Monday, January 23, 2017

Castle of Golden Enchantment

During my trip to Shanghai Disneyland last month, I never did quite get those perfect blue skies to complement shots of the Enchanted Storybook Castle.  The closest I came was the afternoon of my second day, when the sun very briefly peeked out of the cloud cover.  And while there was some amount of blue poking through the clouds, most of the afternoon was still relatively overcast.

Still, when that sun did partly burn through the clouds, I seized an opportunity to run to the Gardens of Imagination to snap a few shots during what amounted to golden hour.  To get multiple views, I had to hustle along the spread-out park area in front of the castle, and before only a few minutes had passed, the moment was gone.  Here are some shots I got during those fleeting moments.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Radiator Rains

Sense a trend?  Of course you do, and if you live in Southern California, you'll immediately understand why.  Over the past few days, we've been getting a nice drenching from several storms (the third and strongest hitting today), which have been a welcome relief from our several-year-long drought.  And dating back the past couple of months, it seems like there have been more rainy evenings than I've counted over the past several years combined.  Of course, that's heaven for photographers, who can capture light both above and from the ground.  There's just something about those dang reflections that attracts us like flies to a lamp.  In this case, many lamps, all lined along the rain-slicked road.  But you can't argue with the results.  It sure is purdy!

Luminous neon glistens on the soggy main drag of Radiator Springs.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

An Adventureland Glow

When it rains at Disneyland, most people head to the gates.  There's just something about being damp and soggy outside that doesn't appear to appeal to most theme park guests.  But when it comes to photographers, the rain is a friend, especially at night.  The resulting slick walkways create lovely glows and reflections that afford photographers angles and perspectives that aren't seen any other (dry) time.  And so, when it rains, we Disneyland fan photogs rush TO the park.  Are we a little crazy?  Perhaps.  But it yields photos like this...

A cozy, rainy, winter evening over at Adventureland.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Those Rainy Orleans Nights

Even though last year was supposed to be the wet "El Niño" year, and this year was supposed to be a drought-exacerbating "La Niña" year, the past couple of months have featured plenty of much welcome rain to the state of California.  And while most of the volume has gone to Northern California and its mountains and forests, SoCal has gotten some pretty good drenchings too.  Unfortunately for me, these have always come while I've been away or busy or otherwise able to take advantage of the photo opportunities of nighttime rain.

Until this past Wednesday night.

With rain (but not hard rain) in the forecast, I left work en route to the Happiest Place on Earth with the hope that the weather gods might smile upon me.  To my dismay, the streets were dry my entire commute over to Disneyland.  Even upon parking, the ground remained parched.  But then, halfway through my walk to the park, the drops started falling.  First, a light mist.  Then a sprinkle.  And finally, a good smatter of rain.  Not pounding, torrential rain--which was actually good.  Just enough to give the concrete a nice, shiny coating to provide those slick reflections photographers oh so crave.

By the time there was sufficient moisture to photograph, the parks were emptying out, with Disneyland having already passed its off-season early closing time.  But along with a friend who was here on vacation from Hawaii, we waited out the crowds, and eventually, we found bliss in the engagement of rainy evening photography.  Few sights are as magical.

The iconic masquerade mask over Royal Street in New Orleans Square.
The pavement glistens outside of the Blue Bayou Restaurant.
The damp evening provided a moody and romantic ambiance.
The large windows of Club 33 above yielded more light to shine down on the wet concrete.
Looking toward the gate guarding the Court of Angels beyond.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lightcycle Running

One of Shanghai Disneyland's shining beacon E-Tickets is TRON Lightcycle Power Run, this park's iteration of the Space Mountain flagship traditionally located in other Tomorrowlands.  It's a fun launched Booster Bike roller coaster with trains patterned after the iconic lightcycles in the TRON film franchise, and at night, the illumination and colors really dazzle.  The launch comes right at the start, sending riders outside and around a sweeping banked curve, dip, and hill before they move inside (into the game grid, in a sense).  Photos inside are pretty much infeasible, since loose articles aren't allowed, and large cameras would be unsafe, but outside, the ride makes for some fun long exposures capturing the dynamic ambiance.  As one might expect, TRON at night is significantly more thrilling than TRON by day.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Dusk Over The Hub

