Thursday, June 2, 2016

BABY "X-FACTOR"... "2.0"

   It was over 5 years ago, that I wrote about the "X-Factor" trip - our first WDW trip with a toddler.  It was the trip with our only (at the time) Grandchild, and I just was not sure how it would turn out.  With some good planning, and good fortune, it turned out to be a great trip, and our little 15 month old "Grandy #1" did really well.  She would fall asleep in the stroller, and wake up in a great mood.  It all went pretty smooth.
Grandy #1 - Jan. 2011 - Mission accomplished!

   It was now time for the "rematch" with Grandy #2.  She was 8 months older than her big Sister was for her first WDW trip.  She had been to Disneyland 8 months before this trip, and we were veterans of multiple WDW visits.  We had plenty of confidence, but still, you just never know!  Daddy had to work, and would not be with us on this visit, so it was just "Grandpa Dan & his 4 Sweeties"!

The group for the May 2016 trip
   We got a non-stop flight and went for it!  I would say that non-stop is the only way to fly when you have a younger child.  We didn't have to go through the boarding process twice, and a taste of freedom could have been hard on her.  She did great, a little bit of crying was hardly noticed, since we were on a plane full of kids heading to Orlando.  She pretty much just blended in, and really didn't fuss very much!  Step 1: GETTING THERE.  No problem!





    Her little body clock adapted pretty well, and she was up and running for our few rope drop days.  Since our first 2 nights were at The Polynesian Village resort, we took advantage of being so close to The Magic Kingdom and started the trip with an arrival evening, and a Sunday "Rope Drop" spent at MK.

The "First Ride Look" never gets old, and Big Sister STILL has it!
   Our first Grandy had her first ever WDW ride on The Gran Fiesta Tour at Epcot, and we never forgot that.  For Grandy #2, her first ever WDW ride was The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh, we will always remember that now!

   The "Rider Switch" (aka "Baby Swap") worked to our older Granddaughter's advantage, giving her back-to-back rides on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train for her first time on the new coaster! Grandma got a 2nd ride too!  It was a great evening which included a little dancing with Frozone & The Incredibles in Tomorrowland at the Dance Party.
We told our older Grandy to "thank" her little Sister for that 2nd ride!

   The next morning's Rope Drop went smooth.  And after hitting 5 straight "walk on" rides, it was time for lunch at Be Our Guest, and then we stuck to our game plan, and went back to the Polynesian.  Grandy #2 (& Mommy) had a nice little nap, while Grandy #1 got some pool time with Grandpa & Grandma.  Then a refreshed Mommy was able to take Grandy #1 back to the MK, while Grandpa/Grandma rested with Grandy #2.  We then met up for a wonderful dinner at The Grand Floridian Cafe, and then a nice early evening after dinner stroll from The Grand Flo back to The Poly.
Beach time at The Polynesian is fun  ...even if you can't go into the water!

Minnie was so glad we came to see her again!
    After our 2nd and last night at The Polynesian Village, we took our luggage to Bell Services for transport to The Boardwalk, and headed out to Chef Mickey's.  This was one of those "Should we or Shouldn't we" parts of the trip planning.  We just didn't know how Grandy #2 would react to those gigantic characters, but we decided to go for it.  So glad we did!

Yes, she wasn't too thrilled about having the characters come up close to her, but as long as there was a little distance between them, she was fine, waving and clapping along with everyone else in the place.  Of course Grandy #1 loved reuniting with the "Fab Five".  It turned out to be a highlight of the trip!

   After Breakfast, we bused it over to Disney Hollywood Studios.  Another attraction we weren't too sure about was The Frozen Sing-A-Long.  We just weren't sure how well the little one would do waiting in the Queue area and then sitting through a show.  Hey, it's FROZEN! C'mon now, she did great!  Both girls were fascinated with the show, and a little air conditioning goes a long way in making your touring day pleasant!
Do you think "Grandy #2" was awestruck by the Frozen Sing-A-Long?
   We enjoyed using our fast passes, Star Tours was down, so they gave us a fastpass for other attractions, and we headed for The Great Movie Ride.  "Baby X-Factor 2.0" loved it!  We thought the Alien section might scare her, but... no problem!
Not only was she not "scared"... she LOVED The Great Movie Ride!

   After a nice time at The Studios, we took the walk over to The Boardwalk to check in to our room, and get some dinner.  The Boardwalk (like The Polynesian) was a first for all of us, and we were greeted with a little surprise.
Pool View was a nice surprise!

