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February 5, 2016

2016 Disneyland Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend - Part 4 - Dining


During our three days at Disneyland for the Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend, we tried a few different dining options. We (gasp!) did not have any meals at our usual pre-race favorite, Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta!

Friday evening we were tired after a long week at work, driving in traffic to Anaheim, visiting the Expo, and checking into our hotel. So we wanted something fairly easy, and went to Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney. It was about 6:00, and we were surprised that the line wasn't very long.

They have some new items on the "Get the Skinny" menu, which are under 400 calories. There's a BBQ Chicken Flatbread, Quinoa Chicken Salad, and Turkey Wrap. They looked interesting but I opted for one of my favorites: The Holiday Turkey, with turkey, cranberry sauce, dressing, and gravy. Yum.

Earl of Sandwich Holiday Turkey

I also had a cup of the Chicken Noodle soup. It was good, but it was a small serving - they didn't fill the cup very full.

Earl of Sandwich Chicken Noodle

Lee had The Original 1762 - roast beef with horseradish sauce.

Earl of Sandwich Original 1762

Lee also picked up a container of Brownie Bites. These were surprisingly good! Moist and chewy and very chocolaty and satisfying. We really enjoyed these - we still had a couple left on Monday, and even then they were still very good!

Earl of Sandwich Brownie Bite

Earl of Sandwich Menu

On Saturday morning after the 10K and Kids Races we went into Disneyland - I wanted to try the breakfast menu at the Galactic Grill, which has Star Wars-inspired menu items.

I tried the Bantha Blue Milk Bread. This was essentially French toast, served with bacon and fresh fruit. It was pretty good.

Galactic Grill Bantha Blue Milk Bread

Lee went with the Darth Tamale. A blue corn tamale with scrambled eggs, chorizo, red chili sauce and tomatillo salsa. I had a bite and found that the chili sauce was pretty spicy. I couldn't have eaten this but Lee really enjoyed it, enough that he recommended it to several other people. Though with the caution that it was for people who like spicy food.

Galactic Grill Darth Tamale

Galactic Grill Breakfast Menu

That afternoon we had something from Lucky Fortune Cookery. I like the idea of rice bowls and veggies with choice of meat and sauce, but they use peppers in the veggie mix, which makes it inedible for me. But on the kid's menu there's a chicken and brown rice offering, served with oranges and carrots - but no peppers. So I tried that. It was a good-sized serving and I liked it. The oranges were on top of the chicken, and the carrots were in a bag. There was a mild teriyaki type of sauce on the chicken. I'd get that again.

Lucky Fortune Cookery Kids Chicken and Rice

Lee ordered the beef bowl with teriyaki sauce. He liked it.

Lucky Fortune Cookery Teriyaki Beef

Lucky Fortune Cookery Menu

That evening a group of us went to Naples in Downtown Disney for dinner. We had a reservation for 5:30. As you might expect, it was a popular choice on the night before a race, and there was a long line to check in. Some in our party knew from previous experience that it was for walk-ups, and that those with reservations checked in at the podium inside. Once our fearless leader did that, we were soon seated at an outside table.

It was coolish evening, but there were gas heaters around us, so that was fine - until they ran out of propane. And then apparently there were no additional gas canisters to be had, so it got a little chilly by the time we left.

Unlike our experience at Italian restaurants at Walt Disney World, Naples had a couple of "runner's specials" in addition to their regular menu. These included salad as well as pasta choices. We didn't go for any of those, though.

Our server (Amazing Amanda!) brought us fresh bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Must...Not...Fill...Up...On...Bread....(But it's sooo good!)

As an entree I ordered Agnolotti - housemade cheese ravioli with fresh tomato and basil sauce. I requested marinara rather than basil sauce - I love pesto, but it can be too garlicky the night before a race. It was very good.

Naples Restaurant Agnolotti

Lee tried the Lasagna, a traditional eight layer lasagna with Bolognese meat sauce, b├ęchamel and Parmesan cheese. He enjoyed it.

Naples Restaurant Lasagna

Some of our dining companions ordered the Spaghetti and Meatballs.

Naples Restaurant Spaghetti and Meatballs

The restaurant was quite busy, but we didn't feel rushed to finish, and had a very nice meal. Naples is not my favorite restaurant but this was a very nice experience.

Naples Restaurant Menu

Sunday morning after the half marathon and a hot shower we met friends at the UVA Bar for breakfast. Lee and I had never had breakfast here before, but our friend Eddie really likes it - and he had already gotten a table for all of us. It's outdoor seating, but there was a heat lamp nearby (that had plenty of propane ;-) ) and we were warm enough. It was fun to people-watch and see all of the runners coming by in their medals and costumes. We saw several people we knew.

We started with celebratory mimosas, and then ordered breakfast. :-) I went with "2 Organic Eggs", served with potatoes and choice of toast. Thankfully there were no peppers in the eggs! Nothing fancy, but it was nicely prepared.

UVA Bar Two Organic Eggs Breakfast

Lee went with the Breakfast Burrito with scrambled eggs, potatoes, applewood smoked bacon, mild red chile sauce, and aged cheddar. This looked very good, and he liked it.

UVA Bar Breakfast Burrito

Eddie tried the Buttermilk Pancakes, and enjoyed those.

UVA Bar Buttermilk Pancakes

Phill ordered the Steel Cut Oats, which was served with honey, raisins, and almonds. I didn't get a picture of that - oatmeal is just not very photogenic. :-)

We enjoyed the food and ambiance and especially the company - definitely a place we'll consider returning to for breakfast on a future Disneyland trip.

UVA Bar & Cafe Breakfast Menu

We didn't really have lunch - we had an afternoon snack at Ghirardelli. :-) I had my new favorite Nob Hill Chill, though it wasn't quite as thick this time as I like it.

Ghirardelli Nob Hill Chill

Lee had the Sea Salt Caramel Sundae.

Ghirardelli Sea Salt Caramel Sundae

For dinner, we joined several friends at Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen. Lee and I have eaten here several times before and have always enjoyed the food, and there's a lot of variety on the menu. Our friends told us later that it was the best meal they had on their visit - and they'd eaten at several other Disney table service restaurants.

We had an early reservation, and were seated in the corner of the big room upstairs. That was nice and out of the way. It was quiet when we arrived, but it got a lot noisier as the place filled up. Oh well...we enjoyed it while we could.

There were several specialty cocktails on the menu. This is The Blue Marquise, in honor of Disneyland's 60th anniversary. The color apparently came from 44th North Huckleberry Vodka. It was very pretty and quite tasty.

Ralph Brennans Blue Marquise

Lee and I shared an appetizer: Boudin Balls. Slow roasted cochon pork, dirty rice, Creole mustard aioli with Tabasco pepper jelly. They were deep-fried, and they were really, really good.

Ralph Brennans Boudin Balls

Another couple shared the Louisiana Crab Cake - with fire roasted corn cucumber salsa and Creole mustard drizzle. They liked it.

Ralph Brennans Crab Cake

Since I knew I wanted dessert, I didn't order an entree, and instead ordered soup and salad. The soup of the day was tomato and artichoke, and it was excellent.

Ralph Brennans Soup of the Day

I ordered the house French Quarter salad - mixed greens, candied pecans, cherry tomatoes and cider vinaigrette. Not too exciting, but it was a nice salad.

