Theme Parks

Yes, this is an animation blog.  No, this post does not directly deal with animation; however, I recently visited Walt Disney World, and what’s going on there, based on what I’ve read and experienced, and given that at the moment there is not a lot going on with animation (outside The Lego Movie juggernaut), this is an important new program that will affect Disney across the board.  Of course, I need to give credit where it is due.  After reading Tom Richard’s review of FastPass+ on, I was struck and inspired by this closing thought he wrapped up with: “Many frontline cast members say that the idea behind the new My Magic Plus is to evenly distribute crowds at the most popular parks, like the Magic Kingdom, and to reduce overall wait times. That may be true to an extent, but adding attractions would also help reduce wait times and evenly distribute people.”

Disney's Magic Bands in my experience proved to be exciting, but simply not a necessary change in terms of enhancing the guest experience at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Disney’s Magic Bands in my experience proved to be exciting, but simply not a necessary change in terms of enhancing the guest experience at the Walt Disney World Resort.

While I found no exact, official investment numbers Disney has put into the FastPass+ project, unofficial sources commonly estimate upwards of $1 billion has been poured into these wristbands.  The sad thing, and this has been stated in practically every FastPass+ review I’ve found, is that the bands are still a mess.  In my own personal experience with the wearable tech over a six day visit, my troubles included not being given a PIN number upon arrival in order to pay for anything, having that PIN suddenly reset midway through the visit while trying to pay for lunch, an inability to upload photos onto our $200 Memory Maker account from certain family members’ bands, and a fairly confusing, clunky app that would often separate our family’s FastPass times even though they ended up still all being reserved together.  Of course, Disney did provide reimbursements, extra FastPasses, and other forms of compensation for the troubles we experienced, but what it really comes down to is why is Disney pursuing this technology, and why are they still having troubles after nearly a year of testing and almost two months of resort-wide integration?

There’s no question about it, Disney found the FastPass+ idea more attractive because it had a monetary benefit.  I presume this idea ran along the lines of “If our guests have their times for riding and dining all planned out, that leaves more time for shopping, and since purchases are as simple to make as tapping a wrist to a Classic Mickey, all the better!”  Surely there was more sophisticated and educated planning than that, but I refuse to believe that The Walt Disney Company would invest in something so complex solely because it enhances the guest experience (where are those monorails to Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom?).  The problem I have with the investment is more that it is entirely unnecessary investment.  So far, the bands are not revolutionary, rather they are infamous.  If Disney fails to get the show running smoothly by summer, Magic Bands will become more of a hazard, a detriment to the good name of Disney service, rather than a good idea that just needs to get out its kinks.  People won’t be patient with such abysmal technology, especially given what a Disney vacation costs these days.

In addition, Universal Studios has built in essence a mint with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, not to mention its coming expansion this summer.  With Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise on the decline (wait times for the attraction never topped 30 minutes over the Valentine’s/President’s Day holiday weekend), and princesses are targeted at a very narrow age group of girls, Disney’s park appeal is beginning to rely solely on the Disney parks name.  I walked through New Fantasyland, and without question it is a certain improvement in efficiency in the way it has opened up the previously chronically congested Fantasyland.  It also is refreshing to see Walt Disney World’s most drastic addition since Animal Kingdom, but it’s simply not enough.  Obviously, building a second Cars Land in Florida is not only a discredit to the unique magic of California’s, but I seriously doubt it is economically sound.  Yet why invest $1 billion in bracelets when the competition down the road is creating and expanding an immersive world that appeals to perhaps one of the widest fan-bases in existence, second only to, I would guess, Star Wars.  Ah, now the gears are turning!  The enthusiastic average Joe would suddenly exclaim, “That’s what they should do!  Disney should create a Star Wars experience just like Harry Potter!”  What a wonderful idea!  The only problem is that rumors suggest just such a project has been placed on hold due to the extreme investment and extreme troubles Walt Disney World has in the Magic Bands.  Of course, construction on the Avatar experience in Animal Kingdom is continuing at this moment.  Remember Avatar?  It came out in 2009, experienced the ephemeral fame of pop culture, and has now gone the way of YOLO and Vine.  Sequels are lined up for 2016, 2017, and 2018, and Disney better hope that those not only revive the Avatar fan-base, but establish it so that that section does not have to be torn down in ten years when it becomes outdated (or sooner, should Disney, as they ought to, overhaul Animal Kingdom just like they did California Adventure.  But that is another story in itself).

