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October 15, 2017

"Star Wars Rebels" Fourth and Final Season Premiere

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This week, Monday, October 16th, "Star Wars Rebels" starts its countdown to the end with the one-hour fourth season premier episode "Heroes of Mandalore: Parts One and Two."

[Unattributed photos and video courtesy of Disney]

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For those who may have fallen a few (or more than a few) episodes behind, you can now binge watch all three preceding seasons on the DisneyNow app. For those lacking the time or who just need a quick reminder, Disney has put together a collection of clips to acquaint you with the story so far:

This first episode of the season focuses on Sabine who, on a mission to rescue her father from the Empire, finds a devastating weapon and must decide whether to use or destroy it.

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For a more in-depth look at "Star Wars Rebels," we can take a look back at this year's Star Wars Celebration Orlando at which Rebels was represented in a couple panels. The first was "Dave Filoni: Animated Origins and Unexpected Fates," with Dave Filoni and Pablo Hidalgo.


[The panel begins at 1:25:00]

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--Filoni on George Lucas wanting to bring back Darth Maul: "We would be in a story meeting and he would often say something like 'I've got an idea and you're going to love it' and I was always like 'oooh. That so seldom lines up. But then he said 'we're going to bring Darth Maul back,' and I said 'really...how does that work?' And he goes 'I don't know! You'll figure it out!'"

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--On Maul: "Maul hasn't experienced any personal growth. He hasn't gotten over anything. He hasn't grown, except in his anger and his need for revenge."
--On the Obi-Wan-Darth Maul fight: "I know it's dangerous to not do a big fight, I know a lot of people would want a big fight, and it's just Maul's technique to go really quick, 1-2-3. So it didn't feel like Maul if he didn't get a shot in at all, so that it's block-block, then he goes for that move...that's where I decided to put that move in (the move that took down Qui-Gon.) It also visually tells the story that Obi-Wan paid attention, you know that moment was put into his brain, and that he could defeat it. Again, it shows a progression from master to apprentice that Obi-Wan then could later defeat something that Qui-Gon couldn't."

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--Filoni had originally planned for nine clones to return to Rebels as an homage to Walt Disney's Nine Old Men of animation, but Production cut them down.

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Later on in the course of the weekend, "Star Wars Rebels" had their big Season Four panel with Executive Producer Dave Filoni, Steve Blum, Taylor Gray, Tiya Sircar, Freddie Prinze Jr, and Vanessa Marshall in house.

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[The panel begins at 1:10:00]

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--Prinze Jr.: "Season 4, he's still blind but he sees more than he has ever seen before. He knows what path these rebels need to be on--it takes him some time to figure it out, but once he does, it is a certainty that you have seen in other Jedi before, and you will recognize it as a historical moment in this character's development and growth...Season 4, the stuff that Kanan has to go through is very adult, but Star Wars has always been very adult, even for kids, and it teaches real lessons and the good guys don't always win and sometimes people you loved, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, who's supposed to be there forever...that moment for me, as a kid, is what locked me into Star Wars, because it seemed real...and Obi-Wan got got, and that made me hate Darth Vader for three movies! So when you see a Jedi with clarity, I think you sort of...you get a sense of belonging to that person, 'cause you've seen Kanan struggle for so many years to be a decent Jedi. But I think his mistakes made me fall in love with him, and I hope his faults are what make you guys fall in love with him too."

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--Sircar: "If there are any Mandelorian fans out there, I think you will be happy with some specific episodes in this upcoming season. I think you might be surprised where we end up and...who might show up? There might be some people you know, there might be some people you've never seen before, they might all be Mandelorian...is that good? I will say that I think Sabine is in a new place this season. Over this last Season 3, we saw her sort of step into her own in a way we hadn't seen her before--we always knew she was super capable...the epitome of this Mandelorian warrior who happens to also be this incredibly creative artist--I don't think we've seen that kind of dichotomy before...I think she's gotten beyond those issues with this family and now she's got all these other issues with her other family, and we'll get to explore some of those in Season 4."

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--Marshall: "I think things are coming to a pinpoint there, and I think that she's really impacted by the losses that the group experiences in Season 3. I think she's more focused and committed than ever to get the job done. It's vital, it's essential, and...not that she was kidding earlier, but I think the windows of opportunity and...not the hope, because they always have hope, but I feel they are pressed to the very edges of their ability to handle what's put before them. It's now time to really get it done, and I think you'll see that in Season 4."

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--Blum: "He's actually becoming a more responsible citizen, I think, rather than just being a tough musclehead, so I think we'll be looking forward to him making maybe smarter remarks and better choices. We'll see."

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--Gray: "We've seen him grow up. He's seen the good and the bad...Season 4 is really a thing of deciding what kind of Jedi--and even transcending that--what kind of person he wants to be as he grows up, having seen everything. And he realizes that as he's stepped away from Lothal and joined this family and become dependent on them and learned what he can, it's now time to go back and see what he can do for his people."

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--Filoni: "I firmly believe that each generation has to have their own piece of Star Wars. I feel that this show, for a lot of kids growing up with it, is as much a part of Star Wars as any of the movies, and I really appreciate that love from you guys. And I feel creatively, that I can make this story about these characters the most meaningful that it can be by arcing it to where I need to get to at the end of this season. So I know that's tough, it's tough for me, but believe me, I can say that I know what it's like when I don't get to end a series, and what happens when you don't end a series is you wind up making t-shirts and you have to prolong...it wasn't as fun."

After the big presentation the panel members (minus Prinze Jr.) met for a somewhat smaller press conference.

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--Filoni notes that while the winding down of the series may include somber and tragic events, this is part of the hero's journey that must be experienced to achieve a joyful, inspirational whole.
--He also predicts that Kanan and Ezra in this last season will explore their relationship and commitment to The Force and face the choice of whether to act out of fear and succumb to wickedness, or hold fast to their belief and faith in love and virtue and stay with the Light Side.
--On being asked what about their characters do they wish kids to find inspirational: Marshall picks Hera's ability to hold onto hope; Blum likes Zeb's willingness to be vulnerable; Sircar thinks Sabine demonstrates how people can form new families where they least suspect; and Gray admires Ezra's self-confidence and inner strength.
--Thrawn is the first major villain to return for another season.
--Marshall was elated to hear Hera mentioned in "Rogue One," as "it's like a life insurance policy."

"Star Wars Rebels" returns for its fourth and final season beginning Monday, October 16 with five airings of the one-hour episode "Heroes of Mandalore: Parts One and Two" throughout the day (12:30am, 3:00am, 7:30am, 5:30pm and 9pm EDT/PDT) on Disney XD and the DisneyNow App.





October 12, 2017

Anime Expo 2017

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So a convention that was new to me for this year was Anime Expo--a celebration of Japanese pop culture and the largest North American anime convention.

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Organized by the non-profit Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, it has a variety of events, performances, and panels dealing with anime, manga, video games, and virtually every other form of entertainment, with the addition of cultural demonstrations on subjects like taiko drumming, ikebana, or the wearing of a traditional Japanese kimono and hakama.

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Panels ranged from such diverse topics as voice acting/localization in video games like "Persona 5;" screenings of upcoming anime such as "The Ancient Magus' Bride" and "Lupin the Third--Italian Game;" and live concerts of music from anime soundtracks.

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As a big voice-over fan, I found a lot of the panels featuring Japanese dubbing actors pretty fascinating. Daisuke Hirakawa, who dubs Will Turner in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films and Loki in the "Avengers" series made an appearance...

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...As did Miyu Irino, voice for Haku in "Spirited Away" and Sora in "Kingdom Hearts."

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(I actually don't know if this is a thing particular to Japanese talent, but a lot of the panels with performers present did not allow photos of any kind along with announcing what I thought was somewhat amusing and very Japanese, that the actors would not be giving any "high-fives.")

