Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Monday, February 07, 2005

Walt Disney World - Day 3 - February 7, 2005

Walt Disney World '05

Day 3

February 7, 2005

The early wake up call

Just as I had planned the energetic duo of Stitch and Mickey called at 6AM to wake me up. As mom was going to sleep in, I listened to the banter over the handset, then set a second wake up call for her.

I was excited about my 8:45 appointment, so I was up, showered, dressed, Ada Ada Ada and at The Riverside Mill foodcourt in record time.

home, they seem to be a little bit short staffed here at the food court. Its about , they have one cashier on duty and a pretty scary looking line. All I wanted was a bagel and cream cheese, and I debated waiting in the line, but a few moments later some more cashiers came on duty and I was able to score my bagel and cream cheese ($). I finished by bagel and cream cheese, and although like to make it to appointments early, I though it was still a bit too early.

I walked down the hallway to the Medicine Show and popped into the game room to look around. You remember that slogan "If it's too loud, you're too old"? Well I must be getting too old for video games, as I thought the noise level in the game room was ridiculously high. Note that I was the only person in the game room, so it was the sound from the games in attract mode that was really loud.

I took a look around, and realized that I was actually in an arcade that focused mainly on video games, and very little on redemption or prize games. Oh yes, they had a handful of all the popular prize games, but I didn't notice and redemption games except a could skeeball machines that were marked out of order. My guess is that they are getting out of the redemption prize business in their resort game rooms.

I noticed a nice selection of pinball machines, and a section with what I am later realizing is a hot new line of games, the Retrocade series, with remakes of classic video games, sometimes 2 or 4 in the same cabinet. While that is all well and good, I walked up to a Space Invaders game, and thought how cute. I thought the 50 cent price tag was overdoing it however.

I looked around the arcade, but in the end decided not to play any games. I walked out to the front of the resort, and took a seat on the wall to await a bus. It seems the benches must have been recently sprayed down and were still wet.

A short time later a bus pulled up destined for the Magic Kingdom. I boarded the bus and we were off. I noticed in the outskirts of the resorts main parking lot an area where they were staging morning bus operations. I noted not too many people were on the bus to the Magic Kingdom, which is quite understandable since its not even 8AM yet and the gates don't open until 9.

I arrive at the Magic Kingdom

I note the time as being about 8:10 when I step off the bus and make note that return bus service would originate from Stop #13. The superstitious side of me winces. One of the nice benefits of staying at a Disney Resort is not having to deal with the Transportation and Ticket Center (commonly known as the TTC), where all arriving guests have to embark on either a monorail or ferryboat ride to the Magic Kingdom. A move which while inconvenient does help to build the suspense as you head towards the park, and I suspect may help regulate traffic leaving the parking lot as well. Instead of being dropped off at the TTC, resort guests are dropped off at a bus station that is right next to the main entrance plaza.

Due to the new useless bag checks, the walk to the entrance plaza is a bit more indirect as now you have to stay along the edge of the lagoon until you reach the security checkpoint which is approximately in the center of the entrance plaza. Figures the one day I don't have any bags, the "No Bags" line isn't open, but that's not a big deal as there aren't many people entering the park at this time of the morning anyway.

Past the security checkpoint I walk around the entrance plaza, which is where they are holding early arrivals until 9am. I note guests entering through the last section of turnstiles on the far right, a section which is roped off. I explain the nature of my appointment to the cast member who is guarding the rope, and he allows me to join the line of guests who have been approved for early entry into the park.

One inside the park, further ropes restrict you so that you must use the right hand side tunnel under the railroad station, which is a wise choice as that is the side that the rental center is on. I walk through the railroad station tunnel, where I get my first glimpse of the trip of Main Street USA. Not watching where I am going I narrowly avoid tripping as I not so smoothly step off the curb and into Main Street.

I look at my watch and realize I have about 30 minutes until my appointment time. I walk through the town square, where I see some cast members setting up ropes around the main flagpole area. I wonder what that could be about. I decide to take care of some preappointment business, then I take the time to stroll down a deserted Main Street. I find that I can walk all the way to the Hub and back. It makes sense as Disney has created one of their hottest meal tickets at the Magic Kingdom in the mornings. Breakfast with Cinderella inside Cinderella castle is the HOT ticket, and parents with their own little princesses go to the ends of the earth to score the very limited breakfast tickets each day. Sure they also have a nice early breakfast at Crystal Palace, but that is clearly second fiddle to breakfast with Cinderella. That, incidentally, is NOT why I am here this early.

I do decide to grab a table out in front of the Bakery and watch. Remember those parents and their own little princesses. Well they really take this breakfast with Cinderella seriously. The little girls all get dressed up in the princess costumes of their favorite Disney princesses (yes, the costumes are available in the gift shop). It was an entertaining sight to see and at about 8:35 I figure 10 minutes is the accepted window of arriving at an appointment.

David goes to check in

following directions I had received some 3 months prior, I made myself to the garden area next to City Hall. I found the garden itself to be empty, but I noted a sign in front of the Package Pick Up building that indicated that Group Tour Sign In was inside the Package Pick Up area.

I entered the building and walked over to a sales clerks counter that was being repurposed as a tour check in desk. After confirming I was in the right spot, and confirming that I was expected on the guest list, I was officially welcomed. The welcome process included handing me a personalized name tag that is of an exclusive design for the tour which I was about to take. I was told that nametag was mine to keep, but that I should not get too attached to the lanyard I was being handed. The lanyard contained blue "Escorted Guest" backstage credentials, with several stipulations "Magic Kingdom Only/Escorted Only/Not valid for admission" etc. I noted that I was ID#: KTTK-07. In case you haven't figured it out, it the Keys to the Kingdom tour.

Welcome to the Keys to the Kingdom Tour.

In addition to getting my name tag, and a security lanyard, I was also handed a radio and a lunch menu. Hey, my kind of meeting, we are getting the important decisions out of the way early! The person checking me in took my lunch order for our lunch that would occur at the Columbia Harbour House. I noted the presence of Sweet Tea on the menu, and eagerly opt for that and the Fish and Fries basket.

I was told I could meet my tour guide out in front of the building at 8:45, and that I could help myself to complimentary coffee and bottled water while I waited. I went outside and found a bench alongside the other people who would be taking the tour with me. As you may suspect the 8:45 check in time is part of the plan to ensure that everybody is there and ready to start promptly at 9:00.

While I waited for the tour to begin, I watched the Grand Opening show. At the Magic Kingdom and at Animal Kingdom they make a big to do at park opening. At Magic Kingdom, the Disney characters arrive at Main Street USA aboard the parks steam train, while some catchy welcome music plays. The characters wave to the people assembled outside the gates waiting to get in, then at just about the same time the characters walk down the ramp, the park gates open. The characters that rode in on the steam train quickly duck backstage, but don't worry a slew of characters hangs out on Main Street USA, especially in Town Square for the first few hours the park is open. It was unique seeing this opening ceremony and the crowds filling Main Street from inside the park gates. They still try to plead to the incoming crowds to "Now, please WALK to your first adventure"

Let the Tour Begin!

Shortly after the opening ceremony has concluded, Mark comes out and introduces himself as our tour guide. We then proceed to take care of the technology by learning how to put ton the radios. (The radios came equipped with an earpiece like I hadn't seen before. Its basically an ovallish plastic piece with a speaker mounted in the middle. You can more or less shove your ear through the oval ring so that your ear acts as a built in clip, and thanks to the human anatomy it causes the speaker to rest right over the opening of your ear lobe. A wire runs down from the earpiece to a radiopack that you can clip to your belt. When you put it on, it can be a very discreet setup.

Let me now say that I hear the radios are a recent addition to Disney's guided tours, and they are a fantastic addition. I have taken several guided tours, and nothing is worse than being stuck in the back of the group where you either can't hear the guide, or its very hard to hear the guide. Thanks to these radios no mater where you are in relation to your guide, it sounds like the guide is right next to you. It also gives the guide more freedom to move away from the group to point things out, or can carry on with the narration while walking from one point to another. I suspect the guides also like not having to strain their vocal cords by talking loud for the entire tour. Mark also pointed out the very distinctive plaid vest he was wearing. "I can virtually guarantee you that only four people in the entire park have vests quite like this one, and all four of us are in charge of Keys to the Kingdom." he also showed us his walking stick, its the top of a gentleman's walking stick actually, about the length of a conductors baton. (When a female guide gives the tour, they carry a riding whip) The plaid vest and distinctive prop are both there to help you quickly identify your guide should you get caught in a crowd. On other tours that I did not participate in I noted the guide used a light up baton, not unlike what an airfield crew member would use, but with fancier LED lighting. I thought this also to be a neat innovation as they could give tours at night.

