Frozen at Walt Disney World: Past, Present, Future

Time for another PPF feature – Past, Present, Future.

Today, I’m looking at “Frozen” in the Disney Parks, for one very big reason – Maelstrom, a popular boat ride at the Norway Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase, will close forever on October 6, and construction will begin soon thereafter to re-theme it as a Frozen attraction. The news was made official by Disney yesterday (Sept 12, 2014).

The news has certainly been divisive. While most absolutely agree that Disney needs to get Frozen into the theme parks, it seems that the general consensus is that Epcot, particularly World Showcase, is not the right place in which to shoehorn Frozen. My thought is that World Showcase – the spirit of it, anyway – is supposed to be geared towards education and displaying the non-fictional stories of that country – the culture, the people, etc. In the past, Disney has certainly gone both ways on the fictionalizing of World Showcase pavilions. While Mexico is home to the Three Caballeros boat ride, those characters make up a minor part of an attraction with generally low attendance (it should also be noted that this is the one pavilion in World Showcase that Disney does not operate). In the past, Disney has given the red light to a Mary Poppins attraction in the UK pavilion and to an Aladdin attraction in Morocco – in the case of the latter, it granted character meet-and-greets, but it deliberately refused to insert Agrabah into Morocco, because Agrabah is a fictional land. Well, the requirement for a permanent Frozen fixture in the parks won out over the wish to fictionalize World Showcase.

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Of course, there is a cynical reason for this belief – money. While Epcot is the second-highest attended park in Walt Disney World, it’s possible that this might change over the next three years. Large scale refurbishments to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Star Wars Land) and Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Avatar/Pandora) to be completed by 2017 may well mean that Epcot could drop precipitously in terms of attendance within the WDW resort, and Disney executives are well aware of the vast improvements being made at Universal Studios (Harry Potter Diagon Alley, new King Kong attraction, new Jurassic Park attractions, potential addition of either Batman/Gotham and Lord of the Rings). Essentially, they need to inject fresh life into a theme park that aside from popular mainstays like Soarin’, Test Track and Spaceship Earth, boasts little else, especially attractions that may interest kids. While Nemo and Friends and Mission Space have their fans among kids, there is admittedly little for them to flock to at Epcot. Attractions like Living with the Land, Captain EO (what kids knows Michael Jackson these days?) and Ellen’s Energy Adventure aren’t enough. But, tell kids that Frozen exists at Epcot? It’ll rival Magic Kingdom for dibs on first-park-visited. Frozen will be the hardest FastPass+ reservation to secure. A gift shop dedicated to Frozen would make money hand-over-fist. It might be cynical, but it’s business.

Past/Present

The past and present of Frozen at the theme parks is roughly the same, as it has only been a few months that Anna and Elsa have graced the theme parks. Their meet-and-greet began at the Norway pavilion at Epcot, but it became apparent that Norway wasn’t big enough to hold it. Anna and Elsa were moved to Princess Fairy-tale Hall at New Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom, and it’s currently the most difficult FP+ reservation to attain – you need to book it 60 days out, no question. When they first arrived in Fantasyland, queues of five hours were reported, and Cast Members had to form a human wall and walk people down Main Street USA slowly in order to control the rope-drop crowds that entered the park and began sprinting and stampeding to be first in line. It’s been a success, in other words. Anna and Elsa could also be seen in the new Festival of Fantasy Parade at Magic Kingdom.

In the summer of 2014, Frozen’s presence was expanded, this time at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: a Sing-Along with Anna, Elsa and other characters, as well as a parade culminating at the Sorcerer Hat. There was also a special merchandise area called Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post, as well as a fun-zone called Oaken’s Frozen Funland, where you could ice-skate and build a snowman.

This year will also mark the first year that Anna and Elsa will be part of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas celebrations, where Cinderella Castle will freeze over, courtesy of Elsa.

Future

We know the immediate future of Frozen, thanks to all the news yesterday – an attraction at Norway, and the “summer” festivities being extended to the end of the year, including the sing-along (I got my FP+ for it!) But, what else might go into theme parks?

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First of all, will changing Maelstrom to become a Frozen attraction be the only part of Norway that goes away in favour of Frozen? It’s generally accepted that Arendelle, fictional as it may be, exists in Norway and that the story takes place in the late 18th century (additionally, Arendelle was inspired by real locales in Norway). This may very well provide Disney with the impetus to re-theme other parts of Norway to fit in with Frozen, like changing the wonderful gift shop into a Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post. Askershus, the popular character restaurant, could very easily become more Frozen-centric as well.

Let’s assume that time and budget are not obstacles here, even though they are. With the Hollywood Studios reimagine, as well as the ongoing construction on Pandora (the projects will likely run in the $1.5-2.0 billion range combined), and the next three years earmarked to the two projects, I can’t believe that Disney has the appetite to go after another major construction project, but I’m going to go ahead and dream big anyway.

DHS Frozen

Let’s go to Hollywood Studios first. Currently, the Streets of America section of the park, nestled between Pixar Place and Muppet Land, contains two relatively unpopular attractions – the Studio Backlot Tour and the Lights Motor Action Extreme Stunt Show. Here’s the deal – Disney has no intention to rip apart Streets of America. During November and December, during the Osborne Family Lights Christmas lights display, Disney makes money hand-over-fist from all of the guests that pack into this back corner of the park. Those two months of extreme profit mean that nuking this corner of the park to do a complete overhaul is generally out of the question – but, what if it was overhauled to accommodate Frozen, it being a “winter” theme and all? You could easily transform the Streets of America into Arendelle, complete with the Castle. Further out, where the Backlot Tour currently runs, they could build Elsa’s Ice Palace, with forest in between (with a giant Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post there). You can have an attraction at the Ice Palace, involving Marshmallow, and it could run the gamut from either big roller coaster to something smaller like a 4D attraction. They can install some some B-ticket attractions as well, like a spinner or small coaster for kids (perhaps one that duplicates Anna and Elsa’s playtime as children where Anna is initially injured), and permanently install Oaken’s Frozen Funland within Arendelle. The unique thing about this set-up would be the ability to then flow seamlessly into Christmas/Osborne Lights, since Arendelle will already have the winter treatment (think Hogsmeade Village at Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure). A project such as this, in this location, may also spell the end of Muppet Vision 3D, which I can’t foresee given that the Muppets are amazing, and Disney loves that they own that property. This construction could squeeze it out though, meaning that either the Muppets find a new home, or Frozen doesn’t fit in here.