Out on the exhibitor's floor, Tokyopop was selling a large selection of their Disney Manga collection--officially licensed retellings of some of the classic Disney tales in the distinctive manga style.

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One of their original series is "Kilala Princess," which tells the tale of a young girl pursuing a quest through multiple worlds of different Disney princesses a la "Kingdom Hearts" style.

Of course, like any good convention, there was a ton of cosplay.

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Probably the biggest hurdle to attending this expo was the sheer volume of guests enjoying the weekend there. The first two days I drove to the convention center, it took me around 90 minutes to find a parking lot because the lines to get in through security crossed streets and blocked traffic into some of the lots in the area. While the first day reported wait times of hours just to enter, the expo management seemed to respond pretty quickly in terms of adding more entrance stations and staff to streamline entry for subsequent days. If possible however, I would recommend trying to get their Premier Fan tickets that allow for separate, shorter lines to get into the building and the panel rooms faster.

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On the whole, I found this to be one of the more interesting conventions I attended this year, mostly because the panels and merchandise offerings were so different from what you found at the more generalized cons that seemed to have a lot of overlap. For those unfamiliar with anime or manga, I find a lot of it shares a good deal of the Disney aesthetic in a lot of ways, as is evident in such properties as the Studio Ghibli films. For people interested in exposure to Japanese pop culture, this certainly had an impressive array of opportunities to learn more about it. More information about Anime Expo 2018 (which will be held on July 5-8) can be found at http://www.anime-expo.org/

If you find yourself unable to get to a big convention like Anime Expo, you can still keep your eye out for various pop-up locations that are becoming more prevalent in Los Angeles. This last weekend, Aniplex USA, a production and distribution company for anime in North America, put on a pop-up cafe with special donuts and photo-ops in conjunction with Cafe Dulce in Japan in the Little Tokyo area of LA to promote their new series "Blend-S," currently airing on Crunchyroll.com.

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[While most anime shares the Disney "big-head-big-eyes" standards of cuteness, unlike in the US, Japanese animation is not primarily considered the province for children, and many of them revolve around adult topics and imagery. Viewers of all ages sensitive to such subjects may be forewarned.]






October 10, 2017

Disneyland Resort Updates from October 6

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Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos from his trip to the parks on Friday, October 6, 2017.

Starting off at the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure with a couple of video clips giving an overview of the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge construction.


The Battle Escape Show Building in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. More of the exterior wall has been added to the Battle Escape show building on the side that runs along Disneyland Drive.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Wire mesh is being added to the steel supports to form the mountains/rock formations.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

A closer look. Notice the worker to get a sense of the scale.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

A new, to me at least, traffic pattern at the garage today. The Ball Road overpass was coned to allow two-way traffic.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Downtown Disney has Halloween/Fall decorations in many of the planters this year.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

In the Lego store a new Millennium Falcon set is now available. The set retails for $799.99

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Splitsville is moving along. The exterior walls are being installed.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017


Build-A-Bear remains open and reports are it will be through the Holidays.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017
The hat store next door is closed now though.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017
Ridemakerz is still open but on a reduced operating schedule.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017
Across the walkway Vault 28 and Fossil are closed to make way for a Star Wars VR experience.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Anna & Elsa are out and a new Dream Boutique is moving in.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Sephora is receiving a facelift. The store is still open as the exterior is being renovated.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Haagen-Dazs has taken over the information kiosk between the tram stop and ticket booths.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Entering Disneyland.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Donald Duck meeting guests in Town Square.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

As I walked through Tomorrowland I noticed almost no wait for the Autopia so decided to go for a drive.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017
A point of view video from my Disneyland Autopia Drive. Be warned, it is not a smooth video.


Goofy out for a stroll in Toon Town.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

A check of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge mountains from Toon Town.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017


Toon Town from the Miss Daisy.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017
Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge pictures from the Big Thunder Trail entrance. No truck blocking my view this time.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Big Thunder is closed for renovation.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge from Tarzan's Tree House
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

I made my way over to Tomorrowland and encountered Jake the Droid exploring the area, rolling around. He is a prototype of a droid that you may find in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and Imagineers have been play-testing him in the park, as well as at the D23 Expo.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Jake rolled up to the store and encountered a sign saying droids are not allowed.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017
So he rolled off.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Here are a couple video clips of Jake the Droid in Tomorrowland.


There were other signs up throughout Tomorrowland as part of the test.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Droids are not welcome at a lot of establishments.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

On my way to Disney California Adventure. A preview for the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok film has moved into the Sunset Showcase Theater

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

The lobby has some props and costumes from the film.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017
Stopped by Buena Vista Street to catch the lighting moment.

Then out to Paradise Gardens for a Musical Celebration of Coco
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017
Oogie Boogie popcorn buckets available on Paradise Pier, too. The line here was substantially shorter than on Buena Vista Street and at Disneyland.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017
The FastPass return for Toy Story was really backed up. It filled the queue and stretched out to the walkway. I looked at this and decided to skip my FastPass.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017
Paradise Pier was busy, as is normal on a Friday during Halloween time when Disneyland is closed for a party.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Next stop Cars Land. Ornament Valley this evening.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

The theme for the rest of the evening was lines of guests everywhere.
The line for Flo's stretched to Route 66.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017
Happy Haul-O-Ween...
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

The Carthay Circle Restaurant this evening.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

Some lights on at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, so a quick look before leaving.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, October 6, 2017

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, https://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on Twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.









October 4, 2017

San Diego Comic-Con 2017: "Once Upon A Time"

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So this year, San Diego Comic-Con ran a scant few days after the big D23 Expo. While this did have the result of Expo draining off some of the Disney content that would usually be present at SDCC, there was still the usual enormous amount of things happening throughout the weekend.

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Out on the exhibitor's floor, ABC brought back their "Once Upon A Time" booth, promoting the series in preparation for its next rebooted season.

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After the usual moderate wait, guests could enter and get an introduction to the series' new trailer with a holographic Captain Hook.

Afterwards, people had the opportunity to duel with the aforementioned Captain Hook who is clearly positioned to be in a lead position this season.

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Later on in the weekend, Yvette Nicole Brown once again moderated the yearly OUAT panel which included Co-creators and executive producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, writer David H. Goodman, and cast members Colin O’Donoghue, Lana Parrilla, Robert Carlyle...

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Dania (Cinderella) Ramirez, Andrew J. (Older Henry Mills) West, and Gabrielle (Wicked Stepmother Lady Tremaine) Anwar.

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Some of the panel highlights:

--"If your real fear is 'oh my God, are you going to erase the last six years,' we are not. But we are going to take a few new characters and go on a new journey, and we hope you come with us on it."

The audience was then shown the first scene of the next season:

--Adam and Eddie respond to O'Donoghue's query of where Henry gets the gas for his motorcycle that he rides for years throughout various fairy tale realms: "I don't think we're here for you to poke at plot holes! If there is a bean that can transport him to a new book, don't worry about fuel!" "Episode 5: A Land Without Chevron."
--At the time of the panel, the cast was in the middle of the second episode and had a limited knowledge of what was in store for their characters.
--On the new season: "Henry's on a new adventure. Henry's left home and he wants to go and visit other Storybrookes with different stories and different characters. And he obviously falls in love with Cinderella much like the romance his grandparents had and what happens, is what always happens, is he gets into some trouble and he calls out for help from his family. And the three people you see on the stage, that you know and love, come to his rescue. So it's really these three and Henry on an epic adventure, and that's the next chapter of 'Once Upon A Time.'"
--The theme for next season: "Never stop fighting for what you believe in, and never give up."
--Favorite fairy tales: O'Donoghue and Parilla--Hansel and Gretel; Carlyle--Snow White; Ramirez--Little Mermaid (Disney;) West--Sword in the Stone; Anwar--Little Mermaid (Hans Christian Andersen.)
--On what Mr. Gold's first name is: Kitsis: "Mister." Carlyle: "Barbara."
--Kitsis on new characters: "We are going to meet Rose Reynolds who is going to be playing a new version of Alice in Wonderland since no one watched the spin-off. AND YOU KNOW WHO I'M LOOKING AT, BECAUSE I'M LOOKING AT ALL OF YOU."

