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May 2008 Archives

May 9, 2008

Whirlwind Weekend Walt Disney World Getaway: Part 1

By Michelle Scribner-MacLean

Ah, the generosity of friends".and all my friends happen to know that I love Walt Disney World. So, when my dear pal Pat invited me to stay at her off-property Orlando timeshare for the weekend, I jumped at the chance. I was particularly happy because, although we usually trek down to WDW in May as a family, this spring we'd decided to postpone our family trip until later in the year".which meant that I was going to miss the Flower and Garden Festival at EPCOT. However, yesterday, after a very early flight from cold and dreary New Hampshire, midmorning I found myself standing in front of Spaceship Earth taking in this splendid site:

Spaceship Earth Flower and Garden Festival


The entrance area to EPCOT didn't have its typical music, but instead featured tunes that you'd hear at a beach party".which is fitting since all of the topiaries are decked out in beach gear. Minnie had a cute bathing suit and her dear boy"..er"..mousefriend looked like this:

Mickey and the Flower and Garden Festival


I didn't get very far into EPCOT when my friend called and invited me to Downtown Disney for lunch. (See! I told you it was whirlwind). We met at Wolfgang Puck's for a lunch on the outside patio (something that it pretty tricky to do in New Hampshire these days).

I ordered spinach salad with pecans and gorgonzola cheese, but had asked them to take the apples out since I am allergic. The waitress assured me it would be no problem at all. After the salad arrived and I started eating it".I bit down into an apple! Luckily, I only had a slight reaction, but I made sure to tell the waitress. The chef came out to personally apologize, but I wanted to mention this because, although anyone with allergies is very careful, mistakes do happen so be sure to double check (it reminded me that I need to remember to carry my benedryl wherever I go).

As my friend Pat headed to a water park with her son, I had some time to myself before we met later for dinner. As I got into my car I had an email on my phone from a friend suggesting that there might be soft openings of Toy Story Mania at Disney Hollywood Studios. Well, I guess that made the decision of where I'd be going next! When I arrived I found out that the soft openings were just for Cast Members".and that the line was a 90 minute wait (those Cast Members love the new attractions as much as we do!). This is was the area looked like.

Toy Story Mania Entrance

You can see that it was blocked off, but there is a Pixar Studio banner, some plastic monkeys, and some army men on the roof. Looks like it is going to be a fun area".but I'll have to wait until my next trip.

I did get to see something new"the Block Party Bash, which has just been around for about a month. The parade is a bit different from other Disney parades because there are about six or seven floats with performer and different characters and they start by moving up the street and then stopping to perform for 10 minutes".then they move to another part of the parade route and stop again. I was sitting at the second stop".and it seemed like a long wait until they got there.

The characters are from Pixar films so you'll see Toy Story characters, the Bug's Life crew, and the ones that stopped in front of me were from Monster's Inc.

Boo in Block Party Bash Parade

The characters, along with dancing Cast Member friends, engage the audience in jumping, clapping, and dancing to pretty much any party song you can imagine (think YMCA and macarana). It was different and the kids around me were thrilled when they were pulled out into the street to dance. At the end of the mini performance, they shot mini rubber balls into the audience.

Sully in Block Party Bash Parade


After two trips on Aerosmith's Rock 'n Roller Coaster and two more on the Tower of Terror, I headed off to Boma for dinner (see previous note about the whirlwind nature of this trip). I introduced Boma to my friend last year".and now, just like me, she likes to make a visit to Boma part of every trip. Our new tradition is arriving about 45 minutes before our reservation so that we can walk around the lobby and check out the interesting artifacts and go behind the resort where you can see some African animals.

So, after a wonderful dinner at Boma".we headed back to her resort and preparation for another fun day. More to follow"

May 10, 2008

Whirlwind Weekend Getaway: Part 2

By Michelle Scribner-MacLean

Beautiful weather was a welcome theme for this entire weekend, after traveling from New Hampshire, where it is still struggling to get out of the 50s. This May weekend was in Orlando absolutely beautiful with temperatures in the mid-80s and abundant sunshine for nearly the entire time I was there. This provided a terrific backdrop for my second full day at the Flower and Garden Festival at EPCOT.

