Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Advanced Placement World History project: Creating a Theme Park Attraction

While conversing with the students of my AP World History class, they suggested that they conduct a project after their AP exam on May 11th to create a Disney ride based on a historical period or event that we learned about this year. 

Of course, I thought it was a fantastic idea. I took their idea and ran with it and fleshed out the project rubric below. Thought I'd share. :)

Walt Disney World
Historical Attraction Proposal

A lot goes into the development of attractions at Walt Disney World.
A Disney attraction can be defined as the following:
-A ride that moves guests through a story portraying three-dimensional space.
-A show featuring either live, animatronic, or digital performers complete with multisensory effects.
-A resort providing high quality accommodations and various amenities, including restaurants, shops, pools, and recreation.
-A restaurant providing a variety of menu items that is themed to a specific environment.

The one thing that all of these types of attractions have in common is storytelling. Guests are immersed into a real-world environment where they are the characters. They have an engaging role to play, rather than simply being passive observers.

You are an applicant to Walt Disney Imagineering and are charged with providing a portfolio, featuring an attraction for their newest theme park in central Florida, Disney’s Historical Adventures. WDI encourages you to develop one of the following attractions when applying:
                -A D- or E-Ticket attraction for the new park.
-A multisensory, immersive show featuring either live, digital, animatronic, or puppetry performers.
-A series of restaurants (quick service, casual, and character) featuring a minimum of three entrees and two desserts.
-A nearby resort that continues the storytelling of the park.

The individual requirements for each of the attractions are outlined below:

Theme Park Ride (You may not build a roller coaster.)
1. This must be an immersive environment. Think about where the attraction would take place. Will this be an outdoor attraction (such as Voyage to the Crystal Grotto in Shanghai or Expedition: Everest), an indoor attraction (like Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion), or one that goes both inside and outside (like Test Track)?
2. What will the exterior architecture look like? Keep in mind that it should tie to the historical period and location you have chosen to depict. What will the queue feature? How will the queue help to set the time and place for the story being told?
3. What is the ride vehicle? How will it move you through the attraction? Are you using an omnimover? Virtual reality? A boat? An inverted track system? How will the ride vehicle help to create the story being told?
4. Create a blueprint/overhead view of the attraction including the ride path and general placement of each scene.
5. Create three pieces of concept art for three different scenes that guests would experience in the attraction. This can take the form of scenery, architecture, individual characters/costumes, or even an entire scene in the attraction (look at Marc Davis or Rolly Crump concept art for inspiration).
6. Write a story pitch for the attraction. You may include a script, plot, character bios, etc. Keep in mind that this needs to be an original plot but should depict a historical event or historical period. It can be a fanciful attraction that should be inspired by history or a purely educational experience.
7. Design an attraction sign or marquee so that when guests walk up, they know what they will experience in the attraction. Create a name for your attraction that helps guests understand what they’ll experience.

1.       This must be an immersive environment. Think about where the attraction would take place. Will this be an open air show (such as Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular) or an indoor show (like The American Adventure or the Carousel of Progress)?
2.       What will the format for this show be? A live musical extravaganza (Finding Nemo: The Musical)? An educational show (The American Adventure)? A 3D/multisensory adventure (Mickey’s Philharmagic)? A theater in the round (Stitch’s Great Escape)?
3.       Who will the characters be portrayed by? Digital creations? Audio Animatronics? Live performers? Puppets? Why?
4.       What will the exterior architecture look like? Keep in mind that it should tie to the historical period and location you have chosen to depict. What will the queue feature? How will the queue help to set the time and place for the story being told?
5.       Write a script for the show. The show must be a minimum of five minutes from entering the theater to the exit (1 page per minute). Make sure to not only include dialogue but also the actions being performed. Keep in mind that this needs to be an original plot but should depict a historical event or historical period. It can be a fanciful attraction that should be inspired by history or a purely educational experience.
6.       Create three pieces of concept art for three different scenes that guests would experience in the attraction. This can take the form of scenery, architecture, individual characters/costumes, or even an entire scene in the attraction (look at Marc Davis or Rolly Crump concept art for inspiration).
7.       Design an attraction sign or marquee so that when guests walk up, they know what they will experience in the attraction. Create a name for your attraction that helps guests understand what they’ll experience

1.       Please remember that you must design TWO restaurants. One restauarant must be a quick-service establishment (Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café) and the other must be either a casual or character dining experience (Liberty Tree Tavern, the Coral Reef Restaurant, the Crystal Palace).
2.       This must be an immersive, story-telling dining experience. Guests should be immersed in a specific place and time as they eat. Explain the backstory of the attraction. Where are guests dining? When are they dining? Write a minimum two page story that places your restaurant in time and space. Who started your restaurant? Why did they start the restaurant? What do the different dining rooms represent? Explain the decorations on the walls. How do they fit into your story (read the backstory of Skipper Canteen for help).
3.       You must create a menu that includes three entrees and two desserts at a minimum. These must be historically authentic to the time and place your restaurant fits into. Make sure you include pricing, sides, and optional beverages.
4.       Create three pieces of concept art either showing restaurant fixtures (tables, lights, the ordering counter, trash cans), the exterior architecture, cast member costumes, character costumes (for the character dining experiences), or concept art of the dining rooms.
5.       Design either the menu or the sign of the restaurant so guests have an idea of what they will experience inside the restaurant. Create a name for your restaurants that helps guests understand what they’ll experience

Resort Hotel
1.       This must be an immersive resort experience. Guests should be immersed in a specific time and place.
2.       Your resort must include:
a.       Guest rooms
b.       A lobby
c.       A food court
d.       A higher-end restaurant
e.       A minimum of one themed swimming pool
f.        Other amenities (tennis courts, boat rentals, horse riding, campfires, outdoor movies, game arcade, a lounge, etc.)
3.       What will the exterior of your resort look like? How will it tell the story of the resort before guests even step foot in the lobby for the first time? What type of vegetation will you include to set the time and place of the resort?
4.       Create a blueprint of your resort. Where will the lobby be located? Where will your rooms be located? Etc. Is your resort a value, moderate, or deluxe resort?
5.       Create three pieces of concept art. Your concept art can depict the lobby, the exterior of the building, guest rooms, the swimming pool, the dining hall, fixtures, etc.
6.       Create a menu for meals guests can experience at the food court and the higher end restaurant that fit into the story of the resort. You must include a minimum of three entrees per restaurant.
7.       What will the main form of transportation be for the resort? Monorail? Friendship Boat? Bus transportation? Gondola? Something else? How might that fit into the story of your attraction?
8.       Write the backstory for your attraction. Make sure to explain the major characters that may have founded the resort, what type of building is being depicted, why your pool was created, what the dining hall is and how it fit into the story being told, etc. Make sure that your story fits into a specific time and place and is somewhat historically accurate. See the backstories for Wilderness Lodge and Port Orleans/Dixie Landings for inspiration.


