"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

Monday, April 30, 2012

I is For......Imagineering

Imagineer. It's a word Walt Disney made up to describe the people who combined imagination and engineering to make his theme parks a reality. A lot of the original Imagineers came from the movies, and they used movie tricks in the construction of Disneyland and Walt Disney World. They used forced perspective to make buildings, and castles, seem higher then they really are. They used fa├žades and hidden areas that were "off camera" or "back stage" to make the visitor feel a part of a fantasy without being interrupted by the mundane things like trash pick-up and food delivery and mechanical infrastructure. As time and technology progressed, the Imagineers developed ever more impressive animatronics, piped smells into attractions to complete the sensory illusions and constructed ride vehicles and apparatus that made visitors fly and dive and take off into space. The Imagineers do more than create the rides though; they have a hand in all things at the Disney parks, from the restaurants to the hotels and even the human resources, oops, I mean "Casting," building. Everything at a Disney park is made possible by the Imagineers.

They have always fascinated me. I loved the word, "Imagineer" the first time I heard it. Making dreams into reality, what could be better than that? And I think I really was impressed because I have zero talent in that direction. I can't draw or paint or play or sing. I am an average mathematician at best. I mean, I have had to Google my son's 7th grade math homework. I don't think anyone wants to ride a roller coaster I designed, you know? I am chock full of imagination, but never had the skills or the talents to bring my imagining to the world, except maybe through writing. But you can't ride a book. No one ever walked into a park and gasped at the sight of a novel. You don't scream as you race around the turns of an article on a blog. I'm thankful for what I can do, but mindful of what I can't and admire those things in others, especially those others who built Disney World and keep improving and adding to it today. I still really look up to the Imagineers, with maybe a tinge of jealousy. I'm not afraid to admit it.

The Castle Iapalucci
But I had an epiphany this weekend. What is Imagineering if not making dreams, or wishes, come true? And who is less afraid to wish, to dream, than a child? Our friends the Iapaluccis have boy named Max who turned 7 just last Friday. Max's mom, Jen, is a stay-at-home mom and LOVES to put on a party. She has directed plays and musicals and holds a Bachelor's of Fine Arts degree in painting and drawing, I believe. She can flat out plan a kid's party, and so when she asked Max what he wanted for a party, he wasn't the least bit hesitant to dream. Max wanted a
Renaissance Faire party. Now, as an aside, that alone made me a little proud, as we were the ones who invited the Iapalucci crew to their first Renaissance Faire last fall, and apparently Max was impressed. Anyhow, in true Jen fashion, she set about making it happen. She worked on this for a while, getting ideas and planning things and ordering supplies and such. Jen told us about her plans and we enjoyed following the progress, looking forward to the party because they are always fun for everyone, adults and children alike.

Castle Cake
Mom, Fairy Princess, script writer and Imagineer Jen
A couple weeks ago, Jen asked me if I knew anything about deep-frying turkeys. It seems Max was heart set on fried turkey at his party. I did, a little, and I had all the equipment, so I became officially a part of the party prep crew. Of course when you get me, you get the whole Stites family. Lisa and John were more than happy, excited even, to move from party goers to party makers with me. As party day approached I was trying to think of an "I" word to blog about on here, and came up with Imagineering. And I got to thinking that it isn't just the professionals in the employ of The Mouse who are Imagineers. Jen was turning her son's and her own vision into a reality. She was using what she could find, or invent or cobble together, to create a dream come true for Max on his birthday. And we, the Stites Family, were a part of it! I cooked the birds without injury or damage, helped erect a castle, raised Rapunzel's tower and pretty much followed whatever directions Jen gave me. Lisa iced a cake into an amazing fantasy castle with turrets and knights and even a dragon placed by King Max himself. She helped write scripts for a what turned out to be a wild, and wildly entertaining, scavenger hunt and she worked her little fingers off creating banners for the coming little knights and ladies to turn into their own personal heraldry. John was charged with keeping two-year-old Milo from deep frying himself, which he accomplished with patience and love. John, a 12 year old very boyish boy, also cut out all the locks of Rapunzel hair to be used in the pin the hair on Rapunzel game, with good cheer and serious effort. I think John got it. I think he appreciated what Lisa and I were joking (half-joking, if truth be told) about when we said how honored we were to get a glimpse behind the curtain of Iapalucci party prep.

