2017 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend in Review

Last weekend’s trip to Walt Disney World was brief but packed with fun.  I’ve got so much to tell you, I thought I’d start with this post full of my impressions of the best and not-so-great aspects of our visit.  I’ll follow up with posts on the Star Wars 10K and half marathon and a restaurant review or two.  Here’s the scoop…

2017 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend in Review

We arrived mid-day Friday.  Our plan was to get to the Grand Floridian (stayed at the DVC Villas), drop off our luggage, grab a bite at the Gasparilla Island Grill (underrated quick-service), then rush over to Wide World Of Sports so Joseph and I could pick up our race packets for the Dark Side Challenge.  This part went off without a hitch.  I was very excited to see Richard (famous greeter at the Grand Floridian) looking well.  If you seen him, say hello and he’ll say, “Welcome to the Grand!”  I love that he’s in his 90’s and still enjoying his job so much.

We wanted to spend a few minutes shopping at the Expo if possible and, thanks to the event buses running often, mission accomplished!  I’d booked Magic Kingdom FastPasses starting at 4:30 (or thereabouts) for Seven Dwarfs, Big Thunder, and Space Mountain and we arrived in plenty of time!  We even managed to squeeze in Pirates and PeopleMover as well.  Dinner was at Narcoossee’s and the 8:30 dining time was my first error of this trip.  WAY too late to eat before having to get up at 3:15 a.m. the next day.

Before dinner, we managed a quick glass of wine in Mizner’s Lounge.  Joseph had never heard the Lobby Society Orchestra play before and they sounded especially great that evening.  We were wishing we’d had more time to relax and enjoy the music.  On the way to Narcoossee’s, we spotted a rather large dark-colored snake on the sidewalk.  As I’ve mentioned before (here), Joseph has an affinity for reptiles.  I wanted to take the snake’s picture, Joseph wanted to pick it up!  Raymond and I, at the exact same time, realized what was about to happen and quietly said, “Don’t do it!” just about the time the snake decided to slither off into the bushes.  I did mention to the hostess that some guests might be alarmed if Mr. Snake decided to move back onto the warmth of the walkway.

Dinner was excellent as was our view of Wishes during our meal.  As we headed to our room to catch what sleep we could, we noticed and Cast Member and a gentleman in a suit holding a flashlight searching for the snake – or at least making sure it stayed off the sidewalk.  Our room (studio #1428) was the biggest disappointment of our stay.  There was no split bathroom, just a plain bathroom with a tub/shower combo.We didn’t even know such a room type existed!  Made getting ready take much longer for the three of us as we are a decidedly anti-bathroom-sharing people.  The room overall was lovely, but felt like a plain hotel room.  If you’ve seen DVC studios at Disney’s Polynesian Village or Bay Lake Tower, you can appreciate how disappointed we were.  There’s a split bathroom at the Poly and Bay Lake Tower’s kitchenette is so large, there’s extra room (with a counter and mirror) for getting ready.

Watch for a full report on the Star Wars 10K in the next few days.  Let me jump straight to our post-race activities…

At 180-days out, I’d booked a reservation for lunch at Beaches & Cream (Beach Club) and then cancelled it the day before we left home.  I should not have done that.  The recently opened Polite Pig in Disney Springs seemed just our type of place and we all wanted to try it.  Arriving at Disney Springs around 10:00 a.m., we had about an hour to shop before the restaurant opened and we were among the first in the door.  The atmosphere is neat and the employees were perfectly polite.  But, in spite of our love for barbecue and smoked meats, we were (all of us) disappointed in our food.  Such unanimous agreement is practically unheard of!  I ended up feeling sorry we didn’t get to try Beaches & Cream.  Next time we visit the Polite Pig, it’ll be for the bar instead of the food – our beers were very delicious and their drink menu is vast.

After lunch we were off to Epcot for the Disney Exchange Podcast Meet-up!  Nick, Dave, and I, (and our families) were excited to see friends of the show and spent an hour visiting and laughing a LOT!  We felt very humbled and special to have listeners willing to interrupt their Disney vacation to spend time with us.  Thanks especially to “Aunt Sandy”, Dave J., Victoria, Olivia, Linda, and Phillip (a.k.a. Duke).  After the meet-up, Raymond, Joseph and I headed off to use our FastPasses.

Frozen was down, so we used our first FastPass for Soarin’ followed by Spaceship Earth (we got stuck for a couple of minutes by the garlic hat guy and it was great!).  Our last FastPass went unused (Nemo) when we realized how nice it would be to go back to our room for a few minutes before dinner at Il Mulino – our now-traditional-pre-half-marathon-go-to restaurant.  If you are not on the Disney Dining Plan, I urge you to give some of the Swan and Dolphin’s restaurants a try!  This was our fourth visit to Il Mulino and our experiences have all been consistently excellent.

