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January 13, 2016

Walt Disney World - Disney's Hollywood Studios Changes

laura%27s%20masthead%20copy2.jpg

Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos.

In early December I wrapped up my 2015 Disney Parks World Tour back where it all began for me at Walt Disney World. During 2015 I was able to visit all 11 Disney theme parks in Anaheim, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris and Orlando. It had been a year since my last trip to WDW and as I walked around I looked for changes as I always tend to do. I have put together a series of posts for AllEars.net of some of the changes that stuck out to me as I roamed the parks, resorts and Disney Springs. As always if you want to see my full picture & video sets and read my thoughts & observations visit my site disneygeek.com.

This post takes a look at Disney's Hollywood Studios which can best be described as a park in transition. Over the past year quite a few attractions have closed around the park as it prepares for a new Toy Story Playland and Star Wars area to be built.

One removal was greeted with applause from most Disney geeks, myself included. The giant blue sorcerer's hat that has been obstructing the Chinese Theater for over the last decade was removed. There was a stage for a dance party set up in December in the area.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015

Speaking of the party here are a few pictures at night.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


The Genie was one of several characters that rotated through the crowd.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has taken over sponsorship of the Great Movie Ride.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


As you journey through the movies there is a new pre-recorded track that goes along with the cast member spiel. At the finale a new introduction and the film clips were updated and arranged differently.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


A photo op as you exit the attraction.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Nearby the American Idol Experience is gone and the theater is now called the Hyperion and features the Frozen Sing-Along.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Inside the Brown Derby a gingerbread creation this year for Christmas.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


In the far corner of the park, accessed through a gate by Rock n Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith is the new Sunset Showcase. While I was there it featured Club Disney. Max was greeting guests.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Inside a dance floor dominates the room with seating around it. A DJ plays music and hosts the club. Projection and lighting effects occur around the room.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


There were several interactive kiosks to color too.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Daisy on the dance floor.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


A brief video of the scene inside Club Disney.


There were also two snack carts selling drinks and food.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


The Star Wars Launch Bay has taken over the former Animation Building.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Storm Troopers on patrol.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Video of the Storm Troopers.


Inside the Launch Bay you can opt to watch a film featuring interviews with many involved in making the upcoming films. And see props and models from the films.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


As you head down the hallway a crawl to introduce you to the Launch Bay.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


More props on display in the queues for characters. You can choose the light side to meet Chewbacca or the Dark side and Darth Vader.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


We choose Chewbacca.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


There is a section featuring Star Wars video games.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


And other random characters roaming around a Cantina area.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


You close out your visit with merchandise in the Launch Bay Cargo area.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


The ABC Sound Studio features a Star Wars film now too.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


The former AFI Showcase building & former Wandering Oaken Trading Post now houses Watto's Grotto

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Inside more Star Wars merchandise.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


The Jedi Training is now the Trials of the Temple.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


The Backlot Express features Star Wars food. Here is some of the menu.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Last but not least this year was the last for the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Disney announced their retirement to make way for the new Star Wars project.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015

Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of some of the changes I noticed at Disney's Hollywood Studios since my last trip in 2014. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full picture sets I posted on my site, http://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.






January 10, 2016

Walt Disney World - Epcot Changes

laura%27s%20masthead%20copy2.jpg
Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos. In early December I wrapped up my 2015 Disney Parks World Tour back where it all began for me at Walt Disney World. During 2015 I was able to visit all 11 Disney theme parks in Anaheim, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris and Orlando. It had been a year since my last trip to WDW and as I walked around I looked for changes as I always tend to do. I have put together a series of posts for AllEars.net of some of the changes that stuck out to me as I roamed the parks, resorts and Disney Springs. As always if you want to see my full picture & video sets and read my thoughts & observations visit my site disneygeek.com.

This posting takes a look at Epcot.


Starting off in Future World. The American Music Machine performed on the Fountain Stage during the Christmas season alternating sets with Joyful.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Colortopia opened inside Innoventions, while much of Innoventions West and a portion of the East is behind walls now.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


A new seating area between Innoventions west and Imagination.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


In World Showcase a new sign on the Mexico Pyramid stating what should be obvious.. no climbing.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


A closer look.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


The Gran Fiesta tour has a new sign out front.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Inside the Three Caballeros have been added. These are the original figures from the Mickey Mouse Revue at the Magic Kingdom. They replaced the animated versions during the finale of the attraction.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Next door in Norway construction continues on the Frozen Meet and Greet


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


And on the Frozen attraction.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Inside the American Adventure lobby the Capitol gingerbread was joined this year by the Washington Monument.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


A new effect to kick off the Holiday tag on Illuminations: Reflections of Earth


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Here is a video clip of the Illuminations: Reflections of Earth finale and Holiday tag this year.



Monorail Black features an overlay for Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Video of Monorail Black pulling into the TTC



Epcot Center Drive has construction going between Buena Vista Drive and the edge of the property.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of some of the changes I noticed at Epcot since my last trip in 2014. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full picture sets I posted on my site, http://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.







January 7, 2016

Walt Disney World - Magic Kingdom Area Changes

laura%27s%20masthead%20copy2.jpg
Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos. In early December I wrapped up my 2015 Disney Parks World Tour back where it all began for me at Walt Disney World. During 2015 I was able to visit all 11 Disney theme parks in Anaheim, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris and Orlando. It had been a year since my last trip to WDW and as I walked around I looked for changes as I always tend to do. I have put together a series of posts for AllEars.net of some of the changes that stuck out to me as I roamed the parks, resorts and Disney Springs. As always if you want to see my full picture & video sets and read my thoughts & observations visit my site disneygeek.com.

This post takes a look around the Magic Kingdom and some of the Magic Kingdom Resort projects.


The big change at the Magic Kingdom since last December is the completion of the hub expansion. Here is a view through one of the viewing areas toward the Castle.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


The viewing areas a used as FastPass+ for Wishes each evening. During the day they are open to sit in.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


One of the new walkways looking toward Main Street from Adventureland. Notice anything missing? There are no benches or places to sit, nor is there any shade really.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Another view of the Castle from the walkway leading to Adventureland.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


On the Tomorrowland (east) side the rose walk and old swan boat dock have been removed and a forest put in their place. It does make for a nice picture of the Castle in the woods but I miss the walkway.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Four new turrets have been added too. Here you can see them lit up for the evening. They house equipment for the Castle stage.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Up closer to the Castle work continues on the walkways. The west (left) ramp was open but temporary railings. The other side was walled off still.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


In Adventureland the Skipper Canteen opened during my trip. I did not eat there but did take a quick look around.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


The outside waiting area.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


The inside waiting area.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


The first dining room, viewed from the waiting area.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Across the Seven Seas lagoon the lobby of the Polynesian Village Resort has been completed (it was behind curtains last December).


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Work is underway at the Oasis Pool (the quiet pool near the DVC section of the resort)


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


The Disney Vacation Club Bungalows are available now too.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


At the Wilderness Lodge there is construction going on for Disney Vacation Club expansion. Here is a look along Bay Lake at the blocked off area.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


The other side of the hotel between the existing DVC rooms and Bay Lake is being cleared.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


From the Monorail you can see the path cleared along the lake to the lodge.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Last note there are some new buses in the fleet now. They feature larger text.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


As well as a destination on the back of the bus.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015

Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of some of the changes I noticed in the Magic Kingdom area since my last trip in 2014. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full picture sets I posted on my site, http://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.







January 6, 2016

Walt Disney World - Disney Springs Changes

laura%27s%20masthead%20copy2.jpg

Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos. In early December I wrapped up my 2015 Disney Parks World Tour back where it all began for me: Walt Disney World. During 2015 I was able to visit all 11 Disney theme parks in Anaheim, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris and Orlando. It had been a year since my last trip to WDW and as I walked around I looked for changes as I always tend to do. I have put together a series of posts for AllEars.net of some of the changes that stuck out to me as I roamed the parks, resorts and Disney Springs. As always if you want to see my full picture & video sets and read my thoughts & observations visit my site disneygeek.com.

In this post we take a look around Disney Springs, formerly Downtown Disney. The area is still very much under construction with almost all the remaining projects slated to be completed and open in in 2016.


The entrance sign by the Disney bus stop features a map of what is currently open.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


A closer look at the map. The footprint is more or less the same as Downtown Disney with the addition of a new causeway to cut across the lake. The major growth will come when the rest of the Landing and Town Center open in 2016.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Not all the signage appears to be done. The entrance arch is MIA.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


The causeway is open this year. Last December when I was here it wasn't quite finished. It does make the Landing and West side an easier walk.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Behind the Lego store you can see the Town Center rising.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


A closer look at one of the buildings.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


The Muppet topiary from Epcot was near the Lego Store.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


The Landing is mostly open now featuring new shops and dining choices. This replaces most of Pleasure Island.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Chapel Hats


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


The Boathouse is a restaurant, bar, and mini boat museum.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Christmas decorations out front of the Boathouse


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Amphicar rides are available for a price.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Behind the restaurant is a bar and several seating areas to relax and enjoy your drink and look at the boats.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


They have boats of varying sizes and types on display.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


We ate dinner at the Boathouse and had a great meal. This is the Florida Sunshine Cake - Yellow cake, orange cream cheese icing, toasted almonds. They say this slice serves four. We had 5 and took two large containers with us. The price is $40. The cake is 30lbs and yields 5 slices so this was a 6 pound slice of cake.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


A Candle tree set up for the season next door.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


A different angle look at the Town Center construction from near the entrance to Morimoto Asia


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Morimoto Asia


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


More of the landing. Nice to walk around with no walls in this area.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


The Ganachery opened soon after we left.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Apex Sunglass Hut


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Art of Shaving


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


When you reach the top of the hill you run into the walls which look just like last year.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


A restroom. Even though there is a lot of construction still going on in the area the Landing was decorated for Christmas.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Looking toward the West Side


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


D-Street was still around, it was renamed a few days after we left.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Christmas decorations on the West Side


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


The Super Hero Headquarters recently opened on the West Side


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


A look inside.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Also new since last year the United World Soccer store.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


The Orange Garage is fully operational (it was only partially open last year).


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


A reindeer out front of the garage.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Looking back toward the Landing. The STK Steakhouse is on the right and the Edison on the left of the bridge.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


The new bus stops near Planet Hollywood are taking shape.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


A new pedestrian bridge spans Buena Vista Drive (there are two more of these on the Hotel Blvd corner now too).


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


The state of the Edison (on the side of the former Adventurers Club)


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


A wider shot of the bus stop and Town Center work.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


The Town Center building moving toward completion in 2016.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


A second parking garage is being constructed.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


New structures in front of Planet Hollywood (which is slated to close for renovation and renaming in early 2016).


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Buena Vista Drive looking toward the hotels (east)


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Looking toward Epcot, west more or less. The ramp and overpass are for the parking structure which is on the right in this shot.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Looking back at the parking structure.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


As you enter the parking structure a sign tells you how many spaces are open on each floor.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Each space in the garage has a sensor indicating if it is occupied or available (see the overhead light that is green in this shot).


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


A three kings sign in Disney Springs


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Since last year the World of Disney has been expanded and reorganized.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Displays seem more spread out now. This is the queue for one of the checkout areas.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


A new entrance has also been added, this one features Dumbo and Chip & Dale.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs


Twenty Eight & Main has replaced the sports store in the Co-op.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Disney Springs

Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of some of the changes I noticed at Diseny Springs since my last trip in 2014. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full picture sets I posted on my site, http://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.







January 5, 2016

Walt Disney World - Animal Kingdom Changes

laura%27s%20masthead%20copy2.jpg

Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos.

In early December I wrapped up my 2015 Disney Parks World Tour back where it all began for me: at Walt Disney World. During 2015 I was able to visit all 11 Disney theme parks in Anaheim, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris and Orlando.

It had been a year since my last trip to WDW and as I walked around I looked for changes as I always tend to do. I have put together a series of posts for AllEars.net of some of the changes that stuck out to me as I roamed the parks, resorts and Disney Springs. As always if you want to see my full picture & video sets and read my thoughts & observations visit my site disneygeek.com. This first set of photos covers Animal Kingdom.


Let us start off as you enter Discovery Island. The entrance area has been renovated to be more open with the removal of the wait time area, kiosks, and planters. Ongoing pavement replacement was still happening while I was there.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


At the Tree of Life many of the trails are still closed but the roots have been extended with some new animals.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


To the right as you enter Discovery Island is a new store, the Riverside Depot.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


A look inside the Riverside Depot


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


As with most Disney Stores Star Wars has taken over. Same is true here in Animal Kingdom.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


A new animal experience called Winged Encounter takes place several times a day. It features a flock of parrots flying in as cast members talk about them - and then they fly away.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015



Elsewhere on Discovery Island a new stage across from Flame Tree BBQ.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Pizzafari now serves a new type of pizza and has reduced seating due to construction of the new Tiffins restaurant on the back side of the location.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Behind this wall featuring Avatar artwork you can see the restaurant construction behind Pizzafari.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


There seemed to be more Christmas decorations in Harambe this year. Here is a wreath as you cross the bridge.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Harambe has grown since last December with the addition of the Harambe Market


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


On the Kilimanjaro Safari some new animals. First up a young giraffe


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


And white rhino


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


African Painted Dogs have been added too.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015



In Asia a new food location has opened, the Thirsty River Bar and Trek Snacks, in the former Expedition Everest FastPass distribution space.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


The location features two sets of counters.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


The bar half


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


And snack half


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Work continues on the Rivers of Light viewing area and show installation. The show is scheduled to debut in Spring 2016.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Some fountain testing was going on during my visit.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015



The biggest project is Pandora - The World of Avatar that is being constructed in the former Camp Minnie Mickey area. No official opening date has been announced yet but a 2017 date is expected. Here is one of the large show buildings seen from a bus entering the park.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


As you enter the park you can see the floating mountains and other rock work taking shape.


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015


One last picture of a sign featuring the 2016 marketing slogan...Unforgettable Happens Here...


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from December 2015

Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of some of the changes I noticed at Disney's Animal Kingdom since my last trip in 2014. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full picture sets I posted on my site, http://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.






December 31, 2014

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

laura%27s%20masthead%20copy2.jpg
Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos.

In December I spent at week on the East Coast at Walt Disney World. If you follow my regular posts from Disneyland you know I enjoy looking at what changed and is changing around the parks. AllEars asked me to share some of the construction pictures I took as I explored Walt Disney World. This four-post series will look at Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Disney Springs, and the Polynesian Village Resort and feature a subset of my pictures. If you would like to view more from this trip here is my trip summary with links.

This part takes a look at the projects at Downtown Disney, which is transforming into Disney Springs.

A look at the new causeway from near the Rainforest Cafe:

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

A new dock/deck that extends out in the lake near Ghirardelli.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Looking back toward where I took the first couple pictures.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

This section of the causeway looks complete

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Taken from near the LEGO store

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

A closer look at the bridge element in the middle.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

The railings are being installed.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

The Boathouse is taking shape.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

(Here's the press release on what the Boathouse will be.)

The restroom building has Disney Springs signage

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Concept art on the wall for the Boathouse

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

A closer look at the Boathouse

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Next door the Hanger

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

A dock extending from the Boathouse

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

The Boathouse

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

A small performance space between the Boathouse and Hanger

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

The Pleasure Island signage has been replaced with Springs Bottling Co.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

A Disney Springs lamp post

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

The water under the bridge connecting Pleasure Island and the West Side and extending to Planet Hollywood has been drained for a project.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

The high line section near Starbucks is new since my last trip (which was in April)

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

The Boathouse and Hanger from a distance.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Another section of high line going in near Splitsville

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

In the background you can see the new parking structure

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

A better view taking from near Cirque du Soleil

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Here you can see a bridge connecting the second floor of the garage to Downtown Disney so guests will not have to cross the street below.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

In the distance the ramps that will feed cars directly into and out of the garage from an I4 exit passing over Buena Vista Blvd are taking shape.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Looking across the lake from the West Side

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

The Hanger

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

The Boathouse

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

The Food Truck Park has opened since my last visit. Today two trucks only.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

A high line section by the Food Truck Park

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Concept art on the wall near Planet Hollywood.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

A large structure that will be the pedestrian entrance to the garage taking shape between Planet Hollywood and the theaters.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

But for now you can walk through the construction walls to reach it.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Part of the structure is open for guests to use now.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Eventually this will be a road that goes between the structure and Disney Springs. For now though its a wide walkway.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

The bridge from the garage to entrance structure.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

The first floor of the garage features escalators and elevators to reach the upper floors

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Of course I had to go up and check it out. (Who else flies cross-country to visit a parking structure?)

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

A look at the cars parked on the first level.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

The second floor. To the left a bank of elevators.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

The entrance structure. Looks like it will have escalators, stairs, and elevators.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

A typical parking row, notice the sensors above.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

A closer look. Once operational these will indicate if there is a car in the spot or not. So you can tell be glancing down an aisle if there are open spots.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

A look out to the former parking lot area. It is closed and used for construction parking only. A second parking structure will be built here soon.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

A closer look.

Disney Springs Walt Disney World Construction Update

Hope you enjoyed this look at Disney Springs. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full Trip Update I posted on my site, http://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.