Your attraction/show/restaurant/resort is tied directly to Disney’s newest Orlando park, Disney’s Historical Adventures. As a result, guests need to be fully immersed in an environment that is both historically accurate, geographically accurate, as well as telling a specific story. This story can be fiction or true, but needs to be interesting, engaging, and fit into a region and time period of history (such as Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom or Sunset Rach Market at Disney’s Hollywood Studios). So where do you start? Consider a historical period or civilization that interested you and start there. However, keep in mind that it must be family friendly---this is Disney (sorry, no Mongol pillaging or Aztec human sacrificing)! Next, pick which of the above attractions you’d like to focus on. Begin telling your story and then flesh out the actual details of how you could make that in a real-world environment! The story and attraction will slowly start to come together!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Our Kids' First Trip Ch. 1: Arriving on Property

Welcome to this month's Blogorail Blue Loop. Today we are sharing tips to for taking toddlers to the Disney Parks.

I have been going to Walt Disney World since I was two years old, going to the parks approximately every two years, sometimes more often than that. As a result, I've been to the resort 17 or 18 times. My wife has been to the parks five times since 2001, the last three trips with me since we've been married.

But the summer of 2015 was a very special trip for us, if not me especially: the first time we took our kids to the park.

As I explained in my last blog post (if you haven't read it yet, read my personal story here), my wife and I fostered our kids for a little over a year before finally adopting them this past May. However, we knew that the adoption would be going through once the birth parents' rights had been terminated during the summer of 2015. To celebrate our imminent establishment of officially being a family, we decided to take a trip to Walt Disney World, our first (and only at this point) as a family, as well as the first visit for any of our kids.

We didn't quite know how it was going to go. One of our boys is a very nervous kid. He doesn't like loud noises, frightening situations, or the dark (which can be a problem at Walt Disney World because many of the attractions feature loud noises, frightening situations, and the dark). Our daughter was also fifteen at the time (almost sixteen), and I wasn't sure if she would even be at all interested or enjoy the parks which can sometimes be seen as "kiddy" or "childish" for teenagers who sometimes see themselves as "too cool" for Disney magic. Our daughter had a touch of childlike faith in her, but at the point we traveled to the parks, she'd only been living with us for six months, so we still didn't know how she would respond to the theme parks and attractions.
How silly of me to think that...

The trip from North Carolina to Orlando by car takes about eleven hours. Somehow, I'd convinced my wife to leave the night before check-in and stay just over the Florida border in a hotel, leaving only a few hours' drive to property. Since we wouldn't be going into the parks on our "first day," it would give us an extra day to explore property, such as our resort and Disney Springs.

Because we couldn't check into our resort (Port Orleans: Riverside) until after lunch, and we had arrived on property mid-morning, we decided to drive over to Disney's Art of Animation Resort. As a big fan of Disney's Pop Century Resort, and because the Art of Animation Resort was fairly new (at that point), I had wanted to go check the new resort out. It was also a somewhat chill introduction to Disney World for the kids, who had never visited before. We explained to our daughter where we were going and why, but as four-year-olds, the boys didn't really have any concept of what we were going to see.

We pulled into the parking lot, and I explained to the security guard that we were just visiting to "check out the resort." He waved us on, and we pulled into the parking lot near the lobby. We unloaded from the van, having driven several hours from our motel, like clowns from a car. Picking out our wedgies and walking like cowboys, we waddled into the air conditioned rainbow lobby, making our first stop to...the restrooms.

After everyone finished their bidness, we wandered outside into the Big Blue Pool area. My wife immediately lit up, as one of her favorite Disney films is Finding Nemo. The boys climbed around the larger-than-life coral and anemone that served as the home for Marlin and Nemo. After a few minutes of their expending energy, we took them by the hands and began to wander down Route 66. They noticed pictures of Lightning McQueen and Mater on signs along the pathway.

However, as soon as they saw the life-size statues of the Sheriff and Doc Hudson, their energy spiked. They began to run down Route 66, until they spotted the statue of Mater in front of his junkyard sign. They immediately began climbing all over him, stepping on his wheels, peering into his mouth.

At this point, I lost it. This, I realized, is what made Walt Disney World so special, at least for me. My boys knew that Disney-Pixar's Cars franchise was a cartoon fiction. They knew the movies weren't real. They knew that these car-shaped figures were just statues. But it was the idea that they had been immersed in a universe that they loved, that these characters they watched and the toys that they played with were their size. They loved that they could pose next to Guido and Luigi (some pretty obscure characters from the film that, for some reason, my boys loved), that they could wander around the Cozy Cone Motel.

I was a wreck. I hung back the rest of the family as they wandered around, my boys posing next to Guido and Luigi (ironically wearing blue and yellow shirts), my daughter posing (appropriately) on the hood of Sally. I took a second, sniffed up my runny nose, and dried my eyes, composing myself after two minutes. I wandered up next to my wife, who had just finished taking pictures, who squeezed my hand, knowing full well what I was going through.

I later explained it to her more in detail: that this place that meant so much to me growing up, where some of my happiest and fondest memories lived as a child, was now being shared with my new family, where together, we can make wonderful memories of our own.

It wasn't Cinderella Castle that the magic lived in. Rather, the magic lived in this moment.

Read more about our family's first trip to Walt Disney World, by learning what it was like to experience Port Orleans: Riverside with a teenage daughter!

