Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Decline of the River


Once upon a time along Disneyland’s Rivers of America guests could truly feel as if they’d been transported to another time and place. Along the waterfront beside New Orleans Square and across the busy waterway every last detail added to the impression of a somewhere totally removed from the present day. This was easily one of the most beautiful and charming vistas in the entire park.

Across the river was Tom Sawyer Island, its dense foliage draped paths snaking along the shore beckoning explorers to discover their hidden secrets. Against the backdrop of majestic Cascade Falls the Mark Twain Steamboat or Columbia could be seen coming 'round the bend. On the southernmost tip of the island sat 'Ol Harper's Mill, half covered in creeping vines, its waterwheel slowly spinning through another lazy summer's afternoon.

At night the riverfront was never more lovely; as romantic and evocative as could ever be imagined: the sound of a jazz band drifting from the alleys of New Orleans Square, the Mark Twain, trimmed in thousands of tiny lights, churning peacefully beneath the stars, the old fashioned gas lamps flickering along the water's edge, the moon hovering over a stately southern mansion as it peeked from behind the trees.

Over the last fifteen years, however, so many changes have been made to the area that the illusion of being back in Frontier America has been severely compromised. Today Disneyland’s Rivers of America is looking far more like the Rivers of Marriot's Great America than the very special place it once was.

Cascade Falls was torn down some time ago due to age and neglect and the Keel boats are history too. Fort Wilderness is still there on the back of the island but it’s long been shuttered and is currently rotting away.

By far the biggest changes to the area were done to accommodate the Fantasmic show. Walkways in front of New Orleans square were re-graded and built up into a series of tiered amphitheater levels, giant metal planks were thrown down along walkways near the river’s edge to hide the show’s gargantuan lighting rigs and the once charming home of the ‘Ol Mill was turned into what appears to be some sort of bizarre overblown plastic grade school playland.


It’s time to bring the Disneyland river front back to it’s original glory.

• Time to move Fantasmic over to the DCA lagoon where it’s badly needed.

• Time to repair and reopen the fort with perhaps some new and exciting show elements.

• Time to bring back another impressive waterfall, one with integrity and authenticity.

• And most importantly, time to redesign the front of Tom Sawyer Island so that it looks like something you might actually see along a 1850’s American river.

Here’s hoping there's a bright new frontier on the horizon for Imagineering.

59 comments:

Merlin Jones said...

Even worse, the animatronics staged around the River are in sore need of repair last I looked.

The puppy with the Indian boy had a broken neck with his wires showing all last summer. (Every kid on that side of the Mark Twain was pointing at it, not just the fans). Cobwebs on the animals, the bear had ceased to scratch and the prairie dogs had stopped popping. Everything was faded and worn.

When was the last rehab for this area?

Without the waterfall and burning cabin or the happy sounds of gunfire from Fort Wilderness, the whole trip was just not the lively experience it once was.

Given that these scenes serve no less than three attractions, it's unforgivable not to keep it up. Bring it back to life!

When people say "Disneyland has never looked better" I can only think of the Rivers of America and shake my head sadly.

Bartender Sam said...

Moving Fantasmic to DCA is a brilliant idea.

Will Robison said...

How right you are! You totally nailed the experience of the River before Fantasmic. And before anyone thinks I'm denigrating this show, I just want to say its probably the best show Disneyland ever did. However, after dark, I totally ignore that side of the park because of the traffic nightmare it creates. And during the day, it has turned that area into an ugly reminder of what it once was. Its time to move Fantasmic! Please!

Anonymous said...

Agreed, on all points. However, I think you mean Old Harper's Mill, rather than Old Harper's Ferry. I don't seem to recall a John Brown's Holy Rampage attraction in Frontierland :)

creative-Type Dad (Tony) said...

Good idea on moving Fantasmic to DCA. But highly doubt it, the costs alone would kill it. DCA needs something like Epcot's IllumiNations.

progress said...

Ah, yes ---authenticity.

Here's how to make the 1850's riverfront setting truly authentic:
1. Redirect raw sewage from Disneyland's bathrooms into the river.
2. Hire local alcoholics and prostitutes to add "color".
3. Spray realistic odors, such as "rotting fish", and "horse excrement" around the entire harbor area.
4. Remove most pavement, replace with 4" deep mud.
5. Bar children from the entire area.

Then we'd be getting somewhere!

Danny Lasko said...

First of all, great blog. Thrilled with the focus to bring back Disneyland to the original spirit used in its conception.

The Rivers are truly a landmark of the park, and in my opinion the central attribute separating Disneyland from anywhere else. Not only does it service the canoes, The Mark Twain, and the Columbia, but it is also one of the more anticiapted views from the DLRR but shafts the narration ("What cabin on fire?"), not to mention servicing the views from three lands.

The cruise is beautiful. It is still tranquil, still immersive. It's a clear example of "the enemy of the best being the good." I can't help but think how much more engaging the attractions would be with a little TLC.

