Here’s my favorite part:
Yup. That’s about it.
This week marks a huge historic milestone for us Disneyland geeks. That’s because this week, the curtain is lifted on the rebuilt Disney California Adventure park.
The grand re-opening of the park is this week, and it’s the culmination of years of work Disney has done to give the park the makeover it desperately needed. Up until now California Adventure hasn’t turned out to be the success that it had originally hoped to be. When it opened ten years ago, the response to the park was lukewarm from day one. It just didn’t have the feel of a Disney park. People felt that it was built “on the cheap.” And yes, I was one of those people. Attendance forecasts were never achieved. The rumor was that Disney accountants eventually grumbled that the land that is California Adventure was more profitable as a parking lot than when it became a theme park.
So, over the last four years, Disney has spent over a billion dollars on a makeover, and wow, it sure looks like it’s going to be fantastic. I find it fascinating that Disney spent more money rebuilding the park than what they spent on its original construction. It’s also fascinating that they did the huge project without closing the park. They even completely rebuilt the main entrance without closing the park. Us regularly have been vacationing in a construction zone for the last five years. That’s never happened before, and it emphasizes the problem the old California Adventure was to the company. It must have been hemorrhaging cash to force that kind of an overhaul.
And the new park truly looks magical.
I’m excited to see the new entrance – Buena Vista Street – and it looks like the park finally follows the traditional “Main Street to the Castle” entrance layout that makes Disney parks so enticing and exciting. The story behind this new entrance looks unique and fun.
The new Cars Land is massive and very cool. The new e-ticket ride in Cars Land will be the biggest ride in the Disneyland Resort.
All of this signals a lot of readjustment for me, and nuts like me, who regularly vacation at Disneyland. Starting this summer, my regular routine will have to change. There are a slew of new restaurants to try out. It looks like there’s new, unique merchandise to shop for. My tried and true schedule for hitting the rides will have to change. Now I have to re-adjust and figure out when’s the best time to visit the new rides, and how that fits into the schedule for the other rides I love. Suddenly, I’m no longer a Disneyland “veteran.” I’m a newbie like all the rest now. Well, kinda.
Our family is headed to the Disneyland Resort next week. Yes, we’re pretty excited (as always), but I’m also flying a little blind this time. What will the crowds be like? Since it’s opening week for the new California Adventure, it’s bound to be busy, but what parts will be busy when, and when should I avoid what? Will a three day park hopper be enough? We’ll see.
My favorite Fantasyland dark ride has always been Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. It’s been at the park since day one and I remember riding it as a little kid.
I love it because concept and plot of the ride is unique and incredibly creative. Guests board cars in the main hall of Toad Hall (from the Disney animated movie “The Wind in the Willows”) and follow Toad on a crazy ride though the mansion, out to the English countryside, through the winding streets of London, crashing into Winky’s Pub, then off to court – where we’re convicted and sent to jail. Then we break out of jail, crash the car, die, and eventually drive to Hell.
Who can’t get off that ride and not at least chuckle?
Since the Motor Cars only fit two or three passengers, our family always had to break up into multiple vehicles when we’d get on the ride. I used to send our young boys in a car ahead of us, and they’d finish while I was still riding, and be waiting for me at the exit. When I’d get out, I used to always ask, “Well, where did you wind up? Heaven or Hell?” Of course, they always answered, “Hell.”
“Hmm. I went to heaven this time.” That always made the boys jealous.
“Why do we always go to hell??” they’d ask, wondering what the Heaven scene was like. That’s when I asked them to commit themselves to live their lives so that someday, they’ll be worthy enough to go through the Heaven scene when they ride Mr. Toad again. It was years before our young boys realized I was kidding, and there was only a Hell scene.
Well, yesterday Deadline.com reported that Walt Disney Pictures is in the preplanning stages for a live action/CGI mix feature film based on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland. Apparently they’ve hired a director and the movie will be produced by Justin Springer, who also produced Tron: Legacy.
Disney is betting on another successful movie based on classic Disneyland attractions. We all know how successful the Pirates of the Caribbean series of movies have been. I always laugh when I hear somebody say, “What? They made a ride about it?” Disney is also developing movies based on the Jungle Cruise, the Haunted Mansion, and the Matterhorn.
But Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is unique and presents some challenges for movie makers. The ride has been in place since the park opened in 1955 and is based on a movie that Disney has already produced: “The Wind in the Willows.” And of course, that movie is based on the classic children’s book by the same name.
So we’re going to get a movie based on a ride based on a movie based on a book. How’s that going to work? Movie makers nowadays seem to shun original ideas and rely on concepts and stories that have had a successful track record. Actors now negotiate sequels into contracts before the first movie is even deemed a success. And beginning with the last Harry Potter movie, we now have sequels to sequels. Yeah, there’s safety in that. But Mr. Toad is a new high (or low, depending on how you look at it.)
That said, yes, I’ll probably be in the theatre on opening weekend.
We go to Disneyland nearly every year as a family. We pack the car and make the long drive through the desert. It’s become a family tradition at our house. It’s almost a routine expectation, like Halloween and Christmas. It comes every year.
The other day I was going through a pile of old photos and discovered this one:
That’s my wife and our son Jonathan with Mickey. This was taken on one of those annual family pilgrimages to Disneyland. Jon was two years old at the time.
Although it feels like just a few years ago, time has moved a long ways. Jon’s now grown up and out on his own. He’s 21 years old now.
As we go through life and repeat our daily routines, we easily forget how time keeps moving. Changes sneak past us without our noticing.
Here’s a picture Jon sent us this week from Japan, taken with an old family friend:
Jon has changed a lot over the years but one thing about him is still the same: his smile.
I’ve started to notice that when it comes to Disneyland, I’m spending more and more time thinking about food. Why is that? It could be that there are a lot of tasty places to eat at Disneyland, or it could be because food is getting more and more important to me as I get older.
The restaurant is brand new and part of the recently finished remodel of the hotel. It’s clearly a salute to the vintage era of Adventureland in the park. I still wish they’d bring back the good old Tahitian Terrace in Adventureland, but this will have to do for now.
Some things I like about this place:
Last week at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, the Disney Parks division cracked opened the door a little bit more on what they’re building at Shanghai Disneyland.
Once again, I wasn’t able to attend the D23 Expo, and I guess that proves there are thousands of Disney Geeks out there who are freakier than me. Thousands.
The Disney Parks blog has a nice article about the sneak peek. It’s kind of strange – Disney is very protective of what they’re doing on this park. Hardly anything has been revealed, but construction is well underway. My guess is because Disney wants to avoid any copyright or intellectual property battles in China, where that kind of stuff can be a real struggle.
The only cool thing revealed about the park was more details on the castle. We already know that it’ll be the biggest castle that Disney’s ever built. It’s going to be called “Enchanted Storybook Castle,” which is a bit too syrupy sweet for my taste.
Aside from the name, it appears that the castle is beyond spectacular. Details include:
• Shopping and “Bibbidy Bobbity Boutique” experiences inside.
• A walkthrough attraction of some kind inside the castle.
• Three stories of space for guests to walk through and explore
• An all-new boat ride called “Once Upon A Time Adventure” (another sticky sweet name) that starts inside the castle and appears to take guests on a grand, E-Ticket tour of Fantasyland. Now that’s way cool.
Take a look at these pieces of concept art. Click on any to enlarge:
This interior piazza looks amazing. You can really get an idea of how huge this thing is. I can already visualize thousands of Chinese guests crowding up and down those stairs, with daughters in tow, dressed in their princess outfits.
To help you visualize what that’ll be like, here’s a snapshot of some gorgeous princesses I took at Hong Kong Disneyland last year:
Here’s a video tour of the castle:
If you pause after panning to the Fantasyland side of the castle, you’ll notice the boat ride queue and load/unload area in the basement.
Honestly, I’m blown away at the creativity, gigantic scale, and coolness of this. If the rest of Shanghai Disneyland is like this, I need to start saving for a trip now.
This year at the big E3 convention, Microsoft and Disney jointly announced a new game coming out this Christmas. It’s designed to run on the XBox with Kinect. If you don’t know what Kinect is, Click Here. Simply put, Kinect is amazing.
