Thursday, September 20, 2012

Magic Kingdom Celebrates a Birthday

Well look who turned 40!! Today we return to our 2011 Disney World adventure. One of the reasons Eric made the suggestion for our visit was because he felt it would be great to be apart of this day. He was correct! It would be awesome to think we were the only ones who had the idea, but that wasn't the case. And to be honest, the fact that so many other guests were excited made it that more special.

Approaching from the shuttles.

Taking in the crowd's size!

We were anticipating a big crowd at the main gate. Eric and I took our resort shuttle early, but we should have left 20 minutes sooner. Still, we were very patient and did I mention excited? The anticipation grew when we were able to see the grand crowd at the front of the Magic Kingdom! And, it was touching to see the groups of Cast Members that returned to celebrate. Some of them had shirts stating their years of service and where they worked. 

After the daily welcome show, we headed to grab our free birthday button, and get a spot for the show at the castle. We heard there would be a small re-dedication. There wasn't a lot planned for the festivities, but we wanted to be there for what we could see. We met up with our fellow SoCal friends Josh and Daniel, and found a spot on the "Liberty Square" side of the Partners Statue.
Self Guest Control with a little walkway?? 

In a crowd, I tend to listen into the surrounding conversations. Some were chatting about old times and where they use to work. Others spoke about the fact they were back after many years of not visiting. Everyone was just so happy! People even kept a walkway?? These were definitely Cast Members! Despite the "self guest control", a tall man managed to block Eric's view. However; we had a perfect spot for the cavalcade.

After a few words from a former Cast Member and executive the crowd was blanketed in steamers. It became a free for all as everyone began filtering out through the park. I had never seen the park this busy before. I was sure that prior to the end of the ceremony, the various attraction operators had an easy morning because all guests had to have been there with us. We made a quick plan with our friends to meet up again for the evening entertainment. Since we were on the Liberty Square side of the hub, Eric and I headed to the West end of the park.

Two of our favorite attractions are right near each other, Haunted Mansion and "it's a small world". Although the originals are at Disneyland, they are important in the Disney parks heritage. Eric and I were also curious about the new interactive  queue for Mansion. It was fun to set off the different gags and get photographed with the new busts. It can be bypassed, but it's cute enough to check out. If the queue was full to capacity I'm not sure how one would filter back to the normal queue. We were still one of the few that ran to this attraction. It seemed that a good amount of people were lining up for the special merchandise at the Golden Horseshoe. 

"it's a small world" is starting to need a rehab again. The first time I rode the Disney World version (2003) I was horrified! Then in the middle of the last decade, the attraction had a facelift that really bumped up the quality. Well it seems to be slipping again. While most people our age would skip this attraction, it's a must do for Eric and I. We met at the Disneyland version of "it's a small world", so riding the little cruise is special for us. 

We were about to board Peter Pan's Flight

Eric and I really enjoy the Fantasyland area. I will say that an odd aspect I do like is the whole 1970s look it has. I don't think people who have only ever visited Magic Kingdom would know what I mean because they are use to this look only. I could also say the aesthetic reminds me of the former look of Fantasyland in Disneyland. We all know that will change once the New Fantasyland opens this year at Magic Kingdom. Again most adults may skip this area, but we never could do that. In case you didn't figure it out, we don't skip areas because "that's kid stuff". We even had to say our last Good-Bye to the attraction, Snow White's Scary Adventure. That location will be a princess meet n greet in the near future.

All while sporting our 40th Birthday buttons, we pressed on through the various lands in the park. Jungle Cruise always seems to have a lengthy queue but the fast passes available were during parade time. Maybe next time Eric and I will grab a fast pass earlier in the day. Luckily after the wait, we had a Cast Member who gave us a few laughs. It's also fun to ride with groups that have no clue what's going on. For fun with those non-english groups, the skipper will go off script a bit, but not always. 

As twilight set in we started thinking of the night time entertainment. I may get made fun of, but I always enjoy the Electrical Parade. Does it need to be even more updated? Yes it sure does need more than a new soundtrack and one new float. But, I enjoy the parade for what it is and I do love the new music. We also met up with our friends Josh and Daniel! They too were enjoying their day and were ready for the Wishes fireworks and Electrical Parade. No matter if I've seen a Disney show before, I take more photos. I always try and get better shots than what I have. The one showing here isn't too bad.