For more advice on taking toddlers to Disney, check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Blue | Traveling to Disney with Toddlers Loop:

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Excerpt from A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World Vol 1: "An Architecture Lesson from Pirates of the Caribbean"

Welcome to this month's Blogorail Red Loop. Today we are sharing some of the secrets you'll find at Disney attractions.

One of the best parts of writing the volumes of A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World is the research that I do. In college, I worked at the reference desk of the university library, helping students, community members, and professors on research, utilizing the databases, microfilms, microfiche, and stacks to find the information they needed for papers, essays, and monographs. It was a fascinating job and one that has definitely helped me in finding the information I needed to complete my first two volumes of my book.

However, through my research, I've learned the different layers of history that went into the attractions--things that Imagineers didn't have to include. While a teacher who went through four-and-a-half years of history instruction in college, there was a lot about different attractions' details that I was completely unaware of. Take, for example, Pirates of the Caribbean: I would not have known any different if the buildings in the attraction were simple stucco with red clay tile roofs. But Imagineers didn't stop there: they layered detail upon detail to ensure the accuracy and complete story immersion for guests aboard the attraction. This has created a deeper experience for me as a resort guest. Now, while I'm a total nerd (and not just a Disney or history nerd, either), I don't spend the tennish minutes aboard the ride vehicle drifting through the Caribbean waters saying to myself, "Hey, that's Spanish Gothic architecture!" or "What a lovely bellcote!" However, possessing an understanding of these things allows me to place myself in the specific space and time the attraction takes place, to, just for a few minutes, suspend my disbelief and fully enjoy the attraction.

Below, you'll find the first part of my chapter on Pirates of the Caribbean from A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World Vol. 1. My hope is that this will give you a feel for the level of depth and research that went into the writing of these books and will inspire you, if not to read what I've put together, to do some of your own research to enrich your experience at the Walt Disney World parks and resorts.
My first book, A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World, Vol. 1


“Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me!”
These nine words constitute one of the most popular attraction soundtracks for any Disney guest at four Disney resorts around the world. Guests board twenty-four passenger boats, sail through a series of caves, past a ship battling with a Spanish fort, and through a Caribbean town being ransacked, and eventually burned, by a rowdy group of flamboyantly dressed, earring-wearing, drunk, pirates speaking the stereotypical vocabulary of legends.
            The idea for a pirate-themed attraction began early in the developmental stages for Walt Disney’s first theme park, Disneyland, which opened in 1955. Due to the success of the Walt Disney Productions film, Treasure Island starring Bobby Driscoll as Jim Hawkins and Robert Newton as Long John Silver in 1950, Walt decided he wanted some sort of attraction where guests could walk through a wax museum depicting pirates engaging in different roguish situations, such as ransacking a town. Because of the complexity and evolution of the attraction, the attraction did not open with the park in October of 1955. Shortly after the park’s opening to the public, Disney and his Imagineers began working on a series of pavilions for the 1964 New York World’s Fair for companies such as Pepsi, General Electric, and the state of Illinois (which would feature attractions such as ‘it’s a small world’, Carousel of Progress, and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, respectively). Throughout this process, the Imagineers developed what became known as Audio Animatronics, a form of robotic figure that looked and behaved like a human, while at the same time, able to perform for hours on end. Disney decided quickly to evolve his wax museum pirate attraction into some sort of ride-through attraction with Audio Animatronic pirates, giving thousands of Disney guests the classic attraction that exists today.
But how accurate is this beloved attraction? Are the events, locations, and characters true to history or based heavily on the myths of Blackbeard, Davy Jones, and Long John Silver?
            The story behind Disney theme park attractions begins before guests even step foot into the attraction building. This is no different when guests approach the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom theme park. Pirates of the Caribbean is located in Adventureland, one of seven themed “lands” or areas of Walt Disney World’s first theme park, which opened in 1971. On the border of where Adventureland and Frontierland meet stands the area once known as Caribbean Plaza, complete with light brown stucco buildings roofed with red clay shingles. However, the focal point of this area is the Pirates of the Caribbean show building, dominated by a tall clock tower. In 2006, shortly after the release of the film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, the ride was refurbished, featuring the addition of elements from the film. A mast featuring a black sail and the skeleton of a pirate was added to the front of the building, while a banner quoting some lyrics from the ride’s well-known soundtrack was painted on the building.       

Exterior Architecture
The façade of the building is loosely based on El Castillo de San Juan del Morro, a Spanish fort that dominates the coastline of Puerto Rico just outside the capital of San Juan. Also known as El Castillo del Morro, the fort was built in 1539 by the Spanish conquerors of Puerto Rico and was used to protect the city of San Juan and its harbor from sea bound attackers. Over the next few hundred years, the fort and its walls were improved upon, adding thickness to the walls and, eventually, a lighthouse. The exterior architecture of the show building and the design of the buildings throughout the ride is consistent with the Gothic architecture of seventeenth and eighteenth century Spanish Caribbean colonies.
            While El Castillo del Morro is located on the island of Puerto Rico, the architecture on the exterior of the Pirates show building and that of the sets in each of the show scenes is most consistent with the Spanish colonial architecture found on the islands of Cuba and the Dominican Republic. For example, transverse mason arches are used throughout the façade and queue of the attraction. A transverse mason arch is an archway where blocks are arranged in an arch, running from one wall or column to another. The block at the tip of the arch is situated at a ninety-degree angle to the blocks adjacent to the columns or walls, with the blocks between the edges and tip are tilted at varying degrees.
            Another form of architecture that is featured in the attraction and consistent with Spanish colonial architecture during the 1700s is the nave arcade entryway. A nave arcade is a stretch of a room lined by columns linking arches. This architectural feature was often used to make a room appear larger than it truly was. The nave arcade architecture can be found in the open-air entrance of the attraction queue, leading up to the actual entrance of the building. Large columns hold up the ceiling, supporting arches, and leading up to the large double doors of the fortress.
            Also common in colonial Cuban architecture was the decorative roofing and roof lines. Many of the important buildings (such as churches, palaces, and other governmental buildings) had roofs with red clay shingles, which helped keep the interior of the buildings cool during hot days. Beneath the clay shingles were long timber rafters spaced a few feet apart. Both of these architectural features can be found on the exterior of the show building.
Below the roofline of clay tiles, the ceiling would be held up by timber rafters that provide the structural support.

