Monday, January 9, 2012

Winter Break at Disney World - Day 6

December 31, 2011 - The last day of the year and our last full day here in WDW. Last year on this day my wife and I were at Disney's Hollywood Studios, but this year our daughter will be with us, and the only park she can get into today is Disney's Animal Kingdom (DAK), which is why we saved the full day here for today. Also, since this is the only park which is not opened for a midnight celebration of the New Year, it will be the least crowded of the four parks.

She meets us at our room and we head out to take the bus to DAK. It is another very comfortable day, with sun and no rain ... in other words, perfect. As we travel to DAK we see huge lines of cars waiting to get into the EPCOT parking lot, and our driver informs us that the Magic Kingdom has already been closed to cars and non-resort guests. It is only about 10:00 AM ... it can only get worse!

We arrive at DAK and, following our usual routine, head over to Harambe to get our fastpasses for the safari. With fastpasses in hand, however, we decide that since the standby line is only showing a 10 minute wait - having just been reduced from 20 minutes as we approached the queue - we get on the standby line and walk almost directly to the load area. Once again we are in the back row of our truck which bounces along quick a bit, but I still manage to get some good pictures of the animals we pass during our 2 week (cut short) safari. (Photos from the safari and the rest of the day at DAK can be seen here.)

Unlike the other parks, most of our time at DAK is spent watching shows. One of our favorites is still The Festival of the Lion King, so we head towards Camp Minnie Mickey where it is presented. However, along the way my wife wants to make a stop at one of the gift shops, so while she and my daughter head inside, I park my scooter outside and do one of my favorite things - actually look at the details of the construction of the park. Many people just rush by so quickly, and never see the details that went into the look of DAK. (The link above has some photos of that detail as well.)

My wife's shopping having been completed, we continue along until we get the the theater in Camp Minnie Mickey. Our timing is perfect and we go directly in to the theater where the show begins in about 10 minutes. The Festival of the Lion King has been playing since DAK has been opened, and almost always plays to a full house, and although this is still the least crowded park today, the theater is almost at capacity. And the show does not disappoint. How can you not enjoy a show hosted by Timon and featuring tumble monkeys? (Photos of The Festival of the Lion King can be seen here.)

Our well planned and well timed trip around DAK continues with Flights of Wonder, a bird show in which the natural beauty and behaviors of the birds are featured. Of course, sometimes the birds have a mind of their own and things don't go exactly as planned, but today it almost goes according to script. Again our timing is perfect, as we get there just moments before the show is about to begin.

Once done, and after we get a quick bite for lunch, we walk over to Expedition Everest, where my daughter checks the single riders line to see if there is time to ride. Have I mentioned how not crowded the park is today? In fact, there are only 2 people on the single riders line when she gets there, so she decides to ride. The stand-by line is less than a half hour at this point. My wife and I wait this one out today, and before we know it, she has returned!

Our next show will be Finding Nemo - The Musical, but there is still a bit more time until the next show, so we once again head into Dinoland where my wife plays some more carnival games, and then she and my daughter ride Primeval Whirl while I take some more photos. It's a nice, relaxing break, and once everyone is finished with what they want to do in this area, we get on line for the show. As has been the case all day, we get right in and only have a short wait until the show starts. (Photos from Finding Nemo - The Musical can be seen here.)

As always, we enjoy it thoroughly, and when we exit, it is just about time for dinner. We have reservations at Yak and Yeti this evening, and once done we decide it is time to leave the park and head back to our room where my son-in-law will be meeting us.

Originally we had planned on heading to the lounge in the resort to celebrate the new year, but once we were all in the room (and my son-in-law was wrapping Chanukkah presents from him and my daughter for their nephews back home) we decided to stay in the room and see in the new year.

Tomorrow morning my wife and I pack and start our trip back home. Unlike the cold visit we had last year, this year was always comfortable (at least during the day) and there was no aftermath of a blizzard to deal with when we got home. And unlike our last trip, in August, there was no earthquake or hurricane at home which kept us here for an extra 4 days.

