Friday, September 30, 2011

Between Books - Mousetrapped: A Year in a Bit in Orlando, Florida

Catherine Ryan Howard in Mousetrapped: A Year in a Bit in Orlando, Florida documents her move from Cork, Ireland to Orlando for a year and a half to work in a hotel on Walt Disney World Resort property.  Howard not attending school and without a steady position applied to a program that brings international applicants to work in the United States.  Rejected by the Walt Disney World programs for international cast members, she was surprised to find herself offered a position in Orlando at the “Duck” and “Tuna” resort located on Walt Disney World property.  She spent a year working the front desk of the “Duck” and “Tuna” and transitioned to housekeeping as a room inspector for the remainder of her time in the United States.  Howard details why she chose to move to Orlando, the transition and obstacles in getting settled there, her work life, and how she passed the time while living in the United States.  Her view of Orlando includes trips to the Walt Disney World Resort, the Kennedy Space Center, and the Holy Land Experience.
Let me just start by saying, I am not female and I am not in my 20s.  If I was it is likely that emotionally I may have connected to this memoir more.  As it is I imagine this is the type of memoir that ladies who enjoy Sex in the City like, though this memoir has a city with no sex.  I on the other hand have ironically only seen Sex in the City on a grainy TV on a Disney Magical Express bus in the middle of the night; I’m still not sure how that happened!  So, I’m pretty sure that I am not the target audience for this book.
Second, I was expecting a book that shared behind the scenes stories of Disney cast members.  I was looking for something similar to Cast Member Confidential.  But since Howard worked at the “Duck” and “Tuna” (her preferred code name for her prior employer) she did not have access off stage in the Walt Disney World Resort parks.  So her stories within the Magic Kingdom may be similar to yours and lack behind the scenes details.  And she spends a lot of time discussing other non-Disney experiences such as the Kennedy Space Center, for which she provides a lengthy history of.  Often I am asked, “Is it on Disney transportation?”  Kennedy is not so I have never been there and despite being a kid who loved the shuttle program, I really was not that interested in her visits to the NASA facility.  In the end this is a book about living physically Disney Adjacent, but it’s really not strictly or even mostly a Disney book. 
Now despite not connecting strongly to this memoir, Howard still makes some interesting points.  One of the more profound observations is that Orlando and Walt Disney World attract adults who don’t want to grow up.  This is a trend one also can see in Cast Member Confidential.  It seems like some, but not all, of those who relocate to Orlando are trying to stall on the adult decisions of life as they enjoy a magical and fictional world in Orlando.  So in many ways Howard’s book is a wake up call.  I have dreamed with my wife while walking Main Street U.S.A about moving to Anaheim or Orlando.  Everything seemed so prefect on those vacation nights with no whiny kids (at least my kids were not whining) and no workdays.  Mousetrapped makes it clear that everything is not unicorns and puppies, unless you own unicorns or puppies, as everyone integrates into a new life in Orlando.  Sometimes the dream is better than reality, even if you are having a wonderful time.
Overall, I personally did not connect to this memoir in the way that I hoped.  It had a lot of content that was really outside of my own personal interests.  I would recommend if you want to relax with this book order the cheaper eBook instead of picking up a physical copy from your Between Books Library

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mousey Movies – Meet the Robinsons

