Splashdown!

Splash Mountain

Brer Rabbit’s twitchy little bunny ears take centre stage in this manicure inspired by a beloved Disney ride, Splash Mountain.  Come on, who doesn’t love getting soaked straight through to the bone while animatronic stereotypes bellow Dixie at you from the prow of a riverboat?  Nobody I want to know. 🙂

But do you know who I would like to know?  The guy in the back row of this on-ride photo, taken during our Christmastime 2017 soaking.  I know it’s bad form to post a stranger’s photo on your personal blog, but the look of delight on this guy’s face never fails to put a smile on my face – dude is living his very best day, and glee like that is infectious.

Splash Mountain Collage

However.  Owing to perhaps the weight distribution in our boat (we still big folks) or maybe even a bit of reburb tinkering on the part of Disney, we got SOAKED.  There have always been these adorable “You may get wet!” signs posted all throughout the line, which over probably a dozen lifetime rides has proven to be more or less accurate – you may get wet.  This time it seemed to be a foregone conclusion from the moment we sat down into about an inch and a half of water left over from the previous occupants of what was naturally the very front row.  The 52-foot drop into a thorny tangle of briers also didn’t help.  Our boat basically entered the water like a shovel, and we got hosed.  And we paid money for this!  And it was THE MOST fun, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 😉

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May the Froth Be With You!

No, wait, that can’t be right.  May the Firth be with you?  Ooh, as in Colin?  I loved him in Kingsman!  Hmm, well, what else could it be?  May the Frick be with you?  That’s an art gallery I once went to in Manhattan.  May the Fort(nite) be with you?  I bet there’s a lot of kids who would agree with that sentiment (my old ass is not so old that I don’t know what’s the hot, crazy-makin’ video game of the moment.)  Truly, I’m stumped.  Oh, wait, it’s that Star Wars thing, isn’t it?  Yeah, I had heard that it was going to be kind of a big deal today.  Never heard of the movies myself – are they popular? 😉

All facetiousness aside, I made another video for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!, all about our galactic adventures at Disney’s Hollywood Studios this past Christmas.  Please click on the link below to share in a little bit of the fun, and as always, may the Force (ahh, got it that time) be with you.

Still Stuck in Vacation Mode

Disney at Christmas Collage

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

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

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

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

Life on Pandora: Exploring Disney’s World of Avatar

Pandora Collage 1

Kaltxi!  And welcome to what I’m sure you are hoping is going to be one of the final posts you have to endure on the subject of my Christmas trip to Disney World.  Except I still have so much to say!  Particularly on the subject of a very special (and very, very busy) place we visited at the Animal Kingdom on the final day of our holiday, Pandora – The World of Avatar (I’m sold already; gotta love a title that contains a hyphenate.)

The World of Avatar opened in June 2017, and just seven months on, it remains THE hottest ticket in the entire Walt Disney World Resort.  And I do mean that literally – FastPasses were not to be had for Flight of Passage, the most popular ride in any of the Disney parks, although I did manage to nab early evening FPs for Na’vi River Journey, a stunningly gorgeous dark boat ride, and my pick for the better of the two attractions anyways (hard not to go with the one that didn’t make me want to hurl all over the back of a banshee, but more on that in a second.)

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Right, so before I get to the breathtakingly beautiful landscape and design work (Disney calls this “Imagineering”) let’s get to what I know you’re really here for, TIPS AND TRICKS ON HOW TO TACKLE PANDORA – THE WORLD OF AVATAR WITHOUT LOSING THREE-QUARTERS OF YOUR DAY AND/OR YOUR SANITY.

First, stay on property at a Disney resort.  This gives you the ability to book FastPasses 60 days out from your vacation.  You may be able to get a FP for Flight of Passage this way.  I was not able to get any, but I was on the hunt “just” 30 days out.  You should be able to get a FP for Na’vi River Journey with little to no trouble 60 or 30 or even 10 days out.

Staying at a Disney resort also gives you access to Extra Magic Hours, extra in-park time extended to guests of Disney resorts either first thing in the morning or last thing at night.  Find out which day the Animal Kingdom is offering their Extra Magic Hours (owing to what I’m assuming are the actual animals’ nocturnal schedules, they tend to offer them first thing in the morning) and get there early with a mind to hitting Pandora.

No, really, get there EARLY.  Earlier than you think reasonable.  If you’re taking Disney transportation, you’ll find yourself sitting at a dark and foggy bus stop at 6 in the morning with 100 other stressed out people (and that’s just your resort!) also all fretting  about how quickly they can sprint through the Animal Kingdom and directly onto Flight of Passage.

I actually really wish that my fellow guests would not do this.  Moods at Disney are highly contagious, and listening to some teenager joke-mock his walker-enabled grandmother about the hustle she’s going to have to put on the second they step off the bus is dispiriting.  Listening in on other people’s neuroses leaves me feeling highly anxious and unnecessarily fretful.

So it turns out my very best tip is actually to calm the eff down.  Please.  With our ultra early start to the day, we were on and off Flight of Passage in a little under 45 minutes.  And our evening FP for Na’vi River Journey freed us up to then explore the rest of Pandora, and indeed the entirety of the Animal Kingdom.  So no need to go all wackadoo.

