We got up before dawn and hauled ourselves down to Anaheim to check into the Hilton around 6am (the Expo opened to D23 members at 8am). Initially we had booked 4 days at the Disneyland Hotel, just in case. Then it shrank to 2 days. Then I found out I could get Thursday and Friday off, so we needed to add a 3rd day, but the Disneyland Hotel was sold out, which is where the Hilton came in. It is across the sidewalk from the Anaheim Convention Center, and it had a $107/night pre-paid rate… what could be bad? I was worried I would miss staying at a Disney hotel, but as it turned out, we would have preferred to stay at the Hilton the whole time.
Not only did they have a room ready for us at 6am, but it was a ginormous, if oddly laid out, corner room with floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out on California Adventure and Disneyland.
Not pictured is the strange, empty anteroom between the door and the bedroom. It wasn’t enclosed enough to be a separate room but it was big enough to be a seating area or something. We thought about calling room service to ask for some extra pillows, a sofa and a couple of end tables or something…
The Hilton is decorated in Seventies Fabulous. Sure, they’ve had a few refreshes over the years, but I mean, look at this…
Or how ’bout this?
At about 6:45am we went down to join the line that had started forming outside the convention center at 4am. Employees pushed outdoor vending carts bearing $2 apples and $3 bottles of water up and down the line. The convention center is really cool-looking, and they had ginormous D23 Expo banners up.
Registration was really well managed, with tons of CMs to make the process go smoothly. We got our silver 4-day-pass wristbands shackled on (I accidentally made mine too tight, but there was no turning back!) and picked up our soon-to-be-ubiquitous brown Adventures By Disney totebags. Then Patrick went to stand in the pre-queue for Bob Iger’s keynote address, while I stood in a line three times as long to get pieces of paper that entitled me to purchase things… said things would also turn out to be ubiquitous by the end of the Expo. But I had 90 minutes to kill, so what the hey?
I also learned a valuable lesson: Never trust the random strangers in line ahead of you to hold your place while you go ask a CM what the heck you’re standing in line for, because as you make your way back you will see them wandering around out of line and have them tell you the woman in front of them who you don’t even know what she looks like is now holding your place. Fortunately another random stranger took pity on me and let me join her in line, and we ended up being Expo buddies as our paths crossed over the next four days.
Eventually Patrick was moved from the pre-queue to the actual queue, a labyrinthian corral. By this time, we’d been at D23 Expo for almost 2 hours and had done nothing but stand in a series of lines.
I decided to see how much I could see before joining Patrick to go in to the arena. This is what I saw:
At this point, I did a really dumb thing. I could see the line starting to go into the arena, so I ran over and met Patrick right before he was about to surrender his camera and phone to the camera & phone check (the bane of our D23 Expo existence). I panicked and decided I didn’t want to leave my precious iPhone and my ID in a Ziploc bag piled in a heap with everyone else’s, so I told him to go in and that I would take our illicit electronics to his uncle’s booth in the Fan Forums and then meet him in the arena. Except that when I came back 20 minutes later, the line hadn’t died down, as I’d expected. It had gotten longer, to the point where people in it weren’t sure they’d be admitted at all, and I was trapped in it with no way to contact Patrick. Forty-five minutes later, I got up to the front and heard that no one would be admitted without an ID. Patrick had my ID. I started to freak out and made a total fool of myself as I nearly burst into tears. Then the crowd parted, and there was Patrick come to rescue me and usher me inside the arena.
After that we vowed never to split up again (well, at least not without cell phones).
The arena is HUGE, and D23 only used part of it — enough to seat 4,000 people. The show started late because the camera check was taking so long (well, duh!). Our seats were in the back of the section on the floor, which told us we’d better line up even earlier for future arena shows if we wanted to actually be able to see. I don’t remember much about Bob Iger’s keynote speech, except that I decided I liked the cut of his jibb. He came off as self-assured but humble and seemed to have a decent sense of humor.
