Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hoop Dee Doo Revue

The Hoop Dee Doo Revue is one of my favorite dinner shows at Walt Disney World.  The show is like no other on Disney World property, save for the long retired Diamond Horseshoe Revue.  Billed as “an old-fashioned dinner show that includes foot-stompin' music, nostalgic comedy and an all-you-care-to-eat dinner”, the HDDR is the longest running show at Disney World.  I dare anyone to not leave the show without a smile on their face.  It’s corny, silly and fun!

Pioneer Hall
The HDDR takes place in Pioneer Hall at the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, just a short boat ride from the Magic Kingdom.  The show opened in 1974 and has run almost continuously since, making it one of the longest running musicals in America theatre history.  The show itself is a Frontier theme vaudeville-style dinner show full of singing, dancing and comedy routines.  Pioneer Hall has a stage at the front of the room, with tables on floor level with additional tables in a balcony that overlook the main floor.  Food service includes an all-you-can-eat salad, ribs, fried chicken, assorted sides and strawberry shortcake served family style at your table in metal buckets which are plopped down in front of you when you least expect it.  Unlimited soft drinks, coffee, tea, milk, beer, wine and sangria are also included.  For the kids that may not like ribs and chicken, typically Disney child-friendly food is available for the asking.

Metal plates, bowls & buckets
It's as big as her head!

HDDR performers
The show consists of the three female and three male character performers: Six Bits Slocum and Dolly Drew (comic relief), Jim Handy and Flora Long (the singers), and Johnny Ringo and Claire de Lune (the dancers).  The entertainers interact with the audience throughout the show, and even serve dessert at the close of the show while singing the Strawberry Shortcake song!

The Hoop Dee Doo is memorable because for me it embodies all things “Disney” - great showmanship in a family friendly format.  The characters are memorable (who can't forget the giggle?), the jokes (while corny) are funny, the actors are talented, and the laughter is contagious.  I’ve seen the show 5 or 6 times, as a kid and an adult, and it never changes but is still just as good as the first time.

For the first time guest, I would recommend the HDDR only if you have time.  The show runs close to 2 hours and with travel time; you can expect it to burn an entire evening.  Have an Advanced Dining Reservation and plan accordingly, but give it a try sometime.  I think you will be pleasantly surprised!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Basin White in the Grand Floridian

Located on the second level of the Grand Floridian Resort, just inside the doors that lead to the monorail station, is a bath and body products shop, Basin White.  Basin White is part of the Basin chain with products sold online and at few select locations in the United States.  There is a Basin shop in the Downtown Disney Marketplace. 

Basin White is a premium version of Basin with its product inventory made with higher quality ingredients, as well as unique items that can’t be found in the other locations. 

The store itself is attractive and inviting.  Styled in black and white tile, with the appearance of an upscale Victorian bathroom, the store fits in well with the Grand Floridian theme.  The layout of the store is long and skinny, and filled with an assortment of bath and body products ranging from lotions, salts/scrubs, soaps, and body bombs.  The store is accessorized with sinks, a claw foot tub, white cabinets, and marble counters. 

Basin White offers a large variety of fresh cut soaps, including the popular Mickey ears soap which is sold only at the WDW locations.  Priced at around $6.99 for a slice of approximately 100 grams, these make for inexpensive, unique and functional gifts.  The assortment of fresh cut soaps is amazing, and interesting.  In addition to milk-based and other specialty soaps, Basin White sells fresh cut glycerin soap with a variety of cute designs processed into the soap, most notably being the mickey ears. 

Another product sold only at the Disney locations is the Mickey-ears Bath Bombs.  A Bath Bomb looks like a hardened scoop of ice cream, which when placed in a bath, bubbles and fizzes adding essential oils and aroma to your tub.  The Mickey themed bath bombs include Mickey-ear confetti throughout the product.  Another cute gift at a moderate price for yourself or your favorite cousin, dog watcher, or house-sitter. 

In addition, Basin White sells a variety of spa accessory products, salts/scrubs, lotions, and body perfumes.  Samples are provided throughout the store to “try” the products.  The body salt scrub will make your hands feel so soft and smell delicious!

All Basin White products are made in the US, with no parabens, alcohol, or mineral oils.  Also, their products are not tested on animals.    

If you are a resort guest, you can have your purchases shipped to your room; however, because Basin is not an Disney affiliated store, it will take longer.  Please be sure to ask the cashier.  If you have a concern about what can be returned home with you in your carry-on vs. checked luggage, be sure to ask.  The staff at Basin White are well versed with the TSA rules governing their products. 

I could spend a lot of time and money in Basin white.  The aroma of the store is amazing and relaxing.  If you want an at-home spa experience, Basin White is the place to go while at the WDW resort.  A great place tucked away in the corner of the Grand Floridian, it is definitely worth checking out during a day of resort-hopping on the monorail. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday the 13th

Today is Friday the 13th and the witching season fast approaching.  I thought today would be appropriate to revisit my favorite queue at Walt Disney World -- Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

The story of the hotel, adapted from elements of the Twilight Zone television series, includes the hotel being struck by lightning on October 31, 1939, mysteriously transporting an elevator car full of passengers to the Twilight Zone and causing an entire wing of the building to disappear.  Disney Imagineers create an atmosphere that transports the guest from the hustle and bustle of Sunset Boulevard to the eerily abandoned Hollywood Tower Hotel in the Hollywood Hills.
According to Disney lore, the Hollywood Hotel opened in 1919.  It became a famous place for Hollywood and film star elite.  One day, on Halloween in 1939, the hotel was struck by lightning.  Part of the building was destroyed and 5 guests who had just entered the elevator disappeared.  All of the other guests ran out of the building in terror leaving all of their belongings behind. The Tower of Terror is left empty until 1994 when it mysteriously re-opens. To the bellhops and porters that work the hotel, it’s as if the hotel never closed.  While all this is never thoroughly explained during the attraction, you can easily see how the queue and pre-show ties itself into the backstory behind the Hollywood Hotel.  It’s quite an eerie atmosphere.
Guests enter the Hollywood Tower Hotel though the main entrance gate. The outdoor queue winds through the overgrown gardens of the hotel.  The outdoor queue takes you through gardens of broken stoneware and decaying plants.  

An empty fountain and cracked fountain awaits you at the entrance to the hotel. In the background you're listening to haunting melodies from the past by Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Vera Lynn, and other notables from that era.  And your eyes haven’t deceived you, that is fog rolling through the gardens.  Once inside the lobby, it is dimly-lit and covered in cobwebs and dust. There is a yellowing copy of the Los Angeles Examiner dated October 31, 1939, a table set with tea and stale pastries, several suitcases, and a cobwebbed owl sculpture surrounded by a circle of dead flowers that appears to be the centerpiece of the room.

Behind the front desk is a broken elevator, a sign still reads "Out of Order". Everything in the hotel has apparently been left undisturbed ever since it mysteriously closed decades ago. Guests are informed that their rooms are not quite ready yet. For the time being, guests are asked to simply enjoy themselves in the hotel's library. The library is full of not only books, but exotic antiques, a television, and plenty of Twilight Zone memorabilia. Through the window, you observe that there is a thunderstorm going on outside.  At this point, the pre-show starts with a lightning strike and the television coming on, apparently of its own accord.  The opening sequence of The Twilight Zone plays, followed by a supposedly "lost" episode. 
The attention to detail throughout the queue is amazing here.  Even if you can’t or don’t want to ride the attraction, please take time to traverse the queue and watch the pre-show.  Don’t worry, there is a chicken-out door for you.  Just ask any cast member.  As you travel the queue, you’ll feel as if you’ve entered into a hotel that was long since abandoned.  

Do you dare?

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Rest of the Railroads in the World

Wrapping his 3 part series about Railroads in Walt Disney World….

