Laura Gilbreath Archives

December 4, 2017

Disneyland Candlelight Processional, 2017


Disneyland Candlelight Processional 2017

The Candlelight Processional originated at Disneyland in 1958 when Walt Disney first held it to thank community partners for their support. With a full orchestra and a mass choir it celebrates the Christmas season with songs and passages from the Bible that tell the story of the birth of the Christ Child. A celebrity guest narrator reads the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke.

The event takes place in front of the Main Street train station, and begins with the orchestra playing as the choir, carrying candles, walks down Main Street to the risers in front of the train station. The choir is made up of guest choirs from churches, schools, and community groups, as well as the Disney cast choirs.

In recent years the Processional has been held on the first Saturday and Sunday of December, with two shows each evening. There is limited seating, and it's reserved for community leaders, VIPs, and media, with some tickets also available to the participating choirs. Disneyland does not advertise it, but it is very popular with guests who are "in the know," and people start staking out their spots very early in the day.

It's really a very special event. I wish I could describe the power and the beauty of hearing all of those voices in the mass choir. I was an invited media guest, so I was one of the lucky people who had a seat, but I think that the music is so powerful that it is a moving experience to anyone on Main Street who hears it.

Disneyland Candlelight Processional 2017

There are a few featured soloists, but most of the songs are performed by the choir as a whole. That's one thing that I really prefer about Disneyland's Candlelight Processional as opposed the the one at Epcot - I think the Epcot version puts too much emphasis on the Voices of Liberty who perform with the choir.

In addition to the choir and orchestra, performances by bell choirs and herald trumpets (that's Lee's favorite part) are included.

Disneyland Candlelight Processional 2017

Disneyland Candlelight Processional 2017

This year the guest Narrator was Chris Hemsworth, perhaps best known for his role as "Thor". He has a great voice for this, and read the selections of scripture with appropriate gravitas.

Chris Hemsworth Disneyland Candlelight Processional 2017

I didn't record the entire Processional, but this video includes excerpts from several of the songs, as well as some of Hemsworth's narration.

This year the identity of the guest narrator was not publicly known until the day of the event. My personal opinion is that Disney kept it quiet to try to prevent even more people from trying to see the Processional. As it was the Disneyland parking lots were filled to capacity by late afternoon on both days, and Main Street was very difficult to navigate.

I understand why Disneyland only holds the Candlelight Processional one weekend a year and why they don't publicize it. It really makes for all kinds of logistical headaches on Main Street. Because of the risers for the choir the "A Christmas Fantasy" parade has to be re-routed around Town Square, and after the second parade the middle of Main Street is kept clear of guests, making it hard to enter or exit the park. At one point in the afternoon the backstage passageways on either side of Main Street were in use to try to alleviate the congestion. The cast members tried very hard to keep the crowd contained and moving - I know it had to be a very difficult couple of days for them. The good news was that most guests seemed to know what they were in for - I didn't see anyone who was really frustrated. Most people were patient and accepting of the situation.

Disneyland Candlelight Processional 2017

I'm not going to try to offer any viewing tips - but I know there are other sites out there where you can find them if you're interested in trying to see it next year.

In the future I would love to see the Disney Parks Blog live stream the Candlelight Processional as it does so many other holiday events, though I must admit it wouldn't be the same as actually being there.

Disclaimer: I was an invited media guest to the Candlelight Processional. The opinions expressed are my own.

November 22, 2017

The Holidays at Disneyland, 2017


Disneyland Holidays 2017

The holiday season is a very festive time at the Disneyland Resort. There's a lot going on at both theme parks with decorations and entertainment, merchandise, special foods, and character greetings.

My most recent park visit was November 18 - in addition to the holiday celebration, it was also Mickey Mouse's birthday! All park guests received a birthday button upon entering either theme park. There were also lots of photo opportunities with this larger version of the birthday button.

Disneyland Holidays 2017

There was some special merchandise available (sorry, no photos). Also a special birthday cake crispy treat.

Disneyland Holidays 2017

At 11:45 was a "character cavalcade" as Mickey's friends gathered to wish him "Happy Birthday".

Disneyland Holidays 2017

I didn't have the best spot to see it, but here's the video of the ceremony.

In other non-holiday news...Star Tours now features two new scenes plus a new character hologram. The first new destination is the planet Crait, which will be featured in the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi film. At the end of the ride the Star Speeder lands on Batuu - a remote outpost at the Galaxy's Edge (see what I did there?). There is more detail than we've seen in the concept art so far. The current version of Star Tours also re-visits the planet Jakku, in the same scene that was introduced last year, and includes an appearance by a new holographic character: Maz Kanata. Guests seemed quite enthusiastic about the new scenes the two times I experienced it on Saturday.

Disneyland Star Tours

But back to the holiday celebration...

"it's a small world" Holiday is back, now in its 21st season.

Disneyland Holidays 2017

It's especially beautiful at night when all the lights come on.

Disneyland Holidays 2017

After dark, there's a projection sequence on the facade every 15 minutes, set to music. This takes place a couple of minutes after the clock sequence that occurs on each quarter hour.

Lots of holiday entertainment in most areas of the park.

"A Christmas Fantasy" Parade is always fun to watch. I didn't notice any big changes this year.

Disneyland Holidays 2017

Disneyland Holidays 2017

Disneyland Holidays 2017

I always enjoy the Sleeping Beauty Castle Wintertime Enchantment lighting. It generally occurs twice each night, at 6:00 and 7:30.

The Holiday Magic fireworks show takes place each night during the holiday season.

There's a Rivers of America Holiday Celebration this year. The Royal Street Bachelors perform on the river several times each evening. The "Believe" fireworks show can be viewed from there, and there's snowfall at the end of the show.

On Main Street, the Dapper Dans, in their candy cane-striped vests, perform a number of sets of holiday music throughout the day. The Dickens Yuletide Band also performs on Main Street.

Disneyland Holidays 2017

Disney characters in holiday attire are available for meet-and-greets in Town Square, and Santa Claus is taking Christmas wish lists in Critter Country.

Though not all parts of the park are decorated, there are some fun decorations in Toon Town.

Disneyland Holidays 2017

I like Roger Rabbit's Santa hat.

Disneyland Holidays 2017

The holiday popcorn bucket this year features Pluto. They've been very popular, but fortunately there seem to be lots of them available.

Disneyland Holidays 2017

There's a new Ornament Stein this year. Depending on where it's purchased, it might come with a beverage or food like grapes or pineapple.

Disneyland Holidays 2017

There are lots of holiday foods this year, though I haven't sampled any of them yet. I'm disappointed that the seasonal beignets at Mint Julep Bar are candy cane dusted this year...the gingerbread ones were always my favorites. There's also Santa's mittens macaron, praline cheesecake, a yule log, candy apple cotton candy, and even savory items like Enchanted Maize Flatbread (Red Rose Taverne) and Bison Blue Cheeseburger (Hungry Bear Restaurant). Lots of different cookies and crispy treat items available throughout the resort. I thought these new crispy treats, which look like gingerbread, were very cute.

Disneyland Holidays 2017

There's a lot going on at Disney California Adventure, also. You can read about the Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure in a previous blog post.

New this year are two different attraction overlays in Cars Land: Mater's Jingle Jamboree and Luigi's Joy to the Whirl. Both feature new holiday songs by Mater and Luigi.

I'm sorry that the audio is hard to hear - there don't seem to be speakers placed very conveniently in Luigi's attraction, and the sound of the cars themselves is pretty loud.

World of Color - Season of Light returns for its second season. This is my favorite version of World of Color - it seems like the show designers have taken everything they've learned over the years about what the fountains and lasers and projections can do, and brought it all together. I think it looks great, with lots of "Wow!" moments and I love all of the holiday music - everything from classics by Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, and Jose Feliciano to more contemporary music by Pentatonix and Transiberian Orchestra.

Disneyland Holidays 2017

Again this year Santa Claus and his elves can be found at Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, aka Santa's Holiday Visit, where kids can try out the "Elf Games".

Disneyland Holidays 2017

And Santa is there, too, of course.

Disneyland Holidays 2017

There's a Treats for Santa vending cart selling a cookie decorating kit and beverages.

Disneyland Holidays 2017

Over at the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa there's a huge gingerbread house in the lobby.

Disneyland Holidays 2017

Next to the gingerbread house is a stand selling treats like gingerbread cookies and ornament cookies, hot chocolate and hot cider - and adult versions of the beverages with RumChata, Peppermint Schnapps, or Spiced Rum added.

Disneyland Holidays 2017

I've visited twice, and I still haven't seen everything this holiday season. Guess that just means I'll have to return again before the holiday season ends on January 7.

November 15, 2017

Disney California Adventure Festival of Holidays


Festival of Holidays 2017

The Festival of Holidays has returned to Disney California Adventure for its second year. Like last year, the Festival celebrates holiday traditions from around the world: Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Navidad, and Diwali. There's entertainment, character greetings, crafts, and of course FOOD!

This year there are twelve different Festive Food Marketplaces as well as special menus at the Paradise Garden Grill and the Sonoma Terrace. The Marketplaces are located along the parade route from Carthay Circle to the Golden Zephyr in Paradise Pier.

Festive Food Marketplace Menus

There are a few returning marketplaces (Making Spirits Bright, Brews & Bites, Winter Sliderland) and some returning food and beverage items, but most of the 60+ selections are new. Food prices range from $3.75-$5.00 for dessert items to $5.00-$7.75 for savory items. I was pleasantly surprised that some of the prices were lower this year, as much as a dollar, though most were $0.25-$.50 decreases. Wine and beer flights also had a modest price decrease. While prices for individual glasses of wine were generally unchanged or slightly up, the price for individual servings of beers was down $0.75 (though I think $9.00 is still high for a less-than-full-size serving of beer).

Annual Passholders can purchase a Sip and Savor Pass for $45. The pass has 8 tabs that can be redeemed for food and most non-alcoholic beverages at the Marketplaces. If used for items priced at $6.00 and higher it can provide a significant savings. Passholders must present their AP to purchase the passport, and most cast members at the order kiosks require you to show your AP when using one of the tabs.

Festival of Holidays 2017 Sip and Savor Pass

When using a tab at the Marketplaces, AP holders receive a small AP button. There are 11 different colors available (no button for Making Spirits Bright, since there are no eligible items there).

Festival of Holidays 2017 small AP marketplace buttons

All guests can pick up a Festival of Holidays Tasting Passport. They should be available at the ordering station of any of the Marketplaces. The passport lists the menus of each Marketplace along with some photos, and there's also a spot for a different sticker that is available at each Marketplace. No purchase necessary for the sticker, and it's helpful if you open it to the correct page before giving it to the cast member at the ordering station. After getting all of the stickers a Stamp of Completion is available at several locations.

Festival of Holidays 2017 Tasting Passport

I tried several food and beverage items on my visit earlier this week. When I first read the list of menu items, the one that most intrigued me was the Frosty Frosé - frozen rosé, blue Curacao & white cranberry juice from the A Twist on Tradition kiosk. $At $13.00 it's expensive, but it was very refreshing.

Festival of Holidays 2017 Frosty Frose

From the same place I also tried the Butternut Squash & Almond Pakora Fritters. $6.00 for these, and the best bite that I had all day. The fritters were soft and warm inside with a good flavor.

Festival of Holidays 2017 Butternut Squash and Almond Fritters

At Blissfully Braised I tried the Braised Pork Belly Adobo with garlic fried rice and sliced green onions. tender! The pork belly was a bit too fatty, though. I think the crunchy bits on top were fried pork rinds, but I'm not sure. I thought it was a reasonable portion size for $7.50 - especially since I used one of my tabs and it cost me less than $6. :-)

Festival of Holidays 2017 Pork Belly Adobo

Grilled Chicken Sausage with Red Beans and Rice was my selection from Grandma's Recipes. Whew, that's one spicy grandma, and this dish was too hot for me, especially the beans. I couldn't eat them. Too much chili powder for me. $7.25 for this one.

Festival of Holidays 2017 Chicken Sausage with Red Beans and Rice

From Winter Sliderland I had one of the returning items from last year: Roasted Turkey Slider with Cranberry Sauce ($7.50). It's like Thanksgiving dinner on a bun: dressing on the bottom, then lots of sliced turkey, covered in gravy with a drizzle of cranberry sauce. Yummy, though it's very similar to the Holiday Turkey at Earl of Sandwich, and that one is bigger and cheaper.

Festival of Holidays 2017 Turkey Slider

Last was the Baked Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes from Festive Holiday Extras. $6.50. Good-sized serving, and very cheesy and filling.

Festival of Holidays 2017 Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
There are special holiday drinks available at the Hollywood Backlot area. I tried the Fireside Cider for $12.00. It's hot apple cider with a shot of cinnamon whiskey. It tasted good on a cool evening.

Festival of Holidays 2017 Fireside Cider

There's also a special menu at Paradise Garden Grill. It's basically the same as last year: burritos, street tacos, chicken mole. I haven't tried any of it yet. The Sonoma Terrace has a new menu for the Festival, offering chicken caesar and portobello mushroom and zucchini grilled "piadina" wraps.

In addition to all of the food and beverage offerings there's a variety of entertainment available during the Festival. I spent much of my time at the Festival just wandering between the entertainment venues - and I still didn't see everything.

The Sound is new to the Festival this year, performing on a stage next to the Pacific Wharf Cafe. They are an a capella group, performing holiday favorites as well as a song about Kwanzaa. I really enjoyed their performance.

Festival of Holidays 2017 The Sound

The Mariachi Divas also perform at the Pacific Wharf stage, but I didn't see them that day.

Mostly Kosher and Blue13 Dance Co. are returning groups, both appearing on the stage at Paradise Pier Park. Mostly Kosher is a klezmer band, though they also perform in several musical styles such as Latin, R&B, jazz, and rock. "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" was one of their numbers - quite unexpected, but very well done.

Festival of Holidays 2017 Mostly Kosher

Blue13 Dance Co. celebrates Diwali with traditional folk dances, in addition to a Bollywood-inspired disco party.

Festival of Holidays 2017 Blue13 Dance Co

This video contains short clips from performances by The Sound, Mostly Kosher, and Blue13 Dance Co.

The Holiday Toy Drummers, my favorite from last year, have also returned, but to a new location. They are performing at the Paradise Pier Obelisk (I'd never seen that term before - it's the entrance to Paradise Pier next to Ariel's Undersea Adventure). I don't like the new location because the sun is behind them which makes them hard to see/photograph unless you're off to the side. The drummers always look like they are having as much fun as the audience. I've seen them a number of times now, and they still make me smile every time.

New this year is the Holiday Sunset Concert. Each evening at either 6:00 or 6:30 there's a 40+minute show. Phat Cat Swinger performs Friday-Monday, and the Mariachi Divas perform Tuesday-Thursday. I saw Phat Cat Swinger, and they really put on a great show. They are a "Little Big Band" and performed a lot of swinging music in the style of the "Brat Pack" - Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin. Mostly holiday music, but there were a few other songs like "Bella Notte" and "Imagination" from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which was my favorite of the evening. I thoroughly enjoyed the concert, and hope to see them again this holiday season.

Also returning this year to the Paradise Gardens area are !Viva Navidad! street party and Princess Elena's Musical Grand Arrival. Holiday foods and character meet and greets with Princess Elena and other Disney characters are also available there.

Festival of Holidays 2017 Viva Navidad

Other Festival offerings...there's several tables set up in front of Ariel's Undersea Adventure where guests can do some holiday-themed crafts like coloring a Diwali lantern.

Festival of Holidays 2017

Festival merchandise is available at several kiosks along the parade route. A Festival of Holidays souvenir hot/cold mug is available at many of the Marketplaces.

Festival of Holidays 2017 beverage cup

For Annual Passholders, the AP Corner is located in the Sonoma Terrace this year. Passholders can get a Festival button (only one design this year, rather than a new one every couple of weeks) and purchase AP-exclusive merchandise. There's also a special AP photo op.

Festival of Holidays 2017 AP Corner

Festival of Holidays 2017 AP button

Festival of Holidays 2017 AP merchandise

OK. I think that covers all of the Festival of Holidays activities! There's a lot more holiday fun going on at Disney California Adventure - but that'll be for another blog post.

October 18, 2017

RunDisney Cancels All Disneyland Events for 2018


The rumors have been flying around for months but on Wednesday, October 18, runDisney made it official: all runDisney weekends at Disneyland will be on hiatus beginning in 2018. This includes Star Wars: The Light Side, Tinker Bell, Disneyland Half Marathon, and Super Heroes. This year's Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend will still take place on November 9-12 as scheduled.

Here's the announcement that was posted on the runDisney blog,

We have heard from many of you over the past few months regarding registration for runDisney race weekends at Disneyland Resort. We greatly appreciate your loyalty and dedication to our runDisney race events and want to share the following update with you..
Given the level of construction to support the ongoing Disneyland Resort expansion, we have been working hard to determine how we can continue providing our West Coast participants with the best possible runDisney experience, which is designed around the ability to run throughout our resorts while enjoying entertainment offerings and characters..
After careful consideration and weighing all possibilities, we have made the very difficult decision to place all runDisney race weekends at Disneyland Resort on hiatus beginning in 2018. This includes the associated Coast to Coast Race Challenges..
Anyone who has registered for one of these races will be contacted directly by runDisney today by email and will receive a full refund for registration fees and for any commemorative items they may have purchased..
While news of this hiatus is sad to share, we are so thankful for the magic and memories you have helped create at our race weekends through the years. We look forward to hosting the upcoming Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend at Disneyland Resort November 9-12, and we hope to see many of you there..
We encourage runners to continue to visit for other race opportunities. A full schedule of races at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Paris are currently still being offered, in addition to our virtual race series. Guests with questions can contact

We've known something was up for a long time: first runDisney put registration for Stars Wars: The Light Side Half Marathon Weekend on hold back in March, and then a 2018 date for Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend failed to materialize at all. Other dates also came and went - the most recent being submission of Proof of Time for Star Wars was due on October 10. Hard to submit Proof of Time when you can't even register!

So the announcement wasn't a surprise to me at all. Even so, I'm upset and angry, feelings that I know I share with many of you. For me it's largely the timing. It's clear to me that they've known this for a long time, yet they chose to wait until the race date was only three months away to make a definitive announcement.

I've already received an email from runDisney, since Lee and I registered for Star Wars back in January, taking advantage of an early registration opportunity offered to those of us who participated this year. The email contains most of what is quoted above, with this information added:

You will be fully refunded for your registration fees and for any commemorative items you may have purchased with your original form of payment. This will be reflected on your next billing statement. In addition, if you have any questions at all, a Disney Cast Member can assist you at 407-939-iRUN (4786), between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., EDT, seven days a week, or you may email us at

It will be interesting to see if the race weekends do in fact return in the future. While the 5K and 10K races have sold out quickly, the half marathons have not been selling well in the last couple of years. And with the decision this year to replace race volunteers with paid temporary employees, I think the quality has suffered. Lee and I have cut way back on the number of runDisney events we participate in, and I know a lot of the rest of you have as well.

Maybe runDisney has "run its course" in California. I guess time will tell.

What do you think about runDisney's decision?

N.B. On Thursday morning I received an email from informing me that my registration fee, including's $21+ processing fee, has been refunded to my credit card. - Laura

September 28, 2017

Halloween Time 2017 at Disneyland

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

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

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September 19, 2017

Halloween Time 2017 at Disney California Adventure


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

September 18, 2017

It's Haul-O-Ween Time!


The Disneyland Resort has been celebrating Halloween Time for a number of years. Most of the focus has been on Disneyland with all of the decor such as the Main Street Pumpkin Festival, and attraction overlays like Haunted Mansion Holiday and Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy. There was a small presence in Disney California Adventure for a few years, the last being 2009.

Enter John Lasseter, who wanted to bring a Halloween celebration to Cars Land. Radiator Springs became Radiator Screams, and "Haul-O-Ween" rolled off the production line. (John Lasseter designed these decorations that hang across the streets.)


It is, in one word, fabulous. Or maybe I mean faBOOlous. Incredible depth of detail. So creative and imaginative with so many fun little touches. I think it's the best new decor Disney has done at the U.S. parks in years. (I haven't seen Pandora yet.)

So how do cars celebrate Haul-O-Ween? I'm so glad you asked. They dress in "car-stumes". Mater is a "van-pire".


Lightning McQueen is a superhero.


DJ is a "trunk rocker".


They go "Trunk-or-Treating".


They decorate their homes. And just like we have our individual ways of decorating, so do they. At the entrance to town is Scary the Scare-car.


Mater's Junkyard has been transformed into Mater's Graveyard JamBOOree.


The baby tractor also wears a car-stume.


In the queue are lots of tombstones.


All of the songs are Haul-O-Ween themed. Several are new lyrics to old tunes ("Radiator Rock" is now "Lizzie's Gone Witchy"), but there are two parodies of well-known Halloween songs: "Monster Truck Smash" ("Monster Mash" by Bobby "Boris" Pickett), and "Purple Fender Bender" ("Purple People Eater" by Sheb Wooley). Really clever - they made me laugh.

The Radiator Springs Drive-In is showing some interesting movies.


Sarge has a Pump-kin patch. You can also see one of the "car-achnids" that has infested Radiator Screams - there are 30 of them.


The cones of Sally's Cozy Cone Motel have all been decorated with spooky faces.


Inside the office, Sally has a model of the Brake's Motel made out of candy.


Lizzie has gone all-out in decorating her curio shop, where she sells "Boo-venirs".



In front of the store is an old wrecked car. It's been there a long time - there's a tree growing out of it.


But apparently it has an undead battery that won't let it "rust in peace." The zombie car lights up and steams occasionally as it tries to get a jump on life. (And no, these are NOT the remains of Stanley!)

A giant spider web covers Flo's V8 Cafe.


Just outside the entrance to the Cafe is the Spider-Car, which is a PhotoPass photo location. (The car used to be a Toadmobile.)


Ramone is celebrating Dia de los Muertos at his House of Body Art. Outside is "Sugar", a sugar car decorated like a sugar skull.


Inside the shop there's an "ofrenda" that celebrates Doc Hudson.


Luigi and Guido had never celebrated Haul-O-Ween in Italy, but now it's their favorite holiday. They've constructed an orange and black tower of tires outside.


Luigi sings Haul-O-Ween versions of Italian festival songs in the new holiday version of his attraction "Luigi's Honkin' Haul-O-Ween", such as "Haul-O-Ween Italiano." "The Terror-antella" tells the story of how he and Guido built "Scary the Scare-car", who can be seen at the entrance to Radiator Springs.

Next to Luigi's is the "Horn-O-Plenty". It was originally found on Haul-O-Ween night in 1936. Every year the citizens of Radiator Screams put it on display.


At night the courthouse seems to come to life. A mad scientist put jumper cables on the windows. :-)

The Cadillac Range has new purple and green lighting at night. It looks appropriately spooky. No changes to Radiator Springs Racers.


At dusk, when the usual "Sha-Boom" Lighting Moment starts to take place, it's interrupted by supernatural forces, and becomes "Sha-BOO!" instead. The Sheriff's voice then welcomes everyone to Radiator Screams. The background music changes to a new soundtrack of Haul-O-Ween music for the rest of the night.

There is a surprisingly large selection of "Haul-O-Ween"-inspired food and beverage. It's available only in Cars Land.

Fillmore's has Van-pire Mater Bread - sourdough bread with cheese baked on top. I tried this and it's quite good. $8.49.


Flo's V8 Cafe offers a Car-achnid Pot Pie, Grape Ghoul-ant Shake, and Mini Candy Cone Pie.


I tried the pot pie, and it was really good. Chicken pot pie with dried cranberries inside in addition to vegetables and chunks of chicken. Nice flaky crust on top. Served with coleslaw for $11.49. I couldn't eat it all.


There's several items available at the Cozy Cones. The Slow-Burnin' Mac and Cheese is served in a black cone.


The Spoke-y Cone Macaron is filled with marshmallow buttercream and candy corn.


Junkyard JamBOOree Mix is flavored popcorn with "nuts and bolts" - green M&M's, candy corn, chocolate covered pretzels, Boston baked beans and so on.


The cones also have a souvenir spooky traffic cone beverage cup available.


There's a lot to see in Radiator Screams, and it's really a lot of fun!

August 21, 2017

Some Disneyland Dining Experiences


I've tried a few new (to me) items at Disneyland fairly recently - some that I simply haven't tried before, some that are new offerings at established restaurants, and some that are limited time specials.

Flo's V-8 Cafe in Cars Land offers several dishes that feature REAL oven roasted and sliced turkey. I ordered the Kid's Turkey Sandwich meal. It was really good! Lots of moist, flavorful sliced turkey breast on a very tender bun. It was served with baby carrots, a small fruit cup, and a kid's beverage (I had a small bottled water. I was very happy with this, especially for the price of $6.99.

Flo's V-8 Cafe Kids Turkey sandwich

My dining companion ordered the Citrus Turkey Salad. Lots of slices of tender turkey breast along with lettuce, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and dried cranberries with citrus-tarragon dressing. It came with a bread stick, also. It was a very generous serving - she wasn't able to finish it.

Flo's V-8 Cafe Turkey Citrus salad

At Smokejumpers Grill, also in Disney California Adventure, I sampled the adult Chicken Breast Nuggets meal. It comes with choice of zesty slaw or French fries. Nothing exciting or different about it, but it was lots of nice white meat chicken, and was quite tasty. Smokejumpers has a toppings bar with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, etc., so you can build yourself a little salad if you care to - I've certainly done that in the past.

Smokejumpers Grill Chicken Breast Nuggets

While I've been to the Carthay Circle Restaurant a number of times, I'd never eaten at the Carthay Circle Lounge. There are lots of interesting cocktails available there, though we didn't order any of them. (For several of them the bartender uses this device to create a sphere of ice from a large cube of ice. It's pretty "cool" to watch.)

My companion tried the Flatbread, with heirloom tomatoes, pepperoni, mushrooms, roasted garlic, and spinach. Lots of toppings, and it was good, but at $18 it's pricey.

Carthay Circle Lounge flatbread

I was in the mood for dessert, so I ordered the California Rocky Road, a chocolate brownie with marshmallow ice cream, caramel sauce and some crunchy graham-cracker like bits. Very chocolatey and good. And also pricey at $14.

Carthay Circle Lounge California Rocky Road

There are a lot of new menu items in the Hollywood Land area for the Summer of Heroes promotion. Most dining locations have completely new menus, like Schmoozies and the two bar locations. There's even a temporary food booth called Nowhere Eats, with different kinds of tacos and nachos.

Nowhere Eats

The food truck, Studio Catering Co., also has a new menu, which includes a "Super Hero-Sized Sub" and a "Multiverse Parfait".

Studio Catering Co

There are also two kinds of falafel pita offerings. The Savory Strength is chickpea fritters with spinach, cucumber-mint slaw, and yogurt sauce. I tried the Promising Future, which is fritters with pickled red cabbage, yellow peppers and charmoula sauce ($8.99). I think the fritters were a little overcooked, but the rest of it was good, and I particularly enjoyed the charmoula sauce. Slightly spicy, but a really good flavor.

Summer of Heroes Falafel Pita

The bar closest to the Backlot Stage is serving hero-themed shave ice, with names like Smash Ice, Spinal Fluid, Ice Reactor, and I am Shave Ice. I tried the Spider Venom, which is flavored with blue raspberry and cherry, and topped with condensed milk. Shave ice is $5; add an extra $2.75 if you want a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Mine was pretty good, but the ice was not packed together tightly (they should've sent them to Hawaii for proper training in handling shave ice). It fell apart quickly and I ended up wearing part of it on my white shirt. Good thing the tie-dye look is in again...

Summer of Heroes Spider Venom shave ice

Award Weiners has a few items like a Galactic Dog and an Angry Little Pudding Cup. I tried the Quiver of Funnel Cake Fries ($5.99). I think they had been sitting around for a while, so they weren't warm, and they were kind of tough - not crisp and crunchy like I expected. At the bottom of the cup were both raspberry sauce and mango coulis, with whipped cream on top. If they had been fresh I think they would have been much better, but as they were I was disappointed in them.

Summer of Heroes Quiver of Funnel Cake fries

Bengal BBQ in Disneyland has undergone a few changes this summer. One most welcome change is that the merchandise shop next to it was turned into a dining area.

Bengal BBQ seating area

In addition to tables and chairs there are standing tables. There are also still a few tables right outside the restaurant.

Bengal BBQ seating area

Some new menu items were also added, and Lee and I sampled all of them. The Specialty Skewer right now is BBQ Pork Belly served on a lettuce leaf with hoisin sauce, pickled carrots, daikon, and cilantro for $5.99. Yummy.

Bengal BBQ Pork Belly skewer

There's also a new Hummus Trio: black bean hummus, red pepper hummus and cilantro hummus served with lettuce, cucumbers, carrot chips, cherry tomatoes and broccoli. I thought it was a nice healthy option for $6.49.

Bengal BBQ Hummus Trio

A Spring Roll ($6.99) is also new on the menu.

Bengal BBQ Spring Roll

Ahi tuna, cilantro, shredded carrots, and cucumber in a rice wrapper. It was served with a dipping sauce. Very refreshing and I really enjoyed it.

Bengal BBQ Spring Roll

Tiger Tails are not a new menu item, but I think this is a new version of them. Essentially a cheese breadstick. In the past I think they were lightly grilled. A sauce with it would have been nice. $3.99.

Bengal BBQ Tiger Tail

The new beverage is a Jungle Julep. No alcohol, but a frozen combination of juices like pineapple, orange, and grape. Pretty sweet, but a little bit of a tang. $4.39.

Bengal BBQ Jungle Julep

August 4, 2017

Disney MaxPass - First Impressions


The Disneyland Resort rolled out the new Disney MaxPass feature on July 19. You can read about Maxpass HERE, but essentially, for an extra fee, it gives guests unlimited PhotoPass downloads and the ability to make digital Fastpass selections.

Unlimited PhotoPass downloads really isn't anything new - several Disneyland annual passes have that feature, and it's available in several forms for purchase. With MaxPass you can use the Disneyland app to link attraction photos and character dining photos to your account, in addition to any park photos taken during the day.


I think the most intriguing feature of MaxPass is digital Fastpasses. Lee and I tried it on Saturday, so here are some of my thoughts on our experience with it.

First, some things to know about the digital Fastpass feature of MaxPass:

MaxPass does not replace traditional Fastpasses. Those are still free, and are obtained by going to an attraction's Fastpass kiosk. In recent months Disney changed from using paper Fastpasses to scanning a barcode at an attraction's Fastpass entry points. (BTW, we think that the barcode scanning works much better/faster than the Magic Bands at Walt Disney World.)


The barcode is either the one on your park ticket or the one on your phone generated by MaxPass. (While the Fastpass kiosk still generates a ticket, it's simply a reminder of your Fastpass return time and when you can obtain your next Fastpass. It is no longer used at the attraction's Fastpass entrance.)


MaxPass can only be used to make Fastpass selections for the 16 Fastpass attractions - 9 in Disneyland, 7 in Disney California Adventure. You can not use it to get Fastpasses for shows like Fantasmic! and World of Color.

MaxPass is included with Disneyland Signature Plus and Premier annual passports, but for single and multi-day tickets and other types of annual passports it's an add-on of $10 per person per day. Those Disneyland AP holders who don't have it can purchase MaxPass as an add-on for $75 and it will be valid until the pass expires. That could be ten months or two months away, but it's still $75 no matter when the pass expires. Passholders don't have to get the add-on - they can choose to purchase it day-by-day instead.

At least one member of your party must have the Disneyland app on their mobile device to use MaxPass. All members must have MaxPass to use the digital Fastpass feature. While technically each person could manage their own Fastpasses, we found that it was easier for one person to do it - that way the return times were coordinated.


Unlike Fastpass+ at Walt Disney World, you can not use MaxPass to reserve Fastpasses in advance. In fact, you can not do anything useful with MaxPass until you have entered one of the parks. If you need to purchase MaxPass for the day you can't even do that until you have entered a park.

MaxPass does not give you unlimited Fastpasses, nor guarantee that you'll be able to get a certain number of Fastpasses. You can not select a return time. Just like traditional Fastpasses, you'll receive the next available Fastpass return time. The exception is that a MaxPass user can cancel a Fastpass, and if they do, that Fastpass will become available to another MaxPass user.

You can use MaxPass to make a Fastpass selection at either park, no matter which park you're physically in. We got a Fastpass for Indiana Jones while we were still in Disney California Adventure.

Lee and I have Disneyland Signature APs, so MaxPass is not included. We were at Disneyland with Lee's family, who had MaxPass on their tickets, so we bought it for the day. Besides, we wanted to try it out.

I'll have a step-by-step with screen shots later, but essentially to get a digital Fastpass the process is:

1. Enter either Disneyland or Disney California Adventure.

2. Bring up the Disneyland app and "Create a Fastpass Party". The first time you'll need to link any additional tickets for other members of your group.

3. Purchase MaxPass for anyone who doesn't have it. You do this within the app, and you'll need a credit card.

4. Continue the Fastpass selection process and "Choose a Park". This brings up a list of Fastpass attractions in whichever park you select, and you can see the available return times.


5. Tap on the return time for the attraction and confirm the Fastpass time.

6. When the Fastpass time arrives and you are ready to use the Fastpass, tap "Redeem Fastpass". Scan the barcode at each Fastpass point (some attractions have two, so don't put the phone away too soon).

7. Tap "Get a Fastpass" to make a new Fastpass selection. Note that you can do this as soon as you are allowed to do so - you don't have to redeem an existing Fastpass first. You also have the advantage that you don't have to visit the new attraction to do it.

We were at the parks on a day that was not very busy. Wait times for the really popular attractions were about an hour, and many attractions were only 15-20 minutes. Fastpasses were available for Radiator Springs Racers until after noon, and still available for Space Mountain at 7:00 p.m. We easily made eight Fastpass selections with MaxPass throughout the day, and after about 5:00 we stopped trying. That's certainly better than I've ever done with traditional Fastpasses. But I don't know if our experience would be typical on a busier day.

I'd say the best thing about MaxPass is the ability to reserve Fastpasses without having to go to the attraction to do it. That really saves a lot of time! In the MaxPass part of the app it's also very easy to tell which attractions still have Fastpasses available. While you can see the available Fastpass return times in the Disneyland app, it's not as straightforward - or at least I haven't found an easy way to do it. With MaxPass we felt like we had better visibility into what Fastpasses were available at what times, and could better analyze which attraction to choose next. And sometimes the standby waits were short enough that we didn't even need a Fastpass. On a busy day, that combination of visibility and not having to go to the attraction might help you be able to get a few more Fastpasses than you could without MaxPass. Also, as I mentioned before, we could reserve a Fastpass for an attraction in the other park. That gave us a head start when we moved from Disney California Adventure to Disneyland.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked. The app was pretty straightforward and easy to use. The most complex part was purchasing MaxPass and linking the tickets.

Prior to using it, one of my questions about MaxPass was whether or not different people in your Fastpass Party could have different Fastpasses. And yes, they can. Each time you "Get a Fastpass" you have to create a Fastpass party from the linked tickets. This allows you to get separate Fastpasses if you wish.


My experience with traditional Fastpasses has been that the return time will always be at least 30 minutes in the future - but with MaxPass we found that the return time was sometimes only a few minutes away! Unfortunately I never remembered to check at those attractions to see if the advertised return time there was the same. The one time I did check, at Indiana Jones, the Fastpass return time matched what was in the app, and was more than an hour in the future.

We had a few time anomalies. I was managing the Fastpasses for Lee and me, and his brother was managing the four for his family. On multiple occasions, even though we were booking Fastpasses at the same time, his Fastpass return time was 5-10 minutes sooner than mine. In one case it was 45 minutes sooner! That one might have been a canceled Fastpass, but that doesn't explain all of the others.

It is worth the extra $10/person? If you are trying to maximize your attraction experience, then I'd say yes. You'll also do a lot less walking since you won't need to visit each Fastpass attraction twice. If it were me, I'd probably pick one day of my trip to use MaxPass, rather than get it every day.

I haven't said too much about the PhotoPass aspect. As I mentioned before, there are other ways to get unlimited PhotoPass downloads. Though at this point MaxPass is the least expensive option. If you were using it just for PhotoPass, then only one person in your party would have to purchase it. I found it was quite easy to link attraction photos - just remember to take a picture of the photo so that you have a record of the code that you need!


One change to annual pass benefits with the introduction of MaxPass: The PhotoPass download feature, which had been a benefit of the Signature, Signature Plus, and Premier APs, is no longer a benefit for new Signature APs. (It's still part of the other two, since they include MaxPass.) Those like us who already have Signature APs will be allowed to keep the PhotoPass download feature as long as we renew prior to the expiration date. Something for us to keep in mind when renewal time rolls around.

Here's a more detailed look at how MaxPass and digital Fastpasses work.

As I mentioned earlier, the first thing you have to do is go through the entrance turnstiles at one of the parks. If you don't, you'll eventually see this message:


Then start the Disneyland app. You'll need to sign into your account if you haven't already done so. The first time it took me straight to MaxPass, but subsequently I had to go to the "My Plans" page and tap "Get Fastpass".


Create a Fastpass Party. If your ticket/AP is already linked to the account it will show up. The first time you use it you'll need to link the tickets for other people in your Fastpass party by tapping "Link a ticket or pass". Each time you get a new Fastpass you'll have to select the people in the Fastpass party, but you'll only have to link the tickets the first time.


On the next screen you can use the camera on your phone to scan the barcode of the ticket, or you can enter the number manually. We found that the barcode scan worked very well. Annual passes will show up with the name of the passholder, but for regular tickets you'll want to use the "Note" field to identify who it belongs to. Remember that everyone has to have entered a park that day.


Once you've scanned the tickets for everyone in your party, tap on "Continue to Purchase" to pay for MaxPass for anyone who does not already have the feature for the day.


Follow the instructions for payment. You can use the phone camera to scan your credit card or input the information manually.


You'll repeat the "Create a Fastpass Party" step and all of the steps below anytime you get a new Fastpass.

"Choose a Park". This brings up a list of Fastpass attractions in whichever park you select, and you can see the available Fastpass return times.


Select the attraction by tapping on the return time. If you tap on the name of the attraction the app brings up information on the attraction instead.


If the return time is acceptable, tap "Confirm", otherwise go back to the previous screen to select a different attraction.


When you confirm the next screen will tell you when you can make your next Fastpass selection.


If the Fastpass return time was more than 90 minutes away, then our next Fastpass seemed to be available 90 minutes later.


You can always go to "My Plans" to see your current Fastpass selection(s).


When your Fastpass time arrives, tap "Redeem Fastpass" to pull up the barcode screen. At that time you can also make another Fastpass selection - you don't need to redeem your first Fastpass before you can get another one.

The app will have Fastpasses for all members of your party. After scanning the first one at the Fastpass entrance, simply swipe left to get to each subsequent Fastpass. Rather than using the app each member of your party could scan their park ticket, or if they also have the Disneyland app with their ticket linked to it they will have the barcode for their own Fastpass in the app.


Repeat the process to get additional Fastpasses.

As I said, we had a good experience with it. We don't often go the parks to ride a lot of attractions, but if we did, it would be fun to use every once in a while. For guests who are not frequent visitors, and/or really do want to maximize their ride experiences, I think it's worth considering the purchase of MaxPass for a day.

Do you have additional questions on MaxPass? Do you think it's something you would use? Click on the "Feedback Form" below to submit any questions or comments, and I'll do my best to address them.

FOLLOWUP: Several of you asked if MaxPass could be purchased on runDisney race days
and then the PhotoPass feature used to download your PhotoPass photos from the race. The answer is: YES. Thank you to Don for providing that information!

July 31, 2017

Rivers of America and Disneyland Railroad Reopen at Disneyland


Because of the construction of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, which required changes to the northern perimeter of Disneyland, the Rivers of America attractions, including the Disneyland Railroad, were closed for over a year and a half. Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island and Fantasmic! opened earlier this month, but it wasn't until the end of July that the watercraft and the trains returned.

While the official opening was on Saturday, July 29, I attended an opening ceremony for the Return of the Disneyland Classics on Friday morning. The ceremony was held on the riverboat dock. The Mark Twain was festively decorated for the occasion.

Rivers of America

As part of the opening Disneyland President Michael Colglazier touched on some of the announcements made at D23 about new experiences that are coming to Disneyland. He also took a moment to offer a tribute to Marty Sklar, the longtime Disney Imagineer who died on Thursday. A tremendous loss to the Disney community.

Once the ceremony concluded, we were invited to take a trip on the Mark Twain along the Rivers of America: the Mississippi, Columbia River Gorge, Missouri, and Rio Grande. There's new landscaping and new rock work along most of the river area.

The Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes were preparing to open as we sailed by. In the photo below you can see the new walkway next to the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country, which will eventually lead to one of the entrances to Galaxy's Edge. The Hungry Bear dining area along the river's edge is really a nice place to relax while you watch the traffic on the river go by.

Rivers of America

The part of the Rivers that I think most of us have been anticipating is the Columbia River Gorge, with its new elevated train trestles and five waterfalls. It really is gorgeous. (Click on the photo for a larger image.)

Rivers of America Columbia River Gorge

We stopped for a while at that point. The narrator talked to us about Walt Disney's love of trains and how it was inspired by animators Ollie Johnson and Ward Kimball. They both had their own backyard railroads, with engines named the Marie E and Chloe respectively. John and Nancy Lasseter now own the Marie E. And there they were, coming 'round the bend on the Disneyland Railroad: the Marie E, towing the Chloe - I believe it was the first time they had ever been together. Certainly the first time they'd ever been at Disneyland!

Marie E and Chloe trains

John Lasseter was driving the train, with Nancy beside him. It was a great moment.

Rivers of America

Not long after they went by, the C. K. Holliday appeared, with train cars full of Disney characters and cast members. (Click on the photo for a larger image.) There were even a few fireworks above it.

Disneyland Railroad

Columbia River Gorge, Marie E, C. K. Holliday:

We continued our journey...The Lakota village has returned, and we still hear the chanting of the shaman. His figure is much closer than it used to be.

Rivers of America

Looking back toward the Columbia River Gorge, with a family of moose near the river bank. There are lots of other animals, too - deer, elk, raccoons, beaver, etc.,

Rivers of America

Kim Irvine, Art Director for the Rivers of America, talked a little about the landscaping and other aspects of the project.

Though the official opening wasn't until Saturday, the canoes, Mark Twain, and Sailing Ship Columbia were open to guests on Friday. Nice to see the different watercraft sharing the river again.

Rivers of America

Here's a look at the path between the Hungry Bear Restaurant and the river, which will eventually lead into Galaxy's Edge.

Hungry Bear Restaurant path

John Lasseter was at the New Orleans Square train station in his engineer overalls and hat. He was excited about his role in helping to re-open the Disneyland Railroad that morning.

Train Engineer John Lasseter

Our last event was a ride on the Disneyland Railroad. We took the "Grand Circle Tour" starting from New Orleans Square, so the very first part we saw was the new tracks and trestles. We couldn't really see the waterfalls from the train, but it was great to be up on the trestles looking over the river.

Disneyland Railroad

As we approached Big Thunder Mountain we passed over one of what will be an entrance to Galaxy's Edge - below us were guests on Big Thunder Trail.

Disneyland Railroad

Lots of new landscaping and rock work in that area.

Disneyland Railroad

Approaching Fantasyland, we passed above what used to be Big Thunder Ranch, and made a left turn, to eventually join up with the original railroad tracks. The area below the train in the photo is the third entrance to Galaxy's Edge. The path just visible behind the trees on the far right is Big Thunder Trail.

Disneyland Railroad

There was lots of new landscaping in this area as well. And some new furry friends, too.

Disneyland Railroad

I didn't notice the fox inside the log until I zoomed in on the photo.

Disneyland Railroad

No changes in the railroad from Toon Town Station to Tomorrowland Station, as far as I could tell. Once we left Tomorrowland we entered the Grand Canyon and Primeval World dioramas. Both of them have been repainted and greatly enhanced with brighter lighting and even some special effects.

Disneyland Railroad

Disneyland Railroad

I was happy to see the triceratops family has returned. :-)

Disneyland Railroad

The diorama still concludes with the dramatic battle between the tyrannosaurus rex and the stegosaurus.

Disneyland Railroad

The video below includes the new sections - New Orleans Square to Toon Town, and Tomorrowland to Main Street.

All Aboard!

July 24, 2017

Fantasmic! Dining Package

Fantasmic 2017

Fantasmic! is back at Disneyland. It was a lengthy absence due to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge construction (so nice to finally have a real name for that project!) which required re-routing the Rivers of America and closing all of the water-related attractions, as well as the Disneyland Railroad.

Jeanine saw the premiere of the new version of Fantasmic! on Monday, July 17. You can read about the changes and see a full video of the show in
her blog.

Access to the viewing areas for Fantasmic! that are right along the Rivers of America requires a Fastpass, though there are standby viewing areas on the upper tiers available on a first come, first serve, basis. Fastpasses are available to anyone at no charge (note that you can NOT use the MaxPass feature to book Fastpasses for Fantasmic! or World of Color). The Fastpass kiosks are next to the Mark Twain dock along the Rivers of America. These still deliver a paper Fastpass that must be presented for access to the Fastpass viewing areas. The area to return to will be identified on the ticket, e.g. Mark Twain Dock.

For those who wish a premium viewing experience, there are several dining packages available at various price points. These packages include access to what are arguably the best viewing areas for the show. Both Blue Bayou and River Belle Terrace offer a three-course prix fixe menu. They share the premium viewing area: in the center, in the first tier along the water. Blue Bayou is $65 for adults and $25 for kids 3-9. River Belle Terrace is $45/$25. River Belle offers a premium option: for an additional $15 guests can dine at 8:00 and watch the 9:00 show from their tables at the restaurant. This option can only be booked by calling Disneyland Dining.

Hungry Bear Restaurant offers an on-the-go option. Meals are packaged in a box and include a bottled beverage. Guests can choose to dine at the Hungry Bear's seating area or take the meal with them. A ticket for the preferred viewing area will be provided at time of pickup and payment - at this writing it is to the left of the premium viewing area. The price is $29.99 for adults and 19.99 for kids 3-9.

Blue Bayou Fantasmic! Menu
River Belle Terrace Fantasmic! Menu
Hungry Bear Restaurant Fantasmic! Menu

Lee and I tried the River Belle Terrace package on Friday night. We did not opt for the premium option. While it would be nice to have an actual chair to sit in for the show, the viewing from River Belle is somewhat obstructed, and not nearly as close as being right by the water.

When I made the reservation on-line at I was automatically assigned to the first show - which was what I wanted. Reservations can be made starting at 4:00 p.m., our time was 5:10. We arrive at the restaurant about 15 minutes early, but they were able to seat us right away. The hostess verified that we were there for the package and for the 9:00 Fantasmic! show. She gave us a choice of inside or outside seating - we chose to sit outside in the shade. It's really quite lovely being outside in the shade on a warm summer evening! Much quieter than sitting inside.

River Belle Terrace

Our meal was a modified version of the regular River Belle Terrace menu. Soft drink was included. As a starter we had a choice of the House Salad or Corn Chowder. I had the salad, which normally is served with Gorgonzola, but I requested that be left off. It had arugula, shredded apple, dried cranberries and candied pecans. It was a generous serving, and I enjoyed it.

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Salad

Lee tried the Corn Chowder. Lots of kernels of fresh corn in it. He said it was very good, and that the peppers on top were a garnish and there weren't more in the soup. (I don't like peppers.)

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Corn Chowder

Most of the entrees from the regular menu were available to us. I ordered the Oven-Roasted BBQ Half Chicken. It came with baked beans and my choice of another side: seasoned tater tots, potato salad, green beans or tangy coleslaw. I asked our server if "tangy" meant the coleslaw had peppers, but she didn't know, so I went with the tater tots. The chicken was nicely cooked, though it needed more BBQ sauce, which our server brought out as a side. The tater tots were lightly seasoned - they could have been hotter. My favorite part was the baked beans - there were black beans mixed in with them, as well as bacon. Lee thought they were a little too sweet, but I like them that way.

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic BBQ Chicken

Lee tried the Pork Spareribs. I thought the dish was nicely presented. The ribs were very tender and easily came off the bone. I didn't care for the spice rub on them, but Lee enjoyed them. He ordered the potato salad as a side. Neither of us liked it - the potatoes were a little firm, and there was something in the dressing that gave it a slightly reddish tint and an odd flavor.

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Pork Ribs

For dessert I ordered the Maleficent Dragon. That dessert was the reason I'd chosen River Belle Terrace instead of Blue Bayou. :-) Crunchy milk chocolate base with caramel mousse and a spiced dark chocolate-blackberry ganache center. The "flame" sauce was orange-vanilla. It was very good, and surprisingly complex for a mass-produced theme park location.

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Maleficent Dessert

The ganache in the middle WAS spicy - but we didn't taste it immediately, it was pretty late on the palate. A little too spicy for me, though I still really enjoyed the dessert.

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Maleficent Dessert

I had fun playing with the white chocolate pieces. :-)

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Maleficent Dessert

Lee chose the Strawberry Shortcake. It was good but not exceptional...he liked my dessert better - he finished off my ganache. :-)

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Strawberry Shortcake

The service was good, except it seemed like they were in a hurry to get us out of there. They brought our entrees just a few minutes after our appetizers - we were no where close to finished with them. Our server was going to bring the desserts soon after clearing the entree plates, but we asked for a few minutes to digest first. So that ended up being the right amount of time between courses.

Our server brought us our Fantasmic! tickets when we paid for the meal. The viewing area opens an hour ahead of the show; she recommended getting there at least 30 minutes in advance.

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Fastpass ticket

We received a 15% annual passholder discount on the meal, but with tax and tip it was still about $100 for the two of us. Given what a three course meal, plus beverage, would have cost us on the regular menu, we only paid about $5 for the Fantasmic! ticket. Now, on a normal evening would we have dined at River Belle Terrace? No, but we did it to get the premium viewing of Fantasmic!

We went back to the Rivers of America area about 8:30. It was pretty crowded, though there was still a fair bit of standby area available - Jason was able to get a good spot at almost center stage at 8:30. Our server had told us there would be a sign near Haunted Mansion telling us where to go, but we didn't see any signs at all. We asked a cast member in the area and she directed us - the entrance was down near the water close to the Harbour Galley.

There were two entrances there: one for "regular" Fastpasses, and one for those with Premium viewing. Our Fastpasses were checked several times as we made our way along the river before we were directed into a viewing area near center stage. I was surprised to see that people who had the Blue Bayou package (identifiable because they were given seat cushions as part of their package) were sitting in the same section with us. It seems like they don't distinguish between Blue Bayou and River Belle in the preferred viewing areas.

Everyone had to sit on the ground in the preferred viewing area, with the exception of some people in ECVs who were allowed to sit on their vehicles at the back. A few people had been smart enough to bring blankets, and of course the Blue Bayou guests had their cushions. We were quite envious. :-)

The show...Wow. The projection system was updated and the projections on the mist screens were so much clearer, brighter, and more vibrant than they have been in the past.

Fantasmic 2017 Magic Mirror

In addition, the stage area on Tom Sawyer Island was digitally mapped. Projections are used to great effect to add depth and interest to the background area.

Fantasmic 2017

The fountains were also upgraded - it seemed to me like they featured more movement and color, a la World of Color.

Fantasmic 2017

This is a new version of Fantasmic!, and as you would expect, there are some new elements to the show - which means the removal of some older elements. The most controversial, I think, was the decision to remove Captain Hook and Peter Pan from the Sailing Ship Columbia and feature Jack Sparrow instead. I missed the charm of the Peter Pan version, though there is non-stop action and some fairly impressive stunts in the new one.

Fantasmic pirate ship

There are a number of new animated scenes featuring characters from "The Lion King", "Finding Nemo", and "The Little Mermaid".

Fantasmic 2017 Lion King

The movie "Aladdin" is featured prominently: Mickey interacts with a mist screen Genie to "Friend Like Me", and Aladdin and Jasmine float on their flying carpet to "Whole New World". I was a little disappointed in that scene: early press releases had described them as floating over a bed of fog, but there was little fog to be seen, and in fact we could see the support of the carpet.

Fantasmic 2017 Aladdin Jasmine

Flynn Rider and Rapunzel replace Snow White and her prince in the princess sequence. I thought the background of the island with the lantern projections worked very well there. Though that's not exactly new - it seems like every current Disney show has that particular scene and song from Tangled.

Fantasmic 2017 Tangled

Other than the Magic Mirror, the animation of the villains sequence looked basically the same - a little shorter. The quality of of the projections seemed noticeably inferior to me compared to the newer segments. I was surprised that they weren't upgraded. Nice to see the huge dragon back - though now it's Sorcerer Mickey that battles her rather than Brave Little Tailor Mickey.

Fantasmic 2017 dragon

Mickey is quite a bit more present in the new show as a live figure on stage, though he also appears in animation.

Fantasmic 2017 Sorcerer Mickey

I really liked the new show. Overall it looks so much better than it did before. Since it's so much brighter I hope it will be easier to view even for those guests who don't have the prime viewing spot that we did.

Since we saw the early 9:00 show, we were able to stay in the viewing area to watch the Remember, Dreams Come True fireworks show. Disney added projections on the Rivers of America mist screens for the 60th anniversary Disneyland Forever fireworks, and there are projections for the Remember show, also.

Remember Dreams Come True Fantasmic 2017

Different than what we would see on the castle if we were on Main Street, though much clearer and more visible than they are on the castle.

Remember Dreams Come True Fantasmic 2017

If you want a guaranteed good viewing location for Fantasmic!, then I think reserving one of the dining packages is an excellent option. Choosing River Belle Terrace and Blue Bayou will give you equally good viewing, so I think it's a matter of the price and which menu you prefer. The Hungry Bear viewing area will not be quite as good, but still better than you're likely to get with a regular Fastpass ticket, and that dinner package is certainly cheaper than the other two. But there's less food included with the Hungry Bear option, so in some ways it's a lesser value.

May 28, 2017

Preview of Summer of Heroes at Disney California Adventure

Summer of Heroes

Jeanine, Jason, and Laura continue with their coverage of the Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! opening at Disney California Adventure with this preview of the Summer of Heroes.

The Summer of Heroes promotion includes limited time food and beverage, merchandise, and entertainment opportunities featuring Marvel Super Heroes. It runs until September 10.


Avengers Training Initiative gives youngsters a chance to interact with Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Avengers special agents. Along the lines of the Jedi Training Academy, but with an Avengers theme. Training sessions take place several times a day on the Hollywood Backlot stage. Signups are available on a first come-first serve basis - on the day we were there the kiosk was outside Stage 17. If your child wishes to participate, we recommend making sign-up your first order of the day.

Summer of Heroes

Kids are separated into several groups where they have to work as a team. The also learn a sequence of defensive, evasive, and even offensive moves, which they later demonstrate against a HYDRA villain. (The Captain America shields they used had some entertaining Frisbee-like qualities when flung at the villain.)

Summer of Heroes

Jeanine: So when I saw the sneak peek presentation on it a little while ago (seen here) I thought this looked like a pretty interesting show. I would have been impressed if it actually did show kids some basic self-defense moves, which doesn't seem like a bad thing for anyone to know nowadays. My other thought on walking up to the show a little late, was that Iron Man sounds a lot like Tom Hanks doing Woody for some reason.

Black Widow Encounter - She patrols the Hollywood Backlot in her black armored vehicle, and interacts with guests. The more traditional meet-and-greet opportunity with Spider-Man and Captain America is also still available.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Dance Off! - As you'll see in the video below, we experienced a version of this during the Grand Opening event, though this may not be quite what guests will experience. The Disneyland web site lists it as an activity for kids and tweens. The Dance Off concludes with a visit by Groot, who "sticks" around for a meet and greet afterward.

Hero Action Center - What Super Hero are you most like? Is it Captain America, Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Black Widow? Or perhaps Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, or Spider-Man? At the Hero Action Center in the Hollywood Backlot you can take an interactive quiz that asks a series of questions to determine what Super Hero is most like you. The quiz is administered via a touch screen tablet. Afterward you'll receive a comic book and a sticker representing your Super Hero. There's a photo backdrop with a Photo Pass photographer, also.

Summer of Heroes

Jeanine: Considering I usually get "You are Ursula" on all these tests, this was pretty vindicating.


Food for Super Heroes (or mere mortals)

There are a number of new food and beverages choices, in multiple locations around Hollywood Land.

Award Weiners - Three words: Funnel Cake Fries. Laura is really looking forward to these. They are available separately or included in the Angry Little Pudding Cup (below), a chocolate pudding, chocolate cookie, and whipped cream parfait.

Summer of Heroes

Schmoozies - Schmoozies will now be open in the morning, serving doughnuts in addition to smoothies and hot beverages . Doughnuts are available while they last. The Hulk-themed doughnut, filled with blackberry and black currant, will be available every day. As you might expect, it's huge. The other three will rotate. The Captain America doughnut is an apple pie doughnut, the "Spider Bite" is cinnamon spiced (think Red Hot candies), and the Groot doughnut is maple and bacon.

Summer of Heroes

Summer of Heroes

Cosmic Canteen - This is located on the far end of the Hollywood Backlot next to the Monsters, Inc. attraction. It will have a variety of "Cosmic Cocktails" and non-alcoholic "Breakout Beverages". Groot-shaped bread will be available - it's sourdough bread with cheese or jalapeno cheese. The eyes are black olives. The bread will also be available at Fairfax Market.

Summer of Heroes

Studio Catering Co. - the food truck in the backlot. A number of different items here! The Super Hero sub includes peppered salami, capocollo, mortadela and provolone, topped with lettuce, tomato, pickled onions, and pepperoncini.

Summer of Heroes

Multiverse Parfait with chocolate cake, white and dark chocolate mousse and cherry jelly, topped with chocolate ganache.

Falafel pitas: Chickpea fritters served with two different accompaniments - spinach, cucumber/mint slaw and yogurt sauce or pickled red cabbage, yellow peppers and charamoula sauce. Laura worked with a Disney chef to make some fritters:

Knowhere Eats will be a food kiosk (re-purposed from the Food and Wine Festival). It opens June 6, and in the meantime these items will be available at the Cosmic Canteen and Studio Catering Co. All of the food items are available with a vegetarian version.

The Most Dangerous Tacos in the Galaxy - Barbacoa beef tacos on green tortillas.

Summer of Heroes

Obviously Nachos - Blue corn tortilla chips with mojo-marinated chicken, red pepper cheese sauce and chipotle crema. Laura tried these and thought they were very good - not too spicy at all.

Summer of Heroes

Space Outpost Tacos - chicken street tacos with chopped cilantro and onions.

Summer of Heroes

Several alcoholic beverages are also available.