            Sitting just above the entrance to the open-air arcade of the queue, perched on the roof, is an aesthetic (and functional) feature known as a bellcote, or in Spanish, as an espadaña.  A bellcote was usually found on churches, missions, and forts, and could feature up to three large bells used to signal different events. The bellcote sitting atop the queue is not functional, of course, but rather elicits the colonial Spanish architectural feel of the attraction.
            The large clock tower that stands guard before the entrance of the queue is of distinctly colonial Dominican design. Rising to twenty feet and capped with a pyramidal prism, this rectangular tower was often used as a part of church and mission architecture during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These towers rarely had clocks in them, however, but instead housed large bells, similar to the bellcote, to signal parishioners and villagers of different events.
Note the columns, arches, decorative clay tiles, and bellcote perched atop the entrance (image from early 2000s).

Interior Architecture
            The architecture of building facades throughout the ride are also consistent with designs being used throughout seventeenth, and eighteenth century Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Take, for example, the scene where guests first see the landing party dunking the mayor in the well, trying to find out the whereabouts of the town’s treasure and Jack Sparrow. The exterior of the buildings are made of a stucco material, consistent with architecture throughout the Caribbean during the Gothic period. The buildings are roofed with red clay tiles, which were used throughout Cuba. On the ground floor of the building behind the pirates dunking the mayor, arches crowned with transverse masonry are used once again. The windows of the building are recessed, and have sash shutters, which were prevalent with architecture throughout the Dominican Republic. An example of the evidence of sash shutters in this scene is where the brave wife of Carlos (the town mayor) leans out of the open window above the well and yells at her husband, “Be brave Carlos, don’t be cheekin!” Balconies stretch along the upper stories of the buildings, lined by metal banisters and railings, which was used in Puerto Rican architecture.

            A second example of Gothic architecture in the Spanish Caribbean colonies that is accurate throughout the attraction is the “Wench-for-a-Bride Auction” scene. Once again, guests find red clay tiles used for roofing behind the women waiting to be auctioned off. Sash shutters can be found covering the windows on the second floor of the buildings in this scene, as well. Across the canal from the auction sit various pirates, attempting to bid for the potential brides. Behind the pirates, once again, are transverse mason arches, stone blocks situated in a way to evenly distribute the weight and pressure of the heavy stone walls. Balconies with decorative metal railings found in Puerto Rico are used here, as well, with sash shutters covering the doorways opening onto the balconies.

            There are other architectural details that are historically accurate throughout the attraction. Covered walkways native to the Dominican Republic stretch through the town in the scene where the pirates are chasing chickens and being chased by rolling-pin-wielding women. Heavy, rectangular towers tipped with domes and supposedly housing bells, also native to the Dominican, sporadically rise behind buildings throughout the town. Sash shuttered windows, covered public walkways, balconies beneath overhanging eaves, red clay tiled roofs, and transverse mason arches can be found throughout the scene where the drunken pirates sing to the guests while the town burns to the ground around them.

            Whether it is the way arches are lined with stones set in a way to equally distribute the weight and pressure of the stucco walls, the wooden sash coverings over windows, the red clay tiles on the roofs, or the balconies that hang over the show scenes, the architecture throughout the interior of the attraction reflects historical accuracy of the Spanish Caribbean colonies during the Gothic period of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Queue and Loading
            The queue of Pirates of the Caribbean contains highly detailed scenery and set pieces that transport guests back in time. After passing through the open air nave arcade entryway of the attraction entrance, guests pass through heavy wooden double doors and into the Spanish fort. The queue is lit by small lanterns placed sporadically. While these lanterns are powered by electricity, during the seventeen hundreds, these passageways would be lit by candlelight and torches, creating a similar dimness throughout the halls. Due to modern fire safety laws, real fire torches and candlelight was not used to brighten these dark passageways.

            Not surprisingly, transverse mason archways are used throughout the passageways, keeping the architecture of the attraction consistent. The dark and dankness of the queue, while maintained by the modern use of dim lighting and air conditioning, creates the sense of being deep within the Spanish fort. In fact, during the Spanish colonial period, the Castillo del Morro had walls that were up to eighteen feet thick, preventing attackers from being able to blast cannon balls through the walls or easily dig their way through the walls and into the forts.

            Similar to medieval castles, different portions of forts had different uses. The queue winds its way through numerous rooms of the fort. One section that the line runs through is the armory. This room contains piles of cannon balls and numerous cannons. Some of the cannons are pointed out of holes in the walls to ward off invaders. Most armories would be deep within the fort and beneath ground level to prevent enemy fire from entering the room. If a cannon ball from enemy fire had entered the hole in the wall and landed among barrels of gun powder, the resulting explosion would have blown the entire room apart, exposing the interior of the fort to the outside and allowing invaders to enter the fort. However, colonial forts did have rooms similar to this near the exterior wall to repel invaders.
Cannons like these in the fort's armory pointed outward to ward off any enemies that may approach.

            Another portion of the fort that the queue passes through is the dungeon. This dungeon presents some historical inaccuracies. The first inaccuracy is its position in the fort. The dungeon is located adjacent to the exterior wall of the fort, where the queue “exits” the fort and into the “town” where guests load onto the ride vehicles. Dungeons would also be towards the middle of the fort and below ground level. If a dungeon was on the exterior wall, and a cannon ball crashed through the wall, it would create a hole allowing prisoners to escape. Also, a dungeon on the exterior wall would allow prisoners to escape through the windows of the cell, if the prisoner was lucky enough to saw through the iron bars over the windows. Another historical inaccuracy of the dungeon is the position of the prisoners within the cell. One of the well-known scenes of the queue is that of the prisoners’ skeletons seated at a chess board. Instead of allowing prisoners to move freely throughout the cell, prisoners would instead be chained to the walls, either hanging by their wrists or thumbs, their feet not touching the ground. However, to add humor to the attraction and in order to keep its family-friendly status that Disney is famous for, the attraction’s creators opted to place the skeletons at the famous, unwinnable chess board.

