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Unauthorized Movie Shot at Disney Parks; What Should Disney Do?

25 Jan

This week at StudiosCentral, my Jentasmic! column addresses a movie that’s getting a lot of internet buzz and prompting discussions of intellectual property rights:

There’s been a lot of buzz on the internet about Escape from Tomorrow, a film which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this week. The film was shot primarily at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, without permission from Disney; cast and crew filmed surreptitiously, mostly with handheld cameras. It tells the story of a man slowly losing his mind during the course of a day at Walt Disney World, after receiving bad news by phone in the early part of the day. It’s certainly not anything that a reasonable person would confuse for an actual Disney product. (Of course, like most people who aren’t at Sundance, I haven’t seen the film.)

Head over to StudiosCentral to read the rest. (tl;dr: I don’t think Disney should do a thing.

Those Darn Cats Book Club: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

20 Apr

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory DoctorowThis week on Those Darn Cats (the podcast I co-host with BFF Lisa):

We’re very excited to present the first ever Those Darn Cats book club meeting! And in fact, we do believe we’re the first Disney podcast to publish a book club episode, and we expect to see others jump on the bandwagon soon.

Our first book club session is a discussion of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow, which you can download in many formats here, plus audio book here. This book is distributed under a Creative Commons license, and all the versions linked to from this page are free.

Download the episode here, or subscribe via iTunes or RSS

Turns out we were wrong, though . . . some lawyer from New Jersey published a book club episode yesterday. But hey, we’re still proud to be on the leading edge of the trend.

Creepy Mad Hatter Picture in 1961 Disneyland Fashion Photo

15 Apr

It’s not just me, right? There’s just something kinda creepy about this picture, featured in Kevin Kidney’s blog post on a 1961 Midwest Magazine fashion spread. Maybe it’s the fact that his hands are so much smaller than they should be, compared to his head. Maybe it’s the fact that he doesn’t really have much of a torso. But mostly, it’s the pinned pupils, they make him look evil.

Hat tip to my dear spouse for sending me the link! Somehow I’ve been falling behind in my RSS feeds. Can’t imagine how that could happen.

Mom’s Day at Disneyland

31 Jan
Matterhorn at Disneyland

The snow in Boston looks a bit different than this.

It’s sunny today in Boston, and we’re expecting another foot of snow tomorrow. I’m not entirely sure where to put it, given that the sides of my 30-yard driveway are already piled high with packed snow, and it doesn’t look like anything’s going to melt off before it’s time to shovel again. But at least I got the back deck cleared off on Saturday, since it was getting heavy enough that I worried about our kitchen roof underneath it.

Shoveling my driveway

Not the Yeti. Me.

All of which is really to say: I’m so incredibly, deeply glad that I took a day all to myself earlier this month and went to Disneyland.

This has been a strange month indeed. The third week of January, I was scheduled to attend business meetings in San Diego on Tuesday and Thursday, with a gap on Wednesday. I’d be flying to Orlando that Friday, for my best friend’s WeddingFest, so I knew a Disney fix was in my near future. But given that I’d be 90 minutes from Anaheim, with an inexplicable day off in Southern California, I’d scheduled an official vacation day, and booked a one-day car rental through the concierge in my lovely San Diego hotel.

San Diego harbor view

The lovely view from my room at the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay, San Diego

Being a Disney blogger, columnist, and podcaster, you’d think that it wouldn’t take much for me to get myself out of the hotel for a day at the happiest place on earth. But you’d be wrong. I’m also a working mom, and my family’s primary breadwinner at that. My spouse is a journalist, and I’m sure you’ve heard how kind the economy’s been to that sector lately. So I hemmed and hawed a lot, even on the morning of my daytrip. Surely there were better uses for the ~$180 I’d be spending on the daytrip, between car rental, gas, parking, and a one-day one-park admission. Surely I should be getting something more productive done for my work or family.

But sometimes, mom just needs a day at Disneyland.

It was a chilly Wednesday in January, possibly the best day ever to be at the park. There were no parades or fireworks, it’s true. I opted to skip DCA and the World of Color, and focus instead on my first Disney park, the first Disney park, the home of Mr. Toad’s Ride and the currently-open Toontown and the place of so many happy memories.

