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November 19, 2013

Theme Park Snapshots: November 11-13, 2013, Part I

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Even though I was just in Walt Disney World at the end of September for the opening of the Food and Wine Festival, I had the chance to sneak back down there again for a few days last week, so I jumped on it! While there, I realized that there were many things that have changed or opened over the last few months that I've missed, so I decided to run around and catch up on them as much as possible.

My new experiences started with my first opportunity to use the Magic Bands. While all of the reports we've been receiving from our readers have been overwhelmingly positive, I have to tell you that my experience was not so great.

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I was sharing a room this trip with Deb Wills, who made the hotel reservations, and try as we may, we could not get my My Disney Experience account to link up with hers. She sent me repeated emails inviting me to join, I sent her several emails as well -- and never the twain did meet. I did get my own pretty blue Magic Band, which allowed me to enter our room and make charges, but there was no way for me to set up FastPass+ and arranging my Magical Express trip took three separate phone calls.

Deb Wills told me that she had already gone through similar issues, and had been unable to link other friends to her reservations -- seems to work fine for families, but not for unrelated parties staying together. After trying to resolve this issue both over the phone and online, I decided not to waste any more precious vacation time dealing with the new technology. I'll give them a few more months to work all the bugs out and try again. So for this trip, Deb had the room reservations on her account, I had the restaurant reservations on my account, and I gave up on using FastPass+ until next time.

That aside, I was able to see quite a few of the new-to-me things on my to-do list.

In Epcot, I made my way over to the Norway pavilion to see the new "Frozen" meet-and-greet, featuring the princesses Elsa and Anna. The line to see these two new stars was quite long, and believe it or not, there were little girls dressed in "Frozen"-style outfits, some having already gone for the "Frozen" makeover at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. There is a spot, though, where you can simply view the princesses as they greet their fans -- go into the shop whose entrance is to the right of "Prinsesse Plass," the meet-and-greet location, then make a left and walk all the way to the end of the building. There you can peek in and get some nice shots of the princesses in action.

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While in Epcot, I took a stroll around the Morocco pavilion to see how the new waterfront eatery, Spice Road Table, is progressing. It's definitely coming along, but no one is saying exactly when this new spot might open. Loving Middle Eastern food as I do (and, who am I kidding? most all food!), I can't wait.

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Another thing on my list to check out in Epcot was the new restroom location in the American Adventure pavilion. I never thought I'd be writing about a bathroom, but this spot is worth getting a bit excited over.

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The new restrooms, situated to the right of the shop, are spacious, bright, and very clean, with gleaming cream-colored tile and purple accents. Best of all, there seem to be adequate stalls, at least speaking for the women's room. There are conventional paper towel dispensers, as well as very modern Dyson Airblade hand dryers, which noisily blow your hands dry. This restroom is truly a welcome addition to the area, which previously only had restrooms located down an out-of-the-way hallway along the far side of the Liberty Inn. Oh, one other note -- there's also a companion restroom here.

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My final stop in Epcot was in the France pavilion, where I wanted to try for myself a new offering they have in the ice cream shop, L'Artisan des Glaces (located where the bakery used to be).

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Called a Croque Glace (a play on the name of a popular grilled French sandwich, "Croque Monsieur"), this new taste treat is an ice cream sandwich in its own class. My friend AJ over at the Disney Food Blog wrote about this a few weeks ago, and I knew it sounded like something for me to try. AJ had sampled the sandwich with the caramel fleur de sel ice cream, which was my intention also, but when the lovely cast member behind the counter suggested that I try the Coconut White Chocolate with chocolate sauce -- well, how could I refuse? (I love coconut!).

It was a great recommendation -- Merci, Chloe! To make this mouthwatering concoction, they take a fresh, buttery French brioche, halve it, pile on a scoop of your favorite ice cream flavor, drizzle it with chocolate or raspberry sauce, top it with the other half of the brioche, then put it in a sandwich press for a few minutes. Voila! You have a perfect dessert: warm on the outside, cool and creamy inside. I haven't had anything quite like it -- worth every penny of the $6.10 it costs!

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After ticking off this last thing at Epcot, I needed to make sure that I spent some time over at the Magic Kingdom -- quite a few things there I hadn't seen, as the last time I was in that park was back in May! (I know, I know, it's not THAT long, but that's a long time for me.)

The Limited Time Magic was dedicated to honoring our veterans, and I really wanted to see the special ceremony they were holding each day as part of the Flag Retreat. Unfortunately, I didn't get there in time to get a great viewing spot, but I did manage to capture the lowering of the flag as the Voices of Liberty sang The Star-Spangled Banner.

Very emotional, especially when I looked around and noticed several former servicemen and women nearby tearing up. There's something about hearing the Voices of Liberty sing the National Anthem that can't help but bring out the patriot in you. I'm glad I managed to see at least that much of the program.

I'll share more of what I found that was new and new to me in the Magic Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Downtown Disney later this week!



