Thursday, August 22, 2013

The First Rule of Conventions

Please welcome Sandy to Take The Monorail! Sandy has three kids and has been visiting both Walt Disney World and Disneyland for years. She attended the D23 Expo, a fan convention, this month with her kids and offers up her experiences here for you. We look forward to regular contributions from Sandy to help you plan the perfect Disney vacation.

I was so excited when I found out I was going to be able to attend the D23 Expo in Anaheim this year. My kids, ages 10, 10 & 12 were excited too - all their favorite Disney Channel stars were scheduled to be there. I made sure they knew this was serious business. We had to be there early! Even earlier than when doors open. Like super early. I wanted to be one of the first in line so that we could make sure we hit all the things we wanted to do. For me that meant getting into one of the presentations and hopefully seeing some celebrities. For the boys, that meant the Waffl-inator Challenge and video games. For my daughter, it was all about Teen Beach Movie.

So as luck would have it, we had a family emergency in the middle of the night. We didn't have to cancel, but my golden rule of getting there early quickly changed to Rule #2: Roll with the punches!

We arrived at the expo around 2:00 that afternoon. I had already seen the updates about Angelina Jolie making an appearance, so that was one celebrity sighting missed. I did, however, catch a glimpse of Joey Fatone with the Live Well Network. On the plus side, we didn't have to wait in any long lines to enter. On the negative side, I did miss out on the cool Disney Aulani bags they were giving away that morning.

We easily found the Disney Channel stage in the middle of everything.  As we waited for Bridget Mendler to perform, my 12-year-old decided to check out the video games at the Disney Interactive main stage.  While he was playing the new Disney Infinity game and watching a fan play Fantasia: Music Evolved, we were learning to dance with Radio Disney.  Then Bridget Mendler took the stage for 2 songs - Eye of the Hurricane and Ready or Not.  (Side note - she really impressed me by starting the song over when she admitted she messed up the lyrics.  I have seen much more seasoned artists handle that situation much worse, so I do appreciate her being so candid). Next up was the long line to meet the stars of Good Luck Charlie and get autographs.  Luckily my kids were happy to skip that and go check out the booths in the Collectors' Forum.

Really cool (and expensive) chess set at the D23 Store

We started out with the silent auction items which included ride vehicles from the park attractions as well as old displays from the stores.  My kids quickly got bored with this and wanted to check out the toys!  This was about the time my oldest decided he wanted to start a Vinylmation collection.  I'm still kicking myself for not letting him buy the $5 ones that he could have picked out.  Instead he bought some at Downtown Disney later in the week for more than double that price, and he didn't know what he was getting until he bought it and opened the box.  I can see how this little hobby could become expensive!  Lesson learned: know something about what you're looking to collect so you can take advantage of a deal when you see it!

After looking around the collectors and vendors we made our way back over to the Disney Channel stage for R5 and found a perfect spot right between that and the Ridemakerz booth.  I could let the boys wait their turn for the remote controlled cars, and let my daughter save her spot for the music.  Unfortunately, once the artists came out people flooded around us from all directions and completely blocked her view.  We ended up backing way up just so she could see.  After that it was time to line up to meet the stars of Teen Beach Movie.  This is the main reason my daughter was there.  She gladly found the end of the line all the way over on the other side of the convention center and was happy at the prospect of waiting until we found out that you actually needed a wrist band to be guaranteed to meet the stars.  They had all been given out by 1:00, before we had even arrived.  Turns out this is catastrophic to a 10-year-old who has told all her friends she is going to meet movie stars.

We needed to find something to get her mind off Teen Beach Movie quickly, so after grabbing a couple of free beach balls we made our way to the back of the building to see the displays for The Muppets and Marvel. They had some Learn To Draw activities and a huge chalk wall that was a lot of fun. Also in this section were free manicures if you wanted to stand in line, and you could meet some Disney artists.  The most impressive line was for the Disney Store. After checking out all the goodies in the Disney Consumer Products section the kids decided that they'd had enough, didn't want to wait in any more lines, and were ready to go home.

