Friday, November 23, 2018

Weird WDW: Eulogy For A Dancing Hippo

It doesn't feel like it anymore, but there's still a lot of weirdness left at Walt Disney World. The past ten years have seen a shocking amount of expansions, reboots, reconstructions and rejiggering, not all of which have sat well with fans. But travel outside of the well worn haunts to the distant corners of property and you will find remnants of the 90s and even 80s still hanging on, passive observers of a Disney nearly unrecognizable.

One of these corners is Fantasia Gardens, a miniature golf course Disney built only after a long legal battle with the hotel entities that own the Swan and Dolphin. The Swan and Dolphin themselves were once emblematic of weird WDW, but they were redone in the 00s and again recently and their teal and salmon decor and rococo, trellesed madness has long since been subdued. But keep walking.

Out on the edge of nothing, backed into a corner by an onramp, is one of WDW's great forgotten corners - the Swan and Dolphin's picnic pavilions. While it seems that the nearby tennis courts were originally constructed in 1990 with the opening of the hotel complex, part of Disney's agreement with  the operating partners for those hotels was that the space across the street was earmarked for any "entertainment complex". Five years and much gnashing of teeth later, Fantasia Gardens opened in 1995.

The Swan and Dolphin have always been more heavily favored by a certain class of business traveler than families, and so perhaps the idea of adding picnic pavilions to complement the full array of meeting facilities seemed a good one at the time. But I can think of no other area at Walt Disney World that has lived out such an abandoned, twilight existence as the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" and "Dancing Hippo" pavilions. At least River Country, Discovery Island, Wonders of Life and the ImageWorks were in use at one point in time; I don't think I've ever seen the picnic pavilions in actual frequent use.

Visited today, it's clear that cast members treat these pavilions as a backstage area, the event space strewn with chairs, burnt out light bulbs and intermittently in use fans. Between the two pavilions, in an antechamber that hasn't seen a simple dusting in many years, are two bathrooms, cleaned and stocked daily, for the patronage of nobody. There are areas of the Disney convention centers, especially the less popular ones like the Grand Floridian, where the bizarre disjunction between the effort to keep them maintained and the actual patronage feels as acute, but rarely as at Fantasia Gardens.

In college, when I was a rebellious Cast Member, I'd sometimes park at Fantasia Gardens and walk into Epcot the back way. I'd pull into the unmanned parking lot and wonder at those bulky warehouses on the other side of the pond, silent and empty. I'd visit the lobby of the Dolphin, stroll the Boardwalk, then enter Epcot and make the World Showcase loop. It was a pleasant afternoon, and each visit began and ended with the pavilions on the edge of forever, as dark and empty as they always were.

Disney is about to tear these down, and the Tennis Courts too. An expansion has been deemed necessary, and a small tower is being built on the former parking lot and tennis courts. The pavilions will become the new parking lot for Fantasia Gardens. By the time you read this, they may already have been dismantled.

In our current amped-up, plugged-in world of Disney fandom, consider that the closure of the garish Hanes T-shirt shop at the Village was deemed worthy of a minor round of complaining, and yet there are people who practically live at Walt Disney World but who have never even seen the Sorcerer's Apprentice and Dancing Hippo pavilions. They've been around for 23 years, meaning they lasted longer than many of the original EPCOT Center attractions, but they've entered life and are now leaving it as desolate and forgotten as ever.

Weird Walt Disney World is still out there for you, if you're willing to go find it.

Do you enjoy Walt Disney World History? Passport to Dreams has you covered with a full history resource full of facts, photos, video and more! Dive in!

Friday, November 02, 2018

Let's Have A Drink On It! Adventureland Punch

I tried hard, I really did. After the last, surprisingly successful installment of this series, I knew summer was coming soon and a nice, summery WDW drink would be appreciated. The Monorail Yellow, a classic Disney variation on the Pina Colada, seemed as good and summery a place to start. But after about two months of testing, with summer come and gone, I have to concede defeat. You shouldn't make a Monorail Yellow; instead, you should make a Painkiller*, which uses the same four ingredients in a vastly improved proportion.

(*For my notes on this process, see the comments)

Which left me pretty well out of ideas for a new drink. However, with the holidays on the horizon I had been thinking of the large-bore old fashioned punch recipes of times past. With large gatherings of friends in the future, what if I created a new punch in honor of Adventureland? After all, the punch tradition evolved into the cocktail, and probably began at English colonial outposts in places such as Macao and Bombay. And while my own efforts to put together a tiki-esque drink in honor of Adventureland had met with mixed success, surely if there was any drink that could represent Adventureland, it was punch.

Punch - Getting Drunk the Long Way

Punch? You mean that stuff that's made at Christmas out of 7-Up? Well, no, not exactly.

In this case we're going to make a genuine 19th century-style punch, which provided the template for the cocktail and eventually morphed into the Tiki Drink. And although the techniques are similar, a punch requires a slightly different mentality than a cocktail. If you're accustomed to the cocktail way of doing things, you're going to be tempted to make substitutions - but please, don't. This section exists to show you why you need to think of building this drink differently.

Punch was intended to be made in a huge vat and it was, essentially, the evening's entertainment for a group of people. This differs from a batched cocktail primarily in the fact that punch was only rarely iced and was intended to last a very long time. This means that water was always added to the punch to dilute the alcohol before it was consumed - it was designed to remain the same flavor of the course of how ever many hours it took the group to demolish the contents of the punch bowl. Compared to this, cocktails are intended to be consumed fairly quickly - indeed, much of the charm of an Old Fashioned or a Zombie is in the way its flavors change as the ice melts and dilutes it over the course of its life. Cocktails dilute while they sit; punch is already diluted to the proper levels in its construction.

The dilution in punch was often accomplished with water - sometimes boiling, if the punch was a winter time drink intended to be served hot. Several of the most infamously strong punches were diluted with champagne, like the Chatham Artillery Punch. So when you assemble this recipe, please don't be tempted to over-chill the contents - it's intended to be cool, but not cold. You also need to drink it slowly, not just because it's stronger than you think, but it can be hard to stop drinking punch once you start!

The other item you need to be mindful of is punch's main distinguishing characteristic vs a cocktail... the oleo-sacchrum compound, which I will be calling the "sherbet" in this article. "Oleo-sacchrum" is faux latin for "oil sugar", and that's basically what it is: sugar infused with citrus oil. You make this in a big batch at the start of the recipe, and it has a heft and body which cannot be replicated by any shortcut method. The sherbet is what makes a punch a punch, and what makes this recipe delicious, so you will need to take the time to do it properly. I promise you, your patience will be rewarded.

Finally, besides the somewhat time consuming creation of the sherbet, the real trick in punch making is getting the proportions correct. After some testing and reading up on the subject, I have decided to embrace the proportions of 1:1:4:6 as the most delicious and easy to remember.

We're off for Adventureland, and punch awaits! But first, let's take a quick tour through our ingredients before we get into the nitty gritty of how to make the thing.

One of Sour, One of Sweet

The Sherbet, or oleo-sacchrum, is the kind of thing you read about and shake your head, but any home drinker who has mixed up their own simple syrup can do this. To be fair, the cause has not been helped by those who advocate for soaking the sherbet for four hours or some absurd interval. They didn't have that sort of time, not even in India in the 18th century, when getting roaring drunk on punch was just about the only thing worth looking forward to. The creation of the sherbet will be expounded in painful detail during the construction phase.

