing but old enough to remember it all vividly.

Dawn

Likewise when EPCOT Center opened I was 14, the sweet spot for that park. It really was the “Dawn of a New Disney Era” as the marketing slogan went; it was so very different than the Magic Kingdom but still steeped in all of the history and values that Disney was known for (and I mean Disney the man, not the company). Click here for another take on early EPCOT

My first visits to EPCOT Center are collectively some my greatest memories.  It was so exciting, so optimistic, so futuristic and somehow simultaneously foreign and familiar.  I was old enough to be given free reign of the place, free of the shackles of tagging along with the family.  I sprinted from pavilion to pavilion crisscrossing from Future World to World Showcase and back. It was an empowering experience and the type of thing I hope my daughter can find somewhere somehow.

epcot 82

This would be easy to make fun of… but I just don’t want to, it’s STILL cool.

Seeing the incredible talents of those same Imagineers who pioneered the field now let loose to create the next generation of attractions was exhilarating. The scale was so massive; the rides were so grand it truly was Mecca for a kid like me.

I had spent a couple years waiting for EPCOT Center to open.  At one point they opened up the monorail and let visitors ride out to and through the as yet unopened park and it was like sweet torture to be so close and yet so far away from the big grand opening day.  I poured over the Abrams EPCOT book taking in every nuance of every piece of concept art.  I imagined what it would be like to walk in those paintings and actually be able to touch and feel those incredible looking places. This coincides with a period of time when I took several closely spaced trips to the parks (see number 8) and so I got to see the rapid evolution of EPCOT Center.  Imagination, Horizons, The Living Seas… each new addition was better than the last.  The park was unstoppable.

Epcot book

I’ve posted this like three times… seriously get it

I recall my mother getting up crazy early and leaving the hotel well before the rest of us (my brother, my father and myself) in order to run to the Worldkey video kiosks and make dinner reservations for the family in France or Italy or Japan. It seemed like anything was possible, anything could happen at any time.

You could explore the depths of the sea or the depths of your imagination.  You could travel in time or in space.  You could visit the far corners of the world that you may never actually see. Most of all you could experience a pulsing almost electric sense of hope, optimism and excitement that simply does not exist today. I used to pretend to travel through time when I crossed the bridge connecting Future World to World Showcase and then again as I swept through World Showcase. Every ride was pure and sincere in its intent.  There were no “hip” in-jokes or attempts to be a thrill park; it was all about looking forward to what seemed to be an impossibly great future.

There will never be another place like the original EPCOT Center. For 8 years or so the future was accessible in the present and the possibilities were limitless and I got to experience it all.

1) The first time (of course)

Every fan’s first trip to the parks is probably going to rank fairly high on a list of park memories, but I have a specific moment of that first trip that really stands out to me:

My dad had a business trip down to Orlando in the mid seventies.  Walt Disney World had opened a few years earlier and was getting lots of press.  Many families living on the eastern side of the U.S. had never been to Disneyland and had only a vague understanding of what it really was.  My father found himself visiting the Magic Kingdom while on this trip and came back with stories of Pirates, Presidents and transparent ghosts.  Being one of those families who had never been to Disneyland this was hard for me to digest.  I was a kid, maybe 7 or so… the closest I had been to Disney World was a pirate themed restaurant at the Jersey Shore… this was another world.

So off we went and while my first steps into Walt Disney World are lost to time this one event has become a touchstone of sorts for my family: My first ride on Pirates of the Caribbean.

Pirates Poster

Tell me again why I want to risk death or dismemberment?

My Dad had told us all about pirates attacking boats and sacking a town but I just could not compute what this meant.  I clung to my parents and did not want to go on this hellish trip no matter what they said.  Why on Earth would I want to be attacked by Pirates?  Why would I want to risk being shot at or stabbed?  Why would I want to drop down a waterfall and face living skeletons?  I cried like a baby, I did NOT want to go.  I begged and pleaded to skip this nightmare. We worked our way through the dark caverns of the queue as I made a last ditch effort to convince my parents that this was not for me… and then we went… and then it all changed.

Over the duration of that one ride, and perhaps really just the opening moments of that one ride I suddenly understood… it made sense to me. This was not real; this was a living fantasy.  This was going down the rabbit hole into a real-world Wonderland.  This was entering Willy Wonka’s factory and anything really could happen. This changed everything.

Vintage Pirates

The start of something big

The rest of that trip and the many more to follow were full of (I generally hate this phrase) magic.  It was a little kid being given the power to control where we went and when.  It was a kid having things he could previously only imagine materialize and become tangible. It was everything that later became important to me in life unfolding in front of me; whimsy and imagination, creativity and hard work, understanding that incredible things can happen and realizing that the smallest things can have the biggest impacts.

Decades later my inaugural ride on Pirates of the Caribbean is still my strongest and most meaningful Disney memory.

 And more

Frankly I could make a top 50 list.  So many memories of special trips with my family; of buying trick hot candy from the now extinct magic store (don’t get me going) and fooling my Dad into eating it. Memories of riding Big Thunder Mountain a dozen times in a row with my mother and now again with my daughter (at HER insistence not mine). Eating fried ice cream at the old Golf Coast Room, the special occasions on the Empress Lily or studying the maps that used to hang in every resort room and dreaming of what the never built hotels would look like. Riding the monorail with Ron Howard (total random coincidence) and giving him park tips and directions around the park or sneaking to the very top of the castle to peer down Main Street (I worked at WDW at the time).

More memories of riding in the front of the monorail and then recreating that again decades later with my own child. Swimming in River Country, buying crazy masks with my brother or crazy hats with my friend and then wearing them all day long. Our visits to Disneyland Paris or of riding any new ride for the first time. Being at the grand opening of Hong Kong Disneyland or simply strolling out of a quiet and empty park late at night. Disney has the ability to create legitimately special and long lasting memories for all of us.  It is not about selling up-charged character dinning meals or autograph books either.  At its simplest, Disney can create environments and occasions that are conducive to special things happening.  They give you permission to be silly, to be stupid in the best possibel way and to find delight in the smallest of things. I hope they never totally lose sight of that.  It is not about marketing, it is about allowing things to happen that can never happen in the “real world” and that is real magic.

Have any special memories of your own be they big it small? Let’s hear them.

MyMagic Backpack+++

New buds awaken on long dormant trees; perennial flowers emerge from hibernation and the air is filled with fresh warm breezes for the first time in many months.  This has been a long brutal winter for much of the nation; spring is bringing with it a sense of rejuvenation.  The sky is blue, the grass is slowing turning green and spirits are being lifted everywhere.

Along with this new sense of hope is some interesting news from Disney; it may not be the blockbuster new ride or park fans dream of but it is major news nonetheless.

MyMagic-Backpack+++-Intro

Now we finally understand the big picutre and what Disney has been hiding up it’s sleeve for so long.

Today Tom Staggs, Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts announced a major new park wide initiative.

Bolstered by the ongoing success of the MyMagic+ system at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando Florida Staggs has revealed a greatly revised and expanded program christened “MyMagic Backpack+++”.  This new system replaces the previous MyMagic MagicBand system effective immediately.

Tom-Staggs-BackPack

Tom Staggs shows off a MyMagic Backpack+++ at the recent press conference.

In a post on the Disney Parks Blog Staggs said: (Staggs’ comments in blue)

At Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, we continually push the boundaries of creativity and innovation to deliver the best possible experience for our guests. We’re always looking for ways to take what we do and do it even better. Over the past several months we have been implementing the MyMagic+ system that has allowed our guests to experience a more seamless and personal experience. We want to provide an even richer and more fulfilling experience for each and every guest who spend the day with us and that is why we’re pleased to give you a glimpse of what we are doing to take the entire Disney guest experience to the next level.

Many of our guests have already experienced some of our initiatives- like our interactive queues and the MagicBands that act not only as park entry tickets but also magically open guest’s resort room doors and may be used to purchase food and merchandise throughout the Walt Disney Resort.

