Disney Tips · Listicles · Uncategorized

How to Visit Animal Kingdom as a Disneyland Veteran

Many people under-value Animal Kingdom as a glorified zoo but I strongly disagree. This is the park that I spend the most time in besides Magic Kingdom because of the amazing food, plethora of entertainment and unbelievable Imagineering that makes every nook and cranny photogenic.

To Do

Attractions

  • Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

This is nothing like Disneyland’s Matterhorn except for the snowy mountain theme. It is one of the most extreme thrill rides in the four parks and has an incredibly well-themed and educational queue. You can ask to wait for the first row and it is worth it for first-timers; for every other time, consider splitting up your party by taking the single rider line.

  • Festival of the Lion King

I wish this show was at Disneyland because the singing and staging are excellent. You really feel like you are part of the show in this circular theater. Do try to get in line about 10 minutes before a show so that you can get a closer seat even though the only bad seats in the house are behind people who are obnoxiously holding up their phones or cameras. If you are at a show where the monkeys do not do their acrobatic tricks, you aren’t missing out on much. Do try to ask a cast member before going into a show if they know whether the monkeys performed at the last show or not because they sometimes alternate one show on and off during the day.

  • Kilimanjaro Safaris

Like Jungle Cruise with real animals and factual and corny commentary. The recommendations to go first thing in the morning or during the hours around sunset are good to follow. I also had a wonderful safari when I went right at park close on the last safari – the lions roared! Please DO NOT use flash.

  • DINOSAUR

If you’re craving Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, head towards this gem of Dinoland. It has the same track but doesn’t really feel the same and actually gets me to let out screams regularly. This also has a great photo op if you were to keep any ride photos!

  • Discovery Island Trails

This is usually not highly recommended but there are several hidden animal exhibits, beautiful views of the rest of the park, and these trails allow you to get up close to check out all of the amazing carvings on the roots of the Tree of Life.

  • Maharajah Jungle Trek

Two tiger cubs were born in late 2017 and can be seen with their mother or father near the end of this trek. But before you get to the excellently Imagineer-ed habitats for the tigers, take time to watch the Komodo dragon and go in the bats habitat. These bats are truly impressive even while sleeping and there is always a cast member ready to answer all of your or your kids’ questions. The aviary after the tigers is also worth taking a leisurely stroll through because there are so many different birds; grab a spotting guide on the way in and apply some hand sanitizer on the way out.

  • Wilderness Explorers

If you have kids, definitely schedule this educational scavenger hunt into your itinerary. Even if you don’t have kids, you’ll get a free souvenir booklet and some memories from the experience learning about different cultures, conservation, and animals.

Entertainment

  • Pocahontas Meet and Greet

This Disney princess has a pretty hidden area near the bridge from Discovery Island to Dinoland. She doesn’t meet in Disneyland so take advantage of this if meeting characters is your thing!

  • Tarzan Meet and Greet

Another character not usually available to meet in Disneyland, Tarzan is sure to leave you smiling as he sniffs or eats bugs from your hair.

  • Tree of Life Awakenings

These are some pretty magical and touching projections on the Tree of Life. You’ll probably get a better, less-crowded view  on the back side of the tree from the walkway between the Africa and Asia areas than from the main viewing point in Discovery Island. There are different animated stories every 15 minutes or so.

  • Explore Pandora during the day and at night

Even though you may not have time or necessarily need to ride the two attractions in Pandora, walking around, experiencing the Imagineering and getting photos is an attraction all on its own because it is absolutely stunning with and without sunlight. Be careful that you don’t lose members of your party in the darkness at night, though!

Food & Drink

  • Dole Whip with Rum or Night Blossom with Rum

You can get the classic Disneyland treat spiked from Tamu Tamu in Harambe or try the delicious and very sweet pear-flavored Night Blossom frozen drink in Pandora, which has recently been offered as an alcoholic option.

  • Tiffins

This is one of the more expensive restaurants in all of WDW but everything is delicious. You can also push yourself out of your comfort zone to try more adventurous things. The cocktails and wine selection are also excellent; you can get the cocktails in the Nomad Lounge without a reservation if you’d rather do that.

  • Tusker House brunch

This might be my favorite character buffet because you can get the classic and delicious Mickey waffles as well as more unique African dishes. Going for brunch around 11 but before 11:30 will allow you to get both breakfast food and the lunch options. Just be sure to get the bread pudding dessert before breakfast ends!

  • Quick-service breakfast in Asia

Yak and Yeti is one of the few places that does a quick-service breakfast in the parks that has a shorter wait than many of the food courts at the resorts. The hash brown bites are particularly scrumptious but there are breakfast sandwich options as well.

To Skip

  • It’s Tough to Be a Bug

This is the same as the Disneyland version (although the Disneyland version is now closed permanently) and can be quite scary for kids and adults alike. The movie and show posters in the queue are pretty spectacularly punny though.

  • Dinoland, U.S.A including Triceratop Spin and Primeval Whirl

These are cheesy carnival rides with poor theming. Triceratop Spin is like Dumbo if you feel like flying. Primeval Whirl is like Goofy’s Sky School but even more dizzying and uncomfortable.

  • Rafiki’s Planet Watch

You have to take a long train to get here and there aren’t that many things up here that merit going out of your way. You can meet Rafiki and Doc McStuffins, go to a petting zoo and learn more about the animal care-taking efforts if that’s something you’d rather spend time doing though.

  • Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail

You can see most of the animals on this trail on the Kilimanjaro Safaris. If you’re really interested in watching gorillas, do so upon exiting from Kilimanjaro Safaris. There is a view into the back of the gorilla habitat where you can often see male gorillas eating or playing in a waterfall.

To Do Time-Permitting

Attractions

  • Flight of Passage

The reason I did not put this on things that are must-do is because this is a glorified version of Soarin’ Around the World in California Adventure. I would not recommend waiting any longer than 2 hours (120 minutes) for this. If it is a shorter wait time or you have a FastPass+ then go for it.

  • Na’vi River Journey

This is a very very short boat ride and the effects were underwhelming for me. If this is the only Pandora ride with FastPass+ available, go for it. Otherwise, do not spend more than 45 minutes to an hour waiting. The animatronic shaman is quite stunning so try to sit on the right side of the boat for a better view.

  • Kali River Rapids

This is the same ride as Grizzly River Run in California Adventure but with different theming in the queue. There are free lockers to place any valuables to the left of the queue entrance if you need to.

  • Oasis Exhibits

There are several animals hidden among the pathways that most people blow past as they power walk to Pandora at rope drop. If you’re leaving Animal Kingdom in the middle of the day to parkhop or for a dining reservation at Animal Kingdom Lodge, take a few extra minutes to stroll through to see macaws and anteaters.

Entertainment

  • Stage shows in Harambe

There are singers, drummers and acrobats that show up right in front of Tusker House across the bridge in Harambe. Spend ten minutes watching or join in on the dance party!

  • King Louie and Baloo Meet and Greet

These two characters are not regularly found at Disneyland but they are fur characters and are more limited in their interactions.

  • Russel Meet and Greet

This guy is adorable and will love interacting with anyone that has done at least one of the Wilderness Explorers activities. Check out the dog translation machine near his queue as well.

  • Flik Meet and Greet

I personally love Flik and his location on the Discovery Trails makes for great, lushly green photos. It’s usually a pretty short queue, too.

  • Finding Nemo – The Musical

This is a longer show and the large quantity of strollers can be intimidating but the puppetry and songs are delightful. There isn’t a bad seat in the house.

  • Rivers of Light

This isn’t the most exciting nighttime show but it is beautiful and has lovely music and is great for animal lovers. You can get special seating by doing a dining package at Tiffins or Tusker House but you can always try to get seats stand-by as well with little difficulty.

Disney Tips · Listicles · Uncategorized

How to Visit Epcot as a Disneyland Veteran

Epcot is a very unique theme park among the US Disney parks. Walt Disney initially intended EPCOT to be the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, showcasing futuristic living and technology. Now, it is one of the most educational parks with the main attractions (*cough cough* the alcoholic beverages) better-suited for adults. It is composed of Future World which preserves some of Walt’s original intentions and the World Showcase. While some of the attractions are very similar to California versions, there is a lot to offer. I’ve divided this post into the main things to see in Future World as well as a more detailed description of what I consider to be the highlights in each country in the World Showcase.

Future World

To Do

  • Living with the Land

This is one of the most unique and educational experiences in Epcot. Definitely go during the day so you can see the scientists hard at work while you learn about agricultural practices and the food that supplies the rest of the resort.

  • Spaceship Earth

Yes, there is a ride inside of the giant golf ball. The line can get pretty long so try to avoid it when the park opens; use a Fastpass+ or go during typical mealtimes instead.

  • Soarin’

This is almost exactly the same as the new Soarin’ at California Adventure; if you’ve only seen the Soarin’ over California version, definitely watch this one. There’s also an interactive mobile game in the queue if you do not use a FastPass+

  • Test Track

This is the same track as Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure with very different theming. Biggest tip if you are a party smaller than 4 is to use the Single Rider Entrance; you’ll likely be split up but the line is much faster if you do not care about getting a photo. If you really care about designing a test car, you can do so upon exiting the ride.

  • Mission: SPACE

If you don’t get motion-sick (I do and have avoided it ever since my first trip), this is likely the closest you’ll get to feeling like an astronaut. The orange version takes you to Mars and the green less-intense version gives you a view of the Earth from space.

  • Club Cool

Sample sodas from around the world for free! The Beverly is notoriously hard to drink so feel free to prank other members of your party.

  • Garden Grill

This character dining includes meeting Chip, Dale, Mickey and Pluto while dining in a rotating restaurant with views into Living with the Land. It is a lot of food for a party of two but has good options for breakfast and dinner.

  • The Odyssey

This is one of the main hubs for Epcot’s many festivals. Stop in here to get a passport that lists all of the food, drinks and special events for each festival. Booths for all the festivals are in both Future World and the World Showcase. The Festival of the Arts (my personal favorite) occurs in January and February and has several visual and performing arts events including Broadway concerts and seminars on photography and the like. The Flower and Garden Festival lasts from the end of February through Memorial Day and features topiaries, information on gardening and sustainability, and the Garden Rocks concert series. The Food and Wine Festival brings in extra country-specific booths, several more drunk adults on weekends, and the Eat to the Beat concert series from August through November. The Festival of the Holidays in November and December has special performers sharing each country’s holiday traditions as well as spiked coffee or hot chocolate so you can still drink around the world when it’s colder out.

To Skip

  • Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival

If you’re a Disney or Pixar fan, you’ve likely seen all of these shorts already so this is just a nice spot to rest your feet in some air-conditioning.

  • Journey into Imagination with Figment

This is a quirky dark ride with one room for each of the five senses. If you want to try to understand the preponderance of purple dragon merchandise available in the parks, ride it. Otherwise, avoid smelling skunk by skipping this.

  • Innoventions

This space does not include much currently. There are small interactive science exhibits on color and other physics phenomena but only a few people besides me may find this entertaining.

  • The Seas with Nemo and Friends

This is very similar to Disneyland’s Finding Nemo ride. The giant aquarium at the end is pretty cool (the turtles are hard to find) but you can see aquariums when you’re not on a Disney trip.

  • Most other dining in Future World

Except for Garden Grill, the options in Future World are not particularly remarkable or memorable and include more standard American fare that pales in comparison to everything else in the World Showcase.

To Do Time-Permitting

  • Meet Baymax

He can’t talk but he gives great hugs. He is usually available to meet from park open to park close and his queue is indoors.

  • Meet Joy and Sadness

These two are entertaining, Sadness especially, and are not available in Disneyland. Like Baymax, they do not talk and the queue is indoors.

  • Epcot Character Spot

Meet Mickey, Minnie and Goofy (usually) in their traditional outfits while only waiting in one line.

  • SpectacuLab

Help inspire the next generation of scientists while watching some cool physics demonstrations including laying on a bed of nails. The acting is really corny so you have to be in the right mood.

World Showcase Overview

The real draw of Epcot is the World Showcase which is made up of 11 different permanent pavilions highlighting the cultures of each nation through food, performances, architecture and shopping.

It is over one-mile walking around the entire showcase so it is usually recommended to pick one direction and go all the way around to save your feet. I prefer to start with Mexico and finish with Canada, and I recommend this direction for starting to Drink Around the World as well. If you need breakfast, start in the Canada direction first or head straight to France.

Regarding dining reservations, I do not usually plan to sit down at any of the Epcot restaurants because of the preponderance of festival booths and small meal options. The one exception may be to get some prime viewing for IllumiNations.

Mexico

  • Margaritas

There are a few options for margaritas in this pavilion. I prefer the frozen Fiesta Margarita (lime, strawberry and mango flavors together) at the outdoor Choza de Margarita stand but there is also La Cava del Tequila inside of the pavilion that has quite a selection of margaritas and fresh tortilla chips in a small space. Both options also serve small plates if you need more to eat.

  • Gran Fiesta Tour

This has a similar magic to it at night as Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland because the ceiling is painted to make it feel like you’re really outside of Mayan ruins. The ride itself is much more quaint but may be getting a Coco re-theming in the near future. If it has a short wait, definitely try it.

  • Coco exhibit in the Mexico Folk Art Gallery

Learn more about Día de Muertos than you did in your Spanish classes by checking out the information on the history and artistry of this traditional celebration.

  • Mariachi Cobre

This is one of the biggest mariachi bands I’ve ever seen and they’ve been performing at Epcot for decades. Definitely stop to listen for awhile, perhaps while enjoying a frozen margarita.

  • La Hacienda de San Angel or La Cantina de San Angel patio viewing of IllumiNations

Mexico has one table-service and one quick-service restaurant that each have views of IllumiNations. Get a reservation for La Hacienda or show up to La Cantina 30 minutes beforehand to get a spot.

Norway

  • Frozen Ever After

This is one of if not THE best boat ride in WDW and the queue is indoors and well-themed. As a Disneyland veteran, this may be the best use of a Tier 1 FastPass+ because it is the most unique option. The animatronics can be a little creepy, so I only go if the wait is less than 45 minutes, during Extra Magic Hours or right before the park closes.

  • Anna and Elsa meet-and-greet

Because of their popularity, these two usually are available to meet from park open to park close. And the wait is mostly indoors! You can skip this if you’ve already met them in Disneyland.

  • Stave Church Gallery

Last time I was here, this had cultural artifacts and inspiration for the Frozen film which was quite educational. As of March 2018, it is closed for refurbishment so some new treasures might be arriving soon.

  • Troll photo opportunity inside the shops

There is a giant troll statue in one of the shops that makes for some pretty hilarious photo ops. Any cast member would be glad to take a photo of your whole group.

  • Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

Because Ariel’s Grotto is no longer an option at California Adventure and because Cinderella’s Royal Table reservations in Magic Kingdom are very difficult to obtain, this is a good option to efficiently meet princesses. Beware that there may be some more traditional Norwegian food like lots of fish.

China

  • Shanghai Disney exhibit in the House of the Whispering Willows

I’m not sure how long this will be here but these photos and dioramas may inspire you to plan another Disney vacation, but in China.

  • Reflections of China 360˚ film

The Great Wall only takes up a small portion of this film. The film has recently been updated and is quite beautiful. You will have to stand while watching the film, so if you’re too tired, at least check out the ceiling of the temple.

  • Jeweled Dragon Acrobats

Check the Entertainment schedule so as to make sure not to miss these talented performers. The flexibility and choreography is impressive and the crowd gets really into it.

  • Mulan meet-and-greet

Mulan meets in an elegant version of her matchmaker outfit from 11 AM to 5 PM usually. She is much rarer at Disneyland so take advantage of this regular schedule and meeting location (she will usually be inside on gloomy or cold days).

Germany

  • Snow White meet-and-greet

Make a wish with the original princess in the afternoon and early evening. Her lines can be quite long so plan around the times if this is one of your priorities since Snow White is not a regular meet-and-greet in Magic Kingdom or Disneyland.

  • Biergarten

I’ve never been here but I hear that this buffet is beautiful, authentic and a good value. I don’t think there are many health-conscious options though among the sausages and carbohydrate sides.

Italy

  • Venetian Mask shop

The plethora of masks are different every trip and make for a good souvenir because they come in several sizes. The shop clerk may even be able to provide a lesson on the symbols and traditions of mask-making.

  • Best pizza on property at Via Napoli

The pizzas can be quite massive and are not very saucy. This is great for large groups because it is difficult to carry leftovers around all day.

  • Italy patio areas

Because it is almost directly across from the entrance to Epcot, you can usually get the geodesic sphere as a background in your photos here. There are usually Disney PhotoPass photographers lurking on the patio space jutting out over the lake across the bridges. If there isn’t a dessert party going on, this is a good spot to watch IllumiNations as well.