            Upon “exiting” the fort, guests find themselves in a small port town through which a canal runs inland. Because the main form of transportation of goods during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries involved shipping, towns would be located along rivers, streams, and canals. When goods were produced, they would be put onto canal boats, called bateaux (French for “boats”, bateau is singular form, pronounced “bah-toe”), and shipped toward the port, a small town located where the river meets the ocean. From there, the cargo would be unloaded from the smaller boat and onto a ship bound for the Americas, Europe, or other island colonies.

            A bateau was a shallow, flat-bottomed boat that is pointed at both ends. By making the boat shallow and flat-bottomed, colonists were able to load heavy cargo into the boats. Bateaux could also carry between one and twenty men, depending on the size of the boat. The average size of the bateau was approximately six feet in width and forty-five to sixty feet long, with an approximate depth of three feet. Bateaux were moved either by the rowing of occupants or by floating slowly on the river’s currents until anchored at a destination. Bateaux could also be used to carry travelers up- or down-river to explore, or in the case of pirates, to maraud and terrorize.

            Interestingly, the ride vehicles for the attraction are modified versions of bateaux. Comparing the historical bateau to the ride vehicles in Pirates of the Caribbean, we find many similarities and a few very minor differences. The ride vehicles are also shallow, flat-bottomed boats ending in a point at both ends. The ride vehicles are able to carry heavy loads of cargo (passengers). The ride vehicles are approximately six feet wide and are about thirty feet long, with a depth of about three feet. The ride vehicle bateaux also float with the current of the ride path. While historical bateaux could carry approximately twenty men, the ride vehicles can carry up to twenty-four passengers, with four passengers in each row.

            Immediately prior to loading on the ride vehicles, guests pass a cave, situated to their right. Guests can’t see deep into the cave, but rather can see flickering torchlight and hear the sounds of someone digging in the sand for treasure. This is also somewhat accurate. While burying treasure was not as prevalent as treasure being sunken in ships, there are historical records of some pirates burying their treasure. One example is that of the Puerto Rican pirate, Roberto Cofresí, who, after giving a portion of his treasure to the needy of his village and spending a portion of his own share, buried the rest in caves for safe keeping until his return.

            After boarding their bateaux ride vehicles, guests pass through a series of caves, through a “waterfall” from which Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest appears and warns the guests. Because the forts along the coasts of Spanish colonies were built high up on rocky cliffs, caves leading to underground rivers and harbors were real, but were a rare find.
To read more about Pirates of the Caribbean and other Magic Kingdom attractions, pick up a copy of A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World Vol. 1 here!
Read about Spaceship Earth, Storybook Circus, the Country Bear Jamboree and more by picking up a copy of A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World Vol. 2 here!

For more Disney ride secrets, check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Red | Disney Ride Secrets Loop:

Monday, March 27, 2017

Magic Kingdom At Night

Walt Disney World is a magical place. But Disney magic takes on a whole new meaning once the sun goes down.

This is not a post about Disney fireworks, castle projection shows, or nighttime parades. I'm going to be honest with you: I haven't watched a Magic Kingdom fireworks show since my age was in the single digits, I've never seen a castle projection show in person, and when we took our kids to Disney for the first time two years ago, we didn't even bother to stay for the nighttime parade. In fact, we bypassed the parade completely by entering Casey's Corner and walking our way through the Emporium all the way to Town Square and exit the park. Now that I think about it, I don't think I've seen a nighttime parade since SpectroMagic replaced the creepy clowns on the balls with the face characters (which I was very upset about, by the way).

Previous creepy mask face creatures of (literally) nightmare-inducing horror. 
Most recent creepy face creatures that I avoided at all costs (even as an adult).

No, instead this post is about the magical experiences that occur in the hours of darkness at The Magic Kingdom (see what I did there? 😏). About an hour before the first nighttime parade, the back three quarters of the park begin to clear out as many guests begin to line the streets of Main Street USA and Frontierland in preparation for the parade (well, I guess began...there's no nighttime parade as of when I'm writing this article). Let me share one helpful tip with you that I've learned the hard way: if you don't want to get stuck in Adventureland and the west side of Main Street for about an hour to an hour and a half during the parade, plan ahead. Once the parade begins, the likelihood of you crossing the parade route to get to the east half of the park will be severely limited.

Because a sizable number of guests are viewing the parade and subsequent castle projection and fireworks shows, this leaves much of the rest of the park cleared out, or at least a more sparse grouping of people. This creates the illusion that the park belongs to you. Yeah, it's nice that there are fewer people around the attractions so that you might actually stand a chance getting on Peter Pan's Flight without having to wait 270 minutes in a claustrophobic queue with a bunch of sweaty and screaming toddlers. But there is so much more to appreciate at night than simply taking advantage of the shorter lines.

Take, for instance, the fuller immersion of the lands and story of the park just through the addition of lighting. For example, Tomorrowland seems to come more alive, at least to me, in the dark. The electronic background music that plays throughout the land seems to mesh a lot better when the neon lights and spinning planets that are lit up over Astro Orbiter are admired down the Avenue of Planets.

Or take, for example, Storybook Circus. One of my fondest recent memories of visiting Walt Disney World happened back in 2012, when my wife and I visited for our second anniversary (this was the same trip she almost killed a giraffe at Animal Kingdom Lodge and when we ate at the Coral Reef, all while evading a hurricane). It just happened that my aunt, uncle, and younger cousin were visiting Walt Disney World at the same time as us, and we had coordinated our plans to spend the evening together at the Magic Kingdom after dinner. It was late and the park had pretty much cleared out. We ended up over at Storybook Circus to ride Dumbo, which was one of my cousin's favorite attractions that trip and one of the few that my very pregnant aunt could actually ride. My cousin decided after a spin on Dumbo that she wanted to ride the Great Goofini, so my uncle took her over to ride it three or four times, while my wife, aunt, and I sat and talked while sitting on a low wall overlooking the dueling Dumbos. We didn't get to see my aunt, uncle, and cousin very often, as they, like the rest of our family, lived in Michigan, while my wife and I lived in North Carolina. It seems insignificant, but for me it was a special few moments with a family member that I had been very close to growing up, highlighted by the beautiful lighting of the fountained Dumbo spinners and the bare bulb sign of the Great Goofini.

