Backstage Magic Tour and other trip firsts

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alicemouse's picture
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Backstage Magic Tour and other trip firsts

Hi friends! It's been a while, I know. Since we've had a lot of forum members who have been fortunate to travel this season and bring back tales of the world, I'm just going to do a brief look at our recent brief trip and tell you about some of the things that we tried for the first time.

1. Backstage Magic Tour

I have wanted to book this tour for forever, but being one of very few tours that does not require participants to hold a valid theme park admission for the day, we've always put it off. This time, however, we weren't getting park tickets. (Well...um...we weren't supposed to and then DVC released their new ticket offer and we kind of sort of ended up with annual passes...oops.)
We kept the tour anyway and I'm glad we did! Spoilers abound in the next few paragraphs. Feel free to skip ahead.

Our tour began at Epcot. When we had previously taken the UnDiscovered Future World Tour at Epcot, the meeting location was at guest relations to the left hand side inside the park, so when we arrived, we located the PPO reservations Cast Members expecting that we would be entering the turnstiles. Not so. They directed us to the Guest Relations window outside of the park. As you stand facing Epcot, the window is all the way to the right just before you would exit the metal gates to the buses. We took advantage of the fact that we were early to activate our Annual Passes awhile and gathered at the sign that read "Epcot tour meeting area". It was unclear whether or not the other Epcot tours are also meeting here now. We made small talk with a few members of the group and met our guides Jenessa and Rae. It was then that we learned that this tour is actually under the umbrella of Adventures by Disney and it was indeed AbD-lite. We received lanyards that held a credential that showed that we were allowed to be backstage. The AbD "paddle of power" was in full use and the snack basket (complete with unlimited water) was available to us throughout the day. The coloring of the lanyards and paddle did not match what AdB is using right now and the snack basket was a cookie-only basket as opposed to the wide variety of snacks that we usually have access to on regular full AbD experiences, but for the purposes of a day tour, it was more than adequate. It makes perfect sense for this tour to fall under the heading of AbD even though you book it through WDW Tours because the backstage tour departments at each park are separate entities and this tour visits more than one park as well as non-park locations. This tour could not be logically assigned to Epcot or Magic Kingdom, so AbD is the perfect alternative. Jenessa is a regular guide for this tour and she has been with the company for 12 years. She was the primary guide for our half of the group, so we spent quite a bit of our day with her and we were quite pleased with her as a guide. Rae has been with the company for 21 years and has worked a dozen different roles. She has another primary role, but since there are only 4 full time guides for this tour, she was helping out today.

Stop #1 was at the American Adventure pavilion where we got to have a peek underneath the stage. We got a look at the scene changer that silently and flawlessly executes this show with the help of the original 1982 computer that has run the show since opening day. While many of the new, more complex attractions require multiple cast members for their operation, The American Adventure requires just one cast member to run the show. That cast member's job? To push the "Start" button. laugh The system is so simple, yet so sophisticated for its time. Have you ever noticed the scene changer moving beneath your seat during the show? Because it's happening right under your nose, but you'd never know it! After our backstage experience, we walked onstage and talked about the use of forced perspective on the building.

Stop # 2 was Creative Costuming and this was my favorite stop of the day. WOW! These are the costumes that are created in batches of 50 pieces or fewer, so characters, parade performers, special event items, even costumes for a one-shot Barbie fashion show. We got to stand in the room where costumes were literally being tested, cut, sewn, and bedazzled. We got to hold Jack Skellington's coat. We even got to see two of the most sophisticated costumes that Disney has ever designed. They were supposed to be "fire" and "water" for Rivers of Light and they were painstakingly crafted with individual tiles that would follow the performers movements and create the illusion of being the appropriate element through the use of color and motion. The tiles on the costumes had to be completely redesigned when they were found to be too heavy and instead of metal, they were 3-D printed and sprayed to look metallic. These two gorgeous pieces are hanging in Creative Costuming because after months of redesigning them to make them perfect, they were cut from the show in the final days before it opened. eek

Stop #3 was the largest of 4 textile services locations on property and this facility specifically washes towels, sheets, and pillowcases. The carts that housekeeping uses to transport these items are called "metros". Each metro arrives full and is dumped by machine. While the contents are hand sorted by cast members, washed, compression dried, and inserted into folding machines by cast members, the metros go through a "car wash". They are then restocked on the other side. Ever notice how the towels and linens are just a little bit fluffier at the deluxe resorts than at the value resorts? There's no chance of mixing them up because every sheet, pillowcase, and towel is RFID tagged to insure that it returns to it's proper home.