Your comments on the reports and/or the photos and video are encouraged. Please take a moment and comment below to let me know if you have enjoyed reading these posts and seeing the pictures.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Winter Break at Disney World - Day 5

December 30, 2011 - Today my daughter is working, but not at home or in her office at Team Disney, but is working the day in Animal Kingdom. When she first came down here on the College Program, she worked for 6 months in Animal Kingdom - at Conservation Station in Rafiki's Planet Watch (a name it took while she was working there). We haven't yet been to Animal Kingdom, so my wife and I decide to go there today. My daughter will text us when she knows where she will be assigned, and if possible we will try to see her.

It's another nice day, and we arrive at Animal Kingdom and, as always, head back towards Kilimanjaro Safaris and get a fastpass. There is about an hour until our window opens, so we decide to take the train back to Rafiki's Planet Watch and spend some time in Conservation Station, and Affection Section. While we head towards the train I get a text from my daughter that she is expecting to be assigned to Restaurantosaurus. We get on the train and head back, past the animals' nighttime enclosures to the train station for Rafiki's Planet Watch. In Conservation Station a surgical procedure is being performed on one of the animals. I watch for a while and then move on. We listen to the sounds of the rainforest, and then into Affection Section, the petting zoo. While there I listen to an orthodontist talk about the underbite on the llama, and how she could fix it. (In jest of course.)

Then we head back to the train station to return to Harambe and go on the safari. On the way back I get a second text from my daughter that she was actually being assigned to Flame Tree. We get on our safari truck and drive through.

When we exit the safari, my wife wants to head towards Chester & Hester's Dinoland where she can play a carnival game or two. On the way we pass Flame Tree and immediately spot my daughter standing at the head of the queue, available to help any guest with information or a look at the menu. We talk briefly and make up where and when to meet when she finishes work for the day. We arrive at Dinoland where my wife wins a dragon, and then head out of the park for our mid-afternoon reservation for tea at the Grand Floridian.

(Pictures from our day at Animal Kingdom can be seen here.)

After tea we head to Downtown Disney where we will meet our daughter. She is there when we arrive, and we proceed to the reason we have come here. Although my wife and I have ridden on Characters in Flight in the past, our daughter has not, and that is what we are here to do this evening. The light is fading as we ascend, making it difficult to take some of the pictures I want as it is not light enough anymore to take decent pictures of the theme parks which are visible from the air, and they have not yet put their lights on. However, the lights do come on in Downtown Disney. I do get a good shot of the Team Disney building, in which my daughter works.

(See the pictures from our trip on Characters in Flight by clicking here.)

We pick up my daughter's husband as this evening we will be doing something that we have never done before. The Gaylord Palms hotel, inspired by a Chinese ice sculpture festival has one of its own each year. The convention center is refrigerated to a chilly 10°F (-12°C) and The Gaylord Palms brings over a team of 40 artisans from Harbin, China. The talented artisans spend more than a month in Kissimmee/Orlando creating this one-of-a-kind attraction. Harbin is best known for its annual International Ice and Snow Festival, where more than 2,000 sculptors annually carve a 100-acre walk-through ice park, using ice from the nearby Songhua River.

This year the sculptures are from the TV special, Shrek The Halls. Everything in the display is created from blocks of ice, and has been on display since November! Aside from the character images, there are even 2 ice slides on which you can slide. Although I have come with my winter coat, they issue everyone a parker to deal with the cold inside of the display room. With all those people (and their body heat) going through, the carvings are amazingly intact, though close examination will reveal what 2 months of being on display has caused.

(Pictures of ICE! at the Gaylord Palms can be seen here.)

Dinner caps off the day and then we prepare for New Years Eve day ... our final full day here.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Winter Break at Disney World - Day 4

December 29, 2011 - Today, for various reason, we all decided to sleep in a bit, so our plans to meet "early" (our "early" is usually later than others' visiting WDW to start with) became a much later meet than originally planned.

However, we did have a late lunch booked at the 50's Prime Time Café in Disney's Hollywood Studios today, so we were able to accommodate both a sleep in and still keep our lunch reservation. This was the first place we ate when the the park first opened, and still one that we try to get back to at least once on each trip. Imagine eating in your kitchen with the TV on ... back in the 1950's. (Yes, my wife and myself are old enough to remember when the shows being shown on the TV's here were first broadcast.)

