"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Dis Countdown

110 Days.

Finally have a Disney Countdown again. Lately I'm just not....right....without concrete plans for visiting my Happy Place. But now I have reservations and tickets and all is right in the world.

We'll be taking another long weekend with just the lovely Lisa and I and, as usual, we'll be trying out a few firsts. Well, one is a first for Lisa but just a "been a LONG time" for me. We'll be tent camping at Fort Wilderness. It'll be late January, so it won't be hot and fingers crossed it won't be too cold. The usual weather for that weekend is highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s, so I am pretty confident we'll be comfortable. Our gear is rated for below freezing, so I'm not worried about sleeping at all. In any case, we'll have fun. I'm very excited to introduce Lisa to the camping thing, especially in The Fort.
This will actually be Lisa's second time at Fort Wilderness, but the first was a stay in the Wilderness Cabins with my family as a graduation from college gift from my folks (who, by the way, are THE BEST for doing that).

Another first for us will be attending the Disney After Hours event. We will likely leave here after work Thursday and drive most of the way down, planning to finish our trip and get to WDW around lunch time Friday. The After Hours event allows you entry to the Magic Kingdom at 7 pm with three hours in the park after it closes to the public at 8:00 and our tickets are for Friday night. From everything I've heard this is a pretty incredible time. They only sell a few thousand tickets which leaves the park pretty much empty. The attractions are almost all open and according to a friend who did this last year, they are all walk-ons all night. As an added bonus, popcorn, ice cream snacks and drinks are complimentary all night. I'm looking for forward to seeing this for myself!

We're planning to spend Saturday at Disney Springs enjoying the food and cocktails and shopping and hopefully experiencing the immersive, virtual reality Star Wars experience that is scheduled to open by the end of this year.  Called Secrets of the Empire and created by a company called The Void (who've also created a similar experience themed after the Ghostbusters in New York City) the experience will transport you into a Star Wars universe you can touch and interact with during an original story. It's not like anything I've ever done and I am itching to try it out.


With any luck The Edison will be open in Disney Springs by then along with it's underground component. That underground bar was originally rumored to be a Neverland-themed secret kind of Lost Boys lair thing but now is supposedly going to be modeled after rum running tunnels that presumably fit well into the Disney Springs backstory. We'll see. The whole thing sounds right up our alley, so I'm hoping the Fall 2017 opening projection means it will be ready by late January.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Stiteses Take Manhattan, Part Two



Day Two was to be book ended by scheduled events. We had tickets for the One World Observatory, the top of Freedom Tower which replaced the World Trade Center, at 9 am, the first group to ascend. We also had tickets for an 8:00 pm show of Phantom of the Opera. These were two things that were on our "must-do" list and we were happy to sacrifice spontaneity to be sure we had tickets.

I picked the earliest tickets for One World that I could thinking it would be cool to see the city from way up there before we delved into exploring it. Also, I hoped it wouldn't be too crowded. Both were correct. My one fear was hitting rush hour on our first attempt at using the subway, but that turned out not to be a problem. I'm not sure why, but the train was nearly empty and neither station was particularly crowded.

I'm really happy with our subway experience. I downloaded a map of the system into my phone and referenced that quite a bit both during our visit and for weeks leading up to it. It is complicated and there are multiple colors and shapes and letters and numbers used to designate a ton of lines, but we managed it well and made great use of the subways during our trip.


Those spiky things are the Occulus, the surface entrance to an underground mall of sorts


For our first trip this particular morning we rode the "E" train to it's last stop at the World Trade Center, which let us off between a very old church and one of the most modern buildings I've ever seen. That was cool, and a bit weird. Between us and the tower was a funky thing called the Occulus, which is, best as we could tell, an underground shopping mall. The above ground portion is very striking, though, architecturally. On the advice of a security guard, we didn't travel below ground but instead crossed the plaza to the 9/11 Memorial.
The 9/11 Memorial

The memorial is really impactful in a bit of an understated way, if that makes sense. The One World Tower sits right next to the memorial and takes the job of soaring into the heavens (and, I guess, metaphorically the future) onto itself. It's huge and shiny and reflective and majestic. The memorial, on the other hand, is a pair of holes where the old Twin Towers once stood. Water fills the hole disappearing into a well that has no bottom we can see. It's the opposite of the tower. Names of those killed are etched into the walls surrounding the pits. It's a somber sight, to be sure. But what made me most sad, and most reminded of how the world has changed, were the police armed with shotguns and assault rifles and the police with the Anti-Terrorism patches on their uniforms. It struck me that John found none of that odd, and that's sad.
The new World Trade Center, Freedom Tower, rises up next to the memorial

