WDW Hidden History
I’ve got a new book out! It’s called 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. When a ride closes, sometimes pieces or props from that ride are folded into the replacement attraction (think of the World of Motion car seen in the queue of Test Track). Other times, designers intentionally craft a tribute to the previous ride—an example of that might be the carving of a submarine in the cement tree created for Pooh’s Playful Spot where the 20,000 Leagues subs used to be.
The other kind of homage in the parks concerns not rides, but individuals. The designers, artists, engineers, executives, and people important to Disney’s history often provide the inspiration for names and titles used at the attractions. Sadly, these are almost always unheralded. All of these remnants and tributes are normally left for the truly obsessed to spot piecemeal. They are usually not even discussed in the official Disney books and tours. This book sets out to change that, and catalog all such remnants and tributes in one spot.
How much Hidden History do you already know? Think you know all of it?
If you’ve been with me for a while online (and thank you kindly if you have!) then you know of one of my earlier WDW books, 101 Things You Never Knew About WDW. To shortcut to the punchline, let me explain that Hidden History can be thought of as the third edition of 101 Things. The first edition had only about 60 or so “hidden history” elements; the remaining “things” were probably better defined as thematic oddities or hidden details that weren’t necessarily history-oriented. The second edition (now a couple of years old) attempted to rectify that situation and focus only on the historical elements, and also add a few pictures. Unfortunately, I learned that Amazon moves in mysterious ways, and any keyword search for the title would invariably lead to the FIRST edition, and users would have to know to click the small-font link to the “other” edition available. It must have looked to most people like the book was simply out of print.
The newest book has lots of photos. Some are hard to get on your own.
Hence the need for a third edition. I had to change the title to fix the Amazon search problem, but more than that, I wanted to update the contents yet again. In this newest edition, there are several significant changes:
- Whereas the second edition had only a few photos (and the first edition had none), this new book will show a photo for almost every one of the elements discussed, so if you bring the book along with you to the parks, you’ll know what to hunt for.
- There are now 240 historical elements discussed—much more than the original 60 or so! All that new info came from a variety of sources: tipsters in the know, interviews with park designers, books or other publications that mention the items, or sometimes simply by observation. For instance, there are no accidental 71’s in the Magic Kingdom (it opened in 1971) and no accidental 1401’s anywhere on property (that’s the street address of Walt Disney Imagineering).
- There’s a comprehensive index (12-pages long) included for the first time. Now, when you want to look up quickly any mention of any ride or individual—say, Harper Goff, you can see at a glance how often he’s mentioned (for the record, Goff is discussed on page 68, 81, and 82).
- In an effort to increase the book’s value as a resource, I’ve created a listing of all park attractions and their operating dates. It’s not quite a comprehensive resort timeline, but for the attractions, it’s pretty close.
- The “bonus” sections added for the second edition are still there, detailing historical elements from “General WDW” (outside the four parks) and Universal Studios/IOA. Amaze your friends by pointing out Dr. Seuss’s representation on your next visit!
If you have the second edition of 101 Things, this new book might be valuable for the index, the new items added since that printing, and the addition of so many pictures. Admittedly, it’s fundamentally the same idea for the book, so updating is perhaps not necessary for some readers. Those who only have the first edition of 101 Things, however, will definitely want to get this new book. That goes triple if you’ve never heard of these books before.
The final result is 225 pages of hyper-detailed historical factoids. Broadly speaking this is a “trivia” book, but remember that it’s a particular kind of trivia. You’ve known before that the Walt Disney World theme parks wove a thick tapestry of details and backstory into a seamless (and peerless) experience. But armed with the specifics of homages and tributes, you’ll become aware that the parks are even more alive, and layered with meaning, that you could have ever imagined.
I’ve managed to bring the price down to $12.95 (it might even be lower if Amazon is running a sale on it when you look—something I don’t control). Might this be an ideal Christmas present or stocking stuffer for the Disney fan on your shopping list? If so, please have a look. And thanks for bearing with me through this extended commercial.
Pooh to You!
The queue for the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh has opened in stages over the past two weeks, unveiling hints of the design ethos soon to come on the larger Fantasyland expansion. If the rest of the expansion has the same high standards, intricate detail, and obvious quality, we ought to be in for a real treat. The new Pooh queue is fantastic from start to finish. Moreover, it’s a vision for what modern day queuing should look like. It may look evolutionary, but its net effect is revolutionary in nature.
The overall look of the new queue is fresh, exciting, and well-themed.