Summer of Heroes Merchandise - most is available only in Disney California Adventure, much of it exclusive to the Collector's Warehouse at the exit of the Mission: BREAKOUT! attraction. Lots of cute Baby Groot items. We got an overview:

While it's not a part of the Summer of Heroes, another new attraction also opened at Disney California Adventure: Disney Junior Dance Party!. This show for pre-school kids includes some of their favorite Disney Junior characters, like Doc McStuffins, Sophia the First, and characters from The Lion Guard and Mickey and Minnie Mouse from Mickey and the Roadster Racers. There's special effects like bubbles, snow, and confetti, and the kids are encouraged to get up and dance to the music.

Jeanine: I'm not sure I ever actually saw the show that preceded this one, but the dance party seemed high energy and fast-paced enough to keep most of the children's attention engaged. I would only make the additional observation that anyone going should probably expect exposure to the sights, sounds, and olfactory stimuli characteristic of a youthful audience.


Jeanine: So between "Mission: BREAKOUT!" and "Summer of Heroes," there's a lot coming to Hollywood Land this season. Frankly, I'm just glad the three of us were able to cover it all and get out without any mishaps.



May 27, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! Grand Opening

Jeanine, Jason, and Laura all attended the Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! opening at Disney California Adventure, so the blogs on the event are going to be collaborative efforts.

Jeanine and Laura have already presented a lot of background information on the attraction in two earlier blogs:
Sneak Peek at "Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!" and "Summer of Heroes"
First Look at Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!

This time we had more time to wander around the entire queue. The exterior queue is known as the "Gardens of the Galaxy". It is also part of the Collection, and features unusual plants and audio recordings.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!

Laura had the opportunity to do a recorded ride-through of Mission: BREAKOUT! She says: "I really enjoyed the attraction. There are six versions, with six different songs, though I've only experienced the one. I thought the visuals - which were filmed with the actors from the movie specifically for the attraction - worked well, though I wish they could have been a little longer. While the ride seems to have more intense motion than before, it is broken up by several stops - so that we can see those scenes. While I'm still not really convinced that this attraction fits into Hollywood Land, it was a lot of fun."

Laura also says:
"After the ride, be sure to listen to some of the comments you'll hear while you're still in the ride vehicle."

"Also, as you're in the exit hallway headed towards the Collector's Warehouse (gift shop), listen to the music and to some of the dialog and sounds you hear. I had the area to myself - once the ride is open I hope you'll still be able to hear it over the voices of everyone exiting the attraction."

Jeanine: "Having more time to walk around the entry this time, I noticed a similar effect in the main collection room--some of the exhibits move or talk, although they don't necessarily do it often and they don't do the same things all the time. The Ultron Sentry occasionally sings 'I've Got No Strings,' as in 'Age of Ultron,' but when I waited around for him to do it again, he said a different line."

Later in the day Laura spoke with Estefania Harbuck, Creative Producer for the attraction:

That night we all attended the Grand Opening of the Tivan Collection.


Bob Chapek, Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, was there, along with Director/Writer James Gunn.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!

Several members of the Guardians of the Galaxy cast were in attendance, including Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Benicio Del Toro (Taneleer Tivan),Michael Rooker (Yondu), and Pom Klementieff (Mantis).

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!

The opening concluded with fireworks and lights on the Fortress.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!

Video of Opening Ceremony:

Afterwards, guests wanting to tour the Tivan Collection were treated to a Groot greet out in front of the citadel.


We'll have more on the events taking place during the Summer of Heroes promotion in our next blog.


(Jeanine: "Try not to call him a Trash Panda.")

May 18, 2017

2017 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Race Expo

Tinker Bell Expo

Though I didn't run any of the Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend races this year, I visited the Expo. I wrote in my previous blog about my experiences working at the Expo that day as a paid employee. After my shift was over, I spent some time walking around the Expo.

I was surprised that the entrance to the packet pick-up area wasn't decorated at all. In the past the rug at the entrance has had the race logo, and portraits of the pixies have been on the walls. It was very plain this year.

Tinker Bell Expo

The packet pick-up area downstairs wasn't very busy at 4:00 in the afternoon. There were about 27,500 scheduled to participate in all of the weekend's events: Never Land 5K, Tinker Bell 10K, Kids Races, and Tinker Bell Half Marathon. Not all of the races sold out and bibs were still available for the 10K, half marathon, and Pixie Dust Challenge.

Tinker Bell Expo

There were still quite a few Dooney & Bourke bags available.

Tinker Bell Expo

The main entrance to the Expo upstairs was decorated with banners.

Tinker Bell Expo

Tinker Bell Expo

There were large maps of the race courses posted just inside.

Tinker Bell Expo

The Expo had most of the usual vendors - the New Balance Disney shoes, Clif Bars, Fit2Run, RawThreads, Sparkle Skirts, etc. Springa was one that I did not recall seeing before - they had lots of shiny, sparkly headwear.

Tinker Bell Expo

The runDisney booth had samples of all of the race medals. The medals for this year's Virtual Running Shorts series feature Pluto, and I thought they were cute.

Tinker Bell Expo

There were also samples of the medals that would be distributed for the Tinker Bell Weekend events. All of the medals had new designs this year.

Tinker Bell 5K medal

Tinker Bell Kids Races medal

Tinker Bell 10K medal

Tinker Bell Half Marathon medal

Tinker Bell Pixie Dust Challenge medal

I was surprised that there was no line to get into the Official Merchandise area. And as far as I could tell, all of the merchandise was still available, including some of the items that sell out quickly like the Tervis bottles, the weekend runDisney shoe ornament, and the wine glasses.

Tinker Bell Expo

Tinker Bell Expo

Tinker Bell Expo

Tinker Bell Expo

And there were lots and lots of shirts. Of all different styles and colors - some of them very bright.

Tinker Bell race shirt

Tinker Bell race shirt

Tinker Bell race shirt

Tinker Bell race shirt

Tinker Bell race shirt

Tinker Bell race shirt

Tinker Bell race shirt

There were also a few styles of pants.

Tinker Bell race shirt

I liked many of the designs on the "I Did It" shirts this year.

Tinker Bell race shirt

Tinker Bell race shirt

Tinker Bell race shirt

Plenty of the mini-medal pins for all of the races - those were always some of my favorites.

Tinker Bell mini medal pin

Magnets, lots of magnets!

Tinker Bell magnets

A number of hairbands and headbands.

Tinker Bell headbands

Tinker Bell race shirt

I'd never seen Disney sell a medal rack before.

Tinker Bell medal rack

Since I wasn't running any races this year I didn't feel the need to buy anything. Once I'd finished in the merchandise area I was done with my pass through the Expo. Nothing really stood out to me as being especially new or different this year.

May 15, 2017

A Day in the Life of a Race Support Employee


Earlier this year many long-time runDisney runners and race volunteers were very surprised when runDisney announced that they would not be using volunteers at the upcoming Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend. Instead race support would be provided by employees of two temporary employment agencies. Employees would be compensated at a rate of $13/hour - higher than the California minimum wage of $10.50/hour.

Tinker Bell Race Support

There's been no explanation for the change, though there's lots of speculation. I personally do not believe it was a cost-cutting measure. It's quite an involved process to hire that many people, and given my experience it does not seem that it was a cheaper option for runDisney.

I'd never volunteered for a race before, but I was curious about how this new process would work. (I should mention that we'd decided not to run any of the Tinker Bell races this year and instead had a family vacation scheduled to start that weekend.) I had Thursday free so I contacted the two agencies - Apple One and Volt - to see if I could work that day. Apple One didn't really respond to my inquiry - I received an empty email in response. The coordinator at Volt got right back to me with information and answered a few of my questions. She told me which shifts were available - at that point it was Expo shifts on Thursday and Friday, and early morning race support shifts on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I could work every day if I wanted to (but only one shift per day). I told her that I was only available to work on Thursday, and she was OK with that.

So then we started the process. And it was a process. I think it's much more complex than the volunteer system. To begin with I filled out an on-line application form. It was a generic form for prospective Volt employees, and nowhere did it say that I was applying to work Race Support, so I was a little worried. In addition to listing previous jobs, etc., I had to provide a point of contact for a previous job reference - though that person was never contacted.

One twist: runDisney required that the two agencies run a seven-year criminal background check on all those who were hired. So that was the next on-line form that I had to complete.

Within a few days I received another set of "paperwork" in my email. These included some forms that had to be printed and signed to complete my "onboarding". The agency was in Irvine, and I was in San Diego, so they arranged for me to visit their San Diego office to complete the paperwork. The main thing they needed to verify was my "right to work" in the United States, which required that someone verify my documentation (passport, in my case) and attest that it was valid. I could have had a friend or neighbor do that (but NOT a family member) and return everything to Irvine via FedEx. But the reality was that there were so many documents, and I wasn't sure what I really needed to sign or not, that it was much more straightforward to just go to the local office to do it.

Less than 10 days out I had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement that Disney provided. That one I printed out, took a photo of the signature page and emailed it back.

On the Tuesday before I was scheduled to work, I received information on parking and check-in. They provided a parking pass to park for free in the Mickey and Friends garage. I was checking in at the Disneyland Hotel in an area next to Packet Pickup. I also received information on the dress code and lunches and breaks. I was advised to bring as little as possible since there was no place to store belongings.

Whew. As I said - it was a process. And since it's a job, I think it's quite a bit more invasive than it was in the past for volunteers - between the job application and the background check I had to provide a lot of personal information. I can understand that going through all of that would not be attractive to a lot of people - and it took a fair bit of my time to do it all.

It seemed like the company representative did a good job passing information along (I think she got it to us as fast as Disney got it to her). She verified and re-verified what shift I was working - but I think that getting people to show up for something like this can be a problem. She certainly kept offering me more shifts if I wanted them! As of Wednesday they were still trying to find people to work Sunday's half marathon. They apparently also drew upon people who had previously signed up with their agency - the woman I was working next to knew nothing about runDisney, but said Volt had contacted her and said they had some work if she wanted it. She was working four days - including two early morning race shifts. of Wednesday night I had my parking pass and instructions on where to meet and when.

Thursday morning I arrived at the parking garage about 7:20 - I was supposed to check in by 8:00. I was pleased to see that there were signs directing to the Disneyland Hotel, although once I reached the hotel itself there were no signs telling me where to go - fortunately from previous experience I knew where I was going.

Tinker Bell Race Support

Along the way there were some race weekend signs.

Tinker Bell Race Support

The Family Reunion area was still being put together.

Tinker Bell Race Support

The Finish line was in place, and workers were assembling the bleachers.

Tinker Bell Race Support

Once I checked in I got my Race Support shirt - this was to be worn as our top layer.

Tinker Bell Race Support

Who knew that Race Support had sponsors?

Tinker Bell Race Support

Then at the next table I received my assignment for the day. Everyone from Volt was being assigned to Runner Shirts and everyone from Apple One was going to Packet Pickup. I would've preferred to work Packet Pickup, but oh well.

The Expo wasn't scheduled to start until 10:00 (though we heard it would open at 9:30), so we still had a lot of time where we were just sitting around. Fortunately there were enough tables and chairs for everyone. Other than ice water dispensers and cups there were no refreshments of any kind. One of the men sitting at my table had volunteered at a number of runDisney events in the past, and said that they used to provide food and beverages to the volunteers - but that's gone by the wayside.

The workers were generally older - there were a number of retired people, though there were some younger people who looked like they were in their early 20s.

About 9:00 a couple of runDisney people came to give us a pep talk about how important we were to the process, etc., etc., and then escort us to our work areas, where we would receive whatever training we needed.

My group went upstairs to the main Expo floor and the shirt distribution area. Most of us would be giving out shirts, but they needed a few people to work the Shirt Exchange and others to be the "runners" who brought out additional shirts and bags from the back as they were needed.

The process was quite simple - each runner's bib had a tear-off strip indicating the size of shirt they were to receive. Each of us had only one size shirt available at our station - I had 5K shirts, size Adult Small. So I had to verify that the bib was a 5K bib, and the shirt size was "AS". Then tear off the strip and put it in a plastic bag that was taped to the counter. Under the counter was the stack of clear plastic runDisney bags, which already contained a Clif bar and a packet of safety pins, and each runner received one of those in addition to the shirt.

Tinker Bell Race Support

Here's a photo of one of the shirts I was distributing. I thought they were really cute, and I was surprised that a number of runners didn't like the color or the design. Most thought that it was really cute, though. You can't please everyone. At least it wasn't gray. :-)

Tinker Bell Never Land 5K shirt

The runDisney guy in charge of the shirt area had very definite ideas on how he wanted it to work. Understandable, since obviously he has lots of experience at this. Whatever size was at our station was what we gave out - we were not to reach over or move to fetch a different size. If the bib said they were to receive a small, but they wanted a medium, we gave them a small and directed them to Shirt Exchange. We were always to face the guests. We were to refer anyone with questions beyond "where do I get my shirt?" to one of the black-shirted runDisney employees, or direct them to the information booth in the lobby. No cell phones. We were to smile and thank the guests, but not chat too much with them. We were not supposed to lean on the counters. (Since we were standing the entire time, that was a little bit difficult.) We were always supposed to have a full contingent of workers at the counters, even when things were slow. So that meant if anyone needed a break, our leads had to bring someone up to fill the space. I guess there were some extra "floaters" who did that.

Here's what my area looked like. That space between the bins held two of us - not much room to move around. The woman to my right had two sizes of Youth 5K shirts.

Tinker Bell Race Support

We didn't really see the first people come to shirt pickup until after 10:00. In the meantime we could see what the Expo floor looked like with no one in it.

Tinker Bell Race Support

It all was in spurts. Sometimes I had people waiting, but most of the time I just stood there.

I got my first 10-minute break after about an hour, and wandered around the show floor briefly before I went back. There were two leads from Volt who made sure that everyone got their breaks and lunches.

Tinker Bell Race Support

We only got 30 minutes for lunch, which was really very little time to try to go someplace, get food, and eat. Since I was told not to bring a bag, I didn't bring lunch (I had been warned that lunch would not be provided and that I would only have 30 minutes). About all I had time for was to grab some yogurt at Tangaroa Terrace... I didn't have time to go through the security line and into Downtown Disney.

The afternoon was like the morning - brief periods when it was busy, but mostly a lot of standing around. A little excitement when one of the guys restocking shirts dumped the wrong size shirt in one of my bins - but I caught it before I gave any of them out. I was quite ready for my 10-minute break, which I largely spent sitting down backstage. I'm fairly used to standing for long periods of time, but not having any room to move around made me more tired.

At about 3:30 they brought up the people who would be working the afternoon/evening shift. We were responsible for training them - not that there was much to that. Though I think we got all of about five minutes before they told us to move out. Our group was escorted back downstairs. I clocked out with the Volt representative and my day was done.

I mentioned that my group seemed to be an older crowd. The afternoon shift appeared to be quite a bit younger on average.

In my area I didn't see any problems with having paid employees versus volunteers. I heard that there were issues in packet pick-up - some people said that no one checked their IDs! And we had one woman come to shirt pickup who had been given an extra bib that wasn't hers. Fortunately she realized that and gave it to a runDisney person. She was pretty frazzled and said that packet pick-up had not been a good experience for her. I'm curious to hear what the on-course experience is like for runners with the paid support versus the volunteers.

Working the Expo was an interesting experience for me. Not exactly challenging, but I enjoyed my interactions with the runners. I only saw one person I knew (Hi, Gail!), but I saw a number of people I recognized from previous Disney races. I'd do it again, though I'd like to try Packet Pick-up the next time. For one thing you get to sit down for that!

April 29, 2017

2017 Star Wars - The Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend, Part 1: Expo and 5K

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

Lee and I did not attend any of the events of this year's Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side weekend, so I prevailed upon friends to blog about the race weekend instead. Kim Scharoff and Molly and Tom Troost collaborated on notes and photos, and Kim wrote Part 1. A big thank you to all of them!

Thursday, April 20 - Expo

Tom, Molly and I are veteran runDisney runners and know that the Expo can be crazy at opening, so we decided to wait until later in the day. We drove over to the Expo around 3:30pm. We had no problem getting parking and walked right in.

The set up was the standard for WDW events - bibs in one building and Expo in another. While all of us printed out waivers prior, we forgot them at home and needed to print them on site. This was extremely easy to do. We were able to quickly get our bibs - all of us for the 5k and Tom and me for the Challenge.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

In the same area where we picked up our bibs, the race shirts were available. The shirts were gray, maroon, and red, with black writing to keep with the Dark Side theme.

(Laura's comment: Of course there was a gray shirt. There's ALWAYS a gray shirt.)

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

Upstairs there was a merchandise area. Tom went to pick up some commemorative items that he had pre-ordered while Molly and I went to check out the merchandise.

The merchandise was well stocked. It had race specific items as well as Star Wars generic items. We did not see pins in this area or the "I did it!" shirts.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

We went back outside and across to the main Expo. We first went to the runDisney merchandise area. Again, there appeared to be no shortage of anything. In addition, this area had the pins and shirts. Molly and I both purchased capri sweatpants that were Star Wars themed. Going through checkout was simple as well, requiring a less than 5 minute wait.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

We walked around the remainder of the Expo, checked out some of the exhibitors and picked up a couple of items that we needed. New Balance sneakers were readily available and easy to purchase with no wait. I was able to basically walk right up and speak with Jeff and Barb Galloway and get my usual picture with Jeff.

We were done within 2 hours and headed off for dinner prior to calling it any early night since we knew the morning would be an early one.

Friday, April 21 - Dark Side 5K

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

Since the 5k was the usual EPCOT 5k that everyone knows from Marathon and Princess weekend, we drove over early so we could explore the pre-race area, and arrived at 4:00. Going through security to get in was easy. They continued with the bag vs. no bag lines and considered someone with a water belt as no bag.

DJ Elliot was spinning the tunes to get everyone pumped up. There were 7 picture back drops/characters that you could take photos with - Rogue One, Boba Fett with a carbonite Han Solo, Jabba the Hutt, Darth Vader, Kylo Ren, Captain Phasma, and BB-8. We were able to quickly get Darth Vader, Kylo Ren and BB-8, never waiting more than 15 minutes.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side Darth Vader

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side Kylo Ren

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side BB-8

By that time, the lines had gotten long and for the first time, runDisney had signs with estimated wait times for each character. The ground was also nicely marked for moving the lines.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

We made sure to make our way to the corrals with time to spare before the 6:00 race start. We were starting from corral C so that we could all stay together as we walked this race. There were the usual 5 corrals. Prior to the start we were reminded of proper course etiquette. It was relatively cool for Florida in April - about 61 degrees at the start, but quite humid.

Storm Troopers came out and told us this was Level One of our training. This was the same script that was used last year.

Rather than release an entire corral at once, they subdivided the corrals into 2 or 3 waves and released them at 2 minute intervals. This definitely helped to reduce some of the crowding on course.

Once on course, we felt they had a nice selection of characters. Less than a mile into the race, there were two Ewoks. The line was long when we got there and we decided not to stop, which is something we regretted later. We kept going and right before entering EPCOT near Test Track, the Emperor's Chair was available for runners to sit and take photos.

R2D2 and Star Wars Rebels were available in World Showcase for photos. Chewie was also in his usual spot for the runDisney events on the path near the International Gateway which allows for plenty of space for a long line. As you came near the Fountain in Future Wold, there were Storm Troopers on the ledge to take pictures with but without a PhotoPass photographer which we thought a bit strange.

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

We saw lots of cool costumes, especially mash-up type costumes and we even dressed as droids. We got lots of great photos from the PhotoPass Photographers stationed throughout the course.

Of course, right before we crossed the finish line, we had to stop and talk with race announcers Rudy Novotny and John Pelky and take a selfie.

We all enjoyed the 5k race. Molly was now done racing for the weekend but Tom and I had two more races to go....

Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side

April 27, 2017

First Look at Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT!

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to take a hard hat tour of the new Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! attraction. This was a media preview and members of the creative team from both Disney and Marvel took us into several areas of the new attraction, though we did not get to ride it. No photos or video were permitted, so I have just a few photos that Disney provided on this awesome thumb drive, and yes it was in a cassette tape case.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT

(All unattributed photos courtesy of Disney.)

Once we were behind the construction walls we donned our protective gear - safety vests and goggles, and hard hats.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT

Before we went inside Imagineers Estefania Harbuck (Creative Producer) and Danny Handke (Creative Director) shared some of the backstory of the attraction. The Collector (Tanaleer Tivan) has brought his Fortress to Earth, and has invited Terrans to be his VIP guests and see his collection - particularly his latest acquisition, the Guardians of the Galaxy. But Rocket has already escaped, and recruits guests to help him free the rest of the Guardians.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT

Without spoiling anything, I will say that I was encouraged by what I saw and heard. As announced in the press release, there will be six different ride scenarios, where the Guardians encounter different challenges as they make their escape. The visuals and the attraction's motion in each will be synchronized to a different classic rock/pop song. These include selections from The Jackson 5, Elvis Presley, and Pat Benatar. Estefania Harbuck mentioned that they are pushing the ride system and what it can do. There's lots of unpredictability in what you feel. She said: "This experience is high energy, it's fast, it's chaotic, and it's funny." The word "irreverent" was used a lot, also.

The attraction opens on May 27. The spaces we toured are still very much a work in progress, and a lot of finishing touches still need to be applied.

The Lobby already contains cases of artifacts all around the room - including overhead. Some of these are not necessarily from the Guardians movies and will be recognizable to Marvel fans. There are over 2200 props in the attraction. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT

We also saw the Maintenance Bay - the gantry loading area. It didn't really look a lot different to me from when it was the Service Elevator area of the Tower of Terror - it's still very industrial.

The final space was the "Collector's Warehouse" - a merchandise location by any other name. No merchandise yet, of course. And it might have been the most complete simply because most of what goes in there is merchandise displays.

During the Q&A, someone asked how this attraction will appeal to those who may not be familiar with the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Estefania Harbuck had this to say: "That's one thing that's really important to us. That you be able to walk in the front door with no prior knowledge of the Guardians of the Galaxy and be able to understand it and have a good time....And the ride experience is going to be so fun and thrilling too with the awesome soundtrack that even if you don't know who the Guardians are I really do think guests will have a good time."

Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! opens on May 27.


Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT

The exterior of the building is also part of the story. All of those colorful pipes on the outside of the Fortress contain organic matter that powers the generator which keeps the collection locked up. At night these pipes will appear to pulse and glow.

The outdoor queue contains items from the Collector's plant collection - Tivan's Oasis, aka The Gardens of the Galaxy (groan). It will have lots of strange and unusual plants - we could see the top of one of the trees over the wall. I'm sure the horticulture department has had lots of fun with that.

There's also an audio collection of music and sounds from all over the Galaxy that will play in the outside queue.

In the Lobby, some of the artifacts are inanimate and some are alive. One of the cases contains Kree artifacts from Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. show. And recognizing the huge annual passholder fan base, there are a lot of theme park Easter eggs, though it wasn't clear to me whether those are in the Lobby or all throughout the attraction.

From the Lobby, guests will go into Tivan's office (a space we did not see) before going to the loading area.

The ride starts with a launch straight up - and then Rocket disables the generator. That also causes the vehicle to lose power and behave unpredictably as guests experience one of the six different scenarios.

The six versions were titled "Escape", "Abilisk Attack", "Drax vs Beast", "Anti-Gravity", "Quill vs Orloni", and "Drones." The songs (we don't know which song goes with which) are: "Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar (1980), “Give Up The Funk” by Parliament (1975), “Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf (1968), “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5 (1969), “Free Ride” by The Edgar Winters Group (1973), and “Burning Love” by Elvis Presley (1972).

When exiting the attraction, in addition to music there are creature sounds from some of the escaped exhibits.

Guardians of the Galaxy composer Tyler Bates wrote original music for the attraction.

In the Collector's Warehouse there will be some interesting artwork, like a map showing where items came from, and a sign showing the number of items collected.

Cast Members will have new roles in the attraction. They are playing the part of working for the Tivan Group as greeters and VIP tour guides. But they know they are being watched all of the time and have to be very careful of what they say and do - and while they want to help Rocket free the Guardians they can't appear to be doing so. We had a first look at the costumes - inspired by the patterns and textures from the film.

From the Q&A:

There will be Fastpass, the length of the ride feels longer than Tower of Terror.

There is a new character original to the attraction.

Some cast members rode early on and a few changes were made based on their feedback.

When asked how the attraction fits into the theme of Disney California Adventure, the response, I believe from Danny Handke, was: "Bringing the Collector's Fortress to the edge of California Adventure was a way to welcome guests, welcome Terrans to take his VIP tour and see the Guardians on display. And it's also a mystery, you might have noticed an alien language throughout the facility, and there's some mystery elements here to decipher and give you clues of other reasons why the Collector is here as well."

April 6, 2017

2017 Disney California Food and Wine Festival - Sweet Sundays

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

This year's Disney California Food and Wine Festival includes additional Premium Events that weren't a part of last year's Festival. One of them is Sweet Sundays, which was a part of the original Festival. I've attended these events at both Epcot and DCA's Food and Wine Festivals, and I was happy to see it return this year.

Sweet Sundays starts with a light breakfast and features a guest celebrity chef who demonstrates the preparation of several desserts. All guests receive their own desserts to sample. In past sessions I've learned several interesting techniques and ways to make some desserts even better.

The cost is $79/person plus tax and gratuity. There are three Sweet Sundays events this year, featuring Duff Goldman, Emily Ellyn, and Keegan Gerhard. We saw Emily Ellyn. I have to admit I'd never heard of her before. She's been on a number of Food Network shows, like "Food Network Star", "Cupcake Wars", and "Cutthroat Kitchen." She's known as the "Retro Rad Chef", and wears vintage clothing styles and trademark cat-eye glasses.

The events are held in the Festival Showplace - Stage 17 in Hollywood Land. It started at 10:30, and check-in was supposed to start at 9:45. But no one was there at that time. We wandered around a bit and went back about 10:00 and there was a short line. Unfortunately the check-in process was very slow - it took 20 minutes until we were seated. I had made the reservation and pre-paid so all the cast members had to do was verify my last name and then check our ids and give us a wristband. It doesn't seem like that should be a really slow process.

We were seated at a table rather than choosing our own seats. The event is fairly small - there were 15 tables, each seating 6 people. Half the tables were already full. Servers came around fairly quickly and offered us glasses of sparkling wine. There were carafes of orange juice and cranberry juice already on the table so that we could help ourselves. I was surprised that we were not offered coffee or tea. We later asked for coffee and tea, and eventually it was brought to us, but it was very difficult to get a refill. I wish that a beverage station had been available so that we could've gotten our own hot beverages.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

There was a basket of assorted pastries on the table for us serve ourselves.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

In past events there's been a breakfast buffet, but this year we had a "light breakfast" that was pre-plated and served to us at our tables. It definitely saved a lot of time to do it that way, but there wasn't the selection there has been in the past. We received scrambled eggs, bacon, and a potato cake. The scrambled eggs had some salmon in them, we think. I didn't think they were cooked quite enough, and they were too soft for me. The bacon wasn't crispy, and the potato cake was just ok. I was pretty disappointed in the breakfast.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Emily Ellyn came out while we were still eating. Rather than staying on stage and starting to cook she came out into the audience. She told us a lot about her background and her cooking philosophy - like taking tried and true recipes and make them your own. It was entertaining, but we were there for a cooking demonstration.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Finally she went up on stage and started working on the different parts of her desserts with the assistance of the host, who is a Disney chef. I was really not excited about her desserts at all. "Candied Fennel Upside-Down Cake served with Citrus Chocolate Pudding, Toasted Fennel Sesame Brittle and Orange Ash." Does that sound like dessert to you? I do not like fennel - I can't stand that licorice flavor. And as far as I'm concerned citrus and chocolate should NEVER be combined. Sigh.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Her presentation was enjoyable, but there wasn't a lot of substance to it. As I mentioned earlier, I usually learn something from these sessions - I really didn't learn much from this one. And these recipes are nothing that I will ever make. (Fennel desserts???? Did she think she was competing on Chopped?)

I will say that she's the first person that I've ever seen who engaged with the cameraman to make sure that something she wanted us to see was going up on the big screen - she was often talking to him as she showed things to him.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

The desserts themselves...I took a bite of the Citrus and Chocolate Pudding but couldn't eat it, and the Fennel Sesame Seed Brittle on top was just nasty.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

The Upside-Down Cake was not as bad as I thought - the cake itself was moist and didn't have any fennel flavor to it as long as I stayed away from the pieces of fennel that were on top. I still have no idea what the Orange Ash (the black stuff) was supposed to add - it simply tasted like ash.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

When she finished and we'd eaten our desserts she took a few questions. By then it was 12:00, and time to leave. They needed to get us out of there since they were going to have to completely re-set the area for the 2:00 Culinary Demonstration. Those use rows of long tables and not the round tables we had.

Ms. Ellyn was available afterward for photos, but we didn't wait in line for that.

While I was happy to see the return of Sweet Sundays, this one wasn't as good as those I have attended in the past. The desserts were really out there, and just not very appealing to me at all. I think this is the first one I've been to where the presenter was a "celebrity chef" rather than a recognized chef who is not necessarily famous. I would have preferred to see less personality and more demonstration of skill.

In contrast, here's the review I wrote about the last Sweet Sundays event I attended in 2010:

Sweet Sundays - 2010 Disney California Food and Wine Festival

I think that's more like it.

In other Food and Wine Festival news...we sampled some additional menu items from the various Festival Marketplaces, and also tried one of the full-size menu items at the Paradise Garden Grill Beer Garden.

As I did in my previous blog on the food items, I'm going to assign grades to each for Taste, Presentation, and Value. "Presentation" combines a number of factors such as creativity, interesting use of ingredients, and the way it looked. GIA denotes whether or not I would Get It Again.

From I (Heart) Artichokes: Creamy artichoke and dark chocolate cake pop. $4.25

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Taste: D
Presentation: B
Value: C
GIA: No way
Comments: When asked about Festival food items, this is one that almost everyone mentioned that they liked and that we should try. (The fact that Emily Ellyn raved about it should've warned me.) There was nothing "cakey" about this at all. The inside was a sort of firm artichoke mousse. I thought it was tasteless, but Lee said it tasted vaguely of artichoke, which he doesn't really like. Even the chocolate on the outside didn't have much flavor.

From Garlic Kissed: Grilled beef tenderloin slider with chimichurri sauce. $7.75

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Taste: A
Presentation: A-
Value: C-
GIA: Yes
Comments: Lee tried this and really liked it.

From Bacon Twist: Smoked bacon mac and cheese with barbecue-seasoned crispy onions. $7.50

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Taste: A-
Presentation: B+
Value: C+
GIA: Yes
Comments: Lee really enjoyed this. He's more of a mac and cheese fan than I am. I thought it was fine - I liked the crispy onions on top the best.

From Bacon Twist I also tried: Bloody Mary Cocktail with candied caramel bacon strip & blue cheese stuffed olives. $11.25

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Taste: A
Presentation: A
Value: C+
GIA: Yes
Comments: This was yummy. A little bit spicy, but not too much, and the bacon was very good. A reasonable amount of alcohol in it.

From Seafood...Sustained: Verlasso sustainable salmon tataki with avocado-wasabi puree and Furikake dust. $7.50

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Taste: D
Presentation: B
Value: C-
Comments: The salmon was completely tasteless.

From Off the Cob: Sweet corn nuggets with beef chili, spring onion and sour cream. $6.25

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Taste: A
Presentation: A
Value: C+
GIA: Yes
Comments: Lee described this as "a bite of awesomeness." I tried one of the corn nuggets and it was very good - a bit creamy inside with a nice fresh corn flavor.

From Sweet & Sourdough: Milk chocolate sourdough bread pudding with vanilla bean sauce. $4.50

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Taste: C
Presentation: A-
Value: C+
Comments: This was good bread pudding, but where was the chocolate? When the name starts with "Milk chocolate" I expected it to be chocolatey, but there were just a few small pieces.

From Paradise Garden Grill Beer Garden: Beer-braised pork tacos served with pickled apple slaw, black beans and queso. $10.99

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Taste: A-
Presentation: A-
Value: B
GIA: Yes
Comments: The tacos were quite tasty. The pickled apples on top had a nice vinegary zing. The items at Paradise Garden Grill are full-size dishes, and as such are a better value than those at the Marketplaces.

Still more misses than hits in this year's food items. I may get back to the Festival one more time before it closes on April 16 - though I think most of what I really want to try is either desserts or the full-size items at Paradise Garden Grill.

March 19, 2017

First Bites at the 2017 Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

The Disney California Food and Wine Festival runs from March 10 through April 16 this year. The schedule has been expanded this year with culinary demonstrations and wine, beer, and spirits tastings scheduled daily. A number of Premium events were also added, including Sweet Sundays (my favorite) and Winemaker and Brew Master dinners. There are new Festival Marketplaces and new entertainment offerings. With all of the new events the Festival has expanded into new locations around Paradise Bay and Hollywood Land such as Paradise Park and Paradise Gardens, The Vineyard Room, and Stage 17.

Jason already posted an overview of the Food and Wine Festival from opening day. I'm going to focus on some of the other things that I experienced on my first visit to the Festival, such as Marketplace items and demonstrations and tastings.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

I went to the Festival on Tuesday. Disney California Adventure seemed surprisingly crowded for a weekday, but apparently it's Spring Break for some schools. Despite the crowds in the park, the lines at the Marketplaces were short. I saw much longer lines at the quick service restaurants like Award Wieners and Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta.

One of my complaints about last year's Festival, as well as the Festival of Holidays, is that I thought the food prices were too high. That really hasn't changed. Last year the most expensive food item was $8.00, and this year it's $7.75 - but there are several at that price. There are more items in the $5.50-$6.50 range this year, but desserts are all $4.25 and over, up from $3.50 at the low end last year. Returning items like the Lemon Macaron, Cheddar Cheese Soup, and Pork Belly Bao all went up $0.50.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

One of the things we really enjoyed about last year's Festival was the shaded arbors next to many of the food booths - and many of those returned this year as well. There were also some high tables, and a few with chairs.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

I tried a number of food items. As something a little different I'm going to assign grades to each, for Taste, Presentation, and Value. Though I'll warn you that nothing got an "A" for value. "Presentation" combines a number of factors such as creativity, interesting use of ingredients, and the way it looked. GIA denotes whether or not I would Get It Again.

From Nuts About Cheese: Baked ham and Swiss cheese croque monsieur roll with smoked pistachios. $7.00

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Taste: B
Presentation: A-
Value: D
Comments: Small serving size.

From I (Heart) Artichokes: Artichoke carbonara with garlic aioli and smoked bacon. $6.00

Disney California Food and Wine Festival
Taste: B Presentation: B Value: C GIA: Probably not Comments: This was surprisingly spicy (spicy hot).

From Garlic Kissed: Black garlic-soy braised pork belly bao with pickled vegetables. $7.00

Disney California Food and Wine Festival
Taste: A Presentation: A- Value: C- GIA: Yes Comments: Basically the same as one of last year's items - but $0.50 more this year. But it's really good - I'd eat the sauce with just the bun.

From Lemon Grove:
Roasted cauliflower and Meyer lemon-infused Dannon Oikos Greek nonfat yogurt cauliflower puree with sundried tomatoes and fried capers. $6.00

Disney California Food and Wine Festival
Taste: B Presentation: A- Value: C GIA: Maybe Comments: This dish was really interesting. It took them a while to prepare it because so much went on top - sundried tomatoes, fried capers, diced green onions.

Duck confit on potato smash with Meyer lemon preserves. $7.00

Disney California Food and Wine Festival
Taste: B- Presentation: B- Value: C- GIA: No Comments: The duck was a little dry. The green stuff on top - pickled asparagus, I think? - was tasty. The "smashed potatoes" were smashed tater tots.

From The Onion Lair: French onion mac and cheese topped with parmesan crumble and chives. $7.75

Disney California Food and Wine Festival
Taste: A- Presentation: B+ Value: C+ GIA: Yes Comments: The caramelized onions and parmesan crumble on top were delicious. It was a pretty good-sized serving, so it got a C+. :-)

From Off the Cob: Jackfruit carnitas banh mi nachos with cilantro crema and "pickled" de gallo. $6.75

Disney California Food and Wine Festival
Taste: D Presentation: A- Value: C GIA: No Comments: The "carnitas" are really made of jackfruit. But that gave them a weird texture and a really odd flavor that I found very unpleasant. But they still get an A- for presentation because it was a really interesting idea, and it looked good.

From Sweet & Sourdough: Bay shrimp Louie salad served in a mini Boudin sourdough boule. $6.75

Disney California Food and Wine Festival
Taste: A Presentation: A Value: B GIA: Yes Comments: This had a surprising number of shrimp in it, but there was too much dressing. It was very filling because of the bread bowl.

From LA Style: Chicken Teriyaki slider with spicy Dole pineapple jam. $6.50

Disney California Food and Wine Festival
Taste: B Presentation: B Value: C GIA: Probably not Comments: It had two pieces of chicken which were cooked well. I didn't care for the pineapple jam, which had red and green peppers in it, and was too sweet.

So...more misses than hits for me. I didn't get a chance to try any of the dessert items, though to be honest most of them did not appeal to me at all.

Festival Marketplace Menus

Annual Passholders can purchase a "Sip and Savor Pass". It's $45, and has 8 tabs that can be redeemed for any food or beverage item - excluding alcohol - at the Festival Marketplaces. I did the math - you want to use it for items costing more than $5.60. That still gives you a lot of choices, though.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Each Marketplace has a different AP button that you receive when you redeem one of the tabs there. I only have five of them so far. I think it's a decent value if you plan to purchase a lot of the $6.50-$7.75 items - it actually makes them more the price that I think they actually should be. :-)

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

There are several ways to find out about Festival events. Everything is listed on-line at A few different brochures are available at the park. The Food and Wine Festival Guide has a map of the Festival Marketplaces and the other event locations as well as an overview of the events. There's a weekly single page Festival Schedule which provides details on the times and topics of the Culinary Demonstrations and Wine/Beer/Spirits tasting seminars in addition to information on the Premium events like "In the Kitchen With...", Sweet Sundays, and the Winemaker/Brewmaster dinners. The regular park Times guide lists the schedule for the Festival live entertainment like bands, the Jr. Chef program, and the Jammin' Chefs.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

I attended one of the winetasting sessions, which I had reserved in advance. These take place in the Sonoma Terrace area, as they have at previous festivals. It's a nice outdoor patio, mostly shaded by wooden patio cover. Check-in is at the entrance, by last name. The sessions are open to those age 21 and over only, and everyone is required to show id to get a wristband.

This presentation was by MacRostie Winery in Sonoma County. Most of these presentations include three wine tastings: we had two Chardonnays and a Pinot Noir. It was an interesting talk by the winemaker.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

This year the culinary demonstrations and beer/spirits tastings are being held in the Festival Showplace - Stage 17 in Hollywood Land. The culinary demonstrations are a pre-paid event this year where attendees receive samples - last year they were free, but no samples were available.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Inside there are two different seating areas - a larger one with a kitchen, and a smaller one for the beverage tastings. Check-in for events is at a table just inside the entrance. Upon checking in guests receive a paper ticket. The ticket is presented upon entering the line for the seating area.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Stage 17 is awfully dark...I prefer the outdoor locations they've had for these types of events in the past - particularly for the beverage tasting. The lighting was better over in the culinary demonstration area.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

I attended a culinary demonstration by one of the Disneyland candy makers. The topic was Barks and Clusters.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

The chef made the Sangria Bark, which is one of the offerings on sale at the Wineology Marketplace, and a chocolate cluster with hazelnuts and port wine-soaked cherries. The Sangria Bark was topped with fruits that had been soaked in sangria. We received samples of both of them. It was very interesting to watch a professional temper chocolate on the fly!

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Later I attended a beverage tasting by ACE Cider. That was really very interesting, and I learned a lot about the history of hard cider! It was the drink of choice during Colonial times in America, until immigrants from Germany and Austria introduced beer brewing.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

There's still availability for a lot of the wine/beer/spirit tasting sessions. They can be reserved on-line at Monday-Thursday sessions are $15, plus tax and gratuity, and Friday-Sunday sessions are $20. Culinary demonstrations are $10 during the week and $15 on the weekend. Sessions can be reserved same day at the Festival Showplace if there is availability.

Also inside the Festival Showplace is a merchandise area - the same merchandise that is available at other locations around the park.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

There's also a wine bar. 1 oz, 2 oz, or 5 oz pours are available of the different wines. The process is somewhat unwieldy, though - you have to go to the register to make your purchase, then take it to the bar area to get the wine. And at this point there aren't any prices posted anywhere! So be careful, because some of them are quite expensive: up to $24 for a 5 oz pour!

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

I didn't try it, but one of the wines that really intrigued me is called Toad Hall. Somewhat more modestly priced - $57 for a bottle, and $15 for a 5 oz glass.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

One event that was part of previous Food and Wine Festivals, and is back this year is the Junior Chef program. This is a complimentary event for kids which takes place several times a day. Kids get to help Chef Goofy make oatmeal cookies, and at the end they get a sweet treat to take with them. The sessions take place outdoors in Paradise Park (though there are umbrellas to provide a little shade). It looks like they can accommodate about 30 kids per session, and each session takes about 20 minutes.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

Another activity for kids (and adults) is crafts. In front of Ariel's Undersea Adventure are several craft tables where guests can color their own chef hats.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

I made the most of my first Festival day, and was able to get a pretty good overview of the available events. I'm looking forward to returning a few more times during the Festival's run.

Disney California Food and Wine Festival

March 8, 2017

Disneyland's Red Rose Taverne and AP Days

Disneyland Red Rose Taverne

Disneyland has re-imagined the Village Haus Restaurant in Fantasyland and transformed it into the Red Rose Taverne. The decor and menu is inspired by the new Beauty and the Beast movie.

The Taverne opened on February 24th, and it has been extremely popular. There were 1-2 hour waits to get in the first weekend! We visited mid-afternoon on Friday, March 3, and were able to walk right in. But there were still plenty of people inside and business was brisk. (As Jason reported in his blog, later that evening the line was out the door again, so timing is everything!)

Disneyland Red Rose Taverne

For something that is supposed to be temporary, I thought it was very well-done. The ordering area has always felt like a village town square, and of course that ties in very well with Beauty and the Beast and the opening scene of the movie. It's quite charming.

Disneyland Red Rose Taverne
Disneyland Red Rose Taverne
Disneyland Red Rose Taverne
Disneyland Red Rose Taverne

There are dining rooms on both sides of the restaurant. The one on the left is Belle-themed. There's murals on the walls and lots of books, cabinets, and china.

Disneyland Red Rose Taverne
Disneyland Red Rose Taverne
Red Rose Taverne china
Disneyland Red Rose Taverne

And several stained glass windows.

Disneyland Red Rose Taverne
Disneyland Red Rose Taverne

The stained glass roses on the exterior windows are really beautiful.

Disneyland Red Rose Taverne

The room on the right is Gaston-themed. Where of course they use antlers in all of the decorating. :-)

Disneyland Red Rose Taverne
Disneyland Red Rose Taverne
Disneyland Red Rose Taverne
Disneyland Red Rose Taverne

The menu offers items like Beast's Burger, Slow-cooked Beef Poutine, and Chicken Sandwich a la Lumiere. One of the available sides is Pomme Frites - fries with Parmesan cheese. For dessert there's a Grey Stuff Gateau and a Lemon Rose Cake. There's also a specialty beverage: Gaston's Brew - apple-mango punch with passion fruit foam.

Red Rose Taverne Menu

At the registers these Mrs. Potts crispy treats were available.

Disneyland Red Rose Taverne

When the restaurant opened, these rose beverage cups were available, but they sold out quickly. No word on whether or not they will be back.

Red Rose Taverne rose cup

I ordered the Enchanted Cauli-Flower Sandwich. A grilled cauliflower "steak" with lettuce, tomato, tempura-fried green beans, and lime aioli. I ordered it with the pommes frites, but sliced apples are also an option. This was really good - the cauliflower was cooked perfectly - not too soft and not too crisp. The roasting/grilling brought out a nice flavor, and I enjoyed the tempura green beans, too. The pommes frites were very good, though not as good as the ones at Cafe Orleans. They needed some garlic.

Disneyland Red Rose Taverne

Lee tried the Poutine Flatbread - slow-cooked beef, pommes frites, roasted garlic aioli, cheese curds, gravy, and herb oil. He really enjoyed this as well. It also had pickled onions on top.

Disneyland Red Rose Taverne

For dessert we of course had to try the Grey Stuff Gateau. It was red velvet cake with a raspberry filling, covered with white chocolate mousse and pearls.

Disneyland Red Rose Taverne

It was delicious. The raspberry filling was an actual raspberry. Lee got that in his half, though I could taste some raspberry flavor in my half. The mousse wasn't too sweet, and didn't have that cloying mouth feel that mousse/icing sometimes leaves behind.

Disneyland Red Rose Taverne

Jason noticed this little detail above the exit as we were leaving. Very cute!

Disneyland Red Rose Taverne

The restaurant is really lovely. I enjoyed everything that we tried, and I hope I get the opportunity to return. It will be interesting to see how long this restaurant overlay remains in place. Since the Star Wars-inspired Galactic Grill is over a year old, I suppose the precedent exists for it to stay around for a while. With the Big Thunder Trail closed (due to Star Wars Land construction) there hasn't been much reason for guests to visit that quiet corner of Fantasyland until now. It's certainly proving to be very popular.

It's the final week of AP Days at Disneyland, which have a Main Street Electrical Parade theme. The final button is Elliott the dragon.

AP Days

And the pennant available for coloring is Elliott, also. I was surprised that the craft offerings were also different every week.

AP Days

The "make-your-own Electrical Parade" sheet features the last few floats in the parade.

AP Days

The Country Bears were again the featured characters at the meet and greet - we saw Wendell and Liver Lips. They alternated with Shaker and Big Al.

AP Days

Lee hadn't seen the Beauty and the Beast sneak peek, so we saw that at Disney California Adventure. I was able to get a photo of the enchanted mirrors in action.

Disneyland Red Rose Taverne

The next big event at the Disneyland Resort is the Disney California Food and Wine Festival, which starts on March 10 and runs through April 16. There are more food booths and more events this year, and I'm looking forward to it.

March 4, 2017

2017 Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend - Part 2, Half Marathon

Princess Half Marathon

Sunday, February 26 - Princess Half Marathon

With almost twice the number of runners there had been in the 10K, we knew we needed to arrive early at the start area. We met our friends Kim and Charlie in the lobby of Kidani Village at 3:15 and drove to Epcot. The buses had started running at 3:00, and already there was a whole lot more traffic than there had been the day before.

Still, we were on the early side and it didn't take too long to drive to Epcot and park. We learned a long time ago that driving ourselves is not an excuse to sleep for an extra hour. We really need to leave about the same time as we would if we were taking a bus. The main advantage to driving is that if the weather is bad, we have a place to stay inside where it's warm for a while!

We had no bags, but bag check really wasn't backed up anyway. I wanted to do character photos again - the choices were Tiana/Belle and Merida/Pocahontas. Both lines were already very long, and it was only 3:50! I chose the Merida/Pocahontas line. The line was so long that it was Merida when we got in line, swapped to Pocahontas, then swapped back to Merida before we reached the front! We were in line for almost an hour...I had no idea it would take that long.

Princess Half Marathon Lady Tremaine Drizella running costume

The weather was just about perfect. It was a little cooler than the day before - about 57. But most importantly, the humidity was way down, so it was really so much more comfortable for running than it had been on Saturday. I had a large trash bag that I wrapped around me - I needed just a little something to block the breeze and help me stay warm.

Lee and I were running with two other people, Eddie and Liz, who were coming from two different resorts. Liz texted us that she had a long wait for a bus, and then the bus was stuck in traffic. And Eddie was driving, and he was also stuck in traffic. We weren't all able to meet up until almost 5:00 - and the race started at 5:30!

And then we had the 1/2 mile walk to the start corrals...which was still very crowded, even with less than half an hour to the start of the race. As we were walking, Eddie got a text that the start had been delayed because of traffic. Given the experience of our other two runners, we were not surprised! Even with the delay we were still walking to our corral when the cast member sang the national anthem. I think we made it into the corral just after Corral A started, so we were barely in time.

Princess Half Marathon

The corrals were further up on World Drive this year, so it was a slightly longer walk. We knew the course had been modified through Magic Kingdom, so assumed that was the reason for it.

We again ran as a Cinderella group this year - but this time there were four of us. Lee and Eddie reprised their Drizella and Anastasia costumes, Liz was our Cinderella, and I was Lady Tremaine. (Most people didn't seem to know who I was, and it occurred to me in the first mile that I should have brought a stuffed gray cat with me.) Not surprisingly, the guys got all of the attention again, and had lots of people who wanted photos of them or photos with them. :-)

Cinderella Anastasia Drizella Lady Tremaine running costume

The corrals again were being sent off in waves. We were in the back of corral D, and went out about 9 minutes after the official start of the race. My understanding is that there was 62 minutes from the start of the race until the final wave of the last corral. Yikes.

Princess Half Marathon

The waves did seem to help - the one-lane sections of road we had around miles 1 and 2 did not seem as bad this year. Still, it's always good to get onto World Drive where there are four lanes to run on!

It was very nice to see my friends Gail and Julian cheering on the overpass about mile 1.4 and stop for a quick hug.

The first character stop was the pirates about mile 2. Loooong line already and we didn't stop. Followed by the heroes a little later with another long line.

The mile markers were very popular photo stops, so I took very few photos of them, but we had to stop at mile 3 since it was Cinderella!

Princess Half Marathon

I think Mrs. Incredible was the next character we saw, near the speedway. The line didn't seem too long, but took longer than I expected. There were villains later, but they always have a huge line and we didn't stop.

Princess Half Marathon Mrs Incredible

With the change in the course, the mile 5 sign wasn't at the corner past the Contemporary Resort where we turn left to go into the Magic Kingdom - I think we were almost backstage before we saw it.

And then we were on Main Street. Lee and Eddie delighted the spectators by having a hand fight as they ran down Main Street. Unfortunately the PhotoPass photographers didn't catch them in action, but it was really funny.

Princess Half Marathon

We did stop for a photo near the castle where Sam and Chuck from Mickey Milers were cheering.

Princess Half Marathon

Buzz Lightyear was in Tomorrowland, and the Queen of Hearts was next to the Mad Tea Party, but we didn't stop.

This year the course went back into the new part of Fantasyland, past the Storybook Circus and Beast's castle. Gaston was posing near his tavern, and we HAD to stop. The line wasn't too long, but when we were about 6 people from the front, Gaston had to go on a break. The cast member told us it would be about 5 minutes, but it was over 10. I get it...since Gaston is a face character they can't just swap in a different one like they do with the others. We were seriously debating moving on when he came back.

He was really an excellent Gaston - I wish I'd taken video of him. So fun to watch him with the ladies - especially those dressed as Belle. But he really wasn't sure what to make of the guys in the stepsister outfits. :-) He shook their hands as we were leaving and said something like: "Good job."

Princess Half Marathon Gaston

We were hoping to meet the stepsisters and stepmother again this year, but with the focus on Beauty and the Beast this year, the next character stop was the Beast. Since we'd already waited about 20 minutes we weren't really interested in another long line.

I was surprised when we ended up running through the castle. The course map seemed to indicate that we would loop around past "it's a small world" and Peter Pan's Flight into Liberty Square. Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff were up on the balcony at the back of the castle. We were able to run through the castle. There were a couple of photographers, but the main photo stop was at the bottom of the ramp and off to the left, where multiple PhotoPass photographers were taking posed photos. Very popular, but we ran on through Liberty Square. Woody was greeting guests in Frontierland not far from the Mile 6 sign.

Princess Half Marathon

We ran backstage next to Splash Mountain, and that's where the princesses were. One line got us two photos - with Cinderella and Prince Charming, and with Snow White and her prince. (But aren't they both named "Prince Charming"?) Another long line...15 minutes, I think. Cinderella didn't quite know what to make of us - she said something like: "I love to see families together", but her prince was more in the spirit of it.

Princess Half Marathon Cinderella

Snow White and her prince got more of a kick out of us.

Princess Half Marathon Snow White

We'd lost a lot of time because of the two very long character stops, and were really dreading "Cone Alley", the one lane stretch from the exit of Magic Kingdom until we were past the Polynesian. It wasn't too bad, though.

We passed character stops with the penguins from Mary Poppins and the Genie, but had to stop with the "bachelors" in front of the wedding pavilion - because they had the glass slipper. The guy on Eddie's left looks very worried! Too funny.

Princess Half Marathon
Princess Half Marathon

It was nice to get back on the four-lane part of World Drive again. The sun was up and it was a beautiful morning - but it was clear and sunny, which can mean pretty warm conditions for running. Fortunately it stayed cool and there was a little bit of a breeze. And as I mentioned before the humidity was way down. It was really just about as good as it gets!

There was a long line for the heroes but a short line for the pirates. No PhotoPass photographer there, but there was a cast member to take photos. Jack Sparrow certainly took a long look at the sisters.

Princess Half Marathon pirates

Yay...mile 10!!! Just 5K to go. Sarge was encouraging runners as we took the cloverleaf up onto the overpass above World Drive and back towards Epcot.

Princess Half Marathon

No characters on the return to Epcot, though I saw Gail and Julian again about mile 11. Liz's mom, Molly, was waiting for us outside the entrance to Epcot and took this photo.

Princess Half Marathon

There was a character just backstage at Epcot, but I don't remember who it was...except that it wasn't one we cared about. :-) We popped into Future World with about 3/4 of a mile to go. Princess Daisy was waiting at the turnaround point near World Showcase Plaza with no line, so we got a nice photo.

Princess Half Marathon Daisy

We stopped for a photo in front of the fountain, too.

Princess Half Marathon

The PhotoPass photographers took a couple good ones of us as we ran through Future World towards the finish. The one of Lee is my favorite from the entire race weekend.

Princess Half Marathon
Princess Half Marathon

As we approached the finish line, Eddie and Lee were again "fighting" - so engrossed in beating the other to the line that they didn't notice Cinderella blazing by them to finish ahead of them. :-) The race announcers got a big kick out of it.

Princess Half Marathon

We finished in 3 hours, 10 minutes - those two long photo stops really slowed us down. But it was about having fun and not getting a good time. And we had fun!

We got our half marathon medal (sooo pretty!), our Glass Slipper Challenge medal, and our Coast-to-Coast medal. It's the 10th year for Coast-to-Coast, so it received a slight re-design this year. It's larger than in previous years.

Princess Half Marathon medals

We all had finisher photos taken together for the half and the challenge.

Princess Half Marathon

Lee and I had a third photographer to visit because of the Coast-to-Coast medal.

Princess Half Marathon

Once we exited into the finish area we got into yet another line to get beer and champagne. Fortunately that didn't take as long as the character lines!

We munched on some of the contents of our runDisney boxes (sigh) while we were waiting. The boxes were slightly different between the 10K and the half. The open box is the 10K box. The bar and apple berry medley were substituted for the Builder's Protein bar and the dried cranberries in the half marathon box.

Princess Half Marathon snack box

Oh, and that reminds of the things I really like about the Princess and Tinker Bell half marathons is that they give us a bag after we finish to put our drink bottles, food boxes, etc. into. That makes everything so much easier to carry. Why don't they do that for the other race weekends?

Princess Half Marathon bagt

Our friend Charlie finished and met us at the beer line...after the guys finished their beers we went back to the car. But the traffic to get out of the parking lot was awful - it took us about 30 minutes to get out of the parking lot. They really needed some cast members directing traffic in that area. That was the only real negative of the day, though.

The next day we went to Epcot - I wanted to get a picture with Belle and my race medals. We were waiting for rope drop at Chefs de France for the 11:00 meet and greet with Belle. There were a number of other people with the same idea - there were more adults than children!

Princess Half Marathon Belle

We saw a couple of people ahead of us who had Belle sign the back of their half marathon medal, and I thought that was a great idea!

Princess Half Marathon

It was another really fun race weekend. While I think the Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend at Disneyland is my favorite set of races, Princess Half Marathon Weekend might be the most fun I have at a race weekend. It's such a fun atmosphere, and despite not being a girly girl, I still love the Disney princesses.

Next year will be the 10th Princess Half Marathon and the 5th Glass Slipper Challenge, so it will be interesting to see what the theme is for that. And how much bigger the race is. There were 20,595 finishers this year - 18,499 women and 2096 men. That's about the same total it's been the last few years, though this year there were more men than in any previous year. The biggest year was the 5th anniversary, when there were 22,739 finishers, and it seemed very crowded that year...I hope it won't be that big next year, but I'm afraid it will be since it's an anniversary year.

Thanks for reading!

March 3, 2017

2017 Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend - Part 1, Expo and 10K

Princess Half Marathon

This is the 9th year for Disney's Princess Half Marathon Weekend. It's always a fun one for me. Even though I don't like the 10K and half marathon courses I still have a really good time!

Disney figured out yet another way to capitalize on the upcoming live action "Beauty and the Beast" movie by making it the theme of the race weekend this year. Besides, it really was Belle's turn - Ariel got it last year, and Anna and Elsa the year before that. :-)

As usual, the Expo was held at the Wide World of Sports complex. I went on Friday afternoon - the Expo had opened Thursday morning.

Princess Half Marathon medalPrincess Half Marathon Glass Slipper Challenge medal

Bib pickup was in the HP Field House. There was a nice backdrop just inside the entrance.

Princess Half Marathon

If you have your race waiver already printed (which I did), then bib pickup is almost always an easy process, and this year was no different. There are printers available for those who don't have their waivers. Sometimes there are lines for those, so it's always better to just bring the waiver with you.

Shirt pickup for those of us running the Glass Slipper Challenge was also in the Field House. I really love the blue and purple shirts! But the VERY pink Glass Slipper Challenge shirt? Not so much. I was having flashbacks of the 25th anniversary "Cakestle" nightmare they did for Magic Kingdom. <SHUDDER>

Princess Half Marathon 2017 race shirts

No gray shirt for me this time - yay! But those who ran the 5K ended up with a gray one. :-(

Belle and Rapunzel were posing for photos in the Field House. Belle's line was quite long, but Rapunzel had just come out, so the line was still pretty short.

Princess Half Marathon Rapunzel

The main expo was in the J Center (formerly Jostens Center), but there were plenty of cast members to direct us and some signs to entertain us as we left the Field House.

Princess Half Marathon
Princess Half Marathon

I was there about 1:30 in the afternoon. It was busy, but not super crowded.

Princess Half Marathon Expo

Since I already had my shirts I went straight for the Official Merchandise area. I was somewhat surprised that there was no line to get in. Though there were plenty of taped queue lines on the floor to indicate that there had been lines! Once inside, it seemed to me like there was an excellent variety of merchandise still available. Maybe Disney has finally gotten a better idea of the quantity they need to order of certain very popular items.

For example, there were still LOTS of wine glasses - and those are usually gone early on the first day.

2017 Princess Half Marathon wine glasses

The Princess Weekend runDisney shoe ornament was also still available.

2017 Princess Half Marathon shoe ornament

As were all of the mini-medal and race pins.

2017 Princess Half Marathon merchandise

Plenty of magnets, too.

2017 Princess Half Marathon merchandise

There was some 5K merchandise.

2017 Princess Half Marathon Merchandise

With something in the neighborhood of 24,000 people registered for the half marathon, there was lots of half marathon merchandise.

Princess Half Marathon

2017 Princess Half Marathon Merchandise
2017 Princess Half Marathon Merchandise
2017 Princess Half Marathon Merchandise
2017 Princess Half Marathon merchandise
2017 Princess Half Marathon merchandise
2017 Princess Half Marathon merchandise

A number of Glass Slipper Challenge shirts and jackets.

2017 Enchanted 10K

A few items that I'd seen at previous expos.

2017 Princess Half Marathon Merchandise

More generic runDisney merchandise.

2017 Princess Half Marathon Merchandise

I think these mugs are probably available around the resort, but I thought they were really cute - and definitely matched the weekend's theme!

2017 Princess Half Marathon Merchandise

The "I Did It" shirts were all very nice - but while the 5K and 10K shirts were unisex, the half marathon and Challenge shirts were women's cut.

2017 Princess Half Marathon merchandise
2017 Princess Half Marathon merchandise
2017 Princess Half Marathon merchandise
2017 Princess Half Marathon merchandise
2017 Princess Half Marathon merchandise

There were still a lot of Dooney and Bourke bags left. The only thing that I know of that was sold out at that time was the pink Tervis tumblers.

2017 Princess Half Marathon merchandise

I wandered around the Expo a bit - it was most of the usual exhibitors. I must admit that seeing the new medals for Tinker Bell weekend almost makes me wish we were running that this year.

2017 Tinker Bell Half Marathon medals

Upstairs, in the area where the speaker series used to be (there did not seem to be any speakers this year!), there was a Beauty and the Beast set up with the rose. Very long line for that.

2017 Princess Half Marathon

Off to the side was the magic mirror, and it displayed various characters.

2017 Princess Half Marathon

A new (to me) exhibitor was Sparkly Soul, which offered a variety of headbands and hair ties themed to different princesses, and I bought a couple of items. I also took a couple of the GoGo SqueeZ applesauce packets that were offered - I like those. So below is my Expo haul:

2017 Princess Half Marathon

We went back to the Expo on Saturday afternoon. I was surprised at how crowded it was - much more than Friday afternoon. But apparently there were about 17,000 people running the half marathon only, and many of them didn't pick up their bibs until Saturday. There was a significant difference in the availability of merchandise by then - the wine glasses and ornaments were gone, and so were a number of other items. We have a friend who is an exhibitor, and a lot of her stock was running low. Which is a good thing! She'd much rather sell it than take it home. :-)

I was much more pleased with the Expo overall this year than in previous years. While I didn't really buy merchandise, it was really nice to see that it was available, and that there was still a very good selection on the second day of the Expo.

Saturday, February 25 - Princess Enchanted 10K

2017 Princess Enchanted 10K

Ahh...another race morning, another much-too-early wakeup call. 2:30. I was targeting a 3:15 departure. Though I miscalculated - I thought the buses started running at 3:00, but they didn't start until 3:30. Otherwise I would have said we should leave at 3:45.

We drove our rental car from Animal Kingdom Lodge. Since we were quite early there was no traffic at all, and I think we were parked by 3:30. We were so early that they weren't letting people through the security check yet! But that opened after we'd stood there for a minute or so.

The really nice thing about being there so early is that there were very short lines for the characters! I think there were maybe eight people in front of me for Aurora.

2017 Princess Half Marathon Aurora

But the lines built quickly, and by the time I'd had my photo with Aurora the line for Jasmine was 5 minutes long. As you can see, I wore my Belle costume again. Lee put together his Maurice costume at the last minute, but it turned out well, I think! Jasmine was very good - she was engaging with the runners and doing different poses with them.

2017 Princess Half Marathon Belle Maurice running costume

The character lines were getting very long already. I believe that Cinderella and Snow White were alternating with Jasmine and Aurora but we didn't get back into line...just waited around for friends to arrive. We'd lucked out and had a bench to sit on. So there are some advantages to being early! We had fun watching all of the people and all of the different costumes. Not surprisingly, Belle, either in the blue dress or yellow dress, was a VERY popular choice, but most of the other Disney princesses were well-represented, also. A few people dressed as Mrs. Potts and Chip, or Lumiere and Cogsworth. And quite a few as Gaston.

It was a great temperature for running - about 60 degrees, though it was quite humid. I had a mylar sheet to wrap around me - I was a little chilly just sitting around without it.

I believe this was the largest 10K I've been part of. There were about 14,000 registered, and 11593 finishers. We've learned from previous experience that there are lots of porta-potties with shorter lines once we go into the "runner's only" area near the corral, so we did that, and entered our corral about 5:10. We were in Corral A.

One thing I really enjoy about the 10K is that it isn't a long walk to the corrals and the start. Maybe 10 minutes before the start of the race they walked us to the actual start line. The current Miss America and a representative from Children's Miracle Network Hospital spoke, and then a Disney cast member sang the national anthem. It was nice to see race announcer Rudy Novotny again - we miss him at the Disneyland races. But we're very happy to see him in Florida!

2017 Enchanted 10K

And then it was time for the race to start! I was surprised that they separated the corrals into waves - we were in the second wave of Corral A, which started a minute after the first wave. Maybe it was to introduce even more separation. The race starts on a nice wide road for the first mile, so it really wasn't much of an issue.

2017 Enchanted 10K

I hadn't decided if I was going to run this race for time or take photos, but I started off running for time. So I didn't take a photo of Moana on the overpass, shouting encouragement to "voyagers". I would have stopped for Elena of Avalor at Mile 1, but the line was already long. Tinker Bell and friends were between mile 1 and 2. But I did stop for the Hag just past mile 2. The line didn't look too long (though it took longer than I thought it would), and I've never had my picture with her before! I think it turned out well. The Disney PhotoPass photographers again did an excellent job throughout the weekend. That has been a huge improvement over the previous third party vendor. And since we are AP holders, all PhotoPass photos are included as an AP benefit, which includes race photos!

2017 Princess Enchanted 10K now I was apparently running the race for fun and not time. :-) There are a lot more character stops than there were when Disney originally rolled out the first 10K on this course. The course itself is still very boring, since it's on roads and backstage at Epcot for the first 3.5 miles. It's always really nice to finally come into Epcot between Norway and China and see the torches around World Showcase Lagoon and hear the music!

Dopey was out at Germany and Pinocchio at Italy, but the lines were a little long. Marie at France had a short line, but I didn't stop. Lee did, though.

2017 Princess Enchanted 10K

We ran out of Epcot and around the Boardwalk. I was very surprised that there was no character in front of ESPN Club, as there usually is. It turned out that I was too early - the Genie was there a couple minutes later when Lee went by. There were lot of PhotoPass photographers on the Boardwalk, though, so they got some shots of us. Lee always looks happier when he's running than I do. :-)

2017 Princess Enchanted 10K
2017 Princess Enchanted 10K

At the International Gateway was Princess Minnie, and the line was fairly short so I stopped.

2017 Princess Enchanted 10K

From there it was less than a mile to the finish. PhotoPass got an excellent shot of Lee in front of Spaceship Earth...though I think he forgot which character he was portraying, as that pose is more Gaston than Maurice. :-)

2017 Princess Enchanted 10K

I finished in 1:02:28. Not a PR, but since I had a couple of character stops that was still pretty good. 20th in my division and 917 overall, so in the top 10%. I was happy with that.

2017 Princess Enchanted 10K

Lee had a good race and finished in 1:06:44.

2017 Princess Enchanted 10K

Our friends Eddie McCoy and Phill Vanderpool ran together and finished second and third in their age group, respectively. Congratulations to them!

The medal is very nice - keeping with the Beauty and the Beast theme.

Princess Half Marathon 10K medal

After the race we got in one of the character lines - it was Mulan when we got in line, but Jasmine again when we reached the front of the line. Oh well.

2017 Princess Enchanted 10K

We walked to our car and had no problems getting out of the parking lot - easy drive back to the hotel.

It was a fun race. Even though I don't like this course very much I still enjoy the race. It's a great atmosphere and everyone has a good time. I'm glad that Disney is continuing to change the theme of the 10K each year. Though it would be nice if they would announce the theme BEFORE the race actually went on sale!

Next up: The Disney Princess Half Marathon

February 12, 2017

AP Days at Disneyland and Beauty and the Beast Sneak Peek


A couple of new limited time events started at Disneyland on Friday, February 10. So I decided to make a quick trip to Disneyland to check them out.

A sneak peek of the upcoming "Beauty and the Beast" movie is showing in the Sunset Showcase Theater in Disney California Adventure. The movie opens on March 17, so the preview will probably run through March 19th.

Beauty and the Beast Sneak Peek

Lots of movie artwork along the entrance to the theater.

Beauty and the Beast Sneak Peek

The entry and lobby area of the theater have been redesigned - all traces of Arendelle have been removed, and now it looks more like a generic theater.

In the lobby are two display cases with props from the movie. This one has Belle's "town" dress and the "Magic Atlas."

Beauty and the Beast Sneak Peek

The other has the rose and the "Enchanted Mirror."

Beauty and the Beast Sneak Peek

The preview is in 3D and is about 10 minutes long. It features the entire opening "Belle" song with the townspeople and Gaston followed by a short trailer. (Josh Gad is excellent as Lefou.) While you're waiting for the preview to start, take a look at the "Enchanted Mirrors" on both sides of the theaters above the entrance and exit doors. You'll see some familiar characters.

I really enjoyed it - I'm looking forward to seeing the movie.

Beauty and the Beast Sneak Peek

Also at on the Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission BREAKOUT continues - part of the facade was visible. I thought it looked better than I was expecting.

Tower of Terror Mission Breakout

In the Paradise Pier area there are construction walls up along the bay in front of the Carousel - this would seem to be the logical location for the new Fastpass kiosks for Toy Story Midway Mania. No word on when those Fastpasses will be available.

Toy Story Mania Fastpass

Over at Disneyland, AP Days, a celebration for Annual Passholders, runs through March 9. This time it has a Main Street Electrical Parade theme.

Disneyland AP Days

The Welcome Center is in the Starcade in Tomorrowland.

Disneyland AP Days

There was a pretty long line to get in when I was there - they had a queue set up in front of Path of the Jedi.

Disneyland AP Days

Each Friday there's a new button. Cast members were scanning passes (one button per pass) outside the Welcome Center, so there was no need to wait in line to get the button.

Disneyland AP Days

There's an AP Adventures brochure that has some additional information. Inside there is information on the Electrical Parade and some trivia questions.

Disneyland AP Days

There's additional information on the back - including an announcement for the next AP event, which will be at DCA during the Food and Wine Festival from March 10-April 16.

Disneyland AP Days

Once inside the Welcome Center, I would recommend that you first find the cast members who are distributing tickets (basically a Fastpass) for the character greeting area. They were not letting people simply line up for the characters - everyone needed a ticket. You can leave the Welcome Center while you're waiting for your return time - once you're inside your window you can show your ticket at the door so you don't need to wait in line again to enter.

Disneyland AP Days

The characters are "retro" characters. For this week there were Robin Hood and Friar Tuck.

Disneyland AP Days

Alternating with the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John.

Disneyland AP Days

Just inside the entrance is a special photo backdrop with a PhotoPass photographer.

Disneyland AP Days

Also as you enter are the retro video games: Donkey Kong Jr., Missile Command, PacMan, and Asteroids.

Disneyland AP Days

The token machine is next to the - authentic STARCADE tokens. These looked brand new.

Disneyland AP Days

Special AP merchandise is available in the Welcome Center - it's also available in Disney Showcase on Main Street. There were wine glasses, pins, lanyard, hat, and tumbler.

Disneyland AP Days

Also shirts. Here's the back of the men's version (you can see the front logo on the left of the photo above).

Disneyland AP Days

This is the women's shirt.

Disneyland AP Days

There's a lounge area with comfortable-looking sofas and chairs.

Disneyland AP Days

With a charging station.

Disneyland AP Days

Some artwork outside the lounge area.

Disneyland AP Days

There are a couple of different activities in the "Activities and Fun" area.

Disneyland AP Days

You can color your own MSEP pennant:

Disneyland AP Days

Or you can build your own parade - this card has perforations to separate each photo. And then there were pieces of ribbon available to tie them together.

Disneyland AP Days

During AP Days, recipe cards, a new one each week, will be available at several locations in Disneyland. The same card is available at each restaurant. You have to ask for the cards. Participating locations are Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe, Redd Rockett's Pizza Port, Gibson Girl, and Main Street Refreshment Corner.

AP Days Oscar's Potatoes recipe

Another part of AP Days is daily screenings in the Opera House at 5:00, 6:30, and 8:00 p.m. Wristbands are distributed at the Opera House entrance earlier in the day, until they are all gone.

Disneyland AP Days

I didn't see it, but Jason did, and said it was the Disney Channel Backstage Disney show on the Main Street Electrical parade from 1986.

Disneyland AP Days

A special offer for Passholders at the moment is a refillable popcorn bucket. It's $15 for the initial purchase (which includes popcorn), After that, you can get refills for $1 (you also must present your AP) through April 16. There's a DCA version of the popcorn bucket, also. I was required to show both my AP and my id to purchase it.

Disneyland AP Popcorn Bucket

There are also supposed to be special menu items available at a few quick service restaurants, but I was not successful in my attempt to order the Fried Chicken and Waffles that are supposed to be at the Plaza Inn. The cast member seemed to have no idea what I was talking about.

There are many other Main Street Electrical Parade-inspired treats that are not secret and are easier to find. Many of them are at the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe. I tried the PB&J Eclair. Which yes, was an eclair filled with a soft peanut butter filling and a layer of strawberry jam. I thought it was just ok.

Special Electrical Parade treats

I also tried the Cheshire Cat Shortbread Cookie. Also with a strawberry jam filling. This was better - though I think I would've preferred the shortbread without the filling. The filling made it soft, and I like shortbread to have a little bit of crunch.

Special Electrical Parade treats

Also available at the Bakery are a Pineapple Coconut Parfait and Ladybug Macarons. The Raspberry Drum Cake that I'd seen at the preview is at River Belle Terrace. There's a Hazelnut Tart at the Market House (I'll have to try that one), Fantasia Mousse Cake (shaped like a turtle) at Blue Bayou, and Fantasia Ice Cream at Gibson Girl. I've never understood the attraction of the ice cream - the combination of pistachio, cherry, and banana does not appeal to me at all.

At the Plaza Inn there's a colorful "puzzle" cake.

Disneyland AP Days

With Valentine's Day and Beauty and the Beast coming up, various treats are available around the resort. At Trolley Treats in DCA I saw these Minnie Mouse and Belle cupcakes:

Disneyland Valentine Treats

Also these heart cookies:

Disneyland Valentine cookies

And at the Candy Palace in Disneyland there were rose and pink frosted cake pops as well as pink frosted krispy treats.

Disneyland Valentine treats

The specialty caramel apple of the month is covered with dark chocolate, cherries, and nuts.

February Disneyland Specialty Apple

Special cherry vanilla swirl cotton candy is available at a few locations. I only saw it on Main Street.

Disneyland Valentine Cotton Candy

Jason will have a much more complete construction update, but I took a few photos from the construction wall area near Big Thunder Mountain. There's some rock work visible now.

Disneyland Star Wars Land

Bob Iger announced earlier this week during the Walt Disney Company Q1 FY17 Earnings call that Star Wars Lands at both Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios will open in 2019. So I guess we still have two years to wait.

Disneyland Star Wars Land

As I mentioned, look for Jason's update in the next couple of days - he has more construction photos, the new entrance to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Grand Californian refurbishment updates, etc.,

February 5, 2017

The Main Street Electrical Parade Returns to Disneyland - Again

Main Street Electrical Parade

(Thank you to our contributing photographer Jason, of, for his parade photos.)

I must admit that when Disney first announced that the Main Street Electrical Parade was returning to Disneyland this year, my reaction was along the lines of "How can I miss you when you won't go away?" After the supposed "final farewell" in 1996, it returned to Disney California Adventure (albeit as Disney's Electrical Parade) from 2001 to 2010, and now it's back on Main Street in Disneyland in 2017.

This time we've been told that it's a limited run, from January 20-June 18. It will give guests something to do in the evening, with so much of the park closed due to Star Wars Land construction and normal off-season refurbishments.

But as Lee pointed out - what's the matter with Paint the Night? Disneyland has a perfectly good modern, 21st century light parade...why bring back the antiquated 1970s-era parade?

But after seeing it during the premiere event on January 19...there's just something totally and ridiculously charming about this parade. That happy, bouncy, synthesized "Baroque Hoedown" always makes me smile. I'd forgotten that. While Paint the Night is a technological marvel, and wows me with the brilliant lights and special effects - it just doesn't make me smile and feel like a kid again the way the Main Street Electrical Parade does.

Here's the video:

This isn't quite the parade as we last saw it, though. More like Main Street Electrical Parade Light (pun intended). A couple of the parade units are missing, or shortened. Instead of the Blue Fairy or Tinker Bell, the parade leads off with the Drum float, which again says "Disneyland Presents Main Street Electrical Parade".

Main Street Electrical Parade

The Alice in Wonderland unit follows, with the spinning bees, snails, and turtles, a centipede, the Caterpillar, Alice on her mushroom.

Main Street Electrical Parade
Main Street Electrical Parade

Cinderella's unit is next, with Cinderella in her pumpkin coach, the prince with the glass slipper, and the clock tower.

Main Street Electrical Parade
Main Street Electrical Parade

Captain Hook's Pirate Ship with Peter Pan and Captain Hook aboard, is followed by Mr. Smee in a rowboat.

Main Street Electrical Parade

The Tinker Bell float, which was the new lead float in the DCA version of the parade, now follows the pirate ship. The balloon above the float was removed, and Tink stands on the front of the float rather than riding in the balloon.

Main Street Electrical Parade

Dopey drives the Mine Train float, accompanied by the other six dwarves and followed by the Diamond Mine float.

Main Street Electrical Parade
Main Street Electrical Parade

The Pleasure Island float is led by Pinocchio and the other boys. According to Show Producer John Addis, they have some new choreography. (I personally find this float rather creepy, and would have been happy if it had been one of those removed!) There was a second float to this parade unit, but it was also removed.

Main Street Electrical Parade

Elliott from Pete's Dragon (accompanied by Pete) is next. Elliott still disappears, though we didn't see him - or not see him, as the case may be. :-)

Main Street Electrical Parade

The final float is still To Honor America, accompanied by dancers in patriotic costumes.

Main Street Electrical Parade
Main Street Electrical Parade

As I mentioned, I still found it very entertaining and charming. It looked really good - didn't show its age like I expected. There were some enhancements made to the floats like newer LED lighting. John Addis told us that the drum float was re-done, though he didn't elaborate on that.

Main Street Electrical Parade

Dining packages

For the duration of the parade's run, special dining packages are available that will give guests a premium viewing experience. All packages can be reserved up to 60 days in advance either on-line or by calling. Credit card guarantee is required, and a $10/person fee will be charged in the case of no-shows, or cancellation less than 24 hours in advance.

Blue Bayou offers a three-course meal featuring starter, entree and dessert. It is $65 for adults and $25 for kids plus tax and gratuity. The viewing location is on Main Street.

Aladdin's Oasis offers a "grab and go" meal for $25.99 for adults and $14.99 for kids. The viewing location is near "it's a small world". In my experience, this package is often still available same day, and you can go to Aladdin's Oasis to purchase it on the day you wish to see the parade.

Special Parade Menu Items

There are a number of Main Street Electrical Parade-themed menu items available at dining locations around Disneyland.

Jolly Holiday Bakery has a variety of really cute treats! A Peanut Butter and Jelly Eclair

Main Street Electrical Parade PBJ Eclair

Turtle Cream Puffs

Main Street Electrical Parade Turtle Cream Puff

Cheshire Cat Shortbread

Main Street Electrical Parade Cheshire Cat Shortbread

Ladybug Macaron

Main Street Electrical Parade Ladybug Macaron

Pineapple Coconut Parfait

Main Street Electrical Parade

I believe this drum is available at The Plaza Inn.

Main Street Electrical Parade

There are also several treats available at the Candy Palace:

Main Street Electrical Parade

Special menu items are also offered at other locations, like Fantasia Whoopie Pie at Gibson Girl, Firefly Chile and Chips and a Chili Mac Bread Bowl at the Refreshment Corner, and Fried Mozzarella Sticks at Stage Door Cafe.


And of course there's lots of special parade-themed merchandise. T-shirts, ears, pins, and several things that glow.

Main Street Electrical Parade
Main Street Electrical Parade
Main Street Electrical Parade
Main Street Electrical Parade

Though I think these glowing Turtle Bottle Toppers might be my favorite.

Main Street Electrical Parade

The parade runs every day. One performance on days that Disneyland closes at 9:00, and two performances when the park closes at 11:00 or later. At this point neither Mickey's Soundsational Parade nor the Pixar Play Parade are back on the schedule, so the Electrical Parade is the only parade running at either park.

Disney has placed billboards around Southern California advertising the parade's return (I've seen two in the San Diego area), and I'm sure there are a lot of people who will make a special trip to Disneyland to see it between now and June 18.

Now, if I could only get the music out of my head...Oh well. There are definitely worse things, right? :-)

* I was an invited Media guest to the premiere of the Main Street Electrical Parade. My opinions are my own.

January 23, 2017

2017 Lunar New Year Celebration at Disney California Adventure

Lunar New Year Celebration

In 2017, Disneyland has expanded the Lunar New Year Celebration to 17 days, from January 20 - February 5. This year celebrates the Year of the Rooster. All events take place at Disney California Adventure. I attended a media preview on January 19.

A map in the area shows the locations of the different events.

Lunar New Year Celebration

There are special Lunar New Year-inspired food items available at more locations this year. The Paradise Garden Grill has a special seasonal menu during the celebration, with selections like stir-fried vegetables and noodles, grilled short ribs with kimchi, pho, cassava-coconut cake, and almond milk tea.

Lunar New Year Celebration

Three marketplace booths offer items inspired by Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese cuisine. These include sugar cane shrimp skewers, kimchi vegetable fried rice, turnip cake and pork soup dumplings, and sweet items such as sweet rice and dried fruit cake, egg tart, and a sweet potato macaron. Various alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are also available.

Lunar New Year Celebration
Lunar New Year Celebration

A special glow cube shaped like a lotus blossom is available for $5, either by itself or in a specialty beverage.

Lunar New Year Celebration

During the preview I sampled several of the food items and one of the beverage offerings. My favorite by far was the Vegetable Japchae, which is available at Paradise Garden Grill. Sweet potato noodles with vegetables and tofu, with a sesame oil sauce and toasted sesame seeds. It was really good.

Lunar New Year Celebration

The Banh chung - sticky rice cake with pork - from the Vietnam booth was also really good. It was wrapped in some kind of leaf.

Lunar New Year Celebration

I thought the Yachae Mandu - steamed vegetable dumplings from Korea, had a nice flavor, but they were a little too spicy for me.

Lunar New Year Celebration

I was intrigued by the Xiao Long Bao - pork soup dumplings - from the China booth. They actually have liquid inside! But I thought they were just ok. They needed a sauce, but I didn't care for the black vinegar-ginger sauce that came with them.

Lunar New Year Celebration

There are a couple of places near us that serve Luo Bo Gao - turnip cake - and we really like it. This one, from the China booth, is topped with pork sausage and oyster sauce. When I've had it before it's topped with egg. The oyster sauce made it taste fishy to me, and the turnip cake by itself was a bit bland (not surprisingly).

Lunar New Year Celebration

I also tried the Passion Fruit Green Iced Tea with popping pearls. I don't have a photo of it. I didn't really think it tasted like passion fruit - mostly it just tasted sweet. But I enjoyed it - the pearls are always an interesting sensation.

Other samples that were available that I didn't try were the Beef Pho Noodle Soup:

Lunar New Year Celebration

And the Kalbi Beef Short Ribs. Both available at Paradise Garden Grill.

Lunar New Year Celebration

One of the other entrees available at Paradise Garden Grill is the Whole Fish Served Family Style. It looks a little intimidating: it's a whole tilapia, deep fried and served with soup, vegetables, and rice. Served after 5:00. It's $24.99 and will easily feed two or more people. Very traditional dish, but very non-traditional by Disney standards!

Lunar New Year Celebration

Chef John State was part of a panel discussion we saw later, and spoke about how they developed the Festival food offerings by speaking with cast members and diversity groups, and looking at authentic family recipes. They explored flavors and textures. He was especially proud of how they are serving the whole fish dish out of a counter-service restaurant kitchen, when it's really something expect from a full-service restaurant.

Most Lunar New Year activities take place in the Paradise Pier area. In front of Ariel's Undersea Adventure guests can get their face painted.

Lunar New Year Celebration

They can also decorate a paper lantern.

Lunar New Year Celebration

In Paradise Gardens local artisans will craft a custom Chinese calligraphy for guests. The one on the left is my name, and the one on the right has the symbol for the Year of the Rooster on top, and good wishes for the new year below it.

Lunar New Year Celebration

Next to Goofy's Sky School is the Lucky Wishing Wall, where guests can add their own wish for the coming year.

Lunar New Year Celebration

For Annual Passholders, the AP Corner between Paradise Garden Grill and Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta offers a special photo opportunity, a wishing well, and an AP Adventure.

Lunar New Year Celebration

Lunar New Year merchandise is available at Seaside Souvenirs and carts in the area. I thought the t-shirt was very nicely designed.

Lunar New Year Celebration

A number of entertainment offerings are also available throughout the day.

A special character greeting area is available in Paradise Gardens, where Mickey, Minnie, Chip, Dale, Mulan, and Mushu, dressed in Lunar New Year costumes, will pose for photos with guests.

Lunar New Year Celebration
Lunar New Year Celebration

The Paradise Garden Bandstand will host performances by several different Asian musicians during the celebration, including classical guitarist Dat Nguyen and Jie Ma, who plays the Chinese pipa instrument.

At the Paradise Bay stage the Acrobats of China perform multiple times each day, engaging in gravity-defying acts of athleticism. They were not performing at the preview.

Mulan's New Year Procession is hosted by Mulan and Mushu who lead a number of performers to the music from the "Mulan" movie. This offering is scheduled twice a day on weekends, once per day on weekdays. I really enjoyed this, but I'm quite surprised that there are so few performances, as compared to Viva Navidad! or Elena's Grand Welcome.

The ideal viewing area for Mulan's New Year Procession is a pretty narrow area between Jumping Jellyfish and the entrance to Paradise Gardens - a very limited number of guests will have a really good view of it.

My favorite part was the dragon dancers.

Lunar New Year Celebration

But the fan, parasol, and ribbon dancers were quite beautiful.

Lunar New Year Celebration

And the martial artists (who performed to "I'll Make a Man Out of You") were fun to watch.

Lunar New Year Celebration

Each night, a special 6-minute pre-show will precede each performance of World of Color. Hurry Home features Mulan, Mushu, and a little lantern who is making its way home to celebrate the new year with family. This is an original story with all new animation in two different styles as well as the water fountains and special lighting effects. The accompanying music was originally created for the opening ceremony of Shanghai Disney Resort by Tan Dun.

Lunar New Year Celebration

Show Producer Jennifer Magill spoke to us about the new production. There are three different sequences, illustrating elements of the Lunar New Year celebration. In the first, the little lantern plays and has fun with Mushu, animated in a paper animation style.

Lunar New Year Celebration

The second part features the food. The lantern dreams of rice, dumplings, and other foods - and is pursued by mischievous chopsticks.

Lunar New Year Celebration

The third sequence focuses on the New Year tradition of reflecting back and looking forward. It features Mulan, and Lea Salonga recorded a new version of "Reflection" for it.

Lunar New Year Celebration

Eventually the lantern makes it home and is welcomed by family.

Lunar New Year Celebration

The end of the show featured actual fireworks - I was surprised to see that. But as Ms. Magill said - you can't have a New Year celebration without fireworks!

Lunar New Year Celebration
Lunar New Year Celebration

It was a very sweet story, and I enjoyed it. You can see the video below.

I was very impressed by all of the different offerings available during the celebration. There are quite a few different things to do, and it would be easy to spend a good portion of a park visit enjoying all of the different entertainment and some of the food.

Lunar New Year Celebration

* I was an invited Media guest to a preview of the Lunar New Year Celebration. My opinions are my own.

January 22, 2017

2017 Disneyland Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend - Part 3, Half Marathon


Sunday - January 15, Star Wars Half Marathon

Star Wars Half Marathon

We'd scheduled a wakeup call for 4:00 - but we never got it. Fortunately Lee is a "belt-and-suspenders" guy and had also set the alarm on his iPhone, so we were still up at 4:00.

Since we knew from the day before that security wasn't going to be an issue we didn't leave the room until 5:00. I was still in my corral my 5:17 - plenty of time. I was in C, Lee was in E, so we again ran separately...I wanted to try to stop for some character photos this time, so wanted to be further forward so the lines maybe wouldn't be quite as long.

Running costumes for us that morning, also - X-wing pilot for Lee, and Rey for me. The arm wraps were quite welcome since it was another cool morning. A little warmer than the day before - 50. I had a mylar sheet to wrap around me while I was waiting, and that was really all I needed. I had gloves, but I never actually put them on - finally just put them in my pocket. Again, it was just about perfect conditions for running a race.

Star Wars Half Marathon
Star Wars Half Marathon

While we were waiting for this race to start we saw scenes from Rogue One - A Star Wars Story. We saw that in December - good movie.

Star Wars Half Marathon

Again, not much of a "show" from the race announcers while we were waiting. But that's ok. The race started right on time. There were 5 minutes between corral releases, so my corral started 10 minutes after the official start.

Star Wars Half Marathon

The first four+ miles of the course were almost identical to the 10K the day before. But that was ok - since I wasn't running for time I was able to observe my surroundings a little more. I liked this sign backstage at DCA. :-)

Star Wars Half Marathon

The line at R2 and Threepio's character stop was long, but there was a short line for the Rebels at Paradise Pier.

Star Wars Half Marathon

One thing that I don't think I've mentioned in my blogs, which I should, is restroom stops in the parks. I always try to have some idea of what the race course is inside the parks so that I know where there restrooms next to the course. I only need to find one, but it's really nice to be able to use a REAL restroom instead of a porta-potty. This time I went to the large one between Ariel's and Grizzly River Run, but I would have had a lot of other options.

There was a set of Jedi performing a light saber training exercise in Hollywood Land.

Star Wars Half Marathon

And the speeder bikes were placed outside the Tower of Terror just before mile 2. Lengthy line for that, too.

Star Wars Half Marathon

When we ran through the tunnel under the bus area I noticed some new special effects - in addition to the Star Wars music that was playing there was the sound of lasers firing, and on the walls were red and green laser trace fire lines. Hard to see in this photo, but I thought it was a really neat effect!

Star Wars Half Marathon

We passed the mile 3 sign backstage at Disneyland, and then entered the park back at Toon Town, then ran by "it's a small world". It's nice that Disney leaves it in holiday mode through this race weekend. It's decorated for Avengers weekend in November and for Star Wars weekend in January.

Star Wars Half Marathon

There was a Storm Troopers character stop along "small world way" before we turned left to go around the Matterhorn.

Star Wars Half Marathon

There were more Storm Troopers on the ramp of the Launch Bay. The BB-8 photo stop was near Star Tours. The line wasn't too long so I stopped.

Star Wars Half Marathon

We again ran back towards Fantasyland. Kylo Ren was engaged in a light saber battle with some Jedi near Pixie Hollow. (Five against one doesn't seem exactly fair, though, does it? There should be at least ten Jedi.)

Star Wars Half Marathon

From Fantasyland we ran through the castle, but instead of taking the loop out through Frontierland and Adventureland like we did for the 10K we went straight down Main Street.

Star Wars Half Marathon

Two of the horses were out and posing for photos. They seemed to like the runners - the one on my left nuzzled me lightly on the shoulder. Such beautiful gentle giants!

Star Wars Half Marathon

The Mile 4 sign was along Main Street, and Chewbacca's photo stop was in the same location as the 10K - next to the Disney Showcase store. Longish line, so I didn't stop. While this was "The Light Side" half marathon, there were a few Dark Siders who showed up to spoil the party. I already mentioned the Storm Troopers and Kylo Ren, but Captain Phasma was also there, on the bridge next to the train station.

Star Wars Half Marathon

After we ran out through Disneyland's main entrance we went through the east tram area and out to Harbor Blvd - the rest of the course was outside the parks. But about 4.5 miles in the parks is a pretty good - better than some of the other race courses.

On the other side of Harbor I could see some of the early runners who were already returning. The winner had already gone by, but I saw some of the higher finishing men as well as the female winner.

Star Wars Half Marathon

By mile six it was starting to get more light out as the sun came out. There were a few clouds with color, but it was a fairly clear morning.

Star Wars Half Marathon

The course took us down Harbor Blvd into the city of Garden Grove, where we turned right on Garden Grove Blvd. There were a number of bands and cheerleaders who had come out to cheer us on. And we even had a feline cheerleader! This cat was not at all bothered about being in a harness and watching all of these crazy runners go by him. I'm guessing he has some Dark Side leanings. :-)

Star Wars Half Marathon

One of my favorite things about this course is that it crosses Newhope Street. How appropriate for a Star Wars-themed race! That's after the halfway point - about mile 7.5, and just before we turn north to go back towards the finish.

Star Wars Half Marathon

But my favorite thing about this course is around mile 8 and mile 9 - the two areas where there are Cosplayers who come dressed in their Star Wars costumes to cheer us on. They are so amazing! They love having their photo taken with runners, and there's usually no line to do that. I can't say enough about their wonderful enthusiasm and support. Their placement on the course is really good, because it's when runners are getting tired, but still have a ways to go to the finish. They really help give us an extra boost to keep us going as we get a lift out of all of their energy.

Star Wars Half Marathon

There are lots of heroes:

Star Wars Half Marathon

And villains:

Star Wars Half Marathon

And even cars and droids!

Star Wars Half Marathon

Lee found his fellow X-wing squadron pilots.

Star Wars Half Marathon

This video shows most of both sets - as you can see there was really an extensive variety of costumes from all of the different movies.

After the excitement of the cosplayers, mile 9-10 of the course is pretty quiet. It's largely in a residential neighborhood, so in the interest of keeping the noise down early on a Sunday morning there are no bands or other entertainment. Though there are residents and groups, like my friends Colin and Richard, who come out to cheer on the runners in that area, and it is greatly appreciated.

Star Wars Half Marathon

Just before mile 10 the course goes right on Chapman Avenue for about a mile. There's a lovely pond there, and it always has nice reflections in the morning. Thanks to all of the recent rain the water level was higher than normal, and on this race morning there were lots of ducks enjoying the pond.

Star Wars Half Marathon

My legs were a little tired after my hard run the day before, but I'd managed to mostly stick to my usual run/walk pace. But by about mile 10.5 I started to feel it and had to slow down a little more. I was very happy when we turned left onto Harbor Blvd since I knew I had just about 2 miles left. I could see runners at the back of the pack still coming towards us. It was just before mile 12 that I saw the balloon ladies.

Star Wars Half Marathon

The last mile of the course took us down Katella to Disneyland Drive, and then around the Paradise Pier Hotel to the finish line at the Disneyland Hotel. I finished in JUST under 2:22 - 2:21:59 to be exact. :-) Considering photo stops, a restroom stop, and tired legs I was VERY happy with that.

Star Wars Half Marathon
Star Wars Half Marathon

I got my race medal - it's a spinner with Han and Leia (awwww) on one side and the Medal of Yavin on the other. And my Rebel Challenge medal. That's a new design this year. I'm not really sure I like it.

Star Wars Half Marathon

I didn't talk about the runDisney snack box after the 10K...we received the same assortment after the half. It had a slightly different variety than what I've seen before. The best part is that it has a small container of Nutella!!!! Yum. I guess I'm resigned to the fact that it's what we're going to get after any Disney race from now on. Most of it is stuff I'll eat except the Builder Bar - yuck.

Star Wars Half Marathon

In the finish area there was a Nesquik van, and they were handing out chocolate milk! Yay!!! Or "Protein Enhanced Milk Beverage", as they called it. There was a choice of chocolate or vanilla. I didn't hear anyone ask for vanilla.

Star Wars Half Marathon

The "trash compactor" photo backdrop had a short line, so I had my photo taken there.

Star Wars Half Marathon

Lee was still somewhere behind me (though it turned out he was closer than I thought - apparently he was flying down the course!), so I walked back to the room before I started to get cold. The sun was out, and it was slightly warmer than it had been for the 10K, but still. I was ready to get back and take a hot shower! Lee also had a good race - took it easy and stopped for some photos.

Star Wars Half Marathon

Final Thoughts

I still really love this race weekend - it's definitely my favorite of the Disney race weekends. And I think this half marathon course has now overtaken the Tinker Bell course as my favorite half marathon course. The roads are nice and wide so it doesn't feel crowded. The course is mostly flat, also. A few slight inclines - the only hill is the tunnel under the tram area. No overpasses!

The race medals are always a highlight. The BB-8 medal is really cute, and I really liked the re-design of the half marathon medal.

Star Wars Half Marathon

I still wish there were more characters on the course...or in the finish area.

I was surprised that the half marathon and 10K didn't sell out this year. There were about 15,000-16,000 entered in the half, and 12,434 finishers. This is a PERFECT time for running in southern California. I don't want to jinx it, but in the five years that runDisney has held a race weekend at Disneyland in January, we've always had great weather for running.

We will be back for this race weekend next year.

Good luck to all of you running Dark Side in April to complete the Kessel Run Challenge! We will not be there this year.

Thanks for reading.

January 21, 2017

2017 Disneyland Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend - Part 2, 10K


Saturday - January 14, Star Wars 10K

I know I've mentioned this before, but it's so much easier to run races at Disneyland! The start area and all of the hotels are all walking distance, so we don't have to get up really early to catch a bus to the start.

The race started at 5:30, and we set a wakeup call for 4:00. That's pretty much sleeping in by runDisney standards. :-) We left our room about 4:45.

Both of us were in costume. Lee wore his black Luke Skywalker Jedi outfit - complete with one black glove. :-) I didn't go with a Star Wars costume this time, and just wore my trusty Cinderella costume. Though really, I think she's a Jedi at heart.

Star Wars 10K

This year the new variable was Disneyland's new security perimeter. Since Downtown Disney is within a "secure zone" now, we were pretty sure we would have to go through security from our hotel into Downtown Disney, but weren't sure how long that would take. As it turned out it was very fast. It was quite easy for the security personnel to see that most runners weren't carrying anything. We did not have to go through a secondary screening at what was the race checkpoint in the past. But there were still security people patrolling, some with dogs.

By the time we arrived in the pre-race area a lot of people had already gone to their corrals. So we couldn't tell if it seemed more crowded this year now that there were 12,000-13,000 runners in the 10K as opposed to under 10,000 as in previous years.

Star Wars 10K

Both Lee and I were planning to run the 10K for time and not stopping to take photos. We were in different corrals, so I went to B and he went to C. Most of the photos below were taken by the PhotoPass photographers. As Annual Passholders we can download them for free. Disney started using their own photographers rather than MarathonFoto at the Dark Side weekend at WDW last April. The information on how to turn your bib nunber into a PhotoPass ID is on the back of the race bibs. It's really been a MUCH better service than MarathonFoto ever was. The photographers seem to get a lot more photos, AND some of the photos are available on race day - usually by the next day they are all there.

It was really a perfect morning for running. It was 48 degrees at the race start, with little or no wind. I had gloves, arm sleeves, and a throwaway sweatshirt, and I was actually pretty comfortable while waiting for the race to start.

There really wasn't much of a pre-show with the race announcers in the 15-20 minutes before the race started. No Storm Troopers or Darth Vader on stage. We saw a couple of different sets of scenes from The Force Awakens.

Star Wars 10K

At 5:29 the wheelchairs started.

Corral A was a minute after that, and Corral B was five minutes later.

Star Wars 10K

There were new courses for the 5K, 10K, and Half Marathons this year. The biggest change was that from the starting line the race courses went south on Disneyland Drive rather than north as they have the previous two years. All three courses went through both parks - DCA first and then Disneyland - with varying routes in the parks depending on the race distance.

I really liked the new 10K course. The designers absolutely maximized the park time. Unlike previous 10K courses that have been outside the parks for the first mile or so, this one was all on property - if you consider the first .3 miles on Disneyland Drive to be on property, which I do.

After that first .3 miles we turned left in front of the Paradise Pier Hotel and went backstage at DCA. This part of the course was a little too dark, and could have used some additional light. Fortunately the pavement was smooth, so there wasn't really much danger of tripping, but it still made me a little more cautious. There were projections on some of the buildings, like the Rebel Alliance symbol, the Millennium Falcon, or an X-wing fighter.

Star Wars 10K

We went into the park near the Pacific Wharf where we ran through Radiator Springs past Radiator Springs Racers (so pretty at night with all of the light on the Cadillac Range) and Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters.

Star Wars 10K

We ran through Flik's Fun Fair past the Mile 1 sign and out to the parade route. The first character stop was Threepio and R2-D2 by the Cars Land sign - I was surprised at how long it was that early in the race. I wasn't planning to stop anyway, though.

We ran clockwise around Paradise Bay. As I mentioned I was wearing my Cinderella costume, and I heard a cast member say something like "Go Cindy! Oh, it's ok, she still has both her shoes." I cracked up at that - which was when the PhotoPass photographer snapped the picture below. :-)

Star Wars 10K

At Ariel's we turned left towards Grizzly River Run, past Soarin' and into Hollywood Land to the Tower of Terror. There were Jedi and Storm Troopers next to the Tower. We went backstage behind the Tower and passed the Mile 2 sign.

We took the tunnel down and up under the east tram area over to Disneyland. This was really the only significant hill on the course. That took us backstage at Disneyland for quite a while - past the Mile 3 sign. The BB-8 photo stop was back there, but I completely missed seeing it. This was another area where it was a little dark in places. We'd had great Star Wars music playing most of the time, but once we reached this point it got a little quiet until we emerged into Toon Town.

We ran past "it's a small world", which was still lit up with all of the holiday lights.

Star Wars 10K

We turned left at the Matterhorn and ran towards Tomorrowland. Kylo Ren was somewhere in there - between the Matterhorn and the Tomorrowland Terrace, as I recall. The course took us past the Launch Bay, where there were Storm Troopers above us. We ran past Star Tours and out to the hub.

Star Wars 10K

Once we reached the hub we did a 180 onto Matterhorn Way past Alice in Wonderland, then made a left at the tea cups and passed the Mile 4 sign. I was happy to see that I was on pace - maybe slightly ahead of pace. This year the Star Wars 10K course went through the castle to the hub, which it's never done before.

Star Wars 10K

We went through Frontierland and New Orleans Square, then the course did a hard 180 just in front of the Haunted Mansion and went back to the hub via Adventureland. We had quite an extensive tour of Disneyland and visited all of the lands except Critter Country.

We ran down Main Street. Chewbacca's photo op was at the end of the street by the Disney Showcase shop.

Star Wars 10K

After we went out the park entrance we ran into the Esplanade and to the left to go backstage at DCA again. We passed the Mile 5 sign on a perimeter road that took us around the back of Radiator Springs Racers and Paradise Pier. For about a tenth of a mile we could see some of those in the last corral coming towards us - only about .4 miles into their race whereas we were 5.8 miles into ours! I saw the balloon ladies at the very end of the race.

After we crossed Disneyland Drive we went around the back of the Paradise Pier Hotel (and the Mile 6 sign), and then it was just .2 miles to the traditional finish line near the Disneyland Hotel. It was still dark!

Star Wars 10K

I finished in 56:41, which is a new personal best 10K time for me. I was very happy with that. I was hoping to crack the top ten in my division, and I finished 8th! 10K is definitely my favorite distance.

Star Wars 10K

The BB-8 medal is really cute. It spins!

Star Wars 10K BB-8 Medal

I exited into the finish area and talked to Lisa (Hi Lisa!) for a while I waited for Lee to finish. Fortunately the volunteers had handed out mylar sheets at the finish (they sometimes don't do that for 10Ks), because it was still only 48 degrees and I was starting to get a little chilled.

Star Wars 10K

There was a vendor selling Death Star balloons (that's what the balloon ladies had been carrying, too).

Star Wars 10K

Once Lee finished we went over to the Annual Passholder tent. We showed our passes and they gave us an Annual Passholder string bag - it was nice for carrying our snack boxes and water bottles back to our room. There was a photo backdrop and a photographer there, too.

Star Wars 10K

Another change in the course this year: in previous years the 10K has finished by going all the way through Downtown Disney. While it's been kind of thrilling to run by all of the cheering crowds, it's been a nightmare after the race when trying to get back to the hotels, because you have to cross the race course at least once, and usually more than once. This year we didn't have to do that, and it was much easier to get back to our hotel.

I really enjoyed this course - I think it's now my favorite of the Disney 10K courses. And not just because I ran it for a personal best. :-) With all of the Star Wars Land construction in Disneyland I expected that we might have less park time this year, but instead I'm not sure how they could have given us any more! While yes, we had a fair bit of time that was in not-so-exciting backstage areas, I still enjoyed being on property for the entire race.

There were 11,606 finishers this year as opposed to 8,994 last year, so quite a few more runners out there. Since I was at the front it was not congested for me, but I can't speak to how it might have been further back. Certainly the first mile of this course was narrower than the first mile of the former course, which was all on wide city streets, and that might have been an issue. If you ran the race and experienced congestion, please leave a comment and let me know how it was for you.

The characters...still not a strong point, especially compared to our experience at Disneyland Paris last year. (Over 10 character stops in a 5K!) For this 10K there were four character stops, plus a couple of unattended backdrops and "run bys" like the Storm Troopers and Jedi. I would still so LOVE to see the Disney characters in their Star Wars attire out on the course! In Florida there are character meet and greets in the pre/post-race area, and I'd like to see them do that in California, also. Though there were a couple of photo backdrops (with photographers) in that area - the Wampa cave and the trash compactor.

Star Wars 10K

Coming next: The Star Wars Half Marathon

January 20, 2017

2017 Disneyland Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend - Part 1, Expo

Star Wars Half Marathon

For the third year Lee and I participated in the 10K and half marathon races at Disneyland's Star Wars Half Marathon. Or Star Wars Half Marathon - the Light Side as they now call it, to distinguish it from the Star Wars Half Marathon - the Dark Side at Walt Disney World. :-)

Unlike previous years, the 10K and half marathon races did not sell out, and runDisney was still selling race registrations at the Expo. That was a surprise. Of course part of the reason is that they raised the race capacities: the 10K had almost 13,000 spots, as opposed to 10,000 last year, while the half had 16,000 instead of 14,000. Of those numbers, about 6,000 were those running the Rebel Challenge. There were 5,000 entered in the 5K, and 1,500 in the Kids Races.

We arrived at the Expo on Friday afternoon - it had opened on Thursday. As usual, bib pickup was downstairs in the Disneyland Hotel Convention Center. This is the first time I remember that there wasn't a specially designed rug on the ramp going down to the pickup area. But we've had a lot of rain recently (and it rained on Thursday) so the rug would have been soaking wet. This photo is from last year.

Star Wars Half Marathon

We had printed out our race waivers in advance, so all we had to do was go to the correct counter to pick up our Rebel Challenge bibs. There are computers and printers available for those who don't bring waivers with them. I think this was the most people that I've ever seen in bib pick-up, but it still was a fast process for us.

Star Wars Half Marathon

As Rebel Challenge runners we had to get our photo taken with our bib number - that's how they verify after the half marathon that we 1: completed the 10K, and 2: are the same person who picked up the bib. They used to give us wristbands at the end of the 10K - this is a nice alternative to not having to wear the wristband.

Star Wars Half Marathon

The race brochure was again condensed down to a "Final Race Instructions" pamphlet. It has all of the essential information like course maps, road closures, times, transportation, and viewing, but without all of the ads. I prefer this format - "just the facts, ma'am." (Am I showing my age there or what?) What I *don't* prefer is the new "on-line magazine" format for the official race guide - I can no longer download it as a PDF like I used to. And I find it very cumbersome and slow - really useless.

Star Wars Half Marathon
Star Wars Half Marathon

Once we picked up the bibs we went back upstairs to the main expo in the Disneyland Hotel Convention Center. I always enjoy seeing how they have decorated the entrance. The different banners are nice photo ops!

Star Wars Half Marathon
Star Wars Half Marathon
Star Wars Half Marathon

We picked up our race shirts. I liked this year's designs, but a gray shirt AGAIN????? I wish they would do more white shirts. These are long sleeve shirts - typical for January races. This particular weekend they felt pretty good since the weather was cooler than usual - highs in the low 60s, lows in the upper 40s.

2017 Star Wars Half Marathon shirts

There was a shirt exchange available, but neither of us needed to get a different size. It's very nice to have that option, though. I've found Disney sizing to be consistent in recent years, but that wasn't always the case.

Star Wars Half Marathon

Usually when we arrive on Friday afternoons there is either a short line or no line to get into the Official Merchandise area. This time the line extended out into the foyer, and it took 15-20 minutes to get into the area. The line moved pretty consistently so it wasn't too bad. But still, I was surprised to see it that long.

Once we went inside, it seemed like there was still plenty of merchandise left. A few things were sold out, like the special edition runDisney Star Wars Weekend Christmas tree ornament, and the Star Wars Weekend wine glasses. I believe the Dooney & Bourke bags were sold out by then, also.

Star Wars Half Marathon

There were already only limited sizes available on a few of the shirts. Lee bought this one. They were out of size large, so he had to get an XL, which is a little big.

Star Wars Half Marathon Rebel shirt

Race weekend logo:

Star Wars Half Marathon

All of the pins, mini medal pins, magnets, water bottles, mugs, etc. seemed to be available.

Star Wars Half Marathon magnet
Star Wars Half Marathon water bottle
Star Wars Half Marathon pins
Star Wars Half Marathon hat

I thought there was a very nice selection of shirts available for the Rebel Challenge and the Half Marathon.

Star Wars Half Marathon shirt
Star Wars Half Marathon
Star Wars Half Marathon shirt
Star Wars Half Marathon shirt
Star Wars Half Marathon tank
Star Wars Half Marathon shirt

The Han/Leia graphic on this one is especially poignant right now.

Star Wars Half Marathon Han/Leia shirt

But for the 5K and 10K, there seemed to be only one shirt plus the "I Did It" shirts. With BB-8 as the theme for the 10K, I was surprised that there wasn't more merchandise available for the 10K.

Star Wars 5K shirt
Star Wars 5K I Did It
Star Wars Half 10K shirt

Star Wars 10K I Did It

There were some other fun Star Wars items that weren't themed to any specific race.

Star Wars Half Marathon
Star Wars Half Marathon shirt
Star Wars Half Marathon Yoda hat

There's a new design for the Coast-to-Coast merchandise this year. The shirts are available in men's and women's cuts. I bought one of these.

2017 Coast to Coast shirt
2017 Coast to Coast hat

The rest of the Expo seemed about the same. Honda was a major sponsor and they had a special pace car. We weren't sure how a pace car would be used in a half marathon, but I guess there was one.

Star Wars Half Marathon

There were Star Wars-themed Stance socks.

Star Wars Stance socks

The latest versions of New Balance Disney running shoes were available. This time they represent Disney attractions rather than characters. The women's shoes are Haunted Mansion and Mad Tea Party.

Star Wars Half Marathon
2017 New Balance Mad Tea Party shoe

The men's shoes are Star Tours and Toy Story Mania.

2017 New Balance Toy Story shoe
2017 New Balance Star Tours shoe

I don't know if I'm mentioned this before...Runner Tracking is available for the races. You can track runners of your choice, or you can provide the information for others to track you. My parents always like to know how we're doing, so I set up tracking to send them an email or text message. And if Lee and I aren't running together we track each other.There's typically a link on the event page under the "Spectators" tab. Sometimes you need a log in to set it up, sometimes not. There's usually options to have your times sent via text message or email, or to have it automatically post to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

As we wandered through Downtown Disney we saw several signs advising guests that various businesses would be open at 4:00 a.m. on race mornings, like Starbucks, Jamba Juice, and Haagen Daz. That's a nice service for runners and spectators!

Downtown Disney Early Openings

Coming next: The Star Wars 10K

January 10, 2017

Three Kings' Day at Disneyland

Three Kings Day

For a number of years Disneyland has celebrated Three Kings' Day - El Dia de los Reyes Magos. January 6 (Epiphany) is the official day, but this year the events took place January 5-8.

Three Kings' Day celebrates the visit of the kings to the Christ child on the 12th day after his birth. Traditionally it's three kings: Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrrh.

The Paradise Gardens area of Disney California Adventure was the site of this year's events.

Three Kings Day

There were several displays set up. On the night before children traditionally place their shoes out for the kings to fill with toys and gifts.

Three Kings Day

"Rosca de Reyes", or "King's Cake" is a traditional food. It's a sweet bread, round like a crown, and decorated with candied fruits, which resemble jewels.

Three Kings Day

One of the activities was face painting. No charge, and it was available to adults and kids.

Three Kings Day

There was also a craft area. Guests could color paper lanterns or decorate a crown with stickers. There were a number of tables and chairs there.

Three Kings Day

Three Kings Storytelling took place several times each day on the Paradise Gardens stage. This was different than what I expected, but I thought it was well done. I thought it would be more like the Epcot storytellers, with someone acting the part. Instead it was two musicians, who both spoke and sang about holiday traditions such as Las Posadas, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, and Three King's Day.

Three Kings Day

Here's a video of the entire performance.

A few other things I noticed while wandering around the parks...

I'd never gotten a very good look at Skylar on Princess Elena's float. He is a magical talking jaquin.

Skylar Princess Elena

Since Santa Claus is taking a well-deserved vacation, Santa Goofy was greeting guests in the Redwood Creek "Holiday Visit" area.

Santa Goofy

In that same area one of the deer sported a Santa hat.

Three Kings Day

The Tower of Terror closed on January 2 and is under wraps during the conversion to Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT.

Tower of Terror

Tower of Terror

Over at Disneyland, Pocahontas was greeting guests along the Rivers of America near the exit to Big Thunder Mountain.


In honor of the Moana movie, several locations in Disneyland are offering a special Pineapple Parfait dessert. It's pineapple, cake, and custard. The necklace is also edible. I tried it and thought it was pretty good.

Pineapple parfait

December 21, 2016

Disneyland Resort Update - 12/16/15


I've been traveling a lot, but I wanted to make another visit to Disneyland during the holiday season. When I renewed my annual pass earlier this year I opted for the Signature AP, which is blocked out during the Christmas holidays - December 19-January 1 - so this weekend was my final opportunity before that. (I really don't WANT to be at Disneyland during those two weeks anyway!) Jason (Disneygeek) met me there on Friday afternoon and we wandered around for the rest of the day and evening.

We had a rare southern California rainstorm on Thursday and Friday, but according to the forecast the rain would be over in Anaheim by noon. When I left San Diego at 10:30 it was still raining there, but by the time I reached Anaheim the roads were dry and there was even a little bit of blue sky. As the day went on the clouds completely cleared off and we had a sunny day, though it was cool by southern California standards - only about 60 degrees.

Some major changes at Disneyland this week: most of the security checkpoints have been moved. Downtown Disney is now a "secure" area, so guests coming from the Mickey and Friends garage go through security before boarding a tram. I was surprised to see a fence up along the tram route where it goes through the garage. If you park on the first level then you cross the tram route inside the garage rather than from the Pinocchio parking lot as it was before.

Disneyland security fence

The bag check is still done manually, and then everyone goes through a metal detector. I wish they'd installed x-ray machines rather than the manual check. I arrived about 12:20, and things weren't very busy then, so I got through quickly.

Disneyland security

There are additional security checkpoints set up at the other entrances to Downtown Disney. From the Downtown Disney parking lot:

Downtown Disney security checkpoint

From the Grand Californian:

Grand Californian Security checkpoint

There's also one from the Disneyland Hotel, though I didn't get a photo of it. The security setup on the east side of the esplanade (for guests coming from the Toy Story parking lot and the hotels on Harbor Blvd) is unchanged. They still go through security on the east side of the esplanade.

From the tram I could see the demolition that's occurring at the former House of Blues location. According to a recent Disney Parks Blog post, Splitsville Luxury Lanes will be opening there in late 2017.

House of Blues demolition

When I got off the tram, it was great to be able to walk directly to the esplanade without going through security! And the esplanade looks so open now! Jason reminded me that the security tents at the esplanade had been in place for over 15 years. Wow.

Disneyland esplanade

This was the first time I'd been to DCA during the day this holiday season.

Festival of Holidays

My first order was to have something to eat, so I visited a couple of the Festival of Holidays Marketplaces. I never saw any lines at any of the booths except the Brews & Bites booth that sells beer. As I mentioned in my initial review of the Festival, I think the prices are just too high.

This time I tried the Harvest Puff Pastry with Leeks and Parmesan from the "Treats for Santa" booth. $4.25. I was surprised that it wasn't served warm. But it was pretty tasty, and I thought $4.25 wasn't a bad price, since it was a good-sized serving. Much more in line with the price I expect.

Festival of Holidays Harvest Puff Pastry

From "Mosaic Delights" I tried the Mini Falafel Donuts with Pickled Vegetables & Tahini Drizzle. This one was $7.00 - and it should have been $4.25. :-) Though it says "donuts", it's really a savory dish. I liked the flavor of the falafel and the pickled vegetables. It was just too expensive.

Festival of Holidays Falafel Donuts

I felt really badly for the cast members working the food booths - they had very little to do, and I'm sure that makes their shifts seem really long.

Jason and I met at the World of Color Fastpass machines. Even though it was almost 1:00, we were still able to get Fastpasses in the Blue section (the best of the non-dining package sections) for the 9:00 showing of Season of Light. Because of the rain there weren't too many people out and about yet. There was a second show scheduled for 10:15...I have a feeling it was very sparsely attended.

