Wednesday, February 4, 2015

DISNEY WORLD | The Engine that Could

Mickey Mouse pointed at her and said "Hi! Alice!" I was there.
ORLANDO, Fla. - My wife Alice Tepper Marlin and I are at the world's #1 tourist destination.

It was created out of the mind of Walt Disney and the company he built.

Our Favorite Attractions

Peter Pan, watch out below! Captain Hook is up to no good, that's for sure.
On Monday we visited Disney World for the first time in decades, when our children were small and Alice's parents were with us.

We weren't sure - would we still enjoy it?

Short answer: We reveled in every minute.

The old shows gave us a wave of recognition and memories of how much fun our children had.

Back then, Caroline went through "It's a Small World" five times in a row.

Many new shows blew us away. Fantasmic at Disney's Hollywood Studios was especially impressive.

In one day here, we got to see 15 attractions in two parks - the Magic Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Do we get into the Guinness Book of Records for the most attractions seen by two people over 70?

The Magic Kingdom

We went to nine attractions at the original Disney theme park. In order of our enjoyment of each attraction, they were:
  1. Pirates of the Caribbean - It helped that we had two excited boys behind us who squealed at every turn when the pirates were shooting over our head, or our boat crashed into the water or carrying on in shocking ways in their spare time. 
  2. The Presidents - a combined slide-movie-tableau that introduces us to America's 44 presidents. The show was highly selective - skipping from George Washington (first elected this date, unanimously by the electoral college, in 1789 - no president was ever again elected unanimously) to Andrew Jackson (from the Aristocrat to the Common Man) and then to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War that tore apart the country. Then we hear about Teddy Roosevelt and FDR, and from there we skip ahead to today. The mini-museum in the waiting area has actual memorabilia from many presidents, some on loan from museums. We are told that the Great Seal of the President in the center of the hall is one of only three permitted in the United States.
  3. Captain Sparrow's Pirate Show. A show outside - no lines! - features pirate skipper Jack Sparrow and his hugely funny cockney sidekick who is the real star, surreptitiously delivering wholesome messages to kids and a constant stream of acted-out humor to the adults. It's an analog to the more serious Jedi Knights instruction over at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Each kid in the show gets a certificate of adherence to the pirate code. You may prefer the Jedi Knight role model for your kids.
  4. It's a Small World After All. We never miss this one because the music is so much fun as well as the working out of the idea for each of the major world nationalities. This is one of Alice's favorite memories of her times with Caroline.
  5. Peter Pan. The ride over London is unforgettable. It's a pity that the whole trip is less than three minutes. The posted wait time was 78 minutes, but that must have been out of date because the line was not that long. We also got a Fast Pass that we used for three events at each park, including Peter Pan - but the main reason our lines were short was that it was at a time of year when school-age children are actually in school and not on vacation.
  6. The Disney Parade. We had never been able to get close to it on a previous visit. This time it was awesome. I was glad to see Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) and Bert the Chimney Sweep (Dick van Dyke the "cockney") up there. Compared with previous visits, we didn't see many Disney characters on the streets - maybe their appearance on big-city streets has interfered with their novelty.
  7. The Haunted Mansion. This was an ingenious ride when it was created. It has been updated with holograms and scary voices. It is not as powerful for us as it was when we first went years ago. This was a favorite of our son-in-law Francis. Some of the kids were pretty scared so I guess they have to tame it down. The written materials were funny - the rhymes on the many tombstones.
  8. Jungle Cruise. This is an enjoyable ride and if you have never seen wild life it's the next best thing. The script that the tour guide follows is extremely funny but in our case the guide's attempted accent got in the way of our understanding the words. This was a ride that Walt Disney himself loved to go on, so we were paying close attention. I would like to go on this again and make sure I am with an experienced guide. 
  9. The Shooting Gallery. This is a traditional attraction, but without ammunition. You pay a dollar for a certain number of "rounds" - pulls of the trigger. You shoot at a target and when you hit via a laser (I'm guessing) connection you are rewarded with an animal moving, or a tombstone rising up with more epitaph lines, or a light going out. I tried two different rifles and they weren't calibrated very well. The sight was off on one and the other would go off without pulling the trigger. It still worked well enough and was fun.
Disney's Hollywood Studios

