Disney vacations: Why we go


Walt Disney World
is the most visited resort in the world. Other Disney resorts and Disney cruises remain huge destinations worldwide. Yet, a Disney vacation is also maligned by many people.

Believe me, I’ve heard all the negatives: It’s overly programmed; it’s pedestrian; it’s gimmicky; it’s hot and miserable (or cold and miserable, as the case may be).

And as a journalist who covers Disney, I have to admit that many of my trips to “The World” feel a whole lot more like work than vacation, even with my family in tow.

After a marathon couple of weeks trying to cover all the holiday happenings at Disney Parks, I spent the first half of January in Disney burn-out. But I was reminded again last week why I – and many other moms – bring our kids on Disney vacations.

While watching the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom, Tinker Bell took off from Cinderella Castle to make her nightly flight. My 7-year-old daughter, who has seen these same fireworks dozens of times, turned to me, eyes sparkling, and squealed, “Mom, Tinkerbell waved at ME!”

I cannot even express the joy I felt in that moment. I can only say it was worth a million not-so-great moments waiting in line, sweating, and dealing with kids’ meltdowns and obnoxious grown-ups on vacation.

It’s a sentiment Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger agreed with when I interviewed him last week on board the Disney Dream.

A father and grandfather himself, Iger has a built-in focus group at home, and it keeps him centered on Disney’s core values.

“Watching through my kids’ eyes reinforces the richest and most valuable quality of Disney – the impact we have on kids and families,” Iger said.

Sure, enjoying a Disney vacation requires a little leap, a little suspension of reality. And no, it doesn’t give you a sense of the place you’ve traveled or a look into the real people who live there.

But I still urge you to try it sometime. And when you do, go with a kid.

Because as far as I’m concerned, Tinker Bell really does fly out of Cinderella Castle every night. And she really did pick my daughter out of the crowd last week and wave specifically at her.

And it was magical.

Disney World debuts new castle projection show


Walt Disney World’s marketing push for 2011 is all about making memories, and the theme park behemoth put more than 500 of them on display on its most famous icon, Cinderella Castle, Tuesday night.

A new nighttime show, called “The Magic, The Memories and You” was previewed for media at the Magic Kingdom near Orlando, Florida.

The show features images captured daily by Disney’s PhotoPass photographers – those guys and gals who ask you to stop so they can take your picture – and projected on to Cinderella Castle in a show set to music. At least, that’s what I was expecting. What I saw was way more elaborate than that.

Through the use of animation from 16 different projectors, the castle’s turrets spin, vines wind up its walls, and flames engulf it, all while photos dance across the facade. It’s visually stunning, dramatic, and, well, a bit trippy. One guest at the media preview said the show reminded him of performances of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”“It’s a heck of a lot more than a slideshow on a castle,” said Alan Bruun, associate creative director for Walt Disney World Entertainment.

The 10-minute show features familiar Disney tunes threaded around a new song named, aptly, “Let the Memories Begin.”

Show producers started by digitally mapping the castle, to ensure a truly 3D projection on its facade. The castle projection show was then storyboarded as if it were a short film, Bruun said. Animators made the story boards come to life, creating slots for 500 photos from that day in the park.

The 500 photos are hand-selected and cropped, but a computer ultimately decides which photo goes into which slot in the show.

“It’s an amazing and complex process,” Bruun said. “But it involves just as much high-touch as it does high-tech, as individuals select those photograhs before the computer populates the castle with them.”

While there are some large projections, many of the photos are used in photo-mosaic images, and are on the small side. So, you may not be able to pick yours out as they move quickly by. And if you’re worried about photo privacy at Disney, you can opt out and keep your photo from being considered for the show.

“The Magic, The Memories and You” will be projected onto Cinderella Castle each night, twice a night when the park stays open late.

A similar projection show will debut at Disneyland in California on Jan. 27. It will be projected onto the facade of the It’s a Small World ride.

Disney photo privacy questions raised by new ‘Let the Memories Begin’ campaign

Disney photo privacy questions raised by new show

Walt Disney World and Disneyland are inviting guests to share their Disney Parks memories in the form of photos, video and stories submitted to a Disney Web site as part of a 2011 marketing campaign called “Let the Memories Begin.” Videos shot by Disney visitors are being used in TV commercials for the theme parks.

And a key component of the new marketing campaign starts early this year, when Disney will begin projecting images of guests in the park that day on Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World and on It’s A Small World at Disneyland.

So, how will those images be chosen, and what if you don’t want your larger-than-life likeness shown?

Disney says the up to 500 photos used daily will be provided by Disney PhotoPass Photographers, those guys and gals who stop you and ask to take your picture at various scenic locations throughout Disney’s theme parks.

