Main

Gary Cruise Archives

October 26, 2014

Disney Vanity Plates

Gary Cruise banner

About ten years ago I thought it might be a good idea to buy my favorite Disney fan, my wife Carol, a customized license plate for her car. Now, what should the plate say? Yes, of course it had to be Disney . . . but what exactly should it say?

If you are a married man you will understand that this is not the type of decision I am authorized to make. There had to be some consultation! We talked about it and she thought it was a great idea. We tossed around a number of possibilities . . . and finally settled on the one pictured below.

LVDISNEY

It is simple, and conveys our love of all things Disney! Most people are quick to interpret “Love Disney” which is exactly what we intended. A few have guessed “Live Disney” and that’s good too, we do a lot of living Disney!

One friend saw the plate and said, “Oh look Carol, two of your favorite places – Las Vegas and Disney!” Yes Lidia, that’s a good answer too . . . Las Vegas is our second favorite spot; we were married there!

Since picking up Carol’s special plate we have noticed plenty of similar Disney themed tags. Disney characters are well represented with a heavy concentration of “Grumpy” and “Goofy”. Often when we attend a Disney fan event I will take my camera and snap a few shots in the parking lot. Some of the ones I’ve found have been very inventive.

10KRBEL

Terry told us that her family, when they first saw this plate, thought she may have taken up long distance running and was a “10K Rebel” but she assured them it meant “Tinker Bell” Of course, any Disney fan would have known that!

Others use their license tags to describe their favorite ride or attraction.

999HPHNT

There are many ways to say Disney Magic!

DSNEMGC

DZNEMAGK

Here’s a proud Disney Vacation Club owner!

DVC MBR

Is this Steve Barrett’s plate? I thought he lived in Florida, not Ohio!

HIDN MKY

His and hers plates from Pennsylvania!

MICKEY 9

MINNIE 9

Here’s a wistful comment from someone who is longing to be elsewhere!

O2BN WDW

Tinker Bell has bestowed good fortune on this family from the Granite State!

PXIDSTD

How else can you tell people that you “Love Disney”? Here are a few options!

WDW LVR

WDW4ME

WDWFANS

DIZNYFRK

Here’s a collage of all those wonderful plates shown above!

Vanity Plate Collage

Aren’t they great?

I’ll end this blog with a few questions:

1. If you have a Disney vanity plate or have seen a good one, what does it say?

2. If you were going to get a Disney vanity plate, what would it say?

3. Here in Ontario we can use any combination up to eight letters and numbers. If Carol were going to surprise me with a vanity plate for the motor home (hint, hint) what should it say?

October 12, 2014

From The Tickle Trunk - WDW News November 1982

Gary Cruise banner

Let's dip into the Tickle Trunk and have a look at the Walt Disney World News from November 1982. That was an exciting time in Disney history; EPCOT had just opened a month prior.

A few months ago, when we looked at the October 1982 copy, my blog focused primarily on EPCOT; I purposely ignored almost everything else in the news since most was repeated in the November edition.

So let's see what else was going on in Disney history 32 years ago!

November 1982 Front Page
(Click on the picture for a larger view of the image)

The lead article on page 1 still spotlighted all those new sights, attractions and experiences at EPCOT but let’s take a closer look at that “Special Entertainment at Magic Kingdom”

November 1982 Magic Kingdom Entertainment

When you click on the image to zoom in for a close-up you only see the text from page 1, so I'll quote the entire article . . . here’s what it said!

MAGIC KINGDOM — Fanciful parades, rollicking revues, and the "oom-pa-pa" of merry bands fill every nook and cranny of the Magic Kingdom. No matter where you are, chances are there's one of a dozen different groups who perform every day just a step away.

On Main Street, U.S.A., where shops, attractions, and restaurants reflect turn-of-the-century, Victorian America, you can hear a barbershop quartet harmonizing "Dai-sy, Dai-sy, give me your answer true!" While further down the avenue a rinky-tink piano player tickles the ivories of a snow-white upright at the Refreshment Corner.

Just beyond the whispering palms, the exotic, mysterious world of Adventure-land beckons. The rousing sound of an authentic steel drum band fills the open-air bazaars and follows explorers as they penetrate the wilderness on the "Jungle Cruise," climb high into the sky on the "Swiss Family Treehouse," and wander Caribbean Plaza.

As guests stroll the pioneer streets of Frontierland toward Liberty Square, they just might catch the banjo-pickin' and fiddlin' of a country group playing up a storm along the Rivers of America.

From Frontierland and the tunes of yesteryear to Tomorrowland's hits of the future, stop by the Tomorrowland Terrace where the rock band Tabasco spices up the menu with the space-age sounds of the Eighties. For something more down to Earth, be sure not to miss the very talented Kids of the Kingdom at the Tomorrowland Stage. In a 30-minute musical salute, they bring each land of the Magic Kingdom to life while letting you know that "Walt Disney World Is Your World." The show also features some of your favorite Disney characters — in some rather "out of character" roles.

Of course, you'll find Disney characters throughout the Magic Kingdom. In front of Cinderella Castle, they'll be singing and dancing their way into your hearts with medleys from the "Best of Disney." At the Fantasy Faire Stage in Fantasyland, Mickey, Goofy, Alice in Wonderland, and more appear several times each day in the music and comedy revues of the "Fantasy Follies."

And the whole gang comes out for the exciting new Character Parade down Main Street, U.S.A. Each afternoon, along with marching bands and merrily whirling floats, Mickey Mouse and a host of Disney characters turn Main Street into the Fourth of July.

Plus, on November 26 and 27, the Magic Kingdom features extended hours along with the return of the sparkling Main Street Electrical Parade (9 and 11 p.m. nightly) and spectacular "Fantasy In The Sky" fireworks (10 p.m. nightly).
The Magic Kingdom is filled to the brim with fun, fantasy, and music. For an up-to-the-minute schedule of what's happening where, check at City Hall in Town Square as you begin your journey through "the happiest place on Earth."

Special Entertainment
November 26 and 27, the Magic Kingdom features extended hours that let you enjoy more of your favorite attractions longer — along with the sparkling Main Street Electrical Parade, 9 and 11 p.m. nightly and spectacular "Fantasy In The Sky" fireworks, 10 p.m. nightly

Special Event
Armed Forces Days
From November 1 through 30, members of the armed forces and their families receive special-value admission to the dazzling new Epcot Center and the warmth and wonder of the Magic Kingdom. With each Epcot Center ticket pur¬chased, a voucher will be issued entitling each person to one day's admission to the Magic Kingdom anytime up to three months after their Epcot Center visit for just $8 per person. And a special Armed Forces Days ticket for just $12 per person entitles you to one day's admission to the Magic Kingdom.”

My favourite parade was there – The Main Street Electrical Parade! I don’t recall that “spicy” rock band Tabasco, but I do remember the Kids of the Kingdom and their exciting musical revue. I wonder what those talented kids are doing today?

November 1982 Page 2

Page 2 describes a dazzling show at the Top of the World.

November 1982 Top of the World

The picture is captioned “Five exciting entertainers will take you on a musical tour through the show stoppers of “The American Musical Theatre”.

I remember this show from a visit in 1983; it was high-energy and very entertaining. This was my very first dinner show at Walt Disney World and I distinctly recall how impressed I was!

November 1982 Page 3
Page 3

Fort Wilderness had a lot to offer in 1982! River Country and Discovery Island were exciting destinations, but this article looked at the many other things to do at Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.

Great Outdoors

Fort Wilderness is still one of Disney's hidden gems; most visitors to Walt Disney World have no idea the campground exists. Many of those who do know of the resort are not aware of all the activities available. There is even more to do now than there was 32 years ago. It really is a wonderful place; come on over and see for yourselves!

November 1982 The Village

The area we know as Downtown Disney (currently transforming into Disney Springs) was still known as “The Village” in 1982. It was a busy spot . . . click on the image to read what was going on!

Gosh . . . a $5.00 beverage minimum, what a quaint concept!

The Village was a very busy area in 1982. Many of the shops and restaurants have changed over the years, but the popular Festival Of The Masters is still presented each year in November. The festival draws hundreds of talented artists from around the world. It’s a cornucopia of sights, sounds and flavors!

From the very beginning EPCOT staffed the international pavilions around World Showcase with young people from the various countries represented there. Here's an article describing the benefits of having these young people represent their home countries.

November 1982 International Representatives


Disney talked about “a true family of man” and “a spirit of international fellowship” and their description is as accurate today as it was all those years ago. The young people working in every country around the lagoon are wonderful ambassadors for their nations!

November 1982 Page 4
Page 4

November 1982 Character Breakfasts

There were three different character breakfasts to choose from . . . Wow - only $5.50 for adults.

I really enjoy looking back at these old newsletters; they bring back some very fond memories of happy times. They also give me cause to reflect on how things have changed; look at those prices! A $5.00 beverage minimum and a character breakfast for $5.50. Today a single adult beverage costs more than $5.00 and the character breakfasts at most locations now cost about $30.00 for adults!

Of course, I also reflect on the many things that have not changed. Prices are higher, but the value is unchanged! The wholesome family atmosphere, the quality, the attention to detail, the “magic” which Walt Disney built into everything he did – it's all still there!

September 28, 2014

The Disney Wilderness Preserve

Gary Cruise banner

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and how you can be a Conservation Hero. While I was browsing the Internet, doing research for the blog, I came across an intriguing web page. The headline read “Butterflies by Swamp Buggy at Disney Wilderness Preserve”

Butterfly_Swamp_Buggy_Web_Page

My first thought was, “What better way to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of nature than by chasing butterflies through a wilderness preserve with a swamp buggy?”

My mind drifted back about 15 years to the vacation Carol and I enjoyed at Pelee Island, Canada's southernmost point.

Pelee_Island_map

Every summer Pelee Island is teeming with Giant Swallowtail butterflies and we spent a glorious, sunny summer afternoon snapping pictures of swallowtails. I still have vivid memories of Carol, camera in hand, bounding through farm fields following flitting butterflies. Butterflies can flit faster than Carol can bound so her antics kept me entertained all afternoon!

My second thought was, “Disney Wilderness Preserve? What's that?”

Did you know that there is a big Disney conservation project just minutes from Walt Disney World?

You are not alone . . . neither did I. Not many people are aware of the Disney Wilderness Preserve, just 15 miles from Walt Disney World. It's at 2700 Scrub Jay Trail in Kissimmee.

It's a huge preserve, about 12,000 acres - almost 19 square miles!

The project began in 1992, before the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund was established. The Walt Disney Company heard that an 8,500 acre cattle ranch located at the head of the Greater Everglades Watershed was going to be re-zoned for extensive residential and commercial development. This would have destroyed a huge tract of natural wetlands, as well as habitat for many endangered plants and wildlife.

Disney acted quickly and quietly to preserve this sensitive property. Working with The Nature Conservancy, the State of Florida, and a number of other groups, The Walt Disney Company purchased the property to mitigate its expansion and transferred it to the Conservancy. They were instrumental in the creation of a nature preserve dedicated to wetlands conservation on an unprecedented scale. After the initial purchase The Walt Disney Company provided funds for restoration and wildlife monitoring on the property and they continue to endow a number of on-site projects.

Lake_Russell

How successful has the project been? On their web site, The Nature Conservancy refers to it as “A Model Preserve” and goes on to say, “Land that was heavily logged and ranched for decades has been restored to very near to its original state and once again resembles the descriptions left by the area’s first Spanish missionaries.”

Sounds good to me - sensitive wetlands preserved as natural animal habitat rather than littered with factories, roads, houses and strip malls. Just another heroic initiative that makes me proud to be a Disney fan!

Palmetto

But let's get back to the swamp buggy and the butterflies. I mentioned the web site to Carol; she immediately said, “We're there in October, let's sign up!” So we did!

This is one of many events which makes up Central Florida NatureFest, an Outdoor and Photography Festival organized each year by the Central Florida Visitor's and Convention Bureau. The cost is a mere $5.00 per person!

Here's how they described it. “Fall is the best time for butterflies in our area when wildflowers are abundant. Disney Wilderness Preserve is a mosaic of habitats such as marshes, lake edges, open meadows, flat woods and roadsides. All of these areas are attractive to butterflies. To be expected here are swallowtails, sulphurs, hairstreaks, crescents, fritillaries, skippers and more.

The Disney Wilderness Preserve is a vast and beautiful natural site and the best way to travel in these parts is by Swamp Buggy. So all aboard the Swamp Buggy and be ready to hang-on while your guides point out butterflies and nature’s beauty. This is a spectacular excursion that everyone can enjoy.”

Our friend and fellow Fort Wilderness camper Al, from Missouri is joining us. Carol is keen on the butterflies but Al and I are really looking forward to that swamp buggy ride!

I hope to do a blog about the Butterfly/Swamp Buggy adventure so stay tuned! If I can get any good action shots of Carol bounding after butterflies I’ll be sure to include them!

In the meantime, here are a few pictures provided by VisitCentralFlorida.org and The Nature Conservancy.


Disney_Wilderness_Preserve

Butterfly_Swamp_Buggy_Tour

Giant_Swallowtail
Giant Swallowtail

Zebra_Swallowtail
Zebra Swallowtail

Can you enjoy the Disney Wilderness Preserve? Yes, you can. The preserve is open daily Sunday-Friday (closed Saturdays and most major holidays) 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. There is no entry fee, but donations are always welcome.

Cypress_at_Lake_Russell

Boardwalk

The 2 1/2 mile hiking loop takes you past the shore of Lake Russell and then offers a closer look at the preserve’s natural communities. What will you see? The landscape and foliage includes: cypress swamp, freshwater marsh, scrub, flatwoods and oak hammocks.

Lake_Russell_at_Reedy_Creek
Lake Russell at Reedy Creek

There is a rejuvenated longleaf pine forest with a lush understory of native grasses, saw palmetto and other shrubs. The rejuvenation is the result of “prescribed fire” on the land. They have used “controlled burns” to remove invasive plants that are not native to the area. These fires have resulted in an amazing return to the type of pine forests those first Spanish missionaries saw.

Long_Leaf_Pine_Forest

Pine_flatwoods

Key flowers include the fall-flowering ixia, Catesby’s lily and terrestrial orchids.

Rose_rush
Rose Rush

Pickerel_weed
Pickerel Weed

Animal life includes bald eagle, red-cockaded woodpecker, wood stork, sandhill crane, northern harrier and crested caracara. The preserve is also home to the southeastern big-eared bat, Sherman’s fox squirrel, eastern indigo snake and gopher tortoise. The Florida panther has even been documented crossing the site!

Sandhill_cranes

Read about the Disney Wilderness Preserve HERE.

Sunset

Next time you visit Walt Disney World, set aside a day for a hike at the Disney Wilderness Preserve.

It looks awesome, I cannot wait to experience it first-hand!



Sincere thanks to VisitCentralFlorida.org and The Nature Conservancy for agreeing to share their photos!

September 14, 2014

Dayton Disneyana 2014

Gary Cruise banner

Last year Carol and I, along with son Rob, made our first trek to Dayton Ohio for the annual Disneyana Show & Sale hosted by the Dayton "Plane Crazy" Chapter of the Disneyana Fan Club. Everyone enjoyed it so much that we just had to return this year.

There was one issue . . . Rob decided to test the strength of our garage floor a few weeks ago. He dove from the top of a step ladder to the concrete slab 8 feet below. The final score was Concrete Floor 1 - Rob's Shoulder 0.

Friday June 13th
By 5:55 a.m. Rob had found a comfy position in the back seat; his shattered left shoulder, held together by a few steel pins and plates, was supported in a sling and resting on the center armrest. We were a bit apprehensive - would he be comfortable throughout a 10 - 11 hour drive?

We hit the road about 5 minutes ahead of plan and drove through a few heavy showers for the first few hours. Once we passed Toronto skies cleared and we made great time.

Ambassador_Bridge

We crossed the US border at Detroit and pulled off at Monroe Michigan for lunch.

Two_big_boys

Sign_to_Toledo

Entering_Ohio

By 2:00 p.m. we had pulled off in Toledo Ohio where Carol and Rob visited the Disney Store. Traffic was light for the last leg of the trip and we pulled into the Windham Garden Hotel at 5:15. Rob had endured the trip quite well.

We relaxed for a few minutes, then struck out once again; Carol needed some Retail Therapy. The Christmas Tree Shop, Jo-Ann Fabrics, and WalMart followed in short order as I waited in the car with my book!

We had a quick bite for dinner and headed back to the hotel for the night. By 9:00 I had settled in the room to watch the Stanley Cup final game (Los Angeles Kings won the championship in the second overtime period) while Carol and Rob headed to the foyer outside the ballroom to trade Disney pins and Vinylmations.

Carol was back to the room and trying to sleep by 11:00 - the game carried on until 12:30 when I fell into bed exhausted after a long day.

Saturday June 14th
We were up before 7:00 a.m. and enjoyed the hotel's complimentary hot breakfast; we finished just in time for "early entry". Carol and Rob had paid $15 for the privilege of shopping for 90 minutes before the "official opening".

Welcome_sign

Entry_Fees

I was allowed into the vendor area before the doors opened and I enjoyed a few quiet minutes, wandering the aisles and snapping a few pictures. The entire ballroom was filled with tables, racks and shelves! Everywhere I looked it was overflowing with an amazing variety of Disney collectibles. The vendors had merchandise well organized and nicely displayed.

I was excited . . . I could only imagine how Carol would react!

Movie_posters

Mickey_and_a_friend

Framed_art

Mr._Toad

At 8:30 Carol, Rob and the rest of the 50 "Early-birds" charged through the door.

The_shopping_begins

Vendors had donated quite a few draw prizes for the early-birds, some were included in the swag-bag each of them received and some were set aside for a random draw. Early-birds all received a long strip of draw tickets which they could drop in the red Solo Cup in front of each vendor's "special" prize. If you really wanted the prize you could drop multiple tickets to improve your odds. Once all the cups had been located and the tickets were dropped, the early-birds all got busy shopping! Carol and Rob were lucky, Carol won one draw prize and Rob won two in the draw which took place later in the day!

Carol_is_in_her_glory!

See the red Solo cup, in the picture above, beside that collector plate? Rob won the plate!

There was an incredible variety of merchandise! To paraphrase Ariel, "There were gadgets and gizmos a-plenty, there were whozits and whatzits galore. You want thingamabobs? There were twenty!"

Plenty_of_Disney_goodies

Even_more_goodies

There were movie posters, VHS and DVD videos, LP’s, CD’s and video games.

There were plates and spoons, cups and glasses, clocks and watches.

There were comic books, magazines, coloring books, toys, framed pictures, animation cels, figurines, games and collectibles in varieties too many to mention.

Tabels_and_tables_full_of_collectibles

Disney_watches

As you might expect, there were pins and Vinylmations! Very important to Carol!

A_jumbo_pin

A_pin_board

Racks_of_Disneyana

Tom Tumbusch from Tomart Publications showcased their Disneyana and Pin Trading catalogues and the pin traders were delighted to pore through the surplus pins Tomart have used in the production of their books.

Tom_Tumbusch

Tomart_books

Brian from Theme Park Connections brought a truckload of interesting Disney merchandise from their Orlando store, near the Florida Mall, a 937 mile trip.

Theme_Park_Connection

They were selling some very interesting items, like this piece which holds the chains on the railing for the queue inside the Haunted Mansion. WOW!

From_the_Haunted_Mansion

How about those signs from the Polynesian Resort? They were very popular!

Brian_with_a_Polynesian_sign

Master_Gracey

Carol_with_a_giant_Mickey

I spent some time watching Carol and Rob “work” the banquet hall. They each have different collections and different tastes, but each one understands very clearly what appeals to the other. They work as a team, each one searching for themselves and scouting for the other as they circle the hall again and again!

Working_the_room

Just after noon I dashed out to pick up lunch for the collectors, they were too busy combing through all the treasures to even consider leaving the hotel!

They settled at tables in the hall outside the banquet room and ate lunch, then stayed there for some pin and Vinylmation trading. About once an hour Carol or Rob would take a lap around the vendor’s tables . . . as more items were sold the wares were spread out and they could spot treasures they had overlooked earlier!

By the time I returned with lunch the speakers had begun their presentations. The first speaker was Mark Henn, an acclaimed Disney animator. Mark was born in Dayton and in 1980 his dreams came true, be became a Disney animator.

Mark_Henn_biography

I underestimated the popularity of this hometown hero . . . when I returned with lunch the meeting room where he was speaking was jammed to capacity and the door was closed. I missed his presentation - Dang! I did catch up with him later and spent a few minutes chatting. He is a gifted animator, painter and sculptor. Here Mark is pictured with art from some of the Disney projects he has worked on over his 30 year career.

Mark_Henn_with_his_art

Next to speak was Jim Hill, a noted Disney historian.

Jim_Hill

Jim talked about the history of Disney Parks and delighted us with a few little-known facts and with several humorous stories about some unusual attractions that were never produced. It was a very relaxed and enjoyable session.

Maleficent_popcorn_buckets

Carrie_and_Susan_like_what_they_see!

Ghouls

More_treasures

The trading and browsing continued until 5:00 when the vendors closed up shop for the day. We enjoyed a nice dinner in the hotel restaurant and I retired to the room to play on the computer and watch TV while Carol and Rob resumed trading pins and Vinylmations in the foyer.

Pin_trading_bags

Cases_of_Vinylmations_to_trade

Carol was back to the room by 11:00 p.m.

Sunday June 15th
The ballroom didn’t open until 10:00 a.m. so we had a leisurely morning, coffee in the room followed by a late breakfast in the restaurant. Carol and Rob made a few more rounds of the ballroom. They like Sunday shopping since the vendors seem to be a bit more flexible with prices. It’s so much easier to sell something than it is to pack it up and take it home.

Working_the_room_on_Sunday

Carol_and_Susan_are_happy_Disney_collectors!

A_shelf_full_of_Disneyana

Collector_plates

An_endless_variety_of_collectibles

Another_pin_board

Soon they had set up outside, in the foyer, and did some more pin and Vinylmation trading . . . with occasional laps around the vendors tables. The vendors are all very friendly and easy to deal with - kindred spirits who love Disney just as much as we do!

Gary_Smith_and_Rob

Here Rob chats with Gary Smith from Missouri. He is a partner in Gary & Gary Collectibles.

Pin_traders

A_Lego_Yoda

Figurines

A_Mickey_telephone

Avid_shoppers

Christmas_decor

More_figurines

Although the event carried on until 4:00 p.m. we had to face the long drive home before then. We said our goodbyes and thanked the organizers at noon. The Dayton "Plane Crazy" Chapter of the Disneyana Fan Club, who host the event annually, deserve a lot of credit for a job well done! They describe this event as “Dayton Disneyana Collectible Expo & Disney Pin and Vinylmation Trading” but it is actually much more than that. It’s more like a convention for Disney fans. Everyone who attended seemed to thoroughly enjoy the chance to mix and mingle with so many other people who share our passion for anything related to Disney! Special thanks to Anita Schaengold and Pam Phillippe who co-chaired this year's event committee.

By 12:05 we were northbound on I-75. The trip was uneventful, light traffic and sunny skies. We made very quick stops for lunch and gas and arrived at the Canadian border at 4:15 where Rob met this distinguished gentleman at the Duty Free Store.

Rob_and_the_Ambassador

Traffic was even lighter once we crossed the Ambassador Bridge and hit the Canadian freeway. We stopped at Carol’s parents, picked up the dogs and were home at about 10:30 p.m. after a great weekend.

You are probably wondering, "What did they bring home?" Well here's a picture of some of it.

Carol_and_Rob's_purchases

Carol's favourite items? Those three collector plates belong to a set she began collecting in the 1980's. Back in those days she could only afford to buy one a year and they have been long out of production. Now she is only missing two! That coffee mug is a classic - It's Musket Mickey. He's dressed in a coonskin hat and carrying a musket. In these days of political correctness Mickey carries a walking stick, so when you find him with a musket it's definitely a keeper. Rob bought the Christmas Carollers as a birthday gift for Carol. They are standing on top of the red box. Mickey plays the piano and Goofy sings while Donald covers his ears!

Rob's favourite? The bobble-head Goofy in the blue box which he picked up at Gary & Gary Collectibles.

If you are a collector of Disney art or memorabilia, you really should plan a visit to Dayton Disneyana. Next year’s event will be held at the Holiday Inn Dayton/Fairborn I-675, 2800 Presidential Drive, Fairborn, OH June 13 - 14, 2015.

Plane_Crazy_Chapter_logo

Check the Dayton Disneyana web site for more details HERE

Like them on Facebook HERE.

August 31, 2014

Be A Conservation Hero

Gary Cruise banner

Are you a Conservation Hero?

Do you own any of these?

Conservation_Hero_Buttons_1

Conservation_Hero_Buttons_2

Conservation_Hero_Buttons_3

If your answer was “Yes” - you are a Conservation Hero!

Do you own any of these?

Pressed_Pennies_1

Pressed_Pennies_2

If your answer was “Yes” - you are a Conservation Hero!

Have you ever tossed a coin in here?

Muppets_Fountain

If your answer was “Yes” - you are a Conservation Hero!

You didn’t know that you were a hero? Most people don’t . . . but when you buy those conservation buttons, when you press those pennies or when you toss coins in a Disney fountain you are making a donation to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. And your contribution is bigger than you think it is! I’ll explain how it all works, but first here’s a bit of preamble:

The Walt Disney Company takes their social responsibility very seriously and have developed a comprehensive environmental policy as a key component of their corporate culture.

This is how they explain it on their web site: “Acting responsibly is an integral part of our brand. It strengthens the connection we have with consumers, makes our company a more desirable place to work, and helps us attract the very best and brightest to join our global cast. It builds goodwill in the communities in which we operate. All of these things contribute to The Walt Disney Company’s continued growth and success.”

One of the six key factors in their statement of business ethics reads as follows: "Environmental Stewardship: Use resources wisely and protect the planet as we operate and grow our business”

You can read more about Disney’s Corporate Ethics Policy HERE.

Disney_Worldwide_Conservation_Fund_Logo

The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund was established April 22, 1995 (Earth Day) and since that time they have awarded over 1,000 grants totalling over $24 million to fund environmental projects in 112 countries.

WOW! That’s over half of the countries in the world!

DWCF_Factsheet_Overview

What sort of projects do they fund? According to the Disney web site: “Grants provide financial support for: the study of wildlife; the protection of habitats; the development of community conservation and education programs in critical ecosystems; and experiences that connect kids to nature through exploration and discovery.”

Here is a sampling of the animals and locations involved in 10 of the 150 projects funded in 2013:
1. Umbrellabirds - Ecuador
2. Maasailand Lions - Tanzania
3. Painted Dogs - Zimbabwe
4. Tigers - Indonesia
5. Grizzly Bears - Canada
6. Golden-Winged Warblers - United States
7. Golden-Capped Fruit Bat - Philippines
8. Cheetahs - Namibia
9. Bottlenose Dolphins - United States
10. Ploughshare Tortoises - Madagascar

Where does the money come from? This is where you come in - every time you buy a Conservation Hero Button you are donating to the fund. When you press a penny you are helping preserve our planet. When you toss a coin into a Disney fountain you are a Conservation Hero! Doesn’t that make you feel good?

There are even Disney tours and experiences that support the fund. Take the Backstage Safari Tour, the Wild By Design Tour or the Wild Africa Trek and you are supporting the fund!

Animal_Kingdom_Animal_Guide

Would it make you feel better if Disney were to match your donation?

Well start feeling better . . . because they do! Disney pays 100% of the overhead costs for all of the contribution streams. Every cent you pay for a button, every cent you pay for a pressed penny and every cent you toss into a fountain is fully matched by the Walt Disney Company. They even pay all of the administrative costs to operate the Conservation Fund! That means that when you donate $1.00 for a Conservation Hero button, Disney pays for the production and distribution of the button and $2.00 goes directly to a worthwhile conservation project.

MuppetVision_3D_Fountain_Closeup

Even Rizzo and his friends volunteer their time to help collect the donations!

The Walt Disney Company very quietly and modestly does some pretty amazing things, and this is one of them! Things like the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund make me very proud to be a Disney fan!

DWCF_Factsheet_Contribution_Locations

There are some other ways to donate, outlined in the picture above.

If you want to read more about the projects, or about other ways to contribute, click HERE and follow the DWCF Featured Links.

Brochure_outside

Brochure_inside

Create_Change

So now that you know about the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund . . . what are you waiting for? Get to a Disney park as soon as possible. Buy some buttons, press some pennies and toss some coins in the fountains.

Be a Conservation Hero!

August 17, 2014

AllEars Trading Cards

Gary Cruise banner

I thought Carol had them all!

She had a collection of Virtual Magic Kingdom Cards . . . I foolishly thought there were no more Disney cards for her to collect!

Then, along came AllEars Trading Cards. I don’t have to tell you the result - Carol had to have them all!

Here’s a bit of background: From time to time the AllEars Team will announce details of a “Meet and Greet”. These informal sessions are held in one of the Disney theme parks or resorts. Readers and fans are invited to mix, mingle and chat with the AllEars team.

The Trading Card idea materialized a few years ago, during an AllEars “Meet & Greet” when former AllEars Photoblogger Barrie Brewer said to AllEars Founder Deb Wills, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little memento to give to people who come to our Meet and Greets?” Deb liked the idea and Barrie got busy designing some prototype trading cards.

From the very beginning the cards were a hot commodity with AllEars readers!

AllEars_Trading_Card_1

AllEars_Trading_Card_2


AllEars_Trading_Card_3

AllEars_Trading_Card_4

The first few cards contained scenes from Walt Disney World and some photography tips from the Photoblog Team.

AllEars_Trading_Card_19

AllEars_Trading_Card_31

It wasn’t long before the cards started to show some classic scenes from the parks and resorts, along with a bit of history or background for the scene pictured.

AllEars_Trading_Card_B

AllEars_Trading_Card_F

Each member of the AllEars Team has their own personal card, which you can only get from them. How’s that for exclusive?

AllEars_Trading_Card_Reverse

The back of each card displays the AllEars logo and the Photoblog web address.

AllEars_Trading_Card_Checklist

There's even a handy little "checklist" card, you can record your collection by ticking the boxes on the back!

I know what you’re thinking . . . “Where do I buy some of these cards?”

That’s what makes the AllEars Trading Cards so highly coveted . . . these unique collectibles are not for sale. You can only get them directly from an AllEars Team Member or by trading with other Disney fans. Cards are not available through the mail except from time to time when a limited number of cards may be offered as part of a charity auction.

Trading was intense from the start. During the last two AllEars Group Cruises, and as part of the AllEars 15th Anniversary celebration, my wife Carol ran meets to trade Disney Pins. The trade meets at all three events were hugely successful, but the trading in AllEars Trading Cards totally overshadowed the trading of pins.

Card_Trading_1

Card_Trading_2

Card_Trading_3

Disney fans really like them!

So, how do you get some cards?

1. Plan to attend an AllEars Meet and Greet. You can find details of past and future events HERE.

2. If you bump into an AllEars Team Member in any of the parks, ask for one of their cards.

3. Keep your eyes and ears open for the next AllEars Group Cruise or similar event. There are always plenty of cards, and card traders at these large gatherings.

There are now 66 cards, plus the Team Member cards. You can see them all HERE

If you want AllEars Trading Cards you have to come out and play!

The AllEars Team is looking forward to meeting you real soon!

August 3, 2014

From the Tickle Trunk – Walt Disney World News 1990

Gary Cruise banner

The last WDW newsletter we looked at was from October 1982. Now Mr. Peabody has dialed his WABAC Machine forward eight years so we can take a look at the Summer 1990 edition.

1990_Front_Page

There’s a new theme park, Disney-MGM Studios . . . and look at all that color on the front page! They are really pushing that 5-Day Plus Super Pass. Of course, with three theme parks you now need 5 days!

Hey, look - the Muppets have arrived! “Here Come the Muppets” was a live show that premiered on May 25, 1990 at Disney-MGM Studios. The pre-show area featured a video of Rowlf playing the piano and singing, with interruptions from Sam Eagle. The show, which featured walking Muppet characters, ran until September 2, 1991, and was replaced in that location by The Voyage of the Little Mermaid. Two weeks after the show closed, a second live Muppet show, “Muppets on Location: Days of Swine and Roses”, opened in a different area of the park.

1990_Page_2

There was plenty of color on page two as well. And who are these strange characters? Dick Tracy? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? What’s with that?

I had never seen or heard tell of these characters at any Disney park . . . so some research was called for!

Wow . . . here’s what I found: Dick Tracy, Flattop, Mumbles and Tess Trueheart appeared live on stage at the Theatre of the Stars! The production, Diamond Double-Cross, didn’t last too long - it opened May 21, 1990 and ran until February 16, 1991. There were even Dick Tracy characters in the troupe of roving “Streetmosphere” performers; they disappeared in February 1991 as well.

And those turtles? Carol remembers seeing them. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles appeared in the "New York Street" section of Disney-MGM Studios. Emerging from their Turtle Party Wagon, they would "ninja dance" across the stage while April performed the theme song to their show. After the main show was done they would pose for pictures and sign autographs. The Turtles also appeared in Disney's "Very Merry Christmas Parade" and sang their own rendition of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town". In the Easter parade they danced to their single "Pizza Power!" The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live shows and appearances came to an end in 1996.

1990_Page_3

There was plenty of new information on Page 3.

1990_Body_Wars

At EPCOT the Wonders of Life Pavilion had just opened in October 1989 and Body Wars was an exciting new attraction. Guests boarded Bravo 229, a “LGS 2050" probe vehicle and were miniaturized, ship and all, before being injected into a human body to observe a splinter and rescue Dr. Cynthia Lair. The LGS 2050 weighed approximately 26 tons but once miniaturized it weighed less than a drop of water, so it was easily able to navigate its way to the splinter and find the doctor. At the injury site she was taking a blood cell count when she was accidentally pulled into a capillary. Captain Braddock boldly followed her through the capillary and into a vein, even though it meant entering an unauthorized area. The captain steered Bravo 229 past the heart and into the right ventricle, then on into the lung where the doctor was being attacked by a white blood cell. Captain Braddock fired his lasers to free the doctor but by then the ship was very low on power. Dr. Lair suggested that they use the brain's energy to recharge the ship. Passing through the heart, the ship followed an artery all the way to the brain where a neuron touched the ship and re-powered the batteries. The Bravo 229 and all the guests were safely de-miniaturized outside of the body. Everyone returned home, safe and sound; funny how that always turns out! Body Wars ran for 18 years and closed on January 1, 2007.

1990_Illuminations

IllumiNations was still quite new in 1990; it premiered at World Showcase Lagoon on January 30, 1988. It had to go through several version changes before it became the “IlluniNations, Reflections of Earth” that we see today.

1990_Mickeys_Starland

Mickey’s Starland originated as Mickey's Birthdayland which opened on June 18, 1988. It transformed into Mickey's Starland on May 26, 1990. The area was briefly renamed Mickey's Toyland in late 1995. The land closed in early 1996 for an extensive refurbishment, and on October 1, 1996, it reopened as Mickey's Toontown Fair for the park's 25th anniversary. The back-story portrayed the land as the holiday home for the characters who normally lived at Mickey's Toontown in California. Mickey's Toontown Fair was closed on February 11, 2011 in order to build the New Fantasyland. Some elements of Mickey's Toontown Fair have been demolished and others have been re-themed to the new Storybook Circus area.

1990_Page_4

Page 4 had a detailed listing of park hours for the months of June, July and August. The two news articles took us outside the theme parks where there was also plenty of brand new excitement!

1990_Typhon_Lagoon

Typhoon Lagoon opened less than a year prior, on June 1, 1989 and it was a very popular destination. It’s my favourite Disney water park; I just love that wave pool!

1990_Pleasure_Island

Pleasure Island was a new phenomenon as well. It had opened May 1, 1989 and drew huge crowds every night. There was a wide variety of venues; something to please everyone, and every night was New Year’s Eve! Do you remember the Neon Armadillo? The Adventurer’s Club? All those great old clubs are now closed and bulldozed as Pleasure Island, along with the rest of Downtown Disney, is being transformed into Disney Springs!

Isn’t it funny . . . so many of the things which were so exciting, so revolutionary and daring in 1990 are merely distant memories as we look back 24 years from 2014.

The Muppets have relocated to a 3D Theatre, Dick Tracy is gone, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are gone, The Wonders of Life Pavilion is closed and Body Wars is shuttered. Mickey’s Starland and Pleasure Island have both been levelled and redeveloped. There is always something new coming along to captivate us.

I suppose that’s what Walt Disney meant when he spoke about Disneyland many years ago. He said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” I’m sure that Walt, if he had lived to see his Florida Project open, would have said the same thing about Walt Disney World; it will continuously evolve and grow.

That’s just one of the things that makes our happy place so magical!

July 20, 2014

From the Tickle Trunk - Disney Seminars

Gary Cruise banner

Great memories come out of the Tickle Trunk . . . but it also has a few surprises in it. Surprises for me that is! You see, Carol and I were not a couple during the years when she took her first fourteen trips to Walt Disney World and some of the things she pulls out of that magical pine box, from those early trips, are things I have never even imagined before.

This blog is about one of those things I never imagined - The Wonders of Walt Disney World seminar series.

In November 1985 Carol and her son Rob booked a 14-night stay at Disney’s Polynesian Resort. Sharing the trip with them were Carol’s very good friend Judy, and Judy’s daughter Jenn.

Several months before they left a package arrived in the mail; it was confirmation of their resort reservation and the envelope included a very handy 16-page 8 ½” X 11” brochure filled with all sorts of handy information about Walt Disney World. Look at the picture of that brochure below, and check out the index in the lower right corner.

1985_Brochure_Cover

Do you see that reference to Disney Learning Programs on page 9? Carol saw it too. Here’s what it said.

1985_Brochure_Seminar_page

Sounds great doesn’t it. What? You can’t read it? Oh yeah, the print is pretty small in that picture . . . so here’s what it says:

Wonders of Walt Disney World

"Wonders of Walt Disney World" is a nationally recognized educational program, now available to guests ages 10-15. State and local superintendents and commissioners of education from across the country have given approval to the program concepts and many school systems award education credits to program participants, enabling families to take an off-season vacation without disrupting learning.

Each program is accompanied by two Disney-illustrated books of interesting ideas and creative learning activities. Guests submitting a paid registration 45 days in advance receive the first book by mail and begin their Disney experiences at home. This "pre-trip" book encourages young people to explore the resources of their own world in preparation for their Walt Disney World visit.

Once they arrive, a 6 1/2-hour field trip through onstage and backstage areas allows them to see ideas from their books as practical solutions to the challenges of operating Walt Disney World Co. The second book, presented at the end of the day's activities, contains suggestions on putting new ideas and interests into practice. Students may choose any one of the following subjects.

Exploring Nature: A True-Life Adventure
From an 11-acre island refuge for near extinct wildlife to our 7,500 acre wilderness preserve, students experience first-hand lessons about man's responsibility to his environment. Ecology truly comes alive in a setting of natural beauty and wonder. Tuesdays or Thursdays.

The Energy That Runs Our World
The innovative, state-of-the-art technical systems that power Walt Disney World Resort are the focus here as students visit our power plant, investigate alternate energy sources and examine the Disney philosophy of energy management. Mondays or Wednesdays.

Disney Creative Arts
At Disney, "art" is more than just paintings on museum walls. In this special program, an instructor and a Disney character artist illustrate that art is, indeed, all around us. Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays.

The Walt Disney World of Entertainment
"Let's put on a show!" What really goes into entertaining millions of people every year? Students not only get to meet the performers who take center stage but also learn about the people behind the scenes who contribute to a "good show." Tuesday, Thursdays or Fridays.

Enrolling
Programs are conducted daily, except Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Cost for each program per person is $45 and includes both books, the 6 1/2-hour field trip (including lunch), all program materials and the use of a Kodamatic instant camera and film.

To enroll, just complete the attached registration form at the back of this section and enclose a check for $45 per participant or call (305) 828-2405. For additional registration materials and more information, write: "Wonders of Walt Disney World," P.O. Box 40, Lake Buena Vista, Florida 32830. If you must cancel, call (305) 828-2405 for information on re-scheduling and refunds.

It sounded good to Carol; she discussed it with Judy and then they asked Jenn and Rob, thirteen and fourteen years old at the time, if they’d like to participate. Naturally they were both die-hard Disney fans and they both said yes. Rob couldn’t decide between Exploring Nature: A True-Life Adventure and The Walt Disney World of Entertainment, so he took them both. Carol thinks that Jenn signed up for the Disney Creative Arts session.

It wasn’t long before Rob’s pre-course material arrived in the mail - two 10” X 10” booklets and a covering letter.

Welcome_Letter

Work_Book_Cover

Work_Book_Cover_2

Rob got busy with his pre-course reading and completed a couple of exercises in the booklets before they headed south. A sample exercise from the pre-course book is pictured below.

Work_Book_Assignment

On the appointed days he struck off to meet the instructors and the other children who were participating. Each student was given a Polaroid camera to use for the day and record some of the things they learned. Soon they were off on their backstage adventure.

Rob is a little fuzzy on the details of each day (after all, it was 29 years ago) but he remembers that the seminars were very interactive. The instructors were fun to be with, and the kids had plenty of input. They shared lots of opinions and ideas over the course of each day.

The image below show’s Rob’s name badge and a few of the Polaroid pictures he took during the Walt Disney World of Entertainment seminar.

Card_and_pictures

I asked Rob what he liked best about the experience. He said, “We spent a lot of time in the swamp; Florida has a lot of wetlands and we talked a lot about the ecology of the swamp. Discovery Island was great fun. We watched as they fed many of the birds and the cast members explained their diet. I was pretty impressed that they tried so carefully to match what the birds would eat in the wild.”

“Later in the day we were taken backstage to watch the horticulturalists make new topiaries. We watched as they built a new wire frame and then saw several partially grown plants, as the cast members explained how they trained the plants to coil around the frame, different textures and colors of plants for different parts of the body. It was painstaking work, but the finished topiaries sure looked good!”

“One of my favorite memories though, was seeing the boats used in the Electric Water Pageant. They took our group to the canal where the fourteen boats docked during the day and we got to see them up close. They looked huge . . . and there were so many light bulbs. What a job changing those bulbs! It was 1985, long before LED lights, and they told us how many bulbs they changed on an average day. I forget the number, but I remember thinking that it was a big job!”

Somewhere during the course of their roving seminar the group stopped to eat a box lunch . . . Rob remembers enjoying his PBJ sandwich. (I’ll bet they don’t serve PBJ any more)

At the end of the day each student was given a very nice hard covered text book created and produced by The Disney University. It covered all the principles and concepts they had “discovered” during the day. The image below shows a page from Rob’s Exploring Nature: A True-Life Adventure text book.

Textbook_Discovery_Island

Carol remembers clearly how excited Rob was when he came back to the resort each evening to tell her all about his day. His school teachers probably wouldn’t describe him as a model student, but Rob sure enjoyed his schooling at Walt Disney World!

Over the next few years Carol continued to get information about the education programs when she booked a vacation. The program changed a bit over the years. Here are some pages from a flyer she received in 1989.

1989_Brochure_Cover

1989_Brochure_pg_2_3

1989_Brochure_pg_4_5

1989_Brochure_pg_6_7

1989_Brochure_pg_8_9

By that time they had dropped The Energy That Runs Our World seminar but the other three were still offered. There were even programs for adults. Of course, Rob was outside the target age group for the youth seminars by 1989 and that was the last flyer Carol received.

Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if Disney still offered educational programs like that?

But wait . . . they do! Yes! They do!

There are sessions at Disneyland and at Walt Disney World. You can select from a number of programs offered at each park.

To see what’s available in the Youth Education Series click here.

There’s even a Kingdom Keepers Quest, for details click here.

Browse around those links and take a look at the full menu of educational offerings. It looks like there’s something there for everyone, even adults!

Want to add a new dimension to your Disney vacation? Try one of the seminars!

July 16, 2014

From the Tickle Trunk – Walt Disney World News October 1982

Gary Cruise banner

Let’s pull another old newsletter out of the Tickle Trunk and look at a very exciting time in the history of Walt Disney World! The October 1982 issue describes the newest theme park, EPCOT Center which opened that month.

Oct_1982_Front_Page

Look, there’s even color on the front page . . . and it’s just buzzing with good words about all the new attractions. What sort of spin did the Disney marketing experts put on the newest park? The image above is small and hard to read so I’m going to quote all three of those front page articles for you. I know you won’t want to miss a single word!

Oct_1982_Epcot_Center

Epcot Center: The Newest Wonder of the World
Twice the size of the Magic Kingdom and just under one billion dollars in the making, Epcot Center at last opens its wonders to the world this month.

After 15 years of planning, dreaming, and doing, the World's greatest adventure is ready: Walt Disney World Epcot Center.

Within this showplace of imagination, just 2 1/2 miles from the Magic Kingdom, adventures never before possible have been brought to life through the marvelous wizardry of Disney Imagineering. Epcot Center is as far advanced from the Magic Kingdom as the Magic Kingdom is from the old-fashioned amusement park.

Imagine time-traveling from the era of the dinosaurs to the age of the stars. Discovering the secrets of a Mayan pyramid. Dining beneath the Eiffel Tower. Spiraling through the universe inside an 18-story sphere. And discovering the wonders of 15 fantastic pavilions, each more incredible than the one before.

Epcot Center encompasses two distinct dimensions: Future World and World Showcase, each unique in theme and style. Future World celebrates the limitless potential of science, industry, and technology in helping to create a positive and viable world of tomorrow. World Showcase salutes the global community of nations joined in international fellowship. Together they invite people of all ages to become “Epcot travelers” bound on journeys as fantastic as Gulliver's and as futuristic as our dreams for better tomorrows.

Wow " that does sound exciting, doesn’t it!

Oct_1982_Around_the_World

Around the World in One Day
It would take a lifetime of vacations to explore the diverse countries of the world, discovering within each its own special ambience, charm and mystique. For most people, such adventure lives only in a dream. For travelers to Epcot Center's World Showcase, it is a dream come true.

Here, amidst nations standing in friendship beside a broad lagoon, you'll live in one day what only weeks of world travel could surpass. You'll follow the roads leading to Rome. Lunch in a Bavarian Biergarten during Oktoberfest. Explore the interior of a Mayan pyramid. Cross the vast expanse of Canada and the Great Wall of China. Dine in gourmet splendor under a moonlit Eiffel Tower. Join Ben Franklin and Mark Twain for a soaring historical overview of America and her promising future. And more.

In World Showcase, Canada, Mexico, Japan, China, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Germany are brought to life through the creative magic that is the hallmark of Disney showmanship. Central among these nations stands the American Adventure, its position reinforcing America's uniqueness as a "nation of many nations." In a theatrical production unparalleled in Disney annals, the American Adventure combines large-screen projection, inspiring music and special effects with performances by the most lifelike Audio-Animatronics figures ever developed.

East and west of the American Adventure, along the promenade, you'll discover other exciting shows and attractions, plus restaurants and shops unique to each nation. Dine at Les Chefs de France and savor the gastronomic masterpieces of superstar chefs Paul Bocuse, Roger Verge, and Gaston Lenotre. Or dine as the Romans do " at L'Originale Alfredo Di Roma, where singing waiters serve such epicurean delights as the Maestro's own Fettuccine All'Alfredo. In Mexico, you'll enjoy the famed cuisine of Mexico City's incomparable San Angel Inn. In Japan's Mitsukoshi Restaurant, watch Japanese master chefs create culinary magic in spellbinding tableside presentations.

Wherever you go, World Showcase is alive with entertainment. Hundreds of performers - from Tyrolean yodelers to strolling troubadours - will keep you amused and enchanted. From France come white-faced mimes and street musicians ... from Italy, the farcical players of the Comedia Dell'Arte.

At the United Kingdom, you'll meet the Pearly Kings and Queens. From Japan, a Candy Man magically creates herons and unicorns from his treasure-trove of rice toffee. And Mariachi players serenade you at the cantina in Mexico.

In Canada and China, Circle-Vision cameras take you on a magic carpet ride through some of the most spectacular scenery ever filmed. At the Palais du Cinema, you'll journey to France’s most famous locales accompanied by the music of its finest composers. In Mexico, you'll embark on a boat ride through Mexico's colorful past, discovering along the way the festival and dance of the great Mayan, Toltec, and Aztec civilizations.

Even shopping becomes its own form of entertainment. You'll find an extraordinary number of boutiques, like the biscuit, toy, and china shops of the United Kingdom and the Neapolitan leather and pottery shops of Italy. Japan's Grand Shishinden Hall houses a department store by the internationally-celebrated Mitsukoshi - a name synonymous with the finest in Japanese art and industry since 1672. Numerous artisans present their wares as well: The Hummel craftsmen of Germany, the Northwest Indians of Canada, calligraphers from China and Japan - and a World Showcase of other surprises.

Whether out for a stroll in the meditative Japanese garden or caught up in the merriment of Germany's Biergarten, you'll meet people whose native countries form the World Showcase community. Working together in a true family of man, these young adults are the binding spirit of Epcot Center - a spirit that calls for international fellowship for the present world and the future world ahead.

From my very first trip to EPCOT to my most recent, I have always enjoyed strolling around World Showcase. The architecture, the cast members, the music, the entertainers, they all impart just a bit of their foreign culture. It really does feel as though you have stepped into each of those countries. Today there are special events such as the Food & Wine Festival and the Flower & Garden Festival which add to the fun!

Oct_1982_Imagineering

Imagineering the future
In Future World, the first of two colossal showplaces that make up Epcot Center, Disney Imagineers have taken some potentially dry subjects, such as energy, communications, transportation, invention, and agriculture, and turned them into shows so thoroughly entertaining that visitors will be inspired to learn more. Walt Disney's maxim "I would rather entertain and hope that it teaches than teach and hope that it entertains" has never been more skillfully executed.

Each Future World show, of which there are presently five with more to come, combines a multitude of theatrical and motion picture techniques - some so far advanced of their field that they defy description. Yet the end result is overwhelmingly enchanting.

Spaceship Earth, presented by the Bell System. Epcot Center's glistening geosphere, Spaceship Earth, is the gateway to Future World. Towering 18 stories, it is the only structure of its kind anywhere. Inside, guests embark on a spiraling time Journey tracing the 40,000-year evolution of communication. The message - that man's ability to communicate, to metaphorically write the charts for navigating Spaceship Earth, has insured his survival. From the past, guests are suddenly propelled into the future, where they find themselves in an incredibly beautiful simulation of outer space, gazing back at Earth among a thousand stars.

Universe of Energy, presented by Exxon. The 300-foot-long mirrored pavilion, whose solar panels help power the show's ride, presents an energy story as dazzling and as captivating as the building itself. Guests journey through an exquisitely detailed re-creation of a prehistoric jungle. And they witness such startling motion pictures as one projected on a mosaic screen with hundreds of constantly rotating surfaces.

World of Motion, presented by General Motors. The wheel-shaped World of Motion employs Future World's largest and most colorful cast of Audio-Animatronics characters to chronicle man's age-old quest for ever-accelerating mobility. It's zany entertainment at its best. After the show, guests may visit the GM Transcenter for an intriguing look at concepts of the present and future of transportation.

Journey Into Imagination, presented by Kodak. The fantasyland of Future World, Journey Into Imagination takes visitors beyond the products of creativity for a fantastic Journey through the creative process itself. Then in a fun-packed electronic factory called Image Works, guests get to unlock their own creativity. The grand finale, in the Magic Eye Theatre, presents the largest " and perhaps most captivating " three-dimensional motion picture ever produced.

The Land, presented by Kraft. Covering six acres, The Land houses a boat ride through various climates of the world; greenhouses where plants grow in midair; a lively "Kitchen Kabaret" musical review; a provocative cinematic presentation; a "Farmers Market" for sandwiches and snacks; and the "Good Turn," a unique revolving restaurant specializing in regional dishes from across America.

Epcot Computer Central, presented by Sperry. Located among an inviting cluster of buildings known as CommuniCore, this exhibit brings people and technology together with an up-close and entertaining look at the computers that help run Walt Disney World and put more than a thousand Audio-Animatronics performers through their paces.

How does Disney do it? They entertain us so well, but they educate us at the same time. They make learning a fun experience! Nowhere is this more evident than it is in Future World. The trip through Spaceship earth shows us the history of communication and hints at the future. The World of Energy (now with Ellen) hammers home the need for responsible energy management in an amusing and engaging way. In the greenhouses of The Land we learn the importance of conservation and resource management. I always marvel at those hydroponic gardens!

Oct_1982_Page_2
Page 2

Oct_1982_Page_3
Page 3

Oct_1982_Page_4
Page 4

I’m going to skip right past pages 2, 3 & 4 of the October 1982 newsletter. They are pictured above, but the content of those pages is almost identical to the November 1982 issue. I’ll discuss it in a future blog.

Now, I’d like to leave the newsletter behind and turn to a few other things related to the opening of EPCOT. Some other little gems hidden away in the Tickle Trunk!

Carol spent ten days at Walt Disney World in November 1982. After she reserved her accommodations she received a nice surprise when her confirmation package arrived in the mail. This application for a commemorative EPCOT ticket was included.

1982_Ticket_Application

Naturally she had to have a couple!

1982_Commemorative_Tickets

It wasn’t long before the two tickets, measuring 8 ¾” X 3 ¾”, arrived, nicely presented in the shiny, embossed silver envelope pictured below. The reverse side had instructions for redeeming tickets at the park. There was a perforated stub on the left side of each ticket which was torn off as you entered EPCOT. Alas, I have no image of the stub.

Commemorative_Tickets_back_and_envelope

The envelope containing those tickets held a surprise, a brand new brochure produced especially for the park opening.

1982_Brochure_front

The brochure opened first to a birds-eye view map of the property.

1982_Brochure_Map

Two pages focused on Future World.

1982_Future_World

1982_Future_World_2

The final two pages introduced World Showcase.

1982_World_Showcase

1982_World_Showcase_2

Here’s an added bonus, the worst park map Disney ever designed! The map guests received when they entered the park was sponsored by Kodak. It was big, rigid and bulky. It measured 6” X 6” when fully folded; it would not fit in your pocket! It was made with heavy cardstock and unfolded to display three pages. Do you see that little paper dial on the top? When you turned it it gave you specifications for Kodak cameras and films. The map was 6” X 18” when unfolded; it was huge and awkward . . . what were they thinking?

