Friday, August 18, 2017

Letter to Disneyland Concerning Upcoming Recent and Changes at California Adventures

Hello and Kindest Regards,

My first trip to Disneyland was in 1983, when I was five years old; on my seventh birthday, I was given an X-Wing Fighter in a hotel room across the street from Disneyland in what I considered to be the best day of my life at the time; when I was 23, my girlfriend agreed to marry me sitting on a bench in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, which then took the top spot for best day of my life; in 2013, I took my wife and four daughters to Disneyland 52 times and my wife worked as a Jungle Cruise Skipper. I just want to establish that, yes, I’m some kind of Annual Pass Fanboy, and I understand how common that is. But I have also made some of my greatest memories there and see it as part of the landscape of my life. That being said, I understand that Disneyland is a business and not a museum, as we often hear, nor is it my personal backyard or there to cater to my whims. Nevertheless, I have a concern that I would like to share, and I hope that you will take this concern seriously and not just write it off as someone trying to preserve a piece of their own memories, like so many of us often do when talking about the changing nature of Disneyland and the concept of Yesterland.

I have heard a rumor, and granted it is only a rumor, that California Screamin’ will be rebranded as an Incredibles attraction, likely to help promote the forthcoming Incredibles 2. Now, I understand that all of Paradise Pier will be experiencing a Pixar overlay, and perhaps this temporary event has triggered the rumor of the permanent rebranding, or maybe this permanent rebranding is only being considered; clearly, I don’t know. But regardless of the prospect of this change, I think that my comments are valid ones and ones that you should consider as you move forward. I’m not stomping my foot petulantly and insisting that you leave my precious things in your park alone, but I am trying to offer an outside perspective; the perspective of someone who cares deeply about the inherent spirit of the park and understands the mandate to forever change and expand the park, but who is not bound by research groups and notions corporate synergy. My perspective should be valuable, and I encourage you to read on with an open mind.

In recent years, there has been a push to “plus” attractions at Disneyland, and these changes have been, for the most part, very exciting ones. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t love the changes in the track of Big Thunder Railroad or the improvements of The Matterhorn’s Yeti. And while there are plenty of people who complain about changes to Pirates of the Caribbean, I understand the need to change with the times and to cater to a younger audience who was likely mystified at the absence of their favorite pirate as they rode through. However, it seems to me that these improvements often are a shortcut to fulfill a promise to Anaheim to spend money making improvements and to drum up synergy and promotional opportunities. There are two such changes that do not resonate well and I feel that they find their reflection in the rumored plans for Screamin’.

The first and probably least controversial of these changes is the rebranding of Soarin’ over California to Soarin’ over the World. This was a major step backwards for California Adventures for two reasons. The firs reason is that it goes against the grain of the original concept of California Adventures as a celebration of our state. That, in itself, is understandable, though a negative. The second reason is because of the damage this change has done to Disney’s storytelling. The concept behind Soarin’ over California was focused—seeing the diversity of California in both ecological and cultural terms. The ride was calm, atmospheric, and devoid of special effects (aside from the golf ball, which was undoubtedly the cheesiest moment), making a true hang gliding simulator. The replacement ride has traded in the story and simulation for cheap sensation. We are treated to some of the most cliché and familiar sights from around the world, all with impressive, special-effects driven cuts between each section. The result is not something more exciting, but something more bland. There was surprise and interest in experiences acres of orange blossoms and desert landscapes that are new to the eye that is totally absent when seeing the Eifel Tower, yet again, or a totally unrelated Moana tie-in island. The story doesn’t connect and we are left with something that doesn’t feel like a hang gliding simulator, but a mishmash of familiar scenes with splashes of out-of-place action.

The second major change, as you can guess, is the change of Tower of Terror into Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! Unlike many Annual Passholders, I went into this change with the utmost confidence in the abilities of the Imagineers. I am also a very big fan of GotG, and I have written about them quite extensively for a website for which I freelance. I thought that it would be hard to let go of Tower, but that we would get something much more exciting in its place. Unfortunately, that is not how I feel about the end result. The end result feels like a 199-foot commercial. There is no doubt that the concept was seen as a way to better utilize the Marvel property that was purchased at a very high price; that it was also seen as synergy, helping to promote the new GotG movie that came out around the same time. And it feels exactly like that. Again, the atmosphere of Tower that was so rich, immersive, and compelling was traded for quick sensations and familiar faces. I’ve gone on the ride once and, to be honest, I’m kind of done with it. I don’t want to see these characters on a screen—that’s why I go to movies. The drops are fun, but the music doesn’t feel “Disney” to me in the least. The package, the whole package, isn’t there; it would be more at home in Universal Studios or Six Flags. I’m sorry to say that, but it’s true. And I never thought I would say that about an attraction at Disneyland. You guys do great jobs with movie rides (hello? Indiana Jones?) but GotG should have gotten its own ride instead of just being a commercial overlay on this one.