Stop #4 was lunch at Whispering Canyon Cafe. This was our first time trying the skillet and it was fabulous. One thing that I think restaurants do a terrible job with is making corn on the cob. The corn is always way too mature and relative to what I can buy locally and cook in my own kitchen, restaurant corn is awful. The corn on the cob in this skillet was so delicious that I would have sworn that it was made in my kitchen. For dessert, we had strawberry rhubarb...pie? cobbler? delicious plate of who even cares what it was called? The only downside to the experience was that some of our table mates seemed genuinely put off by our servers attempts to make us feel like we really were at a lodge in the wilderness. I don't think they got the joke.

Stop #5 was Central Shops, the building where the ride vehicles, set pieces, parade floats, etc. are built and maintained. We got to see the maintenance life cycle. There is some sort of silicone (maybe?) washer that goes under every screw and bolt on every ride vehicle that gives the CM running the attraction an opportunity to check for malfunctions on every single vehicle every time it runs. It was really cool to see ride vehicles in various states of disassembly and we saw a set piece that is presumably for Toy Story Land partially assembled. Our guides advised us to memorize the scene and keep an eye out for it in the parks somewhere soon.

Stop #6 was the utilidors and to be honest, I was disappointed in this choice for the tour. I doubt that there were very many people on the tour who haven't done the Keys to the Kingdom tour, so this was kind of an anticlimactic stop. I was really hoping that in an effort to mirror the Walk in Walt's Footsteps tour at DL that the tour would include a tour of the suite in Cinderella Castle. The utilidors are cool and it's amazing to have an opportunity to see them, but I don't feel like they need to be duplicated on two different tours.

All in all, it was a great tour! As is customary, we received a pin at the conclusion and the pin was on a card that included the exclusive backstage photos that our guides had taken of us that day. Like I said, this tour was AbD-lite in that there were only 3 photos taken of each party. Still, they are photos that you can't get any other way. SO I'm sure you can image my devastation as I was unpacking our bags to find that our pins and photo cards were missing! sad sad sad We called Wilderness Lodge and there were no pins turned in to Lost & Found. Plus, we had swept the room pretty thoroughly before we left. We checked and double checked every nook and cranny and every bag that was in our possession on the trip was we will often consolidate bags before we come home. They were simply gone. If it wasn't the most ridiculously farfetched thing to steal from a suitcase, I would swear that they were stolen out of our bags between dropping them off for airline check-in and receiving them back at the baggage carousel in Baltimore. Well, just yesterday, I received word from AdB guest services that they were providing us with the photo code and they are even shipping replacement pins to us. I was so thrilled!

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Trip Reports:
December 2013: 10th Anniversary, 1st DVC Stay | April 2014: Birthday on the Boardwalk | May 2014: Star Wars Weekend, Navigating WDW with a wheelchair | August 2014: Villains Unleashed | September/October 2014: MNSSHP, F&W, Tower of Terror 10-miler | March/April 2015: Disneyland and California Coastal Cruise | November 2015: Wine & Dine Half, Food & Wine, 1st Disney Cruise | February 2016: Presidential Classic Gymnastics Meet | March 2016: "Work" Trip, Tours, F&G Festival | April 2016: Conference at Disneyland | Fall 2016: Festive Fall Fun | January 2017: Festival of the Arts | May 2017: AbD Backstage Magic | July 2017: AbD San Francisco

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2. Riding Flight of Passage

I was very nervous about riding this ride and as usual, found descriptions like "Star Tours + Soarin'" to be rather unhelpful. I love Soarin'. I'm 50/50 anymore on whether or not Star Tours incites a panic attack, so I'm not sure how many more flights I'll be taking. I spoke at length to the Cast Member who was manning the test vehicle in front of the attraction. I asked if it was possible to bypass the two rooms prior to the actual ride. He informed me that it was not possible. I also asked if it was possible to stand in the actual attraction room and watch the ride before actually boarding. Again, I was told that it was not because the floor would be moving. So I was either all in or all out and for once, I decided to err on the side of brave. I'm glad I did because I enjoyed the ride for the most part. Benn felt a little ill, but he hadn't felt the best after breakfast already and I think a lot of his issue was that the 3D glasses slide around a lot and make the images blurry when they're not cooperating. The CM at the entrance gave me a tip. He said to stay back on the seat a little bit and "puff out" to fill in the space. That way when the back restraint stops, you still have room to move comfortably. The leg restraints are less forgiving, but I still had room to wiggle my legs around a little bit, so I was ok. There was one scene with a big wave that made me uncomfortable, but it was over rather quickly. There was also a scene with a cave, but it was a huge cave and although I would have expected that to bother me, I was totally fine with it. There were no scenes that were as claustrophobic as the pod racing scene, the new millennium falcon scene, of the scene where the giant fish (?) bites your ride vehicle and thrashes around with it in Star Tours (I HATE those three!) The two pre-show rooms on FoP were definitely worse for me than the actual ride. I liked the ride and I'll go again, but it does creep me out sufficiently that I won't be disappointed on trips where I don't ride it. I still like Soarin' much, much better than FoP. We're doing Na'vi River Journey later this month and I'm excited to see the animatronic at the end because as we learned on our Backstage Magic tour, she is the most advanced animatronic ever created by Disney and she has so many mechanical parts that you can discern "muscle" movement in her face.

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Trip Reports:
December 2013: 10th Anniversary, 1st DVC Stay | April 2014: Birthday on the Boardwalk | May 2014: Star Wars Weekend, Navigating WDW with a wheelchair | August 2014: Villains Unleashed | September/October 2014: MNSSHP, F&W, Tower of Terror 10-miler | March/April 2015: Disneyland and California Coastal Cruise | November 2015: Wine & Dine Half, Food & Wine, 1st Disney Cruise | February 2016: Presidential Classic Gymnastics Meet | March 2016: "Work" Trip, Tours, F&G Festival | April 2016: Conference at Disneyland | Fall 2016: Festive Fall Fun | January 2017: Festival of the Arts | May 2017: AbD Backstage Magic | July 2017: AbD San Francisco

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3. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow event

This was our alternative to MNSSHP because we have done 3 Halloween parties in 4 years and we were ready to try something new. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was Benn's favorite scary story as a kid. I had never seen it, so I bought The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad about two months before our trip. Seeing it for the first time as an adult, I wouldn't really call it scary, but I guess to a kid, maybe it is. The event was indoors, which was very fortunate because it was raining and chilly. It was held in the horse barn, a very short walk from Pioneer Hall. More than likely, we would have been fine with our plan of seeing Happily Ever After from the Contemporary at 9:00 and boating to FW Wilderness for the show at 10:00, but we definitely would have felt rushed and at that time of night, we were worried about being foiled by the Electrical Water Pageant.

We had purchased the premium seating, which I would do again. Premium seating got us seats in the first 6 rows and a soft sided Sleepy Hollow lunchbox full of candy with a pin and a bottle of water. Each party was also allowed to help themselves to free bags of Star Wars branded popcorn. I believe the premium seating was $38 and the regular seating was $25. After choosing the 10:00 show, I immediately dialed back and tried to switch to the 8:00 show, but the premium seating for 8:00 had sold out in 20 minutes. There was still availability (or there were a fair number of no-shows) for the 10:00 spot.

