There and Back Again – Day Three

Of course we returned for another day at Disney, but this time we had company. Our nieces came with us and we began our day at Hollywood Studios (which is still MGM to me) so that they could audition at the American Idol Experience. They have more guts than I do! While neither made it past the first round, I found the voice coach to be very supportive, positive and helpful. We then soothed their disappointment with a stop at Starring Rolls Cafe where we began and failed at the The Disney Food Blog 2012 Cupcake Crawl.

For some insane reason we got four cupcakes. My husband and I decided on the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake, and the Butterfinger Cupcake to share between us. My nieces each got a Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake. We didn’t make it through all four though we made a valiant effort! My husband definitely preferred the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake, from the shaved chocolate curls on to, to the mound of icing beneath to the moist delicious cake to the wonderful chocolate peanut butter filling! But I’m still not sure which was my favorite, which just means I’ll have to go back and try them again next trip!

I then hit a milestone. I have now conquered all the Disney Roller Coasters. My niece and I did the single rider line for the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, which launches to loop at zero to 60 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds and has three inversions. Loved it!! I’m not sure why I waited so long to try this. It rocked! The coasters I remember from my childhood were from amusement parks one step up from carnivals. They were often jerky and bumpy and far from smooth. I rode them as a kid, but only remember doing one as a college student at Bush Gardens and not being impressed. I felt like I was jerked all over the place, ended up with a headache and didn’t enjoy the experience at all. I should have know the Mouse would do better! Don’t skip the coasters. They are amazing! And, if you can’t get a fast pass, I strongly recommend the single rider line!

After this we all flew to Hoth, delivering the rebel spy safely on our third time riding Star Tours. And then we visited the Art of Animation Studio before splitting up. Husband and I stayed inside the Studio to meet Sorcerer Mickey, Pooh who told me they just weren’t feeding him enough honey and he had a rumbly in his tumbly, and Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, and then headed off to visit our old friends at Muppet Vision 3D. We can’t help snickering as Sweetums shows up in person as he’s also on the screen. I decided this time it’s actually Sweetum’s cousin Bob on screen.

From Hollywood Studios we headed to Animal Kingdom. It was Everest time for me and one of my nieces brave enough to face the Yeti. As she said, after singing in front of a stranger nothing else scared her! Until that lap bar locked down. Actually I think she loved it, and I would like to thank the person in the single rider line before us who was willing to switch so we could ride together. I love the kindness of Disney strangers.

My nieces decided since they were only here for one day they wanted to do all four parks. I can’t imagine doing Disney World without getting Park Hoppers, but normally we stay on property and only do four parks in one day if we take advantage of Extra Magic Hours. We had to pick and choose carefully, only having time for a few more things at Animal Kingdom before heading off to Magic Kingdom were again we split up, letting the girls explore while we visited the Haunted Mansion again, and returned to the Monster World to help them with their energy crisis (The Laugh Floor). The decision was made to end the day at Epcot since my nieces wanted to see Illuminations. It’s a wonderful show, but since husband and I had seen it we decided to let them head over to the World Showcase while we traveled back to The Land. We grabbed ourselves a bite to eat at Sunshine Seasons, and then finished our day on Living with the Land, which has my favorite Hidden Mickey! While we were in the greenhouses we could see and hear the fireworks going off. Perfect way to end a Disney day!

Now to start planning for the next trip!

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Disney Betrayal – A Park of another Sort

This trip we did the unthinkable. We spent time away from Disney! Actually this trip wasn’t all about Disney. It was a family reunion that happened to be close enough to Disney we could sneak off there for a few days. My nieces expressed an interest in seeing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and we were the only members of the family insane enough to spend time away from the cooling waters of the beach to brave the parks.

Now I loved the Harry Potter books, and enjoyed the movies. The idea of seeing it all come to life did interest me, but not enough for us ever to take the time away from Disney to make the trip. There just didn’t seem to be enough in the rest of Universal to tempt us to make the journey. It took my nieces wanting to go to tip the scales.

We arrived early, though we missed rope drop it seemed and headed back immediately to the Forbidden Journey, which meant walking through half the park and all of Hogsmeade without stopping in hopes of not standing in line forever for this ride. Universal doesn’t do fast passes like Disney, but they do offer an Express Pass, which costs from $29.99 to $59.99 depending on the day you visit and doesn’t include the Forbidden Journey. We had four people. We’d already bought park tickets, we weren’t about to add on another $240!

