The 2016 Golden Bricks

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Move over Oscars, Golden Globes, and Carnegie Science Awards, because there’s a new award show in town, and some people are calling it the most coveted prize since the prestigious Charles W. Howard Award. So put on your fanciest Crocs and don your formal fanny pack, because it’s time for the Golden Bricks and all you sweaty tourists are invited!

Get excited, too, because we invited some of the most distinguished celebrities to come and present the Golden Bricks. That’s right: Hanks, Pratt, Beyonce, and Oprah! Unfortunately, none of them showed up. You’re stuck with me.

So this doesn’t turn into your typical award show with a lot of things you’ve never heard of winning, most categories are subdivided with an international and US winner. With Shanghai Disneyland just having opened in 2016, a lot of the categories could potentially be dominated by that new park without the distinction.

In addition to the prestige and bragging rights that come with such a very important award, every winner will receive a $4.87 merchandise credit at Old Navy, a bootleg Nickelback tape, and an artisan-made award (i.e. drawn by me with a sharpie) certificate. You could say the value of these prizes is priceless. 

Best New Attraction (US) – The Muppets Present… Great Moments in American History, Walt Disney World

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Who among us didn’t get a little choked up when Leo finally won Best Actor? (DON’T LIE.) Well, this is exactly like that. The Muppets are finally being honored…and in such a prestigious setting as The Golden Bricks! With two new attractions debuting in Epcot, everyone thought it was that park’s award to lose. However, Arendelle never got its act together and ratified its constitution, and the team behind Soarin’ Around the World was too lazy to actually travel abroad and film footage, so here we are.

Actually, that’s dismissive about the substantive quality of The Muppets Present… Great Moments in American History. Frozen Ever After was better than expected and Soarin’ Around the World has its strengths; this is still better than both. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s the best addition to Magic Kingdom in a decade. Its tone is perfect, the script is hilarious, and the way it blends education and entertainment takes a page out of EPCOT Center’s playbook and demonstrates how intellectual property could be used for ‘edutainment.’

Some will probably take issue with this choice as it’s not as “epic” as other potential choices, but it takes all types of attractions to make a well-rounded theme park. Moreover, the execution here is absolutely flawless, something that I don’t think can be said of any other Walt Disney World attraction in recent memory. Whether a flawed ‘epic’ attraction is better than a perfect diversion is a matter of debate, I suppose, I think this deserves the recognition. Not only for its own merits, but for how it strengthens Liberty Square as a land. Before this Muppets show, Liberty Square was waypoint for other destinations; this show creates an opportunity for guests to pause and appreciate the beauty and detail of Liberty Square, giving it even more significance.

Best New Attraction (Int’l) – Pirates of Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure, Shanghai Disneyland

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In terms of scale, this is the polar opposite of our domestic pick. Much like Mystic Manor did with Hong Kong Disneyland, this alone should put Shanghai Disneyland on the bucket list of Disney fans. This is not to say that Shanghai Disneyland is otherwise lacking, just that Battle for the Sunken Treasure is so unbelievably good that it should be the impetus for a side trip to Shanghai when visiting Tokyo Disney Resort. 😉

Bearing little in common with the classic Pirates of the Caribbean aside from using boats and having pirates (it could be added to Adventureland without removing the current Pirates of the Caribbean and there would be no issues of redundancy), this epic E-Ticket is like a culmination of all recent developments by Imagineering and Universal Creative. It is a large scale mixed media experience that delivers the best elements of Mystic Manor, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, and Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s clearly a big-budget attraction that spared no expense, and it absolutely shows, executing in every conceivable way and having a number of wow moments.

Best New Restaurant (US) – Tiffins, Walt Disney World

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Sorry, PizzeRizzo. I was rooting for you here, but Tiffins turned out to be an unexpected gem. Not just the best new restaurant, but one of the best restaurants in all of Walt Disney World. With its beautiful art, moody ambiance, and a menu that’s simultaneously adventurous and approachable, the only real competition Tiffins faced here was a few restaurants opened by celebrity chefs at Disney Springs. While good, none of those were nearly this inventive or ambitious. Once Pandora opens, a lot more guests will “discover” Tiffins making it a much hotter ADR, we suspect.

(Sarah’s honorable mention: Ample Hills Creamery. Seriously, she would not get on board with these awards unless I gave them something, and I refused to make a “Creamery of the Year” category. 🙂 )

Best New Restaurant (Int’l) – Barbossa’s Bounty, Shanghai Disneyland

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“How can we take a popular concept and make it less expensive for guests?” If our secret intel is correct, that statement was only uttered once in any of Disney’s global offices in 2016 (swap “less” for “more” and the statement was uttered 36,348 times in 2016) and it was when conceiving of Barbossa’s Bounty in Shanghai Disneyland’s Treasure Cove.

This restaurant takes the familiar formula of Blue Bayou, with a dining room that overlooks that park’s Pirates of the Caribbean, but it swaps out overpriced table service fare for affordable counter service food that is some of the best and most interesting in the entire park. Add to that a variety of other dining rooms, all meticulously designed, and this is an easy choice for best new restaurant.

(Wandering Moon Teahouse and Camp Woodchuck Kitchen deserve honorable mention here; in any other year, either of these could’ve won.)