Lisa was born a beautiful Princess, so this wasn't a stretch
I started calling them Iapalucci Imagineering on party day, as we all scrambled to get things just so before the guests arrived. And they are. Jen and Adrian do this sort of thing all the time, really. People go to their house for parties and events and get-togethers, and things are always special, somehow different and unique. I wonder how many of those guests understand the work, the thought, the dreaming, the IMAGINEERING that goes into those times. Well, we understand a little better now. And we are thankful for the chance to play at Imagineering ourselves.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

H Is For.....Hollywood Studios

Our last trip to Disney World was a quick weekend jaunt to celebrate our son John's birthday, so we let him pick which park we would visit. I will admit to being a bit surprised when he picked Hollywood Studios. Hollywood Studios is the one I'd skip if I had to miss one park while at Disney World. It's not that I don't enjoy it, because I do, but it doesn't have the magic of the Magic Kingdom, it isn't as unique as Animal Kingdom and it doesn't have the wide range of offerings available at Epcot. But visiting just that one park made me realize all that it really does have to offer, and we had a great day.

We were there in mid-October, so the crowds were really light. We never needed a fast pass and rode Rockin' Roller Coaster twice and Tower of Terror once before the first line formed. Tower of Terror really impressed me. It wasn't just the ride, which is really fun and exciting, but I was really taken with the themeing and attention to detail. I almost wished there had been a long line so I would have had time to take in all the details in the queue area. It was really nice being able to take out time walking around the park without much in the way of crowds. We loved the back lot tour, rode the Great Movie Ride for the first time and tried out the relatively new Toy Story Mania. We had lunch at pizza Planet, one of John's favs, and dinner at the Sci-fi Drive-In. We missed the Indiana Jones show due to time conflicts with other things, Star Tours was closed for remodeling and the Fantasmic show wasn't going on, but we really enjoyed our day and felt all full of the magic.

Instead of a blow-by-blow of our tour, here are some pictures along with my always-pithy commentary.
It's not the Cinderella Castle, but still pretty cool. I like hats :-)
Love this building, and that it's pink
Hanes is the sponsor? Hmmmmmm ;-)  

The birthday Boy and his Birthday Button

We never did get back to see this sign at night. Something for the next trip :-)

where'd all those monkeys come from?

Oh, I see, someone left the barrel o' monkeys open :-)

A real prop from the real Muppet Movie. How cool!

The first movie I saw in a theater was Herbie
Can these count as "Hidden Mickeys"?
John loves aircraft, and this plane belonged to Walt himself
Davey Jones' organ from Pirates of the Caribbean
We love us some Muppet Fountain!
The Kermit Balloon!!!!!

I must have taken 100 pictures of this
The Hollywood Studios parade features Pixar characters.
Had to take my best girl to the drive-in!
I wasn't excited about the American Idol Experience, but ended up really enjoying it
The Disney parks are extra magical at night, and Hollywood Studios is no exception

Friday, April 20, 2012

G Is For....Goofy

Donal Duck has always been my favorite Disney character, but I have a really soft spot in my heart for Goofy as well. He's such a good guy, always trying to do right, to help, to impress his son with his skills or knowledge, trying to be "cool" as he sees it. And it never works. He bungles things. Goofy is always too loud, too clumsy, too clueless or too enthusiastic. He keeps trying, though, often too hard, but he keeps at it. And Goofy's friends get caught up in his bungled attempts at cool and helpful, but they never hold it against him in the end. Rather, they always laugh it off and realize his heart is in the right place. Maybe that's why I like Goofy so much, I can totally relate.

