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September 18, 2016

Pixar Party 2016 - A Pin Celebration

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Pixar Party Logo

Last September at the annual EPCOT pin celebration the 2016 event was announced, the theme was “A Pixar Party” and we left with the first of 13 monthly countdown pins. Every month throughout the year a pin would be released at the Disney Pin Trading store in Disney Springs that would create a collection of pins leading up to the upcoming event. The order of the pins released followed the order of the Pixar movies released. The first pin released in October was from Toy Story, the November pin represented A Bugs Life and so on. Each of the monthly releases took us up to August and the Inside Out pin. The final pin was part of the events RSP, it was the Good Dinosaur.

The Good Dinosaur

Countdown Pins.jpg
Click on the image above to see all of the Countdown Pins.

Registration for the event opened up at 2 p.m. (ET) on Thursday April 28, 2016. That was also when you could register for the "Little Chef" breakfast that included a breakfast buffet, trading time inside the Pixar Party venue and a limited-edition commemorative gift pin. I wasn't in a big hurry this year as I had decided to not attend the breakfast; I was told it did sell out minutes after the registration went live. I did my registration for the event in a calm and civilized manner this time.

Registration Web Page
Click on the image above to see more registration information.

The date of the event took a lot of us by surprise, it has normally been held the weekend after Labour Day; we were surprised when Disney announced August 26th - August 27th. That meant we had to do the RSP (Random Selection Process) earlier than usual, the deadline was 11:59 p.m. (ET) Thursday July 14, 2016.

Similar to last year, early registration was held on Thursday August 25, 2016, you had to indicate on your initial registration that you would be attending on the Thursday, otherwise you would have to wait until the Friday to pickup your credentials and merchandise.

Wednesday August 24th
I had booked an early flight, a really early flight so we were up at 3 a.m. Gary was driving me to the Syracuse, New York airport for my 7 a.m. flight. Everything ran like clock work and I was in the rented car in the parking lot at Old Key West by 11 a.m. waiting to meet up with my roommate and friend Carrie. We met up in the lobby, registered and got our purple magic bands.

Old Key West

Our room wasn't ready so we decided that lunch at Earl of Sandwich sounded good. It was my first trip to the new Lime parking lot and I found it to be a breeze.

Disney Springs

We had our lunch then made a few stops, stocked up at the grocery store, checked the outlet store and visited a friend at Fort Wilderness. After all of that our room was ready so we got settled and unpacked. Dinner was back at Disney Springs, we met up with a couple of fellow Canadians and had pizza at Wolfgang Pucks followed by dessert at Ghirardelli's.

By then I was tired, so we said good night to Susan and Alison, headed back to the resort and called it a night.

Thursday August 25th

We had to be up bright and early to get to EPCOT for the 6th Annual Breakfast with the Artist's.

Early Thursday morning
The "Canadian Eh! Team".

This annual event is hosted by our friends John & Sheila Rick and Janis & David Lavender from Central Jersey Disney Pin Traders.

Artist's breakfast

This year it was held in the private room at the Living Seas. The panel of experts from the Disney Design Group had a mix of familiar faces and a few new faces and included: Alex Maher and Ron Cohee - Character Artists, Matt DeWater - Character Artist/Show Artist, Jes Willis and Quynh Kimball - Graphic Designers and Erin Catalano - Product Developer.

Artist's breakfast

Artist's breakfast
John Rick, Sheila Rick, Ron Cohee, Quynh Kimball, David Lavender, Alex Maher, Janis Lavender, Matt DeWater, Jes Willis.

Artist's breakfast

There is always plenty of spirited discussion as the artists answer our questions about pins and other merchandise. The Artist’s Breakfast is always an excellent way to start the pin trading weekend.

Trish and Eric from Ohio
Trish and Eric from Ohio, friends we see every year at the event!.

After the breakfast Carrie and I headed over to the Coronado Springs resort for registration.

Coronado Springs

Event Poster

The line wasn't too bad and we were able to chat with friends and acquaintances that we only see at the event.

A very short line

We were signing for our credentials and merchandise after a mere 45 minute wait.

The Welcome Pin
The Welcome Pin.

Once we had our registration completed we were allowed to enter the pin trading room.

The Trading Room

This room is open for registered event guests from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. It is where we go to check out our merchandise and open mystery boxes and start trading. The mystery boxes are usually the highlight of the day, everyone wants to complete their set. There are 8 limited release pins and 8 chasers in the set, the chasers are LE400. I wasn't all that fussy about the pins this year so I only bought 3 boxes.

Event Logo Pin
The Event Logo Pin.

Every registered guest received a $30.00 gift card specially designed for the event.

Pixar Party Gift Card

I walked the room several times and made some good trades. I also ran into lots of pin friends that I only see once or twice a year so it was a good to have this time to catch up. After a few hours Carrie and I were getting tired and hungry so we packed everything up and headed back to the resort. We decided to go into Olivia's at Old Key West for dinner.

Olivia's

It is a wonderful relaxing restaurant and the food is always good. After dinner we went back to the room to rest for a bit then headed back to Disney Springs for a couple of hours of shopping and browsing.

Friday August 26th
This was the first year that I didn't register for the event breakfast and it seemed odd not having to rush to get in line. We took our time getting to EPCOT, entered through the special bag check area for our event.

Bag check

Even though I didn't attend the breakfast, I did manage to trade for the special Breakfast Pin!

Breakfast_Pin.jpg
The Breakfast Pin.

We got in line at World ShowPlace around 9:30 a.m. to wait for the 10:00 a.m. opening. While standing in line we chatted with our neighbours and met another Canadian pin trader; Andrew lives in Quebec but frequents a Canadian Pin Traders Facebook page, so we knew he was going to be there.

Carrie and Andrew
Carrie and Andrew.

Our credentials were the same as last year; they had tabs along the sides that allowed us to go to the pin boards/games. Each person got 4 tabs per day and the tab was exchanged along with 2 of your pins for the opportunity to take 2 pins from the boards. At the bottom of the credential there were 2 more tabs that you tore off in exchange for your parting gift and the scavenger hunt gift.

My Credentials
Click on the image above for a closer look at my credentials.

When the doors opened we immediately got in a line for a pin board. As I waited for my turn I looked around the room. The decorations and themeing were excellent this year, everything was Pixar.

The event hall

One of the games

Here I am with Russell

Up Pin

I noticed that there were fewer boards this year and more game-type trading activities. For example, the Inside Out line, which turned out to be my favourite, had five small doors. Each trip to the game you could open two doors and trade two pins.

Inside Out

This activity was easier for me to focus on what pins were in front of me and I was lucky enough to be close when they did the refresh so I got some awesome pins this year.

“The refresh” is when they remove the used boards and replace them with new boards that have had new pins added to them. The fun pins to get are the AP (Artist Proof) and PP (Pre-Production) pins. The Disney event people go into the vaults and bring out all sorts of wonderful pins from the past and future. There were also a lot of Hong Kong Disneyland pins, several that were parts of puzzles or sets. The boards are generally refreshed every half hour.

Stinky Pete

Posing with Flik

Carrie with Carl Fredricksen

New this year was the scavenger hunt. When we registered we were each given a paper from the Marine Life Institute that we had to complete. Throughout the venue there were clues to help us complete the quotes.

Scavenger Hunt Clues

Once we had filled in all the blanks we took our paper to a designated area to use the decoder. We placed the decoder over our sheet and various words were revealed that gave us the message, “Dory says: Just Keep Swimming”.

Scavenger Hunt form

We took the completed quest to the front of the building to receive our set of pins; we also handed in our tab from the bottom of our credentials.

Scavenger Hunt Prize Pins
Scavenger Hunt Prize Pins.

At noon Carrie, Alison and I headed out to the Rose and Crown for lunch. This is a standing tradition that I started many years ago. I always make Advanced Dining Reservations at Rose and Crown for both days.

Lunch at Rose and Crown

It is good to take a break and get out of the building, plus you need to have a good meal to help you through the very long day.

When we went back into World ShowPlace after lunch we used our last two tabs and then went into the back room to trade. We still had a good amount of time left before the day ended at 6:30 p.m. so I wandered around and looked at some of the pin traders’ books. I was hoping to finish a couple series but didn't have any luck finding what I wanted. I noticed a friend sitting there who had a couple of tabs left on his lanyard. He wasn't going to use them so I traded a couple of pins for them and off Carrie and I went for another go at the boards.

Cars

After that we decided to leave a bit early and went over to The Land. I had fast-passes for the new Soarin' ride and we had decided to have dinner at Sunshine Seasons. Just as I was getting up to go towards the ride I heard my name. It was a friend having dinner with her son; it was great to see Cindy and Jonah. It really is a Small World.

After we rode Soarin' we started to make our way to the parking lot via Mouse Gear and the Pin Station. It was a long day and we were tired so we decided that we would just relax in the room and call it an early night.

Saturday August 27th
The second day of the event was pretty much the same as the first day; we arrived at EPCOT, went through the special security area, got in line and entered the venue at 9:30 a.m.

The security dog hard at work

Disney artists
Some Disney artists were on hand to sign the pins they had created.

Ratatouille

I was thrilled to have my good friend Beci join us for lunch at the Rose and Crown, it was a very enjoyable hour spent catching up and laughing.

I made some new friends and did some great trades with them; Sarah from Louisiana helped me with the Main Street Mystery pins I was looking for; Krissi from Albany NY and her friend Nancy from Atlanta GA helped me with the Disneyland It's A Small World Mystery pins.

Nancy and Krissi
Nancy and Krissi.

It was fun chatting with these ladies and realizing that they have read my previous pin blogs.

The silent auction ended on this day at 3 p.m. There is always a flurry of activity around the auction displays.

Silent Auction Displays

Silent Auction Displays

Silent Auction Displays

Time is up

Once I had used my 4 tabs I took some time to visit the Pin Partners kiosks. There are some awesome pins coming out over the rest of the year.

Mickey's of Glendale

Pin Trading Logo

A preview of pins to come
A preview of yet-to-be released pins.

One thing that was missing this year was the Pin Talk. In previous years there has always been an hour-long talk by the Disney event organizers and pin designers with lots of overhead projections and information about what to look forward to in the coming year. The only clue about next year’s event was a slide that was periodically flashed on the screen throughout the day.

2017 Theme - Love is an Adventure

There wasn't a pin released to start a monthly countdown either.

I decided to wander the back room again to fill in some time. As I was looking through some of the books Carrie ran up to me with two tabs in her had. Gabe, another member of the “Canadian Eh! Team” had given them to her, so off we went for one last line. We got lucky; they did a refresh right in front of us so we ended our day with two really nice pins each.

Gabe - the Mystery Box king
Gabe - the Mystery Box king.

The Good Dinosaur

At 6 p.m. they announced the closing of the event, it is always a bit sad when it is over. We said some goodbyes to a few people that we wouldn't see again until next year then cashed in our last tab to pick up our Goodbye Gift.

Goodbye Gift.jpg

Carrie and I made our way over to France and had dinner at Boulangerie Patisserie les Halles; it was yummy. After that we wandered slowly around World Showcase until we got to Norway. I had fast-passes for the Frozen ride and neither of us had seen it yet.

A beautiful sunset

The sun was going down when we came out of Norway and we continued our walk to the car. Again, we were too tired to do anything but go back to the room and relax.

Sunday August 28th
We had lots of plans for the day. We started off going to Animal Kingdom and wandered over to Expedition Everest. We walked through the single rider line and directly onto the first train that pulled in. When we got off the ride we weren't sure what we wanted to do and it was too hot to really enjoy the park, so we made our way back to the parking lot. We drove over to Disney Springs and had lunch at Earl of Sandwich. From there we went to the Hotel B and spent a couple of hours at a pin trading meet that was being held there. After a few trades we made our way back to Disney Springs and met up with a bunch of our friends for a wonderful dinner at The Boat House.

The Boathouse

Dinner with friends

After dinner we went back to Animal Kingdom to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris after dark. I found it to be a waste of time - it was too dark to see anything. We planned to watch the Jungle Book light show, but it was just too hot and we were both tired and still had to pack. We headed home early again.

Monday August 29th
I was up early and drove my suitcase down to the Bell Captain to check it in and get my boarding pass. Once I had done that I went back to the room, picked up Carrie and we were off to the airport; we both had morning flights. We had a coffee at the airport then said our goodbyes. Carrie was flying into Toronto and I was headed for Syracuse.

It was another great weekend and a wonderful event.
I hope to be able to do it again next year!

September 27, 2015

Disney Artist - Alex Maher

Gary Cruise banner

One of the things I most enjoy about Disney fan meets is the new and interesting people I meet there. One of those people is Disney Design Artist Alex Maher who I had a chance to meet and speak with a few months ago at Dayton Disneyana.

Alex Maher

Carol had met him several times at events for pin collectors, but this was my first opportunity to make his acquaintance. I’m sure glad I didn’t pass up the chance!

Footloose and Collar Free Print
When Alex signed this print, Footloose and Collar Free, for Carol he told her it was one of his favourite pieces!

This certificate was included with the print.

Footloose and Collar Free Certificate


I wrote a bit about the Saturday afternoon seminar Alex participated in at Dayton, and the many drawings he did that week end, in a previous blog about Dayton Disneyana; you can find it HERE.

Alex Maher and Jim Hill

In this blog I’ll focus on Alex’s Friday afternoon presentation. He began his remarks by telling us he was the world’s biggest fan of Walt Disney; then he spent an hour proving beyond a doubt that his claim was true!

Before I describe the seminar, let me tell you a bit about Alex’s background and how he landed his dream job with Disney.

Alex is a “Florida Cracker”; that’s a term people born and raised in Florida use to describe themselves! As the short Disney biography pictured above says, Alex spent his early years in Miami where his father was a writer and artist. His first memory of Disney dates back to his days in kindergarten; during a visit to the school library he picked up a Disney book . . . he couldn’t read, but in his words, “I was mesmerized by the pictures. Since that day I’ve been a fanatic about Walt Disney.”

In those days, before the Internet, writers spent countless hours in libraries doing research. Alex would often accompany his father on those library trips and while Dad researched his latest project, young Alex would read everything he could find on Walt Disney. He began to sketch Disney characters and his father, also an artist, would provide constructive criticism. “That’s really good Alex, but do you think it might be better if you . . . ?”

One truly amazing fact he shared with us – Alex has had no formal art training. In addition to being the world’s greatest fan of Walt Disney he is also a gifted artist! His talents include drawing, painting, sculpting and the ability to conceive and design original works. And it’s all self-taught!

A print by Alex Maher

After finishing high school Alex joined the US Navy; as you might expect, sketches of Disney characters adorned many area of his ship! He left the military in 1983 and returned to Miami where he worked in several “Mom and Pop” graphic design shops. He became a member of the National Fantasy Fan Club (also known as The Disneyana Fan Club) in the early 1980’s. Naturally he followed the help wanted ads and applied for every Disney job he saw. No job resulted, but he just kept on applying.

By 1987 he was Art Department Head at a small college near Miami. Most days, during his lunch hour, you could find Alex in the college library. He searched every issue of the New York Times from 1901, the year Walt Disney was born, until 1966 when Walt passed away. He photocopied every article that mentioned Walt in any way and painstakingly organized the news clippings in a series of binders. Of course, while Alex was assembling this life history of his idol, he continued to apply for any job he could get at Disney.

In 1991 he made a daring decision. He felt that if he was ever going to land a job at Disney he would have to be closer to the action. So, with no guarantee of a job, Alex decided to press a little harder to follow his dream. He and his wife sold their home and moved, with their two children, to Orlando.

He finally managed to get a job interview; they were looking for bus drivers . . . it wasn’t the creative job he was looking for, but it would be a foot in the door. He made it to the second interview and was hopeful, until the department manager asked, “Your background is all related to art. Why do you want to be a bus driver?” Alex replied honestly, “I’ve heard that Disney promotes from within, so I’m hoping that if I start here it can lead to an art-related job in the future.” It turned out that the manager wasn’t interested in spending the money to train a driver, only to have him move to the art department . . . Alex didn’t get that job!

He did find work at another theme park, just down the road, but in Alex’s words, “It was fun, but it just wasn’t Disney.”

Bambi

Through his membership in the National Fantasy Fan Club he knew the names of a few accomplished Disney artists. One of them was Don “Ducky” Williams. Alex explained it this way, “I didn’t know him personally, but read many articles about him in our club newsletters. When I moved to Orlando, I tried to meet him but he was on vacation at the time. But I did meet his boss who said ‘Come back tomorrow and show me some of your work.’ I got busy that night and did three drawings, Roger Rabbit, Jessica Rabbit and Mickey Mouse. I met the manager the next day; he liked my work, but said there was nothing available in his department. He suggested I try the merchandising division. The next day I visited the creative department of the merchandise division and luckily they liked my work. I was hired on as a freelance artist.”

Finally Alex had a job at Disney and it wasn’t long before they saw his potential. On December 6, 1993 he became a full employee rather than a freelance artist. It was a long struggle, but Alex was finally a very proud Disney cast member!

Tinker Bell

So what does a Disney Design Artist do?

The short answer is, pretty much everything, other than animation. Their work revolves around merchandise, any kind of merchandise, and you can see it on shelves all over the parks. If you buy a coffee mug, a print, a figurine, a t-shirt, a cloisonné pin or a Vinylmation the concept for the piece sprang from the imagination of a design artist. Figurines and other complex pieces require a “four position drawing” showing the piece from four different viewpoints.

Alex was one of the original members of the “Pin Team” established in 1999 to design trading pins and those cloisonné pins still make up a large proportion of the designs he creates.

Here are a few pins from Carol's collection that Alex Maher designed.

Boxed Pin Set
This boxed set is a Limited Edition of 1400 from the 2006 Pin Celebration at EPCOT

Signed Pins
These two pins are also from the 2006 Pin Celebration at EPCOT. Alex Maher has signed the back of each pin as well as the backer card it is mounted on.


What are the challenges for a Disney Design Artist?

According to Alex, new characters are a challenge. It’s tough to design a t-shirt or a coffee mug if you don’t understand the character. Everyone is familiar with Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy and Donald. How they will react in a situation or what expression you will see on their faces can be easily imagined. But new characters, like Joy or Anger from the recently released Inside Out aren’t so easy; the creative people don’t yet fully understand the personality of the character. The artists often see a “rough cut” of the movie long before its release, but they sometimes have to submit their concept art to the manufacturers as much as 18 months before the merchandise is available for sale. Sometimes the movie can change appreciably and the personalities of the animated characters can transform in that time.

Characters in costumes are challenging. When designing a figurine featuring a character in an African costume the artist has to be very careful with the choice of colours. Colours have very strong meanings in African culture. Posture, position and gestures are important too. In North America the “thumbs up” gesture means ‘All right’ or ‘A-OK’ but in many foreign cultures it’s a definite no-no.

Scuba Diving Mickey

I’m pretty sure that the job of a Disney Design Artist isn’t always fun and games, but Alex sure makes it seem that way. The pride he feels for his work and for his association with the Disney Corporation shines through in everything he says and does. He is a great ambassador for Disney!

Now, let’s get back to that Friday afternoon seminar I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. If you’re not convinced yet that Alex Maher is the worlds biggest fan of Walt Disney these next few paragraphs should drive the point home!

Alex presented a slide show he prepared quite a few years ago, titled The History of Walt Disney. All the information he gathered from all those New York Times articles was combined with knowledge he gathered from other reading and from conversations with Disney family members, Disney executives and Disney Legends. He sifted and organized the data into an hour-long presentation.

As Alex spoke he used the computer slides to illustrate key points and places in Walt’s life. Alex began his story with Elias and Flora, Walt’s parents, and their 1888 marriage in Kismet Florida, about 50 miles north of Walt Disney World. He followed the family to Chicago where Walt was born in 1901 and showed us pictures of that house as it looked then and contrasted that with a picture of the house as it looks today.

You see, Alex Maher has made a pilgrimage . . . actually a series of pilgrimages. He has visited every significant location in the life of his hero and he took photographs everywhere he traveled. His research took him to Chicago IL, Marceline MO, Kansas City MO, Los Angeles CA and many other places. Most of those places he has visited several times, always eager to find out more and more about Walt.

Uncle Robert's garage
This is the garage behind Walt's Uncle Robert's house where Walt and Roy first operated their animation studio.


The same garage at Griffith Park
That garage is now located at Griffith Park


The stirring story Alex wove for everyone followed Walt’s life from cradle to grave; we heard of his school years, his years on the farm near Marceline, delivering newspapers in Kansas City, driving an ambulance in World War I, through to his early days of animation, partnering with brother Roy Disney and long time friend Ub Iwerks. The Alice Stories, Oswald, Mickey Mouse, animated movies, live action movies, Disneyland and Walt Disney World were mingled with stories of Walt’s family life, his triumphs and his tragedies.

Alice from the slide show

It was all illustrated with pictures from the Disney Archives and pictures Alex has taken during his frequent research trips. There were pictures of Walt’s many homes, the schools he attended, churches, animation studios, the garage where the first animation cels of Mickey Mouse were created, Main Street in Marceline, the Marceline train station which is now a museum dedicated to Walt Disney, and even the carousel at Griffith Park where Walt conceived the idea of Disneyland while sitting on a park bench watching his daughters.

Garage where the first cels of Mickey were created
Walt and Roy built identical pre-fab homes in 1927. Walt's house is shown in the upper right and the bottom picture is Walt's house as it looks today. The first animation cels featuring Mickey Mouse were created in Walt's garage in 1928, a year after the house was built.


Alex’s eyes got a bit misty a few times during the hour and his voice almost failed him a time or two; I was feeling the same way and I suspect that almost everyone else in the room was too! The depth of Alex’s reverence for Walt Disney came through loud and clear!

Alex has delivered the presentation we saw at Dayton Disneyana to people from all levels in the Disney organization; senior executives, the legal department and the Imagineers have seen the presentation in their boardrooms. Cast members from many other departments have enjoyed the show in their lunchrooms and members of the National Fantasy Fan Club have seen it at their local meetings. I’m sure glad I had the chance to experience it at Dayton Disneyana!

Let me wrap up by showing you a few more of Alex’s creations and then giving you a glimpse of what will be hitting the store shelves soon.

Prints of Alex Maher's painting of Elsa are flying off the shelves!

Elsa by Alex Maher

This one is selling well too!

Mickey by Alex Maher

After the Friday seminar someone asked Alex what his favourite creations were; he mentioned two. The first was a jumbo pin, a limited edition of 750. It shows Mickey riding on Walt’s backyard steam engine, the Lilly Belle, with Walt’s red barn in the background. The train slides back and forth on the track. Alex is proud of this one because every member of the Disney family was given one when it was released in 2007.

