Friday, February 27, 2009

Security at Disneyland - A First-Hand Experience

Always present but rarely experienced first-hand are the security teams in the parks; however, 'Photos from the Parks' recently learned from personal experience they are omnipresent and besides assisting guests, moving queues during parades, and searching bags, they are also looking at, and for, other things.

Before we begin, I'd like to thank the two members of Disneyland's security team I met on the evening of February 26th. Both were professional in their conduct and though slightly confrontational at first, became cordial in the end. What follows is my first-hand experience with security that night.

After a series of business meetings in downtown Los Angeles, I arrived at Disneyland on February 26th at 5:30pm. I entered the park with no bag or backpack, just my log book and my camera, which was hung around my neck on a thin white and blue strap, wearing jeans, black loafers, a dress shirt with sweater and a golf jacket. I stand 6'2", weigh 170 lbs, and have medium length hair. It's said that I have an authoritative air about me; this is largely due to my personal demeanor. I've found a large part of success in life is looking and acting like you know what you're doing at all times and this is the same approach I use when in the parks, especially when 'working' on behalf of 'Photos from the Parks'.

My objective that night was to photograph Toontown which, for better or worse, remains a gaping hole in my photo repository. Unfortunately, due to traffic on I-5, I arrived an hour later than planned and when I reached Toontown the light was completely gone. It's interesting to note that while in Toontown I was questioned, out of the blue, by a park guest who wanted to know what was going on at Donald's Boat. Rather than responding, "Excuse me, ma'am, but I'm not a cast member", I informed her the attraction was under refurbishment and would reopened in due time and went on my way. It always amazes me that people will ask these questions of people not wearing white oval name badges, but it happens nonetheless and to me with some regularity.

Disappointed, I left Toontown and decided to rove. I found myself in the usual places: Frontierland; New Orleans Square; Critter Country. I fulfilled two Disneyland goals with a ride on Big Thunder Mountain (at the very back of the train) to see what's left of Rainbow Ridge and, while in Critter Country, a walk-on to Splash Mountain (and a seat in front). For what it's worth, I like each of these very much and prefer Disneyland's Big Thunder queue and ride. Perhaps it was due to riding at night but it feels quicker and sharper than its twin in Walt Disney World.

With these goals firmly achieved it was time to get back to work. Without a mono or tripod nighttime shots are always disappointing and there wasn't much on my 'must have' list. I soon found myself in Tomorrowland (I've never taken a shot of the Space Mountain sign I'm proud of) and I shot the bas-relief walls on Buzz Lightyear and Star Tours and the short wall next to Little Green Men Store Command. By this time the park had 'closed' and it was prime shooting time. I reached the Honey, I Shrunk the Audience sign in no time at all and had squared up to capture the Starcade sign but waited as several CMs made their way out of the exit into the Tomorrowland plaza area. One CM, easily identified as security due to his hat, paused and stopped as I took some photos. I moved to my left to get the ever elusive Space Mountain sign and after taking three terrible shots the CM approached me and asked if I was a cast member. I said, 'No', and moved again to try another angle. The gentleman then asked a question I found quite odd; he asked if I was a guest. I indicated 'Yes, I am', and kept shooting as I made small talk.

I'm not sure why I was approached; perhaps the CM was concerned by how I appeared. In all fairness, I probably did not fit the 'image' of a typical park guest; I had a small, Canon A540 held out in front of me, I was taking photos and I was jotting down notes in my log book. I probably didn't sound like a typical park guest; when approached I was quite friendly and probably sounded like a CM to him (comes with the territory) but had identified myself as not a member of the family. At the time, I thought nothing of it; this is how I've operated in the parks for years while 'on assignment'.

About twenty minutes later, after a thorough capture of the Main Street windows not in my collection, I found myself in front of the Main Street Cinema, irritated by the construction walls up on the east side of the street. I was in the midst of framing a shot of the relatively new Greg Emmer window when two CMs approached me from the direction of the hub. One was the gentleman who had questioned me just earlier and with him another CM, a level up in authority. It was immediately clear to me that I had been followed out of Tomorrowland and likely watched as I made my way down one side of Main Street and then down the other. The senior of the two introduced himself to me in a very direct manner, but still following the Disney way with a handshake, and wanted to know what I was doing.  Once again, this struck me as odd as I was taking photos; something just about everyone does. In retrospect, I can only imagine to the CMs what it looked like I was doing. I'm sure, to them, I looked based on my mannerisms much like an insurance adjuster taking photos, maybe a quality assurance person creating a report, perhaps someone looking to steal trade secrets by stealing intellectual property, or, perhaps a like a terrorist? More on that in just a bit.

As I said, he asked me what I was doing I explained I was taking photographs for my website. That's when a round of questions ensued: "No, it's not a commercial site." "No, I don't make any money from it." "No, I don't have a business card from 'Photos from the Parks'." "No, I've never taken photos of CMs; in fact, I strive not to show people at all on the site." "No, there's no way I can prove that's what I'm doing here." "Wait; let me show you 'Photos from the Parks' on my BlackBerry. My last article dealt with what I call the 'Tiki Repatriation Project'." "I do have my business card, however, would you like one?" "Here's the URL and my gmail account if you have any questions." "Yes, please take a look and let me know what you think." "Well, it's more or less a labor of love."

