Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I am way too excited!


Okay, the infamous cake castle has nothing todo with this post, but I don't have access to any of my Disney pictures right now.  You see, I had a lot of plans for posts this week, but my laptop had an unfortunate encounter with a couple of three-year olds, so I won't be posting much. Besides, I've got to freeze a month's worth of meals for my husband to give the kids while I'm gone for 3.75 days!

Here's a couple of fun things for your amusement, though. Back next week with Mickey's Not So Scary, Food and Wine and my first stay at All Star Sports. Did I mention I hate all sports with balls? Which is sort of the theme of this resort. Yeah.  I hope I like it.

If you want to follow me down at Disney World, I'm on twitter at Chrisw889.

For now, here's two funny girls and their take on the creepiest attractions at Disney World:




A view from the front of the monorail (bonus Mickey wand at Epcot):



See ya real soon!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Two Lonely Deeks is Now Live.

Just wanted to let you all know that Chip from Chip and Co and George from Imaginerding have teamed up to do a Video Blog called Two Lonely Deeks.  The first one is up now and it's pretty funny.  (Psst, Chip made me say this or he won't help me with my computer problems anymore. Don't tell him I told you. It is funny, though).

In other news, I am going to Disney World in 85 hours and 42 minutes. Not that I'm excited, or anything.  I'll be tweeting from the parks and I'm also doing a very small meet and greet on Saturday at the Haunted Mansion. Check out the Chip and Co Facebook page for more information. 

Yay, happiest place on earth!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Let the Memories Begin.

Disney's newest campaign, Let the Memories Begin, invites fans to post photos on the Disney website that will be projected onto Cinderella Castle at Disney World and It's a Small World at Disneyland. 

Somewhere in my cold little heart, I felt myself get a little bit  . . . emotional. Sniffle.



Those commercials get me every time, I'm not going to lie.  I mean, those kids. So cute.

Okay, so it's not a new pavilion in Spain or a fifth gate, but it's a pretty clever idea.  I think families, especially those on their first visit, will get quite a thrill out of seeing their pictures projected on the castle.

For more insight into the new promotion, check out The Disney Blog.

WDW Magic explains how it all works here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Carousel of Progress.

1950s scene, my personal favorite.
Every Disney fan has his or her favorite underrated attraction. For me, it's  Carousel of Progress, located in Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom.  The COP is a rotating theater which carries the audience to four different scenes in a family's life during the 20th century, from the days before electricity to more modern times.  It's narrated by the father, who is accompanied by the family dog. 
 
The family doesn't change much physically during the span of the century:  Grandma and Grandpa are still there, the annoying little brother grows up a bit in the 1990s, but the big sister stays in her late teens/early 20s and is as sarcastic as ever.  What does change are the family appliances and their lifestyle, and it's fun to watch them acquire modern conveniences that make their lives easier or sometimes harder, as when the Father blows a fuse which shorts out the whole neighborhood. Again.



The COP, then known as Progressland, was originally designed by Walt Disney for the 1964-65 World's Fair, where it quickly became the most popular attraction.  It was later moved to Disneyland, where it stayed for several years until being moved permanently to Walt Disney World in 1975.  At Disney World, the COP debuted with the song "The Best Time of Your Life," a catchy little tune which I still like.


The newest version, which was changed in 1994, has an added final scene and some dialogue changes.  It also went back to the original song, "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow," and was renamed "Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress," to pay homage to its creator.

To me, the COP is a lot of different things. It's entertaining, sometimes unintentionally funny, and yes, it's kind of corny, but it the best possible way.  It's also part of Disney history and in that respect, it's part of my history of the park too.  I love the familiarity of it and hope it will always be there. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Newest Tangled Trailer.

I've been working on a huge (is there any other kind from me?) post on touring the parks with physical disabilities so I've been a little busy--it's a huge subject. But I thought I would share with you the most recent "Tangled" trailer that I saw over on Chip and Co.  I'm looking forward to seeing this movie. Just so you know, "Tangled" was changed from "Rapunzel" in an attempt to appeal to boys as well as girls.  My eight-year old seems sufficiently bamboozled, as he has informed me that he wants to see it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Setting Goals on Your Disney Vacation.