It's a beautiful day today, and we are enjoying the first of the days which we can actually call warm. After lunch we head towards the Muppet Vision 3D attraction, and get in the queue. While the line isn't long, we do need to go through the entire queue, which we usually can bypass, but it is always fun to see the "muppetized" movie posters (and silly signs) along the way. When you get to go directly in the front entrance, you miss them. That done, after the show my wife and daughter spend some time in the Muppet store while I wait outside, enjoying the nice day.

We decide now to head over to the Animation building and attend an Animation Academy class and draw another character, but when we get there, the crowd is very large and we decide to skip it this time. Instead we end our day at The Studios with another trip through The Great Movie Ride. Yes, I said end our day here, because today is the day that I had planned on taking pictures of the Holiday Wishes fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. This is the high point of what I had planned on the photography agenda for this trip.

My daughter decides to head home and relax - she is working tomorrow - so my wife and I head out. We decide to first take the bus to The Grand Floridian where we can transfer to the monorail which will take us to the Magic Kingdom. The reason we pick this resort, is that our daughter has asked us to pick up some gingerbread shingles at the gingerbread house in the lobby. I want some as well, and although we will be here tomorrow, it is convenient for us to do it today.

(Pictures of our day in Disney's Hollywood studios - and the gingerbread house - can be seen here.)

While we are in the Grand Floridian, we pick up a time schedule for the Magic Kingdom, and realize that we can see both the Electric Parade (formerly the Main Street Electrical Parade) and then Holiday Wishes. (Pictures of the Electrical Parade can be seen here.)

It's early, but I know that if I want to find a choice spot to set up my tripod for the fireworks, I need to get there very early. Having given it much thought, I had decided that the best place to photograph the fireworks (from within the Magic Kingdom) would be from the Main Street train station, so that is our destination.

It's two hours before the Electrical Parade when we arrive and I get the only spot still available at the rail on the train station. I claim it and set up my tripod in anticipation of the parade and fireworks to come. As it turns out, many of the people who were there when I first arrived were band parents waiting to see their child's marching band, 3 of which would precede the parade. That brings back many memories of when my daughter and son would come here each February to perform with their high school marching band. It was during one of these trips that my daughter decided that after college she would come work in Disney World. (She has been here 11 years now!) In my son's senior year in high school he was a Drum Major and in his final march here in the Magic Kingdom, I got to march with him and the band.

After an initial chill, the weather turned quite comfortable, and while I was waiting, my wife picked up something for us to eat, and then decided that she would take the train once around the Magic Kingdom. Finally it was time for the Electrical Parade and shortly after that ... Holiday Wishes. (You can see the photos of Holiday Wishes here. For technical data on the fireworks, check out my photo blog.)

Tomorrow, we will be meeting my daughter and son-in-law after work and do something we had never done before.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Winter Break at Disney World - Day 3

December 28, 2011 - Today is a day which we will spend at EPCOT. (Yes, I know that it is now officially Epcot, but it should still be EPCOT otherwise it loses its meaning.) As we will most of this week, breakfast is at the food court at Port Orleans - Riverside, and we head over to the park about mid-morning. Our daughter will meet us there around mid-day so for the morning we are on our own. We get to the park and my wife makes her usual stops at the Art of Disney, the pin station and Mouse Gears.

Future World is rather crowded, as you would expect this week, so we decide to head over to World Showcase, where we will be meeting our daughter. As we walk around, I have my camera and continue to try to find new ways to take pictures of things that I have photographed many times over our many visits in the past. You can see some of those photographs here.

We continue around World Showcase lagoon, and as my wife checks out the shops in the pavilions as we pass, I continue to look for photo opportunities. While she is in the store at Japan I take this picture. (Actually I took quite a few pictures, many of which you can see at the link above.)

By this time, we know that our daughter will be coming in to EPCOT through the International Gateway, and we make up to meet her in France. My wife has a few things she hopes to pick up there, and it is the closest place once my daughter comes in. Since it is so crowded, rather than go all the way in the back with my wife into the store, I park my scooter near the fountain, which is where I am when my daughter spots me.

It's now lunch time, and since we have a dinner reservation after 6:00 PM this evening, we decide that we should get something for lunch. We have no reservations, and it is obvious that there will be no walk-ins at Le Chefs de France, so we discuss our options. We decide that Mexican food sounds good to all of us, and since there are three different options in Mexico, that sounds like the best place to try. We decide that since San Angel Inn is part of the Tables in Wonderland program (a food/drink discount) and I have bought in to the program, that would be the first place we would try. My daughter heads into the pyramid and quickly informs us that we will be able able to eat there, and should be seated shortly, so my wife and I head in. We are seated quickly and proceed to have a very enjoyable lunch.

Next on the agenda is Mouse Gears, as my wife has a number of gifts she wants to buy, and I want to get a sweatshirt for this evening as it will be getting quite a bit cooler once the sun goes down. This will be my one (planned) purchase this trip. I actually decide on a 40th anniversary fleece jacket which catches my eye.

From there since we are in Future World we decide that the Universe of Energy would be a good attraction since it accommodates quite a few guests at a time, and is a 37 minute sit down ride. (I do think it is time to refresh it though - Ellen's Energy Nightmare has gotten a bit old.)

Dinner time is now approaching and we decide to head back to World Showcase where we have reservations for Tokyo Dining that evening. None of us have eaten there before, so this is a new experience. We are given a table which would have been perfect for viewing Illuminations had it been three hours later. The food, the ambiance and everything were quite good and it is definitely a restaurant which we will return to in the future. (And yes, it too is on Tables in Wonderland.)

As we exit the restaurant, the previous Candlelight Processional program is ending, and we had planned on getting on to the standby line to catch the next show. We pass the line for those with meal packages, and it is huge. The standby line is actually quite reasonable and we get on it to wait. When we are let in we find we have very good seats. Although Christmas is not our holiday, we always enjoy the Candlelight Processional for the music, and this year is no different. It is, however, the first year we get to see Marlee Matlin as the narrator. (Pictures of the Candlelight Processional can be seen here.) A video of some of the music is below.

The original plan was to then stay to see Illuminations (and photograph it) but by the end of the show, I was getting a bad chill and my foot was starting to be quite painful, so we decided to call it a night, and head back to the room.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Winter Break at Disney World - Day 2

December 27, 2011 - Today we will spend a little time at the Magic Kingdom, before going to spend some time with my dad, about a 90 minute drive from here.

After breakfast at the resort food court, we took the bus to the Magic Kingdom. It was about 11:00 AM by the time we got into the park. As we passed under the train station, we saw that they were getting set up for the Move it! Shake it! Celebrate it! parade to come through, so we settled in to watch it before we headed deeper into the park.

Once the parade was finished, we headed down Main Street towards the castle. Since we knew we were not going to be here for more than a few hours, and that the park was very crowded, my wife wanted to see the Dreams Come True show at the castle. We found ourselves a good spot to watch, but it was not to be. A bit of drizzle earlier had made the stage quite slippery, and all efforts to dry it off were not enough. The announcement was made that the show was being cancelled. We decided that we would come back for a later show and hope that it was able to be performed then.

Next goal was the Haunted Mansion, my favorite since I first saw it in Disneyland in 1969. The queue was listed at 35 minutes, but experience tells us that what we saw would not be nearly that long, so we got in line. Since I have been having trouble with my foot and am traveling with a scooter this trip, we decided to take the path of least resistance, and bypass the interactive graveyard and head directly into the foyer. Total time until we were in the attraction - about 15 minutes.

When we went back outside, we could tell that it had rained a bit while we were in the Haunted Mansion, but it had stopped. It was now time to think about having lunch, something which I thought might be an effort as crowded as the park was, but since it was right here, we decided to see how crowded Columbia Harbor House was. I parked the scooter out front while my wife went in to check it out, and while I was doing that the greeter came over to talk with me. He let me know that it was not terribly crowded (which my wife also said when she came out) and asked me if I knew that there was a handicapped section of the restaurant (I did not). So we had lunch at Columbia Harbor House.

After lunch we decided to see if the Dreams Come True show scheduled to be performed shortly would actually take place. We returned to the front of the castle and took our place as it appeared that the show would indeed go on. And right on time, it did!

