Posts tagged ‘CA’

Backstage Magic ’08: Backstage at Disneyland

We woke up in time to meet at the front lobby at 7:45am. After a quick jaunt to the Magic Kingdom, we walked up Main Street and got to take pictures in front of the Partners statue, as well as Sleeping Beauty Castle, without anyone else in the shots (grin).

Just us on Main Street

Nobody in the picture of the Partners statue

Big ass spiderweb (and spider) running from Walt’s face to his hand

Hey, it’s the castle! It’s so tiny…

All of us

Today’s breakfast was with Minnie & Friends at the Plaza Inn, in the MK. The food was on par with Crystal Palace at WDW (which doesn’t say much for the food). Anyway, besides Minnie, we also got to eat with Max, Chip, Dale, Tigger and The Fairy Godmother. Those of you who know my feelings about characters, especially eating with them, well, then you know why I have so few pictures of the meal (grin).

Joe and Minnie

More for Tyler and Lyne’s benefit than mine

Today was our day to go backstage at the Magic Kingdom. After breakfast we walked over to Adventureland and went through a Cast Member entrance by Indiana jones, to get a better idea of how the attraction works. That’s where we met Jerry, who was a Reliability Manager. He verbally described the ride, room by room. He said the ride has 1900 ft track and had 450 volts of electricity under the track. He showed us the computer that was in each car and explained how it was responsible for the variable sounds and movements of the car (it can choose from 3 different movement profiles and several more sound profiles, so the audio and car movement ride is randomized from ride to ride). The computer is also responsible for the vehicle not moving, if a safety belt is not fastened. The vehicles use hydraulics for movement and it is the same system that the Star Tours attraction “vehicles” use. All 17 vehicles are inspected every night and receive a complete teardown every 4 weeks to check for safety. Tires are replaced once a year (more often if needed) and each vehicles weighs about 10,000 pounds.

After some questions and answers with Jerry, we were backdoored onto the attraction so we didn’t have to wait on the 45 minute line.

We worked our way from Adventureland to Fantasyland, while Quinn and Julie gave us bits and pieces of information along the way. Walt decided to build the Matterhorn after being inspired from the film, “Third Man on the Mountain”. They are in the midst of introducing the new monorails at DL – Monorail Red was just added to the track not long ago, Monorail Blue will be next, followed by Monorail Orange. Walt wanted It’s A Small World to be trimmed in 23 karat gold but Roy said it would be too expensive. So Walt ordered the trim for it (as well as for Sleeping Beauty Castle and Dumbo) while Roy was on vacation.

We went back backstage through the Cast Member entrance to the right of Small World, where we walked to the roundhouse and met Bill, who worked on maintaining and repairing the steam trains on the Disneyland Railroad. He explained that Disneyland had a fleet of 4 trains, 2 of which Walt had built at 80% scale and were original to the park when it opened in 1955. The other 2 are authentic steam trains that were built in 1893 and 1924. The trains work on biodiesel and they are currently experimenting with using used food oil for fuel. Bill explained how the trains’ steam engine works, and used an engine currently under repair as a model. Finally, they brought out Train 4, named the Ernest S. Marsh, built in 1924. Bill explained how they blow sediment out of boiler at the Frontierland station every hour or so and how they often frequent subcontractors, as well as eBay for parts.. They also explained the system of training to become a DLRR engineer: First you must be a fireman (the person who maintains the fire to make the steam), which in itself requires five months of training. After a year of being a fireman, you can can train to be an engineer. After 6 months of training, THEN you can take the test to be an engineer. So as you can see, it’s a long, arduous process that not everyone completes successfully.

Our next stop was to see the fireworks launch for the Wishes pyrotechnics show. Quinn & Julie explained how Disneyland currently uses an air launch system, which increases accuracy while decreasing some of the need for gunpowder (therefore making it greener). Wishes, a 17-minute long show, uses 360 shells behind park and 260 inside the park 17 min long. There are 7 technicians who take care of it all, including getting unlaunched duds out of launching tubes. Needless to say, they are VERY well paid.

Next up was the building that houses the Parade floats. They’re preparing for the Christmas parade and are currently reflocking the floats (which are composed, for the most part, of fiberglass and plastic) with artificial snow – we got to see a CM using a hose to spray the old flocking off the artificial trees on the parade floats.

Our next stop was the area where they house Disneyland’s animals, where we were introduced to Christa, one of the people who take care of the animals. We stopped in front of the Pope House (formerly owned by Owen and Dolly Pope), which is the only building that is original to the property that eventually became Disneyland. After a quick trip inside the front room of the Pope House, Christa introduced us to Larry, who is the tamest feral cat you’ll ever meet (grin). Christa explained how Disneyland owns a variety of animals (horses, goats, sheep, donkeys, parrots, etc.) for different areas and locations (goats and sheep are in the petting zoo, the Clydesdales walk up and down Main Street, other horses are used for weddings, etc.). The animals lead an ideal life – generally 2 hours per day, 2-3 times per week, for about 2 weeks per month. We had to stay a good ten feet away from the horses for safety, but were able to pet the goats and sheep in their pens.

After some pictures in front of a vintage Disneyland Stagecoach, we walked back on stage for lunch at Cafe Orleans. We were saddened to hear that they only had 10 shrimp salad sandwiches left (I was lucky enough to get one of them) but they had bunches of Monte Cristo’s, so all was good. We had a Streetmosphere-type pirate interacting with us during the meal, stealing pocketbooks and picking pockets. It was very cute!

