Dining at Disney, Part II

Last we broke the Disney fast, I was regaling you with tales and blurry photos of the equally blurry, margarita-enhanced evening we spent drinking and dining our way through Epcot, and before that, two stupendous feasts at our favourite Magic Kingdom restaurant, Be Our Guest.  I mentioned in my last post that my husband and I were fortunate enough to enjoy fantastic meals virtually every time we put fork to plate, a complete rarity when you’re on holiday.  There’s always inevitably that one meal where afterwards you think to yourself, “I really wish I hadn’t wasted my money and calories on that.”  Also, vacation food – particularly theme park vacation food – is frequently terrible.  But save maybe one or two snacks that didn’t quite live up to the hype (Dole Whip, what weird animal are you anyways?) we enjoyed some wonderful – and wonderfully delicious – meals.  Here are three more of my favourite dining experiences.

Midday Break at Gaston’s Tavern

Gaston's Collage

Yes, that is Mr. Finger Candy, just sitting there in a tri-cornered pirate hat, unironically.  As you do. 😉

No trip to the Magic Kingdom would be complete without a stop at Gaston’s Tavern.  I love this charming little spot; tucked into a nook between Be Our Guest and Journey of the Little Mermaid, it’s typically quite quiet, even during the busy midday rush (I say “typically,” as Christmas morning the 50-strong lineup stretched clear across the bridge.)  LeFou’s Brews are the non-alcoholic specialty of the house, a sweet-and-sour concoction of frozen apple juice and fruity, foamy topping.  They are sooo yummy; a lighter, more refreshing alternative to lemonade.

But on the subject of the man after which the tavern is named, I regret to inform you that the big, throbbing tool was once again absent.  We are now 0-4 on meeting Gaston, and to be honest with you, my feelings are a little hurt.  I’ve now traveled all the way from the Canadian wilderness to France (by way of Orlando) twice, I’ve visited his tavern – scene of the rehashing of all his greatest victories – four times, and I was deeply sympathetic upon discovering that his absence our first day was due to his need to nurse his emotional injuries following a humiliating trouncing at arm wrestling (so we were informed by a bemused cast member.)  But to leave me hanging four times in a row?  Why, Gaston, that’s positively primeval.  All the same, I still struck a fetching pose outside by the fountain bearing his bulgy likeness.

Gaston Pose

Dinner at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe

Hands down, this was the most fun I’ve ever had while dining.  Possibly some of the most fun I’ve had EVER, actually!

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A meal at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe is a bit like 1950s LARP-ing, with pot roast!  After checking in with an earnest-looking young man in a crisp soda jerk uniform, we were invited to take a load off in Dad’s adjacent rumpus room while Mom put the finishing touches on our meal.  We were ambling about the lounge gawping at all the linoleum, naughyde and zebra print – and at this time of year, silver tinsel – when an older gentleman dressed like every photo of my grandfather ever stepped forward and barked, “FINGER CANDY KIDS!  Finger Candy kids, put your toys away, wash up and get inside, it’s time for dinner!”  As we followed our Pops-for-the-night through the restaurant, which is sort of laid out like the world’s largest, most ambling mid-century bungalow, I could hardly tear my eyes away from my surroundings.  The entire place is an absolute marvel of 1950s design; I could have spent hours just walking around, taking in every last harvest gold canister, blown glass ashtray or rabbit ear’d TV.

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Upon being seated in what I think was the breakfast nook, we were introduced to our waiter (an “exasperated” baby-sitter type who immediately dubbed us Uncle and the Princess) and another table of heretofore unknown relations.  We were also reminded of the house rules, which include such tidbits of mannerly wisdom as “Hey kids, no lids!” and “No elbows on the table,” which is helpfully printed on the top of the menu.  Here is my husband flouting both of those rules simultaneously, which prompted our waiter to swing by, tap his arm and say, “The only elbows allowed on this table are the ones in the macaroni.”  Busted!

