TRAVELSCRIBBLES is a blog featuring travel reports, advice, and idea sharing for those interested in both domestic and international exploration.

Roger Sauer and his wife Donna have spent years traveling the world but have many places yet to see. You can follow their past and current travels here as well as post comments and questions about places they have visited.

Roger and Donna travelled to New Zealand and Australia in September, 2013. They will be in Paris in September 2015 with a train trip to Nice and Barcelona. They will then be aboard the Disney Magic (again) for a transatlantic cruise to Miami. Follow their travels on Twitter @rsauer3473.

Donna and Roger own Disney Vacation Club memberships at Old Key West and Beach Cub resorts in Walt Disney World. They also have other timeshare interests in Maui, Cancun, Orlando, and Palm Springs.
Feel free to contact them at 503-585-3473 if you would like rent one of these properties.

Where Do You Want To Go Today?

Friday, April 30, 2010

Taking Children out of School for a Disney Trip? A Vacation Dilemma

Part 1: The Decision
Three scenarios:
Family A takes its vacations during the summer when school is out and Dad has his annual two week time off for a trip.
Family B has two parents working and need to coordinate their times off for a vacation. Needless to say, this sometimes means vacations during the school year.
Family C has a single parent working a job with no paid vacation. If there is a vacation at all, it must be during off-seasons when prices for lodging are lower. These are invariably during the fall or early winter.

The decision to take students out of school for any vacation is now driven by numerous social, educational, and economic factors. As a retired school administrator (including service as a high school principal) I was often called on to deal with students whose attendance was impacted by parental vacation decisions. Simply put, my position was that students need to be in school when it is in session. Absenteeism is strongly correlated with lack of success in school. To paraphrase Woody Allen, "Half the secret of success is simply showing up."
However, as the three scenarios above indicate, times have changed. America may have moved beyond the agrarian calendar that drove its educational system a century ago, but that same calendar refuses to give up the wheel. Just as families have changed, the types of vacations (and even the ability to have one!) have also changed.
And sometimes the school calendar and vacation windows simply do not cooperate. This means that decisions to take trips during the school year including those to Disney World should be made with foresight and an open consideration of a variety of factors. While there is no one good answer for every situation, what follows is a series of questions that should be discussed as plans are made. Part 2 is a set of activities that can help one maintain an element of educational rigor during a Disney World vacation on school time.


• Do parent work schedules allow for time off during non-school periods?

• Can the family afford vacation costs during school vacation periods (read: Peak Season)?

• Can the parent(s) properly supervise homework assigned during the absence?

• Can the parent(s) properly develop a series of activities that take advantage of Disney World and the travel itinerary?

• How many days will the student remain out of school?

• Can the trip be scheduled so as to minimize days of school missed? More than a week can set any student back.

STUDENT ISSUES: These should be answered for every student and more critically for student in grades 6-12

• Does the student want to go? Your college-bound senior may like the idea but not the timing. Is there a responsible adult available to serve as a guardian in your absence?

• Has the student been successful in school?

• Has the student missed more than ten school days in the past year?

• Is the student enrolled in a performance class (band, choir, and orchestra) or an extra-curricular activity that would be missed during the trip?

• Is the student in the habit of doing homework on a daily basis?

• Is the student enrolled in special education, accelerated, or other specialized program?


• What are the state law and district and school policies regarding pre-arranged absences from school?

• Will the teacher/s assist the student is assigning homework for the trip?

• Will the student be able to make up work on his return from the trip?

• Can any element of the Disney World experience be used to supplement or enhance the material covered in specific classes?
Remember that most educators have worked in a system that starts in the fall, takes winter and Spring Breaks, and shuts down in the summer. It is sometimes assumed by educators that the rest of the world is on this schedule.
As one can see, the answer to the question posed in the title of this piece is: It depends. My own view is that, if the parents are forced to take time off during school time, they will. But if they have a choice of vacation times, then they need to seriously consider the second and third question sets and weigh the pros and cons. These all lead up to a single compelling question: Can my child afford to be away from direct instruction and participation at school for the duration of the trip?

PART 2: Educational Opportunities- Those Taken and Those Missed
If the decision is made to remove students from school for a trip, it has hopefully been done with the blessing of your student's school and that teachers have cooperated in providing homework in advance. This is not always as easy as it seems; one would like to think that teachers can just whip out the assignment for the next week or two at the drop of a hat -- some can, some cannot. Hopefully, it will not be busy work. On the other hand, are you ready to help Sally with her calculus? Again, the decision for an older student will be in part driven by the student, and Sally might rather be in calculus class.
But if you have homework with you, your students should be able to do some of it in the car on the way to the World or on the airplane. The educational advantage of this is obvious, as should be the lesson that "play" time sometimes requires "work" time.
Even if there are no lessons to do, your job as parent-mentor can be enhanced by providing supplemental work materials at a grade-appropriate level. Any bookstore or American Automobile Association store can provide these types of workbooks. And, if the student is old enough, the simple act of reading is beneficial. Bring BOOKS in their carry-ons!
A couple of years ago my daughter by necessity had to arrange a vacation during school time. My twin grandchildren, Colin and Caitlin, had reading books as well as a journal that they were expected to complete. Each journal had a page with the date at the top. Each filled out boxes on each page covering topics like naming three activities of the day and their favorite event, person, or place of the day. They were also asked to draw something they saw that day. My daughter also had them do the World Showcase tour with Passports to have signed at the Epcot Kidcot stations.
One key to providing some thinking skills in the trip to Walt Disney World is MAPS. Traveling to Orlando either by plane, train, or automobile can be enhanced by having younger children learn the geography through which (or over which) they are traveling. Maps from AAA can be a godsend. Similarly, the park maps can be used to let children plot their daily activities. Disney makes beautiful, customizable family-specific maps for free and they can be ordered through the Disney World website www.disneyworld.com
Advanced students interested in art and architecture can learn a great deal though the recently published Imagineering Field Guides to the Walt Disney World parks. And, of course, the parks themselves and especially Epcot and Animal Kingdom can be considered living lesson plans. Even as experienced an educator as I recognize that a trip to Harambe Village is going to be more memorable than Miss Feeny's scintillating lecture on African quadrupeds!
So the decision is yours to make. But in doing so, be thoughtful about your own family's flexibility to travel, your children's educational needs and maturity, and how YOU can make a school time trip to Disney World educational as well as fun.