December 30, 2014

The Polynesian Village at Walt Disney World Construction Update

laura%27s%20masthead%20copy2.jpg
Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos.

In December I spent at week on the East Coast at Walt Disney World. If you follow my regular posts from Disneyland you know I enjoy looking at what changed and is changing around the parks. AllEars asked me to share some of the construction pictures I took as I explored Walt Disney World. This four-post series will look at Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Disney Springs, and the Polynesian Village Resort and feature a subset of my pictures. If you would like to view more from this trip here is my trip summary with links.

This part takes a look at the projects at the Polynesian Village Resort.

The lobby area was behind curtains at the time (it opened a few days after I left).

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

A preview of the lobby and new light fixture, thanks to a curtain that was askew.

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

Work continues on the longhouses to convert the rooms to DVC units.

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

The rock work for the volcano at the pool is being redone.

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

A look at the Disney Vacation Club Bungalows from the dock.

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

The beach area has turned into a work yard.

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update


A small section of beach was open for resort guests between the DVC and the pool projects.

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

A closer look at a bungalow.

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

Hanging chairs were being installed on the patio.

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

Trees being planting on the peninsula that the bungalows surround.

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

I guessed that this is a spa/hot tub off of the master bedroom. The other patio door could be the family room.

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

A look at the bungalows from a launch heading to the Magic Kingdom.

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

A look from the Magic Kingdom ferry boat.

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

Polynesian Village at WDW Construction Update

You can read more about the new bungalow units and see some concept artwork HERE.


Hope you enjoyed this look at the Magic Kingdom. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full Trip Update I posted on my site, http://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.


April 29, 2013

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas at Walt Disney World

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Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos from Walt Disney World.

I had a great opportunity my last morning at Walt Disney World. The Imagineers were conducting a public "play test" of A Pirate's Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas. This is a new interactive experience that will be opening in Adventureland in the Magic Kingdom in the near future. The testing started earlier in the morning and I managed to make it there about 11:45am and was one of the last groups through, they shut down around noon. The adventure begins at the Enlistment Quarters, the old Crows Nest.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

The only signs it was open for the play test was an open door.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

On the other side a cast member was out to answer questions and he also gave the introduction to the game.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

We were shown inside by the cast member and he explained what we were about to embark on.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

He then issued us a talisman that would be our key to unlock the game.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

We then could go to one of the three kiosks to start our adventure.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

You put the talisman on the symbol and the video begins to play your first clue and it tells you which quest you will be embarking on.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

There were five maps out. Since this was a play test they stressed what we were seeing may not be the final set of maps or content on the maps.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Our quest was the Guardian's Curse. Here is a look a the map.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

The introduction text on the map.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

The map. We were told to head for the compass first.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Before heading off a look around the room.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Overhead...

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

The wall behind you (assuming you are facing the kiosks).

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Our first stop was the compass. This is located across from Pirates. When you put the talisman on the symbol the compass springs to life and points to where you will be heading next (there is narration too). We were directed across the plaza to the parrot for further instructions.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Approaching the parrot symbol, it is on the gun handle which is on the crate. The parrot itself is in the shadow on the left in this picture.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

A video clip of the parrot in action.

Next up for us was the bulls-eye. This stop is located down near the Swiss Family Tree House.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

A couple video clips of the cannon fire and treasure unveiling and our final clue.


Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Our final stop, the captain's hat. Located where the mini Jungle Cruise boats once sailed.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Video of the finale to our quest. After this played an Imagineer approached us, thanked us and asked for feedback.

They shut down the test at noon which was about the time we wrapped up our quest. So I did not have a chance to try any of the others or learn more. Here is a look at a couple of the other maps. Again note they stressed these are still works in progress.

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Play Testing A Pirate's Adventure

Hope you enjoyed this look at a play test of the upcoming Pirates Adventure. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full updates I posted on my site, http://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.



December 9, 2011

December to Remember - Day 2

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Today (Friday) started really early - we had to be at the entrance to the Studios by 6:30 for the Toy Story Maniac Eat and Play Meet. What a fantastic event! A huge thank you to our sponsor, All Star Vacation Homes. I so wish that we had not had to limit it so much so that more of you could have shared it with us, but the very nature of the event meant that it had to be small.

Sarge from Toy Story met us outside the turnstiles and marched us all up Hollywood Blvd do the Sorcerer's Hat, where we took a group photo (only our two official photographers were allowed photos because the park was not yet open, so I don't have any photos of that).

We went back to the Prop Shop for a buffet breakfast. Just being in the Prop Shop was a treat - there were so many interesting things from all sorts of Disney movies displayed on shelves around the room and overhead.

December to Remember - Day 2

We had a really nice breakfast - fresh fruit and pastries, hash browns, two kinds of "family omelet" skillets, turkey sausage, and bacon.

December to Remember - Day 2

Deb spoke to us briefly, as did Steve and Sarah from All Star Vacation Homes.

December to Remember - Day 2

Then Sarge came back. He posed for pictures with everyone, made some people do push-ups, sit-ups, or jumping jacks, and was really a hoot. "Sir, yes, sir!"

December to Remember - Day 2

At the end he demonstrated some of his best "Green Army Man" poses - this one was my favorite.

December to Remember - Day 2

At about 8:45 we walked over to Toy Story Mania and right onto the ride! Great fun riding it with so many friends.

The park had just opened as we exited the ride - and it was really amazing watching all the people come down the street and descend upon the ride entrance and the fastpass machines. The line stretched waaaay back past Little Mermaid. Wow.

It was a great morning - another moment to remember from this December to Remember.

But it didn't end there! Tonight we were back in the Studios for Sweet Bites and Street Lights. We started with a dessert buffet in the Animation Building, where we were joined by a very dapper Mickey and a very glamorous Minnie!

December to Remember - Day 2

And after the park had been cleared of guests we went back to the Streets of America, where Deb Wills flipped the switch to turn on the Osborne Lights!

December to Remember - Day 2

They are just so beautiful, and we had the streets to ourselves.

December to Remember - Day 2

The lights danced to several songs, but all too soon it was time to say goodbye.

December to Remember - Day 2

Another fabulous event - thank you to our wonderful Mouse Fan Travel sponsors!

December to Remember - Day 2

What a terrific day it was!


December 8, 2011

December to Remember - Day 0

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Lee and I are back at WDW for the All Ears December to Remember events. 15 years - congratulations Deb Wills and Deb Koma and all of my other fellow All Ears team mates! And thank you to YOU, all of our readers - All Ears wouldn't be what it is without you!

I'm not planning to do my usual descriptive blog about this trip, but will share a few photos as I have the time.

The new Katsura Grill opened at Epcot today, in the former Yakitori House restaurant. Lee and I had dinner there. The menu has most (if not all) of the items from Yakitori House - teriyaki chicken bowls, beef curry, and noodles, but also has some new items, like the Okonomiyaki, which is a Japanese pancake, a chicken katsu sandwich, and the Tsukemen Salad, a cold ramen noodle salad. Unfortunately, we didn't try any of those - it was a very chilly evening at Epcot (cold front going through, and very breezy), so we had the Udon Noodles - with tempura shrimp for me and with beef for Lee. Both really good. My only complaint is that the bowls they use do not insulate well at all, and my soup cooled off much faster than I would have liked on a chilly evening.

December to Remember - Day 0
December to Remember - Day 0

Katsura Grill Menu

They didn't make the restaurant any larger, but they moved the ordering counter back and added a queue and another register or two so it's not quite as chaotic and crowded inside. They also lightened the color of the decor inside so it seems larger.

December to Remember - Day 0

I'm sure you'll be reading a much more detailed review from Jack Spence soon - we talked to a manger who saw Lee's AllEars hat and said that he had talked to Jack earlier today. :-)

Something I had NOT heard about at all - there's a new sake bar/drink stand - it's on the same side of Japan as the Katsura Grill, approximately across from the steps leading up to Tokyo Dining. (It used to be a merchandise cart). They offer several kinds of sake, sake cocktails, frozen sake beverages, beer, a seasonal smoothie, green tea, and soft drinks. I don't know the name, though. It was chilly so we didn't try anything, but I want to return to try one of the sake cocktails - or even the Amasake frozen beverage if it warms up enough.

December to Remember - Day 0

We treated ourselves to a Pumpkin Spice Funnel Cake from the stand next to the American Adventure. It was really good!

December to Remember - Day 0

I thought these projected snowflakes were really pretty.

December to Remember - Day 0

From our balcony at the Boardwalk we could see the Illuminations fireworks - this is part of the holiday finale. While I love seeing it up close, I think it looks a little better from a distance.

December to Remember - Day 0



December 14, 2009

Holidays at WDW - Day 6

Our last day - I can hardly believe it! As usual, it's gone way too fast, and we're left with a list of things that we *didn't* have time to do.

But we got most of a full day today - instead of having a flight in the very early afternoon it wasn't until 6:00, so we had time to go to two theme parks before leaving for the airport.

We actually got up EARLY (for us, at least) - it wasn't even 8:00 yet! We enjoyed the pastries that we got at Kouzzina yesterday morning - the coffeecake was especially good, and there were actually two pieces of that! We also had a "sweet bread" cupcake, a mini-croissant, a small blueberry muffin and some dried fruit.

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And what a difference a few hours makes - by 8:00 it was already about 10 degrees warmer than it got all day yesterday!!! There was rain in the forecast for the afternoon, but we had blue sky and sunshine for most of the morning - it was a lovely, comfortable, beautiful day!

We got our bags packed and were out of the room by about 9:00 for the drive to Animal Kingdom. After we parked and were walking up the aisle we saw Chad, Kerry, and Kevin ahead of us, so we walked in with them. Unfortunately that meant that we were both distracted and neither of us noticed which row we were parked in! Oops. (But when we came back later we did actually go down the correct row.)

Back at Harambe Fort the AllEars meet was already in full force - there was a Hidden Mickey seminar, conducted by Steve Barrett, going on, and a lot of other people were standing around chatting. I had the chance to chat for a while with Kitty (who writes about vegan and vegetarian dining for AllEars) and Rocky and I really enjoyed that - I had been hoping that I would get to see them. We all love cats and Disney, and we're also Crescent Lake Snobs - we just needed Steve Russo there for a "Crescent Lake Snob" photo. (That's kind of an inside RADP joke.)

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Somehow Rocky got designated to take a photo of those of us who were still around at the time we decided to take a group photo - and then people kept handing him cameras. :-) He must have taken 7-8 at least!

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And we posed for an AllEars team photo as well - I think there were almost more people taking pictures of us than there were people in the photo, LOL!

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After that it was time to do the videoing for the AllEars Holiday video that Lee will be putting together - Coming Soon to a Youtube Channel near you. :-) Some of us did it in one take, some weren't happy with the first and wanted to do it again...and of course those of us watching weren't helping matters. It was really a lot of fun.

We had a Team lunch at Tusker House, where 13(gasp!) of us descended upon the place. Fortunately that was not an unlucky number and we had an excellent meal with a great server. I think I like Tusker House even more than Boma, though I think Boma has better desserts.

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We laughed and shared stories - most of us live quite far apart from each other so the chances we have to get together and socialize as a group are rare. And we missed all of you who weren't there with us!!!

Lee and I had to say our goodbyes to everyone after that since we were starting to head home. :-(

But we still had a couple hours, so we went back to Epcot to do a few things that we had missed, with a stop in the lobby of the Boardwalk to get our boarding passes printed - something we hadn't had time for in the morning.

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All week we'd been planning to see Joyful, the gospel singing group that is performing at the stage behind the Epcot fountain, but the timing had never worked out. We missed the first 10 minutes of their 2:15 show but were able to hear them perform several songs - they were pretty good, and brought a nice energy to the stage.

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We had time to catch one more set of the Voices of Liberty - this time they performed two songs we hadn't heard - Angels We Have Heard on High and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

While we were there we went into the Liberty Inn to see the life-size gingerbread house they have in there. I like the "glass" on this one.

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And the very last thing we did was to see the World Showcase Players perform their version of A Christmas Carol. We thought Lee was going to get selected to play Bob Scratchit, but at the last second they selected the guy standing next to Lee instead. Both of the audience "volunteers" were pretty good, though, and we enjoyed the show.

Now it was time to say goodbye...we had an uneventful trip to the airport, and I think we encountered the shortest lines at security that I've ever seen there.

We're cruising at 36,000 feet as I write this - should be an on-time arrival in San Diego.

It was a good trip, but looking back on it I think we did the fewest attractions that we have ever done - just two! Kilimanjaro Safari on Tuesday and Hall of Presidents on Friday. LOL! Some people would probably interpret that to mean we had a really bad trip, but it's not at all about the attractions for us. We actually spent a lot of time in the parks but we were wandering around doing things other than riding rides. And we spent a lot of time hanging out with friends both in and out of the parks - and that was really the best part.

Thanks to everyone for reading - I'll have some final thoughts about things I didn't have a chance to write about coming soon.

December 12, 2009

Holidays at WDW - Day 5

Got up (at about 8:45 again) to a cloudy and chilly day - no sun expected, and high was only supposed to be about 67 - and I'm not sure it ever got even that warm.

We decided to have breakfast at Kouzzina - we'd had dinner there back in October with the Koma family and really enjoyed it. There were a surprising number of people having breakfast at 10:00, but we waited less than 10 minutes for a table.

There were a number of items on the breakfast menu that looked good - we could definitely eat here again, and I'm sure we will in the future. Lee really wanted waffles, so he had the Classic Golden Waffle which came with a large spoonful of whipped mascarpone cheese, honey, and chopped pecans. He also got a side of the sweet potato hash.

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I was torn between the Spinach, Tomato, and Feta Scrambled Eggs and the Create Your Own Yogurt and Granola, but I finally chose the latter. It came with Greek yogurt (which I really like) and granola, and then with some fruit and sugared nuts and honey. I was disappointed in how little fruit there was...for $10.49 I expected a little more, but it was good.

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Just about the time our food arrived Linda and Deb came by our table - they had just finished their breakfast. But they joined us while we ate and we had a great time talking to them and catching up a little bit. They are a couple of special ladies, that's for sure!

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We'd gotten some Kouzzina pastries to have for breakfast tomorrow, when we know we'll be rather rushed in getting out of here, so we dropped those back in our room and then headed out to do a little more Christmas decoration resort hopping. First stop was the Yacht Club. They have the usual tree decorated with nautically-themed ornaments (like ships!) in the lobby as well as the alpine village train set, which has all kinds of things going on around it.

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Over at the Beach Club it is the 10th anniversary of the gingerbread carousel.

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They had a rotating gingerbread castle on one corner, with Snow White on one side and Belle on the other:

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And an the opposite corner was a rotating version of Chip and Dale's treehouse - they seem to be the "mascot" of the carousel, though I don't really understand why. There's also a special carousel 10th anniversary pin that has Chip and Dale on it.

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This is the first time I remember them selling gingerbread in a shop in the lobby. One of the pastry chefs was hard at work decorating Mickey-faced gingerbread cookies.

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Then we were off to Epcot for Mike and Masayo's Kaki-Gori meet. The temperature really wasn't very conducive to ordering a kaki-gori, but I saw a number of people who are apparently far more hardy than I am, and ordered them anyways.

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Masayo brought bags of origami cranes and swans that she had made - I think she said there were about 200! Wow...I can't even imagine how much time that took to do...they were both pretty intricate.

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Here are all of the AllEars team members who attended (except Mike, who had to leave early for his podcast, and Barrie, who arrived after we took the picture) - Linda, Jack, me, Erin, Deb, Michelle, and Fred.

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And here's Jack, Lori, Kevin and John - they were trying to keep Lori warm, I think!

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After people had mostly dispersed several of us who were more the RADP folks hung around visiting, and eventually decided to go have lunch at Yakitori House. One of the things I enjoy most about RADP meets is the small groups that break off after a larger meet, and go off and do something like eat, or get our picture taken with Mickey, or some other activity where we get the chance to just visit for a while. We were with Jack, Julie, and Kevin, and we had a really good time just being together. Luckily we were able to sit inside and eat, since it was still quite chilly outside, and the wind had come up a little bit.

Kevin, Julie and I all had the Shrimp Tempura Udon, which I enjoyed very much. Kevin and Julie ate it with chopsticks - I'm afraid I am not that accomplished. :-)

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Jack had the teriyaki chicken, I think, and Lee had the Japanese Curry - it doesn't look very appealing in the photo, but fortunately it tastes a LOT better than it looks!

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After lunch (it was after 3:00 by then) Lee and I headed over to Magic Kingdom via monorail, though we stopped at the entrance to Epcot to take a few pictures of the holiday topiaries.

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At Magic Kingdom we went back to see the Hall of Presidents - our timing was great because a show was just a couple of minutes away. This is the first time we'd seen it since they changed it and added the new President Obama figure. It focuses much more on the presidents and how even someone from humble beginnings (like Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Jackson, who was labeled a "barbarian") can become president. I enjoyed it, though I didn't think the Obama figure was that realistic. But I liked how he looked back at his "notes" (or maybe it was a teleprompter) before making his speech. I have to say that during his speech I thought back to the D23 presentation I saw on the making of the Hall of Presidents, and how the Imagineers who went to talk to Obama and record his speech sort of ran wild on their tour of the White House - sounded like they had a lot of fun! :-)

We got out just in time to make it to Erin's "Remembering Walt Disney" meet at 4:30 - we were meeting out by the floral Mickey.