Ralph Brennans French Quarter Salad

Lee ordered the classic BBQ Shrimp and Grits with barbecue sauce and andouille-parmesan grits. Very good.

Ralph Brennans BBQ Shrimp & Grits

Other entrees:

Blackened Chicken Mac & Cheese - Applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, oven roasted tomatoes, baby arugula and rosemary garlic ciabatta bread.

Ralph Brennans Blackened Chicken Mac & Cheese

Grilled Medallions of Beef - Filet mignon, crawfish mashed potatoes, bacon & pecan-crusted green beans and a zinfandel reduction.

Ralph Brennans Grilled Medallions of Beef

Gumbo Ya-Ya - Chicken, andouille sausage, dark roux, Creole seasoning and rice.

Ralph Brennans Crab Cake Gumbo Ya-Ya

Southern Fried Chicken - highly recommended by our server, and a winner. With smoked gouda mac & cheese, bacon braised turnip greens, lemon-pepper gravy.

Ralph Brennans Southern Fried Chicken

As I mentioned, I didn't order an entree because I knew what I wanted for dessert: Double Chocolate Bread Pudding. It takes about 25 minutes to prepare and should be pre-ordered - the servers should ask about it in plenty of time so that you don't end up waiting for it. It's served with dark chocolate and white chocolate sauce - use one or the other or both. This is a dessert for two (or more) people to share...Lee and I only got through about 2/3 of ours. Really good.

Ralph Brennans Double Chocolate Bread Pudding

This was a wonderful meal with great company, and we really enjoyed it.

Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen Dinner Menu

Monday morning a group of us did early entry at DCA. After two rides on Radiator Springs Racers (for our first ride we were in the first group of cars for the day!) and a wrist and arm workout on Toy Story Midway Mania, we went in search of breakfast.

Pacific Wharf Cafe is no longer serving breakfast, and neither is Cozy Cone #3. :-( That left Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Cafe (Starbucks) and Flo's V8 Cafe as our only options. So we went to Flo's. I decided I wanted some Churro Bites from Cozy Cone #1, but when I got there was very disappointed to find that they no longer serve Churro Bites - just regular churros. Not what I wanted.

I don't like the scrambled eggs at Flo's - they are baked or steamed or something and have a weird texture. I had the fruit plate, which came with yogurt and a mini oat bran muffin.

Flo's Breakfast Fruit Plate

Lee had the American Breakfast, with the aforementioned weird eggs, potatoes, bacon and a biscuit. That's another thing I don't like about Flo's - the potatoes have peppers in them.

Flo's American Breakfast

Kim had the Kids Waffles - this came with turkey bacon and fruit. It's a pretty decent-sized breakfast, I think!

Flo's Kids Waffle Breakfast

Someone else had the Chicken Tamale, topped with scrambled eggs and salsa verde. This is pretty good, except that I think the tamale has too much masa and not enough filling. It's very attractive, though.

Flo's Chicken Tamale

Flo's V8 Cafe Breakfast Menu

By lunch time almost all of our playmates had departed for the airport, but there were still four of us left, so Dave and Holly and Lee and I all went to Trader Sam's. We were just in time to get a table inside as another party was leaving. It's noisier in there, but more fun. The one bartender was really into all of the special drink effects, and that made it a lot more entertaining.

Trader Sam's

I had a Passionate Python, with a couple different types of rum, passion fruit juice, and other tropical juices.

Trader Sam's Passionate Python

Lee went with the Piranha Pool - Strawberry vodka blended with pineapple juice, cream of coconut, strawberry puree, and blue Curacao. This is a good one.

Trader Sam's Piranha Pool

I think Holly has not yet forgiven me for suggesting the Murky Mojito to her. :-) Rum, fresh lime juice, mint and agave nectar topped with Angostura Bitters - she said it was really strong.

Trader Sam's Murky Mojito

We had food, too. I tried the Shrimp Tacos, which were new to me. They were quite good.

Trader Sam's Shrimp Tacos

Lee and Dave both had the Kalua Pork Flatbread, which I did not photograph, but you can see the corner of it in the Piranha Pool photo above.

Holly had part of Dave's flatbread, but also ordered the Panko-Crusted Chinese Long Beans, which she shared with the rest of us - those are so good.

Trader Sam's Panko-Crusted Long Beans

Trader Sam's Menu

That was our final meal for this particular trip. It was fun to have some new experiences this time, and especially to share a number of meals with good friends.

February 2, 2016

Disneyland Resort - 1/29/16


Contributing photographer Jason of sends us these photos from his trip to the parks on Friday, January 29, 2016. In this set of pictures I focus on the closures and ongoing projects around the parks.
The support facility in the Pinocchio lot is nearing completion. Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016
A quick look at the future Star Wars site. Not a lot of visible progress yet.
Equipment is being brought in and fences are up around some of the site. Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016
First stop today, Disneyland. Minnie Rocks the Dots display inside Disney Clothiers Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016
Not much has changed on the Rivers of America since my last trip. With the exception of the Mark Twain & Columbia switching places. Looking up river you can see some ribbons tied on the trees. Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016
The construction wall in Critter Country stretches from the Hungry Bear all the way to the outdoor vending location/ the trail that leads to the small eating area for the Galley. It now features some attraction posters.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

The wall on the lower level of the Hungry Bear features the Rivers of America. Including the overall story, Mark Twain, and then the rivers it represents.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Barn doors have been installed on the tunnel by the Hungry Bear.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

The current wait is only 3 months for the Jungle Cruise.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Time for the Land Cruise... during which the skippers recreate the Jungle Cruise experience with 100% less water and boats.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Their recreation of the lost safari scene

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Here is a video of the experience.

Made my way to the New Orleans Square Train Station. New since my last visit you can now cross the tracks to the original Frontierland Station.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

It was fun to be able to see the original station up close.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

The hand cart has been brought to the area for display too. Cast Members say more is hopefully coming soon.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Next up made my way over to the Mark Twain which was in port in Frontierland.

A couple of signs with historical photos and information on the Mark Twain have been added to the queue area. This sign features entertainment and special guests.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Princess Tiana was onboard for pictures

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Tables and chairs have been brought on board on the lower and mid decks and chairs on the upper deck.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Looking up river.. you really cannot see any changes yet.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Walls are set up on the Big Thunder trail past the Big Thunder Exit area and the cave, but before the pond and tunnel area.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

A sign to warn you of the dead end ahead and how to find your way to Fantasyland.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

A sign in Fantasyland to help you find Frontierland.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

The gates are closed just past the restrooms to block off the Big Thunder trail on the Fantasyland side.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Small World is closed to have the holiday overlay removed and for some renovation work.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

The Autopia is closed for renovation too.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Walked through the Star Wars Launch Bay. Only a 20 minute wait for Kylo Ren, for comparison 30 minutes for Chewbacca and 25 for Spider-man

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Closures are not just for attractions, the 20th Century Music Company on Main Street is also closed

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Made my way across the Esplanade to DCA.. which turns 15 on Feb 8th.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Thought you may be interested.. here is a video clip of the Esplanade and Entrance to Disney's California Adventure I shot back in January 2001 a few weeks before the park opened.

Some work on the back wall of the Blue Sky Cellar

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Zootopia has moved into the Bugs Theater. Some banners on the parade route in the area.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Continuing my tour of closed attractions. World of Color is currently dark.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Red rolling out for pictures, no real visible signs of progress at Luigis, maybe a few new banners peaking over the wall.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

The new attraction is listed in the park guidemap now.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

And is on the map.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

New editions of the Buena Vista Bugle are available.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

A display and cash register has been added to the cafe to sell Starbucks merchandise.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Breaking the trend of the day... Soarin' was open today. It is only open weekends right now.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Stopped by the Silver Spur Supplies in Frontierland.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

In the back of the store is a music box / jukebox. It costs a quarter for a song.

A video clip of the music box in action.

The Haunted Mansion has returned since my last visit the return times and wait times did not line up with my day this trip so I will try to visit next trip.

Jason @ image from Friday, January 29, 2016

Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of the Disneyland Resort. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full Disneyland Update I posted on my site, Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.

January 31, 2016

Disneyland Paris - Bistrot Chez Remy


Contributing photographer Jason of spent 10 days at the Disneyland Paris resort. I will be sharing a series of posts from the trip here on and have a full set of pictures, videos, thoughts and observations linked to my 2015 Paris Trip Summary Page on This posting takes a look around Bistrot Chez Remy where I had lunch at the Walt Disney Studios Park.

The entrance to Remys. We had made a reservation earlier in the morning before leaving the hotel but it was really not needed as the walk-ups were getting seated about as quickly as we were.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

The waiting area has several awards he has won over the years.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

As you enter the dining area you are shrunk to rat size...notice the floor pattern enlarging as you shrink.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

A look around one of the front dining rooms, out those windows is the main square of the area.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

One of the other dining rooms. The back of this room has windows to the attraction unload area.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

The chairs are bottle caps and corks.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

The view from our booth.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

The napkin at my seat.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

We were on a meal plan which required us to order from the prix fixe menu, which included starter, entree, and dessert. For those not on the dining plan the price was 39,99 Euros. The starter was a mixed leaf salad with cheese, grated beetroot and chives, and a sesame & soy sauce vinaigrette. The Coke I had to drink was not included in the prix fixe menu, but was included in the meal plan. No refill, though.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

For my main course I had a grilled steak, ratatouille and French fries.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

If you ask for ketchup this is what is brought to you.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Thoughts: Since we were on a meal plan (the Plus plan) we were limited to the prix fixe menu and no changes. I ordered the beef which came with fries so I was good to go. The food was not was not great and was on the pricey side but it was lunch and filled me up. Compared to the other dining choices in the Studios park I thought this was a good meal and the environment was fun to see and eat in. I am not sure I would opt to go there and pay - for the same price there are other places with better meals. But if I were on a plan again and looking for variety I would probably go back.

Hope you enjoyed this look at Bistrot Chez Remy. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full set of Disneyland Paris pictures/videos I posted on my site, Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.

January 29, 2016

Disneyland Update - 1/22/16


For a change Jason didn't go to the parks, so you get a Disneyland update from me instead. :-) It won't be as thorough or have nearly as many photos, though. I didn't make it to DCA since I was with a friend who didn't have a park hopper ticket.

We arrived at the Toy Story lot about 11:40. I was surprised that we were still able to park in the "Woody" section - though we were in the last row. While I would rather park in Mickey and Friends, I have found that when coming in from Ball Rd. I more often than not am diverted south on Disneyland Drive over to parking at either Garden Walk or Toy Story, so I just go straight to Toy Story now. I avoid a lot of traffic and aggravation that way.

I was pleasantly surprised that there was no line at the security checkpoint. We presented our bags and breezed through. We were not randomly selected to walk through the metal detector.

A number of Disneyland attractions were closed - the Rivers of America attractions will be closed for an extended period of time (at least into spring of 2017) because of Star Wars land construction:
Disneyland Railroad
Mark Twain Riverboat
Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes
Sailing Ship Columbia
Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island
Jungle Cruise

Tomorrowland was the most crowded area of the park - Season of the Force is still very popular. Still, we were able to get a Fastpass for Hyperspace Mountain with a return time of 3:15 - a little over three hours later.

Hyperspace Mountain

We walked into Path of the Jedi just a couple of minutes before the show started. Kristin was happy for the refresher, since she was planning to see "The Force Awakens" two days later. And she's told me since then that seeing Path of the Jedi helped her enjoy the movie more.

Star Tours had a standby wait of 50 minutes, but we were able to pop across the way and blast some astros at Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters.

Though it's not running, the Mark Twain was at the Frontierland dock and open to visitors, though apart from wandering around on board there wasn't anything to do. I heard later that there are sometimes characters on board for meet and greet opportunities, such as Princess Tiana and Louis. On other days the Sailing Ship Columbia is at the dock instead.

Mark Twain Riverboat

Big Thunder Trail is now closed. On the Frontierland side it's closed just beyond the exit of Big Thunder Mountain.

Frontierland closed

Frontierland closed

Outside the Jungle Cruise there are skippers who interact with guests and pose for photos. They also conduct Skipper School several times a day.

Jungle Cruise Skipper School

When Lee and I were there a couple of weeks ago we had more of an opportunity to talk to the skippers about this and what's going on with the attraction. Guests who participate get to tell a Jungle Cruise joke and receive a Skipper certificate. When the attraction reopens (April?) you can bring your certificate to the attraction exit and use it as a Fastpass.

And, again according to the skippers, among the changes being made are modifications to the load/unload process. Instead of using ropes and "skipper power" to hold the floating boats next to the docks, the boats will go into some kind of dock container that will compress and hold them in place for loading and unloading. This should be safer and hopefully speed up the process.

Part of the Adventureland bridge/walkway was closed though the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Dole Whip stand were still accessible from the Main Street side.

Adventureland construction wall

Here's a look at attraction wait times at 12:50.

Disneyland wait times

By this time we needed to head over to the Disneyland Hotel for our Classic Afternoon Tea (follow the link to read my review on that). It was a lovely experience.

Practically Perfect Tea

After tea we took the monorail back from Downtown Disney - I haven't done that in a long time.

You can see the train pulled up at the Main Street station - although the railroad is closed, Disneyland has a train available at the Main Street station where guests can talk to one of the engineers about them.

Disneyland train

First stop was to get Fastpasses for Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear. The Fastpass machines for those two attractions are co-located. Since the Buzz Fastpass machines are not linked to the rest of the system, you can get a Fastpass for Buzz even when you have a Fastpass for something else!

It wasn't quite time for our Hyperspace Mountain Fastpasses, so we went on Holiday "it's a small world". This was the final weekend before the short refurb period to remove the holiday overlay. I was surprised that it was a very short wait - 5 minutes, maybe.

small world holiday

After that it WAS time to ride Hyperspace Mountain! It was great - I really enjoy this attraction and all of the new visuals, and especially the music. I think you really want to be in rows 4-6 and not 1-3: there are a few effects that you don't see very well if you're in the front.

Hyperspace Mountain

We went from battling one evil empire to battling another, as we then used our Buzz Lightyear Fastpasses to defeat the Evil Emperor Zurg.

The Haunted Mansion had just reopened that day after the holiday overlay was removed. I always find it strange to ride this attraction when it's not in holiday mode. The Fastpass machines were in use, which is unusual, as they are typically only used during the holiday period. The Standby line was posted as 20 minutes, but I don't think it took that long.

Haunted Mansion

We wandered back to Critter Country. The Hungry Bear restaurant is surrounded by scrims and looks closed. But there's a cast member out in front with menus so that guests will know that it's open.

