Dancing at Port Orleans Riverside. Photo credit: Trace Jennings, the Disney Dude
The great thing about solo travel is that one can try new things with abandon. Usually, I’ve got my kid’s needs to consider, and I often hesitate to try something new when my 12-year-old son is along for the ride. Plus of course, there are some things that one simply can’t do with a 12-year-old in tow, unless one has an outrageously precocious child, the right connections to fake ID manufacturers, and a willingness to completely forgo parental responsibilities.
This was the first time I’d spent more than 12 hours at Walt Disney World without my kid, so I enjoyed a measure of freedom that’s rare for my vacation time. I’m also fortunate to have plenty of solo business travel under my belt, so I’m accustomed to independence…just not when that independence is strictly about having a good time hanging out with buddies old and new! So, this month’s trip to MouseFest 2008 gave me a chance to try a few new things at Walt Disney World. Many of them I’ll do again…and some, well, I’m glad I had the chance to try them, because now I know they’re just not my thing.
Those Darn Cats' "Fish Are Friends, Not Food, Meet." Photo credit: Trace Jennings
I will start by saying that I hope to be able to make it to another MouseFest someday, and I’d gladly travel solo to Disney again! But, well, maybe not real soon. As great a trip as this was, family travel remains a much higher priority for me, at least for so long as I’m spending time on the road for business, and for so long as my kid’s living at home (which, shockingly, might only be another 6 years). Given that vacation days and dollars are sometimes scarce commodities, I’ll still be spending most of mine with the family.
And I also gotta say, isn’t it kinda cheat-y of me to call MouseFest a solo trip? Yeah, it was a solo trip with 952 of my closest friends! I’m not sure I would have enjoyed 5 days at Disney World truly solo, without 30 friends to dry my eyes after Finding Nemo: The Musical, without pushing a recalcitrant Jon onto the Haunted Mansion, without Steve showing up in drag at 9AM on a Sunday morning (hey, that was indeed quite new, even for me!). I do think I would have been lonely had I truly been there alone for 5 days.
But all that being said, and all aspersions of cheatyness set aside, what else was new for me this trip? Well, this was the first time I’d left Housekeeping oversized tips and shameless pleas for towel animals, which I’ll surely do again. Yes, I have an embarrassing fondness for towel animals, and I did bring home a whole menagerie…but it wasn’t just the need for new trinkets. It was also the pleasure of knowing that I’d put a couple extra dollars in the pocket of a Cast Member who is surely underpaid, and the fun of knowing I’d find something new and amusing when I returned to my room each night. Maybe Stitch would be curled up with a book (The Contortionist’s Handbook,
for those of you playing along at home, which of course is available from my Amazon Store). Or maybe he’d be watching TV…. or maybe a strange swan/reindeer hybrid (sweindeer?) would be atop my television, or some strange creature looking like she’s just emerged from the day spa. But either way, it was fun to feel just a little bit pampered, even (or especially?) at my low-rent Value Resort. Of course, since I enjoyed this special attention so much, I did in fact practice what I preach, and sent an email to Guest Communications after my stay to let them know what an important part this Cast Member played in creating the Magic, and how much I appreciate their great work.
Inside Pixie Hollow
I’d never been to Pixie Hollow before, and would recommend it though I don’t feel the need to do it again. The Fairies meet-and-greet is very well done, not only because the Fairies themselves are well-played but also because of the theme-ing. As you enter the Fairies’ domain, you’re sprinkled with pixie dust, represented by occasional electronic sparkles along the walls. As you move down the hallway towards the Hollow, the trees and mushrooms around you grow larger, symbolizing the pixie dust’s having shrunken you down to the Fairies size…and apparently, making it possible for you to understand the Fairies language. It would have been nice had a Cast Member explained this as we were waiting, as these details would have been lost on me were I not an overly-researching Disney dweeb (and had a friendly Tomorrowland Cast Member not talked me into visiting the Fairies by waxing enthusiastically about just this sort of thing). And yes, once you get into the Hollow the Fairies are every bit as playful and friendly as one would expect from Disney characters. Tink was in fact rather sassy, not the sexpot Tink who shows up so disturbingly in many Disney pins.