The menu we got to choose from

Eating lunch

When lunch was finally over, we were backdoored into POTC.

After POTC, we again divided into our Mickey & Minnie teams. Quinn led us to the Main St. Station of the DLRR and, after waiting 15 minutes or so for “our” train to arrive, we were invited to board the famed Lilly Belle car! Even I, a Disney fan-turned-cynic, was impressed with this! Quinn explained the history of the car, which was that it was an original observation car on the DLRR and, in the mid-1970’s, transformed it into a parlor car for VIPs. It was restored in the mid-1990s and let me tell you, it was just beautiful! We were able to ride the entire DLRR in the Lilly Belle, enjoying its (her?) Victorian-themed grandeur.

On the Lilly Belle

Empty Lilly Belle car

Next up was another super-special opportunity…to go to Walt’s Apartment. Under the supervision of Cindy, our guide, we went to the right of the firehouse, through the super-narrow CM entrance and, after about 10 feet, walked up a set of narrow stairs on our left. After getting up to the second floor, we walked a short (< 8′) hallway and there we were – in Walt Disney’s apartment. The one where he sometimes stayed overnight while Disneyland was being built and where he stayed even after the park was open to the public. COOL! It was a studio apartment, maybe about 25′ by 25′ in total. You walk into the living room (again, Victorian-themed – Lillian had control over the design of this one), which had 2 couches that opened into twin beds (Walt and Lilly slept separately). Behind each couch was a table with a picture of Walt or Lilly’s mother. There were also 2 cushy armchairs for sitting, footstools with embroidered tops, a Regina music box, an Edison Victrola. To your immediate right was a kitchenette with a sink and a refrigerator that still works. Above the sink were cabinets that held the Disneys’ original plates, glasses, ashtrays and Evenflo baby bottles (all 11 grandkids would some come over – they would sleep on the floor). Around back was a very utilitarian 1950’s-style bathroom and shower – how many people can say with certainty that they’ve seen where Walt Disney peed and pooped? (VBEG) – as well as a double closet. Cindy explained some stories – about the lamp in the window that rarely (not never) goes out (it’s part of her job description to check the lamp every day – on rare occasion the bulb burns out before its monthly automatic change), how the grandkids used to scare the crap out of the Jungle Cruise skippers by making themselves “part of the show” (“Hey Walt, better gather your grandkids…they’re terrorizing Jungle Cruise!”), the fireman’s pole that used to go from the firehouse up to the apartment (until someone managed to shimmy UP it and invade the apartment without permission). Some of the people in our tour were teary-eyed about visiting the apartment – I didn’t go that far (far from it) but yeah it was cool.

Outside view of Walt’s Apartment, over the DL Firehouse

Vintage shot of Walt’s apartment

Once we were done visiting the apartment, we went back to the Main Street Train Station for a debriefing. We had reserved seating for the 3pm parade so if we wanted to play for a little while and then come back, we could. Then we had a 4:45pm appointment for a reserved boat on the Jungle Cruise. After giving each of us 5 Fast Passes that we could use at whatever Fast Pass location we wished, we were on our way.

Joe and I decided to use our time by going on Indy again. We gave the CM our Fast Passes, he looked at them, let us through and then gave us back the passes. OoooooKay. Actually, that happened several times – apparently the FPs that Adventures by Disney give out look very much like the VIP “Re-use the same FP over and over” FPs. On top of that, it was off season and we hit hardly any lines. So although we got, ohgod, a good 10 or 15 FPs during the course of our vacation, I think we used 2. Maybe 3.

After Indy we went back to the Train Station to watch the parade. It wasn’t bad, as parade goes…the floats were pretty and the music was OK and very Disneyesque. Apparently I better get used to it because I heard WDW is getting this parade as a hand-me-down pretty soon.

Anyway, before we left the train station, Quinn & Julie gave each of us a commemorative ticket to the Lilly Belle, which will give us entry onto the car again, any time in the future, if we so please. Nice souvenir.

As a group walked to the Jungle Cruise and again were backdoored in. With so many people in the group, we had our own boat. Nothing special with the spiel. Then again, nothing really special about this attraction, period.

After the JC, we were on our own for the rest of the night. We focused on attractions that were either different from WDW’s or that simply didn’t exist there. So we did Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (5 minute wait), Pinocchio’s Darling Journey, Snow White, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Alice in Wonderland and the Matterhorn in the course of about 2 hours.

Despite a huge breakfast and decent-sized lunch, now we were hungry. We wanted to eat a Napa Rose, but the first reservation they had available wasn’t until 8pm. That was a little too late for our plans so we agreed to eat at the bar. We shared an appetizer and then I had the filet mignon with brie, while Joe had the Alaskan halibut. Both were awesome.

We went back to Magic Kingdom after dinner – went on Buzz Lightyear (it was posted as a 20 minute wait but was really closer to 10 or 15 minutes) and then on Nemo, which had a 30 minute wait.

By this time we were getting tired and still had a full day ahead of us so we went back “home” and called it a night.

