Still Stuck in Vacation Mode

Disney at Christmas Collage

Hello friends, just a quick update to let you know I posted a new vlog over on our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!  Fun reminders of an awesome vacation aside, I have loved putting together these picto-videos; I may have a journalism degree, but my forte is not, and has never been, audio-visual media.  So I’m beyond pleased that over the course of a few weekends I’ve been able to work through the basics and not-so-basics of a couple of different editing programs, turning out some not entirely unfortunate end results!  At the very least we have some slickly edited videos with which to bore our friends.

To that end, this post is also a mea culpa, and an apology.  I do believe I remarked some posts ago that the launch of Park or Perish! would put an end to my incessant Disney chatter over here on my blog.  But I’m clearly still talking about Disney, only now I’m doing it vocally and visually, as opposed to boring you silly with the written word.

I just have been completely unable to totally (or even really partially) disconnect from holiday vacation mode.  Like, I know I have to come back down to earth eventually, but it’s not going to be any time soon.  And it’s made all the more complicated by the fact that we’re actively planning our next trip; makes it quite hard to turn off when you’re gearing up for the next big adventure.

So with apologies to those who no longer wish to share in my Disney obsession, and with thanks to those who do, I’ll link to our video, in which I offer up a few useful tips for girding your sanity at Disney during the busy holiday season.  I hope you enjoy it, and thank you for watching and (mostly) understanding that the Disney stoke – it’s very real! 🙂

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Let the Good Times Roll at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside

Resort Collage Exterior

For the Mardi Gras season, I thought it might be fun to take a closer look at one of Disney’s southern-themed resorts, the Port Orleans Riverside at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  My husband and I stayed at the Riverside twice last year, once during Halloween and again over the Christmas holidays, so we have a lot of information to share with you about this wonderful resort, and even more to show.  So as they’d say in New Orleans, let’s roulez les bon temps!

The Riverside and its down-the-stream sister resort, the French Quarter, sit on 325 acres of Sassagoula riverfront property and have a combined total of just a little over 3,000 rooms.  Moderate resorts both, the Riverside and the Port Orleans both fall at about the mid-range of Disney hotel prices, which is to say the rates are reasonable, yet still bear very little relation to our Earth prices.  It’s the great fallacy of Disney vacations that you do eventually come to regard their pricing (for everything, from rooms, to ticket prices, to food) as “reasonable.”  You can absolutely find less expensive hotels both on Disney property and off, but if you consider your accommodations to be an important part of your vacation and not just the place you lay your head every evening, you suck it up and hope that the nervous breakdown you suffer once you open your post-holiday credit card statement is at least a funny one.

Staying on property at that slightly elevated rate does come with some rather nice benefits, however, such as access to Disney’s Magical Express, an airport-to-resort shuttle service that also collects your luggage from baggage claim and delivers it to your room, so you can get straight on to the serious business of hardcore theme parking.  Resort guests also enjoy a wealth of other perks, from Extra Magic Hours (additional first-thing-in-the-morning or last-thing-at-night in-park time) and the ability to book hard-to-get FastPasses and dining reservations two months in advance.  The reader-activated resort mugs, good for unlimited refills on soda, coffee and tea for the duration of your stay, are also pretty dope (semi-pro tip: REALLY rinse your mug out well when switching between coffee and lemonade!)

Ears and Resort Mug

But those are sweet little bonuses (or bitter and bracing, depending on how well you rinsed out that mug) afforded to all guests of a Disney resort, be it value, moderate or deluxe.  What sets the Riverside apart for us at least are the little details, at which Disney just naturally excels.  The gentle, every-half-hour boat rides to and from Disney Springs, Disney’s shopping and entertainment district.  The horse-drawn carriage rides at twilight along the banks of the Sassagoula.  The poolside campfire marshmallow roasts.  I particularly love the Riverside’s easy southern vibe – in the evenings the comforting sound of the horses’ clopping hooves mingles with the gentle jazz music drifting up from the boats going back and forth along the river, and it’s perfection.  It is just a gorgeous, gorgeous resort, and the only place we want to call home when we’re in Florida.

