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The Disney Dish with Jim Hill Ep. 462: How Casey Jr. plowed the road to Ghost Galaxy

OPENINGS

Normal Open: Welcome back to another edition of the Disney Dish podcast with Jim Hill. It’s me, Len Testa, and this is our show for the week of Shmursday, January 15, 2024.  Happy Martin Luther King Day, everyone!

ON THE SHOW TODAY

On the show today: News, including new Disney Dining Plan tips and tricks! Plus listener questions! Then in our main segment, Jim and special guest Jim Shull tell us how Disneyland’s Space Mountain got its themed overlays.

JIM INTRO

Let’s get started by bringing in the man who says he doesn’t know how to act his age because this is the first time he’s been this old.  It’s Mr. Jim Hill.   Jim, how’s it going?

GUEST INTRODUCTION

And we’d like to introduce a special guest for today’s show: It’s theme park consultant Jim Shull, who was previously Executive Creative Director of Walt Disney Imagineering, responsible for bringing to life things like Toy Story Land, and other attractions you love.  Welcome, Jim.

SUBSCRIBER ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

iTunes:  Thanks to everyone who subscribes to the show over at Patreon.com/JimHillMedia including Gray Houser, Mike Bennett, James Beauchamp, Lynne Rasmussen, Kye and Ella Layton, Amy Miller, Dr. Chris Smith, and Nathan Seitz.

Jim, these are the cast members in charge of Disney+’s new streaming educational videos.  Their initial ideas, including Mr. Toad’s Driving School, and Learn Blackjack Card Counting with Dory, have not yet drawn the numbers Disney’s looking for. But they have high hopes for their newest course, Mindfulness and Meditation with Donald Duck, coming out later this month. True story.

NEWS

The news is sponsored by TouringPlans.com. TouringPlans helps you save time and money at theme parks like Walt Disney World.  Check us out at touringplans.com.

                 

News

  • The Disney Dining Plan re-launched last week. Our own Christina Harrison was there to find you the best tips, tricks, and bargains on the dining plan.  A couple of highlights from opening day:
  • Any size Starbucks drink counts as a snack. That includes the monstrous 24-ounce Iced Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha we ordered with:
  • Oat milk
  • 4 shots of espresso
  • 7 pumps of white chocolate mocha sauce
  • 7 pumps of peppermint syrup
  • And Peppermint Chocolate Cream Cold Foam
  • Would normally cost over $20 if you were paying cash.
  • At the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor, all the sundaes under $10 count as snack credits. And toppings, which normally cost $0.69 each, are free on the dining plan.  

  • For those of you considering the DDP, it looks like Disney has set the value of 1 table-service credit at $55.  We got that number by looking at the price points for character meals and seeing how many dining credits those meals correspond to.

    And there seems to be a bright line at the $55 price point for breakfast.  Character meals that charge under $55 for breakfast are 1 DDP credit; $55 and up are 2 credits.   And we’re pretty sure that dollar amount is what’s driving the distinction, not things like the number of characters available at the meal, whether its in a park, or whether it’s buffet, family-style, fixed-price, or anything else.