Kapalua: Maui's Hidden Treasure

With airfares getting higher and higher and the economy slowing down, a trip to Maui in the Hawaiian Islands might seem a little unrealistic. But dreams are dreams and some dreams are worth waiting for.
Long rated one of the world's best islands by Conde Nast Traveler magazine, Maui remains one of the best vacation spots in the United States. Due to its small size but unique shape and geography, Maui has many different facets and some areas seem very unlike others, from the more urban Kahului and Wailuku, to far remote Hana with its rain forest in the east, to the barren moonscape of Haleakala, to Kapalua with its quiet elegance and view of the neighboring island of Molokai in the distance. Where is Kapalua? Imagine Maui as an hourglass tilted to the left about 45 degrees, with its top half slightly smaller than its bottom half. Kapalua is toward the top of the upper half of the glass. The larger, lower section is dominated by Haleakala volcano and its Upcountry region, with the town of Hana on its bottom shore. Kahului and its airport are at the narrow space between the two halves. (Maui was originally two islands until volcanic activity from Haleakala joined the two.) Situated in an area that was once pineapple fields and rocky coastline, Kapalua is a community and resort built around the three world-class courses of the Kapalua Golf Club. Most of the development is on the ocean side of the highway. Some expensive homes and the Plantation course (home of the PGA season opener, the Mercedes Classic) are on the mountain side of the highway on the outskirts of town.

A short distance past the Plantation course we turn right onto Office Road. A small shopping area featuring Guest Services for the Kapalua Resort and the Honeloa Store, which has been in operation since the early 1900s when it served the pineapple crews and few residents of the area. A bit farther down Office Road on the right is the Ritz-Carlton Resort, and straight ahead are the Kapalua Resort's Bay Villas, Ridge Villas, and Golf Villas. Most of the resort'srental units are in these villas, though some homes are available as well.

One reason the tourist crowd prefers Kaanapali Beach five miles to the south is that most of Kapalua Resort's villas are not right on the beach. The trade-off is in Kapalua's having about one-tenth the crowd of Kaanapali. However, there are several beach access paths, including one to a public beach on Kapalua Bay, an easy stroll from most units. Snorkeling in Kapalua Bay is exquisite, with schools of fish including the striking Moorish Idols and occasional honu green sea turtles. An activity station offering kayaks and other gear (a remnant of the former Kapalua Bay Hotel) can service your equipment needs.

While the hotel pools at the busier Kaanapali hotels are generally filled to the brim with tourists during most of the year (high season lasts all year with Christmas being even higher!), staying at Kapalua Resort's villas allows a guest to use one or more of the many smaller pools around the resort. Many times my wife and I were the only persons by a pool for most of the day. And each pool area has a covered patio, some with barbecues and other kitchen amenities. Each guest's room key allows entrance to each gated pool area. There are many units in each building and all buildings have been situated on the slopes overlooking the bay to allow ocean views. There are one, two, and three bedroom units, all with lanais (patios). Only the Golf Villas are air conditioned, but the steady breeze generally makes cooling unnecessary. All units have full kitchens and many have sleeper sofas, so even a one bedroom unit can sleep four.

While these facilities were built in the 1970s and 1980s, they are kept in great condition. Even the smaller one bedroom villas are selling at about $1 million when they are put on the market. (Keep that checkbook ready!)

There are a few restaurants in Kapalua. The Plantation Restaurant in its namesake course clubhouse features great Asian fusion cuisine with panoramic views of the golf course, ocean, and Molokai. Sansei is one of a local chain of seafood restaurants. Sansei is noted for its early hour (4 to 6 PM) dinner specials. There are upscale restaurants in the Ritz Carlton Hotel, and the Honeloa Store has a snack bar and a la carte items.

Because Kapalua is on the far northwest coast of Maui's smaller half, day trips to places like Haleakala National Park and Hana on the far eastern shore require the better part of a day. Whale watching is a big attraction from November through March. On our last trip we took a snorkeling cruise to Molokini and saw dozens of whales jumping, slapping their fins, and cavorting on our way back to Maalea, our port. Later in the evening from our lanai we could hear whales slapping their fins and flukes in the dark waters between Maui and Molokai.

