Thursday, March 29, 2018

Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress

Carousel of Progress is seemingly a ride that will never close. The ride was Walt Disney's baby and many of his close friends and associates claimed that it was his favorite ride that he ever had a hand in, and that it should never cease operating. If that was Walt's wish, it has been fulfilled so far. While it may not be drawing the same kind of crowds it was when it first debuted, it is still a mainstay in Disney World and offers up some prime nostalgia for the early to mid-20th century.

After Disneyland came into its own after a tumultuous opening, Walt set his sights on expanding Main Street U.S.A. in the late 50's. Walt planned to split the expansion into two distinct districts: "International Street" and "Edison Square". Edison Square would have show that starred an animatronic man named "Wilbur K. Watt" who would talk about the history of electricity in the home. Guests would go from showroom to showroom, with each one depicting a different decade, and look at all the new electrical wonders. This would culminate in a showcase of some fine electric appliances that just so happened to be made by General Electric. This plan fell through mostly due to technology limitations, though GE still wanted to work with Walt on something.

 GE approached Walt a few years later to see if he would like to develop a show for their pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. Walt leapt at the offer, especially since GE was fronting the bill for the project. Walt brought up his idea for the history of electricity show that he had planned for his park, and they loved it. Luckily for Walt, his imagineers had finally perfected the audio-animatronic technology needed to make the show come to life. Early on, engineer Roger E. Broggie came up with the idea to have the show instead be a ride of sorts, with the audience moving on a carousel  from scene to scene instead of having them walk to each one. The decades used for the ride would be the late 1890's (Valentine's Day), 1920's (4th of July), 1940's (Halloween)  and 1960's (Christmas). Rex Allen, famous singing cowboy and frequent voice-over artist for Disney, was pegged to voice Father, the main character of the show and narrator. Walt went to the trusty Sherman Brothers to provide a song for the show, something to bridge the gap between the different scenes. Walt explained to the brothers what the show was all about, and with that they came up with a song full of enthusiasm and hope in the future, "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow". The show opened in GE's Progressland in 1964 and was one of the most-visited pavilions at the Fair. With the ride moving every four minutes from each of the six fixed stages, they had 200 people entering and exited at each increment. Even with this steady pace and large capacity, it wasn't unusual to see over an hour wait to get into the show. In the 1965 season, a canopy was built outside the ride to help keep the waiting crowds from burning up in the sun.

The show was such a success at the New York World's Fair, that the decision was made to make it part of the New Tomorrowland expansion at Disneyland in 1967, with GE sponsoring for ten years. Walt unfortunately didn't live to see the attraction open at his park, as he died seven months prior to its opening day on July 2nd 1967. The actual attraction was on ground level and a new theater that was near identical to the Progressland one had to be constructed to house the show. There were some slight modifications to the show itself, including getting a new voice for the mother, updating the "Christmas in the Home of the 1960's, as new technology had come out since it's first incarnation. Any mention of GE's campaign to promote their "Medallion Homes" which were houses built with everything hooked up to electricity (no coal/gas power), were also removed. In this incarnation, after guests were done with the show, they would go to the second story and watch a short presentation narrated by Mother and Father about Walt's Progress City, including an enormous model of the envisioned land. Progress City was based on Walt Disney's original concepts for EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) and the Walt Disney World property. While the show was popular at first for all the people who didn't see it at the World's Fair, attendance started to dip in the early 70's, making GE feel like they weren't getting a good return on their investment. GE correctly surmised that the people going to Disneyland and seeing the show were mostly Californians and they had probably seen the show several times already. GE requested that Disney move the attraction to Walt Disney World in Florida to reach a wider group of people. Disney agreed, and the last showing was on September 9th, 1973, thus ended the six year run of the show's stay at Disneyland.The empty theater was quickly filled up in 1974 by America Sings!, a salute to America and its music.

Walt Disney World's Carousel of Progress debuted alongside Space Mountain on January 15th, 1975 in Tomorrowland. GE again agreed to sponsor the ride for ten years. Extensive changes to the ride were implemented this time around, including a kaleidoscope effect projected on the screens in the loading/unloading rooms being discontinued, a new song by the Sherman Brothers, "The Best Time of Your Life," Andrew Duggan took over the voice role of the father, and the final scene being changed to better fit the home of the 70's. GE looked at the original song and thought it was too much about the future, and they wanted people to buy GE appliances right now! In 1981, the last scene was changed to reflect the future according to people living in the 80's. I've seen enough 80's visions of the future in film, so I imagine the last scene was looking a lot like Blade Runner. GE's contract expired in 1985, and they decided it wasn't worth the investment anymore, so they bailed. Disney had to close the attraction for a short time so they could remove as many references to GE as they could. No free advertising! In 1993, the attraction had its final (so far) refurbishment. Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom was changing the theme to "The Future That Never Was," so the whole area took on a more retro-futuristic look. Gears and other mechanical symbols were featured throughout the land, so Carousel of Progress's outdoor sign was redone to feature gears to have it fit. The name of the attraction was also changed to Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress. The biggest changes of the refurbishment was the last scene, which now showed "Christmas in the House of 2000," and the voice cast being somewhat re-done (Mel Blanc is still noticeably part of the cast as Uncle Orville). Jean Shepard, best known as the adult voice of Ralphy in A Christmas Story, now voiced Father, and Rex Allen, who had originally voiced Father, now voiced the grandfather in the Christmas scene. The song, "There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" returned as the main song, making the focus of the attraction fit more into the promise of the future. A 4-minute pre-show video was also added to show guests how the attraction was built.

