Welcome to Christmas 2010 Walt Disney World Report! For those of you who have been following our Saga in our other reports, thank you for joining us once again! For those first time readers, thanks for opening this thread--we hope it doesn’t disappoint!
Worth noting is that this report report is over 50 single spaced pages of text. I don't point this out because I want to warn you before you make the time commitment to read it, but because at this length, and given my schedule, much of the report was written very hastily. I hope that it’s somewhat coherent and not rife with grammatical errors, stylistic faults, misspelled words, or incorrect word choices (for example, in a previous report, I meant to type “cookie,” but I was distracted while typing and wrote “cutter”) but such may be the case.
Also worth noting, since I receive many comments and private messages asking about this, is that Sarah’s dresses are mostly a brand called “BCBG.” There are other brands, too, but I can’t remember them--most are BCBG. She gets them from Sample Sales. These are discounted invite-only websites that sell nice clothing and products. They are all legitimate retailers of said products (not like some New York street corner selling knock-off Louis Vutton purses). We've saved a LOT of money buying through these sites rather than the mall. Here are our favorites ranked in descending order:
#1 - Gilt Groupe/Gilt Man
#2 - Rue La La
#3 - HauteLook
#4 - Ideeli (mostly women's stuff)
#5 - Beyond the Rack
Probably wouldn’t have received a ton of questions this time as you can’t see most of the dresses since she’s bundled up, but there’s the info, anyway.
As this is a Christmas trip, I begin writing this with the goal to get it out prior to Christmas prior to 2011. Given how busy I’ll be between now and then with work (apparently it piles up when you take nearly two weeks off!), holiday shopping, and other responsibilities, I’m going to attempt to make it shorter than prior installations. It will likely have significantly fewer images, as I focus on writing now, and updating at future junctures with additional images and, possibly, more text. Despite the fact that we got far fewer images than us this trip than we normally do, this TR actually has far fewer of the artistic ones since those are more time consuming to edit.
Alright, enough with the disclaimers, warnings, and other miscellaneous opening remarks. On with the show!
The trip began in its typical manner, under chaotic circumstances. Packing the night before actually went better than usual, as we had accomplished some packing ahead of time. We got to bed relatively early the night before, around 10:30 pm. The next morning we were up bright and early, with Sarah’s dad taking us to the airport at 5:30 am. We took one set of bags down to the car and were planning on going back up for incidental items, to do a once over, and to lock up the fort. The previous trip down, I told Sarah that I would just leave the keys upstairs since my hands were full. Unfortunately, in our apartment building, once the door shuts, you have to use a sensor (on our keychain) to open the front door. Here we are, at 5:30 am in 20 degree weather, no coats, locked out of our apartment building. We had to go back upstairs as our unit’s door was open, plus Sarah’s ID was up there.
The natural response to this situation is to buzz the call box of all adjacent tenants to see if they’ll let you in. Well, maybe this isn’t the natural response of everyone, as some of you may have more common courtesy than us, but it was 5:30 am, we were freezing, and fearful that we’d miss out flight to WDW. It was our natural reaction. Our neighbors either were undisturbed by the constant buzzing (in which case no harm, no foul), or chose to ignore (in which case I don’t feel too sorry for them). Not knowing what to do, we called the apartment’s emergency line. This line is reserved for situations such as gas and water leaks, but I felt missing a flight to WDW was fairly analogous, so we called and left a message. After more time passed, the gentleman who delivers the newspaper came by and let us in. But for him, I think we would have missed our flight. Add leaving our keys in the house to the list of things not to do before heading to WDW (add it to the list of things not to do whenever leaving home, for that matter).
Other than this, the trip down was relatively uneventful. There was one somewhat minor issue, but that was relatively quickly resolved: I couldn’t decide whether to order 2 or 3 sausage McMuffins with egg from McDonald’s. I decided to order 2, then see if I wanted another. I ended up wanting another, but was too lazy to wait in line again. Lesson learned there!
Sarah was selected for advanced screening in Indy, so she went through one of the WBI machines. I did a fair amount of research on WBIs, BDOs, SPOT, and the rest of the acronym soup involving advanced measures of airport security in law school, so I was sort of hoping to be selected for the screening to experience it first hand. (For those curious, my ultimate thesis was that whole body imaging was impractical due to its costs and inevitable ability of terrorists to circumvent it; I found advanced screening unobjectionable from a personal liberties perspective. Although I’m sure no one cares.)
Once through screening, we headed to our gate, and boarded shortly thereafter. We slept most of the flight there to conserve our energy. What seemed like 15 minutes later, we touched down in Orlando, and headed towards the DME area. In previous trip reports, I’ve commented on our inability to find this area despite heading there so frequently, and more importantly, having maps indicating how to get there. This hadn’t been an issue for the last couple of trips, as we had found it right away without the maps, but this time, I decided to follow my instinct, and disregard the map--with Sarah all the while telling me I was leading us the wrong direction. As a proud male who both refuses to follow a map and is seldom wrong, I can only assume the airport had been reconfigured since our last trip, as we were in the wrong area.
We re-traced our steps, headed to the other side of the airport, and boarded the DME shortly thereafter. Since we were staying at an All Star resort (Music) the first night of our trip, we were sandwiched in among Pop Warners parents and players. They must not have been too loud, as I was able to sleep. (I almost wish they had kept me awake, as I missed that DME video, which I love!)
This would be the first of two admittedly “new” DME bus drivers we’d have on the trip; this particular one drove to All Star Music, before realizing he had forgotten to stop at All Star Sports, and turning around--without dropping off us guests staying at AS:Mu. Not wanting to deal with any more of his brilliant moves, Sarah and I got out at Sports and walked to Music. Given the crowd that came behind us to check-in, I’m fairly confident that I’m right.
