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.

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Takin’ My Time on My Ride

There’s truly nothing more attractive than an on-ride photo, is there?  Those are the pictures theme parks snap of you at the minute and a half mark of a two minute ride when your hair is either all up in your face or swept back like you’ve been electrocuted, or maybe you nearly tossed your cookies three loops back and now you’re hanging on for nauseatingly dear life.  I have a particular knack for emerging from all rides looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger on Mars in Total Recall.  As a society, we should really begin using these photos for our government-issued ID; it would certainly beat the “Hello, I’m a blank psychopath!” pics currently in circulation, would it not?

But back to life on Mars.  The other day I discussed the Memory Maker photography package my husband and I purchased during our Christmastime trip to Disney World.  This package afforded us unlimited digital access to the hundreds upon hundreds of photos we had taken of us by Disney’s official in-park photographers, as well as the character meet-and-greets and, of course, these laugh-inducing on-ride pics.  Next year’s Christmas card is legitimately a toss-up between the one where I’m pretending to Force-lift Mr. Finger Candy into the air (or am I pretending…?) and this one on Space Mountain where he looks like he’s about to hurl into his tri-cornered pirate hat.

On Ride Space Mountain

To be fair to my husband, who looks to be in far worse shape than I in that picture, Space Mountain, an indoor roller coaster at the Magic Kingdom that takes place in hugely disorienting near-darkness, is a rough, rough ride.  “Um, Sandra,” you may be saying to yourself, “didn’t you say at Halloween that Space Mountain kicked your ass so hard, you’d never ride it again?”  Hey, you sound just like my mom, who rightfully questioned whether her daughter and son-in-law had terrifically short memories, or were just a couple of idiot masochists.  Little from column A, little from column B, I think!

We did it all over again the following day at Hollywood Studios with a first-thing-in-the-morning ride of Aerosmith’s Rock’n’ Roller Coaster, presented by Hanes.  Mr. Finger Candy and I have concluded that they are the Rock’n’ Roller Coaster’s sponsor primarily because if you aren’t ready for that 0-60 MPH in 2.8-second launch, you’re probably going to shit yourself and will absolutely need an additional pair of Hanes.  And here’s where we get into that Arnold Schwarzenegger thing.  Like, where even ARE my eyes?!

On Ride Rockin Roller Coaster

I redeemed my cool outside somewhat by paying homage to Steven Tyler’s formerly missing fingers.  Bit of an inside Disney joke here – in a little pre-ride show segment, the band addresses you, the audience, noting that they’d like to bring all 50 or so of you along to their upcoming show, but there’s just not enough room in the limo.  That’s when Steven Tyler, struck with inspiration, throws up an enthusiastic Sign of the Devil (you know them better as metal devil hands; see above) and declares that they’re gonna need a super-super-super stretch limo, and extra quick.  I’ve never paid a bit of attention to the gesture beyond “Oh, that kooky Steven Tyler” and I never really thought anyone else did either, but apparently Disney thought enough about it that after something like 15 years of Steven Tyler rawkin’ out, they digitally added in two new middle fingers three or four years ago.  Lame.  Unclench just a smidge, Disney, it would do you some good.

Rock'n' Roller Coaster

As always, Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom was good for a hosing.  There are these adorable warnings posted all throughout the line suggesting that you MAY get wet, like it’s not some sort of foregone conclusion when your boat arrives and you sit down straight into the two inches of water the previous occupants left behind.  Also when you’ve been condemned to the front row of a flume ride that concludes with a 52-foot nosedive into a brier patch.  We got soaked!

Splash Mountain Collage

Here I am on Expedition Everest at the Animal Kingdom practicing a wise friend’s advice that if you’re screaming, you can’t throw up.

On Ride Expedition Everest

I came perilously close to disproving that theory, however.  Turns out this pretty hardcore coaster, a first-time ride for both of us (which concludes with a huge Yeti animatronic swooping down from the cavern ceilings) GOES BACKWARDS for what is probably only 10 seconds, but really feels more like two hours.  I don’t backwards bueno AT ALL, and neither does my husband, who later told me that he thought we were going to go upside down whilst still hurtling backwards.  Just typing that is making me feel ill. 😦 Here we are beforehand posing by Fauxverest in a cute enhanced photo.  Look how confident and oblivious and not vomiting we look!  We just have no idea what we’re walking into.

