Monday, February 28, 2011

Our Dream Disney Vacation - Day Seven - Part Two

It was finally time for our FASTPASS window for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. You might remember that this was my mother-in-law's first roller coaster earlier in the trip and she fell in love with it. This time on the ride I made sure to sit in front of Matt and Diane so I could get great pictures of them riding! They turned out even better than I could have imagined. You can just see how excited Diane was and how much she laughed throughout the whole ride!

All of the coaster riding caused us to work up an appetite. Previously I had scoped out my favorite counter service restaurant in Magic Kingdom, Columbia Harbour House. We agreed it was the perfect place to grab lunch. The place was absolutely packed and we seemed to wait in line forever. The group in front of us had at least a ten person order. And they couldn't seem to decide what they heck everyone would want. We ordered quickly after them and then waited for our food. The large group had a few representatives that waited in line while the rest of them got a table. Once their food arrived in front of them they decided to trade out half of the drinks and desserts for something else. This was getting irritating for us to listen to and I'm sure even more upsetting to the cast members tending to these idiots with half functioning brains. The mom of the group had previously gotten out of line but now chose to PUSH her way past us in the very small and barred off waiting line. No excuse me or anything. At first we excused her obscene behaviour but the second time she came back to grab more trays and argue with the cast members, I let out a heavy sigh and Matt gave her the evil eye and politely explained that there was an "exit" line that she should have used. The big bad Brazilian men she was there with began to jump up Matt's rear for repremanding one of their women. At this point Matt got snippy back and the men (and woman) exchanged some unkind words. Finally I grabbed Matt's arm and asked him to just ignore them because it was doing no good. Finally the unpleasant foreigners got the heck out of there but not without cussing us out as they were walking away.

The important part now is the food! I got my usual Lighthouse Sandwich (hummus and slaw) while Matt enjoyed the tuna sandwich and our moms ordered the BLT Salad. I also ordered the clam chowder because I'm a clam chowder fiend. Everyone really really enjoyed their food. You get so much for your money at this restaurant. A tip I have is to remember that there is upstairs seating. It's often much less busy and more quiet upstairs.

We decided to leave Magic Kingdom at this point but not before we did a little browsing on Main Street. While the moms looked around in the Emporium, Matt and I went to the nice jewelry store on the opposite side of the street. I went nuts! Everything in there is so gorgeous!! I found so many things for my house that I would love to have some day when I can afford to splurge on "nice" things. I saw a necklace in the middle case that made my jaw drop. It was stunning. We were curious how much it was. Not that we were looking to buy anything but we were just curious. Instead of a cast member approaching us asking if we'd like to see anything we were ignored. One woman looked right at us and then turned away. Matt said, "Excuse me, we'd like to see something." She didn't even speak she just opened the case and grabbed out the necklace and said, "It's $2,500." I wasn't terribly surprised. It didn't matter to me. I just wanted to see the piece up close. The crotchety cast member said, "Is that all?" We thanked her and then turned away with a nasty taste in our mouth. Clearly she didn't think that WE of all people could afford something so nice. I've never had a cast member made me feel so inferior. Makes me not want to return to that store until I am truly prepared to shell out some major cash.

After we met up with our moms and dragged them out of the Emporium, we noticed that the mid-day parade was starting so we decided to watch it right where it comes out onto Main Street.

Back at the Polynesian Resort we grabbed dole whips from Captain Cook's and then headed to the room to relax and freshen up. After a bit we headed towards the TTC and stopped at the Great Ceremonial House on the way. I took some pictures and an amazingly nice CM offered to snap a group picture of us! It turned out to be our favorite photo of all of us from the whole vacation.

The gang made the walk to the TTC and hopped the monorail for Epcot. Right away we did Spaceship Earth since it was basically a walk on at this point in the afternoon. I know I previously reported that we figured out how to get the surfboard in the interactive portion of the ride but really, it wasn't until THIS DAY that we figured it out. I got it all mixed up in my head. :) These pictures are priceless.

It was so joyous to finally get the surfboards. I'd been trying for years. Anyway... we decided that we had quite a bit of time to kill before our dinner reservation so we stopped at Club Cool to wet our whistles. Had to of course experience the Beverly again. Ahh... that wretched thing. Then we made our way around the World Showcase... starting in Canada and walking around to Mexico. Our only F&WF stop was for Matt and I to get a spicy tuna roll from Japan. Delicious!!

