Monday, January 23, 2012

My Favorite Things at Disney World #1

The Haunted Mansion

I know what you’re thinking, all that build up for the freaking Haunted Mansion? All I have to say is I FRIGGIN’ LOVE THE HAUNTED MANSION!

My love for the Haunted Mansion goes back WAY before I even remember going on it. (My mother told me yesterday about when we first went on it I just hid the whole time but I don’t remember that.)

I have always liked dark rides. In fact the first amusement park ride I remember going on when I was a kid was the Hanna Barbera Enchanted Voyage in Kings Island. (For those a bit younger than me that is the Smurf Ride, and for those a bit more younger than me, its Phantom Theater.)

I loved watching characters I knew up close in 3-D while I just rode through. I liked the color and really I liked the minimal story that was there.

When we went to Disney World when I was 4, I remember really enjoying the “Journey into Imagination with Figment and the Dreamfinder.” (Now it’s just horrible and annoying.) It was probably the one ride I remember going on when we went there, but even though I met Figment and the Dreamfinder later, they weren’t characters I knew.

Fast forward to when I was about 9 I noticed a record that used to belong to one of my siblings. “Disneyland Presents: Chilling, Thrilling: Sounds of the Haunted House.”

I had always been scared of this LP for some reason. To be honest, I never really liked haunted houses in the traditional carnival at Halloween sense.

Even today I really don’t like those kinds of haunted houses. The idea of someone jumping out and scaring you while you are getting pushed in a tight hallway just makes me want to punch people in the face.

However there was a time I worked up my guts and listened to the story side of the record. It was narrated by Thurl Ravenscroft. Don’t recognize the name? Well what about the voice?

No? not that one? What about this?

Getting closer? Well, what about this….

That’s right, Tony the Tiger

The story was about Karen and Mike (a post Andy Grifftith, Pre Happy Days Ron Howard.) getting lost in the rain and sneaking into a Haunted house. The story was creepy, but not scary. However, I loved it. I loved the imagery, the story, the description. I listened to it, just about everyday.

I would have friends over and we would act out a haunted house in my basement for our parents. (They humored us even though it was horribly lame.)

When I read the back of the album cover I noticed, “based on the Disneyland ride” Wait…there was a ride? There is a ride that is about my favorite record?

A couple of years later my parents told me that we were going back to Disney World. I knew that I wanted to go to the Haunted Mansion and there would be no stopping me.

I loved the fact that the descriptions from my record were exactly how they were in the ride. I loved the creepiness, I loved the humor, I loved everything about it.

We went back several years later and I once again knew I wanted to do this ride because I remembered it so fondly from when I was kid. Now time changes things, especially in your adolescence, where you are a jaded, bitter brat.

I was 12 years old when I last went on the Haunted Mansion, and when we went back I was 19, going on 20. I figured things would change and I would think how lame it was.

I still loved it. That was a truly horrible trip, it was New Year’s Eve, the place was packed, the lines were horrible, but I still loved the Haunted Mansion.

I didn’t go to Disney World for several years after that. My wife mentioned wanting to go on our Honeymoon, but I poo-pooed it based off of that one bad experience.

However, for whatever reason a few years ago I happened to start watching a vlog by a girl who loved Disneyland. That lead to me watching ride videos, and of course the Haunted Mansion hooked me in again. I went down with my wife and in-laws, and went on the ride either first or second (might have been Splash Mountain first because that was the other ride video I really liked, plus I hadn’t been on that one yet)

I loved it even more when I was #! (age edited because I am getting older and it offends me) than I did when I was a kid.

Now, every time we go to Disney World we HAVE to go to Magic Kingdom FIRST and we HAVE to go on Haunted Mansion FIRST. That is my only demand on the whole vacation. Everything else someone else can pick but this is my demand!

So why do I love it so much?

Yes, there is that nostalgia factor and the memories involved in it but memories fade and don’t keep bringing you back time after time.

First of all, the story begins before you even walk up to the place. You can keep your Castles, your Mickey Hats, Trees of Lifes, and Spaceship Earths, THE Disney icon when you walk into Disney World to me is heading into Liberty Square and seeing that house on the hill.

Everything that I’ve mentioned in prior attractions is here. It has AWESOME theming. The cast members are so much fun with the characters they’ve adopted. The script is great, the puns are great “Dead center of the rooms” “How Many Bodies?”

There are things that I discover EVERY time I ride. (Including riding for the first time at night last year, when your eyes are adjusted to the dark, you don’t realize how much stuff you’ve missed.) It also took me several rides to notice the shadow of the ghostly organ player on the ground.

The special effects, while many are very old school, are still amazing.

Plus there is that music. Sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, the narrator of the LP, Grim Grinning Ghosts is a song I find myself singing at the most odd times. It is a song that I have engrained in my head, as well as stuck permanently on my iPod.

Paul Frees (Boris Badenov of Rocky & Bullwinkle fame) does a great job as the “Ghost Host.” Madame Leota is still creepy as ever, and the Ghost bride still makes me scoot a little bit further away from my wife.

