Preservation.

 

88 years ago today, Acadia National Park was established, thus safeguarding some of the most majestic scenery and immersive wilderness in the US. It’s worth noting that Acadia was largely preserved because of private stewardship, and enterprise, mostly through the actions of George Dorr and John D. Rockefeller. Most of Acadia was donated to the government. It is disturbing to realize that such a beautiful place was ever in danger of being privatized and locked away.

But, here we are, about to embark upon an era where there are those that think that our national treasures should not be available to all and used, myopically, for cheap and easy profits. Those people are wrong. They will be revealed as wrong, in time. History is not kind to those that do not think of the future.

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100 Years of Our Best Idea: A Patriotic Celebration of the National Park Service

100 Years of Our Best Idea: A Patriotic Celebration of the National Park Service

On August 25th, 2016, the National Park Service marks a full century of action, of use, and of preserving the natural and historic wonders of the United States of America. Although there are National Parks that are older than the system itself, the watershed moment in saving and preserving these sites occurred a hundred years ago and was the action of committing to these landmarks, themselves. The creation of the National Park Service is the true keystone to understanding the importance and significance of both the physical and the judicial act of setting aside public lands, while encapsulating the legacy of these special places. The legacy of our National Park Service is that it has been grandly called “America’s best idea”, and rightfully so.IMG_5707

For 100 years, they have been a reflection of our best spirit and our best philosophy: Upon hearing the phrase “America’s best idea” used in conjunction with the national parks, it would be understandable to question that assertion. How can the National Parks be called America’s best idea when perhaps America’s largest contribution to the world is putting into practice representative and democratic government? America’s revolution for independence sparked and inspired a wave of social and political paradigm shifts across the globe during the Age of Enlightenment that resulted in the common citizenry taking on the reigns of self-government.

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Independence National Historical Park

How do the National Parks fit into that? Or live up to that? I believe that the National Parks are a reflection of that self governance as we, the people, have taken it upon ourselves to safeguard and honor our most sacred natural wonders and our historic landmarks. The National Parks are a representation and manifestation of our government- that the people are free to do with their resources as they choose, and saving them for enjoyment and preservation and saving them from overuse and profit, verily bolsters that commitment. What makes a nation more an example of freedom and personal choice than having lands and landmarks dedicated to recreation, self-discovery, exploration, and even spirituality? If land is free, so must be its people. In an age when the frontiers of human liberty and civil rights are challenged and looked at (rightfully!) to be broadened, the National Park Service serves as an example of the egalitarian spirit that should guide our political discourse more often. Our best idea is to make our natural wonder and our historic sites available for all and on display to all.

Famous faces: John Muir, Stephen Mather, Lancelot Jones, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
Famous faces: John Muir, Stephen Mather, Lancelot Jones, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

 For 100 years, they have served as a reminder of the egalitarian nature of America and the multinational creed of this country. The story of America is a story of all cultures and of all races and people of all backgrounds blending together. So is the story of the National Park Service.  John Muir,  the father of the National Parks idea, was a Scottish immigrant. Lancelot Jones, the man who pushed for the preservation of Miami’s Biscayne Bay was the son of a former slave. Teddy Roosevelt, the president who began to lead the charge in creating National Parks and National Monuments, hailed from an aristocratic and politically powerful family from New York. Conversely, Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Parks Service was a self-made millionaire before he became a naturalist and used his business acumen and his own funds to buy land for the National Park Service so that it might be saved for posterity. Juanita Greene and Marjory Stoneman Douglas did not have vast political machines behind them, but used the power of the press and grassroots organization to save Florida’s River of Grass, the Everglades. The National Park Service draws from the vast and diverse wellspring of American culture; that out of many we are one- both the parks serve as individual units in a collective National Park System and that individual citizens from all walks of life and all background contribute and protect and serve the efforts of conservation and preservation. Our best idea reflects the importance of inclusivity and diversity.