Walt's Train Pin

The second was his painting for the 60th Anniversary of Disneyland. Artists were asked to create a series of six paintings, one to commemorate each decade in the park’s history. Alex designed and painted the 1955 – 1964 canvas. Below is a print of that painting that he signed for Carol in Dayton.

Alex Maher signed print

He described what we can look for in the future. Most of these items will début at the D23 Expo in August and some may make it to store shelves by the time this blog is published!

Look for a large figurine of Goofy, dressed as Bert from the Mary Poppins movie in his one-man band outfit. Based on the gestures Alex made, it will be about 18” tall.

Alex designed the logo pin for the 2015 D23 Expo

D23 EXPO Logo Pin

He created these 8 pins which are part of a 16 pin Mystery Box Puzzle Series. Pin collectors buy boxes containing 2 wrapped pins and then trade pins in an attempt to get one of each of the sixteen pins.

Mystery Pin Set

Once traders have all 16, the pins combine like a jig saw puzzle to form Sleeping Beauty Castle.

D23 EXPO Mystery Pin Frame

Look for this 14” tall figure of Jingles, the carousel horse from Mary Poppins. This version will be sold at Disneyland. In Florida Jingles will have a rider, Mickey Mouse dressed as a Dapper Dan.

Jingles

This Three Caballeros figurine is 14” tall.

Three Caballeros figurine

Alex and his family took a huge risk in 1991; they packed up and left everything behind to follow his Disney dream. Today both Alex and his wife are happily employed by Disney, their 30 year-old son is a film producer in Hollywood and their 25 year-old daughter is a sketch artist at Disneyland.

Just like Walt said, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”

August 2, 2015

Dayton Disneyana 2015

Gary Cruise banner

It’s a long drive from our home in south-eastern Ontario to Dayton Ohio, 615 miles to be exact! That’s about 10 hours of driving but it was a trip we had been looking forward to for quite some time!

This was our third trek to Dayton for the annual Disneyana Show & Sale hosted by the Dayton "Plane Crazy" Chapter of the Disneyana Fan Club.

Dayton Disneyana Logo

This year's event was held in a new venue, The Holiday Inn Dayton/Fairborn, and the organizers had lined up a great list of speakers. For Carol and our son Rob, it’s all about the collectibles and the trading; for me it’s the speakers and seminars!

There’s something for everyone in Dayton!

Friday June 12, 2015
We pulled away from home at precisely 6:00 a.m. and made great time for the first couple of hours; then we hit Toronto at rush hour and slowed down! Once we were through the city, traffic moved steadily again. We crossed the Detroit River on the Ambassador Bridge and pulled up to the U.S. Border in Detroit at noon.

Ambassador Bridge

By 12:45 we had crossed the Ohio State Line; Rob and Carol needed some retail therapy so we made a brief stop at the Disney Store in Toledo. I thought they would be able to waste an hour, but they were back in only 45 minutes, hardly time for me to have a decent nap!

We arrived at the Holiday Inn just after 6:00 p.m. and by 6:30 we were unpacking in our rooms. We had agreed to meet Rob in the lobby at 6:45 to head out find a grocery store and have some fast food for dinner.

Holiday Inn Lobby

Before leaving, Rob urged us to go take a look at the big shark on display outside the ballroom! It was Bruce from Finding Nemo.

Bruce

While we were taking pictures one of the event co-chairs, Anita Schaengold, tapped me on the shoulder and invited the three of us to join them for dinner. It was a special dinner for people who had attended the seminars that afternoon. All the seminar attendees and the speakers were there! The speakers were author Bob Welbaum, Tom Tumbusch, of Tomart Publications, noted Disney historian and journalist Jim Hill and Disney Design Artist Alex Maher. We were quick to accept Anita’s kind invitation, filled our plates at the buffet and took our places at a table with families from Maine and Ohio.

Friday night dinner

We chatted over dinner, then listened as each of the speakers described a magical Disney moment from their past. At the end of the evening there were draws for door prizes.

Drawing for door prizes

Rob won a calendar from Disneyland Paris and Carol won a Pirates of the Caribbean themed Post-It Note holder. There was a prize for almost everyone there . . . I was one of three attendees who struck out. Anita didn’t want anyone to leave empty-handed so she asked Alex if he would do three quick sketches and he immediately agreed.

Alex drawing Goofy

It was the best prize I could ask for, a sketch of my favourite character, Goofy, drawn just for me by a very popular Disney artist!

Alex Maher

After dinner a lady came over and said, "Hi Gary, I'm Terri and this is my husband Dan. We're here because I read your blog after last year's event." Not only were Terri and Dan "first-timers" at Dayton Disneyana, they were volunteers as well. They manned the silent auction table most of the weekend. It was great to meet them; I'm glad they took the time to say hello.

We made our way to the car and tracked down a grocery store. It was the only opportunity we’ll have for Carol to pick up a few products we really enjoy and cannot find in our Canadian stores.

We were back to the hotel by 9:30. I settled in for the night, tired after a long day behind the wheel. Carol went down looking for pin traders but there weren’t many there yet. She made one trade and was back to the room before 11:00. We weren’t long heading to bed - Carol had to be refreshed and recharged when shopping started at 8:00 a.m. the next morning!

Saturday June 13, 2015
Morning came early! Carol and Rob had paid a very small fee to be among the 50 “Early Bird” shoppers. This gave them entry to the sales floor 90 minutes before the doors opened to the general public.

Dayton Disneyana 2015 Sign

An eager shopper

Carol thought that it started at 8:00 so they were both in line at 7:45. Unfortunately, the scheduled start was 8:30! Since the two of them were at the very front of the line, they stayed put and held their lead position.

I went into the room where the vendors were setting up and got some “pre-sale” pictures. Once again there was an amazing variety of merchandise. Naturally there were pins and Vinylmations.

Pins

Vinylmations

Merchandise

There were collector plates, mugs and ornaments.

Collectible treasures

More collectible treasures

There were figurines and dolls.

Theme Park Connection display

There were books and movie posters.

Tomart books

Movie posters

Erin and Robby from Morehouse Collectibles, pictured above, came all the way from Anaheim California! That's about 2,200 miles; I guess that makes our 615 mile drive seem like a walk in the park!

A wide variety of goodies

Vintage games

Wow, look at those vintage Disney games! I knew that Carol would enjoy browsing through all the great old collectibles!

Watches

Kitchen sinks and popcorn buckets

When the doors opened at 8:30 she and Rob were waiting anxiously.

Rob and Carol
Don't they look like hitchhiking ghosts?

They were the first through the door!

Let's get shopping!

A shopping frenzy began!

Carol is an avid collector of Disneyana and son Rob has a smaller collection, but he understands his mother’s taste very well so he acts as her eyes and ears!

Rob shops at Theme Park Connection

He has a knack for spotting things that Carol has missed! He bought a few things for his own collection and spotted several “treasures” for Carol.

A cheerful vendor

The Tuppers are retired teachers and now operate Toyland Treasures, pictured above. They drove in from Maine with a truckload of vintage Disneyana.

A happy shopper

I took a few more pictures of the crowd of early-birds and then headed to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.

After breakfast I returned to the banquet hall and picked up Carol’s first load of treasures which I hauled up to our room.

By the time I joined Carol again at 11:00 she was all finished her Disneyana shopping and proudly showed me the rest of her purchases. Her most prized acquisition was the complete Walt Disney World Christmas Village by Department 56.

Department 56 Disney Village

The set includes five buildings and a group of accessories and figurines. She has admired it at a gift shop in Salisbury Beach Massachusetts but they were asking waaay too much money for it. Today she got a bargain!

She spent the rest of the day in the Pin Trading Room.

Pin Trading

The hotel had a table set up just outside the ballroom where they sold fresh sandwiches. They were tasty and reasonably priced! When lunch time rolled around Carol enjoyed one of those sandwiches at the trading table while she carried on making pin deals.

I spent the afternoon listening to the seminar speakers; they kept me occupied from 1:00 until 4:30. The first speaker was Jim Hill, a well known journalist and Disney Historian who gave us a healthy dose of background on the New Fantasyland. Jim is a very entertaining speaker and always shares some little-known insider information.

Jim Hill

Jim concluded his presentation at about 2:15 and Disney Design Artist Alex Maher joined him on stage. Alex had spent the first part of the afternoon at an easel in the back of the seminar room where he worked on several sketches.

Alex Maher and Jim Hill

As soon as Alex joined Jim onstage they began a very interesting interview. Jim asked Alex about his background and the nature of his work with Disney. The dialogue was captivating; we heard that Alex was a Disney fan from the age of five. Long before he began to work for Disney he was a member of the Disneyana Fan Club. In fact, there was so much interesting information during that fascinating hour that I may have to write a blog about Alex Maher and his career with Disney.

Alex continued to sketch

At the end of their interview Alex returned to his easel and we watched him sketch for another few minutes while he and Jim fielded questions from the audience.

Rob took some time off from pin trading and joined me for the final speaker of the day, Disney Legend Bill Farmer, the voice of Goofy for the past 28 years.

Bill Farmer

Being a Disney Legend is a big deal, a really big deal! There aren’t very many Disney employees who have been honoured with this title, and even fewer non-employees. Bill is not a Disney employee; he and all the other voice artists are independent contractors, members of the Screen Actors Guild, who are hired on a job-by-job basis.

Have you ever heard of The Annies? The Annie Awards are the "Oscar equivalent" for the animation industry and Bill has been nominated as Best Actor three times.

Annie Award Winner

This year he won the prestigious Best Actor Award for his work on Goofy's Grandma. He performs the voices for both Goofy and Grandma! Watch the cartoon by clicking the red arrow in the image below!

Bill told us a bit about his background, how he began his long relationship with Disney, some of his fondest memories and some of his biggest blunders! As his tale unfolded he kept us all in stitches by playing short video clips and relating his life story using a variety of characters and voices. He was Goofy, Yosemite Sam, Pluto, Doc, Bullwinkle, James Cagney, Walter Brennan, Walter Cronkite, Richard Nixon . . . and many more characters. It was a wonderful session and everyone was delighted that it ran a bit overtime!

Signing autographs and pictures

When the seminars were over Rob joined me in the hall adjacent to the auditorium and before long Bill was there to sign autographs and pose for pictures. What a treat to shake hands with a real Disney Legend! We even met his wife Jennifer!

Bill Farmer's Autograph

Acting goofy with Bill Farmer

By 5:00 Carol and I were back in the room and relaxed for a short while before heading out for dinner. We had signed up for the group dinner, featuring a terrific guest speaker; it was Bill Farmer one more time! After cocktails and appetizers we enjoyed a very nice buffet dinner, then the voice of Goofy took the stage again for his sequel.

Bill Farmer

Although there was a bit of overlap with his afternoon presentation there was also a great deal of new information and insight. The new material was fascinating and even the few gags which were duplicated were hilariously funny; I laughed just as hard the second time around! It was a wonderfully entertaining evening!

Bill Farmer and Darth Goofy

The conference organizers presented Bill with a token gift, a Darth Goofy developed for the most recent Star Wars Weekend event. Bill had not yet seen one and was delighted with the gift!

After Bill's presentation there were some draws for door prizes; no wins for the Cruise family this time! I would have loved the grand prize, a large sketch of my favourite character, Goofy, drawn that afternoon by Alex Maher and signed by both Alex and Bill Farmer . . . but it went to a very good home!

Elsa

Alex did quite a few sketches during the day, including Elsa pictured above. They were all included in the following day's silent auction with the proceeds going to Ronald McDonald House.

Check to Ronald McDonald House

That part of the night wrapped up at 9:00 and I headed to the room to watch the Stanley Cup Playoff hockey game. Chicago defeated Tampa Bay 2 - 1 to take a 3 - 2 series lead! Hooray!

Carol picked up her pins and Vinylmations and struck out for some more trading.

Busy trading

Busy trading

She was back just before the game ended and we were soon off to bed. Tomorrow would be another long day; Carol would trade all day. Rob planned to spend the morning browsing the merchandise and then join me at noon for another seminar.

We planned to pull out to head home by approximately 1:30 . . . which would get us home sometime between midnight and 1:00 a.m. Ouch!

Sunday June 14, 2015
The Vendor displays in the ballroom opened at 10:00 a.m.

Still plenty of goodies on display

New arrivals were still checking in; many people come for just one day, or even for a few hours. Attendance is very reasonably priced!

Admission prices

The shopping traffic was slower Sunday morning, compared to the big rush when those 50 “early-birds” stormed in on Saturday! While Carol and Rob browsed I took time to chat with a few vendors.

Lady and the Tramp poster

Gary & Gary Collectibles come to Dayton every year. When I heard that they were from Missouri I said, “I know a couple in Blue Hills Missouri who would like that Lady & The Tramp poster.” Gary took it down and held it so I could get a good picture!

Lady and the Tramp salt and pepper shakers

His business partner Gary said, “I bet they’d like these Lady & the Tramp salt and pepper shakers too!”

“Yes. They would!” the Gary behind the camera replied!

Like many of the vendors, they have a wide variety of quality merchandise. Everything is reasonably priced, and it seems that on Sunday the vendors are more flexible in their pricing. They prefer to sell it rather than pack it up and take it home.

Bargains waiting for buyers

Gary & Gary Collectibles will have a big sales booth at the D23 Expo in Anaheim this August! Be sure to look them up!

Carol looks for deals

At noon Rob and I headed off to the auditorium to listen in on one final seminar before beginning the long drive.

Jim Hill

Jim Hill gave us some fascinating background information about Disney’s animated feature Alice In Wonderland which was released in 1951.

Jim took us back to 1934 when Walt first considered the idea of an Alice production, and the various concepts that the project went through over the years. At age 41, Mary Pickford, a co-owner of Disney’s distribution company, United Artists, really wanted to portray Alice in a live-action feature to kick-start her fading career. A screen test was completed in 1934 but middle-aged Pickford didn’t come off too well as a young girl; the project was shelved!

Along came Ginger Rogers in 1944. Another screen test and again, young Alice wasn’t portrayed particularly well by a 33 year-old dancer, but an audio recording of the Alice stories, with Ginger as the voice of Alice, did hit the market and sold well!

Jim described how Disney artists tried very hard to remain true to the original illustrations done by Sir John Tenniel for the first publication of the Alice stories in 1865.

Jim shows the original art

More original art

More original art

More original art

He described how what we now consider to be a Disney classic was panned by critics in 1951 when it was first released; it did very poorly at the box office. Jim told us how Disney worked to hard to reinvigorate the feature and make it the success we know today.

Any true Disney fan will be fascinated by the kind of background Jim Hill and his peers can provide.
I strongly urge you to attend fan gatherings like Dayton Disneyana to hear some of these fascinating stories!

There was one more seminar scheduled for 2:00 p.m. but alas, it was time for us to go!

Tinker Bell by Alex Maher

Alex was still sketching

We said our goodbyes as we watched preparations for the silent auction. We heard later that Alex Maher completed 11 large sketches and ten of them were raffled; the sketch of Goofy had been awarded as a prize Saturday night. Proceeds from the sketches were added to the other silent auction items and a little over $2,100 is now on it's way to Ronald McDonald House. Outstanding!

Chip and Dale by Alex Maher

Our friend and fellow Canadian “Disney nut” Gabe is a huge Chip & Dale fan. He was leaving the same time that we did, but he left instructions with a friend who was bidding on his behalf. Gabe is now the proud owner of the Chip and Dale sketch pictured above!

We were northbound on I-75 just after 1:30 and spent the entire afternoon dodging construction and thunderstorms. Temperatures bounced between 80º and 65° again and again as the storm cells passed.

We left the Interstate in Detroit and crossed the border into Canada at 5:45. There were still occasional showers, but traffic moved well on the Canadian freeway, Highway 401. We made a couple of stops for fuel, coffee and a bite to eat and pulled into our driveway at 11:45, tired after a long, but fun-filled weekend.

The 2015 event in Dayton was bigger and better than ever. Rob, Carol and I accounted for 2 of the more than 50 rooms that attendees occupied at the Holiday Inn that weekend. Over 500 dedicated Disney fans and collectors browsed through the merchandise which 21 vendors had displayed on 78 tables. There was an amazing variety of product to choose from; there were vintage Disney figures from the early 1930's and there were brand new popcorn buckets introduced just a week prior at Disneyland! New and old, large and small; it was a collectors paradise!

The vendors came from coast to coast and everywhere in between. I spoke with vendors who had driven to Ohio with fully loaded trucks and vans from California, Maine, Florida, Colorado, Missouri and Illinois.

Dayton Disneyana is a "must-do" event for Disney fans and collectors!
Why weren't you there?

Carol was thrilled with her 25 pin trades. The treasures she bought are pictured below, Rob's are there too!

Free gifts and draw prizes
These are all free gifts and draw prizes!

Rob's purchases
Rob's purchases.

New Disney Village
Carol's new Disney Village. It'll look great when she gets it accessorized for Christmas!

Carol's purchases
The rest of Carol's purchases.

If you are a Disneyana collector you would really enjoy this event. Even if you’re not a collector, just a Disney fan like me, you would get a lot out of the seminars and the speakers. I just love hearing the “insider information”, the historical background and of course the hints as to what might be coming to Disney next!

Event Co-chairs Pam Phillipe and Anita Schaengold together with their committee have once again done a terrific job! Dayton Disneyana just keeps getting better year after year!

As I said at the beginning of this blog, there’s something in Dayton for everyone!

Next year’s event is scheduled for the weekend of June 10 – 12, 2016 at the Holiday Inn Dayton/Fairborn.

Go to your calendar, right now, and mark your trip to Dayton on it!

The event web site will give complete details as they become available! Check the web site HERE.

Their Facebook page is HERE.

December 3, 2014

The World From a New Point of View

laura-schmitt-2.jpg
By Guest Blogger Laura Schmitt

I remember that first trip, when our girls were only 3 and 5. They were full of excitement and energy and everything seemed to fall into place, perfectly. The magic was definitely with us. Once we caught that infectious desire to return to our new found happy place, we took any opportunity we could find to visit again. My oldest daughter was never a night owl, and she was always in bed by 8pm, but it didn't cramp our style. It wasn't until our last trip that we had to make such a change in the way we toured the World. With our oldest child in a wheelchair for the first time, we were forced to look at Walt Disney World from a new point of view, and guess what? It was just as magical.

Our oldest has a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). While EDS presents itself differently in different people, for our daughter, once she hit those growth spurt years, it presented as non stop inflammation of joints, ever present level of pain, and the worst symptom...her joints started dislocating daily. Her shoulders are the worst, now, with daily should dislocations. Her knees and ankles used to give her more trouble. What that meant for a day at Walt Disney World was that she couldn't walk the parks safely, she couldn't do all the rides, and she didn't have the stamina that other kids her age may start with. When embarking on such a big and expensive vacation, it is a little difficult to consider that you will have to go slower, see less, and pay the same, but we found that this wasn't the case at all.

To start with, we rented a small wheelchair in our home town and we utilized that in the airport, which worked great. Once we got to Disney, we were a little nervous that people may give her dirty looks or make rude comments since the average person would never know by looking at her that she is struggling to keep her shoulder connected, or her knee cap from sliding out. People see only a young, vibrant girl and therefor, it is easy to assume that she could be faking to take advantage of any perks of being in a wheelchair. I was ready to explain to anyone who stopped us what EDS was and how it affects her, but you know what? No one did comment. The cast members did not treat her any differently than they treated her sister on two legs. If anything, she got a bit more positive attention. While she did feel self conscious that there were eyes on her from other people, I let her know that curiosity is normal and encouraged her to smile and not worry.

We still started our day in the same early to rise fashion that we always do, and we hit our favorite rides and shows. While the wheelchair may have slowed us down a bit, we were still able to do everything we wanted to do. Cast members are well trained in dealing with someone in my daughter's situation. She is able to transfer on her own, so she was able to stand up and get into a ride while her chair was moved to the ride exit for her use. The system is so smooth and efficient that we never felt hindered. For shows, there are designated areas for the wheelchairs, which were open for us each and every time.

Break time was longer, with leisurely meals and relaxing time by the pool. We didn't make it to the evening shows and fireworks, as my daughter was too worn out by the time evening rolled around, but we didn't let that worry us at all. The way I figure it is that anything we miss during the trip is a good excuse to come back again another day. Also, if there is one thing that repeat trips to Disney World has taught me, it's that the magic is often found in unplanned moments, so we kept our eyes and hearts open and we had a beautiful trip.

laura-schmitt-1.jpg

Our first trip to Walt Disney World in a wheelchair was just as wonderful a trip as any from previous years. If I had to weigh it out, I may even say it was better because my daughter was able to do everything that she wanted to do before this disability took hold of her body and began to dictate her life. She works hard in physical therapy, year round, and she wears braces that have given her some additional freedoms, but she is unable to safely attend school due to such easy and frequent shoulder dislocations. Being able to use her safe wheelchair space while touring the parks is the only way such a crowded environment would work for such a fragile child.

Should you ever find yourself ready to embark on a magical adventure with an unexpected injury looking to ruin your fun, don't give up on the plan. Disney is unparalleled when it comes to accommodating special needs of all shapes and sizes. It truly is a magical place for every visitor.

It has been a couple of years, and I am sad to say that even though my daughters legs are improving, her shoulders are worsening. There is no cure for Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and we can only hope that age and physical therapy will save her from losing the use of her shoulder joints over time. We continue to see specialists and search for innovations that may help her. In the meantime, we are prepping for our second trip to Walt Disney World from the slightly lower view of a wheelchair, and I can tell you... the view looks great from here.

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.

April 7, 2013

A Disney Proposal

by Guest Blogger Morgan Carlin

In December my boyfriend, Andy, surprised me with the most wonderful surprise a girl can get... to be whisked away on a magical vacation! To where you ask? The Most Magical Place on Earth, Walt Disney World!

Two weeks before Christmas he gave me an early present, a Minnie Mouse suitcase filled with all kinds of Disney-themed goodies to make sure I was ready for our upcoming adventure, including a complete itinerary (with special surprises I was not allowed to know about). Some of the goodies included Disney t-shirts, bags, Disney pins (my favorite Disney pastime), Vinylmations, Very Merry Christmas Party Tickets, etc. He gave me the suitcase while I was in the middle of studying for finals and incredibly stressed out. This surprise turned my whole attitude around because in just four short days, I knew we would be hopping on a plane and flying down to sunny Florida and spending a week in our favorite place!

The morning finally arrived -- it was December 18th! The big day! We made our way to the airport and started our Disney adventure. We got off the plane, hopped on the Disney Magical Express, and made our way to Port Orleans Riverside, where the next surprise took place.

Once check-in was all taken care of we walked to our new home for the next week. When I opened the door I couldn't believe my eyes as I stared in amazement at the new Royal Room we would be staying in. As I started to grow a liking to the Princess Pedestal I was being placed on, we got on a much awaited Disney bus and headed to none other than THE MAGIC KINGDOM!

