Day 4: The Tours

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In my grand plan for this trip I knew two things: Uncle C would love Magic Kingdom and Aunt C would hate it. So I figured the best plan was to split them up and give each a chance to explore what they liked.

My Uncle is a train nut and I really wanted to get him on that Behind the Steam Train Tour. Unfortunately, due to the monorail accident this summer they had suspended the tour while the damaged monorails were being investigated backstage. So I found another tour that got us to Magic Kingdom early... Mickey's Magical Milestones.

The tour check-in time was 8:30am. That meant we had to be up at 7am and at the Contemporary parking lot by 8. Aunt C and Cuz were just as happy to sleep in that morning anyway. And amazingly, GM and I managed to get out of bed, despite the late nights, in record time. We were inside the park turnstiles by 8am.

Check-in at the lsot & found and they tell us our tour doesn't begin until 9:15am. So we have a whole hour to just explore the park. Uncle C loves it. He can snap as many pictures as he wants on a near-empty Main Street and Castle circle. We have a bit of a contest to see who can get the best shots.

My favorite are the pics of GM and his brother with Walt and Mickey ("Partners").

GM and I also take time to notice the little character statues around the circle. All the years we've come, we just never noticed this little detail.

No one is around save for a few families headed to Cinderella's or Crystal Palace for breakfast. And the gardener sprucing up those hanging baskets for the hot day.

There are many charming sights to see. Like the trash cans bordering the bridge to Tomorrowland. CMs have stuffed them with bubble machines so every kid who passes by gets a shower of magical bubbles. I can't resist popping a few myself.

Uncle C is all over the place, one big kid who can't imagine just how cool this place is. My alarm goes off telling us its time we made it back up Main Street to the tour. But before we get there the Main Street trolley comes out down the tracks. Uncle C has a time for a perfect picture when suddenly we hear the opening ceremony from the train station above. All the characters are there (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Pluto) counting down to the opening of the park. Uncle C has just enough time to cross the street and join us at lost & find when the characters shout "1". Then the most bizarre sight occurs.

The gates open and the horde of rope runners rush through the entrances. Main Street goes from empty to jammed in seconds. I see why early morning people are serious about commando touring.

GM, Uncle C and I find our little tour group, the last to leave the tour area. Our 9:15am tour actually leaves at 9:30. Our tour guide is Mark from Ohio. He's an avid Mickey and Walt fan and promises us that by the end of the tour we will have a new appreciation, his appreciation, for the dream Walt Disney had so many years ago. And how this dream, like Mickey himself, evolved into the park we see today.

First stop is Exhibition Hall, in an area I never bothered to visit before. When you go in the shop, head to the left. Just there past the modern camera supplies you'll find a museum of cameras. Tourguide Mark tells us about Walt's fascination with his childhood home of Mapleline, MI. Back in those days, when Walt was a boy in a small town in 1906, the center of town was the train station and the Exposition Hall. Here in the hall is where they'd have the carousel (one of those photo backdrop areas is designed to look like a carousel), a museum of the latest technology (all those cameras) and a show (Vaudeville theater in Walt's day and early moving pictures). Turn to the right and there behind the store is a large movie theater complete with red velvet seats. Up on the screen we see a continuous reel of Mickey cartoons.

Mark goes over a bit of Mickey animation history for us. We learn about Walt's first creation Oswald, then Mickey's birth on a train ride cross country. Mark advises us to take a close look at Mickey's profile throughout the ages. We will see how the mouse has developed in design from scrawny black-eyed rat to the rounded, glimmering kid-friendly character we know and love today. Mark notes that the image of Mickey has changed with the times in which he lived.

His birth occured during the Great Depression when being scrappy was a favored trait for every survivor. Mickey's scraggly image and his misadventures made people laugh at themselves in a time when laughter and optimism was scarce. During the war, he became more of a cheerleader while Donald Duck was born to rally the troops with his fighting spirit. Donald hates to lose and that's exactly what people needed at the time. When the war had ended and soldiers came home to build those happy family lives, Mickey became a paternalistic ringleader for his gang of friends. His features turned rounder, more expressive and inviting.

We learned about Walt's own personal history. How his failure in losing Oswald became one of his most treasured experiences in life. A great failure is the thing to inspire and motivate you. How his brother Roy's business accumen, couple with friend Ubbe Iwerks' drawing talent and Walt's abundance for ideas turned into a profitable Depression era and War age business. (In the "One Man's Dream" exhibit in DHS you can see some of the toys and books this team created and marketed during the Depression. These sales helped employ thousands in a time when jobs were scarce.)

We spent some time discussing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a production Walt believed in enough to sink the entire family fortune behind it. Even when everyone thought he was nuts. My uncle recalls the day he went to see that movie. He was 11 years old. He loved it so much he taught himself to draw and fancied himself one of Walt's future cartoonists.