If you want the busy crowds of Kaanapali and enjoy having access to a concierge and full hotel amenities, the Villas are not for you. But if you want a little privacy, a leisurely walks to the beach, or luxuriating in a near-private pool, Kapalua may be your cup of tea. What's our choice? My wife and I own two time share units in Kaanapali; we rent both out and prefer to stay in Kapalua.

Some money saving tips:

• Kapalua has its own airport but flights from the mainland are routed through Honolulu. Airfares are generally $100 additional to fly to Kapalua rather than Kahului.

• Car rental is a necessity, though there are shuttles from Kahului Airport (OGG) to Kapalua. The trip from Kahului takes about 45 minutes, although the traffic through Lahaina can cause long waits.

• Most of the rental units in Kapalua are privately-owned condos, with the exception of the Ritz-Carlton that has partially become a "fractional ownership" property. The Kapalua Bay Hotel featured in some earlier tour books has been torn down and is being replaced by high end fractional ownership condos.

• Condos can be rented through Kapalua Resort, which manages the privately owned units, though there are third party agencies such as Sullivan Properties (www.MauiResorts.com) and Vacation Rentals By Owner (http://www.vrbo.com) where prices are generally lower, with one bedroom units as low as $150 per night and two bedroom units as low as $225 per night. There is one season in Maui, with Christmas holidays featuring higher rental rates.

• Staying for a while? Just outside the Kahului Airport is a Costco warehouse. Load up the groceries!

Traveling the Northern Oregon Coast

With few exceptions (those of Washington State, Alaska, and Hawaii), one cannot get farther in the United States from Walt Disney World than the Oregon Coast. Stretching about 300 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River in the north to the California Border in the south, the Oregon coastline offers a variety of recreational, historical, and novelty sites. Most of these can be visited along Highway 101, which offers breathtaking views of the blue Pacific Ocean in between the small towns that dot the coastline.
How to get there: If travelers are flying in, Portland International Airport (PDX) is about 90 miles east of Highway 101. Reach the coast via U.S. 26 westbound from Portland, passing through the Coast Range (elevation about 1,600 feet). Most national car rental chains are located at PDX.
The first coastal town one will encounter after leaving U.S. 26 is Seaside, a tourist-centric little city with lots of hotel/motel space. A lengthy beach featuring a great surfing area is at the south end of town, adjacent to the promontory known as Tillamook Head (experienced surfers will do better here due to the rocky shore). Unlike the temperate seas near Florida and California, the water here is almost always cold. The Seaside Aquarium is a fun way to spend a few hours and during the summer months, and here are amusements such as bumper cars and indoor garden golf along the main business/tourist street known as Broadway. For seafood with a view, try the Shiloh Inn at Broadway on the "prom," a promenade walkway that parallels the beach for two miles. For better seafood without a view, one cannot do better than Dooger's (also found in Cannon Beach and Warrenton).
Historically, the Seaside area is recognized as the end of the Lewis and Clark Trail. Toward the south of town is the site of the duo's salt cairn, where the explorers collected salt by boiling seawater. In addition, modern explorers might like to hike over Tillamook Head to Cannon Beach in the south and see the same terrain that Lewis and Clark viewed over 200 years ago. The explorers traversed the promontory to view a dead whale that had washed up near what is now Indian Beach. There are two well-equipped picnic areas near Cannon Beach; but if you prefer not to hike, the town is only a ten minute drive south of Seaside. Cannon Beach is recognized as a leading Oregon arts community and there are many galleries featuring paintings, sculpture, glass, and fiber pieces. Several motels line the main street and offer reasonable seasonal rates.

There are two public golf courses nearby: Seaside Municipal (9 holes) and the Highlands Course (18 holes) about five miles north. The latter course has a few tees that overlook the ocean. A private course can be found at the Astoria Country Club further north. This links-type course is advertised as the St. Andrews of Oregon due to its similarity to the famed Scottish course.
Also north of Seaside are the neighboring towns Warrenton and Hammond. Known as centers for deep sea fishing, there is a large boat basin where tourists can sign up for fishing trips (salmon is the principal catch) during the season. Due to recent severe low levels in the salmon runs, these seasons can be very short or limited to areas well beyond the mouth of the Columbia River on which these towns reside. Going over the Columbia River bar into the open Pacific can present a challenge to those whose stomachs are queasy. Nearby is the re-creation of old Fort Clatsop where some of the first explorers including Lewis and Clark made an early settlement.
Beyond these two towns one crosses the Young's Bay Bridge into the city of Astoria, which lies on a hill between the bay and the Columbia River. A bridge connects Astoria with Washington State across the river. Along the slopes of the hill are many older homes featuring Gothic exteriors with lots of gingerbread details. One home, the Flavel House, is open for tours. To the west of town lie the Maritime Museum featuring artifacts of the town's historic relationship with the sea, and also a large indoor public water park that can be used year-round. Undoubtedly, you have seen Astoria in any number of movies. Short Circuit, Goonies, The Ring 2, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 are but a few films made in the area. (When I was principal at Seaside High School in 1990, I was lucky enough to get Arnold Schwarzenegger to speak at the school's graduation when he was working on Kindergarten Cop!)
One can get a great view of the entire region by driving up to the top of the hill on which the town rests and climb the Astor Column, a tower decorated on the outside with a fresco-type painting depicting the history of the area. A visitor can see north to Washington, west to the ocean, south to the Young's River Bay, and East across the Oregon Coast Range.
The best time to visit the North Oregon Coast? Rumors about Oregon rain are based on fact and winters tend to be wet though mild. Summers can be sunny. When it gets hot in the Oregon interior, clouds and fog can last for days along the shoreline. Fall is a great time to visit as summertime tourist numbers are down and the beaches enjoy lovely weather.