After this the senior of two thanked me for my time and assured me it was all part of his job and then made an interesting statement; something along the lines of how we all want everything I was taking photographs of to be safe or still around. What does that mean? Is Disney walking the parks with an eye out for potential terrorists? Based the questions asked of me and the last statement made, I was led to believe the CMs were alarmed by the combination of what I was photographing and my appearance/demeanor. What might have happened if I couldn't show them this site from my BlackBerry?

So, here's where the rubber meets the road. What, exactly, are security team CMs looking for while observing and assisting guests? They obviously receive training on how to observe people and how to look for patterns but do they have specific profiles in mind? What actions from guests serve as triggers for questioning? Are they really concerned with acts of terrorism in the parks? If so, how did I fit that profile? The last one is really ironic as there aren't too many other people like me who are concerned with the cultural and artistic legacy of Disneyland who aren't employees of the Disney Company.

As I said at the outset of this post the two CMs who questioned me were professional throughout and the encounter has caused me to ponder a few things I never thought of before. (I've even started to wonder if I could receive press credentials for the parks. I doubt it.) Perhaps the worst realization is that after 25 or so visits to the various Disney parks I finally found myself in a position where I didn't feel like a guest of the Walt Disney Company. It bothers me a little bit to know that while performing their duties, two CMs made me feel like I was in the real world and not in the parks; that's never happened to me before. That said, they were just doing their jobs. As such, what is the right balance? How is Disney to balance the needs of their guests and property alike? These are hard questions to answer.

Have you found yourself a similar situation or know of someone who has? Do we need to more thoroughly consider our actions as photobloggers in the parks? Is there a line that I crossed? The more I think about what transpired the more interested I am in trying to see the experience in the eyes of the two Disneyland CMs but am still left confused and curious about the whole thing in terms of its ramifications. Would I ever be banned from the parks? (Perish the thought.)

In honor of my out of place experience on the 26th, I'm sharing with you equally incongruous photos; photos that normally would never make the cut for Photos from Parks are featured today. I hope they capture my thoughts on my most recent visit to Disneyland. And to the two CMs who took down my information, I hope you like this site.

These photographs were taken by the author in February 2009.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tiki Repatriation Project

As the prominence of the Sunshine Pavilion area ebbed during its many refurbishments the tikis once located outside of Tropical Serenade moved a bit south to the Polynesian Resort. These tikis, much like the fabled items found in Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room Lanai Garden, have quite a bit of history attached to them and now welcome guests to the various pools and paths on the south shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon.

The tikis, while not completely out of their element, have been put to work with tasks likely not conceived by the Imagineers who constructed them; the tiki below, at right, serves as the base for a fresh water shower just alongside the quiet pool at the Polynesian.

The Photos from the Parks staff located these tikis almost a year ago and most are in good shape. Next time you're in the area, be sure to look for them in their new habitat. Of particular interest to the staff here deals with how many tikis originally graced the Tropical Serenade area in the Sunshine Pavilion. Does anyone know? Were they named similar to their Anaheim brothers and sisters? Did they all cross the ocean to their current home? Do they miss the smell of churros?

These photographs were taken by the author in March, 2008.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Pooh's Playful Spot

Occupying hallowed grounds in the minds of many 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea aficionados is Pooh's Playful Spot, an 'outdoor play area' in the middle of Fantasyland.

 Regardless if you're traveling with children on your next visit to WDW's Magic Kingdom (the sign says the attraction is meant for the enjoyment of guests two-to-five years old) take a quick minute to enter the tree and, once inside, look above the entry door and tell us at Photos from the Parks what you find.

This photograph was taken by the author in November, 2008.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln

While no longer a part of the active Main Street USA lineup, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln still remains very much a part of the landscape at Disneyland. As the president's 200th birthday comes and goes many are still waiting for concrete information about the return of the attraction to Anaheim. First appearing in 1966 and edited and reconfigured three times over the years (along with The Walt Disney Story), Great Moments was completely removed in 2005 for Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years from the Opera House, which was specifically constructed to house it.

Many had hoped Great Moments would return for the bicentennial of the eponymous man's birth but, sadly, an official announcement has not been made. However, as next door at the Bank of Main Street the decision to house the Disney Gallery (relocated itself from above Pirates of the Caribbean two years ago) is positive news, and all signs then point to a return of Mr. Lincoln, it seems too early to hope for the best.

This photograph was taken by the author in June, 2007.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Mysterious Location for Alameda Slim

Also known as Yancy O'Del, this largely forgettable villian from the benign 'Home on the Range' feature (Walt Disney Animation, 2004) is featured within Disneyland's Big Thunder Ranch, located within Frontierland. This sign was spotted on one of the outbuildings, close to the barn devoted to Disney horses, and is a fun item to present to people and ask 'Where in the Parks?' to.

