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Epcot@30x30 – Starting Now!

Last year, as the Magic Kingdom turned 40 years old, I realized that there were about 40 rides and shows in that park. So I invented an event: 40 rides (one per week) to celebrate 40 years. I invited the whole world to come and celebrate with me, and often people did come. It was fantastic to meet all of you, and many of you have become close friends.

It didn’t take long to realize that the stars were aligned in some weird, once in an eon way. The 40x40 could be followed in 2012 with an Epcot celebration, since it was turning 30 years old… and it just happened to have about 30 attractions. This was spooky. Then there were other events that were possible - with a level of coincidence that is downright scary to contemplate. But those are for later.

Read what you’re missing...

For 2012, the E@30x30 celebration seemed in reach. Counting backwards from October 1 (well, from Sept 30, the nearest Sunday), we arrive at this Sunday, March 11. That’s our first meet, picked specifically so that we finish near October 1st. We’re heading to Test Track. Normally we’d wait to build up anticipation for the ‘big rides’, but in this case we dare not wait, since it’s closing soon.

We’ll meet at 2pm, in the Upstairs area of Electric Umbrella. We’ll go on Test Track (standby) right after that, or perhaps we’ll pick up a FastPass at that point. But don’t get an early FastPass; the new rules prohibiting late return will be in effect.

Join us, if you can. We’ll post the meet each week in our weekly Facebook group. You can find this Sunday’s meet at Epcot here. As for the rest of the E@30x30 celebration, we hope you can join us eventually! Newcomers and first-time visitors are very welcome. Drop by if you can!

3/11 - Test Track
3/18 - Flower & Garden Festival
3/25 - Turtle Talk

4/1 - Captain EO
4/8 - Club Cool
4/15 - Epcot Monorail Loop
4/22 - Circle of Life
4/29 - Germany
5/6 - Italy
5/13 - Japan
5/20 - Morocco
5/27 - UK
6/3 - Reflections of China (+China)
6/10 - Impressions de France
6/17 - O Canada (+ Canada)
6/24 - Gran Fiesta Tour (+ Mexico)
7/1 - Maelstrom (+ Norway)
7/8 - American Adventure
7/15 - Innoventions East
7/22 - Innoventions West
7/29 - Ellen’s Energy Adventure
8/5 - Soarin'
8/12 - Mission Space
8/19 - Friendship Boats (+ transit to DHS)
8/26 - Seas with Nemo (+ Star Wars Celebration VI)
9/2 - Living with the Land
9/9 - Imagination
9/16 - Spaceship Earth
9/23 - Illuminations
9/30 - Food & Wine Festival
Oct 1st (Monday) – Bonus meet

Habit Heroes

After “soft” opening for almost a month, Habit Heroes abruptly shut down last week and it did not open as planned for the “grand opening” of March 5. I won’t be surprised if it stays closed for an extended period.

The culprit is not the usually-negative reviews on the Internet and face to face users polled after the experience. If you’ve seen the original show, you probably sympathize with people who express frustration at the last scene, where everyone is asked to dance in front of strangers. Instead, the villain is the national press, because, as you probably already know, some health experts panned Disney’s attraction on the merits, and THAT’S the story that went viral. Some 500 newspaper websites were carrying the story within a few days, and that will shake Disney publicists in their boots when the story is not positive.


Would they have a problem if he was called Fat Bastard?

The funny thing is, I think the national story is overblown. Yes, the show was idiotic in the sense that it had no real sense of what strangers want to do in front of other strangers. I mean, honestly. Dancing? Why not throw in the sauna room too?

But the show’s MESSAGE – the thing which got it in trouble with the national press – was not a bad message. Today’s kids eat too much junk food and do too little exercise. The national experts were especially irritated that the show made kids feel guilty if they ate the wrong food. Many of the comments by users on such websites echoed the feeling that Disney should not do such things, and pointed readers to the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (yes, there is such an organization).

