Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Carousel of Progress: A Hidden Gem

            With the anniversary of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair on the horizon, I thought that I should make a visit to one of the attractions that debuted at this event.  Everyone seems to know that It’s a Small World was a brand new attraction during the World’s Fair, but people sometimes forget about the Carousel of Progress.  This attraction truly is a hidden gem that can be found amidst the hustle and bustle of a crowded Magic Kingdom. Usually, there is a very short wait to experience this stage show, and you get to enter an air conditioned building as well as enjoy wonderful music that was written by the Sherman brothers in order to promote General Electric, which was the original sponsor of this attraction when it was in its infancy.  This music includes the original theme song called “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” as well as another song that played for several years, which is called, “Now is the Time.”  Both songs promote an optimistic outlook on life, and they are both quite catchy. 
            In addition to watching the show inside of the theater, guests are also treated to a look at Walt Disney’s creative process.  Before guests board the attraction, they can view Walt working with the Sherman brothers in order to create the music for the attraction.  I love watching this original video of Walt doing what he really enjoyed: being creative and having fun with his work. 
If you have never experienced the Carousel of Progress, the basic idea of the attraction involves the audience following members of a family as they grow and change throughout the 20th century.  Every scene is filled with period specific props as well as references to what was going on in the world during the time period in which the scene is set.  Each scene takes place during a different holiday including Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, and the 4th of July. The overarching theme of the attraction is that times and things may change, but the bonds that we have created with our families remain the same no matter the decade.  This attraction brims with positivity and optimism, and you can’t help but feel a little more hopeful when you re-enter Tomorrowland. 

I love the Carousel of Progress so much that we dressed as the husband and wife for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party this past year!  So, if you are looking to escape all of the crowds in the Magic Kingdom, take a spin on the rotating theater that houses the Carousel of Progress, which can only be found at Walt Disney World.  It is amazing to think that this attraction started its life in New York, then went to Disneyland, and finally ended up in Walt Disney World.  People of all ages can enjoy this show, and you will definitely learn something about history as well as the value of family.  Until next time, have a magical day, and keep moving forward!

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Ever Changing World of WDW

In life, change is inevitable, and the same is true at Walt Disney World.  Lately, there has been a great deal of change at the World, so I thought I would reflect back on some of those big changes and how they have impacted my touring.  First, paper fastpasses are no longer offered at the parks, and I really do miss them.  I enjoyed collecting them, and it was fun to run to a particular attraction at rope drop and snag a coveted fastpass.  Yes, I know that the new system is probably more efficient, and it wastes far less paper.  However, I really miss the strategy sessions during which we planned out fastpasses to get during the day. 
            Whenever we stay at a WDW hotel, we always take advantage of Extra Magic Hours.  Long ago, castmembers used to hand out bracelets that said “extra magic hours”.  Again, I used to collect those bracelets during our trip just to see how many I could end up wearing by the end of the week.  It has been years since the bracelets were issued, but I still have some in my Disney collection.  I also miss the WDW specific napkins that used to be offered in the parks.  They often referenced whichever celebration was occurring for the year, and there were even holiday napkins.  I have a few napkins from various restaurants too, like the Sci-Fi Dine In.  Disney World still has cups and popcorn containers that are decorated for the seasons though, so I am glad that this type of paper ephemera still exists.
            With regard to attractions, I really miss Snow White’s Scary Adventures.  I know that I can go to Disneyland and ride it, but I always enjoyed journeying into the scary forest and facing the Evil Queen.  Although it has been gone for a long time, I do miss 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea too.  This was one of my favorite rides as a child, and it just gave such a mysterious look to that corner of Fantasyland. I also enjoyed the music, and the sense that you were really journeying deep into the ocean in order to go exploring.  Now, New Fantasyland is beautiful, but I will always be nostalgic for 20K.  Not only are some attractions a thing of the past, but there are also parades that no longer exist.  I really miss Spectromagic, and again, this might just be because I grew up with this parade.  I loved the music and the whole look of the parade.  I recently purchased the limited edition pin that contains a piece of the parade.  The alarm sound on my iphone is actually Spectromagic!
            As far as merchandise goes, WDW has done a great job bringing back some retro designs.  However, I do miss the build your own Mouse-ear hat that was introduced at the Chapeau in the past few years.  I built two different hats, and I covered them with patches.  I also purchased these patches to sew onto other bags and hats.  Patches must not be popular because they are impossible to find on property.  In addition to these items, we used to collect small glass figurines that depicted Mickey Mouse and the current year.  Sometimes, he was sitting on a suitcase with the year on the suitcase, and sometimes he was standing with a banner labeled with the year.  We had several of the figurines from our yearly visits, but then they were no longer produced. 