The main obstacle to this happening at DHS is that construction would have to begin in 2017 or later, because there’s no way they could put everything except Sunset Boulevard behind construction walls for 3 years. Also, a move like this would pretty much mean Cars Land would never arrive at the Studios, though having Arendelle as a Florida exclusive and Cars as a California exclusive could very well be deemed acceptable by Disney.

Now let’s take that exact same idea from DHS but move it over to Magic Kingdom. My belief, ultimately, is that if given the choice, Frozen would go into Magic Kingdom because it will be considered a classic or legacy property, in the same boat as Snow White, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast. Tucked in between Frontierland and Liberty Square is the Liberty Square River and Tom Sawyer Island. Without filling in the river, you could easily establish Arendelle on the southern island and the Ice Palace and Forest on the northern island, while expanding the land crossing in between to accommodate guest traffic. Retheming the Liberty Square Riverboat to be some kind of Frozen boat tour could also be an option. This could of course destroy the illusion that Disney has built at Magic Kingdom, where the themed lands are generally separate. However, the space exists at MK to accommodate Frozen. Disney World, as always, I will accept lifetime passes and deluxe resort suites as payment for these ideas :)

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Ultimately, my thought is that Frozen’s addition to the Disney World theme parks will not end with one boat-ride overlay at World Showcase. There have to more attractions coming – I believe an entire “land” is best – and I believe Hollywood Studios or Magic Kingdom would be perfect to house it. What do you think?

 

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party – Should You Attend?

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Hard-ticket seasonal parties at Walt Disney World are always a point of debate – essentially, are they worth the price of admission? With single-day park tickets for anyone ten or older hovering around the $100 mark, families need to do some serious budgeting to ensure that they can fit any extra events into their vacation. For 2014, tickets for Mickey’s Not-so-Scary Halloween Party, held at Magic Kingdom on select dates from September 1 to October 31, run between $62 and $71 for adults, and about $5 cheaper per day for kids under 10.

What Exactly IS Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party? (MNSSHP)

MNSSHP is a party that celebrates Halloween as only Disney World can celebrate it. While ticket holders can enter the park at 4pm (they don’t need to buy separate park admission for that day just to enter the party; your event ticket is sufficient, but you won’t be able to go to any other parks that day without separate park admission), the party proper kicks off at 7pm. You’ll be given a special wrist band for the event, and anyone not wearing the wrist bands will be ushered out of the park at 7pm (announcements are made in both English and Spanish throughout the park). You will see Magic Kingdom completely decked out – pumpkins, splashes of orange, various characters in costume, and an authentic autumn theme permeate the park entirely. At various locations around the park, you’ll find Trick-or-Treat stations, where costumed Cast Members will dispense – in my opinion – an excellent array of treats. You’ll find some excellent photo opportunities throughout Magic Kingdom during the night, and special and unique character meet-and-greets (for example, Jack Skellington and Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas. Most rides will also be open, and you won’t want to miss either the HalloWishes fireworks show, or the Boo-To-You parade – both are sublime. Finally, everyone – adults included – can dress up in costume for the event (no masks though).

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Tips for Before you Arrive

Timing, to me, is a big deal here. As of today (September 1, 2014), the October 31 party is already sold out. I can understand the allure of attending the Halloween Party ON Halloween, but I don’t believe it’s necessary. Last year, my wife and I attended the very first party of the year, and one of the best things about that particular day is that the park was a ghost-town. We had prime real estate for the HalloWishes (in my opinion, the best fireworks show at Disney World) – right in front of Cinderella Castle – and again had a completely unencumbered view of the Boo To You parade, at the foot of Main Street U.S.A. We only staked out our seats there maybe 30 minutes before the start of the parade. Prior to this (we attended the 2nd of the two parades, the one that ends right at the end of the party), we hit several trick-or-treat spots, were sitting right at the front of the Villains Mix-and-Mingle dance-party meet-and-greet that happens right at the Castle, and we took in a handful of rides too, including must-dos like Big Thunder Mountain and Haunted Mansion. I’m not sure we would have been able to do all of that, or get the front-of-the-line access we had for fireworks and the parade, if we went at a busier time of year. I absolutely loved how quiet Magic Kingdom was that night, and we were able to do everything we wanted, with one caveat – character meet and greets – but we weren’t terribly interested in these anyway.

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A big tip I can give is that if time isn’t a huge concern on your Walt Disney World vacation (as in, you have some to spare), you can do worse than give yourself a break on the day you are attending the party. Since guests with the hard-ticket entry can enter Magic Kingdom at 4pm for the 7pm party, you can take the morning and early afternoon to unwind and relax at your resort, or perhaps have a nice day at Downtown Disney (soon to be Disney Springs), or even go resort-hopping. Disney World is home to a wide range of unique resorts, like Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Grand Floridian – it’s fun to check them out! Conversely, this day can also be your day to other Disney-related things outside of the parks, like the water parks, DisneyQuest, golfing, etc. You can even hit the nearby outlet malls if you’re so inclined. You’ll save a little bit of money on your complete ticket package, and it may be worthwhile to have a set-in-stone scheduled break during your vacation.