When I head back, there is a new queue, with new jokes, new innovation and new references, and I am just….dying to try them….
 (The picture is small but the brand of Organ is "Ravenscroft")

Before I started writing this I was in a bit of a funk, I knew that we were closer to our trip, and I knew that the closer that we were, sooner it would be over. However just thinking about everything about the Haunted Mansion, just got me jacked again. I am happy; I am excited…I’M GOING TO DISNEY WORLD!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Favorite Things at Disney World #2

Since yesterday I mentioned the MAJIC of my top 3, you cannot forget about the magic that creates that.
The Imagineers that put together these attractions, labor over them and love them to the minutest detail. Things that normal ride makers may not think of, or may not have the funds to achieve, get done at Disney Imagineering

Mickey’s Philharmagic is such a simple attraction. It’s a 3-D movie, Pure and simple. However, it’s not that simple. You see not only is it 3-D, its 5-D.

When you see a regular 3-D movie at the theater, or even Disney, you’ve got the illusion that you’re seeing something, but really, you are fully aware that you are watching a movie, and that nothing is going to “touch you."

Last year, the absolutely dreadful Spy Kids 4-D was released and tried to add a new element by adding smell (It’s been done before.) Of course even if you found the Spy Kids movie interesting, do you really want to stop from watching the movie so you can scratch a card to smell some variation on the smell of poop?

Philharmagic goes beyond this by touching your senses while not taking you out of the show. You can see things, you can hear things, and due to innovative imagineering you can even smell and in some cases touch things.

The basic story of the show is that Mickey is putting on a concert. You are in the audience when Donald walks on stage. Donald is being Donald and starts trouble with the instruments. What follows is a trip through Disney classics.

You fly with Aladin, you swim (and get splashed) with Ariel, fly with Peter Pan, dance with Simba and celebrate with Lumiere and the staff of Beast’s castle.

The transitions from scene to scene are phenomenal. The Beauty and the Beast feast falls into the Sorcerer’s Apprentice workshop, the splash of the brooms bucket becomes Ariel’s underwater grotto, the underwater sun shines into a hot African sun from Lion King.

During appropriate times you are blasted with smells of jasmine (the flower) and apple pie.

And, like so many things I’ve mentioned before you get so caught up in the action and the story that you don’t notice the things you’re not supposed to notice.

I remember specifically the first few times I watched the show not even realizing that the “curtain” had disappeared into the screen. I still couldn’t tell you WHEN exactly it happens, and definitely HOW it happened, but one second I’m looking at the stage and the next, it is taken over by the 150-foot screen.

That’s the kind of thing I love.

It is pure old school Disney magic with 21st century innovation.

Disney not only uses archival sound of Donald to great affect (only 5 lines of his dialogue was original) but the original of the original films animators returned to re-render those characters into 3-D so their unique personalities still shine through.

I could probably go to Philharmagic 30 times and still find something new to enjoy there, it is THAT good.

Before we reach my #1 tomorrow there are a few attractions that just barely didn’t make it:

 Pirates of the Caribbean- For the smell alone, plus its one of the great dark rides out there.

 Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor- Konichiwa!

 Space Mountain- it was probably #16

      Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin- Can’t beat my wife at that one either.

Spaceship Earth- Thank You Phoenicians 

Test Track- Who knew going 60 mph could be so much fun

Kilimanjaro Safaris/Pangani Forest Exploration Trails- I could spend all day there.
Expedition Everest- Great theming, great roller coaster.

Festival of the Lion King- Great stage show!

Before I got to my #1 favorite I could probably list 999 runners up that I love…but there’s always room for a thousand…. any volunteers? *Maniacal Laugh*

Saturday, January 21, 2012

My Favorite Things at Disney World #3

We are down to the final 3 and as I have been thinking about these last three there are somethings I can definitely connect to them all, and that is MAJIC (Yes, I know I spelled it wrong.)

MAJIC is the acronym I thought of that is Memories Awe & Joy I.C.  (Cheesy, I know) There are memories, awe and joy I see in all of these attractions. Whether it is in me, in the people around me or in the attraction itself.

I have never really liked fireworks, and I have never really liked crowds (that’s why I go to Disney World during the slow months), but I do recognize that fireworks signify memories and celebration. On Fourth of July they represent remembering America’s founding, and celebration of it. Here in Cincinnati, the Labor Day fireworks represent memories of the summer and of course Wishes represents Disney memories.

So in this case, not only do I kind of like the crowds, I think they are essential to the experience.

If you’ve been to Disney World, and haven’t seen Wishes, try to remember the first time you walked into the Magic Kingdom. If you’ve never been, think of the look on a child’s face at Christmas. It’s that brightness, it’s that hopefulness, and it’s that pure joy. The best way I can put it is to have Disney put it:

When you see Wishes, and you look around at the crowd, you can’t help but think about the fact that for some of these people, it may very well be their first time visiting. You remember when it was your first time there, whether it is that day, or it was 30-40 years ago, and you start to feel it with them. You are practically one with those people. The crowd of thousands starts to become very intimate.

I’m going to be honest. Every time I see Wishes in person, heck, every time I watch a video of the show I start weeping. Maybe I am an emotional person (I am) maybe I’m overly sentimental (I am) but the pure joy and childlike emotion of this show just gets to me.

Plus, with the addition last year of the “Magic Memories and You” pre-show, where pictures taken within the park of the people around you, embracing their childhood, enjoying their childhood, or remembering their childhood, are projected onto Cinderella Castle, I know I am going to be a blubbering mess next time I watch it, and I love that!!

To aid you on your emotional trip, Disney of course gives you that tear-jerking encouragement (ploy).

The child singing, the memories of the great Disney movie moments, and of course, Jiminy Cricket, the most gentile, and probably, next to Winnie the Pooh, sweetest, and most sincere of all the Disney characters narrating, all of this brings in that memory for you. It brings that awe to you. It brings that joy to you.

If you didn’t watch the above video there is something in there that sums Wishes up so well.

“Disney Memories keep our children young in our hearts, for the rest of our lives, and color our tomorrows with the best of yesterdays. They sing to us, whenever we need them to, and dance for us in our dreams.”

That about sums it up right there. Whether you’re there by yourself, with your young children, your teenage children, or adult children, it brings back that young optimism.

Tomorrow is #2, which still has me amazed.

Friday, January 20, 2012

My Favorite Things at Disney World: #4

At #4 we have an attraction that has a little of everything that I’ve mentioned. There is great theming, great atmosphere and most of all it is just a blast. This is a ride and a game all in one, plus it is full of innovation and interactivity. I am of course talking about Toy Story Midway Mania.

Back in the early days of Disneyland there was a base admission to the park, and then you were charged based on the sets of rides you were going to go on. Ride tickets went from A-Tickets, for some of the simpler, dare I say it, less popular rides, and ticket prices went progressively up until you got to the E-Ticket rides, which were of course the bigger attractions and more elaborate experiences.  Now I do have a point in mentioning this bit of trivia.

Toy Story Mania, along with Soarin’ in EPCOT, Space and Splash Mountain in Magic Kingdom and to a lesser extent, Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom are the modern equivalent to “E-ticket” rides. They are the signature attractions at the park, and rightfully so.

If you plan on riding, (and I fully expect everyone reading this to go based solely on my recommendations) you have 4 options.

1)      Get there early and “briskly walk” towards the ride and get in line. (Shortest wait, but possibly scary if you have children.)
2)      Get a Fastpass. (Disney’s free service which allows you to “hold a place in line”) but expect all of them to be gone by noon.
3)      Wait. Once again, when I checked on New Year’s Eve the wait was two and a half hours, and one should at least expect 40 minutes to wait.
4)      Get lucky. Once we went, notice there was only a 25 minute wait so we went for it. But that was just pure luck

So most likely, you will have to wait. If you are like me though, you might just do all 4.

But waiting is not a bad thing.

Much like Muppetvision 3-D, the queue line, is actually a lot of the fun.

As soon as you walk into Pixar Place you are “shrunk to the size of the toy”  Across the street at the gift shop and pizza planet there are Green Army Men pulling a Speak and Spell up to the roof, in front of the building the pillars are Tinker Toys. Yo-Yo’s, Alphabet blocks and Scrabble tiles make up the sign, and of course Andy’s trademark paneling wall with cloud wall paper is there.

Inside you will find game boards along the walls, Viewmaster slides, and giant Golden Books…yes Golden Books!

Plus there are tones of references to Pixar Movies, and other fun hidden stuff just hanging around. (No, that was not a barrel full of monkeys pun.)

Towards the end of the first queue line is a giant (normal sized since you are now the size of a toy.) Mr. Potato Head. However, this is not your standard sit there and stare Potato Head, it’s a fully interactive, insulting Don Rickles voiced Mr. Potato Head with removable ear.

Eventually you get to the main waiting area “under Andy’s bed.”

Andy has just received a new Midway Game set and Woody and all the other toys want you to play with it.

What follows is just pure…fun.

I thought about writing some sort of great prose about the six mini games that you play, but I think fun just about sums it up.

However this is a top 4 attraction so I will write a bit more.

Once again, I love Dark Rides, anything with characters in a ride that takes you through scenes I am a freak for. This is the 21st century of that. 3-D screens, which interact to you’re the firing. When you pull the trigger on your ride, pies will “fly out” and “hit” the screen, causing some sort of reaction. Those reactions cause other reactions (Hint: Aim for the Mouse running across the roof of the barn.)

Now, you are scored, and the only “prize” you win is the satisfaction of beating the other person in the car, or if you’re really good, getting your score on the leader board as you leave, but I’m a competitive male, and the fact that I can NEVER beat my wife at this game just keeps me coming back for more.

During this trip we are trying to take a more relaxed pace. We realize that we don’t HAVE to open and close a park. However, we have set aside at least one day, that we ARE going to open up Hollywood Studios, and we ARE going to rush to be the first there. Sure, we know the ride will be around for a long time, but that rush is half the fun.