An Ex-Butler’s Version of the Haunted Mansion Story

I’ve posted this elsewhere, but I’ll put it up again by request:

There’s always a bit of discussion about the back story of the Haunted Mansion, particularly around the bride’s ring in the queue area. This is the story as I told it when I worked there, from what I was taught during training. There was no official story given to us in written form, just what was passed from Cast Member to Cast Member. I worked there before the pre-2007 refurbishment so much of this doesn’t apply.

Master of the mansion, Yale Gracey (named after one of the Imagineers who designed the ride) made his money the old fashion ways. He stole it, and what he didn’t steal he married. He was a pirate, who went by the moniker Bluebeard, who operated along the Hudson River, who also married six wealthy women, who all met untimely ends after their weddings. (You can see a mausoleum near the exit with Bluebeard and the seven brides, though the dates are way off to be in the Americas).

After years of piracy, Gracey decided it was time to settle down and met a beautiful young woman, Lucretia. Gracey was madly in love with her and intended to marry and stay with her. Gracey’s advisor and mystic, Madame Leota, was against the marriage, knowing she would loose her influence over the master of the mansion and secretly vowed to see the marriage didn’t last.

On the night of their wedding, during the reception, the newlyweds participated in a game of hide and seek. Lucretia hid in a trunk in the attic, not knowing Leota was watching her. Once Lucretia closed herself in the trunk, Leota locked her in, and the young bride suffocated.

After she could not be found, Gracey ordered a search of the mansion. No one could get in the attic, as the key was missing from the servants quarters. (The key is missing from the rack if you ever go through the back hallway into the foyer.) Eventually they key was discovered on Leota, and after they removed the bride’s body, Gracey had Leota beheaded for her treachery.

Master Gracey was incredibly distraught over the loss of Lucretia. As her funeral procession began, the horses pulling the hearse took off as soon as the coffin was loaded into it. Watching this, Gracey drops Lucretia’s wedding ring he had been holding as a reminder and stomps it into the ground. When the hearse was found the body and the horse were both missing, it was in the condition you find it in in front of the mansion today. After all this tragedy, Yale Gracey took his own life, hanging himself in the loft above one of the mansions portrait galleries. The trio of recent deaths carried such traumatic energy hundreds more lost spirits descended upon the mansion, making it their new home.

Now, you enter the mansion years later, Master Gracey’s voice guiding you along the way. As he guides you through the mansion, you see evidence of the happy haunts but not the ghosts themselves, until Madame Leota, still with one foot in both the real and spirit worlds calls them to you. You then see the spirits as flat images as you continue your way through the great hall of the mansion. But then you enter the attic, the bride’s domain. Furious at the intruders in her domain, the bride pushes you backwards out the attic window where you fall to your death in the graveyard below. This new spirit taking form startles the groundskeeper and his dog. Now as one of them the spirits welcome you and you see them in three dimensions. As you leave, a spirit inhabits your body and hitchhikes out of the mansion in it.

If you look at the scenes in the Mansion, you can see that story build itself. Prior to the seance scene you don’t see the ghosts themselves, only evidence of their existence. After the seance, you can see the ghosts in two dimensional form, but after the attic, you can see them in three dimensions as you are now one of the spirits.

Now as I said, this was all Cast Member lore and not official from Imagineering. The addition of the ring to the queue in the most recent update was an acknowledgement of this story, as they ring we used to point to was actually the remnants of an old pole removed from the early days of the ride.

There were other little fights between Imagineering and the Haunted Mansion CM’s over the years, including the Hidden Mickey in the ballroom. The plates arranged as a Mickey are not supposed to be placed that way. Each place setting has a Polaroid under it of how it is supposed to be set up. Every time Imagineering would come through they would change it to match the picture, and the ride CMs would just change it back on their next walkthrough that morning.

I guess it doesn’t need too many changes to fit the new attic scene, just the impression that the bride had the intent to murder Gracey for his money, but maybe ask a current CM to find out their version.

January 2012 Trip report

I’ve been back from my latest Walt Disney World trip for a few days now, and it’s time to recap the trip.  This isn’t going to be a full play-by-play recap, but it will highlight some new experiences for me. Forgive some of the image quality, the camera is pretty decent, I’m just a poor photographer.

