Magical Disney Moments are Alive and Well

In the weird way of coincidences, Nick, Dave and I recorded episode 153 of The Disney Exchange on my 53rd birthday.  I was filling the guys in on my recent trip and afterwards remembered a story I meant to share about one particularly awesome Disney moment in a vacation chock full of them.  Before I tell you all about it, let me emphasize something…

Magical Disney Moments are Alive and Well

In my last post, I mentioned the perfect same-day FastPass I managed to snag for Tower of Terror while we were finishing up our touring plans at Magic Kingdom.  Raymond and I hopped to the Studios, arriving about an hour before our FastPass window opened.  We took our time soaking up the Christmas-y atmosphere on our way to 50’s Prime Time’s Tune-In Lounge for a beer.  It’s our go-to place now that Min & Bill’s Dockside Diner doesn’t carry good craft beers anymore.

We couldn’t have been happier or feeling more Disney-ish.  Peppy Christmas music was playing and one of us might have actually been dancing down the street in joy.  I was wearing my favorite Darth Vader holiday shirt.  As we made our way along, we spotted a couple of Storm Troopers on patrol.  I’ve been super excited about Galaxy’s Edge and have loved the build-up to it with more and more Star Wars action in the park.  I soon found myself walking right behind one of the Storm Troopers and quietly said to his back, “I’m with the Resistance.”

Much to my surprise, he heard me!  Before I took another step, that Storm Trooper spun around and jumped back, pointing at me!  Very loudly, he informed me, “The Resistance will be crushed by the weight of the First Order!”

I can’t imagine what my facial expression must have been.  I was shocked!  I was thrilled!  And slightly embarrassed (I actually blushed).  What a cool thing to happen!  Then the Trooper abruptly spun back around and continued on his way.  I looked at Raymond and found him very clearly amused at this unexpected turn of events.

To remember the occasion, we made sure to get a picture of us channeling The Force in front of Tower of Terror.

In case you’ve heard some negativity lately about the decline of Disney magic at Walt Disney World, I’m happy to say that it’s alive and well and still making us happy after nearly 30 years of visits.  When we arrived at Tower of Terror, a bellhop named Michael was so amazing, he had the entire group in our service elevator laughing hysterically before the doors closed.  It’s still there, the magic, you just have to watch for it!

Have you had a magical Disney moment lately?

Disney Changes…Even Mickey Mouse

Of all of the 2017 D23 Expo announcements, there were a couple that stood out as causing the most mixed feelings among my fellow Disney fans.  One is the upcoming addition of an E-ticket Guardians of the Galaxy attraction to Epcot (replacing Ellen’s Energy Adventure) and the other is the Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway attraction replacing The Great Movie Ride.  Today let’s talk about Mickey and Minnie and the demise of the last original attraction from Disney’s MGM Studios.The Great Movie Ride

Disney Changes…Even Mickey Mouse

The uproar, it seems, is less about losing The Great Movie Ride and more about its replacement.  In the majority of social media posts and comments I’ve seen, everyone seems very excited that Mickey and Minnie will finally be getting their very own, much-deserved attraction.  The problem with many folks lies with which version of the iconic Disney couple will be featured in the ride.  Have you seen the newest Mickey (and the gang) cartoons on the Disney Channel?  In 2013, these shorts first appeared (excellent article here) and we think they’re hilarious!  (My favorite episode is the Potatoland one.)  Why the use of this version of Mickey is troublesome, I can’t explain.  Mickey Mouse (and his friends) have a long history that definitely involves changing with the times.Mickey Mouse Club artifacts in One Man's Dream

Consider for a minute Mickey’s age…he’ll be 100 in 2028.  It’s an amazing achievement for a cartoon character to remain so beloved for so long.  Sure, Felix the Cat is older than Mickey, but his popularity has waned.  Mickey has maintained his appeal, generation after generation, by changing and staying relevant.  His personality has been rock steady:  Happy, easy-going, loyal mischief-maker with a heart of gold.  He’s been devoted to Minnie since day one and his friends can count on him through thick and thin.  His appearance has changed many times – doesn’t everyone’s?

If the new Mickey/Minnie attraction won’t be taking us through the characters’ history, but rather allow us to be a part of a cartoon adventure as featured in the Disney Channel shorts, I can’t see a downside.  Yes, it’s a modern take on our favorite original Disney characters, but they’re still 100% lovable.

Kimberly Nordike in The Hollywood Reporter described these latest Mickey cartoons this way:

“The shorts, which are geared toward kids age 6 to 14 and families, feature an aesthetic that goes back to Mickey’s roots and borrows from the style of his 1930s design while adding a few modern touches. Designs for other characters have a similar approach, favoring a “rubber-hose” cartoon style for more exaggerated animation. Background designs closely reflect the graphic design sense of 1950s and ’60s Disney cartoons. The production team has also included homages to other icons from Disney’s history.”