I hit a lot of traffic coming up from San Diego. I would’ve liked to leave around 6:00am, to hopefully beat some traffic and make rope drop, but the car rental counter didn’t open until 7:30am and they couldn’t promise me a car until 7:45am. I was cranky on the highway, but it started to melt away when I saw the exit signs for Disney Way/Katella Boulevard.

As much as I love touring the parks with my family and friends, there’s something special about a day alone in Disneyland too. Since I’d be at Walt Disney World in just a few days for WeddingFest, I knew I’d have plenty of time to enjoy Disney together with loved ones, and could completely throw myself into whatever I wanted to do alone at Disneyland. I knew, too, that WeddingFest wouldn’t mean a lot of park time, and that touring the parks becomes complicated with large groups of people with disparate interests, so I hit all my favorite attractions at least once, knowing I might not have a chance to experience their Magic Kingdom counterparts anytime soon.

As I’ve written about before, I spent much of the day wrapped in happy obsession with leveling up and earning badges on Lines. But touring alone also let me focus on some of the little things I might not have noticed otherwise.

Yeti Vinylmation in the Matterhorn control booth

Click on the image and look carefully: There's a Yeti Vinylmation in the Matterhorn control booth.

Liberte et Patrie sign at the Matterhorn

Ever notice this sign on the Matterhorn queue, on the right side? It translates to "Freedom and Fatherland."

Man in a kilt waiting for Storyland boat ride

I approve of men in kilts riding the Storyland boats. (Sorry for the freaky image quality.)

Girls in Tinkerbell wings

Another fashion win! I don't know who they are, but I love their wings.

Even sitting down for a meal in the parks alone can be wonderfully relaxing. I spent both lunch and dinner at the Golden Horseshoe, where I could catch a show and recharge my phone (gotta keep posting those wait times to Lines, y’know?).

And yes indeed, I did ride the rides.  I hit all my faves: Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Snow White, Buzz Lightyear . . . the list goes on and on. I lost track of how many times I ran through Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I went on the Finding Nemo submarine ride for the first time, and was pleased to see the same excellent technology in place for The Living Seas with Nemo over Epcot way. I danced in my seat while Captain EO promised to change the world, thinking gladly ahead to watching it again in a few days, with my MJ-fan son and whomever else we could drag along.

And of course, eventually the day came to an end. The park closed at 8:00pm, and honestly I was ready for the drive back to San Diego. I had a business call to return, and I knew things might get complicated. But I couldn’t call it a day without paying a visit to the big guy.

Mickey and Me

Oh happy day!

Mickey fountain in Toontown

Saying goodbye

As I sit in a Brookline coffee shop, on this sunny day in Boston waiting for the next foot of snow to drop, it’s nice to think back on a chilly Wednesday at Disneyland.

Lines: Leveling Up at Disneyland

22 Jan
Fun Phones not operating sign in Toontown

I think not

Embarrassing but true: On my day trip to Disneyland this week, I was more excited about using the Touring Plans Lines app on my Droid than riding the Matterhorn.

Here’s the thing: I’d only used Lines once since they’d added the gaming mechanics, and since I’d come down with a bacterial bronchial infection during that August trip to Walt Disney World, I spent far more time sweating out fevers and watching Phineas and Ferb than touring the parks. So, while I’d opened up the app a few times on that trip, I hadn’t really taken it for a spin.So, I was thrilled to receive a review copy of the new Disneyland version of the Lines app shortly before my planned day-trip to the happiest place on earth, in the middle of a business trip to Southern California. I knew that the advice on wait times that the app provides would be less crucial on a chilly Wednesday in January than on peak times in the park, so was mostly stoked about leveling up a time or two, and earning a few badges on the way.

Fun Phones in Toontown

My Droid + Lines > Toontown Fun Phones

How it works: Within the Lines app, you can view current estimated wait times for all attractions in the park, and post wait times based on your own experience. The wait time estimates in the app are developed through 10 years of historical data gathered by the Touring Plans team, plus user-reported times gathered through the app. And it’s these user-reported wait times that bring the gaming mechanisms into play: As you report wait times, you can level up by reporting increasing numbers of wait times, and earn badges by reporting times for specific attractions, combinations of attractions, or times of day.

(My son had warned me that achievement-based gaming systems can lead to long boring stretches of nothing but grinding on menial tasks in order to earn badges. But if grinding can mean walking around Disneyland, count me in.)

