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Friday, July 31, 2009

Park attendance up

According to CNBC article, attendance at the domestic Disney parks increased by three percent, beating analysts' expectations. The biggest factor leading to the increase in attendance was Disney's "Buy 4, get 3 free" deal offered in the spring.

However, the news is not all good. Even with the increased attendance, total revenue at the parks was down nine percent and operating income down 19-percent. Even this loss is better than expected, according to the article, because in the prior quarter, park operating revenue was down about 50-percent.

Disney CEO Bob Iger said Disney's latest numbers are a sign that the economy is stabilizing.

Let's hope so.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tip Tuesday: More enhancements available for Photopass

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday.

This week's tip is a followup to a couple of tips I've discussed in the past when it comes to making the most out of Disney's Photopass service. I've already covered how Photopass works and the benefits of the Photo CD.

Following my recent WDW trip in June, I was going through my Photopass pictures and noticed that Disney now has many more enhancements available to guests. Many of the new enhancements follow the "What Will You Celebrate?" theme, but there are a few new ones that are really nice. Perhaps my favorite of the new shots is the "I'm a Real Character" photo frame, featuring Mickey as a pirate and Minnie as the redhead from Pirates of the Caribbean (see photo above). At DHS, there are some "Up" themed borders, but, interestingly enough, they weren't offered for the photos with the "Up" characters, just for the around-the-park shots.
These new enhancements are all the more reason to get the photo CD and to enhance as many photos as possible. Remember, you can add as many enhancements to each photo as you wish. You do have to add enhancements one at a time - this is something I hope Disney can change so the process is streamlined. It took me about 2 weeks to enhance all our original photos.
Also remember that you only have a month to enhance photos, order CD's, create books, etc. before your photos expire. That one month clock starts from when you enter your code from the Photopass card(s) you received at the parks.

Sadly, one of the Photopass photographers told me that it appears the "duel with Captain Hook" magical Photopass image is no longer offered. I hope Disney will either bring this back or come up with some other magical photo options.
So be sure to get plenty of family photos with Photopass -- it's the best way for everyone to be captured in the magic!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Come one, come all, get your FastPasses here!!!

DeWayne Bevil at the Orlando Sentinel has a story posted yesterday about a new experiment Disney is conducting at Animal Kingdom with the FastPass system -- centralized FastPass distribution. Guests can go to one location and get a FastPass for any attraction that offers FastPass in the park.

I'm not so sure about this one. I'm a huge fan of FastPass, but part of the magic of FastPass is actually going to the attraction to get your pass. Guests play the game of FastPass time vs. standby line time By making FastPasses available at a central location, FastPass becomes the ONLY option, thus making the odds of FastPasses running out much sooner is pretty high.

I also assume that the one-FastPass-per-person rule (with some exceptions, see this post for more) will remain in effect.

Let's carry this idea forward and put it at the Studios, a park where FastPasses for the major attractions runs out very quickly (think Tower of Terror, Rockin' Roller Coaster and Toy Story Mania). The rop-drop happens and instead of people hurrying to one attraction, they instead rush to the central FastPass location to get passes for one of the E-ticket attractions. That place will become so crowded it will be insane. You'll practically need a FastPass to get a FastPass.

Even with a centralized FastPass distribution, Disney has to keep the FastPass machines at the individual attractions. If Disney ONLY has FastPass distribution at a central place, it will be bedlum and the entire FastPass system will be worthless, so I very much hope Disney doesn't decide to pull out the individual machines.

I'll try to look at this on the plus side. Having a centralized location does offer convenience. If, for example, you want to get a set of FastPasses for Soarin' and then catch the standby line at TestTrack, you wouldn't have to go all the way to Soarin' to get the passes and then hustle all the way over to TT, hopefully to get a short standby line. A central location would be beneficial in this instance.

I guess I'll have to see just how this pans out before I decide if this is a good idea or not.

What are your thoughts? Keep it or ditch it? Post a comment!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Report: Something's going on backstage...

The Orlando Attractions Magazine blog is reporting cast members are starting to see some unusual things happening backstage near Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom. According to the post, cast members say some construction is taking place backstage, presumably part of the rumored Fantasyland expansion. This is in addition to some additional reports noted in the post.

So far, there's no word at all from Disney on these supposed plans. It is still quite possible that this is all a hoax or just conceptual plans, but with all the talk coming from cast members, it appears something may be going on. Is it this rumored major expansion? Is it just routine maintenance that's being perceived as this supposed expansion plan? Who knows.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tip Tuesday: The Power Bag


Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

In this week's tip, I wanted to share another packing tip that I've found to be especially helpful when bringing along all those great gadgets.

See if this sounds like you: you're packing for a week (or longer) at Walt Disney World. You know you want to take your camera (which has a special battery), your iPod to listen to Disney music during the flight/drive, your cell phone and your laptop. Now add to this all the tech that your spouse and kids might be bringing.

Before you know it, you've got four cameras, an external camera flash (with rechargeable AA batteries), six iPods, three cellphones, three Nintendo DS's and a portable DVD player all to keep running and charged in one hotel room.

Think this is outlandish? Guess again. I just described all the tech my family of five took with us on my last trip to WDW in June -- and we were driving.

Now stop and think about all the chargers each gadget requires. That gets to be a lot doesn't it?!?!?! Where in the world are you going to pack all that and keep it organized? I faced this very dilemma last year when I finally had an idea -- take an old camera bag and turn into in the "Power Bag." This is where I would keep all the chargers I need for all the various gadgets we take on trips. This bag never goes to the parks, it stays in the resort room.

In addition to the chargers, I also included a outlet strip in the power bag. This is, perhaps, the most critical part of the bag. How many hotel rooms have all the outlets you need? The answer, in my experience, is NONE. To solve this problem, I purchased an inexpensive outlet strip with at least a six-foot long cord. With the outlet strip, I had enough outlets to plug in all the different chargers. I still had to swap some chargers during the week, but I managed to get everything charged.

If you're bringing a lot of tech with you on your WDW trips, try packing a separate power bag. I've found it's made the job of keeping all the gadgets charged and ready to go much easier and less stressful.

So charge up everyone!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fantasyland wishes, or at least this fan wishes...


Are these plans the real deal or just some hoax? Click image for a better view.



Same plans as above, overlayed on an aerial shot of the current Fantasyland (aerial photo courtesy Bing.com). Click image for a better view.

For the past week, the plans you see above have been making their way across the internet. As the story goes, these are apparently plans for a rumored major expansion of Fantasyland. Whether or not these are genuine plans or some fan hoax has yet to be determined (if it ever could be determined). Naturally, Disney has no comment on these supposed plans (which I'm not surprised about).

In any case, I initially held off commenting on these plans because I didn't want to spread the hoax (at first, I thought these plans were fake). The more I see other Disney fan sites and mainstream media discussing these plans, I thought I should go ahead and give some comments about what may or may not be in store for Fantasyland.

To help me get a sense of just what would stay and go, I superimposed the plans over an aerial image of present-day Fantasyland (thanks to Bing.com for the aerial view). As you can see from the second image above, much of the expansion (for argument's sake, let's consider this to be actual plans) will use land not currently in use. In fact, it would be a good thing for Disney to finally make something useful out of the old 20,000 Leagues site (of course, I'd like to see 20,000 Leagues make a return, but something's better than nothing).

This expansion does mean the death of Toon Town, which in my opinion isn't a huge loss. WDW's Toon Town never made it to the level of Toon Town at Disneyland. The most interesting part of Toon Town, the Barnstormer, would be staying. What's would be replacing Toon Town? Pixie Hollow. Now currently just a meet and greet area, Pixie Hollow would be greatly expanded to include a play area and a larger meet and greet area.

I also found it very interesting that much of the "planned" expansion centers around princesses. It should come as no surprise, since young girls (and their parents) are a huge target demographic for Disney. Boys, don't worry, you still have much of the rest of the park to visit if the princess-related attractions aren't your thing (think Pirates, Buzz Lightyear, Space-Splash-Big Thunder mountains, etc.).

Probably the biggest question I have is this "castle wall" section just beyond Cinderella's Golden Carousel. What's up with that? Fantasyland already has a big castle, does it need a second? Perhaps this is a low wall meant more to expand the castle theming rather than another castle altogether.