1982_Park_Map_Cover

Inside was information on park services and a wheel you turned to view information through cut-out holes (see the pink areas?). On this side you could dial to the countries of World Showcase. Dial Japan and one cut-out showed a small sketch of the pavilion while the other one suggested that you sample some taste treats and take a fresh, new look at an ancient culture.

1982_Park_Map_Inside

Thankfully this map design didn’t last too long.

Autumn of 1982 was an exciting time for Disney fans and Carol was thrilled to be among the first to experience that brand new park. As I’ve told you before, every time we open the Tickle Trunk those great old memories come rolling out. For the last few days, as I put together this blog, Carol has had a great time reminiscing about that first trip to EPCOT.

I hope you have enjoyed the memories too!

July 6, 2014

From the Tickle Trunk – Walt Disney World News 1981

Gary Cruise banner

According to The Walt Disney Archives, the Magic Kingdom’s first map wasn’t a guide map as we know it today, but a multi-page newspaper called The Walt Disney World News. The first edition, with a huge headline “Vacation Kingdom Opens,” celebrated the opening of the park with photos of company founder Walt Disney, Walt Disney World Ambassador Debby Dane, and the Windsor family, the first visitors to enter the park on Oct. 1, 1971. It also told the story of how, in order to be the first guests admitted, the entire Windsor family, mom, dad and sons slept overnight in their Volkswagen in a nearby parking lot.

Alas, we do not have a copy of that newspaper in the Tickle Trunk, but I was able to find a few pages from it on the Disney Parks Blog site. The park’s first map appears on page 4 of the newspaper and is followed, on pages 4 and 5, with a listing of attractions, shops and restaurants in each themed land.

1971_Newspaper_Page_4

1971_Newspaper_Page_5

It must have seemed comical when guests opened these 8-page tabloid-sized newspapers to find their way around the parks. It would have been quite a handful!

The Magic Kingdom Park Map, as we know it today, appeared in late 1972 but the production of the tabloid-style newspaper continued into the 1990’s. Once the park map was introduced in 1972 the purpose of the newspaper seems to have changed. The content became more focused on things outside the Magic Kingdom. In my opinion, the entire purpose of the publication may have been to demonstrate to guests that Walt Disney World was more than just a theme park, a whole lot more! It promoted the many activities guests could enjoy in the resorts and in the shopping area at Lake Buena Vista.

The newspaper was printed monthly and included in the check-in package guests received when they arrived at Disney resorts. Copies were available to all other guests at City Hall in the Magic Kingdom. Carol and I have copies of ten different editions of the newspaper in the Tickle Trunk, spanning the years 1981 to 1992 and I’ll share them with you over the next few months.

Let’s start with the two issues from 1981, January and February. Carol received them both that year, while she was staying at Polynesian Village Resort.

Before we get started, let’s look at the time frame . . . what was happening at our happy place?

There was still only one theme park, The Magic Kingdom, but EPCOT was nearing completion and would open in less than two years.

Disney resorts consisted of The Contemporary Resort, The Polynesian Village Resort, The Golf Resort (renamed The Disney Inn in 1986 and Shades of Green in 1994) and Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.

The shopping area, opened in 1975, was known as The Village at Lake Buena Vista; in 1989 it was renamed Disney Village Marketplace and then in 1995 it became Downtown Disney.

Here is what the January 1981 issue looked like:

January_1981_Front_Page

Page 1 had an interesting article about music at the Magic Kingdom, in all it’s venues. The Dapper Dans are jumping and clicking their heels in the lead photograph!

The second article on page 1 invites guests to shop at Walt Disney World Village. The photo shows the Empress Lily in the background. We now know her as Fulton’s Crab House.

January_1981_Page_2

January_1981_Page_3

January_1981_Page_4

Pages 2 through 4 focus on dining, entertainment, golf, tennis and fishing. Here are a few noteworthy articles:

January_1981_Dinner_a_la_Disney
The first Character Meal - Dinner á la Disney at the Golf Resort.

January_1981_Contemporary_Dining
Fine dining at the Contemporary Resort's Gulf Coast Room!

January_1981_Fishing
Even fishing - there was something for everyone her!

January_1981_Jazz
Guests could enjoy some smooth jazz at the Village Lounge.

Let’s take a look at the February 1981 issue which Carol picked up on the same trip.

The front page as well as page 4 were almost identical to the January edition, only the park hours section on page 1 had changed.

There were a few differences inside though.

February_1981_Pg_2_Entertainment
On page 2, The Fifth Dimension and Mickey Finn had finished their gigs at The Top of the World (today known as California Grill), Mel Tormé and Billy Eckstine now rounded out the list of entertainers.

February_1981_Discovery_Island
On Page three there was a terrific description of Discovery Island.

February_1981_WDW_Village
A world of shopping awaited at The Village.

February_1981_Advertisments
Naturally there were some cute advertisments.

February_1981_Family_Tennis
You could arrange tennis lessons for the whole family at the Contemporary Resort.

February_1981_Junior_Golf
There was even a "wee links" course at the Golf Resort.

Feb_1981_Polynesian_Village.jpg
Adventurous guests could taste exotic south seas treats at the Polynesian Village.

Even with only one theme park there was so much to see and enjoy at Walt Disney World in 1981. It was, and still is, a pretty amazing playground for kids of all ages!

And there's still plenty of good reading left in that old Tickle Trunk, this is just a small sampling. I hope you enjoyed it!

June 29, 2014

The Fort Wilderness Book

Gary Cruise banner

If you were to ask me, “Which Disney resort is your favorite?” I would immediately answer, “Fort Wilderness Campground.”

We have stayed at many of the other resorts, including Port Orleans French Quarter, All Star Music, POP Century, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Wilderness Lodge, The Polynesian Resort and the Disneyland Hotel. Carol has made a few trips without me, and stayed at All Star Movies, All Star Sports, Port Orleans Riverside, The Contemporary Resort, The Grand Floridian Hotel, The Golf Resort, The Boardwalk, Old Key West and The Caribbean Beach Resort. While lots of other Disney fans may disagree, for me Fort Wilderness stands head and shoulders above any of those other resorts.

Carol says that her “dream trip” would involve either The Disneyland Hotel or The Polynesian Resort but Fort Wilderness is not far behind!

It will probably come as no surprise to you that Carol, a compulsive collector, has saved some keepsakes, mementos and souvenirs from a resort which ranks high on her list of favorites. They were scattered throughout our home, some in her pin collection, some in the Tickle Trunk, some in scrapbooks and others in book cases or file folders.

About two years ago she decided to put them all together in her new Fort Wilderness Book. Once she had it all assembled in a large 3-ring binder, we were both pleasantly surprised by some of the treasures she had picked up over the years.

Here is a look at a few of the highlights from the Fort Wilderness Book.

1981_Fort_Wilderness_Brochure_1

This 1981 Fort Wilderness brochure, sponsored by RV manufacturer, Fleetwood Enterprises, Inc., gives us a nostalgic look at the campground in its earliest days. Notice the advertisement for Fleetwood, who billed themselves as “The Official Recreational Vehicles of Fort Wilderness”. Those are some classic old motor homes and travel trailers!

1981_Fort_Wilderness_Brochure_2

On the pages of the brochure are a few sights you won’t see around Walt Disney World today. You will not find Musket Mickey! In today’s politically correct world the coonskin-capped Mickey carries a walking stick rather than a firearm.

Do you see that sailboat in front of Cinderella Castle? There used to be sailboats, pedal boats and even those tricycle boats with the giant flotation tires available for rent at Fort Wilderness. They have been gone for years, but you can still rent SeaRaycers and pontoon boats.

The other sight from yesteryear that you no longer see is people swimming in Bay Lake or the Seven Seas Lagoon. In the early years the beaches at each of the Magic Kingdom area resorts were busy, but since swimming was banned many years ago the beaches have become lonely tracts of clean white sand. Why was swimming banned? There were some safety concerns centered around alligators, copperhead snakes and a rather nasty little amoeba, Naegleria Fowleri, more commonly called the "brain-eating amoeba". Take my advice . . . stay out of the water!

1981_Fort_Wilderness_Brochure_3

Trail rides, fishing and cycling are still very popular at “The Fort” and if you are there on the right day you might still see that blacksmith at work on his forge, beside the horse barns, at Tri-Circle D Ranch.

Two neighbouring destinations, Discovery Island and River Country are included in the brochure. Alas, they’re both long gone now! Carol has some great mementos from each of them; I may write about both closed attractions in a future blog.

The 1981 Fort Wilderness brochure ends with “Food ‘N Fun”. The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue has been running continuously since 1974 and is often referred to as “one of the longest continuously running musicals in American theatre history”. It may even be the longest!

1982_Hoop_Dee_Doo_Showbill

This handbill from the grand old Hoop-Dee-Doo show at Pioneer Hall dates back to about 1982. Today’s version is almost exactly the same . . . the menu has changed slightly; seasonal vegetables have now replaced that "corn-right-on-the-cob". But you’ll be pleased to hear that the corny old jokes have not changed a bit! It’s still a toe-tappin’, foot-stompin’ good time!

1982_Fort_Wilderness_Postcard
A postcard from 1982

1982_Fort_Wilderness_Check-In_Brochure_front

1982_Fort_Wilderness_Check-in_Brochure_reverse

Those two images above are the front and back of a brochure guests received at check-in in 1982. All the rules and regulations, together with some suggestions are there, if you can read the fine print!

1986_Pioneer_Hall_Breakfast_Show

In March 1986 Carol received this letter announcing an exciting new meal at Pioneer Hall, the “Rise and Shine, Get Up and Go Breakfast Show” featuring Melvin the Moose, Chip and Dale and other characters. The breakfast show ran for about five years, until 1991 . . . don’t worry about Melvin the Moose, he returned to his regular gig in Frontierland, at Country Bear Jamboree!

1988_Fort_Wilderness_Brochure_1

1988_Fort_Wilderness_Brochure_2

A 1988 brochure, pictured in the two images above, referred to “trailer homes” from Fleetwood. They were sometimes called “Wilderness Homes” and in 1997 they were all replaced by the cabins we know today!

2010_Fort_Wilderness_Resort_Map

Let’s look at a few more recent items, starting with this resort map from 2010. From the Outpost (the check-in area at the bottom right of the map) to Pioneer Hall (near the marina and dock at the top left) is a distance of just over a mile. The roads marked with yellow, orange and purple lines denote the three routes run by the campground’s internal bus system. When Fort Wilderness opened in November 1971 trams, similar to the parking lot trams used at the theme parks, transported guests around the campground. In the early 1990’s the trams were replaced by buses.

2010_Fort_Wilderness_Gazette_pg_1_2

2010_Fort_Wilderness_Gazette_pg_3_4

For many years a four page Gazette newsletter was included in check-in packages. The copy above, from 2010, provides a wealth of information about the campground and the many services and recreation facilities available. The Gazette has now been replaced by a smaller booklet which contains the same information in a more modern format.

2010_Fort_Wilderness_Halloween_Schedule

Campers take great delight in decorating their sites for the holidays and Management at “The Fort” take an active role in organizing many fun-filled holiday activities. Here is a sample, a flyer from Halloween 2010.

2010_Tri_Circle_D_Brochure_front

2010_Tri_Circle_D_Brochure_inside

When you get to the campground, be sure to visit the horses at Tri-Circle-D Ranch. This 2010 brochure says it all about “The Happiest Horses on Earth”. All of those horses you see working in the Magic Kingdom live at the ranch in Fort Wilderness. Stop by the barns and meet them sometime!

Bumper_Sticker_Soap_Decal_Shoulder_Patch

Here are a few other little odds and ends, a Fort Wilderness decal, an embroidered shoulder patch, a bumper sticker and bar of Fort Wilderness soap.

What’s that? You were wondering about pins? Yes, of course Carol has pins; Fort Wilderness pins and River Country pins.

Pin_Frame_1

Pin_Frame_2

Pin_Frame_3

Did you know that the campground once had a railroad? There was a 3.5 mile track which looped through the campground from the Outpost to the Settlement. The cars were built to 4/5 scale and ran on a 30” track. There were four steam-powered engines and each pulled five passenger cars. Each of the four trains had could transport 90 passengers and they operated on a regular schedule from 1973 to 1977. They ran sporadically for a few years after that and in early 1980’s the trains stopped altogether and the tracks were removed. Carol bought this pin commemorating the Fort Wilderness Railroad at the 2011 EPCOT Trade Celebration.

2011_Fort_Wilderness_Railroad

When Carol began pulling all of her collection together, were both surprised at the volume of stuff she had assembled . . . there are lots of good memories there! That magical binder keeps Fort Wilderness alive for us even when we're at home!

And it’s still a work in progress; she’s always on the lookout for new items to add to one of her prized possessions, her Fort Wilderness Book.

June 22, 2014

Disney Buttons

Gary Cruise banner

A long, long time ago a young mother named Carol took her six-year-old son Rob to Walt Disney World. She bought a three day park pass . . . then the problem became apparent! How do you ensure that a very active youngster doesn’t lose a valuable ticket? Hmmm . . . what to do?

It was then that she spotted some Disney buttons on a nearby counter and the problem was solved. She grabbed a Mickey Mouse button, pinned the ticket to the little scamp’s shirt and pointed him at the rides. Zoom - he was gone in a cloud of dust and the ticket was secure! After three days it was still secure; what a great idea!

Rob_with_button

The “pin-the-ticket” trick continued for a few years and she had acquired a small bag full of buttons by the time Rob was old enough to be trusted to take care of his own ticket. Pictured below are the buttons that secured his tickets in 1977. That red Mickey Mouse button was holding his ticket in the picture above.

Pin_The_Ticket_Buttons

Here is eight year old "Rebel" Rob. He had a Goofy button holding his ticket in 1979!

Rob_and_Orange_Bird

Have I mentioned that Carol is a compulsive collector? Could she stop picking up buttons just because there was no longer a need for them! No, of course not!

Rob collected buttons for several years as well; Carol inherited his collection when he moved on to new interests!

Naturally Disney is very helpful when it comes to Carol’s affliction. They are always issuing new buttons. Every time they release a new movie, open a new ride or attraction, celebrate the birthday of a theme park, there is a new button to commemorate the occasion.

Carol now has a collection of 340 Disney buttons, all different shapes, sizes and colors. Beyond her 340 “keeper” buttons she has a big bag of “traders”.

The buttons are all sorted and categorized into groups:

• Carsland
• D23
• Disney Cruise Line
• Disney Movies
• Disney Vacation Club
• Disney’s Animal Kingdom
• Disneyana
• Disneyland
• EPCOT
• Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
• Theme Park Birthdays
• Walt Disney Classic Collection
• Walt Disney World
• Everything else - oddities which don’t fit the categories above.

Let’s take a look at a few of the EPCOT buttons.

EPCOT_Buttons

There were some very unique buttons when EPCOT first opened.

EPCOT_Countries_Buttons

It seems that every time we travel Carol finds a bin or basket full of buttons and she always stops to search through them for hidden Disney treasure. More often than not she finds some!

There are always new buttons when a Disney video is released!

Video_Buttons

She tries to collect all of the Earth Day buttons and all of the Disney Conservation Fund buttons and there are only a few of each she is missing. Special occasion buttons are fun too!

Special_Occasion_Buttons

There are plenty of birthday and anniversary buttons.

Happy_Birthday_Buttons

Every time a theme park, character or movie hits a milestone year it’s an opportunity for a new button . . . and Carol has plenty of them.

Walt_Disney_World_Birthday_Buttons

Every button tells a story and many of the buttons in Carol’s collection bring back fond memories of happy times. Can you see the happy memories in the buttons pictured below?

Assorted_Buttons

Interesting_Old_Buttons

Here’s one final picture for you, the button on the left is the first one Rob ever wore at Walt Disney World. It held his ticket on his t-shirt in 1977 when he was six years old. The button on the right is one he wore on his latest trip, just a few months ago.

Robs_First_and_Last_Button

Do you have any Disney buttons? What sort of memories do they evoke for you?

June 15, 2014

Money Saving Tips

Gary Cruise banner

There are plenty of people who bemoan, “Walt Disney World is an expensive place to vacation.” While those people are correct in some ways, in my opinion they are way off-base in other ways.

Yes, there are many places where you can vacation for less money than a Disney park or resort . . . but, in my opinion, there are very few places where you will find the value for your dollar that you will find at my happy place.

Of course that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to economize whenever you can, and there are some very simple and reliable ways to do that. I am not an expert on saving money; I’m actually far more experienced at frivolously wasting money than saving it. That’s why Carol does almost all of our vacation planning. Here are a few very simple things I’ve picked up over the years by listening to Carol!

Money Saving Tip #1 " Do your homework!
Plan your trip well in advance and do plenty of research. That AllEars.net Weekly Newsletter you receive by e-mail every Tuesday has some terrific ideas in the “Tip of the Week” section " some of them will help you save your hard-earned cash. There are some very well written guide books available online and in almost all book stores and they all contain some helpful pointers! Don’t overlook the online resources such as the AllEars.net Tip Archive, Mousesavers.com and Mouseplanet.com. For a more complete look at online resources available check out the full AllEars.net list of Disney related links here.

Money Saving Tip #2 " Take advantage of the Disney Dining Program (when it’s free)
During some slower times of the year Disney will offer the dining package, free of charge, to guests at select Disney resorts. This is a good deal! Carol and I have used the Disney Dining Program several times; we even paid for it once. Our most consistent complaint has always been, “It’s too much to eat!” Of course, that’s just another way of saying, “It’s great value for the money.” When it’s free, why would you not take it?

There was only one version of the dining plan the last time we used it; now there are several options to choose from. Here are a couple of our suggestions to help you make the best of the dining package, regardless of what option you choose.
1) Share meals: Carol doesn’t eat breakfast but I do so I use a counter service meal for breakfast and then later in the day we share another counter service meal for lunch. There is always enough to satisfy us both!
2) Use snack credits to buy take-home treats. Carol and I always had trouble using up all the snack credits. We would often use one to pick up a cold bottle of water or a Mickey Ice Cream Bar in the heat of the day, but when the trip was winding down we always had some left over. Solution? Why not use them to buy candy and treats to take home for children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews?

Money Saving Tip #3 " Look for the Bounce-back Program
From time to time Disney resorts will advertise a “Bounce-Back offer”. If you book your next stay at a resort before the end of your current vacation you can sometimes get free dining during your next visit, other times they may offer substantial discounts on the room rate. These are always good deals! Look for a brochure or flyer in your room, or in your check-in package!

Money Saving Tip #4 " Buy an Annual Pass
Yes, I know, you’re thinking, “But Gary, an Annual Pass is too expensive. I only go once a year and a seven day park-hopper is all I need.” I understand your thought process, I thought the same thing . . . but I was wrong! Even before Carol and I retired, back when we only visited once a year, we always bought Annual Passes. We would buy an AP one year, then the following year we would plan our vacation one or two weeks earlier, while our AP was still in force! We squeezed two annual vacations out of one Annual Pass. Here’s how the math worked out for us. Instead of each of us buying two 7-day Park Hoppers (2 X $408.96 incl. taxes = $817.92) we bought one base level annual pass ($675.21 incl. taxes) and we saved $142.71 each. That’s $10.00 a day per person!

I’m going to impersonate one of those slick TV salesmen when I say, “But wait . . . there’s more.”

An annual pass does more than just get you into the theme parks. It gives you free parking at the theme parks. It gives you 10% off merchandise at all Disney owned and operated stores. That’s almost every store on Disney property folks!

Isn’t that amazing? “But wait . . . there’s more.”

How would you like 15% off a fishing tour? Or 50% off miniature golf? Or 30% off the rental of a boat, bicycle or surrey bike? Or 20% off the cost of bowling at Splitsville? You get all of that and more with an Annual Pass.

“Tables In Wonderland” Cards are only available for purchase by Florida Residents, Disney Vacation Club Members and Annual/Seasonal Passholders. This card can save you a bundle if you like to dine at Disney restaurants. You will save 20% at most “table service” restaurants.

And another very important perk for AP holders? Magic Bands! Resort guests and Annual Passholders are the only groups who receive Magic Bands in advance and can use the My Disney Experience system to make those oh-so-important FastPass+ bookings in advance, before their vacations!

I’ll say it one final time " if you visit once a year you really should consider buying an annual pass. Use it for two vacations then let it lapse. Buy another AP at the beginning of vacation #3 and it will also cover vacation #4.

Money Saving Tip #5 " Use a Travel Agent
This is the most important tip I can give you. Find a travel agent who really knows Disney and rely on them to make all of your resort bookings. There is no charge for their services and a good agent will save you a pile of cash.

Friends kept telling Carol and I to use an agent . . . but we didn’t listen! Carol always took care of our bookings. She enjoyed it; she was sure that she was getting the best deals; she was sure that she was always on top of things. She followed all the Internet sites and was quick to call Disney whenever there was a discount available.

We decided to let an agent from Mouse Fan Travel book a trip for us and see how it worked out. Carol talked to the agent, outlined the details and soon the confirmation arrived by e-mail. Carol looked at it and said, “That’s about the same as I would have done". What was nice was that, just a few weeks later, another e-mail arrived. It said, “AAA rates have come out and I was able to apply them to your February reservation.” A revised invoice was attached to the e-mail. When we compared the prices on the old and new invoices we were very pleased; we were going to save $185.75 on a 12 night stay. WOW! We were impressed . . . Carol didn’t have to prowl those Internet sites and phone to amend the booking every time a new "deal" came up. She had more time for other things, such as dining reservations! And that e-mail was not a “one-off” thing. We get a message like that quite regularly. We enjoy that kind of savings on the majority of our bookings. Why would we not use an agent?

But . . . you have to find the right one. The travel agents who really know Disney are the ones who graduated from Disney’s own agent training programs; they have mortarboards with Mickey ears attached! Not only will these experts know what discounts are currently available, they will have a pretty clear idea of what will be coming next. These specialized agents will proactively apply new discounts for their existing client bookings whenever they can.

The best money-saving tip I can give you is to find one of these travel agents and let them take care of your resort bookings. If you know an agent who specializes in Disney, give them a try. If you don’t know anyone, ask a friend to recommend someone, or ask me. I’d be happy to give you a suggestion!

So there you have it, my two cents worth on saving money at Walt Disney World.

Do you have any money saving tips? Why not share them with us? Send your best tip to AllEars by clicking here and completing the Feedback form.

May 16, 2014

2014 AllEars Group Cruise - Day 7

Gary Cruise banner

Carol had ordered room service coffee for 7:00 a.m. so we were up and moving at 6:50. It was so calm and quiet that I thought we must be docked at Castaway Cay. Carol stepped out on the veranda and told me we were still at sea, sailing slowly. There was no sign of the Disney island from our verandah.

Nearing_Castaway_Cay

Nearing_Castaway_Cay

By the time our coffee arrived at 7:10 we had spotted land and before we knew it the bridge had activated the thrusters to spin the ship around and back us into our berth. I'm not sure I'd be comfortable spinning something this big and backing it up.

Turning_the_ship

Backing_in

Backing_in

Carol left before we were moored, she was heading to D Lounge to meet with the early debarkation group. Those who have signed up for the 5K run/walk get off first and are escorted to the 5K course. I stayed behind and spent some time preparing and uploading the daily blog for AllEars.net.

Castaway_Cay

About 9:00 a.m. I headed up to Deck 11 and had breakfast at Cabanas, then wandered the ship taking a few more pictures. A sea gull photo-bombed me. Do you see the gull below?

Castaway_Cay

Before I knew it, it was 10:30, time to go ashore to meet Carol. As I stepped off the elevator on Deck 1, I met Brenda. She was heading out to connect with her husband Dave who also did the 5K. As Brenda and I made our way toward the tram we met Barrie. The three of us rode the tram to Serenity Bay.

Brenda_and_Daisy

The_Airstrip

Carol and Audrey were sitting with their toes in the Caribbean when we arrived. That's Fran and Carol out in the water.

Relaxing_on_the_shore

We sat along the shore, with the waves lapping at our feet as Carol told me about the 5K course she had walked in the heat and humidity. She walked with friends Nancy, Karen and Susan and they all gave each other some moral support as they did their best to cope with the heat. Carol has been walking at home as much as possible, trying to get ready for the Castaway Cay 5K. She takes our Shetland Sheepdog Blue for a fast paced circuit of 2 1/2 kilometers on the walking trails near our home. Blue will be very proud of his Mommy!

At 11:30 we made our way over to Cookies II where our AllEars.net cruisers were meeting for lunch. There was a good turnout and we had a nice meal. The only downside was the downpour that happened just after Carol and I went through the line and picked up our lunch.

Line_for_lunch

We were thankful to be seated under and umbrella when the skies opened up . . . even then we got wet, but not nearly as wet as those standing out in the open. It rained hard for about 10 minutes and then the rain cloud passed.

Janice_and_Randy

Carol heard the tram approach at about 12:45 and we dashed off to catch it for a return trip to the Fantasy. Naturally Carol had to stop and take pictures of all the flowers along the way!

Flowers

Flowers

Flowers

Of course we had to stop at Mount Rustmore.

Mount_Rustmore

The_Fantasy

Just before we boarded we snapped a picture of Carol with her new 5K bling as she stood at a scenic spot with the Disney Fantasy in the background!

Bling

Then we spotted Olaf, he was appearing at the Post Office.

Olaf

We were back aboard at 1:15, still hot and sticky. We changed into our bathing suits and headed to Deck 11 for a soak in the adult pool in front of the Cove Café. The water was quite warm, in the mid to high 80's, but when we got out the breeze felt nice and cool. Carol was smiling as she showed me her goose bumps!

We headed back to our Stateroom shortly after 2:00 p.m. I napped while Carol did some more packing. By 3:45 we had showered and made our way to Shutters to finish selecting our pictures. We quickly settled on the 10 images we wanted to purchase, paid for them and Carol took them to the stateroom.

When she came back to the atrium we noticed a lot of blue shirts . . . that means characters are coming! I asked one of the blue shirts what was going on. He said, "It's the Farewell Party, all of the characters are coming in about 5 minutes." Carol had mentioned earlier in the day that we had no pictures with Pluto or Daisy. I asked him, "Where will Pluto be?" He told me exactly where to stand and we were first in line when the characters appeared.

Pluto

Pluto

Then we found Daisy.

Daisy

Daisy

Chip and Dale were an unexpected bonus!

Chip_and_Dale

Then it was time to head for D Lounge on Deck 4 for the AllEars Farewell Party. This was our last get-together, the wrap-up of our group cruise. We mingled and chatted over hors d'oeuvres and wine for a few minutes before the function was called to order.

AllEars_Farewell_Reception

Deb Wills had contributed an amazing table full of Disney paraphernalia as raffle prizes. Prizes were handed out for the Door Decorating Contest, the Trivia Challenge, the first to acquire a full set of AllEars Trading Cards, and a few other "spoof" awards. Then the raffle began. Those in our group received a raffle ticket for each and every meet they attended and those tickets were drawn randomly for prizes. As it turned out, there was a prize for everyone and everyone was a winner!

Prize_table

Carol was a big winner, she won a $100 Gift Card provided by our good friends at Mouse Fan Travel. The Grand Prize, also courtesy of Mouse Fan Travel was a there day stay at a Disney resort, including park hopper tickets and the dining plan.

I'd like to extend a big thank you, from Carol and I, to everyone who made this trip such a resounding success. Deb, Linda, Melanie and Barrie from the AllEars team took care of the social aspects of the trip.

Deb_and_Melanie

Mouse Fan Travel took care of all the travel arrangements and had four representatives onboard, Beci, Annette, Colleen and Sandy, who worked with Disney Cruise Line to ensure that out trip was filled with magic. Thanks to one and all!

The_Mouse_Fan_Travel_Team

The Farewell Party concluded at 5:45 and we all hustled off to Animator's Palate for our final dinner aboard the Fantasy. This was the night when we all drew characters on our placemats and then saw them come to life and dance later in the evening.

Animator's_Palate

Animator's_Palate

Animator's_Palate

The dining room is filled with some awesome technology. Not only do the paintings on the walls come to life from time to time, showing classic scenes from Disney movies. Then, all those sketches on our place mats come to life and dance, boogie and skate across the screens. The new generation of Animator's Palate is a unique experience. It's still amazing after the third time we've seen it!

After dinner we said our bittersweet farewells. We're ready to go home, we're missing our dogs . . . but it's tough to say goodbye to friends. Of course, we'll see many of them again at some other AllEars function.

Have you enjoyed traveling along with us? I hope so!

May 15, 2014

2014 AllEars Group Cruise - Day 6

Gary Cruise banner

This morning we woke at 7:15. Cuba was visible through the haze on the western horizon and Haiti was just out of sight beyond the eastern horizon. I brought coffee back from Deck 11 and we enjoyed it on our veranda as we watched the Caribbean, and a few container ships, roll past. What a nice way to begin the day!

Container_ship

Deb Wills was hosting Cawfee Tawk at the Cove Café, It has become a tradition for AllEars cruisers to meet for coffee on "sea days". We stood and yakked for an hour and a quarter.

Cawfee_tawk

Cawfee_tawk

Carol and I, along with a few others, enjoyed looking through the wonderful "memory books" Deb and Linda brought along. One described their Adventures By Disney trip to Scotland last year and the other covered their beautiful wedding in Hawaii just a few months ago. It was a real treat to leaf through the photo journals and share such sweet memories with two wonderful women.

At 10:00 we headed aft on Deck 11 to Cabanas where Carol had orange juice and a light snack while I had breakfast.

Cabanas

Cabanas

Back at our cabin Carol changed into her bathing suit and struck out to Satellite Falls, I stayed behind to write and publish another day of the blog for AllEars.

I joined Carol on Deck 13 just before noon and we alternated dunking and scorching for a few hours.

Satellite_Falls

Carol had lunch at Cabanas and brought me back a nice snack from Flo's V/8 Café. I ate at poolside.

By 2:00 p.m. we were both hot and tired; we headed home where I napped. Once Carol was cooled down she headed off shopping. She bought a new Dooney purse and checked our pictures at Shutters before she came home to do her final preparations for the afternoon Pin Trading session.

We left at 3:15 and headed to The Tube on Deck 4 Aft. Deb Wills had provided about 100 pins and Carol was running the trading board for the hour long event.

Barrie_directs_traffic

All the pins were displayed on a cork board and traders lined up for the opportunity to trade two pins.

The_Pin_board

There was an initial flurry of trading for the first 15 minutes, followed by sporadic trading for the rest of the hour.

Trading_pins

Trading those popular AllEars Trading Cards was the really popular activity.

Trading_cards

Tables full of cards were scattered throughout the lounge and traders wandered from table to table striking deals as they tried to complete their sets.

Trading_Cards

Trading_Cards

Trading_Cards

At about 4:45 we headed home to change for dinner. It was semi-formal night at Royal Court. I put on long pants for the occasion!

With_Goofy

Dinner was great, at least mine was. I ordered parmesan crusted chicken with fettuccini, Carol ordered lobster. Her lobster was OK . . . not great, just OK. I couldn't finish all of my chicken and she was quick to gobble up the leftovers.

Royal_Court_dinner

Back in the stateroom after dinner we discovered some new towel art - the best one of this cruise!

Towel_art

I relaxed while Carol started to pack. Yes, unfortunately our adventure was drawing to a close. The following day we would be at Castaway Cay and the next day we would disembark and head home. Boo - Hiss!

At 9:15 we struck out for La Piazza on Deck 4 Aft; the AllEars cruisers were meeting for cocktails. There was plenty of chatter and laughter, I even saw a few AllEars Trading Cards change hands!

La_Piazza

La_Piazza

La_Piazza

La_Piazza

La_Piazza

La_Piazza

Shortly after 10:00 p.m. many of us made our way next door to The Tube where Buckets 'N Boards were scheduled to play at 10:30.

Buckets_'N_Boards

We had seen this pair a few times on previous cruises and were looking forward to their show. They didn't disappoint.

Tom_and_Margaret

This talented duo use various sizes of plastic buckets as drums, they tap dance, they sing, they play ukuleles, they play propane cylinders . . . and they do it all with a huge amount of energy and plenty of humor. It was hilarious!

Buckets_'N_Boards

Buckets_'N_Boards

Buckets_'N_Boards

Once again our ribs were sore as we headed to bed at 12:15.

2014 AllEars Group Cruise - Day 5

Gary Cruise banner

We finally slept until our normal 7:00 a.m. Everything was peaceful and quiet; we were docked at Falmouth, Jamaica.

Carol went to Deck 11 and picked up coffee which we enjoyed on our veranda as we looked out over this scenic town on the north shore of the island.

Falmouth_Jamaica

As soon as the ship docks the crew scurries to start routine maintenance jobs. In the photo below you see a lifeboat lowered on its davits for maintenance while a worker hangs in a basket overhead spraying rust protection on susceptible areas.

Routine_maintenance

We had a nice breakfast at Cabanas and then strolled the upper decks snapping pictures of our surroundings. A Royal Caribbean ship, the Freedom of the Seas, arrived soon after we awoke, turned around in front of us and backed into the other side of the wharf.

Falmouth_Jamaica

The sun and humidity drove us indoors where we spent some time walking the halls completing our group trivia quiz. James, one of our fellow cruisers, developed a very challenging list of Disney Cruise Line trivia questions to help keep us busy all week!

Soon it was time to disembark so we headed to D Lounge on Deck 4 Midship. Our 11:15 departure group met there and we were led onshore right on time. It appears to be a brand new port area, everything is fresh and new, but of course it features the same jewelry shops seen in all other Caribbean ports!

The_port_at_Falmouth

After a short walk through the port area Carol, Nancy and I boarded our bus and began the short trip into the mountains to the Good Hope Estate.

The_bus_ride

A tour guide on the bus pointed out some of the highlights along the way, such as the school for tour guides and the water filtration plant!

Good_Hope

The Good Hope Estate is very picturesque and has an interesting history. The Great House was built in 1755 as a wedding gift for the 19-year old woman who was marrying the owner's son. The bride only lived 7 years and was buried inside the house. There are many activities at Good Hope, including zip lines, carriage rides, rafting, tubing, a playground for children and of course, the high tea we had signed up for.

Carriage_ride

Zip_line

We toured the property, dodging brief rain showers.

Flowers

Veranda

Drawing_room

Blue_room

Then Carol snapped pictures of some amazing long-tailed hummingbirds before we were seated for high tea.

Good_Hope_buildings

Sitting_for_tea

Having_tea

The service was good, but the food was disappointing; the scenery made up for any disappointment though. During the meal Carol kept darting outside to capture pictures of flowers and more hummingbirds.

Beautiful_vista

Hummingbird

Hummingbird

We caught a 2:00 p.m. shuttle bus back to the port where I spotted this unusual sign. Look very closely at that arrow!

Tours_this_way

Disney cruisers must be smarter than those on other cruise lines . . . Disney doesn't use this sort of sign to tell guests they're going the wrong way!

Back_at_the_port

I relaxed with a frosty Red Stripe beer while Nancy and Carol caroused the shops.

Red_Stripe

We were back aboard the ship at 2:45. After a hot and sticky time ashore in Jamaica, Satellite Falls sounded like the best place to be, so we dropped everything in our cabin and headed up for a relaxing soak! Aaaah!

At dinner the previous night, Brenda from Maryland dreamed up a great little fundraising idea to support Deb Wills' charity, the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Brenda volunteered Melanie for hair-braiding. Those of us in the AllEars Cruise group were given the opportunity to contribute and Melanie would get one braid for every $5.00 contributed. We pretty quickly kicked in enough to buy 51 braids. Isn't that great team spirit? We were on Deck 11 at 3:30 p.m. as Melanie sat down in the chair to begin!

First_braids

After a few braids were completed we headed to our stateroom to cool off, it was a steamy day out! After a refreshing nap we headed back to Deck 11 and returned just in time to watch as the last few braids were completed. After 44 braids Melanie had run out of hair! The finished product look great and the process raised $300.00 . . . isn't Melanie a good sport?

Braiding_is_finished

Once the braiding was done, shortly after 5:00 p.m., Carol and I hurried back to our cabin to dress for dinner. We had been invited by Beci from Mouse Fan Travel to join her for dinner in the private dining area at Palo. The group included Beci and Annette, Deb and Linda, Janine and her mother Shirley, Colin and Richard, Dave and Brenda and Carol and I. There is just no better combination than good friends, good food and good drink. When this combination comes together in opulent surroundings such as Palo, magic sometimes happens. This was one of those magical times! Our server, Cindy from England, joined in the revelry with us and by the end of the evening we all had sore ribs - brought on by all the laughter.

Chocolate_Soufle

Panna_cota

What a wonderful time! Thanks to Beci for inviting us, and thanks to all for sharing so much laughter with us!

We tore ourselves away from Palo at 10:30 and decided to head to Deck 12 where the Pirate Night party was in full swing. We met Masayo and Gail and watched the stage show and fireworks with them, then stayed, leaning on the top rail as we watched the dance party below us on Deck 10.

Masayo_and_Gail

Deck_12

Captain_Jack_Sparrow

2014_May_Fireworks

It was 11:30 when we headed below deck to our stateroom. We turned our clocks ahead one hour, making it 12:30 a.m., and fell into bed!

May 14, 2014

2014 AllEars Group Cruise - Day 4

Gary Cruise banner

It was a wasted day. A gloriously wasted day. This was exactly the kind of day we hope to have during a cruise!

For Carol and I, the cruise is not about the ports of call and the excursions. For us, it's all about the ship-board experience. It's about being pampered . . . it's all about the people we are cruising with. We enjoy cruising with friends or as part of a group. And we especially enjoy having the ship almost to ourselves when everyone else goes ashore in the ports. This was one of those very quiet days when everyone else was off enjoying some sort of shore adventure.

I awoke at 6:00 a.m. but Carol showed no inclination to get out of bed. I grabbed the camera and headed up to Decks 12 and 13 to take some pictures before other passengers began to stir.

Here's what I saw:

Adult_pool
The adult pool on Deck 11, in front of the Cove Café.

Small_Adult_pool
The small adult pool on Deck 12 above the Cove Café.

Satellite_Falls
Satellite Falls on Deck 13 Forward. Notice the shaded area full of deck chairs on the right. There are more deck chairs in full sunlight on the left.

Rain_clouds
There were very dark clouds on the northern horizon at 6:25, and two visible storm cells where it was raining heavily.

Aqua_Duck
This photo shows the area where the Aqua Duck water slide takes riders out beyond the ship's rails and over the ocean!

Donald_in_the_stack
Donald seems to have had a mishap beside the spot where the Aqua Duck passes through the forward stack.

Children's_slide
The children's slide beside the Mickey pool.

Family_pools
The family pools on Deck 11 with the Funnel Vision screen in the background.

Aqua_Lab
The Aqua Lab splash zone on Deck 12.

I moved indoors for a few minutes. Here is a sample of the decor in the main atrium at Midship.

Atrium_chandelier
The chandelier highlights the peacock theme.

Peacock_tail_feathers
The peacock theme continues with the spray of tail feathers at the bottom of the grand staircase.

Peacock_in_grille-work
Even the metal grille-work features peacocks!

Shutters
The photo studio, Shutters, is on Deck 4 Midship. There are a number of racks like the one pictured. The racks contain folders, one folder per cabin, and all photos taken by Disney photographers magically appear in the correct folder.

Running_track
Deck 4 is the promenade deck, with a walking/running track. Two and a half laps equals one mile!

It was almost 7:00 a.m. and I knew my princess would be stirring and looking for her coffee. I picked up some java on Deck 11 and headed back home. We savored coffee on our veranda and soon decided to head to Cabanas for breakfast. None of our playmates were there. We thought that was odd! It wasn't until later in the day that we were reminded - all of our friends from Tagrel.com had met for breakfast at The Royal Court. We were supposed to be there but we completely forgot! We're both very sorry Karen, chalk it up to a "senior's moment".

Heading_to_Grand_Cayman
Grand Cayman was a faint dark line on the horizon as we toured the upper decks, snapping photos on our way to Satellite Falls.

Carol_at_the_Rail

Grand_Cayman_on_the_horizon

I settled in a shaded chair at 9:15 and spent over 5 hours alternately soaking in Satellite Falls and relaxing with my book. Carol stayed a few minutes then headed off to Senses for her spa treatment.

Anchored_beside_us

Grand_Cayman

Grand_Cayman

We were anchored at Grand Cayman by 10:00 a.m. and it wasn't long before tenders arrived to shuttle passengers back and forth to the island. I continued to relax on Deck 13.

Tenders

Tender

Carol enjoyed the Bliss Treatment which lasted 75 minutes and included a Hot Stone Back Massage, a Foot and Ankle Massage, a Scalp Massage and a Hydrating Facial. She said the name was appropriate, it really was bliss!

Carol rejoined me at about 11:00; it wasn't long before Nancy, Pam and Susan arrived to remind us we missed breakfast. Dang!

We grazed around the food counters near the pools on Deck 11, chicken fingers and tuna wraps were the favorites!

It was close to 2:00 p.m. when we decided we had about all the heat we could stand. We stopped along the way for another plunge on the Aqua Duck. There was no line - absolutely no one in front of us.

Mulan_on_Tunnel_Vision

We marched straight up the stairs, flopped into our tubes and slipped and slid to our splash-downs on deck 12.

Aqua_Duck

Aqua_Duck

I had a nice snooze while Carol did some laundry. Before we knew it, it was time for dinner so we headed out in search of characters. There weren't many out and the lines were long so we settled for a picture of my princess on her throne.

Royalty

Dinner was once again in the Enchanted Garden, in the same booth seat we shared Saturday evening.

Enchanted_Garden

After dinner we headed back to the stateroom for a half hour, then went searching for some playmates to have a drink before the 10:30 show in The Tube Lounge. We encountered Donald Duck along the way!

Carol_and_Gary_with_Donald

Dave and Brenda, from Maryland, were not too far behind us in the line for a picture with Donald!

Dave_and_Brenda_with_Donald

On our way back to the Tube, Dave, Brenda, Carol and I bumped into Fran and Carol. We all headed to Skylines for a cocktail. When we arrived, there were Deb, Linda, James & Linda, so we joined them.

After a quick drink and a few laughs it was time to head to The Tube for the comedy and ventriloquism of Kevin Johnson. We have seen his show before . . . as we left I decided to be gracious and said to Carol, "He was OK but . . . " She said, "No he was not OK- it was bad!" She was right, it was a poor show.

We were back to our cabin by 11:30 and soon nodded off to sleep!

May 12, 2014

2014 AllEars Group Cruise - Day 3

Gary Cruise banner

Carol woke me as she got out of bed . . . at 6:00 a.m. We set our clocks back last night and gained an hour, but we didn't reset our minds, so we awoke at our normal time. Carol dashed up to Deck 11 and brought back coffee which we sipped on our veranda as we watched Cozumel appear through the mist!

Cozumel_in_the_distance

Nearing_the_Cozumel_wharf

We had no excursions booked for the day, it was time to enjoy the ship while everyone else was ashore. Carol left at 8:45 and dashed up the wharf to the first jewelry store. She bought a "silver" necklace when we were here last October. It turned out to be something other than sliver and my sweet bride was determined to get satisfaction. I was a skeptic, but she came back smiling and bearing a similar necklace clearly stamped as genuine sterling silver. Sure hope it is . . . or that vendor won't know what hit him the next time my tornado is in town!

The_Fantasy

When Carol left, I went to Cabanas for a bite of breakfast and then went directly to the Cove Café where I sat outside reading my book. It seemed like no time until a friend passed and said, "Carol is looking for you in Cabanas." I joined her and sat as she had a light snack and showed me the new necklace.

We went directly to Deck 13 Forward and found a pair of comfy chairs in the shade at Satellite Falls. This has become our favorite "Adult Only" spot on the ship. Most passengers have not discovered it and it's remarkably peaceful. Friends Susan, Pam, Nancy, Margaret and Tom spent a good part of the day there as well. There is a shallow pool built around the bottom of the dome which you see in the photograph below.

Satellite_Falls

There is a 360° bench seat around the interior of the pool and the water covers the seat to a depth of several inches. As you sit with your butt and legs in the pool a cooling shower falls from the ring above you. The simulated raindrops fall about where your toes are when you stretch you legs out fully. You are surrounded by the "backside of water" and the ocean breeze carries a light cooling mist from the rainfall. If you prefer, you can stretch out with your back against the wooden slats that line the exterior of the pool and fully immerse yourself. It's a pretty blissful place. We need to make sure it remains undiscovered. Please don't tell anyone about Satellite Falls . . . mum's the word!

Carol left at 10:45 for her "Pamper Package" at Senses, the shipboard spa. The package included a 50 minute Full Body Massage, a Foot & Ankle Massage, an Indian Scalp Massage and a 25 minute Booster Facial.

Senses

I sat reading, periodically dunking in the pool to cool off. When Carol rejoined me at Satellite Falls she looked well oiled and fully relaxed.

We relaxed for another half hour or so and then went in search of food! After a nice lunch at Cabanas we made our way back to Satellite Falls and spent another slothful hour. Then it was time for the Aqua Duck - a giant waterslide which takes you out over the ocean as you wind your way down two decks to the splash-down zone. Great fun!

Aqua_Duck

Aqua_Duck

We were back to our stateroom at 2:30 - SNORE!

We sat on our veranda and watched as we pushed away from the wharf at Cozumel at 4:30 p.m. and began our overnight journey to Grand Cayman.

Sailing_away

Then it was time to head off to Deck 3 Aft for dinner at Animator's Palate. We encountered Minnie Mouse along the way so naturally we stopped for a picture!

Carol_and_Gary_with_Minnie

The characters from Finding Nemo performed during our dinner.

Dinner_at_Animator's_Palate

Crush was the emcee for the evening and he picked Carol and I to co-star in the show. I learned how to speak "Whale" and then told Carol, "I adore you Carol." in that loud and eerie whale drawl. I must have done well because the entire dining room was chanting GA-RY GA-RY GA-RY. It was quite a stirring evening!

Dory

Crush

After dinner we wandered through the shops on Deck 3 and I waited while Carol traded some pins and Vinylmations, then we returned to our stateroom. I spent some time putting this blog together while she wandered the halls dropping off "fish extender" items for our friends.

About 9:00 we wandered down to the adult entertainment area in search of playmates. We ended up at Skylines where we both enjoyed a cocktail with a small group of our fellow AllEars cruisers. We left just before 11:00, heading toward the Walt Disney Theatre. Along the way we met Fran and Carol who joined us for the Shawn Farquar magic show. We have seen Shawn perform before and we were once again intrigued and mystified by his sleight of hand.

The show ended just after 11:30 and we made our way home to fall into bed.

2014 AllEars Group Cruise - Day 2

Gary Cruise banner

Carol and I have found that we never sleep past 7:00 a.m. while we're cruising, so she always orders room service coffee for 7:00 a.m. It arrived on time, as always, and this time she included a few small pastries. We were booked for brunch at Palo and the pastries were intended to tide me over until noon. The strategy worked well, by noon I was ravenous!

I headed up to the Cove Café on Deck 11 at 7:45 for the AllEars.net Cawfee Tawk meet scheduled for 8:00; Carol followed about a half hour later. We stood, sipped coffee and yakked, renewing acquaintances, for over an hour. There were plenty of familiar faces from past cruises and some newcomers as well. It's really quite easy to mix and mingle when we all share a love of all things Disney.

The_Cove_Cafe

The_Cove_Cafe

Carol and I left at about 9:20 and went back to our stateroom for a few minutes before heading down to The Tube, a lounge on Deck 4 Aft, for the Castaway Club Reception for Gold and Platinum members.

Castaway_Club_Reception

There were complimentary cocktails and finger foods; Cruise Director Ray thanked us for our continued loyalty to Disney Cruise Lines, then the guest of honor arrived - Captain Mickey. He posed for pictures with everyone as all the senior crew members mingled with Castaway Club members.

Carol_and_I_with_Mickey

Masayo_with_Mickey

Milton_and_Michelle_with_Mickey

After the reception we scurried back to our cabin to get dressed for our brunch at Palo. On our way to brunch we met Minnie!

Minnie

We really enjoy this upscale dining experience at Palo. There is a wonderful array of Mediterranean cuisine and the service is always outstanding. Our server, Jessyca from Peru, was superb. We had a very enjoyable experience. The food and the service were top notch! It was 2:00 p.m. when we finished.

At_Palo

We changed back into more casual clothes for the 2:30 p.m. Ice Cream Social on Deck 11. Ice Cream Social has become a bit of a misnomer.

Nancy_and_Mary_Jean_with_ice_cream

While everyone spends a few minutes enjoying ice cream, most folks spend far more time trading those highly coveted AllEars Trading Cards. There is a series of 66 different cards, each with a Disney themed picture and story. Each cruiser received a packet of 66 cards with their welcome gift, but the 66 cards were not the complete set, they were multiples of only a few cards in the set. In order to get a complete set, they had to find other cruisers in our group, compare cards and trade to fill blanks in each collection. The Ice Cream Social quickly became a spirited trading session!

Trading_AllEars_cards

Trading_AllEars_cards

How spirited was it? A certain gentleman from Ohio stole the entire collection of a lady from Maryland. Don't feel too bad for her, the collection was recovered and returned to her . . . and I have reason to believe that the gent from Ohio may have been framed!

Cuba passed by on our Port side as trading continued until 3:45, when the heat and humidity finally drove us indoors. Once again we were worn out and we took a well earned nap!

We were up and dressed for dinner by 4:45. It was formal night and there were plenty of photographers set up in the Atrium, so we struck out to stalk some characters. Yikes - the lines were huge! We managed to find Goofy at Preludes and his line was relatively short.

Two_Goofy_guys

Our dinner was in the Royal Court, Deck 3 Midship. It was very nice, I enjoyed baked brie, French onion soup, lobster macaroni while Carol had a lobster and shrimp appetizer, French onion soup and Chateaubriand. We both had creme brulee for dessert. Every dish was outstanding. This was probably the best meal we have ever had in the regular dining rotation.

Photo-bombed_by_Deb

There was plenty to talk about during the meal. Carol and Gail began to compare their Disney collections. One would say, "I have quite a few Disney Classic Collection pieces." The other would reply, "Me too!" Or, "I collect Disney buttons." "Me too. I have them all organized displayed in frames." It went on and on and on. There two ladies certainly have similar interests!

We sat talking for so long that we were among the very last to leave the dining room. Cast members were setting up tables for the 8:15 seating and began flashing the lights to urge us to leave. It worked!

We went back to our cabin and changed into more casual clothes before heading down to Deck 4 Aft. AllEars cruisers were meeting at La Piazza for cocktails at 9:15. A good number of our group were there and we had a very nice time chatting over drinks. We left the camera behind, so there are no incriminating pictures.

Carol and I rushed away at 11:00 to catch the adult show in the Walt Disney Theatre. It was a hilarious hypnosis show by Ricky Kalman. He used about a dozen volunteers from the audience to keep us in stitches. The highlight of the performance was cruiser Craig who thought he was the world's foremost hand puppet performer. He was convinced that each of his hands held a puppet and he sang a stirring rendition of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody as the puppets mimed the words! We roared with laughter.

It was midnight when we returned to our stateroom and hit the sack after a fun filled day at sea.

May 11, 2014

2014 AllEars Group Cruise - Day 1

Gary Cruise banner

I was too excited to sleep this morning. I tossed and turned for a while, trying to fall back asleep, but finally surrendered at 6:15. I tried to be quiet so Carol could sleep - that meant that the banging and clattering was subdued, but of course there was still too much banging and clattering. Soon she was up too and we enjoyed a few cups of coffee in our room at Port Orleans French Quarter.

I had a quick breakfast at the Sassagoula Float Works food court and by 8:15 we were on the road headed to Port Canaveral. Saturday morning traffic was very light and we made terrific time across Route 528.

Port_Canaveral_Road_Sign

There is a special thrill as you climb a small rise, about two miles inland, when you get that first brief glimpse of the ship off in the distance. There it was! Just a minute later there was another hill and we had a much better view.

Disney_Fantasy

By 9:30 I had parked, unloaded the luggage, and left Carol and the baggage behind while I returned our rental car just a few miles down the highway. The terminal was bustling with activity as the returning cruisers disembarked to begin their trip home and the embarking cruisers checked in their luggage.

Mickey_Clock

The Avis shuttle bus had me back at the terminal by 10:15 and it was time to say hello to some friends we had not seen in a while. There were so many familiar faces, people from previous AllEars cruises and people from Disney internet communities. We kept quite busy mingling and chatting until check-in opened at 10:45.

Meeting_goof_friends

We entered the terminal, quickly cleared through the security check point and rode up the escalator to the main concourse. Once we arrived on the third floor we were among the first to check-in and get our Key to the World cards.

The_embarkation_door

There were even a few Disney celebrities who dropped by to give us all a photo-op.

Olaf

Captain_Mickey

Minnie

Before we knew it was 11:30 and our boarding group was called to the loading bridge. Once aboard we made our way directly to The Enchanted Garden dining room on Deck 2 for lunch. We were joined by Dave and Brenda from Maryland, Masayo from Japan and Gail from Nevada.

Carol_Masayo_and_Gail

Lunch_group

After a nice lunch we all caught the elevator to Deck 4 and checked in at D Lounge where both AllEars and Mouse Fan Travel had reception desks set up. Once we had all of our information, credentials and swag,

Linda_and_Melanie

Carol and I headed up to Deck 9 to find our stateroom. It was ready and our bags were sitting directly outside the door. Carol got right to work unpacking and getting us settled in for the week while I set up our internet connection. As Carol was decorating our stateroom door our Cabin Steward, Ekarat from Thailand, stopped to introduce himself and see if there was anything we needed. Service is always first-class on Disney ships!

On_the_verandah

Before we knew it the emergency whistles sounded announcing the compulsory lifeboat drill. We headed to our assembly point, the Buena Vista Theatre on Deck 5 and joined the assembled throng as they demonstrated how to don your lifejacket. Soon the mandatory ritual was over and we headed to Deck 12 where we joined the AllEars.net group for the spirited and lively Sail-Away Party.

Carol_waves_the_AllEars_sign

We watched from the rail on Deck 12 as families below us on Deck 11 danced and sang along with Disney characters and cast members.

Singing_and_dancing

James_and_Linda

Deck_party

Richard_Colin_and_Beci

It's always a fun-filled time . . . but tonight, when the ship whistle sounded "When You Wish Upon A Star" at about 4:45 we were still at the dock. It was about 5:20 when we pushed away from the pier and began our journey.

