Disney Music Loops: Tower of Terror (Part 1 of 4)

68367_795563422787_677437460_nIf you ask any Disney Parks aficionado to list the things he or she loves about the parks, attention to detail and theming will undoubtedly be mentioned. For me, the music loops that play in background of the various lands and ride queues are my favorite part of Disney theming. Nothing can transport me to a particular place in time like music, and playing some music from Disney parks is always a sure fire way to brighten my day. I am lucky enough to have procured many complete Disney music loops over the years. In the age of the Internet, Disney music is always at your fingertips. Many loops have been uploaded to YouTube, and for those of you always on the go, Mouse World Radio has a nice little app for your mobile device that plays both area music and attraction audio.
I obtained most of my collection about 10 years or so ago from websites that no longer exist (though I’m sure more are out there and could be located with some clever googling). The files were only labeled as things like MainSt_BGM (background music) so it took some sleuthing to figure out any songs or artists I was unfamiliar with. I came to rely heavily on Disney Music Loops. The site has not been maintained for over a decade but is still accessible. Over the years I’ve purchased a lot of additional music from many of the artists I first discovered through the listings on Disney Music Loops. Park Tunes is another site that has a decent collection of listings, but some of the song loops are not listed in the proper order, and while they provide links to purchase music through iTunes and Amazon, they do not always link to the correct version of the song used in the loop. (FYI:Disney does update their loops every so often, so some of the versions that I’ll be exploring in this series may be outdated.)

The first music loop I wish to discuss is from the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror queue. I cannot even fathom a guess as to how many times I’ve listened to this loop in its entirety. It is my go-to background music. I put it on when I’m doing household chores. In my college/graduate student days I’d play it while writing my papers. I even burned it to a CD so I could listen to it in my old car. I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly it was that first drew me to this music, because even though I take pride in my eclectic music collection, I was not familiar with a single song in this loop. Maybe it’s my appreciation for a good trumpet solo. Maybe it’s because I love old Hollywood, and thanks to the ride, I now associate this sound with it. I don’t know, but it makes me feel a sense of nostalgia, which is pretty odd considering I was born in the ’80s, thus I clearly did not live through the 1930s and have nothing to actually be nostalgic about. Perhaps I am a reincarnated Hollywood starlet, who knows? What I do know is I love this music! Clocking in at just over an hour, the entire loop includes 20 songs. To keep things interesting and manageable, I’m only focusing on 5 songs at a time. (Side note: I chose to embed most of the videos from a Tower of Terror playlist on YouTube for continuity, and because they seem to all have the “echo” effect on them that you hear in the queue.)

“Can’t Get Started”- Bunny Berigan
This is the song that opens the loop and its memorable trumpet solo makes it a perfect entrée for the ambiance that the music loop intends to set. “I Can’t Get Started” made its debut in the musical revue Ziegfeld Follies of 1936, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and music by Vernon Duke. Bunny Berigan, a trumpet virtuoso, made it a top 10 hit in 1937. The lyrics are very specific to the time period, but that’s part of what makes it perfect for setting the mood.
“I’ve been consulted by Franklin D.
Greta Garbo has had me to tea
Still I’m broken hearted
Cause I can’t get started with you!”
My obsession with this song is what first led me down the rabbit hole of tracking down artists featured in music loops. Disney Music Loops incorrectly lists the artist as “Benny” Berigan, but through the power of Google (and before the era of YouTube), I was eventually able to find my guy. I purchased “Let’s Do It!” through iTunes. The album is fantastic, and includes “Can’t Get Started.” Needless to say, I highly recommend it.

“Mood Indigo”- Duke Ellington

This was one of the earliest hits for legendary composer and band leader Duke Ellington. The song was built around a clarinet solo. In most musical arrangements, it was typical for the clarinet to handle the highest notes, followed by trumpet and then trombone; however, in “Mood Indigo” the order is reversed and the horns are muted, creating a unique and melodious yet eerie sound—the perfect sound for a haunted hotel. The song was also given lyrics and has had a wide variation of interpretations, but in my opinion, the original instrumental reigns supreme. There are so many different versions of this song that I’ve had trouble locating the exact version they used in the loop for purchase. The version on “Best of Duke Ellington” is pretty good, but it includes different variations than the version in the loop. If anyone knows where to procure the exact version and would care to share, I’d appreciate it!

“Remember”-Red Norvo

Red specialized in the xylophone, marimba, and vibraphone. This is an instrumental version of a 1925 Irving Berlin song. There are nice vocal versions out there from the great balladeers like Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra, but I really appreciate this instrumental. It isn’t often that the xylophone, vibraphone, and/or marimba are highlighted through solos. The song is available for purchase on iTunes and is part of many different blues/jazz compilations.
Bonus! You can see Red in action backing up Dean Martin on “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” from the Original Ocean’s 11. Dino even gives Red a shout out!

“Uptown Blues”-Jimmie Lunceford


James Melvin “Jimmie” Lunceford was a saxophone player and bandleader who died at the age of 45 under suspicious circumstances. The cause of death was cardiac arrest, but allegations were made that a racist restaurant owner may have poisoned his food. Other band members who ate at the same restaurant also became sick shortly after completing their meals.  Jimmie and his band received high praise from many contemporaries, including Benny Goodman, who once said he put on a better show than Duke Ellington. Lunceford’s live shows live on in legend as having been quite a spectacle, and many have said that the band’s soul was never adequately captured on record–the latter of which I’m inclined to agree with. iTunes has a compilation of Lunceford’s music called “Powerhouse Swing,” and while all the songs are pleasant and could fit right in to this music loop, none of them are particularly memorable in my opinion.

“Deep Purple”- Larry Clinton and His Orchestra with Bea Wain


The original song was a piano tune written by Peter DeRose. So far, I’ve been praising instrumental versions of songs over their vocal counterparts, but in the case of “Deep Purple” I really think the lyrics and vocals enhance the piece and are well suited to the eeriness of the queue:
“When the deep purple falls over sleepy garden walls
And the stars begin to flicker in the sky
Through the mist of a memory you wander back to me
Breathing my name with a sigh
In the still of the night once again I hold you tight
Though you’re gone, your love lives on when moonlight beams
And as long as my heart will beat, lover we’ll always meet
Here in my deep purple dreams”
There is some dispute over which version is actually used in the loop. A few sites list Turner Layton, and this is the version included in the YouTube playlist I’ve been linking to; however, this is NOT the version that is in my copy of the loop. I’ve also seen some sites link to the version by Artie Shaw featuring Helen Forrest, but that upbeat interpretation is actually featured on the Jungle Cruise Boathouse Loop, not Tower of Terror’s.  After some painstaking research (I’m not kidding, this blog got held up for a few days while I tried to solve this mystery), I’ve identified the version by Larry Clinton and His Orchestra with Bea Wain as the one I’ve been listening to all these years, so I wanted to give them proper credit. Clinton was an accomplished musician and bandleader, and made a name with his arrangements for dance bands. His arrangements were used by the likes of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Louis Armstrong, and the aforementioned Bunny Berigan. Bea Wain was a popular big band singer who had four #1 hits (of which “Deep Purple” was one).
This is a wonderful song no matter who is performing it. It is very possible that Disney has switched out the version over the years. Next time you are in the queue, maybe you can hang around and listen for me!

