Friday, May 28, 2010

Dining Reservations Complete...for now...

My wife called back yesterday to alter one of our reservations, and found out that the first agent she got was not correct, and if you were a.) staying at a Disney resort, or b.) a DVC member (both true for us), you can make your reservations for your entire stay starting 180 days before the FIRST day of your arrival.

So we did get a reservation at Le Cellier, a 7pm table time for the night before we leave to come home. Other reservations include a breakfast at Chef Mickey's, lunch at both the Brown Derby and at the Yak and Yeti, and dinner at Sanaa in our hotel.
We also have a dinner reservation at the 50's Prime Time Cafe (same day as lunch at the Brown Derby). And we found out that our reservation at California Grill should give us prime fireworks viewing at the Magic Kingdom. we have all that to look forward to...


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Disney Dining and other stuff...


Our 180 day window for making our Disney dining reservations has opened. Actually we thought we would be able to book all of our reservations, but we are too early for the later days of the trip. So...we wanted to go to Le Cellier on our first night there. But alas, it is not to be. Le Cellier has no availability for that Saturday.

We're only about 2 or 3 days past the day when one could make such a reservation, but I guess it books up fast. We were actually sort of shocked. We've made reservations there before at less than 180 days (considerably less, actually) and while we might not get the exact time we wanted, we've generally been able to get in at some point on the DAY we've desired. I know it's small, and I know it's popular.!

So we're going to try Coral Reef on our first night. When we were last there, my wife got so sick that she doesn't remember much about it, and consequently, neither do I. What I do remember about it was that my food was pretty good and our service was outstanding that night. So we'll see how it is this time. We've also got reservations for California Grill and Boma (for breakfast). We'll be getting the other ones in line in the next couple of days.


We're going to be traveling to New York City this summer, and we've booked one Broadway show. Bet you can't figure out which show it is.

Did you guess Mary Poppins? If so, you got it right. We've seen it in Chicago, but we needed something kid-friendly and we all loved it when we saw it at the Cadillac Theater in Chicago. I'm looking forward to seeing the theater that Disney renovated there. I'm sure it will be incredible!


For my birthday my sister-in-law gave me two tickets to the musical Billy Elliot, which was playing at Chicago's Oriental Theater, another beautifully restored venue in the Second City. I didn't know what to expect, and I felt like it started off slow, but it turned into an engrossing story about a boy from a coal-mining family who has an aptitude for and a love of dance, specifically ballet. This is set against the historical backdrop of the coal-miners' strike in (I believe) the 1970's.

A young man from my hometown had one of the main parts. His name was Patrick Mulvey and I know his father and his aunt quite well, having gone to high school with them. I was glad to see Patrick (who I don't know) do so well.

I know this was a movie, but I had never seen it. It's hard to imagine it as anything but a musical. Elton John did a terrific job with the music.


Last year I wrote a post about Kiddieland, one of the nation's oldest amusement parks, closing due to a dispute between two sides of the family. The owners of the park had wanted to sell the rides as a package, hoping that someone would see fit to open another incarnation of Kiddieland in some other location. I guess they were not successful in finding a buyer. But I heard recently, then saw an ad today, that Six Flags Great America had bought their old wooden roller coaster, called the Little Dipper. I don't know where they are putting it, but I'm sure it will look really nice with maybe a fresh coat of paint and some good maintenance.


We're going to visit Michigan's Adventure soon, with their collections of smaller coasters and other rides. I'll post something about how that park looks this year after our visit.


Have a great Memorial Day!


Thursday, May 20, 2010

THE RED PYRAMID by Rick Riordan

Published by Disney Hyperion Books:

Rick Riordan, the author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books, has begun a new series with the publication of The Red Pyramid. Instead of Greek gods, this new series revolves around Egyptian mythology, teaching the readers about Osiris, Isis, Anubis, Set, Ra and many other gods of the Pharoahs.

It's a fast moving, well written tale that starts this series, and will probably make a pretty good movie at some future date.

If I were Disney, I'd probably option and develop this, if they haven't already done so. Like the Olympians of Riordan's last series, this subject matter has the potential to engross both boys and girls, but probably moreso boys.

