Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Our Kids' First Trip Ch. 2: Riverside with my Daughter

It was our family's first trip to Walt Disney World. I'd visited fifteen or sixteen times over the course of my twenty-six years, while my wife had been to the parks two or three times. However, it was our kids' first trip. We weren't quite sure how it was going to go, as we had two five year old boys and a fifteen year old daughter. Would we spend more time at the resort resting with our boys than in the parks? Would our daughter be "too cool" for princesses and characters?

However, after leaving our emotional visit at Disney's Art of Animation Resort, I knew that this trip was going to be very special.

Because we'd arrived early on property, and our room was not yet ready, we made a side-trip to Disney's Wilderness Lodge to meet up with my uncle, cousin, his wife, and baby for lunch, all of whom (except the baby of course) were cast members at Disney Springs. 

After lunch, we loaded back into the minivan and made the drive over to our home for the next few days, Disney's Port Orleans: Riverside resort. We checked into the resort, receiving our welcome packet at the check-in desk in the lobby meant to resemble a waiting room for passengers preparing to sail down the Sassagoula River on a steamboat. Our room was located in the Alligator Bayou portion of the resort, so we got back into our car and drove down the road that loops around the resort and pulled into the parking lot that corresponded with our building. We unloaded all the luggage from the van and carried our bags up the steps to the second level of the building.

We finally found our room and I touched my MagicBand to the lock of the room. The green light flickered and a click was heard inside the door. I pushed the handle and our door opened to reveal a beautiful room inside. As a family of five, our options were limited within our budget for accommodations. We booked the room at Riverside because it features rooms with two queen sized beds and a bench that converts into a pull-down bed. Our daughter decided to take the pull-down bed, only to find later that her 5'3" frame was too long for the bed, as her feet hung off the edge!

The boys were tired after an already busy day, so my wife and I decided they needed time to rest. Not wanting to limit this first experience for her, I decided to take my daughter for a walk around the resort to explore. We grabbed our refillable drink mugs (which still had handles, mind you!) that we had purchased as part of our dining plan, and headed up to the Riverside Mill Food Court. We filled our mugs with soda and wandered through the resort. We headed up to Fulton's General Store, where she tried on a set of princess Minnie Mouse ears, begging me to snap a picture of her posing. We wandered outside as I snapped pictures of various details on my camera for a future volume of "A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World." As we arrived near the boat dock along the Sassagoula River, we came face to face with Dr. Facilier, the villain from The Princess and the Frog. I encouraged my daughter to get her picture taken with him, and because there were very few other guests around, he spent about five minutes interacting with her, which was awesome. I don't know the cast member that was "friends" with the Shadowman, but I commend his staying in character and having fun with a teenager that I figured would be skeptical. 

After filling our drink mugs again, dehydrated from the Florida heat, we followed the dock around the corner to find the giant waterwheel emerging from the Riverside Mill Food Court. She posed alongside the slowly-turning waterwheel, and I snapped another picture of her: this picture was special for me, as I had a photo of myself standing alongside the water wheel when I'd visited the then named Dixie Landings Resort back in the 1990s. 

We stopped by the pool on Ol' Man Island, when all of a sudden the sky opened up and water began pouring from above. We scrambled beneath the porch of Muddy Rivers Pool Bar and sat at a table, waiting for the deluge to cease. I marveled at the numerous details scattered throughout the bar, such as the fishing gear, boating parts, and alcohol stills. The rain finally stopped, and we made our way through the muggy woods, across a bridge over the Sassagoula River, and back to our room. We let ourselves into the darkened hotel room where the boys were trying to sleep, and together, my wife, daughter, and I sat on one of the beds, planning out our evening at Disney Springs.

Only a month after meeting our daughter for the first time, this first hour of our trip, spent alone together wandering Port Orleans: Riverside together, was very special for me. I was able to share something that was incredibly special to me, especially during my teenage years, with my new daughter, a teenager. I will remember that hour for the rest of my life.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Deck the Streets with Strings of Garland

I am most nostalgic during the Christmas season.

Out of the sixteen or so times I've visited Walt Disney World, at least three of those trips has been during the times when the parks and resorts have been decked out with holiday decorations.

Unfortunately, the parks are incredibly busy during the holiday seasons, and because I have a tough time with crowds (and because I'm a teacher), it is difficult for me to vacation to Walt Disney World during November through early January. However, I do frequent DisTwitter (@HistTourWDW) and various forums, featuring photographs of the resort. All this does is trigger fond memories of our holiday trips and their wonderful Christmas decorations from around the parks and resorts.

