Sunday, April 30, 2006

Meet Pal Mickey

This little fellow riding on a towel-animal is Pal Mickey! He's the newest Imagineering toy to hit Walt Disney World (and I'm quite sure you'll be seeing this little fellow in the other parks in short order.) Pal Mickey is a brilliant piece of technology masquerading as a toy. He is useful, fun, and interesting. Peppered throughout all the WDW parks are little RFID transmitters that Pal Mickey uses to know his location. When you carry him around in the parks, he always knows where he is and he uses that information to tell you all sorts of great stuff. Mickey will giggle and shake when he has something to say, and when you squeeze his hand or tummy, he'll tell you things like parade times, background trivia about attractions and locations, which attractions have short wait times, where the characters are appearing in the parks, and much more. He also likes to lead you in sing-a-longs, tell extremely corny jokes, and play games. He's really a lot of fun, and kept surprising us all the time. When you take him home, he loses his ability to tell you about the parks, but he can still tell jokes, sing songs and play games until you bring him back. I am SURE that they have big, big plans for the future of Pal Mickey.

Pal Mickey proved immediately useful. On the first night we arrived in Orlando, we popped into the Magic Kingdom after dinner and the fireworks to walk around and maybe ride something while everyone was leaving after the fireworks. We were walking past Splash Mountain, and I told Shannon that we should christen our experience with a ride on quite possibly my favorite disney attraction ever. At the time, she was a little nervous about big drops, and wanted to keep the first night as chill an experience as possible. So I respected that, and didn't push it any farther.... BUT PAL MICKEY DID! The first thing Pal Mickey said to us was 'Hey Gang, why don't we check out Splash Mountain?' So I explained to Shannon that we can't possibly argue with Pal Mickey, that Pal Mickey would certainly never encourage her to go on a ride that is SCARY... so she did, and is no longer afraid of Splash Mountain. She's also no longer afraid of larger and more terrifying roller coasters, but that's a blog entry for another day.

You really are a pal, Mickey.

On DeVine

This is DeVine. She lives at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and comes out periodically to visit the guests. I use visit in the broadest of terms here, as she doesn't communicate in any sort of traditional sense. She comes out of the forest, walking on long stilts attached to her hands and feet. With only non-verbal communication, she languidly moves through the crowd, stopping to look at people, hide behind the folage, or just poses next to things -- and she is remarkable. We stopped to watch her for quite a while, and her performance was amazing. Equally interesting was the crowd reactions. Some people (like us) were VERY into watching her. Others ranged from interested to absolutely dismissive. It was kind of sad to see a grumpy parent hurry their child by in a stroller and to hear the child get interested in DeVine, only to have the parent snap back with something like, 'Oh, that's just a lady.' or 'She's a tree honey, we have to hurry to Expedition Everest.' She's not 'just a lady', and Expedition Everest sure ain't going anywhere. Animal Kingdom is one of the few theme parks in the world that actually rewards you for taking time to understand and appreciate it, and DeVine is a perfect example. So if you're ever at AK, do yourself a favor and loiter in the area between Africa and Asia. Spot animals in the Tree of Life while you wait. You'll be glad you did.

On Mission: Space

Mission:Space presented me with a few complicated hurdles to get over before we left on our trip. You see, not three or four days before leaving, a lady died from a stroke shortly after riding M:S. The autopsy and a short investigation proved that Disney wasn't at fault, but that didn't help my overactive imagination one bit. My brain kept yelling 'OHHHHHHH ALLLLLLLLEX, WHAT IF YOU HAVE A BLOOD CLOT SOMEWHERE, LURKING IN YOUR BODY, JUST WAITING FOR MISSION: SPACE TO UNLOCK IT AND ENABLE ITS DEADLY, DARING ESCAPE DIRECTLY TO YOUR BRAIN?' Yeah, my brain is kind of a jerk sometimes. But after rationalizing it about a hundred thousand times, I realized that I was being incredibly silly, that statistics were unbelievably on my side, and I'm a healthy young fellow that probably has nothing to worry about. I was right. Mission: Space is unbelievable. Mission: Space is ALSO probably the most unique ride that Disney has ever built. It's part motion simulator, part centrifuge, all awesome.

