I just got back from a long weekend at Walt Disney World. Mama Darling and I attended the D23 event called Destination D. D23 is the official Disney fan club and two years ago they began a special event called Destination D at Walt Disney World. That event was amazing, so as soon as this year’s event was announced, I bought tickets. The tickets are expensive, but worth every penny we spent, as we were provided with very unique and exclusive experiences.
The theme of this year’s event was Amazing Adventures, and presentations were focused around this theme. We arrived at the Contemporary Convention Center and checked in on Friday.
Here’s what we got in our swag bag:
Attendees were the first people to receive the new Magic Band 2, which is going to be rolled out across the WDW resort very soon. It features a removable puck which can be placed in lanyards, key chains, etc. This new technology is supposed to create more personalization moving into the future. The magic band itself is much more lightweight and flexible, and I found it easier to use on the touch interfaces throughout the resort.
We were up bright and early Saturday morning and very excited for the day’s events. The presentations were held in the Fantasia Ballroom, and we were not allowed to take any pictures inside of the presentations. It was nice because everyone had their devices away! First up was a conversation with Bob Chapek, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. He talked about the focus on guest experience and placing guests in an even bigger Disney bubble. For me, the biggest announcement was that major changes are coming to Epcot. While nothing specific was announced, he said that it will be more “Disney,” more relevant, timeless, more family, and true to the original vision. I’m looking forward to hearing more about these changes as we approach Epcot’s 35th anniversary next year.
Next up was an interesting look back at Disney’s True Life Adventures movies. It was interesting to learn about how the filmmakers lived in the wild for years at a time, how they respected the animals and their habitats, and how they invented different gadgets to help with filming.
We were then treated to a presentation by Disney Legend, Marty Sklar. He talked about the design of Adventureland in Disneyland. I loved when he said that Walt wanted every square inch of the park to be part of the show, immersed in details. This is one of the ways that Disney parks are unique, and it is clear that today’s Imagineers still follow this vision. He shared many details about the landscape and attraction design of the Jungle Cruise. For example, Adventureland was supposed to be on the other side of the park, but they moved it to make use of native eucalyptus trees. They also rescued palm trees that were going to be destroyed by freeway construction and moved them to Adventureland. Marty also said that since the show figures were constructed offsite, it was common to see the animals heading down the freeway towards Disneyland. Marty Sklar has amazing stories to tell and it really is amazing to be able to hear stories from someone who worked directly with Walt!
The next presentation was by several Imagineers including Disney Legend Tony Baxter, and it focused on the Adventurelands around the world. Each park’s Adventureland is based on its culture. For example, the Adventureland in Disneyland Paris is Arabian themed because of their strong interest in Far East fairy tales. My favorite fun fact from this presentation is that the guests at Shanghai Disneyland are obsessed with turkey legs. They wait in line for hours, and the park often sells out of their supply within a few hours each day. This presentation was followed up with “Tales from the Jungle Cruise.” This featured several current Imagineers who began their Disney careers as Jungle Cruise skippers. They had plenty of amusing tales to tell.
Next was a discussion of the Polynesian Resort, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary along with the Magic Kingdom this year. I like how the updates at this resort include a lot of original design work, including Mary Blair textile designs. My favorite fun fact came from this presentation: Greg Brady’s tiki necklace from the Brady Bunch is found at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at the Polynesian. I definitely need to hunt for it next time I’m there! One of my favorite moments of the weekend was when they brought Auntie Kaui, an original cast member from the Polynesian who has worked there for 45 years, up on stage to teach everyone the hula. She was lovely and looked wonderful at the young age of 86! The day ended with the screenwriter for Moana discussing the upcoming film. That evening, guests were treated to an advanced viewing of the film at the Polynesian Resort, which we did not attend.
Day 2 began with a discussion of the newly released book about Disney maps (that I definitely want to buy). The next presentation was one of my favorites of the weekend. Tom Vazzana, the Imagineer who directed the new holiday show Jingle Bell Jingle Bam at Hollywood Studies, showed us a video of the new show and provided live “director’s cut” commentary. His enthusiasm for the show was infections, and I enjoyed learning all the details you wouldn’t necessarily get watching the show without commentary. We definitely want to return to see the show, which includes references to Mary Blair, the Osborne lights, and the tragedies in Orlando. He was kind enough to come into the audience to meet guests after the presentation.
Next, Imagineers took us on a nostalgic journey through Walt Disney World adventures of the past, such as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Fort Wilderness, Discovery Island, If You Had Wings, and the wave machine at the Polynesian.
This was followed by a presentation by Avatar creator James Cameron and Imagineer Joe Rohde about the new Pandora land coming to the Animal Kingdom next year. They told the story of the land as if it was a real place they had been to. Lots of show art was shown and discussed and it looks really incredible!
It was time to take a little break and check out new Disney furniture by Ethan Allen. Totally cute, but really expensive!
After the lunch break, we were treated to a presentation about the art of Disney Legend Marc Davis. He worked on classic attractions such as the Jungle Cruise, the Enchanted Tiki Room, and Pirates of the Caribbean, which was originally supposed to be a walk-through wax museum. Next up, Imagineer and Disney Legend Tony Baxter shared some of the attractions from Shanghai Disneyland, and they are pretty mind blowing.
The rest of the afternoon focused on the Animal Kingdom, with the head of Animal and Science Operations talking about how they have cared for the animals during times of change such as during construction of Pandora and keeping the Animal Kingdom open at night. They have extensive processes of data collection and animal care and welfare is one of the park’s core values.
The grand finale presenter was Imagineer Joe Rohde, who I consider to be the heart and soul of the Animal Kingdom park. A true visionary, he is also painstakingly meticulous about the details. He has such an engaging and intelligent way of telling stories. If anyone is not a fan of the Animal Kingdom, they should listen to Joe speak. The park is more about immersing you in landscape than it is about running around to ride attractions. He spoke about wanting to feed guests imaginations with experiences of the world. The Magic Kingdom is about being in the middle of fantasy and fairy tales. The Animal Kingdom is like being in the middle of a documentary. My favorite story he told was when he was researching in Africa and a member of the Masai tribe asked him where he was from. Joe said, “Disney.” The tribe member replied, “ahhh theme parks.” I can’t think of any better way to end the weekend than with Joe Rohde.
The weekend ended with guests being given free admission to the Magic Kingdom Sunday night with fast passes to the Jingle Cruise. It was cold by Florida standards, and we were exhausted from the weekend’s activities so we skipped it!
All in all it was an incredible weekend. My main takeaway was….Imagineers have dream jobs. They love what they do and it shows. They are inspired by Walt’s core values and continue to create wonderfully immersive environments with meticulous attention to details. People have many reasons they visit the parks and different goals around their adventures. Some are rope droppers and their goal is to cram in as many attractions as possible. Some like to visit to create family memories. For me, it’s about the history and details. I don’t need to ride a single attraction to get the most out of my visit. And I like that there’s something for everyone, including die hard fans like me who love events like Destination D and will keep coming back for more!