One of my favorite decorations from the Magic Kingdom was the Christmas garlands that stretched above Main Street USA. The garland was littered with spherical ornaments and Christmas lights, red ribbons, and gold bells. My favorite part of these garlands, however, was a large wreath in the middle holding a large white candle. I loved these wreaths so much that I was convinced one year to try to make one myself. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out a way to mount a candle in the center of the wreath bought from Hobby Lobby.

I loved these wreaths so much that I was (slightly) devastated to learn that during the Christmas season in 2014, the wreath garlands would be replaced by large white arms that would hang off the facades of the buildings on Main Street, holding the candle wreaths. While Disney eliminated the garlands hanging over the street to make way for the floats of the Festival of Fantasy parade, I was very pleased to learn that, at least the candle wreaths would remain. On a similar note, I always loved the large wreath-garland thingys that are wrapped around the light posts down Main Street; I always thought they looked slightly like Mickey Mouse's head.

Credit: Patricia Baughan Mickus
Another of the most beautiful Christmas decorations at Walt Disney World is the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, which debuted in 2008. For those who have not seen them, Cinderella Castle is covered in thousands of lights to create the illusion that it is covered with Elsa's ice crystals.

Similar to many others, I was in love with the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights over at Disney's Hollywood Studios. I was able to see the lights three times over the years. The first time I saw the lights, we were able to experience them on Residential Street on the Backlot Tour, the lights covering the facades of the various buildings, such as the Golden Girls house. The second time I went, my dad and I were on property for the 2007 Disney Marathon Weekend and were able to enjoy the lights on the Streets of America. The last time I saw the lights was my wife's first experience, over Thanksgiving weekend, 2013 (the same trip I got soaked from the jumping fountains outside the Imagination pavilion at Epcot). The lights were so popular and DHS so busy, that cast members required guests to enter the Streets of America in one place and exit on the opposite end. Like other Disney fans, I was pretty disappointed when it was announced that the Osborne Family lights would disappear along with the Streets of America (although I am stoked about the upcoming Star Wars and Toy Story lands). 

There are numerous other holiday decorations that bring back fond memories of my times at Walt Disney World growing up. From the freaky Minnie Mouse ornament mannequins doing the can-can dance in the storefront window on Hollywood Boulevard at Disney's Hollywood Studios to the Mickey's Christmas Carol holiday window displays at the Emporium on Main Street USA to Epcot's now defunct Lights of Winter and the Santa Claus hat that once perched atop the Earful Tower, Christmas nostalgia at Walt Disney World runs rampant through my mind this time of year like visions of sugar plums dancing.

Merry Christmas, my friends, from the Kiste family.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My Disney Collection pt. 2

I like collecting. As sad as it sounds, I don't really have many talents or hobbies. Yes, I like reading and writing, but I'm not really a musician, and my artistic skills are laughable (just ask my students...every time I draw a map of the US, it looks like some creepy donkey eating something). Disney and Walt Disney World gives me an opportunity to enjoy something, to immerse myself in a world of fantastic story. Studying, reading about, collecting things from, and writing about Disney gives me a feeling of being part of a larger community, which is important to me, as I'm a pretty introverted person when not writing online or performing in front of a classroom full of seventeen and eighteen year olds. 

Living my entire life away from my favorite place on the planet (I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and currently live in Greensboro, North Carolina), I've always loved to collect Disney artifacts, books, and collectibles, to create for myself the illusion that I'm not so far from the magic. You can usually find me listening to Subsonic Radio's live streams of Walt Disney World music while I'm at home or at work. I enjoy putting tiki torches on in my backyard during the summer while listening to the Illuminations pre-show loop over my wireless speaker. And I really enjoy eating at Longhorn Steakhouse, because it creates the illusion that, for a few minutes at least, I'm eating at a western-themed restaurant at Walt Disney World (I go into more depth about how I deal with my Walt Disney World Withdrawal, or WDWWd, in a previous post). Adding to and surrounding myself with my Disney collection does the same thing: it provides me the temporary illusion that there are things that bring me joy and bring back the flood of good memories, especially when I'm dealing with the stress of my world or my health concerns. In a previous post, I shared the first part of my Disney collection; this is part two of my Disney collection, in which I share with you a few of my favorite pieces.

I am an avid coffee drinker. Like, it is slightly pathetic. I have two cups a day, every day. My family and students alike know not to talk to me until I have at least one cup in my system, otherwise I'm not pretty. What better way to start your day with your cup-o'-Joe in a Disney mug? My collection features numerous Disney mugs, such as a few of the "Mickey's 'Really Swell' Coffee Brand" cups, as well as a couple Disney collage mugs. 
That princess mug is my wife's. I promise.

