No photos. No video.

After twenty three years doing this, I have decided to switch my focus from photos and video of the U.S. Disney Parks and concentrate on my collection of refillable popcorn buckets.

And that’s as much of an April Fools joke as you get from me today. Instead…

Walt Disney World used to be far more strict on allowing photos and/or video inside attractions. When I visited with my first digital camcorder in 1999, I recorded dozens of hours of video, but almost none inside any attractions. I do, however, have many pre-shows that end with a cast member walking up to me and “asking” me to stop recording.

No flash (?) photography or video recording as recently as December 4, 2006.

I can only imagine how many more photos and hours of video I would have if this were not the case.

Keep this in mind as you watch all the YouTube videos that were recorded in direct violation to posted signs and cast member instructions 😉

My trick was to keep going through until a cast member forgot to make the announcement, or asking a cool cast member if they would look the other way for me. I mean, in 1999, it’s not like anyone was ever going to be able to watch that video other than friends I invited over to see it on my TV.

Until next time…

Bryon, my 2007 Animal Kingdom bartender

In the late 90s, I used to travel with a PalmPilot PDA (a Palm III, actually). These PDAs (personal digital assistants) were what we used in the years before Androids and iPhones. I also had a snap on 14.4 modem (spiffy!) so I could dial in to my ISP and download/upload e-mail from a hotel, or even from a payphone (if it had a phone jack on it). High tech! Later I would upgrade to a Kyocera 6035 – one of the very first smartphones. It was a phone with a PalmPilot and modem built in! Higher tech!

I used my Palm III (and later, Kyocera) to take vacation notes and maintain a TO DO list of everything I wanted to see/ride/experience. These notes are how I used to document my trips on my 1990s website from my front page “news.”

But I digress.

When the first iPhone came out in 2007, I purchased one and brought it with me on Disney trips. It became my new notepad and TO DO list. Even though I’ve upgraded my phone a few times since then, my old notes and reminders I had migrated to my later phones.

Recently, I came across my “cast member kudos” notes I took during a trip in March 2007. If I ran into a CM who I thought was really exceptional and going above and beyond “typical Disney,” I’d make a note of them and write into to Disney to share my kudos after I returned home. (This is something I encourage all of you to do.)

My 2007 trip notes included the following:

Barry Plank City, FL photopass
bryon at Dawa Bar DAK
Tomoko, Yuki

Cast Member Kudos, March 2007

I don’t recall what PhotoPass Barry did to impress me, but I think Tomoko and Yuki were the fun CMs at the saki bar in Japan. (That was the first time I’d ever really been there.) But Bryon? He was one I think I remembered. I wondered if he might still be around, twelve years later…

Many things have changed since 2007. The Dawa Bar in Animal Kingdom, for example, has been rebuilt and relocated since I last saw it. Here’s the version I remember:

Dawa Bar on September 30, 2007.

And here’s what it looks like today:

Dawa Bar in 2018.

I decided to ask at the current incarnation of Dawa Bar if they knew of a bartender named Bryon. Indeed, the bartender I spoke of said he did, and informed me he was still with the company and currently working over at Epcot at the Garden Grill.

I now had a mission to find out if it actually the same Bryon that impressed me so much in 2007 that I included him on a very short list of cast member kudos?

The next day, I visited Epcot and made a specific trip into The LAND to ask about their Bryon.

Garden Grill in 2018.

To my surprise — their Bryon was indeed the Bryon I remembered! He’s been with the company for almost 30 years.

It’s a small world, after all!

If you make it to Epcot, and feel like a huge all-you-can-eat breakfast with visits from Mickey, Chip, Dale and Pluto, check out the Garden Grill and ask for Bryon. If he’s not around, Vickie is also great fun.

That’s your Park Hopping tip for the day. Use it wisely.

Until next time…

My favorite Disney souvenir ever.