June 14, 2011

Oh, My Aching Feet! Travel Around Walt Disney World from a Different Perspective

by Michelle Scribner-MacLean

As part of Team AllEars, I can tell you that I'm part of a group of people who love our gadgets and data collection, in addition to running. Lots of us use different gear to track our training progress including running watches, GPS apps on our phones, and satellite running watches. They are all great tools for collecting data and analyzing our progress.

During a recent trip to Walt Disney World, I thought it might be fun to spend a few days collecting data about how far we traveled during the day. We all know that any visit to WDW involves a lot of walking (my frequent blisters are evidence of this)"so I wondered how far my son Liam and I would travel during some of our days at the parks.

Each day we arrived, I turned on the watch and let it run during the day, recording our walking and, when the satellite was available indoors, some of our riding for the day. When I got home I uploaded the info onto my computer and, with the help of Google maps, found an interesting "story" of what our days were like.

One the day we spent about 12 hours at the Magic Kingdom, the GPS indicates that we "traveled" over 18 miles! Now when I say "travel," that doesn't mean that we walked the whole way"One the right you can see that we were in Tomorrowland, "traveling" on Space Mountain and on the Carousel of Progress (traveling on attractions was included in our overall mileage). I found it interesting that the GPS picked up the two times that we road the Jungle Cruise, that we were technically "outside" of the guest area in the separate building where part of Pirates of the Caribbean is housed, and the fact that we realllllly love Splash Mountain.

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For another day at Animal Kingdom, it was also clear what our favorite attraction is there".

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Did you guess it? Yup! Expedition Everest"over and over again!

Another day at Future World showed that we really didn't plan our time well"we were walking everywhere with no apparent goal. Sometimes that's nice to do at WDW.

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It was a fun exercise for us to track what we did and review what we had done. We might try it again and pack lots of extra BandAids for the dozens of blisters I got (but every one was worth it).

May 6, 2011

Theme Park Snapshot - May 5, 2011

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Day 2 of my very short trip to Orlando:

Since today was a Magic Kingdom day, I figured it would be a great chance to check out all the new things since my last visit two months ago -- and there have been quite a few.

My first stop was at the new Town Square Theater. It was really beautiful inside, but it was bustling with activity, and I didn't have enough time to wait or actually walk through to see Mickey or the princesses -- next trip, I hope.

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While I was in the Town Square, I asked a cast member about the missing Goofy bench in front of Tony's. She told me that with the recent construction for Town Hall there, they had also put in a new entrance for the restaurant, moved the check-in podium down to the spot where the bench had been. The podium is now blocking the electrical outlet that talking Goofy needed -- so now there's really no place to put the bench unless they do some rewiring in the area. I hope they decide to find a new home for the bench -- it was one of those little surprises that are such fun.

I also noticed that the Confectionery is still under a partial scrim, but they've definitely made progress since I was last there.

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I was excited to see all the detail that's been added to the Beast's castle in the Fantasyland expansion area. Even from a distance, it already looks amazing. I've kept this photo a little larger so you can see for yourself.

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You can also spy quite a bit more of the new construction poking up from behind the wall now -- just enough to tease us!

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It had been a while since I had done many of the Fantasyland attractions, but since I was touring with my cousin who had brought her nearly 4-year-old daughter, that's where we spent a good deal of the morning. I was surprised to discover that the Fastpass machines for The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh were actually over at Mickey's PhilharMagic! It was pointed out to me that they've been there a while, actually -- I probably read about the move some time ago and had forgotten it, as it's been more than a year since I've ridden Pooh. Wish I'd remembered, as it could have saved me a bit of running around!

We stopped in at Pinocchio's Village Haus for a bite to eat, and I found that they're offering a yummy grilled cheese as a kid's meal option -- it's not on the regular menu, just on a sign at the cash register stations. Seemed like it took a little extra time to prepare, but it made one little girl happy.

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Crowds were pretty heavy by the time we rode Winnie-the-Pooh, so it was hard to get any good photos of the interactive queue, but here's a shot of one scene. You can't really tell from this photo, but the "honey" is actually a moving image -- it looks like the honey is oozing down the page. The screen must be heat- or pressure-sensitive, so that when little hands press on it, they leave crazy impressions and interrupt the flow.

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All the new additions to the queue seemed to be doing their job -- kids were having a great time playing with all the new hands-on activities and didn't seem to mind the 50-minute wait at all. (Even with our Fastpasses, we had a 15-minute wait at this attraction, by the way. It's just so slow-loading.)

Speaking of interactive queues -- even though it was a 35-minute wait for the Haunted Mansion, I just HAD to see the new queue elements there, so I waited. They were well worth it! I'm sure you've all seen plenty of photos since the new queue opened, but I have to share at least one. I absolutely loved all this detail, and wish it hadn't been quite so crowded so I could have taken more time to play.

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Finally, this isn't something new, it's just something I love -- daytime fireworks. (I love fireworks at any time, but during the day they're always a surprise!). A storm was brewing, so the dramatic sky heightened the effect -- well, I enjoyed it, anyway.


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Wish I'd had time to do and see more, but I'll be back in the World in a few weeks, so I can catch up on everything I missed!