Andy was acting very weird on the bus and was not very talkative. It was a bit odd, given that he should have been at maximum excitement level. But I ignored it because I was still overcome with that initial dose of Disney Magic.

I don't know about anyone else, but the moment I see Cinderella Castle is when I have that "I am finally here and I would rather be no place else in the world" moment! Before my Prince and I made our way down Main Street there were a few stops to make. This is where another one of those secrets from the itinerary came into play. It was time to pick up our Disney PhotoPass+! But would you know? That boyfriend of mine would not let me come up to the counter with him! Hmph! Luckily for him it only took a few minutes and I found some pins to look at and keep me occupied.

We then made the next stop -- at the bathrooms, which was understandable after a long day of travel. Andy took a while in there and I started to worry a bit (little did I know he was having a mini heart attack because of what was about to happen).

The time then came that I had been waiting for -- time to stroll down MAIN STREET U.S.A.! Boy, was I excited! I just couldn't believe that we were finally in Walt Disney World. We began making our way toward the castle, taking in the sights, which seemed unusual for my boyfriend. Anyone who knows him understands that he is the first one to RUN as FAST as he can to the rides and begin the itinerary!

Panic was starting to set in. I was thinking that Andy was sick and that he didn't want to ruin all the excitement for me after all the planning. It was terrible. He was just not himself at all! But I just kept my mouth closed because I didn't want to make him feel worse (and if you know me, you know that is a tough task!).

We kept strolling along and made it all the way down to the front of the castle. For some reason, Andy decided he wanted to start walking back to the front of the park. My mind was going in a million directions. I felt awful because I thought he was getting sick or going to pass out. We made it to a PhotoPass photographer in the middle of Main Street and he decided we should stop to get our photos taken with our new PhotoPass+.

We put our stuff down and stood with the castle directly behind us. The photographer started snapping and we got some pictures taken. He handed us our PhotoPass and my boyfriend said, "Actually, can you take a few more?"

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As I looked at him, I saw that he was getting down on one knee! OH MY GOSH! My heart started to race, my hands shook, and the tears started to roll down my face. I couldn't believe what was happening before me. I was getting my dream proposal right there on Main Street, U.S.A. in front of Cinderella Castle. The moment couldn't have been any more perfect. A crowd gathered around us as he spoke to me, words that neither of us can remember to this day from nervousness and shock. At the moment I said yes there was an eruption of cheers and applause, as we kissed in front of the castle.

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The rest of the week was absolutely amazing! We wore our Just Engaged buttons every day of the trip and were greeted by hundreds of amazing cast members with "Congratulations!" and well wishes! We had so many magical moments and got to do so many wonderful things.

One of the amazing surprises that my now-fiance had in store for me was a surprise engagement photo shoot! We had a two-hour photo shoot at Disney's BoardWalk and our photographer took the most AMAZING pictures. All in all, this seven-day span was the best week of my life. It was the perfect milestone in the perfect place spent with the perfect person as we connected our past seven years together with our promising and exciting future as husband and wife.

About the Author: Morgan Carlin is a student in South Jersey currently going to school to become a teacher. She graduates in December. Her fiance, the romantic Andy Flexon, is an accountant. The couple has just set their wedding date: August 2, 2014!


March 26, 2012

To Walt Disney World in a Motor Home - Part 2

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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We pull off I-4 onto Disney Property and arrive at the best campground we have ever seen.

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The guard at the security gate says, "Welcome home!" and directs us to the drive-thru check in gate.

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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.

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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.

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Set up takes a few hours this time, but of course it's a labor of love and we enjoy it!

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By 3:00 p.m. or so we are finished. Aaah! Home again, it sure feels good to be back in out Happy Place!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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!!!

September 18, 2011

Finding Disney in Unexpected Places: Jim Thorpe, PA

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Over the Labor Day weekend, I went to visit some of my wonderful friends (or family, depending on how you look at it) in the northeast. One of the places they took me to visit was Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. I have to be honest and say that before this trip, I had never heard of Jim Thorpe, PA but I knew something was up when they told me I couldn't Google the town to find out more about it...

I thought we were there to roam around and enjoy the town. While that's what we did, come to find out, this gorgeous town has a connection to our beloved Disney World- it's home to the mansion that inspired the exterior of Disney World's Haunted Mansion.

A Bit of History

In 1833, Asa Packer settled in Mauch Chunk ("Bear Mountain" in the Lenape's language/present day Jim Thorpe), located in the Lehigh Valley. Packer was a very successful business man and ultimately gained control of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. He also founded Lehigh University. In 1861, his mansion was completed and sits near the bottom of Packer Hill.

When his son, Harry Packer, got married, Asa built another mansion up the hill for his son. It was completed in 1874. About 20 years ago, the mansion became a bed & breakfast.

The town and its neighbor eventually merged were renamed Jim Thorpe, in honor of the world renowned Olympic athlete who died in 1953. The town was hoping to boost tourism and struck a deal with Thorpe's wife to rename the town.

Finding the Inspiration for Disney World's Haunted Mansion

In the early 1970s, the Imagineers were looking for a concept for the Haunted Mansion that best suited Liberty Square in the upcoming Magic Kingdom in Florida. Imagineers traveled to Jim Thorpe and found what they were looking for in the Harry Packer mansion. I tried to find out what led the Imagineers to Jim Thorpe and/or how they found out about the mansion but I wasn't able to find specifics or dates beyond the early 1970s.

Like I said earlier, Asa Packer's mansion is at the bottom of the hill.

Asa Packer Mansion

Just up the very steep hill (and I do mean steep hill) is the Harry Packer mansion. The exterior, not the interior, was the basis for the attraction.

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Harry Packer mansion

Mansion exterior

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Mansion exterior

Disney World's Haunted Mansion

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Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansion

We did not go inside the mansion but we spent a good bit of time walking around the exterior. We compared and contrasted the mansion and could definitely see the resemblance, especially looking at it from the middle. It was a very unexpected surprise to find "Disney" there, so far from "home". HUGE thanks to my friends for taking me there. :)

August 8, 2011

Disney World: What's New, What's Next August 5, 2011

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Things have changed quite a bit since my last visit in early July.

The exterior of the tunnel on the right side of the train station is under scrims.

Tunnel

Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room (formerly Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management) is still being worked on.

Tiki Room

The new sign for the attraction is out.

New Tiki Room sign

In Frontierland, Pecos Bill's is under scrims.

Pecos Bill's

The Frontierland Shootin' Arcade is also under scrims.

Frontierland Shootin' Arcade

The Fantasyland Skyway station is gone and walls are up.

Skyway station

The rock work around Maurice's cottage is progressing quickly.

Rock work

The rock work is also progressing quickly on the Little Mermaid attraction's building.

Little Mermaid rock work

The top of the building is looking great.

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In Fantasyland, Enchanted Grove is behind scrims.

Enchanted Grove

The Tangled meet-and-greet features Rapunzel only now.

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There's been a lot of progress on Storybook Circus.

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Storybook Circus

The Firehouse has closed.

Firehouse

We met friends for lunch at Downtown Disney. We had every intention of walking around but the heat and humidity drove us out after lunch. We did see, though, that the Harley Davidson store has moved into the space formerly occupied by Little Miss Matched on the West Side.

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Harley

That's all for this update. Have a great day!


August 1, 2011

What’s New (and Different!) at Disneyland Paris

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My family and I had an opportunity recently to visit the Disneyland Paris Resort for a day on a day trip from Paris. We planned to spend the whole day visiting both parks -- Disneyland Park and the Walt Disney Studios. Our last visit to Disneyland Paris was in the spring of 2008, so I thought it would be fun to focus our short visit on new attractions, and attractions that are unique to Disneyland Paris.

We took the RER A from Central Paris using multi-day Paris Visite passes. The passes that we purchased (more information can be found at www.ratp.fr/en/ratp/c_21894/paris-visite/) included Metro fare within Paris and the RER to both Marne la Vallee (the stop for Disneyland Paris) and to Versailles on another day. The Paris Visite passes also got us a 20% discount on 1 day, 2 park tickets at Disneyland.

We started our day at the Walt Disney Studios.

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The park's newest attractions are located in the Toon Studio section of the park, in an area called "Toy Story Playland."

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The whole area is themed around toys from the Toy Story movies, and includes three attractions: the Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop

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The Slinky Dog Zig Zag Spin

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RC (as in Radio-Controlled) Racer

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The resort was CROWDED (the wait for this ride was actually closer to an hour),


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so this was the only one of these rides that we actually rode. It was a lot of fun, and was similar to those big boats at amusement parks that swing back and forth, and basically make your stomach float up into your throat.

We also rode my absolutely FAVORITE ride at DLP: Crush's Coaster!

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There was a very long wait for this ride, as well. There is no FastPass, so if you want to ride, there is no other choice than to wait. The ride vehicles look like clam shells, and are set up in a similar manner to those for Toy Story Mania at Disney World, with two people on each side, facing away from each other. The coaster is mostly inside a building, as you fly through Australia's Humboldt Current, spinning unexpectedly as well as going up and down as on a traditional coaster. I have never laughed harder in my life as on the first time I rode this ride.

After lunch, we rode the Studio Tram Tour, a very pared-down version of the attraction at Disney World's Hollywood Studios (without the special effects pre-show)

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then headed over to Disneyland Park.


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The resort is having a "Festival of Magic Moments" celebration, which I think includes some new shows and character meet and greet opportunities, but unfortunately we never saw anything related to this.

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At Disneyland Park, we passed Sleeping Beauty Castle (one of the prettiest of all of the parks, in my opinion)

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then headed straight for Discoveryland, which is Disneyland Paris' version of Tomorrowland. I love the Jules Verne theming!

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We grabbed Fast Passes for Space Mountain: Mission 2, then went over to stand in line for Star Tours. When we were in Disney World last month, we got a chance to ride the new Star Tours, so it was fun to ride the "old" version here, even if most of the dialogue was in French!

Finally, it was back to Space Mountain. I think that the best way to describe this version is that it is a combination of the indoor, dark Space Mountain, with a bit of the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster thrown in.

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We then swung through Fantasyland, riding "it's a small world" (with a unique section devoted to America)

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then heading for Le Pays des Contes de Fees, one of my favorite rides at Disneyland Paris. This ride is similar to the Storybook Land Canal Boats at Disneyland in California, but has a faster-loading ride system, so the lines don't get so long.

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We left Fantasyland and walked over to Adventureland, then Frontierland. By this time the crowds were so large (90 minute wait for Pirates!) that we only rode one more ride, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril, which is a roller coaster, not a ride similar to the Indiana Jones and Adventure at Disneyland or Dinosaur at the Animal Kingdom.

I wish we had had time for some of my other favorites at Disneyland Paris

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but jet lag was setting in, and our group was ready to head back to Paris. Another time perhaps . . .


May 18, 2011

Disney World: What's New, What's Next May 11-16, 2011

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Wednesday, May 11

We checked in at our resort a day before the D23 events began so that we could get settled at the resort and eat at a couple of our favorite places. We spent the morning at Epcot.

The renovations in Mouse Gear are finished. When you walk in, at least at the Test Track entrance, there is a sign that shows you the layout of the store.

Mouse Gear map

There are signs overhead like this one that will direct you to the different sections.

Sign

They have some fitting rooms available if you want to try something on.

Fitting Room

They have a nice jewelry and watch section. There is a small selection of the Dooney + Bourke bags there, too.

Jewelry and watch

At the World Showcase entrance, Tow Mater has joined Lightning McQueen.

Tow Mater

The flags are still up behind Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater.

Flags

Flags

Since our room was ready after lunch, we headed back and went through the Magic Kingdom gate. The far right lane, usually used for buses is being worked on so that lane and the second-to-right lane are blocked off. Buses are going through the third-to-last right lane. It made getting over to go to our resort a tad hairy. Please use caution going through that area if you're going to any of the Magic Kingdom area resorts until they are finished!

Buses

Thursday, May 12

When we registered for D23's Great Disney Scavenger Hunt, we were told which park we would begin with. We were assigned Epcot. There was a a check-in table near Guest Relations outside the main gates.

Check-in

We liked these posters at the ticket booths.

Ticket booth poster

There was some work going on at this Innoventions area.

Innoventions

There was some work going on in the back of the China pavilion.

China

We had four hours to complete the hunt at Epcot. When we were done, we went back to the resort to regroup and to take the bus to Magic Kingdom.

The Wilderness Lodge bus stop refurbishment is complete.

Wilderness Lodge bus stop

We grabbed a quick dinner before we started the Magic Kingdom portion of our day.

The Confectionery is still partially under scrims.

Confectionery

The area next to City Hall still has Mr. And Mrs. Easter Bunny's backdrop up.

Backdrop

The Carousel of Progress' sign is being worked on.

Carousel of Progress sign

There were some walls up near the Lunching Pad.

Walls

There's been a lot of progress on this building (I had previously called it a 'wall' because that's what it looked like). There were several construction machines running behind the wall.

Storybook Land building

They have added more trees so it's harder to see over the walls in Fantasyland.

Trees

Fantasyland expansion

Fantasyland Expansion

The walls around the back of the castle were down.

Castle

There were walls around Cinderella Fountain.

Fountain

There were walls up around the dock to the Liberty Belle. The Liberty Belle IS running - go around to the right side of the walls to wait/board.

Liberty Belle

At bus station A at Magic Kingdom, stop number 3 is behind walls (the picture is very blurry... sorry!) so it's hard to see Wilderness Lodge's stop behind the walls but it is there. At the stop, we saw some work going on at the end of station B's line.

Bus work

When we left Wilderness Lodge, we thought something looked different near the store but couldn't figure out what. When we came back, we looked over to say hi to the PhotoPass Cast Members who were always there... only they weren't there because the PhotoPass desk has been taken out!

PhotoPass

Friday, May 13

We began Day 2 of the Great Disney Scavenger Hunt at Animal Kingdom. We were told a lot of people had the same idea because Animal Kingdom doesn't offer much shade in the afternoons and it was kind of, er, hot!

Animal Kingdom's questions had us running all over the park and the only thing that really caught my eye as new/changing was the fact that Primeval Whirl had walls around it.

Primeval Whirl

In all honesty, it was so crowded at Animal Kingdom that I couldn't easily take pictures (it was wall-to-wall people in some places) and we were under such a time crunch- we had 3 hours to complete Animal Kingdom and the book had us running back and forth- so I was looking around but I wasn't *looking* around. I'll be back there soon, though.

Studios was our fourth and final park and, honestly, our favorite for the scavenger hunt. I was able to take more pictures as we walked around.

There was a sign at Guest Relations outside the park letting you know that you could purchase tickets at the ticket booths as well.

Sign

The stage has been set up in front of the hat.

Stage

The walls around what will become the new Winnie the Pooh meet-and-greet had some cute decorations.

Pooh

There were some walls in the Magic of Animation queue.

Queue

There were some walls on Sunset Boulevard.

Sunset Boulevard

All of the scaffolding was down on Tower of Terror.

Tower of Terror

There was a 'Cars 2' poster up near Pixar Place and I don't recall seeing this face painting station before.

Poster

The walls are decorated around the delayed Phineas and Ferb meet-and-greet.

Phineas and Ferb

All of the new signs were up at Star Tours (yay!!!!!).

Star Tours

Star Tours

The Jedi Training Academy Stage looked refreshed and the new attraction poster was up.

Jedi Academy Stage

Star Tours sign

Saturday, May 14

The Destination D event began. Day 1 was a lot of fun and I saw a lot of footage that I had never seen before. I've seen tons of Disneyland footage but not that much from Disney World so that was a great. There were lots of stories and laughs. The archives have a small exhibit and this piece from Minnie's kitchen in ToonTown has been saved for the archives.

Minnie's blender

The only other thing to report from Saturday is it's another day close to when Star Tours reopens!! Can you tell I'm excited about Star Tours? :)

Sunday, May 15

They announced that the Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management) will be reshaped to be similar to Tropical Serenade, which opened with Magic Kingdom in 1971. The new version will be called Enchanted Tiki Room.

Monday, May 16

We went over to Studios to have a look around. On Streets of America, these banners were up over the street.

Banners

We saw this "box" around the palm tree.

Palm tree

May 19, 2010

First Ever AllEars Facebook Fan Gathering

by Guest Bloggers Vic and Janis Williams
VIC & JANIS WILLIAMS


We had two fun AllEars® Facebook Fan Gatherings at WDW May 2nd and 6th, 2010. As far as I know, these were the first ever organized, so that those who post on the AllEars Facebook Page could meet and put a person to the names they see making comments.

I have been thinking about this for some time due to the explosive growth of AllEars Facebook, and decided to try having a gathering of fans while we were at WDW recently because there were a lot of folks who were going and wanted to meet others. After much discussion with those who were interested, we decided on 2 gatherings to try to accommodate everyone's schedule. I ran this idea by Deb Wills and was very happy that she was all for it. She graciously donated AllEars lanyards and buttons for everyone who attended. Also she provided shirts and hats to give away as door prizes.


First Gathering in Epcot - Monday May 2nd. at 11:30 AM

All Ears Facebook Fan Gathering

The first gathering in Japan at the Tori Gate was lightly attended. I attribute this to the torrid weather that day. High 90's and the heat index was over 100, very humid to say the least.

Sue Van Vleet was the first to arrive and then along came Helen Norlund and family. Everyone got an AllEars lanyard and button. We all had a great time meeting and discussing all things Disney, the wonderful AllEars site and our individual interests. The big topic was the early summer weather. After a while I gave away shirts and hats as door prizes. We all wished each other well, and a continued magical vacation.

Second Gathering at Magic Kingdom - Thursday May 6th at 11:30 AM

As I rode into MK for this 2nd gathering, it was very hot and humid again, plus I felt the park was extremely crowded. I thought to myself, hope this isn't another washout. As it turned out, I feel it was a magical success.

All Ears Facebook Fan Gathering

The gathering was in Adventureland, across from the Aloha Isle Dole Whip stand. We got a place in the shaded seating area. I set up my ECV with an AllEars shirt so people could see us. It was very crowded in that area. Soon, folks started arriving. Everyone again got a AllEars lanyard and button. As people arrived, we handed out tickets for the door prize drawings.

All Ears Facebook Fan Gathering

Everyone who attended had a great time meeting each other. I was humbled when one of Paulette's children wanted me to sign a character autograph book. The highlight was the Mickey haircuts of Lisa's 2 boys when they arrived.

All Ears Facebook Fan Gathering

All Ears Facebook Fan Gathering


Everyone again had a wonderful time meeting and discussing Disney, AllEars and other interests. Everyone said they would keep in contact on AllEars Facebook Page. I didn't count but Helen did and 27 people showed for the gathering. That made me feel great.

All Ears Facebook Fan Gathering

All Ears Facebook Fan Gathering

Even though these gatherings were unofficial because the AllEars team members were out of town and could not be there, they were a lot of fun. I hope this type of thing can happen with others and I hope to do it again in the future. AllEars and AllEars Facebook Page are the best thing going when it comes to sharing information or just chatting about all things Disney.

Most importantly, I would like to thank Deb Wills for supporting this effort and providing some mementos of the first ever gatherings.

Visit the AllEars Facebook page!

My wife Janis and I live in Wilmington, Delaware, are both retired, have been going to Disney 2 to 4 times every year for the past 15 years after our daughter started working there. We are DVC (Boardwalk 12 years), been on 4 Disney Cruises and are Annual Pass Holders . We love taking our children & grandchildren almost every summer. We both have physical handicaps, use ECV's but don't let that stop us from enjoying the magic . I also am an avid planner and enjoy helping others with info, tips and suggestions for WDW.

September 24, 2009

Backstage Magic Tour

Backstage Magic Tour
by Krystal Thomas

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I am a Disney Geek. I admit it freely and proudly. So for this last trip down to my home away from home, Walt Disney World, I wanted to take one of the behind the scenes tours. I had not taken any tour at Walt Disney World since I was a kid. I had once toured World Showcase and Discovery Island through the Disney Institute but I had not taken a tour in years. So, as a combined birthday/graduation gift, my parents gave me the Backstage Magic Tour. This tour is actually still run through the Disney Institute. Bet you thought that wasn't around anymore - it focuses more on teaching businesses now, helping them discover the "Disney" way of doing business.

It was an absolutely beautiful day when I arrived at our meeting place, outside Epcot's Guest Relations promptly at 8:45 a.m. Our tour group was fairly large -- 28 of us -- but we had two tour guides, one coordinator and our own personal transportation. Carmen and Cyndi arrived with Fran, who coordinated our whole day and made sure we didn't take any location by surprise. Fran was only there for this period in the morning as we got organized. Carmen checked each person in individually. You need to have valid photo ID on you for this process. She also took this time to ask where everyone is from and learn a little about why you were taking the tour. She also had us think of our ideal job at Walt Disney World.

Meanwhile, Cyndi was giving us our name badges which made us honorary cast members for the tour and allowed us to follow them through the doors marked "cast members only." Fran also handed out our personal "pal" for the day - each person on the tour was given a headset so everyone could easily hear both Carmen and Cyndi. These were really great; I never had a hard time hearing either of them throughout the tour no matter how far away from them I was.

Once everyone was checked in, badged and wired for sound, Carmen and Cyndi took the time to introduce themselves and how they'd come to work for the Disney Institute. They also told us what our agenda was for the day and what time we should return to Epcot. They made sure no one had early dinner plans in case we ran long and they also asked if anyone was celebrating anything special. I did say I was there to celebrate my graduation from graduate school and was congratulated heartily by everyone. We then headed to the bus. The Institute partners with Mears Shuttle for their transportation. We had a large Mears Coach to ourselves. There was also chilled water available for us on the bus the entire day.

As we made our way to our first stop, Carmen went around and had the groups on the tour introduce themselves and what their ideal jobs would be. We had some fun ones, a young man with his father on the tour said he wanted to be Prince Charming, others mentioned with transportation host, greens worker, and costume designer. Throughout the day, Carmen and Cyndi then made an effort to mention these jobs as we found them. If your interest wasn't going to be on the tour, they talked about what they knew on the bus. As I am getting my degree to be an Archivist, that is what I am most interested in with the Walt Disney Company. Carmen told me about meeting David Smith when he came to visit the Institute a few years ago and everything she knew about the Disney Archives. As we were doing this, we were driving into the backstage area of Epcot. As we crossed into the backstage area, a security guard did need to board the bus to check bags. This happened every time we entered a new park.

Our first stop backstage at Epcot was the American Adventure. Cyndi walked us around to the front of the building and showed all the tricks the Imagineers were using to make us think the building is only three stories high. In actuality, the guests see almost five stories from the front of the building. Also, she pointed out the details on the building, which places it in the 1700s. Next time you walk through, look at the clock face on the tower and pay attention to the Roman Numerals. We then walked around to the back and saw just how huge this building really is. It is seven stories high in the back with a second building added on to hold the rear projector system, as Carmen called it, "the biggest afterthought ever". We then went into the building and saw the scene changer, the massive machine that holds the 37 audio-animatronic scenes in the American Adventure. Did you know the same computer that launches the space shuttles controls the show? It was truly amazing to have such an up-close look at this attraction and each part of the show is explained in detail.

