Disney’s Studios – So Long Sorcerer’s Hat

DSCN3062Every park at Walt Disney World has a major icon.  Known affectionately as a “weenie” – a term coined by Walt Disney himself – the icon’s purpose is to draw guests forward.  Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom is breathtaking!  Situated as it is on the hub at the far end of Main Street U.S.A., when you enter the park, you’re drawn immediately by the castle’s splendor.  That’s exactly how a well-designed weenie is supposed to work.  Spaceship Earth in Epcot?  Yep, it’s the real deal.  The Tree of Life over at Animal Kingdom?  Without a doubt!  The Sorcerer’s Hat in Disney’s Hollywood Studios?  Well, no!  A pretty epic failure as a weenie on all fronts.  Plus, it didn’t even arrive until the park had been open more than ten years.  Poor Studios!  Weenie-less virtually since day one and nope, the Chinese Theater wasn’t a good weenie either.  More on that later.

Right now, as the Sorcerer’s Hat is about to be removed (good riddance, I say!), let’s talk about WHY the hat was a horrible failure as a Disney park icon.  As usual, here are FIVE good reasons to rejoice as we say, “So Long, Sorcerer’s Hat”! (Feel free to voice your comments and opposing opinions – you know I love a good debate!)

RM-Spaceship-EarthFive ways the Sorcerer’s Hat Failed as a park icon:

1. Thematically Askew – The park’s original design embraced the Golden Age of Hollywood.  The streets, buildings, props, and decorations all reflected that theme.  Along comes the hat.  Plopped down smack dab in front of the Chinese Theater, nothing about its form or fashion embraced the Studio’s personality.

2. Too Short – For a weenie, the hat is just the wrong shape and size.  At 122 feet tall, it’s dwarfed by the other parks’ icons.  Cinderella Castle: 189′ tall.  Spaceship Earth: 180′.  The Tree of Life: 145′.  Even compared to other Studio’s icons, the hat’s shrimpy.  The Tower of Terror is 199′ tall and the Earful Tower is 130′ high.  No other icon is pointy-topped, either – they’re all more attractively proportioned.

3. Not Generic Enough – The hat is too specific to ONE character and ONE movie.  For me, that makes it a very poor choice as a park icon.  Yes, the argument can be made that Cinderella’s RM-Cinderella-CastleCastle is named for a particular movie and character, but the graceful beauty of the structure itself is a basic representation of EVERY fairytale castle.  The hat?  Not so much.

4. Undignified – You can’t argue that it has a very cartoonish appearance.  The while-gloved, oddly attached hand makes it all the more ridiculous.  Neither graceful nor majestic, the hat’s clownishness may be cute, but does not have the right stuff to represent Disney’s Hollywood Studios properly now and certainly not into the park’s much anticipated future.  It hasn’t aged well, either.  Similar in style (and added during the same era) to the hand and wand that marred the perfection of Spaceship Earth, the hat has overstayed its welcome.

IMG_66115. Not Timeless – Isn’t that what a perfect park icon should be?  From inception, a park’s main icon should represent the park’s theme and purpose while remaining classically “Disney” for all time.  Will the Tree of Life grow old?  NO.  It was created to remain a timeless embodiment of Animal Kingdom’s very soul.  With 300+ highly detailed animal carvings and more than 100,000 man-made leaves – the tree will be amazing 100 years from now.

Back to the Chinese Theater.  The idea of creating an exact replica of the original Hollywood icon made the Chinese Theater was a poor choice as a weenie from the very beginning.  One IMG_6903problem is that it had already gone from Grauman’s Chinese Theater (opened in 1927) to Mann’s Chinese Theater (in 1973).  Now it’s TCL Chinese Theater (2013) – who knows how long it will last or by what name and ownership it may be known in the future.  A better choice would have been a generic timeless representation of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

I can think of several possible replacements for the Sorcerer’s Hat.  If the future of Disney’s Hollywood Studios indeed brings changes and additions that would prompt yet another new name for the park (rumored to become Disney’s Hollywood Adventure), I believe an icon representative of Hollywood would be in order.  How about something that reflects both stage and screen?  Literally – a stage topped by a giant, multi-sided screen would be an awesome icon.  Think about it – both the stage and the “frame” for the screen could be fancy and a charmingly old-fashioned tribute to Hollywood glamor, but the screens (3 or 4-sided for optimum viewing) would be the perfect opportunity for Disney World to show off its high-tech capabilities.  Like the jumbo-tron-type screens on the decks of Disney’s cruise ships, an enormous stage and screen display in the Studios would offer unlimited entertainment and promotional opportunities!

What would YOU replace the Sorcerer’s Hat with?  A giant movie camera/film reel statue?  Enormous popcorn box, perhaps?  Are you sad to see the hat go?  What are your thoughts on the matter?


Dishing on Disney’s Dinoland U.S.A.

RM-Dinoland-USA-Blue-DinoHere’s what happens – you arrive for the first time at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you pass through the entrance and immediately become drawn in by the amazing details.  You see the incredible Tree of Life, you step into Africa and explore the savannah on safari.  You meander over to Asia and are completely swept away by the Forbidden Mountain’s breathtaking mystery.  Then you make your way to Dinoland U.S.A. and, after you recover from the shock, you do one of two things – you love it or you hate it.

Dishing on Disney’s Dinoland U.S.A.

It’s garish, tacky, cheap, and ridiculous, but completely in-your-face honest about its identity!  Dinoland U.S.A. is surprisingly different from anyplace else in the World and you may find yourself thinking, “What the heck just happened?”, but there is an undeniable draw.  Who doesn’t love dinosaurs?  The improbable blend of carnival and science, realistic IMG_6707and make-believe, scary and comical – it’s all there!  Like an off-key yet surprisingly catchy tune.  Do not resist its pull – there are many things to love about this particularly quirky side of Animal Kingdom.

There’s Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama!  Cheap carnival rides, midway games, silly snacks – all with a pretty weird and wonderful backstory!  Personally, I’ve never played any of the midway games (they cost extra) but I absolutely LOVE Primeval Whirl.  Once I decided to give the ride a chance (thought it might RM-Primeval-Whirl-Signmake me sick with too much spinning, but I was wrong), I fell in love with it.  Mostly, I just want to hear Megan scream during every single spin – which she does in the most hilarious way!  Yes, the rides are very ordinary, basic, pre-fab-county-fair stuff, but still, there’s something lovable and familiar about them.  Step right up, folks!!!IMG_6720

While I’ve never been there, I hear the Boneyard is a great place for kids to burn off some pent up energy.  Never underestimate the importance of allowing the little ones to run free and let off some steam!  The Boneyard is a pretend dig-site with plenty of things to explore!  Interactive displays, bones to dig, rope ladders to climb, tunnels to explore.  RM-Dinoland-USAIMG_6712

Dinosaur is an interesting attraction (must be 40″ to ride) – even if you don’t love the ride itself, the Dino Institute is packed with fantastic displays – including a replica of Sue, the famous Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil discovered in 1990.  Dinosaur may be a tad intense for smaller children, but the story – the queue, the pre-ride show, the ride itself – is very creative and immersive.  IMG_6709

Oddly enough, Finding Nemo – The Musical (which has absolutely nothing to do with dinosaurs) is located in this area of the park.  Nemo fans (and guests who need a break from the Florida heat in a comfortable air-conditioned theater) will love this 40-minute show (or at least get in a great nap!).

For years I avoided this area of Animal Kingdom except for the occasional visit to ride Dinosaur.  I wasn’t willing to embrace the complete departure from the charmingly detailed Africa and Asia sections of the park.  In the past few visits, though, I’ve come to appreciate all that Dinoland U.S.A. is and isn’t and am finding my own ways to love this odd little corner of the World.

So, what about you?  What to you love about Dinoland?



Disney Dining: Worth Two Table Service Credits?


RM-California-Grill-MenuIf you’ve chosen a Disney Dining Plan (or are thinking about it), you may be wondering – WHY do some “signature” dining restaurants, character dining experiences, and dinner shows require the use of TWO table service credits?  I get asked about this quite a bit and let me tell you – if you select some dining package other than the one for just quick service dining, you might find yourself puzzled and perplexed by the restaurant choices!

Yes, you could totally save time and money by avoiding the restaurants/experiences that burn two of your table service credits for one meal, but then again, some of the most popular and highly coveted reservations are at these two-credit places.  What to do…how to choose…  Ah, once again, the beauty of having my own blog is a place to express my own opinions!  However, I’d love to start a discussion here, so go ahead and share your opinions along with mine.  I’m pretty thick-skinned, so if you don’t Citricos-Windowagree with me, shout on out.  For the benefit of readers that don’t have a lot of (or any) dining experience at Walt Disney World – your opinion matters!  All points of view are welcome.  Plus, I’m only talking about restaurants in which I have previously dined.  If I haven’t tried a particular dining experience, it won’t be on the list.

For ease of understanding, I’m using three categories to discuss the two-credit dining choices I’ve experienced.  These are:  Definitely Worth It, Might be Worth It, and NOT worth it at all.  Ready?  Let’s go!

Disney Dining: Worth Two Table Service Credits?

Definitely Worth It:

California Grill (Disney’s Contemporary Resort):  This place is fabulous.  The food, the service, the atmosphere – all top shelf.  The big bonus though, is the ability to watch Wishes from the outdoor viewing area no matter what time your dinner reservation was for.  It’s a pretty grown-up place, but is surprisingly kid-friendly.  My own experience can be found here.

Hoop-Dee-Doo-Musical-ReviewHoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review (Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground):  Dinner (all you care to eat) and a show!  Adult beverages included!  It’s basic food (fried chicken, ribs, sides, strawberry shortcake), but filling and tasty.  The show’s good with singing, funny skits, and great characters.  Full review here.

Might be Worth It:

Jiko – It’s one of our most favorite places to eat and it’s got the added bonus of being at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  If you’re looking for a romantic evening out OR your children have more sophisticated palates, Jiko might be a great choice.  Animal Kingdom Lodge is not only gorgeous, but the savannah viewing area just off the resort’s lobby is a wonderful place to hang out before dinner.  Arrive early to allow plenty of time for exploring and animal watching.

Citricos (Grand Floridian Resort and Spa)- The food and service are amazing.  This is a place I’d The Flying Fish Cafe / Walt Disney World Boardwalkpick for a romantic dinner for two or for a grown-up evening out.  Get to the Grand Floridian early and enjoy a cocktail in Mizner’s Lounge before dinner.  I love the restaurant’s décor and quiet elegance. (Review here.)

Flying Fish Café (Boardwalk) – Like Citricos, but in a completely different setting.  Food and service are excellent and the Boardwalk is a great place to visit.  Arrive early or stay late – the Boardwalk has a lot to offer by way of street performers, shops, lounges and bars. (Review here.)

Le Cellier (Epcot’s Canada Pavilion) – You may have noticed that, up until this point, all my recommendations have been outside the parks.  Le Cellier is extremely popular and some people find it overrated.  We like it, though, and have never had a bad meal there.  It’s dark and cozy inside, which is often a great respite from the Florida sun and Epcot crowds.  If you’re going to be in Epcot and want the convenience of enjoying a pretty good steak dinner without leaving the park, Le Cellier’s a good choice for dinner.  Try the cheese soup!

NOT Worth It:

Magic Kingdom / Cinderella CastleFairytale Dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table – If you want a character dining experience, there are tons of 1-credit choices!  Unless you feel you must burn two credits just to say you ate in Cinderella Castle, it’s not worth it!  If you want to eat in a castle, chose Beast’s abode in Fantasyland and dine at Be Our Guest.  If you must dine with princesses, head on over to Epcot and enjoy Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall.  Personally, I’m particularly fond of dining with the Fab Five at Chef Mickey’s (Contemporary Resort) or with Cinderella, her Prince, Lady Tremaine and the Step Sisters at 1900 Park Fare (dinner / Grand Floridian Resort and Spa).  And, if I’m NOT at Cinderella’s Royal Table, I at least have to option of buying (and enjoying) an adult beverage if I choose.

Pizza Delivery – There are absolutely times when in-room dining holds a certain appeal, but Pizza Delivery at WDWblowing two table service credits to get a pizza, two single-serving, non-alcoholic beverages, and two desserts is a very poor use of those credits.  The pizza at Walt Disney World is notoriously awful.  Grab some snacks from a quick-service place or sundries shop (if one is handy) to take back to your room and save the table service credits for something truly extraordinary.  No food delivered to your resort room will be extraordinary in a good way.  Ever.

Your turn!  Agree with my assessment?  Have places to add?  Tell me what places you think are two-credit worthy!



Vacation Rewind: Fort Wilderness Cabins

This week’s “Saturdays with Nick” is actually with Nick and his better half, Barbie!  Barbie’s trip report from 2011 gives great details about the cabins at Fort Wilderness! (I’ve always wondered about them!)  For lots more great Disney stories, visit Nick and Barbie at Disney Musings and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Trip Report from November, 2011: Fort Wilderness Cabins

Who? Barbie, Nick and our friends Josh and Jill. (As told mostly in Nick’s words)

Where? The Cabins at Fort Wilderness.

Friday, Nov. 11th

We flew into Orlando from Philly, and took Magical Express to Fort Wilderness, checked in, and proceeded to our cabin. We were in cabin 2768, which is very close to the main road, and one of the many bus stops throughout the grounds. It is a fairly short walk to the Outpost Depot, which is where you get a bus to Downtown Disney and all the parks except the Magic Kingdom, which is reached by boat.

Our cabin:
Upon entering the cabin, you walk into the kitchen area straight ahead. To the right is the living room. There is a Murphy bed hidden in the wall, which is where Nick and I slept. This is a very comfortable bed, perhaps more comfortable than other resorts beds. It is a double however, so some may find it a little small. The bathroom was very roomy, and Nick and I both felt the water pressure was stronger than at many other resorts.

A couple of things of note. I think this may have been one of the cleanest and most well kept of the rooms we’ve stayed in! Mouse Keeping was exceptional. Also, one of the things I got the most feedback about was the bus service. Many people suggested we rent a car, but we talked it over with our friends and decided that wasn’t necessary. It turned out that the bus service was the best of any other resort we’ve stayed at, with the exception of one late evening, after returning via boat from the Magic Kingdom, when we had to wait about 20 minutes for a bus. Even the internal bus service was often arriving just as we would approach both our local bus stop or the main Outpost stop. On only a couple of occasions was a bus not at the ready, and we opted to simply walk either to the main depot, or our cabin.

Nick and I and our friends all agree, we would absolutely stay at the cabins again. A big thank you to Jill for getting the interior pics for us after we left, hers are better than ours.

Back to the trip report: We dropped off our bags, and headed right to Epcot to enjoy the Food and Wine Festival. The weather was absolutely perfect. The Christmas decorations were already appearing, and the Christmas loops were playing.

Having made our way around World Showcase “eating around the world,” we headed for Future World, and rode Imagination and the Seas with Nemo, and explored the Seas. By now, it was almost time to head back to World Showcase. We were attending the 3D Dessert Party that evening, which was at 8:00pm. On the way there, we ran into my (Barbie’s) co-worker, Mary! From New Jersey! And this wouldn’t be the only time!! How crazy is that?

The Dessert party:
We lined up about 7:30, and were admitted shortly afterwards. We waited in front of a curtain, which was parted at 8:00, and all the people there rushed for tables, which really wasn’t necessary, as there were plenty. The rumor was that people would have to stand if they couldn’t get a table! Nick plowed ahead of the rest of us and picked out a table, and next to our table sat my co-worker, Mary! Again! What are the odds?!

Thanks Mary, for getting this very crazy pic of me hogging all the desserts on the table while nobody was looking! That’s what co-workers are for.

The room was beautifully decorated. There was a live band playing songs such as “Sweet Caroline,” “Sweet Child of Mine,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” you get the picture. They were cheesy and extremely loud. They were also a lot of fun. There was a lot of beverage choices, coffees, teas, and many adult beverages including wine, punches, etc., and Josh ad Nick’s favorite, the DeKuyper liquors. Also available was also a savory station of dried meats and cheeses, as well as fresh and dried fruits and beautiful berries, which was my favorite section.

Sadly the most disappointing thing about the dessert party were the desserts. The best thing, and almost worth the price of admission alone, was the Flambeed Cinnamon Doughnuts with Red Stag Infused Sundried Cherries served with Red Stag Ice Cream. Thanks to Mary for pointing us to that lovely concoction! Most of the rest of the desserts were disappointing. We all agreed the dessert trio from the Food and Wine Dessert and Champagne Booth was far superior. Such a shame that wasn’t an offering. Out of all the desserts they offered, not a one had any lemon in it. (always my preference!)

Around 9:30, there was an announcement that we would be going to the Illuminations viewing area, located between the two shops at the entrance of World Showcase. On the way out, we were each handed a gift bag with a Merci Chocolate assortment, as well as some other goodies. We were also provide special glasses that made small Mickey heads out of the fireworks. All in all, it was absolutely worth experiencing once, but we agreed we wouldn’t do it again!