"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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wordless Wednesday....The Letter "I"

I'm making this one I Is For Imagineering.

Check out all the other Wordless Wednesday fun over at Focused on the Magic

Monday, February 25, 2013

Mary Poppins On Stage

Outside the DPAC before the show
We didn't make it to Broadway for this one, but the next best thing came to us. Or kinda sorta close to us. Ok, a 3 1/2 hour drive away from us that required a vacation day to make work, but it was totally worth it. A couple weekends ago the lovely and talented Miss Lisa and I made a weekend out of going to see Mary Poppins the musical at the Durham Performing Arts Center, and it was a spectacular experience. I'm not at all qualified to "review" a Broadway style show, but I can tell you about what an awesome experience the whole weekend turned out to be.

This whole adventure started on a whim, like many Stites activities tend to. Lisa bought me the DVD of Mary Poppins for my birthday and one of the extras was a documentary on the making of the musical. I started out watching it by myself, but before long all three of us were glued to it and talking about how much we were able to appreciate better what went into putting on a show after our family's experience in Oz over the summer. During the rooftop chimney sweep scene, the musical features a bit of technical wizardry that had all of us floored. Bert takes a walk up the side of the set, across the top upside down and back down the other side. It's a really impressive piece of work and after seeing that we all decided it would be really cool to go see this show. Lisa wandered off and came back a few minutes later with the news that as luck would have it, Mary Poppins was coming to Durham in February and tickets were still available, but only a very few. We found a few seats for a Sunday night show, the final show as it turned out, and ordered them up.

Our trip went from being a family adventure to a couple's getaway after John's church youth group retreat got rescheduled for the same weekend. We were disappointed but found we'd crossed some sort of threshold in the parenting world. The morning of our last day in Durham we admitted to each other that this time we really didn't find ourselves missing John. That sounds terrible, I know, but it isn't a bad thing at all really. We were in touch with him and he with us all weekend. We were sharing our experiences, though different ones. He was having a blast in the mountains and wasn't missing us one bit either. We are all growing up and I find that it actually feels good. We had a great time as a couple, just us two, and it was perfect that way. I guess it's nice to have it pointed out so clearly that we haven't turned into one of those marriages that stays together for the kids' sake. We'll be OK, more than OK, for a long long, long time, and that feels great.

All it needed was a monorail running through it
So on with our little couple's excursion. Our show was on Sunday night, but since we were without kid from Friday morning to Monday afternoon, we decided to make a weekend out of it. We didn't go nuts and get up early on Saturday or anything, we just left about lunchtime and headed North toward our one bedroom suite just outside Durham. Lisa found that deal as well, a huge suite with a king bed and kitchen for about $85 a night. The girl is good. It was a fun drive through a very rare North Carolina snowstorm. We arrived without incident and found that our hotel looked like the Contemporary Resort in Disney World, without the monorail. Strange, but it amused the Hell out of us. The room turned out to be great, the hotel very nice and situated near a rather large mall/outdoor shopping complex. Off we went in search of dinner and amusement. We found both and spent the night laughing and talking and exploring.

Our show wasn't until 6:30 Sunday evening, so we had plenty of time to explore that day, too. We started the day with a morning bubble in the hot tub, and decided once again that we REALLY need to get one for the house, then headed out to see what we could see. We ended up on the Duke University campus and took in the cathedral (beautiful), some geocaching (unsuccessful), and the gardens. We even tried to find a spot in the gardens to play Pooh Sticks, but there was a sad lack of water in the creek beds. Oh well. Then we headed "into town" for an early dinner.

Oh my. Let me just say that if you go to Durham and are anywhere near the DPAC and don't stop into Bull City Burger and Brewery you must simply hate yourself. The place is awesome. It's a brewpub and they have taken the "sustainable restaurant" thing to new heights. These folks make their own bacon out of pigs fed on the leftover barley mash used to brew the beer. Their website explains it well, and despite it all being very "hipster," I was pretty impressed. And the food is not only delicious, but creative. I had a "bowl of pickled stuff" as an appetizer. Yep. It was like they knew I was coming and designed a menu just for me. We also tried their Bull Nuts, peanuts cooked up with bacon and sugar and rosemary and who knows what else. If you invite us to a party and ask us to bring a munchy, we are going to try making this, just so you know. The burgers were great, using beef from cows raised on a farm just outside the city and served on homemade buns. They probably grew the wheat on the roof or something. The condiments were even homemade. And the beer. Wow. I love beer and this place made me a very happy Jeffrey. We tried barley wine, which is a highly alcoholic, very slowly crafted brew served in a snifter so you feel all fancy-like drinking it. Let me just say that Youngen Horny Barley Wine is one of God's great gifts to humanity.