Special Event of the Year (US) – Festival of Holidays, Disney California Adventure

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This one might be a surprise after we lambasted the food prices in our Festival of Holidays at DCA Tips post, but that was overcome by entertainment. The added bands and live performers throughout Disney California Adventure gave the park a palpable energy. This felt almost like the varied cultures of Southern California coming together to share their holiday traditions, and this really injected a sense of “California” into a park that has otherwise been moving away from its original theme.

We found ourselves spending significantly more time in DCA this holiday season than ever before, and the ambiance was a big reason why. The new World of Color – Season of Light certainly helped, and even after repeat viewings, we still couldn’t get enough of this show–we stand by our review calling this the best World of Color yet. Then there’s the returning favorite, Viva Navidad, that continues to be incredible. Here’s hoping DCA continues this momentum with the expanded Lunar New Year celebration. Lowering of food prices remains necessary to get these events firing on all cylinders, and the total lack of lines at the marketplace booths every single day we visited corroborates this assessment.

Special Event of the Year (In’tl) – Year of Wishes, Tokyo DisneySea

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This year, Disney California Adventure and Tokyo DisneySea celebrated their 15th Anniversaries. The former gave out a button to guests on the day of the anniversary. The latter kicked off a yearlong celebration that included multiple new shows, a variety of in-park decor (including a pirate ship at the front of the park), and special food & merchandise for the occasion.

The new version of Big Band Beat for the Year of Wishes was the highlight, but the Harbor show was also good, and that huge ship in Aquasphere Plaza was also pretty awesome. The Tokyo parks continue to school all of their counterparts when it comes to celebrating anything (from Duffy’s anniversary to Easter and beyond) and this is the latest example.

Biggest Disappointment – Star Wars Stuff, Everywhere

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Star Wars Land is still a few years away, so it made sense that Disney would want to capitalize on the incredible success of The Force Awakens and offer a temporary stopgap of Star Wars offerings until the fully-fledged land could open. This entertainment was all put together pretty quickly, and we were thus a bit forgiving of Season of the Force when it debuted without much substance (save for Hyperspace Mountain in Disneyland).

It’s now over a year later, and the additions to the lineup of temporary Star Wars entertainment (or “Star Wars Stuff Celebration” as we will call it since there is no proper name now that ‘Season of the Force’ has been abandoned) have been pathetic at best. The Star Wars stage show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is atrocious, the new fireworks are not as good as the original ones, and Star Wars Launch Bay is a glorified gift shop. The Star Wars Stuff Celebration has since been expanded to Hong Kong Disneyland because, when you have a mediocre idea, why not implement it as many places as possible?!

While Star Wars Land will likely be mind-blowingly awesome, it’s pretty sad that the interim Star Wars Stuff Celebration, based on one of the most imaginative and inventive franchises ever, is utterly devoid of imagination and innovation. This is doubly true given how much Disney has been promoting its current Star Wars offerings on both coasts.

(Rivers of Light does not receive an honorable mention here. The whole reason Star Wars Stuff Celebration is winning here is because it rushed a half-baked idea into the parks. The opposite is occurring with Rivers of Light.)

Park of the Year – Shanghai Disneyland

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By dubbing this award “Park of the Year” instead of “Best Park of the Year” we have an out so that Tokyo DisneySea doesn’t just win this award every year in perpetuity. While Shanghai Disneyland is not the best…or second best…park in the world…or even in Asia…it does deserve a lot of recognition for its innovations and what it brings to the table.

Shanghai Disneyland represents the most significant deviation from Disneyland’s “castle park” formula, and while the results are decidedly hit and miss, there are plenty of successes. Treasure Cove and Adventure Isle are a near-flawless combination; Tomorrowland has an interesting aesthetic and kinetic energy; even the imperfect Mickey Avenue grows on you quite a bit over the course of a couple days. As we make clear in our Shanghai Disneyland Review & Impressions, there is a ton of room for improvement, but the park should still be lauded for its ambition and the elements that it really nailed.

Hotel of the Year – Shanghai Disneyland Hotel

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Another cop out with the award name, but like the park, Shanghai Disneyland Hotel deserves recognition for what it got right. In this case, what it does well it does really well. The lobby, grounds, and really all common areas at Shanghai Disneyland Hotel are exceptional. The Art Nouveau style works, and the lobby is reminiscent of the atriums of Disney Cruise Line’s fleet. The contrast between the luxuriousness of this hotel and the cheapness of the Toy Story one is pretty stark, and really underscores the quality of Shanghai Disneyland Hotel.

Unfortunately, the rooms do not live up to the lofty expectations created by the well-appointed lobby, and it’s fairly visible the exact points in room design where the budget for the hotel started to run out. They’re still pretty good rooms, but after seeing the common areas of the hotel, you’d expect a bit more. It’s still arguably a top 5 Disney hotel in the world (easily top 10).

Announcement of the Year – Hong Kong Disneyland Expansion

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After Shanghai Disneyland opened, it was clear that Hong Kong’s park would need a shot in the arm to sustain its number despite a loss of a key demographic. These additions, which include a unique castle, Marvel Land, and Frozen Land, will not only expand the attraction slate, but give the park its own distinct character. Here’s hoping it’s enough to buoy the struggling park, and help its number rise like a phoenix from Arizona.

That wraps it up for the 2016 Golden Bricks. We fully expect the winners to fly the banner from their marquees and probably display their Golden Brick (not actual gold…or an actual brick) in a glorious display case in their queue, lobby, etc. As for the many losers, do better in 2017.


14 Responses to “The 2016 Golden Bricks”
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