America

  • Voices of Liberty

This acapella group is an absolute must-listen. They are so talented and the arrangements give me goosebumps. Go early to get the best seats.

  • The American Adventure

This has some of the most impressive animatronics as well as a soaring soundtrack. Sit in some air-conditioning while getting a brief history refresher.

  • Festival Concerts

During the festivals, there are 2 or 3 concert sets per day on the weekends. Check the festival pages for the line-up. Hanson and American Idol contestants like David Cooke are consistently part of the line-up but other genres are equally popular.

Japan

  • Mitsukoshi

This is a massive store that is an experience on its own. You can try on kimonos, open up an oyster to find a pearl or purchase all the Pokemon merchandise your heart desires.

  • Matsuriza

These taiko drummers are very entertaining and provide an energizing soundtrack while exploring the pavilion.

Morocco

  • Shopping

In addition to the stalls right near the water, there are several shops hidden in the alleyways of the pavilion that are quite fun to explore. Try on traditional garb and jewelry or just seek refuge from the rainstorms that frequently occur in Florida.

  • Gallery of Arts and History

Learn much more about Moroccan culture by viewing pottery and weaponry in this small gallery.

  • Spice Road Table patio for viewing IllumiNations

Of the patio options, this one will have the worst view because it is near the back of World Showcase. Nevertheless, you can get a spot to sit while enjoying some Mediterranean appetizers, entrees or cocktails which are more unique than in Mexico or the UK.

France

  • Amazing food and drinks!

There’s usually a delicious alcoholic beverage here (La Vie in Rose is particularly popular) during the festivals. Macaron ice cream sandwiches and other treats in Les Halles bakery are one of the best and few breakfast options in Epcot.

  • Impressions de France

This is a great place to sit and rest your feet (or take a sugar-induced nap) while enjoying some beautiful music and scenery from France. Not my favorite country film so you can skip it if you’d like. It runs every 30 minutes but food is not allowed in the theater.

  • Belle and Aurora meet-and-greets

If you’d like to meet Belle in her blue dress (or her red holiday dress in December), be prepared to wait in a long line in the sun. Aurora will meet in her pink dress and is somewhat easier to find here than in Disneyland.

United Kingdom

  • Alice in Wonderland and Mary Poppins meet-and-greets

The gardens make for a wonderful backdrop for photos for these characters that are much harder to find in Disneyland or Magic Kingdom.

  • Phone booth photo opportunities

Have you always wanted to take a classic British phone booth photo? Well you can do so here and fool your friends into thinking that you traveled across the pond instead of just across the country.

  • Yorkshire County Fish Shop

I’ve heard really great things about the fish and chips at this quick-service stop near the International Gateway.

  • Streetmosphere performers

There is a small troupe of Irish performers that is not often on the official schedule but is quite excellent; they can be found in front of the shops. There is a stage in the back that sometimes has a band performing as well.

  • Rose & Crown Dining Room patio for IllumiNations viewing

This is one of the best spots to sit while watching the nighttime fireworks show. Try to make a reservation around the time of IllumiNations or show up 15-20 minutes before to see if there are any patio tables available.

Canada

  • O Canada! 360˚ Film

This is the best film in Epcot in my opinion. The views are stunning and I learned so much about different regions of our neighbor to the north. The song is catchy and Martin Short is perfectly cheeky.

  • Le Cellier Steak

One of the signature meals from the expensive restaurant in this pavilion is usually offered as a smaller option at the festival booth. Quality does not usually suffer so it is a good deal.

  • Cheddar Cheese Soup (on Poutine)

Another one of the signature items from Le Cellier’s menu is this soup and it has recently become available at the Refreshment Port on top of poutine. It may also be available as a side on its own.

  • “Natural” photo opportunities

The waterfalls can provide mist that is refreshing on a hot day and are photogenic if they don’t get your camera wet. The gardens here are also a nice backdrop for photos.

Out the International Gateway

One of my favorite areas in WDW is the Boardwalk area just a short walk outside of the park entrance between France and the United Kingdom.

  • Ample Hills Creamery

This ice cream parlor has the best ice cream I’ve ever had and this is the only location outside of New York. The Ooey Gooey Butter Cake flavor and ice cream flight are not-to-miss.

  • Beaches

Enjoy your ice cream with your toes in the sand and a view of Epcot or Hollywood Studios fireworks. This is an especially quiet and empty area, considering it is open to the public.

  • ESPN Zone

If you need to get your sports fix, duck in here for a game, some beer and pub food.

  • Wyland Gallery

This is a fine art gallery that I greatly enjoy browsing through. There is plenty of Disney and Star Wars and oceanic art from numerous artists. During the Festival of the Arts, Disney artists will do signings and meet-and-greets here.

 

Sorry this was so long! Let me know in the comments if I skipped over any of your favorite Epcot experiences!

Disney Tips · Listicles · Uncategorized

How to Visit Magic Kingdom as a Disneyland Veteran

I’ve become the go-to person for all of my California friends (most of whom have had at least one visit to Disneyland) planning visits to Walt Disney World so I thought I would compile a list of my tips for how to make the most of a vacation as a Disneyland veteran.

We’ll start with Magic Kingdom. Magic Kingdom is the most similar to Disneyland so Disneyland vets might be tempted to skip it but there are several special things about Magic Kingdom that are worth a full park day. Below I outline which attractions are must-dos, which can be skipped, and which are good to do if you have time or the must-dos have really long wait times.

General Reminders

  • Plan your 3 FastPass+ ahead of time (60 days in advance if you’re staying at a Disney hotel, 30 days if not)
  • Plan your meal reservations ahead of time (180 days in advance if you’re staying at a Disney hotel)
  • Magic Kingdom is much bigger than Disneyland so you’ll be walking much farther between attractions

Attractions To Do (Not in any order)

  • Splash Mountain

So many WDW veterans claim Splash Mountain is their favorite ride and I never understood why because I never liked Disneyland’s version but WDW’s actually makes sense and has some unexpected additions that make it a much better ride. Look out for the train up above in the last scene!

  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

The interactive queue on this is fabulous but the FastPass+ makes you skip a lot of that. The ride itself is family-friendly but is an interesting blend of classic dark ride with animatronics and roller coaster. It is worth experiencing, but try to do it with the least wait – right before the park closes, during Extra Magic Hours, or first thing in the morning.

  • Big Thunder Mountain

This also has a pretty awesome queue with lots of interactive elements (use hand sanitizer after playing!) and is just as exciting as Disneyland’s version.

  • Space Mountain

This is nowhere near as exhilarating as Disneyland’s Space Mountain but it has charm and it is interesting to experience the original version

  • Enchanted Tales with Belle

Because I have yet to write a Science of Disney post on this attraction, this still is probably the most magical attraction to me because of the magic mirror. Seeing little kids participate just embodies Disney magic and if an adult in your party participates, it’s a good memory too. This is the only free way to get a picture of Belle in her yellow dress. Also, it’s unique to WDW.

  • Haunted Mansion

With more of a New England flair, WDW’s version has the best queue of all and has some unique show scenes. Soak it all in!

  • Carousel of Progress

This used to be at Disneyland and was designed by Walt Disney so it is a must-do in my book. Great place to sit down and relax and potentially take a nap.

  • PeopleMover

Also a Disneyland original, this is much faster-moving than you might expect. Great to ride at any time of day but try to ride it when there’s less than a 30 minute wait (which is most of the time).

  • Country Bear Jamboree

This is unlike anything at Disneyland, unless you saw the version at Disneyland way back in the day. Nothing will prepare you for Big Al.

  • Jungle Cruise

The jokes are different at night and there’s a temple that is different from Disneyland’s version. I’m biased because this is one of my favorite attractions.

Characters To Do

  • Mickey Mouse in Town Square Theater

This is one of the most magical things about WDW. Don’t watch YouTube videos beforehand or you’ll ruin it.

  •  Gaston

He is much easier to find in WDW than in Disneyland and seeing everyone else interact with him makes the line fly by. Try to show up at least 15 minutes before the times listed in the app because a queue does form ahead of time.

  • Anastasia and Drizella (and if you’re lucky, Lady Tremaine!)

These characters are listed in the app and can be found near the arches behind the carousel. They are crazy and very entertaining.

  • The Fairy Godmother

She isn’t usually listed in the app but meets just behind the castle near the path to liberty square. All of the videos on YouTube make her seem delightful and it is a really unique character interaction.

Entertainment To Do

  • Happily Ever After

This really is spectacular if you have a good view of the castle. Try to find a great spot at least 1.5 hours before or twenty minutes before for a less-good spot.

