Weekend Update reader and contributor igrules recently visited New York City on the inaugural New York City Dreams Tour with Adventures By Disney. She was kind enough to share her trip with us. ~~Rick
Adventures by Disney has launched a new 3 night, 4 day NYC Dreams tour exclusive to Disney Vacation Club members. The six dates, from June to October, sold out almost immediately, as each tour was limited to 40 guests. The inaugural one, held June 13-16, was kept small at 25 in order to get a feel for the tour and allow Adventures by Disney and Vacation Club cast members to oversee the roll out; even Ken Potrock, Senior Vice President and GM of ABD/DVC, joined in the fun.
Day 1, “Spirit of the Apple,” began at the Minskoff Theatre, home to “The Lion King.” The Minskoff overlooks Times Square, which provided a quintessential NY view to our bagel, fruit and yogurt breakfast. We briefly took to the empty stage to see what props and set pieces were in the wings and on the walls.
From there we boarded a bus to the 9/11 Memorial. The Memorial has 2 reflecting pools, one for each of the ill-fated towers, along with the names of those who died engraved around the rim. It’s a powerful tribute.
The museum on site is not yet open, but there is a great symbol of hope and remembrance planted near the South pool: the “Survivor Tree.”
The tree was damaged and remains blackened from 9/11, but it keeps on growing. We had lunch on our own at Battery City Park, which has many good quick service restaurants to choose from, including the Shake Shack and the Francois Payard (like the patisserie in Vegas) Bakery. After stopping to view the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, we headed back to Times Square to experience “The Ride.”
The Ride is part improv comedy, part sightseeing tour. There are 3 rows of seats, parallel to the windows that extend from the floor to the ceiling on one side of the bus; the other side of the bus is solid, as the seats are part of a ride simulator system. Two hosts entertained us by singing, riffing on us and passersby, and providing fun facts and trivia. The bus talks, plays way-too-loud music, and shows videos that provide more info about famous NYC landmarks. Along the way, planted street performers delight us and startle pedestrians as they break into song or dance. Strangers waved at us, acted silly and took pictures of our traveling zoo of tourists.
The night concluded with a welcome dinner at the Tribeca Grill, of which Robert De Niro is co-owner. He was not there, but paintings by his famous artist father, Robert, Sr., grace the walls. As we ate, one of the owners talked about the days following 9/11 and how Tribeca Grill provided meals and served as a gathering place for the responders and neighbors to unwind.
Day 2, “Broadway Squared,” had us up at the crack of dawn to witness what goes on in bringing “Good Morning America” into your home. After a light breakfast in the green room, we were ushered up to the set to watch Sam Champion, Paula Faris, Robin Roberts, Josh Elliot and Lara Spencer do the news.
Robin Roberts briefly came over to say hi and take a photo with the group; we also took a photo behind the news desk with Robin and Paula before returning to the green room. Next stop was the production control room. As awesome as seeing Robin Roberts was, the true stars of GMA are those calling the shots in the control room!
I was enthralled by their frenetic pace, telling the reporters what to say, making sure everyone knew what was coming up next, cueing the music and ads, checking monitors and e-mails, and worrying about the sound mix from the live remote in Central Park. These folks were rock stars, and I loved being a fly along the wall. Before breaking up for some on-our-own time, we stopped in front of the Disney Store, where Adventures by Disney Guests were welcomed to New York on the jumbo Disney Store screen.
We met up with the gang at John’s Pizzeria for a make-your-own pizza lunch, and then trekked down 7th Ave to a performing arts building where Disney instructors led us through vocal and dance warm ups before putting us through the paces on the “Seize the Day” dance number from “Newsies.” I don’t think anyone was able to do the dance perfectly, but in the short time we had we did a respectable job and had a ton of fun.
Next up was a visit to the prop room at the New Amsterdam Theatre, former home to “Mary Poppins” and upcoming venue for “Aladdin.” There were posters, costumes, props and maquettes from “Newsies,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Mary Poppins,” “Aida,” “Tarzan,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Lion King,” and “Aladdin.”
We did not see her, but we did say goodbye to the Olive Thomas portrait (it’s good luck to do so) on our way out. Olive was a Ziegfeld girl who still roams the theatre in her flowing green gown.
Dinner was on our own, and then we saw “Newsies” so we could witness the pros do The Dance, which was so much more complex than the routine we were taught! We had a talk back with some of the actors after the show; best observation came from lead actress Kara Lindsay: be nice to everyone, because one day you might end up working with them.
Breakfast on Day 3, “Chasing Dreams,” was at Ellen’s Stardust Diner. Terrific singing waitstaff, and the performance tips collected (Disney donated on our behalf) go toward dancing, singing and acting lessons. Last year 12 employees made it on Broadway. My favorite singer was able to hold her microphone and sing while putting cups on saucers, pouring coffee, punching in her orders and serving tables!
With full stomachs, the coach took us to Harlem to meet up with Neal, who grew up in Harlem and now gives tours of his beloved neighborhood. As we gathered around a plaque honoring the history of The Savoy nightclub, a woman interjected her history at The Savoy and in Harlem. She came from Ohio and saw all of the greats – Cab, Ella, Billie – play in the clubs. Her name was Ruby, a 93 year old marvel with a strong grip and memory. She captured all of our hearts.
Neal delivered us to the Apollo Theatre, where Mr. Apollo, Billy Mitchell, took us into a smaller performance space since the theater was in use. When Billy was young he was near the Apollo waiting for his aunt to get home so she could give him some money for the family; a man came out of the theater and asked him if he wanted to earn some money. Billy – and Luther Vandross – ended up being gofers at the Apollo, and the rest is history! We had a soul food lunch at Amy Ruth’s and could spend the afternoon on our own or wandering Central Park.
Our closing event was held at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which housed thousands of immigrants from the late 1800s until 1935, after which it stood abandoned until 1988. At that point someone bought it and left part of it in its dilapidated state, while restoring some of the rooms to reflect what they would have looked like in various eras. We climbed the stairs and went back in time to the 1800s and entered an Irish immigrant apartment; down a flight to a Russian family’s apartment/garment business in the late 1800s; and down again to the last day in 1935 when an Italian family was moving.
Actors in period piece costumes share their stories about why they came to America, what it was like living in the tenement, and their hopes and dreams for their children. The characters and dialogue are based on actual accounts of people who lived in the building at 97 Orchard St., as told to the Museum by their descendants. It took some effort to climb to the top of the building – in the 1800s the tenants would have to carry buckets of water up those stairs. Women were often friendless and alone in the apartments that had no locks. It was hard to find food from their countries. America was not flowing with work and money as they had expected. It was a fascinating way to not only learn about, but understand better, the hard life immigrants faced. Many in our group forgot we were speaking to actors, and one said she wanted to hug the women and help them.
Back at the main museum building we had an amazing dinner comprised of samplings from local immigrant eateries to emphasize the fact that so much of our everyday food was introduced to America by immigrants. It was hard to pick a favorite, and rather embarrassing how stuffed we were when immigrants didn’t have enough to eat. Walt Disney’s quote “All our dreams can come true… if we have the courage to pursue them” began and ended our night. As we gathered in the Museum theater for a final farewell to share highlights of our 3 days, I was struck by how incredible it is that Disney brought this melting pot of a family together. People from foreign lands, first timers in NY, transplants, celebrating family, new families, additions to family (one of the Adventures by Disney cast members is due in September), all daring to dream and go on new adventures.
Only about one third of what we did on the ABD tour was stuff you wouldn’t be able to experience any other way, but if you love Disney and want to get a Cliff Notes experience of NYC in a limited amount of time, this tour is a good way to do that without having to do any of the thinking or planning yourself.