We conducted a sound test of the radios and learned to make sure it was always turned to channel 1, or you may hear a different tour. Before formally beginning the tour, Mark explained that this was the Keys to The Kingdom tour, and that we would be taking a 4-5 hour walking tour that would include both on-stage and backstage areas, to include but not limited to the Production Center and the Utilidors. He also said the tour would include lunch and rest breaks. For those not familiar the Keys to the Kingdom Tour endeavors to point out what makes Disney Disney, how the park has become the #1 amusement park in the entire known universe. It also endeavors to present a slice of backstage magic, to fulfill everybody's dream to peek around backstage. Its always a good idea to make sure everybody is in the right place before starting out.

Editor's Note: The Keys to The Kingdom tour reveals lots of information, some of which is 'confidential' information which they share only with their Cast Members and invited guests. While no formal paperwork is signed, you do swear to Walt that you will not divulge what you see and learn backstage. I will be honoring Disney's request in this write up, and therefore will not be including those parts of the tour which deal with backstage information.

Okay, now with everybody's properly equipped, and the agenda out of the way, its time to formally start the tour. We started by heading to the main flagpole in the center of Town Square. Once at the flagpole its time to break the ice with some introductions. Mark explains that since this is a Disney meeting, it is only proper to do the introductions the Disney way, that is the way they introduce themselves at meetings. That is to go around the group and state three things about yourself: Your name, where you are from, and most importantly, your favorite Disney character.

I'm "David Bowers - Cincinnati, OH - Goofy" for the record. I noticed a trend that a lot of people in our group were from Illinois. We started with Mark, and went around our group, a full group, as we were told of 20. After the introductions were out of the way, Mark gave us a trivia fact to ponder. He asked us to guess how many Disney characters we had to choose from one we gave our favorite. We made guesses in the hundreds but that was low, the real answer is about 1,100 different Disney characters. And what a segue into the next point. We were told there are no employees at Disney World, but there are about 55,000 cast members. You will note the term cast member. Disney was a showman, and his parks are no exception. They are though of as an interactive show, and the people you would think of as employees are all a part of the cast, each with a role to play, presenting this show to you the guest.

We then headed into company value type stuff. Mark pointed out that with 55,000 cast members everybody has to work together as a team. Mark then asked what does T.E.A.M. stand for. At this point everybody that has ever sat through a teamwork class is ready to chant "Together Everybody Achieves More", but this being Disney, its not quite right, they use "Together Everybody Achieves Magic". Same concept, but with a Disney spin. From there we moved on to the company values, which they have dubbed Keys. I think you can see where the name of the tour came from.

The four Keys which Disney has established to guide their actions are, in order: Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency. It's not just important that all four Keys be present, but they are prioritized. Let's think about that for a moment. I'm sure you'd agree that safety is the trump card. If it isn't safe, I don't care how courteous it is, how good the show is and how efficient it is. Taking Courtesy, yes it is more important for it to be safe, but if its not courteous (or guest friendly) it makes little difference how good the show is or how efficient it is, and so on down.

At this point Mark set up the tired routine of saying there was going to be a test at the end, but he is going to give us all the answers. We talked for a bit about the 4 keys, then he told us we were going to stroll down Main Street, but that we should be on the lookout to observe the 4 Keys in action.

We regrouped in a quiet spot off of Center Street. Its a quiet alcove where the artisans work drawing caricatures and cutting silhouettes. At this point we talked about the keys in action.

For safety he pointed out the (useless) bag check as a way they ensure guests safety, and also pointed out how the sidewalk edges on Main Street are painted to help to better distinguish the step down. (Now ya tell me!), he also pointed out that the doors on the main street shops are open. The doors exhibit three Keys, for one an open door won't hit somebody so its safer, its more courteous and presents an atmosphere inviting you inside, and people can come in and out of the building faster if the doors isn't opening and closing. Also for safety, he made a big deal about the lightning rods, of course they aren't called lightning rods at Disney, and I didn't have quite enough enthusiasm for lightning rods to catch the ephuseium. What is interesting about lightning rods is that at the Disney Studios park, at the head of Hollywood Blvd. there is a stand that has a giant Mickey Mouse on top of a tall spire. If you notice, Mickey's head is tilted so that one ear becomes a lightning rod.

To demonstrate a bit of clever show, in this alcove if you look above you there is a window advertising Voice Lessons, every so often you will hear a singer singing scales, just like you might here somebody practicing the piano if you stand under the window advertising Piano Lessons. They are all subtle bits that are included to totally immerse you in the atmosphere. We talked about how the big focus on guest happiness is a direct result of Walt's wife Lillian. Walt and Lillian traveled a great many places together, and she noted that in most of them the people aren't very friendly to you. Disney would be one major destination that would change all that. The expectation of high guest service lives on in the parks even to this day.

Another example of a move to improve the guest experience is demonstrated in how the characters are presented now. In the classic years, there was no character meeting schedule, you just came upon them by chance as you toured the park, then as soon as a character made their presence known they were swarmed with families and it was survival of the fittest to see the characters. Now they have designated character greeting areas and times. This isn't to say they don't still have roving characters you can meet by chance, but it does mean that for the more popular characters there are places set up where you can stand in an organized line and wait your turn to see the character. Those ropes I mentioned that were being setup around the main flagpole. There were forming 4 lines that guests could line up in to meet the characters who were standing around the flagpole. There are other character meeting areas elsewhere throughout the parks.

We talked a bit about the Magic Kingdom as a show. Walt made his start in the movies, and the Magic Kingdom is very much modeled after that movie going experience. Starting with the monorail ride over to the park, you can see 4 resorts. These 4 resorts serve to introduce some of the themes which you will be seeing in the park. They are 'movie trailers' as it were. You have the Contemporary representing Tommorowland, the Polynesian representing Adventureland, the Grand Floridian's Victorian architecture giving a hint of Main Street, and more recently Wilderness Lodge, (and Ft. Wilderness for that matter) representing Fronteirland. Okay, so you arrive at the park, and you will notice standing at the entrance plaza that you can't see into the park. Just like going to the movies you can't see the show until the curtain rises. In the case of the Magic Kingdom the act of the curtain rising is when you walk through the tunnel under the train station, and come out at the head of Main Street. But, don't zip through that tunnel too fast or you may miss the big movie size posters along the train station tunnels that advertise the attractions that are waiting for you inside. Continuing on, the first thing you come across when you enter Main Street is the popcorn cart.

The movie symmetry continues down Main Street. While movies have opening and closing credits, Main Street contains the Magic Kingdom's credits, and they can be seen along the second story windows lining Main Street. There are still a few main street windows available, and having your name put on one of them is the highest honor you can receive at Disney.

Before going to look at a few windows, he pointed out the forced perspective architecture. Its an old movie making trick, and Disney uses it quite frequently. The trick is to make a building look much larger than it really is. The most common way of doing that is to make things progressively smaller as you go up, so the first floor is full size, but the second floor is smaller in size than the first floor, and the third floor is smaller in scale than the second floor. Its hard to notice it from the ground, but its quite an effective trick. Mark told us that one main street building is built entirely full scale, he asked us to guess which one. After some wrong guesses mostly centered around City Hall, he pointed out that the building that houses Tony's Town Square Restaurant, and the Town Square Exposition Hall is built full scale. The reason is that they wanted to hide the Contemporary Resort, because, after all you are in turn of the Century USA, and the futuristic Contemporary just would not fit the theme. Likewise Tommorowland is built with a big gap along one side to make the contemporary resort a featured part of the skyline. He also pointed out that most buildings in the parks have false fronts, or facades. This also harkens back to movies where only the parts of a building the audience can see are finished, the rest is left plain.

We then walked back out to Main Street and he pointed out a few examples of the windows. The first window he showed us was M.T. Lott. "Empty Lott" is what was at Disneyworld prior to Disney coming to down. More interesting you can see a list of company names, those company names, such as Reedy Creek Development, were the fictitious company names which Disney used to be able to deviously purchase 40+ square miles of real estate in Florida without being discovered at bargain basement prices.

We also saw Card Walkers window, or "Justice of the Peace". The story there goes that Card was the only one who was able to mediate disagreements between Walt and Roy Disney. We also took a look at Dick Nunnis's window, who was instrumental in designing Walt Disney World.