Howdy again all, this is League City Mouse’s brother with part three of my guest post series.  

Where else can you find railroads and references to railroads in Walt Disney World?


The Main Street USA railroad station has a nice collection of railroading memorabilia.  It is located under the station off the tunnel to the right as you enter the park.  In my opinion the paintings are the highlight of the exhibit.

Now on to “the rip roarinist ride in the west,” Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  So hang on to your hats and glasses folks as this train takes you on a ride at break neck speeds around and through Big Thunder Mountain and the town of Tumbleweed.  It is “pulled” by a replica engine, just for show, and guests ride in mine carts on this steel roller coaster ride.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

When you are in Fantasyland check out Casey Jr.’s circus train, but don’t get to close or you might just get wet.

Staying in Fantasyland there is the new Seven Dwarfs Mine.  No engine, but guests ride this roller coaster in replica mine carts that swing back and forth.  It promises to be tamer than Big Thunder Mountain Railroad but more adventurous than Goofy’s Barnstormer when it comes to the thrill factor.

Last, but definitely not least, is the “Behind The Steam” tour where you get to visit the roundhouse, hear stories about the WDW railroad and see the engines being prepped for the day, finally taking a private guided ride, all before the park opens.  Something that should be near the top of every Disney railfan’s bucket list, I know it is on mine.

This is not a good sign!

At the Animal Kingdom you will find 2 different railroads.

First is the Wildlife Express Train, the Eastern Star Railway, that works its way through the Africa section on a 1.2 mile 7-minute ride.  The engines are narrow gauge 2-4-2 and designed to look like engines built for the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway of England in 1898.  But these engines are diesel hydraulic, not steam.  A diesel hydraulic engine uses a diesel engine to run a hydraulic pump and it is the hydraulic fluid that drives the train.

The second is Expedition Everest, a rollercoaster ride like Big thunder Mountain Railroad, where on the Anandapur Rail Service riders race through and around the mountain and come face to face with the infamous Yeti.


EPCOT only has one real railroading feature and that is the LGB G scale model garden train between the German Pavilion and the Italian Pavilion.


Again not much railroading or railroading references in the Studios.  The only one I can think of is a kiosk on Sunset Blvd designed to look like an old Los Angeles Red Line Trolley. 


Railroading references can also be found at several of the resorts.

Let’s start with the Carolwood Pacific room at the Wilderness Villas.  In this room on the main floor you will find a replica of Walt’s original Lilly Belle, with other Carolwood Pacific memorabilia.

Right next door at the Wilderness Lodge one will find a replica hand cart that is being used to hold fire wood for the amazing Grand Canyon fireplace, a whole another blog post in itself.

And who can forget the monorail system?


Probably the most notable and infamous extinct railroad at Walt Disney World is the Fort Wilderness Railroad.  Built by Disney, this scaled down real steam railroad ran on a loop through the Fort Wilderness Campground.  Designed and built by MAPO, the railroad had rough life.  Those that designed and built the train were apparently not real versed in railroads for the design was plagued with several issues that eventually spelled its demise.  Those issues were: barely sufficient water for a round trip, too many grade (street) crossings, a track bed set on the soil that lead to the rails shifting causing derailments and using inexperienced cast members to operate the train.  All of these were too much to overcome.

As far as other extinct railroad references when the World of Motion in EPCOT was a first opened it was a tame ride through, not the pedal to the metal Test Track it is now, it took the riders through the history of transportation.  In one scene a train in the old west is being held up by bandits.

And one of my personal favorite railroad encounters in the Magic Kingdom was in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride where after breaking through the crossing arms and turning onto the tack the train “hits” you and you go straight to he…, well you know where.


When at Walt Disney World look high and look low and you can find many references to railroading, one of Walt’s favorite hobbies.

And if you wish to learn more you can seek out Michael Broggie’s book “Walt Disney's Railroad Story: The Small-Scale Fascination That Led to a Full-Scale Kingdom.”

