A Golden Celebration for Disney Theme Parks

by Deb Wills
ALL EARS® Editor-in-Chief

Feature Article

This article appeared in the May 11, 2004, Issue #242 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

As announced in last week's issue (May 4, 2004, Issue #241), I attended Disneyland's 50th Anniversary Kickoff Press Event as a guest of MouseEarVacations.com executive Beci Mahnken. Throughout the two-day affair, Senior Editor Debra Martin Koma put my phoned-in reports and photos online, so we could share the happenings with you as they unfolded. Two major events were on the itinerary: the official opening of Disney's California Adventure's Twilight Zone Tower of Terror on May 4, and the 50th Anniversary announcement ceremony at the foot of the Sleeping Beauty Castle on May 5.

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TOWER OF TERROR
GRAND OPENING
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Our two-day journey into the magic of Disneyland began at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 4, as all invited media and guests found their way to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot area of Disney's California Adventure. Each of us walked down the red carpet into a "food and beverage reception" area and then watched as the celebrities made their way down the red carpet toward the Tower of Terror. I was able to standbehind the row of press photographers and obtain some pictures of the arriving celebrities. (For a few brief moments, I got to "live the life of the paparazzi." No offense, but I'm glad I chose a different career!) The celebrity list included David Hasselhoff, Nia Vardalos, Tyra Banks and Melissa Joan Hart, to name just a few. (And I could only name just a few -- a lot of the guests were young stars of Disney Channel programs who I didn't recognize!) Each was escorted along the red carpet by a made-up Tower of Terror bellhop, and it was fun to watch the celebs ham it up with their ghostly companions.

Once everyone had arrived, we were able to make our way to the base of the Tower of Terror. A band played nostalgic tunes and there were hors d'oeuvres and beverages available. The hotel was dimly lit and a stage was set up in front of the attraction. Lit with dark blues, the Hollywood Tower Hotel logo provided the backdrop. As the Opening Ceremony began, we were welcomed with a huge balloon on which the image of Rod Serling was projected. After the image of "Rod" greeted us, Michael Eisner launched the event saying, "We are always looking to create new technology to dazzle our guests as never before!" Also present was Carol Serling, Rod's widow, who said, "Thank you for bringing this to California. Rod would be delighted to know his Fifth Dimension brought such joy." Fireworks then exploded from the middle of the Hollywood Tower Hotel itself! The crowd moved forward into the hotel.

The storyline for DCA's Tower of Terror goes as follows: The Hollywood Tower Hotel first opened its doors in 1928 and was a huge hit with the Hollywood community. The hotel was elegant and imposing, styled in Pueblo Deco motif. However, in 1939 a mysterious occurrence forced it to close. One stormy night, as the elevator ascended, lightning struck the hotel and plunged the elevator's five terrified passengers to certain doom. However, this was no ordinary storm, and before the elevator reached the bottom, it and its passengers disappeared! The hotel emptied immediately and remained vacant, undisturbed, until now...

As you can see, the premise for California's attraction is basically the same as the Walt Disney World version, but there are some differences and a few twists. The boiler room queue is much more elaborate at DCA, with an extensive array of period props and furniture from the Hollywood of days gone by. In the Library and the Boiler Room you can spot items from original Twilight Zone episodes, including a gold thimble from "The After Hours" starring Anne Francis, a miniature space man from "The Invaders" starring Agnes Moorehead, and much more.

As Beci Mahnken (MouseEarVacations.com) and I reported at the conclusion of our first drop, "The ride is cool! Very cool, but different. It's the same story and atmosphere, but the motion is different. There are some great special effects -- at one point you're looking into a mirror, then everyone turns into a ghost, then suddenly it all disappears! We understand that there are different sequences, but we've only had the chance to ride once so far."

The queue is actually bilevel, and to go to the upper level, you have to climb stairs. There are three different shafts, with one on the upper level. I think the actual drop sequencing is about the same time-wise as WDW's Tower of Terror. One thing for sure is that the drop shaft is more illuminated than it is in Florida, so you don't have the complete sense of darkness or the ultimate "terror" and uncertainty if you are going up or down in the elevator.

In an interview the next day, Barry Bravermann, Senior Vice President, Executive Producer at Walt Disney Imagineering, told me that they knew from the start that this attraction would be added to Disney's California Adventure. The Tower of Terror, he said, "embodies all the things Imagineering is good at doing." His favorite part of the new attraction? His eyes lit up and a smile came across his face as he replied, "The boiler room... the sounds in the boiler room make it come alive." Other Disney officials intimated over the course of the Press Event that the Tower of Terror would eventually make its way to Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland as well.

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50TH ANNIVERSARY
ANNOUNCEMENTS
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With its clear blue skies and California sunshine, the day couldn't have provided a more perfect setting for this event. By 9:30 a.m. photographers and staff writers were in their seats, flanking the center area in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle that was reserved for the special guests. Promptly at 10 a.m. the show began.