Haunted Mansion and Other Rides

My absolute favourite parts of the evening were the parade, the fireworks and riding the Haunted Mansion. Sure, you can do Haunted Mansion at any time, but during the MNSSHP, Photopass photographers will pose you in front of the Mansion’s horseless carriage for “magic” shots, where you will have hitchhiking ghosts Photoshopped in to your photo. Liberty Square and the Adventureland bridge are also locations for these special photos. Madame Leota is also present, sitting on a bench and speaking to guests just prior to the queue entrance.

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While Haunted Mansion is the only attraction with “special” features during the Halloween party, a few other outdoor rides take on special life at night, perhaps even more so during Halloween. I’m talking about Big Thunder Mountain and Jungle Cruise. Last year, we would have loved to go onto the Liberty Square Riverboat, as I had read that this is a special experience during MNSSHP, but it was sadly closed.

HalloWishes and Boo To You

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Seriously, these two things alone are worth the price of admission to MNSSHP. HalloWishes is the Wishes fireworks show on steroids. Not only are there special nods to Disney villains, like Maleficent and Jafar, but you get to see the Castle bathed in colours that are otherwise not utilized. The parade is also absolutely perfect – there’s the “It’s Good to Be Bad” villains float, as well as floats dedicated to the Pirates of the Caribbean and Peter Pan, as well as the Frontierland crew. The absolute best float though belongs to the Haunted Mansion – the hitchhiking ghosts pull up on a mountain of tombstones, and “dead” bride-and-groom pairs dance and spook on-lookers. The dancing grave-diggers are also a hoot, in perfect synchronization, and creating sparks along the parade route with their shovels. At the end, Goofy cycles up, dishing out candy to guests.

The beginning of the parade is also a lot of fun – guests sitting on the sidewalks will be asked to have their limbs completely off the street so that the Headless Horseman can gallop past. It’s a sight to see – he has no head, and is piloting a horse, quickly, through the streets of the Magic Kingdom!

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Souvenirs

Of course, there are extra souvenirs to be had during MNSSHP too (available at pretty much every shop, and to all guests). I picked up a MNSSHP/Haunted Mansion mug that features Mickey and the gang outside of the Mansion. You can get lots of items for your home too – we picked up a Halloween countdown calendar for a good friend that loves Halloween. Special party t-shirts were everywhere as well.

In Summary…

In a word – go. This event is so much fun and definitely worthwhile. Your kids will love it, especially kids that like the Disney villains – they get their due here. This year, there is a special dessert party at Cinderella’s Castle that is a separate hard-ticket event called the Villains Sinister Soirée. The cost is $99. Check out full details here.

Between being able to do rides for a few hours, as well as get special photos, buy special merchandise, take in unique character meet-and-greets, and witness a spectacular fireworks show and parade, this event is well worth your time and money. Make sure to go during a slower time of year to take it all in!

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Robin Williams, Disney Legend

When I was in university, I borrowed a DVD from a friend of mine called “Robin Williams: Live on Broadway”. Over the last 12 years since that DVD was released, I’ve watched it several times, every time in awe of Robin Williams and his innate abilities to make you roll in the aisles laughing, often with only a flailing of his limbs or a facial contortion. The ease with which he transformed from a Texan to a Frenchman to a Canadian to a Scot is incredible; he was a man of a thousand voices and a thousand identities. He was gifted, and he was always on. But, there was a warmth to his voice and in his face that told you that he didn’t think he was on – it was just Robin being Robin, and he loved every minute of it. It was a shock, and with great sadness, that we heard of his passing last week.

Robin Williams’ ties to Disney are numerous. He has been in Disney films and has also appeared in the Back to Neverland short film that appeared the beginning of the Magic of Disney Animation walking tour at Disney MGM Studios. Of course, his most famous contribution to the Disney universe was as the genie in Aladdin, a role that was as quintessential to his career as any. RobinWilliams ran the gamut in his career; he’s done family-friendly films like Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, the Night at the Museum trilogy and Jumanji (a personal favourite of mine). He’s done serious drama, like Good Will Hunting and Dead Poet’s Society. Followers of this blog should put their kids to bed before clicking the play button on the Live on Broadway DVD, because it’s crude. Regardless of what he did though, and regardless of the role, Robin Williams was always perfect.

I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw Aladdin; my parents were pretty liberal when it came to the movies we were allowed to watch, but we always saw the Disney animated features. I always enjoyed Aladdin – Jafar was a fantastic villain, and the idea of genies and magic wishes has always been intriguing to me – but Genie made that film. Not only was he grand, but he was as funny and verbose as the man voicing the character. You could practically see Robin Williams leaping through the screen as Genie; the character was a perfect fit for the actor, and actor a perfect fit for the character. Of course, the bombast and vivacity of Williams was a given, but the sad moments experienced by Genie, and those moments when his heart became even bigger than his persona, were just another slam dunk for the chameleon-like abilities of Williams.

The saddest part about Williams’ death isn’t our loss, though, although the world will never be the same without his off-kilter and manic brand of humour. The saddest part is that Robin Williams was like a magic lamp with a dark genie inside; he could hear the laughter and feel the love perhaps only as an echo, but inside there was something sad and haunting that didn’t allow it to become loud enough to save him. I’ve had several friends and family members that have experienced depression; it’s crippling. It’s one of the worst things that a person can experience, and the love and support and caring and patience of family and friends is vital. Williams’ death is a blow, but hopefully it will carry as its legacy the idea that mental illness and unbalance is a serious issue, and that it isn’t always apparent, and even the ones you least expect can have it. It can’t be wished away, and if I can leave you with one major lesson, it’s this – don’t tell a person that suffers from anxiety or depression “don’t worry about it”, or “it’s okay”, or “just be happy”. Try to understand, and always give them your ear and a shoulder and a hug when they need it.

Robin Williams was a once-in-a-lifetime talent, and he’ll be greatly missed. When I re-watched Live on Broadway last night, I laughed and laughed, but with a heavy heart – the idea that no one will hear him discuss the origins of golf in person again is anathema. Let’s make sure his legacy endures by giving the catalyst of his death the respect and attention it deserves.