Resort 4

Situated along the banks of the meandering Sassagoula River, the 2,000 or so rooms that make up the Port Orleans Riverside Resort are spread out among two sections, rustic Alligator Bayou along the northwestern edge of the property, home to the resort’s backwoods-style lodgings, and elegant Magnolia Bend down at the southeastern edge, with its stately, antebellum-style architecture.  When we visited at Halloween we stayed in the Alligator Bayou.  We even had a welcoming party of one very curious little raccoon hiding in the rangy scrub palms edging the walkway.

Resort Collage

For our Christmas trip, we splurged a little and booked a Royal Guest Room, beautiful themed rooms featuring all sorts of magical Disney touches.  This put us down in the Magnolia Bend part of the resort, and it was…well, it was gorgeous!  And refined and elegant and quiet, although that’s just the Riverside as a whole.  For such a large and popular resort, it is remarkably peaceful and serene; yet another huge plus in its favour.

Resort 2

I quite liked the laid back, rustic vibe of the Alligator Bayou (conveniently situated right down the path from the early morning fishin’ hole and Ol’ Man Island, the resort’s main pool) but I adored our stay in the Magnolia Bend.  It was just such an unbelievably beautiful area, filled with all manner of lovely Disney touches, large and small.  I’m also quite the sucker for Colonial-style architecture, and you can’t throw a sugar-dusted beignet down there without hitting a stately column, a wrought iron railing, or both (but really, you shouldn’t be throwing your beignets at all; just take the boat over to the French Quarter and enjoy a lovely plate of them there, or maybe even a beignet-based ice cream sundae.) 🙂

Water Will

So many grand lawns!  The Riverside’s Movies Under the Stars screenings are held on the front lawn of this beautiful building.  The Princess and the Frog, the resort’s official/unofficial movie, is a particular favourite.

Resort Lawn

And there’s also about a dozen fantastic spots in which to get your selfie on, because I have completely turned into that person.  Also vlogging, because that’s now kind of a thing, but more on that in a second.

Sittin Pretty

Delightfully enough, reality lived up to our expectations, and our stay in one of the Royal Guest Rooms proved to be an amazing one.  It was such a cool (and very, very pretty) room, and filled to the rafters with cute Disney extras.  And I do mean that literally – up at the ceiling the decorative border, designed to look like ornately carved wooden molding, featured a tableau of classic Disney characters, from the Fairy Godmothers and Cinderella’s mice, to Sebastian the crab and Chip from Beauty and the Beast.  Pretty random lot, come to think of it!  Although I suppose the same could be said of all of the little Disney touches, from the Genie’s golden lamp fixtures, to the wall of princess mugshots, to the shower curtain bearing a print of Ariel’s dinglehoppers.  What do all those things have in common?  Who the heck knows!  But it sure was fun trying to sidestep Carpet every morning so I didn’t accidentally trod on his face.

Royal Room Collage

And I’ve already made all of the dirty, totally non-Disney sanctioned sex jokes about this I possibly can, but the headboards on our room’s two queen beds featured fiber optic fireworks.  Every morning as I puttered about getting ready, my husband would lay in bed in the dark and stare up at his headboard as it exploded into festive, twinkling light. 🙂

Fireworks Beds

For a closer, more exhaustive (exhausting?) look at our Royal Guest Room, please do check out this quick room tour video I put together.  This video also represents my first hesitant efforts at filming, looking like a boner in public vlogging and video editing, so please be kind!

The Riverside is also home to six pools, including the massive (and massively themed) aqua play area known as Ol’ Man Island.  On the evening we wandered over to one of the Magnolia Bend pools, I was the only hardy fool brave and/or Canadian enough to venture into the water.  Not that I minded having the entire gigantic pool to myself, mind you – gave me an opportunity to chuckle at the wussies scurrying by, bundled in thick hoodies to ward off the “frigid” 75 degree temps.  Suck it up, buttercups!  And come on in – it’s warm once you just get in!