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Here we are riding Frozen Ever After at Epcot, which also goes backwards, although I submit it’s far more pleasant toodling backwards along a gentle boat ride based off a beloved animated movie than it is hurtling (or is that hurling?) through the semi-darkness in reverse at 45 MPH.  Just one nauseated person’s opinion (I regrettably had a lot of trouble this trip with motion sickness, a surprisingly unwelcome new addition to my aging constitution.)  Frozen Ever After was great (the Elsa and Anna projection animatronics were jaw-droppingly next level) but short, short, short!  Maybe a minute and 45 seconds from start to finish?  That’s perhaps a tad too short to justify this ride’s perpetual two-hour wait times.  I’d say outside of Flight of Passage at the Animal Kingdom, Frozen Ever After is Disney’s second most popular attraction.  I managed to make 9:40 pm FastPasses for this one, and I was glad to have them.

On Ride Frozen

And now how about a little Terror time?  The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is an old favourite, more so now that you receive these cool after-ride videos!  We had an awesome elevator full of fellow doomed souls on our way to the Twilight Zone – everybody was having a goofy good time (look at the guy on the left who’s thrown himself up against the back wall!) and nobody’s shrieking or flipping off the camera (that’s the number one way to get kicked out of the parks, by the way.  I thought it would have been having sex behind the little Dutch kids on It’s a Small World, although neither seems advisable.)

It’s also one of the most gorgeous buildings on property.  On Christmas Eve when we visited, the early morning mist was just beginning to clear around the top of the building; it was breathtakingly gloomy.

I’ve no idea why this picture from Pirates of the Caribbean is surrounded by this ornate frame, but it really adds to my laid back swagger and my husband’s enthusiastic “Yaaaarrrr!” (which yes, is coming across here sort of like he maybe recently ate too much cheese.)  The frame also takes away from the fact that that cool skeleton captain in the background is a real animatronic, and a badass one at that.  I was sort of afraid of that thing when I was a kid; way more scared of it than anything I encountered on the Haunted Mansion.

Getting cocky on dual rides of Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.

And finally, here I am getting flashy with my hands on Dinosaur at the Animal Kingdom.  I know exactly where the camera is on this ride, and I wanted to do my very best impression of a terrified movie heroine, but my timing was off by a fraction of a second.  Too much windup!

I hope you enjoyed this peek at some of the on-ride fun we had on our Disney vacation.  That is if you’ve stopped laughing at the myriad of elongated insanity faces I can apparently make over the course of five-plus days.  Thanks for sharing in the magic. 🙂

What a Character!

On our Christmas trip to Disney we met an absolute ton of characters.  This was partly a function of the crowd levels – the lineups for the meet-and-greets were usually half that of the rides – but also because we just wanted to meet a bunch of our favourite Disney characters; nothing more complicated than that!  Pretty radical departure from when I was a kid, when I had absolutely no patience for the plushies.  Mind you, I was never one of those kids running in terror from Tigger, but I also never felt the need to meet any of the characters either – might have cut into precious Haunted Mansion time, that.

We enjoyed some amazing character interactions, and I’m so glad we decided to take the time to try something a little less ride-oriented and a little more fun-oriented this trip.  I’ve already shared a number of these meet-and-greets, if not all the photos, but what I haven’t already driven you crazy with can’t make you any crazier, can it? 😉 I mean, maybe you were ready two weeks ago for me to shut my yap about Disney already, but that doesn’t seem likely, now does it?!

Blog Buzz

Meeting Buzz Lightyear at the Magic Kingdom was a total trip.  We had just stepped off his popular namesake ride, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, each of us bearing Galactic Hero certificates on account of our maxed-out scores, and there he was!  Just waiting to pose with a couple of overgrown dorks.  To infinity and beyond!

Blog Stitch

Stitch!  Of Lilo & Stitch.  Or as I like to call him, Mr. Luvah Luvah. 😉

Blog Chewie

Us and Chews.  He was our first Star Wars meet-and-greet at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and I thought my husband’s head was going to explode from childlike delirium.  He’s also got mad envy that I received a hug from Chewbacca and he did not.  Apparently righting this transgression warrants an immediate repeat visit (man’s got worse Disney stoke than I do, if that’s even possible.)  But you know, he’s kind of got a point – he’s the lifelong Star Wars fan, not me.  He really should have been the one on the receiving end of a Wookie embrace.