Do you set goals for your Disney vacation?  There's so much to do you almost have to.  Still, every trip there are new things I'd like to try, but I end up sticking to a lot of the same things. I guess that's my Disney confession:  I've ignored some of the most popular rides, like Test Track and Spaceship Earth.  But this trip, a short girls-only weekend at the end of the month, is a little different. For one, we have a twelve year old in tow, so I owe it to her to make sure she sees as much as possible in the one day she'll be with us.  For another, my good friend is bringing her 20-year old daughter who likes thrill rides.  So we have to have a plan.  Maybe not a touring plan--it's a slow weekend and I don't tend to use them when the parks aren't crowded-- but we need some sort of organization. 


It occurred to me that if you're fortunate enough to visit the parks regularly, you probably skip certain attractions if the line is too long or if you're short on time because you know you'll be back.  For me, it goes even further than that.  I take a very laid-back approach to touring the parks, sometimes riding only a handful of rides in one day even though I spend a lot of time in the parks.  This time, I plan on doing things I haven't done before or haven't done in a long time and I plan on packing a lot in.  Here are my goals for this trip:

1.  Try Via Napoli. Okay, that's an easy one. I like to eat.  And from what I've heard, Disney has finally done pizza right.

2.  Get everyone on Splash Mountain--none of them have ever been.  It's one of my favorites, but I tend not to do it because my kids are little enough that they think it's scary.

3.  Tour Boardwalk.


4.  Ride Spaceship Earth. How did I miss this one?  I mean, it's right there when you walk into Epcot and it happens to be huge!


5.  Ride Space Mountain. I've only been on it once and to be honest, I think it's a little scary.

6.  Watch the entire Dream along with Mickey show in front of the castle. I rarely watch the whole thing.

7.  Get to the Magic Kingdom when it opens!  I absolutely can never make opening at this park.


8.  Get some great photos of Toontown.  Time is running out.

9. Ride Test Track.  Again, one of those I haven't been on yet.

10.  Try to time a ride on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad during Wishes.

11. Take a ton of pictures. I'm always needing them for this blog and for Chip and Co.

12. Attend at least one Disney meetup. Right now I'm signed up to go to the Disney Food Blog's Foodie Fest.  I'm also doing a meet up with Chip and Co readers in the Magic Kingdom.  You can read about it on our Facebook page. Join us if you can!

13.  Try to get a table at La Hacienda de San Angel, the new Mexican place in  Epcot.  I know, again with the food.  The pictures from last night's press event looked great. 


14.  Take a walk from the Poly to the Grand Floridian.  It's one of the nicest pathways in Disney World and a great place for pictures. 

15. See Festival of the Lion King again.

Okay, and if I get up the nerve, I'll ride Tower of Terror too.  You know, for the twelve-year old.

Now I only have two more weeks to resign myself to ride Space Mountain. I can't wait!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Splash Mountain Closed Briefly Today.

Splash Mountain was down today for approximately two hours due a malfunctioning electrical switch in a welding tent which gave off a burning smell.  As a safety precaution, Frontierland was evacuated.

There were no injuries or damage to the attraction. The ride is now back up and running. 

Source.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Join the Chip Panel!

Yesterday, Chip over at Chip and Co was inspired by the Disney Moms Panel and decided to start his own.  It's to everyone.  Want to join?  
Chip and Company is now accepting applications for the first ever Chip Panel. Chip and Company is looking for guest writers to join us on www.chipandco.com. We are looking for people who have a love of Disney and enjoy writing.
To be on the Chip Panel here is what we are looking for:


One original article from you in 1000 words or less.


Subject for all articles must be about Disney. Some suggested topics - Tips & Tricks, Vacation Planning, Food, Etc..


If you have a photo please include it in the article otherwise I will find one for you.


Disney Bloggers are welcome, please include a link to your site at the bottom of the article.


If you are interested email your article to Chip at chip@chipandco.com. Include a title to your article and author info in the email so we know who wrote it. I can also accept Word format.