Pool Time

Outside of the areas of accommodation and recreation, the Riverside also excels at its dining and entertainment options.  There are four places to enjoy both at the Riverside, including Boatwright’s, a popular table service restaurant specializing in Cajun delicacies (I had crawfish etouffee and it was wicked yummy) and habanero margaritas so intense, you’ll take one sip and belt yourself across the face (no, just me?)  There’s also the Riverside Mill, the resort’s counter service food court, an airy and raftered space housed in the Sassagoula sawmill.  Here you’ll find the usuals (burgers, chicken fingers, Mickey waffles) and some slightly more unusual picks (fried green tomato sandwiches, shrimp po’boys, jambalaya.)  The refill stations for those resort mugs are also in the Riverside Mill, so it tends to be a pretty busy spot.  Then right down the hall from the Mill there’s the River Roost, a cozy lounge that features the same menu as Boatwright’s, including those dangerously delicious margaritas.  Three nights a week the River Roost also plays host to Disney comedy fixture Yehaa Bob and his all-singing, all-guffawing piano revue.  We’ve yet to take in Yehaa Bob’s show, but it looks like an absolute hoot.  When we stumbled by the Roost a couple of nights before Christmas, Bob had the joint rockin’ and the entire lounge in hysterics.  Looking forward to catching this one another time when we’re not bagged-out exhausted.

Resort Collage Lobby

The grounds (325 acres of them, don’t forget; I’m sure the groundskeepers can’t!) are also so, so beautifully maintained.  Whether it’s the neatly manicured lawns of Magnolia Bend, with its tidy planters of colourful blooms, or the Alligator Bayou, with its scrubby palms and elegantly swaying willows, the landscaping is outstanding.  And Mr. Finger Candy likes to make fun of me for this, but I adore the name “Sassagoula.”  It just sounds so funny – I like to really enunciate it, draw it out.  So it fits that I love to toodle down the Sassagoula River on one of the resort’s boats, departing from the conveniently located pier just outside the lobby every half an hour for all spots Disney Springs.  This has actually become one of my favourite things to do on vacation, especially if it ends with dinner at Homecomin’ on the other end!

Resort 6

And not for nothing, but the inside ain’t bad either.  The lobby is a stunning place, its architecture and interior design invoking the look of an elegant steamboat.  And while we’re here in the lobby, I’ll note that we’ve always received outstanding service at the Riverside, from the check-in staff and cleaning crew, to the bell services dudes and the restaurant staff.  Everybody’s always been super nice and friendly, but that’s kind of just what Disney does.  Anything less would seriously be considered an abject failure, and probably a personal affront to the very memory of Walter Elias Disney.  Disney employees seem to hold themselves to some pretty high standards, which as a guest, I genuinely appreciate.  Pretty decent lot, those cast members.

Resort Lobby

And when we went down at Christmas, those same cast members outdid themselves with the holiday decorating and the general festive atmosphere.  The halls (and the walls, and the rafters, and the flower beds) were decked alright, and with beautiful wreaths and a gigantic tree, in addition to those ever-present boughs of holly.  Fa la la la la la la la la!

Resort Tree

Really, though, I was unbelievably homesick on Christmas Eve.  Christmas Eve has always been my little family’s “thing,” and even though I was having an absolute blast (at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, my favourite park!) I missed my mom and dad.  Yes, I’m that 40-year-old who missed her parents on Christmas Eve.  To that I’d say there are far worse things than being a sentimental schmuck.  But coming back to the resort after a long day at the park to find all these beautiful decorations, including this weirdo doing the Thriller dance in front of some of them, put a smile on my face.  I thought the gingerbread displays, submitted by the various departments at the Riverside, were totally awesome, too.  The bell jar Nightmare Before Christmas display was a particular standout.  Well done, Team Riverside!

Christmas Resort Collage

So there we have it, friends, 2000 words on a hotel stay.  I swear I could spin the opening of an envelope into an epic tale.  Anyhow, if you’re still with me, thank you for joining me on this look inside a wonderful Disney resort, and my great experiences therein.  I hope you get the chance to stay at the Riverside, too, someday and make some great memories of your own.