We met our friend, Nick, at the check in desk and then proceeded to our room to drop off some stuff before we headed immediately to the Magic Kingdom. I had opted to wear jeans and a long sleeve shirt that day given that we’d be in Indy part of the day, and that night was supposed to be cool, but I noticed that even during the day, I didn’t feel hot in that attire. Oh well, I thought, the next 11 days would be warmer.
We engaged in so many unique experiences and I’ve written so many thoughts on specific attractions in previous trip reports in the past that to do so again would be superfluous. If there was anything out of the ordinary or specific to this trip of which I think, I’ll discuss it, but otherwise, assume we rode attractions each day in addition to what is discussed.
First on the agenda was eating. We stopped at the best restaurant in the world, Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe. Actually, after two consecutive 10 plus day trips, I have to admit that Cosmic Ray’s has fallen a few rungs on my ladder. I just can’t eat that way for that way. My body is trained to be a lean, mean, killing machine, and Cosmic Ray’s food is more conducive to pudgy, groogy, waddling critters. Don’t get me wrong, the burger is still great, especially with a liberal assortment of toppings, it just isn’t something I can eat day in and day out.
We hit a couple of attractions before seeing the WDW Today Reunion group across from Aloha Isle. I wasn’t quite sure how Nick would take to hanging around with a huge group of Disney nerds, so I quickly said hello to a couple of the guys we know before we headed off. Nick had to leave for work shortly thereafter, so I figured we’d meet up with them at that time.
About 45 minutes later, that’s exactly what we did. This meet-up was at the Frontierland Shootin’ Gallery. Since we’re well aware that the Gallery costs additional money to play, we’ve typically avoided it. However, I must say that the targets look pretty cool. Had we any cash, we might have given it a whirl. I was a bit dismayed to learn that it didn’t keep score, though. What’s the point in a game that doesn’t keep score?!? I am not some 6 year old who needs to be coddled by over-protective parents and a society that says kids are scarred if they lose, I want the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
During our honeymoon, we met up with Henry Work, the developer for TouringPlans.com one evening. Shortly thereafter, I began writing for the TouringPlans.com Blog and working for TouringPlans.com on photo projects for the site. If you check out the mastheads at the top of each page, you might recognize some of the photos. With the exception of the Disneyland TouringPlans site and a couple other photos here and there, they’re mine.
In addition to designing all of the Mastheads for the Disneyland and Walt Disney World TouringPlans.com pages, I’ve been creating galleries for each attraction (click link and scroll down for an example) meant to give users an idea of what to expect from the attraction--from the time you approach the exterior to the time you exit the queue. At first, this didn’t seem like much of an undertaking, I figured I had a lot of these photos already, and could just harvest my computer’s photos. Unfortunately, that was not the case, which meant that that this trip, I would be making an conscious effort to take more photos of the attractions. While the task proved a fun challenge, it also meant taking a lot more photos, and with the already large RAW size of the D7000’s images, I found myself filling up my external hard drive in a hurry. So quickly, that by the second day of the trip, I was already contemplating ordering a new one from Amazon.com, and using Prime to get it to me in a hurry. Being a bit of a gambler, I opted against this. As you’ll read later, this may have been a mistake.
Anyway, at the gallery, we saw Henry (you’ll notice him in these photos as the one who is ridiculously tall) and he introduced us to Reilly, another TouringPlans.com staff member. After chatting briefly, I did some shooting--with my camera, before we headed on to the Haunted Mansion. The wait was something that seemed ridiculous to me (probably 20 minutes), but the entire group was doing it, so we thought, “what the heck.” It would turn out that a wait of 20 minutes would be pretty standard for the Haunted Mansion this trip. Odd, as I don’t think we’ve ever waited that long during the height of the summer season. I will explain my theory on this later.
We split off from the group after Haunted Mansion as it looked like it would be a long wait before everyone else got off the attraction. While we like doing group things, we were concerned with getting as much done as possible before my parents joined us two days later, as we predicted the pace would slow down then.
When we first started going to WDW together in 2006, it quickly became a tradition for us to go the Magic Kingdom the night we arrived, and start the evening by relaxing on the TTA. This tradition quickly died, as we started booking our flights earlier and earlier, and it wasn’t always advantageous to hit the MK on the first night. Not wanting to get away from our “roots” too far, we decided to do the TTA then, even if it was still daytime, and not our first attraction. As I’ve said before, the TTA is so much better at night. It’s nice during the day, but at night it’s next-level.
As we approached the return-station on the TTA, we noticed the group heading into Tomorrowland. We watched them as we exited the ride, and they queued up for Buzz Lightyear Spaceranger Spin. It seemed like as good of a time as any to rejoin the group, so we did. Managed to do TTA while they had waited--not too shabby!
We did more, both with the group and by ourselves, before meeting for the group dinner at Peco’s Bills at 6 pm. We had a room all to ourselves, which was pretty cool. Not so cool was that the only place to get the wristbands for the MVMCP was near Stitch’s Great Escape and the party was about to start right as we finished dinner! We had passed this location several times while wrist bands were being distributed earlier in the afternoon, putting it off because we’d “do it later somewhere else.” I swear there were multiple locations to get the bracelets in previous years.
To mentally prepare myself for the party, way back in September I began assembling tracks from the Main Street loop that plays during MVMCP. Shout out to MagicMusic.net, which helped me immensely in this process: Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party - MSUSA BGM - Magic Music Forums[/URL] As the party started and we heard this music on Main Street, I think my heart skipped a beat. It’s one thing to have the loop quietly playing at my office on a Monday morning, it’s an entirely different feeling to hear it bellow from the Magic Kingdom speakers at the start of MVMCP on the first night of a trip. It was pure bliss. Seriously. As I thought there, I realized MVMCP was the key to world peace. Nobel Peace Prize committee, private message me for my address so you can mail my award to me.