This area of Disneyland, the segue between Frontierland and Fantasyland, is one of the more interesting areas of the park; It's quite interesting to move from Big Thunder Mountain to the Village Haus Restaurant and the Casey Jr. Circus Train.

This photograph was taken by the author in June, 2007.

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunshine Tree Terrace

Tucked away in a very nostalgic location within Walt Disney World's Adventureland is the Sunshine Tree Terrace. It was once part of a larger themed area called the Sunshine Pavilion which encompassed Tropical Serenade (The Enchanted Tiki Room), Sunshine Tree Terrace, a reflecting pool and the beautiful, if somewhat disorienting, architecture of the South Seas. Today, we largely see this area as just the Tiki Room and the Sunshine Tree Terrace but the lavishly themed assembly building and the pagoda remain mostly as they were in 1971.

Early on in the history of Adventureland, and well prior to the construction of The Magic Carpets of Aladdin in 2001, guests entering Adventureland via the hub would pass by the Swiss Family Treehouse and then see a sweeping thatched skyline with wonderful, large animal gods on towering on top by day and smoking tiki torches by night. While not a photograph, per se, the image below depicts the large expanse of the original space and approximates what visitor would see as they approached this section of the park.

 Image copyright Google and partners
The Sunshine Pavilion, was sponsored by the Florida Citrus Growers and home to the Orange Bird. The Orange Bird was the official mascot of the Florida Citrus Growers (Florida Citrus Commission), created by WED Enterprises with songs penned by the Sherman Brothers and sung by Anita Bryant. Over the course of time, things have changed quite a bit in the Sunshine Pavilion but the Sunshine Tree Terrace remains and is a great place to grab a quick snack and take in the unusual building style and decoration in the area.

Some guides on the subject make reference to a style of building shown above and below as a South Seas, or Melanesian, assembly building. Prominent in a village, these buildings, sometimes called Tambarans, had cultural and religious importance and were quite ornate. The exteriors featured images of deities and the ones depicted in the Sunshine Pavilion are quite reminiscent of images found within It's a Small World.

The detail in this area remains extravagant and is a great place to set up for night time photography. Tikis and sculpted images abound; it's hard not to find a good shot in the Sunshine pavilion.

The Sunshine Tree Terrace has remained in its original spot, albeit with a few changes, since October 1971 but the famous citrus swirl remains. It's not the easiest place to locate nowadays due to the crowded space with the Aladdin ride, but if you're a fan of the old and new within Adventureland, take a few minutes to stop, order up a swirl, and take a look around.

These photographs were taken by the author in November 2007 and 2008.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Frontierland Railroad Station

Although by no means a story as interesting as its counterpart in Disneyland, the Walt Disney World Frontierland Railroad Station is a sight to behold and an story worth telling. As many know, the original WDW Frontierland Railroad Station occupied a space close to the Pecos Bill Cafe from 1971 to 1990 . (This spot is just about where the parade exits Frontierland at present.) The construction of Splash Mountain brought with it some space planning issues and the station to move to the north and just a bit west to its current location, in between Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. (Interestingly enough, this was where the parade used to enter/exit this portion of the park.)
In its present position, the station is nestled in between two of the mountains, Splash and Big Thunder, and above the play and queue area for Splash Mountain. This location is quite unique in that the station sits up quite high and offers guests below wonderful views of the train as it passes by. For Disney audiophiles, this is truly a wonderful spot to rest and catch the sounds of the nearby attractions and background area music on a comfortable day.
These photographs were taken by the author in November, 2008.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

It's a Small World Rehab

Ahh; It's a Small World. Either way you look at it, it makes you shiver; some shiver in anticipation and others out of fear or loathing. Which is it for you?

In advance of tomorrow's unveiling of the new It's a Small World at Disneyland, here's a look at the 25th anniversary dedication plaque. Does anyone know if a new item will supplant this one now that the ride has been altered from its 'original' form?

These photographs were taken by the author in July, 2007.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Enchanted Grove

Located in an interesting location within Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, in between Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and the hub is the Enchanted Grove. Enchanted Grove is a bit of a stepchild in the panoply of 'fast snacks' options as its size somehow belies the fact it offers only beverages. That said, the beverages are a bit unique: the Strawberry Swirl is a favorite of many and the only place on property to find it. (Think of it as a cousin to Aloha Isle. Where else are you going to find a Dole Whip?)

Sponsored by Minute Maid (Coca-Cola), Enchanted Grove offers visitors beautiful signage and an interesting building facade. While not pictured here, the building is an interesting combination of familiar styles but of most interest to the PFTP staff is the beautiful backdrop of the adjoining building, formerly Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and, now, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

The backdrop is absolutely fabulous and is a testament to the visual art of storytelling. To most, this picture immediately brings to mind Cinderella's Castle; instead, it's just a dose of rampart and parapet eye candy disguising an attraction and a bad sight line from this point of view.

And, for those who enjoy Cast Member only signs, here's a great one.

These photographs were taken by the author in November, 2008.

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