Once received we will look it over and if we use it we will email you back to let you know when it will be posted.


This is a great opportunity to share with the world your love of Disney. Chip and Company articles are released on Twitter, Facebook, and a Daily Newsletter with access to a very large number of people on a daily basis. Not to mention we have a special category assigned to our Chip Panel located here.


So won’t you join us and be apart of the Chip Panel..No long application is necessary and we welcome dads, moms, grandparents, teens, you name it.


I will be giving away a $25 Disney Store Giftcard to one Chip Panel published author between now and the end of the month so be sure to get those article in as soon as possible!


>>Chip
You can read more about the Chip Panel here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Visiting Celebration.

You've probably heard of Celebration, Florida, the small town right next to Disney World that the company developed in the 1990s.  If so, you probably also have an opinion of it, one that might not be so favorable.  I lived in Tallahassee while the town was being built and recall how many people regarded the town with suspicion:  "Internet?  What?  Why would I want to talk to my neighbors on a computer or live someplace where they can tell me what color my curtains have to be?"  It seems funny now, but back then you could see why some perceived the town as too pre-fabricated, too Disney, and worst of all, too much like a town designed by Big Brother. 

Years later the idea of "New Urbanism," building smaller, compact, walkable cities as an alternative to urban sprawl, has been embraced by many communities and Celebration, no longer owned by the company, stands as a beautiful example of this concept.  The benefit of this well-planned community extends to visitors, who can park and walk its immaculate streets, enjoy its eateries, shop, and admire the beautiful homes.  If you're looking for a day off from the parks on your next visit, Celebration is worth the quick drive.

Big front porches encourage owners to sit outside.
Garages in the back don't mar the traditional looks of the house.


The biggest criticism of Celebration is that it's a "manufactured" kind of town and while it's true that it's a thoroughly planned community, right down to those curtains (white backing only on windows facing the street, if you please), there are many styles of houses in the town. The result is a look that is overall typical of how older neighborhoods developed 100 years ago:  A Victorian here, this one a craftsman style, a Colonial there, and a more modern Spanish style right up the street.  Gardens, fountains and public parks dot the landscape of the town, which has special parking spaces for small electric cars.  Public buildings as well are a mix of old Florida, the mid-20th century, and art deco.  The movie theater spires, for example, are meant to evoke the futuristic feel of the 1950s.

This fun building would be at home in Tomorrowland, but that's where the comparisons stop.  Even the post office has a bit of charm.

Overall, the designs work well together, and despite specific requirements regarding fences and the placement of garages, Celebration appears less "cookie-cutter" than most newer neighborhoods today.  Add to that trails, sidewalks, good schools, and easy walking access into town and you have a lovely little town.



Town Center.

If you're planning a day out of the parks on your next trip, or if you're looking for something to do in the evening, there's plenty of good walking and window shopping in Celebration.  Here are a few favorites you might want to check out while you're there.

Restaurants: 

Celebration restaurants are a nice alternative to the many chain restaurants surrounding Disney World. Here's just a sampling of what you'll find.

Located on Front Street, Seito Sushi is an attractive, modern restaurant with some of the area's best sushi.  It's also some of the most expensive. Consider going during their happy hour for real deals. 

Market Street Cafe, one of the oldest restaurants in Celebration, is also located on Front Street and is one of my favorite spots in Celebration.  Calling it a "cafe" is somewhat misleading as its more of a diner, both in looks and in selections.  While the food is diner style and by no means gourmet, there's a lot of it, it's consistently good, and the menu is huge. Like most diners, this one excels at breakfast; try the baked potato omlette. The black and bleu burger makes for a nice lunch, as does the Greek salad.  At dinner, the beef pot roast tastes slow cooked and is flavorful, but I wasn't impressed with the chicken pot pie.  Surprisingly good Key Lime pie and coconut cake round out the dessert options, which taste homemade.  The staff is friendly, but the service can range from slow to downright bad at times, especially on weekend mornings when it can get very crowded.    A weekday breakfast in the outside portion of the cafe provides great people watching, a nice view of the lake, and a relaxing anecdote to the frenetic character breakfasts taking place just a few miles away.  Highly recommended, but don't expect to get out of there quickly.