The panel closed with an SDCC-specific trailer for the new season:

The new season of "Once Upon A Time" starts Friday, October 6, 2017.





October 2, 2017

Some Thoughts Taking a non-Disney Cruise

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If you're a regular reader of this blog, then you probably know that Lee and I are big fans of Disney Cruise Line. We've taken a couple of non-Disney cruises (Royal Caribbean and Princess) in the last year and several of you expressed interest in hearing what we thought about them. So this blog is for you. :-)

This is not going to be an in-depth "Disney vs. Royal Caribbean vs. Princess" article. Since the cruises were a vacation for me I didn't do a whole bunch of research nor take a whole bunch of photos. It'll be more things that struck me as similarities, or significant differences, between the cruise experiences.

Bottom line: Any of the three cruise lines can give you a very nice vacation. There are a lot of variables, so it really depends on you and what you're looking for. In addition to cruise line and cruise ship, itinerary may also be a very important factor. Based on our experiences I felt that overall you get more for your money with Royal Caribbean though there are definite intangibles with Disney that might make a Disney cruise worth the higher price. I'm sorry to say that the Princess cruise didn't measure up to the other two. We were disappointed in our Princess cruise and felt there was a definite "you get what you pay for" when compared to Disney.

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We took a 7-night Eastern Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas ship. Which is HUGE. The ports were Nassau and St. Thomas, which we have visited before on Disney, and St. Maarten, which was new to us. We had three sea days. No stop at their private island, so I won't be able to compare that to Castaway Cay.

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I also can't do a fair comparison of our stateroom. Instead of the usual veranda stateroom we have on Disney we had a Grand Suite. It was very nice. Lots of room - a little less than twice the size of our usual DCL stateroom.

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It had upgrades like granite counters, tile, and a full-size bathtub. But the upholstery on the sofa and chairs was a bit shabby and the carpet was worn. It was about 30% more expensive than a DCL oceanview stateroom with veranda would have been for a week-long Caribbean cruise. Still, that was far less than what we would've paid for a suite on a Disney cruise ship.

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Also, as suite guests we had lots of benefits that we would not otherwise have had - like a lounge and a private restaurant. I've not cruised in a suite on Disney, so I have no experience with what it's like. I do know that Disney does not have a private restaurant for suite guests, though.

The check in and boarding experience were about the same - though we weren't "welcomed aboard" like we are on Disney. That was actually fine with me - I don't really enjoy that on the Disney cruise ships.

There's not a huge atrium on the Oasis - instead we entered into the Royal Promenade, a totally indoor area filled with shops, bars, and restaurants. But it felt like we were in an outdoor space during the nighttime.

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Before I go any further I should probably describe the Oasis a little more. For a few years it was the largest cruise ship in the world (now its sister ships are a few inches longer). One of the things it is known for is its Central Park area. It's on deck 8 in the center of the ship, and it's open all the way to the sky. It looks like a park, with trees, shrubs, flowers, benches, and walkways. There's even the sound of birds chirping. There are restaurants and bars on both sides. On the higher floors above the park there are staterooms with balconies. These would be interior staterooms on other ships, but on the Oasis they overlook Central Park.

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There's also a large open area on the back of the ship, on deck 6. The Boardwalk is also open all the way to the sky. There's a couple of restaurants there as well as an ice cream and cupcake shop, candy store, and a bar. And a carousel. All the way at the back of the ship is the Aqua Theater, where there are shows, a large screen for movies or televised events (e.g. football games). It has a fairly large seating area. Above are staterooms that overlook the Boardwalk and/or the Aqua Theater. Two of our traveling companions had a stateroom above the Aqua Theater, and we enjoyed watching the diving show from there.

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Activities on board the Oasis that are not offered on Disney include things like climbing walls, ziplining, and the Flowrider (a boogie board/surfing simulator).

Though the Oasis was bigger than any Disney ship I've been on, I found it easy to get around, and it seemed much more logically organized - I wasn't constantly trying to remember if something was on deck 2 or 3 or 4, and if it was forward or aft. Most everything was in the center, like Central Park and the Royal Promenade. It also helped that there were only two elevator lobbies/stairways. There was no mid-ship elevator, so the two were somewhat forward of mid-ship and somewhat aft. I believe there were 12(!) elevators in each lobby - six port, six starboard.

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One thing that's quite different on Royal Caribbean in comparison to Disney is dining. There are three main dining rooms, but there's no rotational dining. Whatever dining room you are assigned to is where you would go every night if you don't opt for something else. When you book a cruise you also have a choice of "My Time" dining. With that you can go to any of the three restaurants, but you might have to wait for a table. We chose "My Time" dining.

There are many more choices for meals than on the Disney ships. On the Oasis there's the Windjammer buffet as well as a number of quick service places that offer pizza, burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches. There's even more options with the specialty restaurants, but those cost extra. We tried most of the specialty restaurants: in a couple of places it was worth it but in most places not. And I have to say that Palo stands up to ANY of them, and is less expensive than the two "fine dining" restaurants we tried on the Oasis.

Two places that we really enjoyed - and which also gave us a lot of food for the price - were Sabor, the Mexican restaurant, and Vintages, the wine bar. Sabor offers tableside made-to-order guacamole for $5 (cheap - easily serves 2 or more) that was delicious. Their other entrees, such as the carnitas tacos and quesadillas, were also quite reasonable and very filling. $20 for two people will get you a LOT of food.

Vintages offers a really interesting variety of tapas - I think we shared one of the samplers, which gave us six different plates for something like $20, and was way more than we could eat.

Speaking of Vintages...we went to two wine tastings there. Much more expensive than Disney - $40/person, and I think we usually pay more like $15 for a Disney wine tasting. They were good experiences - the staff was great and the wines were good - but I think Disney offers a better value there.

The food quality I would say was on par with Disney. Though again, since we never ate in the main dining rooms I can't compare that experience. Still, that was the consensus from some of our group who did eat in the main dining rooms.

Beverage packages are another thing that was new to us. On Disney, soft drinks and hot beverages like tea and coffee are free at the beverage stations and in the dining rooms. On Royal Caribbean, you pay for those unless you have a beverage package. There are several different packages. The most basic offers unlimited soda for $8.50 per person per day, while the Deluxe package, for $55/person/day, includes soda, juice, bottled water, premium coffee, and alcoholic beverages (up to $12, with a $12 credit on anything over $12). We opted not to do any drink packages, which over the course of the cruise was the right decision for me - for Lee, it was a little closer since he drinks coffee and beer, though I still think we came out a little ahead. My impression was that the Deluxe package was the reason we saw more obviously intoxicated passengers than we do on a Disney cruise, though there wasn't anyone that was particularly unruly or obnoxious.

The cruise we were on was sold out, but the ship rarely seemed crowded. Embarkation and debarkation and the lifeboat drill were when we saw the most people. Now, the demographics were much different than on a Disney ship! The passengers were largely retired and much older than we were. We saw some families with kids, but nothing like the numbers of kids we see on a Disney ship. The number of kids wasn't entirely unexpected, but we were surprised that relatively few people seemed to be under the age of 70. One in five, maybe? (That might be optimistic. I don't think it was as low as one in ten, though.)