            Even though I miss many things that are no longer present at WDW, I am definitely hopeful for the future.  I am sure that the Imagineers are hard at work coming up with what the next big thing will be.  New Fantasyland will soon be in full swing, and who knows what will happen next at Hollywood Studios or with Futureworld at Epcot?  The new Festival of Fantasy parade at Magic Kingdom debuts very soon as well.  Since I am a local, I have the chance to be at the center of the action, and that is so exciting!  Until next time, have a magical day, and keep moving forward!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Blank and Bow

The Disney Parks Blog often hosts events in both Walt Disney World as well as Disneyland.  On February 13th, just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Disney Parks blog hosted a meet-up at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in order to preview the new stop motion film Blank- A Vinylmation Love Story.  In order to be chosen to attend, I had to sign up via email.  Only a limited number of people were chosen out of all of the emails that were received.  After trying out for many of these events, I knew that I might not get picked.  However, I was excited to discover that I had been chosen for the event.  I was even allowed to bring a guest (my husband) with me!                         
On the night of the meet-up, we were told to arrive by 7:00 pm at the front gate of Hollywood Studios.  There was a clearly labeled area for us to congregate and sign in. Each attendee also had to bring a signed consent form that allowed Disney to use his or her likeness and image on the Disney Parks Blog in order to promote the event.  After signing in, we were given lanyards to wear that would identify us to the Disney castmembers who were working the event.  Hollywood Studios was already closing for the evening when this event started.  Since we were easy to spot, it was simpler for us to be directed to the Premier Theater where the event was being held. 
The Theater is located in the rear of the park near the Muppet Vision 3-D building.  For Star Wars fans, this is a familiar spot because it is also the home of the Stars of the Saga Talk Show during Star Wars Weekends.  After making our way to the Theater, we were escorted in and provided with popcorn, soft drinks, and the opportunity to take photos with the stars of the film, Blank and Bow.  After sitting for a few minutes, the evening began with Steven Miller (Merchandise writer for the Disney Parks Blog) interviewing the film’s director as well as discussing new Vinyls that will be debuting soon.  After the brief interview session, the film began. 

Basically, there are two blank Vinyls, Blank and Bow, who meet and fall in love.  However, there are many obstacles that prevent them from being together.  I don’t want to ruin the film for you, but just know that things do work out in the end.  The whole film is done in traditional stop motion, and there is absolutely no dialogue.  It is amazing that so much emotion can be conveyed without words and without faces.  Remember, these Vinyls are completely blank except for a bow tie and a hair bow.  The music throughout the film was well orchestrated, and I definitely enjoyed seeing our little heroes overcome all of the trials that they had to face in order to be together.  The main message of the film is that you can be who you are and still be beautiful and be loved.  You do not have to be perfect or have any particular paint job in order to be valuable.  If you are in Walt Disney World, you can view the film at Hollywood Studios this weekend or you can watch the film on Google Play.  If you want a little heart-warming Valentine’s Day love, then give Blank a chance.  Also, keep an eye out for some cameos by a few of the Vinylmation Park Starz in the film.
           After leaving the Premier Theater, we were given a little surprise.  Each of us received our very own Blank and Bow Vinyls.  I am so glad that we were chosen to attend this Disney Parks Blog meet-up, and I hope that we will get to attend more of them in the future.  Until next time, have a magical day, and keep moving forward!