Be sure to check back later this week for Part 2 of Disney Music Loops: Tower of Terror.

Muppet Mondays: Blue Skies

I mentioned in last week’s Muppet Monday post that The Muppet Show was my introduction to a plethora of great music. With the lovely weather we’ve been having in our area lately, I was reminded of another one of those songs that I first heard via The Muppet Show: “Blue Skies.”

The Irving Berlin tune was penned in 1926 for Betsy, a Rodgers and Hart musical. The musical was a flop, but the song was a smashing success. It became the first song ever to be heard in a “talkie,” when Al Jolson performed it in The Jazz Singer. It has been covered by anyone and everyone over the past 88 years. Of course, no one will ever be able to touch the snappy and harmonious version performed by these adorable prairie dogs on episode 322 of The Muppet Show:

Wishing everyone Blue Skies from now on!

Muppet Mondays: 10 Weirdly Wonderful Muppet Show Moments

The last new episode of The Muppet Show may have aired over 30 years ago, but thanks to the wonders of VHS and cable TV, children growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s still got to enjoy Muppets gracing their living room screens. As a kid, I spent countless hours in front of the TV watching best-of compilations and Muppet specials that my mom or grandfather taped for my brother and me. I also caught episodes as they aired in syndication over the years on TNT, Nickelodeon, and the Odyssey Channel (though sadly the show hasn’t been on TV since 2001). In addition to syndication, Time-Life released a number of Best-of DVDs, featuring 3 episodes a piece, and Disney has released seasons 1-3 on DVD (though Seasons 4 and 5 are mysteriously still in the vault). Thankfully we live in the age of YouTube and many nice people have uploaded their copies of the episodes for our viewing pleasure.

Somewhere along the line, Muppets got a reputation for being childish and cutesy. Sure, most of the puppets are downright adorable, which is certainly what first grabbed my attention as a child, but adulthood has given me a whole new appreciation for the wonderful but WEIRD entertainment that Jim Henson and his fellow performers gave us with The Muppet Show.

Here are 10 of the weirdest sketches that have stuck with me for one reason or another through the years:

1.Java


This sketch’s simplicity is its best asset, and it seems to have been a favorite of Jim’s, as it was also performed over the years on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Today Show, and The Tonight Show in addition to its performance on The Muppet Show. It features a bendy, tubular puppet dancing in rhythm to jaunty trumpet music, but the puppet becomes frustrated by a smaller variation of itself, who can’t calm down and stay in rhythm. The larger puppet continuously kicks the smaller one out of the frame. Just as you start to feel bad for the little guy, he brings the sketch to a rousing close by blasting his larger counterpart away. As Henson himself once said, “It all ends in one of two ways: either someone gets eaten or something blows up.” We’ll see some more of that theme in this list…

2. Hugga Wugga


Talk about bizarre. This sketch, set in a steamy, swamp-like environment, begins with a mean-looking alien marching around like he owns the place, singing his Hugga Wugga song, which sounds like a war chant. A second alien appears and sings a different song until he is bullied into singing the Hugga Wugga song by the first alien. Suddenly a third alien appears—a cute, yellow creature, who completely changes the tone by singing a sweet version of “You Are My Sunshine.” He refuses to be intimidated and taunts the first alien, who eventually blasts his head off! But that is not the end of our little yellow guy! The seemingly headless alien continues to sing his song, perplexing the bully, who ends up getting blown away himself in the end. Our yellow friend proudly finishes his song-“Do not take my sunshine away”– providing yet another win for the little guy. To this day whenever I hear “You Are My Sunshine” I picture that yellow guy. Fun fact-The yellow creature makes a cameo appearance in Muppets Most Wanted as the “thingy-thing” that Constantine gives to Miss Piggy in “I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu).”

4. Jabberwocky


This Muppety take on Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem is just as weird to me now as it ever was. “Have you SEEN the scene? Even when you know what it is, you don’t know what it is!”
That about sums it up, thanks Scooter. Burble burble.

5. I’ve Got You Under My Skin


The Muppet Show loved putting weird twists on old standards. In this sketch, the Cole Porter tune that Frank Sinatra made famous becomes a duet between Behemoth (Who now goes by the name of Gene) and his still-living lunch, who is trying desperately to fight his way out. This sketch really creeped me out as a kid. It kind of still does.

6. Mahna Mahna


This is one of the most popular sketches associated with the Muppets, but it’s definitely weird. Like “Java,” it was performed on other programs both before and after it appeared on The Muppet Show. In a theme somewhat reminiscent of the Java sketch, the Mahna Mahna Muppet is expected to stay calm and do his part in backing up the cutesy pink Snowths as they do-do-do-do-do along. Whenever he tries to improvise, they give him the glare of death until he calms down. I’m sure many significant others who have been on the receiving end of a death stare can sympathize. Mahna Mahna gets the last laugh as he leaves the stage and exits the building, then puts a call in to Kermit, who brings the phone out to the stage, which allows our fuzzy pal to utter one final “Mahna Mahna.” Many people mistakenly believe that this catchy tune is an original Muppet song, but (and here’s where it gets even weirder) it actually debuted in a “pseudo-documentary” about wild sexual behavior in Sweden. The song accompanies a sauna scene in the movie. Here’s a safe-for-work excerpt: Now you will probably never hear that song the same way again.

7.Tit-Willow


Rowlf the Dog gets uptight Sam the Eagle to participate in this song, under the guise that it is cultural because it’s from Gilbert and Sullivan’s light opera, The Mikado. Rowlf performs most of the song while Sam plays the role of “Dickey Bird” and must repeatedly say “willow… tit willow…tit willow.” Sam feels increasingly awkward about it, but never quite gets the joke and ends by asking, “Why are they laughing at me?” All Rowlf can do is cover his face as he giggles. Cheeky! The song actually made it onto The Muppet Show soundtrack, which I had in cassette form and listened to all the time as kid. I didn’t get what was funny about it then and found the song boring, so I usually fast forwarded the tape to something else. I’m glad I’ve rediscovered this strange and silly clip, and that is part of what makes The Muppet Show even better as an adult. I love discovering gags I didn’t understand as a child, and finding new meanings in sketches.

