By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2017, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here. PDF version available on Gumroad here.



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Review: Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom

HAPPILY EVER AFTER: OVERVIEW

Happily Ever After is the evening show at the Magic Kingdom, and is the best of Disney World’s evening shows.

Debuting in May 2017, it is dominated by fireworks, song and projections, and also features lasers and other pyrotechnics.

It shows almost every night—at a time varying with sunset and park hours—from late December into August, and then several times a week during the Mickey’s party season from September into mid-December.

(During the party season, on the three to four nights a week* when Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are on, no evening show is available to those without party tickets.)

Happily Ever After is themed to the concept of “unlocking the magic within” to achieve dreams

Dreams are grouped into themes: Wishes, Adventure, Friendship, Love, [Overcoming] Adversity, and Triumph.

Each theme vignette presents Castle projections and songs from Disney and Pixar films—mostly from the Little Mermaid and later releases—supporting the theme.

Astonishingly effective, and with the latest generation of firework shapes and colors, projection technology, and lasers, Happily Ever After is also sweet and charming, and a tremendous crowd-pleaser—spontaneous applause followed most of the vignettes the nights I saw it.

Happily Ever After is a wonderful capstone to a Magic Kingdom day. Don’t miss it.

*Except the first week of November and Thanksgiving week.

HAPPILY EVER AFTER: WHERE TO SEE IT

Happily Ever After is designed to be seen with the Main Street railroad station at your back and Cinderella Castle in front of you.

Because of the projections on the Castle—and how fleeting, small and/or subtle many of the images that make them up are—the best results will come from being closer to the Castle.

The ideal position is in the circular hub right on front of the Castle.

(The projections are not shown on the back or side of the Castle).

Positions further back on Main Street towards the station will yield less impact, as the effect of the projections will be reduced.

And positions elsewhere in the park, although they will yield views of the higher fireworks and include the music, will lose most of the impact of the show.
The 2017 easy Guide

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May 21, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Western River Expedition

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

WESTERN RIVER EXPEDITION AT MAGIC KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

Western River Expedition was an attraction that would have been built in the area of Magic Kingdom that Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain now occupy.

It was jokingly referred to by Imagineers as “Cowboys of the Caribbean” because of its superficial similarities to the format and layout of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland.

“For some reason, it was thought that because of Florida’s close proximity to the Caribbean, a ride dealing with pirates wouldn’t be as popular in Walt Disney World as it was in Disneyland,” Imagineer Tony Baxter said.

In addition, the Imagineers wanted some attractions that were unique to Disney World and not just a duplication of Disneyland.

Thunder Mesa Mountain would have featured a variety of attractions in addition to Western River Expedition, including a runaway mine train ride, hiking trails, a canoe flume ride, a Pueblo Native American village and more.

To accommodate all of this, a four story show building would have been decorated to look like the orange mesas of the American desert and Monument Valley. The WDW railroad would have gone through the building to offer guests a glimpse.

Imagineer Marc Davis spent five years creating a humorous ten to twelve minute boat trip through a variety of Wild West scenes. It was based on a concept he had developed as early as 1963 about a Lewis and Clark River Expedition for the never built St. Louis indoor theme park Walt Disney was considering.

Guests would have entered through a cave tunnel into the mountain and boarded boats that took them up a waterfall and then onto the winding river. Scenes would have featured comic Native American figures (including a rain dance with disastrous results), stagecoach robbers (where even their horses wore bandana masks), prairie dogs, antelopes, buffaloes, singing cowboys, and can-can dancing saloon girls.

It would have contained over one hundred audio-animatronics figures. A buffalo and prairie dogs were actually built for the attraction and later incorporated into the ranch house scene in the Living with the Land attraction at Epcot.

Davis spent many long months working on the attraction and had the enthusiastic support of both Roy O. Disney and President of Imagineering Dick Irvine.

Detailed sketches were made and models were created. Imagineer Mitsou Natsume even built a detailed model of Thunder Mesa and the exterior of the Western River Shipping & Navigation Company that was displayed for many years in the pre-show area of The Walt Disney Story on Main Street USA.

