Wednesday morning – our last pre-Convention park day – and we were headed to the kids’ second favorite park – Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We were in line waiting before park opening, and has become the practice at DHS, instead of a “rope drop,” they picked a seemingly random time between 8:30 a.m. and the scheduled 9:00 a.m. park opening and started letting people through the turnstiles. We were pursuing patented divide-and-conquer DHS rope drop plan of attack. As soon as we were through the turnstiles, I headed to the right with all of our tickets to grab Toy Story Midway Mania Fastpasses. Miriam and the kids headed left to get signed up for Jedi Training Academy. Usually, we meet back up at the TSMM line to ride standby. But instead of getting a text teling me which JTA show the kids were signed up for, the text just said, “uh, oh.” The folks doing the signups for JTA said that Mikaela could not participate in the show in a wheelchair. She was crushed. She loves to perform and looks forward to JTA almost as much as her favorite ride (Tower of Terror). We went ahead and signed Jon up for a later JTA time, and headed back toward Toy Story with Mikaela in tears.
Mikaela, Jon and I rode Toy Story while Miriam went on a mission to find some consolation for Mikaela. As we rode, Miriam confirmed that Mikaela could sing for a judge at American Idol Experience, even though she was too young to perform on the stage. We caught MuppetVision 3D together (and made a brief stop for Mikaela to have her picture taken with Phineas and Ferb, since there was no line). Then we split up and I took Mikaela to sing for an AI judge and Miriam and Jon headed for Star Tours and then JTA check-in. Even though it wasn’t on stage, Mikaela really loved getting to sing for a judge. I wish I’d recorded it. She sang Taylor Swift’s “Mean,” and really nailed it. The judge was very nice and encouraged her to continue singing and to come back to audition when she was old enough, and Mikaela was very pleased with that outcome.
After AI, Mikaela and I worked our way back toward the JTA stage. Jon was in the pre-show meeting, so Mikaela and I rode Star Tours together. We experienced a brief Star Tours 101, but they moved us all to another Starspeeder and we were only delayed a few minutes (and Mikaela officially broke her streak of being the Rebel Spy magnet. The last three times in a row she’d ridden Star Tours, the person sitting next to her had been the Rebel spy). We got off the ride just in time for Jon’s JTA show, and afterwards we all rode Star Tours again together.
Host: Aaron Rittmaster
Panelists: Scott Henney; Brad Coates; Don Donfris
In Episode 64, the panel members talk about their favorite scheduled performances at Walt Disney World.
Which Walt Disney World shows and parades are your families’ favorites?
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Our first theme park day, January 8, 2013, and we started it out right at rope drop in the Magic Kingdom.
1. We got across the Lagoon from ‘Ohana via monorail in time to catch the Welcome Show – to me, that show is what says, “Welcome to Walt Disney World.” I love when I can catch one of the kids in a moment like this, when they don’t realize I’m taking a picture. Jon was reaching out and waving to Stitch in the Welcome Show. Our plan for the day called for us to knock out the slowest-loading attractions first. We started at the Tomorrowland Speedway (despite my best efforts, I still can’t convince the kids to skip it). It does crack me up, watching Jon peer over the steering wheel to drive. Next was Peter Pan’s Flight and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, followed by snagging Fastpasses for Journey of the Little Mermaid. We got in line for Enchanted Tales with Belle just in time. Even getting in line by 9:30 a.m., we had a good 40 minute wait. Had we waited until 10 a.m., the wait would have been well over an hour.
2. Even had the wait at Enchanted Tale with Belle been an hour, it would have been worth it. Yes, it’s a glorified meet and greet – but with extra glory! The queue itself is well-themed, even the outdoor part. And it gets better when you get to the covered area. The theming and details aren’t in-your-face, if you just relax and absorb it, you really do feel transported into the film. Once you enter the cottage, it’s full of terrific details – sketches of Maurice’s inventions and the like. But my favorite is Belle’s book on the table, complete with a bite taken out of a few pages by the goat in the movie.
The animatronics and theatrics in the next three areas are all fantastic. First, the magic mirror effect is done beautifully – even though I knew it was coming, I was still impressed. In the next room, the Wardrobe animatronic is excellent – she’s large and so lifelike when she speaks. She invites people to participate in the retelling of the show. Mikaela volunteered readily, but Jon decided to sit that part out. Mikaela was in a wheelchair, and she was assigned the role of Maurice. That was a perfect fit – she held up the cardboard bars in front of herself in her chair (and hammed it up, shivering and coughing just like Maurice did in the movie). The story part is narrated by yet another fantastic animatronic. The Lumiere animatronic looks amazingly delicate and moves so smoothly, it’s hard to believe that it’s a glorified robot. The PhotoPass photographer got pictures of all of the participants with Belle. In my opinion, they still need some work on this part – the room is not well-lit, and the photographer needs to do a better job of compensating for that. Most of the pictures we got are useless. But do be forewarned – this is not a meet & greet photo op for shy children. If you’re not in the show, you don’t meet Belle and you don’t get your picture taken with her (but they will find a part for anyone who wants one). Also, Belle does not sign autographs during the photo session – they have to keep it moving. That line is long enough as it is. If you want to ensure a picture and autograph from Belle, you’re better off meeting her at Princess Storybook Dining at Akershaus in Norway in Epcot.
