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

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We were just there a couple of weeks ago and I have the exact same opinions of FOP and Trattoria al Forno. I'm not claustrophobic but I don't do great on simulators (though Soarin' is fine) and I felt a little ill towards the end of the ride and for about an hour afterwards. Not terrible but not great. I could appreciate how good of a ride it was, but I don't need to rush back. I'll leave the FastPasses for others! laugh

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Allie wrote:
We were just there a couple of weeks ago and I have the exact same opinions of FOP and Trattoria al Forno. I'm not claustrophobic but I don't do great on simulators (though Soarin' is fine) and I felt a little ill towards the end of the ride and for about an hour afterwards. Not terrible but not great. I could appreciate how good of a ride it was, but I don't need to rush back. I'll leave the FastPasses for others! laugh

And yet, I have a FP for it again for February. That will be the make or break! laugh

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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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Long weekend number 2 is complete and we actually still had a lot of firsts despite doing a very comprehensive Christmas trip four years ago, but we did see a few changes, so our 1st "first" of the trip...staying at All-Star Movies

This was Benn's first stay at an All-Star Resort and my last in the series. We were both actually really impressed with the cleanliness of the room and even the condition. It was a little worn around the edges, but it was decent and the soft goods items were newish. The lobby is exactly like the other value resorts and I would say that anecdotally, the shop seemed to have less enticing merchandise than I've seen at the other values, but we did not compare the shops on this trip. While we did have an experience with some fatty/undercooked-looking bacon and the eggs being VERY bland and somewhat overcooked, the rest of our food court experiences were positive. I don't care for eggs that much, so it takes a lot to impress me on that front and the bacon had substitutes available in the form of extra sausage or turkey bacon. One thing that I really liked was that I could order a burger for breakfast and it came with a nice assortment of condiments and toppings, which negated the need for good breakfast food. I also found the mac & cheese to be very tasty and the dessert selection was varied and interesting. We didn't try any of the special cakes or pastries because they also had milkshakes available! The exterior of the resort was nicely maintained and although we didn't use any of our limited time to partake in the water amenities, the areas looked inviting and clean.

2. Christmas Tree Trail
As with all things that are new, it doesn't seem to be fully fleshed out yet. The themed trees are just lovely, but I feel like there is progress to be made in linking the trees together on the trail. This experience might be more spectacular at night. I could see stringing lights overhead or adding projections to the "walls" on the trail. I think if this experience is popular, we will see it plussed in the future. So far, so good.

3. Jingle Bell Jingle BAM and Sunset Seasons Greetings at Hollywood Studios
I might be in the minority here from hearing other people's opinions, but I loved Jingle BAM and I was kind of lukewarm about Sunset. Jingle BAM was a lot of fun where the difference in distance from the screen segments to the Tower of Terror segments for Sunset was a little bit off-putting for me. It was nice, I guess, but I enjoyed Jingle BAM considerably more than I enjoyed Sunset. The Disney Movie Magic filler segment before Jingle BAM is just that. Filler. No need to stop and watch if you're not also planning to watch whichever real show is attached to it. None of these shows come anywhere close to matching Osbourne, but they're nice.

4. Happily Ever After
WOW. Love, love, love, love, love. I was a devout Wishes fan and I was pretty bummed to hear that my beloved Magic Kingdom show was departing so abruptly. Honestly, I was even more torn up about losing Celebrate the Magic. I still miss both, but Happily Ever After in person was fabulous! I think I cried like 5 times. The crispness of those projections in person is astounding and the soundtrack contains many of my most beloved Disney songs of all time, but even better than the originals. Case in point, Go the Distance. Benn and I both love this song, but we can't stand Michael Bolton's performance of it. I wish they sold the full version of whoever is singing it for this show because I would buy it in a second. When I first heard the theme song for the show, I thought it was suer cheesy and I wondered if this show change was perhaps ill advised, but in person, it's so beautiful. And I love the message that you have to create your own Happily Ever After instead of just wishing upon a star and waiting for good things to happen to you.