Three or four years ago there was a little email  game going around. You were supposed to come up with one word to describe the person that sent the email to you and they would do the same for you. Two of the people that knew me best, a really close friend and the cousin I grew up with, came up with the same word. It wasn't a simple, trite word like "nice" or something either. Out of all the words in the English language, and these were very smart people with large vocabularies, they both came up with "goofy." I guess I might as well own it. There are worse things to be, right?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

F Is For....Fort Wilderness

This year's Disney trip was originally planned as a week of camping at Fort Wilderness. I started having second thoughts about spending a week, 7 nights and 8 days, in tents as my wife's first camping experience. I had visions of hurricane season rearing her head, flooded tents, collapsed tents, bug-filled tents and hot nights with no A/C. When the free dining offer came along, I decided it was a sign. We'd be able to stay in a moderate resort with the free dining for a few hundred less than we planned to spend on our camping trip paying for the dining plan. So this isn't the year I get to introduce our son to the joys of a Fort Wilderness Disney vacation. I'm glad we are staying where we are (Caribbean Beach resort) and will worry much less about having the most perfect trip possible, but I've not lost the desire to go back to The Fort.

 As a kid, Fort Wilderness was "our" place at Disney. We stayed at the Polynesian once, and it was spectacular, but mostly a trip to Disney meant staying at Fort Wilderness. We camped in tents, in a pop-up trailer, in one of the old Disney rental trailers, in a borrowed Winnebago motor home and in the newer Wilderness Cabins that replaced the old trailers. I loved them all but they were all secondary to just being at Fort Wilderness. It's a destination in itself, a park within a park almost. It's got the pools that all the resorts have, and a beach front on Bay Lake like the monorail resorts from which you can enjoy the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom and the Electrical Water Pageant. It also features many things no other Disney resort offers. There is a petting zoo and the stables where some of the horses that work in the Magic Kingdom live. There are trails for walking and canals for fishing and canoeing. You can take a carriage ride through the campgrounds over 700 acres. Fort Wilderness hosts the Hoop De Doo Revue, the longest running dinner show at Walt Disney World. There is a campfire and movie almost every night outside in the middle of the campground. We loved just walking around after dark looking for armadillos in the bushes. Fort Wilderness is way more than just a place to sleep.

So, we didn't make it there for this trip, but my non-camping wife is determined that we will go soon. She's great like that. Maybe next spring, maybe next fall, but we will get there. I can't wait to show her and my son around. And hunt some armadillos.

I'm finding it hard to explain all that I love about this place, so instead here are some pictures, old and newer, that will show you maybe why I am in love with Disney's campground. If you want a great place to start checking out all the details about the Fort, try All Ears Fort Wilderness page.

This truck used to come around in the morning with all sorts of goodies and camping supplies on it.

This is one of the original campers that Disney rented out before the Wilderness Cabins

That's me on the left and my buddy Matt on the right. We got to sit in the breakfast truck. We were cool like that

Canoes for rent circa 1976
I believe this is what would become the site of River Country.

I love this. My friend Matt and I used to play checkers right here, in this store, on that barrel. To play my son 33 years later? That is magic.
The ranch and petting zoo
A Disney pony, and Hidden Mickey

The Hoop Dee Doo Revue!!!!

John at the Hoop Dee Doo on his 11th birthday. Playing the washboard, of course :-)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

E Is For.....Electrical Parade

This one is at the suggestion of my Mom, a huge Disney fan in her own right. I was planning an E Is For....Epcot post, but this is much better. My mom reminded me that one of the things I am most looking forward to on this Disney trip is the triumphant return of the Main Street Electrical Parade!
Yes, that's Elliot from Pete's Dragon, one of the most under-rated characters from one of the most under-rated movies in the Disney canon.
They fired Elliot for THIS?
It's been forever since we've seen the Electrical Parade, and John never has seen it at all. It was replaced some time back by a monstrosity called "SpectroMagic." I remember the first time we saw SpectroMagic. It was on the trip with my parents and sister and future wife to celebrate our graduation from college in 1993. We got our places on Main Street, looking forward to the Electrical parade. The music started and the lights of the parade approached and we were greeted not by Disney characters all festooned in lights, but by odd, and more than a little disturbing, well, things I guess. They were dressed all in white. Some had red hair, some just had big ping pong ball heads. They were playing instruments, and the music was good, but it was just so weird. Disney is great because it shows us the best of our culture and traditions. Disney should not try to do "avant guarde," it doesn't work.
What the heck ARE those things?

Captain Hook knows he looks silly

The Disney Characters did feature in the parade eventually, but they were all dressed in these shiny white suits. It looked fine on the princesses and Mickey and Minnie even, but who would put Captain Hook in a shiny white suit? It looked like a nightmare prom night from a David Lynch movie. I don't want to wish ill on anyone, but I hope the people who designed SpectroMagic have found employment elsewhere. Seriously.

