Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fantasmic - Cast card

In honor of the Studio's 20th anniversary last week, I wanted to share a bit of detail from the park. The pictures below are of a cast information card from the opening of Fantasmic. It contains a few facts about the show, plus some guidance on how to answer questions that guests may have.

Click on the pictures for larger versions.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Read All About It: Roller Coasters, Flumes, and Flying Saucers

Roller Coasters, Flumes, and Flying Saucers by Robert R. Reynolds is a look at the history of ride design company Arrow Development, as told through interviews by its founders Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon. The book is full of stories about rides for Disney parks, ventures with other parks, and interesting anecdotes about the general history of rides and roller coasters.

Ed and Karl met in a civilian Navy plant during World War II. Soon after they founded Arrow Development and began work machining parts for everything from crop dusters to Hewlett Packard machinery. Before they knew it, they were in the amusement park business. The first in a long line of revolutionary developments, the team built the first all-steel carousel.

It wasn't long after that a small boat, the Lil' Belle, that caught the eye of Disney. The boat was built for Lake Merritt Park in Oakland, California. Soon, Arrow Development was contracted to build ride systems for the soon-to-open Disneyland park. The team conceived and built the dark ride systems that we know today. The list of their early contributions include Mad Tea Party, Snow White's Adventure, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Casey Jr. Circus Train, Dumbo, Autopia, and Alice in Wonderland.

A later challenge was the Matterhorn. Here Arrow had other firsts in the amusement park business, including one that would revolutionize the roller coaster industry: tubular steel track.

Through the course of time, Arrow Development designed rides for Disneyland, the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair, and Walt Disney World. Their Disney credits go on to include It's a Small World, Flying Saucers, Pirates of the Caribbean, and development of the Omnimover. They worked with other theme parks, many of which failed, including Freedomland in New York, the Pacific Ocean Park in California, Knott's Berry Farm, and Busch Gardens. They had further revolutionary designs in the amusement park realm including the flume ride and the corkscrew loop. Along the way, they also had other projects such as designing capsules that would sustain monkeys sent into space.

The book is filled with stories about Arrow's interaction with Disney through the years: their transition to working for "movie people" instead of amusement park operators, Disney briefly owning an interest in the company, Karl getting sucked into the air system of the Flying Saucers, flooding out the Small World show pavilion at the World's Fair, and interacting with numerous Imagineers as they did what they did best.

In 1998, Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon were honored with the Hall of Fame Living Legends award by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. They are the first to share the award, and the honor puts them in league with the likes of George Ferris, Walter Knott, and Walt Disney.

The Verdict: This book is a quick easy read, laid out almost entirely as interview answers by Ed and Karl. At times they often speak highly technically, which could cause the average reader (myself included) to not understand all of their jargon. But in the midst of this, is a long trail of great stories told by the men themselves -- stories about their hardships and successes, and stories about the people they worked with. It focuses mostly on their work with Disney, but does include many of their greatest achievements apart from their ties with Disney. This is not a book for everyone's shelf, but it is a must have for the collector or researcher of any theme or amusement park.

EDIT - FEBRUARY 19, 2012: I have been informed by the author that this book is now available in Kindle format through Amazon. Aftermarket prices for the print version have remained high for years. So this is a great opportunity for anyone who was looking for a good read rather than investing in a collectible item for their shelf.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Disney Synergy

The idea of synergy within the Disney company is not new. We see much of it today -- such as cross-branding from The Disney Channel into retail outlets, movie theaters, and theme parks. But this is not a new idea by any means. In 1967, Disney's synergy among its various organizations was alive and well. The company went so far as to create an updated diagram of the creative and marketing links shared within. This was not the first such diagram to be created, but given the time period, it tells many great stories. (click on the image to view a larger version)

The first thing that jumps to attention is that the studios were central to the Disney operation. The studios command the largest amount of real estate on the diagram and have more links than any of the others. In 1967, the company was still deeply rooted in its studio beginnings, and this entity formed the core of all the company's activities.

Other divisions of note include Disney World Florida which was in planning stages, the Mineral King ski resort which never found its way to realization, and the Celebrity Sports Center which was a short-lived recreation center in Denver, CO.

Some of the more interesting synergies:

  • Disneyland plugs motion pictures and keeps characters before the public - As much as many Disney theme park purists may dislike the seemingly rapid growth of characters in the parks in the recent years, this was a planned strategy forty years ago. Sleeping Beauty Castle was named while the film was still in production as a means of building interest in the character and story.
  • Disneyland and Disney World Florida provide a major sales outlet for merchandise licensing - The company has always carried various souvenirs for sale in the parks, including ones branded with characters from television and film.
  • WED master plans, produces audio-animatronics, and imagineers and designs attractions for Disneyland, Disney World Florida, and Mineral King - It is no surprise at WED's involvement in the theme parks that we know today, but the Mineral King ski resort was to be home to a small set of imagineered attractions, as well. The Country Bear Jamboree was originally conceived for Mineral King.
  • TV promotes the theme parks and the talents of WED - Walt Disney viewed television as a great promotional tool since its inception. Even after his death, the company still realized the potential that this outlet had in getting audiences excited about the theme parks. We still see this today with such things as the fairly new Disney Travel on Demand series.
  • Music, TV, publications, comic strips, studios, and theme parks promote each other through use of characters, stories, and settings - There are many links amongst these divisions that showcase how the company viewed its intellectual assets as a means of advertising and providing source material to other divisions. These synergies are too many to list here.

Disney has maintained course on realizing the potential it can gain by aligning its various divisions. The ESPN brand is a great example. The cable network occasionally has Walt Disney World centered promotions. Plus Walt Disney World has annual ESPN weekends and will soon re-brand the Wide World of Sports to include the ESPN name.

It would be quite interesting to see an up-to-date synergy diagram.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Epcot 1978: Dubailand?

With the recent activity in Dubai to create a world-class travel destination, it is interesting to note that early plans for EPCOT Center included a United Arab Emirates pavilion.

Press materials describe the pavilion as follows:

"Guests arriving at the Pavilion presented by United Arab Emirates will immediately pass two ancient Arabic Dhows (sailing ships). Inside the pavilion visitors first experience the excitement of a re-created Bedouin encampment. Located at the center of this desert oasis will be the traditional ascetic black tents which symbolize Arabian warmth and hospitality. Guests browsing within these tents will observe a veritable treasure of Arabian hand craftsmanship both on exhibit and for sale. Surrounding this encampment, a series of cultural displays and facades will be constructed authentically duplicating the arid architectural style typical of the Arabic countryside. Guests passing through this area will also be exposed to the fragrant aromas of an Arabian restaurant offering the finest in traditional Arab food.

"Upon exiting the Bedouin encampment, guests are beckoned by the opulent royal marquis to enter an Arabian nights experience, a thrilling magic carpet ride through the Arab World's most fascinating cultures, both past and present. As guests glide above the courtyard area, a powerful mythical character appears before them to serve as narrator and guide through the adventure. Leaving the black tents behind, magic carpets actually pass through the mythical character's apparition into a star-lit night where the narrator describes early Arabic contributions in the fields of astronomy, navigation, and mathematics. Once again, the narrator appears in front of the approaching magic carpets to guide guests into a showcase of medicine, chemistry, libraries, and science, all of which had their earliest beginnings in the Arab World.

"Finally, the mythical character appears once more to present the many cultural contributions occurring in the Arab World today."

Monday, June 30, 2008

No Vacancy: Asian

"The Asian hotel will be strongly Thai in its motif. A theme restaurant and lounge at the top of its 160-foot tower building will provide an enchanting setting for nighttime dancing and stage-show entertainment."

Approximately two-thirds of the 600 rooms would be constructed on the water with the remaining rooms in the tower building, overlooking the Seven Seas Lagoon and recreation facilities. Included in the design were plans for 50 suites, decorated in royal Thai decor.

The planned convention facilities were to be underneath the main hotel facilities to separate them from the public resort areas.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

No Vacancy: Persian

"Stepping right out of The Arabian Nights is the Persian resort which will reign like an exotic far-Eastern palace on the Northwest shore of the lake. Jewel-like mosques and columns will rise above landscaped courtyards, while terraced sundecks offer sculptured swimming pools and 'old Persian' dining facilities."

The 500 rooms of the resort were designed to radiate out from the central lobby, which was to be crowned with a huge dome. Restaurants and swimming pools could be found on terraced decks, overlooking landscaped courtyards.
"Guests will practically be able to sail to their own rooms through a sheltered marina."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No Vacancy: Venetian

"At the Venetian resort, an enclosed small boat harbor and intricate system of waterways will recreate the old world charm of the famed Italian 'City of Canals.'"

The 500-room Venetian was to be designed to resemble St. Mark's Square. The 500-room hotel would feature a 120-foot campanile which would toll the time. The glass-topped lobby would create a "brilliant, sunlit atrium effect indoors."

Shopping would be a unique experience as guests were to have ridden gondolas through waterways flowing under ornate bridges, linking various sections of the resort.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

No Vacancy

As we all know, Walt Disney World opened in 1971 with two theme resort, the Contemporary and the Polynesian. These resorts were designed to handle the crowds at the Vacation Kingdom during the first few years, but they were not expected to handle the growing crowds by themselves for very long. Three other theme resorts were on the drawing board from the start and, as Walt Disney Productions President Donn B. Tatum explained, would "be ready to meet the demands of our audience as experience dictates." These resorts were the Asian, the Persian, and the Venetian.

But before we get into the new hotels, lets take a step back and look at the idea of theme resorts. Theme resorts were not at all a common thing. In fact, Disney had to take care to explain the concept as it was releasing plans for its Florida destination.

"The hotel 'theme resorts' -- so called because each is being planned around a single theme that represents a culture or architectural style around the world -- will offer far more than simply convenience of location to the new 'Magic Kingdom' and its attractions. In design motif, food specialties, recreation activities, convention facilities and even the type of entertainment to be presented, these major hotels will complement each other and the attractions of the theme park."

With the idea of theme resort, Disney began work with Welton Becket & Associates, a former partner who helped design show buildings for the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. Two of Walt Disney World's flagship hotels were completed, but the other three were met with challenges that ultimately led to the demise of the plans.

In the photo above, taken before the Walt Disney World was complete, you can see that site prep had already been started for the additional hotels. A pad was built into the Seven Seas Lagoon for the Asian. Land was cleared for the Persian. Tests were performed on the eastern shores of the lagoon to determine the feasibility of constructing a hotel on that land.

Before the end of the planned five-year "Phase One" which would have brought these hotels to life, the US economy took a hit. With inflation and an energy crisis, tourism dwindled and Disney was not in a position to invest in new hotels.

Ultimately, the Grand Floridian took the place of the Asian hotel. We never did see a resort on the north shore of Bay Lake. But we did get a hotel near the planned location of the Venetian. But why on Bay Lake rather than the Seven Seas Lagoon? The land on the lagoon was not solid enough to hold a building. Test pylons that were built on the site continually sank into the ground. The land to the east of the original site was deemed suitable and there today stands the Wilderness Lodge.

I came across some interesting pictures while researching these hotels. The one above shows Richard Irvine, John Hench, and Card Walker overlooking an early model of the Walt Disney World property. What caught my eye here was that the Asian, Persian, and Venetian hotels, as well as the campground, are all on the map, but the Polynesian and Contemporary are missing.

This graphic was widely circulated, but has some interesting details. First is just the general skyline that was on the drawing board in 1971. We see all five hotels. The Polynesian is still the old-style main house, before the design of the realized Great Ceremonial House was conceived. The monorail cars are all red, and the monorail track goes right through the Magic Kingdom on its way to the Persian hotel. Also, Space Mountain is represented by the old Space Port concept. Finally, Discovery Island obviously has some construction on it.

Stay tuned for my next few posts which will detail the three resorts that were left on the drawing board.

Friday, June 13, 2008

EPCOT 1978: Magic of Morocco

Rather than the Restaurant Marrakesh that we know today, the Morocco pavilion was to have a dinner show called Magic of Morocco. The pavilion would welcome guests with exotic plants in the Hesperides Gardens and jagged rock formations in the Hercules Grotto.

Past the Medina would be the Southern Morocco sector. "Here, lunch can be enjoyed in a desert kasbah where scenes of the Moroccan landscape pass before the diners. Later in the evening the kasbah features the 'Magic of Morocco' dinner show. This presentation combines live action with a panoramic background. A storyteller appears on the stage and begins to relate tales of Morocco. Scenes from his stories appear behind him, and he turns and seems to step into the film itself. He guides the guests through the setting and comes upon a troupe of dancers and acroboats. They, in turn, step out of the film and onto the stage to complete their performace."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Haunted Mansion Secret Panel Chest - Update

Last week, I posted some pictures of one of my favorite theme park souvenirs. Today, Ed at The Blog Wore Tennis Shoes has posted pictures of the Disneyland version of the Secret Panel Chest. He also found some interesting information on the origin of the boxes at DoomBuggies.com.