In the Shadow of the Mouse

Secrets of a theme park obsessed local who lives next door to Mickey, with annual passes to every Central Florida park

Destination D Attraction Rewind shows why it pays to be a D23 member

You may have heard about D23, the official Disney fan club, but perhaps you’ve never bothered to join. After all, if you’re already a Disney fanatic, what can it possibly have to offer?


Bob Gurr and Marty Sklar.

One of the biggest perks of being in D23 is being able to go to the events. There’s a huge annual expo, but that’s not the only event. For example, D23 came to Walt Disney World on November 22 and 23 for Destination D Attraction Rewind. You may think you know everything about Disney, but have you heard it live and direct from the mouths of Disney legends? If not, you can have that incomparable experience at events like this.

I had the great pleasure of covering D23 Attraction Rewind and heard about what it was like to work on World’s Fair Attractions from the people who actually did it. I spoke to Jack Gladish, the Imagineer who brought Mr. Lincoln to life in groundbreaking Audioanamatronic form, and chatting with the likes of Marty Sklar, Bob Gurr, Jack Gladish, and Bill Sullivan.You can see all the panel interview participants in the photos on this page.

Walt Disney died when I was only two years old, but it was truly a geek moment to talk to men who had worked hand-in-hand with him at Disneyland and Disney World and on the World’s Fair project.

Bill Sullivan, Bill Cotter, and Gary Landrum.

Bill Sullivan, Bill Cotter, and Gary Landrum.

The event also featured memorabilia from the World’s Fair like banners, records, Moldarama figures, and even an irradiated dime. It’s amazing to see those old souvenirs, many of which are very rare because so few were saved over the years. There were also figures from the archives like Figment, Mr. Toad, and a horse and pig from World of Motion.

You can even go shopping for goods straight from Mickey’s of Glendale at the pop-up store. Just be warned of two important things. First, the wait to get in, and then to check out, will be long. Second, if you’re a true Disney fanatic, your credit card will be red hot and smoking by the time you leave.

Photos and video aren’t allowed in the presentations, so the only way to see them is to actually attend the event. You’ll hear personal stories of working with Walt, see rare archive photos and videos, and hear recordings. I especially loved the concept art for what might have been at the Coke pavilion if the soft drink company had taken Disney up on its ideas…which bear a very close resemblance to what became the Enchanted Tiki Room. Speaking of the World’s Fair, did you know that it was due to Joan Crawford’s pressure that Pepsi stuck with sponsoring It’s a Small World?

Jack Gladish and Michael Kelley.

Jack Gladish and Michael Kelley.

You might even see a never-before-released clip of an upcoming movie. In this case, it was a scene from “Tomorrowland,” accompanied by a fascinating talk by art director Ramsey Avery on the intricacies of the film’s set design and the challenges of recreating the 1964/65 World’s Fair. I was shocked that that part was almost filmed in Kissimmee, at the Tupperware World Headquarters! Amazingly, there was little to go on in terms of photos of the fair and even plans for Disney’s own attractions. The movie had to wing it with the boats for It’s a Small World by using information on two later incarnations.

I also heard stories that personalized Walt as a warm human being, not just a larger than life personality. You’ve got to love a man who had a bar stashed away under one of the seats of his private plane!

If the ability to attend events like this sounds enticing, visit the official D23 website for more details on how to join. There’s a free membership if you’d like to dip in your toes, or go for the Gold if you’re ready to plunge right into the pool.

Ramsey Avery.

Ramsey Avery.

D23 press conference videos highlight archives, future of D23

The D23 Destination D Attraction Rewind event kicked into high gear today, but Friday featured two fascinating press conferences for fans of all things Disney.

The first was a chat with Becky Cline, Director Director of the Walt Disney Archives. Several archived items are on display at the event, and she talked about those treasures, as well as some of the other pieces in the collection and what it’s like to have a hand in saving and preserving Disney history. See it for yourself in the video below:

The second was a presentation by Adam Sanderson and Kristin Rodack of D23. They talked about the future of the wildly popular Disney fan club, including some membership changes. While silver memberships are going away, gold members will be able to upgrade to family memberships that give them the freedom to bring more family members to events. The duo also unveiled the 2015 D23 Expo art. You can see it all in the video below:

The event continues throughout Saturday and Sunday at the Contemporary Resort, highlighting the World’s Fair and beloved Disney attractions of the past (and some that have survived through the present, like Carousel of Progress). It’s just one of the D23 events that you can sign up for if you’re a member. There’s even a free membership level; if you’re a consummate Disney fan, check it out on the official website.

D23 Attraction Rewind is here: Yes, I could easily overspend in this store!

The D23 Attraction Rewind is now in town. It gets into full swing tomorrow (November 22), but I got a peek at the pop-up store, Mickey’s of Glendale, today, and let’s just say that I’m lucky I couldn’t buy anything at the sneak peek or my credit card would be smoking right now. Attendees were lined up in quite an impressive queue, and I could easily see why. There was a variety of Imagineering merchandise:




A great selection of Pleasure Island throwback goodies:





Small World goodies:


And just generally a wonderful selection geared to the Disney enthusiast. One of my personal favorites was the Figment shirt:


temp1Since there’s a “former attractions” theme, along with a World’s Fair focus, I thought it was especially appropriate to reflect back on my favorite Disney World ride of all time. Yes, I know Figment’s still there, but the original Journey Into Imagination was a work of dark ride perfection that will never be equaled. Yes, that’s my buddy Figment in the photo at right. He’s one of the pieces featured in the archive display that’s also part of the D23 Attraction Rewind event.

The D23 Attraction Rewind continues on Saturday and Sunday at the Contemporary Resort and Convention Center, so I’ll have more reports on the panels and presentations. It’s always such a pleasure to hear from Disney legends and those “in the know” about what’s ahead, as well as memories of what’s been left behind.

If you’re not a D23 member, you can sign up for free for some fun member exclusives. If you’re not lucky enough to live in Florida like I am, or near Disneyland, it’s a great way to stoke your Disney passion all year ’round and maintain that connection, no matter where you live.

Where to find real snow and ice in Florida: Christmas at the Gaylord Palms

l11Once upon a time, I lived in Chicago and braved the cold, snowy winters until I realized that I was born in the wrong state. Once I moved to Florida, my thick, hearty northern blood soon turned to cherry Kool-Aid. However, as much as I hate the cold, I still need an occasional dose of snow and cold to feel the latent Chicagoan inside of me.

Thankfully, I’ve always been able to fulfill that cold need at Ice! at the Gaylord Palms Resort. Since it’s just outside of Walt Disney World, that means it’s easy for me to get to, and I absolutely love the gorgeous ice sculptures they feature each year. I’ve already written about this year’s Nutcracker theme, which features scenes from the classic ballet carved in colored ice by talented artisans from Harbin, China. At the end you’ll find the traditional clear ice nativity, which has acted as the finale for as long as I can remember.

This year, however, I can get my snow fix at the Gaylord Palms too. There’s a brand new Alpine Rush tubing experience for Christmas at the Gaylord Palms. You tube on snow…yes, real hard-packed snow that creates a perfect base to cause you to slip and slide at high speeds down one of the eight chutes. You can go forward or backward (I recommend backward for the most thrills). Kids between 36 and 42 inches can ride in a double tube with an adult, much as they would do at a water park. I guess it really is kind of a water park; the water is just in a different form.

Thanks to the Gaylord Palms Resort, I was able to try out a preview of the tubing, and I give it a big thumbs up. Unlike ice, where the temperature is a bone-numbing 9 degrees, the tubing area is actually quite warm. You still need to wear long pants and close-toed shoes, but your nose, ears, fingers, and toes won’t freeze. Of course, you can get a brain freeze by buying some of the tasty Mike’s Italian Ice which is sold on the premises. I had a nice mix of flavors to get a sugar buzz for energy to keep walking up those stairs.l21You can get a combination ticket for Ice! and the tubing, which is what I recommend.

Actually, there are so many fun activities for Christmas at the Gaylord Palms, not to mention the Luminescence show and the general fun of just walking around to admire the decorations, that you can easily make a day of it, even if you’re not staying at the resort. It’s a perfect place to feel the Christmas spirit as you listen to the music and admire the awe-inspiring atrium tree.

For the adults, there’s another fun option: the On the Blocks Ice Bar inside of the Ice! exhibit. You’ll need to buy an extra ticket, but it’s well worth the unique experience of getting your Johnny Appleseed hard cider poured literally through an ice sculpture. There are a variety of other drinks served in a light-up souvenir cup, and you can literally “freeze your blocks off” sitting directly on the ice while you savor the warming qualities of your adult beverage. After a busy evening of tubing, savoring a minty drink was the perfect way to relax and keep warm in the 9 degree chill.l20

Now is a perfect time to visit Ice!, since it typically doesn’t get wildly busy until after Thanksgiving. Even if you come later, you can buy an express pass that gets you into the exhibit much more quickly, Once inside, you definitely won’t want to rush, as there’s so much to see and ice slides to ride. In addition to the Nutcracker, the Frostbite Factory section features Chinese artisans showing you how they create the sculptures.

I love living in Florida, but I’d probably miss my old stomping grounds more if I couldn’t get my dose of winter cold each year. Thankfully, with Christmas the the Gaylord Palms, it means I can enjoy the snow and ice, then pop out and bask in the warmth and palm trees just outside the frigid air.

See festive Christmas trees Orlando Museum of Art thru November 23

tr1Back when I lived in Chicago, where I thought that 40 degrees in the winter was warm, not bitter cold, I loved going to the Museum of Science and Industry’s annual Christmas tree display. It was an annual holiday traditional to see their trees themed to various countries.

Now that I live in Orlando, I have a plethora of Christmas events at my fingertips, from Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom and Christmas Around the World at Epcot to SeaWorld’s Christmas celebration with O Wondrous Night, one of my all-time favorite Christmas shows, and Ice! at the Gaylord Palms Resort. But if I still want a reminder of my old home and Christmases past, I can head over to the Orlando Museum of Art, which has a lovely tree display event, the Festival of Trees, that runs now through November 23.

The Festival of Trees is an annual fundraiser for the museum, which brings art and culture to Orlando with exhibits and community events. Click the video below for a preview of the display:

tr2The video was taken before it was complete, but the event is now in full force, running from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. It’s only $10 for adults and $6 for children, and the Christmas trees and gingerbread houses are sure to put you in the spirit of the season. They’re all for sale, too, so if something really catches your eye, you can take it home with you. You might need a lot of space in your car, though, as some of the trees run up to nine feet tall.

Kids will enjoy the Toyland Town activity area where they can do crafts and meet Santa Claus himself. In the Deck the Halls area, you’ll find custom-designed wreaths, garlands, centerpieces and small trees for sale. There are also elegant table settings done by Entertaining by Design that will go to a lucky drawing winner at the Festival Finale. The finale drawing also offers prizes like jewelry, restaurant gift certificates, and other fun items.

You can grab a quick lunch at the Festival Café during the event, and browse the Festival Boutique, with one-of-a-kind items and furnishings from a variety of local merchants that are perfect for holiday gifts for friends, family, or even a treat for yourself.


One thing I particularly like about the Festival of Trees is that it includes gingerbread houses, which were lacking at the Chicago museum. There’s nothing like the smell of gingerbread to put me into a Christmas mood. It’s my tradition to make a gingerbread house every year at the Gaylord Palms Resort, but they don’t come out anything like the amazing professional creations. Here are some of those:









And here’s the house I made last year (I’ll be creating this year’s version later this week):


If you’re like me and you like to kick off Christmas even though it’s not quite Thanksgiving yet, the Festival of Trees is a great way to do it and support a good cause at the same time.

IAAPA Expo is back in Orlando, features everything theme park-related

One of the reasons I love living in Orlando is that it’s home to some great expos at the Orange County Convention Center. The International Association and Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) brings it conference and expo to town every year, and theme park writers eagerly await this peek at all things theme park packed together under one giant roof (it spills out into the parking lot, too).

The IAAPA Expo features new trends that always crop up in amusement parks over the next year, and it also has plenty of classics on hand, as you’ll see in these photos that chronicle just a bit of my very busy day on the expo floor. I rode rides, tried tasty treats, met characters, played games, and just generally had a wonderful time, considering that I was working:


Photos are always big at theme parks, and IAAPA features photo booths and standard pictures, including some blue screen fun. The bird I’m chumming it up with in the photo above is real, but I’m not really in that exotic locale, although it would have been preferable to the chilly, windy day that showed winter’s coming early to Florida.


I consider IAAPA the unofficial marker between Halloween and Christmas (although I’ve already been to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and Ice! at the Gaylord Palms). Thus I thought it was fitting to pause for a photo with Old Saint Nick.


I rode a very cool full-on simulator of a zombie shoot-out, which I loved, and I also did a smaller ride, pictured above, that actually packed a surprising punch. You select your experience (I chose a safari chasing poachers), and I can tell you from personal experience that your teeth will be rattling!


There’s always time to stop for a photo with a character or two.


Yum! These frozen bananas coated with good stuff like nuts, sprinkles, or coconut, are my favorite treat at Wet N Wild.


Anyone up for a game of air hockey? It’s just one of the many games you can try out on the expo floor.


I’m really good at claw games, but this new take on them was a real challenge. You have to line up the little magnet in the hand with one of the beer bottles and drop it just right.


Pop A Shot is a classic that shows up every year.


Bowling! It’s tricky with those little balls.


This midway game had me boggled. I think I’ll stick with my old favorite (the goblet game).


Actually, I didn’t do too badly at this monkey jump rope game. I had decent enough reflexes to win a little souvenir.


I soared up to the rooftop (well, not quite) on this ride. I love the indoor rides at IAAPA, and there are some outside, too, including a crane for bungee jumping (no, I didn’t try it).


This coaster looks tame, but that sucker can sure spin its cars when it’s out on the track!


With all the walking around the expo hall, this would have come in very handy! Much easier to ride than a Segway.

Those photos cover only a small part of my day’s adventures. Stay tuned for more coverage of my favorite expo of the year!

Ice! at the Gaylord Palms features The Nutcracker: Check out these photos

Every year I’m excited to see the new theme for Ice! at the Gaylord Palms Resort, just outside of Walt Disney World. Each year the Harbin, China, artisans brings to life a new story, whether it’s a classic like “The Night Before Christmas” or a mainstream media property like “Shrek the Halls” or the Rankin-Bass version of “Frosty the Snowman.” This year’s theme is most definitely an ageless classic: The Nutcracker in full, vibrant color, complete with the Tchaikovsky score. Here are some scenes from the exhibit:





Of course, the ice slides are back this year, too:


And no year of Ice! would be complete without the classic nativity finale:


If you’d like to see exactly how the ice sculptures are made, spend some time in the Frostbite Factory, where one of the Chinese artisans will be on hand each day creating one of several pieces to be added to the exhibit throughout the season:



There’s something new in Ice! this year, too: the On the Blocks Ice Bar. It’s a place where adults can warm themselves with a holiday-themed libation, as well as a sample of Johnny Appleseed. There’s an extra cost for the bar, and you get a souvenir cup in addition to your drink:


Christmas the at Gaylord Palms encompasses much more than Ice! alone. Starting on November 21, you’ll also be able to tube on real snow, create a gingerbread house, visit with Santa Claus, and more. For now, though, the crowds haven’t come out yet for Ice!, so it’s a perfect time to head over and enjoy the breathtaking sculptures. For full details on prices, activities, and dates, visit the official website here.

Night goes fast at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party: Videos of entertainment show why

When I attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party earlier this week (it runs on select nights at the Magic Kingdom through December 19), I couldn’t believe how quickly the time flew by. It starts at 7 p.m. and ends at midnight, and it’s the fastest five hours I’ve ever experienced.

Actually, I’m not all that surprised, since the same thing happened to me not so long ago at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (was Halloween really less than a month away?). Disney hard-ticket events are always chock full of special fun and entertainment, so it takes a bit of planning and juggling to fit in everything you want to see. I recommend getting there before the party starts (your ticket gets you into the Magic Kingdom as early as 4 p.m.), grabbing a show schedule, and plotting out the night ahead with your must-sees.

If you’re not sure what you want to see, these videos should help you. Hint: if you’ve got little girls, they’re going to clamor to see everything involving Frozen, starting with Queen Elsa transforming Cinderella Castle into a glowing array of ice lights as the culmination of a special show:

Don’t want to watch the full show? (You really show…it’s worth it to see Olaf walk and talk). Here’s the Cliff Notes version, with just the castle lighting:

Elsa, Anna, Olaf, and Kristoff also feature prominently in the Christmas parade:

There’s plenty of relatively Frozen-free entertainment, too. Yes, there’s a segment in the castle projection show, but it’s just one small piece of a huge mash-up of Disney favorites that has a holiday bit tacked on for good measure during the party:

And of course, it wouldn’t be Walt Disney World without fireworks. Watch them light up the sky in holiday splendor:

There are other shows, too, that aren’t nearly as crowded as the biggies. I always enjoy A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas because it features Santa Stitch:

Celebrate the Season is back on the castle stage, too:

As you can see, there’s a lot to experience, and this doesn’t even include shopping for special holiday merchandise, enjoying free cocoa and cookies (or apples and apple juice), getting photos with characters in their Christmas best, or just walking down Main Street to soak up the Christmas ambiance as you marvel at snow in Florida.

If you’re planning to attend the party this year and don’t have your tickets yet, get them as soon as you can! It’s already been selling out on many dates this year, so you don’t want to be disappointed.