My Favorite Disney Podcasts

My habit of listening to podcasts started around 2013. It was a great way to give some Disney flavor in my boring commute to my university. Over time, I began subscribing to more shows than I could handle. Even though the shows range from a variety of topics, Disney podcasts always have a special time.

First Things First

If you’re an iOS user and don’t listen to podcasts with the Overcast app, you’re doing it all wrong. This great app from Marco Arment has a great interface and many nitpicky options, but the killer features of this app are Voice Boost and Smart Speed. Voice Boost equalizes the audio so the voices sound much louder and crispier, a common problem for many podcasts that don’t have studio quality equipment. Smart Speed shortens silences in the podcast, between the conversation, without you even noticing. This feature alone will save you lots of time (357 hours in my case) without you even feeling it.

Also, the dark theme is great and includes some practical organizing features for podcast listeners.

Try this app with just a few podcasts and you’ll thank me later.

For Android users, PocketCast is a good app too.

The Retired Show That Started It All: Inside The Magic

An article about Disney podcasts wouldn’t debe complete for me if I didn’t mention Ricky Brigante’s show. This was my very first Disney podcast show and I loved it. Every week, my commute would be filled with Disney news.

Even though it has been retired for several years, it still has a sweet spot in my heart.

All Time Classics: Enchanted Tiki Talk, WDW Today, and WDW Radio Show

Even though these three podcast have different trajectories and topics, they are all classics for me. Every Disney fan that I know has heard one of these three at least once.

Enchanted Tiki Talk

If you want a relaxing talk about the Disney parks, especially about planning trips to WDW, Enchanted Tiki Talk is for you. The hosts are great chemistry, they always bring emotional stories, and the topics are diverse. My favorite episodes are those that they play a game were you try to eat for the whole day in a park with a tight budget.

Need a little Aloha in your life? Enchanted Tiki Talk is there to save you!

WDW Today

Len Testa has been running Touring Plans for a while as well as WDW Today. One of the few Disney podcast with 2 episodes or more per week, WDW Today is a must for any person who wants to learn more about how to plan your trip to Disney World. They always have some great insights about hotels, guest flow, ticketed events, and other fun things to do in the resort. Even though the original hosts passed the baton some years ago, changing the format, the show is still as insightful and fun as it always was.

WDW Radio Show

If you haven’t heard about Lou Mongello’s show, you’re living in the caves of Nature’s Wonderland. WDW Radio Show is a fun show to listen to because it is always filled with positivity, diverse topics, and a host that knows his stuff. If you can be part of the WDW Radio community, then you’ll have twice the fun. Even though some fans have differences with Mongello’s positivity, a podcast of his always has me energized about Disney after a long day of work.

Fun And Fancy Free: The Tomorrowland Transit Authorities, Golden Horseshoe Review and Network 1901

Sometimes you just want to listen to a great discussion about Disney regardless of the topic and even decompress with some interesting takes about the parks. This category is named Fun and Fancy Free because it delivers pure, straightforward fun listens for you to enjoy during a commute.

The Tomorrowland Transit Authorities

A recent contender in Disney podcasts, The Tomorrowland Transit Authorities is hosted by longtime YouTubers Rob (Rob Plays) and Christine (IvyWinter). The topics vary from episode to episode, but they’re mostly focused on the Disney resorts. Some of the funniest episodes are when they go on the craziest tangents, like when they discussed about an imaginary Disney crypto currency. This is one of those podcast that I highly recommend to binge listen, as many of the jokes are built upon past discussions. Also they do movie reviews every once in a while with diverting opinions.

Listen to this podcast and enjoy all the fun that Rob and Christine have to offer!

Golden Horseshoe Review

This is one of those podcast that doesn’t have a consistent schedule, but every time an episode appears on my podcast feed I immediately stop doing whatever task and hit the play button. A candid discussion about recent Disney trips, the Golden Horseshoe Review has short episodes that are filled with little details you haven’t noticed in your Disney trips. Even though this sounds like they’re constantly criticizing, these are informed opinions about the parks from theming, guest experience, food, attractions, and more. Yes, this podcast is as fun as the thrilling Golden Horseshoe Revue.