I spent the first part of the day on my own, taking my time and carefully checking out the special exhibits and plants that were highlighted in Future World. I got the chance to speak with two beekeepers, whose booth was located in Future World East, between the Mousegear store and Mission Space. They brought two living hives, samples of honey, and were very willing to talk about the bee-plant relationship, as well as what is involved in keeping hives.

beekeepers


Next I made my way over to Minnie's Butterfly Garden (Can you see a theme here? I'm a science teacher and love learning about bugs!).

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Sandwiched between two amazing butterfly topiaries, this popular attraction is back with an array of local butterflies including zebra longwings, orange julias, and painted ladies.

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It was fairly crowded (with lots of enthusiastic photographers getting shots of these interesting creatures on their native plants. Here's a photo I took of a common buckeye.

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Later in the morning I was joined by my friend, Pat, who had never seen the Flower and Garden Festival. I visit Walt Disney World frequently, but one of the things that I really enjoy is introducing my friends and family to new things that they haven't seen before. Pat was thrilled with all that she saw and kept saying, "I can't believe that I never knew this was here!"

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At lunchtime we made our way over to Garden Town, former home to the Wonders of Life Pavilion. (I met up with a cast member friend who said that, although they've been opening the Wonders of Life for five weeks a year during the past several years, now it is officially closed for good - or, as we like to say in the Disney fan world - it has become an "extinct attraction").

For Flower and Garden, they've converted this space into sort of an exposition of things related to plants and growing. There are two spaces for lectures and demonstrations (I caught a horticulturist talking about garden irrigation and walked by a group learning about proper ways to plant trees), there is a little garden store, and there is a wonderful 20-minute film which shows behind the scenes footage of how the Disney team of horticulturists prepare for this event.

Pat and I then ventured to the Garden Town Café for lunch. This was a perfect spot for a few reasons. First, it seems that not many people know about this café".so it was not crowded at all. Second, there were some great food choices. We had salads with edible greens and flowers and both agreed that it was really yummy (and I definitely felt as if I'd had my vitamins for the day after eating that).

We spent the remainder of the day walking around World Showcase, where each country featured some special plant arrangement, spice, or fragrant flower collection. The topiaries were just spectacular. I noticed these familiar characters in Germany.

Seven Dwarves


My last morning at Walt Disney World was filled with interesting events. I decided that I could not go home without going to the Magic Kingdom (what trip to WDW would be complete without seeing the castle?). Taking advantage of my planned reservation later in the day, I parked at the Grand Floridian and took an easy monorail ride over to the Magic Kingdom. I spent quite a bit of time in Tomorrow Land and must comment that every time I've gone to the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, I've really enjoyed myself. I sort of feel that I don't want to like it - because it's so goofy, but every show that I've been to has been different and really funny. I'd recommend it if you've never been.

Crowd levels we really high, but I decided to venture over to one of my favorites - Splash Mountain - because I had a Fast Pass. Not a good idea. Ten minutes into it, the ride broke down and we were stuck for 25 minutes. Because we stopped at a difficult to access place in the ride, our evacuation required that we climb over the back seats of several boats before being taken backstage to exit (cast members requested that we take no photos). Although this doesn't happen often, it happens occasionally, so here is a tip for parents: make sure that your child has visited the restroom before going on a long attraction. The poor family behind me had a 5 year-old girl who had to go and that 25 minute wait was not a pleasant one for her!

On the way out of Splash Mountain, I had a bit of a celebrity sighting. Cole and Dylan Sprouse (a.k.a. Zack and Cody from the show on the Disney Channel) were walking toward Splash Mountain with a VIP guide. There were so many people in the park, they seemed to be walking around unnoticed. Sadly, I didn't have my camera out when they passed.

The final treat for my weekend was meeting my friend for high tea at the Grand Floridian. This was a new experience for me and I was very excited. The tea is served at a small restaurant at the back of the lobby called Garden View Lounge. The tables are small, the chairs are comfy, the room is sunny, and the wait staff was excellent. Pat and I both ordered three course teas and settled in for a wonderful experience. I treated myself to a Prince Edward's Tea (but shared the pate with my friend since I'm a vegetarian). The first course also came with sherry (a fun surprise), delicious cheese, and an assortment of berries. Later I had scones with Devonshire clotted cream, while Pat, who had ordered the Sally Lunn Tea, had beautiful strawberries and cream. It was a perfect ending to a whirlwind getaway weekend and I highly recommend high tea as a change of pace from the parks and a new experience at Walt Disney World.


