Chris' Disney Blog

This is another Disney Blog by a Disney fan who wants to talk about whatever he wants. Disney related, of course.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Is there a better nightcap?

Would you go to Disneyland if there were no fireworks? I would. That fact makes fireworks that much more special to me.

People will save a place hours ahead of time to try and be right in front of the castle. Admit it. You stop whatever you are doing and watch. If you are at your hotel and you hear the boom you go outside to look.

In my opinion there could not be a better thank you from Disney to the park guests. They already have you there. You turned over your money and you spent your day racing from ride to ride. There is no need to give you more. Unless you are Disney. It is just one of the many reasons that Disney is at a different level than all other theme parks.

To Disney I say thank you.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Walt Disney World: Vacation Complete!

We made it. A trip that was in the planning for over a year has been completed. We stayed at Walt Disney World for eight nights and still left there wondering how we could have missed so much.

Our tour begins here in this gallery... We had been planning on going to Walt Disney World for Christmas 2008. This time of year was not cheap to say the least. When Disney made the announcement that they would offer the dining plan for free in September we moved our reservation. We booked Disney's Pop Century Resort for September 1 - 9. The room was small but it was a bed at night and we were not planning on spending much time there. We did pay for the preferred room so we would be close to the food court and easily able to refill our resort mugs. The theme is pretty in your face at this hotel but it worked. Our kids enjoyed the pool and we enjoyed the price.

We had planned and tried to predict what park we would spend the day at months in advance so we could carefully book our dining reservations. What did we learn on this trip? We don't know jack about planning a trip to Walt Disney World.

From day one we felt like we were behind schedule and running from dining reservation to Fantasmic to Animal Kingdom. While we were planning our dining we were not taking into account the sheer amount of time that it takes to eat at the restaurants. We had not planned enough time into our days to rest.

You can't do it all... As much as we wanted to, we could not fit everything into an eight day vacation. That was our goal. We had not been there with children before this vacation but we had taken our kids to Disneyland many, many times. We thought that they were used to a Disney trip and they would be able to go like the Energizer Bunny. The reality is that we go to Disneyland so often that we take every day there at a more relaxed pace. We don't rush and we never make it a point to race from attraction to attraction. When Disneyland is too crowded we head to DCA or the hotel. We don't plan on rest at Disneyland, it just happens.

Get smart... We paid for the water park and more option for our park tickets. We went to one water park. At over $50 to purchase the option and $40 to buy a one day admission to a water park. Do the math and we gave Disney $10 for nothing. I guess I was having such a good time down there that I felt like I owed them more. I can't say that I didn't get good use out of mine though. I went to the Adventurer's Club one night by myself. That means that my ticket came out with about a $10 savings. My wife's lost $10 and my son lost $16. They don't discount the children's water park and more addition to the ticket. We were going to go to the water park more than once and my wife and I were going to go to the Adventurer's Club together. We didn't. Goes back to the last paragraph I guess.

There was never a truly relaxed day for us. We used this vacation as a learning experience for next time and will be taking the lessons learned and having a much better vacation next year when we go back to Disney World.

Over the next couple weeks there will be a few dining reviews and some more information on a few of the tips we have collected to make your vacation easier.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party vs. Mickey's Trick-or-Treat Party

Halloween at Disney is one of the very special times of year that the parks are decorated and there is a festive mood in the air. At Disneyland HalloweenTime has come to rival Christmas with the number of decorations and holiday overlays. On both coasts Halloween means separate ticket Halloween parties.

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom and Mickey's Trick-or-Treat Party at Disney's California Adventure are both available on select nights in September and October. For the first time this year I had the opportunity to attend both parties. We visited Walt Disney World in early September and attended the very first party on September 5th. Then just last Friday, October 17th we went to the Disneyland Resort and trick-or-treated our way around Disney's California Adventure. Both were very fun and a great way to spend an evening at a Disney resort, but there are some differences between them.

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party sets the mood from the second you walk through the gates into the Magic Kingdom. The normal music is replaced with spooky music from the Haunted Mansion and the Nightmare Before Christmas. There is fog rising in front of the train station and you enter through the dark tunnel where you are handed your trick-or-treat bag. There are several special events that take place through the night and a special map to help you find all of the candy stations and times for the parade and fireworks.

The Boo to You Parade is up there as one of my very favorite parades at a Disney park. They start the parade with the Headless Horseman riding down Main Street. A few minutes later the parade follows. There were floats for the Country Bears, Mickey and Minnie, Pirates of the Caribbean, and many others. The two that stood above the other in my mind were the Haunted Mansion and the Villains floats. When the Haunted Mansion float is approaching the Caretaker and his dog walk past. The three Hitchhiking Ghosts are dancing on their float and there is a group of gravediggers that follow. The dance they perform with their shovels is fun and surprising if you aren't expecting it. You can't find more villains in one spot than in this parade. It ends with Goofy's Candy Company bringing candy to all of the parade viewers.