You’ve probably seen the most visible new element: the huge artificial tree from Pooh’s Playful Spot, the ill-conceived playground once located across the way. They picked up the big concrete tree and moved it here, so kids had a place to crawl in. That alone is worthwhile, but equally valuable in my eyes is the tribute to the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine ride. Because the tree once stood where the 20K ride was, it had a tribute in the form of a submarine shape, visible above one door frame when standing inside. The tree has moved so the tribute is no longer as direct, but it’s an artifact of history that I absolutely think ought to remain, and I’m delighted they left it unmolested.
But that’s just a taste of the play areas to come. Almost immediately in the Standby queue you come across the Tigger area. This was closed on our visit, but the idea is that the line will skirt a central area where kids will play. While adults watch from their vantage point of the path (line) along the outside of the loop, kids will stand on pressure pads in the center area that will first sink down, then spring up and bounce kids into the air slightly. This should be phenomenally popular with the kids if it works (hopefully it’s deemed safe enough!) Not having seen in practice, I wonder if people will actually stay in line in the absence of ropes and fences, but let’s give the benefit of the doubt on this one until we’ve seen evidence to suggest otherwise.
Come bounce with me!
Next up is Eeyore’s Gloomy Place, really just a tent made up of sticks. It’s hard to complain about any themed element, especially one that is helpfully labeled with signs saying “in” and “out” on either side so it looks like kids are meant to scamper through it. There’s not much to it, but I find it significant that they’d spend money on something with such seemingly limited payback. They apparently believe, as I do, that if you build enough such objects, you’ve got payback indeed. The kids will be busy, the wait time will seem to go by faster, and even the adults will feel less frazzled after a long wait, since the kids were entertained the whole time.
The plastinated mulch won’t get everywhere.
Almost in the same area as Eeyore’s tent is one of those oversize story pages, this one showing Piglet’s home in a tree, with a sign saying “please knock.” It looks so unobtrusive it may escape attention. That would be a shame, since there’s an interactive element here. Whenever anyone knocks, Piglet’s voice answers. It reminds me of the unseen archeologist voice in the queue at Indiana Jones Adventure (Anaheim) or outside the Indy stunt show (Orlando), heard when you tug on the rope leading to the excavation below.
Piglet is heard but not seen.
Kids will be forgiven for leaping ahead at this point, however, since the next (and much larger) mini-playground looms in front of them. Rabbit’s Garden is home to a small playground crawl area (boxes to crawl through) and several types of musical “instruments” that make noise when pushed, pulled, and prodded. Most of these are vegetables. Slam on the watermelon, and it makes a drum noise. Push on the radish, and it squeaks (I’m not convinced that these musical veggies will last for long—people are awfully hard on props like this). Spin the sunflower, and it makes a wheel of fortune clacking noise (at least it’s supposed to; this effect wasn’t working on our visit).
The garden beckons to all kids. (And kids of all ages).
The back walls are home to gopher holes. They don’t pop up on a schedule; they only appear when someone steps on the pressure pads just in front of them. This is a simple effect, yet it’s enough to delight kids. The designer appears to know exactly what he is doing.
Stomp to make the gophers appear.
The final effect in here unfortunately lacks the same panache. A multi-user “ball popper” game ought to be engaging for several kids at once. Each of several users spins a wheel to make balls pop out of the ground. While the idea is sound (and matches what I’ve seen in modern kids museum-playground combinations like the Fernbank children’s museum in Atlanta), the execution doesn’t work. All the balls bunched up in one spot, and no one could dislodge the pile. Something has to be done to angle the playing field, or otherwise prevent accumulation. If they fix that, they’ll have a highlight of the garden!
The ball popper will be fun if they can fix it.
After some nondescript boxes that appear to serve no purpose, we come across oversized walls with digital honey dripping down them. The honey streams are reactive to human hands; you can shove honey aside or make patterns in the streams.
Even the story told up top tells you what to do.
It took until our second visit to realize that there’s a picture hidden underneath the streams. It’s harder than it looks to clear enough honey away to get a look at the image.
Then, just like that, we’re at the point where we merge with the FastPass users. It barely seemed like 20 minutes, but we’re here now. One thing they should add at this spot is a hand sanitizer dispenser, where it’s easy to refill. Kids have just spent those last 20 minutes spreading germs (and touching digital screens) so it would be a nice gesture to offer sanitizer.
The cumulative effect of so much interactivity is hard to capture in just one sentence, but the outcome is real enough. We were never bored. The kids (aged 4 and 7) lurched from one activity to the next, often with no need for spending any time in line between stations. We parents, meanwhile, fawned over their playing so much that we scarcely noticed the passage of time. In fact, a good 50% of the queue has ledges at convenient heights, inviting adults to lean or even fully sit down on these low walls throughout the queue. They even thought of the temperature: numerous fans overhead kept the air moving (this will be extra necessary in the summertime).