He’ll be missed.

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Disney Photography – What, Where, When, How, Why

There are so many wondrous things about Walt Disney World – the rides, shows, fireworks, food and resorts for example. Another key aspect to the grandeur and majesty of Disney World is the visuals, and photography is an important piece to any Disney World vacation.

 

I’m a shutterbug. I love taking pictures at Walt Disney World, because there’s something pretty cool about being able to relive even a walk down Main Street USA by flipping through a variety of pictures – basically, you can create a living montage of your trip through your photos. I’m certainly not any kind of professional – I sadly haven’t learned enough about photography to take it off auto-focus – but I would still like to share as many of my photo-tips with you as I can, mostly because I’m not a professional. Few are, so hopefully these will help you, for just that reason. Every photo I use on this website was taken by either me or my wife, using either a Canon DSLR, a Samsung Galaxy S3, or a Google Nexus. So, that’s roughly the quality of shot that I take, if that helps.

 

The Camera Matters… Sort Of.

 

Like I said above, I used either a Canon DSLR, a Samsung Galaxy S3, or a Google Nexus. In the past, I always used a Blackberry Playbook tablet to take photos when we stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and those came out okay, but tablets aren’t as good as phones even when it comes to camera quality. I’m not going to take my tablet into the parks for the purposes of taking pictures; my Galaxy S3 is pretty decent for picture-taking. That said, I really enjoy using the DSLR for those “I want a really high-res high quality photo of this” shots. Also, the DSLR was amazing for taking pictures of fireworks shows. I basically used the rapid-fire mode and just held my finger on the shutter button, taking 10 or so quick-photos in a row that did some great things for fireworks pictures. My phone has a really nice night/low-light mode on it, so that worked well. Overall, I don’t think you need a DSLR, but the high-res shots it took was well worth lugging the thing around.

The rapid-fire setting is great for Fireworks shows - this is Hallowishes.

The rapid-fire setting is great for Fireworks shows – this is Hallowishes.

 

Take Advantage of the Memory Maker+ Photo Ops

 

Disney Photographers will take your picture at some key places around the parks, including at all character spots, and they will also take pictures of your group with your camera as well. Depending on the photographer, they will use your camera to take 1-3 photos, if not more. What I found for the most part is that they took 2 or 3 shots with my camera, and 4 or 5 with theirs (obviously to entice you into buying the Memory Maker package, which runs around $150). But, you can get some great shots, with everyone in your party, by Disney folk. Just keep in mind that most of them aren’t professionals either, so you’re not going to get miracle shots, just good pictures in prime areas.

 

Don’t Ruin Dark Rides with your Flash!

 

I don’t see it happen too often, but dark rides are meant to be dark. Please don’t use your flash or a video-camera light on these rides. Besides, you’ll get really crappy photos anyway if you do use flash. If you must take a picture on board a dark ride, use the slow-exposure night/low-light setting.

 

Do Take Lots of Photos, From Lots of Angles

 

You can stock photos of Cinderella Castle from anywhere, but why not take your own shots? Get landmarks from different angles, with various points of focus. You may notice things in your shots that you didn’t notice were there, or you may get shots that you can’t find elsewhere on the internet.

 

At the end of the day, I like to have a bit of everything. With digital cameras and high-capacity phones and memory cards, you should be able to photograph everything and anything you want.

Different angle of Tower of Terror - it's quite a large building!

Different angle of Tower of Terror – it’s quite a large building!

 

You Never Know When You’ll Need or Use a Photo

 

My wife makes awesome photobooks, and in addition to crafting them for our wedding guestbook and subsequent photobook, she also made one for our Disney World road trip last fall. You can fill in a lot of small areas on your pages with photos of attraction signs or photos from attraction queues (like the Haunted Mansion tombstones, for example). So, gets lots of pictures of lots of different things, even small things.

 

You Never Know When You Won’t Be Able to Get that Shot Again

Maelstrom is closing at the end of September, meaning that a lot of people not returning to Disney World before that are probably wishing they paid more attention to the attraction, and took more photos, on past trips (myself included). Disney World is constantly changing, and sometimes it’s just little things that change, but often it’s the big things too. When we head down this year, I’m going to take lots of pictures around Echo Lake, especially the Indiana Jones Stunt Show, because Indy will be closing at the end of the year. Also, it’s been rumoured that the Osborne Family Lights could be in its home-stretch. Rumours also abound that eventually Rivers of America in Liberty Square will be closed and filled in in order to make room for another land (maybe a good spot for a huge Frozen attraction, or for the fourth mountain Disney has been trying to build for years). That means no more Liberty Square Riverboat. So, take your pictures while you can, because those targets might not be there on your next trip!

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This sign won’t be around much longer. Take shots while you still can!

My thought is, if you are thinking “should I take a picture of that?”, just do it. Unless you’re a season-pass holder, it might be years before you get to Disney World again. The memories last a lifetime – snap away!

The Sounds of Walt Disney World

While sight is easily the most stimulated of the senses upon entering any part of Walt Disney World, sound and even smell try their best to stake a claim in your brain as well. I’m a person that absolutely loves the sounds that emanate from pretty much every nook and cranny of the Disney Parks, and they are literally everywhere. When you enter the various “worlds” and “lands” of the Disney World theme parks, you are transported to that place, not just through architecture and beckoning icons, but through music and sound, meant to truly immerse you in a place of fantasy. 

Today, I will look at my favourite examples of music and sound that can be found in the Disney Parks, and the affect that they certainly have on me, and hopefully you as well. 