After the 9/11 attacks, Disney noticed that attendance was down all over the parks, but especially in Carousel of Progress, so they closed the attraction in October of 2001, saying that it would open seasonally from then on. This caused many frequent park-goers to panic about the ride's future. Luckily, the ride has been consistently open since 2003 and Disney claims it has no current plans to shutter the ride, though it is still listed as seasonal. The most recent change to the attraction was in 2016, when the gears in the front of the ride were changed and replaced with a newer, more traditional sign for the ride. Carousel of Progress is a conundrum in the parks. Disney has shown that they are not afraid to shutter fan-favorite rides in favor of "synergy," otherwise known as putting a Disney character as the main attraction of the ride. Carousel is becoming one of the few in the parks that is not tied to any characters and thus its existence will always be near the cutting block, no matter what Disney says to the contrary. Carousel is not a popular ride anymore. It is a fan-favorite, but you will definitely not see long waits to get inside. The issue with the ride is how fast it becomes outdated, and especially now it will get worse every year. The "Christmas in the House of 2000" scene features such "futuristic" gizmos as VR Games, HD Televisions, Flat Panel Displays, LaserDisc (HA!), and voice-activated ovens. All of those things are now reality, with voice-activated ovens being the newest, thanks to smart homes. About the only thing they could do now is make the last scene more in tune with the "Future That Never Was" theme and make it out there kind of things that are maybe(?) far into the future, but who knows. The likely reason that this ride hasn't been refurbished since 1993 is because no one outside of Disney is helping pay for it. Many a ride has been shuttered due to a loss of sponsorship, but Carousel is inexplicably still here. I've always made it a point to go to this attraction, mostly because I really enjoy the look back into the past, but I think I feel the same way about it as most: if I was pressed for time at the park, I wouldn't bother. That being said, Tomorrowland wouldn't be the same without this attraction, so I hope this is one that will stay open forever, as Walt would have wanted.

Friday, March 16, 2018

My First Disneyland Trip: Part Two


Disneyland was a ton of fun, and was definitely closer to that classic Disney feel I was looking for while visiting the California resort. For this day we went with my brother-in-law and his wife, with this being the first time for both at Disneyland. My brother-in-law and I seperated from the rest of the group later in the day so we could ride some of the more thrilling rides in the park. Here's how the park compares to its Magic Kingdom counterpart.

Peter Pan's Flight

So the biggest difference between the Peter Pan ride at California vs. Florida is the lack of Fastpass. This ride needs a Fastpass, but due to the way the queue is built, there is no way to accommodate an extra lane. This ride is massively popular in both parks, and if we didn't have Fastpass when we visited Florida, I'm not sure we could have rode it. We entered Disneyland pretty soon after the park opened and already the line was up to 40 minutes. Since the ride typically stays busy all day, we had to bite the bullet and stand in the line. Fortunately, this was the longest we ever had to wait for a ride, and it wasn't even that bad. Goober was still bright eyed and bushy tailed, to a degree. Two year olds aren't great at waiting for anything, so any line was not great for him. As for the ride, it appears to be the exact same as Magic Kingdom's.

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

I had loved this ride when it was still at Magic Kingdom, so I was excited to ride this one again. Since it had been over twenty years since I had been on the ride, I didn't remember every little detail of it, so when Goober and I got to the exploding barrels part, he got a bit upset. This ride was definitely a learning experience on what is appropriate for your child, as each one will be different. I wasn't sure if sudden noises would actually bother him or not, but yes, they absolutely do. Dad of the Year over here. While the ride may have freaked Goober out, I thoroughly enjoyed my journey back to Toad Hall. If you're looking for a ride with a happy ending, this is not it, as you end your journey in Hell. Yup, you read that right. Why did I think it was a good idea to take my son on this ride?

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

This ride was surprisingly not very busy in the morning, so we were able to go on twice in row. The version in Magic Kingdom was always too busy to ride, and plus it seemed a little bit too much a kiddie ride by the time it replaced Dreamflight. We had a lot of fun with this ride, as it was a lot easier for Goober to operate the controls for this vs. Toy Story Midway Mania. The only gripe I have with this ride is the fact that you can barely see where you are shooting. I don't know if Space Ranger Spin is the same way at Magic Kingdom, but I was mostly shooting blind. Midway Mania has somewhat the same concept, but a much better ride system. Goober had a good time, though, so that's all I cared about.

Star Tours: The Adventure Continues

This is identical to the Hollywood Studios version, but we got one of the experiences that was from The Last Jedi, so that was cool to see recent footage used in the ride. My wife and I rode the Hollywood Studios version and loved that one too, but weren't able to enjoy multiple ride-throughs to see the difference scenarios. Captain Rex from the original ride is indeed part of the queue, but you have to look for him.

Jungle Cruise

This ride was a necessity, as I had not been on it since I was a kid, and my wife was intrigued by the idea. The ride was as good as I remember it, though some parts including the natives were a little bit outdated and almost cringe-worthy. It was also raining when we went on, so it was a wet experience altogether. Goober got a huge kick out of all the animatronic animals, and I'm sure he could have only gone on this ride for the rest of the day and he would have been completely happy. This ride doesn't seem to be as popular in Disneyland as it is in Magic Kingdom, and I'm not sure why, as it is completely the same.

Pirates of the Caribbean

This is about the only ride that I saw a very noticeable difference between itself and its Magic Kingdom counterpart. Disneyland's version is much longer, with most of that coming from the beginning leg of your journey. The beginning reminded me a lot of El Rio del Teimpo in the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot, which also has you in a boat and going past a restaurant. Something I wasn't expecting, and neither was the rest of my party, to their chagrin, was the two drops before the ride starts proper. In Magic Kingdom I remember there being the one drop, but even that one seemed a little less intense than the two in Disneyland. After the drops the ride is very close to the Magic Kingdom version. I would definitely say that I enjoyed this version much  more than Magic Kingdoms, something I didn't think would happen at this park at all.

The Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion is my favorite ride of any kind ever. That being said, I've only been on the Magic Kingdom version. Paris's Phantom Manor is said to be a more intense version, while Hong Kong's Mystic Manor is completely different from all the others, focusing on exploration and evil spirits.This, the original version of The Haunted Mansion is different from Magic Kingdom's in a few ways. The "Stretching Room" is there to disguise the fact that you are being taken below ground to a different showroom that houses the actual attraction. This was not necessary in Florida, but they kept the beginning scene anyway. I did enjoy having the changing portraits in the hall while going to the "Doom Buggies", as opposed to in the first hall while on the ride. The legendary "Hatbox Ghost" is also only in this version of the ride and the attic scene is a little bit different from Magic Kingdom's, but overall it's the same stuff. The queue is not as interesting, thanks to the somewhat recent refurb at Magic Kingdom, but it still has the pet cemetery. Overall I would still give my preference to the Magic Kingdom version. I like the look of the mansion better and it's honestly the one I grew up with, so if I had to choose, I would go with the mansion in Liberty Square vs. New Orleans Square.


This is a very popular ride at Disneyland, probably the most popular. Wait times were around an hour when we rode, but we got on in a short amount of time thanks to the single rider line. This is the only version of this ride, so I was excited to finally ride it. All I have to say is that this ride is rough! I felt a little banged up after I got off the ride, something I didn't feel after any of the other roller coasters we rode that day. It's still a fun coaster, what with two yeti sightings and everything! Still, I may consider skipping it altogether if we end up at the park again.

Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye

My brother-in-law and I rode this one and went into the single rider line, but it basically just put us in the regular line, so I'm not sure what that's about. The queue for this ride is extremely long. I thought we were near the end of it about five times. The wait times get pretty long for this ride, so I can definitely see the queue filling up all the way. This ride was one of my favorites in any of the parks. I'm really glad I got to experience it. It's definitely not an easy-going ride. You will get a bit jostled around, but you'll have a blast.

Casey Jr. Train

 Please note that if you have a very impatient child and one that also loves trains, this may not be the ride for your family. I had shown Goober video of this ride a few times, and he was super pumped to finally ride the "Mickey Mouse Train". Unfortunately, the loading time for this ride, plus only having the one train causes the wait times to be much longer than posted. The sign said 5 minutes, but the other half of our group probably waited more than 20 minutes to get on, and every time the train would leave without Goober on it, he would freak. You may have much better luck if you decide to ride, but in this case, it wasn't worth the hassle.

Disneyland Railroad

Some use the train for transport, others for the ride. We did it because we knew Goober would get a kick out of it, and we didn't have to wait in a maddening line like with Casey Jr. The ride is very pleasant with some animatronics and set pieces installed near the track to add a little flair. The real fun happens when you ride the train from Tomorrowland Station to Main Street Station. You enter a tunnel and are then treated to some museum style displays of the modern day Grand Canyon and then to the prehistoric age. Each area is very cool, but the storm during the Grand Canyon scene had an unexpected flash of lightning and crash of thunder. It not only scared the crap out of Goober, who we had to coax into watching the dinosaur scene, but also most of the people in the section with us! Overall a fun, easy ride, but the stops are too frequent for it to be too restful.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

OK, so I may have had a small grudge against this ride due to it being the one that replaced Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in Disney World. I can now say having actually going on it, I enjoyed it a lot. I do enjoy Winnie the Pooh, especially the 80's cartoon, The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. This ride is base on 1977's The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and it is pretty darn charming. It even employs the "pepper's ghost" effect leading into Pooh's dream sequence. This ride still has its detractors, as some are still sore that it took over Country Bear Jamboree. This ride is not very popular in the park, but I think that has more to do with it not being in Fantasyland, and instead at a dead end in Critter Country. Goober loves Tigger so this would have been a good ride to do again, but it was late in the day (for him) and we decided to call it a day.

We rode other rides at the park, but those were clones of Disney World's (yes I know most of Disneyland's came first) so I don't need to go into them here. Unfortunately I missed a few of the dark rides, including Pinnochio's Daring Journey, Alice in Wonderland, and Snow White's Scary Adventure. Both Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland are specific to Disneyland, while Snow White was previously at Magic Kingdom. Altogether it was a great time and I enjoyed myself just as much as I would have at Magic Kingdom. That being said, the Magic Kingdom is still the best park. It's bigger, feels more thought out, and I feel like it has a better collection of rides, even if Disneyland has Indiana Jones and Matterhorn. Also, Sleeping Beauty's castle looks teensy-tiny compared to Cinderella's Castle. If you have the opportunity to go to Disneyland, I would still recommend it. If you are on the fence about Disney California Adventure, I would maybe skip it, especially if you don't have kids with you. At least wait until Pixar Pier is up and running. If you are considering taking a small child to the park, I would say that even with some of the trouble we had, it was worth it. Goober was free since he is under 3, so that was a big plus, but he had a great time on most of the rides. Sure he won't remember it, but my wife and I will, and we'll always remember the look on his face when he saw some of his favorite characters.

My First Disneyland Trip: Part One

As an avid Disney World fan, I had my doubts that Disneyland could compare. I finally got a chance to visit this last week with my wife and two year old son, and it was definitely a different experience. We went to the both Disney California Adventure and Disneyland, so I'll give you my thoughts on how the experience compares to Disney World.

Disney California Adventure

First off, we all enjoyed this park very much, but compared to Disneyland, or any of the parks at Disney World, it's not great. DCA doesn't have the same feeling of immersion that the other parks give you. You can actually see the outside world and it kind of breaks the Disney magic. While some of the theming in the park is really good, the overall feel of the park is a hodge-podge of ideas. Basically any ride that wouldn't make sense in Disneyland or couldn't fit, was in this park. Cars Land is probably the best area of the park in terms of immersion and theming. Other lands either were under construction (thanks Pixar Pier), or didn't utilize their theme to its full potential. About the only other area that stays cohesive is A Bug's Land, though it takes up a very small portion of the park and is directed at small children. We were lucky enough to go during the Food and Wine Festival, something we enjoyed while in Epcot in 2014. Lots of great food, but definitely not as many options as Epcot. Here area  few thoughts on some of the rides:

Guardians of the Galaxy-Mission:Breakout!