Many had already left the upper decks when Carol and I unfurled the Canadian flag and held it against the rail for our family who were watching at home on the Port Canaveral webcam. Most of the people in our group were texting friends who were watching the webcam, saying, "I'm beside the Canadian flag!" As we passed the camera at Fish Lips Bar & Grill some of them started receiving pictures of the ship on their cell phones - there we were with the flag! Cool!

We stayed at the rail until we reached the end of the jetty where AllEars blogger Kristin Ford and her two children were waving frantically. We were equally frantic as we waved back!

Kristen


By the time we had left the harbour it was dinner time. We all rushed down to Deck 2 for our 5:45 dinner at Enchanted Garden. Our dinner-mates are Masayo from Japan and Gail from Nevada. We had known them both from previous Disney trips and previous cruises. It was nice to catch up with them over a delicious meal. Our server is Tanapong (Tana) from Thailand and our assistant server is Jelena from Serbia.

Dinner_group

After dinner we visited with some of the surrounding tables of AllEars cruisers before heading up to our stateroom. Before long Masayo called and dropped off some very special items she had brought us from Tokyo Disneyland! Thanks Masayo! The three of us headed off to the Walt Disney Theatre to watch the "Fantasy Come True" stage production. We have seen this particular show several times, but it never gets old . . . talented cast members and lively Disney characters combine to deliver an engaging story. The song and dance numbers and the broadway-style staging are professional quality and, of course, it's all geared for the entire family!

It was another day of travel, followed by plenty of activity in the sun and fresh air. After the show the three of us headed back to our staterooms for a quiet night.

Tomorrow we will have a relaxing day at sea . . . come on back and see what we've been up to!

May 10, 2014

2014 AllEars Group Cruise - The Prequel

Gary Cruise banner

Carol and I are very excited to be joining some old friends, and some friends we have yet to meet, as we board the Disney Fantasy and sail the western Caribbean on the 2014 AllEars Group Cruise. We board the Fantasy Saturday May 10th for a seven day adventure.

2014_AllEars_Cruise

This will be our 10th Disney Cruise and our 4th AllEars Group Cruise. We really enjoy cruising and it's fun to enjoy the experience as part of a group who share so many of our interests.

2014_May_Cruise_Itinerary

If you have ever wondered if Disney cruising might be right for you, or if you wondered what a group cruise would be like - come along and join us as we sail. I will be blogging daily to report on our activities and would love to have you along for the ride!

Here's a bit of a teaser to whet your appetite - a few highlights from our stay at Walt Disney World before we set sail!

Flower_&_Garden

Boat_to_Fort_Wilderness

Buzz_Lightyear

Malificent

Mother_Nature

Kermit_&_Miss_Piggy

Sunset_at_EPCOT

Tune in every day to see what we've been up to on our cruise!

April 27, 2014

The Tickle Trunk – Memories of Disney

Gary Cruise banner

Carol has a Tickle Trunk. It’s filled with wonderful Disney memories!

Most Canadian readers will remember Mr. Dressup, Casey, Finnigan and the Tickle Trunk . . . but for others, I will explain. Mr. Dressup was the star of a children’s show which ran on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation network from 1967 to 1996. His sidekicks were two hand puppets, Casey and Finnegan, a child and a dog who lived in a treehouse in Mr. Dressup's back yard.

Mr_Dressup

In most episodes Mr. Dressup would get a costume from a big, brightly painted steamer trunk which he called his Tickle Trunk. The costume might be for an animal, policeman or fireman. Donning the costume (after all, he was Mr. Dressup), he would play the role suggested by the outfit. The Tickle Trunk appeared to be charmed - it always had the right costumes, in the right sizes, neatly folded at the top. That simple steamer trunk really was magical; it transported Canadian children to some very imaginative places for three decades!

Tickle_Trunk

Mr. Rogers Neighborhood aired in Canada too, but if you ask any Canadian kid of that era they will assure you, “Mr. Dressup was waay more fun!”

I’ve mentioned before that Carol saves every piece of paper from each Disney trip, tickets, park maps, resort check-in packages, brochures, flyers, napkins . . . you name it, she probably has it! When she gets home all of that material finds a permanent spot in a big wooden trunk " for years now we've called it Carol’s Tickle Trunk!

Carols_Tickle_Trunk

Of course, Carol’s Tickle Trunk is magical too. Whenever she opens the lid we are instantly transported to our happy place! The best of memories come floating out!

Carols_Tickle_Trunk

As you might expect, the trunk has been full for years. It takes some management! When we get home from a trip some new treasures go in and some older treasures get culled and placed in new homes.

When Carol started collecting pins in earnest in 2001 she scoured the Tickle Trunk and pulled out some classic old pins. They now have a special place of honor in her pin collection.

Her collection of Disney buttons, acquired over the decades, now live in a button bucket!

The resort registration packages from each Disney trip, along with park maps, timetables, and plenty of other paper now fill a filing cabinet drawer. Each trip is in its own folder.

But there’s still plenty of treasure in that magical wooden trunk!

Just a week or two ago I was writing a blog about Disney park tickets, so naturally we had to go to the Tickle Trunk to find a few old ones. On the way to the bottom of that trunk, where those tickets from 1977 live, we uncovered some buried treasure!

What did we find? Here’s a small sampling:

Ten old copies of the “Walt Disney World News”
This four-page newsletter was produced by Disney, a fresh copy each month in the early years, and included in check-in packages at all Disney resorts. The tabloid sized papers are full of fascinating information!

WDW_News_Jan_1981
1981

WDW_News_1990
1990

Magic Kingdom Club/Disney Club Membership packages
Who knew Disney had so many clubs . . . The Magic Kingdom Club, the Magic Years Club and the Disney Club. Carol has old membership cards, brochures and magazines for all of them!

Club_Memberships

Magic_Years_Magazine_Winter_1993
1993

Disney_Club_News_January_2003
2003

Dinner á la Disney & Breakfast á la Disney Tickets
Before there were character meals there was Dinner á la Disney! Dinner was served in the Trophy Room at the Golf Resort, now known as Shades of Green. Breakfast á la Disney was served aboard the Empress Lily, now known as Fulton’s Crab House. There were no character meals in the Magic Kingdom in the early years!

Dinner_a_la_Disney

River Country / Discovery Island Tickets
River Country was the original Disney water park, located beside Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Two slides dropped guests into a man-made pool. The rest of the slides and water adventures took place in the natural waters of Bay Lake.

River_Country_Tickets

River_Country_Postcard

Just across the water from River Country was Discovery Island, a tropical paradise filled with exotic birds and blossoms.

Discovery_Island_Tickets

Disney Matchbook covers
In days of yore cigarette smoking was allowed in most areas at Walt Disney World and most resorts and restaurants had matches available for guests. Carol’s collection lives in a pretty metal box in the Tickle Trunk.

Match_Tin.jpg

Children’s “Wonders of Walt Disney World” Books
This program of day-long seminars was offered by Disney for children from 10 to 15 years of age. Son Rob went on two of the four seminars they offered in the mid 80’s and Carol has the proof!

Wonders_Brochure

Wonders_Text_Book


Disney Post Cards
Yes, there are postcards. Lots and lots of postcards.

Postcards_1

Postcards_2

Postcards_3

But there’s something all those things have in common. All of that stuff, all those oddities and curios which remain in that trunk; they are all filled with fond memories of happy days. Sweet recollections from magical Disney trips!

Stay tuned, once in a while I’ll pull something out of the Tickle Trunk and tell you a little bit more about it in a new blog.

April 13, 2014

The Evolution of Disney Tickets

Gary Cruise banner

Walt Disney World tickets have certainly changed over the years!

No, I’m not going to rant about the price of tickets; other folks have that very well covered! I think that Disney tickets have always represented great value, so I’m going to talk about the tickets themselves. Let’s look at the form of the tickets; are they paper or plastic? What they will buy for you? How have they changed through the years?

1971_Ticket_Card

In the beginning there were E-Tickets. Yes, I know . . . there are at least two generations of folks out there who don’t know what old geezers like me are talking about when we refer to an E-Ticket. So, let me explain!

In 1971 when Walt Disney World opened they used the same ticketing system that had worked successfully at Disneyland since 1959. Guests paid a small General Admission fee ($3.50 for an adult) and then paid an additional fee for each attraction they visited. The attraction fees were paid using pre-packaged booklets of tickets which guests could purchase at the Ticket and Transportation Centre or at several booths in the park.

1971_A_Ticket

1971_B_to_E_Tickets

The most popular attractions were referred to as “E-Ticket Rides” since they required an E-Ticket from your book. The mildest or least popular attractions required an A-Ticket. All rides and attractions were marked with the type of ticket required!

1971_Ticket_Table

In those early years there were several “Adventure Magic Key Ticket Books” with tickets for 7, 9 or 11 adventures. The 11 Adventure Magic Key Ticket Book cost $5.75 in 1971 and contained one A-Ticket, one B-Ticket, two C-Tickets, three D-Tickets and four E-Tickets. Additional tickets could be purchased individually if you needed them.

1971_7_Adventure_Pack

1972_8_Attraction_Magic_Key_Adult

1972_8_Attraction_Magic_Key_Child

At each attraction guests would tear the appropriate ticket out of their booklet and present it to the cast member. It sounds cumbersome by today’s standards, but that’s the way things worked 40 years ago and it worked well.

1973_Magic_Key_Books

Prices slowly increased during the 70’s and the ticket booklets changed as well. By 1976 there was a 2 day 18 Adventure Book.

When I first visited the Magic Kingdom in 1977 things were a bit different; they were still selling books of tickets, but guests could now purchase a 2-Day Magic Kingdom Passport which covered Magic Kingdom admission for 2 days, all rides and attractions, two days transportation to Magic Kingdom and the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Center. This was my first Disney ticket; although the Adventure books continued until 1982 " I never used an E-Ticket!

1977_2_Day_Magic_Kingdom

1977_2_Day_Resort_Guest

1978_2_Day_Magic_Kingdom_Club

Things changed in late 1982 when EPCOT opened. The ticket booklets were phased out in June of that year and guests could only purchase one day passports for either park or multi-day World Passports which included both parks and allowed access to all attractions. These paper tickets were stamped with the date as guests entered the park. Re-entry was permitted with a hand-stamp. (The “Park-Hopper” was born! However, it wasn’t until 1994 that the term “Park-Hopper” was coined by Disney and added as a ticket option.)

1982_4_Day

1982_6_Day_Child

1986_6_Day_Resort_Guest

The first Annual Passport was introduced in 1982; what a bargain at $100.00. Alas, I have no picture of one of those original passports. Today Annual Passports entitle holders to discounts in many Disney shopping and dining venues as well as periodic discounts at some Disney resorts. I have been unable to determine if these discounts were available in the 80’s.

1987_Annual_Passport

The Annual Passport pictured below, purchased in November 1989, was the first of many Annual Passports for my wife Carol. In addition to unlimited entry at the theme parks, it also provided free parking and a discount at Disney resort hotels.

1990_Annual_Passport

1991_Annual_Passport_Information

Disney-MGM Studios opened May 1, 1989 and that brought some more changes. The one-day ticket now cost $28.00 and covered any one of the three parks, with a re-entry privilege, but no park-hopping.

1990_1_Day

1991_1_Day

The three, four or five-day World Passports did allow park-hopping.

1990_4_Day_Package

1993_All_3_Parks

The 1990's brought a multitude of changes. In 1990 a 5-Day Plus Super Pass was introduced. It covered all three theme parks, plus Pleasure Island, Typhoon Lagoon, River Country and Discovery Island. Wow " that’s a lot of park hopping for $110.00

What could possibly be better than 5-Day Plus Super Pass? I’m so glad you asked! In 1991 along came the 5-Day Super Duper Pass - it included unlimited admission to the Disney-MGM Studios, Magic Kingdom and EPCOT Center any five days with no expiration date, plus unlimited admission for seven days to Typhoon Lagoon, River Country, Discovery Island and Pleasure Island. Naturally it included unlimited use of the transportation system linking the parks.

1993_5_Day_Super_Duper

In 1992 technology began to creep into the ticketing process. Disney switched from all hand stamped tickets to turnstiles that automatically read the ticket’s bar code, stamped the admission tickets and punched out a number from the lower left corner of the ticket each time an admission was used. At the same time, 4-Day All Three Parks Passports were replaced by a 4-Day Super Pass and a 4-Day Super Duper Pass.

In 1994 they discontinued sales of the Super Pass and Super Duper Pass and coined a new term, Park Hopper, when they introduced the 4-day Park Hopper and the 5-day World Hopper. Disney introduced the first Premium Annual Passport this year, to the best of my knowledge this was the first plastic card, credit card sized. The Premium Annual Passport included unlimited access to the three theme parks, two water parks, Pleasure Island and Discovery Island.

I haven't been able to determine when Walt Disney World began adding guest pictures to Annual Passports, but it was 1989 or earlier since Carol's picture is on that 1989-90 passport pictured above. Those guest photos were discontinued in 1996, the same year that mylar paper tickets with a magnetic strip on the back replaced the previous paper tickets with bar codes.

For the first time, different categories of ticket displayed the same image on the face of the ticket. A 5-day ticket and a 10-day ticket might look identical on the surface; the magnetic strip contained information on the guest’s entitlements and privileges. Biometric finger scanners were added in conjunction with the new magnetic strip tickets.

1996_Value

Both Disney’s Animal Kingdom and DisneyQuest opened in 1998. Admission to the Animal Kingdom park was included in all multi-day Park Hopper passports and admission to DisneyQuest was included in the Premium Annual Passport.

The next significant change in tickets took place in 2005 when the “Magic Your Way” ticket was introduced. This ticket plan has changed a bit but remains in effect today. Guests could purchase a one, two, three or four day Magic Your Way Base Ticket which gave access to any one park each day of the term " there was no Park Hopping with the base tickets. There were also five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten day Magic Your Way tickets which gave guests the option of purchasing a Park Hopper feature and a Water Park Fun & More feature.

2009_Goofy

In March 2010 the new Premier Passport was offered. This ultimate passport includes all the features of the Premium Annual Passport, unlimited access to the four Florida theme parks, the two Florida water parks and DisneyQuest but it also includes unlimited entry at both Disney theme parks in Anaheim California. Sounds like a “must-have” for every true Disney fan! Carol and I used Premier Passports in 2010 and again in 2013. We really enjoyed the 20% discount on merchandise and food purchases and were disappointed when Walt Disney World reduced it to 10% in 2013. The discount is still 20% at Disneyland Resort in California.

2013_Premier_Passport

This brings us to the most significant ticketing change in Disney history " Magic Bands.

Magic_Bands

Disney is spending about a billion dollars (that’s right " billion " with a “B”) to take advantage of RFID technology. The program started trials in September 2013 with selected resort guests and was very recently expanded to include Annual Passholders. These guests now receive a wrist band which contains an RFID chip.

Magic_Band_on_Wrist

The ticketing structure and pricing remains unchanged and guests still receive a plastic ticket in the form of a Key To The World Card or Annual Passport, but all of their entitlement data is programmed on the RFID chip. There is no need to show your ticket when you enter a park, just hold your Magic Band up to a scanner, place your finger in a biometric reader, and away you go.

Magic_Band-Scanner

The band also unlocks the door to your room in a Disney resort and it will open the entry gate when you drive into the resort. If you have a credit card on file with Disney and have elected to have charging privileges, the band even acts as your credit card " just scan it and enter your PIN.

What else can the bands do? Well, some pretty amazing stuff! You can use them with the “My Disney Experience” program to manage FastPass+. Up to 60 days before your trip to Walt Disney World, from the comfort of your own home, you can go online and book up to three FastPass+’s for each day of your trip.

On the appointed day, during the pre-determined one-hour time window you simply head to the FastPass Return line, scan your Magic Band and away you go! There is no need to get to the park early and rush off to pick up a FastPass. How cool is that! Alas, you can only get FastPass+’s for one park per day " no Park Hopping. I hope that option comes along soon.

A quick word of advice " be sure to use My Disney Experience to book your FastPass+’s in advance. All the old FastPass distribution machines have been removed from the parks. There are a few FastPass+ kiosks in the parks but at this point in time the lines are long. Very long!

So, in 43 years Disney has moved from little booklets of tear-out tickets to the amazing RFID technology of today’s Magic Bands. I don’t know about you, but I have certainly enjoyed the journey!

I wonder what the next step in the evolution will be?

P.S. AllEars.net Archivist Jack Marshall has compiled a very detailed list of prices for specific tickets, year by year, and pictures of hundreds of vintage old tickets. Click this link to see more: WDW Ticket History

March 23, 2014

The Imagineers - Doing It Right!

Gary Cruise banner

I am a big fan of the Imagineers! I am constantly awed and impressed by the way they design and build all of those components that make up the Disney Parks and Disney Cruise Line ships.

Of course, Walt Disney was the first Imagineer . . . even before he invented that job title. Walt was an artist and animator - he honed his skills in the days before 3D, computer generated graphics and digital images. He created hours and hours of engaging entertainment using nothing more than a pencil, paper and his amazing imagination.

In the earliest days of his career Walt devised some unique drawing and photographic techniques and used them in his animations in such a subtle way that viewers were unaware that their eyes were playing tricks on their minds. When Disney Studios began producing live-action movies they acquired another set of skills - creating backdrops and background scenery, using creative camera angles to control what the viewer sees.

I guess it was only natural that when Walt set out, over 60 years ago, to create a theme park he would employ all those skills and techniques he had perfected over the years. He surrounded himself with creative people, who he dubbed Imagineers, and motivated them to follow a consistent approach to their work.

Walt's approach was quite simple . . . just like his animated cartoons or live-action movies; everything began with a story board. Every building, every thrill ride, every attraction began with a highly detailed story board. First and foremost there had to be a "back-story" and then every detail of the building, ride or attraction had to be consistent with that back-story.

This has resulted in an amazingly immersive experience. Disney parks are like no other parks I have ever seen. They are designed to totally engage you in the time or place which surrounds you. Tomorrowland feels like the future . . . Frontierland puts you in the Wild West . . . Main Street USA takes you back over 100 years to the early 1900’s.

When I first visited the Magic Kingdom 36 years ago I was instantly impressed by the consistent attention to detail and quality throughout the parks. Since that time I have traveled to some of the places that are recreated on Disney property and those travels have done nothing but heighten my respect for the Imagineers and the way they replicate these worlds for our enjoyment.

Let me give you a few examples.

Our favourite Moderate Resort is Port Orleans French Quarter and we had stayed there several times before we visited New Orleans. When we arrived in the original French Quarter my eyes just popped . . . Wow! The Imagineers did a terrific job recreating the building style " but they somehow cloned the exciting atmosphere of the French Quarter as well.

New_Orleans_French_Quarter
The French Quarter in New Orleans

Then just a few years later we made our first trek west to Disneyland. Once again my eyes popped as we strolled through New Orleans Square. Awesome - a jazz band was playing and it felt just like being in New Orleans at Jackson Square. The galleries draped with beads . . . perfect!

Disneland_New_Orleans_Square
Disneyland's New Orleans Square

During one of our California trips we headed to San Diego and stopped at the beachfront Del Coronado Hotel. The Grand Floridian Hotel was modeled after the Del Coronado. How do you think the Imagineers did with the project?

Del_Coronado_Hotel
Hotel Del Coronado

Grand_Floridian_Hotel
Grand Floridian Hotel

Last summer Carol and I took our motor home and toured the Jersey Shore. Miles and miles of beautiful sandy beaches and all those boardwalks. Of course we were drawn to compare the Atlantic City Boardwalk with the Disney version " another great replication.

Atlantic_City_Boardwalk
Atlantic City Boardwalk

Disney_Boardwalk
Disney's Boardwalk

Since I’m Canadian I naturally have to look for some Canadian icons to compare. Let’s focus for a minute on the Canadian Pavilion at EPCOT. The pavilion itself is modeled after the Chateau Laurier Hotel, on the banks of the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, our national capital.

EPCOT_Canada_Pavilion
EPCOT's Canada Pavilion

Chateau_Laurier_Hotel
Chateau Laurier Hotel

The gardens at the Canada Pavilion are meant to duplicate the magnificent Butchart Gardens in Victoria British Columbia. What do you think of the copy?

Gardens_at_Canada_Pavilion
Gardens at the Canada Pavilion

Butchart_Gardens
Butchart Gardens

The Imagineers do so many creative things to engage, amuse and even educate us. Think of the time you spend waiting in line at Toy Story Midway Mania, Expedition Everest or Kali River Rapids. If you are like me, you are seldom bored waiting in line. Those queues are filled with artefacts, memorabilia and oddities, many of them gathered by Imagineers as they travelled the world researching the Himalayas or some other exotic locale to develop their back-story. There’s always something interesting that catches my attention. If you have ever been in a queue and a fat old man with a white moustache waved you past while he looked at some little trinket " that was probably me!

Do you always see what the Imagineers do? No, of course not, and neither do I. But once in a while we all need to stop rushing from one thrill ride to the next and take a minute to just look around and savour our surroundings. Look for the little things; try to focus on the things the Imagineers didn’t really have to do " but they did them anyway!

Try this: Next time you are leaving Splash Mountain, stop for a few minutes in the Briar Patch, the little shop on the right as you climb the steps. There are rocking chairs in the shop " sit down in one, stretch out and relax, then look up at the ceiling. What do you see? Briars and roots " you really are in the bottom of the briar patch! That’s what I mean " they didn’t have to do that but what a great idea!

Do you have a favourite Imagineering idea? Something the Imagineers created that really adds to your Disney experience?

March 18, 2014

No RV? No Problem! Fort Wilderness Rentals

Gary Cruise banner

If you have read some of my previous blogs, you know how much Carol and I enjoy staying at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground in our motor home. It's our favourite Disney resort. As you were reading, did you ever think, “That sounds like fun! I'd sure like to give it a try, but I don't own a camper.”

Don't give up on the idea! If you really like the prospect of camping at Walt Disney World, why not rent a camper and try it out before you pay out the money to buy your own RV? There are quite a few companies who rent campers . . . and they make it very easy for you. They deliver the unit to Fort Wilderness and set it up; once you arrive all you have to do is move in!

If you do an internet search using “Walt Disney World camper rental” you will find a number of rental options, including all different shapes and sizes of trailers. There's a solution for every family!

Carol's 84 year-old parents, John and Sybil, have listened to our tales of Fort Wilderness for several years and just last month they were able to experience first hand what we had been describing. We decided almost a year ago to take them along on a trip with us and set them up in a rented trailer at a camp site near ours. Once the decision was made, Carol got to work analyzing all the options. She did an online search, narrowed the list of rental companies down to a short-list of about a half-dozen companies who had pet-friendly units and started looking at dates and specific trailers.

She was able to find a very roomy 5th Wheel Trailer quite quickly through a small, family owned-business and before you could say “It was all started by a mouse” she had the two camp sites reserved and the trailer booked for a two-week stay. Carol used our reliable travel agency, Mouse Fan Travel, to book the camp site and worked closely with Rod, the owner of the camper rental company, to ensure that we ended up in side-by-side sites at the campground. We had given Disney agents our permission to share our information with Rod so he was able to text us the campsite numbers Disney had assigned before we arrived. They were exactly where we had hoped to be so we gave him the go-ahead to set up before we pulled in.

Florida_Welcome_Sign

We arrived on Valentine's Day and there was John and Sybil's little Shangri-La, fully equipped and ready for occupancy. It had been delivered to the campground that morning, set up on the site and all the utilities were connected. The patio mat was in place in front, four lawn chairs had been arranged on the mat, the electric golf cart (included in our rental package) was fully charged and ready to go! How easy was that?

The_Trailer

Here's a YouTube video showing a typical trailer being set up!

Naturally we added a few little touches of our own, a Mickey Mouse lamp post and some Mickey rope lights - then it was perfect!

Now_it's_perfect

The trailer was wonderful; a 35-foot-long, 5th wheel model with three slide-out rooms, two in the living area and one in the upstairs bedroom. John, Sybil and our son Rob were very comfortable and had plenty of elbow room.

When they entered the RV, the kitchen, dining area and living room were on their left and the bathroom and bedroom were up a few steps to the right. The unit was fully equipped with dishes, pots, pans, utensils, toaster and coffee maker. Even the coffee filters were included - nothing was overlooked.

All the linens were supplied; the bed was made and the towels were hung when we arrived. It could not have been simpler; the only thing we had to do was pull out the hide-a-bed couch at the end of the day - that's where Rob slept.

The_Living_Room

The living room had a couch, two very comfortable recliner chairs and a large entertainment centre with television, stereo and DVD player.

The_Living_Room

The kitchen contained a large refrigerator, microwave oven, three burner gas range, double sink, toaster, coffee maker and all the pots, pans, utensils and cleaning products you need. All we had to add were some groceries!

The_Kitchen

Opposite the kitchen was the dining area, a table and four chairs, which also doubled as Sybil's computer desk!

The_Dining_Area

Up a few steps from the living area, behind a solid privacy door, was the three-piece bathroom. There was a full adult-sized shower, a porcelain toilet and a sink and vanity.

The_Vanity

Past the bathroom was the bedroom which offered a very comfortable queen sized bed, plenty of closet space and loads of drawers for storage.

The_Bedroom

Before long John, Sybil and Rob were all settled in their new home and it was time for them to discover what makes a Fort Wilderness vacation so much different than staying at any other Disney resort.

It is very difficult to explain how comfortable a Fort Wilderness vacation is . . . it's probably due to the distinct absence of any “hustle and bustle”. No one there is in a hurry, everyone is laid back.

People stroll at Fort Wilderness; they ride bicycles; they take nature walks and they walk their dogs. Total strangers will say hello as they walk past, often they will stop and chat. It's like stepping back 50 years in time to those good old days when we smiled at our neighbours and they smiled back.

The campground is filled with wildlife; there are thousands of squirrels but there's so much more than that to see. The folks in the camp site next to us were from Maine and they spent a great deal of time sitting out in lawn chairs behind their RV. Every day they spotted deer and wild turkeys as they waited to see that hard-to-spot pileated woodpecker we often heard rapping in a nearby tree. As I sat reading under the awning of our RV I often heard, and occasionally saw, the cardinals which were nesting in the palmetto bush just a few feet away.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like being away out in the wild, not by a long shot. There are plenty of activities for all ages at the campground . . . but it's also very easy to just "mellow out" there.

Waiting_for_the_boat

What a treat to wake up in the morning hearing the boat whistles in the background! The boat ride to the Magic Kingdom is a wonderfully scenic way to start your day. And every night you can hear both Wishes and Illuminations - you can even see them through the trees from some camp sites! The Fort Wilderness beach is a terrific spot to watch the Wishes fireworks show as the starbursts reflect off the waters of Bay Lake. The sound track is piped in, so you don't miss a thing! Then at 9:45 every night the Electric Water Pageant sails by.

Even our dogs love Fort Wilderness Resort; they looked forward to their golf cart rides to the off-leash dog park!

Trip_to_the_dog_park

There are so many things we love about Fort Wilderness; I've barely scratched the surface.

Was our rental experience perfect? The 5th wheel trailer was very nice but we did have a little plumbing issue. A call to the company brought an immediate resolution. Rod was there in no time; the issue was fixed and all was working again in just a few hours. He was very easy to work with and very responsive whenever we called or texted him, before our arrival and after. We were really impressed with the service and definitely recommend the company to others.

You might be wondering how John and Sybil enjoyed their stay. We quickly settled into a routine; after breakfast at our individual campers we all hopped in the car and headed to one of the theme parks for a few hours. Lunch was sometimes a quick counter-service meal as we left the park to head home for the afternoon; other times we had sandwiches at the campground. Everyone relaxed for the afternoon. Some of us went to the pool, some to the off-leash dog park, some napped or sat in the sun reading. Ahhh! Nice! Most evenings we returned to one of the parks for dinner and a few more attractions. We had plenty of fun with no “hustle and bustle.”

On the trip home John said, “That was worth every penny we spent. We had a wonderful time!”
Would they do it again? Oh yeah - in a heartbeat.

So if you think you would like to give Disney camping a try, why don't you get busy with that search, rent a camper, book a camp site and make it happen!

December 8, 2013

Our Disney Christmas Village

Gary Cruise banner

Many years ago my sister began creating a monster. She took a liking to Department 56 “Dickens Village” pieces and each year she gave us a new one as a Christmas gift.

The collection grew year by year and soon we had a complete intersection . . . then two . . . so they became part of our Christmas tradition. Each year we put up our Dickens Village for the holidays.

Of course, this sort of thing is right up Carol's alley . . . so she added accessories and her personal artistic touches! When there were so many pieces that they began to disappear, one behind the other, she called on me for help. I built a styrofoam base and styrofoam cutouts which elevate the houses in the back, making them more visible.

Dickens_Village

The Dickens Village comes out each autumn and throughout the holiday season it adorns the top of my roll-top desk.

You can only imagine Carol's glee when she discovered Department 56's North Pole Series. It has some Disney themed houses! She just had to have a few pieces to add to the Dickens Village . . . NO . . . WAIT . . . that doesn't work. Those North Pole pieces just don't work in a Dickens Village.

What to do? How about a second village?

So I started cutting more styrofoam while Carol collected houses and accessories.

Disney_Village

Now we have a Disney Village which takes over our kitchen hutch every fall. Some of the pieces are Department 56 and some she spotted on Disney shelves and couldn't resist!

Look very closely at all the accessories and you'll see plenty of Disney characters enjoying a holiday wonderland.

Disney_Village_1

As you wander through the village from left to right you will pass the M & M's Candy Factory, the Disneyland Fire Station, Mickey's House and Piglet's Treehouse.

Disney_Village_2

Further down the street you will find Geppetto's House, Goofy's House, Cratchit's Cottage and Scrooge McDuck & Marley's Counting House.

Disney_Village_3

The Reindeer Flying School is conveniently located in front of the Reindeer Feed Store and beside Mickey's Ear Factory.

Disney_Village_4

At the end of the block you will find the Mickey Mouse Watch Factory and Mickey's Playhouse which features a miniature version of the “Ear-full Tower”.

Carol spends hours every year, arranging each building just so! Then the accessories are added with thoughtful care . . . there are bridges, fences, trees, garland, lights . . . and of course plenty of Disney figures. She even found a spot for the Grinch and some pink flamingos!

It's quite impressive once it's all finished.

After the holidays, Carol agonizes when it's time to take it down. One year it stayed up until the end of January!

I wonder how long it will stay up this year?

November 15, 2013

The Billies – I’m Sure Going To Miss Them

Gary Cruise banner

I was shocked and very disappointed when I read recently on the Disney Parks Blog that Disneyland was “retiring” Billy Hill & the Hillbillies after a very successful 21 year run. The show - and the players in the show - are all being retired after their last performance on Monday, January 6, 2014.

Carol and I stumbled onto “The Billies” quite by accident during our first visit to Disneyland in 2005. We wandered into the Golden Horseshoe Tavern for a snack and had no idea what was in store for us when the four Billies appeared on stage as we ate. Within seconds we were laughing so hard it was impossible to eat. Our chicken tenders and fries were soggy from all those tears of laughter.

The_Billies

They perform a short, but high-energy show featuring rousing country, rock and bluegrass music combined with corny jokes and hilarious sight gags. It appeals to Disney fans of all ages. WOW " what a treat.

I immediately wondered why there wasn't a similar show at the Diamond Horseshoe Tavern in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

In the years since 2005 we have taken the 2,500 mile flight west to Disneyland another eight times and in our nine Disneyland trips we have never missed The Billies! We try to get there early to get the best seats in the house!

Best_Seats_In_The_House

The cast seems to be comprised of a couple of teams of players who rotate through their schedule of shows, but no matter who is performing, their show always leaves us rolling on the floor - convulsing with laughter.

The_Billies

The_Billies

The_Billies

I suspect that I enjoy The Billies a tiny bit more than Carol . . . but she humors me and sits through the show several times during each of our trips to the west coast. We have seen the boys perform as many as four times in a week-long trip. Yes, I do enjoy them that much!

The_Billies

The_Billies

From the moment in the show where the lead Billy, Kirk Wall, puts in the false set of buck teeth he calls his “pros-TEETH-is” I begin to giggle and I don't stop until long after the show is over. Those teeth transform Billy (Kirk) from a classical violin virtuoso into a redneck lunatic.

Redneck_Lunatic

Redneck_Lunatic

Redneck_Lunatic

Redneck_Lunatic

Billy (Kirk) interacts with the audience in a way which captivates adults and children alike. Everyone in the building is singing, tapping, clapping and laughing.

The_Billies

Over the years we've howled through a Beatles tribute . . .

Beatles_Tribute

Beatles_Tribute

An Elvis tribute . . .

Elvis_Tribute

Elvis_Tribute

Billy (Dennis Fetchet) doing his “train thang” and an almost impossibly fast version of Orange Blossom Special . . .

And a Riverdance spoof they call “Puddle Prance” . . .

Puddle_Prance

Who can forget the awesome performance Kirk Wall and Dennis Fetchet always deliver with their version of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”. Awesome!

Devil_Went_Down_To_Georgia

Devil_Went_Down_To_Georgia_2.jpg

In December 2012 we saw their show at Big Thunder Ranch but the last time we saw them, May 17, 2013, the troupe was back in the Golden Horseshoe. It was good that we saw them “back home” that final time!

Big_Thunder_Ranch

Big_Thunder_Ranch

I understand that the parks need to change things up from time to time - things have to stay current and fresh " but I sure wasn't ready to say goodbye to The Billies. I'm going to miss them a lot! They were one of my major sources of joy at Disneyland and when they are gone they will leave a very large hole in my Disneyland experience.

Gary_with_The_Billies

I cannot make a trip west before the boys “retire”, but if you can make it to Disneyland before January 6th do not miss Billy Hill & the Hillbillies. The guys put on a fantastic show and you will be glad you took the time to see it. If you make it in time, please pass on my personal thanks for all those years of quality entertainment and wish them all the best, wherever they land in the future!

Ladies and gentlemen, The Billies have left the building!

November 10, 2013

Disneyland’s Christmas Overlays

Gary Cruise banner

I was pleased when I recently read on the Disney Parks Blog that there will be a special “Christmas Overlay” at The Jungle Cruise.

They explained it as follows: Beginning in early November, Jungle Cruise at both Disneyland Park and Magic Kingdom Park will temporarily transform into “Jingle Cruise” for the holiday season! In this new seasonal storyline of the attraction, the Skippers have grown homesick for the holidays, so they've added holiday cheer to the Jungle Cruise queue and boathouse with decorations that have been mailed to them from home (plus a few they've created themselves). The Skippers have also added a slew of new jokes to their tours that are the perfect way to get guests in the holiday spirit. Additionally, Jungle Cruise boats have been renamed with the holidays in mind, and if guests listen carefully, they may hear a holiday-themed radio broadcast playing in the background.

Great news! Carol and I will be visiting the Magic Kingdom for a few weeks in November/December and we will be sure to visit this classic old attraction to see the new holiday spin they put on it.

Do you suppose that overlays like those they do in California might follow at Florida attractions in years to come? I sure hope so! We used to really enjoy the Christmas Overlay at Country Bear Jamboree and we were very disappoinited when it was discontinued in 2005.

Carol and I have visited the Disney Parks in California several times during the holiday season and the overlays at It's A Small World and The Haunted Mansion have absolutely blown us away!

These are not just little cosmetic makeovers; each of the attractions is closed for a few weeks while the special holiday treats are added. The results are simply wonderful!

Let me show you what I mean . . . pictures tell the story much better than I can. First, a word about the pictures " some are not the best of quality since they were taken in a dark ride and we didn't use a flash. I never use a flash in a dark ride and I'm always annoyed when others do. ‘Nuff said!

Both Carol and I prefer the Disneyland version of the It's A Small World attraction. You board your boat outside, in front of a three-dimensional façade with stylized cutout turrets, towers and minarets; look closely and you'll see some world landmarks. The 30 foot clock with that big smiling face rocks back and forth and every fifteen minutes colourful wooden dolls parade as the clock announces the time. It is quite captivating every time you approach.

Small_World_Exterior_Daytime

But at Christmas that façade is festooned with thousands of lights and it becomes a holiday wonderland of color. WOW!

Small_World_Exterior_Nightime

The lights put a magical glow on the topiaries you sail past before you enter the interior, but the holiday magic doesn't end there. In each of the rooms there are special holiday displays. Watch very carefully and you will see that some of the dolls are now dressed in holiday costumes. Cutaway snowmen with carrot noses welcome you to the Ho-Ho-Holidays”

Small_World_Ho_Ho_Holidays

There is a mailbox for letters to Santa!

Small_World_Santa_Mail_Box

Banners wish you Joyeuses Fetes, Feliz Navidad, Happy Holidays, Mele Kelikimaka, Happy Hanukah, Peace on Earth and many other holiday greetings.

Small_World_Joyueses_Fetes

Small_World_Happy_Holidays

Small_World_Mele_Kelikmaka

Small_World_Peace_On_Earth

And wait . . . what is that I hear? Are those dolls singing Jingle Bells and Hark the Herald Angels Sing?

Yes they are . . . NICE!

Small_World_Lights

This year It's A Small World was scheduled to close from October 21st through November 7th while the overlay was installed. It will run until early January. If you're there, be sure to visit during the evening, but allow plenty of time. That area of the park is very busy over the holidays!

The Haunted Mansion is one of our absolute favourite attractions and once again, we prefer the California version. We especially enjoy it during October, November and December during the seasonal transformation! The seasonal magic begins as you approach; Jack Skellington is perched on the gate as you enter and hundreds of pumpkins adorn the mansion.

Haunted_Mansion_Jack_On_The_Gate

Haunted_Mansion_Exterior

Haunted_Mansion_Exterior

Once you are in the “Stretching Room” you begin to see some differences . . . in fact nothing is the same. Jack Skellington and his Halloweentown cronies have taken over! Oogie Boogie and a huge cast of creepy spooks wait as you board your Doom Buggy.

Haunted_Mansion_Entrance_with_Oogie_Boogie

Haunted_Mansion_Entry_with_Oogie_Boogie_and_friends

The entire sound track has been modified and everything you have always enjoyed in the mansion is different. It has always been spooky, but during the holidays it's creepy-spooky!

As you leave the library and your Doom Buggy turns to travel backwards your eyes drift upward to find a giant man-eating wreath singing a chilling song!

The attic where Constance Hatchaway, the bride with the hatchet, and her five husbands normally appear has been piled full of frightful gifts. Some are ticking, some are growling, wait . . . did that one just move?

Haunted_Mansion_Gifts

Jack Skellington and Zero have replaced the gravedigger and his dog to welcome you to the graveyard!

Haunted_Mansion_Jack_and_Zero
(Confession - I used a flash for this picture " the ride was shut down, the lights were on and we were being walked out)

Those singing busts in the cemetery have a new, even more sinister look!

Haunted_Mansion_Singing_Busts

Are those angels blowing their trumpets? I think not!

Haunted_Mansion_Trumpets

There are no hitchhiking ghosts as you exit, instead Oogie Boogie spins a wheel which assigns you a trick or a treat . . . but don't be expecting any treats as you round that last corner.

Haunted_Mansion_Oogie_Boogie

What a joy! Carol and I are both fans of Nightmare Before Christmas and it is a real pleasure to see two of our favourites combined this way! We ride it again and again!

It's A Small World and The Haunted Mansion in California have been overlaid for the holidays for the last 16 years and 12 years respectively. I sure hope that the recent announcement about The Jungle Cruise means we might be getting more seasonal overlays in Florida sometime in the near future!

October 27, 2013

People You Meet In Line

Gary Cruise banner

One thing you can count on at Walt Disney World or at Disneyland . . . you will spend plenty of time in lines.

The Imagineers do a terrific job designing the queues; they build in plenty of things to grab your attention and keep you occupied while you wait. Think of your time in line at Toy Story Midway Mania. Have you heard someone say, “I had the Candyland game when I was a kid.” or, “I had a ViewMaster.”

Toy_Story_Decor

Toy_Story_Decor

Have you read all the barrels and signs in the queue at The Jungle Cruise?

Jungle_Cruise_Sign

Jungle_Cruise_Sign

Have you examined all the crates, steamer trunks and suitcases in the pre-show room at MuppetVision 3D?

MuppetVision_Decor

MuppetVision_Decor

But after twenty or thirty times through the line you have probably seen it all . . . what do you do now? I tend to fill my wait time talking with my neighbours. I'm a chatterbox and I find it easy to talk with fellow Disney fans. That's another good thing about those lines " they are full of people who share my Disney mania. They're usually very easy to chat with.

While yakking with folks in line we've been able to give a number of people some helpful hints " and we've received some great suggestions too. I remember a couple waiting in line at Toy Story Midway Mania. Their son, four or five years old, didn't want to be there. He didn't want to ride . . . and he was making quite a fuss about it. I leaned down and asked him, “Do you like video games?” Naturally he did, so I told him that he was lined up to go through a giant video game. The car he was going to ride in had a gun and he could shoot all kinds of stuff. Wow, did that change his attitude - he was suddenly eager to ride!

We have given some surplus FastPasses to the folks next to us and we've received some FastPasses too. Sometimes we just keep bumping into the same people again and again. The folks I chatted with yesterday at the Magic Kingdom just might turn up across the aisle from us at lunch in EPCOT today. Occasionally we encounter people so often that we begin making jokes about it!

Carol was in line at the annual EPCOT Trading Event last September when the fellow behind her struck up a conversation. He asked, “Do you write the Pin Trading blogs for AllEars.net?” When she nodded and said yes he replied, “You're the reason I'm here!” He was from England, had read her blogs about previous events and felt he just had to cross the Atlantic to check it out.

Often it really is a small world!

We have even struck up some lasting friendships in line. A few years ago, it was my birthday May 1st 2010, we were at EPCOT waiting in line for Soarin'. When we reached the load area I told the cast member, “We'd like to ride in row B1.” (You end up in the middle, on top, with no feet dangling in front of you.) The cast member said, “Wait with that couple over there and I'll get you all on the next ride.” So we joined another couple along the back wall. I nodded to the man and said, “You obviously know the best row to ride.” He grinned and said, “Yes, we love Soarin' and B1 is the best seat in the house.” One thing led to another and before long he asked, “Where are you staying?” When he heard we were at Fort Wilderness in our RV his reaction was immediate, “We have to talk! I'm planning to retire within the next year and we've been talking about travelling in a motor home.”

After the ride we all went to Sunshine Seasons and spent 45 minutes chatting over coffee. Al and Jane, from a suburb of Kansas City Missouri, had all sorts of questions and we answered all that we could. We exchanged names and e-mail addresses and urged them to come and tour the campground.

A few days later they pulled up to our campsite in a golf cart. They were touring Fort Wilderness and they really liked what they were seeing!

Once we got home the e-mails started coming - fast and furious. Al and Jane were serious about this RV purchase and they were full of questions. How do the utility hook-ups work? What kind of GPS do we use? Does your motor home have a washer/dryer? How do you like this floorplan? Etc., etc., etc. We e-mailed back and forth for almost a year. It was really a lot of fun helping them spend a bundle of money!

After what seemed like a hundred e-mails they had decided on their “dream machine”, a brand new 37 foot 2011 Winnebago Itasca Suncruiser. They call him Alf and he's a beauty!

Alf's maiden voyage was in April 2011; Al and Jane loaded up their two cocker spaniels, Nico and Smudge and struck out for Fort Wilderness! The dogs pronounced the experience a howling success and they have now enjoyed six leisurely vacations at “The Fort”.

Alf_and_the_dogs

Carol and I have been camped within a few campsites of Al and Jane on three of those six occasions and we are looking forward to seeing them again in December 2013.

Nico_and_Smudge

We enjoy hanging out with them. We've spent time walking dogs with them; we've shared a few meals and lots of laughs with them. The ladies even shop for each other . . . Jane has scored some great pins and Sorcerer cards for Carol!

When we aren't there at the same time as Al and Jane, we always follow along on their blog site. A nice friendship has developed. You can find their blog here.

You often meet some of the nicest people in line, if you take the time to say hello. So the next time you find yourself standing in line, just a trifle bored, say “Hi” to someone.

You might be pleasantly surprised at what develops.


October 13, 2013

The Cabins at Fort Wilderness

Gary Cruise banner

If you have read some of my previous blogs, you will know that Carol and I are huge fans of Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. We just love spending time there in our RV . . . but I've often wondered what it would be like staying in one of the cabins. Carol stayed there many years ago, but I've never had the pleasure.

I follow a couple of online communities which are focused on camping at “The Fort” and I was delighted to read a trip report posted by Shelly E. from Minnesota. She and her family took their first trip to Walt Disney World last year and stayed in the cabins. I strongly suspect that there will be many more trips to Fort Wilderness in Shelly's future.

Here's how Shelly described the experience in her trip report:

This was our family's first trip to Walt Disney World. Actually it was our family's first and only trip ANYWHERE for more than two nights in all our time together as a family! It was February of 2012- we chose to stay in the cabins because with six of us it seemed the cheapest way to go. At that time we had NO idea how much we would fall in love with the Fort. This first picture is arriving at the Fort . . .

Arrival

Here is another . . .

Check-in

The kids totally fell in love with the pool (of course!) . . .

The_Pool

The_water_slide

We did the penny machines in front of Pioneer Hall and the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue!

Penny_Machine

Hoop-Dee-Doo_3.jpg

Hoop-Dee-Doo_2.jpg

We had no idea what to expect when we made our reservations. We made them there simply because we wanted to qualify for free dining, and it was one of the few ways we could all stay in one room. After staying there for 10 days, we completely fell in love with the Fort.

There is just something special about it there. I think for every family, it's probably different things that make it special. For us, I'll tell you what some of the things were.

Getting up in the morning and being surrounded by nature. Beautiful trees all around us, chipmunks, little lizards, birds, sunshine, flowers and most of all peacefulness. There is so much peacefulness at the Fort. Driving a golf cart to the laundry facility, passing people who are out walking dogs or biking - everyone is friendly and happy to be there. It's just such a "welcome home" kind of feeling.

Fort_Wilderness_flowers
The gardens at "The Outpost" (check-in) are designed to attract butterflies.

The boat ride to the Magic Kingdom is simply amazing. We never got tired of it! Compared to riding a bus, the boat is magic in itself.

Being able to sit on the beach at night, with not too many people around, and watch the Wishes fireworks and the Electrical Water Pageant. I know so many people say there's nothing like watching it from Main Street, but I feel there is nothing like watching it from a beautiful sandy beach, laying in a lounge chair, holding your husband's hand in the quiet of the moonlit night, watching and listening to the magic all around us.

Being able to walk in the barns, and actually see the working horses at Disney in their home environment - it was so cool! Of course, we own a horse boarding and training facility in Minnesota, so this was right up our alley! But even for others, this seemed like a beautiful and interesting place to visit.

At_the_horse_barns

Those are just a few of the things.

The cabins themselves were wonderful - we loved them! The kids all slept in the back bedroom, and we had the pull down bed, which we both thought was REALLY comfortable. It's not super big, but it was soft and nice! The dishes were clean, the housekeeping was wonderful, and it was just nice to be able to come back each day to a place that felt like a "home" and not just a "room".

Cabin_exterior

Cabin_interior

Towel_Art_from_Mousekeeping
The kids couldn't wait to get back each day to see what Arnold (our Mousekeeper) had created.

A reader from the United Kingdom who is planning to stay in the cabins posted a few questions. She asking if Shelly's family had rented a golf cart and whether there were good places to eat at Fort Wilderness. Here is Shelly's reply:

We are a family of six. My husband, myself and two sets of twins ages eight and eleven. For us, having a golf cart was wonderful. We used it each time we went to Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom or Downtown Disney. We took the golf cart up to the area where all the buses come for the other parks, and then later on it was waiting for us when we came back.

At_the_Bus_Stop

It saved a lot of time waiting for the internal buses, which is nice when you have younger kids. We also used the golf cart when we went to the pools or the campfire sing-a-long and movie. It was especially handy when it was time to do laundry. And this year when we go at Christmas, we are actually renting TWO golf carts, just because our kids are a little bigger, and instead of a 6-seater, we reserved two 4-seaters. It will allow us a little more freedom; we won't all have to be ready at the same time to go anywhere. And we're really excited about just exploring the whole Fort - we didn't have enough time to do that our first trip.

As for eating - we were VERY lucky in having free dining and we tried so many wonderful restaurants all over the parks. But there were a few times we did eat at the Fort - we got pizza once and ate it down by the lake - there were tables set up down there. I think they were actually on part of the dock, but I could be wrong. We got chicken there once too, and they had some other choices there, but we didn't get a chance to try a lot of them. There seemed to be enough things that everyone should be able to have a nice meal there. And we actually had a few things at the Meadows Pool snack bar - they had a chicken sandwich there that was really good! There were a few other sandwiches that I thought sounded good too! Another thing I remember about eating at either place was the people working there; they were always so NICE!! Sometimes, to me, that's more important than how big or how many choices a place has.

Since returning home the family's love of Fort Wilderness has not diminished a bit. In fact, they bought a motor home and will be driving "The Beast" over 1,700 miles, arriving at The Fort December 22, 2013 to spend a magical family Christmas in their new favourite place. Then they drive another 1,700 miles home! WOW!

The_New_Motor_Home

How about you? If you're looking for an economical vacation option and a very laid back, rustic, homey environment " the cabins at Fort Wilderness might be for you.

You can find more details about Fort Wilderness cabins and plenty of pictures from the campground here.

September 15, 2013

Fondest Disney Memories

Gary Cruise banner

Whenever I hear the word “Disney” I get a comfy, warm feeling. I have so many memories of wonderful times at the parks that the mere mention of “the D word” evokes a smile.

What is the best memory? My fondest memory? Wow " that's a tough question. It took me quite a while to filter through all those wonderful trips I have enjoyed over the last 36 years. Each and every trip has unique memories . . . but I finally settled on my favourite. The one I'll always cherish " it was my first trip " October 1977. My children, Michelle and Stephen, were 6 and 5 years old and we were all in awe as we enjoyed the magic of Disney that very first time. The kids really liked The Astro Orbiter " we rode it again and again; probably a half dozen times. How could I ever forget smiles like the one Steve had in the picture below?

Steve_on_Astro_Orbiter

My second best? November 1999 " my first trip to Walt Disney World with Carol. I hadn't been there in about 13 years but Carol was a seasoned veteran. She whisked me around and introduced me to three Disney parks I had never seen before. That was when she converted me from a Disney Fan to a Disney Fanatic!

Carol's favourite memory? After 48 trips to Walt Disney World she cannot narrow it down to just one . . . there are just so many special memories.

Carol's father John's fondest memory? I didn't actually ask him, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess. I am reasonably sure it was in November 2000, when he saw the MuppetVision 3D movie for the first time. John giggled through the entire show. Thirteen years and about eight trips later . . . he still chuckles the whole time!

MuppetVision_3D.jpg

Jeff from Florida, New York shared his fondest memory: On our September 2006 trip, we experienced some Disney Magic. It started when I couldn't find our reservations for our two character meals. When I called Disney Dining to confirm and get the numbers for the ADR's the Cast Member asked, “So how are things in Paramus?” I was dumfounded, I hadn't even given him my name! I grew up and worked in Paramus, NJ and when we moved to NY State, I had my old home phone number transferred to my cell phone, which I was calling from. He explained that he also grew up in Bergen County NJ, a few towns from Paramus and recognized the phone exchange. We chatted a bit about “home” and I got the needed info. Later that day we headed to 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian for our dinner at Cinderella's Gala character dinner. We arrived before the doors to the dining room opened and checked in. While we were waiting in the foyer, a cast member approached our daughter Isabel and asked her if she would like to help Cinderella and Prince Charming open the restaurant and start the Gala. When she said yes (and we approved) the Cast Member asked her name and where she was from. We were so surprised. Five to ten minutes later, Cinderella and the Prince entered the waiting area and approached Isabel. As the crowd gathered around they each took one of Isabel's arms. At this point a Cast Member took out a scroll and announced to the crowd that “Princess Isabel of the Kingdom of New York” would be assisting Cinderella & Prince Charming in opening the restaurant. Their highnesses escorted her to the door which had a Red Ribbon beautifully tied around it's handles and asked Isabel to pull the ribbon to untie the doors. Then they escorted her, still arm in arm, to our table and posed for pictures and autographs. Now that's Disney Magic! To this day I am convinced that Isabel being chosen for the “Royal Treatment” was arranged by the Dining Cast Member I had spoken to earlier in the day, which makes it even more magical.

Kameo from El Mirage Arizona says: There are so many wonderful memories. I think my fondest dates back to my first trip. It was a year or so after my husband and I got married. We stayed at the All Star Sports and had a blast! When we first arrived, we were welcomed by the cast members at the hotel like family. We had a towel shaped Mickey waiting in our room to welcome us. I had no idea how big Disney World was; we had only been to Disneyland. The first time we stepped through the gates at Magic Kingdom, it was overwhelming and I was in sensory overload. Wow! That castle is huge! We grabbed a park map, which we never do at Disneyland. I have to say it was somewhat difficult to orient myself with Magic Kingdom, I kept mentally going to Disneyland. There's no New Orleans Square, there's no Critter Country, and what is this Liberty Square? It was so much fun though, I'll never forget it.

As always, different things make a big impression on different people. Fortunately there is a never-ending supply of great Disney memories and there's always a new one waiting around the corner.

What is your fondest Disney memory?

September 8, 2013

The Disney Room

Gary Cruise banner

Do you have a Disney Room?

I think every Disney fan should have one. If you are an obsessive Disney collector, like Carol, a Disney Room is imperative!

When Carol and I first started dating she proudly showed me a small cabinet containing her collection of Disney music boxes. They were displayed in a bookcase, about three shelves, with glass doors. Nice! She also showed me her Disney themed Collector Plates and some very nice porcelain Mickey Mouse Figurines.

Little did I realize that I was just seeing the tip of the iceberg that the “Disney collection” would become!

Over the years we took quite a few trips to our Happy Place . . . and the collection grew. There were Disney Classic Collection figurines, Jim Shore pieces, plush toys, snow globes, boxed sets of Disney Pins, and so much more.

Carol combed the nearby thrift shops and garage sales, always on the look-out for new Disney treasures. And, of course, each year we made at least one trip to Walt Disney World, home to all those wonderful stores!

By 2004 things began to look a bit cluttered! What could we do? We (she) decided that my nifty little office and den in the basement, my “man cave”, would make a terrific Disney Room. We could concentrate the collection in one area and organize it. I began to put up more shelving and she began arranging her treasures.

I must admit that I enjoyed the end result!