When Disney developed Celebration, they offered retail space to family owned restaurateurs from throughout the state. The result is, happily, a lack of chain restaurants.  Cafe D'Antonio's is one such restaurant.  Located on Front Street, it's possibly the most expensive meal in town, but well worth a trek south from Disney for local Italian food.  The bread, served with the obligatory olive oil and Balsamic, could be better, but try the excellent linguine with clams or the wood-fired calzones and finish off with the Belgian chocolate cake with raspberry sauce and you won't be disappointed.  Good classics such chicken parm and and a huge lasagna.  Outdoor seating offers great people watching. Reservations suggested.   

Lodging.

I love staying on Disney property, but Celebration has some tempting and affordable rooms.  One favorite is The Bohemian Hotel on  Front Street, which offers lakeside and garden views. With only 115 rooms, it's Orlando's only luxury boutique hotel, with beautiful, elegant rooms that comparable in price to Disney moderates (without discounts). 



Photo copyright Marriott Autograph Collection.

Shopping.

If you're looking for unique gifts close to Disney, check out Front and Market Streets, where you'll find more than the usual selection of T-shirts and other tourist trinkets.



Handmade jewelery, expensive toys, and clothing shops are conveniently located within steps of the best restaurants.  If you have children, check out Day Dreams for unique German and French dolls and toys. The Jewel Box is a nice, if not also expensive, after dinner diversion.

Special Events.

There's always something going on in Celebration, from car shows to concerts, even a yearly Oktoberfest.   The Fourth of July fireworks are a local favorite and less crowded alternative to those on Disney property.  They aren't as elaborate as what you'll find just a few miles away, but Celebration's charming take on the Fourth, complete with a yearly themed morning parade open to everyone who wants to dress up, is sure to please. 

If you don't have tickets for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party and you'd still like to see "snow," visit Celebration in December. Each night during he holiday season, Celebration downtown features live entertainment, carolers, visits from Santa, and yes, "snow." 

Most Disney World visitors overlook Celebration; there is, after all, a whole world to explore right on Disney property. But if you have access to a car and a few extra hours, consider spending some time in Celebration on your next trip. There's plenty to do and see.

The first photograph is from the blog Wide Open Spaces

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Applications for 2011 Disney Moms Panel Begins September 13.

Starting Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. eastern, you can submit your application for the Disney Moms Panel.  The application process is capped at 20,000, so get your application in as soon as possible if you'd like a chance to be on the panel, which has around twelve moms (and dads) who answer questions sent into the official Disney Moms Panel site. 

Based on previous years, here's how the process works.  For the initial application, you'll be asked three questions.  There's no need to study since it's all about your personal experiences as a Disney mom, so there really are no wrong answers. You're limited to 100 characters per question, so you'll want to be as brief as possible.  Try not to copy and paste your answers as some submitters have noted that it messes up the word count.  Those who make the initial cut will go through another questionnaire. Following that, there's a phone interview. Very few make it to this point, but those who do will make up the final twelve.

If you're part of the final twelve, you'll go to Disney World in December to train with your fellow moms.  While this trip is paid for by Disney, moms panel positions are unpaid.

Here are a few of the pertinent requirements:  You
  • are able to provide at least 25 written responses a week.
  • have visited WDW in the last twelve months.
  • are available to commit for 24 months.
  • are not a Disney employee.
 Oh my gosh! That's me. See  you in the applicant pile on Monday.

If you want to know more about applying, check out Disney's official site.

Two moms panel moms who are also bloggers:

Zannaland

Disney Every Day

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reader Email: Getting the Dining Plan When You Already Have Tickets.


This question comes from Reny:  "Is it possible to add a one day ticket to get the free dining plan since I already have my room and tickets?

