Mele Kalikimaka WDW Adventure 2015 - COMPLETED

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Mele Kalikimaka WDW Adventure 2015 - COMPLETED

Aloha! My name is Len and this is my first trip report here in a forum. I've been an avid Disney park fan for most of my life, but have never visited any of the locations during the Christmas season. My wife and I, along with some friends, were finally able to rectify that this past year. Come along as you take the journey with us from Hawaii to far off Orlando. I'll be stopping off for a bit at Universal Studios first to take a look at the Harry Potter attractions. If you stick with me, I promise we'll get to Walt Disney World in good time. Before I begin, I wanted to share with you one of my first photos from the Magic Kingdom after closing...

Main Street Christmas 2015 by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

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We flew out Thanksgiving Day, so traffic was pretty light. Although my wife Sue and I were excited, we were also a little sad to leave our two girls back home. Their names are Lohelani (Border Collie/Husky) and Juneau (Husky/Malamute). They were left in good hands with a great dog sitter, but seeing their sad faces as we pulled out of the garage is always gut wrenching.

Juneau & Lohe (No Leashes) by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

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Prior to the trip, I looked through my photos from our last trip to WDW back in 2004 (Expedition Everest was still being built as I have a few pictures of the steel frame of the mountain). The first thing I noticed was the need for a better wide angle lens. The second, and more glaring issue, was that I had very little night shots. Part of the reason was most of the nighttime photos I had were shot in auto with a flash (a good number of them looking washed out and overexposed). I began shopping for a Nikon WA lens since I owned a D7000, and ended up purchasing the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8. This lens came highly recommended by Disney blogger supreme Tom Bricker. Finding Tom's blog was both a blessing and a curse. I fell in love with his night photography and those "empty park" images. My Nikon is a crop sensor camera, and Tom is a full frame shooter. I initially checked into, and balked, at the prices for a full frame camera body and lenses. I convinced myself to stick with the D7000 (a very capable camera) and learn how to shoot in manual mode. Yes, I've been an auto shooter most of my life and was totally turned off (and scared) by the thought of going manual. Once I understood that shooting in manual would be crucial to getting some decent night photos (along with a tripod and raw settings), I set out to teach myself by scoring the internet and doing some reading. During Christmas 2014, Nikon ran a great deal on their bodies and lenses. It was too good to pass up, so I made the jump to a full frame Nikon D810 along with their "Holy Trinity of Lenses". It was a huge investment, but besides Disney, it really pushed me to get out and shoot quite often.

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As stated earlier, we left on Thanksgiving Day for 10 days @ WDW and 2 days @ Universal Studios. Flying to Orlando from Hawaii is a day's journey with 2 stop overs (basically a 2 week vacation with 2 days lost to traveling). Our 1st stop over after a 5 1/2 hour flight was at LAX airport. Compared to Honolulu International Aiport, LAX is almost a destination onto itself...LOL! We had a couple of hours to kill, so Sue and I grabbed an early dinner at Rock 'N Brew's. I don't know if it's because I was overly hungry, but man, that was the best hot dog I've ate...EVER!

Rock & Brew's Sign by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

Rock & Brew's Interior by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

Rock N' Brew Meal @ LAX Airport by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

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After leaving LAX, our next stop was in Atlanta which took another 5 1/2 hours, give or take. Finally on the last leg of our flight to Orlando which was an easy 2 hour trip. By the time we got in our shuttle van, it was around 7:00 in the morning. The driver dropped us off at two different hotels. Our friends booked a night at the Hard Rock Hotel, while we checked in to Portofino Bay Resort. Both groups did it to take advantage of the "free" Universal Express line benefit (we really didn't get much value out of it since we spent most of the time at the Harry Potter areas. Express is not valid for any of the rides). Upon checking in, I admired the Christmas tree in the lobby.

