Friday, June 24, 2011

I love my smartphone

I really do love my smartphone....iPhone in my case but I'm not here to argue the merits of apple vs android. Don't know how I survived so long without it. It's a toss-up between my iPhone and my Keurig as to the best invention in the past 5 years. Don't you just love convenience?

The smartphone has really changed the landscape in terms of Disney World park planning, and being connected to all things Disney. It's quite a useful tool and a handy dandy way to curb the Disney addiction. Here's what's on my iPhone these days and a short review.

Sorcerer Radio - I have to give a shout out to the Magical Blogorail sponsor, Sorcerer Radio. All Disney music, all day long. Who could ask for anything better? Their app is brand new and I've been listening to it during the day. Very little drop outs or app crashes. Good variety of music. I especially love the park ride through music/ narrations.

WDWRadio - Lou Mongello is a god! I don't think he's human, the way he spits out content like he does. Definitely, one of the foremost experts in all things Disney. He is an inspiration to all of us bloggers. His podcasts can't be beat. Keep up the good work, Lou!

Undercover Tourist - My favorite app for wait times.  I especially like the dining section which displays menus and prices.  I used this app quite a bit on my recent trip.  

WDW Lines - TouringPlans app.  I like the TouringPlans online guide, but the app is difficult to navigate and little slow as an app.  Good content, though.  

MouseWorld Radio - Lots of good park music.  

The Official Disney app - Don't use this too much.  It's got a few fun games, link to music and videos, as well as shopping.  It's one of those apps to look at when your bored.  

Walt Disney World Secrets Gold - Lots of good fun facts, but like a book, once you've read them you are really done with it.  

Where in Disney World?  - This is a cute little game of "name that picture".  I play it when I'm looking for time to kill.  

Twitter - I follow a variety of tweets related to the parks.  

That's all I have right now.

What's your favorite app?  Got any recommendations?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Trip Report - Part III

Day 6.  Hollywood Studio.  At this point the crowds are getting worse and we are all getting tired, but we truck on to Hollywood Studios.  I like Hollywood Studios but it’s not my favorite park, so with the crowds I couldn’t get too excited about it all.  We didn’t do too much – Rock’n’Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror (my 4 year went on it!), and Beauty and the Beast Stage Show.  Mama Melrose for lunch under the Fantasmic Dinner Package.  Lunch was OK, nothing great, but OK.  After lunch, it was getting really warm; we all needed a break and pool time.  With the Fantasmic Dinner Package, we received a ticket into a reserved seating area in the Fantasmic Theater, meaning we didn’t have to return until 45 minutes prior to Fantasmic.  That was worth it, as general seating in the theater was full by 8:00 for the 9:00 showing.  We arrived early and had burgers at the dining locations along Sunset Blvd.  

Even though HS is not my favorite park, I give it tremendous kudos for theme.  The look of the buildings along Hollywood Blvd and Sunset Blvd are just amazing.  Love the art deco, 1930/40s old Hollywood feel to them.  Also, the Streetmosphere is especially excellent here.

Here are some random pictures from the day:

Student Driver, watch out!
Melvin!  Put me Down.

It was a chalk art kind of day.
Day 7.  FREE DAY!!!!  No plans, no dining reservations, no place to be…we just didn’t know what to do with ourselves besides sleep-in.  My husband and I took the kids out on Sea-Racers (two-seater boats) in the late morning.  This was a day to take care of laundry and move the in-laws to Wilderness Lodge.  You see, for some reason, they only reserved their cabins for 6 nights vs. 9 nights like us.  I think the logic was that they were planning to visit other friends while in Florida; however, when those plans fell through they wanted to extend their reservation at the cabins but nothing was available so they got into the Wilderness Lodge for 3 nights starting on Wed, June 8th.  What a pleasant surprise they had when they got there…they were upgrade to the concierge floor!!!  WL is such a beautiful resort.  I think our next trip, we should stay there.  Here are some random shots.  Pictures do not do it justice!