5. Na'vi River
I don't understand the hate that this ride is getting. One and done? Don't need to do it again? I didn't see the movie, so I have no connection to this ride, but I thought it was really beautiful. I prefer the serene boat ride to the more violent Flight of Passage. I think I'm getting old. laugh One of the things that we learned on our tour last month was that the animatronic on Na'vi is the most sophisticated ever built by Disney and that the 12 actuators in her face give the illusion that she has real facial muscles. Oh! Speaking of which, I read an article the other day about a synthetic muscle that scientists have developed that's 3xs stronger than natural muscle fiber and I believe that it can be 3D printed. Can you imagine this type of technology applied to Disney's audioanimatronics in the future? WOW!

6. Tree of Life Awakenings
I will budget more time to stand and marvel at this in the future. I was thoroughly impressed with the use of projections and lighting and how the "canvas" of the tree trunk seemed to expand to allow the scene to unfold. This was a really neat unexpected surprise.

7. Rivers of Light
I've heard a lot of criticism that this show is boring, but I really enjoyed it. I look forward to seeing it again because our view was obstructed by a very tall man and his wife who was holding a very squirmy toddler wh kept standing up in her lap and swaying wildly from side to side. Quite distracting.

8. Tusker House
Kind of like Boma light + characters. We liked it. With so many choices and the fact that we have no small people for whom character meals make or break their experience, I don't expect this to become a go-to, but we did enjoy it and I would go again. My favorites were the salmon and the pap and Benn liked the pork.

9. Tokyo Dining
We both had the Bento Box, which in retrospect was not smart, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I didn't care for the shrimp tempura. The tempura was too heavy and you couldn't taste the shrimp. This was the first time I had sashimi and I'm not a huge fan of the texture, but I did like the taste. All in all, we both prefer Teppan Edo, but to be fair, Teppan Edo is solidly in our top 5 WDW restaurants.

10. Morimoto Asia
Love. We didn't find the menu to be extensive and M.Y. China in San Francisco is still far superior, but this is a solid restaurant. The duck ramen was perfect. You know how broth is kind of a touchy thing? It's so easy to make it too salty or too watery, but this was perfect.

11. Ohana Breakfast
I enjoyed this experience. Benn thought Lilo was creepy; I was delighted to meet a new character. The quality of the food was good, but I would love to see some more variety in the menu. At the same price as Trattoria al Forno, I have to give the edge to Trattoria with the advantage only going to Ohana for those with big appetites or who prefer their breakfast to be traditional. Great characters, great service. I didn't love the breakfast bread and I definitely prefer the dinner over the breakfast, but I enjoyed this experience.

I think that's it for our firsts. I'll be back another time to talk about Christmas. Peace & love.

__________________

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

alicemouse's picture
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Joined: 10/22/2013
Posts: 2820

I love Christmas at Disney so very, very much. We arrived on Thanksgiving Day this time, a first for us. A few items of note regarding that plan. 1. From our home, it is possible to help with, eat, & clean up from Thanksgiving and still make a 4:00 flight. 2. Parking was nearly impossible and literally our ONLY option was the $22/day hourly garage. 3. BWI empathized with our plight. Without even asking, we were charged the $12/day daily garage rate. Thank you, BWI, for your holiday spirit. 4. This was a GREAT time to fly. It was cheap ($93 flight), not full (15 empty seats), short lines at security (waited maybe 10 minutes and that was with a large party in front of us who have apparently never even seen the inside of an airport before and have NO idea what they were doing), and we got free drinks on the plane. Not sure if that was because of the holiday or because of the fact that anxiety + 2 hrs. of almost constant turbulence did not make for a very calm plane passenger, but I was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. That flight attendant is a rockstar though. And my personal hero. I don't know if it was still turbulent or not after the first hour because at least by that point, I'd had enough vodka that I didn't care.

So Benn actually had a tendonitis flare up the night before we left and of course he was not happy about it. As fate would have it, when we received the text for our room assignment and I consulted the resort map, it appeared that we would be one of the last All-Star Movies rooms before reaching the All-Star Music parking lot. Yikes! Luckily, we were still in the airport at this point, so I called the number that was given on the text message and explained our predicament. I know that room availability had been slim, so I wasn't sure if it was possibly, but sure enough, we were able to upgrade to a preferred room and we ended up with a location in the Fantasia building right beside the pool. I did have to pay for the upgrade, but it was worth it to save Benn some steps. As the weekend progressed, the pain mostly subsided and I think that taking that foot out for a walk was actually the best thing he could have done for it.