8. All of Me


Another wacky interpretation of a standard. The character who sings the song literally takes all of his parts off of his body one by one, handing them over to his lover, who giddily enjoys stuffing them in a box until there is nothing left to give except the shell of his body. So of course, he jumps into the trunk as she seals ALL OF HIM inside. Sure, it’s presented in a humorous manner, but adult-me sees an abusive, one-way relationship. We’re staring to get a little bit more serious here…

9. Windmills of Your Mind


As a kid, I found the “screaming thing” in this sketch strange, but also ridiculous and funny. As an adult, the simple act of watching this sketch now gets my anxiety revved up within the first 10 seconds. The Muppets took a haunting, Oscar-winning song and turned it into a frantic, psychotic plea for help. We start with the screaming thing telling us “I’m very relaxed. I’m terribly calm and tranquil, and very, very relaxed indeed…(cue fast music) ON THE OUTSIDE, BUT ON THE INSIDE…” and he proceeds to sing the song with ever increasing speed while his legs flail about and the world goes in circles around him until he crashes into an actual windmill. He starts shaking like he’s about to have a nervous breakdown and reassures us that on the outside, he is very calm—but then he screams and runs away and ends up flinging himself off of Statler and Waldorf’s balcony! Whoa dude.

10. Time in A Bottle


This was my first exposure to the Jim Croce classic (The Muppet Show was actually my introduction to many great tunes), and it has remained a favorite of mine over the years. As a kid, I liked the pretty yet haunting melody, but as I grew older I gained an appreciation for the longing and pain that the song invokes. In the sketch, a scientist sings the song as he makes and takes potions that make him increasingly younger, but he goes too far and returns to his older self in the end, because no matter how hard you try, you can’t save time in a bottle and you can’t recapture your youth. Sad!

I don’t want leave you on such a depressing note, so enjoy this bonus weird clip which features a scantily clad Raquel Welch doing a sexy dance with a giant spider. There are plenty more weird sketches in the Muppet catalog, so feel free to comment if you have a particular weird sketch that sticks in your mind.

“America’s First Zoo”

110920121347359878If you grew up in the Delaware Valley, chances are you took a trip to the Philadelphia Zoo at some point in your life. Whether it was with your school, your summer day camp, or your family, a zoo trip was and still is a veritable rite of passage in this area. So, when was the last time you ventured over to the Philadelphia Zoo? My husband and I enjoy visiting the Philadelphia Zoo in the morning during a weekday, especially in the off-season. There is rarely a crowd, and the Zoo staff, eager for some for conversation, will talk to you for as long as you want. We have found most of the staff at the exhibits to be very friendly and knowledgeable. The Philly Zoo also has scheduled “Meet the Keeper” events throughout the day. Here are a few of our favorite animal shots from our most recent trip in March:

Aside from the animals, the thing I love most about The Philadelphia Zoo is its rich history. The Philly Zoo bills itself as “America’s First Zoo,” which is true on a technicality. The Zoological Society of Philadelphia was chartered on March 21, 1859, though the actual grand opening did not occur until July 1, 1874.

ZooTimeline

19th Century sketch of Philadelphia Zoo entrance and gatehouses ©Philadelphia Zoo

The Philly Zoo has had many other “firsts” along the way. Some of their achievements include the addition of the first children’s zoo in the western hemisphere (1938), the first successful birth of an orangutan in a Unites States zoo (1928), and the first successful birth of a chimpanzee in United States zoo (1928).  Another interesting tidbit is that Jackie (AKA LEO), the first MGM lion to roar in those famous opening credits, retired to the Philly Zoo in 1931. You can read more about Jackie/Leo’s incredible story at mentalfloss.com and see more of the Zoo’s accomplishments via their timeline.

If you really want a taste of what The Philadelphia Zoo was like during its earliest years, head on over to digitalhistory.com, where they’ve transcribed a fascinating analysis of the Zoo from an 1879 edition of The Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.The article is accompanied by some wonderful sketches.

Gatehouses

Gatehouses

The Philadelphia Zoo is both bolstered and hindered by its age. Many of the original buildings still stand, much to the delight of any historian or architectural enthusiast. In particular, the Victorian style gatehouses, designed by famed Philadelphia-area architect Frank Furness, are quite charming. The downside of being an old zoo is that the city grew and expanded all around it, leaving little room for the Zoo to expand. At this point, any new exhibit added comes at the cost of getting rid of an old one. So far, the Zoo has aptly met the challenge of keeping pace with changing societal views on zoos—sometimes voluntarily, and sometimes forcibly.

Tragedy struck the Philly Zoo on Christmas Eve, 1995, when the Primate House caught fire. The Zoo suffered the loss of 23 animals, all of which perished from smoke inhalation in their sleep. The casualties included a family of six lowland gorillas (one of which turned out to be pregnant), a family of three orangutans, four white-handed gibbons, and ten lemurs. Many corporations, individuals, and other zoos contributed funds in the wake of the tragedy, which led to the opening of the PECO Primate Reserve in 1999.

2006 saw the opening of the new $20-million exhibit, First Niagara Big Cat Falls. In this expansive area, visitors can view animals, such as lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards, in exhibits that are more reminiscent of their natural habitats. The old big cat building was preserved as part of the exhibit.

Original Big Cat building

Original Big Cat building

One of the biggest controversies the Philadelphia Zoo has faced in recent years surrounds the elephants. The elephants have long been fan favorites at the Philly Zoo. At the main entrance, after your ticket is scanned, one of the first sights you are greeted with is a large elephant sculpture. For decades, the Philadelphia Zoo had audio storybooks at many of their exhibits, which could only be activated by a Zoo Key, shaped like an elephant. Alas, the storybooks are gone, and so are the elephants. After dealing with years of protests from animal rights groups, the Philadelphia Zoo decided that they could no longer meet the modern standards for keeping elephants in captivity, and sent their elephants onto greener pastures in other zoos across the nation. It was the right decision. Having seen the modern, expansive environments provided to elephants in zoos like The San Diego Zoo  and The National Zoo in Washington DC,  it is abundantly clear to me that the old Philly Zoo exhibit was severely outdated. Thankfully, they preserved the old elephant house as part of the new KidZooU exhibit which opened last year. The old children’s zoo area is currently vacant, and if you speak to the Zoo staff it is no secret that the Philly Zoo would one day love to have elephants back on their roster; however, they would definitely need to do a major overhaul of multiple areas—the old children’s zoo area will not suffice on its own.

The Zoo continues to make improvements and seek out innovative ways to enrich its visitors’ experiences. The latest improvement is the Zoo360 initiative, which provides enclosed walkways for various animals to explore outside of their exhibits and walk above the heads of the visitors. The Treetop Trail features monkeys and lemurs from the Rare Animal Conservation Center and the Great Ape Trail is connected to the Orangutan enclosure. Big Cat Crossing will be officially opening up May 10, featuring—you guessed it—big cats! We were told the Tigers would likely be the first animals encouraged the check out the crossing. I’ve seen some pictures floating around which show a tiger and a leopard separately enjoying the new pathway. We love this idea in concept; unfortunately, we have not yet had the pleasure of witnessing animals using the trails in person. Bad timing, I guess.