Network 1901

Another recent member of the Disney podcasting community, Network 1901 is a feed that has several podcast per week. Each show has its own topics. The DCC focuses on fun pop culture topics, while Modern Mouse Radio touches upon deeper topics about Disney and society. Another great show was the Disney Decade, which attempted to give a historical view about Michael Eisner’s tenure as CEO.

Deep Cuts: Disney History Institute, The Disney Dish, Dis Order, Retro Disney World

These podcast show that there is always a place for history about The Walt Disney Company. Each podcasts focuses on different aspects and deliver insightful stories about the parks, the movies, and the company as a whole.

Disney History Institute

This podcast is one of those lesser known shows that deserves to be in everyone’s podcast feed. Presented by Todd James Pierce, this podcast shines light on very obscure and unknown stories about the Disney parks, from the construction of Disneyland (Todd dedicated a whole book on this topic, Three Years In Wonderland, and it is the best researched unofficial retelling so far) to something as simple as the early beginning of Tinkerbell flying over the castle.

Todd James Pierce tells stories that you never thought to learn about, but once he mentions it, you just want to listen more about it!

The Disney Dish

Even though this is a better known podcast show, I mention it here because sometimes fans think it is only a ‘rumor corner’ show, but Len Testa and Jim Hill also tell great stories about the parks. Being an insider of the mouse for decades, Jim Hill always has great history to tell about specific events, attractions, and even Imagineers that worked for the company. Last time, they dedicated many episodes to tell stories about Disneyland bit by bit, adding some unknown stories that had an important effect on the events that occurred around that time. Yes, Jim Hill will also deliver many rumor about the park (that will probably be true), but he also knows his Disney history in a way few people can.

Dis-Order

A recent entry to Disney podcasts, what stands out from Dis Order is its premise. Each episode talks about one movie from the Walt Disney Animation Studio in chronological order, delivering their thoughts, opinions, and some history about each movie. For me, this podcast has become the greatest excuse to rewatch many of my favorite movies, as well as movies that I haven’t revisited in quite a while. The hosts are real friends and it shows by their interactions. It is fun, honest, and insightful at the same time. Next time you watch a Disney classic, search to the episode of that movie and listen to a fine discussion from three Disney nerds.

Retro Disney World

My favorite podcast show of all time. Every time I listen to an episode of the Retro Disney World podcast, I have a certain feel of joy and happiness. Even though I’ve experienced very few of the areas and attractions that they’ve talked about, the hosts make you feel like you lived that moment in time with them. This podcast is for the nostalgics, the dreamers, the historians, and the fans that would want to experience the Disney World that once was.

Book Review: ‘Thrawn: Alliances’ by Timothy Zahn

Any book with the Thrawn character in it deserves the highest interest and expectation. Not only did Timothy Zahn kickstarted the Expanded Universe with a trilogy including the character, but it has been a character strong enough to become part of the new canon with his appearance in Star Wars Rebels. Besides that, the Recent ’Thrawn’ book is one of the best books of the new canon, establishing the character in the new timeline.

thrawn-alliances

’Thrawn: Alliances’ is a sequel set in two timelines. The first timeline shows the Chiss having to share a mission with Darth Vader in order to complete it. The second timeline shows a younger Thrawn unexpectedly helping General Skywalker during a mission in The Clone Wars. This dynamic, with Thrawn knowing Vader’s past as a Jedi, creates a strong power play that keeps developing throughout the story.

As with the ‘Thrawn’ novel, we see glimpses of the Chiss interpreting his surroundings and the reactions of other individuals. Similarly, the double vision that allows Vader/Anakin prepare his fight moves in the foreseeable future is an interesting touch that hasn’t been seen in any recent book. Each character tries to complement its abilities, but it gets complicated as they try to see if each other is truly loyal to Emperor Palpatine.

Even though each storyline works separately, they constantly link to each other. In both occasions, the mission eventually leads to Batuu, the land on which Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is based. The information known from The Clone Wars helps Thrawn and Vader to better face the unknown planet. These similarities keeps on going, which leads to a satisfying conclusion as unexpected as any deduction made from Thrawn.