We booked a standard 1 BR villa, but were given a Pool/Water view room on the top floor, and it was wonderful!  They brought us our luggage, and groceries from Garden Grocer, and we were all settled in.  Dinner at Big River Grille, and a nice dip in the pool.  A great day.

   It was Epcot Flower & Garden Festival time,  we weren't sure how our stroller girl would do spending hours roaming around Epcot's World Showcase.  She passed another test.  She didn't care much for the offerings from the food booths, but as long as she had her snacks to nibble on, she was a happy camper.  She was rewarded with rides on Journey into Imagination with Figment, and The Seas with Nemo & Friends.  Her big Sister was rewarded with back-to-back rides on Test Track thanks to the "Rider Switch", and Grandpa got in on that!  A Fast Pass for Spaceship Earth and we were ready to head back to The Boardwalk.
Plenty of water is always important at WDW!
 
   We didn't have an ADR for Via Napoli, but we figured on the way out we'd give it a try, and we were able to snag a table for that amazing Pizza and Pasta!

   Wed. was our "non-park" day, so we headed over to Disney Springs.  Lunch at Morimoto Asia was wonderful.  Grandy #2 handled it pretty well, Lap Napkins and Chopsticks can be pretty fun!  The food was great, and we spent most of the day wandering around this newly renovated Shopping/Dining/Entertainment district.  They have done a great job and there is still more additions going on.
Chopsticks are FUN!


     
   We made it back in time to get a table at Trattoria Al Forno on The Boardwalk for dinner.  We went up to our room and enjoyed sitting out on the balcony talking and enjoying the view.

   Thursday was our Animal Kingdom day.  We got there early enough to do a "Rope Drop" and were able to do two rides on Expedition Everest before our first fast pass time arrived.  I made sure to pick FP+'s that our little Grandy #2 could enjoy.  Kilimanjaro Safari, It's Tough to be a Bug, and a FP for The Festival of the Lion King were all good picks that the whole group could enjoy.  Lunch at Flame Tree BBQ, a ride on Triceratop Spin, and we were ready to head over to The Boneyard.
The kids really "dig" this place!
   This is a must for anyone with little ones.  Slides, bridges, a big sandpit with plastic shovels and buckets.  Both Grandys loved every minute of exploration here.  Another must for little ones is Rafiki's Planet Watch.
You ride a train over to it, and it has animal exhibits that little ones just can't get enough of.
Little ones can't get enough time at the petting zoo

We even got to meet Rafiki his self! 
The petting zoo is a must for kids of all ages, and if you are really into wildlife, there are cast members who can answer all of your questions about the whole park.

   We had a 4:20pm ADR for Beaches & Cream at The Beach Club, so we headed over to The Beach Club Resort for our dinner.  This place is colorful, and fun for the whole family.  Good diner food, and awesome ice cream treats are their specialty.  Famous for it's "Kitchen Sink Sundae" which is made with 8 scoops of ice cream, every topping in the house, and a whole can of whipped cream! 
The "No Way Jose"
Along with some brownies, nuts, and other goodies, all served in an actual... "Kitchen Sink"!  We didn't have enough stomachs for the Kitchen Sink, but we did share a "No Way Jose Sundae" (Vanilla Ice Cream with Hot Fudge & Peanut Butter).
Grandpa made a great hammock on the bus!

   We strolled around and enjoyed the charm of The Boardwalk/Beach Club/Yacht Club area before heading back to the room.

   Friday was our last full day of the trip.  We wanted to go back to Epcot for some more Flower & Garden Festivities.  Lunch consisted of treats from the different food booths around The World Showcase. We were amazed at how uncrowded the lines were for the food booths compared to the annual Food & Wine Festival.  Even though there aren't nearly as many booths, the lines are practically non-existent and that's really a plus.


    
Grandpa invited Grandy #2 to watch boxing with him




   
   
...but she preferred to watch cartoons with Grandma!



   Grandpa & Grandma were a little worn out, but not too tired to trek back to Epcot and see The Spinners in Concert at the American Gardens Theater.  Mama entertained the kiddos while the oldsters were enjoying some classic pop sounds!

Grandma & Grandpa ready for The Spinners!
What a great way to end a fantastic WDW trip!