I love the Tower of Terror, so I was marginally disappointed that I wouldn't get a chance to ride it in California, but I have to admit that Guardians of the Galaxy is a great time. I've heard that it's a more intense ride than Tower of Terror, and I believe it! The overlay doesn't make much sense at all, but they took enough care with it to make it an enjoyable experience. Plus, there's always the Tower of Terror in Florida if you really want to ride that version!

A Bug's Land

I unfortunately missed this entire area, as I was in line for Guardians of the Galaxy. Goober (our affectionate nickname for our son) was thoroughly bored with Heimlich's Chew Chew Train, so my wife and him rode Flik's Flyers three times and a row. We attempted to circle back to this area later in the day but Goober ran out of steam.

Toy Story Midway Mania

Nestled in the back of the park surrounded by construction, this ride will later be part of Pixar Pier, but at the moment it looks a little out of place. The ride itself was a lot of fun, though Goober had a bit of trouble operating the controls, as you would imagine. He had a blast, though, and of course wanted to go again. The wife and I haven't been on the Hollywood Studios version, so I can't say if they are any different, but I'm sure the queue must be, as this one seemed to be uniquely themed to the surrounding Paradise Pier. This is a must ride if you have smaller children, but maybe not toddlers.

The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure

I didn't know this until recently, but this ride gets a lot of hate from the Disney elite. The main complaint is that the omni-mover ride system doesn't benefit an attraction that just does the main songs from a movie. You can look into all the arguments yourself, but I honestly didn't mind it at all. I haven't been on the Disney World version, so this was my first experience. Was it the best dark ride I've ever been on? Not by a long shot, but it's still a lot of fun and Goober loved it so much we rode it three times in a row. Thank God the ride literally had no line.

Soarin' Around the World

My wife doesn't care for Soarin' and I can definitely see why. It's a short, moving IMAX film with smell-o-vision, but I can't help but be tickled by it. We had previously rode Soarin' Over California in Epcot and it was OK. I rode this alone and had a great time! Patrick Warburton's voice is always welcome and the ride has been improved from the original version. The only thing that I would complain about, and I don't know if the Epcot version is the same, is that people's feet were dangling in my view the whole time! I'm gliding past the Sahara desert and there in my peripheral vision is a pair of stinky Reeboks.

Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sully to the Rescue!

A re-skin of the much maligned Superstar Limo, this ride was a good time, but I wish they weren't limited by the old ride system. About the only part that really made me look around in amazement was the door transport room near the end. Goober loves Monsters Inc, so this was his jam, but unfortunately by this time he was getting super grumpy, so the wait to get in was not great. He was also not pleased when we did not go back in for a second time, because there was no way I was waiting another 10-15 minutes with Grumpy Goober.

Radiator Springs Racers

While I had a good time in California Adventure, for the most part the rides had all been nothing special, or didn't have that special Disney magic that I was used to seeing. That all changed with Radiator Springs Racers. This ride is a ton of fun, and I am very disappointed that I had to go by myself. Part dark ride and part Test Track, this ride is a joy from start to finish. I'm not the biggest Cars fan, but they did such a good job with the story and execution for this ride that I can't help but love the dumb movie. The racing part was faster than I thought it would be and was a thrill, to say the least. This would have been the ride that I would have jumped back into the line again if I had the time. Just ride it for yourself and you'll understand!

We didn't get to the whole park, unfortunately, and there were some rides that we had no interest in, like Grizzly River Run, which incidentally was fun to watch, but kept breaking down. We didn't have time for the rest of Cars Land, as once we stopped for ice cream, Goober conked right out. So, can I make a complete review of Disney California? No, but I really think we hit the main spots and we had quite a full day. Definitely a lot of fun, but doesn't have the same Disney Park feel that the other ones give you.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Disney's Hollywood Studios: Part Two

Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage!


The Theater of Stars, where this show takes place, has had a few other shows in the past, namely a generic one about Hollywood, a Dick Tracy show, and one about Pretty Woman, but all were very short-lived. It wasn’t until 1991 that the theater took up what would end up being a permanent resident in Beauty and the Beast. A shorter version of the movie, it only lasts 25 minutes. It, along with Voyage of the Little Mermaid, are the only shows of their kind to still be running at Disney World. Frozen has their own show in Disney California Adventure, and I imagine that it will be going on for quite a long time. 

Voyage of the Little Mermaid


Disney had been mired in sub-par animated movies through most of the 80’s, so when The Little Mermaid came out in 1989 and it was a veritable smash, it threw Disney off a little. So much so apparently, that they didn’t develop an attraction for The Little Mermaid for a few years, and what they came up with, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, was merely an abridged version of the movie with live actors and puppets. Disney had planned to put a dark ride of the movie in all their parks, but that inexplicably fell through. It wasn’t until 2011 that The Little Mermaid had a proper ride in a park, though it was in Disney California Adventure. The Magic Kingdom version came a year later in 2012. Disney has a weird history of properly representing their hit movies. The only one they seem to have pulled off quickly was Frozen, but even that took a few years and killed off a fan favorite ride in EPCOT. There is no proper Lion King ride, nothing for Aladdin(I’m not counting the magic carpet ride, that’s just a Dumbo copy) or Beauty and the Beast. Some of Disney’s biggest movies of the 90’s at best have had a live shortened version or a restaurant themed to the movie. After the 90’s it is only marginally better. Lilo and Stitch had a ride pretty soon after it released, but the ride ended up being one of the most hated in the park. Tangled is represented in Magic Kingdom by Rapunzel’s Tower (you can’t go in) and a set of bathrooms. Yes, bathrooms. I could go on a lot more about this, but I feel like there are better rides and experiences that you can give guests besides condensed versions of the movies they are based on. I actually have no idea how this attraction is still going, but you can probably thank The Little Mermaid’s perpetual popularity. 

Premiere Theater


This theater was primarily used for shows like Voyage of the Little Mermaid, truncated versions of whatever popular movie Disney had put out. Beauty and the Beast was there for 2 years while Disney fixed up Theater of the Stars, and then was replaced by Pocahontas in 1995. The Hunchback of Notre Dame surprisingly lasted from 1996-2002. After that point they used the space sparingly for events until 2014, when they had the Frozen Sing-A-Long operating there for a year until the announcement of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, when the show moved to the Hyperion Theater. The theater has since been cleared out for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. 