The interactions between Thrawn and Vader shows that there’s still Anakin in the Sith. Each time Thrawn loosely mentions the fact that Vader and him worked together previously, Darth shuts him down. Vader doesn’t want to face the fact that he once was Anakin Skywalker. This internal conflict makes him a more compelling, less one dimensional character. Yes, Darth Vader is pure evil, but sometimes he wonders if he’s really just that.

One of the main characters is Padmé Amidala, which truly shines on the page. Several chapters are dedicated only to her whereabouts, while she tries to search for Anakin to help her. In many ways, the chapters dedicated to The Clone Wars could be an episode of the beloved series in its own right. The same happens with the Vader and Thrawn timeline, which could easily become another episode of Star Wars Rebels.

Of the main problems you might face during reading is the complexity of the mission. It is easier to follow a path when the story is told in one timeline, but when you need to understand two timelines then things get complicated. I had to read several times some pages and even listen the audiobook to make sure I was understanding all of it. The fight sequences are also hard to read because they also convey pieces of information necessary to the rest of the story. Many of these elements that were included in the first ‘Thrawn’ book and they didn’t affected my reading experience. This time it did due to constantly switching timelines. Still, Timothy Zahn makes a great effort to constantly remember some aspects of each mission and having smooth transitions between one timeline or another. But I can’t hide the fact that this jarring experience to pick up pieces of information affected my enjoyment of the story.

If ‘Thrawn’ became one of your favorite Star Wars books, ‘Thrawn: Alliances’ keeps up in tone and style with the first book. For someone who doesn’t enjoy action sequences and multi-threaded plots, you’ll have a harder time reading this book. The character development for Thrawn and Vader will keep you intrigued in their political feud as they try to complete their mission to please the Empire.

‘Christopher Robin’ Review: Revisiting Pooh’s Thoughtful Spot

‘Christopher Robin’ tells the story of the grown up friend of Winnie The Pooh trying to balance his own life with his day job. Suddenly, the beloved bear comes back to London in his search for the boy who always gave him hunny.

When the trailer for this movie was released, it had me curious about the tone of the film. In recent years, August is the month were Disney fills the slot with a movie that they don’t believe too much in. Movies like The BFG and Pete’s Dragon have been released during this month.

A very extended and well crafted prologue sets the tone and fills the gaps of Christopher Robin’s life between his last day in the Hundred Acre Wood and the current setting. This first act also familiarizes the viewers with the aesthetic of the characters from the Hundred Acre Wood. For those who thought the characters looked ‘creepy’ when watching the trailer, these scenes quickly brush off any preconceived notions you had from the trailer. Besides that, the first act includes some nostalgic pills that only true Pooh fans will instantly recognize..

Similar in tone to ‘Saving Mr. Banks’, ‘Christopher Robin’ leans on nostalgic elements only to establish the characters, but the overall story has its own personality.

Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin fills the screen in such a way that never makes you think he’s talking to CGI characters. Hayley Atwell also makes a great job as Evelyn, Christopher Robin’s wife, dealing with problems on her own. The voice performances of each character also show some real love and care for this movie.

The interactions between Christopher Robin and Pooh are some of the deepest conversations about childhood and adulthood, taking some really unexpected turns. The movie doesn’t worry if it goes into a really depressing state. These philosophical conversations meditate on how it is necessary to reconcile ourselves with our childhood in order to move forward into our adult stages. In the classic Hero’s Journey structure, the main character leaves his town in order to find new adventures. In ‘Christopher Robin’ the inverse happens: Christopher Robin needs to go back to his past in order to move on with his life. The movie isn’t about never growing up; the movie is about showing the importance each stage of our lives has in order to be a well balanced human being. All of this conversations are done in such a funny, gentle, teary eyed way that you’ll never truly think about the themes of the movie until the credits begin.

Even though the movie is a well balanced film, it isn’t flawless. The transitions between each act fail to be smooth because each act completes an arch for each character. The amazing work that the writers have done in many of the dialogues gets lost on structuring many plot points. Even though it has this major problem, you accept it as an audience. The concept of the film is so strong and the tone so unexpected that it takes you to a wild ride, heading to a satisfying conclusion. I watched it with someone who wasn’t a Winnie The Pooh fan and still was able to relate with the characters in a profound way.