I mean, really...how hard is it to turn the Sound FX on and get a guy out there with a little spit and polish?

Anonymous said...

Even though I couldn't agree more, where are all the fresh, new ideas?

This concept of returning things to their origignal splendor is okay, but where is the world at now? With all the advances in technology it's just sad that nothing more innovative than the same old animatronics is what you people want.

Blow my mind! Take me away from reality. I know every ride cannot be Expedition Everest, but it seems to me that the River and Tom Sawyer's Island have been sorely neglected. So many incredible things could be done with this area without an E-ticket attraction, animatronics, or Everest budget. All I'm hearing is a alot of whining and pining for the past. This won't change anything. Where are the ideas that the people, Imagineers, and bean counters can agree on?

People today want more for their money than Chuck E Cheese and Furbies.

Mr Banks said...

I'd absolutely love some fresh new ideas incorporated into Frontierland. But first, quite literally, the stage has to be set. This is all about Frontier America so it's time to make sure the set design is right first; that the land itself is true to its theme, before any blow-my-mind E-ticket showcases can take the stage with any integrity.

RogerRmjet said...

Fortunately, this area at WDW's Magic Kingdom is in far better shape, thanks to Fantasmic! being over at MGM, among other things. Our Fort is in great shape and still has guns! I just love walking by the river at night -- there's nothing else like it, and it's just as you described from Disneyland's past with nothing but lamplight. Especially down the dock walkway that lets you bypass the main thoroughfare when heading to Splash and Big Thunder Mountains. Though we, too, lost Mike Fink's Keelboats (wish they'd bring those back, too) years ago, it's nice to realize that most of it has stayed the same.

Newrush said...

Here's an idea. Bring a railroad to the island, but not any railroad. The Mine Train. Have it start at Fort wilderness, wind through the island, add a mountain with a waterfall, pass by the setterlers cabin and some low level animatronics and some truely natural scenery. One thing i have noticed is everything is so fast at the park today, let's slow it down a bit.

Just a thought

pariartspaul said...

Anonymous - I agree that something new and incredible would be great for the river area, especially new animatronics. For sure, a lot of the animatronics there still date from the '60's!

But this blog isn't about coming up with new concepts - that's done in house at Imagineering. We're simply noting misteps that have detracted from what the park used to be (note the blurb at the top of the blog)and figuring out the right directions to take. In this case, we're suggesting a return to frontier America as originally intended.

And actually I really don't want them to do anything with the area at the present time until things change - in fear we get more cartoon film tie-ins there.

Eichler & Eames said...

I have missed Cascade Peak and Falls so much since they were torn out. Would love to see a suitable replacement. Also would love to see more of a tribute to the old Bear Country section of Mine Train through Nature's Wonderland out along the river's banks such as improved and additional AA animals - the bears fishing and other ambience in the "back country" And the return of the burning settler's cabin, restored Indian Village - so much could and should be done.

Moving Fantasmic to DCA is a brilliant idea (how about a trade for the Main Street Electrical Parade) - but Fantasmic would then have to become the scaled down version for Florida - no more Peter Pan & Hook battle on the Columbia - no character grand finale on the Mark Twain -

Still, with some re-tooling to the show, moving Fantasmic to DCA might make the West side park accessable at night again. What a plus that would be.

I think a replacement for Cascade Peak and it's waterfall should be first and foremost on the list of "Things To Do" in that area.

And as a pipe dream - an extension to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad that takes it out along the river's edge and returns it through the cave and over the old Bear Country pond -

Ghostbuster626 said...

Wow that guy going by the name "Progress" missed the whole point. Unbelivable.

Tim Halbur said...

Yes! As far as I'm concerned, ALL parades, fireworks, and Fantasmic-like shows ruin the whole experience. Were all of these part of the original Disneyland, when Walt was around? He was such a stickler for cast members not crossing lands in the wrong costume, I'd be surprised if he could get with Buzz Lightyear stomping down Main St. The only street shows that work are things like the Sword in the Stone bit in Fantasyland, because they're themed correctly.

Will Robison said...

I'm not looking forward to the new Home on the Range Mine Train Roller Coaster tie in at Big Thunder. ;)

Dan Steinberg said...

This is a tough one.

On one hand, you're absolutely right: the Rivers of America section of the park has lost a lot of its charm. With all the concrete, pavement, chains and fences for Fantasmic!, it sure doesn't feel at all like the frontier anymore. In fact, I'm not sure *what* it feels like now, if anything.

On the other hand, having Fantasmic! just appear upon this part of the park is part of what makes Fantasmic! so magical. Doing the show in a specially-built stadium loses a lot of its charm.

Perhaps there is a middle ground here: can't they find some better ways to hide or camouflage both the F! stage on the island and the seating on land so it looks more like the frontier again? This would cost some bucks, but hasn't F! brought enough money in to be worth doing this? If all else fails, put a surchange on every glow toy that sells before F! to pay for the changes...