Lewis is a genius, but lives in an orphanage where prospective parents cannot see how smart and special he is.  He decides that his mother who gave him away as a baby must be the only person who could love him.  So he sets out to make a memory scanner for the school science fair that will show him his mother so they can be reunited, come on why build a volcano when you can build a memory scanner.  Sadly for Lewis a mysterious man with a bowler hat from the future steals his invention.  Along with Dor-Is, a robot bowler hat, the man attempts to claim the invention for himself.  To help Lewis reclaim the memory scanner is Wilbur a boy from the future and the son of the inventor Cornelius Robinson.  Wilbur’s dad in fact is the future’s most productive inventor and his creations have shaped the future.  Wilbur takes Lewis into the future hoping he can help him reclaim a time machine stolen by the man in the bowler hat when he left the garage door open (seriously who hasn’t this happened to).  For Lewis the most interesting discovery in the future is Wilbur’s interesting, okay weird, but supportive family.  Will Lewis be reunited with his mother?  Will Wilbur get the time machine back before his dad gets home?  Who is this man in the bowler hat?  And will Wilbur’s and Lewis’ choices lead to a very different and scary future?
I love this movie.  Seriously, this is one of my favorite Disney movies of all time and to be honest I can’t believe this movie has not been raised to Disney classic level.  To me this is a movie that Walt Disney would have loved and could have produced.  It puts a high value on family, it’s imaginative and it’s optimistic.  Wilbur teachers Lewis his dad’s biggest catch phrase, “Keep Moving Forward.”  It’s one that captures the spirit of Walt Disney, especially as one studies Disney’s story of success including his failures and predictions that his Mickey Mouse Park would fail.  To make this connection overt, the end titles include this Walt Disney quote, “Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious... and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”  This movie truly has the feeling of the spirit of Walt Disney which you can find living today in a visit to a Disney park.    
Also throughout the movie are Easter eggs that return us living Between Disney to the parks and other Disney experiences.  My favorite is Todayland.  As Wilbur and Lewis fly through the future city they pass Todayland.  When I first saw this I could not help but notice the iconic profile of Space Mountain, instantly connecting Meet the Robinsons with Tommorrowland.  It led me to look closer at the shot in future views, seeing a version of the Astro Orbiter and unmistakably getting the subliminal message of “Plan a Vacation!”  In another scene the man in the bowler hat and Dor-Is scheme to defeat Cornelius in a diner.  The wall paper behind the conspirators features an image of Cinderella Castle.  Finally, in a deleted scene the Robinson family robot Carl hands Wilbur a note on Winnie the Pooh Stationary.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Between Books - Cast Member Confidential: A Disneyfied Memoir by Chris Mitchell

Chris Mitchell in Cast Member Confidential details his Disney experience during his tenure as a Disney cast member.  An action sports photographer, Mitchell found that his personal life was becoming too much to handle.  In the face of the pressures he could not face in the real world he escaped to Walt Disney World.  As an experienced photographer he easily was hired as a PhotoPass photographer.  Assigned largely to character meet and greets, Mitchell provides his readers a behind the scenes view of being a Disney cast member.  He paints scenes of partially dressed characters sitting off stage relaxing and sharing their personal lives, while missing key costume pieces.  Along with photographing characters, Mitchell shares his own journey to be casted as a character so he could better fit within his circle of friends who largely worked as friends of Disney characters.  Along with his behind the scenes stories within the park, he also shares the uncensored “secret” lives of Disney cast members living in the Disney “Ghetto.”
Tip number one; don’t give this book to the kids.  It is frank and depicts a lifestyle where alcohol, drugs and sex are all readily available to young adults.  Tip number two; if you place Disney cast members on a pedestal, don’t read this book.  This book will shatter any myths that you have that every Disney cast member is a member of the Cleaver family.  Instead, you will find them to be young adults that live lives similar to people you have probably known who made questionable decisions.   And to be honest, Mitchell himself is personally drawn to young adults in the process of finding themselves or having excessive good times and not boy scouts.  So you will be provided a picture of young adults living away from mom and dad for the first time with the funds to purchase beer and other entertainment.  So warning, if you read this book your picture of the Magic Kingdom could be significantly rearranged as you sit Between Disney.  Mitchell’s Disney has a lot less heroic princes and chaste princesses than we might want to believe from our safe distance away from Orlando.  It’s really a coming of age memoir with all the traps one might except to find on “Behind the Music.” 
In conclusion this is a memoir that has Disney content.  For some Mitchell’s Disney could be a major turn off.   But then this was his Disney’s and I’m sure that there are plenty of other cast members that did share Mitchell’s experiences, and many that did not.  I was entertained and interested but I would suggest doing what I did, if you can borrow it from a library instead of adding it to your Between Books collection.    

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dreaming Disney – AllEars.Net