The credits do not appear in some random order, you start with the statue of Roy Disney at the head of Main Street who served as the Producer for the Florida project, and you end with Dick Nunnis who served as the Director for the Florida project, just like you would order them in a movie.

It was also explained to use that the resort was originally going to be called Disney World, as a parallel to Disneyland out in California. When Roy was forced to take on he project after Walt's death, Roy wanted to make it clear that even though he was opening the park, it was still Walt's brainchild. Thus the resort name was changed to Walt Disney World, so that you didn't loose sight as to who started it all. It was also explained that no other Disney resort bears Walt's name.

We returned to Main Street and took a short rest break watching the main street trolley show while Mark helped perform "crowd control duties" I wonder if he only described his role in those terms as we were on a tour.

The trolley show (which was being presented using the park omnibus since part of the trolley track is out of commission is part of the morning entertainment which involves a short song and dance number involving actors and actresses who ride the trolley up Main Street and stop every so often to get out and perform song and dance routines. Just part of the atmosphere performers in the park.

While that show is going on, let me fill those of you who have not been to the Magic Kingdom before in. The first section you come to upon entering the park is Main Street USA. Main Street USA endeavors to by Anytown, USA at the turn of the last century. It is set at a very specific time period, a time when electricity was in its infant stages, a time when the horseless carriage or automobile was brand new. A time when everything happened downtown and along the town square in zillions of small towns across the nations. Look around Main Street, USA, you have the train station, City Hall, an Exposition Hall, barbershop (that is a real barbershop!), movie palace (that used to be a movie palace, but now is just a gift shop), Emporium, (the old time downtown department store), the confectionery, the Bakery, and all those things so essential in old time USA. BTW: If you ever wondered if they were pumping hot chocolate chip cookie smell into the air by the Bakery, they are. Mark showed us the vent that the smell comes out of. Just look for a smallish normal air vent on the underside of the porch roof in front of the Bakery. The architecture is Victorian in nature, with pastel colors and delicate decorative work. American flags line the rooftops of the buildings, and at the head of the street is the formal Town Square complete with the parks main flagpole. Also, just like old time USA, the main flag is taken down at sundown every night with the fanfare of a marching band. A cynic may claim Disney is cashing in on the resurgence in patriotic spirit, but that's the way it has always been at the Magic Kingdom. The speakers along Main street play classic old time harmonies, or as seemed to be the case during my visit songs from musicals that are set in turn of the century America. I know I heard selections from both the Music Man, and Oklahoma.

Okay, the Main Street show out of the way, we go to explore another example of courtesy and efficiency, the Tip Board. The Tip Board is something that I personally think is a really neat idea. I know a lot of parks have boards with oversize park maps and perhaps a show schedule, Disney goes a lot further. The typical tip board not only tells the park hours and the show schedule, it also lists every attraction in the park, with a little teaser blurb about each one (i.e. Sail with the Pirates for "Pirates of the Caribbean" The tip board will also tell you what section of the park each attraction is in, and if Fastpass is available at that attraction. Now, the thing that really sets Disney's tip boards apart is that they are not static. There is an attendant there not only to answer questions, but also to keep the board up to date. You see the attendant is in communication with park operations, and is therefore able to post the status of each attraction. This may we the wait time for the attraction, the operational status of the attraction "Temporarily Closed", or "Closed for Refurbishment", the attractions hours id they differ from the parks, or the message that all Disney fans love to see "No Waiting!"

We continued from looking at the Tip Board to proceed to a spot outside the Crystal Palace restaurant. We used this stop to discuss theme transitions. Crystal Palace sits on the border between Main Street USA and Adventureland. Let's look at the architecture of the building. The Main Street side of the building has a big veranda porch on the front, while the Adventureland side has no porch but has a lot of trees overhanging it. The off-white restaurant also serves to cleanse the visual palette between the pastel colors of Main Street, and the vibrant bright bold colors of Adventureland. Mark also pointed out to us that the castle forecourt show was in progress, and that as we walk to Adventureland, to walk slow, and you will hear the castle show gradually and almost unnoticeable fade away, then about a step or two of no sound, then we started hearing the tribal drums of Adventureland. Yes the sound systems are calibrated that precisely. When you walk at a normal speed you usually fail to notice the transition.

We proceeded into Adventureland and took some seats along the rock-hewn benches that overlook the Swiss Family Treehouse. As Mark pointed out when you are on a 5 hour walking tour, any chance you have to sit down for a few minutes is great. It was at this stop that Mark gave us Cliff's notes version of the Walt Disney Story. Walt was born in Illinois, but related mostly with Marceline, although he only lived there for 5 years. Walt got his start in the movie business by producing cartoons. Cartoons in those days were 3-5 minute shorts that ran before a feature length film. The producers of those cartoons did not become famous, rich, or well-recognized. Showman that Walt was he wanted to have the fame, glory and money, and so announced that he was going to produce the first feature-length animated movie.

Feature length cartoons were unheard of in those days, and Walt took a lot of jeering from rival movie studios Walt pushed on and at a cost of $1 million, which was more than studios were spending on live action movies, Walt produced Snow White And The Seven Dwarves, a movie that became an Oscar winner and netted Walt about $38,000,000. Clearly enough money to buy a big fancy new studio and set forth producing more animated features. Walt followed that success up with Pinochio, and as fate would have it, he pushed his luck with his third animated feature, Fantasia.

While Fantasia has a following today, originally it was a flop. Walt's features all had to be bigger and better than the one before, and for Fantasia, Walt decided he wanted a full immersive experience.

Some examples: During a flower scene in Fantasia, Walt wanted ushers to tiptoe through the theater spraying floral scented perfumes, when it rained in the movie, Walt wanted theatres to have sprinklers to drip water down on the audience, and perhaps the kicker, Walt wanted theater owners to invest in something called Fantasound. Fantasound was a sound process not unlike today's Surround Sound. While Surround Sound is now a standard feature in most theaters, it was unheard of at the time, and worse, the estimate for equipping one theater with Fantasound was $30,000. A very expensive proposition that most theater owners could not justify spending, especially with no assurances that the system would have and long term use.

So in reality most theaters played the movie in whatever sound system they had available, and since they weren't going for the sound system, they forwent the other novelties like the sprinklers, and then they decided not to bother with the perfumes and other effects. Without the special effects it really brought to light the fact the movie had no real compelling story line, so audiences just didn't understand what Walt was trying to accomplish. Walt learned from his mistakes, so joining the other more popular explanations for the creation of Disneyland, Disney wanted an environment that he could totally control and regulate the entertainment experience. This joins the other popular reasons of "A place where adults and children could have fun together" and "A place to visit the Disney characters" as reason for the creation of Disneyland.

Now for the segue in Adventureland, shortly after Fantasia, Walt had the good fortune to go to Africa on safari, as well as take a long cruise down the rivers of Africa. (I bet you can guess where this is going...) Walt wanted to share the experience with the public and so sent a film crew to produce a True-Life film series based on the safari and other wildlife related topics. When the plans for Disneyland were made, this translated into a Jungle Cruise that the whole family can experience. The first version of the Jungle Cruise was meant to be a serious excursion, taking the guests on a safari cruise. It didn't take too long before the tone of the attraction was changed to what it is today, which is a humorous corny ride with lots of pun-filled jokes.

But before we go on our Jungle Cruise, lets take a short rest(room) break. We engage in some small talk with each other, and with Mark. The questions asked during this break were all clarifications of information presented earlier.

After our break, we don't head directly to the Jungle Cruise. First we take a little tour of Adventureland, including the Swiss Family Treehouse from a distance. The treehouse is a walking tour through the treehouse from the famous book and movie. It is also a concrete manmade tree, covered with fabric leaves that are very realistic and all attached by hand.

We then proceeded forward and he pointed out that Adventureland does not endeavor to showcase one particular region, instead several exotic regions are represented. You have Hawaii and the South pacific represented by the Enchanted Tiki Room, Aloha Aisle and the architecture in the first area of Adventureland, if you continue on you pass through the Arabian themed Argabah bazaar, and then into the Spanish inspired Caribbean Plaza. To the side you have the African themed area for the Jungle Cruise.

We walked up and stopped by the Enchanted Tiki Room. Mark pointed out that the Enchanted Tiki Room represents the first use of audio animatronics in a Disney attractions. Audio Animatronics differ from cruder more traditional animated figures in that Audio Animatronics are completely programmable and can perform complex series of movements without repeat, whereas the more traditional mechanical or hydraulic systems relied on a limited range of motions (usually back and forth) that simply repeated. The Enchanted Tiki Room itself is a build with a multi level thatched pagoda like roof. Mark asked what the roof was made of. The guesses were grass or straw. Mark responded that in the lightning prone environment the park is in, using a real thatched roof would be dangerous. He then took the top of his walking stick, climbed up on a bench and started striking the roof. Yup, its a metal roof. However the roof is so high up that while it looks like an authentic thatched roof, it is too high up for you to notice, much less touch it to find out that it isn't. Mark also noted that in later developments, such as the Animal Kingdom Lodge and at Animal Kingdom there were able to use genuine thatched roofs as the fireproofing technology has advanced to the point where that has been deemed safe.

We proceeded a little further to one of the newer rides in the park "Alladin's flying carpets" The Flying Carpet ride is similar to a common carnival style ride in that riders sit in vehicles around the edge of a round ride, the ride slowly rotates and the riders can use a lever to raise or lower their ride vehicle. Of course this is Disney so the ride itself is elaborately themed with a rotating genie lamp on top, and four person flying carpets for the ride vehicles. Fear not back seat riders, you get a lever with which you can control the pitch of the flying carpet. To make it even more interesting the ride has spitting camel statues which may get you wet if you don't fly skillfully. Mark pointed out the camels were recycled props from the Alladin parade which used to run at Disney Studios. He also explained that in the morning, most of the crowds get to the end of Main Street and follow their natural inclination to turn right, or towards Tommorowland, making it one of the busiest parts of the park in the morning, he also pointed out that the children in the crowd will 'storm' the castle on their race to get to the most popular children's ride in the park "Dumbo the Flying Elephant" The Flying Carpets goal is to provide an alternative Dumbo style ride to help distribute the crowds in the morning by getting more people to start with adventuresome.

Mark didn't share another anecdote I had heard which also deals with our natural tendencies to keep right in a crowd. If you notice when you enter Main Street in the morning, the camera shop, confectionery, Cinema (which is the main Pal Mickey sales point for the park), and the Bakery are all to your right. When you leave the park in the evening, the Emporium (or the parks main gift shop) is to your right. Mark also mentioned that despite the timings of shows and Fastpass and the like, people still tend to enter the parks as a family, start at one end of the park and venture through the park as a family. That is why you will notice that you keep seeing the same people around you all day.

Okay, now its time to head down to the Jungle Cruise. Mark reminded us that it is one of the parks more popular attractions, and that they were afraid it would loose some of its shine when Animal Kingdom opened, but so far that is not the case. I noted that a new set of coin operated radio control boats has been added just outside the Jungle Cruise exit which look like the Jungle Cruise boats and scenery and allow you to pretend you are a Jungle Cruise Skipper. Before riding Mark pointed out some of the scenery in the queue area. One of the parks goals is to make the waiting areas interesting, so that you forget that you are waiting in line. Jungle Cruises queue area is littered with trunks, animal cages and other items that suggest a jungle safari. Mark pointed out that the park has a crew that is solely responsible for sourcing and acquiring all the various themed artifacts that are found in the ride lines, on the attractions, in the shops, eateries and the resort in general. Man, a job shopping for the weird and unusual, on someone else's dime. Although Mark relayed the anecdote later in the tour, in a behind the scenes area, I found it interesting when he told a story about the Tower of Terror at Disney Studios. They story does not give away an secrets, so here it goes. As you may know the Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror attraction at Disney Studios is set in a 1930's opulent hotel, the Hollywood Tower Hotel to be exact. One of the artifact shoppers was out looking to acquire 1930's trunks like the movie starts may have used for their extended length stays at the hotel. After they had bought the trunks and they were getting them cleaned up and prepared for the attraction the opened them up. Along with the discards found in the trunks was an old furniture catalog. The catalog was from a British firm that made sofas, in the 1930's. Still needing sofas for the fictitious hotel lobby, Disney decided to give the furniture firm a call. They found out the firm is still in business, and so told them that they had their catalog, and wanted to buy two sofas. The catch, of course was that it was a real old catalog. Turns out the manufacturer was agreeable to making two sofas to the specifications of the old catalog, and those two modern antique-looking sofas are used in the attraction today. Well, I thought it was an interesting story.

At this point, Mark excuses himself from the group and goes to the main operator of the Jungle Cruise to arrange for us to borrow on of their boats. It is worth noting that the Jingle Cruise was still waking up, so we got to see some unusual things like boats being operated in reverse, and boats apparently taking their test voyages of the day. (Jungle Cruise does not open until 10AM) You can apparently tell a boat is being tested because it will by flying a green flag with the word "GREEN" written on it attached to the lantern holder on the bow. When the boat completed a lap, an attendant at the unloading dock would remove the "GREEN" green flag. Mark was told that it would be a few minutes for a boat to become available.

In the meantime, Mark took questions and someone asked how Disney did in the hurricanes. Mark, like an old friend, was like "after the first one we thought, what are the odds of a second, after the second what are the odds of a third" Apparently it was the third one that hit them. Mark stated that Disney overall suffered little damage, and most of that to landscaping. Mark commented that he was on the crew that stayed at Disney to look after the parks needs immediately after the hurricane. He stated that they were given 48 hours off right before the hurricane with the understanding that they would be at the park for the 72 hours immediately before, during and after the hurricane. Yup, that includes spending the night inside the park,

He also used this time to tell us that our Jungle Cruise ride would contain 'backstage' information, and decided that now would be the best time to tell us about "Disney Stories" Disney cast members have to be very careful what they say in guest areas because they never know who may be listening. To get out of those awkward situations when a guest asks a question the cast member is prohibited from answering, the cast member will use a Disney Story. You will know when a cast member is pulling a Disney Story on you because they will answer your question without really answering your question. Like the haunted house is populated with real ghosts who cause the effects you see. That kind of line. Mark explained that there are some things he can tell us on stage, and some things he can tell us backstage, and depending on our questions and where we ask them we may get two different answers. Mark also gave us the safety loading instructions you normally get when you wait in line.

The Jungle Cruise crew indicated that we could board, and so we boarded a boat by going in the exit gate and boarding at the unloading point. We boarded the boat and Mark indicated to the skipper that Mark would be giving an alternate narration and that the skipper merely had to pilot the watercraft. Mark commented that although we are on one of the parks most popular attractions we are about to become the most unpopular people in the park because we just boarded the ride without waiting in the long queue that had formed, but go ahead and wave to the people waiting on the dock as you sail right past, after all you wont see them again.

Editor's Note: Due the alternate narration being 'backstage' information on the attraction, I dutifully will not summarize it here.

Approximately 8 minutes later we return to the dock and continue our little tour. We pause at the ride exit for everybody to get back together in a group, and then we proceed towards Pirates of the Caribbean. Caribbean plaza, which is Spanish themed serves as the theme change from Spanish to southwestern as you go into Fronteirland. Mark noted that Pirated of the Caribbean is a popular attraction that was never supposed to be here. When the attraction was first conceptualized it was meant to be a Fronteirland attraction featuring a boat ride through a flooded out western town. At around the same time, the nation suffered a bad economy and it was decided to not take a risk on an entirely new concept and instead they decided to have the Imagineers retool the successful Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland and to create a copy in the much smaller space they had allocated in Florida.

We continued past Pirates and into Frontierland. Along the entry way to Frontierland is a wagon that sells McDonald's French Fries. (There's Gold in Them There Fries) Mark proceeded to weave a story to demonstrate how the fry wagon tells a story. Next to the fry wagon there is a sign stating that the wagon has been in the same spot for many many years, which is strange because a wagon is portable. Ah, but look at the hillside next to the wagon. You can see where the wagon supposedly came loose, rolled down the hillside, crashed through the fence (which remains purposely damaged-looking), and finally landing on the pathway suffering extensive damages to all 4 wheels when it settled into the ground (with only damaged half wheels exposed above the wooden boardwalk surrounding the cart. Yup, even a humble fry cart has a story to tell if you look at it closely.

We proceeded to just before Splash Mountain, where Mark moves to one side and literally starts taking a section of fence apart. We are ushered through the newly created hole in the fence, then told to proceed but do not cross the yellow line as Mark put the fence back together.

As you might guess this is where we take a backstage tour, and this is where you the reader will have to wait patiently for my return. I suggest a nice ride on Splash Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain while you wait. Before heading backstage we are impeded as we have to wait for a train cross the road. Mark encouraged us to wave at the guests on the train and become part of the Disney memories of hundreds of people.