This is why this rumor about Screamin’ is so concerning to me. It feels like the same money decisions and synergy decisions that motivated the Tower change. I understand that there must be a consensus among those in charge that Screamin’ is “under-themed,” but this isn’t true. The theming of this ride is subtle, but complete: it is a steel rollercoaster that is themed like an old wooden rollercoaster that would be found on a seaside boardwalk or pier in California. It does its job perfectly; as a huge fan of roller coasters, I can say that this is my absolute favorite in the world. I won’t be so bold as to say that any change would be a detraction, but I would say that if a change is going to happen, the question of motivation must be asked: is this for the improvement of the ride, or is this for the improvement of the bottom line? It’s clear what the answer was for GotG, and I think that if you search deeply, you’ll agree with me that the wrong decision was made.

I am not one to stand and yell at a Plaid in the park that I paid a lot of money and I expect to get my way. I am not one to tell you that “if you make this change, I my family will not renew our passes and will take our money elsewhere!!!11!”; it’s not my style and I don’t see that behavior at all as motivating. I am offering my perspective as one who is not bound by the same rules as those who are planning; by those who are tasked with justifying their paychecks. I know that it is the imperative of companies to make money and to watch the bottom line. I know that Disneyland is not a museum. But I encourage you to consider the overall experience.

The changes you make are professional ones and are important to your job, but they also leave a legacy; Disney, and especially Disneyland, carries a heavy burden. It is clear through the tones of social responsibility that your films depict that you understand this burden (see Moana, Zootopia, and Frozen as good examples). But the social responsibility of storytelling is no small one; it is clear that the ability to tell stories and create fictions is the ability that sets people apart from animals. Fiction is our most human attribute. Your decisions in the flagship of theme parks—the flagship of resorts and family entertainment—should be about more than synergy and promotion. Incredibles 2 will do very well without this synergy. It simply doesn’t need it. But to further tarnish the experience of Disneyland lovers after what has been done to Soarin’ and Tower would be a travesty. Already the E-Ticket rides at DCA have been trimmed down thanks to these changes. Yes, The Incredibles is a good story, but the characters are somewhat annoying—it is unlikely that you would be able to translate them to a fast ride in any way that isn’t obnoxious.

Take the wider view here. Stay away from message boards of cynics all you want—I know that I do! But consider the legacy that you leave behind. With the kind of power that you wield in the realm of storytelling, you are tasked with much more than your jobs. If you think that I am granting you too much importance, I am not. Everything that Disneyland does resonates down the entertainment food chain and lands firmly on the pallets of our children. You are helping to construct a world for our children in a way that no group of people have ever done in history since homo Sapiens left the trees. You can explain this to your shareholders who likely will be making enough money as it stands. Do good with this power and stop letting other concerns tarnish it.

Thank you very much, if you’ve managed to get through this whole letter. Feel free to contact me at any time, as I would love to discuss this further.

Sol Smith, MFA, EdS



Saturday, May 6, 2017

Every Ride at Disneyland Resort Ranked



Grain of salt, anyone?

Okay, haters, here we go. It's really hard to do something like rate all of the attractions at Disneyland. The drive to do so is simple: there is an Internet. Also, we can't list things concurrently by nature of our biological communication skills, so just by saying things one at a time, order is suggested. But methodology? Entirely subjective.

Here's what you're dealing with: This is my list and it could have been different on a different day, for sure. Also, my biases get in the way from time to time. For example, I tend to get dizzy on rides that spin me around too much, so those are knocked down a little. I really care about music, so some rides are probably bumped up, due to good music, while other rides get knocked down due to, say, Larry the Cable Guy singing. Also, I am a sucker for American history and the author, Mark Twain, so the riverboat named after him carries some attraction for me.

Here's the biggest issue with rating things: one always runs into the rating paradox: A>B>C>A. It just works that way once in a while. Also, I have not experienced "Star Wars Launch Bay," so it is not included. I did include Tower of Terror, which is no longer a ride, but is about to be reborn as a ride that I assume to be, at its core, similar.

Lastly, I tend to penalize rides that really should be better: for example, Finding Nemo Submarine? Come on.

I've marked rides that can't be missed with a *. Those rides shouldn't be missed if you're at Disneyland for just one day. Some rides, even if they're not the best, must be ridden, or else you really haven't been to Disneyland.

Without any more caveats, here we go!

75. Chip 'n Dale's Treehouse (DL)


There's not a lot to like about Mickey's Toontown, to be honest. A cheap 90's expansion to Disneyland, there's a lot to look at and little to interact with. It just doesn't feel up to quality and my wife pretends that it doesn't exist; like, actively she pretends like it doesn't exist. The kids will address it directly and she will--a grown woman, mind you--act like she doesn't have any notion of what they are talking about. At any rate, you'd think they could come up with something more fun for Chip 'n Dale than just walking up into a tree and down.

74. Flik's Flyers (DCA)


As we are kicking things off from worst to best, I have to warn you that you're in for some A Bug's Land nonsense for a while. You can leap ahead to the E-Ticket rides, but that's cheating. A Bug's Land was an early expansion to DCA and it was lame from day one. The deal is that they wanted to soak up some kiddie stuff at a park that had an inordinate amount of thrills for a Disney park. The problem with this off-the-shelf ride is that it goes up and in a circle, like any normal flying ride, but the circle is so tight that even those not prone to motion sickness will get dizzy. There's just no reason to ride.

73. Francis' Ladybug Boogie (DCA)


Some kind of lame teacups ride. It's not necessary to even discuss this one.

72. Donald's Boat (DL)


Back over in Toontown, we have Donald's Boat. This attraction can't occupy your children for long. With as much fun as Donald Duck is, why did his boat have to be so void of activity?