At one point, color stylist Mary Blair, a good friend of Davis and his wife, was brought in to consult with the color choices including a Painted Desert backdrop. Composer Buddy Baker had the beginnings of a theme song that would repeat throughout the ride.

The attraction was publicized with concept art in the Magic Kingdom guidebooks for 1971 and 1972 since the project was supposed to open with the park, but because of time and budget factors was relegated to the planned Phase 2 that would be completed by 1975.

The project was eventually cancelled because of prohibitive costs (estimated at over a hundred and twenty million dollars at the time), the decrease in popularity in Western movies and TV shows, and other factors including guests demanding the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.

Davis still believed strongly in the Western River Expedition and offered a scaled-down version (removing the potentially offensive stereotypically comic Native Americans) with just a boat ride to be placed side-by-side with Big Thunder Mountain that had borrowed his idea of a runaway mine train for Thunder Mesa. Davis’ official retirement in 1978 meant the loss of the attraction’s biggest advocate.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Secret Stories of Disneyland, his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
The 2017 easy Guide

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May 19, 2017   No Comments

Next Week (May 20 through May 28, 2017) at Walt Disney World

DISNEY WORLD NEXT WEEK: MAY 20 TO MAY 28, 2017

The material below details next week’s Disney World operating hours, Extra Magic Hours, parades, and fireworks.

For more on May 2017 at Disney World, see this.

OPERATING HOURS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 5/20/-5/28/17

The Magic Kingdom will be open from 9a-11p 5/20 through 5/22, 9a-10p 5/23, 9a-11p 5/24 through 5/26, 8a-11p 5/27 and 9a-11p 5/28

Epcot will be open from 9a-9p every day

Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be open 9a-9.30p every day

Disney’s Animal Kingdom will be open 9a-10p 5/20, 9a-9.30p  5/21 through 5/23, 8a-3.30p 5/24, 9a-9.30p 5/25 and 5/26, and 8a-11p 5/27 and 5/28

EXTRA MAGIC HOURS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 5/20-5/28/17

Saturday 5/20 Morning:  Animal Kingdom Evening: none

Sunday 5/21  Morning:  Hollywood Studios  Evening: none

Monday 5/22 Morning: Animal Kingdom  Evening: none

Tuesday 5/23 Morning: none Evening:  Epcot

Wednesday 5/24 Morning: none  Evening:  Magic Kingdom

Thursday 5/25 Morning: Epcot Evening: none

Friday 5/26 Morning:  Magic Kingdom Evening: none

Saturday 5/27 Morning: Animal Kingdom Evening: Animal Kingdom

Sunday 5/28  Morning: Hollywood Studios Evening: Animal Kingdom

Mickey and Minnie Festival of Fantasy Afternoon Parade from yourfirstvisit.netPARADES AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 5/20-5/28/2017

The Magic Kingdom: Afternoon Festival of Fantasy Parade: 3p every day

FIREWORKS AND EVENING SHOWS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 5/20-5/28/17

Happily Every After at Magic Kingdom: 9p every night

IllumiNations at Epcot: 9p every night

Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 9p every night

Star Wars Show and Fireworks at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 9.30p every night

Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom 9.15p and 10.30p 5/20; 9.15p 5/21 through 5/23 and 5/25 and 5/26; 9.15 and 10.30p 5/27 and 5/28; additional 11.45p show for Extra Magic Hour attendees 5/27 and 5/28

SHOW SCHEDULES FOR WALT DISNEY WORLD 5/20-5/28/17

See Steve Soares’ site here. Click the park names at its top for show schedules.

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May 18, 2017   No Comments

Refurb Update

I had an unplanned–no, that’s not right, otherwise I would have been in Omaha or Osaka, not Orlando–unexpected visit to Disney World this week, through the combination of a client meeting being canceled and some subsequent creativity on the issues of where I would pick up my connecting flight, and how long my layover would be.

The main thing it let me do was see this, which I’ll write more about next week:

But I also took the opportunity to run around and check in on a bunch of resort refurbs. More on the basics of these refurbs is here, and I’ll write more about each soon, but here’s the quick scoop.

CARIBBEAN BEACH REFURB

The replacement dining at Caribbean Beach is at best adequate, more so at breakfast than lunch or dinner.

The cast members, however, are spectacularly attentive.

Perhaps the most interesting news is that furniture from the five-person rooms in the now-closed Barbados and half of Martinique areas is being installed in previously four-person rooms in the remaining non-Pirate villages, so the extra bed will be much more available.

POP CENTURY REFURB

The refurb at Pop Century began with Building 8–the refurb of this building is not yet complete.

However, Building 9 has now begun its refurb.

CORONADO SPRINGS REFURB

At Coronado Springs, the refurb of Rancho 7A is complete.

The next building to have kicked off is Cabana 8A.

WILDERNESS LODGE REFURB

The re-done Wilderness Lodge quiet pool looks like it could re-open any minute.

The official word is July 17, but I would not be surprised to see something earlier.

YACHT CLUB REFURB

Rooms on the 4th floor of the Yacht Club are done, and the 3rd floor is being worked on.

The new Yacht Club counter service, The Market, opened Monday. I’ll have more to say about this soon, but additional counter service options have been badly needed at the Epcot resorts.

OK, that’s it for now, but more to come soon!

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May 17, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Swans and Dolphins of the Swan and Dolphin

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE SWANS AND DOLPHINS OF THE SWAN AND DOLPHIN

CEO Michael Eisner felt that the two legacies he would leave at Disney were an improvement in culinary offerings and the development of what he termed “entertainment architecture” that referred to telling stories architecturally in buildings on Disney property that were not in the theme parks.

Eisner brought in renowned architect Michael Graves to design the Team Disney corporate building in Burbank, California. Graves said when he was in meetings with Michael Eisner, Eisner told him: “Look, everyone here will have some design priorities for you, but I only have one priority. When I come in to work each morning and go up to my office, I’ll probably have very little to smile about. So do something that will make me smile when I arrive.”

When his first designs for the Team Disney building were rejected, Graves came up with the concept of having the Seven Dwarfs as caryatids. A caryatid is a sculpted figure serving as an architectural support, taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting horizontal bands. “Because Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was truly the foundation of the Disney Studios and supported the growth of the company, just as the dwarfs are supporting the building,” claimed Graves.

Eisner was so pleased with the final result that he had Graves come up with designs for the Swan and Dolphin resorts.

Designed by Graves, the swan statues (like the dolphin statues) were created from steel, wood and fiberglass, and were believed to be the largest structures of their kind in the world at the time. Since there were no existing samples to work from, Disney artist Gary Graham, following Graves’ design, sculpted the swan models out of Styrofoam. These were then computer-photographed (photogrammetry) in a process that turns the shapes into a digitized database.

The photogrammetric information was then sent on to a shipbuilding company in Wisconsin. There it was put into a computer that automatically cut the wooden ribs to exact specifications and imprinted the ribs with numbers and location directions. The ribs were then delivered to the statue site, where they were fitted to a steel frame. Once assembled, a fiberglass covering was carefully brushed on and then covered with five layers of laminate. The swan statues were then sanded, painted and ultimately lifted into place in May 1989.

Completed, the swan statues, referred to as “heroic” statues, are each 47 feet high. And at a combined weight of 56,000 pounds, they required a multi-ton, 70-foot crane to lift them and place them atop the hotel. They were placed on specially constructed pedestals at either end of the hotel’s roof, which support and display them.

The dolphin statues are each 63 feet high. All the roof sculptures are hollow inside, except for the structural beaming, and they have internal staircases and trapdoors for maintenance purposes.

At the Walt Disney World Dolphin, the sculptures were three-dimensional where guests can’t touch them and two-dimensional, like in the indoor fountain, where they can be touched.

At the Walt Disney World Swan, it is reversed and the sculptures are generally three-dimensional where they can be touched by guests (like the interior fountain), but two-dimensional (like the monkeys and parrots in the trees) where they can’t be touched.

The dolphins in the fountain facing the Walt Disney World Swan were supposed to be three-dimensional, but Graves was told to space them out wider because they obstructed the view. Instead, Graves simply sliced the dolphins, making what he called “dolphin filets,” and keeping them exactly where they were but opening up the space. He also made the fountain smaller since the dolphins became two-dimensional and needed to be able to be touched.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim!

Jim has written multiple articles on this site on the Swan and Dolphin and on Graves. Reviews–including the refurbed rooms–begin here. And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Gremlin Trouble! The Cursed Roald Dahl Film Disney Never MadeSecret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
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May 12, 2017   No Comments

To-Do List: Disney World Higher Crowd Itinerary

This To-Do List is for the Disney World  Higher Crowd ItineraryFor To-Do-Lists for other itineraries, see this.

(Note that a good travel agent, such as Kelly at Destinations in Florida at 980-429-4499 or at Kelly@DestinationsInFlorida.com can do almost all of this for you, for free. If you use Destinations in Florida as your travel agent and tell them you came from this site, then they share a bit of the pixie dust they get from Disney with me.)

A. MORE THAN 180 DAYS BEFORE YOUR PLANNED ARRIVAL DATE

1. Confirm your budget, planned dates, intended hotel, kids’ development and heights, and your transportation choice and its availability for your planned dates.

2. Make your plane reservations, if flying. Make any other needed transportation arrangements.

3. Create your My Disney Experience account here and add your family members to it

4. Set up your hotel and tickets. Call 407-939-7675 (preferred, because this allows you to tell the reservationist which building at your resort you wish to be in), or click here to use Disney’s online system.  (Note: if your dates are later than what the online system permits, see this.)

  • If you are following my itinerary, you want the hotel you’ve picked for 8 nights, nine day no hopper tickets, the Dining Plan, and Disney’s Magical Express if you are flying
  • Itineraries other than mine will have different requirements here

B. 181 DAYS BEFORE YOUR ARRIVAL DATE

San Angel Inn at Epcot from yourfirstvisit.netDecide whether on your first night you’ll be dining at Akershus or the San Angel Inn. Akershus is a princess meal–you’ll have another princess meal at Cinderella’s Royal Table on Thursday.  If you really like princesses, do Akershus; otherwise, San Angel Inn is the better choice.

Login to your MyDisneyExperience.com account, click the “Things to Do” tab at top right, under Dining hit “Make Reservations,” and practice trying to reserve restaurants (hint: use the search box at the upper right).

This may well drive you crazy, but the site works better than it used to…and is likely the only way you can get your Cindy reservations done! (as the site opens up a new reservable day at 6a, whereas the phone reservation line opens at 7a).

Collect your restaurant reservations together. You will want to do them online in order of hardest to reserve first. This is how they are listed below.

C. EXACTLY 6am EST, EXACTLY 180 DAYS BEFORE YOUR ARRIVAL DATE

(For an 180 day calendar, see this).

Be on the restaurant website by at least 5:50am EST, and have your Cindy reservation all set up on the page. Keep refreshing, as you will be let in as soon as Disney’s system decides it is 6a.

Make as many of the following as you have patience for (try to get through at least Tusker House), in the exact order listed–but note that sometimes the Rivers of Light Dining Package is not available until 90-120 days before:

  • Cinderella’s Royal Table Lunch (dining plan, two credits): Thursday at 11a or later if you can; earlier than 11 only if your sole option…
  • Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue (dining plan, two credits): Tuesday 6.15p show. The later time will keep you up later than you need to be, OK if all you can get. Avoid the earlier time–it’ll cut into your park time too much
  • Chef Mickey’s (dining plan, one credit) Tuesday 11a.  Later is OK, but not a whole lot earlier–no earlier than 10.30a
  • Tusker House as Rivers of Light Dining Package (dining plan, one credit). First Sunday 5.30p. You can schedule for as late as Disney will allow you to do so, but not earlier.
  • Crystal Palace (dining plan, one credit): Second Saturday 6p if you can; earlier OK, but not later
  • Akershus Banquet or San Angel Inn (dining plan, one credit): First Saturday 6p.  No later than 6.30p, but earlier is OK if your travel plans allow for an ealrier arrival at Epcot.

For those you don’t make online, make them by calling call (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463)

D. 60 DAYS BEFORE YOUR ARRIVAL DATE

Liking the Name on This MagicBand1. Be on your MyDisneyExperience account by 7a and set up the following FastPass+

  • First Saturday afternoon and evening at Epcot: Tier One: Frozen Ever After. Tier Two: Spaceship Earth. The Tier One FastPass+ is your priority. Set the Tier Two times for when your travel plans permit you to be in the park. If you van book just one because of your travel schedule, choose Frozen Ever After
  • First Sunday at the Animal Kingdom: Na’vi River Journey, Finding Nemo: The Musical, and Kali River Rapids. Set Na’vi for 10-11a, Nemo 11.30 to 11.45 for the noon show, and Kali River Rapids at 12:40p
  • Monday at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Tier One: Great Movie Ride. Tier Two: Tower of Terror and Indiana Jones. Set Tower of Terror for 9-10a, Great Movie Ride for 10-11, and Indiana Jones for the noon show time.
  • Tuesday at the Magic Kingdom: Space Mountain, Tomorrowland Speedway, and Jungle Cruise. Set Space Mountain for 9-10a, the Speedway for 10-11a, and Jungle Cruise for 3-4p.
  • Wednesday at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Tier One: Toy Story Midway Mania; Tier Two: Star Tours and the Frozen Sing-Along. Set Toy Story for 1.10 to 2.10p, Frozen for the 2.30p show, and Star Tours for 3.15-4.15p
  • Thursday at the Magic Kingdom: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Enchanted Tales with Belle, and the Haunted Mansion. Target Seven Dwarfs for 1-2p, Belle for 2-3p, and the Haunted Mansion for 3.30-4.30p.
  • Friday at Epcot: Tier One: Test Track. Tier Two: Mission: SPACE and Turtle Talk with Crush. Set Mission: SPACE for 9a-10a, Test Track for 10a-11a, and Turtle Talk with Crush for 12.30p to 1.30p.
  • Second Saturday at the Magic Kingdom: Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain, and a third ride. Set Big Thunder for 9-10a, and Pirates for 10-11a
  • Second Sunday at the Animal Kingdom: Avatar: Flight of Passage and Festival of the Lion King. Set Flight of Passage for 9.30 to 10.30a, and Festival of the Lion King for 10.30-10.45a for the 11a show.

2. Do online check in, requesting as you do special location points

3. Customize your MagicBands

E. NOTES ON PACKING ETC. BEFORE YOU LEAVE

1. Bring your MagicBands in your carry-ons

2. If you use Disney’s Magical Express, you do not need to collect your bags at the Orlando airport unless you arrive late in the evening/at night or are an international traveler. Disney will get them for you and, eventually, deliver them directly to your room. Your bags may arrive hours after you do; so, depending on the weather forecasts, have a carry-on with an appropriate change of clothes for Orlando weather on Saturday, as you will almost certainly go to Epcot on Saturday before your checked bags arrive.

3. Follow the instructions in the Magical Express packet you will receive in the mail regarding both tagging your bags pre-departure, and where to go at the Orlando airport to find your transport to your resort.

4. Bring a copy of your room reservation, confirmation numbers and any tickets for special events you may have received in the mail.

5. Pack breakfast utensils, as they are not always available in the gift shop: bowls, spoons, napkins

6. When you arrive at the hotel, look for the special “On-line Check-in” line, and get into it.

The 2017 easy Guide

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May 11, 2017   No Comments