As we look further north, we get into some serious princess action. Cinderella, Aurora, Belle and Ariel each have attractions (though Aurora and Belle's attractions appear to be pretty small -- perhaps just walk-through areas or a movie-based attraction?). Most likely the "Voyage of the Little Mermaid" attraction (not to be confused with the show currently running at Disney's Hollywood Studios) will be similar, if not an exact replica, of The Little Mermaid attraction coming to Disney's California Adventure as part of that park's major renovation currently under construction. Note that no mention is made of Disney's newest princess, Tiana, making her on-screen debut this December in The Princess and the Frog. If these plans are genuine and do move forward, I suspect Tiana would find her way into these plans pretty quickly, perhaps at the expense of another princess, (Cinderella maybe -- after all, Cinderella does have a huge castle and a carousel already).

In addition to a Belle-themed attraction, the plans call for a new "Be Our Guest" restaurant (presumably table-service) and Gaston's Tavern (probably a counter-service or snack-service). Based on the layout, it appears these areas would be heavily themed and landscaped (no surprise).

What may be the most interesting element of all is the new "Dumbo" area with not one, but two Dumbo attractions (most likely similar to the current ultra-popular Dumbo attraction). What I find to be even more interesting than the dual attractions, which is probably a good idea given the immense wait times for Dumbo, especially in the afternoons, is the "nextgen interactive queue." I can only guess this would be a queue similar to Soarin' and Space Mountain (in the soon-to-be completed refurb), where guests would be able to play games or otherwise interact with different elements.

It's also worth noting that the old Toon Town train station has been re-named the Fantasyland train station -- further evidence of just how big Fantasyland would become -- easily the largest land in all of the Magic Kingdom.

I showed these possible plans to my elementary-aged daughter who is all about Disney princesses right now. She couldn't wait to see these new elements, especially the expanded Pixie Hollow and the new Little Mermaid attraction. When I asked her about the demise of Toon Town, should these plans move forward, she said "there isn't that much to do in Toon Town besides the Barnstormer." My sentiments exactly. Don't get me wrong, I like Mickey and Minnie's houses. They just aren't enough to make Toon Town a viable "land" all it's own. I imagine Disney might find a way to relocate those two elements. As for Donald's Boat, it looks like it could be taken up by an extension of the Dumbo area, though it's not clear on these plans what might be there.

Again, I want to stress that we have NO IDEA if these are genuine plans or not. If these are a fake, then someone's gone to a lot of effort to develop some very interesting plans using as much space as is available for expansion. If these are genuine plans, then I think Disney's got a great idea going. Fantasyland (and the Magic Kingdom as a whole) could really use some real attention.

There is one possibility. The 40th anniversary of the Magic Kingdom is coming in 2011. Could it be that this expansion was/is in the works to coincide with that major milestone?

Of course, there's another major element to consider when it comes to expansions -- the economy. Disney's not exactly raking it in right now, though I think things are better now than they were six months ago. All the same, Disney has billions committed to an expansion of DCA, half a billion (or so) committed to the expansion of Hong Kong Disneyland, is in the works to build an all new park in Shanghai (as part of a joint venture with the Chinese gov't) and is still working on a significant renovation to Space Mountain at WDW. That's a lot on Imagineering's plate.

Does Disney have the capital for a multi-million dollar project like this expansion? I have no idea.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite passes away at 92

Walter Cronkite, one of America's most trusted men, died today at the age of 92. In addition to his storied career as the nations preeminent newsman, Cronkite had several ties to Walt Disney World.

The most notable connection between Cronkite and Disney was Cronkite's narration of Spaceship Earth from 1986-1994. Cronkite took over for Lawrence Dobkin in 1986 and was replaced by Jeremy Irons in 1994.

Cronkite also could be found providing the introduction and conclusion to the holiday-themed version of Illuminations beginning in 1994.

Cronkite teamed up with Robin Williams on the "Back to Neverland" film that ran at the Disney-MGM Studios from the park's opening in 1989 until 2003.

Cronkite was a great storyteller and his legacy will live on. I would like to express my sympathies to the Cronkite family and to the CBS News team for their loss.

ESPN RISE games start this weekend at Disney's Wide World of Sports

ESPN RISE and Disney’s Wide World of Sports have developed a new weeklong, multi-sport event called the “ESPN RISE Games”. The ESPN RISE Games, which will feature elite and competitive channel sports events, will be presented by Target. The ESPN RISE Games Presented by Target will take place July 19-25, 2009 at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, the nation’s leading multi-sport venue for amateur and professional sports, in suburban Orlando, Fla.