Every once in a while, Disney releases a live action movie that has the potential for strong word of mouth that keeps on going for years. People still talk to me about ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ as one of those movies that has engaged viewers on a deeper level. ‘Christopher Robin’ has the thoughtful conversations, engaging storyline, great actors, and consistent visual identity that is enough to generate interest among many audiences. You might not be a fan of Winnie The Pooh, but that is no excuse for dropping some tears and letting your heart melt because of a stuffed bear.

RCT3 Lessons: What A Simulation Game Teaches Us About Theme Park Management

One of the games that theme park fans will always cherish is Roller Coaster Tycoon 3. It’s been a game that has stood the test of time despite its terrible sequel follow up. Any theme park fan has designed the ideal theme park in this game at least once.

What I like the most about this game is how it has taught me a lot about theme park management, understanding the decisions that theme parks make in order to stay in business. This could be small decisions, others not so much.

Some of the things I’ve learned about theme park management may seem obvious, but once taken into account you see how many decisions are made in Disney parks.

Long Term Investments

When you have a theme park, attractions are needed to keep the guest flow going. In order for this to happen, you need attractions to make profit. And even though you might not have too much money, three attractions that you build could make an important difference.

In RCT3, you need to pay in order to ride each attraction. You can have an entrance fee, but the game isn’t designed to only get money this way. So the only sure way is to build attractions really fast and start getting peeps in line. For roller coasters that cost much more money, having multiple vehicles is vital to keep the guests flowing. Because the more guest access the ride, the more money you’ll get.

Eventually after 3 or 4 investments, money starts coming back and you can get rid of loans or have more employees in your payroll. With this taken into consideration, let’s go deep into the theme parks.

In order for parks to start getting some profit, they need to build new attractions. Sometimes the budget isn’t there, so they need to build rides that aren’t E Tickets but they give a fun experience to families. Maybe most of these attractions aren’t even designed to stay in the long run, but they keep the turnstiles moving. Over time, the return of investment is enough to build better experiences.

Take Disney California Adventure for example. This park has had its problems during all these years, especially in developing better attractions. Over time, the park has slowly improved in such a way that some attractions are being upgraded. These upgrades are vital to keep people interested in the park. Now that they have more attractions and the park has experienced a significant boost in guest attendance, they could move forward for new themed lands and future attractions in existent places.

It is difficult to remember that Disneyland started with a mule ride, some off the shelf attractions and some dark rides, all of them without too many enhancements to begin with. It was with time that attractions were upgraded and improved.

Justify Your Rides

Attractions are the pinnacle of a good theme park, but they also add some functionality when you need to. Too many people in the pathways? Develop a high capacity ride that chews up those guests. No kiddie rides? A simple carousel or Ferris Wheel does the trick. Need an E-Ticket attraction that keeps guests coming? Make special food offerings and smaller attractions to reduce the time it takes to complete the ROI.

Even though these strategies are used in RCT3, they are very similar to what we see with many theme parks. Want to build Pirates Of The Caribbean? Create a whole new land with different offerings. Need more hourly capacity for kid rides? Develop Toy Story Land and keep it simple. Each of these attractions have a specific functionality or they at least end up with some sort of idea that keeps the business on track. Remember that the investment behind attractions is huge, so the managers need to handle the budget and think of different possibilities to reduce the span it takes to get that ROI.

In the end, attractions have very particular ways of existing, filling a need that the guests want or filling an operations necessity that managers find important.

Guest Flow

One of the most complicated things to do when having a theme park is taking care of the traffic of guests moving from one attraction to the next. It might seem silly, but it involves a lot of thought and planning. Not only on the paths themselves, but in having attractions that can be able to chew as much guests as possible.

In Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, this is a matter that is just as important. The more guests are in the attractions, better guest flow and overall satisfaction. Sometimes it isn’t a matter of too many attractions, but a matter of adding the attractions with the right hourly capacity.

Take for example a roller coaster. If you have enough stations, you could have 4 trains at the time, allowing for more guests to ride the attraction and more money in your bank. Sometimes reducing the amount of trains helps keep guests in line instead of in the paths, allowing to have less traffic. Other times I’ve closed attractions and later opened them when there is a huge amount of guests through the turnstiles.