Oasis of the Seas

There were plenty of things to do on board - and as usual, we didn't get to a lot of them. I already mentioned the climbing walls, FlowRider, and ziplining. One of the biggest differences from a Disney cruise is that there was a casino. We went in there once just to take a brief look - it's really not our thing. But a lot of people seem to enjoy it.

Oasis of the Seas

I missed the availability of movies. Unlike on a Disney ship, there weren't movies being shown almost continuously in an indoor theater - and definitely not first-run movies. There were some movies shown outdoors on the big screen at the Aqua Theater - similar to the Funnelvision idea on the Disney ships. Another big difference was in the staterooms: movies were pay-per-view and not free.

Shows were another difference. Most of the shows ran several times throughout the cruise, and passengers could reserve a spot in advance for them. There was the Broadway musical Cats, an ice skating show, comedy club and other acts - we saw an ABBA tribute group that was very good. All the reservation did was allow you into the theater prior to the standby line, though. So even people with reservations often lined up early for the shows. I don't think the main theater, the Opal Theater, is as big as the Walt Disney Theater. Some of the shows were amazingly well-attended (like the ABBA show), and the theater was standing room only. I found that a surprise.

The Aqua Theater was an interesting venue. It was outdoors on the stern, and had pools, a trampoline, diving boards, and high dive platforms. The Oasis of Dreams show was sort of Cirque d'Soleil'ish and combined diving, acrobatics, synchronized swimming, and trampoline. It was pretty technically impressive as well. Unfortunately we had some wind and high seas, so it wasn't until the final day of the cruise that performances were finally able to take place. We happened to be outside the theater one day when the performers were rehearsing, though - that was interesting to watch.

Oasis of the Seas

There were places for active activities, too. There was a Sports Deck with basketball hoops, volleyball nets and ping pong tables. Lee and I both enjoyed the very nice walking/running track on deck 5. It's a dedicated track - no shuffleboard courts like on the Disney ships. There's a special surface on the deck, slightly cushy. There were separate lanes for runners and walkers, and in general it was much easier to walk/run than it is on the Disney ships since pretty much everyone who was on that deck was there to walk or run.

Oasis of the Seas

There was a huge gym and spa on board. It was on decks 6 and 7, with all interior space - no windows like on the Disney ships. Lee went to the gym to ride the exercise bikes a few times - it was never that busy.

I had a couple of spa treatments. Unlike Disney I was not shown to a locker room or offered a robe - just waited in the relaxation room until I was escorted to a treatment room. Nor was I offered access to shower facilities afterwards. My practitioners were fine and they didn't push the Elemis spa products when I said I wasn't interested.

Lee and I both signed up for Oasis' version of the "Rainforest Room" - they called it the "Thermal Suite". It was quite a letdown compared to Disney. A very small area considering how many passengers the ship holds. There were only four heated lounges! So it was sometimes hard to get one. No other seating at all. There was a dry sauna and two steam rooms, but only two showers, and there were no whirlpool or soaking tubs at all. And again, it was all inside, with no natural light. Though at least when we checked into the Thermal Suite we were given a robe and access to a locker room and showers.

There were several different pool areas. All looked nice, but we never spent any time there.

Oasis of the Seas

We were very impressed by the internet service on board the ship. So much better than our experiences on Disney ships. As suite passengers it was included, but the same service was available to everyone for a reasonable fee. It was surprisingly good, and fairly fast. I wouldn't stream a movie, but for keeping up with email and Facebook it worked great. I had coverage all over the ship, and very few times did I experience any kind of interruption in service. It was also "unlimited" - no minutes or megabytes to keep track of. Though if you used too much your speed was throttled down. I don't think that happened to us, though.

I was surprised that there was no on-board app like Disney's Navigator application. We had to rely on the daily paper, or our stateroom tv, to figure out what was going on.

Another area where Oasis disappointed us was in keeping us informed of things on our schedule. I never received any phone messages or stateroom notes to remind me of spa appointments or specialty dining. I found the latter especially surprising - I'd think they would want people to be well aware of their dining arrangements! It turned out that we could set up a personal calendar of events on our stateroom tv - but then we had to turn on the tv to find out what was on the calendar. Not very convenient to do.

This was one example where we didn't feel as "cared for" as we do on Disney. Another was on our excursion on St. Thomas. Rather than meeting on board ship we were told to meet at a spot on the pier. Once we went there we were told to go over to a spot near one of the docks to wait for our ferry to St. John. But there were several other excursions also boarding from that same dock, and it was very confusing trying to figure out which group we should be part of. Plus our ferry was at least 30 minutes late, and we were stuck waiting outside in the hot sun - there was no shade. On Disney we would have been escorted to where we needed to go - and we wouldn't have been taken off the ship until they knew our boat was fairly close. While this wasn't really a big deal - it was very different than the way Disney would have handled it.

Our experience with the crew was good. We had one less than positive experience with our server in Chops, but otherwise I found the service not significantly different than our Disney cruises. I even saw a few crew members that I recognized from previous Disney cruises.

We enjoyed our cruise, and, while we do not have another cruise booked, we will certainly consider Royal Caribbean in the future. They offer many more ships and choices of destinations than Disney, and at this point in our lives, that's very attractive to us. While there were a few things that Disney does better, there were also things that Royal Caribbean does better, and a lot of areas where both cruise lines do equally well.

Princess Cruise Line
We took an Alaska cruise. The choice of cruise line and ship was completely itinerary and date-driven: the cruise had to be at a certain time in June, it had to visit Glacier Bay, and it had to be a southbound itinerary (Seward or Whittier to Vancouver). While we looked at Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Holland America, the "Voyage of the Glaciers" cruise on the Star Princess, leaving from Whittier, was the only one that met all of the criteria. It was a great itinerary: scenic cruising of Hubbard Glacier one day and Glacier Bay the next, followed by port calls in Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan. We had amazing weather. It was such a nice day in Ketchikan that the Misty Fjords weren't misty!

Star Princess

Our stateroom was a mini-suite, so it was upgrade - in size, at least - over our usual veranda stateroom on Disney. We certainly had more room inside, and a larger balcony - nice for glacier watching.

Star Princess

There was only a single bathroom, but it had a full-size tub. Unfortunately the Star Princess is an older ship, and the staterooms are in desperate need of refurbishment. We were very disappointed in the condition of ours: the carpet was faded, the sofa cushions were worn through in places, the shower curtain was shabby, and there was black stuff in some of the grout in the shower.

Star Princess

The price was attractive: we paid about 25% less than we would have paid for a Disney Cruise Line veranda stateroom for their 7-night Alaska itinerary. And Disney doesn't go to Glacier Bay or Hubbard Glacier. We booked with a package called "Sip and Sail", which included the premium beverage package at no additional cost to us. More on that later.

Check-in at the port in Whittier was efficient - which was nice because we had NO status at all on Princess. Being in a mini-suite did not give us any special privileges. Unfortunately the woman who checked us in didn't tell us some of the things that our traveling companions learned from other agents - like what deck our stateroom was on. If you recall from "The Love Boat", Princess has decks named "Lido", "Caribe", "Aloha", etc.. We were on "Dolphin" - which was deck 9 - that was a good thing to know.

Star Princess

We didn't enter into the atrium of the Star Princess, though it had an atrium. Not quite as grand as Disney, but still nice. While the staterooms needed attention, I'll say that the public spaces on the Star Princess were beautiful, and in excellent condition.

Star Princess

The Star Princess is slightly larger than the Magic and Wonder, but not as big as the Dream and Fantasy. It seemed a similar layout to the Disney ships, with restaurants, bars, shops, etc. on decks 5-7; pool deck on deck 14 with quick service locations and buffet; and a sports deck and spa and fitness center. One of our favorite spaces was Skywalkers Nightclub - it sort of looked like a whale tail above deck 17. Great view looking aft from there!