Sometimes darkness creates an opportunity for adding story elements, as well. For example, the Haunted Mansion seems to become "more alive" after the shadow of darkness has fallen like a death veil. If the effect is working during your trip, you may see a ghostly light moving from window to window as though someone is carrying a lantern or candle through the mansion. During the evening hours, the howl of wolves or coyotes can be heard in the distance. There are also times when a strobe light simulates the flashing of lightning on the mansion, accompanied by a clap of thunder. These lighting and sound details can only be experienced at night, adding to the magic of this park later in the day.

I would argue, however, that the best place to spend the evening and nighttime hours in the Magic Kingdom is Adventureland. There is just something about the claustrophobic feeling of the dense jungle closing around you while flickering tiki torches light the area and the steel drum background music echoes through the land. One of my favorite Adventureland details, and I'm not sure if this is an effect that is still active or not, used to scare the crap out of my family. At night, the sounds of cannon fire could be heard occasionally from the cannons watching guard in the clock tower outside Pirates of the Caribbean, accompanied by steam issuing out of the barrel after he erupting cannon ball. Again, this effect was only active at night, which made it more startling because of the loud explosions in the pitch dark.

Some people argue that certain attractions should be experienced both day and night, as the darkness and mysteriousness of night brings a new dimension and side of the attraction's story. I couldn't agree more. However, while some argue that the best nighttime attractions are Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, I would argue that the best nighttime attractions are the Jungle Cruise and the Swiss Family Treehouse. There is just a sense of more laid-back adventure riding through the pitch-black darkness of the Jungle Cruise rivers, lit only by the search light mounted to the front of the boat, and the darkness seems to create a sense of intimacy between the passengers and skipper, more-so than one experiences during a daytime cruise. Darkness also creates a sense of serenity and peace in the boughs above Adventureland in the treehouse home of the Swiss Family Robinson. The vertical distance from the ground as well as the branches and leaves, both natural and Imagineer-made, that populate the area around the enormous tree, seem to block out the noise from the park and attractions below. The height of the platforms also provide some excellent night views of Adventureland, as well as the Magic Kingdom as a whole, that cannot be seen anywhere else in the park.

Once the fireworks have concluded, the park pretty much empties out, giving you a true opportunity to play and be spontaneous in the park. In fact, in certain parts of the park, you might not see another family or another person, creating the illusion that the park is yours alone. Take, for example, the time I was on vacation at Walt Disney World in my college years with my parents and teenage brother. We were in the Magic Kingdom around eleven o'clock and the hub had pretty much cleared out. We were taking our time leaving Liberty Square and heading toward the park exit, when we decided to stop on one of the bridges and peer into the canals. I turned and looked for my brother over my shoulder to see him standing against the railing, his hands in his pockets, peering into the black water below. At first glance, I thought he was urinating into the canal, and I called him out on it. The four of us laughed, because it was very obvious Sam was doing no such thing, but he quickly pretended like he was while I snapped a quick picture (#WeirdKisteHumor). Something like this would not have been possible during the daylight hours. Now, I'm not advocating that everyone go and pretend like they are peeing in water features throughout Walt Disney World, but this kind of spontaneity and playfulness only exists in the hours after the park has cleared out and gives way to the cover of darkness.

Hah...sorry, Sam ;-)

So next time you have the opportunity, I really encourage you to take a few moments and enjoy the peace and beauty that is the Magic Kingdom after dark. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Disney Dining Plan: Is It Worth It?

Welcome to this month's Blogorail Orange Loop. Today we are sharing parts of a Disney vacation that people often ask, is it worth it?

I like to eat.

In fact, as I thought about how to start this post, my mind immediately went to some of my favorite restaurant and dining experiences at Walt Disney World.

Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café. Pecos Bill's Tall Tale Inn. Be Our Guest Restaurant. The Electric Umbrella. Yak and Yeti.
One of my favorite quick-service restaurants, located at Epcot!

My mouth is literally salivating just thinking about the chicken fingers and fries that I always get from the quick service restaurants.

But the problem is that with as expensive as a vacation to Walt Disney World is, one's dining experiences often suffers. Does our family really need to go to a character meal or eat at the Be Our Guest if we are purchasing a three day Park Hopper for each member of our family of five, as well as staying at Port Orleans Resort: Riverside? Maybe we should just stick to PopTarts each morning for a late breakfast and a quick service meal for dinner...

The nice thing is that this is a decision that you don't have to make!

Instead, you can choose the Disney Dining Plan!

The Disney Dining Plan has different levels guests can purchase to add to their vacation package (as long as they stay at a Disney resort hotel and purchase theme park tickets), tailored to their vacation budget and the type and number of meals they would like to partake in during their trip.

There are three levels to the Disney Dining Plan (all prices are based on a five night trip for a family of four, added on to the price of your resort and park ticket prices):
-The Magic Your Way Package Plus Quick Service Dining ($691.83) gives guests access to two quick service dining meals per person per night, two snacks per person per night, and one insulated drink mug that can be refilled at your resort hotel.
-The Magic Your Way Package Plus Dining ($943.06) gives guests access to one quick service meal per person per night, one table service meal per person per night, two snacks per person per night, and one insulated drink mug that can be refilled at your resort hotel.
-The Magic Your Way Package Plus Deluxe Dining ($1,454.26) gives guests access to three meals per person per night from any category per night, two snacks per person per night, and one insulated drink mug that can be refilled at your resort hotel.