By the way, the term "sherbet" is historically correct and borrowed from the famous dessert. If the liquor component of the punch is added and the whole thing bottled, this is called a "shrub" and was a common labor saving technique in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Four of Strong

Here we get into murkier territory. Limes cannot be used to prepare a sherbet, as their oil is far too bitter, yet lime is absolutely the citrus of choice if we are going to be using rum as our main strong component here; more on how I get around that later. I've gravitated towards rum, not only because it's cheap, but because this drink is intended to represent Magic Kingdom's Adventureland, of which Pirates of the Caribbean is a key component. In order to make the rum get along nicer with the rest of the cocktail, I've cut about a quarter of it with brandy.

The brandy here need not be an excellent one; Paul Masson makes a surprisingly good California brandy which is spiked with a bit of actual cognac, called "Grand Amber" and it can be obtained for less than the cost of a Big Al Trading Pin. Of course, if you have a bit of Hennessy or Martell laying about, it won't hurt the final mix either.

Personally I suggest you save your money for a  excellent rum, which must be of a Jamaican variety and have a good amount of that island's characteristic pot still "funk". The best choice here is Smith & Cross, which is expensive but makes a truly nectarous punch. I've also had good luck with the Plantation line; their flagship offering as well as their O.F.T.D. have enough of that chewy heft to cut through the sugar. In times of extreme duress, you can cut a smooth dark rum like El Dorado with a bit of Wray & Newphew White Overproof, which is a great funky mixing rum, but it won't quite have the same luscious texture.

Six of Weak

Time to add some Magic Kingdom to our punch, and there's nothing more Magic Kingdom Adventureland than the Orange Bird. Originally I was experimenting with orange sodas such as Fanta here, but they simply drowned out the delicate balance of spirit and lemon I had worked so hard to get to. Orangina, the driest of the sugary orange sodas widely available on the market, was also far too sweet here.

Thankfully. San Pellegrino is distributed in even the most humble hamlet, and their dry orange soda - San Pellegrino Arancia - has barely any sugar in it and did the trick nicely. If you have a favorite Italian-Style dry soda in stock, it may be substituted. I also had excellent luck mixing various sodas as well as trying out combinations such as blood orange and ginger ale, but none quite matched the clean citrus flavor of the Arancia.

Finishing Touches

With a sturdy framework established, it was time to try variations. I tried to add cherry notes reminiscent of Hawaiian Punch or the Singapore Sling through Cherry Heering, Marascino and Kirsch, but all of these simply muddled the existing flavor. Ditto attempts to introduce pineapple juice, which is simply too thick and distinct to integrate into the punch. Gin, Benedictine, spiced rum, and absinthe similarly failed to perk up my punch in any appreciable way.

Instead I found the best option to put some life back into it was through the simple addition of fresh citrus. Since there's already rum in the glass, I found it best to cut a wedge of lime, run the cut edge of the lime around the rim of the glass or punch bowl, squeeze the fresh juice into the punch, then drop the spent wedge in as garnish.

It was this combination of three citrus flavors - lemon, lime, and orange - that really pushed the punch over the top, making it redolent of tropical shores without being cloying. It is, as they say, almost as much fun as New Year's Eve in the orange groves.


Here we go, and we're going to be doing this with Instagram-friendly photos to show everyone just how easy it is to make the Sherbet. You want to gather up two very large lemons, a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler, a muddler, and weigh yourself out four ouches of sugar.

For the sugar, you can use refined white sugar, but I found I liked Florida Crystals, not just because Adventureland is in Florida, but because they add a nice complexity to the sherbet. You can go overboard and use Sugar in the Raw here, but it will take much longer to dissolve. You need a nice fine-grained sugar.

If you don't have a muddler, you can use anything that will allow you to squish the lemon peel and release the juice, such as the bottom of a glass jar or a heavy spoon.

Pare off the lemon peel in as much of a single, continuous strip as you can. Leave as much of the white part behind as you can. If you're used to making lemon and orange twists at home for martinis and old-fashioned, you may surprise yourself with how easy you will find this.

The long strips are more for ease of retrieval down the line, so if you have trouble making the long peels, don't worry - you can strain them out later.

Dump on your sugar and muddle the peels a little bit. You don't need to go crazy here, just get everything nicely combined.

Put aside your lemon-sugar and juice your lemons. You want to reserve as much lemon juice as you had sugar, so in this case, 4 ounces. I like to use 2 ounces of sugar and 2 ounces of lemon juice per lemon, which will get me close to that nice 1:1 ratio.

Okay, you're done for now. Go water the lawn, make a drink, or play with your dog. Go away for about 45 minutes, when you come back, you should see this:

This is one of those cases where a photo isn't nearly as obvious as this is in person, but the sugar should be very saturated with lemon oil and the whole bowl should have a nice clean lemony scent. Now to combine the juice into the sugar.

I've found the easiest way to do this is to dump the whole contents of the bowl into a tight lidded jar, add the lemon juice, and shake it. Leave it out on the counter, and every time you walk past, shake it again. Very soon, you'll notice the sugar is fully integrated into the juice. Now you can fish out the spent lemon peels and pop your sherbet into the fridge.

Ready for a drink? Measure it out thusly:
.5 oz oleo-sacchrum
1.5 oz strong rum (Smith & Cross)
.5 oz brandy (California)
2 - 3 oz dry orange soda (San Pellegrino Arancia)
cut a lime wedge, rub it on rim of glass, squeeze juice into punch

If your sherbet and soda are nice and cold, no ice is needed. You don't need to put this in a shaker and strain it off; everything can simply be combined into a glass and, if you like, stirred. If you use a short glass, you'll find the simple action of adding each ingredient, especially the carbonated soda, combines everything just fine. I like this with more like 2.5 ounces of the soda, but experiment and see what works for you. Always start with less; you can't un-dilute your punch.

If you want to make your sherbet into a shrub, to your 4 ounces of sherbet add 12 ounces (a cup and a half) of rum and 4 ounces (half a cup) of brandy. Shake, then refrigerate in bottle until ready to use.


I named this after the Jungle Navigation Company because, much like working at the Jungle Cruise, it's sweet and tropical but it will lay you out if you're not careful. Despite being nearly half alcohol, the lemon oil and sugar takes the edge off the rum to such a degree that by the time you've had three of these, it's far too late. What I'm saying is: approach with caution!

The whole thing can be built in a bowl and will serve, say, six adults to various degrees of lubrication; if you do that you can build the punch right in the same bowl as the sherbet. It may be hard to get the sugar to dissolve in the lemon juice without the use of force in a sealed jar, which is why it was common in the 18th century to add a bit of boiling water to the punch bowl (say, 2 ounces) to mix the whole thing up.

In my opinion, if you're going to go through the trouble to get you and your friends good and drunk on punch, it's worth taking the time to assemble the bottled shrub as specified above and then cutting it with around 2 cans of the dry orange soda. Again, start with less and adjust to taste.

The glasses used should be very small, around 2 ounces each, not only to encourage conviviality around the bowl, but to help temper the urge towards excess.  If you stop by a thrift store, you should be able to procure a punch bowl and set of glasses for relatively cheap.

There are two other entries in the "Let's Have A Drink On It!" series: The Howling Dog Bend and Seven Seas Drink. If you have a favorite WDW cocktail that you think is worth reworking, suggest it below!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Magic Kingdom in Early 1972

Let's take a break this month and enjoy some vintage photography.

I don't do this sort of thing all that often, not only because it's fairly time consuming, but most often vintage vacation slides aren't all that great. There's almost certain to be a wide array of throughly mediocre parade and Jungle Cruise shots, and what with the state of photography until the late 80s, most often blurry or out of focus.