2024 Disney Dining Plan Credits for Character Meals

Anything that serves breakfast for under $55 is 1 credit; $55+ is 2 credits

-or-

Anything in a castle is 2 credits

ONE CREDIT

Cape May: 1 Credit

        ⁃        B&D: $47

        ⁃        4 characters

        ⁃        buffet

        ⁃        no park admission required

Garden Grill: 1 Credit

        ⁃        B: $47, L&D: $62

        ⁃        4 characters

        ⁃        Family style

        ⁃        park admission required

Hollywood & Vine: 1 Credit

        ⁃        B: $47, L&D: $63

        ⁃        4 characters

        ⁃        buffet

        ⁃        park admission required

Tusker House: 1 Credit

        ⁃        B: $47, L&D: $62

        ⁃        4 characters

        ⁃        buffet

        ⁃        park admission required

Crystal Palace: 1 Credit

        ⁃        B: $48, L&D: $61

        ⁃        4 characters

        ⁃        buffet

        ⁃        park admission required

Ohana: 1 Credit

        ⁃        B: $49

        ⁃        2 characters

        ⁃        family style

        ⁃        no park admission required

Topolino’s: 1 Credit

        ⁃        B: $49

        ⁃        4 characters

        ⁃        prix-fix meal

        ⁃        no park admission required

Chef Mickeys: 1 Credit

        ⁃        B: $54, D: $66

        ⁃        5 characters

        ⁃        buffet

        ⁃        no park admission required

        ⁃        photopass setup

TWO CREDITS

Akershus: 2 Credits

        ⁃        B: $55, L&D: $67

        ⁃        4 characters

        ⁃        family style

        ⁃        park admission required

Cinderella’s Royal Table: 2 Credits

        ⁃        B: $69, L&D: $84

        ⁃        5 characters

        ⁃        prix-fix menu

        ⁃        PREPAID

        ⁃        park admission required

        ⁃        photopass setup

Be Our Guest: 2 Credits

        ⁃        L&D: $70

        ⁃        Beast, but just walking

        ⁃        prix-fix menu

        ⁃        park admission required

  • Disney’s After Hours events also restarted last week.
  • We were at Hollywood Studios for their restart.  And while the park always puts on a nice After Hours event, new for 2024 was a whole bunch of characters over at Echo Lake:
  • Thumper
  • Pocahontas and Meeko
  • Duffy
  • Goofy
  • Tiana, Donald, and Rafiki
  • And more!
  • D23 tickets go on sale starting March 26, and the event is August 9-11 in Anaheim.  Jim (and Jim), my optimistic take is that this is where we’ll start to hear about the next major set of domestic theme park projects.
  • Magic Kingdom and DHS will be the focus, which (I think) skips an AK update cycle.
  • But these seem to be the most popular parks now, and one of them badly needs reliable capacity
  • The last performance of the ‘classic’ Country Bear Jamboree will be January 26, 2024
  • I have a minor request for our listeners. If you happen to be in town, have an iPhone 15 (Max or Pro), and can capture the show in spatial video, I’d appreciate it. We’ll later be able to view the show in virtual reality using Apple Vision Pro.  
  • Disney also said at the end of this press release to stay tuned for more announcements about Frontierland.
  • A re-theming of Pecos Bill’s to Tiana’s Palace has been rumored for a while.  Jim and Jim, is that a possibility?  I don’t think we’re going to get New Orleans Square, despite it being the best idea for putting Tiana’s Bayou Adventure in the Magic Kingdom.

Surveys

We got a number of surveys over the holidays.  All of them seem to be ones we’ve seen before.  Shout out to Universal Orlando, however, whose dining survey asked me if I knew where in the parks to look for “fried foods.”  

Anyway, I expect all the park survey teams held off sending new surveys during the holidays. Now that we’re back for 2024, please be on the lookout for interesting survey questions.  If you find some, please email me len@touringplans.com.

Listener Questions

WhereInThePark wrote in to say:

And Michael Lee writes in with this:

From Bridgett:

I saw that they released the Fort Wilderness Cabin floor plan.  Why on Earth are the bunk beds in the main bedroom? Who wants their kids sleeping in their bedroom on vacation?

Second, I had a question about Paid lightning lane vs. virtual queue.

We were at Walt Disney World in December. We used both paid Lightning Lane and virtual queue for Tran and Guardians of the Galaxy.

In all cases the virtual queue wait was more than twice as long. Why is that? I think I know the answer, but I was wondering if there might be another, less greedy answer.

Len says: You know, Bridgett, my wife Laurel had the exact same reaction to the Fort Wilderness cabin layout.  Laurel also noted that there’s plenty of space outside the cabin to pitch a child-friendly tent, Disney’s comfort stations are clean and well-lit, and that nighttime temperatures are pleasant almost year-round in central Florida.  

Research/Patents (use query "disney enterprises".as AND "theme park".ab)

COMMERCIAL BREAK

We’re going to take a quick commercial break.  When we come back, Jim and Jim tell us how Space Mountain got its overlays. Keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle and we’ll be right back.

MAIN TOPIC - iTunes Show

Space Mountain Feature Story

Lead-in … “Season of the Force” is coming back to Disneyland Park. This celebration of all things Star Wars was first held out in Anaheim in the Fall of 2015 (just prior to “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” opening in theaters in late December of that same year). Folks traveling to Anaheim will sample new Star Wars-inspired food & beverage items as well as be among the first to experience a new ride film for that theme park’s “Star Tours” attraction. They’ll even get to ride that old favorite, Hyperspace Mountain.