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Erin did a great job with this - she had lots of stories to tell us about Walt and Roy Disney and other things that went on as they tried to build the Disney Studios, and then of course Disneyland and Walt Disney World. I don't know how she remembered everything she did since I never caught her consulting any notes!

She'd originally planned for us to wander around the park as she spoke about various topics but because the weather was so chilly we went to Pinocchio's Village Haus and co-opted several table and she talked there. That was very considerate of her - a cup of hot chocolate tasted pretty good by then!

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The meet ended just in time for us to get to the front of the castle for the Cinderella's Holiday Wish show (aka the castle lighting ceremony) at 6:15. It would be nice if they did this more than once each evening like they do at Disneyland...but at Disneyland there's no characters involved, just the soundtrack and the lighting effects. Still, it's awfully pretty as it lights up!

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The park was getting ready to close since there was a Christmas party tonight, so we joined the hordes of people exiting the park. But instead of going back to the Epcot area we took the boat to Ft. Wilderness, because we wanted to see some of the Christmas displays over there that we had heard so much about. There are quite a few really large ones that are not too far from the Settlement House which is where the boat dropped us off. Some of these have lots and lots of different inflatable figures, as well as lights and other decorations.

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I thought this one was nice - not as cluttered as some of them were:

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And this one had both a monorail and a train set!

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We managed to make our way out of Ft. Wilderness and our timing was great because when we got to the Outpost an Epcot bus was waiting - it ended up being pretty full, too - but I'm sure that's because it was Extra Magic Hours at Epcot that evening, and Magic Kingdom had closed early because of the party. It was a little after 8:00 when we arrived at Epcot, and our first order of business was FOOD!!! We went to Seasons in the Land mainly because it was indoors. Though we also enjoy the food there. It was still fairly busy, and that is never a quiet place to eat. I had a bowl of vegetable soup and a salad, and Lee had the cashew chicken and chow mein, which came with a big side of steamed broccoli - I helped him eat that. :-)

We'd originally planned to stay for Illuminations but that was still almost 45 minutes away, and we didn't feel like standing out in the cold for that long, so we decided to get some hot spiced wine and then head back to the Boardwalk and watch Illuminations from our balcony. That decision was reinforced when we walked out of the Land only to find that it was raining lightly. Hmm. So instead of getting glasses of wine we got a whole bottle - two glasses was $12, and an entire bottle was $13-something - and there's a lot more than two glasses in it - I wish we'd gotten one before this. Oh well, we'll remember for next year. (By the way - it warms up just fine in the microwave!!!)

It had mostly stopped raining by the time we had bought the wine, but we still were anxious to get "home". And as we had thought, we had a pretty good view of the fireworks from our balcony - they were going off right over the ESPN Club. It's still a terrific show, even from 1/2 mile away!

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We fly home tomorrow evening, but we have a busy morning since we have to finish packing before we head off to Animal Kingdom for the AllEars meet that starts at 9:30. That means we have to get moving earlier than we have any other day this week...but hey, I'm done with this blog and it's not even midnight (but close!), so I'm ahead already. :-)

I probably will not have a blog on tomorrow's events ready to publish on Sunday morning since we don't get home until late Saturday night. But who knows, maybe I'll be able to take advantage of free internet access on our layover in Houston and get it done then...but probably not.

Thanks to all of you who have been reading and letting me know that you are enjoying the blogs!

December 10, 2009

Holidays at WDW - Day 3

It's been another long day (it's after midnight right now as I'm starting to write this!), so we'll see how much I get done tonight...you may get a "Part 2".

So...another morning...another animal-free savanna. Sigh.

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It was another beautiful day - except for a rain shower as we drove from the airport to the resort on Monday night the weather has been beautiful, with highs close to 80, and still warm in the evening, too.

We decided to take the bus to Animal Kingdom rather than drive...in hindsight that was a bad idea because between the wait for the bus (saw 2 MK buses and 3 Epcot buses in that time, though Studios was worse off, with no bus at all!), loading an ECV, and the extra stop at Jambo House, it was 45 minutes from the time we arrived at the bus stop until we were at Animal Kingdom. Yikes. But we saw my RADP friend Brian - he got on the bus at Jambo House, so we chatted with him on the ride to Animal Kingdom.

They only serve breakfast at Pizzafari until 10:30, and we thought we were out of luck since a cast member was taking the breakfast sign inside when we got there, but the nice ladies at the cash register said "oh, no, come right ahead!" Whew. And as a bonus we got a coupon on our receipt good for 20% off merchandise at Island Mercantile until 12:00 p.m. It was good at places in other parks, too, like MouseGear, and the Emporium, but there was no way we were getting to any of those by noon! We took a quick shopping trip - I found a shirt I liked, but Lee didn't see anything. LOTS of people had those coupons, because Island Mercantile was busier than I have ever seen it.

Animal Kingdom itself seemed very busy to us - the standby lines weren't bad, but it seemed very congested - lots of people around.

We stopped to see the otters on our way back to the Safari ride - there were two of them out. One was swimming laps, and I guess the other one was coaching from the island - he was certainly sitting up there doing a lot of chirping! So cute...I love otters.

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We had gotten Fastpasses for the safari ride before breakfast, so we got through the line pretty quickly, though the standby was listed as less than 30 minutes. Saw a fair number of animals - quite a few on the savanna, and mostly on the near side rather than the far side, which is unusual in my experience. They called these white rhinos...but they looked red to me. :-)

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Normally we walk the Pangani Forest Trail after our safari, but there were tons of people headed there so we passed it by and went over to Asia to the Maharajah Jungle Trek instead. We expected that the tigers would all be sleeping, but several of them were up and active - that was a very nice surprise! We knew that there were six, all females, but learned that they are 12 years old, and some of them don't get along very well. Which isn't really surprising in a family of six females...We saw two of them over in the viewing area that you see from the suspension bridge - I've never been able to see them from the bridge (not that close, at least) before. I could inundate you with tiger pictures, but I'll just share this one: My, what big teeth you have!!!

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We wandered over to Dino-Rama (20-minute standby for Primeval Whirl). I'd never noticed the way that this brontosaurus(?) looms over the area...good thing it looks friendly!

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There was a character greeting area there that I don't remember seeing before, so I don't know if it's just for the holidays or not.

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Over at the Tree of Life we discovered a path that I don't think we've ever been on before! Some very nice views of the Tree looking up, but there's an awful lot of scary big-toothed critters carved into the roots in that area.

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At the end of the path (which came out behind the tattoo stand) there was this strange-looking fish - it's called a Paroon Shark-Catfish - I think you can see why. It's pretty big - close to 3 feet long, I think.

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It was about 1:30 and we headed out of the park - we had a late lunch scheduled at Sanaa. Fortunately the bus ride back was quick and efficient - Kidani Village was the first stop. It sure is a looooong way from the bus stop to our room, though.

We had the last lunch seating at Sanaa. The restaurant wasn't full, but there were a pretty good number of parties there. We got a window table which was great, because the windows in Sanaa look right out onto the savanna, and the animals come to within 10-15 feet of the restaurant! We saw giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, and Ankole cattle while were were eating - two of the zebras were in view most of the time, and the giraffes went by two or three times. It was really cool! Of course, it helps that they feed them in front of the restaurant - a keeper came by and dropped off some hay and most of a banana tree while we were there.

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Lunch was really good - I'll write up more of a review eventually, but we both really enjoyed what we had, and I'm sure we'll be back here again in the future. We had an excellent server, also. She performs in the Cast choir for the Candlelight Processional, and we talked about that a little bit, since we would be seeing it later in the evening.

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Made a brief stop back in our room, and in all fairness I have to say that there was an okapi and several waterbuck on our savanna. And when we returned tonight there was the herd of impala and a couple of waterbuck. Of course you couldn't really see them in the dark, but they were there. Though it was interesting that it was so quiet that we could hear them as they wandered around and chewed on grass.

Then it was off to Epcot, where we were doing the new Holiday D-Lights tour. Mike Bachand has already written a terrific blog about it which you can read HERE, so I'm not going to go into much detail, except where our tour differed from his.

We also had Mark as one of our tour guides, and he was really good - very knowledgeable about a lot of the techy stuff that we like. Our other guide was Dena, who also did a fine job, but not so technical.

As Mike stated, we started off by visiting the Decorating Support building which is over near the Magic Kingdom. I thought our next stop would be Magic Kingdom, but instead we went over to the Studios to see the Osborne Lights. When I asked Dena about that she said that the Studios was closing early, at 7:00 (the tour actually got underway a little after 5:00), and so they had to take us there early.

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They pointed out the "black cat" that's in a different place in the lights each year - it was a Halloween decoration that somehow got thrown in with all of the Christmas lights (there are about 5 million of them now, most of them LEDs), but the Imagineers decided to put it up anyways. :-) I guess last year it was an alley cat...this year it's a cat on a hot LED roof. :-)

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I felt we were rushed getting through the lights, though - we only got to see one performance of the dancing lights - they were starting Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas in Sarajevo (which is one of the musical number we use with our lights at home) as we had to leave. :-(

Our early stop at the Studios unfortunately meant that we missed the lighting ceremony for Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom - it was already fully lit by the time we got back there. I was disappointed in that. We also got caught by the SpectroMagic parade, so that was going on in the background when we were trying to listen to what Mark had to say - even with our earphones that was a little difficult. The castle was this funky orange color for most of the time we had a really good view of it (which seemed much more appropriate to Halloween than Christmas!).

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Of course after we had to get out of the way of the parade it started changing colors again...

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Lee picked up a few lighting tips that he wants to try on our roof "ice" lights at home, though.

As Mike talked about, we finished up the tour at Epcot with the Candlelight Processional. I think we had better seats than he did, though - our tour was only 26 (full capacity is 40), so they put us closer to the stage, and not so blocked by trees. Andy Garcia was the narrator, and he was pretty good. His favorite song is also one of my favorites - They Rejoiced with Exceeding Great Joy. He tried to get them to perform it a second time. :-)

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We really enjoyed the tour, though I felt gypped because we did not get to see the castle lighting. Seeing it already lit wasn't really that special. But we both felt that for the price ($179/person!) the experiences should have been a little more exclusive/special - we were pushing through the crowds at the Osborne lights with everyone else, though at least we had reserved seating for the Processional.

The tour ended not long after the Processional - they took us out of the theater and took back our headsets and gave us our pins (limited edition of only about 250!), and then strongly encouraged us to watch Illuminations - especially the holiday finale. Though Mark wouldn't give us exact numbers, he said that there are as many fireworks in the four-minute finale as they are in the rest of the show!!! I believe it, though...that last 30 seconds is insane.

Anyway...we found a decent spot to watch it. Both Lee and I noticed that the images on the globe seem a lot more clear and distinct than we've ever seen them - and we were here at the end of October, so I'm not sure what's changed since then.

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The holiday finale...WOW. That's really all I can say. I think that is my very favorite thing about the holidays at WDW. It blows me away every time I see it - and I have seen it a number of times over the years. I can't believe the number of fireworks they shoot into the air - as I said before, it's just insane. As we've often said: "Nothing says 'peace on earth' like shooting off a bunch of explosives!"

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Wow...I actually did finish this - and it's still only about 10:00 - west coast time, that is.

Tomorrow we're moving from Kidani Village to Boardwalk Villas - it'll be nice to get back there again. I think we'll try to see the Osborne Lights again without feeling so rushed, and definitely will be seeing Illuminations again!!!

By the way...for those of you who have submitted comments - thank you, I'm sorry that I haven't replied and gotten them published yet, but I'll get to it as soon as I can. I'm glad you are enjoying the blogs!

December 9, 2009

Holidays at WDW - Day 2

Still on west coast time, so went to bed about 1:30 a.m. and got up about 9:00 this morning. We still have a mostly animal-free savanna, but did catch a glimpse of these impala as they migrated across and out of view.

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We didn't really have any plans for the morning - Lee suggested going resort-hopping to see Christmas decorations, so that's what we did. We drove over to Wilderness Lodge first - that's one of our favorite resorts at Christmas time. On the road in we saw this topiary display.

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The tree in the lobby is always very impressive - it's so tall!

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And they use antlers in all of their decorating. :-)

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Whispering Canyon was surprisingly busy for 10:00 in the morning, but even without a reservation we were seated in less than 10 minutes. Luckily they put us in the back room by the fireplace which is a little quieter - and we knew better than to ask for ketchup! :-) Lee had the breakfast skillet which he enjoyed, and I had the standard 2 eggs, bacon, potatoes, and biscuit, which was fine.

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We thought about going to all of the monorail resorts, but we've been underwhelmed with the decorations at the Polynesian and the Contemporary in recent years, and haven't heard that there was anything new there this year, so we went straight to the Grand Floridian instead. There's always plenty of decorations at the Grand!!! Lots of beautiful wreaths and small trees and the big lobby tree - though of course the gingerbread house is one of the most outstanding things.

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Poor Lee...little does he realize what lurks above him, waiting to launch an attack...it'll be years before he goes near the Grand Floridian's tree again! :-)

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There were also many beautiful arrangements of fresh flowers - I thought this one was especially nice.

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As we were driving away from the Grand I noticed something along the edge of the golf course that I was very surprised to see...

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A flock of wild turkeys - either that, or the Thanksgiving rejects. There must have been at least a dozen of them. That was really a treat to see them!

On the way back to Kidani we stopped at Coronado Springs - they always have very nice Christmas decorations - nicer than some of the deluxe resorts, actually!

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The tree in the registration area was very pretty.

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And then there were these characters outside...

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Back at Kidani we checked out the lobby in the daytime...aren't these really cool chandeliers?

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And then our Kidani Village room search adventure began. Those of you familiar with the rec.arts.disney.parks (RADP) newsgroup will know who Keane is - Keane and his PiC (Partner in Crime) are also staying at Kidani, and we were going to his room to have a drink - also meeting Steve Russo there. We knew from Keane's room number that he was staying in the other half of the building, but what we didn't realize is that the only place that the two halves connect is on the second floor where the lobby is. So we had to go down to the second floor, walk across to the other part of the building and then take an elevator up. At least on his half of the building the room numbers make sense - 74xx is on the 4th floor, 75xx is on the fifth, rather than our side where the fourth floor is 78xx. We eventually found it, though - but not before Keane called us to find out where we were. :-)

Keane has a great view looking into the center of the big savanna - we saw giraffes and eland wandering around. I was jealous. :-)

It was nice to meet Steve for the first time, and good to spend more time with Keane - I'd only talked to him briefly at last year's RADP meet. Keane has taken some amazing panorama photos, and his ulterior motive was to get us up to his room to show us some of them. No, not at all like etchings. :-) They really are beautiful and he insisted that we choose one. Very generous of him, and a tough decision! You can see some of them (and see how big they are!) in this photo.

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And here's a photo of Steve, me, and Keane.

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By then it was after 3:00. We went back to our room briefly, where we found a few more animals on the savanna - there were several female waterbuck. They seem rather odd-looking to me - sort of donkey-like.

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I guess we'd put it off long enough...it was finally time to go to a theme park. :-) We were meeting Erin, one of my fellow AllEars teammates, in Epcot at 4:30. It was very strange to drive to the front of Epcot - we are so used to staying behind it and walking in from there! The walkway between Future World and World Showcase looks so strange without the Lights of Winter...they even got rid of the lighted dove decorations in the planter in front of it. Waaaaaa!!!

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Lee and I had had a late breakfast but nothing since then, and we wanted some food before we started drinking frozen margaritas. :-) The food booth that was in front of the Mexico pavilion during the Food and Wine Festival is still there, though now they have a different menu: beef taquitos, a chicken quesadilla, and guacamole and chips. We got the quesadilla and the chips, which were both pretty good.

I don't remember now how Erin and I decided that we needed to meet for margaritas in Mexico, but it's something we've been looking forward to for months and we had a lot of fun. After we got our Fiesta margaritas we wandered around World Showcase.

Erin had done several of the Kim Possible Adventures, but hadn't done the one in Germany. We wanted to show her one of the effects at the little train in Germany, but wouldn't you know it there wasn't any one doing the Kim Possible thing - normally people are practically tripping on top of each other! But finally a family showed up and triggered the effect - it still makes us laugh. You can see it in this photo if you know what to look for - I'm not going to spoil it for those who haven't done it, so instead you can enjoy this photo of the village all decorated for Christmas. I always enjoy seeing how they decorate the train area for different events, though I think Christmas is when they decorate it the most.

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We completed our circle around World Showcase and stopped to chat for a while near the entrance to World Showcase. I thought the sunset behind the Eiffel Tower was pretty nice.