Our late night Magical Express experience was easy, only waited about 5 minutes for the bus to leave. For my first time on ME, it was quicker than expected, but will be interesting to test sometime when we can actually use the baggage service. Pop Century was the second stop and we got in around 1:30 AM. Check in was easy, but the ticket system was down so I could not pickup my per-ordered ticket and my girlfriend could not purchase hers. Also, Everything Pop was unsurprisingly closed, and I could have used a snack.

We got to our room, a preferred room in building 10 in the 70s section, and it seemed a little smaller than I remember. The had filled our request for a king size bed, but it was a wheelchair accessible room, so I think the bathroom was bigger taking up space in the main part of the room. It also had a fridge inside, which we didn’t request. I don’t know if they just had forgotten to take it out or they automatically come in the accessible rooms. Was glad to see outlets were plentiful in the room, enough at least to charge 2 phones, a laptop and a camera battery.  After one quick Stacey loop we were out like lights.

Out the door by 745, we went to pick/up and buy our tickets. Concierge was helpful, but seemed distracted trying to help another Cast Member direct a guest to a place to watch the Patriots/Broncos game that night. Anyway, it took a good 10 minutes to get our tickets, mine printed separately on a Key to the World style card and my girlfriends on to her room key. Quick coffee and croissant from an overly packed Everything Pop and we got in line for the Epcot bus.

We got to Epcot around 8:20 and were second in line at the central turnstile. The party who was first at the turnstile next to us were picked as Family of the Day and were let in through a wheelchair gate.

Pre-Opening Epcot

Family of the Day

Family of the Day being introduced

They took some pictures and were introduced to the crowd as the family of the day right before the opening announcement at 8:45.  We attempted to enter, but we had a problem with our tickets. The attendant let us in but told us to go to guest relations to get it straightened out. As it turned out, the concierge CM placed my 3 day ticket onto my KTTW card and my GF’s two day ticket on my “park ticket” card. The guest relations CM unassigned the tickets, and reprinted them on the Tyvex paper tickets. He also gave us a No Strings Attached Fastpass.

The rest of the morning was uneventful, walked on to all of Futureworld East, with a short wait for Spaceship Earth. After using the No Strings Attached pass at Soarin’, we checked in for our Behind the Seeds tour.

The tour was excellent, and was led by a recent graduate from an agricultural program who was just beginning his post graduation internship at The Land, specializing in aquaculture. The tour began with introductions, there were maybe 10 of us total, and then we were shown the pest control labs where we were told how they use ladybugs and wasps to control pests in the greenhouses. We saw how the harvested the beneficial bugs and some of us were given ladybug tubes to release into the greenhouse. After that, we were shown the tissue culturing lab where they were growing plants with out seeds, and saw a few plants that aren’t on the boat tour: a young redwood and a few cinnamon trees.

Pest Control Experiment Chambers

Wasp Larvae Harvesting

A young redwood tree

Cinammon tree

Next we went into the greenhouses. As the boats went by, we got most of the same information, but just in more detail, probably spending 15 min in each room. We also got to play with a touch sensitive plant and taste one of the freshly harvested cucumbers. We were allowed to explore as long as we stayed on the concrete. You have to wear special shoe covers to walk on the sand beds, which are 6 feet deep! We made are way through all the greenhouse rooms, including the aquacells where we fed the tilapia, which are grown at a ratio of 1 gallon per fish. In the tropical greenhouse we were asked to identify spices by scent, most people got most right, but allspice gave us all problems, everyone said nutmeg.

Aeropnics set up

Reactive plant after begin shook

More aeroponics

Nutrient drip pans

Freshest cucumber ever

Cucumber plants and Mickey shaping cylinder

Tube growing plants

The back of the Soarin' building

Sweet potato plants

9 pound lemon

Sugar cane plants

Giant shrimp and Mickey habitat

Baby alligators

Mickey wound hose

Packed tank

Last photo before camera died at spice station

The tour was supposed to last and hour but ended up at about 80 minutes, so we had to all but run to Le Cellier for lunch. We walked in behind a pair of people trying to eat there without an ADR.  We actually sat pretty quickly. The Unibrau beer flight was very good, but the star of the meal was the cheese soup. It lived up to the hype and then some. The NY strip was good, but it was a tad salty.

Why LeCellier is impossible to get into

After lunch we began our around the world snacking, with the tequila flight at Cave del Tequila. The Gran Centenario Añejo was the best of the three, and the salsa shot was incredible as well. It was a surprise that Cava was not taking Table in Wonderland (they did back in June).

