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!

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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’!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 10 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. 🙂

Mosquito Ghost

Mosquito Ghost

All right, who’s up for a real life ghost story to kick off the work week?  Hopefully you guys, because it’s a real doozy (not mine, although it never fails to give ME chills.)  I also HAD to use the punny title of Mosquito Ghost, a play on the title of the 1986 Harrison Ford movie Mosquito Coast – ’twas far too good a fit; I couldn’t just leave it laying there.  The less we say about the nail art, the better (“Nice bee?” asked my husband.)  Now on with the thrills and chills!

*Dims lights and jams flashlight under chin at classic “monster lighting” angle*

Somewhere around the late ’90s, early 2000s a friend of mine and one of her friends traveled to Ghana for a holiday/educational trip.  One night they found themselves staying in a somewhat remote camp comprised of a jumble of little cabins.  It was on the porch of one of these cabins that they found themselves chatting with a couple of local men some hours later who stopped by for a brief natter.  The interaction was a totally innocuous one, just traveler types swapping stories, and the men were on their way with smiles and waves within the hour, but all the same, my friends were suddenly very aware of WHAT they were – namely, white females travelling alone in a remote part of a foreign country after dark.  Maybe time to go inside, lock the doors and call it a night.

But before hitting the hay, my friends went about the cabin locking the wooden shutters from inside, throwing the lock on the door and pushing various obstacles in front of both the windows and the door.  Finally, after crawling into their shared double bed, my friend tended to the most important part of any Ghanaian traveler’s pre-bedtime routine, the hanging of the malaria netting.  On this point my friend conceded that she was pretty OCD, having adapted a unique (but slow and fussy) method for hanging and tucking the netting from another traveler friend.  I said she could – and probably should – be as OCD as she wanted about malaria netting – strikes me as one of those places you shouldn’t be cutting corners.  Then, with the evening’s origami activities all played out, my friends said goodnight, turned out the lights and drifted off to sleep.

At some point in the evening my friend suddenly snapped awake, most likely roused by the sound of her travelling companion’s rhythmic snoring, which was coming from the far side of the bed, her body turned towards the wall.  But if her friend was on the other side of the bed snoring into the wall, then who exactly was laying directly against MY friend’s back?

Rolling partway over, my friend glanced behind her and noted her friend, still turned towards the wall, blissfully sawing away, and then, laying between them on his back, a Ghanaian man, fully clothed, eyes closed, hands resting gently on his chest.  Figuring that this was some sort of half asleep/half awake confluence of middle-of-the-night fears exacerbated by the previous evening’s scare, my friend shrugged it off, rolled over and immediately fell right back asleep.

The next morning she awoke to find her friend already sitting up in bed, distractedly rubbing the sleep from her eyes and staring fixedly down at the space on the mattress between them.  Her friend then uttered a wild, disbelieving laugh and said, “Oh man, I slept like total crap last night.  I had this dream that I woke up and you were still asleep, but there was a man sleeping on his back in between us.  He didn’t move or anything, though, and after a bit I just fell back asleep again.  But it really freaked me out.”

And it freaked her out even more when MY friend relayed her nearly identical experience, right down to the clothes the man was wearing and the position of his hands on his chest. Feeling overwhelmingly confused and terrified, my friends suddenly realized they hadn’t experienced some sort of tandem nightmare.  Rather, a man had entered their cabin in the dead of night and, what, SLEPT between them?  Whatever it was, it seemed to be a fairly “innocent” interaction, but a violation of their safety, trust and privacy all the same. They could not get out of there fast enough.

That’s when they peered out through the gauze of the mosquito netting and saw that everything in the room was exactly as they had left it the night before.  The windows were all still locked and shuttered from the inside, and the door was both locked and blocked. There wasn’t a single item out of place, the cabin just as neatly buttoned up as it was when they crawled into bed and installed their netting.  And on that point, my friend’s netting, an origami-like arrangement pretty well unique to her and her alone, was completely undisturbed, still neatly tucked and folded into the mattress…from within the bed.

*Ghanaian ghost mic drop*

So what do you think, friends – ghost or pervert?  Because I can tell you which option my friends preferred, and not too surprisingly, it was the more supernatural of the two! Personally, I like to think the sleepy ghost man saw his opportunity to innocently bunk down – literally – with a couple of cool girls for the night.  It probably gets pretty lonely being a ghost trapped in a cruddy cabin in Ghana; I’d go looking for somebody (or somebodies) to lay beside every now and then, too.

Alternately, he died of malaria and was just in total awe of my friend’s prowess at hanging a mosquito net.  One of these options is slightly more romantic than the other.