As for the rest of the area, I would argue that Frontierland is now the weakest land in the park and the one with the most need for enhancements and additions. My idea: enlarge Big Thunder RR and turn it a hybrid attraction. Add some show scenes a la Nature's Wonderland back in the Cascade Peak and BT Ranch areas and go slower there. But also keep the existing track with its (mildly) thrilling coaster sections. Plus the crowning touch: Bring back the Rainbow Caverns!

progress said...

No sense of humor allowed?

Mr Banks said...

Progress: I got the humor. Not worries.

Anonymous said...

It is a great idea to bring fantasmic to the dca lagoon because something needs to happen with that wasted real estate, however some of the character related stuff would be incredibly hard to accomplish. for instance where would mickey come from?; they would have to close the lagoon for a long time to get an underground type thing going etc. More to the point Great Idea, too hard

Mr Banks said...

Walt fired people when they said, "too hard".

And that's one of the biggest reasons for the malaise at Imagineering. It's too hard. It's too expensive. It'll take too much time. It won't have a proper tie in with merchandising or live entertainment. It won't get the thrill crowd. It's not relevant. It's not politically correct.

Imagineering, you can go to the boardroom now. Donald's ready for you.

BratStarMan said...

Today I visited the Smithsonian Amrican Indian museum, and I realized it is a tragedy that Disney has not chosen to take up this rich and vibrant theme either on the Rivers of America or even in a dedicated EPCOT pavilion. We've seen the great attention to detail in Everest. Isn't the time right to pay the same homage to the real story of all the art and beauty of the American Indian culture? Wouldn't this be infinitely better than a broken dog with wires sticking out of it's neck?

pariartspaul said...

I think they could do an even greater Fantasmic show over at DCA. It's a blank canvas over there. They could turn that whole lagoon into Fantasmicland. Perfect.

April said...

Not having been to DCA, because frankly there was never anything over there that drew my interest... I can't say how well Fantasmic! would work over there.

However, I agree that the Rivers of America needs work. It needs to be updated with new animatronics and the island needs to be freshened up. I'll let the Imagineers with some guts figure out the hows and wherefores.

Another thought... can something be done with the diaramas on the Disneyland railroad? I *love* the concept of having what is basically a transportation ride with an attraction element to it, but those diaramas are looking so old and dated. I'm sure something could be done to make them more interesting and fun.

Eichler & Eames said...

My strongest memory of Frontierland (from my 1965 4 year old point of view) - is the "real" Indians dancing along the shores with the teepee, river & trees serving as a strong anchoring point to the experience - could such a thing play for audiences now? Sadly, that's doubtful.

pariartspaul - an all "New & Improved" Fantasmic! @ DCA is just the ticket. I'm not sure how much room there currently is there for storing floating vessels backstage - but it seems that at least some of the parking lot in use behind the Fisherman's Wharf area could be utilized for water craft docking and pre-show prep / post show maintenance. This work area could even have it's facade 'On Stage' to help minimize the distraction for guests on the upper floors of the Paradise Pier Hotel. Perhaps a building that looks like one of the huge historical bath-houses that used to dot the shores of California in the past?

dan steinberg hit the nail on the head for me. Something I've been planning and designing in my head for 10 years - an expanded Big Thunder that races out to the River's edge, slows past the geyser's and desert plains (Festival of Fools stage and Big Thunder Ranch area- where AA animals play and singing cacti warble). Then picking up speed and returning home in a "oh no! no brakes!" race through Rainbow Caverns before returning to the little town of Rainbow Ridge. (The current final hill and return to station are more than a little under-whelming - especially since the big 'dino-splash' finale is often not operational).

But back to the river - the Canoes - are still the best thing about that part of the River. As wet as one may get - as much complaining as one may hear from modern tourists who "don't get the canoes" and the labor involved in operating them - it's top of the list for me - especially trying to get on as early as I can - when the park is as quiet as possible. The Canoes remain as perhaps the sole connector in that 'Old World' part of the park to the Pack Mules & Stagecoaches - an attraction that is not powered IN ANY WAY by a machine of some sort.

Main Street still has the lone Horse Drawn Carriage - but the River should treat people to the joy, natural beauty and hardships of river life.

I thnk the one part of the park that has been almost completely eradicated from the park from Walt's opening day speech is the part about the "hard facts that created America"

Where, exactly - in today's version of Disneyland - are the "hard facts"?

One of the only places I feel Walt's influence now at Disneyland is when I gaze up at the window above the firehouse and say 'thank you' as I enter & leave.

But I'm afraid I'm in the minority there . . . .

Ron Schneider said...

My greatest complaint against 'Fantasmic' is that I can no longer sail aboard the Mark Twain at night..

After doing five late shows as Pecos Bill in the 'Golden Horseshoe Revue', it was blissfully relaxing and magical to slip down the darkened River late at night seated at the bow of the Mark Twain.