The game they announced is called “Disneyland Adventures.” Check this out:
Here’s a video of the gameplay:
Now, I can tell that the game is designed for kids. And yes, I do know how old I am. But I’m not ashamed to admit it: I will be buying this. You won’t have to guess what will be happening at our house on Christmas morning.
It’s been quite a while since Disneyland opened a new “E-Ticket” ride. And this year, they opened two! Last week “Star Tours – The Adventures Continue” AND “The Little Mermaid” attractions opened. Have I ridden them yet? Of course!
So, how were the new rides? Well, they were just great. Both are absolute hits. Here’s what I think about them:
Warning: Spoilers Ahead.
This new ride is built on an omnimover, just like the Haunted Mansion. So it really eats people. Still, lines grew to over two hours in the middle of the day. All of the characters in the ride are full animatronic. No plywood cutouts on this ride. I think there were four Ariels, two Scuttles, three Sebastians, two Prince Erics, and one enormously huge Ursula – all full blown articulated animatronics. Plus, there were at least fifty animatronic characters in the huge “Under The Sea” scene. And think about this: How do you do animatronic hair for Ariel when she’s “underwater”? The hair has to “float.” Pretty incredible. When you ride the Little Mermaid, you get off and think, “This is how Peter Pan, Snow White, and Alice should be built.” Overall, it’s a classic Disneyland dark ride done at the highest level of quality. I hear the cost was over $100 million. We all loved it.
It’s easily the best thing in any Disney park right now. Lines were up to four hours long. We rode it seven times and never stood in line for it once. (Yes, I am efficient when it comes to timing and Fastpasses.) And here’s the cool part: We saw something new every single time we rode it. It’s a different adventure every time
The story is always the same. First, C3PO is called in to fix something on the Starspeeder before we take off. So the “captain” droid gets off while C3PO works on the “binary converter” or something like that. We see that scene on the screens just outside the doors to the Starspeeder. Then the doors open and we board and buckle in. Then the “autopilot” starts the Starspeeder’s takeoff sequence, “by mistake”, forcing C3PO to pilot the voyage.
The journey starts in the hangar, where a probe droid usually attaches itself to the front window and “scans” the passengers, searching for a Rebel Spy. Sometimes, instead of a probe droid, it’s Darth Vader. They actually show a picture of somebody in the vehicle and say “This is the spy we’re looking for.” (They’ve secretly taken your picture when you get in and sit down and buckle in.) Then of course, it’s “That’s him! He’s the spy! Stop this ship!” And stormtroopers rush the ship. Then C3PO is forced to break away and take off and the chase is on. From there on, we could go to any number of places: Tatooine, where we join a podrace; Hoth, where we nearly get trampled by an AT-AT; Coruscant, where we fight traffic – it’s all random.
On our second time, my son was the Rebel Spy. It’s really cool when you see an Imperial Probe Droid flash a picture of somebody you know and hear, “This is the spy we’re looking for.” Later on in the journey, we get a transmission, usually from Yoda (but could be General Ackbar or Princess Leia), telling us that we have a person who is valuable to the Rebellion on board and must get him/her to safety. Yeah, my son loved it when he knew that Yoda was talking about him. They sell t-shirts in the gift shop that say “I am the Rebel Spy” and they’re going like hotcakes.
The whole ride is in 3D, and it’s better than the other 3D shows in the park. They use different glasses and it’s much crisper. The projection is very high definition, much brighter, and huge. It now covers the whole front wall. People always gasp when that cover comes down to reveal the screen. It’s huge.
My wife only rode it once, then decided it wasn’t for her. She got motion sickness on it. I didn’t feel any motion sickness at all, and I get queasy watching the kids play Halo for two minutes. I could ride it all day. It feels very real. Much better than before. My favorite place: Naboo.
Some other cool things: The queue is now about “getting through security.” So it’s a Star Wars version of TSA at the airport. Hilarious. Also, in the queue we see Rex, the old pilot from the old version of the ride. He’s got tape across him that says, “malfunctioning droid” and sparks shoot out of the back of him every once in a while.
