"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

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Moana: Go See It. Now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My Chewbacca Experience

Everyone has their favorite things about visiting the Disney parks. I'd never poo poo another's obsession, but I never got the character meet-n-greet fanatics. I'm happy to jump in a line that looks really short to have a photo with a character, don't get me wrong. And one of our most magical moments ever involved Cinderella's interaction with John when he was a tyke. But I've always been a spontaneous character meeter, not one to work a meet into my day's plans. That changed on this trip, and I think I now completely understand the meet-n-greet thing.

On our Hollywood Studios day, which we made the first day of our visit, I actually had as my number one priority meeting Chewbacca at the Star Wars Launch Bay. The family was fully in support. They weren't nearly as interested in Chewbacca face time as I was, but they knew how much I wanted to experience this and so happily agreed to make it happen. It wasn't a hassle at all, as it turns out. The queue featured displays of lightsabers, which was cool, and the wait was posted at 30 minutes. Lisa pointed out that the line appeared to full of dads more excited than their children to see Chewie, so I wasn't alone and didn't feel a bit odd or out of place. I was excited. But I had no idea what would happen when it was our turn.

We were ushered into the meet area and there he was. Chewbacca. Sure, somewhere in my mind I
knew it was a tall dude in a hairy costume, but that tidbit suddenly ran far to the depths of my consciousness leaving the rest of m brain convinced I was in the presence of my childhood hero, Chewbacca.

I was five going on six when Star Wars came out. I loved it and all my friends agreed. We played Star Wars all the time, and I was always Chewbacca. He was my favorite to the extent I wouldn't even think about pretending to be anyone else in the movie. He's just so cool.

So there I was, looking at Chewbacca, and that 6 year old came right back. I couldn't talk. We spent probably 5 minutes in there getting photos and I never said one word. I just looked up at him and grinned. I was star-struck. I can tell you with 100% certainty that I could meet any human actor or rock star or politician or any other famous person out there and this wouldn't happen. That tiny part far away in my brain that knew it was a dude in a costume was saying I was being silly. But it was so quiet and far away I paid no mind. I enjoyed being 6 and starstruck.

Chewbacca knew. I'm sure he did. I'm kind of an open book anyhow and when I revert to childhood even more so. He hugged me. Lots. We mime-joked about Lisa being so much shorter. We made the Wookie cheers for the camera. When our photo shoot was done, he walked us to the door and in his silent, non-verbal way he made me know he understood how much that had meant and that he got it. I didn't leave feeling silly. I left feeling 100% happy and content. I walked on air grinning like a fool for probably an hour afterwards. I still get warm and fuzzy remembering it.

I'm glad it was our first day, because I was on the look-out for easy character meets the rest of the trip. We popped in to see Baymax on the way to The Land first thing at Epcot and caught Mexican Donald with a really short line later that day in World Showcase. Both experiences were great and the photos that came from them are treasures.

I'm not sure I'm ready to wait an hour or more for a meet, or use a FastPass+ on one, but I completely get those who do now. For my part, I'll be much  more likely to seek them out on future trips.

Not a meet per se, but it was super cool seeing these guys

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Happy Merry Hallo-mas!!!!!!

We set or trip up for Halloween because we thought it'd be fun to do the MNSSHP on actual Halloween and because we'd never been to Disney on my birthday before and this year it fell on a convenient Monday. We enjoy the Halloween decor and love the party, so we are fans of Disney in the fall. It didn't occur to us until well after booking that we might get to see a bit a Christmas on the same four and a half day trip, but we did!

These guys greet you as soon as you enter the park.

And if you're lucky, you catch a #WonderFALL song and dance number!

We Stiteses love the jack-o-lanterns on Main Street.

And the view up Main Street towards the castle is always a winner.

 So what changed between Monday night and Thursday morning? Plenty!

 The Christmas Spirit hits you as soon as you arrive outside the main gate!

I was speaking to another guest on our way in and she told me most of the Christmas stuff was up the day before (Wednesday), but not the big tree in Town Square. She was hoping it was installed Wednesday night. She was not disappointed!

The Pumpkin People left to make room for Toy Soldiers.

And the Mickey #WonderFALL wreathes were replaced with Christmas Mickey wreathes!

And there are also more traditional, less Mickey-fied wreathes.

Even at the Cinderella Castle!

And the Christmas decor overflowed into Tomorrowland!

I'm usually one to not want my Christmas season rushed. I'm usually in the "let's get Thanksgiving behind us first" camp. But I have to admit, this little burst of Yuletide has kick started my Christmas Spirit. I'm ready to dive right in!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Magic Worked

Before we left for Walt Disney World I wrote about how much the lovely and talented Lisa needed this trip. The stress of work was getting to her in a way I'd not seen in a long, long time and she desperately needed to get away. I didn't say it then, but one of my big concerns was that she wouldn't be able to "let it go" and be truly away. I was picturing emails and texts about Town of Oak Island issues making it impossible for Lisa to relax and leave the real world behind.