3. Next, we used our FastPasses for Voyage of the Little Mermaid. I do think it’s a nice addition to Fantasyland. It appeals to all ages, and does a good job of retelling the story. It was nice to see Disney build a new audio-animatronic-laden attraction. But I have to admit while the scale of the attraction is impressive, I was disappointed in its scope. Too many of the AA figures were overly simplistic, with repetitive motions that were already old hat when Pirates of the Caribbean was being installed. And the Ursula AA wasn’t nearly as menacing as she should have been at the end. Next up was supposed to be Big Thunder Mountain, but we had to adjust our plan because the ride was down when we arrived. I felt bad for the cast member trying to explain to the Brazilian tour guide waving around a 2-inch-thick stack of Fastpasses that her group was just going to have to come back, because the ride wasn’t operating. Instead, we grabbed some lunch at Pecos Bill’s. We headed back to Big Thunder after lunch, and everything was back up and running as normal. Jon definitely enjoyed coasters more this trip. It was clear at that point that everyone was tired, so we hit Pirates of the Caribbean on the way out of the park for an afternoon break. Of course that meant walking right past Aloha Isle, so we made a Dole Whip pit stop too.
On our first night in Walt Disney World, none of us slept well. I think it’s pretty clear that this was our last regular Value Resort room stay. As much as we love Pop Century, the four of us in two double beds is just too crowded. It didn’t help that I was stressing about the Convention – it was one of those nights that I just could get my brain to shut down. Add on top of that the usual dollop of first day of Disney parks excitement, and I think I got about 3 hours of sleep. 😕
Our morning was starting early anyway – we had a 7:30 a.m. breakfast appointment with Lilo, Stitch, Mickey and Pluto! I’ve been wanting to do a (non-Princess) character meal since our very first trip. But Jonathan is EXTREMELY character shy. It’s not that he’s afraid, he’ll look at them from afar. He just doesn’t like them getting near him. But there’s one exception – he LOVES Stitch. So when we were planning this trip, I talked to him about the possibility of breakfast with Stitch, and he was willing to tolerate other characters being around, in exchange for getting to have breakfast with Stitch.
I really like the Best Friends’ Breakfast at ‘Ohana. The experience starts with a family photo, taken at check-in. It’s a nice photo, with a Polynesian backdrop. But I was a bit disappointed that the photo didn’t include any of the characters, like the pre-meal photos at the princess meals do. The food is relatively standard Disney breakfast fare – scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, sausage and bacon, fruit and Mickey waffles. But a couple of the offerings are unique (or nearly so). First, they serve POG juice (passion fruit, orange, and guava juice), to which we’d become addicted in the Concierge Lounge at the Polynesian a few years ago. And they serve the ‘Ohana pineapple/coconut bread, which is excellent.
I appreciate that this meal is served family-style, instead of as a buffet. Buffets are such a hassle when traveling with kids – taking turns going up through the line, the inevitable back-up at popular items, and (at a character meal) constantly looking over your shoulder to make sure you don’t miss a character coming by. Being served family style meant that we all got to stay at our table together and both the food and the characters came to us. Our waitress did a good job of keeping our table stocked with fresh Mickey waffles and making sure that we had what we needed (though she was a bit slow with the much-needed coffee). I’d meant to ask if we could get a press pot from across the way at Kona, but was thwarted by the paradox that I needed caffeine so badly that morning that I forgot to ask for the good caffeine.
‘Ohana did a great job accommodating our special dietary needs. Miriam and the kids don’t eat pork (but I do). So they brought out turkey bacon for them, and still kept my own personal bacon and sausage plate filled. The chef gets bonus points for initially promising to substitute chicken sausage for the usual pork sausage, and then coming back out to the table to apologize and tell us that he’d checked and the chicken sausage has a pork casing. He gets credit for both going the extra mile to double-check the sausage casing and for personally coming out to apologize, instead of leaving that to our waitress to handle.
We were pleased with the amount of time that each of the characters spent at our table. Lilo, Mickey, and Pluto all did their best to get Jon to allow them to come near, but by the time Pluto came by (he was the last one out) Jon was just about hiding under the table. Overall, the Best Friends’ Breakfast at ‘Ohana was a terrific experience, and I expect that we’ll be back. In addition to the meal and characters being good, the pricing is remarkably reasonable. At only $21/adult and $11/child, it is one of the least expensive character meals in all of Walt Disney World. Good Food, Good Experience, Good Price – it’s hit the DISDad Trifecta!
By 8:30 a.m. we were finished with breakfast and were making our way across the Lagoon via the Resort Monorail to the Magic Kingdom.
(Next up: New Fantasyland and Conquering Mountains)