Category Archives: Walt Disney World

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does update their loops every so often, so some of the versions that I’ll be exploring in this series may be outdated.)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.

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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

The Journey Begins.

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That’s me on the left, my husband on the right, and our two pals Mickey and Walt in the middle.

I have always loved to write.  Throughout my time as a student of history, I’ve had to write more papers than I can even begin to count. My Masters Thesis was about the history of Catholic education in Philadelphia. Why?  Because my major is “History for Educators,” I used to teach in a Catholic school, and I am from Philadelphia.  Makes sense? Good.

In June of 2012, the school I was teaching at sadly closed. I decided to concentrate on finishing grad school while working a part time job, but now that I’ve finished my Masters’ degree, I have to admit to feeling a bit lost.

I don’t know when I’ll find something full-time again, or even if I chose the right field to major in, and if I didn’t choose the right field, then what the heck am I going to do?? and, AND, AND …and instead of worrying about things I can’t control (which is pretty much what I do 24/7), my husband suggested I get a hobby.  So, I chose writing.  This blog will be my “fun” hobby, since I spent so much of my time writing about serious things.

I came up with the idea for this blog  a year and a half ago (August 2012), after we returned from our Grand California Adventure.  Obviously, since it is now January 2014, I never got around to publishing anything. I had hand-written some reviews on the plane ride home, and then quickly typed them, but never got around to editing them for publishing.  Then, in December, my dog jumped up to say hello to me, which caused me to knock a glass of wine onto my brand new MacBook Pro, and, long story short, the files were lost forever.  Writing a blog was placed in the background of my mind as I focused on other things.  Then, suddenly, the writing bug bit me again. With my new-found enthusiasm, I dusted off my hand-written notes, re-typed the first review, and was oh-so-proud of myself… until I somehow managed to save it to the Twilight Zone, placing me back at square one.

The old me would take all of this as a sign that I’m not supposed to write this stupid blog, but the new me won’t take no for an answer (at least not until it happens again, then I will probably give up).

  • I will talk about all the fun (and not so fun things) that my husband, family, friends and I have done in the past at not only Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort, but on other trips we have taken as well.
  • I will discuss planning for future trips, visits to zoos, museums, restaurants, and probably my dog.
  • I have no children, but I do have a dog. A crazy, anxiety-ridden, allergy-laden, yet oh-so-loveable cockapoo (that’s a cocker spaniel/poodle mix for everyone who’s giggling out there), named Clark.

Here’s your first look:
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If you’ve made it this far in reading this boring introductory post, I hope you will join me on my journey to explore not only the World of Disney, but the World* as a whole.

*I’ve only left the U.S. once, to go to England in 2005. My husband is afraid of both flying (although he fights through it), and cruising (but thanks to Carnival, I may never get him on one now). International travel is also quite pricey, so unless we hit the lottery, there probably won’t be any “worldy” posts for a while. But some day there will be.  Some day.