71. Heimlich's Chew Chew Train (DCA)


...And, we're back in Bug's Land. This train is the worst train that Disney has ever made. It's a caterpillar with an annoying Austrian accent that carries you for about five seconds through food that he eats. There are a couple of smells that happen, which is fun, but that fun is erased by the revolting belch sound that happens.

70. The Disney Gallery (DL)


Here is where we cross from actively irritating to benign. This is a good threshold to cross this early in the game. The Disney Gallery is a fine place to take in some air conditioning when it's hot, and it often has interesting things to look at. Being on Main Street, it's a pretty place with lots of little details to pay attention to.

69. Red Car Trolley (DCA)


This isn't completely fair that this should be so low. After all, the Red Car is important to the atmosphere on Buena Vista Street and Hollywood Land; however, as a ride, it's rather lack luster. It's slow, it doesn't take you far, and they actually won't let you bring your stroller inside, forcing either a return trip or a mark back along the very lines you just rode, if you have a young kid.

68. King Triton's Carousel of the Sea (DCA)


This is the lesser of the two Carousels at the resort. There are fun sea animals, including otters and freaking blue whales, but it is a small, short ride that feels thrown in. Why didn't they do a big, grand carousel?

67. Goofy's Playhouse (DL)


We couldn't stay out of Toontown for long, this early in the countdown. Goofy's Playhouse is better than Donald's Boat and the lame treehouse. Toddlers can run around and expend energy while you can find a reasonable place to sit in the shade with minimal chance of catastrophe.

66. Tuck and Roll's Drive 'Em Buggies (DCA)


In A Bug's Land, this is simply the worst bumper cars that you've ever been on. They are slow, lack any form of steering, and the height requirement guarantees a fit or two on every visit for parents of young children.

65. The Bakery Tour (DCA)


This is actually pretty interesting, and the workers are very friendly, but Rosie O'Donnell and that bald guy who used to be on shows who is with her are an irritant. It is interesting enough to walk through and see sourdough bread being made, and the sample of bread that is given to you gratis as you walk in helps it quite a bit. The issue here is that if you actually watch our two hosts on each of their screens talk about how the bread is made, you will be something much deeper than bored: you will be bothered.

64. Gadget's Go Coaster (DL)


This little roller coaster, tucked backed in Toontown, is exceedingly short. It is fast and somewhat just fine. It is often called "The Go-Go Gadget Coaster" because of our cultural memory of Inspector Gadget, though it has nothing to do with it. It's named after a seldom-seen chipmunk, a spunky girl inventor from Chip 'n Dale's Rescue Rangers, which is a show that you forgot about until just now.

63. Mater's Junkyard Jamboree (DCA)


This is the low-light of Cars Land. While the ride itself, a sort of tractor-spin-hoedown, isn't that bad, who in the world thought it would be a good idea to hand the music over to Larry the Cable Guy? I mean, that guy's voice is so, so irritating. And he sings one song where all the lyrics are "Dadgum" over and over. No joke. Why isn't this last?

62. Tarzan's Treehouse (DL)


If you are in to walking up stairs, have I got the attraction for you! There are interesting fabrications here and the overall construction is very well done. You can chalk this up to the fact that I don't like Tarzan that much. The view from the top is pretty great, but getting off the treehouse leaves you completely unchanged.

61. Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters (DL)


This gets the title for my least favorite dark ride at Disneyland. I know plenty of people who really love it, and I guess that's great. But when I see the line sitting at over five minutes, I stay off. Well, i stay off except for once a year or so anyway. Riding around and shooting at this sounds like lots of fun, but I honestly am not pumped about the whole Buzz Lightyear aesthetic, he being my least favorite part of Toy Story. There is another shooting activity that I actually like better:

60. Frontierland Shootin' Exhibition (DL)


I'm somewhat of a sucker for shooting galleries. I can think of a few really good ones around the country, and this one is my favorite. My favorite part it shooting the target in the back and getting the ghost riders to fly across the sky.

59. Sleeping Beauty's Castle Walkthrough (DL)


I like walking through here. It's a little narrow and very without a lot of sensation. Usually, when you come in here, there's a group or two people running through, putting pressure on you to hurry up, thinking there's something more than there is. But when you really just take your time and enjoy the artwork of one of Disney's most artistically interesting films.

58. Minnie's House (DL)


If you're going to wait somewhere, this is a nice place to wait. In Minnie's House, you can visit Minnie Mouse, which is fun, and she really takes her time with you and your kids, giving them plenty of attention. When you walk through her house, there are plenty of great artifacts from Minnie cartoons to be found.

57. Redwood Creek Challenge Trail (DCA)


This place has great atmosphere. Between the actual trees and the fabricated ones, you get the sense that you're in a northern California forest, and there's a lot for the kids to do: rock climbing, slides, secret caves, a massive rope bridge, and much more. There are even comfortable places in the shade to sit down and take a breather, if your kids are old enough to watch each other for a little while.

56. Fantasyland Theater (DL)


Currently showing "Mickey and the Magical Map," this isn't my favorite way to take in a show at the park. It's fine, and there are a lot of fun characters, but it just doesn't do a lot for me, personally. But, I know people who love it and take it in every time.