Haunted Mansion (Magic Kingdom – Liberty Square) 

Friends, there will be many lists on this website, and I can assure you that the Haunted Mansion, with its 999 happy haunts, will be a fixture and nearly all of those lists. From the moment you enter the winding queue, leaving the rest of Liberty Square behind, you are greeted by creepy organ music and the distant sound of howling wolves. The Cast Member at the end of the queue beckons you entry, and you are immediately greeted with a creepy voice coming from all around you, as you find yourself in a sealed circular chamber, seemingly with no exit: 

When hinges creak in doorless chambers,
When strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls.
Whenever candle lights flicker, whenever the air is deathly still,
That is the time when ghosts are present, practicing their terror with ghoulish delight. 
Our tour begins here in this gallery, where you see painting of some of our guests as they appeared in their corruptible, mortal state. Your cadaverous pallor betrays an aura of foreboding, almost as if you sense a disquieting metamorphosis. Is this haunted room actually stretching, or is it your imagination, hmm? And, consider this dismaying observation: this chamber has no windows and no doors! Hahaha… which offers you this chilling challenge – to find a way out! HAHAHAHA! Of course, there’s always… my way.

The rest of the narration, punctuated with sharp stabs of badly tuned piano keys, is eventually joined by screams, organ music, and creaking doors. Madame Leota’s séance is narrated by her raspy voice, and the instrumental part of “Grim Grinning Ghosts” is first heard in the ballroom, where ghosts disappear and reappear, dance, and cavort. A trip through the attic brings you face to face with the Bride, whose husbands always end up dead. Leaving the attic, you become part of a “swinging wake”, where the jovial “Grim Grinning Ghosts” is being played full bore, sung by all kinds of ghosts, corpses and marble busts. Lyrics like “the moon climbs high o’er the dead oak trees” are memorable and will have you dancing along. At the end, the Bride reappears, very creepily telling you to “hurry back, hurry ba-a-a-ck… and be sure to bring your death certificate…” Really, there’s no part of Haunted Mansion as an auditory experience that isn’t absolutely cunning. 

Pirates of the Caribbean (Magic Kingdom – Adventureland) 

After boarding your boat, you enter a foggy tunnel, where a mermaid skeleton is your first clue that you shouldn’t be here. The second is the repeated mantra, voiced by a ghostly visage on a cloud of mist, informing you that “Dead men tell no tales…” After briefly witnessing a great pirate battle, you begin the upbeat part of the ride – pirates in their element – drinking, carousing, bidding on wenches at auction. The whole time, you can sing along with “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a Pirate’s Life for me!”

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Toy Story Midway Mania (Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Pixar Place) 

Not a ton here, but you can’t argue with the toe-tappingly good music in the queue – an instrumental version of “You Got a Friend in Me”, along with the comedic and musical stylings of Mr. Potato Head roughly half-way through the queue. 

Splash Mountain (Magic Kingdom – Frontierland) 

I sure hope “Song of the South” is one day released from the Disney vaults, because the music is iconic, and the only place you can really hear it is on Splash Mountain. Songs like “Zip-A-Dee-Do-Da” and “Everyone’s Got a Laughing Place” are excellent. 

World Showcase (Epcot) 

Impressions de France, Three Caballeros, O Canada, Reflections of China Suite, Maelstrom, American Adventure (Golden Dream) – there are so many wonderful examples of music and sounds that can be found in the various pavilions around Epcot’s World Showcase. My favourite in this group is Maelstrom, the ride that is sadly closing to make way for a Frozen attraction. “So, you want to discover the spirit of Norway” is delivered hauntingly well, and as cheesy as the ride can be at times, it’s a favourite that will be missed.

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Spaceship Earth (Epcot, Futureland) 

In the past, this ride has been narrated by Walter Cronkite and Jeremy Irons, but I’ve only ever known the current Dame Judy Dench-narrated version. I think she does a wonderful job, and the music accompanying the ride (it changes based on the time period your ride vehicle is immersed in) is excellent. 

Tower of Terror (Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Sunset Boulevard) 

You get the Twilight Zone music, and the single television set in the corner, where Rod Sterling appears, to give you the back-story. Once you get on your elevator, and begin moving through the creepy Twilight Zone world, occasional sound effects make you think “this is it!”, but it isn’t, not quite yet. 

Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan’s Flight, Under the Sea (Magic Kingdom – Fantasyland) 

These rides are complete with all the big songs from their respective films; The Little Mermaid (Part of Your World, Under the Sea, Poor Unfortunate Souls, etc), Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan. The songs give you that sense of nostalgia, and may get you singing along as well.

It’s a Small World (Magic Kingdom – Fantasyland) 

This ride contains perhaps the quintessential “Disney” song, written by the famed Sherman brothers. It’s catchy, it’s simple, and it’ll get stuck in your head. 

Carousel of Progress (Magic Kingdom – Tomorrowland) 

Jean Shepherd, of “Christmas Story” fame, lends his voice to the iconic father in this revolving theater show, performed by animatronics. During each of the four scenes, he talks to you about how good life is in that particular time period, and the progress that man has made. In between each scene, the family sends you off and then welcomes you back by singing “There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, standing at the end of every day!”, which was actually a quote that Walt Disney himself was fond of espousing. Considering that this is one of the few attractions at Walt Disney World that has Walt Disney’s fingerprints on it, it’s rather fitting. The song, written by the famous Sherman Brothers, is catchy and uplifting.

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Soarin’ (Epcot – The Land) 

The music for this ride is truly epic, and easily makes you believe that you are flying over California, rather than in a theater in Florida. Regardless of what they do with the video (rumoured to be changing to include scenes from Disney World, as well as various places around the world), I hope they keep this music. It’s perfect. 

Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular (Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Echo Lake) 

If you like John Williams’ score from the Indiana Jones films, you’ll love the musical soundtrack in this stunt show. You get all the big songs, and the sound effects during the stunts are very realistic. 