Star Princess

The only thing that struck me as being available on the Star Princess but not on Disney was the Casino. We never even went in there. :-)

On Princess, there's a choice of "Traditional" dining or "Anytime" dining. With Traditional you are assigned to one of two dining rooms at a set time. With Anytime, you dine when you wish. There was one restaurant dedicated to Anytime dining; and one of the Traditional dining rooms was available to Anytime diners starting at 7:30. We had opted for Anytime dining.

Star Princess

Other options are the buffet, quick service, or room service. There are also two specialty restaurants, for which there is an additional charge. We tried Crown Grill and it was very good.

Star Princess

The International Cafe on deck 5 was open 24 hours a day. In addition to specialty coffee, tea, etc., it served food. Depending on the time of day they offered pastries (wonderful fresh pastries), a breakfast sandwich, soups, salads, sandwiches, fruit, cheeses, and desserts. Everything I had there was very good - it was SO much better than the Goofy's Galley or Flo's concepts on the Disney ships. Much more variety.

Star Princess

In the afternoons there was usually a movie showing on the pool deck - their version of "FunnelVision". Free, freshly popped buttered popcorn was available in the area, and that was a very nice snack.

Star Princess

The food quality overall - not very good. I was surprised, because I'd heard that Princess was considered to be better than Disney. The food in the dining rooms was kind of tasteless, dry, etc.. The exception was desserts: they were MUCH better than anything I've had on Disney except the Palo chocolate souffle. As I mentioned earlier, we really enjoyed the International Cafe. It was my favorite place to eat a snack, or a light breakfast or lunch. And we had an excellent meal at Crown Grill - it was easily the best meal we had on board all week.

The dining room service left a lot to be desired, also. Since we had Anytime dining we were randomly assigned to an available table - never in the same spot in the restaurant. We had servers who couldn't be bothered to greet us and didn't introduce themselves, assistant servers who disappeared and it took forever to get drinks, items we ordered that weren't delivered and we had to ask for them, a head server who didn't seem to care what was going on...sometimes we felt unwelcome. Quite different than anything I've experienced on a Disney ship.

Like Royal Caribbean, Princess also offers various beverage packages, since soft drinks and hot beverages are not included like they are on Disney. I mentioned the "Sip and Sail" promotion - that gave both of us the All-Inclusive Beverage Package, which is normally $58 per person, per day. Any beverage on board valued at $10 or less was available to us at no charge. That was just about everything, including specialty coffees, cocktails, and wines by the glass (a few sparkling wines were higher). It's not something we would have purchased, but it was nice to have. All we had to do was order at a bar or in a restaurant and present our room keys. Tip was included - though it was odd that we didn't receive any kind of bill at all to potentially add to it. I have to admit that I tried things I wouldn't have otherwise tried - and if I didn't like it, I didn't feel badly about not finishing it. :-) I drank a fair amount of Perrier, which I wouldn't have done without the package.

We were traveling with two other couples. We all had the package so we spent a fair amount of time in various bars. Generally the bar service was good, especially since some of the servers and bartenders got to know us. There were some inventory problems, though: the four beer drinkers in our group were not happy that several of the draft beers were sold out when we were only halfway into the cruise.

Lee and I spent some time in Vines, the wine bar. Yes, I'm sure you're all shocked. :-) In addition to wines by the glass there were several wine flights available for under $10. But they also had inventory problems - there were several wines that were supposed to be part of flights that were sold out early in the cruise. And rather than substitute a different wine, they wouldn't sell the flight at all. From 4:00-9:30 Vines served Tapas and Sushi with any wine purchase - also included for those of us using the package. On a couple of evenings Lee and I got a plate of sushi and a plate of tapas to share, and it was pretty good.

There was a wine tasting session on our final sea day. Rather than being in one of the lounges it was in one of the dining rooms. There was room for many more guests than anything we've done on Disney, but it lost a lot of the intimacy. Still, it was well done and informative.

There were lots of ship-board activities. Our group participated in a couple of games. Not surprisingly, we won the Disney Trivia contest. :-) Because we were in Alaska there was a guest lecturer on board who gave several presentations on glaciers, wildlife, etc., and those were interesting.

We think our cruise was pretty full, but we didn't really experience a lot of crowds. Debarkation was the worst part because we were delayed getting into port and docking. So the "express walk-off" people were over an hour late getting off the ship, and lots of people were just hanging around after breakfast because they were still waiting to get off. The Debarkation process was different than what we are used to on Disney because everyone was assigned to a group, and each group met in a different area of the ship where we waited until we got the OK for that group to leave. Our group was about 40 minutes late because of the delay.

Star Princess

The mix of adult passengers didn't seem that much different to me than on Disney. There were 20-somethings on up. There were fewer kids than we'd see on Disney, but there were still a number of kids on board. We were relieved not to see the preponderance of elderly passengers we did on our Royal Caribbean cruise.

The walking/running deck was unusual - it was not a continuous flat track. There were sets of stairs we had to go up and down at the front of the ship. That area at the front was the forward viewing area, so sometimes we had to avoid people who were up there just to look around. Not really conducive to running very much, though we weren't the only ones who attempted it. There was a fairly nice gym as well. We took a tour of the spa but I never did any treatments there, so can't address that at all.

To find out what was going on around the ship there was the daily paper - the "Princess Patter". Or, you could use WiFi and your web browser to connect to the on-board ship information. That worked pretty well. We also used it to send messages to our group.

Excursions were handled much better than what we'd experienced on Royal Caribbean. While our excursion groups didn't meet on-board the ship like we usually do for Disney, there was cruise staff with signs on the dock, and they were easy to find. We were usually on our way pretty quickly.

Our experience with the crew was mixed. We saw our stateroom host fairly often, and he always had a pleasant greeting for us. I mentioned our disappointment with most of the staff in the dining rooms. The staff at the buffet was generally pleasant, and the bar staff was good.

At the end of the cruise I had pretty mixed feelings about Princess in general. Our itinerary was wonderful, and we enjoyed all of the ports. But the condition of the staterooms and our dining experiences were very disappointing, and not at all what I expected. Princess has a large fleet of ships with itineraries available all over the world, so we will see if we take another Princess cruise. If we were on a newer (or recently refurbished) ship we might have a different experience.

I apologize if I've rambled - I have written this blog in multiple chunks over a period of eight months, so it's a little disjointed.






September 28, 2017

Halloween Time 2017 at Disneyland

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Disneyland Halloween Time

If you've been reading my blog for a while then you know I've mentioned before that Halloween Time is just about my favorite time of year at the Disneyland Resort. There's a lot going on, and I've already covered some of it in several blogs:
     "Haul-O-Ween" in Cars Land
     Halloween at Disney California Adventure
     Mickey's Halloween Party

But now I'm going to talk about Halloween Time at Disneyland this year. For me, Halloween Time begins when I ride the tram from the Mickey & Friends parking structure and pass the Halloween display along the tram route.

Disneyland Halloween Time

The oversized character pumpkins are over the park entrance.

Disneyland Halloween Time

On Main Street, it's the Main Street Pumpkin Festival. Festively carved pumpkins, no two alike, peep out from all over Main Street.

Disneyland Halloween Time

There are pumpkins in shop windows, also.

Disneyland Halloween Time

A very popular photo opportunity is the giant Mickey pumpkin in Town Square.

Disneyland Halloween Time

The Dapper Dans perform sets that include Halloween-themed songs. Lots of clever choreography and corny jokes. I particularly like the way they end "Grim Grinning Ghosts", the first song in the clip below. They really put on a good show.

In Town Square during the morning hours many of the Disney characters, dressed in their Halloween costumes, are out to greet guests.

