A Very Disney Christmas: Tips, Tricks and Hacks

Tree Collage 1

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

Chewie 2

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

Warm Hugs from Olaf

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

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

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

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

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

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

1239

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

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

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

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

Dining Collage 1

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

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

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

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

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

221

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!

Advertisements

A Very Disney Christmas

Four Park Collage

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

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

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

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

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

Magic Kingdom Castle Collage

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

035

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

Prime Time 1

Or hugs from this hairy dude.

Chewie 1

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

Dinner with the Beast

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

Christmas Card

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

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.

018

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!)

545

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.)

488

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

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

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

Castle at Night

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

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

Disney World Blitz: Parklife Part IV

Rides Collage

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

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

Peter Pan's Flight Collage

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

It's a Small World Collage

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

239

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

Haunted Mansion Two Collage

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

Pirates of the Caribbean Collage

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

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

Little Mermaid Collage

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

Little Mermaid Collage 2

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

Jungle River

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

Big Thunder Collage

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

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

Disney World Blitz: Parklife Part III

“They see me ridin’/my Buggy/Magic Kingdom ’cause I’m just a nerdy girl at Disney/just a nerdy girl at Disney/look at me, I’m a nerd at Disney!”  No, not how that song goes?  Huh, strange. 😉

Welcome, friends, to the third and penultimate installment of my is-it-ever-going-to-end? series on our recent anniversary trip to Disney World.  Today we finally get down to the good stuff, the rides!  If you’re at all interested in hearing me blather on about our stupendously gorgeous accommodations and the tasty nibbles we picked up whilst running the theme park gauntlet, you can find those posts here and here.

Outside the Mansion

First, as detailed in this post, we rode the Haunted Mansion 13 times on our 13th wedding anniversary, which falls on Halloween.  HUGE, crazy accomplishment, this – a lifetime bucket list item nicely checked off (one that’s been cooling its heels on my list since I was a wee, weird little lass of just two years old.)  We actually rode the Mansion 16 times over two days.  It’s my favourite spot on the planet; sounds a bit a lot strange, but nestled in the dark in a jittering little Doom Buggy, passing the hall of endless staircases as the Ghost Host intones not-so-dire warnings about the restless spooks who inhabit the Mansion, I am complete.  Giant goober alert here, but our last ride, I cried.  It all felt very overwhelming.  See, Disney nerd!

That was our second day at the Magic Kingdom.  Thirteen runs through the Haunted Mansion ate up the majority of the day, but we did find time to squeeze in a couple of non-Mansion rides, in addition to a mid-day repast at Gaston’s Tavern.  I wish the big tool himself had made an appearance; Gaston’s just the worst, and I love him for it.  But this lady waits for no man, not even the super bulgy, dim bulb variety, and I had places to be, bucket lists to conquer!  Next time, Gaston, next time.  Maybe we’ll even sit in your chair together.

Throne Alone

But our first day at the Magic Kingdom, we hit it HARD – 8 am to 11 pm, TAKE! NO! PRISONERS!  You know, except for the 40 minutes or so we were held hostage on a broken-down Pirates of the Caribbean, but more on that (surprisingly fun adventure) in the next, final installment!

Smudge Out Castle Shot

Our first day at the Magic Kingdom we banged out 17 rides.  We also dropped in on a couple of stage shows, caught the midday parade, watched most of the evening’s fireworks display, shopped up and down Main Street, got stuck on Pirates for the better part of an hour AND made our inaugural visit to Gaston’s.  So how did we cram all that fun into one day?  Well, here’s a few tips:

1: Be as serious about your footwear AND care as Lieutenant Dan screaming into Forrest’s face about fresh socks.  You won’t get anywhere if you’re hobbling around with sweaty, blistered tootsies, so plan ahead and pre-game your feet – comfy shoes (Vans for me, Chucks for the Mr.) and adhesive callous pads applied to known trouble areas kept us up and comfortably pounding the pavement from rope drop to park close.