Old, deflated Zoo Balloon

Old, deflated Zoo Balloon

One last thing I’d like to note is the resurrection of the 6ABC Zoo Balloon. The Zoo Balloon fell victim to the particularly harsh winter we had this year, and had to be deflated and decommissioned. I took this picture of the old balloon on our last trip. Low and behold, later that very same day the Zoo announced that the balloon would “Soar Once More” and a new balloon was unveiled. I only got to ride in the balloon once, and it was not a particularly nice day; however, I’ve heard that on a clear day you can see all the way to the Jersey Shore. I would like to test the new balloon for myself this spring/summer if I can find a brave soul to go with me (my husband is afraid of heights and spent our one and only zoo balloon experience with his eyes closed, clutching onto the railing for dear life).

 

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New Zoo Balloon Soars over the Polar Bears ©Philadelphia Zoo

The Philadelphia Zoo offers wonderful experiences any time of the year, so a membership is very much worthwhile if you visit more than once a year. Here’s the breakdown: A one-day visit in-season costs $20 per adult and $18 per child. You will also need to pay $15 for parking. For a family of 3, one Zoo visit will set you back $73. A basic family membership, however, only costs $120 and would provide all 3 family members entrance to the park, free parking, and access to members-only areas and benefits. It pays for itself in two visits. Throw in another $40 bucks to get the Family Plus plan and you can bring Grandma and Grandpa along every time you go. You can check out more membership details here: http://www.philadelphiazoo.org/Get-Involved/Membership/Join-The-Zoo.htm

This overview of the Philadelphia Zoo, past and present, has only scratched the surface. In the future I hope to provide more history on the Zoo and explore its animal conservation efforts more thoroughly.

Muppet Mondays: Muppets Most Wanted!

Muppets_Most_Wanted_posterThis weekend saw the opening of the newest Muppet movie, Muppets Most Wanted. For mega Muppet fans such as myself, the weeks leading up to the release have been wonderful. I love seeing Muppets popping up all over the internet and TV, and I commend Disney for its extensive marketing efforts. I am a bit disappointed that the movie did not see a bigger opening weekend, but I think it still has legs in the U.S. and should do well overseas. If you have not yet seen the film and have even the slightest interest in seeing it, I urge you to get your booty to your nearest theater! I’m a bit perplexed as to why this movie got more tepid reviews as opposed to 2011’s The Muppets, because in my opinion, Muppets Most Wanted is the superior film.

I enjoyed The Muppets, and am a fan of both Jason Segel and Amy Adams, but I felt their character arcs were brought to a nice conclusion at the end of that movie. The Muppets served its purpose in bringing the Muppets themselves back to the forefront by playing heavily on the nostalgia factor for adults, while simultaneously resetting the Muppet franchise for a younger audience. It was heartwarming and fuzzy and left almost everyone in the theatre smiling –but it wasn’t perfect. The biggest complaint came from Muppet diehards who felt that there weren’t enough actual Muppets in The Muppets (a criticism that is humorously addressed in the new film).  Muppets Most Wanted shines a spotlight on the wacky and wonderful antics of this loveable troupe of misfits and weirdos. The negative reviews I’ve read tend criticize the lack of warmth and the loss of the “centering” presence of Segel and Adams, to which I say: “Phooey!” This new movie is classic Muppet fun. It’s clever and chock full of zaniness. The Muppets were blowing things up long before they got a reputation for being warm and fuzzy. Maybe those who prefer generic CGI cartoons outnumber the amount of people who can truly appreciate Muppet humor these days, but I’d like to think there’s still room in entertainment for smart comedies that the whole family can enjoy.

Behind the scenes shot of Muppets Most Wanted opening

Behind the scenes of Muppets Most Wanted

Muppets Most Wanted picks up, literally, right where The Muppets left off. The gang, having just finished its big finale, is left wondering what to do next. This leads right into the fabulous and infectious opening number “We’re Doing A Sequel.” Bret McKenzie, who won an Academy Award for “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets, was once again in charge of music, and he did not disappoint. (As an aside, you may notice that they sing “Let’s give it a name- How about The Muppets Again? It’s the Muppets Again!” in the opening number. The title was actually changed from Muppets…Again to Muppets Most Wanted after the song had already been recorded and filmed. I’m guessing the same is true for the finale, a clever update of the biggest song from Muppets Take Manhattan, “Together Again…Again.” Despite the name change, the songs still work.)

Dominic (Ricky Gervais) and Constantine

Dominic (Ricky Gervais) and Constantine

The deceptive Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) convinces the newly reunited Muppets to take their show on a world tour, which will serve as the cover for Dominic and his boss, the evil Kermit doppelgänger known as Constantine, to execute their heist of the Crown Jewels of England. Everyone except Kermit thinks the world tour is a great idea, and soon the gang is off. I don’t want to give much else away, but the action is nonstop, and there is plenty in this movie to please people of all ages and Muppet fans of all kinds. In particular, there were a lot of carrots thrown out to the super fans (bouncing baby figs!) and as a self-proclaimed Muppet Geek, I had a blast trying to spot all of the Muppets that appeared both in the background and in speaking roles. (Hugga Wugga! Mildred! Flying Zucchini Bros! Bob Benson and his Baby Band!) As always, there were plenty of great human cameos, too.

Sam the Eagle and Jean Pierre (Ty Burrell)

Sam the Eagle and Jean Pierre (Ty Burrell)

As for the rest of the top-billed cast, Ty Burrell fits in perfectly as Jean Pierre Napoleon, an Interpol agent who must work side-by-side with Sam the Eagle (who in truly wonderful Muppet fashion now inexplicably works for the CIA) to catch the baddies who are traipsing around Europe, stealing and defacing priceless works of art. Meanwhile, after being mistaken for Constantine, Kermit lands in what is apparently the most talented Gulag in Siberia, headed up by Tina Fey as Nadya. While every actor and puppeteer delivered marvelous performances, Matt Vogel as Constantine steals the show.

Constantine makes sure Dominic knows his place

Constantine makes sure Dominic knows his place

Vogel really gets to stretch his wings in this movie, with lots of screen time and two songs: “I’m Number One,” which also features a singing and dancing Gervais, and my personal favorite, the cheesy disco-era song used to woo Miss Piggy,  “I’ll Get You What You Want.” Constantine trying to impersonate Kermit provides some of the biggest laughs in the film, and the fact that no one in the group even notices it’s not actually Kermit (aside from Animal) makes it even funnier. My group of friends was breaking out into Constantine-as-Kermit accents the entire weekend. I hope we get to see a bit more of the explosion-loving, karate-chopping, and knitting wonder that is Constantine in the future. (Though not necessarily at the expense of some of the more well-known Muppets ;) )  The big show-stopping number (which also includes a big cameo) is “Something So Right,” which is by far Eric Jacobson’s best performance as Miss Piggy.  I also want to give credit to Steve Whitmire. Even though he’s been the man behind Kermit for over two decades, he still lives in the shadow of the incomparable Jim Henson. Muppets Most Wanted allowed Whitmire to give us a version of Kermit with depth and a range of personality more akin to the character’s demeanor on The Muppet Show. I love a good Kermit freak-out.

