Wednesday, June 10, 2015

60 Days to 60 Years of Disneyland - 1978

Welcome to my contribution to 60 Days to 60 Years of Disneyland. As we move towards Disneyland's 60th anniversary on July 17, we continue to look at what happened year by year at the park. 1978 was rather an uninspired year for Disneyland, but in this entry we will look at an event that happened that year that is still impacting Disney Parks and Resorts division to this day! But more of that later.

First, you have to know how Disneyland (and then Walt Disney World) has been a part of my family's consciousness since - well, the beginning. (Be sure to click on the links along the way.)

I was two and a half years old (because at that age, half years are important) when Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, so I really don't have a memory of watching the TV special - though I am told that we did. But I do remember watching the Disney Sunday night TV shows through all of it's name and network changes and clearly remember that my favorites were those which featured Disneyland. It seemed all so wonderful - but living in NYC it also seemed all so far away. A place I would never get to. Flying to go on vacation was not yet common. So for now I would enjoy Disneyland through the magic of black and white TV.

Then came a series of shows on The Wonderful World of Color describing some new attractions that WED Enterprises (today known as Walt Disney Imagineering) was developing. These shows weren't going to Disneyland - at least not directly - but would be featured at the New York World's Fair of 1964/1965! Right in my "back yard!" I would get to experience Disneyland style attractions for myself! And in April of 1964 I did just that during the first of many visits over the next 2 years.

We saw the Ford exhibit with its history of man - though what we most remember of that were the dinosaurs. We drove past the cavemen and the dinosaurs which we had seen on Sunday night as Walt showed off his World's Fair shows. We sat and listened to Lincoln give a speech and we paid our 10 cents to take a boat ride while being serenaded by the children of the world. However, the one attraction which stood out for me was General Electric's Progressland! Imagine ... the line for this was consistently 3 hours or more! Remember, no one had seen human audioanimatronics before the fair ... and this show had lots of them ... and a theater that revolved around the stage.

After two years the fair was over and I thought that was it for Disney attractions for me. Then in the summer of 1968 my parents (teachers with 10 weeks of summer vacation just like us kids) announced that we would be driving cross country from NY to California and would be visiting Disneyland. (And a lot of other places ... but ... DISNEYLAND!!) So in 1968, I actually got to go to The Happiest Place on Earth!

Of course, I once again saw the Disney shows which thrilled me so much at the NY World's Fair. The Ford dinosaurs could now be seen from the Disneyland Railroad ... The Pepsi/UNICEF boatride still serenaded you in It's A Small World ... Lincoln still orated at Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln ... and the theater still revolved around the decades at Carousel of Progress (relocated now to the east coast and which remains a favorite of mine).

We did that again in 1969 - and I got to experience that year's new attraction, which continues to be my all time favorite ... the Haunted Mansion. But still, Disneyland was too far from us for frequent visits. Then we heard rumors that Walt would build a Disneyland on the east coast. Could it be true? It was, and on December 25, 1971, my family and I walked through the gates at Walt Disney World in Central Florida for the first time. (Did you know that until Disney started televising the Christmas Parade that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were the least crowded days of the year at the Magic Kingdom?) Now we could visit more often and we did.

But in 1978, Walt Disney Studios (as the company was still called) was in deep financial trouble. The movies that were released were lackluster to say the least, and the company was about to come under attack for the purpose of takeover and probably having its parts sold off. (Can you imagine Disneyland being owned by Six Flags for example? Most people don't know, but the original Six Flags park - Six Flags over Texas - was Disney inspired. Following a visit to Disneyland, wealthy real estate developer Angus G. Wynne, Jr. decided that his home state of Texas should have a local park for entertainment.) For the first time Disney reached into its vaults and released a few titles on laserdisc. (When I was able to obtain a laserdisc copy of Disney's Song of the South, I promptly went out and bought a laserdisc player!) Disneyland (along with Walt Disney World) was suffering as well. Not much new was happening in Disneyland with the exception of the Matterhorn bobsleds reopening after a rehab which saw new sights - three abominable snowmen and a glowing ice cave - added. An adult ticket with 11 attractions would cost you $6.75. And, oh yeah, Mickey Mouse celebrated his 50th birthday in 1978. Attendance was down at both parks ... DL and WDW (which only had the Magic Kingdom at this time). Part of the problem, at least as far as the parks were concerned, was that Disney, now led by Walt's son-in-law Ron Miller as company president and Card Walker as CEO, was still blindly continuing most of Walt's policies. One of those policies was to do no advertising for the parks. Walt and Roy didn't think it was necessary, and the powers that be at the Walt Disney Studios were timidly sticking to the old ways. WDW did get some exposure, however, when it was announced that a new park would be built, to be called EPCOT Center ... a permanent world's fair type park.