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IMG_9036For 100 years, the National Park Service has preserved a bevy of American and international superlatives. The NPS protects the world’s deepest canyon in Arizona’s Grand Canyon. The continent’s highest peak is found in Alaska’s Denali National Park. The world’s largest collection of volcanic geysers, fumaroles, mud pots, and hot springs are found in the wilds of Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park. The only ecosystem of its kind, where both crocodiles and alligators can be found in the same habitat is Florida’s Everglades National Park. The world’s tallest trees are in California’s Redwood National Park. The world’s largest trees are in Sequoia National Park. The world’s oldest living organisms are found in California and Joshua Tree National Park. Our best idea showcases the oddities and the wonders of the exceptional natural world we live in. 

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For 100 years, our National Parks have been places of solace, places of contemplation, places of hope, and places of personal memories, histories, journeys, and adventures. Travelers from across the world have trekked to see public lands and famous landmarks that define American culture. Countless American families have dedicated summers to the quintessential road trip, piled into a car, and seen what the American landscape has to offer…. And in the process have had an adventure together. Memories have been forged, connections have been made, and bonds have been deepened out in the wilds of our National Parks. Staring up at the stern and powerful face of the Statue of Liberty or into the cavernous Great Hall of Ellis Island is a reminder of my own personal heritage- the story of the Polish immigrant who dreamed of coming to America, despite leaving behind the familiarity of a home country and a family, across the Atlantic in Europe. Hikes into the backcountry of any National Park, deep into the wilderness of Yosemite or Acadia, offer a true disconnect from the rest of the world and the truest and most pure form of peace that I have ever found possible in a frenetic and always-connected world. Staring out at the vastness of space and sky and air and water and grass that is found at Everglades National Park’s Payhayokee Overlook is a tacit reminder that there is some peaceful and serene spaces left in the world. Gazing out at the Crown of the Continent from Glacier’s Logan Pass affirms a feeling of spirituality, be it in terms of mysticism or religion, or awe in seeing the science of Planet Earth, first hand. The depths of the Grand Canyon or the torrential waterfall at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone has the capacity to absolutely humble you and illustrates, through sheer grandeur alone, the persistence and power of nature. Standing next to a Redwood in Muir Woods is a testament to the longevity and resiliency of nature; when you were born, this tree was already centuries old, and still growing, and still in its “youth”. Inanimate, but still living, these aspects of our best idea relate to our humanity and our history, put things in perspective, and transform our outlook on life. 

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 So, as the National Park Service boldly strides into a new century, their commitment to preserving the best parts of our nation, be they natural wonders or places of historic and cultural importance, deftly qualifies the endeavor to be called “America’s best idea”. In so doing, “America’s best idea”, the accomplishment and act of saving land for future generations might just not be a solitary idea, but a guiding philosophy that has connections to the very deepest and most sacred parts of American culture.

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This photo was taken by me on one of the best days of my life... and edited by @AtDisneyAgain a few days later.
This photo was taken by me on one of the best days of my life… and edited by @AtDisneyAgain a few days later.

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A Tale Of Two Soarin’s

A Tale of Two Soarin’s

In some ways, nothing has changed. There’s still grandiose and emotionally charged music. Cultural and natural landmarks beckon and shimmer. Excited passengers gasp and whoop when surprised with a bird’s eye view of the world that they very rarely get to see from such an angle. But in other ways, everything has changed: Soarin’ is no longer flying over California, but is now flying around the world. The scope of the attraction has changed, altering the thematic landscape of EPCOT. In so doing, Soarin’s change is less of a transformation, but a transition from a narrow and specialized approach to an experience that is now broad and sweeping. These changes are both harmful and helpful to how Soarin’ now operates and how it makes a thematic statement that fits into EPCOT. I will not (consciously) focus on which version of the attraction is better, but rather, attempt to describe and analyze each, and showcase their strengths and weaknesses. That being said, I predict that it will be very easy to parse out what version of the attraction I prefer, if I don’t outright say so.

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Soarin’ Over California began operations in 2001 in Disney’s California Adventure. Here, the park’s connection to the attraction’s source material was obvious and logical, despite undergoing a fairly radical aesthetic shift near the end of Soarin’ Over California’s tenure. Both Condor Flats and Grizzly Peak Airfield represented environments in CalifoIMG_0015rnia and honored the state’s rich history of aviation and environmentalism. Grizzly Peak Airfield, which premiered in 2015, aligned more closely with the content actually seen on screen on Soarin’ – the scenes of the High Sierras and Yosemite National Park jived well with the aesthetic profile of the area and complimented the land’s references to famed naturalist John Muir.