But now the Electrical Parade is back, in all it's glory, newly refurbished and ready to go. We've scheduled it for our arrival day. We figure that and the fireworks will serve as the perfect welcome to a week at Disney World. And I'll get to see Elliot :-)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

D Is For....Dining Plan

Ahhhh, the Disney Dining Plan. I get hungry just thinking about it. We LOVE the Disney Dining Plan here at the Stites house, though we've only used it once and even then didn't pay for it. For those of you who may not know, you can find out all the specifics from Disney here, and read a really good discussion of how to tell if it's right for you (including charts and graphs) here. In a nutshell, it's a way to pre-pay for your meals during your Disney vacation. You must stay at a Disney resort to participate.

From a marketing standpoint, the Disney Dining Plan (DDP) is genius. Sometimes when we've stayed on property, we've taken days to visit outside the Disney properties. At the time that meant Sea World, but today it could be Universal or any number of other attractions. I think the DDP was meant to make those trips "off property" less appealing. I mean, if you've already paid for your meals in Disney, why would you leave to go eat somewhere else? But that's all fine with me, we've reached the point where we really don't want to leave the property once we get to Disney World, heck, I don't even want to see my car for the duration of the trip. So the DDP suits us just fine.

There are several variations of the plan. The cheapest only covers 2 meals at counter service restaurants and one snack per day while the most expensive covers three meals a day, anywhere you like, plus two snacks. We like the mid-price plan, which includes one counter service and one table service meal per day, plus a snack. We find it works well, giving us flexibility and allowing us to experience some of the coolest restaurants Disney has to offer. The plan has been pared down over the years. The last time we used it, it included an appetizer, entree and dessert for each person at a table service meal, and also included tips. Now the appetizers have been dropped and tips are no longer included, but we still see it as a good deal.

We are taking advantage of the free dining plan again this trip, but were planning on buying it before we discovered that offer. We love the convenience of not having to worry about paying for food, it lowers my wife's stress level considerably. We also are huge fans of food and eating. It's ok, we'll admit it, we don't eat to live, we don't count calories and we don't concern ourselves with what is in the food we eat. We love to try new things, we love to eat until we are stuffed and we love all the things that are "bad" for you. Don't judge. The DDP was made for people like us. I've heard of people coming home with un-used snack or even meal credits. They split counter service lunches because "it's so much food." Not the Stiteses, we all get the big combo platter and all eat every bit of it, then walk around laughing about what gluttons we are. We are on vacation after all, if you can't over indulge then when can you?

This trip we are visiting several new places, including the all-you-can-eat, meat-on-a-stick 'Ohana. I hope they are prepared!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

C Is For.....Cinderella Castle

I was at a loss already, at the letter "C", as to what to blog about tonight. Luckily, the lovely Miss Lisa is always ready with a suggestion, and this was one of her best. The Cinderella Castle it is!

Christmas lights make the castle even more beautiful at night
The Cinderella Castle is the iconic landmark of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom Park. Driving under the welcome sign on the way in to Walt Disney World is great and all, but you are not truly "at Disney" until you've looked on the Cinderella Castle. It sits in the center of the parks hub and spoke design, it's the hub, the centerpiece, the landmark visible from any of the lands. It serves as the tunnel entrance to Fantasyland, as a stage for shows, as a backdrop for fireworks and as the home of a restaurant inside. Disney dresses the castle up for the holidays with multi-colored lights, transforming it at night into a huge, ever-changing Christmas decoration. On special occasions, the castle has been transformed by golden characters and even made to look like a giant ice cream cake (something we will never speak of again,. The horror). 

This was some very important anniversary for the Walt Disney Company. No clue any longer what it was. But the castle looked very cool with all the characters from the movies clinging to the outside.
It's a prime example of one of the Imagineers favorite tricks, forced perspective. The castle is built so its uppermost parts are smaller in scale then the parts on ground level. This makes your eye see it as even taller than it really is. It's a neat trick.