Immediately after dinner, we got back to our room as quickly as possible and were out as soon as our heads hit the pillows!

Sunday morning, there was that little matter of the Star Wars Half Marathon.  (Full review soon.)  Raymond was waiting for Joseph and me when we finished the race and the three of us, along with Dave and his wife, Anne, enjoyed a few minutes of the post-race party before getting on with the rest of our day.  Animal Kingdom was on the agenda and by the time we got there, a bad case of “hangry” had struck so we decided to grab some small plates at the Nomad Lounge.And ended up staying for three hours once Nick and Dave (and their wives and friends) found out where we were and joined us.  If you haven’t been to Nomad Lounge, go!  It’s about as perfect a place to relax as exists on Disney property.  The beverage selection is great, the food is yummy, and the atmosphere is tranquil.  Unbelievably, we left Nomad Lounge and spent a few more minutes together at the Dawa Bar.

Eventually we needed to excuse ourselves in favor of FastPasses for Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest.  We strolled along the Gorilla Falls Trail between attractions and then caught a bus for Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kidani Village section for dinner at Sanaa.  We were early and spent time out on the savannah overlook sitting in rocking chairs and enjoying the lovely weather.  Sanaa’s manager was kind enough to find us a table about 30 minutes before our reservation and we were delighted to introduce Joseph to the restaurant’s famous bread service.

To wrap up the day, we met our Disney Exchange friends back at Animal Kingdom for Rivers of Light.  It was our first time to see it and typically, Raymond, Joseph and I had completely differing opinions about this new show (more on that at a later date).  By this time, even with all the rest and relaxation, the trackers on our Fitbits had passed 20 miles for the day.  It was time to turn in so we had enough energy to squeeze in a last little bit of Disney in the morning.

We were awake and busy packing by 6:15 a.m.  We had breakfast scheduled at Kona Café (another tradition) followed by one last FastPass in Magic Kingdom for Space Mountain at 9:20.  Our ride to the airport was scheduled to pick us up at 11:00 a.m.  Dave met us in Magic Kingdom and we had time for a last ride around Tomorrowland on the PeopleMover before blasting off into Space.  It was time to go.  One last bit of pixie dust found us as we went back to our room for our luggage – Cinderella’s horses, carriage and footmen were on the path around our building and we got to see them up close as they passed by.  Then we found ourselves leaving Walt Disney World behind to get home for some much needed rest!

For a very short 72 hours, we had an amazing (exhausting) time!  Joseph completed his first runDisney events.  Nick, Dave and I managed (finally!) to have our first podcast meet-up.  Family, friends, and LOTS of Disney magic all around…we could not have asked for a better time.

Being a Disney World Electrical Water Pageant Fan

From my non-Disney-loving friends, I take some flack for my vacation destination of choice.  From my fellow Disney fans, I get teased about my love for one of the most special, original, and enduring attractions at Walt Disney World…The Electrical Water Pageant.  What’s made me so devoted?  Glad you asked.Disney World Electrical Water Pageant

Disney World’s Electrical Water Pageant

It was 1996 when the Pageant’s current version was launched and that’s the year I first experienced this most amazing of extra magical touches.  Available to guests who happen to be along the shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake most evenings, this parade-on-water is a charming treat.  It’s one of those things Disney doesn’t have to do.  People would still flock in droves to the House of Mouse and have fantastic family fun without this one attraction, but it’s been there since late October of 1971 and is still “a thing” treasured by many adoring fans like me.Disney World Electrical Water Pageant

For my family, it’s the whimsical simplicity of parade floats made out of barges with blinking lights.  As the floats go by, animals seem to leap out of the water and dance.  There may only be 14 floats and the entire experience lasts only 15 minutes, but it’s got a special place in our hearts.  If we’re staying at Bay Lake Tower, we can sometimes hear the Electrical Water Pageant’s music as we’re drifting off to sleep – like a perky lullaby even if we’re not watching the show. Disney World's Electrical Water Pageant

The music is snappy and the songs are well-known (mostly…maybe not everyone is familiar with the 1988 Was (Not Was) hit, “Walk the Dinosaur”).  Many of the songs are from The Little Mermaid and there are also tunes from Peter Pan, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and other Disney movies.  Patriotic favorites like “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “America the Beautiful” add a nice touch as well.  I’m telling you – this thing’s adorable!  Quirky, eclectic – there are sea creatures, a dinosaur, and the Stars and Stripes –  there’s a lot to see in a mere quarter of an hour.Disney World Electrical Water Pageant Disney World Electrical Water Pageant

Who would love the Electrical Water Pageant?  Little ones, fans of classic Disney World attractions, folks who want a low key attraction that’s both free and outside the parks, and lovers of Disney music and magic.  Our favorite spot to watch the Pageant is on the boat dock at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, but there are lots of prime viewing locations.  If you’re enjoying a meal at one of the monorail resorts, adding the Pageant to your evening is a great way to end the day.  Evening show times vary and are available in the My Disney Experience app…search for “Electrical Water Pageant”.  Here’s what Disney’s website says…

Recommended viewing locations include:

Please note that all show times are approximate and may vary by several minutes. All entertainment is subject to change and may be cancelled in cases of inclement weather.