 
   
    Saturday was our departure day, but we were not finished with the fun.  Our flight didn't leave until 4:55pm, so we had until almost 2pm before we had to be at the Magical Express Bus Stop.  We had something to eat at The Boardwalk Bakery, and walked over to Disney Hollywood Studios.
Heading over to The Studios for one last "blast"!
    Finished up with Tower of Terror, and Rock n' Rollercoaster for the big kids, then headed over to the ABC Commissary for lunch.
Somebody was dreaming about Walt Disney World on the way home

   The flight back turned out to be pretty good.  Again, another non-stop flight, but this time, Surprise! - "Baby X-Factor" fell asleep about half way home!

   If anyone reading this is debating about taking a toddler to WDW, I would suggest that you stop wondering, and start planning.  These two trips did take a little extra strength, and planning, but it was SO WORTH IT!  We have memories that will be with us for the rest of our lives.  Do the kiddos remember the trip?  Probably bits and pieces, but WE remember these trips, and someday we can share stories with our little Grandys about their first times at Walt Disney World.  They will look at the photos and say WOW!
Pool Time!

   Now if you will excuse us, Grandma and I have to start planning our next Disney trip... before the Grandys get too old!





Friday, April 29, 2016

MY DISNEY PODCAST LIBRARY... 5 Years Later!

   It was in 2011 that I wrote a blog about my Disney Podcast Library.  I was not yet retired, and Disney Podcasts on my iPod kept me going through my work day, every day!  I've since retired, and my iPod gave up the ghost (just weeks before I retired).



   Back in April of 2011, I listed 9 awesome podcasts, but of those 9, 5 years later, only 5 remain (that I know of).  The WDW Fanboys, Beta Mouse, Magical Definitions, and Intercot Insider Live have all gone the way of Maelstrom (An attraction at Epcot that is no longer there).  Magical Definitions still remains (in a way) - Nathan Rose & Jim Hill were the hosts, but Jim Hill now does a podcast with Len Testa.

   I've trimmed my iTunes podcast library dramatically, and it's down to 4 podcasts now.  I listen to a few of the others every once in a while, but I just get those shows from their websites rather than downloading them to iTunes.

   The 4 podcasts remaining in this "Battle Royal" of Disney Podcast loyalty are (in no particular order):

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Hard to imagine Len Testa as "Straight Man", but Jim Hill knows all - tells all.

   The Unofficial Guides Disney Dish Podcast with Jim Hill

   This has now become my favorite of all podcasts.  Len Testa emerged as one of my favorite Disney podcast personalities, as co-author of the text book of  WDW touring books - The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, he knows his stuff, but the true Guru of all things Disney is Jim Hill, and the two have a great chemistry during their shows.  They tackle subjects that hard core Dis fans want to know about, and Jim Hill knows his stuff like no one else, and delivers it in a way that makes you feel like you are walking alongside of him touring the parks.  Two "Disney Rock Stars" who make for an awesome Podcast.

Visit the show's website: https://disneydish.bandcamp.com/

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The Disney Nerds Podcast  
   This is one that I found after I wrote that blog posting back in 2011.  I'm not sure how I found them, but I'm glad I did.  These guys fill the void left by the departure of the original WDW Today podcast.  Sam (from Sam's Disney Diary), Jimmy, Ed, and Jen are a great group of folks who love Disney parks as much as I do.  They take you on audio tours of attractions & parks, share thoughts on the goings-on at Disney World, and just make for a fun time on every podcast.

Check out the show's website: The Disney Nerds Podcast

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Dave's Disney View Podcast
   This is another podcast that I found after 2011.  It's not "serious" in nature, but it's not as "silly" as other Disney World podcasts.  Dave was an actual Cast Member at WDW, so he has an insight that I just love to listen to.  He's a man who makes me proud  to be a Disney World Nerd.  He obviously has a love for and loyalty to Walt Disney World, but is not afraid to express his feelings when he does not like something.  He has a positive way of talking about WDW attractions and events.

Check out the show website:  Dave's Disney View Podcast

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   Walt Disney World Today
   This Podcast is the same in name only.  The original lineup included 5 legends of Disney podcasting:  Annette Owens, Len Testa, Matt Hochberg, Mike Newell, and Mike Scopa.  This was by far my favorite podcast in the world.  All good things must come to an end, and WDW Today came to an "end", but re-emerged with new hosts, and a little different format.  It took me a while to get used to it, but eventually I accepted the fact that "Matt, Mike, Mike, and Len (& Annette)" were not coming back.  The new hosts are Logan, Terry and Will and the show is still fun.  And... one of the "originals" from the show - Len Testa still makes appearances on the show to answer listener questions!  They take on subjects and give their takes on things, it's fun and made "the cut" to remain in my iTunes library.