Christmas Tree @ the Lobby of Portofino Bay Resort by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

Christmas Tree @ the Lobby of Portofino Bay Resort 02 by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

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After dropping off our luggage with Baggage services, we headed straight for Universal. I know this section is geared towards WDW, so I'll just post a few favorite photos and move on to Disney. We were there for two full days, but got to do only a fraction of what we had planned (No ET!). Let me just come right out and say it....Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are amazing places. The level of detail and design are on par with the best of Disney Imagineers. If I were Universal, I would expand on the Harry Potter license as much as possible. This is a property that will stay relevant and in eye of popular culture for a long, long time. And this points to one of the areas where Universal falls way behind Disney. They just don't have characters and movie tie-ins that are as popular as Disney's stable. I love Back to the Future, ET, Terminator, but those movies tend to ebb and flow, in terms of popularity. Disney does an incredible job of keeping their properties in the forefront. Other than Potter, there other two strong properties are Minions and Marvel Superheroes. Whether Minions will have staying power or fade out like Shrek remains to be seen. Since Disney bought out Marvel, i'm not sure how much incentive Universal has to keep investing in this property...

Hogwart's Express 01 by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

Dragon Perched on Gringott's 02 by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

Universal Studios Harry Potter Hogsmeade 01 by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

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Gosh your photos are amazing. Your MK photo is mind blowing, looking forward to reading the rest of your trip

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Wow I thought that photo of MK was one of the photos that comes free with memory maker...

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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 | Sorry I had to give up doing trip reports. Too many time commitments right now.

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Sally-Ann wrote:
Gosh your photos are amazing. Your MK photo is mind blowing, looking forward to reading the rest of your trip

Thank you for the kind comments Sally-Ann! Glad you're reading along with my report...Mahalo!

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alicemouse wrote:
Wow I thought that photo of MK was one of the photos that comes free with memory maker...

LOL...Although it's no where near that good, I appreciate the comment alicemouse!

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The Dragon atop Gringotts Bank was the #1 photo I wanted to shoot at night! I had photographed it earlier in the evening handheld, but I knew the ISO would be ridiculously high. I waited until park closing to break out my tripod and proceeded to fire away. I failed to capture the dragon blowing out flames as it overexposed my image. Probably should have shot it with an ND filter, but my being a newbie was a bit overwhelming. On a down note, a security guard came up to me and told me that my type of cameras are not allowed in the park! I told her I'm an amateur and only shooting for my own personal use. She said that didn't matter, but since it was almost closing, she would let it slide. I apologized and moved on, but that pretty much dampened my enthusiasm for trying to photograph any more in that area. Not sure what that was about, but no other security personnel approached me at any other time about my gear. Because the area was nearly empty and I'm using a tripod... it probably made me an easy target.

Dragon @ Diagon Alley Night Shot by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

Dragon @ Diagon Alley Night Shot 03 by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

Dragon @ Diagon Alley Night Shot 02 by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

Here is a daytime shot of the dragon for comparison...

Dragon in Diagon Alley @ Universal Studios Orlando by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

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All right, I'm jumping around a bit posting photos as I wanted to put up the night shots of the dragon. During the day, Diagon Alley was slammed packed especially inside the stores. My wife and I had to try the Butter Beer, so we ordered both the standard and frosty version. The frosty was the way to go big time! Unfortunately, Sue had accidentally ordered the "commemorative mug" which was something like...$10.00-12.00 each. That did make the drink a little less enjoyable. Seriously, I think we always come back from a theme park trip with a gagillion cups. And this trip was no exception...these two were the first of many...GULP!

I also tried to catch most of the stage shows which included Celestine Warbeck and the Banshees and the Triwizards Spirit Rally...

Sue enjoys Butter Beer @ Universal Studios Orlando by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

Celestina Warbeck & the Banshees 02 by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

Celestina Warbeck & the Banshees 01 by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

Triwizards Spirit Rally @ Universal's islands of Adventure 07 by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

Triwizards Spirit Rally @ Universal's islands of Adventure 01 by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

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Wow you certainly have a talent for picture taking! I agree re the frozen butterbeer. Enjoying your trip so far xxx

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Our Very Merry 24 nighter Nov/Dec 15
Watson's go West May 15
The one with all the birthdays Oct 14 4 Big Birthdays and a Vow Renewal thrown in
The OMG trip June 14 30th Birthday present from the hubs
Girly trip March 14 A last min cheapy week
September 13 our first all DVC stay
TR May 2013 the last min bargain trip offsite
Oct 2012 TR with a cruise!big family trip featuring the beach club, AKL, the dream and a villa offsite
TR on a budget May - June 2011offsite condo
TR Sept - Oct 2010 big family trip in an offsite villa

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Beautiful photographs!