Advertisements

Backstage Magic ’08: Moving Day, Imagineering, Disney Studios, Disneyland

Today was moving day so we woke up 6am for our 7am luggage pickup. Breakfast was at the hotel – they offered us a buffet at the Twist restaurant/lounge, which included breakfast quesadillas, bacon, sausage, potatoes, omelettes to order, a variety of fruits, pastries, yogurt and cereals, and (be still my heart) Starbucks coffee (yay!).


Above: Breakfast buffet. Below: Almost all of us, waiting to go on the bus

We loaded the bus at 8:15ish and our first stop was Imagineering. We were not allowed to take any pictures at Imagineering and, in fact, had to leave our cameras on the bus (Quinn and Julie were allowed to take some select pictures, which will be made available to us in a few weeks). Dave was our tour guide and, with the use of audio and visual aids, he explained how Walt used imagination and technology to the best of his abilities and how Disneyland and Walt Disney World came to be because of that vision. He also explained exactly what Imagineering does and how their 140 divisions fit into the Disney mold. Next was a short film that gave some background information of the imagination technologies involved in Expedition Everest, Toy Story Mania, Lucky the Dinosaur and the new DVC slated for Hawaii (less technology and more imagination for that latter one). As a special surprise when the movie was over, they opened a curtain that was next to Dave and there was Lucky the Dinosaur! AWEsome! We all got to meet, touch and talk with Lucky, as well as have Quinn & Julie take pictures of us with him. VERY cool!

We next split up into our Mickey and Minnie groups again. Our group got “Frank” added to our team, who explained a new photo opportunity they were working on for the parks: you stand in a designated photo spot, call a special phone number, a Disney camera takes your picture and sends it to your phone, where you can download it to your computer. For a price, of course, hehehe. They’re still working out the kinks (they had a few of us pose for a pic and Frank dialed the phone number (ahem, on his iPhone – only first generation – mine is better, bwahaha) but it took way too many seconds to take the shot) but we should see the technology in the parks sooner or later.

Next we went to the Sculpture Studio, where they stored many of the maquettes they use for reference for the theme parks. He explained how the original maquettes are small but can be scanned and then scaled for bigger models as needed. They also had the original marble Snow White and the 7 Dwarf statues from Disneyland housed in this room (they were removed from the park several years ago and replaced with “stunt doubles” because of the acid rain problem). Frank said that the “Snow White is the same size as the dwarfs” story is actually a myth invented by Walt Disney and John Hench, merely to save face. The statues were actually commissioned by Walt but when the designs were sent to Italy, the Dwarfs’ designs were in inches while Snow White’s were in centimeters, which caused her to be roughly the same height as the Dwarfs. When they received the statues and saw the mistake, they asked how much it would cost to just redo Snow White to the right proportions and it was much more than they were willing to spend. So they made up the story about the “gift from an anonymous donor in Italy”. It wasn’t until John Hench died and they were going through his papers that they found the file with the receipts and hand-written notes about the incident. Or at least that’s what they say. It’s Disney, so who knows what the REAL, true story us.

Anyway, the Sculpture Room had hundreds of heads and body maquettes including familiar ones from the Haunted Mansion, Country Bears, Dreamfinder, American Adventure, America Sings and The Mickey Mouse Revue. They had all of the Hall of President sculptures as well…all have been done by the same man, who is now in his 90’s. This new President will be the first one done by a “new guy” (but with the “old guy” supervising all the way).

Next up was one of the audio rooms (Studio C), where Steve, a sound guy, explained how they make binaural sound (they make a head with the same density and dimensions as a human head, complete with sinus cavities, and put microphones where they ear drums would be) and and how it plays into making an experience as realistic-sounding as possible. They has headphone for all of us and we got to hear what was one of their first public showcases of binaural sound, from the sound booths at MGM (where RJ is introduced to Flabio, gets a haircut and meets MM). They also gave us some private, behind-the-scenes info about the upcoming changes to a certain, well-loved attraction (sorry I can’t write about them – they told us not to).

We next walked to the area where they do scale models for attractions and showed us the mock-up of DCA’s upcoming Cars Land. It looks like it’s going to be a very cool land. It’s also nice to see that they are actually putting some thought into the reworking of this park and are doing things the “right” way (read: the way they should have done it in the first place), like making sure to pay attention to sight lines by planning to hide the high tension wires that are visible in the not-so-far distance right now. Joe said he saw a full-size Cars Land car a few feet away from where we were, but I must’ve missed it.

We next got to see a working audioanimatronic of Joe Cocker (skinless, so you could see all the inner workings of the figure. His eyes and mouth were the only things that looked humanesque), which was made in 1986 (it’s an A100 figure, for all you geeks out there). He was built to show how high tech the AA’s of that time could be and was the predecessor of (and is the same generation as) the Wicked Witch AA at MGM. Joe Cocker himself has never seen the AA but his manager has and said JC never moved that smoothly (grin).

Next up was shopping at Imagineering! We had 30 minutes and, well, let’s just say I did a decent amount of damage in such a short period of time. We were nowhere near the record though…one ABD group, combined, managed to spend about $15K in their allotted 30 minutes!

We had lunch at Imagineering’s cafeteria because there was an “issue” (we never found out what it was) and we had to eat there instead of at the Disney Studios, as originally planned. We were told it was the same food, different location. Shrug. That actually worked to our advantage though, because it gave us some extra shopping time after eating (the cafeteria was just on the other side of the courtyard),

Next was the Disney Studios. The good news was that whereas we were not allowed to take pictures at Imagineering, we could take as many as we wanted at the Studios. However we also saw very little of the insides of the Studios, so there was very little of interest to take pictures of.