Nosebleeds, baby! :)
After dinner we were in fine spirits and walked the few short blocks to the beautiful Durham Performing Arts Center. This place was really cool and run very well. It was a sold out show, but the number of people never intruded on our experience. That may just as well be because we were having such a great time with each other that nothing was going to intrude, but the place was run with great precision. Our seats were in the back, the second to the last row of the very top balcony to be exact. We could have had better seats, honestly, but we could have had worse. I didn't mind at all, as being so high gave me a great look at the technical aspects of the show. A bird's eye view, I guess. I helped move sets on and off stage during our production of Wizard of Oz and wondered if I would see little dudes dressed all in black running on and off stage. Lisa said, no, she thought not. But we did, once! And we were very happy.

Mary Poppins was simply breathtaking. The music is terrific and the sets are incredible and the actors sang and danced and acted their hearts out (see, I told you I was not qualified to write a theater review). The Banks house slid onto the stage and opened up like a dollhouse. It was amazing. We were convinced this touring company wouldn't do the Bert walking upside down thing because we didn't see the framework they used in the show we saw on the dvd. Boy, were we wrong. They didn't need a frame, this Bert just walked up the side of the stage and across the top, dancing and singing all the way. We were speechless. Lisa and I are still singing songs from this show all day long, they are that good. All around a lovely experience.

We had taken off work on Monday after the show which turned out to be a good idea as we'd have gotten home really very late. As it was, we just rolled back to the hotel a few miles away, slept a nice night away and headed home at our leisure Monday morning.

Perfect weekend :)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Polynesian Escape

A recent blog post about alcoholic Dole Whips put me in a Polynesian resort frame of mind. Before I go any further, let me just say that spiced rum Dole Whips are the best idea since the wheel and they need to be a permanent fixture at the bars of the Polynesian. Period. I see no need to serve them at Aloha Isle in the Magic Kingdom because the Poly is such an easy trip from the park. That thought is what moved me to write this post.

The Magic Kingdom is my favorite Disney park by far. I could happily spend all day and night in there and not need an escape at all. But the Magic Kingdom lacks two things that make me a happy guy; adult beverages and really good dinner. Maybe the new Be Our Guest restaurant will change that, but until I get back to check that out, I'm still recommending the Poly as a great pop outside the park for a bite and a cocktail destination.

Pool Hoppin' circa 1976. Yes, that's me :)
Any of the monorail resorts would work, and the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness are only a boat ride away as well, but to me the Polynesian is special. It is the most "Disney" of the monorail resorts to me. The Contemporary doesn't excite me at all and the Grand Floridian seems just too much for me to feel comfortable. Though I've only stayed there once, and that when I was a young teenager, the Polynesian feels like home to me the way the Magic Kingdom does.Until we did stay there, it was our family's dream. We'd take the boat over from Fort Wilderness to eat or go to the pool (pool hopping was fine back then) or to play on the beach. Our week at the Polynesian was pure magic. The place is like being in another world, which is what Walt Disney World is all about to me. And that new world is right on the Magic Kingdom's doorstep, making it a draw for the Stites family.

The lovely Miss Lisa and I have fond Poly memories going back to our first trip to Disney together, a college graduation gift trip with my parents back in the summer of 1993. We were staying in a cabin at Fort Wilderness with my mom, dad and sister. One day we stayed in the Magic Kingdom for Extra Magic Hours and closed the park out. We had to be about the last to leave because we just refused to let the night end. I took what turned out to be my last ride on Mr. Toad (even getting the Mr. Toad car) that night. We watched the Electrical Parade from the crest of the big Splash Mountain drop. It was one of those magical Disney days where everything goes not just right, but better than you could have dreamed and we didn't want it to end. Instead of taking the launch back to the campground, I had the brilliant idea that we take the monorail to the Poly and see if Kona Cafe was still open and perhaps get some dessert. It was and we had midnight (or well past midnight if I remember correctly) sundaes before catching the last boat back to Fort Wilderness. We were the only ones on the bus back to our campsite, it being 2 am by this point, and the driver just drove us right to our site rather than follow the route. It was perfect.

