Uncategorized · Science of Disney · Disney Tips · Disney Trips

Science of Disney: Elephants and Bees

One of earth’s biggest creatures is being saved by insects.

As part of Animal Kingdom’s 20th Anniversary celebration, I attended a Tiffins Talk in which I enjoyed a four-course meal inspired by and specially prepared to accompany a presentation from a Disney scientist about their conservation efforts. During this talk, Dr. Joseph Soltis gave a very engaging talk about how he, his colleague, Dr. Lucy King, and the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund are helping to save elephants with honeybees.

What’s the problem?

Elephants are impressive creatures but the species has faced constant treats from humans. Even with reductions in the ivory trade, humans and elephants still come into conflict, especially in countries like Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Sri Lanka. One of the biggest causes of human-elephant conflict is crop raiding, which is when elephants wander onto farmland in search of food. Because they are so big (and have big stomachs), the farms are decimated and the farmers lose both their own food and their source of income. As a result, farmers sometimes kill or hurt elephants to prevent further damage and protect themselves.

What could be done?

If only there were some way to keep elephants out of farms. Standard or even heavy-duty fences won’t work because they are expensive to put up and maintain and elephants might knock them over anyways. By putting collars on elephants to track their location, farmers can be alerted any time elephants cross a virtual fence line and then scare the elephants away enough times until they are conditioned to not even approach a farm. Again, these collars are expensive and still can result in more conflict than is necessary. Other techniques, like the ones outlined in the Save the Elephants Human-Elephant Conflict toolbox, can also help to some degree. Fortunately, some observations from locals led to some scientific discoveries that have significantly reduced human-elephant conflict.

Elephants often retrieve food from trees – whether it is the fruit or the leaves. But one Kenyan guide that was leading Dr. Soltis and Dr. King, shared that he had noticed that elephants never retrieve food from trees with beehives. Elephants in Zimbabwe are also known to forge entirely new paths through jungles to avoid trees with beehives. This is quite curious because elephants have relatively small areas that are sensitive enough to potential bee stings (inside of the trunk, eyes, and ears) and it does not make a lot of sense that such large creatures might systematically avoid bees if they cannot do much damage.

Studies about Elephants’ Fear of Bees

So the researchers set out to see not whether elephants are harmed by bees but instead to study whether elephants are afraid of bees. Rather than using actual bees, researchers played recorded bee sounds using giant speakers hidden in foliage near elephant meeting spots. And then they watched to see what the elephants did. When the bee sound was played, all but one elephant family ran away in under 90 seconds; half of the families ran away in under 10 seconds. In contrast, when just white noise was played (because it is always a good science to have a control condition), all of the elephant families stayed in the area for about four full minutes or casually walked away. This suggested that elephants have learned about and/or remember their personal experience with bees and that bees do not have a pleasant association. Similar behaviors were observed in elephants in Sri Lanka in response to the sounds of Asian honeybees (King, Pardo, Weerathunga, Kumara, Jayasena, Soltis, & de Silva, 2018).

Communicating about Bees

In addition to running away in response to hearing bee sounds, elephants produced rumble calls, shook their heads, and tried to throw dust on themselves. To better understand this behavior, Dr. Soltis, who is an expert in elephant rumbles and has conducted several studies with the elephants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, headed up a follow-up study. He wanted to know specifically if elephants’ rumble calls for bees were actually being used in similar ways as to how humans screaming scream “Spider!” or “Mouse!” when they are fearful and want to alert others.

To answer this question, the research team used a similar protocol as with the recordings of bee sounds except in this case, the speakers played recordings of the rumbles that the elephants had made in response to bee sounds. Elephant families moved away from the speakers much more often and moved farther when the rumble calls for bees were played than when just white noise or when modified rumble calls were played. Additionally, families moved faster and shook their heads more when the rumble calls for bees were played than for the other two control sounds. Dusting behavior was not observed to be significantly different across conditions. It seemed that indeed, elephants were communicating their identification of the presence of bees to others so that they all could avoid being stung.

Conservation Implications

As a result of this discovery, Dr. Soltis, Dr. King and their partners in Kenya wanted to put this research to use. They could have given the farmers some large, expensive speakers to play bee sounds but they did something even better. The research team started testing the effectiveness of bee fences for reducing crop raiding. To set up a bee fence, beehives are set up at the perimeter of farms and connected with wire. Any time an elephant hits the wire, the hives are disturbed and the bees produce swarming sounds. These are the same sounds that elephants are afraid of so the elephant will run away from the farm. The early tests were successful and crop raiding has significantly declined for farms with beehive fences. Not only do the beehive fences protect the farms and thus allow the farmers to keep their main source of income, the honey from the beehives can also be harvested and sold for additional revenue.

Unfortunately, you cannot buy this elephant honey directly outside of Kenya, but you can donate to Save the Elephants using the links here to support this program and prevent further human-elephant conflict.

What would you want to research in partnership with Disney? Comment below!

References

King, Soltis, Douglas-Hamilton, Savage & Vollrath (2010)

Lucy King’s Dissertation (2010)

King, Douglas-Hamilton, & Vollrath (2007)

King, Lawrence & Douglas-Hamilton (2009) Beehive fences deter elephants

King, Douglas-Hamilton, & Vollrath (2011) Beehive fences effective deterrents

Soltis, King, Douglas-Hamilton, Vollrath & Savage (2014) Different Elephant Alarm Calls for Humans and Bees

King, Pardo, Weerathunga, Kumara, Jayasena, Soltis, & de Silva, 2018

Save the Elephants – Elephants and Bees Project

Save the Elephants – Geo-Fencing

Disney Trips · Education Reviews · Uncategorized

Science Behind Pixar Museum Exhibit Review

Since starting my PhD in Learning Sciences, I’ve taken quite a few classes that have been focused on the design of learning environments and museums in particular. So I have become overly critical of museums and museum exhibits as learning opportunities because I am now better equipped with theories and ideas about what educational goals the designers were intending to achieve and how they were trying to do so.

