"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, October 29, 2012

Goodbye, HMS Bounty

This is the Captain's cabin on the HMS Bounty and it's off limits to visitors. Just so happened the crew member watching the entrance wandered off. It took about half a second for Misty and I to decide to slip under the rope and enjoy the good life of Captains of the Ship.
This morning the HMS Bounty, a replica of the famous "Mutiny on the" ship, sank off the North Carolina coast while trying to sail around Hurricane Sandy. She carried 16 crew, 14 of whom are safe ashore as I write this. One crew member, Claudine Christian, died and her body was recovered. The ship's captain, Robin Walbridge, remains missing as of Monday night. I pray for the safety of Captain Walbridge and for the family and friends and memory of Claudine Christian. CNN has a good story with a bit of video that is the most up to date info I could find as I write this.

I understand the human tragedy here and I guess some would think this terribly missing that point, but I'm going to write about losing the ship. If that bothers you, stop here, or bear with me and maybe you'll see where I'm going with this. The Bounty wasn't a person, she had no soul (in the religious sense) and no family (in the genetic sense) and she shouldn't be mourned as if she was a person. But it's not wrong to mourn her, I think, not wrong to feel a real sadness that she rests now at the bottom of the Atlantic, never to sail again. I do feel that sadness, a sense of loss. I think that woman next to me in the picture, our friend Misty, feels it too, and without assuming to speak for her, I'm going to try to explain why we do.

There's a reason ships are called "she" and not "it." Ships, especially sailing ships, evoke emotion in sailors and would be sailors. They represent much more than wood and hemp and canvas. They represent freedom. They represent escape. Or maybe it's more to the point to say that they represent......possibilities. That's the crux of it for me, I think. I already feel very free and I have nothing to escape from, my life being pretty damned good, and yet I'm drawn to a ship like the Bounty on a very basic level. Misty is as well. We HAD to go see her, and we HAD to go see her together. We did the same thing when the US Coast Guard's Eagle came to town. We walked around these ships not saying much but both thinking the same thing, "What if....?" What if I had her for my own? Where could I go? What could I do? How would it be to wake up in the morning to the sound of water running against a wooden hull and know I had the whole of the ocean open to me? We joked about stowing away, but neither of us wanted that and soon it turned to imaginings of flat out piracy. We didn't want to just be on the ship, we wanted to have the ship, to be a part of her and her of us and to go where we pleased. When I was on the Bounty, I could feel all of that inside of me. Possibility, pure, unadulterated possibility, seemed closer. Just being aboard her did it.

And now she's gone and I'm sad.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dickens Diary

We had our first rehearsal for Fezziwig's Ball, our part of Southport's inaugural Charles Dickens Christmas Festival, yesterday. I wrote about taking part in this a few posts ago, and figured I'd follow the experience along on Pooh Sticks, you know, because it's my blog and I want to ;)

We were experiencing a "tropical weather event" yesterday, and from the sounds of it outside right now today as well. There had been some concern as to whether or not practice would go on, but it turned out to just be rainy and the show, such as it was, went on. We had a good turn-out, I thought, and I was happy to see some friends from our Wizard of Oz experience again. The associate pastor of our church and his wife also turned out, at the insistence of their grandson. I was really happy to see that, they are two of the nicest, most down to earth and fun people we know and I can't wait to share this with them. They are looking to expand their horizons, something I can totally relate to. I love to see people opening new doors.

We signed up for shifts at the party, requested costumes and volunteered to help with refreshments and decorating. We worked on our dance and I think learned it fairly well. It's very close to something I did during a rather unfortunate phys ed class in college. We laughed and danced around and bumped into each other and tried not to step on the toddlers weaving between our legs all the while. It was the kind of experience we expect from this group, and we loved it very much.

The wandering characters were discussed a bit and I asked about a script for Uriah Heep, but he hasn't got one yet. I'm very excited about that part of the Dickens weekend, but I have to say it reminds me of a thought I had in Disney. We were watching one of the parades go by, I think it was the random one we happened upon while trying to leave the Magic Kingdom on our last day, and I saw Terk, the gorilla from Tarzan. I got to thinking about how many people saw him and thought, "Who's the monkey?" I mean, Disney's Tarzan is a fine film, but not one of the classics or most popular by any stretch. I wondered how the guy inside there felt when he excitedly shared his news that finally he was going to be a "head character" in the parks (in a parade even!) with his friends and they asked who he was going to be. Would he be Donald? Goofy? A relatively minor character like FroZone or Mr. Smee? "Nope," he would say proudly, "I'm Terk." I wondered at the expressions on his friends' faces. Would they be so rude as ask who the Hell Terk was? Or would they congratulate him and wait til later to hit Google?
Terk. Know him, love him :)

In my case, I had only a vague idea of who Uriah Heep was myself when Jen brought up the idea of playing him, so when I tell people who I'm going to portray I always explain who he is. I have some rather more literary than average friends, so they catch right on. Don't misunderstand, I'm very happy with Uriah. I would pick a bad guy over a good any day, and playing someone less familiar takes a lot of the pressure of "getting it right" off my head. I'm not an actor, so that is a very good thing. But still, it reminds me of that guy in the monkey suit on the Disney parade float. I am sure it didn't matter to him who he played. He was at Disney World, he was in the parade, he was portraying a character that animators and writers spent months breathing life into. That's awesome and exciting and something to be extremely proud of. I knew who he was, after all, and when he went by I hollared out a "TERK!!!!". I really hope he heard me :)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Getting It

We saw more "bad behavior" on this Disney trip than any before. We saw a physical fight over parade watching spots narrowly averted by a cast member our first night in the park. The next day we witnessed a man jump off the Walt Disney World Railroad train while it was going regular speed between two stops. He'd apparently dropped his cell phone. He was almost thrown from the park, saved, we assume, by his pre-school daughter wearing a princess costume. Groups of foreign tourists speaking loudly over the narration of attractions was the norm rather than the exception. We noticed an unusual number of parents screaming at kids, and often kids who seemed to be doing nothing wrong. We saw 8, 10, maybe even 12-year-olds attached to dads with leashes. I don't know if we were just more sensitive to this stuff because we ourselves were so relaxed and happy and paying a lot of attention to everything going on around us, but on this trip all three of us picked up on many people who just weren't getting it. It made us feel really lucky to not be one of "those families," and coming home, I've become very happy to be surrounded by people who really do "get it."