Tequilaed up, we figured it was a good time to hit Journey into Imagination. Weeping for our lost childhoods we moved onto tour the rest of World Showcase, Shopped and grabbed an Aero bar in the UK, split a chocolate éclair (filling was great, pastry was dry) in France, quick run through Morocco, kaki gori  and browsing in Japan. We just missed American Adventure so we moved on. Via Napoli didn’t appear to be serving slices out the window, and the line for the dining room was halfway through the pavilion, so we looked into the shop and moved on to Germany where we split a variety of snacks from the sweet shop. Might be the best caramel corn ever. Grabbed a Malestrom FP went through Kringa, then back tracked for eggrolls, acrobats and Reflections of China. The maelstrom theater had both sets of doors open, so we watched part of the film, finished the park with some shopping and got a great spot for Illuminations right in the front of the lagoon.

Sunset over the lagoon

We than had to run out quickly to meet some friends at Yeehaw Bob. The show seemed fun, but wasn’t a great place to try and reconnect with old friends. Finally made it back to the hotel room at 12:30 and crashed hard.

The next day we went to the Magic Kingdom, didn’t make rope drop and got there about 9:45-10AM. First ride we went on was Astro Orbiter. Two things: 1) not  made for 2 adults, and 2) it was the first Disney ride to ever make me dizzy. Rest of the day was uneventful, lines were fairly short until lunch. Pecos Bills was very busy, and were assigning tables.  We saw they were running Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom playtests, so we ran back to the Main Street Fire House to sign up.

Storybook Circus construction

The Beast's castle

Dumbo walled up

Tried to get a shot through the wall

Over the wall works much better

Love the Ducktales reference

Walt Disnet Story reference in the Town Square Theater

There was no line when we got there, and we walked up to the next station. We were given out RFID keycard, five spell cards and a map. At the back of the firehouse there were three training stations where Merlin gives you instructions on how to play then assigns you a certain window in a certain land. We were sent to Tortuga Tavern in Adventureland. When we got there, there were two groups waiting ahead of us, but watching them didn’t ruin my experience eat the window. They were different animations.

Outside the Firehouse

My cards (from Mulan, Little Mermaid, Hercules, Tangled and Beauty and the Beast)

When we got there Merlin showed us Hades gaining control of Jafar’s lamp and commanding him to help Hades find the Adventureland section of the crystal that would give him control of the Magic Kingdom. We played the window and moved on to the next one, this time assigned by the Genie. I accidentally went to a wrong window and it showed me the right one again. We played the window and the next 3 after that, interspersed with the Adventureland attractions. We didn’t have to repeat any cards in this one round, but we did have to repeat a window, even if it did have a different video. I don’t thin you’ll have to repeat windows once it is fully up and running, one of the Advenureland windows was walled off with the façade work that was being done to Sunshine Tree Terrace.  After we defeated Jafar at the fifth window we were told we could go start at one of the Fantasyland windows if we wanted to.

A Frontierland window we happened to walk by

An Adventureland window

Overall the game was fun, if repetitive. It didn’t appear to matter which card we used, they all just threw something at the villain. The story was nice and linear and was complete for the quest. Some people were trading cards at some of the stations, but we didn’t participate. It will be fun for kids though. Each land seemed to have three villains from what I could gather. Saw Scar and Izma in addition to Jafar in other peoples games, and each had there henchmen as one of the “levels.” So with the four lands, (Adventureland, Main Street, Fantasyland and a combined Frontierland/Liberty Square area) that should be 12 adventures to run, and maybe more. Each land seemed to have appropriately themed villains as well.

After I watched the afternoon for the first time as a guest in 14 years, we did a few more attractions then went to Ohana for dinner. The food was good, but not quite what I remembered it being,. The Pork and shrimp were the highlights, until desert at least. The brad pudding alone was worth the cost of the dinner. Also found out they will serve the Kona press pot if you request it but, it is not an included drink. The bar outside Ohana was pretty much a Giants’ bar, everybody sitting around watching the game, even if Disney can’t get the aspect ratio right on the TVs.

We got back to the Kingdom with a few minutes to spare before Magic Memories and you. The Hub was completely full and they were directing people around. We spend most of the MM&Y time trying to find a good spot to stand, and finally found one right before Wishes next to the Tomorrowland Terrace restrooms. Slightly obscured but not a bad view. We continued through the night riding and seeing shows trough to 2 AM during Extra Magic Hours, never getting more than a 5 minute wait for anything. A little hungry then, the only place open was the Main Street Bakery. Walking on Main Street, we encountered the custodial broom artist drawing the Fab 5 on the cement with a wet broom.  Completely awesome. Quick bite to eat, a little Emporium shopping, the Kiss Goodnight and back to Pop Century.

Broom drawn Goofy

Broom drawn Donald

Broom drawn Mickey

Broom drawn Minnie

Broom artist at work

Town Square at 2:30AM

While at the Magic Kingdom, I tend to chat with the CMs. I did get some info from them about a few upcoming things. According to the Jungle Cruise Skipers, they are going to keep the entire park operational for the entire 24 hour period on February 29, but they may have to do some short rotating closures for OSHA requirements. They’re won’t be any special entertainment that day according to them either. Before what may be my last ride on Snow White’s adventures, I asked the CM about the closing, and I was told they are scheduled to close in April, but they were told that could change on a moments notice. I also managed to grab a few shots of the closed Dumbo.

Monday was another early morning. We packed up and checked our bags in with baggage services by 8:30 and grabbed a cab to the Boardwalk for an excellent meal at Kouzzina. Their press pot coffee was actually better than the Kona cup. After breakfast we alked the Boardwalk fro a bit and Headed over to Downtown Disney. My first stop was into D Street to browse my new addiction that is Vinylmation. I walked into a completely empty store, and was kicked out 30 seconds later. Apparently locking the doors before you’re open isn’t Disney policy. We walked around and shopped. We did try a Carrot Cake cupcake at Babycakes. It was pretty good, but still could tell it was not a normal cupcake. After picking up some cool merchandise, including a shirt I had been hunting all three days,  we had lunch at Earl of Sandwhich. Very good, but nothing could live up to the hype for that place.

Splitsville construction wall

Concept art on the wall

We went back to the hotel to relax by the pool at the hotel, and I did walk around to get some shots of Art of Animation.. We then hopped abourd the newly dubbed Tragical Depressed for the return trip. I hope I’ll be back for the 24 HR insanity, but we’ll see.

Finding Nemo building

Cars wing and construction trailers

More Nemo but with more construction

unknown wing (probably Mermaid) under construction

There were some construction vehicles driving around

Can see a cherry picker boom in the back

Closer view of Nemo construction

Light poles and trees are going in

Wrok on Nemo looks like the details are coming in

Landscaping needs work though

Nemo in foreground, Cars in background

Nemo really looks good

Can see a few more Cars details

Decoding Disney Dining Dollars

The mathematics of the Walt Disney World(“WDW”) dining plans fascinated me. Specifically, what was the actual value of your meals while using the plan and what was the value Disney gave to those meals.

My first step was to try and work out the values of the individual elements of the current dining plans. After working with the equations for a few hours, it became clear that I couldn’t find the values from the equations I came up with, so I contacted Len Testa, of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, TouringPlans.com and the WDWToday podcast. He informed me that he had tried to figure out the numbers, as he had in previous years, but they didn’t make sense and that WDW must be marking up the cost in some inconsistent way across the plans. After a little trial and error, I came up with the following numbers: Counter or Quick Service (“QS”) credits valued at $14.38, a Table Service (“TS”) credit is $30.93, a snack credit at $3.05, and an appetizer at $1.59. I then apply a 10% mark up to the QS plan, a ~8.6% markup on the regular dining plan, and 0% markup on the Deluxe. I used a declining mark up for two reasons: WDW is trying to add perceived value to their premium plans, and WDW knows the more food you have on a plan the less likely you are to use all the credits and therefor Disney can reclaim extra value. I also ignored the cost of the refillable mug, as my math would not work since you only get one no matter how long you stay and that leaves me with out a set number of days to amortize the cost of the mug over. So these numbers are slightly conjectural, but should be good enough to be a guide to the value of the Dining Plan.

The next step was a little simpler: collecting menus from all the participating restaurants. Thanks Allears.net! I then entered all the prices of the items I wanted to track into a spreadsheet. I decided there were really 7 items I needed to track: breakfast entrees, and for lunch and dinner entrees, appetizers, and deserts. I then averaged the cost of each of the above elements, and added those averages to fit what you got in different plans; the deluxe plan includes appetizers the standard plan does not. Also, for signature restaurants that require 2 TS credits, I just halved the prices so that it reflected the per credit value.  For some appetizers, I halved the value as well since they can only normally be ordered as a shared appetizer using two people’s credits. This was to reflect a more normal procedure, though some servers will let you get a shared appetizer for one person.