Gary's_workstation
Gary's workstation - 2004

Carol's_craft_table
Carol's craft table - 2004

Figurines

Snow_globes

By 2006 both Carol and I had retired. The good news " we could head south several times a year! The bad news " more shopping! With all those trips to Walt Disney World and Disneyland, plus a few Disney cruises, her Disney collection kept growing at an astonishing rate! Our Disney Room was becoming a bit cluttered.

Fortunately, shortly after retiring, we moved to Carol's home town where we had a new home built. It wasn't long before I was at work in the basement. Our elevated bungalow has big, bright windows in the basement and within a few months our brand new Disney Room was done! We had 650 square feet " that should be enough to showcase our collection beautifully! Soon it was furnished and all those cartons full of Disney treasures were unpacked. Carol was a happy collector!

The_Disney_Room

Disney_collectibles

The_Disney_Room

Wow . . . in 2007 we were thrilled to have all that space . . . it should last us forever! But of course seven years have gone by since the Disney Room was finished . . . and we have taken 24 Disney vacations in those seven years! The room is full!

Vinylmations
A shadowbox full of Vinylmations

More_Vinylmations
More Vinylmations

I've added plate rails so the plates could be relocated - this freed up some wall space for new prints by Larry Dotson and Ducky Williams.

The_Disney_Room

Halloweentown
Halloweentown

Pooh_Corner.jpg
Pooh Corner

A_bookcase_full_of_Disneyana
A bookcase full of Disneyana

A_bookcase_crowned_with_antenna_toppers
Two bookcases crowned with antenna toppers

More_Disneyana

More_Disneyana

Try as we might though, we just can't make it all fit . . . the Animation cels have spilled out to the walls of the Family Room. The Disney Classic Collection pieces and the Jim Shore figures are in curio cabinets in the Living Room.

Animation_cels

Disney_Classics_and_Jim_Shore

We are running out of space . . . and there's no room to expand! Looks like we'll just have to get more creative in the way we display things!

How about you? Do you have a Disney Room? How do you display your Disney treasures?



August 25, 2013

It’s All In How You See It

Gary Cruise banner

It's an odd quirk of human nature that we can all look at exactly the same thing yet we might actually see something totally different. Our experiences and our memories shape our perceptions in some very different ways!

Here's an example " that park bench with the Goofy statue in Magic Kingdom's Town Square. I used to sit in the rocking chairs behind that bench. Families would come along and sit to pose for pictures with Goofy while I sat unnoticed in the background making funny faces. So when you look at that bench you might visualize a loved one sitting there. When I see it I imagine people getting home, looking at their photographs and saying, “Who is that goofy guy in the back?”

Another example . . . our son Steve came back from Walt Disney World a few years ago after a vacation there with his young family. He lamented their wait for Peter Pan's Flight . . . “I can't believe we had to stand in line 90 minutes for such a lame ride.” So when he looks at the Peter Pan sign he sees a “tired old ride”. And in some ways he's right " Peter Pan's Flight pales in comparison to today's newer and often interactive rides like Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin and Toy Story Midway Mania " but to me it's a classic. It's a ride Carol and I seldom miss (but we always get a FastPass).

Peter_Pan_sign

When I look at that Peter Pan's Flight sign I see something totally different; I see my son Steve as a five year old, sitting beside me in 1977, eyes filled with wonder and a smile a mile wide, as we both rode Peter Pan's Flight for the very first time. I hope they never change it!

Lou, a Walt Disney World Cast Member read my recent AllEars.net blog about the Electrical Water Pageant and started a thread on a popular Disney Camping forum which I visit regularly. He titled it “Oh no, a EWP Blog” and said: “I'm just tired of it, and here's why. When I was a front office Cast Member at a couple of Magic Kingdom resorts, I would see it or hear it every night. After a few hundred times, it gets a little old. After having experienced it so many times, you start noticing its weakness, and there are many. The main one being that it's unchanged for as long as I've seen it, which to me, comes across as it being hokey and amateurish.”

Stars_and_Flags

Dave from Tennessee, a frequent camper at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, responded to that same Electrical Water Pageant thread: “The EWP is simply magical to me. Especially hearing the music on our first night at the Fort, when I'm usually tired from the drive and relaxing or even in bed by the time it starts. Hearing that music fire up makes me smile. Although, I remember vividly our first trip to the Fort with our girls in March 2007, which was the first time I had camped there in 30 years. We were in the 500 loop and had had a very tiring trip, so all of us were in bed by 9:30. It was chilly and no need for A/C, so the windows in the motor home were open. INC and I were laying in bed and it was very quiet, and then all of a sudden the EWP music started. As you know it can be quite loud in the loops closest to the marina. We both said "What the heck is that?" Had no idea at that point. We still laugh about that.”

Hmmmm . . . strange how different our perspectives can be!

Some other AllEars readers shared a few of their favorite Disney sights with me. Do you see the same thing or feel the same thing when you look at these familiar scenes?

From Kameo C of El Mirage, AZ: My favorite sight at Walt Disney World is when you are at the Ticket and Transportation Centre walking down the ramp to take a ferry to Magic Kingdom. Seeing the train station and Cinderella Castle across the water, it's amazing. Walt Disney World is an escape, a magic place where all of your normal worries are left behind and you can focus on being a family or a couple. It is like walking in a dream. Wishes come true there.

From Allison J. of Deland FL: I think my favourite sight at Disney is the front entrance of the Magic Kingdom when it is decorated for autumn. I'm pretty sure Disney is the only place in Florida that can make it feel like it's fall. Even in 90 degree weather, the Disney autumn decorations just put you in the mood for sweaters and hot chocolate, football games and bonfires . . . all those quintessential autumn activities that we don't really get to experience here.

From Hilary S. of St. Louis, MO: My favourite sight at WDW has to be the Magic Kingdom at night from the California Grill. It is just gorgeous and I feel so relaxed and carefree admiring it with a glass of wine and good company. It was almost a tie -- another favourite is Spaceship Earth. My first glimpse of that always make me smile, take a deep breath and think "I'm here"!

From Cheryl J. of Mechanicsville, VA: The Partners statue is my favourite sight at Disney. It reminds me of holding my children's hands and looking bravely into the unknown. It makes me want to cry every time I see it.

Walt Disney World is packed full of many different and unique lands and attractions; there is a never ending variety of sights and scenes for each of us to enjoy. Both the old and the new . . . they are all “magical” to me and they are among the many reasons why I keep coming back “home”.

I am sure that you and I could stand side by side looking at any Disney scene and see something quite different from each other . . . after the scene is filtered through our unique memories and experiences. I find it fascinating when I hear how differently people feel after looking at exactly the same thing.

What's your favourite sight or scene at Walt Disney World? What memories and emotions does it stir in you? Why is it so special for you?

August 4, 2013

Disney Rituals

Gary Cruise banner

When Carol and I visit Walt Disney World there are plenty of little rituals during the trip, quirky things which add to the fantasy and add to our enjoyment!

If we are travelling south in our motor home we are always vigilant, looking to spot our first palm tree " a sign that we are truly in the south. We always stop at the Florida Welcome Centre for a complimentary orange juice, a taste of Florida sunshine. One day we arrived very early and we were so disappointed to discover that they don't open until 8:00 a.m.

We try to arrive at Fort Wilderness before noon. This allows us to register before the 1:00 p.m. check-in time and then head to Downtown Disney for lunch at Earl of Sandwich. Yum! Usually our camp site is ready by the time lunch is over. Little things like this are all part of the magic we experience every trip.

The most meaningful ritual for us, the time the magic truly begins, is when we take that first walk down Main Street USA. Carol normally likes to shop her way along one side of the street as we enter the park, and then shop the other side as we leave. But on our first visit to the Magic Kingdom it's always different. There's no shopping. We take a slow walk right down the middle of the street, just soaking up the sights and sounds. The flags in Town Square, the vendors with all those balloons, the clang clang of the trolley, the turn of the century architecture, the store windows, the aroma from the Bakery, the smell of Casey's hot dogs and so much more. It's sensory overload for us. By the time we get to the Partners statue, with Cinderella Castle in the background, we have left reality behind. We are in our happy place!

Our_Happy_Place

Those are just a few of our rituals . . .

A few weeks ago I sent an e-mail, posing several questions, to a number of people who have commented on my previous AllEars blogs and to people who have added comments to the guest book on our personal blog site. One of the questions was, “Do you have a Disney ritual or tradition?”

There were some very interesting responses. Here are a few:

From Penny W. of Vermont: When I first arrive, I always go to the Magic Kingdom first. Just that walk down Main Street gets me in the magical mood. I must do Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Tiki Room (I love the rainstorm) and have a Dole Whip. There . . . now I can enjoy the rest of my trip.

From Pam T. of Lansdale, PA: When we get into Magic Kingdom, on the first day we arrive, we head straight back to It's a Small World as our first ride, every time we go. Of course, Mommy has to stop crying for us to get on the ride! I cry every time we see Cinderella Castle when we first get there, I start bawling like those old videos of when people would see Elvis for the first time!

From Kelley G. of Staunton VA: Our first ritual really begins before we even cross onto WDW property! When we can see the archway that goes over the highway that welcomes us to Disney, we start a countdown. It gets louder and louder . . . 10, 9, 8 . . . until we are under the sign and then the screaming begins!

Begin_the_countdown

My husband just closes his ears as we scream and laugh!

We camp at Fort Wilderness with an occasional stay at a hotel on-property. When we camp it is our tradition to get pizza that first night and then head to the beach and watch the water parade. Just a good way to wind down after a travel day and setting up camp.

From Allison J. of Deland FL: I think the closest thing we have that is a tradition is getting a "Mickey Ice Cream" a.k.a. a Mickey Premium Bar. The funny thing is, my happy memory tied to this ice cream really doesn't have anything to do with the theme parks. I grew up in Virginia and I remember one summer when my Mom bought a box of ice cream bars shaped like Mickey. They were vanilla ice cream with chocolate ice cream making up the ears, eyes, and mouth, so they were not even the traditional Mickey Bars that they sell in the parks now. Even so, getting a Mickey Ice Cream in the parks always takes me back to that summer - running around in the backyard with my friends, catching fireflies when the sun went down . . . all those small little childhood memories that, looking back, mean even more than they did in the moment. I guess it makes sense - Disney makes you feel like a kid again, it seems fitting to have a snack that makes me feel the same way.

From Kameo C. of El Mirage AZ: When we go to Walt Disney World, our tradition is ALWAYS to go see fireworks at Magic Kingdom the first night. They always put us in the Disney spirit and we never miss them. There is something so magical about hearing those amazing songs we grew up with and seeing Tinker Bell soar high across the sky. There is nothing in this world like it! We have teenagers so magic can sometimes be limited in their eyes but Walt Disney World helps bring out the joy and spirit they had as children and now mask.

From Jeff B. of Florida NY: We have a little ritual that we've done the past four trips to Walt Disney World in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2012. It's something that started out just as a nice picture in 2006 when my daughter, Isabel, 7 years old at the time, and I posed for a picture in front of the sign at the Carousel of Progress.

Jeff_and_Isabel_2006

When we returned in 2009, I had my wife take a picture of Isabel and I in the same place.

Jeff_and_Isabel_2009

In 2010, as we neared the end of our vacation it dawned on us we hadn't taken this visit's picture. We made a special trip to the Magic Kingdom just to take the shot so in 2012 we made sure we took the picture the first time we were in Tomorrowland.

Jeff_and_Isabel_2010

Jeff_and_Isabel_2012

Having my wife take this picture of our daughter and me is special to us since I'm usually the one taking the pictures, so . . . it's great to watch her grow up through the trips/years (though seeing less of my hair is no fun!). It's a shame that Disney stopped putting the year on the Carousel sign " it definitely added to the pictures.

Jeff's story reminded me of our good friend Dave C. from Green Island, NY (some of you know him as Tagrel) who has a similar ritual: Here's the story in Dave's words: We started taking a special series of pictures completely by accident with our daughter Brinn. After returning from our first two trips (1998 & 2000) I found I had taken two pictures of Brinn in the same place and pose. Now a SMART Disney fan would have chosen a Disney icon for this, but luckily that little green Rainforest Café frog has been there every year waiting for us! In 2001 our second daughter Maddy became part of the ritual. Every year we would pose in front of that Rainforest Café frog - it's been a great tradition. It just so happens that when Gary asked me about the pictures, the girls were at Disney for a couple weeks and took this year's picture - sadly - without me. But I was definitely there in spirit and very glad the tradition lives on.

Dave_and_Brinn_1998
Dave and Brinn - 1998

Dave_and_Maddy_2001
Dave and Maddy - 2001

Dave_and_Brinn_2005
Dave and Brinn 2005

Dave_and_Maddy_2006
Dave and Maddy 2006

Dave_and_Maddy_2010
Dave and Maddy 2010

Dave_and_Brinn_2011
Dave and Brinn 2011

Brinn_2013
Brinn 2013

Maddy_2013
Maddy 2013

From Hilary S. of St. Louis, MO: I have a few Walt Disney World traditions, most of which I do every single time I am there. The most near and dear to my heart is to stop for just a moment outside the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, preferably after dark, and take it all in. When I graduated high school in 1991, my parents asked where I wanted to go that summer. I immediately said Walt Disney World, we'd been twice before but had never stayed onsite and had never tried to do it all. Well, this trip we did -- and more! We stayed at the Disney Inn and loved it. I'm so glad we got to experience it before it became Shades of Green. Especially my Dad and I, we were just in awe and loved every minute of our time at Walt Disney World. I specifically remember standing next to him outside the MK one night and just being totally and completely happy. I have never forgotten that moment. Dad passed away unexpectedly in 2005 and every single time I'm there I recreate the moment and think of him. It makes me appreciate the magic that is Walt Disney World, makes me feel connected to Dad and makes me so thankful for our wonderful relationship.

Those are just a few highlights from the e-mails I received. It seems to me that we all have unique little rituals that play out when we arrive at our happy place . . . traditions that have a very special meaning to us and our families. But in spite of the wide diversity in our individual rituals, they all have one thing in common. Each and every one of these rituals makes our vacations memorable and magical. Just as Walt would have wanted it!

What is your Disney ritual?

July 22, 2013

Disney’s Oldest Parade - Electrical Water Pageant

Gary Cruise banner

Walt Disney World has plenty of parades. The Magic Kingdom currently has the “Celebrate A Dream Come True” parade every afternoon at 3:00 and the “Main Street Electrical Parade” at 9:00 and 11:00. Disney's Animal Kingdom features the “Jammin' Jungle Parade” at 3:45

Over the years there have been many themed parades at each of the Disney parks but the undisputed grand-daddy of all parades is the Electrical Water Pageant which sails the waters of Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon. It has been running every night (weather permitting) since October 26, 1971. There have been a few subtle changes over the past 42 years, but it is still as captivating as it was the first time I watched it in 1977.

One of our favourite ways to end our day at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground is to head to the beach and watch the nightly performance of the Electrical Water Pageant.

We try to arrive a bit early, find a comfy seat on the patio beside the marina and wait until those tell-tale green lights begin to appear. The 14 barges which provide the show run very quietly. They are nearly invisible, with only their running lights to reveal their approach. Then once they are in position the show begins with a fanfare of techno music and all those wonderful lights reflecting off Bay Lake.

The first four barges all light up their 40 foot long and 25 foot high displays at once and portray the image of a sea serpent accompanied by "Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You Too)" from Pete's Dragon.

Sea_Serpent

Soon the next float comes alive with the image of a spouting whale as you listen to "Whale of a Tale" from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Whale_and_Turtle

Floats six and seven feature a turtle bobbing its head under water and an octopus, also accompanied by lively music generated by the 800 watt sound system.

Soon the first three floats in the second string light up to reveal three jumping dolphins, followed in turn by a Brachiosaurus, a crocodile, four seahorses and finally King Triton. By the time all 14 floats are illuminated there are over 50,000 lights involved in the animated panorama. WOW!

Dolphins

King_Triton

Then, just when you think it's all over, the grand finale begins. It's an inspirational salute to America, with Flags and Stars set to a patriotic musical medley of God Bless America, Yankee Doodle, and You're a Grand Old Flag.

Stars_and_Flags

You don't even have to spend money on park admission to enjoy the Electrical Water Pageant.

It sails past the beach at every Disney resort on Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon. The normal schedule is:
• 9:00 p.m. - Polynesian Resort
• 9:15 p.m. - Grand Floridian
• 9:35 p.m. - Wilderness Lodge
• 9:45 p.m. - Fort Wilderness
• 10:05 p.m. - Contemporary Resort
• 10:20 p.m. - Magic Kingdom (only when MK is open past 10:00 p.m.)

The Electrical Water Pageant is an often overlooked feature at Walt Disney World and it truly is a hidden gem. Plan to watch it from the beach at one of the resorts soon. With a little planning you might even see the Wishes fireworks spectacular reflecting off the water before or after the pageant. Check with Guest Services at your resort to confirm exact show times.

If you watch it from the Polynesian Resort I recommend a stop at Captain Cook's on the way. Pick up a cool Dole Whip to enjoy as you sit on the beach enjoying the show. If you watch from Fort Wilderness, take a look around, you may just see Carol and I on the patio beside the marina!

July 6, 2013

Dayton Disneyana - 2013

Gary Cruise banner

A few of our Canadian pin-trader friends have attended Dayton Disneyana several times and they always describe it in glowing detail. It has always sounded like something Carol would really enjoy; so for several years we have hoped to head to Dayton for this annual event. Alas, too many other things always seemed to intervene. This year we decided early that nothing else should stand in our way.

The Dayton "Plane Crazy" Chapter of the Disneyana Fan Club, who host the event annually, describe it as “a Show & Sale of Disneyana Collectibles and Disney Pin Trading Event” but it is actually much more than that. It's more like a convention for Disney fans!

This year's event included two well known speakers; 1) Jim Hill, an award-winning entertainment writer from Boston who written extensively about The Walt Disney Company. 2) Jim Korkis, an internationally respected Disney historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for over three decades.

Carol and our son Rob both delight in scouring Thrift Shops, Flea Markets, Second Hand Stores and Garage Sales for Disney treasures and they had been looking forward to this trip for months.

I don't share their mania for collectibles, but I'd been hoping for a somewhat different outcome. You see, my sweet, wonderful and loving wife would be celebrating her birthday just a few days after the event. I had been hoping that she could point to an item sometime over the weekend and say, “That's it " that's exactly what I want for my birthday.” Actually, there was no doubt in my mind that that particular scene would play out . . . I only wondered how many times it would happen.

We live about two hours east of Toronto, almost exactly mid-way between Toronto and Montreal. The trip to the Wyndham Garden Hotel at Miamisburg Ohio, just south of Dayton, is 606 miles. We would be on the road for at least 9 ½ hours, plus any time we needed for fuel and rest breaks so an early start was mandatory!

Friday June 28, 2013
We were up at zero-dark-thirty and pulled away from home at 5:52 a.m., eight minutes ahead of schedule!

We crossed the Ambassador Bridge from Windsor Ontario into Detroit Michigan at 12:10 p.m. and headed south on Interstate 75.

Ohio_State_Line

At about 12:50 we crossed the Ohio State line and Carol shouted out, “Holy Toledo, I haven't been shopping yet!” We stopped in Toledo and had a quick bite of lunch before Carol and Rob invaded the Disney Store. I waited in the car and read for about a half hour before they returned. We resumed our southward trek on I-75.

We pulled off at Exit 44 in Miamisburg Ohio at 5:30. Aside from a few heavy rain showers the trip was uneventful. We had no traffic troubles.

After stretching our legs for a bit, we unpacked and settled in to our home for the next two nights. Rob's room is just across the courtyard from ours. Soon we hopped back in the car to head out for dinner. We were back “home” by 8:45 and Carol spent some time visiting with friends Susan and Carrie while the chauffeur took a soothing dip in the "not-hot but merely tepid" tub. Aaahh! Even though it was only moderately warm it still felt good. There were no pin traders trading in the lobby so before long Carol joined me for a soak. At about 10:00 we headed back to the room where we read and played on the computer for a while before bed.

Saturday June 29, 2013
The downside to that whole “Early to bed, early to rise” thing is the early rising part. Carol and I were both wide awake before 7:00 a.m. We sat around and wasted an hour before calling friends Susan and Carrie. They met us for breakfast in the hotel at about 8:15.

On the way back to our rooms we picked up tickets for the event which opened at 10:00 a.m. Some people had prepaid an “Early Bird Fee” of $15.00 and were allowed to enter the ballroom at 8:30 and enjoy 90 minutes of shopping before the rest of us were admitted.

Cutting_the_Ribbon

At 10:00 the president of the Dayton Chapter of the Disneyana Fan Club cut the ribbon to officially open the show and we rushed through the door and into the ballroom. As we filed in our friend Gabe, who took advantage of early entry, marched out with a huge smile and several large bags! He was obviously a happy collector!

Carol and Rob just didn't know where to start! They were in some sort of Disney heaven and they had difficulty figuring out how to attack the huge mound of treasure facing them.

I wandered up and down the aisles taking pictures of the wide array of Disney merchandise and collectibles. There really was everything from soup to nuts. Wow!

Carol_is_overwhelmed

There were plates and spoons, cups and glasses, clocks and watches. There were comic books, magazines, coloring books, toys, framed pictures, cels, figurines, games and collectibles in varieties too many to mention.

Merchandise

More_Merchandise

A_Goofy_Telephone

Books_and_magazines

Naturally there were pins and vinylmations!

There were movies and movie posters, VHS and DVD videos, LP's, CD's and video games.

A_pin_board

Avid_pin_traders

There were brand new items and there were some dating back to the 1930's. It's really hard to comprehend the variety and diversity of goods on sale. The pictures tell the story though!

Snow_globes

A_train_used_to_display_watches

Collector_plates

Plates_and_mugs

Disneyana Fan Club originated as The National Fantasy Fan Club (NFFC) in 1984 and now has over 25 chapters across the country & around the world.

The Plane Crazy Chapter in Dayton, who host this show, began about 10 years ago as “Pin Trading By The Pond” when a few friends gathered to trade pins beside one of the trader's backyard koi ponds. The next year it grew so much that they had to book a room to house the event. Since then it has grown into a wonderful two day extravaganza for Disney collectors and traders. Last year they hosted over 400 guests.

By the time I had made my first circuit of the room snapping pictures Carol had filled a couple of bags. She and Rob, who also had a bag full, were sporting big smiles. I took the bags to our room and dropped them off, freeing up their hands for more shopping!

Carol_is_an_avid_shopper

I continued to wander, this time taking fewer pictures and allowing plenty of time to admire the merchandise. It was even more amazing when I took time to actually consider what my eyes were seeing. I was nowhere near as excited as Carol and Rob, but I could understand why they were so enthusiastic.

Disneyana_catalogues

Our_friend_Gabe_searches_for_pins

Mickey_Mouse_cream_and_sugar_set

A_view_of_the_ballroom

A_happy_vendor

An_Alice_in_Wonderland_nurse_kit

Mickey_and_Kermit_telephones

The next time I crossed paths with Carol she took my arm and dragged me to a nearby table. Those words I had been expecting rolled off her lips, “That's it " that's exactly what I want for my birthday.” I bought the three Disney Classic Collection figurines she pointed out, packed them in the big bag she had partly filled while I was gone, wished her Happy Birthday, and took another big load to the room.

Carol_and_Rob_are_happy_shoppers

When I returned at about 12:30 the pin traders were starting to take their positions at tables in the hallway outside the ballroom. Carrie and I hopped in the car and made a mad dash to a nearby Wendy's restaurant. We were back with lunch for all in our group and I wolfed mine down then ran down the hall (OK . . . it was more of a quick limping shuffle) to listen to the speakers who were beginning their presentations in the atrium at 1:15 p.m.

I arrived just as Jim Korkis was beginning. Jim is an internationally respected Disney Historian who has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. He is a former Walt Disney World cast member and is now a regular guest blogger on AllEars.

Jim_Korkis

Jim focussed on the classic old Disney movie The Song Of The South which has been removed from the US and Canadian markets for many years. He told a number of interesting and amusing stories about the movie and about his interaction with many of the actors who appeared in it. Jim is passionate about Disney and his zeal is infectious. When he speaks, he grabs your attention and he doesn't let go. If you get a chance to hear Jim speak, do not pass it up!

Jim_Korkis_is_passionate_about_Disney

Next up to the podium was Jim Hill, an award-winning entertainment writer from Boston who written extensively about The Walt Disney Company. He is a very captivating speaker as well.

Jim_Hill

Jim Hill's focus was more “future oriented”; he began by telling us how Disney “dropped the ball” during negotiations with J.K. Rowling. As a result of a fumble by Disney Imagineers The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was built at Universal rather than at Walt Disney World. What a shame!

In Jim's opinion that faux pas led to the big changes and improvements we have seen in Fantasyland. He spoke at length describing the changes will we see at Walt Disney World in years to come.

Jim_Hill

Will Star Wars Land be coming to Florida? Yes! Jim gave us some interesting glimpses of what current plans include.

Will Avatar Land be coming to Florida? Yes! It may take some time to get done, but it is included in current plans.

Will Cars Land be coming to Florida? Yes! It will not include Luigi's Flying Tires " they cannot dig deep enough to install the underground fans needed for the attraction. The water table in Florida is simply too high to allow the necessary excavation.

The two Jims spent over a half hour answering questions from the audience; it was a lively and humorous Q & A session.

Carol and all her pin trading buddies were firmly settled in the hallway outside the ballroom when I returned. I said a quick hello as I passed by, on my way to talk some more with the pair of Jims. They had set up in the ballroom where Jim Korkis was selling copies of his two books. I bought a copy of each and Jim signed (and illustrated) them for me.

Jim_Korkis_and_Jim_Hill

Throughout the day there were silent auctions, door prize draws, children's games and a charity draw for beautiful Disney themed quilt. There was always something interesting going on!

Carol, Rob and the gang continued to trade until almost 6:00 p.m. then took a break for dinner. We had a nice meal at the little restaurant in the hotel; then they went back to the trade tables. They had a good day trading, there were plenty of pins, vinylmations, buttons and even a few Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards changing hands. Everyone seemed happy with their trades when they finally called it quits at 9:45 p.m. These traders sure have a lot of stamina!

Pin_trading

Trading_buttons

Before bed Carol confided that there are still a few more collectibles she has her eye on. I anticipate a few more purchases tomorrow. The doors open at 10:00 a.m. and we plan to get away by about noon to begin our trip home. It's a holiday weekend in Canada and we want to be home for Canada Day celebrations on Monday.

Sunday June 30, 2013
The Sunday schedule was almost an exact duplicate of the Saturday programme. The ballroom full of vendors opened at 10:00 a.m. and the two Jims each made another presentation, with fresh topics, beginning at 1:15 p.m. I thoroughly enjoyed both their presentations on Saturday and I was disappointed that I could not stay to enjoy the second session.

We met Susan and Carrie for breakfast and all of us were waiting outside the ballroom when the doors opened. We had all walked around the tables at least a dozen times on Saturday . . . there shouldn't have been anything new to see . . . but there was! There was just so much merchandise on display that you could not take it all in.

A_Mickey_Mouse_gumball_machine

Disney_building_blocks

Disney_watches

While Carol and Rob shopped, I spent some time chatting with Disneyana Fan Club Dayton Chapter President Gary DesCombes, Disney Fan Club National President Gary Schaengold and his wife Anita who is part of the team of about 18 volunteers who make this great, family friendly event happen year after year.

They passed on some interesting facts. I thought our 606 mile trip from Kingston (500 miles as the crow flies) was a long journey, but it is nothing compared to some others. This year there were guests from as far away as Chicago and North Carolina, as the crow flies they are 225 miles and 500 miles distant respectively. We are about tied with the North Carolina folks for this year's distance record! But we pale in comparison with the group of 12 who attended from California last year and the lady who has flown in from Japan to attend, not once but twice!

Some of the vendors travel long distances to the show as well. Theme Park Connection of Winter Garden Florida hauled a truckload of goods about 775 miles from their store just north of Walt Disney World.

Carol had planned to take a quick lap of the ballroom to pick up those last few items she mentioned the previous night, then settle in for some trading in the hallway. Two hours later she and Rob were still in the ballroom. Some of the merchandise had been marked down . . . I suppose it's easier to sell it than it is to pack it up and take it back home.

There was plenty of haggling going on; prices seemed to be more flexible as the end of the weekend drew nearer!

Rob_makes_a_final_purchase

Vinylmations

Two representatives from PinPics.com, Anthony and Samantha Medina, arrived about noon and spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with the many avid pin traders in the crowd. I spent a few minutes yakking with Samantha and then began the difficult task of dragging Carol and Rob away from the vendor's tables.

Samantha_from_PinPics

Carol made a few very quick pin trades before we hopped in the car to begin our trek home. We pulled onto northbound Interstate 75 at 12:40 p.m. Traffic was moving very well, there was hardly a slowdown, even in Detroit. We crossed the Ambassador Bridge and returned to “Our Home And Native Land” at 5:00 p.m.

Back_home_in_Canada

Traffic in Canada was also lighter than we anticipated and we made great time. There were a few very quick stops for fuel and coffee and we arrived home at 10:30, about 90 minutes earlier than we had expected. We were tired after a long day on the road but Carol and Rob were still all pumped up about the event and the treasures they found!

They agreed that it's an event we will definitely return to. Because of the distance it may not be an annual event, but we will definitely attend periodically.

Here are the treasures Carol brought home.

Carol's_treasures

Her most cherished “find” is this Olszewski figurine which Rob picked up in the silent auction.

A_valuable_Olszewski_figurine

Rob had a pretty nice pile of loot too!

Rob's_loot

His favourite is this Fantasia themed Mickey Mouse clock. We added a fresh battery and it's ticking away!

A_Fantasia_clock

If you are an avid Disney fan and a collector of Disneyana then Dayton Disneyana should be on your to-do list. Next year's event is tentatively planned for Father's Day weekend, June 14 " 15, 2014. These dates are not yet firm, check the Disneyana Fan Club web site before finalizing your plans.

The National web site is HERE.

The Plane Crazy Chapter site is HERE.

Like them on Facebook HERE.

What will you find if you attend? We were pleasantly surprised by the attractive hotel rates, $81.00 a night in 2013. The event registration was a mere $5.00 for a 2 day adult pass, or $3.00 for a 1 day pass. The merchandise was varied, plentiful and good quality. This is not a flea market and the vendors are not selling junk and trinkets.

The vendors are friendly, approachable and most are die-hard Disney fans just like you and I. Of course all of the other attendees are kindred Disney spirits too. It's a totally immersive experience and you will feel right at home, we sure did!

Maybe Carol and I will see you there some day?


May 31, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 7

Gary Cruise banner
May 26, 2013

We were up bright and early this morning. We were nearing Victoria so we watched from the balcony for a while.

Victoria

Victoria

Temperatures were cool, skies were overcast and a constant drizzle was falling. By the time the room service coffee arrived at 7:00 a.m. I was already showered and ready to hit the road. We watched the ship dock in Victoria and at 7:30 we made our way to Deck 9 for breakfast at Beach Blanket Buffet.

Our excursion group met in Wave Bands at 8:15. The check-in process was efficient, as usual, and by 8:30 the Disney Port Adventures staff were leading us down the gangway to the waiting bus for our tour and tea at Butchart Gardens.

The bus driver/tour guide, Rolland, did an amazingly good job. We told us very informative and humorous tales about the city and its history. He related the origins of the Butchart family and how they came to develop their old and depleted limestone quarry into world famous gardens.

We debarked from the bus at 9:30 and began by exploring the sunken garden located in the former quarry. It is simply awesome.

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

When people think of Canada they think of ice and snow . . . but these gardens are located in a temperate rainforest. Everything is lush and green. I'll let the pictures do the talking!

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

We moved on past the Ross Fountain and toured the rose garden. Very few roses were in bloom this early in the season, but in a month it will be glorious.

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Our tea was scheduled for 10:45 so we ran out of touring time much too soon. We had to bypass the Japanese and Italian Gardens. The tea was excellent, a nice variety of scones, sandwiches and sweets along with a pot of hot tea. It sure hit the spot after a few hours out in the cold drizzle.

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

We took a few more pictures as we approached the exit. A greenhouse beside the gift shop had a vivid display of orchids and begonias so we stopped for some shots of those specimens.

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Butchart_Gardens

Naturally Carol had to detour through the gift shop and to my surprise, she came out empty handed. Wow!

We boarded our bus at 12:15 and only had to wait five minutes for the inevitable stragglers.

Rolland entertained us again on the way home, pointing out many points of interest and using amusing tales to put them all in historical perspective. All in all it was a terrific excursion " the gardens were breathtaking and Rolland brought the journey there and back to life with his enthusiastic stories. We tipped him generously; I hope everyone else did too!

We were back aboard by 1:30 and wandered the deck for a while enjoying a break in the showers. It was a real surprise, and a treat, to see the Disney Wonder flying our Canadian flag!

Victoria

We admired the Victoria skyline and watched the boats and float planes navigate the harbor. There was even a floating bus, the Hippo!

Victoria

Victoria

Victoria

We stopped at Beach Blanket Buffet for a light snack about 2:00 p.m. and then returned to the stateroom where Carol did some more packing. Alas, it all comes to an end for us tomorrow and our bags must be out in the hall for pick-up by 10:30 tonight.

Our last dinner was in Animator's Palate at 5:45. The servers put on a show, parading around the dining room waving flags of their native countries. For some strange reason our server, Sedat from Turkey, was waving the Canadian flag.

We said goodbye to our tablemates and exchanged e-mail addresses, then headed back to the stateroom to finish the last minute things and put our bags out in the hall.

I headed out for a last stroll around Deck 10, soaking in the scenery as we sailed up the Haro Straight past San Juan Island. The sun was setting over Vancouver Island.

Vancouver_Island_Sunset

Tomorrow we disembark in Vancouver and catch a noon flight to Toronto then drive 2 hours to our home in Kingston. If all goes well we should be able to pick up our dogs and be home by 10:00 p.m. tomorrow night.

This is the first time we have cruised on our own in about six years. Since then we have always sailed with friends or as part of a group. Before this cruise we had wondered what sort of group we would have at our table and how we would all get along. It worked out very well. There was always plenty of lively and interesting dinner conversation and we even met by chance for a few lunches.

We had a terrific time. Yes, I know what you're thinking, “But Gary, you didn't get to the pool or hot tub once during the trip.” You are absolutely correct, the cruise would have been more enjoyable had the weather been a bit warmer but overall we had a wonderful time.

We hope you have enjoyed travelling along with us!

We'll sail again in October, aboard the Disney Fantasy on a 7 day Western Caribbean itinerary. Then in May 2014 we will take our 10th Disney cruise when join in the fun of the AllEars.net group cruise. To see more about that cruise follow this link.

May 30, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 6

Gary Cruise banner
May 25, 2013

Today we were finally able to sleep in . . . and it was a bad thing! Carol screeched as her bleary eyes found the clock and read 8:00 a.m. We had to be at Parrot Cay for an 8:15 character breakfast. We leaped out of bed and hit the floor running.

We made it down to Deck 3 just in time to join the line waiting to enter the restaurant. As we gazed out the Deck 3 portholes we noticed that the skies were still very overcast but the seas had calmed down a great deal. There was just a slight roll, not more than a few feet. Winds had dropped off significantly during the night.

We had a pleasant breakfast with most of our dinner tablemates and the characters dropped by our table to pose for pictures. Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Chip and Dale made sure to visit every table and took time to pose with adults and interact with the children.

Character_Breakfast

Character_Breakfast

After breakfast I picked up the computer and headed to the Internet Café to upload to our web site. Carol roamed around Deck 3 killing time until I was done. It was raining so we picked up coffee and headed to the Outlook Café where she kept an eye peeled for whales while I read my book.

Outlook_cafe

At 12:15 we headed back to Parrot Cay for lunch. It was a seafood buffet and it was great. Unfortunately it was poor timing for us; we both ate sparingly because we are having dinner at Palo tonight.

It was a lazy afternoon; we had the showers we missed this morning, relaxed in the stateroom, kept our eyes open for whales and had a nice relaxing nap. I took my book to the Outlook Café and read for a while. When I returned at 5:00 p.m. Carol was all dressed for dinner so I quickly changed and we headed down to Deck 3 to get some character pictures.

Carol_Gary_and_Pluto

Then it was time for our dinner at Palo. We were celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary three days early . . . and what a magnificent place to celebrate it. It is always a delightful dining experience. Felice was our server once again and he entertained us while providing exceptional service.

Palo

Palo

We savored our dinner until about 7:45 then headed back to our stateroom. Carol dashed off for some pin trading at Mickey's Mates. Soon she called to tell me that the mountains to the east of us were looking magnificent. We are approaching the Straight of Juan de Fuca and the setting sun, when it peeks through the odd patch of blue in the sky, is lighting up Washington's Olympic Mountains. I took my camera to the Promenade Deck but it was a bit too hazy to get good pictures. The setting sun looked great, but the mountain shots didn't capture the beauty I saw with the naked eye.

Carol returned from pin trading and we went down to the Promenade Deck once again to watch the sunset. After a few pictures there we decided to head up to Deck 9 and the balcony behind Beach Blanket Buffet. It was sheltered from the wind there and we got some glorious shots. The sun was setting behind the ship as we sailed into a cloud bank dropping a fine misty rain. The result was a glorious rainbow which reflected off the water. Then a brilliant red sunset lit up the western sky. Our only clear sunset on this cruise and it was spectacular.

Rainbow

Pacific_Sunset

After warming up in our stateroom for a few minutes we struck out to Wave Bands to see the 10:30 show by ventriloquist/comic Michael Harrison. His adult show was just as funny as the family show we saw a few nights ago.

We were back to our stateroom by 11:15 and sleep followed quickly. We have an early start tomorrow . . . we meet our tour group at 8:15. We're off to Victoria's Butchart Gardens for the day!

May 29, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 5

Gary Cruise banner
May 24, 2013

We were confident we could sleep in this morning so Carol requested room service coffee at 7:30. Unfortunately Martin, who has delivered our coffee every morning at 7:00 a.m. didn't notice the change. We both awoke with his gentle rap on the door at 7:00. As always, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft a'gley. We leaped out of bed and had our coffee.

It was bright and sunny at 7:00 a.m. with 10 foot waves rolling. By the time we decided to head up to Beach Blanket Buffet for breakfast at 8:30 it had clouded over and skies remained overcast all day. It was a cool and dreary day at sea!

After breakfast we headed to the Outlook Café on Deck 10. I took the laptop and did some work on our trip report while Carol did some people watching. There were waves sloshing in the pool below us but the sun deck was empty. There were a few hearty swimmers and a steady procession of folks in and out of the hot tub, but no one stayed to bask, they all dried off and scurried away.

I almost finished preparing four days worth of trip report updates when the laptop battery ran down. I headed back to our stateroom and plugged it in to finish the last little bit and at 11:30 I headed down to the Internet Café on Deck 3. We have not been able to get a reliable connection in our stateroom this trip. Would you believe that there is nowhere in the Internet Café to plug in a laptop? Yup, it surprised me too. I dragged a table and chair from the Promenade Lounge over to a receptacle near the portholes across from the lounge and managed to get everything uploaded by noon. The folks back home must be getting frantic, some of them get quite cranky when I'm late with updates!

Outlook_Cafe

Shortly after noon we headed down to Parrot Cay and lined up for lunch. As we waited our dinner tablemates Loren and Linda, from California, came along and joined us. Our buddy Frano was assigning tables so he made sure we had a nice window seat looking out toward the Pacific. We had a nice leisurely lunch and a few laughs with Loren and Linda. As we were eating dessert Carol spotted a whale spouting and we were all able to turn in time to see it breach. Soon several more followed suit.

Carol dashed off to the Vista Spa where she enjoyed the Pamper Package and I took my book to the Outlook Café where I sat reading for over an hour. Soon the sandman was overpowering me so I headed back for a nap.

Carol arrived back, totally relaxed, at 3:30. She really enjoyed her spa time!

We headed to the Promenade Lounge for a trivia competition. We scored a respectable 21 out of 25 but the winner had 23.

Trivia

Trivia

It was a fun half hour and an interesting way to waste time until we had to dress for dinner.

Tonight's dinner was a brand new menu and this was the first night it was served. They cannot set off fireworks on the Alaska cruise so they will have a Pixar Pals Party rather than the traditional Pirates in the Caribbean Party. Tonight we sampled the new “Toy Story Dinner” menu and then dashed off to the Atrium to join the Pixar Party.

Ariel_Gary_and_Carol

The Atrium was a madhouse. People were standing 10 or 12 rows deep and many adults had children sitting on their shoulders. The Pixar characters paraded down the staircase from the 4th floor into the 3rd floor atrium, danced in pairs near the Ariel statue in front of Triton's. Once their dance segment was over they walked into the audience and danced with the children while another Pixar pair took their place on stage.

Pixar_Party

Pixar_Party

Pixar_Party

Pixar_Party

It was so crowded and so chaotic that I went off to a corner and sat on a couch while the music rattled my grey matter. Carol fought the crowd long enough to get a few pictures, then we fled for the quiet of the Deck 4 foyer outside the Walt Disney Theatre. Carol traded a few pins while we tried to decide whether we wanted to see Michael Holly perform again.

We decided to skip the show so we headed to the stateroom, changed into our comfy clothes and went to the Promenade Deck to watch the sunset. It looked a few minutes earlier like a gap in the clouds might give us a peek at the setting sun but by the time we got to the Promenade the gap had closed " no sunset tonight! We stood out enjoying some fresh air until the chill drove us back inside.

We returned to the stateroom and Carol took advantage of a few minutes downtime to pack up one of our suitcases.

Soon we headed up to Deck 10 for the 10:15 fireworks show and dance party, the last one for a few months.

Deck_Party

Deck_Party

Deck_Party

Tomorrow will be another laid-back at-sea day.

May 28, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 4

Gary Cruise banner
May 23, 2013

Carol slept much better while we were docked . . . the engines were shut down and the ship wasn't rocking. We were up at 7:00 and started the day slowly with coffee in the stateroom. By 8:00 we headed up to Beach Blanket Buffet for a light breakfast. Then it was time to meet for our tour.

We assembled in the Diversions Lounge on Deck 3 and at 9:15 the cruise staff led us off the ship to our waiting bus. It was about 60 degrees with sunny skies as the bus took us through San Francisco on our way to Sausalito. The tour guide pointed out highlights and points of interest as we passed and then we climbed the ramp and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and entered Marin County.

Golden_Gate_Bridge

Wow, it's a big bridge! When it was built it was the world's longest suspension bridge. It has since been surpassed but it's still an engineering marvel. We stopped for a few minutes at a scenic outlook point on the north side of the bridge so everyone could snap some pictures from that perspective.

Golden_Gate_Bridge

Then we were off again, heading to our morning destination, Sausalito. It's a pretty little town with a sheltered harbor on Richardson Bay and it seems to be a very exclusive suburb of San Francisco. The tour guide cracked a few jokes about Sausalito . . . apparently if you dial 911 a Porsche mechanic answers your call. Up there in Marin County BMW stands for Basic Marin Wheels.

Sausalito

The bus dropped us in the centre of town with an hour and a quarter to shop. I walked the shore and snapped a few pictures while Carol poked around in a few shops but after about 15 minutes we were both wishing we were on our way to Alcatraz. Sausalito was not a highlight for us!

Sausalito

Sausalito

By 11:45 we had boarded the bus again and were on our way to our second crossing of the bridge. We had another short tour of San Francisco on our way back to the pier where we boarded a ferry for our 1:30 ride across to Alcatraz. The ferry ride gave us a new perspective of the skyline and we snapped a few more photos.

Alcatraz_Tour

After landing on the island we had a short presentation by a National Parks Guide who described the history of the island which first served as a fortress during the Civil War, then served as a military prison until the 1930's when it was transformed to a Maximum Security Federal Prison, finally closing in 1963.

After the presentation we began our upward trek. The road is a steep incline which switches back and forth several times as we climbed from the dock level to the cell block. It's equivalent to a 13 story rise between the two levels; as you ascend the rugged roadway you cross broken concrete and pavement. My new knees found it to be a challenging trek but we certainly enjoyed the tour once we arrived at the top.

Alcatraz_Tour

Alcatraz_Tour

Alcatraz_Tour

Alcatraz_Tour

It is a narrated walking tour. A headset directs you from point to point and the commentary, recorded by former guards and former inmates, describes prison life from both perspectives.

Alcatraz_Tour

Alcatraz_Tour

Alcatraz_Tour

Alcatraz_Tour

It was a fascinating afternoon, we both wished we had more time to walk the grounds and explore the gardens. Before the Civil War the island was a barren roosting area for shore birds. Over the intervening years a variety of non-indigenous plants have been introduced by soldiers, guards and prisoners. Portions of the island are now lush with colorful flowers.

Alcatraz_Tour

Alcatraz_Tour

We were back to the ship by 4:00 p.m. and sat soaking up some sun on Deck 9 until the ship pulled away from the dock at about 5:35. We watched the Golden Gate Bridge pass overhead from the aft overlook on Deck 7 and then rushed off for our 5:45 dinner at Animator's Palette.

Sail_Away

Sail_Away

Sail_Away

Sail_Away

Sail_Away

Sail_Away

Our servers, Sedat and Yukiko are doing a great job . . . we have good servers, amiable table-mates and, as always, the food is excellent.

Sedat_and_Yukiko

After dinner Carol went down to the shops on Deck 4 to do some pin trading, I went back to the stateroom. It 8:15 we met outside the Walt Disney Theatre and enjoyed the comedy show of Michael Harrison.

Michael_Harrison

He is a ventriloquist with a twist. He brings some unusual items to life, starting with a tennis ball, then a tennis racquet and later a simple face he draws on a page with a Sharpie pen. For his grand finale he finds a volunteer, a child from the audience, then converts them to a dummy and puts some hilarious words in their mouths. We roared with laughter!

After resting our aching ribs in the cabin for a few minutes we wandered down to the 10:30 show in the Wavebands Lounge on Deck 4. This time it was juggler Michael Holly. Like the earlier ventriloquist, the juggler was also a comic. His non-stop patter as he juggled once again kept us laughing insanely. At one point I was afraid Carol was going to pass out; she was laughing so hard that she didn't breathe for several minutes. Michael put a few twists in his juggling show too. Lots of performers eat the apple they are juggling, but Michael eats the apple while he juggles two 14 pound bowling balls along with it. Then he juggled the two bowling balls along with a peanut M & M's. Quite a difference in weight but he made it look effortless. Then he announced, while juggling, that he would eat the M & M. There was a very high risk factor since the M & M was the same color as one of the bowling balls. He managed to elude certain death and swallowed the right one! Another great show!

We wandered over to the Diversions Lounge, next to Wavebands, picked a few light snacks from the buffet and settled in at a table for a few minutes before heading off to bed. After just a few minutes some people from the Facebook group, Jamiee & Derek, Mimi & Vik all from Arizona, came in and joined us. We sat chatting until after midnight . . . way past our bed time! We tore ourselves away about 12:15 and headed off to bed.

Tomorrow will be another glorious day at sea. We have absolutely nothing to do and we want to be well rested for it!

May 27, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 3

Gary Cruise banner
May 22, 2013

Our plans to get up early and watch our approach to the Golden Gate Bridge didn't work out. The ship was rocking and rolling all night long and Carol didn't sleep well. Apparently the relentless drone of my snoring didn't lull her back to sleep. So this morning we were already under the bridge when Carol headed to our balcony at 6:30 and started taking pictures.

Golden_Gate_Bridge

As we sailed past Pier 39 we could hear the barking of the sea lions over the rumble of the ships engines as we maneuvered into our slip at Pier 35.

We had a bite of breakfast at Beach Blanket Buffet and left the ship before 9:00 a.m. We strolled along the Embarcadero to Pier 39.

Alcatraz

On_the_Embarcadero

We wandered to the end of the pier for a close-up look at the sea lion colony which lives there. There were hundreds of them and they put on quite a performance.

Sea_Lions

Sea_Lions

Sea_Lions

After watching the playful creatures for almost a half hour we returned to the Embarcadero and hailed a cab to take us to the Presidio. We arrived there just a few minutes early and bought an annual membership. The membership allowed us to view the new exhibit honoring Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are. It was a special member's preview and this was the first day of the exhibit. So not only were we the newest members at the Walt Disney Family Museum, we were the first members to visit the sneak preview of the exhibit.

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

After a quick walk-through of the Sendak exhibit we returned to the main museum building and began exploring in earnest. This place is like Mecca for a Disney fan. The exhibits are arranged in galleries and each gallery represents a phase in the life of this amazing man. Our last trip through the exhibits, two years ago, was simply too rushed. Today we planned to take our time and enjoy every aspect of the displays.

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

The place is full of interactive displays, video clips, historic documents with detailed descriptions of their provenance and importance. We did our best to push every button, flip every switch and read every placard.

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

Since our last visit two years ago they have relaxed the “No Photographs” rule a bit. You may now take pictures anywhere in the museum, but flash photography is prohibited. It sure is nice to be able to take home permanent mementos of our visit.

One of the interesting displays involves sound synchronization. Visitors don headphones and a video clip, a short scene from Steamboat Willie, plays on a large monitor. The bottom of the monitor has a second display which prompts the guests to tap on drums, bang on a xylophone, crank a clicking noisemaker or pull a rope to make a cat yowl. These actions add the sound track to a cartoon, in much the same way animators used to do. Our effort resulted in some hilarious results which would have been left on the cutting room floor.

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

We had made it about half way through the museum by noon so we stopped for a quick bite in the café. Carol took a few minutes to pre-scout the gift shop . . . she wanted to devise a plan of attack for her visit later in the day!

We were back to the exhibits by 12:30 and continued our walk through the life of a truly amazing man. By 2:30 we had pushed all the buttons and flipped all the switches.

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

Walt_Disney_Family_Museum

It was time to move on! Carol's pre-planning paid off; she was able to zip through the gift shop in record time and we were soon in a cab on our way to the cable car station. Along the way our driver took us down Lombard Street, that famous crooked street which appears in so many movies!

Lombard_Street

When we arrived at end of the cable car line, the turntable where they flip the cars around, there was a huge line of people waiting to board the cars. There was a homeless entrepreneur there, he handed us a guide map and explained that if we walked one block up the hill we could hop on the first cable car to come along. We said thanks and turned to leave " he demanded a tip " neither of us had anything but $20 bills so we declined. He followed across the street and finally Carol dug into her purse and gave him all the coin she had, about 76 cents. He was not happy as we carried on up the hill.

We arrived at the stop and joined the other dozen people he had sent to the same spot. After about 15 minutes a cable car arrived and took four people from our line. We waited another 15 minutes with no sign of a car. Then a Lincoln Town Car pulled up and offered a ride to Union Square for $5.00 per person. We jumped in. The driver dropped us off about a block from the Disney Store. We must have looked lost because suddenly a man with a map appeared. He pointed out where the Disney Store was and wanted a tip . . . we walked away, no tip this time. Carol remarked, “He looked just like the guy at the cable car station.” I think they were probably identical cousins or something!

Carol did some shopping in the Disney Store and then we walked back to the Union Square end of the cable car line . . . once again there was a long line. We walked a block up the hill and were able to board the first car to come along. It arrived at the same time we did, no wait at all.

Cable_car

Cable_car

We were back aboard the ship just in time to freshen up for dinner. Our rotation took us back to Triton's for the second night in a row.

After dinner we took the laptop to the Outlook Café looking for a good internet connection . . . wireless internet service has been very spotty during this cruise. In fact, the service has been terrible. We could not get a connection in the Outlook Café so we headed to the Internet Café located beside the Promenade Lounge. We were finally able to get a better connection there, still very slow but at least it didn't keep cutting out.

Chip

We were back to the stateroom by 9:00 and settled in for the night. Tomorrow we meet at 9:15 for our tour of Sausalito and Alcatraz.

May 26, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 2

Gary Cruise banner
May 21, 2013

What a wonderful day at sea . . . it was everything we hoped for, and less! After all those days racing around the parks it was soooo nice to veg-out!

It was overcast and the ship was rocking noticeably when we woke at 6:30 a.m. I headed to Deck 9 to pick up coffee and was shocked by the wind when I opened the door near the coffee and soft drink station. The winds across the deck were about 45 miles per hour and they stayed all day.

Deck_10_in_the_morning

Later in the day the skies cleared and the sun shone brightly but it never warmed up because of the high winds. The ship rolled through 15 " 18 foot waves all day.

Rought_seas

Room service arrived at 7:30 with more coffee, juice and a bagel. I had a very light breakfast " saving room for our 11:30 brunch at Palo.

We took advantage of some early morning quiet time to drop off some items in fish extenders for members of a Facebook group Carol was involved in. What's a fish extender you ask? In the ships hallways, beside each cabin door is an ornamental metal fish. It is actually a mail slot, whenever cast members or ship management need to leave a message, they put it in an envelope and stand it up in that metal fish, where it is obvious when you enter your room.

Years ago some imaginative cruisers started hanging small bags from the fish and leaving little gifts in the bags. Voila " the fish extender was born!

Fish_extender

Cruisers who are part of a group can volunteer to be part of a fish extender gift exchange, leaving little gifts for others in the group and receiving gifts in your own extender. It's always fun to return to your cabin to see what has arrived; there are some very creative and imaginative gifts!

After weaving our way up and down the halls “feeding the fishes” we decided to look for a sheltered spot on Deck 9 to sit and enjoy some fresh air. Alas, there was nowhere to escape the strong winds so we sat indoors at the Outlook Café overlooking the Quiet Cove Pool. We occasionally waved at frantic people as the wind hurtled them past the windows. Carol sipped a latté while I read my book.

We left the Café by 11:00 and returned to our stateroom to dress for brunch. Palo is an upscale adult only dining venue at the rear of the ship on Deck 10. All meals aboard are included in the price you pay for your cruise but if you book a brunch or dinner at Palo you are charged a premium of $20.00 per person. It's a bargain.

Palo

Palo

The food is wonderful and the service is impeccable. We try to dine at Palo during each cruise.

Palo

Palo

Palo

Today our server was Felice from Italy and he took excellent care of us. Before we left we made sure the Felice would be our server when we return Saturday evening for dinner.

Ariel

Our afternoon was also quite relaxing. We both enjoyed a nap, then took another wind-blown walk on Deck 9. Once again the winds forced us indoors, first in the Overlook Café and later in the Promenade Lounge where we chatted with a few acquaintances from the Facebook group.

Route_66

It was formal night, so we changed for dinner and headed to the Atrium on Deck 3 where Mickey Mouse was posing for pictures from 5:15 to 5:45.