This was the favorite park of our daughter Caroline and her husband Francis when they visited in 2014. So we made sure we got to it. The first and second attractions below were our favorites of the whole day.
  1. Fantasmic. This new and technologically advanced show in an amphitheater features Mickey Mouse trying to hold on to his dreams as various villains try to take them away. Characters are projected onto an immense waterfall - an impressive effect. Fire erupts out of the moat engulfing Mickey's mountain. It's amazing combination of beautiful son-et-lumière telling a story through numerous Disney characters, heroes and villains. The sound here, as at almost all of the Disney attractions, is technically well controlled throughout the two parks and neither of us had any trouble hearing any of the messages.
  2. Star Tours. Space flight with 3-D glasses. It all works, from the "fasten your seat belt" introduction, then the worried exchanges about the flight preparations, the steep drops and winding flight, to the final landing. It was the only one where we were actually scared of falling out - we were in the front row. We found it to be the scariest of the attractions because of the combination of physical motion and 3-D.
  3. Jedi Knight Instruction. It was fun to watch even if you don't have a grandchild in the class. It was a model of teaching and the kids who are brought on stage become heroes.
  4. Cinderella Preview. Sure, this "sneak preview" is basically an ad for the forthcoming re-creation of the bippety-boppety-boo Cinderella that we grew up with, which had an elderly fairy godmother who used her experience and magic to make everything come out right for a beautiful and lovable Cinderella who was essentially a rescued victim (like "The Little Princess"). The 21st century Cinderella is more of a problem-solver who works closely with another woman who is younger and works with Cinderella as a team of two. This is more appropriate for the new concept of the American princess - someone who is in charge and takes over when there is a problem. The fairy godmother is not out there fixing everything for this Cinderella - she is more like a team member. The fairy godmother can be seen as Cinderella's very capable Chief Operating Officer or as a multi-talented Chair of the Board. Excellent concept and a truly lovable Cinderella.
  5. Muppets in 3-D. This is fun, though a bit too slapstick for us. Kermit and Miss Piggy don't seem to be going anywhere with their energy. 
  6. Movie Ride. A trip into the old movie sets where you are part of the action. A range of scenery, from the wild west to Chicago gangster land. You get to see Humphrey Bogart say goodbye to Ingrid Bergman in the final scene at the Casablanca airport (which was actually filmed in a Los Angeles airport).
We are looking forward to a future visit when we will go to the other two Disney theme parks.

How Disney Made Orlando

Walt Disney long planned a modestly sized theme park near his studios. But he soon realized he needed more space. So in 1953 he bought 160 acres in Anaheim and he started building the next year, opening in 1955. I was a freshman in high school. Disneyland was a big success, and has had a reported 650 million visitors.

However, it ran out of space. For its second theme park, Walt Disney World Resort bought up huge properties in the swamps of Orlando in central Florida. In 1971, the year Alice and I were married, the first of the Disney World parks  - the Magic Kingdom - opened here along with two Disney resort hotels.

It was again a phenomenal success. Since then, Disney has added three more theme parks in Orlando - Epcot, Disney-MGM (since 2008 called Disney's Hollywood Studios), and most recently the Animal Kingdom.

More than 700 million people have visited the Disney World attractions - outstripping Disneyland in 16 fewer years. Visitors can stay at more than 20 Disney resorts, plus the new-age community Celebration (which I mention at the end of this post). Independent hotels and resorts have sprung up around the Disney parks and shopping malls fill out the rest of the space.

Disney Shareholders Prosper

The Walt Disney Company (DIS) is now the largest media company in the United States, worth $159 billion, much larger than Comcast in second place and larger than the sum of the next three largest companies in the industry.

It continues to grow. Yesterday (Tuesday) the Company announced first-quarter net income up 19 percent above a year ago. Disney is doing well with its ESPN and ABC television networks and licensing revenue has grown rapidly, recently from merchandise sales related to Frozen. 

Net income for the first quarter of FY 2015 was $2.2 billion on revenues of $13 billion, an annual rate of $52 billion. Diluted earnings were $1.27 per share, beating the highest analyst's average estimate of $1.23 per share and soaring like Peter Pan over the average estimate of $1.08 per share.

The Company's 10K for FY 2014 shows that it earned less than $13 billion in only one quarter (the second) in 2014. The strength of Disney in the United States should help earnings in a year when the dollar has been rising in value and more Americans will be vacationing in their own country.