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Mom’s Day at Disneyland

31 Jan
Matterhorn at Disneyland

The snow in Boston looks a bit different than this.

It’s sunny today in Boston, and we’re expecting another foot of snow tomorrow. I’m not entirely sure where to put it, given that the sides of my 30-yard driveway are already piled high with packed snow, and it doesn’t look like anything’s going to melt off before it’s time to shovel again. But at least I got the back deck cleared off on Saturday, since it was getting heavy enough that I worried about our kitchen roof underneath it.

Shoveling my driveway

Not the Yeti. Me.

All of which is really to say: I’m so incredibly, deeply glad that I took a day all to myself earlier this month and went to Disneyland.

This has been a strange month indeed. The third week of January, I was scheduled to attend business meetings in San Diego on Tuesday and Thursday, with a gap on Wednesday. I’d be flying to Orlando that Friday, for my best friend’s WeddingFest, so I knew a Disney fix was in my near future. But given that I’d be 90 minutes from Anaheim, with an inexplicable day off in Southern California, I’d scheduled an official vacation day, and booked a one-day car rental through the concierge in my lovely San Diego hotel.

San Diego harbor view

The lovely view from my room at the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay, San Diego

Being a Disney blogger, columnist, and podcaster, you’d think that it wouldn’t take much for me to get myself out of the hotel for a day at the happiest place on earth. But you’d be wrong. I’m also a working mom, and my family’s primary breadwinner at that. My spouse is a journalist, and I’m sure you’ve heard how kind the economy’s been to that sector lately. So I hemmed and hawed a lot, even on the morning of my daytrip. Surely there were better uses for the ~$180 I’d be spending on the daytrip, between car rental, gas, parking, and a one-day one-park admission. Surely I should be getting something more productive done for my work or family.

But sometimes, mom just needs a day at Disneyland.

It was a chilly Wednesday in January, possibly the best day ever to be at the park. There were no parades or fireworks, it’s true. I opted to skip DCA and the World of Color, and focus instead on my first Disney park, the first Disney park, the home of Mr. Toad’s Ride and the currently-open Toontown and the place of so many happy memories.

I hit a lot of traffic coming up from San Diego. I would’ve liked to leave around 6:00am, to hopefully beat some traffic and make rope drop, but the car rental counter didn’t open until 7:30am and they couldn’t promise me a car until 7:45am. I was cranky on the highway, but it started to melt away when I saw the exit signs for Disney Way/Katella Boulevard.

As much as I love touring the parks with my family and friends, there’s something special about a day alone in Disneyland too. Since I’d be at Walt Disney World in just a few days for WeddingFest, I knew I’d have plenty of time to enjoy Disney together with loved ones, and could completely throw myself into whatever I wanted to do alone at Disneyland. I knew, too, that WeddingFest wouldn’t mean a lot of park time, and that touring the parks becomes complicated with large groups of people with disparate interests, so I hit all my favorite attractions at least once, knowing I might not have a chance to experience their Magic Kingdom counterparts anytime soon.

As I’ve written about before, I spent much of the day wrapped in happy obsession with leveling up and earning badges on Lines. But touring alone also let me focus on some of the little things I might not have noticed otherwise.

Yeti Vinylmation in the Matterhorn control booth

Click on the image and look carefully: There's a Yeti Vinylmation in the Matterhorn control booth.

Liberte et Patrie sign at the Matterhorn

Ever notice this sign on the Matterhorn queue, on the right side? It translates to "Freedom and Fatherland."

Man in a kilt waiting for Storyland boat ride

I approve of men in kilts riding the Storyland boats. (Sorry for the freaky image quality.)

Girls in Tinkerbell wings

Another fashion win! I don't know who they are, but I love their wings.

Even sitting down for a meal in the parks alone can be wonderfully relaxing. I spent both lunch and dinner at the Golden Horseshoe, where I could catch a show and recharge my phone (gotta keep posting those wait times to Lines, y’know?).

And yes indeed, I did ride the rides.  I hit all my faves: Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Snow White, Buzz Lightyear . . . the list goes on and on. I lost track of how many times I ran through Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I went on the Finding Nemo submarine ride for the first time, and was pleased to see the same excellent technology in place for The Living Seas with Nemo over Epcot way. I danced in my seat while Captain EO promised to change the world, thinking gladly ahead to watching it again in a few days, with my MJ-fan son and whomever else we could drag along.

And of course, eventually the day came to an end. The park closed at 8:00pm, and honestly I was ready for the drive back to San Diego. I had a business call to return, and I knew things might get complicated. But I couldn’t call it a day without paying a visit to the big guy.