Above: the ABC Building is connected to the WD Studios via a bridge. Below: As close to the Animation Building as we got (from the street, on the bus. Considering we were still moving when this shot was taken, I can’t complain.)

Anyway Quinn and Julie explained that Walt and Roy originally had a different studio but needed room to grow after the success of Snow White, hence buying the current property around 1939. He brought over 3 buildings from the original studio site. As I said, we didn’t enter many of the buildings but our walk brought us past nearly all of them and they explained what their purpose was in Walt’s time, as well as what they’re used for nowadays (mainly offices since operations are in several other cities, states and countries now).

Walking in the Studios

Entry to what had been the Animation Building

Entry to what used to be the Inking & Painting Building

Bad photo of the walkway that is above a tunnel that runs between Animation and Ink & Paint – made to protect the information from the weather , as well as from peering eyes

We saw the “Disney Walk of Fame” where the hand prints and signatures of significant people in Disney history line the walkway, as well as the newer area where the prints and signatures are embedded into pillars.

The massive Michael Eisner Building, with the newer “walk of Fame” on either side.

The significance of the 7 Dwarfs is that Disney earned their fortunes thanks to Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs – they’re what “held up” the company

Joe & I with the “Partners” statue. The original design, as shown to us at Imagineering, had Mickey Mouse holding an ice cream cone

Roy, Minnie, me and Joe

We also went into the Frank G. Wells building, which houses the Disney Archives (in fact, I saw Dave Smith going into the archives as we went past the area).

They also showed THE multiplane camera that was used for Snow White.

Us in front of the original famous sign (it was actually made for the sake of the fans, many of whom wanted to see the Studios. Since all of the requests couldn’t all be accommodated, Walt made a movie that showcased the Studios and had the sign made to be part of it).

“The” sign is now a part of Pluto’s Corner, which includes a fire hydrant and Pluto’s 3 paw prints (he’s using the fire hydrant so there’s only 3 prints, not 4)

We had about 20 minutes for shopping in the Studio Store (which was more than enough – not a whole lot to be had) and then were on our way to Disneyland!

When we arrived at the Resort, Brian introduced himself as the Guest Services Manager while Quinn checked us into our rooms at the Grand Californian.


Above and Below: Our room at the Grand Californian

View from our window and 18″ wide patio

We had about an hour and change before dinner so, with 4-day park hoppers in hand (part of the package), we went to California Adventure. Since Joe had never been on Toy Story Midway Mania at home yet (lines were too long the few times we’ve been to MGM since it opened), we went on it here. He liked it and I have the same opinion of this one as the one at home – myeh – it’s nothing more than a repetitive, state-of-the-art Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster or Men In Black attraction. It’s done well but certainly not worth all the Hoopla peolpe give it, AFAIC.

Dinner was scheduled to be at Hook’s Point, with a wine reception down in the wine cellar beforehand. So we met in the lobby of the Grand California and, once we were all gathered, walked through Downtown Disney to the Disneyland Hotel. We had 3 wines (or Martinelli’s or soft drinks) to choose from during this “welcome to Disneyland” reception, along with a variety of crudite veggies, dips, breads/ crackers and cheeses. We were introduced to one of Disneyland’s 2008 Ambassadors, who went to most of the tables to shmooze with us. Finally, we went upstairs for dinner at Hook’s Pointe, a sit-down full service restaurant. Joe and I both had the salmon, which was pretty good.


Above: Reception at Wine Cellar. Below: Dinner at Hook’s Pointe

After dinner, we went back to Disneyland via the monorail station at Downtown Disney. We went in with about a half-dozen of our fellow adventurers but the group eventually split up as people wanted to do different things. Joe and I wound up going on the Nemo attraction (which totally ROCKED!) and then Space Mountain (which, again, ROCKED!). By this time it was about 10:30pm and we were starting to get sleepy so even though the park was scheduled to be open for another 30 minutes, we hoofed it back to our hotel room and went to bed.

Backstage Magic ’08: Touring El Capitan, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Jim Henson Studios and Walt’s Train Barn

6:30am came way too quickly…especially because Joe set the alarm for 6am by mistake (grin).

Our meeting time for breakfast was coming up but we left the hotel room early to get “real” coffee at Starbucks, in case the breakfast coffee (Disney could = Nescafe and Creamora, for all we knew) was nasty. After we got our liquid wake-up call, we went to the “walkway” level to meet everyone. We met for breakfast at 7:45am and once all 24 of us were assembled, Julie walked across the street to Disney’s Soda Fountain and Studio Store. Alas, we were not offered any ice cream for breakfast but instead had choices of fruit in a sundae glass, assorted flavors of yogurt, bagels, english muffins, scrambled eggs, Mickey Mouse waffles, oatmeal, bacon sausage, orange juice, apple juice, coffee, milk, hot tea, iced tea and hot chocolate. I got the oatmeal (which was just OK) and Joe got the eggs (which he said weren’t very good at all). The coffee, FWIW, was strong but not bad. We had a special guest towards the end of the meal, in the form of a meet & greet/photo op with Sleeping Beauty.