Blog Kylo Ren

Bahahahaha!  I love this picture – we look like we’re being reprimanded.  Which we kind of were?  Emo Kylo Ren here had no effs to give about either of us, stalking around for a bit before declaring us Resistance sympathizers.  Then we took some pictures and then he kicked us off Star Killer Base!  It was the weirdest meet-and-greet, truly.  I just found him wicked intimidating, and the second we walked into his area and he strode over to us, all black cape and inexplicably hot respirator helmet, I forgot all about my plans to pinch his burlap dress-covered butt and just stood there like a goof (just kidding; always keep your hearts and your parts to yourself, kids, unless someone explicitly says, “Lay ’em on me.”  Bloggers and fictional space fascists would do well to heed this advice, too.)

Blog Cruz

Alright, now this is more my speed of meet-and-greet (wah-waaaaaahhhhh)!  Although this was less a meet-and-greet than a meet-and-pose, on account of the fact that Cruz Ramirez up there, badass girl racer star of Cars 3, was really more of a prop than an interactive character.  All the same, I love Cruz’s gym trainer-on-uppers routine, and anything to get into a shot with THE one and only Piston Cup (he done what in his cup?)

Blog Star Lord and Groot

Over in the Guardians of the Galaxy meet-and-greet, we met and greeted Star-Lord and wee little Baby Groot.  I know Baby Groot, who messes about adorably with that pile of spaceship parts laid out in front of him there, is the main draw of this meet-and-greet, but I loved the guy playing Star-Lord – he was such a delightfully amiable dude bro, all affable exasperation and cocky banter.  The actor playing him, while looking less like Chris Pratt than some of the others, had his voice and mannerisms down PAT.  Totally delightful!  And yes, yes, you. are. Groot.  We know, buddy, we know.  You literally speak of nothing else.  Just like me and Disney!

Blog Lightsabers

Not a meet-and-greet, but this entire photo op was such a hoot – just us, another totally game family with some thoroughly mortified/delighted teenagers and a PhotoPass cast member having a whole lot of fun messing around with a bunch of Star Wars props.

Lightsaber Battle

Speaking of, huge props to the PhotoPass photographers who took all of these awesome shots.  We have so very few photos that feature the two of us in one shot, and so we tacked the Memory Maker add-on onto our vacation package.  That allowed us unlimited access to any on-ride photos (always so attractive, those) as well as any photos taken by Disney photographers, including these cool meet-and-greets.  It should be noted that Memory Maker is not the most inexpensive of add-ons.  However, knowing we had a bit of money on the line really encouraged us to utilize the crap out of Disney’s photography services, leading to all sorts of fun, once-in-a-lifetime moments like this one.

BB8

BB-8!  Quite the chirpy little devil.  Mr. Finger Candy looks pleased as punch to be standing beside such an adorable little droid.  He was rather cute, and according to the attendant who was working his meet-and-greet and speaks Droid far better than I, he liked my Sally mouse ears. 🙂

Warm Hugs from Olaf

Olaf the snowman, straight chillin’ in the Floridian sum-MMMMMERRRRRRRR!  Or actually, no, the Floridian winter, but to a Canadian, it might as well be summer.  And just for the record, Olaf gave, and received, some very nice warm hugs.

Blog Beast

And the Beast, of course, was an unbelievably gracious host, receiving us in his study following our Christmas evening dinner at Be Our Guest.  I’ve outed us before on this one, but it’s worth being not-at-all embarrassed anew – I curtsied and my husband bowed, and we are gigantic goobers.  Wouldn’t want it any other way. 🙂

Smooches from Stitch

Stitch Nail Collage

We met Stitch, the Elvis-worshiping, ukulele-playing little alien from Lilo & Stitch, on our Christmas trip to Disney World, and it was one of the very best moments of our entire fantastic vacation.  Stitch is a scampy little troublemaker under the very best of circumstances, but he was extra sassy during this character meet-and-greet, briefly bro-ing down with my husband before dismissively RASPBERRYING him in favour of giving me hugs and licks and kisses. 🙂

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And I don’t look like I mind this one bit (because I don’t!) but I can’t say the same for my husband, who was seriously side-eyeing this amorous little bugger putting the moves on his wife!  Not to worry, sweetie, I’m not looking to trade one barely controllable, blue-garbed weirdo for another. 😉

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I think this manicure turned out so well!  I like to think I was inspired by Stitch’s little crush, because he actually sort of looks like himself here and not like some sort of hideous mutant creature.  Progress!  And we couldn’t get out of the parks without picking up a couple of items in Stitch’s furry blue likeness, including these cute socks (can’t EVER have too many novelty socks, in my estimation) and a tiny clip-on Stitch, right, who rode around on my husband’s backpack for a few days.  Today his magnetized claws cling to the front of our fridge.  The slightly larger Stitch plush was a thoughtful gift from an alien-loving friend (thanks, Rocky!)