Recently because of a friend’s question I had to think through again where to start for planning a Disney vacation.  My first step is to always order the free planning video.  Now part of the reason for that to be first is it takes time to get it in the mailbox.  The second thing I tell someone to do is go visit www.AllEars.Net
I really like “free” and AllEars is the best comprehensive free online source I have found for the Walt Disney World Resort.  Well actually like most good things, my wife found it.  AllEars for Walt Disney World has pictures and comprehensive information on accommodations, dining, attractions, and more.  If I have a question about ride vehicles, dieteary issues or anything I can think of as friends ask me their strangest questions, I go to AllEars.  Additionally there are blogs that contributors provide on a variety of Disney topics.  We have used this site to help us determine where our family would  stay when Disney Adjacent, flipping through pictures to determine room layouts.  And my wife and I have spent hours using the menus to determine where we were going to eat on our next visit.  We have found the Rate and Review sections highly valuable as we read the reactions of other guests to hotel rooms and meals.  In short, the least prepared I ever have been visiting Walt Disney World was when I did not know AllEars existed.  Now as a caveat, the site is not as comprehensive about the Disneyland Resort, but its menus and dining information are still some of the best I have seen for California.  In fact, I have seen phone applications for Disneyland drawing directly from AllEars.  So even programmers know AllEars is your go to site! 
Now along with the site itself they also offer an email weekly newsletter that has news updates, tips and typically a main feature on food, history, and more in the Disney parks.  Honestly, I really enjoy getting this glimpse of Disney in my Inbox every week. 
So how does this impact my life beyond vacation planning?  Well late at night my wife has caught me with the lights off in the office as I star  at 'Ohana’s menu.  After a few awkward moments she may join me.  To be honest I look at this site a few times a week even if I do not have a trip planned.  And at work I get asked questions all the time, and if that question is about food or hotels, I teach a man to fish by taking them to www.AllEars.Net
How do you use AllEars Between Disney?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dreaming Disney: Window Shopping at DesignerLand

Personally I believe, sadly, that a big part of the Disney park experience is shopping.  On my last trip to Disneyland I spent quite a bit of time in The Emporium.  On my last night as the park closed I stalled by strolling through it one last time so I could stay in Walt’s park for a few extra moments.  You simply cannot escape it, shopping at Disney is an important part of any trip. 
Now, shopping at Disney can at times also be disappointing.  Me, I’m looking for unique items especially books and t-shirts.  While I have way too many t-shirts if I can find one that makes a statement other than, “mass-produced souvenir t-shirt” there is a good chance I will grab it.  And those kinds of shirts are not always easy to find.  Luckily I stumbled on a solution to reproduce window shopping at home online.  Fortunately window shopping is cheaper than real shopping.  And this faux shopping has the sort of items I’m looking for. 
My favorite fake shopping website is  DesignerLand is the shirts I wish Disney sold.  They are shirts that playfully play up on Disney themes and attractions.  And they are smarter than any [insert year here] t-shirt you will find in the theme parks.  And the designs are unique and creative.  I have seen Richard, the creative genius behind the site say his designs are “kitsch niche.”  I’m not cool enough to use the word kitsch, but if it’s a niche its one where smart Disney fans hangout.  When I see on twitter that DesignerLand has a new posting, I run to it as quick as I can so I can dream about tees I will never buy and never wear. 
I cannot say that is totally true.  Now many of the featured designs can ever be sold, at least without Disney permission, due to copyright issues.  But Richard did sell one of my favorite designs, the Dole Pineapple Whip shirt.  And I still have my fingers crossed that one or more of the faux real estate/land development companies for the Walt Disney World Resort will become available for purchase.    How awesome would it be to be wearing your Ayefour Corp shirt, have it catch someone’s attention and then get the knowing nod.  Yes my friend, you are a fellow Disney Dork! 
Along with shirt designs studies in Disney typography and colors are regular features.  While these do not get me as excited as shirt designs, mostly due to my lack of creativity, they are well researched and help even a blockhead like me better understand design.     
So, just because you are not in a Disney park doesn’t mean you can’t get your fill of Disney shopping…even if it’s not real.  All you need to Disney window shop is a working browser! 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Between Books: The Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World

The Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World by The Imagineers is one of the first Disney centric books I read as I struggled with being Between Disney.  The book, written by Imagineer Alex Wright, explains to the reader basic tools of Imagineering and the disciplines and vocabulary of those working for Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI).  Wright then proceeds to give readers a tour of the Magic Kingdom land by land from Main Street, U.S.A to Tommorrowland.  The majority of attractions are given a brief mention usually linking to the tools of Imagineering to show how Imagineering develops rides and attractions.  Pictures are a large part of this text with images from the park and concept art being found on every page.  The book is setup like a guide book, being small and compact and something one can throw into a backpack or small bag on a trip to the Magic Kingdom. 
Again this was one of the first Disney books I ever dug into.  Sadly for those I live and work with it led to me using phrases like “wienie” and “blue sky” after I completed it.  I started reading this book at a time when I had not been in a Disney park for several years and I was getting ready, in about seven months for a future trip to the Magic Kingdom.  And it was snowing, a lot no really I mean a whole lot outside.  So I was really at a Between Disney place.  But the images, especially the concept art got me excited about that trip months in the future and lead me to think about my past experiences.  So this read had a great payoff for me.  I did pack it on my future trip, but I only consulted it in my hotel room and to be honest when I’m in a park I’m moving so fast I tend to make the mistake of not smelling the roses.  So the special insights in the book were only useful to me if I remembered them. 
The recent developments in the Magic Kingdom have completely changed my view of this book.  When I got it the guide it really was “what I could see” and facts and trivia about that future visits.  But now this book is largely historical to me.  Mickey’s Toontown Fair is closed, and we will never walk the halls of Mickey or Minnie’s homes in Florida again.  And Fantasyland is moving into its next stage of life and will have a very different look and feel including some attractions that are or will soon be extinct.  So for me the value in this book is now to help capture a large amount of what was not is.  Overall, The Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World is a highly visual book that is fun to thumb through remembering what is and was as you speculate what will be. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Between Books: Stories from a Theme Park Insider

Stories from a Theme Park Insider collects the memories of author and blogger Robert Niles.  Niles straight out of college decided to apply to become a Walt Disney World Resort cast member.  Thanks to a winning attitude, and smile, Niles was hired and began his tenure in Frontierland piloting rafts to Tom Sawyer's Island.  Niles would go on to be cross trained and work at other attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean.  The stories Niles shares include his own experiences interacting with guests, stories shared by his blog readers, and insider knowledge that he picked up as a cast member including why height requirements are no joke.  I found myself thinking about roller coaster brakes and control zones on my last Disney vacation thanks to this book. 

Stories from a Theme Park Insider is a quick and refreshing read.  I have found that books about baseball and ironically enough being a Disney cast member tend to fall into the category of young people doing questionable things memoirs.  Some that I have read attempt to shock their readers with stories meant to show how deviant cast members can be.  This is not that book and is a refreshing change of pace.  Instead Niles, shares largely humorous yet not provocative tales from his days working Disney attractions.  And this makes for a brisk, fun and easy read.  It is the sort of book that helps you return to the spirit of the Disney parks and a past vacation or get you excited for a future one.  And with the book currently as an eBook download it is an incredible value.  In fact, it is the first eBook I have ever purchased for myself, a decision based on price and content.

Readers can read more of Niles' work at which is a theme park consumer guide. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Dreaming Disney: The Free Disney Vacation Planning DVD

One of my best strategies for Dreaming Disney is free!  Every year you have to order the newest Disney Parks Planning DVD.  This DVD is a marketing giveaway to attract guests to the parks and has features for both the Walt Disney World Resort and the Disneyland Resort.  They are attractive, have good (though at times dated) images and videos and are generally fun.  Remember it is a marketing piece so the producers are trying to convince you it is a good idea to visit a Disney park.  So they put some effort into each DVD and in my opinion they are far from throw away bulk mailers.  The biggest piece of this DVD that has suffered over the years is the packaging which has been "upgraded" from a traditional DVD hard case to a paper and cardboard mailing envelope. 

Before a Disney trip we use this DVD to educate ourselves to what has been updated or recently added to the park.  And with young children we watch the DVD  to prepare them for what they will see in the park including the environment, rides and characters.  And for that purpose it has been highly effective. 

After a trip having a copy of the DVD has given us a free snapshot of the attractions and shows that were available to us during a given year.  There are other DVDs one can purchase that show what the parks offer but they become dated fast.  These DVDs are focused on marketing one year of the parks so extinct attractions that you did not see on your vacation are likely not going to make the presentation.  In my house we have enjoyed these DVDs so much I have actually purchased a year that we lost in a move so our collection would be complete.  I may have to keep a VCR handy for the planning video from our first trip which is on VHS! 

Finally, if you are not planning a Disney vacation in the coming year or did not visit during that year the DVD is still a great watch.  It allows you to see what attractions and shows Disney marketing hoped would be the greatest successes for the coming year and keeps you informed for what may be available in the parks when you finally get to go home. 

"Get the planning DVD" is often my first, cheapest and best advice when asked by friends what they should do to plan for a Disney vacation.