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Also, someone has clearly never heard of the “snitches get stitches” edict, because here’s my beloved attempting to rat me out for taking pictures with my phone (which I had hidden under a stack of napkins!  Modern tech is not verboten at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe, but you will get some righteous, all-in-good-fun crap from your distant relations about your reliance on modern conveniences.) 😉

Prime Time Collage 2

Dinner itself was way, way yummier than I was expecting.  It has been my unfortunate experience that these sorts of themed restaurants often trade style for substance – I’ve had some seriously dodgy (and expensive) meals from a number of places that have prioritized their memorabilia collections over the food served therein (Planet Hollywood and any and all Hard Rocks, I’m looking at you.)  But dinner at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe was the perfect combination of both kitsch and delish.  My pot roast was a particular standout, and who’s going to say no to a neon purple cocktail?  Not the Princess!

Prime Time 1

Ordering that drink actually led to some amazing interactions with our waiter and our getting-larger-by-the-moment extended family.  Dropping my glow cube-enhanced cocktail off at the table, our waiter announced to the room at large, “Look out, cousins, Princess found the keys to Dad’s liquor cabinet!”  I assured him that I could hold my own (this was pre-Epcot, and what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him!) and he responded by going over to a girl with purple hair the next table over and remarking, “No, seriously, drink too many of those and your hair will actually turn this colour.”  Ha!  My husband responded by pointing to his own, ah, follicly-challenged head and said, “Yeah, and if you work too hard, THIS is what will happen to your hair.”  That prompted a huge round of guffaws, and an appreciative slap on the back from our waiter, who said, “Listen to Uncle here, kids – he is laying down some TRUTHS.”  Oh my gosh, so good, we’d go back in a heartbeat.  I walked out of there with a giant smile on my face and a happy tummy full of great comfort food – can you ask for anything more?

Prime Time Collage 3

Bar Dinner at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’

The last night of our vacation we stumbled back to our resort following a 12-hour day at the Animal Kingdom.  After having hurt the top of my right foot on Christmas Day (17 hours at the Magic Kingdom will do that to a person) I was actually beginning to question whether my ultra tender tootsie was just flat out broken.  But following a change of footwear and a quick freshening-up, I rallied hard, hobbling and wobbling my way to Disney Springs for one last dinner at our favourite Florida restaurant, Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’.

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Which was, of course, packed.  Not too surprising given this cozy restaurant’s popularity and the deep chill just beginning to creep into the night air – Homecomin’s scrumptious Southern cuisine really beckons during the colder winter months.  Without a reservation, we were looking at something like an hour and 10-minute wait for a table.  So we pulled up a couple of seats at the gigantic wooden bar, ordered two (later four) fairly lethal moonshine cocktails and some accompanying vittles, and spent an amazing couple of hours watching the bar staff dazzle us with their mastery of the alcoholic arts.  At one point I looked up to see the head bartender muddle some fruit with his left hand, pour two pints with his right, turn off the taps with the side of his head, all whilst kicking something into a ground level garbage can.  It was fairly incredible – Cocktail out in the real world.

And not for nothing, but the drinks were won-der-ful – unique, deftly layered cocktails brimming with high octane, house-made ‘shine.  My husband’s Apple Pie a la Mode tasted like liquid gold – the perfect festive toast on which to end a Christmastime vacation.  My Berry Lavender was flat out spectacular.  I’d seriously drink a barrel of this rosemary and lavender-infused gem, it was that great.  Wowzers, what a cocktail!  And so delicious alongside Church Lady Deviled Eggs, Thigh High Chicken biscuits and Momma’s Mac and Cheese.  I’m so glad we somehow found the energy to go to Homecomin’ for one last special meal; it was a truly wonderful one.