Some pieces of my collection are souvenirs that were purchased either by me or for me on my various Disney trips. One of my recent additions are a magnet set purchased by my parents at the Memento Mori shop near the Haunted Mansion in the Magic Kingdom. The magnets depict the hitchhiking ghosts and the Hatbox Ghost from the attraction. However, the magnets are only the upper half of the characters, leading the viewer to believe that they are emerging from your refrigerator. The magnetic figures are a light green color to create the illusion that they are ethereal beings emerging from the afterlife. The best part is that the magnets are meant to glow in the dark, leading people to believe that the ghosts are real (I'll admit...when the glow-in-the-dark actually worked, this used to freak me out when I'd come downstairs to make my coffee early in the morning).
"Welcome, famished mortals to the Haunted HAMsion!" Get it? Okay, nevermind...

Another of my souvenirs has an interesting story attached to it. In November of 2013, my wife and I traveled down to Walt Disney World to spend a few days there with my parents and brother over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. My parents and brother live in Michigan and had decided to catch a flight down to Orlando, while, living in Greensboro, NC, my wife and I decided to make the ten-hour drive after getting out of school on Tuesday, to arrive at the off-property condo we were renting a few hours after midnight. Over the course of the next four days, we visited three of the parks and SeaWorld, where my cousin was working as a restaurant manager in the newly opened Antarctica experience. We spent our first day of the trip at the Magic Kingdom. Having spent many vacations growing up at Walt Disney World, including during the winter, we all knew that the average temperatures for central Florida during the winter months was in the high sixties during the day and somewhere in the forties or fifties at night. However, when the sun went down on that day in late November while we were at the Magic Kingdom, the temperatures plunged into the high thirties or low forties. We were all walking around in shorts and a tee-shirt, completely unprepared! We walked into different shops in Adventureland, looking for cheap sweatshirts, but it being Disney (you'd think we'd know better by now), none were to be found. We realized that even purchasing a towel would provide some protection against the cold, but we had a hard time finding those, as well. My dad finally noticed that many of the stores throughout the Magic Kingdom were prepared for the cool temperatures and had a special deal: spend $50 on merchandise and you would be eligible to purchase a special souvenir blanket for an additional $20. My dad went up to the cast member behind the counter, trying to convince her to simply sell us the blankets without spending $70, but she redirected us to the sign. Dismayed and very cold, we wandered around the store for a few more minutes, looking at the sweatshirts, ready to each purchase a sweatshirt (that we'd probably never wear again) for $35 each, when the cast member came over to us and told us she'd gotten her manager's permission to sell us the blankets, offering us a little bit of Disney magic for the evening. We were able to purchase two of the blankets, which my mom and wife carried around the rest of the evening to keep themselves warm. I do have vivid memories, however, of getting on the parking lot tram after getting off the Riverboat at the end of the day, my wife and I pulling the blanket over our heads and tucking ourselves against the seats in front of us, trying to stay warm.

Other pieces of my Disney collection that are pretty special to me are posters from the park. In the mid-2000s, on a trip to Walt Disney World with my family, I learned that the Art of Disney store at Downtown Disney sold print-to-order copies of the attraction posters from the Magic Kingdom. In other words, for a price, guests can purchase copies of the posters hanging below the Main Street train station. I went through the digital collection on the kiosks in the store, and ultimately chose posters for Mickey's PhilharMagic and Tomorrowland, which we framed upon arriving back home.

Five or six years ago, my parents found some more awesome posters to add to my collection. While browsing on eBay, they came across a Wet Paint sign used at Walt Disney World in 1987 featuring Donald Duck and his nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie. A couple years later, while shopping through an antique store in Michigan, they came across some old Wheaties boxes from the 1950s that featured cut-out masks of Mickey Mouse and Dumbo. These boxes were in perfect condition, as the previous owners had not cut the masks off the box. Quick research has shown that there were a total of eight different masks consumers could purchase, including Cinderella, Bambi, Lucifer, and Brer Rabbit. A quick glance on eBay has shown that an uncut Mickey Mouse mask in worse condition than mine is going for $75, while an uncut copy of the Pinocchio mask is fetching upwards of $250. Unfortunately, after a cursory glance, I've been unable to find anything about the value of my Dumbo mask.
Those Wheaties box masks are the things of nightmares! So, naturally, they hang in my 5-year-old boys' bedroom.

I know I seem to say this every paragraph, but some of the most special pieces of my collection are things that were actually used at Walt Disney World (and I'm not just talking about the resort soaps that I put into my suitcase every day so Mousekeeping brings me more and I come home with ten bars of Disney soap and ten bottles of Disney shampoo that I never use because how could I even think of using them??? Oh, come on, don't judge me...you know you do it too...). For example, many years ago, my parents gifted me with a comforter that was once used at the All-Star Music that they had purchased online from one of those stores that sell Disney World memorabilia. The comforter is thin, so it is great during the summer months. It features images representing different genres of music, such as big band, rock n' roll, the big budget musicals of the 1920s and 30s, and country music, as well as numerous Hidden Mickeys. I slept with it on my bed for many years, until I got married and the "feng shui of decor" actually mattered... -_-
Interestingly enough, I never gave it much thought that perhaps thousands of people had slept (and perhaps other things) below this comforter... O_o

Perhaps the coolest and most unique collectible that I have from Walt Disney World is a pair of wall sconces that were also used at the All-Star Music Resort. These white light fixtures are cylindrical in shape and feature music notes on them. Holes in the top and bottom of the cylinder allow the light to shine on the wall, creating illumination. The musical notes are a translucent blue, allowing for some light to shine through them. These fixtures would have hung inside the rooms at the All-Star Music resort; in fact, I vaguely remember these lights hanging on the walls of the room we stayed in at the resort sometime in the mid-1990s.

Photo Credit: Stan Kiste. There, happy dad? ;-)

While my Disney collection brings back so many fond memories for me and creates that sense of warm, joyful nostalgia for me on the toughest of days, it also has another effect:


It allows me to slowly fulfill my evil plan of indoctrinating my children to love Disney as much as I.


Monday, December 19, 2016

My Disney Collection pt. 1

I'll admit it. They say that the first step in dealing with a problem is admitting that you've got one.

I'm a Disney addict.

There. I said it. But here's the problem(?): I don't want to deal with it. I enjoy the feeling that Disney and Walt Disney World gives me. It keeps me young. It gives me joy. It brightens me up on my cloudy days. It's more than just a hobby today.

This is something I've been dealing with since infancy. In fact, I have a photograph of myself wearing a onesie as a baby with Mickey on it. Well, I guess start me young... My parents are not huge fans of Disney like I am. I mean, they like vacationing at Walt Disney World every few years, but their enjoyment is more from the distance of appreciation. I'm more bordering on the insane.

Case in point: when I was in 7th grade and got my first email address, I registered the address Disneyobsessor2000 (an email address I still use, in fact). Pretty sad, huh?

Because of my love for Disney, over the years I've accumulated a number of Disney collectibles. Many of these things were purchased in stores, but a lot of it has come from flea markets and one of my other favorite past times, antique stores. A few of my favorite and more valuable (to me) collectibles even came from eBay as authentic props and items from Walt Disney World theme parks and resorts.

A few years ago, my wife and I decided to purchase a set of IKEA bookshelves for the corner of our living room. I am an avid reader and have hundreds of books, but living in North Carolina, we unfortunately do not have a basement to store our things (something I really miss about living in west Michigan). In other words, we needed somewhere else to store all of our junk treasures. I was able to convince my wife to give me a few shelves of the bookshelf to display some of my favorite Disney collectibles.

As a Disney fan, I have some of the requisite figures, but the problem is that Jim Shore and Robert Olszewski works are pretty expensive. The one Jim Shore that I have is of Sorcerer Mickey, while I also have a Mickey Mouse as Steamboat Willie figurine. When the Lego Disney mini-figures came out a few months ago, I hunted them down at a local Target and splurged the $3.99 price tag to purchase myself one, finding a Peter Pan minifig inside. I also have three Vinylmations: Zoot from the Muppets, Minnie as a Halloween witch, and Minnie as the Statue of Liberty, which I picked up from the Times Square Disney Store during my trip to NYC back in 2014. I also have a figure of Mickey from the Epic Mickey video game that came with the game, as well as stickers to add to the Nintendo Wii console and Wiimotes. For my birthday this past September, my in-laws gave me two Star Wars itty-bittys, sold at Hallmark: Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper.

As a bibliophile (someone who loves books), it is obvious that my Disney collection would include Disney books of all kinds. Some of the books are more common and owned by many Disney fans, while others are more rare.

One example of some of the more common pieces of my book collection are the Disney Imagineering book (written by the Imagineers), the Walt Disney biography by Neal Gabler, the Kingdom Keepers series by Ridley Pearson, the new Haunted Mansion book (The Fearsome Foursome), They Drew as the Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney's Golden Age by Didier Ghez, and two of the Marvel Disney Kingdoms graphic novels, Figment vol. 1 and The Haunted Mansion. I also have numerous copies of A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World vol. 1 and vol. 2, for obvious reasons.