After we left the American Adventure, we drove around to the Epcot Cast Center. You enter through a hallway that has been painted with murals by the different cast member teams at Epcot. It was amazing some of the special effects they included; one by the safety team had a motion detector so that Figment speaks to you when you walk by. We were then at the "crossroads" of the center. To the left were the Cast Cafeteria, company store and professional development offices. To the right were the lockers for the Cast Members. We walked this way to visit the Wardrobe for the "operational" costumes for the park. The size of this facility was incredible and it was only for one park! We then walked through the small sewing shop at Epcot that can do minor repairs to costumes. Here was one of my favorite "thrills." This building is where the princesses put on their make-up and wigs. It is also one of the reasons why no one under the age of 16 can take the tour. As my tour guide mentioned, kids would not take well to seeing the "best friend of Snow White" with her Capri sweat pants on and cell phone to her ear. It does sort of add a new element to the magic. I liked it though; it was like watching the cast of a huge stage show get ready for their performance.

After this, we got back onto the bus and headed to Disney's Hollywood Studios. On our way there, Carmen told us the story of the Tower of Terror Attraction and explained how the Florida version is different from its counterparts around the world. We then got off the bus and went into the shop next to the Tower of Terror and had a ride vehicle explained to us - all the safety features and how the ride actually works. We also saw them putting new sensors into the backs of the ride's seats. Apparently some guests were putting bags and boxes behind their backs so their safety belts would have a lot of slack during the drops. The new sensors will be able to tell that a human back is firmly against the seat back. After we saw the ride vehicle, we took the bus around to the backlot area and had a tour of the creative costuming building. Here we spoke to Larissa, one of the costumers on the lot. She showed how the patterns are designed using the computer and how designer's version is realized through the pattern and the fabric chosen. She took the pieces out she was currently working on either designing or fixing. We were able to see a part of Snow White's outfit from SpectroMagic, which is extremely heavy (poor girl!) and it was only the bodice part of the outfit. Larissa also took off the inside layer of protection so we could see all the wires and grommets keeping the lights in place on the costume. Larissa has also put together some neat exhibits on the walls of the office for the tour groups that come through. She even had some of the costumes and art from the Tapestry of Dreams parade on display. After we spoke with Larissa, we walked through the workshop. At this time, they were working on lots of the flying bird costume from Festival of the Lion King, and costumes from the Beauty and the Beast stage show at Hollywood Studios. After this stop, it was time for lunch.

We ate at the Whispering Canyon Café at the Wilderness Lodge. I had not eaten here before -- it was quite the experience. The moment our group walked into the restaurant, every server started yelling how they had been waiting for us and what had taken us so long? Our group was set up in a back area of the restaurant and waited on by two "sisters," the cute one and the fluffy one. They were constantly yelling back and forth at each other and at us. It was a lot of fun as they took our drink orders and we got settled in. Lunch came out shortly after our drinks. Big platters full of chicken, BBQ ribs, pork sausage, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and pork and beans were served family style. Each table had two platters to themselves and they were refilled as many times as we asked for it. There was also corn bread and cole slaw on the table. Our drinks were also refilled constantly. Once everyone was stuffed, they brought our dessert and coffee. It was peach and strawberry cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream - so good. Once everyone was pretty much done, the sisters got back in front of us to say goodbye and asked if anyone had their master's degree - they'd been tipped off about me though luckily I was stuck in the corner booth and I escaped having to sing with them in front of everybody. I thought the atmosphere of the restaurant was a lot of fun and our table enjoyed watching the kids ride their stick ponies around the restaurant and join in the singing a couple of times throughout the meal.

Once lunch was over, we did a quick walking tour through the Wilderness Lodge lobby as Carmen pointed out some of the details in the lodge including a few hidden Mickeys in the fireplaces. We then were back on the bus and headed out to the North Service Area, the location of Central Shops and one of the Textile Service locations. For me, walking through the Central Shops was very neat. Here is where they built and maintain many of the vehicles, furniture and audio-animatronics on property. It is also the location of the Character Shop, the only place in the world where the faces of the character costumes can be made so that Mickey looks the same in Florida as he does in Tokyo. As we walked the floor of Central Shops, we saw lots of ride vehicles from Dumbo, Rock 'N Roller Coaster, Spaceship Earth, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Triceratops Spin, Splash Mountain and Space Mountain. We also saw some of Cinderella's Carousel horses being repaired and repainted as well as new "skins" for the hippos at the Jungle Cruise. It was here we also got to "play" with some audio-animatronics. Bonnie Appétit and a bird from the Enchanted Tiki Room are set up for tour guests to try them out. We also got to speak to an "audio-animatronics" doctor here who spoke about what was making the audio-animatronic work and some of the challenges they often face.

Our next stop was just down the road at Textile Services, otherwise known as the laundry. The one in the North Service Area is primarily responsible for the costumes on property; two other laundries deal with all the linen from the resorts and the linens from the restaurants. This stop made me appreciate the amount of work that goes into a simple thing like doing the laundry for a resort the size of Walt Disney World. They have an intense operation; mostly computer driven but the clothes are hand sorted, hung and streamed separately. From here we went to our last stop on the tour, the Magic Kingdom. This was one of the few times we were on stage for any length of time. Because we were there close to the 3PM parade, we had little time to discuss the window on Main Street USA though Carmen did point out Roy's window, the M.T. Lott window and Walt's window over the Ice Cream Parlor.

Once we did that, we walked back down Main Street, went backstage again and down into the Utilidors. Another Disney Geek dream come true; say all you want about how they are just glorified underground tunnels, it was cool. We were back out of the Utilidors and out on Main Street just in time to watch the parade as it finished. We watched from in front of the firehouse so we had the dancers right in front of us and even had them ask how we liked our tour before they started their dance to finish up the parade. After this, we waked back to the bus and headed back to Epcot for the end of the tour. We made it back right at 4PM, making it exactly seven hours from the start. As we left, Carmen and Cyndi handed our special pins for us and wished us well and were also happy to answer any last questions you'd thought up on the way back to Epcot.

I loved the tour and I am so glad I got to get this very unique and exclusive view of how the magic is created behind the scenes. Cyndi and Carmen were very friendly and informative. If you asked something they didn't know, they often had the answer once we got back to the bus between the two of them. Because of the size of our group, we often were split into two smaller groups, which let you get to know your tour guide, and they get to know you and point out things they think you'll like. There was very little opportunity for photos on the tour as you spend most of the day backstage. Even when we were in front of the American Adventure, because World Showcase was not yet open, we were still "backstage". I am unsure about how wheelchair friendly the tour is however; we took a lot of stairs and the bus was not wheelchair accessible. I imagine this would be different if needed and perhaps even where the tour stops would be tweaked a little. Also, bathroom breaks are well planned throughout the day.

Backstage Magic definitely gave me a greater appreciation for the work that goes into running WDW and I can understand why guests under 16 are not allowed. The tour lets you see how the magic is done which some guests on my tour did mention ruined a little of Walt Disney World for them. Not for me, it made me love it more. As Carmen said, "it takes a lot of work to make it magical" but the idea is the guest should never know that. Backstage Magic gives you a glimpse into how that magic is created and maintained every day, 365 days of the year. Whether you are a Disney beginner or have an annual pass, this is a tour that is well worth the time and money.

About the author: Krystal Thomas, 24 years old, has been going to the Disney parks since she was 18 months old. She currently lives in Baldwinsville, NY and recently received her Masters degree in Archives and Records Management from the University of Michigan. Her father is Picture This! photo blogger Scott Thomas.


March 31, 2009

Finding Disney Magic on Broadway

by Alice McNutt Miller

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My husband, two pre-teen and teenage daughters and I recently planned to travel to New York City for the weekend to see one of my nieces play basketball for her college team. As with many of our vacations, we tried to work a little Disney magic into our itinerary. With three Disney musicals currently playing on Broadway, the question was not whether to go see one of the amazing Disney theatrical productions, but which one to choose. The Lion King, Mary Poppins or The Little Mermaid? We had seen The Lion King on stage in London last year during a spring break visit, so the decision came down to what the best deal would be for tickets for either Mary Poppins or The Little Mermaid.

Plan Ahead . . .

Seeing live theater in New York, particularly Broadway blockbusters, can be an expensive proposition. Securing discounted tickets for Broadway shows is where good planning (or not) comes into play. If you have only one date or time that you will be able to see a show, you should plan as far in advance as possible, and buy tickets ahead of time. The Disney website http://disney.go.com/theatre/index.html#/home has information on all of the shows, and links to purchase tickets. These links will take you to the Ticketmaster website, and to full-price tickets for each show. However, there may be discounts available, and with a bit of work, you may be able to find them.

As Disney Vacation Club members, we had been offered a special discount for certain shows, but unfortunately, I waited too long to act once our dates were set, and all of the seats with this discount were sold out. I did a web search for "Disney on Broadway discounts," and was able to find a code for discounts that were being offered for Mary Poppins, playing at the New Amsterdam Theatre, for the day and time that we wanted to see a show. By using that code on the Ticketmaster website, I was able to get a $35 discount on each of our tickets, allowing me to purchase tickets that were normally $86.50 for $51.50 (plus various surcharges, tax, etc.). Tickets are normally $121.50, $86.50, $61.50 and $31.50. Mary Poppins it was!

Or Don't!

If you cannot plan ahead because your dates are not certain, you can always try the TKTS Discount Booth in New York on the day of the show. TKTS Discount Booths (run by the non-profit Theatre Development Fund) offer tickets to Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals and plays at up to 50% off of the box office prices. The Broadway location is located near Times Square in Father Duffy Square on Broadway and 47th Street. You can look at the TKTS information on the Theatre Development Fund websitewww.tdf.org ahead of time to see what was on sale last week, in order to get an idea of what might be available for your planned date. A number of Broadway shows have closed recently, which makes getting discount tickets a bit more difficult. According to the website, same-day discounted tickets are "never" available for The Lion King, and are "sometimes" available for The Little Mermaid and Mary Poppins. Hours for the Times Square ticket booth are Monday through Saturday from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Sundays from 3:00 p.m. until one-half hour before the latest curtain time being sold for evening performances. For matinee performances the hours are Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Plan to line up well in advance of showtime, particularly on weekends and holidays.

The Theater

The New Amsterdam Theatre (214 West 42nd Street), along with the New Victory, Lyceum and Hudson theaters, is one of the oldest surviving legitimate theaters on Broadway. The theatre opened in 1903 with a production of Shakespeare's Midsummer Nights' Dream. Florenz Ziegfeld staged his Follies at the New Amsterdam from 1913 through 1927 (there are stories that the theater is still haunted by one of the Ziegfield dancers). In 1937 the New Amsterdam was converted to a movie house, and then it fell into disuse. The theater was purchased by the Nederlander Organization 1982, which planned to reconvert it back to its original use, piggybacking on the proposed redevelopment of the Times Square area. However, major structural problems, combined with the uncertainty of the City's economic health repeatedly delayed the reconstruction. New York State purchased the New Amsterdam in 1992 and subsequently resold it to the Walt Disney Co. for $29 million when Michael Eisner saw the theater's potential. The complete reconstruction of the theater between 1995 and 1997 signaled Disney's confidence in Times Square and anchored the further redevelopment of the area.

The Show!

We arrived at the New Amsterdam Theatre at 1:00 p.m., half an hour prior to show time. There was quite a crowd queued up on the cold winter day, with lots of excited kids and adults waiting to get in for the show. Once the doors opened, we found our way into the theater and up the stairs to our seats in the center of the left portion of the mezzanine level. The theater is absolutely gorgeous. The 42nd Street Beaux-Arts entrance opens into one of the finest Art Nouveau theater interiors in New York. Carved and painted plaster, carved stone, carved wood, murals and tiles all combine to evoke what it was like going to the theater at the turn of the century. We promptly sent the kids to the snack bar in the rear of the mezzanine for candy and bottles of water. A few moments later, the lights dimmed, the music began, and it was time for the show!

Mary Poppins is a collaboration between Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, the producer of The Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Les Miserables. This production (the book for the play was written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes) is based both on the Mary Poppins books by P.L. Travers and the classic 1964 Walt Disney film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. As a result, the play is quite different from what Disney fans might remember from the film, although there are some tributes to the movie hidden in plain sight (like penguins riding in baby carriages in a park scene in the play - remember the penguins from the sidewalk chalk scene in the film?).

A review in The New Yorker magazine called the musical: ". . . a strange and beautiful thing, containing an astonishing variety of moods and distinguished by a faithful rendering of the books' brisk and sophisticated comic sensibility." Indeed, the production has maintained many of the elements of the film version, including beloved songs by Robert and Richard Sherman, like "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "Let's Go Fly a Kite" and "Feed the Birds." New songs by Anthony Drewe and George Stiles blend seamlessly with the classic songs, and bring additional depth to the stage version. "Practically Perfect" was an amazingly catchy tune that my girls sang over and over on the drive home. I thought that the "new" Mary Poppins was a bit more prickly and distant than Julie Andrews played her, but I also thought that Mr. and Mrs. Banks characters were more developed and more sympathetic. There is a wonderful touching scene where Mrs. Banks is preparing for a dinner party ("A Spoon Full of Sugar"), but the event is a disaster because no guests arrive. In addition, there is a fantastic and whimsical scene set in Mrs. Corry's shop, where people can buy words as well as gingerbread ("Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious"). There is also a new character, the evil Miss Andrew, Mr. Banks' old nanny, who he calls upon to step in when Mary Poppins leaves. Miss Andrew is a very harsh nanny, and believes that children should be subjected on a regular basis to a horrible medicine that tastes like cod liver oil ("Brimstone and Treacle"). The sets were gorgeous, the costumes lush, and the voice talents of the actors superb. Mary Poppins is currently played by Scarlett Strallen, who played the role in London's West End production (it is no longer playing there), and Bert is played by Adam Fiorentino.

The Side Trip

Disney fans who happen to be in New York for a show, or for any other reason, should not overlook the World of Disney Store on 5th Avenue at 55th Street. The store is huge, with three floors of Disney merchandise, including pins (you can do pin trading with cast members and there are monthly pin-trading events), a make-your-own crown station, Disney candy, Mr. Potato Head and an Art of Disney Gallery. We were lucky enough to happen onto the store a few minutes before a scheduled character meet and greet with Chip and Dale and Donald Duck. A Disney's Photopass photographer was on hand to capture the magic on film. Not to miss merchandise included a very cute (but, unfortunately, not available in my size) "I (Mickey Ears) NY" t-shirt.

Disney Theatrical Productions Coming to your Town

If you would like to see one of Disney's fantastic theatrical productions but won't be making it to New York any time soon, don't despair, several of the shows will be touring nationwide and may be coming to a theater near you. Mary Poppins' North American tour is scheduled to begin performances at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre March 11, 2009. The tour will continue with performances in Cleveland, St. Louis, Dallas, Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

The Lion King will be opening at the Mandalay Bay Theatre in Las Vegas, with previews beginning on May 5, 2009, and a touring version of the show will be going to East Lansing Michigan, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Sacramento, California, Edmonton, Alberta, Calgary, Alberta, Anchorage, Alaska and San Diego, California in 2009. Check HEREhttp://disney.go.com/theatre/aroundtheworld/#/home/ for schedules.

If you live outside of North America, or are planning a trip any time soon, you can also check the website for international venues for Mary Poppins (the United Kingdom), The Lion King (Hamburg, London, Tokyo and other Japan locations, Paris), Tarzan (Hamburg, the Netherlands), Beauty and the Beast (Moscow, South Africa, Barcelona) and High School Musical on Tour (Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom).

Select merchandise from the Disney on Broadway productions can be found on Disneyshopping.com.

January 25, 2009

Indy Racing Experience

by Guest Blogger Gary K.

If you grow up in Indiana as I did, you always wonder what it would be like to drive in the Indianapolis 500. I recently had the opportunity to find out. You can now drive an actual Indy car as fast as you dare on a real, full-size race track at Disney World. Indy Racing Experience has been offering this breathtaking experience at The Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 2001. In November, 2008 they opened a sister operation at the Walt Disney World Speedway, right next to the Magic Kingdom.

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This is the real thing. I got to drive Juan Montoya's (Indy car champ and winner of The Indianapolis 500 in 2000) back up car. It is the same car -- no changes except the engine is a little (and I emphasize a little) smaller. Mike Horvath, Marco Andretti's chief mechanic at Andretti Green Racing and winner of the 2005 Mechanic of the Year Award, helped me get into and get comfortable in the car. And Davy Hamilton, current Indy car driver and veteran of 50 Indy car races, put me through my paces on the track.

I arrived at the track approximately an hour before my schedule track time. It was quite exciting from the very beginning. I had the first Indy ride time of the day. As I walked out next to the track pit wall, I heard a roar and three Indy cars pulled up next to me - ready to go.

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The track is really awesome. It was built in 1995 and hosted five Indy car races from 1996 to 2000. (I was lucky enough to attend all five.) It is a banked one mile tri-oval, with each of the three turns having a different radius and a different banking angle. Hamilton told me the track is very, very challenging to drive.

The process of going from track side to on track is fairly simple and quick. The first step is the obligatory paperwork. Bottom line, you have to sign forms that say you understand driving a race car is dangerous and if you hurt yourself you are responsible.

indyrac4.jpg

Second, they help you find the right size driving suit and boots and you're off to the pit side "air conditioned" changing rooms. (See the blue curtains to the right of the picture? Those are the dressing rooms.)

indyrac5.jpg

Next, you sit down in a mock up of the driving seat and pedal lay out. (The cockpit is small and you drive in a reclining position. Thus, you cannot see the pedals in the car once you are actually seated in the car. Therefore, you need to get a "feel" for them.) While you are in the mock-up, you receive your instructions. The instructor covers safety and car problems, of course. But, bottom line, you are instructed to simply stay about five car lengths behind Davy in the lead car and he would lead you around the track as fast as you feel comfortable going.

Then you put on racing gloves, a balaclava and a racing helmet and it's over the pit wall and into the car.

indyrac6.jpg

You have to stand up in the cockpit and gradually lower yourself vertically, disappearing into the race car, with only the top three-quarters of you head above the cockpit. The mechanics get you comfortable in the seat, tighten all the seat belts, fit the rear neck surround to the car and install the steering wheel. Initially, the feeling is a bit claustrophobic but that disappeared instantly when I heard Hamilton's car start.

The mechanical procedures are incredibly simple. (The car has a five speed transmission but the first four gears are only used to get you up to top speed quickly. Since this is not a race you just keep the car in fifth.) You depress the clutch, push the start button and the engine comes to life. (The engine has already been warmed up so there is no delay. But revving the engine a few times seemed appropriate to me.) Hamilton took off. I gave it some gas, let out the clutch and away we went for eight thrilling laps.

indyrac7.jpg

The actual driving experience was easier than I imagined. With Hamilton showing you the racing line, the car seems like it is glued to the track. Your comfort level grows and so does your speed. You start to get a real feel for the g-forces in the corners and how each corner feels different. How the different banking angles and corner radiuses all impact the car. Hamilton lead me down to the apex of each corner and then up right next to the wall. Hamilton's car kicked-up all kinds of dirt as I followed him next to those walls. (The Richard Petty Driving Experience stock cars, that share the same track earlier each day, must not use all the track the way and Indy car does. We were exploring some new terrain.) The eight laps go quickly but you get a real feel of what driving one of these cars is like. You also get an appreciation that Indy car drivers are athletes in the true sense of the word. In addition, you begin to realize you are simply following a car on the racing line. What must it be like to be surrounded by 20 cars - passing and being passed at racing speed for a couple of hundred miles?

After the final lap, I followed Hamilton into the pits, depressed the clutch, stopped the car, killing the engine and grinned.

It was very cool day in Florida the day of my drive and it was on a weekday. So, there was no one waiting to take my place. Hamilton was very willing to talk to me about driving these cars on this track and about Indy car racing in general. It was fun and enlightening. I ask him how fast we were going. He said we got up to about 100 mph average on our fastest lap. He told me that most people don't go much faster unless they have had some prior experience. (I am sure he was being simply gracious.)

indyrac8.jpg

My wife decided she wanted to see what the experience was like but did not want to actually drive a car. Fortunately, they have lengthened an Indy car chassis and created a two-seater. So, Hamilton took her for a ride. (Everything is exactly the same, except you ride along instead of drive. See below.)

Because in was near dusk on a cool day, Hamilton was "only" able to get up to about 120 mph average on his fastest lap with her. So, I went home feeling pretty good about my speed. Unfortunately, I then got on the web to see what the Indy car lap recorded is for the Disney Speedway. The fastest lap was set by Buddy Lazier at over 180 mph. I have a hard time imaging what that must have been like, but now I have a much better idea than I did before. If you are interested in Indy car racing, you have to give this a try. It is well worth the money.

As I got ready to go over the pit wall and rejoin the regular world, Hamilton told me about a young man who had such a great experience driving the prior week that he bought three back-to-back eight lap runs. He was able to get up to a 120 mph lap. As I left the track, I was reminded of that old racing adage "Speed costs money. How fast do you want to go?"
====================

Gloria chimes in (Doesn't she always!)

As Gary told you, once he was finished, they asked me if I wanted to drive. Nope, no way! I'd be a menace to both myself, the car and everyone else ...but I could go for a ride! Why not? So, I went inside to sign the release forms and then outside to the changing room to get suited up. Now for those of you who know me personally, I barely reach five feet tall. Well, fire suits come in various widths, but only one length *-- l-o-n-g! I managed to get everything zipped, Velcroed and closed, but it was an interesting endeavor to say the least.

Once suited up, it was time for the balaclava (head sock), the helmet and the gloves. The balaclava was the worst! I have the kind of hair that does not take well to being disturbed once it has been tamed into place in the morning. Head socks and helmets really do a number on hairdos! Trust me on this one. Even Gary said, "She must really want to ride if she's willing to risk getting her hair messed up!"

indyrac9.jpg

Helmet on! Gloves on! Now I must get down into the car which sits about 4 inches off the ground. This alone is a challenge, but I managed, only to find out that I was sitting so low in the car that I couldn't see out of the cockpit. This is not good, so they tell me to get out and they'll put a cushion in to raise me up a bit.

That's when I learned that getting out of the car is even more difficult than getting in. For a minute I thought maybe they'd need a crane, but it wasn't necessary. I was able to pull myself up and out more easily than I thought. I think the adrenalin must have kicked in, giving me superhuman strength.

