Thursday, December 30, 2010

Maelstrom I: Milestones in Norwegian Exploration

Even the most traveled and experienced guest of Epcot's World Showcase finds themselves in attractions that leave little to the imagination whether it be from familiarity or fecklessness. Regardless of whether you've experienced the attraction over a hundred times or if the Imagineers have been saddled with limited funds and every changing priorities certain attractions just leave you asking for more and that's how PFTP feels about Norway's Maelstrom attraction.

While the exterior of the attraction is beautiful the flume, or the key part of the attraction, leaves just about everyone wanting. And while a thrill ride about a Nokia manufacturing plant wouldn't be any better it's hard to explain how a lame polar bear audio-animatronic figure (one of less than 3,000 in Norway), an offshore oil platform, and a goofy leftover from the Black Cauldron's troll shop all add up to tell a cohesive story.

All griping aside, the artwork and story that adorns the entry queue is top notch. The queue itself is quite basic. In queue parlance, it's a general switchback queue but it's the murals that make it amazing. There are two large scale murals that meet your eyes once you enter the indoor portion of Maelstrom; today's post discusses the mural on your right as you enter,or the south side of the building. This mural is known as Milestones in Norwegian Exploration.

Surely greater than 60 feet in height, this mural stretches for likely double in length and depicts a map of Norwegian exploration. (The physical aspects of the mural make it difficult to capture the higher portions [not to mention, how does one see the top with their own eyes?] so most of the images are from the lower half and, as such, focus on explorations within the southern hemisphere.) Now, those of you not part of the Gen X crowd (aka the 13th generation) or before might not realize it but Norway is quite famous for its explorers. Yes; a history lesson beckons.

The mural depicts major achievements in Norwegian expeditions dating back from prior to 1000 AD to the present and one of the first to be called out are Bjarmi Herjulsson (Herjulfssonn, etc.) and his bandmate, Lief Eriksson. Mr. Herjulsson (all names are written as depicted on the mural) was a sea merchant who first saw North America when he attempted to visit his father in Greenland. Mr. Eriksson, upon learning of Mr. Herjulsson's discovery, purchased Herjulsson's boat and crew, revisited North America, spent the winter in Newfoundland, and is widely credited as the first Viking to discover the new world.

Moving on, we see the exploits of Roald Amundsen, perhaps the most famous of all Norwegian explorers. In 1903, Mr. Amundsen and a crew of six became the first to ever traverse the Northwest Passage aboard the Gjøa. (The northwest passage connects the Atlantic and Pacific above Canada.) The Gjøa, a repurposed 47-ton herring boat, took 3 years to complete the journey and served as a laboratory of sorts for Mr. Amundsen's 1910-12 first successful expedition to the South Pole. (The seafaring portion of that trip was aboard the Fram.)

Have you ever heard of the Kon-Tiki? In 1947, seeking to show that Polynesia may have been populated by persons from South America, Thor Heyerdahl and five others set out in a raft made only from material and technology contemporary to pre-Columbian civilizations. That's right: balsa wood. Mr. Heyerdahl's successful, 101-day journey spawned a book and a film that won an Oscar for best documentary in 1950 which, coincidentally, is the only Norwegian film to win an Oscar. 'Kon-Tiki' is worth a watch. (Think of a Disney True-Life Adventures mashed up with Swiss Family Robinson.) Did you know Mr. Heyerdahl was considered to be the man of the 20th century in Norway?

Not to be satisfied, Mr. Heyerdahl matched his earlier feat others: he sailed to Rapa-Nui (Easter Island) in the 1950's and then in the 1970's from Morocco to Barbados aboard a ship, Ra II, made from papyrus (reeds). Mr. Heyerdahl's work is part of the Kon-Tiki museum in Oslo and should the Imagineers even want to add a new attraction to the pavilion they should consider this as a starting point.

Well, there you have it. Humanities majors need to use their knowledge from time to time and if you ever doubt how a simple, switchback queue can be great, this is how. We hope you enjoyed it. Next up - Julie and the Love Boat or, Mural number two.

These photographs were taken by the author in October, 2010.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays!

From our family to you and yours, Happy Holidays from Photos from the Parks.

This photograph was taken by the author in 2009.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Friendship Boats

Sometimes overlooked by guests making their way from Future World to World Showcase (and vice versa) in Epcot are the Friendship boats. These launches are a viable option for those either daunted by the mile long walk around World Showcase or those who prefer to see things from a the perspective of the World Showcase Lagoon.