  • Festival of Fantasy Parade at 3:00 pm

I never understood the appeal of parades until I saw this one. Every aspect is beautiful and the dragon is very impressive.

  • The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History

This is really unique to Liberty Square and has a plethora of puns. Check the app for showtimes.

Bonus To Do

  • Visit the Tangled-themed bathrooms in Fantasyland near Haunted Mansion
  • Check out the Big Top Circus behind Fantasyland (roughly where ToonTown is in Disneyland) for some unique character meet-and-greets and some good souvenir shopping
  • Try a citrus swirl at Sunshine Tree Terrace – it’s like Dole Whip but orange dreamsicle flavored

Things to Skip (unless you have young kids; not in order)

  • Winnie the Pooh

It is pretty much the same as Disneyland’s version. But the Hundred Acre Goods shop at the exit has lots of Winnie the Pooh merchandise if you love the characters. There is an interactive queue that is cool though.

  • Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

It’s a lamer version of Astro Blasters that looks outdated and has the guns attached to the carts.

  • Barnstormer

This is a roller coaster intended for kids like Gadget’s Go Coaster in ToonTown.

  • Mad Tea Party

This is the exact same as Disneyland but covered.

  • Tomorrowland Speedway

This is a lamer, less-themed, smellier version of Autopia.

  • Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid

This is the exact same as the Little Mermaid ride in California Adventure but it does have a much more fabulous queue if you wanted to see it.

  • Prince Charming Regal Carrousel

Your standard carousel but surrounded by strollers.

  • Aladdin’s Flying Carpets

Like Dumbo but with a chance that you’ll get squirted with water and with longer lines.

Things to Do Time-Permitting (listed in order of most must-do to most skippable)

  • Astro Orbiter

I absolutely love riding this at night because it is so high and has spectacular views, so is much better than Disneyland’s version. Only ride two adults per rocket if you’re intimate with the other person. Skip if you don’t like heights.

  •  Dumbo

This is such a classic and is way more fun as an adult than you might think. The lines are usually much shorter than at Disneyland.

  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic

I found this 4D theater to be quite charming and nostalgic and Disneyland doesn’t have it.

  • Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor

If you like corny jokes or improv and need a place to sit and relax, this is perfect. Also unique to WDW.

  • Peter Pan’s Flight without a FastPass+

There is an interactive queue that has a lot of magical elements. If you don’t care about this or the line is longer than 60 minutes, get a FastPass+ or skip it because it isn’t worth it otherwise.

  • it’s a small world

This is such a classic but is much less impressive than Disneyland’s version because it is inside. If you’ve ever wanted to walk near the facade, check it out. Look for your name on the signs in the last room.

  • Pirates of the Caribbean

I am always very underwhelmed by WDW’s version. They redid the “We Wants the Redhead” scene in February 2018 so that’s the only redeeming feature.

  • Swiss Family Treehouse

This has a great view at twilight; you can actually get a shot overlooking Main Street and is the version that Disneyland had before it became Tarzan’s Treehouse.

  • Walt Disney World Railroad

This does not have the same dioramas as Disneyland’s but it is kind of cool to see behind the scenes.

  • Enchanted Tiki Room

This is almost the same as Disneyland’s. It is a good place to cool off with a short wait if you need to.

 

What are your must-dos? Anything you disagree with? Let me know in the comments below!

Disney Tips · Disney Trips · Listicles · Science of Disney · Uncategorized

Top 5 Educational Experiences at Epcot

Although Walt Disney’s original vision for Epcot is far from realized, the spirit of showcasing technological innovations and providing memorable and educational experiences for guests lives on!

  1. Living with the Land – This ride is very long but really interesting. I never thought I would care about agriculture but finding out that Disney produces as much of its produce on-site as possible was really impressive! Seeing real scientists at work monitoring the plants and animals and their growing conditions in the most magical place on earth is bound to be inspiring for aspiring scientists, young and old. They offer a Behind the Seeds tour as well if you want more information about the work going on behind the scenes to feed hundreds of thousands of guests each day.
  2. The Seas Pavilion – Despite growing up a short drive from the Monterey Bay Aquarium (one of the main inspirations for Finding Dory’s Marine Life Institute), I had never seen manatees before and they are equally adorable and imposing due to their size and agility in the water. The large aquariums are full of several creatures and have TV screens that flash their names which makes this a great spot to cool off from the Florida heat by playing a game of I Spy with the kiddos. The sea turtles are usually pretty hard to spot because they like to hide! Each smaller aquarium also has short and sweet descriptions about the unique behaviors of the sea life within.
  3. Stave Church Replica and Museum in  Norway – Because the Norway pavilion has been overtaken by Frozen to a great extent, this museum is a nice way of tying together the movie and actual Norwegian culture. You can learn about all the inspiration for the film from the Norwegian landscape and traditional outfits, to how the instruments and vehicles are typically made and used.
  4. Oh Canada! – Even though I have been to Vancouver once before, this film taught me so much about Canada and made me want to visit again as soon as possible. The range of lifestyles represented – from small fishing villages to bustling, artistic city centers – and the sheer wonder of the various natural landscapes were absolutely fascinating, especially when presented in 360 degrees accompanied by Martin Short’s humor.
  5. Venetian Mask Shop – Besides showcasing the beauty and craftsmanship of what must be hundreds of masks, this little shop attached to the perfumery could have entertained me for hours due to what can be learned about Italian folklore. Ask the shopkeeper questions about your favorite masks and about the variety of designs; each one has its own meaning and story about the process of creating it. I may be biased because I read as many fictional books set in Venice as I could when I was in middle school but this really is a gem worth perusing when you’re still full on pizza and wine from Via Napoli.

Honorable Mention

Exhibits in Mexico

When I was last in Epcot in September, they were preparing for the promotional but potentially educational exhibit on Coco and Día de Muertos. I will have to check out the newly decorated area on my next trip to see if it is faithful to the culture, whether it teaches me anything different from my Spanish classes in school, and how it integrates aspects of the film. If it is anything close to the museum in Norway, it could be promising but perhaps difficult for kids who can’t read yet to be thoroughly entertained.

SpectacuLAB!

To replace Innoventions, the Imagineers decided an interactive science show would do the trick while also probably being less expensive to maintain and easier to potentially overhaul for the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World. One of my top priorities for my next trip is checking out how engaging (and hopefully not cringe-worthy) this show is; maybe what some people see as cringe-worth is really just a good use of Jungle Cruise style humor to demonstrate cool science phenomena. I’m hopeful that this will be a memorable experience because it is co-sponsored by Science from Scientists which is a non-profit organization working to improve STEM literacy in schools.

What is your favorite educational experience at Epcot?

Disney Tips · Disney Trips · Uncategorized

Trip Review: Hong Kong Disneyland Part 2

If you’ve read Part 1, you’ll know that I did not get to do everything I had planned at Hong Kong Disneyland due to a typhoon warning. But several magical details made my time outside of the park just as enjoyable!

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Transportion to Hong Kong Disneyland

Getting to the resort was slightly more complicated than I expected because I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to take a cab or have the entire experience of riding the Disneyland train. Cabs were taking too long so I figured out how to get to Sunny Bay station.

After asking a very helpful transportation employee how to get to the right point to transfer to the train going the right direction, a train with Mickey Mouse-shaped windows pulled into the station. And it was glorious! There were bronze statues of the Fab Five, Mickey handholds and lots of Hong Kong parents and children dressed in Disney gear head to toe. The metalwork at the final stop at the park was full of hidden Mickeys and sorcerer hat shapes. I took a quick bus to the hotel to drop off my luggage and took another back to start the adventure.

Checking In

As a birthday present to myself, I got myself a room in the Hollywood Hotel which is the cheapest option but beautifully decorated in an Art Deco style reminiscent of Buena Vista Street in California Adventure and Hollywood Studios. Each floor has classic Disney movie posters and my floor had my favorite, The Lion King! The elevator has the voices of the Fab Five announce the floors, too!

When I checked in, the restaurants were almost closed so I dashed to Hollywood & Dine, the quick service café. Most of the options that looked delicious were unavailable so I had a very mediocre plate of spaghetti. Then I stopped in to the Studio Lounge and had a mango daiquiri before heading up to bed were I found a card and crafted birthday cake awaiting me.

Morning

I’m a sucker for character breakfasts so I made it a point to go to the Explorer’s Lodge’s Dragon Wind café to meet Mickey and Minnie. Everything was delicious; I had been eating a mix of traditional Chinese breakfast food and whatever I could find in Singapore the few weeks before my Hong Kong stay so I was very happy to find congee, fresh fruit, and classic Mickey waffles. Unlike American character breakfasts where the characters walk around to the various tables, I received a card that told me I had a specific time slot to go get my picture taken. It was not too awkward eating alone because I made friends with the couple sitting next to me who were elementary school teachers and gave me several adorable presents after I took a picture with them. While I was meeting Mickey and Minnie, the cast members took lots of great pictures for me but there was also an option to purchase photos with PhotoPass.

Once I was finished with breakfast, I took a lovely stroll along the path between the resorts and the park with hopes that the typhoon warning that I had heard rumblings about would not be real. People were standing in large confused clumps but eventually cast members came out to inform us that the park would be closed until the typhoon warning de-escalated to a lower level.

After appreciating the beauty and quirkiness of the fountain in front of the parks as potentially my last glimpse of the park itself, I walked back along the path from where I had come. The flags along the path showcased a myriad of characters, even Aurora in her blue dress, and there was still theme music pumping through speakers. After looking out at as much of the bay as I could see in the mist, I turned towards the path back to the resorts.

Resort Exploring

First stop was the Disneyland Hotel. This was not particularly memorable because there was not much to explore besides well manicured lawns and a hedge maze. The Victorian theming is similar to that of the Grand Floridian at Walt Disney World.

Next, I went back to the Explorer’s Lodge and walked around the four parts of the Explorer’s Lodge – Oceania, Asia, South America, and Africa. Each had its own garden with figurines of characters like Rafiki and Kevin, theme music, and details like animal footprints or shells in the pavement as the gardens transitioned from one to another. Good thing I took this time to walk around outside when it was only grey and barely sprinkling.

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The Explorer’s Lodge is now my absolute favorite hotel; it’s a combination of Animal Kingdom Lodge (theming wise, without any real animals), Art of Animation, and Coronado Springs. The lobby had large windows overlooking the gardens and travel trunks filled with trinkets and clothing for Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Daisy, and Donald to use for their various adventurous hobbies like aviation and bird-watching. Downstairs there was a quick-service stop with beautiful pastries but I got some basic ice cream instead. It was good but I regret not getting a pastry. The gift shop had some unique memorabilia but the most tempting was 12″ plush versions of explorer Mickey and Minnie, complete with Minnie’s adorable wilderness heels; she is so fashionable that she has a totally different outfit than the safari outfit she wears at Tusker House or at the meet and greet in Animal Kingdom. The other restaurants seemed exquisite as well but I did not feel like spending a lot more money. I would highly recommend staying at Explorers Lodge of three hotel options currently available in Hong Kong!

 

Back to Hollywood Hotel

Lastly I walked the last bit back to the Hollywood Hotel. Since I had already checked out, I had to find ways to kill time with the hope that the park would still open before my flight. I explored the grounds of the Hollywood Hotel. The piano pool – one of the main reasons I chose to stay at this hotel – was closed but pretty large. The miniature Hollywood sign on a grassy knoll was a nice touch but not nearly as impressive as the real sign in Los Angeles.

 

I headed back indoors and grabbed a seat at a table in the Studio Lounge so I could take advantage of the dessert spread. Behind the bar, they were projecting Disney movies; Monsters, Inc. was just finishing up so I settled in and enjoyed the complimentary bar nuts. I believe I ordered an eggs benedict with salmon for my afternoon meal and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. But that might have been because I also started drinking wine before 2 pm. Right after Monsters, Inc. they showed Tangled so I was really living my best life drinking wine and watching my favorite princess movie.

The deadline for the park to re-open was drawing near; if the typhoon warning did not de-escalate by 4 pm, then the park would not open at all for the day. At some point during Tangled, they had prohibited guests from going outside because of the rain and wind so I was very thankful to have my comfortable little spot inside.

Once I heard rumblings that the typhoon warning was going to be lifted, I extensively perused the gift shop and gathered a few pressed pennies for myself and for my brother. After the warning is lifted, it still takes about an hour and a half until the park can open again.

I walked back to the front of the park where two long queues had formed. I thankfully got to use a special entrance for resort guests and dashed into the park to attempt to ride things I hadn’t ridden before. With just over an hour and a half spent in the park, I bid adieu to the park and shed a few tears as I exited to the tune of “Circle of Life.”

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Other Tips for the Park

  1. If you can, get a button! Every cast member seems to be on the lookout for these buttons because while wearing my birthday button, I got stickers and smiles from all of the cast members!
  2. Take the stroll between the hotels and the park at least once during your stay if you can handle a little bit more walking! The humid summer air was comforting and the path was well-lit.
  3. Some of the information in the Hong Kong Disneyland  app is incorrect. They no longer sell chocolate covered bananas or mango dole whip which are the two snacks I was looking forward to most because I did not have a partner with whom to share the adorable dim sum that is all over Instagram.
  4. If you are staying at one of the resorts, stay until after park close to see the most empty Main Street ever! Most of the guests leave soon after park closing so they can take the train back but sitting in front of the castle or just inside the entrance is a perfect end to enjoying a day in the park.
  5. Look out for the trash cans! I thought the decor was absolutely adorable and I want wearable merchandise with the patterns!

Which international park do you want to go to most?

Disney Tips · Disney Trips · Uncategorized

Trip Review: Hong Kong Disneyland Part 1

In July 2017, I turned a layover in Hong Kong into about 30 hours at Hong Kong Disneyland as a birthday present to myself. Although a typhoon warning put a serious damper on how much I was able to do in my short time there, I greatly enjoyed the experience. In this post, I give my thoughts on the attractions and entertainment in the park.

Hong Kong Unique Attractions

Mystic Point 7/10

Mystic Manor 9/10 After arriving at the park around noon, Mystic Manor was my first stop and number one priority. The queue was about 10 minutes long and full of gorgeous details from the Society for Explorers and Adventures, complete with a miniature of the Mystic Manor property; Walt would’ve been proud. Watching ride-throughs definitely lessened the coolness of the experience a bit because I knew what to expect. The soundtrack to the ride was very enjoyable and the music room was my favorite because of all the dancing instruments. As far as dark rides go, this one is amazing because all of the tech and animatronics are relatively new. Albert the monkey is adorable and at the end of the ride, I was very tempted to buy lots of Mystic Manor merchandise.

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Garden of Wonders 3/10 This was just a photo op spot with structures meant to be optical illusions. There were not any cast members hanging around the area to help you get a photo with the illusion itself..

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Mystic Point Freight Depot 2/10 Another photo op with even less charm than the Garden of Wonders.

Toy Story Land 6/10

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Toy Story Land was beautiful with the light of the golden hour at sunset over Lantau Island. Although I did not ride anything in this land (I was in search of Mango Dole Whip which tragically is not sold anymore) it made me very excited for the Toy Story Land coming to Walt Disney World. The details of all of the childhood toys scaled up for architectural purposes- from Lincoln Logs to Tinker Toys to the giant letter puzzle and K’nex fences – gave me all the nostalgic vibes. The meet and greet for Woody, Jessie, and Buzz was well-themed.

Grizzly Gulch 5/10

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I walked through this area several times to get to and from the Mystic Point area but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. A combination of Frontierland and Disneyland’s Critter Country, the theme of bears living in an old Western town is a little strange but the visibility of bears themselves was minor. The Grizzly Gulch Welcome Show a stage act of three women singing in English that was pretty good and drew a small crowd. The rest of the area has a jail photo op and water cannons to cool down.

Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Train ?/10 During the timeslot in which I had planned to ride this, the ride was broken and did not open for the rest of the night. With the typhoon warning the next day, the outdoor rides were slower to open so I did not have a chance to ride this before I had to leave for the airport. When I walked past it, it seemed like a Seven Dwarves Mine Train type ride – not too thrilling of a coaster – but I heard it goes backwards! This is a must-do if I ever get back to Hong Kong!

Marvel

Iron Man Experience 6/10 I am not the biggest Marvel fan and I get nauseous on simulator rides but the line was really short and I was in the area so I rode it. This is essentially Star Tours but with a plot of Iron Man saving Hong Kong but I found the humor in English to be surprisingly clever.