Homecomin

In conclusion, food is good and we ate a lot of it!  But more than that, we’ve returned home, having enjoyed an embarrassment of perfect dining experiences, with tons of fun memories…and plans for next time.  This could be very dangerous!  But at least we know it’ll absolutely be delicious. 🙂

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Dining at Disney, Part I

I think the general belief when it comes to Disney cuisine is that it comes in two – heh – flavours: Expensive, or churros (or Premium Mickey Bars, or turkey legs, or Dole Whip, or Mickey pretzels, or popcorn – lots of snacks ’round the parks.)  Sometimes it can be both; this dinky little cup of Dole Whip (an iconic Disney dish, and I do not know why, because it’s nothing more than pineapple-flavoured soft serve) was $7!

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But it doesn’t always have to be uninspired park fare.  Although it will always be expensive, because there is no other way at Disney.  However, even after making your peace with the fact that theme park pricing does not in any way resemble our Earth pricing, a $7 cup of ice cream is still a tough nut to crack (I was going to go with the slightly more food-friendly idiom of “bitter pill to swallow,” but this sweet, tropical soft serve was actually quite easy to swallow.) 😉

From a cost perspective, there are a number of dining plans available through Disney; I saw a lot of families with young children taking advantage of the counter service options (I suppose when your little one will only eat chicken fingers or mac and cheese, there’s not much point in going with a more fulsome and varied table service plan.)  Mr. Finger Candy and I have never availed ourselves of one of these plans before.  We looked into it briefly as we were planning this Christmas trip, but ultimately concluded that owing to our eating habits, as well as the rather lengthy list of new-to-us restaurants we wanted to try, we’d be better off going our own way.

And as we were marveling the other day, we actually did better than better, enjoying one of those ultra rare vacations where every dining experience was a winner.  There isn’t a single thing we ate, save perhaps that $7 Dole Whip, that I thought afterwards, “Aargh, I really wish I hadn’t wasted money and/or calories on that.”  Winner winner, excellent dinners!  And so in a sea of memorable meals, here are some of the highlights from our trip.

Breakfast and Dinner at Be Our Guest

Lumiere

Fun fact about Mr. Finger Candy?  He loves Beauty and the Beast, and he loves eating at Be Our Guest, a Beauty and the Beast-themed restaurant at the Magic Kingdom, even more.  We kicked off the first park day of our trip with an early morning breakfast reservation (you don’t always need reservations to get a table at this very popular restaurant, but I wouldn’t chance it during the holidays.)  When we visited Be Our Guest at Halloween, we dined in the West Wing.  This time we nabbed a cozy table over by the grand ballroom’s floor-to-ceiling windows, outside of which gently falling snow drifted down onto a craggy, snow-peaked mountain scape.

Be Our Guest Collage Again

Be Our Guest 2

As at Halloween, I enjoyed the Feast a La Gaston, your standard (but quite yummy) bacon, egg and roasted potatoes platter.  Also going with the same delicious order he had last time (Croque Madame Without the Ham, as we call it) was my husband, who…who just is.  Man, I don’t even know with this guy sometimes!  Also, this is absolutely not the last photo you will see of him shoving a plate of food directly into his face, usually to the total amusement of everyone around us.

Be Our Guest 4

Then late on Christmas Day (10 pm!) we returned to Be Our Guest for an intimate, French-inspired meal hosted by the Beast himself.  Quite hospitable for a reclusive shut-in, really.

Be Our Guest Evening

Dinner at Be Our Guest is a bit of a different experience than breakfast, which falls under the quick service banner.  Dinner is a proper table service meal overseen by a fussily attentive waiter.  Everything feels quite lovely and luxurious, even if you’re sitting there in dorky mouse ears, half-comatose from having spent the past 15 hours running around a theme park, holding a rose-shaped napkin.

