Monday, October 31, 2011

Walt Disney World's 40th Anniversary

Trip Report

October 1st, 2011 was not only the night of the Wine and Dine Half Marathon, it was also the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World. My friend Jenn and I knew we had to get there early to get a good spot in front of the castle, and we did just that. After going through bag check Jenn grabbed a spot in line while I renewed my pass. The renewal went quickly and on the way to find Jenn I happened upon a cast member handing out some special buttons.

Button with the special Guidemap we also received

I got one for Jenn and myself, then found her in line. We weren’t the first ones through the turnstiles by a long shot, but many people actually gathered in the middle of the entrance area so they could get a good view of the rope drop show. I stopped for a quick pic.

Jenn and I knew that the real show would take place in front of the castle, so we opted to get as close to the tunnel as possible so that when the rope dropped, we’d be ready. There was in fact a special opening ceremony that day, and we were to the far right of it.

The rope finally dropped and we hustled through Main Street, without running! A lot of people were stopping to take pictures, but we were determined. I stopped and snapped one quick one, realized it wasn’t very good, and pressed on. Hey, Jenn walks fast.

Good morning, good morning!

Sure enough we got a great spot in pretty much the front of the pack for the 10am show in front of the castle. We stood there for a while and waited for the time to tick by, and chatted with fellow Disney nuts. Finally we heard the 9:45 parade coming our way, and it included a cavalcade of characters who were making their way to the castle for the very show Jenn and I were waiting for. Prior to the ceremony itself, we were treated to music by the Main Street Philharmonic.

Main Street Philharmonic, not to be confused with Philharmagic

The ceremony was nice, with speeches by Walt Disney World Ambassadors Norman Vossschulte and Jennifer Mason, Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton, and Magic Kingdom Vice President Phil Holmes. There was some great a cappella from the Dapper Dans, some funny moments between the characters on the stage, and it culminated with shooting streamers and daytime fireworks. If you’re interested in seeing the actual ceremony, I took video.

I also managed to snap a few character photos.

Chip N Dale were funny during the show

No Mickey, you da man. No, you are!

As soon as it ended Jenn and I headed to the Crystal Palace for our 10:45 reservation. The plan was to have a huge breakfast (Crystal Palace is a buffet), and a light lunch to prepare for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon that night. Here was my first plate of food:

Yes, that is a chocolate Mickey Mouse waffle!

Tummies full of food, Jenn and I attempted to liberate a few bananas from the restaurant for a little pre-race fuel. They were mushy, however, so our plan was thwarted. On the way out though I did manage to snap a cute picture of Tigger and his new friend.

This interaction was so cute!

And now, as Han Solo so eloquently put it in Episode IV

“Here’s where the fun begins.”

Jenn and I planned on hitting a few rides before leaving to relax for the race that night. We figured three rides was a pretty good number. My favorite: the Carousel of Progress, one of her favorites: Pirates of the Caribbean, and maybe one of the mountains. Sounds simple enough, right? Not on this day.

That’s right. We went on three rides that day, and all three of them broke down. Of course we started to tweet.

Tweet #1

Tweet #2

Tweet #3

Jenn and I started to get Tweets back from people telling us to hurry up and get out of the Magic Kingdom before we broke everything. We took their advice and cleared out. That was the first time in my life I had to be evacuated off of Pirates, as well as the first time I ever broke 100% of the rides I attempted to enjoy on any given day. So the first half of the day, Walt Disney World’s 40th Anniversary at the Magic Kingdom, was interesting to say the least. The second half of the day was the Wine and Dine Half Marathon, and I have to admit after what we had just experienced, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect!

Race recap coming soon

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Disney's Love of Trains

Walt Museum

On Saturday, October 15th, I attended a presentation at the Walt Disney Family Museum called “Disney's Love of Trains,” hosted by Michael Campbell. Michael is the President of the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society, and a huge train enthusiast himself. The Carolwood-Pacific Railroad was the name Walt gave his home’s own personal railroad which ran from 1950-1954 (his home was on Carolwood drive in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles). But, I’m skipping ahead.

Conductor Walt

Walt’s love of trains started at a very young age. He used to wave to his engineer uncle back in his Marceline days. When he was 15 he took his brother Roy’s advice and applied to work as a news butcher, selling newspapers and snacks to train passengers. The venture wasn’t a success. Walt lost money, but he gained a love for the railroad. In fact, in a small way, we owe Disneyland to that failed job.

Trains also played a role in another pretty important moment in Walt’s life. In 1928 Walt took a trip to New York to meet with his distributor, Charles Mintz. Walt’s cartoon series starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was a success, and Walt and Roy felt that it was time to ask for a modest raise. Mintz disagreed. He wanted to pay Walt less, and advised Walt that he, not Walt, owned the rights to Oswald. In addition, Mintz signed away almost all of Walt’s artists (but not Ub Iwerks, who refused). Walt tried a few different avenues, but to no avail. He would not accept Mintz’s unfair terms, and conceded to Mintz that Oswald was his. Before heading home, Walt sent Roy one last telegram: LEAVING TONIGHT STOPPING OVER KC ARRIVE HOME SUNDAY MORNING SEVEN THIRTY DON’T WORRY EVERYTHING OK WILL GIVE DETAILS WHEN ARRIVE—WALT.