The SHIELD Experience 8/10 This is one of the most unique attractions I’ve seen in the three Disney parks I’ve been to. I had no idea what it was going in so was definitely peeved at the extremely long queue but once I understood what the attraction was, it made sense. Small groups at a time become SHIELD agents and are led through a maze of well-decorated warehouse scenes by cast members acting as SHIELD agents in a quest to retrieve orbs of some sort before HYDRA finds them. In two of the scenes, you meet Thor and Starlord and one person gets selected each time to help them. Because I was wearing my birthday button, I got to help Starlord close a glass door but totally misunderstood the directions with all the pressure to perform and thought I had to reach into the case with a scary looking animatronic. Most of the instructions were in English so some members of our large group were a bit confused, but it was fast-paced and the acting was believable so it made for an overall very enjoyable experience.

There was also a Spiderman meet and greet but I did not wait in the queue for him (it was shorter than the SHIELD experience).

Fantasyland

Fairy Tale Forest 8/10 I loved this area because it felt like the Storybook Canals but up close and personal. There are miniatures with moving elements for several Disney movies including Tangled, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and The Little Mermaid. The details hidden in the bushes and on the paths were especially charming. Know that the Tinker Bell meet-and-greet inside this area is optional; you can bypass it by taking a separate path.

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Fantasy Gardens 4/10 This is a character meet and greet space. There weren’t any characters present as I walked through, so I just appreciated the theming of each gazebo and some pretty topiaries. Skip this if you don’t want to or don’t have time to met characters.

 

Hong Kong Versions of US Attractions

Railroad ?/10 I did not ride this but wanted to. It seemed like it had a convenient drop-off point near the back of the park that could save me a walk but I ended up just walking because I wanted to see as much of the castle as I could.

Adventureland

Jungle Cruise 6/10 This may be an unfair rating because Jungle Cruise is one of my favorite rides. Despite being “the chosen one” to carry the queue timing card to the front of the English queue, this special treatment was not enough to overcome my disappointment that my skipper was not able to communicate the dry humor effectively and instead just pointed at lots of things and described them. It was interesting to go around the island instead of a separate tucked-away track and the different ending was almost exciting enough to redeem the ride.

Tarzan’s Tree House 4/10 Taking the raft over took longer than it took me to walk through the entire treehouse which was all of the same scenes as the Disneyland version, so it was not worth my time. As you’re exiting the treehouse, keep your eyes trained towards the ground to notice footprints of some of the inhabitants.

Fantasyland

Philharmagic 6/10 This was my first time ever seeing Philharmagic (I hadn’t seen it in WDW) so I really enjoyed it but it is exactly the same as the version in Florida with a less interesting queue. I believe I saw the show in English.

It’s a Small World 7/10 – The layout of this ride was different than in the US and seemed to have a bigger presence for the Western section and an Americas section. But it was a walk-on and lets out next to an ice cream stand instead of a gift shop. The details of the giant compass on the ground in front of the attraction made the area into one of the few spots that I thought was worth taking pictures.

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Dumbo the Flying Elephant and Winnie the Pooh are the same as they are at other parks so I did not ride them. I remember expecting that the Winnie the Pooh ride would have a long wait and it seemed to be about the same as at other parks but long compared to the other rides at Hong Kong Disneyland. The Mad Hatter Tea Cups were also identical to the Disney World version, complete with a tent covering in case of rain.

Tomorrow Land

Space Mountain 7/10 I literally cannot remember anything about this ride from my trip besides that I used a Fastpass for it so I don’t think the queue or the ride itself was anything special or unique from the version in either US park.

I did not ride Orbitron or Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters. I wish I got to ride Orbitron because it was a different ride vehicle than Astro Orbiters but the line was always pretty long. I don’t think there was anything unique about Astro Blasters so you can skip it if you’ve ridden Disneyland’s (the better) version.

Shows

Festival of the Lion King 10/10 This show made me cry from its beauty; the singers were excellent and the flying bird scenes were incredibly graceful. There weren’t any tumbling monkeys and instead they seemed to serve as comedic relief in Mandarin but I haven’t seen the tumbling monkeys in WDW either so I couldn’t compare on that aspect. The stage itself was way cooler than the WDW version with multiple levels rising and lowering at different points during the show. The fire dancing scene was comparable. One of my favorite touches was that the floats with Simba and the other animals on them move into the center of the auditorium at the end of the show so you can get close-up pictures as you walk out.

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Wondrous Book ?/10 I didn’t get to see this show because I ran out of time on my first day and the typhoon warning delayed its opening on my second day. It is supposed to be similar to Mickey and the Magical Map at Disneyland and is offered in English and Mandarin (and maybe also Cantonese)

Flights of Fantasy Parade 7/10  The floats and costumes were cute but the song was not memorable. The performers were sweating bullets in the sun and heat but their make-up still looked flawless.

Paint the Night Parade 9/10 I sat the closest I have ever been to this parade because the streets are narrower than in Disneyland and every float was that much more stunning. After having just watched Wreck-it Ralph on the plane to China, the song was that much more catchy now that I knew what it was from. Definitely do not miss this parade!

Disney in the Stars Fireworks 9/10 – I cried so much but I think it was partly due to the sweat and sunscreen getting into my eyes because it was still very warm after the sun had gone down. Right after the end of the Paint the Night Parade, I just turned around and got a spot a few rows back from the castle. We were packed in like sardines but we were sitting. There were extensive Mulan scenes which I was SO happy to see and the musical arrangement throughout was very nostalgic. The castle is not extremely large so the projections aren’t as impressive but the fireworks were still plentiful.

Of the attractions that I got to do, I did most of them on my first day between noon and park closing at 8 pm. Let me know if you have any questions about my trip in the comments below!

Check out Part 2 of my review in which I talk more about my general impressions of the park and how I occupied my time during the typhoon warning.

 

Disney Tips · Uncategorized

Coco Review (Spoiler-Free)

After seeing Coco twice (once in 2D and once in 3D), I wholeheartedly endorse that everyone shell out the $15 to see this movie that will likely shift the representations of minorities in the film industry and make you want to hug your family more than any of its Disney predecessors.

Going into the movie, I had watched videos of other people’s reviews that said 1) they cried a lot, 2) it was a beautiful movie with some really interesting and impressive animation, and 3) there was a really good twist. Thankfully, I avoided any spoilers and still had no idea what the main plot of the movie would be. I also did not know how the film would tie in Día de Muertos (which I recently learned is the correct name, not the anglicized Día de los Muertos), a holiday which I knew a little bit about from my Spanish classes in K-12. I do think having some prior knowledge of the holiday helped me enjoy the movie more but there are several moments that explain the context for viewers who have never heard of it.

Animation

Regarding the animation, I’m no expert but I tried to soak in as many Pixar details as I could. I absolutely loved the opening scene and how they told the story using papel picado, which is a Mexican decorative art made by cutting patterns and images into brightly colored tissue paper similar to cutting snowflakes around Christmastime, but much more intricate and meaningful. The personalities of each ancestor were intricately exhibited via variations in skeletal shape, size and ornamentation; characters that were better-remembered were more pure white whereas those who were at risk of being forgotten appeared more worn or had broken bones. Thus, the skeletons – complete with eyes – achieved a communicative power beyond their traditional Halloween spookiness and macabre association with death.

The bright colors of the marigolds and alebrijes (animal spirit guides based in Mexican folklore and wood-carving tradition) were stunning. Pepita, the large jaguar-eagle-like creature from the previews, was even more so impressive in 3D than in 2D. Although I would love a copy of the concept art of the city of the dead due to its colorful architecture and over 6 million animated lights, the panoramic shot was not as impressive or as long as I wanted it to be – it was scarcely longer than what was seen in the previews so I did not have as much time to soak it in as I would’ve liked. However, there were some shots later in the movie in which the camera travels through the streets and skies of the land of the dead that were more striking and made me wish that they would bring this land to life in the theme parks so I could get physically lost in the details – a maze like the Alice in Wonderland one in Shanghai Disney perhaps?

The hallmark of Pixar animated movies – the hidden Easter eggs – were not as hidden as they’ve been in previous movies. The Luxo ball is more difficult to find than the Pizza Planet truck or piñatas of Mike and Sully so keep your eyes peeled. Additionally, I think I spotted forms of Mike and Sully in appropriately blue and green colored papel picado in the courtyard of the Rivera home near the beginning of the movie but I need someone to confirm that I wasn’t just seeing things.

Pixar movies are usually years in the making due to the technological challenges that animators face in creating more realistic details and Coco was no exception. Simulating how cloth would behave on skeletal frames and synchronizing the music of a guitar to accurate animations of strumming fingers and vibrating strings led to Pixar’s most recent technical advancements in CGI animation and the most visually stunning Pixar film yet.