From Exposition Hall we headed back out to Main Street. Mark tells us to stop and notice some of those windows along the street. These were the people who helped Walt create his dream in reality.

Next stop is Toon Town for a tour of Mickey's country house.

Mark tells us to study his bedroom to see what we can learn of Mickey's character today. What kind of clothes does he wear? What books is he reading? Who are the people he loves the most, the ones he has pictures of on his walls and bedside table? We notice he's a sports fan too. His living room is all decked out for the Sunday game with the guys. The game room is filled with trophies from all his tournaments with friends. His kitchen... well it's a bit of a disaster. See in Toon Town there's a tournament to see who can come up with the best Do It Yourself project. Mickey, as mayor with all his park duties, has been too busy to work on it, but his friends (Goofy, Donald) volunteered. There's only one problem. They can't agree on anything. Mark tells us to ask Mickey how his kitchen is faring.

Then he takes us in a back door and we meet Mickey and Minnie themselves. Time for a photo op!

I ask about his kitchen. Poor Mick just shakes his head and buries his face in his hands. I guess he'll be eating at Minnie's for a while. She doesn't mind. She's a good cook.

From there, Mark takes us to FantasyLand where we can see it not as a land of kiddie rides but as Walt saw it. A land where fairy tale characters came to life in our world. In the shadow of Cinderella's home is her favorite carousel and her favorite horse (the one with the pink bow). Out in the middle we see Dumbo flying over the sky. Across the way is Pinnochio's House chiming the hour just as Mr. Gepetto would have it.

Our last stop for the tour is Mickey's Philharmagic. Before we go in, Mark tells us a bit of the story behind the attraction.

He reminds us that Walt was a visionary. Back in the 1940's when Fantasia was to be released, he asked for three things from theater owners. He wanted: surround sound, 3D screens and 4D effects (delivered by ushers who'd walk amongst the aisles spraying scents or spritzes of water into the audience). Walt wanted his audiences to be fully immersed in his shows. Theater owners only agreed to improved sound and hence stereophonic sound was born.

Knowing what Walt had envisioned decades ago, when it came time to build a new attraction here in FantasyLand, Imagineers decided to make his dream reality. They started with the premise of the Sorcerer's Apprentice but used Donald Duck as the main star. Donald had always wanted to star in his own show. They brought together some of the best moments of Disney characters after Walt's day, gave us surround sound, 3D vision and all those 4D effects. This is what Walt envisioned for moviegoers. Just imagine what a full length feature would be like.

Our tour ended with one last parting gift: our very own Mickey ears signed by the mouse himself.

The time was only 11:30am. I had until 2 to hang out with the guys. So I led them on a few of my favorites: Buzz Lightyear,

Winnie the Pooh, It's A Small World.

In between, I took our three tickets over to Big Thunder for Fastpasses. I wouldn't be able to ride that one, but they could use the 3rd FP to ride with my cousin while I was off making flower arrangements.

Which reminds me, come 1:00pm it's time to make the great parent switch. Exchange phone calls with my cousin and we each head to our respective busses. He meets GM and Uncle C in the park to go on some thrill rides while I head back to SSR to attend the Floral Experience with Aunt C. The switch takes about an hour between bus waits and walking through the parks.

Pick up Aunt C at our room, stop over at Artist's Palette for some cold drinks (it's mid 90's again outside) and lunch, then we make a beeline for Community Hall. The class is small, only 4 ladies with our teacher and dozens of fresh flowers. Our teacher (Linda) has pumpkin-colored mugs for us to build our creations. We talk form and substance. How to make a display according to the 2/3rds rule and use lots of greenery to hide the container.

They guys, I learn later, had a few adventures of their own. First the went on the Liberty Belle because my uncle just had to go on it. Then came Big Thunder and Splash Mountain. I had a bet with my cousin. He swore to never ride Splash because he was afraid of the drop at the end. But I dared him if he rode that, I'd go on a ride of his choice (Tower of Terror and Mission Space are his favs). I secretly hoped he'd chicken out again, but he brought photo evidence to prove me wrong.

There last stop was several rides around the WDW Railroad. Uncle C is a HUGE train buff. His signature engineer's cap earns him an "honorary engineer" pin from the cast members.

Our two groups met in Downtown Disney, each of us taking respective ferries over from Artist's Palette. When I went over with my aunt, the captain notices my birthday pin and leads the passengers in a round of Happy Birthday. My aunt and I do a little shopping in the Home store and Christmas shop, then we meet the guys for dinner at Wolfgang Puck's.

Our waiter turns out to be Hans, a performer from Seaworld's new Blue Horizons show. He settles in and tells us stories about life as a performer and cast member in between helpings of fresh gourmet cookies. His wife is "friends with Mary Poppins". Both are addicted to the love of Disney show.