Even with this more critical perspective, I think the Science Behind Pixar exhibit at The Henry Ford was the best museum exhibit I have ever experienced. Even if you aren’t a huge Disney or Pixar fan, I highly recommend going to see the exhibit in its next location (it is set to close at the Michigan location after March 18th) or at least check out the website that has a majority of the activities available online (linked below) because you’ll learn a ton about movie-making in addition to applications of science and math that you may never known about.

Overview

The entire exhibit is meant to showcase the combination of art, math, and computer science that enables Pixar to create their award-winning movies by telling the stories of how a movie gets made. Additionally, one of the explicit and NSF-funded goals of the exhibit was to support novice learners in understanding computational thinking, specifically problem decomposition.

These goals are accomplished through nine themed areas aligned with nine departments of Pixar Studios:

  1. Story & Art
  2. Modeling
  3. Rigging
  4. Surfaces
  5. Sets & Cameras
  6. Animation
  7. Simulation
  8. Lighting
  9. Rendering

After watching an introductory video that highlights the majority of the content dedicated to Story and Art, museum visitors enter the Modeling department and proceed through the rest of the departments at will. In each department, there are videos and interactive activities centered around a Pixar challenge that had to be resolved using math and science. The videos include interviews with Pixar employees about their childhoods, their jobs and about the math and science they used to solve the challenge in their department. In each department, there is at least one guided exploration activity and one more open-ended exploration activity designed to give visitors hands-on experience with solving the challenge for the department.

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Some of my favorite activities for their content and engagement were the Programming Natural Variety in Sets & Cameras, Surface Appearance Workstation in Surfaces, and Crowd Simulation Workstation in Simulation which will likely be getting their own blog posts soon!

What Was Done Well

The overall story and flow of the entire exhibit really gave a nice direction to the exhibit as a whole. The introductory video (also available on the exhibit homepage) outlines the various jobs of the departments at Pixar that contribute to making a film – the same jobs that you’ll get to try a hand at in the exhibit. With each activity having at least two workstations, multiple people could be engaging at the same time which increased the capacity of the exhibit and encouraged interaction among visitors among and between parties.

The effort put forth to really make this a family-going experience was apparent in all of the elements of the exhibit. Each video and screen-based activity also had a transcript and audio recordings of the instructions so that blind, deaf, or hard-of-hearing patrons can have equal access to the content. One of the aspects that I appreciated most was the presence of stools in front of many of the videos and activities and the placement of the video screens at more of a kid level than an adult level; providing the stools allowed adults to get down at the kids’ level for more intimate interactions, to provide a lap for smaller children, or to just rest their limbs for a lengthy exhibit experience.

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Additionally, one of the strongest and most consistent arcs throughout the exhibit were the stories from the Pixar employees about how their childhood and passions shaped their career. From mentions of the computer program Logo to breaking an expensive camera apart to figure out how it worked, these personal touches were clearly intended to inspire younger visitors to lean in to their hobbies and keep dreaming of one day working for Pixar. Knowing more about the various positions at Pixar can help kids figure out career aspirations in STEAM fields that they might otherwise never know existed.

The science and math content was foregrounded in each activity with brief descriptions and diagrams. Science content included the physics of light and color and materials as well as engaging in experimental practices like making predictions and testing variables systematically. I learned about applications of 3D coordinate planes, angles of rotation, how to create 3D objects from 2D shapes, the Monte Carlo simulation, and mathematical patterns in nature to name a few.

The activities were designed with several learning principles in mind. Leveraging the power of story-telling for learning, the linear nature of the exhibit made it more memorable and the pieces building on each other scaffolded visitors to build integrated knowledge structures.

The activities were both authentic and exploratory, which, according to constructionism and inquiry-based learning, are some of the main requirements for a successful learning experience. In particular, the open-ended activities allowed visitors to apply and further hone their understanding of the math and science principles to create and experiment with tools that Pixar employees would actually use. For example, the Programming Natural Variety activity involved adjusting parameters to generate grass with different appearances which seamlessly integrated randomization and scientific research on nature’s mathematical patterns.

Furthermore, the exhibit used several comparisons (what my PhD research focuses on, so I’m biased!) to demonstrate the power of the technology for telling better stories such as subdivision and surface refraction contributing to more realistic characters and lighting significantly altering the mood of a scene.

 

What could still be improved

More inclusion of more recent movies

I was disappointed to not see more from Pixar’s Coco but the exhibit was designed before the movie came out. Cars 3 which has also received lots of praise for featuring Cruz Ramirez as a female protagonist and Finding Dory were also not included (although there is a large model of Dory for one of the activity stations or to take pictures with). If you or your child are going in with the expectation of seeing these characters or learning more about the technological advancements for these movies, you may be disappointed.

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More resources for parents and educators to use with their children in the space

While several of the interactive activities are accessible and engaging for learners of all ages, providing at least some questions for adults or children to ask of each other would likely spark more conversation and curiosity around the math and science content. I found myself asking one child who was trying to achieve a spooky mood for the Up lighting activity, “How did you do that?” and I think having more questions to get kids to explain their learning and processing can help them take away more from the experience.