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom

Sorcerers Collage

Imagine this chaotic scene, if you dare: It’s noon on Christmas Day at the Magic Kingdom.  Mr. Finger Candy and I are pinned into a tiny nook in a walkway that runs along the Rivers of America as a never-ending herd of people swarm past, shoulder-to-shoulder, Rascal-to-Rascal, eyes halfheartedly glancing over at the parade running in the opposite direction.  Up ahead, the parade stretches on and on into Lynchian infinity, each bright, branded float pumping out more lunatic Christmas carols than the one that preceded it, while Elsa and Anna, snuggled together in a cozy little sled, sweetly trill about how wonderful it is to all be together for the holidays!  Stepping out of our Nook of Exile, we immediately run directly into the back of a man on a motorized scooter who has stopped in the middle of the walkway to stand up so he can get a better view of the parade.  I give some very un-Christmasy-like consideration to shoving him into the Rivers of America.  Nearby, a pack of reindeer plushies have broken out into a manic little shuffle, as smudgy snope (artificial, soap-based “snow”) drifts down onto the restless crowd.  It’s also hot as balls, and our walkway nook provides no shelter from the blazing midday sun.  I’ve no idea how we’ve come to be marooned in this sweaty holiday hellhole, but it’s clear that Anna and Elsa have lied – this is so not wonderful (what I actually said – shouted at my husband in order to be heard above the din – was “WE’RE IN THE EPICENTER OF HELL!!!”)  It wasn’t a great scene.

Unbeknownst to us (information we were not entirely shocked to learn until much later that evening) the Magic Kingdom had actually reached capacity some hours earlier; back at the front gates they were turning away all but re-entries.  Disney is notoriously guarded when it comes to its official park numbers, but it’s widely believed that the first level of attendance throttling begins somewhere around 65,000 guests.  Which means that at noon on Christmas Day along the holiday parade route in one of the biggest bottlenecks in the park, YES, we were absolutely in the epicenter of hell.  Also in a couple of righteously – though thankfully temporary – bad moods.

As it was my incredibly poor planning that mired us down in that holiday hellhole to begin with, it fell to me to pull us out of the abyss; a day at Disney is just far too expensive a proposition to allow it to circle the drain over a few thousand cruddily-behaved people.  We could outlast AND outsmart them, by outplaying them – literally. 🙂

Sorcerers Nails

And so we marched off to the firehouse on Main Street USA and signed up for Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, an interactive role playing collectible card game and scavenger hunt.  Which for the aging Sword in the Stone and Magic the Gathering nerd I’m married to was just the BEST. THING. EVER.  Bad mood?  Gone, gone, gone.  And I can’t ever be unhappy when my husband is this pleased over the acquisition of a rare Winnie the Pooh spell card. 🙂

Sorcerers Collage 1

Nerd.

Here’s how Sorcerers works: After signing up at the firehouse (it’s free to play) you’re conscripted into Merlin’s army.  Seems Hades has assembled an army of his own, joining forces with a number of classic Disney villains, from Ursula and Cruella De Vil, to Dr. Facilier and Maleficent, and the lot of them have been rampaging about the Magic Kingdom, up to no good.  It falls to you, novice sorcerer now thrust into the deep end, to find Hades and his co-conspirators, hidden in portals all throughout the park, and put a stop to their dastardly plans.

And so you go through a bit of in-firehouse training in which you learn how to identify the portals (they’re semi-hidden in what might otherwise look like a shop window or a cabinet or simply a plain old wall all throughout the Magic Kingdom), how to open them (by tapping your enabled MagicBand or card against a nearby lock-shaped RFID reader) and how to stop the misbehaving meanies (by standing on a Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom seal centered on the portal and casting an attack spell with one of your reader-enabled spell cards.)

Sorcerers Collage 2

NERD!

New players are given a free pack of cards to kick off their spellcasting journey, and returning players who present at the firehouse are given a free pack for each day they’re in the park.  Additionally, if you complete all of the multi-part missions in one day (there are nine missions to complete in total, each with five or six sub-missions) you’ll receive another set of spell cards.  Each spell card (there are 70 base cards in total, with a number of limited edition extras) corresponds to a different Disney character and is assigned a rarity, a strength and a set of attack stats.  Each card is also embedded with a tiny chip that interacts with the portals’ RFID readers, which is what casts the spell, specific to your chosen card and character, and defeats the villain.

Sorcerers 5

NERRRRRDDDDDDDS!