Above and below: Eating breakfast at Disney’s Soda Fountain & Studio Store

Sleeping Beauty & I both got the “wear pink” memo

Our first stop of the day was next door for a tour of the El Capitan Theatre. Alex was our tour guide and we had the disinction of being his first tour ever. Anyway, he offered us the history of the theater, who had owned it in the past and the process of renovation ($14 mil, in 2 separate renovations, over the course of several years) when Disney bought the building. We went upstairs to the balcony to get a better idea of the detail in the architecture (keeping it true to its original design from the 192’0’s), and then down to he Orchestra level to learn more about the Wurlitzer organ they use (they also had a “Name that Tune” sort of game…I won a CD for guessing “When you Wish Upon A Star” in 3 notes). Next was teaching us about the sound system and finally, they brought us on stage to show us the house (that part didn’t impress me so much…I’ve been on the stage of the Ford Theater twice (42nd St. and Chitty), the Linda Chapin twice and the Bob Carr once (soon to be twice)…a stage is a stage).

The El Capitan:

Off the Main Lobby


Above and below: They hide the instruments and some pipes from the Wurlitzer behind the box seats

The Wurlitzer can play thousands upon thousands of different sounds

Some of the big pipes (as seen from the stage) are large enough for a full-grown person to fit in

A view from the stage

Next we went next-door to the studio where they tape Jimmy Kimmel Live. Kelly was the Operations Manager and he explained how the building, built in 1921, was originally the Hollywood Masonic temple and what Disney had done with the building since acquiring it in 1995. Next we got to meet “Uncle Frank”, the show’s security guard (an ex-NY cop, former Frank Sinatra bodyguard and Kimmel’s true-life uncle) – he was a complete character! We were walked around to see the Control Room, Tape Room, Makeup Room and Edit Bays. We also got to hear some ghost stories since the building is apparently haunted. Next up was the Green Room (it was very loungy and apparently has the reputation of being the site of some great parties. Baba Booey LOVES it). We also got to go into the sound stage where the show is actually taped, where we got to take pictures with Uncle Frank (this was the only place any pictures could be taken and only Quinn & Julie could take them). Finally we went back outside through the Stage Door to see the permanent outdoor concert stage they have set up behind the building.

Our Motor Coach was waiting for us as we exited the Jimmy Kimmel Live property, with Don the driver (the bus, BTW, was a Coach America bus, yay!). He took us on a roundabout route to get to the Henson Studios, spending lots of time on Sunset Blvd and pointing out the highlights as we passed them (site of Schwabs drugstore – which is now a 3 story strip mall, the HQ of the Directors Guild of America, Laugh Factory Comedy Club, Chateau Marmont (Lindsay Lohan currently lives there and John Belushi died there), the Sunset Tower Hotel (Marilyn Monroe used to stay there a lot), a Hyatt Hotel (nicknamed the “Hyatt Riot” because rap stars have a tendency to trash it), the original House of Blues restaurant, the original site of Spagos (the current location is in Beverly Hills but I ate in that original Spagos in 1989), the Viper Room (previously partially owned by Johnny Depp and was where River Phoenix died), The Whiskey a Go-Go and The Roxy. We made a left onto Doheny, which is he dividing line between West Hollywood and Beverly Hills (Marilyn Monroe owned a house on the Beverly Hills side of the street). Next we took a left onto Santa Monica Blvd (which used to be part of the legendary Rt. 66) and saw The Troubador and the original Palm restaurant.

The original “Crossroads of the World”

Finally we made a left onto LaBrea and, after seeing the storefront made famous by “L.A. Ink,” we stopped at the Jim Henson Studios on the right.

The entryway to the Jim Henson Studios, as seen from inside the Studios (you can’t get a decent picture from the front without going across he street and it’s a very busy street)

To make it easier to travel around the relatively small studio, we broke up into 2 teams – the Mickey Team went with with Quinn, while the Minnie team followed Julie. Joe and I were on the Mickey. We were told that we were allowed to take pictures everywhere we went at the Henson Studios, except for the Creature Shop.

Quinn explained how the property was originally the Charlie Chaplin studio. Then A&M Records records own it for a while. Then Henson purchased the building and when Disney bought Henson a few years ago, the Studio was part of the package. Several of the buildings on the property were original to Charlie Chaplin’s ownership (which I think impressed me more than then Henson or Disney ownership) and those building are registered as Historic Landmarks. Some of the sidewalks are also quite historic, with Charlie Chaplin’s footprints still in them, albeit a bit faded after nearly 100 years.

There are also 2 slabs with his footprint and dated signature, but those are reproductions. The originals are housed at the alma mater of a former owner of the property.

We went inside several of the various buildings, many of which have 2 separate sets of signage…how the Henson Studios use them but also how the Chaplin Studios used each building.

“The Cottages” now house offices, including that of Brian Henson (one of Jim’s sons). Brian was at the Studio that day so we couldn’t go inside.

The (current) Reception building used to be “The Vault”. What is now an unused side door used to be where Charlie Chaplin stored his movie reels, as well as his signature hat, shoes and cane.

Inside the Reception building: some of the awards that the Jim Henson Company has won

We went into the “Theater” to see a movie (made especially for the Adventures by Disney tours) that explained the history of the studio, then the footprints, then into the Cafeteria (of all places) to watch a 50-year history time line of the Muppets (in 2.5 minutes). After that we went onto the sound stage and then into the Creature Shop.

Inside the Sound Stage.