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More detail on some of the science or resources to follow-up with to learn more

My interests were definitely piqued but I found that the “More Info” buttons included in some of the activities did not provide enough of a detailed explanation of the science and math underlying the technology. While my desired level of understanding may not align with that of the target audience, having these materials more easily accessible in a pamphlet or more obviously linked on the website would be helpful to other curious attendees (The Pixar in a Box on Khan Academy seems to have the most in-depth and germane resources but I had to click beyond the front page to find it). Including some scannable QR codes to more in-depth explanations would have also been a modest yet helpful addition.

More representation of minority employees and characters

While Pixar has recently said that they aim to include the voices of more women and people of color in their company and products, this was only somewhat represented in the exhibit materials. Several of the video interviews with employees were with white males and people of East or South Asian descent who are stereotyped to be good at math and science; I only recall one black woman and she was an intern and not yet a full employee. As the company moves towards more diversifying the workplace, some more interviews can be done and hopefully more of the movies will center around characters whose stories have not yet been featured on the big screen.

More Resources

The official exhibit website has several of the videos that can be seen in the exhibit for people that cannot attend or for those who want to get a better idea of what to expect. Most of the content of the exhibit is available online except for some of the Animation activities that required physical interaction such as to create a stop-motion video of Luxo Jr. jumping.

The webpage for educators has several resources for teachers and parents alike to use with their children. Many of the laudable inquiry-driven activities from the exhibit are available online in full (I found that they worked better in Safari than in Chrome) and there are some additional activity cards with guiding questions to ask students.

The Pixar in a Box collaboration with Khan Academy is surprisingly extensive. There are a handful of sequences of videos and activities around story-telling, simulation, color science, virtual cameras, effects, patterns and more science and math topics. I have not had time to completely explore it but I am usually skeptical of Khan Academy content because it is predominantly lecture-driven and the questions and activities aren’t much of an improvement over inauthentic, rote worksheets. At a glance, the Pixar touch likely makes it more engaging and productive than what I might usually expect from Khan Academy.

The webpage for researchers has direct links to the purposefully designed computational thinking activities and information about posters that were presented on research done in the exhibit. Some of the posters feature more details on the demographics of the research participants and the vast majority are Caucasian. I hope that more efforts are being made to recruit more students and families of color to attend the exhibit. More research should also be done on whether the online materials are being used by similar populations.

Ask a Pixar Scientist allows curiosity to continue beyond the exhibit by publishing kids’ and adults’ lingering questions with responses from actual Pixar employees.

 

Let me know what resources and activities you thought were the most fun to play around with online or in-person or which ones you’re most curious about learning more about!

Disney Tips · Disney Trips · Listicles · Science of Disney · Uncategorized

Top 5 Educational Experiences at Epcot

Although Walt Disney’s original vision for Epcot is far from realized, the spirit of showcasing technological innovations and providing memorable and educational experiences for guests lives on!

  1. Living with the Land – This ride is very long but really interesting. I never thought I would care about agriculture but finding out that Disney produces as much of its produce on-site as possible was really impressive! Seeing real scientists at work monitoring the plants and animals and their growing conditions in the most magical place on earth is bound to be inspiring for aspiring scientists, young and old. They offer a Behind the Seeds tour as well if you want more information about the work going on behind the scenes to feed hundreds of thousands of guests each day.
  2. The Seas Pavilion – Despite growing up a short drive from the Monterey Bay Aquarium (one of the main inspirations for Finding Dory’s Marine Life Institute), I had never seen manatees before and they are equally adorable and imposing due to their size and agility in the water. The large aquariums are full of several creatures and have TV screens that flash their names which makes this a great spot to cool off from the Florida heat by playing a game of I Spy with the kiddos. The sea turtles are usually pretty hard to spot because they like to hide! Each smaller aquarium also has short and sweet descriptions about the unique behaviors of the sea life within.
  3. Stave Church Replica and Museum in  Norway – Because the Norway pavilion has been overtaken by Frozen to a great extent, this museum is a nice way of tying together the movie and actual Norwegian culture. You can learn about all the inspiration for the film from the Norwegian landscape and traditional outfits, to how the instruments and vehicles are typically made and used.
  4. Oh Canada! – Even though I have been to Vancouver once before, this film taught me so much about Canada and made me want to visit again as soon as possible. The range of lifestyles represented – from small fishing villages to bustling, artistic city centers – and the sheer wonder of the various natural landscapes were absolutely fascinating, especially when presented in 360 degrees accompanied by Martin Short’s humor.
  5. Venetian Mask Shop – Besides showcasing the beauty and craftsmanship of what must be hundreds of masks, this little shop attached to the perfumery could have entertained me for hours due to what can be learned about Italian folklore. Ask the shopkeeper questions about your favorite masks and about the variety of designs; each one has its own meaning and story about the process of creating it. I may be biased because I read as many fictional books set in Venice as I could when I was in middle school but this really is a gem worth perusing when you’re still full on pizza and wine from Via Napoli.

Honorable Mention

Exhibits in Mexico

When I was last in Epcot in September, they were preparing for the promotional but potentially educational exhibit on Coco and Día de Muertos. I will have to check out the newly decorated area on my next trip to see if it is faithful to the culture, whether it teaches me anything different from my Spanish classes in school, and how it integrates aspects of the film. If it is anything close to the museum in Norway, it could be promising but perhaps difficult for kids who can’t read yet to be thoroughly entertained.

SpectacuLAB!

To replace Innoventions, the Imagineers decided an interactive science show would do the trick while also probably being less expensive to maintain and easier to potentially overhaul for the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World. One of my top priorities for my next trip is checking out how engaging (and hopefully not cringe-worthy) this show is; maybe what some people see as cringe-worth is really just a good use of Jungle Cruise style humor to demonstrate cool science phenomena. I’m hopeful that this will be a memorable experience because it is co-sponsored by Science from Scientists which is a non-profit organization working to improve STEM literacy in schools.