HalloWishes was very impressive and it is nice that they have a special fireworks show just for the Halloween party. They set off fireworks to Halloween music and end with a Halloween karaoke. The music from the end was not up to what I had expected but not a disappointment either. The Villains show on the Castle stage was fun and something different to see.

We spent the bulk of our time taking our kids from candy station to candy station. We left the party with more candy than anybody should eat in a year. We did not spend very much time on attractions since we could do that any other time and this night was all about the special events. We made an obvious exception for the Haunted Mansion. The storyteller out front was spooky and there were many people that stopped in the queue to watch her. She did a perfect job of setting the mood for the attraction.

Mickey's Trick-or-Treat Party at Disney's California Adventure received a name change in the last year. Previous parties were known as Mickey's Halloween Treat.

You enter Disney's California Adventure and are greeted by a dance party in the Sunshine Plaza. There are projections of spider webs and witches all over the park. There were probably just as many candy stations in DCA as there were in the Magic Kingdom. The Sorcerer's Workshop in the Animation Building, the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, and the trail that meanders through the Grizzly River Run were all loaded with candy.

Character Cavalcade 2006 - Photo by Me

The party was changed little from last year to the current year. A notable exception being the Character Cavalcade. While the Character Cavalcade is still not a true parade it is a huge improvement of the past year's "parade." In the past Mickey and Minnie were dragged around on a trailer with other characters following. This was done at the party was ending to try and get you out the gates. Now they had a float and signs announcing what you were watching. There were three or four songs and all of the characters got into the act. This was done an hour before the end of the party and gave you plenty of time to get in a few more rides, a little more candy, or dance with your favorite character.

Character Cavalcade 2008

It is very hard to compare the two parties since Mickey's Trick-or-Treat Party is still very new. The parade and the fireworks were the biggest difference I saw. The lack of these will not deter me from attending Mickey's Trick-or-Treat Party. There may be a simple explanation for the difference in the parties. You get what you pay for. Our tickets to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party were over $50 per person. The Anaheim party was under $30. Wouldn't you expect to get less when you look at the difference? I would gladly hand another $20 to Disney if they gave us a full parade and special fireworks at the Halloween party.

I would attend both again and I will recommend both to friends. I look forward to Mickey's Trick-or-Treat Party next year and with a little luck another trip to Walt Disney World and Mickey's Not so Scary Halloween Party.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Reimagineering Disney's California Adventure: Blue Sky Cellar

As most anybody that would read this already knows, a preview center has opened up in Disney's California Adventure highlighting some of the coming changes to the park. I happened to be at Disneyland this past weekend during the Annual Passholder preview of the preview center. For the first time since these changes were announced over a year ago we have something to look forward to other than wild web rumors.

As the name may imply the Blue Sky Cellar is located in the Golden Vine Winery area at California Adventure. The Seasons of the Vine movie had been playing sporadically at best for quite some time so I don't think it will be missed.

Approaching the Cellar there are three billboards on the side of the building giving you a sneak peak at Buena Vista Street, Carsland, and Paradise Pier. Buena Vista Street is what they will be naming the entrance to California Adventure. The turnstiles will be housed under gates that look to be clones of the entrance to Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World. Other than the unimpressive cloned gates the rest of the street is a substantial upgrade over the existing park entrance. If the concepts become reality there will be a Red Car Trolley that transports you to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot, Curbs and Sidewalks, and the Carthay Circle Theatre instead of a giant golden sun. The concept art of Carsland was impressive in scope and detail. Many of the residents of Radiator Springs will be represented in the park and the Radiator Springs Racers is looking more and more impressive with every glimpse.

The entrance to the Cellar is right across the patio from the Wine Country Trattoria. Walking in I was excited just by the sign over the door. You enter and turn to your right and there is a picture of the man that started it all. After walking past Walt you pass what look like cork boards with notes and pictures tacked all over them. These boards highlight the Silly Symphony Swings, The Little Mermaid attraction, Disney's World of Color, and Toy Story Midway Mania. It is more concept art and small bits of information on the coming attractions.

The center of the rooms contains the models of Paradise Pier and the new Midway Games. There were also two drafting tables that had an overhead view of Paradise Pier and art from Midway Mania. There were interactive trivia games built into wine barrels on the wall in this section too.
Down two stairs was a small theater that played a short movie giving a brief, but insightful view of changes that are coming. The short clips from Disney's World of Color have me very excited to see more. They gave you more information on every attraction that has been announced for the park. They obviously do not go into great detail but they do manage to whet your appetite for more. Next to the theater is an enlarged copy of the concept map. You could potentially stare at this one item for hours trying to find small details. Right before you exit there is a small model and some concept art of the Red Car Trolley. Just adding the trolley will be a nice addition to the park and give it some of the kinetic energy that it is missing.

After a year of rumors and speculation there is finally something you can see. Construction has yet to start but just seeing the concepts is very exciting to a geek like me. They will be changing the exhibits from time to time so we should have something new to gawk at sometime next year. With expansion plans coming to a halt around the Disney Universe it is great that the DCA makeover is still moving forward. I for one will be waiting with anticipation for the walls that signal progress.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Can you find me?

Many people pass through New Orleans Square on any given day. All make sure to visit Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Many will eat at the Blue Bayou, French Market, or Cafe Orleans. How many of these thousands of people stop to visit my one of my favorite food stands in any Disney park in the world.

The Mint Julep Bar has been ingrained in my memory since I was a child as a fun place to stop for a treat. My parents would make a point at least once a trip to buy fritters from this little stand. In the years that have passed since it has remained a family tradition and is now a tradition with my own family.

Mint Juleps are a favorite of mine. You can get them at other locations in New Orleans Square but they just seem to taste better when they come from the Mint Julep Bar. The Cinnamon Crisp is another excellent choice. Funnel cakes are another popular item from this bar. You will find many that say there isn't a good cup of coffee in Disneyland but I have always liked the espresso here.

The menu may be limited but that is part of the charm. This little out of the way stand on the backside of the French Market is a special find for anybody that finds themselves next to the New Orleans Square Train Station and thirst for a unique beverage.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

DCA vs. A Parking Lot

If you spend any time at all checking Disney message boards, and if you are reading this you do, you have seen threads started by Disney Fundamentalists announcing they would rather have a parking lot than Disney's California Adventure. Do these people truly wish that DCA had never been built? I think we should try to find some reasons why they would believe this.

The parking lot was closer than the current parking garage. It was cheaper to park your car for the day in the parking lot than it is for a one day admission to DCA. You never ever saw a Pixar character in the parking lot. They had the great segment in the Monorail spiel about finding your car as you passed by the parking lot. Those are about all the pro's I can think of for leaving the parking lot in place. (I am not saying I agree with any of them I was just trying to look at this from the view of a DCA hater.)

I tend to view California Adventure more as an undiscovered gem in the Disney universe. I am not saying that this park compares on any level with the masterpiece across the esplanade, but it still a special place. If the Animation Building did not contain any of the shows that it currently hosts I would still visit. The lobby is spectacular. All the classic movies and songs make this a great place to sit and dream.

Even if it isn't as good as the older version at Disney MGM Studios, Oops, Disney's Hollywood Studios, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is a wonderfully themed attraction that provides an engaging story and thrills that make you scream. The best part of this attraction is that in Florida you always have a line and in DCA you can almost always walk on. I have only once had a line over 30 minutes staring at me when I walked through the gates.

Soarin' Over California is amazing! I don't think that I have to provide any further explanation to support that statement. If I must I will say that Disney built a very unique attraction that almost, but not quite, makes up for the removal of the CircleVision 360 from Tomorrowland. On both coasts this attraction packs them in.

If you want detailed theming, a thrill, and a little soak, Grizzly River Run is just past Soarin'. It is safe to say that this is the best river rapids ride I have ever seen. It is fun to ride and it is fun to watch. This was a great addition to the Disneyland Resort.

I have only touched on four small areas/attractions in DCA and I already feel that the pro's for DCA far outweigh the pro's for the parking lot. I think the fan community can give it a rest. DCA is here to stay and will be improving for the better. It may not be the perfect theme park but, come on, it is better than a parking lot.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Walt Disney World: The Countdown Begins

Planning a trip to Walt Disney World can be both exciting and frustrating. There are so many attractions, shows, and restaurants to visit and experience that you can have a hard time prioritizing. You can find something new every time you visit. I just found out about a snack bar in Adventureland today that I had never noticed in any of my prior visits. I can't wait to get out there again and try an Citrus Swirl.

Walt Disney World doesn't make it easy on vacation planners either. With 19 resorts to pick from just narrowing down the hotel can be quite challenging. Don't even get me started on the restaurants. Every trip you leave wishing you had tried just one more place.

We are currently planning the next trip and we are doing our best to keep the families of authors of Walt Disney travel books well fed. As we purchase more and more I am finding myself more and more confused. Do we take a longer trip and stay at a value or moderate resort or shorter trip and a deluxe resort? Where do we make our ADR's? Do we get the standard dining plan or the deluxe? When do the questions stop?

The closer we get to booking a vacation the more questions and little must "do's" we have added to our list. We haven't been to Walt Disney World since our honeymoon in 2003. We just kind of threw that trip together at the last minute. This is a very different story this time around. By the time we take the trip I am sure that we will have down to the minute itineraries that have potty breaks scheduled. Maybe that is a little extreme. This is absolutely going to be the best planned trip we have ever taken though.

Our trip is still pretty far away but we are excited for the time to come and confused on where to stay, eat, and play.