There are also, of course, booster packs available for purchase at select locations throughout the park.  These packs contain a mystery assortment of cards from the regular offerings, as well as rarer, slightly more valuable picks.  Mr. Finger Candy could not contain his glee upon discovering that not only were there more, better cards to be had, but that there was a snazzy spellcasting book in which to house them, no less!  Manna from collectible card game heaven, I tells ya. 🙂

Sorcerers Book Collage

It was in the single booster pack we bought that we found this wicked powerful Winnie the Pooh card, which trounced any and all enemies it ran up against with a thick, smothering layer of smackery honey and extra stingy bees. 🙂  Mr. Finger Candy traded spells with a number of other players that day, and there was a fair bit of jealousy over that high performance Pooh card, let me tell you.

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Of the other cards we received, my favourites were Tiana’s Hot Sauce (Tiana of The Princess and the Frog being our resort’s official/unofficial princess) and Rover’s Christmas Carousel of Progress, a limited edition card given out at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (which we did not attend…this time) themed to the Carousel of Progress, a weird throwback of an animatronic stage show starring John the oven-killing idiot and Rover, a VR headset-wearing dog.

Sorcerers Carousel Collage

And so on Christmas Day, this is what we did – ran from one end of the park to the other and back again defeating villains, looking like dorks in public, making new friends, exploring hidden spots, trading spells, following clues, deciphering riddles and just generally confusing everyone we (politely) asked to move out of the way of one of our portals (“Excuse me, could you please move your arse off this thing that absolutely looks like a fireplace but is actually about to burst into villainous life?  Thanks!” always proved to be a bit of a non-starter.

Sorcerers Collage 3

This is actually what we did for about eight solid hours on Christmas Day.  And if you’re thinking to yourself, “What a waste, you could have been riding the rides,” keep in mind that what drove us to Sorcerers in the first place (aside from the parade from hell) were the hour-and-a-half, two-hour wait times that were being posted for every single attraction in the park.  And when given the choice between waiting statically in an infuriatingly long lineup with 3,000 other frustrated people or getting out there to actually explore the park, we chose exploration.  And adventure!  And so. much. walking.  If you’re trying to complete all nine missions in one day, as we were (of course we were trying to complete all nine missions in one day; I think we’re incapable of going to Disney World without turning it into a challenge of some sort) it will take you to every corner of the park twice and then back again, and then a third time just for good, tootsie-aching measure (actual foot note footnote: I believe this is how I hurt my right foot Christmas Day.)  I’ve been only half-joking that I need to create a diet and exercise plan around this thing; you’ll walk miles a day and hardly even notice it.

Sorcerers Maps Collage

And not for nothing, but in addition to almost (oh, it was by the skin of our teeth!) completing all nine of the Sorcerers missions, we also rode 13 rides, watched the fireworks, hit up numerous PhotoPass locations, suffered through that godforsaken parade and had a nice, leisurely dinner at Be Our Guest.  We’re no slouches in the Gettin’ ‘Er Done Department.  It’s just that neither one of us cared to blow our entire day on endless lineups for attractions we had already experienced.  Also, sitting in line for hours on end runs completely contrary to our general vacation mantra and battle cry of “Park or perish!”  Also-also, odds are by the time you return to the attraction later on in the evening, having spent the afternoon dashing about the park having a blast, the wait time will be halved or better, even on that most insane of days, December 25th.

In the end, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom proved to be so much more than a nifty little diversion.  In fact, plans are already in place to return as soon as possible and complete our game!  Someone needs to defeat Hades, you know, why not a couple of Disney nerds from Canada? 🙂

A Very Disney Christmas: Tips, Tricks and Hacks

Tree Collage 1

My husband and I enjoyed a somewhat impromptu trip to Disney World this past Christmas, an act that has generally elicited one of two responses – fear-tinged awe or aghast horror.  WHY would we go to the busiest theme park resort in the world during the most expensive and popular season, and without kids, no less?!  What kind of freaks and/or masochists are we?  And yes, this has been the reaction of quite a few judgmental people – apparently the best time to go to Disney is never, but if you really must, at least make sure you’re not one of those childless losers lining up to take pictures with some capitalist plushie from the Star Trekking movies (very nearly an actual quote.)  Also, oops, clearly didn’t get that memo before we left!

Chewie 2

It should also be noted that Chewbacca, of the Star Warsing movies, thankyouverymuch, gives really excellent hugs.  He’s kind of like Olaf that way!