Nadya (Tina Fey) and Kermit

Nadya (Tina Fey) and Kermit

Some of the best moments in the movie were the skits that were part of the show-within-a-show. As part of the traveling Muppet Show, we got to see the opening performed in Spanish, Gonzo’s live running of the bulls, and Christophe Waltz dancing the Waltz to name a few. Over in Siberia, Kermit takes charge of the Gulag’s annual review and we get to enjoy the aforementioned talented prisoners, who perform a hysterical take on “I Hope I Get it” from A Chorus Line, as well as a rousing version of “Working in the Coal Mine.” These segments harken back to the halcyon days of The Muppet Show, and have me convinced that The Muppets can still work  in 2014 when they are placed in the right hands. The jury is still out on whether Muppets Most Wanted ends up being considered a box office success, but given the right time slot and format, I think that some sort of small screen revival in the vein of The Muppet Show style variety act is still a viable idea. A weekly show is probably not in the cards, but a special here and there, paired with the right celebrity guest (think more Jimmy Fallon and less Lady Gaga) could be just what the franchise needs to stay relevant throughout the next decade and beyond. Long live the Muppets, and if you’ve read this far and have still not ventured out the see Muppets Most Wanted… what are you waiting for?

Muppet Mondays: Jim Henson Book Reviews

I’m trying to start some regular features on my blog to inspire me to write more frequently. My first regular feature will be “Muppet Mondays.”  I am a huge fan of all things Muppets and Jim Henson, and have been for as long as I can remember. Here I am as a wee little tyke with my Kermit Muppet Baby on Christmas Morning, and on my most recent trip to Walt Disney World at the Jim Henson hand prints at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  

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Every Monday I will try to blog about something Muppet or Jim Henson Company related. Today I’m discussing two Muppet books I have in my possession: One for children, one for adults.

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I picked up the Children’s book Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets on a whim when I saw it on sale at the gift shop of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History last summer.  The book is written by Kathleen Krull, with beautiful illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Francher and is suitable for ages 5+. The very first page features a famous quote from Henson—“When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world”—along with his picture.  The book is meant to inspire children to chase their dreams, just as Jim Henson did. Almost half of the 35-page book (which features the standard children’s book setup of one page text/one page illustration) focuses on Jim’s early years. It shows how he turned his dreams of being involved in television into a reality that far surpassed anything he could have imagined. The only mild criticism of the book is that it comes to a sudden ending.  After covering most of Jim’s biography at a nice pace, including four pages of text covering Sesame Street,  Henson’s other projects only get one page of text before the reader is confronted with Jim Henson’s  death.  Page 32 ends with “Not everyone loved those serious movies like The Dark Crystal or Labryinth at first, but his experiments seemed endless.”

Jim Henson: The Guy Who Plays with Puppets

Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets

Page 33 features a lovely illustration of Henson and Frank Oz puppeteering Miss Piggy and Kermit dancing together, seen on the left. Everything is happy-go-lucky until you turn the page and read “It was heartbreaking to everyone who knew him—and to millions who didn’t—when Jim Henson died unexpectedly, after a short illness, at the age of fifty-three.” Henson’s death and memorial service are handled nicely, but it’s just a bit of an abrupt transition for a children’s book. All in all, Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets is a wonderful book, and a great way to introduce children to the world of The Muppets and Jim Henson.

On the other end of the reader demographic spectrum, we have Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones. I was very excited to delve into this book, and I finished it in less than a week (I had a lot of time to kill on my flights to and from Walt Disney World in January).  Jones definitely takes the great man, myth-building type of approach, which is pretty typical of biographies. Though I am a huge fan of Jim Henson and always name him as one of my heroes, he was, after all, only a man, and certainly had some faults. I couldn’t help but notice that Jones tread very lightly around things that might paint Jim in any kind of negative light.  We get many behind the scenes stories about Jim Henson the Entertainer that will delight any Muppet fan, but Jones misses opportunities to probe more deeply into Jim Henson the Man. By most accounts, Jim was a fun, easygoing guy who everyone loved to be around. His biggest flaw was his struggle to outwardly show his emotions. This manifested itself both in his work, with his struggle to give “attaboys” to colleagues who strived to please him, and at home through troubles with his wife, Jane Henson. I admit I had no idea that Jim and Jane grew so far apart over the years– that she allowed him to “go out” on her with other women, and that eventually they became legally separated (but never divorced).  Their marriage comes off as more of a savvy business partnership with some benefits rather than a real love story.

Jones gives lots of tidbits about most of Henson’s productions, but seems to spend the most time explaining the thought, time, and effort that went into less successful ventures like The Dark Crystal, Labryinth, and The Jim Henson Hour.  Not every single production is covered. Something in particular that stood out to me came up during a section devoted to the various ideas for future projects that Muppeteers would toss around. Jones briefly mentions that Richard Hunt had an idea for a show where the puppets came to life on their own, which immediately made me think of The Christmas Toy; however, there is zero coverage of The Christmas Toy anywhere in the book. This popular 1986 Christmas special featured toys coming to life when children left the room, long pre-dating Toy Story by almost a decade. (Later, a TV Show featuring The Christmas Toy characters called The Secret Life of Toys would run for a season.)

Of particular interest to Disney Park fans is an entire chapter devoted to the original failed Disney deal.  Through his thorough research, Jones is able to shed new light on the negotiations. Jones really lets Michael Eisner off the hook and paints Jeffrey Katzenburg as the baddie who tried to short-change Jim and pull the wool over his eyes. One thing that stood out to me the most was that from day one, Jim Henson told the Disney executives that Sesame Street and its characters would never be part of the deal; yet, Disney’s internal memos reveal that the negations were code-named “Project Big Bird.” Ahhh, Disney.  Henson was very excited by the notion that Disney would be able to keep his characters alive for generations to come, and loved tossing around ideas for theme park rides. The original Disney deal fell through with Jim’s sudden death in 1990, with Muppet*Vision 3D being it’s only lasting testament. Disney finally did acquire rights to the Muppets in 2004 and was criticized heavily for leaving them in limbo for many years. With the release of The Muppets in 2011 and the upcoming March 21, 2014 release of Muppets Most Wanted, The Disney Company finally seems to be going all-in with the Muppets, giving them the care and attention that they deserve and introducing them to younger generations, just as Jim Henson had once hoped.

