Friday, August 19, 2011

D23 Live Blog: Walt Disney Parks & Resorts

Coming to you straight from day one of D23, where I will be reporting from all weekend long, is the first recap of many large events taking place this year - the look at what's new with Disney Parks and Resorts. My favorite part of Disney, aside from the animated films, are the parks, so I've been looking forward to this one. My live-blog, with updates on the Fantasyland Expansion in Florida, the new Hawaiian spa & resort, the Shanghai park, and the massive California Adventure add-ons await below!


The parks & resorts panel starts a half hour late. I'm a half hour late. This works out well for me.
I immediately notice that instead of having someone signing for the deaf, there is a screen with written text that shows up as its said. I don't know how I feel about this, as I know many interpreters who make a living precisely with jobs like this. Hrm.

The panel begins with a video, followed by the D23 band with Mickey on drums. Tom Staggs, chairmain of parks & resorts, comes on stage to chat with Mickey about Dancing with the Stars or some such nonsense. They mention the new Disney resorts in Hawaii and Shanghai, before hokey jazz finally plays Mickey off and Staggs gets on with the show.

Staggs - "We are in the middle of our largest expansion for Disney Parks & Resorts"

Staggs talks about launching the Disney Dream (Cruise Ship) and the Shanghai Disney groundbreaking as great moments this past year. Specifically notes enjoying spending time with the "cast members" aka people who work at Disney resorts. What runs next is a video of Staggs moonlighting as one of these cast members, sketch style, singing in a Barbershop Quartet, giving out balloons, piloting the Jungle Cruise (to rousing applause - people love the Jungle Cruise) and more. Okay. Sure. Why not.

I notice that people sitting in front of me are some of these Disney "cast members" Staggs is talking about. I hope they didn't have to pay for tickets to be here.

Staggs brings up the largest expansion in the history of the Magic Kingdom, the Fantasyland expansion, opening in Fall of 2012. He brings the Chief Creative Executive for Walt Disney Imagineering, Bruce Vaughn, on stage.

More after the jump

Vaughn explains that they build a detailed model for every new attraction to get a true feel for what it will look like and it also helps with logisitics like sight lines and guest flow. The model is pretty impressive with full topography. We start on the Little Mermaid Ride. They took a classic dark ride and added new animatronic figures and special effects. At California Adventure, the Little Mermaid facade is at Paradise Pier. But in Florida, the ride has its own dedicated site, where guests will walk along the seashore and enter through Eric's castle. The rendering looks pretty gorgeous, not gonna lie.
The new Fantasyland will "take the meet and greet to a whole new level." With the Belle meet and greet, kids can enter her cottage and can help Belle act out and tell her stories with Lumiere, who will be hosting the attraction. Vaughn notes that Lumiere is one of the most difficult animatronics they have ever worked on.

Next up: The Snow White dwarf mine family coaster. They have been building a new ride system from scratch. First time in any parks that they are focusing a ride on the seven dwarves and their stories. The imagineers felt inspired by the mine sequence in Snow White and really wanted to get the ride right. Needed the units to sway the way the mine carts do in the film, and based on footage of testing the car on the back of a pick-up truck, looks like they nailed it. And may make me nautious. To quell my fears, or make them worse, they showed bits of a computer rendering of the first person experience of the ride. It seemed most reminiscent of a Splash Mountain or not-as-fast Thunder Mountain. But not as nausea inducing as some of the earlier graphics of the mine-car instilled in me.

That was it for Vaughn. Damn. I could have used more of that. Next up are details on Aulani, the Hawaiian Disney resort. It certainly looks beautiful, but I'd like to know what makes it different from other spa resorts. My answer arrives in the form of singing Hawaiian children and ukuleles galore! Hmm. No. Still not sure why I would pick a Disney resort in Hawaii over any other. But this music is providing a nice ambiance as I type!

"Answer to families that want a great Disney experience but also what everything Hawaii has to offer." Okay, I guess that's quite literally an answer. There will be spaces for kids, teens, adults and an area for everyone to be together. There is a beach house just for kids with games, Disney characters, crafts, and more. For Teens, there is a place with computer stations, events, lounge stations, yogurt bar, and spa experiences designed just for young adults. For adult adults, there is 18,000 square foot spa and fitness center. Complete menu of traditional spa services and new ones based on ancient Hawaiian traditions. There is also a pool, water slides and lazy river for the whole family.

A video from the lead designer of Aulani from Hawaii is then screened, showing off the decor of the lobby and the outside valley that boasts special effects spread secretly throughout the mini water park. The resort opens August 29th and does look beautiful. Though I'd personally rather NOT be surrounded by anything Disney if I'm not specifically going to Disneyland, you know? I'm sure this is all kinds of exciting for the hardcore Disney vacationers out there, but for me? Not so much.

Tom Staggs is secretly a ham and this audience is eating it up. People really love Disney this much, ay? Fascinating.

Staggs announces that one family will win a trip to Aulani and tells the audience to searc
under their seats for a sticker. It's won by a young boy wearing glasses and my heart kind of melts.

Next up - Shanghai Disney Resort, the third resort in Asia and sixth in the world. It broke ground in April and is being built now. Imagineer Bob Weis, who is the head designer of this resort is welcomed on stage to talk specifics. "Literally building this from the ground up." The audience is amused by the slideshow as the photos from the site are nothing but dirt and enormity. But some fancy computer effects change the dirt into a resort in front of our eyes. Which fine, is kind of cool. Weis says it will be classic Disney, but influenced with the culture and traditions of China as well. Working with Chinese historians, authors and more to help make the park as authentic as they can. Hints that dragons will play a role. This castle in particular with be unlike any of the others in any of the other five parks. They showed us a piece of CGI that takes us through what the castle will be like. Five full stories with a gorgeous wrap around staircase in the lobby. So kind of an actual castle, it looks like. "Huge," Staggs point out. I think I got that much on my own, thank you very much. This enchanted storybook castle will represent ALL the Disney princess, not just one. There will be a stage in the center of the lobby. Highly immersive, boutique in the lobby with character meet & greets as well. 3rd floor will have an immersive attraction that takes you through stories and the 2nd floor will have a full restaurant. Immersive features and special effects all throughout the castle. Announced just today - this will be the first castle to feature a ride going through it. A ride going through Fantasyland will have a finale in the grotto of the castle, with a music, color and water experience.

Finally to the expansion of California Adventure! Infusing the park with "more Disney DNA", there will be a brand new main entrance that leads to Buena Vista street, sending guests to Los Angeles of the 1920s and 30s. Will completely reshape the entrance experience to the park with new archetecture, shopping and dining. The "Main Street" of Disney California Adventure (DCA). "Red Cars" aka trolleys will be available to take from the main entrance around the whole park. Showed 3D fly through of Beuena Vista street. Omg. California history, Walt's history, pretty awesome. End of street is new "icon" for DCA, which is reinvention of Carthay Circle theater, which will have restaurant inside developed by Andrew Sutton of Napa Roads.

They are building a 12 acre area called Cars Land for DCA, which includes a giant mountain range. Kathy Mangum, who is heading up Cars Land, is welcomed on stage to chat a bit about it. I'm still bothered that the biggest part of DCA is going to be based on Cars...I didn't even see Cars 2. Is how little I care. Mangum says they watched the movie "about a hundred times" during the research and development phase, then took an 8 day trip on route 66, to "get to know the people and places that inspired the movie that is inspiring the land." In this land, we can enter establishments owned by every character of Cars. Route 66 will be their "Main Street" in Radiator Springs. Showed slides of where the construction is right now, next to final renderings. The audience was bizarrely excited by a tire ride which is in the spirit of the old space saucers ride at Tomorrowland, testing in the next couple weeks. Radiator Springs Racers is the main attraction of Cars Land. They are also creating attractions for Cars Land inspired by back story that didn't make it into the movie and are building the original Radiator Spring.

Finally, the president of the Disneyland Resort, Gerorge Kalogridis, comes on stage. The staff members sitting in front of me LOVE him. They are working on a series of special experiences to allow guests to interact in a whole new way, like having dinner in the Haunted Mansion with imagineers, a tea party with your favorite princesses, or experiencing attractions from old school Disneyland. Peoplemover or bust! Because Club 33 has a closed waiting list, they are also announcing an expansion of sorts, more details coming in 2012. The biggest announcement? They are expanding Fantasyland and creating Fantasy Faire. For some reason, the staff member in front of me doesn't like this. At the heart of Fantasy Faire is Tangled Tower. Fantasy Faire will have a new stage at at certain times of day there will be maypole ribbon dancing fun times. There will still be dancing at night. To which the staff members in front me respond "Thank god" and clap wildly. Huh? Always nice to end a panel on a highly confusing note.

But not gonna lie, if the goal here is to make me want to go across the street to Disneyland...yeah, I do, it worked. Can I? I want to. I think I'm going to. Damnit, Disney.