Thanks all for reading this and thanks for letting me share some of this knowledge with your readers League City Mouse!

Till next time.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Live Steam in the World

Howdy again all!  This is League City Mouse’s brother with part two of my guest post, "Live Steam in the World"

With Walt’s passing in 1966, it was up to his brother Roy to carry on the torch for The Florida Project.  But one thing was for sure, steam trains would be involved.  Just like Electric Park in Kansas City when Walt was growing up and Disneyland later on, nostalgic steam trains would circle the park.


An opening day attraction, the Walt Disney World Railroad (WDWR) runs on a 3 foot narrow gauge track, the same as Disneyland.  Narrow gauge refers to track being set closer together than the US standard gauge (4ft 8 1/2in).

The track is 1.48 miles long (7817ft) and a full circuit takes approximately twenty minutes.

Originally, there were only two stops on the route, the Main Street USA Station and the Frontierland Station, a third station for Mickey’s Birthdayland, now the Fantasyland Station, was added in 1989.  The next major change was the controversial move of the Frontierland Station in 1990-1991 to make way for Splash Mountain.  Originally one could see all the way to the station when one entered Frontierland from Liberty Square.  This was done deliberately to mimic the fact that as the west opened, often the train tracks and station where one of, if not, the most important structures in these new western towns.  They were the link to the rest of the world.  The station is now, in my opinion, in a far worse location and hard to find.

If one gets a chance take some time and explore the stations as they are full of all kinds of details and nest stuff to find, along with few hidden Mickey’s I bet!

Normally there are only two trains on the route at a time but during especially busy periods a third train can be pressed into service.


WDWR has 4 engines each pulling a tender and 5 custom built coaches that can seat over 300 guests.

The engines and tenders were rescued from the United Railways of Yucatan (Ferrocarriles Unidos de Yucat√°n) in Yucatan, Mexico and shipped by rail to the Tampa Shipyards in Tampa, Florida in 1969 where they were restored by Disney.

Engine Number 1
Name: Walter E. Disney
Wheel Configuration: 4-6-0
Color: Red Cab/Red Boiler
Manufacturer: Baldwin Locomotive Works
Year Built: 1925
United Railways of Yucatan Engine Number: 274
Note: This engine is serial number is 58444 and the Roger E. Broggie is 58445 making them “twins.”

Engine Number 2
Name: Lilly Belle
Wheel Configuration: 2-6-0
Color: Green Cab/Green Boiler
Manufacturer: Baldwin Locomotive Works
Year Built: 1928
United Railways of Yucatan Engine Number: 260
Note: The Lilly Belle does not run in regular service, usually it is only used for the rope drop ceremony and if one of the other engines goes down.  Currently this engine is out for service.

Engine Number 3
Name: Roger E. Broggie
Wheel Configuration: 2-6-0
Color: Red Cab/Green Boiler
Manufacturer: Baldwin Locomotive Works
Year Built: 1925
United Railways of Yucatan Engine Number: 275
Note: Named after imagineer Roger E. Broggie.  This engine is serial number is 58445 and the Walter E. Disney is 58444 making them “twins.”

Engine Number 4
<insert photo>
Name: Roy O. Disney
Wheel Configuration: 4-4-0
Color: Green Cab/Red Boiler
Manufacturer: Baldwin Locomotive Works
Year Built: 1916
United Railways of Yucatan Engine Number: 251
Note: This was the only engine not operational at opening day.  Roy Disney was offered to have engine number 3 named after him, it being the “twin” to the Walter E. Disney, but he deferred saying he "didn't want to be compared to all the great things Walt had done."

There was a 5th engine purchased but it was determined to be too far gone and was sold and eventually scrapped.


Starting at the Main Street USA Station the route is a clockwise trip around the Magic Kingdom.

View of the Seven Seas Lagoon as
the train is leaving Main Street
As the engineer sounds two short blasts of the whistle, indicating he is ready to depart, the train pulls out of the station.  To the riders left, since the station and train are two stories above the lagoon, is a wonderful panoramic view of Seven Seas Lagoon and the associated resorts.