Again, there was a crowd I had never seen before. Just as the fireworks ended, we stood up, walked two steps to the curb, and that became our parade spot. We couldn't move and had to stay there for two of the Magic, Memories, and You projection shows. Eric and I can't stand those projection shows, but obviously other guests enjoy it. We lucked out because our seats faced away from the castle. I caved and still took a few shots to pass time before the parade. Did I mention it was REALLY crowded?

One has to keep in mind that most guests visiting are in the park for "the long haul". These people leave when they are close to kicked out! As the park finally cleared out we took in the various shops on Main St by looking at everything. We don't really buy a lot of merchandise, but one shouldn't overlook the possibilities. Somewhere in all that could be a great find! Eric did buy a 40th Anniversay Duffy and we had some camera fun with him. 


All in all it was a normal day at Magic Kingdom but with a bigger crowd. If it hadn't been for the ceremony and cavalcade, an unsuspecting guest would never know the difference. At least Disney did do something. We have our buttons, our Duffy, and our photos to remember the day.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Seize the Evening at Disneyland Resort

While living in Orange County, heading to Disneyland or California Adventure can be a fun Saturday night! Well this weekend it was just that. This is what happens when we crave ice cream, Flo's V8 Cafe, a Mojito, and a few thrilling adventures. Are we spoiled to be so close to the fun? Yes we are. To be truthful, I don't see how we would be able to live far away from Disneyland.

The end of Summer hours certainly didn't keep away our group of five or the other visitors. This day Eric and myself visited with his cousin Rey, Brandi (Rey's fantastic girlfriend), and Eric's Mother Mary. No. She is not a nun. Her name is Mary and she is Eric's Mother...but I digress. Buena Vista St. had a good sized crowd for 6 PM, when we arrived.

Mary had yet to see all the new changes to the park that opened this past June. (She has an excuse because she lives in LA County) She was amazed by what she saw before her! I must add that since this revamp, I too am very impressed when I walk through those gates. All the photos and videos don't give you the full experience! I was glad that since she hadn't been there before, we took extra time looking through the shops such as Trolley Treats and Elias & Co. Brandi and Rey were eyeing some merchandise in Trolley Treats!! Rey is a Peanut Butter fan and was dying to have to Peanut Butter sandwich. It's very good, but he opted to wait until after dinner. The visit also made me happy because I could tell Eric was having a great time showing his mom everything.

I had been hungry since about 4:30 and it was a little past 6 PM. I know we had our sights set on Flo's V8 Cafe so we "high tailed" it to where "Life is a Highway"! I needed to get that Turkey plate and the Apple/Chedder pie in my tummy!

For those still anticipating a trip to Cars Land, sit in Flo's dining area on the eastern end. Your group will have an excellent view of Radiator Springs Racers. 

 As we expected, the meal was delicious and satisfying. I told Eric that I don't even remember seeing the Turkey on his plate!! I'm use to seeing food disappear that fast from our great friend Ricky! I know for me, I was anxious to get to that pie. The cheese and apple together sounded rather odd as a pie. But, ever since I tried it back in June, I love it!

The sky when we first arrived in the park wasn't too impressive.  I would say that it almost looked white at the time. But as the sun began to set, I glanced out the huge window and I just had to go snap a few photos! I'm not at all a professional photographer, but I do enjoy taking photos. I jumped from the table immediately and called out a quick "be right back!"

After taking in our fair share of carbs and sugar, we felt we needed to fall down the rabbit hole. Brandi and Rey also became fans of Mad T Party when we visited with them in late May. I think Rey wanted to jump onstage with the band! Again, Mary loved it! She said it didn't even feel like the same park! I shot a short video of the DJ playing Kylie Minogue's song Timebomb, and I posted it to this link here :

Our Fast Pass time was rolling around for Radiator Springs Racers so we finished our beverages and dashed back to Cars Land. I accidentally cut out Brandi from the photo of our vehicle. Although she isn't shown here, I can say she was having a "race-tastic" time!

Eric made a good point as we waited to ride Mater's Junkyard Jamboree. How did they crush the can without hands?

