Monday, August 13, 2018

The Last Time I Ever Rode Ellen's Energy Adventure

(Mickey Views on Flickr)

In the course of my visits to Walt Disney World, there have been only four attractions that I personally experienced that have permanently closed (five if you include Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management, but that lousy show is irrelevant to this discussion). The first was Snow White's Scary Adventures, my absolute favorite attraction in Fantasyland and one that earned its own personal tribute to on this blog. Although I was quite sad at the time about losing this ride that was a cornerstone of my Disney World childhood, I was very excited at the construction of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (my excitement would come to a screeching halt two years later when I experienced that underwhelming and short ride for myself). In May of 2012, not very long before it closed, I rode a doomed attraction for the first time, and rode my beloved Snow White's Scary Adventures for the very last time. I already wrote about what it was like in my tribute to that attraction, but suffice to say, I never had had such a beautiful yet sad experience before, and have not had one like it since. When Maelstrom was about to close in 2014, I had the opportunity to ride it on its last day of operation, but was convinced by my parents because of the potential heat and crowds from the ride's closing and concurrent Food and Wine Festival to go to the Magic Kingdom instead. I can't say I exactly regret that decision knowing full well the madness of festival season at Epcot, but I was still pained by the knowledge I could never search for the spirit of Norway at Epcot again, and Maelstrom has also earned a three-part tribute on my blog.

Fast forward to February 2017. For the first time since I moved to Maryland almost two years ago, I am about to hop on my first plane flight ever to Orlando, meet my grandparents at the airport, ride to their house in Melbourne, and then a couple days later, have an amazing three day, two night vacation at Walt Disney World to celebrate my 18th birthday. Everything goes smoothly, and soon enough we are inside the gates of Walt Disney World, spending our first day at the Magic Kingdom. After our splendid first night at the Coronado Springs Resort, we prepare to go to Epcot. I hop on a bus well before my grandparents do, anxious to not let their leisurely pace slow me down. I arrive and take in the momentous sight of Spaceship Earth. In an effort to kill the time before my grandparents catch up with me, I decide to go to the perfect attraction for killing time inside a cool, dark building: Ellen's Energy Adventure.

(CL Photographs on Flickr)

Rumors have been swirling around for quite a while now that some Guardians of the Galaxy attraction will replace the Universe of Energy. Even for a company that replaced Snow White's Scary Adventures with a princess meet and greet and Maelstrom with Frozen Ever After, this particular rumor sounds ridiculous to me. I pay it little attention as I admire the exterior pool and seemingly endless mirror tiles on the dynamic triangle of a building on my way to entering the sliding doors. I examine the countdown on the fascinating tile wall. Perfect, I've arrived just in time to see the preshow in its entirety. Making my way to the large, dark preshow room, I sit down on the carpet just like I have done endless times, and enjoy the next few minutes of backstory, levity, and pure 90s throwback from Ellen and Bill Nye the Science Guy. After Ellen's words to any one who arrived late, it is time to enter the first theater. The utterly massive room, enveloped by black curtains and the masterful score of Bruce Broughton, and the sight of those impossibly huge traveling theater cars is still enough to captivate me and fill me with wonder. At first, I choose to sit down in what proves to be a heavily crowded theater car. But at the last possible moment, the wisdom of my father's seating choices in such attractions strikes me faster than a lunging rattlesnake, and I make my way out of that car and into my row of choice in one that is virtually empty.

(marada on Flickr)

The vehicle doors slide closed, the lights fade to black, and the theater cars silently rotate into place in front of the first screen. The show begins. After the explosive Big Bang and the formation of the Earth, one of the greatest (and loudest) spectacles I've ever seen on screen, Ellen and Bill at last arrive 220 million years ago in the Earth's past, and it is time to join them in the age of dinosaurs. The cars rotate away from the screen as the footsteps of a walking dino fade into a rising, dramatic, powerful musical crescendo courtesy of Bruce Broughton as those black curtains rise and reveal the stunning world of the Mesozoic. The cars stop as we hear an invisible Ellen struggling to make her way through the dense jungle. A clap of thunder and lightning convince her to move forward, and likewise, the cars start moving forward, starting with the one that is at the exact opposite corner of the formation from mine. After seeing the car behind it move as well, it is then I realize I've chosen the sixth car; the last one to leave the diorama! Quickly realizing my unprecedented opportunity, I scan the primeval forest around me, finding dimetrodons, giant snails, dragonflies, and centipedes, and taking in every lush detail of this triumph of a diorama. At last, my car moves, and the real journey through this prehistoric world begins. Brontosaurs tower over me, one loudly sneezing on unfortunate passersby below. A stegosaur and allosaur fight to the death as I pass beneath the mighty rocks they stand on. Duck billed trachodons stare with their strange gazes from thick brush. Ornithomimus gather around a marshy pool, one playfully spitting at me. Gigantic Pteranodons loom above me, cawing and croaking as their world threatens to be consumed by a fiery eruption of lava. All the while, I am sliding from end to end in my empty row, seizing the chance to get the best views of everything. Finally, after a passage through the foggy, strobe-lit cave, the journey is over. Many more minutes of nostalgic film of Ellen and Bill talking about energy and going on to win Jeopardy! await (I still can't believe the entire oil rig scene was a model all along!), but what I'll never forget is the amazing experience I have just had in the age of dinosaurs, all alone. Eventually I exit from the Universe of Energy, catch up to my grandparents, become exasperated all over again by the current Spaceship Earth descent, enjoy Living with the Land for the millionth time, ride (and become disappointed with) the new Soarin' for the first time, see (and fall in love with) Impressions de France for the first time, and culminate my explorations of World Showcase with a marvelous dinner at San Angel Inn and a ride in the front row of an empty boat on Gran Fiesta Tour just before watching Illuminations in full for the first time. As we go to bed in our Coronado Springs room (the pool there is the best), I reflect on the wonderful day I've had at Epcot.

(Dennis D on Flickr)
Several months later, the unthinkable happened. As it turns out, a Guardians of the Galaxy ride replacing Universe of Energy was not a horrible joke, but now a horrible reality. I would go on to vent my frustrations and express my sorrow at the closing of both Ellen's Energy Adventure and the Great Movie Ride (I hadn't ridden the latter since before its 2015 refurbishment) in a post I published on this blog one year ago this very night. One year later, not much has changed for me. The grand, gorgeous Grauman theater exterior still stands, while the inside has turned into an empty shell. There are no more tiles at the Energy pavilion, whether of the colored or mirror kind, and any dinosaur that was still left in that building as it was being gutted had until April of this year to be removed to safety or presumably be destroyed. The massive new building for the Guardians rollercoaster continues to rise, a figurative and literal eyesore for Epcot.

(Jeff Krause on Flickr)

A year has passed since Ellen's Energy Adventure closed, and even now, I still get chills from that moment when the curtains lifted and revealed the dinosaurs in their primeval world. The fact that I'll never experience that moment again still devastates me, much like never being able to see the Wizard of Oz or Raiders of the Lost Ark come to life in the Great Movie Ride. Considering I had absolutely no idea at the time that my ride in February of 2017 would be the last time I would ever ride on sunshine in the Universe of Energy, my choice to go to the car that was virtually empty and the last to leave the diorama may not have been as great of an ending to my adventures in the Universe of Energy as being evacuated from the ride inside the dinosaur diorama, but it's the next best thing I can think of, and I will be eternally grateful that I got to have that experience. As you reflect on your own fond memories of both of these attractions tonight, I just hope that they will always remain alive and well in your hearts. I know they will in mine.

Great Movie Ride (1989-2017)

Universe of Energy (1982-2017)


Friday, July 13, 2018

Haunted Serenade Presents: Reawakening the Spirit of Norway, My Tribute To Epcot's Maelstrom

"You are not the first to pass this way... nor shall you be the last..."

(Jeff Krause on Flickr)

As your host of Haunted Serenade, I proudly present Reawakening the Spirit of Norway, my three-part nostalgic thesis and tribute to the classic extinct EPCOT Center attraction Maelstrom. In Part One, embark with me on the Maelstrom, a Seadventure filled with trolls, vikings, polar bears, and oil rigs, as I share my favorite moments and memories of the short but captivating journey through the land of Norway that was (and still is) one of my most personally beloved Epcot attractions. In Part Two, I face the Oscar-winning music from Disney's icy animated hit, reflecting on the reasons why Maelstrom was closed and the ride quite literally Frozen over, and attempting to define and solve the challenges that would have to be overcome if the Maelstrom is to have any hope of ever churning again. Finally, in the concluding post of this series, I present my full and detailed plan for the hypothetical return of the Maelstrom ride and Spirit of Norway film to the Norway Pavilion, in which I strive to make as many improvements to the original Maelstrom as necessary to refresh and revitalize the ride without losing its greatest strength; its quaint, nostalgic charm.

Without further ado, I hope you enjoy my exploration of Maelstrom's past and future in Reawakening the Spirit of Norway!
(Sam Howzit on Flickr)

 Part One: How I Was Drawn Into A Maelstrom -

 Part Two: The Challenges To Conquer Before The Maelstrom Can Return -

 Part Three: Revising and Presenting My Ideal Plan For Maelstrom's Return -

Monday, June 25, 2018

Reawakening the Spirit of Norway, Part Three: Revising And Presenting My Ideal Plan For Maelstrom's Return

"You are not the first to pass this way... Nor shall you be the last..."

(Mark & Paul Luukkonen on Flickr)
 In the last installment of my series of musings and thoughts about the extinct and personally beloved EPCOT Center attraction Maelstrom, I wrote that I'd conclude my series of posts about Maelstrom by revealing my lengthy, detailed ideas for a fantastical plan to return the churning Maelstrom to its rightful place at EPCOT Center, greatly expanded and improved beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

Is that still true? Yes and No.

Between my publishing the previous part of Resurrecting the Spirit of Norway many months ago and now, I've gone back and forth without ever being able to resolve what exactly a restored version of Maelstrom should be like. There was (and continues to be) a raging war between the forces of nostalgia and imagination that greatly impacts my opinion on how Maelstrom should be rebuilt; the former keeps me content with much of the original ride, weird quirks and all, and the latter challenges me to dare to dream bigger, to create a bigger show building and set forth with ideas for entirely new scenes and events, and ultimately a far different attraction than the original. As of this writing, nostalgia is winning the battle, for one big reason; at least in my mind, there was something so incredibly charming about the fast pace and unusual transitions of the original Maelstrom. Turning out of the load area straight into that dark cavern and lift hill with the vision of Odin, then the tight twists, turns and drops as the boat was sent backwards and forwards through ever-changing places and times in Norway, culminating in the calm approach to the fishing village that ended the ride, made for a short but utterly unique and fascinating attraction. Where else besides the classic Fantasyland dark rides can you get such a sense of discombobulating yet utter entrancement by the numerous fantastical environs that your vehicle travels through in such a short time? In my current opinion, expanding the show building and ride like I proposed in my previous post, thereby transforming Maelstrom from a quaint C or D-Ticket ride into an E-Ticket headlining attraction, would strip away that certain intangible quality that Maelstrom once possessed. Call it nostalgia, or charm, or quaintness, much like Snow White's Scary Adventures, another extinct Disney World attraction that was dearly beloved by me, one of Maelstrom's greatest strengths was its inherent ability to transform blacklight paintings, forced perspective scenery, and limited motion figures placed within a tightly constricted space into a truly spellbinding experience in the image of the classic old dark ride, something that proclaimed modern marvels like Flight of Passage or contemporary dark rides like Ratatouille never could.

Making Maelstrom Reappear! Reappear! Reappear!: How The Construction of Frozen Ever After Solved Some of Maelstrom's Biggest Problems

With the previous paragraph's explanation in mind, let me proceed to tell you why Maelstrom should return as the short but memorable experience it was, and why the physical changes made to the ride's infrastructure for Frozen Ever After may have been the best thing to ever happen to the Maelstrom show building.

(Joel on Flickr)
In my previous post about Maelstrom, I talked about what would need to happen in order for the return of Maelstrom to be successful, specifically the challenges that would have to be overcome. Besides the obvious need for a new Frozen attraction to be built elsewhere, I reasoned that two of the greatest challenges in restoring Maelstrom would be reworking its far too short and too lightly themed queue and reinvigorating the post-show film by updating it and giving guests the opportunity to see it without disrupting the flow of guests exiting the boats (the third was the short length of Maelstrom, which I have since argued in favor of earlier in this post). The construction crew of Frozen Ever After literally killed two birds with one stone; they demolished the theater and built a new, much longer queue in that space. The fictional village of Arendelle (pictured above) and the authentic Norwegian fishing village of Maelstrom are located in roughly the same spot and are actually quite similar; the old unload dock of Maelstrom has become the new load dock of Frozen Ever After with a new unload adjacent to it. This allowed for the former queue and load area to be completely gutted and rebuilt into a new beginning for the ride, with the boat going through a few bends before ascending the lift hill.

(Nelson Minar on Flickr)

With two simple modifications, the Norway Pavilion attraction's queue was lengthened (though not enough to prevent the frequently long line for Frozen Ever After from extending outside the building), the theater was removed from the exit, and the ride was actually extended. What if these changes were kept intact when Maelstrom was returned? Just imagine; as you enter through the restored original facade of Maelstrom, you find yourself in a Norwegian fishing village rorbu cabin (a cabin rented out to fishermen by the owner of the fishing village; the above picture is of such a cabin in Reine, Norway), filled with warm and cozy Scandinavian furnishings and decorations yet unoccupied, similar to Swiss Family Treehouse. Exiting through a side door, you enter into the fishing village proper. You wind your way through a square surrounded by charming Norwegian buildings and then walk onto the pier where Viking longships are ready to welcome you aboard. The boat passes through a short cavern and then enters an open space, but instead of seeing Olaf, Sven and some trolls that bring shame upon the entire troll race, especially the old Maelstrom trolls they replaced, you pass through a spectacular Norwegian forest, majestic trees rising high above you with towering, powerful mountains in the distance. This is very similar to the original concept for Maelstrom's load area (which I talked about briefly in my previous Maelstrom post), in which guests would have boarded their longboats in a Norwegian forest on the banks of one of Norway's great fjords. Changing the Norwegian forest concept from a load area to a new first scene means that Maelstrom would now start off with a beautifully captivating yet mysterious scene imbued with the atmosphere of Norway, not unlike the beginning jungle and pyramid diorama scene from El Rio Del Tiempo/Gran Fiesta Tour. This would be an effective prelude to an entrance into a mysterious cave filled with ancient petroglyphs, where the boats would start to ascend as Odin's voice and glowing countenance marks the beginning of our journey and search for the true spirit of Norway.

Picture something like this and you're not far off from what the new first scene of Maelstrom would look like. (Simo Rasenen on Wikimedia Commons)

How The Rest of Maelstrom Should Be Improved

Maelstrom's old rock troll keeping a careful eye on my suggestions for improving his attraction. I hope he approves of my ideas or I fear he may send me down to the North Sea again! (Sam Howzit on Flickr)

Here's a basic summary of what I would improve in Maelstrom (please note that any scene, effect, prop, dialogue or other ride component not mentioned here is exactly the same as it was in the original attraction).:

  • The lift hill should have some more rockwork to hide the bare walls that were sometimes visible when the light from Odin's eye shone across the hill, but otherwise the scene is perfect as it originally was.
  • Improved movements and performance of the Viking animatronics.
  • A return of the incredible fog and smoke effect in the three-headed troll scene that was unfortunately allowed to deteriorate and stop working for years in the original attraction, and an upgrade to the three-headed troll figure itself.
  • A major upgrade of the polar bear animatronics, particularly the rearing one, which originally was far fiercer and closer to the boats in its motions but was toned down after falling over the track in 1993. Between this bear and the yeti in Expedition Everest there is bad luck at Disney World with the breakdown of animatronics that are supposed to threaten and menacingly move towards guests, making me that more determined to make it work this time!
  • A complete overhaul of the transition scene between the Far North and the Fjord. In the original Maelstrom, after encountering the rearing polar bear, the boat continued to travel backwards, icy walls giving way to darkness and then abrupt daylight as the boat entered the fjord, the polar bear visible the whole time as it faded into the distance and then was hidden by closing doors. My solution for this rather sad transition is the rapid retreat of the boat into a stunning Arctic ice cavern almost immediately after the polar bear is encountered, a multitude of reflections of the boat bouncing off the cold, beautiful clear ice walls, but with an alarming sense of danger as the echoing roar of the polar bear shakes the numerous sharp icicles above us, threatening to send them crashing down upon us. A cool, foggy mist grows thicker the further back the boat goes through the cave, first obscuring and then completely hiding the polar bear, the ursine inhabitant of the Arctic disappearing from sight as likewise the ice cavern around us gives way to the rocky cliffs of the fjord.
    The new transition between the Arctic and fjord would look a lot like this, except with 110% more icicles. (arctic_council on Flickr)
  • Modifications to the mural and rockwork in the area surrounding the drop in the fjord scene, so that instead of the boat passing underneath a flat mural of the fjord directly into the North Sea, there is a modified version of the same mural (the one with the cruise ship), below which is a very short cavern that the boats drop into, which uses fiber optic lights and sparkling sounds similar to the spell cast by the three headed troll to create the effect of the boat being magically transported from a cavern in a fjord to the middle of the North Sea, finally making one of the strangest transitions in the original Maelstrom a bit easier to understand.
  • The return of the backpacking man who used to stand on top of one of the fjord cliffs, overlooking the majestic fjord itself.
  • A major renovation of the special effects in the North Sea/oil rig scene. The original plans for guests' visit to the North Sea in Seaventure (that was Maelstrom's original name up until very late in the ride's construction) called for wind, waves, rain, thunder, and real Tesla-coil induced lightning(!). Although the last effect sadly was turned off because of the inherent danger of actual lightning in an enclosed boat ride, strobe lightning is a safe and acceptable substitute, one that was used along with thunder effects for the rest of the original Maelstrom's lifespan. As for the other three, wind effects would be easy to implement, a carefully small but noticeable wave effect could be feasible, and a slight drizzle could work as rain without soaking everyone. The oil rigs, one of Maelstrom's most memorable scenes, and still a major part of Norway's economy and heritage, should be kept.
    This original concept art for Maelstrom captures the essence of what the oil rig scene should always have been like. Copyright Disney
  • A short new finale scene between the North Sea and the fishing village, in the approximate site of where the final scene with Anna, Elsa, and Olaf is in Frozen Ever After (with a track modification to create a slight bend in the boat path), which will feature a gorgeous diorama of Norway's coastline, the cliffs and villages of the fjords stretching out into the distance as stars twinkle and the northern lights sway across the sky, their reflection dancing in the vast ocean. As the boat prepares to leave this stunning sight, the face of Odin appears above us again and for the last time as he proclaims: "Norway's spirit has always been - will always be - adventure!" The critical purpose of this new scene and the new doors put between it and the fishing village is to prevent guests in the queue from going mad listening to that line repeated over and over as they would have in the old fishing village, where there was no buffer save for ambient atmospheric sounds preventing the final dialogue of the attraction from being heard throughout the village. 
    A perfect example of what the new finale scene between the North Sea and the unload at the fishing village would be like.
  • The fishing village is now the site of the queue, load and unload of Maelstrom, and has been partly reduced thanks to the new final scene, but otherwise, it is the same as it was in the quarter century when Maelstrom sent guests on a seafaring adventure. Countless people like me who enjoyed the quaint, charming Norwegian fishing village can now admire the sight of the simple seaside buildings, the sailboat at the harbor and the coastline in the distance or listen to a lively conversation in Norwegian emanating from a house while waiting for their turn to look for Norway's spirit. 
(Mark & Paul Luukkonen on Flickr)

A Note About the Norway Pavilion Theater, or Relocating the Spirit of Norway Film

(michaelg83 on Flickr)
By keeping the new location of the queue and load area built during the construction of Frozen Ever After and the new scene spaces created as a result, My reimagining of Maelstrom has drastically improved the queue and increased the length of Maelstrom by a short but significant portion. There's only one problem: where does the old theater go? Even with the multiple improvements I've thought of for Maelstrom, ultimately, it's only a 5-minute attraction, and without an updated version of the Spirit of Norway film (like I described in my previous Maelstrom post) offering a richer, more detailed look into the modern culture and heritage of Norway, the search for the spirit of Norway will remain incomplete.

My proposal for the fate of the theater is to rebuild it in an expanded space in what is currently the first retail area that you enter upon exiting the attraction if you choose to go through the interlinked retail spaces instead of exiting the attraction directly through one of the doors near the entrance. A bypass would allow guests to continue to the Puffin's Roost if they desired, while those who wanted to see more of the spirit of Norway could enter the theater and enjoy the newly updated yet timeless "Spirit of Norway" film, discovering once more how the spirit of Norway lies in its past, its present, and its people.

Resurrecting The Maelstrom: My Last Thoughts On Bringing Norway's Spirit Back, Back, Over The Falls

(Dennis D on Flickr)
On Maelstrom's last night of existence, the waterfall cascading from the cavern that offered a glimpse of the fateful journey of the longboats guided by Odin looked much like it did in this picture: peaceful, serene, no sign of the cataclysmic destruction and transformation that was to fall upon the attraction within. Late that night, Odin's eye closed for the last time, marking the end of the spirit of Norway's hold over its country's pavilion. The Maelstrom closed and ceased to churn, and likewise the rocky gap that once enticed visitors of the land of Norway to discover what awaited them on a high seas adventure was closed and filled up. For two years now, Elsa has kept a firm, icy grip on a pavilion where she and her friends have never truly belonged. Whether that hold will ever melt away is yet to be known. In my three posts about what was once my favorite attraction in World Showcase, I've embarked on an emotional, logical, and spiritual odyssey, first sailing through the ocean of my memories, going on the Maelstrom all over again and remembering my deep appreciation for this highly underrated attraction, then winding through the maze of logic and reason, discovering the potential challenges in Maelstrom's resurrection and solving them, and finally looking at Maelstrom again with fresh eyes, revising and at long last presenting my humble "ideal plan" for resurrecting the Maelstrom and thus reawakening the true spirit of Norway within its old pavilion at Epcot's World Showcase. Thank you for joining me aboard this voyage; may you disembark in a way sad yet enlightened, disappointed yet hopeful that perhaps the seas of fate will one day favor Odin, the vikings, the trolls, the polar bears and fjords and oil rigs and quaint fishing villages. Until then, may the spirit of Norway always be with you, and remember Odin's final words:

Norway's spirit has always been - will always be - adventure!

Copyright Disney

Don't Forget to Read the Previous Installments of Reawakening The Spirit Of Norway!

Part One: How I Was Drawn Into A Maelstrom -

Part Two: The Challenges to Conquer Before The Maelstrom Can Return -

Saturday, May 5, 2018

An Ode to the Tunnel, Mine, and Cave at Walt Disney World's Tom Sawyer Island

Now proceed at your own risk.... these be the last friendly words you'll hear... you may not survive to pass this way again...

Would you dare to venture inside? (Original photo from Theme Park Tourist on Flickr)

Pirates may never have invaded Tom Sawyer Island at Walt Disney World like they did its kin at Disneyland, but this haunting warning from a ghostly voice that once was heard in Pirates of the Caribbean could be the perfect summary of most guest's thoughts as they stare into the murky entrance of any of the three dark and unsettling underground environs to be found on Tom's island. Whether it be a flight from Fort Langhorn in the narrow, claustrophobic Escape Tunnel, a hallucinatory, unbalanced walk through a mine unfettered by the laws of physics in Old Scratch's Mystery Mine, or an unnerving, dreadfully eerie cave where unseen specters pursue you through Injun Joe's Cave, the subterranean passages on Tom Sawyer Island require just a grain of courage to explore and thrives on people who let strange and scary figments of their imagination lurk within the dark recesses underneath Mark Twain's rustic childhood escape. In this ode to the tunnel, mine, and cave on Tom Sawyer Island, I cast each of them in turn into their own stories, weaving my personal experiences into narrative trips into these unique, rich, masterful environments isolated from the rest of the Magic Kingdom.

Escape Tunnel

(Sam Howzit on Flickr)
 As with everything else on Tom Sawyer Island, playing pretend transforms Fort Langhorn and the Escape Tunnel into an experience far simpler and more brilliant than many of the attractions to be found on the "mainland". A war party of marauding Indians seeks to siege the fort. Taking position within the gun roost, you fire upon them, hoping to repel the hostiles. Your attack fails to stop them, and they soon begin their assault on the stockade, getting closer every second to breaking in. Without any weapons to defend yourself, much less the fort, you resort to a desperate measure; once you leave the roost and get back to the ground, you begin your retreat from the fort by descending the flight of stairs that marks the beginning of the Escape Tunnel. Winding your way through the tight paths between the stone and dirt tunnel walls, you hope the enemy does not discover your means of escape and give pursuit. The further away you get from the fort, the harder it becomes to negotiate your way through the ever-narrowing tunnel. You become almost certain that at some point you won't be able to squeeze through a crevice and you'll be doomed. Then suddenly, a brilliant splash of sunlight shines around you as you find your way out of the darkness and complete your escape from Fort Langhorn.

Old Scratch's Mystery Mine

(Sam Howzit on Flickr)
I have explored many old mines, but this un is the best ever! Strange things happen in here so keep a sharp eye out and don't stop for nuthin'!

Stop for nuthin, indeed. That seems easy enough when you first walk into this mine, the lights of lanterns being your only guides through the nebulous black. As you work your way further down the shaft, this mine by all appearances seems normal enough. But then a strange humming noise far off in the distance reaches your ears. And then without warning, the previously level ground beneath your feet dramatically pitches to the right, instantly forcing you to tilt in that direction and even lean against the earthen wall, while the wooden beams above and to the sides of you remain perfectly straight.The humming grows louder, and the tilt and pitch of your path becomes even greater as you enter a large hollowed out room in the mine. The sound of running water intriguing you, you trudge up to the other end of the room, and then turn right and slowly make your way down to the far side. A chamber boarded off from the rest of the space incites your curiosity as to what is behind the wooden slats. Peering through the gaps, you see water trickling from a cavern wall into a sluice. Already disoriented by the skewed room, your mind is ill prepared for more confusion as you see the water in the sluice rise upwards to the other end and fall into a barrel below. Incredulous at what you've seen, you turn, wobbling on the slanted ground, to admire the wonderful waterfall that cascades onto the cavern floor. Mild perplexion becomes absolute bewilderment when you realize that the stream underneath the waterfall is flowing upwards towards the source of the mysterious humming: a magnificent formation of glowing crystals and gems, a multicolored geode oddly resembling the profile of a man.The vibrating noises emanate from the gems, and the entire room seems to tilt towards this strange mass of jewels, suggesting that this formation is the cause for the utter detachment of natural physics from this place, almost like it is a giant magnet attracting the whole mine (and the upwards flowing water) towards its strange glowing crystals. Leaving the heart of this weird mine after a long stop, you breathe a sigh of relief as the ground returns to normal, no longer threatening to send you falling over from dizziness. A sharp left turn reveals a mine tunnel, with massive, tall wooden beams stretching far into the distance, the lanterns hanging above the tunnel and placed within the wall at the far end dimming every so often as the humming continues. Pausing briefly to contemplate this inexplicably captivating sight, you begin to walk down the lonely shaft. In a few moments, you sense something is not quite right. Then you realize that the beams above and next to you are slowly becoming shorter and closer together the farther you travel down this strange tunnel. Down, down down comes the top beam, your head barely clearing the last one as you arrive at the end of the tunnel. A few short turns and twists later, you reunite with the bright outdoors, but the mystery of Old Scratch's mine will always be one a perpetually boggled part of your mind will dwell on.

Injun Joe's Cave

(Sam Howzit on Flickr)
 Do not wurry... Injun Joe aint been seen in thess parts for along time. His cave is deeserted! P.S. If n you want to maybe you could wurry just a little bit.

Leaving the warm, reassuring sunlight behind as you begin your descent into the cold, foreboding darkness of the former home of Injun Joe, you get the feeling that you won't help but wurry quite more than a little bit. The first thing that unnerves you is the perpetual din of howling wind blowing and shrieking its way through the cavern. This passage of stone and rock proves to be a sarcophagus, the last resting place of strange and eccentric creatures from ages past, their fossils entombed in this cave's walls. Further ahead, a slat of wooden planks bars physical but not imaginative access to a small space illuminated by a ghastly red light. You begin to worry, uncertain as to what may be lurking inside this cave. Turning this way and that, you come across an unsettling sight: two gruesome, horrendous faces of stone on the cave walls stare at you with cavernous eyes and gaping mouths, both of which you could walk right into if you dared. Like an ice cold poison, fear and dread begin to seep into you, your subconscious sensing grave danger. All feelings of security or comfort dissipate as you walk past quickly to get away from those piercing eyes and stalactite and stalagmite teeth within their terrible maws. As the path once more becomes a narrow walk between cold, immovable walls of stone, you shudder as you hear the quiet chirping of roosting bats, dreading what should happen if you disturb them. But as the calls of the bats fade away, a truly unsettling noise reaches you: the sound of rattles, some distance ahead of you, daring you to keep going through this awful cave. Not wanting to turn back, but dreading going further, you have a slight moment of apprehension. Like a nightmare, the darkness provides no solace for you as you continue walking through the cavern. The rattling grows louder, and finally, to your absolute despair, you come onto the chamber that is the source of the unbearable din. Dim torches flank both walls, as you stare helplessly at the short, crooked wooden bridge in front of you. Beginning to cross, you look down from the railed edge. An ominous glow emanates from the seemingly bottomless pit that you are walking over. All the while, the infernal rattling tortures your senses, and within the clamor, you hear something that terrifies you beyond description: an angry, unseen spectral ghoul yells in a whisper carried through the air; "Get out! Get out! Get out of here!" The rattling intensifies as the voice grows louder. You do not wait to contemplate the meaning of this spirit's warning. It is clear to you that you must get out of this cave, or the unseen things lurking within the dark that have pursued you ever since you stepped foot in their domain will catch you. Reaching the other side, you leave that cursed chamber, only to moan with dread as you see the utter labyrinth of stone pillars and interconnected paths that lays ahead of you. You swear that a moan responds to you in the distance. Is it merely an echo, or is something sinister toying with you? Feebly attempting to arouse your courage, you reluctantly begin negotiating what seems to be an endless maze of stone, wrong turns, and dead ends. You reach the other side of the room, but to your horror, you cannot see an exit. You're trapped! You stand still, your heart pulsing with dread and fear. Then suddenly, with all the shock of a lightning strike and thundercrack, a horrible creature jumps out in front of you and SCREAMS! You flail and scream back, electrocuted by absolute panic and terror. Your heart threatens to either explode out of your chest or stop altogether. It is only after you recover from your momentary surrender to base human nature that you realize it is no monster that has confronted you. Your devious friend who told you they'd stay at the fort while you went exploring the caves laughs wholeheartedly at your fright-filled expense. Wisely calculating your reaction and subsequent action, he quickly flees to the exit of the cavern from whence he came. His retreat reveals the way out for you, and as you return to the bright world above and see your friend making his getaway across the barrel bridge, you give chase, vowing to get him back for his perfectly timed capstone of your unsettling and frightening exploration of old Injun Joe's cave.

Hurry Back.... Hurry Back....

(Sam Howzit on Flickr)
 No, the cave, mine, and tunnel on Tom Sawyer Island are not like the Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean. They are an entirely different experience, one found virtually nowhere else in Walt Disney World, yet rivaling nearly all other WDW attractions in quality, storytelling, and in their possibilities for igniting the imagination. With nothing more advanced or complex than lighting, sound, powerful atmosphere and sights, and masterful low-tech physics illusions in the case of the Mystery Mine, the underground spaces of Tom's island are incredible masterpieces in their own right, harkening back to the simple pleasures of exploration and fears of the unknown that were a staple of Mark Twain's childhood fantasies and some of today's childhoods as well. Combined with the rest of the island, where the whole is greater then the sum of its parts, the caves are but an outstanding part of the intricate magnum opus that is Tom Sawyer Island. Yet, they genuinely deserve a special recognition as isolated experiences of their own, for whom who has ever dared to explore the subterranean worlds of Tom Sawyer Island could deny the true magic of the narrow escape from Fort Langhorn, the disorienting departure from natural laws in a strange mine with a pulsating, magnetic geode of gems, or the ominous and dreadful walk inside a cave where unseen specters and ghouls blur the line between reality and the supernatural?

My own personal tribute to the cave, mine, and tunnel on Tom Sawyer Island in the form of a hand-drawn concept of a fantasy poster featuring the underground realms of Tom's island.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Happy 35th Anniversary to Journey Into Imagination: An Attraction I Never Got To See But That I Dearly Love

(Mark Goebel on Flickr)
Today, the original version of Journey Into Imagination, an incredible attraction exploring the realms of imagination with the marvelous Dreamfinder and his lovable impish Figment of the imagination, celebrates the 35th anniversary of its opening. I wish so badly I could write that this also marks 35 years of Journey Into Imagination's existence. But sadly, this remarkable ride that sparked the inspiration and creativity of a whole generation of EPCOT Center visitors is long gone - the original ride and Imageworks will have been closed for 20 years this October. In 1999, Disney World and the rest of the world was subjected to the sheer horror that was Journey Into YOUR Imagination. A disastrous refurbishment had drastically shortened the ride path, cutting the ride's duration in half. Figment and Dreamfinder had disappeared, replaced by Dr. Nigel Channing, a professor who proceeded to give riders a tour of the barren, heartless and souless Imagination Institute. To add further insult to injury, this was all accompanied by the sad closure and abandonment of the original Imageworks in favor of a far inferior one downstairs that occupied former ride space. As Guest Relations at Epcot was overwhelmed by the numerous and loud complaints about the new attraction, infant me slept in a crib far away, fated to never see the Imagination Pavilion in its original glory. By the time I was two and a half years old, Journey into YOUR Imagination was a month away from its hasty closure, a swift and merciful execution of a ride that at the time was rivaled only by Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management for the title of worst attraction at Walt Disney World. A year later, Journey Into Imagination With Figment opened to a public eager about the news that Figment would return to the ride he should have never gone away from. For those hoping for a return of the classic original ride, however, reality was disappointing. Journey Into Imagination With Figment inherited the bones of its unloved predecessor and a shoestring budget meant that the third incarnation of Journey Into Imagination was not much more then a patch job doing the bare minimum to attempt to address the issues guests had with Journey Into YOUR Imagination. Sure, Figment was back, but he was not the lovable fellow so childlike and curious as he followed Dreamfinder on a journey of imagination. Instead, he became an annoying agitator, disrupting Dr. Nigel Channing's dull open house of the Imagination Institute concerning the five senses, obnoxious to the point where he turned into a skunk and sprayed guests with noxious skunk scent! Meanwhile, the downstairs Imageworks remained in a pathetic state, and the original Imageworks lay intact but abandoned upstairs. Since then, the only changes to the Imagination pavilion have been the revival of Captain Eo and its replacement by Pixar Short Film Festival in the 3-D film show building, the reopening of the upstairs lobby as a DVC lounge, and the depressing gutting and removal of the Rainbow Tunnel and other parts of the old Imageworks. In a testament to the countless people of corporate standing at Disney who couldn't or wouldn't fix one of Disney World's biggest mistakes, Journey Into Imagination With Figment has now officially outlasted the original Journey Into Imagination by a few weeks and counting.

(Loren Javier on Flickr)
 Journey Into Imagination With Figment is the only version of the Imagination attraction I have ever personally experienced, and oddly enough, it used to be one of my favorite attractions at Walt Disney World. Besides the obvious elements of the ride that were amusing for a much younger me and many other children at that age, there was always something special about Figment, something that made me look past all the times he emitted that awful odor, and made me wonder sometimes why on earth he was doing such things at all. But the thing that most captivated me about Journey Into Imagination with Figment was its finale, where the boring Imagination Institute was literally blown away, and various Figments doing different things followed by Figment and Channing in the moon in the stars at last showcased something close to the real power of imagination and creativity. "One Little Spark" was and is still one of my absolute favorite Disney theme park songs. This was the song that I would be singing as me and my dad walked through the Epcot parking lot late at night to get to our car, and it is perhaps the only reason I ever really liked Journey Into Imagination With Figment at all. I first heard about the original version of Journey Into Imagination many years ago, but it wasn't until much later that I watched videos of the spectacular original ride and Imageworks in their prime. I haven't ridden Journey Into Imagination With Figment since my 16th birthday, when me and my dad spent the day at the trifecta of Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom. Although the time had long since passed when he could carry me on my shoulders as we went to the car, I still sang "One Little Spark" into the dark night sky. Nowadays, I've joined a great number of people who are nostalgic for an amazing attraction they never got to experience, and together with those who did, we express our immense appreciation of Journey Into Imagination, our great sadness at its loss, and our deep hopes that someday Dreamfinder and Figment will be reunited, and that together they'll take us on a grand and beautiful journey into the imagination again, or in my case, for the first time. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

From Tiki Birds to Jungle River Expeditions: Big And Small Ways I'd Improve Walt Disney World's Adventureland

(Missy Martinez on Flickr)

In my last post on Haunted Serenade, I talked about what I would like to see happen in future refurbishments of Walt Disney World's version of Pirates of the Caribbean. After sharing these ideas about Pirates of the Caribbean, I thought about what I would like to see happen to the rest of WDW's Adventureland. Adventureland is by far the strongest land in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in terms of both scenic design and current roster of attractions. However, it too has had poorly thought out additions and changes, and some small but crucial details that added up with the rest of the land to create a truly brilliant themed space have been removed. So in this post, I'll share some of my ideas on ways to refurbish and restore parts of Adventureland that need it, starting with the smallest details and ending with the biggest projects.

Small Details

Restore the Fountains in Caribbean Plaza and the Tiki Room's Magic Fountain


 (special thanks to Foxxy at Passport to Dreams for these pictures)

Once upon a time, Caribbean Plaza had several beautiful tile fountains with lovely flowing agua. By the start of the new millennium, all of these fountains were turned off and turned into planters, resulting in the loss of the wonderful kinetic motion and reflections that the water in those fountains once provided. Bringing water back to these fountains would restore a nice detail of Caribbean Plaza.

(Thanks to How Bowers for letting me use this picture)

Of even more importance is resurrecting the greatest fountain that ever existed at the Magic Kingdom: the wondrous old magic fountain in Tropical Serenade (now known as Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room). This masterfully designed fountain with water flowing between the teeth of tikis into the water-filled base and bird-shaped arches supporting the top of the fountain was a visual masterpiece. Even better was the mesmerizing motion of the streams of water at the top of the fountain, and the impressive column of water that seemed to defy gravity by reaching up to the top of the room and descending in time with the birdmobile as it appeared from above. Sadly, this marvelous centerpiece of the Tiki Room disappeared during its transformation into the awful Under New Management, and replaced by a planter from which Uh-Oah, the Tiki goddess of disaster, emerged. Now that the original show has returned at long last, it is time to return the wonderful magic fountain and once more join the birdmobile in delighting guests who look at the center (of the room, that is).

Bring Back The Other Barker Bird of Adventureland

(Special Thanks to Mike Lee for permission to use this photo and several others in this post)

The salty old parrot that once beckoned to guests from the entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean may have been the most famous of WDW's "Barker Birds", but he wasn't the only one. An adorable toucan (voiced by Wally Boag, the same person who lent his voice to José in the Tiki Room) used to sit on a perch underneath a special alcove of the thatched roof of Tropical Serenade and entice guests to sit on their tail feathers inside the air-conditioned Tiki Room and enjoy the performance given by the flowers, tikis, and all his relatives. He also entertained people with animal imitations and other sounds, similar to what Clyde and Claude do in the excellent Tiki Room preshow. This wonderful fellow could be heard and seen in the heart of Adventureland for many years. After going through a strange phase where he became Artemus the Jamaican toucan in the 90s, he sadly flew the coop when the New Management took over and he hasn't been seen since. Returning him and his cousin at Pirates of the Caribbean to their respective perches above two of Adventureland's greatest attractions would be a small but incredible restoration of one of the greatest and most beloved details of Adventureland.

Big Projects

Switch Back the Locations of Sunshine Tree Terrace and Aloha Isle and Return the Sunshine Tree Terrace To Its Former Glory

(Sam Howzit on Flickr)

If you don't know who this little guy is, let me start by saying he's the Orange Bird and he's an adorable character born from a partnership between the creators of the Magic Kingdom and the Florida Citrus Commission, the original sponsor of the whole Sunshine Pavilion (the complex which includes the Tiki Room and Sunshine Tree Terrace; a trip to any of a number of awesome sites will tell you more about the Orange Bird's unique role in marketing Florida citrus). He's also a living artifact from a time when the Sunshine Tree Terrace was truly awesome.

 His original home and the original location of the Sunshine Tree Terrace (pictured above) once featured its magnificent namesake; the Sunshine Tree, thick with dark green plastic leaves, blooming with artificial citrus flowers and filled with ripe plastic oranges, where the Orange Bird swung in a perch and thought orange thoughts (a neat projection effect), a perfect centerpiece for this tropical citrus snack bar. Among the many amazing citrus treats* courtesy of Floridian citrus growers according to a 1972 Los Angeles Times article was tangerine soft freeze ("a sherbet-like mixture of orange juice, tangerine concentrate, tangerine oil and sweetener"), a clear ancestor of the underrated yet much beloved Citrus Swirl, an orange juice bar on a stick, tangerine cheesecake ("cake topped with tangerine and orange glaze sauce"), citrus tarts ("heavy cream in an open shell, topped with orange sections and glazed orange sauce"), and crêpes ambrosia ("a delightful mixture of oranges, tangerines, marshmallows and coconut dipped in heavy cream and rolled in a French pancake"). No doubt your mouth is salivating right now, and if you ever tasted it, you may have thought the Citrus Swirl was great by itself!

*NOT including whatever the heck "jellied citrus salad" was!

Sadly, for one reason or another these delectable citrus sweets disappeared (with the exception of the Citrus Swirl, of course) and in 1986 the Orange Bird (pictured above in his old perch) flew the coop as the FCC's sponsorship ended. In 2000, the grand Sunshine Tree joined its former resident in disappearance, torn down and lost to the sands of time. At its absolute low, the Sunshine Pavilion had had its Tiki Room taken over by New Management, the Orange Bird and Sunshine Tree had both gone away, the flames of the decorative tiki torchbearers on the Terrace had been snuffed, and even the Citrus Swirl had vanished! Then a miraculous fire destroyed the New Management and brought back the real Tiki Room from the dead. Meanwhile, the Orange Bird had been revived out of nowhere thousands of miles away, appearing in merchandise appropriately enough for Japan's Orange Day. In spring of 2012, the Orange Bird finally flew back to his home at the Sunshine Tree Terrace, and although there was no longer a Sunshine Tree to roost in, it was an incredible return of a small but significant piece of Walt Disney World's spectacular history. Then in 2015, something peculiar happened; the Sunshine Tree Terrace switched locations with Aloha Isle. The latter now serves the highly popular Dole Whip right next to the Tiki Room, while Citrus Swirls (and the Orange Bird himself, who fortunately made the trip across Adventureland) can now be found at the former in a juice bar much closer to the main entrance of Adventureland. With the current menus of both venues in consideration, this switch makes sense; the presence of the Dole Whip, not to mention Pineapple Float and now Pineapple Upside-Down Cake at Aloha Isle compared to Sunshine Tree Terrace's assortment of Citrus Swirls, floats and drinks means the bigger counter is needed by Aloha Isle. But this still leaves us with the sad fact that the Sunshine Tree Terrace is now severed from the Sunshine Pavilion, its ancestral home. What if the Sunshine Tree Terrace brought back those undoubtedly delightful tangerine cheesecakes, crêpes ambrosia, and citrus tarts, and went back to its original home near the Tiki Room with the space for serving such treats, putting floats, drinks, frozen juice on a stick, and Aloha Isle's delicious pineapple treats back at the smaller juice bar? In addition to that, the Sunshine Tree could be put back behind the counter at its Terrace hideaway, Orange Bird swaying in the breeze and thinking orange thoughts once again on a perch in its branches. Oh, and returning the walk around Orange Bird that as seen below once delighted countless guests near the Sunshine Tree Terrace wouldn't be a bad idea either.

Demolish the Magic Carpets of Aladdin and Revitalize the Center of Adventureland

A once impressive view of Tropical Serenade and the Sunshine Pavilion from all the way across Adventureland...

(Loren Javier on Flickr)

Has been obstructed by the worst-placed spinner attraction in all of Walt Disney World.

A formerly wide and spacious plaza...

(Mark and Paul Luukkonen on Flickr)

Is now a crowd-flow nuisance complete with annoying spitting camels.

(xiquinhosilva on Flickr)

And the cheap tent façade of Agrabah Bazaar...

Pales in comparison to the North African façade it replaced.

In short, placing the Magic Carpets of Aladdin right in the middle of Adventureland was a major mistake, one that is long overdue for being undone. It is time now to demolish the Magic Carpets of Aladdin and reclaim the space that it sits on. If this unnecessary spinner attraction were to disappear, a multitude of wonderful things could happen, such as expanding the beautiful pond in front of the Tiki Room back to its former size, putting in new planters and other decorative touches, and taking down the tent façade of Agrabah Bazaar and restoring the original, superior façade of that section of Adventureland. These changes would combine to transform one of the Magic Kingdom's least successful crowd areas into a marvelous plaza with enough space for everyone drawn to the majesty of the Balinese Sunshine Pavilion.

Give Jungle Cruise the Major Refurbishment it Deserves

(Josh Hallett on Flickr)

If and when a major refurbishment of the classic Jungle Cruise happens, there is a veritable treasure trove of uninstalled scenes designed by Marc Davis himself that would be excellent enhancements of the attraction, not to mention previously removed effects and figures that could be returned. My refurbishment of the Jungle Cruise would take advantage of both, not only restoring pieces of the wild river expedition that have been AWOL for years or decades, but also finally filling in specially prepared and empty sections of the riverbank with the Marc Davis scenes they were always intended for. Although a thorough detailing of what I would like to see happen in a refurbishment of the Jungle Cruise should and will comprise its own complete blog post on Haunted Serenade, I will say this; my refurbishment involves such wonderful things deeply rooted in the history of the Jungle Cruise as cute frogs, baboons, an angry gorilla confronting a crocodile, and flaming skulls (!) among other stuff. I look forward to sharing with you all my comprehensive plan for refurbishing one of WDW's most exotic and signature attractions in my next post on Haunted Serenade. In the meantime, here are a couple of photos to give you a preview of the stuff that I will talk about in the Jungle Cruise refurbishment post:

I hope you all enjoyed this look at Walt Disney World's Adventureland and the big and small ways I would improve it. I promise I won't leave you guys hanging too long on a jungle branch waiting for my next post, so be sure to keep an eye out for my upcoming post on Haunted Serenade about how I'd refurbish the Jungle Cruise!