Sometimes, you go digging in the archives and find a photo you never processed showcasing a moment you forgot about.  In the case below, it was a rare instance when I was in the parks AND the twilight skies dissolved into chromatic drama, tinging the air with wispy strands of warm color.  Standing in the center of The Hub, the heart of the park, put me in a position to observe the kinetic transition from day to night.  The magic of the park coming alive after dark was bountiful in front of me.  It felt fitting to be here, standing with Walt and Mickey as they surveyed the kingdom they had created.  I imagined them pleased with the joy they had brought to countless people over the years.  It was nice that on this day, dusk decided to reflect this warm spirit.

Walt and Mickey look on as dusk settles on Disneyland.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sunny Days and Mediterranean Bays

You may have noticed an Asian Disney trend over the past few days (and certainly over the past month).  That's because I have a huge backlog of photos from Disney parks in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai--one that grew only larger with my recent vacation.  So sit back, relax, and take in more pictures from exotic Disney locales abroad--unless you're reading from one of the above places.  In that case, enjoy a bit of home!

Walking through the entry plaza of the park into Mediterranean Harbor.
It's a taste of Portofino, with plenty of exquisite, authentic-looking details.
A lone rowboat floats with Mount Prometheus and Mysterious Island looming in the distance.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Enchantment in the Distance

Although I tried to keep Shanghai Disneyland spoilers (both visual and informational) to a minimum before I visited (other than certain essential information needed for visiting, such as park operation and location and such), I did allow myself to take a gander at some Instagram photos and photos from certain favored blogs to whet my appetite just a bit.  One of the views that caught my eye early on was a shot of the Enchanted Storybook Castle viewed from Mickey Avenue.  In their version of "Town Square," a central park and grandstand area featured a nicely framed view right down the middle of the street.  With trees and streetlamps on both sides, they composed a very nice view of the castle, which certainly excited the photographer in me.

Because regular tripods are not allowed inside the park, however, I had to be a bit creative to get this shot at night.  Fortunately, park policy (at least when I visited) did allow miniature tripods such as Gorillapods.  So I stuck my camera on one, and then stuck that on the railing right in front of this scene to frame my view just so.  A few snaps and some layered processing later, this was the result.

The Enchanted Storybook Castle looms in the distance, as seen from the back of Mickey Avenue.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Pooh's Hunny Hunt

Once upon a time in 2000 in a Hundred Acre Wood, Pooh's Hunny Hunt arose in Tokyo Disneyland to become a groundbreaking dark ride attraction that still remains the park's most popular ride to this day.  An evolution in Disney's fabled dark rides, this was the first attraction to utilize a trackless system that guided cars by radio waves and multiple sensors.  It's the same system that was later used to develop the spectacular Mystic Manor in Hong Kong Disneyland and Walt Disney Studio's fun Ratatouille ride.  And while both successors have their merits, it was Pooh that launched the original fantastic revolution.

The story of the ride is similar to the Winnie the Pooh rides in other Disney parks.  Effectively, it recounts Pooh's time in Hundred Acre Wood, from the blustery day to an introduction of Pooh's friends, and then a hop with Tigger (what a wonderful thing!), before Pooh falls asleep and ventures to the land of Heffalumps and Woozles, and then finally gaining his beloved honey.  While that sounds simple, the execution is not.  The trackless system takes each "honey pot" car around a myriad of routes, choreographed with the other cars, in a whimsical journey through each setting.  Each ride is unique, with multiple possibilities and slight adjustments in routes, and the experience is charming and lovely and full of that childlike innocence that even adults will fall in love with.