We are a Disney Geek family. We all three see the Disney Magic as something real and valuable and important. I'm not shy about my love for Disney, as evidenced by this blog and it's accompanying Facebook page, and neither is the lovely Miss Lisa. This has led us to some good natured ribbing, of course, but also to discover some other Disney Geeks in our daily lives. I've found that others in the salesman community are as enthusiastic about Disney as myself. We can go on for hours in the back room of a grocery store discussing the latest discounts, the pros and cons of renting Disney Vacation Club points, character meals, crowd levels and all other aspects of trip planning. We use so many acronyms, I doubt anyone else can understand what we're saying. Lisa works for our town government and has found a cadre of dedicated Disney Geeks in charge of our police force. One officer sent us down with pins to trade and when we brought him back a Mickey sheriff's badge pin, he went to brag to the Chief, who already had one of his own of course. They proceeded to try one-upping each other with Disney collectibles they owned. The pastor of our church is another Disney-phile who made a point to tell me how much joy he gets out of the pictures I post and assured me that the experience our son gets on a family trip to Disney World is worth much more than any money we spent. Disney Geekery is everywhere.

I wrote before we left for our trip about how much fun I expected to have sharing our memories upon our return. What makes that sharing fun, and rewarding, is having people who "get it" to share with. Going through the Disney parks with Lisa and John is pure heaven for me because we all three appreciate it, nothing is forced, no one is just going along to see the others have fun. When Walt spoke in the movie shown at the end of "One Man's Dream" about wanting to build a park where parents and children could enjoy a place completely together because that's what he wanted for himself and his daughters, Lisa teared up. She understands what makes the magic. It's love, pure and simple. Behind all the corporatism and licensing and money, is the love one man had for his family and the world at large. That's why Disney works, why it's different. It's enough to move anyone to tears, anyone who get's it anyway.

Lisa's doorknob pic
my doorknob pic
My family is lucky to have another family who sees Disney in exactly the same way. Adrian and Jen and their boys Max and Milo are exactly the same kind of Disney Family as we are. They recently returned from a trip to Disneyland and the sharing of our two experiences has been a true joy. The similarities in the way we take in the parks is uncanny. We all try to capture the magic on camera, we have several thousand pictures between us, but I was amazed at how we all saw the same things as interesting or noteworthy. I've gotten used to pretty much sharing a brain with Lisa, so when we found we'd taken pictures of the same doorknob we weren't the least bit surprised. We shot lots of "detail" picture, ones we laughed about no one seeing us knowing what the heck we could be taking a picture of. Well, Jen would have known. While I took a picture of the light fixture on the ceiling of the WDW Railroad passenger car, Jen took one of the light in her room. Lisa took tons of door pictures, Jen has several of the inside of an elevator. Jen and I both took pictures of the entrance to Adventureland that aside from being from opposite ends of the country, could be the same shot. It's just really funny to me, and heartwarming. It's nice to have kindred spirits out there.

light on the train

A door in Norway
Elevator in the Disneyland Hotel
A faucet in Disneyland Hotel

Disneyland Hotel light
 It's not just the pictures, though. I mean how many people take the time to set down in a blog the joys of waiting in line? Back in February, I did, and here's a part of it:

"We aren't opposed to waiting in line, though, for something we all really want to do. Two hours is a bit much, but even for an hour and a half we have been known to suck it up and wait. It's really not the end of the world. There's lots to do in line. Disney has spent a tremendous amount of time and imagination and money making even the queuing areas of its attractions interesting. That's not even to mention the people watching opportunities. I pity the people who never wait in line and as a result miss out on mocking the other Disney guests' dress, hairstyle, accent, mannerisms and child-rearing skills. What do you people talk about at dinner? Even if you are sickeningly nice and don't get snarky and mean about strangers, you could spend time in line talking to your family. Imagine that! You are on vacation and the children, if not the adults, are probably close to sensory over-load. Talking about what you've done and seen and what adventures are yet to come make passing the time in line rather enjoyable."

Jen wrote on her personal blog yesterday all about waiting in the Radiator Springs Racers queue in Cars Land at Disneyland for two hours while they got the ride working again. She wasn't complaining, she was celebrating one of the best parts of her trip. Not only did she and Max take the time together to just be together, she experienced the joy of seeing her son get it while he pointed out Imagineering details to her. I couldn't have expressed it better myself, though I did express the  very same experience from our trip. Here's a bit from Jen's blog:

 "It didn't really matter....because even though, all told, Max and I stood on that queue for almost two hours, it was so very enjoyable.  At no point did he whine or complain (that would have made me get out of the line immediately, and he probably knew that!), and he tried his best to entertain the people in line around us (yeah, you know he did).  Even better, HE kept pointing out all these amazing Imagineered details to ME, and I loved how observant and interested he was.  We talked and we laughed and we shared an overpriced water bottle that a costumed cast member wisely started hawking to his captive audience, and we giggled over the texted photos of Milo enjoying A Bug's Land, and we imagined and we planned and we enjoyed each other.  There was no laundry to be done, there were no emails distracting me, there was no need to do school work, there was no Milo hanging on me....just two hours of Max and Mom time, doing something purely for fun."

That's what I mean by "getting it." It's what made Lisa get emotional at a movie. It's what makes me write this blog. It's magic, the real thing.

Just after we got home from Disney and a day or so before they left for their trip, I was dropping something off at Jen and Adrian's house. As I was leaving, Max came over to give me a hug and said, "I can't wait to get back so we can get together and share our stories!"  A seven year old looking forward to getting home so he could relive his experience with his friends. He gets it. That's what keeps the Disney Magic alive.

Walt Disney World's Adventureland entrance

Disneyland's Adventureland entrance

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

(Relatively) Wordless Wednesday---Disney Attire or Costuming

It's Wordless Wednesday time again at The Focused On Magic. Today's topic is "Disney Attire or Costuming" so I've chosen three pics of one of my favorite Disney characters. One is nekkid and the other two sportin' some fine duds. Head over to the blog hop and check out everyone's pictures, there are some really great ones today!

  For more Baloo, check out this video of the Jammin' Jungle Parade

For more pictures from our recent trip to Walt Disney World (and lots of other fun stuff), check out the Pooh Sticks Facebook page

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Living Worlds and Amateur Imagineering

This afternoon I came across disneylivingworlds.com, where I read this--

Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development wants to work with innovative storytellers willing to push the limits to create fully immersive worlds where guests can explore, play and discover deep narratives. To help us achieve this goal, we are excited to announce the Living Worlds program, through which we hope to support the development of a few unique concepts through collaborative project work.

Wow. Just wow. How exciting is that?

They used the term "transmedia" to describe a method of storytelling that takes the audience inside the story where they can interact with, and sometimes change, the story itself through the use of a variety of media and environments. This is what Walt Disney set out to do with his theme parks, tell a story in a fully immersive way. Everything in the Disney parks is about storytelling, even the rides start as storyboards, like a movie would. Walt Disney Imagineering is first and foremost a storytelling outfit. More from the website--

At Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development, storytelling is in our DNA and we are always looking to advance this art form. We have developed the Living Worlds program to catalyze and support the transmedia community and continue to push the limits of immersive storytelling.

Apparently, there is a "transmedia community," who knew?  The closest thing I've seen to Disney-type immersive entertainment is the MagiQuest attraction in Myrtle Beach, and it was developed by former Imagineers from Disney. It looks like WDI is trying to draw out anyone else exploring this area and perhaps give them a hand, perhaps recruit them? It sounds like a recruitment tool to me, anyhow. And more power to them, I'd love to see what comes from this project. Participants must apply with an idea, then a few are selected for further fleshing out and development. The winner or winners, such as they are (this isn't billed as a contest by any means) will benefit from the brain trust at Walt Disney Imagineering to help bring their idea to life. Not financial help, but coaching and support, which coming from the Imagineers could be worth more than money. It's all very cool. I mean, "Living Worlds" has a ring to it without any explaination at all.

Of course my first glimpse at this program triggered my imagination and my sizable ego drove me to look at the submission guidelines right off the bat. Surely I could come up with an idea worthy of Walt Disney Imagineering. I got nuthin' if not ideas. Well, maybe this one's not so much for me. They want interactivity with ipods and smartphones and such and they want you to have a venue and resources and experience and be able to carry the whole thing off inside of a year. Reality popped that ego bubble. But I'm still very excited about this project and I hope there will be some way to find out how it turns out, if not follow along. I think that would be fascinating.

In the meantime, I'm not going to be disappointed I can't play in the majors with the Imagineers because I have my own bit of "immersive storytelling" coming up right here at home with my friends and neighbors. The next town over, Southport, is hosting a Charles Dickens Christmas Festival this year in honor of the author's 200th birthday. As I understand it, the idea is to turn the historic downtown into a Victorian Christmas village. The Brunsick Arts Council is organizing this whole thing and has gone whole hog, bringing in shows of every kind, from dance to theatre to concerts. They also promise "clowns, town criers, carolers, Dickens characters, puppet shows, story-telling, children's Victorian games and food!" It's going to be quite immersive, and I'm going to be immersed in it as a "cast member" so to speak :)

Our friend Jen, the same one who gave us our introduction to theatre work with the Wizard of Oz this past summer, was asked to organize a recreation of Fezziwig's Ball from A Christmas Carol, and Lisa and I will be party guests. The ball will be an on-going party that festival goers can visit and even participate in if they'd like. There will be dancing of a reel, caroling, and general Victorian merry-making. I'm taking a couple days off work to be able to help with the set-up and decorating and be able to participate both Friday and Saturday. We'll need to decorate our space, an old visitor center, and we may be selling refreshments. Lisa and I get to dress up and learn a dance (we have our first rehearsal Saturday) and be a part of the show. I'm excited to do something "theatrical" again and doubly so because Jen is such fun to work with. She's the closest thing to an Imagineer I've ever met.

But wait, that's not all! I mentioned "Dickens characters" a bit ago right? Well, I'm also going to be one of them--Uriah Heep, the villain of David Copperfield (Wikipedia calls him an "antagonist," but "Villain" sounds better, and more Disney). Jen was asked to help find someone "tall and gangly" for this role, and apparently I fit the bill. I'm not an actor by any means, but Jen tells me I'll just need to learn a few lines of script and ad-lib the rest as I interact with festival goers. We attended a few murder mystery parties Jen put together as fundraisers, and she says it will be a lot like that. We'll see. I've not read David Copperfield, nor even seen the movie, so I was at a bit of a loss as to who this Uriah Heep is. So I did what any responsible person would do and turned to Google. I found out that he is utterly repulsive physically and even worse personally. I found that on a list of male English literary characters rated on their "bangability" my man Uriah came in 110 out of 111. He was just one better than Frankenstein's monster. Uriah apparently goes on about his humbleness while stabbing everyone in the back to get ahead. I hope I'm not being typecast, but this guy sounds like he could be a lot of fun.

So I'm not going to be chosen to work with Walt Disney Imagineering to make the products of my fevered imagination come to life, but that's fine. Maybe I won't be discovered and hired to spend my life living my Disney dreams. But that doesn't mean I can't be my own Imagineer, helping to make a story come to life for friends and strangers in my way and in my own community. It's all about the story after all, and not just the stories we tell. I like to think of life as a story, one I can add to and embellish everyday. It's the ultimate immersive experience, and this story is getting better all the time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wordless Wednesday...Disney Storytelling

Today is Wordless Wednesday again over at Focused on the Magic and today's theme is Disney Storytelling. I chose pictures from three different parks showing how the Imagineers tell the story of an attraction or a "Land" through props. Head over to the Wordless Wednesday page and check out what others have come up with as well.