Music

Although this has been lauded as Pixar’s first musical, it is not a musical in the classic Disney sense with characters bursting into song for no real reason. Songs are only sung in purposeful moments in which singing songs makes sense such as a performance or a lullaby. And these songs are lovely but not as catchy as Frozen’s, which is good and bad – I was slightly disappointed at the lack of catchiness. There’s no “I want” song like a Broadway musical but there are several reprises of “Remember Me” that changes drastically in meaning depending on who is singing it which adds a deeper level of meaning to the soundtrack. I could not tell whether the other main songs during the performance scenes were well-known Spanish songs or if they were entirely invented for the movie; I believe they were the latter but with a great deal of influence from the former.

As a proud fan of classical Spanish guitar, I was not overly impressed by the guitar playing on the soundtrack, but perhaps Disney did not want to revisit their tactic on Pirates of the Caribbean 4 of recruiting famous guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela (my favorite musicians) due to the movie’s limited success. Having Miguel not be a guitar savant also made more sense for his character. Michael Giacchino’s score was not anything memorable but it also was not intrusive; listening to the score alone is pleasant and is capable of transporting me back into the world of Miguel’s hometown of Santa Cecilia.

Plot & Characters

The movie was well-paced with purposeful scenes and moments of extremely high tension that had me on the edge of my seat. I did not predict the twist like I had hoped despite many hints throughout the movie that I was only able to catch the second time around. I did not cry as much as I expected to but the morals of the story made me miss and value my family nonetheless.

The main characters of Miguel, Ernesto and Hector were all fleshed out well and I could see them each becoming fan favorites for years to come. I also great admiration for Mama Imelda and thought that her character development was almost as great as Miguel’s in her change of heart and remembering who she used to be; I also loved how she had an incredibly intimidating alebrije in Pepita that just screamed female empowerment to me.

My one gripe is that the alebrijes served a little bit too important a purpose in the movie: like the eagles in Lord of the Rings, if the alebrijes, Pepita in particular, hadn’t existed, then the plot definitely would have had to be reworked and the resolution wouldn’t have been possible. While the rest of the story and the messages about the importance of family are universal enough that the film could have been set in several other cultures, that culture would need to have some sort of spiritual creatures to function. I also wonder whether the purpose of alebrijes was tweaked from their original significance in Mexican culture.

Cultural Significance

While I cannot speak to how important this movie is to the Latinx community, I will give my two cents but strongly encourage you to read the opinions of Latinx film critics because their voices matter much more than mine. In addition to these opinions, there has been an outpouring of support on Twitter with stories of Mexican families going to see this film and finally feeling like their culture wasn’t being stereotyped or the butt of a joke. Besides Disney’s early misstep of trying to trademark “Día de Los Muertos” as the title of the film so they could make merchandise and placing a Frozen short in front of the movie with the goal of luring more people to the theater because they thought it might be successful, the other ways that the company has advertised the film have been respectful and educational. The film was first premiered at a Mexican film festival, the credits have extensive mentions of the towns and people that helped in the research of the movie as well as a sentence to encourage viewers to learn more about Día de Muertos by visiting a local library. The advertising in the theme parks such as mariachi bands, food, and story-telling (which I did not personally experience) seemed to be educational and draw a lot of people into the parks.

Coco had similar themes as 2016’s Kubo and the Two Strings but is leaps and bounds better in its cultural representation; all of the voice actors were of Latin descent and many more people of the represented culture were involved in the making of the movie. I can only imagine how impactful this movie will be for Hispanic, and especially Mexican, children to see characters that look like them and sound like them and their families. The usage of the Spanish language throughout the movie struck me as extremely significant because of all of the families in the US in particular that have both Spanish and English spoken in the home. Viewers without a knowledge of Spanish will not miss much but there are definitely some jokes left in for Spanish speakers. I learned new words (chamaco means kid) after looking up the translations of the Spanish songs and I am very excited that the movie is offered dubbed or subtitled in Spanish in select theaters.

I very much look forward to reading the scholarly articles about the effect that this movie has on the movie industry going forward.

Overall

I loved this movie for its messages about the importance of your family and of following your dreams as well as its visually stunning and respectful depiction of Mexican culture. It serves as a launching point for educating children about death as well as for encouraging further explorations and appreciation of the customs of different countries. Listening to the soundtrack will forever make my cry, miss my grandparents, and be thankful for my early exposure to the Spanish language. I hope to see this movie continue to have a large presence in all Disney parks to help create lasting memories for children and parents in generations to come.

 

Disney Tips · Listicles · Uncategorized

My Favorite Ear Shops

In honor of Small Business Saturday, I’ve compiled a short list of just a few Etsy shops whose ears I really appreciate for their uniqueness, cuteness, and comfort. None of these are sponsored in any way and all of these pictures are from their websites!

Ears By Samantha – the only person I have bought ears from, Samantha was very communicative and the ears are so sturdy! She has other styles and sells bows without ears. Check out her Instagram too!

3Cheers4Ears – World of Color ears are hard to find and these glow and you can pick your bow color! This is just one of many designs in this shop.

MagicShoppeDesigns – I just love these cutout designs of my favorite characters!

VisionsOfADaydream – These are the most fabulous Lion King ears I have ever seen! They might not be great for rainy days in Florida but they look so comfortable.

What are your favorite Etsy shops for ears? Comment below!

Disney Tips · Disney Trips · Uncategorized

Trip Review: First time at Pandora in Animal Kingdom

In late September, I visited Pandora at Animal Kingdom for the first time! Read on for my review!

General Impression – Daytime

The floating mountains were not quite breath-taking but they nevertheless made for some pretty stunning shots against the Florida sky.

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As soon as I stepped into Pandora, the My Disney Experience app notified me that I could help out Alpha Centauri Expeditions (click for the backstory on ACE from the D23 convention in 2015) by searching for fauna and flora. It was supposed to link via Facebook Messenger but my Messenger app was being buggy so this did not quite work. I think would have enjoyed it and look forward to seeing how this extra bit of immersive theming works in the future.

Phd Pointer: There are a few spots scattered along the paths where the Pandoran wildlife will interact with you if you move just right!

Na’vi River Journey

Queue: I had a FP+ for this ride but ended up only riding it via standby during Early Magic Hours. It was under a 60 minute wait when I got in line around 8:15. The theming of the queue was really impressive and quite fun. Absolutely everything – from the centerpoint of the circular queue, the roof, the surrounding walls, to the ties on the queue fences – appeared to be woven from real reeds and leaves of some sort and actually felt like the right texture. Additionally, there were plaques mounted on the queue fences describing various flora and fauna of Pandora but the line was moving so quickly that I hardly had time snap a picture much less read the actual information. I think these would be useful for participating in the immersive piece I mentioned above because it would help you identify the right plant when you’re walking around.

Ride: Because I was traveling alone, I was placed in the front row of a boat with the couple in front of me, with another group of strangers sitting in the back row. The scenery was quite beautiful and there was a ton to look at in every scene. In a few places, there are a couple of mesh screens at various depths with different creatures projected onto them to give a 3-D effect. Although the animations make it so each ride through might have something different to see, the screens were not even close to transparent so the mechanics of the effect were very obvious. Many of the lights responsible for the luminescent effects were also quite visible if you were looking for them. But not everything was completely de-mystified. Keeping my head on a swivel, I noticed that there were even glowing plants in the water! One of my favorite effects were the suspended flowing lily pads closer to the end that seemed to have creatures jumping to and fro on them!

The shaman at the end was just as impressive as people were saying she was. The arm movements were very fluid and she is huge! But the most impressive piece for me was the tiny facial movements that made even the smallest lip twitch possible so that she truly looked like she was singing along. I did not really notice the music until the shaman was visible but the continuation of the music and theming throughout the last stretch of cave before returning to the loading zone was a nice cherry on top of a lovely ride.

PhD Pointer: Ride this with kids at night! They’re more likely to get the feeling that they’re actually still outside in Pandora!

Flight of Passage

Queue: My friend and I entered the standby queue around 5:15 pm with a posted wait time of approximately 120 minutes. Thankfully, the end of the queue at this time was approximately 20 yards inside the regular queue area rather than all the way at the front entrance of Pandora. Looking up at the waterfalls was nice too because it was a much closer view than from outside the queue and Imagineers used the forced perspective trick quite well.

The queue moved very very slowly. Although being outside allowed us to marvel at the engineering and construction of the floating mountains and admire the emergent and hand-crafted nature of the paths, there were stretches of fifteen minutes where we felt like we did not move at all. Once inside the caves, it felt like we moved even slower and a cast member said we would still have approximately another hour and a half to wait.