May 5, 2011

Theme Park Snapshot - May 4, 2011

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I'm here in Orlando for a few days, spending a little time with some family I haven't seen for a while, so I thought I'd share with you all a quick snapshot of the sights and sounds around the parks. Of course, these impressions of mine are very subjective and limited to just what I've experienced first-hand, but as a Disney-obsessed person, I know that I always like to see a little bit of what's going on in the World when I'm not there -- I hope you do, too!

I left rainy, chilly Washington DC early Wednesday morning. A short two hours later after an uneventful flight, I was in sunny Orlando, where the temperature was already 73, on its way to the sultry 80s! That's what I call WINNING!


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I made my way to my hotel and checked in, but unfortunately, my room wasn't ready yet. So I made a quick change in the restroom, shedding my jeans and sweater for shorts and a t-shirt, then checked my bags and headed to Disney's Hollywood Studios to meet up with my aunt and assorted cousins.


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As I passed through the turnstiles, I found that they were waiting for the start of the Beauty and the Beast show, so I ran down Sunset Boulevard to meet up with them. Along the way, I couldn't help but notice all the Citizens of Hollywood that were out and about, delighting the relatively light crowds.


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I reached the theater and reunited with my family -- so good to see them -- and we watched a lovely performance of the Beauty and the Beast Show. I've seen this show countless times and it just never gets old. The vividness of the costumes, the uplifting music, the fun choreography, and of course the beautiful voices of the cast -- I always feel like I've made a quick trip to Broadway after seeing this special show.


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After the show, everyone was ready for a quick bite, so we strolled over to the Backlot Express. The Jedi Training Academy was in process, so I stopped to watch for a bit, and walked around the still-closed Star Tours attraction. Because it was so-called "Star Wars Day" (May the Fourth -- as in, "May the Force be with you..."), there had been rumors that there might be a soft-opening for the much-anticipated renovated Star Tours, but I didn't see any signs of that. That's not to say there wasn't any activity in the area, however -- I spotted a group of cast members who I believe are Imagineers, making a visual inspection of the attraction's exterior, taking notes on a clipboard. I can't wait until this attraction reopens -- and I'll be down there when it does on May 20!


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In general most of the other attractions we saw that afternoon were walk-ons -- crowds were very manageable. We walked right into Muppet Vision, and waited only about 5 minutes at the Backlot Tour, where things were as Catastrophic as usual.

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My cousins were even able to get a Fastpass at Toy Story Mania around 11 a.m. -- granted their return time was until 6 p.m., but normally Fastpasses are long gone for TSM by 11 a.m. The standby wait time for Toy Story Mania was about 50 minutes when we walked past after lunch -- of course, that's too long, but still, I'm used to seeing it at 70
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Since I still had to check in properly at my hotel, I said goodbye to my cousins around 4 p.m., with plans to meet up with them again Thursday.

But my day was far from over, as I also was meeting my aunt and her fiancee for dinner in Epcot!

I had a little time before meeting up with them, so I wandered around to see the topiaries that hadn't been in place when I was in Epcot back in March at the begining of the Flower and Garden Festival.


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We had dinner at La Hacienda, in the Mexico pavilion, my first time there. The restaurant is beautiful inside, with a lovely view of World Showcase lagoon. We tried a couple of the specialty margaritas -- my aunt really enjoyed her rose-infused "Rosita" -- and thoroughly
enjoyed our meals. I had the roast pork with mole, which I thought was very good.


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After indulging in dessert, we waddled out of there, and my aunt and her fiancee left. I originally planned to stay in the park for IllumiNations, but the long day was catching up with me, so I started the walk back to my hotel. I stopped on the bridge at the Boardwalk and saw most of the aerial fireworks from there, so I didn't learn whether the inferno barge was back in service (I'd heard it had been out earlier in the week).

I returned to the room exhausted, then glanced at my pedometer. Ah, that would explain it. 18,815 steps. For me that's about 8.9 miles. I think I earned my early night.


January 25, 2010

Disney World After The Loss Of A Spouse

by AllEars® Team Member Jack Marshall

Most of you don't know me although I have been a part of the AllEars® Team since 2001. I do many technical behind-the-scenes things and have written several newsletter articles over the years, but I never thought that I would ever be writing a first-person article like this.

I suddenly found myself in the unenviable position of having first-hand experience on the loss of a spouse. My wife of 38 years, Judy, passed away suddenly and very unexpectedly in mid-August. Needless to say, my life was turned upside-down. I had two Disney trips planned at the time, one as a family trip in October and a solo trip in December.

The October trip was planned as a family vacation back in May. Judy in fact picked the dates so she could once again experience the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. After she died, my daughter Janet and I discussed whether we should go or cancel and we both decided that Judy would have wanted us to go.

The days leading up to our departure for Florida were filled with apprehension for me. I slept very restlessly, often waking for no reason. I couldn't help thinking what it would be like going to our Happy Place as we had for the previous 24 years (often multiple times in a year) for the first time without Judy. I knew that memories would flood back bringing with them the tears and sniffles of sadness. For the first time, I actually was not looking forward to a Disney trip.

Then the thought came to me: You cannot start the healing process until you get past this. I decided my best course of action was to minimize my idle hours by doing things to occupy my time. Now I'm no expert and I don't guarantee my method of coping will be of any value to you or someone you know, but I did find several things that helped me greatly.