Early-Testing-Demo

During the press conference early prototypes of the packs were shown. All of this amazing technology has miraculously been shrunk down to a 30 pound backpack.

None of this is news to us so far.  Disney has been focusing on various increasingly crazy and complex behind the scenes systems designed to make visiting Disney both easier (this is debatable) and more profitable for them (this is almost impossible to argue). While somewhat interesting most park fans have been underwhelmed.  It seems like a waste to spend as much money as an entire new park would cost simply so guests can make online reservations for a few rides before they leave home.

However as is often the case fans have underestimated Disney. It turns out that the bands were just a test stage and that the REAL system is much more complex and comprehensive.  Put another way, you will never have to wait for a turkey leg or frozen banana again.

magic kingdom Backpack 2

Young and old will benefit from the new system.

Staggs went on to say:

As wonderful as these additions have been we keep hearing one thing from our guests: they want even more! We have devoted considerable time and resources to create the MyMagic+ system including the MagicBands however there is a limit in what that technology will allow. This is why today we are rolling out the new MyMagic Backpack+++ system.

Like most people who visit Walt Disney World Resort, my family and I have our “must-do” attractions, and as the father of three boys, those attractions often end with the word “mountain”. Rather than dashing as a group, or splitting up to gather FastPasses or even using MyMagic+ MagicBands to reserve certain attractions ahead of time imagine if a magical backpack worn by each guest guaranteed admission for your favorite shows and attractions even before setting foot in the park. Imagine if this same backpack carried satellite and radio equipment that allows the Walt Disney Company to track your every move, and then provide you with real time advertising via wireless speakers built into each backpack and tailored to your specific tastes, needs and budget. Imagine if your every need and desire was anticipated and provided to you before even you realized that you wanted or needed it. This and so much more are all part of the MyMagic BackPack+++ program. MyMagic Backpack+++ will give guests more opportunities to customize, personalize and spend money on their entire visit then ever before.

BackPack AK small

All four Walt Disney World parks will participate in the new MyMagic Backpack+++ system.

This is all pretty interesting stuff!  The new system is actually an extremely high tech suite of state of the art hardware working in tandem with tracking and monitoring software developed specifically for this system.  With this Disney has upped the ante in such a way that services never before imagined may now be offered.

The blog post continues:

A major component of MyMagic Backpack+++ is the new My Disney MyMagic Backpack+++ website and mobile app, which gives guests planning their trip the latest information on all Walt Disney World Resort and the MyMagic Backpack+++ has to offer. We know that some people like to plan every aspect of their Disney vacation in advance while others like to plan very little, letting the magic unfold spontaneously. No matter where guests fall in that spectrum, the MyMagic Backpack+++ experience gives them the ultimate Walt Disney World Resort experience. The onboard equipment contained within each and every MyMagic Backpack+++ constantly monitors each guest’s location, behavior, spending habits, credit limit, FICA score, glucose levels and more.  If our comprehensive system of advanced sensors and algorithms detects that a guest is not spending enough money a gentle reminder will be sent to them.  For example as an under-spending guests passes a gift shop the MyMagic Backpack+++ will issue an audible alert such as “Dumbo plush toys are available on sale, please purchase one now.” If the system determines that it is time for a guest to purchase a snack a gentle audible call out such as “Would you like a frozen banana?” or “It’s time for a turkey leg!” may be announced.  If a guest chooses to disobey a MyMagic Backpack+++ suggestion a mild shock may be issued to the guest. This is our way of setting a course correction so that every guest may enjoy the best possible Walt Disney World Resort visit.

That all sounds reasonable.

Charging

Concept art was shown featuring the in park charging stations which will be used to keep the backpacks going throughout the day.

The MyMagic Backpack+++ system is a technological marvel.  Each fashionable backpack (available in a wide assortment of designer colors and styles) contains well over 30 pounds of high-tech audio, video and biomechanical guest monitoring gear as well as lithium ion rechargeable batteries to power the rig. Batteries are good for up to four hours and then will require a brief thirty-minute recharge from one of the several MyMagic Backpack+++ recharging stations guests will find throughout the parks. 

