Saturday, September 19, 2009

Post-D23 Expo: The Announcements

Last weekend was the D23 Expo in Anaheim, CA. If you're a Disney fan, you'd have to be living in a cave if you hadn't heard about it. All the Disney divisions made appearances, and I've appreciated many websites and podcasts for covering the event. But I wanted to address the announcements made, or at least my views about them.

First, let's start with the Disney Cruise Line.

Most of us (again, who haven't been living in a cave) have heard that Disney is building two new ships, the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, coming in 2011 and 2012. That means that the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder will probably have some itinerary changes. So it was announced that the Disney Wonder will relocate out of the Port of Los Angeles, where it had previously done Mexican Riviera sailings. But the Big Deal Announcement was that it will sail the summer season in Alaska.

Alaska is definitely a new itinerary for DCL, but I can't get myself excited about the prospect. I work in Chicago and live in a suburb 8 miles away from the office. I'm used to experiencing below-zero frozen tundra weather in the winter. And the semi-frozen spring and autumn. And the four weeks we like to call "summer", or by its other name, "construction season". So going to a place in summer that is generally chillier than Chicago doesn't appeal to me. That's why there are Caribbean cruises, after all.

What I did like was that the statue in the Disney Dream atrium would be Admiral Duck himself, The Donald. And the ships will be bigger, so I want to see them for myself.

Next, let's talk about the Disney films:

The opening speech by Bob Iger concluded with 30 minutes of "The Princess and the Frog". By all accounts from attendees either blogging, podcasting, or Tweeting, this should be a shot in the arm for traditional 2D animation. I'm personally looking forward to seeing this film. I hope I get the same awe I had when I first saw "The Little Mermaid" during its initial run in the theaters.

There were announcements of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" with Nicholas Cage. Again, it sounds like a fun film. I am hoping it will be closer to "National Treasure" than "Race to Witch Mountain" in terms of enjoyment. I'm sorry about all those who loved the latter film. I found it too trite, but the cameo appearances gave me nostalgia from my childhood, so it wasn't a total loss.

But the big news of Johnny Depp making another appearance as Captain Jack Sparrow in the 4th installment of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies really got my attention. But when Dick Cook, who made that presentation at the D23 Expo, suddenly leaves Disney under hush-hush circumstances, it's been reported that Johnny's not happy to work without him in this LA Times article here. I'm not sure I want to count all my Sparrows until they're hatched, now.

And now my favorite part, Disney Parks and Resorts:

I thought Bay Lake Towers was Disney's DVC "Worst Kept Secret". Until someone posted blueprints of what appeared to be a Walt Disney World Fantasyland expansion, that is. Or maybe the Worst Kept Secret was a quote from Anthony Daniels (C3PO from the "Star Wars" films) a few years ago during an interview, spilling the beans about working on scenes for Star Tours v2.0.

Yeah, Anthony shouldn't be trusted with State secrets.

Ok, let's get back to Fantasyland for a minute. I'm really excited about this, because well...I just didn't think Toon Town lived up to its potential. The dedicated areas for the princess meet and greets and Pixie Hollow sound fantastic. I love that they will be themed to each character. And after I saw the virtual ride through of the Little Mermaid attraction from a bonus feature on the DVD, I immediately wanted that attraction to come to pass. I understand that the attraction won't be just like the Tony Baxter mock up, but I'm sure plenty of elements will find its way into the attraction, and I can't wait to see what they do!

I never gave Dumbo much thought, but I think it's great that they are expanding capacity and giving waiting families something to do while waiting. Thumbs up for that. But let's switch to food. The Magic Kingdom was in dire need of another place to eat, and the Be Our Guest restaurant sounds like it might be a good option. At least until I get to try the food. Same goes for Gaston's Tavern. Of course there will be antlers. Maybe Melvin the Moose at Country Bear Jamboree will work overtime at Gaston's.

Back to Star Tours now, but I have a confession to make. While I enjoy the Star Tours attraction, I have to confess that I do not like the "Star Wars" films. Even the first one released back in 1977. Never liked the films, so all the discussion about whether the new attraction will be based on the pod races went over my head and made no impression on me. I will like that the new attraction will be in 3D, pod races or no pod races aside. I'm living proof that you don't have to know or like the source material to enjoy the attraction based on it.

And a quick segue about another 3D adventure: Hallelujah about "MuppetVision" getting a well deserved overhaul to digital. It was really starting to show its age compared to "Mickey's Philharmagic".

I figured I just covered most of what I found appealing at the Expo, except a surprising thing I found while being part of Lou Mongello's walkabout. Lou carried his notebook computer around while a bunch of us were "in the box" (aka a live chat room) at home, so we could experience the Expo. This was "Sounds Dangerous", except with a remote camera that actually worked. Heh. Loved the full-sized Buzz Lightyear made of Legos, as well as the cool mural that guests helped the Master Builder create. The collectible booths were not that exciting to me, but I have to thank Lou for showing us the booth that had The Art of the Disney Princess book. I was floored when I saw a rendering of the famous stretching room portrait from the Haunted Mansion. But the tightrope walker was Snow White! Loved that, and I'll probably buy that book now.

I had my vicarious thrills from the expo from Lou's walkabout and Ricky Brigante's virtual tour of the Parks and Resorts booth at . Thanks for doing this for us stuck thousands of miles away.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hot Button Topic: Refillable Mugs

After my last blog about the guest parking lots, I thought I'd tackle another hot-button issue:

Refillable Mugs at the Disney Resorts

I can imagine people read that topic and think, "Oh no. Not another debate about the refillable mugs!" But I can't wait to share my .02.

It might seem that the refillable mug program has been around forever, but it really started sometime in the middle of the 1990's. For those Disney fans who lived under a rock since then, the program was essentially this:

For a nominal fee per person (somewhere around $10-12), guests could enjoy unlimited refills at the self-serve drink stations at their resort for their length of stay. Coffee, tea, hot cocoa and sodas. Or in the case of some deluxe resorts, there were locations to get the drinks filled for you by cast members.

It was made perfectly clear that the mugs were only good at the resort you were staying, unless it was a "sister" resort group like Port Orleans/Dixie Landings or Yacht Club/Beach Club.

Today, we have a moral controversy over the mugs. Back in the 90's, cast members who sold the mugs actively encouraged guests to bring the mugs back on future trips to the same resort. But somewhere in the early 2000's, the drink stations would have placards posted that the mugs were only good for the length of stay of the trip the mug was purchased.

Suddenly, you had a group of guests who faced conflicting messages from Disney. Repeat guests were allowed to bring back the mugs when the program first started, but suddenly Disney would now frown upon that?

Now I've seen guests clearly abusing the drink stations from Day One. They would fill up any drink container they had. It didn't necessarily have to be a Disney mug. And guests would bring mugs from other resorts, which was a clear "violation" of the original rules.

Do cast members ever tell a guest they are not allowed to use the contraband drink containers?

Never. It would be a guest relations nightmare if the cast members did that. I think cast members are lenient because they know that some guests are a short fuse away from a total meltdown during their vacations.

Do I condone it?

Nope. Never condoned it years ago; still don't condone it today. But when I had lots of 1 and 2 night stays at Pop Century (to avoid weekend points at DVC since 2002), I never bought the mug. I had Mug Guilt. I couldn't justify buying a mug on a short stay, and I felt like those intimiding new placards were going to eat away at my conscience if I bought a mug and used it on future trips.

It was actually funny that in 1999, I did a split stay of 2 nights at All Star Music, 5 nights at Dixie Landings, and 2 nights at Beach Club. I had packed my All Star resort mug and Port Orleans mugs from prior trips, and bought a Beach Club mug to add to my collection. I find it comical that I made sure I used the proper mug for each resort!

Part of me thinks that those of us with original mugs should have a grandfather clause allowing us to bring back the mugs because Disney marketed the mugs to us as repeat visit mugs. Another part of me thinks that Disney changed the rules, so we should now abide by the new rules. And another part of me thinks Disney could really milk the whole "environmentality" thing by encouraging us to reuse mugs at the resorts and the parks to avoid discarding paper cups.

What is the solution for this controversy?

I think Disney had the right idea by testing out a bar code system at the water parks. You were able to refill your drinks on the date of purchase by scanning a bar code on the machine or it wouldn't dispense. I'm not sure how feasible that would be at a busy drink station at the resorts. But if Disney was able to work out a system that would allow you to use old mugs yet pay for the length of stay use, that might end the controversy.