The ESPN RISE Games Presented by Target will be anchored by three elite high school sports events: the AAU 17-under Boys Basketball Super Showcase presented by Champion®, the Under Armour High School Softball All-American game and ESPN RISE’s newly developed, elite high school football event Champion® Gridiron Kings. Additional sponsors for the event will include POWERADE, the events exclusive beverage provider.

The weeklong event will also feature competitive channel youth sports – baseball (10U, 11U and 12U), basketball (12U and 14U), field hockey (U14, U16 and U19) and track & field (12-14 and 15-18). The ESPN RISE Games Presented by Target is expected to host 4,000 student athletes.

“Creating events like the ESPN RISE Games provides us with a great opportunity to work with our various partners to offer student athletes, looking to hone their skills, the resources and inspiration that can be utilized to aide in their continued development,” said James Brown, senior vice president, ESPN RISE. “We hope that the events we are planning will motivate them to elevate their collective games, taking them all one more step closer to achieving their individual goals.”

The ESPN RISE Games Presented by Target is in line with the strategy for the ESPN re-branding of the Disney sports complex, which will create a one-of-a-kind, immersive experience for athletes and fans.

“The ESPN RISE Games builds on the wide range of nationally-recognized youth and amateur sports events we host at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex,” said Mike Millay, Disney's Director of Sports Events. “Through the increased collaboration between Disney and ESPN, we look forward to creating more marquee events and transformational sports experiences at our sports complex that athletes, coaches and spectators can’t get anywhere else.”

ESPN RISE GAMES ELITE EVENT DETAILS:
AAU 17-under Boys Basketball Super Showcase presented by Champion® is part of the AAU National Championships held at the Disney sports complex and features marquee 17-under club teams from across the country. The event includes two days of pool play and a single-elimination tournament. The tournament is a breeding ground for future NBA stars including Amare Stoudemire, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, as well as collegiate phenoms such as Tyler Hansbrough and JJ Redick. July 20-25.

Under Armour High School Softball All-American game will feature 30 of the top high school All-Star players in the nation divided into two squads. Players are selected by a committee of high school softball experts from ESPN RISE. July 19-21.

Champion® Gridiron Kings is an elite high school football event that features the best players in the game’s seven skill positions – quarterback, running back, tight end, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback and safety. The event includes performance training, position specific training, skills challenges and a 7-on-7 competition. July 23-25.

Team enrollment for the open division baseball, basketball, field hockey and track & field programs are available. Additional information on the ESPN RISE Games Presented by Target is available at ESPNRISEGames.com.

It all started 54 years ago today...








“To all who come to this happy place; welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past...and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America...with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”

With these words said on July 17, 1955, the Happiest Place on Earth was born. Today marks the 54th anniversary of Disneyland and the final day in the career of one of the greatest Imagineers ever, Marty Sklar.

Of course, the opening of Disneyland didn't go as smoothly as Walt would have wished, but open it did and has become a signature piece of America ever since.

So Happy Anniversary Disneyland and to Marty Sklar, we thank you for all your years of service and dedication to making Disney magic. We wish you all the best in all you do.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Disney buses collide at Contemporary Resort

As if things couldn't get worse for Disney transportation, there is are reports from WESH-TV and The Orlando Sentinel that two WDW buses collided this afternoon in front of the Contemporary Resort. According to news reports, about 50 guests were on the two buses when one rear-ended the other on World Drive at around 2:40 p.m.

According to a Florida Highway Patrol spokesperson, one bus had stopped as traffic was merging at a point where World Drive narrows from three lanes to two lanes. The second bus did not stop in time and struck the stopped bus.

According to the FHP, about a dozen people suffered minor injuries and were transported to local hospitals.

"There is nothing more important to us than the safety of our guests and cast members. We are focused on the well being of those involved and are working closely with law enforcement," said a Disney spokesperson in a statement.

This latest incident comes less than two weeks after the fatal monorail accident in which a monorail pilot was killed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tip Tuesday: Getting "behind the seeds"

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!!