Warm Hugs from Olaf

So why did we go to the most popular and well-attended theme park in the world during the busiest and most expensive travel season of the year?  Well, for no grander reason than we simply wanted to, but delightfully enough, because we could.  We had the means and the time, so we went for it, with the full knowledge that it was going to be busier than we had ever seen it across a combined 14 visits.  It was going to be a challenge, an adventure – and 2017 was nothing if not the year we heeded the siren call of adventure. 🙂

And was it busy?  Yes, of course!  I estimate that over four parks and five days, we rubbed shoulders with close to 200,000 of our newest, bestest, most-standing-on-top-of-us friends.  Christmas Day the Magic Kingdom reached capacity for what was at that point just the second time in Disney history (it would do it again a week later on New Year’s Eve.)  That’s 65,000 people right there.

But the quality of a Disney vacation should not be determined by a metric of attendance numbers alone.  To be sure, the extra crush of humanity changed our Disney experience from every other trip we’ve ever enjoyed, in some predictably bad ways (shout-out to the disgraceful woman at the Indiana Jones show loudly grilling a cast member on what kind of disability she’d have to present with to be able to sit in the reserved-for-accessibility seating) but also in a number of unexpectedly delightful ones (the discovery of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, a number of stupendous themed meals and about a dozen awesome character meet-and-greets.)

We were already quite cocky about our mad Disney cred (with my 11 lifetime visits, I practically qualify for a pension) but I think we were both slightly taken aback by how much we had to learn – on-the-fly – during the busiest of the busy seasons.  But by the end of our six days in theme park paradise, we had regained our swagger (helped along considerably by our total dominance of the World of Avatar) and have even begun bandying about the idea of another similar trip next Christmas.  “We’re all a little mad around here,” said either Norman Bates or the Mad Hatter. 🙂

So, how did we manage an amazingly fun Disney World vacation during the hap-happ-i-est sea-son of alllll?  Here are a few tips:

Be prepared, be prepared!  No, really, preparation is key.  The moment you’ve booked your vacation, download the My Disney Experience app.  It’s free, and with screens displaying the entirety of the Walt Disney World Resort (everything from wait times to PhotoPass spots) it’s an invaluable in-park resource.  Particularly if it helps you assess and avoid situations like this one, a 310-minute lineup at just 9:30 in the morning for Avatar’s Flight of Passage at the Animal Kingdom.

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Through the app you can also book dining reservations, place mobile food orders for pick-up, confirm the day’s park hours and showtimes, link your party’s tickets for faster processing, and, of course, book those vitally important FastPasses.  All just little pieces in the preparation puzzle.

Do your homework.  If you’re staying on-property at one of the Disney resorts like we did, this gives you access to Extra Magic Hours.  Extra Magic Hours are first-thing-in-the-morning or last-thing-at-night in-park hours given to guests of Disney’s resorts and hotels.  I know waking up at 5 am when you’re on vacation is a pretty crummy proposition, but taking advantage of these additional hours can often mean the difference between experiencing that attraction you were just dying to see or…not.  Working those 7 am Extra Magic Hours is how we rode Avatar’s Flight of Passage, THE newest and most popular ride at any of the Disney parks, in a little under 45 minutes with no FastPass.

So if you are staying on-property, call up the Disney Parks calendar and take note of each park’s scheduled Extra Magic Hours for the duration of your trip.  You may even wish to consult the calendar before booking your tickets, should the offer of Extra Magic Hours (or lack thereof; they’re not offered by every park every day) alter your schedule in some way.  The Disney Parks calendar also contains great information about what shows, parades and fireworks displays are running at each park and when.

Do even more homework for extra credit.  I can’t stress the importance of planning and organization when it comes to Disney vacations quite enough.  Book and confirm those dining reservations so you don’t spend precious hours of your day loitering around the restaurant waiting for a table to open up.  That’s how we enjoyed fantastic, stress-free meals at all our favourite Disney haunts, including the 50s Prime Time Cafe at Hollywood Studios, La Hacienda de San Angel at Epcot (Queso, you are indeed quite Fundido!) and Be Our Guest (twice) at the Magic Kingdom.

Dining Collage 1

Using the app, the Disney Parks calendar or a paper park map, double check the times of any shows or parades or fireworks displays you’d like to catch.  If there’s a can’t-miss on your list, set a notification on your phone to go off one hour before showtime and then get there early.  I regrettably lost track of a couple of stage shows at Hollywood Studios, only to discover that we had missed the final performance of the day by minutes.