John and the Princess
We had a really special magic moment inside the Cinderella Castle on the day we first took our son to the Magic Kingdom, back in 2003. My parents were along on this trip and since it was near our wedding anniversary, they decided to treat us to dinner inside the castle, at what was then King Stefan's Dining Hall. What Sleeping Beauty's dad is doing with a dining hall inside a castle named for Cinderella wasn't clear, but since we'd always wanted to eat in the actual castle, we were all very excited. On our way to the restaurant, we had to pass through what appeared to be a throne room, the huge gilded throne inside being a big hint. As we went to check out the giant throne, who should arrive but Cinderella her royal self! We said hello and she was very polite, but had eyes only for almost 4-year-old John. John was then and still is very taken by blondes, and Cinderella was certainly a beautiful blonde. She walked up to me and took him from my arms and carried him to her throne, where they sat and chatted, in whispers, for a little while. They posed for pictures, she gave him a kiss that left a bright red lipstick lip mark, and we retrieved our son, beaming, to head up for dinner. To this day we have no idea what she said to him, he ain't telling. It was one of the most incredible experiences we have ever had in any Disney park, and we have had some memorable ones.

So, yes, the castle is special to us, as it is to everyone who truly understands the Disney magic. We have several photos of the Cinderella Castle in our living room, reminding us every day of the Most Magical Place On Earth. It's such a part of the magic that just seeing the castle can make my heart skip a beat. I thought it was just me until sitting next to my friend Jen in a movie theater and she poking me and saying, "IT'S THE CASTLE" every time it showed up on the screen before a preview of a Disney produced film. She knew we had just booked our trip and were very excited and what seeing that castle would mean. She gets it. The Cinderella Castle is more than an icon, it's a big part of the tie that bonds all of us Disney Geeks together into one big, happy family. And you don't get any more magical than that.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

B Is For.....Boma

Apologies in advance for this being the worst dining review ever. I don't remember exactly what we ate and I have no idea what it cost, but I do know that Boma, the buffet restaurant inside Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, made a huge impression on my family and we can't wait to go back in September.

The last time we spent a week at Disney, back in late August of 2006, we had taken advantage of the free Disney Dining Plan offer that was current at the time.  When I was planning our dining reservations, or ADRs in Disney speak, I wanted to try some new places, as it had been quite a while since either of us had spent much time at Disney World. Disney's Animal Kingdom was new to us, and so was the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I found Boma and figured it would give us a great excuse to visit the new deluxe resort and maybe try something new, as Boma had an African-influenced menu. As an aside, visiting Disney's resorts is an attraction in itself. All of them have their own theme and charm, from the All-Stars to the high-end deluxe resorts, all are worth checking out. Eating in the resort restaurants gives you a great excuse and opportunity to poke around these places.

Boma is located on the bottom floor of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, across a hall from Jiko, the AKL's more upscale dining spot. Not that there is anything low-class or cheesy about Boma. The dining room is bright and open and full of African artwork. It is not a quiet place, but, hey, it's a buffet at a family resort, nobody should be surprised. The buffet itself is not your typical Western Sizzlin' steam table affair. Most of the food was at least finished right there at the buffet table and everything was always full, fresh and hot. I am having trouble remembering exactly what we ate, it was largely nothing we'd had before or since, but it wasn't so exotic as to scare off timid eaters. I do remember wishing I had a bigger stomach because everything was so very delicious.

When we planned this trip coming up in September, we wanted to try as many new places as we could. We did, however, all agree that a return to Boma was essential. I can't wait.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Is For......Animal Kingdom Lodge

My great friend and fellow Disney freak, the lovely and talented Jen, has begun a "blog challenge" on her own page. She is writing a blog a day, one for each letter of the alphabet. Sounded like a fun idea and a good way to get me in the writing habit, so here I go copy catting right along. Welcome to....

A is for Animal Kingdom Lodge.