If you haven’t seen any of these cartoons, I encourage you to check them out.  We enjoyed them while on our last family Disney Cruise and thought they were highly entertaining – packed with fun for the entire family.  And that’s exactly the way we feel about Walt Disney World.  I’m especially excited about Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway and can’t wait to see what it’ll be like.

Disney Summer Road Trip Recap

The Epic Mother/Daughter Disney Summer Road Trip has come and gone.  800 miles to Walt Disney World for four park days and home again.  Did we have a good time?  Oh, you bet we did!  After all the planning and anticipation, we couldn’t have asked for more.

Disney Summer Road Trip Recap

We shared our plans in this post a few weeks ago.  When we hit the road at 8:00 am sharp on June 24th we were excited about our girls-only adventure.  We had our favorite Newk’s chicken salad sandwiches and plenty of drinks in the cooler.  Those snacks I’d bought at the Japan Pavilion back in April were within easy reach in the car.  We had a new podcast recommended by my friend Kelly about Unsolved Murders queued up in iTunes.  Suitcases, rain gear, GPS directions…we were ready!

The weather was great for the drive down.  In Mississippi we saw Lightening McQueen and Mater by the side of the road!  We thought this was both hilarious and appropriate so we stopped for a picture.  After that, it felt like we were on The Autobahn!  Nobody in Mississippi or Alabama seemed to care about the speed limit at all and we had to go kinda fast to keep up with the crowd.  We never once saw any troopers or other law enforcement watching for speeders…vastly different than in Louisiana.

I figured 9-10 hours of shared driving would be the maximum we could handle on day one.  I’d booked a room at the Hampton Inn in Lake City, Florida for Saturday night.  We could get a good night’s rest and tackle the last 2 1/2 hours of the drive on Sunday morning.  Everything went exactly according to plan.  I’d had a recommendation from someone on a Facebook forum to stop in Tallahassee for ice cream at Lofty Pursuits.  We cheered ourselves on by looking forward to stopping there for an afternoon snack and were delighted with the restaurant’s huge menu and quirky décor.  Guinness ice cream is a thing and it is spectacular.  I had warm chocolate ganache on mine, Megan had hers in a cone.

Our room at the Hampton Inn was perfect with super comfortable beds.  After polishing off the last of our sandwiches, we sipped wine and watched a couple of episodes of Outlander before turning in.  Hey, girl trip means we get to do girly stuff.  The next morning’s drive was a breeze and before long we’d arrived at Saratoga Springs.  Our studio was great and very close to a bus stop.  Full review coming soon.

As per our plans, we spent Sunday afternoon and evening in Magic Kingdom with a quick dinner break at the Wilderness Lodge’s new Geyser Point Bar and Grill.  We capped off the day with Happily Ever After and loved it!

Monday was my favorite day of the trip.  We left Saratoga Springs at 6:30 am and didn’t get back until 11:00 pm.  We spent all that time in Animal Kingdom and had a blast!  I’ll write individual posts with more details about Pandora and the Caring for Giants tour, but those were both amazing.  We had FastPasses only for the Na’vi River Journey in Pandora that day with a FastPass to experience Flight of Passage booked for the next morning.  You cannot get FastPasses for both on the same day.

We watched the wait time for Flight of Passage throughout the day and it quickly became 250 minutes before declining during the afternoon hours.  After Caring for Giants, we decided that if the wait time got below 100 minutes between then and our Rivers of Light FastPass, we’d wait in the standby line so we could ride Flight of Passage twice on this trip.  Normally, we will not wait longer than 30-40 minutes for anything except our most favorite attractions and only then if absolutely necessary.  While we were enjoying our Flame Tree Barbeque dinner, Flight of Passage’s wait got to 90 minutes and we had just enough time to do it.  I’ll tell you all about in another post soon, but we were so happy we got in that long line!!!

Tuesday we split between Animal Kingdom and Epcot.  We got to eat lunch at La Cantina de San Angel in the Mexico Pavilion which we hardly ever get to do because we’re the only ones in our family who love Mexican food.  It rained quite a bit that afternoon, but we were prepared.  We rode out the worst of the storm listening to Voices of Liberty in The American Adventure rotunda.  They are so talented and put on a wonderful show!  Once the rain let up a little, we made our way back to Saratoga Springs and then on to our dinner at Paddlefish in Disney Springs that night.

Wednesday we split the day between Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot.  The weather was gorgeous and the Studios didn’t feel as crowded as usual.  We did all our favorite attractions, saw all the characters in the Star Wars Launch Bay, and had time to enjoy a cold beer before we headed to Epcot.  By 4:30, it was time to get back to our already-packed car at Saratoga Springs and head back to the Hampton Inn in Lake City for the night.

The drive home on Thursday was a lot more challenging than on the way down.  We left extra early since we’d seen a sign outside of Lofty Pursuits that they were now serving breakfast.  Strawberry pancakes and coffee…delicious and just the fortification we needed.  We’d been averaging 5 hours of sleep a night since Sunday and were exhausted.  We drove through what felt like a monsoon for hours along the Florida panhandle.  After we got through Mobile, things got better and we made it home safe and sound with lots of souvenirs for Raymond, Joseph, Grant, and Lyndsey.