'Fantasmic' turned Walt's precious wilderness into a crowd control nightmare. By all means, send it across the street.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see fantasmic moved to DCA but it would have to be rethemed the villians and sorcerer are definitley DL material. But after all these years it may be time for a new night water magical show at DCA. It may be time to bring the Mark Twain back to its lite up night cruises.
TSI needs serious help to draw the guest over there not necessarily an E ticket ride but a true wilderness expeience something unique that relives the days of Tom and adventure without the legal eagles nixing every rock and rifle. The cabin needs to be ablaze again, a water feature like Cascade needs to flow again.
The tiered area on the shores of NOS is ugly but I will say that in the beginning of Fanstasimic I was appalled at the way guest would stand on anything to watch the show including inside gated flower areas trampling anything in site. Hence the creation of concrete tiers. I at the time could never understand the creation of such a fantastic show without some control over how or where it was viewed from.
The caves on TSI were thrilling to me as a child along with the fort and the merryground rock... maybe todays child and guest are harder to woo but nothing woo's anyone on TSI today. Even a food venue could be added with picnic themed meals that could truly be purchased in a basket,please keep it real with a red kerchief liner. with plenty of picnic tables spread all over the island, for a lazy day lunch.
A show similar to the under ground venue of bugs life could be created for the island showcasing Mark Twain or an Indian heritage theme something relative and themed to TSI. Even a simple stage show would do. I want the merryground rock and caves to live again beyond their original splendor something that incorporates all of todays new technology that could really WOW your guest!

Mr Banks said...

To the anonymous post that (snottily) derided the punctuation in this last blog entry:

Attention has been paid.

The fragmented sentences, however, were very much intentional and were used for effect.

Though all contributors continue to refine their work well after publishing it's hoped that you see the message behind the misuse of the occasional apostrophe.

Klark Kent 007 said...

I have never been to DCA, or Disneyland for that matter, but I have seen Fantasmic at MGM. It seems that it would be a perfect fit to DCA since Disneyland is a part of California's history.

Anonymous said...

Agree 100%! Let's hope these plans are fastracked.

Imagineer-in-Waiting said...

Since no one else has yet brought it up, I will.

Why the removal of so many homespun attractions? LAWSUITS.

How many canoes tipped over?
The Mike Fink Keelboats were top heavy too and had a potential swamping problem.
How many kids banged their heads and scraped their knees on the Tom Sawyer playsets?

In the past, these were taken in stride by parents and kids. Now, guests think they've hit the lottery. Granted, the woman killed by the cleat that tore off the mooring of the Columbia was as a result of negligence by the lead.

Personally, I think the integration of Fanstasmic! into the Rivers of America is better than the arrangement at the Disney Studios. I like the reuse of the Mark Twain and the Columbia. I like the way the sound towers are hidden in "crates" around the dock and on the shore.

By the way, no one has mentioned my favorite hideout that's still there. The lower level of the restaurant in Critter Country, the single quietest place in the park.

Anonymous said...

The quality of the show environment is very important to many fan of Walt Disneys Parks. The question is does managment play the odds that the general public does not pay attention to the details and do not care? Basically doing the show with less production costs and still charging the same or more for the promise of the Disney quality.
It is this Blog and the many excellent websites devoted to the Disney goings on that I hope help keep the bean counters in check.
We know what we want from Disney. Walt spoiled us and we as we've gotten older and wiser we can tell the difference between excellent, good and poor quailty. And just in case the powers that be happen to see this comment, my children are being made aware of the quality issues (good and poor) I notice at Disney and also in life in general.
An FYI: Hapers Mill on Tom Saywers Island at WDW does not have a functioning water wheel anymore. A piece of plexiglass has been placed over the wheel and the water runs over it leaving the wheel stationary. This was done during the last rehab. If I was in charge that would not stand!!!

steve2wdw said...

I too miss the quiet of a summer evening along the Rivers of America. While Fantasmic really ties up Frontierland and New Orleans Square at DL, we can't forget that SpectroMagic plows through the frontier (and the colonies) at the Magic Kingdom too. Although Spectro doesn't require the huge prep that Fantasmic does, it does destroy the ambiance for those few hours. Thank God that Tom Sawyer Island is not touched by any entertainment offering. WDW has it's own problems with it's River, mainly the lack of watercraft. With the Liberty Belle still in rehab, and no keel boats or canoes, the River is mighty quiet. At least the water wheel at Harper's Mill is turning again. It looked terrible last Feb.

mnmears said...

Restore the FORT!

I've said it before and I'll say it again. This is one of the places where a child's imagination and creativity is encouraged. The girls still have the princess moments at the castle and Fort Wilderness was on par with that for young boys.

I'd also love to see a small theater or attraction built on the island -- traditional tribal Indian dances and oral histories (storytelling) alone might be enough. There certainly is a better understanding and deeper appreciation of tribal culture today. The native Americans were the first environmentalists and there are many lessons we can still learn from them.