Since I'm writing this resort update instead of Jason there's going to be more words than photos, so if you're interested in Jason's excellent photos and construction update please visit his web site:

There's an AP Corner for Annual Passholders set up in the Grizzly Peak Recreation area. It opened November 11 and is available through January 8. Pretty minimal offerings compared to some of these in the past. There's a button, a photo backdrop, and a coloring area. But no character greeting opportunity or refreshments like water and popcorn as there have been at previous AP areas. Also, there's only a single button for the event, rather than a different one each week (you can see my button on the left in the photo below). There were no guests there when we arrived, and the cast members looked pretty cold! The location is out of the way, and a little hard to find, though there were signs for it at the entrance.

Festival of Holidays

There were additional craft opportunities along the parade corridor. This one was Christmas-themed, but I saw one for Kwanzaa also.

Festival of Holidays

Our next destination was Disneyland, so that I could see the "A Christmas Fantasy Parade" for the first time this season. We went all the way back to the parade start at "it's a small world". Not real crowded, but there were more people back there than i expected. We still had a spot behind just one row of people, though.

A Christmas Fantasy Parade

For some reason the toy soldiers were missing when the parade first started this holiday season, but they are back now. Always one of my favorite parts of the parade.

We left our viewing spot just before the final float appeared so that we could get in line for "it's a small world" Holiday before the crowds descended on it after the parade was over. We had a good view of that last float with Santa Claus from the line.

A Christmas Fantasy parade

"it's a small world" Holiday is celebrating its 20th holiday season this year. In recognition of that, some number of "hidden 20s" have been placed in the attraction this year. Jason is very good at spotting them and pointed them out to me, though the only one I was able to photograph was this one at the exit.

it's a small world holiday hidden 20

We went back to Frontierland to take a look at the Star Wars Land construction progress. This is the first time I've seen anything other than piles of dirt!

Star Wars Land

And this looks interesting. No idea what it is, though. There's still no official word out of Disney as to when Star Wars Land might open, but at least now there's actual construction underway. As I mentioned, Jason has a lot more (and better) photos available on his site.

Star Wars Land

On Main Street we caught the end of the performance of the Dickens Yuletide Band. In the clip below they perform a medley from "The Nutcracker."

We were planning to see some of the holiday entertainment over at DCA, so went across the esplanade back over there. But first we went back to Hollywood to check on Fastpasses for Tower of Terror. After dark, the Tower of Terror offers "Late Check-Out", where the attraction takes place in the dark, with no soundtrack. Fastpasses were not originally available for the after dark part, but that changed recently. We were there about 3:00, and there was a sign out to that effect.

Tower of Terror Late Check-Out

And the Fastpasses themselves denote Late Check-Out.

Tower of Terror Late Check-out

We still had some time before the first holiday act, so we went for a spin on Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters, since it had a short line. For the holiday season there's a new song: Jingle Bells. We heard it as we were walking to the attraction, but it wasn't the song that played for our ride.

The Holiday Toy Drummers was the first entertainment offering we saw, and they are my new favorites. They were so much fun to watch - especially since they seem to be having so much fun themselves. This is a video Jason took of them several weeks ago - they don't have any variation in their sets.

Holiday entertainment takes place in a number of different locations around DCA. The drummers were near the Boudin Bakery in Pacific Wharf, and from there we went to Paradise Gardens to see Princess Elena's Musical Grand Arrival. It was pretty well-attended. Elena sang several songs, including two Christmas songs.

Festival of Holidays Elena of Avalor

The Stilt Circus performs along the parade corridor, though both time we saw them they were in Carthay Circle.

Festival of Holidays stilt circus

To get to Downtown Disney we exited through the Grand Californian. I hadn't seen the gingerbread hotel in its finished state - they were still decorating it when I was there in November. Pretty impressive structure.

Grand Californian Gingerbread house

There's a new Pandora store in Downtown Disney now, right next to Jamba Juice.

Downtown Disney Pandora Store

I was surprised to see a very large outdoor seating area outside Tortilla Jo's. During most of the year that might be pretty attractive, but it was a chilly afternoon and we didn't see anyone sitting outside.

Tortilla Jo's outdoor seating

The tree in Downtown Disney is in a new location this year. No skating rink, probably because of the construction of the fence for the security perimeter.

Downtown Disney Christmas tree

We took the monorail back to Disneyland from Downtown Disney. It was very nice not to have to go through a bag check there. And there was no line for the monorail, in fact some of the cars were empty. Jason and I were the only people in our car. We saw the start of sunset on our ride.

Disneyland sunset

At the Star Wars Launch Bay cast members were distributing Rogue One - A Star Wars Story buttons since the movie had just opened. There were a couple of display cases with costumes and props from the movie - pretty much the same as what I saw in Florida the week before.

Rogue One button

The lights weren't on yet, but the castle was decorated for the holidays.

Sleeping Beauty castle

We had dinner at Village Haus, largely so that we could sit inside where it was warm. There weren't very many people in there, and it was so quiet that we could actually hear the background music! It was the same holiday track that is played on Main Street. It was very nice to hear it.

The castle lights were on as we walked through the castle after dinner.

Sleeping Beauty ice castle

The Jambalaya Jazz group has added some holiday cheer to their set.

After dark their last song is White Christmas, and it snows.

snow in New Orleans Square

When we walked by Tropical Imports in Adventureland we noticed a sign for a new dessert - a Pineapple Parfait. Layered pineapple mousse, vanilla cake and pineapple topped with whipped cream and a chocolate Heart of Tefiti pendant. Normally I would've tried this, but it was a cold dessert and I was already cold enough.

Pineapple Parfait

Back to DCA to catch some more of the Festival of Holidays entertainment. Starting at 5:30 there are four different acts in a row at the stage in Paradise Park. We missed the first one, but we saw RAISE - an acapella group, Mariachi Divas, and Mostly Kosher. The latter are pictured below. They were surprisingly entertaining.

Festival of Holidays

The wind had come up and it was quite chilly by the water after we'd been sitting there for almost an hour. I suggested we go "under the sea" to warm up. :-) We walked right onto the clamshell vehicle.

There was still over an hour until it was time to be back for World of Color. I was looking for warm places, and we went into the Animation Building. There were a number of other people with the same idea, but we lucked out and there was a sofa we could sit on. I always enjoy sitting in there and watching the animation clips and artwork and listening to the music. I saw something I hadn't noticed before - it looks like there was a "Coppertone moment" in Frozen during the "In Summer" song. Cute.

DCA Animation Building

On the way back to Paradise Bay we stopped at Award Weiners so that I could get some hot chocolate. That tasted pretty good - and it felt good in my hands. :-)

Jason knows the spots, and found us an excellent location to watch World of Color - Season of Light. We were just behind the dessert party area, so there was no one standing in front of us.

It was windy, but not enough to cancel the show. It made for some interesting effects on the fountains. I was surprised at how clear the projections still were, despite the wind.

World of Color - Season of Light

This is such a good show. All of the effects work so well together.

World of Color - Season of Light

We made the right decision to choose to see World of Color and not the fireworks show at Disneyland - it was canceled because of the wind.

That was the end of our day. When we arrived back at the Mickey and Friends garage I was surprised to see that almost all of the security check lanes were still open. It was almost 10:00 - not too many people arriving at that time of night.

It was a good day - I was able to see all of the entertainment that I'd wanted to see. And thanks to the rain and the cool weather the parks weren't very crowded at all.

November 20, 2016

Disney California Adventure Celebrates the Holidays with New World of Color - Season of Light and More

World of Color - Season of Light

There's a new version of World of Color for this holiday season: World of Color - Season of Light. It combines favorite holiday musical numbers with heartwarming scenes from Disney and Disney-Pixar movies, choreographed with fountains, lasers, lights and even flames.

World of Color - Season of Light

We saw it Saturday night, and I have to say that it's my favorite version of the show. The fountains are not so much the main focus of the show now, and all of the different effects are much more integrated and complement each other. I thought the lasers were used especially well.

And I loved the music. I'm old enough to remember my parents playing Christmas albums by Nat King Cole ("The Christmas Song"), Bing Crosby ("Mele Kalikimaka"), and Dean Martin ("Let it Snow"), and I enjoy hearing them again. But it's also great to hear contemporary artists such as Michael Buble and Idina Menzel ("Baby It's Cold Outside"), and Amy Grant ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"). And Pentatonix's version of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies", followed by Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Wizard in Winter", had everyone cheering.

World of Color - Season of Light

The animation clips were very well chosen. Who can forget the heartwarming moment from "Lady and the Tramp" when, on Christmas morning, "Darling" opens the box and Lady's head pops out?

World of Color - Season of Light

And I had to laugh when Sadness from "Inside Out" appeared - to the music of Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas." :-)

During the song "Let There Be Peace on Earth", giant soap bubbles, shaped like hearts, rise into the air and float away.

World of Color - Season of Light

My camera battery died partway through, but here's the first 16 minutes of the show, including the Pentatonix and TSO numbers.

As I mentioned, we thought it was a terrific show. In reading Disney's "Fact Sheet" about it, I found a few items that explain some of the new aspects.

  • Five newly installed barges in the lagoon erupt in a brilliant lighting effect to punctuate the grand finale.
  • More than 800 individual light fixtures are needed to illuminate the show.
  • Six laser projectors are deployed to create a variety of entertaining effects.
  • Nearly 20 high-definition projectors convey imagery to the screens of water.

You'll need a Fastpass to access the viewing areas for the show. These are available at the entrance to Grizzly River Run beginning at park opening. Fastpasses for the areas that are more centered are distributed first, so go early. There is some standby viewing, but it's further back and tends to fill up early.

World of Color - Season of Light

In addition to the regular Fastpass option for the show, there are options for Premium viewing experiences. Lunch and Dinner packages are available at Carthay Circle Restaurant and Wine Country Trattoria, and a Dinner Package at Ariel's Grotto. The newest option, introduced earlier this year, is the Sparkling Dessert Package. Lee and I did that one on Saturday. It's unique because you actually get to sit for the show - everyone is seated at small tables. A plate of cheese, fruits and desserts is served to you, along with beverages. At $79 plus tax it's the most expensive of the viewing options, but it's my favorite way to see the show.

World of Color Dessert Package

We have more information on Dining packages on our World of Color page.

We took a quick look around the park at some of the other holidays options. This year Santa Claus has moved from his Elias and Co. department store Santa setting to a more rustic area along in the newly named "Redwood Creek - Santa's Holiday Visit".

Redwood Creek Santa's Holiday Visit

Santa is tucked away in the Ahwahnee Circle (the small amphitheater). I was wondering if guests would be less interested in visiting him there, but the line was long, so that's apparently not an issue. Without standing in line there was no way to get a good view of Santa Claus, so this is not a very good photo.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

I thought it very amusing that this is the roof of Santa's greeting area. :-) A place for the reindeer - but only eight of them - to hang out.

Redwood Creek Reindeer Landing  Zone

The Redwood Creek area itself has decorations, which I don't recall seeing in the past. The Jingle Bridge is hung with bells that ring when people bounce on it.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

The "challenge" aspect of the Redwood Creek area is now "Elf Games". Some additional elements have been added at some of the apparatus, like a sack of gifts at the slides for the "Pack the Presents" game.

Redwood Creek Elf Games

There's also a meet and greet spot with Chip and/or Dale.

Disney California Adventure Chip

Guests seemed to be enjoying the area - as I mentioned the line for Santa was fairly long and there were a number of kids enjoying the various challenges.

This isn't a holiday thing, but right now DCA is showing an extended preview of Moana in the Bugs Land Theater. Using all of the available effects. Including lots of water. We really enjoyed the preview - the movie looks very good.

Disney California Adventure Moana preview

The rest of the park seems to be decked out in its usual holiday style. The Christmas tree is in Carthay Circle, and there's a tree lighting show every night. The residents of Cars Land have also decorated the town of Radiator Springs - Seasons Speedings to all! :-) (I'm certainly enjoying the Passholder benefit of free downloads of PhotoPass photos!)

Cars Land Seasons Speedings

Here's the new popcorn buckets being sold in both parks. The Santa Mickey was VERY popular and we saw lots of people carrying them around. Getting them before they sell out.

Disneyland 2016 Santa Mickey Popcorn Bucket

I believe the Elf Mickey Stein is only available at Disneyland. That was also popular.

Elf Mickey Stein

There's also a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs refillable mug that seems to be available resort wide.

Snow White Holiday mug

To close, even though this isn't DCA, either, the construction of the enormous gingerbread house in the Grand Californian was underway. This year it's a gingerbread version of the hotel itself. There's even a fire in the fireplace.

Grand Californian Gingerbread House

Grand Californian Gingerbread House

A smaller version of the gingerbread house is available for purchase - $85.

Grand Californian Gingerbread House

November 19, 2016

2016 Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend


Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

After a 10K/half marathon race challenge weekend at Walt Disney World followed by a four night Disney cruise, what would you do? How about running a 10K at Disneyland? At least this year we did only the 10K and not the half marathon, too!

We had initially not planned to run any of the events of the Super Heroes Half Marathon weekend at Disneyland. But when runDisney announced the theme of the 10K was Dr. Strange, then Lee really wanted to do that. And I love 10Ks - it's my favorite distance.

Friday, November 11

We got off the Disney Dream on Friday morning, took a bus to the airport and caught a flight to John Wayne Airport. As we did last year, we'd flown out of that airport instead of San Diego, and left our car there. (By the way, I recommend to find good prices on airport parking. The last two years we have parked at the Marriott near John Wayne Airport and had an excellent experience - the parking and shuttle staff at the Marriott is so nice!)

We had an earlier flight this year and arrived at the airport earlier than we did last year. So we did not have the horrible Friday afternoon traffic that we experienced last year. We arrived at Disneyland a little after 4:00 and went straight to the Expo.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

It felt strange to only be picking up a 10K bib and not a Challenge bib. We didn't need to get our photo taken this time. As usual, the bib pickup area was not too busy and we were in and out quickly. As in Florida the week before there wasn't a big printed race program, but this time they gave us a brochure at bib pickup that had all of the really useful information like course maps and time schedules.

The main part of the Expo was upstairs in the Disneyland convention center. There were some new super heroes added to the banners this year.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

We picked up our shirts...yet another maroon long sleeve shirt. With a large rubber graphic on the front. Come on, runDisney - most of your race participants live in California and Florida! PLEASE give us some short sleeve shirts!

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Nesquik was one of the sponsors this year (Nesquik chocolate milk was available to runners at the end of the half marathon on Sunday), and the Nesquik bunny was in the booth when he wasn't posing for photos with guests.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

The Expo seemed to have most of the usual vendors, though there were a few new sponsors this year, like Nesquik and Misfit.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

We heard an announcement about a special offer for Annual Passholders at the runDisney booth, so we went to check that out. They looked at our passes and then put a sticker on our bibs and told us there would be a special AP tent in the finish area of the 10K and half where they would have a special gift for us. Interesting!

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

The runDisney booth also had the medals for the upcoming Star Wars - the Light Side weekend in January. Everyone seems to be very excited about the BB-8 10K medal! He spins!

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

There was no line to get into the Official Merchandise area. And it seemed as though they still had everything left - I didn't see a lot of space that had been filled by generic merchandise as I often do. All of the items that I usually look for were still there.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

There were lots of different shirts - even more than in the photos below.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

All of the "I Did It" shirts were available, though a cast member told me that in the 10K shirts they were out of small-sized shirts and only had a few mediums left.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

There were a number of Infinity Gauntlet items available, though most of the shirts were (as usual) for women.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

There wasn't as much 10K merchandise - the mini medal pin, a hat, and a couple of shirts.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Lee really liked this shirt so he bought it and wore it the next day for the 10K.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Nice to see Black Widow get some attention. Now, when does SHE get her own race?

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

We were surprised to see a few items from the previous weekend's Wine and Dine Expo.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

For dinner that night we went to Disney California Adventure and checked out the food booths at the Festival of Holidays (as I wrote about in this blog). Maybe not the best pre-race dinner, but it was only a 10K the next day. :-)

For once jet lag worked in our favor - we'd come from the east coast and were tired from a long day of travel. So we went to bed at 8:30 and actually fell asleep quickly.

Saturday, November 12 - Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

We'd set the alarm for 4:15, but we were both awake before that. This might be the first time I've ever gotten a full night's sleep before a race!

I know I say this every time, but if you're new to my blog you won't have seen it before: I love race weekends at Disneyland. The race logistics are SO much easier! Everything is within walking distance of the hotels (even many of the neighboring hotels), so there's no need to catch a bus at an insanely early hour. We pushed it more this year than we usually do - the race started at 5:30 but we didn't get up until 4:15, and left the hotel at 4:45. And we still had plenty of time to get to the start corrals. Short/no lines for the porta-potties, too.

I wore my Agent Carter costume again, and Lee wore his new Dr. Strange tech shirt.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Dr. Strange is one of Lee's favorite super heroes, but to be honest I'd never heard of him, and didn't know anything about him until we saw the movie on the Disney Dream a few days before the race.

I was hoping that there would be some photo ops in the pre-race area before the race but there wasn't anything other than some race banners.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

We were in Corral A, but I thought this collection of balloons for the other corrals was pretty.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Dr. Strange actually came out on stage before the race. We hoped that meant that we would later see him on the race course. After that they showed us the preview for the movie - and reminded us that it was showing at the AMC Theaters in Downtown Disney. :-)

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

While the talented Disneyland cast member was singing the national anthem I noticed that there was a special pattern on some of the lights!

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

The race started about a minute late. No fireworks at Disneyland - just some colored puffs of smoke.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

The course was different this year, thanks to Disneyland construction, though the first part of it was the same with the first two miles off Disney property. We ran down to the Convention Center on West Street, then cut across and over to Harbor Blvd, and back north to Disney Way, then went backstage at DCA. That was about mile 2. Having the first two miles outside the parks really helps spread the runners out. We didn't find that the course felt crowded at all.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

While we were winding around backstage there were some interesting projections on some of the buildings.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

The first character we saw was Thor, near the Wine Country Trattoria. The line was a little long, so we didn't stop. We were hoping for shorter lines further on, since we had started so far forward.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

We ran around Paradise Bay, and past the mile 3 sign. Almost halfway done! There's that symbol again on California Screamin'.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Captain America was just outside Soarin'. The line was maybe 20 deep, but it was Captain America! I got my hug again, but I didn't get swept off my feet like I did last year. :-)

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

As we ran down Hollywood Blvd near the Animation Building a cast member was telling us that Spider-Man was ahead to the left. The race course turned right, and since he was on the other side and kind of hidden behind a building I think a lot of runners didn't see him. The line was pretty short.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

We ran backstage next to the Tower of Terror. The sun was coming up and there was a beautiful sunrise!

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

A high school band was performing back there. The majorette was doing some pretty good baton tricks, but I didn't manage to get a photo of that. There were just a couple of bands along the course - since so much of the course was on property there wasn't really any place for them to set up.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

For most of the next mile we were backstage - we ran through the tunnel that goes under the bus area and connects DCA and Disneyland, and then wound around backstage at Disneyland, finally entering the park in Toon Town.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Mile 5 - only 1.2 to go. We were still feeling really good. A 10K is so much easier than a half marathon!

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

It was getting light out, but we could still see the lights on "it's a small world" Holiday.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Black Widow was in front of "small world", and there was almost no line!

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

Not too much further away was Hawkeye. That's been Lee's costume in previous years. There was one person in front of us. I think we were in the sweet spot where the serious runners who don't stop for characters were ahead of us, but we were running fast enough that we were ahead of most of the other people who do stop for photos. However it worked out, it was a great place to be.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

As we ran around the Matterhorn, we saw Dr. Strange!!! There was a line there, but only about 10 people in it. We were really happy to get our photo with him. He was very much in character, and SO serious.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

We really didn't spend much time in Disneyland at all - didn't run through the castle, Frontierland, or Adventureland. After seeing Dr. Strange we ran to the hub and down Main Street and out of the park. As we ran under the train station the villain from the Dr. Strange movie, Kaecilius, was standing on the bridge above us. He had a microphone and was making in-character comments to the runners, though I don't remember what he said.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

The course finished through Downtown Disney and ended at the usual finish line near the Disneyland Hotel. I got lots of cheers for my Peggy Carter costume throughout the race, and especially towards the end where there were more spectators, and that's always fun.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

We finished in 1:09:38, which I thought was really a good time considering we stopped for five character photos plus a few other shots. This was a smaller race than the Wine and Dine 10K. Less than 10,000 entered, with 8245 finishers. I thought it was interesting that the male-female ratio was not quite so skewed as it is in many Disney races. There were still more females, but it was 4861 women to 3384 men.

Since as Annual Passholders we get free downloads of our race photos, we stopped to get our post-race photo taken.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

We went to the Annual Passholder tent to get our gift - it was small cans of Coke with several of the Avengers on them. We were told they would have Iron Man the next day after the half marathon.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

One not-so-good thing about the Disneyland 10Ks: trying to get back to your hotel afterward. Since the courses finish through Downtown Disney you have to cross the race course. Even though they have cast members controlling the crossing points it can take some time. One thing we learned is that when staying at the Grand Californian, you do not want to try to go through Downtown Disney to the usual hotel entrance. If you do you'll have to cross the course three times! So we cross the course once and go right towards the Paradise Pier, then cross Disneyland Drive and go into the hotel via the main entrance. If you're staying at one of the hotels on Harbor Drive then you don't have much of an option, though.

I really enjoyed this race! It was nice to see six character stops on the course instead of just the four they've had for this race weekend in the first two years. And we really lucked out with the character lines not being too long.

I think my biggest issue with the race was the limited time in Disneyland, and that so much of what we did have was backstage. Still, for the most part I liked this course. I'd much rather have the miles outside the park be at the beginning of the race rather than at the end. I think having that two miles for the runners to spread out really helps with the congestion and the overall enjoyment of the course.

The rest of the day felt a little strange (so to speak) because we weren't preparing to run a half marathon the next day. So we didn't have to worry about what we ate or drank, or about trying to go to bed early - which was why I'd scheduled the World of Color Dessert Party for that evening. :-)

That night for a change we actually had to pay attention to the road closures map that was left on our door, and the phone message about the race that had been left on our phone. We were planning to leave around 8:00 on Sunday morning - the half marathon wasn't going to be over until about 10:30. Everything we read indicated that we should be able to get out of the parking lot by 8:00, though. And that proved to be the case. The only issue we had was getting our room key to work to open the automated parking gate. :-)

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

As we drove down Disneyland Drive we went under the start line...that was as close as we got to it. I thought I might be more bothered that we hadn't done the half marathon, but I really wasn't.

Super Heroes Dr. Strange 10K

We had no problems getting out of the resort, but the same was not true for those trying to get to the resort. Traffic was backed up on I5 both north and south - it was quite a mess. But some of the freeway exits were closed because of the race course, so I think there was only one way in, and everyone was trying to use it.

It was nice to do only one race - and a shorter one at that - and we really enjoyed the race weekend. If you haven't done a race weekend at Disneyland, then I highly recommend that you try it. I find that it's just a lot easier. There are fewer runners than in most of the Walt Disney World races and everything is closer together - walking distance, really. No buses required unless you are staying way off property. Think about it!

November 15, 2016

New Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

Disney California Adventure gets a holiday makeover this year with the presentation of the first Festival of Holidays at the park. The Festival celebrates holiday traditions around the world with food, beverages, and entertainment. Princess Elena of Avalor makes her Disneyland debut in Princess Elena's Musical Grand Arrival. The popular ¡Viva Navidad! street party also returns to Paradise Pier along with special food offerings and a character meet and greet.

Also new for the holiday season is World of Color - Season of Light. The show combines water, animations, projections and laser effects choreographed to both classic and contemporary holiday music. Selections range from Nat King Cole performing "The Christmas Song" to "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" by Pentatonix.

World of Color - Season of Light

Santa Claus has moved to the Redwood Creek area this year - his greeting spot is tucked away in the Ahwahnee Circle. The elves have been busy setting up Elf Games for guests, such as the "Jingle Bridge" and the "Pack the Presents" slide.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

Our weekend visit to DCA was much too short for us to experience everything that the park has to offer now. We concentrated on the Festival of Holidays - more specifically some of the fourteen Festive Food Marketplaces.

This aspect of the Festival is a food and wine festival - and there are even more marketplace booths (14) than there were for the return of the Food and Wine Festival to DCA earlier this year. The holiday booths also have much more of an international flair, with offerings inspired by Asian, Mexican, Jewish, Indian, Middle Eastern, German, and Swedish traditions as well as American favorites like sliders, Southern specialties and the classic turkey dinner. There's even a "Treats for Santa" booth with cookies and cookie decorating, peppermint bark, fudge, and panettone.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

All of the booths have special beverage offerings, also. There are booths dedicated to both beer (Brews and Bites) and wines (Making Spirits Bright) which offer flights or selections by the glass. Other choices include holiday eggnog cocktail, pomegranate margarita, iced mint tea, cranberry sweet tea, and chocolate beverages such as pumpkin spice hot chocolate, white hot chocolate, and frozen chocolate milk.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

Our first taste of the Festival was Friday night - it opened on Thursday. We were surprised that the food lines were short/non-existent. Very different than the opening weekend of the Food and Wine Festival back in April. The only real lines were at the beer and wine booths.

First Lee tried the Brisket Potato Croquette with horseradish cream from Nosh and Nibbles for $7.50. He said it was very good.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

Next we went to Good Fortune's Feast and tried two items. First the Adobo Pork Bao, $8.00. It was excellent, though I thought it a little heavy on the pickled onions. I didn't taste much "adobo" in it, though.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

The Smoked Duck and Vegetable Spring Roll with cabbage and sweet plum sauce was really good! But at $8.75 it was very expensive for the serving size.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

We were at Epcot's Food and Wine Festival the week before, and I think we understand why the lines at the booths were so short. The prices for food booth items in California are significantly higher than those in Florida - where most Florida items are in the $5-$7 range, most of the California items are $7-$9.

At Spice Salutations we sampled the Carrot and Chickpea Fritters for $6.25. They were served with a coriander almond sauce, but they really didn't have very much flavor.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

We also tried the Chicken and Potato Curry, with kefir cream and grilled naan for $6.50. This was a more generous serving than anything else we'd tried, and it was very tasty. The curry was not too spicy. And the naan was good.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

Lee sampled the Holiday Bright Seasonal Beer Flight from Brews & Bites. Spaten Brewery Oktoberfest from Germany, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Celebration, 21st Amendment Brewing Fireside Chat, and Karl Strauss Seven Sharks A-Circling. He wasn't wild about any of them.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

From Winter Sliderland we tried a Roasted Turkey Slider. It was expensive - $8.00. The turkey was nice carved slices, and it also had dressing, gravy, and cranberry sauce. It was very good, but it's not that much different than Earl of Sandwich's Holiday Turkey, which is twice the size for less money.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

We also tried the Kalua Pork Slider. $7.50 for this one. Pieces of nice roasted pork topped with pineapple jam and cider slaw. I liked this one better than the one that they have at Epcot.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

By then we were ready for some dessert at the appropriately named Yuletide Yummies. We chose the Gingerbread Bundt Cake, but requested that they leave the orange-vanilla sauce off of it. It was a dense gingerbread but very flavorful and we both liked it a lot. It was served cold but I think it would have been better served warm. For $4.25 I thought it was a decent-sized serving.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

We also tried the Mocha Yule Log for $4.75. This one definitely gets the award for the prettiest dessert! It was really nicely decorated. And it was also a generous serving. Lee didn't care for the cream, but the cake was good. I mostly liked it, but it was a little too sweet. We couldn't finish it, and ended up taking half of it back to the room with us.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

One word of advice - you'll need to get a knife to cut both of these - they are too dense for a fork by itself.

For the Food and Wine Festival the booths were set up on the parade route between Carthay Circle and the Pacific Wharf. But with the additional six booths they extend all the way to the Golden Zephyr, with one booth location next to Grizzly River Run near the restrooms.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

The Yuletide Yummies booth was in front of Ariel's attraction, and there were some metal tables - some of them with chairs - set up next to it. It was a very nice spot to sit and enjoy some of the entertainment that takes place in Paradise Park. We heard parts of performances from the Mariachi Divas and the Blue13 Dance Company.

The Food and Wine Festival had covered "arbors" with bar-type counters so people could stand and eat. Those aren't out - instead there are the typical round black metal standing tables like we see at Epcot's Food and Wine Festival, along with a few lower tables and chairs. There seemed to be more low tables than there were chairs to go with them. It didn't seem to me as though the tables offered as much space for people to eat as the arbors did.

Saturday evening we went back to try more of the food offerings. The park was pretty busy, so I was expecting longer lines at the food booths, but that was not the case. We asked cast members if it had been busy that day and they said not really. I definitely think the prices are an issue. Just across the parade route from a couple of the food booths is a hot dog cart where you can get a hot dog and chips for $7.00 - more food than you'll get at the neighboring booths.

From Abuelita's Kitchen we sampled the Chicken and Cilantro Tamale with roasted tomatillo salsa. That was quite good. $7.50 for it.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

Lee also tried the Chorizo Bean Sope with Cotija cheese and crema for $7.00. He enjoyed that, too.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

Back at Yuletide Yummies again I had the Mini Turkey Pot Pie with cranberry drizzle for $8.00. I was disappointed that it was mostly crust. It was a nice flaky crust, but there was way more of that than there was the turkey and vegetable filling. Not worth $8.00.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

Lee wanted to try their Joyful Flavors Beer Flight, but they were out of one of the beers (and of course the one they were out of, Rogue Ales Hazelnut Brown Nectar, was the one that he really wanted to try). And rather than substitute the cast member said they weren't allowed to sell the flight at all. We though that was odd - they substitute at Epcot all the time.

From Fiesta en Familia we tried the two pozole dishes. The Green Chile Pozole was a vegetarian dish, and was $6.25. It was very good and we both enjoyed it.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

The Red Chile Pozole contained tender chunks of pork and was $6.75. It was also very good. Both pozoles had quite different flavors - it was interesting to taste what a difference red versus green made. I wish they had been more generous servings or that the price had been $2 less.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

Lee tried the Southern Mac and Cheese from Southern Home Holidays for $7.50. It was topped with jalapeno cornbread crumbles - he said it needed more of that. He liked it. I had a taste but thought it was just ok - I'm not much of a mac and cheese fan, though.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

From Winter Sliderland we got another Kalua Pork Slider, which was much more generous with the pork than the first one.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

This time we also tried the Praline & Bourbon Whoopie Pie for $4.25. The whoopie pie was bigger than I expected and had a pretty good flavor - lots of cream inside.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

We made pretty good progress in sampling the food offerings, though there were still five of the booths we never got to. Still, I think we sampled almost everything that really sounded good to us. In addition to the food booths, there are full-size seasonal offerings at Paradise Garden Grill: Torta al Pastor, Street-Style Tacos, and Chicken Mole. I like chicken mole, so maybe next time.

There is entertainment going on at multiple locations during the Festival of Holidays. In addition to Paradise Park, there's also groups performing at Paradise Gardens, Pacific Wharf, and Sonoma Terrace. The latter was a surprise to me, but we heard part of a performance by Raise, an R&B a cappella group, and they were very good.

There's several entertainment offerings that we did not get a chance to experience - like Princess Elena's Musical Grand Arrival. There's also the Stilt Circus, and the Holiday Toy Drummers. The latter sounded like they might be a lot of fun to watch.

There's also some craft tables - the one we stopped by had Diwali paper lanterns that you could make. Diwali is the Eastern Festival of Lights.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

In the Festival areas there was really interesting music playing - it was modern and upbeat arrangements of songs for celebrations like Hanukkah. The loop was too short, though - we heard the same songs multiple times.

We found a cart that had some Festival of Holidays merchandise. Not much of a selection - there were t-shirts, including one specifically for Annual Passholders, and hats.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

I was disappointed in the designs. All of the food booths and parade route banners had the Mickey-head logo below, which I really liked! I would've bought something with that logo on it.

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

I'm sure the main idea behind the Festival of Holidays is to pull guests from Disneyland to Disney California Adventure - and especially to convince guests to buy a one day ticket to DCA rather than Disneyland. We were in Disneyland on Saturday and it was very busy. DCA was less busy, but to me it still felt busier than it would on a typical Saturday. The standby line for Soarin' was longer than I've seen it for a long time. While the marketplaces were not particularly busy (except those that specialized in alcohol), there still seemed to be a lot of people enjoying the other holiday offerings in the park.

We enjoyed the parts of Festival of Holidays that we experienced - I would like to see more of the entertainment. My only real complaint is the prices at the Festival Marketplaces - I think they are just too high.

2016 Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend, Part 2, Half Marathon and Post Race Party

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Sunday, November 6 - Half Marathon

Saturday night was the time change - and we got to "fall back" an hour. That was very nice, since it meant that we got to sleep for an extra hour on what was already a short night! But it didn't make it a whole lot easier to get up at 2:30. That's one of the other things I liked about the half marathon being at night - the three hour time difference between the east coast and west coast actually worked FOR us for the nighttime race.

The half marathon started at ESPN Wide World of Sports, which meant that we needed to take a bus to the start line. No cars are allowed to park there. If you want to drive your own car you can drive to Epcot and park, then take a bus to the start line from there.

The buses started running at 3:00, and we caught one at 3:15. It wasn't all the way full, and there were more buses waiting behind it at our resort. I had a friend who was at Pop Century who said the bus lines were longer there, and she had more of a wait than we did.

The area that used to be the race staging area is now the construction zone for the new arena so we were in a different place this year. I thought it was closer to the actual corrals, though.

There were the same four character photo locations that we'd seen for the 10K, and we didn't wait in any of the lines. We had an even larger Team AllEars reunion than we did for the 10K!

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

It seemed like there were plenty of porta-potties. One set near bag check, and one set closer to the corral entrances. Still, I thought the lines seemed longer than usual. There were less than 15,000 runners in the half marathon. This particular half still has the smallest field of any of the Disney World half marathons.

Lee, Stan, and I were all planning to run together, so we headed out to corral E. There were fireworks for the start of each corral. We started about 12 minutes after the official start of the race. We'd all run the 10K hard the day before so were planning to take it easy for the half marathon. (If you've never done back-to-back races before then I do not recommend running the first race hard. Yes, this would be a case of "Do as I say, not as I do." I have enough experience to know how my body will respond to doing that. And while I would run a 10K hard with a half the next day, I would not run a half hard with a marathon the next day!)

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

I mentioned previously that there was a new course for the race this year. The Studios portion was cut out completely - my theory is that it's due to a combination of construction and no Osborne Lights. The first part of the race was the same as in previous years - we headed out on Osceola Parkway to Animal Kingdom. Most of this route is nice and wide so there's lots of room. We didn't feel too crowded after the first half mile or so.

The temperature was a little cooler than the day before - 65 at the start - but it was still very humid. Over 90% at the start of the race. Still, since the temperature was under 70 it wasn't too bad. The Country Bears were near the mile 1 sign, but we didn't stop. At several places along the course there were huge video screens showing scenes from various Disney movies - one of those was on the overpass near mile 2.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

We arrived in Animal Kingdom when it was just about sunrise. The Tree of Life looked nice.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

We ran through a lot of Animal Kingdom - Harambe Village, Dino Land, and Asia. There was some beautiful light over Expedition Everest. I saw a few character stops: Baloo, Timon, Chip and Dale, but the lines were a little long.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Eventually we went backstage at Animal Kingdom. I had to take a photo of Stan and Lee by the mile 5 sign. :-) Only 8.1 miles to go until they could get a beer!

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

There was a short line for Meeko, so we stopped...but as we came to the head of the line he had to go for a biscuit break. It was only a couple of minutes, though. He was pretty cute when he came back.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

I tried to interest him in my shiny running watch but he was much more intrigued by my tiara! :-)

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

It was a fun stop - worth the extra few minutes.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

And then it was on to the the really boring miles. This part of the course was the reverse of part of the marathon course from Animal Kingdom back to World Drive. Several miles of trees, recycling plant, and more trees. There was a Mike and Sulley character stop (long line) and a pair of Streetmosphere characters dressed as tacky tourists.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Somewhere after mile 8 there was another big screen that was showing a video of the Food and Wine Festival - including some of the food booths with cast members cheering us on. I haven't decided yet if that was encouraging or just cruel.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

By mile 9 we had turned onto World Drive and were headed for Epcot. This part of the course was quite familiar to us since it's the same as most of the other WDW half marathons.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

There were a couple of character stops - Darkwing Duck and Launchpad McQuack were at the turn onto World Drive, and later we saw Lilo and Stitch. The line for them wasn't too long, but they pulled both of them for a break just after we got in line. I was surprised - normally they stagger them so that one is always out. We didn't want to wait this time, so went on.

We found our cheer squad just past the mile 12 sign near the entrance to Epcot. So wonderful to see these smiling faces!

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow were backstage at Epcot, and there was no line.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Homes for our Troops was the charity for this race, and most of the volunteers were wearing those shirts.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

We saw Phineas and Ferb at the Future World bridge but didn't stop, though we did stop for a photo with Spaceship Earth in the background. This one was taken by one of Disney's PhotoPass photographers, who were the official race photographers again. They took some pretty good photos of us, and since we are annual passholders the downloads are free. That's a nice benefit.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Yay! The gospel choir was in their usual .2 miles to the finish location! It's always so wonderful to see them.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

And...we finished! 2:37:03. Not bad. Though it was still under 70 degrees it felt warmer because the sun was out. There was a slight breeze, though. Volunteers handed us wet Dr. Kool towels after we finished.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

We received our new challenge medals. The volunteers handing out the challenge medals (Hi, Michele!) had a lot to keep track of - in addition to the Lumiere's Challenge medal they were giving out Coast-to-Coast medals and Castle-to-Chateau medals! I saw a couple of people who had received the Castle-to-Chateau medals. (Which reminds me that I saw NO Castle-to-Chateau merchandise at the Expo.)

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

After exiting the finish area our first stop was the beverage trucks. The guys wanted beer and I wanted champagne! I was pleasantly surprised that the lines weren't long.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

We waited for the rest of our group to finish...while we did we ate some of the contents of our runDisney snack boxes. It was the usual selection - tortilla chips, cheese dip, Craisins, applesauce, Oreo cookie, and icky energy bar. At least the contents have improved somewhat over what was originally in these boxes when they first started distributing them. The applesauce and chips tasted good after the race.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

After everyone had finished we took our respective buses back to our resorts. The bus lines weren't too bad, and our timing was excellent and we walked right onto our bus.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

One thing I discovered about the Lumiere medal is that the flames on the candlesticks glow in the dark!

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

That night we went to the post-race party. It started at 10:00 and went until 1:00 a.m. We didn't arrive until about 11:00. As we walked into the park from the International Gateway we saw quite a few people already leaving. I was interested in how well attended it might be, since from among my sample set of 10 runners, Lee and I were the only ones who were going.

We used our ticket to get in, and then received a wristband, though no one ever checked it.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

We stopped for a selfie with the Eiffel Tower, since we'd seen the real thing about six weeks ago.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

There were a lot of character photo ops during the party, and those lines were huge. This one was Abu, Aladdin, and Jasmine.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

There were short/no lines at the food booths. We had just come from a delicious dinner at Flying Fish so we weren't very hungry, and just wandered around.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

A performance of American Music Machine was just starting in the America Gardens Theater and we stopped to see that. I felt badly for the performers since there were maybe 50 people in the audience. That seemed to me to be an odd choice of entertainment for the party - it's such a large venue.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

We walked by some more character stops - Tiana, Naveen, and Louis, Pinocchio and Geppetto, Snow White and Dopey, Mulan and Mushu. All with long lines. Frozen Ever After was open, but had a 60 minute standby line. No thanks. Donald Duck was out in Mexico, and the Mariachi Trio was also performing there.

There was a DJ on the stage at the Fountain of Nations. Playing lots of pop music that was broadcast all over Epcot. There were a few people dancing at the stage. The food booths were really not busy by this time, and the cast members were dancing and having a good time, too. That was fun to watch.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Soarin', Test Track, and Spaceship Earth were all open in Future World but we didn't check them out.

As I mentioned, we weren't really hungry, but we stopped at the Refreshment Outpost to get their Dole Whip with Coconut Rum Festival offering. Yummy.

The Alberta Bound group was also performing during the party, though we didn't see them. It was after midnight and the park was pretty quiet. It had been a very long day for us and we were tired so we headed out the International Gateway. I was surprised to see that there were still a few people entering the park at that time!

Final Thoughts

I still think that the Wine and Dine Half Marathon is the best value of any of the Disney races. It doesn't cost any more than the other half marathons but it includes the post-race party and the $15 gift card.

Still, I preferred the "old" Wine and Dine format with the half marathon at night and the party right afterwards. I don't think the race in the morning and the party that night worked very well. Attending the party just after finishing the race meant that we were hyped up and hungry and ready to party - but this time we were just tired. And so many runners didn't end up going to the party at all. Maybe if we hadn't had a big dinner I would have felt differently, and would have been able to enjoy the short lines a the booths. Certainly there were people there who were obviously having a very good time. And I have several other friends who attended and had a lot of fun. They are much younger than I am, though. :-)

I am hoping that this new half marathon course is only temporary, and that the Studios will be included again eventually.

I'd like to thank those of you I met over the weekend who took the time to come over and tell me that you enjoy my blogs - that means a lot to me!

Thanks for reading!

November 14, 2016

2016 Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend, Part 1, Expo and 10K

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

The Walt Disney World Wine and Dine Half Marathon is a race we have enjoyed participating in for several years. It was very different from other race weekends because it was a night race, starting at 10:00. It included a big finish line party at Epcot's Food and Wine Festival. All of the food booths and some attractions were open, and the party went until 4:00 a.m.

It also was quite different because the 5K and half marathon both took place on Saturday - the 5K in the morning and the half at night. There were only those two events for adults. The Kids Races were usually split between Friday and Saturday.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

The last couple of years the nighttime race aspect has brought weather challenges. 2014 was what we called "Splash and Dash", because it rained for the entire race and much of the after party. In 2015 was the "Quarter Marathon". The start was delayed an hour because of lightning in the area. Disney was rightly concerned for the safety of volunteers, spectators and runners and evacuated all of us to the shelter of buildings at the start line at ESPN Wide World of Sports. As a result of the delay the course was shortened, and we ran not quite 7 miles rather than 13.1. Everyone still received their medals, though!

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

This year when the race was announced runDisney added a new 10K race, and with that came a new 10K/half marathon challenge as well. It also meant that it turned into a more traditional runDisney race weekend, with all races held in the morning: 5K on Friday, 10K on Saturday and half marathon on Sunday. The after party at Epcot was still scheduled, but it was held Sunday night instead of Saturday night.

As you might imagine, the changes were met with some consternation in the runDisney community. I'll admit that I wasn't very happy about it. While I understand the weather being a problem in recent years, there was something very special about Wine and Dine being
a nighttime event. It was unique in that it was at night - and getting to go straight from the race to the party was a terrific way to finish the event. These changes made it just about like any
other runDisney race weekend. Runners who make more of a long weekend of the event were dismayed because if they wanted to experience the party they could no longer return home on Sunday afternoon.

Even before the changes were announced we'd already planned to run the race again this year, so this didn't really affect our plans. And with two pieces of Inaugural bling (the Wine and Dine 10K and Lumiere's Two Course Challenge), of course I had to be there. :-)

Of late, many of the runDisney half marathons have not been selling out quickly, but this one did. Just hours after registration opened all events were sold out. And then we had to wait months for additional information on the events - like what the race courses were going to be like, and how the after party would work.

Eventually we learned that the 10K course was going to be the same old boring 10K course that most of the other races use. Starting and ending at Epcot, with over half the race on roads outside the park. Whoopee.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

But the half marathon course was new. It still started at ESPN Wide World of Sports and ended at Epcot, but the Studios portion was completely eliminated. Instead of going to Animal Kingdom and back to the Studios, the half marathon course went to Animal Kingdom and then took back roads to World Drive near the Car Care Center. This is essentially a reversal of part of the marathon course. From there it went to Epcot - that last 4+ miles is the same course most of the other Walt Disney World half marathons take. I was not very excited about this course, either - I knew there was going to be lots of miles on boring roads. And instead of visiting three theme parks as we did before, it was only two.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

For admission to the party we were mailed an actual ticket, along with a letter telling us the ticket was required, and that our bibs would not get us into the party. We know some runners that didn't receive their tickets before they left home, though.

Race entry also includes a $15 gift card that can be used for food and beverage, or really anything else you can purchase with a Disney gift card. Our gift cards were sent to us via email - the bar code could be scanned and used that way.

Thursday, November 3 - Expo

We arrived at the Expo on Thursday afternoon around 4:00 - it had opened at 10:00 that morning. We were surprised to see the construction of a new arena at Wide World of Sports was well underway.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

The banners for the different races were out - those are always really nice photo ops.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

The Expo wasn't crowded, and we didn't wait long to pick up our packets.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

There was a meet and greet location with Lumiere, and the line was pretty short so we did that. We were running his challenge, after all!

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

There was a merchandise area in the packet pick-up building, and we checked that out. There still seemed to be quite a bit left.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Lots of shirts, and some nice artwork.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend
There was quite a bit of Lumiere's Challenge merchandise, though as Lee pointed out, most of it was for women and not men. There were a number of shirts as well as a jacket.
Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

I thought the 5K shirts were really cute - I was sorry that I wasn't running the 5K! (But getting up early three mornings in a row just wasn't appealing.)

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Shirt pick-up for the Challenge was in the Milk House - the rest was over in the Josten's Center. The shirt designs are really cute, but I don't understand why they still insist on giving us long-sleeve shirts for Wine and Dine, when it's still pretty warm at that time of year in Florida.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

And what is it with Disney and gray shirts? Way too many of those lately.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

The other issue we've noticed with the shirts is that the graphic on the front has become much larger and more elaborate over the years. But since it's a rubbery-iron on, that part of the shirt doesn't breathe at all. So it makes the shirts a lot warmer and they are not very comfortable to actually run in. I wish they'd go back to a simpler and smaller graphic.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

As usual the main expo was over in Josten's Center.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

There was even more official merchandise over there. I was able to get the mini medal pins that I wanted.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

They had all of the "I Did It" shirts, too, though we didn't buy any of them.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

But other than the I Did It shirt and the mini medal pin there was NO 10K merchandise - we were told that it wasn't until they put it out that someone finally realized that "Inaugural" was spelled incorrectly. So at the last minute they pulled it all. Wow. I'm not sure how they can go through as many approval levels as this stuff must have to go through without anyone noticing the mis-spelling. Disney needs to hire some proofreaders. I'd be happy to volunteer my services. Believe me, I know how to spell "Inaugural." :-)

The rest of the Expo seemed to be the typical merchandise and vendors. We weren't around for any of the presentations.

There was no printed event guide this time at all. And the on-line event guide was a weird interactive magazine format, so it wasn't anything that you could download easily for yourself! I really didn't like it. There was a one-page event guide available, which a volunteer found for us. I was surprised that wasn't included in our packet pickup. Another thing that wasn't included in our pickup was the sticker with our bib number on it to be used if we checked
a bag before the race. Instead, volunteers had to handwrite one for anyone who checked a bag.

Here's what I came back with from the Expo. I need another race shirt like I need a hole in the head, but I liked the purple Remy shirt and bought it - got lots of compliments on it, too!

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Friday, November 4 - Mickey's Holiday 5K

This 5K is held at Animal Kingdom, and has a holiday theme. We didn't run it but we have a number of friends who did. It always looks like a lot of fun, and I'm sorry we missed it this year. But as I mentioned earlier, the idea of yet another early morning convinced us otherwise.

The race medal is one of the new metal medals, rather than the rubber version that's been distributed in the past. Really cute.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Saturday, November 5 - Inaugural Wine and Dine 10K

Another 5:30 race start. Since the half marathon starts at ESPN Wide World of Sports and ends at Epcot I was hoping that the 10K might do that, too, but no. It was the same 10K course that's used for the Marathon and Princess weekend 10Ks. After the disaster that was the Star Wars Dark Side 10K in April, which went from Epcot to Wide World of Sports, I can perhaps understand their reluctance to simply reverse that route, but I still hoped for something
different. They could have done a variation of the "quarter marathon" course that we did last year, which would have let us experience the Studios.

Since the start was at Epcot we opted to drive our rental car rather than take the bus. We left about 3:45 and had pretty minimal traffic.

We were very happy to see that there were four character photo stations set up in the pre-race area. The lines were very long, though, so we hoped to get some photos after the race instead.

Before the race we met up with some former members of Team AllEars - it was great to see them again! Many of us have kept in touch via Facebook, but it's always nice to get together in person.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

One nice thing about the 10K race is that the start line is right next to the pre-race area and we didn't have a long walk to the start line like we do for the half marathon and marathon. I was in
corral A, but not very close to the front, so my photos aren't very good.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

It was great to see Rudy Novotny back as a race announcer. For some reason he's no longer doing the runDisney events in California, but he's still working the Florida events.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

I was hoping to get another personal best on this course, so I was running for time, and didn't take any photos. My friend Stan, who is faster than I am, ran with me. He did his best to keep me on track for a PR, but I just didn't quite have it in me. It was about 68 degrees and humid for the race, and that was a little too warm for me to do my best. I finished in 58:12, which is still a good time, but almost a minute slower than my best 10K time.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

This 10K course is BORING. The first three miles took us through the Epcot parking lot and out onto World Drive. We went backstage at Epcot and finally into Epcot's World Showcase at Norway at about mile 4. Then we ran counterclockwise all the way past France and out the International Gateway, and ran around Crescent Lake and past the Boardwalk, Yacht Club, and Beach Club resorts. We went back towards the International Gateway again but turned left and ran backtage behind the UK and Canada and out into Future World. We ran around Spaceship Earth and then out to the finish line.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

I hoped that runDisney would learn some character lessons from their counterparts in Paris, but no. There were just five character stops, plus one stop with stiltwalkers and another with a large
Sebastian puppet. The penguins from Mary Poppins were just past mile 1 (that seemed like a very odd choice) and Flik and Atta were around mile 2. Geppetto was at the Italy pavilion and Genie was at the Morocco pavilion. Chip and Dale were outside the ESPN Club on the Boardwalk.

But as I mentioned, there were characters in the pre-race area. And since we'd finished early, the lines weren't too bad. I was finally able to get my photo taken with Remy and Emile - which I hadn't been able to get at Disneyland Paris.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

We also saw Mickey and Minnie.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Goofy and Donald were dancing to the DJ's music ("Happy") when we went up to see them.

Wine and Dine half marathon weekend

Lumiere was also there, but since we'd gotten our photo with him at the Expo we didn't wait in line.

It was still dark when we'd finished with the characters. Even though it was relatively warm, we were sweaty and soaked and getting a little chilled just standing around, so we headed back to our resort.

Later I checked the results. There were 9,260 finishers, which is pretty good for a 10K with about 10,000 entries. I finished 7th in my division, and I was very happy about that.

Next up: The Wine and Dine Half Marathon

November 2, 2016

Disneyland Paris Dining


Since several of you have asked about a blog on dining at Disneyland it is.

Overall we were disappointed in the food at Disneyland Paris. Most of the restaurants offered the same theme park food that you would find here! There wasn't a lot of variety, and in fact ALL of the quick service places in the Studios were burger places.

One issue at Disneyland Paris was that a lot of restaurants (particularly quick service restaurants) were closed because it was the off-season. I don't know that the Mexican place in Frontierland or the pizza place in Fantasyland would have been any good, but at least they would have offered a little more variety - something other than burgers.

Of the restaurants that were open, the majority of them seemed to be expensive buffets, and that was a lot more food than we wanted. Table service restaurants didn't have much availability (plus the meals were 40 Euros and up).

Even kiosks offering a quick snack like popcorn were hard to find. Or hard to find one that was open.

Our first meal at Disneyland Paris was a late lunch at the Market House Deli on Main Street. It features sandwiches, salads, flatbread, and pastries. Cafeteria style - you grab a tray, go through the line and take what you want, order your beverage, and pay. I hadn't had a salad in days and really wanted a salad, so I got a three-cheese salad. Not exciting, but it was good, and what I wanted. (Sorry, no photo.) Lee ordered the Croque Monsieur - a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. Ahh...but not all toasted ham and cheese sandwiches are created equal! This was the best one we'd ever had. It had ham, cheese, and bechamel inside, and then the outside was covered in yummy crispy toasted cheese. It was SO good - the best thing we had at Disneyland Paris. We liked it so much we came back and had it two more times during our trip - once for lunch and once for an early dinner.

Disneyland Paris Croque Monsieur sandwich

That evening, by the time we started looking for a dinner spot we couldn't find anything that was open (that wasn't a buffet), so we went to Downtown Disney and went to Annette's Diner. At that point we kind of wanted a nice sincere burger and fries.

Disneyland Paris Annette's Diner

Lee had the Classic Cheeseburger. He said it was good, but not exceptional. 17 euros. He ordered a chocolate milkshake also. Tasted good, but there was not 10 euros worth of milkshake in that glass!

Disneyland Paris Annette's Diner Cheeseburger

I had the Fish Burger, which had pieces of nice crisp panko-crusted cod, and came with French fries and cole slaw. The fish was quite good. At 20 euros it was quite pricey - and that didn't include a beverage! Still, I enjoyed it.

Disneyland Paris Annette's Diner Fish Burger

For breakfasts...Our race package included continental breakfast (served in one of the hotel restaurants) every morning. Croissants, pastries, fruit, yogurt, deli meat and cheese, and cereal. It think there were hard-boiled eggs, also. It's a good thing that we had that, otherwise it would have been difficult to find something for breakfast. There was no quick-service dining at our hotel and there weren't many breakfast options available in Downtown Disney or the parks. The choice seemed to be full character breakfast or pastries from Starbucks - and it always had a long line.

There was an Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney, and we ate lunch there on our second day. It was quite close to the race expo and very popular - lots of Americans in there as well as people working the Expo. I didn't take any photos, but the menu was pretty much the same as at the U.S. restaurants. Just higher prices. :-)

That evening we had dinner at King Ludwig's Castle in Downtown Disney. I wasn't expecting much, but it turned out to be one of the better meals that we had. I don't remember now how much we spent, but it was cheaper than Annette's Diner the night before!

King Ludwig's Castle

The decor inside was interesting - certainly fit the theme.

Disneyland Paris King Ludwig's Castle

Disneyland Paris King Ludwig's Castle

Lee was happy because he could get a nice dark German beer. I had a glass of Riesling.

Disneyland Paris King Ludwig's Castle

We both ordered a two course meal. Both of us had the Caprese Salad as a starter. It was served in a very different way, but it tasted good. Strange to have small tomatoes rather than slices of tomato, though. And rather than pieces of basil it came with pesto.

Disneyland Paris King Ludwig's Castle

My entree was a Roasted Pork Shank served on a bed of sauerkraut. The pork was very good - tender and almost fell off the bone. The sauerkraut was fine - there was just an awful lot of it!

Disneyland Paris King Ludwig's Castle

Lee ordered the Spaetzle, which was a vegetarian dish, and had cheese in it. It was tasty, but VERY filling.

Disneyland Paris King Ludwig's Castle

For lunch the next day we went to Bistrot Chez Remy in the Walt Disney Studios park. We really wanted to try it and had made a reservation the day before.

Disneyland Paris Bistrot Chez Remy

The waiting area.

Bistrot Chez Remy

Bistrot Chez Remy

It's a large restaurant, with lots of interesting decor. Even though they weren't accepting walk-ups, there were a number of empty tables and it did not seem to be overly busy. Which made it a much more pleasant dining experience for us.

Disneyland Paris Bistrot Chez Remy

Disneyland Paris Bistrot Chez Remy

Disneyland Paris Bistrot Chez Remy

Disneyland Paris Bistrot Chez Remy

Disneyland Paris Bistrot Chez Remy

Disneyland Paris Bistrot Chez Remy

The menu offered two different set menus. With each you could order either a two or three course meal. Each menu had it own appetizer, with choices for entree and dessert. The Linguini (two course) and Gusteau (three course) menu was more gourmet (and more expensive) than theRemy (two course) and Emile (three course) menu. The Linguini and Remy options included starter and main course only, while the Gusteau and Emile options included starter, main course, dessert, and beverage. With Menu Gusteau there was an optional wine pairing for an additional 15 euros.

Disneyland Paris Bistrot Chez Remy

I went with the Emile menu option, for 40 euros. My starter was a mixed green salad with grated beetroot and chives, and a sesame and soy dressing. Which for some reason I didn't photograph.

Lee went all in and opted for Menu Gusteau with the wine pairing. That was 60 euros plus the additional 15 for the wine. His first course was duck foie gras with violet fig jam, toasted walnut bread, and salad. I didn't photograph that, either.

My entree was Roasted Cod, ratatouille, crushed potatoes and a beurre blanc sauce. The fish, sauce, and potatoes were very good. The ratatouille was ok.

Disneyland Paris Bistrot Chez Remy

Lee had the Fillet of Beef with Premium ratatouille, confit potatoes and mustard jus.

Disneyland Paris Bistrot Chez Remy

And this was the Premium ratatouille. Very nice to look at, but he also thought it was just ok.

Disneyland Paris Bistrot Chez Remy

For dessert I had the (big surprise here) Chocolate Mousse. It was very good.

Disneyland Paris Bistrot Chez Remy

Lee ordered the Apple Tart which he quite enjoyed. It came with a glass of Cuvee Disneyland Paris champagne.

Disneyland Paris Bistrot Chez Remy

It was expensive, but it was a very nice meal.

That night we looked for dining locations around Disneyland Paris, but a lot of places were closed. We finally ended up at The Cowboy Cookout in Frontierland. I was surprised this place was open, because it was at the back of Frontierland, and there was nothing else open back there except the train station. All the other attractions were closed as part of the big Thunder Mountain/Frontierland refurbishment.

Cowboy Cookout

This is a BBQ place - they had BBQ chicken, ribs, sausage, and burgers. It was quite large inside, though we ate outside, since it was a very pleasant evening. Not very many people in there.

I had the half BBQ chicken. I did the meal option for 13 euros, which came with choice of salad or potatoes, choice of brownie or yogurt for dessert, and choice of beverage. It was a lot of food. The chicken was very tasty, and the salad, even though it was pre-packaged, was nice and fresh.

Cowboy Cookout chicken

Lee had the Premium Angus Burger meal for 15 euros. The burger came with cheese, tomato, lettuce, and onion rings. There was choice of salad or potatoes, choice of fruit cup or ice cream bar for dessert, and choice of beverage. Lee said the burger was excellent - better than the one we'd had at Annette's the first night.

Cowboy Cookout burger

On Saturday morning we finished the 5K early enough that we had time to shower and still go make the continental breakfast at Sequoia Lodge - yogurt, fruit, pastries.

We met friends in Disneyland afterwards and stopped for a quick snack at the bakery on Main Street. They had some chocolate doughnuts that looked good, so I tried one of those. And it was pretty good.