It would not be the EPCOT that Walt described as his Florida Project. Roy had never bought into that, but when two separate ideas for the new park were put together in what would become Future World and World Showcase, Walt's Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow was revived as the name of the soon to be second gate at Walt Disney World.

But wait ... at the beginning I mentioned that something would happen in 1978 that is still impacting Disney Parks and Resorts. If not the announcement of EPCOT, then what could that be?

On July 26, 1978, my daughter was born! So how does this affect Disney Parks and Resorts? First of all, you have you realize that with parents (yes, my wife fits into this as well) who are huge Disney fans, she and my son would have no choice but to be as well. They started being regular visitors to Walt Disney World at a very young age, and have even made the pilgrimage to the west coast to visit Disneyland.

As she prepared to enter high school, she auditioned for the marching band since she knew that each February they travelled down to WDW to perform. Two years later, my son took the same path. During the trip in her senior year I overheard her telling a friend that after college she would work in Disney World. That same trip she ran into a former band member who was working in EPCOT on the College Program. In her senior year in college she interviewed for and was accepted to the Walt Disney World College Program (WDWCP) and would take part the autumn after graduation. Unlike her brother who did the College Program two years earlier (he worked in the Haunted Mansion), she planned on staying on at WDW. That was 15 years ago. After working at Conservation Station in Animal Kingdom, and then at the front desk at Caribbean Beach Resort (with brief stops at All Star Sports and Grand Floridian), she has spent most of her Disney career in the IT Department where she is now. If you have ever been checking in at a Disney Resort and the front desk agent had a problem with the check-in computer system and called for help ... there is a good chance that your check in was facilitated by her.

Then in August 2011, she got married in a Disney Fairytale Wedding. (You know how many dads will tell you that their son-in-law is goofy? Well, I have the pictures to prove it.) (At least he was a while ago, he has since moved on.)

The family tradition continues and my son's twin 5 and a half year old boys (that half year is still important!) have been to WDW four times already (and while they don't yet know it - are returning in less than 2 months), and my daughter is about to have her own Disney Princess this summer ... and no doubt that WDW will be her playground.

So there you have it ... why 1978 was crucial to Disney Parks and Resorts ... at least in my humble opinion.

For more entries in 60 Days to 60 Years of Disneyland, click on the links below.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sixty Years!

On July 17, 1955, Walt Disney officially opened his "small park" to the world, forever changing the amusement park industry - not to mention the way so many of us take vacations.

This summer will mark the 60th Anniversary of the opening of that magical place ... and the celebrations that go along with it.

The DISTherapy blog - as it has done in the past for notable Disney anniversaries - is hosting "60 Days to 60 Years of Disneyland". As I have done in the past, I will be one of the 60 bloggers to be taking part.

I hope you will follow along as it moves through the years. Click on the links below to follow along.

See ya real soon!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Ultimate in Dining When at The World

As anyone who has spent time researching and making reservations at Walt Disney World knows, the ultimate dining experience on property is at the 5 Diamond (AAA rating) Victoria and Albert's in the Grand Floridian. 

For many years, I have been contemplating an evening here, but always have deferred it. This year, I had decided that my wife would have an early birthday dinner at V & A's before we made the trip back north for the warmer months.

