Friday, October 26, 2012

Avatar Lives!

The reportedly on-again-off-again Avatar Project appears to be on...again.  Early yesterday rumors made the rounds on various internet sources saying the apparent issues between Walt Disney Imagineering and Avatar creator James Cameron had been resolved and the project was once again moving forward.  And then, within hours, what were said to be blue-print style plans for the new project popped up as well.

image copyright Disney

First, let me just state the obvious disclaimer right off the bat.  Disney has had no official word on the Avatar project since the original announcement of their partnership with Cameron late last year, and they have certainly not confirmed the veracity of these rumors.  Also, their is absolutely nothing found on these images that lead me to believe they are or are not “official”.  Basically, this could be the real deal, or it could be just a hoax.  Only time will tell.

Having said all that, leaking blueprints of future theme park projects is not exactly new for WDI.  Those who follow the Disney rumor mill will remember plans for the new Fantasyland were readily available on the internet months before any announcement of any kind was ever made.  So, I guess what I am saying is that if these leaked images in fact turn out to be true than WDI either has a mole or an interesting new strategy of floating ideas to the public.  (So, maybe this would be a good time to express your pleasure or displeasure with this idea.)

So let’s have some fun with this and assume for a moment they are real.  There are two things that stand out, the words “e-ticket” and “c-ticket” appear within what are apparently two attractions.  The “c-ticket” looks from the layout to be some sort of water based ride, a river of some kind that seems to meander in and out of the building.  The “e-ticket” dominates the plan with multiple theater areas and what appears to be a backstage facility for cleaning glasses, 3-D glasses I would imagine.  Could this be the first use of the rumored next generation of the Soarin’ technology?

I have said before, I am not a fan of the Avatar film and I am not all that excited about the Avatar Land, even after seeing these plans.  Perhaps when I get a look at artist renderings, and that sort of thing, my feelings will change.  But until than I will continue to say that additions to the Animal Kingdom should include, obviously, animals.  There already is a park for random film tie-ins and I guess I was hoping the Animal Kingdom would not head down that path.

But, let’s look at the bright side.  Camp Minnie-Mickey was supposed to be a temporary placeholder, and years later we are finally having it replaced by something that at the very least represents a  huge investment in time, money and creativity.  I will keep an open mind...

by Dave McBride @davemcb1897

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Kungaloosh! Bring the Adventurer’s Club to the Animal Kingdom!

The history of Disney parks is replete with fans longing for the days of old. Extinct attractions are often brought up by fans in a "i miss....." sort of way. We know them all. Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, the old Animation tour at Disney MGM Studios, Horizons (I miss Horizons) are often spoken of and many even have their own web sites and fan clubs (especially Horizons). One that often tops the lists of things from yesteryear is the Adventurers' Club from Pleasure Island.

Unlike the dance clubs that existed there, the Adventurer's Club was pure Disney. For those that don't know, the club itself was supposed to be set in the mid-1930s and was for explorers. The place was covered in artifacts and pictures from the members' various travels. But the fun did not stop with the decor. The place also featured various animatronics, puppets and numerous hysterical actors and actresses wandering about mingling with guests in their roles as club members.

Even the rooms had their own personality. There was the Zebra Mezzanine, The Main Salon, The Mask room (my favorite), the Treasure room, and the Library, where many of the scripted shows were performed. The shows were a highlight of the club for many guests. These included Samantha's Cabaret, the New Member Induction, the Welcome Party and the Hoopla which ended the evening. And, of course, there was Colonel Critchlow Suchbench who was a puppet in the Main Salon that would "come to life" and mingle with guests periodically.

Like all of Pleasure Island, the place shut down on September 28, 2008. While many mourn the loss of other portions of Pleasure Island (especially the Comedy Warehouse), none come even close to the uproar involved with the loss of the Adventurer's Club. Within 72 hours, nearly 3000 people signed an online petition to save the club. There was a letter writing campaign, and numerous blogs and websites set up to save it or at least remember it. There is no doubt in my mind that the Adventurer's Club, if brought back, would be a huge success and public relations bonanza. Just imagine for a moment, the excitement and buzz if this was announced at a D23 event.

But where should it go? Well, this is an Animal Kingdom site, so I think you can guess where I am going with this. Here's why I think the Adventurer's Club is perfect at the Animal Kingdom.  First of all, one the prime imagineers behind the club was Joe Rohde, Mr. Animal Kingdom, himself. Also, I think I read somewhere that the Magic Kingdom is the park of fantasy, that Epcot is innovention, the Studios are magic and the Animal Kingdom is the land of adventure. And that is so true. The theme of the club fits well with the decor of Dinoland, with the ruins of the Maharajah Jungle Trek, and with the town of Harambe. I would take out the Rainforest Cafe and replace it with the club as a new gateway to the park. At that spot, it could even stay open well after the park closes.

This is not to say that the Adventurer's Club can be brought back in its identical form. First of all, some of the banter amongst the personalities could be a touch risque. Secondly, I would think the club would have to be redesigned to a degree. I would want a menu, so it would become a lunch and dinner destination. The shows, such as they were, could be conducted in different rooms during the course of the day. Perhaps the library would be larger and be the area where one dines. with shows every hour. The other rooms would be for the bar crowd and maybe a more limited menu. The food would reflect the club, different cuisines from the corners of the world. Gifts brought back by the club members from their trips.

I would think this would be a huge asset for the Animal Kingdom. A truly different yet old, experience for new guests and seasoned Disney veterans.


by Safari Mike
Twitter: @jamboeveryone

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Zebras Make the Headlines at the Animal Kingdom

Zebras are in the news this week, specifically a herd of zebras on their way to Kilimanjaro Safaris.  Today’s Disney Parks Blog has a quick story, but yesterday the Orlando Sentinel put up a great article about them and even featured a beautiful photo gallery of the new residents of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

image copyright Disney 2012

This herd will consist of 15 female zebras, including one Grevy’s zebra, a specie on the endangered list.  They were acquired through an organization called Associations of Zoos and Aquariums and have been going through an acclimation process to get them ready for their on-stage debut.

All animals need to adjust to their new surroundings, however like many mammals it seems zebras have some of their own unique challenges.  Wherever they go, zebras can often try to takeover and bully other animals in their territory.  But they also easily acclimate to many temperatures, including those few chilly winter days in Central Florida.  And let’s face it, people love them.  We spoke to a cast member last month, and it was confirmed to us the herd was doing very well and should be onstage sometime later this month.

For those who don’t already know, the new zebra area is going into the Kilimanjaro Safari ride, and construction has been ongoing in recent months.  The final seen, the “Little Red” seen has past into history soon to replaced by these wonderful zebras.  A great decision, if you ask me!

by Dave McBride @davemcb1897

Thursday, October 11, 2012

How can the Animal Kingdom become a nighttime favorite?

When Expedition Everest opened at the Animal Kingdom, the talk by the experts was that this was the attempt, or even the key, to turning the park into a full day park capable of drawing guests deep into the nighttime hours. Well that clearly has not happened, as the park is still not open after the animals "go to bed", the standard Disney excuse for the limited park hours.  In fact, the few opportunities offered by Evening Extra Magic Hours seem to have vanished as well.

So what needs to happen in order for the Animal Kingdom to shed the dreaded “half-day park” tag”? Let’s take a look at a few of my ideas.

First, it is important to note there are already plenty of attractions there that can be enjoyed at night. Everest and Primeval Whirl are great during dark hours. Dinosaur, Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo, and It’s Tough to Be a Bug are not effected by the loss of daylight at all. There’s also plenty of food and drink on offer as well.  The fact is, Animal Kingdom has attractions and dining options to suit later operating hours, but there’s still more to do.

People need to want to go to the Animal Kingdom at night.  In all the other parks, there is a fireworks show that does the trick, but at this park that's not an option.  There needs to be not just one special thing, but a host of smaller "night only" experiences that keep people there.

Obviously the biggest challenge is that the park is not currently equipped to showcase animals during night hours, a problem when you consider guest coming to the Animal Kingdom will rightly expect to see animals. Kilimanjaro Safaris is the only e-ticket attraction that we can assume will not be open. But it’s the centerpiece of the park, so closing it makes the night-hours marketing push difficult.

But here is the thing, Kilimanjaro Safari may not have to be lost after all.  The standard excuse is that the animals can not be out for all those long operating  hours, but is that really true?  Over at the Animal Kingdom Lodge most of the same animals are out on the savannah 20 hours of the day.  So let me throw out this idea; what about a night time safari, equipped with night-vision glasses.  My thought would be fewer people per truck and a longer duration ride with perhaps even a different path to travel.  My guess is this will need a special reservation process as people will clamor for the few available spots.  There certainly will not be the same number and variety of animals on display, but seeing any through night-vision goggles is quite an experience.

While I am not a zoologist, I think there may also be a possibility of even further enhancing the animal experience beyond Africa. During the holidays, the Bronx Zoo used to offer something called Holiday Lights. It’s a nighttime event  and one of the coolest offerings is a session with their Tigers. As nocturnal creatures, this time of the day is not spent sleeping. Instead they are very active and often a joy to watch. Perhaps an event once or twice per night in their current spot on the Maharajah Jungle Trek, with simple lighting and a narrator will do the trick. And let us not forget the bats section.  How about some soft lighting there or even some more night-vision goggles?  Very few zoos offer a true night time experience for animal viewing and Disney can really pioneer this effort.

For years, there has been a rumor about a nighttime torch light parade. That sounds like a great idea. Fireworks are not an option when you have the wellbeing of wild animals to consider, so this idea is just the thing to balance all these variables. Installing some World Showcase style torches near the Tree of Life before and after the parade can also add some interest and ambience to the experience.  If I were working at WDI, I would seriously explore the idea of using costumes and songs from the Lion King Broadway show for this parade.

Speaking of fire, I would explore the possibility of intensifying the fire effects in Kali River Rapids. Adding just a little bit of light to this ride can really be great. Imagine a water ride where you can’t really see where the water’s coming from. That would make the experience completely different at night, and probably much more thrilling.

For the kids, I would explore one or two programs, either shows or special meet and greets, that only occur at night. How about a cruise on the Discovery River around a wonderfully lit Tree of Life with the Fab Five? You could also construct a small stage for a nighttime stage show, or something along those lines. But these are things that would only occur after the sun goes down.

Ok, I made it ten paragraphs without mentioning the word I am sure you all have been thinking of since you began reading this…Avatar.  Yes, the point of handing such a huge chunk of the Animal Kingdom's real estate over to James Cameron is entirely to make the park a "full day experience".  But with the complete lack of any ideas or concepts even a year later makes me think that if this project ever actually does happen that it will be years from now.  What I am talking about above are things that Disney can do right now without hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by Cameron.

Single day tickets are the most expensive per person ticket, and the key for financial success at the Animal Kingdom, and therefore expansion.  I would think the trick is to make that single-day at least as long as it is at Disney's Hollywood Studios, making the price a better value.  But also, there needs to be a reason for park-hoppers to come back at night as well.

Right now, it is not as far from full day status as some may think.  (despite the views of the esteemed WDW Today hosts)  But Disney will need to make the night hours a special experience, and very different from the normal theme park nighttime offerings.  Considering the amazing amount of detail and architectural splendor the park has, this can be a reality without any real big-ticket investment.

by Dave McBride @davemcb1897

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

New Night Safari at Animal Kingdom Lodge

There is a new night time safari being offered at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and it truly sounds like a great experience.  It takes place on the Sunset Savanna, which encompasses both the Jambo House and the Kidani Village resorts.

The safari will give each guest a pair of night vision goggles, a unique and fun way to search for and view animals.  It is and hour long tour costing $70 per person and is limited to ages 8 and up.  It is only offered Wednesday and Sunday nights and must be booked via the concierge.

Currently, both Kidani Village and Jambo House offer free use of night vision goggles from eachg resorts’ savanna viewing areas.  But getting out in among the wildlife at night must be something really special.  If anyone goes on the new safari, please tell us what you think by emailing us at

by Dave McBride @davemcb1897

Disney Animal Keeper Combines Art and Care to Help Endangered Rhino Species

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – As a rhinoceros keeper at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Chad Harmon tends to some of the toughest, strongest animals on the planet.  He recently channeled that passion into an arts auction that raised approximately $6000 for the endangered animals.

image copyright Disney

For the Horns to Heroes project, Harmon used one of the rhinos he cares for as a model to make 40 horns by hand using a process known as rotational casting. The pieces are made of foam-filled resin and stand 16 inches tall and 7 inches wide.

He then recruited Central Florida painters, tattoo artists, sculptors, graffiti artists, illustrators, photographers and special-effects artists to create original and unique works of art. Each one was auctioned off with proceeds benefitting the International Rhino Foundation which funds research programs and helps protect threatened rhino populations in Africa and Asia.

“By supporting the International Rhino Foundation, The Horns and Heroes Project will help fund programs that support the courageous and dedicated rangers who risk their lives to stop poaching and give rhinos a chance at survival,” said Harmon. “We’re hoping that these works of art will help spark more conversation about how to protect these species.”

Though at one time there were 30 living species of rhino, only five species remain today, and those populations are facing the severe threat of extinction. Without immediate action, some rhinos could be extinct within the next 20 years, due to poaching, forest loss, habitat conversion and encroaching human settlements.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom currently includes a herd of white rhinos. Since the park opened in 1998, nine rhinos have been born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom as part of a white rhino breeding program coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The program focuses on sustaining the white rhino population in North America.