It’s hard to write about this topic without stepping on any toes whatsoever, but for what it’s worth, I felt the attraction did not go overboard with guilt. The first activity of running around zapping the falling digital objects was fun for my kids. Admittedly, it was lame for adults. But it was not insulting; just lame. The second room was essentially Toy Story Mania, where you zapped desserts. A touch heavy-handed (no pun intended)? Possibly. But this kind of activity is always hard to resist. Presented with a pull-string cannon, no one folds his arms and says “no way.” The third activity, about making an animated fat guy on screen dance, was the big offender (OK maybe these puns are subconsciously creeping in). As noted above, it’s not so much the message as it was the lame audience participation that I objected to.

Regardless of fairness to the actual Disney attraction, public popular perception has now set in, and I think we’ll see substantial changes when the show reopens (I’m assuming they won’t just keep it closed, but Disney has done that with rides and shows before too).


John Carter

Speaking of public perception, I’m really starting to wonder if the social-media-tail is wagging the marketing-dog for movies now, too. Certainly that’s been the trend in theme parks for a while now, where oodles of webmasters and twitter users have been invited to press events, showered with swag, and so on… with the hope that they will drum up interest on Facebook and Twitter. My ruminations today concern John Carter. I note a few things:

  • The original movie trailers are pretty boring
  • The movie itself is much, much better than the trailers
  • WDW annual passholders were invited to FREE showings of the movie before the first trailers ever came out
  • Inviting annual passholders to free movies is a new thing, not something they do every year.

So there are a few possibilities. It’s possible they want to reward passholders and keep them coming back every year. If you saw the original trailers (the fan-made one was much, much better) you might be thinking that they dreamed up the passholder thing to remove the bad taste left by poor marketing, but that doesn’t fit the timeline (and anyway that seems impossible, given that director Andrew Stanton taped a message specifically for the DHS previews). But there is another possibility. It’s possible – and likely – that the idea of “free word of mouth marketing” (the best there is) drove the decision-making. The logic goes like this: if you give someone a free movie, he will happily recommend it to others if the movie is halfway decent.

What if you saw the movie as an executive, realized the movie is REALLY good, and thought to yourself that word of mouth marketing would STILL help a lot… especially if the “standard” marketing had not met expectations? Could it be possible that this is an orchestrated manipulation of everyone involved? Put out a lackluster trailer and everyone writes off the movie as dead on arrival (as indeed very many pundits have), but then invite hordes of people to see the movie for free and evangelize for you – and this time, their message sounds extra promising because everyone’s expectations were so (artificially) low. I know I’m out on a conspiracy theory limb here – it’s equally possible this is just dumb luck, and the marketing folks who wanted to give away freebies to passholders had nothing to do with the marketing folks who made a bad trailer – but it is an intriguing thought, given how Disney Parks does indeed target annual passholders.


Free Dining

Most of September is now slated to receive Free Dining. You might remember that they have tried, unsuccessfully, to avoid resorting to these types of freebies. The poor economy is usually the stated reason. But if you look closer, you may notice that the Free Dining period is not anywhere close to the summer. Maybe they are backing off discounts?

Perhaps I’ll start treating the Disney discounts as a harbinger of the overall health of the economy. When Disney stops offering the discounts entirely, the economy is out of trouble! (Or so goes the theory. The practice may well be that Disney is pricing itself out of the market in some cases).


One More Disney Day

Unlike the overcrowded conditions at Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom enjoyed a modest, moderate event that catered to many hardcore fans and some curious tourists. There were long lines to see Mickey and Minnie wearing pajamas (Chip and Dale had special outfits, too).

I wonder if we’ll see a return of this event in four years. My money says yes. It was really not much more than a super-long Extra Magic Hours event; there are days when the park closes at 4am already for those EMH visitors. But they got national press out of it, and some merchandising sales. I hope they add more special events, and more Mickey photo opportunities, if they do that.

Another observation from that evening: Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom lines were pretty long. They are long all the time now anyway, actually. I think we can read into this that the experience “has legs” and will stick around. Certainly I thought so on the merits originally, but the big lines mean the executives and money guys will see the same thing.

Next up: let’s watch how sales go when they finally start offering cards #60 through #70 for sale. If this makes a ton of money, I expect them to run with it. Pin trading and Vinylmation must have begun in similar small steps. Given that they spent a lot of money to develop the experience and are treating it like a new attraction, this is no surprise they will go all-out to make sure it succeeds.