When we found out we were going to get to see 30 minutes of The Princess & the Frog, Patrick and I panicked. We’re the type of moviegoer who likes to be surprised when we walk into the theater, and we even go so far as to cover our eyes and ears during trailers for upcoming movies we know we want to see (i.e., we are nerds).
But they showed us the first 30 minutes of the movie straight through, so we just rolled with it. I’m not sure how I feel about the movie yet, but I’ll spare you the review in case you want to be surprised too! The presentation was basically just a general overview of what the company’s up to, with the screening plus a short performance by Anika Noni Rose, the voice of The Princess.
Iger also had a chat with the mayor of Anaheim (who deadpanned that if Rose was the Princess, that must make him the frog) and a giveaway of a night in the Disneyland Dream Suite. The guy who won was in shock, and when he said that his love for Disney started because his dad had worked as a Disneyland street sweeper, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
After that most of us stayed in our seats for the Disney Legends induction ceremony, which has never been open to the public before… and now we know why. J/K! It was neat to see it happen, but it kinda dragged, and, you know, these people aren’t being given the award for public speaking. I was glad to be there, though, because I love the Golden Girls and I loved seeing Betty White in person. And we got to hear the voice of Donald and then the voice of Goofy do the voices live in their acceptance speeches! Oh, and Robin Williams gave a predictably unpredictable speech, and we got an inside look at the Disney Company courtesy of the other winners.
After the keynote ended, it was time to go stand in the next line of the day, this one for the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives book, which was a must because at the last minute they switched the policy from “no *flash* pictures in the Archives” to “no pictures period”—boooo! The folks on MiceChat.com’s D23 forum got me worked into a tizzy over this book because there were to be only 500 hardcovers and “only” 1,000 softcovers released. Because the Disney Legends ceremony got out so late, I had to literally run up to the second floor to get in line to buy the book, which had gone on sale at noon. I stood in line wheezing and trying to keep my lungs from exploding while still managing to give the evil eye to the people in front of me who bought more than one copy of the book.
But when I got up to the counter and learned there were still some left, I ended up buying 2 hardcover copies just because I could. It’s a kind of buying mania that takes over you at these things. Heck, earlier I’d even taken a voucher to buy a pin! Me! The disparager of pin trading and all it represents! Of course when I went back to the Archives on the last day of the Expo, there were still plenty of softcover versions of the book left, and they told me that the hardcover would soon be re-released to the masses. I should have known — this seems to be the pattern with all of D23’s “member-exclusive” or “limited-edition” merchandise. Really the only exclusive is getting the thing 2 weeks before the general public… Fortunately, the books were only $35, and they have three illegible autographs in them (I’ll have to look on eBay to find out whose they are).
Our next line of the day, which Patrick was standing in while I was trying not to pass out before I got my precious book, was for the “Wonderful World of Vintage Disneyland” presentation. This turned out to be a free-wheeling travelogue of pre- and post-opening day footage of Disneyland narrated by Imagineer Tony Baxter and media preservationist (and humorist in the making) Ed Hobelman.
Sorry the pictures are blurry — we had to use our old camera for this one:
They basically just sat on stage an narrated an hour’s worth of color footage, culled from something like 500 hours of previously unseen film. It was fun to hear little behind-the-scenes stories and have Ed point out the hilarious stuff happening in the back of certain shots. We got to see stuff like a construction worker doing donuts in a piece of heavy equipment out of sight of his boss and a giant boat of a Plymouth or a Buick or something driving down what was to be the rivers of the Jungle Cruise.
Our last line of the day was for “An Afternoon With Imagineering Legends.” It had been hours since we’d wolfed down something resembling lunch while one or the other of us stood in the previous line, and I was getting cranky, so Patrick found me a Mickey head cookie! And not just any Mickey head cookie – this was The Most Expensive Mickey Head Cookie On The Planet! If you think Disney park prices are high, wait til you see Disney convention prices!