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (Dates in September and October at Magic Kingdom) 

The “Boo To You” parade is absolutely phenomenal, and I highly recommend visiting Disney World during the MNSSHP in order to see it (and by the way, the Happy Hallowishes fireworks show – the Halloween version of Wishes – is widely considered the best Fireworks show that Disney puts on, and I agree!) During the parade, you will hear the wonderful “Boo To You/Happy Halloween”, whose lyrics will change occasionally to accommodate the franchise and characters that are making their way through – be they Pirate of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion or the “Good to be Bad” song when the villains approach. When the parades or fireworks show are not happening, “scary” music is piped through the park, much of which comes from Haunted Mansion. It’s a really magical time to be in Magic Kingdom.

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Walt Disney World Railroad/Monorail (Magic Kingdom) 

The railroad has that iconic “Your attention please! The Walt Disney World Railroad, now boarding for a scenic trip around the Magic Kingdom!” before it begins its chugging. 

The monorail also has announcements that have become iconic, and part of the Disney World canon, simply because when you hear them, you can’t help but think Disney (especially the part in Spanish; t-shirts have been made with these words) – “por favor, mantengase alejado de las puertas!”

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Magic Kingdom Background Loops 

Throughout the Magic Kingdom, you will hear background loops playing in the various “lands” – Main Street USA, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Liberty Square and Adventureland. These loops are generally medleys that contain aspects of many of the songs that you’ll recognize from various Disney attractions and shows. Give a listen the next time you’re on a scenic stroll through the park – it’s a great way to pass the time. 

The Main Street Electrical Parade (Magic Kingdom) 

The music from this parade is really cool and futuristic, and the way the floats and vehicles are lit is amazing. I love this parade. 

Fantasmic (Disney’s Hollywood Studios) 

I don’t think the music gets better at a stage show at WDW than Fantasmic. Not just the iconic “Fantasmic” score, but when it is weaved with songs from throughout the Disney catalog, like Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, Lion King, Aladdin and Fantasia among others, it’s incredibly well done and powerful. 

Honourable Mentions

Certainly, there are many other wonderful auditory experiences at Walt Disney World – Test Track has a great soundtrack, and Mission Space has a great narration sequence (awful song though). The Great Movie Ride has great narration, and the audio clips from the movie scenes you travel through provide a great feeling of nostalgia. You also can’t not mention the music from the various stage shows – the songs written for the Finding Nemo Musical are awesome, and I love the Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid stage shows, too. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, starring Aerosmith, is far too short a ride (only 82 seconds long) but at least it gives you some rockin’ Aerosmith to listen to while on board. There’s also the Imagination song from the Figment ride at Epcot, and I also really enjoy the hyperspeed sound effects on Space Mountain.

Disney World Water Features

Walt Disney World is a happy place, full of wonderful memories and glee-filled moments. It’s a place where you can turn lemons into lemonade, where you can forget all your worries and cares.

In that spirit, I bring you this post, because only a couple hours after I posted my write-up on Wizarding World’s past, present and future a few weeks back, I discovered that my basement was flooding! Therefore, let’s turn some lemons into lemonade – Best uses of water at Walt Disney World!

Water is everywhere at Walt Disney World. There are spectacular water features, like the giant fountain at Epcot, for example. There is also the impressive Seven Seas Lagoon, a man-made body of water at Disney World surrounding the Grand Floridian resort. There are resorts like the Boardwalk, which borders (find out the body of water) and is accessible by boat from Downtown Disney, Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. In short, water is everywhere at Disney World, so here we go!

 Attractions

Splash Mountain is my favourite example of water in an attraction, located in Magic Kingdom at Frontierland. From the moment you enter your log flume, travelling along a track in the water, you are transported into the Briar Patch, where the likes of Br’er Bear and Br’er Rabbit frolic in a wooded utopia. For several minutes, you meander lazily through the patch, seeing the animals in their various homes. Br’er Rabbit is feeling disenchanted with this simple life, and seeks adventure. Of course, it isn’t long until you encounter him in some deep trouble, kidnapped by Br’er Fox, your log flume now climbing the final ascent before making its tall drop into the briar patch below. Keep your eyes open and level at the top of the rise – you’ll get a beautiful view of Cinderella’s Castle from here. Once you drop into the briar patch, your ears will be greeted by a cheerful rendition of “Zip-A-Dee-Do-Da”, welcoming Br’er Rabbit back home. Your chances of getting wet vary on this ride; I came out relatively unscathed the last time we rode it, but apparently it depends mostly on the weight (and therefore movement) of your particular log flume.

Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom is an outstanding water ride – you’re on board a circular raft, and you’re not on a track. The raft moves freely, guided forwards only by the rapids pushing you along the ride course. You will get wet on this ride, especially on the decent drop near the end. There are lots of places to get splashed by streams of water as well, especially by spectators on the bridges above you. The original concept for this ride would have seen the rafts float through the tiger enclosement on the Maharaj Jungle Trek, but Imagineers realized that tigers can swim, so that idea was scrapped. Although we are often programmed to move as quickly towards a ride as possible, make sure to take some time to check out the wonderful queue for this attraction.

Living with the Land is a slow boat ride located at Epcot, sort of like It’s a Small World. It takes you through several labs and agricultural displays, teaching you about hydroponics and plant growth, as well as sustainability. It’s a really cool attraction, I think, not just because of edu-tainment aspect of it, but also because of the stunning visuals that you’re greeted with.

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It’s a Small World is perhaps the ride that people associate Disney World or Disneyland with the most. They know it as the ride with the creepy kids and that song. As a Disney World aficionado, it’s so much more than that. The ride was initially conceived by Walt Disney for the 1964 New York World’s Fair UNICEF Pavilion. It was sponsored by Pepsi, and the song was written by the famous Sherman brothers, Walt Disney’s staff music writers who also wrote the songs from Mary Poppins. In 1971, Small World became an opening day attraction at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, and underwent a major refurbishment in 2005. You travel on your boat through the water, visiting dozens of countries around the world, hearing the Small World song over and over and over again (in different languages as well). It’s a fun ride, and a quintessential one.

