Just Back From Disney World – 10 Things I Learned

RM-WDW SignWhat an amazing, surprisingly unusual trip to Walt Disney World we just had!  I knew it was going to be different because I was participating in my very first runDisney events, but so many wonderful and unexpected things happened that have forever earned this vacation a special place in my heart.  I’ll be writing individual reviews on restaurants, attractions, and activities over the next couple of weeks, but if you read anything here and you have questions or want more information – shout it on out in the comments section and I’ll do what I can to oblige.

Just Back From Disney World – 10 Things I Learned

1. The Walt Disney World sign still makes my heart beat faster – Even after all these years, there’s nothing more thrilling that visual proof that you have arrived at your favorite place to be (away from home).RM-Frozen-5K-2015

2. It can be freezing in Florida in February – I live in Louisiana, I know we get an occasional cold snap, but in Florida?  I honestly wasn’t expecting wind chills in the 20’s.  Luckily, we packed for just about every possible weather and were prepared.  I only wished my homage-to-Donald “costume” for the Frozen 5K (appropriately named, for sure) had included a bit more coverage for my knees.RM-Flag-Retreat

3. The Flag Retreat in Magic Kingdom makes me cry – I’ve heard about it for years and have never found myself in the right place at the right time to experience this unbelievably touching, patriotic ceremony.  I tried to sing along to God Bless America with the Dapper Dans, but I was too choked up to croak out even a few bars.  This is a must-see and you should put it on your Disney to-do list right now.RM-Lisa-and-Glass-Slipper-Sign

4. The hype you hear about runDisney events is well-deserved – I have participated in dozens of races over the past 17+ years and some of them were pretty amazing and well organized.  Nothing – not even in my wildest imagination – could have prepared me for the truly magical execution that makes a runDisney experience far superior to any other event.  Unless you have your heart set on a personal record, then you should know, that goal would be very challenging during a runDisney race.RM-Fiesta-Donald

5. Donald Duck is still my favorite Disney character.  And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

6. Il Mulino at the Swan is an absolutely fantastic restaurant – This place was so special – everything about it was perfect to us and a full review of our dining experience will be written very soon.

7.  Being Stranded at Walt Disney World induces euphoria – I’m sure for some people, being iced-in and unable to get home, even from Orlando, would be a major inconvenience.  For us, at this particular time, it was the gift of not one, but TWO extra Disney days to enjoy – and enjoy them we did!  Ferris Bueller-style, we packed so much extra happiness into those two days, you won’t believe it…story to follow, so check back.RM-Polynesian-Village-Resort-Lobby

8. The Polynesian Village Resort’s renovated lobby is gorgeous – I’m not insensitive to the long-time Polynesian fans who are heartbroken by the changes to their favorite resort, but to me, the new Poly is a beautifully improved Poly.  I think the colors, furniture and décor, and overall feeling of welcome is lovely.RM-Hat-Shopping-Downtown-Disney

9.  Disney Springs is coming right along.  Sure, the construction walls are a big ugly pain to maneuver around, but something in the atmosphere has changed – there’s now an air of expectation and excitement.  We can tell the Downtown Disney area is going to be better than it ever was before.  The new hat shop’s a gem – of course I’ll write a post on that too.RM-New-Tree-of-Life-Roots10.  Animal Kingdom is starting to reveal what the future holds – and if the new details to the Tree of Life are any indication, this park (that I love SO much) is going to be even more incredible.

Please let me know what you want to hear most about in greater detail.  Check back over the next couple of weeks for more scoop on what made this latest visit to Walt Disney World a truly extraordinary Disney vacation.

Walt Disney’s World Showcase – The Maelstrom Matter

Mural in Maelstrom / World Showcase / EpcotYesterday I wrote about why Walt Disney World must change.  I discussed the need for change in a broad, general scope.  Today, I feel the need to weigh in on the Maelstrom Matter.

I don’t feel the outrage I thought I would.  Initially, when the rumors were just a whisper, I was heard to say, “And so begins the utter ruination of the World Showcase.” but then I took some time to consider.  Does this really mean World Showcase is doomed?  It could certainly be the beginning of the end for the initial purpose of the World Showcase.  Conversely, it could be the start of a new era for Epcot.  Time will tell.

Before I go much further, let me add that I am what I would classify as extremely neutralEpcot's Norway Pavilion about Maelstrom at this particular moment in time – I am in no way going to attempt to sway your opinion about this issue one way or another.  It’s the duty of every Disney devotee to feel passionately about their most valued Walt Disney World parks, rides and attractions.  Maelstrom is, soon to be was, a ride I rode and enjoyed on nearly every visit to Walt Disney World.  I sincerely and deeply love the Norway pavilion (I professed my affection here and here).  At the same time, I also have wished for many years now that Disney (or Norway) would pour some much needed resources into updating this special little corner of the World (Showcase).  Alas (oh, yes, I did), beggars can’t be choosers.  Be careful what you wish for?