Be Our Guest Dinner

After dinner (herb butter-topped steak frites for me, a lovely little cheese plate and a salad for my far-more-responsible-than-I husband) we tried the Grey Stuff!  And it was…all right, I guess?!  Wait, I don’t think that’s the right answer.  I believe the dishes would say it’s delicious, but I thought this cookies and cream-flavoured flan was just sort of okay.  I am, of course, the completely wrong person to assess the merits of a dessert; not much of a sweet tooth, me.  Sorry, dishes. 😦

The Grey Stuff

Then after dessert the lord of the castle himself received us in his study!  My husband bowed and I curtsied.  Not the least bit ashamed to out ourselves as massive wieners here. 🙂

Dinner with the Beast

Dinner and Drinks at La Hacienda de San Angel

With a bit of an emphasis on the “drinks” part of that title. 😉  Not that dinner at La Hacienda de San Angel, housed in the Mexico pavilion at Epcot, was not stupendous on its own merits.  I absolutely loved the taco sampler I ordered, particularly the crispy fish and barbacoa tacos, and Mr. Finger Candy is never not pleased with any place that considers a skillet of melted cheese and peppers to be an acceptable thing to eat as an entree.  Queso Fundido, it’s what’s for dinner!

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Oh, but the drinks…so despite all evidence to the contrary, I’m not much of a drinker.  I’ve never been great at holding my liquor (my intoxication trajectory, if you will, is pretty much a straight up and down line) and as I’ve gotten older, I find it’s a buzz I just don’t care to seek out that often.  But I do love the taste of alcohol (wood barreled things in particular) and when we dine out (which in our non-Disney life we do very, very infrequently) there’s nearly always a delicious-sounding cocktail that catches my eye.

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And so it went at La Hacienda de San Angel, where I ordered an absolutely fan-freakin-tastic Orange Mango Fire margarita to accompany my meal, only to find myself, some hours and two additional margaritas later, attempting to parkour off the bridge leading to “Old Montreal” in the Canada pavilion.  It did not go well!

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I blame the Orange Mango Fire margaritas, which were far, far, far too delicious and absolutely lethal.  Somehow not as bonkers as the Habanero Lime margarita I enjoyed from Boatwright’s the first night we were at our resort (I took a sip and slapped myself across the face) but quite close!  Disney cocktails don’t screw around, particularly the ones laced with ginger liqueur, Tabasco sauce and Tajin chili-lime seasoning.

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Seriously, this juicy, fruity, sweet-and-heat cocktail was so absorbing (more like being absorbed into my bloodstream) I barely noticed the gorgeous sunset taking place right outside the lagoon-facing windows.  Next time we visit we’re going to see if we can time our dinner reservations to Illuminations, Epcot’s evening fireworks show that takes place right over top of the lagoon.  Also not get so tispy that we fail to notice that day has turned to night.

San Angel Sunset

After dinner we salsa’d our way out of the restaurante and directly over to the Choza de Margarita, an outdoor margarita stand roughly 20 Latin dance-infused steps away from the San Angel.  There we grabbed another on-the-rocks marg, this time a Guava Pink Peppercorn margarita (I’ve really got a thing for the spicy and sweet, tequila-based cocktails, don’t I?) and set out on a leisurely stroll around the World Showcase (because you can do that now, just wander around Disney with open alcohol; my, how the times have changed in the era of Food and Wine.)

But all margaritas and then even more margaritas make Sandra something something, so we stopped for a wee sit-down and a giggle in front of the Epcot Christmas tree.  This is actually one of my favourite moments of our trip – squiffed at Disney, sitting on a bench with my husband in front of a 30-foot Christmas tree in a short sleeved tee on Boxing Day, giggling our butts off.  Okay, so he has abysmal table manners.  But we do have fun. 🙂

Drunk at Disney Collage

I think I’m going to leave things off right here for this first installment of Drunk Dining at Disney. 😉  Join me next time, won’t you please, as I talk about the amazing Christmas Eve dinner we enjoyed at the 50s Prime Time Cafe and more drinks, drinks, dranks at our favourite Florida hangout, Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’.  Until then, bon appetit!  Oh, and cheers!

Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue!

Buzz Nail Collage

Except shhhhh, don’t tell Woody (’cause you know he’s just going to make a great big thing out of it) but we were actually the ones doing the rescuing this time, by ridding the galaxy of the scourge of Evil Emperor Zurg!  And with top, maxed-out scores (999,999) aboard Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, no less. 🙂  Which qualified us for these awesomely cheesy certificates of merit declaring us GALACTIC HEROES!!!

Galactic Defenders

It was fate then that we should swagger off the ride, high off of our own awesomeness (look at my face in the photo on the left, below – that is a Galactic Heroine who is feeling herself) and run straight into Buzz himself, who “signed” our certificates with a mighty judo chop to a special stamp.  Then he saluted our cunning and bravery, which no duh!  I dare say he was unbelievably impressed – we’re the King and Queen of Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, after all!

Buzz Lightyear Collage

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!

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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, the San Angel Inn at Epcot (Queso, you are indeed quite Fundido!) and Be Our Guest (twice) at the Magic Kingdom.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Disney World Blitz: Parklife Part V

When we last left off, I was breaking promises left, right and centre regarding the eventual end to this epic tale of my two-day anniversary blitz trip to Walt Disney World.  If you’re at all interested in catching up on the first four installments, in which I blab on endlessly about our resort, food, rides and Gaston’s Tavern, you can find those here, here, here and here.

But last we actually left off, we were discussing Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and how a late night run proved that maybe our stomachs just ain’t what they used to be.  More on that in a bit.

PhilharPooh

But earlier on, following our not-so-nauseous afternoon run of Big Thunder, we swang it across to Fantasyland and hit up two sweeties, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, a cool 4D musical, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.  Pooh is an absolutely adorable attraction, a classic Disney dark ride, but holy cats, what an uncomfortable ride!  You get into these honey pot carts that bob from side to side when the rain, rain, rain comes down, down, down in rushing, rising rivulets, and also sproing up and down when you go bouncing with Tigger, and I never stop feeling like I’m about to just slide off the seat, straight onto the floor.  Pooh could stand a bit of grip tape.

Tomorrowland Speedway

“I don’t know what to do with my hands.”  Mr. Finger Candy versus the Tomorrowland Speedway, these gas-guzzling little go-carts on rails.  Thankfully, unlike Ricky Bobby, he kept his clothes on and didn’t dash about the track in his underpants screaming that he was on fire.  Or at least he didn’t on this particular trip.

People Mover Collage

The People Mover!  Also known as the Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover, a magnet-powered Walt original.  I semi-joke that you know you’ve gotten old(er) when you consider the People Mover a pretty great time.  I don’t know, 10 seated minutes of amazing views, great breezes, cool park trivia, bit of air conditioning – that’s 40-year-old pay dirt right there.

AstroCarousel

An insincere thumbs-up for Astro Orbiter (eh, you go up, you go down, you go fast – it’s fine, but not worth the 25-minute lineup) and yours truly pretending to be that nagging cow Sarah from the Carousel of Progress (an entire rotating stage show filled with animatronic nightmare fuel, and a song that’s somehow more of an ear worm than It’s a Small World.  Everybody sing it with me now, “‘Cause it’s a great! big! beautiful tomorrow!  Shining at the end of every day!”)

Buzz Lightyear

In the midst of all this Tomorrowland fun we took a break to dash back to Liberty Square for another run through the Haunted Mansion, before doubling back to the future for target practice on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.  Buzz is a hoot, one of those shoot-the-target rides (also an excellent candidate for a FastPass, because its lineup is long, cramped and boring.)  A super nice cast member (again, there is really no other variety) snapped this photo of us just outside the ride.