On that long train ride back to Hollywood, Walt didn’t pout. He didn’t sulk. And he didn’t plot revenge against Mintz. What did he do? He created Mickey Mouse.

Below are several tidbits from Michael’s terrific presentation:

-During his breaks as a news butcher, Walt would offer the conductors sodas and fruit in exchange for lessons on how to operate the trains. Walt was able to operate a full-sized steam locomotive at the age of 15.

-Walt attended the 1948 Railroad Fair in Chicago with animator and fellow train nut Ward Kimball (Ward himself had a full-size railroad on his property).

-For help building the live steam railroad Walt wanted for his home, he approached Disney precision machinist Roger Broggie Sr. and asked him if he could build it. Roger replied with, “Can do!” (Roger was known for his "can do" attitude and his window on Main Street at Disneyland pays homage to this) -- After Walt walked away, Roger turned to his co-workers and asked, “Does anybody know how to build a live steam railroad?”

-Walt had a railroad “right of way” agreement with his wife Lilly in order to operate his train. It was a signed contract, and the witnesses were their two daughters, Sharon and Diane. (editor’s note: In order to coax his wife into signing the document, he offered that she could keep a large section of her flower garden by building a tunnel beneath a specific section. In addition to keeping some of her flowers intact, the tunnel would provide much needed peace while Mrs. Disney entertained guests. It was Jack Rorex, the man who oversaw construction of the backlot at Walt’s studio, who made the suggestion. He also suggested making the 90-foot tunnel an “S” curve instead of a straight line, so passengers wouldn’t see the light from the other end upon entering the tunnel. Walt loved it—sort of his first “dark ride”—and to show his appreciation he named it “Rorex Tunnel.”)

-After the Carolwood-Pacific ended its “run,” Walt, as always, thought bigger. He decided that he would like to have a little park that would hold a much larger-scale train. And maybe a Frontier-type village. And a carousel. And, a boat ride. Walt went to the Burbank City Council to get clearance to build it (he wanted it right across the street from his studio), and they declined. “We don’t want any squawking carousels in our city,” they told him. Walt’s idea got even bigger, and a small town called Anaheim didn’t seem to have any issues with “squawking carousels.”

-One of the first quotes Walt ever said about Disneyland: “I just want it to look like nothing else in the world, and it should be surrounded by a train.”

-Originally Walt approached long-time railroader Billy Jones in hopes of acquiring steam trains for Disneyland instead of building them. The ones Billy had were too small, unfortunately.

-When the trains were being built for Disneyland, Walt told them to make one of the cars resemble an actual cattle car, so riders could experience what pigs and cows experienced riding the train. When a worker asked Ward Kimball a follow-up question about that car, Ward said not to do it, and to lower the slats so people could see out the windows. Walt caught wind of that and said he wanted the slats added back. He wanted his guests to have an authentic experience. It proved a little too authentic, however. Just weeks after Disneyland’s opening, many guests filed complaints in City Hall about the train. “We felt like cattle!” Walt fixed it.

-After Walt’s passing, Roger Broggie Sr. was able to find four trains in Mexico that would work for Walt Disney World. Two of them were “twins,” which was rare. They named one the Walter E. Disney, and wanted to name the other Roy O. Disney. Roy absolutely refused. “I don’t want anyone ever thinking that I believe I am my brother’s equal.”

Michael also showed us some wonderful video of Walt enjoying the Carolwood-Pacific, narrated by Walt himself. A few of the memorable quotes I picked up were:

Walt’s attention to detail: “I might point out again how important it is to the railroad enthusiast that everything be built to scale.”

Walt’s sense of humor: “The hardest part of building the railroad at my house was convincing my wife that the flower beds had to go.”

Michael’s presentation was not only informative, but fun as well. He was very funny and displayed great comedic timing with his words and slides. Lowell Smith, expert designer of miniature trains, was also on hand to show us the prototype miniature of the Lilly Belle, which will be out first quarter 2012. This is a great item for train fans and Disney fans alike!

A little hard to read, click for larger image

Want to buy this awesome piece when it comes out? Here is Lowell’s official site.

Afterwards, Michael graciously agreed to pose for a photo with me.

He even brought his hat!

The day after the presentation, while I was fact-checking and cross-referencing everything, I stumbled upon a Donald Duck short called “Out of Scale.” It’s a cute little short, one of the many that pitted the mischievous duck against the more mischievous chipmunks Chip ‘n’ Dale. The cartoon premiered soon after Walt installed his Carolwood-Pacific, and in it Donald was the conductor of, wait for it... a miniature railroad! It’s been said that the short was made to poke fun at all the trouble Walt put his engineers and technicians through during the construction of his railroad. It’s also one of the very few shorts in which there was an “amicable” ending between the characters.