You can download your own copy of the Flower and Garden Festival at: http://adisneyworld.disney.go.com/media/wdw/Images2003/languagespecific/eng/nontheme/parks/epcot/events/flowerandgarden/FlowerGarden08_lores.pdf

Take a look at menu for high tea at the Grand Floridian Garden View Lounge.

May 15, 2008

Media Preview Day at Disney's Hollywood Studios

by Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor

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Just back from Wednesday's Toy Story Midway Mania media preview at Disney's Hollywood Studios and I have nothing but good news to report.

Although it was a very low-key affair, the outcome had to have been better than Disney was hoping for -- everyone I spoke to thoroughly enjoyed the ride, many riding it multiple times not just for research purposes, but because they genuinely had that much fun.

My day at Disney's Hollywood Studios started around noon, when I checked in for the media preview. I was greeted by Justin Muchoney, Disney's first Chief Magic Official, who, it turns out, is from my (original) neck of the woods. His hometown, Seven Fields, Pennsylvania, (and Justin, I think they had it as Seven Field on your nametag!) is about 20 miles north of MY hometown, Pittsburgh. Justin told me that this event is just the first of about eight that he would be present for - with some occurring at Disneyland, as well. "So far," he said, "it's been amazing. I've had some training and everyone's been great - this truly is a Dream Job."

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And then Justin gave me a wonderful gift - a pass to ride the new Toy Story Midway Mania that I was to give out to a group of my choosing. Yes, I myself got to bestow a "dream" during this Year of a Million Dreams! What fun! (I eventually gave my dream pass to a mom, dad and son who were lunching at the Studio Catering Company. Son claimed he was a BIG Buzz Lightyear and Toy Story fan, so I thought it was only fitting. I didn't get their names, so Family X, if you're reading this, please drop me a note and let me know what you thought of the ride!

Around 1:30 p.m. in front of the Sorcerer's Hat, an abbreviated version of the imported-from-Disneyland Block Party Bash kicked off the media preview event. Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Bo-Peep and Mr. Potato Head, among other Toy Story favorites and assorted gymnasts and dancers, encouraged young audience members to do the twist and macarena, ending with an explosion of bouncing balls.

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Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton was on hand to welcome the media with remarks that reinforced what seems to be a recurring theme at Disney these days. Calling it an example of "classic Disney storytelling" Crofton quoted Mr. Potato Head, the greeter of the new attraction, saying, "It's a ride that's a game. It's a game that's a ride."

Noting that the attraction had been "playtested" exhaustively, Crofton asserted, "It's fun for the entire family. Toy Story Midway Mania joins an impressive lineup of new experiences here at Disney's Hollywood Studios."

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She then invited the media to fall in line and head over to "play away" at the attraction located in a soundstage along the former Mickey Avenue, now dubbed Pixar Place.

***SOME SPOILERS AHEAD***

For those of you who haven't read much about Toy Story Midway Mania, I'll refer you to Mike Scopa's blog about the attraction's Passholder Preview HERE for photos of the exterior and queue. (We also have more photos HERE.) As for the ride itself? Well, at the risk of giving out too many spoilers, the ride is a 4-D experience - that means in addition to seeing a series of 3-D scenes (yes, you have to wear the dorky 3-D glasses), you're also treated to other sensory effects, like a sudden blast of air or a spritz of water. The ride vehicles are designed to look like a carnival tram ride. Each car holds four riders who sit in couples, back-to-back. In front of you is a "spring-action shooter," a mounted gun that moves freely and has a pull-string with a large ball at the end of it. A monitor on the vehicle shows you your score.

It's a herky-jerky ride, as you whip around corners, pausing for a minute or so at each "game booth," where your shooter spews out darts or rings or balls at a variety of targets. Before you know it, your time at each station is up, ending with a pressure-inducing "5-4-3-2-1!" countdown, and then you're on to the next challenge. After facing five different games, your scores are tallied and the next thing you know you're walking out the door heading back to the entrance to give it another go.

So" my opinion of the ride? I loved it. Rode it five times, and noticed new things each time - also noticed that my score improved each time, as well - I ended up with a high for the day of 115,000-plus points. (I think the first time through I scored about 70,000.) Before riding, I was a little concerned about how the ride would be for the less coordinated among us, but I needn't have worried. The string is very easy to grip and pull, and the shooters are very maneuverable.