What RCT3 has taught me is that guest flow is hard, complicated, and a lesser known aspect of park management that has a significant chance of changing the overall experience. Guest flow can make or break a day full of guests. Also, cost reducing measures like having less vehicles in an attraction allows to keep the attraction running and have a buffer zone of people that aren’t on the regular guest paths. This is a really silly turnaround, but it makes a significant change for the guests.

Merchandise and Food

Having financial problems? Raise your food and merchandise prices a couple cents and it will run like a well oiled machine. If you need some funding for an attraction, better start building more food and merchandise stands for you park. People will always be hungry, as well as curious about shiny souvenirs to bring home.

Food and drinks are a surefire investment because people are always hungry and thirsty; it satisfies a human need. This allows you to keep prices higher than the average, but allowing people to pay as much as they can. What you’ll do is that people who aren’t riding attractions will eventually try out one of the drinks and foods.

Is it raining? Make sure you are selling umbrellas at a hefty price. The reason? People will buy them no matter the price because they prefer buying it rather than staying wet for the whole day. These are the sort of unexpected opportunities your park has to gain some money.

And merchandise? Well, that is the crown jewel of moneymaking. Merch can help you as much as food because margins are always pretty steep. If you don’t have money to make an attraction, try selling as much merchandise as you can. It will keep you using the investment, making more money so that you’ll eventually have the independence of building your own attraction.

In real life, things are that way. The fact that Disney parks focus so much on food is that they know the margins that they have. Ticket prices are just a point of entry that allow them to make the ROI of keeping the park running as much as they can, while food and merchandise are those surefire things that will give you the money that you can later invest. That is the truth about these huge investments in this area. Main Street U.S.A. could make half a million dollars each day. Imagine what happens during peak season, or the days when they have some extra revenue due to bad weather (umbrellas and ponchos).

Cast Members

Staff are the single most important resource a theme park has. They can make or break the experience completely. A well trained and highly motivated cast member could be the difference between an amazing attraction and a broken ride. They keep the paths clean, they help other guests, they entertain, and make the place a secure environment.

In RCT3, the staff is divided in Mechanics, Janitors, Security, Animal Keepers, and Entertainers. Each of these cast members needs to be properly trained in order to have a significant difference in the park experience. Once each member is properly trained, magic starts to happen. Rides never break down, pathways are always squeaky clean, there’s no signs of robbery, and everyone is happy. If your objective is to raise the park rating, well trained cast members are the cheapest way to do it. Make sure you can pay them and that your numbers aren’t on the red.

Staff are added as your park becomes more popular and sustainable. Sometimes you’ll need to hire more staff due to the increasing guests. Other times you’ll want to hire more staff like Security or Janitors for a special occasion, like the special appearance of a celebrity. what you can’t say is that you will run a park without staff. This is the pillar of guest experience. The more trained they are, the more efficient it’ll run.

Good Management

For this well oiled machine to keep on going, the manager should be able to make micro decisions in favor of the guest experience and still turn a profit. Sometimes they lean in too much on one side. Some managers raise prices up to a point that people stop visiting the park. Others expand the park up to a point that it isn’t sustainable. Management styles have important changes in the parks. It is better to have a balancing act between guest experience and a focus on profit.

Let’s have an example with park expansions. Usually these kind of projects involve attractions and scenery that cost much more to the park. How do you keep it a healthy investment? Add merchandise and food, add two attractions with different prices, or have the project opened in phases. Each of these strategies have been used by Disney theme parks. With a new attraction, it is common to hear about new food and merchandise. Adding several attractions to a project proved great for New Fantasyland, which also opened in phases. These are small decisions that can make or break a theme park expansion.

Conclusion

Even though Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 is just a simulation game, it rings true on many aspects of theme park management. Other details are slightly changed or omitted because of the complexity, but it hits many target that are on point. I started the experiment of seeing how much it compares to the real theme parks and it has even helped me to better understand the decisions that parks make to keep the business running.

Many of these aspects appear to be logical, but in trying them and using them to actually run a theme park within RCT3 has changed my perspective. Maybe RCT3 doesn’t make you an MBA capable of managing a theme park, but it helps make a thought experiment that could be worth it to many theme park enthusiasts.