Disneyland Paris Bakery doughnut

For lunch we went to the Deli again, where most of us enjoyed the Croque Monsieur. That was really a good ham and cheese sandwich! For later I picked up a Nutella muffin. It wasn't terrible sweet except for the Nutella filling. I liked it.

Disneyland Paris Chocolate Nutella muffin

With a half marathon the next morning we wanted to find something pasta-like for dinner that night, but there really weren't very many options. Colonel Hathi's Pizza Outpost in Adventureland was the only place we could find that had pasta.

Colonel Hathi's Pizza Outpost

Lee and I ordered the Rigatoni meal, which came with either marinara or bolognese, choice of salad or garlic bread, and choice of beverage for 12 euros. It was ok - not great, but not bad. I thought it was a reasonable-sized serving of pasta. I had the marinara. The sauce was fine but didn't have a lot of flavor.

Colonel Hathi's Outpost rigatoni

On Sunday by the time we finished the half marathon and showered it was too late for breakfast at the hotel. Though before we left the room I finished the rest of my Nutella muffin from the day before. We looked a the line at Starbuck's in Downtown Disney but it was too long. We went into the Studios and pretty quickly determined that the only options were the Restaurant des Stars buffet (expensive) or the Restaurant en Coulisse burger place just inside the entrance. We were pretty hungry by then so just went to the burger place.

I ordered the Fish Burger with choice of fries or salad, and beverage for 12 euros. It wasn't as good as the fish sandwich I'd had at Annette's Diner, but it was decent, and I was hungry.

Disneyland Paris Fish Burger

Lee ordered the Angus Cheeseburger. For 15 euros it came with choice of fries or salad, choice of fruit or ice cream bar, and beverage. It wasn't nearly as good as the burger he'd had at the BBQ place. But again, it was decent, and he was hungry.

Walt Disney Studios angus cheeseburger

We were back in Disneyland that evening (our final night in France) and had a couple of Croque Monsieur sandwiches at the Deli again. It was easily the best thing we had at the parks.

As I mentioned at the beginning, overall we weren't very impressed with the food offerings at Disneyland Paris. Some of that impression is due to the limited options we had with so many dining places being closed. But a lot of the places we did try were just ok. It was France, and we really expected the food to be a cut above what is available in the United States.

October 23, 2016

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris

The Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Weekend had the added benefit that it gave us the excuse to visit Disneyland Paris for the first time. (Now Shanghai is the only Disney park we haven't visited.)

There's two theme parks there: Disneyland Paris, and Walt Disney Studios. Plus Downtown Disney and the various resort hotels. As I mentioned in my race blogs, the resort is pretty compact and everything is within walking distance. Similar to Disneyland, but without a big city surrounding it. The park feels like it's off by itself.

I really hadn't done too much research on Disneyland Paris before our trip. I'd heard about some of the attractions but intentionally didn't want to know very much.

We visited in the off-season from Wednesday through Sunday. The parks were very quiet on Wednesday-Friday, and also on Sunday evening. Saturday was busy, but not awful. But because it was off-season there were a number of attractions that were undergoing refurbishment, and a number of restaurants that were closed.

Disneyland Paris

I was surprised that the Disneyland Hotel is on the park boundary - we walked under the hotel to reach the entrance turnstiles. Which means that some of the rooms look into the park. It's really a lovely hotel.

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris was preparing for their Halloween celebration (though it didn't officially start until October 1), and some of the decorations were up. We saw changes in the first few days of our visit - figures would pop up that we hadn't seen the day before.

Disneyland Paris

Really very festive - and I particularly enjoyed all of the different ghost figures. I wish they'd do those at Disneyland.

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris

One interesting thing about their Main Street - there's the street part, but then behind the buildings on both sides of the streets is a covered arcade. There are entrances to all of the shops and restaurants from the arcade side. Great way to get out of the weather, or to bypass crowds on Main Street.

Disneyland Paris

And the's just lovely. Even if it is pink. I think it's my new favorite Disney castle now.

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris

There's a dragon under the castle!!! I had heard about the dragon, and wanted to make sure that we saw that. She was a bit temperamental, but we saw her wake up and roar at us a few times.

Disneyland Paris

I really, really loved the Fantasyland at Disneyland Paris. It's huge and roomy and very nicely laid out, and there's lots of attractions - more than in any other area of the park. There's lots of little extra touches, too, like this water feature. I was disappointed that the Pinocchio attraction was down for refurbishment, and the castle walk-through was also closed, but otherwise we were able to do all of the Fantasyland attractions.

Walt Disney Studios Paris

There's a Toad Hall! But it's a fish and chips restaurant. We didn't get chance to try it.

Walt Disney Studios Paris

The Casey Jr. Circus Train is much different than the one at Disneyland - I was surprised at how fast it goes. It's more like a junior Big Thunder Mountain. Even though it goes around Storybook Land it's not really a good way to see that like it is at Disneyland in California - it goes too fast.

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris

This version of Storybook Land Canal Boats is called Le Pays des Contes de Fées. It's not narrated like the one in California.

Disneyland Paris

There are more scenes, and much different stories, than the one here. Like Peter and the Wolf, Night on Bald Mountain, The Sword in the Stone, Beauty and the Beast, and even the Wizard of Oz!

Disneyland Paris

Alice's Curious Labyrinth was fun.

Walt Disney Studios Paris

It really was a maze with dead ends and circular paths. Unfortunately the Queen of Hearts area was closed off, but at least we could go through the rest of it.

Walt Disney Studios Paris

I love carousels, and Le Carrousel de Lancelot was beautiful. One really surprising thing - the horses on the two outer circles of the carousel are HUGE! Definitely sized for adults and not kids. The horses on the two inner circles are smaller - more the size I'm used to seeing. They weren't as elaborately decorated as the larger ones.

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris

Lee dragged me onto "it's a small world". It actually wasn't too bad!

Disneyland Paris

There were some different figures than we have here, like the Loch Ness Monster and Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Disneyland Paris

The U.S. section was interesting - very western cowboys and indians, with Hollywood and the Statue of Liberty thrown in.

Disneyland Paris

We visited Fantasyland one night - the lighting on some of the attractions was very nice.

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris

As was the lighting on the castle.

Disneyland Paris

The very first land we visited after Main Street was Frontierland. It had been overrun by Pumpkin People. :-)

Disneyland Paris

Unfortunately much of Frontierland was closed because of a long, extensive refurbishment of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the area around it. I've been told that it's the best Thunder Mountain, so I was disappointed to miss it.

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris

The only attractions open in Frontierland were Phantom Manor and the train station. Phantom Manor was our first attraction at Disneyland Paris. That was the attraction I'd hear the most about - mostly that it was a little more grisly and scary than the mansions at the other Disney parks. Since it was placed in Frontierland the house was quite different than the others.

Disneyland Paris

And inside the decor reflected more of the Western theme, also. Especially when we reached the graveyard scene. Much more of a "Boot Hill" look. And lots of skeletons in rotting clothes. I was expecting it to be even worse, but it was definitely more intense than the ones I've seen in California, Orlando, and Tokyo. And I was surprised that there was no narration at all during the ride.

Disneyland Paris

Another surprise was the cast members. They seemed to have much more leeway to interact with the guests, and were shushing people who were talking in the Stretch Room, and telling them to put away their phones and cameras (the lighted screens were distracting).

In Adventureland we rode Pirates of the Caribbean. It was very nice to see the classic, non-politically correct version of Pirates where they were still chasing their brides. And it was refreshing to not see Jack Sparrow. It's the reverse of the one in California - Paris starts with the "live" pirates and finishes with the skeletal pirates.

Disneyland Paris

Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril was another attraction closed for refurbishment so we didn't get to experience that, either.

We wandered around Adventure Isle - it seemed as though there were lots of activities there to entertain the kids.

Walt Disney Studios Paris

And there were more Halloween pumpkins - though these are the only ones we saw outside of Frontierland and Main Street.

Disneyland Paris

Discoveryland is the Paris equivalent of Tomorrowland. It's the Jules Verne look that we had at Disneyland for a while, though it works much better in Paris. There were a lot of construction walls up in Discoveryland, and Star Tours was closed for refurbishment.

We rode Space Mountain. It's much different than the attractions at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom. More like Rock'n'Roller Coaster, with the launch and the inversions. It was a pretty good coaster but neither of us wanted to do it a second time. The corkscrews are hard on my neck, especially when it's dark and I can't anticipate them.

Disneyland Paris

Also visited Les Mysteres du Nautilus which is a walk-through of the submarine. I wanted to see the giant squid but that effect didn't seem to be working.

Disneyland Paris

Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast is a lot like the one at Disneyland - except that the Buzz animatronic is in French mode. :-) Lee got a higher score than I did, too - he almost never does that here!

Disneyland Paris

The afternoon parade is called Disney Magic on Parade. It certainly starts off with a lot of magic - the opening unit features the three fairies from Sleeping Beauty, the Fairy Godmother, Merlin, and the Blue Fairy! I was especially happy to see the Blue Fairy.

Disneyland Paris

I enjoyed the parade - there were lots of characters, and the floats themselves were really detailed and creative.

Disneyland Paris

One interesting thing about the floats is that most of them had a different story depicted on the back side than the front side! For example, this float had Frozen on the front and Tangled on the back.

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris

The final float had Tinker Bell tucked away in a little alcove on the back of the float. She was saucy and sassy and enjoying herself.

Disneyland Paris

The nighttime show is Disney Dreams. It's much more of a castle projection show than a fireworks show - the fireworks are more of an accent to what's happening on the castle.

Walt Disney Studios Paris

I liked the show. It actually had a little bit of a plot that strung together all of the various scenes from the different movies. The projections were very clear, and the castle is so large that they were easy to see. I especially enjoyed the Hunchback of Notre Dame segment. Though that's the only reference to that movie that I saw in our time at Disneyland Paris. Too bad.

Disneyland Paris

We think that normally there are fountains in the moat that accompany the show, but the moat was also undergoing refurbishment. At least it didn't prevent them from doing the rest of the show.

We really enjoyed our time at Disneyland Paris, and I'd like to go back some day. Here's a final look at the Disneyland Hotel as we left the park the last night of our trip.

Disneyland Paris

The Walt Disney Studios report is coming up next!

October 9, 2016

Halloween Time 2016 - Trick or Tea and This and That

Trick or Tea at Disneyland Hotel

A new Halloween Time event this year is Trick or Tea at the Disneyland Hotel. It's a seasonal version of the existing afternoon tea served at Steakhouse 55. It's available on Friday-Sunday from September 30-October 30. Service is from noon until 3:00 p.m.

I went on the first day - September 30. Steakhouse 55 is a very nice, quiet restaurant, and very appropriate for a relaxing afternoon tea.

Trick or Tea at Disneyland Hotel

Trick or Tea at Disneyland Hotel

I was a little surprised that there wasn't a specially decorated menu - the only difference in the menu was the addition of some seasonal teas. After I'd sat at my place for a while I finally took a closer look at the flowers on the table - and that made me chuckle. Very clever.

Trick or Tea at Disneyland Hotel

There are two different tea choices for adults: The Classic Tea Party, and The Premium Tea Party. Both include scones, tea sandwiches, dessert, and choice of tea. The premium party adds a glass of Fairy Tale Cuvee, salad, and truffles.

I chose the Premium Tea Party. Since it was a very warm day I opted for iced tea instead of hot tea. I selected one of the seasonal teas: Apple Pie Green Tea. It had a hint of cinnamon. It needed just a little bit of sugar to bring out the apple pie flavor. The salad was nice and fresh - it's served with green goddess dressing.

Trick or Tea at Disneyland Hotel

Once I'd finished the salad my server brought out the tiered platter with the scones, sandwiches, and desserts, and described them to me. It's so pretty!

Trick or Tea at Disneyland Hotel

I had a traditional currant scone as well as the new seasonal maple-pecan scone. The latter was especially good. Lots of chopped pecans inside, so you had better like pecans. I do, so that wasn't an issue.

Trick or Tea at Disneyland Hotel

There was a plate of lemon curd, marmalade, and Devonshire cream to go with the scones. Way more than I needed, especially since I don't care for marmalade or lemon curd.

Trick or Tea at Disneyland Hotel

There were no seasonal selections in the tea sandwiches. Egg salad, cucumber and watercress, smoked salmon, and caprese. The bread on the caprese sandwich was toasted, which seemed a little strange. They were all very tasty.

Trick or Tea at Disneyland Hotel

The highlight of the dessert plate was the Jack Skellington chocolate-dipped strawberry. The mini pumpkin bundt cake was excellent, especially with a little Devonshire cream on it. There are a number of different macarons available, and it's always luck of the draw as to which two you receive. The strawberry pistachio was ok, but the other was a speculoos (cookie butter) macaron and that was really excellent.

Trick or Tea at Disneyland Hotel

The truffles are served in a little takeaway box. There were two of them, and I ate them the next day. They were good, but I've had better.

Trick or Tea at Disneyland Hotel

The Premium Tea was $65, and I received a 15% Annual Passholder discount. The Classic Tea is $50.

I was a little disappointed in my server - when I was here the first time back in January the server asked me at the end if there was any tea that I wanted to take away in a ToGo cup. This time, though I heard her offer that to the table next to me, she did not offer it to me, and in fact I had to ask her for a cup so that I could take the rest of my Apple Pie tea.

The tea was very nice, though of the various Disney teas I've had, the Grand Floridian at Walt Disney World is still my favorite.

During Halloween Time there are always things going on at the Disneyland Resort. I attended a Media Day recently and spoke to several different people about some of the events.

Halloween Time and what's new in Haunted Mansion Holiday:

One of the things Brian is responsible for is the large pumpkins on Main Street and over the entrance turnstiles.

Disneyland Entrance pumpkins

During Halloween Time Jack and Sally are available for Meet and Greets near the Haunted Mansion.

Jack and Sally at Disneyland

The traditional Tower of Terror is in its final days - it will close on January 2, and will be re-imagined into an attraction based on Guardians of the Galaxy. Mission:Breakout will open in the summer of 2017. In the meantime something called Late Checkout is going on - every night after twilight the lights and sound are turned off in the Tower of Terror, and riders experience it in complete darkness, not even with any of the usual audio cues to warn them of what is coming next.

Through October 31, the Silver Lake Sisters are performing at various times during the day in the lobby of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, for the entertainment of guests waiting in line. (I think it's unfortunate that they aren't performing some place that's more accessible, where guests can watch them for a longer time.) The Silver Lake Sisters are also known as Fiddler, Fifer, and Practical. You'll find their cafe on Buena Vista Street, where the walls are decorated with photos and other memorabilia of their career. I understand that people come for miles for their coffee. :-)

Silver Lake Sisters

Disneyland always comes up with different Halloween treats every year. Those interviews are always a lot of fun for me since I get the opportunity to do something - and I usually get to sample afterwards.

As Rob mentioned, one of the new treats this year is this Evil Queen Caramel Apple.

Disneyland Evil Queen Caramel Apple

I didn't get to take the apple that I actually made home with me, but I received one just like it. And it was good. Apple, chocolate, and caramel - yum. Though my favorite is still the apple dipped in caramel and chocolate and covered in English toffee.

Minnie Witch Caramel Applel

Lee and I had dinner at the Hungry Bear Restaurant Mostly because I wanted dessert there. :-)

I ordered the Crispy Chicken Sandwich. It comes with fries or zesty slaw, but they will substitute onion rings upon request. Yes, please. The chicken was battered and fried but not greasy, and there was a honey-mustard sauce on it along with lettuce and tomato. It was pretty tasty, and the onion rings were quite good.

Disneyland Hungry Bear Crispy Chicken Sandwich

Lee had the Classic Cheeseburger with French fries. Your basic hamburger, so nothing special about it.

Disneyland Hungry Bear Cheeseburger

But as I mentioned we really came here for dessert. The Churro Funnel Cake. This was a special last summer, but apparently it was so popular that it's been added to the permanent menu. Fried dough covered in lots of cinnamon sugar and topped with caramel sauce and whipped cream. No redeeming qualities about it whatsoever - but it's sooooo good! And a large serving - we couldn't finish it.

Disneyland Hungry Bear Churro Funnel Cake

After dark we could see the Halloween Tree lit up in Frontierland. The tree is inspired by the Ray Bradbury novel of the same name. Bradbury was a long-time Disney fan and the tree was dedicated to him on October 31, 2007. It's nice to see it every year.

Disneyland Halloween Tree

There you have it...a few of the other tricks and treats at Halloween Time this year.

October 7, 2016

Mickey's Halloween Party - 2016 Disneyland

Mickey's Halloween Party

One of the special events during Halloween Time each year is Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland. The parties take place on select evenings in September and October. Party goers must purchase a ticket to the event, and they usually sell out, sometimes several weeks in advance. Attending a party is the only way to see the Halloween Screams fireworks show, which I think is one of the best fireworks shows at Disneyland.

This year Disney added something new: Mickey's Frightfully Fun Parade. And to make it even more intriguing, for the first time the Headless Horseman appears at Disneyland, in advance of the parade.

Lee and I had not attended one of the Halloween parties in a number of years, but with these new offerings I wanted to check it out this year.

Mickey's Halloween Party

Still, there were a couple of not-so-positive changes this year. The party ticket price went up $10-$15. And the ticket no longer includes parking as it has in the past - that's an $18 value these days. Not a factor for us since we have Annual Passes with parking, but makes it more expensive for families who come just for the party.

Second, the costume guidelines were much more restrictive this year. As I read them, my interpretation was that if you were over the age of 13 - don't wear a costume. While we did see adults in costume, it seemed as though there were fewer than in the past, and that the costumes were much less elaborate. Though part of that could have been because it was a warm afternoon and evening. I'd say I saw more "bounding" than actual costumes. Unfortunate. We chose not to wear costumes.

Mickey's Halloween Party

Ticket prices run from $72-$99, with most parties at $89. The $72 price was available to AP holders for some of the weeknight parties. The parties on October 29 and 31 are $99.

Party guests are allowed to enter Disneyland three hours before the party starts. So for guests who don't have annual passes, it's potentially 8 hours of park time for less than the price of a regular one-day passport.

At the park entrance there are separate turnstiles dedicated to party guests. Upon entry we were given our party wristbands. We had e-tickets, and after those were scanned we were given regular one day park tickets, which allowed us to use the Fastpass machines during regular park hours, and would also have allowed us to exit and re-enter Disneyland (handstamp also required).

If you're already in the park, there are some locations within the park you can visit to get your wristband. These locations will also sell same-day party tickets if any are still available.

Just inside the entrance was a location to pick up our trick-or-treat bags. We noticed lots of people had brought their own much larger bags. Later we learned why: we didn't even do that much trick-or-treating and our bags were almost full - for those who visited a lot of the Treat Stations they would've needed those larger bags!

Mickey's Halloween Party

At the entrance, and at other locations around the park, were Mickey's Halloween Party park maps. The maps had the times of the events and showed the locations of Treat Trails, character greetings, dance parties, open restaurants, etc.

Mickey's Halloween Party

We arrived a little before 5:00. The party we attended was sold out, and already there were lots of party attendees in the parks as well as lots of day guests. A lot of the party decoration pieces were up or going up.

Mickey's Halloween Party

But the preparations for the party meant that some of the restaurants were already shut down, since they were sites for party events. Rancho del Zocalo, Village Haus, and Harbour Galley all shut down early.

Mickey's Halloween Party

There was early trick-or-treating going on in Toon Town, from 6:00 to 8:00. Treat stations plus some Disney characters. We never made it back there during the party, though.

Mickey's Halloween Party

There were some more extensive decorations in Frontierland at Pirate Wharf, which was one of the character locations.

Mickey's Halloween Party

About 6:30 we started hearing park-wide announcements that the park was closing at 7:00 to regular day guests, who were to start making their way out of Disneyland. And at 7:00 the announcement that they really needed to leave. :-) We started seeing security and other cast members going around and checking wristbands, and that continued for a while.

Mickey's Halloween Party

There are a few blow-up ghost and pumpkin figures, but most of the party "decorations" are in the form of projections on buildings or walkways. So the darker it gets, the more festive it seems.

Mickey's Halloween Party

By far the most impressive projections are those on Main Street, "it's a small world" and Sleeping Beauty Castle, which make excellent use of the projectors installed in those areas for the Disneyland Forever fireworks show.

Mickey's Halloween Party

Each location has custom projections that have been choreographed to the Halloween-themed music that plays throughout the park. The music has always been one of my favorite things about the Halloween Party. It's a lot of fun to listen to "Monster Mash", "Skeleton Dance", "Bump in the Night", "Grim Grinning Ghosts", etc., and I thought the projections that went with them were clever and entertaining to watch. Really enhanced the party experience for us.

Mickey's Halloween Party

There are lots of different activities going on during the party. Of course one of the most popular is the Trick or Treating. Most areas have been arranged into trails featuring multiple treat stations rather than individual standalone locations. The lines could be long to get into the trails, but they moved fairly quickly.

Mickey's Halloween Party

There were lots of different kinds of candy, including candy bars, M&Ms, Starburst, Laffy Taffy, and SweeTarts. Many of the treat stations offered an unsweetened (though still not necessarily healthy) option such as bags of white cheddar popcorn, whole-grain Cheezit crackers, Goldfish crackers, or fruit chips. We even received small bags of carrots at one location. We had to ask for the "healthy" alternative, otherwise we got candy instead.

Mickey's Halloween Party

Mickey's Halloween Party

We visited four of the nine treat trails, yet our bags were still pretty full (admittedly the bagged treats take up a lot more room).

Mickey's Halloween Party

I think this was new this year - three sessions of Jedi Training Academy - Trials of the Temple were offered during the party. We didn't see any of them, but I'm sure they were well-attended - I saw many kids dressed in Star Wars attire. Rey and Princess Leia seemed especially popular this year. Advance signup for the Academy was available in Tomorrowland starting at 5:00.

There were character greeting spots ALL over Disneyland - ten of them. Some locations had multiple characters. We didn't visit any of them, so I can't say how long the lines were. In the final hour of the party the lines for the two villain characters in front of the train station weren't too bad, but the line for Mickey and Minnie in Town Square was still long.

Mickey's Halloween Party

And there were a couple of wisecracking scarecrows "hanging around" in Frontierland. I remembered seeing them at parties we attended in the past.

Mickey's Halloween Party

We ate before the party started. As I mentioned, several of the counter service locations shut down early, but there were still a lot of dining opportunities available. There were special Halloween offerings at most locations, though nothing that was exclusive to the party itself. This year Blue Bayou and Carnation Cafe were open for dinner during the party - or at least during the early hours of the party. Blue Bayou offered a special dining package that included access to a viewing area for the parade and fireworks.

There was some special party merchandise available at locations throughout the park.

Mickey's Halloween Party

Mickey's Halloween Party

Mickey's Halloween Party

The Cadaver Dans performed several times that evening from a raft on the Rivers of America. Unfortunately our timing was off, and we just missed both of their last two shows. The Rivers of America area had some spooky lighting and fog that looked good.

Mickey's Halloween Party

Most attractions were open, though Toon Town closed at 8:00. Lines for Haunted Mansion Holiday and Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy were long all evening. We went on several other attractions after the fireworks show and had only short waits, though.

Of course the main reason that we decided to go to the Halloween Party this year was the new Frightfully Fun Parade, especially since it is preceded by the arrival of the Headless Horseman - the first time he has appeared at Disneyland.

We saw the first parade, which started at 8:30. (Second parade at 10:30.) I wanted to make sure we had a good spot, so we waited quite a long time. The parade runs from "small world" to Town Square for the first performance, and the opposite direction for the second performance.

The Horseman came out about 10 minutes before the parade. Shortly before he arrived there were some spooky sound effects and a voice telling us to: "Gather round, friends, and hear my tale. That started long ago, on the Sleepy Hollow Trail." Nice little rhyme. "With a glowing pumpkin to light the way, he's lurking to find his perfect prey. He's the bringer of Halloween fear. Beware, the Headless Horseman is here!"

Mickey's Halloween Party

Unlike his appearances at Magic Kingdom, he moved at a slow walk down the parade route. Which gave us much more time to look at him. When he reached the end of Main Street he stopped and his horse turned a full circle before going down Main Street. Very effective. It was really terrific to see him.


I was happy to see Disneyland finally get a real Halloween parade. There's still not very much to it - only three floats - but there's more going on in between the floats now - we finally got gravediggers with shovels, too! Though I was surprised that Mickey, Minnie, and the gang are not part of the parade at all - it's much more focused on the villains and the spookier characters.

Here's the full parade, including the Headless Horseman.

The opening unit.

Mickey's Halloween Party

The Mayor.

Mickey's Halloween Party

The parade is hosted by Jack and Sally who are on the first float.

Mickey's Halloween Party

I think my favorite was the Haunted Mansion unit. Ghostly ballroom dancers preceded a float of the Haunted Mansion with the hitchhiking ghosts standing in front.

Mickey's Halloween Party

And following that the aforementioned gravediggers. Love the sparks from their shovels!

Mickey's Halloween Party

The next float included Dr. Facilier and his friends from the other side.

Mickey's Halloween Party

The final parade unit featured a veritable pantheon of Disney villains, from the Queen of Hearts, Governor Ratcliffe, and Captain Hook, to the Tremaines, Hades, Evil Queen, Jafar, Frollo, and Cruella deVil.

Mickey's Halloween Party

I enjoyed the music, as well - "It's Halloween", "This is Halloween", "Friends From the Other Side", and "Night on Bald Mountain".

The parade is still pretty short - only about 10 minutes long.

At 9:30, the Halloween Screams fireworks show starts. I really like this show, but as I mentioned earlier the only way you can see it now is to attend one of the Halloween parties. It features Jack Skellington as the "Master of Scare-emonies" - his face is projected on a big pumpkin head that appears on the left side of Sleeping Beauty Castle. One of the other really cool things about this show is that Zero flies around the castle! He makes a couple of circuits early in the show, then returns again later.

Mickey's Halloween Party

There's fireworks, music, projections, flames - everything you could want in a Halloween-themed fireworks show.

I had fun at the party this year and I enjoyed seeing the new additions. At a price of $89 I'm not sure this is something I'd want to do EVERY an Annual Passholder I don't get the value out of the 8 hours of park time that non-passholders do. But there are certainly plenty of things to do at the party, there were a number of activities that we didn't get to do, since we were concentrating on the parade and fireworks.

Mickey's Halloween Party

October 3, 2016

Disneyland Paris Inaugural Half Marathon Weekend - Part 3, Half Marathon

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

Somewhere along the way the race was renamed the Inaugural Disneyland® Paris – Val d’Europe Half Marathon. Or Semi Marathon, as they say in France. Val d'Europe is the area that surrounds Disneyland Paris, and we would be running through it for over half of the race.

It was a fantastic event. Maybe the most I've ever enjoyed an Inaugural runDisney event (Disneyland's Inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon is way up there, too.) The race organizers, the cast members, the community, the volunteers all came together to give us a marvelous experience. Thank you to all of you!

Going into the race we really weren't sure what to expect in terms of on-course support, water stops, and nutrition. And given recent events in France, security was a concern as well.

I'm very happy to report that none of that was an issue. While perhaps there wasn't quite as much entertainment or cheering crowds, those that were there were enthusiastic and very supportive. And there were plenty of well-stocked and staffed water and nutrition stops. As for security - it was very different seeing pairs of armed guards all over the course, but I felt safe.

The race course was terrific. We had even more park time in the Studios than we did for the 5K, and about the same in Disneyland. The first 5K was basically parks, and then we had 1K backstage before going out onto the roads in Val d'Europe.

It was a beautiful area, and I very much enjoyed the views as we ran through the countryside. We saw parks:

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon


Disneyland Paris Half Marathon


Disneyland Paris Half Marathon


Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

And even corn fields.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

We were never that far from Disney and could often catch a glimpse of Space Mountain or the castle in the distance and even hear some music.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

It was very nice that for most of the last 5K we were back on Disney property, where we ran through several of the Disney resorts. Hotel Santa Fe:

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

Hotel Cheyenne:

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

Newport Bay Club:

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

We finished by running through Downtown Disney, then ducking backstage around the Studios for the final kilometer to the finish line.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

The weather was perfect. There was rain in the forecast but thankfully it held off until the afternoon, and for the race we had clear skies and temperatures of about 55-60. There was a light wind at times. It was very comfortable for running.

I was very pleased to see that the race organizers had learned some lessons from the 5K and made some changes to address a few issues. There were screens and speakers in the corrals that morning, so we had a much better idea of what was happening up front.

At the character stops, the handlers let runners in line know when a character would soon be going for a break, and when they would be coming back. And they let us know if a different character was coming out to replace them. That was much appreciated.

They pulled the PhotoPass photographers from the castle ramp, which really eased congestion when we went through it - we barely slowed down.

The Disney characters were still at the finish line, but they were more away from the line - it wasn't the bottleneck that it was the day before.

Once again, the race organizers did a great job of giving us character photo opportunities along the course. And very different characters than we had saw during the 5K. The number of character stops was about the same as for the 5K, but there might have been even more characters - some of the stops had four or five different characters associated with them! Some of the groups:

Mad Hatter, March Hare, White Rabbit, Cheshire Cat(!)

Dug, Carl, Russell/Baloo, King Louie

Remy/Marie, Toulouse, Berlioz (Aristocats)

Aladdin, Abu, Genie, Sultan

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

Cinderella, Prince Charming, Belle, Prince Beast (by far the longest line I saw so we didn't stop)

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

We also saw Chip and Dale, the Incredibles, Spider-Man, Darth Vader, and the Sheriff of Nottingham. I think Remy and Spider-Man/Captain America were the only repeats from the 5K. That's quite a lineup.

Race Day

We got a slightly earlier start - had our race breakfast at the hotel and were on our way to the corrals by 6:10. I was concerned that it might take longer to get through the security check, but it was again very efficient.

We learned from the way the 5K started to try to get further forward in the corral. We were in Corral B for this one, so that helped a lot. There were over 10,000 runners registered for the race, so it was about twice the size of the 5K. There were four start corrals instead of three.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

As I mentioned before, we had video monitors and a PA system for the half, so we were able to hear the announcements when they told us they would start us in waves - I think they said 32 waves.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

It was another cool morning - about 55 degrees - but there was a light wind and it felt a little colder. I'd remember to wear my gloves this time! With arm sleeves, trash bag, and gloves I was comfortable while we waited.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

The race started 10 minutes late - no explanation as to why.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

We were near the front of corral B and started about 10 minutes after the official start of the race. We were at the front of a wave, and that was nice.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

This time we went into the Studios first and to the Lights, Motors, Action stage at the back of the park.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

There weren't lines at the kilometer signs as there were the day before. 21 of them for this race.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

We ran through the Studio 1 building that's just inside the Studios' entrance. It was strange to be running inside.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

Since we were closer to the front of the race the character lines were much shorter, so we were able to make a number of stops. But one not-so-good change between the 5K and the half: CMs were apparently instructed not to take photos with guest cameras. So we all had to get someone else to take our photo if we wanted one with our own camera. Everyone was willing to do it, it was just awkward to pass the phones back and forth.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

The CMs were still out in force and enthusiastically cheering for us, though!

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

We went the opposite direction through Toy Story Playland this time and into the Ratatouille area. I was hoping that Remy would be out again, but I didn't see any character stops. Unfortunately I missed it - it was behind the line of cheering cast members nearer the Fastpass distribution area. I found out later that in addition to Remy that stop alternated with Marie and some of the other kittens from The Aristocats! I was really disappointed that I missed that.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

We'd run a little less than 3K when we entered Disneyland and ran down Main Street.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

In Discoveryland there was a line for Vader and the Storm Troopers. It was the longest line we waited in - about 8 minutes. While we waited for that I took this photo of Lee. The Vader photo was only taken by the PhotoPass photographer and I REALLY hope it comes out - it should be a good one.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

In Fantasyland we had our first experience with the CMs telling us that characters would be leaving. The March Hare and White Rabbit were out, but the CM told us they would be leaving in four minutes. The line was short, so we knew we should have time. But when the Mad Hatter came out (less than four minutes later) they pulled the other two, so we missed getting them - but at least we had a photo with the Mad Hatter.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

The Sheriff of Nottingham was out on Adventure Isle (some people saw Robin Hood, also). That was a new one for me, I think.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

When we were in the parks the kilometer markers were themed to the area of the park that we were in. (No race clocks on any of the kilometer markers like we're used to seeing here.)

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

After we left Disneyland we ran backstage for a while - this backstage road had traffic circles on it, and there was a gargoyle statue in each one! Surprisingly this was the only Hunchback character that we saw during the races.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

At the 6K mark we left Disney property for the surrounding commune of Val d'Europe. About 3.7 miles on Disney property to start the race, most of it in interesting on-stage areas - very nice.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

We ran around a number of traffic circles that day.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

At one point we ran about half a lap around a high school track. That was nice and cushy. Felt good.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

There were two nutrition stations - one at about 7.5K and one at 15K. Different than what we're used to - they offered cereal bars and apple slices. We split one of the packets of apple slices and they were quite good. There didn't seem to be too many takers for the cereal bars, though.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

There were a number of teams of runners who were pushing a disabled person in an interesting one-wheeled sedan chair. One person in front rickshaw-style and one in back pushing. They swapped out fairly frequently. Despite the chair they were moving pretty fast - most of them passed us.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

There were a number of bands along the course - most of them seemed to be high school bands.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

And this was a very unusual group. The long tubes are didgeridoos. Their name was Pranavibes.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

11K - over half way! When we weren't in the parks the signs were themed to different Disney movies.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

One part of the course I didn't like so much - for about 5K we were on an out-and-back, which meant that we saw people on the other side going on the opposite direction. Not so bad when we were the ones further along, but a little disheartening when we were still going out and watching those on the other side of the road who were almost 5K ahead of us!

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

About kilometer 12 we ran through a village. There were quite a few people out to watch us, including a very enthusiastic cheerleading squad.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon
The volunteers were outstanding!
Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

At about 13K we ran around a small lake. We started on a gravel path, which then turned into a packed dirt/gravel track. I heard a number of complaints from runners around me in this section, but I enjoyed the change in surface.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

At kilometer 17 we were back in Disney property. I liked the way the markers at Hotel Santa Fe and Hotel Cheyenne matched the theme of those resorts.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

Running along Lake Disney - a little over a mile left to go.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

The wind had played a little havoc with the 21K sign. CMs said that it was only 100 meters to the finish from there, but it felt longer than that to me.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon


Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

Again there were characters at the finish but runners weren't allowed to line up like they had the day before.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

Lee and I both got our Challenge medals from the smallest race volunteer I've seen - isn't she adorable?

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

The signage for the Castle to Chateau wasn't clear - I passed by it the first time, and had to backtrack a bit to get to the entrance. I was also quite surprised that no one was marking our wristbands to make sure no one received more than one - it seemed like it would be possible to do that.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

Really beautiful medals! And the one has that special word on it: Inaugural. :-)

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

It was still under 60 degrees and a little chilly - I was surprised that mylar sheets weren't being distributed. I'm not even sure they were available at the First Aid tent, since I didn't see anyone who had one.

This time our post-race snacks were a banana, cereal bar, peanuts, and a dried fruit/nut mix.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

There was still no entertainment in the Family Reunion area and the lines for photos at the photo backdrops were long.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

We were both getting a little chilled so we headed back to our hotel. We had to cross the race course twice to get there, but the runners had thinned out enough that it didn't take too long. I had a really good race and felt really good - but it's always very nice to be done.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

A few souvenirs from our trip to France!

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

This was a terrific race weekend. Totally exceeded all of my expectations. Congratulations to everyone involved, and a heartfelt thank you from me as well. I hope this race weekend will be around for a long time. While I'm not planning to run it again next year, I would certainly like to run it again in the future - maybe the 5th anniversary?

October 1, 2016

Disneyland Paris Inaugural Half Marathon Weekend - Part 2, 5K

Disneyland Paris 5K

The 5K started at 7:00 on Saturday morning. A very civilized hour for those of us used to the typical 5:00 or 5:30 starts of most runDisney events! (Though the start time was NOT listed in the official program!) And since everything was so close, we didn't even have to get up that early - we set the alarm for 5:15.

Continental breakfast at the hotels was included as part of our race packages. On race mornings, there was also a limited race breakfast available starting at 5:00. I was very surprised that there were NO bread products at the race breakfast! We're in France, where there's a boulangerie on almost every corner, and there's no croissants or toast for race breakfast? There was yogurt, fruit, and cereal, as well as juice, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. That was ok for me, but Lee is used to having a bagel or toast or something like that before running.

We met our friends Julie and Mike at breakfast, and then walked over to the start area - left the hotel about 6:15. We again had to go through security, but most runners obviously weren't carrying anything and could just walk through. It took less than 10 minutes to walk to the Events Center. The pre-race area was right next to it.

It looked like it was going to be a great day for running, with a forecast of mostly clear skies and temperature around 54-56. That's perfect in my book. A little chilly for waiting in the corrals, but I'd brought one of my trusty trash bags from home, and I had arm sleeves. I'd also brought gloves but I forgot to wear them that morning - they would have been nice to have. I wore my Belle running costume for the 5K.

Bag check was in the Events Center - the same location as packet pickup, merchandise, etc. That was different, though it was nice that everything was in the same place, and it certainly made sense to do it there. We didn't check any bags, but had to go through the Events Center to access the Runner's Only area. There were lots of people checking for bibs in a couple of places to make sure that only registered runners were allowed to enter.

The event map showed "Photos" in the pre-race area, and I was hoping for Disney characters as they have started to do here. But no, just a couple of backdrops with pretty long lines.

Disneyland Paris 5K

And there were NO PhotoPass photographers - none roaming around taking photos, and, even more surprisingly, none at the photo backdrops! That was one reason the lines were moving so slowly - we all had to hand our cameras to someone else for photos. I was starting to wonder what the use was of purchasing the PhotoPass card if there weren't going to be any photographers!

We eventually got to the front of the line at one of the backdrops and had a few photos taken.

Disneyland Paris 5K

And then we went to the corrals - which were a very short distance away. Corral assignment for the 5K appeared to be completely random. Mike, Julie and I were all in B, but for whatever reason Lee was assigned to C (even though he and I had booked together!), so we all had to go back to C to run together. That was a bummer, as it turned out. We ended up near the back of Corral C.

Disneyland Paris 5K

There were 5,000-6,000 participants in the 5K - and most of them were ahead of us. We could barely see the start line, and there were no speakers or monitors anywhere around us so we had no idea what was going on.

Disneyland Paris 5K

There was a small burst of fireworks a few minutes before 7:00, and then after that we started seeing occasional puffs of "smoke" over the start line.

Disneyland Paris 5K

It appeared that the race started on time but we didn't start moving for another 10 minutes, I think. And once we did start moving we'd move a bit, then stop, then move some more. The reason became obvious as we approached the start line: within the corrals, they were grouping people together and starting them in waves about a minute apart. Interesting strategy, and it did seem to work to spread us out a bit more early in the race. But it was confusing since we couldn't hear anything and had no idea what was going on until we got pretty close to the start line.

Disneyland Paris 5K

There were a couple of race announcers, but we couldn't hear them until we were close to the starting line. They were mixing it up between English and French. Really made me miss Rudy Novotny and Carissa Bealert, though.

Disneyland Paris 5K

We started about 20 minutes after the race officially began. We were on the wide walkway between Downtown Disney and Disneyland, so crowding wasn't much of an issue and we had room to maneuver around slower walkers and runners.

Disneyland Paris 5K

We were very quickly on Main Street in Disneyland.

Disneyland Paris 5K

There's that lovely castle...but no PhotoPass photographers!

Disneyland Paris 5K

We reached the first of what were to be the most character stops I've seen in any Disney race as we made the turn from the hub towards Discoveryland. Cruella deVil and Jafar. Unfortunately, because of our start in Corral C, the lines were very long, so we didn't stop at most of the official photo stops - we had to make our own fun photos instead.

This is one of my favorites. Mike, Julie, and Lee got in the car and the CMs who were cheering there saw what they were doing and rushed over to photobomb them! It was great! There were a lot of cast members out cheering throughout the race, and they all looked like they were having a wonderful time doing it.

Disneyland Paris 5K

We passed the 1K marker in Discoveryland. A few runners around us thought we had already gone a mile. Nope, sorry, different system of measurement here! :-) There were even lines to take photos of the kilometer markers, so we didn't stop.

The course went through all of the various lands - Main Street, Discoveryland, Fantasyland, Adventureland and Frontierland before exiting Disneyland and taking us into the Studios.

There were lots of character stops - most of them had more than one character. And several of them were characters not often seen. For example, in Fantasyland there were two pairs of more unusual characters - Eeyore and Rabbit, and Thumper and his girlfriend. We counted 11 character stops. Very impressive.

Disneyland Paris 5K

Between Discoveryland and Fantasyland we turned and ran into a backstage area which was lit by some interesting lights - they changed color.

Disneyland Paris 5K

In Fantasyland we stopped for a photo outside Alice's Curious Labyrinth.

Disneyland Paris 5K

One of the two water stations was located in Adventureland just past Pirates and Adventure Isle. They were clearly marked.

Disneyland Paris 5K

We actually went into Fantasyland twice - once from the backstage area and once from Adventureland. The course designers did a great job of maximizing park time for this race. The second time we saw Mary Poppins and Bert at the Carousel. That's probably the one photo op that I regret not stopping for.

Disneyland Paris 5K

After that it was time to run through the castle. There were PhotoPass photographers on the Main Street side, so people were slowing down as we went through to mug for the cameras, though we didn't come to a screeching halt like we do in some Disney races.

Disneyland Paris 5K

We stopped in Frontierland to take photos with some of the "pumpkin people" (there were lots of Halloween figures out on Main Street and Frontierland for their Halloween celebration), and the people in front of us were the young woman and her father that we had talked to when in line for the Expo! It was so much fun to see them - and they were having a wonderful time.

Disneyland Paris 5K

We were disappointed that Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is shut down for a lengthy refurbishment - but it's still a very pretty backdrop.

Disneyland Paris 5K

After Frontierland we left Disneyland and went backstage to get into the Studios. In that area we were passed by a scooter with a cameraman on the back - we'd seen a couple of these. I felt like I was in the Tour de France. :-)

Disneyland Paris 5K

We didn't go through quite as much of the Studios park, though we passed most of the major areas and attractions. It's a much smaller park than Disneyland. It might even be Disney's smallest theme park - or that's how it feels to me. We passed the 3K sign just before we entered, so we didn't have too much of the race still remaining.

There weren't as many character stops in the Studios but there were a few very interesting ones. Near Crush's coaster was a character I haven't seen in a VERY long time - Roger Rabbit! And I think the longest line I saw was outside Bistrot Chez Remy - for Remy, Linguini, and Emile! Wow. Very cool to see all three of them.

Disneyland Paris 5K

A bit of a loop - the runners behind Lee, Mike, and Julie who are exiting Playland were ahead of us.

Disneyland Paris 5K

The course took us back into the Hollywood portion of the park and past the Tower of Terror and Rock'n'Roller Coaster. The final character stop was Marvel characters. We saw Spider-Man - others saw Captain America. The line wasn't too long (by far the shortest one we'd seen) and we stopped for it. Unfortunately only the PhotoPass photographer took the picture, and it's not available yet.

The last kilometer of the race was in backstage areas between the Studios and Downtown Disney. We finally found a kilometer sign that didn't have a line. Yay. :-)

Disneyland Paris 5K

The sun was just starting to come over the trees, and it was in our eyes. Lee was inspired to do his best zombie walk. I don't know why.

Disneyland Paris 5K

We reached the Arrivee line. This race wasn't officially timed, but by my Garmin it took us about 53 minutes. Even though we didn't stand in character lines we still stopped a lot for photos. We had a great time running with Mike and Julie.

Disneyland Paris 5K

One very odd thing...there were characters just AFTER the finish line - and they were letting runners pose for selfies with them! It clogged up the finish area. There were Goofy, Minnie, Mickey and Pluto. It was nice to see them, but it became a bottleneck.

Disneyland Paris 5K

5K complete!

Disneyland Paris 5K

I think the medallion is really cute! This is the last of the rubber ones - they will all be made of metal from now on.

Disneyland Paris 5K

In addition to bottles of water and PowerAde, volunteers were handing out bottles of a lactose-free chocolate or vanilla milk called Sporteus. It was pretty good, and hit the spot after running.

Disneyland Paris 5K runDisney snack boxes at this race! Yay! Instead we received an apple and an actual bag that had peanuts and a cereal bar inside. It was very nice to have the bag to carry the beverage bottles in - juggling all of that is always difficult.

Disneyland Paris 5K

There was no entertainment in the Family Reunion area at all - that seemed strange. There really wasn't anything to do once we finished the race unless we wanted to try to get photos with the backdrops. The lines were even longer than they had been in the morning and there was still no PhotoPass photographer. The generic half marathon weekend backdrop was available, though. I should mention that there were PhotoPass photographers in the finish area to take our official finisher photos.

Disneyland Paris 5K

We were finished and on our way back to the hotel by 8:30. Continental breakfast was still available there - we even had time to shower first. :-)

When we headed to Disneyland after breakfast we could see the Kids Races going on across the lake. It sounded like everyone was having a lot of fun.

Disneyland Paris 5K

Final Thoughts

I must say that I was very impressed - it was an excellent 5K. Easily the best runDisney 5K I have run. The course was terrific - most of it on-stage, and we had lots of time in the parks. I did not experience any real crowded and congested conditions. A little slowing when we went through the castle, but that was the only place that I had to drop to a walk, and not for very long.

And the characters! Disneyland Paris got it RIGHT. I was amazed at how many character stops there were. I hope that Disneyland and Walt Disney World were paying attention.

I didn't call them all out in the blog, but here's the ones that I saw:
Thumper/Miss Bunny
Captain Hook/Mr. Smee
Mary Poppins/Bert/Penguin
Roger Rabbit
Remy, Linguini, Emile

From other runners I know that sometimes the entire Pooh gang, including Pooh, Piglet and Tigger, were out together, and Captain America alternated with Spider-Man.

I was disappointed that we started so far back that the lines were too long, but that's just luck of the draw. And it was our choice not to wait in some of the lines. The one complaint I heard about characters was that the handlers didn't close the lines when they knew a character would be leaving, so some people waited in long lines only to have the character pulled before their turn came.

Considering how much they pushed the purchase of the PhotoPass card, I was surprised that there were no PhotoPass opportunities in the start and finish areas. But there were a reasonable number of photographers along the race course, and at all of the character stops. There were a few other official photo stops in the parks, such as in the hub with the castle behind, at the entrance to Playland, and with some of the Tower of Terror Bellhops. But I'm disappointed at how long it is taking them to make the photos available to us - I'd hope to include some in this blog, but we are still waiting for them to be posted.

The pre-race experience was lacking. There were no video displays or speakers, so we had no idea what was going on. And especially when it turned out they were creating separate waves within the corrals, it would have been nice to know that.

Speaking of waves...I thought the wave idea worked very well in spreading us out a little bit more at the beginning. Especially for the 5K where corrals seemed to be randomly assigned and it was such a mix of runners, walkers, families with kids, etc.

The medallion is adorable...and I really liked the race shirt, also.

I was pleased with the refreshments. Chocolate milk is a very common post-race beverage at non-Disney races, and I was happy to see it here. I don't really need much after a 5K but the apple and cereal bar were nice to have - I ate them later. And giving us BAGS - hallelujah!!!

It was really a terrific race, and we had a lot of fun. I would definitely recommend this race, and I hope to do it again some time. Thanks, Disneyland Paris. Your debut race was a winner!

Next up: the Semi Marathon

September 30, 2016

Disneyland Paris Inaugural Half Marathon Weekend - Part 1

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Logo

For a number of years there had been rumors in the runDisney community that a half marathon race would be coming to Disneyland Paris. The official announcement was finally made at the Disney Princess half marathon in 2015, while we were waiting in the starting corrals. There were few details at that time other than the dates, September 23-25, 2016. There was also a web site, but all that was available there was an email signup for additional information when it became available.

Since it had that wonderful "I" word, "Inaugural", associated with it, I knew that I wanted to run it. Plus neither Lee nor I had ever been to Paris or Disneyland Paris. So it seemed like a great opportunity to do that.

Eventually there was a bit more information - there would be 5K and Kids races also, and there would be a Castle to Chateau Challenge medal for those of us who had completed a Disneyland/Disney World half marathon in the same year. Lots of excitement about that!

Later that summer we learned that initial registration would take the form of a package that included hotel nights, park tickets, and race registration. Those would go on sale in October. Bib only sales would not take place until early 2016. For many of us coming from the U.S. a package deal was somewhat attractive since we would want to combine the race with a trip to Disneyland Paris, but many European runners were not so keen on that idea. Some already had DLP annual passes and didn't need park tickets, or lived nearby and didn't need lodging, etc.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon
[Non-attributed photos courtesy of Disney]

There was also a lot of confusion about which travel agencies were "authorized" and had packages to sell. GET Travel was the only U.S. agency, though a number of U.S. agents partnered with U.K. agencies to provide packages. (The latter is the way that we went.) A number of people also called and booked with Disneyland Paris directly, though it was not initially obvious that you could do that. Different providers had different rules on how much you had to put down, and when you had to pay the balance. The one we used, Sports Tours International, didn't require as much down, plus we didn't have to make final payment until the end of June.

The packages offered a stay of 3-5 nights, though all of them required a Monday checkout, which I thought was odd. All of the various hotel properties were available, which meant there was a selection of price points. We decided on Sequoia Lodge, which is classed as a Moderate and has more of a wilderness theme.

Disneyland Paris Sequoia Lodge

It wasn't until mid-December that we each received an email giving us a username and password to the race registration site. That allowed us to register for the 5K and half marathon races. French law requires those participating in half marathons (or longer) races to provide a medical certificate from a doctor certifying that you are healthy enough to run. This of course was unusual to those of us in the U.S. but I thought the requirement was very well communicated. There was a particular certificate template on the web site that we had to print for the doctor to sign. (The hardest part was that the date fields were reversed: day/month/year.) As part of the registration process we had to upload a completed copy of that. And if we were eligible for Castle to Chateau we had to upload a copy of a finisher certificate from a 2016 Disney half marathon (or marathon). It didn't all have to be done at once, but the registration status was not complete until everything was uploaded AND we received an email stating that the medical certificate and finisher certificate had been accepted. Runners who wanted to use the Disneyland Half as their Castle to Chateau qualifier were nervous because their race certificates weren't available soon enough after the race, and I think most ended up bringing a copy of their results to the Expo.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Registration

Bibs went on sale early this year, and it seemed as though those who wanted bib only were able to register. There was even a transfer policy for those who had initially booked a package and then found they would be unable to attend. Bibs for the half marathon were still on sale as late as August. I do not think the race reached capacity. By the way, registration was quite inexpensive by U.S. Disney standards - 29 Euros for the 5K and 69 Euros for the half. Approximately $35/$80.

In addition to the 5K and half marathon, other events that were available were the Inaugural Party, a private event at the Studios on Friday night, and the "Rice Party" (in place of a pasta party) on Saturday night at Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in Downtown Disney. We did not attend either of those.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon events

We received some email communications from the race organizers in Paris, but there still didn't seem to be nearly as much information available in advance as we are used to. The actual race courses were announced quite late - though that may have been due to security measures. The emails with links to our vouchers (which would allow us to pick up our bibs) didn't come out until September 6, and the actual race waiver form we only received via email the morning of the 16th, as we were preparing to leave for the airport!

I was a little concerned because we had nothing more than a confirmation number from the travel provider. There was an information packet we'd been able to download (again, not long before we left), but nothing really personalized. One detail that should have been communicated: when we arrived at Sequoia Lodge we had to check in at the group area (which was in a separate building) and not at the main desk.

We spent four days in Paris before going to Disneyland Paris. We had managed to travel with just a carry-on suitcase and small bag/backpack each, partly because of the move partway through the trip. We took the metro and the RER-A train to the Marne-la-Vallee Chessy station, which is right outside the gates to Disneyland Paris. Very easy.

Disneyland Paris Train Station

We decided to walk to the hotel rather than take the shuttle bus. I was surprised that we had to go through a security checkpoint to enter Downtown Disney - but it was also the security perimeter for the parks. Going through security was something that we got used to. It's quite efficient since they use an x-Ray machine to scan bags and everyone walks through a metal detector, or gets scanned with a wand. Even when the lines seemed long they moved quickly. I wish Disney would do that here.

Disneyland Paris Security Entrance

After we were directed to the correct check-in area, check-in at the hotel was easy. It was only 1:30, but our room was ready! Because our package was prepaid we didn't even have to leave a credit card - and they don't use the keys for room charging like we are used to here. We received 5 day park hopper tickets since we had a five night package. That meant we could go into the parks that afternoon. We were leaving early on Monday so that wasn't going to be a park day for us. The CM gave us a race information pamphlet but it really had very little information - the hours of the Expo and where things were located and not much else.

Disneyland Paris group check-in

We went to Disneyland Paris that afternoon - but that is for another post. :-)

The Disneyland Half Marathon Expo opened at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday. I thought that was a little unusual. The Disneyland Paris resort is quite compact and reminded me more of Disneyland, with parks, hotels, Expo, and start/finish areas all within walking distance. That's all the long way of saying that the Expo took place in the Disney Events Center, on the opposite end of Downtown Disney from the parks, and close to most of the hotels. And again, within the security perimeter - there was a checkpoint between the hotels and the entrance to Downtown Disney.

Disneyland Paris Events Center

People were concerned about the availability of merchandise for an Inaugural race, and were lining up outside the Events Center by 1:00, and probably before. We didn't go until about 3:20, at which point there was still a long line to get in. The line was because they were checking that everyone had their waiver, race voucher, and ID. It turned out that we needed two waivers - one for each race, and had only printed one, but there were boxes of blanks readily available. There was an area available to print out race vouchers for those who arrived without them.

Disneyland Paris Expo Line

Disneyland Paris Events Center

While we were waiting we chatted with a lovely young French woman behind us (who spoke excellent English). She and her father were running their first Disney race, the 5K, and they were very excited. They were from the local area, and have annual passes to the parks. We tried to give them some idea of what to expect - but of course we didn't know how much it would be like the races here.

Once we got inside there was a huge line. I assumed it was for merchandise and got in it, but it was for the Castle to Chateau wristband! Computer issues. Eventually we figured out what line we were in, and that we didn't need to do that right then.

Disneyland Paris Events Center

Though the lines weren't long, picking up the half marathon bibs took a long time. There was a laptop computer at each pickup counter for the volunteers to scan the bar code on the bib, but the computers were having problems. We also got the gear check bag there with a copy of the program and a cereal bar, but had to go elsewhere to pick up our shirts. We are used to getting our challenge wristbands when we get the bib, but that was not the case here - that was the huge line.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Bib Pickup

After we picked up the bib we had to move to a photo location to have our photo taken with our half marathon bib - we assumed that was for PhotoPass identification since they scanned the bib after taking our photo.

Disneyland Paris Expo

We picked up our 5K bibs and went into the merchandise area. There was no line to get in at that time. There was a line to pay, but there were lots of registers and it moved steadily.

Disneyland Paris Official Merchandise entrance

There really wasn't much merchandise available. "I Did It" shirts for the 5K and half, which were cotton, and men's and women's gray tech shirts with a half marathon logo.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Merchandise

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Merchandise

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Merchandise

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Merchandise

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Merchandise

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Merchandise

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Merchandise

There was a hat, mug, and a few Remy-themed items. No magnets, wine glasses, or a lot of other popular items. There was surprisingly no Castle to Chateau shirt, but we received a flyer with info on ordering them from the Disney Store web site. It loses the immediacy that way, but at least we'll still be able to get them.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Merchandise

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Merchandise

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Merchandise

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Merchandise

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Merchandise

The thing I wanted was the pins. There was an open edition half marathon weekend pin in the merchandise area, but the limited edition pins were only available at the registers. Since they were actually limited to one per transaction I had some hope that there would still be some left. But, of the five pins available, the mini-medal versions of the 5K and Challenge pins were already gone. This was less than two hours after the Expo opened on the first day. At least the half marathon mini-medal pin was still available. The two "I Did It" pins were also available, but I didn't want those. At the register they said they would have more of the other two the next day. I can't believe how badly they misjudged the quantity of pins to order. There's simply no reason to make them so limited! (The 5K mini-medal pin is already missing from the pin display as it was sold out.)

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Pins

After we shopped we wandered around the rest of the Expo. There weren't too many exhibitors there, and very little merchandise for sale. If you'd forgotten some running essential you probably wouldn't find it there.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Expo

We also picked up our race shirts. The 5K shirt is a light soft cotton and the design is very cute. Overall I really liked the shirt. When I selected my shirt size there was an advisory that European sizes run small in the women's cut, so I went with a large instead of a medium. I would have been ok with a medium, I think. They had a shirt exchange but I decided to keep what I had. It's comfortable.

Disneyland Paris 5K shirt

The half marathon shirt is a tech fabric and it's dark gray. I don't know what it is with runDisney and gray shirts, but I'm not a fan. A number of the shirts for sale were gray, also. The Mickey design was nice, though. I thought it interesting that both of the shirts were made in Portugal.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon shirt

The other thing we purchased at the Expo was the Photopass. For a (special?) price of 40 Euros, we will be able to get all of our race photos, plus any PhotoPass photos taken in the parks. To purchase I had to have a bib, and they scanned it, so at least my half marathon bib should be associated with it. And we are supposed to be able to put in all four of our bib numbers. But there wasn't much information on this, and the web site where we are supposed to go put in the info still isn't functional yet, as of this writing - current info says to wait for a week after the race. Not nearly the instant gratification that we are used to!

Disneyland Paris PhotoPass

Disneyland Paris 5K

I guess I should mention that the Expo was in a very large tent. It was a sunny day and it was very warm in there.

The runDisney booth was giving away runDisney shopping bags but the lines were too long so we skipped it. But they had all of the upcoming race medals, including those for Marathon weekend in January. They have all been redesigned. Almost makes me wish I was planning to run the half or full next year. Almost. :-)

runDisney 2016 Mickey's Holiday 5K medal

runDisney Inaugural Wine and Dine 10K medal

runDisney 2016 Wine and Dine Half Marathon Medal

runDisney 2016 Inaugural Lumiere's Challenge Medal

runDisney 2017 WDW 5K Pluto medal

runDisney 2017 WDW 10K Minnie Medal

runDisney 2017 Half Marathon Donald medal

runDisney 2017 Marathon Mickey Medal

runDisney 2017 Goofy Challenge Medal

runDisney 2017 Dopey Challenge medal

runDisney 2017 Castaway Cay Challenge Medal

Isn't the Castle to Chateau medal a thing of beauty? I was definitely looking forward to getting that one put around my neck!