On a happier note, the One World Observatory was terrific! It's an attraction well worth the admission price. We were blessed with a clear day and we could see all over. I loved how even this high up, even where big ferry boats looked like Matchbox toys, Manhattan still looked huge. It's a magnificent city, really, and this vantage point drove that home.
The Brooklyn Bridge from the One World Observatory

Back on street level, it was time to set off and explore the city. We walked east to the Federal Hall building and then the New York Stock Exchange and the Wall Street Bull statue. This is a very different part of the city from the Times Square area we had come from. It looked to us like "classic" New York should look. Lisa at one point joked that it reminded her of the Streets of America section of facades in Hollywood Studios at Disney World. She wasn't far off.

We took the obligatory statue of the bull, of course. I found it funny that despite all the hullabaloo about the Fearless Girl statue, there were a total of four people looking at her, while at the same time there was a huge crowd waiting to get a photo with the bull's raging face and at least a few dozen taking turns posing with the bull's testicles. Media reality is not the same as real reality. Ever.

Waiting to get a photo with the bull's balls
We were all getting a bit peckish at this point and headed off to Chinatown and Little Italy on the subway. I was only able to get us in the very general vicinity of Chinatown, so we had a bit of a walk to lunch. We ended up walking through what looked like the civic heart of the city; city hall was here as well as courthouses and a ton of municipal office buildings.  It was yet another face of New York.

We cut across a park that left us off in Chinatown. This is one of my favorite parts of New York because it seems so exotic. John found it to be a bit on the sketchy side for his tastes. We had lunch in a restaurant with a huge menu of stuff we'd never seen before. I had ramen with squid and oyster sauce, John got the duck and some steamed buns and Lisa played it safe with veggie fried rice. We got silverware and noticed that Asian patrons were provided with chop sticks. No one ever asked for a preference, which was cute. While we were eating, a pair of older Italian gentlemen entered who looked like they were lifted straight out of a film, fedoras and all. Not odd, since as immersed in Asia as we were, we were only a block outside of Little Italy, our next stop.

Ramen with squid stuffed with oyster sauce

The intersection of Chinatown and Little Italy
We had a tip on a fine little restaurant to try, and found it with no problem. We sat down to a second lunch (we had literally just left our first lunch about 30 minutes before) of raviolis, spaghetti carbonara and chicken pesto fusili. It was all delicious and we scarfed it down along with wine and a fine bread service. This would turn out to be a mistake on my part, as I felt like a person who had gorged himself on ramen and pasta for the rest of the afternoon. Funny thing, remember the old Italian dudes we saw in Chinatown? Well, the tables behind and next to us at the Italian place were occupied by a few dozen late high school or even college-age Asian kids accompanied by what appeared to be a mom and grandmother. We felt that rather encapsulated New York's role as a melting pot.

As we were all stuffed and a bit exhausted we decided to head back to the hotel for a Siesta. We rode the subway to Grand Central Station and walked back from there. Grand Central is truly grand. They've done a wonderful job restoring the place. All the subway riding and multiple stairs and escalators had wreaked havoc with my sense of direction, but after asking a security guard which way was east and west, we made it to our home away from home and rested up for our night at the theatre.
Kind of a lousy photo of the Phantom of the Opera set, pre-show.

Our show, Phantom of the Opera was at 8 pm in the Majestic Theatre, just a few blocks away. We skipped dinner as we were still pretty stuffed from our two lunches, and walked up to the show. The Majestic Theatre is just that, majestic, inside. It fills all the hopes one might have for a Broadway venue and Phantom is just a classic Broadway show. We all were completely wowed by the performance and walked back with show tunes in our heads, completely fat and happy and ready for a good night's sleep.



Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Stiteses Take Manhattan, Part One


We promised John that if we didn't get him there before he graduated high school, we'd take him to New York City as a grad gift. John graduated, with honors, about a month ago, so grad gift it was.

We planned this thing like a Disney trip, and I really think our experience with Disney and our mindset when going there actaully helped us in a big way while planning this trip. I really took on the Disney mindset and tried to nail down the important things, the things we needed (like lodging and transportation) and the things we REALLY wanted (like show tickets and a trip to the One World Observatory) as far in advance as we could. That helped not only in peace of mind but in budgeting, as some of the highest-budget items were long paid for by the time we arrived in New York.

I'll stop right here and point out that the lovely and talented Lisa did her share of planning (booking the hotel and Phantom of the Opera tickets) and takinq quite a few of the photos I'll use in this blog. I can't remember who shot what and they are all mixed up on Amazon Prime Photo (do you use that? You should!), so I'm assigning dual credit to all of them off the bat.