Disneyland park seemed to be calling out to us because non of us were ready to end the evening at 10 PM. Fantasmic showings were over and so was pyro. This is the hour when the crowds really begin to thin out. I was glad that Brandi mentioned she had never been in Main St Cinema and you'll see my reason in just a bit. However; when she first said this I fainted right there on the spot! (I did win the Drama Queen award at Universal)

When we were at Clarabelle's Ice Cream Parlor Eric mentioned that Clarabelle, the cow, had a huge crush on Clarke Gable. I wasn't too familiar with this, but once in the cinema I would be.

To take a quick step back to DCA, you can see that Clarabelle keeps a photo of her beloved celebrity. Confused? I was. And if you already knew this, then just come along for the ride please.

Look! Here is Clarabelle kissing Mr. Gable in the Disney cartoon called "The Polo Match"! Although I had been in the Main St Cinema before, I don't think I ever caught this. Bravo for the cool detail over at the ice cream parlor.

We had an awesome time showing Brandi another new experience. She had never been in the castle walk through. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt that the castle entrance is somewhat hidden. Even though the rehab for the castle was a few years ago, it still looks great.

After riding a snob of a caterpillar on the Alice in Wonderland attraction, we also rocketed through the stars at Space Mountain! I love those rides! By now I had to admit my steam was drying up and I was starting to feel the fact that it was 12:30 AM. (awake since 3:15 AM for work...another story)

While heading back to the main entrance I felt lucky to know we could return very soon. I love seeing people eating ice cream on the curbs of Main St. so late at night. The guests look tired, but are holding onto the times they will always remember. I sometimes wonder if it is their first or maybe last visits here. See you soon Disneyland!!

Cinematic Surrealism Brought to Life

Today we take some time discussing Cirque du 's show Iris. Eric and I are huge fans of the company and try not to miss a show.  Iris is Hollywood's resident Cirque show at The Dolby Theater. To those in the surrounding counties of Los Angeles I ask, "If you haven't seen it, why not?"

 Iris set out to be a show that captivates audiences as they travel through a cinematic experience. Both Eric and I love movies so we were drawn to it. The production company has accomplished their goal and am sad to report few have seen it! Nor have many heard the specially composed score by Danny Elfman.

The tag line of the show "A Journey Through the World of Cinema" might put people off. Maybe to some the tag line conveys a type film timeline? What Eric and I experienced was a showcase of movie magic taking place in our reality. The lights dim and Cirque's whimsical interpretation of the MGM lion roar is shown on a screen. Suddenly the audience is taken to a place where shadows come to life, light is deceiving, performers step out of film strips, illusions are real life, and action ensues.

Trip to watch for my birthday!

Apart from the thought provoking imagery, the music draws you into the show. Danny Elfman, famous for his scores of Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, and Nightmare Before Christmas, wrote a soundtrack that struck a cord with me. Through their showmanship it's evident that the score inspires the performers too. A full orchestra was recorded in a studio. The 8 piece, in theater band comprised of Cello, Violin, Piano, wind instruments, and Percussion plays along with the audio track. Cirque installs it's own sound system for the show and removes it when they clear out for the Academy Awards.

A new incarnation of the show will open on September 14, 2012. While keeping most of the acts, The show has recently been shortened. Ten to twenty of the cast members have been let go. When Iris opens up again it will be a 90 minute production. This might be better for audiences as that is how it is done at other resident shows. Even in Las Vegas The Phantom of the Opera at the Venetian was shortened to 90 minutes.

"What needed to be fixed," you might ask? In my opinion art is what one makes of it. But, this is also a business that needs to sell tickets and fill The Dolby Theater. A shorter show with less performers, and keeping the same prices could help the show stay afloat. If anything, the pricing needs to be "re-mapped" according to where one sits. Maybe the third tier center shouldn't have to pay top dollar?

We also had a backstage tour after we saw the show.

I'm rooting for this show for a selfish reason. It's a Cirque du Soleil show that is in my top 3 of the Cirque presentations and it's local. Eric and I have seen the show twice! We watched in December of 2011 and for my birthday this past July. They have frequent specials via their e-mail newsletter to Cirque Club members (free to join). I have also used the Goldstar website for discount tickets because I love a good deal!

