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The Disney Dish with Jim Hill Ep 447: Was “Rock’n Rockets” WDW’s best fireworks show ever?

Today’s show is sponsored by: Agent of Excellence , Better Help , TouringPlans Travel 

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, October 2, 2023.

ON THE SHOW TODAY

On the show today: News! Listener Questions! And in surveys, I’m more convinced than ever that the Starcruiser isn’t dead.  Then in our main segment, we got so much listener mail about last week’s fireworks show with details that we didn’t know the first time around!

JIM INTRO

Let’s get started by bringing in the man who’s renaming his cats ‘Ketchup’ and ‘Seemingly Ranch’.  It’s Mr. Jim Hill.   Jim, how’s it going?

SUBSCRIBER ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

iTunes: Thanks to new subscribers lh-60563, J Press, Jenny Cat, and Big Bad John, and long-time subscribers Serelyn, Matthew Pittman, Sean Moore, and Mark Brinkerhoff.  Jim, these are the new flight attendants for EPCOT’s re-released Soarin’ Over California.  They say the best part of the job is meeting new people and getting to sleep at home every night.  And the hardest part of the job is figuring out what to do with all the CheezIts and peanut snacks they never have time to hand out during the flight.  True story.

DISNEY UNPACKED

A quick plug for our new show: Jim and I have been working with Imagineer Jim Shull for almost two years on a new video series that explains how your favorite Disney attractions got built.  The show is called Disney Unpacked, it comes out later this year, and you can see a preview of it at Youtube.com/@DisneyUnpacked.

NEWS

The news is sponsored by TouringPlans’ travel agency. TouringPlans can help book your next trip.  Plus it comes with a free TouringPlans subscription. Check us out at touringplans.com/dish.

                 

News

  • Brightline train service opens between Orlando and Miami
  • Our own Christina Harrison rode the rails from Miami to Orlando to see what it was like
  • $79 in coach (one way) / $149 in Premium, which comes with food
  • 3 ½ hours one-way
  • At least half a dozens trains per day
  • At speeds up to 160 MPH
  • Terminal C in Orlando
  • Journey of Water Inspired by Moana opened Monday to AP previews
  • Added a VQ line at the last minute
  • It’s always a surprise to Disney when Disney opens something
  • Disney announced a new set of hotel room discounts:


  • Interesting because it’s about a month earlier than they normally announce these deals.

To put that $158 in perspective, the least-expensive DVC points rental for January, 2024 is running around $200 to $250/night, typically at OKW.  Remember that Pop has the Skyliner, too.

Surveys

Jim, on last week’s show we mentioned getting a glimpse into the in-depth surveys for the Galactic Starcruiser.  And this week we got to talk with someone who’s done one of those one-on-one surveys.  Here’s a list of the questions asked:

  • Pre-Arrival
  • Where did you hear about Galactic Starcruiser?
  • How did you prepare for it?
  • How long did it take you to prepare your character?
  • On Board
  • Which storyline were you on?
  • What events impacted your personal story?
  • What did you talk about with each of the characters?
  • What was your first interaction with each character?
  • Are you an introvert or extrovert?
  • In Your Room
  • How could Disney better integrate D3 (the AI in the room) into the story?
  • How could Disney improve the interactions on the datapads to better support the story?
  • Overall
  • Do you feel like you made any impact on the story?

Listener Questions

From Xavier:

I am a big fan of Disney parades especially our parades here Disneyland Resort. My question is … were there any plans for the Magic Kingdom to have a new parade for their 50th anniversary.

From Nate:

On your last show you mentioned the idea of bringing a “Rocketter” coaster to Tomorrowland. While I’d love to see that IP brought back anywhere, I’ve often imagined it adjacent to Tower of Terror in the studios. Rockin’ Rollercoaster is due for a retheme and the Rocketteer would be a prefect thematic fit for Sunset Blvd. Please tell me someone has considered this.