As the train chugs out of the station you proceed thru the ever increasing “back jungle” of the Jungle Cruise, mostly bamboo.  When you hear the engineer sound two long, one shot and one long blast of the whistle you know you are about to cross Caribbean Way, the access road for Pirates Of The Caribbean and Jungle Cruise.

Next we come to the first of two tunnels; this one is disguising the Pirates Of The Caribbean building.  As  you go thru the tunnel it you are actually traveling over the ride.

Ever wonder what that drop in Pirates is all about?  That is it - to get under the railroad tracks.  Most of the actual Pirates attraction is outside the perimeter of the railroad tracks and the flume drop is the mechanism to get the guests to that lower level.

After exiting the tunnel back out into the Florida sunshine, or rain, or night, again it is only a short jaunt before crossing the road going into Frontierland where the Magic Kingdom parades originate.

Into another tunnel, this time going under Splash Mountain before emerging for a stop at the Frontierland Station.

View of BTMRR from the train
As you leave the Frontierland Station, one of the other WDW railroads is on the right, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (BTMRR).  At the base of Big Thunder Mountain is the hamlet of Tumbleweed, population “dried up.”  The train is a great way to see the many things going on there as it travels at a much more leisurely pace than the manic BTMRR.

As a side note my sister and I have often have wondered exactly what is the hand of the cards left on the table in the Miner’s Hall?

Leaving the great Southwest behind we cross the swing bridge that lets boats onto the Rivers of America and off into a trackless forest wilderness.  On this section you may see the steamboat plying the Rivers of America, an encampment of Native Americans, some very stiff deer, a shack on the river and the infamous “burned out” house.

As we come around behind Fantasyland you get to enjoy some “native” Florida with lots of pine trees, sloughs and swampy areas.

Crossing under Center Drive you approach the “Y” that leads back to the roundhouse, which is reality not round, and then the Fantasyland Station.

After a stop to pick up passengers and provisions you are once again on your way.

To the right one will see the racers dueling it out on the Grand Prix Raceway indicating we are moving into the future.  And speaking of future ahead and on the left is Space Mountain.  The train goes under the Tomorrowland People Mover but over the entrance to Space Mountain, that is why when entering and leaving Space Mountain you go down then back up.

As you continue your journey thru a nicely kept and cut lawn area you can see to your left the Contemporary Resort.

And for the last time you cross another access road, this one going to cast parking behind Main Street USA and Tomorrowland.

Finishing up your trek you pull back into the Main Street USA Station, completing your grand circle tour of the Magic Kingdom.

Main Street Station circa 1989


The WDWR was at various times a “C” or “D” ticket attraction when there were ticket books.

Next time, we finish up with other WDW railroads.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

It All Started with a Train?

Howdy all, this is League City Mouse’s brother with a guest post.  Like your gracious host, I am also a big Disney fan and have been for years.  Heck, I even got engaged at the California Grill!  I am also a bit of a “railfan”.  What is a railfan you ask?  Per Wikipedia, a railfan “is a person interested in a recreational capacity in rail transport.”

Most people are familiar with the quote by Walt Disney about it all being started by a mouse, which is true of the company, but it can be argued that the parks were started, at least in part, by a train.


Walt’s association with trains goes back to his early childhood.  When Walt was a young boy at the turn of the 20th century the train, more specifically steam train, was the most common form of longer distance travel and it was by rail that Walt’s father Elias took his family on in 1906 to their new farm in Marceline, Missouri.  The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe ran thru Marceline on which Walt’s uncle Michael Martin was an engineer.  It was here as a young boy he started developing his love of trains and railroading.  

While the Disney's only stayed in Marceline for four years, Walt often credited that time as being the most formative and happiest of his early life.