55. Jumping Jellyfish (DCA)


A kiddie-ride equivalent of The Tower of Terror, this ride is a perfect thrill for younger kids. It takes you up, drops you down, and you bounce around for a while. When you accompany your youngling, you'll be surprised at how fun it is. Try and get a view looking out over the water for the best experience.

54. Astro Orbiter (DL)


This ride used to be mounted up high over Tomorrowland. I mean, that was two decades ago, but some of us remember that fondly. Now it serves as a Jules Vernian facade for the entrance to the land. There's nothing wrong with sitting in a little rocket and going round and round, but the wait in the bloated crowds of modern Star Wars-obsessed Tomorrowland makes it a seldom ridden attraction for my crew.

53. Golden Zephyr (DCA)


This ride which may or may not be themed after the 1991 Disney film, The Rocketeer, puts you in a large rocket and swings you around. There's a pleasing heft to the ride and the circle feels just wide enough to give you the illusion of forward motion, if you try hard enough. It's a surprisingly quiet ride that's hard to complain about, being that you hardly even have to wait for it.

52. Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (DL)


This attraction was shut down for several years before they turned it into a Finding Nemo ride. Honestly, the Nemo overlay feels out of place. I get that the campy 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea feel of the old ride wasn't doing it for audiences as much anymore, but I don't know very many people who don't miss it now.

51. Autopia (DL)


This Disneyland classic attraction feels like its trying to find its footing these days. After the 1998 Tomorrowland refurb, the ride took on a much more exciting atmosphere, but the slow, frustrating cars can easily upset tiny drivers. With all the different sponsors the that Autopia has had over the last 20 years, it's hard to figure out why they haven't produced the funds to replace the lawnmower-style karts with quiet electric cars with slightly better steering.

50. King Arthur Carousel (DL)


Fantasyland's central attraction, this carousel made up entirely of noble white steeds pumps out Disney tunes through a calliope that creates an atmosphere for the entire area. There is rarely a long wait and your child won't fuss over what animal they want to ride! Bonus!

49. Main Street Vehicles (DL)


Riding in an old motor car, an omnibus, or a horse-drawn cart is a fun way to take in the atmosphere of Main Street. While waiting for boarding can make it a slower affair than just walking, it's a good way to up your ride count before exiting the park.

48. Main Street Theater (DL)


One of the original attractions at the park, Main Street Theater offers a little break from the noise, crowds, and heat. Made to the aesthetic of turn-of-the-century nickelodeons, you get to watch silent-era Mickey Mouse cartoons.

47. Animation Building (DCA)


This area in Hollywood Land presents another nice break from the outside world. It's cool, dark, and very open. There is ample seating in the large entry area that plays Disney songs and projects fascinating Disney movie montages on the screens surrounding you. There is also the Sorcerer's Workshop, where you get to do some drawing of your own; Turtle Talk with Crush, where lucky kids get to talk to an animated sea turtle in real-time; and Beast's Library, where your kids can take an internet-style quiz to find out what character they are.

46. Jedi Training (DL)


If your child is a Star Wars fan, you've got to do this. Select kids from the audience are invited to be trained and take on Sith Lords. It's pretty fun and exciting to watch. When one of my daughters faced off against Darth Vader, it was one of the prouder moments of my life. Of course, the bionic hand we needed later was an expensive drawback.

45. Luigi's Rockin' Roadsters (DCA)


This is the newest attraction in Cars Land and it's a nice little ride. The trackless ride takes you into a dancing Fiat. It's as much fun to watch as it is to ride. The biggest drawback--for me, personally--is the irritating pseudo-Italian singing and accents. Honestly, do the folks at Cars Land not care what goes into their ears?

44. Mad Tea Party (DL)*


I feel like most readers will feel that this should be up higher in the list, and I'm sorry. I think this is important to the Fantasyland atmosphere, and if this is the one time you're going to Disneyland, you've simply got to do it.

43. Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island (DL)


This is currently inaccessible, due to the construction going on concerning the river and Star Wars Land. However, it is a lot of fun and gives kids the ability to run around on their own for a while, exploring caves, and finding various treasures and skeletons. You have to take the rafts to get there, and that's part of the fun.

42. Snow White's Scary Adventures (DL)


This dark ride didn't even have a single Snow White in it until the major Fantasyland refurb of the early 80s. Now it has one Snow White in it. See, you're supposed to be Snow White in this ride. It is occasionally dark and somewhat creepy. A quick, smooth ride, it's worth it when there is no line.

41. Monsters Inc: Mike and Sully to the Rescue (DCA)


This ride is only one million times better than the "Superstar Limo" ride that it replaced, but it's still rather drab, overall. There are some interesting special effects, but if you've been on the atrocious "Superstar Limo," it's easy to see how replacing that ride was done as cheaply as possible.

40. Davy Crocket Explorer Canoes (DL)


My sister will be upset to see this so low on my list; she worked here for a year or so and really loved it. You actually take to a canoe and paddle your way around the Rivers of America along with about 20 other people. This is not on a track, it is not motor-powered, this is you and your compadres laboring in the sun. But the views and the closeness of the river make this a unique experience.

39. Mickey's House (DL)


Perhaps the busiest attraction in Toon Town, the house itself gives you a lot to look at. If you're a fan of old Mickey cartoons, you'll notice a lot of great easter eggs throughout. Then, actually meeting Mickey, can be a lot of fun after all that waiting. And just like Minnie, he takes his time with each visitor, so you never feel rushed.