But sometimes you luck out, and you come across a batch of slides not only properly exposed and well framed, but which capture interesting and relevant details of the parks, and this is what I have for you today. I bought these slides from Mike Lee, who had given up on properly digitally scanning them, and after sorting out all of the various vacation trips into neat categories it was clear these were both ambitious and interesting. Let's take a look.

We first encounter our heroes in the Hub, where they are preparing for the day.

This shot provides not only an excellent view into the vacant rear expanse of tomorrowland, but the light catches on the waterfall just right and really drives home how cool those must have looked when they were operating properly. Within a few months Disney would drain these and install little bumps all down the surface of the falls to make the water more visible, which really only had the effect of getting everything around them wet. But in the first months of 1972, you can really see this feature working properly.

The Grand Prix was their only shot in Tomorrowland.

There probably isn't a worse attraction boarding area at Magic Kingdom, then or now. In 1973, the attraction would be refurbished and murals would be added to those plain rear walls. Every so often, I see a photo like this that reminds me that the boarding area's sole decorative embellishment - that car on a tiny pedestal along the rear wall - has been there fire nearly five decades.

Up until the Indy car sponsorship of the 90s, the spotter on the elevated platform would wave a big checkered flag and everyone would pull out of the load area at once, which was a cool touch. I guess in defense of the Grand Prix, real life race tracks aren't very attractive either.

On to Fantasyland, with some fun character shots.

You can tell this is an early 1972 set because throughout our heroes are posing holding the large fold-out Magic Kingdom map. The first GAF Guide was not printed until Spring 1972, so early visitors either had to spring for the large fold-out wall map or use the map printed in Walt Disney World News.

Here's Kids of the Kingdom performing at Fantasy Faire. At this point they may still have been known as The Kids Next Door.

This is the exact lineup of performers who also appear at The Top of the World at the end of The Magic of Walt Disney World, which I think is pretty cool.

Fantasy Faire was a bandstand with a raising and lowering stage, exactly like the one still in use at Disneyland Tomorrowland. Anybody who insists that the Haunted Mansion's stretching rooms had to be redesigned to go up due to the water table, remind them that Fantasy Faire and Tomorrowland Terrace used identical Otis piston elevator platforms in 1971.

Fantasy Faire continued to host performing groups and stage shows until it was demolished to make way for Ariel's Grotto in 1994, which itself was demolished for New Fantasyland in 2009.

On to Liberty Square!

I'm not sure when the stocks were widened to allow you to stick your head in them, probably within the first few months after opening. If there any Disney thing that's been more widely copied than this simple gag?

If you look waaaaay in the background, you can see the white construction wall surrounding the Frontierland Train Station.

The Haunted Mansion's rain canopy would not begin installation until March or April 1972.

I love these early shot of the Mansion way out on the edge of nothing. The glass windows were originally red, but they were changed at some point early on. When the facade was rebuilt in 2016, they brought the red panes back, which I thought was a great touch.

Here's a rare view from the line for the Hall of Presidents! This is around the west side of the building, between the colonial home facades and the "village green". The green would be partially removed to build the covered waiting area later that year, and fully removed to be replaced by the current circular planters and tables by 1980.

Off to Adventureland...

If you don't recognize this band stand, I posted a lot of information about it earlier this year.

Standing in line for the Jungle Cruise. Notice that Disney has split the courtyard with benches and trash cans, forcing exiting traffic to proceed up the hill towards the Treehouse. You can also see those butane torches that used to burn all over Adventureland. I remember them lasting until the late 90s, but I'm not sure when they went away for good.

The photos from the Jungle Cruise trip was nearly a total bust, underexposed and uninteresting, though there is this evocative shot of Schweitzer Falls from the rear of the boat:

But not all was a loss, because our heroes stopped to pose for this superb shot of the drumming tikis, the best of its type I've ever seen:

It looks like it's astro-turf on the ground around the tikis. This would be relocated nearer the Tiki Room in just a few months, but it does look really fun to go into this circle. Marc Davis was a very underrated designer of simple interactive elements.

Over at the Tropical Serenade, it's February or March 1972 and still no Barker Bird. I believe it was somebody in Operations who made the call to add him to draw attendance to the show; it was definitely in place by June 1972.

Nearby, Country Bear Jamboree is the runaway success of Magic Kingdom! One interesting but little-reported detail is that originally, Tropical Serenade was an E-Ticket and Country Bear Jamboree was a D-Ticket... until January 1972, when the ticket prices of the two attractions switched! Hall of Presidents and Mickey Mouse Revue did the same thing at the same time, for pretty much the same reason.

I love this shot. I've seen hundreds of vacation slides and only these folks thought to photograph that indelible part of any theme park trip - waiting in line. Entertainment guides from early 1972 call these folks the "Mariachi Band", although the 1972 "A Musical Souvenir of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom" lists them as Mariachi Chapparal. The group that performed at the Contemporary was officially known as Los Gallos, but they probably shared personnel.

The facades of both Bear Band and Jungle Cruise were intended to house performing groups in this way, although the Adventureland Steel Band would only perform above Jungle Cruise for one day before being moved elsewhere. I've also seen a "Safari Band" performing on the veranda above the Juice Bar at the entrance to Adventureland. I think this is a very clever way to provide musical entertainment without having to stop the park in its tracks.

It's getting late at Magic Kingdom and the lights are on now, so after a brief visit with Brer Fox and Brer Bear it's time to head back home on the monorail.

Thanks for joining our unnamed heroes on their adventure through Magic Kingdom as it was almost 45 years ago, and thanks to our heroes for thinking to take such fun, interesting photographs! I have a few other similar posts on this site's Walt Disney World History Hub, so if you enjoyed this there's more to be seen out there! until next time!

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Music of the Tropical Serenade

This post was updated with new information on January 2, 2022.

🎶 Let's all sing like the birdies sing... 🎶

No, not that music of the Tropical Serenade.  Today let's get detailed and talk about the music that played outside of the attraction throughout its lifetime.

Tropical Serenade is just about the only WDW attraction which has had an authoritative original BGM available online since the 90s - or, at least, what was widely accepted as authoritative. As part of the early legitimate loops available through collector's circles such as the Main Street USA music, King Stephan's Banquet Hall and Adventureland Veranda, the "Sunshine Pavilion BGM" was vouched for by several sources, and How Bowers recently released a live recording made in the 90s which confirms its authenticity.

Co-incidentally, Ryan Komitor, who recently did an incredible job rounding up all of the original Adventureland Veranda music, pointed me in the direction of a fairly obscure Criterion Records release, The Beat of Tahiti. It's unpolished, in situ records of Tahitian drumming, but most importantly it provided the two missing tracks for the Sunshine Pavilion BGM.

Sunshine Pavilion BGM 1971 - 1998
01. Voodoo Bamboos [Edited] [2]
02. Kawohikukapulani [1]
03. Fautaua (Rain) [Edited] [5]
04. Bora Bora [Edited] [5]
05. Kalua [3]
06. Trade Winds [4]
07. M' Bira [3] 
[1] Hawaiian Sunset by Arthur Lyman (Hi-Fi Records, SR807)
[2] Night of the Spectre by Chaino (Tampa Records, TP-4)
[3] Primitiva by Martin Denny (Liberty)
[4] Soft Hawaiian Guitars by the Hawaii Calls Orchestra (Capitol)
[5] The Beat of Tahiti (Criterion Records TT-170) 
Compiled by Jay, wedroy1923, and Ryan Komitor

This loop is commonly labeled as being from 1971, a date I accept in the absence off any more compelling evidence. As I’ve hopefully repeatedly demonstrated on this site, the music rollout at Magic Kingdom for the first few years was messy and sporadic, and nailing down dates is largely an exercise in frustration. However, Disneyland had been using music in the lobby areas of their attractions more or less since the 60s, so I think it’s reasonable to assume that Disney prioritized waiting area loops over generalized area loops and that Jack Wagner would have cranked this out to be ready for the October 1971 debut. If this is true then this is probably his original exotica loop.