When we arrived, Benn was feeling pretty tired, but the Magic Kingdom was open until midnight!!! And while I love doing Disney with Benn, I also love my solo park time. So with Benn resting (mostly) comfortably in the room, I headed out to explore. I walked out of All-Star Movies and directly onto a MK bus. I made it to MK about 45 minutes before Happily Ever After, which was perfect. I got a spot almost dead center near the Partners statue. It was an absolutely magical way to start the trip. After the show (around 10:20), I rode Winnie the Pooh, It's a Small World, the Carrousel, Under the Sea, Dumbo (x2), and Barnstormer. I met Tiana & Rapunzel and Ariel. At 11:58, I slide in as one of the last handful of people to ride Mine Train for the night. Then I walked through the castle a got a set of COMPLETELY UNOBSTRUCTED photos of the Cinderella mural. I stopped at Casey's Corner for some corn dog nuggets, watched the Kiss Goodnight, and strolled leisurely out of the park around 10 minutes till 1. The bus pulled up almost immediately as I arrived at the stop and I was home and in bed by 1:15.

On what was to be our actual first day, we went to Epcot. Our goal for today was simple: Storytellers and Gingerbread houses. I had a hidden agenda of catching a glimpse of Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez, who was narrating Candlelight Processional, but we weren't staying for the show because this was our only night to do Hollywood Studios. I was a little bit disappointed that the storytellers were a little bit scaled down from years past, but I was thrilled that my favorites: Julenissen in Norway, La Befana in Italy, Pere Noel in France, and Father Christmas in UK were all right were we had left them. In fact, I'm almost certain that our La Befana was exactly the same storyteller that we saw four years ago. I just love her. Sadly we missed Julenissen because it was raining ever so slightly when we were at Norway, but we did see all of the others. We also sampled a few food booths, with our runaway favorite being one of the booths in Mexico--wherever the tostada was being served. Honestly, nothing else was terribly memorable, but we stopped snacking around Germany because we had a fairly early dinner planned. I kind of wish we had just done food booths. I would have liked to have sampled a few other things that I saw later in the afternoon. We did in fact catch JUST a glimpse of Laurie Hernandez and then it was time to do a quick resort tour on the way to DHS.

We started at Beach Club and their carousel was just a gorgeous as it always is. It featured Lilo and Stitch and the whole scene was just as cute as could be. Then we went over to the Boardwalk, where there is typically a Boardwalk vendor stand built out of Gingerbread with seasonal treats available for sale. This year, the gingerbread display was a poorly constructed small scale replica of four of the establishments on the boardwalk with a table setup to sell a sad selection of Christmas treats. It was a really poor display compared to the displays of old and it is definitely the weakest of the 4 displays, which I suppose is good news for the Contemporary since they have now catapulted into 3rd place. There was also no Gingerbread pin for this location. mad

As for Hollywood Studios' Christmas offerings, we were mostly impressed. I didn't find the Sunset Seasons Greeting particularly inspired, but I really liked the upgraded Jingle Bell Jingle BAM. I don't remember the retro Christmas decorations or the Buena Vista Street snow from before, but even if they weren't new, I enjoyed both.After Magic Kingdom, I think that DHS feels the most festive even with the abyss left by the cancelation of Osbourne. I do feel like the management at DHS is keenly aware of their shortage of attractions and they are doing a good job of keeping the fill-in entertainment...filled in. We had planned to go back to MK for another round of Happily Ever After, but we decided that Benn's foot had given a valiant effort for the day and it deserved some time off for good behavior.