You will be able to opt out and keep your photo out of the nightly show, Disney tells the Orlando Sentinel. That’s a smart move for a company using the images in what is essentially another piece of a marketing campaign.

However, on an individual basis, you should know that photos taken of you inside U.S. theme parks are pretty much fair game. If your image winds up on someone else’s Twitter stream or Flickr account, there’s really nothing you can do.

Some theme parks print a generic “use of likeness” release on the physical ticket you are given; others include it in the terms and conditions you agree to when purchasing tickets online.

But lawyers say that even without some sort of printed photo release, you don’t have much recourse if you want a photo removed from, say, someone else’s Facebook. With thousands of people taking thousands of photos every day, there’s no real expectation of privacy if your face is captured in the crowd.

Top 10 holiday sights to see at Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World is known for building theme parks and resorts that are larger than life. So it should come as no surprise that Disney goes all out during the holidays. It’s enough to have anyone humming “White Christmas,” even if it is 80 degrees outside.

Many of the holiday festivities start this week at Walt Disney World – yes, Disney skips directly from Halloween to Christmas. Here are my Top 10 sights to see at Walt Disney World during a November or December visit:

Snow on Main Street U.S.A.
It only gets cold enough for a flurry every few years in Orlando, but you can see snow at the Magic Kingdom on select nights each November or December. The flakes fall during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, a special event that includes a holiday parade, Christmas fireworks and treat stations dispensing free hot chocolate and cookies.

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights
Millions of lights twinkle in time with holiday music during this dazzling presentation at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Entire buildings are covered in lights, and more lights form Santa and his reindeer and other familiar favorites. The shows happen nightly after dark in the park’s Streets of America section.

Minnie’s Christmas cookie parade float
Minnie Mouse’s float in Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade delights the eyes with giant Christmas cookies and candy. But this “must-see” is a “must-smell,” too. Be sure to get a whiff of the cinnamon scent the float emits as it rolls by during this afternoon parade at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Santas with an international flair

In Epcot, the World Showcase pavilions show off traditional décor – and traditional jolly old elves — from their home countries each holiday season. Don’t miss a visit with Pere Noel in France or Father Christmas in the United Kingdom.

Stars on parade
The Walt Disney World parade shown on TV each Christmas Day is actually taped during a few days in early December, and Disney recruits members of the public and park visitors to be part of the audience for the taping. The 2009 parade audiences were treated to musical performances by stars including Kris Allen, Yanni and Nick Cannon. This year’s tapings are scheduled for Dec. 3 and 4.

Giant gingerbread
Disney’s pastry chefs work overtime during the holidays, creating larger-than-life masterpieces that are amazingly edible. Take a tour of the resorts to see their handiwork: a gingerbread carousel with chocolate horses spins at Disney’s Beach Club, toy soldiers guard the perimeter of a gingerbread gazebo at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, and a 17-foot gingerbread tree towers over the fourth floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort. If all that gingerbread sharpens your sweet tooth, stop by the life-sized gingerbread house at Disney’s Grand Floridian, which doubles as a bake shop selling cookies, peppermint bark and – you guessed it – gingerbread.

Towering wilderness
While Walt Disney World is home to more than 700 Christmas trees each December, the beauty at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is a consistent favorite of Disney visitors. Shooting up more than 60 feet in the center of the lodge’s lobby, the Christmas tree is adorned with 60,000 lights and décor that suits the national park theming of the resort, including ornaments made from antlers. In fact, Disney’s Imagineers designed the Wilderness Lodge lobby with Christmas in mind, even installing power outlets in the floor where they would be needed for the tree.

Christmas-y campsites
While Walt Disney World decorators string more than 8 million Christmas lights around the resort, guests at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground also get on the action. It has become an annual tradition for many families to camp at Walt Disney World during the Christmas holidays, and they bring their celebrations – and their decorations – with them. Take a spin through the campground after dark to see the creative ways these Disney visitors light up their tents and RVs.

Cinderella’s Holiday Wish
Each night at dusk, Cinderella appears on stage at the Magic Kingdom to ask for a special holiday wish. With a wave of her Fairy Godmother’s magic wand, the princess’s castle is lit up with sparkling holiday lights. The glittering castle makes a great back-drop for a family photo.

Surprising treats
Holiday surprises also abound at Walt Disney World’s restaurants. Keep your eye out for special holiday menu items, such as chocolate Mickey waffles on the Crystal Palace breakfast buffet or a frozen Dole Whip dessert colored a Christmas green at Disney’s Polynesian Resort.

[Image credit (gingerbread house): Flickr user M. Keefe]