From Andee, in response to our review of the Destination D23 talk of re-doing the Dinosaur ride in Animal Kingdom to Indiana Jones:

I had the great fortune to be on a backstage Magic ABD this past summer, and one of the things that we got to do was go backstage at the Indiana Jones ride.

It was mentioned that the Dinosaur ride and the Indy ride have identical tracks with the exception of two loops that are missing from the Dinosaur ride. So if the ride becomes a clone of the California ride, they will have to figure out what to do about the two loops of the ride that have no place in the dinosaur ride in Florida.

Our guide also said that the cost to replace one of those ride vehicles in today’s money would be like $750k-$1 million.  Since there are approximately 30 jeeps in the attractions, I would think that whatever happens to this ride, I’d bet on those jeeps staying exactly the way they are.

From Jayson:

I think an interesting segment would be about rides and attractions in the park that are way more popular and successful than the underlying movie. For example, everyone associates Brer Rabbit and zip-a-dee-doo-da with Splash Mountain way more than Song of the South. Similarly at Universal, WaterWorld continues to be a must see but the Kevin Costner film underwhelmed. What other examples are there of theme park attractions that debuted alongside or after the movie/tv show but have eclipsed in success, acclaim, and popularity?

Len: Let’s limit this to attractions that came after the movie (so, not Haunted Mansion)

  • Pirates of the Caribbean, which Jim has noted came out of Disney’s earlier swashbuckling films
  • Jungle Cruise (I mean, we all know it came from African Queen, but does anyone under the age of 50 remember that film?)
  • Mr Toad’s Wild Ride
  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster - Aerosmith hasn’t put out an album in decades
  • Tower of Terror - Twilight Zone isn’t familiar to anyone under age 50
  • Sci-Fi Dine-In: I’d argue that most of the people going there have never been to a drive-in

From Jonna:

Hi Len and Jim!!

Long time listener and fellow data geek. I was so excited when you were talking about the “market price” of vegetarian options at 50’s Prime Time Cafe. I am a market research expert in fresh foods and have started to watch as the fluctuating prices are now causing outlets to try and make back profit by charging based on yielded demand.

While it’s more popular in meat and cheese- where input costs are erratic- given there’s so many different produce from all over the country (and beyond!) it’s not that common to do “market pricing” in vegetables. Perhaps this is where the data strategy (being able to change prices based on demand) as yet another way Disney profit centers are outsmarting us all?

They have so much amazing data- as much as I hate to pay extra- I’m kind of in awe at how they’re able to use it all. Imagine if those Apple orchards Jim talked about had that kind of market intel guiding their strategy?

I’m happy to help with any food market q’s too.

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

COMMERCIAL BREAK

We’re going to take a quick commercial break.  When we return, Jim continues the story of the best fireworks show ever seen in Walt Disney World.  We’ll be right back.

MAIN TOPIC - iTunes Show

Mandy writes in with a comment about last week’s “Best Fireworks Show Ever” story:

The fireworks story reminded me of when I worked in the Magic Kingdom’s Labor Department in the mid 2000's.

I was in the "Modified Duty Office" where we handled Cast Members working with worker's compensation restrictions, who couldn’t perform their regular jobs.

One of the many positions we had to fill was for two people daily to pick up firework shells. Simply assigning someone to this task led to many swift injury recoveries and we never heard from them again as they promptly returned ready-to-work back to their originally assigned home location.

PS: The equity performers in entertainment were always fastest out of door and back to their home location.

Disney’s “Rock’n Rockets” Follow-up Feature

Okay. So last week, we talked about how the American Pyrotechnic Association celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of that organization by … Well, holding their annual convention at Walt Disney World (which – given that the Mouse is the world’s largest user of pyrotechnic materials – only makes sense) and then closing out that event with the most spectacular fireworks displayed ever presented on property.

Well, given the audience who listens to “Disney Dish,” it was a surprise to absolutely no one that a few of you were on property back in September of 1998. Not only that, but you witnessed this dazzling display in person.

Anyway … Given that these stories are just too good not to share, we’ve opted to punt Peter Pan to next week (We’ll discuss that Fantasyland favorite in depth on the very next “Disney Dish,” I promise). But now … Well, let’s start with Brandon Holst’s recollection of that night’s events:

Gentlemen ,

Long time listener, first time writer. I’m a veteran theme park operator and still work in the industry as a consultant, and really enjoy the scientific/technical angle Len brings to the podcast in addition to Jim’s wonderful historical insights.

I particularly enjoyed this week’s feature on the Rock’n Rockets event in 1998. That year, I was a Guest Service Manager in Monorail Operations at WDW. Since I was the new guy, I was assigned to be the monorail liaison for the event.

We had to park all trains inside stations while the pyrotechnics were going off in case of a stray shell careened into the beam. After the show concluded, the maintenance team then drove the tractors around the beam way to inspect for damage before we could give the all-clear and restart the system.

You can imagine my “disappointment“ (sarcasm intended) when I was told that my position during Rock’n Rockets would be atop the southwest corner rooftop of the Contemporary tower, keeping an eye out for any errant projectiles. I got to watch Kenny Loggin’s set, then have the absolute best seat in the house for the show. Definitely a highlight of my Disney career.

Twenty five years has clouded my memory somewhat. However, it’s my recollection that the 2nd night’s event was canceled due to a tropical storm that was headed our way. In fact, I think they had to strike the stage that night as soon as the last shell exploded.

Thanks, Brandon, for sharing your insider’s account of that night’s event. But as for the second night of Disney’s Rock’n Rockets being cancelled due a tropical storm … That’s what friend-of-the-show Bioreconstruct remembers as well.:

Gosh, I'm pretty sure that “Rock n Rockets” back in 1998 was only one night. With the second night being cancelled due to a nearby hurricane and the approaching wind field.

So two nights worth of shows & fireworks got rolled into one? Maybe that’s why “Disney’s Rock’n Rockets” was so memorable & spectacular. Anyway, Bio goes on to say:

I watched “Rock’n Rockets” from the top of the Contemporary after dinner at the California Grill. It was bizarre to see my work on “Roller Coaster Rabbit” …

Quick side note: “Roller Coaster Rabbit” was the second of three Roger Rabbit shorts that were created for theatrical release. What was especially cool about “Roller Coaster Rabbit” was that it was animated by the talented team at Walt Disney Feature Animation – Florida AND that this Roger Rabbit short was sent out into cinemas in June of 1990 attached to all prints of “Dick Tracy.”

Back to Bioreconstruct’s memories of that evening:

It was bizarre to see my work on “Roller Coaster Rabbit” up on a giant screen as entertainment that was offered during intermission for “Disney’s Rock’n Rockets.”

Now what’s especially cool about the way that Bioreconstruct got to experience “Disney’s Rock’n Rockets” is that … Well, he got to view this entire show from above from inside the California Grill. Not only that, but Bio got pictures (check out his Twitter / X feed

In fact, if you check out Bioreconstruct’s posts on that platform from September 26 of this year, you’ll not only see images of some of the spectacular shells that were fired off back in 1998, you’ll also get to check out the elaborate-albeit-temporary physical plant that Disney built directly across from the Contemporary which then made “Disney’s Rock’n Rockets” possible. Huge amount of stuff set up there along the shores of Seven Seas Lagoon.

Back to Bio for a sec. I’m fascinated by his description of what was going on inside of the California Grill the night that “Disney’s Rock’n Rockets” was being staged down on that lawn. Listen to this description of what was going on inside of this restaurant at the Contemporary that same night:

I did the California Grill dining event for Rock’n Rockets. It was great. They had us enter the kitchen to get our food. We bumped into the cooks at their stations while they prepared our food -- to order, right at the stove, at times.