Take a look at the ride via the photos below.  And if you ever visit Tokyo Disneyland, make sure to head straight to this attraction right at park opening.  Grab a FastPass, then get in the standby line.  The ride is so good that you'll definitely want to ride it twice--if not more!

An adorable open storybook marks the facade of the ride from the outside.
The line winds around a lovely garden.
There's a lot of old-fashioned charm here.
Before boarding, guests get a glimpse of spaces featuring props and elements from the stories.
This map of Hundred Acre Wood lists various sights that will be visited in the ride.
The queue is very cute, with cozy furnishings.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Tarzan's Hong Kong Treehouse

At Hong Kong Disneyland, there is no Rivers of America.  Instead, Adventureland makes up the whole of the original left side of the park inside the berm, and the "Rivers" is made up of the Jungle River Cruise.  The resulting island ends up being Tarzan's Treehouse, accessible only by river raft across the waterway.

Like the California version, Tarzan's Treehouse is a walk-through attraction up a large artificial tree, with sets and scenes retelling the story of Tarzan.  What's different, however, are the views--looking across the water toward Fantasyland and Tomorrowland on one side, Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Pointe and Toy Story Land on the other.  Take a little tour through this Far East iteration via the photos below!

Rafts cross the water to Tarzan's Treehouse, which stretches up along the riverbank.

The island has some caves for exploration and some pathways on ground level.

But of course, most of the point here is to rise above ground level to the trees.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The House on the Haunted Hill

It's Friday, the 13th, so I need to post something spooky.  And when it comes to Disney attractions, what is spookier than the eerie looking facade of Phantom Manor, at Disneyland Paris?  This "Psycho House"-esque building is a far cry from the stately Haunted Mansions in Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Tokyo Disneyland.  Instead, it is brooding and foreboding, plainly wearing its cursed status for all to see.

And even though this may not have been what Walt would want (he famously told his Imagineers to keep the exterior pristine and let the ghosts take care of the interior), I really like this re-imagining of a classic attraction.  It makes for a darker feel, but not too dark to be un-Disney.  At least in my opinion!

Phantom Manor looms in this corner of Thunder Mesa.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Shanghai's Soaring Queue

Soaring Over the Horizon is one of the most popular rides at Shanghai Disneyland.  For guests who've ridden the equivalent ride at Disney California Adventure or EPCOT, it's not necessarily worth waiting one or two hours for Shanghai's version (unless you really, really, really want to see the final scene, which flies over the Bund and Pudong portion of the city instead of over Disneyland or Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom).

However, it's worth noting that the queue for attraction is relatively well done, taking on a mystical indigenous desert dwelling people's motif.  The most spectacular portion is the large, main switchback area, where a "sky" full of stars and the Milky Way shines overhead.  In photos, this looks pretty impressive.  In person, it's nice, but the projection of the Milky Way looks too obvious, interrupting the illusion.  In addition, the fire sprinkler heads (which I've edited out of the photos below) clearly call out the ceiling nature of the space.

Still, it's cool to go through if the wait is not long, so I recommend heading to Soaring first thing in the morning, right at park opening, to enjoy a relatively short line and take in the space. 

The first portion of the queue features some scattered "native" pottery pieces.

This area benefits from nice lighting but is a far cry from the immersiveness of something like the Indiana Jones Adventure line.

Things get a little more photogenic in the next space.

Here, a million stars glitter overhead.

A projection and deliberate painting and lighting create the illusion of the starry sky way out in the desert.