VARY YOUR TRADITIONS

If you always went to the same restaurant the first night or the same theme park the first morning, it will be wise to change that. Try a new restaurant or a different theme park. Old traditions were wonderful but they are loaded with years of memories that are apt to flood back unexpectedly. It's best to avoid the situation. Visit that restaurant or theme park later in your trip.

LIMIT YOUR IDLE TIME

The worst thing while grieving a spouse is isolation. Being alone will foster thoughts and remembrances that will depress you. I was lucky enough to have several Florida friends to help occupy my time for the critical first few days. Having them around to make me live in the present was a godsend. The cardinal rule is simple: do NOT sit alone in your room for an extended period. Use it for sleeping and showering and get outside the rest of the time. This is particularly true if you are traveling solo. If you refuse to allow the time for sorrow and pity to creep in, it will not bother you. Stay active and busy. If you can travel with someone or can arrange to meet friends there it will help you a lot.

TALK TO CAST MEMBERS

I found that a great way to keep my spirits up while in the parks was to engage the cast members in conversations. It didn't have to be anything elaborate. A simple "How's your day going so far?" is all you need for an ice-breaker. I found that the vast majority of cast members were more than willing to talk if their work duties allowed for it. Ask them to recommend their favorite ride or attraction or their favorite place to eat. They really are a wealth of information.

MAKE NEW MEMORIES

Of course, I will always have 24 years of Disney memories with my Judy. I found however that by moving forward I was making new memories with my daughter and my friends. If you are busy making new memories, you don't have time to let the old ones come flooding back. If people-watching was a shared experience, you can still do it. Just move on to different places rather than going back to that same bench or table you always used to sit at together.

HAVE A SPECIFIC PURPOSE

One thing that helped me face the sadness head-on was that I had brought part of Judy with me. She had been cremated and I brought some of her ashes with me for the trip to our Happy Place. I wore several of her favorite Disney t-shirts during the trip and one of her favorite character baseball caps. Yes, I did get emotional for a little while doing this but it's not like no one has ever cried at Disney World. It came and it passed and I suddenly felt a lot better. It was like the sun and moon and stars all came into alignment again. The beloved flower child I married touched off my own Age of Aquarius. It helped me feel a little closer to her.

A word of caution though. The TSA x-ray machines don't like ashes in a carry-on. You can almost count on being singled out for extra screening. Once the situation was explained to the second screener, I had no problem getting through.

IT WON'T END IN ONE TRIP

I was very happy at the way my first trip without Judy went. I made great strides toward inner peace with things. But a single trip is not going to be a permanent cure as I found out with my December trip.

Every December, I go to Walt Disney World to meet up with friends from all over the country for a weekend of fun, laughter, and theme parks. My time is usually pretty well filled from awakening to bedtime so I have little alone time to reflect on things. But the opportunities for reflection come at the most unexpected times. Shopping in The Emporium and seeing a t-shirt that I am sure Judy would have liked. Stopping for a bite to eat at Columbia Harbor House and realizing that Judy never got to eat here. Seeing something new like the updated Hall of Presidents and wondering what she would have thought of it. But this trip went a lot better than the first one.

Different people will grieve in different ways and for different lengths of time. There is no hard and fast rule. My next trip will hopefully be a little easier and the one after that easier still. I hope to be able to look at something and smile and tip my cap as I remember a certain event that we shared rather than cry at the sadness of not having her here with me. Your goal is to get to the point where the now-painful memories make you smile as you remember the good times.

Make no mistake about it. No matter what you do, there will be periods of intense emotion that will sweep over you. It is completely normal. You will cry and well you should. Pack and carry lots of tissues. Your goal is to lessen the amount and intensity of those times. It will be a long time before you will eliminate them.

I will do all that I can to get past this because I must. Judy would have wanted it that way. And I will. Walt Disney World isn't the most magical place on earth for nothing.

November 4, 2009

Family Trip to Walt Disney World

Debra Martin Koma is back at Walt Disney World enjoying Food and Wine as well as some new things.

Her photos :

November 3

Last day at Disney World is always bittersweet...

One more time around the World!

Adieu International Gateway!
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Irish cheeses were definitely a win!
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Souvlaki is so good at Greece!
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November 2

Flag lowering marks end of our MK day.
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New Princess Tiana show is fun!
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Busy in Tomorrowland today.
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It IS a great big beautiful tomorrow!
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Cloudy but finally cooler
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Following my hubby on the Segway Around the World Tour.
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Quiet overcast morning in Epcot
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November 1

I love this park at night
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Osborne Lights are ready to go!
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Visiting some seedy hotel.
Tower of Terror

Waiting for Indy
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No trip is complete wo a visit to Endor
Star Tours


Epcot is as colorful as ever!
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French regional lunch at Bistro de Paris

Winemaker Jean-Charless Boisset
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Escargot and frog legs bouchee a la reine
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Veal medallions and sweetbread w/macaroni gratin and two wonderful red wines
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French regional lunch at Bistro de Par


Short waits this am!