Golden Horseshoe Revue

The view from my charging station on the balcony in the Golden Horsheshoe

A message board is built into the app, with separate sections for Disneyland Chat and Walt Disney World Chat. There seems to be a fairly healthy community of Lines fans hanging out in the chat most of the time, which came in handy when I had questions about the best place to charge a cell phone (Golden Horseshoe balcony, where you can charge up while catching a show), or whether there are any coast-to-coast badges that we bi-coastal park fans can earn (nope, but there are multi-park-in-one-day). You can also look at each users’s stats, and when you submit wait times, you’re told who the current “top submitter” is for that attraction. And as with most popular message board systems, there’s a lot of trip advice and social chat as well.

The user interface is quite good, with the occasional irritating glitch. For some reason, it seems to re-set to its home page whenever I slide out my Droid 2 Global keyboard, but that was easy to deal with once I realized I only needed the keyboard when using the Chat (and then simply opened it before drilling down into the Chat section. Everything also got easier once I realized that, if I just left the app on the list of attractions for the park, I could just click on the “+ Time” button in the upper right to be brought to a page from which I could select any attraction and report a wait time.

Mr. Toad and I

Meeting with a Research Associate

In addition to the gaming mechanics, another feature had been added since last I’d used Lines: You can now submit wait times not just from the posted time on the attraction, but also by timing your own wait using the app. This wasn’t just cool, it also allowed me to post wait times for attractions that didn’t have a posted time, or where I was sure the posted time wouldn’t match the actual wait (for example, a 10 minute posted time for Pinnochio was a walk-on instead).

I haven’t tried any of the Disney-sponsored phone apps, as (to the best of my knowledge) they’re not available on the Droid. But I suspect I wouldn’t enjoy them as much as the Lines app, since Disney wouldn’t be likely to allow as much un-moderated interaction among users as the Lines app supports (I do believe the Lines folks would clean up anything seriously wrong posted to the Chat, but they don’t seem to sanitize things as a general rule).

So, how did my day at Disneyland turn out? Well, I was right – a chilly Wednesday in January means very short wait times for most attractions, so I didn’t rely much on the app to guide my steps. In fact, I’d entered the park with the One-Day Touring Plan for Adults, but abandoned it after the first few attractions, since both experience and the Lines app were telling me wait times were short enough that the criss-crossing of the park which this plan includes wasn’t actually necessary under the circumstances. I rode every attraction I wanted to, sometimes two or three times, and even lost track of how many times I went on that wild ride with Mr. Toad.And my new Lines stats? I’m now an Unofficial Scholar, having submitted a total of 65 wait times so far. I’m hoping to level  up again next week; if I can submit another 10 wait times before this weekend’s trip to my BFF’s WeddingFest at WDW is over, I can get promoted to Crowd Specialist. Plus, I earned a few new badges, my favorites being Shrunken Ned (Wait times for every attraction in Adventureland) and Nowhere in Particular (5 wait times for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride).

Plus yes, I did ride the Matterhorn, and I have to admit it was more thrilling than leveling up. The fact that it’s got a working Yeti (unlike Expedition Everest) is a darn impressive selling point. But it’s a good thing I don’t have to choose between Lines and the Yeti, because it would be a close call.

Gay Days Enchanted Tiki Room Meet Oct 3, 2009

27 Sep

How much do I wish that I could be there at Gay Days Anaheim on October 3, performing specially choreographed moves with festive friends at the Tiki Room?

Hat tip to my good friend Trace of the Disney Dudes for sending the link!

Star Tours II Video Preview

12 Sep

I guess the rumors had to be true sooner or later, right? It’s just been announced that Star Tours 2 in 3D will debut at Disneyland in 2011. I haven’t heard word yet about when it hits Walt Disney World (or the other Parks worldwide for that matter), but I’ll bet by the time you’re reading this there’s word on the interwebs somewhere.

According to this audio clip, Star Tours will close down in October 2010. (And yeah, when the guy on the clip says the 508 is on stage, I do believe he means the 501st, whom I love more than a little.)

I’m gonna miss Rex!

Update: The Disney Blog says Walt Disney World will also receive the update in 2011.

Matterhorn T-shirt Shoulder Bag

15 Jun

Based on anecdotal evidence I’ve gathered at countless thrift shops, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people come home from Disney with t-shirts that made sense at the time, but quickly lose their appeal once the vacation is over. For some reason this seems especially true of Eeyore shirts, but I digress.