There are positive opinions on Yelp reviews too! The only complaints are that people don't want to pay for parking. LA parking is always an issue, but that's separate from the show. Support the arts and check out Iris! It will make a great evening. I know that at some point Eric and I will watch the new 90 minute version.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fast Pass Plus invites!

So our Walt Disney World trip is fast approaching! Less than three weeks to go and today we received a Fast Pass plus invite. This would allow us to schedule fast pass uses for one day at the Magic Kingdom. A guest is able to print your attraction schedule from a kiosk at the park or from Magical Express check-in. The catch for the trail period is that we must use the system on our first day. We'll need to get four sets of two to get through the site, and choose the same time frames. 

Although its great we can test out this system, we don't arrive until 4 pm. We went ahead and chose our four attractions. Jungle Cruise, Peter Pan, Big Thunder Mountain, and Winnie the Pooh were the attractions we chose. We based these choices off the fact that the queues for these are usually longer. Jungle Cruise might seem like an odd one but it always has a lengthy wait. Then there came a problem. The computer scheduled our times in the morning hours and wouldn't let us alter them for evening. We tried again and the system kicked us out for software compatibility. 

Our other travel companion attempted to use this as well and had a different experience. He wasn't booted out. Instead, the site wasn't allowing him to navigate through choices. There are buttons you use to select time ranges and refresh your page. His "buttons" were not visible. We're on our way to losing the evening slots!!

We then tried my iPad it was compatible! Two of our times, for Jungle Cruise and Peter Pan, are still too early, but we'll work on getting that changed. It says we can try again for different times. Our friend sent us a text letting us know he had luck as well! Now we need to notify two more sets of two. 

Did anyone else out there receive an e-mail? What do you think of the system or idea of it? Let me know down below. Personally I don't like to plan things down to the wire. Dinner reservations are usually as far as I go. Also, we normally use Extra Magic Hours to plan which park to visit, but all your attraction times? Even though it might be too much planning I'm willing to try it. I'll cross my fingers that we can get better time slots for those two attractions. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Running Wild at Universal Studios in Hollywood

Before we head back to Walt Disney World, we stay in California. Today we met up with Ricky, our best friend that lives in Hollywood. As a matter of fact, I am standing in his kitchen while taking the photo below. Nice view, huh?

Well on this particular Labor Day we thought we would convert Ricky to becoming an AP at Universal Studios. After all, it's just over that hill you see there. Although we are part of the "jaded" population that has seen it all in Southern California, we still have a good time. I did forget how cool the Hollywood & Vine Subway station is. A hidden gem that is themed to film.

We encountered a weird character on the subway. But, why wouldn't we? After all this is Hollywood! A man was yelling at strangers while on the train. It was very annoying, and I looked forward to getting off at our stop. Even though I was annoyed at the moment, the subway ride made me miss NYC. I would like to go back. But, as Sophia would say on the Golden Girls, "I digress!"

After we exited and rode the tram to City Walk, we finally made it to what they call "The Entertainment Capitol of L.A." Didn't it use to be called "...of the World"? Does anyone else remember that? 

With a "beep" of the turnstile and the scan of your right index finger we were in the park! We quickly passed the credit card booths and people shouting to take our photo. I'll never get that sales pitch. "Hi just get together for a real quick photo!" Why? I am holding my camera!

Ricky had not been on the new Transformers attraction so that was our main goal. And as we moved through the crowd we came across these two dames. They had some fun banter as they went back and forth in a thick Brooklyn accent. I'll give it to the park that some of the atmosphere talent is quite entertaining. The "woman" on the left was a bitter character indeed. Hilarious!

I wish I had taken photos of the Shrek/Curious George/Flinstones/Western area because the lay out for this is just atrocious! Nothing goes together and it's very crowded. In order to get to the Lower Lot one has to find the way around the hanging Jaws, and Doc Brown's Chicken location. Those two spots almost create a dead end. Anyway, I don't think the average "first-timer" would notice. That person would be too excited.

We then found a photo spot that had significant relevance to today's pop culture...NOT! Does anyone recall the film Apollo 13 or whether it was a film that changed the face of cinema? Maybe to some people it does, but to the three of us it didn't. People sure loved to take a photo with the cut-outs. Ricky and I couldn't resist being so giddy to follow suit!