It All Starts with a Wish!

Wishes: dream a dream!  If you have seen the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, I am sure that you are familiar with that line from the show.  Since we are able to see Wishes on a pretty regular basis, we have been trying to scout out new locations for viewing this nighttime spectacular.  Of course, one of the best locations is on Main Street, USA.  If you stand here, Cinderella Castle acts a backdrop for the show, and you can take in all of the beauty of this section of the park.  Although many people flock to Main Street to get this view of the fireworks, this is not the only good view of Wishes to be had in the Magic Kingdom.  Main Street can get very crowded, and people start to push and shove, and that is just not conducive to a magical experience.  If you want to avoid the crush of Main Street, you can venture over to Liberty Square near the dock for the Liberty Belle.  If you watch the fireworks from here, you can even sit down on the low stonewall near the stocks.  This is an excellent spot for viewing the fireworks, and not many people stand in this area.  There are some downsides in that you cannot really see the castle from this angle. You can, however, see Tinkerbell make her flight from the castle.  Plus, after the fireworks, you could hop right on Haunted Mansion if the park is still open. 
Also inside Magic Kingdom, you can journey to a brand new section of the park in New Fantasyland.  If you stand in the middle of the new castle walls right behind Prince Charming Regal Carrousel, you will be surrounded by fireworks!  The smaller charges are set off near the castle and Fantasyland, and the larger blasts come from an area outside of the park behind Storybook Circus.  If you enjoy perimeter fireworks, this is the area for you.  A word of caution if you plan on watching Wishes in New Fantasyland: make sure to bring earplugs.  The fireworks are set off very close to this location, and they are very, very loud.  We saw many small children who were so uncomfortable with the loud booming that they did not enjoy the show.
            Now if you are outside of the park, there are many fireworks viewing locations that are fantastic.  For example, watching Wishes on the beach at the Polynesian Resort near Luau Cove provides a great view, and there are even beach chairs as well as swings on which to sit.  The Grand Floridian also offers a prime viewing spot right outside of Gasparilla Grill and Games.  There are tables and chairs all around this area, so you can have a comfortable seat.  Finally, you can also ride the monorail over to the Contemporary Resort to take advantage of the close proximity to the Magic Kingdom.  You don’t need a reservation at the California Grill in order to enjoy the fireworks from the Contemporary.  All you need to do is go outside to the seating area that is on the same floor as the monorail.  There are benches outside, and if you don’t mind standing, you can ascend a few flights of stairs to get an even better view of the show. 
            If you enjoy riding Disney watercraft, there are also some great opportunities for fireworks viewing.  Of course, you can pay to take a fireworks cruise, but you can also just ride one of the launches to a monorail hotel or over to Fort Wilderness.  These launches don’t cost anything, and they provide a relaxing and beautiful vantage point for the show.  So, if you love Wishes as much as I do, take some time to view these fireworks from different locations around the World.  Sometimes watching them from outside the hustle and bustle of the Magic Kingdom can be a more relaxing experience.  Until next time, have a magical day, and keep moving forward!


Monday, February 10, 2014

Fastpass + Revisited

            Recently, paper fastpasses have become extinct in all of the Walt Disney World theme parks.  After experiencing this change, I have made a few observations worth mentioning.  First, it is important to make your reservations early because now everyone has to use the FP+ system.  The My Disney Experience App is still having difficulties keeping up with the demand.  I find that at busy times during the day, the app takes quite a while to load.  However, in the parks now, there are many kiosks that are staffed with knowledgeable castmembers who can help you make reservations if the app is giving you trouble.  Once the app loads, I find that it is fairly easy to use, especially since you will be using it over and over again during your trip.  A negative aspect of the app is that I find I spend too much time staring at my phone screen to plan our touring agenda through the parks.  Perhaps, if I used the kiosks, I would spend less time staring at the phone.  Also, in order to make sure that I always have my times handy, I have started taking a picture of the times that I have scheduled so that I do not have to open up the app.  This saves a huge amount of time, and it has been helpful when the Magicband reader was not registering our times for Journey of the Little Mermaid.  I just pulled up the picture and showed the castmember that we indeed had reserved times to ride the attraction.
            Overall, I like FP+; I think it makes touring a lot easier.  I don’t have to run back and forth across the park over and over again to get fastpasses for later in the day.  I have more control over my ride times by making reservations.  However, there are still some issues.  For example, I used some of my reservations in Animal Kingdom, but then I couldn’t make any more reservations for the rest of the day.  Essentially, I cannot park hop and effectively use FP+.  Also, we used to get seven or eight fastpasses on a good day in the Magic Kingdom, but we are limited to three a day now in only one park.  I think that this will change when the system becomes more familiar to guests, and Disney will figure out how to use the system to its fullest potential. 
            Since we go to the parks so much, I have learned which attractions really need a FP+ reservation.  We will start with the attractions that definitely need a FP+:  Peter Pan, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain (when it is warm outside), Enchanted Tales with Belle, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Toy Story Midway Mania, Soarin’, Test Track, and Kilimanjaro Safaris.  In my experience, these are the attractions that have really needed a FP+ in order to avoid very long lines.  Omnimover type rides like Haunted Mansion tend to move very quickly, so they really don’t have too long of a wait anyway.  I will never wait in the very long Peter Pan line.  It is always at least thirty minutes long, and it is just not a fun line in which to wait.  I am also not a fan of the Soarin’ line; whereas the Test Track queue is more entertaining.  I mention these types of issues because Epcot and Hollywood Studios have a tiered system from which you must pick your attractions.  You cannot have a FP+ for both Test Track and Soarin’ on the same day.  You must make the decision on which line is less of a chore for you and your family. You don’t really need a FP+ for anything else in Epcot other than these two attractions, so you will have to choose wisely.  For Magic Kingdom, the tiered system has not been enacted yet, so you could still pick all of the mountains for your FP+.  It just depends on what your family enjoys.  We have also used FP+ for meeting Mickey Mouse, but it was not necessary to have reservations; there really wasn’t much of a wait to meet the Big Cheese.
            Now, when you are making your reservations, you will see nighttime spectaculars on the lists.  Do not spend your FP+ on Wishes, Illuminations, or Fantasmic. This is not a good use of one of your reservations.  I absolutely love Wishes.  I watch it several nights a week; it is one of my favorite things at WDW, but I would not use a FP+ for it.  For this show with a FP+, you are allowed to sit in the grass near the Rose Garden that is next to the Mickey and Minnie topiaries in front of Cinderella Castle.  This sounds great, but they only let you sit there if it hasn’t rained that day, and the grass is dry.  The problem with this is that is rains pretty much every day in Orlando, so the grass is very rarely dry.  It is a safety hazard to have people on the wet grass, so I understand why the decision is made, but the alternative to the grass is actually not that great of a view.  Therefore, do not spend you FP+ on this.  Next, Fantasmic is a wonderful show, and I watch it at least once a week.  However, do not waste a FP+ on it because your FP+ does not reserve you a certain seat or section.  With a FP+, you are allowed to enter the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater in a different entrance, and if the show fills up, you will get into the Amphitheater for standing room only.  This is not a reserved seat, so if the show is full, you will not get in, even with a FP+.  In order to see Fantasmic, your best bet is to arrive early and snag a seat.  Bring some snacks and just wait until show time.  Finally, Illuminations is a beautiful show with wonderful music, and it should not be missed.  Again, I would not use a FP+ on it.  It is in the same tier as Test Track and Soarin’, so I would definitely pick one of those attractions over Illuminations.  Unlike Wishes and Fantasmic, FP+ actually does get you into a reserved area to watch the show.  This area is right behind Port of Entry store, which is on the pathway that leads to Canada in the World Showcase.  This is a very nice viewing spot, and if you have no plans of going on attractions, then you could use one of your FP+ reservations on this show.

Overall, you really need to sit down with your traveling party and decide what you want to see and when you want to see it.  I know that many people say that this type of planning takes away spontaneity from a Disney trip, but the planning is a lot of the fun.  Disney trips are always smoother and more enjoyable when they are planned at least to some extent.  Fastpass + still has issues that need to be dealt with, but I think overall, it makes park touring less of a hassle.  You don’t have to send someone to run across the park, and I can leave home already knowing my reservation for attractions.  We even had FP+ times for New Year’s Eve; this made our evening far more enjoyable than in previous years because we arrived at the Magic Kingdom late in the day, and we just walked right on to our three attractions.  I am a fan of FP+, and I actually like wearing the Magicband.  It’s a fun addition to all of my other Disney odds and ends.  So, give the FP+ system a try on your next trip, but remember to be patient and ask castmembers for help if anything is confusing.  Eventually, this system will seem old hat just like paper fastpasses have become.  Until next time, have a magical day, and keep moving forward!

Friday, January 17, 2014

New Year's Eve at the World

                  This year marks the 14th year that I have spend New Year’s Eve at Walt Disney World!  I can’t believe that I have been going to WDW for New Year’s for that many years.  I know that many people avoid the parks on this holiday because of the intense crowds and the possibility that the parks will reach a capacity closing, but for me, I could not imagine spending New Year’s Eve anywhere else in the world. 
                  This year, since we live in Orlando, we didn’t feel like we had to arrive at Magic Kingdom at 7:00am and just stay until midnight.  We took a lower key approach this year, and I would not have changed a thing about our evening.  First, we planned to go to the luau at the Polynesian Resort for the 5:15 show on New Year’s Eve.  This was also a strategic decision so that we could park at the Polynesian and avoid the crowds at the TTC.  Parking restrictions are always enforced during busy times, so we wanted to make sure that we did not have any issues parking.  After arriving at the Polynesian, we made our way to luau cove where we enjoyed an excellent luau performance.  The menu has changed recently, and the new additions and changes are definitely for the better.  The dessert has changed, and they have also added pulled pork to the entrĂ©e portion of the evening.  I miss the Hawaiian rice that used to be served, but the pork was delicious.  The dessert was head and shoulders better than what they used to serve in the past. 
                  After the luau, we took a deep breath and prepared to enter the fray that is the Magic Kingdom.  We were prepared for chaos and disorganized crowds, but I have to say that this is not what we found.  The castmembers at Magic Kingdom did an excellent job of moving people from one side of the park to another.  Backstage bypass routes were open, and we did not experience the usual misery that is typically involved with Magic Kingdom on New Year’s Eve.  Our plan was to ride the train to Fantasyland as soon as we entered the park so that we could make our Fastpass + reservations for Peter Pan.  We had no trouble making it to Fantasyland, and we continued on our journey after Peter Pan.  We even viewed Holiday Wishes from Fantasyland.  After Peter Pan, we snuck into Philharmagic, which was almost empty.  After a welcome rest, we ventured over to Big Thunder Mountain, which again, was not painful.  Normally, the crowds are unmanageable as you walk though Frontierland, but this year, we did not have any trouble finding our way.  After riding Big Thunder, we hung out in Frontierland for a while, and then we boarded the train again to make our Fastpasses for Buzz Lightyear and then a quick spin on the Peoplemover.  Finally, we scouted out a spot for the midnight fireworks on Main Street.
                  Overall, we had a magical evening that could not happen anywhere other than WDW.  In order to enjoy our evening, a few key things were important.  First, we knew that Magic Kingdom would be crowded, so we went into the park with the expectation that we would hang out and avoid really popular attractions.  Also, having Fastpass + reservations was a huge help.  We were able to ride attractions that had 2-3 hour waits.  We just scanned our bracelets, and we were on the attraction with no waiting.  The system worked just like it should.  We also had ADRs for dinner, which really took the hassle out of attempting to make it into a quick service location.  Finally, I think that the mid-week holiday really caused the crowds to be less crushing this year than if the holiday would have fallen on a weekend.

                  So, have a wonderful New Year, and try to make it out to WDW for at least one New Year’s Eve.  We are so blessed to be celebrating 2014 as Floridians living out our Disney dreams!  Until next time, have a magical day, and keep moving forward!

Limited Time Magic: On the Hunt for Disney Characters

           A few weeks ago, on a trip to the Magic Kingdom, my husband and I did something we have never done; we did not run to get in line for a ride when we arrived at rope drop.  Instead, we queued up to meet characters.  It was hard to fight the urge to run to Tomorrowland and secure our spot on Space Mountain, but we succeeded, and we had a great time! Now, we did not just randomly decide to meet and greet characters, we had a tangible goal, to collect Limited Time Magic Christmas cards from all of the characters in the Magic Kingdom.  As part of this particular Limited Time Magic promotion, there were 29 Christmas cards in total to collect.  The story goes that Duffy had organized these cards as part of a Secret Santa type of prize swap for all of his guests at WDW.  Of course, I cannot pass up free Disney paper ephemera, so we had our quarry, and we gave ourselves the entire day to achieve our goal.
            Since we are not professionals at character Meet and Greets, we really had to come up of with a plan of attack for getting all of the cards.  Before we even started, we knew that two of the cards were impossible to get because the Fairy Godmother had already run out of cards, and Mary Poppins was not doing her usual meetings that morning.  So, we knew that we could only get 27 cards out of the possible 29.  With this in mind, we referred to both the Times Guide as well as the My Disney Experience App in order to make our plan.  In order to get all of the cards from the characters, we had to start at the flagpole in the front of Magic Kingdom.  Since many of those characters are only available until 1:00 or 2:00, we knew that we had to go through those lines first. I had no idea that the lines to meet the characters would be so long!  After waiting an eternity for Minnie Mouse and Duffy, we decided that we had to split up in order to get all of the characters before they retired from their locations. 
            So, I headed to Tomorrowland, while my husband (who is wonderful to do this with me!), waited in line for Marie near the flagpole.  Some castmembers would just hand you the Christmas card and not make you wait in line for a photo, but some characters were running out of cards, so you had to wait in the line in order to get the card.  My husband had to wait in the extremely long line for Marie, while I was able to get Alice, the White Rabbit, Stitch, and Buzz Lightyear.  Luckily, I only had to wait for Buzz, which was an awesome meet and greet opportunity anyway!  Eventually, we made it around the Magic Kingdom on a whirlwind tour in order to meet all 27 of the characters that had cards.  We also met the Fairy Godmother even though she had already run out of cards; I mean she is the Fairy Godmother! 
            One of our favorite experiences of the day was Enchanted Tales with Belle.  I was picked to be Mrs. Potts during the story, and we just had a great time with all of the secret surprises that took place during that character encounter.  I highly recommend making time to have this experience, even if you don’t have children.  In addition to this attraction, we really enjoyed meeting Mickey Mouse.  He talked to us and interacted with us, and it is always just so cool to meet the Big Cheese! Finally, when we were walking through Fantasyland, the two stepsisters were strolling around just throwing the Christmas cards at people.  It was so funny, and they were just so entertaining.  I always love to see them out and about!

            Overall, we had a great day meeting characters and stepping out of our comfort zone when it comes to park touring.  We were able to get Christmas cards from Minnie, Pluto, Duffy, Chip & Dale, Woody & Jessie, Alice & the White Rabbit, the Step Sisters & Lady Tremaine, Wendy & Peter Pan, Buzz Lightyear, Stitch, Belle, Cinderella, Aurora, Snow White, Rapunzel, Merida, Marie, Goofy, Donald, Daisy, Mickey, Ariel, Aladdin & Jasmine, Winnie the Pooh & Tigger, Tinkerbell & Periwinkle, Princess Tiana & Naveen, and Gaston.  It was a very long day, but we took it as a challenge!  So, if you have the opportunity, take the time to meet the characters and interact with them.  They are a huge part of the magic in the Magic Kingdom!