Even with heading right there I believe we waited over an hour to even enter the castle. The queue outside the castle is ok. There was one spot along the line that you could clearly see the square building the castle is connected to, which broke the illusion a bit. But I will say the queue through the castle was amazing. From the phoenix statue that leads to Dumbledore’s office to the Sorting Hat it’s a wonderfully immersing experience. There are paintings that move and talk, and a nice story where Harry, Ron and Hermoine speak as well as Dumbledore. You are at Hogwarts! The ride was like nothing Disney has, and moves in ways nothing at Disney does. I loved it. From there we worked our way back to Hogsmeade, exploring the town and of course trying Butterbeer! YUM! We got two regular and two frozen so everyone could try it both ways. I’m not sure which is my favorite, though my second round was the frozen to help combat the heat.

We visited Ollivander’s Wand Shop, which has a cute little show/experience, but is far too poorly laid out and crowded. Disney (yes you’re going to hear comparison’s over and over — all in all, Disney wins) has a much better flow to it. Shops are crowded, but nothing like this. It was difficult to move, hard to make it from one end to the other and the doors from the show open into an already packed shop where often people are moving towards you instead of away making it hard to even get in. This went for all the shops from Zonko’s to Honeydukes. In Honeydukes/Zonkos (the shops flow into each other with the cash register being the dividing line) the line to check out was so long there were aisles you couldn’t even look in. I did manage to get a chocolate frog and it hasn’t hopped away yet! I also got some Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and have been lucky so far! No ear wax!

I will say I liked the window decorations along the alley, and the screaming Mandrake. I also loved the detail of Moaning Myrtle in the bathrooms. That had me snickering as we walked in. The detail along the shops is fantastic and you really feel like you’re entering the movie — except for the crowds!

We considered doing one or both roller coasters, but a threatening storm had shut them down so we made our way out of Hogsmeade over to Marvel Island to get lunch. We did purchase the Universal Meal Deal and cups, but I’m not convinced of it’s value. Perhaps if we were doing both parks it may have felt more economical, but since we didn’t find enough to do in Island’s of Adventure to stay until close and were limited to three restaurants, I’m not sure we’d do it again. The food was nothing spectacular. And having to carry the souvenir drink cup around all day was just annoying. In fact each of us almost lost ours at least once, leaving it behind as we shopped, only to realize after we walked away and having to run back to reclaim it. It became a running joke as we left each area of someone to ask if we had all our cups.

We arrived at Marvel Island just in time to see the Super Hero Parade, which wasn’t much of a parade at all, but a few super heroes on bikes driving through the crowd. We saw Rogue, Cyclops, Storm, Captain America, Wolverine and Spiderman. Both the husband and I are big X-men fans. He’s been reading the comics since he was a child and I started in the 1990’s. We enjoy the movies. These characters were…unimpressive. Cyclops looked horrible. Wolverine’s claws even with a fast drive by looked plastic and you could see the hair net line under Spiderman’s mask. We did later see Captain America on the street for pictures. He was shorter than I would have expected, but had a good chin for the mask. We also ran into Doctor Doom (and got a picture with my husband). It felt rushed. Very little character interaction. At Disney when I’m with Mickey I know I’m with Mickey. (Kids, stop reading now and skip ahead a bit – Spoilers!) Yes, intellectually I know there’s a person in that costume, but Disney does such a good job of training their people that Mickey is Mickey and Donald is Donald and Goofy is Goofy. You have no doubt who you are meeting. This didn’t have that feel. It was almost as if you could have been standing next to a statue. Now to be fair Doctor Doom did pose with his hands around the necks of the two men who approached him before us which made everyone laugh, but it wasn’t the same. The same thing happened when we met Spiderman. He just seemed to be a man in a costume doing the same poses over and over for pictures. It didn’t feel like you were meeting Spiderman. Stitch has tried to steal me away from my husband, pointing at my husband to look at something else, while taking my arm to walk off with me. Tigger bounces with me. Pooh Bear rubs his tummy and lets me know they aren’t feeding him enough honey so I’ll say something to his people, who then promise him some in a few minutes. Spiderman just posed…over and over.

I think I’m glad we didn’t see any of the X-men for a meet and greet – I’m sure I would have been disappointed.

Now all that said, I can report my husband loved Marvel Island, and his picture with Doctor Doom and Spiderman.

Of course we rode the Spiderman ride. The line was insane. It moved from room to room with no hint or clue to where the end was. Each time you thought you might be entering the actual ride you moved into another room of queue lines. There were videos playing, letting you enter the story which was cute, but both husband and I commented on the props in the Daily Bugle office you walked through. They were unfinished. The bagel on a desk was grey, and so was the sandwich. The phone was a fake rotary dial and the cord connecting the handset to the base was missing. I wonder if they weren’t trying to portray in some manner a comic book setting where sometimes the background wasn’t detailed, but this just felt like sloppy set design to me. The ride though made up for the queue. Again it moved in ways that Disney rides don’t, in a vary similar manner to the Forbidden Journey. It was fun, and we enjoyed it.

It was another hot day, so we decided to hit a water ride. As we walked we came upon Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges and decided to give it a try. We expected something similar to the Rapids at Animal Kingdom. We were wrong. In Animal Kingdom you may get wet. Here you will get wet. Very wet. Soaked even. Put your electronics in the center compartment, not your pockets! There is a reason they have a People Dryer outside this ride (though we skipped it allowing the sun to do it’s work). We were dripping as we left this ride. My socks were still wet when we got back to the hotel hours later!

After this we traveled to Jurassic Park. We’d cut our nieces loose to explore so it was just husband and I. I think he was a little over done after the Tower of Terror the other day, so when they came on the loudspeaker in line to announce the single rider line was short, he cheerfully suggested I take that while he happily waited for me. I loved it. Especially the T-rex right at the drop.

We met back up with our nieces just as it started to storm and slipped into the Eight Voyage of Sinbad Stunt Show, only to have it end after a few minutes due to technical difficulties. At least we were out of the storm. We headed off to dinner at Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous, one of our three options with the meal deal and realized there wasn’t much else we wanted to do. We made our way back to Hogsmeade to check the waits on the roller coasters (deciding that 90 minutes was more than we wanted to try to wait with another storm approaching), did a little shopping and then made our way out of the parks by 6:00 pm.

If we ever do it again I think we’ll opt for both parks. I do love the Minions and would have loved to ride Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. I’m not sure we’d do the Meal Deal, which even with both parks limits you to six restaurants and very basic fare. I’ve heard rumors of a Harry Potter expansion with Gringotts (I think they could do an amazing ride going to the vaults), which may tempt me, but I’m not sure it would be enough to convince us to take time out of Disney to return. We might need something more like someone traveling with us who really wants to go.

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There and Back Again – Day Two

Our second day at Disney World began with breakfast at The Crystal Palace. This is our go-to place for breakfast, and a requirement at least once a visit. When not going here, and wanting to spend quite a bit less I highly recommend Magic Kingdom’s Sleepy Hollow and the Nutella and fresh fruit waffle for $5.59. It was YUM!

The neat thing about this trip to the Crystal Palace was our reservation was before the park opened! We got to slip in while everyone else waited and walk down Main Street USA with it practically empty. The only other time we did this was when we closed out the Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party one year. Character interactions are always wonderful at the Palace, and once again I commented to Tigger that I just wasn’t sure if he really was Tigger, since I hadn’t seen him bounce! He showed me how wrong I was! They really are made of rubber and springs!

We spent some time visiting old favorites at the Magic Kingdom and then headed over to Epcot to experience Soarin’. I always love this ride, though I will say there are parts of the film that need to be fixed where there are obvious flaws (black spots and such) that take away from the experience. I also wouldn’t mind a new experience, perhaps a return trip ending at the Magic Kingdom!

Lunch was at Via Napoli, my absolute favorite pizza place. We began our meal with Arancini – Fried saffron risotto balls filled with mozzarella and meat ragu, which was amazing, and each ordered an individual pizza. We won’t make that mistake again! An individual pizza can easily feed two! Especially if you begin with an appetizer! Having spent one wonderful week in Sicily, and walked upon Mount Etna I have a special place in my heart for this restaurant, even if it’s only because one of three ovens is named after that volcano! Also, I think it has to do with the wonderful food and my husband’s history in pizza (having worked at a pizza place for over 20 years). This is definitely the best pizza I’ve ever had.

From Epcot we took a small side trip to Downtown Disney and my favorite shop Disney’s Design-A-Tee. My first visit there I had to purchase a size 5x. My next visit I was down to 2x. This year I purchased new large shirts! Hopefully next time I’ll be down to a medium or small!

We ended our day back in the Magic Kingdom, our last ride of the day being the PeopleMover. It was a nice, leisurely ride through our favorite place on earth and a fantastic way to end our day.

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There and Back Again – Day One

We began my 10th visit to Disney World (husband’s sixth) at the Magic Kingdom. To me this is a requirement. The Opening Ceremonies at the Train Station, and the walk down Main Street USA to Cinderella’s Castle are the things that signal to me I am finally back where I belong! This was a great trip of firsts even from the start. We entered the park and turned to the right, entering the Town Square Theater for a meet and greet with the main Mouse! This was a place we usually just rushed right past on our way to another attraction, but hitting it first thing after rope drop meant there wasn’t a wait, and it only seemed polite to say hello to our host before heading farther in.

While we spent some time with old friends like Goofy, Minnie and Pooh and Tigger (who I again made bounce with me), we met some new ones as well, like Merida from Brave who was wonderful in her interactions along with her three little bears who are just adorable. I have to say she has been my absolute favorite face character to meet. We also met Fairy Godmother for the first time, and Daisy!

We took a moment to ride The Haunted Mansion, skipping through the Cemetery this time. We’d seen it during a soft opening, and had reservations at the Tusker House for lunch, which meant park hopping so we didn’t want to take the time. I’d forgotten about the new animations of the Hitchhiking Ghosts so was pleasantly surprised and greatly amused as we got to the end of the ride!

The Tusker House was chosen because we’d not yet managed a picture with Daisy. The food was just an added bonus. Both husband and I were greatly impressed not only with the character interaction, but with the food! I will be returning for the salmon while my husband will once again want to fill his plate with the seafood stew. This restaurant will be added into our regular rotation!

Of course from here we headed to the Kilimanjaro Safaris, where we found we didn’t miss the poacher plot-line at all. It had rained during our lunch at Tusker House, so many animals were up and moving. We even saw the lionesses for the first time!

From Africa we headed to Asia, were I alone braved the Forbidden Mountain – Expedition Everest. I’d never experienced this attraction before, but decided this trip I would face the Yeti! As much as I would have liked company, I will say the single rider line is the way to go! By the time we reached this massive mountain the wait time was 90 minutes, but as a single rider I practically walked right on. After one minor moment after the bar dropped and the train started moving where I wondered what the heck I was doing I found myself having a fantastic time and couldn’t figure out why I’d stayed away all these years! I loved it enough I rode it again later (single rider line of course!).

We also experienced Kali River Rapids for the first time. We both enjoyed this attraction, and the cooling off we got in the middle of a hot August day. We didn’t get as wet as we expected, but a little damp!

Though I couldn’t convince the husband to join me on Everest, he had decided that he’d join me for the first on The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This was the longest wait we stood in during our visit, and the wait time was posted at 80 minutes, but it definitely didn’t feel that long (We almost never stand for longer than 15 minutes — fast passes rule!). Of course one of the things I love about Disney is the people you meet. We spent time in line talking to a woman who used to work at the park and was now enjoying it with her nieces.

I adored the Tower. The random drops and wonderful view of the parks when the doors open at the height of the rise were fantastic. I won’t deny I grabbed my husband’s leg and let out a shriek as the first drop happened, but I loved every minute of it! My husband can’t say the same thing. I will never get him back on this ride, so who wants to go with me next time??

Of course we had to experience the improved Star Tours — twice. With more than 50 new combinations of experiences this ride was definitely worth the return trip! I will say though I was very sad to see Rex (RX-24), the previous pilot in a row of junked droids marked as “defective.” Poor Rex. He may not have been the best of pilots but he always got us to Endor in one piece!

So our day began at the Magic Kingdom, took us to Animal Kingdom and ended at park close in Hollywood Studios. Oh! I almost forgot! We’ve only managed to ride Toy Story Mania once, not willing to stand in the lines or rush at rope drop to get a fast pass, but this trip as park close came closer and the crowd headed to Fantasmic we found ourselves in Pixar Place. The posted wait time was 60 minutes, but we were on in less than 20 minutes this close to close! For the first time ever I beat my husband at a shooting game! Definitely worth the 20 minute wait for those bragging rights!

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Something Old, Something New

No I’m not getting married, though I will say if I ever do it again it will be at Disney. (Don’t worry honey, I’m thinking more a recommitment ceremony down the road sometime!). Every time we visit the parks we do something old — something we’ve done before and absolutely love. These are rides like The Carousel of Progress, The Haunted Mansion, and Space Ship Earth. Though there have been a few changes to these rides over the years, they are old friends I hope to keep visiting year after year.

But each time we go to the parks we try to experience something new. Sometimes this means pushing our boundaries like riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with the man who doesn’t like roller coasters.

In 12 days we will be returning to the Happiest Place on Earth, and we have a list of new experiences to try! Some are revamps of old friends like the Tiki Room and Star Tours. For me the Tiki Room will be the return of a beloved childhood experience, which I will get to share with my husband. Other than on CD he’s never heard the original song since Zazu and Iago had been interrupting it for the last few years.

Then there is the list of things we add to push our boundaries. This year we are going to try the Tower of Terror! I’m hoping to do Expedition Everest, and still holding out hope that the husband man will brave this with me. If not, at least I hope to convince him to stand in line with me until I get on and enjoy the experience of the queue line.

And of course Disney is always evolving and changing. Though we had hopes for the Fantasyland Expansion for this trip, we’ll just have to save those for the next time!

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Disney with Teens

This year we are considering taking our teenaged nieces for a day to Disney. This will be a new experience for us. I got to speak to them this weekend and laid out my rules for Disney.

  1. Sensible shoes are required. No flip flops, no heels.
  2. Water bottles will be carried and used at all times!
  3. Sun block will be worn.
  4. No whining (I told them that applied to the adults as well).
  5. Cell phones will be charged, and carried at all times.

I also told them what time we’d be leaving to head to the parks, and that they will be in the car at that time, or will not come. I let them know there will be times when they will be allowed to go off on their own (together), and meet back up with us at a later time. I gave them consequences if they are late (more than a half hour late — I know how the lines will be!). I explained that we will be at the parks from open to close, so if they start feeling hot, tired and cranky that means it’s time to head into one of the nice, air-conditioned restaurants for a break. I let them know this all goes for the adults as well. We’ve had to take breaks to stop the Disney overstimulation cranky mode.

I also asked them each to pick out two things they wanted us to do as a group. I already know one wants to try out for the American Idol Experience, so that’s going to dictate where we start our morning. We’ll see what else they come up with.

We’ll also see how roller coasters go. My DH is not fond of roller coasters. He bravely conquered the Mountains in Magic Kingdom (Big Thunder, Splash and Space) our last Disney Trip, but was not fond of Space. One niece seems to really like roller coasters, but doesn’t like doing things alone. The other niece doesn’t like roller coasters. I am in the middle. If the person I’m with doesn’t want to do the coaster, I usually happily skip it, but there is a part of me that wants to do them at least once. This may be my chance to finally ride Expedition Everest, and the Rocking Roller Coaster without making someone wait for me, as DH and other niece could go ride things together while we brave the coasters! We’ll see!

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Disney Dining

When I first started visiting Disney food was not a priority for me. The only thing that mattered were Mickey Bars and the Orange Bird (who has recently returned to Walt Disney World!). Now granted I was only seven. Even so as I got older and returned to the parks I never expected much of the food. The only sit down place I recall trying as a teenager was the San Angel Inn, and other than the ambiance and the fact I tried calamari there for the first time, I don’t recall much.

On the first trip with the DH again I didn’t expect much of the food. I hesitate to even write this, but in my mind though it was Disney it was still “just” an amusement park when it came to food (gasp!). I expected overpriced fast food, and to be fair we stuck to the counter/quick service restaurants, but even so we were pleasantly surprised at what we encountered.

Our first day a blissfully cool breeze drew us into Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe for lunch at the beginning of July. We were completely impressed with the options, portions and taste of this counter service restaurant.  One platter would have easily filled us both, and we’d gotten two!

Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Inn and Cafe was another stop on that trip, as well as Sunshine Seasons. Both places impressed us. My husband loved (and makes us return each visit) Pecos Bill’s fixin’s bar, and I adored Sunshine Seasons vegetables options (so much I was disappointed not to have the carrots available during on next visit).

So, our trips began being impressed by the quick service meals. There were healthier options than I expected, and tastier considering this was a place trying to make food to serve the masses. But then, we booked our next trip and heard the Dining Plan was free! This sent me in a scurry of investigations. If you’ve been clicking on the links above you’ve been taken to either AllEars.net, or The Disney Food Blog. The later is, in my humble opinion, the most dangerous Disney site I’ve ever encountered. I mean what else can be said about a site that introduced me to The Cupcake Crawl? It also made me realize that I’ve been missing out on things like Dole Whips, Waffle Sandwiches, and Tonga Toast.

My husband and I spend a great deal of time discussing the attractions we want to experience, and the characters we hope to meet, but now thanks to these pages and the Disney Dining Plan we spend almost as much time talking about the food. It may have taken us awhile to catch on, but now we agree, the food is as much a part of the experience as the rest of the trip!

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