Hungry Bear construction walls

Splash Mountain was basically a walk-on - I haven't decided whether it's because no one wanted to get wet (it had been a sunny day, though by then the sun was behind clouds and the temp was around 66) or if people thought nothing back there was open because so much of the Rivers of America area is closed. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was a walk-on for us. We both love Tigger.

Tigger, Rabbit, and Pooh were outside Pooh's Corner greeting guests, and there were quite a few guests waiting in line. So at least there was something in the area that was drawing more of a crowd. Otherwise, Critter Country seems a little sad right now.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad had been down earlier, and now had a long standby line, but we could get a Fastpass with a return time of less than an hour later. We still had an hour to go before our Star Tours Fastpass was valid, and we went to Redd Rockett's Pizza Port for dinner. I wanted to try one of the Season of the Force specials - the Dark Side Chicken Curry Pizza. It had curry chicken, roasted cauliflower, Gouda and mozzarella cheese, cumin, pickled vegetables and fried beans. The sauce was a little too spicy for me, which is unfortunate, because otherwise I enjoyed it. But because of the spice level I wouldn't get it again.

Dark Side Chicken Curry Pizza

There are a couple other Season of the Force specials: The Fields of Naboo salad and Forest of Endor pasta. There's also a Chewbacca Cheesecake. And this is one of the locations where the BB-8 beverage container is available for purchase.

Redd Rockett's Pizza Port Menu

Chewbacca cheesecake

I liked the Season of the Force posters in the dining area.

Season of the Force posters

Time to take a trip on Star Tours! During Season of the Force most of the random elements have been removed and the first planet visited is always Jakku, and BB-8 is the holographic character in the next scene. All three times I'd done it before I'd seen the security droid as the first scene, and Naboo as the final scene, so I was wondering if that was the only configuration. But this time Vader was the opening scene and Coruscant was the final scene, so I saw something a little different.

For our final attraction of the day we used our Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Fastpasses. This ride is so much more fun at night!

We had a great day. Even though we didn't arrive until noon, and had a two-hour break, we still managed to get four Fastpasses and experience 10 different attractions before we left at 7:00. It's always fun for me to visit Disneyland with someone who isn't a frequent visitor and experience it through their eyes. Even with all of the construction and closures there's still a lot to do, and there were a number of other things we would've done if we'd had more time.

January 28, 2016

Disneyland Paris - Ratatouille Area of Walt Disney Studios Park


Contributing photographer Jason of spent 10 days at the Disneyland Paris resort. I will be sharing a series of posts from the trip here on and have a full set of pictures, videos, thoughts and observations linked to my 2015 Paris Trip Summary Page on This posting takes a look at the Ratatouille area of the Walt Disney Studios Park.

The Ratatouille: L' Aventure Totalement Toquee de Remy opened at the Walt Disney Studios Park at the Disneyland Paris Resort in the summer of 2014. The area consists of the attraction, FastPass Distribution, a gift shop, and Bistrot Chez Remy restaurant. The attraction features trackless ride vehicles that take you on a nearly 5-minute journey as you are shrunk down to Remy's size and experience a chase through a bistro with Remy utilizing 3D projections and larger than life sets & props. The ride system is similar to Tokyo's Winnie the Pooh attraction and Hong Kong's Mystic Manor.

Prior to going to Paris I had seen several videos of the attraction and done some reading on it. The pictures and video you see really do not do the attraction justice. The immersive feeling and movement of the vehicles are key components and just do not translate to the internet that well. I was impressed with the experience and it was by far the best attraction at the park and one of my favorites from the entire resort. Below are some pictures of the area. I will be sharing a follow-up post with a look at Chez Remy where I had lunch on day.

Approaching the Ratatouille area.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

To the right as you approach is the gift shop.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Next to the gift shop is the FastPass distribution area.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

FastPass machines

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

The entrance to the attraction. It features FastPass, Single Rider and Standby.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

A good portion of the standby queue is outside.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

A couple of the posters along the queue area.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

As you enter the building the cast chefs are highlighted.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

The interior queue takes you along the rooftops of Paris (well there is a set that you work your way around).

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

You work your way to one of two load areas each with several vehicles to board. Notice you are rat size at this point, see the wall in the background.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

You board a trackless ratmobile for the adventure.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

On your journey you go through a handful of projection rooms and a couple over-sized sets. My pictures did not do it any justice because of the 3D projections so I am only going to include this one of the finale.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

You exit near Remy's restaurant. I will have another post on dining there. Here is a look at the central courtyard.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

The Fountain in the middle of the area.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Through this tunnel is Toy Story Playland.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

A wide shot shows some of the Playland beyond.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Some props nearby. Notice the poles.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

The manhole cover.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

One last look at the area on a rainy afternoon.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Hope you enjoyed this look at the Ratatouille area of the Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full set of Disneyland Paris pictures/videos I posted on my site, Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.

January 27, 2016

Disneyland Paris - La Magie Disney en Parade! (Disney Magic on Parade!)


Contributing photographer Jason of spent 10 days at the Disneyland Paris resort last fall as part of his 2015 "Disney World Tour". I will be sharing a series of posts from the trip here on and have a full set of pictures, videos, thoughts and observations linked to my 2015 Paris Trip Summary Page on

This posting takes a look La Magie Disney en Parade! (Disney Magic on Parade!) which was the daily parade during my visit. It occurred each afternoon at 5:30pm.

Sleeping Beauty Castle with a crowd gathered along the parade route.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Looking toward Main Street

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather lead the way with the Blue Fairy and the Fairy Godmother on the first float.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Cinderella and her Prince following along behind.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Elsa, Anna and Olaf from Frozen

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

The Alice in Wonderland characters were in the next grouping.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Characters from Pinocchio are on the back of the Alice float.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Toy Story gang

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

On the back of the Toy Story unit is Winnie the Pooh

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Lion King

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

On the back of the Lion King is the Jungle Book.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Peter Pan is next.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Mary Poppins is on the back of the Peter Pan float

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

The finale float features an assortment of characters.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Mickey and Minnie on the front

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Goofy, Donald, Chip and Dale were all onboard too.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Tinker Bell on the back of the last float.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

Coming behind the parade to clean the streets.

Jason @ image from Fall 2015

A video of the full parade.

Hope you enjoyed this look at the Disneyland Paris Disney Magic on Parade!. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full set of Disneyland Paris pictures/videos I posted on my site, Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.

January 25, 2016

Afternoon Tea at Steakhouse 55


I recently read in the Disney Parks blog that Disney was going to start serving afternoon tea at Steakhouse 55 at the Disneyland Hotel. I love afternoon tea - and I fondly remember the "Practically Perfect Tea" they used to serve at the Paradise Pier Hotel, which included an appearance by Mary Poppins! (This photo is from 1997!)

Practically Perfect Tea

"Classic Afternoon Tea at the Disneyland Hotel" was scheduled to begin on Friday, January 22, so I made a reservation for that day and invited my friend Kristin to join me, so we could celebrate her upcoming birthday. Tea is served from 12:00-3:00 on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Though no ending date has been announced, "through spring" is what Disney has stated.

We checked in a little early at Steakhouse 55, but were seated after just a short wait. Only about 2/3 of the tables were occupied, and there were empty tables, almost like a buffer, between most of the tables. Of course those tables were nicely set with tea cups and china, also.