I do wish that the batteries lasted a bit longer between charges but I am sure this will improve with time as technology catches up.

MK Backpack 3

The MyMagic BackPack+++ will be available in many different colors and styles to appeal to every taste.

Staggs goes on:

As with the previous MagicBand system the new MyMagic Backpack+++ experience will serve as a guest’s room key, theme park ticket, access to FastPass+ selections, PhotoPass card and payment account all rolled into one.  But we have added customized and personalized features such as being informed when and where you will eat, where and how much money you will spend on souvenirs and which attractions you will ride each day (up to 3 attractions are allowed per guest per day, additional attractions may be added for an additional cost).

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Lots of style choices and a wide price range.

This collection of tools and wearable technology is another step forward in the ongoing evolution of our guest experience, giving us even more ways to help friends and family create the unforgettable and money draining Disney memories that they want most. We’ll be testing, adjusting and adding features to MyMagic Backpack+++ and My Disney Experience over time and will continue to make improvements based on our guests’ feedback. We look forward to sharing more with you in the months ahead!

This is really exciting news!  Fewer decisions and choices for guests to be burdened with and more opportunities for dining and shopping that true fans enjoy the most (without the annoying rides getting in the way).

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During a sit down interview after the press conference Staggs explained some of the detais of this revolutionary new program.

The announcement was made today at a heavily attended media event in Orlando.  Tom Staggs and a slew of other Disney executives were on hand to make the presentation and afterwards Staggs immediately sat down with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swicher of all Things Digital to discuss the new advancements.

BakPack Contents

A glimpse inside the pack shows some of the technology used to track, montior and guide each guest through the parks. The production models will be sealed shut.

From that conversation several interesting points came to light:

• Every guest regardless of age will be required to wear a pack during his or her entire stay at Walt Disney World.

• Each pack costs in excess of $12,000.00 but only the outer pack will be a required purchase for guests (ranging in price from $29.99 to $299.99.00 for designer options).  The expensive contents will be rented to guests for a daily fee expected to be under $50 per person per day (in addition to normal park admission).  A credit card will be required as a deposit.

• The equipment is always drawing power so each pack must be recharged several times during the day. Disney plans on installing quick charge stations at locations throughout the parks and resort hotels.  A 90% charge is expected to take approximately 30 minutes.

Child-Backpack

MyMagic BackPack+++ are available in child sizes and will be required for all guests.

• Adult sized packs weigh a little over 30 pounds while child sized versions are as light as 12 pounds depending on the size and age of the child using it.

• Each pack has both audio and video monitoring equipment.  This allows Disney to send out audible alerts when it is time for a guest to purchase food or merchandise as well as when attractions are available to enjoy.  The video equipment will monitor guest behavior to ensure that every guest adheres to park policies such as not littering, not cutting in line, no swearing and no “sad” faces.  Any infractions will immediately draw the attention of park security.

Backpack MGM

This kind of excitement cannot be contained. Who needs new rides and parks when Disney has backpacks for all!

• Cast members may now be situated at any point within the property including on the actual rides.  By monitoring guest locations and needs these cast members are able to deliver food and merchandise directly to consumers while the MyMagic Backpack+++ system automatically charges them for it. Examples were given that a cast member could be stationed amongst the Audio-Animatronic figures on Pirates of the Caribbean and distribute cotton candy or ice-cold beers to passing guests.

• The MyMagic Backpack+++ system will choose when and where each guest will eat and how much each guest will spend on each meal. In addition it will determine how much mandatory spending each guest will use for souvenirs and merchandise.  This will ensure fewer lines and fewer annoying decisions on the part of park guests.

• Disney has invested over two billion dollars thus far into the MyMagic Backpack+++ system and expects to spend another 800 million in 2014 on it.