First off, I can TOTALLY understand why a lot of people have their knickers in a twist over Mission: Space. If you are at ALL prone to motion sickness, M:S will give you a whuppin' worthy of Mr. T, and then some. Most of the people howling over how M:S should be closed because it killed two riders with pre-existing hazardous medical conditions probably fall into this category. It is, hands down, the strangest spinning sensation I've ever felt. It's SIMILAR to rides like The Gravitron and The Roundup. Things that you find at carnivals that spin round and round and ultimately make most you throw up. The Mission:Space difference is that it tricks your brain into thinking you're moving in different directions by having you stare at a screen that is not giving you any indication that you are spinning at all. The only time I ever perceived a 'spinning' sensation was at the very beginning, when the centrifuge started to spin, and then WHOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA, look out. It is honestly the strangest sensation I've ever felt, and I've been on all the carnival type spinners. The real difference is that the pods on Mission: Space can twist and turn on different axes to move the g-forces to different places -- which is a very unique sensation, indeed. It also has the added brain-tricker of giving each person in the pod a role (commander, pilot, etc), and each person has a task to do. You press buttons at certain times to fire second stage rockets, put the crew into hypersleep, etc. Having something to focus on really helps, I'm sure. Plus, there are tons of little switches and buttons all over the cabin, and some of them make noises when you press them. We were actually stuck in the pod for a little while while the ride was down, and I amused myself the entire time by doing 'pre-flight checks' and the like. Just hittin' buttons like there was no tomorrow.

We went on it twice, it never made us feel queasy -- just... weird. But fun! The second time, we rode with this elderly English couple who seemed to really get a kick out of it, which was really awesome.


Disney Decompression: EPCOT

Well, we're back. Seven days in Central Florida! I'm going to be writing some focused blog entries on certain specific things later on, but these entries are going to serve as a 'brain dump' of collections remarkable things that weren't worth an entire entry on. These isn't going to be a blow-by-blow trip reports, per se -- I don't really find those all that interesting. Just tidbits of things that are new, interesting or of note, organized by park


Let's just lead right off with my personal favorite theme park in the entire world, EPCOT. It'd been about four years since I'd been there (and probably eleven or twelve since Shannon had), and neither one of us had ever seen everything, so there was a lot to take in.

Future World:

Soarin' and The Land
Soarin' is a direct copy of Soarin' Over California, at California Adventure in Anaheim, shoe-horned into The Land pavillion in the space that was occupied by the much made-fun-of show, "Kitchen Kabaret" (and its very, very short lived replacement, "FOOD ROCKS!"). It's just as good, as to say it is exactly the same, though the queue is lacking in comparison (and since the Soarin' queue at DCA isn't exactly the Ritz, that is to say that the queue is pretty plain.) What IS remarkable about Soarin' at WDW, is it has turned The Land from a tumbleweed-filled cricket-chirping ghost town into The Place To Be in Future World. The Land was positively packed every time we were in there, and that's pretty amazing. One of my favorite attractions in all of Future World is in there, the slow, boring but immensely interesting boat ride through the greenhouses where you learn all about aeroponic and hydrophonic growing techniques. This puts most people into a complete coma, but I think it's pretty interesting. We also took the "Behind the Seeds" tour of the greenhouse, which was interesting and fun. The Land's greenhouse is a place I could literally spend hours and hours inside, it's unbelievably cool and it's great that Soarin' is finally helping to expose it to an audience. Even if that audience takes a nice little snooze -- but let's face it, WDW is tiring. Embrace that nap during the seed ride, America.

Journey Into Imagination
Ohhhh poor, Imagination Pavillion. Once, you were the best thing about Future World. Once, you had so many cool things to do. Now, you have an uneven dark ride that is amusing but not incredibly good, and an ImageWorks playground that is just a barren shadow of what it used to be. Granted, the ImageWorks playground was dated as all get out, but the new one basically consists of three things: Conduct music with your hands, step on things on the ground that make noises, and email funny photos to people. Those three things are exactly replicated through tons of individual stations, and just don't have the amaze factor that the old stuff did. I remember stepping on colored hexagons on the floor to create a symphony! Walking down a neon rainbow hallway where the colors would follow you as you walk! HUGE pin-boards that had light shining on them so when you made the impressions underneath, they would light up in interesting patterns... so much great stuff. So sad that it's all boarded and boxed up somewhere and replaced with boring things that no one seems to like that much.

In true Innoventions style, we ignored it entirely. HA! I still miss Communicore.

The Living Seas
Sigh. The Living Seas actually gives me a bit of a frownface these days. It used to be easily one of my favorite attractions at EPCOT. But the SYNERGY!!! dept at Disney Parks and Resorts went overboard and turned it into basically FINDING NEMO: THE PAVILLION. What used to be a neat trip to the bottom of the ocean is now a lark with Nemo, Crush and Bruce the Shark. The entry to the pavillion used to be a 'hydrolator' that would 'take you down to the bottom of the sea', a very believable illusion that really heightened the experience. Now, the 'Hydrolator' is replaced by a 'Finding Nemo Gift Shop', and the entrance just dumps you right into the aquarium. Which honestly, well, sucks. The Aquarium is still there, and it's still beautiful, but the experience is so dampened down that it doesn't seem anywhere NEAR an adventure. The Living Seas used to be a trip to the sea floor where you could try out diving suits, see all sorts of exotic sea creatures, and feel the future's promise of cities under the sea. So that's a little sad. There is one thing that completely and absolutely redeems it though. Turtle Talk with Crush. It's the first show that Imagineering has produced featuring an interactive digital character. Crush, from Finding Nemo, swims around in a 'tank' (re: screen) and absolutely, 100% interacts with the audience. With emotion. With reactions. It's basically a 3-D animated puppet, and I was BLOWN AWAY with how realistic it was. Whomever is controlling Crush can see the audience, and picks people out of the crowd to talk to, in complete, natural conversation. It's astounding, and I can't wait to see what else they do with this technology.