All in all the D23 Expo was a fun event despite it being a bit crowded.  It was a great warm-up for us since we were gearing up for the parks that week.  I've learned from our park trips that, even when you have a good plan, something can always happen to throw a wrench in it.  It's best to stay adaptable and make the most of your time.  It doesn't hurt that there are cool things to look at literally around every corner, so it's not hard to find a new distraction.  If, however, you are there for something specific, you may want to refer back to the first rule - get there early!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Making Musical History At The D23 Expo

Normally here at Take The Monorail, our posts focus on planning the perfect trip to Walt Disney World and not as much on Disney Fandom as a whole. Today, we are going to stray from our normal program to talk about an event coming up this weekend in the Disney fan community because it is so special and so noteworthy. But never fear! We will still relate it all back to your perfect trip. Bear with us.

This Saturday, August 10, 2013, two men will take the stage together for the first time at the D23 Expo in Anaheim. The two men are, by their own rights, living legends in the history of the Walt Disney Company. The first gentleman is Richard M. Sherman, who, along with his brother Robert B. Sherman, composed some of the most famous and well-loved songs from both Disney movies and Disney theme parks. He worked with Walt himself to tell some of our favorite stories, including Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks to name a few. He also wrote music that still plays today in some of the theme parks' cornerstone attractions: The Enchanted Tiki Room, it's a small world, and Carousel of Progress. And he's still working even today, most recently contributing the song "Make Way for Tomorrow" to Iron Man 2.

The second gentleman is eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken. He has scored and contributed songs to many of Disney's more recent films and projects, including Tangled, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid. This only scratches the surface, though. Among many other projects, he also has a 2012 Tony Award® for Newsies, plus many other Broadway credits including Disney's productions of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and the upcoming stage production of Aladdin: The New Musical.

Alone, each of these gentlemen is a powerhouse of musical talent. And this weekend, they will come together for the first time to perform a concert for fans attending the D23 Expo. Although they represent different eras in Disney history, they are also fast friends and colleagues. Menken remembers being welcomed to Disney by Sherman, who he had looked up to all his life. Sherman recalls hearing Menken's music in the musical Little Shop of Horrors and loving it right away, citing "Suddenly Seymour" as a particular favorite. It is certain that their warm friendship and mutual respect will brighten the stage.

They promise an evening of well-known classics, storytelling, and some surprise gems from their "Disney Songbook." The concert will begin with Sherman, then Menken will take over, and then both men will converse, play, sing, and share memories and stories with the audience. Although they have not been forthcoming about the exact contents of the set list, it seems certain that there will be plenty of songs for any Disney fan to sing along to. And they promise a few surprises and treats as well.

So if you are fortunate enough to be at the D23 Expo this weekend, be sure to include this once-in-a-lifetime concert event in your plans. For those of us who cannot be there, we can continue to enjoy both men's music in our home movie collection, in theaters, and in the Disney Parks. The next time you visit Walt Disney World, as you sail through it's a small world and take in Mary Blair's artistic vision and classic masterpiece, give the Sherman brother's song another listen. We hear it so often now that it is easy to miss how well-written, catchy and positive it is. The same goes for the Enchanted Tiki Room and it's calypso, fun theme song that will stay in your head long past leaving that tropical hideaway. As you sing along with any and all of your Disney favorites, take a moment to reflect on the people who created that piece of the Disney magic.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Ahoy There, Mateys! The Pirate's Adventure Game Approaches on the Starboard Side!

Captain Jack Sparrow has been making acquaintances all over the Caribbean, and now YOU get to work with the famous pirate as he takes on treasure hunts all over Adventureland.

On our visit to Florida last week, my traveling party had the fantastic opportunity to play test the newest interactive game at Walt Disney World. A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasure of the Seven Seas combines the interactions with statues and other realia in Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure with the key card idea in Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. After getting briefed in the Enlistment Quarters near Pecos Bill and obtaining a talisman (key card), you grab a map corresponding to your assigned mission and head out to find clues and defeat enemies throughout Adventure Land. (We were discouraged from taking pictures inside the Enlistment Quarters, so I am sorry I cannot show you what it looks like on the inside here.)
The Enlistment Quarters, sign still covered and doors shut for the day.
Photo by Elizabeth Caran

Only two adventures were running when we played, and our first was The Guardian’s Curse. One of our party then played through The King’s Ransom while the others carried on to other fun in the park. However, because we are the curious sort, we also checked out the maps for three other adventures: Heads You Lose, Haven Defense, and Blackbeard. Each adventure has a unique map to help you find hot spots that you will need to complete your particular adventure. Each adventure also has you seeking a different treasure for a different friend, enemy, or ally. 

