Monday, December 5, 2016

The Rapids

It's a beautiful park. Flora and fauna abound giving us the feeling as though we're walking through a jungle or preserve and if you're lucky enough, or patient enough to look for her, you might even spot a mystical creature they call, DiVine.

For us, a trip here always includes an early morning visit to the Tusker House for a glass of Jungle Juice and some Mickey Waffles and no visit to the Animal Kingdom is complete without a ride through Disney's Kilimanjaro Safari to see some beautiful creatures in a magnificently manicured savannah.

This trip was no different. Arriving for our Tusker House ADR early, we were the first in line. While the sun continued to rise on our right, a line slowly formed behind us which was filling with overly anxious and inordinately sunscreened patrons who had been planning this day for months and were now worried that they wouldn't get a seat for breakfast because their ADR time was earlier then those who were in front of them, now waited behind us to get into the park.

As the cast members scanned our magic bands and let us through the gate, a mad dash to get checked in at the restaurant ensued. Although we were the first through the gate, knowing that the Tusker House had plenty of seating, we decided to lay back to let the overzealous crowd pass us so that we could take pictures of the empty park.

Empty streets of Animal Kingdom

Without issue and after taking hundreds of photos, we headed over to breakfast in order to stay within our slotted ADR grace period checkin time. Breakfast was as delicious as usual and when we were finished, we headed straight over to the Kilimanjaro Safari. We arrived just as the attraction was opening and were among the first to head into the Harambe Reserve.

Alison with Daisy at Tusker House

As usual, the safari was brilliant. Early in the morning like it was, the animals were all out and active in order to get their breakfast. They reminded me of the vacationeers who had, just an hour earlier, fought and clawed their way to breakfast as well... Anyways, after the safari was over, I was itching to get to some other rides and the first one on my list was Kali River Rapids.

As we headed east out of Africa and into Asia on our way to the rapids, I had to explain to my wife what this next attraction was. Knowing that she was not dressed for this wet ride, I intentionally explained the ride in a vague manner. I also reassured her over and over again that it was similar to a log flume or Splash Mountain where nobody ever really got wet.

Wearing jeans and eager to experience everything Disney on her first trip, she believed me even as we walked past sign after sign after sign that warned or her impending wetness. Only once did she second guess me when she saw others pulling ponchos over their heads but, she should know me by now.

Kali Rapids Sign

The second we stepped into those puddle creating raft seats and placed our feet into the darkened water on the floor, she knew I had told her a story. By the time our belt was latched, the backside of her jeans were soaked through but before there was anything she could do to me, we were headed down the river.

There's alway one seat on a raft that is positioned in just the right spot. No matter what, whoever is in that seat, will get soaked. She was in that seat.

As headed down the river, past the plundered log town and truck about to tip over, she leaned over and told me "This isn't so bad." It wasn't five seconds after she muttered those words when our raft plummeted fifty feet into a wall of water. Thankfully for me, her body shielded me from most of the water. She was drenched.

The raft picked up speed and took on more water, especially where she was seated but thankfully for her, the ride was over quick. Not so lucky for me, her wrath was just beginning. She let me have it pretty good and she made sure I understood, in no uncertain terms, how she felt about me misleading her.

Not so happy and soaked Alison

I was laughing pretty hard about it still when she finally admitted that the ride was fun. That's when she finally let me take her picture. Looking back, I should've helped her plan better and advised her not to wear jeans but, the real moral of the story...don't listen to Tim.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Beyond Town Square

At the Magic Kingdom, just beyond Town Square, is Main Street, U.S.A. The road, sandwiched between sidewalks paved in red as if a red carpet is being rolled out for us, usher us toward the different lands that form the main park attractions. This idealistic small town serves as a transition point between the real world and Disney's world.

