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…

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…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.

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, and I was determined to pull us out of the abyss.  And so it was decided that we would 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. 🙂

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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.)

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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!

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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.) 😉

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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!

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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. 🙂

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

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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.

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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

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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, La Hacienda de San Angel 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.

Chewie 1

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

Dinner with the Beast

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

Christmas Card

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