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Meanwhile, EPCOT’s Soarin’ over California attraction had a tenuous and tangential connection to the park’s thesis statement. Although its connection to EPCOT was never really explained by Imagineering to the general public, I always viewed Soarin’s thematic connection to EPCOT as subtle, but not needing exhaustive mental gymnastics to justify its inclusion. In EPCOT, Soarin’ functioned as a celebration of people using, preserving, and interacting with the land and the environment. Nature played a starring role. Yes, there were cityscapes and man-made wonders on display, too, but The Land pavilion’s main ideas center on symbiosis and humanity’s appropriate use of natural resources. With this in mind, Soarin’ was a fairly natural fit for EPCOT.

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Perhaps the greatest connection that Soarin’ enjoyed with EPCOT’s thematic material was its nature as a travelogue film. Just like the films of World Showcase, Soarin’ over California was dedicated to distilling the essence of a destination into a relatable and coherent ‘summary experience’ of the destination at hand. However, despite being akin to a World Showcase travelogue, Soarin’ did not feature a foreign land, but instead was centered on a domestic scenery, altering the context by which it was viewed in. For Californians, it was a source of pride and an overview of their home state. For visitors, it was a glimpse of what else a vacation in California could offer. In EPCOT, Soarin’ over California was a chance to see a destination that was far away from Florida and exotic, but still reachable and relatable.

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Thematic connections aside, Soarin’ over California’s “relatability” is really what defined the attraction and gave it a sense of warmth that made it such a standout attraction. It really didn’t matter if you were intimately familiar with the Californian sites shown off or if you were just taking in the splendor and spectacle- Outside of the few major landmarks in the California film, (San Francisco, Yosemite, and Disneyland) most of the destinations shown off weren’t obviously “labeled”. Flying through the redwoods or the Pacific coast or a sweetly smelling orange grove wasn’t about checking off a list of recognizable places, it was about the visceral experience of doing so. California be damned, these sights and sounds and smells were captivating because the ride system made them as incredible as possible. However, if you were intimately familiar with these Californian landmarks, both big and small, the ride experience was infinitely heightened and made all the more memorable.

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Speaking personally, I enjoyed Soarin’ Over California well before I ever made it out to the Golden State for the reasons I have described above. Before I went to California, Soarin’ was a tantalizing reminder of a goal that I wanted so very desperately to meet. The ride functioned almost as a preview of an amazing vacation yet to come. When I finally made it out to California, I had a new appreciation for Soarin’– I finally understood the scale and majesty of Half Dome and El Capitan. I remembered the way there is a certain quality of light and mist that hangs over the rolling mountains surrounding Napa Valley. I picked out a bench in Disneyland that I had sat on and soaked in the atmosphere of Main Street, USA on my last glorious afternoon there. Soarin’, for me, was a personal reminder of an objective I had met and a look back at a destination that was captivating and exciting. For others, I can only imagine that similar feelings proved true.

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In many ways, Soarin’ Around the World operates as the inverse as Soarin’ over California. Where Soarin’ over California was focused and finely tuned to illustrating the diverse environments that were connected by their inclusion in the same state, Soarin’ Around The World follows no discernable logic in what landmarks we are shown. Instead, Soarin’ Around The World is ambitious and broad, and covers the entire globe. In so doing, the intimate charm and relatability that Soarin’ had with California is weakened, but something else is gained: Grandeur.

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Soarin’ Around The World’s grandeur is seen in how the attraction is no longer limited to just one state, or just one nation. Now, the ride’s new scope encourages incredible diversity in what landscapes are shown. Cultural landmarks and natural wonders from all corners of the globe are united under Soarin’s thematic goal of showmanship. Far and away from Soarin’ over California’s old goal of illustrating the high points and exemplary features of California, now the entire scope of the globe is at the ride’s fingertips. What this greater scope accomplishes is something that than Soarin’ over California ever attempted to do. Where ‘Over California’ had moments of subtlety, ‘Around The World’s” scale is constantly impressive. In ‘California’, quiet moments over the waves of Big Sur or slipping over Redwood Creek weren’t grounded in constantly wowing its audience but coaxing different emotions out of them. Although EPCOT (and California Adventure, to an extent) treats Soarin’ as a thrill ride, I often heard Soarin’ Over California described as one of the more relaxing and calm rides in the park. I was apt to agree with that sentiment. Soarin’ Around The World is also by no means a thrill ride, either, but has much more gusto in presenting its content.