UPDATES:

  • 2019-04-07: Added more details from a newsgroup post I made back in 1996.
Photo by Allen Huffman of DisneyFans.com

Okay, this article is not really about my favorite Disney souvenir. I think my all-time favorite amusement/theme park souvenir would be the park map posters everyone used to sell. I previously mentioned that I still have my original 1983 EPCOT Center poster (though this is not a photo of mine).

I had park maps from my first theme park, Astroworld in Houston, Texas. I believe I also had one from the original Six Flags Over Texas near Ft. Worth. I may have picked up a few others over the years, but my EPCOT Center one is the only one I know I still have.

But there was one particular items that was incredibly unique and lots of fun. If you’ve ever been to a Disney park, you certainly have noticed the cast member name tags. Traditionally, Walt Disney World cast members would wear ones that had their origin city and state/country. Disneyland’s usually did not (since so many of them would just say Anaheim, California), though for the 50th anniversary in 2005, cast members in California had the year they started working in the park there. I was impressed with how many I ran into that had 1960s and 1970s dates!

But I digress.

The traditional CM name tag just had a first name, city and state (or city and country, like Paris, France). Around 1996, a little wagon appeared on one of the side streets at Magic Kingdom (there were two side streets back then) that would make you a custom Disney name tag that looked exactly like the cast members, except it was red:

Custom Disney name tags at Magic Kingdom on August 27, 1996.

If you didn’t want one of the generic pre-made ones, they had a machine that would engrave a custom one:

Custom Disney name tag engraver on August 27, 1996.

The fun part about these name tags was that, at the time, this was the only place you could get them. Cast members working elsewhere in Magic Kingdom or in other parks were unaware of them. This led to some interesting things.

First, they all seemed to assume I worked for Disney. This surprised me since I had long hair and facial hair. At the time, cast members where required to have the “Disney look” and be clean shaven. I also looked as much like a tourist as one could (though I guess I sometimes had unusual equipment with me that most tourists did not). They mostly seemed to think I worked for Imagineering or Animation or some other “home office” type position.

I even had a bartender at the Catwalk Bar at Disney/MGM Studios initially refuse to serve me alcohol because he thought he would get in trouble.

When I wore the name tag to Disneyland, which hadn’t begun selling them yet, the reaction was similar.

For the sake of public record, I am going to say that I always explained to them it was just a souvenir that anyone could buy at Magic Kingdom.

Maybe one day I will say something different 😉

Eventually, they changed the name tags so they looked different from cast member tags, and eventually made them all say “Guest of Honor” on them.

Disneyland Guest of Honor name tags from 2002. The ones shown here were gifts I made for the members of a stage comedy act I was involved with.

It’s almost as if they had an issue with selling guests name tags that looked exactly like cast member name tags…

UPDATE: I ran into a post I made to the rec.arts.disney.parks newsgroup on 11/27/1996 about these tags. Here is what I had to say back then:

The red name tags lasted about a week.  I was there the second day they sold them, and at that time they would engrave your name and home town on them.  THey looked just like Cast Member tags except they were red and had stars to the left and right of Micky.  By the end of the week, they were no longer putting the home town on them, just 1996 VIP GUEST instead.  I bought bundles for friends of mine on Genie (whom I still have to send out, in case they catch this post :).

There were “security problems” with them.  Uninformed cast members kept asking if I was some kind of supervisor (digital camera, wandering around looking at details, asking alot of questions, I can see it . . .).

I have a picture of the cart they sold it from as well as the engraving
machine and name tag display I can add to my website if anyone was curious to the operation.  Also, if you get the VR image of Disney World Main Street from the WDW Explorer CD or from the WDW website, you will see the little red cart sitting in a side isle.  This is where they sold the tags.

My 11/27/1996 post to rec.arts.disney.parks

Until next time…

Magic Kingdom Main Street Cinema in 1996.

Yes, Virginia, there was a time when Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom had buildings that were not used for retail space.

The Main Street Cinema used to be a small cinema that played classic Mickey Mouse cartoons. It was still doing this in 1996:

Main Street Cinema in August 1996.

That is the only photo of it from 1996 I have, but here is is in January 1998:

Main Street Cinema on January 23, 1998.

Later that year, it was being used to show previews for the new animated film Mulan:

Mulan replaces Mickey at the Main Street Cinema on October 16, 1998.

In 1999, Tarzan had replaced Mulan:

Tarzan replaces Mulan at the Main Street Cinema on November 6, 1999.

…and Toys Story 2 soon followed (they changed it out during my visit):

Toy Story 2 preview at Main Street Cinema on November 18, 1999.

I do have a photo of the cinema ticket booth from 1999:

Main Street Cinema ticket window on November 20, 1999.

I wonder what her name tag said. At Disneyland, it has her hometown listed as Marceline, Missouri (where Walt Disney grew up).

After my 1999 visit, I turned my focus to Disneyland trips and did not return to Walt Disney World until 2006. By that time, the Main Street Cinema had been turned into another shop. During this visit, it was also being used as the in-park headquarters for the Virtual Magic Kingdom online game:

Main Street Cinema no more on October 23, 2006.

They at least kept a projection screen at the back in tribute to the sign outside:

All that remains of the “cinema” part of Main Street Cinema on December 8, 2006.

Meanwhile, at Walt Disney’s original Disneyland, the Main Street Cinema is still a cinema, with multiple screens inside showing various Mickey Mouse cartoons. I guess California didn’t need another spot to sell T-shirts.

Until next time…

Park exclusive beers at Universal Studios Florida

I don’t know why, but it’s always annoyed me to see so much “generic” merchandise for sale at Disney and other theme parks. What compels people to buy a generic Mickey Mouse shirt at Disney prices when they can get the same shirt for much less at their local Walmart?

Over the years, some things have gotten better. At least now you can buy a generic Mickey Mouse shirt (that doesn’t mention Disneyland anywhere on it) that at least has “Disneyland” on the sizing tag.

I’ll also give a pass to generic things found at World Showcase and spots in Universal Studios’ parks — you might not ever make a trip to the United Kingdom or New York, so perhaps picking up something “from there” in the parks is fine since you probably can’t get them at home.

But folks still pay jacked up prices for Starbucks coffee or Coca-Colas that we can find, literally, around the block back home.

With that in mind, I present you with a list of the park exclusive beers made just for Universal Studios Orlando … Feel free to try as many of these as you want, since you can’t get them back home at your local brew pub.

The beers of The Hog’s Head at Islands of Adventure’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade

Kudos to Casey at the Universal Orlando twitter account for this list.

Universal Studios Florida

  • DUFF Beer and DUFF Lite – Springfield – Duff Gardens
  • Dragon Scale and Wizard’s Brew– The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley – Fountain of Fair Fortune, Leaky Cauldron, and The Hopping Pot
  • Mardi Gras Brew (only available during their Mardi Gras celebration) – French Quarter

Islands of Adventure

  • Dragon Scale and Wizard’s Brew – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade – Three Broomsticks and The Hog’s Head
  • Hog’s Head Brew – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade – The Hog’s Head

Volcano Bay

  • Volcano Blossom – Dancing Dragons Boat Bar and Kunuku Boat Bar

Loews Royal Pacific Resort

  • Jake’s American Red Lager– Jake’s American Bar

Casey adds that Jake’s American Red Lager is one of her personal favorites. She also notes that many locations also have signature drinks, and recommends the Triple in Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade. It is three different beers layered on top of each other (Strongbow, Hog’s Head Brew and Guiness). I can’t wait to check this out my next visit. Thanks, Casey!

Until next time…

All my Disney visits…

On my About page, I have been trying to reconstruct a list of all the times I visited Disneyland and Walt Disney World with my digital camera.

In those early days of digital photography, my camera did have a clock but it did not have a screen. The only way I could set the time was by hooking it to a computer. As such, early photos might have the wrong time zone, or even the wrong date. I’ve done my best to correct what I can and rename my photos, but it’s clear I still have some more work to do.

One thing I noticed was it showing me taking pictures at Disneyland and Walt Disney World on the same day — there was actually one day in-between those trips.

I also noticed a few screen grabs from my digital camcorder were off.

But hey, it’s closer!

Until next time…

Liberty Square CMs from 1996.

I have begun the process of reorganizing all my Walt Disney World photos. When I started taking digital pictures in 1996, I was just grouping things together by park and land. I mean, no one has hundreds of photos from the same place, do they? Back then, one visit to Magic Kingdom may have only resulted in a few photos from Adventureland — hardly enough for a gallery, right? Thus, my photos from 1996 to 1998 were all grouped together. By 1999, I had started bringing my laptop into the park with me so I could go back to the lockers and then download photos during the day so I could take more. Here’s me at the front of Disney/MGM Studios in 1999:

Me, “discretely” using my laptop at Disney/MGM Studios to download photos on November 19, 1999.

Since there were no web galleries yet, I even went as far as renaming photos to things like “tmk_1.jpg” or “dmgm_15.jpg” so folks who downloaded them by filename at least had an indication of which park the photo was from. (Microsoft Windows at the time only allowed for 8-letters for a filename, so it was impossible to have a photo called “CinderellaCastleSideView.jpg”.) I wish I had NOT done that, since some of the photos lost their embedded date code leaving me with no easy way to tell what year they were taken.

I am now trying to split them out by year, even though that means some areas will only have one or two photos. Ah, the early days of digital cameras with 1 megabyte of memory! I did this last year with my Disneyland and Iowa Adventureland Park photos, so it’s going much faster this third time around.

During my sorting, I’ve found interesting patterns to my photo taking. Sometimes I’d only have one picture (Epcot World Showcase pavilions) as if I just took a token photo to represent the area. Other times, I’d have a dozen or more (favorite attractions like Haunted Mansion, or something that was brand new like the opening of Buzz Lightyear).

Sometimes I took things like this:

Liberty Square CMs pose for me on August 27, 1996.

Notice they are posing for the photo. Folks generally just didn’t “waste” film on taking pictures of cast members back then unless the cast member had a princess dress on or was a giant mouse. I suspect they must have asked me about my weird camera, and after explaining what a digital camera was, I took their photo. I can’t think of any other reason I’d have used one of my limited photos on a parasol cart.

These two girls are now twenty two years older than they were when I took this photo of them in 1996. I wonder how long they worked for Disney World. Maybe they are long gone, or maybe Vice Presidents somewhere out there.

Old photos are fun.

Until next time…

My Disney T-shirt collection

I don’t consider myself a collector. I will, however, buy things from time to time that I like. One of my main vacation souvenirs is T-shirts since they are at least somewhat practical and useful outside of the vacation.

Over the years, I’ve filled a closet or two with T-shirts from theme parks, Hard Rock Cafes, and other touristy type places.

I have a number of Disney park shirts that were special or limited that I never got around to wearing — which is not somewhat practical.

Remember Epcot’s 25th anniversary?

Epcot’s 25th Anniversary T-shirt.

I even have two of the Figment stuffed animals. I think they only sold 1982 of those.

Some shirts are also a snapshot in time, like when Disneyland closed down their 1959 classic Submarine Voyage. That was sad, because it was one of the attractions that Walt Disney himself greenlit for the park.

Submarine Voyage farewell T-shirt.

In the future, I think I’ll take you on a thrilling tour of my “collection.” Though I should probably get rid of the shirts I’m never going to actually wear.

Until next time…

Disney announces opening dates for Star Wars lands

Tweeted by Disney yesterday:

JUST ANNOUNCED: #StarWars: #GalaxysEdge will open May 31 at the @Disneyland Resort and August 29 at @WaltDisneyWorld Resort: bit.ly/2H6Pipz

Having experienced first hand the media frenzy of Disneyland’s New Tomorrowland opening, as well as the even grander 50th Anniversary event, I will have some fun photos and comments to share which might explain what we can expect from this…

Until next time…

EPCOT turning points, part 2

In an earlier article, I speculated a bit on when EPCOT Center became the Epcot we know today. Today I’ll dive a bit deeper and include some comments from others.

Derek Mullins on Twitter commented:

From my observation, it was most likely the beginning of the sponsor losses, and the changes to be more thrilling (Test Track) and ‘hipper’ (Ellen’s Energy Adventure) in the mid-90’s. Of course, it’s all subjective, so I’m curious what answers you get.

Derek Mullins, @mewhunter67

Sponsor losses. That’s interesting, because sponsors go both ways. An existing ride could get a new sponsor which causes big changes… Or a ride could become sponsor less, and stay frozen as-is.

The comedic additions of Ellen and Bill Nye the Science Guy to Universe of Energy were certainly a change in feeling. That began in 1996.

Ellen is coming to Epcot! August 29, 1996.

World of Motion had closed and was to become Test Track in 1997.

Test Track opening spring 1997 on August 29, 1996.

The times they were a changing…

Howard Bowers on Twitter commented:

1999. Horizons is closed for the second time. Journey into Imagination is closed. Test Track is finally operational, having replaced World of Motion. And the 2000 wand is up next to Spaceship Earth.

Howard Bowers, @GoAwayGreen 

At this point in time, the park looked like this:

The ride’s closed. Mouse outside shoulda told you. November 11, 1999.
Lines out the door for the newly-opened Journey into YOUR Imagination. November 8, 1999.
The new Test Track with a 1 hour wait. November 11, 1999.
Epcot 2000?

Four notable changes certainly is a good percentage of the original attraction lineup. Howard also added…

Original Epcot took some hits in 1994 with the closing of Kitchen Kabaret and the addition of Food Rocks and the switch to Ellen’s Energy Adventure, along with Innoventions, but all of that still felt like Epcot, just the next generation. / Taking out Journey into Imagination and Horizons basically removed the Heart and Soul of Future World.

Howard Bowers

Ah, Kitchen Kabaret! Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit was the “it’s a small world” song of EPCOT Center… During my first visit with a digital camera, Food Rocks had already taken over:

Food Rock on August 29, 1996.

That was part of the sponsorship change from Kraft to Nestle.

The Land, presented by … the chocolate company? August 29, 1996

I recall many of “us” joked at the time that having a chocolate company take over the “healthy” pavilion made little sense. But it’s not about finding a sponsor that fits — it’s about finding a sponsor that will spend the money. At least Listen to the Land didn’t become a chocolate boat ride ala Willy Wonka! (Hmmm, that would have made great sense and fit the sponsor… It just would have not fit at Epcot…)

The loss of Imagination was sad, since no other attraction ever embodied just what “imagination” really was like better than that original dark ride. Still, the two updates (Journey into YOUR Imagination, and Journey into Imagination with Figment) at least tried to keep the theme rather than becoming, say, a Wreck It Ralph ride through.

But Horizons, well, that was just a total loss. Nothing put the “future” in Future World better than Horizons. And, unlike updates done to Tomorrowland, or the final scene of Carousel of Progress, the futures presented in Horizons would still be as futuristic today as they were in the 1980s. I think it had much more life left… Pity the crowds disagreed, and it was almost always a walk on when I visited.

The closed building made a nice backdrop for Cast in Bronze, at least.

Cast in Bronze performs in front of the closed Horizons on November 8, 1999.

I think this needs “to be continued”…

Until next time…

Final year Horizons cast member on October 24, 1998.