The attraction of Main Street U.S.A. is different for each visitor. For some it's childhood memories from a similar town that maybe they grew up in. For others, it's the smells from the bakery that remind them of their childhood kitchens. Younger generations may be drawn to memories from family vacations where, for the first time, they laid eyes on Walt's Famous Castle. No matter what the draw is, Main Street U.S.A. is a beautiful reminder of what life was like in turn of the 20th century America. As Walt put it:
"Main Street, U.S.A. is America at the turn of the century - the crossroads of an era. The gas lamps and the electric lamps, the horse drawn car and the auto car. Main Street is everyone's home town...the heart-line of America."
Here's a short video clip of Walt explaining exactly what Main Street U.S.A. is.

The real beauty of Main Street can be seen in its architecture. There is a distinct Victorian architectural aesthetic that pulls us into Walt's world of optimism. At only three blocks long, and with a slight incline as you enter the park, Main Street has, as Roy Disney put it, "the nostalgic quality that makes it everybody's hometown."

Imagineer John Hench used the term the “language of vision” when he described the building of Main Street.  According to Disney historian, Jim Korkis, the term is the idea that you are using all of your senses when you experience Disney. Imagineers worked hard to make that a reality. The visual effects are amazing but the sounds and even smells along Main Street are too.

Disney uses what they call Smellitizers all along Main Street. This little devices are hidden to the eye but not to the nose. Using them, Imagineers are able to manipulate smells across the park. On Main Street, the scent of fresh baked cookies and vanilla are emitted from these devices.

Main Street U.S.A. is often overlooked and that's unfortunate. For some of us, as one friend says, when I retire, I want to be homeless on Main Street. I could spend hours writing about all the many different aspects of the stores or the alleyways. The windows on the second floors emblazoned with the names of the many Imagineers who helped turn Walt's dream into a reality. Even the lampposts tell a story and one day, I might tell it.

For now, I invite you to sit back, close your eyes, imagine you are taking a stroll past the emporium on your way to Casey's Corner, and enjoy the music of Main Street U.S.A. 

Thanks for reading.

Playing On the Corner

His name is Jim.

There isn't anything unordinary about Jim except maybe his exceedingly long fingers and infectious smile. He looks like any other guy you'd find walking down Main Street or punching a card in the factory but, he's a Magic Kingdom treasure and one day, his name will surely be among those etched in the windows above Main Street.

What sets Jim apart from others is his ability to draw and keep a crowd. From the time he walks through the door in his red and white saloon proprietor costume to the time he leaves, Jim is surrounded by his youngest fans and the look of appreciation can be seen on his face by his huge teethy smile. He is, the Pied Piper, of the Magic Kingdom.

Part of the magic Jim brings to his shows is his involvement of his littlest fans. Every few minutes, he chooses a different child to participate by playing along. He shows them what key to push and then, as he plays, he pauses to wait for them to play their part because as they do, their faces light up. In turn, his does too.

For thirty-four years now, Jim has been found tickling the ivory at Casey's Corner. Playing tunes from the turn of the twentieth century, generations of patrons can be found daily enjoying corn dog nuggets and cheese fries while listening to his tunes. His music is welcomed entertainment to all.

Jim's twenty minute shows have inspired tens of thousands to learn or improve their key banging skills. When I see the ease at which he plays, I too want to improve my piano skills for it is his job that I would love to have at the Magic Kingdom.

It would be such an honor to walk in his footsteps and bring such joy and amazement to so many.

If you ever get the chance, stop by Casey's Corner and spend twenty minutes listening to Jim. You won't regret it. Until you get the chance, here's a little video celebrating his thirty plus years playing, on the corner.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Town Square's Retreat

Today we're going to be taking a look at one the oldest traditions in all of Disney which takes place at Town Square in Disney World's Magic Kingdom. There's some fun things to see and do in this often overlooked area of the park but the history and patriotism is rich.

