Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Monorails: Trains of the Future - Now Arriving by Kim A. Pedersen -Book Review

Review by Jeff C. 

Monorails: Trains of the Future - Now Arriving by Kim A. Pedersen, published by The Monorail Society, 1st ed., 248 pages.

Purchase directly from the publisher:
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In the interest of full disclosure, this is one of the rare times I have had personal correspondence with the author prior to publication. A while back, I wrote The Monorail Society (TMS) during DC Metro's Silver Line expansion to ask if anyone was lobbying for a connecting monorail loop in and around Tysons Corner, Virginia. The answer was "No" and now we have four new mass transit stations with inadequate commuter parking and "last mile" problems interlinking to nearby malls and office parks.
I have also been following TMS for years at Finally, I purchased my autographed copy of the book directly from the website.

If one has been to the website, much of the book's material is already there, but this sizable volume smartly packages and organizes the information very logically. It begins with the definition of a monorail and how to recognize the difference between monorails and other similarly configured systems. Then, it proceeds through arguments in favor of them, their history (which has been disappointing at times), catalogs of systems, additional technical aspects, the people behind the machines and, of course, the future.

The "future" part always seems to be a sticking point. The title explicitly states "Arriving Now," but there have been many setbacks trying to get "on the beam." For the most part, the author is frank about this. There is also more than a fair share of cheerleading which is to be expected from an enthusiast.  Conversely, why is chapter two entitled "Why Not Monorail?" instead of "Why Monorail?" if it is promoting the positive?

Even though I have been to the website of TMS at least weekly for news briefs and construction updates, I made a number of discoveries while reading through the chapters. For instance, Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren from whom Alweg monorails derive their name made his fortune in vacuum cleaners, specifically the Electrolux brand.

The discussion and history are all good, but what sells this compendium are the pictures. Gorgeous color photos and concept art adorn nearly every page and even the dust jacket. It would be a shame to use a comprehensive reference such as this solely as a "coffee table" book for its images, but one could if so inclined. In flipping through various pages, one will most likely lock in upon certain visuals. For me, I started noting my favorite types and looks of monorails. I favor straddle over suspended models which is not too much of a surprise because they are the ones primarily used by Disney.

Suspended Model

Straddle Model

Pop Quiz: In what land is Disneyland's first monorail located? The answer from page 72 is Fantasyland because that is where Peter Pan's Flight uses a suspended monorail system. It arrived in 1955, four years before Tomorrowland's Mark I.

Suspended Monorail

Straddle Monorail

So, where else does Disney fit into all of this? It's pretty much everywhere and it's a double-edged sword. Walt Disney hugely promoted monorails, but that association led to arguments that they were not serious means of transportation. Instead they were supposed to be for amusement. This is ironic considering the number of passenger miles logged at the Disneyland, Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland resorts. In general, the adoption rate for monorails has been higher in the eastern hemisphere where the amusement park connection was not quite as strong. There is a great debt owed to Disney for keeping this type of vehicle in the public eye. The author makes these points well and repeatedly.

I mentioned earlier that I have personal preferences for certain monorail designs. As for aesthetics, I like either extremely retro like the century-old Wuppertal Schwebebahn (suspended railway) or extremely futuristic like Transrapid's magnetic levitation train.

Old School

New School
Thus, it is no surprise that my personal favorites in the entire collection are Disneyland's retrofuturistic Mark VII trains.

Stunning Achievements
I even mentioned this preference in a previous Blue Sky article too.
They capture the spirit of the pioneering Mark I, II and III models while incorporating the advanced designs and capacity of the Mark V's. Some proposals may have been easier to sell to reluctant cities if their vehicles had the sleek, sensuous lines of the Mark VII's. Flat-faced trains do not say "smooth"; they say "chunky." They can and should be attractive. That is why I consider the Walt Disney World and Disneyland monorails transportation and attractions unto themselves.

"Monorails: Trains of the Future - Now Arriving" will become a unique, invaluable reference for anyone researching or reviewing this means of conveyance. There are areas that could have been better. The images really should have had dates or there should have been a photo index. Both the bibliography and main index are undersized for such a comprehensive approach to a subject. I would have also appreciated a significantly larger technical section. Of course, I'm an engineer, so that's what would naturally appeal to me the most.  Is it still a worthy effort? Of course it is. Could it be better in a revised edition? Absolutely.

Please feel free to send me any questions that you may have. Thank you!

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Disney's Mickey's Fun Wheel Swinging Cars Review...

Disney's Mickey's Fun Wheel Swinging Cars Review

You can find the Wheel of Death I mean Mickey's Fun Wheel at California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California. ;) I am a HUGE thrill seeker but this one ride SCARES me! I can ride any coaster with no problem. I have a huge fear of heights so maybe that takes into account? 

It was pretty busy on the day we went. We rode this in the early afternoon. I'd like to ride it again someday at night. We had to share our car with another family so I warned them of my embarrassing screams to come. At one point EVERYONE in the car was laughing but me. NOT cool man not cool! 

To view my ride experience click here:

My husband had to bribe me to go on this. He offered me an ice cream cone but I don't think that was enough! I deserved more!

Me Pretending to have fun on the ride! ;)

Please feel free to send me any questions that you may have. Thank you!

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

DisneyLand Snack Mini Reviews....

DisneyLand Snack Mini Reviews

Written by Paul T. 

My partner and I went to Disneyland for the first time this past October (October 2015).   We've been to Walt Disney World twice and looked forward to visit "Walt's park" for the 60th anniversary celebration.   

California Adventure was the first park we visited.  We had breakfast at Flo’s V8 Café and had reservations for dinner at the Carthay Circle Restaurant so we didn’t want a big lunch. In the early afternoon we stopped for a beverage and had the 60th anniversary cupcake from the Fiddler, Fifer& Practical Cafe (aka a Starbucks) at California Adventure.  

It's located on Buena Vista Street across from the Carthay Circle Restaurant.  This is a large counter service that serves the normal Starbucks beverages both hot and cold, smoothies, as well as various sandwiches, salads, muffins, cookies, and seasonal items.  It looked like a nice place for a quick lunch or dinner and they also offer a few breakfast sandwiches.  There were lots of tables inside as well as a few tables outside.  I just wanted something cold to drink but when I saw the special 60th anniversary cupcake beautifully displayed in the case with lights shining on it, it just called out to me so I had to get one to share.  I'm glad we shared it because it would have been too much for one person.  It was $5.99 and large.   This is the official description from the on-line menu:  

Orange Cupcake with White Chocolate Crunchy Pearls, Mixed Berry Filling, Cream Cheese Bavarian Mousse, Silver Dust Sparkles and Buttercream Trim.  

I had no idea what to expect because I didn't read the description:  the cupcake just looked really good.  The combination of orange cake and chocolate was amazing!   I thought the white chocolate pearls were milk chocolate chips in orange cake until I read the menu. The chocolate pearls had a slight crunch to them which added a nice texture to the cupcake.   I never thought to combine orange cake with chocolate.  It's a really good combination.  The Bavarian Mousse was not overly sweet and added to flavor combination.  In the middle was a small dollop of berry filling sort of like jelly that was an unexpected surprise.  It tasted like raspberry filling but the menu describes it as mixed berry.  

At first I thought $5.99 for the cupcake was a little overpriced but, like all things Disney, they really thought about it, plussed it up, and created a really special cupcake that looks great and has a great combination of flavors.  I read this cupcake is also available in Disneyland but the cake is lemon rather than orange.  

Our next two days were devoted to Disneyland.   We stopped at the Village Haus Restaurant for a snack.  This has a Pinocchio theme.  From the outside it looks like it was plucked right out of the 1940 cartoon Pinocchio and the theming is carried inside.  There were carved figures from Pinocchio inside and outside and murals on the inside walls with scenes from the movie.   The details were all around and it added to the "Pinocchio" feel of the restaurant.   I also think Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would feel at home here too.   This is another counter service with lots of tables inside and lots outside.  We took advantage of the great weather and sat outside.  Village Haus is open for lunch and dinner and serves various sandwiches, hamburgers, veggie burgers, salads, pizza, cookies, cupcakes, & various beverages.   

