Ten Days of Disney: Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!

Gotta love songs from The Simpsons. And you’ve gotta love the feeling of getting in that monorail and zooming towards the best fun you’ll ever have in an organised way ever, ever, ever. And that’s it – that’s ten days of things I love about Disney: the parks, the people and the topiary.

Disorganised blogging from me today. I’m too skittish and flight-nervous to link back to all the previous days (use the tag, though, or scroll down)…

I shall greet you from the Disney side!

Ten Days of Disney: Fast Pass

Now, though the fella behind @TheDisneyBlog hated Fast Pass (and I have yet to get round to asking him why, although I’m very curious), I found it a thoroughly useful and excellent invention in 2004 when I first used it at WDW.

The concept is brilliantly simple: the queue is too long right now, so you get an hour-long slot (for rides) or performance time (for shows) to come back for, leaving you with a very short wait compared to the standby lines.

In practice most of the Fast Pass tickets are gone by 11am, but if you plan your park visit carefully – it does require a certain amount of military precision although there’s still arguably room for spontaneity – you’ll get hold of ones for the rides you most want to go on. For me the key Fast Passes to bag will be for Splash Mountain, Mission Space and Soarin’, I reckon (if they all do FP, which I believe they do).

No system is perfect, but as a way of helping you plan your day around the park without having to account for very long queues, it’s very helpful.

Day One: Howard Ashman & Alan Menken

Day Two: EPCOT

Day Three: Landscaping

Day Four: Pixar

Day Five: Disney for Good

Day Six, Seven & Eight: Adult Entertainment, Phil Harris & Sterling Holloway, Fireworks

Ten Days of Disney: Disney for Good

Disney, like most big corporations with an eye on their reputation, has an outreach programme. Disney VoluntEARS, work with the Make-a-Wish Foundation and a strong emphasis on employees sharing skills are a few parts of Disney Worldwide Outreach.

This is, given my job, naturally an area of interest for me. I knew about Disney’s work with Make-a-Wish years ago as a visit to a Disney park, studio or other related venue is consistently one of the most popular wishes of very ill children. If that doesn’t tell you about the power of Disney’s story-telling and the evangelism that rises from it, nothing will. But I didn’t know until quite recently, when my interest increased, about the amount of employee time that is donated to communities.

This is one area where I’d love to see Disney developing online. Surely this is a place where online and offline communities really have a chance to be joined up. A place for volunteers to exchange information and potential volunteers to find out more? A place where kids can find online mentors from within Disney? A place where parents whose children have been helped through Make-a-Wish can build an online wall of memories of their child’s experience? A way for Disney to teach non-profit organisations without their budgets and marketing advantage to make the most of social technologies? You name it – the list of online possibilities surrounding outreach work are virtually endless.

My favourite is the Disney mentor idea – a natural online extension of the thousands of hours of offline community work Disney employee “VoluntEARS” already do. Imagine each employee giving up one hour a week to give advice to a kid online about becoming an attraction “imagineer”, animator, or other creative professional. What a boost to the arts that would be! And then there are the legion of other employees, from web wizards to front-of-house cast members. Each has advice and talent to offer; imagine how valued you would feel if you were asked to contribute your time to the project.

What’s in it for Disney? Well, though it might be done for entirely more altruistic reasons, there’s the lifelong fans you’re going to make when your pool of highly skilled employees shares the talent wealth a little. And the reputation advantages. Not to mention a direct line to possibly the greatest market research money can buy, straight from the people who love the Disney empire best, and a contacts list of future potential employees likely to feel completely loyal to a company that’s behaved like family.

For all I know, much of this is already in the pipeline or has been discussed and rejected for any number of reasons. But, for the record – that’s what I would do.

Day One: Howard Ashman & Alan Menken

Day Two: EPCOT

Day Three: Landscaping

Day Four: Pixar

Ten Days of Disney: Pixar

Mike's New Car

Mike's New Car

The initial distribution and then acquisition of Pixar is one of the creative decisions I’ve admired the most from Disney. The digital animation pioneers have consistently turned out tightly scripted, smart, engaging movies that appeal to kids and adults alike and have done it all with groundbreaking artistry.