Some of my less common books a part of my collection include the 1993 Birnbaum's Guide to Walt Disney World (a book that played a huge part of my childhood), a EPCOT souvenir guidebook from the 1990s, Walt Disney's Story Land collection, a four-book boxed set of The Wonderful World of Walt Disney published by Golden Press, a Bambi storybook from the 1950s, Robin Hood to the Rescue storybook paperdoll playset from the 1970s, the "Mickey and Goofy Explore the Universe of Energy" comic book, as well as various Little Golden Books, including Donald Duck in America on Parade

Awhile back, my parents gave me a glass Magic Kingdom candy dish as a Christmas gift. The dish was sold at the Magic Kingdom in 1971 and is intentionally warped around the edges. At the center of the dish is a blue, green, black and white image of Cinderella Castle, while wrapped around the outside of the dish are images of popular attractions, such as the monorail emerging from the Contemporary Hotel, the Jungle Cruise, and "it's a small world." A few years later, as I was picking through an antique store, I came across a similar candy dish from the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. I quickly purchased the dish. While the candy dish does not feature any of the attractions created by WED for the World's Fair (the seven images include the famous earth globe, the Main Mall, the Monorail, the General Motors pavilion, the US Pavilion, the Heliport, and the Lunar Fountain). However, simply because of the connection of the '64 World's Fair to Walt Disney and Disney history, I just had to have it. I also found another square candy dish featuring Cinderella Castle in the same styling at another antique mall and quickly purchased that as well. The store also had a Disneyland candy dish featuring Sleeping Beauty Castle that I'm now kicking myself for not purchasing.

I also like to collect older Disney things, as well, if they are affordable. A few years ago, while visiting the Shipshewana Flea Market in Shipshewana, Indiana with my wife and in-laws, I came across some awesome finds. One of these collectibles was a red Donald Duck paint box from 1948. This tin box would have held small paint palettes inside for kids to use. Quickly looking on eBay, I've found that a mint-condition, unused Donald Duck paint box has a starting bid of $199.99. Mine would not fetch that much, however: it is slightly bent and has a few rust spots. However, I don't usually purchase my collectibles with the intention of selling, but rather because of the novelty and rarity of them. 

Another one of my Disney treasures is the Walt Disney's Disneyland Electric Tours board game from the 1950s. This board game is similar to Chutes and Ladders or Candyland: players make their way across a colorful and detailed game board, using a spinner. However, there is a circuit board below the game board, triggering a red electric light to track the player's progress. The most special part of the game, in my opinion, is that it features four different game boards: Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland, each complete with images of attractions or the subjects of the Disneyland television show from the 1950s. Another quick Google search revealed that this artifact is going for anywhere between $30 and $65 at online auctions, which does not seem to be very much. However, before my purchase at Shipshewana (at which I found this game pushed back on a top shelf in a booth), I'd never seen this game before, either in person or online.

Many pieces of my Disney collection were purchased or gained during trips to Walt Disney World. For example, awhile back, my wife helped me to put together a shadow box for some of my favorite Disney ephemera (paper collectibles). This shadow box holds my very first Disney World ticket from either 1992 or 1993. It also holds a theme park map from Epcot and the Magic Kingdom from sometime in the 1980s. In 2007, I ran in the Pirate and Princess 5K at Disney-MGM Studios and the Walt Disney World Half Marathon; both of my participation medals are in the shadowbox. I also received a copy of a Disneyland guide map book from the summer of 1969, which was given to me by my mother-in-law. One of my favorite items in the shadowbox is a small red plastic coin that I got from the Walt Disney World Party Gras parade during my first visit to WDW in 1992, which features Roger Rabbit on it. Many of these hard-to-display items are very special to me, because most of them hold a special significance for me.

These Disney collectibles may seem like a hoard or excessive (I do have two large Tupperware tubs and a document box of additional Disney knick-knacks in my bedroom closet, as well). But ultimately, these things bring me joy. My happiness is not rooted in the objects, but rather in what they stand for, the memories they represent. As a hopeless nostalgic, and to a lesser degree, as a history teacher, I am someone who finds my past as something that has heavily influenced the person that I am. Walt Disney World and the culture of Disney heavily influenced me as a child, whether through the Disney VHS tapes I watched at my grandparents' house or the numerous vacations taken with my parents and my brother growing up. I remember riding on the monorail and being fascinated by the fact it was a "highway in the sky" and passed through the Contemporary, so while it is cool to have the small monorail toys in the picture above, what they represent is what is special to me. Growing up, one of my favorite attractions was Journey into Imagination. Therefore, owning the Figment comic is not just a cool part of my collection, but is rather an opportunity for me to relive those important memories from my childhood.