Like other early 70s loops, such as those for the Adventureland Veranda and Liberty Square, it’s a surprisingly conceptual loop, not at all like the aural exotica wallpaper he would create for later Adventureland music projects. We know this because his loop for the Disneyland Tiki Room Lanai, created in 1976, also still exists, and it’s a totally different creature.

The Sunshine Pavilion loop intersperses aggressive, almost dissonant drumming tracks with the standard exotica music you’d expect to hear outside of a Tiki Room. What first seems to be an odd choice gains more meaning once you realize that these drumming tracks were not easy to find; the first track, by weirdo experimental drummer Chaino, is a very close edit of a very specific section of one track from one very obscure album. Jack didn’t have much room for error in editing this, because just seconds on either side of the section he used are the sounds of panting and screaming!

Two selections from "The Beat of Tahiti”, which is more of the sort of thing you’d expect the Smithsonian to release than a proper music album, are followed by a Martin Denny track which begins with drumming in a similar tempo, creating the illusion that the aggressive island drums fade into an exotica reverie. The final track, another Martin Denny confection, is again heavy on the percussion, climaxing with a flurry of drum beats to herald the start of the pre-show.

I think the idea here was predicated on the entry area of the attraction being a Balinese pagoda, and perhaps related to the pre-opening term of the central feature of the Sunshine Pavilion itself being a “Ceremonial House”. That is one place you would expect to hear exotic drumming, and threading the exotica music through jazz and authentic folk music recordings is an interesting idea. I don’t think Jack totally pulled off the idea, mind you, but it’s a deceptively carefully crafted piece of work.

UPDATE: I found some extra information in a recent research dive that pieces together some more information. According to the Tampa Tribune, Dec 22 1974, while discussing the Florida Citrus "reception room", they mention in passing...
“Sounds come sifting through from the pre-show area, where guests to the entertainment attraction are plied with Polynesan-style music, punctuated at intervals by an Anita Bryant recording, “Meet me in the shade of the Sunshine Tree…”
This would be from her 1967 album "The Sunshine Tree", first song on Side B, "Sunshine Tree", which you can hear here: 

If we add this 2:20 song to my existing 15:20 reconstruction, we get 17:40. The show runs 17:13 on the original soundtrack LP. So there's good evidence that this was in the original 1971 loop, either at the start or the end. My money would be on it appearing at the start of the loop, but you never can tell. Since the Clyde & Claude toucan pre-show runs about 5 minutes, it's impossible to tell if the music simply looped endlessly while the pre-show was not running or if it restarted every time the theater show was activated. While I worked at Under New Management in the late 00s it restarted with the show, but significant work was done on the show infrastructure in the early 80s (when this song was likely deleted) and I'm no longer 100% confident that it would have worked in exactly the same way.

Under New Management was a bad idea for a bad show, but one element that took the sting out of it was that the attraction received an absolutely phenomenal waiting area loop. In the generation since Jack created his first exotica loop, Tiki culture had died on the vine and then come roaring back to life - right about the same time the Tiki Room had gone UNM. The incubator of the Tiki revival was Southern California, so somebody inside WDI knew what they were up to here. Instead of drumming interspersed with leisurely island music, the new waiting area loop was a glorious crescendo of the patron saint of exotica lounge - Martin Denny.

Beginning with a track in which Denny and his percussionists were merely the supporting act to Arthur Lyman, the group’s signature jungle howls and wails build and build, leading up the original single version of Denny’s immortal Quiet Village. The track manages to be fun, kitsch, and melodic all at once while blending a near history of lounge exotica music into a cohesive whole. I worked at Under New Management for a while, and while I can confirm that audiences simply didn’t like the thing, I was pleased that the sacrifice of my sanity for a few months more than prepared me to rebuild this waiting area loop from memory.

Oh, and after all of that rich atmosphere building by the music and architecture, then the waterfall opened and the talent agents of Iago and Zazu would bicker at each other. You know, fun!
Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management Waiting Area Music 
01. Taboo [1]
02. Martinique [2]
03. Love Dance [2]
04. Quiet Village [2] 
[1] Exotic Sounds of Arthur Lyman by Arthur Lyman (Legacy International)
[2] Exotica: The Best of Martin Denny by Martin Denny (Rhino) 
Playlist compiled by Jay

Under New Management was also the recipient of another unlikely first, the first and only Tiki Room to ever have an area loop. This played out of the exactly one speaker situated on the facade pointing out towards Adventureland, and after the construction of the Magic Carpets of Aladdin was mostly inaudible. For the identification and preservation of this information we can thank Jay at Magic Music, who spent many no doubt painful months compiling the data.

Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management Area Music 
Running time: approx. 52:44 
01. Jungle River Boat [02:32] [2]
02. Bwana A [03:08] [1]
03. Moon of Manakoora [02:34] [3]
04. The Enchanted Sea [01:57] [2]
05. Moon Over a Ruined Castle [02:56] [1]
06. Hawaiian Paradise [02:44] [3]
07. March of the Siamese Children [01:29] [2]
08. Dahil Sayo [02:28] [1]
09. Jungle Flower [01:47] [2]
10. Magic Islands [03:37] [4]
11. Hawaiian War Chant [02:33] [3]
12. Escales [02:26] [2]
13. Ye Lai Sian [02:48] [1]
14. Oahu (My Lovely Island Home) [02:47] [3]
15. Baia [03:15] [2]
16. Yellow Bird [02:32] [1]
17. My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua Hawai'i [02:34] [3]
18. Aku Aku [02:37] [2]
19. Tropical [02:51] [4]
20. Aloha Nui Loa [02:50] [3] 
[1] Exotic Sounds of Arthur Lyman by Arthur Lyman (Legacy International)
[2] Exotica: The Best of Martin Denny by Martin Denny (Rhino)
[3] Hawaiian Songs for Dancing by Guy Lombardo (Decca)
[4] Legend of Pele by Arthur Lyman (Rykodisc)
In the absence of a live reference recording of this material, I don't think a reconstruction is ever going to be possible. As I mentioned, the music was practically inaudible in the park, and the only track I can ever remember hearing clearly is the Guy Lombardo version of Hawaiian War Chant. I'm only halfway positive that the Lombardo tracks were edited to remove their vocals, and unlike with the pre-show music, my memory here is fuzzy enough that I'd rather not trust it.

However, for posterity's sake, here is the Guy Lombardo Hawaiian Songs for Dancing album, which seems to have never been re-released in any form, preserved in amber in amazing 1949 low fidelity!

In 2005, Disneyland’s Tiki Room got a top to bottom overhaul which included the retirement of the old Jack Wagner waiting area music from 1976 and the introduction of a new loop of Hawaiian Guitar music. This same loop was copied over to Magic Kingdom in 2011 with the reopening of the original show there, where it plays on to this day.

That’s 50 years of Enchanted Tiki history for you, and like all of us, there’s a lot of highs and a lot of lows too. Let’s hope the music plays on and on.

Do you like exotica and mood music? I've got a treat for you, because there's a treasure trove of playlists and reconstructions just like this as well as other resources over on our Theme Park Music page!