To really understand what you get when you purchase the Disney Dining Plans, we probably need to define the different levels of dining experience one can experience:

  • Quick Service is also known as counter service and is similar to fast food restaurants. This is a dining location, usually in the parks but also including resort food courts and a few locations at Disney Springs, where you stand in line to order your food, pick it up at the window, and find an empty table at to enjoy your meal. These dining locations usually have limited menus, featuring on average no more than five or six options to choose from. Meals at a quick service dining location usually run anywhere from $8-$14 dollars per person. Some of my favorite quick service locations are Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe and Pecos Bill's Tall Tale Inn in the Magic Kingdom, the Electric Umbrella at Epcot, the Backlot Express at Disney's Hollywood Studios, the Yak and Yeti Local Foods Cafe at Animal Kingdom, and Wolfgang Puck Express at Disney Springs, as well as the numerous resort food courts. 
  • A Table Service meal is a (sometimes) more laid back experience. Upon checking in, a host or hostess walks you to your table, where they give you a menu to order from. This is a full-service dining experience, where patrons can order soft drinks, alcoholic beverages (not covered by the Dining Plan), appetizers, salads, entrees, and desserts. Because you are at Disney World, these table service meals are usually themed and sometimes feature entertainment. Meals at a table service dining location can run anywhere from $14.99-$59.99 per person. Please remember that most of these table service dining locations require advanced dining reservations (ADRs) that can be made on Disney's website up to 180 days in advance. Some of my favorite table service locations include the Liberty Tree Tavern and the Be Our Guest Restaurant at the Magic Kingdom, the Coral Reef Restaurant at Epcot, the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and the Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe at Disney Springs. 
  • A snack is exactly what it sounds like. These small items can be redeemed at many locations throughout the Disney resorts and parks at locations including food courts, quick service locations, and even food kiosks. Some examples of what qualifies as a snack is a muffin, a piece of fruit, a box of popcorn, an ice cream bar, a bottle of soda, or even a cup of coffee.
Yummy Disney cookies (almost too cute to eat)!

Yummy cupcakes from the Boardwalk Bakery count as a snack!
There are often coolers in resorts' food courts filled with snack items.

And of course, my favorite Disney treat, the Dole Whip, counts as a snack credit, too! Yessssss!

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's look at some "disadvantages" that many see with purchasing the Disney Dining Plan:

1. First is obviously the price. The Disney Dining Plan must be paid for ahead of the trip at the time the entire package is paid in full. This amount may seem like a large cost to justify, especially months ahead of actually taking the trip. My wife and I have often had the "dialogue" about whether we could justify spending $700 on food for a five day trip.

2. The second argument against the Disney Dining Plan, honestly, doesn't make sense to me. A lot of people argue that they don't purchase the Dining Plan because of the quantity of food that you get with your meals. I don't see this as a problem, because as stated above, I like to eat. However, when visiting a table service or signature dining experience while on the Dining and Deluxe Dining plans, not only does your meal include a full entree with accompanying sides, but also a dessert. Now, again, I personally don't see this as a problem ("free" dessert with every sit down meal?) but some prefer to not eat such large, heavy meals while traipsing miles through crowded theme parks in central Florida.

"Free" Dessert???

Regardless of these two "disadvantages," I find that there are more advantages to the Disney Dining Plan that motivate me to purchase the plan when we book our vacation to Walt Disney World.

1. Refillable drink mugs. Included for each member of your party is an insulated drink mug that can be refilled an infinite number of times each day of your vacation at your resort. Because these plastic mugs are insulated, they can hold both hot and cold drinks. Therefore, you can refill your mug with soda, Joffrey's Coffee, water, and other drinks available at the resort food court or dining location. Now, not that I've ever done this, but I have "heard of people" who bring their refillable mugs when they resort hop (like riding the Monorail loop or go listen to YeHaa Bob over at Riverside) so they can take advantage of the soda fountains at the other resorts too. Disney's expectation, however, is that these mugs are only to be used at your home resort, but, I mean, it's not like there's anyone policing the soda machines...
My beautiful wife holding a refillable drink mug.

2. Ease and Freedom. The nice thing about the Disney Dining Plan is that it is linked right to your MyMagic+ account and your Magic Band or room key. After ordering at a quick service location or at the end of your meal at a table service location, Cast Members simply instruct you to tap your Magic Band or swipe your room key, automatically deducting your meal points from your account. No carrying around cash or a credit card, no fumbling in a bag or back pocket for your wallet required! No lifting of the sweatshirt tied around your waist, embarrassingly revealing your fanny pack, needed (again, not something I've done any time over the past five years...)!

Does anyone actually wear fanny packs anymore??? Because I don't...👀😐😶

3. Price of meals. Let's say that you decide to go with the Magic Your Way Package Plus Quick Service Dining at a total price of $691.83 added to your five day trip. This is actually a discount on food if you "go big" at the quick service locations. "Why?" you ask? The Quick Service Dining Plan allows you to not only purchase your entree at the dining location, but also a soda. So let's say that you spend $14 per person at the quick service location for two meals a day (lunch and dinner) across your five day trip. That totals out to $700 spent on food during your trip. And that doesn't even include breakfast! So let's say you spend an additional $6 per person on breakfast each day...that brings your total up to $850! Rather than spend that money, using the Quick Service Dining Plan allows you to get your two counter service meals with drink, as well as eat a muffin or piece of fruit (or if you're like me...nectar from the gods--erm I mean coffee) for breakfast, using one of your two snack credits per day. In the end, you'll be saving $150!

4. Cheating the system. After taking multiple trips to Walt Disney World on the Disney Dining Plan, my wife and I have found ways to "cheat the system." For example, let's say that you decide to go with the Magic Your Way Package Plus Dining. This package provides you a counter service meal and a table service meal each day, as well as two snacks per day. Table service meals at Walt Disney World range anywhere from $14.99 to $59.99 per person. Since Disney doesn't designate what table service restaurants you can or cannot use your dining credits at, you can choose to use your daily credit on a more expensive, exclusive, and/or "fancy" dining experience (although some table service restaurants require the use of two table service dining credits, so make sure to check into that ahead of time). This includes character dining experiences! My recommendation is that if you want the best "bang for your buck," visit Disney's website and go to their dining page. Here, you can look at the menus for each restaurant on property and can learn what restaurants take how many dining credits. For example, you can dine at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater at Hollywood Studios, where meals run for an average of $20 per entree. Or, you could choose to eat at Boma, located at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, which averages $45 per person. Both meals only take one table service credit! The Sci-Fi is a fun, immersive dining experience, but serves your basic theme park fare of burgers and fries, with a limited selection of other entrees. However, Boma provides patrons with an authentic African buffet dining experience, giving diners the options of salmon, turkey, ribs, striploin, and many other higher end foods flavored with an African palate. If you prefer a quieter, higher-end meal, by purchasing the Magic Your Way Package Plus Dining, you are getting more for your money by going to one of these higher-end options. Character meals are also only one table service credit on the Dining Plan. So if your little one wants to meet Mickey and Minnie or Cinderella and Belle, you can enjoy a meal with "character" at one of many dining locations (many of which would cost an average of $40 per person if you pay out-of-pocket). Some examples of this include Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at Epcot, the Crystal Palace at the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood and Vine at Hollywood Studios, the Tusker House Restaurant at Animal Kingdom, and Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary Resort.
Liberty Tree Tavern