Disneyland Halloween Time

Some of the villains are out out, too.

Disneyland Halloween Time

The characters sometimes interact with each other, and that's a lot of fun to watch.

Disneyland Halloween Time

One of the highlights of Halloween Time is Haunted Mansion Holiday, the attraction overlay where Halloween meets Christmas. Jack Skellington and the Halloween Town gang have been decorating the Haunted Mansion since 2001.

Each year there is a different gingerbread house. This year the house has been infested by gingerbread bugs. Oogie Boogie's solution is to eat them.

Disneyland Halloween Time

The Space Mountain attraction also receives a holiday overlay, and becomes Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy. There's a different weirdly chilling soundtrack with sudden rills timed to the visuals of eerie space images throughout the attraction - like when the "space ghost" appears to try to grab the rocket vehicles as they pass by.

Disneyland Halloween Time

I enjoy watching the screen in the loading area - the image of a planet occasionally gets scrambled and the signal is lost, demonstrating that something is not quiet right in the sector.

Disneyland Halloween Time

The ride seems even darker to me than the "normal" Space Mountain, and it's certainly fast and thrilling. There's signs placed at the entrance and several other places in the queue warning that the attraction may be frightening for children.

Disneyland Halloween Time

In Frontierland is the Dia de los Muertos display. In addition to the displays is a face painting location.

Disneyland Halloween Time

Something new this year is the sale of custom-made floral headbands. The price starts at $30, and goes up depending on the number and size of flowers selected. They were quite pretty - I saw several women wearing them.

Disneyland Halloween Time

Some of the most popular pieces of Halloween merchandise each year are the popcorn buckets. This year there are several. The Mickey pumpkin bucket ($15.00) is available only at Disneyland, at a number of different popcorn carts. There's also a Villains bucket available only to Annual Passholders. After the initial $15 purchase, refills are available for $1 through October 31.

Disneyland Halloween Time

The Oogie Boogie popcorn bucket ($15.99) is available in both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

Disneyland Halloween Time







September 26, 2017

2017 Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland

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Mickey's Halloween Party

Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland is a hard ticket event that takes place on selected nights in September and October during the Halloween Time celebration. Disneyland closes early to day guests, and only party guests are permitted to stay in the parks for the rest of the evening. There are many events that are exclusive to the party, but I'll get to those later. One of the attractions of the party is that all party guests, even adults, are allowed to wear family-friendly costumes and go trick-or-treating.

All tickets to this year's parties are sold out on-line, but there may still be tickets available at Disneyland ticket booths for some parties. Wednesday night, September 20, the first party of the season, was sold out, but on Friday the sign at the entrance indicated that some tickets were available. The moral of the story is: If you think you'll want to go to Mickey's Halloween Party, purchase your tickets early. Tickets usually go on sale in July.

Mickey's Halloween Party

The parties are 5 hours long: either 6:00-11:00 or 7:00-midnight. But party guests can also get an extra three hours of park time since their party ticket will allow them to enter either Disneyland or Disney California Adventure up to three hours before the party starts. The admission to Disney California Adventure is new this year. It allows guests to see the Haul-O-Ween celebration in Cars Land, as well as decor on Buena Vista Street, though my personal opinion is that it was a way to justify this year's hefty price increase - $13-$21 depending on party date.

Mickey's Halloween Party

Now, considering a one-day park hopper is a minimum of $157 these days, then for those who are not Annual Passholder, perhaps $105 for a ticket that gives guests 8 hours of park time, as well as the party events, is not such a bad deal.

But I digress.

This year, party tickets included MaxPass. That means free PhotoPass downloads for party guests. And, I think for the first time, Fastpasses were available for Fastpass attractions during party hours, and with MaxPass, guests could book Fastpasses with the Disneyland app on their phones. A nice feature if you want to experience attractions such as Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy and Haunted Mansion Holiday, which have long standby lines on party nights.

Mickey's Halloween Party

There are designated entrance turnstiles for party guests. Upon entering, guests receive a wristband, which they will probably be required to show a number of times during the night as cast members attempt to clear the park of day guests. Guests also receive a trick-or-treat bag and a special party map.

Mickey's Halloween Party

An hour before the party begins, Toon Town opens to party guests for Early Trick or Treating. There are several Treat Trails available as well as several Disney character Meet-and-Greet locations. The characters are wearing different costumes than they wear later in the other photo locations. Toon Town is open for two hours, and then closes for the remainder of the evening.

Mickey's Halloween PartyMickey's Halloween Party

I managed to fill my treat bag just by going through the treat trails in Toon Town! In addition to a variety of candy, most treat stations also had a "healthier" (or at least less sugary) option available. Whole grain crackers, cheese popcorn, graham crackers, potato chips, Craisins, and packages of mini carrots or apple slices. Generally I had to ask for the alternative, otherwise I received candy.

Mickey's Halloween Party

There were plenty of Treat Trails available in other areas throughout the park. The lines were pretty long early, but if you wait until later in the evening they were much shorter. And there was still plenty of candy available. In fact, towards the end of the party it seemed as though some cast members were giving out more candy just to get rid of it.

Mickey's Halloween Party

Mickey's Halloween Party

There is some party-exclusive merchandise available at the Emporium, Pioneer Mercantile, and Pieces of Eight.

Mickey's Halloween Party

Almost all regular dining locations and outdoor vending carts are open during the party. There are no party-specific food items that I'm aware of, but there are Halloween-themed food and beverage items available at many locations during Halloween Time, so there are lots of new things to try. One of my favorites is the Lamb Kofta at Bengal BBQ.

Mickey's Halloween Party

If you're an Annual Passholder, there's a Passholder-exclusive photo location in New Orleans Square near the Pirate's Lair boat dock. I didn't get a chance to check this out because the line was always very long.

A highlight for many party guests is the Character Greeting opportunities. Some of them wear outfits exclusive to the party, or are characters not usually seen in the park. Be aware that the character lines are usually very long - bring your patience.

Mickey's Halloween Party

There are other live entertainment options as well. The Pixar Pals Halloween Dance Party takes place at the Galactic Grill stage area. This is not a character greeting location - instead, characters like The Incredibles, Frozone and Mike and Sulley join guests on the dance floor. Everyone seems to have a good time.

Mickey's Halloween Party

In Frontierland, the Living Scarecrows are hanging around, talking to guests and telling "corny" jokes.

Mickey's Halloween Party

One of my favorites is the Cadaver Dans. They float along the fog-shrouded Rivers of America singing spooky Halloween songs. They have quite a repertoire in addition to the familiar songs like "This is Halloween" and "Grim Grinning Ghosts". The last song in the clip below is "The Tale of the Headless Horseman", not something that I'd heard before.

A spooky but fun Halloween soundtrack plays throughout the park. After dark there are projections on the castle and the Main Street buildings.

Mickey's Halloween Party

I think two of the main reasons to go to the Halloween Party are the Frightfully Fun Parade and the Halloween Screams fireworks show. The Frightfully Fun Parade was new last year. This year there were a few additions and changes.

Mickey's Halloween Party

The Headless Horseman walks down the parade route 10 minutes before the parade starts. This year the audio includes some narration of the Sleepy Hollow story, and Ichabod Crane scurries down the parade route ahead of the Horseman.

Mickey's Halloween Party

A dance element including Mickey and Minnie now follows the opening title float. Only villains were in last year's parade.

Mickey's Halloween Party

There were a few changes to the final Villains element, with Ursula and Gaston joining the other baddies this year. Ursula leads the other villains down the parade route. Cruella deVil went to the front of the float with Hades, and a posing, flexing Gaston is now on the back.

