Category Archives: Disney


Your Ghost Host

Vacation time!  Well, last week was vacation time, and we were down at Disney World.  My wife was running a half-marathon there, so we stayed for the week to hang out and take in everything Disney.

There were race errands to run the first morning, so I was sent off to the parks on my own.  And where did I head first?  The best place in all of the parks – The Haunted Mansion!

I’ve always loved the Haunted Mansion.  From the dour door greeters, the bad puns, the haunted hallways, and the animated spooks, it’s a concentrated brew of a lot of my favorite things.

So imagine the excitement I felt when I discovered there is now an entire store dedicated to Haunted Mansion merchandise at Disney World!  It’s called Memento Mori and opened about a year ago. IMG_9730 I’m pretty good at resisting the temptations strategically placed by Disney to pull money out of our pockets, I really am.  But there was something lurking in the back of that store that knew exactly how to extract cash from my billfold.  Well, from my MagicBand anyways.

Personalized Ghost Portraits.

Yep, portraits of you and your loved ones done up as Haunted Mansion spirits.  I loved it the moment my eyes fell upon the demo portraits hung on the wall.

But these weren’t just ordinary portraits.  No, they’re better than that.

If you’ve been through the Haunted Mansion you’ve seen the hallway of portraits that morph between ‘normal’ and ‘scary’ versions of each painting.  They’re classics, and have been up in the mansion since the very beginning.  Here are a couple to refresh your memory:

Horseman2animation  medusa

There have been many used in the Haunted Mansion over the years, there’s a great encyclopedia of them on  Similar effects have been done for years using lenticular images.  Here’s a very simple explanation of how lenticulars work, but it’s really just putting rows of lenses over an interlaced image.  The lenses show you one version of the image from this direction, and a different image from the other direction.  It’s physics and science, no magic.  But the result is very cool, allowing images to change as you view them.

lenticular ringLenticulars have been limited in the past to mass-produced items.  Advertisements, toys, and trinkets – lenticular images were printed and pasted onto all sorts of things over the years.  Even the new ELO CD I bought last week has a lenticular sleeve.  I remember having little plastic rings when I was a kid that had lenticular images.  Digital technology has changed all of that, and now it’s possible to produce custom, one-off lenticular images.  Disney has latched onto this idea and put it to great use in the Haunted Mansion gift shop.

You see, there’s a room at the back of the gift shop.  And in that room is a ‘ghost camera’.  It’s an old Victorian looking thing, a large wooden box with a lense on the front, set atop a sturdy wooden table.  All the better to hide the computer and software (I mean, spirit apparatus) inside.  haunted-camera-twoshot
The room is set as a vintage photo parlor – you sit on a small bench at one side of the room, and the ‘camera’ and it’s operator summon forth your ghostly projection at the other end, capturing it’s image on film.  It’s all very well done, with the cast member never revealing the technology behind the trick.  It’s explained that ‘It will take a few moments for your apparition to manifest’, and sure enough, soon you’re done and shuttled off to the front of the store to wait for your portrait to materialize.

We waited alongside a large portrait of Madame Leota, the spiritualist from the Haunted Mansion seance room.  Another cast member greeted us as we waited, pointing out some of the haunted corners of the shop.  The Madame Leota portrait shifts and changes at times, and occasionally Leota appears in a haunted mirror across the way.  There’s even a spirit trapped in a bottle on a high-off corner of the shop.haunted-shop-tripleOur cast member took great pleasure in pointing all of this out to us, and the time we spent waiting for our portraits to print flew by.  Soon we heard the faint ringing of bells and a rap on a small cabinet by the Leota portrait.  The cast member opened the cabinet doors, and there, as if by magic, sat our finished portraits.  They were amazing!



We quickly took some photos before handing them off to the shop keeper to have them shipped home.  I’ve composited the ‘normal’ and ‘spooky’ versions side by side here, the effect when tilting the image is really striking.  It’s one thing to see a random image shift, but to see your own portrait change right before your eyes is something that just tickles and delights.  It’s my favorite souvenir of the trip by far.

The cost?  A very reasonable $20 per portrait.  Of course that’s before you decide you must have the $25 themed picture frame to go with it:


Any old frame would work, but really, how can you pass up something like this?

I predict these portraits will become the centerpiece of our Halloween decorations every October.  Or…should we keep them up all year?  🙂

IMG_9705Bravo to Disney for thinking through the entire experience.  From the themed photo parlor, the distractions to pass the time while you wait, the ‘materializing’ of your portraits – the entire process was fun and in ‘spirit’.  The haunted portraits are unique to Disney World, you won’t find a similar booth at Disneyland.  If you find yourself at Disney World though, stop in and visit the cast members at Memento Mori and let them snap your portrait.  It won’t hurt…much!