We paired our trip with a visit to my parents' house both because we wanted to see them and my sister's family and some of Lisa's nearby family and because it made NYC an easy Amtrak ride away. New York is like Disney in another way in that it's silly to drive a car around there. The public transportation is great, we used the subway a bunch, and the stress of driving a car along with the expense of parking it would have been too much for me. As it turns out, there is a commuter Amtrak train running several times a day from Harrisburg, PA to New York City and it stops at the Downingtown station a few minutes from my parents' house.

Amtrak was great! From what I've heard, people shy away from it due to the cost, but I think the further in advance you purchase tickets the cheaper they are. I can't confirm that, but it makes sense. Our tickets were only about $220 round trip for all three of us together. Granted, that was non-rush hour times, but why would you travel then if you didn't have to anyhow? We went up on the 10:04 am train out of Downingtown and arrived at Penn Station by 12:30 pm. It was easy and hassle-free and actually kind of fun.

We emerged from Penn Station into the thick of things and seeing John's face as he took it all in was priceless. We only had a few blocks to walk to get to our hotel, but it was a great introduction to a crowded city, especially with our suitcases rolling along with us.

We stayed in a Comfort Inn near the intersection of 39th Street and 8th Avenue, technically the Garment District (there was a shop selling buttons and grommets across the street. Nothing else, just
The view from our room
buttons and grommets), but close enough to Times Square that we really felt in the thick of things. The hotel building was funny as it only had four rooms per floor, but 80 rooms total as it was 20 stories high. We were a few hours early for check-in (and they are very specific about check-in time), so we dropped our bags with a very friendly front desk staff and set off for Times Square.

We stopped for lunch in a brew pub connected to the huge bus terminal around the corner and then we were off! On the way up to Times Square I let a friend, the wonderful Alison from the awesome Disphilharpodcast, know we were in town and she arranged to sneak out of the office and meet up with us, as luck would have it, in the Times Square two-story Disney Store. We chatted, introduced all around and got some good advice about places to see and Alison's offer to be a phone-a-friend if we got lost in the big city.

My Main Man George
We made our way back to the Comfort Inn, checked into a room on the 8th floor that was JUST big enough to fit all thee of us inside, and set off again up Fifth Avenue towards the Rockefeller Center. On the way, we saw more of the Garment District, which, as it turns out, is more of a pre-garment district. This is the place to buy fabric and ribbons and such, not a place to buy actual, finished garments. We passed the beautiful New York Public Library and began checking out some of the high-end shops until we came upon Saks Fifth Avenue and took a look inside. Lisa was in heaven, as she proclaimed, as she was among "shiny things and purses." We only looked around the first floor, feeling like gypsies in the palace, before hitting the road again and visiting St. Patrick's Cathedral.
New York City Public Library

St. Patrick's is absolutely, mind-blowingly, ornately beautiful. The stone arches holding up the ceiling far above, the saints in the alcoves, the massive altar, the biggest pipe organ I've ever seen......it all blew me away. I told John he'd not see a church anything like this outside of Europe. We were all humbled by this place, and all a bit saddened by the security check on the way in. But New York post-9/11 is a different place. We'd seen police with assault rifles and shotguns in Times Square and would see the NYPD Counter-Terrorism team the next day at Ground Zero. We felt safe the entire time we were in the city, but we were very aware of the efforts to make that happen.

We Love Public Art. This is possibly the largest Inflatable Woman ever.
Rockefeller Center was the next stop and we thought about grabbing a drink in the little outside cafe in the square, but after being seated directly under some equipment blowing hot air we wandered off. We looked around the inside of the Center but didn't even try heading up top as we were getting to be in a dinner-thinking kinda way.
Night Time Times Square

I might have loved looking out the window.

We headed back towards the hotel by way of Times Square and spotted a Scottish restaurant and pub that looked promising until we discovered it was closed up. Luckily, there was a Cuban place across the street that turned out to be spectacular. We had a delicious meal, walked though Times Square as the last of the light left the sky and the electric lights took over, and tucked ourselves into our cozy quarters to rest up for an exciting first full day in The Big Apple.


Saturday, January 7, 2017

My Favorite New Stuff Of 2016

We were lucky to be able to experience a lot of the newest offering around Walt Disney World on our fall trip last year. We missed Disney Springs entirely, but we did hit each of the parks. Here's a run-down of what we saw.

