Monday, July 23, 2012


Obviously, I love Disney, and I love Walt Disney World. It’s my favorite place on Earth.

That is well documented.

I may even go so far as to say that 9 of every 10 choices is the right one, and that they are, for the most part, always going to get the benefit of the doubt from me.

That said, I firmly believe that nothing, and nobody is above a critical eye. There’s no such thing as being perfect all the time, and even my favorite places could use some adjustments on occasion.

So… Today, since I’m feeling a little grumpy, I’m gonna talk about the #1 attraction/ride/whatever from each of the 4 main Walt Disney World parks that I believe needs to be either completely re-thought, or junked altogether to make room for something better.

The Magic Kingdom
There was once a time where I would have said The Swiss Family Tree House needs most to go… In fact, I believe I did,once upon a time. My feelings have changed. Maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten older and wiser, but while I don’t know that I’ll ever like it all that much, I do see why it’s a good thing. It’s one of the few places in the parks where the visitors are asked to use their imaginations some. Also… as a total sucker for nostalgia, how can I possibly criticize an attraction that exists purely due to nostalgia.

No no… the only logical option is Stitch’s Great Escape.

I know I’ve already ripped it up and down, but really it is terrible. It takes up a huge parcel of land in Tomorrowland. It’s not entertaining. People don’t like it. It’s an embarrassingly bad quick-fix for the more interesting ExtraTerrorestrial: Alien Encounter. It’s just… so frustrating. They have this golden location and they have all kinds of great material to source for an attraction in Tomorrowland (What about Wall-E?). I mean, heck… Keep it as a Lilo and Stitch thing, but just make it better for Pete’s sake. Poor Pete.

It’s difficult to really straight-up criticize anything in Epcot. For the most part, I think it’s the most well considered, and strongly imagined park. Some of the most interesting rides are there (Soarin’, Spaceship Earth). Some of the more innovative (Test Track, especially now). Even some of the more nostalgic pieces (Journey into Imagination).

Of course, like I said, there’s always room to get better, and I think there are a couple of candidates that are ripe for an update, revamp, or total replacement.

I could go with Mission: Space. Many people really enjoy this ride. I, personally, don’t get all the fuss. The thing is, though, it’s kind of…sort of… potentially… dangerous. It’s at least a little unpleasant sometimes. Or even most of the time. That ride will straight-up mess you up if you have even the slightest inclination toward motion sickness. Seems so silly to have one of the Weenie rides also be so unsettling.

Still… there’s one culprit bigger than the rest…

Honey I Shrunk the Audience / Captain EO
Shhhhhh. Just hear me out. I like them too, but they’re SO old, and so outdated. Honey I Shrunk the Kids was a great, fun movie for me when I was 10, but the kids nowadays aren’t so up on their Wayne Zalinski references. They just don’t know those movies that well..

Try to explain Captain EO and the totally bizarre thing going on in that movie to a 10 year old who doesn’t know who Michael Jackson is. Go ahead. I’ll give you time...

They just looked at you like you’re insane, right?

I understand that Disney brought it back out of the Vault when MJ died, but it’s time to put it back for good. It’s so freakin’ strange.

And there are just soooooo many movies that could work as inspiration for a new 4D movie. How about one of the Marvel Characters that Disney owns now? I honestly don’t know the kinds of costs we’re talking about to make these movies. Maybe using modern stars in these characters is impossible, because the stars won’t do it. So… maybe do an animated one. I’d love an UP attraction. UP is sort of all about adventure and imagination anyway, so… use it. They have the full physical infrastructure of the building there. They have the mechanics to make the seats do stuff and have water spray and all that. Just give it a new coat of paint already.

Hollywood Studios
Probably of all the parks, this one was the hardest for me, because I honestly feel like I’m killing one of my pets. I better just yank the band-aid and get it over with…

The Great Movie Ride.

Oh man… this is tough.

Alright, so… The Great Movie Ride was at one time my favorite ride. Not just at (MGM) Studios. Not just at Walt Disney World. Anywhere. The actors were good. The scenes were clean. The animatronics were awesome. The movies were… not all that familiar, but I knew about them ENOUGH to pick up the cues and whatnot. That was 19 years ago, and they have barely updated it at all in the entire time since.

I hate to say it, but:
1) MGM’s been out of the picture for several years now, so there’s no reason to be beholden to MGM movies. Not that Singin’ in the Rain isn’t a great flick, in fact.. they all are great (kinda the point), but if you’re not answering to MGM, you have every chance to update the scenes to all kinds of Disney movies too. Think about a scene with Pirates of the Caribbean (from a different perspective than the actual ride). Think Avengers!
2) The Great Movie Ride is in the plumbest, cherriest (why are all the “bests” kinds of fruit?) spot in the whole place. It’s got a huge building. Why even constrain yourselves to updating the pre-existing ride. Maybe make it a ride-through dark ride for Disney Animation History. You could ride through scenes of Snow White, Fantasia (even maybe keep the Fantasia room as it is), Dumbo, Peter Pan… you get the picture. Make it sort of a combo of Great Movie Ride and Spaceship Earth… or maybe more specifically… A Spaceship Earth with Disney Movies as the theme as opposed to “Communication”. Where better to have 20 animatronic Walts doing different things throughout?

Animal Kingdom
The simplest answer would be to trash the entire “Dino-Rama” concept, and start from scratch, but that’s not the game here, and I can’t choose between Primeval Whirl and Triceratop Spin as to which is dumber. So, I’m going off the grid a little, and picking a ride that gets very little attention, which is a shame, because it has so much potential…

Kali River Rapids.

This is literally the only ride that I encourage people to skip when they come to Disney. It’s not that it’s bad. It’s not. It’s… well.. it’s two things.

1) It’s far too short a ride to justify more than a 10 minute wait. It’s barely over a minute if you don’t count the hill. That’s not long enough for a white-water rapids type ride. There’s just not much excitement.

2) On Splash Mountain “getting wet” basically means that you’ll get a little wet, and likely just enough to cool down in the Florida heat. On Kali River Rapids “getting wet” means that you’ll be walking around with wet underpants for the foreseeable future. It means you definitely need to put your wallet in a Ziploc bag. It means that you’ll hear your own feet squishing in your socks for the remainder of the day. You get absolutely, positively drenched.

There’s about a 25% chance you avoid the total drenching, but if I’m being honest, there’s never been a single day in my life I wanted to walk around a theme park with a shirt so wet that I have to wring it out.

It’s just not worth it, in my opinion.

Again.. it’s not a bad ride. It’s just a ride that doesn’t seem like a ride at all. It seems almost entirely like it’s simply dumping 2 buckets of water on you and sending you on your way.

The worst part is that there’s a message on the ride (about deforestation and conservation) that you BARELY get to glimpse as you rush by on your way to the dunk tank. Disney spent a huge amount of time and money planning out this story line and creating a really pretty beautiful looking scene, and the ride almost totally passes it up in about 30 seconds.

I don’t know what you do to fix this ride, but in a park with limited usable space, it just seems like a waste.

So… that’s my list. Like I said… I love this place. I love what it stands for. I love the way it affects people. The only way it can keep it going forever is to Keep Moving Forward.

What stuff would you update? Anyone who LOVES Kali River Rapids?

Next Up – My review of an old Disney animated movie of my choosing.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Keep on Pushing

I have a hard time imagining that Disney has any problems getting people to come to their parks. At this point, I doubt there are many people who aren’t totally familiar with what Disney Parks have to offer, and that’s a testament to both their enduring presence over the past (almost) 60 years, and the well… awesomeness.

One of the things I most admire about Disney, though, is that they rarely rest on reputation alone. As the years have gone by, and as the economy has struggled, Disney has focused harder and harder on creating not just the “Destination” vacation, but the “Destination EVENT Vacation”. Because of that, Disney parks are consistently the most well attended theme parks in the world. Year in and year out.

There was a time when the Disney calendar was fairly sparse. You’d have the odd Marathon weekend, or Gay Days, or Star Wars weekend, but for the most part, Disney World was Disney World. Sure, the customer service was totally outstanding, and the parks were so clean you could eat off the trash cans, and the rides were the most technologically advanced and creative out there. For the most part, these are all still totally true.

Nowadays, though, there are competitors for the mighty family vacation dollar. Universal has Harry Potter, who is a damned force to be reckoned with, and Legoland keeps expanding, and never forget the Grand Canyon!!! (Ohhh…hahahaha… I almost made it all the way through…)

If you look at the Disney World calendar these days, and you’ll notice something… Over the next six months, Disney will celebrate:

Night of Joy (no idea what this is)
Mickey’s Not-so-scary Halloween Party
Twilight Zone Towner of Terror 10-Miler Weekend
Epcot International Food and Wine Festival
MouseAdventure World Explorers
Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic
Festival of the Masters
Wine and Dine Half Marathon
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
Old Spice Classic
Vacation Club Annual Meeting
Disney’s Princess Half Marathon
Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend
Expedition Everest Challenge

Disney isn’t just waiting for folks to come. In spite of their insane popularity and ticket-sale dominance, Disney is packing their calendar full of events to draw folks to the parks in droves. I didn’t even mention the huge draws like the ESPN Weekend, and the Star Wars event every May and the Flower and Garden Festival in May also. There really are dozens of events. Many of them geared toward folks who wouldn’t automatically go to the parks.

I think this is awesome, and today, I’d like to briefly recommend one of those events. In fact, my favorite of the events. Favorite enough that I go out of my way to visit during this time of year.

The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

First off… The time of year. It takes place in October every year, during what is generally one of the slower periods in the parks because it’s October so everyone is in school, and it’s too hot for skiing and too cold for swimming, so people just don’t think “Vacation” during this time. That’s a plus, because even though Florida doesn’t have seasons, really, it’s often just a very lovely, mild temperature to deal with. Even a little cool at times.

Epcot is my favorite park, because they can at times try some different stuff. They’re not bound to the “Character” structure that Magic Kingdom is, or the Hollywood theme that Disney Studios has, or even the lack of space that Animal Kingdom deals with. Epcot is large, spacious, and can do whatever they want. The theme is loose.

The International Food and Wine Festival is basically a huge excuse to take advantage of the World Showcase structure (as well as the physical World Showcase) to bring the food and spirits of dozens of countries NOT represented at The World Showcase to the masses. It’s a perfect venue for extra entertainment. It’s got an ever-changing lineup of countries represented, so it never gets old. Each country serves several dishes from their native land, and there’s a nice mix between tried-and-true (France, for example, has a chocolate type thing) and perhaps more foreign (France also has escargot).

Another great thing about it is that if you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, you can use your “Snack” credits for the different dishes. The last time the Tofu Muchacha and I were there on the Dining Plan, we made a conscious effort to save up our snack credits and we used them all in one afternoon. We ended up having a very good, very eclectic meal. The only thing not covered on the Dining Plan is the wine and spirits, of which there are plenty, and of which we sampled a few.

I’m not a wine drinker by any stretch of the word, but I’m told the selection is very interesting and pretty good.

I also like that the event brings a little bit of a livelier crowd to the parks than does the normal day to day. I’m not saying I love rowdy people. In fact, I hate crowds, but I can say that when you’ve spent most of the day or week wading through a sea of strollers and children and whatnot, the slightly more adult crowd is a welcome change. The lesser of evils, if you will.

Anyway, if you get a chance, I highly recommend checking out The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival or really any of the showcase festivals or evens they hold throughout the year. The Star Wars and ESPN Weekends are both hugely popular. The various organized running events grow in popularity each year. The Flower and Garden Festival is one of the most visually striking (especially if you like topiary).
It’s just so nice to see a company like Disney, a company that has it all, aiming even higher on a daily basis. It is, more than anything else, what gives me hope that Disney Parks will endure for another six decades.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Beefy Muchacho, Disney Navigator

I hold myself out to be a pretty experienced visitor to Walt Disney World. There are plenty of folks who’ve gone more times than I have, but from what I’ve come to believe through talking with them is that almost all people have a “route” they’ve been using for years, and they rarely stray. They may incorporate a new ride when one opens, but for the most part it’s “We start with Tomorrowland and…” or “I always go to Splash Mountain after…”

I’ve never really stuck to a single method. I’ve tried a dozen different routes; a dozen different ride itineraries. I’d like to think, even, that I’m a low-grade “expert”.

In conjunction with that, I’ve been working on creating trip itineraries for family and friends for about five years.

It is a dream of mine to monetize this skill to enough of a degree that it can be my job. I’d love to have a name plate that reads “Beefy Muchacho, Disney Trip Planner”.

It started small. My friend Bridget and her then boyfriend (now husband) Phil decided to go to Disney for 2 days in May of 2007. Bridget knew I loved Disney, and she’d either never been or hadn’t been in years (I don’t remember), so I basically drew a map of a couple of the parks on a napkin and drew arrows for my recommended “general” route. I also recommended which parks to hit when, and which rides to target. That was pretty much it.

A few months after that, a co-worker friend of mine planned to go for a couple of days, and he asked me for some tips, after hearing from Bridget that I’d helped her out. Again, my “plan” basically comprised of a map with arrows. This time, I typed up a 1 page kind of summary thing to accompany…

At this point, though, I was starting to want to do more with it. Take more time. Really spend time thinking about it from an academic perspective, rather than just my own experiences.

Over the next year or so, I did three more plans. These were all for first time visitors, and with different criteria. One was an adult couple with no kids, and without much of a budget per se. One for a young family with a 6 year old girl, and on a tight budget. One was for a mom and 10 year old daughter. All were going for full vacations where they’d have a chance to take on each park for at least one day.

My trip plans were getting more and more in depth. I started writing detailed analysis for each park; breaking down the exact route I recommended for maximum riding and minimum waiting. Keeping in mind things like “The 6-year old will probably care far more about Dumbo and meeting Goofy than the adult couple”. I wrote out reviews of restaurants and shows. I editorialized more and more. I had more fun with it. I even included things like “Fun Disney Facts and Trivia” that corresponded with where the people were on the plan.

I never accepted payment for these plans, even though it was always offered. I usually just ask for a pin or two in exchange. Asking for Captain Hook pins or Expedition Everest pins. Nowadays, I’m kind of on an Orange Bird kick.

I got a lot of kind words about these plans, and some people talked about how effective they were, and that was great. I was happy that I could help people find Disney less stressful and more awesome.

I even made sure to make note of certain things on each of my last few visits. Of course, I spent all that time thinking about it, and suddenly the “planning” well ran dry. Many of my friends are Disney veterans who either don’t need advice, or at least think they don’t. I didn’t see many others going for the first time. I didn’t really do a plan for quite a while, though I admit to thinking often about how better to home in on exactly the plan a group needs, and not just the plan I want to provide.

Then recently, I got a random e-mail from a friend who’d spent an evening sitting next to my Dad and Step-mom at a wedding. They mentioned that they were heading to Disney soon, and after some pimping from The Beefy Padre, they sent me an e-mail asking me for some tips.

They presented my biggest challenge yet, because they’re Disney Vets. She estimated they’d gone over five times, and she made a point of saying that they were very familiar with the basics, but wanted to know some more advanced tips to better enjoy their Disney experience.

I was pretty excited about putting this one together, because I could assume they knew the basics. I also had an opportunity to test out some new things I’d been thinking over. I was really able to challenge myself to come up with tips and tricks that would be interesting to a person who’d experienced “It’s Tough to be a Bug” a dozen times already. I got to be a little more esoteric. I got to take a few extra liberties.

My favorite tip? Visit Jungle Cruise after dark. I don’t know why, but it’s a whole different ride experience.

I got a few texts over the course of their trip, saying that they enjoyed their time, and thanking me. I can’t wait to really break it down with them and find out what worked, what didn’t, and what they’d like in a really good Disney plan.

Meanwhile, I seem to be experiencing a sort of Trip Plan Renaissance, too, as I have just recently written a basic plan (as basic as 5000 words can be) for a first time family who will be arriving at Disney on Saturday, and I have an Uncle/Niece tandem heading down in a month, and I’m working on one for them, too.

It’s shaping up to be an exciting Summer for my development as a Disney World expert.

So anyway… All of this is sort of preface to this thought that there’s gotta be a way to do more with it.

So far, the best website I’ve seen that does plans is . They charge about 15 dollars a year to subscribe to their insider information, and they have a computer program that takes a set amount of criteria (primarily historical crowd data and ride wait times.), combines it with your answers to some targeted questions (what is your walking speed? Would you rather wait less or walk less? What rides do you want to ride?) and it spits out an itinerary.

It’s pretty cool, and certainly on the right track, but I can’t help but feel that they’re just skimming the surface.

One of the great things about Disney and Disney World is that they are primarily concerned with customer experience. Customer experience is what sets Disney apart. That warm, fuzzy feeling that not only do they care about making money (as all companies do, and good for them!), but they care about creating fans for life.

The touring plans website is extremely helpful for FACTS. The compilation of historical data to come up with estimated crowd volumes for certain dates. Their itineraries are very interesting, and certainly sound to some degree, but they’re also fairly general.

My dream is to come up with a formula that is 10 times more detailed. I can think of a million questions that would help refine a perfect Disney trip plan… Aside from the basics (Dates, party demographics) other factors could be:

- Are you ride people, show people, or a mix?
- Do you have park hoppers?
- Are you staying on or off property?
- What is your walking speed?
- Would you rather wait less or walk less?
- On a 1-10 scale, how much interest do you have in: Parades? Shows? Meeting Characters? Taking photos?
- Are you on the Disney Dining Plan?
- Is anyone prone to motion sickness?
- Is anyone afraid of a particular type of ride? If so, what kind?
- Does anyone in the party require extra time getting on or off rides?
- How many times has your MOST EXPERIENCED Disney visitor been to Disney?

These are just off the top of my head!!!!

Can you imagine a Disney plan that takes all of these factors into consideration?

So I guess… All of this blogging today is a long way to ask you 2 questions:

Is there a demand for a real, personalized Disney trip planner?

If I make it a business, could I write off my own trips?