For those with other challenges, I noticed that there were several cars designed to accommodate wheelchairs or ECVs - guests can ride their chairs right into the attraction vehicle. I was happy to see that accessibility had been built right into the attraction from the beginning.

It's something I had the chance to speak about with Imagineer Chrissie Allen, who served as senior show producer for Toy Story Midway Mania.

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"Obviously, we wanted to make sure that everyone can ride this ride as comfortably as possible," Allen explained. "We made sure that this ride could engage as many guests as possible. That's something that we're passionate about. And," she added with a smile, "did you notice that the monitors onboard the vehicles have closed captioning?"

Allen noted that although this attraction integrates several different technologies in a new way, that was not the main goal in the design process. "Using all the new technologies isn't the imperative," she said. "In this ride, we use all these new tools, along with our usual 3-D and 4-D tricks, but we've incorporated them in a way to further the storytelling. At Disney, we love to tell stories in a seamless way - storytelling is the imperative."

Rilous Carter, vice president of Disney's Hollywood Studios, added that all the new interactive technology was key to the park's new style.

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"What we have started in Pixar Place is going to resonate with people for a long time," he said. "The park has added Block Party Bash, the new Playhouse Disney, new High School Musical show - these things are all less than a year old. Now we have a new 'toy' for everyone - no pun intended," he added with a smile.

He stopped short of calling the addition of these new attractions a "revitalization" of the nearly 20-year-old theme park. But Carter noted that with the new attraction based on American Idol coming in the fall, Disney's Hollywood Studios was likely to be noticed more and more, "and we want to enjoy the glory for a little while."

Part of that "glory" is supposed to come from the Block Party Bash, recently brought to Walt Disney World after a few years at Disney's California Adventure. There was a special media viewing area near the Sorcerer's Hat for this 3 p.m. street party, which I took advantage of, since I'd not seen it yet.

Block Party Bash is not so much a parade as it is a moving show that makes two 12-minute stops along its route. It's a vast improvement over the Stars and Motor Cars Parade, in my opinion - I never cared for the car-themed cavalcade, and I really didn't like its music. The Block Party Bash instead features a mish-mosh of contemporary dance tunes (from "Footloose" to "Shake Your Booty" to "The Twist" and "The Macarena") with choreographed dancing and gymnastics, and plentiful characters from Disney-Pixar movies.

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It was entertaining, and the little ones pulled from the crowd to participate really seemed to be enjoying themselves. But as I stood there in one spot in the direct sun for nearly a half-hour I had to wonder if I was the only one who was feeling fried to a crackly crunch? I think I would have felt the fun a bit more if I had been in the shade, or if the performances and been about half the time. Having seen this "bash" once, I don't feel the need to see it again anytime soon... unless it's a cool, cloudy day.

Never mind, there was still one more enjoyable part of the media day to come - a meet and greet with a new character. The new movie "Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," opens in theaters on May 16, and so to promote that film, a new Prince Caspian character will begin meet-and-greets in the Studios on that day. We had a chance to meet the new prince in advance of his "official" start date, and what a lucky thing that was. The young actor portraying the handsome prince is both dashing and gallant, as he poses for photos, making small talk with an indefinable accent and in character. (See my photo with him, as he very regally holds my hand in our posed photo. He is quite debonair - I can imagine he'll be extremely popular when he begins his official "meet-and-greet" duties!)

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The Journey into Narnia attraction, located between One Man's Dream and Toy Story Mania in the Studios, is slated to reopen soon with behind-the-scenes footage, sets and props from the new movie. When the attraction opens, the Prince Caspian meet-and-greet will be located near the beginning of the queue, against a backdrop of the "Dancing Lawn," the location where the Narnians first confront Prince Caspian in the film. As someone who avidly read the Narnia books as a child, I can't wait to see both the next installment in the film series, and this new walk-through attraction.

Finally, the very low-key but fun-filled media preview day concluded, and I made my way back home to my mundane existence in the wilds of northern Virginia.

But of course I'm already planning my next visit to the World... which will undoubtedly include a stop (or two) at the new Toy Story Midway Mania... and probably to Narnia, as well!

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About May 2008

This page contains all entries posted to AllEars® Team Blog in May 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2008 is the previous archive.

July 2008 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.