Disneyland Hotel Afternoon Tea

There are three different tea services on the menu: two for adults, and one for kids. I'll warn you that it is fairly pricey. The Classic Tea Party ($50) and Premium Tea Party ($65) offerings for adults both include scones, tea sandwiches, desserts and as many different teas and herbals as you wish to sample. The Premium also includes salad, a glass of Iron Horse Fairy Tale Cuvee, and a farewell gift of truffles. (If you're familiar with my blog, then one guess as to which one I chose. :-) )

Disneyland Hotel Afternoon Tea

The Kids Tea Party ($35) includes chocolate chip scones shaped like Mickey's head, tea sandwiches, and desserts. In addition to tea, kids can also choose juice, milk and hot chocolate.

A selection of aperitifs, wines, ports and sherrys is available by the glass (additional charge).

Classic Afternoon Tea at the Disneyland Hotel Menu

Our tea began with our glasses of the Fairy Tale Cuvee. Kristin hadn't tried it before, and really enjoyed it.

Disneyland Hotel Afternoon Tea

Our server asked us what teas we might be interested in, and offered some recommendations. She explained that we could try as many as we liked, and we could each have our own teapot, or share one. We initially chose the "house" tea: Perfect Afternoon, a blend of Assam, Darjeeling and Ceylon. The teapot was smaller than those you usually see in tea rooms - but that was fine, since we wanted to sample, and the smaller pot meant we wouldn't waste a lot.

The first course was the salad. Baby lettuce with mint leaves, orange segments, sliced grape tomatoes and radishes, with Green Goddess dressing. I found the mint leaves odd, and after the first bite I put them aside, but Kristin liked the taste.

Disneyland Hotel Afternoon Tea salad

To go along with our tea, we had a selection of sweeteners - including rock candy sticks - as well as lemon wedges and honey.

Disneyland Hotel Afternoon Tea

The tea was fine - not the best black tea I've ever had. It didn't have a very strong flavor.

Once we were done with our salads, our server brought the tiered plate server with all sorts of beautiful goodies on it.

Disneyland Hotel Afternoon Tea

There were two different kinds of scones: currant scones, and blueberry scones with an orange glaze on top.

Disneyland Hotel Afternoon Tea scones

We had Devonshire cream, lemon curd, and strawberry jam to go with them. Kristin preferred the currant scone, and I liked the blueberry, but they were both very good.

Disneyland Hotel Afternoon Tea

For tea sandwiches, we had cucumber and water cress, deviled egg salad, salmon gravlax, and mozzarella, basil, and tomato. Cucumber is not my favorite, but this was sliced very thinly. The water cress leaves were large! The mozzarella tomato was my favorite, but the egg salad and salmon were also very good. All were served on a different type of bread.

Disneyland Hotel Afternoon Tea sandwiches

We ordered a second pot of tea - we went back and forth between the Chakra Silver Tips (a white tea) and the Redbush Caramel Velvet, and decided on the latter. It was a rooibos tea (no caffeine) with a dulce de leche flavor. Very nice - just needed a bit of sweetener to bring out the caramel flavor.

We were starting to feel a little full, but we still had a plate of desserts to go! There were two chocolate-covered strawberries: one white chocolate, one milk chocolate. Also two mini fruit tarts and a selection of macarons. There were two chocolate, a strawberry, and a pineapple. The pineapple one tasted like caramel and not pineapple. The chocolate ones were my favorites.

Disneyland Hotel Afternoon Tea desserts

We asked about coconut macarons and our server said they had some, and brought us an extra plate. I didn't taste coconut in them - they had a passion fruit filling.

Disneyland Hotel Afternoon Tea macarons

Our server told us that we could request that any of the teas be iced - and that we could get some to go. So we tried a third tea iced to go: Mountain Berry a caffeine-free herbel tea. It was very refreshing.

Last but not least we received a little packet with two chocolate truffles in it, to eat later. Because we were certainly too full to eat them at that time! It was a reasonable amount of food, plus it was on the rich side, and very satisfying. We saw a number of people taking "to-go" boxes out with them who obviously had not eaten everything.

Disneyland Hotel Afternoon Tea truffles

The tea was nicely paced, and we never felt rushed at all. It took about an hour and 15 minutes. The restaurant was quiet and it was a very relaxing and pleasant atmosphere. As I mentioned before, they did not seat all of the tables, which helped keep it quieter. I asked if there were two seatings, and was told it's about a seating and a half. So they'll turn the tables seated within the first hour or so, but not all of them. If you wanted to make it a special event such as a birthday party or bridal shower, there were some larger tables available.

Disneyland Hotel Afternoon Tea

Some people dressed up for the occasion, but I'd say that the majority were in park attire as we were. We certainly did not feel at all uncomfortable.

The service was excellent. The servers were excited about this new offering, and eager to answer any questions we might have. A manager came around and asked us about our experience.

As I mentioned it's rather expensive. Annual passholder discounts are available, but even so it was over $140 with tax and tip. My opinion: it's worth paying the additional $15 for the Premium Tea Party since it offers several additional items. It also includes salad, truffles and the glass of sparkling wine (the wine alone would be $17 if you purchased it separately).

I think Classic Afternoon Tea is an excellent special occasion type of experience, though at this price it's not something I would do very often.

January 22, 2016

2016 Disneyland Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend - Part 3, Half Marathon


January 17, 2016 - Star Wars Half Marathon

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

Another 3:30 a.m. wakeup call.

I had a new costume for this race - Rey, from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I knew there would be a number of other people with the same idea, but since Rey does a lot of running in the movie at least I knew it would be functional. :-) And there was no makeup application required for this one!

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

I made the shirt, though I wasn't successful in getting it to look as dirty as I wanted despite smearing it with mud and rinsing it in muddy water. And at least the "distressed" look meant I didn't have to hem the bottom or sleeves. (I hate hemming.) I purchased a chiffon scarf and used a steam iron to create the pleats. I placed some strips of iron-on interfacing on the back of the scarf, and then sewed the interfacing to the shirt at the shoulder seams. That was Very Important. I saw a number of other Reys who had not done that, and their criss-cross wrap thing would not stay on their shoulders.

I wear a hydration belt for half marathons, and I made that look like Rey's belt by basting some sueded-type fabric over it. Then made another belt out of the same fabric to give me the hip/holster belt look.

For the arm wraps I used rolls of 2" gauze. I was able to make them look dirty by rinsing them in inky water. I wrapped them around a pair of white arm sleeves.

Since the shirt was long I'd planned to wear black shorts under it, but at the Expo I found a khaki-colored running skirt at Sparkle Skirts, so I wore that instead.

Lee wore the Jedi costume he wore for the 10K last year. With long pants and long shirt he was a little concerned it might be too warm, but it was OK.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

There were a few thousand more runners in the half marathon than the 10K, but we still didn't have any issues getting through the security check. The pre-race area was more crowded, and even though we went to Corral A at about the same time we did for the 10K, we were further back in the corral. Still, we were in A, so we were ahead of 10,000 other runners.

The temperature was a little warmer than it had been the day before (52), but it was even more humid (94%) and it felt chilly. I had one of the runDisney sheets (saved from a previous race) wrapped around me while we were waiting, and that kept me warm enough.