One last thing that struck me was how much of a workaholic Jim Henson was. Jones had access to Jim’s journals, so he is able to trace Jim’s travels quite thoroughly. The man was constantly flying across the country and even around the world. One day he’d be overseeing production of The Muppet Show in England; the next he might need to fly to New York City for meetings or to film some bits for Sesame Street; the day after that he’d be off to Vermont for a ski vacation with his family. When he first became ill with the infection that would end up killing him, he didn’t think much of it. He was a man who worked hard and played hard, and in his mind, he simply didn’t have time to get sick. Jim was also on the cutting edge of technology. One can only wonder how much more he would’ve been able to accomplish had he been around to experience the massive technological boom of the 90s.

All in all, a Muppet fan of any degree will certainly want to give this a read. Whether you are simply a casual fan, or an uber fanboy, there will undoubtedly be new stories for you to discover in this almost-500-page book. In the words of Jim Henson, “Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it.” Jim Henson certainly did.

Bonus pictures: From Jim Henson: The Biography, a picture of a young Jim Henson charming a “snake” and the lovely illustration of the same event from Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets. Simply adorable!

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Resort Review: Swan and Dolphin Resort

Dolphin Hotel

Dolphin Hotel

The first thing guests should know about Swan and Dolphin is that despite being located on Walt Disney World property, they are not Walt Disney World hotels. They are Starwood hotels. While guests do get some of the benefits of staying on Disney property, the hotels lack a bit of that Disney “feel.” Guests do have access to WDW transportation to all Disney attractions, free parking at the WDW parks, and access to theme park Extra Magic Hours; however, with the full roll out of the FastPass+/ MyMagic+ campaign, it is important to note that Swan and Dolphin do not participate in the Magic Band program, so guests do not have the ability to book FastPass+ in advance.  There are also no charging privileges.

Swan Hotel

Swan Hotel

The biggest draw of the resort is its comparative low price for its prime location.  For those who tend to spend more time at Epcot or just enjoy the atmosphere of the Epcot resort area, the location is simply spectacular.  Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Boardwalk Resort, and Yacht and Beach Club are all within walking distance. For those who prefer a leisurely cruise to a brisk walk, the Friendship Boats will take you to all of those locations.

 The Dolphin has several large ballrooms and holds conventions year-round, so it’s no surprise that it is one of the most adult-oriented hotels on property.  You have access to excellent dining experiences, high-end shops, and a luxurious spa. My sister-in-law decided to book a last minute pedicure at Mandara Spa during our recent trip, and she had wonderful things to say about her experience.  She reports that it was well worth the price, and it was the best pedicure she’s had in years–even better than one she had at a Ritz Carlton Spa.  She also appreciated their late hours. They stay open until 9pm, and she was able to book an evening appointment after we spent the day at Wide World of Sports and Downtown Disney.

View from 8th Floor Suite

View from 8th Floor Suite

We have stayed at The Dolphin twice. Our most recent stay was during Marathon Weekend, 2014. We had the pleasure of being upgraded to a King bed suite with a balcony that provided a wonderful view of the Epcot Resort Area.  That is where the positives end for this recent stay.

First, let’s take a closer look at the price breakdown. The base rate at Dolphin is attractive. Add to that the fact that they typically offer discounts for teachers, nurses, military, seniors, and more, and the rate looks even better. We had a $179 per night base rate. Where Dolphin really gets you is with all its added fees.

Here is the exact breakdown from our recent invoice:

Room Charge-  $179.00

Room Tax-  $11.64

Resort Tax-  $10.74

Resort Service Package-  $17.00

Resort Service Package Tax-  $1.11

Resort Tax-Resort Svc. Pkg-  $1.02

Total for one night-   $220.51

The “Resort Service Package” is not something that you can opt out of. What do you get for this additional $19.13 per night (adding in taxes)? Internet Access,  2 bottles of water daily, and unlimited access to resort health club facilities. You also get unlimited local and domestic calls, but since most people have decent cell phone plans these days, how many people do you think are actually availing themselves of these phone privileges per day?

Do you have a car on property? Add another $15 per night for self-parking.  

Your total is still cheaper at Dolphin than it would be at it’s Deluxe Epcot Resort Area counterparts, but come across a good discount for Boardwalk or Yacht & Beach Club, and the savings gap substantially narrows.

Picabu

The hidden fees don’t stop there. Picabu, a “buffeteria” nestled in the back corner of The Dolphin, adds a $2 service charge to all orders.  We had some good meals here, but it’s hard not to roll your eyes and groan when you see another fee tacked onto your bill.

The rooms themselves are decent. I have no issues with the décor or the space of the actual room. I do think the bathroom is desperately in need of an update. The vanity/sink area is separate from the toilet and shower area, which is always nice, but we found the toilet/shower area to be a bit cramped and in need of a refurbishment.  My sister-in-law had major issues with the temperature in her room-it always seemed stuffy. Ours felt the same when we checked in, but we were able to get it managed.

Dolphin Lobby

Dolphin Lobby

The worst part of our trip was the noise. During both of our stays at The Dolphin, I have felt that the door and walls are too thin. You can hear every little thing that happens in the hallway. The Walt Disney World Value Resorts tend to get a lot of heat for their noise levels, but we stayed at POP! Century once during a Pop Warner football event and never experienced the level of noise that we had on this recent stay at The Dolphin.  The rowdy conventioneers were out in full force, partying into the wee hours of the morning. On our first night, after we finally fell asleep, the fire alarm went off at 1am! And of course that was the morning of  the Minnie 10K.  The next evening, the people in the room next to us actually propped their door open and had people freely coming and going. We could hear some noise through the wall, but the door being open really made things a lot worse. We reached our breaking point at 11pm and called the front desk. They said they would take care of it, but it took about another 30 minutes.  Then we had to endure the loud hallway goodbyes and doors slamming shut. I almost couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth when I told my husband, “I can’t wait to check out of The Dolphin so we can hopefully get some peace and quiet at All Star Music.”  (That review is for another day.)

Swan and Dolphin Pool Area

Swan and Dolphin Pool Area

Swan and Dolphin Beach Area

Swan and Dolphin Beach Area

I want to note that the pool and beach area that Swan and Dolphin share seem nice, but we were not able to take advantage of these facilities on either of our trips

 All in all, there are still many pros for The Dolphin, especially if you are a party of adults willing to forgo some of the Disney “magic” and save a few bucks.  I do think the pros still outweigh the cons.  Just be sure to crunch the numbers and don’t forget those hidden fees. If you are a family with small children, I would would recommend looking for deals elsewhere.