This (for those who haven’t experienced this thrill ride yet) is a “Star Wars” -themed version of Space Mountain. Where – on orders from Admiral Akbar (who’s heard that there’s a Star Destroyer headed for the planet of Jakku) – you make the jump in Hyperspace and then find yourself doing battle with a bunch of TIE Fighters. And what’s especially cool about this thrill ride is that all of this action happens in perfect sync to the stirring music that John Williams wrote for the “Star Wars” films

These days, on-board audio on Disney thrill rides is almost taken as a given. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (FYI: The original at Disney’s Hollywood Studios closed just last week for a multi-month-long refurb) and California Screamin’ (Now known as the IncrediCoaster) are just two examples of Disney-produced coasters with synced-up music that was then specifically orchestrated to amplify / underscore that thrill ride’s specific twists & turns.

But Space Mountain – especially the Disneyland version (which didn’t open until late May of 1977) didn’t have on-board audio for most of the first two decades of its existence. If fact, if you rode this Tomorrowland attraction through the Fall of 1995, the only real sound that you’d hear on the Anaheim version of Space Mountain (beyond a handful of sound effects as your coaster car climbed the load hill, the rattling of the other coaster cars as they zoomed by in the dark, not to mention the screams of the other Guests traveling thru that cavernous show building) was that “BOOM!” you heard just before re-entry (i.e., just before your coaster car rolled back into Space Mountain’s unload area).

Fun fact: That “BOOM!” sound was manipulated audio. The Imagineers found a recording of a Saturn 5 rocket blasting off and then played it backwards. Presto! You now have the noise of a rocket re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.

So how did Disneyland’s version of Space Mountain wind up with on-board audio? It involves a certain Imagineer and – oddly enough – the score of another movie that John Williams wrote the score to. One that was actually produced by Universal Pictures.

To tell this story, we need to bring in our partner from Patreon. Veteran Imagineer Jim Shull, who’s the co-host of our “Disney Unpacked” video series. Welcome to the show, Jim.

And today, we’d like you to talk about someone you worked with at WDI for decades: Tom Morris, who was a Creative Development Executive at Imagineering. Tom predated you at WDI by a few years (Morris was originally hired in 1980 as Disney was staffing up to build EPCOT Center. You – on the other hand – were hired in 1988 just as work was getting underway on Disney-MGM Studios). You two worked together on a number of projects, including Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and the ACP – additional capacity program – at Disneyland Paris.

But today’s story … Well, it actually starts before Tom went to work for Disney. We have to travel back to when Morris was 16 and had just gotten his first car. And he’d then go out for drives on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Jim S talk about how Tom would play his favorite music while he was out for a drive and how enjoyable it was when a particular piece of music would then somehow sync up with the speed he was traveling / the curve in the road.

Which got Morris thinking: Would this be possible to do something like this on a Disney thrill ride?

Just to be clear here: There were previous Disney attractions that had on-board audio. What Tom Morris was talking about here was different. On-board audio that was synced up to the specific action of a thrill ride. Where the music would then be orchestrated to enhance the twists & turns of that attraction.

Jim S continues. Tom Morris befriends a ride operator at Disneyland Park. Someone who works at Space Mountain. Persuades this guy to let him ride that Tomorrowland attraction many, many times while wearing a Sony Walkman. Listens to specific songs / pieces of movie soundtracks looking for music that would then enhance the Guests’ experience while riding Space Mountain.

This is back in 1985. And Morris compiles a list of songs:

·           The Go-Go’s “We Got the Beat”

·           Devo’s “Whip It”

·           And Haircut 100’s “Boy Meet Girl”

Along with cuts from various movie soundtracks. Among them John Williams’ score for “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.” Which Universal Pictures released to theaters in the Summer of 1982.

Jim S continues. A year or so after Tom retired from Disney back in 2016, Morris actually released the playlist that he created back in 1985 for his Space Mountain synchronized sound project. You can find this mix of upbeat 80’s jams & pieces of movie soundtracks by Googling “Space Morris.” Unload these to your phone and then try one out the next time you’re at Disneyland and decide to ride Space Mountain.

Morris took a lot of folks from WDI over to Disneyland and had them experience Space Mountain by listening to these music tracks. There was a lot of enthusiasm for his synchronized-music-on-a-roller-coaster idea. But no one in Imagineering upper management was willing to greenlight this project at that time.

LEN QUESTION: And why was that?

Jim S continues: Very busy time at Imagineering. Work on Disney-MGM Studios was already underway. Euro Disneyland was staffing up.

More to the point, Space Mountain at Disneyland still had a line without on-board audio. No need to reinvent the wheel.

LEN QUESTION: So what changed in the mid-1990s?

Jim S continues: Euro Disneyland opened in April of 1992. Park itself was a success right out of the gate. Resort opened with too many on-site hotels and quickly became mired in debt.

Frank Wells renegotiated Disney’s deals with the banks. Got all that debt down to a manageable size before his sad passing in April of 1994. Company was looking to rebrand the Resort (go from Euro Disneyland to Disneyland Paris) and wanted something of size to help signify this change.

JIM H response: And this would have been “Space Mountain: From the Earth to the Moon.” Which opened at that theme park in June of 1995.

Jim S continues: But before that … Well, remember how I just said that Euro Disneyland – the theme park – was a success right out of the box? It was so much so that – starting in the Fall of 1992 – we began working on expanding the overall capacity of the place. Quickly adding 10 new attractions to the Park to then give Guests more to do.

Now my boss on the ACP project – Disneyland Paris’ additional capacity program – was Tom Morris. He was the Creative Executive for that entire theme park at that time. And Tom had never really given up on his synchronized-music-and-sound-on-a-thrill-ride idea.

LEN QUESTION: So let me guess. He used this opportunity to turn “Space Mountain: From the Earth to the Moon” into Disney’s first coaster with on-board audio that was synced to the twists & turns of that coaster.

Jim S continues: Not exactly. Tom first had to prove that this was actually doable. So – as his proof-of-concept – he had a version of this synchronized sound system installed into the ride at Disneyland Paris that was closest at that time to what “Space Mountain: From the Earth to the Moon” was. Which – as it turns out – was something that I was designing as part of Disneyland Paris’ ACP program.

LEN QUESTION: And what ride was that?

Jim S continues: This theme park’s version of the Casey Junior Circus Train.

LEN QUESTION: No. Really?

Jim S continues: We need to be able to prove to Marty that this on-board synchronized audio system would work prior to its installation in “Space Mountain: From the Earth to the Moon.” And while the version of Casey that you find in Anaheim is basically a miniature train, the one in Paris is actually a roller coaster for little kids.

Anyway … That addition to Fantasyland opened in March of 1994. Casey Jr’s on-board synchronized audio was considered enough of a success that WDI managed okayed the installation of a similar system in “Space Mountain: From the Earth to the Moon.” Which opened at Disneyland Paris 15 months later.

JIM H response: And based on the wild success of that thrill ride, just like that, roller coasters with on-board synchronized sound were everywhere at the Disney Parks. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in July of 1999. And then California Screamin’ opened at DCA some 19 months later (February of 2001).

Jim S continues: You’re overlooking the specific topic of today’s show: Space Mountain at Disneyland Park. Based on the success of “From the Earth to the Moon,” the decision was made to immediately transform that version of this thrill ride into an attraction with on-board synchronized music & sound.

LEN QUESTION: That had to be a big project. Getting all new coaster cars built for Anaheim’s version of “Space Mountain.”

Jim S continues: They didn’t make all new coaster cars, Len. They just took Anaheim’s pre-existing “Space Mountain” cars and then put a heavy amplifier inside. That’s how they were able to have California’s version of “Space Mountain” up & running by March of 1996. Some nine months after Disneyland Paris’ “From the Earth to the Moon” opened in June of 1995.

LEN QUESTION: But you put something heavy inside of a coaster car that’s designed for one specific version of a thrill ride, isn’t that then going to put additional stress & strain on that vehicle? Not to mention the track that it travels on.

Jim S continues: Funny you should ask that, Len. In the late Winter / early Spring of 2003, my son & I were riding Space Mountain at Disneyland Park with another family. As we were experiencing this thrill ride, our coaster car separated from the track with such force that it actually fractured my arm.

LEN SHOCKED REACTION: No!

Jim S continues: This story is true, Len. They took me to the hospital and put my arm in a cast. The very next time I went into work, Marty Sklar made a point of signing that cast.

JIM H Question: So what caused that “Space Mountain” coaster car you & your son were riding in to separate from the track like that?

Jim S continues: Well, it’s worth noting that – at this point in its history – Disneyland’s version of Space Mountain was over 25 years old. Which is pretty elderly when it comes to a thrill ride.

Mind you, the folks in Operations at that Park had been nursing Disneyland’s version of “Space Mountain” along by sending in welding teams at night to regularly make track repairs. And those heavy amplifiers inside of each coaster car – to be honest – weren’t helping this situation.

 But soon after this incident, Disney’s lawyers toured this Tomorrowland attraction, saw the repairs that were typically being made and then said “You can’t re-open this ride.”

LEN: Really?

JIM H response: He’s right. I remember when Disneyland’s version of Space Mountain closed with little or no notice in April of 2003. It then stayed closed for more than two years.