Magic Kingdom

I think we only got to experience two really new things here, but they were both glorious. The Muppet show in Liberty Square is a must-do. It's perfectly Muppet-esque. The show is funny, the Muppets look exactly as you'd want and expect and it was carried off flawlessly. The setting is great, right in an open courtyard area, and you can sit yourself down on the wall surrounding the Liberty Tree and have a terrific view. We loved it.
MUPPETS!!!!!!

We also got to try the newest table-service restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, the Jungle Navigation Company Skipper's Canteen. This place is themed perfectly to the 1920s-30s era of adventure in far-flung lands. We ate in the main dining room, which was great, but next time I'll request the Adventurers' Club room, which is even better. The menu is a bit different, but for us that's a good thing. We enjoyed pork, chicken and fish all cooked very well and presented in unique ways, especially the fish which was a whole deep fried lion fish with spines and all poking out and its little fishy face looking right at you. This place is really worth a try if you are looking for Magic Kingdom dining options. And now it even serves beer! So go ahead and give it a shot :-)

The waiting room at Skipper Canteen is even cool
Epcot

Not a lot new here, especially since we decided not to even attempt the new Frozen ride. We did, however, really love the new Soarin' movie, so much so we rode it twice in a row. We also got to see Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker on their Mobile Muppet Lab. Apparently this is headed for Hollywood Studios sometime, but wherever it ends up, you need to track it down. It's a hilarious interactive show with, again, very Muppet-y looking Muppets. I just can't get over seeing these guys in the parks. Love it.

Hollywood Studios

With so much of the park closed and under construction, this one is getting a lot of shade thrown its way. We had a good day there, though. We enjoyed all the Star Wars stuff immensely, from the March of the Stormtroopers to the Chewbacca greet. They may seem like little things compared to a Star Wars Land, but they were some of my favorite things on our trip.

Animal Kingdom

This was my favorite. And none of the highly anticipated things, like Avatarland and Rivers of Light, were open. The thing is, they've begun leaving Animal Kingdom open into the evening hours, after dark, and it's the best thing ever. The nighttime safari was great! It's quiet and just different enough to be a lot of fun. Plus, we got to see the male lion roaring at the fireworks going off in another park, which was thrilling. But the entire atmosphere of Animal Kingdom at night is the real draw in my opinion. People left in the afternoon, so the place was empty. No lines for anything at all. We did Expedition Everest several times in a row with no wait. But just wandering around that place at night is great. It's the best-themed park Disney has, I think, and it becomes absolutely magic after dark. We were so very impressed.

Nomad Lounge bar
Oh, and we ate at Tiffins, which was spectacular. It's not cheap, but the food and service are some of the best I've experienced on the Disney property. Next trip I hope to spend more time in the attached Nomad Lounge, which looks across a river at the forthcoming Pandora.

I know there are some biggies planned for 2017, the opening of Pandora chief among them, but I'm wondering what else we'll see. Some of the coolest things from 206 were quietly introduced without a lot of pre-opening fanfare, like the Muppets in Liberty Square. Here's to 2017 bringing more of that!




Sunday, January 1, 2017

Hello 2017!

I had all these ideas of things I wanted write about when we got back from our trip. Then I didn't. I haven't posted on here since the first of December, and that's a shame because I really enjoy writing Pooh Sticks. I did really good, amazed myself if I'm honest, with the blog-a-day thing on the 100 day run-up to our vacation, so maybe just setting myself to some concrete schedule is the way to go.

So here it is. I will try the best i can to post three times a week in 2017. That should be easily do-able. And I think I don't make enough use of the Pooh Sticks Facebook page, so I'm going to make a concerted effort to share more park news on there rather than waiting to write an entire blog post. We'll see how that works.

Between those two things and the continuing fun that is the MouseLife Podcast, 2017 looks like it could be a Disney-rific year :-)


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Highway In The Sky Dining Tour

So I'm just minding my own business and DisTwitter throws this new Official Disney-Sponsored Monorail Bar Tour headline in my unsuspecting face. We loved our own little bar tour last year, so I clicked through to read the article, figuring it would be out of reach. But what's this? Food and drinks at four stops including a main course at Citricos all followed by a Contemporary rooftop viewing of Wishes? And it's how much? $150? Has to be a catch, I think to myself.

Later on I get another minute and look on the official Disney Dining website and see that, yes indeed it is as was advertised, and the $150 even includes gratuity. I read it again. It's true.

People were already beginning to talk about the price being steep. Silly people. People who haven't ever done their own Monorail Bar Tour. This is as reasonable, as close to a "deal" as you'll find in Disney food service. Trust me.