Throughout the viewing of the film, the horses were stomping around in their stalls. It was not distracting, but rather it added to the mood of the event. We were also lucky enough to have a real live dark & stormy night outside. I'd have deifneitly rather been at this event in the rain than at MNSSHP!! Been there, done that. After we watched the short, the movie screen retracted into the ceiling and the doors behind the screen were thrust open to revel the Headless Horseman perched upon his steed. We posed for out photo op and we were on our way. This was a really cute event and I would do it again. I don't know that I would pay for a whole family to do it, but for the two of us, it was cool.

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Be good at something. It makes you valuable. Have something to bring to the table because that will make you more welcome. --Randy Pausch

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Trip Reports:
December 2013: 10th Anniversary, 1st DVC Stay | April 2014: Birthday on the Boardwalk | May 2014: Star Wars Weekend, Navigating WDW with a wheelchair | August 2014: Villains Unleashed | September/October 2014: MNSSHP, F&W, Tower of Terror 10-miler | March/April 2015: Disneyland and California Coastal Cruise | November 2015: Wine & Dine Half, Food & Wine, 1st Disney Cruise | February 2016: Presidential Classic Gymnastics Meet | March 2016: "Work" Trip, Tours, F&G Festival | April 2016: Conference at Disneyland | Fall 2016: Festive Fall Fun | January 2017: Festival of the Arts | May 2017: AbD Backstage Magic | July 2017: AbD San Francisco

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4. Dining at California Grill, Geyser Point, and Trattoria al Forno breakfast

California Grill--WOW. Our meal was fabulous from start to finish. Our server was a little off...like it's-50/50-that-this-guy-might-be-on-drugs off, but not in a way that was threatening or diminished our experience. He was just a little bit odd. We started with the lobster sushi roll and it was some of the best sushi I have ever eaten. The flavors combined perfectly. For main course, I had the grouper and Benn had the filet. Both were excellent, but I prefer my fish to his steak. There was a heavenly sauce swirled on my plate and the vegetables that accompanied the grouper were almost as good as the fish, itself. I had the cheese plate for dessert. Normally, I love cheese plates, but this one was a little bit lacking. Relative to the rest of the meal, it was a letdown. In the future, I would skip dessert here and go elsewhere.

Geyser Point--I ordered a crabcake sandwich anticipating disappointment, but I was pleasantly surprised. While it was a deviled type of crab (It's ok, I'm a realist and I was well aware that I was in Florida, not Maryland), the flavors mixed well together and it was actually pretty darn tasty. Benn had the bison burger, which was also pretty good. I opted for the quinoa salad over the chips and I didn't care for it--too much cucumber. I'll get the chips next time. I had a chocolate dessert of some sort--smores flavored maybe? It was a little on the dry side for my taste. Benn's pie (apple? maybe?) was fantastic though. I would get that again in the future.

Trattoria--character breakfast was outstanding! The first course was a frying pan for of cookies and pastries. I liked two of the 5-6 choices, but I don't really care for pastries, so it was impressive that I liked two. The chocolate filled twisty thing was good and the Rapunzel cookie was awesome. They should just bring out a 1/2 dozen of those cookies. It tasted like a cross between a sand tart cookie and an elephant ear pastry if that means anything to you. For our main course, I had the steak and eggs and Benn had the breakfast calzone. I thought the calzone was awful, but Benn loved it. Disclaimer: I don't care for regular calzones or sausage and I am VERY particular about my eggs, so for me, this choice was set up for failure right out of the gate. My steak and eggs was delicious. I received two nice portions (probably 2-3 oz. each) of tender, juicy steak. There was a separate fluffy circle of eggs on the plate that was topped with asparagus and a nice light gravy sauce. I also received a generous portion of potatoes that I couldn't finish because I was too full. The venue was very nice because it's a very plush restaurant, so most of the noise was absorbed by the furnishings, making it a peaceful character breakfast. There was a presentation with the characters and then they each visited with us for a decently long interaction. I thought that the value of this meal was extraordinary. The service was great, too. This meal was the same price as Mickey's Surf's Up breakfast at PCH Grill in Disneyland and it was easily twice the experience.