The Seas with Nemo and Friends is not necessarily a water-based attraction, but water plays a big role in this Epcot attraction nonetheless. While the track guiding your clamshell through the attraction isn’t under water, the special effects displayed around you are there to make you believe you are underwater. The end of the ride is a series of windows into the aquarium that make up the “The Living Seas” portion of this attraction, and a hologram of Nemo is projected into the aquarium, swimming along sharks and rays and other actual living animals that call the aquarium home. When you disembark from your clamshell, you can spend lots of time perusing the aquariums, checking out the many sea animals below. Turtle Talk with Crush is also part of this attraction, where little kids can ask Crush the Turtle (from Finding Nemo) questions, and have them answered.

Pirates of the Caribbean is my second favourite water-based attraction. Located at Magic Kingdom in Adventureland, you’re in a boat that takes a wrong turn into pirate territory. After spotting a mermaid skeleton and floating under a curtain of mist onto which a projection of Blackbeard’s face warns ye of the danger ahead, the cryptic words “Dead Men Tell No Tales” wafting over the dark waters around you. Soon, all is pitch black and your boat picks up some speed; it makes a small drop, but the darkness makes you think – for just a split second – that you might fall for a long time. (And, if you’re sitting in the front of the boat, you’ll get wet). When you can see again, you are in a scene from one of the movies – you are between two pirate ships firing cannon balls at each other – Captain Barbossa is on one side, and you can expect a few splashes here and there from the landing “cannon balls”. After leaving the battle, you enter a pirate village, where you will encounter drunken and carousing pirates and rapscallions. Buildings are on fire, a wench-auction is taking place, and a pirate is being chased by his wife, rolling pin in hand. You will spot Captain Jack Sparrow from time to time, and at the end the ride, you’ll spot a familiar scene from the first movie – prisoners begging a nearby dog for the key to their cells. The shop at the end is excellent, and so is the queue (keep an eye out for the chess-playing skeleton pirates!) Nearby Tortuga Tavern is considered one of the best counter-service restaurants in the parks, and a full-fledged sit-down version of the Tavern may soon be on the way.

Maelstrom, found in Epcot at the Norway Pavilion in World Showcase, is an attraction worth discussing not just because it is a water-based attraction, but also because it might very well find itself on the major-refurbishment schedule in the near future. The rumour-de-jour is that Maelstrom will soon be rethemed to become Disney World’s first Frozen attraction (I am a little ambivalent about this plan. Not only can Maelstrom and the Norway Pavilion in general not really hold the queue that will no doubt generate due to a Frozen ride, but Disney has always resisted the temptation to fictionalize their World Showcase pavilions, having previously decided against including elements from Aladdin’s fictional setting of Agrabah in the Morocco pavilion. Besides, wouldn’t we much rather see a grander Frozen ride, something involving Elsa’s ice-castle at the top of the mountain?). Maelstrom is such a fun ride. You take a quick trip though “present-day” Norway, before soon being ensconced in Norwegian folk-lore – trolls, living trees, ancient gods. Your boat travels backwards in the water at one point, making you believe you may soon tumble right out of the opening at the side of the attraction building, World Showcase standing right behind you. You change course, of course, and complete your journey through Norway.

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Shows and Fireworks

Water is used on a grand scale in shows as well; special effects designed to simulate water are used on the stage shows for Finding Nemo and The Little Mermaid, and the Backlot Tour attraction/show uses many water-based special effects throughout (though I still don’t think Backlot Tour is really worth your time if you’re a repeat-visitor).

Shows such as Fantasmic! and the Illuminations Fireworks show use water incredibly well. Fantasmic! uses large water and mist curtains to project images from various Disney animated films as you travel through Sorcerer Mickey’s imagination. Once the curtains disappear, many characters from Disney films glide by on boats, waving to the crowd and giving you the effect of a parade within the show. During thePocahontas portion of the show, the Natives arrive on the lake in front of the stage.

In Illuminations, a giant globe floats along the surface of World Showcase Lagoon, water curtains again being used as projection screens for various effects. These effects are really cool, as is the lighting up of various countries around World Showcase.

Bodies of Water

There are numerous bodies of water located around the Disney parks as well, and all are beautifully maintained. In Magic Kingdom, you’ll find a lake in Adventureland, housing the Swiss Family Treehouse and the Jungle Cruise Ride (I only didn’t mention this attraction above because I haven’t experienced it yet). Liberty Square is home to another lake that boasts the Liberty Belle River Boat (sitting next to Haunted Mansion) and Tom Sawyer’s Island. Sadly though, many of the moats around Cinderella’s Castle are being dried out in order to implement more viewing areas for Wishes, as foot-traffic out of the park and parade-viewing crowds often collide in the hub, creating major traffic issues (and potential safety issues).

Epcot is home to World Showcase Lagoon, and Hollywood Studios is home to Echo Lake (though word is that Echo Lake will soon be absorbed into the forthcoming Lucas/Star Wars Land). There is an excellent Muppets fountain at Hollywood Studios as well that makes for a great photo-op.

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If you like water features, make sure you take some long walks all around Animal Kingdom. Discovery River snakes its way around the Oasis and Discovery Island, and was once home to a Jungle Cruise-style attraction. Looking out from one of the many bridges and seeing either the Tree of Life or Expedition Everest in the distance are truly beautiful sights. Water is also a big part of Kilimanjaro Safaris, where animals like hippos and crocodiles reside.

Hotels

Many hotels have great water features as well, and many are built right on the water (Boardwalk, Beach and Yacht, Saratoga Springs). Port Orleans borders the Sassagoula River, and the Grand Floridian and Contemporary resorts are surrounded by the Seven Seas Lagoon.