Whatever is done to TSI, PLEASE keep it true to the Frontierland theme. I don't want the Fort to include a walkup food service window for McD's french fries and drinks! The picnic lunch idea is good -- maybe fried chicken, berry pie, sasparilla and lemonade.


Another point, Tom Sawyer's Island is the one of the few areas Walt Disney personally designed and sketched out. The fort, the caves, the suspension rope bridge, the barrel bridge, the teeter-toter rock ... these are TIMELESS ideas.

As far as Fantasmic!, I think it's one of the best things Disneyland has done in the past 15 years -- part of its charm is the Peter Pan swordfight aboard Columbia and the knock-your-socks-off finale with all the characters aboard the Mark Twain. The Plan B finale with the characters waving from the mill at TSI just isn't as satisfying.

I agree that DCA needs a nighttime spectacle and it appears as if planners may have even had something in mind with that large body of water in the pier area. I think DCA has staged New Year's Eve fireworks shows and other events utilizing the reflective pond -- but we remained at Disneyland for its show. There's certainly a potential there.

As far as the old West-Frontierland feeling at Disneyland, I still get it in the area from its wooden gate to the shooting arcade and the Golden Horseshoe, on TSI or when I circle TSI on Columbia or the Mark Twain. I've never felt quite the same way around Big Thunder.

I also remember riding the Keel Boats -- it was a bit scary and unsteady -- and not a mode of transportation I miss in the way I long for the return of the PeopleMover or Skyway.

Anonymous said...

i like this post because you ended with definite, feasible ways for Imagineering to fix the problems you outlined. Some of the posts just seem to be complaints, but I think more needs to be offered in the way of how to fix the problems, rather than just demanding that Imagineering undo what they have done (which is unlikely to happen).

Anonymous said...

It is certainly true that the addition of Fantasmic! and the loss of a lot of boating activity on the Rivers of America in Disneyland was (and is) somewhat determental to the River's ambiance. But I have to say, imagine how much worse it could have been!

I was a Florida-based designer for Imagineeering through the nineties, and Florida's Rivers of America and Fantasmic! at the Studios are still worse than whatever damage might have been inflicted in Anaheim. The River in Florida is bigger, making it's lack of boat traffic that much more obvious. It is far less accessible visually, and far more monotonous spatially, than Anaheim. Where New Orleans Square still feels vitally connected to, and part of, the riverfront, Florida's Frontierland never has. And we all agree, I think, that the Florida version of Fantasmic, while certainly more guest-friendly because of the amphitheatre approach, suffers because it is a stand-alone experience, without any connection to anything else. I spent several evenings in Anaheim last summer, sitting outside
in the cool evenings watching the activity along the seawall, and I can say that it still works. I can also say that in 10 years in Orlando, I never had the desire, nor was there the facility, to sit and admire the River for any meaningful length of time.

So, put back the boat traffic, but learn to live with the Fantasmic infrastructure. Even in it's adapted state, it is still FAR better than Florida was from it's first day! Then do something equally amazing, but different, at DCA.

Anonymous said...

As a long-time guest of Disneyland, I can fully appreciate the wonderful experience of an evening walk along the "Rivers of America", long before Fantasmic came along. I have to give due credit to the creative team for Fantasmic, as it is a truely remarkable spectacle and a prime example of what can be done with a lot of imagination - and a healthy budget. On the other hand, I also feel it has had a tremendous negative impact on this area of the park if for no other reason than the impossible crowds it generates. As with the parades and the fireworks, it seems to bring about the worst in people as you have a multitude of guests clamoring for privileged positions to watch the show, frustrated bystanders who are desparately trying to shuffle through the mess, and frazzled cast members doing their best at crowd control. It makes for a terrible park experience. And to think this starts up to 3 hours before the first showing.!!

Another unfortunate aspect of Fantasmic it that it is completely out of character with the theme of Frontierland. It is as if Fantaslyland has invaded. It makes absolutely no sense that Mickey Mouse is having this fantasy in the American frontier, or that there should be villians from different movies banding together against him, or a huge dragon, etc. A show for the Rivers of America should start with a credible theme that is consistent with Frontierland. Even if the story expands beyond that and takes the audience into realms of fantasy, it needs to begin and end with the appropriate tone and character. Why couldn't it have been a frontier-themed show where a supposed traveling "conjurer" suddenly starts displaying real magic??

Perhaps there are those people who feel that since Disneyland is a theme park, such lapses of theme are acceptable, but it is important to remember the founding principles that made Disneyland such a success to begin with. Outside of Fantasyland, there was a concerted effort to make each Land feel as "real" as possible and intrusions such as Fantasmic didn't exist. I hope that the appropriate decision is made to retire Fantasmic and make the Rivers of America a wonderfully atmospheric rendition of the frontier west once again -- minus all the mud, excrement, and cuss words of course. ;)

-DL5263

BratStarMan said...

In those things that we believe impossible we find the few that are worth doing.