The Creature Shop was COOL. It was where they design and build many of the Muppets you see today (many, but not all…they also have studios in NYC and London) and so there are Muppet pieces everywhere…boxes with “Gonzo-like” materials, ping pong ball noses, feathers and fur of every size and shape, you get the picture. There are also some Muppets out there for viewing, including the baby from “Dinosaurs” (“Not the Mama!”), Scooby Do, the moose and pig from the movie they had just shown us, plus several dozen I didn’t recognize. Our host in that building, Brian (not Henson), also explained how the Muppeteers do their work, aiming towards a camera that is high enough up so their heads don’t show. He explained how they make the Muppet look far away and close up and how he can make it look like it’s moving much faster than it actually is. Next he explained and showed their latest form of Muppetry…computer-animated Muppets. They use people (or dogs! The recently used a Great Dane “Hollywood dog”) wearing Spandex clothing with special markers on them that their computers pick up and translate into movement for a CGI character. Very interesting, high-tech stuff!


Above: Big, 3D Kermit. Below: Joe taking a picture of the big 3D Kermit, with “The Schoolhouse” behind him (the building was never used as a schoolhouse but it looked like one so that’s what they called it. Nowadays it’s offices.)

They had lunch ready for us by the time we got out of the Creature Shop – I had a chicken salad sandwich while Joe had a cheeseburger. After lunch we got to take some pictures with Brian and his friend, “Sweetheart”.

Next up was a special treat…after leaving the Henson Studios, we boarded the bus and headed to Griffith Park, so we could see Walt’s train barn and his (and others’) trains! As we arrived, we were greeted by a guy named Mike (ahem, Michael. Michael Broggie, founder of the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society and son of Roger Broggie!). He handed us off to Doug, who told the story of how Walt always loved trains and how he wanted a train for their backyard and, after some negotiating with Lillian (she didn’t want the train to mess up her flower beds), got his wish with the 1/8 scale train set (hence one-upping his friends Ollie and Ward, who each had mere 1/12 scale trains in THEIR backyards).

Doug telling us stories

He eventually decided to put a train in the Disney Studios so the public could have access to it (he linked it to the old “Saturday was Daddy’s Day” story), but that plan was ditched when he decided to go for a grander theme and make an entire amusement park – hence the birth of Disneyland. Anyway, Lillian lived in that house until she died and although the new owner tried to keep the building, there was just too much dry rot and it had to be demolished. However Diane and Ron Miller paid to have Walt’s train barn (where he worked on his trains) moved to Griffith Park, where it stands, intact, today. After hearing the history, we were invited to ride on the train and visit the barn (which now houses some of the original artifacts, such as the sink, paper towel roll, cup dispenser and desk) Walt’s trains, as well as train (and a little bit of monorail) related memorabilia from Frank Thomas’ Ollie Johnson’s and Ward Kimball’s collections. VERY cool!

The train. I took a video of the whole ride – still need to upload it

Walt’s train barn

Walt’s sink & “stuff” inside the barn

Some of the memorabilia inside the barn

We re-boarded the bus and went back to the hotel. Quinn and Julie had managed to get all of us tickets to the taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live but (A) Joe and I only barely cared about one of the guests – Alyssa Milano, (B) meeting for the taping meant having to be back out in an hour – for a taping that would take several hours and (C) we had to wake up EARLY the next morning. So we decided to skip the taping and go off on our own.

The first order of business for us was, of course, a nap. We had woken up early and had done a lot of running around all day so a nap was just what we needed to recharge our batteries. After we woke up, we decided to eat at the Japanese restaurant at the H&H Complex, since we had eaten there 3 years ago and really liked their variation of Shabu Shabu. It definitely didn’t disappoint, nor did the Beard Papa we got for dessert. We went to bed soon after going back to our hotel room.

It had been a really fun day!

Backstage Magic ’08: Arrival & Hollywood on our own

We had had such a great time during our Adventures by Disney trip last year that it was a no-brainer we would travel with them again. We started planning our trip mid-to-late last year (right after we had gotten back from Southwest Splendors, actually) and were all ready to book the The Emerald Isle (Ireland, of course), except by the time Joe’s vacation time was finally approved, the Adults Only tour was sold out. So were the Germany/Austria/Czech Republic and the Spain tours we were considering as alternate choices. That led Joe to ask, “OK, what IS available for Adult Only tours during that 2-week time frame?” and that is how we wound up going on Backstage Magic.

Our plane on Monday had a 7:25am departure time from MCO (the tour didn’t actually begin until Tuesday afternoon, but with the questionable reliability of the airline industry nowadays, we figures it would be in our best interest to arrive a day earlier). I had all intentions of closing the Club on Sunday night (ahem, mission accomplished) and, with a 5:30am pick up from “Dad’s limo and taxi service,” I just stayed up after getting home from the AC…finished packing, caught up on a few websites, etc.

The drive to the airport was uneventful (save for my once-a-minute yawns; I had woken up at 10am Sunday morning and it was now almost 20 hours later), as was takeoff. And once we were safely in the air, I crashed into a handful of 60-to-90-minute naps.

As we were landing, the pilot had a special greeting for those who were from “Disney”, who would be flying home that evening. Yep, we apparently got on one of “the” Disney flights where Suits from FL shuttle to CA for meetings and then go back to FL on the same day, via the Red Eye. How fucking ridiculous is that? I mean honestly, I realize business people have to travel sometimes but I know this process is a regular occurrence. In this day and age of teleconferencing, why on earth can’t they figure out a more efficient way to handle this situation? Idiots.