Walt Disney Theatre


Walt Disney Theatre acted as a place for Disney to show off how they made some of their biggest movies. Opening in 1994, they first showcased The Lion King. Each movie showcased would stay in the theater for at least one year, maybe even less. Some of the movies showcased included Pocahontas, Toy Story, George of the Jungle, Armageddon, and The Haunted Mansion. The Haunted Mansion was the last “Making Of” showing that the theater had, ending in 2004. In 2005 the area was converted into Journey into Narnia: Creating the Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. It had you walk into a large room that was made to look like Narnia where you would then watch an extremely abridged version of the film, along with brief appearances by a live actress playing the White Witch. Afterwards you were led into another room that housed props from the movie. In 2008 it was changed to be about the Prince Caspian film, which ran until 2011. The last walk-through show to be shown there was The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow, which operated in much the same way as the last two, except it utilized more special effects. In 2001, another area of the theater started offering the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire-Play It! Contestants would play not for money, but for points and prizes, leading up to the grand prize of a Disney Cruise Vacation. In the early days of the attraction, while the actual show was still on the air, the grand prize was being flown to NYC to watch a taping of the show. Oh boy, that sounds so much better than a cruise! The game show also opened at California Adventure in 2001 in an effort to build up the amount of attractions at the park. Both attractions are now gone, with the MGM-Studios version lasting two years longer than the California Adventure one. The Walt Disney Theatre closed after Millionaire ended and was replaced by Toy Story Midway Mania!

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror


The Tower of Terror is a very popular drop ride that dwarfs the rest of the attractions in the park. In fact, it is the second tallest attraction at Disney World, with only Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom being taller, though only by half a foot. The Tower of Terror was born out of the desire for an “E-Ticket Ride”. This is a term that I have heard used for rides throughout the years, but never knew why. When Disneyland opened in the mid-50’s, you bought tickets for each ride, not to get into the park. Rides were designated by A,B,C, or D depending on their popularity. A was least popular and so on and so forth. In 1959 when Disneyland had their first big expansion, they added E to the ticket designations, which were only for the most popular rides. The ride tickets were eventually phased out completely in the early 80’s in favor of an admission price to get into the park, though the designation of an “E-Ticket Ride” stuck. Keep in mind at this point that MGM Studios’ biggest hit was Star Tours, but didn’t really have that “must ride/must attend” attraction besides that. Disney knew they wanted something spooky, as The Haunted Mansion was such a runaway success in every park it was in. They thought about a ride based on Stephen King’s novels, a Vincent Price Ghost Tour, and a whodunit murder mystery, but none of those ideas left initial planning stages. It was then that Disney Imagineers gained inspiration from Rod Serling’s anthology stories featured in The Twilight Zone. Disney quickly bought the rights to use the intellectual property from CBS (one of the few non-Disney properties still used in the parks) and development on a Twilight Zone-themed drop ride began. Imagineers had wanted a drop ride in one of the parks for a long time, and this was their best excuse to finally make one. The ride ended up not being your typical drop ride, as heavy theming and an innovative ride system keep it from being like any other ride you’ve experienced. Your ride vehicle doesn’t just go up and down, but travels horizontally through the tower and ends with the fateful drop.

The theming on the ride is among the best I’ve ever seen at any theme park. You make your way up to the Tower of Terror through an overgrown garden with mist rolling over the path and jazz music from the 30’s echoing through the vicinity. Inside the hotel you see what has become of the once prestigious Hollywood Tower Hotel. Though the ride is themed on The Twilight Zone, the ride itself is based off an original story, not one from the television show. The “episode” that you are experiencing tells the story of the fateful stormy night in 1939 when five people disappeared when the hotel was struck by lightning and the elevator they were in suddenly dropped. Now you are seeing the old dusty remains of this hotel, cobwebs and all. There is a short pre-show with stock footage of Rod Serling doing an intro and a new actor doing the voice of Serling to give new information. After the pre-show video you are ushered into the boiler room to board the service elevator. Fans of the TV show will not be disappointed, as there are references throughout the mail lobby and pre-show room to some classic Twilight Zone episodes. The ride quickly became a favorite of park guests when it opened in 1994 and is still one of the highlights of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The ride was copied in several of the other parks, save for Hong Kong and Shanghai Disneyland. Disney’s California Adventure’s Tower of Terror was controversially overlaid in the last year with Guardians of the Galaxy- Mission: Breakout! I remember going to Disney World when this first opened and being scared to death to ride it. It wasn’t the theming, as I loved all things spooky as a child. It was the drop aspect of it. I couldn’t ride roller coasters and thrill rides as a kid. Even after I got over roller coasters when visiting Cedar Point, drop rides just brought out too much fear in me. It wasn’t until my school trip in 2005 that I finally rode it, and loved it instantly. That being said, if you put me on the Power Tower at Cedar Point, I will scream bloody murder. My wife can attest to that. 



Fantasmic! is MGM Studios’ nighttime show, though it didn’t originate there. The show, in its first version, started in Disneyland in 1992. In an effort to keep guests in the park longer, Disney had the show started in MGM, too. This show has everything; pyrotechnics, water effects, live actors, lasers, audio-animatronics, projections, and some boat floats! The show centers around Mickey Mouse’s vibrant imagination, culminating in a showdown with some of Disney’s biggest villains. It’s probably my favorite of the nighttime shows, but that being said, I don’t think I’ve seen a nighttime show besides the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom in many years. IllumiNations is good, too!

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith


Disney desired to have another thrill ride in their Florida park, so they decided to go with a little more of an intense indoor coaster themed to Aerosmith. Yes, for whatever reason, Disney decided not to go with a generic rock theme for the rollercoaster, but a generic rock group. I blame Armageddon. However you feel about Aerosmith, the ride is a lot of fun. In the guise of traveling through L.A. traffic to get Aerosmith to their concert on time, you shoot off in your car ride vehicle to 57 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds. This ride has some inversions and plenty of twists and turns that will satisfy any thrill junkie. Along with Space Mountain, this ride give you a sort of claustrophobic feel and you may feel less inclined to raise your arms up in the air for fear of them getting taken off by a set piece. That won’t happen mind you, but it sure seems that way sometimes! There is another version of this ride, though not completely the same at Disneyland Paris, though it is currently under refurb to become an Iron Man ride. Though there were some rumors going around that Disney was going to drop the Aerosmith motif and go for something more generic, but it seems to have been scrapped. Anyone hoping to see an Iron Man ride will be very disappointed as Disney World is very limited in what Marvel characters they can have in the parks due to an agreement between them and Universal Studios. Universal has been using Marvel characters in their parks since the 90’s, long before Disney bought Marvel Entertainment, so the only characters you’ll see are ones like Guardians of the Galaxy and other obscure ones that aren’t represented at Universal. 

Hyperion Theater


Technically this theater has been open since the beginning, but I already covered its initial attraction, SuperStar Television. Starting in 1999, the theater started showing Doug Live! Yes, you may have forgotten that Disney bought the rights to Doug in the 90’s and made their own, not-as-good version. I’ve seen clips of this show and it seemed to be just a little bit terrifying. After two years Disney stopped the madness and shortly ran “Get Happy...With ABC!” This was less of a show and more of a teaser for upcoming shows on ABC. I’m sure kids were just chomping at the bit to see clips of 8 Simple Rules and According to Jim! The theater stood empty for years until 2009 when they put in the American Idol Experience. The show functioned as a smaller version of the real show, with contestants 14 and up trying out and eventually performing in front of you, the audience. Alas, American Idol was sacrificed to Frozen fever. When the Frozen sing-a-long needed a new home due to their theater being demolished, they took over Hyperion. 

Sounds Dangerous!


I’ll admit that I always got a big kick out of this show, along with its predecessor, The Monster Sound Show. I don’t think I ever experienced the One Saturday Morning version of the attraction. After One Saturday Morning closed, they replaced it with another audio show called Sounds Dangerous! Your enjoyment of this attraction was dictated by how you felt about Drew Carey, as he was the star of the show. You are part of a test audience for a show called Undercover Live. Guests wore headphones and listened to the action, as Carey’s undercover camera is damaged early on, so there’s no visuals. It was a funny show and one that I’m sad I won’t get to experience again. 

Soundstage Theater


This area was actually a restaurant, the Stoundstage Restaurant, at the opening of the park. It was themed to random Disney movies throughout its tenure, from the long forgotten live-action film Big Business, to animated faire like Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. In 1999, Disney decided that the space could be better utilized as yet another theater. Seriously, this park had more shows than anything else for a time. The theater has since housed shows aimed at small children, starting with Bear in the Big Blue House, then Playhouse Disney, and now Disney Junior - Live on Stage! 

Walt Disney Presents


If you ever wanted to know more about Walt Disney while at the parks, this was your place to go. The attraction functions as both a museum and a film experience. You start by walking through the beginning parts of Walt’s life and watch his rise to the top of the entertainment business. You finish the tour with the film, Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream. Originally narrated by Michael Eisner, the former CEO of Disney, Julie Andrews took over after Eisner stepped down. With the Art of Animation now gone, this about the only place where you can mosey around and take a break from all the heat and hub-bub. 

Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show


Introduced in 2005 as part of the Happiest Celebration on Earth, in which each park in Disney World copied an already existing ride or experience from another resort. This stunt show originally started in Disneyland Paris in 2002, and is still open today, unlike its Florida counterpart. While Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular shows you some great stunts, this show has you experience some more intense stunt work. Mainly focused on car stunts and chases, the show lasted around 40 minutes. Like many of the Streets of America attractions, this one was closed to make way for Star Wars Land. For whatever reason I never bothered to see this show, though I’m sure I would have enjoyed it. 

Toy Story Midway Mania!


Midway Mania represents more than anything what is Disney’s direction for the park. Disney has stopped caring about general theming of lands, outside of Magic Kingdom, and instead tried their best to put in their most popular intellectual properties to the parks, even if it doesn’t fit into what has traditionally been put in the park. Disney California Adventure is suffering the same fate as MGM, with the Hollywood section becoming a Marvel land and Paradise Pier being cut in half to have a land dedicated to Pixar. MGM’s studio theme started to die as soon as they put Midway Mania in. Sure not all the attractions in the park have been strictly in theme, like Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, but Midway Mania really doesn’t fit into the mold. Disney kind of put themselves in this pickle when they made parks that were strictly dedicated to a theme instead of general entertainment like Disneyland and Magic Kingdom. Pixar is among Disney’s most profitable and marketable properties so it makes sense to include them as much as possible in the parks. MGM is the only place you could really have a land dedicated to Toy Story or Star Wars, so I’ll accept it, but i’m still sad to see the old MGM Studios go away. Midway Mania is one of Disney’s most technologically sophisticated rides in the parks, costing upwards of $80 million to design and build. It functions in the same way as Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin where you fire at targets with a shooter. That being said, it is a much higher tech version, so this tends to be the more sought after ride. Players wear 3-D glasses and go through different mini-games that involve shooting at different targets in different ways. Now, the Buzz Lightyear ride I understand in terms of the theme, but this one makes no sense. Why are the toys running midway games? What does this really have to do with the characters? I said earlier I wanted attractions that weren’t just retellings of the movies, so I guess I can’t complain too much. I haven’t experienced this ride yet (will be visiting the one in California Adventure soon!), so I can’t really say anything else about it. With MGM’s closure of some of the big time-eaters like Backlot Tour, Art of Animation, and the Extreme Stunt Show, this ride has seen some pretty outrageous wait-times. When my wife and I visited in 2014 we didn’t have an overwhelming urge to wait in line for hours for the ride when we could fit most of the rest of the park into that time. We’ll see soon if it's worth the wait! Toy Story Land is currently under construction in the park and will surround Midway Mania.