With Grammy and Poppy staying at a new resort, each child had to claim a night with the grandparents.  Tonight was my son’s night.  Earlier in the day my husband twisted his ankle and skinned his knee in an unfortunate scooter (Razor) accident (he was racing his daughter on her scooter, using our son’s scooter and didn’t stop correctly).  He called it an early night to rest so my mom, daughter and I went over the Magic Kingdom to watch the new castle display (the Magic, Memories and You) and fireworks.  The lighting effect on the castle is something!  I wish we had a closer view of it, as the viewing spot we had was in front of the railroad station and slightly obstructed by a tree.  
Day 8.  EPCOT.  Another late start for the day, but with a focus on World Showcase, arriving at park opening wasn’t as critical.  Snagged Test Track Fast Passes, then headed over to Sunshine Seasons for lunch.  This has got to be the best quick service location in the entire Walt Disney World complex due the size, variety, and freshness of the food offered.  Hit Test Track and Spaceship Earth before venturing around the world counterclockwise, starting in Canada.  I was preparing myself for the whining to start with the kids, as there’s not much to do in the World Showcase for their size.  However, my mom jumped in and got them EPCOT Kidcot Passports, as well as Duffy Bears on-a-stick (for lack of a better description).  Much to my surprise, the kids really enjoyed this and actually looked forward to getting stamps in each country.  My daughter colored her bear in each country.  My only complaint/concern here – Sharpie markers for kids?  Really?  I know Sharpie sponsors this, but Sharpies for kids?   Don’t they know that Sharpie marker doesn’t come out of clothes??   However, after my Grey Goose Lemon Slush in France, and Lemoncello in Itlay, I didn’t really care.

I love World Showcase.  There are so many details to be seen outside and inside the shops and pavilions.  I would venture to say 75% or more of the people that come to EPCOT don't pay attention to the detail and that is just a shame.  It's the details that make it so special.  Just think about the amount of time, detail, artistry, and imagineering that goes into making each country.  

I like the juxtaposition of this picture.
World Showcase & Future World 
Dinner that evening was Tutto Italia. 

The food was excellent here and the dining room is beautiful.  It was a little loud, though.  

Two bottles of wine and mucho food later, we rolled our way towards Mexico to watch Illuminations.  I really like Illuminations and venture to say it’s my favorite firework display at WDW.  I think the music, use of fire, water, pyrotechnics, lasers, and the globe is extremely unique.  However, because it’s so low on the Lagoon, you really need to stake out a spot early.  We didn't and only saw the top half of the fireworks display.  Still wonderful!

Day 9.  Hollywood Studios.  8 days in and everyone is now dragging.  We’re tired, hot and getting a little cranky.  Arriving to HS on a Friday during Star Wars Weekend didn’t help the situation.  Man, oh, man, it was crowded.  Undercover Tourist gave it a 1.2 out of 10…still trying to figure that out!  Anyhoo.  Fastpass return for Toy Story Mania at 9:30am was 5pm, so I skipped this and got Fastpasses for the newly opened Star Tours (I'm the FastPass runner for the family).  Fast Pass return at 1:30, much better.  Lunch was at 50’s Prime Time Café, and with the crowds we couldn’t do much before our reservation.  So, we watched the MuppetVision 3D (again…I grew up on the Muppets and love them), went on the backlot tour (hadn't done that in years), let the kids play in the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids play area, and wondered the Streets.  The kids were accosted by these two.  
Officer Peabody & Officer William Club

Break glass in case of

Onward to lunch at the Prime Time Café; and back to the resort for pool time and packing.  Of course, we didn't leave Prime Time Cafe without setting our table, stacking plates, and, in general, being harassed for elbows on the table.   

Day 10.  Magic Kingdom/Departure Day.  Packed up, bags checked and stored, golf cart dropped off and checked out, we headed to Magic Kingdom for the morning and early afternoon.  Our flight didn’t depart until 6pm, and we didn’t need to be on the Magical Express until 2:50.  Surprising for a Saturday, the park wasn’t very crowded.  We managed to do a few rides in Tomorrowland, plus one final run through of Haunted Mansion (now my kids favorite attraction) before lunch at with Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eyeore, and Piglet at the Crystal Palace.  The food here is nothing special, but decent and plentiful.  The draw here is the characters and they spent a great deal of time with each table for pictures and autographs.  

After saying our goodbyes to Grammy and Poppy who would be driving back to Houston, we picked up our remaining 18 snack credits at the Candy Store and dashed back to the Fort with plenty of time to spare.  7 hours later, we were safely back in our home and ready for bed.   
All in all, a great trip.  We didn’t see or do everything we hoped it, but we had an enjoyable time and created memories to last a lifetime.  

Friday, June 17, 2011

Trip Report - Part II

PARKS:  Because we had such a lengthy trip, our schedule at the parks was fairly relaxed.  We planned most days with a break mid-day, early evening, or late morning in order to allow everyone to rest.  Even though we experienced great weather for early June (no rain!), it did get hot mid-day and that can really drain a person.  By about 4 days in, we all really needed a break.  
Day 1 – Arrival.  Didn’t plan any parks on arrival day, instead we hit the pool and the campfire program at the Fort.  Low key day; but we did experience our first and, fortunately, only meltdown of the trip.  We all had been up at 5am that morning and dealt with cars, buses, TSA, planes, trams, and more buses.  With my infinite motherly wisdom, I deemed it too late to stay up and watch the movie after the sing-a-long at which point my four year old lost it and the crying and wailing started and didn’t stop till we got back to the cabin.  Bedtime came soon after…she was VERY tired.  
Day 2 – Animal Kingdom.  Bright and early, arriving a park opening, we beat much of the crowds and were able to get most things accomplished by 3pm.  We missed Finding Nemo (had done that last time), Flights of Wonder, and Expedition Everest.  I used to not like Animal Kingdom very much, but the more I go, the more I enjoy it.  The details are incredible.  Everywhere you look you find the tiniest detail built into the ambiance.  

Like this bike in Asia.
Or these little guys hanging outside Pizzafari.

Check out the fruit and other offerings in this temple.  The fruit looks so real!  Ignore my son being the ham he is.  

I think this is the first trip I was really about to look inside the temple in the Kali River Rapids queue line.  My pictures didn't come out well, but it's just unbelievable how much detail is there.  I especially enjoy all the little odd and ends you'll find in the Everest Base Camp area.  My motto this trip was "Look up" because that's were you find some of the coolest things.  

After an early lunch at Pizzafari we heading to see the Festival of the Lion King.  One mistake we made was riding Kali River Rapids early, as we got soaked and walked around wet for the remainder of the day.  Lunch and FOTLK were quite chilly.  

We left early to relax and dry out before heading to the Hoop Dee Do Review that evening at 7:15.  HDDR was fun, lots of food, lots of wine.  I don’t know if I was hungry or it was the ambiance, but that was the best fried chicken I’ve had in a long time!  I even ate the chicken skin, it was that good.  

Hmmmm….That's some yummy strawberry shortcake!
In bed by 10.  You’ll see a pattern here – even though we brought wine and had plans to sit on the deck for a quiet evening with the adults after the kids went to bed, we never did that.  We were all just so exhausted each night.

Day 3 – EPCOT.  Again, up early, arriving at park opening; our plan was to focus on Future 
World.  Picked up Soarin fast passes, then walked over to the Imagination pavilion to see Journey into Imagination and the return of Captain EO.  I saw Captain EO in the mid-80’s when Michael Jackson was at the height of his popularity.  I respect the show for what it was and how it was developed at the time, and for a limited return, this attraction is OK, but I don’t see it staying too much longer.  Serve it with crackers, because it’s entirely made of “cheeze”.   