The first time I experienced it was this past spring. It was a hot, muggy day and I was heading back to our resort for some much needed down time before dinner. Walking quickly through the Emporium, mainly for the cool air it provided, I began to hear the sounds of a brass band which grew louder the closer I got to town square. Curious as to the origins of the music, I made my way towards the exit where just outside stood a moderate crowd peering up at the train station.

Still not knowing what was going on, I wound my way through the crowd to the front where I noticed all of the citizens of Main Street had also gathered. They too were looking up at the band who, at that moment, began to play America the Beautiful. It was then that I realized that I was about to witness one of the first Disney World traditions, the Flag Retreat.

I still get goosebumps when I reminisce on that ceremony. The Main Street Philharmonic dressed in their formal jackets and shakos. The young guest plucked from the crowd for her knowledge of the Pledge of Allegiance and willingness to recite it. The playing of the Star Spangled Banner as the color guard lowers the flag and then, in unison, the crowd joining in for the singing of God Bless America.

As the ceremony drew to a close, a veteran was honored for his service and the band broke out into a patriotic medley based on the melody of Cohan's "You're a Grand Old Flag." From start to finish, the entire ceremony only lasted about ten minutes but it was by far one of the most patriotic experiences of my life.

Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat

While the crowd began to disperse, I stood there for a moment and tried to, for the first time in my life, take in the entirety of Town Square. I saw the Fire Station and Chamber of Commerce; the Barber Shop and City Hall. I tried to imagine my life being lived in a small town where ceremony's such as this flag retreat would bring the community together in the square and bind us to a common cause. It's a tradition that is gravely missed in our country yet one that I will never forget I was able to witness in the Magic Kingdom's Town Square.

Next time you're there, just before the clock strikes five, do yourself a favor. Head over to Town Square and take a few minutes out of your day to celebrate our great country. You'll be glad that you did.

As always, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Magic of Main Street

Walt Disney wanted to his guests to feel as though they were embarking on an adventure when they visited his parks and as soon as we walk through the turnstiles and into the Magic Kingdom, the Magic begins. From the rides and attractions to the theming and costume, Disney truly does set the stage for our grand adventure .

Under the train station, as we move towards Town Square, our adventure begins to unfold while we pass movie posters for upcoming attractions. The poster of Merlin reminding us that there is such a thing as Magic, the Wishes poster that reminds us that dreams really do come true, and finally, the Jungle Cruise poster that reminds us that our adventure awaits. Like the entrance into a grand theater, this entrance into the park is an invitation to suspend reality and become part of Walt's immersive theatrical experience.

Main Street USA

Every aspect of Walt Disney World  focuses on Walt's show and with Main Street USA, he's able to tell the story of the origins of the park by creating a sense of Hometown America. Modeled loosely on his childhood home of Marceline, Missouri, Main Street USA brings us a sense of familiarity while at the same time, building upon our excitement and anticipation. From the smell of fresh, hot popcorn to the bellowing tones of the Dapper Dans and all of the other citizens of Main Street, this is when the magic really takes over.

In the upcoming days, we will be taking a look at all of the many wonderful and magical aspects of Town Square and Main Street USA. Hopefully, we'll be able to bring some of the Disney magic to you, wherever you may be.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Reveal

We had planned this trip long before we knew we were pregnant but there was no way we were going to cancel. Instead, we decided that since the timing was right, we would find a way to do a gender reveal.

I asked around for some ideas and then reached out to our friend Kim, who also books our trips...Shameless plug: Please check out her site. It doesn't cost you a dime to book with her and she's AMAZING!

Anyways, Kim asked around and did a search online with me helping to brainstorm ideas. The one we both really liked involved getting Minnie or Mickey ears, having a Cast Member wrap them up, and then take them to Magician Mickey to have him open the package to surprise us. We decided that we would do this.

The ultrasound was done on the Tuesday before we left and the plan was to wait until Friday to do the reveal. This was so hard. I had to hide the envelope so nobody would peek and of course, there had to be some shenanigans involving the losing of the envelope or, with my old age, forgetting where I had placed it.

This was all fun and games until we arrived at the Magic Kingdom where we began to get nervous. As soon as we walked through the turnstiles, we headed towards the Emporium where we found a nice young lady who was also Cast Member to assist in wrapping up our doll and finalizing our purchase. The only problem was, after she headed off with our envelope, she disappeared!

After about a 15 minute panic, which felt more like an hour, we finally saw her walking towards us and with her, our package stapled shut. She handed it to us and told us that we were all set. I told her that we still needed to pay but she said that it had been taken care of by our Fairy Godmother. We were shocked but we weren't going to argue...Have you seen the prices at Disney?  WHOA!....but I digress.

As we made our way across the street, we finalized our plan and then got in line. We asked a young lady behind us if she would record the interaction and she agreed. We also spoke with the cast members along the way to see if they could let Mickey know what we were planning. Each one excitedly helped in putting our plan in motion.

When it was our turn, we had our pictures taken with Mickey and then, a Cast Member told Mickey that we needed his help. He was ecstatic to help and took our bag over to his dressing table to open. Once he had it open, he, the Cast Member, and even some people still standing in line, screeched with excitement to see what it was. At this point, our backs were turned and we couldn't see anything.

This is the moment when our favorite picture from the trip was taken.

Magical Mickey telling everyone to keep it a secret.

After Mickey walked back over to us, we were told to turn around and Magician Mickey presented us with with a baby blue Mickey doll. I had to fight back some tears...Yes, I am an emotional wreck. 

We were excited to find out what we were having and everyone clapped and cheered for us. We took more pictures and then, this magical Disney moment was over.

We will never forget how we learned that we were having our fourth boy on that day. All of the Disney Cast members, including Mickey, did a terrific job in helping us find out what we were having. We even saw later, that not only did our Fairy Godmother in the Emporium gift us the baby blue Mickey, but she gifted us several other baby Mickey toys to go along with it. She really did show us some Disney Magic on that day.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Welcome Home

It was an absolutely perfect day. The air was warm and the sun was shining. I was surrounded by some amazing holiday decorations in the most magical place on earth. My camera was out and I was hurriedly taking photos of everything around me because I felt as if I was about to wake from a dream and I didn’t want to miss anything. I took pictures of the building facades and signs. Decorations and the street. I even took pictures of the vendors and some of the people who, unbeknownst to them, were about to become part of the magic.

As I stood at the intersection of Main Street USA and Town Square, snapping photo after photo, an elderly couple, probably in their eighties, caught my eyes. They were still some distance from me but they were walking in my direction in a most peculiar manner. Hand in hand, this couple was walking sideways towards me. Almost backwards. I chuckled to myself thinking that even at my age, it would be difficult to maneuver in such a manner.

As they drew closer to me, I began to sense that I was standing right where they wanted to be. I moved aside for them and they stopped right where I had been standing except they were no longer looking sideways. They were now standing backwards facing Town Square and the train station, locked arm in arm. The elderly gentleman bent slightly over towards his wife, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and asked her if she was ready. With a slight nod of her head, he began counting down. Three. Two. And then one.

At that instant, they spun around and looked down Main Street, towards the castle. It took me a moment to register what I had just witnessed and as I saw the tears begin to stream down their faces, I too had tears swell up in my eyes.

I don’t know this couple’s story. Why they choose to wait to see the castle together in such a sweet way but what I do know, is that it was magical. What I witnessed on that beautiful day, epitomizes what Disney magic is all about. It’s why I love being there and why I don’t mind the funny looks I get from people when they learn that I’m going back…again.

Walt Disney World is magical and for those of us who consider ourselves to be Disney Fanatics, its home. We feel home from the moment we step off that Magical Express onto our resort and encounter our first Cast Member and we feel home during our walk up the slow incline of Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom where we see and smell the sights and sounds from yesteryear.

It's these reminders and so many more that sing out to me with the voice of a Siren...Welcome Home.