I do believe we made a stop at Norway to ride Maelstrom. I love me some trolls. After all... I am 1/4 Norwegian. My husband is very jealous that I am part viking.
Our reservation at La Hacienda was for 8:15 p.m. I think. We killed some time at the Mexico pavillion and then walked over across the way to the restaurant and checked in at the podium outside. I requested a table by the windows and was assured every table had a great view. This was the first day that this new restaurant accepted reservations. We got inside right away without any waiting. The greeting staff was really outstanding and insanely nice. We sat down for no more than 2 minutes inside of the lobby/entrance before our table was ready. We were led into this gorgeous main room with huge windows. I was so excited until we turned a corner into a smaller, virtually windowless portion of the restaurant. We were seated by a window alright. A very very small window that we'd have to turn our backs to to even see it. To see OUT of it you'd have to stand up and lean over another table. For some reason we were the rejects because no one else was seated in this section at all. Just us. Did they think we said that we DIDN'T want to have a view of the wate

Instead of complaining about the table and requesting something else we just sat down. I regret doing this now because it would have been much more magical of a dining experience in the main room.

Our waitress was a very sweet younger gal that took our drink orders while we looked over the menu. Matt and I pretty much decided instantly to splurge and get the Del Mar. It's a mix of grilled seafood with vegetables, beans, and rice. Meant to be shared by 2 people. The menu was quite small and my mom had a hard time figuring out what to order because everything seemed a little too authentic for her liking. She's a pretty picky eater as it is. We had to ask the waitress was some of the items were specifically so mom could figure out if she'd eat it or not. She decided to get the Puerco en Salsa My mother-in-law, Diane, got Pollos al Pastor... marinated chicken. The chips and salsa we were served right away were delicious! I love new and interesting salsas and both were very good but quite different. Neither were crazy hot.

The food came out in record time and it all smelled amazing. Matt and I really enjoyed what we shared. Would I pay $50 for it if we were outside of WDW? No. But, it was good for what it was and it was enough to fill us both up though we didn't have any left behind. I personally loved the scallops the best. But, I love scallops more than life itself so.... I'm a bad judge. The roasted corn was easily our favorite side.

See that tiny window beside that table?  THAT was suppose to be our view of the water.  Well, I took the picture from where I was sitting (turned around) and let me tell you it wasn't a view of anything.  Our moms were on the other side of the table and they couldn't see out the window at all basically.  There was another section around the corner from our small area that was equally tiny and it had absolutely no window.  It faced into the larger main room.

This area looked so much more fun.  If we decide to return we'll for sure be demanding a seat in here.

After dinner we checked out the new Duffy bears and corresponding outfits in a nearby gift shop.  I definitely think Disney is reaching for some extra money with this one.  Duffy basically "represents" all of the countries.  Sort of World Showcase's mascot.  Do I think that World Showcase needs a mascot?  Heck no!  That being said... I understand the appeal to old women who collect bears or young kids that love stuffed animals with matching clothes.  He's cute... I'll give him that.

After we left Epcot we grabbed the monorail back to the Polynesian Resort and had a painfully long walk to our longhouse.  Matt and I changed into some warmer clothes and headed down to the beach to enjoy our last night.  We shared a dole whip from Captain Cooks and found a nice place to relax on the beach.  We watched Wishes and heard the music that was piped in for resort guests to hear.  It was hard to think that this was our last night and we'd have to leave for cold Michigan the next afternoon. 

All in all it was a dreamy magical trip.  We may never get to stay at the Polynesian again in our lives but we can say we did it once.  We felt like the luckiest and most blessed family that week.  Dreams can and do come true. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Disney Parks Attraction Cast Member Interview - Ashley

On a trip to Walt Disney World in October of 2009, I participated in Disney's Hollywood Studios' attraction "The American Idol Experience." When I was checking in for my show I met an AIE cast member, Ashley. We had a memorable little conversation about fashion and then that was the last time I thought I'd see her. Months later I got a message on Facebook from Ashley! She happened upon a photo of me doing American Idol Experience and remembered my performance and decided to say 'hi.'  Ever since then we've kept in touch and Ashley is actually going to be my touring companion in a week when I'm down at WDW.
I decided to interview Ashley on what it's like being an attractions cast member at WDW. Big thanks to Ashley for participating!

Stacey: Where are you from and what drew you to being employed by Disney?

Ashley: I'm from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  I moved to Orlando to work for Disney after a trip I had with my friends and I absolutely fell in love with WDW.  I've been plenty of times before but not for at least 10 years because after we got older we never wanted to go to Disney because it was for "little kids."  We wanted Universal and Busch Gardens for the thrill rides and roller coasters.  But that first time walking down Main Street, being 17 years old, I have never felt so much like a little kid before in my life.  I had one of the best times of my life and didn't want to give it up.  So I came up to Orlando and worked for the company.  On June 5 will be 3 years that I've been with the Disney Company.