Rain said...

I don't understand why you removed the comments that were left by "chuck." I probably disagreed with about 100% of what he was saying, but I thought he had a well-reasoned argument that was leading to some interesting debate (until someone got rude with a lame zinger).

I love your site, and probably agree with you on almost all of your criticisms about Disneyland. I can understand deleting stupid, offensive, or dissenting views that are nothing but insults, but Chuck's were none of those things. What gives?

Mr Banks said...

In an effort to remove and reformatt my own responses to Chuck, the entire thread was inadvertantly lost. If Chuck wants to re-post he's more than welcome.

Digital Jedi said...

I'd like to reemphasize a point made by one of the anonymous users. I had been feeling the decline of all things Disney for years now and was dismissing my feelings as just getting older. But something kept bothering me. See, I was still doing a lot of the things I used to do as kid and with just as much zeal now that I was older. I was still really into Star Wars, obviously, still liked animation and comics, still played video games. And managed to fit all that into having a successful marriage and a beautiful well behaved two year old. So what could have been my problem with Disney?

It wasn't until a few months ago that I began to realize that it wasn't me. It was Disney. As much as I didn't want it to be Disney, it was. You see Walt had spoiled me. He may have been gone for a long time and for a large portion of my life, but his influence was still felt in the Disney theme parks and in their attraction execution. His spirit never left.

He is well known for giving a thing all he could give it. For pouring every last dime and idea into the quality of a thing. For taking the guest experience as seriously as he could take it. After all, it was partially the poor quality of amusement parks at that time that lead Walt into creating something better.

So when someone says that we should stop whining about the past because times are always going to change, I have to say "quality doesn't change".

Bean counters don't look for quality. Nor do suits. They look to see how cheaply you can do a thing and exactly how much more money they can syphon out of you while doing it. They have been running Disney as a way to make as much money as possible without giving me as much as they can give me.

This post is a classic example of that. Businessmen seldom understand the meaning of the word quality. "Quantity" is the focus of their goals. "How much more money can we make if use up this space here for something else?"

Whining? I'm sorry if I don't want to be handed such cheap cigars anymore. Walt raised me on Cubans.

Mr Banks said...

Bravo, Digital Jedi!

Anonymous said...

Merlin: I was there last September and the waterside animatronics looked faded but they were all working fine.

I'm glad they finally removed the ratty-looking panther near the Jungle Cruise visible from the train!

Anonymous said...

Good points by a couple other posters... BRING BACK THE INDIANS. They did actual dances from their culture, the eagle and hoop dances from the southwest are beautiful and skillful things to celebrate. Storytelling and traditional clothing -- wonderful stuff that should be shown to everyone, not hidden away or removed as "not PC"... what the heck?? Honoring the original peoples of this land is "not PC"...?

Obviously if it's steriotypical or cheesy or not done by actual native Americans that's the wrong way to do it... but for pity's sake, if you brought back the live Indian dancers and storytellers in authentic clothing, visitors would eat that up, especially the kids and foreign visitors.

(I actually applied to Disneyland one summer to work as an Indian crafts demonstrator, but that was the summer they got rid of it all... I have supreme timing. Feh.)

Anonymous said...

While I enjoy this blog I just have to disagree with this post. Fantasmic is a GREAT show and works fine in its present location. Crowd control is simply a problem at DL because of the record crowds and probably the "evil" of fastpass and the fact that folks waiting for their time are in the walkways. Add to that the lack of capcity sucking rides like the subs, CBJ, etc. and you end up with a park that feels, alomst all the time CROWDED. F! adds to that but it would be nearly as bad without it.

The ROA have suffered with the passage of time but frankly I would rather have them spend precious capital money improving TL - a large land with multiple attractions and capacity.

TSI needs a major overhaul and (I know heresy here, probably needs a connection OTHER than the rafts. Like it or not, the problem for the modern guest is that they, completely unfounded, likely feel "trapped" over on the island and worry about missing a FP time, parade, meet up.

Scott M. Curran said...

Here here. Well said. I can say no more.

mnmears said...

Point of clarification ... the subs were NEVER a people-eater; and CBJ was able to accommodate crowds but often ran at half-capacity or less.

I don't know if Fast Pass is a good or not -- I've heard valid arguments on both sides. Maybe this site will tackle Fast Pass at another time. I'm already fearing capacity at the Nemo sub rehab. If it's not a Fast Pass ... I suspect summer waits of 90 minutes or longer and today's children and many of their parents don't have the patience we had in the 1960s and '70s to wait in line.

Of course, the ticket books back then compelled people to enjoy some of the quieter and charming B- and C-ticket attractions. The focus today by many guests and Imagineers seems to be heavily geared toward E-ticket thrills that often disregard younger children or the aging boomers.

I think some of us who really love Disneyland enjoy those quiet moments by the ROA in the lower level of the Hungry Bear Restaurant, the courtyard in New Orleans Square, enjoying the Coke Corner piano player or walking down Main Street as one of the last guests out of the park.

Merlin Jones said...

If night cruises on the Mark Twain were restored, there is one new problem I noted when Fantasmic was down a while back and the boat sailed after dark.

The lights from the DCA era "Mickey and Friends" parking garage now intrude through the foliage into the Rivers of America, breaking the former illusion of being far in the woods and away from civilization.

Same for the boat repair bay, which has remained lighted at night and also intrudes on the scene.

This is all totally fixable, but additional growth will be needed in those areas to hide the march of progress.

BratStarMan said...

Imagine for a moment an upgraded version of the wireless headsets that were used in the latest incarnation of Great Moments. These would be given to passengers on the nighttime cruise and would play background sounds synchronized with what you are seeing along the river. And when you turn your head, the sounds effectively move too, so you have a sense of directivity. Imagine all that could be done with that to enhance the show experience (and I don't mean an onboard haircut). A little imagination and a little technology could go a long way with some great storytelling.

Mr Banks said...

Bratstar: No, no, no! With all due respect what you want to do is have those sounds come from the places they're supposed to, not from headsets. The idea is to be transported to another time and place without the benefit of goggles or headsets or brain plugs. Otherwise you might as well install Frontierland 1.0 into your computer and go from there.

Besides, the image of a bunch of Disney guests on the deck of the Mark Twain all plugged in and wired up is just too unseemly.

BratStarMan said...

I humbly stand corrected. The Lincoln show is hideous, and I don't want Drew Carey running around the island dressed as a cop.

Rikki said...

I went the Disneyland recently and it was so packed i coul barely see the river or the island at all :(
But i do recall seeing it on the "Magical World Of Disney' one sunday afternoon when i was a kid :)

Anonymous said...

Moving Fantasmic would be akin to moving Haunted Mansion to DCA. Fantasmic is an attraction, not a show anymore.

Anonymous said...

Fantasmic! would lose much of its appeal with a move to DCA - no Mark Twain, no Columbia, no bends in the river to hide the next show element. I say, leave it where it is, reduce and the stage footprint and improve the camouflaging of the area.

To bring back the old quiet lazy feeling of the riverfront, maybe they could use the area directly to the west of Big Thunder Mountain, the old area of the Mine Train Ride. It's a large area, a peninsula, heavily wooded with that small pond. I see a meandering path starting from just north of the boat dock, along the waterfront and reconnecting to the Big Thunder trail, with gas lamps, some animatronics and sounds, viewpoints and I suppose some themed restaurant/shops.

I realize there is a large berm there, the old track and tunnel and other things that would have to be torn down. But it would be a nice out of the way place - no F!, no throngs of people sitting by the riverside, no major through traffic - and it could be themed perfectly to Adventureland.

Keith said...

I storongly feel that Fantasmic! has ruined that side of the park and should go, either to DCA or just be done away with.

I respectfully don't understand why anyone would want to spend the amount of time and effort required to see F!

The quiet areas of Disneyland are disappearing fast. I know one of my favorite memories of Disneyland is walking by the River at night and really feeling I was in another world.

Now, in the evening that area is to be avoided at all costs. Despite F!'s long run and the landscaping changes made around the River, Disney has never adequately managed the crowd control issues. Some of my worst Disneyland memories are of being stuck in the dark in huge, swaying, grumpy crowds while stressed out cast members yell at everyone to keep moving.

This is not my idea of fun.

Get rid of F! Restore the theme to this once immersive and transportive area.

Professional 3rd Grader said...

First, lets be correct. The Rivers of America circles around an island who's name is "Tom Sawyer" ("Tom Sawyer Island".) It is not an island belonging to Tom Sawyer as you labeled it: "Tom Sawyer's Island."

As for "Fantasmic." I was working at WDI when the mediocre minds at "Creative Entertainment" hatch that night time disaster. A few observations. I timed the applause following Fantasmic, less than 5 seconds. Then we went to see the fireworks over Sleeping Beauty's Castle. They applause was more than 10 seconds--including whistling and cheering that was non-existant at Fantasmic.

The "geniuses" that came up with that potluck of theatrical hardware without a story never admitted that the cost was nearly double the origianl estimate as they were able to hide much of their earth-moving, light-tree-hiding gadgetry in "area development" budgets. No one really knows what it cost for this big nothing. Best estimates are that Fantasmic cost more to develop, build, and create than the total costs for STAR TOURS. (We will now break into small groups to compare, contrast, and discuss--briefly.)

Now, that name: "Fantasmic." Once at a meeting with Micheal (Eisner), where he was glowing about the show and no one on the WDI side of the table was buying it, I asked, "Where does that name --'FANTASMIC'--come from? what other words in the English language is it derived from? Fantasy, or fantastic, okay, but "asmic' . . . what's that? All I can come up with is "orgasmic." So, they've created "Fantasmic" a wet dream for the entire family. (Spontaneous outburst of defening applause from the WDI contingent.)