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Next, the new destinations in Soarin’ Around The World can usually be quantified as the largest or biggest or best of their kind- Iguazu Falls is quickly chased with the Eiffel Tower. The Matterhorn quickly gives way to the unending ice fields of the Ilulissat Fjord. There are very quiet moments or peaceful moments of reflection, as before; all of Soarin’ Around The World is a highpoint and meant to excite and enthrall. This is not to say that Soarin’ Over California didn’t aim to accomplish similar emotions, but it just went about it in a much subtler way. If there are some lower key moments in Soarin’ Around The World, I would place them in Fiji, Africa, (before the CGI elephant interrupts your vista of Mount Kilimanjaro. More on that in a moment.) and the beginning of your flight over the Great Wall of China. These moments are still reasonably fast paced but the music in these sections is calmer, ethereal, and graceful. They’re well placed downbeats in a very up-tempo attraction.

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Soarin’ Around the World’s high energy also comes from the way it handles transitions. Where ‘Over California’ just utilized hard cuts to the film and didn’t bother with thematically explaining why viewers would jump from location to location, ‘Around The World’ attempts to draw the rider’s attention to a “transition event” that obscures the view of the destination with something meant to be exciting: A plane flies right for your hang glider. A CGI elephant flings dust into your eyes. A whale just happens to time his jump perfectly so the splash takes you from Ilulissat to Sydney Harbor. I can understand why the filmmakers wanted to insert these moments into the film, but I think the execution is overtly flawed because of its conspicuousness. Where hard cuts can initially be jarring, by the end of the experience, they become expected and part of the deeper visual language that Soarin’ Over California employed. With every transition being a attention grabbing event that’s usually accompanied by a exciting or humorous gag, the overall pace and mood of Soarin’ Around the World is decidedly shifted into high gear. The addition of CGI animation also lends a generic feel for some of the scenes as it clashes with the natural or man-made wonders on screen. Most of the CGI is rendered and animated fairly well, but it can still stand out as something that was obviously added in and not part of the naturally filmed landscape, which is more than enough to enchant the rider.

I would be remiss if I did not mention two CGI “transition events” that are absolutely spectacular and far surpassed my expectations for the new ride. First, he new opening and takeoff sequence far surpasses the introduction to the old film. Where ‘Over California’ simply lifted guests into the omnimax dome to meet a dark screen that would suddenly become filled with clouds, ‘Around The World’ already has the clouds projected when the ride system first begins to move giving the illusion that you’re actually flying up and through the atmosphere. The music that accompanies this is also transcendent: Instead of having the familiar Soarin’ theme begin the attraction, Chords from a piano and a harp begin a progression up the musical scale that mirrors the climbing motion of the ride vehicle. This musical and physical synchronization is a sublime and awe-inspiring moment to experience and sets the tone in a much more effective way than ‘Over California’s’ fairly sudden opening moments.

Second, The Great Wall of China’s scene has a great few final moments as the traditionally orchestrated music climbs the pentatonic scale and speeds up the tempo. Both the hang glider and the film compensate their speed to match and the illusion of speed is one of the more successful moments in the new film. Also, although Soarin’ Around The World’s new international thematic content is felt throughout the entire film, it feels much more potent and genuine in this scene. The high timbre of the Chinese pipas and the lutes used to orchestrate this part of the film’s score jive incredibly well with the overall mood of the scene- serene and relaxing as we glide over the Great Wall in the opening seconds of the encounter, and high energy and frenetic as we begin to speed up over the luscious Asian landscape and quickly transition into Egypt’s Great Pyramids.