Short Waits at Animal Kingdom!


Gloomy morning - bring those ponchos!
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Time change = extra hour at Disney World. Sweet! More food fun on today's agenda -- French Regional Lunch!

October 31, 2009

Family didn't want me to take pics, but I sneaked one of dessert! Yummy creme brulee
Creme Brulee at V&As

Just back from dinner at V&A's -- which totally lives up to the hype!
Dinner at Victoria and Albert's


Gorgeous day in AK but HOT!
 Animal Kingdom!

Short wait times at AK today
Short Waits at Animal Kingdom!


O no! The track is broke!
Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom!


Good morning! My son is out of this world!
Spaceship Earth!


October 30th:

Dinner was Kouzzina, pastitsio was fab! Cat Cora even made an appearance!
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Tolerable crowds at Food & Wine Festival

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Car used in Transformers
Car used in Transformers

Our adventure begins!
Our adventure begins

My bags are packed, I'm ready to go... sing it! You know what I'm doing! See you on the flip side!


You can also follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dcdeb_allears

August 21, 2008

Fay, Fay Go Away by Michelle Scribner-MacLean

Fay, Fay, Go Away!
By Michelle Scribner-MacLean

Tropical Storm Fay arrived in Orlando on Tuesday and must have liked it".because she decided to stall off the coast and stay for a while.

On Monday night guests received a phone call stating that, because of the storm, which was predicted to hit midday, all parks would be open at 8 a.m. the next day. We're staying at the Boardwalk Villas so I was able to get up early on Tuesday and walk to Hollywood Studios for the park opening.

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The front gates had the typical bottle-neck of guests trying to enter, but after an hour or so, the park really seemed to thin out. I was able to ride Tower of Terror, Rock n Roller Coaster, and Toy Story Mania - each twice - before I left and made my way to EPCOT.

Because we were within walking distance, we felt that if the storm intensified, we'd be able to make our way back to the Boardwalk area quickly. Also, we had hoped that the storm might afford a chance to ride some of the longer-wait time attraction - but it seems like a lot of other people had the same idea! Despite the storm, EPCOT was hopping with activity. When we arrived at about 11, the stand-by wait time for Soarin' was up to 70 minutes and Spaceship Earth was about 20 minutes. Because park of the attraction is outside, Test Track closes during inclement weather - with the bands of rain coming intermittently, we found the ride to be down several times during the day.

We used the opportunity to spend time exploring Innoventions (something we don't typically make much time to do, but found it very fun and entertaining). We went to a cute show called What's Your Problem which highlighted the uses of Velcro (okay, I know that doesn't sound entertaining, but it really was cute).

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Throughout the day we were met with downpours and then periods of no rain at all, huge wind gusts and then calm.

This was the case on Wednesday, too, as we made our way to the Magic Kingdom. Crowds had picked up again, and, although the park was definitely a lot less crowded than last week, waits for Splash Mountain and Space Mountain were about 30 minutes.

A cast member took our photo in front of Cinderella's Castle at 2 p.m. It is easy to see that the number of people in the park is a lot fewer than usual.

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I have to say that I've been very impressed by Disney on many levels during this storm. First, they were very proactive in keeping guests appraised of what they were going to do if the storm was severe, as well as what recreational options were available (the message was, "Safety first, we know you're on vacation and we want you to have fun.").

Second, every cast member I've approached with my "What if"" questions has been able to answer to my satisfaction. "What if the storm turns into a hurricane?" The answer was that parks would close, guests would stay at the resort, and food would be distributed to guests in the lobby." "What if the weather is so bad that we can't go to the parks?" A cast member told us that activities would be planned in the lobby and the community center all day - and, in fact, my kids took advantage of this by going to see a movie and playing Guitar Hero in the Beach Club Solarium.

Finally, I've been impressed that, each cast member we've encountered, clad in heavy-duty rain gear, has been cheery and helpful and unfazed by the weather. From the resort cast members, to those on attractions, to the custodial staff, around here they are working very hard to ensure it's business as usual.

So".Thursday is here".Day 3 of this storm and they are predicting two inches of rain today".and the Weather Channel predicts rain for the next several days. There is little of the typical hustle and bustle of the Boardwalk and with the heavy rains on the way for this morning.

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As for us, we've trading in attraction-hopping for some book reading (and some Disney Quest later on). We are very ready to Fay to go away!!

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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.

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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 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"

February 1, 2008

Marathon Weekend Trip Report

All Ears® feature writer Michelle Scribner-MacLean visited Walt Disney World with her son during Marathon weekend. She shares this trip report.

Port Orleans French Quarter

It happens every time I come back from WDW. A day or two after I return, my husband looks at me and says, "You have that glimmer in your eye again".I know what you're thinking"!" And he's right. I'm usually starting to think about my next trip to WDW. So, with MouseFest a month behind me, I knew it was time to return.

I'm fortunate enough to have a job that is very flexible in January, as well as a friend who has an Orlando timeshare during this time of year, so making the trip in January has been something I've been able to do for the past several years. This trip has evolved into a time when I bring one of my kids to WDW - for some alone time together. This year I brought Evan, my 14 year old for some Mom and teen bonding. It is such a treat to visit WDW with just one kid. When we go alone I allow each of my two kids to set the agenda for the trip. They get to visit the parks they want to visit and ride the attractions they choose (as many times as they want - within reason, of course).