How does this all relate back to animation?  Bob Iger recently promised Frozen coming to Disney parks in a big way.  While he was not specific as to how its presence will be brought to the parks outside of the castle projection shows and other night-time spectacles, I can only imagine that, with the shape Walt Disney World is in at the moment, it will not be anything sturdy, permanent, and retaining.  By retaining, I mean an experience that will keep families excited to experience it five to ten years in the future.  Disney has already invested the money in Magic Bands, so it is no use to gripe about their negligence to the very skewed attraction line-up, as Tom mentioned in his review.  What I hope the company will recognize going forward is that they need an experience quite desperately at Walt Disney World that will appeal to a wide audience, just as Walt had originally intended with Disneyland.  In comparison between the two, I honestly felt that the four parks at the World felt more empty of worthwhile attractions than Disneyland’s two parks.  So Disney, fix the Magic Bands, or scale them back even if need be, but invest in something worthwhile and tangible to truly please crowds, not just an unnecessary service that has the ability to improve profits, but possibly tarnish your nearly spotless track record of customer service.

One of Disney's first uses of RFID technology was on its cups.  The chips are placed on cups to monitor refills.  The same ideas now apply to the Magic Bands

One of Disney’s first uses of RFID technology was on its cups. The chips are placed on cups to monitor refills. The same ideas now apply to the Magic Bands

Let’s say you’re like me, a high school kid who finds the monotonous routines in school to be, well, dull.  You look forward to that day when you work for one of the largest entertainment companies in the world.  If you had the chance, you would stay at home for a full week and watch all of the Looney Tunes Platinum Collections both with and without commentary.  Once finished with those, you might speed read through Fantagraphic’s Popeye comic strip collections so that you could have time to browse through Dave Smith’s Disney A to Z.  Maybe you’d even pop in a Walt Disney Treasures DVD so that you could watch the unveiling of the Matterhorn in the 1959, or the classic Oswald cartoons of the 1920’s set to music of the time.  If any of this at all applies to you, I have your cure for those days of endless boredom and unhappiness.

It’s the brilliant combination of victory and animation memorabilia in these two auction websites  that generally gets me through the day: those being Theme Park Connection  and Mouse Surplus.  From these two websites, I’ve amassed several authentic, one-of-a-kind Disney Parks collectibles.  For example, for just $40, I won 3 operation manuals for Disneyland rides dated back to the 1960’s.  In addition, I’ve also won authentic uniform patches that cast members wore at Walt Disney World during the 1970’s.  However there have been major auction losses along the way, such as when I lost the auction for a Mickey Mouse flag that flew over the Disneyland Main Street train station.  Quite frankly, it was a heart-breaker.

You may think at this point, “Hans, I don’t see the advantage to your websites!  I already can find the specific collectibles I am looking for by just searching them on ebay.”  Well, silly reader, the problem with your method is it is irregular, sporadic, and unorganized.  In order to get the good stuff, you need to have consistency, and both Theme Park Connection and MouseSurplus provide this in their ebay stores!  It is true, my fellow fan, they have their own sections of the internet reserved specifically for selling Disney memorabilia.  The integrity of the two sellers gives them the connections with Disney that give them a first shot at selling anything the company is throwing out, such as ride vehicles, signs, or other various park decorations.

Now, before beginning to browse, you have to know what your selection will be.  While MouseSurplus has a smaller collection of items, they possess more valuable products.  Often you will find here authentic cels, full uniforms, and occasionally something as special as a ride vehicle or store decorations from Main Street U.S.A. shops.  On the other hand, Theme Park Connection auctions off the smaller collectibles, such as patches, limited edition park give-aways, employee gifts, and maybe sometimes rare park signage.

And so, now we come to a decision you must make.  Let’s say you’ve found that rare Disney Cruise Line cast member uniform on the Theme Park Connection eBay store.  You’d love to have something unique, something that is un-purchasable elsewhere, but before you click the “bid” button, a voice in your head continually advises you not to bid on it.  “It’s too expensive; it’s a waste of money; you’ll never have a use for it; it’s gross, someone else wore it; you don’t really need a Disney employee uniform,” the voice claims.  My advice to you: shut that voice up and hit bid!  Perhaps it’s expensive (around $300), but who cares?  Wouldn’t you like to fill your day with the excitement of an online auction, instead of working until your head blows off?  It’s the thrill of the competition, the thrill of the final few minutes in which you and five other bidders try to pound in your final offers, the thrill of winning and knowing you beat somebody who most likely wanted it just as badly as you did!  These are the rewards of online bidding.