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Ah, but inside, actually on the ride, the attraction snapped this photo of us mid-action.  I call this one “The Gamer and the Goof.”  This is admittedly not the best photo of either one of us, but this is what happens when you put a hardcore gamer on a shoot-the-target ride – intense concentration and laser-like focus.  Or at least until your wife suddenly shouts, “This is where they take your picture, SMILE!” and you try to pretend like you’re not SEVERELY committed to ridding the scourge of Evil Emperor Zurg from the galaxy.  All the same, he got something like 400,000 points his first run out and I got, oh, 9,600.

After conquering Buzz (or just sitting there making “Pew! Pew!” noises) we thought, “Hey, there’s an hour until the projection light show at Cinderella’s Castle.  Let’s hop over to Pirates of the Caribbean for one final boat ride of the day.”  Which would have made for some pretty tremendous timing had the ride not broken down, leaving us in semi-darkness for the next 40 minutes.

Pirates Collage

I say semi, because after 20 or so minutes of the pirates yo-ho, yo-ho-ing in their normal fashion, they turned the sound off, brought the lights up and then began resetting the pumps that push the boats along the tracks.  It was very cool to see how much the water line dropped when the pumps were turned off – probably a good three inches.  And the water’s only about two and a half feet deep to begin with!  At one point I thought we were going to be evac’d off the ride; wondered how that was going to happen when we were all out floating in little boats.  And through it all the pirates continued their revelry, albeit now in static silence.  Being temporarily stuck on a ride may sound like a nightmare to you, but I loved this unexpected peek behind the Disney magic; it was practically its own attraction!

Following our misadventure in Adventure Land, which did indeed cause us to miss the projection light show, we hightailed it over to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train to take advantage of the substantially decreased wait times during late night Extra Magic Hours (another perk that comes with Disney resort life – extra in-park, on-ride hours either before or after regular park open or close.  Which is how you sometimes find yourself stumbling out of the Magic Kingdom at one in the morning!)

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We snapped this photo in front of the Dwarfs the following morning when we realized we had forgotten to take one the night before.  Two somewhat unenthused thumbs up for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, another super zippy roller coaster (this time with individually rocking seats) themed to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  It was fun, but nothing I’d wait in line any longer than 20 minutes to enjoy (which we did, while we watched the fireworks that now seem to be launched from about six different spots in the park, making for a very fulsome, awesome experience, no matter where you’re standing.)

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After exiting the Mine Train, we jaunted on down to Space Mountain.  Why not keep the roller coaster love flowing?  Oh, because Space Mountain has never not been an exceedingly rough ride, and one in the pitch dark, no less.  I was joking the other day that I don’t always enjoy putting up my Christmas tree every year because we have history, and my dad is the same way with Space Mountain – there’s a dark past there I think neither one wishes to acknowledge!  My parents were – and are, even as they approach their 70s – super game for any and all theme park fun…so long as it doesn’t involve a roller coaster.  Even then, my dad will still go on the zoomers like Big Thunder (but only after thoroughly checking to ensure that the ride absolutely, positively does not go upside down.)  But Space Mountain has always been off the menu; she’s just too rough.

And after suffering through our own rough ride on Space Mountain, I’m not sure she’s on the menu for US any more either.  Oof, I felt quite unwell as I exited the ride – barely spared a glance at the fun (and so appropriate) mock ad for SPF 3500 sunscreen bearing my screaming, on-ride likeness on some nearby screens (this is also why we have no photo of this attraction!)  Mr. Finger Candy actually fared much worse, getting hit with a double dose of first motion sickness and then panic sickness when he thought he had lost his very expensive prescription sunglasses somewhere in the bowels of the ride.  A couple of seconds of frantic casting-about in the bottom of his cart thankfully turned up the missing glasses, much to everyone’s relief, but the anxiety-ridden damage was done.

So what better time to ride one more roller coaster of the evening?  And preferably one as far away as possible.  So to the very back corner of the park for one last ride on Big Thunder!  Which is the ride I spoke of before that just completely did us in.  I’m a real arms-up kind of roller coaster enthusiast – I love that feeling of gravity pulling you out of your seat.  It’s normally a very fun way to enjoy a roller coaster, but not this evening.  Should have just enjoyed the stars and the scenery!  We were both listing sideways as we made our way toward the front of the park.