Our tour went to Mizners for a couple cocktails and appetizers, just drinks at the Contemporary, dinner at Captain Cook's and more drinks at Trader Sam's and it cost well over $200 for the two of us. We did see pieces of the Electrical Water Pageant, but certainly not Wishes from the roof.

The Highway In The Sky Dine Around (the official, and super-cool name of this event) begins with cocktails and apps at The Wave in the Contemporary, moves on to the Poly for tropical cocktails and more appetizers, heads to the Grand Floridian for diner at Citricos and the champagne and cheese in the lobby and finishes with desserts and cordials on the top of the Contemporary. The food and drinks alone are worth the money, I'm guessing. I mean, I don't know for sure what they are offering, but I'm guessing it's not potted meat on a Tricuit. And that doesn't even toucht he fact that there's no hassle at all. Disney books the times, Disney herds us from place to place, Disney makes sure we make the fireworks in time and don't spend all night in Mizners. And the price, after all taxes (and it includes gratuity remember), is $316.80. Deal.

The long and short of it is that I blathered all about this deal to Lisa at lunch later that day and one ting led to another and by that afternoon I had reservations for the Highway and two nights at Pop Century booked for the first weekend in February.

I can't wait. I hope they have a commemorative pin!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Moana: Go See It. Now.

I've been looking forward to Moana since it was announced. The setting and basic plot, the daughter of a Polynesian chieftain rediscovering her people's lost seafaring skills to go on a quest to save her people, had "Jeffrey's gonna love this" written all over them. How could a Lapu Lapu-loving, Polyneasian Village Resort-dreaming, tiki head collecting guy who dreamt all his life of living by the sea NOT be excited for this?

We saw Moana on opening night, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, in the local theater. I could have waited to go to the more "modern" theater in Wilmington and catch the film in 3-D with all the best sound and projection tech, but I couldn't wait. I think now that was a good choice. It let me get enveloped in the story, and for all it's beauty and all the spectacular music, that was my favorite part. I'm sure Moana in 3-D would blow me away, and I hope to see it again in that format. The music is perfect. I bought the deluxe edition soundtrack so I'd have all the little instrumental bits. It really couldn't be any better in my opinion. But the star of this film is the story, and the storytelling, and that is exactly how it should be.

The story is both original and classic. This isn't based upon any Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen story. It's based loosely upon both Polynesian legend and fact, as all the best stories are because the two aren't mutually exclusive. Moana, the not-a-princess heroine, is entirely a Disney construct while Maui, the demi-god sidekick, is inspired by Polynesian myth. The fact is, the Polynesian people were some of history's greatest seafaring navigators, traveling thousands of miles between tiny islands in sailing canoes, and then they stopped. No one, including them, knows why. That's the basis of this tale. The story seems familiar enough to our Western tastes to be very accessible and easy to follow while maintaining a flavor of the exotic that makes it interesting and fun.

As good as the story itself is, the storytelling is even more impressive. Disney doesn't rush it, doesn't force anything at all. We get a good half hour before even meeting Maui. That time is spent getting to know Moana and her people and it makes the rest of the story, the adventure part, that much more fun because we're invested deeply in both Moana personally and her culture as well. I can't remember a Disney film, or really any other animated feature, that spends this much time building this kind of base. It's a great thing that Disney trusts its audience, even its youngest audience, to leave the immediate gratification expectations behind. And I think it'll work because it was done so well, bringing in music and visuals that captivate and amaze. By the time Moana sets msail on her adventure, we are 100% with her.

The adventure itself is everything one could wish. Maui is more than worth the wait and he's voiced with passion and heart by Dwayne Johnson, who really is larger than life. But he never steals the show from Moana. She is the star and the heroine, not because she's some super-duper brilliant genius, magically-enhanced, over the top super girl, but because its her story. Disney has given us perhaps its first Heroine rather than Princess. Moana does have a bit f a superpower in that the sea likes her and helps her out, but she's not in control of it, she's as amazed and confused by the help as we are. What she does have, her real superpower, is her tenacity will power. She doesn't know how to sail, but off she goes anyway. She's a "I'll figure it out as I go" kinda girl, and I love that. The lesson that teaches, one of risk-taking and trust in oneself, is invaluable for all children, but particularly little girls.

This is a movie for anyone who's ever felt the tug of the sea, for anyone who loves adventure and comedy (the chicken and the coconut pirates still have me smiling), for anyone who appreciates music, for anyone who's onged for the South Seas, for anyone with a child or a parent or a grandmom. Disney has given us a gift here, go unwrap it as soon as you can!