Hmmm. This looks awfully familiar.

If you have seven minutes to spare, check out the full cartoon here.

One last thing: If you’re in the Los Angeles area, or will be at some point, be sure to check out Walt’s Barn from the Carolwood house. It was saved by Walt's daughter Diane before the house sold, and currently resides in L.A.’s Griffith Park. And as Michael said, it’s the only free Disney attraction! It’s open on the third Sunday of every month from 11am-3pm. I have actually never been there, but you better believe I will make a trip down there soon! And of course I’ll write a report for The Disney Project.

Special thanks to Lowell Smith for giving us a sneak peek at his miniature Lilly Belle, and to Michael Campbell for the wonderful presentation.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Eat, Sleep, Run Disney vs. The Disney Project: The Conclusion

A couple of weeks ago you fine people read a blog post on this site outlining a little wager between myself and my friend Jenn. Shortly thereafter you may have stumbled upon a follow-up post on Eat, Sleep, Run Disney, further conveying the details of said contest. In case you don’t have time to read (or re-read) those posts, here’s a quick recap:

  • 2011 Wine and Dine Half Marathon
  • Eat, Sleep, Run Disney vs. The Disney Project (aka Jenn vs. Keith)
  • Winner gets to Captain Morgan the loser in front of Spaceship Earth.

I started in Corral B, but Jenn started in Corral A. I was going to sneak into Corral A, but they had White House-like security monitoring each Corral entrance, so I decided to slink back to B. When the race started for us in B, I immediately had to weave through the throng of runners to get out into the open, which unfortunately took a while. I believe my first mile took an unpleasing 11 minutes to complete. Convinced that I had already lost the bet, I decided to speed up a bit. I wasn’t tracking my pace with an app or a device because I wanted to just run a pace that felt comfortable. Mile two felt comfortable for me, but to my shock and awe I had completed it in 7 minutes! “Whoo hoo,” right? Wrong. That was way too fast considering the pace I was trying to maintain, and decided then and there that perhaps not tracking my pace was a bad idea.

I managed to slow myself down a bit, and finished the third mile in about 9 minutes. Better. I didn’t do the math, but I felt that keeping a 9:30 pace throughout gave me a decent chance to achieve my goal: Destroy the DisRunner.

About halfway through the race, perhaps around mile 7, I noticed a familiar figure: Black tank, black and pink shorts, long black ponytail. It was Jenn! I had caught up.

“Hey,” she said. “How are you doing?”

“Tired,” is all I could manage. “You?”

“I’m all right.”

After our 10-word conversation, I decided to keep pace with her for a bit. For a moment I thought we could finish at the same time like we did last year. But after about 30 seconds I realized I had a little more juice than I was using, so I sort of sped up a bit. I whipped my head around and Jenn was still there, just a few steps back. At some point I lost her, but I was in no way convinced I had won. And after what was soon to happen, I was right to worry.

About a mile or two later, trouble began. I felt my right hamstring start to throb a bit. I ignored it. The throbbing got stronger. I ignored it. “Just keep swimming.” And then BAM, it locked up. My right leg became as stiff as a mannequin’s leg, so I tried to sort of hop with my right leg and run with my left leg. It must have been hilarious to watch, but it was less hilarious to live through. I had to stop. First time the whole race (even counting the water stations). I gave my right hammy the world’s fastest massage, and began running again. It started to lock up again. “No!” This was not what I needed. I was doing so well! So I decided to do the next logical thing: I began punching my hamstring.

I don’t believe that if you look up “locked up hamstring” in the New England Journal of Medicine that the prescribed treatment would be, “repeated blows with a clenched fist.” Allow me to request an amendment then, because it worked. 

Another mile or so later, the course wound through Hollywood Studios. The coolest part was entering the Streets of America, and seeing all the Osborne Lights turned on. I had brought my camera to take pictures on the course, but since I was maintaining a pretty decent pace, I didn’t want to stop. The Osborne Lights were too cool not to capture, however. So I did take some video. Warning: before you watch, it is quite shaky (as you can imagine). But you will be able to make out a building or two, and some cast members who looked a little too relaxed while we were all busting our butts!

Mile 12, less than one mile to go, guess what? My other hamstring locked up. Note to self: more potassium! I was just approaching the International Gateway (so close to the end), and the spectators saw my hobble. “You’re almost there!” they shouted, trying their best to encourage me. I of course instituted Dr. Keith’s patented hamstring punch, much to the dismay of some of the onlookers. I’m pretty sure I made a small child cry. After a few seconds of punching, it began to unlock. Both my hamstrings were sore, both my knees were sore, and I had no idea if Jenn had passed me or not. In an instance like this, there was only one thing left to do: finish the race. And that, my friends, is exactly what I did.

And the winner is…

Look for an actual race recap soon!