Star Tours - The Adventure Continues


Plans to refurbish Star Tours had begun as far back as 2005, but it wasn’t until 2009 that filming began. The original Star Tours closed in 2010 and was re-opened a year later as Star Tours- The Adventure Continues. The picture, audio, and ride system were all updated along with the new footage. Instead of just focusing on the original trilogy, the new Star Tours incorporated the prequels, too. What was unique about this version of Star Tours was that you would get a different experience each time you rode. There are thirteen total segments and you experience four of them when you ride, so you would have to ride quite a few times to get the same show. The show focuses on the tour smuggling a rebel spy pas the empire. Sometimes the ride operator will choose someone on the ride to be the rebel spy, and sometimes they just show a generic picture. No matter what sequences you see, it always ends with the successful delivery of the rebel spy. The ride is continually added on to, with new sequences from Episodes VII, and VIII being added in over the last couple years. With the high re-ride factor, the love and care put into the ride, and the excellence of the ride itself, this is one experience you can’t skip on your next visit. I’ve been able to ride the new version once, and it was definitely a worthy successor to one of my favorite rides of all time. 

So that’s my run-down of Disney-MGM Studios. I’m sure there was a small, obscure show or attraction I may have missed, but I tried to hit on everything big that came through. For those who have attended this park, what are some of your favorite memories? Do you have a favorite ride or restaurant? With the new expansions coming up, I’m sure there will be plenty more memories in store. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Disney's Hollywood Studios: Part One

Disney's Hollywood Studios, or Disney-MGM Studios as it was originally called, was born from an idea to put The Great Movie Ride in the middle of EPCOT. Another, arguably, was to compete with the planned Universal Studios Florida set to open around the same time in 1989. Universal would open in 1990 after a few delays and incidentally both parks failed to "wow" customers at the beginning. When it opened, MGM had only two attractions: The Great Movie Ride, and the Studio Backlot Tour. While the Backlot Tour was much longer when it first opened compared the the later version, there wasn't much going on in the park. Sure, they had a few shows that people could go to eventually, but MGM wasn't able to keep people in the park very long. Things haven't changed too much since the park opened. While they have increased the amount of rides, shows, and tours, the park has always held that moniker as a "half-day park." Starting in 2008 things really started to change for the park when Disney changed the name to Disney's Hollywood Studios, seeing as they hadn't had a good relationship with MGM from the beginning. In 2010, the park began to shed the "studio" theme they had been going for all those years. The park recently lost The Great Movie Ride, bringing the total amount of rides down to four, with Muppet-Vision 3-D and Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular as two stand-out shows that are currently still present.To say that the park is a shell of its former self is accurate, but there are good times-a-coming, as Galaxy's Edge, the Star Wars themed land, and Toy Story Land are due in the next few years to help revitalize the struggling park. I'm going to go through the history of the park, but just through its attractions. While it doesn't have the same storied history as some of the other Disney Parks, MGM Studios (yes, I will continue to call it that until my dying day) has one of the more interesting histories due to its almost complete re-branding. It was long rumored that Bob Iger would have the park's name changed once more to reflect a broader theme, but it has recently been announced that the park will keep the Hollywood Studios name, at least for the time being.

The Great Movie Ride


The Great Movie Ride was one of the last vestiges of the original MGM Studios. It survived as long as it did thanks to mostly nostalgia. Not only nostalgia for the movies it depicted, but even for the ride itself. The ride itself was housed in a facade of the Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the real theatre being a famous landmark in Hollywood. Together with the "Earffel Tower", the ride's facade became an icon of the park. At least it was until Disney decided to put the sorcerer's hat structure right in front of the theatre to serve as the new official icon of the park in 2001. It wasn't until 2015 that Disney finally took down what many considered an eye-sore. My wife and I were lucky(?) enough to see it in late 2014 when they announced that they were getting rid of it. The ride itself is a dark ride that has you watch a Hollywood homage film beforehand. Once you enter your ride vehicle, you pass under a brightly colored marquee and then swept away into movie land. The ride takes you through all the different genre's of movies, with some standouts being The Wizard of Oz, Alien, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. What gave the ride a little bit of flair was your tour guide. Instead of piping in narration through the ride vehicle the whole time, or having a generic tour guide, you instead have a guide that seemingly gets replaced by a gangster or cowboy mid-ride and then doesn't show back up until near the end. The fact that the ride had two different versions added to the fun. At the time of its opening, most of the movie scenes depicted were owned by MGM. The ride was changed slightly in 2015 when Disney and Turner Classic Movies came to an agreement for Turner to sponser the ride. With the sponsorship came a different intro and outro film starring the late Robert Osborne. The ride unfortunately came to its demise in August 2017 with Disney deciding to focus less on the magic of movie-making and more on their cartoon and movie characters. The ride will become Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway, a dark ride that will star the Disney Channel shorts version of Walt Disney's most well known characters. Incidentally, this happens to be the very first ride that is dedicated to Mickey Mouse, funny enough. While I will miss The Great Movie Ride, I can't help but be excited for this new ride, as I'm a huge fan of the new Mickey Mouse shorts. The Great Movie Ride was never the ride that you had to get in line for right when the park opened, but it was a mainstay and will be sorely missed.

