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.

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Friday, April 30, 2010

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.

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