Although we were arriving early, Adventures by Disney still had us covered and had a greeter, Tony, waiting for us when we got to Baggage Claim. He took our carry ons and then got our big suitcases…I need to share that Little Miss Independence was DYING because she wasn’t “allowed” to get her own suitcase off the conveyor belt (grin). Anyway, he loaded us and our stuff into a Town Car at 9:45am and we arrived at our hotel, the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel & Spa, at 10:30am. Check-in was a breeze and our room, although only on the 8th floor, had a GREAT view of the “HOLLYWOOD” sign.


The Renaissance Hollywood Hotel & Spa, as seen from the Hollywood & Highland complex. You can see the Hollywood sign through the breezeway of the building on the right


Above and below: our hotel’s lobby

Our room:


The view from our window

Breakfast has been paltry (Joe had a bagel, I had a half of a bagel) and we were both hungry, so we decided to get a snack at the Hollywood & Highland Center, which was connected to our hotel via walkway. We looked at the directory and HOLY CRAP, they had a Beard Papa!!! We fell in love with “that” style of cream puffs during our last trip to Japan, and then we discovered that Beard Papa was a worldwide chain that sold that very style of pastry treat. The closest one to us had been in NYC and we enjoyed ourselves during our last trip. But we had NO idea they had them in CA too (lots of them, actually – Check it out. Also notice the upcoming location in November! HAPPY DANCE!!!). So yeah, we ate dessert first. And THEN Joe got a sandwich (grin).


Beard Papa!!!

Naps notwithstanding, we were still VERY sleep deprived, so by 11:30am we were in bed and took a delicious 2.5-hour nap. When we woke up, I got the high speed access up and running and caught up on my computer-related stuff.

We left the room around 5pm to walk around for an hour or so and get a better idea of the stores and stops in the complex. Then, since it was starting to get a little dark out, we went back up to the room to drop off our sunglasses. A few minutes before 6pm, we got the call that my cousin and his family were in the lobby, so we could go out to dinner.

Eric (my mom’s sister’s eldest) is 4 days older than me and when we both lived in NY, we got along beautifully. Unfortunately, they moved to CA when we were 8 and although we kept in touch via letters for a few years, that sort of dropped off when we were 11 or so. We got back together when I visited L.A. in ’89 and it was like we picked up right where we left off. We keep in touch via IM nowadays and still try as hard as we can to get together every time Joe & I go to Southern California. This trip was no exception.

Since we had their 9-year-old and 12-year-old in tow, our eating options were a little limited but we agreed to go to a place Eric had visited in the past, uWink. Every table had 1 or more touch screens (our table sat 6 and had 3 such screens) and you ordered your meal and refills, as well as contacted your server through the screen menus. Once your food was served, there was also a variety of online games to play, movies previews to watch, etc. (not surprisingly, the founder of the restaurant also founded Chuck E. Cheese and Atari). The idea was novel, the food wasn’t bad and the company was great, so there was nothing to complain about.

When we were done eating, we walked around the complex some more, figuring out where to go for dessert. We finally agreed on Cold Stone (yay, twice in the same week for me!) and continued talking and catching up on old times. It was really nice to see them all again! The party broke up around 8:30pm, since the kids were getting a little slap happy, they had school tomorrow and they still had an hour-long drive home. So with hugs goodbye, we parted ways, them to the parking garage and us back to our room.

We had a VM on our phone when we got back to the room; “Quinn” from Adventures by Disney had heard we had checked in and waned to make sure everything was OK. He said he would be in the lobby tomorrow morning to meet people, starting at 10am. He also told us when and where our “welcome reception” was going to be. He said he also had some ABD gifts to give us (I’m assuming it’s the same suff we got last year…oh boy, another pin lanyard. Sigh.) and just needed our permission for him to enter our room to drop them off.

Welp, as of this writing it’s 9:10pm Pacific time, which means it’s 12:10am our time. And I’m still sleep deprived so I’m going to BED! So until tomorrow…

Backstage Magic ’08: More Hollywood, Checking In & Meeting Everyone, 9 to 5

Welp, we definitely must have been sleep deprived because we slept from 9:30pm until 8am! After being lazy for a little while, we got ready to start our day and just as we were getting ready to go down to the lobby to meet Quinn, we got a call on our phone – Quinn had out “welcome package” stuff and could he come up to the room? Well, sure! And not 10 seconds later, there was a knock on our door (grin). Cell phone as SO cool, hehehe. Anyway, he requested that we still come down to the lobby in a half-hour or so, to choose what we wanted for our lunch at the Henson Studios’ cafeteria tomorrow.

Our welcome package had some cool and not-so-cool stuff. Adventures by Disney-branded luggage tags, foldable bag, ball point pens, cooldanas, “Welcome Back” pins (we’re not “pin people” but the special touch of “welcome back to ABD”, as opposed to “Welcome to ABD” didn’t go unnoticed), some H2O-brand crap (already in the circular file), cheapo mister fans, and I forget what else.

After examining our stash, we went down to H&H to make a visit to Starbucks (as always, not as good of coffee than what I make, but at least it’s consistent) and then we caught Quinn in the lobby. I noticed his hair and wondered how it stood up so much better than “Sexy Cruise Joe’s” (grin).