Mickey and Me

Oh happy day!

Mickey fountain in Toontown

Saying goodbye

As I sit in a Brookline coffee shop, on this sunny day in Boston waiting for the next foot of snow to drop, it’s nice to think back on a chilly Wednesday at Disneyland.

Jentasmic! Why I’m Going Back to Disney’s Hollywood Studios

12 Feb

From my Jentasmic! column this week at Studios Central:

Most Disney nerds have heard it at least once: “You’re going to Disney World again?” And yes I am. Not for about another six months, but it’s been many years since I didn’t know where my next trip was coming from.

So, why do I keep going back?

Head on over to StudiosCentral to see my reasons, and maybe even add some of your own in the comments! A commenter this morning made me smile with one of her reasons:

Because at Christmas (my next trip) I can spin like a little kid in the middle of The Osborne Lights and bawl my eyes out.

Well, Maybe I Can Do Without Cyberspace Mountain After All

15 Oct

The one thing I hate about the idea that DisneyQuest will probably eventually close is that I fear they won’t move Cyberspace Mountain, but just let it die. I love Cyberspace Mountain, and was sad this summer that it’s gone from Walt Disney Studios Paris. Bill Nye in French, how can you argue with that?

But….looks like they might have me covered, what with the new The Sum of All Thrills design-your-own-roller-coaster attraction coming soon to Epcot. And being a geek, I’m intrigued by the math angle they seem to be working. From Raytheon’s press release:

“The Sum of All Thrills” will be a core component of Raytheon’s MathMovesU program, an initiative designed to engage middle school students in math and science, and help create the next generation of innovators for the U.S. It will be located in the INNOVENTIONS pavilion at Epcot, a unique area of the park that contains 100,000 square feet of interactive, hands-on exhibits that allow visitors to celebrate the inspiration and innovation that improve their lives and expand their horizons.

If you’re not a nerd, you might find the photo in the Orlando Sentinel a little sexier.

D23 Magic and Merriment: A Shift in the Wind?

9 Oct

Wow, D23 really does seem to be positioning itself as the only-slightly-wealthy-man’s Club 33. Its Magic and Merriment at Walt Disney World event this December 12-13 is designed and priced for the higher-end tourist, and not packaged to be appealing to Annual Passholders.

When I booked this December’s trip for the fan meets, I knew D23 had something brewing. I’d hoped that it might be something of moderate price, that didn’t require a full weekend’s commitment of time and money. The event features two days of events, and is open only to D23 members, who’ve paid $74.99 for the privilege of spending more money (and, well, a magazine that I do hear is kinda nifty). The event itself is $195 per person, which includes (among other things) two one-park one-day tickets, two tickets to Disney Quest, admission to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, a dinner, and a luncheon. That’s not that bad a deal if you don’t already hold an Annual Pass, given that a two day non-hopper park admission is $166.14.

But where’s the love for Annual Passholders, who don’t need the park entry? Well, they might want to do what many have when using the Dining Plan: Buy the one-day required Magic Your Way ticket and hold onto it for future use, such as using it as credit towards a future Annual Pass renewal (which I will give a try in December with that one-day pass I’m still holding from Free Dining 2007). But wait……the fine print lets you know that “Park tickets and Disney Quest tickets must be used by December 30, 2010,” so unless you’re renewing that pass soon, better nix the idea. And actually, I don’t know for sure that these tickets can be applied to future purchases as most Magic Your Way would be, so don’t go trying that on my advice please!

It certainly does sound like a festive, pampering event, and I’ll confess to a bit of envious temptation brewing around the corners here, daring me to spend my allowance on a bit of decadence. But I doubt I will, in large part because I may well be too busy partying with my friends at the fan meets that same weekend.

Is there really a shift in the wind from grassroots fan events towards high-end Disney-owned events like Magic and Merriment and the D23 Expo? I’m hearing mixed results from the D23 Expo. On the one hand, I’ve heard that the sessions were packed, that you could hardly get a seat. On the other hand, it’s also been rumored that Disney lost a lot of money on the Expo, and isn’t expecting to repeat it anytime soon. (I do believe I heard both these items on recent episodes of The Disney Dudes.)

Such a shift in the wind would certainly be what Disney seems to be aiming for. Disney’s use of blogs, podcasts, and social networking technologies has lagged behind the fans’ use, and no doubt their recent offerings such as the Moms Panel and the Disney Parks Blog leverage the critical mass of online fan community that fan sites have nurtured over the years.