Have you ever done anything like that at a dining event at Walt Disney World, Len? FYI: This would have been about three years after the California Grill first opened at the Contemporary back on May 15, 1995.

Back to what Bio mentioned earlier. Which is how the second evening of “Disney’s Rock’n Rockets” being cancelled because of a tropical storm threatening Central Florida. Well, he’s not wrong.

Hurricane Georges formed in the far Eastern Atlantic back on September 15, 1998. Forecasters watched this thing gather strength as it tracked to the northwest, first passing over Puerto Rico and then hitting Eastern Cuba. One week later, Hurricane Georges was now a Category 2 storm with extremely dangerous winds reaching a speed of 110 MPH.

And while Georges was just going to graze Florida (It would make landfall in Key West on the morning of September 25th before then veering off into the Gulf of Mexico), the wind field associated with this massive storm was going to extend all the way up to Tallahassee. So all of the attractions in Orlando really needed to batten down the hatches as the evening of September 24, 1998.

This is why Brandon Holst shared that story about how the team at Disney World had to strike the massive set-up for “Disney’s Rock’n Rockets” as soon as the last shell was fired. From a safety point-of-view, they couldn’t afford to have all of that stuff out on the lawn across from the Contemporary suddenly become airborne in a 110 MPH wind and then become a projectile.

Okay. So this is where things now get interesting. We have what was supposed to be a two-night event at the 50th anniversary convention for the American Pyrotechnics Association turned into a one night event. And we know that Kenny Loggins AND the B52s performed because … Well ..

  1. Brandon Holst describes watching Kenny Loggins perform from his perch high atop the Contemporary
  2. And Bioreconstruct actually found online CDs of the recordings that were made of these two groups that were made as they performed live at WDW back in the Fall of 1998. (This is what I love about the Internet. Hammer on it long enough and you can find anything)

Which brings up to the other group that was supposed to perform at “Disney’s Rock’n Rockets” : 10,000 Maniacs. To be honest, I can’t find any proof that they hit the stage on September 24th. So maybe 10,000 Maniacs was only supposed to have performed at the APA’s convention on the night of September 25th? Only to then have their appearance at “Disney’s Rock’n Rockets” get cut because – out of an abundance of caution given Hurricane Georges’ probable path – WDW officials opted to cancel all of the outdoor festivities planned for September 25th.

Interesting side note: Bioreconstruct has already listened to the B52s CD that was supposedly recorded live at “Disney’s Rock’n Rockets” in the Fall of 1998 (at least that’s what the liner notes say). But what Bio found interesting about this particular recording was:

  1. It sounds like the B52s were indoors when this recording was made

And – as part of the band’s chit-chat between songs – the B52s supposedly apologize to the audience for the fireworks display getting cancelled.

So maybe this B52s concert was recorded live somewhere on WDW property on September 25th for the APA conventioneers.

Lots of other questions from “Disney Dish” listeners in regards to the “Rock’n Rockets” show at WDW. Like this note from Jim Knepley:

Gentlemen,

I remember vividly seeing a fireworks show from the beach of the Wilderness Lodge, launched from the Contemporary, apparently part of some pyrotechnic convention. The joke between me and my wife is that the vendors didn't want to pack anything up and take it home with them. So they launched it instead. It was impressive and memorable.

The problem is, we didn't visit WDW in 1998. We were in Disneyland that year.

Did those conventions, and by extension, those shows, happen later? Like – say -- maybe in 2007?

Actually, you’re just one year off, Jim. The American Pyrotechnics Association returned to Walt Disney World in September of 2008 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of that organization. And over the course of that convention, they staged thee different never-to-be forgotten fireworks displays on property:

  • Show No. 1 was presented high above the actual Lake Buena Vista along the waterfront at Downtown Disney. The shells used in this presentation were provided by the Parente Fireworks Company from Melara, Italy. This fireworks display was presented on the night of September 18, 2008.
  • Show 2 was fired off along the shores of Fort Wilderness. The shells used in that presentation were provided by Pyrotechnico of New Castle, PA. And that fireworks display was presented on the night of September 19, 2008.
  • Show 3 – the grand finale of that year’s American Pyrotechnic Association convention – was presented right where “Rock’n Rockets” had been staged. That lawn across from the Contemporary Hotel along the edge of Seven Seas Lagoon.

Shells were fired from 24 different locations around that hotel. Entitled “Welcome to Our World” (and featuring music from Animal Kingdom theme park as well as the movie AND the stage show version of “The Lion King,” this presentation was supposed to have been the largest fireworks show ever to have been presented on WDW property.

Which – if you remember last week’s show (where we talked about the fireworks display that WDW put together for the 4th of July for America’s bicentennial. With thousands of shells fired off nightly as part of a four day-long event) – is really saying something.

Beauty part is … You can go over to YouTube right now and watch videos that people took at WDW back in September of 1998 of both the fireworks display that was staged high above Lake Buena Vista at Downtown Disney as well as “Welcome to Our World.” And you can then judge for yourself if these were in fact the biggest, most spectacular fireworks displays to ever be presented on property.

And speaking of big … I wanted to share one last story from Brandon Holst about his time with the pyrotechnics team at WDW:

As a College Program cast member back in 1994, I talked my way into shadowing the Illuminations stage manager one night. We got to watch the show from the control booth on top of the Mexico pavilion, where there was a large console with each launch location’s status indicated as well as a “manual fire” button for each of the barges in case the automation didn’t work as intended.

In one corner of the panel was a lone button labeled “WWIII”. Curious , I asked the stage manager what that was all about. He told me it was for the New Year’s Eve and 4th of July shows , where they “pull out a batting cage on a pontoon boat stuffed to the top with fireworks”. When the time came , they hit the World War III button !

Yes, it takes a very special person to be part of the pyrotechnics team at WDW. And not everyone is up to the job. Mandy shared this story earlier this week:

While listening to the latest “Disney Dish” episode, I was reminded of when I worked with the Magic Kingdom Labor Department in the mid 2000's. Specifically in the "Modified Duty Office," where we handled Cast Members working with worker's compensation restrictions.

And one of the many positions we had to fill was for
two people daily to pick up firework shells. Simply assigning someone to this task led to many swift injury recoveries. And we never heard from these Cast Members again as they prompty returned ready-to-work back to their originally assigned home location.

Thanks to everyone who reached out this week with their great stories about “Disney’s Rock’n Rockets” as well as other behind-the-scenes aspects of the WDW Resort.

Next week’s feature – as promised – will take a close look at the Park’s “Peter Pan Flight” attraction.

WRAP-UP

That’s going to do it for the show today.  You can help support our show and JimHillMedia by subscribing over at DisneyDish.Bandcamp.Com, where you’ll find exclusive shows never before heard on iTunes.  Email for tech support at bandcamp: support@bandcamp.com.

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

ON NEXT WEEK’S SHOW: Jim gives us the history of Peter Pan’s Flight, one of the few attractions to appear in almost every Disney resort around the world.  

NOTES 

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

Also, Jim and I will be doing a live podcast from the Theme Park Play Workshop at MIT’s Game Lab, around 7 pm on Thursday, November 9, 2023.  And the general public - that’s you - is invited.  We’ll have more details shortly.

PRODUCER CREDIT

iTunes Show: We’re produced fabulously by Aaron Adams, who’ll be serving up Nonna Adams’ world-famous pistachio cannoli - the secret ingredient is love - at the Shrewsbury Street Italian Heritage Parade this coming Sunday, October 8, 2023, starting at noon, on Shrewsbury Street, in beautiful, downtown, Worcester, Massachusetts.

CLOSING

While Aaron’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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