What is your favorite educational experience at Epcot?

Disney Tips · Disney Trips · Uncategorized

Trip Review: Hong Kong Disneyland Part 2

If you’ve read Part 1, you’ll know that I did not get to do everything I had planned at Hong Kong Disneyland due to a typhoon warning. But several magical details made my time outside of the park just as enjoyable!

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Transportion to Hong Kong Disneyland

Getting to the resort was slightly more complicated than I expected because I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to take a cab or have the entire experience of riding the Disneyland train. Cabs were taking too long so I figured out how to get to Sunny Bay station.

After asking a very helpful transportation employee how to get to the right point to transfer to the train going the right direction, a train with Mickey Mouse-shaped windows pulled into the station. And it was glorious! There were bronze statues of the Fab Five, Mickey handholds and lots of Hong Kong parents and children dressed in Disney gear head to toe. The metalwork at the final stop at the park was full of hidden Mickeys and sorcerer hat shapes. I took a quick bus to the hotel to drop off my luggage and took another back to start the adventure.

Checking In

As a birthday present to myself, I got myself a room in the Hollywood Hotel which is the cheapest option but beautifully decorated in an Art Deco style reminiscent of Buena Vista Street in California Adventure and Hollywood Studios. Each floor has classic Disney movie posters and my floor had my favorite, The Lion King! The elevator has the voices of the Fab Five announce the floors, too!

When I checked in, the restaurants were almost closed so I dashed to Hollywood & Dine, the quick service café. Most of the options that looked delicious were unavailable so I had a very mediocre plate of spaghetti. Then I stopped in to the Studio Lounge and had a mango daiquiri before heading up to bed were I found a card and crafted birthday cake awaiting me.

Morning

I’m a sucker for character breakfasts so I made it a point to go to the Explorer’s Lodge’s Dragon Wind café to meet Mickey and Minnie. Everything was delicious; I had been eating a mix of traditional Chinese breakfast food and whatever I could find in Singapore the few weeks before my Hong Kong stay so I was very happy to find congee, fresh fruit, and classic Mickey waffles. Unlike American character breakfasts where the characters walk around to the various tables, I received a card that told me I had a specific time slot to go get my picture taken. It was not too awkward eating alone because I made friends with the couple sitting next to me who were elementary school teachers and gave me several adorable presents after I took a picture with them. While I was meeting Mickey and Minnie, the cast members took lots of great pictures for me but there was also an option to purchase photos with PhotoPass.

Once I was finished with breakfast, I took a lovely stroll along the path between the resorts and the park with hopes that the typhoon warning that I had heard rumblings about would not be real. People were standing in large confused clumps but eventually cast members came out to inform us that the park would be closed until the typhoon warning de-escalated to a lower level.

After appreciating the beauty and quirkiness of the fountain in front of the parks as potentially my last glimpse of the park itself, I walked back along the path from where I had come. The flags along the path showcased a myriad of characters, even Aurora in her blue dress, and there was still theme music pumping through speakers. After looking out at as much of the bay as I could see in the mist, I turned towards the path back to the resorts.

Resort Exploring

First stop was the Disneyland Hotel. This was not particularly memorable because there was not much to explore besides well manicured lawns and a hedge maze. The Victorian theming is similar to that of the Grand Floridian at Walt Disney World.

Next, I went back to the Explorer’s Lodge and walked around the four parts of the Explorer’s Lodge – Oceania, Asia, South America, and Africa. Each had its own garden with figurines of characters like Rafiki and Kevin, theme music, and details like animal footprints or shells in the pavement as the gardens transitioned from one to another. Good thing I took this time to walk around outside when it was only grey and barely sprinkling.

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The Explorer’s Lodge is now my absolute favorite hotel; it’s a combination of Animal Kingdom Lodge (theming wise, without any real animals), Art of Animation, and Coronado Springs. The lobby had large windows overlooking the gardens and travel trunks filled with trinkets and clothing for Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Daisy, and Donald to use for their various adventurous hobbies like aviation and bird-watching. Downstairs there was a quick-service stop with beautiful pastries but I got some basic ice cream instead. It was good but I regret not getting a pastry. The gift shop had some unique memorabilia but the most tempting was 12″ plush versions of explorer Mickey and Minnie, complete with Minnie’s adorable wilderness heels; she is so fashionable that she has a totally different outfit than the safari outfit she wears at Tusker House or at the meet and greet in Animal Kingdom. The other restaurants seemed exquisite as well but I did not feel like spending a lot more money. I would highly recommend staying at Explorers Lodge of three hotel options currently available in Hong Kong!

 

Back to Hollywood Hotel

Lastly I walked the last bit back to the Hollywood Hotel. Since I had already checked out, I had to find ways to kill time with the hope that the park would still open before my flight. I explored the grounds of the Hollywood Hotel. The piano pool – one of the main reasons I chose to stay at this hotel – was closed but pretty large. The miniature Hollywood sign on a grassy knoll was a nice touch but not nearly as impressive as the real sign in Los Angeles.

 

I headed back indoors and grabbed a seat at a table in the Studio Lounge so I could take advantage of the dessert spread. Behind the bar, they were projecting Disney movies; Monsters, Inc. was just finishing up so I settled in and enjoyed the complimentary bar nuts. I believe I ordered an eggs benedict with salmon for my afternoon meal and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. But that might have been because I also started drinking wine before 2 pm. Right after Monsters, Inc. they showed Tangled so I was really living my best life drinking wine and watching my favorite princess movie.