Friday, July 13, 2018

A Personal Magic Kingdom Wish List

One of the troubles with writing a blog like this is that although the posts that I push out onto it stay there to be read in the future, one can't go back even a few years without immediately starting to find ideas and assumptions that I wouldn't make today. Passport to Dreams has been a terrific forum for me to clarify thoughts and reach conclusions about things, but the whole trouble is that the more you know, the more you're positive that you don't know, and I think anything written before around 2010 or 2011 these days is a little suspect.

For example, talking to others and doing my own research into the Walt Disney World of the past has permanently undermined my faith in personal nostalgia. It doesn't take too much digging to find opinions of those fans that preceded you that undermine your own; the vocal supporters of If You Had Wings have all but buried the internet legacy of Delta Dreamflight, an attraction I thought highly enough of to make lyrics from it the very title of this blog. But once you start going back even further, to previous generations of fans, the waters become even murkier; how do you reconcile the fact that there are those who feel that the removal of Nature's Wonderland and installation of Big Thunder Mountain permanently ruined Disneyland? There are, presumably, even older fans than that who felt that Disneyland really started to go downhill when comedy elephants were added to the Jungle Cruise.

IS RESTORED" - me in 2003
And yet, and yet. At the same time, I'm now seeing what's happening to the fans of the stuff that came after my glory years. There are those nostalgic for the 1994 Tomorrowland Transit Authority narration, gone since 2009 and which I personally hated. There was, believe it or not, an online furor over the removal of the gaudy 90s decorations inside World of Disney. But it's hard not to look upon such things with a generous eye; after all, I hated when my stuff was removed, and the generations before me hated when their stuff was removed.

And so this post is something I maybe might have written in the early days of this blog in a radically different way. I've been putting it off for years for just such a reason, and only recently have I finally felt like I've made peace with the fact that all of the stuff that was so sacred to my childhood wasn't necessarily integral to that of others', never mind those who are children right now - today (Star Wars fans take note).

Which itself is a long winded way of saying that I feel like I'm finally ready to make this list something other than a long list of demands for the return of every last thing removed from Magic Kingdom since 1990. That is almost certainly what it would have been in 2007, and possibly in 2011. I've seen similar lists from younger folks who want, say, every single thing done to Fantasyland to be recalled and see the clocks turned back nearly exactly as possible to 1971. There are, to be sure, a good smattering of pet peeves to be found, but hopefully balanced with a good amount of experience and a healthy skepticism that not all changes are by definition terrible even if they are not per se terrific.

The one stipulation I've placed is to consign myself to the realm of the reasonably practical with the park as it exists right now. If I were given carte blanche and a limitless budget, I certainly would love to bring back every quaint shop and attraction of Main Street, but I'm also not convinced that would be anything but a largely symbolic victory. Fifty years changes a place and a culture, and it is not my job here to rail against that. So instead I've presented a list of nine reasonably possible alterations that I feel would tangibly improve the Magic Kingdom of 2018.

Tomorrowland Theater Problem

So one of the big problems inherent in the design of Magic Kingdom is that they radically underestimated who would actually show up to the darn thing. Despite the success of Disneyland and the test balloon of the World's Fair, in the end Disney erred on the side of elaborate theater attractions, predicting that Magic Kingdom would attract an older crowd that just wanted to get out of the damn sun.

That's not quite what happened. In order to close the gap between what was on offer and who was there, in the years between 1972 and 1975 Disney promoted some pretty odd things as "thrill" attractions, such as Pirates of the Caribbean and the Star Jets. The problem wouldn't be fully resolved until the 1980 opening of Big Thunder Mountain.

One odd result of of this miscalculation in the 60s is that every single Magic Kingdom area except for Adventureland has a massive theater right at its entrance. This isn't so obvious now, but perhaps no other area is as burdened by this as Tomorrowland. Since the 70s, guests have had to keep walking past two variously unappealing theatre shows to get to the good stuff. Disneyland has always had two similar buildings at its entrance, but at least one of them has always been some sort of ride!

The Circle-vision theater is a bit more flexible due to its size, but the Flight to the Moon space to the north has always been more problematic. Redoing the space into Alien Encounter and then Stitch did not solve the problem, and Disneyland opted out of the whole mess by shuttering their twin theaters and then turning them into a pizza parlor.

After 50 years it's time to admit that enough is enough and abandon the theater concept at the front of Tomorrowland. While the Alien/Stitch building isn't large enough to accommodate a dark ride, what it could accommodate is a lengthy queue, dark ride boarding area, and a few scenes. From there, Disney could wall off the front of Tomorrowland and dig a tunnel connecting the two show buildings, allowing vehicles to travel to the much larger Circle-vision theater space for the bulk of the ride. Riders could enter thru the Stitch building and exit thru the Circle-vision building, which would be pretty cool, I think.

And while we're at it, it's probably time to close the 20-year-old Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin around the corner. As the oldest and worst of all of the Buzz shooting rides, it's out of place and there's already a Toy Story shooting ride in another park. I'd close and gut the whole thing, perhaps splitting the difference between the Circle-vision space for the two rides.

There could even be a room where the two rides share a show scene - how cool would that be? Imagine seeing two different dark rides interacting with the Peoplemover running above them.

To be clear, I'm not expecting a great new concept dark ride here, but simply any kind of ride would be a better use of the space that what they have now. Have a cute Stitch ride on one side and a Big Hero Six ride on the other. Or perhaps The Cat From Outer Space. Um.... Unidentified Flying Oddball maybe? ....Disney really kinda sucks at creating sci-fi movies, y'know?

Grizzly Hall Rescue

Disney does not know what to do with Country Bear Jamboree, and this is a problem.

Bear Band has always been one of those "you get it or you don't" things, and the fact that things have gotten this bad is not all that surprising. In the days when Disney heavily marketed Country Bears, inside the park and out, the show could make a respectable showing, but now that it's competing with two of the biggest attractions in the park just down the street, people no longer feel like they have time to discover Country Bear Jamboree. Everybody reading this blog probably knows (or has been in the past) one of those people who walked clear by it, never giving it a second thought. When I tell many people that Country Bear Jamboree is one of my favorite things, the incredulous look I get speaks volumes.

But the fact is that those who do go in to see it tend to enjoy it more often than not, and having sat through probably hundreds of showings of the bears, I'm here to tell you: especially in the original 15 minute version, the show flat out works. It's weird for a few minutes, but when audiences finally surrender to its weirdo charms, it always brings down the house. Al Bertino and Marc Davis really knew their stuff. This, coupled with the recent cultural shift away from irony, places CBJ in a position to continue to be a minor favorite.

Notice those words: minor favorite. Disney, for their part, has decided that the problem with Country Bear Jamboree is Country Bear Jamboree, and various efforts have been initiated in the past 15 years to introduce newer country music, or have the bears sing Disney songs, or turn the thing into "American Idol".

But here's the thing, is that you can't make Country Bear Jamboree into the afternoon parade. It's never going to be a massive crowd pleaser, because by its very nature it's very, very weird. Country Bear Jamboree is a cult favorite, except Disney insists on treating it as a box office disappointment. The problem here isn't Country Bear Jamboree, but Disney.

Specifically it's the Disney who has insisted, more and more, that guests turn themselves into type A psychopaths, planning meals, lodging, and even attraction times down to the smallest detail. Given how stressed they've made everyone, and given that the attraction always was sort of a cult item, fewer and fewer guests are going to be in a position to give it a chance.

