Tag Archives: Disney

Disneyland Resort vs. Walt Disney World Resort Part 2: Top 8 Walt Disney World Resort Wins

17 Oct

This is Part 2 of my Disneyland Resort vs Walt Disney World Resort post.  If you missed Part 1: Top 8 Disneyland Resort Wins, you can read it here.  The same disclaimer applies.  In this post, I will discuss my Top 8 Walt Disney World Resort Wins.

Part 2: Top 8 Walt Disney World Resort Wins

1.  Isolation

As soon as you set foot on WDW property, you’re “there”.  The road signs, fire department, restaurants, gas stations, etc. all look like they belong to WDW.  The term “cast member” really does hold true in WDW in that you don’t have many chances to see backstage.  The way each park was constructed ensures that guests see attractions only from the angle they were intended to be seen.

Tower of Terror Road Sign Photo credit: flickr.com

Tower of Terror Road Sign
Photo credit: flickr.com

Reedy Creek Emergency Services Headquarters Photo credit: firehouse.com

Reedy Creek Emergency Services Headquarters
Photo credit: firehouse.com

Since most of backstage is hidden at WDW, cast members are rarely seen out of their element.  Conversely, on our most recent trip to DLR, when we were crossing Harbor Boulevard heading toward the esplanade, we saw several cast members in full costume walking to the parks to start their shift.  Seeing someone walking near McDonald’s on Harbor in a Soarin’ Over California flight attendant costume can sort of suspend the magic.

2.  Size

As Walt Disney said, they have “the blessing of size” in Florida that they never had in California. WDW is about twice the size of Manhattan.  I’m calling this a win for a few reasons.  First, it affords guests more opportunities for experiences outside of the four major theme parks.  With the resorts, golf courses, shopping, restaurants, water parks, stage shows, and outdoor activities, WDW has a lot of options for entertainment.

Aerial View of WDW Photo credit: flickr.com

Aerial View of WDW
Photo credit: flickr.com

Along with the extra land, WDW has a lot more Disney-owned resort options at varying price points.  You can stay at a value resort for a respectable rate without ever having to leave the magic.

Big Blue Pool at Disney's Art of Animation Resort Photo credit: reserveorlando.com

Big Blue Pool at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
Photo credit: reserveorlando.com

Also, the large resort gives guests more places to escape the crowds without leaving the property.  And finally, the Walt Disney Company has plenty of land for expansion, should they choose to do so.  Although the size of the resort can be daunting when it comes to park-hopping, for the reasons above, I still consider it a win.

3.  Fastpasses

I know I already discussed that I prefer the FP system at DLR, but there is one aspect of the FP system at WDW that I like: offering FP’s for attractions with consistently long wait times.  If Disney is set on continuing the use of FP’s in all their domestic parks, there are a few rules of thumb I wish they would use when deciding where to offer them.  I would like to see a breaking point where Disney would offer FP’s for attractions that consistently exceed around a 50-minute wait.  I chose 50 minutes because I personally feel that it’s not unreasonable to ask guests to spend a total of one hour to both wait and ride a headline attraction; anything longer than that is too long for me.  When the standby queue exceeds 50 minutes, and I don’t have the option of getting a FP, I will choose to skip that attraction.

Entrance to Toy Story Midway Mania at WDW Photo credit: photosfromtheparks.blogspot.com

Entrance to Toy Story Midway Mania at WDW
Photo credit: photosfromtheparks.blogspot.com

This happened a few times with both Toy Story Midway Mania and Haunted Mansion Holiday in DLR when the queue hovered around 65 minutes during most of the day.  I wish they had offered FP’s for those attractions during that time of year.  I like that I have the option of obtaining a FP at most WDW attractions with consistently long wait times.  All of that being said, when WDW removes their standard Fastpass system in favor of Fastpass+, I’m sure I will have plenty of new recommendations for improvement.

4.  Epcot

This really isn’t a fair comparison because DLR does not have an Epcot equivalent.  But nonetheless, Epcot is a win for WDW.  It’s essentially two-parks-in-one with a year round world’s fair on one side of the park and a progress-themed area on the other side.  It’s the most mature of all US Disney Parks, and no other park challenges its uniqueness.  Epcot alone is reason enough to visit WDW if you’re a DLR veteran who is hesitant to make the trek to Florida.

Epcot's Spaceship Earth

Epcot’s Spaceship Earth

5.  Table Service Restaurants

WDW wins this category for me.  I’ve had a lot of great table service meals at DLR, but WDW has more to offer in my opinion.  WDW has at least four times as many table service restaurants to choose from, and fortunately, they have yet to homogenize the menus too terribly much (notice I said “yet”).  And not only do you have a wider variety of table service menus to choose from at WDW, you also have some really exceptional theming at many of the table service restaurants.