However, as the show was almost over, I felt a few quick drops of rain. At first, it was nothing to worry about, but as rain tends to do, it became a heavy downpour within seconds. Naturally the show was immediately cancelled - it was almost over anyway - and my wife and I headed for cover, which we found under the Peoplemover track between Tomorrowland and the Tomorrowland Terrace restaurant. We waited the rain out for a bit more than a half hour until it stopped, and then decided that rather than take a chance and get caught again, since we would have to leave shortly anyway, we headed out and took the bus back to our room, where we dried off.

Soon it was time to head out to see my dad, but tomorrow we would be at EPCOT.

(More pictures of our day in the Magic Kingdom can be seen here.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Winter Break at Disney World - Day One

December 24, 2011 - We get an early start on our 1100 mile (1800 km) drive from New York City to Orlando, Florida and Walt Disney World. The roads are practically empty, as expected.

December 25, 2011 - Thanks to nice clear roads all the way from NYC, we arrive in Kissimmee very early in the afternoon. My daughter is working from home, so we stop for some food on the way to her apartment and have lunch with her ... and the cats. Later in the evening when her husband comes home from work, we go out for dinner. Then we head for our room at Port Orleans - Riverside.

Forty years ago today, on December 25, 1971, I made my first visit to a newly opened Walt Disney World.

December 26, 2011 - Today we will meet my daughter and her husband at Sanaa for lunch. My wife and I have breakfast at the food court at the resort, and then decide to head over the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Kidani Village a bit early so we can see the animals on the savannah, the lobby and (of course for my wife) the gift shop.  We have been here before, and eaten at Sanaa, but that was a while ago and this will give us a nice opportunity to take in the ambiance, and for me to play around a little with my camera, and test a new lens. My wife heads for the lobby, and I head for the small porch over the savannah. There are a few zebras out at the moment, and vultures, but as the morning moves on, other animals are let out until there are quite a few of them on the savannah.

I soon head into the lobby myself where I can take some pictures there, all decked out in it's holiday decorations. Soon it is time to move downstairs to Sanaa and wait for my daughter and son-in-law as the time for our lunch reservation nears.

(More pictures from Kidani Village can be seen here.)

After lunch, my son-in-law had to leave to get ready for work, but since my daughter had the day off, she would be joining my wife and me at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

As we arrive at the Studios, the parade is about to start, and since it is now impossible to walk into the park (yeah, I know ... go through the stores), we make ourselves comfortable and watch. The current parade is based on the Pixar films, although Cars and Cars2 are not represented in the parade for some reason. However, all of the other Pixar favorites are part of the parade. (See the bottom of this post for a link to more photos of the parade.)

Once the parade is over We head into the park. One of the attractions we wanted to see, was actually from the days that Pleasure Island was a working night club. One of our favorite things to enjoy was the Comedy Warehouse, which along with the rest of Pleasure Island has not operated in quite a while. However, for the holiday week, Disney has assembled many of the original case of the improv group, and set up shop in the theater where Sounds Dangerous was the last occupant. We headed over, and enjoyed seeing it again.

Next on the list is another old favorite, although this one has been around continuously ... The Great Movie Ride. It's a short hop from the Comedy Warehouse show we have just seen, and as the sun is setting, a chilly day is starting to get a bit cold, so the ride in a warm show building sounds like a good idea, so we head on over. Once in, we find ourselves in the back train, ready for our trip through the classic movies.

Our final stop before the sun sets and the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights can be seen in all its glory, is the Animation building, where we always stop to participate in a class - drawing one of Disney's classic characters. Today will be no exception, as we head through the souvenir store and directly into the Animation Academy. Today we will be drawing Chip (of Chip & Dale).

When we finish our class, and have our pretty good looking Chip drawings in hand, it is now dark enough to head over to the Streets of America to see the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights.

(As promised - if you follow this link, you will be able to see more photos of our day at the Disney Hollywood Studios, including more of the parade, and of the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights.)

After seeing the lights, we decide to head out of the park and go for dinner. Tomorrow we will spend some time in the Magic Kingdom before driving out to spend some time with my dad.