38. Sailing Ship Columbia (DL)


An exciting way to see the Rivers of America, Frontier Land, New Orleans Square, and Critter Country. This ship isn't usually running unless the park is pretty busy or if they are working on the Mark Twain. To me, it's not quite as fun as the Twain, or as relaxing; there are no chairs and no shade, unless you go below deck, which is a little crowded.

37. Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln (DL)


I really love this attraction, more than most. There are good songs, a great theater, and a wonderful Abraham Lincoln robot. If you need a little break, or if your child is learning about American history, you've got to see this.

36. Disneyland Monorail (DL)


This used to be the fasted ride at Disneyland, though it might be beaten out by California Screamin' these days. It's a good way to get into the park if you stay at the Disneyland Hotel or if you park (illegally) in Downtown Disney. If you get there early, ask to ride in the front!

35. Silly Symphony Swings (DCA)


Somewhat off-the-shelf, you sit in a precarious-feeling seat and get swung around on a chain. The view is great and they have special seats where you can ride with a child who would be otherwise too short to ride.

34. Grizzly River Run (DCA)


A raft ride with great atmosphere, you're going to get wet. You're going to get very, uncomfortably wet. Sometimes it doesn't matter if you're wearing a poncho or whatever, you're getting soaked and your socks are wet and you squish your way through the rest of the day. And why, oh why, are there no animatronic bears on this ride? It's a great piece of decoration and an exciting ride. But, you're going to get wet.

33. Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin (DL)


This is probably the best reason to go into Toontown. This dark ride lets you spin around and make yourself sick while following the story of a pretty darn good movie. There are some special effects that are worth looking at, as well.

32. Mickey's Fun Wheel (DCA)


This is, by far, my favorite Ferris wheel around. You have two choices here: swinging or non-swinging. The non-swinging gondolas have a better, higher view, ultimately. The swinging gondolas turn this into a thrill ride. Or a horror ride. It's really something.

31. Pinocchio's Daring Journey (DL)


Follow through the story of one of Disney's most interesting and innovative films. There are some real creep scenes, such as kids turning into donkeys, that just can't be missed. By why in the world does Pinocchio not turn into a real boy at the end? Like, no joke! The dude is still wooden and squarish after he gets saved by the Blue Fairy. Who screwed up?

30. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (DL)


Riding through the 100 Acre Wood in a giant beehive is a lot of fun. From the rainy day to Pooh's psychedelic Heffalump and Woozles dream, it's all here. This is one of the newest dark rides in the resort and it has my favorite Easter egg of any of them inside. You'll have to research that on your own.

29. Storybookland Canal Boats (DL)


Ever wanted to see villages and towns from Disney movies recreated on a tiny scale and placed along a little river? This is it, bro.

28. The Casey Junior Train (DL)


And here we have the other way to see those same miniature Disney villages. I'm placing this just above the Storybookland Canals because, well, I like trains. Sitting inside a circus train is a fun way to see the meticulous scenery found inside Storybookland.

27. Dumbo the Flying Elephant (DL)


You just can't pull kids away from this ride. It's my favorite of the spin-you-around-in-the-air concept rides, simply because of the theming. Flying on the back of an elephant is great when the weather is good and the line is short. But often, the line is prohibitive.

26. The Mark Twain Riverboat (DL)


I'm a big fan of the writer, Mark Twain. I have to say that this probably peppers my positive view of this attraction just a little bit. But if you dig big steam boats, then this is a must. It's a relaxing ride through the Rivers of America, with plenty of space. Three floors tall, with lots of shade and places to sit, this boat will also occasionally serve as the setting of a musical performance, or a character meet-and-great.

25. The Disneyland Railroad (DL)*


A real steam train takes you around the park in a relaxing experience fit for any family. You've simply got to go around at least once, and make sure that you don't get off before going through the Grand Canyon and the trip through the Primeval World. This is classic Disneyland at its finest.

24. Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (DL)*


Mr. Toad is a classic ride. These days, fewer kids have seen this film than ever, but really there need not be any context offered on this silly ride. It's usually a pretty short wait and it's a lot of fun for all ages. It's the only ride that I can think of where you die and end up in Hell.

23. The World of Color (DCA)


An amazing show on the lagoon in California Adventures, The World of Color is many people's very favorite things to do. The music, lights, and fountains are a sight to behold. Get your fastpass early by Grizzly River and when you get there, move towards the center of the stage. You can bring your dinner and eat it while you wait.

22. Goofy Sky School (DCA)


Formerly "Mulholland Madness" this pretty-tame roller coaster is a lot of fun. The line moves quickly, and it always feels just a little bit like you're going to tumble off the darn thing, adding a hint of real-world terror for the gown ups. The dips really get you screaming. It's a bizarre little ride.

21. It's Tough to be a Bug! (DCA)


A 4-D attraction that is WAY better than the movie it comes from, "It's Tough to be a Bug" is by far the crowning glory of A Bug's Land. The theater is intricate and the effects are surprisingly powerful. With a mix of animatronic and 3-D action, and high seating capacity, you won't be sorry to do this one.