Do you have a treasured Disney souvenir?  What is it and how did you discover it?



Disney Tech

We’re going to DisneyWorld!

I’m a big kid at heart.  And I’m nerdy about technology.  So Disney plus technology is right in my wheelhouse.  And soon I’ll get to try out some new Disney technology first hand.  MagicBands.

Wired magazine did a great writeup about the new technology in March.  I highly recommend you read it, it’s just fascinating stuff.  Basically a MagicBand is an RFID wristband you wear when you’re at DisneyWorld.  Everywhere at DisneyWorld.  In the parks, at the restaurants, at the resort, on the bus.  Disney is building their entire vacation experience around this technology, creating a ‘friction-less’ day.  No more key cards for hotel rooms.  Or paper tickets to enter the park.  No more FastPass stubs (I’ll miss those, they made great bookmarks).  Going to a restaurant?  You can peruse the menu and place your order ahead of time.  The band will automagically tell the restaurant to start cooking when you walk in the door.

So, you’re being tracked.  Everywhere you go.  But it’s being used for good, not evil (at least I hope it is!).  I don’t mind that, not at all.  Making things easier for me, that’s what technology is for.

I’ll get to experience it all firsthand in the near future.  And I’ll let you know how it all worked out.  But first I had to deal with a little reservation hiccup.

Did you know that DisneyWorld, with over thirty thousand hotel rooms available, can still sell out?  I guess that had never occurred to me.  I thought there would always be some rooms left.  Which is why I booked late (Ok, I procrastinated).  And found that (gulp) they were sold out for the time we planned to go.  Not completely sold out, but there were no rooms that spanned our entire stay.  Time to start piece-mealing a plan together!

And that’s when I lost the better part of a day.  There just wasn’t a simple way to say ‘What are my options between this day and that day’.

Imagine you’re going to fly cross country, but the airlines were sold out of direct flights.  What do the airlines do?  They show you options with one or two plane changes along the way.  Disney’s reservation system should do that, something like ‘Three days at Coronado Springs and four at Port Orleans Riverside’ – but it doesn’t.  Instead it’s on you to suss out which rooms at the various resorts are available on each day.  Type in some start and end dates, push the button, and see what comes up.  Adjust one of the dates, push the button, see what’s changed.  Over and over.  Eventually I found three rooms, each at different resorts, that when pieced together covered our trip.  Not great, not the places we wanted to stay, but I was tired of looking.

There’s an opportunity for Disney’s reservation system to present some room ‘pairings’ automatically.  Not every possible combination – that would make the algorithm needlessly complex.  But they know the dates I’d like.  And the class of resort I’m after (economy up thru luxury is possible, with several steps along the way).  Rather than showing me a list of resorts with nothing available for my dates they could show one or two options for a two-part stay in the resort level I’ve chosen.  Just like the airlines do.  Keep it focused, keep it small, but bring me some useful information.  It’s possible.


I may have drifted into grumpy guy territory, so I won’t dawdle.  But I will note that I couldn’t even get on a waiting list for the resort we wanted.  It’s an ‘F5’ situation, you just have to come back to the site again and again, refreshing with the hope that something opens up.

We did eventually get the resort we wanted.  When reservations reach their ‘lock in’ date people begin canceling (I think it was 45 days out).  If they pass that date they can’t cancel without a penalty.  So right around a month and a half before our trip I found reservations suddenly opening up for the week we wanted to travel.  We still had to book it in two separate reservations though, because the same class of room wasn’t available at the resort for the entire stay.  Sigh.

So here’s where we come back to MagicBands.  Disney spends a lot of money to ensure you’re excited about your trip.  Once you make a reservation you’ll start receiving custom printed brochures welcoming you and encouraging you to do things like choose your FastPass rides, book restaurant reservations, etc.  All to load up the MagicBands they’ve sent you.  All four of them.

We have two reservations.  There are two of us.  They’ve sent us four MagicBands!

Yep, a second set of MagicBands arrived a day or two after the first set.  Oh boy, now what do we do?  Well, the Disney website says each band carries all of our information.  So either set should have our tickets, hotel rooms, etc.  Here’s hoping.  We’ll just pack them all to take with us.  I’m orange, and my wife is blue.

But we really didn’t need two sets of bands.  Still, I can’t wait to try them out!

I wonder if they can make it buzz when I get near one of those giant turkey leg stands…

Have you had the chance to try Disney’s MagicBands?  What sort of things could they do to make your vacation even better? (besides the turkey leg vibrating thing)