Here’s a preview of some of the destinations you can go to:
Overall, it’s a pretty incredible experience. It’s really succeeded at full thematic immersion and believability.
Disney recently broke ground for their new mega-resort in Shanghai and along with that, released a few peices of concept art that give us a few clues about what Shanghai Disneyland will look like. Although the details are still forthcoming, I’ve taken the liberty of guessing what falls where, based on the concept art. At first glance, this looks like it’s going to be a fantastic resort. Here’s what we’ve seen so far. You’ll want to click on the image to enlarge and see the details:
Now, I’ve added the labels to the image above. It’s my guess of what the layout of the park will be, so don’t think it’s set in stone and I could be completely wrong. It’s just a good estimate.
What’s interesting is that this park’s layout is “flipped” compared to all the other traditional Magic Kingdom parks around the world. Here in Shanghai, Adventureland is to your right when you enter the park, and Tomorrowland is to your left. So you travel through time in a counter-clockwise direction compared to everywhere else.
Some other things to note: I don’t see a Frontierland, which probably is a trickier fit, culturally-speaking. I also don’t see Space Mountain. But I do see show buildings in Tomorrowland that look very promising. I like the fact that the Main Gate is up against a lake, like in Florida. And you can see how parking sits in relation to out-of-the-park shopping, allowing guests to hit a Downtown Disney/Nightlife Center before going home.
Also, notice on the right I’ve added a label for a “Pirates” themed land. We’ve heard rumors of this for some time. Note the three huge show buildings depicted backstage on that side of the park. One could be an Indy-type ride, one could be a Haunted Mansion, and another could be an updated Pirates of the Carribean. Except this time the ride is set in a Carribean-themed village, like Tortuga out of the movie. This would give guests a bigger Pirates experience that included shopping, dining and shows. Below is some concept art that has floated around the web. Keep in mind that this is all preliminary and speculative, but it gives you an idea of what may be built:
One concept we’ve heard rumors of is a “Splash Pirates” ride. It would work similar to Splash Mountain, but the interior dark ride portion would be the traditional Pirates of the Carribean. Pirates of the Carribean has always been my favorite attraction, so these potential additions are pretty exciting.
Another interesting difference for Shanghai Disneyland is the replacement of Main Street USA with a massive “green space.” The official press release announcing the groundbreaking says that Shanghai Disneyland “will blend classic Disney storytelling and characters with all-new attractions and experiences tailored specifically for the people of China.” Part of that “blending” is “a beautiful, 11 acre green space at the center of the theme park (that) will differentiate Shanghai Disneyland and reinforce the themes of sustainability and nature that will be integrated throughout the park. The space will also be a place where friends and family can enjoy local cultural celebrations and customs together.”
Here’s a rendering of what it will look like:
I really think is is a great move that helps the park fit into Chinese and Asian culture. I see Chinese New Year celebrations happening here, complete with the dancing dragon and the like. And I’m sure the greenspace will be immaculately landscaped as a beautiful Chinese garden.
This isn’t the first time Disney has attempted an Asian-themed “greenspace” around the Castle. The original concept art for Tokyo Disneyland also included a beautiful, open Japanese garden area:
Imagineering genius and artist Herb Ryman created this painting. You can see that it’s an attempt to blend two cultures into one landscape. And in a sense, the two do fit together nicely. Traditional Japanese gardens always attempt to show perfection and sublime ephemerality. They’re a depiction of how the world should be, not necessarily how it really is. I guess it’s the original ancient form of a theme park. As you can see by Herb’s artwork, the combination really does create a world of fantasy, but this one fits nicely into the local culture:
Of course, this part was never built at Tokyo Disneyland. I think the folks at Oriental Land Co., who owns and operates the park, wanted something that was more inline with the originals back in the States. They were probably going after true escapism, with a feeling that you’re not even in Japan when you visit Tokyo Disneyland. And yes, there’s no doubt that the Tokyo park is incredible in its current form.
Shanghai Disneyland is scheduled to open in five years. From the looks of it, this time Disney is working more toward a culturally blended resort that still has a sense of fantasy and escapism. It should be beautiful.