This week's tip is about a tour my family took during our most recent trip to Walt Disney World. One of my favorite attractions at Epcot is located in the Land pavilion (and no, I'm not talking about Soarin', though it's my most favorite attraction at Epcot and one of my top three in all of WDW... but that's a post for another time). I'm talking about Living with the Land. It's a great boat-ride attraction to see all the new innovations in agriculture (and other fields). The downside of the attraction is that you get only a few seconds to see each part of the greenhouses and learn about all the new discoveries in how we can grow food.

The good news is Disney offers a special tour called "Behind the Seeds." In groups of about 15 people, Disney will take guests back stage to see some of the day-to-day operation in the Land greenhouses. The tour costs $14 for adults and $10 for children ages 3-9. It lasts about 30-45 minutes and is well worth the cost, even for children.

The tour begins in a backstage area where you learn about how Disney has developed it's natural pest control. I won't go into specifics so as not to ruin the tour for you, but it's pretty neat how Disney manages pests in the greenhouses.

Also, kids (two of mine, in fact) get to help out a little later in the tour. In the photo above, our guide, Fred, hands my children a small bottle from a refrigerator. Inside some ladybugs are taking a nap, thanks to the cold temperatures. Soon, they will wake up and be ready to go to work. Hidden Mickey alert -- see the inset in the photo? I think that's another hidden Mickey, though it's kind of hard to see at this angle. It might be a butterfly.

After a quick safety talk, especially about the need to stay out of the "sand," though it's not normal sand, we head out to the greenhouses with a quick stop to view a lab, where Disney scientists are culturing plants using plant tissues.

The "Behind the Seeds" tour runs in the opposite direction of Living with the Land. The first room we entered was the hydroponics greenhouse, where Disney is working to grow plants without much soil. I was amazed at the volume of vegetables and/or herbs Disney manages to grow from one plant. We even tried a cucumber grown hydroponicly and it was one of the sweetest cucumbers I've ever had.

Our guide, Fred, then demonstrated how we could make our own hydroponic tank (see above) and gave us some printed instructions. This is going to be one of our summer projects and I look forward to all the herbs we will get from the tank. It doesn't look to be all that difficult, either.

Anyway, after the hydroponics room, we moved over to another hydroponics room. Here you can see a huge set of hidden Mickeys made by the arrangement of different plants. All the while when you're on the tour, you get this sense of doing something exclusive as you watch guests on the boat ride glide past.

Remember those ladybugs the kids got at the beginning of the tour? It was time to set the free and let them do their thing to combat bad bugs. My two children were the only ones allowed to acutally set foot into and underneath one of the plants to release ladybugs (with Fred's help) onto one tub of sweet potatoes. That's right, what you see in the light brown hanging planters are huge sweet potatoes. Disney is working to grow the largest sweet potatoes in the world.

After the ladybug room, we went into another greenhouse where we got a close-up look at those mickey-shaped pumpkins. It's pretty neat how Disney makes those. Sadly, they're not for sale.

Next up was the aquaculture room. This was one room where it was great to be on the walking tour. We had plenty of time to get a good look at all the marine life Disney was farming. I saw what had to be the largest shrimp in my life. It was huge!!! There's also a great hidden Mickey in this room (see my previous post for more on this).

Our final stop took us to the oldest greenhouse and the first you enter on the boat ride. Here we got a close-up look at a blooming banana plant (something that's somewhat rare, if I recall) and got a chance to play "what's that spice?" as we sniffed different everyday spices and tried to identify them and then see the actual plant the spice came from.

In all, the "Behind the Seeds" tour takes about 30-45 minutes and I highly recommend it for all families, most especially for those interested in gardening. My three children found the tour very interesting. My daughter loved the mickey-shaped and Cinderella's carriage pumpkins. My wife and I were fascinated at how efficient hydroponics can be and we plan to make our own hydroponic tank.

So if you like Living with the Land, you'll love "Behind the Seeds." It's worth the time and give you some special backstage access most guests don't get to see.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Some "new" hidden Mickeys at WDW

During my WDW trip in late June, my family and I were on a serious hidden Mickey hunt. We were determined to find some new hidden Mickey we (and perhaps others) hadn't found before. And did we ever succeed!! In a series of posts, I'll show you some of the hidden Mickey's we discovered.

Let's start off with a wonderful hidden Mickey (or HM, for short) located at the Living with the Land attraction in Epcot's Land Pavilion. This HM is best seen during the Behind the Seeds tour. It's kind of hard to see from the boat-based attraction itself, due to the low angle.