I would go so far as to say that these changes make me want to skip FastPass and use the Standby line instead. Since the Pooh standby line is interesting, it’s much more tolerable than others, so I’d rather save the FastPasses for a line that is less interesting (such as Splash Mtn or Big Thunder). We overheard a parent near us musing out loud that all the lines should be like this. Indeed, that’s a tempting line of thought to pursue. What if they were?
It won’t take long to realize that this kind of queue is different enough to represent a new beast entirely. I place it as the third epoch in Disney queues. The first epoch was the era of the switchback (a Disney invention, I’ve seen claimed in writing—apparently lines were purely linear and non-folding before Disney?) – examples at Disneyland included the Matterhorn, Submarine Voyage, and most of the Fantasyland rides. Some uses for switchbacks were carried forward to WDW when it opened (and remained in small ways in the next era of lines). The second epoch was the heavily themed queue—examples here in Orlando include Pirates of the Caribbean and Test Track. Often, these queues were long, and they formed the first act of the storytelling experience. Once FastPass burst onto the scene, that “first act” was skipped. FastPass was shoehorned into many lines never designed for parallel queues, causing operational challenges, which were exacerbated by the very nature of the line-skipping technology. Namely, FastPass reduced the Standby line to crawl speeds. The level of theming was seldom up to the challenge of that much scrutiny by bored patrons.
A few attempts were made to mitigate this with games inserted into the Standby line, most prominently at Soarin’ and Space Mountain. These helped, but they were imperfect solutions shoehorned into existing corridors and lines, so they were never full immersive (and in the case of Space Mountain, the games came too late in the long line to be of much value). Worse, they appeared designed to appeal to adults as much as to kids, whereas the Pooh example shows that it’s actually smarter to aim only at kids. (Admittedly, the Pooh queue will be a lot less interesting for parties traveling without small children).
Unlike Soarin and Space Mountain, the Pooh queue was built from the ground up specifically with interactivity in mind. This is the first true “game line,” the third epoch in Disney queues. By my count, FastPass wasn’t a full epoch itself; rather, it was an innovation that did some damage to the usefulness of the second epoch (heavily themed queues). I’m betting that FastPass will be viewed by history as a transitional step, something between the eras of themed queues and the game queues.
Park managers appear to recognize that although FastPass may solve issues for some users, it can create problems of its own. Specifically, it leads to crowded walkways. The original idea was to move people out of the lines and into the stores and restaurants, but that didn’t really happen. Instead, people got in other lines and effectively stood in two lines at once (one of them being virtual at the FastPass attraction). With all the people out of the long lines they used to stand in during previous decades, the park walkways started to feel crowded indeed.
The game queue will again concentrate people in one spot, moving them out of the walkways and into the lines (this time, perhaps more willingly). The game queue is arguably part of a larger move to turn big attractions into truly virtual queues (VQ), such as was tested at the Haunted Mansion some months back (and yes, the VQ will soon return to the Mansion). In a true VQ, there is no FastPass line, and there is also no Standby line. The closest analogy may be the DMV. You take a ticket when you arrive, and when your number is called, in you go. It will all happen digitally with Disney, and the “waiting room” will be chock full of interactions, toys, and games.
This will be a major win for everyone when the VQ fully realized. People get to skip the boring “stand in a linear queue” routine, but they don’t clog the walkways (and they aren’t holding reservations for other rides while they do it). People will again move through the park methodically, probably in a circular pattern, rather than the constant criss-crossing necessary in the era of FastPass.
Still, FastPass isn’t going away just yet (and maybe never?) The new Pooh queue has a FastPass return line. I’d be happiest if the entire FP concept just went away when enough attractions have been retrofitted for a game queue or a true VQ, and maybe we’ll see that day arrive in the years to come. Until then, though, we’ve got increasingly smart lines to wait in.
Disney has long known that the number one visitor complaint is about the lines, so they have much incentive to get this right. There are fewer “exploits” and tricks to a game queue or VQ than are possible with FastPass, but that’s part of the reason I like it. If you want to ride the attraction, you have to put in the time. In finding a way to make the time investment interactive and fun, Disney solves the major visitor complaint without generating problematic by-products or privileging the class of visitors who knew how to maximize the system (they benefitted from others who failed to use the system to its fullest potential, so despite the fact that FastPass was available to all, it gave the largest benefit to only a subset of the audience). Bravo. More like this, Disney!