The deadline for the park to re-open was drawing near; if the typhoon warning did not de-escalate by 4 pm, then the park would not open at all for the day. At some point during Tangled, they had prohibited guests from going outside because of the rain and wind so I was very thankful to have my comfortable little spot inside.

Once I heard rumblings that the typhoon warning was going to be lifted, I extensively perused the gift shop and gathered a few pressed pennies for myself and for my brother. After the warning is lifted, it still takes about an hour and a half until the park can open again.

I walked back to the front of the park where two long queues had formed. I thankfully got to use a special entrance for resort guests and dashed into the park to attempt to ride things I hadn’t ridden before. With just over an hour and a half spent in the park, I bid adieu to the park and shed a few tears as I exited to the tune of “Circle of Life.”

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Other Tips for the Park

  1. If you can, get a button! Every cast member seems to be on the lookout for these buttons because while wearing my birthday button, I got stickers and smiles from all of the cast members!
  2. Take the stroll between the hotels and the park at least once during your stay if you can handle a little bit more walking! The humid summer air was comforting and the path was well-lit.
  3. Some of the information in the Hong Kong Disneyland  app is incorrect. They no longer sell chocolate covered bananas or mango dole whip which are the two snacks I was looking forward to most because I did not have a partner with whom to share the adorable dim sum that is all over Instagram.
  4. If you are staying at one of the resorts, stay until after park close to see the most empty Main Street ever! Most of the guests leave soon after park closing so they can take the train back but sitting in front of the castle or just inside the entrance is a perfect end to enjoying a day in the park.
  5. Look out for the trash cans! I thought the decor was absolutely adorable and I want wearable merchandise with the patterns!

Which international park do you want to go to most?

Disney Tips · Disney Trips · Uncategorized

Trip Review: Hong Kong Disneyland Part 1

In July 2017, I turned a layover in Hong Kong into about 30 hours at Hong Kong Disneyland as a birthday present to myself. Although a typhoon warning put a serious damper on how much I was able to do in my short time there, I greatly enjoyed the experience. In this post, I give my thoughts on the attractions and entertainment in the park.

Hong Kong Unique Attractions

Mystic Point 7/10

Mystic Manor 9/10 After arriving at the park around noon, Mystic Manor was my first stop and number one priority. The queue was about 10 minutes long and full of gorgeous details from the Society for Explorers and Adventures, complete with a miniature of the Mystic Manor property; Walt would’ve been proud. Watching ride-throughs definitely lessened the coolness of the experience a bit because I knew what to expect. The soundtrack to the ride was very enjoyable and the music room was my favorite because of all the dancing instruments. As far as dark rides go, this one is amazing because all of the tech and animatronics are relatively new. Albert the monkey is adorable and at the end of the ride, I was very tempted to buy lots of Mystic Manor merchandise.

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Garden of Wonders 3/10 This was just a photo op spot with structures meant to be optical illusions. There were not any cast members hanging around the area to help you get a photo with the illusion itself..

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Mystic Point Freight Depot 2/10 Another photo op with even less charm than the Garden of Wonders.

Toy Story Land 6/10

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Toy Story Land was beautiful with the light of the golden hour at sunset over Lantau Island. Although I did not ride anything in this land (I was in search of Mango Dole Whip which tragically is not sold anymore) it made me very excited for the Toy Story Land coming to Walt Disney World. The details of all of the childhood toys scaled up for architectural purposes- from Lincoln Logs to Tinker Toys to the giant letter puzzle and K’nex fences – gave me all the nostalgic vibes. The meet and greet for Woody, Jessie, and Buzz was well-themed.

Grizzly Gulch 5/10

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I walked through this area several times to get to and from the Mystic Point area but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. A combination of Frontierland and Disneyland’s Critter Country, the theme of bears living in an old Western town is a little strange but the visibility of bears themselves was minor. The Grizzly Gulch Welcome Show a stage act of three women singing in English that was pretty good and drew a small crowd. The rest of the area has a jail photo op and water cannons to cool down.

Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Train ?/10 During the timeslot in which I had planned to ride this, the ride was broken and did not open for the rest of the night. With the typhoon warning the next day, the outdoor rides were slower to open so I did not have a chance to ride this before I had to leave for the airport. When I walked past it, it seemed like a Seven Dwarves Mine Train type ride – not too thrilling of a coaster – but I heard it goes backwards! This is a must-do if I ever get back to Hong Kong!

Marvel

Iron Man Experience 6/10 I am not the biggest Marvel fan and I get nauseous on simulator rides but the line was really short and I was in the area so I rode it. This is essentially Star Tours but with a plot of Iron Man saving Hong Kong but I found the humor in English to be surprisingly clever.

The SHIELD Experience 8/10 This is one of the most unique attractions I’ve seen in the three Disney parks I’ve been to. I had no idea what it was going in so was definitely peeved at the extremely long queue but once I understood what the attraction was, it made sense. Small groups at a time become SHIELD agents and are led through a maze of well-decorated warehouse scenes by cast members acting as SHIELD agents in a quest to retrieve orbs of some sort before HYDRA finds them. In two of the scenes, you meet Thor and Starlord and one person gets selected each time to help them. Because I was wearing my birthday button, I got to help Starlord close a glass door but totally misunderstood the directions with all the pressure to perform and thought I had to reach into the case with a scary looking animatronic. Most of the instructions were in English so some members of our large group were a bit confused, but it was fast-paced and the acting was believable so it made for an overall very enjoyable experience.

There was also a Spiderman meet and greet but I did not wait in the queue for him (it was shorter than the SHIELD experience).