As it turned out, that wasn't a problem. Lisa seriously limited the number of times she checked her phone for messages and when she did check, there were no problems or even questions waiting for her. Her co-workers and even the elected officials left her alone, and I am eternally grateful for that. Lisa was free to let Disney work its magic, and magic happened. We got our relaxed and happy wife and mom back, and it was magical. 

My people at a jaunty angle, waiting for the First Order
Driving to Cary for John's final marching band competition and leaving from there turned out to not be a very bad detour at all. The show was great, John and his band competed well and we all left excited and happy by about 7 pm. The drive to Disney wasn't bad at all from there, just a straight shot down 95. South Carolina seemed to last forever, but with Little Steven's Underground Garage on the Sirius for company, I was fine driving while Lisa and John got a little sleep.

We used the online check-in option, so Disney had texted me our room number in the afternoon and we were able to head straight to our room catch a few hours sleep before heading out to our first park, Hollywood Studios.

We got there just after lunch time and were immediately sucked into the magic. Hollywood Studios
Chewie & my peeps
has been very Star Wars-ified, and in the very best way. Lisa got to see her Muppets and I got to meet Chewbacca and introduce him to my family. The weather was beautiful, and it stayed that way our entire trip. We were all a bit sleepy, but stayed to see Fantasmic and were all pretty pumped up after seeing it. Lisa and I got to see John completely blown way by the show and talking about how he wants to come work for a theme park's entertainment division making shows like that happen. We all crawled into bed happy and ready for day two at the Magic Kingdom.

Our Keys to the Kingdom Tour was unbelievable. By now we were all firmly ensconced in the magic of WDW. Instead of worrying about work, Lisa was looking with complete amazement as a few Disney princesses showed up right next to us in the Utilidors under the castle on their way to a show. We spent the afternoon riding rides and the evening experiencing Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, staying in the park until midnight.

Rockin' her new F&W shirt :-)

My people outside France
Tuesday was Epcot Food & Wine Festival day, and we had a ball. By now, I'd even stopped wondering if Lisa would have to deal with some emergency or issue from home. I can't tell you for certain it wasn't in the back of her mind, but it didn't seem like it. We rode Soarin' twice back to back, grabbed a quick bite and drink from the little food counter in The Land pavilion and took the boat ride through the greenhouses before heading over to Test Track and then beginning our F&W experience at the Festival Center next door. Lisa got "sipping chocolate and a pretty new shirt and we headed off for World Showcase and all sorts of munchies.

We ate and drank our way around the world, we popped back to Future World for a ride in Spaceship Earth and took another lap of the food booths. We all decided to forgo the Illuminations show in favor of a relatively early bedtime and beating the crowds out of the park. I gotta say here, bus transport to and from the parks was easy,quick and hassle-free.
Yep, we were having a good time :-)

We like hats

By Wednesday, we were all completely relaxed. Lisa was a different person from the week before.
Perusing the Tiffins drink menu
We enjoyed Animal Kingdom from open to close in a completely relaxed and easy-going manner. We never had to rush anywhere, we stopped to watch all the street performers we saw, we enjoyed the beauty and intense themeing that defines Animal Kingdom, and we had a leisurely and delicious late lunch at Tiffins. Lisa may have mentioned once or twice how no one from work was contacting her, but it was in the context of being able to completely let go. Seeing Animal Kingdom, including the safari, at night topped off what was probably our favorite day of the entire trip.

I just love these two.

Lisa likes tigers. Grrrrr.

Off to tackle Everest and face the Yeti!

We had to leave the bubble Thursday, but went to the Magic Kingdom first and got to see it decked out for Christmas. I loved it myself, but seeing the old wonder and happiness back in Lisa's eyes that morning was the absolute best. We had a truly Stites Day, riding the Peoplemover around twice without getting off, enjoying lunch in the new and amazing Skippers Canteen and finishing off with the Christmas version of the Jungle Cruise, now called the Jingle Cruise for the season. Oh, except
Christmas Magic!
that we saw Elena of Avalor being welcomed into the pantheon of Disney Princesses on the Cinderella Castle stage on the way out. Oh, and on our way fro Tomorrowland to Adventureland earlier, Minnie Mouse interacted with Lisa from the float of a parade we stumbled across by posing and waving just for her.

See, it's those kinds of things that still get to us, Lisa and I. Whether it's seeing Chewbacca or waving to Minnie or staying on the Peoplemover for another lap or riding Expedition Everest in the front, back and middle all in the same day or having Tinklebell magically appear with us in photos or seeing Mickey and friends open the park, the unplanned magic is what sucks us in and allows us to completely leave the world behind.

Fantasy merges with reality and dreams come true at Disney World. Yes, it's not a budget-conscious trip. Yes, it's a longish drive. But some people spend that much money and all sorts of time on anti-depressants and doctors' visits trying to cope with life. Me, I'll take a dose of magic for myself and my family. Four and a half days in another world is pretty priceless if you ask me, and seeing it completely turn my frazzled and stressed out love back into a happy and relaxed and smiling woman is worth more to me than anything.