Make up a list of the things you’d like to do on your Disney vacation on a park-by-park basis.  This needn’t be anything set in stone, as your plans WILL change.  But it’s always good to have a rough idea of what’s out there and the attractions you’d like to take in, particularly when you’re being bombarded with all sorts of other loud and shiny distractions.

Maximize your time.  The best way to do this is to work those FastPasses.  Disney hands out a limited number of these express tickets for nearly every attraction in every park every day.  Each guest is entitled to three, although you can book additional FastPasses on a one-by-one basis once you’ve used up your third of the day (pending availability; typically by the late afternoon, the only FastPasses left are for those attractions that don’t really require them in the first place.)

FastPasses are available to all guests, including those who wish to roll up to a ride-adjacent kiosk the day-of and book a time with an actual paper ticket.  But if you’re using the My Disney Experience app, you can book, cancel and modify your FastPasses at will right over your phone.

If you’ve pre-booked your park tickets, you can begin setting up your FastPasses 30 days in advance of your vacation, and if you’re staying at a Disney resort, you can begin choosing your FastPasses 60 days in advance of your vacation.  Once again, this is how we rode both hugely popular Avatar attractions in one day – an early start thanks to the Extra Magic Hours took care of Flight of Passage, while a well-chosen and early-booked FastPass knocked off Na’vi River Journey.  If you can, book those FastPasses early for best choice.

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To that end, a little “insider information” can help you optimize your FastPasses.  Many rides, even on the busiest of days, don’t require a FastPass (I’m not counting Christmas Day here; I would have gratefully accepted a FastPass for the Tiki Birds on Christmas Day when every wait time was an hour plus-plus.)  Don’t waste your precious FastPasses on rides that rarely need them (Journey of the Little Mermaid, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom all come to mind) or rides whose wait times only begin ticking up during the peak afternoon hours (the Haunted Mansion, Jungle River and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – again, Magic Kingdom attractions, all – also come to mind.)  Knock those rides off early when the wait times are naturally manageable, and save your FastPasses for the attractions that are permanently slammed, or that have long, boring and uninspired wait lines (continuing to use the Magic Kingdom as an example, Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Peter Pan’s Flight and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train would all be excellent candidates for a FastPass.)

From a general time management perspective, try to make peace with the fact that in order to enjoy all that Disney has to offer, you’re going to have to temporarily suspend the comforts and rituals of home.  You may not be much of a morning person, or you might prefer to start every day with a leisurely, two-hour breakfast, but unless you’ve structured your vacation around those daily quirks of life, you’re just going to be wasting a lot of time you could be spending in the parks.  On Christmas Day in particular, dawdlers who rolled up to the Magic Kingdom at noon found the park at capacity and the gates temporarily closed.  So get there early, stay way late, and bank that sleep for the flight home.  Kind of like these two goobers sharing a midnight smooch of triumph in front of Cinderella Castle following a 17-hour day of theme parking Christmas Day.  Oh yeah, we hardcore!

Kissing Pictures are Tacky

Also, we’re not kissing in that photo so much as we’ve just passed out on each other’s faces. 😉

In terms of making your way comfortably around the parks, travel light.  Families, particularly those with very young children, have no choice but to lug what a friend calls “the debris of life” all over hell’s half acre (also known as the Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day at noon in the middle of a parade.)  But I’m side-eyeing the crap out of your lazy 12-year-old folded into a three-seater stroller, or the full size rolling suitcase you’re dragging behind you that contains Grayer, Kelpsey and Savani’s very important Goldfish crackers.  Or the vloggers who show up with $20,000 worth of camera accessories strapped to their iPhone.  Showing up to the parks with anything more than a light day bag is not just rude and inconsiderate (run that stroller into my shins one. more. time and it’s going straight into the Rivers of America) it’s also a primo way to spend an unnecessarily long time at bag check and security.  Pare your pack down to just the essentials – phone, wallet, sunscreen, lip balm, portable charger, painkillers – and leave the rest up to random chance.  Security will thank you by processing your nearly empty bag in about two seconds flat, leaving you free to zip into the park and straight onto a ride in the time it takes them to vet just two pockets of your neighbour’s Suitcase o’ Snacks.