Back to Soarin and the Land, then Nemo and Turtle Talk with Crush (always a favorite!).  My son got to ask Crush how fast do turtles swim.  If you’ve seen the show, you can imagine what happens next!  

Lunch at Coral Reef.  Coral Reef’s main drawn is its aquarium, not the food.  The food was OK, but nothing special.  My mom had the pork dish which was so tough she could barely cut it.  She sent it back for the chicken dish which was much better.  This is one of the things I love about Disney is the level of service.  The dish wasn’t right and they exchanged it out without any issue.  The desserts were the best part of the meal. After a 2 hour lunch (this meal just seemed to drag on) we returned to the Fort for pool time.  We had planned to come back to EPCOT but no one wanted to venture back out there that evening, so instead we took a boat over the Wilderness Lodge for dinner at Roaring Forks; and watched the Electrical Light Parade from the Fort Wilderness dock upon our return.  In bed by 10!

Day 4 & 5 – Magic Kingdom days.  I didn’t keep a journal like I had planned and these two days have seemed to merge together.  Day 4, late arrival to the parks, the morning was spent relaxing.  The logic behind a late arrival this day was that the park would be open till 2am.  Not that we made it that late.  Once we got to the park, our focused was on Adventureland and Fronterland with a dabbling into Liberty Square (Haunted Mansion, of course!).  

Dinner at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian.  This was the best character meal of the entire trip.  Cinderella, Prince Charming, Anastasia, Drizella  and the wicked Step-Mother.  Dinner was an American style buffet.  The food was great and plentiful.  Lots of fresh items to pick from.  The characters came by and spent plenty of time interacting with the kids.  We really enjoyed this meal.  I don’t understand the draw of going to Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom when you can have a similar (and cheaper) experience at the Grand Floridian.

So you're looking for a laughing place, eh?
We'll show YOU a laughing place….
Back to the park afterwards.  We rode Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in the dark which is awesome; plus two trips through the Haunted Mansion at night.  There’s just something about the HM at night!  By the way, have you seen the new interactive queue at the HM?  Awesome!!!  At some point I'll put up a post on just that.  

Caught a little of the fireworks from behind the castle; not the best location but was where we were at the time.  Then back to the Fort and in bed by 11.  Woohooo…late night for us!

Day  5.  Magic Kingdom, again.  Up and out earlish.  I don’t believe we made park opening but shortly after.  Focus on Tomorrowland, and Fantasyland.  This was the first day we finally started hitting crowds.  Monday is always a high volume day for MK, but with school officially out for most schools, and people arriving over the weekend, it seemed worse.  We didn’t get as much done as we had hope.  We utilized fast passes as best we could.  We missed Snow White’s Scary Adventure, Peter Pan’s flight, and Dumbo in Fantasyland.  

Lunch at Columbia Harbour House.  I really like this location, and the food is surprisingly good for quick service.  The inside dining room is quite large, encompassing two floors.  There's many little nooks and crannies tucked in throughout the restaurant to create a more private dining experience (as much as that's really possible).  The staff here are some of the best.  The place is kept clean, the condiment bar is always refreshed and in order, orders are placed and served quickly, and tables are wiped down as people leave.  

Dinner at O’hana’s.  Outstanding meal here, as always.  Way, way, way too much food.  Back to the park afterwards with just me, my husband and son.  The grandparents took our daughter back for more pool time.  Our triumph of the evening was getting our 8 year old son on Space Mountain.  In 2010, he refused and started to refuse this trip.  I couldn’t understand it because it loves Rock’n’Roller Coaster.  Once on, he thought it was the best ride ever and we did it a second time!  We left before the fireworks but managed to watch them from the Fort Wilderness boat dock.  Back home and in bed by 11.  

At this point, I think I'll take a little break.  More postings and pictures soon….