Knowing that we’d be attending two more MVMCPs during the trip, we didn’t strategize too much to make sure that we got everything done. We made a rough schedule that had us experiencing everything except the Celebrate the Season stage show and the character meet and greets. We figured my parents would want to experience these things, and by cutting them from this night, we had more time with the group.
One thing we did commit ourselves to do was watch the fireworks during each party, and watch each running of the parade. The fireworks would be easily accomplished. After all, they’re fireworks...how can you possibly NOT endeavor to watch them?! However, 6 parades seemed like it may be more difficult. We loved the parades and all, but we didn’t know if it would happen.
After watching the first parade that night, I was pretty sure it would happen. That parade is just so good. I know I am not alone in this sentiment--the toy soldiers are nearly worth the price of admission, alone! Add to them the gingerbread men (love the flat backs!), the reindeer, Chip & Dale having a snowball fight, and the music--it’s just such a great parade, through and through!
Between the parade and the fireworks, we decided to visit the Diamond Horseshoe to see the Woody’s Roundup Dance Party. Sarah really gets a kick out of these things, plus it is indoors and it was cold outside, so I didn’t mind checking it out. Being inside there really makes me wish Disney would put that building to use again. It also makes me wonder how many buildings in the Magic Kingdom no longer are used like they once were. I can understand this more at EPCOT, where there probably isn’t as much demand for capacity as there was in the mid 1980s (I’m just guessing, but I think the addition of the Studios and Animal Kingdom have taken some of the “second park” burden away from EPCOT; I’ve seen photos of huge lines at EPCOT for SSE, JII, Horizons, and World of Motion back in the day, so I think this may be the case), but it’s unlikely the Magic Kingdom has any less need.
My first big decision photography-wise occurred before the fireworks started. I had to decide whether I wanted to photograph from the train station, availing myself of the clear view (no flagpole) of them and endure the poor atmosphere (they leave the lights on up there and I *think* the music is quieter), or shoot from Main Street, have better atmosphere and full view of the perimeter bursts, but miss out on the once-a-year view from the train station. My mind was made up for me, as when we approached the train station to scope it out, it appeared to be pretty packed. Oh well, Main Street would be more than sufficient.
The fireworks were awesome, as usual. I prefer this show to the Summer Nightastic fireworks, although I do think that the Summer Nightastic fireworks, particularly the storming the castle scene, engulf the crowd to a greater degree. My favorite parts of Holiday Wishes have to be the opening lines from Jiminy Cricket, the O Christmas Tree scene, and the smiley face & present bursts. Overall, it’s my favorite Magic Kingdom fireworks show. Then again, I am partial to Christmas.
After the fireworks, we reconvened with the group, and rode Dumbo collectively. I wonder if our “flights” had the lowest percentage of kids ever on Dumbo at one time. Like is often said, we’re all kids at heart.
As promised, we watched the parade once again, enjoying it just as much as the first time, before heading over to Tomorrowland. This was our first time attending MVMCP since the Tomorrowland theatre had been razed, so it was our first party not seeing Mickey’s Twas the Night Before Christmas. Obviously, it’s not the Disney way to replace a park classic with something inferior, so we expected the “Twas” replacement, A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas to be a spectacular show. Well...
Well...I can’t say I totally hated A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas. Actually, it wasn’t as bad as I’ve heard some people say it is. It’s cute, and Stitch is not super annoying in it (actually, he’s cute and endearing), but it is no Twas. Not even close. This really tested the theory that Disney always replaces one offering with one of equal or greater quality. The definitive answer to this would come the next day when we saw the De Vine Christmas gospel group at EPCOT. Surely, they’d be better than the Lights of Winter, right? Right?!
Although my strongest campaign platform for dictator of WDW is banishing Stitch to Animal Kingdom (since no one cares about that park, anyway), I guess I could make an exception to although him to stay in the Magic Kingdom in this show only. Oh, yes, I’m running for dictator of WDW. I realize dictator generally isn’t an elected position, but the vote will be more of an ex post facto thing to give my throne the appearance of legitimacy.
At the conclusion of the party, we met up with Henry and Reilly again. Interestingly, as we left, two different managers asked if we were with ABC. We had no credentials displayed, although I did have nice camera gear. Both times I answered that we were not. Had I said yes, I wonder if they would have let me stay overnight in the park. You would really think one arm of the company (TDO) would really know what another arm (ABC) is doing in its park, but I guess it’s more efficient to just ask random people if they’re affiliated with the parade filming production. Makes sense, right? Anyway, we left the park, boarded the monorail to the TTC, and hitched a ride back to All Star Music from Henry and Reilly.
A Mouse-Eye View of Main Street at Christmas by Tom Bricker (WDWFigment), on Flickr
Our plan for the next day was to make it to the Betamouse podcast meet that started at 8:30. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. We had to switch resorts to Shades of Green, which took some time so we didn’t end up making it there until the tail end of the meet. Still, it was fun to be around more Disney geeks. While the Disney geeks from the previous day were cool because they were hardcore like Sarah and I, it’s possible this group was even “cooler,” as they were not only hardcore about Disney, but also about technology. Yes, I realize I am playing fast and loose with the term cool, but we’re all here on a Disney forum, so I think we may have skewed versions of the word “cool” to begin with.
We started the Betamouse meet at the Seas with Nemo, and met Cody, his wife, Lisa, and their three triplets for the first time. Cody is a long time friend from Flickr and a heck of a photographer. What I wouldn’t give for the photo ops those triplets would present (although I imagine with the fun comes responsibility, too!).