The race started a few minutes after 5:30 - a little bit late this time.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

The first mile of the course was exactly like the 10K the day before. Most of the "on property" part of the half marathon course was an abbreviated version of the 10K course. Fortunately it kept most of the "inside the parks" parts, and left out a lot of the less-interesting backstage and doubling-back-on-itself stuff.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

We still ran through Tomorrowland (Storm Troopers on the Launch Bay building!), the Castle (front-to-back again), Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventureland, and Main Street, and Buena Vista Street, Paradise Pier, Cars Land, and Hollywood in DCA.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

I think I have not yet mentioned the great music and sound effects there were for both races. We heard lots of different Star Wars music throughout both parks. On Sunday, when we ran through a backstage tunnel between Fantasyland and Frontierland, we heard Darth Vader breathing, as well as his voice advising us to give in to the Dark Side. Really cool, but a little eerie! :-)

One issue: the pavement in the parks was very wet. Disney must have power washed during the night, and with the very high humidity it had not dried very much. It was slick in places, especially on wooden bridges and boardwalks. Lee saw a woman slip and fall on the Adventureland Bridge, though fortunately she was ok. And our friend Eddie, who was running fast, said that he slipped several times even though he was trying to be careful. I was mindful of the footing when we ran around Paradise Pier, since part of that has wooden boardwalk areas. Still, it's always lovely to run around Paradise Pier when it's dark.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

The character and photo ops were the same as the day before. The lines looked to be about the same - 10+ minutes for the popular characters, and only getting longer. We only stopped for the trash compactor scene, which we had bypassed during the 10K. Unfortunately the photos the CM took were all out of focus. :-( (And I'm not spending $29.95 to download one photo image from Marathon Foto! Their prices are outrageous.)

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

We again ran through Cars Land - I think Ornament Valley looks like it could be on another planet.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

We passed the mile 4 sign and not long after we were out of the park and running south on Harbor Blvd. And it suddenly felt very chilly. The fog had crept in and it was very damp. I'd been feeling a little warm, but the rest of the race I was happy that I had Rey's arm wraps.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

We had a beautiful sunrise during last year's race as we ran down Harbor, but not this year. This part of the course was great for running because it was nice and wide, but it was not very interesting. Not too many people out, though there were several enthusiastic groups of high school cheerleaders in one area, and we were grateful for their encouragement. Overall it seemed like there were fewer spectators this year. And I didn't see very many in Star Wars costumes - there were quite a few last year.

For about 3/4 of a mile we were paralleling the return course, so we saw some of the leaders fly by on the other side. We didn't see the overall male winner (he had already passed by), but I think we saw the top female finisher, and she seemed to be running effortlessly at what was almost mile 12 for her.

Eventually we reached the city of Garden Grove and turned right. We were back into commercial areas again, and it was no longer a "quiet zone" so we finally heard a number of bands. Though I don't think I heard any Star Wars music. And there were more cheerleaders.

I still get a kick out of how this course goes by "Newhope Street". :-)

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

With the new costume restrictions this year, I didn't really see any wildly creative costumes in the half marathon. Lots of X-wing pilots, Princess Leias, Han Solos, R2D2s, Darth Vaders, and yes, Reys. BB-8 was well-represented, also. As Jedi robes were expressly forbidden, the Jedi weren't quite as recognizable.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

Just past mile 8 was what we'd really been waiting for - the first set of Star Wars cosplayers. Unfortunately I thought I was taking video and I wasn't, so I don't have any photos. But at the end of this section was a guy with his Star Wars-inspired car. His license plate was: RBLIALNC.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

After that the course took us down the block of Historic Main Street Garden Grove, and then we headed back north again.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

And then there was an even larger group of cosplayers! The cosplayers are the best part of this race. Their costumes are amazing, and there's a much wider variety of characters than we see in the Disney parks. They are so enthusiastic and supportive of the runners, also.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

Rey and Finn are back together!

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

And we found our friend Caitlin.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

This time I made sure the video was running on my phone, so this video will give you an idea of the number of people and the variety of costumes. I didn't start taking video until we were about 1/3 of the way through the line of people, so there were even more than you see here.

The mile 9 sign was just after the cosplayers. We were back in another fairly quiet residential area. Still plenty of running room, but everyone was pretty quiet.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

Mile 10. We were running east on Chapman. Still a little foggy and grey, and I was getting a little chilled. I won't lie - that last 5K was tough for me. I was still managing my 4:1 run/walk intervals, but my run pace was down.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

About mile 11 we turned onto Harbor Blvd again, so at least the end was (almost) in sight. This sign made me laugh.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

The mile 12 sign was NOT at mile 12 - it was on Katella at about mile 12.25! Messed me up, because this made me think I had more than a mile to go, when really I had less than a mile. And I was very ready to be finished!

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

There were storm troopers at the finish line! My official time was 2:26:37.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

I was very happy that the volunteers were distributing mylar sheets - I needed that.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

It was strange not to be getting two additional medals (Rebel Challenge and Coast-to-Coast), but at least Lee upheld the family honor and received the Rebel Challenge medal. :-)

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon medals

My costume worked very well and I was happy with it. As I mentioned before, one of the keys was sewing the wrap to the shoulders of the shirt so it wouldn't slip off. One of my arm wraps didn't stay in place very well, but the other one was fine. I will probably wear this costume for one of the Star Wars races at Walt Disney World in April, though I may not wear the arm wraps, depending on the weather.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

The parks part of the half marathon course was changed from last year, though the rest of it was basically the same. I didn't think the park changes were as noticeable in the half as they were in the 10K, though there were still some narrow areas and sharp turns. Although we didn't experience it, we heard that in the parks the course was crowded for those who were further back. Once you're out of the parks this is a very fast and easy course: no hills and nothing narrow or technical.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

So it was another great Star Wars race weekend. This one is still my favorite Disney race weekend - I really enjoy the Star Wars theme. All of the signs and photo ops and characters and music and lighting make it a lot of fun - and then there's all of the cosplayers in the half marathon.

And now we're ready to complete the Kessel Run at Walt Disney World in April when we take on the Dark Side Challenge!

January 21, 2016

2016 Disneyland Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend - Part 2, 10K and Kids Races


January 16, 2016 - Star Wars 10K

3:30 came much too early, though I didn't sleep much and was awake before 3:00. Doesn't matter how many races I've done, I always get pre-race jitters.

I wore the same Queen Amidala costume I made for last year's 10K - I'm into recycling. The white makeup is the most time-consuming part of this. Lee had a new X-wing fighter costume. He'd wanted to wear this one for the half marathon, but since it was a new costume that he'd never run in before he opted to wear it for the shorter distance instead. (It turned out to be just fine for running.)

As you might have heard, runDisney announced new costume guidelines in early January. Basically no weapons, no masks, no long dresses or anything that might conceal a weapon. Interesting that Jedi robes were specifically called out as prohibited. Items that were expressly allowed were plastic swords and plastic light sabers, tutus, and transparent wings. Fortunately neither of our costumes required any last-minute modifications.

With all of the new costume regulations and security screening measures we allowed a little bit of extra time to get to the start area, though it turned out that we didn't need it. The screening was fast and efficient. (If you're new to Disneyland races - one of the best things about them is that if you're staying in any of the Disney hotels or any of the nearby hotels, it's a short walk to the start line. No bus transportation required.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

The pre-race area is so much less crowded for the 10K than for the half marathon - but 10,000 runners as opposed to 14,000 will do that. :-) We met up with friends and made the obligatory porta-pottie stops before heading to our corrals.