The Crystal Palace
Another way my wife and I have figured out a way to "cheat the system" deals specifically with one of my favorite breakfast locations on Disney property: the Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland. While this new(ish) restaurant is a deluxe and elegant table service restaurant at dinnertime, during breakfast and lunch the restaurant serves as a quick service dining location. This means that if you have purchased the Magic Your Way Package Plus Quick Service Dining, you can still enjoy this wonderful and well-themed table service dining location using one of your quick service dining credits! Just be sure to secure an Advanced Dining Reservation ahead of time, as the stand-by wait to get into this restaurant can be quite lengthy without one.
Be Our Guest Restaurant
5. Budgeting. Disney vacations are friggen expensive. I don't think any of us would deny that fact. However, more often than not, when we book vacations, we only book the resort and park tickets ahead of time, meaning that we then have to come up with some sort of vacation budget for our trip. That means that we have to estimate approximately how much we will spend on things like meals, souvenirs, and entertainment (Characters in Flight? Mini golf? Water parks?) and set aside additional monies for them prior to our vacations. And unless we end up pulling extra money from somewhere else, this could lead to meals and/or experiences being cut out of the vacation should we exceed our budget. When you purchase the Disney Dining Plan, it is included in your total vacation cost that needs to be paid off before your vacation. This means you don't have to budget for meals ahead of time, but rather could choose where you want to eat when you get "rumbly in your tumbly."

6. Free dining. Who doesn't like free stuff? I mean, someone offers me free food? Holy cow. I would be in heaven. I mean, it's amazing enough if I'd be in Disney World, but having free food at Disney World? Where can I sign up??? No, this wish doesn't require pixie dust to grant the wish, just a little bit of planning and travel flexibility. Every year, Walt Disney World offers special vacation offers for free dining if guests travel during certain dates. This means that guests who travel to Walt Disney World during certain times of the year (usually the "slower" times of year) and stay at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel are eligible to have a free upgrade of the dining plan added to their vacation package. However, there are some stipulations. In addition to being required to visit during a certain date range, guests usually have to stay at a moderate or deluxe resort and purchase a certain number of theme park days on their ticket. The free dining plan is usually an upgrade to the Magic Your Way Package Plus Quick Dining. Check on Walt Disney World's Special Offers page throughout the year for more information.

So what would a hypothetical day look like for my family on the Disney Dining Plan?

  • On the Quick Service Dining plan, usually we start with using our snack credits for breakfast. We might use our credit to get a muffin or piece of fruit or carrots and hummus. We wouldn't need a beverage with our breakfast, because we could just bring our refillable mugs with us to the dining hall and fill those at the coffee percolators or soda fountains instead. For lunch and dinner, we would choose a quick service dining location located where we planned on spending our day. For example, if we are hanging out in the eastern half of the Magic Kingdom, we may decide to eat at Pinocchio's Village Haus or Cosmic Ray's depending on how busy the restaurants at that time. Or if we decide to spend an evening riding the Monorail around the resort loop, we might decide to disembark at the Contemporary to eat at the Contempo Cafe. The Quick Service dining plan gives you the flexibility and ease of deciding where to eat without having to budget or plan ahead with Advanced Dining Reservations. It allows for a truly spontaneous vacation experience.
Casey's Corner

The Riverside Mill Food Court at Disney's Port Orleans: Riverside Resort
  • If my wife and I decided to purchase the Magic Your Way Package Plus Dining plan, we would likely start the day off the same way, redeeming our snack credit for breakfast. One big difference between the Quick Service and table service dining plans, however, is the necessity of making advanced dining reservations, which requires guests to make daily plans up to two months in advance. For example, during our last trip, we decided to have breakfast at the Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom. Because of the popularity of this restaurant, even though it is considered Quick Service at breakfast, we had to make advanced reservations, and were lucky enough to score an ADR at 8:15 in the morning. This meant that when we finished our meal around 9:00, we were able to hop on some of the more popular Fantasyland attractions just as the Magic Kingdom was opening. Because we ate at the Be Our Guest, that determined ahead of time that we would be spending the day at the Magic Kingdom. In the scenario where we got our snack for breakfast, we might spend our day at Epcot and get a quick service meal at La Cantina de San Angel, located across from the Mexico Pavilion (can you say "churros"???). This would maximize our park time during the peak of the day's activity. However, after the sun goes down and things start to become calmer and more peaceful at Epcot, we might decide to have a romantic table service meal at the Coral Reef (read my review of the Coral Reef as an idea romantic meal). Again, the necessity of having an ADR for the Coral Reef required us to plan our day around Epcot two months in advance, meaning that this was the day we had to book our Epcot FastPass+ reservations, as well. Purchasing the Magic Your Way Package Plus Dining requires more planning ahead of time and less spontaneity, so make sure you account for that.
My dad and I at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater

Tony's Town Square Restaurant on Main Street, USA
The Coral Reef Restaurant at Epcot

While the Disney Dining Plan can potentially be a large amount of money to have to shell out prior to your Disney vacation, I do believe that it is well worth your money in the end. It provides a less stressful experience while on your vacation and allows you instead to enjoy the magic of Walt Disney World on a moment-to-moment basis.

For more opinions on what is & isn't worth the splurge at Disney, check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Orange | Is It Worth It? Loop: