Saturday, January 24, 2015

Disney 2014, Day 2 - The Magic Kingdom

In case you missed it: Disney 2014, Day 1 - Arrival and Hollywood Studios

The general plan for the Magic Kingdom was the same: coaster lovers to Space Mountain while husband headed to get FP+ reservations for everyone.

And apparently, we parked in Simba (that would be in the heroes section; they have separate sections and trams for heroes and villains).

Space Mountain had only a 10 min wait when we arrived, which was good, since the cluster of 6 teenage girls behind us could not watch their mouths. After at least the 4th one loud enough for me to hear with both Mom and Luke between me and them, I leaned over and (very nicely) asked them to be more careful. All I said was "Hi, I'm not trying to be rude, but this is Disney World, and there are a lot of little kids around. Could you please be more careful with your language? Thanks." I didn't threaten or anything, just made a reasonable and logical request. As expected, that caused a flurry of clumping and whispering, and I'm sure saying mean and nasty things about me. But guess what? One of the advantages of being nearly 40 is that I don't really care what a rude group of teenagers thinks about me! LOL And the language did stop (or was at least quiet enough that I couldn't hear it), which is all I wanted, so as far as I'm concerned, I won.

Luke wanted to it ride again (it may be his favorite ride), so we said we would check the wait times. It said 25 minutes, but we were given a "red card" (tracking card), so I guessed it was probably more like 30-40 minutes (ended up being 35 min). I got to explain about FastPass+ system to the Italian couple ahead of us in line (how much does that cost? how do I get them? etc).

It was also our first opportunity to play the queue games at Space Mountain. (Again, why did I not take a picture?!) The first one was pretty easy: use left and right arrows to aim your stationary laser and blast the asteroids so the ships can come in and land safely. I scored the highest of the 10 people playing at our station! The second game was much harder (to me). Use the left and right arrows to turn your jet engine to propel your "collector" across the board to grab the trash floating around. I was not good at that one at all! Luke did pretty well, though.

Hey look, a picture, finally!

We had 11-12 FP+ for Buzz, and that one ride ended up being the only one for year. The line was always 45 minutes or longer, most of which is out in the sun. If I had known, I'd have made him ride with my husband so we could have their picture taken together like most previous years, but it's too late now.

Lunch was at the Starlight (since the Pinocchio Village Haus was closed for refurbishment). They were *insanely busy*, and they had cast members roping off sections so people couldn't "cut through" while carrying food. But, there were too many people in line to get by that way either. I basically turned into the "brute squad" and lead the way in front of my husband (carrying the food) using my best Fezzik voice, saying "excuse me, please, pardon, please." We eventually made it through. Part of what complicated things was that much of outside seating was also closed (no idea why), including having the windows covered, which also made it very dark in the back. It used to be bright and sunny back there. I hope that was just a temporary thing.

Pirates of the Caribbean was next (while avoiding the 3PM parade). It had a 45 minute wait, and they redid the queue to support FastPass+, so only the left side is open now, which was very weird. The kid in front of us got scared as we got nearer and the queue got darker. I pulled out our glow bracelets gave him a "power band" to keep it from being too dark for him. His mother was profusely grateful!

We took snack time in the shelter of the closed Splash Mountain (only temporary), then hit up Big Thunder Mountain. Whoa?! The FastPass+ line to get to the first Mickey scanner was backed up almost to the bridge! I thought FP+ was supposed to be faster than waiting in the standby line (and at least the standby line is covered!). I was concerned that we might not actually get to the scanner before our FP+ window expired.

The cast member at the front (where I asked, "is *this* the FastPass line?!") needs to get her story straight and/or use better language to explain. When I asked her about it, she said "oh yes, this line is less than an hour." EXCUSE ME??!!! I sure as heck hope it's less than an hour, given that the standby line is only 45 minutes. The other cast member (near end of line) said it was only 10-15 min to scanner, which technically is less than an hour, but that was a terrible way to phrase it.

But it was all worth it. This smile, right here. That's the reason we come!

After this small fiasco, Luke really wanted to do Sorcerers of Magic Kingdom again. One problem: we didn't bring our cards (we remembered less than an hour from home, but it was too late to turn around and go back). They basically reset him (we couldn't pick back up from where we had been), and off we went. We started in Liberty Square, then Fantasyland, then Adventureland (then Main Street, which wasn't happening with parades and fireworks).

We took a snack break after the Liberty Square part: ice cream and funnel cake, which I haven't gotten in years. I swear, Disney's funnel cakes really are the best! (Again, I can't explain the lack of pictures, except maybe for the flying powdered sugar.)

Before moving on in the game, we did the Haunted Mansion. It only had a 30-ish min wait, but again, they've changed the queue for FP+ and standby must now go through cemetery (you used to have a choice). FastPass+ bypasses that part. So we went through the cemetery for the first time! I was actually kind of fun.

And look who we bumped into on the way in! (Dad spells it Mark, but still.)

On the way to the Fantasyland portion of Sorcerers, we caught Peter Pan. The cast member at the end of the moving walkway "sprinkled our bar with pixie dust" and snapped her fingers at the precise instant the bar lowered. I think she's been working there a little too long! And then, for the first time ever, the ride stopped while we were on it. (Too much pixie dust? Or not enough?) We were over London, which was very cool but freaky at same time. That is a part of ride design that I had never considered before: can ride stop at any moment and still be safe? Normally, I wouldn't take a flash picture in a dark ride, but we were stuck for several minutes.

Luke then continued on with Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom in Fantasyland, but two portals blocked by a giant crane working on the castle, which meant much longer lines at the 3-4 remaining portals. I guess it is a common afternoon way to keep the kids busy, but it was frustrating. Mom and I waited at Columbia Harbor House for them to meet us, but the dinner line was super long by 6:30. We finally went down to start waiting in line while waiting for them. They arrived just about the time our food was ready.

The boys then went to do Sorcerers in Adventureland. I generally prefer to be trapped on the Tomorrowland side of castle during parades, so Mom and I headed that way, hoping the guys would be able to make it across the hub in time.

It was getting pretty chilly, so Mom was on the hunt for a sweatshirt or hoodie. We ventured back into the Storybook Circus area on our way to Tomorrowland. I hadn't been back there since it was built, I don't think. There are now two Dumbo rides, with one completely dedicated to FastPass+. I'm curious what happens when that one has no FP+ people in line (should that ever happen). Do they shuttle some over from the regular line? I hope so!

I thought she and I might ride the Barnstormer, but it was closed (temporarily down). The Big Top Shop was very nice, though. Mom found an adorable Minnie Mouse hoodie:

And I got a new hat, since my other Mickey hat went missing (in my own house!). I found out later that this is actually the "male" half of a pair of hats, but I like it better than "girl" version (silver icon with a red Minnie bow), so there!

The boys met us in Tomorrowland. Luke decided he wanted to do Space Mountain again, no matter how long the line. I sat outside with my husband while Nana rode with Luke. The sign said it was a 45 minute wait, but after 20-30 minutes had passed, she said that all of the interior and emergency lights came on and they were walking people off the ride. Boo! They did get back outside just in time to catch the end of the fireworks.

Luke was still quite awake, so we decided to stay much later than usual. However, the Buzz wait time was *still* running well over an hour, so they did the Tomorrowland Speedway, followed by the Astro Orbiter (which I did not care to try again). Mom and I did the PeopleMover and people-watched/walked. Watching the dance party was great fun!

Then it was time for something new. Luke wanted to try Stitch's Great Escape. I had already done it and found it hugely disappointing (Alien Encounter was much better, though I'm not sure I would have taken Luke on that one just yet), but it was something new for him, so we did. We then finished up finished off on the Teacups and left around 10:15.

Normally, our story would end there, but not this time. I so wish I had gotten a picture of Sean, our tram announcer. (Yet another photo I should have taken and didn't.) He was a big blond bear of a guy! We were sitting in last car, the one the tram announcer rides in the back of. Mom and I were very tired and already had a good case of the giggles. Let me tell you, Sean really enjoys his job! He had a whole spiel/routine ready for the ride, and we could Not. Stop. Laughing. The more we laughed, the more tickled Sean got, and the more he poured it on. My husband said "you know you're just throwing gasoline on a flame, right?" I'm still not sure if he was talking to us or Sean! He would have been an exceptional Jungle Cruise captain back in the day (when they were allowed to ad-lib).

First off, he mouthed the entire pre-recorded safety warning, including the Spanish, and I don't mean under his breath. I mean he did it in dramatic pantomime style, like someone on a Broadway stage would do. Our first tram stop was the Aladdin parking lot, where he went through the whole "Al, Din, Laddie" part from the movie. For the next segment of our drive, he told us what to do if we lose something on the journey. "If something falls off the tram, please do not fall off with it. Just raise your hand, I will raise my hand, and we will wave goodbye together to your item that is now lost forever." (He did explain he was kidding and what proper procedure is.)

As we neared our own tram stop, he provided a reminder to take all of your belongings with you. This was not, however, the standard reminder. "Please remember to gather up your personal items, your children, and your spouse. Yes, you must take your spouse. Once upon a time, a spouse got left on the tram. He rode around and around the parking lot until Disney gave him a job. He now runs a parking tram and his name is Sean." Thank you, Sean, for a fantastically fun tram ride! You may well have been the best part of my day (and I told him so as we got off).
Currently feeling: giggly

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Disney 2014, Day 1 - Arrival and Hollywood Studios

NOTE: Please be aware that things have changed quite a bit at Disney over the course of the last year. I'll try to note when I know for sure that information is out of date, but it was accurate at the time (late February 2014).

I would like to thank my friend Jennifer for prompting me to finally get our 2014 Disney trip written up. (Yes, I am well aware that I never wrote up 2013, including Legoland. Maybe one day.) She posted some great pictures and photos of her Disney cruise on Facebook within days of getting back from her trip. Given that I've already booked our 2015 trip, I guess it's about time to get 2014 written up. I didn't take a ton of pictures, but I'll post the few good ones.

I'm pretty sure it was after midnight when we arrived, so I'm technically counting arrival day and our first day in the parks as the same day. We didn't do much upon arrival except crawl into bed. My mom, however, had arrived early to exchange our tickets at Guest Relations at Downtown Disney. Because we buy 10 day non-expiration tickets and "nibble" on them for several years, we still had paper tickets with the magnetic strip on the back. But starting in 2014, Disney requires you to have an RFID ticket. Disney Resort guests (those staying at a Disney owned hotel) have the new MagicBands, but the rest of us mere mortals have to use tickets. (This has now changed. Resort and non-resort guests can have MagicBands.)

We spent Thursday at Hollywood Studios, where I somehow managed not to take a single photo until after lunch. Oops! So you'll have to "listen" to me babble without pictures for a bit. When we arrived just after park opening, the parking attendant just waves us on through the gate without us paying. "Have a magical day!" Um, well, okay then. Thank you! That's an extra $15 in our pockets, which might buy lunch (for one person). Remember, Resort Guests who drive don't have to pay for parking, but everyone else does.

Oh, I did take one picture before lunch. This is how we remember where we parked! I take a picture of the row designation as we leave. (I had forgotten it was raining until I looked back at the pictures.)

This was our first time using the "Mickey circle" gates. My advice: keep your card (or band) in whichever hand you don't use for the finger scan, then place your "scan finger" in scanner at the same time as touching card/band (yes, must touch, not just wave) to the circle. Only entrance gates use the finger scanner. The FastPass+ gates do not require a finger scan. (I have no idea why I didn't think to take a picture of the scanners. Duh!)

