Friday, January 18, 2013

Patch Quest!

Earlier this year, I was listening to an episode of WDW Today about predictions for 2013, and I made four predictions on their Facebook group.

One of them was the idea that there would be some sort of "wander the park and interact with things" type of project like Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom or Agent P's World Showcase Adventure in Epcot coming to Animal Kingdom.

Looks like that prediction is coming true with "Wilderness Explorers".

Inspired by the scouting organization that Russell was part of in the movie "Up", there will now be a scavenger-hunt type of event available at Animal Kingdom to earn Wilderness Explorer "patches". A brief summary of the program can be found at the Disney Parks Blog:

Although there's no official date for an opening, you can get an idea of what it is like from this video of Game Testing:

I'm really excited about this, as I think it will be not only a great learning opportunity, but also provide an all-ages activity to help you get more out of a visit to Animal Kingdom!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Best Thing that Avatar Will Do for Animal Kingdom

While I was down in Florida, there was a press conference that suggests that, even with creative differences, the Avatar project is moving forward.

When the project's location in Camp Minnie-Mickey was first announced, my only concern was for Festival of the Lion King, a stage show located back in that area. This high-quality, high-energy show in the round is a great example of Disney stagecraft at its finest. With familiar songs, acrobatics, and great performances from the cast, it was a wonderful way to introduce our daughter to the idea of a stage show.

What it doesn't do, however, is fit in with an Avatar-themed land.

Thankfully, it looks like although its days are numbered in its current location (with an ambiguous "will be closing in early 2013"), it sounds like the show will go on, but in a new location.

According to The Disney Blog (, a new location for the show will be opening behind Tusker House in the African section of the park.

To me, this is probably the best news to come out of the whole Avatar deal. Being the only attraction in the Camp Minnie-Mickey "Land" meant that it was always an out-of-the-way bit of entertainment. Putting it in Africa is great from a theme sense (after all, The Lion King is set in Africa!), and it puts it more accessible for people to visit without major backtracking.

Because of its new location being more in the middle of traffic flows, I would expect that the theater would need to be larger. This would also be a chance to do any tweaks desired for the show. There may be some possibility that the Finding Nemo reserved seating lunch package at Tusker House might become become reserved seating for Lion King. My guess is that we'll also see new restrooms back by the theater area, as the added traffic would significantly impact the already crowded facilities across from Tusker House.

I cannot state emphatically enough how much I am thrilled with this announcement. This is a great decision for the show and for the park as a whole. Kudos to Imagineering for finding a way to keep a quality show and improve its location in one swoop.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Back: With Zebras!

Had to drop off the blog-o-sphere for a bit while I stockpiled some extra money with pay work to really go all-out for a trip to WDW. And yes, while I was there, I spent some time at Animal Kingdom. I'll be covering some of the things there in different blog posts, but I did want to review something fairly new.


That's right, zebras have been added to the end of Kilimanjaro Safaris. For those who are familiar with the ride, they are added near the very end, where the plot would usually go on about the need to rescue Little Red from poachers. All of the references to Little Red and poachers have been removed from the ride itself, although there's still mention in the queue in the form of a poster.

Because the zebras are in the "speed up" zone where the chase sequence would begin, the ride has lost some of its thrill aspect, as you don't have that 30 seconds or so of a burst of speed.
Zebras...doing what zebras do. 

I was lucky to be on this ride with people who had been on the ride several times before as well as being on the ride with people who were first-timers. Those of us who had been on the ride before were pretty surprised about how slow the end of the ride was, and it was a bit of an anti-climax. Look zebras. And now we're back. Kwaherini, ya'll. I must admit, it was a bit of a letdown. With the zebra sequence being new (and even mentioned as being new by our driver), it is my hope that there will be a better transition from that scene to the return to camp.

Also new to me was the inclusion of a crowned crane enclosure in the queue area. Although the time we were there was the slow time of year, so we only got a glance as we walked by, I think that would be a welcome inclusion to what can be a very long wait.

No question whatsoever, Kilimanjaro Safaris is my view of what a ride in Animal Kingdom should be like. Good re-ridability, appropriate for all ages, and something that you wouldn't do every day. As the animals have become more familiar with the ride vehicles going through, they have become very comfortable coming right up to the vehicle to be as curious about us as we are about them. The reactions of both the first-timers we had on the ride and the seasoned pros were that they would gladly do it again. Because of this I really hope Disney gives some thought to make a better transition for that ending sequence.

Just don't bring back the Little Red and the Poachers plotline and I'll be happy, though!

Yes, it really is an up-close-and-personal animal experience.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Creative Differences" from AvatarLand

Thanks to Deb Wills from for the head's up on this story:

In essence, there's a report that "creative differences" are keeping James Cameron (of Avatar) and Imagineering (at Disney) from seeing eye to eye on things.

This shouldn't come as a big surprise for anyone. With the Avatar sequels in stall, there's not as much impetus to really invest a lot of resources for AvatarLand. Part of the financial benefit of the deal was that there *would* be sequels and not have Avatar be just a one-hit wonder that would (and largely has) been forgotten by the fan world. A quick bit of Google-fu reveals that a search for Avatar comes up with a lot more links about the Airbender series than James Cameron's creation. It simply doesn't have the rabid fans that other serial franchises have maintained over the years (Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc.).

When the deal was first announced, it sounded very blue sky to do an entire land. I think it is incredibly realistic to have a single D- or E-ticket ride, a counter-service restaurant/snack bar, and gift shop that are Avatar-themed, but I think that will be the extent of infrastructure investment that Disney is willing to put into a project that doesn't seem to have a long-term and stable future.

Historically, Disney has had a troubled history with people who are convinced that their creations are more valuable than the rest of the world may see. Going back to P.L. Travers and the constant challenges getting Mary Poppins to print and as recently as Disney breathing a huge sigh of relief that they didn't have to do the Harry Potter franchise when they were in negotiations with J.K. Rowling (with many comments about "creative differences" early on in that, too), Disney has a better grasp on brand identity than most one-hit wonders in the publishing or movie industries. Because of this, there will always be creative differences between both players. If Disney is cutting the check, they are not going to sacrifice brand identity for the whims of the creative licensor.

This may be a disappointment for some folks, but I think as long as there's the ability to put a D- or E-ticket in place, there won't be too many people sobbing about the loss of AvatarLand. Just like a celebrity divorce that cites "irreconcilable differences" as the reason for the breakup, when a business partnership brings out the line "creative differences", financial divorce is not far down the line.

This is certainly a story to keep an eye on...that is, if there's anyone left who actually cares about Avatar.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Name That Tune

Work. Sleep. Check e-mail at 3 AM. Work. Sleep. Answer e-mail at 2 AM. Work. Sleep. Oh yeah, and did I mention it is ragweed season so I can't breathe without coughing unless I take in large amounts of medicines I can't pronounce?

Yes, that's how my past few weeks have been, aside from a few nice moments like visiting my family and dinner with the inlaws. Thus, no updates here, and not much time for a long one.

The other day on one of the Facebook groups I frequent, there was a discussion about DisneyQuest. Ages ago, I used to go there a lot and enjoyed visiting as a local. (I'm not sure it has much to offer someone who is only in town for a short period of time, as there's lots of other amazing things to do on property.)

So what does that have to do with Animal Kingdom? Well, some nights I'd be one of a very few people waiting in line for the last ride on Virtual Pirates, and it was quiet enough in the place you could hear the background music. It didn't take me long before I was able to peg it--the background music used on the first floor is the same background music as the Entrance loop at Animal Kingdom. (You can buy a CD of it at Disney, and it really makes for nice soothing tunes to have on in the background.) This makes a lot of sense given what's in that area: Virtual Pirates, Virtual Jungle Cruise, and (at one time) Treasure of the Incas.

If you're ever in DisneyQuest and it happens to be a quiet night, take a listen...and see if they still use it today.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Congrats to Animal Kingdom!

From Travel and Leisure:

World's most-visited theme parks for 2011:

7) Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World, FL

Annual Visitors: 9,783,000

This 500-acre homage to Africa is by far the largest of all Disney theme parks, re-creating a lush jungle area and savanna that is home to 1,700 animals from 250 species. The Expedition Everest coaster and Kilimanjaro Safaris often attract the biggest crowds.

The top six were:
1. Magic Kingdom
2. Disneyland
3. Tokyo Disneyland
4. Tokyo DisneySea
5. Disneyland Paris
6. Epcot

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Being Part of the Show

Whew. The past two weeks have been fun filled with work and respiratory ick. Trying to get back into the swing of things, so one quick blog for today.

Down in the basement, I have bins of awards for public speaking (and even some for stand-up comedy). Yet, for some reason, when the request for volunteers at a Disney park goes out, I typically try to hide. Yes, I live in terror about being part of the show.

So maybe it was the wacky feelings of joy about being on the honeymoon, but I actually volunteered at the Flights of Wonder show, and I have no regrets whatsoever. Here's what my experience was like.

The Flights of Wonder show, located at the Caravan Stage in the Asia section of the park, is a free-flight bird show. The plot is pretty simple--a tour guide is afraid of birds, and learns that birds are nothing to fear. During the course of the show, many different birds and their habits are displayed. Unlike some other bird shows that may have birds doing very unnatural things, the emphasis in this show is showing natural behaviors.

There are a couple times where volunteers are asked for out of the audience. The one that I participated in involved going up on stage (gulp) and having a very swift-flying bird flying over your head to perch on the handler standing behind you.

When I was picked, I was called down to the stage, asked for my name and where I was from, and was introduced to the audience. Along with two other people, we were escorted onto the stage and showed where to sit. With our cameras at the ready, we were told to watch for a bird flying from the far side of the auditorium. The bird was so fast, within a matter of seconds it was over, and off I went back to my seat, picture in the camera, memories in my head, and thundering applause from the audience from my spectacular performance on stage.

(Okay, the applause probably wasn't thundering, nor was it likely for my performance, but it was quite the rush nearly getting run over by that bird!)

I believe at the end of the experience I got a certificate. It probably is somewhere down in the basement with the public speaking awards.

If you ever get the chance to participate in a show at Disney, I highly encourage it. It is a low-stress experience and a great memory for years to come. I also recommend the Flights of Wonder show. It is a great way to get off your feet and see some really amazing birds up close and personal.

And if you get to be the person on stage with the bird flying at you at a high rate of speed with it getting so close that you can feel the breeze of its feathers on your face, it's really up close and personal!