Caring for Giants

Yesterday, Walt Disney World debuted a new behind-the-scenes tour at Disney’s Animal Kingdom called Caring for Giants. An hour long, Caring for Giants is centered around elephants.  You learn not only how Disney cares for them, but researches them and uses that research to benefit elephant populations around the world. At $30 per person, this tour is well priced for what you get.  Disney says it is for kids all the way up to grown adults, but there is a minimum age restriction of 4 years old. The tour does take place in some backstage areas of Animal Kingdom, so that is something you’ll want to keep in mind if you have little ones and don’t want to shatter the magic of Disney for them.

All that been said, if you or someone you know loves elephants, this is a tour for you. Disney has ten elephants on property, three males and seven females. If your guide says that Animal Kingdom has 3.7 elephants, and then asks what that means, you can confidently reply that it’s a ratio, and it tells how many males and females they have. That’s the last bit of trivia I’ll give out; I do want you to learn new things on this tour, after all! Another unique element of this tour is that you are allowed to bring a camera with you and use it on the tour in a designated area. No backstage pictures are allowed.

There are tons of these tours a day, and they seem to leave every half hour. That being said, you will need to contact Walt Disney World Reservations to go on this tour.  You meet your tour guide by the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safaris, in what I believe used to be a camera supplies kiosk. Once checked in, you’ll get a lanyard with your name on it; be sure to turn it over because there’s a surprise on the back! From there, you’ll be lead backstage to your Adventure Vehicle, which is themed! This should show you just how committed to an incredible experience Disney wants to give you on this tour. They didn’t have to theme your transport van, but they did and it looks awesome! On your walk to the vehicle, be sure to look to your left and catch an awesome view of the mountains of Pandora.

Along the ride, your guide will point out various aspects of backstage Animal Kingdom as you take their “ring road” to your destination. That road goes around the savannas of Kilimanjaro Safari, and so you will see various night homes for the four-legged friends you’ll see on that attraction. See if you can figure out which holds the giraffes!

Soon you will arrive at the elephant house, where you may see your first glimpse of an elephant up close. As we passed by, baby elephant Stella’s father was hanging out. Then, a short drive down a gravel road and we were at the elephant berm, an elevated platform at the back of the elephant pastures. The views of the elephants were spectacular. You are much closer to the gentle giants than you are on Kilimanjaro Safaris. Disney says you are 80 to 100 feet away, but it feels closer. The animal expert you meet there is full of knowledge, and our’s said to keep our eyes on the elephants and that she would not be offended if she talked to our backs. We were allowed to touch elephant tail-hair, told how to tell the various elephants apart, and also given an update on two-month-old Stella’s growth and new social habits.

Halfway through our approximately 40 minutes on the berm, we spoke with an African cultural representative who told us about Africa and the elephants that live there. We learned why they are called the keystone of the savanna, and the pivotable role they play in keeping African ecology going. We learned how research helped discover a natural solution to keep farmers’ fields safe from elephants coming for an easy meal, and also provide them with a bit of extra income. We were told of a man who takes snare wires meant to capture elephants for their tucks and turns them into art of the animals they’re meant to ensnare. And then all too soon, we were asked to board our Adventure Vehicle and headed back to Animal Kingdom proper.

This tour is one of my favorites on Disney property, ranking up with Behind the Seeds. At $30 per person, I feel like it is a tour everybody should do. Seeing elephants so closely, learning about them, was a truly unique experience. As a photographer, I was able to take incredible pictures. My girlfriend, the elephant fanatic, was able to be closer to the largest animal in the world than she ever thought possible. I just wish we had more time on the berm; I could have stayed there all day!

National Parks Announcement

Taking a quick break from Disney Photography news to make a bit of an announcement.

Friend of the blog Mark Willard is a great photographer who not only takes pictures of Disney Theme Parks, but travels across the US shooting pictures of National Parks and Cityscapes.  In light of recent events, Mark has decided to donate all the proceeds from sales of his National Parks landscape prints to the National Parks Foundation.  The foundation helps support the 400 US National Parks and helps preserve the nearly 84 million acres of public lands.

If you look through the gallery, you are going to see some amazing photographs.  Wouldn’t it be great hanging in your home or place of work?  Mark is a great guy so we encourage you to help support him in this truly noble gesture.  You can follow Mark on Twitter and see some of his amazing photos on Flickr as well.  Trust us, we’ve been trying to get Mark to write a blog post or two here.

 

 

Rivers of Light – Review (no spoilers)

Rivers of Light is a new evening show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It’s currently most famous for having been delayed quite a bit since the intended opening date of April 22nd, 2016. It began public “invite-only” soft-opening shows on February 10th for anybody with a FastPass+ reservations or is an Annual Passholder or DVC Member who is able to collect a wristband. It lasts approximately 18 minutes, and is filled with projections, water cannons, water misters, boats, and floats.

I’ve seen it described by some as a longer version of the intermission scene of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, where the globe floats to the center of World Showcase Lagoon. This is not an inaccurate description, but also not an entirely accurate one either. It joins nighttime rides on Kilimanjaro Safaris, Tree of Life projection shows, and the soon-to-be-opened Pandora: World of Avatar (which itself opens on May 27th, 2017) in expanding Animal Kingdom’s evening offerings. Like the Tree of Life projection shows, it does require you to bring some interpretation with you; it’s not always 100% clear what Disney is trying to get across. That last point, however, is one of the things I really like about Rivers of Light. Different people will see different things in it, and that’s fantastic.

There are no fireworks in Rivers of Light, which is necessitated by all of the animals in such close proximity to the performance area. But do not let the fact that this isn’t a Disney Nighttime Spectacular (TM) steer you away from Rivers of Light, it is still well worth viewing. The folks over at Walt Disney Creative Entertainment, and I imagine also Walt Disney Imagineering, have perfected projection technology on water. Moreover, they’ve been able to project on multiple mediums of water; there are heavy-mist “screens” in the back of the performance area, smaller spheres of mist that move around during the show, and finally greater areas of fog that are used to show moving images.

Floating lotuses and gigantic, illuminated animal floats join two boats, a “warm” red boat, and a “cold” blue one dance a beautifully choreographed dance around the Discovery River, supplemented by beautiful music and four live performers, two on each boats. One of each of those performers is designated the Teacher, and they help tell the story of Rivers of Light along with spirits of tigers, owls, elephants, and turtles, supplemented by projections and dancing jets of water that seem as if someone said “Have you seen the show in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas? We’d like to do that, but we want the foundations for the show to float on top of a lake and move autonomously.” It’s a remarkable thing, to be sure.

I quite enjoyed the show and the message behind it. It is a show that, photographically, rewards wide shots and tight shots, but not too much in between. Discovery River is gigantic, and the floats and boats use every inch of water that they can. As a result, things are very wide left-to-right, but not so much top-to-bottom. Be prepared to crop your shots if there’s a boring sky. Telephoto lenses will not suffer from this so much, but they’ll miss the scale and breadth of everything together. That isn’t a bad thing, however, as the floats and performers are so incredibly detailed that to not capture them close-up would be a crime.

Overall, I really enjoyed Rivers of Light. I did not take a lot of pictures during this soft open show as I truly wanted to experience the show fully, and I find I cannot do that with my eye up to a viewfinder. In doing so, I learned that this is a show I will keep coming back to, even without my camera, because there is so much going on that one truly cannot see it all during a single viewing. Thankfully, with a rumored three shows an evening during summer operating hours, 15,000 people a night will be enjoying Rivers of Light. It appears roughly half of those seats are reserved for FastPass+, so there are lots of opportunities to watch. I hope you take advantage of them, because it’s a show unlike any other on property. The soundtrack is amazing without being an earworm that sticks with you for months (I’m looking at you, Boo To You) and the technology and details are incredible.

Editor’s Note: Thanks Ben for going to the preview and giving us a taste of what the show looks like.  Extra special thanks for no spoilers. I can’t wait until the next time I can go to WDW to see the new show.  

Goodbye Wishes

Well, the shoe finally dropped yesterday.  For many years now people have been speculating that Wishes Nighttime Spectacular would be replaced and yesterday the Disney Parks Blog team revealed that it is finally going to happen.   The final performance of Wishes will take place on May 11th, 2017 with the new show – Happily Ever After – debuting the next night on May 12th.  A nice gift for anyone visiting the parks for Mother’s Day weekend.

This is one of mine.  I have this hanging in my office.

It’s an unpopular opinion but I’ve always felt that Wishes was the best fireworks on property.  I know people love Illuminations: Reflections of Earth but it really has never grabbed me the way Wishes has.  Wishes always found a way to pull on my heart strings.  Yes, I’m a grown man that cried the first time I took my daughter to watch the fireworks at Walt Disney World.  Adopting her was the wish my wife and I made that came true.  So the announcement yesterday was met with great sadness by me yesterday.  But then after thinking about it a bit, and watching some parts of the concept teaser I was filled with hope.

This is one of mine too, this is one of the few ones hanging at home.

  • A new show means a new subject to photograph at Walt Disney World.  Taking fireworks shots is one of my favorite things to do at Walt Disney World and now there is a new show to take pictures of.
  • I keep thinking of what it would be like to try and photograph the  show that first night and how excited I would be.  At this point we all know the timing of Wishes down pat.  But with a new show, it would be an entirely new experience.  I can imagine that jockeying for position near the hub is going to be insane for photographers that night.  Is camping out at noon too early?  Lol.
  • I have three Wishes prints on the walls of my office.  New photos of a new show means I can get even more fireworks on the walls of my office (which we’re moving in 6 months so I get to completely redecorate my office with pictures).
  • The snippets in the teaser trailer look really good, I mean check the Disney Parks blog link above.  They look really good.
  • The name…..Happily Ever After.  It seems that Disney is going to go for pulling at the heart strings again and that’s great.  I saw someone post online that new animated films are being added to the show and Moana was going to be added to the mix.  That’s great news!

It’s always fun to shoot from different locations.  Here’s a shot from Ben Hendel from the top of the Contemporary. A shot featured on 1/6/17 in the 2017 Photo A Day application.

One thing that the news didn’t address was what is going to happen at the Holidays.  Will we still see Hallowishes at Halloween and Holiday Wishes at Christmas?  Or are we going to get a So what say you?  Wouldn’t that be fun if we got new holiday shows as well.

Will Hallowishes be replaced as well?  This photo (and the top one on the post) is by Ben Hendel and featured in our 2017 Photo a Day App.  

Are you excited for the new show?  Are you sad to see it go?  Hit read more and post something in the comments.  Let us know what you think.

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