One of the new MagicBand perks for resort guests is that you can make your FastPass+ reservations up to 60 days in advance. Everyone else has to wait until they arrive at the parks and then go to a FastPass+ kiosk (actually a cast member running a tablet). Non-resort guests can't even use the app to get/change their passes. It is super-annoying! (Again, this has changed since. Non-resort guests can now make FP+ reservations 30 days out and have access to the app functions.) There are signs at the park for where/how to find a kiosk, but take my advice: find one in the back of the park early in the day. The front ones will naturally be busy. Generally speaking, we found "kiosks" at most locations at/near where old FastPass machines used to be, but not always. (I stole this picture of the FP+ sign from our day at Animal Kingdom.)

My husband, bless his soul, took our tickets and booked FP+ for everyone while the coaster junkies queued for Rockin' Roller Coaster. He said the experience can be bad or good depending on cast member who is "driving." Some are definitely better/ more helpful/ more flexible/ more knowledgeable than others.

Also note that Hollywood Studios uses a tiered system (this is still accurate). You can only pick one FastPass+ from Tier 1 and two from Tier 2. Rockin' Roller Coaster and Toy Story Midway Mania are both Tier 1, and there were no Toy Story Midway Mania FastPass+s by the time we got there (keep in mind that we were probably at a kiosk before 10 AM), so we did Rockin' Roller Coaster for our Tier 1 FP+ selection.

(Mainly sticking this photo here so you have something to look at while I jabber.)

Rockin' Roller Coaster had about a 30 minute stand by wait when we got there, which is not bad at all. Luke didn't seem to enjoy Rockin' Roller Coaster as much this year. He even said when we got off that he didn't want to ride again. Huh?! I later learned that he was afraid he would fall out. Um, that's never worried you before. Apparently, when they asked him to "raise up" on his shoulder bar, he felt it wiggle (which they are designed to do). He thought his was broken, so he spent the whole time "holding it down" so he wouldn't come out of his seat. Poor baby! No wonder he didn't enjoy it/want to ride again. I wouldn't think that was fun, either!

We met up with my husband right after to learn what FastPass+ times we ended up with: 10-11 for Tower of Terror, 11-12 for Star Tours, and 5-6 Rockin' Roller Coaster. Hmm, that pretty much kills any chance for lunch. Any chance we can move them? Which necessitates a trip back to a kiosk, ggrrrr! (Thankfully, there was one where the old Tower of Terror FP machines were.) While discussing things, we noticed that the Tower of Terror standby time was still only 10-ish minutes, so we did standby first and then our FP+ return. DH managed to move our Star Tours FP+ return to after lunch (got 12-1).

It was after 11 by then, so we headed over to new to us restaurant: Mama Melrose, only to discover it doesn't open until Noon for lunch, ACK! (The map/guide did say that, it just didn't dawn on me to check it, since every other Disney restaurant that I am aware of opens at either 11 or 11:30.)

We backtracked to the Sci-Fi Dine-In, where we were told they only had a "flying saucer" table available (picnic table in the very back), but it was either that or a 45 minute wait. I guess we'll have to take what we can get. However, much to my surprise, we ended up seated in a car, though we were on the far right (I guess reservation folks get more centered seats?). The food was fine, but it took *forever* to come out. They had a slightly new film reel running (some new footage, some just re-spliced), which was a surprise. Yes, we've eaten there often enough to notice new footage! I really wish they would show some Disney space cartoons. I'm sure there have to be some.

We hit the speeder bike after lunch for the required photo, then did our Star Tours FP+, followed by Lights, Motor, Action! We're to the point that the best part of the show is now the reactions of people who haven't seen it before, but it's still fun.

Next up, we headed over to Toy Story Midway Mania, ready to wait in line for up to 90 minutes, if need be. The sign outside said it was an 85 minute wait, but queue was not even out the door (which it usually is at longer than 60-75 minutes). We ended up with only a 45 minute wait, which was a very nice surprise!

After that, it was time for a a snack break (popcorn, per Luke's request). We got complacent and nearly got trapped by the parade! We dashed across the center courtyard, killed some time with a little shopping, then did the Indiana Jones stunt show. We were quite a bit to the right, but we were only 4 or 5 rows from the stage. I got some good pictures at this one.