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Medals

The line for Castle to Chateau wristbands was even longer, so we decided to just come back the next day - especially since I was hoping to get the other two pins. At that point there was no line to get into the Expo, and not much for bib pickup or merchandise.

Here's what I brought back from the Expo that day:

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Expo

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon medal pins

On Friday the Expo opened at 10:00 and we went back about 10:40. There was a short line to get in, but we explained we'd already picked up our bibs and needed to get wristbands and they let us in. We went to the merchandise area. They did have the Castle to Chateau pins but were already sold out of the 5K pin. By sometime later that afternoon all pins were sold out. Major failure.

There was a line of 15-20 people waiting for Castle to Chateau wristbands but it moved very quickly.

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Expo

We had to have our bibs to get the wristband - they stamped the back of the bib to show that we had picked up the band.

Disneyland Paris Castle to Chateau button

Then we went to the runDisney booth, where there was a Castle to Chateau button for us. Our wristband was marked with a small "X" to show that we'd received that. I thought it was nice to see those measures in place.

Disneyland Paris Castle to Chateau button

The Disneyland Paris race director, Laurent Charbonnier, was giving a talk on the race as part of the "Speaker Series" so we sat down to listen to that. He obviously had experienced some runDisney races before, and described some of the similarities and differences that we might see. He also gave us a preview of both of the race courses - we were especially interested in what he had to say about the half marathon course, since much of that was outside the parks. One other thing I found interesting was that he warned us that at character photo stops we might find that some French and Italian people (yes, he singled them out specifically) could attempt to cut in line. He suggested that we firmly direct them to the back of the line. (We never saw any of that - and there were lots of French people in the race.)

Disneyland Paris Race Director Laurent Charbonnier

As you can tell, there were some Expo glitches. Though it seemed to me that they made adjustments between Thursday and Friday so that things went more smoothly for those who arrived on Friday. Honestly, I thought it was pretty good for a first attempt.

My major complaint is merchandise, specifically the pins. I just can't understand how, with as many race expos as there have been, that Disney can't figure out the merchandise quantities they need to order. Especially for an inaugural event.

Next up: the 5K

September 14, 2016

Halloween Time Returns to the Disneyland Resort

Halloween Time

Halloween Time is one of my favorite times of year at Disneyland...I might like it even better than the holidays.

But like the holidays, it seems to start earlier every year - this year it began on September 9 - just four days after Labor Day! It runs through October 31. I was there on opening day - Friday, September 9.

At the Mickey and Friends tram stop, I was a little surprised that the large signs there advertise the Tower of Terror closure and not Halloween Time.

Halloween Time

This Halloween display along the tram route is always fun to see. There's a second and longer part on the other side, but I was on the wrong side of the tram to get a photo of it.

Halloween Time

The large character pumpkins above the entrance turnstiles were back.

Halloween Time

The Mickey floral and the train station are no longer decorated for the 60th anniversary.

Halloween Time

The Mickey pumpkin has returned to Town Square.

Halloween Time

Halloween Time

The Main Street Pumpkin Festival includes lots of jack-o-lanterns peeking out from the buildings on Main Street.

Halloween Time

The candy shop has a number of Halloween-themed treats, like Mickey jack-o-lantern krispie treats, Maleficent krispie treats, skull caramel apples, and these Dia de los Muertos krispie treats.

Halloween Time

The new map and Times Guide. That night was the first showing of the Fantasy in the Sky fireworks show, which has returned now that Disneyland Forever ended along with the Diamond Celebration. Fantasy in the Sky will run (probably on weekends only) until the Holiday celebration kicks off on November 10 and Holiday Magic returns.

Halloween Time maps

Speaking of the Diamond unadorned castle. It looks rather plain.

Sleeping Beauty Castle

I was there at park opening, so I hustled over to Tomorrowland to get a Fastpass for Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy. Hyperspace Mountain seems to be the only piece of the "limited time offerings" of Season of the Force that is no longer around - Path of the Jedi and the Galactic Grill are still there.

Star Wars Launch Bay

I was surprised to see that most of the photo ops from the 60th anniversary celebration are still in place.

Matterhorn photo op

The jack-o-lanterns themed to each land surround the Walt and Mickey Partners statue in the Hub.

Halloween Time

The Vampire Mickey popcorn bucket has been "re-vamped" this year. :-)

Halloween Vampire Mickey popcorn bucket

There's a new Halloween-themed bucket, also, with Disney characters drawn in the older style. (I think Daisy looks pretty creepy, personally.)

Halloween Disneyland popcorn bucket

Haunted Mansion Holiday opened for the season, and many of us were eager to see how Jack had "decked the halls" this year. The standby line was posted as 40 minutes, but it was less than 20.

Halloween Time Haunted Mansion Holiday

Haunted Mansion Holiday

The advances in projection technology have certainly changed the look of a lot of things in the mansion over the years, starting with the Stretch Room. It's always fun to see what happens when two holidays collide...

Haunted Mansion Holiday

The loading area:

Haunted Mansion Holiday

This year's Gingerbread House in the ballroom. I was fortunate to have a brief stop almost right in front of the house.

Haunted Mansion Holiday

New this year: a life-size audio-animatronic figure of Sally was added to the graveyard scene. Her eyes blink as she gazes across at Jack Skellington and she kicks her foot up and down.

Haunted Mansion  Holiday Sally

After exiting Haunted Mansion I was in my Ghost Galaxy Fastpass window so I got a Fastpass for Haunted Mansion Holiday, figuring the line would be longer later. I wandered back to Tomorrowland by way of the Mint Julep Bar, thinking maybe I'd get some beignets. But to my dismay this year there are no pumpkin beignets! The special this year is regular beignets sprinkled with butterscotch sugar. Not very appealing to me.

I also went through Frontierland and the Dia de los Muertos display outside Rancho del Zocalo. It seems the same as previous years. There's a face painting (free) station set up there.

Halloween Time

Halloween Time

The entrance to the Rancho del Zocalo restaurant is also decorated.

Halloween Time Ghost Galaxy

Lots of Halloween merchandise available - here's just a few samples.

Halloween Time merchandise

Halloween Time merchandise

I used my Fastpass for Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy. I didn't notice anything new about it this year, and I found it not nearly as exciting and immersive as Hyperspace Mountain. I hope that will return...

Halloween Time Ghost Galaxy

In Town Square some of the characters were out in their Halloween costumes. They always seem to have the same costumes every year - don't they get tired of them? :-)

Halloween Time Vampire Mickey

Halloween Time witch Minnie

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is offering a Halloween Minnie makeover for the season.

Halloween Minnie Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

The entrance to Toontown has some Halloween decorations.

Halloween Time

New maps and Times Guide in Disney California Adventure. The classic World of Color show has returned to replace the Celebrate! version.

DCA map

AP Days, a special event for Annual Passholders, has begun, and will run through October 31.

AP Days

There are activities for Annual Passholders in two different areas of the park. In Hollywood Land, the AP Days Showcase is at Studio 12 (which was the Tron arcade).

AP Days

Outside were a few tables where kids (or adults) could color some Halloween-themed drawings. Inside was a special character meet and greet.

AP Days

This area looks like it recycled a lot of props and decor from the Scare-dy Crow shack at the former Big Thunder Ranch area.

AP Days

AP Days

There's a different AP button each week - they change on Mondays. My AP was scanned when they gave me a button, so it seems like they are limiting the buttons to one per passholder. They also gave me a small bottle of water.

AP Days

There were some benches outside a small demonstration kitchen - apparently there are food demonstrations that take place a couple of times a day. I wasn't around for any of that, though. The displays outside have descriptions of some of the seasonal food offerings around the resort.

AP Days

One of them is a seasonal smoothie at Schmoozies - a caramel apple smoothie. I tried it. It has apple pureed in it, and a hint of cinnamon. But most of what I tasted was sweet - too sweet for me.

Caramel apple smoothie

The second location for AP Days is in the Paradise Gardens area. Mainly an AP Days photo opportunity.

AP Days

There was a scavenger hunt-type of activity available. I don't know if the activity changes each week, but this week it was solving a word phrase. The letter clues asked questions about which was more or less, e.g. "Which is MORE? The number of gas pumps at Flo's V8 Cafe or the number of animal spirits within the Spirit Cave at Redwood Creek Challenge Trail?" There's a different letter choice for each answer. No prize for solving it - just the satisfaction.

AP Days

There are several special things going on at the Tower of Terror during its final Halloween season. The Silver Lake Sisters - also known as Fiddler, Fifer, and Practical (they own the cafe on Buena Vista Street) perform throughout the day in the lobby. Unfortunately you have to actually be in line to see them. I thought that was odd. At night there's Late Check Out, where the Tower of Terror ride takes place in total darkness. I didn't stay late enough to try that. There's also special merchandise available in the shop.

Outside the Tower is a new PhotoPass location with a few props.

Tower of Terror photo op

Trader Sam's at the Disneyland Hotel also has a seasonal item - a drink called "This Chilling Challenge" available with a souvenir Hitchhiking Ghosts Tiki Mug. They are $30 each. I went over there to see if I could get one. The line wasn't too bad (apparently it had been very long earlier in the day), but I could sit outside on the patio and order there right away. So I ordered the chicken lettuce wraps and the drink. The drink was a stronger than I expected it to be. It was made with pineapple juice and spiced rum, I think - not sure what else.

Trader Sam's This Chilling Challenge

And here's the mug. There was a limit of two per person, yet these still sold out on Friday. The Parks blog reports that another shipment will arrive closer to Halloween. I continue to be amazed at how poorly Disney estimates the demand for these sorts of items.

Trader Sam's Hitchhiking Ghosts Mug

Downtown Disney had a couple types of Halloween banners.

Tower of Terror banner

When I went back to DCA around 5:00 the bag check line on the Downtown Disney side was really long. It stretched back into the tram area on one side, and past the entrance to Downtown Disney on the other. Wow. I'd like to see them implement a "no bags" line like they do at Disney World. That wouldn't have helped me at all, but it might help things move along faster overall.

There are lots of new seasonal food items for the Halloween season. The Disney Parks blog posted this list.

Here are a few of them. Cupcake from Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe:

Halloween Time Cupcake

These poison apple mugs were first released last year, but they must have sold out quickly. They are EVERYWHERE this year - I think I saw them at most of the quick service locations in Disneyland (and some in DCA), and even at Mortimer's Market, which is more of a fruit stand. Depending on where they are purchased, they are available with a beverage, ice cream, or fruit.

Halloween Time Poison Apple Mug

The French Market has this multi-layer Cookies and Cream Mousse Coffin Cake.

Halloween Time Coffin Cake

It seemed to me as though a number of the food items were not yet available - I didn't see signs posted like I usually do. Except for the Poison Apple mugs - did I mention that those were EVERYWHERE? :-)

I had a really good day. Crowds were not too bad, and I got to ride Haunted Mansion Holiday four times!

August 15, 2016

Electric Vehicle Charging at Disneyland

Disneyland Electric Vehicle Charging

Lee and I recently purchased an electric vehicle, a Chevy Volt. A friend and fellow Volt owner (Hi Chelsi!) had told me that there are electric vehicle charging stations in the Mickey & Friends parking garage, so I checked that out before the Volt's first (of many, I'm sure) trips to Disneyland. I found this information on the Disney Parks Blog. There are 20 of them on the first floor of the garage in the Chip and Dale section. They are not free - you must have a Chargepoint account to use them.

Disneyland Electric Vehicle Charging

Now...getting to the Mickey and Friends garage is often a challenge for us these days, because we come from the south, and access the garage by turning left from Ball Road onto Disneyland Drive. More often than not of late, the entrance to the garage from there is closed and we get re-routed to a parking area a couple of miles away. Grumble. To avoid that this time we went further north on I5, then exited and turned back south so we could use the elevated ramp that goes straight to the parking garage.

There's a sign on the parking booths that says "Ask about Electric Vehicle Charging". So we did. The cast member placed a colored tag on our windshield, and told us the parking attendants would direct us accordingly. We had entered via one of the parking lanes over toward the right, so we had a brief wait while the attendant stopped traffic so that we could go to the left.

Disneyland Electric Vehicle Charging

From there we were in the correct part of the garage, but we were kind of on our own to find the charging stations. The charging stations are in row 7, and we should've turned left a little sooner. Eventually we managed to get ourselves parked. At that point, about 10:00 in the morning, there were at least 12 charging stations still available.

To use the station, you either need a Chargepoint smart card or their phone app. I had just signed up so don't have a card yet, but I was able to use the app quite easily. I identified which charge station I was using, but the charger "nozzle" was locked into place until I authorized a payment from my account. (There's a $1.50 minimum.) Then we plugged it into the car, and both the app and the car indicated that it was charging.

Disneyland Electric Vehicle Charging

Throughout the day I was able to use the app to check on the progress, and at 3:21 p.m. I received an email that charging was complete. Fortunately the Disneyland Resort does not require that vehicle owners return to the garage to move their car when finished charging. For EV owners traveling to the resort, the app indicates how many charging stations are available.

Disneyland Electric Vehicle Charging

We returned to the car about 8:20 that evening. ALL of the EV spaces were full by then, and it looked like all of the stations were in use. There was an interesting variety of EVs along the row. While I didn't take an inventory I saw several Volts, a couple of Teslas and a Hyundai. I did not see any Nissan Leafs, though.

Disneyland Electric Vehicle Charging

I had to use the app (since I didn't have a card) to terminate our charging session. My phone was getting low on battery, but it worked ok. Worst case I could've plugged the phone into the car to charge it so that I could unplug the car! :-) I almost immediately received an email receipt from Chargepoint indicating how much power we had used and how much we were charged for it. (It was plugged in longer than 5 hours but it only drew power for 5 hours.) As it turned out it would have been cheaper for us to just use the Volt's gas engine for the entire trip home (since it gets ~40 mpg), but it was interesting to try out the charging station on our car's first lengthy trip from home.

Disneyland Electric Vehicle Charging

August 12, 2016

A Disneyland Day - 8/5/16


Lee and I went to Disneyland on Friday, August are some thoughts, observations, etc.

It was the first trip to Disneyland for our new Chevy Volt, so we checked out (and used) the Electric Vehicle charging stations that are located on the ground floor of the Mickey & Friends parking garage. I have an entire upcoming blog post on that so I'm not going to say much more now. It worked fine for us.

Disneyland Electric Vehicle Charging

We arrived at the security checkpoint around 10:30. The lines weren't too bad, and moved well. It wasn't looking like it was a really busy day. Really nice weather that day, too - overcast and 70s in the morning, and maybe 82 in the afternoon. Very comfortable.

Our main objectives for the day were the Frozen Lunch Package (blog to come) and to see the Disneyland All-American College Band. We had some time to wander around DCA before lunch. The Paradise Garden Grill restaurant is open again - it had closed for a while. There were several people ordering when we were there, which was good to see. The menu is unchanged - still Mediterranean skewers. That's not a complaint - I like them.

Paradise Garden Grill

Disney recently announced that the Tower of Terror would be turned into a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction. Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT is supposed to open in the summer of 2017. No announcement yet as to when the current ToT attraction will close. Hmmm. I'm not sure how well this fits into the Hollywood Land area, but if DCA is going to become the Pixar/Marvel park, then I guess this is another step along that road. (As a reminder, Captain Marvel and Spider Man moved to DCA from Disneyland earlier this summer.)

Tower of Terror

Lucky Fortune Cookery has added a Chicken and Vegetable Potsticker offering to their menu. It's $4.99. Or maybe it never left after the Food and Wine Festival, where it was the Festival item available at Lucky Fortune Cookery.

When we were in the Pacific Wharf area, the Mariachi Divas were performing the Linda Ronstadt song "Blue Bayou". Not what I would expect from a mariachi group, but they did it beautifully.

Mariachi Divas

Award Wieners has a Crush the Turtle souvenir sipper for $12.99. It looks like it would be rather awkward to carry, though. Their current specialty hot dog is named "nacho ordinary chili dog". It's an all beef hot dog with chili, pepper jack cheese, nacho chips and jalapenos, for $8.19.

Clarabelle's has added a mango sorbet bar to their menu in addition to the mixed berry sorbet bar. And of course they still have chocolate and vanilla ice cream bars, too! I keep meaning to have one of those again.

The "confection of the month" in the candy stores is S'Mores. So the specialty caramel apple and crispy treat are topped with graham crackers and marshmallows this month. I had one of the s'mores caramel apples last year - not really impressed. The graham crackers (not surprisingly) were soft.

S'Mores caramel apple

In anticipation of the release of the upcoming "Pete's Dragon" movie, there is an Elliott apple, too.

Pete's Dragon Elliott caramel apple

Speaking of Elliott...we went to the sneak peek of the movie in the Sunset Showcase Theater - originally the Muppets theater. Though most recently it hosted the Frozen Sing-a-long, and the waiting area still has a lot of Arendelle elements.

Pete's Dragon preview

Sunset Showcase Theater

The cast member who gave us all of the usual pre-show warnings was very entertaining. He approached it as though we were viewing footage that proved the existence of creatures like Elliott and Nessie. Fun. As we were leaving, Jason pointed out to me that Elliott made some appearances in the forest projections that were on the walls above the exit doors. The movie itself...not really my thing, I don't think.

Pete's Dragon preview

Olaf's greeting spot is just to the right of Stage 17. It's kind of hidden, and there was no line, so we stopped by for a warm hug. :-)

Olaf Meet and Greet

When we went to check in for our Frozen pre-show they told us that the 4:00 show had been canceled, so we would be seeing the 5:50 show instead. That messed with our plans to see the College Band at 6:15 in Disneyland. :-( Our pre-show was still going on as scheduled from 2:40-3:40.

Since the Frozen pre-show is held in Stage 17 we were able to duck out of it at 3:00 to catch a little bit of the College Band's jazz set. They perform that on the Backlot Stage.

All-American College Band Jazz set

Instead of hanging around DCA waiting for Frozen (we were supposed to return by 5:30) we went over to Disneyland to wander around for a while. We started at the Main Street train station. With the Disneyland Railroad closed because of Star Wars construction (and the re-routing of the tracks), Disney is putting trains out at Main Street and New Orleans Square, with train engineers available to talk to guests about them.

Disneyland CK Holliday train

We saw the C.K. Holliday at Main Street, which had just completed a refurbishment and was looking pristine and beautiful. While Lee was talking to the engineer, I sat in the Fireman's seat.

Disneyland Train

Carlos talked to Lee for quite a while about the controls in the cab and how they work to run the engine. We got a lesson in Disney train history, too. Really very interesting - I highly recommend going up to the train station and taking advantage of this opportunity. We were there for about 20 minutes and only a few other people came up there.

Disneyland Train controls

Hyperspace Mountain is still very popular (100 minute standby line at 4:30 in the afternoon) - but enjoy it while you can. The attraction is closed September 6-8 so that the Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy overlay can be applied. No word on whether or not Hyperspace Mountain will return after the Halloween season ends on October 31.

As previously announced, all of the 60th anniversary nighttime shows - Paint the Night, Disneyland Forever, and World of Color - Celebrate - will be ending on September 5. Fantasy in the Sky will be the nighttime fireworks show at Disneyland until the holiday season starts - the assumption being that Holiday Magic will return. Mickey's Soundsational Parade will continue to be the afternoon parade, but will add an additional evening performance on busy days starting on September 9. And it's expected that A Christmas Fantasy Parade will return for the holiday season.

But Paint the Night isn't quite done yet - on August 10, Disney announced that it "will return on select nights during the holiday season later this year." Perhaps bigger news in that same announcement was that the Main Street Electrical Parade will be returning to Disneyland next year.

Over at DCA, the "original" World of Color show will return until the holiday season. (Given the public's demand for all things Frozen, I would be shocked if World of Color Winter Dreams was not back during the holidays.) I say "original", because there were a number of versions of the show during its first five years, so it will be interesting to see which version reappears - and if any of the new elements added for Celebrate will be used.

But I digress...we were wandering around Disneyland. We stopped for a look at the newish Star Wars Land artwork on the construction wall near Big Thunder Mountain. It's a full-sized version of the image released last month, and it was nice to get a larger view of it.

Disneyland Star Wars Land

The Hungry Bear Restaurant is pretty quiet these days. With all of the construction fence up, it's not nearly so appealing to sit there and enjoy your meal since you can no longer watch the activity on the Rivers of America. And the lower level of the restaurant is a dark cave, since all of the light gets blocked. While that might be appropriate for bears, it doesn't have much charm for humans.

Hungry Bear Restaurant

The Country Bear artwork along the exit ramp is nice, though.

Hungry Bear Restaurant

There are a few specials being offered at the Hungry Bear - maybe in an effort to try to bring in more guests? The Churro Funnel Cake looked really good, but we didn't get to try it. There's also a Peach Cobbler Funnel Cake.

Hungry Bear Restaurant funnel cake specials

And a Country Bears Jug sipper, for $12.99.

Hungry Bear Restaurant jug sipper

I mentioned the train at the Main Street Station - there was one at the New Orleans Square station, too. And there we could even walk across the tracks to get a close look at the inner workings of a steam boiler which had been opened up so we could see how it works. Engineer Jim was there to answer all of Lee's questions this time and described some of the safety mechanisms. We could have stayed even longer, but we had to get back to DCA to see the Frozen show.

Disneyland train steam boiler

There will be more info on the Frozen show in the other blog - but by getting the package we had our choice of seats on the Orchestra level, and that was quite an advantage. The show went off almost perfectly - just one small sound glitch and the "rolling troll" did not make its appearance, which made that scene change seem longer.

Frozen - Live at the Hyperion

After the show we hustled back to Disneyland to see the College Band perform their 7:15 set at the train station.

Disneyland All-American College Band

I hadn't seen their new Jungle Book number, and that was excellent. At the 7:15 set they often perform a Michael Jackson medley, but we lucked out and saw their Star Wars medley instead. That was phenomenal. They finished with the Earth, Wind, and Fire set, which we've seen many times over the years. It's always very good, but for me it didn't have nearly the impact of the Star Wars number.

We headed for home after that. If you've noticed, we didn't do any rides at all, but still we had a really good day. We enjoyed our lunch very much, and also enjoyed wandering around the parks, speaking to the train engineers, and watching the College Band.

Review: Frozen Pre-Show Plus Lunch Dining Package


Following the success of the new Frozen - Live at the Hyperion Theater show, and the corresponding demand for seats, Disney was quick to introduce three dining packages which offer premium viewing experiences. At various price points.

The most inexpensive option is the Frozen-Pre-Show for $49/person. It starts 90 minutes before show time in Stage 17 in the Hollywood Backlot and includes:

    -- Event credential lanyard with collectible pin
    -- Frozen shave ice treat
    -- Beverage station with soft drinks, beer, and wine
    -- Three photo op locations, one with a character
    -- Crayons and coloring sheets for the kids (or kids at heart)
    -- Gallery of original art designs
    -- "Magical Snow Moment"
    -- Priority admission to the Orchestra section of the Hyperion Theater and choice of seats

The latter is the most important feature, I think.

The Frozen Pre-Show Plus Lunch Package includes all of the above plus a four-course lunch at the Carthay Circle Restaurant. It is $99 for adults and $79 for kids 3-9, plus tax and gratuity. (Annual Passholder discounts apply.)

And the final package is the Frozen Signature Dining and Behind-the-Scenes Package. This one is $299/person. In addition to the pre-show, guests receive a guided tour after the show where they will be taken on-stage behind the curtain for a look at some of the show's costumes. They can also have their photo taken on-stage. In the evening they will sit down for a five-course meal at the Carthay Circle Restaurant.

The Pre-Show and Lunch packages can be booked on-line, but the Behind-the-Scenes package can only be booked by calling Disney Dining. At this point it appears that the packages will no longer be offered after September 5 - they are not available for booking on the on-line dining site after that date.

On a recent visit we tried the Lunch package. It seemed like not such a bad deal considering what the price of a four-course meal would be at the Carthay Circle Restaurant.

I made reservations several weeks in advance but that wouldn't have been necessary - there was still availability for both the lunch and pre-show packages the same day. (The Behind-the-Scenes package is not available on-line, so I was not able to check availability for that one.)

Our lunch reservation was at 11:30, which was when the restaurant opened. There were a few other Frozen lunch diners, but most of the people around us were doing the World of Color package instead. (That one is $43/$23 for lunch.)

We received a very different menu, though. Unlike the World of Color menus, the Frozen menu is customized for Frozen and features items that are not on the regular Carthay Circle menu.

Frozen Lunch Package Menu

The appetizers and dessert are set, and there is a choice of entree. Soft drinks, coffee, or tea are included in the price.

I started off with a cocktail (extra charge for that) called a Sparkling Mare. Iron Horse sparkling wine, Elderflower liqueur, and Aperol Orange. It was very good - maybe just a touch too much of the orange.

Carthay Circle Sparkling Mare

Our meal began with a bread service. It was a whole wheat bread - warm and very good.

Frozen Lunch bread service

"Act One" of the Frozen menu is Stone Trolls - a Norwegian meatball inside a baby Portobello mushroom, topped with lingonberry jam. I thought it was a very clever idea. Lee said it was pretty good.

Frozen Lunch Stone Trolls

Since I can't eat beef, our server brought me the opening course from the Kid's menu instead: Watermelon with Mango Sorbet. Not as interesting as the other, but it was fine. I was surprised that the sorbet held up on a skewer - it actually didn't disintegrate instantly. It was small, but tasty.

Frozen Lunch watermelon and sorbet

"Act 2" was a combined soup and salad course, featuring Carthay Circle Citrus Salad and Summer Yellow Tomato "Sopa de Ajo". The soup was similar to tortilla soup, with thin crisp tortilla strips and some chunks of avocado, chicken, and tomatoes. It was not overly spicy - really delicious. I would've enjoyed a larger serving!

Frozen Lunch Citrus Salad and Sopa de Ajo

The salad was not as successful. I forgot to request the dressing on the side as I usually do and thought it was overly dressed, though at least it was a relatively light dressing. It had pieces of strawberry and green beans in it in addition to the greens. It also had pieces of orange - with the peel still on them. We asked our server about the oranges and she said it was the chef's intention that the peel be eaten too. I tried it but found it bitter and not a pleasant taste in what was otherwise a nice salad.

Frozen Lunch Citrus Salad oranges

We had a choice of three entrees. I selected the Sustainable Fish of the Day with summer peach almond gazpacho. The fish was halibut (l got one of the last servings of that - later diners received swordfish), and it was hands down the best entree I have ever had at the Carthay Circle Restaurant. The sauce was so flavorful - I can't even tell you what all of the flavors were, just that they were delicious. Lee had a bite and said the fish didn't seem like fish at all - much more meaty. The peaches had a nice sweetness but didn't overwhelm the dish. Underneath the fish there were some pea pods and red onions. It was all excellent.

Frozen Lunch Halibut with Peach and Almond Gazpacho

Lee ordered the Herb Crusted Petit Filet of Angus Beef with blue cheese risotto, spinach, and wild mushrooms. He ordered it medium, but it was a little past medium. Still nicely prepared and he cleaned his plate.

Frozen Lunch Herb Crusted Petit Angus Filet

The third entree is Roasted Breast of Chicken with heirloom tomatoes, avocado and poblano-lime vinaigrette. That sounded really good also - tomatoes and avocados are two of my favorites.

The dessert is called Olaf's Summer Dream Vacation. (This same dessert is served to the kids, also.) As you can see - it's Olaf. And it's entirely edible.

Frozen Lunch Olaf's Summer Dream Vacation

Olaf's body is made of two cream puffs, with chocolate arms and a white chocolate head. The "icebergs" are made of meringue - very light, but crunchy. We found the cream puffs were a little bland - I think if they'd used some coconut on the outside they would have been much more flavorful and interesting. Still, the dessert was really adorable - and it was a lot of dessert.

Frozen Lunch Olaf's Summer Dream Vacation

As I mentioned earlier, soft drinks, coffee, or tea are included in the package. We had alcoholic beverages and water with our lunch, so choose coffee and tea with our dessert as our included beverage. They brought me my own individual tea pot so that I could serve myself. I had Mad Hatter Tea, which was very good initially, but after it had steeped for about 10 minutes the tea that was still in the pot started to get bitter. I'll have to keep that in mind should I order it in the future.

When I saw the size of the first two courses I was concerned that the meal might be a little skimpy, but the entree and dessert more than made up for it and we went out of there quite pleasantly full.

I should mention that we had a really wonderful server (Beth) and assistant server (David). Beth brought us a menu signed by the chef, and she and David signed it, too.

Before we left Beth brought us our Frozen Pre-show tickets and told us where we should check in. There seem to be two pre-shows each day, and we had the second one. Our pre-show experience would begin at 2:35.

Frozen Pre-show tickets

About 2:30 we went back to Stage 17 in the Hollywood Backlot (between Sunset Showcase Theater and Monsters, Inc.). Cast members were already checking people in.

Frozen Pre-show check-in

Unfortunately we were told that the 4:00 show had been canceled, so we would be seeing the 5:50 show instead. ("This has never happened before!") But our pre-show would still be from 2:40-3:40.

Frozen Pre-show

We received drink coupons which would allow us one alcoholic beverage each - the choices were red wine, white wine, and Stella Artois.

Frozen Pre-show drink vouchers

When we turned in our tickets we received a wristband and a lanyard credential with a "Frozen - Live at the Hyperion Theater" pin on it.

Frozen Pre-show lanyard

Frozen Pre-show pin

We came back at 2:40 but it was closer to 2:45 by the time we were allowed in the building. Both the wristband and the lanyard were required for entry. The pre-show takes place in Stage 17, between the Sunset Showcase Theater and Monsters, Inc. It's the same place that the "Olaf's Snow Fest" took place, and it's still decorated to look like Arendelle on a wintry day. No snow hill, though. :-)

Frozen Pre-show interior

There are three different photo backdrops, each staffed by a PhotoPass photographer.

Frozen Pre-show troll photo backdrop

Frozen Pre-show photo backdrop

After about 15 minutes Olaf came in to pose for photos. He was there about 30 minutes, I think. There weren't that many guests, so he spent a lot of time interacting with the photographers.

Frozen Pre-show Olaf meet and greet

There were some tables set up with crayons and coloring pages featuring Frozen characters.

Frozen pre-show coloring table

Frozen pre-show coloring

Along one side of the room was a display with information on the making of the musical - who was involved, costumes, etc.

Frozen Pre-show display

Frozen Pre-show creative team

Refreshments were included. Kristoff's Ice Shack served shave ice. You could have as many as you wanted.

Frozen pre-show Kristoff's Ice Shack

There were three different versions - this one is Elsa's Blue Winter Blast, with blue raspberry flavor.

Frozen Pre-show shave ice

There's also Olaf's Summertime Dream, with orangesicle, and Sven's "Root Deer" Float.

Frozen Pre-show root beer and creamsicle ice

Oaken's Tavern served freshly-popped popcorn in small bags. We were encouraged to take bags of popcorn with us when we left. This is also where the adults could redeem their beverage coupons for wine or beer.

Frozen Pre-show Oaken's Tavern

Sparkling cider was also available at Oaken's - no coupon required for that.

Frozen Pre-show apple cider

This pre-show was pretty lightly attended - there were almost as many cast members as guests. And to be honest, even though we only had an hour there really wasn't that much to do - get shave ice, popcorn, and a beverage and have photos taken. There were a number of people (adults, too) who engaged in the coloring activity. If it had been a hot summer day it would have been a nice place to just get out of the heat for a while.

There was supposed to be a "Snow Moment" that concluded the pre-show, and signaled that it was time to walk to the theater. Though because we weren't walking to the theater the cast members weren't sure if we would still experience that. ("This has never happened before!")

But at 3:35 there was an announcement about Elsa's winter magic or something like that, and it started to snow. It only lasted a minute or two, but it looked pretty good.

Frozen pre-show snowfall

Once that finished we were encouraged to exit the building. Normally we would have been walked over to the side entrance of the Hyperion, but instead we were reminded to meet over by the red truck by 5:30.

We returned as scheduled and waited along with, oh, maybe 50 other people to be admitted to the theater. We were on the opposite side of the theater from where the crowds of guests were waiting in the queue. I had an idea of where I thought we wanted to sit but I asked one of the CMs what he would recommend - and that was the same area that he recommended.

Frozen Hyperion package entrance

We were admitted to the theater first, and had our choice of seats in Orchestra. Well, almost our choice - there were about 20 seats that were reserved for VIP guests. In the Orchestra section there is a section of seats that's a couple of steps up behind a wide aisle. It's not under the Mezzanine, so there's an unobstructed view of the higher show elements. And the extra elevation meant my view wasn't blocked by a taller person in front of me. And what do you know...the very center of the first row in that section was blocked off for the VIP seats. :-) We sat right next to them, though, so we were almost center stage in that first row. And they were GREAT seats.

Frozen Hyperion stage view

After we were seated the parties with wheelchairs/ECVs were admitted, and then the rest of the guests came streaming in. While that was happening there were vendors in the aisles selling popcorn and candy - that only seems to take place in the Orchestra section. There were quite a few people buying it, too.

Frozen Hyperion stage view

And somewhere in there the VIP guests, who had at least two tour guides with them, were seated. I believe that they were the guests who had purchased the "Behind-the-Scenes" package, but I'm not sure.

The show itself was wonderful. It went off more smoothly than the two that I'd seen before. We missed a line or two of Anna's because her mike didn't get turned on. And the "troll" that's supposed to roll across the stage during the Elsa's Palace - Troll home scene change didn't appear. That scene change also seemed longer than usual. I've seen the show three times, and I've seen three different Anna and Elsas, three different Olafs, three different Svens and three different sets of parents, but I've seen the same Wesselton, Hans, and Kristoff each time.

Frozen Hyperion Kristoff Sven

I mostly enjoyed our Frozen package experience. The show cancellation was obviously unforeseen - but at least Disney tried to do the right thing and we were still able to see the later show. Lunch was really good, and exceeded my expectations. I was a bit disappointed in the pre-show aspect, but I'd been warned in advance that it was underwhelming.

If you're really a big fan of Frozen, and want to make sure that you have really good seats for the show, then you might want to consider one of the pre-show packages. That benefit of "choice of seats" in the Orchestra section is very nice. It also means you avoid waiting in line outside for a long time to try to get decent seats which is the way the current Fastpass system operates.

Frozen ice staircase and chandelier

I was surprised that there weren't more people. But at $49/person for just the pre-show and $99 for the lunch package, that's a lot to add on if you've already paid over $100 for a park ticket. It's probably more attractive to Annual Passholders who aren't purchasing separate admission.

I personally think that if they did away with the pre-show aspect and offered a dining package (which still included the priority seating) for the same price as the World of Color packages that it would be much more successful.

July 25, 2016

Dining Review: Cafe Orleans

Cafe Orleans

I mentioned in a previous blog that my favorite Disneyland table service restaurant is Cafe Orleans in New Orleans Square. I hadn't actually eaten there in several years, though, so I wanted to try it again to see if it was as good as I remembered.

I made a reservation just a few days in advance, and was able to get the time I wanted. As it turned out the restaurant wasn't that busy, and walk-ups were being told it was only about a 15 minute wait.

We waited 5-10 minutes after I checked in. While I was waiting I looked around the nearby Mlle. Antoinette's Parfumerie shop. I'd read a little bit on-line about this shop recently. Supposedly Lillian Disney chose the name and the crystal chandelier inside was a gift to her from Walt. The mirrors were painted with a technique called "reverse painting".

Mlle Antoinette's Parfumerie

The shop carries five perfume brands: Guerlain, Givenchy, Christian Dior, Acqua di Parma and Fendi. There are selections for men and woman, and exclusive fragrances that can only be found at Disneyland.

Mlle Antoinette's Parfumerie

It's really quite a lovely space.

Cafe Orleans has seating both inside and outside. I said we'd take first available, but I was really hoping for outside, and that's what we got. It was a very nice evening, and the dining area was mostly shaded. Though as the sun went down it descended below the level of the awning and both Lee and I had sun in our eyes for a while at the end of the meal.

Cafe Orleans Seating

The menu is the same for lunch and dinner, and offers New Orleans-inspired dishes such as gumbo, a muffuletta sandwich, and savory crepes. The famous Monte Cristo Sandwich is also available. There are two versions: the classic with ham and cheese, and a vegetarian three-cheese sandwich. I personally find these to be belly bombs, and haven't had one for years.

Cafe Orleans Lunch/Dinner Menu

Our server was on a break, and it took a few extra minutes before the server filling in for her arrived to take care of us. In addition to soft drinks we wanted to start off by sharing an order of Pomme Frites. These are garlic French fries with Parmesan cheese, served with a Cajun-spiced remoulade. I'd forgotten how large the serving was - it was plenty for four of us to share. They were just as good as I remembered, and were a big hit.

Cafe Orleans Pomme Frites

Instead of ordering an entree here, I usually order the French Onion soup and the La Salade de Maison. And that's what I did. The soup is up to $10 now, but it's still very good, and pretty filling.

Cafe Orleans French Onion soup

The salad is always nice and fresh, with goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, and candied pecans, and a raspberry vinaigrette. I find it to be a good-sized serving for $6.

Cafe Orleans La Salade de Maison

Lee ordered a cup of the Chicken Gumbo. He said it was very good. $7 for a cup or $10 for a bowl.

Cafe Orleans Chicken Gumbo

For an entree, both Lee and Kristin ordered the Braised Beef Crepe - braised beef in a Bordelaise sauce with Cremini mushrooms and pearl onions. In the past the crepes were flat, but this time they were rolled. It was a very attractive presentation. They were served over a pea puree. I was surprised that the pea puree didn't have any additional flavors or spices - it really was just pureed peas. It needed something else. Lee was disappointed in the beef - it wasn't bad, but the flavor was different than what he expected - he thought there would be more spice.

Cafe Orleans Braised Beef Crepe

Matt ordered the Chicken Gumbo Crepe - chicken, Andouille sausage, tasso ham, and Creole gumbo sauce with sauteed Cremini mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and asparagus. It was also served with pea puree. He said it was good, and I think he enjoyed it more than the others did the beef crepes. Both crepes were $20, and we all agreed that for that price the portion size was a little small.

Cafe Orleans Chicken Gumbo Crepe

For dessert we shared an order of Mickey Beignets ($9). There were five of them, and we all enjoyed them. They were warm and slightly crisp on the outside with plenty of powdered sugar and fried dough goodness! Matt and I both liked them with the raspberry sauce that came with them - Lee and Kristin tried the vanilla anglaise, also.

Cafe Orleans Mickey Beignets

I think I was the one most pleased with my meal - but I stuck to the menu items that I knew I liked. Still, I think everyone had a good experience. It's always very nice to be able to sit down for a meal after a busy day in the parks. We all especially liked the pommes frites and the beignets.

After this most recent dining experience Cafe Orleans still holds its position as my favorite table service restaurant in Disneyland. It's especially nice to be able to sit outside on a pleasant afternoon or evening and enjoy NOT being out in the crowds.

July 23, 2016

A Trip to Disneyland in Summerrrrrrr

Frozen - In Summer

Lee and I, along with our friends Matt and Kristin, spent a summer Saturday at Disneyland. Lee and I, of course, are frequent visitors, but Matt and Kristin are not, so we wanted to get in as many of the newer/favorite attractions as possible.

I was the only one who had seen the new Frozen - Live at the Hyperion show, and none of us had seen the new Soarin' Around the World, so those were both high on our list.

We arrived at the Mickey and Friends parking garage just a couple of minutes after 8:00 - I was surprised at how long the line was to get in. It took probably 15 minutes before we were finally parked. And then we had to wait for a parking lot tram. Usually they are one right after the other, but this time, even though they were loading two at a time, there was a 1-2 minute gap between when one left and another arrived to fill its place.

Though I wondered if that was intentional to keep the security lines down - they were relatively short. Only 10-12 people in each line. The bag checkers were being a lot more thorough, though, and that took extra time. And now everyone goes through the metal detectors - it's no longer random like it used to be. But that went pretty quickly.

With everything that's been going on in the United States and around the world recently, I was not surprised to see much more of a security presence this time. There were significantly more uniformed security personnel in the parks, Downtown Disney, and the Esplanade. And that doesn't count the plainclothes security that I know is also around.

We got Fastpasses for Frozen and Radiator Springs Racers, and then rode a number of other attractions standby. Midway Mania was about 20 minutes, but California Screamin' and Mater's Junkyard Jamboree were less than 10, and Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters was under 15 minutes. Matt and Kristin had been fans of the former Luigi's Flying Tires attraction, so were somewhat disappointed at the change, but thought the new ride was cute.

We went over to Disneyland to get a Fastpass for Hyperspace Mountain. It sounds like that will be going away soon, since Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy is returning for the Halloween season.

It was not a particularly busy day at Disneyland. I waited at Space Mountain for about 15 minutes while the others went to get coffee, because (surprisingly!) the Fastpass return time was still too early and overlapped with our Radiator Springs Racers Fastpass. The standby line for Hyperspace Mountain was only 45 minutes.

Weather-wise it was a very nice day - it might have gotten into the low 80s, but not warmer than that. For a July day it was really very pleasant, and cooler than usual.

We went back to DCA and got a Fastpass for Soarin' Around the World - the return time was only 50 minutes away! That surprised me.

It was not a very busy day in either park - certainly not what I would normally expect on a Saturday in the middle of summer. But maybe the new seasonal pricing scheme, where this day was a "Peak" day for one-day tickets, is starting to have an affect. It was also a blockout day for most annual passes - everything except Signature/Signature Plus and Premier. While things seemed busier than usual first thing in the morning, the crowds did not pick up appreciably throughout the morning like they usually do. Maybe if you're going to pay that much for a one-day ticket, you're going to be sure you arrive at park opening? The seasonal pricing does not apply to multi-day tickets (yet), and I saw lots of people using those.

We returned to use our Soarin' Around the World Fastpasses. I find it frustrating that Fastpasses for Soarin' never have worked as efficiently as they do for most other attractions. Even with a Fastpass we waited about 15 minutes.

I was wondering if the interior would be different, but it's not - you still walk through the California Aviators Wings of Fameexhibit. It seems odd that there's not a more international focus now.

Soarin' Around the World

The logo is slightly different.

Soarin' Around the World

I had already heard this, but I was happy to see that Patrick was still our flight attendant. :-)

Soarin' - Patrick your flight attendant

This was my first time to see the new movie in person (I had seen it on-line). I was disappointed. The scenery is beautiful, but I found the gratuitous use of CGI to be very distracting. Most of the scenes had added elements that obviously weren't really there. And we won't even talk about the Taj Mahal scene, which was entirely computer-generated. The locations they chose were beautiful, and could stand on their own - they didn't need any effects added to them.

Though speaking of effects...the "speed-up" effect that we experienced a couple of times was really well-done. I felt like I was moving a lot faster.

While I was underwhelmed, I will say that Lee really liked it, and says I spoiled it for him by pointing out all of the things that weren't real. Kristin said she preferred the original California version.

I liked the grass scent - though I'm not convinced that's really what the plains of Tanzania really smell like. :-) The ocean scent was similar to what we smelled in the original attraction. I did not detect the rosewater fragrance that was supposed to accompany the Taj Mahal scene. But I may have been too focused on how fake it looked. I really loved the Iguazu Falls scene - I think that was my favorite.

It was time to use our Radiator Springs Racers Fastpasses. Now this is how Fastpass SHOULD work - we were on the ride about 5 minutes after entering the queue. Afterwards I used a feature of my AP that I hadn't tried before - I took a cell phone photo of our attraction photo, then put that number into my AP Photopass account after we returned home, and was able to download our photo for free. Nice. (The free Photopass download is available with Signature, Signature Plus, and Premier APs.)

Radiator Springs Racers Photo

Apparently regular guests can purchase a single day Memory Maker package for $39, which includes all attraction photos as well as any other Photopass photos. That almost seems reasonable.

On Buena Vista Street, a number of the "Citizens of Buena Vista Street" were out and about. This was the first time that I'd seen both of the messengers, Molly and Millie, out at the same time. They are twins, and they squabble over which one gets to ride the bike. :-) Molly is on the left in the photo below.

Citizens of Buena Vista Street Molly and Millie

We'd ended up with several Fastpasses in a row, so we went back to Disneyland to ride Hyperspace Mountain. Unfortunately it was down. But the good news was that our Fastpasses would be valid any time for the rest of the day - assuming it came back up.

On our way to Hyperspace Mountain we'd stopped to get Fastpasses for Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. The return time was only 35 minutes away. So we went and got Dole Whips (Matt's request) while waiting. Even the Dole Whip line was not particularly long, and it moved quickly.

Dole Pineapple Juice sign

We defeated the Evil Emperor Zurg, and although we didn't quite make it to Galactic Hero status we had fun.

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

We had Fastpasses for the 4:00 performance of Frozen, but wanted to be in line about 3:15, so we went back to DCA to do what we like to call the Wine and Beer Ride. :-) Normally we would've gone to the Al Fresco Tasting Terrace but we really didn't have enough time for that, so we went to the Sonoma Terrace instead. They have a good selection of craft beers (though they are all in bottles - none on tap), and a few wines by the glass. The guys each had a beer, and Kristin and I both had glasses of the St. Hilaire sparkling wine. The cast member who poured the latter filled the glasses ALL the way to the top - we had to take a sip before we could carry it to a table! We also got one of the cheese plates to share.

Sonoma Terrace wine and cheese plate

The Sonoma Terrace is next to the Wine Country Trattoria on the Paradise Pier side. There's a nice large seating area there, and most of it is shaded. It's usually pretty quiet and it's a great place to sit and relax.

We enjoyed the opportunity to sit down for a while before we had to deal with all of the Frozen Frenzy. On our way to the Hyperion Theater we stopped at the 60th anniversary photo stop in "a bug's land". This one is a lot of fun, though the photographer didn't have the butterfly net prop for Matt to use. My AP is also my Photopass card, and again, free downloads!

Disneyland 60th Ant-iversary

But back to Frozen - Live at the Hyperion Theater. This was my first time experiencing it as a regular guest - I'd only see the media preview. The show started at 4:00. Our Fastpasses said to arrive between 3:00 and 3:40. (The Fastpass line closes 20 minutes before the show and those in the Standby line are allowed to fill any available seats.) We arrived at the Hyperion about 3:20. Each Fastpass specifies which section of the theater it is for: Orchestra, Mezzanine, or Balcony. We had Fastpasses for the Mezzanine. Those who had Fastpasses for the Orchestra section were already packed in like sardines (which used to be an export of Norway's - we toured an old cannery in Stavanger last year), and there were still people arriving. The Mezzanine section was filling up quickly, also. There was a huge line of people trying for standby in any section they could get into. I should mention that the 11:00 show had gotten canceled that day, so my guess is that many people who had Fastpasses for that show were now trying for standby.

We were admitted to the theater closer to 3:45 than 3:40. We were able to get seats in the third row center of the Mezzanine. The Mezzanine was always my favorite section for Aladdin, so I wanted to see how it was for this show. (I saw Frozen from Orchestra the first time, at the Media preview. I was in about the 6th row, which seemed like a fine choice at the time, but ended up being too close.)

Frozen Hyperion from Mezzanine

There's what I assume is a safety bar about 15" above the railing of the Mezzanine, and if you were in the first two rows it obscured your view of the stage somewhat. Even in row three it was in our view when the actors were towards the front of the stage.

Frozen - In Summer

There still seem to be some issues with this show. As I mentioned, the first show of the day was canceled, and our show had a technical issue of some kind less than 10 minutes from the end. Fortunately after a few minutes they were able to continue. I know it's a very complex show, but since it's been running for over six weeks I was surprised that there still seem to be so many problems.

Frozen Finale

I still really enjoyed the show. The viewing was much better overall from the Mezzanine than it was when I'd seen it from row 6'ish of Orchestra. There was a good view of Elsa on her ice staircase. Though I think the best seats might be the first couple of rows in the second tier of Orchestra (Loge?).

Frozen - Elsa on ice staircase

I thought the "Aurora Curtain" effect was much more pronounced from this seat location and I felt more immersed in Arendelle. There's one scene where Elsa is walking forward and a zoom effect on the projections at the back of the stage and on the curtains makes it look like she's really moving towards us much more quickly.

The acting and singing were still excellent. The Kristoff, Hans, and "Weaseltown" characters were played by the same actors that I saw before, but Anna, Elsa, Olaf, and the King and Queen were different. I thought this Anna/Elsa pair was better. The Olaf was just as good as the first - both of the actors I've seen were outstanding, and really captured the character.

Frozen - Anna and Elsa

Kristin and Lee both thought the show was very good. Matt had never see the movie, but still enjoyed the show. Though parts of it were a little confusing since there's a few plot points that were in the movie that are skipped in the show. If you haven't seen the movie, the climactic Elsa-Hans-Anna-Kristoff-on-the-ice scene is a "where are they and what's going on?" kind of thing.

Frozen Anna and Elsa

Disney is currently scheduling four shows a day - and that doesn't even come close to meeting the demand. Even with Fastpasses people are lining up as soon as possible to try to get good seats. That makes for a long wait even before the show starts. The $49 that Disney is charging for the pre-show experience and priority seats is looking more appealing to me all the time.

I was concerned about big crowds getting out of the theater but it wasn't too bad. We had a 5:30 priority seating for Cafe Orleans in Disneyland that I'd made in advance before I knew what Frozen show we'd be seeing. Once we had the Fastpasses I knew it would be a little tight, but I thought we'd be ok - but then we had the delay in the show. It was 5:15 before the show ended. We made it, but just barely. As it turned out the restaurant was still accepting walk-ups, so it wasn't really a problem. I'll have a separate blog with a review of our meal.

After dinner the Disneyland app showed us that Hyperspace Mountain was running again so we went over to use our Fastpasses. No problem, and we were on the attraction quickly. I was again able to use my AP Photopass feature to download our ride photos. Though unfortunately the CM seated us in two different cars, so we aren't all in the same picture.

Hyperspace Mountain

We had planned to head home after that, but the Disneyland All-American College Band was performing a set at the train station so we stopped to hear the rest of it. This is the first time we'd seen them this summer. They are always so talented, and a lot of fun to watch.

Disneyland All American College Band

We really had a very nice day! We were able to do all the attractions we really wanted to and we had a few opportunities to relax, also. I was pleasantly surprised that the parks were relatively uncrowded - that wasn't what I had expected that day.

I enjoyed the Frozen show as much the second time - I predict it's going to be around for a long, long might even beat Aladdin's 13 year run at the Hyperion Theater.

Though I'm hoping the new Soarin' film is NOT around for 13 years...I was really disappointed in that.

July 15, 2016

2016 Mickey's Halloween Party Information and Updates

Mickey's Halloween Party

Disneyland (finally) announced details for this year's Mickey's Halloween Party events...and there are a number of changes.

There will be seventeen different parties this year: September 23, 26, 28, 30 and October 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21, 24, 26, 29, 31.

The most interesting to me is the announcement that The Headless Horseman will appear on Main Street prior to the "character cavalcade." That's the first time that I know of that we've seen the Horseman on the left coast. He'll ride a black stallion and carry his jack-o-lantern head. From the parade route posted on the Halloween Party page it appears that he will enter Main Street next to the fire station, go around Town Square, up Main Street, around the hub, and then back down Main Street and exit next to the fire station. I may have to go to the party this year just to see that!

But there's a hefty price increase this year. The cheapest ticket is $72 for Annual Passholders for advance purchase of tickets to seven different week night parties. It's not clear if there is a discount for DVC members or Visa card holders. The advance purchase price for the general public for those parties is $79, and the same day price is $89. There is no discount at all for the other ten parties, and in fact the parties on October 29 and 31 are $99! Last year an AP ticket was $63, advance purchase was $69, and the same day price was $77. The October 29 and 31 parties were priced at $84 - so they received a $15 increase this year. That's almost 18% higher.

And also factor in that this year parking is NOT included with the ticket - essentially raising the price another $18 for many guests. At least they did not take away the early entry feature, and as in previous years party guests will be allowed to enter Disneyland three hours before the party starts.

Ticket sales open on July 21 for Annual Passholders, DVC members, and Disney Visa cardholders, and for July 28 to the general public.

A significant change this year: While in the past all guests have been "welcome to dress in costume" - this year there's not the same level of encouragement for adult guests. There are many more costume guidelines this time - and they will be very familiar to those of you who have participated in recent runDisney events.

From Disneyland's web site:

While we encourage creativity, we also value safety and good judgement. Please take a moment to read over our latest rules and regulations:
-- Costumes must be family-friendly and may not be obstructive, offensive, objectionable or violent.
-- Guests who dress like characters may not pose for pictures or sign autographs for other Guests.
-- Costumes may not contain any weapons that resemble or could easily be mistaken for an actual weapon.
-- Costumes may not contain sharp objects, pointed objects or materials that may accidentally strike another Guest.
-- Layered costumes or costume props that surround the entire body are strongly discouraged and may be subject to additional security screening.
-- Costumes may not reach or drag on the ground. (e.g. full-length Princess dresses).

For Guests Ages 13 and Under: Costumes and some masks may be worn, as long the mask does not cover the entire face and eyes are visible.

For Guests Ages 14 and Older
-- Capes may be worn if the length does not go below the waist.

-- Themed T-shirts, blouses, sweatshirts and hats are acceptable.

-- Acceptable accessories include: transparent wings, plastic light sabers, toy swords and tutus. Headwear may be worn as long as it does not cover the face.

-- Masks of any kind may not be worn.

Guests who do not adhere to these guidelines may be refused entry into, and/or removed from, unless his or her costume can be modified to meet the above standards.

Takes a lot of the fun away for the adults, I think. I get it, but it's still disappointing.

But back to the positives:

New this year is Villains Square - Town Square will become the Disney villains meet and greet location. According to the web site, the villain appearance times will be available on the Disneyland app.

The Cadaver Dans will be back, and will perform their sepulchral hits and melancholy melodies in Frontierland.

As in past years, attending a Halloween Party is the only way to see the spooktacular Halloween Screams fireworks show. I still think it's one of the best firework shows ever at Disneyland.

The usual trick-or-treat stops and meet-and-greets with Disney characters in costume will return, as well as a dance party at the Tomorrowland Terrace.

The Character Cavalcade will also be back this year (last year the Paint the Night parade ran instead). I keep hoping that Disney will make this more of a real parade, but I'm not very optimistic.

I was a little surprised to read that the resort-wide Halloween Time celebration has been moved forward another week, and starts on September 9. Just barely after Labor Day! But it is very popular - in fact I have a friend who says she enjoys it more than the holiday season.

This year will mark the fifteenth anniversary of the incredibly popular Haunted Mansion Holiday. Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy is also returning, so I guess that means we will say goodbye to Hyperspace Mountain later this summer. No official word yet on whether that means we'll see a turning of the Season of the Force. (Just how long ARE the seasons in that galaxy far, far away?)

What do you think of the changes to Mickey's Halloween Party? Does any of it affect your decision on whether (or not) to attend this year?

Lee and I haven't been to the party since 2010, I think, but I'm interested in going back this year - I'd really like to see the Headless Horseman. And I really enjoy the Halloween Screams fireworks.

More information:

Mickey's Halloween Party

Halloween Time Returns to the Disneyland Resort

July 4, 2016

Dining Review: River Belle Terrace

River Belle Terrace

Earlier this year the River Belle Terrace restaurant in Frontierland was converted from a counter service restaurant to a table service restaurant. As a counter service restaurant breakfast service was offered in addition to a lunch/dinner menu, while the table service restaurant is only open for lunch and dinner.

Many of us have enjoyed eating breakfast at the River Belle Terrace over the years - the outdoor patio offered a lovely overlook of the Rivers of America and Tom Sawyer Island in the morning. And it was the only place around to get a Mickey Mouse pancake!

Mickey Mouse Pancake

Fortunately, the Mickey Mouse pancake and most of the other breakfast items live on at Rancho del Zocalo, which has now picked up the morning breakfast service. Unfortunately my personal favorite, the Cinnamon Roll French Toast, did not make the move, and is no longer available.

Cinnamon Roll French Toast

Recently we had the opportunity to try dinner at River Belle Terrace. We arrived at the podium about 5 minutes before our priority seating time. Our party of three was seated about 10 minutes later. We chose "first available" and were seated inside, though I was hoping for an outdoor table. It's a pleasant dining room, though very simply decorated.

River Belle Terrace Table

The menu is Southern inspired. It is the same for lunch and dinner and features sandwiches (fried chicken, pulled pork, beef brisket), pork ribs, fish and several entree salads.

River Belle Terrace Menu

We shared one of the appetizers: Creamy Pimento Cheese Dip, served with toasted bread and crispy celery for $10.00. This was actually quite tasty, and there was quite a bit of it. We quickly ran out of bread, but our server brought us more.

Creamy Pimento Cheese Dip

I tried the Grilled and Chilled Shrimp with house-made BBQ cocktail sauce and lemon. At $12.00 I thought this was a little pricey. Still, I enjoyed the shrimp and the sauce.

River Belle Terrace Grilled Shrimp

Lee ordered the House Salad with arugula, apple, Gorgonzola, dried cranberries, candied pecans, and apple vinaigrette for $6.00. Much more modestly priced, and a nice serving.

River Belle Terrace House Salad

As an entree I ordered the Pulled Pork Sandwich - BBQ sauce and tangy coleslaw served on toasted ciabatta. The pork was not fatty and had a good flavor, though it could have used some more BBQ sauce. I was happy that they stuck with a traditional coleslaw and did not put peppers in it.

River Belle Terrace Pulled Pork Sandwich

All of the entrees come with their Signature baked beans and choice of an additional side: coleslaw, potato salad, seasoned tater tots, or seasonal vegetables. I ordered the tater tots and they were the clear winner here - we all really enjoyed those. They tasted really good dipped in the leftover pimento dip.

Lee tried the Beef Brisket Sandwich with smoked Provolone and fried onions served on toasted onion hoagie roll with steak sauce-mayo. He was very pleased with that.

River Belle Terrace Beef Brisket Sandwich

Our friend Michelle ordered River Belle's Chopped Salad with Romaine lettuce, black beans, garbanzo beans, pickles, roasted corn, red bell pepper, and tomatoes topped with fried onions and served with BBQ ranch dressing. It's served with choice of chicken, grilled shrimp, brisket or BBQ tofu. She had the tofu. I tried a bite of the tofu and I enjoyed it - it had a good flavor and a nice texture.

River Belle Terrace Chopped Salad w/Tofu

Other entrees include Fried Chicken Sandwich, Pork Spareribs, Oven-roasted Sausage Link Combo Sustainable Catch of the Day, BBQ Tofu, and Roasted Half Chicken.

For dessert Lee and I split the Maple, Apple, and Bacon Bundt Cake, because that sounded really interesting. It was an apple bundt cake with a hint of maple flavoring and some candied bacon. The bacon mostly just tasted sweet and added a crunchy element - I didn't really taste any bacon flavor. The other two desserts available were a Butterscotch Pudding Parfait and Fried Cheesecake.

Maple, Apple, Bacon Bundt Cake

Our server was good but not exceptional. Our meal was nicely paced, she kept our drinks refilled and brought us extra bread for the dip.

For what you get I thought it was overpriced, especially compared to options like Cafe Orleans and Carnation Cafe. The menu seems to be a combination of the (closed) Big Thunder Ranch BBQ and River Belle's former counter service menus. I'm glad we tried it, but I'm in no hurry to go back. My favorite Disneyland table service restaurant is still Cafe Orleans.

May 16, 2016

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend - Part 3, The Food

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

I'd say that we didn't eat like pixies this weekend...except that I really don't know what pixies eat! :-)

Thursday evening after the Expo we visited one of our favorites: Earl of Sandwich. Even when it's busy the lines are never as long as they are at the one in Florida. I had my favorite Holiday Turkey Sandwich with turkey, cranberries, stuffing and gravy. So good.

Earl of Sandwich Holiday Turkey

Lee had the All-American, a turkey sandwich with cranberries, cheese, lettuce and tomato.

Earl of Sandwich All-American

Last time we were here we'd really enjoyed the brownie bites. I went looking for them while we were standing in line. There was one container left, and in the time that that I traveled the length of the counter looking for more, someone came and grabbed them! Argh! So we had one of the regular brownies instead. It was pretty good.

Friday morning after the 5K we had breakfast at White Water Snacks at the Grand Californian. It was fairly busy since it had just opened and there were a number of other 5K runners with the same idea. At WWS you order any hot dishes at the register, and they give you a number, then deliver it to your table. It can sometimes be a very slow process, but it went pretty quickly that day.

I had the Breakfast Burrito with scrambled eggs, tomato, cheddar cheese, bacon and red bliss potatoes. It was quite good, though it didn't come with any salsa, and all that was available was bottled hot sauce. I appreciated that it came with fruit.

White Water Snacks Breakfast Burrito

Lee tried the Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwich with fried eggs, smoked bacon and cheddar cheese. The "biscuit" was more like a burger bun - not really very biscuit-like. But otherwise he enjoyed it, and it was very filling.

White Water Snacks Breakfast Biscuit

Lee had to participate in a conference call for work, so I went to DCA by myself for a while. It was a coolish drizzly morning, and when Ghirardelli opened I went there to try their Sea Salt Caramel Hot Cocoa. It was good - I got a medium, but I would have been satisfied with a small.

Ghirardelli Sea Salt Caramel Hot Cocoa

We had lunch at Rancho del Zocalo in Disneyland. I tried something different this time: Chile Verde, chunks of pork braised in a tomatillo sauce, served with rice and beans. It had a really good flavor, but I thought the pork was a little dry. It wasn't really tender at all.

Ranch del Zocalo Chile Verde

Lee had the Carne Asada & Red Chile Enchilada Platter - carne asada and two cheese enchiladas with tortillas, rice and beans. He always enjoys this.

Rancho del Zocalo Carne Asada and Red Chile Enchilada

That evening we had an early dinner at Al Fresco Tasting Terrace at DCA. We split the Flatbread Two Ways - it has fig, apple, and arugula on one side and tomato, olives, and pancetta on the other.

Al Fresco Terrace Flatbread

Lee enjoyed the Beef Tenderloin Sliders.

Al Fresco Terrace Beef Sliders

I had the Bruschetta, which is one of my favorites.

Al Fresco Terrace Bruschetta

Since we only had a 10K the next day we enjoyed some wine, too. :-) I had a glass of the Silverado Sauvignon Blanc. Lee tried the Red Blends Wine Flight. The wine flights are not presented as nicely as they used to be - they used to bring a carrier with all three glasses, and include a card that had information on the three wines. This time the server simply brought the three glasses and told Lee what they were.

Al Fresco Terrace Red Blends Flight

The Terrace is really a lovely area - it's always very peaceful and relaxing up there. The Pixar Play Parade was going on during part of the time we were there, but it was still very easy to tune it out.

Saturday morning we went to Disneyland for Extra Magic Hour which started at 8:00. After the park opened at 9:00 we went to Rancho del Zocalo for breakfast. Several months ago it replaced River Belle Terrace as the breakfast location in Frontierland, and we had tried it yet. Most of the breakfast menu is similar to the one that was offered at River Belle - in particular the Mickey Mouse Pancakes - but Mexican-inspired entrees like Chilaquiles , Fajitas, and a Chorizo and Egg Burrito, are also available. But the item that didn't come over from River Belle was my favorite: the Cinnamon Roll French Toast. I missed that.

Lee had the Tamales for breakfast. Two pork tamales with rice and beans.

Rancho del Zocalo Breakfast Tamales

I ordered the Kid's Fruit Plate, which came with sliced fruit, a mini oat bran muffin and vanilla yogurt. I also ordered a side of scrambled eggs. The fruit and muffin were quite good, but the yogurt is that artificially sweet yogurt. It's too sweet and leaves a funny aftertaste.

Rancho del Zocalo Kid's Fruit Plate

The "American" selections are served at one counter and the "Mexican" selections at another. The Mexican selections didn't seem to be nearly as popular, so I wonder how long they will be available. The kitchen area is larger than in River Belle and there seemed to be more people working so the lines moved a lot faster than at River Belle. And at Zocalo the beverages are self-serve, so that seemed to help, also.

Rancho del Zocalo

Other than the absence of the Cinnamon Roll French Toast, we thought Zocalo's breakfast offerings were very good. While there's no indoor seating, there is quite a bit that's covered, in the event of rain.

We had lunch with friends at Carthay Circle Restaurant. Our server, Melynda, was a hoot, and really played well with us. One of the guys asked that there be at least 42 grains of rice with his entree. She explained, with a perfectly straight face, that it only came with 41, but that she would personally talk to the chef and see what she could do. :-) (She really exceeded herself - there were at least 200!)

There are a few set items on the Carthay Circle Restaurant menu but there are always seasonal specialties, too, especially the soup and salad. I ordered the seasonal soup and salad in lieu of an entree. The soup was Spicy Tropical Sun Gold Tomato Broth, with jerked pork shrimp, mushrooms, pineapple, and mango. It had a very pretty color and a good flavor - it was a little bit spicy.

Carthay Circle Spicy Sun Gold Tomato Broth

The Carthay Circle Escarole Salad salad was also very nice. It had strawberries, tangerines, and jicama with citrus vinaigrette. I particularly enjoyed the vinaigrette, as it wasn't overly citrusy.

Carthay Circle Escarole Salad

Lee had the Tangerine Ginger Grilled Chicken and Soba Noodle Salad. It had all kinds of things in it: edamame, cucumber, macadamia nuts, heirloom tomatoes, mint and cilantro. He enjoyed it.

Carthay Circle Soba Noodle Salad

The friends we were with tried the Meyer Lemon Custard Tart for dessert. The white squares on top are made of crispy meringue. It was a beautiful dish and they said it was very good.

Carthay Circle Meyer Lemon Custard Tart

That evening we met a friend for a pre-half marathon dinner at La Brea Bakery Cafe. I'd never considered this for a pre-race dinner, but they had several pasta choices in addition to the usual salads and sandwiches I associate with this restaurant.

I had the Mixed Greens Salad, and I had them add pan fried salmon to it. It was a very nice salad. The salmon was a little underdone in the middle, but I didn't bother to send it back.

La Brea Bakery Mixed Greens Salad

Lee had the Kabocha Squash Ravioli. He really enjoyed it. I tried some and it was very good - just a little hint of sweetness.

La Brea Bakery Kabocha Squash Ravioli

Our friend Jill had the La Brea Bakery Burger with sweet potato chips. She said it was really good. I tried a couple of the sweet potato chips and they were very tasty.

La Brea Bakery Burger

Sunday morning after we'd finished the race and showered we went into Downtown Disney to have breakfast at the UVA Bar and Cafe (our friend Eddie had clued us in to this place!). There was a line, but we only waited about 10 minutes for a table.

We both wanted celebratory glasses of bubbly! They have a very nice prosecco here. But I was very surprised when she brought it in stemless wine glasses...there had been a big demand for sparkling wine that morning (go figure) and they were out of clean flute glasses! This photo just doesn't have quite the same impact without a champagne flute in it.

UVA Bar Prosecco

On race mornings they do a subset of their regular breakfast menu, because they are SO much busier than usual. I had the Farm Fresh Eggs - scrambled and served with country potatoes (but no peppers!), choice of bacon or sausage, and choice of white/wheat toast or English muffin. Nothing fancy, but it tasted good.

UVA Cafe Farm Fresh Eggs

Lee had the Chilaquiles. He was very happy with this. I tried a little bit, and it was quite good.

UVA Cafe Chilaquiles

Think he was hungry? :-)

UVA Bar empty plate

That was our final meal for this trip. It was nice to try some different places, but we enjoyed visiting some of our favorites, also.

May 14, 2016

Disneyland and DCA - New Attractions and Shows


On our recent trip I had the opportunity to experience some new shows and attractions that have recently opened. I say "new", but two of them were actually updates of existing attractions that just came out of lengthy refurbishments.

The first is the Jungle Cruise, which just re-opened on May 6. The biggest change was to the dock area, to help keep the boats more stable during the loading/unloading process. The dock that you seen on the right side of this photo was added, which helps to confine the boats and limit their movement.

Jungle Cruise dock

Here's a view from the boat - you can see the boats also had bumpers added to them.

Jungle Cruise dock

A closer view of the bumper.

Jungle Cruise dock

There really weren't any changes to the ride itself - everything was just freshened up. The skippers still tell the same corny jokes. (Here was our first sign of "Danger.")

Jungle Cruise

I thought the piranhas sprayed more than I've seen before.

Jungle Cruise

We had a slight wait before going to the dock to unload, so heard a longer version of the menu at the "Cannibal Cafe" - rump roast, toe-fu, ladyfingers, Girl Scout cookies, cold shoulder...

Jungle Cruise Trader Sam

The elephant was added to the roof above Tropical Imports.

Jungle Cruise

It was nice to see the Jungle Cruise return - it's a classic attraction.

Another refurbished classic attraction is the Tomorrowland Autopia. The big change is that Honda is now the sponsor rather than Chevron. There's a whole new color scheme now.





The cars are still the same, though some of them have an updated body with a Honda logo. Others appear completely unchanged.


You can see some of the old and new cars in this photo.


The load process is still the same.


I hadn't done this ride in a long time. I thought that the graphics on the screen in the loading area and inside the building part of the queue were new, but I could be wrong.



Some of the graphics on the outdoor screen were fun.




The track is still the same - some interesting views.


There is still a short "off-road" section. It had rained earlier on the day we did it, so that area was a little muddy.


There's still the booths on the exit ramp where for $5 you can get a photo taken to put onto your Autopia Driver License.



We had to laugh when looking around the queue - I'd say that 2/3 of those riding were parties of adults WITHOUT children. Pretty high nostalgia factor for this one.


One change: Autopia is no longer a Fastpass attraction.

Over in DCA...

Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters, which replaced Luigi's Flying Tires, opened in March. It's the first attraction in the U.S. Disney parks to use the trackless vehicle technology that they have in the overseas parks. The cars are Luigi's cousins from Carsoli, Italy, who are demonstrating some of the traditional dances from their village. The cars move all around the floor as they whirl around each other, and at the end they all dance and spin in formation.

Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters

There are five different songs, most of them accompanied by lots of beeping.

It's quite finicky about operating conditions, though. I saw it E-stop because someone's hat blew onto the surface, and on this recent trip I was on the ride when it stopped because of light drizzle. (Cast members had warned us that might happen - they gave us a pass that was good for almost any ride in either park.)


It's a cute ride, and the spinning at the end is fun, but a lot of us preferred the Flying Tires.

Over in the Animation Building, the Turtle Talk with Crush show has been updated to include characters from the upcoming "Finding Dory" movie. Dory and Destiny the Whale Shark appear together in an extended scene, as does Bailey the Beluga.

Turtle Talk with Crush and Finding Dory

Turtle Talk with Crush and Dory

There's also Marlin, Hank the Octopus, and a hermit crab.

Turtle Talk with Crush and Finding Dory

Turtle Talk with Crush and Finding Dory

Turtle Talk with Crush and Dory

I saw this several times - it seemed much more scripted than it has in the past. I think that's mostly to get the appearances of the "Finding Dory" characters in there. Still a cute show, though, and it was very popular with the kids.

Finally, I saw the new sneak peek of the upcoming Alice in Wonderland film: "Alice Through the Looking Glass." Instead of the "It's tough to be a bug" theater, where the sneak peeks are usually held, this one is in the former Muppets Theater, now that the "Frozen" sing-along has moved out. The theater has been renamed the "Sunset Showcase Theater." On the outside are some of the oversize props from the Mad T Party.

Through the Looking Glass preview

On the inside, though, it still looks like a hall in the Kingdom of Arendelle.

Sunset Showcase Theater

There's something fun in the pre-show area: two booths that will transform you into different characters from Alice in Wonderland. I thought it was pretty well-done. To get started you answer a few questions on the touch panel in front of you, and then look into the mirror above. After some initial process takes places you can use the touch panel to select which characters you want to see yourself as - Mad Hatter:

Alice Mad Hatter

Queen of Hearts:

Alice Queen of Hearts

White Queen:

Alice White Queen

Cheshire Cat:

Alice Cheshire Cat

White Rabbit:

Alice White Rabbit

At the end you choose one of them and mug for the camera. Then, if you have supplied an email address during the introductory portion, it will email you a video.

It was fun to do, and fun to watch. There's a line off to the side for those who wish to try it. It takes several minutes for each person.

The movie clip itself was in 3D. There were just a couple of "4D" effects. Not really my cup of "tea", though. The movie opens June 10; the sneak peek is scheduled to run through June 12.

Alice Through the Looking Glass

While this wasn't a new attraction or show, it was still something new...ducklings! They were in one of the planters near the hub. It's always fun to see the new babies every spring.

Disneyland ducklings

We still have some more new things to look forward to - the new Frozen - Live at the Hyperion musical, as well as the new Soarin' Around the World film. Frozen opens May 27; Soarin' is scheduled for June 17.

May 12, 2016

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend - Part 2

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

Saturday, May 7 - 10K

We didn't run the 10K this year - the first Tinker Bell 10K we've skipped. It felt strange not to be running it, but it was very nice to sleep in! As we made our way to Disneyland for Extra Magic Hour we crossed the race course very close to where the final participants were going by - they probably finished just before 8:00.

Sunday, May 8 - Half Marathon

Happy Mother's Day!

This still seems to me like it's an odd weekend to hold this particular race...And in fact registration was down this year...the half marathon never sold out. Whether that's due to the date or to some combination of the price and the number of runDisney race weekends now available is hard to say.

When runDisney changed the race date from January to May one of my concerns was the weather - it can be HOT in May. Fortunately, we've had cool weather for these first two years. Even a little bit of rain both years - unusual for southern California in May.

On Sunday the weather was just about perfect - 55 at the start, and low 60s at the finish. A little bit of sun, but not too bad.

This year the pre-race/finish areas for the Tinker Bell half marathon (and 10K) moved from the Paradise Pier to the traditional finish line by the Disneyland Hotel. Which meant there were adjustments to the course as well, but I'll get to that later.

Have I mentioned yet how nice it is to do runDisney races in California where we can walk from our hotel to the start area (and back)? After the bus experience with Star Wars - the Dark Side in Florida last month, it was especially nice to not have to deal with buses for this race weekend.

By the time we reached the pre-race area a lot of runners were already going to their corrals. We met my friend/co-worker Janet - she was running her second Tinker Bell Half Marathon, and hoping to improve her time from last year. (Yes, she did: 2:08 last year, and 2:04 this year!)

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

We visited the porta-potties one last time (no lines!) and then started our trek to the corrals. To get to the corrals we had to walk back toward the Paradise Pier Hotel and then out to Disneyland Drive. And we also had to go through a security bag check twice: once near Downtown Disney as we entered the pre-race area, and then again near the Paradise Pier to access the corral area. Neither was a problem, and the second check was especially quick because by than runners had checked their gear bags, so the most any of us had was a race belt. It still had to be checked, but it was fast.

Lee and I were in Corral B this year. I was in A last year, but this year they made A smaller, and my proof of time missed the cutoff by a minute. It didn't really matter, because I would have gone back to B anyway...but it's awfully nice to be in A.

Carissa and Andrea, the race announcers, had taken a short break, and didn't come back onstage until 5:25 - and the race was supposed to start at 5:30! That didn't seem like much time, since we still hadn't had the National Anthem. As soon as they came back they introduced the Disneyland cast member who sang the anthem. I don't remember her name, but she did a beautiful job.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon National Anthem

Minnie and Daisy came on stage with Carissa and Andrea.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

And then it was time to start the race. No fireworks or fire pots or anything like that this year - just the graphics on the big screen over the start line. That was very anti-climactic.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

Corral B started 5 minutes after A. One thing I really like about this course is that it's nice and wide right out of the start - we have all of the northbound lanes of Disneyland Drive to run on. I could mostly run the pace I wanted to, or get around slower runners fairly easily. That was how it was for me the whole race - I never experienced much course congestion. The worst issues I had were other runners who either suddenly stopped or changed direction right in front of me so I had to pull up quickly to avoid running over them. People, when you're in the middle of a race course please look behind you before suddenly changing direction.

The first part of the course was the same one we're used to - right on Ball, up and over the freeway overpass, right on Harbor, and up and over the freeway again (I heard several runners grumbling about the "hills"), then past the mile 1 sign, and a right turn into a backstage area of Disneyland. The first water stop was there. But from there on the course was quite different: instead of going to DCA and running all around that park and then going to Disneyland, we went to Disneyland first.

We ran into Disneyland in Tomorrowland next to The Launch Bay (originally the Carousel of Progress) out to the hub, then a quick 180 onto Matterhorn Way. The first character stop was there: Tinker Bell and Iridessa. The line was pretty long so we didn't stop.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Tink and Iridessa

We ran back toward the opposite side of Tomorrowland, then left around the Matterhorn, and then past the Tea Cups into Fantasyland. The Lost Boys were riding the Carrousel, but they all jumped off and came to the fence for photos. One of them asked me if I was going to be their new mother, and if I would tell him a story. I started off with "Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess..." - and he instantly fell asleep. :-)

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Lost Boys

From there we ran through the castle. LOTS of PhotoPass photographers there. A little congested, but not too bad - everyone was still running.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

I'd lost Lee when I stopped for the Lost Boys, but I caught up to him when he was at the head of the line at the next character stop in Frontierland next to the Golden Horseshoe. Fawn and Vidia.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

We ran along the Rivers of America and then did another 180 near the Haunted Mansion and ran through Adventureland, over the bridge, back to the hub, and then down Main Street. Then out of Disneyland and briefly into Downtown Disney before going into DCA next to Soarin'. Even with all of the Disneyland construction, we still managed to see most of the areas of the park - we missed Critter Country and Toontown.

The mile 3 sign was along the road around Grizzly Peak.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Mile 3

We went right around Paradise Bay. This time the World of Color fountains were running (they weren't during the 5K, which was too bad, because they would have shown up much better in the dark than they did in the early morning light), and we stopped for a quick photo by the PhotoPass photographers.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

The next character stop was at Silly Symphony Swings. It was non-Tinker Bell characters, so we stopped, even though the line was a little bit long. This picture cracks me up because it looks like Goofy is eating Lee's wing. :-)

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

From there we wound around backstage behind California Screamin', and eventually entered Radiator Springs under the arch again. Then we went past Flik's Fun Fair and the Tower of Terror, where there was a character stop at the end of Hollywood Blvd. Just Rosetta for us, but Silvermist was with her at other times.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

We ran down Hollywood Blvd to the mile 4 sign.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Mile 4

There were pirates on Buena Vista Street.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

The next part was quite different from what we've done in the past to take us off Disney property and into the residential area next to the Mickey and Friends parking garage. In the past we've done Disneyland after DCA, then run out of Disneyland and through Downtown Disney and past the Disneyland Hotel, then out towards the Mickey and Friends parking garage before turning left and then right out onto Walnut St. Just about the time we exited Disney property was where we reached mile 6, almost halfway done before we left property. And I really enjoyed that stretch through Downtown Disney and the hotels because there were lots of people cheering for us, which is very energizing. The Red Hat Society ladies were always outside the Disneyland Hotel.

This year we went out of DCA and instead of going through Downtown Disney we turned right and ran around most of the outer perimeter of the park behind Radiator Springs Racers and Paradise Pier. Then we crossed Disneyland Drive south of the Paradise Pier Hotel and ran through the parking lot and back behind the DVC preview center to get out to Walnut Street. Frankly through some not very attractive backstage areas, though at least it wasn't too far. I really missed the cheering crowds at that point.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Mile 6

Once we were on Walnut Street heading north it was pretty quiet because we were in the residential area. There were a few people who had come out to watch us - some in their bathrobes. :-)

We crossed over I5 again and headed east towards downtown Anaheim. There were some very nice houses along that area, but it was still pretty quiet.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

Once we reached downtown there were cheerleaders and bands. And just about mile 8, was the Red Hat Society! This was a wonderful place for them to be, because we really needed some encouragement by then. And I think there was more room for them to spread out than they had in the spot near the Disneyland Hotel. As you'll see from the video below, it took me two minutes to walk past all of them! They were so wonderfully enthusiastic and supportive. I love seeing them every year - it's always one of the highlights of the race for me.

We made a u-turn at the Muzeo and were on our way back toward the finish.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Anaheim Muzeo

Though once we reach Ball Rd comes the cruelest part of this course: we can see the Matterhorn ahead of us, but we turn LEFT and head away from the park, because we're not much past mile 10 at that point. We wind through the industrial district a little bit, go under I5 ( the fourth and last time we cross it, though at least this time it was under and not over) and then past some of the hotels that are just east of Disneyland along the freeway.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Mile 10

We went backstage at Disneyland again and ran under the bus/tram area (one last hill - ugh!) and then all the way around the backstage of DCA - again. This was looking a little too familiar - we passed the mile 5 sign again. I was surprised that the clock on it had stopped, but I didn't stop for a photo. I didn't take any photos in the last three miles because I was hoping to make it in under 2:20, so I was pushing my pace as much as I could. Just didn't quite have it in me, though, and I finished in 2:21:43. But considering photo stops I was pretty happy with that. There were 13,145 finishers this year, and 1740 were men - I think that's the most men ever in this race.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Finish

The last .3 miles of the race were the same as all of the other half marathons now - around the Paradise Pier Hotel and then between the west side of Downtown Disney and the Disneyland Hotel to the finish line just north of it. I high-fived Minnie as I crossed the finish line, though unfortunately the photographer didn't get a photo of that.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

As a Legacy Runner I received the same medal, but it had two ribbons on it instead of one - the second says "Legacy Runner" on it.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Legacy Runner medal

And then I went to the Challenge area to pick up my pink coast-to-coast medal - I received that one for completing the Princess Half in Florida and the Tink Half in California. There were runners who were receiving BOTH the blue and pink C2C medals, which surprised me, since they had used the same two races to qualify for it. Quite a departure from a couple of years ago when they were being pretty stingy about it - now it seems like they are using every opportunity to give away a C2C medal! I had received my blue C2C at Princess, since I'd run Star Wars in California in January.

There were different photographers to go to depending on whether you had the pink medal or the blue medal, or the Pixie Dust Challenge medal.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

I had my photo taken and got my water, and then I got a text message from runner tracking that Lee had finished so I waited for him. That way we could visit the final set of photographers together to get a finisher photo of both of us.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

We got the runDisney box and exited into the Family Reunion area. It was a WHOLE lot more crowded than it had been for the 5K! Janet was waiting for us, so we heard her good news about her excellent finish time.

There were a couple of photo opportunities in the area - this really long Tinker Bell sign was one. But I didn't want to wait in line so never got a good photo of it.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

The Legacy Runners sign was out, too.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

We'd finished early enough that the Awards ceremony was going on (though I think it was almost over), and we watched a bit of that before leaving.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

As we walked by ESPN Club on our way back to the hotel, we could see the live feed of the finish line displayed on their marquis.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

It was another good race for us. The weather again cooperated, and it was really very nice for both races that we did. I didn't like this version of the course as much, especially all of the running behind DCA. I hope that we'll get the old course back, though I have a feeling we'll have to wait until 2018 or 2019 for that. I did think that the placement of the Red Hat Society downtown was a much better location for them.

Overall I didn't think I saw as many costumes this year. But I can't really talk since I didn't wear a costume for the half this time. Lee at least wore his wings. I saw some really good costumes, though. One of my favorites was a man and woman running together: he was dressed as Peter Pan, and she was all in black as Peter Pan's shadow. I also saw someone dressed as Queen Clarice - that's the first time I've seen that. There seemed to be more regular Disney costumes as opposed to Pixie/Never Land costumes this year.

I was disappointed in the characters this year. In looking back at my blogs from previous years there were significantly fewer characters this time. Only four character stops in the half marathon, plus the Lost Boys. Last year there were six, plus the Lost Boys and Jack Sparrow. The year before that there were seven or eight.

I was also disappointed in the medal. Usually on the 5 year anniversaries the medal is almost completely re-designed, but the only change this year was the added colors and the "5 YEARS" banner across the top rather than the date. Maybe that seems overly picky, but runDisney has lead us to expect that kind of thing.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon medal

I'm still enjoying the change to Disney's PhotoPass as the official race photographers. I didn't get quite as many photos from the half marathon as for the 5K, but there were still more than MarathonFoto seemed to get. And since the downloads are free for me as an Annual Passholder, that's a significant benefit.

It was fun to finally be a "Legacy Runner" for a Disney race. Here's all five of my Tinker Bell Half Marathon medals.

2012-2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon medals

We haven't really decided if we'll try to remain "Legacy Runners" for this race. Kinda hate to let it drop, though. We'll see. Registration opens on September 20, so we have some time to "Tink" about it. :-)

"Only" three medals this weekend, since we didn't do the Challenge. :-) I didn't really miss the challenge itself, but I do like a good 10K, and we've enjoyed the Tinker Bell 10K.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekend medals

Before I finish I must say "Thank You" to the "Red Hat Ladies" and to all of the other cheerleaders and bands and everyone else who came out to cheer us on. And thank you to all of the volunteers and cast members for all of their efforts - the race wouldn't be possible without them.

Thanks for reading!

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon

World of Color Dessert Party - Disney California Adventure

World of Color Dessert Party Desserts

Back in March Disneyland added a new premium viewing experience for World of Color - the World of Color Dessert Party. Recently Disney invited me to bring a few friends and experience it for myself.

There's more details below, but my initial reaction? Wow. If you're going to purchase a viewing package, then THIS is the way to see World of Color!

Check-in begins 45 minutes before the show starts at one of the entrances to the World of Color viewing area along Paradise Bay. That was a little bit slow - we had arrived about 30 minutes before check-in began and were at the front of the line, and it was about 8 minutes before we were seated. Everyone received wristbands, and then a cast member escorted us to our table.

World of Color Dessert Party

Yes, that's right, I said table. Not only do you get to sit at a table to enjoy your desserts, you get to stay seated for the entire show!

The tables were on the level just below the check-in area. Approximately the center of the viewing area right behind those who were standing in the "Premium Dining Package" viewing area. There were two rows of table along the front and back of that area. Most of them looked like they sat four people. (We were told that had our party been less than four, we would share the table with others.)

World of Color Dessert Party Tables

In the back was the bar/beverage station.

World of Color Dessert Party

In addition to soft drinks, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, adults could choose to enjoy a glass of sparkling wine and their signature World of Color cocktail - which was a lovely shade of blue. (Made with blue curacao, coconut rum, Sprite and some thing else. It did not contain much alcohol.)

World of Color Dessert Party Cocktail

We were told that kids under the age of 10 would receive the World of Color glow cup, but I didn't see anyone who had them. There is also supposed to be sparkling cider available to kids or adults who would prefer that.

There was a dessert menu on our table.

World of Color Dessert Party Menu

Our server quickly arrived and brought us a basket of bread, and told us she'd like to bring our dessert plates first so that was could get started on them and then take our drink orders. Since by this point we only had about 30 minutes until the show started, we appreciated her haste.

World of Color Dessert Party Bread Basket

The dessert plates had a lovely selection of items. I was so much more impressed with these than with what was offered in the Fantasmic! Dessert box. Most of that was always dry and inedible. But this was much more my idea of what should be available at a dessert party! We had three cheeses: Manchego, Brie, and mild cheddar. Also a bunch of green grapes (though mine were not the freshest). For sweet items there was a chocolate mocha bundt cake, a Mickey coconut macaroon, waffle bowl with berries and lime yogurt mousse, Dulce de Leche filled shortbread cookie, and a mini French macaroon (various flavors of these - between us we had pistachio, raspberry, and caramel).

World of Color Dessert Party Plates

Disney can accommodate special dietary requirements - just provide that information at the time of booking.

Our server took our drink order and returned with small bottles of water, sparkling wine AND the cocktail for two of us (we were allowed to have one of each as part of the Dessert Party), and coffee and hot chocolate for the other two. She returned just before the show started and asked if we wanted anything else, and then returned near the end of the show to ask again.

World of Color Dessert Party

Even though we were seated, we were still high enough that we had an excellent view of World of Color - Celebrate. Lee and I had seen it before but our guests had only seen the original version, and they really enjoyed this one. Unfortunately for us on the night that we saw it, the projection screen on the Fun Wheel was not in use because of wind. So all of that content was on the smaller California Screamin' screen, where it was harder to see.

World of Color Dessert Party

There was only a single show that night, so after the show was over we were able to linger at our table without being in the way and delaying preparations for a second seating. Our server, without any prompting from us, asked us if we wanted boxes to take some of our uneaten desserts home in. I'd intentionally eaten the less-travel friendly ones in anticipation of that, so we went home with some cheese, shortbread, mini macaroon and Mickey macaroon, and chocolate bundt cake. I enjoyed them later that weekend - the bundt cake was especially good. It really was a very nice dessert selection.

The price for the Dessert Party is $79/person, which includes tax and gratuity. As I mentioned, we were Disney's guests for this one, but if I wanted a premium experience I'd be willing to pay for it. I felt like I really received a premium experience. I had a seat for the show, I had someone serve me yummy desserts and cocktails, and I had time to enjoy it. My only real complaint is that I would like them to admit Dessert Party guests an hour before the show starts - as it was we felt a little rushed. Either that, or go down the line an hour before and do pre-check-in and give out the wristbands. That would speed the seating process once the seating area is opened.

World of Color Dessert Party

There's no question that this is a "splurge" experience. The regular World of Color dining packages, where you receive a three-course lunch or dinner, run anywhere from $30-$62 for adults, not including tax and tip. Less expensive, and a lot more food. Those packages give you access to an excellent viewing area, but it's standing only, and it's still pretty crowded. If you want a prime spot right within the viewing area you'll still need to line up at least an hour and a half in advance of showtime. The Dessert Party is more expensive, but gives you a seat and a more exclusive experience. You have to decide for yourself if it's worth it to you.

The World of Color Dessert Party can be booked up to 60 days in advance either on-line at or by calling 714-781-DINE or (714-781-3463). Full payment is required at the time of booking. Reservations may be canceled up to 24 hours in advance.

Disclaimer: I was an invited guest of the Disneyland Resort at the World of Color Dessert Party. This did not affect my review, and my opinions are my own.

May 9, 2016

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend - Part 1

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo

It's Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekend at Disneyland again. This time around we decided to run the 5K and the half marathon rather than doing the 10K/Half Marathon Challenge. Many people have told us that it's the best 5K Disney offers, and we wanted to try it for ourselves. And I was very disappointed in the Pixie Dust Challenge medal - I think it's ugly. No change to it this year, unfortunately.

This year is the 5th anniversary of the Tinker Bell Half Marathon, so we hoped there would be something special (like a new medal) in recognition of that. In addition, this is the first Disney race that we have been "perfect" in for any length of time, and since this was #5 we hoped there would be some recognition of that, as there has been for other Disney races at the 5 year mark.

Thursday, May 5 - Expo

Since we were running the Never Land 5K on Friday morning, we arrived late Thursday afternoon instead of Friday afternoon as we usually do. Our first stop, as always, was the Expo. It was held in the usual place in the Disneyland Hotel's Convention Center garage.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo

There are about 950 Legacy Runners in the Tinker Bell Half Marathon. There were two large banners in the bib pick-up area with the names of all of the Legacy Runners.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Legacy Runners

Lee's name was easy to find. :-)

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo

And we found my name, too.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo

Bib pickup was fast. As Legacy Runners, that is noted on our bib, and we also were told to go to another booth to pickup our "Legacy Gift". I wasn't really expecting much - but I should be grateful that there was anything at all, right? :-) So...what we received were these Tinker Bell compacts. Just a couple of mirrors inside - no space to hold anything. And it is very hard to open!

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Legacy Runner Compact

It makes Lee feel pretty, though. ;-)

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Legacy compact

The Dooney and Burke bags and the special Tinker Bell Pandora charms were also on sale in the bib pick-up area.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Dooney and Burke bags

We went upstairs to the Expo area, where we felt "fairy" special as we walked the green carpet to enter.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo

It was a little odd not to be doing the Challenge, and to have two different bibs and two different shirt pick ups. I liked the 5K shirt. This one is made of cotton.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Never Land 5K shirt

The half marathon shirt is a very nice shade of green - it's the usual tech shirt fabric. I liked the designs of all of the race shirts this year. No pink ones. :-)

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Never Land 5K shirt

There was still a line (at 5:20 p.m.) to enter the Official Merchandise area, but it moved quickly.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo Merchandise Line

At that point, it seemed like most of the race merchandise was still available. There was one aisle that was almost exclusively generic runDisney items, but I don't know if it had started that way or not. I guess that might be the difference between arriving on the first day of the Expo and the second day, which is when we usually arrive, since we had a similar experience at Star Wars - The Dark Side, where we also went to the Expo in the late afternoon of the first day.

There were lots of different women's shirts, many with designs on the front and the back.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Croc shirt

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Tink shorts

The jacket was still available - I also thought this one was nicely designed.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon jacket

There was also this jacket, which I thought was an awful shade of pink...but people will certainly see it coming!

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt

The race weekend shirt was the only unisex shirt we saw.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt

There were "I Did It" shirts for all of the race distances.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt

It looked like all of the race pins and mini-medal pins were still available. I picked up the Never Land 5K mini medal, since that was going to be a new race for me.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon mini medals and pins

Race weekend magnets were also available in what looked to be all of the styles. I didn't get one this time, though.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon magnet

There were even some temporary tattoos.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon tattoo

In one corner there were two different styles of shirts that must have been left over from the Star Wars - The Dark Side weekend.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Star Wars shirt

Water bottles have been very popular items, and there were several different styles.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon water bottle

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon water bottle

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon water bottle

And mugs. I didn't see any Tinker Bell-specific wine glasses - just the generic "Every Mile is Magic" version.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon shirt

I liked the hat - but I don't wear hats.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon hat

So we got out of there very inexpensively - I bought the 5K mini medal and that was all.

We took a tour through the rest of the Expo exhibitors, also. Pandora had a HUGE booth - which I suppose makes sense, as they are the main sponsor.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo Pandora Booth

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo Pandora Wings

Otherwise, it seemed as though the usual exhibitors were there. The show floor was not very busy that evening, which was nice for us.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo

Even the New Balance show booth was not very busy - it looked like they were taking anyone who walked up.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon Expo New Balance shoes

The New Balance booth had some pixie-themed attire as well as shoes.

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon New Balance shirts

2016Tinker Bell Half Marathon New Balance outfit

I was hoping that the runDisney booth would have the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Weekend medals, but I asked, and they haven't been released yet. But that's where we learned that after we finish the race on Sunday we will also receive a special Legacy Runner ribbon for our medal.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon ribbon

There was a nice photo backdrop in the lobby outside the show floor, and only a couple of people in front of us.

2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon photo op

Friday, May 6 - Never Land 5K

As I mentioned earlier, we had never run the 5K before, but everyone who had said that it was Disney's best 5K. The main reason being that it starts inside Disneyland!!!.

But it started at 5:00 a.m. - even earlier than the 10K and half, which started at 5:30. We headed over to Disneyland at about 4:10. We had to go through the regular security check as we entered the Esplanade, but we didn't have any bags, and that was quick.

At the Disneyland gates they were carefully checking to make sure that everyone had a bib. There weren't very many people in the park yet, and Main Street was still pretty empty! We stopped to watch the Peter Pan Enchanted Window at the Emporium - that seemed like an appropriate thing to do. :-)

2016 Disneyland Peter Pan Enchanted Window

Disney's PhotoPass was the official race photographer for this race weekend, also, just like they were for Star Wars - The Dark Side. There's a code on the back of the bibs and you add your bib number to that, then link it to your PhotoPass account to get your photos. Free downloads for Annual Passholders! I'm really enjoying this - we had pictures taken several places where I didn't bother with getting them to take one with my phone because I knew I would get much better ones from the PhotoPass people.

2016 Never Land 5K

There weren't formal corrals with this one - they were gathering the runners on either side of the hub in front of the castle. Those who arrived earlier were in Corral A on the right side, and those who arrived later were in Corral B on the left side. We made it into the A Corral with just a couple of minutes to spare.

2016 Never Land 5K

There was a pre-show on a stage in front of the castle but we couldn't see it. No big screens or any other visual aids.

Just before the race started, Tinker Bell flew around the castle! Very cool.

The start line was actually on Matterhorn Way, near the exit of Pixie Hollow, so after Tink flew Corral A moved in that direction. I was surprised that there really wasn't a starting line - no archway or anything. The race was not officially timed - we didn't have timing chips on our bibs. I wasn't really sure where the start line was, so I just started my watch when I passed Carissa Bealert, one of the race announcers.

2016 Never Land 5K

(This was the first runDisney race that I'd ever done where long-time announcer Rudy Novotny wasn't there. Many runDisney participants were very disappointed when we heard that his contract had not been renewed, and we would not see him for Tinker Bell weekend. It really was different not hearing his voice at the start line. I missed him.)

The course took us toward "it's a small world" and into Toontown. We couldn't run at all for the first tenth of a mile or so because it was so crowded and there were so many walkers, and I was pretty concerned that it was going to be like that, but fortunately once we went backstage at Toontown it started to clear out.

In previous years this race has started in Disneyland and ended in Disney California Adventure, but this year, because of all of the construction, we had very limited time in Disneyland. Most of the race was in California Adventure until we ran through Downtown Disney and finished at the Disneyland Hotel - at the usual finish line used by all of the other race weekends.

So, once we ran through Toontown, that was it for Disneyland. We ran backstage, under the bus area, then backstage behind DCA. That's where the mile 1 sign was. I should also mention the music...we had music for just about all of the race. A loop featuring "A Pirate's Life is a Wonderful Life" and "Follow the Leader", from Peter Pan. I enjoyed it, though I felt a little sorry for the cast members who were having to listen to it over and over and over and over again.

2016 Never Land 5K 1 mile sign

We ran down Hollywood Blvd, and stopped for a quick photo with Walt and Mickey.

2016 Never Land 5K Walt and Mickey

I was very surprised that we hadn't seen any character stops. There were a few pirates in front of Grizzly Peak.

2016 Never Land 5K Pirates

By this time we were among the front runners, and there weren't very many people running around us. It was great to be on a mostly empty race course! And it meant we got lots of photos taken by the race photographers, because they didn't have nearly as many subjects.

2016 Never Land 5K

We ran through Flik's Fun Faire and then backstage behind Cars Land, then into Cars Land from the Pacific Wharf side. The two mile mark was in front of Luigi's.

2016 Never Land 5K 2 Mile sign

We made a left and ran up Route 66, then left toward Paradise Pier. I expected there might be a character stop there but no - just a couple more generic pirates.

2016 Never Land 5K Pirates

We ran all around Paradise Bay. I was surprised that the World of Color fountains weren't on. The Lost Boys were at King Triton's Carousel, but not really available for a photo. The lighting was terrible, too.

2016 Never Land 5K Lost Boys

There was a photo stop with the Fun Wheel in the background.

2016 Never Land 5K

I took a photo looking back just before we turned towards Grizzly Rapids - still not a lot of people back there!

2016 Never Land 5K

FINALLY, just before we left DCA next to Soarin', there was a character stop!!!

2016 Never Land 5K Peter and Wendy

There were a fair number of people in Downtown Disney who had gotten up very early to cheer us on - it was still really dark. We made a brief stop at the Mile 3 sign.

2016 Never Land 5K 3 Mile Sign

And then it was a dash that last tenth of a mile to the finish line! There were a number of photographers in that area and we had lots of photos of us in our PhotoPass accounts.

2016 Never Land 5K

We got a shout-out from the race announcers for our wings. :-)

No official time for this one, but by my running watch my time was 32:40. Not bad considering photo stops, and a first mile that was a bit slow.

2016 Never Land 5K Finish Line

We had our finisher photo taken and got our runDisney snack box, etc.

2016 Never Land 5K Finisher Photo

The snack box seemed identical to what we received for Star Wars.

2016 Never Land 5K snack box

There was hardly anyone even in the finishing area! Really no reason to linger at all. So we went back to our room. Let's see...the race started at 5:00, and we were back in our room at 5:47. I'm really liking this whole 5K thing!

2016 Never Land 5K Stage

We received the rubber medallion rather than a "real" medal. It's cute, though.

2016 Never Land 5K Medal

There were somewhere between 4000 and 4500 people in this race - so it was very small compared to the races that we usually run. It was so much fun being so far in front of most of the rest of the pack, and having so much running room! Now we know how our fast friends, like Eddie McCoy, feel. It really is quite a different experience.

All those people who told us that it was a really good 5K - I agree with them. Starting inside Disneyland, with Tinker Bell flying overhead, was special. Even at 5:00 in the morning. :-) Though it was disappointing that because of the construction we really didn't get to run through very much of Disneyland.

The thing that most surprised and disappointed me was the character stops - or lack thereof. Peter Pan and Wendy - that was it for us. From other runners' photos I saw that Captain Hook and Mr. Smee were in Toontown, but we didn't see them. Still, I thought only two character photo stops in a 5K was a very poor showing.

Next up - the Tinker Bell Half Marathon

April 30, 2016

2016 WDW Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend - Part 3 - The Food


What's a Disney race weekend without the opportunity to enjoy a little food? And some adult beverages, too. :-) One of the things I was looking forward to on this trip was the opportunity to sample foods from the food booths at Epcot's Flower and Garden (aka mini Food and Wine) Festival.

Epcot Flower and Garden Festival

Lee and I arrived fairly late on Wednesday night. We were headed to the Boardwalk Bakery when we noticed that the Trattoria al Forno pizza window was still that's what we had. We were hungry, and scarfed it down pretty quickly, so there's no photos. :-) My cheese pizza was just ok - it had been sitting around under the heat lamp for a while. Lee really enjoyed his piece of the Boardwalk Signature Pizza, though. (This is the stock photo of the cheese pizza - mine didn't look quite this good. :-) )

Trattoria al Forno Pizza Window Cheese Pizza

The next morning we went to the Bellevue Room at the Boardwalk, which sells "Continental Breakfast" types of foods in the morning - pastries, bagels, cold cereal, yogurt, fruit cup/whole fruit, and beverages: coffee, tea, juice, milk. We were planning to visit the food booths at Epcot, but needed something to eat since they didn't open until 11:00.

When we walked into Epcot I picked up a "Garden Passport". This little booklet had the menus for all of the food booths, and there was a place to get a stamp at each booth.

Epcot Flower and Garden Festival Passport

All of the food booths had unique stamps, and there were some really interesting designs. There were stamps for the butterfly garden, the Festival shops, playground, and tours, also. No reward (such as a pin) for getting all of the stamps - just the completion stamp. But I had fun doing it anyway.

Epcot Flower and Garden Festival Tasting Passport stamps

The first thing we sampled was Seared Pork Tenderloin with Mushroom Ragout, Spring Vegetables and Marble Potatoes from Urban Farm Eats. It was excellent, and a good-sized serving for $6.00. I appreciated the fact that it had some vegetables - pieces of asparagus, onion, and beans - in addition to the sliced potatoes.

Seared Pork Tenderloin from Urban Farm Eats

Next was "Adult Soft Serve", as the Pineapple Promenade CM called it: Pineapple Soft-Serve with Parrot Bay Coconut Rum for $10.00. Oh wow. This was SO good! The rum was on top so we had to make sure we got a little on our spoons in addition to the pineapple soft serve - but once the ice cream level was low enough we could mix it in. We liked this so much that we went back later in our visit to share another one.

Pineapple Promenade Pineapple Soft Serve with Coconut Rum

One thing we really enjoyed about the food booths was that there were no lines! Mostly we walked right up to the cashier, or at most waited behind 2-3 other people. Very different from the Food and Wine Festival.

Hanami Japan Food Booth

From La Isla Fresca we sampled the Jerk-spice Grouper with Mango Salsa, Chayote and Green Papaya Slaw with Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette. This was another good one though I had to eat around the red and green peppers.

La Isla Fresca Jerk Spice Grouper

We also tried the Frozen Simply Tropical Juice Drink with Cruzan Mango Rum. I was surprised that this had chunks of mango in it - but I thought that was the best part. It was all pretty tasty, though.

La Isla Fresca Tropical Juice Drink with Cruzan Mango Rum

At the coffee kiosk near Mexico I tried the Tiki Torch - a passion fruit slush with Grey Goose vodka. I was expecting it to be more slushy, but it wasn't really frozen. It was fine, but Lee enjoyed this one more than I did.

Coffee Kiosk Tiki Torch

At Lotus House in China Lee tried a Gaoli Beef Bun, which a friend had recommended. He really liked this.

Lotus House Gaoli Beef Bun

I had my first sparkling wine at Germany's Bauernmarkt: Farmer's Market - Hugo-Charles de Fere "Organic" Brut with Elderflower and Mint. This was good - fortunately the mint was not overpowering, so I could taste the elderflower. Lee tried the Kostritzer Schwarzbier Black Lager, which he enjoyed.

Bauernmarkt Brut with Elderflower and Mint

From Primavera Kitchen at Italy we ordered Mezze Lune Primavera - Egg Pasta stuffed with Ricotta and Spinach in a Creamy Sauce with Spring Vegetables and Pecorino Cheese. This was...OK. It seemed a little bit dry.

Primavera Kitchen Mezze Lune Primavera

At THE SMOKEHOUSE at The American Adventure we tried most of the food items. The Pulled Pig Slider with Crispy Onions and Coleslaw was pretty good, but not great. I think I liked the coleslaw more than the slider.

Smokehouse Pulled Pig Slider

We also tried Smoked Pork Ribs with Roasted Corn Salad. I thought these were better. They were pretty meaty and tender. Lee liked the corn salad.

Smokehouse Smoked Pork Ribs with Roasted Corn Salad

For topping the BBQ offerings there were three BBQ sauces at the condiment station to choose from - I had North Carolina (nice and mustardy) and Lee had the classic.

For dessert we tried the Warm Chocolate Cake with Bourbon-Salted Caramel Sauce and Spiced Pecans. This was just ok. The top part of the cake which had the caramel sauce and nuts on it was the best part. And when they say "spiced" pecans they mean spicy hot and not spicy cinnamon. These had a kick to them.

Smokehouse Chocolate Cake with Bourbon Salted Caramel Sauce

That was pretty good for a first round of tastings. The last thing I tried was the La Vie en Rose Frozen Slush - Grey Goose vodka orange, St-Germain liqueur, white and red cranberry juice at France. Lee didn't care for it, but I thought it was tasty. I knew I had to finish it before we could leave the park, though. :-)

La Vie en Rose Frozen Slush

That evening we went to Disney Springs for dinner at Morimoto Asia. This was our first experience driving ourselves there and parking in the "Orange" garage. The "smart garage" worked really well - when we first pulled in the sign told us which parking levels had the most spaces, and then once we chose level 4, each row told us how many spaces were in it, and there were green lights on the ceiling of the garage over each open space to identify it. Super easy! We arrived about 5:20, so it might be more of a challenge when it's busier, but we had no problem.

We were a little early at Morimoto Asia - instead of a pager, they told me they would send a text message to my phone instead. We were seated in less than 10 minutes, but had a nice conversation with a blog reader (Hello!) while we were waiting. Our table was the outside corner of the middle block nearest the hostess station - I was concerned it might feel very busy with the aisle right next to us, but it was fine.

I'd been to Morimoto in February, but this was Lee's first visit. We started off with a couple of glasses of wine from their "Spring Selections" list. They were both very good. We also shared two appetizers. The first was the Tempura Rock Shrimp. It was $16, and I was expecting it to be just a few pieces of shrimp, but it was a very generous serving! Easily an appetizer for 3-4 people and not just two. Very good, also.

Morimoto Asia Tempura Rock Shrimp

Our other appetizer was Kakuni Pork Bao - steamed buns, braised pork belly, lettuce, spicy mayo. This was also excellent, and very filling. Lee was concerned that the pork belly might be very fatty but it wasn't. I was expecting it to be more of a traditional bao (sort of a large dumpling) rather than the something more like a taco, but we definitely got a lot more filling this way.

Morimoto Asia Kakuni Pork Bao

And then the entrees arrived. Honestly, after the appetizers I didn't need much more to eat!

I ordered something different this time and tried the Lo Mein Noodles with Chicken - stir-fried egg noodles, Napa cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, and scallions. This was good but not awesome - the Shrimp Pad Thai I had last time was much better. I still enjoyed part of it (I was too full to eat much of it), and took about 2/3 of it with me, figuring it would taste good after one of the races (and I ended up eating it after the half marathon, when it tasted REALLY good).

Morimoto Asia Lo Mein Noodles Chicken

Lee tried the Singapore Laksa Noodle - creamy coconut and spicy curry, rice noodle, chicken meatballs, and soy marinated egg. He was disappointed in this. He didn't care for the chicken meatballs, and thought the curry didn't have enough coconut flavor. I tried it, and it was a bit too spicy for me. He also ended up taking about 1/2 of it with him, which he also ate after the half marathon. Things taste a lot better after a half marathon when your body is just saying: "FEED ME", and you're shoveling it in as fast as you can. :-)

Morimoto Asia Singapore Laksa Noodle

We'd left some room for dessert. I would've liked to have had the MM Parfait again, but there was no way the two of us were going to make any serious inroads on that! So we tried the Churro Fondue instead. Housemade churros, with Nutella and vanilla cream sauces. The churros were freshly made and hot, but I thought they were a little doughy inside. They were dipped in sugar - I would've preferred cinnamon sugar, though. I really liked the Nutella sauce, but Lee preferred the cream sauce. I didn't think it was very creamy - it was a little too thick.

Morimoto Asia Churro Fondue

When our server brought us the dessert menu, I had a chuckle over a typo under the tea selections. I guess this is not the Mos Eisley Cantina, and they serve droids here. :-)

Morimoto Asia Tea Menu
Cylon Tea

It was still a really good dinner - we loved the appetizers. Next time (and there will be a next time!) we might just do appetizers/sushi/dessert and skip the entree. This is not a quiet intimate experience - the restaurant is very noisy. Though our table, being along the edge, wasn't as noisy as the one I sat at the last time. I think one of the tables along the outside wall might be better, also.

Friday morning we went to Animal Kingdom. As a snack we tried the Smoky Cheddar Grits, served with pulled pork and bread-and-butter pickles, from the Smiling Crocodile kiosk. We'd wanted to try this in February but the kiosk was closed, so we were happy to see that it was open. At $5.99 it's a pretty small serving - the size of the bowls you get at the F&W Festival. But it was really good - once Lee pulled the green peppers out of it. Ick. The pork was moist and flavorful and the grits were very cheesy - even had little bits of cheese in them. Yum.

Animal Kingdom Smoky Cheddar Grits

That afternoon we went back over to Epcot to sample from some of the food booths we hadn't yet tried. First was the Cider House at the UK. We wanted to sample three of the food items. Unfortunately they had just run out of the corned beef and cabbage that Lee wanted to try, and wouldn't have more for 15-20 minutes. But we tried the Land-harvested Field Greens with Apples, Dried Blueberries, Stilton Cheese and Apple Cider Vinaigrette. This was a nice salad, though I don't care for blue cheese.

Cider House Land Harvested Field Greens

We also ordered the House-made Potato and Cheddar Cheese Biscuit with Smoked Salmon Tartare. We both really liked the biscuit. I also enjoyed the salmon tartare, especially with the little bit of fresh dill, but Lee let me eat most of that. :-)

Cider House Potato and Cheddar Cheese Biscuit

We washed it down with two of the ciders: Keel & Curley Mad Man Blueberry Hard Cider for Lee and McKenzie's Black Cherry Hard Cider for me. We tried what the other had ordered, and both were happy with our own choices.

Cider House Blueberry and Black Cherry Hard Ciders

Next stop was Hanami in Japan, where we ordered all of the food items. First up was a Chicken Edamame Bun: Steamed Bun filled with Chicken and Edamame and topped with Curry Sauce. It was very good - maybe my favorite Festival item. The curry sauce was more like a curry aioli, but it really added a lot of flavor to the bun and the filling inside. Yummy.

Hanami Chicken Edamame Bun

One of Lee's favorite items was the Beef Teriyaki Udon: Thin-sliced Beef, Onions and Noodles tossed on the grill with Soy and Ginger. We ordered this and the steamed bun again on a later visit.

Hanami Beef Teriyaki Udon

We also tried the Frushi - Fresh pineapple, strawberries and melon, rolled with coconut rice, topped with raspberry sauce, sprinkled with toasted coconut and served with whipped cream on the side. These were tasty, though the fruit leather they were rolled in was a bit odd. And they gave us an awful lot of whipped cream - we didn't use very much of it.

Hanami Frushi

We decided that Japan won the award for most attractive presentation of their food items. They really were very pretty.

I also tried a Desert Rose from Taste of Marrakesh at Morocco. It was sparkling wine with pomegranate liqueur. It was very pretty, though a little too sweet. At $7.00 it was the cheapest sparkling wine I had, though!

Morocco Desert Rose

That evening we met friends at the Crew's Cup Lounge at the Yacht Club for dinner. I hadn't realized this place existed, much less that they served food! It was a really nice place to hang out with friends and enjoy some beverages and conversation. I tried the Tomato and Mozzarella Sandwich. It was excellent - plenty of thick-sliced fresh mozzarella, with nice slices of tomato and pesto sauce on toasted sea salt foccacia. The bread was very good also. I had a choice of house-made chips, French fries or pasta salad and chose the chips - they were crisp and salty and yummy.

Crews Cup Lounge Tomato Mozzarella Sandwich

Lee ordered the Angus Cheeseburger - he had his choice of cheese, and it came with lettuce, tomato, onion, and French fries. He said it was an excellent burger.

Crews Cup Lounge Angus Cheeseburger

Saturday morning after the 10K we went to the Boardwalk Bakery to get something to eat. I got a great big Sticky Bun. After a 10K I figured I was entitled to it. The pastry at the bakery is lighter and not so doughy, which I really like. So this was not as huge and filling as it looked, though I was still surprised that I ate the whole thing.

Boardwalk Bakery Pecan Sticky Bun

We went to the Studios later that morning...after using our Star Tours Fastpasses we were hungry, and the Backlot Express was about to open. This place has a Star Wars overlay menu now. We both had the Dark Side Chicken and Waffles, though Lee had the adult portion and I had the kid's meal. I wasn't expecting chicken nuggets as the chicken part, though at least they were tasty chicken nuggets.

Darth Vader Chicken and Waffles

I was surprised that my kid's meal came with fries - the menu said carrots and applesauce, which was actually what I wanted. I enjoyed it all, though, and it was plenty of food for me. At $7.99 the price was not too bad, either, especially since it included a small bottle of water.

Backlot Express Kids Chicken and Darth Waffles

The friends with us got their food on the lucky orange tray, which meant that they were invited to choose a free dessert. They chose the BB-8 cupcake, and shared with the rest of us. It was lemony, and just ok. We were all glad that no one had paid for it. The "pebbles" on the outside were candy covered chocolate - but very inferior chocolate.

Backlot Express BB-8 Cupcake

Saturday evening a group of us went to Il Mulino in the Swan Hotel for our pre-half marathon Italian dinner. Our reservation was at 5:00, which was when the restaurant opened. We were seated pretty quickly at our table for 11 people. The server was a little slow getting drinks and initial orders taken, but after that things moved along ok.

Lee and I ordered Parmigiano Reggiano for Two as an appetizer. I think I forgot to take a photo of it. But it served more than two people! Quite a lot of really yummy cheese for $10. We passed it down the table and a few other people partook and we still had about 8 pieces left that we took with us at the end of the meal.

We also shared an Insalata Trattoria, which our server split onto two plates. Nice selection of greens with fennel, red onions, and pine nuts.

As an entree I chose a half order of the Pappardelle Pasta with a tomato basil sauce. I'd had this before and thought there wasn't quite enough sauce, but this time it was a more generous serving. Still very tasty and I enjoyed it - and a half serving was plenty for me.

Il Mulino Pappardelle Pasta

Lee tried the Spaghetti Carbonara - spaghetti with pancetta, cheese and egg. He ordered the full serving, and managed to finish all of it.

Il Mulino Spaghetti Carbonara

While most of us enjoyed our dinners, one of our fellow diners ordered the Pollo Parmigiana and did not like it at all. It was very tough, and she couldn't cut it. Our server apologized, offered to bring her something else, and did not charge her for the entree. Unfortunate, but they tried to do the right thing.

The restaurant is pretty noisy, but fortunately it wasn't packed with diners, so it wasn't as loud as the last time I'd eaten here. (Obviously I came back, because I did enjoy the food I had last time.)

We all passed on dessert though the Torta Di Cioccolati (flourless chocolate cake) was tempting.

I found Il Mulino to be a nice alternative to the Disney restaurants like Mama Melrose, Via Napoli, and Trattoria al Forno which always seem to be disastrous dining experiences on the night before a half marathon. And actually there were a number of menu items that I'd enjoy trying when I don't have a race the next day.

For "breakfast" on Sunday after the half marathon we finished our Morimoto Asia leftovers. :-) That afternoon we went to Afternoon Tea at the Beach Club - but that is going to be a whole separate review coming soon to the All Ears Team blog. It was a very nice experience.

Sunday evening we had dinner at The Hollywood Brown Derby with our friends Dave and Holly. The restaurant was very busy and we were very pleasantly surprised when the hostess led us to a separate room at the back of the restaurant. It was so nice and quiet in there! There was one large group in there, plus two tables that were set for four people. It was really, really a very welcome oasis of calm. So nice to talk to each other without shouting!