I peeled him out of bed so that we could make our super-early trip out of Manchester. We were running away from the cold, but also the impending snow storm that would add another 10" of snow to the nearly 40" we've had so far in New Hampshire. We made our way down to Orlando with ease and, before we knew it, found ourselves at the Magic Kingdom sitting down at Aloha Isle for Dole Whips by 1 p.m"..when who should come ambling by"well, who would we expect to be walking in the direction of a Dole Whip but Mike Scopa, who had just completed his running of the Disney Half Marathon. After a quick chat we headed over to the Tomorrowland Noodle Station to congratulate some of the other runners.

It was quite a rainy day - and we found ourselves running for cover more than once. The lines were moderate to long - there was about a 40 minute wait for Space Mountain.

At the advice of a good AllEars.net friend, each time I visit WDW I try to do something new, something that I've never tried before. This trip we opted to stay one night in a new resort. We checked in to Port Orleans French Quarter and explored. What a beautiful resort! I'm always amazed that an area that was once Florida swamp land can take on so many personalities with some Disney magic - the theming at POFQ is terrific, from lush vegetation and quaint and colorful units, with wrought iron fences - I felt like I was in the heart of a historic New Orleans neighborhood. The Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory Food Court offers stations with a wide-variety of choices and some terrific, Mardi Gras-inspired theming. Very fun. I feel like I have some more exploring to do at that resort so I will definitely stay there again.


Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory Food Court

Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory Food Court


The next day we made our way over to EPCOT and got to cheer on some of the marathoners as they made their way toward the end of the race through Future World.

When we entered the park we saw that SpaceShip Earth was open and all of the scaffolding that had been there in December when I was there for MouseFest was down. The attraction is a still officially in the "soft-opening" phase and there is a sign indicating that the grand re-opening until February (meaning that it can close at any time). Of course we jumped on! The script is very different, the animatronics are spectacular, but the ride descent part of the ride is sort of a let down (no pun intended). To me, the interactive screens doesn't provide that Disney "WOW" that we're accustomed to.

Spaceship Earth - Interactive Screen

After jumping on to Soarin', we joined fellow All Ears® blogger and photographer extraordinaire, Barrie, for a quick bite to eat at Sunshine Seasons. This is one of my favorite vegetarian spots in all of WDW. There are lots of choices for kids and adults.

We had one of those rare days in the parks where we did just about everything there is to do in the park, we left no stone unturned, no attraction unvisited in EPCOT. As we rounded World Showcase at the end of the night, we ran into more friends in time for Illuminations. Perfect end to a perfect day.

The next day was Animal Kingdom"and we spent half the morning doing just one thing - riding Expedition Everest. By getting there early, using FastPass, and queuing in the Single Rider line, we ended up riding the attraction six times in a row. If that doesn't a bond a mom and her teenage son, I don't know what does!

We met my long-time friend Sharon and her family for lunch at Pizzafari. Sharon had just completed her first ½ marathon and raised lots of money for diabetes research. Her family was there to cheer her on - and it was their first trip to WDW, so it was really fun to listen to their perspectives on touring the parks.

That night, my teenager wanted some "me" time in one of his favorite Disney attractions - Disney Quest. I know that this attraction is not on the top of a lot of people's lists, but my kids really enjoy this five-story interactive theme park and we try to visit every time we visit WDW. My son and I parted with this request from him: "Please just leave me here for five or six hours." Although he wouldn't exactly have his wish, this afforded me some time to meet a colleague from work at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Boma. I love Boma. It is one of my top three favorite WDW restaurants because of the variety of different foods available and because of the setting. The Animal Kingdom Lodge is just spectacular and, having spent much time in real African lodges, I can tell you with certainty that they got it right when they created this resort. My friend had never visited AKL and it was such a thrill to see her face when she first entered the resort and to hear her say how much she loved Boma, too.

The final day started with breakfast at the Polynesian's Kona Café, where Evan experienced his first Tonga Toast, followed by a whirlwind tour was a visit to Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Evan's Tonga Toast

While we focused on the thrill rides in the morning (hardly a surprise if you've followed this blog carefully from the beginning), we took the rest of the day to take in shows such as Indiana Jones and the Lights, Motor, Action Stunt Show, two shows on top of a teenage boy's To Do list at the Studios.

Later that night, we made our way back to snowy and cold New Hampshire"and the next day my husband said, "You have that glimmer in your eye again"."

May 23, 2007

Packing for the Trip

One would think that if you travel as often as we do, you'd know what to pack and what your itinerary would be"not! Deb travels to WDW on average six times a year and then there is the occasional weekend getaway, business trip, and then the really big vacation. After all these years it is still a struggle for us to pack and prepare for these trips. It just does not get any easier.

So, what did we do to help us out? We devised a plan. I am the ultimate list person! There is a list for everything! Both of our brains go in 100 different directions, and without a game plan we would rarely accomplish anything. I will share with you what we have done and then you can modify to your needs or just throw it out the window and say those two are crazy!

