Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Disney Holiday Decorations at Home

This last weekend I announced to my family that I would not be putting Christmas decorations up this year.  We're currently in the middle of 2 weeks of state testing at work, and then we'll only have one more week before we get out for Christmas Break.  That means I won't be home much to enjoy the decorations before Christmas.  On top of that I felt like it was a lot of work to do just for me. I find that decorating for the holidays is much more meaningful with someone to help me do the chore of getting it all out. My awesome brother-in-law informed me that my announcement made him sad and that I had to decorate and immediately made plans for the family to come over on Sunday evening to help me decorate. (Side note: when I told people about this at work today, they said, "YOU not decorate?! If Joanna doesn't even decorate, what hope do we all have?! Besides... glitter... all that glitter! It's a holiday made for you!" Did not realize my creativity effected people so much!) So without the help of my brother-in-law, this post would have been very different!

I live in a fairly small apartment, but I do decorate a 4 foot tree (made of green, glittery tinsel), hang a sliver, glittery lit tinsel garland around my bar, and put out various candles, ceramic Santas & snowmen, and small Christmas trees. The Disney decorations in my home can almost all be found on my Christmas tree, and each decoration holds a special memory for me.  Remember how in my shopping guides I've stressed buying meaningful items? Well, I try to buy a Christmas ornament every few trips to hang on my tree. Looking at each one is like a walk down memory lane. Want to join me?

I bought this ornament on my 10th grade band trip to WDW in 1999. I'm amazed
it made it back in one piece and has made it through countless moves! Little did
I know back then how much it would mean to me now. 
I believe I got this "Best of Mickey" set of 4 ornaments during my first
adult visit to WDW in January 2009 (almost 10 years after my trip in high
school).  I've always been a fan of this series. I thought I had another
Disney ornament! If you look in the top left corner here & on the photo below,
you can see the Castle peeking out. It's one I got during my December
2011 trip with my friend. How did I miss it?
Found this image of the web of my ornament I forgot to take
a photo of. It was in celebration of Magic Kingdom's
40th Anniversary at Walt Disney World. I was super happy
to make a trip to the parks after the 40th anniversary.

Mickey's Pants!
Mickey's Glove!
Hidden Mickey on my tree :)
Thanksgiving 2010 I finally visited all 4 parks (up until then I'd always
skipped Animal Kingdom). To commemorate the occasion, I bought a
Four Parks, One World ornament. Never bought this merchandise before
because it felt like a lie since I didn't visit the 4th park.
Thankfully during my 2010 trip I realized this ornament would be
too heavy for my tree, and I bought a Mickey shaped ornament
display stand. Many Disney ornaments are large and heavy, and
a display stand can be the perfect tool to showcase your favorite ornaments!
Since fragile ornaments are hard to transport, I took a break from ornament
collecting until my trip last month. We went on a Disney Cruise, so I bought
this ornament to remind me of the trip. Easy to transport and striking on the tree!
I think this is technically the back of the ornament, but I love the DCL logo!

I collect Jim Shore Disney Traditions pieces. Last Christmas my sister and her family gave me a gorgeous Eeyore piece. He does have reindeer antlers, jingle bells around his neck, and a giant red bow, but I couldn't imagine putting him up right after I got him! I kept him out all year, and no one seemed to notice he was a Christmas decoration (or at least they were polite enough not to point it out). He'll continue staying out year-round as part of my collection. (I also have a very small non-Disney figure of two mice baking Christmas cookies that I keep on my stove all year since I am a baker... perhaps keeping Christmas decorations out all year can be my bit, and I won't have to pack up my tree! I kid, I kid!)

Jim Shore Disney Traditions Eeyore - isn't he sweet?

Be sure to tell me in the comments what Disney Christmas decorations you and your family like to enjoy!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Pre-Trip Report that Should Have Happened

In only 4 days my family and I will be arriving in Orlando to set sail to the Bahamas on the Disney Dream!  Sadly I've been more busy before this trip than I have been before any other Disney vacation, so my pre-trip report just hasn't been happening.  

I thought I'd procrastinate packing for a bit longer to show y'all how we've prepared for our trip this time around.  Want to hear about our trip?  Back in January 2009, I went on my first Disney vacation as an adult.  I went with my sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew. We stayed at Disney's All-Star Music Resort in connected rooms.  Since that trip I have visited WDW in May 2009 and November 2010 with my family.  I also went June and December 2011 with my friend Kyle.  This year I'm excited to see the sights with my family again!

My Incredible Family & Me

This year we're changing it up and taking a Disney Cruise to the Bahamas! I haven't been on a cruise since high school, and that was definitely not Disney, so I can't wait to see what this cruise has to offer. My sister is letting me have full use of her DSLR camera, so I'm planning on taking a ton of photos to share with all of you when we return. 

Unlike all of my last trips, we're not staying on Disney property. My sister found a great deal at Wyndham Bonnet Creek, and we've heard wonderful things about it.  While we'll have connecting rooms on the Disney Dream, at Bonnet Creek the kids and I will have a separate bedroom and bathroom AND we'll have a kitchen, laundry room, and dining area. I am going to miss the Disney Dining Plan, Disney Transportation, and the Disney charm you get staying on property, but this way we could stay longer without completely breaking the budget.  Besides, new experiences can be fun!  It will definitely be weird to drive ourselves to and from the parks!  Don't worry, I plan to fully document this location when I get back, so you and your family can decide if it's a place you'd like to try.

Because we'll be eating so much amazing food on the cruise, we've decided to opt out of sit down meals at Disney World.  Not having to worry about making dining reservations before this trip has been nice, but I do wonder how I'll feel after eating counter service meals for most of our days.  I like to change things up when I eat, so hopefully we'll try different places.  That's going to be another part of the trip report when we return: food and eating while paying out of pocket.

Finally, like we always do, we've been busy crafting and getting ready for the trip.  Hopefully I can convince my sister to write a guest post about fish extenders for the cruise because she has been fully involved in a fish extender group.  The last couple of trips my family went on, we made a t-shirt for almost every day.  This trip we bought similar 2012 shirts for the family, and we made ONE family shirt.  Here's what we've been up to:

These are the t-shirt transfers for our family shirts. Mine is the Edna
one. I always joke that I'm the Edna to the Incredible Family.
We made Minnie headbands from Pinterest. I can't find the tutorial
now. If anyone knows where it is, please put it in the comments!
I've graded an insane number of math papers (hence
the lack of full pre-trip report)! 
My sis & I splurged and got our nails done Disney-style!
We found what we wanted on Pinterest, and then we printed the photos
and took them to the nail salon with us. My sis' are on top. Mine are
on the bottom.
Here's a closer shot of my nails because I'm obsessed
with how cute they are!
I updated by old high school/college backpack by coating the bottom
leather part and pocket flap with a mixture of teal, purple, and gold glitter
mixed with fabric Mod Podge. It's super sparkly and fun! I've got new fringe
for it and will be removing the old Blink 182 & Jimmy Eat World
buttons before we head to the parks! 
So we've been CRAZY busy trying to fit some magic in before our trip while keeping our lives going!  I can't wait for the trip to begin and especially can't wait to share all of the magic with y'all!  It's about time I had some new photos and writing material here. Hopefully we'll get to see New Fantasyland, and I'll be able to share that with you. Also on the docket is an in depth look at the details of interactive queues. Can't wait!

Be sure to follow along on the journey with me by following me on Twitter (@goddessofmath)!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Choosing a Favorite in the World Showcase

Please let me to start this post with a quick apology. It's been a crazy few months at work and in my personal life, and it simply hasn't allowed me much time or energy for my love of blogging. My next Disney trip is in TWELVE days, and I have a bunch of great ideas for future posts. Hopefully I'll get to do a quick pre-trip report before I leave. 

I was asked to write about my favorite World Showcase Pavilion. At first I was certain this would be an easy, quick post to write... then I started mentally circling the World Showcase, and I realized I was in for a hard decision!
Map courtesy of interactivewdw.com
I love the World Showcase at Epcot.  In fact, my dream is that one day I'll live close enough to Walt Disney World that when I have a rough day at work, I'll be able to drive over to Epcot and stroll through World Showcase in the evening to relax.  Wouldn't that be amazeballs??  There's just so much to enjoy and take in when you walk around the World!

For starters, no trip to the World Showcase (WS from now on) would be complete without a stop at the Boulangerie Patisserie in France.  The Napoleon and other desserts there are simply to die for!  I happily skip meals just to partake in this bakery's treats. To get there, though, you've got to walk through Canada's beautiful landscape and the sights and sounds of the United Kingdom. I always feel like the UK is one of the neatest areas to go through as it feels so quaint and tucked away from the bustle of the park.
Me & my favorite snack
Then it's just a quick walk over to the always fun to explore Morocco where you can often catch a glimpse of my favorite Disney prince and first animated crush: Aladdin.  From there the shopping in Japan is a must do because there are so many items to see all tucked below Teppan Edo, the phenomenal Japanese Steakhouse. Before you know it, you're in The American Adventure where you can hear the amazing song stylings of the Voices of Liberty singing a capella in the rotunda of the main pavilion. Don't miss the show upstairs as it's a welcome rest from the heat and walking. Besides, it always brings a tear to my eyes!

Oh the shopping in Italy is always an adventure as there are such neat little finds there.  A couple of trips ago I found some gorgeous Mickey head stone magnets that are still some of my all-time favorite souvenirs.  Germany used to be a country I skipped because the smell of sauerkraut was so overwhelming, but then they put in the Werther's run bakery, the Karamell Kuche, and I was won over!
Who can resist a good German beer with a
German Chocolate Caramel? Not me!
China's shopping opportunities never disappoint, and they're one of the best spots to find a fan to help you beat the heat during the hotter months.  Norway is one of the only two countries to have a ride in it, and it's a favorite of mine for sure! Aside from the claustrophobic queue, the ride is educational with a side of whimsy.

Now Mexico is for sure towards the top of my list.  The sit down meals are divine, and the atmosphere is festive.  The margaritas are a must as well. However, the part of this pavilion that's won my adoration is the Three Caballeros ride.  Typically tucked behind the mariachi band, the ride always has a very short wait time, and I could ride it over and over again! The song is sure to get stuck in your head, and if you're anything like me, you'll discover you don't mind that a bit. :)

So my favorite World Showcase Pavilion?  It all depends on the day and the purpose.  Am I shopping, eating, or relaxing?  There's something for everyone and for everything you'd like to do!  Rides, stores, food, beverages, Kidcot stations: the Pavilions have it all.  Pick a favorite, you say?  If pressed I'd say Canited Froccan Amaly Gerinwayico. ;-)

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Darn, I Wish I Hadn't Missed That at Disney!

I have to laugh that this is the post I'm writing just as I come off of one of my all time favorite series: The Top 5 Must Dos for each park at Walt Disney World. I mean, how can I tell you what you "must do" if I haven't done it all?

If you looked in my notes section of my iPhone, you would see a file named "Still To Do at WDW".  Each visit my list has gotten shorter, but I still have a handful of attractions and shows in each park that I have not visited.  While I love Disney's Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, my heart lies in Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, and it drives me insane that I can't say I've done it ALL in those two parks.

EPCOT's "haven't done" is Ellen's Energy Adventure. I get a kick out of Ellen, and I do love me some energy, but I hear this attraction is about 45 minutes long! Is it weird that I think I'll do it during "rest time" this trip? That's restful, right?

Magic Kingdom only has four elusive attractions: Main Street Vehicles, Stitch's Great Escape, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, and Tom Sawyer Island. Main Street Vehicles only run before lunch, and my family tends to rush straight to Fantasy Land when the rope drops. I really want to stop to ride one of these vehicles this time. As for Stitch... the fear of the chili dog burp is great! I think I might suck it up and go there over Thanksgiving though. I am not a fan of heights, and while I LOVE Tower of Terror, the Magic Carpets freak me out a little. Besides, I've always been the one taking photos while others ride it. This time, though, I'm snagging a seat with my neice or nephew! We've always felt like the kids are a bit too young to enjoy Tom Sawyer Island, and I'm not sure this is the trip I'll make it over there either, but it sure looks fun!

Other than an attraction that I wish I'd done, I've always wanted to take the Keys to the Kingdom tour. Having a tour guide that shows you a behind the scenes look at Magic Kingdom and shares interesting facts is something I'd really enjoy. The Behind the Seeds Tour in the Land Pavilion in EPCOT is another tour I'm dying to go on, but it's always hard for me to want to take time away from attractions to go on a tour.

How about y'all? What have you missed that you'd love to do? Anyone take a tour that they loved? I've heard good things about all of the tours, and I hear that Disney fanatics who go often especially love the change of pace.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Top 5 Must Dos for Disney Transportation (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Believe it or not, I LOVE Disney Transportation! For our family Disney Cruise and Walt Disney World vacation this November, we're staying off property for the first time since I was a wee child, and we'll have a rental car. One of the things I'll miss most is the ease of Disney Transportation.

Yes, I know you're most interested in the promise of a giveaway, but before I go there, here are some of my favorite modes of travel at Disney World:

1. Disney's Monorail: This favorite should come as no surprise since it's made an appearance in my previous countdowns as a way to tour the Deluxe Resorts as well as a great way to get some neat photo opportunities.

2. Disney's Magical Express: The free transportation from the airport to your Disney Resort (and back again) is how Disney fans know they're finally near the magic!  The best part about the DME is that they get your checked bags for you and deliver them to your room.  All you have to do is sit back, watch the fun show on the TVs on the bus, and let the excitement build as you get closer and closer to Disney World.

3. Boats: Another of my favorite ways to travel at Disney is by boat.  In fact, I'll take a boat or the Monorail over a bus any time that it's possible.  Some boats go from Resorts, like the Port Orleans Resorts, to Downtown Disney. There's a boat that enters EPCOT at the International Gateway in the World Showcase. Some boats go from Magic Kingdom to other Resorts, and there's even a boat from the Disney TTC to Magic Kingdom! I'll get to take that one on our next trip. Other boats move you around within the parks like the one in EPCOT that crosses the Lagoon. Boats are a peaceful and cool way to travel the World.

4. Busses: Yes, Disney busses are honestly a GREAT way to travel around Disney World. Some people slam them, but on each trip, I usually only have one bad experience with busses taking forever to come.  In the evenings after nighttime shows, you will have to wait in a long line, but it beats trying to drive yourself in unfamiliar traffic. The busses are air-conditioned and come fairly regularly. One quick note: when a bus has standing room only, ask yourself "do I want to stand here and wait for the next bus knowing I'll be going nowhere for the next 20 minutes or so, or do I want to keep standing but be on a mode of transportation that gets me closer to my destination (typically your warm bed)?" I always choose stand on the bus over stand there going no where.

5. You Decide!: Last night when I was thinking about this post, I asked Twitter to tell me 5 modes of Disney Transportation.  These are the replies I got, and I must say that I think "pixie dust" was my favorite! Check them out:

@P19letUK was first to answer with encouragement from @gailyw.

My brother-in-law, @keeperofbooks34, is always one of my favorite contributors!
This is a Motor Launch just in case you're wondering.

My friend, @theBESTjames21, joined in the fun and later
agreed that pixie dust was a good 5th mode of transportation.

Then my brother-in-law added some more themed fun lists! I especially
loved the top 2 lists!

 Ready for the giveaway yet? Well of course you are! It's small, but I adore these auto magnets that I found at the Disney Store Outlet this summer. It doesn't hurt that they feature my favorite mode of Disney Transportation! They can be yours if you follow the Rafflecopter directions below! 

Wouldn't these look neat on your vehicle?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck to all my lovely readers! You can tweet daily to win, so keep coming back. Giveaway ends 9/26/2012.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Being Belle

Who hasn't dreamed of "being friends" with a Disney character? I've always thought that being a Disney Princess would be one of the best jobs out there! You would get to make people smile all day long all while embodying your favorite Disney character!

Ignoring my incorrect body-type, I'd love to spend a day in Belle's shoes!
January 2009: Sis, Niece, Belle, & me
While I love Belle's two Park costumes as well as her Christmastime attire, the reason I'd most love to be her is because she stands for what I most believe in.  She is an avid reader and uses her imagination to take her to far off places but can still come back to reality. Belle stands firm on what she believes in, and she won't be bullied into doing something that's not right for her or compromises her morals. Her love and kindness extends to those that others may not notice or look at twice.  Never have I doubted that she is genuinely concerned for and has a deep understanding of all around her. Somehow she accomplishes all of this with perfect hair and beautiful clothing! She wasn't born a princess, but she stepped into the crown with grace. Belle is a role model for little girls and women alike. Even if I wasn't really her, I'd like to share that joy and those ideals at least for a day.

January 2009: Belle with my nervous niece at Akershus
On a side note: Anyone else still get nervous as an adult when you meet a character in the parks? I try to take my niece or nephew along with me for a photo or quick hello because without them, I clam up a bit and get super shy! I know it's not really that character, but something about it makes me feel like a 5 year old again.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Top 5 Must Dos for Outside the Parks

The final Top 5 (for now) is all about going outside of the four Disney parks. Sometimes leaving the parks for a bit of fun is the best way to go.

Downtown Disney is a great location for shopping and has a lively nightlife. My first 3 must dos are all located there. Before I send you exploring, know that when you look at the map, these places will look FAR apart, but the distance isn't actually very large at all. Take the trek, you'll be happy you did!

1. Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop: Not only can you get a free square of chocolate, the soda fountain side has the best sundaes I've ever had! People will tell you to get a sundae in Magic Kingdom or at a deluxe resort, but this is really the best place to go! My sister and I shared a Cable Car Sundae when we were there in 2010, and we can't wait to share another! Part of the fun of this location is watching the other amazing ice creams orders go out to patrons and wondering what those yummy items are.

DStreet from the outside

2. D Street: If you collect Vinylmation, then this is THE PLACE to go. It's a store devoted to Vinylmation and Vinylmation fans. You can find pretty much all the available series here, can trade, and kids can draw their own custom Vinylmation (on paper) at a table made of Vinylmations in the middle of the store. Vinylmation pins, keychains, notepads, pens, pencils, erasers, bags... you name it, they've got it. This location always has (expensive) custom Vinylmations on display as well. Not sure what Vinylmation is? Go here! You'll be hooked!

It feels like everything in this store is made
out of Vinylmation!

3. Shopping in World of Disney: My secret to shopping effectively and quickly (and believe you me, I SHOP when I'm at Disney) is this: I look around in the shops in all of the parks and make a list mentally or in my iPhone as I go. Then I go to World of Disney, the largest Disney Store in the world, and buy all the items off of my list. Almost always I'm able to find the item I'd wanted. The exceptions to this method are things I see in World Showcase shops. Also, one rule of thumb is if you see it and can't live without it, go ahead and buy it then. You might not be able to find it elsewhere. If you can't find the Disney Dooney you want in World of Disney, TrenD just down the way has a larger selection. Keep your cell phone on while you're in here as it's very easy to get separated from your shopping partner(s)!

4. Go Swimming at Your Resort: If you or your kiddos are a bit too old for an afternoon nap, I still recommend you stop to rest in the afternoon. I'm guilty of walking past my crazy awesome resort pool every day and never stopping to swim in it. On the trips where I have taken time for a dip (either afternoon or late evening), it's been quite refreshing. Disney resorts all have multiple pools, and one is always quieter than the others, so you can find the pool that suits you and your family. Since the pools are heated and weather is milder in Florida, we've been able to swim even during Thanksgiving week. The pool is warm, but the walk back to your room won't be, so if it's a cooler season, bring dry clothes to change in the bathrooms by the pool. Don't miss out on this often over-looked treat!

I would have NEVER gotten this amazing shot if I
hadn't been on the Monorail taking a tour. 

5. Monorail Tour: One of the best ways to make sure you enjoy Walt Disney World is to take time to stop and smell the roses. If not, you'll come back from your trip utterly exhausted, and you'll miss out on the little joys around you. I love riding the Monorail partly because it's just a neat way to travel and partly because of the views it gives you. Staying at a Deluxe Disney Resort is a big dream of mine. Hopefully one day it will be a splurge for a special event like a honeymoon, but for now I get my kicks visiting the various deluxe resorts on a Monorail tour. Christmastime is an especially good time to do this since each resort is decorated to the nines, but it can be a relaxing event to add to your trip at any time of the year. Simply board the Resort Monorail and hop off at each resort along the way. Take a walk, explore the gift shops (yes, they have different stuff than the others do), and then hop back on the Monorail. We choose to do this on the way to meals we've scheduled at one of the Deluxe Resorts. Anyone, not just guests, can eat at the Disney Resorts.

This ends the "Top 5 Must Dos" series, for now. As always, what have I missed? Tell me in the comments!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Top 5 Must Dos for Disney's Animal Kingdom

Disney confession time! I did not go to Disney's Animal Kingdom, DAK, until my 3rd trip as an adult to Walt Disney World. My aunt is pretty high up at the Jacksonville, Florida Zoo, and as many times as people scream that "it's not a zoo", DAK is still pretty zoo-like to me. *Shrug* I enjoy the park, but it's more walking than Epcot, and it always feels hotter there than any other park. Don't get me wrong, it has it's high points which is where this Top 5 comes into play.

1. Kilimanjaro Safaris: This attraction gets you closer to the animals in a more free environment than any zoo can, and it allows you to see more animals in quick succession than at a zoo. You ride in a large safari jeep that takes you through a fairly long safari full of live animals. The guides are cheesy but hilarious, and the vehicles all have an easy to use animal guide. Photos from the safari are always impressive as the views you get are out of this world! I recommend going to the safari first thing in the morning as animals tend to come out more in the mornings, and the line is typically shorter. You can't go wrong with a Fast Pass here. Thanks to the spontaneity of animals, each time you ride will, of course, be different. One my last trip, the 2nd time we rode was the best safari I'd been on. A giraffe walked close enough that I could have touched it!

2. White Chocolate Elephant Cupcake: I've tried to stay away from Top 5 recommendations of very specific food or drink because I know we all have our own tastes, but this cupcake was one I'd been looking forward to for a very, very long time, and it was worth the wait! The cupcake can be found at the Kusafiri Bakery near the entrance to the Kilimanjaro Safari. While they didn't offer cupcakes at 10 am when I stopped by, the cast member was still able to get me one. The cupcake itself is chocolate with a mound of white icing coated in toasted coconut. In the middle of the icing is a glob of german chocolate icing (my favorite flavor in the world), and the whole thing is topped off by a large elephant sucker made of white chocolate! I loved this cupcake but couldn't eat the whole thing. It's a great snack to share.

Amazing, no?

3. Musicals: There are two large production musicals in DAK. One is The Festival of the Lion King which is more of a musical revue with live actors, singers, and acrobats with characters. I found that it didn't have much of a storyline, but it was still neat to see. It is not its Broadway counterpart, but it was air-conditioned and entertaining. The other musical is Finding Nemo which does follow the storyline of the movie but is much shorter. This one has brought tears to my eyes every time I've seen it. The entire musical is performed with puppets, but you can see the puppeteers. Oddly, you stop noticing the puppeteers and pay the most attention to the puppets. For the best view, I recommend sitting behind the break to the left of center when facing the stage. If you only have time for one of the two musicals, I preferred Nemo over Lion King.

The Festival of the Lion King is in a circular theater with stadium style seating rising above
the stage. Large "floats" are brought in to the middle and between seating areas.

4. Flame Tree BBQ: A few years ago a friend recommended Flame Tree BBQ as a yummy quick service in the park. Now, I'm a Southern belle through and through, and I know my BBQ, so I was a little skeptical. One sniff near this place, and the delicious aromas put all question out my mind! The ribs were out of this world, and the portions are HUGE. Try sharing a meal here. Oh, and enjoy the wild birds while you eat (but don't feed them) as they flock around you. They get quite brazen in this area and will walk right up to you. I think my niece and nephew are still a little traumatized by a duck from this meal.

5. Half Day: I've had friends who tell me this is their family's favorite park; however, for me and mine, this is easily a half day park for us, even after we've ridden all of the attractions it offers. If you're looking for a park to fill a half day and then hop somewhere else, I recommend this one. Go early in the morning, take your time enjoying everything, grab lunch on the way out and maybe watch the parade, and then spend your evening elsewhere.

Help me out, Disney veterans! Have I completely missed the amazingness of this park? Please tell my readers some suggestions for this park in the comments.

The next post of this series will take you out of the parks with the last Top 5 list of the series. Sadly, I have not been to a Disney water park, so those will not make an appearance, but when I get back from my Disney Cruise in November I'll make sure to compile a "Must Do" list for DCL as well.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Top 5 Must Dos for Disney's Hollywood Studios

Disney's Hollywood Studios, DHS, is a mixed bag for my family. My brother-in-law, niece, and nephew aren't crazy about roller coasters, and my sister and I can't get enough of them. The park is fairly centered around shows, in my opinion, and I don't love sitting through show after show after show. It's a "one day" park for me, but I do like to go there on each trip.

1. Thrill Seekers: This park is a MUST for thrill seekers! Tower of Terror and Rockin' Roller Coaster are the best thrill rides at Walt Disney World. The theming in both queues is very detail oriented, and the rides themselves are out of this world. My personal favorite is Tower of Terror. It changes each time you ride it thanks to the computer program running the vertical drops of your elevator. Something about leaving my stomach 3 floors above me just pulls the screaming laughter from me! To some this sounds like a nightmare, but I could ride this one for hours! If you love the sweet sounds of Aerosmith, you have to ride the Rockin' Roller Coaster. Be warned, it does go upside down. If you are traveling with a thrill seeker, but you're happy to sit on the sidelines, the queues really are cool. You can walk along with your braver counterpart, and at the front of the line, the cast member can guide you out of the attraction without you having to fight your way through the queue backwards or having to ride the ride. This option keeps you with your travel partner(s) which makes the wait less lonely for you both.

2. Toy Story Midway Mania: I have visited DHS without riding this attraction, BUT it really is a must do. Simply put, the queue gets insanely long quicker than you can blink. If you want to ride this interactive, family-fun, game of an attraction, you must either get to the park first thing in the morning, or make sure to get a Fast Pass the second you get in the park. We have found that the posted wait time is MUCH longer than the actual wait time. If your party is willing to be split up, cast members often go through the queue looking for singles or couples to move to the front of the line to fill in spots in the ride vehicles. My sister, brother-in-law, and I spoke up one time and split up into 1 and 2 and rode within 5 minutes of each other. While you wait in the queue, spend the wait taking photos with your group. There are plenty of great photo ops!

This photo was taken during my first WDW trip as an adult. Can't believe
how much my sweet nephew has grown since then!

3. Animation Courtyard: This area is back in the Disney Junior area. It's a large room with interactive computer stations filled with characters to meet! During peak season, it's FULL of characters with short lines to meet them. During off peak season, it's still full of characters (not always as many) and always has a featured character from a recent movie as well as Sorcerer Mickey. The Incredibles used to have a spot there as well, and I believe they still do. You can go straight to the Courtyard without viewing the movie beforehand. If you're not sure of where to go, ask a cast member. They can point the way.

Characters will strike a pose with you if you ask nicely
and it's something within their character's nature.

4. Star Tours: Recently redone, this attraction is a crowd pleaser! It is a flight simulator that takes you on a journey through the Star Wars universe. The lines moves fairly quickly, and just like Tower of Terror the ride changes each time you ride. I suggest riding it until you see the Naboo ending. It was my favorite by far, and every time I experienced it, the crowd in my car left laughing and clapping (literally) with joy!

This Star Tours drone is voice by Patrick Warburton.
You might know him better as Kronk from
The Emperor's New Groove

5. Shows: DHS is themed to be a Hollywood studio. That means that a large portion of the park is set around shows, street actors, and other Hollywood experiences. The evening show, Fantasmic!, is a beautiful show on a body of water that ends with a steamboat full of characters, many of whom you won't see out in the parks. Be aware that in peak seasons, you'll need to get in line for this show fairly early. My family has seen the show once, and that was through a dining package which allowed us to skip the line. While we'd be happy to see it again, the line isn't worth it, and that should tell you something.

Other shows feature Indiana Jones, stuntmen and women, Disney Jr characters, the Little Mermaid, and many more.  A Times Guide is a must at DHS just to keep up with all of the shows! If you time it right in the summer, you can go from one air-conditioned show to another shaded one right after.

Tuesday we'll head to the fourth and final park in Walt Disney World: Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Top 5 Must Dos for EPCOT

When I first started my "Must Dos" series, I put the parks in a random order. Looking back, I realize this is the order in which I'm missing the parks the most right now! Epcot and Magic Kingdom are often interchangeable as my favorite parks, and no trip would be complete without visiting both! Without further ado, here are the Top 5 Must Dos for Epcot!

The Seas with Nemo & Friends
1. Know Your Attractions (especially the ones with SHORT lines): I haven't met a Disney fan who doesn't love to take a ride on Soarin', and all Disney fans know that you should go there first to grab a Fast Pass. What a shockingly large amount of guests don't know is what attractions boast the shortest lines pretty much all day. Some repeat guests don't love all of the shorter line attractions, but I find joy in all of them. The Seas with Nemo and Friends, Living with the Land, and Journey into Imagination with Figment are all in Future World and all have fairly short lines (typically 10 minutes or less). All are rides that I could happily ride over and over again. (I'll get to Spaceship Earth later in the countdown!)

The Land Pavilion houses Soarin' and Living with the Land.
Over in the World Showcase, though, there are only 2 rides and a lot of movies and shows to take in. As a general rule, you only have to wait for the show or movie before yours to get out to get into one yourself. In regards to rides, though, the Maelstrom in Norway does get a fairly long line. A Fast Pass can be a good idea when they have them available. I find that queue to induce claustrophobia in me, so look out! The attraction most miss and don't realize is there is in Mexico: The Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros. The line is typically nonexistent because the ride is completely inside, past the gift shops, beside the restaurant, and often hidden by the Mariachi band! The song will be stuck in your head all day, but it's a nice quiet, air conditioned, boat ride that you won't soon forget!

ARRRR! Vikings!

Touring in peak seasons, which I often do since I'm a teacher, means I have to know what attractions are best for Fast Passes and which queues are shorter for between Fast Pass times. If you're going during a peak season, I recommend reading my Thanksgiving Trip Report (scroll to the bottom of the page to find it by day).

2. Kidcot and Agent P's World Showcase Adventure: Epcot is typically a favorite park for adults, but having kids in tow, especially young ones, can make it not as enjoyable for the whole party. It feels like there's more walking here than anywhere else, and while you might enjoy exploring the various countries, your toddler might not be as keen on this more educational park. Knowing your kid friendly spots in the World Showcase can give the adults time to look around and take in the beauty of the countries.

Kidcot is a station set up in each county (and pavilion in Future World) where kids can color a Duffy puppet and have a passport stamped. The cast members at these stations can write your child's name in that country's language. I suggest trading out the adults who stand watching the kiddos while the other looks around, or if you have older kids, make a deal with them: we'll color at the Kidcot station first, and then we'll all go look around the country together. I don't have my own children, but I hear teaching them to take turns is pretty important. :)

Agent P's World Showcase Adventure is great for older kiddos. This is the old Kim Possible Adventure remade. You pick up a "transponder" cell phone like device called a F.O.N.E. (Field Operative Notification Equipment) that guides you through the World Showcase to stop the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz. Your F.O.N.E will cause different elements in the World Showcase to move and reveal mission related items. Missions vary, so if you and your kiddos enjoy this, do it more than once as you tour! One tip: don't get so caught up in your mission that you fly through the countries and forget to look around!

3. World Showcase Food and Drinks: While you're in the World Showcase, be sure to grab some food and drinks! This is by far my favorite place to eat. If you haven't eaten here, I suggest checking out the Disney Food Blog before your trip to get some ideas. For adults there are plenty of unique alcoholic beverages in each country. Everyone can find a snack to munch on when they get hungry! Two of my favorite stops are the Boulangerie Patisserie in France and the Karamel Kuche in Germany. Look around, explore, and have fun eating and drinking your way around the World! (I tend to eat very light meals the day(s) we go to Epcot, so I can get all my favorite snacks.)

Goodies from Germany! Take your snack and head to the
African Outpost to find seats and tables shaded by umbrellas.
The area offers a peaceful view of the World Showcase while you eat.

4. IllumiNations: Not sure if you can tell, but World Showcase is really my favorite side of Epcot. A great way to end your night is with the fireworks show off of the World Showcase Lagoon. It's a tribute to all of the nations full of lights, fireworks, and moving music. While Wishes is by far my favorite, IllumiNations should not be missed! Want a good spot? I've always had luck standing in Mexico, right next to the Ring Carver's booth, across from the margarita stand.

Taken while riding the Monorail. Want a good view of Epcot?
Make sure to ride the Monorail that circles the Park!

5. Spaceship Earth: I saved my favorite for the end. Did you know that some people go to Epcot and never realize that there is a ride inside of Spaceship Earth?! Even more shocking is that some don't realize that the "Big Ball", "Epcot Ball", or "Giant Gold Ball" is actually called Spaceship Earth. *Sigh* This is by far my favorite attraction at Epcot, quite possibly my favorite attraction in ALL of Walt Disney World. The line moves quickly even when it looks long because the ride is on a continuously moving track. Inside you will be taken on a journey through the history of communication. I know, I know, that makes it sound like a snoozefest, but trust me, you'll be glad you went on it. At the end of your journey, there's an interactive bit on the computer that helps you shape your future, and after you get off of the ride there's a fun "play area" on the way out that adults and kids will love. Be sure to take the time to play. I always get rushed out, and I always want to play!

Plan at least one day, maybe more for Epcot. This is a great park to catch tons of characters. Be sure to grab the Times Guide as you go into the park to know what characters will show up when and where. This will stop you from spending your day running back and forth between Future World and World Showcase. Lines do get long though, so be prepared to go wait long before the character is set to show up to make sure you get to meet them.

Come back on Friday to move to our next stop in the series: Disney's Hollywood Studios!