They put in the cushion and I again lowered myself down into the car. Much better! I could see! The guys snapped all the restrains in place, locked in the neck support and in just a few seconds we were off.

For those of you who have never heard the roar of an Indy car engine, it is spectacularly loud! There is also a rumble that goes with it and when you're in the car, that rumble travels right up through your body - an awesomely powerful feeling.

According to Gary who was chatting with the "pit crew" while I was riding, the car was "pushing" (Whatever that means.) and wasn't handling as well as the driver wanted. Consequently we never got up to the 180 mph the car might reach if all was working perfectly. Consequently, they threw in an extra lap or two to try to get the tires warmed up before trying to attain top speed down the straightaway. We probably reached 150 to 160 top speed for a few seconds. That was plenty fast for me!

indyrac1.jpg

But all too soon the ride was over and it was back to our Toyota van for an exciting (not!) ride over to the MK where we spent the rest of the day.

Indy Racing Experience is priced competitively with the Richard Petty (stock car) Racing Experience. They are certainly worth the money for anyone who is a fan of open-wheel racing. Gary is the racing fan in our family; I have little interest and had no intention of even taking a "ride" when we got there. But there's something about the roar of those engines that just draws you in. It's probably not something I'd want to do again, but it was definitely great fun and a terrific experience.

RELATED INFO:

Walt Disney World Racing Experiences can be booked by calling 1-888-357.5002. Ask to speak with Shonda Kennedy at extension 106 or e-mail her at skennedy@indyracingexperience.com. You can read more on their official website at http://www.indyracingexperience.com. Prices as of January 2009 are $399 for 8 driving laps and $109 for the 3-lap ride-along experience.

January 16, 2009

Celebrating the Holidays at Walt Disney World - Conclusion

Going to Walt Disney World, during the holidays, is a great idea, if you are prepared for the large crowds. During this time, busses can get very crowded before parks open, after special events like parades and fireworks, and at closing. This means there is usually many left standing on the bus rides.

Most days, we went to a park during Extra Magic Hour mornings. You can get through many main attractions this way, before the park officially opens. However, if you plan to go to Disney's Hollywood Studios' new attraction, Toy Story Mania, expect to get on during the Extra Magic Hours once or twice and after that, only if you don't mind waiting 2 or 3 hours. We actually experienced seeing a line from Toy Story Mania to the steps by the Little Mermaid show just to get Fastpasses for Toy Story, fairly locking it up for most of the day. However, getting on other attractions at all four parks isn't bad if you anticipate the longer waits and utuilize Fastpass well.

Whether you're shopping at the parks or Downtown, shop early or during typical meal times. Also, don't forget about the stores at the resorts. They have great merchandise, and the sales we saw at the parks and in Downtown, were also at the resort stores. With this advice, you'll save yourself some time on lines for the register, too!

Overall, the Disney feel we are all used to, combined with the general good will most people feel during the holidays, makes for a pleasant trip. When the crowds get to be a bit much, enjoy the holiday decorations, take some extra photos or enjoy time at your resort and rest up. We've gone two years in a row, and I know it won't be our last time at Disney World for the holidays!

Rachel Basden

January 15, 2009

Celebrating the Holidays at Walt Disney World - Magic Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom, for many, is the focal point of Walt Disney World. However, this is where my blog ends on how the parks celebrate the holidays.

Before you even step within the Magic Kingdom, you will see the front area decorated, and giving a taste of what's inside. Having gone last year, it seems they change the look from one year to the next. These are a couple of shots of what we saw:

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom


As soon as you catch a glimpse of Main Street USA, you notice the amazing amount of decorations hanging everywhere. Of course, they have a HUGE Christmas tree, along with some Christmas displays, like soldiers.


Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom


More characters are available to get pictures with, like Clarabelle the cow, Scrooge McDuck and Jiminy Cricket. If you are fortunate, you can pay to attend "Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party" which occurs on select nights. We attended last year, and they had a special parade, snow on Main St., holiday shows, special fireworks and free hot cocoa and cookies throughout the park. You can also get your picture taken with Santa himself! It's truly an amazing experience. For those who can't make it to the party, they do have all of the above for the general public, after all the party nights are over, with the exception of the free cocoa and cookies.

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom


Magic Kingdom

However, the best part for us, is after nightfall, when they light up Cinderella's castle with millions of tiny white lights, making it look like it's covered in frost. It's absolutely breathtaking! Last year was the first year they did this, and we were happy to see them do it again.

If you want to see the Magic Kingdom at its most magical peak, it's completely worth the trip!


Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom

January 14, 2009

Celebrating the Holidays at Walt Disney World - Epcot

Like the other parks, Epcot has its own unique large Christmas tree. However, when you enter the park, you don't notice anything holiday related, until you reach the World Showcase. Then, hold on to your Mickey Santa hat, because there are Santas everywhere! Each country has at least one special live presentation, done throughout the day, to share with guests how that country celebrates the holiday season. It's fun to go from one country to another, learning what they do around the world during this time of the year, and when allowed, getting involved in the story telling.

Epcot


Epcot


Epcot


Epcot


Epcot


Epcot


Epcot

Epcot


Then, each night, there is a beautiful "Candlelight Processional". The America Gardens Theater is transformed into a church-like scene, with suspended gorgeous stained glass windows on both sides of the theater and one of the largest choirs, accompanied by an orchestra and trumpeters, sharing beautiful Christmas songs, along with a celebrity that shares the traditional Bible story of Christmas. It's hard not to tear up if you are fortunate enough to get a seat.

Epcot

January 13, 2009

Celebrating the Holidays at Walt Disney World - Downtown Disney

Walt Disney World doesn't just celebrate the holidays at the parks and resorts, but also in Downtown Disney. You can pose with a Christmas display with some Disney characters.

Downtown Disney

There is also a very tall Christmas tree full of toy related items all over it and along its base.

Downtown Disney

Downtown Disney

Downtown Disney

Rachel Basden

January 12, 2009

Celebrating the Holidays at Walt Disney World - Disney's Hollywood Studios

During the holiday season, the Studios is transformed to a Winter Wonderland. Before the entrance way, you will see their huge Christmas tree, decorated with scenes from Disney's animations. Not only is this tree decorated with familiar faces, but all around the base are figures and even enlarged movie reels showing scenes from some of your favorite Disney moments.

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Disney's Hollywood Studios


Disney's Hollywood Studios

Inside, the streets are lined with sparkling red and white stars. However, the real holiday fun begins once the sun goes down. That's when the New York portion of the park becomes a dazzling display of lights and music! It's called the "Osbourne Spectacle of Lights".

The entire area is covered in lights, from the buildings to the objects found on the streets and sidewalks. There are lit up displays everywhere!!! While you walk through, you are entertained with holiday tunes. Then, every fifteen minutes, the lights literally dance to the music. It's the most amazing holiday light show we've ever seen and it's definitely worth going to at least once in your lifetime. As if that isn't enough, as the lights dance all around you, snow falls from above. Words cannot do it justice, but it's truly another magical Disney moment.

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Disney's Hollywood Studios


Disney's Hollywood Studios


Disney's Hollywood Studios


Disney's Hollywood Studios

January 11, 2009

Celebrating the Holidays at Walt Disney World - Animal Kingdom

As soon as you reach the Animal Kingdom entrance, you see a huge Christmas tree decorated with what else? Animals! It's simply beautiful, and in some ways, it resembles the one in the Animal Kingdom Lodge, though any similar ornaments are remarkably bigger.

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom


Animal Kingdom


Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom

Within the park itself, you won't see much changed for the holidays, except for the parade and the Camp Minnie Mickey area. During their daily parade time, you will see essentially the same parade as you will see during the rest of the year, with a definite holiday twist. For example, the alligator that leads one of the floats is transformed to a reindeer of sorts. Minnie's bathtub float emits delicious scents of hot chocolate to those who are watching the parade. It really puts everyone in the spirits of the holidays. Mickey's Jingle Jangle Parade:

Animal Kingdom


Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom

Then, over at Camp Minnie Mickey, you will still find your Disney pals for picture taking time. However, each gazebo area is decorated for the holidays with lights, garland and in some spots, a tree. The characters are each dressed for the holidays, making for some very festive looking pictures.


Animal Kingdom


If you head over to the Winnie the Pooh and Friends picture taking location, you will see them wearing scarves and hats, no matter how warm it might be, reminding everyone that it is still the holiday season.

It's a great time of year to visit the Animal Kingdom, because of the cooler temperatures. The added holiday cheer just makes it that much more enjoyable!

Rachel Basden


January 10, 2009

Celebrating the Holidays at Walt Disney World - Resorts Part 2

Now, on to the Wilderness Lodge.

Wilderness Lodge

Their tree has more wilderness and American-Indian inspired ornaments, like tee-pees:

Wilderness Lodge

They also have the added bonus of visits with Santa at this resort!

Wilderness Lodge


Over at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, designed by the same person who created the Wilderness Lodge, they're decorations are just as beautiful. At this resort, the theme revolves more around Africa and animals:

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Here are some of the close-up shots:

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Animal Kingdom Lodge


At the Polynesian Resort, there is a lovely tree that is decorated with beautiful Hawaiian flowers and shells:

Polynesian Resort

Polynesian Resort

These are some of the details up close:

Polynesian Resort

Polynesian Resort

This resort also had something we didn't notice anywhere else. They had edible Polynesian themed houses and buildings. They were made by the different staff members, some individually and some made them within departments. Here are some examples of their amazingly talented staff's work:

Polynesian Resort

Polynesian Resort

Polynesian Resort

Polynesian Resort

Polynesian Resort

Polynesian Resort


Each resort has its own way of decorating for the holidays. It's great to take a break from the parks and take your own tour of each one. As unique as each resort is, so are the ways they express their holiday cheer. They are seriously worth checking out!

Next up, the Theme Parks

Rachel Basden

January 9, 2009

Celebrating the Holidays at Walt Disney World - Resorts

My husband and I are back from celebrating the holidays at the happiest place on earth, Walt Disney World.

You may recall I began blogging prior to our trip in December. I had hoped to give live updates throughout the trip, but I ran into some technical difficulties. Now that I'm home, I'm ready to give you the full scoop.

Walt Disney World has so much to offer their guests for the holidays! As you can imagine, we had an absolutely amazing time. Disney, at Christmas, takes magical moments to a whole new level. I'll start with the resorts and then get into the parks. There's just so much to share.

Usually when people think about enjoying the holidays at Walt Disney World, they want to know all about the special events the parks have, during this time of the year. However, even if you're not staying at one of Disney's resorts, you should definitely take some time to visit them, and see how they get all decked out.

Each place has its very own major Christmas tree, specially decorated for that resort. In addition, some add a variety of other smaller Christmas trees, wreaths, garland, gingerbread houses. . .the list goes on and on.

Here's the tree in the main lobby of our resort, POP Century:

POP Century Christmas Tree

You may notice that it has more traditional types of ornaments on it. Here are some of the parts, up close:

POP Century Christmas Tree

POP Century Christmas Tree

Then, there's Grand Floridian, with its enormous tree that captures your attention right away, as you enter the main lobby:

Grand Floridian Christmas Tree

As you can see, though the Grand Floridian is a huge resort, with many floors, the tree still manages to be the tallest object in the place. Then, as if that isn't enough, they have a humongous Gingerbread House that is large enough to double as a store to sell, you guessed it, gingerbread and other holiday sweets and goodies:

Grand Floridian Gingerbread

Whenever we go to the Grand Floridian, I feel like I'm in the world's largest and most gorgeous doll house, so it's no wonder they also have this exquisite Gingerbread House.

Grand Floridian Gingerbread

Grand Floridian Gingerbread

Grand Floridian Gingerbread

Grand Floridian Gingerbread

Now, on to the Beach Club Resort! We didn't make it over there this year, but they are known for their chocolate carousel. It looks like a full-size carousel, but is so beautiful that I couldn't imagine eating any part of it. Here's a shot of it:

Beach Club Carousel

On the floor of the carousel are miniature versions of Disney characters, with Mickey heads all around the base:

Beach Club Carousel


Next blog the Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge and Polynesian Resort!

Rachel Basden

December 23, 2008

Celebrating the Holidays at Walt Disney World - Introduction

Last December, my husband and I went on the most magical Walt Disney World trip, yet! We celebrated our anniversary, Christmas and New Year's all at one of our favorite places, Walt Disney World. It was absolutely amazing, and before we left, we had already begun talking about when we'd be back. For quite a while, we thought another trip in the near future wouldn't be possible.

Fast forward to this December, and we're packing to go back again for our anniversary (which is during the week of Christmas), Christmas and New Year's again!!!! I know. We still can't believe it ourselves.

My husband and I absolutely love Disney World, and we can't believe our trip is here. We really look forward to returning for our favorite time of the year!

This is us, from this last December's trip, in front of Grand Floridian's lobby Christmas tree:

rachelbasden1.jpg


We'll be staying at POP Century this year, a resort where we've stayed before, and we plan to experience all the holiday magic Walt Disney World has to offer! Stay tuned, since we'll be sending live updates throughout our trip.

April 28, 2008

Walt Disney World as a Teen!!! Typhoon Lagoon Surfing - Part 9

Man, am I sore!

Caitlin Surfing at Typhoon Lagoon


I had my surfing lesson this morning which was amazing! The instructors are very helpful and friendly and by the end you are actually surfing! The instructors were from the Cocoa Beach surfing school and they come to Typhoon Lagoon a couple days a week.


Caitlin Surfing at Typhoon Lagoon


The nice thing about learning to surf in a wave pool is you can pick what kind of wave you want. They have the big wave and the small wave for beginners. The class size is small and everyone gets about 10 waves.

Caitlin Surfing at Typhoon Lagoon


I would recommend it to anyone who has ever wanted to surf!


Caitlin Surfing at Typhoon Lagoon


Afterwards we went to Animal Kingdom and it was packed!

Caitlin and Turk at Animal Kingdom


I couldn't go on much since we were leaving early but I managed to go on Dinosaur and Kali River Rapids.

On the River Rapids you really don't get that wet after the initial plunge at the beginning. The scene in the middle is supposed to look like loggers cutting down the rainforest, a girl in our boat thought it was supposed to be ancient Asia so I just wanted to clear things up.

I have always loved Dinosaur ever since my grandma freaked out on it because she couldn't get the seatbelt out, ah fond memories. It's a fun ride and I was very proud of myself when I found a Hidden Mickey on it!

We had lunch at the Restaurantosaurus in Dinoland, it was soooo good! I would recommend it for any picky eaters or someone who would just like an ol' cheeseburger and fries for once. The set up is really cool and you should take your time looking around the restaurant.

I would like to take some time out to say thank you to a few people:

Deb- for letting me write this awesome blog and help all of you out there

My parents- for giving me another awesome vacation

My grandparents and my boyfriend Dustin- for taking care of our dogs and our house.

And you guys for reading this!

Ttyl!

Editor's Note: Thank you Caitlin for sharing your vacation with us! It was great fun to read! Deb

Read my Entire Trip Blog!

April 27, 2008

Walt Disney World as a Teen!!! Part 8

Ah nothing like relaxing!

Instead of going to Epcot today we went yesterday and decided today should be a day to relax. I recommend everyone having a relaxing day on their vacation. The only downside was we didn't get to meet Deb and the All Ears gang.

We hung out at the pool at Port Orleans French Quarter which is very nice and right out in the sun perfect for tanning!

French Quarter Pool


After we were done resting up from grad night my family and I went to Disney Hollywood Studios.

Caitlin Mike and Sully


Now I want to clear something up for all of the people out there: SINGLE RIDER LINES ARE NOT FASTER THAN FAST PASS LINES!

I went on Rockin' Roller Coaster with three different fast passes all in a row and saw people getting into the single rider line which looked like you could just walk onto the ride, wrong. They only use the single rider people when they need you so you end up waiting A LOT longer than you would in the fast pass line.

One kid who had gotten into the single rider line when I was first waiting in the fast pass line ended up filling my seat on my second time around!

Also a tip about any ride that has a movie in a separate room before it: watch the movie once then if you ever go on it again just try to get as close to the doors that open as you can that way you can be the first one out and get to skip the long line of people who were in the movie with you!

We had dinner at the Brown Derby and the food there is fantastic! The Cobb Salad is delicious!

We went to see Fantasmic which is my favorite night show. I recommend sitting higher up and not near the front because you get a better view, plus you get out faster when it's over.

Tomorrow is my last day ttyl.

Read my Entire Trip Blog!

April 26, 2008

Walt Disney World as a Teen!!! Grad Night - Part 7

Wow Grad Night was a blast!

Caitlin at Grad Night


I don't recommend going on Space Mountain when you get there because everyone wants to go on it and it ends up being really crowded!

Big Thunder Mountain was the shortest wait I had all night so I recommend going on that plus the view of the park at night is beautiful!

Be sure to go and dance a little bit the music is great and it gets you pumped for graduation!

The Haunted Mansion had a long wait but it's worth it to see everything at night.

I ended up near the front of the concert stage and the fireworks show was amazing! Not as good as the ones at the Pirate and Princess party but close! These were set to the biggest songs of this year and everyone was singing along it was really cool.

I watched The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus; they were ok but had really good stage presence that got everyone else in the crowd pumped!

I loved seeing all of the Disney characters in their caps and gowns and my picture with Grad Mickey is going to be the picture on my graduation party invites!

Caitlin and Minnie


I totally recommend Grad Night so if you are a high school senior or going to be one talk your class into going!

Caitlin and Mickey


Now I need some sleep ttyl!

Read my Entire Trip Blog

April 20, 2008

Walt Disney World as a Teen!!! Part 4

Today was pretty fun! I went to Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando Resort and it was my first time!

My family and I usually just take the Disney transports back and forth to the parks so we don't have a way to get to Universal and we usually don't have enough time to anyway.

Caitlin at Universal


I loved the character breakfast. It has normal breakfast foods but their muffins are amazing! I got to meet Thing 1, Thing 2, Cat in the Hat and my personal favorite Spiderman! The characters were all great and a lot of fun to meet. The restaurant was deserted so the characters would go back to tables and say hi again.

Caitlin and Spiderman


The roller coasters are amazing and a must do for any teen!

My personal favorite was the Spiderman ride because you never knew what was going to happen next!

The Dr. Seuss part was mostly for little kids but you can meet the Grinch there which was pretty cool.

I would also recommend Poseidon's Fury, it may seem cheesy at the beginning but by the end your jaw is disconnected from your body and on the floor.

Caitlin


I didn't get a lot of time at the Studios but I saw Shrek 4D and got to meet Shrek, Fiona and Donkey all which was very cool.

For dinner we went to Fulton's Crab house at Downtown Disney, definitely somewhere you have to eat at if you get the chance! I had on my birthday pin and we had been talking to our waitress about me graduating high school this year.

Well when we were done with our meal she came out with a slice of chocolate cake and around the rim of the plate written in chocolate was "Happy Birthday" and "Congrats 2008". It was yummy and very sweet of our waitress to do.

We will see what tomorrow brings ttyl!

Read my Entire Trip Blog!

April 19, 2008

Walt Disney World as a Teen!!! Part 3

Ok so the Pirate and Princess party was amazing!

The highlight of my night had to be meeting Captain Jack Sparrow though! Wow just looking at him is worth the price of admission! I seriously almost fainted!

Caitlin and Jack Sparrow


The parade was spectacular! The pirates float was probably my favorite because it was full of excitement and got your blood pumping. The cannons on the boat actually worked too! Of course it didn't explode with a cannonball but the light and smoke coming out of it was cool!

The fireworks are probably the best set of fireworks I have ever seen at the Magic Kingdom, which is actually saying a lot since Wishes is so amazing. I would explain more but it's something you have to see for yourself and my words wouldn't do the show justice.

Caitlin Tip: You should be in front of the castle if you want to have the best seat in the house for the fireworks.

For teens I would recommend skipping the treasure hunt, all you get are some bead necklaces and since there are so many rides to go on and characters to see you won't regret missing it.

It was also cool walking around with my Happy Birthday pin on. I was told happy birthday countless time and the River Roulette band sang me happy birthday!

I definitely recommend the Pirate and Princess party to anyone who has a chance to go!

April 18, 2008

Walt Disney World as a Teen!!! Part 2

Nothing says "Disney" like the Magic Kingdom!

Today was so much fun! We got there early to see the rope drop and then went straight to Fantasyland, where we basically walked onto to every ride! We also got to see Ariel in her grotto which is something I have never been able to do because it's usually so busy.

The Haunted Mansions updates are so cool! You have to be a huge fan of the ride to know that it has been changed because only little bits and pieces have been added. Let's just say the woman of the house is not very friendly!

The only ride at Magic Kingdom I didn't really enjoy was the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. We ended up getting stuck on it at three different points and on the third one the ride got officially closed! I mean the free fast passes for any ride was an added bonus but getting stuck made me very claustrophobic!

Caitlin Timon and Rafiki


I really enjoyed the train ride which is something I don't remember doing. It's cool just sitting back and relaxing and seeing the Magic Kingdom from a different point of view.

The longest line today was Splash Mountain and we had fast passes. I love that ride and usually when it's as warm as it is today you can expect long lines.

I loved Casey's Corner though. The food was soooo good! I loved their French fries!

I can't wait until the Pirate and Princess Party tonight! Until then I will be lounging by the pool! Ttyl!

April 17, 2008

Walt Disney World as a Teen!!! Part 1

Hello from very warm (for us Michigan folk) Florida!

I"m Caitlin Burns blogging live from Walt Disney World!

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's my intro!

I really don't think that there is a better sound than that of your pilot saying," We are touching down in Orlando Florida!" It's then that you realize, wow I am awake and I am actually going to Disney World!

My parents and I rode the Disney Magical Express to Port Orleans Riverside. I highly recommend taking the Magical Express no matter how old you are because they show a video of Disney World on the way to your hotel and it gets you really pumped for how much fun you are going to be having, plus driving through the Walt Disney World welcome sign is very cool!

When we got to our hotel, check in was easy and our room was ready even though we showed up earlier than we were scheduled. Our room is awesome! It's in Oak Manor and having never stayed in the mansions at Port Orleans it's very cool! We even have a fridge and outside of the mansions you have to ask for one. We are also right near one of the relaxing pools. I am looking forward to getting some sun out there!

Oak Manor at Port Orleans Riverside

After we got settled in we left to have lunch at the Crystal Palace. My parents went to the restaurant to check in while I went to Philharmagic to get Fast Passes. The last time we went I bought a My Pal Mickey, I recommend it because all of his corny jokes and singing will have you rolling with laughter, and he has some very interesting facts about the park so listening to his take on Fantasyland was fun.