The safety spiel is different than the American versions.  Sadly, there's no Patrick.  Instead, a mystical eagle/shapeshifter serves as the host.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Sir Mickey's

Sir Mickey's Boutique is a toy story selling souvenirs and plushes at Disneyland Paris.  But it's just an excuse for me to post a couple of photos from this beautiful park's whimsical and fantastical Fantasyland.  The color and atmosphere and architecture really bring the feeling of fairy tale to life, which is important in a country where real castles and fantastical structures and settings exist.  What Disneyland Paris does best with their Fantasyland is portray the storybook without giving the sense of cultural plagiarism.  The whimsy and fancy really make Fantasyland a joy to stroll around and are a reminder of why Disneyland Paris is arguably the most beautiful overall Magic Kingdom in Disney's formidable arsenal.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Toy Story Hotel

When I visited Shanghai for three days last month, I stayed at the Toy Story Hotel, the budget option of the two on-property hotels at the Shanghai Disney Resort (the other being the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel).  Although it would have been nice to stay at the flagship, the difference in cost was enough that my group elected to eschew it (next time, perhaps).

The entrance to the Toy Story Hotel.
As far as aesthetics and frills go, the Toy Story Hotel carries a modern look behind the whimsical Toy Story touches and straightforward furnishings that put it on par with most Value level Disney resort properties (the Disneyland Hotel, on the other hand, is presented as a top of the line Disney hotel but really probably ranks in the second tier of the Deluxe level compared to Disney hotels worldwide).  The six story Toy Story Hotel features a repetitive curtain wall facade that might look like any other modern looking complex, it wasn't for the Woody and Buzz and company flourishes--in other words, it's actually kind of boring. 

The entry driveway, where visitors can drop off guests and luggage and also where hotel guests can take Disney shuttles to the park, Disneytown, and the Shanghai Disneyland metro stop.
The interior is a little less plain, showing more character (pun intended) from the movies and taking on a playful and clean approach.  Guests can purchase park tickets from the customer service desk, and a souvenir store in the form of Lotso Shop offers Disney wares and basic amenities.  There's also a counter service restaurant in Sunnyside Cafe and a grab-and-go food stop in the form of Sunnyside Market.

This "Christmas tree" was stationed in the middle of the lobby area.

Barrel of Monkeys figures string along the ceiling above.

The check in counter is cute but not extravagant.
I didn't really take any photos of our rooms, mostly because by the time we arrived, our rough experience from the airport (the taxi driver completely got lost despite insisting he knew the way to the Resort and took an unnecessarily longer route that doubled our driving time), we were so tired that we immediately plopped on the bed and made ourselves at home, ruining the pristine house-kept settings.  But they were relatively spacious for for the price, comfortable, and in pretty good condition (the only issue I observed was the sliding bathroom door failing to latch shut to be locked).  They also featured outlets compatible with Chinese, European, and American plugs--though U.S. three prong grounded plugs were not okay (buy three-to-two prong adapter before arriving).

The building footprint creates a courtyard along the interior, accessed off the lobby.

The building mass gives the impression of rising out of the ground from this angle.  The "lawn" rising up onto the roof is a common feature in a lot of progressive architecture these days.

The courtyard itself is relatively plain, though.  Just a giant Woody on Bulls-eye at one end.

It's a popular photo op, though.

On a lower level, there is a water play area.  On this cold winter day, it was understandably unused.
Overall, I think the Toy Story Hotel is more than a satisfactory lodging for guests of Shanghai Disneyland who aren't aiming for a swanky or luxurious experience.  Given that the Shanghai metro closes relatively early, the convenience of staying on property outweighs the extra cost that could be saved staying elsewhere (and then needing to taxi around).  Conversely, staying at the Shanghai Disney Resort means that those heading to the city may not be able to get back by metro if they stay out late.  So ultimately, there are pro's and cons.  As a frame of reference, though, it's about an hour by train to get from the Shanghai Disney Resort to the city. 

As the Resort grows, I'm sure that more hotels will be constructed on property and spring up around the area with convenient access.  But for now, it's basically this hotel and the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel flagship, located across Wishing Star Lake from the park itself.  Tom Bricker's got a great review of that hotel over on his site, Disney Tourist Blog.  Hopefully, this post is helpful for those looking to visit on more of a budget.  If you have any questions, feel free to jot them down below!
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