It was a pretty crappy year for us, 2009. We decided we needed a little magic in our lives and it had been way too long, three years, since we'd visited Disney, so we determined to get there, one way or another. A week-long trip was out of the question, we just didn't have the money, but after growing up in Pennsylvania, we felt that we were now, in North Carolina, close enough to make a weekend visit to Walt Disney World. Heck, it was only 9 hours away. That's cake for us, we drive all over at the drop of a hat. So, we gathered what money we had and booked two nights at All Star Movies, planning to spend one day in the Magic Kingdom. We were very cost-conscious. This was the year that Disney gave a free day of park admission on your birthday, and we had enough points on our Disney Visa to buy a second pass, so all we needed was our two nights lodging and one park ticket. Very frugal, we thought. Then we got an offer in the mail for discounts on rooms at Disney resorts. The discounts grew as the resort "level" increased. It was something along the lines of 10% off Values, 25% off Moderates and 40% off Deluxe resorts. Frugality flew out the window. When would we have the chance to stay in a Deluxe resort? We who could only afford a two day visit in the first place! We crunched the numbers and convinced each other that we were silly to not take advantage of such a great deal! We are very good at convincing each other to do things we both want to do. So, after the requisite hemming and hawing, Lisa, best wife in the world (and the recipient of the Birthday Free Ticket, by the way), called the Disney reservations line and asked about changing one night of our stay to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. She mentioned the discount notice we'd received in the mail and was told it had expired. Sadness. But Lisa says, it doesn't say here it is expired yet. The reservation lady asked what the discount was, punched a few keys, and told us that no problem, they would honor a 40% discount for one night at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Hooray! We booked the cheapest room they had, which still at 40% off stands as the most expensive hotel room we have ever paid for, and commenced patting ourselves on the back.

After a fun, and at least to us relatively short, drive down to central Florida, we rolled into the Animal Kingdom Lodge feeling like quite the high rollers. Disney's deluxe resorts are really very cool, very immersive and very, well, deluxe. We had seen the lobby on our last trip when we ate at Boma (which starts with a "B", hmmmm.....) so while we were of course impressed, we weren't surprised. We checked in and got assigned a room as far from the lobby as it was possible to go. We were in the wing to the left as you face the front of the resort, all the way at the end, on the third floor. No problem, we said, we did ask for the cheapest room and we don't mind a walk, and after all, we are only staying one night. From the map, I saw that our room looked out at some open area rather than a parking lot, and beyond that, the new Animal Kingdom Vacation Club Villas. It sure would have been cool to have a "savannah view" room, but with all the animal viewing locations throughout the resort, we didn't think we'd be missing too much. And those rooms were WAY beyond our means.

"Our" giraffe
We walked into the room and fell in love with the decor. Everything was very African, of course, but it was Disney African! Lisa was already having a very magical birthday weekend. We opened the drapes to our balcony to check out the view and what do we see, but a giraffe! A real giraffe, wandering about just outside our room! It was so cool, to have the "cheap seats" and still have an animal to look at. Looking out, I also noticed a low building surrounded by a high fence. Some kind of maintenance shed, I thought, placed where the higher paying guests wouldn't have to see it. No problem, I don't mind a maintenance building at all. We wallowed in the coolness of our room for a while, then off we went to the pool. The pool at the Animal Kingdom Lodge is huge. It has several hot tubs and a bar. It has a platform from which one can view giraffes and gazelles and gnus and flamingos and such.  Aren't those people who are paying for those "savannah view" rooms silly, we thought, look how much we, in the cheap room, can see right at the pool! We decided after swimming and then dinner and then more swimming that we all very much needed Ghirardelli milkshakes, so off we went to Downtown Disney for the first Stites Family Midnight Milkshakes. After our treats, we bussed it back to our resort, hiked to our room and settled in for a night's sleep with dreams of a day at the Magic Kingdom dancing before our eyes.

Gnus and something else :-)
The next morning, at first light, before the alarm goes off, we hear an awful racket outside.  Some sort of bird is making a horrible sound, like half belch and half retch, and it is LOUD. We laugh it off as some strange Florida thing and start moving around, as we are intent on making rope drop. While Lisa and John hit the bathroom and wipe the sleep away, I decide to take a peak outside and see what the day looks like. Maybe "our" giraffe will still be there. I pull back the drape, open the door and slide outside. And I am struck completely speechless. If you know me, you know how unlikely that is, but this did it. There, right outside our room, was what I figured had to be the resort's entire collection of critters. There were herds of gazelle and gnus and other hoofed things I didn't recognize. There were ostriches wandering all over. The bird that woke us up turned out to be even more beautiful than its song was ugly. And "our" giraffe had found a bunch of friends, and they were happily munching away on trees RIGHT THERE!!!!! I gathered myself after a minute and told Lisa and John  to come here, RIGHT NOW! They sort of wandered over to see what crazy dad was up to and then saw for themselves and were struck as speechless as myself. Let me tell you, three dumb-struck Stiteses is not something that happens. Ever. But this did it. We couldn't move. We kept seeing new animals. There was no noise except for the ones the animals made, so we heard them snort and snuff and we heard to sound of ostrich toenails on sidewalk, something I didn't expect but will never ever forget.

