Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Disney Date Night: Story Hunters

Welcome to this month's Blogorail Green Loop. Today we are sharing some Disney inspired date ideas.

They may just look like a pair of water towers, but they can lead to a wonderful date with your significant other!

My wife and I don't get dates very often.

Living 900 miles away from family in Michigan makes it somewhat difficult to find people to babysit on a regular basis. Sometimes we ask our daughter, a teenager, to watch her younger brothers, but we also don't want to monopolize her time.

We are also teachers, so by the time the week is done, we are just plumb exhausted. Friday evenings usually consist of watching a show on Netflix and then in bed and sleeping by 9:30.

But on the rare occasion, about once a month, that we do get to go on a date, our dates consist of going out for dinner, maybe a wine bar, and walking around Target. How romantic, huh? Now don't get me wrong. I absolutely love the dates and time alone spent with my wife. It gives us an opportunity to reconnect and remember why we fell in love in the first place.

But what would happen if we were given the opportunity to go on a date, just the two of us, at Walt Disney World? How would we spend our evening without the kids? If it were up to me, I don't think we would do the same that we do at's not exactly "romantic" to go grab dinner with hundreds of other people at the Rainforest Cafe and walk around the World of Disney store at Disney Springs. Now, on occasion, it is nice and relaxing to go out for a romantic dinner at a nice Disney restaurant (like the Coral Reef), but is that really how we want to spend our evening without the kids?

I, for one, would much rather spend our evening alone at Walt Disney World doing something that would not necessarily be easy to do with our five year old twins in tow or that our seventeen year old would be bored with.

While I've not done this with my wife, I think it is a brilliant idea, one that I came up with in the place I come up with all my good ideas:

The shower.
Sorry for that image in your mind...hope I didn't scare you too much..

Before I ruin your appetite with that image burnt into your brain, I present to you my idea:

Story Hunting.

When creating Walt Disney World, Imagineers could have just given us standard rides in blasè show buildings in lands that have no theming whatsoever.

But lucky for us, that's not what they did.

When Disneyland opened in 1955, Walt Disney created an experience for his park guests. He wanted to put his guests into the worlds of his animated films, to make them characters in the stories and worlds he was portraying. This led to him charging the park's designers to create highly immersive environments including props, scenery, music, smells, and even foliage authentic to the place and time of the story being told.

Some of these stories are obvious. Take, for example, the details in and around Pirates of the Caribbean. The plaza on the exterior of the show building features a shipwreck with a skeleton hanging out of the crow's nest, setting the stage for the dangerous adventures inside. Palm trees stand nearby to create the setting that guests are going to have an experience in a tropical locale. The show building's facade itself is styled like an old Spanish fort, El Castillo del Morro, located in San Juan, Puerto Rico, further cementing the setting of the attraction in the Caribbean. The illusion of the Spanish fort continues inside as guests move through the queue, observing different rooms including a dungeon, an armory, and the battlements. This level of detail continues in the architectural stylings and details throughout the entirety of the attraction (I give an in-depth analysis of the historical accuracy of the attraction's architecture in a previous post).

However, some attractions and locations throughout Walt Disney World have stories that are not so obvious. There is no sign to explain why certain props or details were put where they were or who the names belong to on different doors or crates. This is where Story Hunting comes in: it is up to the guest to figure out the backstory on their own, which creates a deeper appreciation for the place you are experiencing. This usually requires walking around in circles throughout a resort, looking at the walls, paintings and photographs, the architecture, the plants, the different buildings, the names of restaurants and shops, as well as props and decorations used.

Because hunting for the backstories of lands, attractions, resorts, and restaurants can take up so much attention and because they're like a puzzle to put together (more rewarding, I venture to say, than paying money for an hour in an Escape Room), I present this idea to my readers as a great way to spend a date night with your significant other without the kids. It allows you and your partner to go on walks, to spend time talking and work through conflicting ideas. While you may get weird looks from other resort guests, it gives you a chance to be mostly alone with your significant other, and can present an enjoyable afternoon or evening together, doing something physical more than just seeing a movie, digesting food, or staring at the back of your eyelids in your resort hotel room.

How does one get started Story Hunting?