Maps and Talisman
Photo by Elizabeth Caran

One of many game stations spread around Adventureland.
Photo by Jeff Smith
The stations for the game are small but detailed and very cool with moving parts and engaging details. Instructions are simple and the whole family can play. As you follow the directions on the map and at the various stations, you trigger actions on items around you, usually by placing your Talisman over a specified mark on the station. The stations are limited to Adventureland, so you won't have to travel too far. Each adventure really only takes about fifteen minutes, so in the time it takes you to move through a queue and ride an attraction, you can complete one or two adventures!

Our party listening to the story, watching the compass,
and awaiting our next instructions.
Photo by Jeff Smith

When we finished playing, we were asked how we liked the game, how easy the maps were to read (the maps are styled like treasure maps and have a similar look to the Sorcerer map), and whether we would play again. We were told that the maps are not final and very well may change before the final adventures are released. We also have no idea how close to release they are. There was one key station that appears on all the maps that is not yet functioning. I am hoping from the look of it that it will dispense some sort of token, dubloon, or other collectible to prove you completed that mission. 

Our whole party found it engaging and fun. The only thing I would want to add is a collectible element as I mentioned above. Coins or dubloons would be the perfect little souvenir, and let’s face it... people love free stuff. I believe the talismans are all the same and would imagine that they will not let you play the same adventure twice on the same talisman, although that is pure supposition on my part. We don’t know how long the play test will go on, and I know it is not every day, as we walked by on the weekend and the Enlistment Quarters were closed. We also saw that many people passed it by as the pirate tried to lure them in to try the game. So if you have a chance, be sure to seize the opportunity to play!

This post also appeared at and is cross-posted here for your convenience.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Staying In Style - Deluxe Resorts

Disney's Deluxe Resorts are the Contemporary Resort, Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Polynesian Resort, Wilderness Lodge, Boardwalk Inn, Yacht Club Resort, Beach Club Resort, and Animal Kingdom Lodge. For the sake of consolidation, we'll also include the Villa Resorts in this post, which are part of Disney's timeshare program called the Disney Vacation Club. Villas offer larger accomodations that can include up to three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a full kitchen. These resorts are Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort, Disney's Boardwalk Villas, The Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge, Disney's Beach Club Villas, Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas (Jambo House or Kidani Village), Disney's Old Key West, and Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa. The latter three are resorts that are exclusively villas while the others are sort of extensions of Deluxe Resorts. All of these are Disney's highest priced resorts and you will find that they are highly themed and designed with luxury in mind. They boast extra amenities that range from prime locations (some are on the monorail line), fantastic pools (Yacht and Beach Club have a water park with a sandy-bottom pool and a tremendous slide), and two even have full-service spas.

As in our previous posts on the Value Resorts and Moderate Resorts, I will not cover basic amenities and room sizes for you. The official Disney site will give you a basic overview, and then can give you the finer details. If you prefer print, the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and the Passporter guide both have excellent resort overviews. Instead, let's once again look at the pros and cons of these resorts for families. Your "pro" may be my "con," so take them as the opinions they are and hopefully they will still help you decide if a Deluxe Resort is best for you.