 

FastPass+

For those of you who aren’t up to speed with Walt Disney World’s recent changes, they have made a major alteration to their FastPass system. In the old system, any park guest was able to go to a machine outside of a ride and, depending on availability, use his/her park ticket to retrieve a FastPass which would give the person a window of time during which he/she could come back later and ride with little to no wait. Another FastPass could be obtained at the start of the current Fastpass ticket’s return time or after two hours, whichever was earlier. The new system that is being rolled out allows ONLY Walt Disney World Resort on-site guests to book three FastPasses per day up to 60 days in advance. You can only use your FastPasses in ONE park per day, and the experiences are tiered ( if you are visiting Epcot, you can’t get a FastPass for BOTH Test Track and Soarin’, for example). Non-resort guests will be able to make same-day FastPass+ bookings using kiosks located at the parks. The old FastPass machines have been phased out of Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom already, and by the end of the month, they will be gone from all four parks.

The nature of our stay provided us a unique perspective from which to view FastPass+. Bear with me as I attempt to explain the details, because this might get a tad confusing (as if it wasn’t confusing enough already)!

About a year ago, we knew we would be headed down for Marathon weekend, so we purchased our tickets in advance through The Official Ticket Center. They have a deal to get a 5th day free when you buy a 4-day park hopper. When it came time to book a hotel, we chose the Dolphin. We wanted to be in the Epcot area for the weekend, and with the teacher discount, the price could not be beat. At the time of booking, we only planned to stay Thursday to Sunday because we had no idea what our schedules would be like. As the Swan and Dolphin are not Disney-run hotels, they were not participating in the Magic Band testing phase. Guests of Swan and Dolphin were, however, allowed to make same-day FastPass+ reservations using kiosks at the parks. As we got closer to the trip, we decided to extend our stay, and chose to take advantage of a cheap rate at All Star Music. Because a part of our stay was now at a Disney resort, we received Magic Bands after all. In order to make our FastPass+ reservations for the second part of our stay, we had to link our park tickets to the band.

Yes I fell for the MagicBandit money grab, but only to support The Muppets.

Yes I fell for the MagicBandit money grab, but only to support The Muppets.

Before we delve deeper into the details, I’d like to point out that since our physical tickets from Official Ticket Center were the old style with no RFID chip, we decided to use our bands for park entry, now that the tickets were linked. We were NOT eligible for advanced reservations for FastPass+ but could make same day reservations at the kiosks by showing a Swan/Dolphin room key. While we weren’t looking particularly hard, we didn’t notice a kiosk until our 3rd day, and chose to use the old “legacy” FastPass system with our hard park tickets. Since we left our bands on after using them for entry, it may have appeared to some that we were double dipping (meaning using both the old and new FastPass systems). My husband was even given a hard time by a cast member at Tower of Terror over this. Soon, all parks will be FastPass+ only and this won’t matter, but I just wanted to note that there are exceptions. Just because someone who has a band on is also getting a physical ticket does not necessarily mean they are working the system.

Our first real experience with same day FastPass+ was when we went to Animal Kingdom. We found the kiosk near the entrance, and waited in line. There were about four people in front of us. There were two physical kiosks and a cast member who had an iPad. She was the one who ended up helping us. She was able to link everyone in our party together, and make us reservations for Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safari, and Primeval Whirl. This took a little bit longer than it really should have. We wanted to be out of Animal Kingdom by 1pm. The major flaw in the system is that you cannot input what times you want. You have to first select the “experiences” you want. After that, it requires some finagling to bump up the times, and sometimes, earlier slots just aren’t available. Luckily for us, the Cast Member was very helpful and after a few minutes of tapping buttons, she was finally able to get us exactly what we wanted.

We had a less successful experience at Disney Hollywood Studios. We had booked FastPass+ for Star Tours, Tower of Terror, and Toy Story Mania. When we got to Star Tours shortly after the park opened, it was a walk on. Just like with the old FastPass system, we thought, “Why would we waste a FastPass on a walk on?” So we rode the ride twice using the regular line. We tried using the My Disney Experience app to switch Star Tours to something else, even a later Star Tours ride, but we weren’t having much luck. We found the FP+ Kiosk and waited in the line. This wait took a little longer than the one at Animal Kingdom and the cast member was not able to help us this time, so we just decided to forego using the last Fast Pass since we had plans to head to Epcot soon.

We happened to be in the Magic Kingdom on January 14, the day FastPass+ went live. On this day, you would have to be blind to miss a FastPass+ Cast member or kiosk locale, as they were swarming everywhere, along with plenty of Disney “suits.” We were approached multiple times and asked whether or not we had been able to make our selections for the day. There were no obvious issues from what we could tell, but the park was practically empty. Case in point: we had a private ride on Dumbo the Flying Elephant about 20 minutes after park opening.

Nobody else in sight

Nobody else in sight

Our Own Private Dumbo Ride

Our Own Private Dumbo Ride

We chose Big Thunder, Peter Pan, and Space Mountain as our FastPasses (Splash Mountain was closed for refurbishment). I’m very glad that we did choose those rides, because again, everything else was a walk on. This leads me to another point- Don’t trust Disney’s posted wait times. They were wrong more often than not. One time we got in line for Pirates of The Caribbean with a posted 45 minute wait-it only took 10 minutes to get loaded onto the boat. Under The Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid was consistently listed as 20-25 wait, but was a walk on both times we rode it. Because of the low crowds, we got to ride everything we wanted to and most things multiple times, but I’ll be interested to see how this all pans out during more crowded days.

The biggest PRO of the FastPass+ system is clearly not having to run around the park like a mad man collecting FastPasses. Once everything is set, the new system works out rather nicely on low to medium crowd days. Those are the nicest things I can say about it.

The CONS outweigh the PROS for us at this point. The MyMagic+ app is very buggy and can be frustrating to deal with when you have an issue or need to make a change. The limit of 3 FastPasses will be tough on busy days for those who have learned how to maximize the old system, and that doesn’t even touch on the fact that you are limited to one park in which you can book FPs AND that the experiences are tiered. Lines at Guest Relations are longer than usual, and each guest is taking a long time to get his/her problem resolved. My husband asked a CM at one of the kiosks if they are having a lot of issues with FP+ and guests being confused and he said “yeah… kind of…” His partner CM was quick to whisper “Job security!” to him and then she went into a spiel about how great everything is. Many people will be duped into wasting FastPasses on rides that are walk ons to begin with. At Spaceship Earth, we overheard a cast member calling out “Don’t use your FastPass! It’s a walk on.” I could go on and on but this post is long enough already.

Have an opinion about FastPass+? Leave a reply!

Minnie 10K Race Day!