Ostrich toes on the sidewalk
The critter buffet
We figured out after a bit of watching that the building wasn't a maintenance shed after all, it was the breakfast house for all these animals. The giraffes eventually went over and tried sticking their heads over the fence to snack. We saw a person emerge every so often and open a gate for a herd of some creature and then let them out to replace them with another herd of a different creature. It was fascinating. And we were in the cheapest room in the resort. I have to wonder what the people on the savannah side saw that morning. I sort of believe all their "view" was belly up to the buffet a short stone's throw from me and the family.

The giraffes hoping for a meal
We missed rope drop. And didn't regret it one tiny bit.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mickey's Toontown Fair Memories (and pictures!)

One of the things we are most looking forward to on our upcoming trip to Disney World is experiencing the parts of the new Fantasyland expansion that will be open. I've been having a ball reading all the reports and looking at pictures and watching videos of the section that opened a couple weeks ago, and by the time we arrive I believe the water play area will have been opened as well as the second Dumbo ride. But all this excitement over the new additions has made me remember the old Mickey's Toontown Fair that had to be torn down to make way. I'll not lie and say it was ever one of my favorite parts of the Magic Kingdom, I'm a sentimentalist and it was just too new for me, but we certainly enjoyed visiting Mickey's house and Minnie's house and their gardens and I particularly liked Donald's boat. I thought it would be fun to share some of the pictures I found of our last two trips to the Magic Kingdom, when Toontown was still bustling.

In November of 2009, we hit Toontown after dark, which was kind of fun in itself. This is the welcome sign on the way into Mickey's Toontown Fair from Fantasyland.

It being November, Disney had it's Christmas decorations up, and Toontown got the treatment! Here is Minnie's house all decked out in Christmas lights. Those are some BIG bulbs, huh?
And inside, we were lucky enough to see Mickey's very own Christmas tree! It appears Mickey has gone the artificial tree route.

Minnie had these family photos on display. I'm not sure if it was her living room or bedroom. 

Wearing my new Goofy shirt, I just HAD to have a picture in front of Mickey's painting of Goofy's Barnstorming. We see here what the water tower outside looked like before Goofy's unconventional landing. And if you look close, you'll see I'm wearing my button proclaiming me as "That Guy" from the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. It was a good day.
Mickey's meet and greet was in the Expo Tent in Toontown. November was a great time to visit, we had almost zero wait for anything, including this face time with The Mouse.

And here we see the unfortunate results of Goofy's barnstorming. This was taken on a trip in August of 2006. Obviously, it was daylight that time :-)

Minnie Mouse's house. I love the attention to detail here, and throughout Toontown in fact. Minnie's mailbox still makes me smile.

This isn't the best view of Mickey's house, but it IS a good view of my son. There are so many Mickey's around this house, like the one on the fence post, that they hardly qualify as "hidden."

I am now and always have been a HUGE Donald Duck fan. You can have your Mickey and Minnie house all day, for my money, give me the Miss Daisy, Donald's boat!

Of course Donald's front yard is a water play area. That's because Donald is way cool. John here doesn't believe water is coming.
Sure enough, it was!

Here is Mickey's back door. See what I mean about the Not-So-Hidden Mickeys?
Mickey's garden featured some unusually shaped cacti. They look strangely familiar....

Now that Toontown is no longer, I'm wishing I took more photos while it was around. All the pictures of the new train station look spectacular, but I'd love to have a few of the old one for my personal comparison.

I'm very excited about the new Fantasyland expansion, to see this new piece of Disney magic, especially as the part that has opened is circus-themed and I love the circus with a passion. I wasn't so attached to the old Toontown that I'll mourn it's passing (it's not like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride or anything!), but it is fun to look back before looking forward.