After Nemo, we we arranged cell phones on the ground to spell “Beta” (fun fact: most attendees owned iPhones) before we headed to Captain EO. Back when Disney first announced that it was bringing EO back, I admit that I was not a fan of the decision. I think it is questionable, at best to cash in on the death of someone, and even more questionable to cash in on the death of a pedophile (for those who retort by saying he was never convicted...c’mon. You really think our legal system is that good? I suppose OJ is innocent, too...). Disney, a company that is supposed to be predicated upon family values, checked its morals at the door when it brought that attraction back. I realize other celebrities who have associations with Disney don’t always have squeaky clean pasts, but I think the combination of the offense in this case, along with the fact that Disney is cashing in on the death reaches a new low. On top of that, I thought it sent a bad message that old attractions would just be brought back, without any changes being made. Even if EO is more entertaining than HISTA, this is not “progress” in the sense of the term that Walt always advocated. Long story stort, I was steadfastly against the attraction being brought back.
After EO had been back for a while, and I heard reports of people seeing it, I will admit that my desire to see it grew. I still maintain my feelings in opposition of it, and I suppose by seeing it I became a hypocrite, but I did desire to see it more and more. When we finally did see it, it was an interesting experience. The pre-show, well, that was something. The way the video starts out, silent cuts of empty locations, it’s almost as if they’re building suspense for something shocking to happen, or setting the stage for some macabre scene. But that’s not the case. Anyone know what I’m referencing? I’m really not sure why the video opens like that, but it’s certainly odd (fitting, I guess).
The show itself was mildly amusing. The music is fun 80s tunes and the show registers a 10 on the ‘cheese-factor’ scale. (In fact, when I showed a video of it on YouTube to friends in college, they instantly said, “this would make an interesting drinking game.”) I got us in the door, whereas HISTA hasn’t accomplished that feat since 2006, so I guess that’s saying something. Still, something needs to be done to that pavilion.
Even though it was early, we were hungry, and Sunshine Seasons beckoned. When we arrived, we noticed the menu had changed since June! The sandwiches were on new breads, and my favorite sandwich was no longer on foccacia, but instead, on some dry-looking bread. This was terrible news! I probably didn’t need my own sandwich, anyway, so Sarah and I split the chicken entree, which had also changed to include a side other than mashed potatoes, but we were luckily able to substitute for the potatoes. Phew.
Somewhat “unfortunately,” I happened to acquire a new lens right before the trip. A new lens is ordinarily an event to be praised, but in this case, the new lens was another fisheye. I had been given grief by both Sarah and my mom regarding my overuse of the fisheye on our honeymoon, and just when the novelty was starting to wear off, I got a different one. I was never happy with the Tokina fisheye (I only bought it because I got a great deal) and I had been trying to find a cheap copy of the Sigma since with no luck. When I bought the D7000, a new option opened up to me: the Samyang/Pro-Optic/Bower/Rokinon 8mm MF Fisheye. I have no clue why this lens has so many aliases (it’s engaging in some sort of identity theft, I suspect), but it’s a gem.
Back to my original point, the problem with having a new fisheye meant that I would again be taking more fisheye shots! I tried to hold back, but it just wasn’t possible. Ultimately, I decided that what I’m doing is a public service. I predict a day, around four years from now, when we will all evolve to have the vision of fishes. I’m not sure whether the scientific community would view this as a positive ‘evolution’, but I think it would be a good one. By taking photos of WDW in this manner now, I’m preparing us all for how the parks will look to us in the future. You’re all welcome.
After that snack, we didn’t have much time before lunch at Wonders of Life started, so we just wandered around for a bit. This was the first of two hard ticket events we were able to attend that Mouse Fan Travel was putting on as a part of Reunion. The event was relatively reasonably priced (if I recall correctly, it was around $13) for the lunch we got. That said, I would have paid more than $13 for the experience alone.
That is, the experience of having an empty Wonders of Life pavilion to photograph as we lingered behind after everyone else had gone upstairs. I know the pavilion is open during F&WF and other events, but I’ve never seen it empty. These photo ops I got where priceless, in my opinion. Granted, they’re not all the greatest shots, ever, but I think they’re cool. I don’t think I could afford to pay ~$13 for all of the priceless photo ops that might exist at WDW, so I’m glad that they aren’t all priced like this!
Removing the photo op from the price of the event (as I don’t think it was included in the price, anyway), the event was well worth the money. We got to go up to the old Met Life (they sponsored WoL, right?) lounge, had a delicious lunch, and were entertained by the WDW Today personalities. Hearing about Len’s antics towards the other participants on the scavenger hunt made me wish that we would have participated on the TouringPlans team. Unfortunately, neither Sarah nor I knew it would be so fun, when we first heard about it, we didn’t want to take away from our time together that morning. Hopefully the scavenger hunt is held again next year, as it sounded awesome!
Unfortunately, Team TouringPlans did not win the scavenger hunt, but we did come in second place (although, they say second place is the first loser). Somehow, Team Studios Central managed to pull off the win. Given that two large components of the hunt related to photography and Carousel of Progress (a show Sarah and I watch at least--no joke--4 times per trip), I really wish I would’ve participated.
When the formal portion of the event concluded, we again lingered to get some more photos of the pavilion before heading out. We then headed to the United Kingdom with Len and Henry to scope out locations for the TouringPlans meet later in the night.
The next event was a group ride on SpaceShip Earth on which we would all select Skagway, Alaska as our home city. Prior to this, Sarah took some photos of the entire Reunion group, and some individual/group shots of the TouringPlans bloggers and staff.
For the Skagway meet, once again, our group seemed to totally engulf the queue. I’m sure others wondered what the heck was up with all of the crazed Disney fans who knew one another. Once we boarded our time machine, we noticed we could not select Skagway, Alaska as our home city. Not sure if it was just Sarah and I who were barred from being Skagway citizens, or if the option had been removed, I never did ask anyone else. Not wanting to be confused for communists, we ended up selecting a city in eastern Alaska.
We spent the rest of the afternoon meandering around World Showcase before the TouringPlans fish and chips meet started. If you attempted to purchase fish and chips from the UK (World Showcase, not the actual country) on December 3rd, I apologize. I think we made the line ridiculously long. In all fairness, though, who gets in a line for food that is already about 30 people deep? (Although my guess is that first time visitors see such a long line and think, “dang, this must be AWESOME, let’s line up!” Gotta love that herd mentality!) I don’t know why the line became so long, Disney knew in advance that we would be consuming copious amounts of fried fish that evening.
Overall, the event was really fun. We chatted with a lot of people, and near the end, saw Cody and Lisa again. Sarah, I believe, has a syndrome common in the female of the species known as “baby fever.” The symptoms, as best I can tell, are saying “awww” when confronted with babies, and wanting to touch said creatures. Babies of the human species tend to take an interest in Sarah, as her long hair is somehow mesmerizing to them. By contrast, they tend to cry when I hold them. These triplets kept taking off their shoes and dropping them on the ground, and Sarah would respond by putting the shoes back on. I told Sarah it would teach them a good lesson if we took the shoes and kept them. She was not amused. Apparently I’m the only one who thinks babies need tough love.
The event was winding down and we thought it would be fun to take a unique photo of Cody, Lisa, and the triplets, so we headed towards SSE. Oddly, a lot of people randomly touched the kids or commented upon them. I don’t think I could ever have triplets. Not because I wouldn’t want to deal with the triplets, but because I wouldn’t want to deal with all of the random small talk with people commenting upon the triplets. The triplets themselves were fun. Photographing them in a sense of chaos was easy--I think it turned out well.
Following this, we did Living with the Land with Cody and co., before heading to watch Illuminations. Sarah doesn’t really care about Illuminations all that much, so the location from which we watch is usually up to me. I debated between a location that would allow for unique photos and one that would allow for viewing the show fully.
By the time we arrived at World Showcase Lagoon, all that was left were obstructed views. Of those, the view from the shot below was by far the best, and was actually a great compromise between cool foreground and watching the show.
Plus, I view Walter Cronkite as an American legend and hero, and seeing and--more importantly, actually--hearing this show with his narration as many times as possible this trip was pretty important to me. I took away keepers each of the three times we saw it (I'll give credit to Mr. Cronkite for that!), which is new for me. I know Mr. Cronkite won't be narrating this tag forever, so I only hope I can enjoy it as many times as possible while his narration is used.
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men by Tom Bricker (WDWFigment), on Flickr
With Illuminations over, we had the rest of EMH to enjoy various attractions. We both were pretty tired, so a nap in EO was in order. We also hit the other Future World attractions, accomplishing several of them and thus compensating for a morning and afternoon that were fairly devoid of attractions. We also managed to get some photos of ourselves, something we neglected to do the previous day due to the cold weather. It wasn’t much warmer this evening, but we figured we better get the shots anyway.
Unforunately, by the time we left EPCOT, the Shades of Green bus had stopped running from the TTC. This meant walking from the Polynesian. Not exactly the most thrilling thing to do in the coldest hours of the night. However, we did see some dude getting cuffed and a swarm of cop cars around the front lobby of the Poly. We never did find what he did, but I’m going to assume it was cyber terrorism--that only makes sense. When we returned to Shades of Green, we got our luggage and headed to our room and inadvertently woke my parents.
The next day we headed for the Studios. First up on the agenda, thanks to long wait times everywhere else and no FastPasses at TSM, was the Backlot Tour. This was actually the first time I had seen the BLT since Lights, Motors, Action had been added to the park. I don’t need to beat a dead horse with this one...the BLT is a huge disappointment now, and everyone knows it. It was neat seeing Sarah experience Catastrophe Canyon for the first time. I also got a couple cool photos, so I guess not all was lost.
The rest of the morning and afternoon at DHS was pretty standard, with lunch at Pizza Planet (they got rid of the ranch dressing!). We got FPs for the headliners and hit most of our favorites. At one point, I wandered away from everyone else while taking pictures.
Sarah called me to tell me that they were heading to Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, and when I pulled my iPhone from my pocket, the thing ended on the concrete. For some idiotic reason, I don’t use a case, so the end result was a severely cracked screen. For a few minutes, it also said “no SIM card,” so I really thought I was screwed. Luckily, that message went away by the end of Indy.
Possibly to take my mind off the phone, more probably because she’s just crazy like that, my mom enthusiastically tried to get selected to participate in the show, and was selected. Her performance was humorous, and it gave some new “life” to a show that we’ve seen many, many times. It amazes me that this show remains fresh (I think so, at least), while a show less than half its age, LMA, needs to go. LMA is just so poorly paced and outstays its welcome.
At 6:45 pm, it was time for us to break off from my parents and do another Reunion event put on by Mouse Fan Travel. I felt a little bad about this, as I know they would have enjoyed it, but Sarah and I got the last two tickets for the event, and two additional tickets never became available. My parents ended up getting to see the Osborne Lights and riding TSM to end the night, though, so I think they had fun, too.
The event began with all of us meeting near Rock ‘N’ Rollercoaster. The Mouse Fan people repeatedly warned us to have our cameras put away when we went backstage, a warning we heeded. After all, I figured there was little point in taking photos of utility vehicles or whatever else was backstage. I did not anticipate what I ended up seeing, which was...Walt’s cryogenically frozen body!!! It was just sitting there, on the lot! Okay, not really, but with all the warnings, I expected something like that. What I actually saw was all of Tower of Terror from the backside. It was really cool, and I wish I could have photographed it. Stupid rules.
Once our walking concluded, we arrived at the dessert party (I didn’t mention it above, but this event was called “Desserts and Delights”). I assumed, for some reason, the dessert party would be held in some random building. Much to my delight, it was held in a prime viewing area of Fantasmic! This was especially exciting for me, as I had already conceded to Sarah that we wouldn’t attend Fantasmic this trip (she’s not a fan of the WDW version).
I was able to enjoy some wonderful desserts AND photograph Fantasmic with the 70-200 f/2.8 and (more importantly) an unobstructed viewed. The event was already worth its $28 price tag. Yet, it was not over. After that, we were led backstage again to an area that looked like it was near Pixar Place.
When we emerged back on stage, we saw people in front of us begin to head into TSM. The whole line of people began cheering. I swear, this ride is like the elusive Christmas toy (maybe it shares blood lines with Tickle Me Elmo?). It normally takes “work” to be able to ride it; walking on is like finding the Tickle Me Elmo just randomly sitting on a store shelf...back in 2000, when it was hard to find. You get the idea.
We had been talking to Reilly the entire time we walked from backstage, and thought we were becoming friends. However, Reilly thought differently, cutting us at the last minute when he couldn’t enter the appropriate ride vehicle out of his load gate. Oh well, he’s from California.
For those curious, I beat Sarah. That was like icing on the cake, but in this case, the cake hadn’t even arrived yet! The “cake,” as it were, was experiencing the Osborne Lights with just our group. So much had already occurred without even getting to that point yet.
Finally, we arrived at the lights and set up to take a group photo. As the photographer counted backwards, hitting “1,” all of the lights turned on. We erupted in cheers. We didn’t have a whole lot of time at the lights, but we availed ourselves of the opportunity for some “clean” shots. We could always enjoy the lights a later night--now was the chance for photos! The event didn’t last that long, but given the electricity being eaten, I’m not too surprised by that. Overall, it was an amazing experience. Definitely something I would do again!
!SAMTSIRHC YRREM by Tom Bricker (WDWFigment), on Flickr
After this event, Henry mentioned that some of them were heading out. While Sarah and I had been to the Adventure’s Club several times, we typically didn’t go out while at WDW because that’s lost time in the parks. We had just heard that the Magic Kingdom’s hours were extended until 1 a.m., which meant if we headed there right then, we’d have nearly 2 hours in the park. That said, it was really cold this particular evening, and we had plenty of nights ahead of us, so we thought what the heck. The first stop of the evening was Kimonos, a karaoke bar in the Swan. This was my first time at a karaoke bar, and it was pretty fun listening to all of the ridiculous renditions of songs. Even better was this one upper-middle aged man who kept singing various songs for the clear purpose of impressing a lady near the stage. For his own sake, I really hope he was drunk; if not, his ability to pick up on social cues and ‘play it cool’ were both sorely lacking. Either way, though, it entertained me. We closed up shop with Reilly performing a stirring rendition of some song by the Backstreet Boys before leaving.
Atlantic Dance Hall was still opened, so we figured, why not, and headed there. If ever evidence of how not to run a successful club, the Dance Hall was it. Sadly, it reminded me of another club at Pleasure Island (can’t remember which one--we only were there for like 10 minutes before leaving due to it being so lame) prior to the island’s closing. If all Disney clubs managed to be this lame, it’s no wonder they closed Pleasure Island! Despite the Dance Hall itself being an audio and visual mess, there were enough of us there to make it fun. Plus, the people there who genuinely liked the Dance Hall (I would imagine it takes a certain awkward type) made the evening really amusing. When closing time came, everyone was immediately forced to leave. I’ve never seen anything quite like that, but perhaps it was Disney’s way of sparing us from having to endure that train wreck for even a few seconds longer.
It ended up being one of the most fun nights of the trip. Letting loose, so to speak, with other individuals down there for Reunion was a great time, and talking shop about all things Disney was great. Discussing the future of California Adventure or the viability of a River Country DVC is probably a more typical bar conversation, but as Disney geeks, I think we all had a good time.
Staying out so late did have its consequences, specifically having to roll out of bed the next morning to go to Animal Kingdom. You don’t have to be much of a trooper to get out of bed and go to a Disney park (trust me, I rolled out of bed and went to work today--it was much worse), so it wasn’t really that bad.
I’ve said it in the past, I’m sure I’ll say it again: Animal Kingdom is the weakest of the Disney parks. I feel I should say this again now that I’ve spent some time at California Adventure. DAK has so much promise, and executes what it does execute so well, that this really is a disappointment. It does the details so well (except Dinorama!), it is incredibly well themed, but it is incredibly lacking on substantive comment. I recently read from some posts on another board regarding this from a highly regarded consultant to Imagineering, and his explanation was that DAK is not a theme park in the traditional sense. Its theme does not include rides to such a degree, its about the natural experience. That left me scratching my head. I don’t know how a theme park could not be about the attractions. If you remove those from the equation, you have a “park,” and at that point, DAK is merely a compromise between the zoo and a National Park. Granted, if it’s a zoo, it’s an exceptional zoo, but it’s not much of a National Park. It should have rides/attractions. The only difference between it and the other parks, is that its attractions should be themed around the Animal Kingdom, whereas the other parks’ attractions should fit their theme. You can certainly have a ride that pertains to animals or mythical creatures without using real animals. Boom, theme satisfied.
That said, this was our best day in the Animal Kingdom, ever. For the first time, it wasn’t ridiculously hot (it was cold, though!), it did not rain, and all of the attractions were operational (as opposed to during evening EMH when around ¼ are running). We hit the attractions efficiently, and only missed Finding Nemo: the Musical (of the things we wanted to do). We got plenty of character photos (we always seem to get the most character photos at DAK!), and enjoyed wonderful sandwiches at Pizzafari. We had such an enjoyable half day that we considered going back another morning later in the trip to do Flights of Wonder and Nemo.
As always, we got our best character photos of the trip at DAK. For as much as I complain about this park, it does constantly deliver good character photo opportunities for us. Perhaps this is because it is substantively lacking elsewhere, so this entertainment is necessary.
We actually only left DAK prior to it closing because we had early dinner ADRs at Jiko. Since we weren’t on the DDP, this was to be the big meal of the trip. We went with our friend Nick, who is a Cast Member at Jiko.
Wow, what an experience. We truly got the royal treatment. The hostess seated us in a large booth (my preference as it is more intimate and apart from other diners) in what I believe Nick called the “sun room” (the colors on the wall change). He informed us of some celebrities who had recently dined at Jiko, including everyone’s favorite, Samantha Brown!
Shortly after we ordered drinks, our server brought out soup compliments of the chef. I don’t remember its name, but it was delicious! As we ordered, I debated getting an appetizer. I was a little reluctant to do so, as my meal was already going to be expensive, and I didn’t think anyone else was ordering one. At the last minute, I decided to do it, realizing we probably wouldn’t be back to Jiko for a while.
I wanted to get something more adventurous, as we were at a unique dining location and I didn’t just want to opt for the “American tourist picks,” but I think I ended up doing just that. I got the barbeque flatbread as an appetizer and the filet with mac ‘n’ cheese (which apparently no longer comes with mac ‘n’ cheese, but the server said they could do it anyway) for my entree. Our server recommended both, so I didn’t feel so bad about not being adventurous.
Sarah didn’t make as good of picks, opting for some selections of bread as her appetizer (oh yeah, once I became the appetizer “trend setter,” everyone else also got one) and lamb for her entree. I thought her lamb was good, but once she tasted my filet, it paled in comparison. I was shocked that the filet was so good. No wonder Jiko is the highest rated signature restaurant on property.
Nick told us that the candy-cane cheesecake was pretty popular, but he failed to mention that it was candy-cane AND eggnog cheesecake. Sarah and I split an order of it anyway. It was okay, tasting exactly like I imagined a melding of candy-cane and eggnog would. Interesting combination.
When it came time to pay, we again got the royal treatment. Two different managers had paid for our appetizer and desserts! For the five of us, it was about as much to eat there as it ended up being for the four of us to eat at Via Napoli! Overall, an excellent, excellent meal. I would rate it higher than California Grill (although not in ambiance), but lower than Victoria & Albert’s, giving it a respectable second place out of all dining establishments!
After that, we waddled our way to the Studios. Nick had to stop at home first, so I asked him to bring me a jacket or sweatshirt. It turned out that jeans and a polo would not be warm enough to 40 degree weather. While we waited for him, we hit Voyage of the Little Mermaid with my parents.
They didn’t have much energy left (like typical 40/50-somethings, they get up at like 4 am and go to bed at 7 pm), so they went back to Shades of Green after this. Nick arrived with the savior--I mean sweater--and we headed to the Osborne Lights. There, we encountered a bunch of people I know from Flickr (Joe, Cory, etc.) who were participating in a WDWPhotography.com meet. I chatted with them for a bit while Sarah and Nick wandered around the Streets of America. This is really the only time I chatted with these guys, as we only attended one of the WDWPhotography events, and that was a lecture/presentation. I wish I could have spent more time with them, but it was a family trip, first and foremost.
I then found Nick and Sarah, and as we wandered some more, a sweatshirt at Youse Guys Moichendise caught my attention. Knowing that it would be cold for pretty much the duration of the trip, and not wanting to wear Nick’s sweatshirt everyday, I bought it. It will likely go down in history as the best $24 I ever spent.
We spent the rest of the night doing attraction and taking pictures before calling it a night. We again had to walk from the Poly (we would every night except the last night at Shades of Green, so assume this from here out), which was even less fun than the previous night, as no one was arrested this time.
The next day we started out at Magic Kingdom. I think my parents sensed that they’d be getting up much earlier than us, so this day they headed out before us, and we met them at the park. The crowds were much heavier than I expected, with swarms of young cheerleaders with some sort of central nervous conditions. Well, I assume they had conditions, because many of them were scantily clad despite ridiculously cold temperatures. I can only assume they did not have sensation of cold.
One of the big misconceptions about having a wheelchair is that you get special or fast access to the attractions. Maybe this was true in the past, but it’s certainly not the case now. In fact, having a wheelchair is a huge hindrance, I think. We had to wait for CMs at the Haunted Mansion to “appear” (which could take a while), we had to go down a special ramp in IASW, which definitely took longer, and many other attractions had the same setup. At no point did we ever get “instant front of line” access. I’m quite glad this was the case, because now I don’t think this is one of the motivations for some people to get those damned scooters. The wheelchair became such a hassle that we frequently ditched it near the stroller areas, and had my dad walk to the attractions. This wasn’t a huge issue for us, as he can walk (he just couldn’t do it all day), but I could imagine it being an issue for people who have more severe mobility issues.
After spending the morning and afternoon at the Magic Kingdom, we headed to EPCOT, where the WDWPhotography event that we’d be attending was being held. My parents again did their own thing from this point until the end of the night. This event was put together at the last minute, but it was the one I wanted to attend most. It was a presentation from three photographers who all used to work in the department now known as Yellow Shoes, as creative photographers for Disney. These are not your garden variety PhotoPass CMs. When they were CMs, Disney probably had 5-10 photographers of their calibre on staff. These are the guys who produced photos for the souvenir books, the calendars, the ads, etc., that you could purchase/view during the late 80s and early 90s. They all still do work for the company as freelance photographers. Hearing them talk about their experiences with Disney was amazing. Inarticulable. If I had the opportunity to do what they do, I’d drop this “law” gig in an instant.
Their presentation lasted two hours, and each moment of it had me on the edge of my seat. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. As we left Segway Central (where the event was held) and Innoventions in general, we found we were locked in the building! After much searching, we finally asked a Mousekeeping CM how to get out. He simply pulled the automatic doors a tad, and they opened. We probably should have figured that out on our own, instead of just walking towards them like chumps and expecting something to happen.
We actually had so much fun the night of Kimonos that when Henry sent me a message saying that he and UK Tom were going to be hanging out at the Polynesian that evening--an evening that was already shaping up to be the coldest of the trip--we opted against heading over to the Magic Kingdom after Epcot. This was a tough decision, as it meant missing one of two opportunities on the trip to see the Main Street Electrical Parade. The allure of the Polynesian is strong, though, so we decided to take the warmth of the tropics over playing in the Magic Kingdom. Like Kimonos, it would amount to being a nice change of pace.
The next day again came early, as this waking up this morning had a “deadline” since we had to be up for breakfast at Kona Cafe. We arrived at the Poly, and yep, it looked pretty much how we had left it a few hours prior, only this time, with a lot more people. We saw Cody and co again; if they weren’t already eating when we got there, I would have thought they were stalking us.
Breakfast was delicious. We finally had the Tonga Toast, which fully lived up to our expectations. The only unfortunate part, and I’m not sure whether this is because we were starting to come down with colds or because of something to do with the breakfast, but Sarah, my mom, and I all felt sick after breakfast. Since the breakfast tasted so good, I’m going to place the blame elsewhere, but it still has me nervous about our next breakfast at Kona.
This day was disappointingly unproductive, much like the previous day, which was a common theme of the trip. While it is fun to enjoy the parks and take in your surroundings, when you visit once or twice a year, experiencing attractions multiple times is top priority, for us at least. I often hear people say they spent the entire day at the park without doing a single attraction. That isn’t our style of doing things. Enjoying the atmosphere is fine--for a while--but after too long it becomes frustrating.
While fun, this bordered on one of those days. Since we didn’t arrive at EPCOT following breakfast until almost noon, had dinner ADRs at Via Napoli, and because the park closed early, it was a short day. Part of this was our choice--if we wanted a longer day we shouldn’t have had two table service meals, but part of this was a constraint brought upon by the shortened park hours. A 9:30 pm closing for the park that’s open LATEST that day?! That’s absurd!
Between the two meals, we managed to experience four attractions. Granted, one of these was Universe of Energy, but still, not nearly as much accomplished as we would have liked. We did wander around World Showcase, too, and watched some of the Santas perform, so I suppose we could count each of those as an “attraction,” too.
Shortly before our Via Napoli ADR, we headed over to Italy. Via Napoli was packed! Most of the people, it appeared, were walkups being turned away after pleading for availability for a few minutes. If there is no availability for a given restaurant, I wish Disney would put out a sign, or have a separate check-in for guests with ADRs. We waited in line for roughly 10 minutes to check-in, and I believe only one other party checked-in before us in the line.
After checking in, we waited for about 15 minutes to be seated. Crowds and waits like these make me wonder why Disney doesn’t keep building more restaurants. I think as long as the DDP exists, Disney can keep building restaurants in all of the parks and have them constantly booked. With how popular the EPCOT restaurants are, I’m shocked MK doesn’t have more table service restaurants.
I had read some pretty positive reviews of Via Napoli prior to the trip, so I was fairly excited about the meal. However, I think with any new Disney restaurant, there is a bit of “inflation” that occurs in the Disney fan community. People so want the restaurant to be the next Le Cellier that, psychologically, it seems better than it actually is (as Mulder from the X-Files would say, “I WANT to believe.”). I’m not saying Via Napoli wasn’t good--it was very good--it just didn’t match the hype I had read about the place. Given the price, I would not place it in the “must do” realm. Still, it was very good, and well worth a visit.
Dinner lasted longer than we anticipated, and afterward, it was almost time for Illuminations. It was incredibly cold that evening, probably the coldest night of the trip, and already getting late, so my parents left. By the time Illuminations started, the park was dead. The second floor of the department store in Japan, which is one of the toughest viewing locations to secure, was empty 10 minutes before Illuminations. Another prime viewing area, in front of America, had very few people. While part of me wanted to photograph the fireworks from Japan, I think that location has been so overdone that I just went for a “classic” location. It had been a while since I’ve had any success shooting Illuminations from a classic location that I figured I was due to add some shots like this to my library. After Illuminations, we took some photos before heading home. Another night of walking from the Poly, another night in bed before midnight.
EPCOT Center - White Christmas by Tom Bricker (WDWFigment), on Flickr
On Wednesday, we again started out at the Magic Kingdom. Even though we were getting to bed early, we were both fully sick by this point, and the constant walking during the day plus that sickness was taking its toll, and causing us to require more sleep. Consequently, we weren’t up as early as I would have liked, instead arriving at the park between 10:30 and 11 am most mornings, right with the rest of the masses.
While Sarah and my parents waited in line at the Bakery to get breakfast, I did some shooting. The line, as usual, was ridiculously long. Why there aren’t more breakfast options in the parks is beyond me. We usually eat breakfast in our room, but some mornings the allure of those delicious ham, egg, and cheese sandwiches is too much. Unfortunately, it comes at a huge cost: $6, ~13,000 calories (okay, maybe that’s an over-estimate), and 30 minutes of time waiting in line. Doesn’t Disney realize people eat breakfast?
These guys looked like a foreign boy band. No clue who they are, but I thought I’d post this for everyone who likes this sort of thing.
We did a few things this day before our lunch reservations at the Plaza. This was our first time eating at the Plaza. I remember back in 2007, I read some rather negative reviews of the Plaza and Tony’s. This year, I read and heard a lot of positive things about the Plaza (and a few positive things about Tony’s, but mostly still negative). It was cheap, so I figured what the heck and made ADRs for a few days. I figured if we liked it, it was worth doing a few times, as it was only slightly more expensive than counter service.
Suffice to say, we only ate there once. All of us found it to be exactly in line with counter service food. I got the Plaza Club and Sarah got the burger. A lot of things on the menu sounded good, so we got these items based on volume of Twitter responses (yeah, we really can’t think for ourselves, I guess). Sarah asked the waitress if the burger was comparable to Beaches and Cream. The waitress didn’t know, but she said it was a “real” burger as opposed to the burgers at Pecos Bill’s or Cosmic Ray’s. I knew it! Bill and Ray were serving imposter burgers! I had to alert the authorities at once!