Friday, December 20, 2013

Disney University Program Recap

On Saturday, November 16, I attended a presentation at The Walt Disney Family Museum titled: Disney University: Walt's Vision for the Happiest Employees on Earth. Former head of training at Disney’s corporate headquarters Doug Lipp was joined by Jim Cora, Disney retired chairman of Disneyland International (and a Disney Legend) to talk about the history of Disney University.

Doug Lipp

Just four months before the opening of Disneyland, Walt Disney hired a gentleman named Van Arsdale France to train the entire staff, and instill the values that the Disney name was known for. France founded the University of Disneyland training center, which was later renamed The Disney University.

Art Agnos, the 39th mayor of San Francisco (1988-1992), reached out to the Disney University in an effort to improve the conditions of the homeless population in San Francisco. Doug Lipp actually shared a video interview with the former mayor, and in it he reiterated his admiration for the way Disney trained its employees.

Throughout the presentation, Doug shared a few interesting quotes from Van France. In a 1962 memo to Disney, proposing the creation of University of Disneyland training center, Van France warned against the dangers of apathy: “The trouble with people is that we get hardening of the mental arteries, cirrhosis of the enthusiasm, and arthritis of the imagination.” Doug also shared a quote from his co-presenter, Jim Cora: “Marketing is the time and money you spend to get people in the door. Training is the investment you make to get guests to come back and cast members to stay; it creates loyalty.”

Van Arsdale France
Photo courtesy of

Van France actually hated the word “training”. He preferred to say that “they had to develop people”.

Jim then shared a fun story with us. It was actually thanks to Walt Disney that he met Van France. Jim bumped into Walt near the Matterhorn one day, and after a brief discussion, Walt directed him to go see Van France. “Tell him Walt sent you.”

Jim Cora hangin' out in Tokyo Disney Sea
Photo courtesy of

A few years later when the Tiki Room was opening, it was originally a part of Retlaw (Walt’s privately owned company), which Jim worked for. Walt would occasionally show up to watch the rehearsals. When he asked Jim what he thought of the Tiki Room’s floor, Jim joked, “It’s awfully shiny for having a room full of birds.” Imagineers later installed little white spots throughout the floor.

In 1971, Jim assisted in the opening of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and implemented the “Disney Way of Leadership” program. By 1979, Jim had become managing director of Operations for the soon-to-be-opened Tokyo Disneyland, and was in charge of operational planning and management training. In 1985, Jim was assigned to work on Euro Disney, and was promoted to executive vice president and chief operating officer for Euro Disneyland Corporation two years later. Because of his outstanding global performance, he is one of the few Disney Legends to have a window on Main Street in multiple Disney Parks, and the only American besides Walt to have one in Tokyo Disneyland.

Jim's window in Tokyo Disneyland
Photo courtesy of Disney Parks Blog

Jim went on to tell more stories from his impressive 43-year Disney career. He recalled when Walt started and led “Good Show/Bad Show” tours, and would point out specific things that fell under both categories. The two presenters even shared a wonderful photo of Walt picking up trash in Disneyland. He certainly wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and set the example. Jim also mused about the time that the workers in Tokyo were a little too clean for their own good. At one point when maintenance saw the “aged” paint in Frontierland, they gave it a fresh coat. And when they saw the dust and cobwebs inside the Haunted Mansion, they cleaned them up! All of the aging work had to be re-done.

Van France’s lessons included "Four Circumstances", which were to: innovate, support, educate and entertain.

Towards the end of the program, Doug and Jim joked that the character Ludwig Von Drake could have been patterned after Van France, since Van France also had an affinity for chalkboards! The audience had a good chuckle.

Ludwig Von Drake

Doug shared one last Walt quote with us, which actually derives from some of his early drawings. “Develop your sense of humor and eventually it will develop you.”

In 1943, the personnel department for Walt Disney Productions distributed an employee handbook titled The Ropes at Disney's. Some of the topics it covered ranged from workplace accidents to tardiness. It’s a fun little booklet complete with drawings from Disney animators. Doug shared a few photos from the handbook with us.

What is that guy on the right looking at?
Photo courtesy of

The last quote Doug shared with the audience came from Van France, and may seem particularly helpful to us right-brainers: “Budgets might be tight… creativity is free.”

After the program Jim and Doug took time out to sign autographs and pose for a few pictures. Doug had his book Disney U on hand as well. I haven’t read it yet, but I hear it’s very good. And as usual, I bugged the presenters for a photo.

Jim, Keith, Doug

Thank you Doug and Jim for a fun and informative presentation!