The first thing we did was take a file drawer and create pocket folders for each of our trips. On the front of the folder we attached a form that gives information regarding the trip and a check off list as items are completed:

a. Name of the trip and date
b. Airline reservations
c. Boarding pass
d. Hotel reservations
e. Transportation to and from the airport at home and at our destination
f. Rental car information
g. Special reservations or tickets, i.e., a show, dinner, etc
h. Itinerary
i. Tip envelopes
j. Traveler's checks
k. Payment receipts (copies of credit card bills, checks, etc)
l. Anything else that might be pertinent to that trip

As we accumulate this information, it is then placed inside the folders. We now have an idea of what needs to be done at any given time for each trip. As we approach our travel date, everything is in one place to check.

The other thing Deb does, is create an itinerary spreadsheet. This will tell us what our scheduled plans are for the entire trip. Each of us has a copy and it lists:

a. The dates of the trip
b. What plans we have for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner for each day
c. Flight information
d. Transportation information
e. Check in times at hotel, cruise ship, etc
f. Excursions or special reservations
g. Room/Cabin numbers of travel companions
h. Cell phone numbers of travel companions

This has worked well for us. We both know what the scheduled plan is and we know where we are supposed to be. Lest you think we plan every moment of every trip, we don't! But we do like to keep the important stuff written in one place, like those elusive LeCellier Reservations!

After many trips and always saying, "oh, I forgot whatever" I decided to create a packing list. I started writing out this really long list and realized no, this won't do. It was too long. I then decided to break it down into categories.

a. Paperwork
b. Electronics
c. Toiletries
d. Clothing
e. Miscellaneous
f. Things to do at Home
g. Medical supplies (Deb is a Type 1 Diabetic, lots of stuff)

Within each of the categories I listed everything we could possibly want or need for a trip. It doesn't mean we bring everything (although our travel companions often THINK we do) , but it is listed for us to consider.

As you view the list, you may ask why a toothbrush, well, I have forgotten it on occasion. Or why is a passport listed when we all know we need one to travel outside of the country. Well Deb forgot hers once -- thank goodness we remembered before pulling away from our home. If I try and trust my brain to remember everything, it just won't. Plus, I can't sleep at night thinking of things I need to pack. Once I write it down, I can move on to something else.

Here's our Packing List in a Microsoft WORD document -- if it helps, GREAT! If not, that's ok -- at least you got a chuckle hearing about two people trying to make traveling a little easier! Have items to add? Let us know!

Next stop, Barcelona!

Linda

May 17, 2007

A Quick Weekend Trip Report

AllEars Team Member Anita Answer files this report:
Just back from a quick Mothers' Day weekend trip to the World, and wanted to share a couple of things:

flower and garden festival


New Fastpasses: Saw them at the Safari and Everest. They're about 1/3 bigger, on heavier stock. The issue date is BIG now, so no cheating! The new FPs also reference the pass you used to get them, and have a ref number printed at the bottom as well as bar code on the sides. I think this foreshadows some other changes coming to the FP system in the near future, but I'm not really sure yet what they may be.

New Show at the Safari: First ride on the Safari on Sunday morning was the old show (Miss Jobson, Wilson, Big Red, Little Red, Shifty- eyed Crocodiles, etc.) I asked an area coordinator when the new show was starting as I thought it already had. He said there are 3 shows right now as they phase the new one in: The old one, the new one with a recorded spiel, and one where the driver does the whole thing. He asked if we wanted to check out the new show (Uh, let me think...YEAH!) and he back-doored us back onto the ride and made sure we got a truck with the new show. By the way, the trucks now have 2 extra rows on the back and a canvas roof. Anyway, back to the new show. Miss Jobson has been made redundant, Wilson has had a voice transplant and now sounds like Mr. Bean imitating Wilson. I was on the floor of the truck I was laughing so hard. It's unintentionally hilarious. What can I say? I'm easily amused.

In the new show, the driver handles most of the spiel now, and the poacher/dead elephant story has been relegated to the back page, with more emphasis on the animals now. Bottom line, the old show was silly and probabably needed some work. The new show is just...blah. The animals are spectacular as usual. Several times during the ride, we were eye to eye with rhinos, giraffes, and ostriches.

Saw the new Monsters, Inc. show. It was not an E Ticket, but not as bad as I had been led to believe. I thought it was cute. The audience interaction was very funny and entertaining.


Saw the new Three Caballeros ride at Mexico. Also cute and well done, but the boat goes too fast for you to catch on to what's going on in the story. You may have to ride it a few times to figure it out.

New queueing in Rock 'n' Roller. The queue is completely different from the entrance to the load zone now. There are three lines: Stand- by, Fastpass and Single Rider. The pre-show area has been rebuilt. The upper tier is now much smaller and for Fastpass guests. The lower tier is larger, and for Stand-By guests.

I rode Everest 12 times on Sunday. This is not my personal best, however, which is 29 times in one day during the first day of previews.