We only wanted some iced tea but when I saw they had apple strudel on the sign I ordered that too.   I figured the apples made it healthy.  My expectations were not high for the strudel.  I expected it to be doughy, not crispy or flaky, but figured I'd give it a shot and ordered it.  

I was pleasantly surprised with the apple strudel!  It was large piece of strudel that was flaky and chock full of delicious apples that were flavorful and the perfect texture--not too hard and not mushy.  It was dusted with powdered sugar and contained lots of apple slices in a tasty filling that I think had a mixture of cinnamon & maybe some cloves or allspice in it, all wrapped up in a flaky dough.   I know I keep talking about how many apples there were but there really were a lot of apples.   The strudel also had raisins in it, which I liked but my partner did not but they were easy to put aside.  It came with a side of vanilla bean sauce that I drizzled over the piece of strudel.   The sauce was good, but sweet.  I was glad it came on the side so you could choose how much or how little to put on the strudel.   The apple strudel was really tasty, from the crust, the sauce, and the great apple filling with lots of apples.  I was expecting some glorified flat frozen dessert that was microwaved from a box but this was more like a homemade strudel my German great-aunt Marga would make for Christmas or Easter.    

The next snack in Disneyland was the famous Matterhorn macaroon which is available from the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe for a mere $1.99.   A snack for only $1.99!   This is a quick service restaurant that is Mary Poppins themed.   The style sort of reminded me of the Grand Floridian in Florida.   There is outside seating but I don't remember any indoor seating.  They have breakfast, lunch, and dinner.   Breakfast looks like they only have muffins & cakes and various beverages but for lunch and dinner they offer some sandwiches, soup, and salads.  The number of items on the menu seem limited but what they do offer does sound good.   The Jolly Holiday Bakery is located on the hub of Disneyland, near the Partners statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse.   It was almost parade time and we were lucky to get a seat on a bench on Main Street for a front row view of Mickey's Soundsational Parade which is Disneyland's daytime parade. The sun was hot and we wanted a drink.  The Jolly Holiday was right across from our bench.  I remembered reading something about the bakery but forgot what it was.  Then I saw a little sign for the Matterhorn macaroon and remembered this is where the famous macaroons are, but didn't actually see any in the cases.   

There were cupcakes, cookies, and sandwiches but no macaroons so I asked.   They had them in the back--yeah!  Since they were only $1.99 I assumed they would be tiny and ordered one for each of us.  They were fairly large.   You could share one between two people and each would get a good taste but I think it's better not to share this snack.   They are a good size but not huge.  The macaroon was great!  It was chewy, moist, and had a great flavor of coconut with a bit of almond.  A macaroon is mainly coconut, sugar, and flour so if you don't like the flavor of coconut you probably won't like a macaroon.  This was the best macaroon I've ever had.   The flavor and texture were excellent and it was so moist and chewy.  Disney takes the Matterhorn macaroon to the next level, of course.  It's shaped like the famous Matterhorn Mountain and is topped with a bit of pure white icing that represents the snow on the nearby mountain.  The Matterhorn Bobsled ride opened in Disneyland in 1959 and was the first tubular steel roller coaster ever constructed.   During the roller coaster ride you meet the terrifying Yeti a couple of times.  Unlike the one in Florida, this Californian Yeti actually moves!   Eating the Matterhorn macaroon near the historic Matterhorn ride, in Walt's park, waiting for the parade made a special Disneyland memory.  

Thank you SO much to Paul for taking the time to write these awesome reviews & to share his pictures with us! 

Please feel free to send me any questions that you may have. Thank you!

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Disney Sunshine Seasons Strawberry Shortcake Review...

Disney Sunshine Seasons Strawberry Shortcake Review...

You can find Sunshine Seasons at Epcot at WDW. This is always a must do for me. It has tons of options kind of like a cafeteria set-up with many healthy & not so healthy options to choose from. I'm not sure why I never tried the Strawberry Shortcake here before? There is a HUGE display case with all sorts of goodies & normally has a short line & also refrigerated display case for desserts. 

I heard so many great things about this that I had to try it. This was SO moist and fresh tasting. It tasted VERY light & fluffy like you weren't eating this sugary, unhealthy treat. Compared to a lot of the other desserts this is one of the healthier ones right? ;) 

At $4.89 including tax this is now in my Top 5 Disney snacks! If you want something that isn't very heavy & semi healthy then this is for you! It is a pretty large piece so can be shared but I pigged out & ate the whole thing. I did NOT feel over stuffed. It was JUST right but I was starving from walking around too. HAHA 

Please feel free to send me any questions that you may have. Thank you!

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

"One Little Spark" Marty Sklar Book Review

One Little Spark!: Mickey's Ten Commandments and The Road to Imagineering by Marty Sklar, 1st ed., 288 pages

Written by: Jeff C. 

This is the second of Marty Sklar's Imagineering books. The first was Dream it! Do it!.

One Little Spark expands upon topics previously mentioned and adds new material.  Specifically, it addresses Mickey's Ten Commandments (the guiding principles of Imagineering) and the Road to Imagineering (guidance for those who wish to be Imagineers).  Marty Sklar is himself a founding Imagineer and a Disney Legend.

Overall, this book is uneven. The first half is focused and the second it is oddly diffused. In the first half, the discussion of Mickey's Ten Commandments focuses well on each enumerated  item and provides distinct good and bad examples. While the awarding of a bad example trophy carries a feeling of mean-spiritedness, it is pointed out that there is value in learning from mistakes. Some of the picks will evoke strong emotional responses from Disney fans. For example, Sklar disagreed with Walt Disney over the clean exterior of the Haunted Mansion. There are far worse examples of inconsistency at Disney parks (America Sings in Disneyland's Tomorrowland springs to mind). In the postscript, Sklar addresses the predicted upset fans. He explains that he had to narrow his choices and sticks by them.

All of the good examples or "Mousecar winners" remain in parks around the planet. Some of the bad examples or "Goof winners" also remain even after corrective efforts. In particular, the winding walkways of Animal Kingdom park may now include better views of what lies ahead, but they are still a pain in the feet. One Goof is for the removal of an attraction, the House of the Future at Disneyland.

Oddly, there is no mention of the loss of the Skyway or the PeopleMover.  Again, he had to limit his selections.

At the center of the book lies a series of photos and diagrams. It is possible that lumping them together was a compromise between the author and the publisher. It provides a counter-example of what Sklar emphasizes about visual literacy. Why not intersperse some photos closer to the text to which they relate? It may have been cheaper than adding color, but earlier in the book, there is a statement from fellow Disney legend Herb Ryman about the true cost of poor design. The layout should have been more self-exemplary.

In the second half, things fall apart. The concept was to appeal to other Imagineers and have them provide input for the Road to Imagineering. What results is an ever-changing voice in the narrative. This is especially strange considering that one of Sklar's Mousecar winners was "it's a small world" which suffered a similar horrendous early design flaw.  The attraction was supposed to have the children singing their respective national anthems resulting in a cacophonous overload. It wasn't until the Sherman brothers (Richard Sherman wrote this book's introduction) unified all of them with one voice that the concept clicked.  Some of the other Imagineers' stories and examples are good and illustrative. Others felt like filler. The author needed to don a second hat (or set of ears) and provide a harmonizing narrative.

While not quite as good as Dream it! Do it!, One Little Spark should probably make its way on to every Imagineer wannabes bookshelf.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Disney's Minnie's Hollywood & Vine Xmas Dinner Review & Pics...

Disney's Hollywood & Vine Xmas Dinner Review 

My friend Deena just got back from WDW & wanted to share her review on the new limited time dining option at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

We thought we were only booking a buffet dinner without characters @ Disney's Hollywood Studios. We had never eaten at the Hollywood & Vine Restaurant either.

Upon arrival, delighted to discover this is a Very Merry Minnie's Holiday Dinner! And Fab Four character meal to boot!

Upon entering your photo is taken with Goofy as Santa. PhotoPass available.

Given out an index card with the holiday dinner logo and signatures of all the Disney characters present. As they don't sign autographs during dinner. Also given a sheet of holiday stickers as well. All very cute!

Very Fast service. Holiday music playing. Guests invited to sing along! And to those who didn't sing, the speaker said "bah humbug then".

First upon seated a small hot cocoa with cinnamon was served. Unique & yummy. Cheers!

The buffet food was diverse with many many types of meat. The apricot pork was our favorite! Also available is pretzel bread with option for cranberry butter.

Dessert bar adorable with it's chocolate fountain and traditional holiday desserts. Also including the pumpkin cheesecake cups (pictured).

The characters all come around to your table for photos, with their especially fabulous holiday best attire! Highly recommend this experience! It all Jingle Bell Rocked!
(1 table service credit on Dining Plan)

As this is the last year for the Osbourne Christmas lights at the Studios, plus this dinner was a priceless night! These together was more on point with holiday spirit than we found at the MK Christmas party.

Please feel free to send me any questions that you may have. Thank you!

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Disney's Carthay Circle WOC Dinner Review...

CA Adventure Carthay Circle World of Color Dining Package Review...

You can find Carthay Circle at the California Adventure Park. When you first arrive you enter a large lobby. They have books of drink menus & separate wait staff just to bring you drinks. There is also a bar inside off to the side if you just want a drink. Make sure to pay attention to the prices! 

After checking in at the front door we were guided to the front desk area. Even though we didn't make reservations for the World of Color Package they offered it to us. We asked the difference between standing room between our fast passes & the WOC Carthay Circle area & are glad that we went ahead & did the package. You are paying for a much better view if you do the package & I highly recommend that you do it! The 3 course package is $62 per adult. The standing area was basically all the way up front!

Check in Area

I love the old Hollywood feel of this place. I could imagine starlets back in the 40's coming here to hang out. I wanted to try the "Ginger Rogers" Drink & my husband had one of the red wines. You will need to close out your bill before you go upstairs.

This drink was definitely TOO strong for me! ;) 

We sat in the lobby & ordered some drinks while we waited for the host to show us to our table. The host was excellent. He stopped to point out different things & talked about different facts of Disney History. I wish I remembered his name but he was great! 

We were then lead upstairs passing by vintage pictures of Walt Disney on the way to our table. He pulled out my chair & put both of our napkin cloths in our laps. It is a little fancy for us but it is a nice change. :) I will say it was very quiet. I did not see kids in our seating area though.

WOC Menu

Regular Menu

We ended up sitting next to a really nice couple who we talked to for awhile. We got the fresh baked bread brought to our table. 

My husband had the Thai chili soup while I had the salad. The soup was out of this world. The salad was good but not amazing. 

For the main course I had the gnocchi & my husband had the steak.

The gnocchi was beautiful! You could tell it was made from scratch. My husband loved his steak as well. 

The dessert is always my favorite part of a meal. ;) We chose the chocolate bar and Creme brûlée tart. I found the tart extremely hard to eat. I favored the chocolate bar & ate most of it. I would order the chocolate bar again in a heart beat. 

My husband chose coffee service with dessert & it was quite the production! :) 

I would say this is a great place for a special celebration. It was our 5 year anniversary so it was perfect for us. I would go back again in the future after trying some of the other Signature Restaurants the DL area has to offer. 

Even the bathrooms here are beautiful! We had an amazing experience & would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a higher level of service & quality. 

Please feel free to send me any questions that you may have. Thank you!

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