Victoria and Albert's is located in the Grand Floridian resort, and is the only eating establishment which requires that you get a bit dressed up. Jackets, dress shirt/pants/shoes (ties optional) for the men, and a dress, skirt or dressy pants outfit for the women. You must be 10 years old or over to dine here, but then it's the rare child who would enjoy this evening of dining. (Not to say there aren't those who would.) There are only about a dozen tables in this small, romantically lit room, though the tables have enough light so that you don't have any difficulty seeing the menu or your meal. 

About a week before our planned evening, I spoke with a V & A cast member and detailed my wife and my culinary preferences as well as informing her that we would be celebrating my wife's birthday. 

The day arrived, and we drove the 90 minutes from our house to the Wilderness Lodge, where we would spend two nights following our night out. We met our daughter for a light lunch at Whispering Canyon (didn't want to ruin dinner - still hours away) and then up to our room to relax and later get ready to go out.

A little after 5:00 PM we got into our car for the very short drive to the Grand Floridian, where we would take advantage of the (included) valet parking. Up to the second floor we head for our check-in at Victoria and Albert's.

At the check-in podium, my wife was wished a Happy Birthday and we were shown to our table. My wife pocketbook was hung on a hook like device that rested on the table-top, keeping it out of the way - and off of the floor. Had I brought my camera (sorry, I wanted a camera-free evening so I could enjoy the experience without taking photos, no matter how out of character that actually was for me), they would have brought a small stool to place it on.

Our two (male) waiters introduced themselves and presented us with our menus. My wife's and mine were almost identical, except for the fact that - since I indicated my preference for no fish - where my second course included a King Crab selection, my wife's was King Crab and Salmon. She also had a Turbot selection on her menu. Other than that, there was no difference.

Since I am not a wine drinker, and it would have been too much wine for my wife, we opted simply to have sparkling house water with our dinners.

Our lead waiter then went over every item on the menu with us, and left us to decide what we wanted. Yes, you order all 7 courses right at the beginning. 

Unlike some (most?) highly rated restaurants, the staff does not look down their noses at anyone, but in true Disney fashion, manage to make you feel comfortable and completely at ease.

I ordered;

Colorado Bison
Alaskan King Crab
Berkshire Pork
Veal with Black Truffles
White Chocolate Gelato
Caramelized Banana Gâteau
Coffee (of course)

While my wife ordered;

Colorado Bison
Alaskan King Crab and Salmon
Roasted Duck
The Cheese Plate
Caramelized Banana Gâteau
Coffee (of course)

The meal starts off with an Amuse-Bucher - something special the chef prepares to "amuse your mouth." This evening it was shrimp with various Japanese sauces, served with pickled mushroom. Needless to say, it whet our appetite for things to come.

I should also mention the amazing breads with paired butters that was served between courses. Yumm!!!!

I have to, at this point, make the mandatory comment about the coffee. It is prepared at your table in a device that was invented in the mid 1800's. It works on a vacuum and gravity principle and takes about 6 or 7 minutes to brew. They have it timed perfectly, and when your desert course is served, the coffee is ready, and it is the most wonderful tasting coffee. Even those who don't enjoy coffee have enjoyed this. As I had my third cup (!) there was no cream left in the creamer, but rather than ask for more, I simply drank it black - something I never do - and I realized just how good the coffee was when I enjoyed it as much (or more) like that.

After close to 3 hours, when the meal was drawing to a close, a plate of small candies was brought for us, followed by a rose for my wife (a long stemmed, thornless rose is presented to each woman dining at V & A's), as well as a date nut bread to take home along with our personalized menus.

Remember I said that valet parking was part of the evening? As we were leaving, our server asked if we wanted to walk around the Grand Floridian - listen to the music - enjoy the grounds, or if we would like him to see to it that our car was ready and waiting for us when we got to the valet stand. We chose the latter, and it was ready and waiting for us as promised.

An evening at Victoria and Albert's is not only about the food - which is superb - but an entire experience. I am planning on celebrating my birthday there ... hint! hint! hint!