If you’ve got some t-shirts like that yourself, or if you’re willing to scavenge the thrift shops for other people’s purchases, there’s plenty of ways to transform a discarded t-shirt into something you’d actually like to wear.

Cashing in on the green and DIY aesthetic of books such as Sew Subversive: Down and Dirty DIY for the Fabulous Fashionista and Generation T: 108 Ways to Transform a T-Shirt, Simplicity has a “go green” line of sewing patterns which incorporate re-purposed materials. I made the bag pictured below using Simplicity 2972, using a t-shirt I’d found in a local thrift shop, an old pair of jeans, and about $4 worth of interfacing and lining. Strictly speaking, it’s not a Disney t-shirt…but this girl grew up with Disneyland’s Matterhorn, you know what I’m sayin’? And amusingly enough, I just so happened to finish the project on the Matterhorn’s 50th birthday.

Matterhorn shoulder bag

Matterhorn Shoulder Bag Detail: Strap

Matterhorn Shoulder Bag Detail: Lining

Now, I do have a couple complaints about the pattern. For one thing, the packaging (of course) heavily stresses the “go green” angle, but only one of the five bags pictured is actually made from recycled materials. Also, while they tell you any men’s L or XL t-shirt will have sufficient fabric for the required pieces of the bag, this simply wasn’t the case. I don’t think even a XXL would have made it, as there simply wasn’t a long enough piece of shirt to cut the main front/back piece from. Instead, I needed to throw that old pair of jeans into the mix to have enough fabric, in large enough pieces.

But those quibbles aside, I’m quite happy with my bag. And actually I kinda like it with the denim in the mix, though making the straps was a little trickier than it would have been with jersey. (Also, the interfacing simply wasn’t necessary with the denim, which saved me a step or two.)

If I were to do this project over again, I’d likely use the t-shirt only for the flap, and perhaps use the rest of the t-shirt fabric as lining (more re-use, more better), using denim for the side pieces. I’m a bit concerned that the denim strap attached to the jersey sides of the bag may not hold up well over time, even with the interfacing to support the jersey. Or, I’d buy a couple t-shirts that color-coordinate and work well together thematically, and make the entire bag out of jersey (as Simplicity envisioned), but that would be a much slouchier bag than I prefer.

Another Sign of the Troubled Economy: WDW Passholder Pass-Along Savings Card

12 May

In what might be a strategy inspired by Disneyland Paris’ Annual Pass Sponsorship program, Walt Disney World has an (apparently) limited-time offer where current AP holders can give a friend a “pass-along savings card,” which gives the friend a 10% discount on a new Annual Pass (or Premium Annual Pass), and a $25 Disney Gift Card kickback to the current AP-holder. The new AP must be purchased at the ticket gates, at the parks. (Details are in an enclosure with the current issue of the Mickey Monitor, the newsletter for Annual Passholders.)

I find this a somewhat worrisome development, as Annual Pass discounts for Walt Disney World are few and far between (and longtime fans know the last time they were offered was also during dire economic straits). As much as I’d love to take advantage of the promotion (hey, are any of my friends or family members planning to buy new Annual Passes before July 31st? want 10% off?), I can’t help but see this as a fairly desperate move to keep attendance up while the economy continues to falter. Sure, attendance is only off by about 1% at this point, and room reservations are expected to remain flat, but check these additional numbers from the Wall Street Journal:

Staggs said the “Buy 4, Get 3 Free” promotional pricing] offer in Orlando helped to lift room occupancy to 89% versus 88% in the prior year but also contributed to a 17% decrease in per-room spending. In Anaheim, the company didn’t have a comparable promotion and occupancy came in at 69%, down by 14 percentage points. Per-room spending at Disneyland Resort decreased by 6%.

The company’s revenue from its parks division fell 12% for the second quarter, while its operating income plunged 50%.

I’ll read that again: “Operating income plunged 50%.” Ouch.

Some would argue that Disney’s doing the right thing by going to any length to maintain market share, even if they incur significant losses in doing so. And they’re probably right. But it doesn’t make me feel any better.

Dark Roasted Blend: Early Monorails

21 Apr

If you enjoy that trip around the Seven Seas Lagoon, or between Tomorrowland and Downtown Disney via Disney’s California Adventure, check out the excellent collection of photos and information about early monorails at Dark Roasted Blend.

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