Buildings in Epcot's Norway PavilionSo, now we’re getting a major change.  While I liked the movie and found it entertaining, I’m not a huge Frozen fan (gasp!).  Here’s what I believe will be the best case scenario and what I’m strongly hoping for at this point –  Norway will continue to be all about Norway.  Frozen‘s characters will be integrated in a way that is strictly in keeping with the traditions, vision, and values of the original World Showcase concept.  It would be ideal if Hans-Kristoff-Anna-Sven (the movie’s nod to Hans Christian Anderson) and the other characters would guide guests through the history, folklore, culture, and customs of Norway.  Hey, a girl’s gotta have hopes, right?

I know what you’re thinking. This thing could go the other way completely – and you’d have a very valid point!  Disney could go all “Little Mermaid” on it and replace Maelstrom with nothing Norway Pavilion's Viking Statuebut a series of movie scenes, some big, in-your-face animatronics, music, and some colorful props.  The World Showcase will be packed with children and their parents willing to wait five hours for a trip through Arendelle.  Norway, the country, will be completely lost in the melee.  I know!

Naysayers will say nay.  Little Mary Sunshine types (like me, in this case) will hold on to our belief that the Disney Company will do the right thing for everyone and amaze us with a new and improved Norway Pavilion.  Only time will tell.  Come 2016, we shall see.  I will be there, with an open mind.  I’ll be visiting the actual country of Norway on Disney Cruise Line in June (2015) and I’m pretty sure the experience will only make me wish for a happy ending all the more.

I’ll leave you with this:  “I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained” – Walt Disney

Troll Topiary in Epcot's Norway PavilionWhat about you?  How do you feel about the matter of Maelstrom? 








Why Walt Disney World Must Change

Fantasyland / Rapunzel's TowerWhy Walt Disney World must change (and why I try to be understanding).

I’ve been reading the official announcements from Disney, listening to speculation, rumor, and predictions about the future of Disney parks, and watching the results of those announcements and prognostications explode on various social media platforms.  If it’s not anger and outrage over the replacement of Maelstrom with a Frozen attraction, it’s disappointment and heartbreak about the change in World Showcase entertainment, most notably the loss of Off Kilter (to be replaced by a lumberjack show of some sort).  It’s made me take a step back and wonder WHY are people so outraged by change? – Specifically, what would happen to our beloved Disney Parks if no changes ever occurred?  Let’s talk about that in a minute.

First, I want you to ask yourself this question:  Is there one specific ride or attraction in eachDisney's Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror park that, if it were closed forever, would keep you from returning to Walt Disney World?  As much as I love my top 5 or 6 favorites, the answer for me is no.  That wouldn’t keep me away.

So what has to stay constant?  What will keep me returning once or twice a year long into the future?  For me it’s these five things:

1. World Class Service – The Disney way of treating guests is still among the best on Earth.

Animal Kingdom's Tree of Life2. Choices – There’s a resort, recreation, restaurant, ride and attraction for every taste and style.  Where else in the world can you find so many options in one place?

3. Convenience – I get off the plane and onto the Magical Express.  Head straight to my resort then on to the park of my choice courtesy of Disney transportation.  There are dining, shopping, and entertainment choices virtually everywhere.  My Disney Experience, Magic Bands, Memory Maker, FastPass+, online check-in are, when working properly, all about added convenience.

4. Innovation – Disney’s Imagineers have brought us cutting edge theme park effects and technology since Disneyland opened in 1955.  Through the addition of interactive queues, the integration of modern updates to classic rides like Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, and the continued introduction of new ride technology means that our children and grandchildren will be as captivated by Disney theme parks as we are.Sitting Area, Studio at Disney's Old Key West

5. Relative Value – I still feel like I get my money’s worth.  I do take advantage of money saving options when and where I can and overall, I feel like there’s no better place for a family vacation.  I can tell you this – no place else compares to the fun we’ve had at Walt Disney World.  We’re paying to be in the Disney Bubble and it’s worth it.

“Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.” – Walt Disney

Back to the outrage.  Let’s imagine that everything stays as is.  Same technology, same resorts, Malestrom / Norway Pavilion / World Showcasesame entertainment, same rides and attractions.  Off Kilter gets to stay at Epcot indefinitely, Mr. Toad is still alive and well, interactive queues never get installed, Snow White still goes on her Scary Adventure, Spectro Magic rolls on night after night, and the Polynesian lobby maintains it’s original form.  I know, right?  Wouldn’t it be awesome to have some of our most-missed rides and attractions back where they belong?  For a minute, maybe, BUT – what keeps Walt Disney World the most beloved family vacation destination in the world is NOT through efforts by the Disney Company to try to maintain things as they are.  Guests return for the familiar magic, but also for the new, different, and innovative entertainment Disney is known for.  To remain unchanged is to become vulnerable.  The competition among theme parks for our vacation dollars is fierce.  The “been there, done that” mentality is alive and well – maybe not among us, the Disney diehards, but the generalMagic Bands at Walt Disney World population is susceptible to the draw of the newest, greatest vacation entertainment.  If they can’t find it in a Disney park, they can and will look (and spend) elsewhere.

