Monday, October 10, 2011

The Land of Disrepair Revisited

Disney has announced that Big Thunder Mountain Railroad will go down for refurbishment and repair in January. The scheduled maintenance and repair will reportedly replace one of the lifts and fix special effects within the ride. One can only hope this means the mine cave-in sequence will finally get the attention it deserves.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fire at Astro Orbiter in Tomorrrowland at the Magic Kingdom

Yikes, I guess the rain wasn't enough.

Fire on the Astro Orbiter, caused an evacuation of Tomorrowland at 9:30 AM Sunday, October 9th. The Reedy Creek Fire Department responded to put out the flames and then the surrounding rides were reopened. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Land of Disrepair

Just read the excellent blog over at Mice Chat. I came to the site from some questions about the updating of the parks at Disney World.

I was there just a few weeks ago and rode Everest at Animal Kingdom and was still dismayed to see the Yeti just sitting there. Although I love this attraction anyways, I hate to see what should be the most amazing animatronic in any of the parks just sitting idle on a pedestal. What bothers me more, is that no one else seems to notice, playing into what I am sure is the park managements fears/designs that it is better to keep the attraction running with mostly happy guests, especially during the peak visit season, than to shut it down and fix it.

Of course, this summer has been a season of upping the face of the parks. Along Main Street, one by one, each of the stores received new paint and facelifts. In fact, across the face of many buildings in the Magic Kingdom, tarps went up as painting and maintenance continued. However, these are relatively low budget touch ups compared with the mechanically strained problems in the parks. Although my second home is the Haunted Mansion, the new additions are fantastic and would be even better if they could keep the Doom Buggies moving. It seems that at least once a visit, HM goes down for an hour or so. Splash Mountain may have managed to put on seat belts, but at least once a visit, I spy animatronics that just sit there not animated. I don't have to remind people about the in operation of the cave in room on Big Thunder or how the theme elements in Pirates keep getting scaled back farther and farther from the boats. (Are too many guests getting out?)

Then when we get some real opportunities for updates, it seems that Disney goes cheap or worse, they make attractions worse than they were before. Space Mountain was down for quite a while, and myself and others really hoped that it would reopen with a ride that was at least as exciting as what guests are treated to at Disneyland. And although the new projection system is nice, and some of the new theme elements are pretty. I find the line que games are the only real update and to be honest, being a fastpass ride, I never wait to play these video games. They didn't even update the exit que, and if anything is screaming for an update that would be it. Moreover, it opened without the sound effects that were supposed to be a part of the new ride. And when they got added, it seemed more an afterthought. I love the soundtrack on Disneyland's Space Mountain and the fact that its pumped right into the ride cars make it even more thematic.

I won't go into how I feel about the Spaceship Earth refurb, or how the Living Seas with Nemo compares with the Little Nemo attraction at Disneyland. Also, we never go to the Laugh Floor, it's a poor attraction and the ride que is one of the worst excuses for poor guest treatment in any of the rides. Stitch's Great Escape gets worse every refurb and many elements don't record a hit in Buzz Lightyear's ride.

Yet, the Walt Disney World resort continues to enjoy some of the largest crowds in history even with park admission prices edging upwards to $100. They have broken ground on the new Art of Animation resort, they are building a new housing development for high rollers, new Villa style Vacation Club resorts seem to open every year and Bay Lake Towers is now seeing guests. The new Fantasy Land expansion is in the middle of its construction, and the newly announced Avatar land at Animal Kingdom is definitely piquing my interest. Star Tours 2.0 is now open and is great. Watching them save and move the huge tree from the Seven Acre Woods playground to the entrance of Winnie the Pooh, continues to remind me of the parks attention to details.

I just wish Disney's attention to detail was applied to everything in the parks.

Friday, September 23, 2011

ProTip 8 - Hollywood Studios entrance

Sometimes its not the big things about being at Disney World that make the trip great. Sometimes its the little things. Getting there early and prepared makes the day great, but its not enough. Having a good ADR at the restaurant you love timed perfectly to beat the heat on a scorching day also isn't everything. Although I could go on and on, about big deal items, people under estimate the absolute beauty of a good entry. All of the parks have their opening event. Magic Kingdom has all the face and fur characters arrive on Casey Jr. and then come out for some dancing and song. Epcot picts a family of the day after we meet and great the fab four, they then rocket off to their favorite ride with fast passes for the day. Hollywood Studios "films" the opening of the park, while Animal Kingdom has us get ready to go camping.