Originally our Saturday was supposed to start with MK park open, proceed to Epcot for a few more festival samples, move ok to AK until almost park close, and end at TotW. Well, we scored a last minute Ohana breakfast reservation, so we ditched Epcot since we also had a table service lunch planned. Oh! I missed a first! Benn got his hair cut at Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street. It was a cute thing to do and he needed a haircut pretty badly, but the shop is very small and it's kind of chaotic in there. They also are literally just for a trim. They have no facilities to wash hair, so they're not equipped to do perms or color or other full service salon treatments. My only regret at Magic Kingdom is that we chose to forgo Jingle Cruise. There just wasn't time once we altered our park arrival time. And at any time except rope drop, the line was just longer than I felt like waiting. Moving to AK, the Christmas influence here is subtle and minimal. Saturday was a very low-key day as far as holiday festivities. We did see the Grand Floridian and Contemporary Gingerbread displays and we waited WAY too long for a gingerbread cookie and a pin at GF. We walked there from Poly in the morning only to find out that the shop wasn't open yet, so we had to stop back "on our way" to AK. I seriously think we waited 30+ minutes for a cookie and a pin. I was a little bit annoyed at the indecisiveness of the people in front of us. On the plus side, we once again had fabulous bus luck and we waited no time at all for an AK bus, so we spent our "waiting" time at the Gingerbread house instead. I guess it was a pretty good tradeoff. Oh! Later in the evening at the Contemporary display, I tried the peppermint gelato. Save the $6 and buy a half gallon of Edy's peppermint. The Edy's is closer to the consistency of gelato than this was. It tasted good, but it was just regular ice cream.

Not really Christmas related, but we capped off our Saturday night with a visit to TotW to meet up with KenJ, JanJ, Mr. Hub, and scrappy. Unfortunately, scrappy wasn't feeling the greatest--I empathize. It's such a disappointment to feel crummy on vacation. Some of my clients who were arriving at Disney that day also met up with us briefly for the fireworks. We ended up chatting with KenJ and JanJ so long that they nearly booted us out of the lounge! It was a wonderful evening and I'll look forward to doing it again sometime.

Sunday was the big holiday day because it was time for MVMCP!!! And guess what?! Benn didn't have food poisoning this time!! Hooray!! The only thing I regret about this party is that I wish we had budgeted our time differently in the middle. As soon as we got our wristbands, we went straight for Big Top souvenirs to get the pins and I found a FABULOUS ugly sweater t-shirt with a blue glittery CLARABELLE THE COW!!! I love it so much!! Apparently Clarabelle is huge on Disney Jr. I had no idea. I remember her and Horace Horsecollar from a Little Golden Book I had when I was a kid. Our first meet & greet was Nick & Judy and that was a perfect choice because they started meeting early, which allowed us to pick up Bert & Mary Poppins (sadly, no penguins this year and I was so hoping for penguins because in our picture last time, the quality is really poor and there is red eye galore; also, no PhotoPass photographer here) right at 7:00. We swung by a cookie stop to get some fuel for our next meet & greet, which was Scrooge & Donald. This was where we made the poor choice. We should have started at Minnie and Daisy. We probably would have saved 30-45 minutes of party time. On the plus side, we really enjoyed chatting with a family in front of us and a family behind us during our wait. We were all about the same age and had many of the same fond childhood memories. Then "Millennial Sally" as we dubbed her (she was dressed as Sally and we all had a solid 10-15 years on her) butted into our conversation and started spewing all kinds of misinformation and half truths. She touted the fact that she was fresh out of a media studies class and seemed to think that made her an expert on generational studies and economics. sarcastic As I hold a degree in Economics, I found her flawed assessments and her misinformed lecture during my Christmas party to be quite annoying. Also, she was loud and brash and devoid of any holiday joy. She eventually left the line to our delight and to the obvious relief of our new line friends. I don't mean to bust on millennials. Some of the charts put me in that category, myself, and earlier in the evening, we met a very nice young man around the same age as Millennial Sally. He was delightful to talk with and his excitement and enthusiasm for life were contagious. In line for our very brief wait for Minnie and Daisy, we met two off-duty DCL Cast Members who were also a lot of fun. After our meet & greets, we stocked up on some pretty delicious ginger & molasses cookies and watched part of Holiday Wishes from Liberty Square. Then we secured a Frontierland spot for the parade. This is not my favorite place to watch from, but it was the most convenient so that we could meet Genie and Jasmine immediately after. While waited, I picked up up blue raspberry sno-cones and snowman pretzel flats. This was a great new inclusion in the holiday treats lineup. While I enjoyed the parade, I will only watch it from Main Street in the future. It's too sparse without the backdrop of the snow and the Christmas lights. We capped off our evening with a ride on Pirates. We were going to try to make it to BTMR, but we ran out of time. We lingered on Main Street and took some photos and we both agreed that at our next Christmas party, we will spend the majority of time on Main Street. Also, in the future, I would seriously consider doing two party nights in the same trip if the scheduled allows. There are too many wonderful things to see and do for just one party, especially if you do the character meet & greets. Another party guest asked us at the beginning of the night if MVMCP was worth the extra money. At that point, they had already bought a ticket, so it seemed like an odd time to ask the question. But I told them honestly, on paper, no. It is not a good value. Was I glad that I had attended in the past? Yes. Will I attend again in the future? Absolutely. Would I attend with anyone who couldn't hang until midnight and use the full party time? Not a chance. Value is in the eye of the beholder. I love this party and for me, it's worth it. But I could totally understand how someone could justify skipping it.