This crate sits on the docks between the Liberty Belle landing and the entrance to the keel boats over to Tom Sawyer Island. Wonder what ol' Samuel Langhorne was ordering?
This climbing paraphernalia hangs from the ceiling of a random building in Animal Kingdom's Asia.
I absolutely LOVE all the props in the Muppetvision 3D attraction in Hollywood Studios. The soup prices got me on this one, and the lawyers' office :)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A (Almost) Teen In The Kingdom

Tomorrow my son John becomes a teen. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that one, though he has been counting down for weeks now. Thanks, John, that helps :)  John is our only child so I imagine we feel the sense of him changing forever each and every day more acutely than we would if he had a younger sibling. Tomorrow, there will no longer be a pre-teen in this house. He's "Moving Forward" as Walt liked to say. He is truly opening new doors all the time, he is exploring new things because he is truly and wonderfully curious.I know intellectually that tomorrow he will only be one day older than he is today, that 13 is only a number and an arbitrary milestone at best. But it serves emotionally and very practically to put a sort of time stamp on the changes that have been coming to John faster and faster the last few years and especially the last six months or so. I've watched him becoming less a subset of Lisa and I and more an individual with his own opinions and goals and interests. I thoroughly enjoyed John's childhood up to this point and I suppose there's a part of me that will always miss him as a child, but the person he is growing into is so absolutely and incredibly wonderful that he tips the bitter/sweet nostalgia scales almost all the way to the sweet side.

The early teen years are a big transition time, and this trip to Disney put the very best of that transition on vibrant display. John was able to enjoy the parks as a child who thrilled at driving his own go cart around the Tomorrowland Speedway, but he also started looking at Disney World with an adult's appreciation for what went into creating the Magic. For me, it was one of the best Dad experiences of my life. I got to have the best of both worlds, playing with my kid and teaching my son about one of the things I really love. John made me so incredibly proud because he gets it, he understands on a basic level that Disney is special for a reason and he was actively trying to understand it.
John and the snowman

I wasn't surprised that John was interested in what went into the Magic, the kid loves watching "How It's Made" on the Science Channel after all and even as a toddler, he was watching the ride mechanism while going around on the little firetrucks or cars or motorcycles at the fair. He completely ate up my stories of what the Imagineers had done and how and why. I was truly impressed and a bit surprised with the way he went about internalizing what I told him and actively seeking out examples himself. Before our trip, I read a lot of books about all the detail the Imagineers put into the building of everything they do. John and I had a ball looking for examples ourselves and I think John spotted one of the greatest in Hollywood Studios. Right next to Mama Melrose's restaurant, there is a little Christmas shop on the corner. Naturally, being Disney, it's winter all year round on that corner. There are Christmas decorations like you'd find on a city street and there is snow on the ground, drifted up against the corner of the building. Someone has even built a snowman. All this is cool, but after so many years of Disney parks, it's not all that uncommon to find some pretty consistent "themeing" at parks outside of Walt's world. But John discovered how the Imagineers went the extra mile, and why they are still the best. Outside the window of the Christmas shop were some footprints in the snow drift. If you followed them by putting your own feet in the outlines, you saw that they were "left" by a person walking up to the store to do a little window shopping. I was impressed by that little touch, but John found one even better. Around the corner the shop ends and before the next building begins there is a little transition. It's a set of wooden garage doors with the name of the local fire department written on them. It was "Engine Co. #"something, but I can't remember what exactly. The snow drift starts to peter out here, it's not very deep, but it does extend in front of one of these garage doors for the fire company. And right there in the snow, just where a fire truck would be leaving the garage, is a set of tire tracks in the snow. John and I wondered to each other what kind of mind thinks of that. I explained that it came from basing everything around a story, much more like the play we worked on than normal architecture where you build for a purpose. We were walking in a giant set. All of Walt Disney World is a show, one you actively participate in, but a show all the same. John totally got it, because he'd seen a show come to life from start to finish, he could totally relate to the Imagineers. The doors he opened this summer helped him open more doors, and my hope is that will continue to be a pattern throughout his life. I think he's on the right track.

Firetruck tracks
John noticed other things, such as the smell of cookies always coming from the Main Street bakery. I explained that they did that on purpose, they actually pumped out the smell of cookies all day and night to draw people into the shop. John noticed it again this time with coffee at the Starring Rolls Cafe in Hollywood Studios and couldn't wait to tell his Mom how the smell was blown out of the store as an Imagineering trick.We also amused ourselves looking for and pointing out "weineies" to each other. A "weinie" was what Walt called the big set pieces that caught a guest's eye and drove them to come towards a new area. The Cinderella Castle is a huge example, but there are weinies large and small all over the parks. I love the story of how the term came into being, and John did as well. Seems Walt loved hot dogs, weinies, and was attracted to the smell of them without fail. So he equated anything that attracted a person, that drew them in, with the smell of wienies in his own experience. Walt was a genius, pure and simple, but he was a normal everyday guy as well. That's why he was, and is, so successful. I tried to impress upon John that it was great to be the smartest guy in the room, but if you didn't know people and know how to relate to them, your genius could be completely wasted.

Walt Disney was inspired to build his first theme park, Disneyland, because he wasn't satisfied with the playgrounds and amusement parks he had seen. He found plenty of places to take his young daughters and watch them play, and he did often, but he wanted a place where parents and children could have fun together, explore together and learn together. Well, Walt, you did it. Thank you. Thank you for dreaming big and making it real, thank you for a place I can watch my son grow and learn and laugh and discover as he moves from childhood to teenager.

I dream too. I dream that these lessons never stop, that John keeps being curious and that it leads him to open knew doors for the rest of his life. No, I'm not sad that John's Moving Forward, I celebrate it. Keep moving, John. Keep moving.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

I Love A Parade

Walt Disney wanted to make everyday something special at his theme park, and what do Americans do on special days? They throw down with parades and fireworks shows, that's what. So, at Disney parks everyday has parades and fireworks. Each park has at least one parade or nightly fireworks-type show and the Magic Kingdom goes especially whole hog with several parades and sometimes two fireworks presentations a day. We aren't the type to have to make every parade, we missed the afternoon Magic Kingdom parade entirely on this trip, but we did make a point to check out a few for either the first or possibly the last time.