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Trip Reports:
December 2013: 10th Anniversary, 1st DVC Stay | April 2014: Birthday on the Boardwalk | May 2014: Star Wars Weekend, Navigating WDW with a wheelchair | August 2014: Villains Unleashed | September/October 2014: MNSSHP, F&W, Tower of Terror 10-miler | March/April 2015: Disneyland and California Coastal Cruise | November 2015: Wine & Dine Half, Food & Wine, 1st Disney Cruise | February 2016: Presidential Classic Gymnastics Meet | March 2016: "Work" Trip, Tours, F&G Festival | April 2016: Conference at Disneyland | Fall 2016: Festive Fall Fun | January 2017: Festival of the Arts | May 2017: AbD Backstage Magic | July 2017: AbD San Francisco

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That pretty well wraps it up! We stayed in a 1BR at Wilderness Lodge, which was a very nice accommodation. Sadly, this was our second visit to WL and we have yet to swim in the main pool. We were just too busy this weekend! We did spend some time at Food & Wine. We didn't lay eyes on Disney Springs of Hollywood Studios this trip. We were traveling with friends, so we spent a lot of time hanging out together and not really caring what we were doing. Plus on our main park day, we had two big dining reservations. It was a short trip, but we had a great time!

We're back again in two weeks for Thanksgiving weekend and we'll be enjoying the Christmas festivities for the first time in 4 years! We'll be taking in a MVMCP, trying to see the new Christmas show at DHS (also Jingle Bell Jingle BAM), seeing the Holiday Storytellers and maybe Candlelight Processional at Epcot, and of course visiting the gingerbread houses. We'll be trying out new reservations at Tusker House, Tokyo Dining, and Morimoto Asia. We'll also eat at Liberty Tree Tavern again, but it's almost like a first for me because last time I was in pre-race mode and I think I had a salad. Boring! Can't wait to try LTT for real!

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Trip Reports:
December 2013: 10th Anniversary, 1st DVC Stay | April 2014: Birthday on the Boardwalk | May 2014: Star Wars Weekend, Navigating WDW with a wheelchair | August 2014: Villains Unleashed | September/October 2014: MNSSHP, F&W, Tower of Terror 10-miler | March/April 2015: Disneyland and California Coastal Cruise | November 2015: Wine & Dine Half, Food & Wine, 1st Disney Cruise | February 2016: Presidential Classic Gymnastics Meet | March 2016: "Work" Trip, Tours, F&G Festival | April 2016: Conference at Disneyland | Fall 2016: Festive Fall Fun | January 2017: Festival of the Arts | May 2017: AbD Backstage Magic | July 2017: AbD San Francisco

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We did the Backstage tour in January 2012 and it was pretty much exactly the same but we got to check out the back entrance of Tower of Terror and see the replacement ride vehicle for when they need a clean one for a quick exchange. We also toured around the are where they kept all the plants. That was really cool as they were getting ready for Flower and Garden. We met outside Epcot in the same place you describe. We had 2 guides as well and it was put on by The Disney Institute at the time.

Glad to hear you enjoyed the Cali Grill as that is one of our favourites and we usually start the trip there.

Hope to see you guys in a few weeks if time permits. mickey

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Sounds like a great tour. I will have to look into it sometime.

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I had breakfast at Trattoria in April. I loved it. I had an early reservation. The cast members formed a line holding frying pans for the first five groups seated.

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JanJ wrote:
We did the Backstage tour in January 2012 and it was pretty much exactly the same but we got to check out the back entrance of Tower of Terror and see the replacement ride vehicle for when they need a clean one for a quick exchange. We also toured around the are where they kept all the plants. That was really cool as they were getting ready for Flower and Garden. We met outside Epcot in the same place you describe. We had 2 guides as well and it was put on by The Disney Institute at the time.

Glad to hear you enjoyed the Cali Grill as that is one of our favourites and we usually start the trip there.