Editors Note: I won't leave you totally hanging, let's just say the tour included a look at a typical backstage area, a look at some ride parts that have been swapped out for repair, a look at the back of a ride or two, a look at some less glamorous but oh so necessary facets of park operation, and a long discussion on the characters, live entertainment and parades. "What time is the three o'clock parade?" Don't laugh they get asked that question every day.

I seemingly disappear from the midway, and a significant time later, I reappear at about the same spot.

We take a walk along the Rivers of America as we discuss the Country Bear Jamboree. Country Bear Jamboree was another attraction that was not intended for this park, or for that matter any other Disney park. The story here goes that the Disney organization was involved in planning a ski resort, and they wanted to have some Disney-style entertainment in the ski lodge for the guests after a hard day of winter sports. The Country Bear Jamboree was to be that lodge hall entertainment, but alas the ski resort never came to reality, and the bears wound up here in Frontierland in Grizzly Hall. The attraction was then so successful, that they copied it at Disneyland, but the one in Disneyland has since been removed making this the first and last country bear show. (At a Disney park, other park chains and attractions have since come up with similar concepts)

We proceeded into Liberty Square. We paused to note another transition in incidental music from the frontier tunes to the patriotic tunes. Mark noted that all the songs are performed in the key of C so that you not experience any disharmony in the transition from one areas to another. We took a look around Liberty Square and Mark showed us the replica Liberty Bell, cast from the same mold as the original, the flags of all the colonies, and mentioned the Hall of Presidents, we'll come back to that later. He mentioned the colonial America themed Liberty Tree Tavern, and we proceeded further along the riverside past the riverboat dock and Mark mentioned is passing that we were walking past the Columbia Harbour House where we would be having lunch later.

We walked up to the Haunted Mansion and the greeter followed right along and in that trademark Haunted Mansion voice, said "I see the master has special visitors, I presume you'll be taking the shortcut" as they dropped the rope blocking the wheelchair access lane. " We entered the lane and gathered around the Hearse with the invisible horse. Mark told us a little bit about the Haunted Mansion in general but said he could not discuss the effects at this time, why, because, you guessed it, we're onstage. He did discuss that the Haunted Mansion is unusual in that the imagineers who created it were able to 'sign' their work, much like an artist signs a painting. In this case the imagineers signed their work by using their names on the headstones you pass in the cemetery on your way to the entrance hall. (I did not ask, but I wonder why the entrance hall is effectively in the basement, I mean the front door is clear up on the hillside. One of the designers is also a big chess fan and when designing the exterior of the mansion worked chess pieces into the ornamental work. Mark mentioned you can see another hidden chess reference in the line for Pirates. If you look down into the dungeon you will see two skeletons sitting playing a game of chess. A close investigation of the chessboard will reveal that they have been at a stalemate for many many many years now.

Mark then talked ts us about Hidden Mickeys (and sometimes other characters). There are three kinds of Hidden Mickeys (not to be confused with the obvious decor Mickeys) They can be unintentional, which means they were never planned but by coincidence they occurred naturally in the design of something else. In the case of the Haunted Mansion, there is an unintentional Hidden Donald Duck. We were instructed to look for it as our car passed by the endless hallway. Next to the endless hallway there is an upholstered chair. The chair is distorted out of proper proportion, which caused a front on view of Donalds face to be visible in the trimwork in the upholstery. This Donald was not visible when they first saw the model of the chair in its unaltered state. The second kind of Hidden Mickey is the Unofficial, there are Hidden Mikceys which were not put there by imagineering, instead the cast members themselves arrange them after the fact. If you are thinking this must upset imagineering to see their work tampered with, it does. An example of an unofficial hidden mickey in the Haunted Mansion is at the banquet table in the Grand Hall. Look at the leftmost place setting on the near side of the table, the dishes are often rearranged with a dinner plate and two saucers forming Mickey's head. I say often arranged because this one is a battle between imagineering who comes in and resets the table according to the official layout photos, and the Haunted Mansion cast who seem to sneak back into the set minutes after imagineering leaves and resets the table with the hidden Mickey. Ya know, I'm sure Imagineering might not like it, but I think they must not mind it, otherwise we'd be seeing those dishes secured to the tabletop with some heavy duty adhesive. Try to move those plates now! Mark also quipped that at the Haunted Mansion they have to keep telling the housekeepers NOT to clean. I'm sure he was half joking.

The third type hidden Mickey is the honest to goodness official planted hidden Mickey that is placed there for you to discover. An example of this at the Haunted Mansion occurs after the graveyard scene. Immediately after passing some opera singers, you see the grim reaper in a mirror. Look fast and close at his left hand, and you will see a hidden Mickey in his palm. Its a hard one to spot because the hidden Mickey is tiny, and you only have a couple seconds to find it before your car turns away from the mirror.

Our assignment while riding the Haunted Mansion is, you guessed it, to look for those three things. Mark then told us about how some attractions have alternate entrances to get guests into the attraction without waiting in the normal line. The Haunted Mansion has such an entrance that takes people from the exit area to the entrance hall. When the Haunted Mansion first opened some hallways were included in the design to get selected guests from the exit to the entrance hall, or from the exit to the loading platform without waiting in the normal line. (They would also seem to be useful to get guests who have gotten cold feet, or have been frightened prematurely out of the haunted mansion without having them have to backtrack through the house. ) Anyway, for the first several years the internal service corridors in the Haunted Mansion were just bare drywall halls with fluorescent tube lights. Some years later it was decided that this was bad show to have people walk through an unthemed service area when they are supposedly in a haunted mansion. The solution was to theme the service corridors, in this case they have become the "Servants Quarters". We would now be invited to view the servant's quarters.

Mark took us up the exit pathway and led us through a door labeled "Servant's Quarters" in the area he pointed out the wallpaper which closely matches that used in the art gallery, and wood paneled doors, the key rack on one wall that holds the 'keys' for the haunted mansion, a row of bells on the opposing wall 'to summon the servants', a clock that has stopped just before midnight, a piece of tear cotta which I think Mark said is a link to the haunted mansion in Disneyland. A close look at the lamps in the hallway reveal that they flicker. Mark proceeded into the entrance hall but he told us to wait in the servant's quarters. You may recall courtesy and efficiency as being two Keys to the kingdom, and Mark noted that we did not go through the turnstiles for the Haunted Mansion, so he needed to inform an attraction host that there would be 20 people entering through the alternate entrance.

Mark, and a servant returned to the servant's quarters to inform us that we could enter, and to go wait by the fireplace. From here on we continued to tour the Haunted Mansion as a guest would. Since I plan on fully explaining the normal guest experience on this ride later in this trip report, I will just say that we rode Haunted Mansion and were told to regroup at the mausoleum (located at the attraction exit) after the ride.

While waiting for the group to become hole, I looked for the "ring" at the exit of the Haunted Mansion. Urban legend tells us that there is a ring embedded in the exit way to the haunted mansion. Reality tells us that it is the remnants of an exit gate which has been removed. Using memories of photos I had seen on a website, I was able to quickly locate the 'ring'.

After we regrouped, we were told it was time for lunch. We headed to the Columbia Harbour House, where we were led up a roped off stairway to an upstairs room. We were told that save for the end of the floor we would be eating on, the second floor is always available, but most people don't seem to find their way up here, and it often sits nearly empty when the main room downstairs is pretty full. Mark pointed out that if we ever wanted a quiet quick meal at the Magic Kingdom without table vultures this is the place. We were led into a reserved dining room, where we noted the tables were already set and the food already served. "You'll find your names besides your places" , and indeed namecards were sitting in front of each place setting revealing whose food was whose, and the namecards had the same Keys to the Kingdom design as our nametages. After we were seated, Mark informed us that we would have 30 minutes to eat, he told us where we could find the condiment rack and the restrooms, oh and we have a surprise for you. Pinned to the inside of your placecard you will find the exclusive Keys to the Kingdom pin. It looks like an old fashioned golden key with the words "Disney's Keys to the Kingdom" inscribed on it. We were cautioned not to trade these pins away as they are an exclusive gift for tour participants. Mark then told us that he would also be having his break, that he would not be eating with us, but another certified Keys to the Kingdom tour guide would cover for him during break. Ah, that's why there would be 4 cast members in Keys to the Kingdom costumes. 3 giving tours, and the 4th probably helped to register people, then went to cover breaks and help out with the food service.