Having said all that, I am so freaking glad we got that jump start to the day, because by the time we exited the ride 45 minutes later, the wait time had climbed to three hours.  An hour later the estimated wait time had vaulted to five incomprehensible hours and the lineup stretched all the way to the front gates.  When we took this picture, roaring in front of the Tree of Life, we were feeling quite pleased with ourselves for having conquered at dawn what everybody else was now going to spend the entire day slogging to complete.  Mean?  Maybe!  But the early bird rides Flight of Passage with only a 25-minute lineup. 🙂

Morning Animal Kingdom

Less roar-worthy is the fact that Flight of Passage KICKED MY ASS.  It’s a motion simulator, and a deeply immersive one at that – the screen wraps from top to bottom and then side to side.  The story is that you’re riding on the back of a flying banshee through the alien landscapes of Pandora.  Sounds incredible, and I can confirm that the minute or so of ride I actually experienced was next level amazing.  But oh sweet Jebus, the plummeting dips and drops and that nauseating thrusting motion of takeoff and the gigantic, sloshing wall of water…oof, I may need to stop talking about this, right now. 😦

So yes, I closed my eyes through roughly 60 percent of an attraction that I waited half an hour to ride and that some people waited up to five hours to ride.  But I felt myself begin to break out into a cold sweat, my number one tell, and decided to instantly bow to the warning signs I was too daft to heed on Star Tours.  You’re welcome.

I actually have precious little footage from the exterior or interior of either ride; we really hustled through both lineups, and there was no time to stop and smell the alien roses.  But Na’vi River Journey was definitely the more palatable of the two rides for me, a return to those classic, ultra detailed dark rides that have always set my Disney-loving heart aflutter.  Plus, Na’vi River Journey just looks like the best rave you’ve never been to.  Kind of sounds like it, too.  Gosh, I wish I had pictures of this one – it is a boat ride through a black lit, neon alien jungle, and that’s just as pretty as you might imagine.

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We quite shamefully made incredibly poor use of Pandora’s other amenities.  We didn’t go to Pongu Pongu for refreshing Night Blossom slushies and we also didn’t get to Satu’li Canteen for what is some of the only vegetarian food in the Animal Kingdom (for a place devoted to caring for all manner of wildlife, I find their reliance on BBQ to be quite odd.)  I blame Flight of Passage – my best laid Pandoran food plans went out the window the moment I emerged from the ride whiter than a ghost and (as always) cursing James Cameron’s name.

This is the part where I should probably mention that I hated Avatar, the movie.  Like, LOATHED it.  And I will never not be boggled by its inexplicable (clearly just to me!) popularity.  I remember when I first heard about the blue kitty person movie that James Cameron was making, I said to Mr. Finger Candy, “Mark my words, this thing is going to make, like, $17.38 total.”  And I was wrong.  So very, very wrong!  Wrong to the tune of about $2 billion, but hey, you can’t have $2 billion without $17.38, right?  Anyhow, my seeming ineptitude at making box office projections aside, I really, really hated Avatar and I’ve watched maybe just 35 minutes of the stupid blue kitty people total (side note: Do you know how hard you have to work to get me to hate a cat?  Even an 11-foot tall blue cat with a pervo tail?  HARD!)

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But I was neither too nauseous nor so much of a hater that I couldn’t appreciate the outstanding Imagineering at work in Pandora – The World of Avatar.  Holy cats (11-foot blue cats?) this place is incredible!  And no matter your area or areas of interest (horticulture, set dressing and design, food, music, computer tech, storytelling and world-building, architecture and engineering or simply the films themselves) there’s a little something for everyone to be dazzled by in Pandora.  I was particularly taken with the floating mountains, which I know are no such thing – I watched enough videos of them going up to know they’re engineered marvels of rebar and concrete designed to look like a craggy, levitating precipice.  But when you’re standing beneath a giant, floating chunk of earth, out of the top of which is growing a massive alien tree, its gnarled roots draping down over the edges and bursting through the underside of the rock, it’s hard not to be impressed.

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I kept thinking how much my grandfather, a lifelong gardener, would have loved the seamless blending of our real world flora with Pandora’s Imagineered alien blooms.

Pandora Collage 2

Ah, yet another way to tell you’re getting on in years – when the behind-the-scenes, technical aspects of a theme park are more interesting to you than the actual attractions (see also the Seed Tour at Epcot’s The Land, where you take a mini class in Disney agriculture.)

Pandoran Pond

It’s really just the most stunningly gorgeous world, and so very beautifully executed.  I wish we had been able to stay into the evening when Pandora begins glowing under black lights, the “bioluminescent plants” throwing off alien neon light.  Even the splatter effect walkways (already super cool in the daylight) glow after dark!

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And the waterfalls!  Oh my gosh, so many waterfalls!  I feel like this entire post has been me excitedly pointing out yet another thing that blew my mind about Pandora, but that’s exactly what exploring the World of Avatar was like in the first place – what gorgeous, infinitely clever marvel will I find around this next corner?

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It seems the World of Avatar also brought out the Pepe Le Pew in Mr. Finger Candy, who laid a giant one on me as we stood in front of a lush Pandoran pond, prompting the cast member taking our photo to mock-admonish that “this is a family park!” and for a nearby group of Japanese tourists to spontaneously burst into delighted applause. 🙂 Apparently Pandora is for Lovers.

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So would I go back, even knowing what I know about my ability (or lack thereof) to handle Flight of Passage?  Yes, if only to cover myself with about two dozen anti-nausea patches to see if that makes a difference.  But also to check out some of the food and beverage offerings, and get a glimpse of Pandora after dark.  It’s also just a lovely and beautiful spot to chill out and people-watch for a bit; all those waterfalls make for a very relaxing place to wile away a bit of time.  Big recommendation on the World of Avatar; Disney, not too surprisingly, done good. 🙂

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…

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…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…

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…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. 😉

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!

Disney World Blitz: Parklife Part V

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

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

PhilharPooh

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

Tomorrowland Speedway

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

People Mover Collage

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

AstroCarousel

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

Buzz Lightyear

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

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

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

Pirates Collage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castle at Night

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

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