See for yourself!

Having trouble finding this HM? Here's a better look:


If you're trying to find this HM, it's located in the aquaculture part of Living with the Land (the red-colored fish-farming room). Look to the right of the boat in-between the tilapia and allegator tanks. It's a lot easier to see this HM if you take the Behind the Seeds tour (something I highly recommend! Look for more about this tour in an upcoming post).

This HM isn't listed in Dr. Steve Barrett's online hidden Mickeys guide. I've sent this in for his review.

More hidden Mickey's to come!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Update: Three cast members suspended following monorail accident

A Walt Disney World spokesperson has confirmed to the Orlando Sentinel that three cast members have been suspended in the wake of Sunday's fatal monorail accident. A transportation manager, a maintenance worker and the other driver involved in the accident have apparently been suspended with pay.

The spokesperson adds that the suspension is not for disciplinary reasons, but part of the investigation.

NTSB releases preliminary report about monorail accident

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) yesterday released their preliminary investigation into Sunday's monorail that resulted in the death of 21-year old monorail pilot Austin Wuennenberg, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

According to the NTSB, Wuennenberg actually was attempting to put his monorail into reverse when the accident happened. The report also confirms that the accident was caused when monorail pink failed to switch to a spur line connecting the Epcot and Magic Kingdom express loops. Instead of reversing onto the spur, monorail pink reversed back onto the Epcot loop and into the path of monorail purple, piloted by Wuennenberg.

The preliminary report said investigators found no problems with any equipment or other systems, inferring the accident was a result of human error.

The Sentinel article also cites a report from a unnamed Disney employee. The employee, who apparently was familiar with the situation surrounding Sunday's accident, says the cast member who was supposed to be coordinating monorail central had gone home sick earlier in the day. A manager assumed responsibility for those duties but was not on-site and was communicating by radio when the accident happened. Even if a cast member was not physically in monorail central, say other pilots, the monorail maintenance shop, located behind the Magic Kingdom, also has monitoring capability and can execute an emergency stop. Further, cast members at the TTC are supposed to have what is called a "kill pack," which can shut down power if cast members see a monorail heading the wrong way.

The NTSB report has yet to say what errors may have caused the accident. It appears clear that human error caused this accident, and possibly several errors.

A Disney spokesperson told the Orlando Sentinel that the company will "continue to work closely with the NTSB and other agencies investigating the incident." OSHA, the Orange County Sheriff's Office and the Transportation Communications Union (union for monorail workers) are still conducting their own investigations.

Below is the complete preliminary report from NTSB:

The National Transportation Safety Board has developed the following factual information from its investigation of the collision of two trains on the monorail system at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, that occurred early Sunday morning:

At about 2 a.m. on July 5th, a Walt Disney World monorail train, designated the Pink train, backed into another monorail train, designated the Purple train, near the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) monorail station. The operator of the Purple train was fatally injured; the six passengers on that train were treated at the scene. The operator of the Pink train, who was transported to the hospital, treated and released, was the only one aboard that train at the time of the collision.

Prior to the accident, the Pink train had been instructed to detrain all passengers at the TTC station and then to operate without passengers past the station and a switch to a point where the train could be backed through the track switch from the Epcot loop over to the Magic Kingdom loop. The operator of the Pink train moved the train past the track switch and stopped.

The Pink train was then instructed to back through the track switch, towards the Magic Kingdom loop. At about the same time, the Purple train, which was inbound to the TTC station, was instructed to stop at the station to detrain passengers. For undetermined reasons that are currently under investigaton, the switch had not changed position needed to allow the Pink train to be routed to the Magic Kingdom loop, which resulted in the Pink train backing down the same track it had just come from, putting it on a collision course with the Purple train. The Pink train passed through the TTC station and struck the Purple train while it was outside the station.
There are indications that the operator of the Purple train had brought the train to a stop and had attempted to put the train in reverse prior to the collision. To this point in the investigation, no anomalies or malfunctions have been found with the automatic train stop system or with any mechanical components of the switch or with either of the trains.

The on-scene phase of the investigation is expected to continue for several days. The parties to the investigation are Walt Disney World, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Orange County Sherriff's Office, and the Transportation and Communications International Union.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

D23 sits down with Marty Sklar

The D23 Web site has an interview with retiring Imagineer Marty Sklar as he reflects on his many years of service with Walt Disney Imagineering.