Success!  We had an excellent trip and accomplished all we’d set out to do.  Plus, we now know about literally dozens of unsolved murders around the world.  Megan and I took on the challenge of a 1600 mile drive to have a mother/daughter adventure.  We rarely get much alone time these days, so having each other’s complete and undivided attention while enjoying our favorite vacation destination was like a dream come true.  And we’d do it again!

 

 

Disney’s Hollywood Studios – 10 (Still) Lovable Things

So many negative comments are made these days (my own included, I’m afraid) about Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  I agree that the Studios aren’t what they used to be and fortunately, change is on the way.  The park is in limbo…”Out with the old” has been happening for quite some time.  “In with the new” seems to be taking forever.  Considering the current state of affairs, I can understand why a lot of Disney fans are steering clear of this park altogether or rushing in for a couple of rides and hopping to a park with more to offer.  I’m headed to Disney World in a couple of weeks and am still spending time at the Studios.  Why?  I’ll tell you.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios – 10 (Still) Lovable ThingsDisney's Hollywood Studios - 10 (Still) Lovable Things

Atmosphere – It’s still awesome!  I thought the Sorcerer’s Hat was cute for a while, but loved the park’s original feel – and that feeling is still there for me.  When I first enter the park, I’m struck by all the colorful details.  So different from every other park!  I love the signs, billboards, sight gags, and storefronts.  I always make time to stroll around looking for some small gem I’ve never noticed before.Disney's Hollywood Studios - 10 (Still) Lovable Things

Tower of Terror – After Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom, Tower of Terror is my favorite Disney attraction.  Every second from queue to gift shop is as perfect an experience as Disney Imagineering has ever designed.  Classic and thrilling, every visit to the Studios includes at least one visit to the Hollywood Tower Hotel.Disney's Hollywood Studios - 10 (Still) Lovable Things

Rock’n’ Roller Coaster – Staying with that end of Sunset Boulevard, Rock’n’ Roller Coaster is another must-do attraction.  While I still love Aerosmith, I’m not against a change in music after all these years.  The coaster’s just fine as is.  From the ride vehicles to the breathtaking start, through the loops, past the neon signs…it’s a wonderful, exhilarating rush!Entrance for Toy Story Midway Mania

Toy Story Midway Mania – While I must have a FastPass or I’m not riding this one, it’s one of the best experiences in any park simply for exceptional guest interaction qualities.  Sure, I almost always have the low score in my vehicle, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy every second.  The plate-breaking is absolutely the best!

Star Wars Launch Bay – I’m a pretty geeky Star Wars fan and while I do like Star Tours, I LOVE the Launch Bay!  Part museum, part character spot, there’s something about this new-ish offering that satisfies yet hints of things to come at the same time.  If the intention was to get me excited about Star Wars Land, it’s working.

Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards – I can still find Citizens of Hollywood from time to time along these iconic streets.  Shops, snacks, small and large details, the overall feeling of old Hollywood can still be found.  While Toluca Legs Turkey Co. and Starring Rolls Café may be gone, there’s still plenty to enjoy.

Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage – Way back (a long time ago), the live show at the Theater of the Stars was The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  It was a great show!  I was a little sad to see its run end.  Then along came Beauty and The Beast and I was captivated once again.  No, it’s not a must-do on every visit, but it is well done and offers a relaxing, shaded respite from our normally hurried touring plans.  And there’s Gaston!  If only Four for a Dollar were still performing the pre-show.  Those were the days.

Hollywood Brown Derby Patio Lounge – This is my favorite place in the Studios to stop for a light meal or a snack.  Between FastPasses, Raymond and I have been know to pass the time by enjoying cheese and wine here.  The service is good, the menu solid, and the people-watching excellent!

Gertie the Dinosaur – Most visitors probably don’t associate the adorable giant brontosaurus (Apatosaurus) on the shore of Echo Lake with the park’s original theme.  Considered by many to be the “mother of all cartoon characters” the original Gertie is an important historical figure and paved the way for all the characters, Disney and otherwise, we know and love.

Nostalgia – I was fortunate to marry a Disney fan who introduced me to Walt Disney World shortly after our wedding.  Among my happiest memories are the time we spent in Disney’s MGM Studios shortly after the park opened.  Many of the park’s original attractions, its name, and even entire sections (Roger Rabbit!) are gone now.  But what remains is enough to whisk me back nearly 28 years to those early days when we were just starting out.  We still feel young, we’re every bit as happy, and we still love being together on a Disney vacation…the best feelings there are!Volunteering for the Studios Backlot Tour

While the future will certainly bring many more changes to this particular corner of Disney World, it will always hold a special place in my heart.  I’m super excited about the additions of Star Wars and Toy Story lands and am hoping Disney’s Hollywood Studios (or whatever it will be called) will return to being an exciting full-day park for everyone.

Are you a Studios fan?  What’s your favorite memory?  What are your favorite attractions?