But, The Living Seas is still a little sad. They were clearly doing something to the facade of the building, which concerns me. The existing facade is gorgeous, and I hope they're not just layering on Nemo characters. I'm fully in the 'Hey, there's already a great place for the Disney characters, it's called the Magic Kingdom' camp, and I think it cheapens the impact and mission of EPCOT to shoehorn characters into places they never should have been.

Spaceship Earth
I can predict the future, check it out. I predict that Spaceship Earth will be completely gutted in the next few years and a completely new attraction will take place inside the sphere. Spaceship Earth is the last of the 'old guard' attractions in Future World. It illustrates the history of human communication, just as World of Motion (now Test Track) traced the history of transportation and Horizons looked into the future of both communications and transportation (Horizons has been demolished and Mission: Space is in its place). I think SE's days are numbered, so see this odd collection of audio-animatronics while you can. It's still pretty charming in its own way.

Mission: Space
I have so much to say about Mission: Space that it's getting its own entry later on.

Test Track
Test Track is still something of a head-scratcher. On one hand, it's a pretty neat ride that shows how a test car is put through its paces, ending with one kickass speed test on a track. On the other, they replaced "The World of Motion" with "The World of GM, and only GM, and you'd better like GM." It's still good, though.

Club Cool



Formerly Ice Station Cool, the fabulous Cokes-from-around-the-world tasting station, Club Cool now has a new home on the other side of Future World. The sad thing is now it seems to be 'Two or three coke products plus Beverly,' which really means it's now 'Trick your friends into drinking Beverly: The Pavillion.' I am very sad that the amount of unique foreign sodas has shrunk and now it's only fun to watch people's faces turn into the California Raisins when they taste Beverly. Which still tastes like ass, if you're curious -- and no I can't elaborate any further than that.

World Showcase

World Showcase is still a lot of fun. A collection of pavillions & restaurants that are themed upon real countries, staffed by people from those countries. It's mostly fun to just shop for candy and pastries you can't buy in the United States, but has its charms nestled deep within. You have to take your time, stop and smell the roses, and poke around to find the special and hidden qualities of Future World. The bamboo kinetic water garden in Japan, the tile mosaic bathhouse in Morocco, the waterfall in Canada, the night sky and volcano in Mexico. It's a great place to just sit, relax, and let the day pass by. Plus, it's also the site of My Favorite Fireworks Show in All the World, Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. Which is still impressive, inspirational, and beautiful.

EPCOT is alsowhere we first encountered the PhotoPass photographers. PhotoPass is an absolutely brilliant business decision by Disney. Remember in 1890, when you'd go into a theme park and there'd be a few photographers at the entrance? They'd take your photo and hand you a little card that you could go use to buy your photo later? Well PhotoPass punches that concept right in the teethbox. You carry around a little bar-coded card with you, and whenever any of the PhotoPass photographers takes your photo, they scan it and hand it back to you. You can either go to any of the PhotoPass stations and view all your photos, or you can wait until you get home and view them ALL in a web browser. You can even add decals, borders and effects to them, or order a full dump of all your photos on CD. It's amazing, and I bet it's going to be massively successful for them.

So that's pretty much my EPCOT brain dump. Coming soon: Tidbits on Pal Mickey, Mission: Space, DeVine, Dinners and the rest of the parks.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I have two things to say today.

#1, I found an AWESOME job at Aperion Audio, I officially start May 1st.

#2, I'm going to Walt Disney World in two days.

I am very very excited about both of these two events.


There will be much more, just not now, I am exhausted at the moment.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Digging in the yard

I love gardening. There is something so utterly calming and theraputic about yardwork. When I was young and yardwork was more of a chore than a pleasant diversion, I hated it with white hot intensity. But now that the gardens are mine, it becomes a delightful little Sunday-afternoon activity. I've heard it said that the chemical released in your brain when you're gardening is the same chemical that coarses through when you're gambling. I guess at a very basic level, the same system of small achievement based motivation is in play. I can believe it, the euphoria produced when I stand around and watch things I've planted grow is really quite nice. It's especially nice when you're eating the food produced from your very own plot of land.

These days, my yardwork enjoyment has become so great that I not only enjoy but look forward to things like raking and mowing the lawn. Have I gone crazy?

PS: this does not mean I would look forward to mowing your lawn. This only applies to my lawn!

I have quite a bit more to talk about, but I can't talk about it yet.

Oh, and everyone should see V for Vendetta and Everything is Illuminated. Both were absolutely teriffic.