Saw the Nemo show again, and they've changed Crush's human's costume. I liked the old one better (dreds, board shorts, sandals). Now he wears one of those body suits the other puppeteers wear, and it's kind of a washed-out mottled khaki. Now it looks like there's another turtle riding on Crush's back. I thought it looked odd. Bring back the original costume, please?

Went to have lunch with friends yesterday (May 15) at the Yacht Club Galley and found it closed and under rehab! The hostess told me they had only found out at 2:30 on Friday they were closing. They'll re-open on May 23. Meanwhile, lunch is being served at the Yachtsman Steakhouse. The menu is the same. Lots of changes happening to the World's restaurants these days!

Stayed at Shades of Green for the first time and it was pretty much a bust. Although the resort is absolutely gorgeous and the rooms are huge, pretty and spotless, the restaurants were awful, and the guest service was worse. I started my stay on Saturday at lunch in Evergreens where I had an entire glass of iced coffee dumped on me by the server. Did she apologize? No. Did she offer to get me a towel to clean up? No. She didn't offer a free drink to replace the one I was now wearing, and in fact I had to ask for a replacement drink four times from two servers before I got it. Some of my clothing was ruined and my capris were soaked through to my skivvies.We didn't have a room yet, so it made for an uncomfortably damp coffee-scented afternoon. It did not set a good tone for our stay.

Although SoG is located right next to the Poly, it's impossible to get anywhere easily without a car. It's also impossible to park at the TTC and try to get back to SoG without going about 20 miles (slight exaggeration...) out of your way unless you know the Super Secret exit that will not put you on World Drive going south. I knew it was there, but could not find it at 1:00 am Sunday morning in the dark. After three loops around the parking lot, I gave up and went all the way down World Drive and turned around and came back. Frustrating, since you can see the
resort, but you can't get to it! By the way, it costs $5 a day to park at SoG, and your park parking is not covered. Parking is also in a garage, and the rows are so narrow you can't back out without doing a five-point turn.

Yesterday, they left our bill on our door. We opened it and noted that they had charged the wrong rate. We also noted that there was a room service charge we did not make. Then we noted we had been given the next room's bill! So...downstairs my friend goes, which was ok since she had to pick up a package we had delivered from Epcot. The front desk was less than helpful and had to be begged for a new printed copy of the bill. The desk clerk seemed unconcerned about privacy and identity security issues (at a military hotel!? ) and told her not to worry about who might have her bill. The the clerk then rolled her eyes at my friend as if it was all her fault!

Now it was time to get the package...which they had lost. Nowhere to be found. They said if they found it they would call and she could come get it! Uh, no! Shouldn't they mail it at their expense since they lost it? They finally found it and called, shortly before we were due to leave for the airport. "It was sent over to Saratoga Springs. You can pick it up there." Why did they send it to SSR? Needless to say, we both agreed that no matter how inexpensive it was to stay there or how lovely the resort was, we would never ever- did I mention NEVER?- ever stay there again. DND (Definitely Not Disney). It remains to be seen if the package ever makes it home.

Flowers


The Flower and Garden Festival has certainly been pared down this year! The grounds are stunning this year, but the "Festival" part is lacking. The Odyssey Festival Center contained a demo area, a display of arrangements and about 3 vendors. We kept asking if we were missing the rest somehow, but were assured this was pretty much all there was. Outside, there were some kiosks along World Showcase Plaza, and that was about it. They extended the show, and then got rid of 1/3 of it? That didn't make sense to me, but I'm not in charge of Epcot Special Events either.

Yak & Yeti - Second floor is taking shape, but still no roof. I don't think they're going to make that July 2007 deadline for opening. Had a "Farewell To Tusker House" breakfast on Sunday. Goodbye, old friend...

The Magic Kingdom Noodle Station is open 5pm to 9 pm daily. El Pirata in the Magic Kingdom has been open for lunch.

Apparently, the exhorbitant shipping costs did not go over well with guests and shipping costs are back to normal again. I didn't experience this personally, and I'm just repeating what my friend told me she learned when she bought something at Downtown Disney and had it shipped home. YMMV.

Saw the Animal Kingdom Lodge models and chatted with the sales people. I loved the layout, and especially the master bathroom in the new bigger 1 br. (there are two full bathrooms and the unit sleeps 5!) I did not like the general decor, however. Animal prints and dark woods are not to my taste. By the way, the dining table only seats 4, but the unit sleeps 5. Guess someone didn't think that one through?

Davy Jones


Saw Davy Jones on Sunday! We were so close to the stage we could almost touch him. Woohoo! For a 61 year old man, he sure looks good! He can also sing and dance just as well as he could when he was 21. Amazing. Can you believe the Monkees TV show is 40 years old? Special guest was his sister Hazel, sitting two rows behind me. He sang a Swing song for her, and a young couple began swing dancing near the back. He called them up on stage, but they didn't hear him as they were concentrating on their dancing. He walked all the way out into the audience and brought them onstage, then brought his sister out of the audience to dance with him. It was a really nice moment, and nice way to end my Epcot visit.

Now it's back to reality until my next trip.

Anita
Read Anita's Weekly Column!

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to AllEars® Team Blog in the Trip Reports category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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