If you find yourself, like me, to be an animation fan, fascinated with the prospect of owning a 1970’s horticulture patch worn by Walt Disney World gardeners, but looking to spice up your dull, daily routine, I recommend the online auction sites of Theme Park Connection and MouseSurplus.  In a business as competitive as animation, both fans and employees alike can find enjoyment in the high tension competition provided by the final few minutes in an auction for a patch somebody wore 40 years ago to work.  It works even for Christmas shopping as the rare items here up for sale easily guarantee there will be no embarrassingly awkward gift duplications.  The roller-coaster of emotions these auctions can take you on are sure to add a little zest to your currently average life.

Examples of the incredibly rare, classic pieces you can purchase from online auctions. Often items range from full cast member uniforms to park signage to vintage patches These two patches are specifically from Theme Park Connection

In the Disney parks, rides, characters, scenery, and merchandise only make up a portion of the Disney experience.  To complete the bare necessities of a Disney trip, you have to include food.  Disney knows full well the power of food.  In fact, food can be more powerful at times than a plush Perry the Platypus doll, in terms of generating revenue that is.  A sobbing child demanding a head-sized lollipop is just about guaranteed for any Magic Kingdom/Disneyland visit.  You see, those Mickey shaped ice cream bars, or the Mickey shaped pretzels, or even those Rice Krispie Mickey heads can’t be purchased anywhere else in the world.  It’s without a doubt a unique experience to buy a candied apple off of a turn-of-the-century street vendor, and then eat it while waiting for a train down the street from a towering castle.  When we think of Disney, the smells of popcorn and fresh pastries wafting from the Main Street bakeries and carts are more subconscious essentials to that mental vision, rather than extra additions the Mouse House threw in just to make a quick buck.  Sure these make money, but they’re also about memories.  Following are my top 4 Main Street Treats:

4.  The Casey’s Corner Chili Dogs

Though not a traditional dessert, I’d absolutely include this among Main Street’s Top treats.  For a filling meal or snack, this beats the other park quick-service and sit down restaurants by a long shot.  A relatively cheap chili dog is sure to fill as a snack alone or as a meal when ordered with the whole deal.  In addition to this, the baseball decor and quieter sitting areas provide a peaceful place to eat with a great view of the castle.

3.  Plaza Ice Cream Parlor

Maybe I’m a little biased on this selection, but my love of ice cream only naturally leads to this selection.  A snack here works either coming into the park or on the way out.  Personally, I’d prefer to stop here between noon and the afternoon parade.  With younger visitors off in Fantasyland, and a slower entry flow, an ice cream cone is the perfect treat to fuel a guest up for the second half of the day.  To top it all off, we aren’t talking mini cups of ice cream, nor wimpy sugar cones with a scoop and a half of the cold stuff.  No, the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor serves up heaping 3 and 4 massive cones.  While they come at a price, the fuel and satisfaction they provide are simply unbeatable.

2.  Mickey Mouse Shapes-On-A-Stick

It’s a bit broad, but I want to try and be as inclusive as possible here.  The ice cream bars, Rice Krispie Treats, candied apples, and other assorted confections in the shape of Mickey’s head really add a nice touch.  While eating these, you know truly are in a different world.  You’re in Walt’s world, and in Walt’s world, the real world is long gone.  The real world is abandoned, magic is alive, and in a world where those classic ears appear everywhere from bushes to the clouds, it’s only natural that the food should take shape after that famous profile as well!  Sure they may just be everyday treats, but it’s the magic, nostalgia, and completion they add to the general surroundings that make these Mickey head confections so special.

A wrapper from the Mickey Ice Cream Bar. Notice how they’ve used an older style of Mickey’s head here, one that is more like the 1950’s design rather than the modern version of Mickey’s face. This could either be to label the package with a head that more closely fits the shape of the ice cream bar it contains, or it simply could be a nostalgic nod towards the 1950’s when Disneyland first opened.

1. The Turkey Leg

It is not theme park food.  That is the reason it is my number one.  The fact that this delicious but strange edible has had such strong approval ratings in the parks makes its fame respectable.  Since the 1990’s, Disney has been serving up these steaming fowl appendages.  Though delicious, what I love so much about this treat is its iconic nature.  Theme parks do not serve turkey legs, and quite frankly, when do we eat them besides around Thanksgiving?  Disney has made the turkey leg it’s own. You don’t buy a turkey leg at Six Flags, because it doesn’t belong there.  The turkey legs are much like the hidden mickeys: Newer guests may not take notice of them, but veterans cannot imagine a Disneyverse without them.  For its deliciousness and the unique belonging it has in a Disney park, the turkey leg is my number one Disney treat.

A testament to the popularity of the seemingly out of place Disney park treat, the turkey leg.