Mickey

There was a long line but we made it just under the wire, had our picture taken and entered Triton's for dinner just five minutes after the appointed 5:45 dinner hour!

Table_mates.jpg

The evening show was The Golden Mickey's which we've seen several times, so we decided to skip it. Instead we headed to our stateroom, changed into casual clothes and made our way to the Buena Vista Theatre for the 8:00 showing of Wreck It Ralph. We had missed it in the theatres so we didn't want to pass up the chance to see it while we were here. It was cute and funny; not one of Disney's best, but a nice diversion for a few hours.

I was back in the stateroom by 10:00 p.m. but Carol had some shopping to do! She picked up a nice Disney Cruise Line charm for her Pandora bracelet.

We were both settled in the room by 10:30. Tomorrow we plan to be up bright and early so we can enjoy the view from the upper decks as we sail under the Golden Gate Bridge at about 6:30 a.m.

Then we will hail a cab and spend much of the day at the Walt Disney Family Museum.

May 25, 2013

Cruising to Vancouver on the Disney Wonder - Day 1

Gary Cruise banner
May 20, 2013

This will be our second time on the repositioning cruise from Los Angeles to Vancouver. We enjoyed the trip two years ago so much that we just had to repeat it.

If you have been following along on our personal web site you know that we just enjoyed a 5 night stay at the beautiful Candy Cane Inn and 5 days of almost non-stop fun at the Disneyland Resort. If you have just joined us on AllEars you can read about our Disneyland adventures by clicking on this link.

Carol booked an SUV to take us from the Candy Cane Inn to nearby San Pedro where we boarded the Disney Wonder. We shared the ride with Charlene and Brittney, a mother and daughter from Louisiana who Carol connected with online.

The limousine company Carol booked, So Cal Limousine Service, did not show up for the 10:00 a.m. pick-up time and didn't answer the phone when Carol called to ask where they were. After a half hour of waiting we spoke to James who has always taken great care of us at the Candy Cane Inn front desk. He tried to contact SoCal and they still didn't answer. Within five minutes he had a van from Grand Transportation booked. They arrived in under ten minutes and whisked us to the port. Thanks James . . . you're a lifesaver!

The boarding process went very smoothly. Our baggage went directly from the Grand Transportation van to the porter's cart and within seconds we entered the terminal building. The biggest delay was waiting for Carol as she snapped a few pictures.

Disney_Cruise_Line_Welcome_Banner

Disney_Cruise_Line_Welcome_Pluto

There was a very short line in the terminal; we were issued our “Key to the World” cards within five minutes of stepping out of the van. We were in boarding group number 7 so we sat and relaxed in the terminal for about a half hour until our group was called and then walked directly aboard, entering the grand foyer at Deck 3 Mid Ship. What a treat to hear them announce our arrival and welcome the Cruise family aboard.

Disney_Cruise_Line_Entrance

Disney_Cruise_Line_Welcome_Minnie

Lunch was being served in two locations, Parrot Cay on Deck 3 and Beach Blanket Buffet on Deck 9. We opted for Parrot Cay and were soon seated with a couple from Victoria, BC as well as a couple and a solo traveler, all three from the San Francisco area. Seems like everyone but us booked a cruise so they can enjoy a port adventure in their home town!

We had a nice chat with everyone over lunch and then set off to reacquaint ourselves with the ship. We strolled around Deck 9 and Deck 10 snapping a few pictures of the surrounding port area and some shots of provisions being loaded on the ship. Naturally Carol had to stop for an ice cream as we passed the self-serve station!

Carol_getting_ice_cream

By 1:15 our stateroom was ready and our luggage had arrived so Carol unpacked and we were soon all settled in for the next week.

Carol_on_deck

Gary_on_the_balcony

At 3:00 p.m. there was a “meet and greet” session in the Promenade Lounge for a Facebook group Carol had been involved in. We said hello to some new acquaintances and recognized quite a few faces from previous cruises.

Soon it was time for the mandatory life boat drill so we mustered at Animator's Palate with the rest of our group to hear safety instructions and review emergency procedures.

By 4:20 we were on Deck 10 watching the Adventures Away party. The cruise entertainment staff and several Disney characters put on a spirited show. It was a high energy song and dance spectacular which had me sweating, even though I was sitting in a deck chair.

Sail_away_party

Sail_away_party

The ship cast off just a few minutes after 5:00 and we sailed slowly out of the Port of Los Angeles. Along the way we passed the USS Iowa, a decommissioned battleship. It sure was a powerful looking vessel!

We elected early dining for this cruise so by 5:45 we were entering the Parrot Cay Restaurant to meet our servers and our tablemates. Our service team consists of Head Server Sedat from Turkey and Assistant Server Yukiko from Japan. They will follow us from dining room to dining room as we rotate around the ship for the rest of the cruise. At our table were nine passengers, Carol and I, three American couples and Donna, a surprise Disney Cruise Line Celebrity.

Donna is a fellow Canadian, from Brampton Ontario and is currently on her 49th Disney Cruise. She boarded the Wonder a few weeks ago in Miami, transited the Panama Canal, stayed on for this cruise and once we reach Vancouver she will stay aboard again and enjoy the Alaska Cruise the following week. By the time she is done the Alaska voyage in early June she will have completed 51 Disney cruises, with another 5 already booked for 2014.

During the Panama Canal crossing she celebrated her 365th night aboard a Disney ship and to celebrate the occasion Captain Thord and his senior crew surprised her with a party and a very special cake in the Cove Café. Tonight at dinner Donna enjoyed the last piece of that cake. Here is a picture of Donna and the beautifully hand crafted chocolate Donald which decorated the cake. It almost feels like we're dining with royalty!

Donna


After dinner we visited the Future Cruise desk where Tai from Australia booked our stateroom for the 2014 AllEars group cruise sailing May 10, 2014 on the Fantasy. Hooray . . . we're booked on another. It will be our 10th Disney cruise and we thought we were doing well until we met Donna!

Carol had a few minutes to spare before the evening show in the Walt Disney Theatre so she headed to the Mickey's Mates shop where she purchased a few pins and a vinylmation. By 8:30 we were seated for the show, “Let the Magic Begin”. The final act in the show was Magic Dave who conscripted four children from the audience and put on a hilarious performance of magic and ad-lib comedy. It was a great time.

On our way back to our stateroom we spotted Frano in Triton's dining room. Frano was our server when Carol and I sailed the Panama Canal crossing with friends John & Cathy, Mike & Pam in 2011. Here is a gratuitous picture of Frano.

Frano.jpg

We headed to Wavebands at 10:30 for the Buckets N Boards percussion comedy show. They were hilarious . . . they played plastic barrels and buckets as drums, strummed on guitars and ukuleles, tap danced and sang classic country and bluegrass tunes such as, “If my nose was runnin' money, I'd blow it all on you.” Very high-class stuff, and very funny!

Buckets_N_Boards

Buckets_N_Boards

We were back in our stateroom by 11:15, tired out after a long but very enjoyable day.

We are looking forward to a relaxing day at sea tomorrow, with a brunch booked at Palo. It's our favourite dining venue on the Wonder. We'll post some pictures from Palo tomorrow.

February 17, 2013

Nicholas – The King of Expedition Everest

Gary Cruise banner

Have you ever received an e-mail that just warmed your heart?

Have you ever read an e-mail and thought, “That's what I mean! That's what Disney Magic is all about.”

I got one of those e-mails just a few weeks ago. It came from my friend John Ames who is a Travel Agent/Vacation Planner with Mouse Fan Travel. John received it from one of his fellow Mouse Fan Travel agents, Nancy Swope, and Nancy received it from her client Trena.

Trena was telling Nancy the story of her son Nicholas and his amazing feat at Expedition Everest.

There's just no way I could tell the story as well as Trena did, so here is the story in her words, the same words that made me think, “That's what I mean! That's what Disney Magic is all about.”

QUOTE

When we visited Walt Disney World in January 2011 for Nicholas' 12th birthday, he ended up riding Expedition Everest 33 times in one day.

It took him from park opening at 9:00 a.m. until about 2:00 p.m. He mainly worked the single rider line, with a few fast passes thrown in for good measure.

As soon as we told Nicholas we were headed to Disney for his 14th birthday, he said, "I'm going to beat my record. I'm going to ride Expedition Everest 50 times!"

I tried to convince him that 34 times would beat his record and be good enough, but he was having none of that!

So, on the morning of January 21, 2013, Animal Kingdom had Extra Magic hours and opened at 8:00 a.m. and, yep, we were at Expedition Everest ready to help him achieve his goal of 50 times in one day.

Nicholas_on_the_train

Eventually the cast members working the ride realized he wasn't joking about riding it 50 times in one day as they saw him again and again (as they rotated through their positions). I was keeping a time log of every time Nicholas got off a ride so we would not get confused.

Everest_Time_Tracker

We were getting fast passes as quickly as we were allowed and really had to rely on those this time around as the single rider line was at a 20 - 30 minute wait time by mid-morning.

Helpful_FastPasses

The morning manager on duty, Holly, heard about what Nicholas was doing and came out and gave us four anytime fast passes to use. Later a few of the cast members gave us swap passes to use as fast passes. Then a Season Passholder family of four saw my time tracker and asked what I was doing. When they heard the story, they said if we were still at the ride when they came by on their way out of the park, they would get us 4 fast passes to use. So, 45 minutes later we had 4 more fast passes for Nicholas to use.

A_Collection_of_FastPasses

When Holly went off-shift, she came to tell us good-bye and assured us she would let the next manager know about Nicholas. Actually, everyone knew Nicholas by name at this point :-)

Nicholas was making great time, averaging 8 - 12 minutes per wait/ride. Then we ran out of fast passes and his wait/ride time was more like 25 " 30 minutes.

It was about 2:45 p.m. - he had just completed ride #42 and was waiting in line to get on the next train, when the ride shut down. We later learned that two of the monitoring computers disagreed, which brought the ride to a screeching halt. They even had to walk folks down off the mountain.

We waited around for a bit hoping for some news when Michelle (the afternoon manager on duty) came to get us. She, along with Bill (the afternoon supervisor), explained that they were going to get the ride back up and going, and when they did, they were going to personally make sure that Nicholas made his goal of 50 rides in one day. The four mechanics on duty came out to have their picture taken with Nicholas and promised they were doing everything they could to get the ride back up and going.

The_Mechanics

Just before 4:00 p.m., Expedition Everest was back up and running. Bill (a supervisor) and Don (a cast member) personally escorted Nicholas to the last train car (his choice) each time he finished a ride.

Personal_escort_from_Bill

Several of the cast members stayed after their shift ended because they wanted to ride #50 with Nicholas. As Nicholas was waiting to take his seat for ride #50, Bill announced to all those within hearing that Nicholas had been riding Expedition Everest all day long and was now going to take his 50th ride of the day. Folks started cheering and clapping for him and even taking his picture!!!! And, as you can see from the photo below, Nicholas had three cast members ride with him to celebrate his 50th ride in one day!!

The_50th_ride

When he got off the ride, everyone was cheering.

Ride_50_is_complete

The cast members, supervisor and managers gave him a T-shirt and they all signed it. They also gave us the picture of his 50th ride.

The_t-shirt


AMAZING DAY!!!

The next day, we headed back to Everest because Nicholas wanted to get a few of the early morning cast members to sign his T-shirt. He was like a celebrity! All the "new" cast members had already heard about him and made a huge deal over him.

Only at Disney!

END QUOTE

Isn't that a great story!

That's the kind of story I like to tell when my friends ask, “Why do you keep going back to Walt Disney World?”

Nicholas met a lot of very caring cast members that day. So many different people pitched in to help him live his dream; to help him achieve his goal . . . the cast members loading the ride cars, their supervisors and even the mechanics!

It is that kind of caring cast members that sets Disney apart from other theme parks. And it's infectious; The wonderful attitude of the cast members often brings out the best in park guests too. This is what keeps so many of us coming back again and again.

Aaah " that's Disney Magic!

Special thanks to Trena and Nancy for sharing this wonderful story. Congratulations to Nicholas on an amazing achievement. In my opinion he's the newest Disney super-hero!

Nicholas, if you and I should ever meet at the park I would be honored to ride Expedition Everest with you . . . but only once!
That's my limit.

January 20, 2013

Revved up at Cars Land

Gary Cruise banner

During our last few treks to Disneyland Carol and I have eagerly watched Cars Land take shape. We were excited and anxious to see it since the very first day the new project was announced. Our friends who visited since it opened in June 2012 have given it nothing but rave reviews . . . so our appetites were well whetted before our arrival in mid December.

Cars_Land_Entrance

We knew the parks would be crowded at that time of year so we decided to focus on just a few of our favorite attractions and spend plenty of time at Cars Land. WOW! We were anticipating big things at the new 12 acre site but what we found far exceeded our expectations. It is simply overwhelming.

We were astounded by the transformation that had taken place in a former parking lot. As we turned into Cars Land and walked down Route 66 we felt like we were actually in Radiator Springs . . . “Look, it's Flo's V/8 Diner . . . over there is the Cozy Cone Motel.” Our eyes were drawn in every direction at once.

Yes, it's that good!

The Imagineers captured all the color and excitement of the two Cars movies and reproduced it in stunning detail. You will see Sarge's Surplus Hut, a gift shop housed in an Army Quonset hut.

Sarges

Next door is Fillmore's Taste-In, a snack shop with some surprisingly healthy food options. Fillmore's is set in and around a tie-died, psychedelic-hued geodesic dome.

Fillmores

The automobile theme is consistent throughout; even the flowers in the planters have a distinct automotive flair.

Cars_Land_Decor

Cars_Land_Decor

Cars_Land_Decor

Cars_Land_Decor

Cars_Land_Decor

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree is one of the three new rides located in Cars Land. You sit in a small wagon pulled by a tractor as it travels around a double figure eight track. It looks and sounds pretty tame but it does give a pretty good “whip” effect as you whirl around the track. We really enjoyed it! Of course our favorite Cars character, Tow Mater, is joking and singing throughout . . . it's no wonder we liked it as much as the children.

Maters_Junkyard_Jamboree

Maters_Junkyard_Jamboree

Maters_Junkyard_Jamboree

Maters_Junkyard_Jamboree

Sally's Cozy Cone Motel is a series of five snack bars, each housed in one of the cones. Everything they serve is presented to you in a cone. There are some creative dishes such as the churro cone (churro bits served in a cone), chili cone-queso served in an edible bread cone, pop-cone (pop corn in a cone), cone coctions (pretzel bites in a cone) and of course ice cream cones.

Cozy_Cone_Motel

Cozy_Cone_Motel

There are regular meet & greet sessions with Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater in front of Sally's Cozy Cone!

At the end of Route 66 is Luigi's Casa Della Tires which serves as the entrance to the new Luigi's Flying Tires ride.

Luigis Casa Della Tires

You sit two or three abreast in the middle of a huge tire. The ride operates like a giant air hockey game; air blows up from below the surface and “inflates” your tire which becomes a hovercraft. You lean left, right, forward or back in order to move in that direction.

Luigis_Flying_Tires

Luigis_Flying_Tires

It's like a bumper car ride which operates in super slow motion. It's interesting technology but one ride was enough for us. We rode Mater's Junkyard Jamboree several times but at Luigi's it was “once and done”.

Also at the end of Route 66, across from Luigi's, is Flo's V/8 Café. Step back into the early 60's when you enter Flo's. The décor is vintage 60's with plenty of neon and chrome.

Flos_V8_Cafe

Flos_V8_Cafe

There is indoor seating but the outdoor tables offer some amazing views. Sit out front among the gas pumps and watch people parade past on Route 66.

Flos_V8_Cafe

Or take your chow out the side doors to a seating area which overlooks Ornament Valley. We just loved the French toast we had for breakfast at Flo's as we soaked in the scenery of Ornament Valley . . . then as an added bonus Lightning McQueen drove past.

Flos_V8_Cafe

Lightning McQueen

Just past Flo's is Radiator Springs Racers . . . the real focal point in Cars Land.

Radiator_Springs

The Imagineers did an amazing job re-creating all that awesome desert scenery from the movies. The Cadillac Range Mountains form the backdrop for beautiful Ornament Valley. Do you see those tail fins in the skyline?

Radiator_Springs

Ornament Valley covers about 6 acres or about half of the total area of Cars Land and it is truly breathtaking. Our jaws dropped as we took a high speed tour and soaked in the grandeur of the desert scenery. We enjoyed this attraction so much that we rode it seven times during our short stay in California! On one ride I sat next to a young lady who commented, “Wow, this is amazing. I'm from Utah and this scenery is so realistic it really reminds me of Monument Valley.” High praise indeed!

The standby queue for Radiator Springs Racers takes you past the spring (shaped like a radiator) which Stanley Steamer discovered before he established the town of Radiator Springs. As you continue on in the line you pass through some typical Route 66 buildings such as the “Bottle House” before you board your car and begin your tour.

Radiator_Springs

Radiator_Springs

The ride itself is terrific. I won't spoil it for you but, you meet some of your favorite characters along the way. You get a chance to do some tractor tipping with Tow Mater and then the ride finishes with a high-speed race to the finish line!

Radiator_Springs_Racers

Red the Fire Truck

Lightning McQueen and Mater

Radiator_Springs_Racers

Radiator_Springs

Radiator_Springs

Radiator_Springs_Racers

Amazing . . . we cannot wait to get back in May and ride it again!

Cars Land Tips
This is the most popular area in the newly refurbished California Adventure park and it is almost always crowded. The lines, particularly for Radiator Springs Racers are long. Here are a few pointers, based on our experience, to help you get the most out of Cars Land.

1. Guests at Disney Resorts are able to enter one of the two theme parks an hour early on select days. If you are not at a Disney Resort, check the schedule and plan to visit Cars Land when the “Early Entry” day is at Disneyland. The California Adventure park will be much quieter that morning since many folks will go to Disneyland.

2. Get there early. We arrived about ten minutes before rope-drop on our first day and were amazed when we saw two separate lines near the Carthay Circle Theatre. One line was a general line to enter the park but there were already several hundred people standing in the second queue to get FastPasses for Radiator Springs Racers. Yikes! We stood in the general line and went to the standby line for Radiator Springs Racers at rope-drop. We waited 35 minutes for our ride. Then we went to pick up a FastPass, the big line at the distribution machines was much shorter after the park had been open for a while.

3. Use the “Single Rider Line”. I can't stress this enough! The cars at Radiator Springs Racers hold 6 passengers and most groups in line are 2 or 4 people. They pull from the Single Rider Line to fill each vehicle. Even at the busiest times, when the standby line was 150 minutes, we were never more than 35 minutes in the Single Rider Line.

4. See Cars Land at night. It is very different after dark, the neon lights shine everywhere and the accent lighting brings out the red in the sandstone formations at Ornament Valley. It is a totally different atmosphere at night!

Cars Land at night

Ornament Valley at night

Radiator_Springs

Radiator_Springs

5. Here's a tip our friend Beci at Mouse Fan Travel gave us. It was great advice so I'm passing it on to you. Be sure to enter Cars Land from the back end. Walk past the main entrance which is across from the Wine Country Trattoria. Just before you get to the bridge to Pacific Pier you will see a smaller bridge to your left. Take that bridge to the Pacific Wharf area and head straight across, past the Pacific Wharf Café and the Lucky Fortune Cookery. As you pass under that big stone arch you will see an amazing vista of Ornament Valley. Take this route in daylight and after dark, it's very pretty!

Flos_V8_Cafe

Red

Tow_Mater

Enjoy this video of the Holidays at Disney California Adventure!

So that's a brief glimpse of Cars Land. If you haven't seen it for yourself yet you need to drop everything and head there right now. I know you'll enjoy it . . . we sure did! We can't wait until we're there again in about four months.

December 9, 2012

Stay on Property

Gary Cruise banner

A few months ago Carol and I were out riding our bicycles around our neighbourhood and I overheard a mother as we passed. She told her young son, “Those are the people who live in the Mickey Mouse house.”

People know that we are Disney fans! When we decorate for Halloween or Christmas there are always Disney themed inflatables involved! It's always a treat to see children stop to enjoy our display . . . and the adults seem to like it too! We make no secret of our mania for all things Disney!

Christmas_Decoration

As a result friends, family and neighbours often ask us for advice before they visit the Disney parks and we are happy to oblige. One of the bits of advice we give is “Stay on Property” " stay in a Disney resort. Walt Disney World offers a wide variety of resorts to accommodate all budgets and each resort is designed, finished and furnished in typical Disney fashion. Their attention to detail is astounding. Are you looking for a luxurious tropical isle feeling? Disney has it at the Polynesian Resort!

Polynesian_Resort

Would you prefer a rustic Mississippi Delta or New Orleans atmosphere? Disney has them both at Port Orleans Riverside and Port Orleans French Quarter.

Port_Orleans_Riverside

Port_Orleans_French_Quarter

Do you need a larger space with room for up to six people? Try the cabins at Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground or consider the newest Disney addition, The Art of Animation Resort.

Fort_Wilderness_Cabin

Art_of_Animation

The variety to be found in Disney resorts is just too wide to cover in a blog . . . you can find complete details and prices here:

What about the “off-site” resorts? Walt Disney World is surrounded by some excellent hotels and resorts. There are some good values for families who are looking for multiple bedrooms and are willing to drive a few miles to get them . . . BUT!

In my mind that is a very big BUT! I firmly believe that those who stay “off-property” are missing out on some very important perks!

What are those perks?

First and foremost in my personal ranking is “the magic”. When you stay at a Disney resort that magic which you feel at the parks follows you home. Disney properties are not only immaculately clean, well landscaped and secure, but they are also are all uniquely themed. When you stay at a Disney resort you become immersed in the theme . . . you actually feel as though you are living in the time and place the designers had in mind. The cast members in the Disney resorts, like their counterparts in the parks, strive to give guests the best possible vacation experience. I think the added magic when you “stay on property” adds a whole new dimension to your vacation.

My second important perk is the Disney Transportation system. Resort guests have unlimited access to all those Disney buses, boats and monorails! There is no need to rent a car, no hassle finding parking, no need to pay for parking. You will never get lost on your way to a park and at the end of a long day, when you're dog-tired, just sit back and relax as Disney transportation takes you back to your magical resort!

A perk which compliments the Disney Transportation system is Disney's Magical Express which offers free airport shuttle service, luggage delivery and airline check-in (with certain airlines) for Disney resort guests. You really don't need a car to enjoy a Disney vacation!

If you do have a car and prefer to drive to the theme parks there's another perk too! All guests at Disney resorts are entitled to free parking at the parks, a savings of $15.00 per day.

Let's not forget Extra Magic Hours. Guests at Disney resorts are given special access to selected parks for an extra hour in the morning before the park opens to the general public or for two hours in the evening after regular closing hours. These Extra Magic Hours feature much smaller crowds and offer easier access to the most popular rides and attractions. If you are trying to cram as much fun as you can into a short vacation Extra Magic Hours can be a great perk!

Disney resort guests are eligible for several unique Magic Your Way packages. These packages offer a number of discounts around Walt Disney World and can also include a pre-paid dining option. You can save a great deal of money with a Magic Your Way package. Sometimes during slower seasons the Magic Your Way package is offered as a free perk " that means your dining at the parks is free! It's a huge saving when it's free! Complete details can be found here! http://allears.net/pl/packages.htm

Disney offers free shipping back to your Disney resort on all purchases. Looking at a bulky item . . . or simply one you don't want to carry around all day? No problem, it will be available for pick-up at your resort the following afternoon!

When you stay at a Disney resort and you request a wake-up call it will be a Disney character who prompts you to “rise and shine!” How much fun is that?


There are plenty of other advantages to Disney resorts, such as souvenir mugs which can be refilled at no charge for the duration of your stay. Look here to see even more perks and also some advice to help you select the resort which is best for you and your family.

But aren't Disney resorts more expensive than those other hotels nearby? No, in my opinion they are not! The “on property” resorts are priced competitively and compare quite well to other nearby hotels. If you want luxury Disney has it in their Deluxe resorts; if you want economy Disney has it in their Value Resorts. If you are looking for something in between take a look at the Moderate resorts.

Another tip we always give to friends and family to help keep costs down, “Use a Travel Agent.” It really will save you money! Carol just loves the time she spends planning our trips and for years she booked all our accommodations on her own. She shopped for good deals and always found some bargains but other Disney fans kept telling us to try an agent . . . so finally she relented and gave Mouse Fan Travel a call. WOW! We have saved thousands of dollars because of our terrific travel agent/vacation planner! She is amazing! She doesn't stop once the booking is made; she continues to monitor new deals and special pricing offers. Almost every time we book a vacation we receive a surprise e-mail from her saying something like, “I just applied a AAA discount, you will save $205.00.” I really like that kind of mail!

So let's do a quick recap. Disney has almost 20 unique resorts offering a wide variety of unique themes at various price levels; there's something to suit every family. Disney resorts are closer to the theme parks than the “off-property” hotels. Disney resorts come with many unique perks which are not available anywhere else.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with staying off property. There are some beautiful resorts nearby and many of them offer good value, but when you add in all the benefits that come with a Disney resort it's an easy decision for me . . . Stay on property!

December 2, 2012

Disney Magic – “The Other Kind”

Gary Cruise banner

Disney is Magical . . . we all know that!

If you are a real Disney fan, and I know you are, you understand what Disney magic is . . . it's that wonderful feeling that comes over you as you drive through the Main Gate and enter Walt Disney World. It's that sense of magic you feel as you walk down Disneyland's Main Street USA and see Sleeping Beauty Castle. Sometimes a sound, like the Disney steam train pulling into the station, can bring on the magic . . . sometimes a smell, like the lobby at the Polynesian Resort, brings it on!

But in this blog I want to talk about a different kind of Magic. The kind of magic that happens when a Disney Cast Member goes way beyond expectations and creates a moment of pure magic! A moment of magic that is personal and unique, crafted only for you!

This “other kind” of magic has happened to me and it may have happened to you.

Let me give you an example of what I mean:

In December 2000 Carol and I were at Walt Disney World with her parents John and Sybil, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. During the trip Sybil bought a wooden cane at EPCOT's China pavilion. It only cost $5.00 but it was worth a fortune since it helped her a great deal as we toured all the parks. Soon our trip was over and it was time to go home. After spending the morning at a theme park we returned to Port Orleans French Quarter where we retrieved our luggage from the Bell Captain and sat on a park bench in front of the hotel waiting for the Town Car which was taking us to the airport. When it arrived we hurriedly loaded the luggage in the trunk, took our seats and left Disney behind. No one noticed the $5.00 cane, still leaning on the park bench. For two weeks no one even thought about that cane. Then one day the doorbell rang " it was FedEx with a long slender package! Yup " the cane!

French_Quarter_Bench

I don't know exactly what happened, but let's speculate a bit . . . Someone noticed the cane and turned it into a Cast Member. That CM must have gone to Bell Services and asked, “Who was sitting on the bench?” They looked up our baggage check records, added two plus two and came up with four. Then they must have gone to Registration to get our home address. Then they spent over $25.00 to ship a $5.00 cane to our home in Canada. WOW!

It is a well know fact that Disney trains their employees extremely well and stresses at all times that Cast Members are more than employees; they are performers acting out a role. Those of us visiting the theme parks are not seen as customers, we are not seen simply as folks who paid a bit of money to enjoy some thrill rides. Cast Members see us as guests who are there to enjoy their performance.

Cast Members seldom ever break character; they are always “on-stage”. Disney Cast are so consistent in treating guests extremely well that we often become complacent about it. Then, every once in a while, a Cast Member does something so extra-special that it's magical. They step so far out-of-bounds to give you great service that you just have to stop and say WOW!

Carol and I have had a few special “magical moments”, here's another example: Carol and I were at Disneyland in 2008 celebrating our anniversary. The Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage had just opened. The lines were huge . . . often over 90 minutes long. We walked past several times, always hoping to return later and find a shorter wait-time.

Nemo_Submarine

Finally our vacation was drawing to a close; we were running out of time. We bit the bullet and entered the back end of a 70 minute line. A cast member walking by, Christina, must have noticed our anniversary buttons. She stopped and said “Happy Anniversary, I have a gift for you. Follow me.” She took us to the front of the line and walked us directly up to the boarding area for the first available boat. WOW!

Christina

Just a few years ago Carol's parents were staying at POP Century and had a dinner reservation at Boma. They caught a Disney bus from POP Century to Animal Kingdom where they planned to switch to an Animal Kingdom Lodge bus to head off for dinner at Boma. Unfortunately they misread the sign on the front of the bus and boarded one heading to Wilderness Lodge not Animal Kingdom Lodge. It was close to the time for their ADR so they asked the driver if he knew the fastest way to get to AKL from WL. After they explained the situation he said, “Go have a seat.” He called dispatch to get an OK and then drove them directly from Wilderness Lodge to Animal Kingdom Lodge " there was no one else on the bus. Along the way he called Boma and let them know John and Sybil were on the way but would be a few minutes late. WOW!

Boma

Friend John from New Jersey tells about the time, years ago, when he and his family were staying at the Contemporary Resort. They were heading out for the Hoop-Dee-Doo dinner show at Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground but when they arrived at the dock to catch the boat to Fort Wilderness they discovered that it so windy all the boats on Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon had been cancelled. They were really pressed for time so they went to the information desk in the lobby to explain their predicament and ask about the quickest way to get to Pioneer Hall. The Cast Member called for a Disney van and they were quickly chauffeured to their destination. The van didn't drop them at the Settlement bus stop; it drove them all the way to the bus stop adjacent to Pioneer Hall. In John's words, “We felt pretty special.” WOW!

Hoop-Dee-Doo

Denita from South Dakota tells this story from November 2012: “Our last night at Walt Disney World there were Extra Magic Hours at Disney Hollywood Studios so of course we finished our vacation there. At 10:45 p.m., 15 minutes before park closing, my husband, son and three nephews and I sprinted to Rock ‘n Roller Coaster. Our daughter was tired so she sat on a bench to wait. We waltzed right on the coaster; there was no line at all! We still had a few minutes before the park closed so we raced to the Tower Of Terror. While in the queue, close to the loading area, we wondered if we would have the elevator all to ourselves. Alas, it did not happen . . . BUT . . . the ride froze after the first part. The soundtrack continued after the lightning and ghost movie segment, but the elevator just sat there and didn't move. After a delay of about 3 minutes the ride started again. We continued on and finished the “up and down” part of the ride.”

“I know how Disney likes to please, and we just couldn't finish our vacation on a botched up ride. So, when the doors opened, I explained to the Cast Member what had happened on the ride, then followed it up with the fact that were leaving the next morning and it would be two years before we could return. We just couldn't end our amazing vacation on a botched trip on our favourite ride. Of course, she agreed with me, picked up the phone and made a call. Soon another Cast Member arrived. He was not a typical Tower Of Terror worker; he was dressed in a suit. He came out of a side door and took us “backstage”, up the back way to the loading area.

In the end....we not only got the entire elevator to ourselves . . . BUT . . . by the time we were done with our final ride, the park had completely emptied out! We were the only people walking from Tower Of Terror to the park exit. What a great opportunity for photos! WOW!

Tower_of_Terror

Hollywood_Studios

How do you say thank you when this kind of magic happens? How can you repay magic? Wow, that's a tough question! But there are some things you can do.

Carol and I always carry “Cast Appreciation Cards” which we hand out when we've received “special” service. They are available for download (and customization) from the Tagrel.com Disney fan community. You can see some sample cards here. The Cast Members we've given them to are really appreciative. Disney has a great recognition program for Cast Members and I suspect that a Cast Appreciation Card would draw a smile from the person's supervisor.

Cast_Appreciation_Cards

But, while the Cast Appreciation Cards are well received, are they really enough for that real “WOW” level of service? . . . the kind of experience that carries the accompanying magic? Nope, I don't think so.

That kind of “WOW” moment should be pointed out to senior management!

When the "WOW" moment happens try to get the Cast Member's full name. At least remember the name on their name tag. As soon as possible after the “magical experience” you should write down what happened and describe how wonderful it made you feel. Be sure to include complete details " don't forget to mention the date, time, location and the Cast Member's name. Then send the information by mail to: Walt Disney World Guest Communications, P.O. Box 10040, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0040 or by e-mail to: WDW.Guest.Communications@disneyworld.com

How about you? Have you experienced any of “The Other Kind” of Disney magic? Have you said “WOW”?

November 25, 2012

Ft. Wilderness Christmas -- Dave “The Castle Guy”

Gary Cruise banner

In December 2008 Carol and I spent a few weeks at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. We took part in a Disney fan meet known as “MouseFest”. Carol and I, along with our friends John & Erin from New Jersey, co-hosted a walking tour of the campground to admire all the seasonal décor. About 45 of us wandered the campground admiring the lights, inflatables and the other imaginative displays. Someone we passed that evening said, “Be sure to check out site #551 " it's great.” Alas, we didn't make it that night! It was the following night when Carol and I circled the 500 loop and saw Dave “The Castle Guy” for the first time.

Dave's Castle at night

Wow . . . we were in awe when we saw his creation! Carol took a short video which I later uploaded to YouTube. I sent some friends a link to the video and urged them to visit Site 551 before they went home.

We didn't return for the Christmas season again until 2011 when we were fortunate enough to camp just a few campsites down from Dave and his awesome display.

Dave's Castle at night

We visited back and forth with Dave many times during our stay and during our few weeks together he told me the story of “The Castle Project”.

This is how he described it, “In December 2007 my wife Dee and I spent 10 days at Fort Wilderness Campground, Disney World. You would not believe what folks were doing to their campsites. The Christmas decorations were out of this world. The campers really put their imaginations in high gear. All the time and effort they spent decorating their sites was really impressive.”

For me, it was inspiring. If you haven't been to Fort Wilderness at Christmas, you should stop by. It is well worth the trip. All the campers are in a wonderfully good mood and the sights and sounds of Christmas fill the air. It's truly a magical place to be during the holiday season.”

“When we returned home to Titusville, Florida I started thinking about making something for our own campsite. I thought, ‘What would be the coolest thing I could have on our campsite?' The answer immediately came to mind ‘Cinderella Castle'. So, in April of 2008 I started on The Castle Project.”

Dave's Castle at night

Dave's labour of love took eight months to complete. He started with a six foot by four foot piece of three quarter inch thick Medium Density Overlay (MDO), a resin-coated plywood which is very weather resistant. Dave took a picture of Cinderella Castle, blew it up to the correct six foot by four foot proportions and printed it out on 26 sheets of photo paper.

Adding the picture to the background

He described the decoupage as the most difficult task in the entire project; he applied the photo sheets to the MDO and then covered them with six coats of clear acrylic sealer.

Then he cut the castle out, beginning with a precision jig saw for the rough cut and then finishing the finer features with a Dremel hand-held tool.

Cutting out the castle with a jigsaw

Rough cut of the castle

Next step, Dave drilled some holes. There are 427 lights on the castle.

Drilling front holes for the lights

Each hole was drilled from the front and then countersunk on the back to accommodate the light socket. That's 854 holes to drill! I'm exhausted just thinking about it!

Countersinking rear holes

Dee took charge of the trees which flank the castle. The first year there were 16 trees, now there are 26. Dee securely fastened each and every light so that they will survive the packing and repacking that is required every year. Everything about the castle is designed to be durable yet portable!

When Dave starts talking about the electronics my eyes start to glaze over. I can appreciate how The Big Bang Theory's Penny feels when she's talking to Dr. Sheldon Cooper. Since I don't understand any of the technical stuff I'm going to quote Dave again, “The castle is controlled by 16 channels of lighting. It is surrounded by 16 Christmas trees so that adds another 16 channels of lighting. Above the trees are 3 lighted snowflakes, each representing a Disney character. All this has been put to beautiful Disney music, “When You Wish upon a Star” and Disney's “Wishes”, with fireworks added in for the grand finale. It ended up being 48 channels of lighting that first year. Everything is controlled through my laptop!”

Adding the wiring

Wiring up the castle

The Software that runs the show is "ShowTime Software Suite S3" from a company named "Light O Rama". Much of the hardware is from the same company, Dave currently uses 5 Light O Rama (LOR) 16 channel controllers, 3 LOR Cosmic Color Ribbons with 150 channels each and 1 LOR Cosmic Color Pixel with 100 channels. Just imagine how glassy my eyes were as I typed this paragraph!

From the start Dave knew the first song he had to sequence would be "Wish Upon A Star". It's his favourite Disney song and it touches a spot in the hearts of all Disney fans. He selected the Eric Kunzel version, it's beautiful. Then he used 4 tracks from Disney's "Wishes" to finish it off. The grande finale is made up of 5 audio tracks of fireworks. Wow . . . when you see and hear it I think you will agree that it's amazing!

Ready for dry runs

After all the lights were installed on the castle, the Christmas trees were prepared, the lights and soundtracks were sequenced it was time for a test.

It works

Dave set it all up in his garage, crossed his fingers and started the show. It was perfect " it ran like a charm. Next stop " Fort Wilderness!

Dave and Dee transport the Castle in their 40 ft motor home. The MDO castle lays on the bed while they are underway. Everything else is stored below in the cargo bays. One rule Dave has is that EVERYTHING has to fit in the motor home. He doesn't want to tow a trailer so he keeps it all pretty compact. It takes him around ten hours to set everything up and around four hours to break everything down and pack it away for transport.

The castle in daylight

When Dave returned with his completed castle in 2008 he was a bit nervous. As he puts it, “We returned to Fort Wilderness Campground on December 7th, 2008. As I was putting put up the castle show, I thought to myself, “People are going to think I am crazy, this guy has gone off the deep end.” Boy, was I wrong! It was a total blockbuster hit. It was the talk of the campground. The reservation office folks were telling people checking in to “make sure you see the castle show in the 500 loop”. I have never met so many great people. It was a total blast!

Dave has improved and enhanced the castle show each year since then. “In 2009 we returned to Fort Wilderness with 64 channels, 10 more Christmas trees and a VERY special appearance by “Tinker Bell” (Tink is really hard to book during the holidays, you know). It's the latest in lighting technology.”

“In 2010 I decided to light up the whole motor home in the show. That was fun. I also added another musical sequence, Disney's Holiday Wishes.”

“In 2011 I added another musical sequence, Disney's “Remember the Magic”. They used to play it at Disneyland years ago. It's a great song.”

“This year, 2012, I am introducing a new musical sequence. It's a mix of Disney favourites. I have also done a lot of fine tuning to all the other Disney songs. I have added a new “Tinker Bell” effect that I'm trying out. There are also a couple of surprises that I'm keeping a secret. The Castle show is now at 80+ channels and has 7000+ lights.”

“The Castle show starts automatically and runs continuously from 6:00 p.m. every evening. It shuts itself down at 10:00 p.m. Quiet time at the Fort starts at 10:00 pm.”

Dave's Castle at night

Dave's castle show has been featured in Orlando Attractions magazine and on a local television station but if you haven't seen it live . . . you really haven't seen it!

The thing Dave most enjoys about his castle show is the opportunity it gives him to meet all the Fort Wilderness campers and Disney fans. He puts it like this, “Every night you can find me at my campsite meeting folks and talking about the castle and all the other wonderful decorations at the Fort. Last year a group of about 120 AllEars fans stopped by to see the Castle show; what a great group of people.”

“Another thing I really enjoy is giving out glow sticks to all the kids who stop by; kids young and old. Last year I gave out several hundred! I am really stocking up on them this year.”

The horse-drawn sleigh rides and wagon rides which tour the campground do not make any stops, except at Christmas when they all pause for a few minutes at Dave's castle. Golf carts and pedestrians stop too! In fact, there's often a traffic jam in front of Dave and Dee's campsite . . . but it's the happiest traffic jam you have ever seen. Dave hasn't just built a castle . . . he's made magic! I'm sure Walt looks down occasionally on Dave's castle " and Walt smiles!


Click on the arrow to see a 15 minute sequence from of the 2010 Castle Show.

This year Dave and Dee will be at Fort Wilderness from December 5th through December 26th. The castle should be up and running by December 8th and the last show will be on Christmas Day.

If you are planning to visit Walt Disney World in December a trip to Fort Wilderness is a must. Set aside an evening to tour the campground and enjoy the amazing Christmas décor.

For some tips on how to get to Fort Wilderness and a few suggestions for your tour of the campground read the last few paragraphs a recent blog here.

So come on over and join the happiest traffic jam on earth! Don't forget, Dave will be waiting to meet you . . . and he just might have a glow stick for you! Go check out his castle . . . you will be amazed!

November 4, 2012

Christmas at Fort Wilderness

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

As you read this blog big changes are taking place at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. The campers are getting ready for Christmas!

All of those fabulous Halloween decorations are coming down; the campers are setting up their campsites for the most wonderful time of the year. “The Fort” is being transformed into a Christmas spectacle!

November 1st the change begins . . . spooky is out, winter wonderland is in!

If you are going to be at Walt Disney World between Halloween and Christmas a visit to Fort Wilderness should be on your “Must-Do” list. Visit during November and you will be truly impressed; visit during December and you will be blown away.

If you haven't been to Fort Wilderness during the holiday season you have no idea how lavish the decorations are - it is truly amazing what the campers do!

Perhaps a few pictures will give you some idea . . .

Fort Wilderness Tree

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

The campground is ablaze with lights. Trees are wrapped and festooned with strings of lights.

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Inflatables of all sizes light up the campground loops with festive cheer.

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Trains and monorails circle through several displays.

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Disney movies are played on outdoor screens.

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

You will see palm trees draped with Christmas ornaments.

Fort Wilderness Christmas

You will see Minnie Mouse relaxing in a bubble bath.

Minnie Mouse in a Bubble Bath

Golf carts are decorated for the season too, some are disguised as Disney characters, some are sleighs and a few are pulled by reindeer.

Golf Cart Sleigh

Minnie Mouse Golf Cart with Reindeer

Golf Cart Sleigh with Reindeer

Dave “The Castle Guy” Lovett is usually there for the first two weeks of December. You really must see his castle; this year he plans to have it dazzling visitors from December 8th until Christmas Day. Here's a video of Dave's castle " click on the arrow to start the video and watch it until the end " Awesome!

The best ways to get to Fort Wilderness are by Disney bus or by boat. Unless you are camped in the resort you will not be allowed to enter with your car and parking is very limited. You can catch a bus to The Fort at any theme park or at Downtown Disney. Once you arrive just transfer to any internal bus (the campground has its own bus system) and travel to The Settlement. For the most scenic option, you can catch a boat to the campground from the Magic Kingdom, Wilderness Lodge or the Contemporary Resort. The boats all dock at the Marina beside the Settlement.

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Once you are at the Settlement it's an easy walk to the camping loops. The pathways are all paved and the terrain is flat. A leisurely walk of about 1 ½ to 2 miles will cover most of the loops. Let the magic begin!

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

If you prefer an easier tour, head to Pioneer Hall. Just across from the hall you can board a horse-drawn wagon or a horse-drawn carriage for a guided tour . . . they cover all of the best decorated sites! Last year at Christmas there was a carriage or wagon travelling past our campsite every 15 or 20 minutes all evening! Details on the cost of wagon and carriage rides can be found here.

Sleigh Ride Sign

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

You can start your evening with dinner at Trail's End Restaurant beside Pioneer Hall. It's an all-you-can-eat buffet, details are here. Try to time your dinner so that you finish just after dusk; then the lights will be at their best! Head toward the Settlement Trading Post and follow the glow of lights to the right of the store. A walkway will lead you into the 100 camping loop. Just stroll through the loops as you make your way around the campground and savour the sights and sounds. Take time to talk to the campers, they are always happy to chat about their décor. Some will even be out with candy or glow sticks for the children!

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

Fort Wilderness Christmas Campsite

When you've seen the sights don't forget to head to the Marina. The Wishes fireworks display at the Magic Kingdom can be seen from the beach and dock and they pipe in the sound track. Once Wishes is over, if the timing is right, wait just a few minutes; the Electrical Water Pageant sails past the dock every night at 9:45.

What a wonderful way to end your day at the Most Magical Place on Earth!


October 14, 2012

Scooting Around Walt Disney World on an ECV

Gary Cruise banner

For the past five or six years I have suffered with arthritic knees and it has had a significant impact on my ability to enjoy all that Walt Disney World has to offer. For the first few years it merely slowed me down, but unfortunately it also slowed down all those I was travelling with. That made me feel a bit guilty!

Finally my condition deteriorated to the point where I had to break down and rent an Electric Convenience Vehicle, commonly called an ECV or scooter. It was a bit of a blow to my ego but a big boon to my enjoyment.

It also gave me a whole new perspective on mobility. It was a real eye-opener!

I developed an understanding of the difficulties those with mobility issues face on a regular basis and I also saw how Disney does as much as they possibly can to make life easier for those with mobility challenges.

You've all seen scooters at home and at Disney so you know what they look like but I'll take a minute to describe how easy they are to operate. There are only three main controls, a key to turn the scooter on and off, a dial you turn to adjust the speed and a flipper you press to make it move. Press the flipper on one side and you move forward, press the other side and you back up.

ECV controls

The battery packs hold a charge which will get you through a rigorous day at the parks but be sure to plug them in to recharge overnight!

The ECV's come in 3-wheel and 4-wheel models. The 4-wheel version is a bit more stable to operate but the 3-wheeler has a tighter turning circle and is easier to manoeuvre with. I prefer the 3-wheeler.

Disney rents 4-wheelers at each of the theme parks. The current cost is $50.00 per day plus a deposit of $20.00 which is refunded when you return the scooter at the end of your day. There is no guarantee scooters will be available. Also, you can use your receipt at a different park on the same day, but again, no guarantee of availability.

Disney ECV

You can also bring your own ECV as long as it falls within the 32” x 48” size required for use on the Disney Transportation System.

There are also many other vendors such as Buena Vista Scooters who will deliver an ECV to your resort for the full duration of your vacation and then pick it up when you leave. This is much more economical than renting from Disney and gives an added advantage " you can use the scooter everywhere, not just at the parks. The one disadvantage is that you have to transport the scooter from your resort to the parks.

ECV models

All Disney buses, monorails and many of the boats are accessible but you need to back the scooter onto the ramp before loading it on the bus. Be sure to practice backing up!

We normally stay in our motor home at Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground and we always ensured that the ECV we rented would fold up and fit in the trunk of the car we tow to Florida.

AllEars has some much more detailed information on ECV's here.

Now let me describe my experience in the parks.

There are a few impediments to travel on a scooter, the principal one is the curbs along the roadside. Anything higher than about 2 or 3 inches is impassable for an ECV. Fortunately there are ramps located at all the major crossing points so there's always one nearby.

The queues for most attractions are wide enough for a scooter to maneuver quite easily and once you have boarded the attraction a cast member will move the ECV to the unloading area so it's waiting when you finish your ride. Some attractions, such as The Haunted Mansion, Spaceship Earth and Star Tours have special boarding arrangements; a cast member escorts you to the unloading area where you have a bit of extra time and space to get settled in your car.

Whenever you encounter stairs, such as near the entry to the Jungle Cruise, look around " there will be a ramp for ECV's, wheelchairs and strollers nearby.

There are special viewing areas for Illuminations, Fantasmic, the nightly Wishes fireworks show and the new Celebrate the Magic castle show which will debut in November. These areas are set aside for people in wheelchairs and scooters and they all have great sight lines. If you don't use one of these areas you will probably see nothing more than the back of the person standing in front of you! Ask a cast member for directions to the nearest viewing area. These areas are filled on a first come, first served basis so plan to arrive early. Once you get there a cast member will direct you to the front of the roped off area where you will have an unimpeded view. Everyone else in your party can stand behind you and all the others seated in chairs and ECV's.

Overall Disney has done a terrific job of ensuring that all areas of every park are accessible. There were very few impediments to travel on my ECV and only a few minor delays. I did not find a single attraction that I could not enjoy.

For more complete details on accessibility at Walt Disney World look here.

Scooters at EPCOT

Here are a few important things you should know about ECV's and a few tips as well:

1. Scooters have no brake pedal and they don't stop on a dime. When you release the throttle (that little flipper that makes it move) the electric motor acts as a brake to slow you down fairly quickly and then when you are almost stopped you will feel a slight “clunk” as the motor locks to hold you in place. It's sort of an automatic parking brake.

This becomes very important when a child darts in front of you. Since you are at Walt Disney World you will encounter lots of children who are so wrapped up in the magic that they lose track of their surroundings. They dodge and dart everywhere and that is not going to change . . . it's a natural result of all the things we enjoy about Disney! Always leave a safe distance in front of you and stay alert! I'm still surprised that in all my scooter travels I didn't mow down a child!

Unfortunately, the same is often true for adults. They get wrapped up in the magic too, but there's also another issue. When they are standing and you are seated you normally fall below their line of sight. When they look around they often look over top of you and you do not register in their consciousness. Once again, leave a safe distance in front of you and stay alert!

At times things will get really congested, such as after a parade when everyone is heading toward the exit. When this happens it's much easier and safer to just pull off to the side for five minutes or so. The crowd will disperse in no time and you can be on your way.

2. Keep your speed appropriate to the traffic you are in. The ECV's Disney rents are slow; their top speed is just a nice walking pace. Some of the other vendor's scooters will zip along at up to 20 mph . . . far too fast for a busy theme park. Take it slow and easy and always leave plenty of room in front of you!

3. Practice backing up. As I mentioned earlier, you will need to back the scooter onto a small ramp in order to load it on a Disney bus and it will save time and inconvenience for you and for others if you can hit the ramp correctly the first time you try. It's also a good idea to back into an elevator so you can drive straight out when you get to your floor. Practice makes perfect!

4. All scooters have a basket on the front. This is a great spot to carry a bottle of water, sunglasses, a rain poncho, your camera and all the other things you need to survive a day at Disney. Use the basket . . . DO NOT hang anything from the handlebars. One time on our way to Soarin' I was waiting for the elevator in The Land. The elevator door opened and a lady on a scooter came flying out at full speed . . . 20 mph . . . her eyes were like saucers as the hurtled across the elevator foyer and crashed headlong into a vending machine. She had hung her purse on the handlebars and it got tangled with the throttle flipper. She was a little dazed and so was the man who was servicing the vending machine, but fortunately no one was seriously hurt.

5. When you leave the ECV be sure to remove the key, this will extend your battery life and prevent someone from accidentally taking your scooter. There is a little lever under the seat which cast members will flip to put the scooter in neutral so they can move it; they do not need the key. Also be sure to remove all valuables from the basket. I have never had anything go missing from the scooter, but better to be safe than sorry.

6. Take your time and pace yourself. You will not be able to move as quickly with the ECV as you could on foot so be sure to allow some extra time " and take time to enjoy the experience of your magical Disney vacation.

Scooters are a reliable means of transport but they can be a source of fun too. Some of our friends decorate their ECV's for the season.

Our friend Ray at Christmas

A few of my friends played a prank on me one day. They decorated my scooter while I was off riding Tower of Terror. When I returned it was festooned with pink balloons and streamers. A sign taped to the front proclaimed my new nickname " Princess Poopy-Knees!

Princess Poopy-Knees

I proudly rode around with balloons and streamers the rest of the day. The ECV was very easy to locate, it was one-of-a-kind!

Fortunately I am now the proud owner of two brand new knees so my scooter days are behind me . . . hopefully for a long while to come! I am thankful that the ECV allowed my to enjoy several vacations I would have otherwise missed. It was a good experience, it really opened my eyes to the challenges many people face.

If you are holding back from a Walt Disney World vacation because you have mobility issues " a scooter might be the solution you're looking for!

Rent an ECV and go have some fun!

September 30, 2012

Disney Fun – With a Group

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

Have you ever been a part of “group activities” at Disney? We have, and it can be loads of fun! We have met some wonderful people and made some lasting friendships as a result of our involvement in group fun at Disney.

Back in 2004 Carol was planning our December trip to Walt Disney World. She had recently gotten involved with Tagrel.com, an internet fan community, and in one of the threads she had read about something called “MouseFest”. It was a group of different internet communities who gathered at Walt Disney World for the first time in early December 2003. MouseFest #2 would be taking place while we were there. She wanted to check it out. A few folks she had “met” online were going to be there and they had some activities or “meets” planned.

We had some reservations - What if they're all geeks and weirdo's? So we approached the whole event with caution. We were extremely wary as we sidled toward the group who had assembled for our first meet . . . we were trying to sneak up without being seen. If they were really weird we could just walk away!

This first encounter was a group ride on Kilimanjaro Safari. The event was hosted by some people we had never met before, Deb Wills and her AllEars.net team. What do you know, these people were normal . . . well, maybe not normal . . . but they were just like us.

Meeting at Kilimanjaro Safaris

Deb was there to greet us and we were extremely excited when she handed us each an AllEars button! Soon we were off; about 200 of us joined the line and our group filled truck after truck to ride through Africa. Most of the folks knew the recorded script by heart and before long we were all reciting the radio banter along with Warden Wilson Matua. Our driver attempted to stick with his normal story but eventually he abandoned the script and roared with laughter as we took over the narration. It was a great ride . . . I'm sure we must have seen some animals, but that seemed secondary compared to all the other fun we were having.

Riding Kilimanjaro Safaris

As soon as we left Kilimanjaro we walked down the road to nearby Harambe Fort to begin a Hidden Mickey search. Dr. Steven Barrett, the famous Hidden Mickey hunter, was there handing out clue sheets and explaining the ground rules. There were subtle clues directing us to some not-so-obvious Hidden Mickeys. Soon we had teamed up with a couple of Tagrel.com “friends” we were meeting for the first time and off we went. What a blast we had, searching for elusive images of the mouse and snapping pictures of them. Back at Harambe Fort Steve told us a bit about the origin and history of Hidden Mickeys and then he drew for some door prizes. Wow! I won one of Steve's Hidden Mickey books and he autographed it for me.

Steve Barrett the king of Hidden-Mickeys

It was a great day! We met two well known personalities in the Disney fan universe, Deb Wills and Steve Barrett. We laughed a lot, we learned a little bit and we made some new friends and acquaintances. We were hooked! We never missed MouseFest after that! Each year it got bigger and better.

Alas, like many good things it ended too soon. The last MouseFest was held in December 2008. But don't despair . . . while MouseFest is a thing of the past, there are still plenty of groups who get together for Disney fun!

Tagrel.com Disney Fan community.jpg

Tagrel.com has regular gatherings at Walt Disney World we refer to as “Tag-O-Mania” and when we occasionally get together at Disneyland it's “Tag-A-Venture”. The next Tag-A-Venture will be held in mid October 2012 and the next Tag-O-Mania will likely be in early December 2013.