There are two main routes, and four landings altogether. Two landings are located almost side by side at the juncture of Future World and World Showcase. The landing to the east (on your left as you approach with Future World  behind you) runs roughly from Mexico to Germany and its counterpart runs, again roughly, from Canada to Morocco.

If these boats look familiar to you, it's quite possible you've taken similar ones from the International Gateway landing to and from Crescent Lake and Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Resorts and the Boardwalk Resort or from DHS to the same resort hotels on Crescent Lake. and the Swan & Dolphin.

There are a total of 8 Friendships: they're creatively named Friendship I through Friendship VIII. (At least they're not named after seven dwarves and a princess, if you catch my drift.) Each vessel has its name visible both fore and aft and each has its own color scheme.

The ride from landing to landing is at a leisurely pace so don't bet your friends you'll beat them to the American Adventure if that's your plan. Operating speed is 6 knots (~7mph) and each boat holds about 100 guests so while it's not going to be confused with any of the attractions within Epcot, it does provide for some great picture taking of the various World Showcase countries.

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

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Silent Sentinels of The Polynesian Resort's Great Ceremonial House

At first glance the Polynesian's Great Ceremonial House is a place in constant motion; people, sounds, and sights are everywhere. While it's a bit quieter these days now that the birds have moved a bit south to Disney's Animal Kingdom, the restaurants on the second floor still make a bit of noise as do the shops located on both floors.

Every once in a while you'll find a spot of quietness; we've been fond of visiting the Great Ceremonial House during the early hours of the morning or very late at night once the monorail stops running. The dynamic changes during these times and during these moments we found some very quiet residents within.

It's hard to see most of what happens right outside of 'Ohana as this spot is usually packed with guests checking into the restaurant and milling about. During the quieter times the woodwork is more visible and comes to life in terms of the storytelling it supports.

Also critical to the theme downstairs are the whales outside of the Wyland Gallery, one of two on property. These beauties are right overhead and lend a wonderful touch to the gallery space alongside.

These photographs were taken by the author in October, 2010.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Skylight, Starbright (Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station)

Tucked away in the southeastern corner that connects Main Street USA with Tomorrowland is a place known as the Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station. A seasonal restaurant (meaning it's usually open only for large capacity days in the Magic Kingdom), that we've discussed in the past here at PFTP, the Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station is better known in its Wishes! Dessert Party context. This spot offers a great view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks and, even cooler, its roof serves as Tink's landing pad.

While the casual observer will rarely have reason to pass through its rather large, mod design space, it is a great place to cut through to the turnstiles at the end of the day or during a parade. In fact, we've been known to cut through this area just after rope drop to get into Tomorrowland a bit more quickly than most.

More intriguing than most anything is the space itself. There's a bit of an attic feel here; sometimes you expect that plastic sheets were removed just that day and that the space has been largely forgotten. In addition to a rather retro-mod style are out of the way bathrooms that have a great soundtrack. Be sure to check them out the next time you're there.

Chances are you'll pass through when the restaurant is closed but if you take the time to poke around a bit you'll be surprised by what you find.

These photographs were taken by the author in May and October, 2010.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Location, Location, Location

For those of you completely enamored with all things 'old-school' at Walt Disney World, nothing's finer than a long visit to either Disney's Contemporary Resort or Disney's Polynesian Resort. Short of the Magic Kingdom itself, these two property icons likely account for more blogs, and personal webpages than any other attraction at WDW.

What else can you say that's not been said already you ask? In a word, nothing. However, there's still a lot to appreciate and keep track of at the resort and it never hurts to spend some time highlighting its various features.

First off, let's consider the old real estate mantra: location, location, location. The Poly has that in spades thanks to its location on the Magic Kingdom monorail loop and its splendid views of the Seven Seas Lagoon. There's little finer in this world than hopping on the monorail knowing that you and yours will be deposited at the feet of either the Magic Kingdom or Epcot. What's even more special about the Poly is that when you stay there you're also on the edge of the Transportation and Ticket Center. What's so special about that? Well, if you've ever faced a situation where you need to switch loops it's really quite convenient to exit at the TTC and just walk to your longhouse on property.

Secondly, style. Yes; the Contemporary is sleek and cuts quite a figure over there as it straddles Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon and the Grand Floridian shines like a beacon over there to the west but the lush landscaping, fountains, and tropical setting is something quite unique.