The Cheshire Cat seems to be enjoying himself, too
Maybe I just like this parade because it features Elliot.
Sadly, I think this was the last time we'll see the Main Street Electrical Parade. I have written in the past about how much I will miss this and hate to see it replaced with the terrible SpectroMagic parade, but that seems to be what is planned. On the day of our arrival, we planned to be in the Magic Kingdom for the Electrical parade no matter what else we managed to do. As it worked out, it was the only night we'd be able to see it, so we made it a priority. It didn't disappoint, it never does. In fact, I was a bit surprised that it looked even better than the last time. I figured maybe with it being scheduled to end sometime around the end of the year (rumor has it), it would look a little the worse for wear. But it was glorious and bright and wonderful. It was a great start to our week and apparently a great way to finish it as well. We got talking to a woman watching next to us with her small child. Turns out she was leaving the next morning after her very first trip to Disney. After a full week of vacation fun, her husband and other son were back at the room resting, but she said she needed to see one last parade before she went home. My kinda person.

Blurry, crappy picture of a really cute Tigger Pirate :)
As someone who just loves the Magic Kingdom at night and someone who loves Halloween, I guess it should come as no surprise that I found the Boo To You Parade during Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party to be the BEST DISNEY PARADE EVER!!!  The whole MNSSHP was an unbelievably fun night and will get its own gushing blog post, so I'll limit myself to the parade here. I don't have a bunch of pictures from the Boo To You parade because we left the good camera in the room. We did that on purpose. Having never seen that parade and having looked forward to it for months, I didn't want to see it through a viewfinder. I'm glad I made that choice. This parade was a spectacle from the very start. A few minutes before the parade itself comes around, the Headless Horseman gallops down the street on a huge black horse. That alone was worth the price of admission. The music that goes along with this parade is awesome, it stuck with us all week and not in that annoying "Small World" way either. In fact, Lisa has been looking for a way to download the soundtrack into her ipod. The villains all made an appearance, but our favorites were the "extras" that you'll only ever see in this parade. There were ghosts from the ballroom scene in the Haunted Mansions ride dancing down the street and there was a for real blood hound that looked uncannily like our own dog. Our favorites, though, were the grave diggers, guys with shovels who danced by dragging their tools across the pavement in time with the music and creating showers of sparks. It was really, really cool. We weren't the only ones impressed, we found. The people we were standing with to watch had already been to a MNSSHP earlier in the week and came back for this one as well because they loved it so much. Again, my kind of people.

She is adorable
The costumes, such as on this stilt-walker, are amazing
Another first for us was Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade in the Animal Kingdom. This was only our second visit to this park and we missed the parade the first time, so  it was a priority. I think this is my new favorite daytime parade at any Disney park. The colors are almost overwhelming, the characters are dressed in really cool "expedition" attire, the floats carrying the characters are mostly Jeeps in various states of modification and the other floats are incredibly imaginative and unique. Everyone in the parade seemed to be genuinely having the time of their lives. I know it's Disney and it's their job to look like that, but this seemed really genuine. Almost all the stilt-walkers, and they were pretty high up there, noticed Lisa and I wearing "Happy Anniversary" buttons and acknowledged our celebration with a wave and a point at our buttons or a shouted "Congratulations!!!" It wasn't a terribly long parade, but it was high energy and to my eyes at least very different from the ones at the other parks. It fits Animal Kingdom perfectly.

Goodbye Baloo!!!
The last parade we saw on our trip was entirely by accident. I had to ask on the Dis Boards what the thing was called and what it was about. Actually, our last day in the parks was pretty incredible all around. We spent maybe a total of two and a half hours in the Magic Kingdom and saw two stage shows and a parade, none of them on purpose. It just seemed that they knew when we'd be crossing the Hub and arranged entertainment for us! It was a very nice touch, we thought. Anyway, what we saw was apparently the Move it! Shake it! Celebrate it! parade/dance party that travels up Main Street to the Castle front yard a few times a day. They stop there and the characters climb down to mix and mingle and dance with the park guests. We didn't see any of that, or even know it was going to happen. We were just walking out of Tomorrowland on our way out of the park and to Hollywood Studios when we noticed a parade of really bright, gift package-looking floats headed towards us up Main Street. We stopped and took pictures and waved and said goodbye to  Mickey and Donald and Goofy and Baloo and King Louie one more time. It really felt as if they planned this as a farewell to the Stites Family. You can tell me it wasn't, but I'll not listen :)

I've got lots more pictures and even some video from these parades, if you're interested. Just follow these links, and feel free to "like" the Pooh Sticks Facebook page or subscribe to my Youtube channel.

The Main Street Electrical Parade in pictures

Captain Hook's Main Street Electrical Parade video

The Hookah Smoking Caterpillar Main Street Electrical Parade video. I told you they featured some off the wall characters!

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade in pictures

These videos were shot by my son, John, at the Jungle Parade. I think he did GREAT!!!

King Louie and Baloo

Donald Duck.
 I just gotta say Donald singing "Iko Iko" pretty much made my day.


Mickey Mouse

And last but not least, our last day, last minute pictures of Disney's Goodbye Stites Family Parade ;)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Disney Architecture

I'm hopping aboard Focused On The Magic's Wordless Wednesday Magical Blogorail today and offering my contributions to today's theme, Disney Architecture. Go ahead and follow that link and check out all the cool picures. It's called a "blog hop" and it's fun :)

If you enjoy these, there's plenty more on Pooh Sticks Facebook page!

A little Architecture under construction at the new Fantasyland
I'm not sure I'd want to stay here, but I have always loved that the monorail ran through :)

My favorite spot on Main Street. I love that there is no real reason to come down here (well, now there's a Sororcer portal, but that's a recent thing) , but Disney went all out building this to look perfect

We took tons of architecture pics in Morocco. Love that place
We feel very comfortable in Epcot's United Kingdom. It seems sort of Hobbit-y.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mr. Grumpy Goes To Disney

I'm sure I don't need to say, but be assured Mr. Grumpy wasn't me. And Mr. Grumpy certainly wasn't John, or, obviously, the lovely Miss Lisa. We met Mr. Grumpy while waiting in the pouring down rain for a bus back to the Caribbean Beach Resort from Hollywood Studios after Fantasmic was canceled on us. No one under that bus canopy was turning somersaults with joy and happiness, but Mr. Grumpy made us smile.

I'm a happy person. It takes a lot to get me down and I tend to see humor in everything. My wife and son are happy people as well and we all pretty much enjoy ourselves where ever we are and whatever we're doing. We giggle while shopping at Walmart. That's just the way we are. So while at Disney, we really don't find much of anything to complain about. Mr. Grumpy? Not so much. I find Disney to be a pretty close to perfect place, but I realize a lot of that is me and my attitude. I don't stress over things at Disney because there's no need. It's Disney. But I realize not everyone is like that. People spend a lot of money on a Disney vacation and their idea of perfection is something more than mine. Disney tends to make some people see every glass as half empty. Mr. Grumpy was one of these and he was adorable.

As we stood waiting for the bus to arrive, dripping wet, Mr. Grumpy hit on about all the common complaints about a Disney vacation.

The bus to the Magic Kingdom, 8 am on a Saturday
The Transportation -- This one got the conversation started, as we were waiting for a bus. I mentioned to Lisa the irony of the fact that the first time we had to wait for any significant amount of time for a bus was when it was pouring down rain on our heads because we couldn't fit under the canopy. "Are you staying at Caribbean Beach?" asked Mr. Grumpy. "I can't believe that. I feel like I've done nothing but wait for buses the whole time we've been here." 

It's a common complaint from people using the Disney transportation system. Buses, boats and monorails move guests around the whole huge property, and there are times you have to wait for whatever you plan to ride to arrive. I've stayed in the busy and the slow season, at a variety of resorts, and never found using Disney's transportation to be a problem or a frustration. I never put myself in a situation where I'm in that much of a rush. If running on Disney's schedule troubles you, it's an easy problem to solve by simply driving yourself where you want to go. We have friends who go this route and have just as relaxed a time on vacation as we do. It's just personal taste.

The resort loop monorail, about 10 am on a Saturday
But I honestly have no idea what Mr. Grumpy was talking about in this instance. We were staying in the same resort and we never waited more than 5 minutes to be picked up and maybe ten waiting for a bus back to our room. And we left the parks at closing, along with massive throngs of others, so that was quite an accomplishment, I thought. This particular night was unusual as we waited about 20 minutes in the rain. As I mentioned, the Fantasmic show had been canceled, so the park emptied out an hour or so before it was expected to and I guess that threw off the system. It happens, and 20 minutes isn't such a long wait. It would take close to that time to get to your car in the lot anyhow. We saw as many empty buses and monorails as we did standing room only ones this trip. We sometimes felt like we were being chauffeured.

Ride Lines and Park Crowds--After his bus comment, especially the Eeyore-ish way in which it was delivered, I knew I had a live one on the line. So I brought up the subject of crowds. I couldn't help it. Of course Mr. Grumpy was upset about that, too. "With this "free-dining" thing (I think he used air quotes here), everyone and their brother is here this week. We've done nothing but wait in line."

Again, we had a very different experience. I don't think we waited more than 20 minutes for any ride ever the entire trip. And we rode about everything -- most several times. Nothing without a FastPass option ever had a significant wait, and we used FastPasses to ride the rest if need be. Admittedly, we got a bunch of the more popular Fantasyland attractions done during Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, when the park was very thinned out, but even going to what all the tips web sites said was the busiest park that day, we rarely found a line more than ten or twenty minutes. We never waited at all for Pirates of the Caribbean, for instance, no matter when we went. We just filed in and hopped on. It was awesome. Star Tours was the same way.

I suppose if you were heart set on riding the big name "E" Ticket rides without using the FastPass, you had to wait. But there is absolutely zero reason to do that.

The Restaurants--Again, I couldn't stop myself once Mr. Grumpy brought up Free Dining. Wasn't it a great thing, I asked, already knowing the answer. "Well, it makes all the restaurants crowded, you can't get a table. And the food isn't what it used to be," was Mr. Grumpy's reliable reply.

We love the Dining Plan, particularly when it's free. We are a food-loving family and there were meals we were looking forward to as much as we were some of the rides and attractions. We had African cuisine at Boma, French at Les Chefs de France, a Morrocan lunch and homemade sausage and the best calamari ever at Mama Melrose's. We ate with the fishes at the Coral Reef, breakfasted with Mickey and Minnie and Donald and Goofy and Pluto at Chef Mickey's and started one day with a Friendship Celebration hosted by Pooh and Piglet and Eeyore and Tigger featuring the best French toast ever and a life-altering experience with breakfast lasagna. We had English fish and chips and American burgers and Polynesian meat-on-a-stick. We ate well, very well. The food was plentiful and very good.

We also noticed a difference from the last time we used the Dining Plan. A few years ago, we arrived a bit early for our reservations and often waited until long after our ressie time to actually be seated. Mr. Grumpy to the contrary, this year was very different. We arrived sometimes a good half hour before our appointed time and got seated right away, despite the waiting rooms looking very crowded. It was great! We never once waited for a table more than ten minutes, and that was when we arrived early. And not only did we not wait for our seats, we got what we considered the "best seats in the house" everytime. If there was a view or a window, we got it.

The reason we found Mr. Grumpy so amusingly cute was that his heart didn't really appear to be in his grousing. It seemed like a personality trait that he just couldn't leave behind, or didn't want to. He seemed genuinely happy to be complaining. He made us smile, and we waved goodbye with nothing but love as we pulled away on the bus, being the last family allowed aboard and leaving Mr. Grumpy, who was right behind us in line, standing in the rain waiting. Again.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Escaping at Disney and Bringing the Magic Home

I don't know why, but I read the first post on this blog just now. It's from January 6, almost eight months ago and it talks about why I write this. Here's the last paragraph, the important part, I think.

 We are planning a trip to Walt Disney World this fall and I wanted to record my rather obsessive planning for my own sake as much as thinking anyone else would be interested. But I got to thinking about the reason we love our trips to "The Dis" as much as we do. Our good friends are going  in less than a month and I know they are hoping for the total escape that only the magic of Disney can offer. Disney, for those of us who love it, can truly make all the stress and bad and worries of the real world go totally away. It's a haven, a sanctuary, one of the last truly magical places left. I was thinking how great it would be to carry at least a bit of that feeling with us even when we were stuck here in the real world. So that, too, is what I plan to write about, living a happy and magic-filled life no matter where we are and what is happening around us.