To learn more about Doug and the terrific work he does, please visit

Monday, December 2, 2013

2013 Wine and Dine Half Marathon Race Recap

The 2013 Wine and Dine Half Marathon took place in Walt Disney World on Saturday, November 9. I was eager to run this race again, since I missed it in 2012 due to runDisney changing the race to November (from early October). Although that prevented me from being able to say I ran in every single Wine and Dine Half, I must admit I welcomed the change, weather-wise. The weather for this Wine and Dine was quite pleasant. Some said it was on the warmer side, and I think even Jeff Galloway mentioned it was close to 10 degrees warmer than ideal running weather. I didn’t notice.

This year I was lucky enough to be part of runDisney’s first nighttime meet-up. The event took place in Epcot two nights before the race, on Nov 7. Upon checking-in and receiving our tech shirts, we had a few hours to meander around Epcot on our own. Shortly before 9pm, all of the attendees met up outside of Mexico in World Showcase to enjoy IllumiNations from the reserved viewing area. At 9:30, we all headed to the American Gardens Theatre for “light food and beverages”, as well as some runner mingling. I guess you’re not supposed to eat meat before running, because the “light food” I received was a piece of chicken, that wasn’t made out of chicken (some sort of vegan option). It tasted like chicken, though, so I was happy.

After eating and mingling, runDisney took the stage in the theater to make a few announcements, and to make sure everyone was having a good time. Some folks from New Balance came onstage as well, and previewed some of their exclusive runDisney merchandise for 2014. At 11:30, the Fun Run began, which consisted of 1.5 laps around World Showcase. It was really fun. But then again, I love World Showcase. At midnight we all gathered for a group photo and a toast. The toast was underneath Spaceship Earth. The photo was behind the Fountain of Nations.

Keith, Danielle, Jenn

It seems as if I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but, I didn’t train for this race. It’s weird, but ever since running the full marathon in January, half marathons seem so easy. Granted not training isn’t the smart thing to do, and it won’t afford you a fabulous finish time, but as long as I finish under 2.5 hours, I’m happy. That was my goal for this race.

The race started at 10pm, and my friends and I arrived at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex around 8:30. The all-day pre-race hydrating had caught up with pretty much all of us, so we gathered in the enormous port-a-pottie line. Afterwards, some of my friend’s friends found us, and we gathered for a group photo.

Pat in the grey, Danielle in the white tanktop, me behind her, Dan behind me, Eric in the Cowboys shirt, Jenn in the pink shoes, and a few other folks

I was in corral E, so while the race started at 10, it didn’t start for me until 10:09. However I managed to snap a blurry pic of the official race start.

Race start fireworks
Crossing the Start Line

The race course took us north on South Victory Way, and turned left onto Osceola Parkway towards the Animal Kingdom. I decided early on that I wasn’t going to pose with many characters, but to give myself a mini break (since I didn’t train), I would make a quick stop and snap pictures of all the characters.

At around Mile Three we arrived at the Animal Kingdom. Not a fan of this park, it seems that I only enter it these days when I’m doing a race. Rafiki was waiting out front to greet us, and the standard lighted horns were waiting for us upon park entry.


The one character I stopped to pose with was King Louie from The Jungle Book. And really, I only stopped because at that moment there was only one person in line to pose with him. What’s an extra 30 seconds added to a time you don't really care about?

I wanna be like you hoo hoooo

After posing with Louie the course took us by Expedition Everest, past the Nemo theater, through Dinoland, USA (shudder), and soon back out onto Osceola Parkway. Animal Kingdom had comprised roughly Miles Three through Five, which meant we had close to five more miles before reaching our next park. During that stretch I spotted more characters, and I even "ran" into my friends Jenn and Dan. 

The line for Jack Sparrow was huge

Sebastian, upon leaving the Animal Kingdom parking lot

Oh hai Jenn and Dan!

The run along Osceola led us to World Drive, where we headed north. A little over a mile later, we were heading east on Buena Vista Drive, and then south, towards Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This park is always a welcome sight during the Wine and Dine Half, as it means the remainder of the course is pretty fun.

We came in from behind the Tower of Terror

Sunset Boulevard

DHS's best attraction - check out the 15k sign

Shortly after passing One Man’s Dream and the 15k sign, we were filtered towards the infamous DHS tunnel. The tunnel, which is where you can see Disney’s Wardrobe Department from, has been notorious for also doubling as a 100-yard-long sauna during races. Now I don’t know if this is the first time they did this, or just the first time I can remember (2012’s Tower of Terror 10-Miler is sort of a blur by now), but runDisney installed fans inside the tunnel! Holy smokes what a difference they made. Kudos to whoever finally made that call. I think I almost passed out in that tunnel during a previous race. Not only did they install fancy fans to keep us conscious, but they also added disco balls! When can you go wrong with a disco ball? Answer: never.