However, what I really love is a good park entrance. We have a stroller still. Our kid doesn't really need it, but we like having a home base (a place to keep our stuff, hold our drinks, and hang our bags). To have a good park entrance, takes planning and coordination between your entire group. You have to negotiate bathrooms, which can be tough considering when you have to arrive to be there at opening. You have to know where to enter and where you're going. There are so many things that you could worry about, and knowing your kids will make or break the entrance.

But a perfect entrance is golden. To get that perfect entrance requires a conflux of multiple factors, but boils down to knowing what your goals are for the day. So today, I will discuss the perfect entrance to Hollywood Studios.

First, never take the tram. Its a trap and a sucker bet. The tram is for tourists. This is especially true at HS. First the tram makes you break down your stroller and your gear to board. You then have to set all that stuff back up. Pointless. At HS, there is a secondary security spot located near the will call window. If you walk you cross the street shortly before the tram stop and you can use this security stop. There is seldom anyone there and you won't be at the back of the crowds trying to set up your stroller and rushing to the gates. After security hit the bathrooms. Why not, there are right there and also empty. Now as you get to the the ticket lines, you are going to be waiting for a bit, now is the time to get out the sunscreen and get everyone covered. Then make a plan. You need everyone to have their tickets, but you also want to split up. Only one of you is going to Toy Story Mania (unless you are going to try the trifecta and get both fast passes and enter the que - don't do this) to get fast passes. So as you approach the gates, have your plan ready, get everyone through the turnstyles and collect the tickets.

If you are the designated FP fetcher, you worm your way to the front of the HS holding pen (where the movie is to be filmed). You want to be all the way to the right or dead center. This is to split around the film cart and stay near the head of the pack as the cast members walk you quickly but steadily towards the FP que. You are going to need to stay to the right so you can be in the FP line. This is critical, the FP line will be crowded and people will act crazy and pushy to get in the line. Be ready to be patient. When the line forms up make a quick estimate of how long you will be and text it to the rest of your party (which should be heading towards either Tower of Terror or Rockin Roller-coaster).

They can hit the bathroom if needed, but be prepared to hurry right back so that you can actually begin your day. Your FP for Toy Story dictates when the next round fo FP's will be ready, but you should be able to walk onto either RR or ToT. By the time you are done with the first ride you can get another round of FP's and have a great start to the day. If things go well you will be holding FP's for the best rides in the park and day will still be early! Aaahhhh a good entrance, I love it!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


This might be the very first time that I have to say that I'm very disappointed in myself and my attention to the parks this summer. Normally we spend two to three days at the parks each week. This summer, was tough though, it was really crowded and really hot. Not only that, but the special features available at the parks just weren't as compelling as I had expected.

Every year, we make it a point to see the Independence Day Fireworks on or near July 4th. This year was no exception. We were also able to get amazing seats for the new Magic Memories and Me castle display, which was fantastic! We made it to Hollywood Studios to finally see the new Star Tours 2.0 which was simply amazing! Not only that, we got a chance to see the Cars 2 models introduced during the Stunt Show Spectacular! Finally, we took a bunch of extra kids on a trip to EPCOT for what turned out to be a fun day, with too many children who weren't our own.

However, the summer wasn't our normal play time. Being teachers, we often use our summers to do something that many other people can't do. We make it our goal to visit every couple of days. We have visiting the parks down to a science. We can get into and out of the park for gas money only. People might call us cheap, but we on the other hand, we probably make it to the park 12 to 18 times during the summer. If we ate at the park and bought some drinks each time we went, we'd be into each trip for better than $100 bucks a time. That takes us up to a couple grand for day trips. That's just not in the cards for us. So by making the trips cheap, we get to enjoy the parks all summer long without breaking the bank.

Yet, this summer didn't come together for us. We just couldn't get to the park as often as we wanted. We even skipped our little secret day (Night of Joy). There are a number of reasons. The first, it was one of the hottest summers we've endured here in Florida. It wasn't the hottest on record, but throughout July we had very little rain and that usually brings down the temperatures. Next, it was very crowded this summer. If you hit the Crowd Calendar at you will find that there wasn't hardly a day when the parks weren't at capacity. Lastly, we were very discouraged to find that we couldn't upgrade out passes to premium halfway between our renewal period without paying for the entire difference in cost. Since half the year was over, it just didn't seem right. We wanted to add the water parks, but not for such a unbelievably bad price.

So, as the weather cools, Food and Wine approaches, and the crowds slip away. You will find my family and I back at the parks for what I'm sure will be an amazing fall at the parks.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I hate it

Ok, this was a great blog, until my last post, so here is the next wave of blogging. I have put together my schedule for the season. Being that I live just an hour or so away from the magic, we often make it our business to be there for important events.