2: Abandon any notion of sleep or peace or rest.  That goes double for you lazy sods all crashed out in the middle of the day on the Hub grass.  You’re at Disney – why are you napping?!  Just come to terms with the fact that to experience all that Disney has to offer, you’re going to have to temporarily sacrifice the routines and comforts of home.  We certainly did – I don’t know what else you call being up and on your feet from park open (8 am!) to close (11 pm the first day) each day.  Bonkers?  Yeah, that works!

487

3: Work those FastPasses.  Disney hands out a large – but limited – number of jump-the-line passes every day for nearly every attraction in the park.  You can book three FastPasses per attraction, per guest, per day; a particularly useful little perk for those rides with stubbornly long wait times (Peter Pan’s Flight, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) that hold fast throughout the day.  And not everyone knows this, but after you’ve used your third and final FastPass of the day, you can then begin booking additional FastPasses, one at a time.  And once you’ve used up that fourth FastPass, you can then book a fifth, and so on, until they’re shooing you out the front gates with brooms!

4: Most importantly, stay flexible.  If you roll up to the Mine Train at 9 am to find it offline, with a two-plus hour lineup already snaking around the entirety of the ride, say, “Oh, bugger this, we’re not starting our first day in a friggin’ two-hour lineup!” (actual quote) and move on.  With the exception of one 30-minute wait for the Mansion on Halloween, we never waited any longer than 15 or 20 minutes for any ride, and many of them were virtual walk-ons.  But we maximized our ride time precisely because we were willing to move – as in move on to something with a slightly more manageable wait time.  And invariably, we’d come back a short while later to find the wait time halved or better.  This is also how we wound up walking at least seven miles our first day; we crisscrossed the park more times than I can count!

Magic Kingdom Docs

5: Also, in as much as you can, stay out of the sun, particularly if you are of pasty, Celtic-Canadian descent.  I ended our first day at the Magic Kingdom with a chest redder than Sebastian the crab and Merida’s hair combined.  Wear sunscreen.  Buy some dorky matching hats, if you must (and we really did!)

Need Sunscreen

Jack and Sally Hats

Okay, so it would seem I didn’t actually get around to really talking about any of the rides this time, but I think I’ve given you a good overview of how we accomplished so very much in such a short amount of time (“Really dragging this out, ain’t you?” some of you may be thinking.  And the answer is yes, YES, I AM!  I had the very best time on this impromptu little trip, and I’m going to storytell it into the ground, yo.)  Next time – the last time, though definitely not the last Disney time – we finally go ridin’!

Disney World Blitz: Parklife Part II

Continuing my ever so long-winded (detailed!) account of my recent trip to Disney, I thought we’d dedicate this installment to nearly everybody’s favourite subject matter, food!  Which we actually ate precious little of; save two special meals, we subsisted on park food and many, many, many bottles of Dasani (Florida water: Don’t drink it!)  Pretty sure we both ended the first 14-hour day at a calorie deficit, between the seven-plus miles of walking and the all-Mickey pretzel diet.

Disney Food Collage

The night we arrived we took a boat from our resort, the Port Orleans Riverside, to Disney Springs, Disney’s shopping and entertainment promenade, for late night dinner reservations at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’.  Homecomin’s cuisine is classified as Southern-Floridian.  I’d just call it delicious – think light and crispy fried green tomatoes, fried chicken and biscuits, mac and cheese, moonshine.  Homecomin’ actually makes their own, and I enjoyed a rather potent cocktail that left me feeling 12 shades of plastered for precisely 23 and a half minutes before all whoopsy effects dissipated completely.  It was the most bizarre buzz I’ve ever encountered.  Must have been offset by all the fried chicken and mac and cheese I put on top of it.

Dinner

Yes, we sat on the same side of the table like a couple of boners!  It was unseasonably cold the night we arrived, and we had to huddle together for warmth!  This restaurant was so lovely and cozy, though, with a big, roughhewn bar looking out over the artificial – though no less lovely for it – springs of Disney Springs, as twinkling lights reflected off the gently moving water.  Though I did not try them, Mr. Finger Candy assures me the deviled eggs were delicious.  Here he is providing a bit of impromptu dinner theatre for our fellow diners.