Reny, thanks for your question.  You can do this. What you'll have to do is buy a package.  Your room-only reservation can easily be converted into a package if there are rooms available under the free dining promotion. Free dining fills  up pretty fast as there are only a certain number of rooms set aside for this promotion, so it benefits you to do this as soon as possible.  The number of days required for free dining depends on the particular promotion.  The promotion that's out right now requires a base (no park hopper added) two-day ticket for each person who will be getting free dining on your reservation. The exception of course is children under the age of three. 

Since you already have tickets, you can take your two-day tickets and put them aside. Some people take a Magic Marker and write on them so they won't be used during their trip.  They're good indefinitely, so if you'll be going back, you can always use them at a later time. In fact, since prices go up yearly, you can consider them an investment in your future trips.  Just make sure that they're not put on your Keys to the Kingdom (room) key when you check in.  Some people have reported having this happen and then accidentally using the ticket.

Annaul pass holders can use the tickets that come with their package to upgrade their AP in the future or simply add the dining plan as part of an annual passholder package.

Good luck.  I hope this helps.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

First Timers: What to Expect When You're Expecting (to visit Disney World).

Okay, so you're a Disney newbie. What should you expect when you get there?  If you're coming from up North, don't expect wide verandas and southern belles. Culturally, Orlando has a little bit of everything, but it's not really Southern, although you can get good barbecue and sweet tea.  Here's a quick run-down on the area for first time guests.

The Airport.  You'll likely fly into the Orlando International Airport (MCO). Some vacationers choose the smaller Sanford Airport, about an hour from Disney World, to save money, but if you choose this option  don't forget to add in the cost of transportation to and from the airport, as it isn't serviced by Magical Express.  The main part of MCO is designed like a big rectangle with monorail lines out to the four terminals located at each corner of the rectangle.  Shopping, a hotel, full-service restaurants, the baggage claim area, and the oh-so-important Magical Express are all located in the main part of the airport.  Disney travelers make up a big part of this airport's business so conveniently, you'll see signs for Magical  Express everywhere.


Weather and Geography:  I'll admit, this is probably an obvious one. It's hot.  And it's humid. And it rains frequently during the summer. But the winter can be all over the place: Hot one day, cold the next. Chances are you'll experience some of the nicest weather the region has to offer during this time, but last January, it actually snowed, so be prepared. I always tell people who are visiting Orlando during the late fall through the early spring to bring a waterproof coat with a liner that zips out, that way you can use them together or alone.  This is particularly true for children who will be outside at night.


Newcomers are often surprised by how much water there is in Central Florida.  There are literally small ponds and lakes everywhere, which can be very pretty but dangerous.  If you're renting a house and you have small children, you'll want to take note of any bodies of water near the house; people are often surprised to find small ponds just a few yards from the back of the house.  Sadly, every year several people in Central Florida drown when they drive into those ponds, many of which are right next to roads. This has even happened on  Disney property, so be extra careful, especially on days when it rains heavily and you may have trouble seeing the road.

Swimming in lakes should be avoided.  Part of this is due to the presence of snakes and the alligators.  I mean no one wants to run into a gator, right?  But it's these three little words that should really worry you:  Brain eating amoebas! I'm not making this up. Apparently these little critters live in fresh water when it sits stagnant at over 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you ingest them, it can lead to sickness or even death. Yes, people do swim in these lakes, but it's not worth ruining your trip over to take the chance.  If you want to experience swimming in local fresh water, try some of the nearby state parks that have beautiful clear springs for swimming and boating. These pristine swimming holes are popular with locals and stay around 70 degrees during the summer, making them a nice alternative to the theme parks on a hot day.

DeLeon State Park.
Photo copyright Orlando Sentinel.

Culture:   Florida, as a state, is a mix of many things:  Part southern in the northern part of the state, part melting pot everywhere, expect to meet people from all over the country and the world.  In Orlando you'll encounter more newcomers than true locals.  As the number one travel destination in the world, this small city has seen every race, religion and background.  You'll see people of great wealth and those with almost nothing, just on International Drive.  You can find just about any type of food although it might not be exactly like it is back home (bagels, pizza).  Downtown Orlando has several interesting museums and neighborhoods like Little Saigon and Little Brazil, which have inexpensive ethnic food and shops.  The area is, overall, very friendly and worth the trip from the theme parks.


