Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Disney World in the rain

During our trip to Disney this past June, we had rain for 7 of our 10 days in the parks.  And not just your typical afternoon thunderstorm.  Not your typical liquid sunshine. But all day downpours.  With several tropical systems making their way over Florida in June, I think it was a record month for them.  In fact, Easywdw.com tweeted this picture to show the ankle deep water outside of the Magic Kingdom:
But.  Rain does not have to ruin your vacation.  Really.
One thing you can do is bring ponchos with you.  You can put them on and then just keep going.  
We have a huge stash of ponchos that we have been using for years.  We stocked up one year for just in case.  
We had two for everyone for each day of our trip.  And then.  Well.  It never once rained.  So, we have a lot.  And we keep using them.  I've learned a lot from our stash.
These particular ponchos - they are 99 cents at Target or Walmart - made by Coleman.  But they really don't do well.  With a poncho, there is a lot of on and off. You wear it in the rain - and then take it off when you arrive inside of a queue.  After a while, they'll look like this:  
We were in line to ride Rock and Roller Coaster this summer and the cast member told us that we had to take off our ponchos because someone wore one on the coaster once and hid the fact that they were wearing a baby on their chest!!  So.  Yes.  Lots of on and off.
Which kind to get?  You can purchase them at Disney - and the Disney ones will last.  But we like to save a little money - and bring our own.  You can still get Coleman at Target or Walmart.  But instead of the 99cent variety, get the $4.99 kind.  These are much more durable.  Easily reusable.  For the kids sizes (and my size 14/16 girls daughter fit in them perfectly) they actually snap up like a regular rain coat.  
For adults, they are styled more like a poncho - but there is a tie at the neck and hood that will prevent the hood from flying off of your head in the slightest breeze (a true issue with the dollar variety).
Now that you have your ponchos - you are ready to conquer the parks.  But which park is best in the rain?  I actually think they all have pros and cons.
Epcot is great - especially in future world.  There is so much to do indoors - that you might not ever notice it rained.  However, the world showcase is a different story.  We got caught in a storm in Japan. Though shopping at Mitsukoshi was a lovely distraction - my wallet could only take so much before we needed to move on.  And it can be a long way between countries and dry spots.  

I did manage to see some kids from our local middle school that were visiting the world on a band trip.  And well.  They just decided to enjoy the rain.
Magic Kingdom is great - especially in Fantasy Land.  Most of the rides in the Magic Kingdom are indoors - you'll just have to dodge rain drops between the rides.
Hollywood Studios is also great.  It's a compact park so going from attraction to attraction is not too far.  Our issue with Hollywood Studios was that we were there on Star Wars Weekend.  And because of the rain, the parade and show at the end of the day were canceled.  On the other hand, characters that meet outside - like Phineas and Ferb - they will move to indoor locations.  Your background may not be exciting - but you might get to make a big jump with your favorites!

Animal Kingdom - I think I would skip in the rain.  The safari is absolutely amazing in the rain. The animals all seem to revel in the wet stuff.  But.  There is so much that is outside here - with long distances between - I think I'd give this one a pass.
What if it's more than a thunder storm?  What about hurricanes?  Typically, Orlando is not going to shut down due to hurricanes as it's rather inland.  I have heard of them shutting down for a half a day for safety reasons.   Issues guests usually deal with in regard to hurricanes are flight delays - either in arriving or getting out.  When I visited last August - when Hurricane Irene suddenly changed course and headed to New York - there were LOTS of families stranded at Disney.  I think that's a problem I wouldn't mind.
For more Disney pictures, be sure to check out Deb's page - Focused on the Magic!

So...what about you?  Which is your favorite park to go to in the rain?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Toy Story Midway Mania - Hollywood Studios

One of the most popular rides in all of Disney World is Toy Story Midway Mania in Hollywood Studios.  Each morning as the park opens, there is an event akin to the "Running of the bulls" as visitors rush to get to the ride to get a fast pass or enter the stand by queue before the line reaches its typical two hour wait. 

What makes this ride so popular?  Part of it is that it's more than a ride.  It's also a game.  And my family gets very competitive with our scores!  The game part of the ride is in 3-d.  

You begin at a practice screen so that you see how the "trigger" works.  Then you twist and turn your way to several midway carnival type games.  Like shooting ducks.  Or breaking plates.  Popping balloons.