Stitch Nails and Merch Collage

Star Wars at Disney

Vacation Wars Collage

Straight off the bat, let’s establish my Star Wars fangirl bona fides – I have none!  I will freely admit to being a fairweather friend to the Star Wars franchise.  I loved The Force Awakens, haven’t actually seen The Last Jedi (although I look forward to that shirtless Kylo Ren scene I keep hearing so much about) and I watch A New Hope, Empire and Jedi every May the 4th purely because my husband loves them and I love him.  Otherwise…I mean, you guys have seen how Boba Fett goes out.  This is the galactic badass every guy I’ve ever known has rhapsodized about?  Holy cripes.

Okay, so I don’t worship at the temple of the Jedi (that’s probably an actual thing, right?)  But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate what Disney has done at Hollywood Studios in the lead-up to the 2019 opening of Galaxy’s Edge, which is nothing short of incredible.  I was legitimately dazzled by the ultra detailed world-building Disney has already carried out in the absence of, you know, an actual physical space in which to build their world (that bit of Disney magic is carefully concealed behind tall construction walls, a solid third of the park.)

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Whether it’s droll Stormtroopers walking about the park, offering deadpan observations about the Florida weather, or the hourly live stage show, featuring recreations of iconic scenes from the movies, or the awesome character meet-and-greets, or the displays of props and memorabilia, or the short preview films, or the completely nutso light, projection and fireworks show that closed out the evening, there’s so much to experience and so, so much to be excited about.  It’s going to be just bonkers when the fully immersive “Star Wars Land” opens in 2019.  Also bonkers busy.  Think about the lineups in Pandora and then multiply that by a factor of 25,000 rabid Star Wars fans.  Should be fun!  Also sounds like a challenge for these two amusement park masochists.  Consider the gauntlet thrown!  Also, try the blue milk, it’s…delicious?

Blue Milk Collage

So in the absence of any new, big ticket attractions like actual rides, precisely what adventures did we have at the edge of Galaxy’s Edge?  Well, we…

Star Tours Collage

…rode Star Tours, the OG Hollywood Studios attraction.  This hulking AT-AT, which is large enough to block out the sky, stands in front of the entrance to the ride, while the Ewok-constructed walkways of Endor provide in-line shade from the hot midday sun.  The detail here is just exceptional; if it’s any indication of what we can come to expect from Galaxy’s Edge, it’s going to be phenomenal.

Less phenomenal was discovering, mid-ride, just as I was admiring Poe Dameron’s handsome face in the newly-added scenes, that motion simulators (like the one I was on) no longer accord with my increasingly wussy constitution.  I’ve always been known for having a bit of a cast iron stomach.  I’ve been temporarily felled by food poisoning a time or two, true, but over the whole of my life, I have rarely experienced an issue with motion sickness.  And in this very specific instance, I have never experienced an issue with motion sickness over probably 10 lifetime rides.

That is regrettably no longer the case, because Star Tours turned me inside out.  As did another motion sim, Flight of Passage, one of the Avatar rides at the Animal Kingdom, some days later.  I closed my eyes through the majority of that one (what you can’t see can’t make you throw up), but I had yet to learn that lesson on Star Tours.  I immediately broke out into a prickly, ice cold sweat, and then spent the next four minutes desperately trying to stop myself from launching my cookies into hyperspace.  Mission somehow complete, I stumbled off the ride and immediately collapsed on a garbage can-adjacent bench, the back of my light grey t-shirt soaked with panic sweat.  It was a hell of an exit. 😦 On a less dismaying note, we also…

Chewie 2

…met Chewbacca!  Quite the gracious fella, and super giving with the hugs.  Look at how chill he is up there with his furry paws slung over our shoulders!  Next up, we were…

Kylo Ren 1

…alternately creeped out and freaked out by this emo lurker.  Meeting Kylo Ren was – not too surprising, this – INTENSE.  He basically stalked around for a few minutes sizing us up before accusing us of being Resistance sympathizers.  Then he booted us off Star Killer Base!  Did he not take note of my husband’s Empire Red shirt or my Vader Kitty tee?  Probably just seething behind that mask, thinking about perceived slights.  And his hair.  Possibly his abs.  Super weird dude.