Because, to me, while all of these trinkets could be destroyed in a house fire tomorrow (which truly would upset me), the important part is that (at least for now), the memories that these things represent will not be stripped from me.

Friday, December 16, 2016

My Disney Christmas Gadgets, Gizmos, Whose-Its, Whats-Its, and Thing-a-ma-Bobs

Christmas is my all-time favorite holiday. It is also one of the times of years when I get most nostalgic for the past. I often find myself listening to the albums of Christmas music that my mom constantly had playing around our house or in the car during the Christmases of the 1990s, such as the Time-Life Treasury of Christmas, the "Charlie Brown Christmas" album performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, or any Christmas album ever recorded by Amy Grant. The nostalgia of the season also allows me to display my Christmas trinkets that I've acquired over the years.

I use this excuse to pull out any Disney collectible that I own that has any inkling of Christmas connection to justify to my family my reasoning for putting some pieces of my Disney collection on display.

A few years back, my wife purchased for me wirelessly connected and synchronized figures from Hallmark of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Sitting atop silver wrapped gifts, they are dressed in Christmas garb. Mickey holds a saxophone in his hands, while Minnie sits behind a keyboard. When you push the button on one, it will begin to play a Christmas song with the instrument. However, when there are more than one figure in the vicinity, the other figures will begin to play the same song with their instrument. When released, the set included five different figures, including the two I own. The other three were Goofy playing an upright bass, Donald playing a guitar, and Daisy playing the flute.

My wife has also started purchasing the Mickey Hallmark ornament series that began in 2013, so as of now, I have the first three Mickey ornaments of the series. In 2013, the ornament was Mickey from "Brave Little Tailor." In 2014, Mickey was dressed as a fireman from "Mickey's Fire Brigade." Last year, in 2015, Mickey dressed in his role from the "Sorcerer's Apprentice." These Disney ornaments join various other ornaments that are Disney themed, such as the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head visit Disney World ornament my wife and I got on our first trip to Disney as a couple back in 2012, on my "Disney Christmas Tree" in our home's front room.

 The last Disney Christmas item that I have out this year is a new item for me. While shopping at Target for my kids a few weeks ago, I noticed that there was a sale on plush Tsum-Tsums (which are based on a game, Disney Tsum-Tsum, similar to Tetris or Candy Crush, where players have to stack and make combinations of rectangular versions of Disney characters). I picked a couple up as stocking stuffers for the boys, when I noticed they also had Christmas Tsum-Tsums as well. I would have purchased a whole set of Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Minnie, but had already spent enough money on the boys, so I simply picked up my favorite of the four, Goofy all decked out in his holiday garb, wearing an ugly Christmas sweater and a Christmas tree atop his head.

What are your favorite Disney Christmas decorations? Share in the comments below! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Using Disney World in the Classroom

Standing guard over their king for thousands of years and every one of them is an individual? How can you NOT be fascinated???
As a high school history teacher, my goal is to engage and interest students in the content that I am teaching; student engagement correlates directly with learning. Whenever I tell people that I meet that I'm a history teacher of high schoolers, they always give me a look like I've got a third eyeball or respond with the good ole southern adage, "Well bless your heart!" Many times, people tell me how much they hated history class when they were growing up, how bored they were by the subject, as though I'm supposed to understand or be sympathetic with them? Like would you tell the doctor that is about to give you open-heart surgery how lame you think the medical profession is or complain to the auto mechanic who is fixing your brakes how worthless to society those who fix cars are? I don't think so!

Obviously, I am fascinated by history, both that of America and the global story of our past (otherwise I'd be a really crummy history teacher, wouldn't I?). Philosopher George Santayana is famous for having said that "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it." While I agree with this to a degree (because let's be honest, we remember the things in the past, but more often than not we still make the same stupid mistakes), I love and value history for a very different reason: I love figuring out how we have gotten to where we are in human history. People stress out about the wars in the Middle East and ISIS and believe that these emerged out of nowhere, without understanding that the foundations for this stretch back to imperialism of the early twentieth century and the role the US had in arming a little group called the Taliban with weapons in their fight for independence against the Russians. Or people feel sorry for "third world" countries in the Caribbean or Africa that are portrayed on infomercials with the hungry kids or that are constantly at civil war with each other, simply relegating these things as happening because "they must be inferior," without really understanding that the bad economies and corrupt governments of these nations are a direct result of European and American imperialism and colonization of the late 1800s and early 1900s. By teaching these causal relationships to my students, my hope is that ultimately, they will see that certain actions our country and humanity performs today could have detrimental (or conversely, positive) effects on the future of human history.