Mickey's Halloween Party

Headless Horseman and Parade video:

The Halloween Screams fireworks is hosted by the "Master of Scare-omonies" Jack Skellington, who appears on a projection screen that's raised to the left of the castle. For best viewing of the show you'll want to stand someplace that you can see that area. Zero flies around the castle as well.

Mickey's Halloween Party

There's appearances on the screen by guest villains such as Ursula and Oogie Boogie, also, and lots of fireworks.

Mickey's Halloween Party

Do you have any tips or comments on Mickey's Halloween Party? Please share them using the Feedback Form below.







September 20, 2017

Fathom Events: "Lupin The 3rd 'The Castle Of Cagliostro'"

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This month, Fathom Events presented the classic 1979 Japanese animated feature "Lupin the 3rd 'The Castle of Cagliostro.'"

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Lupin III was a long-running manga by the artist Monkey Punch that eventually spawned multiple TV series, feature films (animated and live-action,) TV specials, video games, and musicals. The franchise is entering its 50th anniversary this year, and this first US theatrical screening of "The Castle of Cagliostro" is part of the celebration.

The critically and popularly acclaimed film marked the first directorial outing for animation legend Hayao Miyazaki who also wrote the screenplay and worked on design and storyboarding for it. As part of the Fathom Events extra features, Pixar's John Lasseter taped an interview preceding the movie in which he described the great impact the film had on him in both professional and personal ways.

The main character, Lupin III, is grandson to the famous gentleman thief Arsène Lupin, and has followed in his footsteps as a master thief. Lupin generally works with a team made up of Daisuke Jigen, a crackshot marksman, Goemon Ishikawa, a supremely skilled swordsman, and Fujiko Mine, a fellow thief who is sometimes Lupin's rival, sometimes his friend, and sometimes more. His personal Javert is Inspector Zenigata, who follows him around the globe, determined to bring the thief to justice.

In "Castle of Cagliostro," Lupin and his gang find themselves in the position of attempting to rescue a princess from a forced marriage to a corrupt regent. In the process, they must solve ancient riddles, survive alarming chases both on wheels and in the air, and expose a world-wide counterfeiting scheme.

As is always the case, Miyazaki's work is beautiful with gorgeous backdrops of European countryside framing the slightly more cartoon-y 1970s character animation. Some of the wonderful traits that would become trademarks of his later Studio Ghibli works are seen here: Cynics are revealed to have hidden streaks of nobility; women are strong, competent and clever without having to resort to sex appeal to gain their aims; and young girls are capable of immense acts of courage and kindness which ultimately lead to their own happy endings.

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If you would like to see more of Miyazaki's work on the big screen (and why would you not?) Fathom Events is continuing its Studio Ghibli Fest that started back in June. The next film scheduled is "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" in theaters September 24 and 25, followed by "Spirited Away" in October, and "Howl's Moving Castle" in November. Information and ticketing can be found at the Fathom Events website: https://www.fathomevents.com/series/studio-ghibli-fest






September 19, 2017

Updates to the Disney Wonder

By AllEars Team Member Lee Zimmerman

Sometimes there are just too many activities in the Disney Universe. AllEars had opportunities on the same day to attend a press event at Disneyland Resort for this year's Halloween Time activities and to visit the Disney Wonder while it was in port in San Diego. Laura and I decided it made more sense for me to cover the Wonder event so she didn't have to drive from San Diego to Anaheim late on a Friday afternoon. Besides, I am a former Navy officer, so clearly I am more qualified to talk about what is happening on a cruise ship. :-)

The Disney Wonder has been in Alaska for the summer and now slowly making its way back to its nominal homeport of Galveston, Texas. The ship is sailing out of San Diego for much of September and October doing Halloween on the High Seas cruises to Baja California and the Mexican Riviera.

Disney Wonder

The Wonder was the second ship to join the Disney fleet, entering service in 1999. In September and October of last year it underwent a dry dock period in Spain that made significant changes to the kid’s spaces, the adult entertainment district and converted the Parrot Cay restaurant into Tiana’s Place, in addition to replacing carpet, furniture and other general upkeep. This was my first chance to see the re-imagined ship, so I was excited to go onboard, even if only for a few hours.

For anyone who has been on the re-imagined Disney Magic, the changes to the Wonder will not be a surprise. The ships are very similar with the most noticeable differences being the decorating style (Art Deco on the Magic vs. Art Nouveau on the Wonder) and the theming of the restaurants and adult entertainment venues.

The first interior space on the ship guests see is the three-story Atrium Lobby. There have been some significant changes here - the most visible being that one of the two grand stairways is now gone. That, in combination with moving the atrium lobby statue of Ariel from the center of the entrance to Triton’s to the right side, opens up the space for big events and makes a space for oversize decorations like the large Halloween and Christmas trees. In addition, there is a new carpet design and the large Dale Chihuly chandelier has been replaced by new glass work based on flower in Ariel’s hair. I have to say that the original chandelier was beautiful, but it always looked like it would fall from the ceiling if things ever got rough. The new one is much less intimidating and looks like it opens up the sight lines from the third level of the Atrium. I've put before and after pictures below to show the changes.

Disney Wonder

Disney Wonder

We made a stop in the Walt Disney Theatre - home of the new/exclusive cruise line production of “Frozen - A Musical Spectacular”. We had our own performance of “Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People” by Kristoff and Sven and a chance for pictures and questions. Disney does excellent Broadway-class stage shows on the cruise line and I am sure “Frozen” lives up to that reputation.

Disney Wonder

Next we went to one of the most popular areas on the ship…and the one the adults most want to have access to - the Oceaneer Club. This space has been completely reimagined and now includes Andy’s Room, Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and the Marvel Super Hero Academy.

Disney Wonder

Disney Wonder

We got to try out one of the interactive games in the Super Hero Academy - working with the other Avengers to stop an invading force. Our role was to shoot down drones using a motion recognition system that let us stand in front of a big screen video display and use our gestures to fire repulsers (just like Iron Man). Captain America, Spider Man and Black Widow all visit the Super Hero Academy during cruises.

Disney Wonder

Disney Wonder

We then went on deck to get a tour of the three pool areas and other features topside. That is when I realized what was missing - there is no water ride on the Wonder! The newer ships have the AquaDuck and the Magic had the AquaDunk added when it was last in dry dock. The “children’s pool” area of the ship was modified to be similar to the Magic - with Dory’s Reef splash zone, the AquaLab and a bigger Twist ’n’ Spout water slide.

As we moved forward on the pool deck we saw two other changes - the addition of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and the pool deck arcade is gone and is the new home of the Edge “tween” club. Like on the Magic, there are new staterooms where Edge used to be.

The biggest change for me was the Concierge Lounge - The Wonder is unique in that it has a two-story coffee bar (Cove Cafe’) and bar (Outlook Cafe’) in the adult only area that was built to provide additional enclosed viewing space for Alaska cruises. That upper viewing space used to be on both sides of the ship. Now it is just on the port side. The center and starboard sides are the Concierge Lounge, which is entered from the forward stack.There is also a Concierge only sun deck above the Concierge Lounge and Outlook Cafe’. I have not been in either of them (yet), but it looks like the Concierge Lounge on the Wonder is a lot bigger than the one on the Magic. I think this also answers my question on why no water ride on the Wonder.

Disney Wonder

Disney Wonder

We then went down to the adult area which underwent significant changes. The overall area was renamed - from Route 66 to After Hours – and re-themed with the effect being what I would describe as “classier”.

Disney Wonder

Disney Wonder

All three of the venues were significantly changed. The three new venues are: The Crown & Fin Pub - styled after a classic British pub (with beer selection to match) that doubles as the sports bar onboard:

Disney Wonder

Disney Wonder

Disney Wonder

The Azure night club for dancing and stage shows:

Disney Wonder

Disney Wonder

The Cadillac Lounge in what has typically been the quieter bar, though the new car-themed decor is a bit more upbeat. 