Disney already tried to fix the problem, by cutting down the show - from 15 minutes to a measly 10. This ignores the problem totally, because it again assumes there this is some wide, popular appear to be extracted from a cult attraction. There isn't, and those who liked it fine as it was are now less likely to stop by, while doing nothing relevant to draw in those new viewers it needs. Given that Disney is now looking at messing with the show again, more catastrophically, it obviously didn't work. It's time to save Grizzly Hall.

Country Bear Jamboree is never going to be the headliner attraction Disney wants it to be, and any further changes risk messing it up even worse than it is already - they don't make Disney like this anymore, and nobody has ever improved on a Marc Davis anything by changing it. Ever. So what if, instead of trying to turn the show into something it isn't, we found a way to change the conversation around it?

If people aren't willing to take the time to see Country Bear Jamboree, then what needs to be addressed is its role as a "value proposition". It's a 10 minute show, inside in the air conditioning, which is a fraction of the time the average guests spends standing outside having a nervous breakdown in the July heat. If they don't see the value proposition in getting out of the heat for any reason, then perhaps they need added incentive.

So my idea is to turn Grizzly Hall into an ice cream parlor.

No, seriously. Imagine taking out the back wall of the lobby so when you enter, you can see into the theater. There's now an old-fashioned saloon bar dispensing soda and ice-cream, and the seating area is the theater. Rip out all of the benches, and have multiple tiers of big comfortable booths with charging stations facing the stage. Oh, and every 30 minutes or so, the show begins!

This way everyone could have everything. Those not interested in the show can come and go as they wish, but those who would enjoy the show but would never otherwise made the time to see it can discover it as an added value to relaxing indoors with some ice cream. And those of us who love the show can "Rent Space" in the theater by buying some food. And, most importantly, the show would finally be turning an actual profit and pulling its weight in the park.

Who knows, maybe with all of those positives we can even get a longer version of the show back.

Ghostly Grievances

Okay, here's some petty stuff. I said I had some, so let's get detailed!

I think the 2007 Haunted Mansion refurb is one of the best Disney attraction redos ever, and secured a future for this beloved attraction. But that doesn't mean everything's exactly perfect. And here are a few of my pet peeves I'd personally love the address about my home away from home.

The first isn't so much a peeve as it is just something I still don't understand. In 2007, the Graveyard vocals were finally fixed and synchronized after about 15 years of being all over the place, which was great. But for some reason, they replaced most of the vocal tracks with new ones!

I don't think the new vocals are awful or anything, but I still don't understand why this was done. I don't even think it dramatically changes the ride experience, but the sheer weirdness of even thinking of doing something like that still just nags at me.

My second grievance is at the start of the attraction. Until 2007, Haunted Mansion kicked off with a slow crawl past some creepy portraits with follow-you eyes. I loved this introduction to the ride, setting to my mind the perfect tone of the house being alive and watching you. I don't think the replacement scene is bad, but what puzzles me is that the portraits were relocated to the barren Load area but the eyes were covered up!

I think if anything the effect would be even better on foot, and give people something to really enjoy while in line to get on the cars. I'm positive that this one isn't WDI's fault, though - I suspect that Operations requested the effect be axed under the belief that such an interactive effect would cause a bottleneck. I'd like to point out that such an effect has worked fine at Disneyland since August 1969 without causing a bottleneck, but given that Ops themselves insist on running the attraction improperly, stuffing far too many people into each Stretch Room and therefore causing a bottleneck, perhaps their wishes shouldn't carry so much weight.

My final gripe is a bigger one, and it has to do with something that I do think negatively affects the attraction. In 1969, Claude Coats was given a chance to re-think the Mansion for Florida, and made a number of improvements which I think make the MK model the definitive version of the attraction.

One of the biggest changes was in the Corridor of Doors, which dramatically improved the impact of the scene. Now lit in oppressive red, the scene was given a visually improved breathing door effect and a new climax, as a dead looking pair of hands are prying the top of the final door off its hinges. To my young mind this was an iconographic high point of the attraction, a moment where it really felt like the Haunted Mansion was a direct and immediate threat.

It also greatly improves the end of the scene. At Disneyland, few guests notice the last breathing door on the left because their attention has been directed off to the right. When the Doombuggies pivot past the final door and turn to face the clock, most people naturally keep looking straight ahead instead off looking down to see the bulging effect. Moving the main punctuation up to the top of the door simply stages the effect where most are prepared to see it, and also prepares you to be looking up in time to see the clock. The effect was a sudden, startling flash as you realize that the ghosts are getting ever nearer to you.

Well, in 2007 they removed the red lights - and they removed the hands. I was told at the time that an executive inside WDI decreed that no ghosts should be seen before Madame Leota summons them, to which I say fine - but that also means you've gotta take the hands off the coffin a few feet away. Personally I think the hands were a great touch, and as something drawn by Marc Davis and okayed by Claude Coats, I trust the opinions of those guys more than anyone else. I'm resigned to never seeing the blood red lighting again, but let's bring back the hands, please?

Tokyo's version shows how the gag looked in context, video by LMG_Vids

Oh, and you know the changing portrait in the Foyer? It's projected from the rear, and bounced off a mirror, meaning it's flipped twice and is seen from the right way around from the guest side. In 2007, somebody forgot about this, and flipped it to account for the rear projection, but not the mirror. He's been facing the wrong way for 11 years.

Pirates' Slow Slide Into Incoherence

One thing that I feel gets short attention in Disney circles is the role of Walt Disney and his studio in the cycle of American art we retrospectively call the Golden Age of Hollywood. Many elements of this man's career that seem incomprehensible to those of us looking back eight decades later are rather typical if we compare him to the likes of Daryl Zanuck or Louis B Mayer. The thing is, without certain contexts, we run the risk of making too much hay out of something that the larger culture of the era took for granted. And one of those facts of life of making movies once upon a time was the Production Code.

The Production Code was the result of one of those times where society is struggling with the normative changes brought about by a booming but still young Industry. Because Cinema was a media form that could reach such groups as women, children, and immigrants, the result was a morals panic in 1922 and again in 1934, each time bringing new standards for motion picture producers to abide by and increasingly strict controls.

Because Disney produced animated cartoons - not musicals and crime pictures - the influence of the Code is rarely discussed in relationship to his productions. But it was such a pervasive influence on popular culture that it created norms which would have seemed so obvious to not even be worthy of mention. And in the case of criminal behavior, the Production Code is entirely clear: if you break the law, you've got to pay the consequences. Usually this simply meant killing off the villain at the film's end in a way which seemed either accidental or coming about of their own doing. This is why so many classic Disney villains fall to their deaths: the hero really couldn't just outright kill them without needing to, under the Code, be killed off themselves.

Which is really one way of saying that the Morality Play construct of Pirates of the Caribbean, rather than being some grand artistic statement as it's been made out to be by writers such as this one here, may not have even been a consideration in 1966. Pirates were bad guys, so they must come to a bad end. And for audiences and storytellers who grew up during the enforcement of the code, it would have been simply a matter of course to be concerned with depicting this: of course the pirates must die, it's simply the way it is done!

But that's only half of the story. Come now and let's jump forward in time about forty years, when a new Pirates of the Caribbean is being created that caters to the expectations of a new audience.

This audience has grown up accustomed to films where the main characters may be not all that sympathetic and where evil is not always punished. For this audience, it makes sense to present pirates not as criminals, but as fantastical creatures from a storybook come to life. But more than anything there's one concept which the entirety of this new Pirates will be staked on: the notion of the anti-hero - a character type not seen in a single Disney film of the classic era.

And that, more than anything, is the thing which totally disrupts Pirates of the Caribbean, and why Jack Sparrow seems to so totally change the meaning of the attraction. The entire concept of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction is that piracy is bad and immoral and crimes will be punished, whether that be exploding in a burning warehouse, being stabbed over a treasure chest, or slowly dying in a cave full of pilfered treasure. But the mere existence of Captain Jack Sparrow suddenly turns a clean, clear group of villains into a group of villains where... some of them? Aren't bad either?

Add to this the fact that Barbossa, a fairly clear cut bad guy in the first film, himself returned in later films as a Jack Sparrow-esque antihero and is depicted as actually leading the band of Pirates that attack the town on-ride. Instead of getting the feeling that these crimes are being created by a disrupting force, identifying characters audiences have already accepted in other media forms as the driving characters in the story necessarily changes the inflection of the actions.

And then there's the merchandising, which regrettably plays a role in all of this too. Now to be clear, it's not like Disney hasn't always been selling pirate hats and swords and letting children buy them and run around the park pretending to stab each other. I was purchased a tiny metal pirate gun when I was five and I used it to shoot all of the animals on the Jungle Cruise. Kids will be kids. However, for a long time Disney has really been pushing the angle of "join the crew", no more so that at The Pirate's League, where boys and girls can be made up into pirates and pirate-princesses or mermaids. There's also an interactive Adventureland game where you band together with Jack Sparrow to search for treasure. The emphasis, time and time and time again, is on joining the crew, the same crew that we can see on the ride burning down a city!

The moment you back away from the position that the ride was designed under - that pirates are bad news - is the moment when you then open up the possibility for debate of "well if the Pirates are such fascinating fantastical beings, then why are they doing such awful things?" and that's when you start losing the heart of the ride. Are we supposed to admire the pirates? Are they heroes or villains?

It's clear that WDI's position is that instead of a morality play, Pirates of the Caribbean is an action-adventure, an action-adventure to fit with the popular action-adventure films of its era. Jack Sparrow is like a layer of sweet frosting plopped on top of this brooding atmospheric rock. It may make it more fun, but it doesn't mean its a cupcake.

I think the Magic Kingdom version is nearer to that action-adventure than the others, and pretty much always has been. But if they're going to commit to that tone, then more work needs to be done not only to clarify who exactly is supposed to be the good guys and who is supposed to be the bad guys, but how all of this fits together.

I'd do this by bringing back a new version of the Blackbeard captain in Bombardment Bay and losing all of the mentions of Jack Sparrow in the well scene. You can then take Jack Sparrow out of the well scene and move him upstairs, near the start of the ride, where he can establish that he's looking for the gold - a motivation consistent with his character in the films - and perhaps hint that the caverns are haunted. If the queue were then re-worked to make it clear that you are in a fort and the pirates are coming to attack the town, then we could have an unbroken chain of action from the start of the ride to the end. Add some exciting music to the exit and you've got an action ride.

Of course the real question is whether at this point it's worth redoing the ride to better present the film material at all. Prior to the 2006 reform, Jack Sparrow mania was at a fever pitch, but already the films have receded from the public eye. WDI removed the Davy Jones waterfall from Disneyland this past year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see most of the film materials slowly being phased out over the next decade. It may seem like commerce beats art more often than not, but one nice thing about art is that it tends to last and last while profits fade.

At a bare minimum, MK Pirates needs help on its setup. The current attraction gives no real hint that you're supposed to be entering a fort being attacked by pirates, and the loss of the firing roof cannons does nothing to help this. Additionally, the queue was redone in 2006 and the Glendale-based design team slapped the Pirates Overture music all over the entire queue, totally messing up the creepy tone that had been established since opening day and drowning out the dialogue establishing that the pirates are coming to attack further into the queue. Since the roof cannons were refurbished to make them part of the Jack Sparrow game, turning those on a constant loop, returning the "Pirates Arcade" music to just the entrance tunnel, and turning up the volume of the queue dialogue are three 100% free things WDI could do tomorrow to improve the front part of that attraction.

Consider the Background

Given that I'm pretty well known for this these days maybe this isn't so surprising but I really wish somebody would sit down and rethink the area music at Magic Kingdom from the ground up. I don't think parks per se need to constantly be evaluating their musical background, but Magic Kingdom has overall made fairly few changes to the locations and kinds of music they play since the 1990s, and I think this can lead to bad "legacy" changes sticking around longer than necessary.

For instance, all of watercraft that ply Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon are trapped in the early-00s "Radio Disney" mode, and the result is I think fairly embarrassing. Relaxed instrumentals and perhaps ocean-going music really would do a better job setting the atmosphere for these minor vehicles. Similarly, especially given that new ones are supposedly en route, not playing up-tempo music on the monorails is really a lost opportunity. These sort of minor improvements can really help set expectations and pace the experience, so you don't have the absurd juxtaposition of, say, playing 90s pop covers on a ferry boat that moves at a snail's pace.

Similarly, I think Magic Kingdom overall needs a total rethink in the sound department. Some areas, like Liberty Square, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, or the Tangled bathrooms, are perfectly fine, while others I think really could be improved with new music selections. Given that the expanded Hub area seems to belong as much to Fantasyland as Main Street, stately music would go a long way towards improving the feeling of that area. Similarly, Cinderella Castle has been playing the Disneyland Paris castle area loop since at least the mid-90s, and for that castle the choice is entirely wrong. For the first 20 years, Cinderella Castle played a short vocal version of "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes", and all it takes is a trip to Tokyo Disneyland to hear what an impact that track has in situ.

In other cases, I think less music would be just as effective. Frontierland can keep its upbeat Western music around the entrance, but there's an opportunity here to create a more dynamic soundscape, perhaps with plunked banjos or honky tonk pianos coming from upstairs windows. How cool would it be to walk along the Rivers of America at night and hear the crickets and frogs of the Mississippi instead of the hum of Florida cicadas?

Similarly, Adventureland has been playing upbeat drumming and steel drum music since 1993, another track taken over wholesale from Disneyland Paris, and it does nothing to set the tone. Languid exotica music as well as some strategically placed speakers on the landscaped hill across the moat playing jungle bird calls would really bring the area to life, setting the correct mood of mystery that's being missed right now.

To be abundantly clear here, I don't think every track needs to be changed at Magic Kingdom, never mind changed back to what it was in the 70s and 80s. There's plenty of places where what's playing there now is as good or better than what was used there before, such as Tomorrowland. And while I'd jump at a chance to return the WEDway music to its ride, I think the 2003 Tomorrowland music does such a good job setting the correct tone that there's no need to change it again. But there's other areas of the park where the design of the area says one thing and the music says another, and I think bringing those into closer harmony would really improve things for everybody.

To give just one more example, MGM / Hollywood Studios recently had the entire entrance of that park totally redone from a musical perspective with an integrated "vision", and the effort made a huge difference. Music can improve or detract even when the design of a park remains static, but I think Magic Kingdom feels like a very different place than it did even ten years ago, so there's a real opportunity to improve here.

That Dumb Hub Stage

Yes, it's back. Already my number one remaining complaint about this park, I still think the Hub Stage is a terrible, terrible decision, and on top of that, doesn't even make much sense for the theme park built in Florida. Do people really enjoy standing in the absolutely merciless sun to watch the 30 minute long shows that happen here?