Jim S continues: They cut a hole in the back of that building and then hauled all of the original “Space Mountain” track away. Then – inside of that now-empty Tomorrowland show building – they built a brand-new version of the track for Disneyland’s “Space Mountain.” Kind of like a ship in a bottle.

JIM H response: Which then opened to the public the day before the official start of Disneyland’s 50th anniversary celebration. July 16, 2005.

LEN: That is a crazy story.

Jim S continues: I know that people want to think of the Imagineers being this group of people who plan everything well in advance and use gold-plated tools. But it’s often not like that. We just do the best we can with the time we have and the budget we’ve been give.

Which reminds me of another “Space Mountain” redo. How much do you know about “Ghost Galaxy” ?

JIM H response: Wasn’t that something that Disneyland did in Anaheim back in the late 2000s as part of that theme park’s seasonal Halloween Time event?

Jim S continues: The first one of these was actually done in Hong Kong back in 2007. That version of Disneyland had first opened in September of that same year. And – to be honest – two years in, it needed a new attraction to help entice the locals to return to Hong Kong Disneyland.

So the thinking was … What if we were to retheme that theme park’s “Space Mountain” in such a way that it then became a Halloween-themed experience?

LEN: Sort of like Haunted Mansion Holiday.

Jim S continues: Exactly. Only – in this case – because “Space Mountain” was a thrill ride, we’d lean into the scary rather than the silly. Have Guests be pursued by this ghost as they zoom around the galaxy.

But here’s the thing: This plan is put in motion in the Summer of 2007 and needs to be up & running by September 24th of that same year. So the Imagineers have a small amount of time to pull this off and an even tinier budget. So what do you do?

JIM H: You put in an “All Hands On Deck” call to every available Imagineer?

Jim S continues: Well, yes. You could do that. Or you could just buy a bunch of Zip Ties.

LEN: Zip Ties? Seriously?

Jim S continues: That’s ultimately how all of the cabling that powered the projectors inside of “Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy” were anchored into place. It was cheap & cheerful. More importantly, it worked.

In fact, Hong Kong’s Halloween-themed version of “Space Mountain” was so popular with visitors to that theme park that – two years later – Anaheim got its own version of “Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy.”

LEN: I’m not sure what concerned me most about today’s show. That you fractured your arm while riding “Space Mountain” at Disneyland or that so much of the equipment used for “Ghost Galaxy” was just held into place with Zip Ties.

Jim S continues: Well, that’s what we’re trying to do with our “Disney Unpacked” video series. Share the real stories.

JIM H response: This month, we’ve been talking about Mickey’s Birthdayland at the Magic Kingdom. And next month, we’ll talk about the new land at Disneyland at Disneyland in Anaheim which grew out of that project. Which is Mickey’s Toontown.

Jim S tag gag: I have pictures of my son in the car in the driveaway at Mickey’s house. I am pleased to report that that car stayed on the track and no one’s arm was fractured while we were capturing that photo.

LEN concludes: I am sort of reassured by that news … I think. Thanks for coming on “Disney Dish” today, Mr. Shull.

Jim S concludes: My pleasure.

We now slide into standard show close

MAIN TOPIC - Patreon Show

WRAP-UP

That’s going to do it for the show today.  You can help support our show by subscribing over at Patreon.com/jimhillmedia, where we’re posting exclusive shows every week.   Last week’s show had Disney Imagineer Jim Shull answering your .  Check it out at Patreon.com/jimhillmedia.

Patreon: That’s going to do it for the show today.  Thanks for subscribing and supporting the Disney Dish.

ON NEXT WEEK’S SHOW:  Jim tells us how the Imagineers handled Walt’s decision - in January of 1955 - to add Tomorrowland to Disneyland’s opening-day lineup, giving them just six months to get it done.  I’ve seen archival footage of the last week of prep work for Tomorrowland, and it’s mesmerizing in the same way that violating any modern workplace safety regulations is mesmerizing. Can’t wait to hear Jim’s story.

NOTES 

You can find more of Jim at JimHillMedia.com, and more of me, len at TouringPlans.com.

PRODUCER CREDIT

iTunes Show:  We’re produced spectacularly by Eric Hersey, who’ll be selling his new-in-box Pal Mickeys, Furbies, and Tickle Me Elmos at the Totally Rad Vintage Fest, Minnesota’s premier pop-culture event, on Saturday, February 3, 2024 at the Minneapolis Convention Center, in beautiful, downtown, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

CLOSING

While Eric’s doing that, please go on to iTunes and rate our show and tell us what you’d like to hear next.

For Jim, this is Len, we’ll see you on the next show.


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