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Speaking of the music and its orchestration for Soarin’ Around The World, the traditional and cultural orchestrations are easily the strongest part of the new attraction and the thematic aspect of the experience that undergirds it to EPCOT’s themes and ideas. The use of traditionally scored music resonates in a theme park setting like EPCOT because of the other uses of similar music in the park- upon walking into the China pavilion in World Showcase, similar sounds can be heard. Germany and France also have scenes in Soarin’ Around The World, but their musical accompaniments do not mesh in the same obvious way. However, their thematic content easily does: The architecture of Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle can easily be related to the German Platz of the World Showcase Pavilion. Similarly, the penultimate scene in Soarin’ features the glittering façade of the Eiffel Tower, a landmark that also anchors World Showcase and the French pavilion. These sorts of references bring a sort of metaphysical synergy to EPCOT that really hasn’t been in the park in a very long time. By including the images and sights and sounds of some of the real destinations featured in World Showcase, Soarin’ Around The World offers a tacit acknowledgement that EPCOT is a showplace for the exploration of these foreign cultures and new ideas. Otherwise, how could we justify seeing the real Eiffel Tower on screen when its facsimile appears just within range of The Land pavilion? In so placing the Eiffel Tower on screen and in World Showcase, EPCOT’s thematic cultural content is deepened and unifies the park. I will not attempt to make a case for why international and cultural landmarks are showing up in this section of Future World, but still, they do appeal to World Showcase and EPCOT’s ethos as a whole. One can experience the majesty of France or Germany or Egypt or Australia or any of the other nations exhibited in many ways in both Future World and World Showcase, now.

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In closing, both Soarin’ Over California and Soarin’ Around The World offer distinct and unique thematic experiences for EPCOT. Where ‘California’ could have been seen as more personal and organic, ‘Around The World’ is much more grand and imposing, but much more in tune with EPCOT’s core purpose. Both films, however, utilize a thematic alchemy that espouses the thrill of travel and the wonders of the natural and man-made world. The ways in which they differ are not as important as the ways in which they are similar. In that, they both inspire and entertain, and in so doing, both Soarin’ attractions have their rightful place in EPCOT’s roster of attractions.

Thanks for Soarin’ with us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Showcase Bazaar: Japan’s EPCOT Influence

Early in the planning stages for Tokyo Disneyland, WED was a flurry of creativity, simultaneously guiding Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom though its first few years and attempting to broaden the Vacation Kingdom with EPCOT- inspired initiatives. Most notable of the EPCOT projects was the Walt Disney World Showcase, an international exhibition.

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In 1974, discussions reached the point in which Japanese real estate companies wanted to move forward on what was dubbed “The Tokyo Bay Project” and Disney began to conceptualize what the American entertainment company would build in Japan. What Disney (Mostly the work of Imagineers John Hench and Claude Coats) came up with is an amalgamation of WED’s most recent and ongoing projects.

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Tokyo’s Magic Kingdom would have had the traditional Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland, and Frontierland (Dubbed Westernland for Eastern audiences) but would have been prefaced by an EPCOT inspired Main Street: International Land featuring a World Bazar.

If built, the street would have been a massive, climate controlled atrium, but instead of housing the traditional Victorian facades of Midwestern America, a sleek and space age showplace would have dominated the landscape with exhibits and pavilions from countries around the world.

Essentially, a World Showcase would have been dropped down in Tokyo Disneyland’s entrance corridor bringing a bit of EPCOT to a bold, new theme park in Asia. These plans bare a remarkable resemblance to the plans for one of the earliest iterations of World Showcase planned for Walt Disney World, which would have sat just south of the Ticket and Transportation Center.

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Sadly, the plans for an international showcase never materialized in Tokyo, and the plans for Florida’s World Showcase soon evolved out of a singular building and into a concept with individual pavilions, as spearheaded by Harper Goff . The name stuck, though, and a victorian World Bazar greets guests in Tokyo Disneyland, atrium and all.

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Disney Legend Jack Lindquist Passes Away at Age 88

Sad news to report today.  Jack Lindquist, one of the most influential leaders at Disney, has passed away.

Seen here, Lindquist stands in front of a small mock up of the Mexico pavilion’s tableaux. The pyramid and backdrop planned for World Showcase would eventually grow to be 220 feet long, complete with an erupting volcano, towering above the Yucatan wilderness. Jack Lindquist, though the Senior Vice President of Marketing was formally in charge of World Showcase Promotion and can be attributed with finalizing many of the agreements between Disney and the respective nations to be exhibited in EPCOT Center.

Everglades Explorations and a New Venture

Hello, all!

If you follow me on Twitter and Instagram, you most certainly know that Disney isn’t my only interest. Ever since my childhood, National Parks played a formative role in pushing me into a career in history and education and also served as wonderful destinations on many family vacations. When visiting these often grand and sweeping places, my desire to capture them in my memory and on film has always been pretty strong.

To do so, I had been using the tools that I could come by easiest. When I was a kid, it was a instant camera or a cheap Point and Shoot. As of late, I’ve been using an iPhone to capture images of the places I’ve visited. But as of last week, it looks like I’ll have  the chance to capture photos with a a bit more finesse: I bought a camera! My good friend AtDisneyAgain recommended a Canon SX60 HS (what do those numbers even mean??) and it arrived on my doorstep on Friday evening.  Come Saturday morning, I was already in Everglades National Park, trying my hand at taking pictures.

My goal? Take visually pleasing pictures of the places and things that matter to me in the style that I’ve always wanted to. I’m not overtly concerned with the techy part of photography, but more about the introspection and ability to capture an image how my mind sees it. Perhaps that will change over time as I learn more and can use my camera in more advanced ways. Perhaps it won’t. We shall see… and I’m very eager to take my camera with me and see more.

Enjoy:

Everglades Explorations 

 

Road Through The Wilderness

IllumiNations: Reflecting on 15 Years 

For 15 years, now, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth has played nightly on World Showcase Lagoon. And for 15 years, it has delighted and captivated, entertained and abstractly informed, living up to EPCOT’s original aims and goals. Despite its broad thematic scope and that overt abstraction, Reflections of Earth has become firmly part of EPCOT’s overall message and thesis statement.
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Where Spaceship Earth shows progress in communication and innovation through the lenses of time and cultural cooperation, and where Horizons once showed unbridled enthusiasm and optimism, IllumiNations’ contribution to EPCOT message is far more subtle and emotive. IllumiNations is not a physical entity. It does not have set pieces or an inherent artful product to it, save for 15 minutes a night, where the spectacle of dancing waters, soaring waves of fire, and the flicker of lasers across the night sky convey the creation of the planet Earth, the growth of civilization, and the spirit of optimism and humanistic triumph. Instead, the feeling of IllumiNations and the message it conveys is what has made it so vital to EPCOT over these past 15 years.

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Reflections of Earth is the capstone event every night at EPCOT signifying the spirit of what Disney attempts to showcase there. While overall message of EPCOT has been muddled and become conflicted in recent years, IllumiNations does not reflect this. Instead, it builds on the grand tradition of optimism and exhibition in EPCOT and signifies the greater refrains of progress, unity, and cultural celebration that EPCOT sometimes ignores, but still has at the heart of the place.

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With all of this considered, it might be apt to think of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth a relic of a time long gone by for EPCOT, and perhaps that is true, especially on this, its 15th anniversary. However, I am more optimistic. I see IllumiNations as a long standing commitment to EPCOT’s original goals and themes, and something to be cherished and preserved.

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Happy 15th anniversary, old friend. May We Go On with IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth for many years to come.

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Minutia of Maui: Uti, Rolly Crump, and the Enchanted Tiki Garden

She’s a ubiquitous fixture of The Polynesian Village. She stands on nearly every walking trail, glaring at guests, holding her torch aloft, and carrying a speared fish on a triton. If you’ve been to the Polynesian, you’ve seen her, perhaps without realizing it. This is almost to be expected, considering the believable illusion that the Polynesian Village paints; one tiki statue shouldn’t draw attention, but should mesh with the environment of the tropics you’ve been fortunate enough to visit.  What you might not realize, however, is the interesting history behind Uti, The Goddess of Fishing, and that her original purpose WAS to draw attention and be part of the face of one of Disney’s most iconic attractions.

 

Continue reading Minutia of Maui: Uti, Rolly Crump, and the Enchanted Tiki Garden