20. The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure (DCA)


Years ago, The Little Mermaid on DVD had a bonus feature: several Disney Imagineers presented a computer-generated simulation of a Little Mermaid ride that never was made. This ride isn't quite the same as that one, but it is probably a little better. With interesting effects and great music, this is a dark ride that everyone loves.

19. Alice in Wonderland (DL)


Recently given a big facelift, this ride is a highlight of Fantasyland. The new effects don't overshadow the original  animatronics or the innovative ride path that takes you outside and in. And, just like the movie, the music is great.

18.  Frozen--Live at the Hyperion (DCA)


The Aladdin Musical that used to be at the Hyperion was simply fantastic. It was charming and inspiring. Frozen doesn't quite measure up, but it is a big production and a lot of fun. It is wildly popular, so if you're going to see it, you have to get there early and grab a fastpass when the park opens.

17. It's a Small World (DL)*


Even if you've never visited the park, you probably feel like you know this one backwards and forwards. This is a long boat ride that gives you a lot to look at in a cool, dark place; it can't be beat on a hot summer day. However, when it Christmas time, the ride is even better, given the extensive holiday overlay.

16. Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room (DL)*


Dang, you guys, by some measures this is the best attraction at the park. By others, it should have been WAY up above. It's a fascinating experience that is way more fun than it should be. You're just sitting and listening to robotic birds sing, but the action saturates the room so heavily that it's like you're in an alternate world for 15 minutes. Really amazing.

15. Toy Story Midway Mania (DCA)*


With 3D glasses firmly on your eyes, you take to a shrunken toy set and shoot at a variety of objects. The competition is fierce and the variety keeps things moving and changing constantly. It's unlike any other attraction at the resort--yes, even unlike the similar sounding Buzz Lightyear ride.

14. Peter Pan's Flight (DL)*


The top attraction at Fantasyland and in the top few dark rides, Peter Pan is amazing. You fly up above the scenery and through the action. This is a stunningly short ride and its value is boosted by how long you have to wait for it. If you see the line is under 40 minutes, hop in--you won't get another chance like that.

13. California Screamin' (DCA)


This roller coaster-themed roller coaster is pretty darn amazing. It's a smooth, fast ride and the only upside-down attraction at the resort. With a 48-inch height restriction, it's also the most grown-up ride at the resort. High, fast, and smooth, it is a traditional roller coaster done just right.

12. Star Tours--The Adventures Continue (DL)


A terrific space simulator, you get a different experience every time. Unless you're my wife, in which case you always go to the pod race and then through the planet core on Naboo. Full of great effects and familiar characters, this is tons of fun.

11. Tower of Terror (DCA)


Okay, this isn't an attraction. But it was. And it's about to be a Guardians of the Galaxy ride in a few weeks, and I'm saving a place for it. Right here. Even though I could be wrong.

10. Jungle Cruise (DL)*


One of the original attractions at the park, it's still one of the best. Of course, this depends on the skipper you get and on the spirit of your boat mates. But the campy-fun is hard to beat. If you get the right skipper and the right crowd, you've got a very memorable experience.

9. Soarin' Around the World (DCA)*


I feel like I would have put Soarin' Over California would have placed just a little higher. Sure, it's fun to see landmarks around the world, but there was something exciting about all those great California places--all that diversity in one state was somewhat more exciting that, hey, the whole world! But, the experience is one-of-a-kind and should be had by everyone. Just get a fastpass--that line moves slow!

8. Matterhorn Bobsleds (DL)


The Matterhorn is a great sight from the freeway, and even greater from the ride. The bobsleds are somewhat violent, but if you take the launch on the right side (the Fantasyland side, opposed to the Tomorrowland side) you'll have a slightly smoother ride. With the recent improvements on the monster, this ride is a little scary, but tons of fun.

7. Big Thunder Mountain (DL)*


A nice, long roller coaster, this ride is as smooth as California Screamin', but with a more intricate and heavily themed atmosphere. It's not as high or as thrilling as just about any other coaster you've been on, but it is a beautiful ride with a quick-moving line that makes this rideable on just about any day.

6. Splash Mountain (DL)* 


The greatest log ride in the world, this combines thrills with atmosphere perfectly. You've got all the charming characters of the seldom-seen Song of the South and a 50-ft. drop that will have everyone screaming. You just can't miss this.

5. Space Mountain (DL)*


Most people I know would have this sitting at number one. For real. A turbulent ride through the darkness of space, this could be my favorite roller coaster in the world, and with good reason. It feels like you're going a million miles an hour, and the soundtrack is synched with your ride perfectly. It's an amazing experience that you just can't get anywhere else.

4. Pirates of the Caribbean (DL)*


A classic by every measure, this long, involved ride gives you endless eye candy. The Disneyland version is the definitive version, and it is the last ride that Walt himself directed. From housing the only fireflies in California to the final pirate shootout, you won't want to miss this one. Be sure to make your reservations at The Blue Bayou before your trip so that you can eat in the ride.

3.  Haunted Mansion (DL)*


Okay, fine, I just can't with these last two. Which is better? It depends on your tastes and the mood of your visit. Haunted Mansion was the first ride not directed by Walt, and it is an engrossing experience of a totally different kind. And yet, the two rides are like two sides of the same coin; they deserve to be ridden one after the other.