Castle at Night

But not listing so much that we didn’t stop by the Haunted Mansion for one last close-er-out ride of the night.  Which was also maybe a mistake?  You know you’ve overdone it when even a Doom Buggy’s slow, stately funeral march through the Mansion is setting you off.  And that, my friends, is what you call theme park overload!

Which is what you might be feeling at this point in the tale, which…DRUMROLL, PLEASE!…is finally at an end.  What a fun time!  Such a fantastic experience, one I hope to recreate very soon. 🙂  And to everyone who was kind enough to like and comment on these posts with their own fun Disney experiences, thank you for coming by and sharing *your* Disney world with me.  May we meet up in the parks someday!

Disney World Blitz: Parklife Part IV

Rides Collage

And here we are, finally – “FINALLY!” they all cried – at the end of my Disney World travelogue (Editor’s note: Lies!) a tale that has taken longer to tell than it did to experience all that excitement and wonder in the first place.  Ah, but half the joy (or at least a solid one-third of the joy) is in the storytelling after the fact – and there’s still tons of fun fuel in that particular tank. 🙂

So, baby baby, it’s ride time!  Let’s get down to this thing.  Day two was largely spoken for by our 13 rides through the Haunted Mansion.  But on day one we worked it like the rent was due, or at least like we had 14 hours in the world’s most popular theme park – no time for dilly-dallying, we’re here to DISNEY!  And here are the attractions we enjoyed, roughly in the order in which we experienced them.

Peter Pan's Flight Collage

A fairly hard and fast rule among my little flamly growing up was if your weirdo kid didn’t drag you on the Haunted Mansion as the first run of the day, then that inaugural ride had better well be Peter Pan’s Flight.  A 1971 original (that has gone through precious few updates over the decades) Peter Pan’s Flight is a sweet, gentle lark; my mom always clapped with joy when we’d burst through the Darlings’ bedroom window and set sail over London.  And my favourite part of the ride is technically not even part of the ride – just a little table set for teddy tea tucked in a tiny nook just outside the Darlings’ bedroom.  I sighed with contentment when I glimpsed it after a 13 year hiatus.

It's a Small World Collage

The easy joke about It’s a Small World, another ’71 original, is that it’s insanity-inducing, although I’ve never found it 1/1000th as annoying as everyone says it is.  And neither did Mr. Finger Candy, on his first It’s a Small World voyage – it was closed for refurbishments when we were last down on our honeymoon.  He actually said he found it pretty tolerable.  See, that’s what happens when you get old and you cherish each and every moment you can spend sitting on your butt in a theme park, even if you have to endure thousands of vaguely demonic-looking animatronic figurines singing the world’s most relentlessly cheerful song at you in 89 different languages in order to do so.

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Out of focus?  Or did I accidentally drink the It’s a Small World Water?  No, definitely out of focus – I wasn’t arrested after tearing off all my clothes and declaring myself the Lizard Queen. 😉

Haunted Mansion Two Collage

Straight chillin’ in front of my dream home, the Haunted Mansion.  And I got as close to actually living there this time as I have any other visit – 13 rides (actually 16 over two days) took a not-insubstantial amount of time.  Gave me plenty of opportunity to choose a room, though, should the Mansion break down and, in the most likely of scenarios, I’m forced to live there until the end of time.  It’s actually behind the last door on the left as you climb the hallway of M.C. Escher-esque infinity staircases.

Pirates of the Caribbean Collage

I’m a Pirate, wikid!  Pirates of the Caribbean is never not a good time, not even when the ride breaks down and you spend 35 minutes watching the pirates yo-ho, yo-ho in static silence.  But more on that awesome experience in a bit.  Otherwise, the day’s first ride on Pirates went off without a hitch.  Unless you count the fact that Mr. Finger Candy did NOT buy that awesome tri-cornered hat, even though I begged him to because he’s wanted one his entire life.  Hey, I shouldn’t be the only one fulfilling my childhood dreams here!