"The thing I'm proudest of is that I hired so many people that are now the top people at Imagineering, and I think of them all as my kids. And my kids have all grown up and they are really talented and they know what they're doing and I'm pretty proud of playing a role in their growth and development. You know, there have been a couple times when it would have been easy for the company to say to Imagineering, 'You guys are too expensive and we're going to hire this out.' And that if that happened, the company would be a lot different now. You can't do what Imagineering does. You have to have your creative staff and key engineers and designers and they have to be inside," Sklar told D23.

For more, be sure to check out the entire article on the D23 Web site.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tip Tuesday: An unimpeded view of Illuminations


Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!
My apologies for the lack of a tip last Tuesday as I was in Walt Disney World.
But now I'm back and let's get on with a great new tip.
Any Epcot regular will know that finding a great viewing spot for Illuminations can be tricky and requires a long wait once you find that great spot. The problem is there are so many trees along the World Showcase Promenade that block your view of higher flying fireworks. While Illuminations doesn't have a ton of upper air action, the last thing you need is a tree in the way.
What happens is guests queue up at some of the best viewing locations, often times several rows deep. This creates a problem seeing those water-level elements, such as the globe and water fountains.
So what you need is a place to have an unobstructed view and not have many people around you. The answer: the balcony outside Teppan Edo. The photo above was taken from the balcony. You get an elevated view and has the Tori Gate in the foreground, creating great photo opportunities.
Like other great places, you'll want to get to the balcony at least 30 minutes in advance to make sure you get the ideal corner spot.
The next time you're looking for a place to stand for Illuminations, try the Teppan Edo balcony - you'll enjoy the view!

NTSB to investigate monorail accident

In what may be a first for private transportation systems, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced they are launching a full investigation of Sunday morning's fatal monorail accident.

According to a report by the Orlando Sentinel, Disney has confirmed that the accident happened while one monorail (pink) was in the process of switching from the Epcot loop to a spur connected to the Magic Kingdom express loop. Apparently the track switch never took place and the pink monorail driver put the monorail in reverse, thinking they were on the spur to the Magic Kingdom express loop. Instead, pink monorail reversed back on the Epcot loop, striking purple monorail, killing driver Austin Wuennenberg.

"We'll be going on scene and working with Disney there. We understand that OSHA is already involved," NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson told the Sentinel. "We'll be looking at operating control systems, and their [Disney's] procedures, and the different procedures they use on the monorail to position trains."

When asked why the NTSB was taking the unprecedented step of investigating a private transportation system, Knudson replied, "it is a widely used transportation system that is used by the public."

Disney told the Sentinel they will fully cooperate with the NTSB investigation.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Monorail reopens to guests today

OSHA has cleared the Walt Disney World monorail for public use once again. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Disney will return the monorail to service, with added safety features.

"We have completed a thorough safety inspection and system checks to verify that it is safe to operate the monorail for our guests and cast," Disney informed employees in a note this morning. "We've added additional verifications of these track switch positions, supplemented our safety procedures and protocols for these operations, and communicated these changes to our Transportation partners."

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the note to employees also indicated the incident happened while one monorail was being transferred off the Epcot line. So far, there is no further word on what may have caused the deadly accident early Sunday morning.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tragedy at Walt Disney World


In a place where magic lives year-round, an unexpected tragedy has cast a dark cloud over Walt Disney World.

Early this morning (approximately 2 a.m.), two monorail trains collided, killing one Disney cast member, who was driving one of the monorails (based on photos from Local 6, it appears to be pink and purple monorails). There were about six guests on one of the monorails. No one else, including the driver of the other monorail, was seriously injured. Orange County authorities have identified the monorail driver as 21-year old Austin Wuennenberg.

The monorails collided near the Transportation and Ticket Center. According to local authorities, one monorail ran into the back of another monorail parked at the TTC. The monorail was transporting a handful of guests to the TTC from Epcot. According to local news reports, this is the first fatal accident in the history of monorail service at Walt Disney World, which opened in 1971.

A former Walt Disney World monorail driver told the Orlando Sentinel today that the monorail trains use a safety system called Mapo. According to the driver, when a monorail train approaches within two checkpoints of another train, it automatically stops. "The former driver said he believes there are about 150 to 200 feet between checkpoints," the Sentinel reported.