The weather was GREAT!!!! It was 50 degrees at the start, with very little (if any) wind. The humidity was pretty high - probably 90%. Still, it made for excellent running conditions and even waiting around before the race wasn't too bad for everyone dressed in skimpy running clothes (or even skimpier Slave Leia outfits).

Lee and I were in Corral A. I still find it interesting that my current proof of time gets me Corral A in California but only Corral D in Florida. Who knew east coast runners were so much faster! I really like being in Corral A - it's so nice to be where we can actually SEE the start line, instead of looking at a screen from a corral far far away. While we were waiting we watched scenes from Star Wars Rebels and one of the trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I think everyone had seen the movie at least once - it should've been a requirement for participation. :-)

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

A Disneyland Cast Member sang the National Anthem, and it was time for Rudy Novotny's famous "Runners....set...GOOOOOOOOOO!" Accompanied by hyperspace graphics on the big screen.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

As I mentioned earlier, it was a new 10K course this year. We've asked for more time on property, and they gave us more time on property. :-) But be careful what you wish for - an awful lot of it was backstage in some pretty uninteresting areas. We were almost to mile 2 before we finally entered a "real" part of a park. And it was not a fast course: narrow in places, and there were some very sharp turns where the course doubled back on itself. You couldn't take those very fast.

But we did get to see a lot of the parks - I think in Disneyland we were in every land except Toon Town, and we ran through most of DCA. So I have to say that the race organizers really found a way to design a course to maximize the amount of on-stage time that we had.

With the new course, this year instead of the first mile+ being outside the parks, we were only outside for about 1/2 mile, and then ducked backstage off Ball Rd. next to the Team Disney Anaheim building.

Boba Fett was out for photos in a backstage area even before the mile 1 marker. There was already a long line and we didn't stop. Our goal was BB-8, so we were running pretty hard, and only planned to stop if we saw a pretty short line.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

As I mentioned we spent a LOT of time backstage, some of it in areas I don't think I'd ever run in before. We ran next to the monorail track around much of the eastern perimeter of Disneyland. It was quite dark in places - they really needed some additional lights. Had the running surface been uneven it could have been a real problem, but fortunately it wasn't. Watching over us, Yoda was. :-)

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

We ran under the bus/tram lot (pretty much the only hill we had on the course), then made a hard right turn in a DCA backstage area, and eventually ended up out on the Esplanade and into Disneyland's main entrance. But we only ran past Town Square before going backstage again, coming back into the park between Redd Rockett's and Innoventions. Unlike last year we didn't run all around Tomorrowland: we headed straight for the hub past Star Tours. And then something different: we ran through the castle from the front side to the back - all of the other courses go the other way.

A quick tour through Fantasyland and then we ran up towards "it's a small world", which still has all of its holiday decorations. We ducked backstage again next to the Fantasyland Theater, ran through a tunnel, and emerged onto the Big Thunder Trail.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

We ran along the perimeter of Frontierland, and saw Ezra and Sabine from Star Wars Rebels next to The Golden Horseshoe. The line was fairly short so we stopped.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon Rebels

In front of the Haunted Mansion we made a 180 degree turn and ran back along the upper level of the walkway along the Rivers of America and entered Adventureland. The Mile 3 sign was in front of The Jungle Cruise.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

Then we ran down Main Street. There were First Order Stormtroopers at the train station, but we ran past them and across the Esplanade into DCA.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

We turned left at the Walt and Mickey statue and ran up Hollywood Blvd. And at the end of the street, finally, was BB-8! There were a lot of people waiting, but we didn't care - we knew the line was only going to get a lot longer! While zigzagging in the queue we at one point ended up next to another woman who was also dressed as Queen Amidala - in a much more elaborate costume than mine. In addition to a more authentic robe she had the full headdress! I don't know how she ran in that, but she looked great.

2016 Star Wars 10K Queen Amidala running costume

It took about 12 minutes until we got our chance to meet BB-8. The cast member who took my phone told us not to touch his head, and to look at the real photographer first, and then at her. It was all very efficient, and she got a nice photo of us. We heard later that the line for BB-8 eventually went down Hollywood Blvd all the way to Award Wieners, and was estimated to be 35 minutes long.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon BB-8

This seems like a good place to say that I thought that the race organizers did a much better job of handling the lines at the character stops this year. There were masking tape queues already marked on the ground and there were CMs managing the end of the line as well as multiple CMs handling runners' cameras and giving us instructions on how it was going to work. It really seemed to help keep the lines moving as quickly as possible.

After leaving BB-8 we went backstage again next to Tower of Terror. And then we did what was my least favorite part of the course: this weird loop out to the Toy Story tram area and back. Obviously just a means of adding some additional distance because there was nothing to see out there. But it's always rather frustrating to be running and then see runners that are ahead of you coming back towards you on the other side of the course.

2016 Star Wars 10K

We ran behind Cars Land, then back into the park at the Pacific Wharf, through Radiator Springs, behind the Tower of Terror, and then into Flik's Fun Faire and past Mile 5.

2016 Star Wars 10K

R2D2 and C-3PO were at the exit of "a bug's land". This line didn't look as long as BB-8, but we still waited 10 minutes. I was disappointed that all of the photos the CM took were out of focus - this was the best one.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon R2D2 Threepio

We ran all the way around Paradise Pier and then in front of Grizzly River Run. We were just about to exit DCA next to Soarin' when I spotted a photo stop with the speeder bikes. This didn't seem to have a long line, but it took longer for people to get set up with it, so we probably waited 8-10 minutes.

2016 Star Wars 10K

The last part of the race was through Downtown Disney. Lots of people to cheer us on to the finish line. I'd looked at my watch when we left the speeder bikes and realized we could finish in less than 1:30 if we booked it, so we did. Lee had more energy than I did and finished in 1:29:33, while I came in at 1:29:53. Not bad considering we had over 30 minutes of photo stops - our running time for the 10K was under an hour.

2016 Star Wars 10K finish

We got our lovely X-wing fighter medals! I'm really pleased that they changed up the 10K medal this year - hope that will continue for next year's race.

2016 Star Wars 10K medal

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

In the finish area was a nifty backdrop of the Wampa cave from The Empire Strikes Back. We had to wait for a while to do that, but we were still feeling good and we were warm enough, even though the temperature was only 52 degrees.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

The finish area was not too crowded, and I liked the decor around the stage area.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon

We got the usual runDisney snack boxes, though the stuff inside was a little more interesting this time. The "puffed corn" one is surprisingly good.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon snack boxes

As we made our way back to the hotel we had to cross the race course near ESPN Club. Sometimes this takes a long time, but we got across with just a short wait. We've learned from past experience that on 10K days it's easier to return to the Grand Californian by walking past Earl of Sandwich down to the Paradise Pier and crossing Disneyland Drive there rather than trying to make our way through Downtown Disney along the race course.

I still love a good Disney 10K - and this is a good one. Though I still haven't decided what I thought about the new course. On one hand I like that it was almost all on property, but on the other hand I didn't like all the backstage areas, and especially all of the doubling back. I give them an "A" for effort, though. And while we didn't have any issues with course crowding I heard that it was a problem for those who started further back, and that there were places they just couldn't run because there were too many people.

One of my biggest complaints last year was character photo ops. I think there was one more this year than last year, and in addition to the characters, there were a couple of set pieces: the speeder bikes and the trash compactor (from episode IV) - though we didn't stop for that one during the 10K. Now that you can get photos with Chewbacca and Boba Fett in Disneyland, I didn't feel the need to stop for those photo ops. But I was very excited about BB-8 and R2D2 and Threepio - those were Must Dos for us. I'm still disappointed that there were no Disney characters in Star Wars costumes, though. We KNOW those outfits exist! Maybe if I keep mentioning it, someone will eventually take notice and it will happen.

Overall it was a good race experience, and we will plan to do it again next year.

After we'd showered and changed I actually did something that I've never done at a Disney race weekend before: I went to watch some of the Kids Races. We have friends whose 15-month-old son was participating in his first runDisney Kids race - the 100 meter run/walk/toddle.

There were four different events - the 100, 200, and 400 meter races, and the Diaper Dash. Distance is determined by age group: under 12 months for the Diaper Dash, and 1-3, 4-6, and 7-8 years for the others. The races used the Downtown Disney parking lot for staging, but the final 100 meters and the finish line were the same used for all of the other races. After finishing they continued into the same post-race refreshment/reunion area, also.

The 100 meter event was first, and the kids and their parents (all these kids had at least one parent with them) were already lined up in the holding area when I arrived. Wow...there were a lot more than I expected! I heard the announcers say 500 kids, though I don't know if that was over all events, or that was how many were in the 100-meter.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon Kids Races

My little friend A and his mom were already lined up, so I went and found A's dad near the finish line. Carissa Bealert and Rudy Novotny were the race announcers for these races, also, and they were joined at the finish line by special guest Chewbacca.

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon Kids Races

They sent the kids off in groups of about 50. There were some pretty fast runners in that 100-meter group of 1-3-year-olds, but the majority of them were walking, most of them holding tightly to Mom or Dad's hand. And some of them just couldn't make it and were carried across the finish line. :-) There were a few tears, too. A lot of the kids and the parents were dressed in costume. Mostly Star Wars, but there were some Princesses and Mickeys and Minnies, too.

Some of them were thrilled by Chewbacca, but a lot of them weren't quite sure about him. There were lots of "Awwww" moments, as you can see if you look at the expressions of the women in the background of this photograph. :-)

2016 Star Wars Kids races

There were bananas and bottles of water available afterwards for the kids. And they all received a Yoda finisher medallion.

2016 Star Wars Kids races

I'm happy to say that A did just great in his first race, and walked the whole thing. He looked adorable in the Han Solo costume his mom made for him, and she was dressed as Chewbacca. And he seemed very proud of his rubber medal - though he gave it a test chew and did not seem impressed. :-)

I only saw the one race, but this was a fun event - I can understand why the Kid's Races sell out so quickly.

Next up: The Star Wars Half Marathon

January 20, 2016

"Zootopia" Press Day, Part 3


So as you might recall from our last installment, we took a visit to the Walt Disney Animation Studios Tujunga Campus to get some exciting details on their upcoming 55th animated feature, "Zootopia."


[Photos provided by Disney]

Different departments took turns revealing some of the process involved in creating a big animation project like Zootopia. The first subject was "Characters: Creating the Citizens of Zootopia," with Character Design Supervisor Cory Loftis, Character Look Supervisor Michelle Robinson, Character CG Supervisor Dave Komorowski and Simulation Supervisor Claudia Chung Sanii.


"Early on in the film, we partnered with Cory and Cory has drawn us this lineup of the kinds of characters we wanted to place in Zootopia...we quickly found that scale was going to be a big issue because our smallest critter is our mouse, over there, and our largest character is our giraffe and actually the discrepancy is such that it would'd have to stack 97 of those mice head to toe in order to reach the top of the giraffe's head."


Other considerations:
--Shots had to be framed so that Judy Hopps, the protagonist, is visible and on the same level with animals both much larger and smaller than she is.
--Each habitat had to have representation, so animals from all ecosystems needed to be developed in both male and female varieties, using color and shape.
--Clothing specific and appropriate to each animal and environment had to designed.
--Quadruped animals required adaptation to bipedal movement, without losing their distinctive animalness.

"One of the things we discussed were all the classic Disney animal movies...we ultimately decided that it was the personalities that were so memorable about them. We wanted to make sure those personalities came across in the characters of Zootopia, and that's not necessarily through the design, but you have to give the animators all those dials to push so that they can get the performance to get that character across."


--Pants proved a specific problem, as animal and human anatomy had to be blended to make them look like they fit right.
--Some animals couldn't wear pants because their legs were too short, so they were kept in shorts.
--The hardest part was getting the cloth of the clothes to move believably, given the different anatomy and movement of each species.
--Designs for both Nick and Judy evolved throughout development to accommodate the changes made in their characters.
--Research started at Animal Kingdom Lodge and San Diego Wild Animal Park.
--A small team went on a two-week safari to Kenya.
--The differences in fur became apparent after many trips to the Natural History Museum: Texture, light refraction/reflection/transmission, etc.
--At the time, there were around 400 unique species and costumes that dress the world of Zootopia.


Afterwards, Loftis gave AllEars a few minutes to talk about differences he noted working on video game-related animation ("Wreck-it Ralph") versus actual video games ("Wildstar.")


"The work itself is actually very similar...what we spend our time focusing on is very different...When you're running around in a game, you're always thinking about the player, right? And they're doing all the action, they're making their own story, so you're trying to put as much cool stuff in front of them as possible. Give them the coolest armor and the coolest creatures to kill and the coolest environments to be in and the coolest stuff to ride--you're always doing that. But when you go to film, you're trying to create the same things, except all those things are in service to the story. So if that cool thing is distracting from the performance happening on the screen--it's no good, right? Everything is in service to that acting, that performance, that scene, and that's the biggest thing it took to get used to, is trying to make stuff not too cool and not too distracting in the background and have it add to the story instead of distract from it."

The next panel was "Production Design/Environments: Building a Magnificent Mammal Metropolis," with Art Director of Environments Matthias Lechner and Environment Look Supervisor Lance Summers.


"When we designed the city of Zootopia, we wanted to make it feel like a real city. Not just some typical future city, but with dirt...buildings from different eras, some better kept up, some falling down...all the stuff that you find in a real city."


--On arranging the various habitats of Tundratown, the Rainforest District, etc., around the downtown of Zootopia where all the animals mix, the layout ended up slightly resembling that of a Disney park with a central hub and surrounding lands.
--Sahara Square is the first part of the city Judy Hopps encounters--a ritzy area with beaches and lots of nightlife, given that most of the animals are nocturnal.


--A surrounding wall radiates heat from one side for Sahara Square, and cold from the other, to create Tundratown: An city covered with ice and snow, and influenced heavily by Russian architecture.


--The Rainforest District is marked by constant rainfall and moist vegetation. With a preponderance of vertical structures, aerial forms of transportation are necessary.


--Little Rodentia is designed to be a perfect tiny town that's set off so it won't get trampled by larger animals.
--Of course it gets trampled by larger animals in a madcap chase.
--Elements of the city appear to be repurposed elements from larger structures. Vegetation is strategically placed to reinforce scale.


On whether the hub-and-spoke transportation system of Zootopia was influenced by the Progress City models: "Well, it's Zootopia with utopia in it, so yes, that's part of what you were supposed to see when you look at that city. It's also a very green's a nice environment. You get a chance to make a city, you might as well make a nice one."

Next time with "Zootopia:" We hear from the Animation and Story departments.

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