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Wow it looks like the camera, lens, and time researching were a good investment! Those are some seriously awesome pictures! And the food at Rock & Brews looks delicious! Loving the Portofino lobby, too. We've never checked out the Universal hotels.

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Awesome trip report so far! Love your pictures!

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Can't wait to read more! Those pictures are stunning. Smile

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This is fabulous! Giving me my fix till we get there this summer clapping

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RobynPrincess wrote:
Wow you certainly have a talent for picture taking! I agree re the frozen butterbeer. Enjoying your trip so far xxx

Thanks RobynPrincess...glad you're enjoying the report! When my wife brought me my frozen butterbeer in my "special" cup and told me it cost her close to $30.00...I almost choked...LOL! The service counter helpers seem to default you to the souvenir mug unless you specify you want just a regular cup. Have you tried LeFou's Brew too?

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Kris1971 wrote:
Beautiful photographs!

Mahalo Kris1971!

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Allie wrote:
Wow it looks like the camera, lens, and time researching were a good investment! Those are some seriously awesome pictures! And the food at Rock & Brews looks delicious! Loving the Portofino lobby, too. We've never checked out the Universal hotels.

Hi Allie! I had doubts about such an investment into new camera gear, but it did put me on a new path of obsession...LOL! Thank you for the kind words. Yes, I was surprised how good the food was at Rock & Brews. Again, could be I was super hungry too, but my wife said her food was delicious too. I'll have a few more photos of Portofino in this report (as well as Cabana Bay).

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FutureMrsHurst wrote:
Awesome trip report so far! Love your pictures!

Thank you so much...glad you're enjoying my long winded report!

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Lovely photography! I can absolutely see Tom's influence in your shots, I think that you've done an amazing job taking that style and applying it over at Universal (which is not something I've seen much of). I'm an auto-shooter on a NIkon D5200. I really want to invest in a new lens before my next trip, but I doubt that will happen. I have a AF-s Nikkor 18-55mm that came with the camera and it's not really living up to my standards.

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danijrod wrote:
Can't wait to read more! Those pictures are stunning. Smile

Mahalo danijrod! You're only seeing the ones that came out decent. You should see the other billion I had to trash!

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Ms.Mouse wrote:
This is fabulous! Giving me my fix till we get there this summer clapping

LOL..glad I can help tide you over until summer! What hotel will you be staying at? We actually did five different resorts this past Christmas (yep, crazy for sure)!

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Kristen K. wrote:
Lovely photography! I can absolutely see Tom's influence in your shots, I think that you've done an amazing job taking that style and applying it over at Universal (which is not something I've seen much of). I'm an auto-shooter on a NIkon D5200. I really want to invest in a new lens before my next trip, but I doubt that will happen. I have a AF-s Nikkor 18-55mm that came with the camera and it's not really living up to my standards.

Thank you Kristen K! I'm still learning and making tons of mistakes, but enjoying the journey. I'll talk about it later in the trip report, but I actually ended up meeting...and shooting next to Tom!

The D5200 is a solid camera! Always happy to meet a fellow Nikon shooter...LOL! Have you looked into a 35mm prime lens? Not too expensive, but you'll notice a jump in sharpness and IQ almost immediately.

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The other show was a "Frog Choir". These performances are simple and entertaining and the crowds seem to enjoy it. It's nothing spectacular, but they're "free" to watch and doesn't require you to wait an hour or so to get a decent view...

Hogsmeade Frog Choir 07 by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

Hogsmeade Frog Choir 04 by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

Hogsmeade Frog Choir 06 by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

Hogsmeade Frog Choir 09 by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

Hogsmeade Frog Choir 05 by Juneau Biscuits, on Flickr

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juneau biscuits wrote:

Thank you Kristen K! I'm still learning and making tons of mistakes, but enjoying the journey. I'll talk about it later in the trip report, but I actually ended up meeting...and shooting next to Tom!