Caitlin


I always love character dining! You get to sit down enjoy your food and let the characters come to you! Plus you get to watch all the little kids interacting with the characters. I am an only child so it was nice watching the younger kids meet the characters

My parents had on their happy anniversary buttons and the Crystal Palace cast members noticed it right away. They had us wait a few minutes while they made a heart made out of confetti on the table. Later they also got a certificate signed by Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet and Tigger! I didn't really enjoy the food at the Crystal Palace this time around though, unless you like more exotic foods (the broccoli had lime sauce on it!) then I wouldn't recommend it but it's nice to meet the characters.

On our way to Philharmagic we ran into Cinderella's ugly stepsisters! They were so much fun! I love getting my pictures taken with the characters and I think villains are more fun for teens.

They started singing "Do the Bustle" which would go right over little kids heads but for us older people it's funny. The stepsisters improvise a lot (they started screaming when my family walked up because Mickey was hooked on my purse and they don't like mice), and as I said, the villains are more fun.

Then we went over to Philharmagic which is one of my absolute favorite attractions! It's funny, has your favorite Disney songs in it and is 3D! I don't think you could do any better than that lol.

When we walked out of Philharmagic the parade was just starting.

Caitlin tip: Get in line right behind the taped walkway and stand there until the parade starts, once it starts and the walkway is closed you can be right on the curb!

I always love the parade and no matter how many times you see it, it's still amazing!

I got a couple more pictures with characters and then we left to get our rental car. I recommend getting a rental car because I am not a fan of having to wait for buses if you leave one of the parks late at night. That and a rental car gives you a little more freedom if you feel like going out to explore.

My family and I decided to go to Downtown Disney's Market Place. I love shopping so this is one of the places I have to go to whenever we visit! Downtown Disney is really made for older people because they have a movie theater, Disney Quest and of course shopping. This is somewhere your family can split up for a while and do their own thing then meet back up later.

I tried a caramel apple at Goofy's Candy Co. "WOW" is the best word to describe how good it tasted lol.

I can't wait for tomorrow! Ttyl!

Read my Entire Trip Blog!

April 16, 2008

Walt Disney World as a Teen!!! Introduction

Hey my name is Caitlin Burns!

I am a senior at John Glenn high school in lovely Westland Michigan! If you like unpredictable weather and freezing temperatures during spring you should visit sometime lol.

I am 17 years old and I have been in love with everything Disney for as long as I can remember.
My first trip to Disney World was when I was two and I have been going back ever since. Every time I go there is always something new to look forward to and enjoy.

Now I have been told by some of my friends "Oh isn't Disney World for little kids?" I am here to prove this wrong. There are so many things at Disney that a lot of little kids can't enjoy like teenagers and adults can! I feel that every year I go back I see Disney from a different view. This year I am seeing it from the "I am about to graduate and step into the real world" point of view.

I am going with my parents for my graduation present and this will be my sixth trip to the "World". My family and I are all Disney addicts and each of us love something different at Disney. This time around we are staying at Port Orleans Riverside. We are also going to be going to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure which is something we have never done before!

Not only are we celebrating my graduation we are also celebrating my mom and dad's 20th wedding anniversary and my 18th birthday!

My itinerary for the week is:

April 15th- Magic Kingdom
April 16th- Magic Kingdom and the Pirate and Princess Party
April 17th- Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure
April 18th- Disney's Hollywood Studios
April 19th- Animal Kingdom and Disney's Grad Night
April 20th- Epcot (Where we will be seeing the All Ears gang!)
April 21st- Surfing lessons at Typhoon Lagoon and wherever we feel like going back to then going home

So stay tuned and I hope I can help you parents of teenagers plan an exciting Disney adventure for them.

Read my Entire Trip Blog!

April 14, 2008

A Trip to Tokyo Disneyland - Introduction

AllEars® reader JeanineY is part of the NFFC trip to Tokyo Disneyland. She will be filing reports along the way. Here is the Introduction:

Ohayo Mickey! - The Departure

Many people plan out trips years in advance, carefully checking for bargains and making upgrade requests in a timely fashion so that every value is maximized, and no time is wasted. I am not any of those people. On the other hand, have you ever seen people run shrieking down the airport as the gate is paging them and saying the door is closing? I'm sorry I was too busy to wave hello to you.

My advance planning for this trip consisted of making a hotel reservation about 2 years ago, when the NFFC announced they were going to have a group program at Tokyo Disneyland for its 25th anniversary celebration.

Tokyo Disneyland 25th Anniversary Logo


The hotels around the Tokyo Disneyland resort are, as a rule, fairly expensive, and the rate they had found at that time was pretty good and didn't require a credit card deposit to hold it. As the date approached, the airfare dipped down enough to justify it, so we (my Mother and I) were off.

Of course, conveniently enough, the week before we were to leave turned out to be the airline equivalent of Chernobyl, as 4 carriers went out of business, and the week we actually were to leave, American canceled hundreds of flights due to mechanical inspections.

You know a trip is auspicious when your main hope is to just get off the ground in the first place. Nevertheless, in defiance of probability we had no problems with our flights that an upgrade wouldn't have cured. On a 12+ hour flight in coach, the evolution of attitude goes like this:

Hour 1: Well this isn't bad! We left on time and everything! The grand adventure has begun!
Hour 2: There isn't much space in these seats, is there? Well at least the meal was...included.
Hour 6: If this guy in back of me shakes my chair one more time, I am turning my vent full blast towards him. Also, I can't feel my feet anymore.
Hour 10: We will grow old and die on this plane.

Unfortunately, despite scheduling a flight that was supposed to land 1.5 hrs before the last bus to the hotel left the airport, we were foiled by the plane landing 40 minutes late, and then by getting stuck in the disembarkation line for around 45 more minutes. After some initial panic, we got tickets for the next bus to the next closest stop and then took a cab the rest of the way.

The Tokyo Bay Hilton is probably the nicest Hilton I've stayed at, and definitely the cutest. The level of service is always astounding and the decor is wonderful. Not only do they have a small area for children to play in while adults register for their room, but they also have a lego area and a small mock up of the hotel counter, along with a rack of tiny hotel uniforms so kids can create their own photo ops.

Tokyo Bay Hilton

We are given a room on one of their refurbished rooms, the Happy Magic Rooms! It is so cute, it makes Sanrio stores blush. There is a Happy Magic mirror that plays music and shows a strange girl's picture when you push a button, and an enormous Happy Magic key that causes music and lights to issue out of a large Happy Magic lock.

Some in the NFFC party decide to monorail over to the Ikspiari to do some shopping. IKSPIARI is made up of nine themed zones containing a total of 120 shops and restaurants, as well as the 16-screen "AMC Ikspiari 16" cinema complex and Camp Nepos, a children's play and care center.

We are tired enough so we satisfied ourselves by buying our park tickets for the week and some shrimp pitas from the Starbucks in the lobby.

Tomorrow: DisneySeas.

Read my Trip Report to Tokyo Disneyland.

February 16, 2008

Dreams Do Come True - A Night in Cinderella's Castle - Part 3

All Ears reader Kim Howe had the "dream of a lifetime" in December, when the Walt Disney World Dream Team awarded her a night's stay in Cinderella's Castle.

Part 1 - Steppin Off Soarin'

Part 2 - Who Will Join Me?

This is Part 3 - Logistics, Epcot, Dream Squads, and MouseFest, oh my!

We left the conference room and the CMs in the office area congratulated us. Then Elton, Jackie and Kathryn walked with us out into the park and spotted another Dream Squad handing out dreams and encouraged us to go to them. We felt that would be greedy but they really encouraged us. We did and got FastPasses for Epcot only and for that day only. Kathryn waved to us and asked what we got.

Later I learned that at this point Elton when right to Paul to tell him and have him fill out his paperwork. He was still so excited.

At this point, I could barely think straight and, I think, Lisa felt the same way.

It was 11 a.m. and we'd missed the 10 a.m. MouseFest meet, Stroll in Card's Footsteps. We were disappointed but a stay in Cindy's castle was worth it. It seemed we had a lot of time before 1:30 p.m. when we needed to be at the Grand Floridian. I'd planned on attending the Pin Trading meet at 11 a.m. but now we had the FastPasses. We decided to use them and went to Test Track.

As we walked, I checked my phone messages and my mother had called so I called her back. She had also left a message which I didn't listen to until the next day. She was crying with joy for my good fortune. As a girl she watched the Mickey Mouse show and sang the Mousekateer songs so she "gets it" too. Bill's mom also left a message saying that this couldn't have happed to a bigger Disney fan.

I also called Marge and left a message for her to also bring my camera and phone chargers. I thought she didn't answer because she was busy packing. Later she said that she'd probably already left the house. At the time I called the first time, she was ironing and had laundry in the washer and drying. She pulled the plug on the iron and stopped both machines. She ran around like a crazy woman and threw all of her and Paul's clothes in my suitcases and was glad there was enough room because their suitcases were in their attic.

Between our walk to Test Track and the time we spent in the FastPass line, Lisa and I had an opportunity to think and determined that we really did not have has much time as we thought especially since we still wanted to go to the Mega Mouse Meet.

We were glad we pre-registered and had the extra magic hour to get in at noon instead of 1 p.m. During our ride on Test Track my mind was wandering, going a million miles an hour, forget 65MPH, trying to sort things out and put together the afternoon's plan. We agreed we could not use the FastPasses and we should just give them away since they were only good that day. On our way off Test Track there were two young girls, probably sisters, in front of us and we gave the FastPasses to them. They thanked us as did their mother who was waiting for them and saw the exchange. It made us feel really, really good to do that and it gave me goosebumps.


Next we had to finish thinking about our afternoon logistics.
Lisa had to get her overnight bag ready and get to the Grand Floridian by 1:30 p.m. Luckily, she was staying at the Boardwalk. We decided the most efficient use of our time was for her to go to her room after the Mega Mouse Meet then wait for me to pick her up with my car out front at the Boardwalk. While she was getting her bag together, I would continue on to Epcot through the International Gateway and out the front entrance, get in my car and drive around to pick her up.

The day was quite warm. We were making our way from Future World to World Showcase and remembered our ice cream voucher. We couldn't recall any carts in World Showcase so we turned around and headed to the cart outside of the Imagination Pavilion.

On our way we saw another Dream Squad handing out the blue and white with silver Mickey ear hats. Boy were we on a roll so we went over and each got one. Jackie was one of the Dream Squad members and we told her we gave away the FastPasses. She said that she and Kathryn agreed that we were so nice that that was probably what we would do with them.

Next we got two Mickey Premium bars. Yum! I was hungry and it was quite warm out. Marge had called and left me a message. She said that she had filled out and signed her paperwork and wanted to know what to do next. I assumed the CM who went over her release form would give her instructions but he didn't.

As I was walking, eating a melting chocolate ice cream pop with a white shirt on, I was also calling and talking to Marge. No time to waste. I told her we had to be at the Grand Floridian by 1:30 p.m. and to meet us there. Later she told me she then went to get a sandwich for lunch to share with Paul. She was finally able to reach Paul to tell him what was going on but learned that Elton had already found him at the front gate and told him.

After learning that Marge was given no further instructions after filling out her paperwork, I wondered if someone would tell Paula or not and was waiting to hear from her asking me the same as Marge did.

Lisa and I continued our fast pace out the International Gateway and decided that walking to the Dolphin and the Mega Mouse Meet would be quicker than the Friendships. We also figured that walking on the Boardwalk side might be quicker than the Yacht and Beach Club side since the sidewalk at the Dolphin snakes in and out close to the building and is not very direct. Besides, the Boardwalk side was currently in the shade. Have I mentioned is was considerably warn out (at least 85 degrees) and we were power walking.

We couldn't believe we waited for MouseFest and especially the Mega Mouse Meet for a year, and now we were going to miss the day's meets (especially Disney Music with Greg Ehrbar, Hidden Mickey's at Epcot with Steve Barrett, Turtle Talk, Magic in the Pixels") and blow through the Mega Mouse Meet. But there were no questions which we chose over the other--the castle won.

Once at the Dolphin, we were glad to find the ballroom was right off the lobby and not through the labyrinth of hallways like the last two years. We put on our wristbands with our raffle number as we walked. I don't know why we even put them on. In order to win any of the prizes you needed to be present and we wouldn't be present. We obviously just weren't thinking clearly. We were handed "swag bags" as we approached the registration area. Since we pre-registered and had our lanyards on, we didn't even need to stop and just got on the escalator down to the ballroom.

The tables near the entrance were busy with people. It was just after 12 p.m. and there were already lots of MouseFesters there. We both thought walking across the room and beginning at empty tables was a good strategy. We only had less than half an hour before we had to leave in order to give us an hour to get to the Grand Floridian. We quickly made our way, individually for the most part, around the room keeping our eye on one another as we went along so as not to lose each other. We picked up literature and swag and talked briefly with "personalities behind the tables" (to quote Mike Scopa). We'd have to visit the websites of the personalities at home-no time now.

At the Allears.net table we told everyone our "news" to a reply of shrieks and congratulations. It's so nice to be among fellow Disney fans who "get it" and appreciate the significance of it all. That's why we attend MouseFest. We continued to share our news and received congratulations as we continued around the room. Mark Goldhaber and Brian Bennett of MousePlanet gave us big hugs. By 12:40 p.m. we'd made a complete circle.

kim4.jpg

There were snacks available during this extra magic hour and that was a good thing. I picked up a water and granola bar which turned out to be my lunch for the day - besides the Mickey ice cream bar.

Soon it was time to leave.

To be continued....

February 14, 2008

Dreams Do Come True - A Night in Cinderella's Castle - Part 2

All Ears reader Kim Howe had the "dream of a lifetime" in December, when the Walt Disney World Dream Team awarded her a night's stay in Cinderella's Castle.


Part 1 - Stepping off of Soarin


This is Part 2 - Who Shall Join Me?

I had four more people to invite. As we were walking I called my friend Paula to invite her and her 16 year old son, Dylan. I lost my calm feeling as I spoke with her and started to cry.

A few weeks before MouseFest, I applied to Allears.net to attend the VIP IllumiNations Dessert Party and was selected. When I invited Paula to join me, her reply was that I was the luckiest person she knew when it came to winning things. My reply was that, no, the REALLY lucky people get to stay in Cinderella Castle. We had lunch together earlier in the week and we talked about that conversation again. I told that I was going to call her if I won, never really thinking it would.

Now I've actually won and I'm on the phone to tell her that we were also going to be Grand Marshals in the Share a Dream Come True Parade and have dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table so pack her bags and be at the Epcot Guest Relations by 12 noon.

I started by saying as best I could through tears, "Remember when you told me I was lucky and I said that the lucky people get to stay in the castle? Well, I'm going to stay in the castle tonight and I want you and Dylan to come!"

Then things got a little crazy with Elton asking me how old her son was and him telling me that minors, 16 and under, could not participate unless they were my children. I had to tell Paula that Dylan couldn't come and ask her if she still wanted to. She paused and said yes but needed to find a place for him to go for the night since her husband was out of town. I gave her the instructions to bring an overnight bag, her ID and to be at Epcot by 12 noon to fill out release forms and hung up.

Elton made a call and worked some "magic" and got approval for Dylan to be able to go. I called Paula back to tell her and we were both very happy about that. I asked if anybody had any tissues. Luckily, somebody did and handed me one.

Next I just had to call the couple who I was staying with, Marge and Paul. Marge answered right away like Paula did. I was SO lucky I was able to reach both of them right away because the clock was ticking.

Later when I was telling Marge how calm I felt, she told me that I did not sound calm to her when I called. She said I said her name very loudly into the phone, "Marge, Marge! I won a night in Cinderella Castle and want you and Paul to come too!" I did that because it was hard to hear her when she answered and I wanted to make sure - well, okay, so I wasn't so calm anymore.

I filled her in on what was going on and gave her the same instructions I gave Paula and also asked her to zip up my two suitcases and bring my toiletry bag too. I was so glad I kept all my clothes in my suitcases. I couldn't think what to tell her to bring so I just said to bring it all. Oh, and I told her to call Paul and let him know too.

I mentioned Elton's name and she asked me if Elton was there now. I told her he was and asked if she knew him. She did so I handed him my phone. I could not believe it. HE couldn't believe it. Marge's husband, Paul, had trained Elton on the Epcot front gate. Elton was very happy, as were Jackie and Kathryn, that I was inviting three cast members but when he realized he knew two of them, he was ecstatic. I told him Paul was working at the gate that very moment. Elton was concerned that Paul wouldn't be off work in time but I was sure he'd be done in time because I knew he went in around 5 a.m. this morning to open.

In fact this feeling was shared by all the CMs we ran into who learned that Marge, Paul and Paula were CMs. They were all very excited to hear fellow CMs were getting a chance to stay in the castle. The chances of CMs being able to do so are slim since they can't win themselves, someone they live with or who are related to them also cannot win. Pretty much, the only way they could go is if a friend won and invited them.

By now we were standing outside a door at the Imagination Pavilion and the five of us went inside to take care of the necessary paperwork. Until that was completed, I was still a "potential" winner. It was an office area that consisted of a large room with lots of cubicles along the two walls. There were only a couple people working but it was a Saturday. I said to Lisa, "Hey, we are backstage." We were taken into a conference room and Elton was in and out, I guess, getting the paperwork together and making phone calls.

I finally called my husband, Bill. I started to cry again. My poor tissue was soaked. Jackie or Kathryn brought us cups of water which I was grateful for. Bill was afraid that something bad had happened until I could explain what was happening. Bill was very happy for me and wished he was with me. He doesn't always go with me when I visit WDW. As he says, he "gets it" but also gets enough of it quicker than I do. So, my trips to MouseFest are solo that way I have the freedom to open and close parks everyday and not worry about his happiness. I told him to call everybody and he replied that nobody would "get it," meaning understand the significance of it all. He did say he would call my mother, though. He also called his mother.

Elton gave us big blue, white and gray buttons with the castle on them that said:

WHERE MY DREAM CAME TRUE

The Year of a Million Dreams

Walt Disney World

He told us to put them on as they signified that we'd won a tier 1 or 2 prize, which were the highest ones.

The castle stay was considered a tier 2 and winning a trip around the world visiting all the Disney parks or a DVC membership was the Tier 1 level.

He gave me four more for Paula, Dylan, Marge and Paul. Then he started going over 10 pages of forms with me giving me clear and thorough instructions to insure it would be done correctly and completely explaining what they were for and what areas I had to fill out so I wouldn't be disqualified.

The forms were to accept the prize, an affidavit/declaration of my eligibility/liability and a publicity release. I said let's get started filling them out! I also had to provide my driver's license for a background check. Elton, Kathryn and Jackie had to witness the forms.

Lisa had to just fill out a guest liability/publicity release and show her ID. Elton asked me to write down all my guests' names with their ages. He arranged with the concierge at the Grand Floridian for all of our cars to be parked there. He also told Lisa and I to be at the Grand Floridian by 1:30 p.m. - 2 p.m. at the latest.

Kathryn wanted to give us a FastPass in compensation for taking up so much our park time. We really weren't planning on riding anything and didn't accept her offer. When she suggested ice creams, however, we changed our minds! She filled out a little form on a pad and gave it to us to redeem for an ice cream from a cart. With all the formalities aside, we took pictures with Elton, Jackie and Kathryn.

To be continued....

February 12, 2008

Dreams Do Come True - A Night in Cinderella's Castle - Part 1

All Ears reader Kim Howe had the "dream of a lifetime" in December, when the Walt Disney World Dream Team awarded her a night's stay in Cinderella's Castle. She shares her magical story with All Ears.

kim4.jpg


I look back now to my every step and action of the morning that put me in the right place at the right time for the Year of a Million Dreams Dream Squad to find me.

There are many "what ifs" that came to mind:

If I didn't take a few extra minutes to look at Marge and Paul's Disney cruise pictures before I left their house that morning.

If my annual pass had worked in the turnstile and I hadn't had to wait for a CM to get me a new one.

If I hadn't taken the time to sit down and write the number of my new AP down so if I lost it, it could be reprinted.

If Lisa and I had waited to ride Soarin' with the MouseFest meet instead of going ahead so not to miss the Walk in Cards Footsteps meet at 10 a.m.

If the three FastPass guests had gone down the Concourse 2 like they were suppose to instead of going down Concourse 1.

If I tried to sit in a better seat instead of deciding to sit where I was suppose to while thinking to myself this is the worst seat on this ride. Little did I know it would turn out to be the BEST seat that morning!

If any of those things when differently, I wouldn't have this story to tell because I wouldn't have been the one on Soarin', concourse 2, hang glider C, row 3, in seat 1 at around 9:50 a.m. on Saturday, December 8 where Dream Squad members Elton, Jackie and Kathryn greeted me after the ride.

Soarin'

Thinking back I was aware there were people outside the exit door "as I gathered my belongings" but it didn't hit me until I walked through the door that they were Dream Squad members.

I thought that we were going to get FastPasses. I was calm. Lisa told me later, she wasn't. They asked me if I was familiar with the Year of a Million Dreams and told me I was a "potential" winner of a great prize. They asked me if I'd like come with them and Lisa too. They started asking me a battery of questions: Where are you from? Do you know any cast members? Who are they? Are you related? Do you live with them? There were probably others I don't recall now. We walked along the exit hallway as we talked. They kept telling me I could be the "potential" winner of a great prize every time stressing "potential."

When we came to an area where the standby line and exit line meet and there were lots of other guest around to witness what was going to happen next, we stopped. A portable DVD player was placed on the railing and it began to play a commercial for the Year of a Million Dreams and the prizes offered.

The sound didn't work very well at first but it was fixed. I playfully said that I'd take the cruise as a picture of one of the ships appeared on the screen. Next thing I know the words "Cinderella Castle Suite" are on the screen. Still, feeling calm I recall thinking that it would probably be good to act surprised and happy, so I did. The Dream Squad certainly made a big fuss over it! It hadn't really sunk in yet what had happened.

Kim Howe and the Dream Team


We walked together out the rest of the Soarin' exit and past the FastPass distribution area where the Dream Squad continued to make a big fuss which brought attention to us by other guests. I told them that they must LOVE their jobs making people happy all day and they said they did. As we walked out of the Land and to the Imagination Pavilion, they explained that I could invite five guests to join me. Lisa was a given since she was with me.

Let me back up a bit.....
Lisa and I met at MouseFest 2005 and again in 2006. The first year we communicated via e-mail a few times after MouseFest but in the last year we really didn't keep in touch at all. I didn't even know if she was attending MouseFest this year. I met Mark Goldhaber from MousePlanet at the airport and while we were boarding the plane to FL for MouseFest, he asked me if Lisa was attending. My answer was that I didn't know because we didn't keep in touch at all in the last year. He found that hard to believe since during MouseFest we attend many of the same meets together and even toured together between meets. As in the past two years, sure enough, I was at my first meet, MouseFest 101 and I looked to my right and there she was in her Pooh Santa hat.

Ok, back to the day of dreams!

I had four more people to invite!!