I don't know what possessed me to read this, but I am very glad I did. I needed it. That trip we were planning is over, and I've switched from sharing plans to sharing memories. I didn't know when I wrote that paragraph how true it would become. I didn't know how much I'd need that trip when it came time and how much it would help change my attitude around. I called Disney World "a haven, a sanctuary, one of the last truly magical places left" and I used it as such. I immersed myself this trip. I locked the car keys in the room safe. I swore off news. I put work and all the other stressors of my life away for a week. I left voicemails sit on my phone unlistened to. I deleted emails like mad. I asked for our room TV to be tuned, if it was on at all, exclusively to the annoying brunette telling you all about what to do at the parks. I limited Facebook to Disney pages and bragging about the fun time we were having. I escaped.

I knew I needed it. My only reservation was that putting all that stuff aside would leave me facing an avalanche of crap upon ":re-entry." You know what? Didn't happen. All the bad things that had me down before our trip were still there when I got home, but they looked smaller and less important. The good things about home, the family and friends and the wonderful island I am lucky enough to call home looked bigger and more important. I had a total attitude adjustment and it carried over through that dreaded re-entry. I'm home and working (well, not a whole lot as you can tell, seeing as I'm writing on my blog at lunchtime), the keys are out of the safe and in my pocket, I'm up on all the news, I'm reading emails again, I'm facing all the bad things that can't touch a person in the Magic Kingdom. But I'm just as happy today as I was two weeks ago when I was riding Pirates of the Caribbean on Talk Like A Pirate Day. I took the magic home.

I spent a lot of time on this trip looking for the small details built into every facet of Walt Disney World. I thought about what it took to not only execute such detail, but to have the sort of mind set that allowed you to come up with the ideas in the first place. I looked at the park through the lens of the things I've learned about Walt Disney himself. I thought about how he wouldn't ever hear "no" or "you can't." Walt saw his dreams and made them real, for himself and generations to come after he was gone. He knew it was fantasy, he knew the world wasn't perfect and that sometimes bad things happened to good people, but he didn't let that consume him. Mickey Mouse himself was created after Walt Disney was swindled out of his very successful bread and butter cartoon character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Walt was betrayed by people he trusted and cheated and basically had his dreams crushed and stolen, but he responded by creating Mickey Mouse, on a train ride home to LA from the meeting in New York where all this happened. I realized last week that while I'm not Walt Disney, I don't have all he had in the way of intelligence and drive and talent, I can still be as much like him as possible. I don't have to accept the negative or the bad. I can see that watching evil and hate and dishonesty triumph sometimes doesn't mean they always will and it doesn't mean I have to put up with it. I can hold onto that hope, that optimism that Walt always had in his heart, and eventually it will win out. Just as Walt didn't design and build all the things that made his movies and his theme parks unique, I don't have to be the one to fix the problems I see. But by being like Walt, by carrying that optimism and that magic around with me and sharing it with those I care about I can help them find the way to break through their problems and stresses.

The friends I mentioned in that post did need the Disney Magic back in February, and they got it. What I didn't know was how much they'd need it again. And again, Disney is there. As I write this, those friends are on an airplane headed to Anaheim and Disneyland. Tomorrow they will walk through the gates of the Magic Kingdom that Walt built himself. The magic will be there, they will see new things and experience old ones in a new place. They are praying this works, that the escape can provide a break from some dark times and give them new strength to face troubles. I know it will. And I know that when they come home, I will do all I can to make sure they don't leave the magic behind. It's what Walt would do.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Finding Monorail Red

It's really cool :)
I love the monorails. They help define Disney for me, and quite a few other people I'm sure. We love riding them around and do so whether we have a good reason or not. This trip I was looking forward to seeing the monorail that was wrapped to advertise the Avengers movie. I wasn't sure I liked that break with the traditional colored stripe, but after seeing it, I now am in favor. It's just way cool.

I kind of stalked the Averger-rail as we took to calling it, trying to get the perfect picture. I did ok, I got one from across Bay Lake and one of it entering the Contemporary. I finally got some up-close pics the last day of our trip when we actually rode the Avenger-rail from breakfast at Chef Mickey's to the Magic Kingdom. It was that kind of trip.

John was happy to see and ride the Avenger-rail, but wanted to see the Monorail Red, red being his favorite color. We looked and looked and the closest we found was Monorail Black, which has a little red as an outline. I knew I remembered there being a Monorail Red, but where could it have been? Finally, on our last day trip to the Magic Kingdom on the Avenger-rail, our question was answered. The monorail had to stop at one point to re-boot it's computer and in announcing this, the driver (pilot?) announced "Welcome to Monorail Red, we need to make a brief stop."

Monorail Red/Avenger-Rail wasn't very crowded
Mystery solved, that's where it went. What a great end to our monorail hunting.

I've put more monorail pics and lots of other cool stuff on Pooh Sticks new Facebook page. Go check us out!

And for an added bonus, I've added video of the Avenger-Rail on my Youtube channel. Check this out!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Relaxing At Disney

Is it possible? The conventional wisdom is that you need a vacation to recover after a Disney vacation. With four theme parks, two water parks and everything else there is to see and do, it's easy to run yourselves ragged trying to see and do it all. Even just touring one park can be hectic, trying to fit in all the rides, stressing over wait times and trying to maximize your use of Fast Passes. It can easily turn into a disaster, or at least wear you and your family completely out.

I will admit to being a Disney planner, but I'm in all other aspects of my life a very go with the flow, smell the roses, take the road less traveled by kind of guy. With eight days to spend in the parks, I was able to merge those two sides into what turned out to be the most relaxing Disney vacation ever. Our first full day at Disney is a perfect example of how this all worked out so well.