Stacey: It's so interesting that you learned to appreciate WDW until you were basically an adult. I love how you knew you just HAD to work for the company and be a part of the magic. What attractions have you worked at in your three years with Disney?

Ashley: I've worked at Jungle Cruise, Soarin', American Idol Experience, and Space Mountain.  My favorite so far has been American Idol.  Even though you don't operate a ride, you have so much free time to interact with guests, wander around and make Magical Moments, and just the fact the we were in Hollywood favorite park.  Then come 3 o'clock we didn't have a show so we had a blast watching Block Party Bash when it was still there.  I think AIE is great.  It really does make the guests feel like stars.  Though it does take a lot of your day up and it's not as popular as it should be.  It's definitely a great experience.  Not to mention I met an AWESOME girl named Stacey!

Stacey: Aww, thanks!  Sounds like you've sort of had a taste of all different types of attractions.  I agree, American Idol Experience is seriously underrated. Well, that and all of Disney's Hollywood Studios.  Tell me, what is the best and worst parts about being an attractions cast member?

Ashley: The absolute best part of working attractions is seeing how the rides operate.  The whole backstage scenes of an attraction blows my mind every time I see it.  Being a guest who has never worked on a ride, you don't ever think how your carriage is lifted into the air over an IMAX screen to feel like your flying or actually seeing how big the IMAX screen is and being able to stand in the middle of it.  Or even how your rocket gets you into space and how many thousands and thousands of guest a day we're able to put through the rides.  Being able to see a kid who's so excited for his first roller coaster ride, or surprising people with FASTPASSES for no reason, and just the fact that I can say that I've worked on some of the most popular/well known rides in the world.  The people you meet, cast and guests, having friends from all over the world... it's something I'll always cherish and never forget.

Now the worst part of working attractions is FASTPASS. I think it's a great concept but... it causes drama. Guests don't understand that we can't let you come back with your 9:30 p.m. FASTPASS at 1 in the afternoon, or a 4 month old FASTPASS that you forgot to use last time you were here. If we let everyone in with old, later time, or lost FASTPASSES, the FASTPASS queue would be two hours long and standby would be waiting 4 hours. You would be surprised how many guests ask every few minutes about that and how they think their the only ones who are doing it. The other worst part of working attractions is New Years Eve...need I say more? Absolutely crazy.

Stacey: I really had NO idea that many people attempted to use invalid FASTPASSES. Ridiculous! Hopefully with the new FASTPASS features that they're going to implement in the future these troublesome guests will be limited. But, I'm sure the “bad seeds” are far and few between compared to genuinely happy and thankful guests. Do you have a magical guest moment that sticks out in your mind?

Ashley: My favorite guest memory is with this family who I will never forget. I was working Soarin' and I got a party of about 8.  As I'm bringing the family into the theater to their seats, the little boy was pointing to the signs that are telling you to remain seated with your hands inside.  But, he was pointing to the sign and saying, "Mommy, no dancing! No dancing!"  I've never laughed so hard!  I started to give the little boy a hard time for it.  When their flight landed, I went in the theater and asked if they would like to ride again and of course they said yes.  While they were waiting for their flight I did the pre-show safety spiel but added, "We would like to remind you at Soarin' there is no dancing."  All I could hear was them laughing!  They took pictures with me and I gave them FASTPASSES which they used for Soarin' again.  One of the greatest families ever and I hope I run into them again.  A few months later a friend showed me a blog where the mother actually posted the story and the picture!

Stacey: I think cast members are the driving force behind the Disney parks' success. Making every guest feel special at some point is what keeps people coming back. As a guest you don't just feel like a body through the gate but rather a human being looking for an amazing vacation experience. Everyone deserves that. You mentioned earlier that your favorite park is the Studios. Why is that?

Ashley:  I love the whole 1930s - "The Hollywood That Never Was.” I always get so excited walking down Sunset Blvd. Every time I go I always find something different that I haven't seen before. Like the well next to the Indiana Jones show, or Eddie Valiant's office. Personally I think DHS has the best shows and rides. My favorite ride is Tower of Terror. I love the theming... from the lobby to the basement and the casts costumes. No matter how many times I've been on it, it still scares me. I had the opportunity to go on the roof of Tower of Terror and that is such an amazing view! And very scary! You can actually feel the elevators dropping below your feet!

Stacey: I totally agree with you about all of the details that many people pass in the Studios. Do you happen to have a favorite restaurant to eat at when you're not working hard at Space Mountain?

