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D23 Saturday Trip Report

By Kari Harrison
Published: September 14, 2009 at 9:36 PM
My day at the D23 Expo did not get off to a good start. After waking up at 5am on a Saturday morning and taking the long journey on public transportation from West LA to Anaheim, I arrived at the convention center a little after 8:30. I made my way up the escalator to the Storyteller’s theater for the 9am “So You Want To Be An Imagineer” presentation, and I was shocked at the length of the line to get in. There had to be at least 500 people in line, with more people constantly trickling in. They made an announcement at 8:50 that the capacity of the theater was only 350, and most of the people in line would not get in. Once the theater was full, they opened an overflow room where you could watch the presentation from a TV, but that also quickly filled to capacity, and I was left with disappointed with at least a hundred other fans. After a few failed attempts to sneak in, I finally accepted the fact that I would have to find something else to do. I took the opportunity to visit the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Pavilion.

This was probably the most interesting thing I did all day. The first area was dedicated to the new cars land – with a 1:50 scale model of the new Radiator Springs Racers, and some concept art for the land. I have not visited the Blue Sky Cellar, but I imagine you can see pretty similar stuff there. They did however have a mock-up of the Lightning McQueen character. It’s done in the same way as the Mr. Potato head character at Midway Mania. Of course as soon as I took my camera out to take a picture I realized it had been open in my bag all morning and was now out of batteries (hence the picture-less report). There were several interesting exhibits on the evolution of animatronics. One showed the original control panels compared to the current one. They also had the original Mr. Lincoln animatronic from Disneyland. But the big ticket item was the unveiling of the new “Autonomotronic.” This is an animatronic with facial recognition, voice recognition, and the ability to make decisions in real time. In the demonstration it was able to detect people who were smiling, hear and repeat guest’s names, and recognize when they said specific words, like colors. I talked to one of the guys who worked on it and he said the technology is still very new and they haven’t really decided what to do with it yet.

Another new item they had was called Storyteller’s Sandbox. They were doing play testing at the expo of this new demonstration. Six blackjack like tables were set up in a room, with a cast member working at each. The tables were filled with “magic sand.” A man was at the front of the room, telling a story, and then images were projected on to the sand. With the help of the cast member, the guests could shape the sand so that the images looked more life like. For example, in my group we were talking about Hawaii, and we created a topographic map of the island of Oahu out of the sand. It was interesting, and different, but I can’t think of anything they would use it for. There were also models of the new resort at Ko Olina, Hawaii, and the two new Disney cruise ships.

At the end they had an exhibit on the expansion for Hong Kong Disneyland, adding a Toy Story Land, Mystic Point, and Grizzly Trail. The big ticket attractions from each are the RC Racers, Mystic Manor, and Grizzly Mountain Coaster, respectively. No information was really given on the RC Racers, but Mystic Manor is a new, Haunted Mansion type ride, but with a more elaborate story of a collector and his curious pet monkey who accidentally opens this enchanted music box. Each room will have a theme, like Chinese artifacts, or ancient masks, and these intimate objects will come to life when the magic music reaches it. There will also be more rooms than you can see in one ride, so each ride will be different. Grizzly Mountain Coaster is sort of a combination between Thunder Mountain and Expedition Everest. It is a launching coaster, with a backwards section that sounds similar to Everest, but it’s set in a runaway mine car. However, unlike both rides it will go all over the Grizzly Trail land, instead of being contained to a smaller mountain. It was described to me as if you unraveled Thunder Mountain and spread it around all of Frontier Land.

The highlight of the Future of Parks and Resorts presentation was the Fantasyland expansion, which was already talked about earlier today. They also announced the addition of two more cruise ships to the Disney Cruise Line, and that the Disney Wonder will be moving the west coast. There was also mention of an addition at Castaway Cay. Then of course the announcement of Star Tours. They showed a clip from the new ride which was a scene from Episode 1 with the pod racers.

After that I went to the Science of Imagineering presentation. It was originally designed for little kids, so the science part wasn’t too advanced, but it was certainly entertaining. They did show a new gadget that was pretty cool – it is a speaker that projects such a high frequency, you can’t hear it until the sound wave hits your ear directly and vibrates off of your skull. It basically makes it seem like the sound is coming from inside your head.

The last presentation I went to was on the evolution of It’s a Small World. The most interesting part was when they were explaining the reasons they decided to put characters into the Disneyland version. This was because every so often, the rides need to be completely refurbished and restored. In this particular case, the flume was still the original one from the 1964 World’s Fair, and it needed a complete overhaul. Whenever a ride is going to be closed for a long time like this, they find it necessary to add something to the ride, so that guests can feel excited about something new, instead of disappointed that something is closed. This was the case for Pirates, and it was also the case for Small World.

The “Making of the US Presidents” presentation was rescheduled for later in the day, so I wasn’t able to make it, but I spent the rest of my afternoon walking around the showroom and looking at the different stores, collections, and exhibits. There are a few kinks that I think will have to be worked out before next year. Every presentation was full to capacity, with many people being turned away. And with every presentation only being shown once, this created a lot of unhappy people. The staff was all extremely friendly, but there seemed to be little communication between staff members, when I asked multiple people the same question, I always got different answers.

All in all, it was a really good day. I enjoyed the presentations I was able to go to, and the Theme Park exhibit was really interesting and a lot of fun. I will definitely be returning next year.

Readers' Opinions

From Robert Niles on September 14, 2009 at 9:44 PM
Thanks, Kari!
From James Rao on September 15, 2009 at 8:26 PM
Almost missed this report amongst all the new posts!

Kari, I appreciate the in-depth Expo report. It makes me a little less jealous of you for being able to attend since I can live vicariously through your experience.

Nice work!

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