Our server was not very good. He seemed to keep getting lost, or forgetting about us. It was a long time before we got any water or bread. Dave's drink order was messed up (though that might have been the bartender), and there was confusion about Lee's wine and he brought me the wrong salad.

I ordered a sparkling wine flight, with a prosecco, Iron Horse Fairy Tale Cuvee, and Rosa Regale. It was very nice.

Brown Derby Sparkling Wine Flight

Holly had a martini flight, with a gin martini, citrus vodka martini and cosmopolitan. Such cute little martini glasses!

Brown Derby Martini Flight

For an appetizer, Lee and I both ordered the Local Greens - tossed in champagne vinaigrette, with blueberries and peaches, Laura Chenel goat cheese, spiced candied pecans. It was a really nice salad.

Brown Derby Local Greens Salad

Dave tried the Tomato Soup.

Brown Derby Tomato Soup

As an entree I ordered the salmon, which was very tasty. It came with roasted potatoes, crispy leeks, English peas, and cauliflower puree.

Brown Derby Salmon

Lee and Holly both ordered the Charred Filet of Beef - Cabernet and Shallot Butter, Forest Mushroom and White Truffle Oil Mashed Potatoes, Sautéed Rainbow Carrots, Haricot Verts, and Red Wine Reduction. They were both pleased with it and the way it was cooked to order.

Brown Derby Charred Filet of Beef

Dave had the Pork Three Ways with a grilled wild boar chop, pork rillette, and crispy pork belly. Served with sweet corn and chili spoonbread.

Brown Derby Wild Boar special

Desserts are served as a choice of three mini desserts now - no full-sized servings of anything (even the famous Grapefruit Cake). We were disappointed in the dessert choices, so didn't order any of them. Our choices were: Amaretto Flan and Opalys White Chocolate Whip (whatever that is), Warm Blueberry Cobbler, Chocolate Mascarpone Sphere, Double Vanilla Creme Brulee, Banana-Toffee Cake, and the aforementioned Grapefruit Cake.

The food was good, the service was so-so. The company was terrific, and we really enjoyed being in the "quiet room" - we were sorry to leave it. And we probably lingered longer than we would have if we'd been in the main dining room.

Monday was our final park day - we had an evening flight home. We started with breakfast at Trattoria al Forno. We've eaten breakfast here several times since the conversion from Kouzzina. Mostly because it's the only place to get a hot breakfast at the Boardwalk rather than because we really love the food.

I ordered something new this time: Breakfast Pizza, with sliced potato, tomato sauce, and cracked egg. Normally it also comes with fennel sausage but I requested bacon instead. It was really good, and VERY filling - it was unfortunate that it was our last morning because otherwise I would've had most of it to take with me. As it was I ate the eggs and two pieces of the pizza, and picked off the potatoes and bacon from the rest.

Trattoria al Forno Breakfast Pizza

Lee had the Frittata - with red peppers, prosciutto, onions, potatoes, and pecorino romano cheese topped with arugula. It was served with breakfast potatoes and a multi-grain croissant.

Trattoria al Forno Frittata

Monday afternoon we made one last circuit of the food booths at Epcot. We had a few favorites a second time, but also tried some new items. Lee was able to get his Pear Cider-brined Shredded Corned Beef with Braised Cabbage and Pears and Branston Dressing from Cider House this time, and enjoyed that.

Cider House Corned Beef and Cabbage

We also tried the Lemon Scone with Créme Fraiche and Mixed Berries. I thought this was very good - it wasn't overly lemony (and that's a good thing). I was very surprised to read that this was gluten-free - it certainly didn't taste like it.

Cider House Lemon Scone

Lee sampled a Frozen Strawberry-Lemon Sunset – Layered frozen Strawberry and Lemonade topped with Grey Goose Vodka from the coffee kiosk near the American Adventure. He said it would've been better without the vodka. :-)

Frozen Strawberry-Lemon Sunset

From Florida Fresh we ordered Kale Salad with Dried Cherries, Almonds, Goat Cheese and White Balsamic Vinaigrette. This was very good - I think it was the best salad I had anywhere the entire weekend.

Florida Fresh Kale Salad

We finished our food adventure at Japan, where we ordered the Chicken Edamame Bun and Beef Teriyaki Udon again. And I also tried a Yuzu Plum Wine Slushy. It was different...not bad, but not my favorite beverage.

Hanami Yuzu Plum Wine Slushy

I really enjoyed the mini Food and Wine Festival aspect of the Flower and Garden Festival. It wasn't nearly as busy, so it was a much more pleasant experience. And with fewer food booths it seemed like there were more tables set up - only rarely did we not find an open table. I enjoyed the selection of foods and beverages - with fewer food booths the choices weren't so overwhelming.

April 26, 2016

2016 WDW Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend - Part 2


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

Sunday, April 17 - Half Marathon

The half marathon was scheduled to start at 5:00, rather than the usual 5:30. Even though we knew that, the alarm going off at 2:15 was still a shock. The buses started running at 2:30, but we were driving, so we left about 3:00. As we walked to the car we could see two buses waiting to transport runners. No one was getting on them, so there wasn't a line. Looked like Disney was much better prepared than the day before.

We had little traffic on our drive, and even ended up in the same row of the parking lot that we had for the 10K.

I forgot to mention the bag check area. As usual, everyone needed to pass through the security perimeter. There was a queue set up for those who had bags, but there were plenty of people checking. There was no line when we went through.

The characters were out again. I wanted to get a photo with Captain Phasma but the line was long and not moving at all, so we skipped the photos - all of them had pretty long lines.

It was a much cooler morning than the day before - 64 degrees, lower humidity, and a cool breeze. Very nice running weather, and we were thankful that the half marathon had not been the day before! It was a bit cool for sitting around, though, and most of us were sporting various fashions of trash bags or runDisney mylar sheets saved from previous races. (Lee and I have quite a collection of them at home.)

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

There were over 50% more runners than in the 10K so the pre-race area was much more crowded. We were sent to our corrals about an hour before the race, and that was a pretty slow shuffle most of the way - until the split for A-G and H-L.

I was in corral G, but everyone that I was planning to run with was in corral F. My friend Kim was also in G, and she managed to wend her way through the runners to place us near the front of the corral.

While we were waiting, there were clips from the various Star Wars movies shown on the big TV monitors.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

The race started pretty close to 5:00, with the usual burst of fireworks. For A-G the release was spaced 5 minutes apart - I'm not sure about the later corrals. Those are larger, so there may have been more time between them.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

Kim got me right up to the start line - I've never been up there before! I got a smile and a wave from race announcer Rudy Novotny, who also lives in San Diego.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

Kim told me "Go get them", and when Rudy said "Runners...Set...Gooooooo!" I went.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

The proof of time thing really seems to be working. I was one of the faster runners in the corral, and very few people passed me in the first mile. There were several guys ahead (and pulling way), but I ran by myself for about .2 miles. At .4 miles I caught up with the walkers at the back of corral F.

Even once I caught up with F the course was much less crowded than it had been the day before.

The first part of the course was similar to the 10K, with R2D2 in Epcot's backstage near mile 1. In addition to the long line for R2, there was a line for photos with the mile marker! So I didn't stop for that.

I caught up with my group not long before we entered World Showcase. Our entry point was still near Mexico, this time we went left towards Norway and around to the International Gateway. I think there was a character somewhere along there, and Chewie was again by the International Gateway.

Another difference from the day before is that we ran by the Yacht and Beach Club resorts this time before getting to the dreaded canal path. It wasn't as bad as it was for the 10K - but I had also started ahead of a lot more people than I had the day before. We had a group of 9 running together, so we tried to stay mostly single file where it was narrow.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

We took the same route through the Studios that we had for the 10K - down Hollywood Blvd, then Sunset, and past the Tower of Terror. Kylo Ren and some Storm Troopers were on the stage in front of the Chinese Theater. (Kylo Ren and the Storm Troopers - that might be a good name for a rock band.)

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

The first set of Cosplayers was backstage behind the Tower of Terror, but again, there were lines. The Emperor's chair was in that area again, too.

This time when we reached Osceola Parkway at about mile 5 we went right towards Animal Kingdom. Lots of running room, which was very nice.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

At just before mile 7 we reached the Animal Kingdom toll plaza - it was about sunrise.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

We took a big turn around the parking lot before going backstage. The Wampa ice cave photo op that they'd had at Disneyland's Star Wars race was set up there. With a pretty long line, of course. :-)

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

The course took us through a fair bit of Animal Kingdom, from Dinoland around to Asia past Expedition Everest, though we turned left at the first bridge instead of going all the way to Harambe.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

We ran past the Tree of Life and out through the Oasis. The second set of cosplayers was just inside the park entrance. No lines for photos, but I took this video. Not the number of folks that we've seen in California, but we appreciate all of them coming out to cheer us on!

As we left the Animal Kingdom area and hit mile 10, we could still see a lot of runners who were over three miles behind us still heading towards Animal Kingdom. There were a fair number of people who had come out to cheer us on from the overpass near the McDonalds.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

By now the sun was up, and it was a clear day. I had been concerned that it would warm up quickly, but the temperature was still holding at 64, and we still had our cool refreshing breeze. It was a lovely day to run.

I was surprised that there was very little on-course entertainment in the form of cheerleaders and bands for this race. There were some DJs, and several big screens showing Star Wars clips, but I only remember one band, and no cheerleaders.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

About mile 10.5 we saw the "Balloon Ladies" on the other side - appropriately carrying Death Star balloons. Many of the runners on our side called out encouragement to those on the other side.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

Our merry little band of runners was moving along just fine and keeping each other entertained and motivated. When you're not going for time I think it really is easier to run with a group, especially mentally. It made the race go much faster for me.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

As we approached ESPN Wide World of Sports we ran on the same gravel path we did the day before. One of the props there was the leg of an AT-ST Walker (apparently recovered from the Forest Moon of Endor). The Speeder Bike photo op was also there again.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

The last mile+ of the course was the same as it had been for the 10K, though it didn't seem quite as congested as the day before.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

We made it to the finish - my time was 2:45:51. A nice mellow pace, and I was still feeling pretty good at the end, though my feet were tired.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

After we finished there were volunteers handing out the Dr Kool towels - those felt really good, even though it was still only about 65 outside. We also could pick up the usual bottles of water and PowerAde, and the runDisney snack box and a banana.

We got our half marathon medals, then went to the Challenge tent for our Dark Side Challenge, and most importantly, our Kessel Run medals. One interesting thing about the medals: there were a number of people who picked up both their Kessel Run and blue Coast-to-Coast medals that day! They allowed people to use the two Star Wars races for both. We'd gotten our blue Coast-to-Coast at the Princess Half in February. I was just as happy NOT to have one more medal around my neck. :-)

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon Kessel Run Medal

For the official finisher photos, PhotoPass put a nice border on the bottom - there were different stations for the half marathon, Kessel Run, and Coast-to-Coast.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

We got our group together for a photo.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

One surprising (and disappointing) thing about the finish area: it's in a different county than Epcot, and because of that, they couldn't sell beer and wine in the finish area on Sunday until after 11:00! (We finished around 8:15.) I had been looking forward to a celebratory glass of champagne, and most of the rest of our intrepid band had been looking forward to a beer. I guess the good news was that Dave, our advance scout, had already discovered this, so we didn't waste time heading over to that area after we finished...Lee and I decided to just go catch the bus.

The bus situation was MUCH improved. I'm not sure if part of that is because I finished ahead of more people than I had the day before, or changes that Disney made, or both. Certainly they had completely changed the location and queue for the Epcot bus, which is what we took. It was a very long queue off to the side, and there were a lot of buses lined up waiting. It took us a while to walk the queue, but we were moving the whole time, and essentially walked right onto a bus - they were loading three at a time. In speaking with friends who took buses back to their resorts, they also reported that the bus service was much better - anywhere from no wait to less than 15 minutes in a line that was consistently moving.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

The half marathon was a much better race for me than the 10K - starting in an earlier corral made a lot of difference. At the front of G, I figure I started before 2/3 of the runners - there were 18,171 official finishers. While the first 3+ miles of the race was still more congested and narrow than I would've liked, conditions were much better than they had been the day before. The rest of the course was fine, and I especially enjoyed all of the running room we had when we ran both directions on Osceola Parkway.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

I'd essentially run this course backwards previously for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon, which has been at night. (Though it will be a morning race this year.) I have to say that it was nice to run through Animal Kingdom during the day rather than at night.

And although I know runDisney is trying to change things up, I'd rather see the Star Wars race also start at ESPN and end at Epcot like Wine and Dine does. That three miles at the start from the Epcot side is just too narrow to support the number of runners that are all bunched together early in the race. And not being able to buy beer and champagne at the end??? GASP!

I thought the whole Dark Side theme was well done. I really liked the race medals for these races - very nicely designed. As were the race shirts. I thought it was a little odd having "Light Side" characters on the course, like R2D2, Chewbacca, and Ezra/Sabine. But there was a really good selection of Dark Side characters in the start and finish areas.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon medals

I'm a big fan of the new PhotoPass system for race photos. The photos seem to be of much higher quality and there are a lot more of them than before. AND I don't have to pay an exorbitant fee for them - they are included since I am an annual passholder!

runDisney has already announced the dates for next year's Star Wars - The Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend - April 20-23, 2017. I was chatting with Cindy (Hi Cindy!) who pointed out that next year's dates are the week after Easter. And that for those of us who are DVC members, that week falls into Premier Season, where point costs are very high - 30-40% higher than for Magic Season. I hadn't realized that. Wow. Not to mention that the weeks before and after Easter are always very busy at the parks.

We had a good time this year, and I'm very happy to have my Kessel Run medal, but I think we'll probably pass on this race next year. I think we'll concentrate on the Star Wars Half in California instead - it's a lot easier for us to get to, and I prefer the course, the characters, the weather, and the logistics in general.

April 25, 2016

2016 WDW Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend - Part 1


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend

But really, it was only last summer that runDisney announced a new Star Wars Half Marathon weekend to be held in Florida in April, 2016. But this one would have a Dark Side theme. All of the usual races: Kids Races, 5K, 10K, half marathon, and 10K/half marathon challenge. For those who also ran the Star Wars Half Marathon at Disneyland there would be a new coast-to-coast challenge: The Kessel Run, with a medal shaped like the Millennium Falcon!

Lee and I, as you might expect, signed up for the new Dark Side Challenge - running the 10K and half marathon on consecutive mornings. Since we were also running the Star Wars Half at Disneyland we also qualified for the Kessel Run Challenge. All of the races sold out very quickly. But we were surprised when registration for the half marathon and the challenge re-opened briefly a couple of months later. It again sold out, though.

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend

There were new courses for the 10K and half marathon, since both of those races would start at Epcot and end at ESPN Wide World of Sports. The half marathon looked like essentially a reverse of the Wine and Dine Half Marathon course, which starts at ESPN and goes through Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot. The 10K would be completely new, though, and go through Epcot and the Studios before finishing at ESPN.

Star Wars Dark Side race courses
I find your lack of running disturbing.

I was concerned about transportation since the start and finish were in different places, and parking at ESPN would not be allowed. Everyone who drove themselves to the start would require transportation from the finish area back to Epcot. The rumor was that the 10K had 12,000 runners and the half had 19,000, and that's a lot of people to move around. Any bags that runners checked at the start line needed to be transported to the finish. And there were separate start and finish areas, which meant multiple sets of porta-potties, medical tents, concession stands, entertainment stages, etc. Yes, Disney has done that sort of thing before, but it looked logistically challenging.

Thursday, April 14 - The Expo

Lee and I had arrived at Walt Disney World on Wednesday night. The Expo opened on Thursday morning, and we knew that it would be a zoo, with great demand for all of the inaugural merchandise. So we didn't go until about 2:30 on Thursday afternoon. By then there were no lines for packet pick-up or to enter the merchandise area.

I was happy to see that the individual race banners were back at the entrance again - they were missing for Princess weekend.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K

Star Wars Dark Side 10K

A view of the show floor at about 5:00 p.m.

Star Wars Dark Side Expo show floor

Some of the merchandise was already sold out. Except for Kids Races there were no magnets left, which is my usual race weekend souvenir. And almost nothing that said "Kessel Run". There was a Kessel Run Challenge shirt, but my size was the only one still available, and there weren't many of those. Lee was very disappointed not to get a Kessel Run shirt.

Star Wars Dark Side Kessel Run shirt

There did seem to be plenty of "I Did It" shirts. Though the women's version of the Dark Side shirt was pink. "Pink" and "Dark Side" do not go together. (Now that I think about it, I didn't see anyone wearing one, either.)

Star Wars Dark Side Challenge I Did It shirt

Star Wars Dark Side Challenge I Did It shirt

It was nice to see and "I Did It" shirt for the 5K.

Star Wars Dark Side 5K I Did It shirt

There were still some fun shirt designs left, though.

Star Wars Dark Side shirt

Star Wars Dark Side shirt

Star Wars Dark Side shirt

Star Wars Dark Side shirt

The race weekend shirt was a nice design on both front and back and Lee and I both bought one of those.

Star Wars Dark Side weekend shirt  Star Wars Dark Side weekend shirt

I was able to buy my mini-medal pins of the half and challenge medals, also, but not the Kessel Run medal. So the good news was that there was still some merchandise left, even if it wasn't everything we wanted. I still don't understand why they don't impose quantity limits on race merchandise.

Star Wars Dark Side merchandise

But of course we also had three new race shirts. I thought the designs were nice, though I didn't need yet another gray shirt.

Star Wars Dark Side race shirts

We didn't run the 5K, but that shirt was nicely done as well. (Thanks Helen, for use of the photo.)

Star Wars Dark Side 5K shirt

The Expo done, we had time to enjoy WDW before our first race on Saturday morning. This was a slightly longer trip for us and it was great to have most of the day Thursday and Friday to go to the parks before rather than having to rush to our first race day.

Saturday, April 17 - 10K

The race started at 5:30 and the buses were due to start running at 3:00. We decided to drive to the start at Epcot. (Actually we swapped driving duties with friends: they drove us all to the 10K, we drove us all to the half.) The secret to driving yourself is not to use it as an excuse to sleep in. We get up almost as early as we would if we were taking the bus, and that way traffic and parking are still easy.

It was a very warm and humid morning - already 70 degrees at 4:00 am! There was a chance of thunderstorms, but fortunately those did not materialize. But it was humid.

I could never get inspired to make a Dark Side costume so I wore my Rey costume instead. But without the arm wraps - too warm for those. This photo was taken by a Disney PhotoPass photographer. That's one thing that was new with this race weekend - no more MarathonFoto. Instead there were PhotoPass photographers all along the courses and at all of the photo locations, and all of our photos were included as part of our registration! There was information on the back of our race bibs on how to link our race photos to our PhotoPass accounts. It worked really well for the most part. I was really pleased - I had more race photos than I have ever had from MarathonFoto - and they were free! Well done, Disney.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K pre-race

N.B. I stand corrected - the PhotoPass photos are free if you otherwise have access to free downloads of your PhotoPass photos: e.g. you are a qualifying Annual Passholder and/or you have purchased Memory Maker. Otherwise there is still a charge for them. Still, a friend or family member can link your photos to their account and access them that way.

In the pre-race area there were seven or eight different photo spots, all with PhotoPass photographers. Some of them were set pieces, like Jabba the Hutt and the rapthor, but there were also characters: Boba Fett, Captain Phasma, Storm Troopers and Darth Maul. The lines were pretty short when we arrived so we had our picture taken with Jabba, and then went to Captain Phasma but they had closed the line, even though it wasn't that long and there was still over an hour until the race started. :-(

Star Wars Dark Side 10K Jabba the Hutt

So we got a photo with BB-8 instead.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K BB-8

We waited for friends in the pre-race area - they were still at their resort in the bus line. There was a huge line at Pop Century and no buses. They finally arrived but it had been a long wait. (That was an issue at some of the other resorts, also.)

For the other 10Ks the start line is in the Epcot parking lot, but for this 10K and the half marathon the start line was out on World Center Drive as it is for the marathon and most of the other half marathon races. One big difference: this time we started in the opposite direction. It was a slightly shorter walk than it is to the start of the "regular" half marathon course, but still pretty slow getting to the corrals. This sign was entertaining.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K

For the 10K the corrals were A-F. I unfortunately never submitted my proof of time (though I was sure that I had) and so I was in the last corral, F, while Lee was in A. It was my own fault, and no reason to make him suffer, too, so he went up to A and I went to F. (At least that meant that he got photos, so most of the ones you'll see are his.) But I wasn't alone - my friend Liz had done (or hadn't done) the same thing, so we were at least together.

The race started at 5:30, but we didn't start until almost 44 minutes later. And F was a huge corral - I think there were over 2,000 people in it. We were in the first 1/4 of it, and mostly surrounded by walkers.

There were fireworks for each corral.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K fireworks

Star Wars Dark Side

I'd looked at the race course in advance and I knew the first three miles would be a slog, since most of it would be on fairly narrow roads and paths where we wouldn't be able to find much running room. I was especially concerned about running the path between the Boardwalk and the Studios along the canal. I've done that at the end of the Wine and Dine half and the end of the marathon a number of times and it's congested enough then when runners are a whole lot more spread out than we would be at the beginning of a race.

And the running experience was about what I expected. To try to find some running room we did all of the things you're not supposed to do - dodging and weaving around people and running on the grass. We weren't alone - there were a number of other runners also back in F. I can't fault the walkers, as they were doing their thing - we were in their territory really. Liz and I were running single file and trying not to annoy them too much. About 3/4 of a mile in we got clear for a little while - and then we caught up with the back of corral E. :-/

Star Wars Dark Side 10K

The course took us backstage at Epcot where R2D2 had a character stop. The line was huge, not surprisingly. We entered World Showcase near Mexico, then turned right and ran past Canada and the UK and out the international gateway. Chewbacca was there, and I think that line was even longer than the one for R2D2. We ran around Crescent Lake past the Boardwalk resort. There were a number of people who had come out to cheer us there - thank you to those who came out so early!

Star Wars Dark Side 10K

Star Wars Dark Side 10K

Once we passed the Boardwalk we came to the dreaded canal path. One good thing: rather than running on the concrete path right next to the canal we were on the asphalt access road above it. That was a little wider. I was afraid we'd end up walking that whole path, but it wasn't that bad. We did drop to a walk several times, but we never totally stopped, and we could usually jog. Still, it was a huge relief to get off the path near the entrance to the Studios.

Just like the Star Wars Half Marathon in California, runDisney invited Star Wars cosplayers to come out and cheer the runners on. Some of them were just outside the Studios entrance. At first I thought it was a regular character stop because there were long lines - THAT doesn't happen in California! I honestly did not get a good look at them because too many people were around them, but it wasn't crowded when Lee went through, and he stopped for a photo. There weren't as many of them as we've seen in CA. And it was still pretty dark.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K cosplayers

We took a short tour of the Studios: down Hollywood Blvd, around the stage in front of the Chinese Theater, and then down Sunset, then past the Tower of Terror and out of the park onto Buena Vista Drive. That's where we finally had some running room, now that we were over 4 miles into the race.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K

We ran up an overpass and ended up on Osceola Parkway. We had to do a short out-and-back where the course doubled back on itself to add a little bit of extra distance. At about 5.5 miles we ran on a narrow gravel path towards ESPN. This got us all bunched up again and there was a lot of grumbling from runners and walkers. There was a photo op with the speeder bikes from Endor along there, also - not really a good location for it.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K speeder bikes

Congestion wasn't much better when we got onto the concrete paths at ESPN, which were still narrow and lined with cheering spectators.

Less than .4 miles to the finish was the second set of cosplayers. There weren't lines for most of them, and we stopped for one quick photo. (No PhotoPass photographers with any of them.)

Star Wars Dark Side 10K Cosplayers

The course widened out for the last quarter mile or so, and I was relieved to see the finish line. I was very happy to be done. It was really not a good race for me - 1:12 with NO character stops. I could never really get into a rhythm, and the high humidity didn't help. But at least the first part of the Dark Side Challenge was complete. And I enjoyed running with Liz again - we ran the second half of last year's Wine and Dine Half Half Marathon together.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K finish

Liz and I posed for a finish photo, but unfortunately it never showed up under either of our bib numbers. :-( It would have been nice because PhotoPass put a special 10K border on it. Here's the one that Lee got, though:

Star Wars Dark Side 10K finish photo

The TIE Fighter medal is really nice. Lee pointed out that it was very fitting that we received an X-wing fighter medal for the "Star Wars - The Light Side 10K" in California, and the corresponding Dark Side fighter medal in Florida.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K medal

Lee had finished over 45 minutes before I did, so he'd used the time to get several photos taken. All of the photo ops in the start area were duplicated in the finish area. And he'd finished early enough that the lines were short. I was very envious that he had a photo with Captain Phasma - that was the one I really wanted.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K Captain Phasma

He had one with the rapthor, too. :-)

Star Wars Dark Side 10K Rapthor

But by the time I arrived the photo lines were pretty long and we both wanted to get back to the room. So we went to the bus area. Our friends had already finished and taken the Epcot bus back to their car, so as planned we took the Swan/Dolphin/Boardwalk bus back to our resort. We were glad we were not going to Epcot because the line was huge. It seemed to be moving steadily but it was still very long. (Our friends waited about 15 minutes, but later we heard the wait was well over an hour!) We waited 10-15 minutes for our bus. The line had more than doubled behind us, so our timing was not too bad. The lines for buses to the resorts seemed to be much more reasonable than the line for Epcot.

We had the usual runDisney snack boxes. The selection seemed a little better than usual - or maybe I've just resigned myself to the fact that I'm not going to get real food from Disney. I ate the applesauce while waiting for the bus.

Star Wars Dark Side 10K snack boxes

I really like the idea of this 10K course - it is SO much more interesting than the one that spends half its distance looping around on roads outside Epcot - but running it from Epcot TO ESPN is the wrong direction. The first three miles is just too narrow, and I think it would be much better in the opposite direction. Which is likely what we'll get when the new Wine and Dine 10K makes its debut this fall. Though even then I expect that path along the canal will be crowded - we got a taste of it (so to speak) during the abbreviated Wine and Dine Half last year, which was about 6.8 miles long, and the path was more crowded than during the normal half marathon because we weren't spread out as much.

Not a lot of characters along the course, but on a par with other Disney races. In addition to R2 and Chewie there were Ezra and Sabine, and Storm Troopers, plus the cosplayers. There was also a photo op with the Emperor's chair which was very popular. The lines were very long for all of these.

Big failure with the buses for the 10K. Lots of issues traveling both to the start and from the finish.

Even more than the other Disney races, I think your perception of the race experience was inversely proportional to where you started. If you started early the course was much less crowded - Lee was in A and really enjoyed the course. And for those who finished early the wait for buses at the end was minimized. If you started at the back, well, whole 'nother world - or galaxy, as the case may be.

Still, the addition of PhotoPass was a major benefit, and having so many characters available at the start and finish was also a plus. The thing I liked most about the characters at the start is that it's a level playing field for everyone. It didn't matter what corral you were in. If you were willing to get up early and get to the race start area as early as possible you had the opportunity to maximize the number of photos you could get.

Half Marathon the next day...Don't get cocky!

April 12, 2016

2016 Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival - Update and Additional Experiences


On Sunday I returned for my second taste of this year's Food and Wine Festival.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

There was a new Festival guide map at the turnstiles for the weekend.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

We went to the Blue Sky Cellar to get our AP button and recipe cards - but the button was the same as last weekend. The cast member said they will change on Mondays. So the next day the new button and recipe cards would be released. The Festival is mostly on weekends...but the buttons are released on Mondays??? Doesn't make much sense to me.

Last week I mentioned the AP Passport - which was $45 for 6 tastings (food only), which made it not a good value at all unless you stuck to the three items that were $7.50, $7.75, and $8.00. I'm happy to say that they fixed that - the passport is $39 now. So if you buy food items that cost $6.50 or more, and there are six of those, then you will at least break even, if not come out a little bit ahead.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

AND, for those of us who purchased it last week when it was $45, there is a $10 gift card by way of apology. I went to the Blue Sky Cellar where they scanned my AP and punched a hole in the lanyard, then gave me the gift card. It didn't matter that I'd already used several tabs off the lanyard. So I thought they handled that well.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

At 11:00 on Sunday morning, the lines were already long at the Festival Marketplaces. Last Friday the wait was mostly to order, but this week there were lengthy waits both to order and to pickup the food. In some cases the booths were waiting to be re-supplied with one of the food items - most are prepared in a remote kitchen somewhere. In other cases, there's some plating that happens in the booths, and that seemed to be going very slowly.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

Cast members were building masking tape queues - it had rained earlier and they had to wait until the ground was dry.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

The good news is that there still seemed to be plenty of interest in the Festival Marketplace booths, and lots of people were trying and enjoying the various food and beverage offerings. But by the end of the second full weekend I would've thought the supply and service issues would have been worked out a little better. (The long line in the photo below is for pick-up - it's especially slow at the beer and wine booths.)

DCA Food and Wine Festival

From the Viva Fresca! Marketplace I was finally able to try the Anaheim Chile and Roasted Cauliflower Burrito with Jack cheese and avocado-lime crema. Last weekend they ran out of them, and it was going to be a 15-20 minute wait. This time they were also out of them, but were expecting more within 5 minutes. There were probably 8 people in front of me also waiting for the burritos. Once they arrived they were served up pretty quickly. This was really good - it's now my favorite Festival item. For $5.50 it's a generous serving. The flour tortilla is stuffed full of mild green chiles, cauliflower and lots of melted cheese. It's a little spicy, and the avocado crema helps to cool it off.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Chile and Cauliflower Burrito

From the same Marketplace I also ordered the Fried Shrimp Soft Taco with pickled red onion and jalapeno, queso fresco, and avocado-lime crema. This was actually two soft tacos - one on a white corn tortilla and one on blue corn. These were also very good, though the pickled vegetables were a little strong and made me cough. I liked them, though. $6.50 for this one.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Fried Shrimp Soft Taco

At LA Style I tried the Pork Belly Bao Taco - also with pickled vegetables, for $6.50. These pickled vegetables weren't nearly as strong, though. This dish was also a winner - the steamed "taco shell" was soft and chewy and the pork belly and veggies inside had a very good flavor. It wasn't nearly as fatty as I expected.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Pork Belly Bao Taco

Both last weekend and this weekend I went to one of the Beverage Seminars. I booked these at the beginning of March when the schedule first went up. They are $15/person (plus tax and gratuity), paid in advance, though the reservation can be cancelled up to 24 hours in advance. There's very little availability for the remaining sessions. Most of them are wine tastings (and you'll find wines from some of the wineries for sale in the Festival Marketplaces), but there are also beer and liquor tastings as well.

The beverage seminars are held outside at the Sonoma Terrace. The area is open-air and only partially covered. Plenty of shade, but not windproof. The trees around it sometimes shed leaves, blossoms, etc. that can end up in the wine glasses.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

About 30 minutes before the seminar starts, cast members start going down the line and checking off names. Showing a photo id is also required at this time, as only those aged 21 and over are allowed into the tasting area. You don't need to be there 30 minutes early - they will continue to check off names as people arrive at the end of the line. Anywhere from 10 minutes before to 5 minutes after they will let people in. It's open seating, and first come,first serve, so if you want to sit in the front, you'll want to be one of the first 8-10 people in line. The presenters have microphones, so you don't need to be in the front to be able to hear them.

The first tasting I attended was Hill Family Estates. They grow a lot of grapes that they supply to well-known wineries, but they started making their own wines, also. The presenter was Ryan Hill, who was a very engaging speaker. We sampled three wines, a chardonnay and two red blends. They weren't really to my taste, but a lot of people in the audience enjoyed them. Ryan had lots of interesting things to tell us and there were a number of questions, so this seminar lasted about 45 minutes.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

This past weekend I went to Sparkling Wines: Cava, Champagne, and Prosecco. This one started late - it was supposed to start at noon but we weren't even admitted into the area until after that. I was expecting to taste Cava (Spanish sparkling wine) Champagne and Prosecco, but we didn't get to try any Cava. And unfortunately all three wines we sampled had been sitting around too long and there were no bubbles! Very disappointing. We tried a real Champagne from the Champagne region of France (Landon), as well as the Iron Horse Fairy Tale Cuvee, which is a sparkling wine from California made in the Champagne method. The third wine was Rosa Regale, which is a red sparkling wine made in the Italian style. I'd had the Iron Horse and the Rosa Regale before, and enjoy them very much. The Landon was also very good.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

This seminar was presented by two Disneyland Resort Sommeliers. They seemed a little nervous, and the seminar was only about 30 minutes.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

Last weekend I also went to one of the Culinary Demonstrations. These are held on the stage in the Hollywood Backlot. There's a demonstration kitchen set up, but NO samples are served. There are benches available for those who arrive early enough, with standing room at the back. Since there's no samples, there doesn't seem to be nearly the demand for these that there was in the past. While all of the benches were full, there was still plenty of standing room.

We saw Chef Jamie Gwen - we remember seeing her at previous Festivals. This was her first demonstration this year and she was very excited to be back!

DCA Food and Wine Festival

She made buffalo meatball sliders - with two meatballs piled on top of each other. They looked very good. She was an entertaining and informative speaker - I learned how chefs dice an onion. :-)

DCA Food and Wine Festival

Also in the Backlot area, but on the opposite stage (where the Mad T Party band used to perform) are the Lifestyle Seminars. There is quite the variety of topics for these - in addition to gardening and wellness tips, there's also topics like home brewing, "Improving Social Media Photos", and "The Recipes of Star Wars." A number of the sessions also feature artists creating pieces of art right in front of you. Jason saw this session by Stephen Fishwick.

And this past weekend I saw Craig Fraser.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Craig Fraser

It looks like these are pretty lightly attended - there's only one row of bench seating and not much standing room behind it.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

As part of the Festival, several of the artists also have art featured in "Off the Page" and have signing sessions scheduled there.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

DCA Food and Wine Festival

April 4, 2016

It's Back! The 2016 Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival


A long time ago, in a theme park not so far away....there was a Food and Wine Festival. It wasn't the biggest one around, but it experienced steady growth over the years, and every year there were even more interesting events and unique experiences. Its faithful fans loved it, and looked forward to it each spring.

And then came construction. And the Festival went on hiatus.

Construction ended, and the theme park was re-dedicated. And guests started asking: "When will the Food and Wine Festival return?" But the question went unanswered.

Several years passed. Guests asked: "WILL the Food and Wine Festival return?" But the question still went unanswered.

Until February 15, 2016. When there was an entry on the Disney Parks blog announcing that the Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival would be held on weekends from April 1 to May 1. The announcement was very brief, with few details: there would be Festival Marketplaces serving food and beverages, there would be "culinary demonstrations, appearances by celebrity chefs and informative seminars", and there would be some "premium experiences" which could be reserved.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

Much excitement and celebration ensued - ok, maybe that was just me. :-) No, really, there were a lot of other people equally as enthused, though I think we were all a little puzzled that there was so little information available when the opening date wasn't very far away!

Some additional details emerged over the next month. Reservations opened for the Beverage Seminars ($15/person) and the Celebrity Kitchen featuring a star lineup of chefs ($99/person, with an Annual Passholder VIP experience offered for $149). And my mouth watered when I read about some of the menu items that would be available at the Festival Marketplaces.

Then we waited for April 1 to arrive...

Upon arriving at DCA that morning, I was a little surprised to see that there was no banner across the park entrance, nor on Buena Vista Street, advertising the Festival. However, there was a nice fold-out Festival brochure available at the turnstiles as we entered. I thought it interesting that the brochure contained a schedule only for the first weekend, and not for the entire Festival. (Click on the map image below to see the full-sized version.)

DCA Food and Wine Festival Map

DCA Food and Wine Festival Map

The first sight of the Festival is the Festival Marketplaces. There are eight of them, and they are placed along the parade route between the Carthay Circle Theater and the entrance to Paradise Pier. This is a big change from previous Food and Wine Festivals, where all of the food items had to be sold out of existing restaurant spaces. These new Marketplaces made it feel much more like what we're used to at Epcot. I thought it also made the Festival experience much more central to the park - we didn't have to seek food items out (and previously they were sometimes in very out-of-the-way areas) like we did in the past.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

The booths were not highly decorated (we found out later that they were built on pretty short notice), but I thought they made a good attempt to fit in with the Golden Vine Winery area.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

One very nice thing: they all had eating areas attached to them. There were counters with lattice-type roofs over them to provide some shade. In addition there were tables as well as wine barrels that could be used as places to set your food down.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

The Pixar Play Parade is on hiatus during the Festival - the food booths take up too much space along the parade route. It makes the area feel more crowded than it really is.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

We had a short conversation with Jim Ames, Show Producer for the Festival. As you might imagine, he was quite busy on Friday. :-) The reason that there wasn't much advance notice on the Festival is that the decision to hold the Festival was made on December 31, 2015! The decision was also made to focus on the Festival Marketplaces this year. Those individual food kiosks are something quite new to us, since California food handling laws are quite different than those in Florida. This time Disney was able to work with the people who regulate such things to get permission to build and run them. One of the considerations which is not an issue in Florida is earthquake safety - Jim told us that they are all have bolts that go 1-1/2 feet into the ground! So if they come back next year they will be in exactly the same places.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Marketplaces

Considering the very short timetable I'm pretty surprised they were able to put as much together as they did. A lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

But back to the Festival overview...

The rest of the Festival events take place in Hollywood Land and in the Golden Vine Winery area. The Sonoma Terrace at the Golden Vine Winery hosts the Beverage Seminars. There are three each day on Fridays and four each day on Saturdays and Sundays. Most of the sessions are wine tasting with a featured winery, but at least one each day involves beer tasting or spirits such as vodka, whiskey, or tequila. These sessions are $15/person, plus tax and gratuity, and must be booked in advance. There is still limited availability. Reservations can be canceled up to 24 hours in advance, so it's possible there could be some last-minute openings.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

The Blue Sky Cellar is hosting an Annual Passholder Lounge during the Festival. Each weekend a different button and recipe card will be available to Passholders. This week the recipe was for fried artichokes.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

There are tables inside where passholders can charge phones, etc. Passholders can also sit in the viewing area and watch the Seasons of the Vine movie, which played in the cellar when DCA originally opened in 2001.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

The remaining Festival events are held in Hollywood Land.

Stage 17 in Hollywood Land is where the Celebrity Kitchen events take place. There are two sessions on most Saturdays. Participants receive food tastings, and there's featured wine pairings for those 21 and older. Following the presentation is an autograph session. The scheduled chefs are:

-- Robert Irvine (Restaurant Impossible)
-- Andrew Sutton (Disneyland Resort Executive Chef)
-- Guy Fieri (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives)
-- Keegan Gerhard (Food Network Challenge) and Hayden Wood (“Flair” Bartender)
-- G. Garvin (Road Trip with G. Garvin)
-- Graham Elliot (MasterChef)

As I mentioned earlier, the price is $99, or $149 for the Annual Passholder VIP experience. Plus tax and gratuity. Cancellations must take place at least 72 hours in advance to be refunded.

A new event was just announced on the Festival's opening day: A Conversation with Kurt Russell. During this 90-minute Q&A session Kurt Russell will talk about his experiences as a wine maker. Wine tasting will be included. This event will be held in Stage 17 on April 16. Reservations can only be made by calling 714-781-DINE. The price is $199/person plus tax and gratuity.

Also in Hollywood Land, the Culinary Demonstrations and Lifestyle Seminars take place in the backlot area. The Culinary Demonstrations are held on the Backlot Stage, where a demonstration kitchen has been set up. This is a free event but it is a demonstration only - no tastings will be served. There is some seating available on benches, and there is standing room at the back. (The web site and the Festival Guide both say that the Culinary and Lifestyle demos are standing room only, but that was not the case on opening day.)

DCA Food and Wine Festival Culinary Demos

The Lifestyle Seminars take place on the stage most recently occupied by the Mad T Party band. These are more of a mixed bag: presentations on topics like gardening, wellness, and entertaining, but also live demonstrations by featured artists. This area also has some bench seating available, but most of the viewing area is standing room only.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Lifestyle Seminars

Festival merchandise is available at The Studio Store in Hollywood Land, just outside Stage 17.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

There were several different t-shirts, including an AP-exclusive shirt, as well as hats, wine glasses, and other event merchandise.

DCA Food and Wine Festival merchandise

DCA Food and Wine Festival shirt

DCA Food and Wine Festival

DCA Food and Wine Festival

These combination plate and glass holders were popular items.

DCA Food and Wine Festival merchandise

It was opening day, and there were some opening day hiccups. The biggest issue seemed to be with point-of-sale terminals that weren't working, resulting in long lines at most of the food booths in the beginning. Most of the booths had only one working register - and sometimes it wasn't working. That situation improved as the day went on - by late afternoon the lines were short/non-existent. There were also some supply issues - they either ran out of a couple of Marketplace items before the day was over, or had to tell guests that it would be a 15-20 minute wait until they had more. That was frustrating.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

Still, people were excited - lots of people there who were fans of the previous Festivals. But we saw lots of young people, too, who would have been too young to drink five years ago when the last Festival took place. :-)

And now I'm sure you're asking: "So what about the food???"

There were only two of us, but we attempted to sample a variety of items. We were hampered in the beginning because of the long lines, but eventually we just couldn't eat any more. Overall I thought the food was good. Nothing that I'm going to rave that "you've got to try this!", though there were several items I'd recommend because I thought they were interesting. I'm looking forward to trying additional items on future visits. I felt the portion sizes and prices were in-line with what you see at the Epcot F&W Festival.

Festival Marketplace Menus

We started at the Gold Rush booth, where we tried all three food items plus a glass of wine. First up was Triple Cheese Mac with smoked chicken, Fontina, cheddar, and Gouda cheeses. This may have been our favorite item of the day. It was a good-sized portion for $6.00, and the mix of cheeses and smoked chicken was very tasty. The crunchy bits on top added some nice texture.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Triple Cheese Mac

Next was the Artichoke Chips with Spicy Aioli for $5.00. This was not what I was expecting, but it was good. I was expecting the artichokes to be crisp like a chip, but they weren't. I think they had a bit of a Parmesan crust, which was crunchy.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Artichoke Chips

The dessert was Apple Bacon Whoopie Pie with maple cream cheese icing and bacon brittle for $3.75. I was really not sure what this was going to be - but it was really very good! This would be one of those "I recommend you try it" things. It did not taste bacony to me - I wouldn't have known the bits on top were bacon. The apple-cream cheese filling was really good. Maybe too sweet for some people, though.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Apple Bacon Whoopie Pie

I also tried the glass of Zaca Mesa Viognier for $5.00. I like white wines, and this was nice and refreshing. Not as dry as a Sauvignon Blanc, but not as sweet as a Riesling. In between.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Zaca Mesa Viognier

Lee wanted to try the MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir, but that was one of the things that was unavailable.

By the way, those eating areas attached to the booths that I mentioned earlier? Brilliant. Even though the booths were busy, we never had a problem finding a place to set our food down so that we could eat.

DCA Food and Wine Festival

Next we visited The Farm. Lee tried the Tenderloin Slider with chimichurri. At $7.75 this was one of the most expensive Marketplace items. He said that it was very good.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Tenderloin Slider

I tried the Golden Thai Vegetable Curry with jasmine rice for $5.75. This was a pretty generous serving but the vegetables were mostly red peppers and mushrooms, two things that I don't like. The curry sauce was good - a little bit of heat, but not too bad. Tasted good on the rice.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Thai Curry

Lee tried the Southern California Beer Flight from The Brewhouse for $12.25. It was supposed to include Hanger 24's Orange Wheat, Karl Strauss Columbia Street Amber, Bootlegger's Brewery Palomino Pale Ale, and Barley Forge's "The Patsy" Coconut Rye Stout. But no Columbia Street Amber, so they substituted something else. The Coconut Rye Stout was really good - definitely could taste the coconut.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Beer Flight

By the Bay is appropriately named, as it's the last Marketplace and closest to Paradise Pier. We tried all of the food items here, also, though it took us two visits, because they were out of the Chilled Shrimp and Snow Crab Cocktail the first time. (And on the second visit I got the next to last one!) It was good, but again not what I expected - instead of cocktail sauce, it was more like gazpacho. And a gazpacho that was very heavy on the cucumber, which I don't like. This one was $8.00. For the amount of shrimp in it, that's probably a reasonable price, as long as you like the cucumber in the sauce.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Shrimp and Crab Cocktail

The winner here was the White Cheddar Ale and Bacon Soup served in a Boudin sourdough mini-boule for $5.50. The soup was really good, though it was a very small serving. But the mini-boule was crunchy and chewy and filling and all of those things that good sourdough bread should be.

DCA Food and Wine Festival White Cheddar Ale and Bacon Soup

We also tried the dessert: Coconut Tapioca layered with fresh mango and lychee boba, topped with green tea micro sponge and mango-couli sesame tuile. What, you might ask, is green tea micro sponge? I wondered that too. It really was an airy spongey thing. Edible, but weird texture and flavor. The tapioca and fruit and boba were interesting, but not really my thing, and $4.25 seemed too pricey. Though given all the layers, there was a fair bit of work assembling this.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Coconut Tapioca

At the Wine Country Marketplace Lee tried the other $8.00 Festival item: Zinfandel-Braised Wagyu Beef with creamy polenta and spring pea puree. He said the Tenderloin Slider was a lot better.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Wagyu Beef

To pay for our more expensive Festival items we used our Festival Marketplace Tasting Passport. These are available for purchase by Annual Passholders. Each passport comes on a lanyard and has 6 detachable tabs. Each can be exchanged for one food item at any of the Marketplaces. Food items only, no beer or wine. The Marketplace menus are listed on the back of the passport, which is handy. The passport costs $45. So if you use it for food items that cost $7.50 or above (and there's only three of those) you'll come out ahead. Otherwise, there's no savings at all.

DCA Food and Wine Festival passport

DCA Food and Wine Festival Passport

One thing I didn't mention before: in addition to the Festival Marketplaces, there were also special Festival-Inspired Menus available at some of the restaurants. We tried the Shredded Pork Tostadas from Cocina Cucamonga. This was the standout item of the day. Plenty of shredded pork, topped with grilled pineapple slaw and chipotle crema, and served with Mexican rice, gucamole, sour cream, and salsa fresca. This is a full-sized entree, and was $13.49. It was served on two tortillas, which looked like they were made of a mix of blue corn and yellow corn - very interesting color. We could've shared this, and then gotten something else later.

DCA Food and Wine Festival Pork Tostadas

Here is the list of the other participating restaurants, and their menu items:

Festival-Inspired Menus

I haven't yet talked about the Beverage Seminar and Culinary Demonstrations that we attended, but this is enough for now. Overall it was a good first day. I'm looking forward to going back again next weekend.

March 12, 2016

A Trip to Universal Orlando


After our trip to Walt Disney World we spent a few days at the Universal Orlando Resort. Since a few people have asked me about that I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts.

Universal Studios Florida

We stayed at Universal's Cabana Bay Resort. It's the least expensive of the Universal hotels - on a par with a Moderate Disney resort in terms of price and amenities.

Cabana Bay Resort

The resort is a blast from the past - a return to the early 1960s.

Cabana Bay Resort

I thought the public areas all felt bright and open.

Cabana Bay Resort Lobby

The rooms were also very light, though the colors were not really to my taste. Still, they fit the theme.

Cabana Bay Resort Standard  Room

We had a standard room, and it was fine. A little tight on storage. There was a small refrigerator in the cabinet.

Cabana Bay Resort room

We had a view looking towards the parks. No balcony, and our window didn't open at all.

Cabana Bay Resort view

The toiletries cracked me up - it's been years since I saw Zest soap or Alberto VO5 hair products - but I certainly remember them growing up!

Cabana Bay Resort Toiletries

There was a large food court called the Bayside Diner. We ate there a couple of times. The resort was not anywhere close to full, so it was never very crowded, but I thought the food lines moved very slowly. Lee waited 10 minutes one morning just to get a normal breakfast plate - and there weren't that many people in front of him! They had a pretty good selection of grab-and-go items, though.

The pool area was very cool. Very beachy, with lots of sand. The resort is sort of X-shaped, with the lobby area in the middle, and there are pools in the middle on each side.

Cabana Bay Resort Pool

There was a $12/night charge for self parking.

The bus service was GREAT. We never waited longer than 5 minutes, and usually there was a bus waiting at the bus stop. We had dedicated buses for our resort, and there were always at least two in service any time we were coming or going. We returned to our resort one night at park closing, and although there was a line of people, there was always a second bus waiting while the first one was loading.

There was a single bus stop at our resort. And only one drop-off point at the other end for CityWalk and both theme parks. There was a walkway that would have taken us to the Royal Pacific resort and we could've taken a boat from there, but we never did that - I was conserving energy by this point.

I was impressed with the security at Universal. EVERYONE who enters via CityWalk, whether they are coming from one of the parking lots or getting dropped off by a shuttle or taxi, goes through security BEFORE they enter CityWalk. I'd say there were 15-20 different lines of security people doing bag check. And then each line had its own metal detector that we went through. In case someone needed a secondary check with a wand, there was a wand person for every two lines. It was fast and efficient - I never waited behind more than one person, and usually I walked right up to a bag checker.

It is a significant walk from the drop-off area through CityWalk to either of the park entrances - about a third of a mile. There are a couple of moving sidewalks between security and CityWalk, but after that you're under your own power. Those sidewalks were FAST, too, and you better be ready to move when you get to the end of one! I really liked them. :-)

For tickets, we ended up buying the PowerPass Annual Pass. It's blocked out during the summer, as well as during Christmas and Spring Break, but those are times when we won't be visiting! The PowerPass was only about $50 more than a three-day park hopper ticket would have been. If we get even one more visit in the next year then we'll be ahead.

I can't say that I was very impressed with the look of the ticket, though. :-)

Universal Studios Annual pass

Universal also uses a finger biometric that's associated with the pass. We found that entry at the turnstiles was pretty slow. A lot of people show up with a ticket that's a piece of paper with a barcode on it - and the employees at the turnstiles often had difficulty getting them to scan. Not their fault - it just didn't work that well. For those of us with regular tickets it worked much better.

Our main reason for visiting was to see the new Harry Potter Diagon Alley-themed section of Universal Studios. We'd seen the Hogwarts/Hogsmeade part several years ago, and most people said Diagon Alley was even better. We'd also never been to Universal Studios Florida, and had heard there were lots of other interesting attractions there.

Diagon Alley was very impressive. It certainly felt like entering another world!

Universal Studios Diagon Alley

The only attraction is Escape from Gringotts, but it feels like there's a larger area to wander around than in Hogsmeade/Hogwarts, and there are a lot more shops. Including many that fans of the books will recognize, like "Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes", "Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream", "Madame Malkin's Robes for All Occasions", "Quality Quidditch Supplies" and of course "Ollivanders" wand shop.

Universal Quality Quidditch Supplies

There's a "show" that goes along with Ollivande's. Groups of about 20 go into the shop, a couple of people (usually children) are chosen, and one of Mr. Ollivander's assistants helps them select a wand. Then everyone goes into the main shop, where there are quite a few different wands available for sale. There is a large selection of "interactive wands". These are kind of fun - in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade there are spots where, if you perform the correct motion and incantation, you can make things happen. Lee bought one, and he had fun with it - he was quite good at it. No doubt he earned an "Outstanding" on his Charms O.W.L. :-) (One warning: there are several places in Diagon Alley where the wands set off a water effect - and an innocent bystander in the wrong place might get wet. Avoid areas with puddles. :-) )

Universal Studios Diagon Alley interactive wand

If you take a wrong turn you can end up in "Knockturn Alley" - you'll find the infamous "Borgin and Burkes" there, which has merchandise that's quite different than what you'll find in the rest of Diagon Alley. That whole area really is quiet and dark and a little bit spooky.

There are a couple of live shows on the stage. We saw Tales of Beedle the Bard, which was a re-telling of "The Three Brothers" - aka the origin of the Deathly Hallows. I thought it was well-done and entertaining. The other show is "Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees", but we never managed to catch that one.

Universal Studios Tales of Beedle the Bard

Escape from Gringotts is the main attraction. As with many of the Universal attractions, you'll have to lock up any loose items (bags, backpacks, cameras) in the free lockers before entering. The building and the queue are really impressive, and it feels like a huge, fancy bank. We even wander past desks where there are copies of "The Daily Prophet" open - complete with moving pictures.

Diagon Alley Escape from Gringotts

The ride is mostly a runaway mine coaster type of thing, but with lots of projections of Harry Potter and the gang. Despite all of the warnings, I didn't think it was particularly rough, and I found it much less disorienting than Expedition Everest. Really a lot of fun. I think we both enjoyed it more than the "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" ride over in Islands of Adventure. We never saw the line posted at more than 10 minutes long - I think they move a lot of people through it pretty quickly.

The dragon on top of Gringotts will flame occasionally - but she's very temperamental, and doesn't do it on a schedule. I managed to catch it twice - the second time I'd waited over 20 minutes and I had actually given up and walked away (but not too far) when I heard her start growling.

Universal Studios Diagon Alley Dragon

We ate lunch at The Leaky Cauldron on our last day, which was pretty good. On the expensive side, though. But as Harry Potter fans we had to do it! :-)

I thought one interesting thing about Diagon Alley is that it really is hidden away - when you walk past it, it just looks like buildings along a London street, and you have to go through a not-so-obvious passageway to get inside.

Universal Studios London

Right next to it, and far more obvious, is King's Cross Station.

Universal Studios Kings Cross Station

This is where you catch the Hogwarts Express to travel between London (in Universal Studios) and Hogsmeade (in Islands of Adventure). You need a parkhopper ticket to go between parks - your park ticket is scanned before you get too far into the queue. The queue is quite long - I shudder to think what the wait would be if it were full!!!

Universal Studios Hogwarts Express

The conductors will place up to six passengers in each compartment, and then shut the door, and the train begins traveling to the other park. There's a window where you can watch what's going on outside, and you can also see shadows (and hear voices) of people walking by on the compartment door side. It's a different experience traveling each direction, so you really need to take the Hogwarts Express both ways.

Universal Studios Hogwarts Express

The Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle area of Islands of Adventure is the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It's still very well done, and very well-themed. Unlike Diagon Alley, a fair number of the store fronts are just false fronts with nothing behind them - there aren't as many shops in Hogsmeade. But Honeydukes has all kinds of interesting treats. There's another version of Ollivanders, as well as a shop selling Hogwarts attire and other souvenirs.

Islands of Adventure Hogsmeade

But there are three rides in this area: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Dueling Dragons and Flight of the Hippogriff. The latter is a small "beginner" roller coaster, but it's fun. Dueling Dragons has two coasters racing side-by-side, with lots of inversions - I've never done that one. The queue for Forbidden Journey is really fascinating, as it takes you all over Hogwarts Castle, including Dumbledore's office. Several encounters with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, also. The ride is on a "broomstick". While it doesn't go upside down, it does throw you around a bit at lots of different angles, and there's some rather scary visuals. Lee doesn't like it because there's a shoulder harness to hold you in, and it's very confining. It's definitely a more intense experience than Gringott's. It had a longer line - 25 minutes both times we were in that area (I rode it once - it said 15 minutes when I entered, but took almost 25). Both Forbidden Journey and Dueling Dragons require that loose items be placed in a locker (or left with a non-rider).

We didn't eat at The Three Broomsticks this time, but we did go into the Hogs Head for a drink. Lee tried hot butterbeer, and I got a pumpkin fizz - pumpkin juice with sparkling water. The Hogs Head is the only place I know to get that.

There's two different live shows in Hogsmeade, also - the Hogwarts Frog Choir and the Triwizard Spirit Rally. The Frog Choir features four vocalists, once from each house, and two frogs. Very talented.

I have terrible luck with the Spirit Rally. It includes students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. We kept missing it on our first visit several years ago. And this time, we watched them come out, but the performance suddenly turned into a photo opportunity only because of a threatening rainstorm.

Islands of Adventure Triwizard Spirit Rally

Our main reason for visiting Universal was to tour the Harry Potter-themed sections, but we had time to enjoy some of the rest, also. We'd never been to the Universal Studios part before, and spent most of our time there. The rides were good, but so many of them were variations on the same thing: motion combined with projections - often 3D projections. Revenge of the Mummy, Transformers, Men in Black, Minions, as well as Escape from Gringotts. We never made it to Shrek or The Simpsons. We also did the E.T. ride - cute, and brought back a few memories. We caught the Animal Actors live show one day, and found it entertaining. There were otters in it. :-) And they'd even trained cats to perform! That takes some doing.

Universal Studios Men in Black

Universal Studios Revenge of the Mummy

I found it interesting just to walk around the park and see all of the different themed areas, like Hollywood, New York, San Francisco, and London.

Universal Studios San Francisco

The first night we were there at park closing (which was early - 7:00), and saw the nighttime show: Universal's Cinematic Spectacular - 100 Years of Movie Memories. Movie clips shown on two-sided mist screens, with fountains and fireworks. The mist screens were distracting, since they are pretty transparent, so we saw the reverse images on the other side. Still, interesting to see the clips from so many different classic movies. It was visible from all around the Embarcadero area - we just walked right up to a spot along the water not long after it started. It's no Illuminations or World of Color - but I wasn't expecting any kind of nighttime show, so it was a bonus.

Universal Studios Cinematic Spectacular

We've been to Islands of Adventure twice before, so didn't spend much time there on this trip. I still love the look of much of this park - I think it's the closest thing we have in the U.S. to rival the beautiful theming of Tokyo Disney Sea. The Port of Entry and Lost Continent areas are just incredible. I also love Seuss Landing and of course the Hogsmeade/Hogwarts area.

Islands of Adventure Port of Entry

Islands of Adventure Seuss Landing

It was raining off and on during the half day we were there, so we were trying to do indoor things. We saw Poseidon's Fury. It was raining pretty hard when we went in, and it was sunny and beautiful when we came out! The show is just ok, but there are some pretty good visual effects.

Islands of Adventure Poseidon's Fury

We also sat out a shower during The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad Stunt Show. I would've liked to see the Dr. Seuss show, but we didn't get to it.

Islands of Adventure Sindbad Show

The parks were not too crowded when we were there. I think the longest we waited for anything was about 40 minutes for Transformers and Minions - the wait times were posted at 30 minutes, though. Usually we waited less than 15 minutes.

Universal Studios Transformers

We enjoyed our time at the parks, and there were a number of other things we could've done if I'd been feeling better. Since we have the passes I can certainly see us popping over there first thing in the morning and staying until early afternoon one day on some of our upcoming trips.

Universal Studios banner

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March 9, 2016

2016 Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend - Part 4 - Dining


Lee was finally able to join me on Thursday night. I had moved to Kidani Village earlier that day. Unfortunately by then the cold