As we were walking I called my friend Paula to invite her and her 16 year old son, Dylan. I lost my calm feeling as I spoke with her and started to cry.

To Be Continued....

December 13, 2007

MouseFest 2007

by AllEars Guest Blogger: Michelle Scribner-MacLean

MouseFest 2007 is over and I am left with one question: How can it be possible to pack so much into a few days?

As I waited at the airport, ready to leave the cold New Hampshire weather, I ran into my AllEars® buddy, Mike Scopa, who, of course, was also off to MouseFest.

We spent the day visiting EPCOT and listening to storytellers from around the world. One of the things I really enjoyed about this was watching the way many of the performers really tried to make special connections with the children in the audience by asking them questions, involving them in the skits, and by displaying artifacts from their lands.

Illuminations at EPCOT is one of my "can't miss" experiences when I visit, but I'd never seen the "holiday tag" before. At the end of the regular Illuminations during the holiday season there about seven minutes of additional show featuring narration by Walter Cronkite and music by the Harlem Boys' Choir. The ending is a blend of spectacular fireworks, lasers, and holiday music".The only thing I can say is that I was speechless. So I had to see it again two nights later".

Being a MouseFest veteran, Mike was able to make suggestions about how to get the most of out my experience. The next day Mike and his co-presenter, Mark Goldhaber, later shared many of his suggestions with a crowd of nearly 300 at the highly-successful MouseFest 101.

During the meet, I also got to meet Masayo and her husband, Marumu, from Japan. We were surprised with Scopa Towers sweatshirts - Masayo for coming the furthest to MouseFest, and me for helping out a teeny bit with the development of MouseFest 101.

Masayo, Mike and Michelle


The view from my balcony at the Boardwalk on Saturday morning provided a terrific view of the site of the Mega Mouse Meet on Saturday - The Dolphin.

Walt Disney Worldl Dolphin


What a thrilling experience to be surrounded by so many webmasters, podcasters, writers, photographers, and fans who all love the mouse! In addition to meeting many of the other AllEars team members, I had the opportunity to meet dozens and dozens of AllEars readers from all over the country.

On Saturday night I attended the Fantasmic Dessert meet hosted by Matt Hotchberg of StudiosCentral.com. As we waited in the courtyard to go backstage to join the party, I got a nighttime glimpse of my favorite ride at MGM - but with a 70 minute wait, I opted to forgo a ride until my next trip. During this meet with had the opportunity to chat and visit with friends as we ate dessert and watched Fantasmic. Very fun!

mf07a.jpg


Although this isn't really MouseFest news, I just have to mention that I was lucky enough to get a chance to ride SpaceShip Earth during one of the infrequent soft-openings. I didn't get to hear the entire audio program because it broke down toward the end (which, of course, is probably the point of a soft-opening - to fix those things). However, with Dame Judi Dench narrating a new script, several difference scenes, and personalized touch-screens (which very much reminded me of the ending of the extinct Horizons), it is significantly different than the last version.

mf07c.jpg

So ...now I've participated in two MouseFests.

I met so many interesting people from all over the country and around the world. There were families with children, people traveling on their own, senior citizens, and grade school kids. I'm not sure I would call myself a MouseFest veteran (I made "rookie" mistakes like forgetting to eat"and sleep), but I do know that I'm thrilled to be part of the Disney committee and can't wait until next year.

************

Michelle Scribner-MacLean is a college professor by day and a Disney fanatic in every other bit of free time. She first visited WDW when she was a teenager and now is a DVC owner who visits Walt Disney World two or three times per year. Michelle lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two boys and loves roller coasters, the fantastic food at Disney, and always cries when she sees IllumiNations. She is also a Disney podcast addict and adores WDW Today.

Michelle is a guest columnist for the AllEars® newsletter. Here are links to other articles by MIchelle:

MouseFest Primer: http://allearsnet.com/btp/issue421.htm

Tune In to a Disney Podcast (or Podcasts 101): http://allearsnet.com/ae/issue417.htm

Vero Beach with Kids: http://allearsnet.com/ae/issue403.htm

Navigating WDW with a Picky Eater: http://allearsnet.com/ae/issue395.htm

Science in the Parks: http://allearsnet.com/ae/issue390.htm


November 29, 2007

Super Soap Weekend at the Disney MGM Studios Day 2

Super Soap Weekend Day #2:

For the second day of Super Soap Weekend, I like to do things a bit different. As this was my third time to SSW, I am starting to understand the schedule and have developed my own little routine.

DRESSING FOR SUPER SOAP
Example: The first day of the weekend, we wear our most recent shirts from the event (so like, last year, we wore our shirts from 1998, the last time I had gone, and this year, we wore last year's shirts).

On the second day, because it is press day, I like to make up a shirt, to show the writers and execs just how I am currently feeling about the show. Last year, I made up blue shirts with black writing that said, on the front "Dr. Hayward's (a character on our show at the time) CURE for All My Children: Bring Back Vincent Irizarry (that was the actor who played him) and on the back it said "Fans for Quality Soap Writing, Supporting the Actors since 1970". It got a lot of buzz.

So, this year, I made a new shirt: it was pink and on the front, it said: "AMC Fan Jeopardy! Answer: Suspense, Veterans, Quality writing, classic characters, Love" and on the back it said, "AMC Fan Jeopardy! Question: Name five things currently missing on All My Children".

AMC Fan Jeopardy T Shirt


And again, it got some good feedback and everyone liked that I was speaking out about how dismal our beloved soap has become (I should tell you all, my mom has watched AMC since it began, January 5, 1970 and I have been following it for the past 16 years. I'm 24, so you can see it has been a huge part of my life!).

PARK ENTRANCE CHANGES

Anyway, back to the weekend. So, we wore our shirts that I made and headed out at about the same time as we did on Saturday. This time, however, we were in for a rude surprise. As I mentioned in the previous post, Disney is always looking for ways to solve the problem of the FASTPASSs and how to regulate the line.

While my mom and I thought they had done a good job on Saturday, it turned out that they had cut the line shortly after we got there and held those people back until 8am. This meant that the general public had the same advantage of getting FASTPASSs as those who woke up for them early. I guess some of them missed out on the stars they wanted (once you go through the line once, the cast members really don't have control if you go through again, so first timers to the line saw us repeaters as cheats, trying to cut in front of them).

Well, on Sunday, we became the unfortunate ones, as they cut the line probably minutes before we arrived. They told us we had to stand in the regular lines that contained both soap fans and regular visitors to the park. Well, I was not happy, and so I asked Disney cast member Jeff why he was doing this. He said this was a good solution, because it kept the main line shorter and led to a more positive response overall. Well, I knew it would end bad, and sure enough, when they opened up a few more turnstiles for us to stand behind, it became a free-for-all, with everone pushing and shoving and running to get close to the front (Jeff claimed this sort of thing didn't happen-poor guy, how'd he know we're all crazy soap fans).

Despite the cast members trying to brighten the mood by singing happy birthday to two people, we were all a bit ticked off as we watched the main lines go into the park and head towards the kiosks. Finally, at maybe 7:30, they began to let us in, but there was still some discontent as no one wanted to let me and my mom (in her wheelchair) through the turnstiles.

We got onto Hollywood Boulevard where the cast members used a rope to walk us down the street. Overall, people were staying in their respective lines. But, once we got to the Sorcerer's Hat stage, everyone started to walk in front of use. So, I found an area of open space, and wheeled my mom past some people until I was behind the people who we had originally been behind. But, thankfully for me, my mom and everyone in the park, everything worked out in the end (doesn't it always?)

FASTPASS ROULETTE DAY 2

We got over to Lights, Motors, Action again and it wasn't even 8am, so they hadn't started letting people through yet. We were able to join the regular line and I immediately began to relax.

Note to everyone: if you go in the future, take light of the situation and really take in everything that is done and said...if I had looked at my watch and seen that we were going in before 8, I probably would have been less upset. Also, I encourage you to look at all the cast members as your friends and not as your enemies...I can't imagine they really like this weekend, but they can and will be helpful and friendly if you are equally calm and courteous.

When we got up to the front of the line, all of the soap stars were still available with regular passes...Aiden Turner, who plays Aidan Devane was the only one who went on standby, but it was right when we were up there and so we got real passes for Bobbie Eakes and standbys 9 and 10 for Aiden.

We didn't get back in line or try for anyone else, because our other goal that day was to see the motorcades for AMC (all 3 of them) so we decided to grab a quick breakfast (we got muffins from the hotel both days, so we just got juice and milk at the commissary) and find a spot for the motorcade.

We also didn't get any other stars because Cameron was in fact gone already (we knew this because his name was not up by the kiosks) and we had met the other stars last year (not Melissa Egan, but we're not huge fans of her character on the show, so we just figured we'd go to her last session, wait by the railing and see if she would be able to give us a quick photo and autograph in my book.)

AMC STARS MOTORCADE

The first motorcade was great! We had a great spot and each star turned around for us-including Alicia who was there on Sunday and really looked great (either she was feeling better, or her makeup team is amazing because her color looked good, and normally you don't look so hot after being in the hospital). Thorsten Kaye, who plays her husband Zach, Bobbie Eakes and David Canary were also in the motorcade and each turned toward me for some wonderful photos (well, David not so much, but we got plenty others of him!).

Remember, during the motorcades and at any events these stars attend, please please learn their actual names. It will mean so much more to them that you took the time to learn their real name because they only play their character on tv-they are not actually their character (even Aiden! hehe). By using their real name, they will be more likely to turn toward you for a photo or be more likely to smile at you or even better, remember you in years to come (some of them really do remember and that is extra special!)

SOUPNET'S I WANT TO BE A SOAP STAR LIVE SHOW

After the motorcade, we wanted to do Soap Star Live again, not only to watch Michael E. Knight and Aiden, but to see who would replace Cam (Cam hosts the Soap Star show). Turns out, they got former Bachelor Bob Guiney to take over (Bob hosts all the talk shows throughout the weekend, while John Paul Lavosier of OLTL hosts the game show called Triple Play).

This made the show even funnier than usual because Bob is not an actor and boy it showed! He had to play Aiden, while each woman was Greenlee (this worked out real well since in real life Bob is married to former Greenlee Rebecca Budig!). Things got slightly hot and heavy when Michael was the surprise twist and it was revealed that "Greenlee" and "Tad" had an affair behind poor "Aiden's" back! The lucky lady got to smooch MEK and then the winner of that show got to make out with both MEK and Aiden!! (MEK didn't want Bob to feel left out, so he made out with him for a little while too, which made us all just crack up laughing!!) It was a great show and made me practically forget the events of the morning.

AIDEN TURNER AUTOGRAPH SESSION

After seeing Aiden onstage, it was time to finally meet him in person. We were hopeful that we'd be able to because we have been trying to meet him for 4 years (we did SSW in California back in 2003 and got cut off from meeting him with just 15 people in front of us!). So, we got in line, got all the standbys organized and waited, watching the regulars go up to meet him.

Luckily, there weren't a lot of people in his regular line (it was like 10 people in front of us constantly for about a half hour, so maybe only one or two kept trickling in at a time). There was never anyone in the holding pen, so we were all very excited that we would finally get to meet the British heart throb. And we did!! He gave us both hugs (small ones, as he is married) and signed headshots, took photos and signed my book (true, Jacob, Aiden and Bobbie aren't part of the actual book-it only goes up to 1994) but I found creative places for them to sign). He is quite soft spoken and that accent...well, you get my point :)

Robyn and Aiden

AMC MOTORCADES

After seeing Aiden, we grabbed some snacks and found spots again on Hollywood Blvd for the last two AMC motorcades, which took place back to back.

First up, the grande dame of daytime, Susan Lucci! Escorted by Mickey Mouse himself.

Susan Lucci and Mickey Mouse


Susan made her way toward the Sorcerer's Hat stage, where she was interviewed by Sherri Sheperd of the View. Unfortunately, we were unable to hear most of her answers, because we kept our spots on the street for the next motorcade. Which turned out to be a good thing, because Susan came back in her car after her interview was done and we got a great picture of her!

Next came Jacob Young, Aiden and Melissa Claire Egan (Cam was part of this motorcade on Saturday and MEK was so busy that he wasn't scheduled for motorcades). We got good pictures of each of them and then decided to watch their interview on stage, which was also fun because I got a great picture of the 3 of them. We also were in a great spot as they headed back down Hollywood Blvd in their cars.

Jacob Young, Aiden and Melissa Claire Egan

BOBBIE EAKES AUTOGRAPH SESSION

We then headed to see Bobbie Eakes, but not before we took in the Muppet 3-D show. I love this show and knew we could do it without missing Bobbie, and it was just as cute as I remember it 7 years ago!! I know people have said they need to update the movie, but I disagree-what's wrong with a little nostalgia? (Plus the jokes are still just as funny!)

Now, we had heard Bobbie was the best about signing for everyone and boy they weren't kidding!! When we got to her booth, for a 3:15 signing, she had already arrived and was signing for people at the railings.

The cast members were a bit thrown by this but we all got ourselves organized and they immediately were ushering us into the line (our time was for 3:25, and she took all the 3:15s and 3:20s right away!). And she didn't rush us along or anything, but took the time to wish my mom a happy birthday (my mom is a Bobbie too!) and she signed her headshots and my book (actually, she had to sign a headshot for me twice, because she spelled my name wrong, but was gracious enough to sign a new one for me-what a doll!). We also had her sign her CD for my uncle, who likes her country music. It was so great to meet her that all the issues of the morning were washed away!

Robyn's Mom and Bobbie Eakes


MELISSA CLAIRE EGAN AUTOGRAPH SESSION

Our last stop before dinner was Melissa Claire Egan. We got a great spot at the railing and were able to watch her pose with all her fans. She even got to some of her standbys. However, she didn't sign our book, because again, those cast members all of a sudden quit the signings and started directing her to the exit, without any chance for her to sign much of anything. It was weird; because she had time, but I think it was because she was performing in the street jam and had to go rehearse. Still, it was nice to see her and we felt that overall, it was a successful weekend.

We finished the night with a lovely dinner at the Brown Derby, where my mom got a special birthday dessert and she was sung Happy Birthday to (her birthday, if you're all wondering was Monday the 12th).

STREET JAM

We then did things a bit differently for the street jam. Since they do pretty much the same show each night, we weren't too concerned if we could see it or not. It was still very crowded by the stage, so we found seats by Echo Lake, by the picnic tables. This turned out to be a blessing. We could actually see the stage better than on Saturday and I was able to sit down next to my mom (on Saturday I stood the whole time and was so tired by the end it was amazing I could walk!).

The people around us were much friendlier too (Saturday we kept trying to get people to not block my mom, who had a regular wheelchair with nothing to make her taller, but I think she missed a lot of it because people wouldn't move). The fireworks made for a great ending to the weekend and a great launch into my mom's birthday.

GENERAL SUPER SOAP TIPS

Don't get me wrong, this is a really fun event. You just need a thick skin, some planning and some understanding. If you must meet the stars and are not satisfied with seeing them from afar, you have to get up early.

Disney transportation does not run until 7am, so walk, take a cab, or rent a car and drive there. People this year spent the night camped out in front of the turnstiles. I don't recommend this and I doubt Disney will do it again, but any time from 2-6:30am should be good.

Bring a book, put on a sweater, and wear a happy face. Everyone is in the same boat all weekend long and you will get farther with friends than enemies.

Also, I stress the importance of planning ahead.

Get the schedule of who will be there and what they are doing the week before (it is available...Soaps in Depth has the full schedule and it goes on sale that Tuesday).

Have a few different options because you have to remember that the FASTPASS system is just like how it is for the rides. If you are counting on a star's second session, you may be there early enough for their first and the cast members will only honor your pass at the time it lists.

Standbys are the exception: you can use them at either autograph time for the star listed, but only on the day you get it.

Once all the FASTPASSs are gone, relax and have fun! If you are waiting for a motorcade, don't hog a whole bench, let people in-everyone wants the same thing-a chance to see their stars. Bond over your love of the show-make friends-you will see these people throughout the weekend and again. It's better to be polite and friendly than rude. This can get you better seats for a motorcade, a better position during the street jam and just makes for a better weekend overall.

Bottom line, Super Soap Weekend is a huge event and it can be tiring and frustrating, but only if you let it get that way. If you go in with a relaxed attitude and are just happy to be there, it can be a lot of fun and give you plenty of memorable experiences to share with others for years to come.

November 27, 2007

Super Soap Weekend at the Disney MGM Studios Day 1

Robyn Kaplan (accompanied by her mom) attended the 2007 Super Soap Weekend (SSW) at Disney's MGM Studios. This was Robyn's third Super Soap weekend. Her report is full of tips and information so you can enjoy a weekend with the stars!

Super Soap Weekend Day 1

We awoke at 5:30 am, put on last year's Super Soap shirts and headed down to make the trek (yes we walked) from the Dolphin over to the Studios. I like doing it this way, because the time you get to the park is in your control, not a cab, boat or bus, plus it is actually rather invigorating. And we made it to the park by about 6:30.

Once there, we saw that the line wasn't too bad. They started checking bags and moving the line forward at maybe just a bit after 7, so we got excited that we would see all the stars we wanted to see that day.

SUPER SOAP FASTPASS ROULETTE

Now, just a tip for anyone who wants to go to SSW in the future: Plan ahead!! You will be rewarded! The earlier you can make it to the park the better. Also keep your eyes and ears open all morning for any announcements, as the list of stars attending can change instantly (believe me, we found this out fast!).

Also, it is better to be nice to the cast members and state any concerns without shouting - they will try their best to be helpful. Keep in mind that some Disney cast members have been taken away from their actual responsibilities and many are performing tasks for the first time.
In fact its almost like you're at two different parks-the soap areas and the regular park.

We had a very nice time waiting in line with a friendly guy who told us stories from his past soap weekends (he's been almost every year the event has occurred) and a mother and daughter who were there for the first time.

As with last year and again they year, once we past the turnstiles, the cast members brought us into the park through the cast entrance for Fantasmic and Beauty & the Beast. But, since the lines were so short, they didn't have to weave the line around, but instead took us right onto Sunset Boulevard. They kept us in our lines and walked us all the way towards our respective kiosks.

Now, I was unsure how they would get the All My Children line (our line) to the FASTPASS kiosks, because last year, we went through Mickey Ave, which was closed this year due to Toy Story Mania. But, they found a way that worked, by walking us past the ABC Soap Commissary and down towards the Streets of America. We got to Lights, Motors, Action (that was where our kiosks were located) and at 8am on the dot, they started letting us through.

Bottom line: there is no easy solution to the FASTPASS and getting the stars you want.

20,000 people come to the park each day for the Super Soap weekend and there are only 8,000 passes available. Everyone has to remember the event is designed for all to see some, not some to see all. As you will read in the blog for Day 2 of the weekend, it is a tough pill for everyone to swallow, but it should not ruin the weekend or take away from the fun, because there are plenty of other ways to see the stars. If you are cool with not getting the chance to physically touch each and every star, you will have a much better time).

The soap stars we really wanted to meet were David Canary and Michael E. Knight, who play Adam Chandler and Tad Martin respectively. This is because these two are some of the greats of the show, both have been on for more than 20 years, and both are masters of their craft. Plus, both are sweethearts and just adore their fans.

When it was our turn, we walked up to David Canary's kiosk, where we were instantly handed standbys (it was maybe 8:15am, so yes, he was that popular!). We thanked the cast member for our passes and got in Michael E. Knight's line, walking away with 2 real passes for his second autograph session . He did 3 that day. Doing three autograph sessions is a new thing Disney has started doing-last year. They did 3 for Michael Easton in 2006 and it seemed to work. They must have seen how popular MEK was this year, so that is why they did 3 for him

We then got back in line to try for one more star. Here's where things got interesting:

First, we heard that Alicia Minshew, who plays Kendall Hart Slater, was sick and probably would not be attending the first day. Unfortunately, not everyone heard this announcement and several people got a FASTPASS for her, only to learn later that she would in fact be gone all day. Luckily for those people, the cast members said Alicia would honor any FASTPASS from Saturday on Sunday and not to feel down.

The other rumor we began hearing was that Cameron Mathison, who plays Ryan Lavery, but who is also on Dancing with the Stars (or was that weekend) was only going to be in the park on Saturday, as he had to take the red eye back to Hollywood for the show on Sunday. Well, there was never a cast member confirmation of this, but it did in fact turn out to be true, and since Cameron only did one autograph session, it made him even more popular.

My mom really wanted to meet him again and tell him she was hoping he'd win DWTS (we met him last year and he is super nice!), but announcements as to whether he was sold out were confusing, so we ended up getting standby passes for Jacob Young, who plays JR Chandler (and who has been rumored to be leaving the show for months now).

Fortunately, I knew we could go over to Cam's session once we finished with Jacob, so we were happy that we got everyone we wanted the first day. I knew we weren't going to get to meet Cam at his session, just watch him sign for others, since you need some type of FASTpass to meet the stars. I just figured we could stand by the railings, something lots of fans do throughout the day.

We left the kiosk area and got some breakfast at the ABC Commissary: cinnamon rolls because they no longer serve pancakes (boo!). After breakfast, we decided to check out Soapnet's I want to be a Soap Star Live. Previously it had been in the ABC Theatre and this year it moved to the theater over by Rock n Roller Coaster.

SOAPNET'S I WANT TO BE A SOAP STAR LIVE

Cam was hosting and also David Canary and Jacob Young were the two stars doing the show. And it was fun as always! 3 women were chosen (not us, but eh, it's all good) and the first one got to do a scene with Cam (lucky!). Then, the second lady did the same scene with Cam, but they brought David out as a surprise twist! Finally, the third lady, who ended up winning, did a monologue with Cam and David, but then did her final scene with Jacob! We (hopefully) got some great pictures of all 3 of them and as we headed out, we were handed large goody bags of Colgate Total products! (a full bottle of Softsoap, a full tube of toothpaste, a small bottle of body wash and a toothbrush!)

David Canary


Since we still had some time before our first autograph session, I decided to finally check out Rock n Roller Coaster. I did the single rider line and it was awesome! The loops were great and the launch was just incredible!! Didn't have time to look at the picture (had to get back to mom) but the people I was in line with made the whole experience really fun!

DAVID CANARY AUTOGRAPH SESSION

Then we headed over to David Canary's autograph session. We were standbys 10 and 11, and, like last year, I decided to nicely get all of us standbys organized by number so that, when called, we would all be ready and it would go that much faster. Cast Members do not organize the standbys or even the regular pass holders, they just call you when it's your time or your number.

Now, David did his session right. He stayed seated, smiling for the fans by the railings, but focusing on the fans in the line that had gotten a FASTPASS (which is how it should be). The line went fairly fast, but because the stars are really only given one hour to sign, we began to get slightly nervous that he wouldn't have time to take any of the standbys (standby passes don't guarantee an autograph).