It sounds pretty awesome!  Disney can now control 100% of the guest experience from when they arrive to how many rides they go on and how many pounds of ice cream they eat each day. Disney will collect and store every detail of each guests experience and will refer to it for future visits as well as selling this information to third parties who may have interesting products and services to offer Disney guests.

I’m really happy that Disney has finally answered the Harry Potter expansions over at Universal and has shown the world that they are in fact totally in touch with the needs and wants of all of their fans.

Great job Disney!

Gotta get back in time…

The eighties rocked.  Although I was already an adolescent by the time the decade dawned I most certainly consider myself a child of the eighties. EPCOT Center’s opening in 1982 was a BIG deal for me.

EPCOT Book

Still the BEST book ever.

Having already been to Walt Disney World numerous times I was enthralled with the idea of a new Disney park opening… and not just any park this was the park of the future here today.  I poured over the Abrams EPCOT book… the real one, the cool one, the one that was released before the park opened and was chock-full of concept art.  I memorized every brush stroke of every incredible piece of concept art and renderings it contained.  I loved the international mix of visitors portrayed by Herb Ryman and the other illustrators (look, that dude has a turban on!).

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Stuff like this…

Around this same time in my life movies were kicking into high gear.  We had an unprecedented string of blockbusters from the late seventies through the mid eighties.  It seems like every year a new and bigger and more exciting theatrical adventure would be released on us.  These were real events, not the prefabricated “event” movies of today.  These were worth lining up for and I did just that, often waiting several hours to get my chance to see Temple of Doom, E.T. or Return of the Jedi… it was an incredible time.

Back to the Future came out on the tail end of this in 1985. I was a teenager by then and some of the magic was slipping away but it was still totally awesome. Meanwhile EPCOT was really hitting its stride; Imagination and Horizons were both fully operational (after several delays) and The Living Seas was on the cusp of opening.  Like the movies of the day EPCOT kept topping itself with one mega attraction after the next (my how times have changed). The original Universe of Energy was not the slow, boring and dated oddity it is today… well it was actually but it was not perceived that way. It was an incredible adventure through time.

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…and THIS!

In fact it predated Back to the Future by several years and also predated the idea of traveling back in time to correct past wrongs.  What am I talking about exactly? Well it is obvious that the Marty McFly character played by Michael J Fox is a clear and direct rip off of one of the main characters seen in The Universe of Energy.

Marty

Just call him Marty.

Steven Spielberg was the executive producer of Back to the Future and we have already proven that he is a blatant plagiarist of Disney properties and here he goes again raiding EPCOT for his personal gain.

Before we get to that a little history:

The Walt Disney Company was still in a bit of a state of disrepair at EPCOT’s opening.  This was post Walt and pre Eisner and though none of it was evident to the 14 year old me Disney was reeling from indecision and poor financial investments.  Dropping a billion or so dollars to build a large-scale permanent world’s fair with no Disney characters and an educational bent was not helping the situation either; Disney was on fragile ground.

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In 1964 they were green… that’s cool.

Regardless they soldiered on and went at EPCOT with full force, but that did not mean they were above saving some cash here and there.  The Universe of Energy called for life sized audio-animatronic dinosaurs and it just so happens that Disney had created these creatures nearly 20 years earlier for the Ford pavilion during the 1964 World’s Fair.  They had the sculpts and they knew how to make them… and so EPCOT’s lizard kings were set to be virtual clones of those seen on the Magic Skyway of Ford’s dazzling mid-century show.  In fact those very same original dinos can still be seen today from Disneyland’s railroad and duplicates of EPCOT’s (and lesser known) can be viewed from the Tokyo Disneyland railway as well.

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At Disnelyand they are purple and ultra cool.

The Imagineers replicated much of the 1964 show within the massive EPCOT Energy pavilion; the Brontosaurus (which we now know as Apatosaurus), the Pteranodon and most famously the dueling Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurs Rex.

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They went beige at EPCOT but still were cool.

The later two have been battling for decades atop a rocky cliff… first for the World’s Fair goers, then the train passengers in Anaheim and Tokyo and most recently for the visitors of EPCOT… and yet something is off here.