Hope to see you guys in a few weeks if time permits. mickey

Ok so I wasn't losing my mind and this tour did used to stop at DHS, too. I thought I had read that somewhere, so I was surprised to go back to Epcot after the Utilidors. I just put a rough park plan together today, so I'll take a look at what you sent me so we can figure out the best time to meet up Smile

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Trip Reports:
December 2013: 10th Anniversary, 1st DVC Stay | April 2014: Birthday on the Boardwalk | May 2014: Star Wars Weekend, Navigating WDW with a wheelchair | August 2014: Villains Unleashed | September/October 2014: MNSSHP, F&W, Tower of Terror 10-miler | March/April 2015: Disneyland and California Coastal Cruise | November 2015: Wine & Dine Half, Food & Wine, 1st Disney Cruise | February 2016: Presidential Classic Gymnastics Meet | March 2016: "Work" Trip, Tours, F&G Festival | April 2016: Conference at Disneyland | Fall 2016: Festive Fall Fun | January 2017: Festival of the Arts | May 2017: AbD Backstage Magic | July 2017: AbD San Francisco

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JoAnn C wrote:
I had breakfast at Trattoria in April. I loved it. I had an early reservation. The cast members formed a line holding frying pans for the first five groups seated.

How cool!!

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Be good at something. It makes you valuable. Have something to bring to the table because that will make you more welcome. --Randy Pausch

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Trip Reports:
December 2013: 10th Anniversary, 1st DVC Stay | April 2014: Birthday on the Boardwalk | May 2014: Star Wars Weekend, Navigating WDW with a wheelchair | August 2014: Villains Unleashed | September/October 2014: MNSSHP, F&W, Tower of Terror 10-miler | March/April 2015: Disneyland and California Coastal Cruise | November 2015: Wine & Dine Half, Food & Wine, 1st Disney Cruise | February 2016: Presidential Classic Gymnastics Meet | March 2016: "Work" Trip, Tours, F&G Festival | April 2016: Conference at Disneyland | Fall 2016: Festive Fall Fun | January 2017: Festival of the Arts | May 2017: AbD Backstage Magic | July 2017: AbD San Francisco

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alicemouse wrote:
This time, however, we weren't getting park tickets. (Well...um...we weren't supposed to and then DVC released their new ticket offer and we kind of sort of ended up with annual passes...oops.)

Oh no, no Parks for us this trip....

comes home with an Annual Pass rolling

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Kristen K. wrote:
alicemouse wrote:
This time, however, we weren't getting park tickets. (Well...um...we weren't supposed to and then DVC released their new ticket offer and we kind of sort of ended up with annual passes...oops.)

Oh no, no Parks for us this trip....

comes home with an Annual Pass rolling

laugh rolling

I know, right. We're trying to do other things--more DCL, more AbD, maybe even do a little bit non-Disney travel, but I miss the parks SO MUCH when we don't go!! Until this trip, it had been a year since I had set foot in Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom and I still haven't been to DHS since last year because we moved our breakfast reservation and killed our DHS morning. We had been to Disneyland in the interim, but still--it's different.

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Be good at something. It makes you valuable. Have something to bring to the table because that will make you more welcome. --Randy Pausch

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Trip Reports:
December 2013: 10th Anniversary, 1st DVC Stay | April 2014: Birthday on the Boardwalk | May 2014: Star Wars Weekend, Navigating WDW with a wheelchair | August 2014: Villains Unleashed | September/October 2014: MNSSHP, F&W, Tower of Terror 10-miler | March/April 2015: Disneyland and California Coastal Cruise | November 2015: Wine & Dine Half, Food & Wine, 1st Disney Cruise | February 2016: Presidential Classic Gymnastics Meet | March 2016: "Work" Trip, Tours, F&G Festival | April 2016: Conference at Disneyland | Fall 2016: Festive Fall Fun | January 2017: Festival of the Arts | May 2017: AbD Backstage Magic | July 2017: AbD San Francisco