Whether it's the marina, pools, shops, or restaurants there's a consistently relaxed style that lends itself nicely to a resort setting. Part of the vacation is the place itself and if you're going to want to relax then this is the place for you. Trust us, there's nowhere else on property where the Mai Tais taste as good as they do at the Barefoot Pool Bar. (And there's no other place where you're more willing to fork over $10 for one.)

Thirdly, kitsch; the place is full of it. Everything from the signs to the storefronts and rooms brings to mind a visit to Trader Vic's. And, for that, we are extremely appreciative.

Perhaps the best way to experience the Polynesian Resort isn't through any of the above but through a long walk across its grounds. One of many joys of staying here is the opportunity to explore each longhouse and it surrounding walkways and flowers. The walk from the Great Ceremonial House to the TTC is an experience in itself and we're always left wondering how widespread the approximately 850 rooms are.

While each of the longhouses are greatly the same, each building's exterior is unique and this, too, lends an interesting touch to the grounds. Plus, the leftover '70s vibe is so strong on the outside you can't help but have a good time.

These photographs were taken by the author in October, 2010.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Strangely, Still Relevant

Does anyone remember how wildly out of date World of Motion felt at the end of its fifteen year run? By 1996, the GM sponsored exhibit felt as if not one but two generations had passed it by. Much the same could be said of Horizons; while Horizons was and remains a PFTP favorite it, too, felt the strain of time even before the 'back by popular demand' revival in the late '90s. There is one Future World East attraction that's been in situ since 1982 albeit with a significant overhaul in 1996 and the fifteen years the new show has been in place have been much kinder than its neighbors.

Yes, you guessed it: Universe of Energy. And, while Alex Trebek has lost his mustache over the years and Jamie Lee Curtis' style has changed (Ellen's hasn't, though) the attraction's main message continues to remain relevant. (What is Bill Nye up to these days, anyway?)

Universe of Energy: Ellen's Energy Adventurenée Universe of Energy, and for a very short time Universe of Energy: Ellen's Energy Crisis, occupies the far northeastern plat and is the first Future World attraction seen if you take the monorail into the park. Easily identified by its colorful tile and solar panels, Ellen's Energy Aventure spins a compelling tale of alternative energy consumption. Yes; the dinosaurs remain outdated even with the paint job they received in '96, but the film portions are still on point and the content could have been written just months ago.

45 minutes long with wait times slightly less than half of that, the attraction's emphasis on alternatives to fossil fuels through the exploration of solar, wind, and hydro power emphasizes the extent to which energy remains an unsolved issue for most. As Ellen and Bill move rather quickly through time from the Big Bang to 1996, guests are introduced to other potential energy sources and Bill makes an impassioned plea to use less energy. While the facts about how much oil is left changes constantly, the message remains accurate: the need to find alternative energy sources is paramount.

As the PFTP staff listened to Bill and Ellen it became clear this particular attraction has stood the greater technological test of time better, perhaps, than any other pavilion in Future World. Whether it's luck of the draw or man's failure to efficiently capture these alternative energy sources, this attraction has won the relevancy lottery. We only wish that was enough.

While we'd love the attraction if it still featured Emil Radok's brilliant but temperamental pre-show and the lovely '80s 'Energy: You Make the World Go 'Round' lounge music, but it's hard to get too excited about this pavilion anymore. The attraction sits forlornly in this part of of the park, and it seems destined for a fate much like its immediate neighbor, the Wonders of Life Pavilion if it can't successfully navigate its next 15 years.

As we've discussed, the message is still on point so we're left to wonder how best to use this pavilion and its hulking structure. It pains the staff here to see it rented out for special occasions so how would you 're-imagineer' the next 15 years for this attraction?

These photos were taken by the author in May and October, 2010.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Hall of Presidents

Long known as the 'best place in the World for a nap', Walt Disney World's Hall of Presidents is truly one of the best old-school attractions on property. While it may be hard for today's kids to be geeked about audio animatronic figures, the aged among us vividly remember black and white images of Imagineers huddled over vacuum tube like machines controlling 'ol Abe at Disneyland.

It'd been some time since the intrepid staff at PTFP had braved this hallmark attraction located in Liberty Square but our desire to catch a glimpse at 44 and the wonderful reproduction artwork inside the lobby prompted our presence during our last visit. 

First and foremost, the Hall of Presidents is a photographer's delight. The attraction features great architectural bits and the entrance to the attraction is a great place to play with focus, bokeh, and light.

Look for interesting ways to capture the attraction outside the traditional signage and you'll hold these truths to be self evident - this is a great place to catch some great snapshots.

These photos were taken the author in October, 2010.