And, unlike last year, when the cast members left it up to the stars to decide if they could continue signing or not, this year, they controlled the sessions a lot more and cut off the sessions much sooner than last year. In their defense, a lot of the stars did run late, but there were some sessions that could have run longer than the cast members allowed them to, but more on that later.

Robyn, her mom and David Canary


Luckily, we had an ally on our side: David's lovely wife Maureen was there watching the proceedings and she ended up letting David stay and sign about 25 standbys! We thanked Maureen, and went to up to David, where he not only signed his headshot, but my copy of the AMC 25th Anniversary scrapbook! He was so nice and wished my mom a happy birthday and gave both of us hugs (well, okay, we gave him hugs, but still!). We left his booth feeling so happy and we knew the happiness would continue because we had real passes for Michael E. Knight, and he was next.

MICHAEL E. KNIGHT AUTOGRAPH SESSION

Now, we knew things would be good with Michael, because each star is required to take all the actual FASTPASS holders, so we were guaranteed time with our MEK (that's his initials). Last year, we weren't as lucky-we had standbys and only got quick photos with him because the cast members tried to cut the line, but we wouldn't let them.

MEK is such a swell guy that he signs for everyone - and I do mean everyone, including those on the railings. So this time, we knew we'd get face time with our guy. And again, such a sweetheart, giving my mom a hug and a kiss and giving me a hug as well and he too signed my book. Again, this was a great autograph session, which gave us positive vibes as we headed towards our last session with Jacob Young.

JACOB YOUNG AUTOGRAPH SESSION

Sadly, this session did not go so well. Again, we were standbys (11 and 12) and got everyone organized by number. But this session was a bit more chaotic, with people who just wanted photos standing in the standby area and everyone calling out for Jacob every second he wasn't with a FASTPASS fan.

However, all of us standbys had hope that he would get to us, because he didn't have any appointments until 5:30 and there wasn't anyone at the booth after him. So, at 4pm (his session started at 3:15) we still had hope that he would take all of us. Sadly, that didn't happen quite as planned.

The cast members let the first standby person go, but then they told the rest of us to line up. Jacob greeted all those by the railing and then they ushered him down to the end of the standby line. As we were no longer in numerical order, he just went down the row, signing and quickly snapping photos. I took one of him and my mom, and he did sign my book, but I didn't get a photo with him. At least I got to tell him how much we love him on AMC and we wished him all the best of luck in the future (since, like I said earlier, there is a good chance he is leaving the show).

CAMERON MATHISON AUTOGRAPH SESSION


We then headed over to catch the end of Cameron's session. Well, this one was even more chaotic than Jacob's. We weren't the only ones who wanted to get a quick pic or an autograph of our dancing heartthrob, so we asked a cast member (a Disney security guard) where we could stand to see Cam and try to meet him as he exited the session. We were told to stand along the back railing and that he would be brought right past us. And for the whole time that he finished signing, we had a good shot of him.

However, when it was time for him to go, a different security guard told us we had to move. We lost our plum spot, and had to hope that the handlers would still bring him by us. And they did, sort of. He signed my book, but couldn't take any photos with either of us, as the cast members continued to try and move him to the exit. And us fans don't take no for an answer as they continued to try and get him to pose for photos. I am not that desperate, so we decided to pass". We headed over to the 50s Prime Time Cafe.

PRIME TIME DINNER

This was not our best experience with Prime Time. Instead of a warm friendly "mom", we had Aunt Carole, who, while she could be nice, was also a stickler for cleaning your plate and elbows off the table. And the whole place was so crowded; we feared it would be impossible to watch the grand motorcade and the street jam following dinner. The only good thing was we told Aunt Carole we were in a hurry, so she got us our dessert fast and we were able to head out a bit after 6.

GRAND MOTORCADE AND STREETJAM

Unfortunately, we had lousy seats for the Grand Motorcade and Street Jam. The handicap section was closed when we got there. So, we were along the right side of the stage (the actor's right) and were lucky if we saw the screen, let alone the stage. But, we made do and were somewhat able to see each star on the motorcade and then watch them take their bows.

Luckily, the musical performances were good and even luckier for the AMC fans like us, only 4 of our stars were featured in the street jam. Bobbie Eakes, who plays Krystal Carey is also a singer and she sang two numbers (and she was introduced by David Canary). While not her own songs, they were still real pretty and nice to listen to.

Then, a bit later, girls from AMC and One Life to Live, including Bobbie Eakes and Melissa Claire Egan, who plays Annie Lavery, all came out and did the Cell Block Tango, a number my mom and I first saw in New York at the Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS event. It was just as good this time, with Bobbie (as Krystal) singing about her hatred of Adam and Melissa (as Annie) singing about her hatred of her brother Ritchie. Again, a fun number!

Finally, the moment everyone was waiting for: Cameron and Edyta came out and performed their 27-winning jive they had performed the previous week on DWTS. It was wonderful to see Cam and Edyta dance and gave all of us even more reason to vote for him (though I knew he would get voted off this week, what with all his fans still down in Florida and not home by their phones and computers...but eh. His Viennese waltz this week was beautiful so it was good we got to see him do that).

Cameron and Edyta


The night ended with a performance of "We're All in This Together" from the cast of High School Musical as a tribute to us soap fans, complete with fireworks. We left the park tired, but happy and crazy enough to get up and do it all again the next day!


Stay Tune for Part 2

September 11, 2007

Traveling with Little Ones - Day 8 - The Finale

Well, today was our last day at Walt Disney World. We decided to check out early and get our rental car before heading over to the Contemporary for a character breakfast at Chef Mickey's.

First I feel the need to mention how wonderful the car rental service (National) is at the WDW Dolphin where we stayed. Steve went down to the desk and was given the car seats we needed and then the valet brought the car around for us. They loaded our luggage (Steve installed the car seats) and off we went. So smooth.

We had a great stay at the Dolphin in their Heavenly Beds and found their staff very friendly and accommodating. The location was just perfect for us. Only minor downside was that the loading dock for the boats to Epcot or the Studios was under repair so we had to walk to the Yacht & Beach Club dock to get to the Studios but it was a nice walk and we really didn't mind.

Walking to and from Epcot from the International Gateway was awesome. While the droves of people were exiting through the front entrance after Illuminations, we were able to take a leisurely walk back. When we passed the Beach Club one night we saw a screen and beach chairs set up where you could catch a viewing of The Incredibles. Looked like a nice relaxing evening for those there. We also liked being a short walk away from the Boardwalk so we were able to catch the fireworks several nights without being too far away from the room.

Also one night we went over to the Garden Grove at the Swan for a character dinner buffet. Pluto and Goofy were there. The food was okay but the real draw was that it felt like we had the whole place almost to ourselves. The two characters spent a lot of time with the kids so it made for an enjoyable evening for everyone.

Now back to Chef Mickey's. Characters there were Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy and Donald. They were all very sweet and funny with the kids and all of them found something they liked to eat. Before you are seated they take a photo of the group for purchase during the meal. Personally I think there was a really good variety of breakfast foods there. Much more than one person could sample in a seating especially if you include the desert section.

Pluto at Chef Mickey's Character Breakfast


After breakfast we went upstairs to take a round trip ride on the Monorail. We've been seeing it our entire trip and the kids were all excited that we were finally going to ride today. We asked to sit up front but we weren't able to because there was one family standing in line in front of us and they had already asked. C'est la vie!

Riding the Monorail


After riding the Monorail we spent a little time in the shops at the Contemporary. Before we left for our trip we got our boys Disney Dollars. They knew what they had in Disney Dollars was for anything they wanted to buy, but once they were gone, that was it. This worked well and allowed us to stay out of the shops for most of the trip. The most time I spent in shops was when wheeling around a sleeping toddler in his stroller to keep him cool.

I loaded up their Little Einstein Rocket backpacks with snacks and little surprises and we were off to the airport. The flight went really well. All the families on the same flight were really friendly. Especially the family in front of us who had to listen to my rendition of the Little Einstein theme song over and over to take my DS2's mind off his ears hurting on the plane's descent. All the kids did great on the flight home although I know all of us adults are exhausted.

Waiting at the Airport


We are home now and I believe that this trip was a total SUCCESS! Our boys had such a fun time and we really had a good time together as a family and with our friends. If anything, I think I underestimated how much fun my DS2 would have. He surprised me how he was really into everything we did. They both really enjoyed every experience from the airplane ride there, to the elevators at the hotel, to taking the buses and boats, to the theme parks themselves. I would do it with them again in a heartbeat.

To Dawn & Joe, and Diane & Ed, and the kids, thanks for being there! You enhanced this experience for us tenfold. Let me know when to start planning the next trip - but first I have a ton of laundry to do!

Thanks for letting me share our experiences. It's been a blast! -- Laura Fox

Deb's Note: Thank you all for sharing your vacation with us!

September 10, 2007

Traveling with Little Ones - Day 7

Today we had an additional day at Magic Kingdom planned. Each morning we have a target time where we all try to meet up in the lobby of our hotel to go to the parks together. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. At least it gives everyone something to shoot for. Today our family went solo with plans to meet up with the rest of our group at lunch if not before.

We had hopes to ride a few of the favorites from earlier in the week and then also try to take in a few of the attractions we missed. Very early in the day we were in the short line to ride The Magic Carpets of Aladin and we were selected by the Dream Squad once again for Dream Fastpasses. Wait times at the park were not prohibitive but we appreciated not having to wait 20 min for the Peter Pan or Winnie the Pooh ride. Thanks Dream Squad!

Dream FastPass Magic Kingdom


We met up in the afternoon for a really nice lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern. This time we made reservations ahead of time so we were sure to sit down to a relaxing meal together. Of course relaxing is relative when you have 5 children under the age of 5. After lunch we split again: Dawn and her family off to find the characters in Mickey's Toontown, Diane and her family off to the Baby Care Center, and us off to the Tomorowland Speedway for a quick drive on our way to Stitch's Great Escape.

We all found each other again for a little while at Pooh's Playful Spot where all of our little ones (except the baby) got totally wet. This is a great spot to let your little one run around and play play play. Our little guys loved it. It's an enclosed area so no one can go too far and although it's a good size, it's not too big where you feel like you will lose someone. Then there's the water factor. Our kids loved playing in the water that shoots up from the ground. It was so much fun, we let them enjoy themselves with it but afterwards they were a sopping mess. So be forewarned. If you think your child would enjoy this type of thing - BRING A CHANGE OF CLOTHES AND WATERSHOES. Afterwards, I ducked into a gift shop to buy T-shirts and removed DS2 socks and sneakers which are still drying out.

Pooh's Playful Spot Magic Kingdom


Dawn's DD4 got her face painted today like a princess. We saw lots of kids in the parks who had this done (as princesses or animals) and it looked like the kids had a lot of fun with it. Our princess certainly did.

A word on crocs - Crocs are sold everywhere at WDW along with the Disney Jibbits and lots of people were wearing them. Although we had them with us too, our kids wore socks and sneakers to the parks. DS4 had them on at the hotel one evening and was running around a lot and got a small blister on one of his feet. After that he only wore them to dinner or to the pool. Dawn's DD4 wore them a lot and didn't have a problem so I guess it depends on the person. Just don't forget to pack the Neosporin and Band Aids just in case.

Disney Crocs


Next up - Breakfast with Mickey and our flight home.

September 8, 2007

Traveling with Little Ones to WDW - Day 6

We spent the day today at Disney's Animal Kingdom. This is my favorite of the four theme parks at WDW. I love that it is only open until 5pm so you are not tempted to overdue your stay at the park. Some of my favorite shows are here and some great rides too. This was a great park to appease all in our group. When you are traveling with little ones, their different personalities really show through by what they prefer to do. Thankfully Disney offers something that appeals to all in our group.

We were fortunate that all five of the children in our group enjoyed seeing the characters. None of them were freaked out by them. My DS2 loved seeing them. He went right up to Stitch and gave him a kiss on the nose (Can you hear the "Awww" that came from the queue line?) Dawn's DD4 loved searching for characters and getting their autographs. She also enjoyed seeing the shows (especially the new Nemo show) but didn't want anything to do with the rides.

On the flip side my DS4 only wanted to ride the rides. He wanted to go on anything that was "superfast". He did everything he was tall enough for from Kilamanjaro Safari to Dinosaur to Kali River Rapids. DS2 just made the height requirement for Kali River Rapids (38 inches) and was given a wrist band that allowed him to ride in a special seat on the boat that had an additional safety bar. You should have seen his face when the big wave came over his head. Big smiles all over the place! Because of the different interests in our four year olds we split up most of the day so that the kids could see what they wanted and were comfortable with.

We did make room for the "Big Kids" of our group to get on Expedition Everest - a first for Diane, Ed, Steve and myself. We all agreed it lived up to our expectations - a big thumbs up. DS4 was disappointed he didn't make the height requirement. Missed it by an inch. It'll be something to look forward to next trip.

Diane reported that while the Baby Center at Animal Kingdom was very nice, her favorite is still the one at Disney Studios. She said that the Studios BC is the smallest one but the way it was organized was more pleasing to her than any others. The Animal Kingdom BC did have private breastfeeding rooms with doors and that was a nice feature.

Dawn reported that while they were waiting to get on the train to go to Rafiki's Planet Watch, her DD4 was picked to be a co-conductor and got to say "all aboard" to those entering the train. She was also presented with a certificate with her name on it for doing so. These little touches really add to the fun of the day.

We took the bus back to our hotel and had a very fun driver (Michael) who played a Disney Trivia game with us the entire ride back. He was a funny and loud guy and made for an enjoyable ride. Thanks Mike!!!

After dinner and getting kids in pajamas, Dawn and I spent a few hours at Downtown Disney shopping. It was nice to get a few hours to walk around and talk before heading back to the room. The guys have met up as well for some time at the ESPN restaurant on the Boardwalk. I feel refreshed and ready for our last full day at the parks. Tomorrow is round two at the Magic Kingdom . Send some nice thoughts for low crowds our way!

September 7, 2007

Traveling with Little Ones to WDW - Day 5

Today we decided to sleep in and make this a pool day. We spent the entire morning at the pool and all our little ones loved it. It was a great way to start the day and it was refreshing in the hot weather. Plus my DS4 loved the water slide at the pool (another first for him).

Pool at Disney


After naps, we headed to Epcot in the late afternoon and walked around for a little while doing some rides before trying to find somewhere to get a bite to eat. We tried to make reservations earlier in the day but every restaurant was booked and could not accommodate a party of our size. We then decided to eat at the Cantina in Mexico . We hadn't made a reservation far in advance because we weren't too sure when we'd be in the park. Lesson learned - next time I will make a reservation regardless of firm plans so that we at least have an option. We can always call to cancel if plans change.

kidstowdw10.jpg


We stayed in Epcot until park closing and then worked our way through the crowds and out the International Gateway since we are staying at an Epcot Resort.

Here's where I think bringing your own stroller really is helpful. We had quite a walk back to our room and with everyone being tired and low on energy, having the stroller outside the park worked to our advantage. We also debated on purchasing a two seater stroller for this trip but decided that DS4 would need it and he's been using it a lot this trip. Sure beats carrying 40 pounds of child across World Showcase! Even Dawn's DD4 used their stroller for part of the walk back while Joe held their DS1. At the end of the day, you'll be happy you brought yours.

Also as a heads up for small children and fireworks - My DS2 loved watching Epcots' fireworks from the Boardwalk but watching them in Epcot was way too intense because of how loud they are. As soon as they started, he shook and started crying so I ducked into a shop with him until they were over. For some little ones, having a viewing spot where you are not so close to the action is a must. At least it was for us.

That's it for now. Next up - a day at Animal Kingdom.

September 6, 2007

Traveling with Little Ones to WDW - Day 4

Day 4

We spent the day today at the Disney Studios. We arrived shortly after the park opened and were happy to find that crowds were low so wait times for rides were very short today. While coming off the Tower of Terror , Steve and DS4 were handed Dream Fast Passes! Even though we didn't really need them because of the short wait times, it was still fun to be picked by the Dream Squad.

Magic Fast Passes


Subsequently Joe was picked to be in a street performance where his big line was "Vivian, I'll save you!". I think the kids all enjoyed him being a part of the show.

Streetmosphere

We had lunch at Hollywood & Vine with the Little Einsteins and Jo Jo and Goliath. This was a highlight for the kids as they all liked interacting with the characters they love. At the end of our meal we still hadn't had Jo Jo and Goliath visit our table so I mentioned it to our waitress and she was very accommodating making sure they came relatively quickly while we were paying our bill. So my advice is, if you haven't seen all the characters by the end of your meal, let your server know and they will make it happen for you.

Hollywood and Vine Character Meal


The Times Guide they have available at the parks is a must read. We were able to know where all the character meet and greets were so that everyone could see their favorite ones.

My boys were most excited to see the "Herbie" car parked at the end of a street. While we were taking pictures on and around Herbie we heard engines revving and Lightning McQueen and Mater came down the street ready for a meet and greet. This pic is of my DS2 chasing after Mater. He was very excited!

Running to Mater

Diane wanted me to share that she enjoyed the Baby Center at the Studios better than the Magic Kingdom. She reported that for breastfeeding Moms they have a room with cubbies which worked really well for her baby who is easily distracted by others whereas the Baby Center at MK was a room with chairs.

So far I think the word of the week has been Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate. We've all been on the lookout for wet diapers - a sign that our little ones are taking in enough fluids during the day. The weather has been beautiful but HOT so we've been going through a lot of bottles of Dasani. Dawn and I also purchased the squirt bottle with the fan to help the kids cool off. At $17 it was a little pricey but we thought well worth it in this kind of heat. Our boys made especially good use of it while waiting for the Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade this afternoon.

We had dinner outside at the Big River Grille on the Boardwalk and were able to watch the fireworks from Epcot again. This was a great way to have a meal because the comings and goings of the boats and the fireworks kept the kids occupied and made for a more relaxing meal.


That's it for now. Next up - a morning at the pool and some more time at Epcot.

Laura Fox

September 5, 2007

Traveling with Little Ones - Day 3

Day 3

What we originally planned as a day of rest turned into a half day at Epcot. We arrived shortly after park opening and headed straight for Test Track. It was our hopes to have a short wait for this much anticipated ride for DS4. We walked up and informed the attendant that we wanted to do the baby swap. This worked out really well. Steve waited on the short line with DS4 and when they got off I used my baby swap pass with him which allowed us into the FastPass line. So he rode twice back to back.

What also worked out well was that while waiting for them to come off the ride, I took DS2 into the gift shop where there was a Kidcot Fun Spot. DS2 had fun coloring while we waited. He also enjoyed going in and out of all the GM cars they had on display. Best of all - we were in air conditioning! We used the baby swap again at Soarin' and it worked like a charm. The baby swap is our new favorite thing.

Dawn and Joe opted to stay at the hotel and spend the day at the pool with the kids. Their DD4 made quick friends with another princess and had hours of fun swimming. Diane and Ed and the baby hooked up with us at Epcot (thank goodness for cell phones) and we were able to spend a few hours together before heading back to the hotel to get ready for our 5pm reservations for the Hoop Dee Doo Revue.

For us the Hoop Dee Doo Revue is a must do and has been a part of our trips to WDW since our first trip - and is especially imperative if we are traveling with someone who hasn't been there before. Everyone really enjoyed themselves. DS4 had the best time with all the music and dancing. Best of all, he was picked to be the Texas Ranger in a part of the show.

kidstowdw4.jpg

I was surprised he agreed to do it since he is typically shy, but he did great. Dawn's DD4 said that he was "a star" to which he replied "no, I'm just a boy, I have a Mommy, I have shoes". We took the bus to the Magic Kingdom and then a boat over to Fort Wilderness and got there in a reasonable amount of time. I mention this because depending on where you are staying it can be a long trip to get to Pioneer Hall. We've found this to be the easiest way to get there.

Here's a picture of the Who's Shoes ID we had our boys wear just in case we were ever separated. We didn't plan on losing anybody, but I felt better knowing that in the event it ever happened we could be reunited quickly with a call to our cell phones. Handy little product.

kidstowdw3.jpg


Next up, Disney Studios and lunch with the Little Einsteins.

September 1, 2007

Traveling with Little Ones - An Introduction

An Introduction - Traveling with Little Ones - Our WDW trip 2007

It's "Little Ones Travel Time" at Walt Disney World so eleven of us are heading down to the World to introduce our little ones to the Magic. I'm Laura and my husband Steve and our two sons (ages 2 and 4) are making the trip with our friends Dawn and Joe and their son (age 1) and daughter (age 4) and our friends Diane and Ed and their son (7 months old).

Steve and I along with the other adults in our group are all Disney veterans, having been to Walt Disney World several times as well as Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. We're all close friends (plus Steve and Diane are bro and sis) and have traveled together in the past so it only made sense that once we had children, a group trip to Walt Disney World was in our future.

We began planning our trip in February - early enough to take advantage of good airline prices from the Northeast. As a true believer that planning the trip is half the fun, I promptly purchased the latest Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and Birnbaum's WDW for Kids by Kids for my DS(4). Even though he cannot read yet, he loves to look at the pictures and hear me tell him about all the things we are going to see.

We also went onto the official Disney planning website and ordered the free maps. (see pic) What excitement when we received them in the mail! They are beautifully done (they look like treasure maps) and we pour over them and point to all of our favorite attractions and things that we think would be of interest to our boys.

Disney Map


Basically my little guy is interested in anything that he is tall enough to ride that goes "superfast". During the last several months we have been introducing as many Disney movies as we can so that all the characters/attractions will be familiar and of interest to them. We also purchased matching shirts for all in our group from the Disney Store this summer so we can be "goofy" and wear them on the same day. Lastly we hung a calendar for our DS(4)s' bedroom and the countdown began. Now with only a few days left before our flight, the excitement has reached new heights.

I'll be blogging here throughout our trip mainly with information about how our traveling with such little ones is going. We have read many of the posted suggestions on this site and others, now it's time to put them to the test. We will no doubt have to adapt our plans to accommodate everyone's needs, so I hope to share what we've learned from our experience.

We have plans for a few special meals together - breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table (MK), lunch with the Little Einsteins at Hollywood & Vine (Studios), the Hoop De Doo Revue, & breakfast at Chef Mickeys at the Contemporary Resort, but are leaving a lot of room for spontaneity.

Some think that traveling with babies and toddlers to WDW is exhausting and a waste because they are not likely to remember it. We, however, think it's perfect. It's a place we all know well - it's comfortable. We know how to navigate and get around and get what we need. We've seen 95% of what's there so we don't have the "have to see it all" mentality. We're happy to watch the crowds go by as we talk and play and do everything or nothing together. That's the real point of our trip. Enjoying watching our children experience something special together will be in our memories for a very long time and what better time to do that than during The Year of a Million Dreams.

Check back to see how our first day went - see you real soon!

Laura Fox

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

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