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, well almost exactly at noon, truth be told. We ate at Downtown Disney, checked in our resort, rode the monorail around and went to the Magic Kingdom with the goal of riding the Tomorrowland Speedway and seeing the Main Street Electrical Parade and fireworks. We accomplished all this and turned in ready to rise early for a very full, very long day of experiencing the Magic Kingdom. With two ADRs, at Crystal Palace a half hour before park opening for breakfast and 'Ohana for dinner during the 9:00 fireworks, and then planning to return to the park to enjoy Extra Magic Hours, this could have been the most exhausting day of our trip. That's why I planned it for the beginning, when we'd all be fresh and excited. It turned out to be about the most relaxed.

We got an early start. A very early start. I made reservations for before the Magic Kingdom opened so we could get to walk around and take pictures before the crowds arrived. I was very excited about this, more excited than about anything else we planned to do. I was a bit nervous about getting to the park early enough to get the most out of this experience, my people not being known for their early morning vigor. So, I told them to be ready about 15 minutes before I really expected to leave to catch our bus. I was also nervous about catching a bus that early, almost two hours before the park opened. We asked the concierge the night before and she assured us buses ran just for the purpose of taking people like us to our early breakfast. I believed her (mostly), but wasn't sure they'd run very often, so I figured on a long wait at the bus stop. I turned out to be totally wrong on both counts.

Yep, I tried out the hammock :)
I woke up way too early, my normal Monday morning 4:15, so instead of lying there wishing I could sleep, I got up and dressed and walked all over the resort in the pre-dawn darkness. It was splendid. I highly recommend it to insomniacs. Having any part of Disney entirely to yourself is a rare and wonderful experience. When I got back to the room, I was shocked to find Lisa and John up and at 'em! We rolled out of the room at just a bit past seven, walked into the bus station and sat down only to have a bus for the Magic Kingdom roll right up. We rode the bus with one other family and got to the Magic Kingdom entrance by about 7:30. There were a few people milling about and some cast members stocking supplies on the turnstiles, but it was very quiet. I had read somewhere that the breakfast entrance was on the far left side, so we headed that way and saw an "Event" sign over the turnstiles and figured that looked like a likely place. A line immediately formed behind us. We laughed hoping we had guessed right, and it turned out we had. Lisa was the first ticket scanned that morning and she, John and I were the first three thru the turnstiles. We were let into a roped off area next to the little shop out there just before you enter the tunnels under the Main Street train depot. Again, the three of us were first in line. My family forgave me for lying to them about how early they needed to get up. Being the first people of the day walking down Main Street is worth losing a few minutes of shut eye. So far the plan was coming together splendidly.

It's good to be first
Our experience walking around an almost empty Main Street USA and Cinderella Castle was incredible, so incredible it deserves its own blog post. We ate the most wonderful breakfast with Winnie the Pooh and Tigger and Eeyore and Piglet at the Crystal Palace. I'll probably get around to reviewing this experience in a post later on as well, but I can tell you that this is one great time. The food is unbelievable and not just your usual Disney breakfast buffet fare. They have a puffed french toast that is out of this world and something they call breakfast lasagna that was a life-altering experience for me. The characters are really fun, too, and it was nice seeing everyone get into the act, adults and children alike. Disney is that kind of place. After breakfast, it was time to hit the Magic Kingdom.

We left the Crystal Palace about a half hour after the park opened. The throngs headed up Main Street were thinned out some and everyone was headed to their favorite rides. We had hit John's favorite, the Tomorrowland Speedway, the night before so we were taking a more unusual approach. We wanted to make sure we hit all the things we'd missed the last couple of visits, times when we were with the crowds headed to Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain and Pirates and Space Ranger Spin. We sought the path less traveled. We headed for the Swiss Family Treehouse, the Hall of Presidents, Tom Sawyer Island, the Liberty Belle steamboat, and the Carousel of Progress. We experienced no lines, no crowds and no stress. We hit other rides along the way as we saw them with little wait. We rode the railroad around the park for a lap and a half, just to see the whole thing. We got fast passes for the "mountains" and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. We ate when we were hungry. We stopped to take pictures everywhere. We wandered. We didn't stand in any line more than 15 minutes long. We knew we'd be there for the next seven days, and that knowledge allowed us to slow down and take it easy and enjoy the park without a hint of rush.

Behold! The Lapu Lapu!!
Our dinner reservations were for 8:00 at the Polynesian. There was no rush fit anything in before dinner because the Magic Kingdom had Extra Magic Hours that night and would remain open for resort guests until midnight. We had plenty of time to eat and come back, which is exactly what we did. We left the park and monorailed it over to the Poly in plenty of time to make our reservation. We put in our name, requesting a window seat,  and sat at the bar to order a couple of hollowed out pineapples full of rum (the Lapu Lapu, another life-altering experience). Before our drinks were ready our table was, and we were taken to a window seat overlooking the Cinderella Castle, just as we'd hoped. As we sat down, we noticed a man behind us playing the ukulele while a few couples danced. Lisa and I realized at the same time that he was playing Elvis' "Can't Help Falling In Love," so we got up and joined in the dancing. When he was through, the ukulele player asked us our names and where we were from and got all kinds of excited when we told him we were celebrating our anniversary and he had just played our wedding song. He gave us leis. Food started to arrive, lots of food. 'Ohana is a "family style" restaurant where you share a huge salad and three different appetizers before being presented with grilled meat on skewers. We sat and ate and talked and laughed and waited for 9:00 and the Magic Kingdom fireworks to roll around. As we finished off the last of our Lapu Lapus and fit in the last few bites of bread pudding we could manage, the fireworks began. The music that accompanies the show in the park is pumped into the dining room so we sat and enjoyed the show just like we would have on Main Street, but without crowds or stress of any kind. Another plan perfectly come together. (BIG thank you to our pals the Iapaluccis for the heads up on this one, and for many other pieces of advice. Let me just say that while the wings at 'Ohana are very good, they don't measure up to Jen's home made version enjoyed in the company of great friends).

We also rode the WEDway Peoplemover. A lot :)
After dinner, we hopped a monorail back to the Magic Kingdom and rode a couple favorites (including the Carousel of Progress because it broke down on us earlier in the day, which is a story in itself) then decided to leave about a half hour before park closing so we could beat the crowds out the door. It turned out to be a very long day, we left the room about 7 am and got back after midnight, but none of us were the least bit stressed or worn out or frazzled. We'd done Disney our way, the Stites way, and it was perfect.