Next stop for the Disney family was Kansas City.  Kansas City was a large railroad hub; by 1914 it had 12 railway lines entering the city and had one of the largest railroad stations in the country with the main building covering 15 acres.  Also there was Electric Park that Walt visited often.  Electric Park was one of the largest amusement parks in the US and, among other things, it was ringed by a scenic railroad.  Sound familiar?

When Elias decided it was time to move again, Walt chose to stay in Kansas City and get a job with the Van Noyes Interstate News Co. as a “news butcher” selling papers, candy and sodas to the customers on the Missouri Pacific train running between Kansas City and Denver.  He was only 15.  While this endeavor was a financial flop for Walt, he did impress the engineers and conductors who taught the eager young man about train operations including running the engine.

Jumping ahead to 1928 Walt was returning to Los Angeles on the Santa Fe from New York where he had just lost the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.  It was on this train ride that he conceived a little mouse character, Mortimer the Mouse.  After some input from his wife Lillian the mouse’s name was changed to Mickey, Mickey the Mouse.

As the years went on and the studio continued to have success and grow Walt was looking for a hobby to relieve the tension that came with helming a growing studio.  Following the suit of many Hollywood elite he took up Polo.  Walt was apparently an average player at best until he was hit in the neck by the ball and cracked several vertebra ending his polo career.  This injury would plague Walt the rest of his life.

Next he tried golf, but just could not seem to get into it.

One evening in July of 1948 When Walt was receiving his massage from studio nurse Hazel George she suggest since he liked trains that he go to the Chicago Train Fair that year.  Walt thought it over and decided it was a good idea but did not want to go alone and Hazel again came to the rescue suggesting that he take Ward Kimball, one of his “nine old men” (Walt’s core team of animators).

Ward was the first person in the US to have a full size private railroad in his backyard, the Grizzly Flats Railroad.

Realizing his love of trains, especially steam trains, but realizing he did not have the space to indulge in full size Walt gravitated to miniature live steam trains.  When looking for property for a new home in the Carolwood neighborhood of the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles he took the topographic plats of the property to Eddie Sargent to see if a scale railroad would work there.

Finding out that it would be suitable for a railroad, Walt and Lillian went ahead with the purchase and Walt began designing his railroad.  It would become known as the Carolwood Pacific.  While Lillian was supportive of Walt’s hobby there was one area where she held fast that he could not run the train thru where she planned her flowerbed.  In typical out-of-the-box Disney, thinking Walt decided he could just run a tunnel under the flowerbed and did so.  With the help of the machine shop at the studios Walt built many of the components and cars for the railroad, naming the engine the Lilly Belle.

Still the miniature railroad was not enough, plus Walt was working on another idea, a little something called Disneyland.

Now Walt could have his full size railroad.  Just like Electric Park, it would circle the park to give guests a grand tour and with the tracks on a berm to limit the views into and out of the park.  Walt knew he wanted to have control of the trains, his own little play toy, so they did not belong to Disneyland or Disney Productions, instead they were owned and operated by a company Walt created called RETLAW, Walter spelled backwards.  This allowed him complete control over the trains and the monorail.

Often Walt would take over from the engineer and actually drive the Disneyland trains with guests on board.

Beyond Disneyland and Walt’s home railroads, numerous Disney films have featured trains, among them Dumbo (Casey Jr. the circus train) and The Great locomotive Chase (American Civil War based live action with Fess Parker).

….next time, live steam at Walt Disney World.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Journey Into Imagination

One of my favorite original EPCOT attractions, "Journey Into Imagination" opened on March 5th, 1983. In 1998 the attraction closed for a major refurbishment and The Dreamfinder left for good.  While Figment remained, his role wasn't expanded until 2001 with the attraction became "Journey into Imagination with Figment".  I still miss the original theme song, "One Little Spark", as sung by The Dreamfinder and composed by the famous Sherman Brothers.  

"Two tiny wings, eyes big and yellow.
Horn of a steer, but a lovable fellow.
From head to tail, he's royal purple pigment.
And there, Viola!, you've got a Figment!"