160

Entre-park, we ate quite a few Mickey pretzels.  I mentioned before that I had a rough flight experience on our way in; that nauseous feeling stayed with me for about the first 18 hours of our trip, and Mickey pretzels seemed like a nice, plain, safe food to soothe the savage tummy beast.  They’re also low in fat, though loaded in salt (flick it off if you must, though I just shoved it back and then chased it with a litre of Dasani.)  Also a classic, iconic Disney snack, and a first for both Mr. Finger Candy and I.  Looking like a wiener while eating in public is NOT a first for him, as evidenced by the last two photos!  Also please note that he is wearing a Beauty and the Beast bandage.  His choice.

317

Another item we went back for multiples of was LeFou’s Brew, an apple juice-based beverage served at Gaston’s Tavern.  I quite hilariously attempted to make my own version of LeFou’s Brew last year during the Fall Fun Series, and it was an unmitigated disaster – deeply unpalatable.  And what was I thinking; I hadn’t even tried one yet!  Having now enjoyed a couple of these delectably refreshing treats – icy apple juice enhanced with toasted marshmallow, topped with a mango-passionfruit foam to mimic the creamy head on a pint of beer – I can tell you that I had it wrong, oh so wrong.  Legit LeFou Brews are SUBLIME – they hit that lemonade sweet spot without, you know, actually being lemonade.

658

And not for nothing, but you can only find LeFou’s Brews at Gaston’s Tavern, which is more than all right with me – behind the Haunted Mansion, it’s my second favourite spot on Disney property.  We spent so much time there, it almost started to feel like “our place”!

Gaston's Collage

Part of the joy of Gaston’s Tavern – aside from the many, many, many mounted deer heads and antlers, which the Man of the Tavern really does use in all of his DE-CO-RA-TING – is that it’s dead quiet.  Tucked down in a little alcove between Be Our Guest and the Journey of the Little Mermaid, few people seem to know about this charming little spot.  We nabbed the same corner table both visits and had plenty of time to goof around in Gaston’s gigantic, pelt-covered chair and worship at the portrait of the big lunkhead himself.

Gaston Worship

Speaking of Beauty and the Beast, a major highlight of our trip was an early morning breakfast at Be Our Guest to celebrate our Halloween anniversary.

Be Our Guest Collage

Housed in the rock facade beneath the Beast’s forced perspective castle, Be Our Guest is an interactive restaurant in every sense of the word.  And it runs like the talking furniture-staffed, well-oiled machine that it should thanks to the wonder of those ubiquitous MagicBands that seemingly control all aspects of your Disney experience.  Not that I’m complaining.  I’ve made my peace with Disney’s surveillance state oversight.  We’re all going to be owned by a major corporation one day (brought to you by Carl’s Jr.) – why not one dedicated to the pursuit of childlike fun and impeccable service?

Be Our Guest works a little something like this: Book a reservation through the My Disney Experience app for breakfast, lunch or dinner (or all three if you’re feeling particularly flush and would like to dine in all three different diningrooms.)  If your mealtime falls at the very start of the dining day, the staff will come outside and applaud as you enter the restaurant through the gigantic, lion-guarded wooden doors of the Beast’s castle.  “I think they’re applauding our breakfast!” I said to my husband, with no small measure of delight.

Be Our Guest Main Ballroom

Inside you’ll be handed a menu and directed to a cashier to place your order.  After you’ve paid and tapped your MagicBand (or paid by tapping your MagicBand) you’ll be directed to sit anywhere you’d like, either the main ballroom, modeled after the ballroom where the Beast and Belle have their grand dance, the library, where statues of the main characters greet your arrival, or the West Wing, where we dined, because it’s awesome.  Dark, intimate and atmospheric, the West Wing is where the Enchanted Rose lives, in a little alcove framed in tattered tapestries.

Enchanted Rose

When a petal would fall – and they did – thunder would rumble and lightning would streak across the darkened room.  So dark, in fact, I couldn’t take any good photos of our breakfast once it arrived, although there was no shortage of other fantastic things to look at while we dined.

Beast Portrait

And when our breakfast arrived, after 10 minutes of letting our eyes adjust to the darkness of the nearly abandoned West Wing, it appeared as though by magic, born on a glass covered, wheeled cart by a smartly dressed steward.  Ooh, and everything looked so fantastic, couldn’t wait to tuck into the little plate of mini breakfast pastries they dropped off and…but hey, wait, how *did* they know where we were sitting anyways?  We were tucked away in a dark little room in a restaurant that seats hundreds with no flag or other table identifier.  So how did our breakfast magically find us?!

The answer, of course, is another miracle to lay at the feet of those MagicBands, your one-stop tracking tech.  Basically, we were low-jacked from the moment we tapped our Bands to enter the restaurant.  That gave them our names and our location, so when our food was zipped straight from the kitchen and directly into the West Wing, the server not only knew where our unmarked table was, but also that we were Sandra and Mr. Finger Candy.  This actually happened a few times across the park, most notably on It’s a Small World where one of the end-of-ride signs bid adieu specifically to my husband – notable in that we did not scan our Bands on It’s a Small World, so how did they know to say goodbye to my husband on that particular boat?  This is where Mr. Finger Candy points out that the newest generation of MagicBand has a range of 40 feet.  The technology behind all this is scary impressive (also kind of scary.)

And how was the food itself?  Great!  Delicious, actually.  I had heard that Be Our Guest was a lot like Planet Hollywood – you go there and get a pool-sized, overpriced drink, maybe a gigantic, pool-sized dessert or an appetizer, but the food is not why you’re there; it’s so you can poke around and gawk at all the fun memorabilia that lines the walls and hangs from the ceiling.  But our breakfasts were yummy – something bechamel and cheese sauce-covered for my husband (Croque Madam Without the Ham, as we called it, because Mr. Finger Candy is a vegetarian) and a two-egg, hash brown and all-meat platter for yours truly.  Maybe it was the sustenance deficit from the day before, or perhaps it was the heat stroke (I got a terrible, terrible burn on my chest the day previous) but our breakfast at Be Our Guest was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.  It was just a really special dining experience (made all the cooler by the cute couple beside us who were also there celebrating their (first) anniversary, the male half of whom was Disneybounding as Ruffio from Hook.  They sort of treated us like the elder statesmen of Halloween weddings; it was really charming.)

Pizza Collage

The third and final evening we were there we had pizza delivered to our room, because sometimes when you’ve been on your feet for 32 out of the last 36 hours, those feet just. stop. working.  I couldn’t have dragged myself anywhere.  Growing up, room service was something my family never, ever did.  As such, my adult adventures in room service dining always feel vaguely illicit, like I’m really getting away with something by eating pizza in the middle of my bed while Hocus Pocus plays on an endless loop on the TV.  Actually, I guess that really is getting away with something, at least something very fun.

I hope you enjoyed some of these tasty Disney morsels.  I know I certainly did!  And please join me next time as I finally discuss the the whole point of a theme park vacation, the rides!

Disney World Blitz: Parklife Part I

Sick of hearing about my recent whirlwind, spur-of-the-moment anniversary trip to Disney World?  Too bad, ’cause you’re getting more!  A lot more, actually.  This was our amazingly fun trip, in a few different installments.

First, we shall never speak of the flights – both those to and from Philadelphia and then on to Orlando and home – ever again, beyond noting that my husband is really too tall for cattle class, and I’m now apparently that woman that sits there in an ice cold sweat, thousand yard stare barely registering over the edge of an at-the-ready vomit bag.  Truly one of my life’s great fears, guys, getting physically ill in public, and I was *right* on the verge of it for five-plus hours.  Je n’aime pas.

Resort Collage

But do you know what I aime‘d very much?  Our absolutely gorgeous accommodations, Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort.  I stayed on-property about 20 years ago – one of the value resorts, and it was serviceable, though nothing special – but the Port Orleans experience was something else altogether.

It goes a little something like this: Book yourself into a Disney resort, and from the moment you step off the plane in Orlando and check in with an always-friendly cast member (that’s what they’re called, cast members) Disney takes care of the rest.  You’ll be ushered aboard a waiting bus, part of the Magical Express fleet, by a relentlessly – yet somehow still genuinely – upbeat dude, who will congratulate you with high-fives on your 13th wedding anniversary.  You’ll think your face might break from grinning so hard.  You’ll take goofy (Goofy?) couple selfies that match the ones you took on your honeymoon 13 years earlier.

Then and Now Collage

Your driver will then usher you and a busload of your new! best! friends! (because you’re all goin’ to Disney, yaaaayyyyy!) to your resort, where you will stand gobsmacked beneath a gorgeous raftered cupola while your husband immediately steps off the bus and begins petting a horse, before charging over to you, declaring that you just gotta get over there and see that bucket of manure!  What the hell, man?!  You’re so weird. 🙂

Will and the Horse

The resort was stupendously gorgeous, impeccably themed and absolutely spotless.  There were something like four different restaurants on property, six pools, an early morning fishing hole, a running path and half-hourly boats to and from Disney Springs, Disney’s shopping and entertainment district.  The first night we were there we took a wonderful, albeit freezing, in-the-dark boat ride down the Sassagoula River to Disney Springs for dinner at Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming.  Snuggled together for warmth, bobbing down the river as jazz music drifted from the speakers and the resort’s sister site, the French Quarter, drifted by, it was the perfect way to kick off our little trip. 🙂

Down By the Dock

We didn’t spend a ton of time at our resort using its impressive assortment of amenities, but we popped in on the fun from time to time.  The night we arrived they were hosting a cool BBQ fest out by the sawmill and down by the docks, and when we returned from our dinner much later that evening, they were just wrapping up a Halloween dance party.  And on Halloween night itself, they had candy stations set up along the resort’s considerable network of paths for kids and old kids alike to get their mini Snickers fix.  And the candy-hunters probably cleaned up, too; the resort was absolutely massive.  Here’s the map the woman at check-in handed us with directions on how to get to our room.  Directions.  To our room!

Resort Map

I took precious few photos of the interior of our room because we were hardly ever there (we slept just 16 hours in four days) but I assure you it was as beautifully appointed as the exterior.  Our corner room featured an inviting little window seat, log frame beds, grain sack curtains, carpet printed to look like roughhewn floorboards, lantern light fixtures, two Queen beds outfitted in ultra soft and luxurious linens and 48 solid hours of Hocus Pocus on one of the innumerable Disney television channels.  Our room even came with a raccoon, a chubby little devil that saucily waddled across our porch in welcome.  It seemed quite fitting that two Canadians were being greeted in the faux Louisiana bayou by an animal that shows up in my parents’ Ontario backyard nearly every night.

Our Room Collage

Speaking of entering your room, that is done via MagicBand, Disney’s RFID-based tracker tech.  When you book a Disney vacation and stay at one of their resorts, you’ll be sent your MagicBands – which you will use for everything from getting around your resort, to entering the parks, to setting up dinner reservations and FastPasses, to paying for purchases – a few weeks before your trip.  If you plan and book your vacation with two days to spare like we did, you’ll be given your Bands at check-in!  And if you lose your MagicBand the first afternoon you’re in the park, like my husband did, they’ll give you a temporary card at Guest Services, and then a replacement MagicBand back at the hotel later that evening (the pink was Mr. Finger Candy’s stylish choice.)

Magic Bands

Visiting the Magic Kingdom’s Guest Services centre was a Disney first for me, and our minor issue was dealt with with all the efficiency and friendliness you come to expect from Disney.  We even snagged these cool celebration buttons – another Disney first! – honouring both our anniversary and our individual lifetime trips (just entered double digits, I did.)  When you wear them around the parks, random cast members will just shout out congratulations and other tidings of goodwill as you pass; it’s really cute.

Celebration Pins

Think we’ll leave things off there for this first installment.  For such a little trip – just an intense few days! – there’s so much more to discuss, including the food we ate, a very cool experience at Be Our Guest, and, of course, our two fabulous days at the Magic Kingdom.  Thank you for sharing in the fun, and I hope you’ll join me as I continue to dance down Recent Memory Lane in a cloud of post-vacation happiness. 🙂