First, the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Magic Kingdom is coming and I just gotta be there. The opening of the Food and Wine at EPCOT is coming up, and I just gotta be there. Halloween is coming up and I hear they have a party there, and I just gotta be there. Of course, the Christmas holiday is on its way, and as you probably can guess, I just gotta be there!

So I just put the finishing touches on a couple of reservations for the year. We have our Food and Wine reservations all sewn up. We have planned our weekend at the parks to enjoy the holidays. We might try and squeeze in Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, during Food and Wine.

Ahh, and as the end of the year approaches, we also have our Walt Disney World's Marathon Weekend after the new year. So much is coming up and I can't wait to be at the parks. So as you can imagine, I have got lots to share, and I intend to get back to sharing!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Disney Halfathon, I am now half a marathoner

In preparing to run the Disney Half Marathon, I read tons of blogs about the actual event and even more about training to run in such an event. My only real concern was whether or not I'd be able to find my way back to the busses and check out of my room before the required check out time of 11:00 AM. I know that seems pretty ridiculous, but truthfully, I was very well prepared for the actual running of the event, it was everything else that worried me.

Would I make it to the starting line on time? What if I have to pee? What if I'm not in the choral at 5:30 AM? Should I take a jacket? Should I check any clothing or a bag? Should I bring my phone? Should I listen to music? What if my e-tag isn't on my shoe right?

I came at the half marathon as a complete novice, only beginning to train starting in October. I half heartily decided to enter about two weeks later as a motivation for continuing to run, and although I had looked at lots of training regiments for the actual event, I didn't adhere to any particular one. I just made sure the each week I ran some more than the week previous. As the days ticked by and the event loomed closer, so did the holidays and being a father of three meant that as always, much would be demanded of my time. Furthermore, the whole idea of running in an event started with my wife's desire to join a group of friends who where doing the "Couch to 5K" program. So her and my oldest daughter were running their first 5K at Disney the day before.

So although my run started as an afterthought, as the day loomed closer I began to get nervous. My family was not going to join me at the finish line, a decision that although we regret a bit, we new was in keeping with the happiest family. We really didn't know what to expect and from what we had read getting to the finish line would be challenging. Also, we only booked rooms through Saturday and knew that we had to be checked out by 11:00 AM. Not that staying would be any big deal, but it was one more stressor.

My daughter had a migraine the night before my race and so I was up pretty late with my other two, keeping them out of the hotel room while nervously wanting to get back to get some much needed rest. I was finally all ready to go, all of my things neatly set next to the bed and I was preparing to sleep by 10:30 PM. I don't know if I really got any sleep at all. I was so nervous and excited for the race.

I awoke at 2:45 AM and was dressed to go and out the door by 3:05 AM, munching on pop tarts on my way to the bus. I figured the 400 calories from the pop tarts would be a good boost. I had a SPIbelt filled with some GU nuggets, my ID and a camera and I decided to bring a bag with a change of clothes, some food, and my battery back up charger for my phone.

Knowing now what I was about to enter, I never would have brought any food, there was tons to eat both before and after the race, but I wanted to be prepared for anything. I figured at best, I could be back at my hotel room showering early enough to get to a park, and at worst, my family would meet me at a park and I could change in the bathroom (smelly).

Once there I was dropped off in a dark parking lot with what looked like a sea of people all descending on the starting line. Thousands of people were marking across the parking lot to the tents. Once there, we were treated to music, meet-ups and a place to check in our bags. Not knowing how long everything was going to take, I believed the announcer when he said it was time to get to the starting line. It wasn't even 4:00 AM, but I believed him. So I checked my bag and walked through to the holding center. It was obvious that I was early, but even this area seemed full. Little did I know that it really hadn't begun to fill up. I decided to use the rest room and pound my Gatoraid Prime. I then waited, and waited and waited.

Finally they opened the gates for us to march to the corrals. I had no idea there would be so many people. I guess I really didn't understand what 28,000 people would look like. The walk was long and sometimes unlit, but people were mostly jovial and happy. It took nearly 30 minutes to get to the start, but once there, I realized that going to the bathroom would not be a problem. It was a portapotty paradise. There were staff members to guide us to our corrals and lots of music to keep us entertained.

One interesting note was a unexpected live start to the race that was coordinated to join a race planned in Afghanistan by Army personal. It was touching and amazing all at the same time.