We had lunch, we had small talk with the people who were also seated at our tables. There were some questions on how their parks in Paris are doing, the response was well, and that they had a rough start because they were not accustomed to, and therefore did not plan around the European style of vacationing. There was also a question about how the Fastpass system works, which was followed by an complex sounding algorithm involving traffic patterns, attraction capacity, estimated wait times and so forth. After hearing the official explanation, I still think I could summarize it by saying that it merely distributes a predetermined number of tickets for each time slot on a first come first served basis, when those time slots are filled the system goes on to the next time slot. (Fastpass is a ride reservation system which I will fully describe in Part 5 of this series)

Mark rejoined us towards the end of the lunch break and encouraged us to take a restroom stop now as most of the second half of the tour is backstage, and most backstage restroom areas are off limits. The plan worked, all you gotta do is tell someone they may have 2-3 hours without a restroom break and the whole group will go take one. I noted the rope that separated our private dining area from the general dining room is like several I noted. In addition to the rope, a fabric sign has been attached to the rope to help improve visibility of the rope. A good idea, I think. On this particular rope the fabric sign has a drawing of Cinderella Castle and the word "Reserved" on it.

While waiting to get started we saw them get the tables reset for the next tour group (there are 3 tours each day). It is somewhat unusual to get table service at the Columbia Harbour House as its normally a fast-food style counter service place.

We carefully exited the Columbia harbor House and returned to Liberty Square. Mark pointed out some subtle details at the Hall of Presidents. In one window you can see the minuteman musket gun, in another window you can see the two lanterns of Paul Revere (One if by land, two if by sea), in set a third window you can see a period doll.

We then went over to the Liberty Tree which is a real tree that is still living even after it was transplanted to Liberty Square. In the trees branches are 13 lanterns, one for each colony. Yes they do light up at night.

We then started to return to the Central Hub. We veered of the main path right after the last gift shop in Liberty Square, where you have a good side view of Cinderella Castle. We talked some about the castle. Mark pointed out the forced perspective thing again, and told us to look carefully at the 'stones' in the castle wall, if you gave up the wall real slowly you will note the stones get gradually smaller, and smaller, and smaller as you go up. It makes the top of the castle seem much higher than it really is. That's not to say the castle isn't tall, its currently the 4th tallest structure at the resort. (It was originally mean to be the highest point in the resort) Mark took guesses as to what the highest structure at the resort is. Popular consensus was that would be Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror. We got a Buzz, sorry. Twilight Zone is the second tallest structure at 199'. The tallest is the Mickey's wand statue that has been added to Spaceship Earth at Epcot. The one that holds the big Epcot sign. (At approx 215' high) So why not make Twilight Zone a nice even 200' tall? Well 200' is the magic number at which the FAA requires you provide a low flying aircraft warning beacon. As the warning beacon requirement was not in effect at the supposed time that the Hollywood Tower hotel would have existed, it was decided it would not fit the careful detail to theming, so the tower was shaved down to 199'.
The tip of Mickey's Wand in Epcot does contain the beacon, but that's okay because its in Future World and it all fits. The castle is the fourth tallest with one spire of Big Thunder Mountain being factually taller. You will note that nowhere in the park can you see both Big Thunder Mountain and the Castle at the same time. It also helps that the ground that Big Thunder sits on is lower than that at which the Castle sits on, so although Big Thunder is taller, is appears to be shorter. The Castle is approximately 180' tall, which seems quite tall enough even without forced perspective.

Mark noted that there are currently 4 Magic Kingdoms on Earth, with the 5th one under construction. Disneyland has Sleeping Beauty Castle, WDW has Cinderella Castle, Tokyo has Cinderella Castle, and Paris has Sleeping Beauty Castle. There is about to be a new Magic Kingdom Park in Hong Kong. Mark asked us who we thought would break the tie. It will be Sleeping Beauty castle as the Hong Kong park will be heavily themed after the Disneyland park.
He also noted that the architectural style of the castles are themed to the origins of the fairy tales the represent. He also noted that when planning WDW, the local building codes had no provisions for a 180' castle. This led Disney off on what would later become a stoke of pure genius, the Reedy Creek Improvement District. In essence, Walt Disney World is a fully fledged city. This means they have their own city government, they can pass their own local building codes, can make any laws that a city government could, they have their own city services, except for Police which they contract out to Orange County. This has given the resort incredible freedom in development. No zoning board, no building commission, etc.

We then spent some time talking about the renovation currently going on at the Castle for Disney Parks 50th aniversary. 50 years, can you say GOLD trimwork, statues of famous Disney characters are being added around the turrets, but the showpiece will be a changing 'window' on the front of the castle which shows photos of the other 4 magic kingdom castles. They had just finished the gold trim work when I was there, and it looks like its gonna be even more exquisite than it did before. We also joked that we were glad they did not take the birthday cake route again.

We then proceeded into the Hub. On the day of my tour the Hub was totally walled up. The Hub is being redesigned to be more compatible with both Wishes, the fireworks show, and the Castle forecourt shows. The hub before had lovely tall planters, bronze Disney character statues, and the famous "Partners" statue in the middle with Walt Disney and mike Mouse. The Partners statue stays, almost everything else goes. The planters have been replaced with flower beds which make it easier to see the forecourt shows and with the wider sidewalks there will be more capacity to see the castle shows. Mark mentioned this had been in planning for some time, and sometimes the park moves quicker than others. The first night of Wishes they discovered that all the trees in the hub were ruining what was to be the prime viewing spot. The next morning the trees were gone.

We then continued up Main Street, and Mark reiterated about the credits on the windows, and how the Emporium side of Main Street has been modified with the removal of Center Street on that side. The former flower market is now more Emporium which allows a guest to enter the Emporium at the hub and continue shopping in one mega store all the way to Town Square. Mark also mentioned that at night when Main Street is jammed, it is often easier to work your way through the gift shop to get down the street faster.

We went in the new part of the Emporium where Center Street once was and we moved to the very back of the store. Here assembled in a group, we had to give the pledge. "I do hereby promise that I will not photograph, videotape, or otherwise record or sketch what I am about to see. I also promise that I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, reveal what I am about to see and learn while backstage, so help me Walt!" Yeah that sounds pretty serious, while performed in a joking fashion, and it also seems pretty unenforceable, however it is noteworthy to mention that rumors and past participant accounts of this tour reveal that it used to include more backstage areas. Take that for what it's worth. My personal feelings are that everything you see and hear while backstage is controlled so that you only see and hear what they want you to. You'd be wise to remember that while its a tour, it is also very much a show. If there was something they truly were concerned with getting leaked out, they would make sure you wouldn't be exposed to it. On a more personal level, I see it like going to a magic shop and paying to see how the trick is performed, the product here is the backstage insight and information.

Editors Note: I'm afraid its time for another one of those pesky disclaimers. Lets just say that we saw another a couple exterior backstage areas, saw the backside of another ride, heard a presentation on costuming and dress, saw some historical photos, took a tour of the legendary Utilidor system and discussed its many benefits, as well as got a couple glimpses into the life of a cast member, saw why you must be at least 16 to take this tour, had a presentation on some secrets of the Haunted Mansion, as well as a final question and answer session. "Ask now, for once we go through this next gate, I can only give you the official on-stage answers" . It's actually pretty interesting stuff, and if you do a websearch you can probably find an account of this section of the tour, but it won't be coming from me.

So there I disappear through the back door of the shop, and quite some time later I reappear in the alley next to ton's Town Square Restaurant. The group them made its way back to the main flagpole, where we had our little quiz. Just an exercise to make sure we went away with all the main points of the presentation. I don't think is a surprise that Disney is a very patriotic company, and I also think it is no coincidence that this tour starts and ends at the flagpole.

We were then instructed to return to the Tour Guide Garden next to City Hall where we can return the property that Disney loaned to us. (I.e. the radios, and the backstage passes) You know, when the tour first started the earpiece seemed awkward, by the end of the tour I had forgotten I was wearing it, it just felt natural. Sort of like a Babel Fish. The moment in the tour garden also gave people a chance to personally thank Mark for a job well done.

The question on your mind is probably: Did I enjoy the tour? Well, if I enjoyed it well enough to write that detailed of an account of it, you can bet I probably had a fantastic time, it was a highlight of the trip.