Disney Wonder

Disney Wonder

Disney Wonder

Azure is technically the most interesting of the venues - the furniture and walls are shades of white providing a backdrop for extensive lighting and projections that can completely change the personality of the room.

Disney Wonder

The final space we visited was the restaurant formerly known as Parrot Cay. It has been completely re-styled to become Tiana’s Place based on the Disney animated feature “The Princess and the Frog.”

Disney Wonder

Disney Wonder

The decor is from the movie and, unlike any other Disney Cruise Line restaurant, Tiana’s has live entertainment during the meal. There is a small stage at the back of the room and both Tiana and a New Orleans-style jazz band perform.

Disney Wonder

The food is New Orleans and southern inspired. On longer cruises, the second dining night in Tiana’s includes a parade including the guests and servers.

Disney Wonder

I noticed that they moved server’s stations to the four corners of the room (instead of interspersed with the tables as is normal). That really opened up the space both visually and physically. I asked our server what he thought of that arrangement and he said that it is better for the guests but more work for the servers (longer walks from the stations to the tables).

Disney Wonder

We were treated to lunch - which I think was actually dishes off the dinner menu - and everything was great. We also got to enjoy live entertainment from Tiana and the Crawfish Crooners who were very good. My only concern was that the entertainment made it hard to talk with each other at the table. We were sitting right in front of the stage and the restaurant was basically empty, so it might not have been so noticeable during a normal dinner.

Disney Wonder

We didn’t go in there, but Animator’s Palate was refreshed with lighting and video displays to host “Drawn to Magic” and “Animation Magic” dinner shows. The third table service restaurant, Triton’s, was unchanged. The primary buffet restaurant is now called Cabanas, as on all the other ships, and was increased in size.

Our final event was to experience a Chocolate Tasting in the Cadillac Lounge. Tasting events - wine, beer, mixed drinks, hard liquor and chocolate (depending on the size of the ship and the length of the cruise) are optional, added cost events typically held on sea days. They are enjoyable, educational and popular enough that they fill up days before they are held. While this is called a chocolate tasting, it also involves sparking wine, red wine, and whiskey…..as well as lots of really good chocolate.

Disney Cruise Line is celebrating Halloween on the High Seas on most voyages aboard the Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, Disney Wonder and Disney Magic from September through October. The Wonder was undergoing the transformation for the first of these Halloween cruises while we were onboard. It was fun to walk through a space later in the day and see that it had changed since we were first there. This extra-spooky celebration features Halloween-themed parties, lively entertainment and elaborate décor, including The Pumpkin Tree, which magically transforms throughout the cruise.

Disney Wonder

Disney WonderDisney Wonder

Other special experiences include:
Mickey's Mouse-querade Party, a celebration with games, dancing and lots of candy! Beloved Disney characters, wearing special Halloween costumes just for the occasion, will join guests for this fun-filled costume party. 


Disney Wonder

I have to say that the ship looks great inside and out - not showing her age at all. All the new spaces look great, and the whole ship has been refreshed with new carpet, paint, and soft goods. As a frequent Disney cruiser, it was tough being on the ship as guests were starting to board, and having to leave.

RELATED LINK: Deb and Linda had the opportunity to tour the Disney Wonder back in February of this year and blogged about it.





Halloween Time 2017 at Disney California Adventure

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There's lots of special Halloween treats at Disney California Adventure this Halloween season. I already wrote a blog about the new Haul-O-Ween celebration in Cars Land, but there's other areas in the park that are also celebrating the season.

A huge shadow of Oogie Boogie, the boogeyman from "Nightmare Before Christmas", stands over the entrance to Disney California Adventure. At night he talks to guests, enticing them into the park.

DCA Halloween Time

Buena Vista Street is decorated with bats, Halloween banners, and window displays. According to Imagineers, the bats will multiply as time goes on.

DCA Halloween Time

The Carthay Circle Restaurant is decorated with banners and appears to have bats flying out of its belfry.

DCA Halloween Time

It's involved in a nighttime lighting moment when the bells peal (the first time bells have sounded) and Oogie Boogie unleashes his spell bringing a spooky Halloween atmosphere to Buena Vista Street.

The Disney characters are in costumes for the occasion - costumes that might have been popular in the 1920s. Mickey wears a bat costume and Donald a pumpkin costume.

DCA Halloween Time

Goofy is the "Spirit of Halloween" in a ghostly costume.

DCA Halloween Time

In the plaza outside Elias & Co. is a new 10-foot statue of the Headless Horseman.

DCA Halloween Time

There are special effects at night as the pumpkin head lights up and the horse appears to breathe fire.

In Hollywood Land, each night from 6:00 until park closing, Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! becomes Guardians of the Galaxy - Monsters After Dark. Inside The Fortress, the Guardians have just escaped, and things are a bit, well, chaotic with all of escaped creatures running around. In all of the excitement Groot has been left behind, and Rocket is trying to rescue him - with the help of guests and their very attractive heat signatures...

The blue lights of The Lobby have given way to flashing red warning lights and the Collector's assistant Alpheta appears on the large video screen, attempting to reassure guests that their VIP tour will still continue.

DCA Halloween Time

In the Collector's office, Rocket is using the security system to search for Groot, and he has a plan.

In the Gantry area there are search lights and lots of sound effects.

DCA Halloween Time

Once aboard the Gantry lift, the attraction experience takes place to the new song "Monsters After Dark", written for the attraction by Tyler Bates, composer for the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies. New visuals of Groot and Rocket, along with a rather intimidating escaped creature, appear during the ride. There's just a single song for this one, rather than the six during the daytime.

I rode the attraction and this new version is so much fun! Certainly enhanced by doing it when it's dark outside. Looking up at The Fortress from the outside there's additional lighting and other special effects at night.

DCA Halloween Time

Fastpasses for Monsters After Dark are available at the regular Fastpass kiosks beginning at 3:00 p.m. They are also available at that time to those with the MaxPass feature via the Disneyland app. Monsters After Dark is scheduled to end on October 31.

But wait, there's even more at Disney California Adventure.

In Paradise Gardens is Plaza de la Familia, a Celebration of Coco and the Everlasting Bonds of Family. The area is inspired by the tradition of Dia de los Muertos, which celebrates loved ones who have passed away. A number of experiences are available including complimentary face painting and a Tree of Life photo opportunity. Guests are also invited to write down a memory and share it on the "Recuerdos de me Familia" wall.

DCA Halloween Time

A Musical Celebration of Coco is performed five times a day in the area just outside the Plaza de la Familia sign. A storyteller relates some of the story of the upcoming film "Coco" and performs several songs from the movie. He is joined by Folklorico dancers, puppeteers, and the Mariachi Divas. It's a very colorful and upbeat show - I enjoyed it. But there's a limited viewing area, so arrive early if you want a spot in front.

DCA Halloween Time

The World of Coco is an exhibit featuring images that depict characters and settings from the movie. There's also an "ofrenda" - a remembrance altar - inspired by the "ofrenda" Miguel builds in the movie.

DCA Halloween Time

The Paradise Garden Grill has a new menu with Mexican items such as Mole Verde con Pollo, Yucatan-inspired Vaporcitos (chicken tamales), Tortitas de Papa con Queso (crispy potato cakes and cheese), and the traditional Pan de Muerto.

DCA Halloween Time

There's also a snack stand offering Elote (street-style corn-on-the-cob), Ensalada de Frutas, and Paletas (frozen fruit bars).

DCA Halloween Time

Plaza de la Familia runs through November 2. Some elements will move to "a bug's land" from November 5-January 7 while the sneak peek of "Coco" is running in the theater there.

DCA Halloween Time






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