Next Gen

Another arena where the company is going all-out is in NextGen, where the company is about to double-down on the technology. Minor construction walls (really just oversized boxes) have appeared at the entrance to Star Tours and Tower of Terror. These are related to Next Gen, but no one knows how. I doubt they are going to give a full treatment to the standby queue in either case – and remember, these are small construction boxes. It’s more likely they are building the detectors that will be needed to scan the NextGen wristbands.


I hope they fix that broken door on Tower.

Part of NextGen, online rumors say, will be an expansion of the reservation mentality. Yes, you can reserve Space Mountain weeks (or will it be months?) in advance. We assume it will be ALL visitors who get X-Pass, not just some. One assumes they will still give some manner of perk to people staying at the expensive Disney hotels (maybe more reservations slots?); surely the point here is to make money. We also don’t know if X-Pass will replace FastPass entirely, or just exist side by side. What I fear most is that they may replace today’s FastPass system with a system that offers only a FEW free FastPasses, and if you want your vacation in 2015 to look like it did in 2010, you will have to pay extra.

But the plans include expanding the reservations model. They will purportedly (not confirmed yet) include rides that don’t need it, like Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Spaceship Earth. Part of the logic, surely, is to “use up” some of the passes on things that have faster-moving lines, so you don’t have billions of people chasing the same 10,000 passes for Space Mountain.

They will also start reservations for parades and fireworks. Indeed, that very test is starting soon (or has started by the time you read this), with reservations being necessary to view the parade and fireworks from the “sweet spot” at the central plaza, facing the castle.


Wireless Initiatives

I’m an AT&T iPhone user, so the official Disney park app didn’t become available to me until about a week ago. I’m ecstatic at this thing. Clearly I don’t need the park info and maps, but it is nothing short of phenomenal to have the real park data, rather than someone’s guess or past historical data, telling me how long the current standby line is for any ride in the park. THIS is what modern technology does and should do. Just as useful, I can also see FastPass numbers. If it’s available, the display will tell me when the return time will be for. Suddenly, it seems so prosaic and 19th century of me to have run across the park to find out such things only a few short weeks ago. Ah, bliss.

Work permits have surfaced online that seem to suggest Disney is installing Wi-Fi everywhere. Possibly they will make the Internet free for everyone, as a way of luring folks to here rather than other vacation destinations? Or maybe they expect to charge a daily fee for it? It’s also possible that this infrastructure is needed somehow for NextGen issues. What if part of NextGen is to use your own smartphone as the interface for activities? Not the “park info” type of things like the official app I just talked about, but the games like Kim Possible and Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. If every visitor has the Internet and a smartphone, can’t they stop issuing custom cell phones and custom trading cards? Maybe they can bring “interactivity” to a whole new level if everyone has the playing device right there with them. Food for thought.


Rizzo Reports

I’ve previously decided to call the boneheaded decisions about maintenance the “Rizzo Factor,” since it all but looks like execs truly believe what Rizzo says in the Muppet attraction: “they’re tourists—what do they know?”

Case in point was the Disco Yeti, frozen in place for years now and illuminated by a strobe light when coasters zoomed by. Well, two weeks ago the yeti went dark and stayed dark. You still heard the yeti roar, but the entire cavern was completely dark.

It turns out they were working on the yeti. They’ve adjusted his position so that he’s now facing ninety degrees to the left. In other words, he’s not looking at the cars as they pass now.


Macarena-Yeti (2012)


Original Yeti (2006)

Why would they do this? I have a guess. In the new position, the yeti’s right arm can come crashing down on the passing coaster car below even if nothing else on the yeti is moving. Remember we told you months ago about a plan for Marionette Yeti? The *internal* robotics won’t work again – they are ripping the character apart due to the forces involved – but there’s nothing stopping them from making the arm move from the outside.

So now the strobe light is back on, with the yeti now facing a quarter-turn away, as if he’s just done a dance hop. So far, this Macarena-Yeti is still stationary, but I assume he will  give way to the Marionette-Yeti sometime soon. Will the disco strobe still be activated? Time will tell.