Seriously, though, get your able-bodied teenager out of that stroller already, and stop yelling at the cast members because a ride can’t accommodate your Mini Cooper-sized EMV.

Finally, one last random tip for maximizing your in-park time: Employ a bit of theme park psychology.  For reasons I would need to be a student of the human mind to understand, when given a choice between travelling to the right of something or to the left (a lineup, for instance, that branches at one point) we nearly always take the right.  The right side of anything (the parks themselves, for instance) will always see the greatest concentration of people.  So if given the choice to go to the left or the right of something, choose the path less-traveled and head west.

Stop being such a friggin’ jerk, you jerk.  That’s just good life advice, but it holds especially true for mass gatherings of tens of thousands of people.  Attempt to be considerate.  Treat your fellow guests with just the tiniest bit of respect.  Wish the cast members happy holidays and a very merry Christmas.  Thank them for being away from their friends and family during the holidays so you can enjoy this special experience.  Stop yelling and can the threats – no, no one knows (or cares) who you are.  Stop line-jumping.  For that matter, stop ranting about the wait times – not my fault you’re an idiot noob (whoops, that wasn’t very polite or compassionate!)  Basically, if you can manage it, BE CANADIAN.  We might be grumpy dicks, but we are remarkably wonderful world travelers.

Wow, that felt kind of exhaustive, but I’m also all too aware that there’s so much more about the parks that I just don’t know.  Well, extra impetus to get back there lickety split and correct this deeply troubling gap in my Disney knowledge. 😉  If you’re contemplating a Disney vacation, I hope this information helps you out.  Happy travels at the Happiest – and sometimes busiest – Place on Earth!

A Very Disney Christmas

Four Park Collage

Right, so let’s get to the oft-asked question straightaway: Is Disney World busy at Christmas?

BAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  *Gasp, wheeze, struggle for breath* Is Disney World busy at Christmas?!

So yeah, this would be the part of the answer where I lob back a number of saucy replies involving the business that bears do in the woods or the activities of a one-legged man at an ass-kicking competition.

In other (less sarcastic ) words, YES, Disney World is busy at Christmas.  All four parks were busier than I have ever seen them over 11 visits and 40 years of existence.  And on Christmas Day in particular when the Magic Kingdom hit capacity for just the second time in Disney history, the kind of busy that regrettably pulls you right out of the magic as you question the efficacy of any emergency procedure that will involve the evacuation of 70,000 people.

However!  Mr. Finger Candy and I – particularly in light of our back-to-back trips in 2017 – kind of consider ourselves pros at this whole Disney business, and we viewed our adventure as a challenge or a task or a mission to be completed, and completed well!  So we were organized and motivated and driven.  Also willing to adapt, modify our plans as needed and just go with the flow, bro.

Magic Kingdom Castle Collage

“Park or Perish!” may seem like a pretty lousy rallying call for a vacation, but I assure you, we had a fantabulous time, in large part because we were up for just about anything.  Which led to all sorts of fun shenanigans that I will share with you in more exhaustive detail a little later, such as this awesome meet-and-greet with Buzz Lightyear in which he congratulated us on our top scores on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.

035

Or this incredible retro meal we enjoyed (so much!) at the 50s Prime Time Cafe at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Prime Time 1

Or hugs from this hairy dude.

Chewie 1

For that matter, hugs from this hairy dude as well, who graciously received us in his study after our late (10 pm!) Christmas Day dinner at Be Our Guest.

Dinner with the Beast

Or this amazing moment, which I have already decided is going to be next year’s Christmas card.  “Merry Christmas, Force-choke a husband!”

Christmas Card

We had a blast, crowd levels notwithstanding (in fact, in some cases we had an amazing time not in spite of the crowds, but because of them.)  And I like to think that was our “reward” for our laid back, yet organized, approach to Disneying through the holidays – an actual good time to be had at the Happiest Place on Earth.  Revolutionary, I know!  But it can be done, and I’m looking forward to sharing all the fun with you over the coming days.  Please do stop by for a visit; there’s plenty more Star Wars and meet-and-greets and deeply unattractive on-ride photos to come!