David starts to tour the Magic Kingdom as a normal guest

Tour finished, it was time to meet up with Mom who had slept in and would meet me at the park. Take note that I was walking across Town Square from City Hall headed towards the Town Square Exposition Hall. I pull out my cell phone, and make a call that goes approximately like this:

Mom: Hello?
Me: Hello, did you get up alright?
Mom: Yes
Me: Did you make it to the park alright?
Mom: Yes
Me: (while staring directly at the Exposition Hall) Where are you?
Mom: On the front porch of the Town Square Exposition Hall
Me: I'm at the Exposition Hall
Me looks to side) I'm practically standing right next to you.

I'd say it's a small world, but that's in Fantasyland and is currently closed for rehab. I ask mom how she is feeling after those two brutal days of walking around the parks. She says she feels fine but would prefer a wheelchair, which we walk out to the Entrance Plaza and get. A short time later I am walking up Main Street bubbling about what a great time I had on the tour.

We check the tip board, and realize that no matter where we go, the park is going to be crowded. Following our families usual pattern, we head to Adventureland. Plan A was to get a Jungle Cruise fastpass then do all the other Adventureland stuff while waiting. I run over to Jungle Cruise and see that the fastpass return time is about three hours away, and the standby line is about 30 minutes. We park the chair and get into the ride line. True to its word the line takes about 30 minutes before we are shown to a boat.

The Jungle Cruise is a comedic trip down the rivers of the world (Amazon, Nile, Congo and Mekong) with a skipper who provides a one man comedy act spilling puns left and right on this jungle cruise that is played nearly all for laughs. I was glad to see the Jungle Cruise skippers have been given their revolvers back. For a long time the skit was that a hippo was attacking the boat and the skipper shot at it with their toy gun, well you can guess how that went over with the animal rights people, so then the skippers started firing into the air to "scare" the hippo, and that didn't appease the animal rights people either. I'm glad to see that somebody finally had the nerve to go hey - this is an amusement ride, its not a real hippo, its not a real gun (and some skippers might even add "and I'm not a real skipper"), and its our amusement ride, if you don't like it, might we suggest you go to another ride. I have noticed that the skippers have some leeway in customizing the narration, and in fact Mark even through in a couple classic jungle cruise jokes just to give us some flavor. Highlights of the cruise include Inspiration Falls (Oooh, Ahh, now aren't you inspired), seeing the backside of water at another, that one would be Schewitzer Falls, named after that great scientist Dr. Falls. The camp that the animals trashed and turned over the jeep, the explorers on the totem pole running from the rhino "I'm sure they'll get the point in the end", the hippo pool, the elephant pool Don't worry they're wearing their trunks, the trip through the temple ruins, the ambush scene, and who can pass up the stop at Chief Name's where he's running a special on shrunken heads, any two of his for any one of yours, no mater how you slice it you will come up ahead.

From the Jungle Cruise we went to the Enchanted Tiki Room - Under New Management. We had to wait about 10 minutes before the automagic doors opened, and we took our seats. The how starts out exactly the way the classic show did, but then Iago comes any shows his stuff as the pushy new owner that has no respect for tradition, while Zazu comes in as the other new owner to try to play the diplomat. The two new movie stars are an attempt t make this attraction more attractive to younger audiences. Its a gimmick that I don't think needed to happen, but then I don't have access to the shows turnstile reports. The show in case you haven't seen it takes place in what is for lack of a better term a Tiki Temple. You sit on benches along the perimeter of the room, and the show goes on above the center of the room in theater in the round style. You still have the audio animatronic tiki birds which sing and swing and act very life like, you still have the "Glee Club" and the choir of singing flowers, you still have the talking tiki god statues in the corners, and yes you still have the thunder and lightning storm during the show. As the original opening song goes "All the birds sing word, and the flowers croon, in the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room" Its one of those shows you either think is really adorable, or really stupid, there seems to be no middle ground. New to the act are two larger than life, and I mean much larger than the tiki birds, characters of Iago and Zazu. If they look like cheesy gimmick add-ons, thats because they are. If you stick around after the show ends, they revert back to the old exit song "Hi Ho Hi Ho It's out the door you go", followed by Iago making wisecracks and saying that he's tired, he thinks he'll go to the Hall of Presidents and take a nap.

We exited the TIki Room, and bypassing the Flying Carpets, we went over to Pirated of the Caribbean. Pirates had about a 25 minute wait, and had both lanes open. We meandered throughout he dungeon and I looked for the chess scene that Mark had described and found it as advertised. Eventually we made our way through the fort and over to the loading dock. I note that automagic station gates have been added to this ride since my last visit. Pirates is a classic dark ride you go through in a boat. Hey it has a drop is it a modern Mill Chute? After getting into the boat you take off through some cave like grottos, you see a skeleton steering a pirate ship, you see a pirate flag laying discarded on the beach. For all appearances you have arrived at the Pirate world too late and the pirated have already all died. "Dead Men Tell No Tales" Wouldn't it be neat to relive the pirate days, well you run into some rough waters and you go down a slight drop and come out in the middle of a pirate battle. One one side you have the pirated in their pirate ship, on the other side your have the townfolk at their fort, and the battle is in full swing.

unfortunately for the city folk, the Pirates win. You have the pirated dunking the mayor trying to get some information from him, you have the pirates auctioning off the town women, then in a case of PC that hasn't been restored the old scenes of the pirates chasing the women, well now the women are chasing the pirates with rolling pins and the like, then the pirates burn down the town, and you see they have locked the city folks in jail, in the burning town and they are trying to con the do into bringing the key over, then at the end your see the treasure room. Its a Disney classic. "A Pirates life for me!" You then exit at a unload station that is in another part of the attraction building. After exiting the boat you take a Speedramp up to the gift shop (Think of a Speedramp as an escalator with no stairs) I did note that the Speedramp is at least dubbed a rolling gangplank to fir the theme. "You'll be needing your sealegs about you as you climb on to that rolling gangplank"

We then exited Adventureland, and we bypassed the Frontierland thrill section (and I started realizing I am going to have to figure out where I can fit the thrill rides in on my trip, so far three major parks , and only 1 thrill ride down, 6 skipped for later)

Anyway, we continued through Fronteirland and stopped by Grizzly Hall. The sign said about 10 minutes, and so were some of the last people to successfully make it into the waiting room before the red lights on the turnstiles came on. I felt for the attraction host who was experiencing trouble with people opening the emergency doors and sneaking other people in to the waiting area who were consequently not included in the turnstile count. Did I mention the turnstiles reported that the house was full. The automagic doors opened and we filed into the auditorium, and I did not notice any trouble caused by overcrowding. At Country Bears they have made a concession in the no pictures policy. Now, during the grand finale you are allowed to take photos. The show itself is a little different than I remember it, but in other aspects very similar. Teddy Berra still gets my vote as she comes down from the ceiling on a swing. "As soon as I find a ladder, I'll be right up" Big Al now sings so awful that he is funny, gotta love the Ballad of Davie Crockett, or the singalong. Hey what can I say I am a Disney fan at heart and all these kinds of shows turn me on.

The show ended and we proceeded first past the Liberty Tree Tavern, headed to the Haunted Mansion. We round the corner, we're almost to the Mansion, and in the distance I see "40 minute wait" 40 MINUTES, for the Haunted Mansion ??!!?? I seem to recall this being a walk on even in the middle of July with a full park. Its a capacity monster. More to the point, our priority seating time at the Liberty Tree Tavern was in 25 minutes. We reported to the restaurant and checked in at the podium and were invited into the waiting room. Liberty Tree Tavern is a popular spot, and a friendly cast member was keeping guests entertained with small talk and passing out free Mickey Mouse stickers. The theme here is a Tavern in colonial America. As it stands the place would not look out of place in Williamsburg. An interesting quirk is when you check in for your seating, in addition to the usual information they ask, they also ask for your home state. (or nation as the case may be)

Then when they call somebody to dinner, the announcement goes something like "I'm looking for the Bowers Family from the Great State of Ohio!", though I noticed some variation like a Virginia resident might be "From the Great Colony of Virginia", someone from Louisiana might be "From the Great Territory of Louisiana" a foreign visitor might be greeted with "From Japan!" I was eager to hear whether Ohio would be classed as a state, territory or colony, but our host left it at "From Ohio!"

We went into the dining room, again with the frosted glass windows, the old style three tinned forks, the unique drinking goblets, and the period furniture. For dinner the Liberty Tree Tavern serves Thanksgiving Dinner every night (and what could be more American than that!) You start with a field green salad (Declaration Salad) with strawberry vinaigrette dressing, along with rolls and an apple flavored butter. From there you move on to the Patriots Platter. A family sized platter with a mound of dressing in the middle, covered with turkey, roast beef, and baked ham. Accompanying are bowls of mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese, a small plate of carrots, and a gravy boat.