Fantasyland

Fairy Tale Forest 8/10 I loved this area because it felt like the Storybook Canals but up close and personal. There are miniatures with moving elements for several Disney movies including Tangled, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and The Little Mermaid. The details hidden in the bushes and on the paths were especially charming. Know that the Tinker Bell meet-and-greet inside this area is optional; you can bypass it by taking a separate path.

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Fantasy Gardens 4/10 This is a character meet and greet space. There weren’t any characters present as I walked through, so I just appreciated the theming of each gazebo and some pretty topiaries. Skip this if you don’t want to or don’t have time to met characters.

 

Hong Kong Versions of US Attractions

Railroad ?/10 I did not ride this but wanted to. It seemed like it had a convenient drop-off point near the back of the park that could save me a walk but I ended up just walking because I wanted to see as much of the castle as I could.

Adventureland

Jungle Cruise 6/10 This may be an unfair rating because Jungle Cruise is one of my favorite rides. Despite being “the chosen one” to carry the queue timing card to the front of the English queue, this special treatment was not enough to overcome my disappointment that my skipper was not able to communicate the dry humor effectively and instead just pointed at lots of things and described them. It was interesting to go around the island instead of a separate tucked-away track and the different ending was almost exciting enough to redeem the ride.

Tarzan’s Tree House 4/10 Taking the raft over took longer than it took me to walk through the entire treehouse which was all of the same scenes as the Disneyland version, so it was not worth my time. As you’re exiting the treehouse, keep your eyes trained towards the ground to notice footprints of some of the inhabitants.

Fantasyland

Philharmagic 6/10 This was my first time ever seeing Philharmagic (I hadn’t seen it in WDW) so I really enjoyed it but it is exactly the same as the version in Florida with a less interesting queue. I believe I saw the show in English.

It’s a Small World 7/10 – The layout of this ride was different than in the US and seemed to have a bigger presence for the Western section and an Americas section. But it was a walk-on and lets out next to an ice cream stand instead of a gift shop. The details of the giant compass on the ground in front of the attraction made the area into one of the few spots that I thought was worth taking pictures.

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Dumbo the Flying Elephant and Winnie the Pooh are the same as they are at other parks so I did not ride them. I remember expecting that the Winnie the Pooh ride would have a long wait and it seemed to be about the same as at other parks but long compared to the other rides at Hong Kong Disneyland. The Mad Hatter Tea Cups were also identical to the Disney World version, complete with a tent covering in case of rain.

Tomorrow Land

Space Mountain 7/10 I literally cannot remember anything about this ride from my trip besides that I used a Fastpass for it so I don’t think the queue or the ride itself was anything special or unique from the version in either US park.

I did not ride Orbitron or Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters. I wish I got to ride Orbitron because it was a different ride vehicle than Astro Orbiters but the line was always pretty long. I don’t think there was anything unique about Astro Blasters so you can skip it if you’ve ridden Disneyland’s (the better) version.

Shows

Festival of the Lion King 10/10 This show made me cry from its beauty; the singers were excellent and the flying bird scenes were incredibly graceful. There weren’t any tumbling monkeys and instead they seemed to serve as comedic relief in Mandarin but I haven’t seen the tumbling monkeys in WDW either so I couldn’t compare on that aspect. The stage itself was way cooler than the WDW version with multiple levels rising and lowering at different points during the show. The fire dancing scene was comparable. One of my favorite touches was that the floats with Simba and the other animals on them move into the center of the auditorium at the end of the show so you can get close-up pictures as you walk out.

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Wondrous Book ?/10 I didn’t get to see this show because I ran out of time on my first day and the typhoon warning delayed its opening on my second day. It is supposed to be similar to Mickey and the Magical Map at Disneyland and is offered in English and Mandarin (and maybe also Cantonese)

Flights of Fantasy Parade 7/10  The floats and costumes were cute but the song was not memorable. The performers were sweating bullets in the sun and heat but their make-up still looked flawless.

Paint the Night Parade 9/10 I sat the closest I have ever been to this parade because the streets are narrower than in Disneyland and every float was that much more stunning. After having just watched Wreck-it Ralph on the plane to China, the song was that much more catchy now that I knew what it was from. Definitely do not miss this parade!

Disney in the Stars Fireworks 9/10 – I cried so much but I think it was partly due to the sweat and sunscreen getting into my eyes because it was still very warm after the sun had gone down. Right after the end of the Paint the Night Parade, I just turned around and got a spot a few rows back from the castle. We were packed in like sardines but we were sitting. There were extensive Mulan scenes which I was SO happy to see and the musical arrangement throughout was very nostalgic. The castle is not extremely large so the projections aren’t as impressive but the fireworks were still plentiful.

Of the attractions that I got to do, I did most of them on my first day between noon and park closing at 8 pm. Let me know if you have any questions about my trip in the comments below!

Check out Part 2 of my review in which I talk more about my general impressions of the park and how I occupied my time during the typhoon warning.

 

Disney Tips · Disney Trips · Uncategorized

Trip Review: First time at Pandora in Animal Kingdom

In late September, I visited Pandora at Animal Kingdom for the first time! Read on for my review!

General Impression – Daytime

The floating mountains were not quite breath-taking but they nevertheless made for some pretty stunning shots against the Florida sky.

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As soon as I stepped into Pandora, the My Disney Experience app notified me that I could help out Alpha Centauri Expeditions (click for the backstory on ACE from the D23 convention in 2015) by searching for fauna and flora. It was supposed to link via Facebook Messenger but my Messenger app was being buggy so this did not quite work. I think would have enjoyed it and look forward to seeing how this extra bit of immersive theming works in the future.