You do get great views of the Lower Lot as you make your way down five escalators. Even as a ten year old, my first trip there, I thought this escalator situation was odd. But, the land here is limited and what else are they going to do about it? What do you think of it? Any thoughts? In the end, it is not very likely that this will ever change, but we can still discuss it.

As we turned the corner of the renovated facades we could see the show building just ahead of us. We were prepared to wait any amount of time to board. Luckily the wait was maybe 45 minutes long. 

Eric and Ricky had a Gay old time playing with all the gadgets in the queue. The queue is impressive. As you wait in the room with the All Spark being kept in its capsule, the relic is radiating power and a vibration.
Then of course there is the attraction! The crew yells your safety orders at you, the recruits. Once your vehicle parks the "loaders" order you to hustle into the row and get all the way across. "RUN!" they shouted. Pretty cool theming if you ask me and a great way to get those guests in as fast as possible. No wonder the wait time was so short. 

Some of you may have read details of the show scenes, but I say experience that for yourselves. The technology that is being used here is really tricking the brain to feel sensations that convincingly put you in the action of it all. There are a few flying or falling sequences that put this ride over the top! Eric really wants to figure out how this all happens. I am not sure if I want to know.

So of course we had an excellent time! The three of us are also fans of stop motion animation and checked out a small exhibit for the new film ParaNorman. A boy can talk to the dead and he has to save his town from zombies and a witch's curse! Looking at the puppets and sets really show that a lot of detail is shown to really make the story as believable as possible. I really zoomed in on those documents, but they were so small from a normal distance.

It came up in conversation that Ricky had never seen the King Kong experience on the Tram Tour. This took us by a little surprise so we headed back up the escalators to the Tram Loading area. To reach the Tram Tour from the Lower Lot you must ride the five escalators up the hill. Then ride another one down the opposite side. One could say that this park experience takes place on so many levels!

 While in the queue we pondered whether we would join one of the non-English tours. Spanish or perhaps Cantonese?? We stayed in our section of the queue and pressed on. The queue here is usually in constant flow as the trams takes many tourists at once. We actually ended up riding in a tram full of people that were "eating it all up"! The shouts and the interacting wasn't lost on these people. We have ridden those trams where the narrator is met with those awkward silences. But, Eric and I are also to blame as we join in on the silence.

There wasn't any filming today so the route was actually a little different than a few weeks ago. And, we were able to see Jaws with the audio running. Last time filming was close by so as Jaws popped out of the water, there was no noise and no award winning music either.

We did get to see the exterior of the Dolly Parton hit, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas! I have yet to see that film but people tell me it's a "not to be missed". I better get on that!

Like Apollo 13, Universal is hanging onto the sets of The Grinch that Stole Christmas. It just made the three of us laugh. Did anyone really enjoy that film? If you are out there please let us know why. I'm just curious. We laughed at the fact that the tour guide needed to point out that the little vehicle you see is in fact a converted golf cart. Thank you Lexy!

I'm sure there are those out there that feel I should let go of my respect for Hitchcock. The Psycho House and Bates Motel is pretty much my favorite part of the tour. I love the film so much and I think I will pop in the movie this afternoon.
"We all go a little mad sometimes."
Some folks might call Eric and I a little mad, but we have a great time!

 We were storming the shops as we tried to find merchandise from the ParaNorman film. We even tried to take this Vespa to make our search a little faster!

Ricky found some friends from the film, but they didn't know where to find the good stuff. As you can see, Eric doesn't believe a word of their lies! I would say we went to almost every gift shop in that Upper Lot section. Who knew you could find so many different magnets with the word "Hollywood" pressed onto it? Who knew?? Did you??

After all that we barely had enough time for Ricky to get a new hair style. "The works!" he demanded. I think they gave it to him, but does he look pleased?

The time at the park was a fun one. Sure we had a few items to throw critique at, but you can't please everyone. To take Universal's side, the park has changed a great deal since I was a kid. We look forward to the Wizarding World that is to be here in the next few years. We end the day with a look at a Hollywood icon as recognizable as the one captured earlier.  

Can you find it in the dark? Makes me want to go to Disney World!