Funny how I had never noticed before that the "bad guy" vehicles don't actually have swastikas on them. This is both an amusing and very effective substitute. I completely understand why! I just can't believe that I've seen the show a zillion times and never realized it.

We caught the Rockin' Roller Coaster twice more (never more than 30 minute wait), and then it was 6 PM. Dinner time! I had intended to eat at the Backlot, but yet again, it was already closed. So were most other counter service restaurants. Why do they close at 5:30?! People do need to eat. That gave us 3 choices: the "food court" type place across from the Beauty and the Beast theater, wait at a table service restaurant, or leave the park. The only seating for the Sunset Blvd. food court is outside, and it was already getting cold. We realized we couldn't leave the park and get anywhere any sooner than an hour, so we decided to see what the wait was at Mama Melrose, since we had missed out on it at lunch. If it was an hour or less, we would just wait.

When we arrived at 6:15, we were told we would be seated around 7. Note that there was absolutely *no one* in the waiting area when we arrived (so thankfully we had a place to sit), but they were packed out to standing room only in less than 10 minutes. Sure enough, they called our name at 6:57 (impressive estimate!). Our waitress took absolutely forever to show up at our table (what was with the food service today?!) and service was slow all night. The food was quite good, though, and it was fun seeing all the Italian movie posters, including The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and Empire Strikes Back. (I really thought I had taken pictures of them, but if so, I can't find them now.)

The park "closed" at 7 (though they had Fantasmic). We actually left the restaurant around 8:15. (We are not slow eaters, that's just how long everything took!) There were few guests left in the park, so got some pictures with just us.

We didn't know it at the time, but this will probably be our last picture taken in front of the hat. Disney is taking down the "temporary" feature that's been up since 2001. Luke doesn't know any different; it's been there for his entire lifetime!

I'm curious if it will be gone already when we go back and/or what will go in its place. I hope nothing, but I doubt it. This article provides lots of fun details about the hat and an excellent explanation of why Disney put it there and the need for a "trademark-able" icon for the park (which means they will likely be putting up another icon of some sort soon).

We were back at the hotel by 9 and in bed by 10. We had a great first day!

Continue reading: Disney 2014, Day 2 - The Magic Kingdom

Currently feeling: magical

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wordless Wednesday - January 21, 2015

Currently feeling: surprised to see prices like this again in my lifetime

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wordless Wednesday - January 14, 2015

Currently feeling: maybe my favorite picture from that day

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Basketball 2015

Today was our first basketball game with our new league. This is the same organization that he played baseball with in the spring.

When he played in 2013, he didn't care for the way they did things. As parents, we loved that practice and the games were on the same day (more time for homework during the week, which he needed), but that sort of defeats the point of trying to get him some exercise spread out over the course of the week.

They also didn't have dedicated teams last time. There were enough kids for 4 teams, but they just split them up randomly each week after practice to scrimmage against each other, playing two half-court games at the same time. It was fine for what we could do at the time, but this is a more "traditional" league.

Practice one night a week, games on Saturdays, practice and play with the same kids each week. There are 9 boys and 1 girl on Luke's team, including another Luke (thus why you will see Luke G on his jersey; other Luke just has Luke).

Luke's team is the Eagles (other team names are all animals, like Sharks, Bobcats, Bears, etc). They play 8 minute quarters on full court (94 ft x 50 ft; 28.65 m x 15.25 m). I think the goals are set at 9 feet (2.75 m) instead of regulation 10 feet (3 m). They also use a free throw line that is just a bit closer to the goal than standard.

He doesn't have much experience, and he doesn't know all the rules and/or nuances of the game (or the penalties, though I don't think any were called on him other than out of bounds), but he certainly seems to be having fun out there, which is all that really matters.
Currently feeling: ready to play!

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Wordless Wednesday - January 7, 2015

Currently feeling: fascinated with how he holds the laptop