Studio Backlot Tour


The Studio Backlot Tour was another opening day attraction, though as mentioned before, it used to be much longer. Instead of the 35 minute tram ride most people associate with the Studio Backlot Tour, the original lasted 2 hours and had a tram section and a walking section. The attraction was shortened not long after but still retained a short walking section and the tram portion. You began the tour by watching a live-action scene of a battle scene from Pearl Harbor. An unlucky volunteer would attempt to "survive"  the  deluge of water in a control room on a boat. After this demonstration, you would walk through a large factory filled with movie memorabilia. Depending on when you experienced this ride, the props would change over time to have more recent movies like Chronicles of Narnia or The Santa Claus. I specifically remember one part of the tour in the 90's had a short film starring Bette Midler and her losing a winning lottery ticket. The tram portion of the tour was by far the most exciting. After going through the "boneyard," an area populated by large movie props like the Love Bug and the Bulldog Cafe from The Rocketeer (my favorite prop), you would enter...Catastrophe Canyon!!! The narration told guests that they were going onto a live set, but the cast was on break, or so you are made to believe. Once the tram enters the canyon and a tanker and small water tower comes into view, something starts to happen. The earthquake "scene" starts and water come barreling down onto the tanker and fire erupts. If you were in specific spots of the tram, there was a good chance you were getting wet. The tour ended after taking another swing past the "boneyard". This ride was another casualty of Disney's re-direction from the "studio" theme. The area the tour inhabited is now going to house Toy Story Land.

The Magic of Disney Animation


Another opening day attraction, this one focused on the history of Disney animation throughout the years, functioning as a walk-through tour. It all started with one of my favorite things from MGM Studios, the short film, Back to Neverland. This live-action/animation hybrid starred Walter Cronkite and Robin Williams. Robin Williams was his usual bouncy self in this short, and was a fan favorite for many years. Having a person that acts like a cartoon character anyway, it made sense to have Williams literally turn into one. After the film, you would go through the animation studio and see first-hand how animation is done. Depending on when you went, you may have seen animators working on soon-to-be released movies. I distinctly remember going on this tour and seeing them work on Emperor's New Groove (apparently this wasn't one of the films they worked on at the Orlando studio, so they probably were just showing clips of it with some drawings). You then watched another video that had animators talk at length about the legacy of Disney animation. Later in the tour's existence they had a large showroom where Mushu showed you how animated films are chosen and developed. All in all, this was a great tour if you were at all interested in the animation process, or if you just wanted to get out of the Florida heat for a little while. The space that once housed Magic of Disney Animation is now Star Wars Launch Bay.

The Monster Sound Show


Eventually renamed ABC Sound Studio in 1997, this show allowed guests to act as "Foley Artists". The participating guests would be given a certain sound effect prop and used it when they were prompted. The film in question was a comedic short starring Martin Short and Chevy Chase. Once the attraction became ABC Sound Studio, the same concept was used, but applied to a cartoon instead of a live-action short. This was replaced by Sounds Dangerous!

SuperStar Television


Guest participants would dress up as characters from TV shows and act them out with the SuperStar Television cast in front of a green screen. The audience would see first-hand how green screens work, witnessing the participating guests interacting in shows like I Love Lucy, Cheers, and The Three Stooges. The show was refurbished in 1997 to give it some newer material, but it sadly was closed to make way for Doug: Live!

Star Tours


One of my favorite rides from MGM Studios was Star Tours. Yes, I've ridden the newer version, and its just as fun, but there was something about the classic Star Tours. I even had the ride poster in my room as a child. Star Tours employed a motion simulator ride system, so you never moved outside of the small theater they escorted you into. The motion simulator rides were all the rage in the 90's, with Universal Studios having quite a few rides that used the simpler system (Back to the Future, The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera), which has now morphed into a completely different beast with the Spiderman ride and Escape from Gringotts at Universal. While Star Tours moved you around quite a bit in your seat, it was never a rough ride. In the guise of being on a tour of a rebel base, Rex, a pilot droid voiced by Paul Reubens, accidentally gets everyone involved with a plot to destroy Death Star III. After the prequels were released, the attraction only dealing with the original trilogy started to look a little dated, especially going into the late 2000's. Yes, the prequels are not held to the same quality as the original trilogy, but they are still part of Star Wars. It was at this time that Disney decided to update the ride with footage from all six of the Star Wars films. In 2010, MGM held the "Last Tour to Endor", which took place during the yearly Star Wars celebration. The exclusive party to close the original ride was attended by none other than George Lucas. The ride would not close officially until September 7th, 2010 at the "Final Flight To Endor" event exclusively for D23 members. While I'll always miss the original version of Star Tours, at least it was replaced by something almost identical. Rex, luckily, is still part of the ride, but instead of being an active part, he shows up in the queue, though you have to look for him. Rex has also been confirmed as being part of Galaxy's Edge, acting as a DJ.

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular


Another mainstay of MGM Studios is this 25 minute show based around Raiders of the Lost Ark. You sit in a large covered amphitheater, which helps get you out of the sun, even if it's still outside. Members of the audience are picked beforehand to "participate" in the stunts. Scenes from Raiders are acted out in front of the audience, meant to be a in depth look at how stunts are performed in film. It is a pretty thrilling experience, and especially as one of the last vestiges of the "studio" theme, it is a must attend.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Movie Set Adventure


This giant playground based on Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was a great place to let your kids run wild for a little bit. This wasn't your average playground, as you are surrounded by giant blades of grass, ants, bees, a giant garden hose, and other larger than normal props that you could interact with. This area was sadly leveled, like most of Streets of America in MGM to make way for Galaxy's Edge.

Muppet*Vision 3D


This show was another must-attend for our family every time we visited the park. Instead of a lined queue, guests stand in a large waiting room that has an intro video featuring the Muppets about proper protocol for the experience. For a short time from 2014-2016, Constantine from Muppets Most Wanted became part of the intro video. After he was removed, the ride reverted back to its original state. I actually got to witness the Constantine version and it actually threw me for a loop because I was so used to the original version. You are then ushered into the theater where you have been instructed to wear your special 3-D glasses. The show combines a short movie with some animatronics to give one of the best shows I think they have at the park, which explains why it's been around for so long. I'm just glad it wasn't sacrificed to Star Wars. The Muppets have attempted to have a larger footprint in the park over the years, having two live shows, "Here Come the Muppets" and "Muppets on Location", but it never seems to last for long. They even changed the restaurant near the Muppet*Vision 3D Theater to PizzaRizzo, a pizzario seemingly run by Rizzo the Rat. That's great theming, guys.