Pros To Staying At A Deluxe Resort

  • Location, Location, Location! - If you want a resort within walking distance of a park, it will be a Deluxe Resort. The Grand Floridian, Polynesian and Contemporary are all on the monorail providing easy access to both Magic Kingdom and Epcot. The Contemporary (and Bay Lake Towers) are within a fairly easy walk to Magic Kingdom as well and all the monorail resorts have rooms with views of the Magic Kingdom. Boardwalk, Beach Club, and Yacht Club are all an easy walk from World Showcase at Epcot. They are also a longer, but doable walk from Disney's Hollywood Studios and they have an active nightlife integrated into the area, including restaurants, nightclubs, and shops. The Animal Kingdom isn't so much close to the Animal Kingdom Park (although it's not far), but it also incorporates that park into it's theming, with wild animals literally strolling through your backyard.
  • Room Size - These are the biggest rooms on property, and even in the standard room (as opposed to a Villa), you have ample space for storage, sleeping, and hanging out. They have balconies, which are often a lovely feature to have after the kids are asleep and you want to actually hold a conversation with your significant other.
  • Bed Size - Queen-size beds are standard in the Deluxe resorts (as opposed to double beds in the Value Resorts). There are also rooms with King beds if you have an infant in a Pack and Play or if you decide to leave the kids with grandma and take a grown-ups only trip.
  • Refrigerators and Kitchen Facilities - Mini-fridges are standard in Deluxe Resorts. Villas that are one, two, or three-bedroom have full kitchens and a washer/dryer set, while studio villas have a microwave and mini-fridge only.
  • Architecture - I wasn't sure what else to call this, but basically, these resorts are the top-of-the-line in the design and theming end. The lobby at Wilderness Lodge will take your breath away. The opulence of the Grand Floridian is stunning. And walking into the Polynesian is just like you've left the beautiful state of Florida and stepped right into Hawaii. If you are going to Disney World to lose yourself in the fantasy and forget about the real world, a Deluxe Resort is a perfect place for that. Mind you, to be fair, the Moderates and Values also have an "other-worldly" quality that provide fabulous escape as well.
  • Amazing Pools - So amazing, in fact, that some of them are marketed as water parks, and not without reason. Slides, freestyle shapes, zero-entry, and other gimmicks make these places worth your time outside the parks. If you decide to stay in a Deluxe Resort, make a strong effort to set aside some time to enjoy the pools.
  • Interior Entrances - The Deluxe Resorts are the only level of resort that has a main entrance with interior access to all rooms. This is, in my opinion, the safest way to go. Although the main doors are by no means completely secure, they are visible to staff at all times and there are no dark corners for potential criminals to lurk in.
  • Food Choices - The Deluxe Resorts have some of the best dining options on property and offer all types of choices, from snacks to quick service to upscale dining. Although all properties afford some dining choices that will ensure you won't starve, the Deluxe resorts offer restaurants that are unique enough to draw people to them from all over the Walt Disney World property. In fact, if you decide that a Deluxe resort is not in your budget, I highly recommend eating at one or two of their restaurants. The food and service will be excellent, and you will get a chance to poke around the lobby and grounds of these luxurious resorts.

Cons To Staying At A Deluxe Resort
  • Cost - Standard room rates for these resorts can start as low as $240 and go up from there. Way up. At Christmas, the regular rate for a room at the Polynesian can soar to just under $900 a night. Old Key West is generally considered the least expensive Villa Resort, and those rooms (standard rate) range from a Studio for $295 in the least expensive season to almost $1700 per night for a three-bedroom during the holiday. Of course, there are often discounts and other specials that could save you some money on these rates, but this at least gives you an idea of where to place them in cost.
  • Formality - Although the grand architecture and luxurious setting may please your adult sensibilities, your children might really prefer the whimsy of the Value Resorts. They are far more playful in tone than the stately Grand Floridian, which may remind them more of Aunt Nancy's house where they aren't allowed to sit on the furniture or touch anything.
So there are my pros and cons to the Deluxe resorts. What are yours? We love to hear from you in our comments!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Silly Shot: Choose Your Own Adventure

Jen H. enjoying a thrilling time on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority

This week's Silly Shot is a little bit different from the rest because it really doesn't focus on one location or even one park. Instead it features a way to turn normal attractions into thrilling ones. Just simply act like you are on a roller coaster! The pose works great for the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, the Monorail, any of the transportation boats, even the parking trams!

Just have fun creating your own thrills!

Do you have a photo of you and your family creating your own adventure? Post them on Scrapping the Magic or on our Facebook page page!