Monday, December 5, 2016

The Rapids

It's a beautiful park. Flora and fauna abound giving us the feeling as though we're walking through a jungle or preserve and if you're lucky enough, or patient enough to look for her, you might even spot a mystical creature they call, DiVine.

For us, a trip here always includes an early morning visit to the Tusker House for a glass of Jungle Juice and some Mickey Waffles and no visit to the Animal Kingdom is complete without a ride through Disney's Kilimanjaro Safari to see some beautiful creatures in a magnificently manicured savannah.

This trip was no different. Arriving for our Tusker House ADR early, we were the first in line. While the sun continued to rise on our right, a line slowly formed behind us which was filling with overly anxious and inordinately sunscreened patrons who had been planning this day for months and were now worried that they wouldn't get a seat for breakfast because their ADR time was earlier then those who were in front of them, now waited behind us to get into the park.

As the cast members scanned our magic bands and let us through the gate, a mad dash to get checked in at the restaurant ensued. Although we were the first through the gate, knowing that the Tusker House had plenty of seating, we decided to lay back to let the overzealous crowd pass us so that we could take pictures of the empty park.

Empty streets of Animal Kingdom

Without issue and after taking hundreds of photos, we headed over to breakfast in order to stay within our slotted ADR grace period checkin time. Breakfast was as delicious as usual and when we were finished, we headed straight over to the Kilimanjaro Safari. We arrived just as the attraction was opening and were among the first to head into the Harambe Reserve.

Alison with Daisy at Tusker House

As usual, the safari was brilliant. Early in the morning like it was, the animals were all out and active in order to get their breakfast. They reminded me of the vacationeers who had, just an hour earlier, fought and clawed their way to breakfast as well... Anyways, after the safari was over, I was itching to get to some other rides and the first one on my list was Kali River Rapids.

As we headed east out of Africa and into Asia on our way to the rapids, I had to explain to my wife what this next attraction was. Knowing that she was not dressed for this wet ride, I intentionally explained the ride in a vague manner. I also reassured her over and over again that it was similar to a log flume or Splash Mountain where nobody ever really got wet.

Wearing jeans and eager to experience everything Disney on her first trip, she believed me even as we walked past sign after sign after sign that warned or her impending wetness. Only once did she second guess me when she saw others pulling ponchos over their heads but, she should know me by now.

Kali Rapids Sign

The second we stepped into those puddle creating raft seats and placed our feet into the darkened water on the floor, she knew I had told her a story. By the time our belt was latched, the backside of her jeans were soaked through but before there was anything she could do to me, we were headed down the river.

There's alway one seat on a raft that is positioned in just the right spot. No matter what, whoever is in that seat, will get soaked. She was in that seat.

As headed down the river, past the plundered log town and truck about to tip over, she leaned over and told me "This isn't so bad." It wasn't five seconds after she muttered those words when our raft plummeted fifty feet into a wall of water. Thankfully for me, her body shielded me from most of the water. She was drenched.

The raft picked up speed and took on more water, especially where she was seated but thankfully for her, the ride was over quick. Not so lucky for me, her wrath was just beginning. She let me have it pretty good and she made sure I understood, in no uncertain terms, how she felt about me misleading her.

Not so happy and soaked Alison

I was laughing pretty hard about it still when she finally admitted that the ride was fun. That's when she finally let me take her picture. Looking back, I should've helped her plan better and advised her not to wear jeans but, the real moral of the story...don't listen to Tim.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Beyond Town Square

At the Magic Kingdom, just beyond Town Square, is Main Street, U.S.A. The road, sandwiched between sidewalks paved in red as if a red carpet is being rolled out for us, usher us toward the different lands that form the main park attractions. This idealistic small town serves as a transition point between the real world and Disney's world.

The attraction of Main Street U.S.A. is different for each visitor. For some it's childhood memories from a similar town that maybe they grew up in. For others, it's the smells from the bakery that remind them of their childhood kitchens. Younger generations may be drawn to memories from family vacations where, for the first time, they laid eyes on Walt's Famous Castle. No matter what the draw is, Main Street U.S.A. is a beautiful reminder of what life was like in turn of the 20th century America. As Walt put it:
"Main Street, U.S.A. is America at the turn of the century - the crossroads of an era. The gas lamps and the electric lamps, the horse drawn car and the auto car. Main Street is everyone's home town...the heart-line of America."
Here's a short video clip of Walt explaining exactly what Main Street U.S.A. is.

The real beauty of Main Street can be seen in its architecture. There is a distinct Victorian architectural aesthetic that pulls us into Walt's world of optimism. At only three blocks long, and with a slight incline as you enter the park, Main Street has, as Roy Disney put it, "the nostalgic quality that makes it everybody's hometown."

Imagineer John Hench used the term the “language of vision” when he described the building of Main Street.  According to Disney historian, Jim Korkis, the term is the idea that you are using all of your senses when you experience Disney. Imagineers worked hard to make that a reality. The visual effects are amazing but the sounds and even smells along Main Street are too.

Disney uses what they call Smellitizers all along Main Street. This little devices are hidden to the eye but not to the nose. Using them, Imagineers are able to manipulate smells across the park. On Main Street, the scent of fresh baked cookies and vanilla are emitted from these devices.

Main Street U.S.A. is often overlooked and that's unfortunate. For some of us, as one friend says, when I retire, I want to be homeless on Main Street. I could spend hours writing about all the many different aspects of the stores or the alleyways. The windows on the second floors emblazoned with the names of the many Imagineers who helped turn Walt's dream into a reality. Even the lampposts tell a story and one day, I might tell it.

For now, I invite you to sit back, close your eyes, imagine you are taking a stroll past the emporium on your way to Casey's Corner, and enjoy the music of Main Street U.S.A. 

Thanks for reading.

Playing On the Corner

His name is Jim.

There isn't anything unordinary about Jim except maybe his exceedingly long fingers and infectious smile. He looks like any other guy you'd find walking down Main Street or punching a card in the factory but, he's a Magic Kingdom treasure and one day, his name will surely be among those etched in the windows above Main Street.

What sets Jim apart from others is his ability to draw and keep a crowd. From the time he walks through the door in his red and white saloon proprietor costume to the time he leaves, Jim is surrounded by his youngest fans and the look of appreciation can be seen on his face by his huge teethy smile. He is, the Pied Piper, of the Magic Kingdom.

Part of the magic Jim brings to his shows is his involvement of his littlest fans. Every few minutes, he chooses a different child to participate by playing along. He shows them what key to push and then, as he plays, he pauses to wait for them to play their part because as they do, their faces light up. In turn, his does too.

For thirty-four years now, Jim has been found tickling the ivory at Casey's Corner. Playing tunes from the turn of the twentieth century, generations of patrons can be found daily enjoying corn dog nuggets and cheese fries while listening to his tunes. His music is welcomed entertainment to all.

Jim's twenty minute shows have inspired tens of thousands to learn or improve their key banging skills. When I see the ease at which he plays, I too want to improve my piano skills for it is his job that I would love to have at the Magic Kingdom.

It would be such an honor to walk in his footsteps and bring such joy and amazement to so many.

If you ever get the chance, stop by Casey's Corner and spend twenty minutes listening to Jim. You won't regret it. Until you get the chance, here's a little video celebrating his thirty plus years playing, on the corner.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy!