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Old 10-31-2013, 11:18 AM   #1
JB Meier
Earning My Ears
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 20

Talking Magic, Humor & More Magic! - Sept. '13 *NEW: Fixing Hollywood Studios!*



[end update]

As a proud Disney father and intrepid traveler I have decided to throw my hat into the trip reporting ring.

I kinda went overboard by building an entire website called The Rajah Report, but I thought I would share the magic here as well as there is such a great sense of community on these boards.

Here are the first two days, with more to follow. Enjoy!





This trip took me, a 32-year-old fun-loving concentrated ball of awesome, my 30-something superhero of a wife Anne, our nearly four year old princess Kenna, our 15 month old monster-in-training Jace (who is receiving perfect marks in his ‘terror’ and ‘destruction’ courses) and my parents, Disney-first-timers-since-the-late-80s Papa and Nana, all to WDW for seven nights.

This countdown calendar is obviously not Y2K compliant...

In our previous two trips down to Orlando we were fortunate enough to fly into the main airport (MCO) and utilize Disney’s Magical Express, which is a transportation service that gets your checked baggage for you and gives you a relaxing and entertaining bus ride to the World, dropping you off at your resort’s doorstep and delivering your luggage in your room shortly thereafter. The nice things about the service are you don’t have to secure outside transportation, you don’t have to wait at baggage claim nor haul your bags around at the airport, and you don’t need a car seat for the kids. However, to qualify for DME, you need to 1) be staying at an official Disney resort, and 2) fly into Orlando International Airport.

This trip we opted for a new flight option: flying out of a closer small town airport (with free parking!) and into Orlando-STANFORD, thereby not being able to take advantage of the Magical Express. As we were going to be keeping to Walt Disney World the entire trip and have no problem using Disney’s internal transportation, we opted to hire a car service to take us to and from the airport both ways as opposed to renting a car. But, before we get to that, let’s start at the beginning…

Once upon a time, in a land… well, about 50 miles away, actually, was a mystical airport. And this airport only had about four magic carpets flying to it each day, so it was a pretty quiet airport, except when one of the magic carpets was about to come, and then the mean trolls and dragons who ran the airport made all the princes and princesses get into one long line to get tickets and check in their luggage, even if they had already magically checked in online, and thus everyone was very, very sad. The End.

Truthfully, it is what you would expect at a small town airport, with one counter serving 100+ flyers that all arrive at the same time, yet offers no separate counter or curb side baggage check for those who had already printing boarding passes online. This was not as big a deal for me as I still had to get a lap child ticket for Jace, but it would have been nice for the rest of our party to not have to wait and you would think that they could staff better when they have such a predictable crowd level.

On the plus side, security at this/these sized airports is always a breeze and even with the cattle call at check in we were at the gate with plenty of time to spare, which I used to allow Jace to run to his heart’s content up and down the concourse in an attempt to wear him out and bring on sleepy time for the flight. Alas, ‘twas all in vain, as even with him being tired and getting his usual knockout bottle of whole milk at wheels up (which I had to buy a paper cup of at the only restaurant in the airport), he remained a ball of unhappy energy for the duration of the two-hour flight.

"Rowdy and/or restless children may be checked at the jet ramp for storage underneath airplane."

Allegiant is a value airline and you can really feel it in the seat size. Well, lack thereof, that is. The airline offers some nice and fairly affordable snacks, and we left the gate early on both flights which was was a plus, but fighting a wiggling toddler in those confined spaces is all I can remember and will never do that again. His college fund will be a couple hundred bucks lighter next trip we take as he will be paying for his own darn seat. In the back. Between two strangers. Who don’t take no gruff from no kids…

The (only) flight to Orlando that day left pretty late at around 6pm Central time and touched down in Stanford right about 9pm local. We were a bit further from Disney than MCO would have put us, but flying into a smaller airport allowed us a quick exit, assisted by our new friends with Orlando Luxury Transportation, the car service we used.

I am not ashamed to admit it was pretty darned cool coming down the escalator in the main terminal and seeing our driver in his suit and tie with our name on a professional push-letter board. He was very pleasant, professional, and even though he was of Mediterranean or Middle-Eastern descent (which I’m pretty sure is a hiring prerequisite for drivers of all types in Orlando) he spoke great English. Heck, he even held Jace while I hunted down our luggage! Best of all? You ready for it? Are you sure? His name was… Orlando! How cool is that! I kid you not, it was right there on his name tag, either by birth or by loving adoption. Either way, it was a great omen for our trip.

Overall, I was pretty happy with the whole flying into Stanford and using a car service experience. Yes, the flight departure time and plane size weren’t ideal, but using the smaller airport and getting a private 12-person van (for just us 6) that included car seats, a grocery stop, and our first-ever ride through downtown Orlando (which has a really cool skyline and is absolutely beautiful at night) I think it worked out well, and - depending on the wait for the bus and ensuing stops of the Magical Express - might have actually been faster than flying into MCO at the same time. The cost of the value flight plus car service was almost exactly the same as using a major airline out of a metropolitan airport, but the smaller airport was closer and has free parking. All and all both routes have pros and cons, but financially were a wash.

Alright, I’ve gone on long enough without even arriving at Disney yet, which we did right around 10pm after making that quick stop for groceries (of the liquid variety, if you know what I mean! Huh? Do ya? Yeah, that’s right!) Um, sorry. Papa just commandeered the keyboard for a moment there…

So we checked into Saratoga Springs right around 10pm and the car service was nice enough to wait for Papa and I to do so so they could then take us over to our part of the resort (Saratoga Springs is a very large, sprawling resort). As we were staying in a two bedroom, we had the cast member at check-in separate the credit card attached to Papa and Nana’s Keys to the World from Anne and I’s, which was no problem at all and made the trip much easier. We tried to get selected to test-drive the new Magic Bands and Fastpass+, but obviously were not chosen. Reviews of the beta tests for this new technology are getting more positive as Disney continues to iron out the wrinkles, but we were fine going old school for this trip using KsTOW and paper Fastpasses.

Orlando and the other guy (he didn't give himself an easy, geographically-referential name so it’s his fault that I don’t remember it) drove us around to the Paddock section and did most of the work carrying up the luggage and groceries. Again, they were a great experience for us overall.

Yep, Downtown Disney is that close.

After getting settled it and putting the younglings to bed, I sat back to revel in my superior planning and execution skills and patted myself on the back for a job well done. Thennnn I remembered that I had forgotten to pick up both our rented stroller AND the package of vital supplies that I had shipped earlier to the resort from bell services when we checked in. Oh well; you can’t win ‘em all. Papa and I took a quick stroll across the bridge to the Carriage House, got the stuff, and were offered a van ride back from one of the night bellman which was greatly appreciated. Family in bed by 11, Daddy by midnight, and the stage was set for our first full day of Disney Family Magic…



Even with the late arrival the night before and still being on Central Standard Time, we were able to get up and moving fairly early the next morning. I had read horror stories about the bus service at Saratoga Springs, but overall we found the buses to be pretty reliable and our first morning was no exception. We headed to the flagship theme park, Magic Kingdom, and were happy to arrive just after opening. We had some time left before our 9:50am Crystal Palace ADR (that’s “Advanced Dining Reservation” for the uninitiated), so we made our way through the castle – which is a treat as you find it closed to foot traffic due to shows more often than not – and did our family’s favorite first ride: Prince Charming’s Carousel. Oddly, there was absolutely no line at one of the Magic Kingdom’s premier attractions. (For all you newbies, that was a joke, and a bad one at that.) Kenna loves carousels, and for whatever reason we have always found ourselves doing this first thing upon arriving in WDW.

Our reservation was quickly approaching after disembarking from the pastel-covered stallions, so I ran ahead to grab Peter Pan’s Flight Fastpasses and then go check in at the Crystal Palace. As everyone else was making their way back, they happened upon Princess Tiana with no line, which was pretty cool. Kenna got to stop and chat with her a while and they got some good pictures. It is the random encounters like this that make WDW such a magical place.

"I want to be a princess when I grow up" is something she seriously says. A lot. Not sure how to plan for that kind of post-secondary education...

The Crystal Palace was just what we expected: a decent character buffet with Pooh and Friends in a pretty cool location, looking out over the hub and Cinderella’s Castle. Character meals are the way to go, as you kill two birds with one stone: you get to fuel your body (even if sometimes the food tastes just like diesel fuel) and the kiddos get to have close-up interaction with Disney characters without waiting in line. In fact, the characters make their way around the restaurant to you, flipping the script and making the kids feel like the characters want to meet them, as opposed to the other way around. The resort is full of these meals, and I highly recommend them to families with small/medium/large children or just adults who like to meet their favorite Disney pals.

Please don't feed the bears.

As for financing these meals, on each of our trips we have elected to pay for and use the Disney Dining Plan. I won’t go into all the variations and specifics, but basically you prepay for dining credits as opposed to paying/charging each individual meal. You are given an allotment of credits based on the length of your stay, and you use these for sit down table service meals (entrée, drink and desert), fast food(ish) meals (also entrée, drink and desert) and for snacks (i.e. smoothies, ice cream, popcorn, cupcakes, chips, etc.), depending on your particular plan. Whether you return a value on using the plan depends on how and where you use it. If you use your credits on the most expensive restaurants, entrées and snacks, you definitely save money in the end. However, if you only eat at the lower priced options, or didn’t what to eat at that many places in general, the dining plan might not be for you. There are plenty of resources online to help you make your decision beforehand, including at the suggested websites on my Home Page and on the Link Page.

But for us, we don’t cook our own meals, love the restaurants and especially love the character meals (which can get a bit pricey paying out-of-pocket), so we always elect for the Dining Plan, if for no other reason than an excuse to dine with our favorite Disney pals.

Winnie the Pooh and Tigger too! Surprised you didn't know that.

So back to the fun… After an enjoyable breakfast with our pals from the Hundred Acre Wood, we slowly headed through Adventureland and Liberty Square, just taking in all the ambience and detail that only Disney can provide and ended up in Old Fantasyland to use our Fastpasses for Peter Pan. This is a cool, suspended-from-the-ceiling dark ride that takes you out over London and Neverland that children and adults both enjoy. However, for some illogical reason the lines here get ridiculous and the queue is absolutely brutal, so be sure to ride it first thing or grab a Fastpass. After our flight we headed across the way to it’s a small world (yes, the name is in all lowercase and it drives me crazy too). This has traditionally been our second stop due to its proximity to the Carousel, but this trip it ended up our third after a few pit stops. The ride never fails to impress, and had Jace wide-eyed through the entire thing.

"I could totally take that little guy from France..."

As a quick aside, I will admit up front that this trip saw us experience few if any of the signature ‘thrill’ rides at Disney such as Space Mountain, Aerosmith’s Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, or A Too Big to Fail Automobile Company Presents: Test Track. Anne and I have experienced all of these in the past and love each one (well, Anne is more of a Pearl Jam girl, so she forgoes Rock ‘n’ Roller out of band loyalty), but this trip was all about the kids and grandparents, so we felt no need to make them all wait for us to ride rides that we had just enjoyed 9 months earlier, cool as they are. So with that disclaimer, I understand if all you adrenaline junkies want to jump ship now. However, I may give a Top 10 list at the end of this report or in a separate article with a brief description of each ride or something, so maybe you should stick around. That, and to hear how I tried to sell Jace to the Storybook Circus. Twice.

Hey humans, I want to be part of your... Hey! What the?! Why are you sticking me on the front of this boat? What's the word I'm looking for...?

Anyway, we made our way over to the New Fantasyland, where Kenna attempted to emancipate herself and make it her new home, claiming she could make ends meet by cleaning up after the plastic elephants. Unfortunately for her, they were not hiring at the time. Besides, Disney only uses child labor to make their merchandise, not staff the parks... (Zing!) After a quick couple of rides on Goofy’s rollercoaster (her all time favorite ride) we took a spin on the Ariel “This Name is So Long No One Can Remember It” ride, as she is Kenna’s all time favorite princess. This ride is a must-do for all little girls, but it serves as one of Disney’s miscues due to laziness and/or their belief that fans will love any ride based on a popular movie regardless of its quality. Even though it is a brand new ride in a time rife with state-of-the-art technology, the attraction consists of little more than ridding through a half-hearted diorama. And for an attraction based on a movie that takes place entirely on, under, and around water, why choose to the make the entire thing bone dry? Wouldn’t making this a boat ride that incorporates water about a story set in water be one of the most obvious choices in the world?

It doesn’t hold a torch to much older rides such as Pirates, Haunted Mansion, or even Winnie the Pooh. It’s cute enough (I guess) and employs the movie’s great music and follows the story well, and as a plus it has a fun, richly-detailed queue that is much more enjoyable than the ride, but it is just a shame that a brand new, tent pole ride like this doesn’t offer more for guests who aren’t pre-adolescent girls.

I told him the Mad Hater with his "DRINK ME" juice was bad news...

Next we headed down to Gaston’s Tavern (still in the New Fantasyland) for some LaFou’s Brew, which is an apple cider-like slushy with a toasted marshmallow top that is delicious and a great use of a Dining Plan snack credit (or twelve). Next up was the Hall of Presidents, mostly for Papa and Nana but also for me as I had yet to see it. Anne sat this one out as she hates federalism and powdered wigs. It was a cool show (double meaning!), and the kids sat well through it, especially after I told Kenna that those weren't real people up there, but robots! She spent the entire rest of the show warning everyone around us of the impending Cylon takeover.

Next we employed a delicate maneuver that would become our modus operandi: the “Slot Back Z Route Afternoon Nap & Swim”. With a couple of small children and a pair of grandparents who were far from park commandos, we wisely headed back to the resort almost every afternoon to relax and recharge. The weather was surprisingly warm (our two previous trips had been in late October and early December) and we weren’t quite prepared for the sticky heat. However, as any trip planning guide or website will tell you, this is a widely accepted and encouraged tactic, and one that they blatantly stole from us.

So we hopped a bus back to Saratoga Springs. A couple of quick words on our resort, our room, and our pool: Super. Awesome.

Saratoga Super Sprayers.

Okay, perhaps more than a couple of words are needed to fully describe the resort. First off, Saratoga is a loooooong way away from almost everything else on property, at least relatively speaking. It is right next door to Downtown Disney – which was nice and we’ll get to later – but being tucked away in the far corner of Walt Disney World makes some people balk at staying there. However, I chose this resort almost solely on it's pool for the kids (it’s second, smaller “feature” pool, actually) and of course the price, which were outstanding and reasonable, respectively. As mentioned earlier, it is a sprawling property, with five different villages/sections, each with its own pool and bus stop. That means that each bus that comes in to the resort has to make five stops before it leaves, which can be a bit frustrating. However, having stayed at Caribbean Beach in our inaugural trip we were used to this slight inconvenience and never really though twice about it.

The property is beautiful, filled with ponds sporting towering fountains, rich landscaping, and part of the property even borders one of Disney’s golf courses. Some have complained that the theming is a little bland, which truthfully in comparison to other Deluxe resorts it is, but overall it is peaceful, well-maintained, and being close to Downtown Disney gave us a chance to fully experience that part of WDW that we had only rushed through in the past.

Pretty sweet view from one of the quiet pools at the south end of Saratoga.

Unaware of how sparsely booked it would be in early September, I fretted for months leading up to the trip about getting a good room location. I would check, double check, and yes, even triple check that our online check-in included requests for “Paddock Section” and “near pool”, fearful that we would be stuck out in the boonies due to our late check in. As it turns out, I would wager that the resort wasn’t more than 30% filled during our stay, and we get the exact area, even the exact building, that I wanted.

Being that we did probably greatly skews my opinion of our stay there. Anywhere else on the property and we might have been less impressed, but staying in the Paddock section right next to the pool and bus stop was ideal for us. Not only did we have the cool kid pool (with zero-entry, huge slide, and separate children’s water playground with small slides, dump-bucket thing, fountain/sprayers and water guns), but there is also a quick-service restaurant there, self-service soda machines for our resort mugs, and we were adjacent to the bridge that spans Willow Lake and takes you right to the heart of the resort for more fun and mayhem.

A handy (Manny?) bridge over Willow Lake.

The two-bedroom suite was nice enough, clean, and had a great balcony overlooking a fountain on the lake. (A quick note on the fountains: due to the intense noise our fountain made, it is my belief that they formed it by crashing an F-17 fighter jet nose down into the lake in order to use its hyper-decibel afterburners to propel the water high into the heavens. Seriously. Let your earwax built up a bit before the trip if you are going to be staying by one of those fountains.)

So in a nutshell the bus service was (mostly) fine, the pool awesome (the main pool is cool as well, as are the “quiet” pools at the remaining sections), the Artist’s Palette food court and gift shop were great (we didn’t eat at the resort’s table service restaurant, so can’t report on that), and apart from a lumpy couch the room was more than adequate. Again, our room location within Saratoga had a big hand in our happiness, so just keep that in mind.

Back to the story… we forced Jace into a nap, and prepared to go swimming when my wife realized she had failed to pack a bathing suit. Now, a mental error like this in a vacuum is no joking matter, but as I had received some grief for a minor miscalculation I had made upon us leaving for the airport the day before, I had a chance for some sweet revenge jabs. What’s that? Oh, it was nothing. Seriously, it’s not even important. Nope, not big deal. Ugh, fine… We were just getting ready to turn onto the freeway on-ramp to head out of town when my feet felt weird on the peddles, and I realized that I might, might have still been wearing my house sandals, and that the only pair of tennis shoes I was planning on taking and wearing were sitting alone and abandoned on our living room floor. See, no biggie, right? Five minutes of backtracking (plus a half hour of “Now, are you sure you got everything?”) and we were right as rain.

But in this case, my wife’s omission gave her an excuse to buy a spiffy new Disney swimsuit up at the gift shop, and a Mickey towel-wrap cover-up thing to boot. Hmmm… perhaps this wasn't an accident at all.

So, with Jace sleeping and Papa catching up on SportsCenter, Anne, Kenna, Nana and I headed down to the Paddock Pool for our first dip and it went swimmingly. Get it?! Our little 3.5-year-old loved the big slide, and proudly climbed the stairs repeatedly with all of the teenagers for what seemed like hours on end. With frozen drinks from the bar and grill, a fun team of “activity guides” leading the pool partiers and plenty of available lounge space the stage was set for almost daily visits.

"I do believe that it belongs to me." "No friend, I'm sorry but I think that possession is mine on this one." "I hate to disappoint you both, old chaps, but I am quite certain that I have secured ownership of it for myself."

But we still had a busy night planned, as next up was dinner at Akerhaus in the Norway Pavilion out in Epcot’s World Showcase. Our ADR was at 8ish, but we arrived with plenty of time to hit the Seas with Nemo and Friends ride, which is a cool little attraction that shares a ride vehicle with the Little Mermaid in MK but that’s where the similarities end. While still a passive, kid-centric scenic dark ride, Nemo employs lots of cool visual techniques, detailed and stylized scenes, and integration with real aquariums. I have no problem riding this one multiple times if the kiddos insist. Additionally, in the same area they have a very cool technology-driven interactive show with the sea turtle Crush, as well as a fun indoor learning/play area.

After Nemo we took our time heading over to Norway, finally entering the quaint Akerhaus (castle?) and waiting our turn to meet and take a pic with Belle. This is another character meal, and is not only a great way to meet a bunch of princesses, but the food is pretty decent and you get a free photo package of your party with Belle (at least it has always been Belle each time we have gone; not sure if they switch the photo princess out or not). Primarily because of the photo, this meal is very pricey out-of-pocket, but on the Dining Plan it is a wonderful use of a table service credit. We have eaten here all three trips, and little girls (and a lot of bashful young princes) always have a blast.

Maybe Yale offers a minor in Fairy Tale Royalty or something...

Additionally, the princesses are “face” characters, so they get to talk and interact with the kids when they visit your table, which can not only be more immersive for everyone but can also help break that shyness barrier that younger kids my encounter with the costumed characters. As for the food, they have an awesome seafood and anti-pesto salad bar that you get in addition to your entrée, which I would eat solely as my meal if given the choice. I had some enjoyable salmon, Nana’s was really good, and the deserts are amazing. For what it’s worth, Anne’s beef tips gave her an upset tummy, so there’s that. And as the alcohol-laced icing on top, Akerhaus – and the entire Norway pavilion – serves Carlsberg beer, my personal favorite. *hiccup* Score...

IllumiNations: Cool show, cool message, basically cool as cool can be...

We scheduled the dinner for that late so that we could walk out just as the Illuminations fireworks and light show was starting, which is exactly what happened (awwww, thank you, but please hold your applause ‘til the end). Being a low-crowd day (and week, mostly), we grabbed a spot right in front of Norway just off the rail. This is a great show with a wonderful story portrayed on a giant earth/television accompanied by spectacular firework and laser shows (although the lasers weren’t as prominent this time; not sure why…) Anne’s tummy was still getting the best of her so we started walking towards Spaceship Earth and the exit just as the show was ending, and made pretty good time even with the “post-Illuminations mass exodus” crowd. We caught a quick bus and were back in the room a little before 10pm.

<Yet another aside> While there were a few times were we had to wait 15 minutes or so for a particular bus from Saratoga Springs, we never waited more than 5 minutes for a bus going to the resort, no matter the time of day or from which park. I am not sure how this is possible logistically from a time-space continuum standpoint, but I suppose we might have just been extremely lucky. Or the miniature flux-capacitor I keep in my wallet started working again. Either way, it was nice to always walk out of a park to a waiting bus or one that rounded the bend promptly. <End aside>

With two parks, two character meals, and a full day of Disney fun under our belt we settled in with excitement on our minds yet tiredness in our bones for some much needed slumber...


More to come (and on the website).


Last edited by JB Meier; 11-12-2013 at 01:53 PM.
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Old 10-31-2013, 11:45 AM   #2
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Following along!
For the love of Disney...
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Old 10-31-2013, 12:48 PM   #3
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Love your report so far... looking forward to more!!!
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Old 10-31-2013, 01:44 PM   #4
JB Meier
Earning My Ears
Join Date: Oct 2013
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Smile Tomorrow at the Latest!

Thanks Wii and TF!

I'm putting some content up on my site this afternoon, but plan to port over Day 2 and 3 to this thread from the Report either late today or early tomorrow.

As they say: Have a Magical Day!

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Old 11-01-2013, 03:02 PM   #5
JB Meier
Earning My Ears
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 20

Talking Day 3: Goin' Downtown to Hollywood Muppet Mania...

Continuing on with our second full day. Not sure how to do the whole pages thing, so we'll just keep wondering blindly this way.

As always, this is reposted from my website: The Rajah Report.

And before anyone asks, all pictures were unfortunately taken with an iPhone 5. My apologies for some of the quality.

Hope you enjoy!




Having had a full day previously, we were a little lax in getting going on our second official day. I know, I know, to all you commandos out there this borders on theme park heresy, but I assure you we still had a fun and memorable day. Upon arrival I headed straight back with everyone’s cards to grab Toy Story Mania Fastpasses – which were already out to about 1pm – after which we just took in the sights for a bit while waiting for the first showing of the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular.

This was a show that I had seen during my only childhood visit (I was 9 or 10 years old) and one of the few things I actually remembered from that trip. This was my first time seeing it since then, and while I will admit that I was a little apprehensive that it would not live up to my nostalgia, the show in fact surpassed it and I think all of us truly enjoyed it. It is head and shoulders better than the space-eating, dialog-drenched “blink and you miss it” firecracker of a show Lights, Motors, Action, which we didn’t even bother with this time. Indy is definitely something we will be doing again, and as Papa and I used to sit around on raining afternoons (re)watching the Indy flicks growing up, it was great to get to experience this with him. [Cue sentimental music…]

"Cuz she's on fiya..."

We then meandered over to the Animation Courtyard to see when the next showing of Voyage of the Little Mermaid was (a much better attraction than its Magic Kingdom counterpart), and after seeing we still had a few minutes to spare Anne, Jace and Papa decided to peruse the In Character gift shop while Nana, Kenna and I headed through the Art of Animation building to the character meets in the back. Wreck-It Ralph has become one of those movies that the kids put in and as soon as it’s over ask to watch it again, and I knew that they currently had Ralph and Princess Vanellope as a meet ‘n’ greet (SPOILER ALERT! It turns out Vanellope is a princess. Guess I should have placed this alert before using her royal title. My bad.) Being a video game guy in my pre-offspring days the queue was actually a lot of fun, putting you in a tiny version of Game Central Station that had electronic scrolling arrival/departure marquees that referenced classic video games. Meeting the characters was a treat for both Kenna and I (Ralph is huge), so cool in fact that I ended up digitally buying the picture of us from Disney’s Photopass once we returned home.

"Hey! You guys down there! Um... you got any water?"

We all met back up at the Voyage of the Little Mermaid theater and made it in just before the show began. This is an example of a one of a kind attraction that only Disney can provide. It intertwines live action performers, video, puppets, animatronics, lasers and other effects, and even makes it rain in the theater! They pack the whole movie into 15 minutes, and – at least for our family – there is never a dull moment.

We found ourselves a bit famished after the show, so we made our way through Pixar Place and decided to eat at the Studio Catering Co. quick service.

For all you foodies out there, I regret that I am not going to be much help in regaling our consumption exploits. We are thankfully a far from picky family that is usually more concerned with character dining or quickly getting back on the path to enjoying more attractions than we are with seeking out exemplary culinary experiences. We do have some Disney restaurants that we pick solely for the quality of the food (‘Ohana’s dinner, for example), but more often than not we primarily eat at places for the characters, theme, or convenience. We do look forward to a future when we can focus more on the many outstanding dining options Disney has to offer as our children get older and require less maintenance during meals, but until then we are less concerned with quality than quanitifunvenience… My apologies, both for the lack of food reviews as well as for making up words. However, I will not hesitate to relay any memorable meal experience, either for better or worse, that may help you gentle readers.

The food at the Studio Catering Co. was your typical Disney fast food fare, with Nana and I getting very tasty caesar chicken wraps, Papa downing a burger and Anne battling a buffalo chicken sandwich that I seem to remember her not enjoying all that much. I had no problem with the atmosphere as it was roomy, shaded, and cooled by fans. However, it was a bit bittersweet dining right next to the beckoning Honey I Shrunk the Kids play area, which is a favorite of the kids (myself included) but was closed for refurbishment.

Those kids are about to drown in the fountain! Unbelievable! Their parents should be strung up from the Earful Tower...

We still had some time left before our Toy Story Fastpass were up, so we made our way through the Streets of America and decided to experience Muppet Vision 3D which was also a first for us. We arrived too late for fully enjoy the pre-show movie and richly detailed staging area, but from what I’ve read and what little we saw it seemed super cool and another reason for us to do it again. The story (if you could really call it that) was fine and had all the signature Muppets, but the real treat was in the 3D effects, which had Kenna out of her seat trying to pop bubbles and catch flying mutant bee fish things. It is a 4D show as well, with Waldorf and Statler up in their balcony, the Swedish Chef and other stuff happening on the wall behind you, characters that come out into the crowd, and highly dangerous pyrotechnics. All-in-all it was a quick and very entertaining 20 minutes of our day.

After a few photo ops in the Streets of America it was time to cash in our Toy Story Mania Fastpasses. This is probably the most popular ride in all of Disney World, and there is more than enough info about the ride out on the intertubes so I won’t give a full run-down on the attraction other than it is a 3D ride-through videogame wherein you use a pull-action gun to break virtual targets and compete for high scores. (I will give a full review in my Top-10 list, given I actually get around to writing it. “Will he make good on his promise? Can his word be trusted, or is he just a devious, untruthful slimeball? Stay tuned to find out!”). The lovebirds Papa and Nana rode together as did Anne and Kenna, leaving Jace on Daddy’s lap (as per usual), which would normally be a major hindrance to your average mortal, but my Mania Mastery prevailed and I dominated the day with a respectable 197k, and as always was supremely humble and gracious in my victory. Neener neener neeeener…

As it was time for our “Button Hook Play Action Nap and Swim” – or whatever I called it earlier – we headed for the exit but somehow ended up on Sunset Blvd. so that Anne and Nana could do some shopping. Though usually not much of a brick-and-mortar shopper myself, for some reason I transform into the Prince of Purchases at Disney, with eyes bigger than my wallet and wanting to grab as much as I can like those shopping spree game shows from the 90s. The shops around the junction of Hollywood and Sunset have some really cool, unique merchandise and makes for some enjoyable browsing/getting-yourself-in-debt-up-to-your-eyeballs. But as this was the girl’s chance to shop, Papa and I pushed the kids around for a while (Stop dialing DCFS and put the phone down!… I meant pushed them around in the stroller! Geez!), grabbed some cool-off beers and took in a Streetmosphere performance, which is another little Disney touch that sets their parks apart from all others.

That's a pretty sweet Paddock you got right there...

Then we did the whole rest/relax thing back at Saratoga, this time taking Jace (post-nap) for his first dip in the pool and he absolutely loved it. Zero entry pools are hands-down the way to go for toddlers as “kiddie pools” are usually too deep for them, they quickly grow tired of being constrained in a float in a big pool, and, while the small water feature play areas common to the resorts are fun for a while, your little one eventually wants to be part of the big pool that everyone else is enjoying. With zero entry they can be right in the action at a controlled depth and have the freedom to move around (laterally, at least) on their own accord. As I mentioned earlier, I have picked each resort stay based primarily on the accessibility of the pool for small children (Caribbean Beach, Kidani Village at Animal Kingdom, and Saratoga), and this one worked out beautifully as well. The water playground was also zero entry and had all the playful features you could ask for.

Kid's water playground. Max Capacity: 60 / Current Capacity: 1

If you were to ask Kenna what her favorite parts of the trip were, they would most likely be:

1. Goofy’s Roller Coaster
2. The Paddock Pool
3. Daddy destroying everyone at Toy Story Mania

As this was a no-ADR day, we had the afternoon and evening wide open. While we wanted to head back to the Magic Kingdom, this was the first night of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party so the park would close at 7pm to guests who didn’t have a ticket to the event. We did the Halloween Party back in 2011 and loved it, and we would have done it again but didn’t what to stay out so late with Jace and my parents for it. In a nutshell, it is a hard ticketed event that you have to pay separate for from your normal park entry that offers additional theming, costumes, dance parties, special character meet and greets, an awesome, unique parade and a Halloween-inspired firework show that differs from the regular nightly fireworks. I highly recommend experiencing both this and the hard-ticket Christmas party at least once. I kinda wish we would have done it this trip just for the character meets and superb parade alone, but it can wait until next time.

With the Magic Kingdom being out, and having been at Epcot the night before and Hollywood Studios that morning, we opted to head next door to Downtown Disney. We had only been there once before and that visit merely saw us breeze through the Marketplace section, so a lot of DD remained unexplored by us and we were happy to go forth on such an adventure.

I ba-lieve I can fly...

You can bus, boat, and – due to its neighborly proximity – walk to Downtown Disney from Saratoga Springs. Part of the walkway was under refurbishment, so we took a relaxing boat ride with a very friendly captain over to the West Side of DD. Seriously, our skipper reminded me of the title character from Captain Ron with his deep tan, sea-weathered face and beach bum attitude. He warned Kenna not to lean out over the edge of the boat, because if he lost one more kid over the side to the alligators then he would be over his quota for the day and might get in trouble. Oddly enough, he wasn’t too knowledgeable on the bus service in Downtown Disney, kinda giving us incomplete information, but he is forgiven in my book due to his humor. Also, he could secure the boat’s tie-down ropes to those cleat things on the docks one-handed without even bending over with a couple quick flicks of his wrist. It was an amazing feat to watch, and just like our Captain Ron(ald Duck), something that I’ll not soon forget…

Debarking in the West Side of Downtown Disney (did you know that ‘debark’ and ‘disembark’ mean exactly the same thing?! English: Its’a crazy!) we found ourselves among the House of Blues, Disney Quest, Cirque du Soleil, the Big White Pineapple, and the new Splitsville All-in-One Super Family Fun Extravaganza. With dinner on our minds, we stopped to attempt to figure out the difference between Wolfgang Puck, the Express at Wolfgang Puck, and Wolfgang Puck Express, which indeed are three completely different restaurants in Downtown Disney. Two more and he could field a basketball team, preferably called the Puckaneers.

This was so cool. The whole place just had a rich, vibrant aura to it.

Anyway, after deciphering that the one we wanted was at the other end of DD in the Marketplace, it gave us the opportunity to walk the length of the district. We had arrived just at sunset, and the lights and atmosphere of this place is simply awesome. Heading through Pleasure Island, I was extremely disappointed not to find any free cigars and beer, donkey boys, or windows waiting to be smashed, but was pleasantly surprised by the mood, ambience, and abundant live music. In the span of five minutes, we walked past a full house band, a new age string quartet with three members (a tritet?), an angelic female soloist, and my favorite by far: a lone black saxophonist rifting his rump roast off to popular hits, right in front of the Fulton’s Crab House riverboat. It was literally one of the coolest performances I have ever seen, and he was even able to pull off a rockin’ fedora. You go, sax man.

(Note: As of this writing in late October '13 there are reports of major construction and ongoing changes to the Downtown Disney area during it's transformation into Disney Springs. Be sure to consult some of the more up to date Disney news websites in my Links Page before heading over there to get an idea of what is in store.)

Once you cross the border between the somewhat aptly-named Pleasure Island (even with no donkey boys) and the Marketplace, you once again find yourself back in the traditional land of Disney. Shops, kiddie rides, restaurants, caricature artists and twinkle lights in the trees make the Marketplace the family friendly area of Downtown Disney, which isn’t a bad thing, but it is a stark contrast to the boisterous nightlife that we had just experienced 50 yards away.

WARNING: Choking Hazards.

We headed straight for Wolfgang Puck Express, which technically is a quick-service meal on the Dining Plan but its menu, price, and level of service put it very close to a low-end table service and therefore make it an excellent use of a Dining Plan quick-service credit. Just in the door is where you order your food (which is a tough decision with so many great options) and after grabbing your drink you head to the nicely appointed dining room complete with a full wait staff. Our waiter, Ramone, was probably the nicest and most attentive waiter we had the whole trip, and this was at a quick service! I think between Papa and I he got around a 50% tip, but he earned every penny of it. I honestly can’t remember what I had but I know it was good and that the flatbreads that others got were all very well done as well. The best part was being able to get a decadent crème brûlée as our desert as opposed to the standard parfait or brownie. Magnifique!

Leaving Wolfgang #3 completely satisfied, we sniffed around the shops for a while and then found a cart offering silhouette cutouts. We did this with Kenna back in ’11, and had already committed to getting it done with both the kiddos this trip. Sitting on my lap, they were each well behaved enough for the gentleman to work his magic, and I truly mean magic as there is no earthly explanation for how these folks can merely look at a face and cut out an exact replica of the profile freehand with these miniature scissors, all in only about a minute. It is mystical to watch, very reasonably priced, and serves as a great souvenir. I only wish that there was something “Disney” about it that would set it apart from the same thing you can get elsewhere; even offering a Disney frame or merely having a logo on the matting would make it much more special for those who get it done in Disney.

As a reward, Papa and Daddy took the whippersnappers for a spin on the small carousel while the ladies did some more shopping, after which we made our way to (one of) the bus stop(s). You see, Captain Ron-ald Duck helpfully told us about the resort bus stops located behind Planet Hollywood, all the way on the other side of Pleasure Island. He unhelpfully failed to mention that the Marketplace also has its own collection of resort bus stops. But perhaps it was for the best, as we got to walk back through that vibrant living nightlife, happiness in our hearts and music filling the cool night air…

Annnnnnnd scene.
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Old 11-04-2013, 03:30 PM   #6
JB Meier
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Post Day 3: Mouse-Seeking Scud Missile and a TrashPass Miracle...

The next installment is below! Keeping the magic alive one Fastpass miracle at a time...

Re-posted here from my creative nightmare of a website The Rajah Report.



This was another double ADR day that would keep us in and around the Magic Kingdom all morning, noon and night (which is a good thing). We first headed off to the Polynesian Resort for breakfast, taking a bit of a scenic tour. Our original plan was to take the bus from Saratoga to the Magic Kingdom and then hop the monorail over to the Polynesian. When our bus driver overheard us discussing this, he mentioned that his next stops after the Magic Kingdom were actually the TTC (Transportation and Ticket Center, a.k.a. giant Magic Kingdom parking lot & monorail station) and then the Polynesian. Seemed simple enough, so we opted to just stay on the bus and forgo schlepping the stroller and kids all the way up to the monorail. However, the construction for the new MK bus stops completely wreaked havoc on all traffic flow, and the bus driver soon had to sheepishly admit that he if fact would have to come back to Magic Kingdom after the TTC before heading back to the Polynesian. Long story getting even longer, we chose to disembark (past reference!) at the TTC as it is within walking distance of the Polynesian. Of course, “within walking distance” is a kinda vague term. For example, Seattle is technically “within walking distance” of Detroit, but that doesn’t mean anyone really wants to do it. While not that extreme, the trek was quite a hike, but we got to see the beautiful grounds of the wonderfully themed Polynesian and still made it to ‘Ohana with time to spare.

‘Ohana’s breakfast is another character meal, this one with Mickey, Pluto, Lilo and Stitch. I can’t remember the name of the movie those last two are from, but I’m sure it’ll come to me later... Anyway, this meal is “family style” as opposed to a buffet, and consisted of some really tasty sausage, diced hash brown potatoes, bacon, eggs, and pastries, all served in one big bowl along with coffee and a mango/guava/unicorn blood “Stitch Juice”. Papa and I were a little concerned about the size of said bowl and were preparing for our Primal Alpha Male Battle for the Spoils when the waitress sensed the impending violence and reassured us that second helpings were free of charge and the crisis was thus averted.

Aloha means both "hello" and "you CAN teach an alien secret weapon dog thing new tricks".

‘Ohana is an upper-end restaurant at night, but you still get all the rich appointments and great atmosphere for breakfast. It was nice to meet Lilo and Stitch for the first time, but Mickey really made our day, and perhaps even Kenna’s whole trip…

You see, with most character meals there is usually a point when all the characters spread out in the restaurant and invite the kids to march along with them in a little parade around the dining room. Whichever kid or kids are closest to a character when it begins may be chosen to join hands with them and happily parade around the restaurant while their parents frantically try to follow and take shaky, out-of-focus pictures. Trust me, I’ve been there. Wait for them to come to you, or just take video.

On this beautiful morning, I noticed the Cast Members starting to prepare the characters for the parade. (All employees at Disney parks and resorts are called Cast Members, not employees, and housekeeping is called Mousekeeping. Just FYI.) Mickey was just finishing his visit at a table a few back from ours, so I kept a close eye to see if he would move on to the next or head toward the parade route. Sure enough, he broke away from the tables and I immediately sent Kenna on an intercept course like a mouse-seeking scud missile. He waved at her, held out his hand, and the rest is magical history…

Gettin' jiggy with the Main Mouse. The artsy blurriness of the picture is totally, completely, 100% intentional.

After that very special end to a very enjoyable breakfast, we mono-railed it over to the Magic Kingdom for a fun couple of hours. As soon as we were through the turn/tapstiles I booked it back to Thunder Mountain to grab some Fastpasses and on the way happened upon a random hoe-down dance party with the Briar gang. While I didn’t have time to completely stop and enjoy the festivities, I did dance my way right through the center of it; linking arms in a lively and delicate ballet that spat me out the other side. Another nice touch, Disney.

To not like the Rivers of America is to let the terrorists win...

On the way back I opted to walk on the boardwalk that runs along the Rivers of America in Frontierland. It is kind of hard to notice or easy to think that an entrance to this area is just a dead end or dock, but the boardwalk actually runs parallel for almost the entire length of the main thoroughfare. It has beautiful views of the Rivers and Liberty Square, is usually much less crowded than the main street, and is completely shaded for most of the day. It is a great little underexplored part of the Magic Kingdom that is both beautiful and logistically beneficial.

I met back up with the family outside of one of my personal favorites: Haunted Mansion. The queue is a blast, and we have made a tradition out of getting a picture of Kenna making spooky (seizure-y?) faces in front of the Dread Family. The ride itself is that perfect harmony of storytelling, theming and technology that everyone in our family always really enjoys.



We then headed over to Frontierland in search of adventure (sorry Adventureland) even though we our Fastpasses for Thunder Mountain Railroad weren’t yet due. After checking the wait on Splash Mountain (it was down), the girls and I decided to go ahead with Thunder Mountain given the wait was only about 20 minutes. Papa loitered around with Jace while Kenna got to ride her first ‘big girl’ ride, recently hitting the height threshold to ride some of the more thrilling attractions at Disney. Loving Goofy’s rollercoaster so much already, she needed no coaxing to try this bigger variation and even held her arms up through most of the ride. As we wanted to get back to Papa and Jace we decided not to wait a few minutes to use our Fastpasses on a second go-around and after unsuccessfully trying to give them away, I left them predominately sitting on a trash can right outside the attraction. I then quickly played through the most likely scenario about how they would be found:

<< Little Jimmie had saved all of his Christmas and birthday money for three years just to come to the Magic Kingdom for one day and ride his favorite attraction: The Thunder Mountain Railroad. However, just as they arrived at the park and made their way to Frontierland, his parents received a phone call and were told that their dog had been scheduled to have paw transplant surgery in only one hour. With the wait for TMR now up to 50 minutes, Jimmie was heartbroken, but decided that there was no use in crying and a keeping a stiff upper lip looked up at his parents and said “That’s okay guys, maybe next time.” Just then, the clouds parted and a ray of brilliant sunlight shone down from the heavens, illuminating a nearby trash can in a rich and ethereal glow. And right there, sitting just on top of the trash can and shining with the beauty of a million rainbows were five immediately useable Fastpass tickets to the Thunder Mountain Railroad! To this day they still talk about the “Trashpass Miracle”, but now you know the real story…>>

Happy with the impending miracle my minor action would without doubt produce, we continued on and the next hour or so is somewhat of a blur as we really stepped up into park commando mode and successfully used Fastpasses and geography to hit Country Bear Jamboree, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, and then Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin over in Tomorrowland. While Monster’s Inc. can be a little divisive among some, the rest on that list are all classic, immersive family fun and highly recommended.

"Max, I don't know what you had to eat - or even HOW you eat - but you smell like a decaying Melvin over there..."

As Nana got to enjoy Thunder Mountain (but probably not as much as little Jimmie did!), Papa came along for Splash Mountain for which we used Fastpasses. This was one of those “Get me my cape and scepter, because I am the King of all rides!” Fastpass experiences where we literally marched past a two hour long line and were on the ride in 5 minutes. It is a physically long queue, and on this day – after recently reopening from being down all morning – it was a fully filled queue as well. For Disney veterans this is no big deal, and merely an illustration of how great the Fastpass system can be when you use it right. For Papa, it was a blatant slap in the face to all of those poor schmucks that we breezed right past as if were we the Prince of India or something. Papa was genuenily embarrassed that we basically didn’t even break stride until we were in our log, and even then I think he averted his eyes from the poor *******s still waiting in the common-folk line.

But all of that was forgotten once we were in the attraction, and this is another example of Disney outshining everyone else. Papa expected just another slapdash, quick-fire log flume ride ala Six Flags, and couldn’t believe it as scene after scene of rich story and playful animatronics went by, and he actually ducked his head to avoid the briar patch on the drop. The recent refurbishment makes the whole ride even better. This was Kenna’s second favorite ride, especially for the fact that “Hey Nana, after we went down, down, down, we got soaked…” I wish we would have had another go on it this trip, but again, there’s always next time.

Stay strong, doggie, stay strong.

The Country Bears and Pirates are both classics (at least in our eyes) and don’t really need explaining, and we liked Monster’s well enough (which is usually our post-show reaction: Meh; could’ve been worse I guess.) but Buzz was more fun this time for a couple of reasons:

1. I got Fasspasses for it out of habit before hitting the Laugh Floor. When we went to redeem them, the Fastpass queue was somehow longer than the standby line. This was no issue, as the wait time was thus 3 minutes compared to 2, but it was comical nonetheless.

2. Daddy got the Jace Ranger again, which ended up being the good draw as Kenna immediately commandeered her and Anne’s vehicle and sent it into a never-ending spin for the entire duration of the ride. Anne ended up scoring somewhere in the 20s. No, not the 20 thousands, just 20s…

3. Papa took this ride very seriously, as he didn’t want a repeat of Toy Story Mania by being shown up by his son again. ...He was.

"You shut your pie hole, Cadet; I'm the Hero here!"

We then headed out of the park to the launch docks to grab a boat over to the Wilderness Lodge as we had an early dinner ADR at the Whispering Canyon. We just missed a boat, and it took quite a while for the next one. But, the ride was beautiful and welcomingly uneventful, and I highly recommend utilizing the boat system around the Seven Seas Lagoon for just those reasons.

I always knew those guys stood on Kenna's shoulders to get where they are today...

We arrived a little late to Whispering Canyon but the hostesses didn’t seem to care, yet I didn’t know if that was part of the aloof anti-service the place is known for or just her own personal predisposition on that day. We knocked around the beautiful lobby for a while, checking out the Grand Canyon fireplace and leading Jace on repeat trips over the bridge spanning the hot spring (which feeds an outside stream and eventually empties into the pool, which is cool) while we waited – and waited, and waited… – for our table. About 20 minutes later we sat down and ate.

Jace liked the meal, but he is a sucker for corn on the cob and milkshakes, so his biased opinion can't be trusted.

I am not a fan of Whispering Canyon. The food is good, but not good enough for me to endure the rude-in-jest wait staff, the noise, and the constant antics of the place. Perhaps it is because our kids are too young and they don’t really get anything out of it, but at this time I believe me and Whispering Canyon are going to have a trial separation. Not forever, mind you; the family style meat platters are really good, and the shakes are excellent and can even count as your beverage on the Dining Plan, but for some reason the atmosphere and wait staff just aren’t my style. Our waitress was wearing a walking boot, so I couldn’t tell if her slowness was part of the show or medically induced, but by the end of the meal she was actually moving slower than the shifting tectonic plates beneath her feet and is probably still on her way to refill Papa’s iced tea…

During the meal we had discussed whether we wanted to head back to the Magic Kingdom and watch the castle projection show and fireworks. Kenna was being very un-princess-like at the meal (hey, with service like that I don’t blame her! Zing!) so we debated just going back to the resort. But after such a prolonged dining experience we found ourselves with exactly enough time to get across the lagoon before the shows and figured the timing was just too good to pass up.

Cuz baby: You're a firework.

It did turn out quite nice, as I don’t think I have ever seen crowds so light for fireworks. We were expecting to run into a wall of people right after entering the gates, but in fact we were able to walk almost all the way down Main Street to get a great view of the castle and fireworks. Granted, I will be the first to admit that to keep that good view I had to be “that guy” and tap the man in front of us on the arm when he put his kid up on his shoulders, completely killing Anne’s view. He was sincerely apologetic and I know he meant no harm and that we were both just looking out for our family’s enjoyment so no hard feelings, but sometimes you have to (politely) speak up. The projection show on the castle is both mine and Anne's favorite thing to see in Disney World, and even though Kenna needed a potty break in the middle of the show we got to experience everything front and center and coupled with the firework show it was a wonderful end to the day. Magical, even; and that's not a word I throw around a lot...
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Old 11-05-2013, 10:08 AM   #7
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Magic? Check.

Humor? Check.

More Magic? Check.

You win the truth in advertising prize! Which consists of customer satisfaction and does not even come with a certificate. Sorry!

What an excellent write up, I'm really enjoying it.

That pic with Tiana is adorable!

I would say Country Bear Jamboree is more divisive than the Monster's Inc. Comedy Show, but I suppose it depends on what crowd you hang with.

If you like the live performances at WDW, Steve Soares' site is terrific, IMHO:


However, if you prefer to stumble onto them and be surprised, stay away from Mr. Soares' site! But if you want to be sure to catch Captain Jack's Pirate Tutorial or the Trolley Show, it's indispensable.
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Old 11-05-2013, 11:56 AM   #8
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Joining! Enjoying your posts and writing style.

That was quite the first day taking in both Crystal Palace and Akershus. I think after that alone your kids are never able to say "you never do anything I want to do!", like, ever

I think Jace and my son (21 months at the time of our last trip) are fairly comparable as plane travelers - i.e., I too would like to sit him with a pair of gruff strangers for the next trip
Me: DW: DD(5): DS(2): DD(3 months):

**In Progress** It's kind of fun to do the impossible - Disney World with a 1 month old - A Trip Report: 08/25-08-29/14
Wait, weren't you just at Disney World? An August '14 Pre-Trip Report - A Pre-Trip Report: 8/25 - 8/29
Ooh-de-lally! A dining heavy October '13 Trip Report - A Trip Report: 10/11-10/18/13
Faint hearts never won fair lady - or got all the ADRs you wanted. - A Dining Review 10/8/11 - 10/15/11
"What contemptible scoundrel stole the cork from my lunch?" - A Dining Review 10/24/09 - 10/31/09
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Old 11-05-2013, 02:03 PM   #9
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My in Progress Trip Report for my Oct 2013 Food & Fest (and more) Trip

Oct 2013 - 5 days (offsite hotel)
Feb 2009 -3 days (offsite hotel)
Oct 2004 - Week (Caribbean Beach Resort)
Feb 1998 - Week (offsite hotel)
Fall 1993 - Week (offsite hotel)
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Old 11-05-2013, 02:36 PM   #10
JB Meier
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Originally Posted by TheMaxRebo View Post
Joining! Enjoying your posts and writing style.

That was quite the first day taking in both Crystal Palace and Akershus. I think after that alone your kids are never able to say "you never do anything I want to do!", like, ever

I think Jace and my son (21 months at the time of our last trip) are fairly comparable as plane travelers - i.e., I too would like to sit him with a pair of gruff strangers for the next trip
Thanks Max! Writing style is a tough cookie; I find myself riding the fence between trying to be an ambassador to those new(er) to vacationing in Disney World (a focus of my website) and slinging inside jokes around for the Disney faithful. In theory one should carefully scrutinize their work to ensure a unifying theme and tone; in practice I bang on the keyboard like a chimp until my back starts hurting, closing my eyes and hit "send"...

And yep, we always do what they want to do! Although, on Day 5 (coming soon!) I headed out solo that night to the Limited Time Magic "Unleash the Villains/Villainy in the Sky" at DHS and I got to tell you: super awesome change of pace without the kids; felt like the Genie after losing his bonds! I'll give the full run-down soon...

I've been reading through your stuff now as well; good work!

Thanks for the note,

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Old 11-05-2013, 05:48 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Nakkira View Post
Thanks Nakkira! More coming soon!
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Old 11-07-2013, 09:50 AM   #12
JB Meier
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Originally Posted by shalom View Post
Magic? Check.

Humor? Check.

More Magic? Check.

You win the truth in advertising prize! Which consists of customer satisfaction and does not even come with a certificate. Sorry!

What an excellent write up, I'm really enjoying it.

That pic with Tiana is adorable!

I would say Country Bear Jamboree is more divisive than the Monster's Inc. Comedy Show, but I suppose it depends on what crowd you hang with.

If you like the live performances at WDW, Steve Soares' site is terrific, IMHO:


However, if you prefer to stumble onto them and be surprised, stay away from Mr. Soares' site! But if you want to be sure to catch Captain Jack's Pirate Tutorial or the Trolley Show, it's indispensable.
Thanks for the kind and kindred komments, Shalom!

Yes, the Jamboree can be a very subjective experience, but being more of a "classic" gives it a slight edge, I suppose. I have no problem with either, but they can be polarizing, especially in the 'old school' vs. 'new school' vain. For instance, CBJ was was one of Papa and Nana's favorites, but they didn't much care for the laugh floor.

I checked out the site, but you are correct: I don't want to spoil too much!

Thanks again for the nice comments and expect Day 4 soon!

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Old 11-08-2013, 03:24 PM   #13
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Lightbulb Break from the TR: How to Fix Disney's Hollywood Studios

Taking a break from the trip report to address something very serious in my life: My disappointment with Disney's Hollywood's Studios.

My first and only childhood visit to Walt Disney World occurred back when I was a mere nine or ten, and while most of those memories have long been corrupted by adult beverages and high-frequency surveillance by the NSA, I do retain a few vivid recollections of the vacation and for some reason they are all from the then Disney-MGM Studios. However, since returning as an adult I have failed to find that same sense of awe and cinematic wonder that I remember from that first visit.

But fear not, for I have been tasked to rectify whatever ails our great Studio, and bring it back as a beacon of story telling, adventure, and movie magic.



For the intended formatting, view it on the website: The Rajah Report


11/06/20130 Comment

So last night Bob Iger, John Lasseter and Joe Rohde conference called me up at ten o'clock*. Now, I know what you're thinking and you are absolutely right: 10pm is awfully late to be calling someone with two small children. But as I was in a good mood I decided to indulge them, so I slipped on my house moccasins, made some hot cocoa (with extra marshmallows) and asked what I could do for them.

Iger spoke up first, saying that he was very concerned with what Hollywood Studios has become and that he and the Board were at a loss as to how to give it some direction and bring in the what they care about most: the almighty dol... ahem; I meant to say: their valued guests. Lasseter concurred that the park had always had an identity crisis, being that it was built in the mold of Universal Studios Hollywood to combat cross-town rival Universal Studios Florida which was being built in the mold of Disney. Isn't it ironic, don't ya think? Rohde noted that the park needs more rides, being that it currently only has five: Aerosmith, Tower of Terror, Toy Story, Star Wars, and the jewel of central Florida: the Great Movie Ride, and only two of which kids under 40 inches tall can experience. Rides are where it's at! he contended, while Lasseter lobbied for an expanded Pixar Place and Iger continued harping on new themes and lands to bring in the big bucks... er, to provide wonderful family memories. This went on for a good five minutes while I checked my email and sipped on some chocolaty goodness.

Eventually I spoke up, calling for silence and immediately receiving revered quiet on the line. They waited with audibly bated breath (I said silence!) while I gathered my thoughts. Finally, I spoke: The Studios as a Disney park has a myriad of problems, none of which can be solved with a new ride, an increased presence of an intellectual property, or even a whole new land. If this were a Six Flags or Busch Gardens no one would notice, but you are a company whose reputation and standards are the highest in the world, and you owe it to each and every of the almost ten million people who walk through those gates every year to deliver a unique, cohesive, engaging and wondrous experience.

They wholeheartedly agreed, and quickly inquired as to how to achieve that goal. I told them to give me until the morning; I would work through the night and have all of their answers at dawn's first light. After bidding them adieu (also in rhyme), I threw back the rest of my Swiss Miss and got to work...

* Some events and recollections may have been dramatized for your enjoyment.


In short, I have established four core areas that need to be addressed:

Distinct lands need to be established (including the addition of a new one).
DHS needs to offer something big that nobody else in the world has.
DHS needs to become both more kid and adult friendly.
Above all else, get rid of the hat... Well, at the very least move it.

We will begin with the entrance and ping-pong back and forth towards the back of the park. And to save anyone from jumping to the end: There is no inclusion of a Cars Land. Cars Land is in California.



First order of business will be to move the hat to outside the entrance of the park where the circle display currently sits. This retains the hat as an icon to the park and ensures that logos don't need to be immediately changed.

Hollywood Blvd. serves as a great entrance corridor and should remain largely unchanged. Continue to offer unique merchandise and shopping opportunities. Be sure that all buildings and facades remain well kept and reflect an actual city, not a sound stage. Hollywood and Vine and 50's Prime Time remain intact.


Now that Grauman's serves once again as the end of Hollywood Blvd. and the centerpiece of the Hub, keep it looking nice. Utilize classic searchlights in front of the theater on some or most nights. The Great Movie Ride needs either completely updated or replaced. The most recent movie in the ride is from 1981, almost 33 years ago. It is not magical to have to use Google to find out that the first scene in the ride is from 1933's Footlight Parade starring James Cagney. I think he is the one that said "You dirty rat!" but I'm not entirely sure because I am not 90 years old.

However, to make scenes in the ride more current may prove overly difficult as Disney does not have the rights to many of the signature movies from the last 25 years. A more logical approach, and keeping with the movie history theme, would be replacing the show with the AFI Showcase, gift shop, and Prop Warehouse from the Studio Backlot Tour, making it a walk-through attraction of movie memorabilia. With plenty of space, they can move the better props from SBT's boneyard inside to the new attraction. The ability to take a pic in front of a Star Wars snowspeeder? Yes please. Hollywood exterior, Hollywood interior.

Keep the 1920's Hollywood theme going by re-masking the American Idol Experience building to another classic landmark, perhaps a historic theater such as the Egyptian or the Pantages. Expand the seating if possible and change to a more traditional Broadway performance, perhaps even porting over the Aladdin show from California or moving Beauty and the Beast to open up a space for a future attraction on Sunset Blvd.

Keep Echo Lake as is.

On the other side of the plaza, revamp the entrance to the Animation Courtyard to maintain the early Hollywood theme.

Finally, with the new space available in the plaza a central water feature such as a fountain would bring some much needed kinetic energy and overall aestetic grace that the area needs.

With these changes the early 20th century Hollywood theme will continue from Hollywood Blvd. to and throughout the Hub, fully transporting guests back in time and preparing them for the Hollywood magic they will soon be experiencing.


This area is just fine as is. However, with the increased crowds these changes will no doubt produce it should be necessary to open a long-awaited pathway between the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and the Animation Courtyard.


Due to it's draw for younger children the Animation Courtyard should remain largely unchanged. Logistical constraints notwithstanding, it would be wonderful for the Magic of Disney Animation building to be able to showcase actual, current animation being made. It would be ideal if guest could look in on the process of computer animating one of the Disney Jr. shows, but even watching animators make promotional prints, commercials, shorts, or the new Mickey cartoons would all provide for a more engrossing and valuable edutainment experience. Being able tell friends and family that you saw the creative process of something that Disney actually commercially produces would make for a very rewarding visit to the building.

The Disney Jr. show seems to under preform in many areas, including for its main demographic. With a dearth of rides or activities for young ones currently in the park other than shows, this area should be renovated into an indoor play and exploration area highlighting Disney Jr. shows. Being able to play around in Jake's Neverland or explore a small part of Sophia's castle would give young children a place all to themselves, as well as a place that Mom and Baby Brother can hang out while Dad and Big Sis take another spin on Tower of Terror. Bring the Disney Jr. character meets inside and top of the indoor fun zone with Handy Manny's workshop, Doc McStuffin's "office" and of course Mickey's Clubhouse and you will have your preschooler's new favorite part of Walt Disney World. A wealth of merchandise at the exit(s) goes without saying.

Voyage of the Little Mermaid can stay as and where it is, as well as One Man's Dream around the corner.


Here's where it gets interesting, as my good friend whom I have never met would say (his name rhymes with Jim Hill. Literally.) This needs to become a haven for action adventure, treasure-seeking cinema gold, or at least those types of movies that Disney owns the rights to. Indy and National Treasure are the (only?) obvious choices here. Perhaps someone could talk to Spielberg about the Goonies, or inquire as to the rights of Lara Croft's Tomb Raider to provide a female action adventure heroine.

The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular is a great experience as it blends action, humor, and suspense together while informing - without too much exposition - the audience about the movie making process. It is, however, getting a little dated, so let's revamp the whole thing and bring National Treasure in here. Possible scenes include the gunpowder ship, chase scenes (transport the crew and vehicles from Lights, Motor, Action!) and of course the seesaw scene. New stunts, new movie, new epicness.

Indy can find a home at the only proposed major ride port from another park: Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. This is a highly regarded yet not overly promoted Disneyland dark ride that would allow Dr. Jones to stay in the park, but would not break the allure of the DL parks nor would it necessarily cause an East Coast family to no longer feel they need to visit Disney West (see again: Cars Land). Finding a home where Star Tours currently sits, you keep Indy in the park but it is a new Indy - at least to DHS - and adds another e-ticket to the park.

If desired, update the Backlot Express to reflect the adventure theme, and/or offer character meet and greets for some of the Fab Five in adventurers gear a la Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: The Quest for the Crystal Mickey (not to be confused with Indiana Jones and the Movie-That-Should-Be-Locked-In-An-Old-Fridge-And-Hit-With-A-Nuclear-Bomb-Which-It-Would-Never-Ever-Ever-Never-Ever-Survive).


Pixar is currently found less in a 'place' than a small, hidden alley on your tour around the park, which is a shame for such a beloved and profitable studio. While their presence is felt throughout DHS and the other parks, DHS should be the shining headquarters for the Pixar characters and offer more in the way of attractions and interactions, finally providing them with their own true 'land'. To achieve this, let's propose the following, beginning nearest Streets of America:

" Keep the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids playground but re-theme it to A Bug's Life. Pretty cut and dry.

" Either move Pizza Planet over to Studio Catering or completely reskin the entire SC food court to reflect many of Pixar's properties. Either way, Pizza Planet will no long be found in Streets of America for continuity's sake.

" The area currently occupied by the Studio Backlot Tour will house two (if possible) rides. One should be based on Planes (understood that Planes is not technically a Pixar production, but it is directly correlated with and derived from a Pixar IP) and ideally would be a suspended from the ceiling ride in Planes vehicles. With two more movies on the way, this attraction could make use of current commercial popularity.

" If space allows, install another ride in the area. America-only park goers (U.S.A.! U.S.A.!) would be pleasantly surprised and understandably amazed if they were able to experience a stateside ride utilizing the trackless ride system from Pooh's Hunny Hunt in Tokyo. Monster's Inc. and WALL-E are good contenders to base the ride on, but the technology would make the ride a must-do regardless of the Pixar property it incorporates.

" Move Lighting McQueen and Mator to between Studio Catering and The Great Movie Ride (or at least somewhere in Pixar Place).

" Expand the bar area next to Studio Catering and make it a little more upscale/appealing to adults, giving them a place to exhale a bit in comfort while the kids gorge themselves on all things Pixar.

" Duplicate Toy Story Mania, right next to the current one. Yep, you heard me right. If Dumbo can be doubled, why not Woody and Co.? TSM currently occupies exactly half of that building, so the room is there. Consider giving the new version a fresh set of videos, incorporating some different characters and new midway games. The average wait of the two put together should be less then the current ride alone, allowing doubled capacity and more opportunity for guests to enjoy an extremely popular ride.

With this plan, you now have a fully realized area that both utilizes existing attractions and structures as well as adds 2-3 new rides to DHS. Pixar Place is now a complete 'land' that extends from its current entrance by Jack Sparrow all the way down to the old BLT tramway and around to Streets of America. All Pixar, and all bloody good fun...


The Streets should remain largely unchanged as the Osborne Spectacle is too huge a draw and the Streets themselves both harken back to the original Backlot Tour as well as continue to illustrate a bit of movie making magic. It would be nice to incorporate some notable shops or storefronts from Disney movies to provide guest an entertaining opportunity to seek out photo ops. They can't use Marvel characters in the Florida parks, but can they use sets from Marvel movies? How cool would it be to be able to peer through the broken windows of the cafe from the end credit scene of The Avengers, the food and chairs still in place as if the team had just left?

If it is important to keep a quick-service where Pizza Planet once was, perhaps re-theme it to the Muppets due to proximity and the rejuvenation of the franchise.


So in summation, the... I'm sorry, what was that? No, I think I covered everything... Yep, it's all there; pretty good, right? Are you sure? Alright, I'll check again, but I'm pretty sure I didn't forg... Oh yeah! This little place:


And here is where George Disney Lucas Mickey Film and Magic Ltd. can create the only Star War's theme park land you can find in this galaxy. Here is the unique draw, the one-of-a-kind experience based on a property that will be at the forefront of pop culture for at least the next 6-10 years. I am more than confident that plans have already been worked and reworked for a Star Wars land so I will not undercut any of those efforts with my own specifics, but in utilizing the land currently occupied by Lights, Motor, Action! and Catastrophe Canyon the space, potential and possibilities are vast (much more so than trying to squeeze a few elements in Disneyland's Tomorrowland, as some rumors suggest.)

Retaining the Canyon for use on a ride (the Speeder Bikes or Pod Racers are good candidates) and perhaps expanding the mountain range to serve as the back curtain of the land makes practical sense. Including the Mos Eisley Cantina is basically a prerequisite at this point, and while relocating Star Tours here is not the most efficient endeavor, it is necessary, as would be moving the Jedi Training Academy. With anywhere from 3-6 new movies planned in addition to the new series and spin offs in the works, the opportunity for rides based off new story lines both in the near and far future is evident and would keep the area current and relevant.

It's location in the back of the Studios would not only give it a true sense of separation from the rest of the park, but force guests to travel past other rides, dining and shops on their way to and from the galaxy.

As a final note: include the Death Star, preferably as a large icon hovering just above the mountains or trees. Bonus effects would include operational lights and lateral movement to give it life. Where else can you get a family photo with Vader's Evil Sphere of Doom actually hanging in the background? According to Mr. Google: nowhere.


When all is said and done (probably for not much more that a couple mil, right? Right?), Disney's Hollywood Studios will have transformed into a cohesive, attraction-filled park that has a well-defined layout of themed areas, a wealth of rides and attractions for young and old, and an exclusive land built around one of - if not the - most popular movie franchises of all time. The Studios never had a chance to live up to their name and really be, well, studios, so lets focus on embracing what they have come to symbolize: a celebration of the magic through storytelling entertainment.

Phase I construction is due to begin early 2014*.

What do you think of these proposals? Anything you agree with, or is the entire thing complete hogwash? Concur that Disney needs to hire me posthaste as a lead creative consultant? Let us know in the comments below!

* Subject to reality.

Last edited by JB Meier; 11-17-2013 at 10:22 PM.
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Old 11-09-2013, 09:55 AM   #14
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Seriously, they're planning to add Star Wars stuff to Tomorrowland? I thought that was an obvious DHS project, and heaven knows DHS needs it more!

Love your ideas of doubling Toy Story, shifting things around so the lands are more clearly themed, and adding a play area. But I thought putting a National Treasure-themed ride in over by Indy sheer genius. That's one of those "so obvious in hind sight, I can't believe I never thought of it" kind of ideas.
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Old 11-12-2013, 02:10 PM   #15
JB Meier
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Originally Posted by shalom View Post
Seriously, they're planning to add Star Wars stuff to Tomorrowland? I thought that was an obvious DHS project, and heaven knows DHS needs it more!

Love your ideas of doubling Toy Story, shifting things around so the lands are more clearly themed, and adding a play area. But I thought putting a National Treasure-themed ride in over by Indy sheer genius. That's one of those "so obvious in hind sight, I can't believe I never thought of it" kind of ideas.
Thanks Shalom! Yeah, an article on MiceChat last month got things riled up that a lot of sites fed off of, but of course those plans haven't been verified (or denied) by Disney. Apparently Iger recently said that "Star Wars will have more of a presence at both US parks", but that is open to magical interpretation.

I truly hope they try to redefine DHS in one form or another; it deserves more than being a half(ish) day park...

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