The two large monitors came alive with the musical refrain "When You Wish upon a Star," and the voice of Walt Disney himself introducing his dream of Disneyland to the world. Singers and dancers filled the stage for a musical opening, complete with video clips of Walt, his brother Roy and the theme parks, and ending with a short burst of fireworks at the Castle.

Disney President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Iger then took the stage and officially announced the global celebration plans for Disneyland's golden anniversary. Screens reflected the images of former television host Art Linkletter and then-actor Ronald Reagan, who were present at the opening of Disneyland back in 1955, pointing out Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. As the on-screen images of Walt Disney and Art Linkletter walked arm-in-arm toward the castle, the REAL Art Linkletter walked onto the stage. The 93-year-old TV legend reminisced on the theme park's opening, and said that Walt was "dreaming of this kind of an affair for many, many years, to please the families of America."

Jay Rasulo, President, Disney Parks and Resorts, came on stage to announce the biggest event in Disney theme park history -- the global celebration of Disneyland's 50th birthday. Both in person and on screen, Disney theme park ambassadors talked about what new attractions and shows their parks would unveil as part of the celebration.

With the help of Tinker Bell, we were transported to Orlando, where Walt Disney World's Ambassador Sara Bishop formally announced that each of the four theme parks there would debut a new attraction or show. Highlights included the import of Cinderellabration, direct from Tokyo Disneyland Resort, where the princess will begin her "Happily Ever After" with music and majesty. Animal Kingdom will debut a new walk-around character, Lucky the Dinosaur, the first ever free-roaming audio-animatronics figure who will greet guests and sign autographs in DinoLand USA. These two surprises were in addition to the previously announced Soarin' in Epcot (replicated from Disney's California Adventure), Expedition Everest at the Animal Kingdom, and Lights, Motors, Action -- Extreme Stunt Show at the Disney-MGM Studios (inspired by a show at Walt Disney Studios Paris).

From Disneyland Paris, Ambassador Samira Boulanlouj told us that WDW's highly popular Wishes fireworks inspired the new show that will light up their skies nightly during the summer of 2005. Tokyo Disney Resort's Yoko Inutsuka presented a sneak peek of a brand new roller coaster with incredible special effects, currently called the Lost River Delta Thrill Attraction, expected to open in Tokyo DisneySea during the summer of 2005. Hong Kong Disneyland's Director of Marketing, Jennifer Chua, explained that the legacy of Walt will continue into the future when the latest theme park opens in late 2005/early 2006, "demonstrating how Disney Magic can cross geographical and cultural borders, bringing people and families closer together."

And finally, Disneyland's Ambassador Becky Murphy told the audience that Disneyland itself will receive: a brand new parade, Walt Disney's Parade of Dreams, with more than 100 performers bringing to life favorite Disney films; a new fireworks spectacular, Remember... Dreams Come True, which celebrates the E-ticket attractions at Disneyland; the already announced Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters; a re-Imagineered Space Mountain; and a new exhibit at the Main Street Opera House in Town Square for "Disneyland, the First 50 Years." This exhibit will showcase the amazing journey Walt's dream has taken since it began, and will include models, maps and a brand new film. Additionally, Disney's California Adventure will introduce a new guest experience called Block Party Bash.

Sleeping Beauty Castle will be "gowned in swaths of richly colored banners, bejeweled with precious stones, trimmed in gold and topped by five regal turret crowns representing the five decades of Disneyland." At night, the castle will be transformed into a canvas of ever-changing whimsical colors and imagery. Disney Imagineer Barry Bravermann explained to me that it was very important for them to give the castle transformation the elegance befitting such a revered icon. He said the initial work will begin on the castle this summer and the final step of "bejeweling the castle" will occur as late as possible, just before the official start of the 50th anniversary celebration.

Jay Rasulo stepped back on stage making official the rumors that had been circulating for months, that the Disney Magic will head west for the summer of 2005 with 12 week-long cruises of the Mexican Riviera. Disney Cruise Line Captain Tom Forberg introduced the new sailing itinerary that begins May 28, 2005, when the Magic sets sail from the Port of Los Angeles, to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas.

Rasulo also introduced Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who made the surprise introduction of the honorary ambassador for Disneyland's 50th Anniversary -- Dame Julie Andrews. Andrews walked from Sleeping Beauty's Castle to the tune of the Mary Poppins' classic tune "A Spoonful of Sugar." She shared her fond memories of seeing Disneyland for the very first time with Walt as her host and tour guide.

The event concluded with a stage full of Disney characters, Eisner, Linkletter and Andrews, confetti and fireworks! The 18-month celebration begins one year from the event, May 5, 2005.

For photos from the press event, visit: http://allears.net/news/pe_cal2.htm

To read the reports Deb filed during the event, visit: http://allears.net/news/pe_cal1.htm


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.