A Whirlwind Tour of Walt Disney World

I am not, as far as I can tell, in Walt Disney World’s target demographic. I’m not four. I’m not a family man. I’m not Brazilian. I’m not even a fan of animated movies. But to drive through Central Florida after seeing a shuttle launch and pass up the parks? To miss out on a quintessentially American summertime diversion? To skip a chance to meet the one and only Mickey Mouse? I’m not nuts.

Traveling the American Road – A Whirlwind Tour of Disney

My plan was a whirlwind tour of all four of Disney’s parks, trying my best to try what attractions had been added since my last visit, in 2007. Then, I was in town for the opening of Expedition Everest, a ride that challenged my poor tolerance for roller coasters and impressed me with its ability to make visitors feel like they were hiking the Himalayas, even in the heat of Central Florida.

This time, the big draw was the Wild Africa Trek, a new behind-the-scenes tour of the Animal Kingdom that takes visitors behind the fences, out to Disney’s “savanna” and ends with a killer lunch on an African safari-inspired wildlife watching pavilion far from the crowds. To amp up the excitement, trekkers cross a crocodile enclosure on rope bridges, distressed to look rickety even if they were reinforced by steel cables. Anyone who’s seen “Temple of Doom,” though, can’t get past their primal fear of a rope bridge collapse.

I survived, obviously, to see Epcot and its world pavilions. There’s something hilarious about visiting “France,” “Ireland,” “Italy” and “Mexico” when you’re a travel writer. In every one of the miniature countries, I was studying the architecture, comparing it to my memories, figuring out what it is we remember about the places we visit – and wondering why we forget the things we forget. Is that really what the Eiffel Tower looks like, I asked myself, cocking my head, as I couldn’t clearly remember the original’s shape.

At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I tested the limits of my stomach with a ride on the Star Tours simulator, a 3-D ride set in the Star Wars universe, in which C-3PO is an accidental tour guide and passengers fly through the galaxy. A visit to the American Idol Experience impressed not just for its slick production values – from where I was sitting, it could’ve been the real TV show – but also for the talent of the contestants on stage.

I ended my tour at the Magic Kingdom, the park that to me, a person visiting without my kids, seemed the least interesting. But the polish here was the most fine, the smiles on singers the most gleaming, the lawn edging the most precise, the background music the most bubbly. The good news, thanks perhaps to some friends inside Disney: I did manage to meet Mickey. I even put on a set of ears.

The Party’s “Summer Vacation,” a nostalgic music video

Summer vacation is just around the corner and it’s time to enjoy some lighter forms of entertainment. If you’re a twenty- or thirty-something, you may remember Disney‘s Mickey Mouse Club’s attempt to become cool as the MMC. Before future stars Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Justin Timberlake joined the cast, there was the pop ensemble The Party and their summer anthem “Summer Vacation.” The song did respectably on the charts in 1990 and the video has all of the hallmarks of an early nineties music video: white dudes rapping, boardwalk skateboards, and lots of lycra. Enjoy this nostalgic trip to the beach: Tune in, groove on, and bust out!

Disney gets the keys to new resort

Construction is officially complete on Disney’s Aulani Resort & Spa in Hawaii. The construction company working on the project handed over the keys recently and final preparation of the resort is underway. As with all things Disney, a celebration was in order and cast members paused for a little magical beach fun.

Disney Cast members will work on honing the guest service, installing the décor, landscape and furnishings that will make Aulani a memorable island vacation experience.

Built on 21 acres adjacent to a blue lagoon and a white-sand beach in Ko Olina, Disney’s Aulani resort will have 359 hotel rooms and 481 two-bedroom equivalent Disney Vacation Club villas upon its completion. Rooms are housed in two 15-story towers with views of the ocean, mountains and grounds. On-site are two restaurants, an 18,000-square-foot spa, a wedding lawn, a conference center and extensive water activities, including a central swimming pool, 900-foot tube floating watercourse, wading pool, body slides, sunset-facing hot tubs, a quiet adult pool, a snorkel lagoon, and a conservation pool.

Aulani will also include a signature kids’ club, Aunty’s Beach House, where kids can explore Hawaiian culture through fun and games, arts and crafts, and other experiences. Disney also promises to “help guests connect with Hawaiian culture, traditions and hospitality in a profound way through local experts and activities that immerse you in the legends of the land” via Discovery Experiences that immerse guests into topics varying from the Flavors of Life to the Wonders of Nature.

Hawaii destinations close for repairs, new resorts prepare to open

Kona Village Resort, one of the iconic vacation destinations and resorts of Hawaii, announced this week that it will close for an extended period of time due to the significant structural and property damage it sustained during the recent earthquake-generated tsunami. But while some Hawaii destinations have closed for repairs, other new resorts prepare to open.

“We are very sad to close Kona Village Resort for an extended period of time, but the damage to the property from this natural disaster is severe enough to render it inoperable,” said Patrick Fitzgerald, President and Chief Executive Officer, Hualalai Resort/Kona Village Resort. “We are fortunate that our guests and employees were evacuated safely. Our hearts are heavy with this decision’s impact on employees and loyal guests who have visited us over the years. Our thoughts also are with the people of Japan during this difficult time.”

The 45-year old Hawaii resort sustained significant structural damage from the storm surge including damaged buildings and attractions at the 82-acre property.

The Four Seasons Resort at Hualalai, the first and only AAA Five-Diamond and Forbes Five-Star resort on the Big Island also closed for repairs but reopened this week.

Meanwhile, construction proceeds full speed ahead at Disney’s massive new Aulani Resort and Spa scheduled to open August 29, 2011.

Earthquake strands thousands at Tokyo Disneyland & DisneySea

Thousands of guests were stranded in Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea after the massive earthquake that rocked the island nation on Friday. Park employees have been giving out humanitarian aid including blankets, heaters, plastic raincoats, food, and water. While Disney has reported only a few minor injuries and minimal property damage, other reports state that the earthquake has liquefied the parking lot. Authorities suspect that shaking from the earthquake caused water from the coastline to mix with the soil. The Disney parks were built on a landfill making the parks susceptible to flooding.

According to Disney, Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea will remained closed to allow for a thorough inspection of the attractions and facilities. Inside the Magic has pictures from social media sites of the stranded guests and damage to the park. Below is a video of park guests experiencing the earthquake while they were waiting for a parade.