But, I do think the main reason it's so popular is that it's a ride that the entire family can do.   And at Hollywood Studios, there are very few rides that will accommodate the huge range of ages and abilities like Toy Story Midway Mania.

So...how do you conquer the long line?  How can you ride more than once?  My best advice for the parks, is to be there early.  At least 15-30 minutes BEFORE the parks open.  And this is especially important at Hollywood Studios.  Not only will you have the mad dash to the ride - but here is a huge tip - this park often opens BEFORE the posted opening time.  If there is an opening time of 9am - it will typically start to let visitors in between 8:30 and 8:45.  This is for every guest - not just resort guests.  And this also does not mean that you are let in just to be held somewhere - it means the park is fully open.
So...be there early.  Then, take part in the dash to the ride.  Go ahead and ride it standby.  It might have a posted time of 30 minutes - but first thing in the morning, it's really not that long.  Go and enjoy the amazing queue.  

Before this past year, we had never stood in the standby queue.  We typically got a fast pass and then went to do something else.  But what I'd recommend is that you actually wait in line - and then when you are done with your ride, then get a fast pass for later in the day.  This way you can ride at least twice - and again - you can check out the queue.  The details here are just Disney as its finest.

You have the ceiling in game boards like Chutes and Ladders, Checkers, and Scrabble.

You can see Andy's art work on the walls.
You can immerse yourself in the world of the toy with huge Tinkertoy containers.  

Shelves containing games.  
Clever signs.  
And even Mr. Potato Head as the Midway barker.
So...what about you?  Do you take part in the run to get fast passes?  Which game on the ride is your best?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Disney Friends

I really do have the best job.  One where I can help people plan trips to the happiest place on earth.  And it also has allowed me to connect and to form the basis of friendship between myself and so many others.

Many moons ago, I was a "Mommy blogger."  And from that platform, I met some amazing women and forged some deep friendships.  I was fortunate enough to deepen those bonds over a mutual love for Disney.  I was even able to take my first mom's only trip with my bloggy friends - Shannon and Angie.  (Who's up for another mom trip?!)

My family tends to visit the parks in the "off season" - and one year, we kept running into the same family.  We saw them at Epcot by the Living Seas.  We saw them at Ohana for dinner.  We saw them at pin traders.  Eventually, we exchanged information and continued that connection through Facebook.  That family as it turns out - well, they started a Disney travel agency and invited me to join them.
But - even with all this Disney friend love, I have a favorite story.  The one we refer to as "Katie's Disney boyfriend."

See, my kids are both extroverts.  When we are in line - well, they don't want to talk to their parents but to everyone around us.  It's really not that unfathomable that my girls fancy themselves the Disney experts.  And they like to share their tidbits.  They'll ask people where they are from.  How long they are staying.  Where they are staying.  If it's their first visit.   About their favorite park.  Favorite ride.

So, we were at Epcot during the food and wine festival - and we were waiting in France for our dinner reservations at Les Chefs de France.  When Katie struck up a conversation with a man by the fountain.  She found out that he's a local.  He was visiting the food and wine festival.  And then she peppered him with her usual questions.  His favorite park.  Favorite ride.  Favorite restaurant in Epcot.  What he would order that night at Les Chefs.  (Then I asked her tonight if she remembered any part of their conversation.  She remembers what she asked, but not his answers.  Explaining, "Mom, that was THREE years ago, and I was ELEVEN."  Can you hear the teen mockery in her voice?)  He was quite game to be interrogated by said eleven year old - and they had a great conversation.  And he was even willing to have his picture taken before he went into dinner.

I'd love to be YOUR Disney friend :-)!  You can subscribe to my website through the google friend connect in my right side bar (under the heading "Followers"); and you can like my page on facebook and keep connected to all sorts of Disney specials and information.

And if you want to see more pictures of Disney friends, please check out Deb's Focused on the Magic!

So...what about you?  Have you made friends through/because of Disney? 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Epcot's Mitsukoshi Department Store (or why Iove Japan in the World Showcase, part III)

Why I love Japan in the World Showcase Part II

One of the best stores in all of Disney World - ranking right up there with World of Disney and Mouse Gears - is the Mitsukoshi department store located in Epcot's Japan.  It is a must do for our entire family - and I don't think we've ever walked out without purchasing something. There is truly something for everyone inside.

The store itself is divided into "boutique" areas.  And when you first walk in, your first area is for Hello Kitty.  (I so wish I could understand the appeal. And did you know that there is a whole Hello Kitty house in China?  Go ahead, google it.  I'll wait for you to come back...)

And just across from Hello Kitty, we have Pokemon land.  I find it interesting that my girls need to peruse both of these areas!

There are also areas with anime "things"that I don't know anything about - well, except that they are anime "things."

Then, the very loud part of the store includes the pick a pearl.  This is a really fun and inexpensive experience.  For about $15, you can choose an oyster - and with a grand production (including drums!) they will open your oyster to reveal your pearl.  (Tip:  The best pearls are supposed to be inside the ugliest, hairiest oysters!)  The pearl isn't expensive, but some of the settings can be a bit pricey.

Further into the store you'll find Japanese t-shirts, shoes, socks (we love to get flip-flop socks here), purses, and even berets.

There is an entire room of Kimonos for all (women, men, children) including some gorgeous accessories like hair clips or even parasols.

You can find bonsai trees, books on calligraphy, home decor.  Hundreds of different styles of chopsticks.  Tea sets.  Dishes.

And then we get to one of our favorite parts - the grocery section.  And what a treasure trove it is.  My girls always have to get a box of Pocky (though we are thrilled that we can find it at our grocery and Target now!).

And they really like to get gummy candies.  We try to find flavors that they have never heard of.  Like "mangosteen."

Another unique item is the drink - Ramune.  It's a carbonated fruity drink - but in order to drink it, you have to push a marble through the top and then it rattles in the glass while you drink it.  You have to practice the way you drink it so that the marble doesn't clog the flow of the liquid as you try to sip it!  This one also has a lot of unique flavors - and my girls like to keep the interestingly shaped bottles as souvenirs.

There are all kinds of other unique food offerings.  They have bags of dried crabs. Still in the shell.  Shrimp chips (not a fan!).  Wasabi flavored dried peas.  Dried octopus.  But I suppose the most sought after is candy.

We always try to get something new each time.  And we especially like getting something where we have NO idea as to what it is.

So...what about you?  Have you shopped at Mitsukoshi?  What did you buy?!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Jammin' Jungle Parade at Animal Kingdom Park

In our first few trips to Disney world as a family, I don't think we ever saw a parade.  My girls could not fathom sitting still for so long.  Or "wasting" park time by waiting instead of riding.  Or the worst option - sitting in the sun and sweltering while we waited.  Finally, I had to put my foot down and insist.  We finally managed to see the Halloween parade and the Electric Parade in Magic Kingdom.  And the Pixar Pals parade in Hollywood Studios.  And we finally managed to see Animal Kingdom's Jammin' Jungle Parade.

It's my very humble opinion that the Jammin' Jungle Parade is the best parade on property.  It does have the Disney characters.

But.  To me, it's charm is in its creativity and whimsy.

In fact, the abstract animal designs were created by Michael Curry who designed the puppets for the "Lion King" show on Broadway.

When we claimed our spot to watch this parade in June, I was all set to take lots of pictures.  But then.  I realized that my memory card on my camera was completely full - and I really had no time to go and dump some of the pictures - so all the pictures in this post were taken with my iphone.

Speaking of claimed spots - let's talk about where to watch the parade.  A key element to making this happen was to find a nice shady spot to wait.  (Shade being a prerequisite for us to watch a parade - it's the whole reason why we've NEVER seen the 3:00 parade in Magic Kingdom!)  And actually in Animal Kingdom, that is not too hard to find.  We not only found a shady spot - but a spot where the cast members allowed us to bring chairs from the tables by the water up to the tape marks.  We were seated across from the entrance to the "Flights of Wonder" bird show.

Here is a map of the park - and if you notice the dotted lines that run from Africa, around Discovery Island, and back to Africa - that is the parade route.

If your family is like mine, and not fans of waiting for a parade - you can head to Africa about 15 minutes after the parade has started - and catch it on it's way back.  You'll find yourself with a front row seat.  No crowds.  An no waiting.

So...what about you?  Do you have a favorite Disney parade?  Where is your favorite spot to see it?