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The queue was well-crafted in that they do a really good job at hiding how much farther you are from the front of the ride. Each room you go into, you think you’re that much closer. Be warned, you aren’t close until you’re in the room with the lab equipment and Avatar and you still might have to wait another 30 minutes from that point. However, I was very confused as to what the story of the queue was – we went from the natural beauty of Pandora, through some caves to what looked like some overgrown bunkers before entering the lab and hangar. If someone could please explain the story, that would be greatly appreciated!

When we were about halfway through the queue, the announcements that the ride was not operating at full capacity began and continued for the next hour. In total, we ended up waiting for about 3 hours instead of the 2 hours we were expecting.

Ride: I consider the ride to start from the terribly acted pre-show that you watch once you are directed to your number. I got overly excited and participatory during the avatar and banshee matching process and they seemed to do a good job of actually matching the features of the avatar to the person. One complaint is that we did not actually get to see our banshee which I think are some of the most majestic creatures in the whole Avatar universe (for now). Actually getting into the seats for the ride itself was a bit of a struggle for the non-English speaking people in our group so I would encourage others to be patient and help the cast members help these guests so you can board more efficiently. I found the seat to be quite comfortable and secure, but the 3D glasses were quite large and slipped down my nose any time I tried to glance down.

Once the flashing lights distracted us from the screen becoming visible, the views of Pandora were breath-taking and very thrilling. I actually felt like I was flying for a good portion of the ride. All of the little effects, from feeling your banshee’s breathing, to the wind in your face, and the gentle spray from waterfalls and crashing waves were really enjoyable but not quite magical. I could still look around and see other people sitting on bikes and the picture wasn’t as crisp or enchanting as I remember the movie being when I watched it years ago. The soundtrack was nice but not as moving as I thought it would be.

Overall, I still like Soarin’ more as a ride because of the music, the smells, and the lack of annoying 3-D glasses. I would wait in line again for this ride for two hours max, but definitely not three.

PhD Pointer: You might not like this ride if you aren’t a fan of heights! Motion sickness is less of a concern than Star Tours.

General Impression – Nighttime

The land seemed much much darker than I anticipated from everyone’s pictures of the bioluminescence. It was hard to see my friend a few feet away because there were so few lights turned on; I am not sure if it was because I got out of Flight of Passage a few minutes after 9 pm (park closing) or if the land is always like this at night but I would recommend trying to come as soon as the sun sets for optimal night time exploration.

PhD Pointer: Be careful with younger kids at night; it can be easy to lose sight of each other!

The few plants that we could see illuminated were really pretty but the ground was not as luminescent as I thought it would be. The black lights weren’t as precisely directed as they were in the River Journey ride so white and light colored clothing of passers-by also glowed which took a bit away from the overall effect (but made my already glow-in-the-dark shirt with a zebra glow even more!).

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Crowdedness

As soon as I got to Animal Kingdom for Early Magic Hours, I was allowed into the left paths through the Oasis. I believe guests without Early Magic Hours were still let through the gates but had to wait just inside the entrance. There were definitely other people in the park but it did not seem too crazy (granted, I’ve only been to Animal Kingdom one other time and that was during the week before Christmas).

During Early Magic Hours, Flight of Passage was over an hour wait, closer to 2 hours, and I had a dining reservation that I would miss if I got in line. Throughout the day, the wait for Flight of Passage was consistently between 120 and 180 minutes long, hovering around 150 most often. As I was leaving Na’Vi River Journey right around 9 AM when the park opened to all guests, cast members were alternating between allowing people in the queue to cross a through-path and letting people on the through-path walk past the queue. Walking along the path from Pandora to Harambe Village, the queue was on both sides of the path with only a third of the path allocated for people to walk-through. There was a drink and ice cream cart conveniently stationed just before the Harambe restrooms.

Na’Vi River Journey was always a shorter wait than Flight of Passage but not by much. I was never inclined to give up something else in Animal Kingdom for Na’Vi River Journey because the rest of the attractions were all under an hour wait.

PhD Pointer: Go to the bathroom near Satu’li Canteen right near the exit from the ride before getting in line! It’s a very long line with a water fountain (and water bottle re-fill!) but no restrooms.

The area itself did not feel too crowded at any point but the paths were difficult to navigate – I only accidentally found Satu’li Canteen without trying but the outside tables looked pretty full around 5:30 pm.

Next Trip!

I unfortunately did not have an opportunity to try any of the Pandoran food because I had other reservations in Animal Kingdom that I was really REALLY excited for (I’ll write about them soon in another post!). Even though I got to the Pongu Pongu window as soon as I could after our 3 hour wait for Flight of Passage, I was a minute too late and the manager said they were closing. I will have to try that Night Blossom drink some other time! I would have also loved to spend more time absorbing the general ambiance during dusk.

Overall Impression: Accept with minor revisions!

What did you like most or what are you most excited about Pandora?

Disney Tips · Disney Trips · Uncategorized

Making Mickey / Minnie Ears

Before my Disney obsession shifted into high gear in early 2017, I had always thought that Minnie and Mickey ears were cute but they felt like a purchase that would never be worth it enough for me. Besides, I already had an R2D2 ear hat and a Sorcerer Mickey hat that would do just fine. But after appreciating so many amazing ears on Pinterest and in the parks, I realized they were the perfect accessory to complete my park outfits. I thought I would share my story of making ear headbands (which I admit, I contribute very little to because my much craftier friend Chloe has usually done the bulk of the work).

A big part of the reason that I never bought ears at Disney Parks was because I could never find ears for my favorite characters. Although there were plenty of Rapunzel ears, they always had a long blonde braid attached and I prefer short-haired brunette Rapunzel. Belle ears were always yellow or gold and I prefer blue village dress Belle, especially for Disneybounding. And Meg ears were non-existent. There were a few pairs that were contenders (such as the zebra ones at Animal Kingdom and the blue sequined ears with white stars because they reminded me of Sorcerer Mickey but when I found out they were intended as 4th of July ears, that ruined them for me) but no pairs that I absolutely had to have.

Pair #1

After looking at enough Pinterest photos of ears, I had finally come up with a solid vision for a pair of Meg ears that I would actually want that weren’t available in any Etsy shops and my friend Chloe spurred me on further by saying that she was planning on making me a pair for Christmas. Instead of having her make me a pair, we decided to make a pair for each of us next time we were together in the same place. To prepare, I spent hours perusing fabric samples on Jo-Ann’s and Michaels’ websites trying to find the perfect shades of purple and patterned ribbons. Ultimately, that didn’t matter because we spent an hour in the store anyways trying to find the materials that perfectly complemented each other, none of which were on my Pinterest board.

After deciding on a very thin fabric with glittery spirals, the light purple to go underneath it and hide the cotton stuffing, and the dark purple and golden spiral ribbon for the bow, we got to work. Despite looking pretty, these were all really poor fabric choices.

We ended up having to pin the spiral fabric and the light purple fabric together so that we could sew them with a sewing machine without them coming apart or missing some sections. Even with the pinning, it still wasn’t perfect. Then the bow fabric was so slippery it took us another 45 minutes just to glue it together with the right proportions and puffiness.

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The ears were really cute and looked great in pictures but they were not very sturdy. By the time we left the park, one of my ears was coming off the headband and Chloe’s broke before we even got into the park! Thankfully, we had brought hot glue with us and she was able to repair them quickly. Can you guess which character her ears are based on?

Pair #2

The second time around, we did a lot better. For my Food & Wine ears, we selected a simple cotton print with names of wines for the ears and a much less slippery fabric for the bow in practically the exact same shade as my Meg bow. In addition to putting fewer cotton balls into each ear, we made sure the part of the ear that attached to the headband followed the curve of the headband instead of the curve of a printed template. This seemed to make all the difference! These ears stayed intact for the entire plane ride to Walt Disney World, during packing and unpacking as a I resort-hopped during my stay, my entire day at Epcot and the plane ride back home. I got so many compliments on the wine cork and how well they matched my shorts from Forever 21!

Pair #3

My Food & Wine ears were the only ears that I had time to make for my trip and in the process of preparing to make these, I stumbled upon an amazing pair of Rapunzel ears that I knew I would never be able to replicate. So I splurged and bought them because I thought they would be perfect to wear when I met Rapunzel for the first time. The coolest part about them is how they light up with the switch hidden inside the bow! Basically they are made of a bunch of small fabric flowers on a fabric-covered backing but I have no idea how the creator was able to weave the lights in.

Have you ever made ears yourself? What was your experience like?