Its nothing gourmet, but it tastes just like Thanksgiving Dinner its pure simple food. Nothing fancy, nothing exotic, just comfort food. You also get a beverage with your meal, and I do believe that this is the ONLY place in all of Disney World where you can get Birch Beer. Birch Beer is a Pennsylvania favorite, and not often found outside of PA. I was so excited when our server said that he had Birch Beer available (at no extra charge) I had trouble getting my drink order out. For the uninitiated Birch Beer is kind of but not totally unlike root beer, and has a strong peppermint flavor to it. Trust me, its an acquired taste. The meal concludes with Apple Dumpling and Vanilla Ice Cream.

Also with tthe meal, you get to visit selected Disney characters in colonial garb (Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale were present) They tour the dining room in an organized manner making sure they stop by each and every table, pose for photographs, act cute, etc. Let me also go on record saying that there is nothing wrong with going to a character meal without children. Remember we are all young at heart at Disney. I'd say we were there for 2.5 circuits of the characters.

It was another great meal, we exited the restaurant and noted that it must have rained while we were inside. It's hard to tell from the inside with the old timey frosted windows. We returned to the Haunted Mansion and I was preparing to park the wheelchair in the disused Fastpass distribution center, when an attraction host came over to me and told us we could enter via the wheelchair lane. We explained that Mom had the chair for convenience, not necessity but he incited we go ahead and enter via the wheelchair lane.

So we proceed to the chain and wait for the ride host to come out and escort us into the ride. We enter the ride through the servants quarters after parking the wheelchair next to the mausoleum. (I point out the bells and keys and stuff to mom and another family that was waiting in the servants quarters) "Please wait here until the master is ready", a short time later "The master is ready for you, please come in and warm yourselves by the fire"

The fireplace is a tip to put you in place to be amongst the first into the next room. The first room is the entrance hall where you meat Ghost Host. "When hinges creek in doorless chambers...Welcome, foolish mortals to the Haunted Mansion, I am your host, your Ghost Host" While the Ghost Host is making his introduction the portrait above the fireplace ages really fast. The fact it ages at all is odd since photos usually don't change. Almost as soon as he finished the words Ghost Host, the door ahead of you has opened revealing the next room, the speaker changes as if Ghost Host has moved into the next room "Our tour begins here in this art gallery, kindly watch your step and make room for everybody, there's no turning back now" After making sure no one is standing against any of the walls, the narration continues about the portraits. Soon you see the portraits stretching to reveal a humorous or macarbe punch line, "Is this haunted room actually stretching, or is it just your imagination, and consider this dismaying observation, this chamber has no windows and no doors, which leaves you this chilling challenge, TO FIND A WAY OUT!" The show paused just long enough for people to look around and note the absence of doors and windows. The room then goes dark, look up when the room goes dark to see your ghost host up in the top of the room hanging himself.

The lights come back on, and a secret panel has opened revealing the next room. The next room is a hallway leading to the loading area "A carriage approaches..." There is a short section of queue in this hallway but the line moves so fast you fly right though it and next thing you know you are being loaded into a car. "Do NOT pull down on the safety bar, I will lower it for you" (safety bar drops)

You then start was appears to be a normal tour through the Haunted Mansion, you first explore the Library, and Ghost Host talks like he is giving your usual guided tour, his voice cuts out and you pass a ghostly piano playing itself, then you go through a darkend room with big vibrant blue spiders and hey I don't remember that at all. Next up is the endless hallway (look at the chair!) "Every room has wall to wall creeps, and hot and cold running chills" You then go down a hallway with a casket someone is trying to escape from, breathing doors, ghost door knockers, ghosts trying to escape through locked doors, a crazy grandfather clock. You then come up into Madame Leotas sceance room and gaze at Maddam Leota in t crystal ball. Then its to the Grand Hall with the ballroom dancing ghosts, the ghostly pipe organist with skulls rising from the pipes. I mean they appear to be real see through dancing ghosts. The effect is quite startling and incredible. (Remember to look at the banquet table), from the balcony of the Grand Hall, you go through the attic and escape out the attic window and then your car tips WAAAAYY back. Its a starting effect as you descend back down. Then its throughout he graveyard, past the barbershop quarter busts, past the opera singer, past the grim reaper (look fast). Its a masterpiece and its looks more vibrant and vivid than ever. You then go into the next room where you find the hitchhiking ghosts has jumped in your car. Always a startling effect, you then return to the waiting area where Leota's ghost is telling you to hurry back hurry back, be sure to bring your death certificate if you decide to join us. And does she every look vibrant blue, I hardly even noticed here there before. You then unload and walk down a short hallway to the mausoleum.

At this point we started walking down towards Frontierland,I wanted to stay on this side of the park because tonight would be my only chance to see Spectromagic. It was about an hour before the parade and the crowds were already lining the ropes. I staked a place next to the Hall of Presidents by the fruit market. We were content there and all when a cast member invited us to come over to the wheelchair parking/viewing area" for the parade. We moved over to the area directly across from the entrance to the Hall of Presidents and I noted I could stand right behind the chair and get some great photos.

I miss the Main Street Electrical Parade, a true classic. I had not see spectromagic before so went in with an open mind. All in all I must say its a great replacement, it may not be just the right nighttime parade I am used to but the lighting effects are fantastic, and I noted a lot more use of live characters than I recall the older parade having. The musical instrument scene, the carnival floats, all in all it was a great parade. I noticed they even had a light up crowd control pole with which they follow behind the parade to keep people back a safe distance from the last float.

We decided not to get right in the fray after spectrometer but stood in front of the Hall of Presidents until the crowd started thinning. I did not the precision at the end of the parade with which they take up the rope and stanchion barriers, then another crew comes down cleaning the midway with giant vacuum cleaners. Its this great level of detailed planning and execution that makes Disney shine.

We eventually deicide we had to get moving and so joined the throngs headed to the Hub. By some great stroke of luck when we got to the Hub it wasn't jam packed and I was able to claim a spot along the green wall that still had a wide open view of the castle. We then paused and watched Wishes. Wishes is the parks mega fireworks spectacular, which included Tinker Bells Flight. The crowd goes crazy cheering Tinker Bell on as she completes her flight. Tinker Bell appears to fly out of a turret window in the castle and soar over the Hub heading to Tommorowland. Wishes is a great fireworks show yes, and shining the different color lights on the castle is really pretty.

After Wishes the park was closed so you have the problem of everybody trying to leave at once. Due to where we watched Wishes we had no choice but to join the mob leaving the park. I hate walking through these kinds of crowds and was more than relieved when I was able to pull over and get inside the Emporium.

We took our time as we browsed the Emporium, then exited the park, and returned the wheelchair, getting our Chicken Little promo Disney dollar, before exiting the park.

We passed a booth just outside the park where they sell tickets to those coming in from the resorts or those who misses all the booths at the TTC. More interesting is this ticket building has a restroom. We approached the restroom an found ourselves caught in a queue that we accidentally entered. I found the dog clip released the rope, we walked through, then I reattached the rope. After using the facilities I was people watching waiting for Mom, and I noted no less than 5 other families make the same mistake we did, and we also noted all sorts of solutions, like jumping over the ropes, climbing under the rope, etc. I don't know 6 families in a short time, seems like there is something a bit off with that setup.

We then returned to the resort bus facility. Man this station is PACKED. The line for Port Orleans extends well out of the queue area. We just grabbed a spot on the bench and waited patiently, I mean a bus would come and fill and you'd look at the Port Orleans Riverside queue and you could hardly tell it moved. We watched the Top 7 show on the TV in the station a half a zillion times. Finally we saw the line start to dissipate, so we got in line and I think finally on a bus back to POR at 11:30, did I mention the park closed at 9? Yes I did consider monorail to Contemporary, Contemporary to Downtown Disney, Downtown Disney to POR, but thought against it and decided to just tough it out here.

WE returned to our resort and successfully unloaded at the East Depot, where I knew I didn't feel like running over the food court in hopes it would still be open, so I broke down and got some cokes out of the soda machine at the bus stop. Be forewarned the soda machines at the bus stops are $, sodas in the theme parks and the resort gift shop at $ Buyer Beware.

Hardly staying awake, we returned to our room, and I can tell you it wasn't very long until we were asleep. Looking at the calendar, hey tomorrow Epcot till Midnight, that means we can sleep in!

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned to this channel for our next exciting episode, Day 4.


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