Tagrel friends at Expedition Everest

What do we do? Plenty!
Do we have fun? YES!

Toy Soldiers at Toy Story Mania

Picture us heading to It's a Small World. Yes, I know, many of you don't like it. The music just won't quit . . . it's in your head all day. But when you ride with 50 or 60 friends it creates some new memories. It's kind of special to remember sailing through this old attraction when the two boats in front of yours, and the two boats behind it, are filled with your friends and everyone in all 5 boats is loudly singing along with that tiresome old tune!

Once, at the Tower of Terror we filled an entire elevator car with Tag-O-Maniacs. At the end of the ride when the elevator car rotated and the exit door slid open we all screamed at the top of our lungs. It was quite a surprise for the doorman who was poking his head in the door ready to startle us!

Tower of Terror

Group meals are fun too. When the server asks, “Where are you folks from?” it's nice to be able to say, “I'm from Canada, he's from Boston, those two are from Albuquerque, she's from Seattle, the old guy is from Scranton and the lady in the corner " I have no idea where she lives.”

The most frenzied activity I've ever seen at Walt Disney World was a Tag-O-Mania event called “Capture the Magic”. We formed teams of about six people and took off on a photo-scavenger hunt. Each team received a list of about 40 riddles which had to be solved to find cryptic clues. The clues sent you to places all around the Magic Kingdom where the team had to be photographed in some crazy activity.

We had to find strangers, two generations in the family, to “Walk like an Egyptian” with us on Main Street USA.

Walk like an Egyptian

We had to arrange the team in Liberty Square with the team's bodies (along with two total strangers) spelling out the word Mickey.

Spelling out M-I-C-K-E-Y

We had to find a cast member and have them join us as we performed a can-can dance in front of Country Bear Jamboree.

Can Can Dance

It was impossible to complete all of the tasks in the allotted 90 minutes but we sure had a blast trying!

One of the nice things about the Tagrel meets, and all the other groups too, is that you can pick and choose what you want to participate in. There is a published list of events and you select which ones to get involved in. There is no pressure and no one takes attendance! You can still have plenty of time to your self!

But of course Tagrel.com is not your only option if you're looking for group activities. There are plenty of other groups.

AllEars.net has regular meets in the parks throughout the year. You can find details here. There is a unique AllEars Trading Card created for each meet and these cards have become a very popular item with Disneyana collectors!

Last year we took part in "A December to Remember", the 15th Anniversary celebration for AllEars.net. It was magical - Mouse Fan Travel worked with Walt Disney World officials to dazzle us with some "extra magic"! As always they did a magnificent job. We enjoyed all of the events but one of the highlites for us was a session with noted Disney artist Don "Ducky" Williams.

Ducky Williams

Ducky has an amazing life story and he tells it very extremely well, all while drawing Disney characters on his easel.

Ducky Williams

Ducky Williams

There was some over-the-top pixie dust one night. Mouse Fan Travel arranged a private viewing of The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. After Hollywood Studios closed for the evening a group of about 150 of us were escorted back to enjoy the lights with no crowd! WOW! What a treat!

Osborne Lights

Osborne Lights

There are many other Disney fan communities who meet at the parks as well. Here are just a few of them:

Reunion, co-hosted by WDW Today & Mouse Fan Travel, takes place each year in early December. Details are here.

Lou Mongello of WDW Radio hosts a regular “Meet of the Month”. Details are here.

RADP, the grand-daddy of all the internet groups, also meets each year in December. Details are here.

So if you are an avid Disney fan but you have not participated in any of the many group activities, what's holding you back? It's time you added this new dimension to your Disney experience! Find an Internet Fan Community that appeals to you and sign up for some fun. You'll be surprised how many new friends you will make!

If you have already taken part in some of the groups I've mentioned then you know how much fun it is when you get together with folks who share your addiction to Disney!

September 23, 2012

Mickey's Circus - 2012 Disney Trade Celebration

CarolCruisebanner.jpg

Earlier this month I enjoyed the annual Disney Trade Celebration at EPCOT. I first attended this event in 2005 and I had so much fun that I have not missed a year since. This was my eighth consecutive Trade Celebration at EPCOT.

2012 Event logo

The 2012 Disney Trade Celebration was called Mickey's Circus. The theme coincided with the newly renovated and expanded Fantasyland that will hold its grand opening in December. The pin event kicked off on Thursday with a pre-registration session and continued with all-day events Friday and Saturday. Sunday was set aside for the Vinylmation portion of the event. This year, for the first time, the Sunday event lasted all day. In previous years the doors to World ShowPlace were opened at 1 p.m. and any park guests could enter to trade pins and purchase any of the remaining event merchandise.

Pin Event Invitation
Vinylmation Event Invitation

My adventure began on Tuesday, I drove to Syracuse NY to board my flight to Orlando. I landed in Florida at 7 p.m. and once I had picked up my luggage and selected my rental car I was on my way to Disney. I went directly to Downtown Disney and met my pin trading friends at Earl of Sandwich.

Earl of Sandwich

After a great dinner and plenty of catching up with friends I hadn't seen for a while we wandered through a couple of the shops.

Pin Trading friends

Before we knew it, everything was closing down for the night. I still had not checked-in to the resort so my roomie and I headed over to All Star Movies. It was close to midnight by the time Carrie and I found the room. We were only staying the one night; we would move to the Boardwalk the next day so there was no need to unpack. Carrie is a Disney Vacation Club owner and had booked us a studio for the following five nights.

I was awake early and walked down to the food court to grab some coffee, wandered the grounds a bit and then went back to the room. We were ready to check-out and head over to Hollywood Studios by 8:30 a.m. We browsed a few of the shops and I looked at a recently released cel in the Animation Gallery.

Hollywood Studios

We stopped at Starring Rolls for a Danish and then meandered back to the gates. It was almost 10:30 so decided to see if our room was ready at the Boardwalk. It was, so we parked, unloaded everything and took time to get settled.

Boardwalk

Soon we were headed to the Magic Kingdom to get our Sorcerer cards (both Carrie and I are collecting them) and meet our fellow Canadian pin traders for lunch. We ate at the Columbia Harbor House and then decided we needed a swim so back to Boardwalk we went.

Boardwalk pool

That evening we had dinner at Wolfgang Puck's in Downtown Disney's Westside. This was a chance for our group to spend some peaceful time together before the event took over our lives.

Pin Trading friends

Thursday morning was the start of the non-stop four days of Disney pins and Vinylmations. The first thing we did was drive over to Coronado Springs, where the pre-registration was being held, beginning at noon. Last year we had to park a long, long way from the convention centre and it was too far to carry our pin bags in and then later carry out all the new pins we were picking up. So this year we had a plan! Susan drove over early and parked her car there, close to the door with all our bags and trading goods in the trunk. That way if we had to park miles away at least our stuff would be close. Carrie and I picked up Susan and Allison in our car and they rode with us to EPCOT. We joined friends Ann and Mike at the gate. We were all attending a special breakfast with some of the Disney pin artists.

EPCOT breakfast group

This breakfast was held in the private lounge at the Norway pavilion and was hosted by Central Jersey Disney Pin Traders. It was the second annual breakfast with the Disney Design Group and the artists who joined us were Quynh Kimball, Caley Hicks and Monty Maldovan. At 8:30 we were greeted at the main gate by a Cast Member and escorted through Future World and around to Norway. When we entered there was a large table of really good food waiting for us and lots of piping hot coffee. Life was good!

Pin artists

We enjoyed our meal while chatting with our table mates for about 45 minutes, then John Rick of CJDPT introduced the featured artists. The format was very relaxed and informal. Questions from the floor to the artists flowed easily and the time flew past. It was hard to believe that 2 hours had already passed when it was announced that it was 11 o'clock and time to pack up! The breakfast was closed with a special raffle, drawing for some original sketches that the artists had brought along. At the very end Quynh Kimball announced that he had brought a very special button for everyone. It was going to be worn by the Cast Members at the event and we were all presented with one. We all left happy and full, what a great start to the weekend.

Naturally we made a short detour to the Magic Kingdom to pick up our daily allotment of Sorcerer Cards before going on to Coronado Springs.

Sorcerers

Next stop " Coronado Springs for early registration and of course pin and Vinylmation trading. The standing in lines officially started!

Registration line

This year I have to say that the registration went the fastest ever. The Veracruz A Hall was divided in half, one half set up for registration the other half full of tables and chairs for traders. Once I received my credentials and event merchandise I was allowed to cross over into the trading area. This area was set aside for use by those registered for the event until 7 p.m. and then it was opened up for the regular monthly pin trading night that is normally held at the Contemporary Resort.

I found the table where my friends were gathering and we all started to go through our bags of goodies.

Opening goodies

Opening goodies

Everyone received a welcome gift.

Welcome gift

There was an Early Registration gift for the first 750 registrants.

Early bird gift

Everyone registered for the Vinylmation event received a Vinylmation Welcome gift as well.

Vinylmation Welcome gift in the box

Vinylmation Welcome gift

The next exciting thing we all did was open our Mystery Pin Boxes! Each box held 2 of the new pins. This year the mystery pins were Villains, each participating in a sinister circus side shows. There were 13 Villain pins that were limited release, and then there were 13 different ticket pins that were chasers and limited to 100 each. I was very lucky this year, I bought 5 boxes and got 5 chasers. Lots of people didn't get any! Of course the chasers were the big trading item and everybody wanted the ticket chaser to go with the Villain pin.

Opening goodies

Villains and Tickets

I was happy to get the 3 pins and chasers that I actually wanted and then have a few sets left over for trading.

Gabes pin trading board

Carrie and I stayed until about 8:30, trading and talking, our only break from the room was when we wandered over to the Pepper Mill to get some food to go. We drove one of our friends over to the Beach Club Resort so it seemed only fitting that we make a stop at Beaches and Cream before going to our own resort. A great way to finish off the day!

Beaches and Cream

Friday morning we hit the ground running, caught the boat to EPCOT, checked through security and found our place in line, waiting for the doors to World ShowPlace to open. They do a great job at security during this event; they have a special entry gate just for pin traders and Max, a sniffer dog, checks all the bags. There are all sorts of bags that get brought in, from small over the shoulder bags to large suitcases on wheels. This year was a first for this one, I saw a person coming through with a Costco Grocery Cart, full of boxes and books of pins!

Max the security dog

Friday morning line

The doors opened at 9:30 a.m. and we all rushed to find a spot in a line for the pin trading boards. The room was decorated like The Big Top; Mickey's Circus had come to town. Disney spares no expense when decorating, they really tap into Disney history to immerse you in the theme of the event. I always look forward to seeing what they have in store for us every year.

Ringmaster Mickey

Entrance decor

This year the “mystery pins” on the pin trading boards were circus elephants which linked together with magnets. Each person was allowed to trade 2 of their pins for 2 pins off the board. Each board holds a few hundred pins and you had 60 seconds to find what you wanted. Along with the elephant pins you could find AP pins (artist proof) PP pins (pre-production) and LE pins (limited edition). When your minute was up you went back to the end of the line and started all over again.

Pin board pins

When you got tired of the lines you could relax in the back room where the trading tables were set up. I spent a great deal of my day in line. There is plenty of chatter among the folks in the line and many trades completed while you wait to get to the pin boards. Pin traders are always anxious to complete their collections and most of them willingly try to help you complete yours as well. They are a very cooperative bunch!

Trading board

Trading board

During the day there were always activities going on, special announcements, merchandise for sale and some fun games.

Entertainers

The only break we took was when Carrie and I went over to The Rose & Crown and had a really good lunch; I love the Cottage Pie there.

When they made the announcement that it was 6 p.m. and we had to leave, we all gathered up our stuff and wandered out into EPCOT. Carrie and I walked to the International Gateway where we boarded the boat to the Boardwalk. The others walked to their cars. Next on the agenda was pin trading night at Port Orleans Riverside. This is another annual activity organized by Central Jersey Disney Pin Traders. As if we don't get enough pin trading during the day, we have to keep it going into the night!

Carrie and I picked up our friends Sandy and Mo on the way. When we got to Riverside we joined the rest of our group, had some dinner in the food court and checked out the pin books that everyone had set out. We stayed until about 9 p.m. when exhaustion started setting in, time to call it a night.

Port Orleans Riverside

The Saturday morning line outside World ShowPlace stretched all the way back to the Rose Garden.

Saturday morning line

Saturday was a repeat of Friday during the day. Lots of lines, the silent auction, pin trading in the back room, checking out the new products being released in the up coming months and artist signings.

Artist pin signing

At 1 p.m. Jeanne Lewis and Julie Young took to the stage for the Big Top Pin Talk.

Jeanne and Julie

They told us about the up coming pin releases, introduced the representatives from the other Disneyland Parks, and then the big announcement that everyone was waiting for. What would the theme be for next year and when will the event be held? There was a roar out of the crowd when they announced that the 13th annual event would be held on the weekend of Friday the 13th next September. The event is going to be called “Reflections of Evil 13” and the Villains will be the focus.

New pins

2013 Event logo

Even though I am not a big Villains fan it was hard not to get caught up in the excitement. It was also announced that a special pin was being release right then and there . . . as part of the future events collection. Of course that meant another line; this pin was limited to 750.

13 Cruella pin

After the event closed at 6 p.m. we wandered through EPCOT and hitched a ride with Susan and Allison to Downtown Disney. We had a bite at Wolfgang Puck's at the Market Place, where we sat and talked for quite a while before wandering through some of the stores. We all decided that we shouldn't be too late - the Vinylmation event was the next day - so Susan and Allison dropped us off at the Boardwalk and we all called it a night.

Sunday morning it was the same drill, catch the boat, go through security, stand in line, the only difference was that we were not dragging our pins - we had our Vinylmations. Just as we got to the line the skies decided to open up and the rain was really coming down. Thankfully Disney took pity on us and opened the doors to World ShowPlace early. We could go in and get in our lines but none of the trade boxes were open until 9:30 a.m.

Sunday morning line

Vinylmations

The Vinylmation trading is similar to the pin trading, you stand in line until it is your turn at the trade box, you can trade 2 of your Vinylmation for 2 from the mystery box or open box. They do a refresh every 30 minutes and if you are in the right place at the right time you can get some great Vinylmations. There were lots of chasers and older rare vinyl's being pulled out of the boxes. This year the event mystery chaser was a clown, and of course everyone was trying to get these. I was lucky to get one.

Vinylmation chaser

The back room was full of traders, similar to the pin event. I wandered around a bit and made some good trades, but like Friday and Saturday I spent most of my time in the lines. Carrie and I escaped for an hour to the Rose and Crown again for lunch, but that was the only time we left the building until they closed down at 5:30 p.m. We caught the boat back to the Boardwalk to drop off our stuff before heading to the Magic Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom

This was our last night and we wanted to walk Main Street and of course get our Sorcerer cards. We did a bit of card trading at Tortuga Tavern before heading back to the Boardwalk.

Trading Sorcerer cards

We had ice cream on the Boardwalk and savored our last evening there before we started packing.

Monday morning I checked my luggage at the resort, I was worried I might be over my weight limit but I was just under the 50 pounds so all was good. We had some time to kill before driving to the airport so we went to Downtown Disney for a breakfast sandwich at Earl of Sandwich and wandered through a couple shops. It was then time to hit the road, return the car and get checked in for our flights home. I was flying back to Syracuse and Carrie was flying into Toronto an hour later.

It was over . . another great time at another great Disney event, with a bunch of great friends. I can't wait until next year!



Read Carol's blog on Vinylmations here.

Read Carol's blog on the 2010 Pin Celebration here.

Read Carol's blog on the 2009 Pin Celebration here.

Read Carol's blogs on the 2008 Pin Celebration. Part 1 Part 2

September 9, 2012

I Find It Surprising . . .

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

I find it surprising that someone could visit Walt Disney World 41 times and not ride the Tea Cups or explore Tom Sawyer Island. Very surprising!

I mentioned in a previous blog that my wife Carol and I “hang out” at Tagrel.com It's our favourite Disney Fan community. A recent discussion thread on the Tagrel forums asked members to complete the question “Am I the only one who's never . . . “

My last two blog entries focused on all the things you can do at Walt Disney World outside the theme parks and I was simply boggled when I read some of the responses to the Tagrel question. There is a huge variety of things to do outside the parks but it really surprises me what some veteran Disney fans have skipped inside the parks! Most of us in the Tagrel community are not what you would call casual Disney fans. We are real diehard fans " we are the folks who put the merely fanatical fans to shame. That's why I find it so hard to imagine!

Consider Mark, who started the thread on Tagrel.com. He has made 19 visits to WDW and he's a Disney Vacation Club owner. Mark has never been to Tom Sawyer Island, never been to Rafiki's Planet Watch, never taken a trail ride at Fort Wilderness and never visited Downtown Disney's West Side.

Tom Sawyer Island - Fort Langhorn

Rafiki's Conservation Station

Fort Wilderness Trail Ride

Susan is also a DVC owner and has enjoyed a whopping 41 Walt Disney World vacations. As I mentioned earlier, Susan has never ridden the Tea Cups or crossed over to Tom Sawyer's Island. She has never played mini golf, never taken a trail ride at Fort Wilderness, never eaten in Cinderella Castle, never been to Raglan Road or the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre.

Fantasyland Tea Cups Ride

Tom Sawyer Island Floating Bridge

Raglan Road

Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre

Naturally there are plenty of folks who have never done the thrill rides like The Tower of Terror, Mission Space or any of the roller coasters. That's understandable; some people don't tolerate the motion very well.

Plenty of folks have never had a Turkey Leg; I can understand that. I've tried one but they're not one of my favourite things.

But some of the answers remain astounding. There are avid Disney fans and frequent park visitors who have never had a Mickey Bar . . . yes; you read that correctly . . . they've NEVER HAD A MICKEY BAR!

Mickey Bar

A friend from New Jersey insists that the Mickey Bar is the fifth basic food group!

Mickey Bar the Fifth Food Group

Several others have never seen Fantasmic . . .

Fantasmic

. . . never had a Dole Whip. (I prefer the Pineapple Float)

Dole Whip

Pineapple Float

Others have never seen Flights of Wonder. It's an attraction we seldom miss; Carol and I consider it one of our “must-do's”. How can anyone pass it by?

Flights of Wonder

Of course, Carol and I are really no different; there are still plenty of things we have not done. We have covered the parks quite thoroughly but Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground is a different story. We have taken our motor home to “The Fort” eleven times and most times we stay for two weeks. In all those weeks at our favourite campground we have never seen a movie at Chip ‘n Dale's Campfire Sing-A-Long and we've never gone to Mickey's Backyard BBQ.

Chip and Dale Sign

BBQ Pavilion Sign

There are plenty of restaurants we have yet to enjoy and many attractions, both inside and outside the parks, which we haven't seen in a long, long time. Should we sit down, analyze the parks, make a list of things we have not done and then devise a plan so we can mark them all off the list? Or would that take the spontaneity and some of the fun out of our vacations?

Yeah, I think we'll stick with our spontaneous approach!

I guess the main thing that thread on Tagrel.com pointed out to me was the diversity of interests and tastes among Disney fans. We are all very unique individuals and different things appeal to each of us. This is a good thing! It adds variety and colour to our lives.

We are truly fortunate that Walt Disney World offers such a wide array of attractions to choose from; there will always be enough variety there to engage the child in all of us, despite our different tastes!

So, how about you? The question is, “Am I the only one who's never . . . ?“

How would you complete the question?

August 12, 2012

Think Outside The Parks – Part 2

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

I ended Part 1 of this blog by saying that Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground is a hidden gem. If you have not visited the campground you don't know what you're missing.

Many people think "I'm not a camper so Fort Wilderness has nothing to offer me or my family." How wrong they are! There are plenty of families who are not campers but just love to vacation in Fort Wilderness Cabins. You can read all about those luxurious cabins here and there are pictures of the cabins here.

But there is an almost endless list of activities to enjoy at Fort Wilderness even if you're not staying in a cabin or campsite there!

Take a trip over to "The Fort" and have a look. You can get to the campground on a Disney bus or you can board a boat at Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary Resort or Wilderness Lodge.

Fort Wilderness Sign

What can you do there? It's a long list. A very long list!

How about an Archery Lesson? Go to the Bike Barn, near the Meadows Trading Post and enjoy a lesson with an experienced archery coach. The 90-minute experience costs $25 (plus tax) per person, includes equipment and instruction and can be booked up to 90 days in advance.

Archery bows

Archery target

Mount a horse and take a 45 minute Trail Ride - These guided horseback rides are offered 5 times daily (8:30, 10, 11:30 a.m., 1, and 2:30 p.m.) at the Tri-Circle D Livery at Fort Wilderness. The cost is $46 per person.

Trail Ride

Trail Ride

Rent a bike at The Bike Barn and explore Fort Wilderness ($9 plus tax/hour, $18 plus tax/day). Tour around the loops of campsites or follow a nice paved trail to Wilderness Lodge. A side trail skirts along the shore of Bay Lake for part of the ride. Keep your eyes open " there are plenty of deer and waterfowl to see along the route.

Bike Barn

Bike riders

The campground is laced with rivers and canals. Rent a canoe, kayak or paddle boat at the Bike Barn ($6.50 plus tax/1/2 hour; $11 plus tax/hour) and get back to nature.

Canal

Canoe

If you enjoy tennis, there are two lighted tennis courts beside the Meadows Swimming Pool and complimentary tennis equipment is available for resort guests at the Bike Barn.

Join Chip & Dale for a campfire, sing-a-long and a movie.

Chip and Dale Sign

The campfire program is free and is open to all WDW resort guests. It generally begins around 7 p.m. during the fall/winter season and 8 p.m. after the time changes in April through the summer. It is held near the Meadow Trading Post in the campfire area. The program begins with a sing-a-long led by a Disney Cast Member and then a marshmallow-roast around two campfire rings.

Chip and Dale Singalong

Chip and Dale Campfire

You can bring your own marshmallows or buy them at the Chuck Wagon. They even sell kits so you can make s'mores! Chip & Dale make an appearance to visit with guests and sign autographs. The sing-a-long lasts about 40 minutes. Then a Disney animated features or two is shown on a large outdoor screen. Seating is available in bleachers or on benches.

Visit Tri-Circle-D Ranch at The Settlement, near the dock and marina. All those horses you see working at the Magic Kingdom are stabled at Tri-Circle-D Ranch and you can visit them in their home.

Tri Circle D Ranch

Tri Circle D Ranch.jpg

You may see a blacksmith shoeing Cinderella's Ponies or the horses seen on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. There is a nice visual tribute to horses from Disney movies and an amazing steam calliope is on display. Children 2 to 8 years old, weighing no more than 80 pounds, can ride a pony - Cost $5.

Pony ride

Go fishing, catch and release fishing is permitted in canals and lakes. Do not fish from the bridges; that's a no-no. Forgot your fishing tackle? No problem, you can rent tackle and purchase bait at the Bike Barn.

Fishing

If you prefer fishing on the lake or just want to tour Bay Lake head to the Fort Wilderness Marina (open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily). You can book a chartered largemouth bass fishing excursion on Bay Lake, which includes a professional guide, refreshments (soft drinks, coffee, hot chocolate & water), fishing gear and a dozen shiners. For more details look here. If you want to tour Bay Lake you can rent a 21' Suntracker Pontoon Boat ($34.74/half hr) or try one of the Mercury Water Mice ($21.59/half hour; $27.23/45 minutes; $30.05/hour).

Pontoon boats

Sea Raycers

The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is the most popular and longest-running dinner show at Walt Disney World. It has been running for almost 40 years! The show is held at 4:00, 6:15 and 8:30 p.m. nightly at Pioneer Hall.

Pioneer Hall

Reservations are a must and can be made up to 180 days in advance. Your dinner will include fresh baked bread, tossed green salad with vinaigrette dressing, country fried chicken, smoked BBQ pork ribs, mashed potatoes, baked beans, strawberry shortcake, coffee, soft drinks, hot and iced tea, unlimited beer and wine. While you enjoy your all you can eat dinner, you are entertained by good old fashion country & western singers, dancers and comedians. Be prepared for slapstick comedy, corny jokes and lots of singing and dancing " it's a rootin' tootin' good time! There are several seating and pricing options.

Hoop Dee Doo Revue

There's another dinner show too! Mickey's Backyard BBQ Dinner Show is an all-you-can-eat Disney Character dance party with Mickey, Minnie and friends. This kid-friendly family dinner is held from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. each Thursday and Saturday in the middle of a covered, open-air Pavilion at Fort Wilderness directly behind Pioneer Hall.

Backyard BBQ Pavilion

The buffet includes smoked BBQ chicken, BBQ pork ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers, cowboy beans, macaroni and cheese and corn on the cob along with salads, breads and desserts. There is live music from a country-western band, line dancing, rope tricks and plenty of fun for kids of all ages. Reservations are required.

Backyard BBQ Pavilion

 Backyard BBQ Roping

Try your hand at horseshoes, shuffleboard, tetherball, basketball and beach volleyball near the Meadows Trading Post. Let your children climb, slide and play at outdoor activity areas located at Pioneer Hall, the Meadows Recreation area, Creekside Meadow and the Marina/Beach area.

Take the Wilderness Back Trail Adventure Segway Tour. You can join a group of up to 10 people and take a Segway X2 Personal Transporter to view the scenery of Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground and Wilderness Lodge. The two-hour tour costs $85.00 and some discounts may be available. Details are here.

Segway X2 Personal Transporter

If you are at Walt Disney World in October or December you are in for a treat. Set aside an evening and head to Fort Wilderness. Take a walking tour, rent a golf cart or book one of the special seasonal wagon or carriage rides. Whatever way you choose to travel you will be amazed. Many of the campers decorate their campsites for Halloween and Christmas and most of the displays are lavish! It's an easy walk from the marina to the camping loops where you will see the décor. Words don't really describe it but these few pictures and a video will.

Halloween Sites 1

Halloween Sites 2

Halloween Sites 3

Christmas Sites 1

Christmas Sites 2

Christmas Sites 3

Christmas Sites 4

Here's a 5 minute video showing the amazing display a camper created for his campsite! Click on the arrow and watch it to the end!

I'll wrap up this blog with suggestions for two wonderful ways to end your day at Walt Disney World.

1. Take a horse-drawn wagon ride. Board an old-fashioned, horse-drawn wagon in front of Pioneer Hall for a 45-minute scenic tour around Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Wagons hold up to 35 guests and rides depart at 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. nightly ($8.00 Adult; $5.00 Child (ages 3-9) Children under 3 are complimentary). For a more romantic experience with your “special someone” try a relaxing 25-minute horse-drawn carriage ride through Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. The small carriages hold 2 adults and 1 small child while larger carriages hold 4 adults or 2 adults and 3 small children. The first ride leaves at 6 p.m. and the last ride departs 9:30 p.m. The 25-minute ride costs $45. See more details here.

Carriage Ride

2. Watch Wishes from the beach. Stop by Crockett's Tavern and pick up your preferred adult beverage then head to the beach area beside the marina dock. Find a table and chairs on the deck or stretch out on the lounge chairs along the beach. Soon you will hear Jiminy Cricket narrate the show; the sound track to Wishes is piped in for your enjoyment. You won't see the low fireworks on Cinderella Castle but the higher altitude effect are reflected off Bay Lake and it's an awesome display. Don't rush off, at 9:45 the Electric Water Pageant sails past with the nightly show. WOW!

Electric Water Pageant

No matter what Disney resort you are calling home during your vacation you must visit Fort Wilderness. It is so much more than a campground . . . and you have to see it to believe it!

Walt Disney closed his remarks at the opening of Disneyland by saying, "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world." The promise Walt made over 57 years ago has certainly come true and I hope the same imaginative growth continues at Disney resorts around the world. This commitment to continuous growth and change in the parks ensures that there will always be new and exciting things to do "outside the parks" as well.

So that's a snapshot, a mere sampling, of some of the things you can do at Walt Disney World when you “think outside the parks”. As I said before, there are many more activities I haven't mentioned. I'm not sure Carol and I will ever be able to get them all done, but we will sure have fun trying!

What “outside the park” things do you enjoy most?



P.S. - I'm always looking for new subjects to blog about. Is there anything you would like to see me cover in a future blog?

August 5, 2012

Think Outside The Parks – Part 1

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

There are plenty of things to do at Walt Disney World without going to a theme park!

A couple of years ago, while we were heading home from Florida's Gulf Coast in our motor home, we stopped for a four-day stay at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Our Annual Passes had expired; we each had a One-Day Base Pass. We decided that we would not renew our AP's; we would use the One-Day Base tickets to spend a day at EPCOT and enjoy the Flower & Garden Festival. The rest of the time was “park-free” and we kept very busy. In fact we were so busy with non-park activities that we added two extra days to our vacation!

It is truly amazing the wide variety of things you can do at Walt Disney World outside the parks. Carol and I are just like most Disney guests, we often get so focussed on the theme parks that we miss out on many other exciting opportunities for fun. Some of them are even free!

Let's take a few minutes to look at what you can do when you “Think outside the parks”

Let's start with Downtown Disney. This is where Carol likes to shop, shop, shop. But of course there's plenty to do without shopping. Take a free boat ride along the Sassagoula River to the Port Orleans resorts, Old Key West or Saratoga Springs. You pass some breathtaking scenery along the way. Check out all the giant Lego figures outside the Lego Store.

Lego Figures

Watch a movie at the AMC Theatre; there are 24 screens! How about bowling? Splitsville will be opening at Downtown Disney in the fall of 2012. There are always children's entertainers, shows, choirs and bands performing at the Waterside Stage near the World of Disney Store. Sit for a while at the open air amphitheatre and enjoy the show while you relax and wait for those die-hard shoppers!

Downtown Disney Waterside Stage

Disney Quest offers five floors of video games and virtual reality fun. Don't forget Cirque du Soleil . . . Carol and I have seen close to a dozen different Cirque shows and La Nouba is at the top of our list of favourites!

After you've had your fun at Downtown Disney you might want to play a round or two of mini-golf. There are two great courses, Fantasia Gardens located near the Swan Resort's Convention Centre on EPCOT Resorts Boulevard and Winter Summerland near the entrance to Blizzard Beach. Fantasia Gardens features pirouetting gators, tutu-clad hippos and dancing water fountains. Putt your way through five musical sequences from Fantasia.

Fantasia Hole

Fantasia Hole

Winter Summerland is themed as Santa's permanent off-season retreat. The elf-sized course is divided into two 18-hole experiences. One course carries the snow-clad Florida look reminiscent of Blizzard Beach, and the other has a more tropical holiday theme, with Christmas ornaments hanging from palm trees.

WinterSummerland Entrance

WinterSummerland Hole

Whichever course you choose you are sure to have a good time!

If you're a real golfer and you'd prefer a full-sized golf experience you are in luck! Walt Disney World is home to four beautiful 18-hole golf courses; the Palm, Magnolia, Osprey Ridge and Lake Buena Vista courses as well as a 9-hole course, Oak Trail. Didn't bring your clubs? Not to worry, they have plenty of rentals!

Magnolia course

Osprey Ridge course

If your interests lean more toward water sports you won't be disappointed. There are two great water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Blizzard Beach is themed as a ski resort which has had a “meltdown”. Slalom courses, bobsled and toboggan runs are now downhill waterslides. The creek of melted snow that formed at the base of the mountain is a relaxing “lazy river” tube ride. The chairlift now carries swimmers instead of skiers and the former ski jump is the tallest and fastest water slide in the world.

Blizzard Beach

Blizzard Beach Lazy River

Blizzard Beach Pool

Blizzard Beach Toboggan Racers

The second water park, Typhoon Lagoon, is a lush tropical paradise. There are water slides galore, a lazy river and the wave pool is truly awesome. You can take a surfing lesson in the wave pool! Looking for more adventure? Try swimming with the sharks or take a plunge down Crushin' Gusher " a wild and crazy water roller coaster!

Typhoon Lagoon Wave Pool

Typhoon Lagoon Wave Pool

Typhoon Lagoon Surfing

Would you like to take a boat ride on your own? Many Disney resorts have marinas where you can rent a Sea Raycer personal watercraft or rent a pontoon boat for a family outing. The Disney property has plenty of lakes and rivers to explore! And fishing is allowed, catch and release only!

Sea Raycer

Pontoon Boat

If you like to live on the edge, how about Para-sailing? Head to the Contemporary Resort. At the marina you'll find Sammy Duvall's Watersports Centre where you can book your aerial adventure!

Parasailing

Attention NASCAR Fans: Next to the Ticket & Transportation Centre is Walt Disney World Speedway, home of The Richard Petty Driving Experience. Here's your chance to drive or ride in cars that were used in past Indianapolis 500 events. Or you can hop behind the wheel of a supercar by Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi, or Porsche and take a few laps. What are you thrill-seekers waiting for?

Richard Petty Track Ferrari

Take advantage of Disney's terrific transportation system to do a bit of resort hopping. All the resorts feature amazing themeing and some wonderful pools, most with afternoon activities for children. Enjoy a movie on the beach at the Polynesian Resort some evening, then watch Wishes from the beach. So romantic!

At Port Orleans Riverside visit the River Roost Lounge where Yee Haw Bob performs Wednesday through Saturday from 8:30 p.m. to midnight. This free show is a foot-stompin' sing-along. You and your children will love it.

Port Orleans Riverside Yee Haw Bob

Just down the road, at Port Orleans French Quarter, Elliot Dyson performs Wednesday to Saturday, 8:30 p.m. to midnight at Scat Cat's Club. Elliot plays a mean saxophone, a bluesy guitar and sometimes adds some steel drums to the mix. You'll be singing along at Scat Cat's too!

Port Orleans French Quarter Elliot Dyson

While you're at Port Orleans take a horse-drawn carriage ride along the beautiful Sassagoula River. It's a very romantic way to wrap up a day at Disney with the special person in your life!

See the Electric Water Pageant as it passes by the Magic Kingdom area resorts. This amazing (and free) show has been running every night since October 26, 1971. It will pass by the resorts the same time every evening. Polynesian Resort - 9 p.m., Grand Floridian - 9:15 p.m., Wilderness Lodge - 9:35 p.m., Fort Wilderness - 9:45 p.m., Contemporary Resort - 10:05 p.m., Magic Kingdom - 10:20 p.m. (only when the park is open past 10:00 p.m.)

Electric Water Pageant

If you are at the Polynesian Resort at 6:00 p.m. watch the Torch Lighting Ceremony just outside the main lobby door. The short show features an authentic Polynesian dancer who does a traditional fire-knife dance, and lights the torches leading into the Great Ceremonial House. Another Polynesian entertainer completes the scene with chants and authentic drumming. The ceremony is presented each evening, Tuesday through Saturday, at 6 p.m.

Polynesian Torch Lighting

The Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Resort is a real treat. The cast of Polynesian singers and dancers will capture your attention as they tell the story of their culture with humour, song and dance. The grand finale, the fire dance, will leave you speechless.

Spirit of Aloha

Enjoy a walking tour of Wilderness Lodge with a Ranger. The "Wonders of the Lodge" tour is offered at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The tour focuses on the resort's architecture and how the Lodge was built. The ranger takes you outside, talks about landscaping, and then goes back inside and talks about the artwork, the metal work, the Totem Poles and the paintings.

Wilderness Lodge Lobby

Check out Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Animal Kingdom Lodge Lobby

After you have admired the amazing African artefacts in the lobby walk out the doors opposite the main entrance and you will find the Arusha Rock Savannah. There are over 100 animals grazing on three different savannahs. You can see Ankole Cattle, Bongo, Blesbok, Eland, Grant's Zebra, Greater Kudu, Impala, Reticulated Giraffe, Thomson's Gazelle, Waterbuck, Red River Hogs, White-Bearded Wildebeest, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Blue Crane, East African Crowned Crane, Greater Flamingo, Marabou Stork, Ostrich, Pink-Backed Pelican, and Ruppel's Griffon Vulture.

Arusha Rock

If you visit the Arusha Rock Savannah after dark you might enjoy a special treat. The African guides on duty often have night-vision glasses which you can use to spot the animals in the dark.

Arusha Savannah

Just before you return to the lobby you will see a huge fire-pit surrounded by wooden chairs. Guides light up the fire and tell African folk tales here every night at Arusha Firepit.

Arusha Firepit

You can feed flamingos at the Flamingo Pond, play wildlife games in the Sunset Lounge, decorate cookies at Boma . . . there are almost limitless things to do at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Ask at the front desk for a list of activities and times.

At the EPCOT Resort Area you can tour around Disney's Boardwalk and check out the many restaurants and shops. Stop into Beaches and Cream " even if you don't have the appetite for a Kitchen Sink Sundae you can still enjoy watching someone else eat one!

Kitchen Sink Sundae

Rent a surrey bike and tour the area.

Boardwalk surrey bikes

Watch street performers who appear throughout the day. Tour the adjacent Yacht Club, Beach Club and Swan & Dolphin Resorts. Check out the Stormalong Bay Swimming Pool shared by the Yacht & Beach Clubs. Wow!

Are you convinced yet? Walt Disney World offers just so many things to do without going to a theme park. The things I have mentioned so far just scratch the surface. There are so many more activities . . .

I have visited Walt Disney World more than thirty times and there are plenty of things I haven't gotten to yet! It's a challenge and I'm working at it!

I know, I know, you're probably thinking . . . “But Gary, you haven't mentioned Fort Wilderness!” Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground is a hidden gem. If you have not visited the campground you don't know what you're missing. As a matter of fact there is so much to do at the campground that it will be a chapter of its own.

I will cover “The Fort” in Part 2 of this blog. Stay tuned!



P.S. - I'm always looking for new subjects to blog about. Is there anything you would like to see me cover in a future blog?

July 29, 2012

WDW or Disneyland - Which is Better?

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

People often ask Carol and I which we prefer, Walt Disney World in Florida or Disneyland in California. They are always surprised when we respond, “You can't compare the two; they're really quite different.”

Our friends often protest, “But they're both Disney resorts, they have many of the same rides and attractions at both. They must be comparable!”

No, they are not . . . at least not in our opinion.

We have been going to Walt Disney World regularly since 1977 and we are huge fans. In 2005 we took our “once in a lifetime” trip to Disneyland, it was the 50th Anniversary year. Wow! We were blown away. It was wonderful, so wonderful that we have now been there seven times in the past seven years. So much for “once in a lifetime”.

Walt Disney World is the most popular and the largest vacation destination in the world. It covers 47 square miles, has four theme parks, over 20 Disney owned and operated hotels, a huge campground, countless restaurants, two water parks, a five story video arcade, a shopping district, several golf courses and a Richard Petty track. All of the facilities are connected by a transportation system which includes hundreds of buses, scores of boats and a monorail. It's a self contained city which employs about 66,000 people and hosts tens of millions of tourists every year.

Main%20Gate%202012.jpg

Disneyland is a classic. It was the world's first theme park and it led the way for all the others. This is the park I grew up dreaming of . . . I would rush home from school every day to watch The Mickey Mouse Club on television. Spin & Marty, Davy Crockett, the Mousketeers and Annette. Oh yes . . . Annette! Every boy in my generation had a crush on Annette! Each Sunday night Walt Disney was on TV showing us a bit of Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland or Tomorrowland; he captured our imaginations and whet our appetites. It was almost 50 years before I fulfilled my boyhood dream and took the trip west to Disneyland.

Train.jpg

The scope and scale of the properties is so much different. Disneyland is in an urban area and is surrounded by fully developed properties. Walt Disney World has lots of room to grow; only about a third of the 47 square miles has been developed so far. The entire Disney property in California would fit inside the parking lot at Florida's Magic Kingdom.

This disparity in size makes for some big differences in the experience you have at each resort. In California you can walk between the theme parks or to any of the hotels and other attractions in just a few minutes. In Florida you rely on the free Disney transportation system to get from your resort to the parks and attractions. This leads you to some wonderful sights you can see from the boats or on the monorail.

From%20the%20boat.jpg
Approaching Florida's Magic Kingdom by boat

In California the monorail is considered an attraction; in Florida it's a vital transportation link. In California everything is close and convenient; in Florida it's vast and diverse.

Do they have the same attractions? Yes and no!

Both parks have Pirates of the Caribbean, but they are different! Both parks have It's a Small World, but they are different! Both parks have a castle but they are different!

Cinderella%20Castle.jpg
Walt Disney World's Cinderella Castle

When we first arrived at Disneyland in 2005 Carol headed off to the Bank of Main Street (now the Art Gallery) to pick up her Annual Pass while I headed to the upper deck of the Train Station to get a picture of Sleeping Beauty Castle. As I took my first look down Main Street USA the first thought I had was, “Where's the castle?”

Sleeping%20Beauty%20Castle%201.jpg
Where's the castle?

Then I saw it . . . so much smaller than Cinderella Castle in Florida. It's only 77 feet tall, less than half the 189 foot height of Cindy's place which serves as the focal point in the Magic Kingdom.

Sleeping%20Beauty%20Castle%202.jpg
Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle

In Disneyland if you are disoriented you look for The Matterhorn (147 feet) to get your bearings.

Matterhorn.jpg
The Matterhorn

While the California castle is smaller than its Florida counterpart it has some very interesting features. You can walk through several hallways and see a diorama of scenes from Sleeping Beauty. Don't miss this attraction!

Sleeping%20Beauty%20Castle%203.jpg

In Florida Tinker Bell flies every night from Cinderella Castle but in California, where The Matterhorn dominates the skyline, she flies from the peak. She disappears for a while and then she flies back for an encore. It's an amazing sight in Florida but it's amazingly spectacular in California.

Many attractions appear in both parks but each coast has a number of unique ones as well. In California Country Bear Jamboree closed in 2001 but carries on in Florida. Mr. Toads Wild Ride, based on The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, continues to operate in California but closed in Florida in 1998. Oddly enough, each of the attractions was closed to make room for Winnie The Pooh!

Toad.jpg
Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

Almost all the attractions which are duplicated in each park have unique differences. In California you line up outdoors for It's A Small World and you board the boats outside before you sail into the attraction. In Florida you board inside. The interior configuration and displays are quite different as well. The exterior façade of the California version is lavishly lit at Christmas and the nightly The Magic, The Memories and You show is projected on it. It's a very busy area every evening.

Small%20World%201.jpg
Disneyland's It's a Small World loading area

Small%20World%202.jpg
Disneyland's It's a Small World at Christmas

Small%20World%20FL.jpg
Florida's It's a Small World loading area

The Haunted Mansions in each destination have some of the same scenes but on the whole they are very different. Carol and I much prefer the California version which is located in New Orleans Square rather than Liberty Square like the Florida mansion. Try to schedule a visit to California between Halloween and Christmas. They shut the mansion down for a few weeks before Halloween and after Christmas in order to add the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay and then remove it. They don't just tweak the ride, it's a complete makeover. If you are a Nightmare fan you simply must see the Disneyland Haunted Mansion with the overlay. It is mind-blowing!

Nightmare%20Mansion.jpg
Disneyland Haunted Mansion

Mansion%20FL.jpg
Walt Disney World Haunted Mansion

We also prefer the California version of Pirates of the Caribbean which is set in New Orleans Square. You board your boat at Lafitte's Landing and get a peek at the dining area of the Blue Bayou Restaurant as you sail through the bayou before plunging into the pirate's grotto.

Pirates%20CA.jpg
Disneyland Pirates of the Caribbean

In Florida the Pirate's attraction is part of Adventureland. You pass through a golden Spanish fort called Castillo Del Morro (inspired by Castillo de San Felipe del Morro in San Juan) before you board the boat for your descent into Pirate's Cove.

Pirates%20FL.jpg
Walt Disney World Pirates of the Caribbean

I must also mention my favourite entertainers at Disneyland, Billy Hill & the Hilbillies! This quartet plays regularly at the Golden Horseshoe Saloon and the show is always a laugh-fest. They are all talented musicians and they are all complete hams.

Billy%202.jpg

We make it a point to sit through several of their 25 minute shows each time we visit. When I walk past the empty Diamond Horseshoe Saloon in Florida's Magic Kingdom I always lament that Florida doesn't have Billy Hill.

Billy%201.jpg

We need to stage a sit-in or some sort of protest . . . each of us carrying a “We Want Billy Hill” sign. OK . . . OK, all you folks in California relax, we're not trying to steal Kurt and the boys, we just need a group like them!

There are so many other differences, the Aladdin Show, an awesome Toontown, Storybookland, the California Screamin' roller coaster, the Alice In Wonderland Ride, New Orleans Square and so much more in California.

Aladdin.jpg
Aladdin Show at California Adventure's Hyperion Theatre

Storybookland.jpg
Disneyland's Storybookland

Toontown%202.jpg
Disneyland's Toontown

Toontown%203.jpg
Disneyland's Toontown

Florida has Mission Space, the Finding Nemo show, the Festival of the Lion King show, The Great Movie Ride, the Lights, Motors, Action stunt driving show, The Universe of Energy and plenty of other unique attractions.

Osborne.jpg
Hollywood Studio's Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights

Lego%20Monster.jpg
Lego figures at Downtown Disney

Mission%20Space.jpg
EPCOT's Mission Space

Lion%20King.jpg
Animal Kingdom's Festival of the Lion King

In California they have just opened an exciting new area in the California Adventure park. Carsland looks amazing, I can't wait until we see it this December. Of course in Florida they have opened some of the new attractions in the totally redeveloped Fantasyland. It seems that there's always something fresh at each destination.

If you still don't believe me when I say, “You can't compare the two; they're really quite different.” there is only one thing for you to do. Visit both just as soon as you can . . . then you can draw your own conclusions.

I'm sure you'll agree with me then!

July 22, 2012

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Disney Things

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

What is your favourite park at Walt Disney World?

What are your “must-do” rides or activities?

What are the things you only do once in a while?

Main Gate

One of the greatest things about Walt Disney World is the diversity of experience you can enjoy there. With the four theme parks, two water parks, golf courses, hotels, campground, scores of restaurants and all the surrounding attractions there is virtually no limit to the things you can enjoy.

Many of our friends who, like Carol and I, are frequent visitors have established some favourite attractions and activities, things they “must-do” every time they visit Walt Disney World.

Here's my list of favourites. Let's start with my favourite park, the Magic Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom

Why does this park top my list? Well, it's the classic, the first Florida park. This is where I first took my children in 1977. It is chock-full of good memories and will probably always be my “special place”! I remember the huge grins on both my daughter Michelle and son Steve's faces as we rode Dumbo together all those years ago. They loved It's A Small World and Peter Pan's Flight.

Peter Pan

About two years ago my son Steve took his family and they stood in line for 90 minutes to see Peter Pan. His comment? “What a hokey ride . . . why did I stand in line an hour and a half for that?” It will never be hokey for me because I'll always remember Steve's reaction when we rode it together in 1977. Peter Pan is one that Carol and I ride every visit.

The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean are two more that we never miss.

Mansion

Pirates

These rides are not “hi-tech” like some of the newer attractions but they still transport me to another world or another time. As I ride I sing along with the 999 happy haunts and the scallywag pirates. “Yo-ho, Yo-ho, a pirates life for me!” As we pass through Adventureland we are always compelled to savour a cold treat. Carol heads to Sunshine Tree Terrace to pick up a Citrus Swirl while I scoot to Aloha Isle for a Pineapple Float. We meet in the middle somewhere and try to achieve simultaneous brain-freezes.

We take a spin with Buzz Lightyear almost every trip.

Buzz

This ride brings out the worst in us. We become ultra-competitive, each trying to outscore the other as we blast Emperor Zurg into the next galaxy! It's great fun!

We enjoy many of the other rides as well but we don't feel compelled to enjoy them every time we visit. Once in a while is good for most of them. Of course, Wishes, the fireworks spectacular, is a “must-do” as well. We try to position ourselves at the back of The Hub, near Casey's Corner to get the best view of the show with Cinderella Castle in the foreground. That leads me to the one other snack we always stop for . . . a Casey's hot dog. Yum!

Many will probably be surprised at my second place ranking. Disney's Animal Kingdom ranks second for me. Why? Well, it's all about the animals.

Tiger

Meercat

Both Carol and I love seeing the animals. We walk all the back trails around the Tree of Life to see and photograph things most visitors miss. Hint: If you walk these trails at noon you will often see cast members feeding the animals and the animals will be front and center for you. There are plenty of photo-ops around noon on the Tree of Life Trails.

Kilimanjaro Safaris is an irresistible draw for us. We sometimes ride it twice, once in early morning and then again just before the park closes. Hint: You can get better pictures from the back row of the truck, but be prepared for the bouncing! It's the bumpiest seat!

Lion at Coppies

Carol is not a fan of roller coasters; she does not like the upside-down experience, but for some reason she really enjoys Expedition Everest. I don't understand why, but I'm glad she does. We ride together once and that's enough for her. I sometimes go directly to the single-rider line and take another spin.

Expedition Everest

After coaxing for a while I finally convinced Carol that coasters are smoother and less stressful if you raise your arms and stop fighting against the rocking and shaking motion. Once she tried it she agreed with me and now she often rides with her arms in the air. The only problem is that she cannot stop giggling when her arms are up. So if you see a woman on Everest, arms in the air and giggling like crazy " that's Carol!

Flights of Wonder is another great show we always enjoy. It always surprises us how many people walk by and skip this awesome performance. The need for conservation is delivered in an entertaining and inspiring fashion. Carol has co-starred in the show four times.

Flights of Wonder

When they ask for volunteers in the owl segment she is always up and waving her hands. Another regular stop is at the gibbon habitat near Kali River Rapids; we love to watch them swinging around their island. If you ever hear them calling to each other you will never forget the experience!

Gibbons

If we have lunch at Animal Kingdom it is almost always egg rolls from the quick service counter at Yak & Yeti; try them " they're great!

Third for me is EPCOT. This park is all about education . . . but the learning at EPCOT is all bundled up in a package of fun so you really don't notice. Educators need to look into this to see how it's done . . . learning can be fun!

Our first “must-do” is the very first attraction, Spaceship Earth.

Spaceship Earth

History, communication and science in one easy lesson; we seldom miss it. Another regular is Soarin'.

Soarin

I like the hang-glider ride one more than Carol but she humours me and rides along with me. It all evens out when I stifle my yawns as I wander through Germany's Der Teddybar shop with her.

We always look for Off Kilter, the celtic rock group who play beside the Canada pavilion, we both enjoy them.

Off-Kilter.jpg

When I hear the Jamitors or The British Revolution I stop to listen while Carol dashes off to shop. Our interests aren't always the same but there are so many things to do that we can both enjoy ourselves at all times.

Dining at EPCOT is great, there are so many good restaurants, but our favourite is Canada's Le Cellier. We seldom miss having dinner at Le Cellier.

Last, but certainly not least is Disney's Hollywood Studios. This is also a wonderful park full of many terrific attractions, rides, sights and sounds. I love the “Streetmosphere”, the many street entertainers who put on such entertaining shows.

Streetmosphere

I can sit and watch them again and again, which works out well because Carol can shop again and again!

Studios is home to the newest ride at Walt Disney World, Toy Story Midway Mania. Similar to Buzz Lightyear it's a giant video game that places you in the middle of the action. We try to ride Toy Story several times each trip if we can.

Toy Story Potato Head

We don our 3D glasses and turn into shooting demons, each of us once again striving to totally annihilate our beloved spouse. “I am not your mother . . . break those plates!”

We both enjoy the Tower of Terror and after riding it Carol generally heads down Sunset Boulevard to explore the Villains in Vogue shop while I head to the single-rider line for a spin on Rock ‘n Roller Coaster.

Another “must-do” at Studios is a trip to the Animation Courtyard and a visit with David Rippberger, the Disney Ink and Paint artist who works in the Animation Gift Shop. David creates the hand painted animation cels which Carol collects and we like to visit with him to keep abreast of what's coming up next.

Our final irresistible lure at Studios is a relatively new discovery for us. Italian sausage in a bun at Min & Bill's Dockside Diner. We shared our first sausage in a bun about a year ago . . . as soon we bit into it we agreed we would never share one again. They are just too good to share! Don't miss this delicious lunch treat.

Of course no vacation would be complete without a trip to Downtown Disney. I always take my book along and find a spot to sit while Carol shops.

Days of Christmas Store

I read and people-watch while she scours through the Art of Disney Shop, the Disney Days of Christmas Shop and of course Disney's Pin Traders. Once she has worked up a good appetite she joins me and we head directly to the Earl of Sandwich.

Earl of Sandwich

This place has elevated the simple sandwich to an art form. Wow they're good! We often get back to “Earl's” several times during our stay!

There is so much to do outside the parks that I may make that the subject of another blog sometime. For now I will just mention two more of our favourite “non-park” things. First is dinner at ‘Ohana in the Polynesian Resort . . . we never miss it. Great food, great location, great value! If you time it right and get a window table you can watch the Wishes fireworks extravaganza from your table. They pipe in the soundtrack too!

Second is a camping favourite, if we're staying in our RV at Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground we head to the beach at the campground a few evenings during our stay. There is a nice little patio beside the dock and we relax at a patio table as we watch Wishes. They pipe in the soundtrack here as well and as an added treat the fireworks are reflected on the waters of Bay Lake. It's a terrific place to watch the show with no crowds! Shortly after Wishes is over the Electrical Water Pageant sails past . . . what a great way to end a day!

So those are a few of my favourite things! There are so many things to do at Walt Disney World that it just never gets stale for us and I doubt that it ever will!

What are your favourite things?

July 15, 2012

Garage Sale Gold

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

I was born without the “collector's gene”, that genetic defect which compels some people to collect the oddest things. Even as a child I lacked the affliction. Since every Canadian boy was expected to collect hockey cards I gave it a try . . . but I just didn't see the sense in it. I got no pleasure from it. It all seemed pointless, so I quickly gave it up as a lost cause.

For years I smugly watched my friends with their collections, hockey cards, baseball cards, music and so many other things. I knew that I was immune; I was never going to catch the bug, I was above that sort of thing! I was normal and collecting would never be a part of my life.

But I overlooked one little thing. I forgot the perverse pleasure Mother Nature takes when she makes sure that a normal “non-collector” like me falls in love with a die-hard fanatical collector of all things Disney. So Carol came into my life, swept me off my feet and before you could say “Disneyana” we were married. It seemed like it was just a few seconds after I said, “I do” when she said, “Follow me” and dragged me off to a flea market. My dear wife is the epitome of the collection affliction. If there was an organization searching for a cure to the collecting bug I think Carol could be their poster girl!