1.) Pick a location on property that is rich in detail. It could be a land in a park (like Adventureland, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, or Dinoland USA), a restaurant (Jock Lindsay's Hanger Bar, Trader Sam's, AbracadaBar, or Pecos Bill's Tall Tale Inn and Cafe), or a resort (Port Orleans: Riverside or the Wilderness Lodge). I would advise staying away from attractions when Story Hunting, as the stories presented on individual attractions are pretty cut-and-dry and easy to figure out. Imagineers present all the details and the plot of the story to guests in an easy-to-digest manner, taking out much of the challenge. However, if you want to start somewhere easy to whet your appetite for Story Hunting, start with the Haunted Mansion: there are numerous details inside the mansion and out, but still a hint of mystery to the attraction that one could manipulate the details to come up with a backstory or mythology to the attraction.

2.) Begin with the exterior. Imagineers begin telling the story of the land, restaurant, shop, or resort before you even step foot in the doors. As someone who is a history teacher with an English background, I can personally tell you that setting and context is essential to understanding a story. Look at the architectural features of the building. What is the style of the building? Is the building meant to look like it is from another part of the world? Another time period? How might that help unfold the story being told? Look at the plants outside, as well. What types of plants, flowers, trees, and bushes are being used in the landscaping? How do the plants help to set the scene of where and when Imagineers are transporting you? Look at the walkways. Is there anything imprinted in them that might help to tell the stories? What about traffic and street signs? What names are being used for the roads on the resort's property? What jargon or slang is being used on the signs and how does that help to place you in a specific time and place? If there are multiple buildings, how does the architecture, style, and building materials of the buildings progress and change? Why do you think this is? If at a resort, what does the pool look like? What does the pool appear to be made of? Where is the water source that feeds the pool? What is the decoration and theming around the pool? What is the name of the pool bar? How might this all fit together to tell a bigger story? Look at the fixtures (i.e. lampposts, lighting, door handles, door styles, window styles, signs, directories, stairways, balcony spindles, etc.). What does this tell you about where and when the story takes place?

Disney's Wilderness Lodge

Disney's Port Orleans Resort: Riverside

3.) Take notice of first impressions. Upon entering the building, resort, restaurant, shop, or land, use all of your senses to take note of first impressions. What color is the walkway? How are different things arranged? What are building materials made out of? What type of music is playing (As I write this, I'm listening to Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," which plays as part of the background loop at Wilderness Lodge)? What do you smell? How does what you are seeing and experiencing make you feel? Is the view before you grandiose? Ramshackle? Extravagant? Old-timey? Does it remind you of anything? As we ask in the world of education, can you connect what you are seeing with any prior knowledge? Have you seen anything like this before in other places you've traveled or patronized? Where was it? When was it? How might that connect to the story you are currently a part of?
The Check-In Lobby of Disney's Port Orleans Resort: Riverside

4.) Pay attention to specific details. What are the architectural styles and decorating style on the interior? What era of architecture or interior decorating is being used? What are the materials that are being used to create what you are seeing? Who might have created this space? Why? What are the names of the different shops and restaurants? How might they fit into the story? Who might have started the shop or restaurant? Do you think it was always a shop or restaurant or could it have served a different purpose and then converted to a new establishment later in life? How do you know? Are there dates posted? What might those dates signify? How might they tie into the story?

Riverside Mill Food Court, Disney's Port Orleans Resort: Riverside
River Roost Lounge, Disney's Port Orleans Resort: Riverside
Fulton's General Store, Disney's Port Orleans Resort: Riverside
Medicine Show Arcade, Disney's Port Orleans Resort: Riverside
Detail of lobby column, Disney's Port Orleans Resort: Riverside

5.) Examine props, artwork, and artifacts in detail. Walt Disney World restaurants, shops, lands, and resorts are replete with physical objects that can be touched, manipulated, and examined to further the story being told or to help set the stage for what is to come. Take, for example, the queue for MuppetVision 3D: pipes are made to look like noses for chalk drawings on the exterior walls, visual gags (like nets full of jello) hang from the rafters, signs using immense amounts of puns (hehe PUNS) hang on the walls, and various references to episodes and films starring the Muppets are abundant, all in the name of helping to prepare guests for the show they are about to see. A similar process occurs all throughout the resorts, including restaurants, lands, resorts, and shops. Take a moment to look at your surroundings. Are there seating areas nearby? What do the benches or chairs look like? Are there store displays? How are they shaped? What do they resemble? Are there pieces of artwork hanging on the walls? Are they photographs or paintings? What do they portray? Who or what is in the artwork? How does that help to tell the story of the space you are in? Are there glass display cases? What is inside them? Are there placards that explain what you are looking at? What language does the placard use? If not, is there any information printed on the objects themselves? Are there dates on the signs, artifacts, artwork, or props? Who might have used the prop or artifact? Who may have taken the photograph or painted the painting? What is being depicted? Who might the people be in the photograph or painting and what are they doing? How do the props, artwork, and artifacts help to tell the story of the resort, restaurant, shop, or land?

Fans in the Roaring Fork Cafe, Disney's Wilderness Lodge

Display case in the Territory Lounge, Disney's Wilderness Lodge
Mural above seating in Artist's Point, Disney's Wilderness Lodge
Display case, lobby of Disney's Wilderness Lodge

Detail of waterwheel mechanics, Riverside Mill Food Court, Disney's Port Orleans Resort: Riverside

Wall map of area waterways, outside Boatwright's Dining Hall, Disney's Port Orleans Resort: Riverside

Wall decoration, Boatwright's Dining Hall, Disney's Port Orleans Resort: Riverside

Wall decoration, River Roost Lounge, Disney's Port Orleans Resort: Riverside

Steamship inside display case, entrance lobby of Disney's Port Orleans Resort: Riverside

Candy dispenser/merchandise shelving unit, Big Top Souvenirs, Storybook Circus, Magic Kingdom

Hot dog quick service kiosk, Storybook Circus, Magic Kingdom

6.) Tie together progression. Looking at the architecture, props, shop and restaurant names, do you notice a chronological or geographical progression? Does the building materials change? Do colors of the walls, buildings, or flooring change? Does architectural style change? Do dates or numbers change as you move through space? How might this show a progression through time or geographical space and how might that help to tell the story?

Notice the different architectural styles and features of these three buildings at Disney's Port Orleans Resort: Riverside. How might these show a progression through time? What do these different styles tell you about the person who may have built them?

7.) Use your detective skills. Tie everything together. Imagineers were very deliberate by what they placed throughout resort. No fixture, piece of artwork, building material, architectural style, prop, or piece of music was placed there by mistake or as a fill in--it is there on purpose to help tell a detailed story. Put together the dates or periods or era being depicted. Apply the geographical region that has been designed for the land, restaurant, shop, or resort. Make some educated guesses about the proprietors of the shops or restaurants based on the names attached or the props or decorations on display. Imagine who may have built or occupied this space and for what reasons. Try to determine how something got there, what its origin may have been. Look at the names of the different shops, restaurants, lounges, bars, arcades, buildings, and kiosks to determine what role they may have played in this fictional community or who the proprietors were and what their individual backstory may have been. Think about what information may be missing or what doesn't make a whole lot of sense and look for details that may help to fill in those gaps.

Finally, together with your partner, grab a drink of your choice (water, beer, wine, froo-froo drinks, soda, Joffrey's Coffee, etc) and find a place to sit together. Try to hash out a plot or progression to your story. What is the origin of the restaurant, store, land, or resort? Who were the key players? What was their individual backstories and how did they contribute to the restaurant, store, land or resort? Did the buildings maintain their original functions or did they change over time? Why? How did the surrounding landscape and resources (foliage, rock outcroppings, elevation, water features, etc) contribute to how or why the resort, restaurant, store, or land turned out the way it did?

Like I said, my wife and I have never gone Story Hunting by ourselves. I have gone Story Hunting alone a few times, snapping pictures for research purposes for my most recent book, A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World Vol. 2, as well as forthcoming volumes, in Storybook Circus, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Disney's Wilderness Lodge, Casey's Corner, and Disney's Port Orleans Resort: Riverside. However, the time spent alone, engaging with each other, searching for clues, and creating an elaborate backstory for what we are seeing and experiencing would not only enrich our appreciation for the level of detail Disney Imagineers put into the parks and resorts, but would also enrich our relationship as a married couple through quality time spent together.
For more creative Disney date ideas, check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Green | Creative Disney Date Ideas Loop:


  1. Great date night idea! I love exploring and looking at all the little details that are often overlooked.

  2. What a unique idea. We always like to look for the small details when visiting Walt Disney World, but I never thought of turning it into a date night.

  3. What a fantastic idea! Everything in Disney has a story, but sometimes I've often wondered what exactly that story is. Taking the time to do this would be so much fun!

  4. This is an amazing idea! Especially for people who visit often. It's so fun when you can find something new.