Magic Kingdom's Be Our Guest Restaurant Photo credit: disneyparks.com

Magic Kingdom’s Be Our Guest Restaurant
Photo credit: disneyparks.com

6.  Unique Attractions

WDW has several attractions that are unique to the east coast (Note: I apologize if I have missed any.  Some attractions have a west coast relative that provides a similar experience):

Magic Kingdom – The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Swiss Family Treehouse, Country Bear Jamboree, The Hall of Presidents, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (opening in 2014), Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, Stitch’s Great Escape, Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover, Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! Street Party, Celebrate a Dream Come True Parade, Main Street Electrical Parade, Celebrate the Magic, Wishes, Electrical Water Pageant (on the Seven Seas Lagoon), and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

Carousel of Progress Photo credit: disneyparks.com

Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress
Photo credit: disneyparks.com

Epcot –  Spaceship Earth, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, Mission: SPACE, Test Track, Journey into Imagination with Figment, Living with the Land, Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable, The Seas with Nemo & Friends, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, World Showcase (all pavilions) including Mexico’s Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros, Norway’s Maelstrom, China’s Reflections of China, Germany, Italy, The American Adventure, Japan, Morocco, France’s Impressions de France, United Kingdom, Canada’s O Canada.

France Pavilion Photo credit: disneyparks.com

France Pavilion
Photo credit: disneyparks.com

Disney’s Hollywood Studios – The Great Movie Ride, Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, The American Idol Experience, Streets of America, Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Movie Set Adventure, Studio Backlot Tour, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream, The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, and Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.

Casablanca Scene from the Great Movie Ride Photo credit: yorktonshortfilm.org

Casablanca Scene from the Great Movie Ride
Photo credit: yorktonshortfilm.org

Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Festival of the Lion King, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, Wild Africa Trek, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, Maharajah Jungle Trek, Flights of Wonder, DINOSAUR, Finding Nemo-The Musical, Primeval Whirl, The Boneyard, TriceraTop Spin, and Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade.

Expedition Everest

Expedition Everest

7.  Attraction Comparisons

Besides the attractions that are unique to the east coast, WDW has several attractions that I believe are the better version of its sister attraction at DLR.

Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid – The exterior and queue of this attraction is much grander than The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure at DCA.  I still don’t understand why Disney chose to alter the attraction name slightly when it was installed at WDW.  No wonder guests just call it “the mermaid ride”.

Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid Photo credit: disneyeveryday.com

Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid
Photo credit: disneyeveryday.com

Splash Mountain – The attraction is slightly longer at WDW and I like the two-by-two seating configuration.

Tower of Terror – I don’t enjoy either version for motion-sickness reasons, but the exterior theming and Fifth Dimension scene in the Disney’s Hollywood Studios version give it an edge over the DCA version.

Monorail – This is not just a ride at WDW; it’s a mode of transportation.  For guests staying at the monorail resorts, it’s usually the most efficient way to travel to Magic Kingdom or Epcot.

Monorail in Epcot Photo credit: thedisneyblog.com

Monorail in Epcot
Photo credit: thedisneyblog.com

Cinderella Castle – While I do love Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Park (especially the walk-through with dioramas), Cinderella castle is much more spectacular in person.  It’s more than twice as tall as Sleeping Beauty Castle and is the focal point of Magic Kingdom Park.

Cinderella Castle Photo credit: wdwfanzone.com

Cinderella Castle
Photo credit: wdwfanzone.com

Jungle Cruise – I thought the piranhas were a nice addition to the Disneyland version, but I think the temple portion of the Magic Kingdom version gives it a leg up.

Haunted Mansion – The recent updates to this attraction with the interactive queue, the never ending staircase room, and techy hitchhiking ghosts are what make this version better than Disneyland Park’s version, in my opinion.

It’s Tough to Be a Bug – The exterior queue and location of this attraction (it’s housed inside the Tree of Life in Disney’s Animal Kingdom) are more visually interesting than DCA’s version.

Tree of Life Photo credit: examiner.com

Tree of Life
Photo credit: examiner.com

8.  Conditioned Spaces

Because of the thunderstorms and humidity during Florida’s spring and summer months, WDW has a lot more indoor seating options and air conditioned queues.  And while the outdoor seating and open queues at DLR are comfortable most of the year, it can still get very hot in Southern California.  When it does, it’s not as easy to find conditioned spaces in DLR.  There are ample conditioned spaces to retreat to in WDW.

What have I missed?  Does Walt Disney World Resort win in other areas?  Do you agree with the Top 8 Walt Disney World Wins?  Please share in the comments section!

I am not affiliated with the Walt Disney Company.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.


Disneyland Resort vs. Walt Disney World Resort Part 1: Top 8 Disneyland Resort Wins

7 Oct

Disclaimer:  These posts are coming from the perspective of someone who has visited Walt Disney World Resort (WDW) many times throughout her life and recently had the pleasure of experiencing Disneyland Resort (DLR) as an adult.  Although I do have many fond memories of my childhood at WDW, I’ve made many new memories at DLR that I value just as much.  I’m not attempting to “pick my favorite child”.  I simply want to share some of my own personal observations and opinions.  I adore both DLR and WDW.  All of the points in these posts are based on my experiences only.  There are undoubtedly outliers in every situation, so any time I make a general statement about either resort, please understand that I don’t believe that statement is ALWAYS true.

Here we go!

Since I believe each resort deserves its own post, I’ve split this into two parts.  In Part 1, I will discuss the “Top 8 Disneyland Resort Wins” in the battle of the resorts.  In Part 2, I will discuss the opposite: “Top 8 Walt Disney World Resort Wins”.

Part 1: Top 8 Disneyland Resort Wins

1.  Park-Hopping

This is pretty straight-forward.  With DLR having two parks and the Downtown Disney area all in close proximity of each other, park-hopping is very easy.  At WDW, you have to allow 30 to 45 minutes to park hop if you have your own vehicle or 45 to 60 minutes if you’re relying on WDW transportation.  At DLR, we’re talking a 3 minute walk (or less) from the entrance of Disneyland Park to the entrance of Disney California Adventure (DCA).  Click here for a 360 panorama from the esplanade; you can see how close the entrances are to each other.  Also, the security check is shared between both parks at DLR, so you only have to go through it once and can hop between parks freely without having to get your bag(s) checked again.  Also, because of the space restraints at DLR, the attractions are condensed to a much smaller area than WDW.  It’s much easier to experience ten headliner attractions between two parks in one day at DLR than it is to experience the same number between two or more parks at WDW.

Photo credit: disney.rocket9.net

Aerial View of Disneyland Resort
Photo credit: disney.rocket9.net

2.  Fastpasses

Although WDW does offer Fastpasses (and Fastpass+) at more attractions than DLR, I generally prefer DLR’s Fastpass system.  First, the FP’s are not “connected” between parks, so you can hold a FP in DCA and Disneyland simultaneously.  Also there are a few FP attractions that are not connected to the other FP attractions in the same park so you can hold those simultaneously, as well.  And although less available FP attractions might feel like you’re more likely to experience longer waits, it should make the standby lines shorter.  It seems counterintuitive but when an attraction offers FP, it increases the standby lines which can make it difficult to experience all the headliners without really long wait times.

DLR Fastpasses

DCA’s Fastpasses


3.  Nighttime Spectaculars

It’s difficult for me to discuss nighttime spectaculars objectively.  In general, I don’t tend to enjoy parades and fireworks.  I do, however, appreciate large-scale nighttime spectaculars with good production value.  The DLR version of Fantasmic is superior to the WDW version.  The only aspect of the WDW version that I enjoy more than the DLR version, is the dedicated theater with plenty of seating.  It can sometimes be difficult to find a good vantage point to view Fantasmic at DLR, but the location and sets are much more impressive at DLR.  After seeing the DLR version of Fantasmic, the WDW version seems like a less expensive imitation.  The finale scene at WDW is almost depressing with the small vessel floating by that is supposed to emulate the Mark Twain.

Disneyland's Fantasmic

Disneyland’s Fantasmic

Then there’s World of Color at Disney California Adventure.  WDW does not have its own version of this show, so DLR is the clear winner.  The closest comparison to WoC at WDW might be Illuminations: Reflections of Earth in Epcot, but they’re really not related.  Yes, Illuminations has an incredible sound track and story, but World of Color is much more exciting, in my opinion.  The technology used on the Earth Globe in Illuminations is dated and desperately needs an update; it’s difficult to see the Globe and therefore even more difficult to fully understand the story.  World of Color is simple in its story but exceptional in its execution.  The combination of projected images, music, lights, pyrotechnics, and water is what makes this show so remarkable.  It is current (for now) and appeals to all ages.

Disney California Adventure's World of Color

DCA’s World of Color

4.  Counter Service Restaurants

Altogether, I have had better experiences with the counter service restaurants at DLR than at WDW.  WDW is notorious for homogenizing menus – especially with counter service locations.  While this decreases WDW’s operational costs, it makes it a little more difficult for guests to find menu items that are special.  At DLR, the counter service restaurants offer a wider variety of menus.  And in my opinion, most of the meals they serve seem fresher and less processed.  Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I’ve never had a bad counter service meal at DLR.  I’ve had plenty of mediocre (or even bad) counter service meals at WDW.

Turkey Breast at Flo's V8 Cafe

Turkey Breast at Flo’s V8 Cafe

Grilled Steak Skewer at Paradise Garden Grill

Grilled Steak Skewer at Paradise Garden Grill 

5.  Unique Attractions

DLR has several attractions that are unique to the west coast (Note: I apologize if I have missed any.  Some attractions have an east coast relative that provides a similar experience):

Disneyland Park – Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Alice in Wonderland, Casey Jr. Circus Train, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Sailing Ship Columbia, Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye, Tarzan’s Treehouse, Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes, Big Thunder Ranch, Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, New Orleans Square (the themed area), Critter Country (the themed area), Mickey’s Toontown (the entire land) including Chip ‘n Dale’s Treehouse, Donald’s Boat, Gadget’s Go Coaster, Goofy’s Playhouse, Mickey’s House, Minnie’s House, and Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Mickey’s Soundsational Parade, Remember Dreams Come True, and Magical.

Matterhorn Mountain and Storybook Land

Matterhorn Mountain and Storybook Land

Disney California Adventure – Red Car Trolley, a bug’s land (minus It’s Tough to Be a Bug) including Flik’s Flyers, Francis’ Ladybug Boogie, Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train, and Tuck and Roll’s Drive’Em Buggies, Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular, Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue, Cars Land (the entire land) including Radiator Springs Racers, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, and Luigi’s Flying Tires, Grizzly River Run, Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, Walt Disney Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar, Paradise Pier (minus The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure and Toy Story Midway Mania) including California Screamin’, Golden Zephyr, Goofy’s Sky School, Jumpin’ Jellyfish, King Triton’s Carousel of the Sea, Mickey’s Fun Wheel, Silly Symphony Swings, Pixar Play Parade, and World of Color.

View of Cadillac Range in DCA's Cars Land

The Cadillac Mountain Range in DCA’s Cars Land 

6.  Attraction Comparisons

Besides the attractions that are unique to the west coast, DLR has several attractions that I believe are the better version of its sister attraction at WDW.

Space Mountain – The Disneyland Park version is much smoother than the Magic Kingdom version.  Also, the seats are in a two-by-two configuration, so you can enjoy the ride with a friend.

Disneyland Railroad – the Grand Canyon and Primeval World dioramas do not exist in Magic Kingdom.

Disneyland Railroad's Primeval World

Disneyland Railroad’s Primeval World 

“it’s a small world” – the façade and exterior queue are in all their original Mary Blair form.  Florida’s weather does not lend itself to many exterior queues, so the beautiful façade is hidden.  Also, the Disneyland Park version includes modern-day Disney characters in doll form.

Disneyland's "it's a small world"

Disneyland’s “it’s a small world”

Pirates of the Caribbean – The Disneyland version has more scenes, more drops, and a restaurant inside the attraction.

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters – You can remove your laser from the holster which is more fun than a stationary laser.

Mad Tea Party – This attraction looks gorgeous in the evening with the colorful lanterns open to the night sky.

Disneyland's Mad Tea Party

Disneyland’s Mad Tea Party 

Peter Pan’s Flight – The starry room (which doesn’t exist in the WDW version) is very pretty.

Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room – Disneyland’s version has a magical fountain in the center of the room and is Walt’s original iteration of the attraction.

Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room Fountain

Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room
Magic Fountain 

7.  Weather

Overall, Southern California has much nicer and more predictable weather than Central Florida.  The annual average precipitation for Orlando is about three to four times higher than Anaheim’s annual average.  Lower humidity and less rainfall at DLR allows for more exterior queues, exposed attractions, and outdoor seating.

8.  Holiday Overlays

Because DLR is visited by many locals, the Walt Disney Company is forced to create worthwhile experiences to keep locals visiting year-round.  Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy, Haunted Mansion Holiday, and “it’s a small world” Holiday are attraction overlays that encourage locals (and out-of-town guests) to visit the resort outside of the summer months.

Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy

Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy

Haunted Mansion Holiday

Haunted Mansion Holiday

"it's a small world" Holiday Photo credit: neatorama.com

“it’s a small world” Holiday
Photo credit: neatorama.com

What have I missed?  Does Disneyland Resort win in other areas?  Do you agree with the Top 8 Disneyland Resort Wins?  Please share in the comments section!

Next week I will share Part 2: Top 8 Walt Disney World Resort Wins.

I am not affiliated with the Walt Disney Company.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Amusement Park vs. Theme Park

18 Nov

Whenever I tell someone that I’m going on a trip to one of the Disney parks, I often hear the phrase “I don’t really like amusement parks.”  That’s when I say, “The only amusement parks I like are theme parks.”

What’s the difference, you ask?

Well, the term “amusement park” is all-encompassing.  Old Mr. Webster defines it as “a commercially operated park having various devices for entertainment (as a merry-go-round and roller coaster) and usually booths for the sale of food and drink”.  A theme park is a specific type of amusement park defined as “an amusement park in which the structures and settings are based on a central theme”.  For example: a square is also a rectangle, but a rectangle is not always a square (for geometry nerds) or a Q-Tip is a brand of cotton swab, but not all cotton swabs are Q-Tips (for Q-Tip nerds).

Photo: Magic Kingdom Park – Splash Mountain (one of the most well-themed attractions in WDW)

To simplify, a theme park is a themed amusement park.  The park can follow a single theme or have multiple themed areas.  The attractions, buildings, and landscaping are all developed using a specific design concept.  Every item in the park is placed there deliberately to convey the central idea.  This fundamental difference between a theme park and an amusement park is what sets Disney parks apart from others.  Disney fans who “get it” will often use the phrase “it’s all about the details” when trying to describe why they love Disney parks.

Photo: Disneyland Park – Mad Tea Party and Storybook Land (my favorite themed area in DLR)

Very few theme parks throughout the world dedicate as much time and attention to theming and details as Disney does.  If you ever visit WDW or DLR and spend any amount of time simply exploring its “look and feel”, you will undoubtedly gain an appreciation for the consideration that was given in the creation of the parks.  Everything has a story.  Someone spent time designing the building facades, the landscaping, the area music and lighting, and even the trash cans.

Photo: Epcot – Spaceship Earth

So if someone makes the argument that the main reason they do not wish visit any of the Disney parks is because he or she doesn’t like amusement parks, you can now explain that they are not just amusement parks; they’re theme parks.  And that’s one of the reasons why you and so many other people love them.

If you have any favorite themed areas/attractions of one of the Disney parks, please share by commenting below.  I love hearing about the neat little “extras” that people are drawn to in the parks!

Disneyland Trip Report

28 Oct

I know I should be writing a Disneyland trip report, but instead of writing multiple posts to share my experiences, I’m going to direct you to a podcast.  It’s called The Sweep Spot Podcast hosted by Lynn and Laura, and I was recently a guest on their show.  Both Lynn and Laura are former Disneyland cast members, so they offer a neat behind-the-scenes perspective.

The Main Street Train Station – Disneyland Park

On episode #30 “First Time at Disneyland Trip Report”, we talk about what it was like for me (a Walt Disney World veteran) to visit DLR for the first time.  A few months ago, I wrote a post outlining some of the reasons why I was excited to visit DLR, and we discuss almost all of those reasons on the podcast.  You can listen to the episode via iTunes, Stitcher, or by downloading directly at the episode URL.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to share them by clicking  “Leave a Comment” below!

The Design and Construction of Epcot’s Spaceship Earth

13 Sep

“Hey, that’s that golf ball thing!” is a phrase I hear a lot when people see my desktop background of Spaceship Earth.  Instead of giving more information about what that person is looking at, I usually just smile and say, “Yep, that’s that golf ball thing.”  But Disney Nerds will agree that it’s much more than that.  It took countless hours to design Spaceship Earth (SE) and a full 26 months to build it.  This article is dedicated to the design and construction of both the structure itself and the attraction housed within.

Photo credit: livinginagrownupworld.wordpress.com

After the success of Magic Kingdom Park in Walt Disney World, Disney Imagineers decided to use portions of Walt Disney’s idea for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) to develop a new theme park that would be called EPCOT Center.  Today it’s simply known as Epcot.  Just like Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle, WED Enterprises wanted Epcot to have a central icon to embody the theme of the park and to draw guests in.  They wanted a “logo” or focal point of the park, and they wanted it to be in place for Epcot’s grand opening on October 1, 1982.

The designers at WED expressed interest in the design of the Expo ’67 dome in Montreal.

Photo credit: britannica.com

They liked the geodesic design and decided they wanted Spaceship Earth to have a comparable look.  WED’s project designer for SE was a man named Gordon Hoopes.  He said that his intention was to “create an atmosphere for our guests that raises their spirit and kindles an excitement for the human experience in the future.”  WED played with the idea of a dome but soon decided they wanted a full sphere.  They settled on the size of a 160-ft. diameter geodesic sphere elevated above the ground.  The title of the icon was not developed by WED alone.  The term was popularized by Buckminster Fuller in his 1968 book Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.

Epcot’s Spaceship Earth is not simply an architectural icon; it also houses an attraction of the same name.  WED enlisted the help of several third-party entities to collaborate on the concept and development of the attraction.  Along with Buckminster Fuller, Disney Imagineers worked with science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury on its structure and storyline.  They also consulted with Los Angeles’ Huntington Library, the University of Southern California, the University of Chicago, and the Smithsonian Institute.

Because a geodesic sphere (as opposed to a dome) was a novel concept and there was little engineering data on this type of structure, WED also hired MIT to conduct wind tunnel studies on a 1/16” = 1’ scale model.  They did this to determine pressure coefficients for the design and to test wind pressure underneath the sphere – where the guests would be walking.  They didn’t want the wind to knock guests down as they passed under the structure.

Photo credit: intercot.com

Essentially, SE is two separate structures: the external shell which is the sphere itself and the internal ride system and show scenes.  From now on in this article, I’ll refer to them as either the Shell or the Show.  Besides being a full sphere, SE was unique in another way.  WED wanted to put an attraction with moving vehicles inside the sphere, and they wanted SE to be elevated above the ground on six legs.

Their first concern was how they would carry the load of the Shell.  If they allowed the six legs to bear the full load alone, it would put too much stress on those individual sections of the sphere.  This could cause the Shell to buckle in the areas of concentrated force; they needed to distribute the weight more evenly.  They decided they would keep the Shell structure completely independent of the legs.

First, they drove the six legs supported on pile groups between 100’ and 160’ into the ground.   They connected the top of each leg with trusses to form a hexagonal truss and reinforced it with additional interior trusses which formed a platform.  At this point, SE looked sort of like a six-legged table.

Photo credit: land.allears.net

The hexagonal trusses, or the perimeter of this “table”, are what carry the load of the Shell structure.

This table including the interior trusses also bears the load for the Show structure.  Because this platform was so crucial, they needed to apply some dead load to the hexagonal trusses before erecting the Shell.  They were able to build the majority of the Show structure before beginning construction of the Shell.  They erected the interior columns and most of the ride helix onto the platform.  This ended up working well for WED because the construction of the Show and the Shell could occur together.

Photo credit: mickey-mouse.com

I should also mention that there is an elevator shaft that runs vertically through SE that is not associated with the hexagonal trusses. The base of the truss that forms the shaft is covered by mirrored panels that you can see as you pass underneath SE.

Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org

Once most of the Show structure was completed, they had to begin transitioning from the hexagonal trusses to the Shell. They used what they called “quadrupods” which are shaped like pyramids formed from pipe.  The bases of the quadrupods were connected to the outer perimeter of the hexagonal trusses and the tops of the quadrupods were connected through support hubs on the Shell to make an interlocking ring of sphere struts.

Then they were ready to build the Shell.  The Shell is basically two geodesic domes – one on top of the other.  The top ¾ of the sphere rests on the table and the bottom ¼ is suspended below the table.  The geodesic dome maintains its shape simply by the nature of its design.  It does not require reinforcement.  The larger the dome, the stronger it is.  When SE was built, the construction of the Shell first traveled upward from the support hub level in rings of struts until the entire top portion was complete.  Then the remaining portion of the sphere was completed below the support hub level.

Photo credit: magicalmountain.net

Construction then continued to complete the exterior of the Shell.  The Shell structure is actually a sphere-within-a-sphere – the larger (exterior) sphere has a radius about two feet greater than the smaller (interior) sphere.  The “double-skin” came about as a solution to a few problems WED had explored during the design.  They needed a waterproof and fire-resistive exterior to protect the occupants, sets, and attraction vehicles.  And most importantly, it had to look good.  There was no one material that could accomplish it all, so the sphere-within-a-sphere concept was born.

Steel closure panels with a waterproofing neoprene sheet were attached to form the inner skin.  The outer skin would be purely for show.  They needed an aesthetically pleasing material that could withstand the elements of central Florida.  They chose a material called Alucobond which is polyethylene plastic sandwiched between two sheets of aluminum.  They used aluminum pipe standoffs to create the gap between the inner and outer skins and attached the Alucobond facets to them.  The inner shell’s basic structure is an array of large triangles.  For the outer shell, John Hench (WED VP for Creative Development) decided to subdivide each of the large triangles into four smaller triangles on which they placed triangular pyramids.  What we as guests see are the small triangular pyramids.

Photo credit: simplydifferently.org

The sphere-within-a-sphere design also addressed another issue: runoff of rainwater underneath SE.  By leaving one inch gaps between the Alucobond facets, rainwater trickles down to the waterproof inner skin where it accumulates at a hidden gutter system near the “equator” of the sphere and is then carried out to the World Showcase Lagoon.

Photo credit: flickrhivemind.net

Photo credit: mainstgazette.com

Spaceship Earth, the attraction, takes guests on a journey through time highlighting the ways in which humans communicate.  The ride structure is arranged in two helixes that serve as the track for the ride vehicles.  The vehicles spiral up to the top of the sphere and back down to the unload area.

Photo credit: amusementauthority.blogspot.com

Along this slow-moving journey up into the sphere, guests encounter various props, projections, and Audio-Animatronics.  If you want to know more about how Audio-Animatronics work, you can check out my post about AA’s.

The ride vehicle utilized on Spaceship Earth is Disney’s Omnimover system.  Imagineer Bob Gurr combined two terms already in use, OmniRange and PeopleMover, to create the term Omnimover.  The true root of the term Omnimover comes from the Latin term “omni” meaning “all” or “every” and “mover” meaning… well, “mover”.  The technology itself was developed and patented at WED Enterprises by Roger Broggie and Bert Brundage in 1968.

Each vehicle is capable of rotating or tilting to a preprogrammed position.  This system is advantageous for Disney in that they are able to control what scenes guests will view in order to tell a story while obstructing portions of the attraction that are meant to remain hidden.  SE’s ride system also includes speakers on each individual ride vehicle.  Disney can cue a portion of the soundtrack/narration at predetermined locations along the track.  This gives each guest the same ride experience.  Then, the 2007 renovation of SE added interactive displays to each vehicle.

Photo credit: amusementauthority.blogspot.com

Every time I see Spaceship Earth in photos or when I visit Epcot, I have a huge appreciation for the complexity of the structure itself, the attraction, and the story behind its design.  So next time you hear someone say “Hey, that’s that golf ball thing!”, you can direct them to this article to help them understand why we Disney Nerds think it’s much cooler than a golf ball.

If you have anything you wish to add, please feel free to comment below.  I am not affiliated with the Walt Disney Company.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Resources used:








Keep on Hopping

17 Aug

When purchasing a Magic Your Way park ticket to Walt Disney World, you have the opportunity to add the “Park Hopper” option.  Without even thinking, I always add it.  To me, there is no other way to visit the parks.  I MUST have the flexibility to come and go as I please between the four main theme parks at WDW.

Photo credit: news.getaroom.com

Why is having the ability to hop so important?

I think one of the reasons I’m so accustomed to “hopping” is because many of the trips I’ve taken to The World have had a duration of four days or less.  For a period of ten years or so, my visits to WDW consisted of day trips during our beach vacations or weekend trips over Thanksgiving break.  If I didn’t have the ability to hop between parks, I might have missed a whole park entirely.

Another reason I always add the Park Hopper option has to do with the way I explore the parks.  I would classify myself as an aggressive park guest.  My level of satisfaction is directly correlated to how much I accomplish (on my list of must-do’s) during my trip.  I appreciate the details, the history, and the stories associated with every corner of WDW.  Those attributes are often what make a headliner attraction so popular.  They are usually the most immersive experiences and therefore usually have the longest lines.  In addition to the headliners, I have a list of less popular attractions that are must-do’s – often for nostalgic reasons, to rest and cool off, or because I like the attraction narration/music.  To sum up, my list of must-do’s is extensive and having the ability to hop between parks is essential.

Photo credit: chipandco.com

How do I hop?  I’ve tried different strategies and have come to my own conclusion.  Yes, I’ve been to all four parks in one day.  No, I do not recommend it, but if one day is all you have and you have a ton of energy, go for it.  Since WDW requires between 45 and 90 minutes travel time between each park, you can reach a point where you’re spending more time on buses, monorails, and ferry boats, than you are in the parks.  This is not ideal.  Three parks in one day is not unheard of, but you can run into the same issue of having too much travel time consuming your day.

Photo credit: disneymeetings.disney.go.com

I have found that visiting two parks each day provides a nice balance.  It helps break up the day by either going back to the hotel for a nap or simply by changing scenery to boost my adrenaline.  Besides Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I try to experience each park once in the morning and once the evening on every trip.  Since DAK often closes early, I only visit that park in the morning.  On three-day trips or less, this system does not work.  I have to decide if I want to visit DAK at all.  On four-day trips, this system works perfectly since I can spend one morning in each park.

I think the only way I could decline the Park Hopper option would be if my trip was a minimum of six days.  Even then, I think I would have a hard time being restricted to a single park each day.

Out of curiosity, how important is the Park Hopper option to you?  Do you or anyone you know purchase MYW Base tickets without the Park Hopper option?  Please enlighten me and comment below – what are your hopping strategies?

The Imagineering of Audio-Animatronics

27 Jul

Anyone who has visited a Disney park has undoubtedly been captivated by Audio-Animatronics (or AA’s).  My fascination with AA’s started at a young age, and I’ve always enjoyed learning about them.  I also love to discuss them with other people, so I’ve decided to put together a high-level overview of their constantly evolving technology.

Control Systems

To understand machines as complex as Audio-Animatronics, it helps to first understand control systems.  A control system in its most basic form is an input that produces a desired output.  Inputs and outputs are classified as either binary (also called digital) or analog.  A binary input or output is one of two discrete values (i.e. on or off).  An analog input or output is a varying value.  How do you know if the value is designated as an input or an output?  You have to think like a controller.  The controller is the reference point.  Information that the control system receives is an input and information that the control system sends is an output.  Simple enough?

To illustrate, I’ll use an example that most people can relate to before moving on to the inner workings of AA’s.  A control system that most people encounter on a daily basis is the thermostat in your home.  Your thermostat is a controller.  Inside that controller is a temperature sensing element.  Since temperature is a varying value, it is considered analog.  Your thermostat receives an analog input from the temperature sensing element.  Your thermostat has been programmed to maintain a specified room temperature, so when it receives that analog input, it will confirm whether or not the specified room temperature has been satisfied.  Your thermostat then sends a binary signal (on or off) to your air conditioning unit.  Your air conditioning unit will continue to cycle on and off to satisfy the specified room temperature.

Asleep yet?

A-1’s: The First Audio-Animatronics (for Disney fans, the Dancing Man is not considered a true AA)

One of Walt Disney’s first endeavors with AA’s was with Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room in Disneyland back in 1963.  What made this control system so revolutionary was how WED Enterprises combined movement with sound – hence the “Audio” in Audio-Animatronics.  In this instance, a score is prerecorded and programmed on magnetic film/tape.  The control system is a group of gigantic machines that play back the programmed film in the desired sequence.  The film produces a set of signals or tones.  Every time a tone sounds, a metal reed vibrates.  The signal and metal reed are the system’s binary input.  This metal reed closes an electric circuit which triggers a solenoid.  The solenoid actuates a pneumatic valve which opens and allows air to flow.  The Tiki Room’s outputs are its pneumatic valves/cylinders.  That’s why you can hear air hissing sometimes in many of the attractions with AA’s.  This particular system is fully binary, so the valves (the outputs) are two-position: open or closed.  A simple movement that results from opening a pneumatic valve might be to open a bird’s beak.  To summarize: control signal closes circuit and solenoid actuates air valve which opens beak.  That’s just one movement.  The Tiki Room is full of countless other movements set to a full musical score.  Mechanically, it’s a simple system, but it takes a lot of time and effort to make everything work properly and to produce an entire show.

Still with me?

The 1964 World’s Fair

We’ve made it through the basics, and each new development builds upon the previous incarnation.  Next comes the 1964 World’s Fair in New York with WED’s first human AA (which were called A-1’s by the company internally), President Abraham Lincoln.  Abe presents new challenges.  First, this AA is considerably larger and heavier than the Tiki Room’s birds, and second, a human’s movements are not two-position.  Our movements vary.  To address these challenges, WED uses hydraulics in lieu of pneumatics on some of the heavier/larger limbs and they develop an analog control system.   Both a binary system and analog system are used for Mr. Lincoln.  The way the analog system works is by varying voltage to the actuators of the pneumatic or hydraulic valves which results in a full range of motion.  The control signal is not on/off; it fluctuates.  Every analog input is programmed individually on the magnetic film.  Then each piece of tape is combined into a single reel and synched with the dialogue and music.  You can see the finished product in Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color “Disneyland Goes to the World’s Fair”.  Walt gives a great introduction and we get to see Blaine Gibson, the sculptor who created Lincoln’s face.

In the same special, Walt goes on to discuss the Carousel of Progress.  This is where we get to see one of the methods by which WED was able to program the desired analog movements.  Wathel Rogers, an Imagineer, is shown wearing a harness device that records his movements onto the magnetic film.


The next major milestone is in the late 1960’s with the introduction of the Digital Animation Control System or DACS.  DACS has the capability to program movements on computer disks rather than tape.  With the advances in computer technology, Imagineers can program AA’s from a control board instead of wearing the cumbersome harness.  Also, eliminating the tape allows for easier addition, deletion, and shifting of movements in a sequence.

Side note: This system is still in use today but has gone through multiple upgrades and improvements.  DACS does not only control AA’s; it also cues lighting, sound, and other effects.  This is the control system seen in almost every Walt Disney World television special when the cameras go inside the Utilidors.


We’ve made it to the 1980’s!  At this point, Imagineers are a bit annoyed by the seemingly harsh movements that most of the AA’s exhibit.  If the movements are quick, the limbs shake which makes the whole AA move.  They end up having to slow the movements down to prevent shaking.  This is not a desirable solution, so Imagineers develop a better technology to correct these issues.  They call it “Compliance”.  Compliance allows limbs to move slightly past their programmed end location to absorb shock and soften the finish of the movement.  This is all made possible due to more robust computer systems and programming technology.  In 1989, the first AA to incorporate compliance shows up in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Disney’s MGM Studios at the time).  The Wicked Witch of the West is unveiled at The Great Movie Ride.  The company calls this type of AA an A-100.  Because of the exponential increase in channels of movement, it can take up to eight hours to animate one second of an A-100.  Keep in mind that up to this point, every AA’s inputs are prerecorded.

A-100’s are still the most recent incarnation of AA’s, but as materials are refined, control systems become more sophisticated, and Imagineers continue to tinker, AA’s movements become more realistic.  I was really impressed when I saw a clip of Ursula in The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure which opened in Disney California Adventure in June 2011.

Living Character Initiative

In the early 2000’s, Disney comes up with what they call the “Living Character Initiative”.  This encompasses both AA’s and traditional motion picture animation.  It’s a way to enhance the in-park experience by allowing guests to interact with characters.  The difference between standard AA’s and Living Character Initiative AA’s (or animated images) is that some of the inputs for the LCI characters are NOT prerecorded.  These inputs rely on operator intervention.  Typically a cast member is camped out nearby programming inputs in real time.

An example of a development from the Living Character Initiative is Lucky the Dinosaur.  Lucky is the first AA that can walk independently.  The cart he tows behind him conceals the control system and power source.  One of the reasons Lucky can roam freely is because his limbs are actuated electrically, so compressed air and hydraulic pumps are not required.  Lucky uses some prerecorded movement sequences but some of his actions are controlled by a hidden operator.  This allows Lucky to interact with guests.  Other LCI creations include Turtle Talk with Crush, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Push the Talking Trash Can, WALL-E, and Muppet Mobile Lab.

Here comes the cool part…


The future of AA’s is so advanced that Disney had to come up with a new name for them: Autonomatronics.  By the way, both “Audio-Animatronic” and “Autonomatronic” are trademarked by Disney.  The Autono- prefix is used because these characters do not rely on operator intervention; they function autonomously. The term is first mentioned on Twitter in reference to the D23 Expo in 2009.  Disney introduced a new Autonomatronic named Otto.  The control system for this new generation is capable of receiving inputs from various sensing devices.  Devices might include occupancy sensors, cameras, or microphones.  The system first receives input information.  Then the controller analyzes the input, selects the desired output, and sends a signal to trigger the end device.

If you remember the thermostat example from way back in the beginning of this post, the new Auto’s are similar in regards to inputs and outputs.  They operate in response to external stimuli as sensed by the system instead of by a human operator or by using a prerecorded sequence.  However, the Auto’s have a lot more data and much more complex control algorithms than a home thermostat.

I came up with a possible scenario of how Autonomatronics might be used.  I’m not sure if Disney is already implementing this sequence; this is simply to illustrate the technology.  An Auto might have a thermal imaging camera imbedded in it.  The control system could then use that image to identify how many bodies are in the immediate area.  That quantity would serve as the analog input to determine what dialogue and/or movements are performed.  Again, this example is completely arbitrary; I don’t know if the company is actually using thermal imaging in this way.

I look forward to the future of both Audio-Animatronics and Autonomatronics.  Who knows what their capabilities will be?  Maybe we’ll be able to hold entire conversations with them and be BFF’s.

Home Stretch

I know this is a pretty dry topic for a blog post with a lot of emphasis on technology and all-around nerdy stuff, so I appreciate anyone who suffered through reading the whole thing.  If you have any comments or anything you wish to add, please post them below.

Oh yeah, and I guess I’m supposed to say something like “I am not affiliated with the Walt Disney Company. All thoughts and opinions are my own.”

Resources Used: