Tony Baxter working on his beloved, but never realized Discovery Bay idea. Note the Hyperion at the bottom from Islands at the Top of the World just below the Nautilus. Also notice that at the top is Dumbo Circusland, which has since become very much realized in Storybook Circus. Note that this photo comes from Disney’s Annual Report, which Tony expresses his love for. Copyright Disney.
I listen to a lot of great Disney podcasts out there while I’m working out (yes…I work out…believe it or not). But my absolute favorite is The Season Pass. There is seldom a program–particularly on Disney–where I don’t walk away with something new. This week’s podcast features newly named Disney Legend Tony Baxter. It is so awesome, and it’s only part I of the interview. You’ll hear how he started his career with Disney Imagineering while working at Disneyland as a host in Adventure Through Inner Space. He talks about helping build Snow White’s Adventures (they weren’t called scary back then) as well as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, then speaks about how Big Thunder Mountain came to be. It’s wonderful. I’m on my third listen (okay, maybe I work out too much).
But what was fascinating, especially in the arena I focus on in this blog was how he was mentored by Claude Coats. After Walt’s death, the work of designing and developing attractions for Disneyland and into the opening of Walt Disney World remained with the original generation of Imagineers. The problem is that this group was retiring and their wasn’t any effort being made to bring in the next generation. Due to persistence and luck, Tony had the unique opportunity to become not only part of that next generation, but to be tutored under Claude Coats. Because of that opportunity, Tony received huge opportunities as an Imagineer in the years to come.
Claude on the right directing the work on Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland with Fred Joerger on the left. In the podcast, Tony discovers this picture as an Imagineer and makes an important connection to his relationship with Claude. Copyright Disney.
He also talks about the age gap between mentor and mentee. It worked really well for Tony given that he was young and Claude was near retiring. He reflects on the importance of their being an age gap in mentors and mentees so that their isn’t a feel of envy or jealousy by the mentor. This occurred with Rolly Crump and Walt Disney himself, which made older Imagineers somewhat jeaous at the time. Mentoring worked really well between Tony and Claude. And Tony talks about mentoring a new generation of Imagineers and would-be Imagineers today.
Who has mentored you? Who are you mentoring? Mentoring is so important in carrying the success of an organization from one generation to another. Tony will say that he owes much of his career to Claude. I would say that Claude’s greatest legacy was not a ride or attraction, but the time he spent with Tony.
Again, please catch this all on The Season Pass! You will absolutely love this interview!
The New Wilderness Explorers Adventure Outpost
I wrote the other day about a very special experience on a double decker bus at Epcot. It came at the end of the park’s operating hours. In this story we head to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. One of the things that Cast Members enjoy most about working at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is that the park usually closes sooner than the other three parks at Walt Disney World. Most days, minus summer and special holidays, the park closes at 5:00 pm. That means that many can be home by suppertime. It’s a nice perk.
But then comes the long summer when the park closes often at 8:00 pm. Most cast members are ready to go home long before that, but many guests like to come during those last hours of the day since the weather has often cooled off a little from the hotter, stickier moments of the day.
That was my experience with my son when we came around 4:00 pm. His itinerary was of course to see Festival of the Lion King. Mine was to check out the new Wilderness Explorers interactive game. Less technologically based than other interactive activities that had been introduced at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom, I wondered if my autistic son would show interest.
On the bridge leading to Discovery Island we met up with a very lively Kalah, who handed out books to several children including mine. She taught all the Caw Caw Roar, handed out the Wilderness Explorer Call Badge sticker and sent all on their way. My son was not the least interested. We tried another stop or so, but his interest was Festival of the Lion King. So we journeyed on to that location.
Afterwards we came to Dinoland, his second favorite attraction. Not the ride—just the pre-show. He’s yet to do the actual ride. After spending quality time with Phylicia Rashad, he mentioned interest in getting something to eat at Restaurantasourus. It was about 7:35 pm. I wasn’t hungry—I just ordered him a children’s meal (now at $7.49) and waited. And waited.
There were only two or three other people in the restaurant ordering food, but my meal took over ten minutes to come back to us. I watched through the opening in the wall what was going on. They seemed to be chatting away waiting for another food product to be readied for another guest, not thinking about going on to the other orders. When they got around to my order, they pulled out a burger from the steamer, slapped it between two buns and added fries.
I commented on how long I had been waiting to the French Cast Member assigned to the restaurant. She apologized, but offered no explanation.
We sat down and I looked more closely at the meal. Twelve French fries were all that were there at the bottom of the bucket. What was most frustrating was observing the manager on duty, who seemed more concerned about closing up areas of the kitchen and restaurant than making certain that guests had a great experience.
Did I mention this cost $7.49
My son finished his meal and we left. Heading back to the entrance of Dinoland we happened to pass by another Wilderness Explorer station where a Cast Member was busy putting things away—after all it was now around 8:00 pm. Suddenly she turned, noticed us, and called out to us. “Hey, I met you earlier today at the bridge when you received your Wilderness Explorers Handbook.
Kalah gave direct eye contact with my son and invited him again to do the Caw Caw Roar. He wasn’t focused on her, and I apologized for his cognitive challenges. But she would not be deterred. She invited him to see the fossils and to name some of the animals displayed there at the Troop Leader Post. Soon he had worked through a very short version of earning the Fossil Badge. I thanked her, and started heading to the exit, when I realized how really she was in no different a position than the cast at Restaurantasourus. She wanted to get home too. She could have ignored us, or simply waved at us. Instead, she chose to interact.
Kalah and my son
I found the same thing by the time I reached the bridge at Discovery Island. It was well after closing but several Wilderness Explorers were helping youth with the final qualifications of their badges.
It’s not easy to give your all each and every day when you provide customer service. It’s even more difficult when you’re exhausted and ready to head home. But sometimes the most important service is offered in the final hours of the day than any other time of day.
On our very first trip to Walt Disney World Thanksgiving of 1988 we spent five days exploring every crook and nanny of what then was only the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. By the last night we were exhausted. We had walked all day. While we budgeted carefully for this trip, we splurged on a formal dinner at L’Originale Alfredo Di Roma in Italy. After a meal and Illuminations we decided to sit down and enjoy our last moments in the park before the long walk back to the bus section at the front of the park. When it seemed that most everyone had filed out, we began to get up to leave. When all of a sudden out of nowhere came one of the double decker buses that used to circle World Showcase.
“Would you folks love a ride?”
“Would we? Absolutely!” We got on board and soon headed around World Showcase—past Germany, China, Norway and Mexico. We figured he would drop us off at near the Port of Entry stores at entrance to World Showcase. But the jitney took a right turn through Future World and right up to the front of Spaceship Earth. It was a little thing, but how it meant so much to us.
We left our first trip at Walt Disney World on such a positive note. In the years since we’ve spent many an evening on a date night since at Epcot. We still stand in awe over Illuminations, and we’ve enjoyed nearly every restaurant in Epcot. But nothing will compare with that small moment when someone offered us a ride back to the front of the park.
I’ve wondered back to that moment. The buses are long gone–perhaps well given the safety challenges of getting past the crowds. But I often wonder about the intention in giving us that lift. I rather think that didn’t happen just that one time. The buses weren’t on their way back to the bus barn, as that location was back behind China. It would have been easy for management to cut those positions at park closing just as the fireworks were going off, keeping them from going over time. No one would have noticed nor expected otherwise. But the gesture of going around and picking up the last guests needing a lift back to the park is really what makes Disney different than any other operation. It is making magic to the very end.
I have two new recent articles on MousePlanet about planning your time in the parks with FastPass+:
The first overviews what FastPass+ is.
The second looks at how you might want to approach planning your time in the parks with FastPass+
Both have a lot of interest and comments. This is really a game changer. Hope you enjoy the articles.
Guests gathering at a Jedi Training Academy event. Photo by J. Jeff Kober
I’m back! Sorry I haven’t blogged in recent months, but work comes first, and my work is very seasonal!
I have many wonderful things to talk about, but here’s a teaser to get you started. I totally appreciate this open letter because I have children who deal with Autism. I think this Cast Member did some fantastic service recovery, even when it wasn’t Disney’s fault. You will absolutely love it!
Fifteen years ago Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened as Walt Disney World’s fourth gate. We interviewed Rick Barongi who was the first major animal care expert that came aboard this project in its infancy. Click here to take a look at the history of how this spectacular park came to be.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom under construction. Photography by Steven Smith.
by J. Jeff Kober
Events yesterday at the Boston Marathon, along with events only a few months ago in Newtown, Connecticut have caused all of us to stop and consider the good and bad of the world we live in. There has been much comment and even debate in the social media networks. But sometimes, what it really takes is action. To that extent, I provide you the following story. I wasn’t sure I wanted to share it out of respect for the privacy of the family. That’s why I don’t use the names in the story. But I think the message is powerful, and can be used to invite us to consider what each of us can do to serve another.
Over the last couple of years a manager at the Coronado Springs hotel made friends with a family from Newtown, Connecticut. The Disney Cast Member especially came to know the family’s little girls who would seek out the Cast Member and share their experiences visiting Walt Disney World. They would talk about being princesses and the girls were so excited when the Cast Member asked for their autographs. They emailed the Cast Member when they returned back home to Newtown and sent her pictures they had drawn (which sits proudly on the desk of the Cast Member).
So when the family returned this year, the girls ran up and gave the Cast Member hugs and kisses. The Cast Member inquired about their vacation this year. At one point the grandmother pulled the Cast Member at one point to the side to say that the 7 year old, who attends Sandy Hook Elementary School, was in one of the classrooms on that fateful day. In fact, it was her second-grade class seen in the photo running away from the school. She was okay, but she lost 3 of her best friends and the past few months had been very hard on their family. Afterwards, the family walked away promising to come back the next day to tell the Cast Member about their experiences at Epcot.
The Cast Member immediately called her partners at the Yacht and Beach and asked if they could get them special fireworks viewing for Illuminations. They were able to get the family on a fireworks cruise from the Yacht and beach Club that night! The family could not have been more excited, and the girls loved that they each got 5 balloons along with it.
Still, the Cast Member wanted to do more. Brainstorming with an entertainment manager at the Magic Kingdom, they planned a private meet and greet prior to the next day’s parade.
This is one of the few times ever an entire character group photo was taken of those in the parade.
Normally, for a meet and greet, a few Disney characters volunteer for a photo opportunity. But today would be different. Every single character from that parade was there to greet them. The princesses presented the girls with baskets full of princess paraphernalia and handed them a giant poster with everyone’s autographs. They then walked them to their roped off viewing section and each Disney character who they had just met backstage walked up and hugged them again during the parade. The entertainment manager shared with the Cast Member from Disney’s Coronado Springs how much this family touched the entire Cast of the parade and how they were still taking about how much they loved the girls.
The mother told the Cast Member how grateful they were for the memories they made on this trip. While they could not replace the ones made that fateful day, they were still memories that would last a lifetime. The mother said it was the first time they were able to relax and could give some innocence back to the children.
The Disney Cast Member remarked, “It is amazing to me the power of our brand, the world we can create, and the amazing partnership I received across the property to help make a magical trip for this family was overwhelming.”
Indeed, it is overwhelming what the power of a few people coming together to serve others–to bring light and happiness–and to make the world a better place. That’s the message here. If you want to make a difference, than you simply have to serve others. To that end, several on Facebook have recently posted this quotation from Mister Rogers:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
If we want to do something more than post, than we must help. We must proclaim love and peace through our actions. The rising generation will not embrace a kinder, gentler world because they tire of viewing so much gore and violence, as much as they are really shown by us how much greater a world filled with love and understanding is.
To the Cast of the 3:00 parade, thanks for showing how.
During Spring Break, stand-by queues for Under the Sea-Journey of The Little Mermaid at Walt Disney World are stated as being close to 2 1/2 hours. What if an iWatch fixed that problem?
By J. Jeff Kober
What if a billion fixed your customer’s biggest complaint?
And it also made you money, reduced labor, and created greater guest satisfaction?
Call it Next Gen, My DisneyExperience or MagicPlus. Disney’s been working on a high-tech project that’s about to be released in a major way over the weeks, months and years to come. It’s been billed as a way to efficiently have one source to get into your hotel room, charge purchases in the parks, and utilize it for planning FastPasses in advance.
Some Disney fans are its biggest critics. Why would someone spend that much money for some band or for the ability to make a FastPass reservation? You can still build a lot of attractions for that kind of money. Used cleverly, you could use the money on four strong attractions in all four Walt Disney World theme parks to draw people in.
While some Disney fan sites have been critical about the investment, annual pass holders were nearly giddy with the experience of changing their annual passes over to RFID cards this last week.
Bob Iger loves technology. He’s made it one of three core strategic priorities when he became CEO at Disney. Stated he:”I’m committed to increasing long-term value for shareholders and am confident we will continue to do so through the successful execution of our core strategic priorities: the creation of high quality, branded content and experiences, the use of technology, and creating growth in numerous and exciting international markets.”
Wanting to move forward in a big-price, high-tech way isn’t so easy. How do you get the board of directors at Disney to sign on to spending that much money on technology?
The answer is simple. Have Steve Jobs sit on the board.
With the purchase of Pixar, Steve became Disney’s biggest shareholder. He also became a member of the board of directors for Disney. You don’t think that Steve wasn’t toying with what would make a theme park experience better? Do you think Steve and Bob didn’t talk about this?
Of course Steve Jobs passed away. But not before doing two things: First, paint a glimpse for Bob Iger about what the future might look like utilizing technology in the parks. Second, Arrange for Bob Iger to sit on Apple’s board of directors.
So what does this all mean for you the guest at Disney?
To understand what this initiative is all about, it’s probably more useful for you to figure out what Apple is doing. They’re the technology leader–not Disney. And Disney is there to follow their playbook.
I noticed an article a few weeks ago that talked about the use of Apple iPod touches to help guests enter the park. Initially I thought this was just to reduce the amount of congestion expected at these new turnstiles. But I thought it strange that Guest Relations hosts and hostesses were handling these devices, rather than admissions folks.
What is happening is that before, when you had a problem with your ticket, you were re-directed over to Guest Relations. Now Guest Relations can look right then and there and resolve your issue rather than go over to the Guest Relations kiosk and stand in line. You don’t have to leave the gate and get in another line. Cool. That’s a very nice thing. But it’s not worth a billion.
Yet the article made me think about where Apple was going. Apple has many projects going on, but one of the most intriguing is the development of the iWatch. It’s said that Apple has filed some 79 patents on this, and that it has teams of people working on this day and night to create an offering, that could conceivably be launched as early as Fall of this year.
Here is but one interpretation of what could be done with a new flexible kind of “Gorilla Glass” being used to create an iWatch.
It’s been some 3 years since Disney did an unusual test at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. There they handed out tickets with instruction that stand by guests could get in line to ride when their number was posted. In place of a queue was a DJ, some games, and benches to sit down. The idea was to create an experience of waiting to ride the attraction without going through the experience of having to wait in a long line.
Fast forward to the opening of the new Dumbo the Flying Elephant about a year ago. Dumbo is an iconic ride for Disney. It was also one of the worst queues you could ever experience. It wasn’t a long queue. It simply didn’t move fast. That meant you stood. And stood. And stood–often with small kids. Painful.
Dumbo’s new circus tent waiting spot. No need to queue any more.
The big thing everybody talked about with Dumbo was that there were now two spinners. But there was also much more. Instead of a queue, an interactive tent was established, and guests waiting in standby were given a restaurant pager letting them know that their kids could play and the parents could relax until their pager went off, letting them know it was time to queue. Critics complained that the playground offered nothing for adults–but it’s been a big hit for kids. And it has given parents a chance to relax and let their kids play until it was their turn.
With the addition of a MagicBand you will still need the pager. But with the addition of an iWatch you won’t! It–not the pager–will be able to tell you when you can go on the ride. And for that matter, why wait in the tent if you don’t have a kid who wants to enjoy the playground? You can go next door to Big Top Souvenirs while you’re waiting.
People are excited about the new Disney MagicBand. But imagine how excited they’ll be with an iWatch. These bands are simply a device to transition you over to more exciting technology.
You’re thinking, “That will simply be like FastPass. What’s the difference?” Remember, FastPass is changing. You’ll set your reservation for FastPass ahead of time, so you won’t have to go to the attraction to get a paper slip like you did in the past. That means when you arrive, you can walk right on in when it’s your turn rather than check-in first. With stand-by, you will have to check-in at Dumbo by swiping your iWatch. But then as long as you have an iWatch or a smartphone, you are then free to do what you want until you check in. And if you don’t have an iWatch or a smartphone, you can still get the pager like they currently require and wait in the tent.
Do you see where we’re going with this? In time, there may no longer be any major queue other than the one used for boarding when you check in.
Now imagine if every major queue could essentially be like Dumbo’s? Maybe not places where there really isn’t much wait like the Carousel of Progress, but what if you took out almost the entire stand-by railing at The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, leaving the activities and just put in a few benches? Guests checking into the Standby queue could sit and enjoy while their kids play on the interactive activities now in place. Or as long as they have an iWatch or a smartphone device they could go next door to the gift shop and browse. Or hit the restrooms. Or simply grab a bite to eat, knowing their iWatch was telling them they still had another 15-20 minutes? And then when it was time, their iWatch would beep and they would return to enter. Those in time without an iWatch could still be given something like the beeper. But in a few years time, many will have an iWatch.
This Tigger Bounce area barely made it pass opening day due to the potential of injury. Still, the idea was that parents would “stand around” while the kids bounced in the middle. Waiting around until your iWatch signals for you to enter the attraction is the way the future could look at Disney parks worldwide.
Imagine that the queue at Big Thunder Mountain took out it’s queuing rails and simply added benches along with all those new interactive games? Imagine that with an iWatch the interactive game at Space Mountain could “carry over” your game into another console as you snaked down the line toward the boarding area? What if your water-proof iWatch let you go under the boat and watch the fish swim until you were ready to enter the lagoon at Shark’s Reef at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon for your own turn to go snorkeling? Simply put, there could be no waiting at Disney with iWatch.
Imagine Disney taking out the rails and adding benches. It’s simply a waiting room until it’s your turn to ride the train. Simply check in when it’s your turn on standby with your iWatch.
In essence, within a few years, Disney could conceivably remove its major queues. That’s just one big thing that a billion (early projections stated even more was being spent) just might buy you in 12 major Disney theme parks world-wide. It will start with Walt Disney World, but with lessons learned, it will move forward from there, perhaps to Shanghai first. Know that China has overtaken the US as the largest smartphone market. You may recall that’s the country where they riot in the streets when they can’t obtain an iPhone.
This new statue Disney added this week near the Liki Tikis. It’s part of Pirates Adventure: Jewels of the Seven Seas. Like Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, Disney is creating new high-tech interactive means for occupying your attention while waiting to experience your next attraction. It’s building new experiences without having to build a standard “brick and mortar” infrastructure. These can also be rigged to work with your iWatch or other interactive, smartphone-like devices.
Stated Tom Staggs “In the coming years, we’ll introduce a broad set of systems and tools that will help us create a more seamless and personalized experience and help guests get more out of their visit with us…The ultimate goal is to welcome more and more people, while making their experience more satisfying, more personal and more immersive.”
This new DisneyTangled rest area includes logs that for the first time allows Guests to power their iWatch, smart phones and other devices. Meanwhile, the same restroom area allows new space for Peter Pan’s flight to incorporate a new interactive queue. It’s all part of the billion dollar package.
There’s more to come than making it easier to check into your room and get a FastPass ahead of time. More than this article probably implies. But reducing the frustrating experience of waiting to go on an attraction–the number one complaint guests have at Disney–is a big way to make a Disney theme park experience stand completely apart from its competitors. Is it a gamble? Yes–especially when other parks near Walt Disney World are building rides at a faster pace. But so was Disneyland in the first place. Again, to quote Iger: “The riskiest thing we can do is just maintain the status quo.”
For a billion dollar the status quo is about to change.
Not sure who took the picture, as I ventured on my own through Disneyland as a 12 year old. I do remember I had on my mother’s watch to keep track of the time so I could later meet up with them.
I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1972, in fifth grade, I went to Disneyland. We didn’t go in the summer following 6th grade so I saved my money working lawn jobs and paid for my family to go on vacation to Disneyland at age 12. We stayed at the brand new Howard Johnson Hotel and I went to the parks. Half of that time my parents joined me. The other half I was on my own.
I did the same thing the following summer, only this time I saved up enough money to stay at the Disneyland Hotel. My parents only spent lunch and a couple of hours in the afternoon with us. Otherwise I and my younger brother of nine were on our own at the parks. I think we stayed together. But I honestly couldn’t tell you.
Looking back I thought nothing of it. There were no cell phones, no texting, no way of even reaching the other than just the agreement to meet in the middle of Central Plaza at noon, and if that didn’t work–going back to the hotel room.
This week both Disneyland and Walt Disney World announced that unless a parent was present, children that appeared to be less than 14 years of age would be turned away at the gate. While the signage has been replete throughout the park that children under 9 could not ride an attraction without someone older being present, I had never really heard of any policy prior as to what age minors should be to enter the parks. It certainly wasn’t in the brochures or any of the literature or media.
Times…they be a changing. If anyone should have been concerned about my being on my own in the seventies it was when I was 15. That summer we were staying in Oceanside, California–some 90-100 minutes away from Disneyland. In pleading with my parents to go to Disneyland my father put me on a Greyhound bus at 6:15 am, and then I walked from the station several blocks away to the park afterwards. I remember the station well…filled with sailors, and “ladies of questionable repute”–though I’m not sure I fully understood that term. I repeated the same exercise in reverse after the park closed, finding the Anaheim station in the dark and taking the bus back to Oceanside. I can’t believe my parents let me do that. But they trusted me. And they trusted Disney.
Truth be told–children on vacation isn’t Disney’s biggest concern. There’s a reason why this is being announced this week. Over the years Disney has become the perfect place to dump your son and daughter with their annual passes while you’re working. This policy is seeking to remove that. It’s so commonly done that even some Cast Members are checking their kids in and then leaving to go to work themselves. Before, kids couldn’t get to Disney World unless someone took them by car. Now buses easily transport them from many miles away. You would be surprised at the number of latchkey children just outside the gates of Disney. No wonder that Disney consulted with child-welfare organizations around this policy. They don’t want to play baby sitter at the parks. There’s too much legally at stake.
I think that children should be accompanied by an adult–though I’m not sure at exactly what age. Fourteen seems old. After all, I was out throwing newspapers when I was ten. Surely I should be capable of riding Dumbo on my own.
When I was running a water park down the street from Disney I had many parents come to me asking that I make an announcement over the loud speaker or have every employee look for their child. As I inquired to the child’s age, and when they responded by saying the kids was age 10 or 12, I would reply with a gentle smile, “Well the bad news is that they’re having a better time than you are.” Clearly, you can give some freedom to children as they get older.
But small children–they have to be watched–especially those under 9. At the same water park, I dealt with an event where a five year old had been raped in one of our restrooms. I was the duty manager that day and it was a painful, terrible experience. Police, dogs, reporters all showed up shortly afterwards. The perpetrator was never found. It was awful. The parents, visiting from the UK were in shock. And yet when we asked where they were at the time, they simply replied that they were laying out taking a nap by the wave pool. They thought nothing of their child wondering on their own in the water park.
Of course, that wasn’t a Disney park. But the rules may still somewhat apply. Earlier this month one family spoke up about what happened recently when their child went missing on a Disney Cruise. Their 3 year old son was with the on-ship childcare facility aboard the Disney Wonder. Disney uses a tracking band system. In this instance, the band didn’t work, and there was a period of time that went by before the son could be located. Fortunately, the child was okay and unharmed. He had climbed into a ‘tunnel’ of stacked chairs and fell asleep. But it took inquiring about it and some 45 minutes later to find the child. Hopefully, in the wake of this, Disney will re-examine some important policies and procedures.
Does Disney do a better job than anyone else? Absolutely. You’ll find several articles about Disney making safety a first priority here on this web site. But the truth of it is…you’re the parent. You have to watch your children. It’s why you came to Disney…to be with them. If you utilize a Disney program that watches over them–ask lots of questions–and follow up. Don’t just assume.
And if you work locally and hold annual passes, promise the kids you’ll take them after work or on the weekend if they get their jobs done. Never completely assume the complete responsibility of caring for young, young children to the hands of others. Even if it’s Disney.
So what do you think? Can you trust a child alone at Disney? How about when they are being baby sat on the cruise line? Let us know what your thoughts are in terms of Disney’s promise of a safe experience, of their new policy regarding minors entering the park, and the role parents play in watching their children.
Big Thunder Mountain Railway–”The Wildest Ride in the Wilderness!” Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
There is no question that Big Thunder Mountain is one of the Magic Kingdom’s most popular attractions at Walt Disney World–if not the most popular. It represents so much of what Disney does well–a fun coaster attraction set in the theme of canyons found in southern Utah. It’s pure western charm and folklore and yet it’s a great ride!
I have scores of photos from this attraction, and yet I never had one of the upstairs queue. It was simply a mazed weave going back and forth until you headed downstairs to catch the train. Essentially it was wood on wood. If anything, you looked out over the mountain and watched the trains come in and out to keep yourself busy. If you were smart anyway, you got a FastPass so as to be able to bypass most of the queue and head right toward the train.
But all of that has changed. With the additional focus on the new Magic+ program where more people will be planning on using the FastPass system, Disney has been reinforcing the experience in the stand-by line. Winnie the Pooh and the Haunted Mansion has already had very unique additions added to their waiting areas. Now Big Thunder Mountain offers hers. Haunted Mansion is only one part of the queue. Winnie the Pooh is really more for children. This queue is much more than either of those previous interactive queues, and keeps everyone quite entertained.
It’s all set against a backstory of Barnabas T. Bullion (who looks very much like BTM’s own creator Tony Baxter). As president of the Big Thunder Mining Company you now visit the mountain’s mining office, the explosives magazine room, the foreman’s post and the ventilation room. In truth, it’s the same meandering queue, but boy! It has changed. The theming explodes (sorry the pun) with details and hands-on activities that could keep you busy for a good long stand-by wait.
A look into the open vault spells out why Barnabas T. Bullion is really into this mountain–literally! Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
The best part of this is the crank and detonator cases that face along the open-air window to the mountain. The premise is simple: Crank it up, and then blast. Out comes a spew of smoke and explosion from the mountain. There’s several locations where blasting is occurring, and each crank and detonator sets off a different site.
Explosions at Big Thunder Mountain–and you’re responsible for them! Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Further on in the foreman’s post you can look down through a series of windows into the mines themselves to see what action is going on. Each scene isn’t more than about 10 seconds in length, thus keeping everyone moving along. Take a look. there are lots of scenes, and they are all humorous.
Before heading into the next room, stop and study the map.
The underground world of Big Thunder Mountain comes alive in this depiction of its caves and shafts. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
You can tell that Imagineers have put a lot of time and detail into the backstory of all of this, so that you get a sense that this mountain really is a mine, and not just a facade to a coaster. Other signs tie Big Thunder Mountain into the entire Disney “Frontier” nomenclature as it were. References are made to Tumbleweed, Pecos Bill, Thunder Mesa and Rainbow Ridge. At some point, you start thinking these places really exist!
The Hard Times Cafe at Big Thunder Mountain references the Apple Dumpling films of the 1970′s. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Further on you see what seems to be generators. Crank them up and you get a sort of old-time animation in the form of something similar to a Phenakistoscope. Each image displays horses, or buffalos, or in one case–two Phenakistocopes facing each other with the men having a shoot out.
Look at the top of the wheel and you can see a horse galloping along. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Beyond that you see the AutoCanary devices. In a previous article I talked about the concept of a Canary in the mine shaft. Here air from the mine with its different smells is pumped out to you while the canary looks on and responds. Above you are assortments of different bird cages all hung waiting to be used. Very cute, very clever stuff.
A set of AutoCanary stations where you can smell the air, and see the reactions of canaries. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Again, all of this occupies you in such a way that the queue is constantly in a stop-start continuum. It would be comparable to the interactive video game placed in the queue at Space Mountain. The protocol has not been completely defined as to whether you as a guest are fully justified walking around someone who is currently interacting with these devices. You don’t want to be rude–but you may not want to wait to play with them yourself. And like Space Mountain–if you walk around them, your time in the queue will go faster. But you will have missed a big part of the experience.
From an operations point-of-view, there were many cast members on the first day of operation gauging how long people were taking at each of the stations, and how the traffic was moving along. The AutoCanary devices are just before a turn that merges you into the FastPass group to form the final queue. If it’s backed up, more FastPass guests will be going ahead of you, while guests enjoying the interactive queue are holding up the standby wait even longer.
Certainly there are some challenges to be worked out. But all of this is part of Disney’s NextGen investment, designed to do four things:
1. Keeping Walt Disney’s promise of always “plussing up” the park.
2. Keep people immersed in the story and experience while in line, rather than looking at their mobile device.
3. Keep those in the stand-by line happy while many FastPass guests–including those who may pay extra for that privilege–moving through other queues and to the front of the ride.
4. Reinvesting in the aging infrastructure of the Magic Kingdom by keeping its current attractions fresh and appealing.
Relative to the last point, the new restroom area bordering between Fantasyland and Liberty Square is set to open soon. That too is part of this larger initiative–not just because it will have locations to re-energize your mobile device–but because the space dedicated to the old restrooms are being re-utilized into an interactive queue for Peter Pan.
It’s a unique time for Walt Disney World–and especially for the Magic Kingdom. And if Big Thunder Mountain is a hint of even greater things to come, it should be an exciting time–even if you’re in the standby line.
A nice touch, the same crank and detonator available in the mountain is now available to guests with mobility challenges as they await their stay in the queue. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Do you want see more? There are plenty more photos and even videos at my Facebook page. You will be astonished how much attention is shown to the detail of this attraction. Enjoy!