Legendary Tibet: See It If and When You Can

If you have plans for a trip to China with a few days in Lhasa, Tibet, you might want to contact your travel agent. Despite efforts to reopen the country to tourism after nationwide protests, the Chinese government has put a hold on allowing tourists into the country. This ban, the presence of the more Chinese military, and the newly built train line from more urban China cities are likely to change this country in future years as Tibet undergoes a cultural homogenization that may make this special region of China indistinguishable from others to the east.
In the fall of 2005 my wife Donna and I were part of a touring group that visited China for three weeks. Five days were spent in Lhasa. Prior to landing in Tibet we had been in Hong Kong (where we spent a couple of days at the newly opened Hong Kong Disneyland Resort before meeting out touring partners), Guilin, Yangshuo, Kunming, and Chengdu. All the tour books we’d read could not adequately prepare us for country we were ready to enter. Flying into the main airport near Lhasa we were met with high mountain ranges of the eastern Himalayas (the altitude of the airport is 12,000 feet above sea level) and a dry, rocky, moonscape of a country. No snow anywhere, but, then, it was October.
The road our bus took into Lhasa is shorter now due to a very long tunnel drilled over the past few years through one mountain range. We dodged a few tuk-tuks (the universal rural two-stroke engine utility vehicle) on the way through the tunnel. A shallow, boulder-strewn river bed followed parallel next to the road and the occasional concrete block homes on our right featured the wind-torn yellow, blue, white, red, and green flags featuring Tibetan Buddhist prayers on clotheslines. In the distance we saw pillars for a bridge that would soon carry the first trains into Tibet from China.
The most modern buildings appeared to be devoted to civic affairs with official seals on gates. But then we noticed the soldiers, lots of them. “Police,” our guide reassured us, “not military.” A little later before entering Lhasa he gave a few details of the city. “No speeches, please,” he said. We knew what he meant. He’d been born in Lhasa but left when he was a child to attend school with the Dalai Llama in India. He had crossed the Himalayas into Kathmandu with some other children and some Buddhist monks. In the winter.
Our hotel was in the western part of the city of Lhasa. Though we’d been ready for cold weather and packed sweaters all the way from Hong Kong in suitcases limited to 44 pounds, we’d never need them. It was shirtsleeve weather; we even slept with our window open in the hotel, a nice place that catered to the western tourist crowd. Our room was large and comfortable by American standards. There was the ubiquitous hot water pot for boiling water for drinking or brushing teeth. Our room did not feature piped in oxygen like some others. We did not appear to be affected by the altitude, even when we climbed the hill to the Potala Palace the next day. Occasionally, we’d see people lying down clutching oxygen masks. One day we went even higher near a large lake at about 16,000 feet. That trip was highlighted by having our pictures taken near or by some yaks.
The restaurants where we ate were large and featured family style dining, very appropriate for tour groups. Typical Chinese dishes were accompanied by Tibetal yak, boiled yak tendon (an acquired taste) and steamed vegetables. Beer and tea were served at lunches and dinners. Yak butter tea is a national drink that we found very salty and best left politely on the table. The hotel where we stayed has western style breakfasts which, after a couple of weeks in country we appreciated more and more.
While it is hard to generalize about an entire country based on a few days, Lhasa represents a good cross section. The appearance of the indigenous Tibetan people is almost indistinguishable from that of other people from high altitude counties like Peru or Ecuador. Less Asian, less Chinese, a different, minority culture. Homespun fabrics of striking colors over black predominated. Women with long black hair straight or in elaborate braids led or carried their children down the street or through markets. In contrast to these native Tibetans were the “police” who became more apparent near the heart of the city. They were not Tibetan, but Chinese from eastern provinces. This was the Tibetan Special Administrative Region similar to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Both regions have been brought into the fold of the Chinese government, Tibet through invasion, Hong Kong through a treaty.
The two major tourist “sites” in Lhasa are the Potala Palace, home of the Dalai Llama and the Jokhang Temple, the holiest of Tibetan temples. Tibetan Buddhism reveres the Buddha Shaknamuni, the “merciful Buddha.” His figure is evident among the hundreds of statues and carvings in the temples. The Potala Palace rises on a hill in the center of the city, a massive white and red structure made largely of very old mud and straw bricks. Walking up the long pathway on the Palace’s west side, we met many pilgrims hiking up the hill. Once at the entrance, we followed our guide (who reiterated, “No speeches, please.”) through the myriad rooms and hallways. The Dalai Llama’s throne and study, his bedroom and formal greeting areas were featured. Throughout the Palace Tibetan monks were seen working, studying or meditating. And, there were the “police.” A mile or so from the base of the Palace is the Summer Palace, the place from which the Dalai Llama went into exile after the Communist invasion over fifty years ago.
Large golden statues were at the top of the temple and the grey and brown hills surrounding the Lhasa plain met the clear blue sky in every direction. Near many of the doorways were “prayer wheels” that pilgrims or curious tourists would spin sending prayers to heaven. Always spin them counterclockwise.
The Potala Palace faces south overlooking a newer “park” with official Chinese statuary and iconography, like a small Tiananmen Square. Nearer to the town’s business district and public market is the Jokhang Temple, the original of which predates the Potala Palace. Here pilgrims to Lhasa from other countries, eastern China, or rural Tibet come to pray. Many prostrate themselves over and over in front of the temple; others repeat this form of prayer and in doing so actually move around the perimeter of the structure. The smell inside is rich with the burning of yak butter candles continually replenished by the faithful who bring the rich liquid in any container they can get- cans or old 7-Up bottles.

Outside in the shopping alleys we picked up our prayer wheels and a “singing” bowl. I was told that much of the Tibetan tourist souvenirs are actually “outsourced” to labor in Kathmandu. Merchants can be aggressive and haggling is expected. Item quality is always a guessing game. I tried to take a picture of two “policemen.” It was made clear to me this was not a good idea. I did not argue.
These faithful who come to worship firmly believe that the Dalai Llama will return to Tibet. This is a fervent religious faith that now has political repercussions. When we visited, we were unsure how this was going to work out in the end. We may see it being resolved now on the nightly news. The Dalai Llama indicates he will not return unless Tibet is free.
Needless to say, by the time more westerners come to Tibet, things may be different and, regrettably, less Tibetan.

Tokyo Disney Resort: Moving Beyond America's Disney Parks

As frequent WDW visitors and people who just like Disney, we completed a trip in 2008 that has allowed us to say we have now visited all the Disney parks in the world. Tokyo Disney Resort was fun even though the weather was in the 40’s.
First, some general orientation issues. Like its Hong Kong counterpart, Tokyo Disney Resort is built on a landfill in what used to be a large bay. Space, being what it is in Japan, is valuable and there was no extra space when the park was designed 25 years ago. As it is, the area that now adjacent to train tracks and highways and a busy bay, tries its best to show it is separate from the Tokyo metropolis. A train from downtown takes about 15 minutes and costs about $1.50. From the airport, one can take a shuttle for about $25.00 (about $45.00 round trip).

The Maihama station is the entrance to the park and features a three level shopping mall, Ikspiari as well as a suitcase shaped Disney shop featuring (as do all Tokyo Disney shopping venues) a plethora of what we found to be too “cute” selections of character items, snack foods, and toys. Forget pin trading- pins ware few and far between and a sign in one shop stated the resort did not participate in pin trading. A new Cirque du Soleil venue is almost finished between Ikspiari and the Ambassador.

The largest structure at the entrance to Disneyland Tokyo is the new Disneyland Hotel. This is a massive hotel in the French style and looks like the Los Vegas Paris resort - blue mansard roofs and gold-toned masonry. It will be open later this year.

The resort monorail runs around the entire resort servicing each of the two parks, two (soon to be three) Disney hotels, and the seven non-Disney hotels. We stayed at the Sheraton grand Tokyo Bay Hotel that looked out at the bay on one side and the parking lot and back side of Tokyo Disney Sea on the other. Transportation is either by the monorail (cost is about $2.00 per ride but passes are available or by Disney Resort Cruisers- very retro silver buses with large Mickey ear windows and other features inside. These buses are free to Disney area hotels.

First of all, when we visited the parks, it was very cold - a high of 47 and, in the shade, it was about 35 degrees. Sunday is a big park day and the initial crowds were huge, but once they were absorbed into the park things eased up a bit. It is not unusual for parks to be filled and then closed for periods of time and patrons cannot easily move from one park to the other as there are no park-hopping privileges.
A few observations and comparisons:

The covered Main Street area is nicely planned and even allows for easier access to areas left and right of the castle. The crowds are not forced to the end of the street to disperse into other areas.

The open area in front of the castle is very large and allows for large gardens and staging of events (Cinderellabration was being featured during our visit.) Interestingly, unlike the other parks, this park runs north to south, so it was surprising not to see the morning sun hit the front of the castle.

Space Mountain is better- interior and ride effects beat out Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but not Paris. Fast passes are available.

Pirates and Jungle Cruise ride are about the same a s in the US, but we had the fastest talking cruise pilot on the planet. Big Thunder and Haunted Mansion were closed and there was a lot of refurbishment going on.

The set up for Star Tours is much more dramatic as there is a hanger type building where one can see the vehicle from the outside.

We never made it to Toontown as the crowds in the area were large. This is a very child-centered park- the toys, character greetings, and shows really appeal to the local visitors who tend to celebrate small children (at least until they are 12 or so.)

Food is basically Japanese or Chinese with huge lines for the curry popcorn.

Prices are steep for food and merchandise, but park prices are about $50 per day. One day would not be enough for this park on a busier (and warmer) day.

We visited Tokyo Disney Sea on Monday, so the crowds (and number of small children) were smaller, despite a large number of high schoolers. All day I kept asking myself as I walked around Tokyo Disney Sea, “Why can’t we have a park like this in the US?”

Comparing this park to the Magic Kingdoms isn’t a fair comparison as the original models are too iconic to permit objectivity. But something within me says in big letters THIS MAY BE THE BEST DISNEY PARK. The scale, theming, and attention to detail is phenomenal. Mysterious Island with its E-ticket rides Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues is so massive and such a great park hub that it deserves a place somewhere in the US.

The adjacent Miracosta Hotel is better than the Universal Orlando Portofino. Its architecture flows well into the lakeside Mediterranean village ala Leonardo da Vinci. Once you`re through the tunnel on Mysterious Island there is Vulcania. “Journey to the Center of the Earth” is a great ride that moves from a land rover type vehicle to roller coaster in seconds. The vehicles seem to be modified Test Track cars with more decoration ala Jules Verne. “Leagues” is reminiscent of the WDW ride except the only water is in the windows of your mini subs that move beneath a track suspended above the roadway (seaway?).

The new Tower of Terror lacks some of the elevator car lateral movement but the theming is great- all about a curse on the hotel owner and explorer Harrison Hightower who (spoiler alert) looks remarkably a lot like Senior Imagineer Joe Rohde in a phony white beard! It can’t be a coincidence. Apparently, the Japanese audience would not understand the Twilight Zone references but would be savvy about rapacious American capitalists.

Indiana Jones adventure and its neighboring coaster are like the rides in DL and Paris respectively.
Port Discovery featured on major ride, Stormrider, a simulator ride like Star Tours except that the vehicle carried about 300 people. The effects and story line about flying into a hurricane were impressive and featured an errant weather control missile launched from the vehicle turning around and crashing into (literally) the audience compartment. There was also a smaller water scooter ride in one of the lake areas outside that also featured many futuristic water vehicles including fish-like submersibles.

The Arabian coast has a show we did not see but the Sindbad ride was cute- think Small World with a plot and better animatronics. We did not get over to the rides or shows in Mermaid Lagoon but the exteriors were colorful and fit well against the backside of Mount Prometheus.

The Legend of Mythica water show out in the lake between the hotel and Mount Prometheus was fun to watch despite the cold. I am not sure about the story, but the watercraft, large floats, and fireworks in the daytime and music were impressive. Mt. Prometheus exploded with fire every few minutes in the evening. Due to the cold there were no fireworks or evening water show.

Food in the parks tended toward the oriental (Chinese and Japanese) though the presence of the Miracosta Hotel allowed for some Italian options. Japanese Italian food is not a reason for eating there. The buffets looked great but were very expensive thanks to our weak dollar.Again, the flavored popcorn created big lines.

We hope this cursory view of these parks and its environs will be helpful.

Disney around the World: The Same, Yet Different

You have probably seen the signs. In a Disneyland shop on Main Street or in Epcot’s Mouse Gear, there they are. Merchandise items with the labels “Disney Parks” or “Walt Disney World/Disneyland.” These little details point to a concern raised by Dsiney afficionados in print and on the web. Where can you find a unique Disney gift or experience as Disney’s worldwide network of eleven theme parks strive to use economies of scale to sell merchandise and theme park experiences to a larger and larger number of guests?

Despite the increased similarity of many Disney theme park attractions ond features, one can look closer at each park to see a richness of design, theme, and detail that can excite and thrill any Disney devotee. And in doing so, a guest will find that the parks and the attractions that lie within them are the same, yet different.
Due to the hundreds of attractions and tens of thousands of theming details in the parks, there is no effort here to be encyclopedic. But here are some aspects of the parks that, based on personal experiences, provide interesting examples of how Disney Imagineers have varied park and attraction design to offer a uniqueness to attractions that appear in more than one venue. It is assumed that, as readers of Celebrations magazine, you are familiar with domestic parks, so this review will focus on Disney’s Asian and European parks except when making specific comparisons to their American counterparts. Not discussed will be the nearly identical rides; Snow White’s Scary Adventure is pretty much the same and except for the addition of some Disney characters in Disneyland, It’s a Small World attractions are clones in everything except attraction facades.

As you read about these, you might enrich your knowledge by checking out each park’s website for maps and videos and also view the parks on Google Earth for another interesting perspective.

Park Design and Organization
Iconic in its design, Disneyland has been long studied by land use planners and architects for its use of space, guest travel patterns, and ability to unify apparently disparately themed park areas and amusements. All of the Magic Kingdoms share the basic hub and spoke system to connect the different lands. Even the smallest of these, Hong Kong Disneyland uses the pattern though with only three separate lands. As a new park in a new country, Hong Kong Disneyland was smaller by design though plans are afoot to expand it considerably. One result of having fewer lands is that the Jungle Cruise ride exists where the Rivers of America are in Disney World and Disneyland. It is a longer and a much less tropical cruise. Future plans call for a Mystic Manor in Adventureland (with “doom buggies”) and also a roller coaster that runs along a facsimile of Grizzly Peak from Disney’s California Adventure. Again, the same, yet different.
The Main Street area in Hong Kong is modeled after the original blueprints for the same area in Disneyland, castle and all. And despite this similarity, it is surprising to see a natural mountain rising up in the distance behind Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Although Disney had the ability to fill in a real bay to build the park, it could not move a mountain!

Tokyo Disneyland uses the same pattern but with some twists to allow for larger crowds and inclement weather. First of all, the avenues between attractions are very wide and the open area in each land are much more expansive. The courtyard in front of the castle (similar to that in Florida) is huge allowing for many displays, shows, and gathering spaces for guests. The Main Street area (here called World Bazaar) is covered with a lattice of glass panes to shelter shoppers and guests on their way to the more distant areas of the park. But one key feature here allows for greater dispersal of people into the themed lands: there are streets that lead off of Main Street directly into Tomorrowland to the right and Adventureland to the left. There is not a traffic bottleneck for eager visitors at the end of Main Street at “rope drop” time.
Despite the long documented love of Walt Disney for steam trains, Tokyo Disneyland does not have one chugging on a track around the parks perimeter. So there is no comparable “running through the tunnels” sense of excitement. The only train is on Big Thunder Mountain. However, the huge resort that comprises two theme parks, three Disney hotels, and several chain hotels to the south and west along Tokyo Bay, features a monorail running around its perimeter. This is a much slower version of transportation than its sleeker and speedier American cousin, but it is practical. Unless you are staying at a Disney hotel, there is a fee for its use though there are some retro Disney buses that also provide trips to the park, hotels, and the Ikspiari shopping village that now features its own Cirque du Soleil venue.

The two other Disney parks that share the hub and spoke design are Animal Kingdom and Tokyo DisneySea though this similarity can be easy to miss given the radically different theming. Each park has an island with a very large architectural focus- the Tree of Life in Animal Kingdom and Mount Prometheus in Tokyo DisneySea. Both foci feature an attraction though Mount Prometheus’s offerings of Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 League under the Sea far surpass It’s Tough to Be a Bug. (More about theseTokyo rides later on).

Attractions-Variations on a Theme
Disney Imagineers’ talent at developing variations on a theme is most evident in specific attractions, especially the blockbuster rides. Other than Hong Kong Disneyland every park site (a location with one or more parks) has a Tower of Terror. What! No Twilight Zone?! Not in Tokyo DisneySea where the structure looms over the American Waterfront area. Why? Rod Serling’s old television show has not been as a big part of Japanese media history as it has been in the United States and Europe. So the Imagineers had to develop a new backstory. In Tokyo the legend of the Hightower Hotel is based on its founder Harrison Hightower, a world famous explorer who, despite warnings, stole a statue of a pagan god during his travels. The result? Well, you guessed it…a demon-haunted elevator that rises from an artifact laden basement to the upper limits of the structure.

Some interesting details of Tokyo’s version are in the photos and old film footage of the hotel’s founder Hightower. Behind the makeup and silent-movie overacting is legendary Imagineer, Joe Rhode. This was confirmed in an interview with Disney’s recently retired Imagineering vice-chairman, Marty Sklar.
The Haunted Mansion’s various manifestations also demonstrate how the Imagineers have used a basic pattern and overlaid it with some details unique to each park. In fact, each Mansion is in a different land in each park: it is an antebellum manse in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square; the mansions in Florida and Japan look alike, but Tokyo’s Haunted Mansion is in Fantasyland; the attraction is reminiscent of the Norman Bates’ “Psycho” house as it appears in Westernland in Paris. And it will be in Adventureland’s Mystic Manor in Hong Kong. Same attraction, yey different theming.

There have been changes over the years in each version. In fact, the “murderous bride” chapter was in Paris several years before it arrived in Florida. And the previews of Mystic Manor suggest that Hightower’s demon may find itself not in a tower but in a haunted house in its next incarnation.

Of course, every park has a Space Mountain. And each has its own thrills. Even the attraction queues are getting some attention as has Disney World’s in the past year with its interactive gaming opportunities. (Be prepared to see more and more of these in the Fantasyland expansion.) But the Tokyo Disneyland queue might surpass America’s with a very foreign and futuristic Martian-like spacecraft within the loading area. These are very stunning and more sophisticated engineering than the “2001”- inspired ships in the U.S.

The best Space Mountain, however, has to be in Paris’ Discoveryland. This land was planned as early as 1975 and artists’ renderings could be seen in a display in 1978 on Main Street in Disneyland. The Jules Verne-inspired designs provide a much more consistent “future as it was imagined then” approach. The multi-colored mountain is adjacent to the Nautilus in a lake and the flying Hyperion balloon (from the otherwise forgettable “Island at the Top of the World” film of the mid- 1970’s.
The ride’s queue is outside though under a high canopy. Riders get into appropriately steampunk styled cars that travel up outside the mountain through a cannon where they are shot up (just like in Verne’s “From Earth to the Moon”) into the top of the attraction. The roller coaster has a full inversion and fantastic effects.

Other attractions also have interesting variances from park to park. Paris and Tokyo have Indiana Jones roller coaster rides featuring loops. They are identical in theming though for a while the one in Paris ran backwards- a first. The adventure rides based on the Lucas-Spielberg movies are also similar including the very long queues featuring a variety of archeological detail.

Star Tours remains (at least until the expected upgrade next year) the same in each park though there is some interesting variance in exhibition. Disney Hollywood Studios has the movie set facade with the Imperial Walker and the California and Paris parks have modernistic entrances. Tokyo has what appears to be a large hanger type assembly building so a guest can see through a window the Starspeeder aloft in a hanger from the walkway outside. Tokyo DisneySea offers a next generation modification of the same simulator technology in its StormRider attraction. Guests simulate a ride in huge weather-controlling aircraft flying into a storm. The vehicle holds about three times the people as a Star Tours simulator with a larger screen and offers great effects such as an errant missile crashing through the roof.

Big Thunder Mountain attractions have some subtle differences across the parks though none is so great as the fact that Paris version has the mountain in the middle of a lake. The train moves under the lake and arrives on the mountain for its wild ride then returns through another tunnel.

The Jungle Cruise is in every park and the Hong Kong experience is quite different as mentioned above. The traditional joking is evident in each ride experience. Even in Japan where the language and the rapid delivery were quite different from English, a guest could discern the sense of the tour guide by the laughter of the Tokyo locals.

Pirates of the Caribbean is evident everywhere but Hong Kong and the experiences from park to park are very similar. Some scenes are sequenced differently and the double drop in Disneyland remains a favorite for visitors. Despite the size of the attraction, it's facade is rather small and appears at first to be only a small restaurant in Tokyo. One could almost miss it.

Unique Attractions
The Matterhorn, Expedition Everest, the Finding Nemo Submarine Ride, and Test Track remain unique adventures that, as yet have not been duplicated. Each one of these make the park in which it is situated special and make it any guest's favorite. Today, only Tokyo among non-U.S. parks offers some truly one-of-a-kind blockbuster attraction experiences. These include the previously mentioned Journey to the Center of the Earth and a re-imagined 20,000 Leagues ride in the central Mount Prometheus.

The former combines a Test Track type vehicle "tunneling" through the underworld and revealing strange crystal creatures only to burst forth from Prometheus and then zoom around the perimeter surrounding Captain Nemo's Vulcania base where the Nautilus awaits.

The submarine ride is basically the same as the one that closed years ago in Disney World. The significant difference is in the ride vehicle. Riders are placed in small mini-subs that are suspended under a track (like the ships in Peter Pan's Flight.) The submersing illusion is provided by water moving in and out of the double pane convex portholes that ofer somewhat distorted views of sea creatures, sea serpents, and, yes, the lost city of Atlantis.

In a review of this park for Passporter a couple of years ago, this reviewer stated this may be the best Disney park and others who have visited have expressed many times their desire to see this specially-themed park come to the states in whole or in part. In my recent conversation with Marty Sklar, the senior Imagineer who has been involved in development of every Disney park in the world, he said that the physical site work to create Mount Prometheus was one of the most difficult engineering tasks ever undertaken for a Disney park. As for getting a similar attraction over here, he sadly admitted that the financial backers of the park in Tokyo required that some features be unique to the Japanese project. In other words, we may never see these attractions here in the same form.

Shows and other Features
As can be seen with nighttime and evening parades moving from park to park, Disney has shown it can easily transport its spectacles from culture to culture. These occur with so much regularity that one can hardly keep up with the changes. Some parades do, of course, remain park-specific. One example is Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade in Animal Kingdom. Tokyo DisneySea also has water parades such as The Legend of Mythica in its lagoon between the Mira Costa Hotel and Mount Prometheus. And, of course, Disney Hollywood Studios tends to feature movie-oriented parades such as those never-ending High School Musical pep rallies.

The Legend of the Lion King shows in Animal Kingdom and Hong Kong are quite alike. In the latter venue it may have been necessary to have such a large show to accommodate crowds due to the dearth of attractions in Adventureland. The park has also featured the stage show when it opened in 2005, The Golden Mickeys, now a favorite on the Disney Magic (though in English.)

Other Stuff Small and Large
*The flavored popcorn in Tokyo is a great favorite in the parks and lines at the kiosks rival those of some rides. The curry popcorn appears to be very popular while American tastes might prefer the salt and pepper variety. But watermelon flavor?!

*Pin trading, anyone? This is a popular activity in most parks, but in Tokyo there are signs in shops indicating they do not participate in pin trading. Pins are rare, but there are hundreds of varieties of cellular phone charms. Most of this pin collector's Tokyo pins were obtained in the U.S.

*Hotels? Like the parks, Disney has taken a few models and made local variations though there are some that are truly unique including the Contemporary, the Polynesian, and the French-inspired Disneyland Hotel and Italian Mira Costa in Japan and the New York and Cheyenne in Paris. The Disneyland Hollywood in Hong Kong is quite similar to the Ambassador in Tokyo; the Grand Floridian and the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel are similar though the Asian hotel is situated on the sea. Paris hotels like the Sequoia and Newport Bay Club are scaled-down versions of the Wilderness Lodge and Yacht and Beach Club Resorts respectively.

*Shopping? As you might imagine, nowhere is it as evident as the parks in the United States. American parks more than the others feature attractions that exit through shopping areas. One feature in Tokyo is a “souvenir guide” that accompanies the Guide Maps. You can plan ahead for those gifts for those staying at home.
All in all, the Disney parks are as unique as the locations where they reside. Despite its efforts to offer attractions in multiple locations, Disney Parks will always offer ways to make each attraction special through its time-tested use of magic.

Welcome to the TRAVELSCRIBBLES Blog!

TRAVELSCRIBBLES is a blog featuring travel reports, advice, and idea sharing for those interested in both domestic and international exploration.

Roger Sauer and his wife Donna have spent years traveling the world but many places yet to see. You can follow their past and current travels here as well as post comments and questions about places they have visited.