Our final day was sad as always. There's just never enough time. We swung by DHS in the morning just to do Toy Story Mania. We made a few important discoveries. 1. There are NO quick service breakfast options whatsoever at Hollywood Studios that aren't inside the Starbucks. I assume that this situation will eventually resolve itself. 2. "Hot Fresh Popcorn" is a poor breakfast substitute because exactly one of those labels is accurate. 3. I do not understand the fuss over Disney popcorn. This was my first Disney popcorn and from what we had at Hollywood Studios, I can safely go the rest of my life without eating it again. 4. I am a master at Toy Story Mania. Ok, just kidding. I still have a LONG way to go, but we did hit multiple easter eggs in the same game, my accuracy has crept up over 30% and I PR'd at 216,000. I'm pretty excited about it.

After DHS, we finished up our day at Disney Springs. This was unfortunate because I was not in a shopping mood today, but thanks to Benn, I did finally admit to myself that I really, really wanted that GIANT Stitch plushy...and maybe also a Donald with a Christmas ear flap hat! muchlove I had been really disappointed at Pin Traders both by the selection and by the fact that the giant trading board has gone missing. Between that and the price increases at the Christmas store, I just wasn't feeling a lot of Christmas magic. After lunch, we finished up our experience with a rice pudding/ pistachio/ hazelnut gelato from my favorite Vivoli Il Gelato and a walk down the Christmas Tree Trail and it was a really nice way to finish out our trip.

Thanks for reading along. The next trip is Hollywood & Disneyland with Dad in January. I'm super excited because we got tickets for The Price is Right and this is Dad's first trip to DL.

__________________

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

Allie's picture
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Joined: 06/26/2012
Posts: 4989

I totally hear you with the Boardwalk display. We stayed at the Boardwalk the 9th through the 18th and I was so excited to watch the gingerbread house be built that I had seen there two years before. Finally on one of our last days, Jon asked at the front desk when it would be constructed and they told us that they hadn't heard anything and that last year there had been no display at all. I saw pictures of the gingerbread Boardwalk a few days after we left and it looked pretty sad. Better then nothing like last year I guess, but I'm sad they lost the gingerbread house there.

Kristen K.'s picture
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Joined: 09/01/2011
Posts: 18262

alicemouse wrote:
We swung by DHS in the morning just to do Toy Story Mania. We made a few important discoveries. 1. There are NO quick service breakfast options whatsoever at Hollywood Studios that aren't inside the Starbucks. I assume that this situation will eventually resolve itself.

This always makes me so mad. It's not just that there are no quick service options, the only table service option is a Disney Jr. Character breakfast so it is always packed with poorly behaved kids. Hollywood Studios has squat for breakfast and it's really bad design IMHO. I hope that they change that when the new lands open, but I'm not going to hold my breath. For a family that tends not to get Parkhoppers and spend the entire day in one place, not having good breakfast options makes it really hard to enjoy this Park all day.

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