With that being said, history is just a story of what a bunch of "dead white guys" did wrong (erm...sorry, I'm supposed to say that everything America has done is right...my bad). This is often hard for my students to understand and grasp (working in a diverse school), even my white kids. We often teach history as a series of snapshots that don't have a whole lot to do with each other. For instance, in the first unit of my American History class, I teach about the Old West, the Indian Wars, Immigration, the Robber Barons, western farmers, and labor unions. All of these events were contemporaneous in the years between the Civil War and 1900, but more often than not are case studies of events or movements during the latter half of the nineteenth century, rather than an examination of the connections. As a result, my students have a hard time being interested, simply because they can't visualize or see the realism of said events. Therefore, it is my goal to try to pull this into modern-day contexts or at least give the kids something visual (other than Forrest Gump) to make the connection with and garner their interest.

As someone who loves Walt Disney World (and has written two books about the historical contexts of many popular Walt Disney World attractions), I've found that there is a lot one can learn about American and world history if you just know where to look; Disney World exemplifies historical "edutainment" fairly well. As a result, I've compiled a list of the various ways I use Walt Disney World in my classroom to teach American and World History.

World History
Possibly the best place to look to learn the history of the world is Epcot's World Showcase. While the land is short on listed attractions, many of the concepts of world history can be gained through the examination of cultures, shows, architecture, and music of the park. For instance, when I teach Chinese and Japanese history, my students examine the architecture of the buildings of the Epcot pavilions. After showing the kids a geographical map of east Asia, noting the proximity of ancient China and Japan, we look at the architecture of Japan and China at Epcot. The kids ultimately will notice that both the buildings of China and Japan have the curved corners on their roof lines. They will remember that the aristocracy of the Tang Dynasty of China (618-906 CE) often showed their wealth and make the connection that if the roof lines of the Japan pavilion has curved corners, it must represent that the ideas of the aristocracy and Confucianism spread from China to Japan at some point (in fact, it was a result of the Chinese empire's influence over Japan during the Tang and Song dynasties).

This Moroccan tower represents a minaret, a Muslim prayer tower.
The Morocco pavilion is also known for the intricate tile mosaics, traditional Umayyad art in the Moorish fashion.

I also like to use the music of World Showcase and other parts of the Walt Disney World resort to teach students about the musical styles of the various civilizations that we study. On a daily basis, while my students are working on their bell ringer assignment (vocab and questions that get them prepared for the day's lessons) or working on an outline for an essay, I like to put period music on my computer for them to listen to as a way to connect their love for music to a specific era in history (For example, as I'm writing this blog post and my students are working on an activity about the Women's Lib movement of the 1970s, I am playing music from that decade..."Ramblin' Man" by the Allman Brothers Band is currently playing on Pandora). As a result, when we study the Polynesian migration, I play music from the Polynesian Village resort. When we study the ancient tribes and empires of Africa, I play music from Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge resort. When we study the founding of Islam and the Islamic empires of the Umayyad and Abbasid Empires, I play music from the Morocco pavilion or Mo'Rockin. This gets the students engaged and immersed more in the culture and history of the region and era that we are studying.

Another example of World History that I often like to use to show causation is a ride-through video of Spaceship Earth. This shows how one technological advancement leads to the next, ultimately putting us where we are today. Rather than simply being a trip through time and space, I like to use the attraction to teach students about causal relationships and have them analyze why the outcomes resulted.