Refurbishing Tom Sawyer Island, Fort, bridges, etc. would breathe new life into one of the great spots in the original design of "Walt's Little park." I visited Disneyland Paris in December (2005.) Tom Sawyer Island (TSI) there is terrific. Verdant, over-grown, meandering, challenging, and filled with stuff to do -- all designed adult-scale, but fun for kids. If even half of what they built into the Paris "TSI" was in Disneyland, CA, there'd be a 90 minute que to get out there--as there should be.

Let DCA have a good, old fashioned water show (goofy, decorated boats), with fireworks, like an old water-side amusement park from the 1920s and 30s--colorful, funny, (aqaua-maniacs doing high dives off the rollercoaster holding roman candles and over-sized sparklers), eccentric, with floats of early Disney animated classics. All culminating with Steamboat Willy.

Nah. WHo are we kidding? Fantasmic will stay where it is 'cause nobody in D'land gives a damn. And that's the really bad news.

When the graphic designers at WDI re-designed the Disneyland sign on Harbor Blvd in the late 1980s I suggested they add an asterick to: The happiest place on earth.*

*Subject to change without notice.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that DCA needs something like Fnatasmic to liven its attendance and add something more magical to the park... but I think moving a well established and well loved and proven show like Fantasmic would jeopordize the show itself. This show works because its taking something like the calm magic of the ROA and transforming it at night into a magical after hours like secret that we are lucky enough to see if we just stick around a little longer. ROA and especially TSI NEED work, we need to get rid of the conestoga fry cart and the McDonalds that now resides in the Harbor Galley... not a show that is truly what Disney is about, magic, transformation, and witnessing our beloved Disney dreams and even nightmares come to life. I dont think that we need to strip Disneyland of one of the best and most still captivating a nd successful shows to perk up DCA. Has the electric light parade acheived that? I don't think so. Create something new and equally impressive for DCA and improve the experience of ROA by getting rid of the McD's etc. Those who divy up the $ for WDI to create theme park ideas, needs to realize that in order to make the $ they are used to and desire, that they need to be willing to SPEND the money on it.

Freddie Freelance said...

I saw on Mouse Planet that the RoA used to be cleaned by the Twin Sisters Falls' Pumps & Filters, with all of the trash skimmed & filtered out of the water before being cycled back into the River. This would be a pleasant side effect of building a new falls, I'm certain that the resultant drop in the number of floating Candy Wrappers will improve the immersive experience along the Riverfront.

Anonymous said...

I am 52 and simply a 35 year park visitor from SoCal. I visited Disneyland twice in the last 30 days and left disheartened both times for many of the reasons cited here, and more practical concerns that erode the experience. My two cents:

1. Loss of Quality of Experience: From the new parking lots two miles from the entrance with no tram service, to the "we're never too full to sell one more ticket" philosophy, the quality of the experience has declined. At the end of a long day, walking back to the lot, you aren't thinking "happy thoughts", I assure you. When you pull a Fast Pass that says your slot is 4 hours away, or spend one hour in a line for one ride (this was Sunday, April 23, 2007), or see the Park shuttered at 4 p.m. to entertain the Travel Industry, it becomes obvious current management cares SOLELY about a bottom line, and no longer gives a damn about the visitor experience.

2. Declining Park Maintenance: Back in the day, you couldn't find a bulb out in the park. Now you see faded buildings and event venues that should have been painted a year or two ago, broken animatronics unattended, amateurly selected and depressing color choices (Tomorrowland buildings are now a blah light blue or gray color scheme).

3. Loss of Clarity: WTF IS California Adventure? At first I thought it was an adrenaline rush park for adults and teens, then they drop Bug's Life into it. No clarity of concept. Meanwhile at DIsneyland, everything is moving to adrenaline rides. For God's sake, put those at CA. Hey, I loved the new Rocking Rocket Ride, but the ride outside of the set while you're in line really is NOT a space oriented experience anymore. Again, loss of clear themes.

4: Loss of Education: Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln. Gone. Carousel of Progress. Gone. I see no current effort to educate through entertainment, in fact that idea is being phased out.

5. Loss of Vision: Tomorrowland is anything but. No trips to the Moon, or Mars, no future houses, no Shrinking Ride - nothing to cause you to dreamof the future, to push ideas forward for the future, nothing to stimulate imagination. At all. Might as well rename that part now that Finding Nemo is taking over the sub pen in another synergistic cash grab.

6. Country Bear Jamboree - Gone, replaced by a cheap kiddie Pooh ride, doesn't do Pooh justice. Ripped out one of the most relaxing, enjoyable rides at Disney, one which had alot of $ invested in it, for another Mr. Toad's Wild Ride equivalent. Why? Because the animated movie bombed???

Disgusted, disheartened. Clearly the park is in the hands of 30 somethings with no clue as to the park's history and vision, or bean counters and suits.

Sad experience, and it's no