I have a history of having trouble getting to sleep early. I have always been a night owl. Especially now that I have a job that requires me to work mostly later in the day, I rarely wake up before 9AM if I don’t have somewhere to be. So going to bed early enough to be rested for a race that was requiring me to wake up at 3:30AM to ensure I had enough time to get ready, grab a bus, and warm up before settling into my corral by 5:15 was a bit daunting. I had some initial trouble falling asleep due to thin walls at The Dolphin. While we were thrilled with our upgraded king bed balcony rooms, the locale left something to be desired. Throughout the evening, loud revelers would come stumbling off the elevator, laughing at the top of their lungs, and chatting right outside before their compatriots went inside and slammed the door shut. Not fun. Eventually I did fall asleep, only to be awoken by the FIRE ALARM going off at 1am! The front desk didn’t help much when my husband called:

Front Desk: Hello Mr. Morrison, how may we help you?
John: Uhhh… yeah… there’s a fire alarm going off and we don’t know whether we should actually evacuate or if it’s a false alarm. We are running the race tomorrow and just want to get some sleep.
Front Desk: Yes, Mr. Morrison, there has been a report of a fire incident and the authorities have been notified and are on their way. In the meantime if you are hearing the evacuation signal, you do need to evacuate for your safety.

So, we throw on non-pajama clothes (John actually put his race clothes on since that’s what was out) and he knocked for his brother and sister-in-law staying across the hall to come out. By the time I got down two flights of stairs, the alarm had stopped. Back to bed everyone!!!

Needless to say it was difficult calming down and getting shut-eye after that incident, and 3:30am came fast! Before we knew it we were dressed and ready and on our bus, headed to our first DISNEY race! The butterflies were flitting around in my belly. I was anxious in both good and bad ways. But now that they day was finally here, I just wanted to get started!

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The pre-race stuff is fun, I guess, but when we were in our corral it was hard to hear and see exactly what was going on. I must’ve made four nervous runs to the port-a-potty just to be safe, (And even had to make one stop during the race, but it didn’t hold me up too much). The race started at 5:30am. We were in corral D, and it was about 6am when we finally got to start.

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Mostly everyone in our Corral was doing some version of run/walk. It could get a bit crowded at times but never out of hand. Everyone seemed to be pretty good about paying attention to his or her surroundings. The worst were the large groups who took walk breaks and walked shoulder to shoulder. When the course was narrow, it was hard to get around them. John stuck close to me, always trying to stay a little bit before or behind. We had a good signal system going on. The only minor mishap came when some other chick in a lime green shirt whizzed by him. He thought it was me, so he started to run again. I had to call out to him to get him to realize I was still walking behind him! Generally, people seemed to be having a really good time. We thought we might stop for characters, but when we were in the heat of the moment, there really wasn’t anyone we wanted to stop for, and the ones that may have been worth it had really long lines.
We saw:
Hook and Smee on I4 in an elaborate setup with sand and treasure and the whole nine yards
Mushu in China
Genie in Morocco
Goofy in Football gear outside of ESPNZone
Green Army man as we re-entered EPCOT to run through future world area
Chip and Dale in Future World
There were also big light-up figures of Genie and Lumiere towards the end.

We did stop mid-way to get a sweaty selfie with Spaceship Earth.

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Throughout the race I fought off various ailments- tight cramps through the first mile gave way to a stitch in the side in the 2nd an 3rd. The stitch disappeared with more water and an energy boost. Seeing the INTERCOT crowd that came out to cheer by Jellyrolls, and also my sister-in-law who was just a minute down the road from them, really brightened our spirits; nevertheless, even with my inhaler, I was starting to lose breath control just about halfway through mile 5.

We took some slightly longer walk breaks because I really wanted to finish strong, and I did! We ran the last half-mile or so straight through and crossed that finish line. I was wheezing away but never felt so proud of myself for accomplishing something I’d never thought I had the ability to do. I can only imagine how first time ½ marathoners and marathoners feel.
We took some pictures and I cried just as I said I would. Walking around the post race area I started noticing pain in my feet. I tried to ignore it, figuring I’ll just ice them when we get back and I would be fine. I wanted to get on with the rest of the day and celebrate our achievement with my in-laws! More on that later… for now I’m just re-reveling in that post race high! Oh, and my official RunDisney Finish time was 1:24:34 with a 13:37 pace. Right around where I thought I’d be.

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runDISNEY! The Night Before the Minnie 10k

Our most recent trip to Walt Disney World Resort gave me my new found inspiration to finally get my blog up and going. My first two trips to WDW were with my parents in 1995 and 2002. While on that 2002 trip, I spent many hours laying in a hammock on the beach at the Polynesian, talking to a boy I had just started dating. A boy I would marry 8 years later. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. John and I took our first trip to WDW together (without parental supervision) in 2004. 10 years later we found ourselves on our 9th WDW trip together (not counting one jaunt over to DL), planning to do something we’d never done before: Participate in a runDISNEY event! We’ve visited WDW in December (x2), August, May (x2), June (x2), and October, but we’ve never visited for Marathon Weekend before. Inspired by a meet planned by our very favorite Disney site, INTERCOT.com, our original intention was to run the Family Fun Run 5K with a bunch of fellow INTERCOTees who were all using this as an excuse to get in shape. Boy did it work! So many of us took up the challenge to make better choices in our lifestyles and embrace running. After my husband and I successfully completed some local 5Ks, we decided to go big and jump on the opportunity when Disney Announced its INNAUGUAL Minnie 10K. How much fun would it be to push ourselves even further and participate in a race the very first year it was run?! So, we decided to go BIG and train for the 10K. The following is a little piece I wrote the night before the race:

Training wasn’t a bed of roses, as neither of us is the poster child for a healthy young adult. But we’ve soldiered on through our various conditions and ailments and I am confident we can finish, even if it isn’t pretty. Growing up with exercise induced asthma, I generally just shied away from the activities that would exacerbate my condition (namely, running of any kind). As an adult, I have been diagnosed with full fledged asthma, and exercise still causes flare ups. Nevertheless, the appeal of participating in a runDisney event is quite strong, so I began jogging using the couch to 5k program last January. As my husband saw my determination increase, he joined my efforts to get in shape and before I knew it, he had surpassed me by leaps and bounds, losing 60lbs in the process. There is no secret to his transformation; he simply counted calories, ate healthier foods, and ran his butt off!

I haven’t been quite as successful in shedding and maintaining the pounds, but I have been fairly dedicated to the training and have noticed some changes in my body along the way. I will never be someone who can “run” a race straight through, and following Jeff Galloway’s method of run/walk/run has been an invaluable confidence booster. At times it can feel like quitting or cheating when you take those walk breaks instead of soldiering through, but they do give you the energy you need to tackle the next interval and the average pace at the end speaks for itself. I’m sure some distance runners roll their eyes at people who have to use a run/walk ratio for 5 and 10ks but there are many more supportive people who recognize that for people like me, this is a huge achievement. As this is the night before the race, I am nervous as heck. However, I know I have it in me and when I cross that finish line and receive my medal I will have tears in my eyes and pride in my heart for BOTH of our achievements. I am so happy to be running this race with such a supportive husband who could easily leave me behind in the dust, but instead will stay by my side the entire time and finish together what we started together a year ago.

Minnie Nais!

Minnie Nais!

Ready to go the night before the 10k

Ready to go the night before the 10k

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