"Today, we mourn the loss of our fellow cast member. Our hearts go out to his family and to those who have lost a friend and co-worker. The safety of our guests and cast members is always our top priority. The monorail is out of service and we will continue to work closely with law enforcement to determine what happened and the approximate next steps," said Mike Griffin, Walt Disney World Vice President of Public Affairs in a statement released after the incident.

Both Disney and local authorities are still investigating the accident and the monorail system remains closed. As for how this happened, other Disney fan sites have former monorail drivers give their thoughts about what might have caused this accident. While there is no official report on the cause, I will not include reports from fan sites providing such wild speculation. If you want to read their thoughts, you are welcome to do so. When some official reports are released, then I'll post that. Until then, how about we let Disney, the Orange County and Reedy Creek officials and OSHA do their jobs without our armchair quarterbacking.

My thoughts and prayers are with the family of the fallen driver, with all Disney cast members and with the entire Disney community as we mourn this tragic accident.
More coverage from CNN.com , MSNBC.com, the Orlando Sentinel and WESH.com. Additional details about Austin Wuennenberg from Orlando Attractions Magazine.
Related article from the Orange County Register: Disneyland monorail runs as usual after Florida crash.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Hall of Presidents featuring #44


On Sunday, June 28, I had the pleasure of attending a special sneak preview of the newly refurbished Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square. The highlight of the new attraction is our 44th President, Barack Obama, however the speech by George Washington was equally as moving. The most moving of all, honestly, was the opening video narrated by Morgan Freeman. His deep, strident voice lended a sense of importance and authority to the story of how our nation's presidents came to find themselves in the White House.

Much as I wish I could bring you photos (the photo above is from Disney), I was told by a castmember when entering that no photography and video of any kind would be allowed. I decided to respect this request, though it appears others didn't get the same request. AttractionsMagazine.com has video and photos of the new show (animatronic portion only). Disney has released some video on their YouTube channel.

The opening video is a bit shorter than the previous video and quickly moves through the history of our presidents. There is one new bit that I most appreciated in the video portion -- the Abraham Lincoln animatronic makes an appearance isolated by a red curtain curved around his chair. Much like Disneyland's Great Moments with Mister Lincoln, our 16th President stands up from his ornate chair to deliver the Gettysburg address. Afterward, the lights dim and the video continues highlighting Lincoln's efforts to hold the nation together during the Civil War.

In the final scenes, the film shows the now famous video of President George W. Bush standing aside firefighters at ground zero in New York City saying "we can hear you!" Those scenes are still chilling to see and I was gratified that Disney decided to include a reference to 9/11 in the film. The last shot is the space shuttle taking off and as it does, the curtain rises to reveal and introduce all 43 presidents.

After the introductions, George Washington makes a brief speech about how he was honored to serve as the nation's first president and how he did so by taking a short, but ever so solemn oath. President Obama then "takes" the oath of office and continues with his speech about the American dream and the need for tolerance and a shared spirit.

The attraction closes with dawn breaking over the Capitol and the U.S. presidents. It's a very moving visual tableau and leaves you proud to be an American (similar to the end of the American Experience at Epcot).

A few days later I ran into Alex Carruthers, art director for the Magic Kingdom and Eric Jacobson, senior V.P. for Walt Disney Imagineering. They told me they were gratified to see how guests have responded to the newly refurbished attraction.

I'm not a big fan of President Obama, the person; but I am a huge fan of President Obama, the animatronic. Imagineering did a wonderful job of capturing Mr. Obama's mannerisms, stance and gestures. You really get the sense that this is our 44th President. In a similar manner, presidents Washington and Lincoln are equally stunning. The sight of our first president and newest president standing on opposite sides of President Lincoln makes a great picture.

So go and see the new Hall of Presidents -- it's much more than a place to beat the heat or rain. It's an attraction that will remind you what it means to be an American and will help fill you with pride for the U.S.A.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Back from WDW!!!

Hi all!

I'm back from a week at Walt Disney World. It was a great week. I'll have a review of the Hall of Presidents (I attended the AP preview on Sunday), a review of the Dolphin resort and some new tips to pass along.

So stay tuned, the Disney Daddy is back in the house!