A few years back, Disney announced they were going to build a new indoor theater off Main Street, a decision I applauded. The project hasn't moved forward, leading to online rumors of cancellation. I really do think that, given the choice between standing out in the sun and sitting indoors to watch a Mickey Mouse show, most guests will choose the latter. Given all of this, I'm hopeful that the Main Street Theater is simply delayed, or will return in a better form, and that once open it will start reducing Entertainment's absurd reliance on a hub stage. I think the hub stage would be a nice venue for band performances, or seasonal events, but it's time to stop pretending that this dreary slab of fiberglass is remotely an appropriate location for staging increasingly long and elaborate shows.

If nothing else, if the number of shows on the Hub stage were even at a bare minimum halved, this would allow time for Operations to bring out those Main Street Vehicles, which Magic Kingdom's Main Street hurts for badly. If it were up to me to start from scratch I'd lose the Hub stage permanently and build a theater facing the castle where the poorly-utilized Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station is, but really any move forward on this totally senseless arrangement is a good one.

Restore the Peddlar's Passage

Did you know that Liberty Square had two of its buildings cut fairly late in the game? They were right across from each other, near the Riverboat Landing, and while one of these has received its very own write-up on this blog nearly ten (ack) years ago, it's the one across the way that I'd like to focus on here.

The north side lost building of Liberty Square (above) was originally intended to feature artisan crafts like woodworking and blacksmithing, and when it was cut, designers replaced it with a short-lived open green space. This stuck around for maybe a full year total, when the constant out of control queue for the Hall of Presidents required that the south half of it be turned into a covered queue for the attraction. It stayed like this for some time until the grass was paved over and replaced with a bunch of circular planters, which is the arrangement that's still there to this day. Over the years it's hosted various popcorn wagons and merchandise options, before settling into its current role as an outdoor food market circa 2002.

So here's an situation where Magic Kingdom has been utilizing a building they have no real need of, a covered queue with an open air network of umbrellas and random tables, for a perfectly good purpose, but due to the very nature of its temporary setup, not doing it as well as it could be done. And here's the thing: there's already a 100% attractive structure that was designed 50 years ago by John Hench and Herbert Ryman that's just sitting in their archives unused.

So what I'd do is pull the blueprints, make the necessary adjustments for modern accessibility, and put it up on the spot of the old queue and circular planters. The same food options can be offered in the interior space, with the added benefit of not needing to operate at reduced capacity when it rains every day.

Oh, but the thing is that the design benefits to Liberty Square would be huge. Designed to resemble a charming series of colonial cottages very much like the ones behind the Liberty Tree, it would restore one of the biggest cuts to the design of Liberty Square when the building got the axe: the narrow, atmospheric alley that was supposed to run between the side of the building and the Hall of Presidents, an area called the Peddlar's Passage. Liberty Square has always been charming, but imagine an opportunity to bring back an intimate alley from the designers of New Orleans Square that was lost for 50 years while also serving to improve an existing problem area in a way that Disney is actually honestly prepared to spend money on these days. The blueprints exist in the Archives in Glendale. This could be real.

The Rivers of America and Railroad

I long ago decided that I really have no interest in working for Imagineering, so for those of you who do and are fighting the good fight: I salute you. But if I could join and do just one thing, one single thing I'm absolutely chomping at the bit to redesign isn't a new Horizons or Mr Toad or Journey Into Imagination, it's the Rivers of America and Walt Disney World Railroad at Magic Kingdom.

The Railroad in particular has always been a real wasted opportunity at Walt Disney World, although I do prefer it to the slightly more elaborate Railroad in Paris, which never quite creates the feeling of removal that makes the WDWRR so interesting. Pretty much all of the railroad rides except for Florida's is landlocked, and as a longtime Magic Kingdom rider I find something evocative about riding the rails at night, where the forest surrounding the back of the park really feels endless. As a result my redesign of the Railroad would probably be vastly simpler than most: just a few simple gags here and there to keep interest high without spoiling the atmosphere. I'd for sure send the train through a new tunnel which would block out that terrible overpass on the edge of Fantasyland, I'd also theme the rear of the Pirates of the Caribbean show building that everybody sees plain as day before the tunnel, but the rest would be simple atmosphere building stuff.

For instance, it would be nice to see a jungle animal or two as we pass through the "outskirts of Adventureland", and I think Disney missed a huge opportunity when they cut up the plane from The Great Movie Ride into pieces and tossed it out instead of moving it to sit alongside the railroad tracks for clever visitors to ride the Jungle Cruise and finds its rear half.

The back stretch of Magic Kingdom has always just been sort of a nothing area, and in the early days this was even presented as "a view of untouched Florida". Today it's seen more as "the outskirts of Fantasyland", which is absurd, but if that's what it is, that's what it should look like. I'd move the rattlesnake and frog-on-a-stump vignettes to be nearer to the Frontierland area, nearer to the Indian village, and do something with the idea that Fantasyland is somehow supposed to be nearby. Perhaps some fantastical boats plying the retention pond, or, to play into the idea that this its way outside the "nice" areas of Fantasyland, some crumbling castle walls would add a sense of romance and mystery.

The tunnel that goes under the overpass could be claimed to be part of the mine of the Seven Dwarfs, and have a jeweled forced perspective tunnel that leads off in the direction of the new coaster. Another approach that would be interesting is to imply that the villains hang out way outside here; Stromboli's wagon parked alongside the river or Prince John's carriage from Robin Hood would be a cool touch. Honestly, the area's so green and underpopulated that it would be super cool to pass by Robin and Little John hanging out around their camp.

Past Tomorrowland, the Railroad provides views of the Seven Seas Lagoon and the Contemporary, making it the only castle park to really try to integrate the railroad, park, and resort area into one scenic view, but I've always thought more of an effort to imply that we're getting closer to Main Street, and that the Main Street Citizens come hang out here, would be cool. It can be something as simple as a Model T Ford parked underneath a tree with a picnic set up.

Nice shot of the boat, but don't forget the "dangerous" floating logs!
I feel that the Rivers of America needs far less work, although an extensive re-landscaping would be great. The real trouble with the Rivers of America is that a "hazard" scene was removed in 1972, although the ride has continued to pretend that this part of the River is somehow dangerous. Originally the scene was a bunch of branches sticking up out of the river (left), a detail lifted from Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi. The branches went away almost immediately, and since then they're been pretending that underwater shoals are the reason we're supposed to be concerned. The trouble is that underwater shoals look like nothing, whereas branches are at least a good visual indicator of a threat, so the scene doesn't work at all. Something needs to be installed to look at between the Burial Ground and Pirate's Cave, and additionally I've always felt that expanded propping along the shoreline of the Haunted Mansion was a missed and obvious opportunity.

Another thing I'd like to do is install a number a "show" boats in the river alongside Liberty square, to better carry the idea that it and Frontierland and supposed to be bustling port towns. This idea went away when the Keelboats did, but some prop tall-masted ships sitting alongside the docks of Liberty Square would really tie together the north part of the land. Oh, and of course, something needs to be done about that burning cabin. I don't care if it never burns again, but it needs to be fixed up and turned into something attractive to look at if that's the case.

This has been a longwinded and fanciful ramble, perhaps more than any other in this list but I think it's nice to point out that even without a Primeval World diorama and fancy Star War-blocking waterfalls, there's no reason why simple additions couldn't turn both of these attractions into real winners.

And One Last

Okay, one last petty one. I love Magic Kingdom Small World, and I don't care if you don't like it, or think that Disneyland's is better. I love this ride. But in the otherwise excellent 2005 refurbishment, why on earth would they remove this absolute masterpiece of a visual gag from the final scene?

You laughed, admit it. It's still funny. Bring it back.

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