Fantasmic

Sigh, Fantasmic. It was down recently for an extended refurbishment. On the plus side they’ve finally got the torches working on the Indian canoes. And there are a couple of new things, such as the pattern lights that issue forth from the sides of the dragon.

But they resisted the temptation to add back the fireworks missing in some key mist-screen moments (during the first Sorcerer Mickey, and when Tink arrives). And much worse than that were the new problems. I can maybe forgive the audio and video being off in sync for part of the show… but half the show? When we watched (a week ago now), the center mist screen was at least 3 seconds behind the show.

The finale showboat was there. Too bad its fireworks weren’t “spinning” as it appeared (yes, Disney, we do notice these things). But the far greater sin was the means of locomotion. The boat itself was apparently powerless, since a skiff with double outboard motors was trailing it, pushing it the whole way. Stay classy, Fantasmic!


Do the characters no longer wave scarves either?


Save the Clock Tower!

Marty McFly will despair at the news that the bell tower next to Small World (and the former Skyway chalet) is now gone as well. For a while there it looked like it had been spared when everything else was removed, but apparently not. Thanks to David J. for the photos.


View from Fantasyland.


View from Frontierland, across the water.


Monorail, Interrupted

From 11:30am until 6:00pm these days (until at least mid-March, maybe later), there will be no Monorail service to the Magic Kingdom. Not Express, not Resort. The reason is that cranes may be active on the DVC project next to the Grand Floridian hotel. They are plumping up watercraft activity to “compensate.”

While the extra boats will help, I still think this service interruption must be a major inconvenience. Not to me – I don’t much mind the ferry – but to the hotel guests on the monorail loop. They were not told of this when they booked their hotel reservations (it was only announced recently).

The stink of it is, only those who actively complain are likely to get something out of it. Disney won’t compensate everyone. Only the squeaky wheels will get anything. And that’s a crying shame. What about people who are meek?

Drive In Mini Golf

You may not know it based on my writing, but I’m meek myself in person. I really am. I am anything but confrontational. I never preen or trot out my media connections. I’m much more likely in a face to face situation that has even the slightest inkling of awkwardness to hide, cower, or otherwise deny knowledge of anything.

The above is background info to put into context me getting thrown out of the new Drive In Mini Golf at Universal this past weekend. I wasn’t harassing, demanding, or entitled. I am meek, and I do as I’m told.

Here’s the full story. We arrived at 4:30pm and intended to play as a family of four (which would cost $90 once we paid). I was losing the sunlight, though, and thought it would be better to capture the photos I needed first, and then play as a family uninterrupted later. So I snapped pics of the staff selling admission and walked through the unadorned (= no signs) entrance to find two separate golf courses. One was themed to sci-fi aliens, and the other to haunted houses.

I moved down the path of the haunted houses and encountered no one. After a few holes I spotted workers still putting on finishing touches, and then a manager approached me. Here’s the complete conversation:

Manager: Hi, how are you doing? (shakes my hand). Are you playing the course?
Me: No, not yet. My family is out front waiting for me so we can play
Manager: Can I ask how you got here?
Me: (pause). I parked in the parking garage (pointing lamely—I’m ashamed to say I think I pointed with two fingers)
Manager: No, I mean, how did you make it out here on the course? My people are not supposed to let you out here unless you paid.
Me: Oh! (awkward pause). No one, uh, said anything to me.
Manager: I’ll have to let my people know to pay closer attention. Only paying customers are supposed to be out here. We don’t mind photos, but only by paying customers.
Me: Oh! I’m sorry. Uh, do I need to leave?
Manager: Yes, I’ll walk you out (starts leading me out). So do you just like to take pictures?
Me: Um, I’m a blogger.
Manager: Ah, well, that’s why we have the policy.
Me: (nonplussed, confused, speechless)

That’s pretty much the entire exchange. I didn’t volunteer any of my website affiliations, and he didn’t ask. He didn’t say goodbye or anything as we passed out of the course; in fact, he just sort of evaporated. I didn’t see him leave. And I never got his name.