Peter Pan seems to be diggin' it

The roughly two-mile course continued to wind through DHS, and towards what we were all waiting to see, the Streets of America. On the way more characters were out, and like with all the others, I stopped for a quick pic.

I still like Mr. Incredible's black and blue suit better

I finally reached what some consider to be the best part of the course (and all consider the best part of the Hollywood Studios portion), the Streets of America, decked out in all of its Osborne Lights glory. I took another mini break here to record a little video with my iPhone. It was also here that I bumped into Heather Montgomery of fame. I seem to bump into her almost every runDisney trip!


Me and Heather

After exiting Hollywood Studios we were at about Mile Eleven. The course ran along Crescent Lake, towards the Epcot resorts, and ultimately, Epcot. I always consider this part the home stretch, even though there are still technically two full miles to go. Personally, I had a surprising amount of energy left considering my lack of training. Maybe it was all the mini breaks I took in order to snap photos of the characters. I had even forgotten to consume the second half of my packet of GU Chomps (I ate the first half 15 minutes before the race), which I didn’t realize until much later.

Mile Twelve was around the Yacht and Beach Club. Every time I do this race I stay at the Beach Club, and every time I pass my hotel at Mile Twelve I joke with myself that I should just turn in and run straight to my room. I know, I don’t find it funny either. I pressed on over what I consider to be the final “obstacle” of the course, the modest hill in between the Beach Club and the International Gateway. As hills go it’s not very formidable. However after running for twelve miles, any hill becomes exaggerated. I conquered Mount Modesthill and followed the course to the backstage of Epcot, and then ultimately into Epcot between the United Kingdom and Canada. We veered left towards Future World and the Land Pavilion, and I was quite pleased to be inside Epcot at this point.

The course routed us through the tunnel past Innoventions, and into Innoventions Plaza. There was a large concentration of onlookers here, some of them cheering us on, some of them waiting for a break in the runners so they could cross. We turned left before reaching the Electric Umbrella, and towards the park’s exit.

After exiting Epcot, the race was just about over. According to the Wine and Dine Half Event Guide, the finish area was located in the Imagine Lot. Just before reaching it, there were more lighted horns. I could see the Finish Line from this point, and for the first time ever, I had enough juice to sprint to the finish. Even in the 2011 Wine and Dine Half, the last time I fully trained for a race, I didn’t sprint to the finish. Go figure. My finishing photo wasn’t great however, so instead you’ll get me after I received my medal, then me holding a banana.

Finish Line in the distance!

Sorry for the watermarks, but these photos are way too expensive to purchase
Yeah I took two Powerades - so what!

I’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating. This is my favorite race. If you like night races, I definitely recommend giving this one a try. After the race I noticed how cool it had gotten, so I was glad I brought along the long sleeve tech shirt runDisney provided us. The after party was fun as well, and I even got to use the 10 dollar gift card runDisney provided. I finally got to meet my runDisney pal Krissy, met up with my friend Estelle from This Happy Place Blog (and her friend Katherine), and mingled with a bunch of my fellow runners.

Me and Krissy

Hangin' with Estelle, while seemingly wearing the Eiffel Tower as a hat

If I had to lodge one complaint about this race, I’d say that the crosswalk for people to get from one side of Innoventions Plaza to the other (aka runners trying to get to the after party) was a bit annoying. It took about 15 minutes to get 15 feet. But that’s it, really. This race is always a blast, and I plan on doing it all over again next year.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Disney Project Podcast--Episode 13: Brad Bird's Tomorrowland and the 2013 Wine and Dine Half Marathon

Keith and Jeff had a topic all planned out for episode 13, but since it became pushed back a month, they decided to chat about Keith's recent Walt Disney World trip instead. Jeff asks Keith about the 2013 Wine and Dine Half Marathon, and Keith tells Jeff all about the day when the Carousel of Progress was closed for the filming of Brad Bird's Tomorrowland. The two also chat about the newly-released Maleficent trailer, and a few other tidbits.