Change is difficult – never more so than when we have no say about what is being changed.  We’re not involved in the decision making process, we don’t know the motivation behind every change, we didn’t get a vote.  We know what changes we’d like to see, but when changes are announced, they’re not what we would have chosen.  I like to believe that it is not always 100% about stock prices and corporate profits.  I’m also keeping an open mind about things like Frozen in the Norway Pavilion and Pandora in Animal Kingdom.  Until I see what they’re actually like, I can’t make a decision on whether they’re good or bad for their particular locations.  I’m excited about new and different experiences for our future vacations at Disney World.  I’ll always be sad and a little broken hearted when a familiar attraction makes way for something different, but most of the time, especially with Disney, different actually turns out to be better.

Now, if they’d just do something for poor Future World!

Your turn – share your thoughts on the upcoming changes at Walt Disney World.





The Rumors Swirling around Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Darth Vader on Star Wars Weekend PosterI love a good Disney rumor, don’t you?  Some juicy tidbit of really-true, might-happen, or totally-fabricated gossip is FUN to think about – imagine if it actually happened!  I love to mentally weigh in on the possibilities –  Am I okay with it?  Horrified by the very idea!  Or jumping up and down with anticipation.  One of my favorite places to hear about all the possible happenings at Walt Disney World is on a podcast called The Unofficial Guide’s Disney Dish with Jim Hill“.  Unlike all the other Disney podcasts I’m addicted to, the Disney Dish with Jim Hill doesn’t come out on a regular schedule.  An episode might come out once or twice a month…then skip a month….then magically reappear.

While I’ve been hearing a LOT of bits and pieces of what may or may not happen at Disney’s Hollywood Studios with Star Wars, ride closures, attraction removals, updates, refurbs, and so on.  One of the last Disney Dish episodes really made me sit up and take notice – it was “Episode 62: Disney World’s Next Five Years”.  Keeping in mind that it’s all “unofficial” – there was a lot to chew on in that 73 minutes of commentary.  Basically, the discussion is basedSorcerer's Hat on what may potentially happen at Disney World now that Universal has really upped their game.  Much of the discussion focused on Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

So – based on the information I gleaned from Mr. Hill’s revelations, there are some major changes headed to the studios while some long discussed rumors appear to be just that – rumors – and will not become reality.

Here are the one’s I was most interested in (listen to the show for all the rest of the details):

The Sorcerer’s Hat – Source of much debate between the hat lovers and haters, the big blue centerpiece of the Studios has long been rumored to be on the way out.  Seems like it’s actually staying.  I understand its purpose – a place to draw crowds away from other areas of the park, a centrally located performance venue, etc.  And if you believe the other rumors about the hat’s original purpose – it was put there to actually HIDE the Chinese Theater due to legal issues with Disney’s use of a replica of the California original.  I’m not necessarily offended by the hat – I would LOVE DHS Imperial Speeder, Jasonto see an updated version though.  It’s so 2001 – cartoonish and hardly designed to fit in with any of the existing park theme.  I imagine that its removal would be a bit of a headache considering it reportedly weighs 156 tons.

Star Wars Land is a GO – And I am ecstatic!  I’m not much of a Star Wars geek, but I appreciate the broad spectrum of potential, the plethora of possibilities, if you will.  Now, this exciting news means big changes to the landscape of Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Echo Lake will be no more allowing the new land to begin much closer to the park entrance than the Star Wars area is now.  Think about it though!  All those lands, worlds, creatures, vehicles, andWookie in Star Wars Parade characters that are wonderfully amazing and unique!  This is what Disney Imagineers do best and I can’t wait to see how they transform elements from the Force (and the Dark side) into rides, attractions, restaurants, and shops.  The epic battle between good and evil…in the Studios!  Wookies and Ewoks and Sand People, oh my!

Indiana Jones may STAY – Can you believe it?  I braced myself to tell Indy so long and I may not have to! (See that blog post here)  Personally, I’m confident that Indy’s presence in the Studios will be updated.  Disney’s ownership of the Indiana Jones franchise opens the door to a lot of possibility…it would be a shame to waste it.

The Great Movie Ride is on its way OUT – Take a deep breath and think about it for a minute.  The Great Movie RideIt’ll be okay!  Original to the park, this 25 year old tour through classic movie genres was fun and edgy in the beginning.  Over the years though, no updates were made, no new movies were added, no new scripting for those poor Cast Members was written, things that stopped working correctly weren’t repaired (just adjusted to try to hide the problems).  Have you been on this ride lately?  Tarzan makes me feel embarrassed – he’s just awful.  The good news, though, is that according to Mr. Hill, the ride won’t be leaving anytime soon, so you can go and say a proper farewell.  My favorite part has always been the final scene from Casablanca.  What’s yours?

Still hungry for more scoop?  Check out The Unofficial Guide’s Disney Dish with Jim Hill!Star Wars Weeekend's Parade  Download from iTunes or Stitcher.  Every episode is interesting.  Most recently (#63), the discussion was based on the history and future of DVC with information about plans that never happened and what DVC options may be available in the years ahead.

How do you feel about the possible changes at Disney’s Hollywood Studios?  What would you be most excited about?  Would you be disappointed by any of the proposed changes?