Check it out:  http://www.wdwtoday.com/

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Those are the 4 that remain in my podcast library (along with 3 boxing podcasts, and Calvary Chapel Albuquerque).  But that doesn't mean that I don't listen to other podcasts by visiting their websites.  Lou Mongello's WDW Radio Show, The Be Our Guest Podcast, Disney Parks Podcast and The Mighty Men of Mouse are 4 others that aren't in my personal iTunes library, but I would suggest you track down and listen to them if you are really into Disney Parks & Walt Disney World!  And of course, if you are into Disneyland in Anaheim, California, you have to listen to the Mousetalgia podcast.

   I no longer need to feed off of my Disney podcasts to get me through a dreary and life draining job (can you tell I was more than ready to retire?), but I still LOVE to listen to my Disney Parks podcasts as I plan for the next visit to Disneyland or Walt Disney World.  Pick one, and give it a listen, you might just get hooked!







Saturday, March 26, 2016

DISNEY'S CARIBBEAN BEACH RESORT

   It's the original moderate level resort at WDW, and with 2,100+ rooms, it's also the largest resort on WDW property.  Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort was a nice surprise for us when we stayed there back in 2015.

The Resort is almost as colorful as the map!


RESORT LAYOUT:

  

This resort really has a magical & romantic atmosphere at night
      The Resort is huge and very spread out, but it's so beautifully themed and relaxing!  With the lake and all of the walkways along the white sandy beach areas with hammocks and benches, it is hard to resist just dropping all of your plans and kicking back for an hour or more.

   The resort opened in 1988 and is the first of the moderate level resorts built on Disney property.  It wasn't until 17 years later that Disney would begin the "Magical Express" bus transport service from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World resorts.  This would explain why the CBR seems to be made with guests having their own vehicles in mind.  CBR is broken into 6 different areas: Jamaica, Aruba, Barbados, Martinique, Trinidad North, and Trinidad South. 



   There is a separate check in building called the Custom House and it can be a bit tricky, as you have to check in there first before finding your room.  If you have your own car, that's no big deal, but if you come in as a guest via Disney's Magical Express, you will have to check in and then take the internal bus to your area, not really a huge deal, but another step before settling in. The main pool, dining and gift shop areas are located at the Old Port Royale area pretty much in the middle of the resort.  We stayed in the Trinidad South area which is the farthest away from Old Port Royale, but it turned out to be a great location, quiet and away from the busy pool area, but not too far of a walk, in fact that walk along the lake became one of our favorite things about the resort!

DINING:  

   Dining at CBR was one of the pleasant surprises for us on this trip.  There is a restaurant - Shutters on property, as well as a food court type counter service area all located inside the building at Old Port Royale.  Shutters hasn't had the best reviews of the Disney eateries in past years, but we were blown away at how good our meal was!

Shutters was a very pleasant surprise for us!



   The Steak and Fish dishes we ordered were absolutely delicious, the dessert was great, and the service was as good as it gets!
  
  
   There is a food court of sorts which had different stations and again, service was great, and we must have hit it just right, because there was never an issue of overcrowding when we were there, tables were plentiful and so was the food! 

One of the offerings from the Pasta station


   There is a grab-n-go area, and gift shop also located in the Old Port Royale building.  

Entrance to "Old Port Royale" at Caribbean Beach Resort

TRANSPORTATION:

   As mentioned earlier, the resort seems to be built with the idea of guests having their own vehicles, but once you learn the CBR bus system, it's about the same as the other resorts.  Each area has it's own covered bus stop and buses arrive every 20 min. or so to take you to each of the 4 theme parks, as well as Disney Springs.  There is also an internal bus that will just drive around the resort stopping at each of the bus stops. 
Bus stop at the Jamaica area

  We got the hang of things quickly (and that's not easy for "Grandma & Grandpa"!), and soon the only thing we weren't sure about was whether we should get off at Old Port Royale's stop and walk to the room, or ride all the way to Trinidad South. 

   If you have your own car, then it's even better, there's plenty of parking at each section of rooms, and you can have your car right near your room!

OUR ROOM:

   We planned this trip on shorter notice than usual, and the resorts were pretty booked up, including the CBR.  We paid a little extra and got one of the Pirate themed rooms.
Yo-Ho, Yo-Ho, A Pirate room for me!

   It's loaded with little touches that kids will really enjoy... even "big kids" (like us). 

Ready to "set sail" on a good night's sleep


The beds look like pirate ships, the fridge is in a barrel, and lots of little touches that make you feel like you are Captain Jack Sparrow.

We were in building "39"
The view from our room was very relaxing

 
THE POOL:

   We didn't even go for a swim on this trip, but the main pool is really nice!


It's located at the Old Port Royale area, and has a slide, as well as a "Kiddie" Splash n' Play area. 

The Grand kids will LOVE the Splash n' Play area!


There are also "quiet" pools located around the resort which are just basic swimming pools with lounge chairs around them.  We will definitely take a day to enjoy the pool next time we stay here.

OVERALL:

   Overall, the Caribbean Beach Resort has become one of our favorites (of course, I say that about EVERY Disney Resort!).  It's one of the most beautifully themed resorts WDW has to offer, and I could easily see myself spending an entire vacation just hanging out at the resort! 


   We didn't even see all that it has to offer.  There's plenty of space for exploring around the resort.  Lots of nice touches make this a place that I'm looking forward to returning and making my "base of operations" for another fantastic Walt Disney World trip!

  

  

Thursday, January 21, 2016

THINGS OF DISNEY PAST

   Disney's resorts and parks are always in a state of change.  Competition from other entertainment venues makes this a fact of life for the Disney fan.  I often hear complaining and griping about the changes, but usually, it turns out for the better (to me).

   I'm sitting here and thinking about how much the Disney Empire (Walt Disney World in particular) has changed.  This could be a long posting if I tried to dig all the way back, but I'm just thinking about things that have gone away since around 2009 or so, just a few things.  If you went to WDW today - for your very first visit - and hadn't really studied up on it's history etc.  You would not know what it's like to experience...

MAELSTROM (Epcot): 
The crazy, disjointed, confusing, but fun boat ride at Epcot's Norway Pavilion.  It was short, but beloved by Disney Park's fans, probably because it was one of only 2 actual "rides" in Epcot's World Showcase.

It was a little exciting, very colorful, and really did have a feel of "adventure" to it.  It was closed and is in the process of being replaced with a ride based on the smash hit movie Frozen.  Many Dis-nerds are up in arms about the change.  And while I really loved Maelstrom, I'm betting on the new ride to be a hit... especially with my 2 Granddaughters!

The BREATHLESS II (Epcot): 
Breathless was a speed boat that you could buy time and go for a spin around World Showcase Lagoon.
I would have loved to take a spin on the Breathless II

   You would not drive it, but the driver would take you for a speedy cruise. You could also book special cruises for the Illuminations fireworks spectacular on the lagoon.  I would have really liked to do it, but by the time I was ready to go for it... it was gone!

CAMP MINNIE MICKEY (Animal Kingdom): 


A whole "Land"?  Yup, but to be honest with you, I never really "got" it.  It was an area of Disney's Animal Kingdom with meet-and-greets, and the main attraction was the theater that housed the Festival of the Lion King show.  It was fun to walk through and see figurines of the characters fishing or hiking, but there really wasn't much to this "Land".
They never caught anything!

I always felt like it was just a placeholder for what was REALLY coming to Animal Kingdom, and I think the new Pandora: World of Avatar is that thing.







THE BACKLOT TOUR (Disney Hollywood Studios):

Future generations will probably never even know that at one time The Disney Hollywood Studios (or whatever it will be called by then) was an actual working "Studio".  Although it never took off as a major Production Studio, it was still used for movies & television, and was portrayed to visitors as such.  Even the name "Disney MGM Studios" made you feel that it was part of MGM's productions.  It was a fun idea many years ago, but the novelty slowly wore off and the same thing happened across town at Universal "Studios".  The tram tour in it's original form was a long and intricate tour, it gave visitors the feeling of going "behind the scenes" and seeing something special.  It was shortened, and eventually closed down for good.  The Backlot tour and the whole "Studio Idea" is gone, and Star Wars Land, and Toy Story Land will bring lots of glory back to the Disney Hollywood Studios.  The new generation will never know what they missed.

THE STAVE CHURCH (Epcot's Norway Pavilion):


This one is still there (in a way).  It was originally a mini Viking Museum - or at least that's what it was when we discovered it in 2010.  I never even thought to go inside and check it out, and when I did, I LOVED it!  Nothing fancy, not very big, in fact it was tiny!  But it was a really cool little gem that I looked forward to stepping inside and checking out every visit.  It was recently changed to a Frozen theme, and it's still nice, but I miss my Vikings!


These are just a few of the things that are now Disney history.  I'm looking forward to the new things that Disney Imagineering will bring in the years to come.  I am glad that I got to taste "Old WDW" though!