Kylo Ren 2

Here I am attempting not to giggle in the face of galactic greatness, and failing miserably.  Disrespecting a Supreme Leader of the First Order – think that one’s gonna cost me? 😉  Anyhow, once I was done with that little bit of treason, we went out and…

Lightsaber 2

…had a lightsaber battle!  It was actually quite cathartic.

Christmas Card

This was MORE cathartic!  Or at least it was for me. 😉  I’ve been not-at-all joking that this is going to be next year’s Christmas card.  I think it is my favourite photo of us ever.  Next up we…

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…met a Stormtrooper.  One of the sassy ones who like to gripe about the Florida humidity.  Mr. Finger Candy is bearing a look on his face, standing there beside one of his childhood obsessions (a toy literally freakin’ come to life!) that suggests that his brain just might have broke. 🙂 It was actually really super cute watching him geek out over a beloved movie franchise springing into glorious life right before his eyes.  Speaking of, we also…

Star Wars Stuff 1

…took in a lot of cool movie memorabilia, such as the Millennium Sparrow and a weird cage ‘o parts containing R2D2’s missing arm.  Haha, I’m just kidding – I’m not that much of a Star Wars doof.  I know it’s the Millennium Eagle and C3PG’s arm, duh! 😉

Star Wars Helmet Collage

There were also a number of prop and replica helmets, weapons, costumes and vehicles on display, such as Rey’s broken down hunk of junk (talking about her weird burlap hoodie here and not the hover vehicle.)

Star Wars Kylo Collage

Also the creepy lurker’s seriously ill-conceived, dual-ended lightsaber (that thing really does look like it was designed by a fourth grader) and a $2,500 bust of Kylo Ren’s grandpappy, to which he darkly promised he’d finish what he started.  We also took some time to…

BB8

…meet BB-8!  There was definitely a bit of a communication barrier between us and everybody’s favourite droid, but his cute chirps transcended the human-droid communication gap – apparently he was quite taken with my ears. 🙂  Towards the end of the evening we also found time to…

Star Wars merch

…indulge in a bit of Star Wars-related consumerism.  We picked up these matching hats, bearing what about a half dozen guys assured us is THE most romantic sentiment ever uttered in a movie, along with this cute Resistance Tech pin bearing my husband’s name in the language of Aurebesh.  Wearing matching anything may seem pretty dorky, but like the Jack and Sally hats we purchased at Halloween, these chapeaus really saved our easily freckled, tender pink skin from nastier burns than the ones we already received.  Also, wearing matching clothes is practically expected at Disney; these hats definitely fall on the lower end of the Matchy Kingdom scale (I saw a family of about 15 at Christmas all wearing custom printed fleece onesies.  It was sort of disturbing!)  We finally closed out the evening with…

Star Wars Projection

…front row, slightly right-of-centre seats for the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular fireworks and projection light show.  This show, featuring iconic scenes from the movies, was absolutely incredible, and I say that as someone not hugely enamored with the films.  Truth be told, I’ve always found them to be cold, and maybe even a little bit soulless.  But I was an emotional wreck during this show, puffing up with fury during General Hux’s righteously indignant call-to-arms, cheering as colourful lasers and gigantic fireballs set fire to the night, and welling up with tears as pretty pretty Luke gazed off tenderly into the sunset(s).  Such an emo family, those Skywalkers.  And with all of it set to John Williams’ iconic score, it’s an amazingly large and fulfilling experience for Star Wars fans and near-newbies alike.  A can’t miss if you’re at Disney World, period.  I’d come back to see this one in a heartbeat.

There were a number of other Star Wars-related things we took in over the course of the day, from the impressive March of the First Order, to the hourly midday show, and all of it punctuated by the “sounds of Star Wars” – marching Stormtroopers, Vader’s breathing, and so. many. freakin’. explosions!  There’s just stuff blowing up all the time, all over the park.

We had a simply stupendous time exploring all of the Star Wars offerings at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  There is so much to do right now, and that’s a full year before the rope even drops for Galaxy’s Edge.  Based on the amazing time we had at Christmas, it’s going to be an experience worth waiting for (and waiting in line for; the place is going to be overrun for, oh, about the first two years!)  But you know that we’ll be there – wouldn’t miss it for the world.  Or the galaxy. 😉

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.)

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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.

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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? 🙂

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!

Prime Time Collage 1

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.) 😉

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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. 🙂