After we were herded into the room, we had a few minutes to kill, so I left to use the restroom. When I returned, I discovered that getting back in was like trying to bust into Fort Knox. I talked to a series of red-shirted cast members until I found one who told me to follow him… to the end of the line of people still waiting to get in. And who should be the last person in line be but the DIS Boards’ very own HandBag Lady! We were just getting acquainted when Red Shirt told me to follow him again and whisked me off to another door.
Let me pontificate about the staffing of D23 Expo for a moment: There were hundreds of cast members and convention center staffers working the event, all with varying levels of cluelessness. The hierarchy seemed to go about like this: Black-clad convention center employees knew the least and would wand you with a metal detector at the slightest provocation (Need a restroom? Wanded! Can’t find the elevator? Wanded! Want to know where the Radio Disney booth is because you have temporarily lost your hearing? WANDED!!!).
Red-shirt-wearing Cast Members bused over from Disneyland could direct a line like nobody’s business but were basically clueless about what was happening at any given moment. Blue-shirted D23 employees knew only a little bit more and A) were happy to admit this and B) usually helped you find the holy grail of information: A Suit. These were people in business attire with multiple badges and a walkie talkie. If you found one of them, you usually got the right answer. However, the Suit-to-CM ratio was not in our favor. One time I approached a line of Red Shirts to ask a question and actually went from CM to CM asking the same question (and getting different answers from each) until the fourth CM walked me over to a Suit. Sheesh!
Back to “An Afternoon With Imagineering Legends.” As we always seem to at these kinds of events, we ended up sitting smack behind this guy…
This had all the makings of a great panel: six first-generation Imagineers reminiscing about the good old days and sharing funny stories. The participants were X Atencio, Alice Davis, Blaine Gibson, Bob Gurr and Don Iwerks, and the moderator was recently retired Imagineering head Marty Sklar. Although I’ve heard a funny story about the time Sklar fell asleep at a meeting for the nth time and everyone put skeletons in their chairs and left the room as a joke, he was the liveliest of the bunch (except for sparkplug Bob Gurr) and kept the presentation moving. Which turned out to be quite necessary at a panel of six first-generation Imagineers reminiscing about the good old days. Poor Alice Davis looked like she was about to nod off any time she wasn’t speaking (Disney drags her out at so many of these things, it’s no wonder she’s pooped!) but told some fun stories on Walt, and X Atencio gave nothing but hilariously grumpy one-liners in response to every question. (When asked “What project are you most proud of?” he snapped “I dunno…”)
Bob Gurr is our favorite—we got to meet him and hear him talk at the Carolwood Pacific fundraiser a few weeks ago, and we just love his vim and vigor. He’s so enthusiastic, tells great stories, and has a wonderful sense of humor. I hope we’re that sharp when we’re his age. Of all the Imagineers, he had the most forthright answer to the “What project are you most proud of?” question: “That’s easy—the Monorail!” Sculptor Blaine Gibson said some wonderfully touching and humble things about having the chance to be a part of something bigger than he. In fact, all the Imagineers seemed to have this lovely sense of humility and gratefulness to have been able to work with Walt Disney on something that turned out to be so significant.
While we waited for our table we got to check out the huge kitchen garden they keep out back, behind a garage that’s been converted into special-event space.
The rolls were nice, but the home-made crackers were even better!
We started with the Grilled Calamari and Artichoke with Garlic and Lemon Sauce. The calamari was incredibly tender, but the artichokes were water-logged.
For dinner we split the bone-in 14oz. Rib Eye with cheddar mashed potatoes and broccolini. Tasty, if not exactly subtly executed (we’re talking ropy melted cheese plunked on top of mashed potatoes…)!
Dessert was amazing – they make their own ice cream! Patrick had a warm peach crumble with vanilla ice cream…
…And I had a hot fudge sundae made with peanut butter ice cream, toffee chunks and fresh whipped cream. >drool<
After that we went back to the hotel and put a few extra holes in our belts.