As a cultural historian, I am fascinated not only by the government and economy of different civilizations, but more so by what regular people were doing in their day to day lives, such as the way they worshiped, the clothes they wore, the art they created, and the food they ate. As a result, I love to teach this to my kids. I feel it helps them to grasp historical themes better and become more interested in the subject. There aren't many opportunities for using the attractions of the Walt Disney World resort to teach the cultural history of world civilizations outside America, but one example I often like to use is Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. The lobby and hallways of this resort are replete with display cases featuring artifacts from African history, from the large African story mask near the stairs on the far end of the lobby, to the handmade shields on every room door, meant to repel evil spirits from the domicile. While not necessarily teaching history, these artifacts help students to understand the cultural practices and beliefs of African peoples, which can help facilitate and understand the complex history of these diverse peoples.
Each door in the resort features a handmade African shield, meant to keep evil spirits out of the room.
One of the most fascinating attractions that can provide a brief history of world events, as well as add to mythology, is Pirates of the Caribbean. In volume one of my book series, A Histoical Tour of Walt Disney World, I actually analyze the accuracy of the attraction to some surprising findings. I like to use videos of the attraction to set up for students that the image and myths that we have of pirates, as portrayed in the ride, are factually inaccurate. Pirates often did not make people walk the planks, nor were they always as ruthless and bloodthirsty as often portrayed, nor was "pirate treasure" only gold and jewelry. I go into depth as to why pirates buried their treasure, how they were expected to treat people, and why they spoke and dressed the way they did. I also use this as an opportunity to explain to my students why piracy began during the 1600s and how common it was in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean as a whole.
Thanks to my father, this hairy-legged pirate was always my favorite. :)

American History
I'm going to be honest: Walt Disney World has a ton of American-history themed attractions and details around the parks, lands, and resorts. Walt himself once described that he had "red, white, and blue running through [his] veins," showing his love for America and her history. In fact, Walt Disney World's attractions are part of what inspired me to study history through high school and college, ultimately leading me to share one of my passions with young people.

While I could teach the progression of America through the events of the American Revolution into the period of Manifest Destiny (as America began its march westward) in Liberty Square and Frontierland, I usually begin using Disney World attractions to teach American history around the turn of the twentieth century. One of my students' favorite lessons that I teach is one on the culture of Victorian Era America, which began around the 1880s and lasted into the 1910s. I use photos of Main Street USA to show students Victorian style architecture, playing the music of Main Street to teach them about ragtime music stylings. I show them film clips from Meredith Wilson's musical, The Music Man, to teach them about morality, as well as the Mickey Mouse cartoon, "The Nifty Nineties," to show students an example of courting, dress, and vaudeville of the turn-of-the-century.

However, the attraction that, I believe, gives the best educational example of cultural history during the Victorian Era, is the Carousel of Progress. I use three of the four scenes of this awesome show to teach the cultural history of America: scene one (which takes place on Valentines Day in the 1890s), scene two (which, according to my research that I explain in volume 1 of A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World, takes place on July 4, 1926), and scene three (which takes place on Halloween during the late 1940s). The Carousel of Progress does a great job tying together a lot of the historical themes of each of these eras that I teach my kids (Victorian Era, the Roaring Twenties, and post-WWII America), such as morality, popular culture, and technological innovations. This makes a lot of the factual content I teach my kids (i.e. the Wright Brothers' first flight, the invention of the talkie film starring Al Jolson, the creation of the radio, the perfection of automobile and locomotive transportation systems, etc) more real and grasp-able.

Maybe someone should tell him now not to burn the Christmas turkey? Then at least he has 100 years to perfect his technique...

Another history-based attraction that I like to use to teach the concepts and events of American history is the American Adventure show over at Epcot. This show does a great job to show some of the different movements and events of America and what has made America "great." While I am somewhat critical as it portrays a rose-colored view of America and leaves a lot of things out of history (such as the end of slavery, the successes of the Civil Rights movement, immigration, etc), it does a nice job exploring some of the lesser known parts of America. For example, a lot of kids have a cursory understanding of President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt from the Night at the Museum films, but don't really know much about him. When I teach the Progressive Era of American history, when reformers and presidents such as Roosevelt made reforms to try to improve the culture and society of America, I show a clip from the American Adventure when Roosevelt and conservationist John Muir are at Yosemite National Park. We use this clip as an impetus to discussing why Roosevelt would create the National Park system and how this was a positive or negative change for America around the turn of the twentieth century. I do similar activities and hold similar discussions over other scenes in the show, such as the speech by Chief Joseph ("From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more, forever...") and the advances in women's rights and technology during the last few decades of the nineteenth century as portrayed at the Centennial Exposition of Philadelphia in 1876 by Susan B. Anthony ("We ask justice, we ask equality, we ask that all the civil and political rights that belong to citizens of the United States, be guaranteed to us and our daughters forever."), Edison, Carnegie, and Twain. 

There are numerous other examples of how I use my favorite place on earth to teach and make real the subject that I love. Many think that Walt Disney World is just a vacation experience, but to my students and I, it's not. It's a teaching opportunity. Being in North Carolina, the opportunity for an "edutaitional" field trip is not feasible, but thankfully, due to the Internet, I can bring these two spheres together to make history real and alive for my kids. And hopefully, by doing this, I can inspire the love of either Disney or history, if not both, in my students.