It doesn’t hurt that I’m quite the Apple fan (so sue me) and think that Pixar might be one of Steve Jobs’ best projects ever. I think the harshest criticism I’ve ever heard about a Pixar film was directed at Wall-E, which a friend described as a “two hour ident”. To which I say “so what?”. One of the best parts of going to watch a Pixar film in the cinema is the warm-up animation, starting with the bouncing, angle-poise lamp ident; why would I mind if the undeniable cute factor, warmth and humour of this is extended over two hours?

Oh, and the director’s commentary on short Mike’s New Car (on the DVD of Monsters Inc) is absolute comedy gold.

Day One: Howard Ashman & Alan Menken

Day Two: EPCOT

Day Three: Landscaping

Ten Days of Disney: Landscaping

tinkNow, I know what you’re thinking. You came here for stuff about Disney and I give you… gardening?! Seriously, though. There’s more to Disney’s extraordinary landscaping than you might think.

Before you even start on the¬†amazing Disney topiary contests (always more impressive in person than in pictures), everything about the way the Disney parks are laid out is wonderful. The attention to detail from leaping fountains and peaceful waterways to lovely swathes of parkland that you watch zooming by from the monorail is just wonderful. It very cleverly makes what’s essentially a huge man-made development fit very sympathetically into place. It’s not an urban blot on the landscape but an attractive marriage of nature and architecture. You’ve got to love that (and we’ll go onto architecture on another Day of Disney, no doubt).

Despite involving tonnes and tonnes of concrete, bricks and paint, a visit to WDW always seems like a visit to a rural park. I imagine this will only be better in Animal Kingdom’s mock-safari areas, and I look forward to seeing that and the gorgeous Tree of Life I’ve heard so much about. Much of Orlando is inescapably touristy and industrial –¬†which serves a useful purpose but isn’t exactly attractive – so it’s great to go into a tourist area and yet not feel like you’re in a concrete pit.

Day One: Howard Ashman & Alan Menken

Day Two: EPCOT

[Image Source: Tink Spinning Topiary from Princess Shari on Flickr]

Ten Days of Disney: EPCOT

Now, I appreciate that the Magic Kingdom is the symbol of Disney in every sense. Not only was it the original theme park from which I have pictures of a four-year-old slack-jawed Alex watching a parade in absolute, blissful awe, but the image of Cinderella Castle – particularly with fireworks breaking in the sky above – is absolutely synonymous with everything from film idents to promotional materials.

But it’s not my favourite park. Oh, don’t get me wrong, Pirates of the Caribbean and the newly-refitted Haunted Mansion are totally on my “don’t leave without seeing” list (It’s a Small World not so much but then I’m no longer a small person). But as much as the Lands of Fantasy, Frontier and more delight me and fill me with excitement and joy, it’s EPCOT that I really look forward to visiting.

The giant silver golf ball that marks the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow makes my heart race when it hoves into view from the monorail. I was always, always a techy, geeky kid. Fascinated by computers, the first one to figure out how to programme the VCR to record. I took after my mother – she was the one setting timers and changing plugs in our house, and she’s taught herself HTML in her 60s just because she felt like it, really. So heading into a whole world of beeps and whistles, a supercharged collection of the most fun science museum stands, was tremendously exciting. EPCOT, with its Spaceship Earth based around communication, is really an inevitable choice for a social media and online communications bod, isn’t it?

More than that, though, there was the World Showcase. A brilliantly multi-cultural idea from a company who could at times seem a bit sterile and white, it’s also by far the best place to eat in the whole of WDW (especially Morocco). Oh, and the best vantage point to watch the gorgeous Illuminations light and firework show over the lake.

This year is my first visit to Animal Kingdom. It was open when I last went in 2004 but I was only there for a week and chose to revisit old friends rather than trying to spend time getting to know a new park. I imagine it will be a great experience, but my first priority will be introducing my complete Disnewbie of a husband to EPCOT.

Ten Days of Disney Day One: Howard Ashman & Alan Menken