2. Radiator Springs Racers (DCA)*


One of the newest E-Ticket rides at the resort, Radiator Springs is only a billion times better than the movie that inspired it. It's a huge ride--the biggest footprint of any Disney ride anywhere--and it has so many different parts to it. It is the crowning glory of California Adventures, even though it clearly takes place in Arizona. Or maybe New Mexico. Waiting for this ride can be a drag, so get yourself a fastpass.

1. Indiana Jones: Temple of the Forbidden Eye (DL)*


This might be a controversial pick, but I find this ride astounding by every measure. This ride exploits so many of your senses and it wraps you in atmosphere. It even plays to the idea that it is a ride, with false doors and fake stalls. It's not a roller coaster, it's not a dark ride, it's not a simulator: it's something totally different. I can't think of a more intricate and involved experience that you can have at any theme park. It is the pinnacle of Imagineering.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

My 8th Book is In Print!

Howdy All!

I'm very excited to announce that my new book, 2084, is in print and for sale on kindle and in paperback. This dystopian novel takes a critical look at our lives through the lens of the future. In our protagonist's world, the United States have devolved into a corporate empire, which the pursuit of wealth is considered synonymous with morality.

While he is away on combat duty, Scott's dad is replaced by a hologram, in order to create as little disruption at home as possible. When his father is killed in duty, the hologram stays around, paid for  by advertisers, and interjects endorsements for products and activities throughout the day. When Scott decides to do something about it, he falls onto the wrong side of corporate policy and is forced to go to a credit rehabilitation center. From there, he learns of the New Paradigm; a covert group intent on breaking the corporate world apart.

Sound good? Consider giving it a read!


Friday, November 11, 2016

Using Compassion to Guide Your Action after this Election


There have been, now, a couple days to process the shock of the election. I think it's clear that, no matter which side you are on, shock was the first and most dominant sensation of the night. For me, and many others, it was a tragic shock: a sign that our country has turned to a hateful, vindictive little man who embodies the worst attributes of privilege to be our leader. And in the immediate aftermath, and in the days leading up to the event, my world filled with people who feel they are in a different country than the one they were in last year: the veil has been lifted and xenophobic, racial, and religious hatred are now on full display.

But for the most part, this is untrue. And while I support many of the calls for action that I've heard and seen, I thin that we can be most productive if we take a breath here and try and see things as they are before proceeding.

Don't Operate from Fear; Fear Got Us Here

A lot of people look around and think that Trump was elected because of hate. It's easy to imagine why; the dude has been yelling hateful and hurtful things about individuals and groups of people for the last 18 months (or 50 years, depending on when you started paying attention). His lack of basic human decency has been seen as strength by many who are sick of "political correctness" and the news media has been quick to jump on stories where the president-elect's behavior has seemed to validate the impulse to spread racism, sexism, and bullying. 

I want to take some of this apart here and examine it for what it more likely. Walking through this with me might make you bristle a little bit because we have a tendency to reject the dissonance we feel when our basic assumptions are being challenged. I urge you to stay with me to the end and reject me there, if you'd like, but I'm hoping to point us in a productive direction.

The first to conquering your fear of this situation is the realization that Trump wasn't elected by a majority of your fellow countrymen.
 So if you're afraid everyone around you is full of this hate, you're wrong about at least that. This wasn't a country-wide embracing of Trump values. 

But I want to take that a step further. I don't think that they 25.5% of people who voted for Trump voted for Hate. You can criticize their complacence in the face of hate, and that's fair, but I want to show you that it wasn't the hate that they embraced. They didn't vote for him because of his hateful rhetoric, but in spite of it.

Those Red states that put in for Trump are full of people who have watched their lifestyles disappear. They have seen the middle class erode, watched as the powerful union production jobs that their parents had turned into retail jobs, if that. In the meantime, they've felt left behind by a political system that pokes a lot of fun at them and gives them a lot of lip service. For an in-depth discussion about this, in particular, read this outstanding article from Cracked.com.  There is real purchase in making the promise that you're going to bring those strong production jobs back. Are they really coming back? No. That's not likely at all.

The voters put their vote in for the person who was standing up for those jobs, in particular. It was fear of their disappearing lifestyle that drove them to it, not hate of the outside world. There is a fair amount of ignorance of the outside world, that's true. Much of what they know about urban life comes from the media and the media shows what has attention-grabbing content--and it's often scary.

What I'm saying is this: They are in economic turmoil. They are scared, not hateful--those two things are often hard to tell apart. Taken to its extreme, look at Hitler's rise to power. The people of Germany were not full of hate, they were full of fear. This fear was redirected very effectively, yes, but when examining the values of your neighbor who voted for Trump, you might want to start with fear instead of hate.

The Misunderstanding of Political Correctness

Now, it's important to note that Donald Trump's exposed behavior during the campaign would have lost you a job at any company in America.  If you talked the way he talked at Chipotle, you'd be walking out of there that day. Heck, Billy Bush lost his job just by being party to Trump's sexist rant, while he still maintains his status as president-elect. This is a shame, and this is unbelievable. 