The D5200 is a solid camera! Always happy to meet a fellow Nikon shooter...LOL! Have you looked into a 35mm prime lens? Not too expensive, but you'll notice a jump in sharpness and IQ almost immediately.

I do think a 35mm prime is what I'll end up buying next. I first learned how to shoot (35 years ago) on a 35mm Nikon and I think that would bring me nicely full circle from shooting as a child to improving my photography now. I've just had so much "stuff" going on my lens keeps getting put off, then I go and take some pictures and remember I don't care for this one. I have a nice crisp telephoto, but sometimes you can only back up so far. LOL!

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Kristen K. wrote:
juneau biscuits wrote:

Thank you Kristen K! I'm still learning and making tons of mistakes, but enjoying the journey. I'll talk about it later in the trip report, but I actually ended up meeting...and shooting next to Tom!

The D5200 is a solid camera! Always happy to meet a fellow Nikon shooter...LOL! Have you looked into a 35mm prime lens? Not too expensive, but you'll notice a jump in sharpness and IQ almost immediately.

I do think a 35mm prime is what I'll end up buying next. I first learned how to shoot (35 years ago) on a 35mm Nikon and I think that would bring me nicely full circle from shooting as a child to improving my photography now. I've just had so much "stuff" going on my lens keeps getting put off, then I go and take some pictures and remember I don't care for this one. I have a nice crisp telephoto, but sometimes you can only back up so far. LOL!

I'm sure you have full plate which pushed a new lens down the priority list pretty quickly! I too started with a Nikon film camera. I finally made the jump to digital after I had improperly loaded a roll of film and ended up with zero exposures.

Just as a side note, I did bring a 35mm f/1.4 prime with me to WDW, but after the 3rd day, I pretty much left it behind at the hotel room. I just found it too tight and crowded to zoom with my feet, and ended up missing some shots. If I was a regular park goer, I would absolutely do days where I only shoot with a prime. But being as I'm out here in Hawaii, a WDW trip is a rare occurrence, so I had to cover my bases.

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juneau biscuits wrote:
RobynPrincess wrote:
Wow you certainly have a talent for picture taking! I agree re the frozen butterbeer. Enjoying your trip so far xxx

Thanks RobynPrincess...glad you're enjoying the report! When my wife brought me my frozen butterbeer in my "special" cup and told me it cost her close to $30.00...I almost choked...LOL! The service counter helpers seem to default you to the souvenir mug unless you specify you want just a regular cup. Have you tried LeFou's Brew too?

I got ours in the regular cups but I sent hubby to buy them so he probably made sure he paid the cheaper option hahaha laugh I love le frew's brew, I actually prefer it to butterbeer! But both remind me of one another.

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Our Very Merry 24 nighter Nov/Dec 15
Watson's go West May 15
The one with all the birthdays Oct 14 4 Big Birthdays and a Vow Renewal thrown in
The OMG trip June 14 30th Birthday present from the hubs
Girly trip March 14 A last min cheapy week
September 13 our first all DVC stay
TR May 2013 the last min bargain trip offsite
Oct 2012 TR with a cruise!big family trip featuring the beach club, AKL, the dream and a villa offsite
TR on a budget May - June 2011offsite condo
TR Sept - Oct 2010 big family trip in an offsite villa

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RobynPrincess wrote:
juneau biscuits wrote:
RobynPrincess wrote:
Wow you certainly have a talent for picture taking! I agree re the frozen butterbeer. Enjoying your trip so far xxx

Thanks RobynPrincess...glad you're enjoying the report! When my wife brought me my frozen butterbeer in my "special" cup and told me it cost her close to $30.00...I almost choked...LOL! The service counter helpers seem to default you to the souvenir mug unless you specify you want just a regular cup. Have you tried LeFou's Brew too?

I got ours in the regular cups but I sent hubby to buy them so he probably made sure he paid the cheaper option hahaha laugh I love le frew's brew, I actually prefer it to butterbeer! But both remind me of one another.

We're definitely on the same page. I also prefer Le Fou's...a little less sweet, which I prefer. I still see those two Butter Beer mugs sitting on our kitchen shelf...UGH!