I knew to expect that I wouldn't get to the starting line for a while after the actual start of the race, but with all the fireworks and excitement, once the race started it didn't feel like 25 minutes. Once I was past the starting line, the really was almost non stop entertainment. Although I planned on listening to music the whole time, It was only necessary in parts of the race. For the most part, there was tons of sights and sounds to take in.

I was really surprised by the mass ejection of clothing during the first three miles and was also immediately embarrassed at my own attempt to get a picture with Tinker Bell, only to be told I was on the wrong side of the course. But after I got over the shock of the start of the race and realized that everyone was just stripping down to their running cloths, I got pretty comfortable with my pacing.

Unfortunately I was not prepared for the combination of choke points and zig zaggers. People are zipping in and out of the crowd as the course itself is getting wider and narrower. There were several times I had to walk just because there was no real way around the crowds. Once I became accustomed to this, I was fine, but it was real frustrating at the beginning.

Running is running, no matter where you are. There are times when I wanted to walk, times I felt great and sped up, and times when I couldn't remember what mile I had run. I never once believed I wouldn't finish, but I certainly couldn't wait to be there. Running through the parks was thrilling. I do feel that the time in parking lots and over-passes far outweighed the times in theme parks-especially EPCOT which could have been much longer. Even with all the people around me, I felt very isolated and alone. I had been encouraged to talk to people around me, but I found myself very shy and reserved.

There were many very memorable times during the race, but the most inspirational and motivating moments was just past mile marker 11 when we came upon a stage and Off Kilter was playing for us. I love Off Kilter and hearing them play was great.

I didn't really have any expectation on my course time, but I wanted to finish in under 2.5 hours. The entire point of running was to be able to say I did it. But now that I'm done (2:14 was my official time), I am somewhat uneasy. I'm going to turn 40 this year, and this moment marked a turning point in my life, a mile marker so to speak. I had focused all of my training on finishing this race, and now it is done. I remember coming off the last over pass and seeing EPCOT unfolding in front of me and tears were coming off my face. I didn't fully realize that I was crying, as I just thought I was winded from the uphill side of the road.

Just the same, for fifteen to twenty minutes, I was more isolated than before and I began to go through all of the things I had begun in my life that I hadn't finished. Blogs, businesses, new ideas, writing projects, grant proposals, etc. many started through the years and many failed, some spectacularly. Or worse still, all the great amazing ideas conjured up late at night with friends and coffee that slowly piddled out and faded only to be picked up successfully by someone else. As I came to realize I was going to finish this race, I more and more began to see how quite old I was. The blogosphere is filled with inspirational stories of middle aged and older people finding themselves as runners and embracing their new lifestyle. Many of these stories begin with them discussing the poor or declining health and wishing for a way to increase their quality and length of life. For them, the finish was just the beginning of a new lifestyle with running the central focus. For me, I began to see this race with seminal focus as perhaps the one thing in last few years that I will have completed successfully.

As I came closer and closer to both the start and the finish of the race, I began to dwell on the future. Would this be the motivation I needed to complete the incomplete tasks of my life? Does this chapter close the past and suggest a new beginning of things I should try? Is it time for me to realize that at 40 my opportunities to have been more active would have payed far more dividend had they been started at 30 or 20? Does the end of this race represent the beginning of a life long love running, or the closing of something else I have tried and finished.

I refused to spend any money on running right up until the race. I bought a pair of shoes only when my knees complained loud enough to need them, and a new shirt when it was too cold to run in what I had. At the race I got caught up in the excitement and bought a shirt to run in so that I could have something to remember the race. I didn't want to invest in clothes, and tech, and running things just to stair at them as I sat around my house as I have with other things I have jumped into. So now what?

Well, two weeks after the Disney Halfathon I've run my second half marathon, the Clearwater Halfathon and shaved 30 seconds off each mile. I intend to keep running, but I don't know when I will let myself believe that I am an athlete. I want my kids to see what a healthy lifestyle looks like and I have registered us for the Gasparilla 5K and myself for the Gasparilla Half Marathon. I want to run the Disneyland Half Marathon, but it is not in the cards financially. Therefore, my Coast to Coast medal will have to wait until next year. In March when the 2011 Disney Marathon opens for registration, I have every intention of moving from the Half to the Full Marathon. I want that feeling next year of saying to myself, "I did it!"

If you've read this rambling passage this far, I hope you are inspired to finish whatever it is you have started. My birthday is in three months. I'm not at the weight I was hoping for, but I'm still trying. I've added 100 push ups to the list of things I want to be able to do as well as 200 sit ups. (Got the apps too baby!). My family encourages me and I hope they see my successes as theirs too.

I want to be better tomorrow than I am today.

- Eric