Cypress Gardens is now the future home
of Legoland. Southern Belles not included.

Driving:  I-4, the main highway running through the Orlando/Disney World area experiences some congestion in the stretch that goes through Orlando itself. Other than rush hour traffic, the rest of I-4 in this moves at a good pace.  Don't expect Los Angeles style drivers--the speed limit on I-4 is a low of 50 MPH in downtown and as high as 65 near some of the attractions.  Major roads near the attractions are congested on the weekends, particularly International Drive.  Disney roads are rarely congested with the exception of the Downtown Disney area.

Welcome!
One interesting quirk I've found is that if you ask  locals how to go to Disney World from the airport, they'll likely tell you a way that avoids tolls. This is very thoughtful, but for a first timer it can be confusing. Make sure the directions you get are the ones that use the main roads. 

Once on Disney property you won't need a map or  GPS, although even with those trademark purple signs,  it's easy to get lost on Disney property.

Fortunately, it's very difficult to actually stay lost because those signs are just about everywhere.  It helps to know where your resort is located in relation to the theme parks or Downtown Disney, since many signs will point you toward the theme parks (or "Epcot Area Resorts," for example)  first and then to the specific resorts.

Tolls:  First timers are often surprised by the many toll roads around Orlando. If you'll be driving, don't forget to bring change. The fines are pretty steep if you don't pay. I'm embarrassed to tell you how many times I've sat at a toll booth, caught without change, only to have some kind person come up behind me and toss the .35 cents into the basket.  Let's just say I've learned my lesson.  I hope.
Gas:  Orlando gas prices tend to stay very close to the national average. The exception is at gas stations near the airport, where price gauging has reached a whole new level of arrogance.  In recent months, Orlando officials have called for ordinances which require all gas stations to post prices so that drivers can see before they pull into the station, but that doesn't keep them from charging nearly double for gas and taking advantage of tourists who are in a hurry to meet their plane and don't know the area very well. 

Surprisingly, some of the least expensive gas in the area can be purchased at the three Hess Marts on Disney property. They are at the Car Care Center next to the Magic Kingdom parking lot; Downtown Disney; and near the Boardwalk Resort.  You can also buy soft drinks and other items for considerably less than at your resort gift shop.

Internet:  While many large hotels in the surrounding Disney resort area have free internet, Disney does not (with the exception of free internet for Disney Vacation Club owners at DVC resorts). You'll need to pay $9.95 for 24 hours of internet service in your resort room. There is very little free WiFi on Disney property. It's essentially non-existent in the parks.  You can purchase 24-hours of WiFi for use in the lobbies on the Contemporary, Coronado Springs, the Yacht and Beach Club, and the Grand Floridian.  It costs $9.95.  This thread on Disboards explains everything guests need to know about internet use on Disney property.

Groceries:   Hotel gift shops have a limited amount of merchandise and it's usually quite expensive. If you don't have a vehicle, try Garden Grocer. They'll deliver right to your resort.  I also like WeGoShop, which will do your shopping for you for a small fee.  The Disney resort area has many of the same stores you're used to at home. There's a Whole Foods near SeaWorld, a Super Target just off property and numerous Walmart stores. I find that the Super Target on Highway 192 has the best selection and prices.  For locations and more information, please see this post.

Wildlife:  We probably should talk about these guys:


It's true that they're everywhere in Central Florida, even showing up on Disney property, but it's rare that you'll actually see one.  Avoid swimming in lakes and challenging one to a wrestling match. Gators are notoriously crooked and like to fight dirty.  Lesson:  Don't trust a gator.

Not only have I never seen a gator on Disney property, I've never seen a snake, which are known to appear from time to time and inspire fun threads on Disney message boards.  I have however, seen ducks and squirrels parading around the parks and resorts, as well as lizards, the odd deer, innocuous possums, the dreaded and aptly-named Lovebugs, and the occasional cockroach. 

The best advice anyone can give regarding local wildlife is probably what you do at home: Avoid it.  Except those cockroaches.  Do with them what you will.