Phd Pointer: There are a few spots scattered along the paths where the Pandoran wildlife will interact with you if you move just right!

Na’vi River Journey

Queue: I had a FP+ for this ride but ended up only riding it via standby during Early Magic Hours. It was under a 60 minute wait when I got in line around 8:15. The theming of the queue was really impressive and quite fun. Absolutely everything – from the centerpoint of the circular queue, the roof, the surrounding walls, to the ties on the queue fences – appeared to be woven from real reeds and leaves of some sort and actually felt like the right texture. Additionally, there were plaques mounted on the queue fences describing various flora and fauna of Pandora but the line was moving so quickly that I hardly had time snap a picture much less read the actual information. I think these would be useful for participating in the immersive piece I mentioned above because it would help you identify the right plant when you’re walking around.

Ride: Because I was traveling alone, I was placed in the front row of a boat with the couple in front of me, with another group of strangers sitting in the back row. The scenery was quite beautiful and there was a ton to look at in every scene. In a few places, there are a couple of mesh screens at various depths with different creatures projected onto them to give a 3-D effect. Although the animations make it so each ride through might have something different to see, the screens were not even close to transparent so the mechanics of the effect were very obvious. Many of the lights responsible for the luminescent effects were also quite visible if you were looking for them. But not everything was completely de-mystified. Keeping my head on a swivel, I noticed that there were even glowing plants in the water! One of my favorite effects were the suspended flowing lily pads closer to the end that seemed to have creatures jumping to and fro on them!

The shaman at the end was just as impressive as people were saying she was. The arm movements were very fluid and she is huge! But the most impressive piece for me was the tiny facial movements that made even the smallest lip twitch possible so that she truly looked like she was singing along. I did not really notice the music until the shaman was visible but the continuation of the music and theming throughout the last stretch of cave before returning to the loading zone was a nice cherry on top of a lovely ride.

PhD Pointer: Ride this with kids at night! They’re more likely to get the feeling that they’re actually still outside in Pandora!

Flight of Passage

Queue: My friend and I entered the standby queue around 5:15 pm with a posted wait time of approximately 120 minutes. Thankfully, the end of the queue at this time was approximately 20 yards inside the regular queue area rather than all the way at the front entrance of Pandora. Looking up at the waterfalls was nice too because it was a much closer view than from outside the queue and Imagineers used the forced perspective trick quite well.

The queue moved very very slowly. Although being outside allowed us to marvel at the engineering and construction of the floating mountains and admire the emergent and hand-crafted nature of the paths, there were stretches of fifteen minutes where we felt like we did not move at all. Once inside the caves, it felt like we moved even slower and a cast member said we would still have approximately another hour and a half to wait.

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The queue was well-crafted in that they do a really good job at hiding how much farther you are from the front of the ride. Each room you go into, you think you’re that much closer. Be warned, you aren’t close until you’re in the room with the lab equipment and Avatar and you still might have to wait another 30 minutes from that point. However, I was very confused as to what the story of the queue was – we went from the natural beauty of Pandora, through some caves to what looked like some overgrown bunkers before entering the lab and hangar. If someone could please explain the story, that would be greatly appreciated!

When we were about halfway through the queue, the announcements that the ride was not operating at full capacity began and continued for the next hour. In total, we ended up waiting for about 3 hours instead of the 2 hours we were expecting.

Ride: I consider the ride to start from the terribly acted pre-show that you watch once you are directed to your number. I got overly excited and participatory during the avatar and banshee matching process and they seemed to do a good job of actually matching the features of the avatar to the person. One complaint is that we did not actually get to see our banshee which I think are some of the most majestic creatures in the whole Avatar universe (for now). Actually getting into the seats for the ride itself was a bit of a struggle for the non-English speaking people in our group so I would encourage others to be patient and help the cast members help these guests so you can board more efficiently. I found the seat to be quite comfortable and secure, but the 3D glasses were quite large and slipped down my nose any time I tried to glance down.

Once the flashing lights distracted us from the screen becoming visible, the views of Pandora were breath-taking and very thrilling. I actually felt like I was flying for a good portion of the ride. All of the little effects, from feeling your banshee’s breathing, to the wind in your face, and the gentle spray from waterfalls and crashing waves were really enjoyable but not quite magical. I could still look around and see other people sitting on bikes and the picture wasn’t as crisp or enchanting as I remember the movie being when I watched it years ago. The soundtrack was nice but not as moving as I thought it would be.

Overall, I still like Soarin’ more as a ride because of the music, the smells, and the lack of annoying 3-D glasses. I would wait in line again for this ride for two hours max, but definitely not three.

PhD Pointer: You might not like this ride if you aren’t a fan of heights! Motion sickness is less of a concern than Star Tours.

General Impression – Nighttime

The land seemed much much darker than I anticipated from everyone’s pictures of the bioluminescence. It was hard to see my friend a few feet away because there were so few lights turned on; I am not sure if it was because I got out of Flight of Passage a few minutes after 9 pm (park closing) or if the land is always like this at night but I would recommend trying to come as soon as the sun sets for optimal night time exploration.

PhD Pointer: Be careful with younger kids at night; it can be easy to lose sight of each other!

The few plants that we could see illuminated were really pretty but the ground was not as luminescent as I thought it would be. The black lights weren’t as precisely directed as they were in the River Journey ride so white and light colored clothing of passers-by also glowed which took a bit away from the overall effect (but made my already glow-in-the-dark shirt with a zebra glow even more!).