Have you watched the Electrical Water Pageant?  How do you feel about it?

 

Disney FOMO is Real – I’ve Been Stricken

Google FOMO and the simple definition displayed says it all.

“noun: FOMO

  1. anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”

Therein lies my problem.  FOMO clearly afflicts people of all ages…including middle-aged Disney fans who have been obsessively watching all things World of Avatar on the internet.  My April Disney vacation is too soon.  My November Disney vacation is sooooo far away!  Pandora is finally opening in May and I want to see it!!!

Disney FOMO is Real – I’ve Been Stricken

It’s not like Animal Kingdom’s newest land is suddenly showing up after a few months of preparation.  The first announcement of Pandora’s imminent arrival was made in early 2011.  That’s SIX years ago.  Six years of speculation, starts, stops, controversy, rumor, and (for some) excitement.  Construction began in 2014 and, by bits and pieces, we’ve learned the details of exactly how Pandora will make its place in Animal Kingdom.  At long last, the time has arrived – May 27, 2017 – and I won’t be there.  New rides, restaurants, shops, exquisitely themed and amazingly detailed, and I’d already booked April and November before the opening date announcement was made.  The internet is full of ride details and food pictures – constant reminders of what I won’t be seeing anytime soon.

What’s a girl to do?

I have a plan, of course, and a willing cohort.  Megan and I have been talking about a mother/daughter getaway forever, so I filled her in during our usual Sunday visit.  In short order we had vacation schedules verified, 42 vacation club points booked (Saratoga Springs), and a route planned.  Since we have always flown to Disney World, this driving thing will add a different aspect to our trip, but Meg and I are pretty stoked.  We have virtually unlimited packing space for the first time ever and can bring important things like breakfast foods and wine.  As many pairs of shoes as we want!  Once we arrive at Disney World, we’ll have three whole days to explore Pandora before heading home.  Our first summer road trip, just the two of us, and we couldn’t be more excited.  See you in June, World of Avatar!

Have you suffered from Disney FOMO?  What new Disney World attractions are you looking forward to most?

 

 

Disney’s Pandora – What I Want to See

Since the recent announcement about Pandora’s opening date in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I can’t stop thinking about this new land.  What will it really be like?  After all the doubt and speculation, will Disney and Avatar fans all be pleased?  Will that amazing Na’vi shaman animatronic figure be as cool in person as she seems on Facebook?  What would I like to see?  That last part, I’ve got figured out!

Disney’s Pandora – What I Want to See

Joseph came home to visit for a couple of nights while Raymond was out of town on business this week.  He knows I hate staying by myself (Junior’s not much of a watch dog).  He gets free food, I avoid loneliness – it’s a win-win for both of us.  For fun, I came up with my best idea for a Pandora attraction and ran it by Joseph to see what he thought.  He not only liked the idea, he immediately started building on it to make it better!  Armchair Imagineering is FUN!!!

I started with this idea:  Think about the experience of Turtle Talk With Crush (in Epcot’s The Seas With Nemo and Friends).  Imagine that same technology used in a classroom made of glass (instead of just one wall).  Guests would enter a special environmentally controlled room (to protect humans), reached via short tunnel extended from the main Pandora research facility.  The tunnel would take “students” partially into the wilderness of Pandora lessons on the planet’s flora, fauna, and culture.  As everyone takes their seats, Na’vi “instructors” would approach the enclosure, introduce themselves,  and talk about what it’s like to live on Pandora.  Visitors in the classroom would be able to see Pandora and the Na’vi people through all four walls and the ceiling.  The experience would be interactive exactly like Turtle Talk, but instead of being geared towards the pre-school set, this attraction would mainly engage tweens, teens, and adults.  Students would have an excellent view of the plants, animals and people of Pandora with the ability to ask (and answer) questions.

Joseph added his thoughts:  The experience would change along with the time of day – just like Kilimanjaro Safaris.  Early mornings would show the Pandora landscape during sunrise (or suns-rise?) and the Na’vi teachers would explain how the planet changes as night turns into day.  Midday would offer completely different “lessons” and then, as the sun(s) set, dusk and nighttime would transform the experience yet again with different animals in the wild among the glow of the bioluminescent plants.

The technology is already available for this attraction!  Think about the possibilities!!!

What would YOU most like to see in Pandora?