On my family's latest trip last September we worked in visits to the Poly in twice, once planned and once not. We arrived for our trip in the early afternoon of a Saturday and had park tickets for the day, so decided to visit the Magic Kingdom first. We had no reservations for dinner and figured we'd just find a counter service somewhere. As it turned out, we ended up taking the monorail to the Polynesian and eating at Captain Cook's Snack Company. This place gets very little discussion among the blogs and websites and Facebook pages I follow, and that's a shame. The menu is the best by far of the counter service monorail resorts, the others being basic sandwiches and burgers. Captain Cook's features Hawaiian BBQ pork on a sandwich or as part of an awesome nacho platter. There are also very good flatbread pizzas to be had. But the coup de grace is the self serve DOLE WHIP MACHINE!!!!! I mean, come on, is that not worth the trip in and of itself? What a "Welcome to Disney" dinner!

The Lapu Lapu
Our second trip to the Poly was a planned one, and the plan came together perfectly. We'd done a character breakfast that morning before park opening at the Crystal Palace and scheduled dinner at 'Ohana  late enough that we hoped to catch the Wishes fireworks show from the window. We showed up for our 8 pm ressies a few minutes early and requested a window seat. They told us the couldn't promise anything and the place was packed so I wasn't going to be heartbroken if we didn't get our request. I figured we'd have a bit of a wait, so we ordered drinks (the perfectly splendid Lapu Lapu) and settled in at the bar. Before the second Lapu Lapu was ready, they came to show us to our table, a window seat overlooking Cinderella Castle! As we sat down we noticed the strolling ukulele player was singing our wedding song, so we got right back up and danced before ordering. Dinner was family style, all you can eat and delicious. As we forced more and more dessert bread pudding into our already stuffed tummies, the lights went down and the Wishes music began playing in the restaurant and the fireworks began. We had the perfect seat, full bellies, pineapples full of rum and we were IN DISNEY WORLD! It was the beginning of the end of one of my best days ever. I say beginning of the end because after the fireworks, we went right back into the magic Kingdom to ride my son's favorite (the Tomorrowland Speedway) and close out the Extra Magic Hours. Perfection.

Check out more Poly pictures at Pooh Sticks on Facebook

Saturday, February 2, 2013

I Love Adventureland

You have to have a favorite "Land" in the Magic Kingdom, right? While I love them all and could really make a great argument for any one of them being the "best," my favorite is Adventureland. It always has been my favorite, and that's the way Disney should work, I think. The same things that made me love it when I was 5 still appeal to me today. First off, it's home to Pirates of the Caribbean, the bestest ride in Walt Disney World. And the Jungle Cruise. And the Tiki Room. Gotta love that.

I'm a traveler, physically as much as time and circumstances allow, but in my imagination I am a real vagabond. Adventureland feeds that aspect of my soul very well. In one small part of the Magic Kingdom you can visit the Caribbean, Arabia, Polynesia, darkest Africa and the Mekong Delta. You can be spit on by magical tiki drums and a camel without having to walk more than a few feet. You can buy a Hawaiian frozen treat and carry it up into a tree house with a view of a castle. You can leave one boat under attack by cannon fire only to enter another that must navigate hippos and tigers. Animatronic birds shower you with bad jokes across the walkway from the worst pun-spouting boat captains in the world.

Adventureland combines real world and fantasy, present day and history, in a way that just strikes my fancy and makes me feel like an adventurer myself. On our last trip, we walked into Adventureland through the castle hub during the Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween party and heard AC/DC's Back In Black pumping through the speakers. We all looked at each other and couldn't even talk for the pure fun and perfectness of the moment. Finally, we laughed and agreed we were truly in the best place ever.

Check out my album of Adventureland pics at Poohsticks on Facebook :)