After picking out lunch, we were on our own until 4pm. “Sleeping Beauty” was playing at El Capitan, so we went across the street and bought tickets for the 12:15pm showing. However with about an hour and a half until show time, we decided to go on a guided tour of the Kodak Theater. However we still had about a half hour before our tour started so we wasted some time in the Virgin Megastore. Wound up getting the Xanadu DVD and CD set for an insanely low price and, even better, not one but TWO new additions to my blasphemy collection. Go me!

The Kodak Theatre was built in 1991 and is the exclusive home of the Academy Award Ceremonies. Our tour guide brought us around the facility, offering stories of how the awards began, what the stars do on Oscar night, and brought us into their private lounge area and the actual theater. We couldn’t take any pictures inside the building but we all got postcards of the inside of the theater – I’ll scan it when we get home.

Our timing between the end of the tour and the beginning of Sleeping Beauty was perfect, even though it meant we had to miss about 10 minutes of the guy playing the Wurlitzer. Anyway, the movie was great – all digitally enhanced and clear as a bell – much better, I’m sure, than when I saw it on the screen when I was 6 or 7 (a local theater where I lived played virtually every Disney movie to date during the summers that I was 6 and 7). Pity the other people in the theater had no clue about movie etiquette…there was the busload of kids who continually were playing with their plastic wrapped something or others and the 2y/o who was running up and down the aisle next to me…both without any instructions from their respective adults to knock it off. Then there was the woman who insisted on taking FLASH pictures of the movie screen. I mean really, WTF??? Distractions notwithstanding though, we really enjoyed the movie.

We walked around for a little bit after the movie, to get a light bite to eat. We eventually settled on The Grill on Hollywood, where we shared a half wedge of lettuce and a herbed and broiled chicken breast…just what we needed to tide ourselves over until dinner.

We went back to the room and hung out for a little while and when it got close to 4pm, went downstairs to The Twist (the hotel’s lounge) to the ABD Meet & Greet.

We had already met Quinn but Julie was our “other” tour guide and she introduced herself while we picked up lanyards and ABD stickers with our names on them. There were snacks available, including crudite vegetables, fruit, cheese, crackers, soda and bottled water. After some quick socializing time, Quinn and Julie took control of the room to introduce themselves (both were DL CMs before coming on board with ABD, Quinn’s been with the company for almost 15 years, Julie for nearly 4) and then had each of us introduce ourselves, tell where we were from and what we were most looking forward to on the tour. Just as last year, we were among the youngest in the group, with most people in their later 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Almost all were, of course, Disney dorks or if not, are spouses/friends/travel partners of one. And one, coincidentally enough, is a patient of Joe’s! (I think he was kind of pleased that for once HE was the one who was recognized, instead of me, the Mean, Scary, Little Lady hehehe) Anyway, they also explained the rules about photography during the tour, since we would be in some places where cameras were off limits.

Once the meet & greet was over, we walked to Trastevere for dinner. It was an Italian restaurant in the H&H complex and we had a small banquet room to ourselves.

For entertainment and to act as something of an icebreaker, we had a DJ named Matt, who helped 4 volunteers compete in a Disney trivia contest (I didn’t volunteer because I’ve forgotten more Disney trivia than I remember, but most of the questions turned out to be really easy).

Dinner was plates of bread, salad and antipasto, with a choice of Chicken Marsala,veal, salmon or pasta with tomato sauce. I got the chicken while Joe got the salmon…both were good. We all had tiramasu for dessert.

Before we split up for the evening, Quinn and Julie gave us the low-down on where and what time to meet tomorrow and then, as a goodbye for the evening, we got “Backstage Magic” pins exclusive to this tour. Whoop-dee-doo.

So it’s 6:45pm and we have nothing on the schedule until 7:45 tomorrow morning. What to do, what to do. Joe had noticed before we went away that the soon-to-be-on-Broadway show, “9 to 5 The Musical”, was in previews and after some quick phone calls to make sure that tickets were available (and then order same…row N, seats 50 and 51), and talking to the Concierge to figure out how to get to the 8pm show as quickly and cheaply as possible (take the Red Line of subway/Metro and exit at the Civic Center), we were on our way.

We got to the theater with about 20 minutes to spare and started laughing when reading the Playbill…there were SO many people in the show we had seen before and/or had “Kevin Bacon” relationships with…

–We had seen Ann Harada in Avenue Q in London (but, amazingly, not during any of the 5 times we saw it on Broadway – she was either pregnant, off, or, the last time, gone)
–We saw Marc Kudisch is MANY shows on Broadway and Kurt introduced us to him when he gave us the backstage tour of Chitty.
–We saw Stephanie Block in Wicked at least once, possibly twice.
–Michael Mindlin was an Inventor in Chitty, which meant he knew Kurt.
–We saw Jessica Lea Patty in Chorus Line, which also meant she knew Nadine.

The entertainment industry is SO tiny!

Anyway, we really, REALLY like the show, as well as the music (pity they didn’t have an OBC recording yet), and are pretty confident it will do well on Broadway. It struck me as a shoe-in for a traveling production one of these days, but time will tell for sure.

Getting back to our hotel was a piece of cake (OK, except for taking the wrong train for one stop and then waiting for our train again, grin) and bed was calling. With a 6:30am wake up call, we listened!