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Erin walked out of Epcot with us and we said goodbye, though we will see her later this week. Our next stop was Old Key West, where we were invited to a Fish Fry at Charlotte and John's (more of our RADP friends - even though we missed most of the meets, between mini golf last night and the Fish Fry tonight we have been able to catch up with a lot of the people we would have seen, so that's been very nice). John had actually caught the fish, a saltwater trout, himself, so that was very special. He'd also fried up some hush puppies to go with it (yum!), and there was lots of other food as well. It was really a fun evening catching up and enjoying some really good food. Lee was really happy since he got to sample Jan's coconut cake and bread pudding, which are two of his favorite things.

Here Jack serves up some of that Southern home cooking!

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We have no plans for tomorrow until late afternoon, when we are doing the Holiday D-Lights tour. That goes from 4:45 until about 9:15, so we're going to eat a late lunch...based on Keane's and PiC's recommendation today, I think we'll try Sanaa. We may have to actually do an attraction tomorrow! :-)

December 8, 2009

Holidays at WDW - Day 1

We're back at Walt Disney World for our usual "see all of the holiday stuff" trip.

This day was a lot different than our usual first day at WDW though...for one thing, we are staying at Animal Kingdom Villas (Kidani Village) and not at Boardwalk Villas - it seemed really odd to drive past the entrance to the Boardwalk!

And instead of going to Epcot on our first night we had dinner at Mara, and then went to Fantasia Gardens to meet the RADP group for a round of mini-golf. We could hear (and see a little bit of) the Illuminations show from Epcot, though.

We arrived at Kidani and walked into the lobby - it's like a scaled-down version of Animal Kingdom Lodge, so it looks a little odd. The room numbering is also really odd - all of the room numbers here are four-digit numbers starting with "7". So you'd think our 4th floor room would be something like 74xx, right? Nope...it's 78xx.

Another odd thing about Kidani Village is that guest parking is *under* the building.
There are multiple elevators so you can park fairly close to your room - providing you know which section of the building to park under! They didn't actually tell us that, but we figured it out from the room map. Good thing, because we're at the far end of the building - had we parked at the entrance to the parking garage it would have been a loooong walk to our room. It was kind of spooky down there, though - there were some areas that had no cars in them at all, and even where we parked there weren't very many cars.

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The room is really nice, though it seems very dark - not helped by the fact that we arrived after dark, of course. And we had a terrible time finding the light switches in the dark. We have a view of the Pembe Savanna...which seems to be the smallest one, and there haven't been any animals out there yet, but hopefully tomorrow in the daylight we'll see some.

One of the nice touches in the room is the wall paintings in the tile in the tub and shower areas.

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There's no quick-service dining location here...we didn't have enough time to eat at the service restaurant, Sanaa, and still get to the mini golf meet, so we drove over to eat at Mara at the "old" Animal Kingdom Lodge instead. It was pretty busy - it took over 20 minutes to get our food!!! But it was good - I had the falafel pita with a side of couscous (which they forgot to give me, and I had to go back for), and Lee had the butternut squash soup and a vegetable flatbread pizza.

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We drove over to Fantasia Gardens where quite a crowd had already gathered for the mini-golf meet. I think we ended up with 24 or 25 people playing.

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We played with Tracy, Jack, and Kevin, and were the final group out. I think we all had at least one hole-in-one (mine was an assist from Kevin - thanks, Kevin!), and we had a good time.

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The course was not too tough and had some pretty interesting holes - I think the cavern with the "Night on Bald Mountain" theme was my favorite.

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After we'd finished our round we noticed a bunny rabbit in the shrubbery - it really didn't seem too concerned about all of the flashes going off as several of us took pictures of it!

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I'm sorry I missed out on most of the RADP fun over the weekend, but I'm glad we were able to join them for the final event of the weekend!

Not sure exactly what we're doing tomorrow morning...we'll be at Epcot tomorrow afternoon, though.

January 23, 2009

Disney Cruisin' - Day 1 and 2

We're not actually cruising yet, but we are at least in Florida, so we are that much closer!

We left San Diego this morning at the very civilized hour of 9:30. We usually have crack of dawn flights which require us to get up at 4 a.m. - instead we got up at our usual time and still had time to eat breakfast and read the paper before we left home.

Of course the disadvantage is that we didn't arrive in Orlando until 7:30 p.m. - which meant we didn't get to go to a park at all tonight.

We used Disney's Magical Express bus service for the first time to get us from the airport to the resort. It was quite easy - we put the DME luggage tags on our bags when we checked them with the airline this morning, and then all we had to do was wander out to the DME desk at the Orlando airport and get on the bus they pointed us to - Disney takes care of picking up the bags and delivering them to our room. The bus was completely full (we couldn't get seats together!), but was only making two stops - Pop Century and Animal Kingdom Lodge. Most of the passengers got off at Pop Century. We were at the hotel about 90 minutes after we got off the plane, so that's not too bad. Our bags arrived in our room at 10:40 p.m.

Apparently Animal Kingdom Villas has gotten the memo from Boardwalk Villas, and our studio is almost allllll the way at the end of Kudu Trail - about as far as you can get from anywhere. :-) (We always seem to get the rooms at Boardwalk that are at the end of the hallway.) We are on the 5th floor overlooking the Arusha Savanna - we've been on Uzima Savanna the other times we've stayed here, so I am looking forward to seeing our view in daylight!

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After we quickly checked out our room we made the long trek back to the lobby to get something for dinner. It was about 9:00, but fortunately Boma was still open. There weren't very many people there and they were able to seat us right away. We always enjoy dining here, but tonight was especially nice just because it was so empty! Our server said it had been a very slow night. Boma is usually extremely noisy, and you can hardly hear yourself think, but tonight it was much more pleasant. We enjoyed the wide variety of foods on the buffet - I had a watercress salad and a tomato and goat cheese salad that were new to me, and both yummy. I missed my roasted vegetables, though, but there was an excellent rice dish, and the Marrakesh couscous was also good. For dessert, in addition to the zebra domes and chocolate mousse crunch Lee and I both tried the cocomisu (tiramisu with coconut), and that was really good.

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Empty Boma

It is COLD here - in the 40s when we arrived, and supposed to get down to 28 tonight. Brr. But it's supposed to be 75 tomorrow. I hope that's right!

Ok, it's now Friday afternoon - I wrote the preceding last night after we arrived. So I'll add in Day 2's activities, as well!

We had no place to be at any particular time this morning, so we attempted to sleep in. The screaming baby at 7:00 didn't help, nor did the exercise class that was apparently going on in an open area of the hallway at about 8:15. Oh-kaaaay....

It was a beautiful day outside, though still chilly (~42 at 9:00). The animals didn't seem to be too anxious to be out and about, either - we could see a couple back in the trees, but nothing close.

On our way down to The Mara for breakfast we could see Kidani Village out of one of the big windows - that's the new DVC Resort that will be opening in a few months. We are looking forward to our first stay there later this year.

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After a quick breakfast we stopped at the Disney Cruise Line desk to check in with them before we headed out. Since we are not on one of the Land/Sea packages we can't actually check in yet and get our stateroom key and all of that, but they still needed to take our information for our transportation to the port tomorrow - like knowing what room to come to tomorrow morning to pick up our bags! Which we have to have packed and ready by 8:00. The bus to the ship doesn't actually leave Animal Kingdom Lodge until 12:30, though. We were a bit concerned about that, but the ladies assured us we'd still arrive in plenty of time to be on board the ship well before 3:00. I guess we'll find out for sure tomorrow, but you'd like to think that Disney has this down to a science.

We took the bus to Animal Kingdom after that. That has to be the shortest bus ride between any resort and theme park here at Walt Disney World. Lee needed to get a new Annual Pass, so that was our first order of business. We plan to be back another three times this year.

Animal Kingdom was really not crowded at all. The weather had warmed up enough that it was very comfortable in the sun, but still cool in the shade - I wore my polar fleece pullover all day, but Lee was ok in shirt sleeves.

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Lee noticed that the Lesser Flamingos near the Tree of Life had what appeared to be some much brighter pink feathers than usual.

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After we got a Fastpass for the Safari we went over the Flights of Wonder show - on the way we saw DiVine putting on a show.

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Flights of Wonder was quite enjoyable. They had a bird we hadn't seen before - a sulphur-crested cockatoo named Pogo, who did all kinds of crazy movements when given some very subtle physical and verbal cues. He'd spin around on his perch, flap his wings and shake his head, ruffle his feathers - it was really fun to watch. And they had my favorite - Sluggo the Black Legged Seriema - who slams a plastic lizard to the ground multiple times. (Not that I have anything against lizards, but Sluggo does them in with such verve and enthusiasm!)

At the very end of the show when they bring out lots of different birds, one of the handlers had one we hadn't seen before - a Bateleur eagle, which is found in North Africa.

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We went on a really excellent safari after that - for a change many of the animals on the savanna were actually near the place we enter the savanna rather than where we exit. We even saw a baby giraffe - though from this photo you can't really tell how small it is in comparison to the adults who were nearby. Our safari driver was very good, and very enthusiastic - his name was Alex. He even made the lame parts fairly interesting.

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Next was the Pangani Forest Trail. One of the hippos was actually laying up on the bank of the pool in the sun. The researcher there told us some things about hippos that we didn't know:

1. Hippos forage up to 6-1/2 miles at night.
2. Hippos can run 18 miles per hour!
3. A hippo's mouth opens 150 degrees - it can bite a 10' crocodile in half.

We went to Expedition Everest after that. We hadn't gotten a Fastpass, so we used the single rider line - we only waited 10 minutes or so. For lunch we decided to try the Yak and Yeti counter service place - it's never gotten very good reviews (though it's usually classed as mediocre and not bad), but we thought we'd see what we thought. I definitely go with the "mediocre" label - we get better Chinese food at the grocery store near us.

The entrees are served in a large "Chinese takeout" container. I had the honey chicken, which had rice in the bottom of the container, then some broccoli and carrots, with the chicken on top. Lee had the kung pao beef, which also had rice on the bottom. and then the veggies had been stir-fried with the beef. He said it didn't have a lot of flavor - even though he picked two pretty good-sized pieces of chile pepper out of it. Both of them were nice and hot and fresh, though. Probably the best part of lunch was the two iced teas I got from the Tea Company stand that's across from Yak and Yeti. They had quite a selection of hot teas, and three different kind of brewed iced tea. Lee had the raspberry and I had the "traditional" black tea. They were both very good.

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We wandered around a little bit after that and visited some of the other animals around the Tree of Life before heading out of the park. There still weren't very many people in the park. The bus back to Animal Kingdom Lodge was sitting at the bus stop when we got there, and left soon after, so our timing was good.

When we arrived back in our room I went out to the balcony to see what animals might be on the savanna this afternoon. I was not disappointed - there were 4 zebras I could see under the trees, and a giraffe came cruising by soon after. There were a couple of East African Crowned Cranes visible in the distance, as well as a Roan Antelope.

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I caught one of the zebras doing its best "dead zebra" impression. :-)

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It has been fun to sit here and look outside periodically and just see how the animals have moved around. We've seen two different giraffes, several ankole cattle, and a blesbok and a greater kudu.

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Tonight we're headed off to Epcot to wander around and see Illuminations - which is at 8:00 and not 9:00.

And now we're back from that. It was another chilly evening, though not as cold as last night. The night before we left San Diego, since I still had room in my suitcase I threw in a polarfleece pullover and an extra pair of pants - and now I'm really glad that I did that!!!

It was strange going into the front entrance of Epcot - we are so used to coming in the International Gateway since we usually stay at Boardwalk Villas. Also strange was that there were no decorations whatsoever at the front of the park - we almost always come during the holidays, or Food and Wine Festival, or Flower and Garden Festival, so there are special decorations, but not this time.

Though Animal Kingdom was not busy today, apparently Epcot was - at 7:00 at night the standby line for Test Track was 60 minutes and Soarin' was 90 minutes. Wow.

We had dinner at Sunshine Seasons food court in the Land - mainly because it was inside! Though they have a nice selection of food, and after Tangierine Cafe it's probably our favorite counter service place at Epcot.

After that we wandered around Future World and World Showcase, taking some pictures.

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It seemed strange for Illuminations to start an hour early (normally it's at 9:00), and there were quite a few people waiting for it up towards the front of World Showcase, though the crowds thinned out as we got back to one of our favorite spots near Germany, where we only had to stand behind one row of people, and most of them were sitting down.

Illuminations is always a great show!

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It was Extra Magic Hours for resort guests from 8:00 until 11:00. We decided to take a ride on Spaceship Earth. Disney has stopped giving out wristbands during EMH - now they have Cast Members at the entrance to the attractions checking resort ids. We saw several people turned away because of that.

We were quite surprised when we got out of Spaceship Earth that the line was much LONGER than it had been when we got in it! Guess a lot of people decided to take advantage of EMH and ride it.

There was nothing else we really wanted to do so we headed back to Animal Kingdom Lodge. We need to get most of our packing done tonight since they will be picking up our bags at 8:00 tomorrow morning to transport them to the ship.

The cruise starts tomorrow (Saturday) - in 24 hours we'll be on the ship!

October 29, 2008

WDW Food and Wine Festival Week - Day 6

Considering our late night Sunday night we got up fairly early on Monday, since we wanted to be at the Studios when it opened to try to get a couple of rides on Toy Story Mania.

It was another absolutely gorgeous day - clear and sunny, but a little bit cool - most of us were wearing jackets in the morning, but didn't need them the rest of the day.

We arrived on Hollywood Blvd just as the park was opening. As expected, most everyone headed for Toy Story Mania. We went straight to the Fastpass machines, which had pretty long lines...in the time we waited, the return time went from 9:45 to 10:15! Unfortunately Toy Story Mania was not yet up and running, so we couldn't ride it then. :-(

We wandered into One Man's Dream instead. The video on some of the exhibits wasn't working, and some of the sound in the movie was really awful - and the worst of it was Julie Andrews' narration - which was not something recorded over 40 years ago like the various excerpts of Walt's voice.

Over at the ABC Commissary we had breakfast. The last time we did that they were still serving stuff like eggs, bacon, french toast, etc., but they have really cut down on the menu - there was a bagel sandwich, hot or cold cereal, fruit, yogurt, and pastries available. Which was actually ok for us, but anyone wanting a more substantial breakfast would have been very disappointed!

The next Voyages of the Little Mermaid show was seating when we went by so we went into that - Lee and I hadn't seen that in a couple of years - not because we don't enjoy it, but mostly because the queueing and pre-show areas are so unpleasant - they pack you in like sardines. Which I guess is appropriate giving the theme of the show, but still. Anyway...this show was not full, and we walked straight into the pre-show area, and didn't have too long a wait before the doors opened. I really enjoy the puppetry, especially in the "Under the Sea" song. I think whoever plays Eric must have one of the easiest jobs in the parks, though - he's on stage for what, 3 minutes maybe?

By then it was time to use our Toy Story Mania Fastpasses - fortunately it was up and running by then. We had a longer wait in the Fastpass line than we did the other day, but it still beat the 60 minute standby line.

Lee had read some tips on the web the night before on how to score higher on the ride by cooperating, so we tried those - we were successful with one but not with the other. Overall it hurt our scores, though, and we didn't score as high as we did the other night.

Prince Caspian was hanging out in his meet and greet spot when we walked by - he wasn't too busy, so he was spending a lot of time with the kids (including the not-so-little girls!) that came to see him.

We went over to Epcot after that to eat around the world again and do a little sightseeing. We saw Serveur Amusant in France - or Sherry and I saw it, at least - Lee doesn't like it - he says it makes him nervous - and Jim was off getting some Crawfish Etoufee from the Louisiana booth. They have changed the chair-stacking routine a bit since we last saw it. The guy who actually does the balancing used to appear to be a tourist who was pulled out of the audience, and now he is one of the "waiters", and obviously a part of the show.

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Ran into an AllEars.net reader at the Tokyo booth - she saw my AllEars hat and asked about it. I'm sorry I didn't get your name, but if you're reading this, it was nice talking to you!

I was very disappointed to look at the entertainment schedule and find that Voices of Liberty was not performing at all. :-( That's one of my very favorite things at Epcot. Lee and Jim and Sherry consoled themselves with food (and beer) from the Hops and Barley booth, and then they went to the Beer School, which they enjoyed. While they did that I saw a cooking demonstration down at Italy - the chefs were making petate - the Italian version of fried dough balls. They looked pretty good, but unfortunately we didn't get to taste them. :-(

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As we ate our way around the world we explored a couple of the other entertainment options, like the two Circle-Vision films in China and Canada. I've only seen the Canada film a couple of times since it started showing - Martin Short's narration is fairly amusing.

Things we tried on our eating adventure around the World:

Goat Cheese and Leek Quiche - France

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Crawfish Etoufee and Pecan Praline Bread Pudding - Louisiana
Lamb Slider and Bay Scallops -New Zealand

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Spicy Tuna Roll - Japan

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Lobster Roll and Crabcake - Hops and Barley

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Boxty and Cheese Plate - Ireland

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It was a bit after 4:00 by then, and we had a 5:30 reservation at Jiko so we made our way back to the room to get a chance for a short nap before dinner. Lee set his alarm for 5:00 - good thing, because otherwise we would have all slept too long!

We still arrived at Animal Kingdom Lodge in plenty of time. Something that was new to us - when we went through the guard shack the guard gave us a parking pass on which he had written "Jiko". So I guess they are cracking down on parking a bit more now? Since we had some time we wandered around the lobby a little, and down to the Arusha Savanna - saw some birds and a zebra, but that was all.

At Jiko we were quickly seated at a nice table next to the window. And we had a wonderful dinner. Jiko has changed their menu quite a bit since we were last here a year ago, and I think it's even better. We shared two appetizers - the BBQ chicken flatbread and the vegetable samosas. Both were great - the samosas were especially good. We'd had samosas at the Food and Wine Festival and at Tusker House the day before, but these were SO much better!

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Our waiter had recommended a wine made from South Africa's pinotage grape and we shared that bottle. It was also really good.

For entrees, Jim and I had the maize crusted halibut, served with vegetables of the moment, and that was wonderful. Lee had our server's favorite - the beef short ribs with crushed potatoes and garlic. He'd told Lee it was so tender it would fall off the bone, and that's exactly what happened. Sherry had the Swahili Curry Shrimp with coconut rice - we all got to try some of her shrimp. Lee, Jim, and I cleaned our plates - our server told us he was going to show the chef how clean how plates were. :-)

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We were pretty full, so we decided to split two of the desserts - again, we went with our server's recommendations and had the Pistachio Creme Brulee and the Tanzanian Chocolate Cheesecake. They were both quite good. The cheesecake had a great chocolatey flavor but was not too rich. It was served with lavender ice cream, though we really couldn't taste any lavender.

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It was really a great meal - definitely the best of our trip. Jiko made a good impression on Jim and Sherry - whew. :-) (Yeah, because they have been SO hard to please this week...NOT!)

After dinner we went outside to see if there were any animals visible on the Uzima Savanna (the one next to the pool) but we didn't see any.

We headed back to the room after that - it was after 8:00 by the time we got back. We were all pretty tired after a couple of late nights, so no one was interested in trying to go to Illuminations or Downtown Disney.

October 26, 2008

WDW Food and Wine Festival Week - Day 4

Day 4

(I won't be including all of the events of today because the major event is the Tower of Terror 13K, and that's not until tonight - and I can guarantee I won't be blogging about it right after I get back to the room - the stops will be shower and bed - in that order!)

We all agreed last night that we were going to sleep in this morning and get up whenever. So it was quite a leisurely morning - we finally got out of here about 10:30 and went to Coronado Springs, where Lee and I needed to pick up our registration packets for the 13K.

First we had breakfast at the Pepper Market, though. It was almost 10:45 when we arrived and there was a short line to get in, and they stopped serving breakfast at 11:00. So they were trying to finish up breakfast while they were trying to set up for lunch - it was kind of a mess. And there were quite a few other people who were also breakfasting late!

Pepper Market is kind of a food court idea, with different stations serving different foods. Only instead of paying as you exit out towards the seating area, instead you pay as you exit the seating area after you've eaten. To do that they give each party a ticket, and at each station they stamp your ticket to show what you got. Of course a problem with this is when you want to get things from different stations, but you only have the one ticket - we ran into that.

It's an interesting concept...but I don't think it works very well. The permanent signage is all for their regular lunch/dinner menu, and even though they gave us a menu which showed which stations had which breakfast items, we didn't have that with us when we actually went to get food. They had breakfast signs for some items, but not for others. We were milling around trying to figure it out, and so were a lot of other people. Since it was late, they had run out of some breakfast items (like bacon) and had shut down others (like eggs cooked to order). And as I mentioned earlier, they were trying to switch over from breakfast to lunch, and that made things even more chaotic. Though the breakfast/lunch thing worked out well for Jim - instead of breakfast food he was able to order Kung Pao Shrimp! It looked very good - very nicely cooked and presented.

Another thing they do that I don't like is they tack a 10% gratuity onto your bill, even though YOU are the ones doing all the work getting your food - the servers simply take and serve your drink orders. (Though ours had to work a little harder because I spilled a puddle of syrup on the table - she was very nice about it, though.)

As for the breakfast...it was ok, but I was surprised at how expensive it was - we paid more for breakfast this morning than we did for our table service breakfast at Spoodles on Thursday - AND the food was better at Spoodles. AND we got a 20% discount there with the Disney Dining Experience card - or "Tables in Wonderland" as I understand it is now called. (When we were at Spoodles with Paul and Ilene the other morning, Paul, in his very best announcer voice, called it "Tables in WONderland" and I still crack up when I think about that.)

The packet pickup for the race was just down the hall from the restaurant in the convention center - it was a much nicer set-up than they had for it last year when it was at one of the clubs at Pleasure Island. They had plenty of very nice volunteers to help - it really wasn't very busy at all. We spoke to a man who is involved in staging the race, and he said they took at least some of last year's guest comments into consideration this year - though apparently adding character presence to the race wasn't one of them. :-( So sounds like it'll still be a rather boring race. Oh well.

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(Does the carpeting in the Coronado Springs convention center area mess with any one else's eyes like it does mine? That small reddish-orange pattern starts moving if I look at it very long...)

After that we were off to Animal Kingdom - we were planning a short day since we (or I) wanted to rest up this afternoon and NOT be on my feet all day, and we wanted to show Jim and Sherry something different. They had never been to Animal Kingdom before since it wasn't built when they were last here in 1990.

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A Festival of the Lion King show was due to start in about 15 minutes so we went there. Had no problems getting a seat, though the theater was well over 3/4 full. I hadn't seen that in a while, and had forgotten how good it is. The Tumble Monkeys are still my favorites, though Lee and I both thought that the pair of "bird" dancers were the best we'd ever seen. (The guy is the same one we've seen for years, but his partner was either better or they worked better together.)

It had turned into a beautiful sunny day, but had really started to warm up a little too much for my comfort. We wandered around a bit in the shade of the Tree of Life to show Jim and Sherry some of the animals on the tree and some of the (real) animals that live around it.

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Over in Asia we walked the Maharajah Jungle Trek - there were quite a few more people than we usually see, but not too many animals, though we did see three sleeping tigers. And we learned a lot about bats from the CM at the bat exhibit - like the fact that bats have no ankles so they can't stand up. So if they fall on the ground they are quite helpless - they can't just stand up and fly away. Instead they have to use their "elbows" to crawl on the ground until they get to something they can climb up to reach a height where they can fly away.

The park seemed fairly crowded to me - lots of congestion on the walkways and standby for Everest was 50 minutes. We went to Everest and asked for our friend Kenny who works there - he hadn't expected to see us there until tomorrow. :-) We had a short visit with him (he WAS working, after all!) and then took a ride on Everest - Jim and Sherry really enjoyed it. I'd warned Sherry in advance that the backwards-in-the-dark thing really messes with your head, and you think you're going upside-down even when you're not. Unfortunately the Yeti wasn't working - we only saw him with the strobe light effect. :-(

We got some ice cream at Anandapur Ice Cream - I'd told Sherry that I thought it was the best soft-serve in the parks. She thought it was very good. Unfortunately because it was so hot it was melting really fast - I didn't get a chance to eat it slowly and savor it as I like to do. And though I was careful I still got a drip on my (black) shorts - though at least the chocolate ice cream missed the white t-shirt! (Lee had a root beer float, so he didn't have the same drip problems.)

We exited the park the long way, going past Dinoland, because we wanted to show Jim and Sherry most of the park (haven't gotten to Africa yet, though!) And now we're back in the room resting up for tonight.

Jim and Sherry are planning to have dinner at the Brown Derby at the Studios. Lee and I are eating light - we picked up a couple of sandwiches at the Boardwalk Bakery (the multi-grain bread they use in the sandwiches is excellent!) and had part of those, and will have a little more later.

Ack! We're not going to get to Epcot at all today!!! We are waaay down on our Eating Around the World quotient for the week...this is day 4 and we've only done it once!

Added Sunday morning: We finished the Tower of Terror 13K in 1:27:27. I was hoping to finish in less than 90 minutes, so that was good. Weather was MUCH better than last year, and not so humid or warm, though still warmer than I like. And there were characters!!! Between miles 4 and 5 we had lots of villains - Frollo and the Evil Queen, Maleficent and Cruella, Smee, and Captain Hook. That was fun! There was a little more entertainment along the way - it was definitely an improvement over last year. We're glad it's over, though. :-)

May 11, 2008

My Bonus Trip to WDW - Part 5

You can blame commando Lee for the fact that there was no blog entry yesterday. Since it was his only day to play in the parks he made the most of it - we got a short afternoon break back in the room, but that was it.

We started our day with a three mile walk around the resort area - it was warm and muggy already. After breakfast (and after he did some work stuff) we drove to Animal Kingdom. It was a lot more crowded than when I was there on Wednesday - the standby lines were double what I experienced.

After we got Fastpasses for the Safari we visited the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Where we learned the first of several new things that I learned that day: Never get into a staring contest with a Komodo Dragon. They only close their eyes to sleep or to protect them from the sun.

The tigers were doing what tigers do best - sleeping. Though at least they were sacked out right up against the windows of the viewing area so people could see them.

Over at Expedtion Everest we asked for our CM friend - and of course he was on his break. A nice CM went and found him, though, and we had a brief chat before he had to go back to work. Lee and I went to see the Flights of Wonder show. Which we've seen many times, but we still enjoy it. There was a new (and much younger) actress playing Guano Jane this time. And even a few new jokes and puns. We also saw some different birds - instead of the crow who usually does the dollar bill schtick, it was a parrot. And this particular parrot was fairly new, and hadn't mastered the part about returning the money - he kept putting it back into the trainer's pocket. :-) Eventually Guano Jane had to take it back, doing her best flapping her arms bird imitation. Which was pretty scary, actually.

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And here we learned a second new thing...there was a grackel who had taken offense at some of the birds in the show and was dive-bombing the owl and the Harris hawk when they were out - even though they were much larger than he was! The trainer said this behavior is called "mobbing", and the birds do it in defense of their nesting areas. It didn't seem to bother the larger birds very much, though.

The standby line for the Safari was approching an hour - we're used to zooming right on with Fastpasses, but even the Fastpass line was backed up quite a ways. Once we got to the point where the Fastpass and Standby lines merged it stopped completely, since there were no jeeps showing up! After about 10 minutes they finally announced that there was a "wildebeest migration on the savanna" that had delayed the jeeps. One finally showed up...and then there were no more for another 10 minutes. It was definitely the longest I've ever waited for a safari when I had a Fastpass!.

The safari itself was just ok - not as many animals as we sometimes see, though quite a few on the savanna. Where we learned something else that was new - the male sable antelope are darker, almost black, while the females are the lighter brown color.

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In Pangani Forest the four gorillas in the bachelor troop were all out and moving around - that was quite a treat to see all of them!

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One of them picked up a branch and carried it around before sitting down to strip the bark off and eat it.

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Before we left the park we rode Everest (where our friend collected our Fastpasses!), and then had ice cream from the colorful truck there. It was melting pretty fast on such a warm day! I think they have the best soft-serve in the parks.

Back at the room we relaxed for a little while and made a late lunch out of the cold pizza Lee's coworkers had insisted we take the night before. I went through some photos and we took a short nap before leaving again around 5:00 - this time we took the bus.

We didn't have to wait too long for the bus and soon were on our way to the Studios. We noticed that the pre-recorded bus spiel that plays automagically when you get close to the park still talks about the Stars and Motorcars Parade, which is no longer running. Oops.

I'm not quite sure why Lee wanted to go to the Studios, since it's our least favorite park, but it was his day to do what he wanted. Lines here were pretty minimal - posted 10 minute standbys for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. Though the queue for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster completely stopped moving not long after we got in it - no explanation as to why, but after 5-10 minutes it started moving again and we rode with no further incident. We were starting to think we were a jinx! (Why does everyone feel like they have to run their hands over those glass doors at the ride's entrance? Does anyone else find it as annoying as I do?)

After we'd twisted and turned on the streets of L.A. and made a visit to the Twilight Zone, we walked around the park a bit, and rode Star Tours, which only had a 5 minute wait. As we headed out of the park there were a lot of groups of kids coming in - there were signs posted for some kind of Disney-Josten's Grad Night event. Even though it was 7:00 by then the sun hadn't gone down and it was still quite warm. Very different than the weather in California where it just doesn't stay hot all afternoon and evening!

We walked to Epcot from there - it had Extra Magic Hours that night and would be open until midnight. And besides we'd only walked about 8 miles so far that day. ;-) It seemed very strange to be walking past the Boardwalk and not going into it, though.

Once inside Epcot we got our Extra Magic Hour wristbands and caught Off Kilter's final set of the evening and got dinner from the Fish and Chips shop in the UK pavilion. They seemed to have changed the brand of malt vinegar they use - it didn't have much of a bite to it at all. We sat on a curb and listened to British Invasion while we were eating. They performed several songs from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I think British Invasion has been performing together longer than the Beatles did.

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After the show an AllEars reader (who noticed the logo on the shirt I was wearing) came over to talk to me for a few minutes. Unfortunately I forgot to ask her name, but if she's reading this, it was nice chatting with you!

Over in France we got in line at the Patisserie to get something for dessert before Illuminations. We both had the chocolate mousse, which was pretty good. There were a lot more people in the park than when we were here Monday night, but we still found a spot in our favorite area near Germany, and the people in front of us obligingly remained seated on the ground for the entire show!

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Most people were headed out of the park but we went into the Seas pavilion and rode the Nemo ride. Man, that is a looooong queue!!! Fortunately it was pretty empty, and we just kept walking all the way to the loading area. The ride is cute - I liked the starfish that's up against the glass at the end who talks to you - one of her comments was something like "I saw 18,352 people yesterday!" Lee wanted to "talk turtle" so we went in to see "Turtle Talk with Crush", and that was fun, as always.

From there we Jouneyed into Our Imaginations. And watched the fountains outside, which were very pretty at night.

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At 10:30 at night Spaceship Earth actually had a line, though it was only a few minutes long. There were several people in line with us who did NOT have wristbands, but the CMs weren't checking, and let them on anyways (we noticed that at Imagination, also). So much for a "Resort Guest Only" event...Once we got on the ride we discovered we'd apparently managed to break another ride...though we could hear Judi Dench's narration, the rest of the audio soundtrack was silent. So no music or instructions, and it was sort of eerily silent when Judi Dench wasn't talking.

The computer in the Project Tomorrow area wasn't as good with its facial recognition this time and we had to tell it which photo was ours. A photo I would have included here, but it doesn't seem to have been emailed to me - which is what happened with the first one, too.

It was almost 11:00 by then, and we were tired, so we headed to the bus stop. The Port Orleans bus was there, but there was a line - I thought there was no way we'd get on but we did - and there were even 10-15 people who got on after we did. Standing room only of course, but it's a pretty short ride. We were back at the room about 11:15. Kind of a long park day for us, though! But it's all Lee's fault. :-)

We walked about 13 miles yesterday.

So today was departure day...sigh. We went to breakfast at Boatwright's. Lee had the Sweet Potato Pancakes and I had the French Toast. The French Toast was actually *real* French toast, made with thick slices of French bread. Of course then it was battered and deep fried and coated with sugar...but it was really good. :-)

Since we only had carry-on bags I suggested we get our boarding passes printed at the resort. This took a lot longer than I thought it would because of some problems with people ahead of us in line, and Lee was grumpusing at me for wanting to do it. But I looked like a genius when we got to the airport and the Continental check-in line was insanely long.

By the way...I was not real happy with Advantage Car Rental - they are off-site and we waited over 15 minutes for the shuttle to the airport - and there were people ahead of us that had waited longer than that. They couldn't get everyone who was waiting on the bus, either. They said that they only had two shuttle buses. Not good.

Some final thoughts...

It was very nice of Lee to take me with him to enjoy myself while he worked - thank you, dear. :-)

Though I missed being within walking distance of a theme park, I really liked a lot of things about Port Orleans Riverside. It's a lovely setting, and the paths around the resort are nice for walking/running - just not quite long enough. Lee and I thought there should be a path all the way along the river that connects it to Old Key West, and then to Saratoga Springs and Downtown Disney. The room was comfortable, though it was very inconvenient to have the outlet for the internet connection behind the nightstand rather than over next to the table. And I could've done without the annoying sound of the turbo-toilets flushing overhead - we were on the bottom floor, and one night I think I heard it 8 times between midnight and 7:00. The bus service was good - I never waited more than 10 minutes, and usually it was less than 5 whether I was at the resort or a theme park.

The Food Court was great, though - SO much better than anything available at any of the DVC resorts. There was really quite a selection with all of the different stations - you could order an omelet made-to-order at breakfast, and pasta and salads made-to-order the rest of the day. There were sandwiches and pizza and grilled items available, also, and I already raved about the turkey dinner. The bakery section was pretty good, too - the cinnamon rolls were especially delicious. And I thought the prices were very reasonable, also. And I enjoyed using my refillable mug. :-)

It seemed to be a good time to be at WDW, at least from a crowd standpoint. Mid-week (Monday-Thursday) the crowds were minimal - even at Magic Kingdom. The weather was pretty good, too. Not even a hint of rain, and the heat/humidity was not too bad, even for this wimpy southern Californian (though it got progressively warmer as the week went on and by yesterday afternoon I was starting to drag.) It is very nice not to even have to think about carrying a jacket at night, though!

I enjoyed the displays of Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival - there were a lot of topiaries that were new to me. Though I was disappointed in the Rose Walk this year - there didn't seem to be as many rose bushes, and not as much of a variety of roses, either. I enjoyed the Flower Power concert I attended. And I really wish our trip had been one day longer - I could've seen Davy Jones (I hear he puts on a great show), and we could've gone to the Toy Story Mania Annual Passholder Preview. Oh well...it'll be opening in California next month.

Speaking of Flower and Garden Festival...AllEars reader Susan tells me: "As part of the Flower and Garden Festival trolls have been hidden all through Norway." So that explains the ones that I noticed. I'm glad that I haven't just been unobservant all these years! :-) Thanks for the information, Susan!

It was really cool to get "dreamed", and to be able to attend the "Special Park Dream Time Event- event at the Magic Kingdom!

As usual, I didn't have nearly as much time to relax as I thought I would...though every day it was my plan to be back at the resort by 2:00 I never made it - though I came close on Thursday. There's just never enough time to do everything.

Thanks for reading!

May 9, 2008

My Bonus Trip to Walt Disney World - Part 4: We Got Dreamed!

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog entry, Lisa and I received lanyards entitling us to admission to some kind of after-hours event at the Magic Kingdom last night, but we didn't actually know what it was going to be.

Lee didn't get back to the room until after 7:00...we decided to eat here at Riverside instead of at the Magic Kingdom (we wanted to get to the MK in time to see the fireworks at 9:00).

We both decided to have the roast turkey dinner - it was *real* turkey breast, carved right before our eyes, and served with corn bread, and choice of two sides: mashed potatoes, corn, or mixed vegetables. It was actually really quite good - we both had the potatoes and the veggies. The corn bread was just a little sweet and had pieces of corn in it. And the price was quite reasonable, too - $8.99.

It was almost 8:00 by the time we got out to the bus stop, and found a bunch of other folks waiting for the MK bus, also. Apparently they had been waiting for a while, since the bus got quite a cheer when it arrived. Fortunately we all fit on the bus, though it was standing room only.

We staked out a spot about half way between the hub and the ice cream shop for Wishes - we could have gotten closer but we know from past experience that it's possible to be *too* close. This turned out to be a really good place.

What can I say...Wishes is a wonderful fireworks show. So many different kinds of fireworks, and the beautiful light show that goes on on the castle iself is great. I think Disneyland's Remember...Dreams Come True is a little bit better, in terms of the integration of the castle lighting projections, music, and fireworks, but Wishes is a whole lot more reliable - barring something like a hurricane I don't think it gets canceled.

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We waited for the traffic to subside before going to Tomorrowland, which was where we were supposed to be for the start of the Dream event. We arrived just as they were counting down to the start of it (it started at 9:30), and people starting streaming out of the fenced-in area.

Apparently if you arrived at 9:00 like they told you to (but we wanted to see the fireworks) they put you in a fenced-in area once you showed your lanyard. There was a stage and a DJ playing music, and Mickey and Minnie were there, too. I assume they told people about what was going to happen, and what would be open, but we missed that part. Fortunately, Cast Members were handing out a special event Entertainment Schedule (just like the usual ones you pick up in all of the parks) which had information on the event - including important details on how long it was (9:30-10:30) and what attractions were open.

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Lisa and I were told earlier in the day that only Tomorrowland was open, but that wasn't the case - there were attractions open all over the park! That's a lot of ground to cover in just an hour. Lisa had called Mike Scopa earlier who did some Googling and found that they only give out 9600 lanyards the day of the event, and of course not all of those people attend, so the park seemed pretty empty.

Our first ride was Buzz Lightyear, since Lee hadn't yet done it this trip...and it actually had a line, and we had to wait for at least a minute to get on. :-) We *really* miss the removable laser cannons that they have in California.

Remember that I said the park seemed pretty empty? That made things even spookier over at the Haunted Mansion. One nice thing about it was that we could hear all the sounds coming from the mansion, which you normally can't hear over all the noise from the people. Wolves howling and stuff like that.

We split up after that - Lee and I rode Thunder Mountain, which seemed especially fast and more of a thrill than the one in California (which we just rode on Sunday). Or maybe it was because we aren't used to the ups and downs and turns here like we are there. It was fun. Lisa went to Pirates of the Caribbean, and after we finished on Thunder Mountain Lee and I went there too - that was our last ride of the evening since it was just after 10:30 by the time we got off. Sigh...the hour went much too fast! And hour and a half, or even two hours, would have been much better!

On our way back to Main Street we saw this:

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Who knew that they let homeless people sleep inside the Magic Kingdom? :-)

On our way out of the park, Mickey and Minnie were waving goodbye from the train station, and some management type was talking and thanking us for coming, etc. It really was a nice event - just too short!

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We said goodbye to Lisa and went to our respective bus stops. Lee and I stopped at the Food Court on the way back to our room to pick up some dessert - I had ice cream and he had a brownie. They aren't as good as the brownies from the Boardwalk Bakery, though.

So that finally brings us to today. After breakfast Lee dropped me off at the Boardwalk and I walked into Epcot via the International Gateway. I called Lisa, who was still finishing up with her packing (since she was going home this evening), but she said she'd call me when she arrived at the park.

So I wandered around the park enjoying the flowers and the topiaries, and taking some pictures. Over in Norway I noticed something I'd never noticed before...look closely at the upper window in the right hand side.

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There were trolls in this window, and in many of the other windows around the Norway pavilion. I didn't realize that this was a troll couple until I unloaded the pictures off my camera! There was also a troll couple perched on the Stave Church.

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I did another (successful) training mission at Mission:Space (green, non-spinning side, of course!), and Lisa called me after that. We sampled some beverages in Club Cool, and as we were walking back towards World Showcase we noticed they were setting up for some kind of a shoot. Lots of people and cameras and lights. It was a promo for the High School Musical - Get in the Picture thing that is touring the country - we saw the setup they had at DCA last weekend. Lisa pointed out Nick Lachey - good thing she knew who he was, since I never would have known. :-)

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We wandered back towards the UK pavilion, taking pictures of flowers and topiaries. We went into one of the shops in the UK and noticed a quiz posted next to the cash register, with questions like: "Name 5 Disney movies set in the UK", and "Where does the P.M. live?" The Cast Member there gave us a "Certifiable Magical Moment" certificate for participating in the UK Quiz, and told us there were additional quizzes in the other UK shops.

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We checked in at Rose & Crown where we had a lunch reservation. Lisa had the Fish & Chips - the chef came out before her meal to discuss her dietary restrictions, and then he personally delivered her meal to the table! He was pretty cute, too. :-) I had the Vegetable Curry, and that was pretty tasty.

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After lunch we visited the other UK shops and found two more quizzes - one of them had a list of American words, and we were supposed to come up with the UK equivalent. Like "elevator" is "lift", and "vacation" is "holiday". Some of themn we had no clue about, like "pacifier", "eggplant" (eggplant???), and "bun". Unfortunately the CM in that shop wasn't into it at all - she just told us what the answers were, and didn't offer to give us a certificate.

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I said goodbye to Lisa then, and went back to Riverside for some relaxation time. It seemed hotter today than yesterday, and I was getting a little too warm.

It was nice to have several relaxing hours to nap and read! Lee came back and picked me up and then we both went back to Coronado Springs where one of his co-workers was having an impromptu pizza and beer party on the beach behind the cabana he was staying in. I really like Coronado Springs, even though I've never stayed there. I was hoping we'd get in there this time, but it was sold out of conference rooms by the time we booked.

Lee doesn't have any conference events on his schedule tomorrow, so we'll spend the day doing whatever he wants to do since it's his only day to play...AK and Epcot for sure, maybe the Studios.

May 8, 2008

My Bonus Trip to Walt Disney World - Part 3

Lee decided he was going to stick around the room for a while this morning and do work stuff - he had a bunch of email that had come in over the last couple of days that he was working through. And since he *is* working this week, unlike some of us...

I showed him where the Riverside Mill & Market (aka the food court) was located, and asked him to pick up a cinnamon roll for me - they have really yummy cinnamon rolls here! Flaky and cinnamony and not too much frosting. I went out and walked/ran for 45 minutes. It was a little warmer and much more humid this morning than yesterday. Whew.

I called Lisa Berton about 9:30 to find out where she was, and left a message. Lee was still working when I left. I decided to let Fate decide where I would go, and took the first bus that showed up, which happened to be to Blizzard Beach and Animal Kingdom. (I had no wait for the bus, and in fact had to hustle a bit to catch it!).

Expedition Everest was my first stop, since I have a friend who is working there now. Unfortunately he had just gone on his break, so I rode Everest using the Singles line. That was quick, and in fact the Standby line was only 20 minutes at that point. It's still a great ride...and I still feel like I'm going upside-down during the backwards, in-the-dark part. Very disorienting, but not unpleasant. I wandered over towards Theater in the Wild - it was 10:30, but people were already lined up for the 11:30 Nemo show! That's a bit extreme, I think...the park wasn't *that* busy.

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Lisa called me and I arranged to met her over at the Magic Kingdom, and then I went and found my Cast Member friend. He was working, of course, so it was a short chat, but it was nice to see him! Lee and I will probably get over there on Friday (Lee reallly likes Animal Kingdom) and we'll see him again then.

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I sort of let Fate decide my next step, too...since I was going to the Magic Kingdom I actually had three bus choices: Grand Floridian/Wilderness Lodge, Transportation and Ticket Center, and Polynesian/Contemporary. The latter arrived first, so I took it. I was the only one on the bus until we stopped at Blizzard Beach and picked up two other people. The first resort stop was the Contemporary, so I walked to Magic Kingdom from there. And took this picture of the under-construction-tower-which-everyone-knows-is-a-new- DVC-resort-but-Disney-won't-confirm-it.

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Met Lisa outside the Exposition Hall, she'd been taking photos for AllEars and her photo blog. She wanted to take some more in Fantasyland, and she needed a model, so I got drafted. :-) We went to Dumbo - and this was yet another "first time" experience for me on this trip - I'd never ridden Dumbo at the Magic Kingdom before. The line was about 25 minutes, but we were chatting and the time went quickly. I got the same color Dumbo that I had at Disneyland on Sunday - the bright blue one.

And there were these two Wild Animals in a cage near the ride...

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We got Fastpasses for Pooh (even it had just at 30 minute Standby) and had lunch at Cosmic Ray's. I had a veggie burger and made good use of the toppings bar...the sauteed onions were especially good.

It was not quite time for our Pooh Fastpasses, and I'd told Lisa that I liked the Buzz Lightyear ride, so she suggested that. It had less than a 5 minute wait. As we got to the last turn in the queue we noticed Dream Team members with a stack of what looked like lanyards...but they weren't handing them out yet. Darn. Once we got off the ride we went around again, and they were handing them out, so Lisa and I got Dreamed!

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We won a pass for an event tonight called Magic Kingdom Special Park Dream Time Event. On the back it says:

Congratulations!

Have you ever dreamed of staying in a Disney park after closing time to experience the magic just a little bit longer?

Well, that dream is about to come true during tonight's Special Park Dream Time Event - created just for you as part of the 2008 Disney Dreams Giveaway.

Join us in Tomorrowland at MAGIC KINGDOM® Park just after the Park closes for the Special Park Dream Time Event kick-off.

(There's a whole bunch of conditions and disclaimers, but I'm not going to type those.)

To be honest, I was expecting it to be a Dream Fastpass, so I didn't ask if I could have one for Lee. When we got off the ride I saw a Cast Member at the Photo counter who had several in his hand, and I asked if he knew where I might be able to get one for my husband, who wasn't with me. So he just handed one to me. I think I probably could have gone to Guest Relations, but it was nice to not have to do that!

So now the question was: What exactly had we won? It's not very specific. Lisa asked a Cast Member at a Photo kiosk - he didn't know, but he called someone. That person didn't know either, so he called someone else, and was told that it was Tomorrowland only, and only for an hour after park closing. I guess we'll find out more tonight. Lee and I had talked about going to MK tonight anyways, to see the Wishes fireworks, which I really enjoy. And *they* don't get canceled frequently like certain fireworks shows in California which shall remain nameless.

I left after that - Lisa was going to go photograph "it's a small world" - which is something I've never done at Magic Kingdom, because I refuse to do it. :-) Besides, I'd promised myself some pool time today!!!

I was surprised to see that Port Orleans - French Quarter and Port Orleans - Riverside had separate bus stops. The French Quarter bus was already there, and since there was *no one* in line for the Riverside bus I figured I'd just missed it. Besides, it's a nice walk between the two along the Sassagoula River. (Nicer when it's not close to 90 outside, though.)

Our room is in Acadian House, and only 50 yards or so from one of the quiet pools. There weren't very many people there, but I discovered there are no towels there, either - you had to go to the main pool on Ol' Man Island to get them. That's a bit inconvenient! I was headed that direction anyway since I was going to use my refillable mug (refill #4 for those keeping track - Lee used it for coffee this morning) to get some iced tea.

I had some nice sun and reading time, and went in the pool to get wet, but the pool was so warm that it wasn't very refreshing - I cooled off more from evaporation when I got out of the pool than I did when I was in it!

This will probably be it for my blog entry today, since with the MK event tonight I'll be getting back a little too late to blog tonight, especially since Commando Lisa wants me to meet her bright and early at Epcot tomorrow. Of course she's going to this thing tonight, too... :-)

Let's see...I did 3.6 miles this morning, and an additional 6.3 miles up until now. Not quite up to the 12 I did yesterday, but there's still tonight!

May 7, 2008

My Bonus Trip to Walt Disney World - Part 2

Lee got up bright and early at 7:00 (which is VERY early when you just came from the west coast!) and kissed me goodbye when he left for his conference. I'm trying not to gloat too much about this whole "you're working and I'm not" thing... :-)

I actually got up not too long after he left and went out for a walk around the resort area - it was a very *bright* morning, but really comfortable for walking. I brought my runner's GPS with me on this trip, and I know that I walked 3.5 miles (you can walk a lot of miles on all of those serpentine paths in the Alligator Bayou area.

It was really a very nice walk - I saw a fair number of joggers on the main paths, and lots of bunnies and ducks. And I enjoyed the reflections in the Sassagoula River.

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I walked down to Port Orleans French Quarter, also - I'd never noticed King Neptune riding the sea serpent at the pool before. Of course, that may be because he was hidden by palm fronds...he may be King of the Ocean, but apparently he has no lordship over trees!

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I did something this morning that I have never done before - I bought a refillable mug! We're usually at the Boardwalk where it just isn't convenient to use one. We'll see if I get my $12.50 (plus tax) out of this one. So far I've gotten two drinks.

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And then I did something else I hardly ever do...took a bus to Epcot! That just seemed so wrong somehow. :-) I waited maybe 10 minutes. Though it was weird that the first three buses that came by were all going to Blizzard Beach and Animal Kingdom. Not too many people riding any of the buses at that time of morning (about 11:30). The Port Orleans bus stop at Epcot is one of the closest ones to Epcot's entrance.

The Flower and Garden Festival has a surf theme this year, and the topiaries inside the front entrance reflect that. And I loved the background music - it's all Beach Boys songs! I couldn't help singing long as I walked through there - and I wasn't the only one.

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At Epcot I did something else I've never done - got a Fastpass for Mission:Space - I'd never ridden it before. I had about 50 minutes to kill so I rode Test Track using the Singles line - I walked right into the briefing room (briefing was almost over) and then had just two other Singles in front of me, so that certainly didn't take long. I was watching the speed indicator on my GPS, which was kind of freaking out during the speed loop. :-) It thinks that my fastest pace today was a 51 second/mile pace - so that's pretty consistent with the 64 mph maximum speed you supposedly get on the ride.

I visited Minnie's Butterfly Garden, which is always one of my Festival favorites. Not too many really colorful/unusual butterflies were out at this time, though.

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After I rode Journey into your Imagination it was time to use my Mission:Space fastpass. Interestingly enough, it was the first time for all four of us inside my pod - two other ladies were a bit nervous about it, but we all worked together and it was a successful mission. I was the Navigator. I really enjoyed the ride - even without the spinning the motion simulator sensations were interesting.

I always enjoy playing the Space Race game in the post-ride area, and a game was just starting when I got off the ride. I uploaded 19 fixes, which I think is a new record for me - I came within about a second of getting to 20. My team, Orion, won the race. :-)

I had about 20 minutes to get from there to the American Adventure pavilion, where I wanted to see Voices of Liberty at 2:00. Which reminds me...The weather was really great today - it was supposed to be 90, but I don't think it got higher than 85, and it wasn't very humid. I made it with 5 minutes to spare - even stopped to take a few pictures on the way.

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And the crowds were fairly minimal, too - 20 minute standby lines for Test Track and Mission:Space, though of course Soarin' had a 60 minute wait, and Spaceship Earth, since it was still morning, was 35 minutes.

The Voices of Liberty performed America the Beautiful, Yankee Doodle, Oh Susanna, and, one that I'd never heard from them before, Old Man River. Oh my...that was awesome, and gave me chills. About half the singers were new to me, including the bass who sang the solo on Old Man River. Incredible voice.

I did something else I'd never done - ate at the Liberty Inn. I had the Vegetable Wrap with apple slices - and I threw on some more tomato slices and lettuce from the topping bar. It was pretty tasty - it was lettuce, chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, shredded carrots, a big slice of zucchini, and mild roasted red peppers wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla. It needed some dressing, though...I put some mustard in mine.

The Spirit of America Fife & Drum Corps was just starting their set as I was finishing eating. In addition to some other patriotic tunes they played a medley of all four of the military service anthems - The Caissons Go Rolling Along (Army), From the halls of Montezuma (Marine Corps), Anchors Aweigh (Navy), and Wild Blue Yonder (Air Force).

By then it was 2:40, and I had planned to see the Block Party Bash parade over at the Studios at 3:00. Not even I can make it from the American Adventure to the Studios (over 1.5 miles) in 20 minutes - but I did it in about 25.

Unlike any of the other Studios parades that I remember, this one starts from the end of Hollywood Blvd near Sid Cahuenga's, rather than from Star Tours. So it effectively blocks the entrance for people trying to come into the park. They were routing people over to Sunset Boulevard via the super-secret gate by Oscar's Gas Station (normally used by people who have the Fantasmic! dinner package).

People were lined up at least 2-3 deep all around the parade route - I never saw it that crowded at DCA (which is where it came from), even when it was new. Nice to see people in Florida enjoying it. I think it was pretty much the same as the version in California, though it seemed a little shorter, but I couldn't tell you why.

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One cool thing I noticed before the parade - Cast Members had different activities set up along the parade route before it started to entertain the kids - I saw hopscotch, a limbo contest, and bubble blowing, among other things.

Lisa Berton called me as I was on my way to the bus stop - she'd also seen the Block Party Bash, so I just missed her at the Studios. We're going to try to meet up tomorrow, and for sure plan to get together on Thursday.

I took a short break back in the room - downloaded photos and worked on this blog entry mostly. Lee's conference had a private party at Animal Kingdom tonight, but he came back to the room to change clothes and drop stuff off. On the way to Animal Kingdom he dropped me at the Boardwalk and I walked back to Epcot from there. It's almost exactly 1/3 of a mile from the Boardwalk lobby to the International Gateway.

I arrived at the America Gardens theater about 10 minutes before The Tokens took the stage - there were still PLENTY of seats left. And who are The Tokens, you might ask? I wondered that, too. They are best known for "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", a song they recorded about 40 years ago! They really put on a good show, though most of the songs they performed were hits they produced for *other* artists, like The Chiffons (He's so Fine and One Fine Day) and Tony Orlando and Dawn (Candida). They did a really fun version of Wipeout (pictured) where they all put on surfer shirts. The show was 30 minutes long, but didn't seem that long at all - I wish they could have played longer.

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While I was walking up towards Future World I took this sunset photo...

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Dinner was from Sunshine Seasons - I had the rotisserie chicken dinner, and picked up some chocolate mousse cake and a chocolate brownie that Lee and I can share later.

According to my GPS I walked about 11 miles...It was One Fine Day!

May 6, 2008

My Bonus Trip to Walt Disney World - Part 1

I'm blogging live from WDW - and a couple of months ago I certainly didn't expect to be here right now!

Lee is attending a conference for work at Coronado Springs, and back in January asked me if I wanted to come with him. But I had work commitments - at that point in time we had the roll-out of a new system scheduled for the beginning of May, so I knew I wouldn't be able to go. But in March we found out that it had been delayed, so yippee, I could come along, too!

So I get to be a conference spouse and play in the parks while Lee works all day. It's a tough life. :-) The Flower and Garden Festival is going on at Epcot, which is one of my favorite events. If you've seen any of my trip reports you know that I love flowers. And the topiaries and bonsai and other garden displays around Epcot at this time of year are very nice.

We're staying at Port Orleans Riverside - the only other time I stayed here was December of 1997 when it was still called Dixie Landings. We're so used to staying in DVC resorts that this is going to be a little different, though the main thing that's going to be so shocking to me is that I can't walk to a theme park. We usually stay at Boardwalk Villas, and I'm very spoiled by being within walking distance to Epcot and the Studios.

As this trip approached I found myself looking forward to it and getting more excited about it than my "usual" WDW trips - I think that's because it was an unexpected bonus. It's also very unscripted - apart from getting together with Lisa Berton I have NO plans at all, so I'm free to indulge whatever whim takes my fancy - I can wander around and amuse myself or maybe even relax a ittle bit. Relaxing on vacation...what a concept. :-)

So...we've arrived and checked in - we're in the Acadian House in the Magnolia Bend area. Very few cars in the parking lot - we're not sure if that's because the resort is empty (hard to believe) or if there's just not as many people renting cars these days, and instead are relying on Disney transportation to get them from/to the airport and the parks.

It's our first night, so of course we had to go to Epcot! We didn't get there until almost 7:00, and first thing we had to do was get a new Annual Pass for me, since mine expired in November. It's very nice having the DVC member discount on that - saved us about $100!

Our first stop was Spaceship Earth, since we haven't seen the new version of it. I've seen a lot of less than favorable reviews of it but I thought that it's not that bad, and actually some of the narration made us chuckle - like the reference to the first "backups" provided by the Jewish and Middle Eastern scholars. We thought the whole interactive section at the end was kind of fun, though I can see that it would get old quickly. We ended up vacationing in spaceships in the future, as you can see below. Though the coolest thing was when we went to email the postcard to ourselves, and the face recognition stuff actually picked out our correct photo all by itself!

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The games down underneath looked fun - we played the "shuffleboard" energy game, and Lee tried the game that tested his reaction time, memory, and hand-eye coordination. It's a lot harder than it looks!

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And Lee wants me to point out that we were riding attractions at Disneyland yesterday and at WDW today.

On the way into World Showcase we passed the Stitch topiary - the first of many that I will photograph this week. :-)

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Since today was Cinco de Mayo we HAD to stop and get frozen margaritas at the stand in Mexico. It was really a very nice evening to be outside in shorts and t-shirt - while I wouldn't want to be doing vigorous exercise, it was quite comfortable for walking - even walking at our (fast) pace.

We had dinner at our traditional first night spot - Tangierine Cafe. They no longer have the Shawarma sandwiches, but I think the wraps are just as good. I had a chicken wrap and Lee had the lamb platter. We sat outside where we could hear Mo'rockin's last performance of the evening - could even see a bit of them.

And of course it's not a first night at Epcot if we don't watch Illuminations! There weren't too many people in the park, and we got a pretty good spot in Norway about 5 minutes before the show started. We love that show.

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Afterwards it was very strange to be walking out to the *front* of the park...normally we're walking out the International Gateway! There's a lot more people who go out the front! :-) And we saw a number of Cast Members wearing Mickey gloves who were saying good night and waving goodbye to people as we left.

So tomorrow...who knows what I'll be doing tomorrow? There's a good chance Disney buses and theme parks will be involved, though. :-)

November 10, 2007

Animal Kingdom Villas

We're DVC members and spent the last three nights of our trip in the new Animal Kingdom Villas (AKV). We have not stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge in quite a while, but we get over there just about every trip to have dinner at Jiko or Boma or both.

Back when they first opened up AKV for reservations I booked a Savannah-View Studio for three nights. Check-in on Tuesday afternoon was easy, and since it was a bit after 4:00 our room was ready. We were in a room along the Zebra Trail on the 5th floor, overlooking the Uzima savannah.

The room was gorgeous but a bit dark - that seems to be the major complaint about the decor. Since the DVC rooms at AKV were converted from existing hotel rooms the studios have no closet - that's now the location of the kitchenette. So instead there's a big wardrobe - half of it contains the vacuum cleaner, ironing board and iron, and the other half has a closet pole and hangers. Not a lot of closet space, but it worked ok for us. I think it would be pretty cramped for four people, though.

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The queen-size bed is tall with a lovely dark wood headboard. We found that the bed creaked and the sheets were too stiff (starched?) and rustled any time either of us moved. The mattress was fairly comfortable, though - not too firm and not too soft. In the other half of the room is a sofa which pulls out into a queen-size bed, and a table and two (very heavy!) chairs, and two wooden footstools/coffee tables.

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I found the bathroom a bit cozy - it has an extra-wide door on it, and I had to stand against the tub to be able to open the bathroom door. It's a nice big tub, though, with a curved shower curtain rod. And the border of the shower curtain has little hidden mickeys in it - those were cute.

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We found our room to be very quiet - we never heard anyone on the other side of us, though we could hear those annoying stupid people who yell in the hallways and/or let the kids run wild and yell in the hallways.

We didn't have a very good room location as far as savannah-viewing went - our room was on the inside corner with the "people corral" (used in the event the building has to be evacuated) right behind it. It looked across the savannah towards the other wing of the building - we could see the viewing area that's near the pool. It also never had a lot of animals on it - there was almost always at least one eland on it, though - it seemed almost like they had decided it was "their" part of the savannah, and the other animals stayed away. We did see several giraffes cruise through at various times, though. One evening there was also a bontebok and an impala, but never groups of animals. We know they were on the savannah because one afternoon we went all the way to the end of the hallway and out onto the external stairway, and we saw a number of Thompson's gazelles and impala, two of the giraffes, several bontebok and some other antelope-type creature I couldn't identify. But they were on the far edge of the savannah and not the main part that was viewable from the majority of the rooms.

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And there were these animals, that I didn't recognize:

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We were somewhat disappointed in the food selection at The Mara - the last time we were here, they had some more interesting/exotic food items available for lunch and dinner. This time it was mostly the regular food court fare - pizza, burgers, chicken caesar salad - though they did have homemade soups and an "African stew". I was also disappointed that in the grab-and-go section the 4 piece assortment of zebra domes and chocolate mousse crunch was gone - now it's just zebra domes. Though I found out why when we ate at Boma - the chocolate mousse crunch is just a bowl of chocolate mousse now, and not those little individual servings with the crunchy chocolate cookie on the bottom (and the cookie was my favorite part!).

Boma and Jiko did not disappoint, though, and still remain our two favorite restaurants on property. We had a lovely dinner at Jiko on Halloween night - the restaurant had lots of empty tables and we enjoyed a nice leisurely dinner. Boma the next night was as busy and noisy as it always is - but we were dining with friends and enjoyed the company (not to mention the food and desserts!) despite the atmosphere.

I was very impressed by the bus service - we never waited more than 10 minutes to catch a bus either to or from the parks, and usually it was less than that! We came back from Epcot one afternoon and were the only two passengers on the bus. Though one thing that annoys me...the walkway to the Animal Kingdom Lodge bus stop goes right by a smoking area - I had to hold my breath every time we went past it. Bleah.

Sooooo...Animal Kingdom Villas gets a big thumbs up from us - good thing, since we bought points there and will be staying there over the next 50 years or so. :-) Since the current rooms were converted from existing hotel rooms, I AM looking forward to the opening of the Kidani Village units which are being built in a separate building with its own savannah. They should be a little larger and better laid-out.

November 2, 2007

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party

This was the first time we've ever had the opportunity to attend one of the Halloween parties at the Magic Kingdom. We've gone to the Mickey's Halloween Treat party at Disney's California Adventure the last three years, and wanted to see how different it was here. (Not so different in most ways, much different in others, but more on that later.) Besides, we'd heard the Halloween party is a lot of fun - better than the Christmas party, which did not impress us.

We attended the party on Tuesday, October 30. After donning our costumes we took the bus from Animal Kingdom Lodge to the Magic Kingdom, arriving just about 7:00 when the party was officially starting. The lines for bag check weren't bad at all, and we received our orange wristbands. (That's wristband #3 for this trip - the other two were for Extra Magic Hours at Epcot and the Tower of Terror 13K.)

There was a cloud of mist around the Main Street Train Station, and a glowing Mickey pumpkin at the big floral Mickey. Pumpkin-headed scarecrows were placed around Town Square, and lots of jack-o-lanterns flickered in the windows on Main Street. The castle was spookily (is that a word?) lit.

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One thing we quickly noticed was that the Treat Stations had HUGE lines - much longer than anything we ever saw at Mickey's Halloween Treat. The lines for the attractions were short, though - we waited oh, all of maybe a minute at Haunted Mansion before walking into the Stretch Room. All of the hosts and hostesses were wearing ghastly makeup, some with cobwebs in their hair - they looked great! And on the lawn outside the Mansion (before you go through the turnstiles) was one of the Happy Haunts, surrounded by mist, and ghostly lit, sitting on a bench and talking to herself. Very cool.

It had been drizzling off and on all evening, but it had mostly stopped when we came out of Haunted Mansion. We met our friends Paul and Ilene near Country Bear Playhouse and waited for the start of the first parade. It started raining hard enough that we huddled under our umbrellas for a while, but fortunately by the time the parade started it had stopped. The wet street meant that the Headless Horseman went by at a trot instead of a gallop, though. Which was actually very nice since it was a lot easier to see him!

I loved the Boo to You parade. Lots of characters (some in costume) and great floats, especially the pirates and the villains. Though my favorite was the Haunted Mansion sequence - starting with the gravedigger and his bloodhound...so cute!!! And then the ghostly dancers, the HM float, and following it the zombie gravedigging drill team with their shovels. Terrific stuff! The pumpkin-headed guys on the whirling spheres were great, too - normally the creepy SpectroMagic dudes ride those - the pumpkin guys were a lot better.

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The treat lines were still really long, but they were giving out bags of Kissables at the entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean, and we practically walked right onto a boat. I guess everyone was in the Treat lines!

About 9:10 we went to the Hub to stake out a spot for the 9:30 Hallowishes fireworks show - and it started to rain. And this wasn't just drizzle, either. We got back under our umbrella, but since Lee was holding it the back of my skirt was getting pretty wet. Unfortunately the rain did not let up very much during the fireworks. A lot of people left, or sought cover, so it wasn't really that crowded - I was surprised.

The show itself was great - lots of interesting projections on the castle like jack-o-lanterns, flying spooks, and glowing eyes. I particularly liked the one in this picture, though I think it was a colorful pattern and not any particular image, though to me it looks like the face of the Wicked Queen from Snow White is superimposed on the highest tower - looks like a face wearing a crown with that high collar behind it. Or maybe it's just my imagination. :-)

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The effect of the fireworks going on 180 degrees around you is very cool.

After the show we ducked for cover into the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club, then stayed under cover to get to Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (no line), and then quickly ran to the Tomorrowland Transit Authority where we went around twice, since it was raining pretty hard and there was no one waiting to get on.

We'd planned to see the second parade, but missed it because of the rain...it must have been really miserable for the Cast Members.

By the time we'd made our second round on the TTA the rain had just about stopped - or was at least not much more than a drizzle. By the time we did the Fantasyland attractions, Winnie the Pooh, Snow White, Peter Pan, and Mickey's Philharmagic, it was midnight and the party was over. And of course by then it had stopped raining completely and turned into a lovely night. Sigh. Oh well, if I had to choose between it raining the night of the party or raining the night of the race I would have chosen rain on the party. Running in the rain is not a lot of fun, though it's standing around in the rain waiting for a race to start that is the worst part.

So what did I think of Mickey's Halloween Treat (MHT) at Disney's California Adventure vs. Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom? I'm so glad you asked. :-)

I think I have to give it to MHT as far as decorating goes. In general the park has a lot more Halloween decorations than Magic Kingdom, and they add lots of spooky projections and many more ghost Mickey and pumpkin Mickey lights than I saw at MNSSHP. At MHT there's also lots of characters just out wandering around - now maybe that's normally true at MNSSHP, and we missed out on it because of the weather.

There's a lot more people at MNSSHP, and the treat lines are MUCH longer. Though the candy is a lot better at MNSSHP! We didn't get a whole lot of candy, but what we got was chocolate and not that yucky Willy Wonka Laffy Taffy and Now&Later-type stuff that we got at MHT. Lee thinks there are more treat stops at MHT, though I think they are about the same.

A lot of the Cast Members are in costume at MHT - other than the characters in the Parade we saw no Cast Members in costume at MNSSHP - just those wearing the MNSSHP t-shirts.

Even though there's more people at MNSSHP, the attraction lines were shorter. No 30 minute waits for anything like we had for Tower of Terror at MHT - almost everything we did was a walk-on. Now again, some of that might have been because of the rain.

MHT has the Tower of Terror, MNSSHP has the Haunted Mansion - you can't do a Halloween party without SOME kind of spooky ride! Though I have to say the Haunted Mansion gets the edge here.

Parade and Fireworks - MNSSHP does this far, far, better than MHT, which doesn't have a fireworks show, and has a fairly pathetic parade. I loved the Boo to You parade - I really wish we could've seen it again. And the Hallowishes fireworks show was frightfully good. :-)

I'm looking forward to attending the MNSSHP again some year - though hopefully without the rain next time!

To finish this off, here we are in our costumes - you've heard of Disney's upcoming movie, haven't you? Beauty and the Jedi? :-)

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November 1, 2007

Walt Disney World - What's New?

New to us, that is - since we haven't been here since last December. That's one of the things we really enjoy about Walt Disney World - it seems like every time we're here there's always something that's new, whether it's a new attraction or exhibit or live entertainment group.

Contrary to what you might think we aren't just eating around the world, though in the first four days of our trip it seems like that's about all we did (well, there was that little 8 mile run on Saturday night...) We did actually get out into the parks and try a few new things that weren't food-related.

Our first night here was Extra Magic Hours at Epcot, so in addition to eating, we had the opportunity to see all the new (to us) things at Epcot. First was the Gran Fiesta Tour in the Mexico pavilion. While I don't miss the annoying street vendors at all, I do miss the narration in the first section when you were floating by the pyramid, and they talked about the ancient civilizations. Now it's basically "it's a small mexico" with the Three Caballeros. My favorite part was something Lee pointed out to me - the "it's a small mexico" kids whacking away at a Donald Duck-shaped pinata. :-) I'm not sure it's really an improvement over the previous version, but in any case it's not something we'll be in a hurry to do again any time soon.

We also visited the Epcot 25th Anniversary Gallery behind Club Cool. (We recognized the room - it's where they originally held the Segway Training sessions!) We had the exhibit all to ourselves, and enjoyed seeing the concept art and the original costumes and the various models. If you're interested in more information, as well as lots of photos, see Linda Mac's excellent blog entry on the Gallery, which is HERE.

At The Seas with Nemo and Friends we rode the clam-mobiles. We had done this before, but I hadn't seen it since I'd ridden the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage at Disneyland, which employs similar technology in producing the visuals of Nemo and Friends in their underwater environment. I think it's much better here at Epcot - especially the section where the Nemo gang appears to be out in the tank with the *real* fish. The clam-mobiles are also a lot more comfortable than those cramped submarines!

What was new since our last visit was the new (and much bigger) theater for Turtle Talk with Crush, though the show itself isn't very different. We lucked out and arrived just as they were loading the theater for a show. Crush always makes us smile. Awesome, dude. :-)

At Disney-MGM Studios (or is it now Disney Hollywood Studios?) we did a couple of new things - saw the Jedi Training Academy on its new and permanent stage - though it was the same Jedi Master we'd seen 2-1/2 years ago. And we watched Mulch, Sweat, and Shears on the Streets of America. They're a "Rake n' Roll" band working as landscapers while they wait for their big break. They put on a good show, performing songs by the Rolling Stones, Eagles, etc.

mulch.jpg

During Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party on Tuesday night we had a chance to do the two new things at the Magic Kingdom - and we were glad for the excuse to get out of the rain, too. I'm not enough of a Haunted Mansion aficionado to recognize many of the changes that were made during its recent rehab, but we noticed the creaking of the stretch room as it starts to stretch, the glowing eyes in the wallpaper, the glowing footprints overhead, and Madame Leota's floating crystal ball. And of course the creepy bride in the attic, with the husbands disappearing from the wedding portraits. Nicely done.

The Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club was fun - I'd heard some not-too-positive reviews of it, but we enjoyed it. (I have to say that there were members of the audience who seemed to be enjoying it a little TOO much, though - both kids and adults. At any other park I'd blame it on alcohol, but since it was Magic Kingdom during the Halloween party I'll attribute it to sugar overload.) Like Turtle Talk With Crush, this show also features real-time animated characters who can interact with the audience. (Disney is getting a lot of mileage out of that technology!) Most of the jokes are pretty corny but it was fun - and part of the fun is laughing with the audience members that they pick on and show up on the big screen. There are some truly awful puns, though.

Today (Wednesday) we finally made it to Animal Kingdom. The only new thing that I'm aware of there is a new spiel for Kilimanjaro Safaris - I'd heard they eliminated at least some of the annoying elements. The entire "Warden Wilson Matua" recording is different - it sounds like it could be the same voice, but I can't tell. That silly Miss Jobson, who doesn't realize that Thompson's gazelles are called "Tommies", is gone, though - as is the whole "Tommie" thing, which I always thought made Wilson sound like an idiot. No more Big Red and Little Red either - just a baby elephant that the wardens found which had gotten separated from his mother. But Wilson is still chasing poachers, and towards the end our mission (which we weren't even given a choice to accept!) was to help drive the poachers towards him. I have to say that it was less annoying than the original, but I still wish they would offer a poacher-free safari. We DID learn something new from our driver, though - elephants frequent the red clay pits because they rub their tusks in the red clay and then eat it - it gives them extra minerals, apparently.

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Coming up...More Food and Wine Festival, our thoughts on our first stay at Animal Kingdom Villas, and Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party - not necessarily in that order. So many things to write about, so little vacation left!

October 31, 2007

Eating Around the World - Day 1

This blog entry is a bit late, since up until now I've been concentrating on writing about the Tower of Terror 13K - but I think I've said all that I have to say about that now. :-)

This is only the second time we've been to Epcot's Food and Wine Festival - the first time was two years ago, and we had a great time. But we love early December and all of the Christmas festivities, too, and we can't really justify two trips to Florida within 4-6 weeks, so we've decided to alternate the two.

We arrived at Walt Disney World on Friday evening and checked into the Boardwalk - always a great choice when you're planning to spend a lot of time at the Festival! Hard to get during F&W, though - I made our reservations almost 11 months in advance.

We'd planned to meet Deb Wills at the Festival, but she wasn't feeling well and had to cancel. :-( It was an Extra Magic Hours (EMH) night at Epcot, and it turns out the F&W booths were open during Extra Magic Hours, too!

Since it was Friday night the park was quite crowded, between the locals that had come in for the evening and the resort guests who had come for EMH. We stood in some fairly long lines (10 minutes or so) for food at a few places.

Our first stop was the Canada booth, where we tried the Maple Glazed Salmon with Roasted Corn and Arugula and the Cheddar Cheese Soup. Both very tasty, but not really new to us. That had a long wait because there had been a salmon run (pun intended) and they were grilling more. While we were waiting, one of the Cast Members asked us questions about Canada, and gave a glass of wine to the adult who answered first. I knew the Canadian dollar was called the "Loonie", so I won a glass of the Mission Hill SLC Chardonnay. This must have been aged in steel barrels instead of oak because it didn't have that dry buttery flavor so many chardonnays have which I dislike so much and I thought it was pretty good - especially for the price! :-) I made the mistake of giving it to Lee so he could take a couple of sips, and he finished it!

fw_salmon.jpg

The Dominican Republic booth was new this year, and we'd heard good reviews on the Pastelon de Platanos Amarillos, and we also tried the Mofungo. I couldn't really detect any banana flavor in the Pastelon - it was a veggie-type casserole topped with cheese and guacamole - and was quite tasty, though I couldn't really tell you what flavors were in it! The Mofungo was mashed yucca with pork cracklings, served with two shrimp. It had a very interesting flavor and I liked it - it was also quite filling. The shrimp were only so-so - a bit overcooked, I think.

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Lee tried the Beef Empanada at Argentina - this is another item that hadgotten really good reviews. He said it was quite good. (Quite a few of the highly rated F&W selections this year are some kind of beef, which unfortunately I can't eat, so Lee sacrifices himself and tries them for me. :-) )

Mexico again has Chilaquiles this year - something we both really enjoyed two years ago, and it's just as good this year. It's basically a chicken enchilada casserole with green (tomatillo) sauce. Really yummy, and still ranks as one of my favorites, and it's also a fairly generous serving. We also had the Conga Juice, and Lee had a Dos Equis.

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At Ireland we pretty much said "give us one of everything!". And it was all good. The Boxty is a potato pancake topped with bacon bits, caramelized onions and garlic butter. Very tasty. The Potato Leek Soup was served with a cheese breadstick - it had a nice flavor but we both thought it would have been better warm than chilled. The Irish Cheese Plate came with three slices of Irish cheese, some apple chutney and brown bread. The cheese was good, but we didn't think it worked with the chutney. The brown bread was more like pound cake than bread - LOTS of butter. We tried the Meade Honey Wine - and that was delicious - sweet but not syrupy.

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We tried the "one of everything" tactic again at India - but they were out of Samosas, so we had to content ourselves with the Curried Butternut Squash soup and the Coconut Indian Rice Pudding. The soup had a little bit of a kick to it but was quite tasty, and Lee really liked the rice pudding. I'm not much of a rice pudding fan but I enjoyed it also - it had some little bits of pineapple in it, too.

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It was getting close to time for Illuminations, but we wanted some dessert, so we tried the Apple Strudel with Vanilla Sauce at (where else?) Germany. I also had a glass of the wine recommended as a pairing with the strudel - the S.A. Prum Riesling Spatlese It was a bit sweet (but I like sweet!) and I enjoyed it.

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Stay tuned - there's lots more Food & Wine Festival eating to come! Though we have been doing some other things, too...

August 12, 2007

Attraction Comparison: Splash Mountain

Continuing my series of attraction comparisons...I decided to stick with the mountains, and compare the Splash Mountain attractions at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom (MK) and Disneyland (DL).

Both are located in about the same area of the park - though at MK this area is in Frontierland, and at DL it's in Critter Country. Since it's inspired by characters from Song of the South, placing it in Frontierland seems a bit odd - I think DL's Critter Country is a better fit....though since MK doesn't have that, I guess Frontierland works better than Adventureland or Liberty Square!

DL's Splash Mountain opened first, in July 1989, while MK's attraction opened in October 1992. The distinctive outline of Chickapin Hill is quite visible in both parks. One other thing both attractions have in common is a VERY long queue that winds around and around and back and forth and inside and around some more. Before Fastpass (which both attractions have) I've stood in those lines and wound around and around...

(Below: MK's Splash Mountain, DL's Splash Mountain)

Splash Mountain Walt Disney World Splash Mountain Disneyland

Upon reaching the loading area you'll notice differences in the "log" vehicles. In DL's there are six "seats" (riders actually straddle a bench) per log - the last seat is larger and can accommodate a parent and child). At MK there are four rows of two seats so people can sit side-by-side - it's a lot more comfortable. Though the MK logs always seem to have a musty/mildewy smell - yuck.

(Below: MK's logs, DL's logs)

Splash Mountain Walt Disney World

Splash Mountain Disneyland


The layouts of the ride are similar - each culminating in the drop down Chickapin Hill at the end - but the scenes inside the ride are pretty different. I really prefer MK's Splash Mountain - it actually has a much more coherent storyline about Brer Rabbit leaving home in search of adventure, and outwitting Brer Fox and Brer Bear before deciding that home isn't so bad after all. I've never quite figured out what the storyline is at DL - or if there even *is* one...mostly it just seems to move from scene to scene, each featuring many audio-animatronic characters recycled from the America Sings attraction (which I loved - pop goes the weasel!).

Anyway...I think the MK version is a lot bigger and brighter, and I love the jumping fountains in the cavern. You see a lot more of Brer Rabbit, too - I think he makes two or three more appearances at the MK than he does at DL. Though one thing I prefer about DL's version - as you begin the final ascent to the "Laughing Place", the tone changes, and the mood becomes ominous as Mama Mole sings: "What can poor Brer Rabbit do, to keep from becoming rabbit stew", and then Mama Rabbit joins in with: "Stay away from the Laughin' Place, you must beware, the fox is there". And then there's the two vultures perched overhead who also have less than encouraging things to say. It sure enhances the whole "I have a bad feeling about this" atmosphere.

While both attractions have the potential to get you pretty wet, in general I find I stay drier at DL - especially if I ask to sit in the back of the log (which I always do). And I make sure never to sit on the right side of the log at MK, because that's the wetter side. :-)

Everybody has a Laughin' Place - what's yours?

Laura

August 5, 2007

Disney's California Adventure Attractions

Don't ask me why this occurred to me in the shower the other day, but I started wondering about which Walt Disney World park Disney's California Adventure most resembles, at least in terms of the attractions.

With Animal Kingdom, it shares "It's Tough to Be a Bug".
Walt Disney World Attraction
Disney's California Adventure Attraction

With Epcot, it shares Soarin' Over California and Turtle Talk with Crush.
Soarin at Walt Disney World
Soarin at Disney's California Adventure


With Magic Kingdom it shares...hmmm...nothing at all! (Though they both have a carousel...)

With Disney-MGM Studios, it shares MuppetVision 3D, Playhouse Disney, and Tower of Terror. Also the High School Musical Pep Rally. The Animation Buildings at both parks offer similar activities, too, such as the Animation Academy and the interactive Ursula's Grotto/The Sound Stage and Beast's Library/You're a Character stations.
Tower of Terror at Walt Disney World
Tower of Terror at Disney's California Adventure

Well...I guess that answers that question. :-)

Laura

July 8, 2007

Attraction Comparison: Space Mountain vs. Space Mountain

As a blog topic, Deb Wills suggested that readers might be interested in a comparison of attractions at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. It sounded like an intriguing idea to me...see what you think!

I thought I'd start with one of my favorites: Space Mountain. Which is at Disneyland in California, and at Magic Kingdom in Florida. Both are Fastpass attractions, and from the outside they look pretty similar - both housed in a circular futuristic-looking white building. (Below is Space Mountain at Disneyland, below that is Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom.

Space Mountain Disneyland

Space Mountain Walt Disney World.jpg

But once inside, I find they are markedly different. Magic Kingdom's (MK's) version has two loading areas, and two tracks, whereas there's only one loading area and track at Disneyland (DL). The ride vehicles at DL feature three rows of two side-by-side seats, while those at MK feature a car that looks more like a rocket, with three single passenger seats. (Each ride has two cars per "train".) DL's vehicles have a lap bar (every rider has their own bar), whereas MK's vehicles have a T-shaped bar that goes between the legs and across the lap. Personally I find MK's vehicles to be very uncomfortable - you sit so far down in them that with your legs stretched out in front of you that it's very awkward to get up out of them! Though they look a lot swoopier than DL's cars. (Below: DL rocket left, MK rocket right.)

Space Mountain Walt Disney World.jpgDisneyland Rocket

Space Mountain Walt Disney World.jpgDisney World rocket.jpg

Once the ride begins, I think you might as well consider them to be two completely different experiences - about all they have in common is that both are a roller coaster ride in the dark (or in the case of MK, in the semi-dark).

As you leave the loading area at DL you start hearing futuristic space music in your ears...while at MK all you hear are the screams of fellow riders. The music really adds a lot to the experience at DL - the crescendoes of the music seem to be synchronized with the drops and twists of the ride. The DL ride is also DARK - quite unlike the MK ride, where it's light enough to see the track in front of you, and you can see what's coming. That's my biggest complaint about the MK version of the ride.

Space Mountain at DL re-opened in 2005 after an almost two-year rehab - and the improvements really show. Though it was smoother than MK's attraction even before the rehab, now it's even better, and I think it's a little faster, too. I find MK's Space Mountain to be rough and jerky - more like the Matterhorn at DL. I feel pretty beat up after getting off of Space Mountain at MK, but I feel exhilarated after a ride on Space Mountain at DL.

Near the end of DL's ride the cameras capture your photo, and you have the opportunity to see (and purchase) it after the ride. I do have to say that the exit to the attraction is a lot more interesting at MK - at DL you simply climb a set of stairs and go through some space station-y looking hallways, while at MK the escalator passes by various scenes - that whole "lab retriever" thing always cracks me up.

I think it's probably very obvious that I much prefer DL's Space Mountain to MK's...The music makes a huge difference, but even without the music I find it to be a smoother, faster, darker, and better-themed attraction.

To Infinity...and Beyond! (Oops, sorry, wrong attraction...)

Laura

June 9, 2007

Yosemite Yearnings

I recently returned from a week in Yosemite National Park. While I enjoy Disneyland and Walt Disney World it's Yosemite that is my "Happiest Place on Earth". :-) It was a great week for me - I wish I was going back a lot sooner than I am.

But now to somehow tie that to Disney...it occurred to me that there are a number of places where Disney has incorporated Yosemite (or elements of it) in their attractions/resorts:

The American Adventure at Epcot features a scene with John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt in Yosemite. Though that scene always makes me laugh, since it features a place that doesn't exist - they appear to be on top of Sentinel Dome (with the famous Jeffrey Pine on top), but Teddy is standing on a rock outcropping that looks like one known as "The Visor" and that's on top of Half Dome - yet Half Dome is visible in the background. Nevada Fall (visible from neither Sentinel Dome nor Half Dome) is also in the background.

The Golden Dreams movie at Disney's California Adventure has a scene with John Muir in Yosemite. John Muir is portrayed by actor Lee Stetson, who has been performing a one-man show as John Muir in Yosemite since 1983. It's a great show - I've seen it lots of times. (Though not this year...my choice was John Muir or a hot fudge sundae...and I went with the hot fudge sundae!)

In the "Soarin'" attractions at both Epcot and DCA we get to soar through Yosemite Valley...we fly towards a majestic Yosemite Falls, leaping from the canyon walls in all its springtime glory, and then make a right turn towards the distinctive monolith that is Half Dome. I love that scene.

I find that both the Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World and the Grand Californian at Disneyland remind me a bit of the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite - it's quite spectacular. Lots of stone and enormous wooden beams. We had breakfast there last week - the dining room is very large and has these huge high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. Fortunately it does not have the noise level of Whispering Canyon, though. :-)

So did I miss any Disney/Yosemite connections?

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