Yet many people wrote it off as him "just being politically incorrect." This term "political correctness" is very unfortunate. Coined at a time when the powerful majority was beginning to treat others more like people, this comes across as an expedient to soften the blow for people who can't stand the truth. A much better word for it is "Civility." But there are many people who see the language of inclusion as a shackle that people have to wear. While I don't defend this point of view--any reasonable amount of critical thinking should lead you to the conclusion that you shouldn't be a jerk and alienate people from your message--you should realize that at least many in the Baby Boomer generation are fatigued "PC Culture" and that the umbrella of this term has widened to the point where it encompasses very broad bounds.

Trump's behavior went far beyond backlash against PC Culture--it went far into the territory of ignorance, xenophobia, and hate. But that wide umbrella-definition of PC allowed people a pathway to writing-off disturbing speech as simply irreverent. The news media helped this by constantly sharing the opposing points of view, often unsupported, and many pundits reinterpreted his behavior over and over, offering excuse after excuse.



Of course, this didn't change what he said. But this changed how people felt about it. What the talking heads on TV did was address the dissonance people were feeling and offer an antidote to that dissonance. People had already made up their minds that they were voting for Trump, and what they needed was outside justification to allow their inner dissonance to be nullified. Understand that this doesn't make sense from a logical point of view, but from an inner-emotional point of view, and that is the operating center for most of our decision making.

A New Justification for Hate

Probably not. There have been tons of hateful acts, including attacks, hateful symbols painted on public places, and the yelling of racial and religious epitaphs at people done in the name of Trump. Is Trump, by being president, going to justify the spread of hate? The answer is, probably only to people who were going to spread hate anyway. These aren't new hateful acts being bread by a hateful demagogue (at least I don't think so yet), but this is two different factors: 1) the borrowing of language, and 2) hype.

Young people, especially, are great at taking new language and making it a justification for what they are already experiencing. College students borrow the language of "trigger warnings" to justify the avoidance of dissonant feelings. I've heard of a student complaint where they argued that a certain teacher was too "triggering" due to what was considered an unfair grade on an assignment. But what a "trigger" is and isn't has deep psychological definitions. One, for example, doesn't have PTSD after a sad event; trauma is different than sadness and has a separate and specific definition. But the buzz of triggers allows people to co-opt the language and use it for the ends that they've already embraced.

So I don't think Trump will justify bullying, racism, or hatred--he will simply contextualize it for people who are already bullies, racists, or hateful. It offers a context, but it doesn't necessarily spread the feeling.

The second part is that the media is quick to publicize acts that are contextualized so. The media gives us a distorted mirror--often helpful and informative, but often just frightening. Scary things sell, plain and simple. 

Stop Living in an Alternate Reality--Be Where You Are

Be prepared for hard times. Remember that the hard times you've been through have served as practice for getting through these hard times. And these hard times will give you the practice for the next time. But there is no point in ignoring where we are. And if the worst-case scenarios are right, and you are one of the vulnerable ones in the upcoming policy changes, you still have to deal with it. I'm sorry about that, and there are a lot of things that I'm worried about--a lot of things--but ignoring it won't get us out of the situation.

The truth is, not everyone makes it through hard times. But remember that not everyone made it through the last hard times that you might not have felt. There are a lot of people in this country with a lot of different hopes and fears. Waves have crests and troughs, folks. We have to go through them all. Something my family always says, a phrase borrowed from a video game, "You can't flee this fight!" 

Look down at your feet. Those feet, right now, are where and when you are. Whenever you need to be reminded, look at them again, take a couple breaths. You are anchored here and here is the only place where you can deal with things--not in your head, where and when your feet are. Heads lie to us about different times--past and future--and different possibilities that didn't and won't happen. But your feet don't lie.

A Call to Action

Before taking action, we need to understand our parameters. Do I think you should take action against a demagogue? Yes, of course. But I strongly advise you to do your homework to understand what is going on. If you walk into this with the assumption that the sky is falling, you're not likely to get far. And even worse, your actions will likely be driven by the same fear that got us here and will be knee-jerks instead of calculations. Whatever action you take, it should be intelligent and calculated.

Another direction I have to urge you is the direction of inclusion. We are angry for feeling outcast from the dominant political force and his points of view. Lets not make the same mistake. If we mistake the voters as A) most of the population, and B) embracing hate, we will not be inclusive of their actual, legitimate concerns. We will strengthen their resolve to go in the direction of a substance-less fool who says the right things in the right tone of voice.

The action we take--whatever it is--should be driven by compassion. I'd rather you felt sorry for the people who embraced Trump than remained fearful or hateful of them. People didn't come out to vote in the numbers that were expected partially because their concerns were brushed off and the brushing off of the the other candidate made people feel outcast as well, or strengthened their feeling of being left behind.

To me, the biggest mistake we can make is to bristle. We have a tendency to lash out at each other on social media and fall into the name-calling that we despise. We jump to conclusions about each other. There has been a huge tendency to use broad generalizations to write-off what someone else has to say. This is mainly because we don't like the dissonance of hearing another point of view. You don't have to accept that point of view, but being closing your ears to it and attacking the point of view doesn't get you very far. It just pushes them in the opposite direction. Understanding their point of view with an open mind and open heart is the only logical path towards unity. These are easy words to say when you're the winner--harder words to say when you've lost.

Embrace the challenge. Make a plan. Share your plan. And regardless of which side you stand on, help and make our world better. As long as the divide exists and cooperation isn't expected, anything can be done without the consent of the other side. Is that how we want to live?