Furthermore, you’ll find amazingly-themed pools at all of the resorts as well. For example, the Caribbean Beach resort has the Fuentes del Morro pool, themed like a colonial fortress complete with pirate theming. The Yacht Club Resort has a mini water park called Stormalong Bay, complete with a waterslide, sand-bottom pool and lazy river. If you enjoy lounging by the water, Disney World has lots of great options.

 

Washrooms

 

Well, washrooms (okay, RESTROOMS to all you Americans :P) are full of water, so why not include them? I include them because even the washrooms at Disney World are themed – the Rapunzel washrooms are considered the nicest in all of Walt Disney World. I also like the ones just behind Gaston’s Tavern in Fantasyland – very nice, and decked out to look like it’s in a quaint French village. I will also give a big shout-out to park operations here – the washrooms at WDW are maintained incredibly well, cleaned throughout the day, and very spacious.

 

Well, there you have it – a much-longer-than-I-initially-thought-it-would-be perspective on the various uses of water at the Disney parks. I’ve never been to the water parks – Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon – so it would be unfair for me to comment. I’m sure I’ll check them out eventually, but not on my upcoming trip. Too much to do in the theme parks!

 

What is your favourite use of water at Disney World? Tell me in the comments below!

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Minding Your P’s and Queues

Waiting in line for rides might not be anyone’s cup of tea, but it’s an inevitability when at Disney World. Even if your wait time is 5 minutes, it still means walking from the queue entrance to the ride vehicle. Luckily, Disney World has decided that it doesn’t want part of the park experience while waiting in line to involve staring at lifeless grey concrete; the queue itself should also be part of the attraction. Here are my favourite queues (in no particular order) at Walt Disney World!

The Seas with Nemo and Friends

You can argue that the queue really begins with the attraction sign, and just outside of the queuing area for Nemo and Friends, you will find small sculptures of the eponymous characters, as well as the seagulls from Finding Nemo bleating “mine! Mine! Mine!” repeatedly. Once inside, you are immersed in an environment designed to replicate the seabed.

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Haunted Mansion

 

From the very beginning of this queue, you are plunged into an atmosphere designed to send a chill down your spine, especially if riding at night. Located in Liberty Square at Magic Kingdom, the queue meanders in such a way that after a certain point, you can no longer see the rest of Liberty Square behind you. Instead, you are walking down a long aisle, tucked into a bend, water to your left and the mansion to your right. You begin to hear a sharp wind fighting its way through the air. A dog howls in the distance. A floorboard creaks. As you draw closer, you will encounter a horseless horse-drawn hearse before entering the cemetery. First, busts of various family members will greet you. Beyond a small fence, crooked and aging tombstones poke up through the grass on a small rise, their epitaphs spelled out in rhymes, describing the suspect ways in which the name-bearers perished. You will also find a haunted book-shelf, its books poking out randomly, seemingly on their own. A large coffin holds Captain Culpepper Clyne, and an organ ominously allows you to play a variety of instruments through its pipes. Madame Leota has also set up shop in the queue, and will even quiz you if you stick around. At the end of the queue, you will be beckoned entry into the stretching room, where your Ghost Host will remind that you there are no windows, and no doors…

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Pirates of the Caribbean

 

A walk through a Caribbean bunker, you will find two skeleton pirates in a cell playing chess, along with displays of old weapons and cannonballs. Soon, you find yourself on a dank dock, awaiting your trip into a pirate bay.

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Spaceship Earth

 

The pessimist may say there is no real “queue” here to speak of, but I am always excited whenever I make my way up the ramp into the giant Epcot ball. Perhaps it’s because you get this feeling of “there’s really something in here!” But, I love that walk, and then hopping aboard my ride vehicle to begin my ascent into the ball, and into history.

Test Track

 

This is a really fun queue – you get to design the car you’re about to test! My wife and I always get a kick out of designing the worst-looking car possible, always maxed out to the extreme on one of the 4 test categories. It makes the time go by quicker on what is generally a somewhat slow-loading ride.

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Toy Story Midway Mania

 

From the second you enter this queue, you are shrunk down to the size of a toy. All around you, you are surrounded by larger-than-life Barrel o’ Monkeys monkeys, crayons, and pick-up sticks. The ceiling is a giant Scrabble board. Scattered on the walls are giant playing cards and DIY play sets drawn up by our very own Andy. On the far end of the queue, a giant animatronic Mr. Potato Head regales us with song.

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Tower of Terror

 

The queue for Tower of Terror begins outside, where you walk the grounds of the fabled Hollywood Tower Hotel. The place is old and in disrepair, brick crumbling here and there; green signs point you to various on-site locations such as the Arboretum. Once inside, you will encounter a lobby outfitted with cobweb-covered furniture, antiques, curios and luggage (bought from various auction houses in Los Angeles). You enter the library, where Rod Sterling appears on a television set and explains the backstory – 4 people disappeared from the elevator that mysteriously sought a 13th floor in the 12-story hotel after being struck by lightning. You then descend into the boiler room of the hotel, where you will board your elevator, in search of the Twilight Zone…

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Expedition Everest

 

Expedition Everest, located in the Asia section of Animal Kingdom, can be spotted from nearly every expanse of this large park. The queue entrance is relatively non-descript, and it snakes its way through Himalayan artifacts, including animal skulls. The attention to detail is excellent.

Star Tours

 

You begin your Star Wars adventure by walking under a hulking AT-AT that periodically makes its signature firing sound. Next to it, you can see an Ewok village poking through the trees of Endor. Once inside, you will encounter C3PO and R2D2, Star Wars music regaling you the whole way.

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Muppet Vision 3D

This queue is special because sight gags are everywhere. From the various false doors along the queue corridor, to the “Key is under mat” sign at the Security Desk (pro-tip: look under the mat!), to the Net-Full-of-Jello, this queue really has it all. The Muppets is truly a special franchise, and one can only hope that Disney goes full-on with Muppets attractions in the future.

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What is your favourite queue? Sound off below!