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Today they look like garish street walkers… maybe not quite as cool.

The Stegosaurus lived in the late Jurassic period about 150 million years ago. The T-Rex lived in the cretaceous period 66 million or so years back.  So roughly 90 million years separated these two bad boys from ever meeting face to face… Since we know that Disney never makes mistakes and is incapable of such a massive error we can draw the logical conclusion that the T-Rex is in fact a time traveler.  He has crafted some sort of primeval world DeLorean and traveled back in time to take vengeance on poor old Steggy, presumably for trying to break up the T-Rexes mom and dad or something like that.  So clearly Back to the Future is a rip off of The Universe of Energy and Spielberg has been caught red handed (again).  But the story is not quite so cut and dry.

It seems that over the years a conspiracy has been occurring.  An Oliver Stone level cover-up has been forced upon the public and we have all lapped it up like so many blind sheep being led to the cliffs edge (how many mixed metaphors can I use in one sentence?).

Dinosaur2

What the hell!?! Not exactly your grandpa’s T-Rex.

I grew up thinking a Tyrannosaurus Rex was a big, erect, lumbering creature with a lizard like tail dragging on the ground and comical little stunted arms helplessly grasping at the air. In essence I knew T-Rex to be just like the creature shown in the Universe of Energy. Then Jurassic Park came along and suddenly the T-Rex was some sort of crazy fast running nightmare with his head swinging feet from the ground, his tail cantilevered out as a counter weight and his arms located just right to grasp his dying pray.  With a blink of a CGI eye EPCOT’s dinosaurs became as extinct as the real thing.

Somewhere around here (and the time that Disney converted the wonderful original pavilion to the dated and garish one now on display) Disney started to burry any reference to a T-Rex being housed within EPCOT at all.  They just vaguely referred to prehistoric creatures and to be fair there are a total hodgepodge of brutes crammed in there for sure. Disney never claimed this to be scientifically accurate… perhaps they were trying to depict a passage of millions of years required to make fossil fuels? Perhaps they intentionally showed dinosaurs from all eras… I can buy that.  But it’s hard to imagine that showing two dinos separated by tens of millions of years side by side fighting each other was anything but a mistake.

Nonetheless Disney covered it up.  Depending on what you read they now most commonly claim the creature is an Allosaurus, a dinosaur that kind of sort of looks like the one depicted but that lived in the same time period as the Stegosaurus and thus could pass as “correct”.

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This is an Allosaurus… I’m not buying it.

In fact as time goes by I find it nearly impossible to find any Disney reference or even fan page references to a T-Rex being part of the attraction.  Could it be that maybe it really is an Allosaurus?  Could it be that the early sixties imagineers carefully researched all available paleontological data and came up with an accurate representation of a life and death battle as it appeared millions of years ago?  Is it possible that all the fan pages that list the monster as an Allosaurus are not apologizing for an obvious mistake but rather accurately portraying the fine eye for detail Disney is known for?

Ummmm… no.

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In an effort to promote the 1964 World’s Fair, the genesis of the dinosaurs that eventually made their way to EPCOT’s Universe of Energy pavilion, Walt Disney himself narrated an episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color titled “Disneyland Goes to the World’s Fair”.  Walt happens to mention these very dinosaurs, he is quite proud of them.  Watch the video below:

If Walt says it’s a T-Rex then it’s a freaking T-Rex!

Lets cut the guys a break.  It was the early 1960’s when the scientific view of how prehistoric creatures moved and lived was quite different then it is today.  Plus these guys had like a year to design and build the whole shooting match… they had no time to research dinosaurs any more than watching the Rite of Spring segment from Fantasia.  Fantasia was released in 1940… so the truth is that in 1982 when the futuristic EPCOT opened it was packed with scientific views gleaned from a then 42 year old piece of animated entertainment.

Rite_of_Spring_by_HeartlessSlayer

Cutting edge scientific reasearch.

But I still think Spielberg ripped them off and I will always call the big guy “Marty”.

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Once a T-Rex ALWAYS a T-Rex!