I had lots of fun reading the 516 page epic. It's young adult material, which means that for an avid reader like me, it didn't take nearly as long as most 516 books would take.

I'd recommend it if you're so inclined.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Bits and Pieces...

Our doorbell isn't working, so the small package we found when we opened the front door, a Fed Ex delivery that they just left behind a planter, was only a bit of a surprise. And it contained my gift for renewing my D23 membership: a Charter Member pin. I'd include a photo of it, but I just didn't take one yet. Maybe tomorrow. Anyway, it's a nice big pin, and since we've become pin collectors of sorts, it will make a nice addition to the binder we keep the nicer ones in.


We had some friends over yesterday, and got to talking about Disney with the young (well, younger than WE are) couple. They have an 18 month old and a 4 year old. My wife was telling her friend that they should start thinking about going to Disney, maybe not this year, but next. It got me to thinking: What's too young? I mean, an 18 month old isn't going to get a whole lot out of a trip to Disney. If anything, she may put a cramp in the rest of the family's enjoyment, since she would need nap time and need to eat at times that everyone else might not. On the other hand, she'll probably just sleep through a bunch of it anyway.

I remember that, on our first visit to Disney in Florida, my younger son (now 7) was just turned two a couple months earlier. He didn't get much out of it, and in fact he was sort of scared of many of the rides like Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. He did seem to like 'it's a small world', the train ride, Dumbo, and the Pooh ride, and I do think that he had some good memories of the trip, as on our next trip (about two years later), he said he remembered some rides. (He was 4 then.) I don't know if he did, but HE thought he did. Still thinks he does, because we've gone more often since that second trip, and he brings stuff up about the first time he rode this ride or that ride.

So maybe next year is a good time for them to go. Even if there aren't specific memories, there is the memory of the fun that you all have as a family.

If anyone has any thoughts on the subject, I'm all ears (so to speak...).


Friday, May 14, 2010

Almost time for Restaurant Reservations!

Since you can book your table service restaurant reservations 180 days in advance of your visit, we are now in the process of trying to figure out what we might have a taste for 6 months down the road. And once we figure that out, we will start making our reservations for the nights we plan to be at the parks.

As I pointed out in a previous post, we are going to spend at least two days of our seven day trip at Universal Studios, and one of those evenings will certainly be taken up by a visit to one of Emeril Lagasse's restaurants. We have dined with Emeril in Vegas and New Orleans and have never been disappointed by either the food or the service at any of his restaurants. So either Tchoup Tchoup (spelling?) or Emeril's will make the final cut there.

But at Disney itself, we are planning on dining at least once at one of the restaurants at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and perhaps at two of them. The menu at Sanaa looks pretty good; African cuisine, but with an Indian flair. Jiko is the buffet, I believe, and we looked at it last time and wished that we had made it there.

At the parks, I hate to miss Le Cellier, so we probably won't...but I wouldn't mind giving Coral Reef another try. The last time we ate there, my wife was so ill that it cast a pall over the entire experience. We plan on doing Yak and Yeti for lunch when we go to the Animal Kingdom park, and we're thinking of trying the Brown Derby when we are at Hollywood Studios. As far as the Magic Kingdom goes, well of course we'll spend at least one day there, probably two. But I'm not overwhelmed by the dining options in that park. So we'll likely take the monorail over to the Polynesian at least once and try 'Ohana for dinner. (To this point, we have only done it for breakfast.)

The trouble with booking more than one meal at Epcot is that we were thinking that we wouldn't get park hopper options on our tickets. On our last visit we didn't use that option a single time. And on other visits we have rarely neede the option - perhaps only once or twice. It hardly seems worth adding it just so we can go to Epcot for dinner on a night that we otherwise wouldn't be visiting the park.

But then again, that's where most of the best dining at WDW seems to be for us. Besides the two I mentioned, we have always liked Chefs De France, and we wouldn't mind trying the Chinese restaurant, which is one we've never gone to. So...maybe we will be buying that park hopper option after all.

I'll post what the final dining itinerary is when we figure it all out.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

My Disney Books Wish List...