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Crowdedness

As soon as I got to Animal Kingdom for Early Magic Hours, I was allowed into the left paths through the Oasis. I believe guests without Early Magic Hours were still let through the gates but had to wait just inside the entrance. There were definitely other people in the park but it did not seem too crazy (granted, I’ve only been to Animal Kingdom one other time and that was during the week before Christmas).

During Early Magic Hours, Flight of Passage was over an hour wait, closer to 2 hours, and I had a dining reservation that I would miss if I got in line. Throughout the day, the wait for Flight of Passage was consistently between 120 and 180 minutes long, hovering around 150 most often. As I was leaving Na’Vi River Journey right around 9 AM when the park opened to all guests, cast members were alternating between allowing people in the queue to cross a through-path and letting people on the through-path walk past the queue. Walking along the path from Pandora to Harambe Village, the queue was on both sides of the path with only a third of the path allocated for people to walk-through. There was a drink and ice cream cart conveniently stationed just before the Harambe restrooms.

Na’Vi River Journey was always a shorter wait than Flight of Passage but not by much. I was never inclined to give up something else in Animal Kingdom for Na’Vi River Journey because the rest of the attractions were all under an hour wait.

PhD Pointer: Go to the bathroom near Satu’li Canteen right near the exit from the ride before getting in line! It’s a very long line with a water fountain (and water bottle re-fill!) but no restrooms.

The area itself did not feel too crowded at any point but the paths were difficult to navigate – I only accidentally found Satu’li Canteen without trying but the outside tables looked pretty full around 5:30 pm.

Next Trip!

I unfortunately did not have an opportunity to try any of the Pandoran food because I had other reservations in Animal Kingdom that I was really REALLY excited for (I’ll write about them soon in another post!). Even though I got to the Pongu Pongu window as soon as I could after our 3 hour wait for Flight of Passage, I was a minute too late and the manager said they were closing. I will have to try that Night Blossom drink some other time! I would have also loved to spend more time absorbing the general ambiance during dusk.

Overall Impression: Accept with minor revisions!

What did you like most or what are you most excited about Pandora?

Disney Tips · Disney Trips · Uncategorized

Making Mickey / Minnie Ears

Before my Disney obsession shifted into high gear in early 2017, I had always thought that Minnie and Mickey ears were cute but they felt like a purchase that would never be worth it enough for me. Besides, I already had an R2D2 ear hat and a Sorcerer Mickey hat that would do just fine. But after appreciating so many amazing ears on Pinterest and in the parks, I realized they were the perfect accessory to complete my park outfits. I thought I would share my story of making ear headbands (which I admit, I contribute very little to because my much craftier friend Chloe has usually done the bulk of the work).

A big part of the reason that I never bought ears at Disney Parks was because I could never find ears for my favorite characters. Although there were plenty of Rapunzel ears, they always had a long blonde braid attached and I prefer short-haired brunette Rapunzel. Belle ears were always yellow or gold and I prefer blue village dress Belle, especially for Disneybounding. And Meg ears were non-existent. There were a few pairs that were contenders (such as the zebra ones at Animal Kingdom and the blue sequined ears with white stars because they reminded me of Sorcerer Mickey but when I found out they were intended as 4th of July ears, that ruined them for me) but no pairs that I absolutely had to have.

Pair #1

After looking at enough Pinterest photos of ears, I had finally come up with a solid vision for a pair of Meg ears that I would actually want that weren’t available in any Etsy shops and my friend Chloe spurred me on further by saying that she was planning on making me a pair for Christmas. Instead of having her make me a pair, we decided to make a pair for each of us next time we were together in the same place. To prepare, I spent hours perusing fabric samples on Jo-Ann’s and Michaels’ websites trying to find the perfect shades of purple and patterned ribbons. Ultimately, that didn’t matter because we spent an hour in the store anyways trying to find the materials that perfectly complemented each other, none of which were on my Pinterest board.

After deciding on a very thin fabric with glittery spirals, the light purple to go underneath it and hide the cotton stuffing, and the dark purple and golden spiral ribbon for the bow, we got to work. Despite looking pretty, these were all really poor fabric choices.

We ended up having to pin the spiral fabric and the light purple fabric together so that we could sew them with a sewing machine without them coming apart or missing some sections. Even with the pinning, it still wasn’t perfect. Then the bow fabric was so slippery it took us another 45 minutes just to glue it together with the right proportions and puffiness.

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The ears were really cute and looked great in pictures but they were not very sturdy. By the time we left the park, one of my ears was coming off the headband and Chloe’s broke before we even got into the park! Thankfully, we had brought hot glue with us and she was able to repair them quickly. Can you guess which character her ears are based on?

Pair #2

The second time around, we did a lot better. For my Food & Wine ears, we selected a simple cotton print with names of wines for the ears and a much less slippery fabric for the bow in practically the exact same shade as my Meg bow. In addition to putting fewer cotton balls into each ear, we made sure the part of the ear that attached to the headband followed the curve of the headband instead of the curve of a printed template. This seemed to make all the difference! These ears stayed intact for the entire plane ride to Walt Disney World, during packing and unpacking as a I resort-hopped during my stay, my entire day at Epcot and the plane ride back home. I got so many compliments on the wine cork and how well they matched my shorts from Forever 21!

Pair #3

My Food & Wine ears were the only ears that I had time to make for my trip and in the process of preparing to make these, I stumbled upon an amazing pair of Rapunzel ears that I knew I would never be able to replicate. So I splurged and bought them because I thought they would be perfect to wear when I met Rapunzel for the first time. The coolest part about them is how they light up with the switch hidden inside the bow! Basically they are made of a bunch of small fabric flowers on a fabric-covered backing but I have no idea how the creator was able to weave the lights in.

Have you ever made ears yourself? What was your experience like?