Ashley: BOMA!! I feel like everyone should agree with me on this one. I'm not one for buffets but... Oh My God. Coconut rice, salmon, hummus, pork, ZEBRA DOMES, and bread pudding. Personally I love that they put french fries on the buffet also because Disney has the best fries. I can't wait to go back!

Stacey: Soon enough, Ashley. Soon enough.  Now, Disney World goes through many changes every year.  Some big and some small, seemingly insignificant alterations.  What are some things that you would change about the parks if you could?

Ashley: If I could change anything I would bring back Block Party Bash and Spectromagic. I want the Year Of A Million Dreams back also. That was an awesome promotion for the company. I would also take out Stitch's Great Escape. Turkey legs would be prohibited. And Fantasmic would go back to being every night.

Stacey: Fantasmic DOES need more show times! It's hands down my favorite nighttime show in all of WDW.  Lastly, and this is an important question... Have you ever seen any celebrities in the parks?

Ashley:  Yes, so many!  Michael Phelps, David Tutera, Mandy Moore, Jodi Benson, Rhianna, Ryan Seacrest, Megan Fox, and tons of athletes.  I can't even name them all.

Thank you so much, Ashley for chatting with me about your employment with the Disney company. Have fun in the parks and keep spreadin' the magic!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Our Dream Disney Vacation - Day Seven - Part One

Our last full park day was upon us and we wanted to start the day off right at the Magic Kingdom. We made it to the park via monorail plenty enough in time for park opening. We were right up with the rope waiting to get in with all of the other impatient people. Prime time to take a picture of my husband. :)

Since we had already done the big headlining attractions, we decided to walk straight though the castle and head to Fantasyland. Only... there was a problem. They weren't letting people walk through the castle for some reason so we had to walk around through Tomorrowland. There seemed to be something "official" looking going on in front of the castle. Of course I was a creeper and took pictures.

Once we were in the beautiful Fantasyland we were smart and hit Dumbo right away since we knew that line was going to build quickly. Even though we were there almost right away, we still waited about 10 minutes in line.

After Dumbo we happened to spot an AMAZING meet and greet going on with Cinderella's step-mother and step-sisters. Girls were lookin' fly! I told them that they better keep their hands off Matt because he was taken. :) This was one of my favorite character experiences EVER!

It was time to get our Fantasyland on. We hit up Mickey's Philharmagic for the second time on this trip, Peter Pan's Flight, and Snow White's Scary Adventures. We browsed the little kitchen store going into Liberty Square before we headed to Haunted Mansion. We hadn't gotten to do this yet because every other time we were in MK it was so busy! We didn't want to wait 45 minutes for it. This time it was only a 10 minute wait so we easily accepted that invitation to go hang with some friendly ghosts.

We knew that we wanted to do Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain again before the end of the trip. The line was a little too long for BTMR for our taste so we grabbed FastPasses and then went to Adventureland. We enjoyed yet another crowded ride on Pirates of the Caribbean. As we were getting out of our boats at the end of the ride we saw the tallest man I'm sure any of us have ever seen in real life. The cast member working the attraction was like 7 feet I'm sure. Just as I was staring awkwardly he spoke to me and asked if Captain Jack was working in the last scene. He wasn't working so I told the giant 'no.'

Outside of Pirates the Pirate Tutorial show with Captain Jack was starting so we watched it for about five minutes. Some kid got really into it and freaked us out a little. Though, I have to be honest that I don't think he had all of his marbles if you know what I mean.

It still wasn't time for our FastPasses so we walked over by the Crystal Palace so Matt could use the potty. Everyone felt like a snack was in order so we went to Main Street Bakery where we were met by a huge line of people. No surprise there. This place rules Main Street U.S.A.

Our decision of what to order was not easy. It never is. Eventually we all found something that tripped our trigger. There was absolutely no seating anywhere inside of the bakery so we snagged a table outside by The Plaza's entrance.

We were fortunate enough to catch a little bit of the parade passing by. I could only get a few pictures of The Incredibles as they passed. After our sweet treats were devoured we walked by to Adventureland and enjoyed the Enchanted Tiki Room, Swiss Family Treehouse, and per Matt's request... Jungle Cruise. He learned what a snoozefest Jungle Cruise is and promised that we'd never have to do it again unless we were totally bored and out of other things to do.

While strolling back through Frontierland we saw Donald Duck and just had to get a photo with him.  We roamed around in some of the shops in Frontierland and I actually could not remember the last time I even set foot in some of those stores.  I'm not a big souvenir person but it is always fun to see what kinds of goodies Disney sells.  A first for me on this trip was visiting Country Bear Jamboree.  I see now why I was never drawn to it.  It was kind of a boring.  Though the little baby bears pulled at my heart strings.