Once this was done, I also added up the most expensive item from each category for each restaurant in order to determine the maximum values under each plan.

I also ignored drinks, after some debating how to handle them.  Averaging drink prices seemed too unpredictable in my mind. I’m going to suggest adding $2.50-3.00 per non-buffet meal for soft drinks/coffee/juice. A few places have some specialty drinks but it is somewhat unclear if these are included in the 2012 plan.

The full spreadsheets are attached, but just to get some of the meatier numbers out: For the regular dining plan, the rest average value restaurant is Akershus for bothe dinner($46.85) and lunch($41.53). According to my numbers, Tutto Italia is the best average value under the deluxe dining plan for lunch($42.41) and dinner($52.76). Akershus is also the best average breakfast value under both plans ($39.40). This is also the best maximum breakfast value under both plans. The best maximum value under the Deluxe Dining Plan is Tutto Italia under both lunch($59.00) and dinner($66.00). Under the regular Dining Plan the best maximum values are Le Cellier for lunch($41.99) and Bongos Cuban Café($53.25) for dinner.

The overall average breakfast value at WDW is $20.39, lunch is for $24.28 regular and $31.39 for deluxe plan. Dinner averages out to $28.57 for regular dining plan and $35.16 for deluxe dining plan users. While this only covers the table service restaurants, I hope to be able to work on a guide for the counter service places soon too.  Hope these numbers help you, and feel free to email me at graceysbutler@gmail.com.

In defense of Pandora

Like the namesake of its new project, Disney opened a box this week and showed us what was inside. And much like myth, a whole lot of negativity has come pouring out. But, we the Disney fan community, need to remember what was inside the box when Pandora took a look inside: hope. That’s what we need to have about this project, and not dismiss it before we even hear what is actually going to be built.

On Tuesday September 20, 2011 Disney announced a partnership with writer/director James Cameron to bring the world known as Pandora of his movie Avatar to its Animal Kingdom park, and eventually beyond that. Immediately, the online community denounced the move for several reasons, and I’ll address as many of those here as possible.

1) Disney shouldn’t need to be working with outside companies to bring things to its parks. Really? I suppose you never ride Star Tours or any of the Indiana Jones attractions. Let’s not forget the Twilight Zone either.
2) But James Cameron isn’t George Lucas. Sure, he’s not. He has the two highest grossing movies of all time and a couple Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture under his belt. Beyond the world of Avatar, he has also created the Terminator and The Abyss. Other things he’s directed? Aliens, True Lies and Titanic, as well as a focus on documentaries. Don’t knock the creative pedigree. He has it.
3) Avatar is too violent. First, Tom Staggs has made the point that what grabbed WDI wasn’t the battle scene; it was the immersiveness of the world and the richness of the stories that can be made from that. Avatar was an action movie, but that wasn’t the focus of the film. The film focused on creating a world and populating it, while giving the audience the theme of conservation. The same can be said of the complaints about the films plot, which played second fiddle to the world it was set in.
4) It’s not a Wizarding World of Harry Potter killer. Disney doesn’t need a HP killer. Its undeniably been a huge success for Universal Orlando, but it has not hurt Disney’s numbers. Regardless, it may not have the popularity of the Potter series, but Avatar is still the highest grossing movie of all time. Sure, using adjusted dollars, its number 14. That’s over 75 million tickets in the US and Canada alone. Only one of the Harry Potter movies even breaks the top hundred.
5) It doesn’t have anything to do with Animal Kingdom. The movie is all about the way human(oids) have to work with nature, not just bulldoze it. Cameron created a world populated with a consistent type of animals with a believable biology for their world.
6) I didn’t like/see the movie. This is completely irrelevant to the land. Not every attraction at Disney Parks is tied to a movie, and yet they are successful. Animal Kingdom even had two attractions open before the movies and those didn’t end up being blockbusters. Disney didn’t gut them, and they are still popular attractions.
7) Why didn’t Disney get (another franchise)? I’m sure there are plenty of business reasons for that, that we’re not privy to. Disney does its research, let’s trust them for now.

While that isn’t exactly an inclusive list of complaints, it addresses the gist of the majority of what I have read. I am not going to say that this is going to be a gate buster set off attractions, but Walt Disney Imagineering is on a hot streak that hasn’t been seen since the 1980s, so let’s, as their fan base, cut them some slack until we hear more about the Avatar project.