I really liked the new-ish Jack Sparrow update to the end of the ride, and I was pleased as punch to see that Disney has not yet removed The Redhead (as in “We wants the redhead!”)  Pirates is long overdue for a pretty major tonal shift – the multiple references to physical and sexual violence (the pirates “wants” The Redhead because she’s the hottest piece being sold at auction) cast a perplexing, momentarily unwelcome pall across an otherwise goofily enjoyable ride.  Anyhow, I was glad to get one last glimpse of The Redhead in her native, 1973 state before she and her auction-mates are rightfully retrofitted into a girl pirate gang.  I can’t wait until they round up all the men and then sit around drunkenly speculating on their price per pound – “Shift yer cargo, dearie, show ’em your larboard side!”  Squid pro roe, pirate dudes, it’s your time to be objectified for the next 40 or so years!

Little Mermaid Collage

Journey of the Little Mermaid was a new ride for both of us, and oh, what fun!  I’ve never been the biggest Little Mermaid fan (Prince Eric is a stone cold moron, easily the dumbest guy in the Disney canon) but I love, love, LOVED this attraction, classic Disney dark ride styles.  The gigantic Under the Sea set piece was fantastic, and the even gigantic-er Ursula animatronic?  Ca c’est encroyable!  She’s mended all her ways, you know – repented, sympathized and made a switch.  True?  Yes.

Little Mermaid Collage 2

I loved Journey of the Little Mermaid so much, I even liked the lineup, which winds below Ariel and Eric’s castle in a series of underwater caves at “low tide.”  And my husband liked it so much, he…oh my.  And it’s not even Hug a Merman Day!  Well, I’ll try not to be too jealous, though they do make a pretty fetching couple.

Jungle River

Jungle River Cruise!  And I have no cute on-ride photo from this attraction, because we were too busy guffawing like a couple of hyenas at the guide’s round-the-jungle boat trip of sad trombone jokes.  I also guarantee you that on any given ride, we will be the only people laughing; nobody gets this ride!  I also think it’s one of those ones that’s totally lost in language translation – not sure how much non-English speakers would get out of “Eating zebra would be like white meat, dark meat, white meat, dark meat…” jokes.  My favourite bit, though, is when animatronic hippos attack the boat and the guide drives them off by leaning over the side and shouting things like, “I love you!  I’m ready for a commitment!  Could you possibly dress more like my mother?!”  Heh.  Also, who’s not laughing at THE BACKSIDE OF WATER?  Everybody but us, that’s who.

Big Thunder Collage

We hit up Big Thunder Mountain, a zippy coaster, twice our first day, including one incredible end-of-night ride that’s remarkable both for being unbelievably gorgeous (what a sight to see the first stars of the night just begin to pop into existence over the fake buttes of Big Thunder as all of Disney lay glittering beneath us) and also for being the straw that totally broke these camels’ backs – hot on the heels of two other pretty intense coasters (the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Space Mountain) this is the ride that did. us. in.  Not so for the little girl who plowed into us as we exited the ride, bellowing, “Sorry, sorry, but I’m on a mission!” as she entered the lineup for her seventh straight run.  I feel nauseous just typing that.

Right, so how much would you all hate me if I said it looks like I may have to split this final ride post into…two posts?  Because – everybody sing it with me now! – IT’S THE STORY THAT NEVER ENDS!  Really, by the time I finish up this tale, we’ll be due for another trip to Disney (this is an actual possibility; we are looking at another visit, and soon.)  But this only encompasses about half of the rides we rode the first day, and there’s so much more to show and tell.  So I hope to see you back here for more Disney fun, next time with the added bonus of a conclusion!