Haunted golf was not meant to be for me.

The entire exchange was bizarre, abrupt, and curt. What doesn’t show up here in print is his manner. He gave the impression that he was extraordinarily bothered by this turn of events, as if kids such as me had harassed him multiple times already today (keep in mind his golf course just opened two days prior), and that I was a criminal for not knowing the rules. And here is where I need to point out that there were no signs explaining the rules. I had blithely assumed that a themed environment was OK to visit, but that was clearly in error.

I actually don’t have too much of a problem with the policy itself, believe it or not. I can get why they wouldn’t want rubberneckers to overwhelm the cramped facilities. What I didn’t like was the way I was dismissed as an obvious miscreant with an agenda. Perhaps he thought I needed a place to smoke weed undetected? Or that I was about to rail-slide my skateboard on his new Swamp Creature bridge? I wanted to protest to the guy that I am forty-freaking-years old, but I held my tongue. I am meek.

Worse than this, though, was the news that trickled my way a while later from a fellow journalist, who saw my tweet about taking pics and knew not to press his luck. He bought his teenage son and friend their tickets to play… and only THEN learned that he will still barred from the course. Only paying customers need attempt to cross the threshold. It doesn’t matter if your kid has paid to play. If you have not also paid the toll, you shall not pass.

I was flabbergasted at this news. As bad as Disney management sometimes behaves, they are seldom this clueless. I inquired with an acquaintance about the ownership of the new golf course, and learned that it’s operated by Congo River, the folks who own multiple mini golf franchises in the Orlando attractions area. I’ve never had a problem with them before, so this was surprising for me, too. But there is a distinctly bad taste in my mouth now.

I’m reminded of a video shown to new Working Leads in the early 1990s at Disneyland, called The Guest. It claimed that if there was one verbal complaint, countless others had noticed it silently before. It also, significantly, claimed that a rebuffed Guest is much harder to reclaim than an initial visitor. Indeed, I don’t think I’ll be rushing back to Drive In Mini Golf.


Let’s Discuss!

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Kevin Yee may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally. FTC-Mandated Disclosure: As of December 2009, bloggers are required by the Federal Trade Commission to disclose payments and freebies. Kevin Yee pays for his own admission to theme parks and their associated events, unless otherwise explicitly noted.

© 2012 Kevin Yee

Find Kevin on Social Media

Readers are invited to join Kevin on Facebook, where he offers regular "Where in Walt Disney World" photo quizzes.

On his public Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Google+ account, he also offers regular smaller updates on the parks.


Kevin’s Disney Books

Kevin is the author of many books on Disney theme parks, including:

  • Jason’s Disneyland Almanac (co-written with Jason Schultz) is an exhaustive listing of every day in Disneyland history, from 1955 to 2010. You’ll find park operating hours, weather and temperatures, and openings and closings of any park attraction, shop, or restaurant… for every day in the park’s history.
  • The Unofficial Walt Disney World ‘Earbook 2010 is a photo-rich volume of 70 pages that park fans will find especially useful if they want to know what’s changed at WDW since their last visit.
  • Walt Disney World Hidden History: Remnants of Former Attractions and Other Tributes As the title implies, this is all about those little things in the parks that have significance to insiders and long-timers, but are never explained or highlighted.
  • Your Day at the Magic Kingdomis a full-color, hardcover interactive children’s book, where readers decide which attraction to ride next (and thus which page to turn to) - but watch out for some unexpected surprises!
  • Mouse Trap: Memoir of a Disneyland Cast Memberprovides the first authentic glimpse of what it’s like to work at Disneyland.
  • Tokyo Disney Made Easy is a travel guide to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySeas, written to make the entire trip stress-free for non-speakers of Japanese.
  • Magic Quizdom offers an exhaustive trivia quiz on Disneyland park, with expansive paragraph-length answers that flesh out the fuller story on this place rich with details.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Disneyland is a list-oriented book that covers ground left intentionally unexposed in the trivia book, namely the tributes and homages around Disneyland, especially to past rides and attractions.

More information on the above titles, along with ordering options are at this link.

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