In the eleven years since we were married we have covered a lot of ground and visited a lot different of places while she continually searches out new items to add to her collection of “Disney stuff”. I am still not a collector (he said smugly) but I am certainly immersed in the activity.

So what have I learned in the past eleven years? There are Disney treasures everywhere. Just everywhere!

Carol has found some amazingly nice Disney collectibles at garage sales, at flea markets, at thrift shops and rummage sales. I think that old adage must be true; “One man's trash is another man's treasure” and Carol has collected a lot of treasure!

Garage%20Sale%20Gold_0005.jpg

Mickey Mouse first appeared in Steamboat Willie in November 1928 and people were clamouring to buy the first stuffed Mickey Mouse doll when it hit the stores in 1930. Walt Disney quickly proved himself to be a master marketer, licensing his copyrighted characters for all sorts of interesting products.

How successful was he? Try a few simple tests . . . first type Disneyana into a Google search bar " Wow, there are over 5 million items. Next go to eBay and type Disneyana into the search bar there. Yikes, there are over 275,000 items for sale. That's a lot of collectibles folks!

Everyone has had Disney toys and games at some point in their lives and often people outgrow them. Yes, I know that's a hard thing for we die-hard Disney fans to understand but it really does happen. And when it occurs it creates wonderful opportunities for collectors like Carol. Many people have no idea how valuable some of these old treasures are.

Here are a few examples:
1. Carol has the old Disney lunch box our son Rob took to school every day back in the 70's. It's a bit banged and battered from normal use but it's in pretty good shape. Check on eBay and you will see it selling for about $75.00.
2. At a garage sale she spotted a commemorative Wedgewood plate, in the original box, from Disney Cruise Line. It has a picture of Castaway Cay on the front. We have not discovered when or how it was sold, but similar Wedgewood plates featuring the Magic and the Wonder are selling on eBay for about $125.00. Carol bought hers for 25 cents!

Garage sales and Thrift Stores are full of this sort of hidden gold!

And Carol is not alone in her quest; our son Rob is always vigilant as he prowls for bargains! Hardly a week goes by that the phone doesn't ring and I hear this sort of conversation, “Yes, I already have that . . . no, that sounds interesting . . . how big is it? . . . Yes, I think I'd like it!” A few days later Rob shows up with his latest find. Of course if it's Jack Skellington our phone will not ring. Rob is a big Nightmare Before Christmas fan and has quite a shrine dedicated to Jack and other characters from the movie.

Here are some examples from her Disneyana collection. Most are in mint condition. This is just a sampling of the things she and Rob have picked up at thrift shops and garage sales.

Let's start with items from Value Village. In the USA you will find this group's stores operating under the trade names Savers, Value Village, Unique and Valu Thrift.

That classic Mickey Mouse telephone pictured earlier in this article cost Rob $24.99 at Value Village. If you like it there's a "buy it now" offer on eBay for $120.00

Garage%20Sale%20Gold_0021.jpg
The inked stamp set (boxed at rear) cost $4.99; the Eeyore frame was $3.99. There are two sets of Mickey and Minnie figures, they were $4.00 each. The set on the right are salt & pepper shakers.

Garage%20Sale%20Gold_0043.jpg
The Disney collector coins were $5.00 each, the silver spoons $3.00 each. The bottle opener and the pewter shovel spoon were $5.00 each. On the right is a bolo tie from Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. It features Musket Mickey, a park icon you do not see anymore. It's a real treasure; a friend found it in a Florida thrift store and picked it up for us.

Garage%20Sale%20Gold_0078.jpg
Yes, those are genuine Snowbabies. Buy the set now for $125.00 on eBay or $29.99 at Value Village. Can you believe it?

Let's look at a few Garage Sale items.

Garage%20Sale%20Gold_0019.jpg
That's the Disney Cruise Line plate I mentioned earlier, about $125.00 on eBay and $.25 at a garage sale. Brer Bear was $.50 and that wonderful Mickey clock was $2.00

Garage%20Sale%20Gold_0067.jpg
My First Game is a Disney classic. This one, produced in 1955, was $5.00 at a flea market, all the other items came from garage sales. Trivial Pursuit (still on the shelves in the Emporium on Main Street USA) cost $2.00 and was still wrapped in its original cellophane. That terrific chess set came in a nice metal box for only $5.00

Garage%20Sale%20Gold_0063.jpg
These Christmas ornaments were all $3.00 or less.

Here are some flea market acquisitions.

Garage%20Sale%20Gold_0032.jpg
That little Donald figure is actually a stapler, only $2.99 - The Pinocchio Matchbox car dates back to the 70's and was $2.99 " The pewter item at the rear is a 100 Years of Magic picture frame and includes a Disney pin, only $8.00 " Snow White was $.50 and that little blue and red box on the front contains a Mickey Mouse Disneykin, buy it now for $11.99 on eBay but he cost only $2.00 at the flea market.

Another good hunting ground is the Salvation Army Thrift Shop.

Garage%20Sale%20Gold_0059.jpg
The items in the back are a ring-coil notepad for $3.00 and a $.50 packet of Pluto pumpkin seeds. The standing Winnie the Pooh was $3.00 and the Pooh in the tree was $1.00

My last picture is a mixed bag.

Garage%20Sale%20Gold_0088.jpg
Peter Pan, a Jim Shore creation, was $5.00 at the Salvation Army Thrift Shop, the Tigger “Bouncy Fun” Christmas ornament is from Bradford Exchange. You can buy it online for $16.99 but it was $2.99 at Value Village. Lady and the Tramp cost $5.00 at a flea market.

While I don't have that “collector's gene” and I don't experience the joy that Carol does when she finds a “new” gem it always makes me happy when I see that big grin on her face. It's a good hobby!

I hope this gives you a sense of what is out there waiting for you. If you like Disneyana you should get out there Saturday mornings and scour those garage sales; track down all the thrift shops.
There are treasures to be found everywhere!

July 8, 2012

Keeping the Disney Magic Alive

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

How do you keep “the magic”, that special Disney feeling, alive between Disney trips?

We all feel “the magic” when we are at a Disney park. A sense of wonder fills me when I walk down Main Street and it stays with me as long as I'm there. I become immersed, wrapped up in the experience of another world or another time. The sights, the smells, the background music and sounds, they all just envelop me. It happens just as Walt planned it to happen! I'm sure it happens to you too. It truly is a magical place!

But what happens when you leave? How do you keep the magic alive in all those long months and sometimes years between trips? How do you sustain the enthusiasm and excitement?

Carol and I have several ways to keep the fires kindled, ways that each of us uses to keep our inner child engaged until our next visit to the Most Magical Place on Earth. Here are a few of the things we do!

Scrapbooking
Carol enjoys scrapbooking and she often keeps busy at it after one of our adventures. She relives the trip as she preserves our precious memories of it! On a week-long vacation we will often take as many as a thousand digital pictures and Carol saves every scrap of paper from the trip. Once we get home she sorts out the mementos she has gathered and they all go into a bag or box.

Scrapbook%20Box.jpg

The bag or box will soon contain park maps, daily time schedules, Key to the World Cards, coasters, all sorts of bits and pieces which evoke memories of the fun we had. She will sort through all the digital images and pick out a hundred or so of her favourite which she e-mails to the printer. These will be clipped, cropped, embellished and combined with some of the mementos from the bag.

Carol spends hours at her crafting table creating a beautiful scrapbook which will give us lasting memories of the magical experiences we had. The table is in our "Disney Room" so she is surrounded by her Disneyana collection while she works!

Craft%20Table.jpg

I will sometimes pick out a few hundred pictures as well, compile them into a digital slide-show, add some titles and some pan, zoom and fade effects, dub some background music and then burn it all onto a DVD we can watch on television. We also maintain a personal blog/web site where we post reports with plenty of pictures from our adventures. We are always delighted when strangers visit our site and add comments to the online guest book. We often wonder how some of these people found our site!

Carol likes to build the hands-on scrapbook; I prefer to put together the higher-tech versions!

Reliving our previous trips through scrapbooks and blogs always whets our appetite and keeps us pumped-up as we look forward to our next adventure.

Trip Planning
Planning is another activity which we both enjoy. We always have another Disney trip or two (or three) in the planning stages and we share the planning work in a very fair and even proportion. Carol does 90% and I do 10%. Fair and square! We have an excellent travel agent who takes care of our accommodations whether we are staying in a Disney resort hotel or at Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. She knows exactly what we like and always gets us the best deal available! We do the rest. Carol scours the Internet to determine hours of operation at the parks and then begins to lay out a trip plan. Each trip has its own folder filled with trip related documents.

Trip%20Folders.jpg

Naturally I add the planned trips to our web site to keep it as up-to-date as possible.

If it's a camping trip I am involved in the planning too. I use our GPS program to plot the course we will take on our southbound drive. We try to change our route from time to time to give us some variety and to see some new sights. I look up campgrounds along the way, pick out some likely candidates for our overnight stays and sent the list of prospects to senior management for review. Carol has veto rights! Once the boss has blessed the route I make all the campground reservations and other arrangements for the RV. Our northbound trip home is always the same, a 1,405 mile four-day dash with stops at Walterboro SC, Wytheville VA and Harrisburg PA before we arrive home.

Regardless of where we stay, Carol's first priority is determining the theme park hours. Once they are announced she sets the days we will allocate to each park. We normally don't want to visit a park which has “Extra Magic Hours”; they are usually too busy. The park days are then laid out on her “Trip Calendar” grid.

Trip%20Plan.jpg

This is a very important document! During the trip it's in her pocket or purse at all times, a very handy quick reference guide!

Soon she begins to make our dining plans. Where do we eat? We have some favourite restaurants which we always visit, ‘Ohana and Le Cellier, but we like to change the others around a bit so we can have some variety. Once the reservations are made all of these details are recorded on the Trip Calendar along with information on park hours, times for fireworks shows, etc.

Carol is almost as excited when she plans a trip as she is when we're actually on the trip!

Pin Trading Meets
Carol has been an active Disney Pin Trader since 2001 and we have met some wonderful people through that hobby. About ten years ago she found a link on the Internet that told about a small group of pin traders in Toronto who met occasionally in a library to trade. It was only about 45 miles from our home so off we went to investigate. We had great fun with these new-found Canadian traders and we went to these library meets for a few years.

Over the years the meets have evolved, now there are fewer of us but we have become good friends and we meet in each other's homes several times a year instead of the library. There isn't much trading anymore! We chatter about the parks, compare notes on our upcoming travel plans, talk about new pins and Vinylmations, and occasionally we trade pins. The trading really has become secondary to the friendships we have made with these folks. We love to hear about their recent Disney trips and they like to hear about ours. We all seem to live vicariously through each other's experiences.

Pin%20Traders.jpg

When Carol travels to New Jersey to trade pins or attends the annual EPCOT Pin Event this group of “Toronto Traders” will be there as well and she hangs with them!

Discussion Groups
Online discussion groups are another way we keep our enthusiasm alive. There are a number of Disney Fan sites on the Internet and we dabbled in a few of them before settling on our favourite, Tagrel.com.

We find Tagrel to be the friendliest site in the Disney fan community and since our first involvement with the forums there, about eight years ago, we have made some good and lasting friends. We have met our Tagrel friends at the parks, we have sailed with them, we have celebrated with them and we have grieved with them. Some of them are almost like family!

The site itself has a forum which contains a number of discussion themes or “Threads” where members post messages and have discussions. There are threads devoted to hobbies, specific Disney parks, other theme parks, Disney Cruise Line, personal trip reports, Disney news and rumours and many more. Of course there's always plenty of chatter about our next group meeting at the parks. At least once a year we try to draw as many Tagrel community members as possible together at the parks.

We call these events “Tag-O-Mania” when we go to Walt Disney World and “Tag-A-Venture” when we head to Disneyland. Wherever we meet we always have a great time; we gather as a group to ride on attractions and we gather for group meals. Things often get a bit zany!

Toy%20Soldiers.jpg

We have contests and friendly competitions. Imagine that you have just been given a list of cryptic clues about some specific locations or items in the Magic Kingdom. There are 30 clues to point you to 30 different locations. You and your small team are allotted 90 minutes to solve the riddles, figure out the clues and then run around the park taking pictures of the revealed locations. It's a challenging photo scavenger hunt which leads you on a high speed adventure around the park. It's great fun.

Tagomania.jpg

The Tagrel.com site has brought us a great deal of enjoyment and some wonderful friends; it has become a very important part of our lives. It's one more way we keep the magic alive every day!

AllEars Weekly Newsletter
Every Tuesday night, like clockwork the AllEars newsletter arrives. We are one of about 143,000 households which receive this fact-filled and fun-filled electronic update on all things Disney. It is the most current, accurate and comprehensive source we have found for late breaking Disney news!

Every week there are pointers and tips provided by readers from around the world, some awesome photographs, an interesting feature article, information about upcoming events and specifics about those all-important AllEars meets. Regular features include restaurant and hotel reviews, menu updates and previews of new attractions or refurbishments.

If you need to know what's open, what's closed, what's down for refurbishment or who's playing at the “Flower Power”, “Eat to the Beat” or “Sounds Like Summer” concerts in the America Gardens Theatre then you need to subscribe to the AllEars newsletter. Just go to the bottom of the AllEars.net main page and click on “Subscribe Here” to start receiving this free newsletter. It will give a weekly recharge to your Disney batteries!

So, those are a few of the main things we do to keep our excitement high between trips. Of course there are many other ways, you can listen to Disney music, you can tune in to online Disney radio stations, you can listen to one of the many Disney themed podcasts, the list goes on and on.

How about you? Do you have any interesting or unique ways to keep the magic alive? Please share them with a comment below!

July 1, 2012

Disney Animation Cels

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

The next time you visit Disney's Hollywood Studios be sure to visit The Magic of Disney Animation in the Animation Courtyard. There is a terrific ten-minute show where Mushu provides some comic relief while you learn about the animation process. After you are entertained by Mushu and have enjoyed some interesting interactive galleries you make your way toward the exit. Watch closely as you pass through the last few galleries on your way toward the gift shop. There are some wonderful animation cels on display. Cels similar to these used to be an integral part of animated film production.

Character%20Class%202003.jpg

Until recently animated films were produced by photographing a series of hand painted sheets of cellulose acetate; these were referred to as cels. In 1933 Walt Disney Studios developed a unique “multi-plane” camera. This invention dramatically improved the animation process by holding multiple cels in layers and adding three dimensional depth to the animated film. One of these revolutionary cameras is on display in the “One Man's Dream” exhibit at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's worth a visit to have a look at this interesting device.

Multiplane%201.jpg

Multiplane%202.jpg

Did you know that a traditional animated film used 24 frames per second and most frames were comprised of a background image and four cels which were mounted in the multi-plane camera? An 80 minute animated feature would use 460,800 cels. The outlines of the images were drawn on the front of the cels while colors were painted on the back of the acetate to eliminate brushstrokes and give a clean image. Animators worked in teams comprised of a “lead animator”, up to three “in between animators” and several “clean-up animators”. The lead animator was responsible for a specific character and would draw about one of every four drawings of that character. The in between animators would produce cells to fill the gaps between the cels created by the lead animator and finally the clean-up animators would touch up the cels wherever necessary to ensure clean lines and smooth motion.

Mickey%27s%20Gala%20Premiere.jpg

Of course the animators didn't just sit down and churn out finished cels. They made several sketches before deciding on the best and then based the cel on that sketch. They created an average of five sketches for every finished cel so that 80 minute feature I mentioned earlier would require up to 2.5 million sketches. That's a lot of work and it required a highly talented work force. In 1941 when Disney Studios were producing Dumbo they employed over 1,200 people and several hundred of them would have been animators.

Prime%20Time%20Donald.jpg

After a movie was completed the “production cels” were often sold to collectors. More popular shows and movies demanded higher prices for the cels, with some selling for thousands of dollars. A cel depicting several characters from the finale of Who Framed Roger Rabbit sold for $50,600 at Sotheby's in 1989.

Off%20to%20Neverland.jpg

The last Disney movie created using traditional hand-painted cels was 1989's The Little Mermaid. Disney Stores sold production cels from The Little Mermaid at prices from $2,500 to $3,500.

Key%20to%20the%20Kingdom%2040th.jpg

Computers have now taken over the animation process. Today there are only five animation artists who continue to hand paint animation cels, created purely for sale to collectors. These five talented folks work for the Walt Disney Ink and Paint Department and you can often see one of them at work just before you exit the Animation Gallery gift shop. His name is David Rippberger. He's been painting animation cels since 1993 and has plied his art and interacted with guests in the Animation Gallery gift shop for the past sixteen years. Stop and say hello to David; he is always happy to talk about his work and to show you how it is done. He is a wonderful ambassador for Disney and we look for him every time we visit Disney's Hollywood Studios.

David%202.jpg

David%201.jpg

David%203.jpg

Since the Ink and Paint Department was established in 1995 they have created 52 different cels. Some are limited to a specific number of pieces produced while others are produced for a period of time and then “retired”.

Milestone%20Mickey.jpg

There is always a new cel in the planning stages and there are enough Disney characters to ensure that there will always be something to appeal to all tastes. You are bound to see something you like.

Fantasmic%202009.jpg

Cels can be purchased in several different formats. The cels are the same but the framing and accessories are different. At the time of writing (May 2012) the purchase options are:
1) an unframed cel for $125
2) a cel matted in a black frame for $215
3) a cel matted in a black frame with a pin for $240
4) a cel matted in a black frame with a pin and an autographed postcard for $265
5) a cel matted in a gold frame for $290

Carol usually prefers option #4, the “three-way” with cel, pin and a postcard bearing an image of the cel. The postcard is signed by all of the Ink and Paint artists. She has collected fourteen cels " so far! Naturally not every cel appeals to her, but when one does . . . well, she just has to have it! The cels pictured all come from Carol's collection.

Collection%201.jpg

Collection%202.jpg

So next time you are at Disney's Hollywood Studios be sure to visit The Magic of Disney Animation and say hello to David Rippberger. He provided much of the information included in this blog and he's always happy to show guests how he adds the “magic” to Disney animation cels!

June 24, 2012

Walt Disney – the Canadian Connection

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

I am an amateur genealogist; I have been at it for over 25 years and I find it a fascinating hobby. Over those many years I have uncovered some interesting facts about several branches of my family, my wife Carol's family and even a few families I have researched for friends.

The Cruise family hails from Ireland and they are descended from a Norman named “de Crues” who arrived from France in 1066 with William the Conqueror. He was rewarded for his military service with a gift of land and he and his descendants were considered to be nobility in the area of Cruisetown, County Louth.

My documented history of the Cruise family goes back to Banagher, County Offaly, Ireland in the 1830's when my great-great-great grandmother Joyce Cruise (maiden name Shane, a widow of my g-g-g grandfather Peter Cruise) gathered her eight children and moved the family to Canada. The clan landed in Quebec in 1836 and settled just a few miles west of Montreal. Within a few years Joyce and her family moved to Ontario and settled in south-western Ontario, north of the present day city of London. My g-g grandfather William, son of Peter and Joyce, moved from the London area and settled in Norfolk County in 1843; that is where I was born a little over a century later.

I am a Disney fan and over the years I had heard a few snippets of Disney family history. One of these snippets was that there was a Canadian connection so I decided to take a look and see if I could find that Canadian link. Here's what I found!

My first find was an online family tree, several of them in fact, which state that the Disney family hails from Ireland and they are descended from a Norman named Robert d'Isigny who arrived in England in 1066 with William the Conqueror. They go on to say that a branch of the family travelled in 1834 from County Kilkenny, Ireland to Liverpool, England where they sailed on the ship "New Jersey". They landed October 3, 1834 in New York City. After a few years they moved to Clinton, Huron County in south-western Ontario. Does this sound somewhat familiar? Banagher to Kilkenny is a mere 48 miles and the Cruise and Disney families settled a mere 30 miles apart in Canada. I was getting excited . . . could there be a connection between our families? I love the challenge of a riddle or a mystery!

The two maps below show where the families originated in Ireland and where they settled in Canada. The red arrows are the Disney family and the blue arrows represent the Cruise family.

Ireland%20500.jpg

Ontario%20500.jpg

Of course, I started my research with a bit of skepticism . . . it's my nature. Many people digging for family history will believe everything they read, but I do not. I need to verify what I find. I need factual evidence that what I read is correct. So I needed to verify the Canadian connection. Those family trees I referred to above showed Walt Disney's g-g-g grandparents, Robert Disney (1746 " 1808) and Mary Kepple (1750 " 1815). They were married on February 2, 1775 in Carlow, Ireland. Their son Kepple Disney was born in 1776 in Aharney Parish, County Laois, Ireland and married Frances Best, born in 1776, on February 17, 1795 in Carlow.

Kepple and Frances had eight children:
1. Mary Ann Disney, b. 1795 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, d. 5 Nov 1875 in Louisville, St Lawrence, NY. She married William Powers, 20 Apr 1815 in Ireland, b. 1790 in Garrintaggart, Laois, Ireland, d. 7 Feb 1869 in Louisville, St Lawrence, NY.
2. Robert Disney, b. 9 Jul 1797 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, d. 18 Apr 1872 in Goderich, Huron County, ON. He married Jane Cooke, 1829 in Ireland, b. 4 Nov 1810 in Ireland, d. 29 Dec 1893 in Goderich, ON.
3. Charlotte Disney, b. 1801 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, d. Jan 1882 in London, England.
4. Arundel Elias Disney, b. 1803 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, d. May 31 1880 in Goderich, Huron County, ON. He married Maria Swan, 1 Sep 1832 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, b. 1816 in Ireland, d. 26 Sep 1896 in Ellis, Ellis, Kansas, United States.
5. Kepple Disney b. 5 Sep 1806 in Kilkenny, Ireland, d. 1875. He married Mary E., b. 1830 in England.
6. James Disney, b. 1807 in Ireland, d. 1840.
7. Frances Disney, b. 1816 in Ireland.
8. Henry Disney, b. 10 May 1816, d. 12 Apr 1877.

Unfortunately I have not been able to verify any of the data on Robert Disney and Mary Kepple and their children which appears above. It may or may not be correct but I include it so that if you wish to investigate further you will have a starting point.

Now let's move on to what I have been able to confirm! In 1834 children Robert and Arundel Elias (number two and four above) sailed to New York City. The party of seven on board the ship named "New Jersey" included their wives Jane and Maria as well as Francis and Elias, sons of Robert and Jane, and Kepple, son of Arundel Elias and Maria.

Here is an extract of the passenger manifest from the ships records.

New%20Jersey%20Passenger%20List%20500.jpg

The brothers had intended to settle in America, but did not stay there long; they moved to the Township of Goderich in the wilderness of south-western Ontario, Canada, just off Lake Huron and bordering on the Maitland River.

Robert Disney and Jane Cooke had nine children:
1. Francis Disney, b. 1830 in Ireland.
2. Elias Disney, b. 1832 in Ireland, d. 23 Dec 1883 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
3. Elizabeth Disney, b. 1839 Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
4. Keppel Disney b. Aug 1841 Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
5. William Disney, b. 1843 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
6. Jane Disney, b. 1845 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
7. Robert Disney, b. 1846 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
8. Charles James Disney b. Aug 11 1851 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
9. Henry Disney, b. 1852 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.

I had some difficulty confirming when they moved to Ontario. They appear in the 1861 Census but proof of their presence before that time was elusive.

1861%20Census%20-%20Robert%20Disney%20500.jpg

I wanted to see if they were in Canada at the time of the 1851 Census, unfortunately the census records for that particular township have been lost. So I looked for the 1852 Agricultural Census records for Goderich Township . . . they were lost too! I kept searching, scouring a number of online resources and finally had a major breakthrough! There was a Huron County Tax Assessment done in 1842 and there I found our two brothers . . . misspelled but it was definitely our two brothers Robert and Arundel Elias Disney. Hooray!

Here's a transcription of the assessment record.

1842%20Assessment%20500.jpg

I still don't know exactly when they arrived but in 1842 Robert owned lots 36 and 37, a 93 acre parcel, and in the household were one male and one female over 16 years of age and four males and two females under sixteen. Immediately next door was Elias Disney on lots 38 and 39. He farmed 149 acres and the household included one male and one female over 16 years of age and three males and two females under sixteen. Both properties are on the Maitland River.

That area of Ontario was just being settled or homesteaded at that time so it is quite likely that they acquired their farms under a Crown Grant, meaning that they were the first owners of the lands. A trip to the Land Registry Office could prove this but since it's a six hour drive from where I live it will have to wait.

Huron County was heavily wooded territory with gently rolling hills at the time. The brothers must have been industrious souls since settlers had to work for a few decades felling trees and pulling stumps to expand the arable land. Those who persevered, like the Disney brothers, were rewarded with very fertile farm lands.

This family stayed in the same area of south-western Ontario for several generations and there are still a number of direct descendants in Huron County and the neighbouring municipalities. There is even a Disney Road about four miles from the shore of Lake Huron, between the towns of Goderich and Clinton.

Robert and Jane are buried in the Maitland Cemetery in Goderich Township.

Death%20-%20Robert%20Disney%201872%20500.jpg

Robert%20Disney%20Grave%20-%20Maitland%20Cemetery%20450.jpg

Jane%20Cooke%20Grave%20-%20Maitland%20Cemetery%20450.jpg

An 1872 Atlas for Huron County shows two Disney farms, the arrows mark the farms of Charles Disney on the left and Kepple Disney on the right. The arrow in the centre points to the road which is now known as “Disney Road”. In 1872 the cousins were less than a mile apart. Charles was the son of Robert and was living on lot 36 which his father had owned. Kepple was the son of Elias.

Goderich%20Township%20Map%201878%20500.jpg

Arundel Elias Disney and Maria Swan had eight children:
1. Kepple Disney b. 2 Nov 1832 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, d. 24 May 1891 in Ellis, Ellis, KS. He married Mary Richardson, Mar 18 1858 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON, b. 30 Mar 1838 in Aghaboe Parish, Queens County, Ireland (daughter of Robert Richardson and Ruth Lark), d. 10 Mar 1909 in Ellis, KS.
2. Mary Disney, b. 6 Aug 1839 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON. She married Israel E. Forsyth, b. 1840 in Dumfries Township, Middlesex County, ON (son of George Forsyth and Estacia), d. 1900 in New York, USA
3. Elias Disney, b. 4 Apr 1843 in Strathroy, ON, d. 3 Mar 1913 in Hutchinson, Reno, KS
4. Charlotte Disney, b. 1850 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
5. Thomas Disney, b. 1851 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
6. James Disney, b. 1853 in Ontario, Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
7. Harriet Disney, b. 1856 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON. d. 10 Jul 1881 in Ellis, Ellis, Kansas, USA. She married Walter White Martin, 28 Apr 1875 in Chicago, Cook County, IL, b. 28 Mar 1850 in Cincinnati, Madison, OH, d. 14 Dec 1927 in Denver, Adams, CO.
8. Arundel Robert Disney, b. 1858 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON. d. 1910.

In a story I have not been able to substantiate it is suggested that Arundel Elias built the area's first grist mill and a saw mill while farming and raising a family.

1861%20Census%20-%20Arundel%20Disney%20500.jpg

Kepple Disney and Mary Richardson had nine children:
1. Elias Disney b. Feb 6, 1859 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON. d. Sep 13, 1941 in North Hollywood, CA. He married Flora Call, 1 Jan 1888 in Kismet, Lake County, FL, b. Apr 22, 1868 in Steuben, Huron, OH (daughter of Charles Call and Henrietta Gross), d. Nov 6, 1938 in North Hollywood, CA.
2. Robert Disney b. 7 Aug 1861 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON d. 28 Jul 1953 in Los Angeles, CA.
3. Annie Disney, b. abt 1864 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
4. Edward Disney, b. Dec 1867 in in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON.
5. Alberta Mary Disney b. 20 Feb 1869 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON , d. 17 May 1954 in Blackwell, Kay, OK. She married John Charles Fremont Johnson, 5 Feb 1891 in Ellis, KS, b. 29 May 1858 in Saginaw, MI, d. 22 Aug 1942 in Blackwell, Kay, OK.
6. Kepple Disney b. 28 Jan 1872 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON d. 13 Dec 1939. He married Mary A. Mullen, 1897, b. 24 Mar 1872 in Iowa City, Wright, IA (daughter of Thomas Mullen and Annie), d. 11 Mar 1956.
7. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Disney, b. 3 Mar 1874 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON. d. 3 Dec 1906 in Kansas, USA. She married Harry S. Saunders, 1894, b. Aug 1862 in Illinois, USA.
8. Addie Disney, b. 18 Feb 1876 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON. d. 23 Mar 1932. She married Benjamin F Jones, 1895, b. 15 Apr 1872 in Jasper, Jasper County, MO.
9. William Henry Disney b. 7 Mar 1878 in Goderich Township, Huron County, ON d. 17 Apr 1958. He married Lydia M., b. abt 1886 in Missouri, USA.

In 1878 Kepple and Mary along with their children moved to Ellis, KS and appeared in the 1880 census.

1880%20Census%20USA%20-%20Kepple%20Disney%20500.jpg

By the time of the 1885 census in Florida their eldest son Elias Disney, born 1859, was living in Orange County Florida. Here you see him on the second line:

1885%20Census%20Florida%20-%20Elias%20Disney%20500.jpg

In that census you will see a 17 year old girl, F. (Flora) Call, about twelve lines below Elias Disney. Just three years later, in 1888 Elias married Flora at Kismet, Lake County Florida a mere 50 miles north of the site where their son Walt would, about 80 years later, build Walt Disney World. Kismet is now a ghost town in the middle of the Ocala National Forest.

Elias and Flora had five children:
1. Herbert Arthur Disney b. Dec 8, 1888 in Kismet, FL, d. Jan 29, 1961 in Los Angeles, CA. He married Louise J. Rost, 14 Aug 1913 in Kansas City, Jackson, MO, b. 15 Sep 1891 in Missouri (daughter of William A. Rost and Julia A. Rhedanz), d. 21 Apr 1953 in Los Angeles, CA.
2. Raymond Arnold Disney, d. May 24, 1989 in Santa Monica, CA, b. Dec 30, 1890 in Chicago, Cook, IL.
3. Roy Oliver Disney b. Jun 24, 1893 in Chicago, Cook, IL, d. 20 Dec 1971 in North Hollywood, CA. He married Edna Francis, 11 Apr 1925 in Los Angeles, CA, b. 16 Jan 1890 in Wichita, Sedgwick, KS (daughter of Edward S. Francis and Lettye Montana Milbourn), d. 18 Dec 1984 in North Hollywood, CA.
4. Walter Elias Disney b. Dec 5, 1901 in Chicago, Cook, IL, d. Dec 15, 1966 in Burbank, CA. He married Lillian Marie Bounds, 13 Jul 1925 in Lewiston, Nez Perce, ID (daughter of Willard Pehall Bounds and Jeanette Short), b. 15 Feb 1899 in Spalding, Nez Perce, ID, d. 16 Dec 1997 in Los Angeles, CA.
5. Ruth Flora Disney b. Dec 6, 1903 in Chicago, Cook, IL, d. Apr 7, 1995 in Multnomah, Multnomah, OR. She married Theodore John Beecher, 29 Nov 1938, b. 20 Feb 1906 in Chicago, Cook, IL, d. 21 May 1995 in Multnomah, OR.

Elias and Flora have a well documented history due to their son Walt's amazing life. They lived in Chicago IL, Marceline MO and Kansas City MO during Walt's youth.

Although I cannot confirm that Robert Disney and Mary Kepple were the parents of the Robert and Elias Disney who came to Canada I have based my search on the presumption that the information is correct. I have found detailed information covering 213 of their descendants. You might be wondering how I discovered all of this information. Well it was quite simple really. I used Ancestry.com and did it all from my home in about 12 hours.

When I first started out in genealogy a search like this would have taken a few years and involved many visits to libraries and museums to pore through dusty old books or endless rolls of microfilm. In this new digital age it is almost all digitized, indexed and searchable online. Wow . . . what a treat compared to the old days.

If you watch the television series “Who Do You Think You Are” which is sponsored by Ancestry.com and you wonder, “Is Ancestry.com as good as they make it sound?” The answer is yes. Definitely yes! All of the pictures in this blog, including the census records and the cemetery headstones, were downloaded from Ancestry.com. They are all “public domain” documents and are easily found through the web service. If you are considering tracing your family history this is a tool you must try!

So that's the story of Walt's Canadian connection! Walt's father and grandfather were born in Canada and his great grandfather and great-great grandfather moved from Ireland to Canada, via New York, sometime before 1842.

And no, I did not find a connection to my Cruise clan . . . at least not yet! Genealogy is never finished; there is always another riddle or mystery ahead of you. So someday, when I least expect it, I may just stumble over a connection . . . wouldn't that be something? It's highly improbable - but it sure would be fun to find that I'm relatived to such an amazing man!

June 10, 2012

Group Cruising

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

Have you ever wondered what it's like to cruise with a group? Well I can tell you based on our experience that it's fun!

Carol and I have cruised once on our own; we've cruised with a few friends twice and we've cruised as part of a large group four times. Our experience has been that the group adds a new dimension to the cruise experience. We really like it!

A group cruise is simply a cruise vacation which is organized by a person or company and is then offered to people with common interests. The organizer often arranges group activities which individuals can elect to participate in if they wish. There is no pressure to participate, it is purely voluntary.

What are the advantages of a group cruise?
• Well, an obvious advantage is price. The organizer can sometimes negotiate very favourable pricing by committing to a number of staterooms.
• Another is the diversity of the group. Carol and I enjoy the opportunity to mix and mingle with old friends we see on the ship and we like to meet new people as well. The group cruise gives us this opportunity.
• You can be as involved and active as you like or you can just kick back, relax and ignore all the group activities. There is no truant officer!

So what are some of these group activities? Let me give you some examples from our latest adventure.

Logo.jpg

We sailed on the AllEars Disney Fantasy Cruise which took place May 19 - 26, 2012. The bookings were all taken care of by our good friends at MouseFan Travel and the group activities were all arranged by AllEars and MouseFan Travel. There were 125 cruisers in our group and we occupied 52 staterooms on a seven day eastern Caribbean cruise.

Boarding.jpg

On Saturday we boarded the Fantasy and one of the first stops was the AllEars registration desk where we registered, picked up our AllEars Navigator (schedule of events) and our scavenger hunt questionnaire.

Navigator.jpg

We also received our “Welcome Gift” . . . a backpack full of a variety of swag! Disney Cruise Line gives some pretty nice swag to returning cruisers, members of the Castaway Club, but not nearly as nice as the AllEars swag we received. It was a high quality AllEars backpack full of trinkets and treasures. In the pack we found a handy little first-aid kit, chap stick, hand sanitizer, a sewing kit, a small cooler bag from David's Vacation Club Rentals, a pen from All Star Vacation Homes, an AllEars lanyard and a MouseFan Travel cell phone pouch but the highlight was the AllEars Trading Cards Build-A-Set.

Registration.jpg

Since May 2010 AllEars has been creating a unique Trading Card for each event they hold. When we sailed there were 52 cards in the series and the Build-A-Set in each backpack contained ten copies of five of those cards. The challenge was to connect with fellow cruisers and trade cards until your set was complete. The trading was fast and furious! There were two more cards released during the cruise and by the time we debarked most people had managed to acquire a complete set of all 54 cards. This was a terrific way to meet a lot of new people!

MouseFan Travel had a table at the registration area as well to help with any last minute arrangements, group booking for a special Palo brunch, etc.

After settling into our stateroom and attending the mandatory lifeboat drill we headed up to deck #12 for the sail-away party. This was our first chance to mix and mingle with others in the group.

Sail%20Away%201.jpg

Sail%20Away%202.jpg

Sail%20Away%203.jpg

Sail%20Away%204.jpg

Sail%20Away%205.jpg

There was a scavenger hunt which required cruisers to answer some very challenging trivia questions about the Disney Fantasy. The door decorating contest ensured that some of the stateroom doors were quickly transformed into lavish art displays!

Door%20Decorating%201.jpg

Door%20Decorating%202.jpg

Each of the three “sea days” AllEars founder Deb Wills invited everyone to join her at 8:00 a.m. for coffee and chatter at the Cove Café. These meets were always well attended . . . another opportunity to trade those AllEars Cards! The trading even attracted my wife Carol who is not normally a “morning person”.

Cove%20Cafe%201.jpg

Cove%20Cafe%202.jpg

Cove%20Cafe%203.jpg

Sunday afternoon there was an Ice Cream Social. We met at Eye Scream Treats on deck #11 and everyone helped themselves to a self-serve ice cream treat. Yum! Everyone enjoyed it!

Ice%20Cream%20Social%201.jpg

Ice%20Cream%20Social%202.jpg

Some people really enjoyed it!

Ice%20Cream%20Social%203.jpg

And of course they traded cards!

Ice%20Cream%20Social%205.jpg

Ice%20Cream%20Social%204.jpg

Ice%20Cream%20Social%206.jpg

Sunday evening we met for cocktails in La Piazza on deck #4, a few impromptu photo-ops ensued!

La%20Piazza%201.jpg

La%20Piazza%202.jpg

La%20Piazza%203.jpg

La%20Piazza%204.jpg

Monday morning, after coffee with Deb in the Cove Café, we gathered in The Tube on deck #4 for some pin trading. Carol was busy manning the pin board for the full 90 minutes and answered a lot of questions for some newcomers to pin trading.

Pin%20Trading%201.jpg

Pin%20Trading%202.jpg

Pin%20Trading%203.jpg

Once folks had done a pin trade (or two or three) out came the AllEars cards and the traders spread out all over The Tube.

Pin%20Trading%204.jpg

Pin%20Trading%205.jpg

While we had great weather, a brief rain Monday afternoon dampened plans for the Mini Golf meet on deck #13, Goofy's Sport Deck. Maybe next time . . .

Most of our group selected the early dining option and we were all seated in close proximity in the dining rooms. This gave yet another opportunity to see the new people we met and was especially fun on Pirate Night when we got to see everyone's costumes! Argggh!

Pirates%201.jpg

Pirates%202.jpg

Pirates%203.jpg

Pirates%204.jpg

Thursday morning, after coffee with Deb in the Cove Café, we gathered in the atrium on deck #3 for a photo-walk. Barrie Brewer was our leader and expert photographer. She explained what a photo walk was all about, then we broke into two groups and got started. We simply walked around the ship taking pictures. I led one group which stayed in the atrium and did our best to capture some interesting images there. Barrie Brewer and Linda Eckwerth took the other group and headed to Europa, the adult entertainment area on deck #4. My group rejoined them there and the larger group swarmed Europa taking pictures. The mosaic murals of toreadors and flamenco dancers in the restrooms were an extremely popular subject!

Photo%20Walk%201.jpg

Photo%20Walk%202.jpg

Photo%20Walk%203.jpg

Photo%20Walk%204.jpg

Photo%20Walk%205.jpg

Friday at Castaway Cay many of us convened for a group lunch at the Serenity Bay barbecue. It's funny but even with all the fine dining available on the ship, this barbecue on Castaway Cay is always one of my favourite meals!

Castaway%20Cay%20Fantasy.jpg

Castaway%20Cay%20Lunch%201.jpg

Castaway%20Cay%20Lunch%202.jpg

Castaway%20Cay%20Lunch%203.jpg

Then came the grand finale! The AllEars farewell party on Friday afternoon. The cruise was coming to an end, we debark tomorrow. Dang! We met in The Tube on deck #4. A slide show of pictures from many of our meets was playing on three large screens behind the stage and we were treated to complementary beverages and snacks!

Farewell%201.jpg

Farewell%202.jpg

Farewell%203.jpg

Farewell%206.jpg

Deb Wills thanked us all for joining her on the cruise and for participating in so many on-board events. These events were scrolling behind her in the slide show so we relived them as she spoke.

Farewell%207.jpg

Farewell%208.jpg

Soon the prizes were handed out for the scavenger hunt and the door decorating contest. Then the raffle tickets were drawn. Every time you attended any of the events or meets during the cruise you were given a raffle ticket. There were over a dozen prizes and some very happy winners.

Farewell%209.jpg

Farewell%2010.jpg

Farewell%2011.jpg

Farewell%2012.jpg

None of us were happier than Karilynn who won the grand prize donated by MouseFan Travel, a seven-night stay at a Deluxe Resort at WDW, including dining! Wow!

Farewell%2013.jpg

After the prizes were all awarded we had a surprise visitor, Captain Mickey came and posed for pictures with all of us! What a treat!

Captain%20Mickey%201.jpg

Captain%20Mickey%202.jpg

Captain%20Mickey%203.jpg

So that's what a group cruise is all about. There is always a nice variety of activities which you can elect to participate in but they do not interfere with other things you want to do. We attended almost all the group activities but we were still able to see every show in the Walt Disney Theatre. We spent plenty of time lounging around the pool, enjoyed shore adventures and did all the other things we like to do while cruising. The bonus was we met some very nice people and made some new friends while we were doing it!

Group.jpg

So if you think a group cruise might appeal to you keep your eyes on AllEars.net " Deb was hinting about another AllEars cruise in 2014. I hope we'll see you there!

May 6, 2012

Disney Pin Trading in New Jersey

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

One of the highlights of Carol's pin-trading year is the trip to New Jersey each April for the “Trade ‘Til You Fade” pin trading weekend hosted by Central Jersey Disney Pin Traders. She just loves getting together with other traders and CJDPT always puts on a first class event!

CJDPT%2420LogoNoYear.jpg

The group was founded by John Rick in January 2002 and since then they have held regular pin trading meets. The schedule of events is accessible on their web site at: http://www.cjdpt.com All of their meets are held at the Hampton Inn 255 Davidson Avenue, Somerset, NJ. There are Friday evening events, Saturday afternoon events and two week-end-long events in April and October. John's wife Sheila and their good friends Janis Lavender of Travel Dreams and her husband David are actively involved in all aspects of the group's activities.

CJDPT%20Banner.jpg

We normally travel to New Jersey with a group of Canadian pin traders, most of them from the Toronto area. Even though I am not a pin trader, I have joined in a few times. The trip is an adventure for us. Our travel day is Thursday and we always stop at the Syracuse NY Disney Store on the way; many of the Disney Stores in Canada have closed and we sure miss them! The store is conveniently located about two hours into our trek so we can stop and stretch our legs. It's a 364 mile trip from our home to the Hampton Inn but we have a bit of a head-start on our companions from the Toronto area who have to drive an extra 160 miles, making it a 524 mile trip for them.

2012%20Hotel.jpg

You might expect that we Canadians, since we are foreigners, travelled furthest to get to New Jersey but that's actually not the case. Folks drive from as far away as Miami FL - 1,270 miles but I think this year the distance award has to go to the dedicated trader from Seattle WA who flew 2,800 miles to trade pins!

Even though trading activities don't officially start until Friday evening there are already some pin traders set up at the tables in the breakfast area adjacent to the lobby by the time we arrive Thursday evening. We always stop and renew acquaintances but it's normally a short night for us. It has been a long drive and Carol needs a good night's rest to get herself ready for a gruelling week end!

We try to plan some other “Disney” activities for Friday morning. This often involves a train ride to The Big Apple and a trip to the Disney Store at Times Square. This time the ladies kept it simple; they took a short 30 minute drive to Staten Island. There are three Disney Stores along that 23 mile route and they covered them all in a shopping frenzy! I hung out at the hotel and my buddy John who lives about 45 minutes away came to join me for lunch.

Pin.jpg

The event kicks off Friday evening at 7:00 p.m. when the registration desk opens and folks line up to check-in, pick up their name-tags, goody bags and tickets for several random draws. There are three trading areas, two hotel meeting rooms fill with traders first and once breakfast is over the trading activity spills over into the room where the complimentary breakfast is served each morning. The Hampton Inn and their staff are extremely accommodating. The hotel staff all join in the fun by wearing Disney themed clothing and they allow the group to post Disney posters and signs throughout the common areas of the hotel. It is a very festive and fun filled place! They even allow the group to bring in coolers filled with their own drinks on ice. Most traders bring bottled water, sodas or juices to add to the communal drink coolers and there are also plenty of traders who contribute “snack-food” items which soon fill the counters in the breakfast area. It quickly transforms from a complimentary breakfast into a veritable junk-food buffet!

Meeting%20room%204.jpg

Carol always does her best trading on Friday nights. This year she traded from 7:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m. and was delighted with the 39 pins and 2 vinylmations she was able to pick up. Yes, pin traders are an oddly nocturnal group! I have no idea what time things actually wound down but a friend reported that the crowd was thin when he left at 3:00 a.m.

Saturday morning we headed down for breakfast at 8:15. Many of the night-owls had returned, looking remarkably fresh and eager. The two meeting rooms were open and trading was in full swing again but, of course, the breakfast room was set aside for breakfast. Traders who want to set up in the breakfast room once the meal is done simply park their pin cases and pin bags along the wall in the corridor and establish their order in the line. Then at 10:20 or 10:30, when the area has been cleaned up after breakfast, they are given the “all-clear” to file in. Once they settle and get set up they are established for the day and trading resumes in earnest.

Breakfast%20room.jpg

Breakfast%20room%202.jpg

The traders who come to these events are not at all like some of the ones you used to meet at those tables outside Pin Central at Downtown Disney. Many of them made their living trading pins and they could be very aggressive, sometimes ruthless. Not so at CJDPT events. The traders here are nice people who are anxious to help you complete your collection. Trading is easy, fun and free of stress. Carol really enjoys this week end; she looks forward to it every year.

This is the 19th “overnight event” CJDPT has hosted and there were 105 overnight guests in the hotel, occupying 51 rooms. The organizers always negotiate a flat rate with the hotel; all rooms were available at a cost of $68.00 per night which includes taxes and breakfast. We had a two-room suite with a king bed for a mere $68.00 per night! Wow! Registration fees for the pin trading event are quite reasonable as well. Guests registered at the hotel pay a fee of $3.00 to register for all three days. If you are not a hotel guest your fees for all three days will not be more than $13.00. The local people who “drop in” for a few hours swelled the total registration number to 122 people.

Meeting%20room%203.jpg

Meeting%20room%202.jpg

There are special games, activities, quizzes and raffles throughout each day and night with prizes for all the winners. It's non-stop trading and there is always a fun-filled diversion of some kind. It's not always about pins; people are also trading vinylmations and other Disney collectibles!

Game.jpg

One of the highlights is the Saturday night gift exchange. It's purely voluntary and not everyone participates but it's always fun for those who do get involved. It's one of those exchanges where gifts can be “stolen” and folks can get quite aggressive and quite entertaining as they seek out their favourite gift!

Raffle.jpg

Sunday morning is generally very quiet; those who have travelled a distance are packing up and checking out to start the trip home. We always have breakfast and yak a bit before saying our goodbyes. We strive to be on the road by 10:30 so that we arrive home by about 6:00 p.m. Many folks stay and continue trading until the event officially closes at noon. Every year we see the plenty of familiar faces and several new ones. Carol has always found the group to be easy to trade with and she always completes a few sets and comes home with some new treasures!

If you are a pin trader and you want experience a fun filled week end with your peers, New Jersey is the place for you. Check out their web site at: http://www.cjdpt.com and make plans to join in a pin week end soon.

April 16, 2012

Disney Dollars - A Pocketful Of Pixie Dust

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

Imagine you are at the Happiest Place on Earth with a pocketful of cash!

What could be better? How about being at the Happiest Place on Earth and that pocketful of cash has pictures of your favorite Disney characters!

You have a pocketful of Disney Dollars. How cool is that? It's almost like a pocketful of Pixie Dust!

2001%20%2410%20Bill%20A.jpg

2003%20%2410%20Bill%20A.jpg

Carol likes to keep Disney Dollars on hand to use for special gifts . . . when friends or family are heading on a Disney vacation their birthday or anniversary gift from us will often include a small envelope stuffed with a few Disney Dollars. Occasionally when Carol settles up with a friend who has picked up a pin or Vinylmation for her they will find a few Disney Dollars in their little pay packet! Everyone is always delighted with a gift of Disney Dollars.

2008%20%2410%20Bill%20A.jpg

Where can I buy Disney Dollars?
According to the official Disney web site Disney Dollars can be purchased at Guest Relations at all theme parks and water parks, Resort/hotel front desks and Resort/hotel concierge areas. We have sometimes been unable to find them at the resorts so we normally pick them up at Guest Relations.

Where can I spend Disney Dollars?
Disney Dollars are accepted at Ticketing locations, Food & Beverage venues, Merchandise locations, Recreation areas, Resort/hotel concierge desks, Resort/hotel front desks and Guest Relations at all theme parks and water parks.

Disney Dollars were first released to the public on May 5, 1987. The bills came in $1 and $5 denominations from 1987 to 1989 but in 1990 they added the $10 bill to the list. Naturally they are collected by Disney memorabilia fans. Of course Carol is an avid Disney collector so she has set aside a variety of these highly desirable items in her permanent collection. You can take a closer look at her collection here: http://www.carol-anne.ca/Disney Dollars.htm

1990%20%241%20Bill%20D.jpg

1990%20%245%20Bill%20D.jpg

1990%20%2410%20Bill%20D.jpg

Over the years some of the series have featured specific themes such as park anniversaries or pirates and princesses. The Disney artists who design the notes never miss a trick as they strive for the “cuteness factor”.

Disney Dollars are printed on high quality bank note paper and incorporate anti-counterfeiting features such as microprinting, and hard to scan/copy reflective ink and imprinting on the front and back of the bill. In addition the bills are printed with serial numbers and letters which are unique to each bill. Disney Dollars created for Disneyland in Anaheim bear a serial number beginning with A and those created for Walt Disney World in Florida and The Disney Stores begin with D and T respectively.

2002%20%241%20Bill%20A.jpg

2002%20%245%20Bill%20A.jpg

In 2005 only, Disneyland (A) and Walt Disney World (D) released $50 bills that were designed by Disney artist Charles Boyer for Disneyland's 50th Anniversary Celebration. Mr. Boyer personally signed a number of these bills and a signed copy is a very valuable collectible!

New Disney dollars have been produced every year since 1987 except 1992, 2004, 2006 and 2010. In 2011 the only bill produced was the $1 denomination and there has been no announcement yet whether a new 2012 version will be made.

2011%20%241%20Bill%20F.jpg

Disney Dollars have even been portrayed in cloisonné pin form for Disney Pin Collectors . . . and yes, Carol has a full set of these too!

Trading%20Pins%201.jpg

Trading%20Pins%202.jpg

Many folks are afraid that Disney Dollars, a truly unique form of currency/collectible, will be permanently replaced by dull plastic gift cards. Ugh! Where's the fun in that?

So if you want to liven up your gifts with a little Disney magic you might want to stock up on Disney Dollars during your next trip. I hope I'm wrong but I suspect that they may not be available too much longer!

Have you found a fun and creative way to use Disney Dollars? We'd all like to hear about it . . . so post a comment below and share your idea!

April 8, 2012

The Walt Disney Family Museum

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

"If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair".
Scott McKenzie " 1967

That popular song by Scott McKenzie drew flower children from across North America and around the world to San Francisco in 1967. It was the Summer of Love. Not many people sport flowers in their hair any more but much of that feeling of peace and love remains in the city to this day.

Carol and I enjoyed our first trip to San Francisco in April 2011. It's an amazing city and we will be returning! We were aboard the Disney Wonder as it repositioned from Los Angeles to Vancouver to begin the summer series of Alaska cruises. We had a two-day stay in San Francisco and we did our best to cram in as many of the sights as we could. We saw Haight-Ashbury, the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf and Lombard Street. We rode a cable car and had a burger at In-N-Out . . . but the highlight of our time in San Francisco was the Walt Disney Family Museum.

logo.jpg

For Disney fans it's a must-see. Add it to your “bucket list” right now!

WDF%20Museum%201.jpg

Friends who had previously visited the museum told us what a wonderful place it was, but we were really unprepared for what awaited us. Wow . . . what a wonderful tribute to the life of an amazing man.

We all know Walt's story, a man who rose from humble beginnings and founded one of the world's largest entertainment conglomerates. It is a true “rags to riches” story, one of many such stories in the modern world. The thing which sets Walt Disney's story apart from all those other success stories is the way in which he did it. Walt was not driven by money and the pursuit of riches like many of his successful counterparts. He was a true family man and he was determined to deliver high quality entertainment for all members of the family. Walt once said, “A man should never neglect his family for business.” and he certainly lived his life that way! That's what made Walt Disney so special and so dear to all of us who enjoy the legacy he left.

WDF%20Museum%202.jpg

The Walt Disney Family Museum opened in a former barracks building in San Francisco's Presidio on October 1, 2009. It's almost in the shadow of the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Walt's daughter Diane was actively involved in the design, development and construction of the museum and has remained active in it's operation. Once you visit the facility and see the tributes to Walt you will see how clearly the love of this man for his family shines through in the exhibits. Of course, their love for him is equally apparent.

When you visit the museum, remember that strollers are not allowed in the galleries; there is limited parking for strollers on the veranda. Photography and videography are not allowed in the galleries and I thank the Walt Disney Family Museum for allowing me to use pictures from their web site in this blog.

The museum has eleven main areas, the entry foyer followed by ten galleries, each one depicting a different facet of Walt's life. Carol always teases me that I cannot walk past a button, dial or switch without pushing, turning or flipping it, and she's correct; I'm a gadget guy. There are plenty of buttons dials and switches to play with in the museum; it's full of interactive displays, videos, models and film clips in addition to the static displays. Be prepared to spend at least a full day exploring the exhibits. Our two hours there was not nearly enough time. We will be returning and we will probably set aside two days to poke around the exhibits. I hardly had time to push any of the buttons!

Here's what you will find in the exhibit areas:

The Entry Foyer

This area is devoted to awards and you will see some of Walt's 26 Academy Awards here. He had 22 wins plus 4 honorary awards, a record which may never be beaten. His 59 nominations are also a record. Some friends warned us that most people who visit stop to admire the Oscars on display and as a result this area is often congested. They suggested that we scoot past the Oscars and start our exploration in Gallery 1. So that's what we did, we peeked at the many awards and continued on to the Galleries.

Entry%20Foyer.jpg
Gallery 1 " Beginnings

This gallery is dedicated to Walt's youth, his wartime service and his early business ventures.

Gallery%201%201.jpg

Gallery%201%205.jpg
Gallery 2 " Hollywood

Walt's arrival in Hollywood in 1923 is the starting point for this gallery which shows how he developed his early cartoons, the Alice Comedies, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and culminates with the birth of Mickey Mouse in 1928's Steamboat Willie.