And then, there’s the money thing. There are already class divisions in the Disney fan community, and awkward moments in conversations about money. I always find it somewhat odd when people respond to my staying at a Value Resort or off-site by explaining that they really “prefer” more luxurious lodging, as if my choice of hotel is solely motivated by enjoyment of less-posh surroundings, and a desire for longer lines at check-in. I don’t have a problem with the fact that some people have larger vacation budgets than I. (After all, I’m currently holding a Disneyland Paris Annual Passport, and will soon concurrently hold one for Walt Disney World as well, so I can hardly claim any sort of deprivation.) But let’s face it: Money matters in our vacation choices, and the level of one’s income (and obligations) affects one’s options. But the great thing about fan community grassroots events is that, once you get yourself on-site and into the park, the playing field is pretty much level, at least in terms of class and money issues. We can all watch the parade together.

Will I do some spreadsheet crunching to see if there’s any way I could justify this expense? Sure. Am I likely to go? Nope. So hey, if you’re not going to the Magic and Merriment showing of Osbourne Lights that Saturday night, come on over and look for me at the WDW Today Reunion meet at Port Orleans Riverside to see Yee Haw Bob. Or swing by after the Osbournes — I’m sure the party will run plenty late!

Random, and Somewhat Cranky, Round-Up

22 Jul

My friend Geoff just Facebook’ed an awesome 1985 video of the Skyway ride from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland.

Apparently, we have oneandatwo to thank for this fabulously retro moment. Thanks, oneandatwo!

In other news…..I’ve been irritated lately by the discussions around the recently-leaked Magic Kingdom Fantasyland expansion plans. It seems that every time this comes up, people are talking about how frustrating it is that Disney (and in particular Fantasyland) doesn’t have enough stuff “for boys”, that it’s all princesses and fairies and we need more pirates and villians. Um, I think there’s a lot in Fantasyland that’s pretty gender-neutral….Peter Pan, Dumbo, Winnie the Pooh, Snow White….

And I just always hate how we tend to break things out into “boys stuff” and “girls stuff.” I grew up playing with Barbies and Hot Wheels, and so did my brother. And I can’t help but remember the dirty looks I’d get from strangers when my son was younger, and liked to pretend to drive the Barbie Jeep at Toys’ R Us. I mean really, it had a phone and way more controls and accessories than the “boys” version….so why shouldn’t he like it?

Plus I can’t help but wonder….is there a Universal Parks fan community out there, and is there a similar level of uproar that there’s not enough girly stuff? Harumph.

But yes, I do agree with John Frost when he says:

Disney is essentially writing off the tween boys and focusing all their attention on the girls with the idea that moms and their daughters control the vacation purse strings.

What else am I cranky about? Well, I have no interest in guinea pigs saving the world in 3D, and yet I know I’m gonna end up seeing that movie and spending the extra bucks for the additional dimension.

But not everything in the world makes me cranky! I’m glad to learn that there is apparently an awesome Star Wars craft show going on in Fort Lauderdale through August 29, 2009: Stitch Wars. A Flickr set dedicated to the event describes it thusly:

Stitch Wars

Stitch Wars

A long stitch ago in a Gallery not so far, far away, an alliance of crafty rebel artists was formed to honor the epic fantasy world of Star Wars. Wielding mighty tools of knitting and crochet, cutting through the great expanse of felt, these daring individuals used their handmade patterns of survival to restore freedom to the galaxy. Beginning July 18th 2009, their Jedi mind tricks will bedazzle you and sway your thoughts to the Dark side of the Art World. May their farce be with you.

And hey, a question I’ll throw out to you European and/or well-traveled readers…has anybody been to Parc Festyland in the Normandy region of France? Their web site (French only, but Google can translate to English if you like) amuses me tremendously, especially the fact that they have a section called Prehistyland dedicated to, well, prehistory. I’m gonna be in the neighorhood next month and have a strange desire to drop in, but the reviews I’ve found online are so terribly bad I think I’ve been scared away.

Jentasmic! Around the World in Disney Days

26 May

My Jentasmic! column at StudiosCentral.com this week starts on facebook, and travels around the globe:

The other day, I found myself listing the five things I’d immediately spend tons of cash on if I were to hit the lottery big time. Yes, the charitable foundation and the big house were at the top of my list, along with sending my husband to Mongolia (honest, he’s wanted to go there for decades). And, you guessed it, so was a fabulous vacation to all the Disney Parks around the world. (After all, my spouse will be in Mongolia for a while, and the boy and I need to keep ourselves occupied somehow, right?) I’ve been to nine of the Disney Parks already, only missing Tokyo DisneySea and Hong Kong Disneyland, but I’d love to take a leisurely couple months to visit them all sequentially, and also enjoy some of the surrounding areas.

Head on over to read the rest….

Disney Expert Uses Science to Draw Boy Viewers

15 Apr

From The New York Times (you might have to log in to access):

Ms. Peña and her team of anthropologists have spent 18 months peering inside the heads of incommunicative boys in search of just that kind of psychological nugget. Disney is relying on her insights to create new entertainment for boys 6 to 14, a group that Disney used to own way back in the days of “Davy Crockett” but that has wandered in the age of more girl-friendly Disney fare like “Hannah Montana.”

Children can already see the results of Ms. Peña’s scrutiny on Disney XD, a new cable channel and Web site (disney.go.com/disneyxd). It’s no accident, for instance, that the central character on “Aaron Stone” is a mediocre basketball player. Ms. Peña, 45, told producers that boys identify with protagonists who try hard to grow. “Winning isn’t nearly as important to boys as Hollywood thinks,” she said.

Actors have been instructed to tote their skateboards around with the bottoms facing outward. (Boys in real life carry them that way to display the personalization, Ms. Peña found.) The games portion of the Disney XD Web site now features prominent trophy cases. (It’s less about the level reached in the game and more about sharing small achievements, research showed.)

Creating a punch line about the need to extract information from “incommunicative boys” is left as an exercise for the reader.

None of this would likely have much affect on my family, given that we don’t happen to fall into traditional gender roles much (witness Princess Stitch). But if this “headquarters for boys” succeeds, it could mean some welcome trends for parents who complain that Disney Parks don’t have much to offer boys. I hope the researchers will also do some data-mining on Disney fan message boards, where the Disney Digerati have often clamored for boy-centric character meals, all-Villains meet-and-greets, and other events they feel would appeal to their sons.

1900 Positions Eliminated at Disney Parks

3 Apr

The Orlando Sentinel, via The Disney Blog, has brought us saddening news:

The Walt Disney Co. has eliminated 1,900 jobs across its U.S. parks division – including 1,400 in Florida – the company confirmed this afternoon.

The division-wide cuts include about 1,150 layoffs, 50 voluntary buyouts and 700 open positions that were not filled.

The Florida cuts include 900 layoffs and buyouts and 500 open positions eliminated. The vast majority of those cuts were in Central Florida and at Walt Disney World, though the company also shed jobs at a reservations center in Tampa.

The remaining cuts include 200 layoffs and buyouts and 100 eliminated open positions at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and smaller cuts at offices in Burbank, Calif., and Glendale, Calif.

My Jentasmic! column today at StudiosCentral.com was written before the final numbers came out, but the song remains the same:

My heart goes out to all those who have lost their jobs. Given the current unemployment rate (9.4% in Florida, Feb 2009), I know that many will have a difficult, and long, job search (I’d gladly explain to you over coffee sometime why I know this so well, though I won’t ramble about it here). And my heart also goes out to those who remain employed, and may now be picking up extra responsibilities to cover for those whose positions were eliminated. It’s a rare employer that actually manages to eliminate all the work that was being performed by those being laid off; more often, at least some of that work is spread around those remaining.

Jentasmic: My Top 7 Disney Parks Best Moves

20 Mar
Greeting the day at Disneyland Paris, en route to our Good Morning Fantasyland breakfast

We are shocked! We have Main Street and the Castle all to ourselves!

I’ve written about my biggest mistakes before….but this week’s Jentasmic! column at StudiosCentral.com takes a more optimistic spin, looking at the best moves I’ve ever made related to my Disney Parks trips. Strangely enough, one item actually made it onto both lists:

6) Staying onsite at Disneyland Paris. When writing my “top 5 mistakes list,” I felt that staying onsite had not been worth the trouble and expense, given that my spouse had spent that night solo in a perfectly good Central Paris hotel room, 45 minutes away by train. And I’m still planning to commute from Central Paris on my next Disneyland Paris trip, scheduled for late August of this year (fingers crossed! I hope we can make it happen!). But maybe that early entrance to the park for the included-with-stay Good Morning Fantasyland Breakfast was worth the expense and trouble; after all, we got that fabulous picture of my son in front of Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant, with nary another Guest in sight. And y’all know how I feel about the importance of afternoon breaks when you’re traveling with the under-10 set, right? So I’m starting to believe it was in fact money well spent, especially if it was just a one-time thing.

Can Has Disney Parks LOLz?

11 Jan

Epic Fail

Autopia Madness

Sneaky Ninja Skills, I Has Dem

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