I like to collect books on Disney, and I have a pretty fair collection started. Certainly it isn't as good as many Disney bloggers have, but it's a good start.

On Amazon they let you add books to a "Wish List", and I find that a lot of the books I add to it are either about Disney or on Disney- or theme park-related subjects. I thought I'd post a list of some of the books I'd like to get in the future.

  • Disney: The First 100 Years by Dave Smith (official Disney historian)

  • Disney Parks: The Secrets, Stories and Magic Behind the Scenes (Six Pack DVD) - (this one is probably next on my hit list)

  • Project Future: The Inside Story Behind The Creation of Disney World by Chad Denver Emerson

  • The Art Of Disneyland by Jeff Kurtti (not available on Amazon currently)

  • The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Hollywood Studios by Alex Wright (not available quite yet)

  • Designing Disney's Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance by Karal Ann Marling (Editor)(Amazon doesn't have this one either)

  • Since The World Began: Walt Disney World: The First 25 Years by Jeff Kurtti (another not available on Amazon)

  • Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America (Institutional Structures of Feeling) by Stephen M. Fjellman (Too pricy for me right now)

  • Mouse Tales: A Behind-The-Ears Look at Disneyland by David Koenig

  • Work In Progress: Risking Failure, Surviving Success by Michael Eisner

  • The Mouse Machine: Disney and Technology by J.P. Telotte (I don't know if I need to own this or if it's just a good one to get from the library sometime, if I can find it)

  • Inside The Magic Kingdom: Seven Keys to Disney's Success by Thomas K. Connellan

  • And a few that are more about theme parks in general:

  • A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Sara Ishikawa et al.

  • The American Roller Coaster by Scott Rutherford

  • A Program About Unusual Buildings and Other Roadside Stuff - DVD by Rick Sebak

  • Great Old Amusement Parks - DVD by Rick Sebak

  • American Amusement Parks by Dale Samuelson

  • Severa of these books I will likely never buy, but it's nice to have the titles in a place for easy reference. I believe that when the Field Guide to Hollywood Studios comes out I'll order it along with that six pack of DVDs and the Emerson book.


    Monday, May 10, 2010

    The Future of Themed Entertainment

    If you've read any of the older posts on this site, you know I sort of pipe-dream about developing a theme park of my own design. Anyone who is interested in the magic behind the scenes could look at the website Themed, where many articles on "imagineering" are posted.

    One of the articles posted is a paraphrase of a speech given by Bob Rogers, and it concerns where the concept of the theme park might be headed in the future. I think it's a very interesting read, talking about Walt's reinvention of the form of entertainment in the 1950's, and how the theme park has digressed to sort of live by the "old" rules again.

    Here's the link: The Coming Revolution in Themed Entertainment


    Steve Mills on Disney and the Theme Park Experience

    I was going through the documents on this computer, and came across something I had copied and saved a while back. It is an article by Steve Mills on "American Theme Parks and the Landscapes of Mass Culture". In it Mills explores some basic background on amusement and theme parks, then looks at Disney's impact on the entertainment form.

    I don't know that there is anything earth-shattering in the article, but I think it's an interesting read for any Disney-phile.

    Here is the link to the article: American Theme Parks and the Landscapes of Mass Culture


    Saturday, May 8, 2010

    So what else is new?

    When you live a long way away from a Disney resort, you sort of start to idealize the vacations to the Happiest Place on Earth, or to the World. The good stands out; the less-than-good disappears into the haze of memory. You remember the magic as you ride through the Haunted Mansion, or through Splash Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean, but you don't remember the long lines to get to that point. You remember the excellent meals at Le Cellier or at California Grill, but you don't remember the hassles of actually getting to them. You remember with fondness your room at the Polynesian, but you don't remember the killer trip on a bus to get back there after a long day at a park not on the monorail line.

    As we look forward to a fall vacation at the World, I am anticipating all of the good things. I want to see the Osborne Family Holiday Lights (or whatever exactly it is called) at Hollywood Studios. I want to maybe pay a few dollars extra and go to Mickey's Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom. I want to have a dinner or two at the restaurants of the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

    But my wife is recalling some of the negatives. Among them is the waiting in line for those counter service meals, then waiting again to find a table. She also remembers the extremely long lines for popular rides, and the need for patience. She remembers the running around to get fast passes to the popular rides first thing upon arriving at a park.

    All in all, though, I'd say that the positives will outweigh the negatives. And I am still looking forward to the vacation with extreme anticipation! As is usual, so far...

    Monday, May 3, 2010

    Disney Tips

    From the Costco Connection magazine comes an article called "Keeping The Magic", with insider tips for traveling to the Disney resorts. The tips come from Costco member and guidebook author Bob Sehlinger, who wrote The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and from Costco member and website founder Mary Waring, who runs the website.

    Sehlinger suggests planning ahead as the main way to have a great trip. Don't go, he says, over the Fourth of July weekend, for example. Aparently, they've done research showing what the optimum path at a given park is, by analyzing traffic flow and creating an algorithm to find the best order to ride. His website is called Another of his hints include getting to the park at least 45 minutes before it opens so you can beat the crowds and get to the "bottleneck" attractions first, before the long lines form.

    Waring suggests doing a lot of research, looking for coupons and discounted tickets using sources such as her website. She also suggests packing food like cereal, snacks, juice and water so that you can avoid pricey meals and long lines at food time. She also suggests sharing meals. Her other advice is to leave the parks after lunch and return to your hotel during the hottest part of the day. Use this time for visiting the pools or napping, then plan on going back late in the afternoon. Sehlinger seconds this advice.

    Personally, I know that some of this would work for me, and some wouldn't. First, if you have a breakfast reservation, you aren't likely to get to the parks very much before they open. We found that if we got to them by 10 or 10:30 most mornings we were doing pretty good.

    And with younger kids, we knew that we weren't going to be lasting much past 8 at night. Even at Epcot they would be complaining before the fireworks started and we missed Illuminations as much as we saw it. So if you're talking about taking several hours out of the middle of the day, you aren't talking about a lot of time in a park.

    Also, we usually bring a car, but if we had to return to the hotel just to eat lunch, it would be a big chunk out of the middle of the day. And eating lunch in the parking lot doesn't sound fun at all!

    These strategies might work for those "kamikaze" park visitors who have to see as much as humanly possible, but for many families, I think it's best to pace yourself, use Fastpasses, be content with spending some time at the less popular but still good attractions, and eat at the park. No one's going broke on the cost of kids' meals. I like the idea of splitting the adult meals because there really is too much for one person. That's why we have, in the past, spent all seven days of our vacation doing the Disney parks. It's a leisurely enough pace for us to see and do most of the things we have wanted to do, and if we don't get to do something today, there's always a shot at it at our second visit to that park.

    Universal Help...

    Okay, here's the deal. We're going to Disney World this fall, and we've pretty much decided that, for the first time, we are NOT going to spend the entire trip at Disney parks. We're going to go to Universal Studios for two days. Which two days is to be determined. But my sons really really want to do the Harry Potter part, and they also want to do other things as well.

    As we look into Universal, we notice that they "sell" fast passes. (I forget what they call them exactly.) Most of the days we will be there fall into the "least busy" or "second least busy" period, according to the way they have them priced. Is it worth getting them?

    Next, are there rides there that are too intense for 9- and 7-year olds? My older one has no problem with any Disney rollercoaster, but the most advanced one that the younger son has been on is California Screamin'. (He counts it as his favorite.) Still, we usually skip the giant thrill coasters at Six Flags Great America when we go.

    Looking at the website, I don't find too much detail on what some of these rides are. DISASTER looks like a ride through, sort of like THE GREAT MOVIE RIDE. Is that wrong? REVENGE OF THE MUMMY looks like a DINOSAUR or an INDIANA JONES type of ride. Is that wrong? I'm wondering about some of them because my wife gets motion sick and rides like DINOSAUR really bother her.

    As far as restaurants go, I think we're going to try one or both of the Emeril LaGasse restaurants. Anyone have any other recommendations in that area?

    I'm hoping that someone who reads this blog might have some ideas about some of these questions. If you do, please post your ideas in the comments section, or email them to me at Thanks!