Your listening options are iTunes, the direct podcast’s page, or via the window below. Enjoy!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Filming of Brad Bird's "Tomorrowland" at the Carousel of Progress

On the evening of Sunday, November 10, I headed to the Magic Kingdom with my friends Estelle and Katherine. It was nearly 10pm, and I was concerned that even though the park closed at midnight, and was open until 2am for Extra Magic Hours, if we didn’t hurry the Carousel of Progress would be closed for the night. My fears were confirmed as we arrived shortly after 10pm to discover that the attraction’s entrance ramps were roped off. Estelle recommended we head over to Space Mountain, however some investigation was required first. Being an enormous Carousel of Progress fan, I have arrived to ride it at night and found it roped off on more than one occasion (sometimes it stays open till park-close, sometimes not). This time, something was different. Normally it’s just roped off, and there is either a single CM (cast member) at the controls wrapping things up, or the loading area is completely deserted. On this night, there was an actual sign that stated “Carousel of Progress is closed for the day,” and I noticed quite a bit of activity around the attraction’s entrance. Soon a few more cast members appeared near the ride’s right-side entrance, so of course I went over to talk to them. "Hey if you guys are going to fix some things, let me tell you what it needs. The audio in scene one is way too low. In scene three—" The CM chuckled and advised me that it was not down for refurb. They were just getting ready to film some scenes from Brad Bird’s highly-anticipated film Tomorrowland. "Oh," I replied.

I do not live local to any Disney parks. Most of my writing falls under the “Disney Historian” category. That said, I never get to break news. As a huge Carousel of Progress fan, I leapt at the chance to be the one to share this information. This tweet actually took me a couple of minutes to word properly.

Please excuse the photo quality, the above images are all iPhone pics

My friends very graciously hung around as I snooped, peeked, spied, and worried.  I snapped a few photos and tweeted them, and yes, this tweet from Estelle may actually be true. The Carousel of Progress already needs some TLC, and my concern was that this film-shoot was going to exacerbate its disrepair. We eventually took our leave of Tomorrowland (both the land and the film set), but to no one’s surprise, I had already decided I was going to return the next day. And return the next day, I did.

I wasn’t quite sure what I was hoping to accomplish. Honestly, I just love that ride and wanted to be around as they were doing stuff in it. I hung around way longer than I probably should have, but I ended up getting some pretty good photos. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Brad Bird before, so when he showed up on set, I recognized him immediately.

Wait a second, I recognize that guy in the orange hat
Brad Bird

I left and came back a few times, just to check on the production’s “progress” (see what I did there?). At some point I noticed that you could sort of make out a little of the set in the first theater (in the current Carousel of Progress, the first theater welcomes you with a multi-color-lighted attraction sign shaped as a gear, and narration from Jean Shepherd). That wasn’t the case on this day, as through my snooping, I could immediately tell they were re-creating the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair version of the ride. An old school General Electric logo was visible, as were some glowing lights that strongly resembled the lights from the first theater in the Progressland (NYWF) version, which was known as the “Kaleidophonic Screen”.  

I spy a GE logo!

Kaleidophonic Screen is visible here

Soon after that, while in line to ride the Peoplemover, I noticed some of the extras were dressed in 60s apparel.

Someone got a better photo of these folks - I was farther away by the time they came out - But you can still make out the 60s outfits!

The photos I took while riding the Peoplemover

While the specific plot of Tomorrowland is still not 100% clear, clever marketing and Brad Bird’s involvement have created an extremely high interest in the film, which is currently due out in theaters in 2015. The official IMDB page describes the story as: "Bound by a shared destiny, a bright, optimistic teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor jaded by disillusionment embark on a danger-filled mission to unearth the secrets of an enigmatic place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory as 'Tomorrowland.' "

Tomorrowland Director chairs

I returned the day after filming, to see if in fact anything had been messed up/with. While not a big deal, I did notice that when they removed the gear sign in the first theater, they didn’t put it back on correctly. Instead of sitting straight, it sort of tilts up. And while I was told they weren’t filming in the actual attraction scenes, I also noticed that the calendar from the wall in scene one was inexplicably now hanging from the end of the telephone. Also, I think they actually added a card and flowers for Father's wife Sarah (it is Valentine's Day in that scene, after all). And yes, I am a huge nerd for even having noticed any of that.

They put the sign back wrong! It's tilted up

The sign in the last theater, as you can see it's perfectly straight

Oh, and speaking of being a huge nerd. I felt the need to pose with what was going on.

As I tweeted that first night, the very fact that Brad Bird would go to the trouble of filming inside the real Carousel of Progress shows that he gets it. He seems determined to produce the best work possible while maintaining the integrity of Walt’s legacy. Aside from the first Spider-Man, the Star Wars prequels (whomp whomp) and the TRON sequel, I can’t recall ever being as excited to see a film.