Gallery%202%201.jpg

Gallery%202%202.jpg

Gallery%202%204.jpg
Gallery 3 " New Horizons in the 1930's

With the success of Mickey Mouse Walt began to experiment and soon the Silly Symphonies, led by the innovative The Skeleton Dance, were a big hit. The '30s was a decade of creativity and growth for Walt and his studio.

Gallery%203%201.jpg

Gallery%203%205.jpg
Gallery 4 " The Move to Features " Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The entire gallery is dedicated to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, at the time often referred to as “Walt's Folly”. A full length animated feature had never been done before. Cartoons were just “fillers” played between the features. Walt liked to do the impossible so he risked everything he had on Snow White. It was a huge hit and catapulted the studio to new heights.

Gallery%204%201.jpg

Gallery%204%203.jpg

Gallery%204%205.jpg
Gallery 5 " We Were In a New Business

After the success of Snow White the entire business focus changed from shorts to features. Successes such as Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi followed in short order and a new studio was built in Burbank.

Gallery%205%201.jpg

Gallery%205%202.jpg

Gallery%205%205.jpg
Gallery 6 " The Toughest Period in My Whole Life

The 1940s were difficult for Walt and the studio. The first set back was a bitter three-month-long strike by the artists and then the country entered the Second World War. The studio shifted production to a variety of films to support the war effort and emerged from the war years as strong as ever.

Gallery%206%201.jpg

Gallery%206%203.jpg

Gallery%206%205.jpg
Gallery 7 " Postwar Production

After the war Walt was determined to diversify and soon the studio was producing live-action films as well as animated features. Walt had realized his dream and was now a producer of live-action movies.

Gallery%207%201.jpg

Gallery%207%202.jpg

Gallery%207%203.jpg

Gallery%207%205.jpg
Gallery 8 " Walt and The Natural World

The True-Life Adventures series of nature documentaries began in 1949 with Seal Island. There were 10 short subjects and seven features in the series and they accounted for nine of Walt's 22 Academy Awards.

Gallery%208%201.jpg

Gallery%208%202.jpg
Gallery 9 " The 1950's and 1960's " The Big Screen and Beyond

This gallery focuses on Walt's success in television with the Mickey Mouse Club and the hugely popular “Wonderful World of Color” and flows into the development of the Disneyland theme park.

Gallery%209%201.jpg

Gallery%209%203.jpg

Gallery%209%204.jpg

Gallery%209%205.jpg
Gallery 10 " December 15, 1966

The final gallery focuses on Walt's death on December 15, 1966 while celebrating his life by displaying the many tributes which flowed in from around the world following his death.

Gallery%2010%201.jpg

Gallery%2010%202.jpg

Gallery%2010%203.jpg

My wife Carol and I both found our visit to the museum to be a very moving and emotional experience. As we walked down a glass-walled ramp between galleries we came to a wooden park bench. A plaque on the wall recounted Walt's experience sitting on a park bench watching his daughters play. He dreamed of a place where children and parents could play together. That germ of an idea grew into Disneyland and later into all the wonderful Disney theme parks around the world. We stopped for a few minutes and I sat on that bench. What a poignant moment that was!

Gallery%2010%204.jpg

When we got to the final room, Gallery 10, we both got misty and we had to rush through before we broke down completely and turned into blubbering fools. It really was that stirring for each of us.

All too soon it was time to go so we had a quick bite to eat in the snack bar and then finished our visit in the gift shop. We picked up a few souvenirs and naturally Carol had to have a few Walt Disney Family Museum pins for her collection!

WDF%20Museum%203.jpg

We didn't have time to visit the facilities in the museum where regular movie screenings, educational classes and activities are held. Alas, we just didn't have time to see it all.

So take a minute now and add the Walt Disney Family Museum to your bucket list. It's a wonderful tribute to an amazing man and his enduring legacy. No Disney fan should miss it!

Visit their website for more information.
http://disney.go.com/disneyatoz/familymuseum

March 26, 2012

To Walt Disney World in a Motor Home - Part 2

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

Yesterday I shared with you the first 2 days of our travels to Walt Disney World in a motor home. Today I'll finish the report!

The third day we follow our well established routine, up just before 7:00 a.m., unhooked and back on the highway by 8:00. Our destination is Walterboro South Carolina about 322 miles away.

This is the day we leave the mountains behind, but not before we drive off the edge of the world! Within minutes of pulling out of the campground we leave I-81 behind and turn south on I-77. The road rolls up and down as we steadily climb for about 30 miles to the peak of the Blue Ridge chain. Once you hit the top you start down the other side and begin a six mile plunge out of Virginia and into North Carolina. Carol does not like this hill! She bites her lip as we hurtle down and down . . . past several runaway truck ramps. The engine roars as the cruise control tries in vain to check our speed. I pump the brakes regularly, but not often enough for Carol! It takes several days for the white-knuckle marks to fade from the dash after our descent. But on a clear day it is very pretty! It can be an awesome view, but more often than not it's raining or foggy as we pass so the scenery takes a back seat to the terror!

Big%20Hill%202.jpg

When we hit the bottom in North Carolina and I have once again saved my precious bride from certain death she starts breathing again and leans back to enjoy the rolling hills and the pretty rivers and lakes of the area. We will be in the “lowlands” for the rest of our journey.

No matter what time of year we travel we enjoy watching the season change as we head south. Whether its spring, autumn or winter things always get greener and greener as we head further south and the change becomes much more pronounced once we make the drop down that huge hill at Fancy Gap and Mount Airy.

On this morning we travel through the heart of NASCAR as we pass Mooresville, Lake Norman and Statesville North Carolina. We zip through Charlotte and cross the state line into South Carolina. We skirt around Columbia on I-77 and then turn south-east on I-26 for only 53 miles before we reach I-95 and head south again. Green rolling hills, lush forests and prosperous looking farms everywhere!

This is palm tree day! Carol has her eyes open all afternoon, darting left and right, and is always thrilled when she spots that first palm tree. It has to be posted on Facebook! Hooray, it's official " we're in the south! The dogs don't get too excited about palm trees; after three days they just want to get off that couch! Grrr!

Palm%20Trees.jpg

When we reach I-95 we are only about 35 miles from our stop for the day at Walterboro South Carolina. The campground there, New Green Acres, is just off the highway and is canopied with tall pine trees. The campsites are huge pull-thrus; there is no need to disconnect the tow-car. It's a very pretty spot and there is always plenty of space to let the dogs run and romp for a while.

New%20Green%20Acres.jpg

Of course, we do disconnect the car and head off for dinner before we settle in for the evening.

This is normally the first stop along the route where we hook up the sewer hose and drain the holding tanks before we pull out. The grey water tank and the black water tank each hold about 50 gallons so we can travel several days and both shower each day without dumping the tanks. We carry 60 gallons of fresh water and 96 pounds (23 gallons) of propane. The propane fuels the 35,000 BTU furnace and when we are not plugged in to 120V power it also operates the refrigerator and the 10 gallon water heater. The onboard generator provides up to 5,500 watts of 120V power when we cannot plug in to “shore-power” so we can operate the two roof-top air conditioners, the microwave and the central vacuum no matter where we stop along the way! It sure is a great way to travel!

Our fourth day it's a shorter drive, only 244 miles to St. Augustine Florida. Interstate 81 runs parallel to the Atlantic coastline and we are seldom more than 10 miles from the ocean. In this gently rolling lowland area we cross many tidal rivers and endless salt marshes as we enjoy the warm salty breeze from the Atlantic. Within an hour we cross the state line into Georgia.

Carol continually scans the banks of the rivers and marshes we cross looking for any sign of alligators along the shore or manatees in the rivers. She has had a few gator sightings but no manatees so far!

Soon we skirt past Savannah and make another fuel stop at Brunswick Georgia before crossing into Florida at about 11:30. We always stop at the Florida Welcome Centre on I-95. It just wouldn't be right if we didn't pull in for that free sample of fresh Florida orange juice!

Welcome%20Centre.jpg

We pass through downtown Jacksonville at noon and in all of our trips through this city (Touch wood!) traffic on the interstate has not been too congested in the middle of the city.

Shortly after 1:00 p.m. we pull into North Beach Camp Resort at Vilano Beach, just a few miles north of St. Augustine. It's nice to have a short day on the road and we're usually all set up by 2:00 p.m.

We really enjoy St. Augustine and we stop there almost every trip. The dogs always enjoy a romp on the beach in the afternoon and we just love to poke around the historic old town area of St. Augustine. There are a couple of stores we almost always visit too, Carol has to drop into the Disney Character Outlet Store and I have to snoop around the nearby Camping World store.

St%20Augustine.jpg

Just a few trips back we discovered a wonderful local restaurant, O'Steens, where we usually have a feast of fried shrimp! Yum! Then on our way back to the camp we drive around the historic area which is magnificently lit at night. It's truly beautiful!

From St. Augustine it's only 129 Miles to Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. We don't usually get away at our normal time, we relax a bit the last morning. We want to arrive well before the 1:00 p.m. check-in time so we're on the road by 9:00. After another hour on I-95 we turn west on I-4 for an hour then Orlando looms into sight. Hallelujah . . . soon the Disney signs appear.

WDW%20Gate.jpg

We pull off I-4 onto Disney Property and arrive at the best campground we have ever seen.

Signs.jpg

FW%20Sign.jpg

The guard at the security gate says, “Welcome home!” and directs us to the drive-thru check in gate.

Check%20In.jpg

We like to check in early in the day, we think it gives us a better chance of getting one of our favourite campsites. All of the sites are great of course, but we do have a handful of favourites.

Typically the sites are not cleaned and ready for us when we arrive so we drive a few hundred yards to the “overflow parking lot” where Carol walks the dogs while I unhook the tow car. Then we load the dogs back in the RV, start up the onboard generator and turn on the air conditioners to keep the dogs comfortable while we drive to Downtown Disney for lunch at the Earl of Sandwich " it's a tradition!

Soon the cell phone buzzes with a text message " our site is ready. Carol drops me at the RV and she heads for the campsite as I follow behind her. She directs me as I back it into position.

Site%20707.jpg

This time our set-up routine is a little more involved; in addition to the normal utility connections we have palm trees, Mickey lamps, rope lights and several big totes full of seasonal decorations to put up. First we unpack all the hatches under the RV.

Unpacked.jpg

Set up takes a few hours this time, but of course it's a labor of love and we enjoy it!

Setup.jpg

By 3:00 p.m. or so we are finished. Aaah! Home again, it sure feels good to be back in out Happy Place!

Halloween.jpg

So that's a summary of a typical trip in our motor home. I hope you enjoyed riding with us. If you would like to see more details and pictures from a specific trip or two, take a look at our blog site at www.carol-anne.ca Follow the link to “The Disney Room” and browse through our trip reports. Don't forget to sign the guest book!

March 25, 2012

To Walt Disney World in a Motor Home - Part 1

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

In two previous blogs I've told you about Halloween at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground and I've described all the reasons why our dogs enjoy vacationing there. We just love “The Fort”; it's the best campground we've ever found and we always look forward to taking the RV there!

Have you wondered what it would be like to travel to your favourite vacation destination in a small house that rolls down the highway? There are no suitcases to carry, no weight restrictions, no limits to what we can bring and every night we sleep in our own bed! It's a great way to travel and we really enjoy it! Let me describe the experience for you.

On our first day we're always up bright and early, full of excitement. The RV is mostly packed so while Carol moves the last few perishable items from the fridge in the house to the fridge in the motor home I take the car to Tim Horton's and hurry back with coffee and a bite of breakfast. Then we check the lights on the car we tow behind the rig " yup, they work fine! The last chore is to hook the dog's harnesses to the seat belts on the couch and off we go. Zak and Blue are seasoned travellers and are quite cozy there. We usually pull away at about 7:00 a.m. We will travel 382 miles to Harrisburg Pennsylvania before we stop for the night.

RV%20%26%20Car.jpg

This is when Carol can finally relax! She has been busy for days getting ready. We can't park the RV at home very long; it's too big to fit in our driveway. So Carol begins assembling everything we're taking along and she stacks most of it in a spare bedroom. The day before departure we pick up the motor home from the storage barn about 20 miles away, pull it up in front of the house and fill it with everything we'll need. Do I need warm weather clothes or cool weather clothes? Doesn't matter " bring them all and hang them in the closet. Clothing, food, cameras, computers, lawn chairs, totes full of decorations to fit the season and so much more, we stow it all away, hang the bikes on the bike rack and hook up the tow-car. Aaah! Now we're ready to leave in the morning!

Within five minutes of departure we are eastbound on the freeway, Highway 401, for about 25 miles then we turn south and cross the Ivy Lea Bridge to Hill Island. This is the same bridge you see in the CircleVision Theatre at EPCOT's Canada Pavilion. When you fly down that beautiful section of the St. Lawrence River, dotted with islands and see that huge bridge you are less than 25 miles from or home.

Hill%20Island.jpg

Riding in the RV is much different than riding in your car. One of the big advantages is that you sit up high, well above the guard rails and barriers. The sight lines are great and we can see so many things that you miss riding in a car. Even when we are stuck behind a long line of traffic we can see over top of the cars ahead and determine what's going on well ahead of us.

The Canada/US border runs between Hill Island, Ontario and Wellesley Island, New York. There is seldom a long line when we arrive at about 7:30 a.m. so we are quickly through Immigration and southbound on Interstate 81. The process is much the same as if you were driving your car, you pull up, hand your passports out the window, answer a few quick questions and they hand back the passports and wave you on. Soon we cross the next bridge over the St. Lawrence as we leave Wellesley Island behind and continue south on the mainland.

The first few hours, through the most northern part of New York State, we see almost no traffic as we drive through rolling hills. I just set the cruise control at about 63 miles per hour and we watch the miles roll by! We move a bit slower than most traffic so I keep an eye on the mirrors and the back-up camera. That's the only way I can see the tow-car, it doesn't show in my mirrors.

Once we pass Syracuse the hills become a little larger and begin to think that they are mountains and of course they are! We're in the Appalachians. I-81 climbs and descends again and again as it winds its way through the mountains, following the course of the Susquehanna River. Soon we pass Binghamton and by the time we cross into Pennsylvania, at about 11:00 a.m., we are faced with some serious mountains. The transmission gears down and the engine roars a bit as we climb the steepest of slopes but we seldom lose any speed. Once we break over the top and begin to descend the cruise control acts as an engine brake to control our speed as we go down. This too causes the engine to roar and I occasionally have to use the brake pedal to slow us down. The dogs don't like the mountains; the engine roar disturbs their sleep. Carol occasionally roars too, “Do you know how fast you're going?” This also disturbs the puppies!

Rolling%20Hills.jpg

We make our first fuel stop in northern Pennsylvania. Gasoline is about 30% cheaper in the USA; we pay very high gas taxes in Canada so we do not fill up at home if we can avoid it.

This section of I-81, in northern PA, is just terrible! It's full of bumps, patches and potholes. In many areas it's like driving on a washboard. The state is working on it, but they sure need to hurry up the repairs. Ouch! There is some amazing scenery through the north part of Pennsylvania but we would enjoy it a whole lot more on better roads.

Every few hours we stop at a rest area or pull into the parking lot at a shopping mall so I can stretch my legs and the dogs can have a walk. We look for somewhere which has plenty of room to turn the RV around. When the car is hooked on the back it's about 65 feet long and you cannot back up unless you disconnect the car. We try to avoid pulling into a place if we cannot see the way out! We've goofed a couple of times and believe me, it's no fun!

A few hours after crossing the state line we start to see fewer steep grades as we follow more valleys through the Appalachians and by mid afternoon we reach our destination, Harrisburg East Campground in the state capital. We like to cover about 350 miles each day and get set up in a campground before dark.

One of the difficulties during our first few days of travel in the winter months is finding campgrounds which are open. By the time we hit the Carolinas there is no problem finding campgrounds, but in the north most of them close in October and reopen in April. We have found a few which stay open year round. Harrisburg is one of these year-round locations and it's often an important stop for us. In the winter we winterize the rig here on our way home and we flush out the winter anti-freeze from the water lines on our way south.

Dogs%20on%20Couch.jpg

We have a well rehearsed routine once we stop for the day. Carol directs me as I drive the RV into the campsite, watching to make sure there are no low hanging branches or obstacles I cannot see from behind the wheel. She makes sure that I'm close enough to hook up all the utility connections but far enough away from trees and posts that they won't interfere with our three slide-out rooms. Once the rig is situated she takes the dogs out for a walk while I unhook the tow-car and begin to hook up the electrical connection, fresh water line and cable TV. Before I'm finished Carol and the dogs are back. She runs out the slide-outs, drops the hydraulic levelling jacks, sets several flashing digital clocks and sets up the coffee pot to brew our java for the next morning. Voila! We're settled for the night. We have it down to a science . . . it usually takes less than 20 minutes.

We normally do some shopping our first day. We don't take much food across the border. There are some restrictions on what you can take and groceries are normally much cheaper south of the border so we stock up once we're there. So after the driver has had a rest and the dogs have had a good romp we head off shopping and then find a restaurant for a bite of dinner. Yes, I know, you were expecting that Carol would cook a nice nutritious dinner for the driver, but that doesn't often happen. She seems to think that she's on vacation when we're travelling in the RV . . .

We're normally back by 8:00, reconnect the tow-car and settle in for an evening of television. There's another long day coming tomorrow.

On our second day we will cover 362 miles and stop at Wytheville Virginia. The coffee-maker is usually set to come on at about 6:45 and once it starts to gurgle Blue hops on the bed to announce the arrival of morning. After a few cups of coffee, a bowl of cereal and a shower I unhook the utility connections while Carol pulls in the slides, retracts the jacks, battens down everything inside and hooks up the dog's seat belts. We're normally back on the highway just after 8:00 a.m.

This is one of my favourite days of driving. There are still mountains, but the southern part of Pennsylvania is relatively flat and the highway is good. Soon we are in the Shenandoah Valley with the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Appalachians to the west. It's beautiful rolling countryside with some amazing vistas.

Blue%20Ridge.jpg

After about an hour we reach the Pennsylvania/Maryland state line. Within 40 minutes we will have been in 4 states, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and then Virginia. Wow! During this time we have crossed two historic rivers, the Potomac and the James, and passed by many famous Civil War battlegrounds. Since we're Canadian we didn't learn much in school about the Civil War but we're learning! Carol keeps the laptop on the dash in front of her and we use it as our GPS. It's name is Sadie! We use a USB stick and have a 3G internet connection so she can “Google” any questions we have along the route. Hmmm . . . the Mason-Dixon Line " who were they? The Cyrus McCormick Homestead " who was he? Molly Pitcher Highway " who was she?

Laptop.jpg

I use questions like those to keep Carol busy as we roll along. She reads a bit and spends some time on Facebook, keeping up with friends and family as well as updating them on our progress as we make our way south. Me? I just love driving the RV and I seldom get bored. Sometimes I get a bit like James Thurber's character, Walter Mitty. I'm Snowman, a long distance trucker hauling 400 cases of Coors beer to Georgia for Big Enos Burdette. Other times I'm captaining a submarine or flying a jumbo jet. I can always keep my mind busy as the miles roll on!

Driving.jpg

We travel for two complete days on I-81 and this route avoids the congestion of major cities like Baltimore MD and Washington DC. There are very few large cites so we don't encounter too many traffic delays, we just sit back and enjoy the scenery! We often look at the signs for such attractions as the Natural Bridge, the Sky Line Drive through Blue Ridge National Park and many others. We add these to our bucket list.

When the afternoon sun shines on the Blue Ridge Mountains it is easy to understand how they got their name! It can be breathtaking at times as you look out at row upon row of peaks shrouded in a faint blue haze.

By mid-afternoon we reach our destination, Wytheville Virginia at the junction of I-81 and I-77. We fuel up again before we head to the campground. The RV is on a Ford chassis, powered by a 6.8 liter V10 engine and burns regular gasoline. It has a 75 gallon gas tank and we get about 8 miles per gallon. Depending on gas prices, fuel for our 2,810 mile round trip will cost between $1,200 and $1,600. The Wytheville KOA campground is close to the freeway and we are normally settled and all set up before 4:00. Then we relax a bit and give the dogs a romp before heading out to dinner. After a long day on the road we're happy to spend a quiet night reading and watching TV.

Stay tuned for Part 2!!!

March 11, 2012

Disney Cruise Line Without Kids

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

My wife Carol and I were anxious to sail with Disney Cruise Line. Time at sea and all those wonderful ports of call just sounded so appealing! We're avid Disney fans; we like virtually everything Disney and it just seemed like something we had to try!

There was just one thing holding us back. What about all those children? Won't there be kids everywhere?

Don't get me wrong, we like kids. We enjoy seeing children having fun wherever they are, particularly at Walt Disney World! But we are empty nesters and we have been for quite a few years. We have come to relish the quiet home life we lead. I like to think that we've earned the right to savour our preferred lifestyle. (Savouring my preferred lifestyle " it sounds so much nicer than admitting that I'm a grumpy old geezer!)

Every time we spoke about cruising with Disney I would start imagining . . . there I am relaxing in the hot tub, eyes closed and totally relaxed. Suddenly I'm cannon-balled by an unsupervised little munchkin! Sound far-fetched? It isn't. That has really happened to me at a Disney resort. I've had kids in the hot tub, fully equipped with flippers, masks and snorkels as they examined my toes at the bottom of the spa. This sort of thing disturbs me. That's not what hot tubs are for but how do you escape it with all those kids around?

When we vacation we try to have a nice, quiet sit-down meal at the end of the day. Disney parks and resorts offer some wonderful dining opportunities and we like to take advantage of them. So what about the dining rooms on the Disney ships? Will there be screaming children at our table or the table next to us? Will they follow us from dining room to dining room as we rotate through the ship's beautiful venues?

These were the sort of fears which held us back. Many of our friends told us we were being too cautious, the kids weren't that bad. Others said that they had hardly seen any children aboard and assured us that Disney cast members did such a good job with activities for the children that they were not a problem.

We waffled for several years before we finally took the plunge, so to speak, and booked our first Disney Cruise. We decided to “dip our toes in” with a quick four-day cruise. If we didn't enjoy it, well, it would just be a short ordeal.

Terminal.jpg

So off we went in January 2007 on a Bahamas cruise. To quickly end your suspense " we just loved it! Our friends were right, there were simply no grounds for all those fears we had suffered. It was amazing how much fun we had, and how little we saw of the children. Oh, there were plenty of kids and they were having just as much fun as we were but we hardly saw them and we were able to fully savour that lifestyle we prefer.

Atrium.jpg

As I write this article we have enjoyed six Disney cruises and we are booked on two more in the future. We really like it! So far all of our cruising has been on the Wonder and the Magic but we will sail on the new Disney Fantasy in just a few months.

How does Disney do it? How do they manage to create an environment where a crusty old coot like me can have a blast at the same time all those kids are having the time of their lives? It's pretty simple really, they just do two things, but they do them extremely well.

First they engage the children with an amazing array of activities and second they set aside lots of “adult only” space. That's it, plain and simple, but it works surprisingly well.

How do they engage the children? A special corps of well trained and highly motivated cast members greet kids in some wonderfully crafted “kid-friendly” places. These are amazing facilities for several specific age groups. Infants from three months to three years can go to a “day care” type facility called Flounder's Reef where they are expertly cared for. Kids from three to ten are welcomed at both the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab where a variety of toys, games and activities await them. Tweens have their own space called the Edge and teens go to Vibe. All these spaces have been designed by Disney Imagineers to capture the imagination of the targeted age group and all are chock full of things which appeal to the children and also captivate them. The kids are safe, secure and well supervised at all times.

Deck%2010.jpg

Friends of ours who have cruised with children are astounded at how much their kids have enjoyed it. Disney ships were built to entertain guests of all ages and they do it very well. The most frequent complaint we hear from parents is that they so seldom see their children. Many of the kids do not want to leave their friends to join their parents for dinner. Now that's a sign that the cast members are able to relate to the kids!

Now, what is there for the adults? Plenty. There are some great “adult only” spaces too.

We occasionally like to watch the wee ones and their parents swim in the Mickey Pool or watch the older kids frolic in the Goofy Pool, but when we're ready for some peace and quiet we head to the Quiet Cove Pool, in the adult only area on deck 9. We spend lots of time here.

Quiet%20Cove%20Pool%201.jpg

Quiet%20Cove%20Pool%202.jpg

The pool is flanked by two hot tubs and there is no risk of cannon-balls or scuba divers in these spas. The sun deck is open to the elements with lots of loungers but it's also sheltered from the wind. Carol likes to bask in the sun while I stretch out in the shade with a book. This is the life!

Deck%209.jpg

Next to the pool is the Cove Café, another adult space where you can just sit and relax or enjoy a specialty coffee or cocktail. On the Disney Wonder above the Cove Café, on deck 10 and overlooking the pool is the Outlook Café. This is a great spot to meet for cocktails before dinner. If you sail on the Wonder you may see me here in the afternoon reading my book!

The Vista Spa on deck 9 beside the Quiet Cove Pool is also for those 18 or older. Carol has enjoyed the spa a few times but I have not made it there yet. They have a variety of ways to pamper guests and all of our friends who have been indulged there speak very highly of the place so I'm confident Carol will coax me into Vista soon!

Our favourite adult-only place is Palo, the upscale dining room on deck 10 aft. You pay a small premium to dine at Palo and reservations are taken up quickly but it is oh-so worth it! There is a dress code but it's not onerous. No shorts, no tees, jackets for dinner and you pay a fee of $20 per person for brunch or dinner and $15.00 for “High Tea”. Dinner is served every day while brunch and tea are only served on “sea days”. You simply must dine at Palo!

Palo%201.jpg

Palo%202.jpg

For the regular dining rotation we have always opted for the late seating. I think this gives us an older crowd. Most families with younger children select the early dining option and we have never had any issues with children in the dining room. The food and the service are always first class!

Tritons.jpg

Great%20dining.jpg

One of the less obvious advantages of the way children are engaged by Disney Cruise Line cast members is the fact that they are seldom seen in some areas of the ship which are not restricted to adults. Sure, you will always find them at the Mickey Pool, the Goofy Pool and the deck 9 soda machine but there are plenty of areas where you hardly ever see kids. An example is the sun deck on deck 4, the Promenade Deck. This is another great spot to stretch out in the sun on a lounge or in a deck chair and enjoy sunshine, tropical breezes and salt air. Keep an eye out and you might find me here with my book! There are always plenty of joggers and walkers circumnavigating the ship, but very few children.

Deck%204.jpg

The shows? They are great . . . not second-rate comedians and magicians. Disney has some amazing shows; Broadway style song and dance shows and of course some wonderful shows featuring Disney characters. Yes, there are children at the shows but you'll be having so much fun being a kid again that you may not notice!

Show%201.jpg

Show%202.jpg

What about night clubs? Yes, there are sports bars, piano bars and pool side bars. It's all there folks and you don't have to worry about being swarmed by children.

Night%20Clubs.jpg

Of course I have to mention Castaway Cay, it's spectacular. Imagine a desert island where the Disney Imagineers were allowed to play . . . that's exactly what they did! This Disney-owned island in the Bahamas was re-done to perfection. It still looks deserted but it's covered in amazingly lush and beautiful tropical plants and flowers. Look around and you will find relics from older times; there are sunken ships, abandoned aircraft beside a run-down old air strip, a sunken statue of Mickey Mouse and many other unique sights along the wonderful white sand beaches. Of course there are activities for all ages but our favourite place is Serenity Bay, the adult only beach. It's blissful! We board a shuttle and pass the family beach and the teen beach on our way to pure Serenity! Aaaah! As I stretch out in a hammock under the shade of a palm tree and close my eyes my thoughts drift to Gilligan, the Skipper and . . . my heart-throb, Ginger. Castaway Cay reminds me a lot of that island paradise.

Castaway%20Cay%204.jpg

Castaway%20Cay%201.jpg

Castaway%20Cay%203.jpg

Castaway%20Cay%202.jpg

Conveniently located just behind my favourite hammock is the Castaway Air Bar where they serve a nice selection of adult beverages and immediately behind the bar is Serenity Bay BBQ where a wonderful buffet lunch is served. The hot barbecue fare and fresh fruit tastes so much better when you are sitting under shady palm trees! This is heaven!

Many ports of call have adult only excursions too. There are plenty of tour options, enough to suit all tastes and age groups and since they are all selected by Disney you can rest assured they will be high quality tours.

So if you're shying away from a Disney cruise, like we did, because they may be too “kid-friendly” forget about that fear. It just isn't so!

Pacific%20Sunset.jpg

We tried it and we really like it! So jump in and give Disney cruising a try.

Come on in, the water's fine!

NOTE: All Disney Cruise Photos are from the Disney Wonder or Magic ships.

March 2, 2012

Rediscover Disney Through the Eyes of a First-Timer

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

You are a die-hard Disney fan, a lot like me! I know this is true because you are reading this blog. You must be a devoted fan if you are here at AllEars.net and discovered this link.

You know the Disney parks like the back of your hand. You have visited them so many times that you know the quickest way to get from the Haunted Mansion to the Pirates of the Caribbean. That's right . . . just past the Diamond Horseshoe you turn left, duck through the alley, pass the rest rooms and turn right into Adventureland.

You are aware that as you leave Frontierland and enter Adventureland things change. The background music changes, the plant life changes, the building facades change, even the texture of the concrete you are walking on changes. You have moved from one world and into another. You are in another place and another time.

There are so many little factors that all add up to what we call “The Disney Magic” . . . and you understand them. You feel The Disney Magic. You “get it”.

You appreciate how the parks are designed to immerse you in magic. You notice all the little things that they really didn't have to do when they designed and built the attractions. But they built them in anyway; it's all part of the magic.

There are lots of people who don't get it. They don't feel the magic and they will never understand why you do. You probably have friends who say, “Why do you always go to Disney World? It's a place for kids.” Others will tell you, “I went to Disney World (or Disneyland) one day. It was too crowded and there wasn't much to see.” These people probably annoy you; they annoy me too.

Now cast your memory back to your first trip to a Disney park. Wasn't it overwhelming? Oh yes, it was wonderful, but there was so much to see and you didn't know where to start. I see those people in the parks all the time, just like I was back in 1977, confused or frustrated looks on their faces, looking at a guide map, bewildered.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could go back and do your very first trip over again, but this time do it with the benefit of all you now know about Disney? How much more could you have seen and enjoyed that first time if you knew your way around like you do today?

I wish I could make that happen, I'd sure like to have a “do-over” too.

But there is a way to enjoy that kind of experience. Take a friend who's never been there before and act as their tour guide. Give them the benefit of all you have learned. Pay it forward!

If you are at all like me you will enjoy watching them see it all for the first time. It's like a vicarious first time for me; I take pleasure in every oooh and aaah. It even works with someone who has not been there in a number of years as they see the new attractions and take delight in seeing their Disney favorites again.

My wife Carol and I have had the chance to do this several times. Each time it was a unique experience for us.

Over ten years ago we treated her parents to a week-long trip to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. We acted as their tour guides. Carol's Mom had been there a number of times, most recently in 1993, but for her Dad it was a first.

2000%20Animal%20Kingdom.jpg

He just loved the theming at the Port Orleans French Quarter resort and beamed as we took the boat ride to Downtown Disney. He soaked in every experience we threw at him and looked happier than I had ever seen him. My most vivid memory from the trip was watching him enjoy MuppetVision 3D. Visualize a seventy-two year old man giggling throughout the show . . . there is an inner child in all of us and its magic when we let that child loose!

2000%20MVMCP.jpg

They enjoyed it so much that they have gone back six times on their own and also gone on three Disney cruises.

About six years ago we had just returned from the annual EPCOT Pin Trading Event and were telling my mother about the fun we had. She sighed wistfully and said, “I sure would like to get back there one more time.” She had been there twice, the last time was 22 years prior in 1983. We decided to grant her wish and within a month we were back at our favourite place. We spent five glorious days racing around the parks pushing her in a wheelchair . . . she could walk, but we made much better time with the chair. In five days we saw virtually every attraction in each park. She was beaming, grinning from ear to ear the whole time.

2005%20Animal%20Kingdom.jpg

2005%20Mom%20%26%20Mickey.jpg

2005%20WDW%20Monorail.jpg

What was my seventy-six year old mother's favourite thing? Lets see . . . was it the banana split she had for lunch at the Plaza Restaurant? No. Was it riding in the front on the monorail? No. Was it Mickey's PhilharMagic where she reached out to grab the jewels as Ariel sang about “whoosits and whatsits galore”? No. When we were all done, we had seen it all, we asked what she would like to see again on the sixth day, our last day there. She quickly replied, “The Hall of Presidents.” I thought it an odd thing for a Canadian to ask, but off we went . . . after all, it was her dream!

Recently, while we were camped at Fort Wilderness, we got a phone call from some long time friends from our home town. They were just leaving Nashville in their RV and decide to stop in to see us for a few days on their way to Key Largo. We arranged to have them assigned the campsite right beside us and they pulled in a few days later at noon. He had never been to Walt Disney World and she had not been there since the 1980's. They had a day and a half until they had to leave. Wow . . . what to do? We asked what they wanted to see, the reply was, “You are the experts, bring it on!” So we did.

The first day, after they had their RV set up, was all about resorts. Since they are campers we showed them around Fort Wilderness, then caught the launch to Wilderness Lodge and the Contemporary Resort Hotel.

2011%20Wilderness%20Lodge.jpg

We took a quick spin around the resort monorail loop and pointed out the sights as we passed them by. After dinner at Trail's End we drove around in the golf cart and enjoyed the awesome Christmas decorations at “The Fort”. We finished our day by watching Wishes and the Electric Water Pageant from the Fort Wilderness beach. Their comment at the end of the night? “Wow, we had a lot of fun today and it was all free!”

The next morning we hit the ground running. EPCOT! We covered the entire park in a day; we saw every attraction and rode every ride except Imagination.

2011%20Spaceship%20Earth.jpg

It was a whirlwind, but a great time. The highlights? Well, they are both car buffs so naturally they enjoyed Test Track but I really enjoyed watching them as they smelled the pine forest and the orange grove in Soarin'. He had a huge grin when we stopped near the archway at Innoventions to watch the Jam-itors play. In Canada we watched the CircleVision movie. You can almost see their cottage in the movie. Its near that bridge in the Thousand Islands. “Look,” they said, “there's Smuggler's Bay.” They were both tapping their toes as The British Revolution played behind the UK pavilion.

2011%20British%20Invasion.jpg

2011%20Chefs%20de%20France.jpg

After a great dinner at Chefs de France we continued our way around World Showcase and finished just in time to watch Illuminations. He asked, “Do they do this every night?” Yup . . . every night.

The next morning, as they pulled out, the thanks were effusive. But they didn't need to say thanks; just being able to watch them enjoy themselves had been thanks enough.

Our latest experience with a “first-timer” was just a few weeks ago. Carol used to visit Walt Disney World with her good friend Judy when the children were young. Judy had not been there since 1997 and her husband Scott had never been there. They booked a two-week trip and stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter; we decided to take the RV to Fort Wilderness and enjoy some time there with our friends. We had a great time and so did they!

Hoop%20Dee%20Doo%20S.jpg

We didn't spend a great deal of time with them; they mostly explored on their own. We got them oriented at the parks Judy had not seen before and then let them enjoy it, at their own pace. Most evenings we met for dinner and I really enjoyed hearing Scott recap all the things they did each day.

I interviewed Scott after the trip so he could tell you about his experiences in his own words:

Gary: Your wife Judy had told you many things about Walt Disney World before you went. When you actually got there was it what you were expecting?

Scott: I was not expecting the size of the complex, I figured that the individual parks were quite large and that it would take a number of days to fully appreciate what they had to offer, but the space between each was huge! I had no idea the Disney property is so big.

WDW%20February%202012%20469.jpg

G: What was the most surprising thing during your visit?

S: First I was surprised to see so many school-aged children there during the school term and not on a school holiday. Secondly I was amazed at the sheer number of people there on a daily basis. And lastly I saw lots of old grey haired people there too!

G: What was your favourite experience or attraction?

S: My most enjoyable part of Disney was the EPCOT Park. There I was able to see, hear, smell, taste and learn all about different countries that I no doubt will never visit, and I was able to do this, for the most part, at a very leisurely pace.

WDW%20February%202012%20481A.jpg

G: Is there anything you would like to do at Walt Disney World but didn't have a chance to do this time? Will you do it if you go back?

S: That's an easy question! I would like to play golf at two or three of the courses there. We're already talking about going back this October and I hope to play a round or two with my son-in-law.

WDW%20February%202012%201356.jpg

G: Was there anything you didn't like?

S: There was only one thing I didn't like about my vacation in Disney and that was leaving the lovely weather and returning to possibly two more months of winter here in Canada.

G: Is there anything you would do differently if you visit again?

S: If I was to visit Disney again I probably would not spend as much time in the Magic Kingdom. I found it quite confusing to navigate around. I am not a big fan of the Disney characters and I have not been brought up in a “magical atmosphere”; that's probably why I don't appreciate what the Magic Kingdom has to offer. The crowds there were larger too! I would shorten my stay at Disney Studios as well. There were a few things there that I found interesting. I really enjoyed Toy Story and Lights, Motors, Action. But for the most part I found it too was a little confusing to get around. The Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios weren't my favorites; EPCOT and Animal Kingdom had a lot more to suit my taste.

WDW%20February%202012%201050.jpg

G: What advice would you give to someone else who is visiting for the first time?

S: I would suggest that 2-3 weeks are required to completely see and do everything there is to enjoy. I would also recommend that you try all forms of transportation Disney offers as each is unique and each offers a different visual perspective on the way the complex was built. I really enjoyed the boat ride from Port Orleans to Downtown Disney. As we sailed past all those resorts and golf courses on our way to the shopping, dining and entertainment area I developed a real appreciation for the diversity of this amazing vacation destination. Oh yeah, also make sure you have reservations for dinner at ‘Ohana. I sure loved those shrimp!

Luau.jpg

G: People often say that Walt Disney World is only for children. How would you reply to them?

S: I felt that the main theme of Walt Disney World was to make children happy and it did! It also made it very easy for the parents to achieve that goal. It is a terrific spot for children. But I also felt that it was a great place to go for an adult vacation. It offers a great selection of accommodations and excellent dinning options. It certainly offers plenty of things to see and plenty to learn in a very safe and clean environment. Having seen everything for the first time I now look forward to going back for another relaxing vacation at Walt Disney World.

Every time Carol and I visit Walt Disney World with a "first-timer" we see something fresh, something brand new. Sure, we've seen it many times before but now we're looking from a fresh perspective. It really is like seeing it all again for the first time.

So if you're looking for a way to see “The Disney Magic” again for the first time, try visiting with a “first-timer”. Take all that Disney expertise you have gathered over the years and Pay it Forward. We enjoy the experience and I think you will too!

February 7, 2012

Disney Fun With Your Pets

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

My wife Carol and I have been Disney fans for decades, but did you know that our dogs, Zak and Blue, are Disney fans too? They just love to head to Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground with us. It's a very pet-friendly place. It's Disney's only pet-friendly resort.

Main%20Gate.jpg

The 788 campsites are arranged in “loops”; each loop is a road which exits the main road and contains twenty or more campsites. When we first started visiting our favorite campground there were only a few “pet-friendly” loops, but now seven of the twenty camping loops welcome pets. And it's not just dogs, there are plenty of cats and we've also seen some unexpected pets such as parrots there.

We often see dogs or cats laying on the dash of motor homes as we walk past. Some folks even bring collapsible dog runs with them and set them up on their site so the pets are not tied all the time.

Guard%20Dogs.jpg

Dog%20Run.jpg

Naturally there are rules, but they all make perfect sense. Pets must be leashed and controlled and you must “pick-up” after them. There are areas set aside for “pet walks” and there are areas, such as around the comfort stations, where pets are not allowed. These areas are all well marked.

Pet%20Walk%20Entry.jpg

Is there a fee for pets who camp with you? Yes, Disney charges $5.00 per day if you camp with pets. That is a flat fee; it is not $5.00 per pet. The one fee covers all your pets. What do you get for your five dollars? Quite a bit . . . it really is a bargain! The pet facilities are excellent.

The pet walk areas near each of the pet-friendly loops are spacious and scenic. Most of them run beside one of the canals that criss-cross the campground on their way to Bay Lake. There are handy bag dispensers at the entrance to the pet walk area and a few more located along the walk. Most people are conscientious and pick up anything the little dears leave behind.

By%20the%20canal.jpg

Pet%20Walk%20800%20Loop.jpg

Fort Wilderness has plenty of wildlife to keep your pet's attention. We've encountered squirrels, armadillos, turtles, deer, wild turkeys and even a few small gators! Fortunately the dogs didn't notice the gators!

The off-leash doggie park, called “Waggin' Trails”, is a fairly recent addition and it has become a favourite for our pups! It is located beside the 300 camping loop and opened in 2010. Our boys just love to head over and romp with their new BFF's. There's always someone new for them to play with.

To%20Dog%20Park.jpg

Dog%20Park%20Rules.jpg

Dog%20Park.jpg

Dog%20Park%202.jpg

Zak and Blue just love Fort Wilderness because they get so much more attention there than they do at home. While we are at “The Fort” we tend to walk them more than we normally do and they really enjoy their time along the canals and at Waggin' Trails. Of course they also enjoy just walking around whatever loop we are camped in. There are always new scents to sniff and other dogs to meet. Many of the other pet owners come out to chat with Carol and I so the pets have a visit too! Often there are extra cookie treats for them as we make our way around the loop.

Zak and Blue really enjoy riding on the golf carts we rent. The first few times on a cart they were both nervous but they've learned that a ride on the cart often means a trip to the dog park and now they are anxious to hop aboard. Sometimes there's too much activity for the dogs and they just can't keep up!

Pooped.jpg

What they really enjoy though are the “extra special” activities. The dogs have enjoyed some unique experiences over the years; they never know quite what to expect next.

A few years ago there was a special “Pet Day” at Downtown Disney and we took Zak and Zoë.

Lego.jpg

They loved meeting Santa Claus who was waiting beside The World of Disney Store to meet four-legged Disney fans!

Santa.jpg

In years past we would sometimes take the dogs to the theme parks and leave them in the kennels which were conveniently located near the entrance to each park.

Animal%20Kingdom.jpg

This gave the pups a great opportunity to mingle with their favourite Disney characters.

Rafiki.jpg

Pluto.jpg

They have even gotten to meet some of our good friends from the Disney fan community.

Deb%20Wills.jpg

Beci.jpg

The kennels at each park were closed recently and kennel services are now provided by Best Friends Pet Care from their new location on Bonnet Creek Parkway across from Port Orleans Riverside. They offer a full slate of services including grooming and pampering!

The highlight of the year for pets at Fort Wilderness has to be the annual “Pet Costume Parade” held on Halloween. It's a blast for the four-legged participants and the two-legged ones as well. There are usually about one hundred dogs and two or three very wary cats.

The pets parade past the judging table beside the Waggin' Trails park and then stroll through the 300 loop where adoring crowds of campers applaud them.

Pet%20Parade%205A.jpg

The parade ends inside the off-leash park where prizes are awarded in a variety of categories.

Pet%20Parade%206A.jpg

Zak and Blue have a howling good time at the Costume Parade!

Having the dogs with us changes our vacation experience in a very positive way too! When we fly down to WDW and stay in some other Disney resort we tend to spend long hours in the parks. We head out early and stay late, trying to cram as much as we can into every day. Having the boys with us forces us to take a break and attend to their needs. So when they're along we normally spend the morning at a theme park and then head back to The Fort for the afternoon. After spending time with the dogs and relaxing for a while we head back to a park for the evening. It's so much more relaxed for us . . . we savour the Disney experience rather than try to cram it all in! Aaah " so nice!

So if you think you might like to treat your dogs to a Disney vacation, it's easy to do. Make a reservation at Fort Wilderness and come join us.

Zak and Blue would be happy to show your pets around their favorite place!

January 22, 2012

Cure The Winter Blahs With Antenna Toppers

GaryCruisebanner.jpg

Got the winter blahs?

Cold weather got you down?

Are you looking for a project to keep you busy and put a bit of Disney into your life?

Here's a suggestion for you . . . build some racks to display your Disney antenna toppers!

Are you like me; married to a Disney fan who is also a compulsive collector? Or perhaps you are the collector . . .

Whichever is the case, you probably have boxes or bags full of Disney antenna toppers. My dear wife Carol swears she will never buy another, but then she spots that new one, Mickey in his yellow rain poncho, and she just has to have it! Naturally it goes home with us and is soon tossed in the box with all the rest.

Last year she said to me, “I need something that will display my toppers. What can you build for me?” We talked about how and where she wanted to put them and then I went to work.

Here's what I came up with:

Antenna%20Toppers%2001.jpg

So here's how you can display yours too. It's easy, it's inexpensive and it's very flexible. Everything you need is at your local lumber store. You do it all with 1” X 2” spruce or pine strapping and 3/16” dowels. The only tools required are a saw and an electric drill with a 3/16” drill bit.

There are only two dimensions to worry about, cut the dowel into 2” lengths and drill the holes for the dowels so that the centers are 2 3/4' apart. That's all there is to it!

You can sand, stain, paint and finish the wood in any color you like, to match your furniture or décor.

Antenna%20Toppers%2002.jpg

So the first step is to cut the 1” X 2” boards to the length you need. I have various lengths to fit different locations

If you want a rack for two toppers cut the board 5 3/4” long and leave 1 1/2” clear at each end.

To display three toppers cut the board 8 1/2” long and leave 1 1/2” clear at each end.

To display four toppers cut the board 11 1/4” long and leave 1 1/2” clear at each end.

You can do the math; just add another 2 3/4” in length for every post you want to add.

Antenna%20Toppers%2003.jpg

The next step is to measure and mark the boards and then drill the holes. Be careful to keep the drill perpendicular to be sure that your posts are straight up and down. If you have access to a drill press this makes it easy to do a good job, but it can also be done easily by hand, just be sure to keep the drill straight and square to the board.

Do not drill all the way through the board, drill your holes about 1/2” deep.

Now cut enough dowels, 2” long, to fill the holes you just drilled. Do not put them in the holes just yet. That part comes after you have sanded, painted or stained and finished all the wooden parts.

Once everything is sanded and painted or stained you can use a hammer to gently tap the dowels into the holes. That's it; you are done!

Aren't you proud of yourself? Give yourself a pat on the back!

OK, now it's time to fill-up those new topper racks. Here's how Carol has used a few of hers.

In the Jack Skellington Shrine!
Antenna%20Toppers%2004.jpg

On a tabletop.
Antenna%20Toppers%2005.jpg

Along the top of a bookcase.
Antenna%20Toppers%2006.jpg

On top of the stereo components.
Antenna%20Toppers%2007.jpg

So why don't you get creative and see how you can display your antenna toppers?

You're sure to shake those winter blahs!

October 15, 2011

Halloween Howls at Fort Wilderness

By Guest Bloggers Carol and Gary Cruise

Ghosts and goblins are everywhere! Spooky golf carts and costumed dogs are the order of the day. It's a trick-or-treaters delight!

If you are at Walt Disney World during the month before Halloween be sure to set aside an evening to visit Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. You'll be very glad you did!

The campers at Fort Wilderness take great delight in decorating their campsites for every season and the Halloween season is absolutely packed full of fun at “the Fort”. Halloween decorating began about seven years ago when one camper decided to re-do his site in a spooky way! The next year more joined in, and the next year still more, all trying to out-do their neighbors. After a few years it had developed into a major event and Disney decided to join in the fun with a site decorating contest, golf cart parade and plenty of other activities. There's fun for the whole family!

Here's the 2010 Schedule:

Schedule%20Front.jpg

Schedule%20Rear.jpg


The campsites are just amazing. You will see a vast array of Disney themed inflatables, often mingled with some downright scary animated mannequins. There are ghosts flying between trees in eerie foggy cemeteries, zombies crawling up from under the ground; there's even a skeleton eating a Mickey Bar. Unless you've seen it you cannot imagine how creative the campers can be. Some people have spent thousands to create a magnificent show. One site this year had a few dozen inflatables, countless strings of Halloween lights, animated Halloween characters and illuminated jack-o-lanterns, all flashing in perfectly multiplexed time to Michael Jackson's “Thriller”. It was awesome! He won third prize in Disney's site decorating competition.

It's hard to describe how well it is done, so I'll let some pictures do the talking! Here are a few samples of what you will see:

Halloween%20Sites%20001.jpg

Halloween%20Sites%20003.jpg

Halloween%20Sites%20005.jpg

Halloween%20Sites%20008.jpg

Halloween%20Sites%20009.jpg

Halloween%20Sites%20012.jpg

Halloween%20Sites%20013.jpg

Halloween%20Sites%20016.jpg

Halloween%20Sites%20019.jpg

Halloween%20Sites%20020.jpg


Some sites are decorated as early as September but the activity really accelerates in October. The last two weeks before Halloween are exciting times as campers race to get ready for the big day!

The first official Disney activity is the Mummy Wrap-Up which takes place in the morning the day before Halloween. It's held in the playing field beside the Meadows Swimmin' Hole. The campground Activities Cast Members wheel in hundreds of rolls of toilet tissue and families have a few minutes to wrap their children. It's a race against the clock! Once the cast members have called “Time” the children line up. At the count of three they all race to the far side of the field, turn around and race back. The wrapping (or what's left of it) is judged once they return. What a comical event; when it's over the field looks like a toilet paper cyclone went through!

Mummy%20Wrap%20Up.jpg


There are Halloween themed games in the Meadows Swimmin' Hole and creepy-crawly crafts at the pool-side pavilion.

The highlight of the day before Halloween is always the golf cart parade. You just cannot imagine what folks can do with a golf cart if you have not been there. All sorts of lights and Halloween inflatables festoon the carts. I can't imagine how they manage to power all the accessories they creatively to attach to the carts! Giant spiders and cats lurked on top of them. Several carts were transformed into pirate ships, two were Flintstones cars, one was a Disney Monorail car, one was a Kilimanjaro Safari truck and another was the hearse with the invisible horse from the Haunted Mansion. There were over two hundred carts in the parade. All were unique and some were simply amazing. My personal favorite was the two carts which were transformed into the Slinky Dog from the Toy Story movies. How do you rent two carts from Disney in the morning and transform them into the Slinky Dog in time for a 5:45 parade? That takes work and lots of ingenuity!

Golf%20Carts%201.jpg

Golf%20Carts%204.jpg

Golf%20Carts%205.jpg

Golf%20Carts%202.jpg

Hundreds of people line the parade route to enjoy the fun while costumed drivers and riders on these outlandish carts toss candies to waiting children.

Halloween morning starts with the Pet Costume Parade. It begins at the Dog Park beside the 300 loop. There were about seventy five dogs and two very wary cats! Pets parade past the judges then promenade all the way around the 300 loop before returning to the Dog Park where the prizes are presented. Many of the owners also dress up for this event and many are themed to match their pets. One dog was dressed as Zero from the Nightmare Before Christmas movie. Of course his Dad and Mom were Jack Skellington and Sally. Another dog was in a Dumbo costume and Mom was also dressed as Dumbo while Dad was Timothy Mouse. There were many dogs dressed as Disney characters and even a tooth fairy.

Pet%20Parade%201.jpg

Pet%20Parade%202.jpg

Pet%20Parade%203.jpg

Pet%20Parade%204.jpg

Pet%20Parade%205.jpg

Pet%20Parade%206.jpg


There are more activities throughout the day; you can create a tie-dyed t-shirt at the Bike Barn and get a temporary tattoo at the afternoon pool party before trick-or-treating begins at 5:00 p.m.

The trick-or-treating is one of our favorite parts of Halloween. Carol and I just love to see the kids in their costumes and the costumes at Fort Wilderness are often very creative. Many of the parents don costumes to accompany the kids, and some of those decorated golf carts chauffeur them around. It's a very busy night, we had over 600 trick-or-treaters, but it was oh-so-much fun! Our friends Lisa from Massachusetts and Terri from Louisiana came to join in the fun this year. We were visited by princesses, pirates, robots, all varieties of Disney characters, monsters, ghouls and even one youngster disguised as a Walt Disney World Monorail Car! We are so thankful that Lisa and Terri brought some extra candy . . . or we would have run out much earlier!

Trick%20or%20Treat%201.jpg

Trick%20or%20Treat%202.jpg

Trick%20or%20Treat%203.jpg

Trick%20or%20Treat%204.jpg

Trick%20or%20Treat%205.jpg

Trick%20or%20Treat%206.jpg


There are all sorts of special Halloween activities such as the “Haunted Halloween Carriage Ride” which takes place every night during October. This half hour carriage ride passes through woods and trails along the shores of Bay Lake. Your driver tells the spooky story of the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and your trip ends with a frightening face-to-face encounter with the headless horseman. This ride sells out quickly, so be sure to book early. There is also a nightly 45 minute horse drawn wagon ride which tours the campground and gives riders some wonderful views of the Halloween decor.

During the Halloween season Chip & Dale's nightly campfire, sing-along and outdoor movie takes on ghostly air with eerie songs and spooky movies.

So be sure to plan a trip to Fort Wilderness during the Halloween season. Disney campers would be happy to see you and we always like to talk about our decor ideas. Come in the evening to see the campground illuminated with all things spooky!

If you come by car you will be asked to park at The Outpost (campground entrance) and catch an internal campground bus to The Settlement, where Pioneer Hall and the Trail's End Restaurant are located. If you come by boat it is a very short walk to The Settlement. From The Settlement you can easily walk around the 100, 200, 300, 400, 500 and 700 loops to enjoy the spectacle. It's about two miles in total and you will see some amazing sights! If walking two miles is a problem, don't worry; you can see the many of the displays very well without getting of the bus!

Once you're finished your tour you might want to sit in a rocking chair on the Trail's End veranda and watch the world go by. Or perhaps you would like to pick up your favorite adult beverage from Crockett's Tavern and take it to the beach. There you can sit in a comfy chair on the patio or a lounge chair on the beach and enjoy a terrific view of the Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom. It's spectacular to see it reflected off the waters of Bay Lake! They even pipe in the sound track to add to your enjoyment. After Wishes is over wait just a few minutes and the Electrical Water Pageant will sail by as it does every night at 9:45. It's a terrific way to end your day at Disney!

So come on over to Fort Wilderness and enjoy Halloween!

Thanks to John Ames, Will Garmer and TCD who agreed to share their photos with us.

Return to Blog Central

About Gary Cruise

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in the Gary Cruise category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Carol Cruise is the previous category.

Jim Korkis is the next category.

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