Nancy, Bob, Ray, and myself. Photo credit: Trace Jennings
I am not generally a piano bar fan, so I approached Yee Haw Bob’s show with some hesitation, but I enjoyed it immensely and would definitely go again….if I were with friend, or bringing my kid. Bob Jackson is a tremendous, and tireless performer, providing audience participation par excellence. My BFF Lisa and our friend Trace had secured the front table, so I was able to sneak in at showtime with friends Angel and Julio, and we all had a blast. Of course being at the front table meant that we were called upon for more audience participation than some, and I’m sure Lisa’s hand-made “Yee Haw” shirt didn’t hurt matters either! Bob Jackson’s a good enough comedian to get you to play along with the corniest jokes, and laugh until your sides hurt. And yes, some of us enjoy dragging unsuspecting MouseFesters into a conga line from time to time. It’s all very family-friendly, and I hope to take my kid there before he’s too cool to enjoy it. Or if we miss that window, maybe I’ll take him later on, when his kids can enjoy it too.
Alas, I can’t honestly say I want to go to Jellyrolls again, the other much-vaunted Disney World piano bar experience. It wasn’t for lack of good company…I arrived with my friend Danielle (after a fabulous time at the Studios Central Fantasmic Dessert Party), sat for a while with Steve Barrett of Hidden Mickeys fame, and then hung out with Bryan Ripper and others at the All About the Mouse Singalong Meet. So what was my problem? It might have been the general aesthetic….despite my eclectic tastes in music, they just weren’t playing anything that made me wanna sing, with the exception of a rousing rendition of good ol’ Rocky Top. The audience participation just wasn’t as orchestrated (some might say forced) as Bob Jackson’s, and I never felt pulled into it. But perhaps my friends hit the nail on the head when more than one of them told me that Jellyroll’s is just more fun when you’re hammered.
Earlier that day, my friend Danielle had introduced me to the Animation Academy, which I’ll do again every visit, perhaps even every day! Located in The Magic of Disney Animation at the Studios, this 20-minute experience always looked like a bore, especially since I have no talent whatsoever at the drawing board. But in that 20 minutes, I was able to draw a recognizable Jimminy Cricket, suitable for framing! In this day and age of “interactive entertainment,” this low-tech experience is immensely engaging, and I’d recommend it to people of all ages, even if they’re not hammered.
I’d never stayed at one of the All Stars Resorts before, and I’d do it again…if I’m staying onsite, and if Pop is booked. Yup, that’s a lot of if’s, but I mean it. I often stay offsite to have more room for fewer dollars (especially given easy access to family timeshare weeks), and I do prefer Pop to the All Stars. But All Star Movies really wasn’t so bad, and my location in the Mighty Ducks building meant that I could choose the Movies or Music buses depending on which was to my advantage. Plus, the towel animals were fantastic, and the low rent meant I could sign that credit card slip with a clean conscience.
And on the higher-rent end of things….I will absolutely eat at Boma’s again! I’d thought about trying this restaurant before, at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, when my son and I had been staying at Saratoga Springs Resort on our Free Dining trip in August of 2007, but had balked because I hate taking Disney buses between resorts. Next time, I’ll just take a cab – it’s worth it for this fabulous dining experience! The roast pork was succulent, the fufu divinely spiced, the pineapple cheesecake worth the trip itself. My only complaint was that the zebra domes didn’t live up to the hype I’d heard in the Disney Digerati, being a rather well-ornamented chocolate mousse rather than the cure to all that ails you. But how could they have possibly lived up to that reputation? I shall dine again at Boma’s at the first opportunity, and will allow myself even a bit longer to linger in the lobby, maybe even grab me a pair of those night vision goggles I keep hearing about, for watching the wildlife outside the window.
I don’t know when I’ll get back to Walt Disney World…right now, the next Disney trip on my agenda is a few days next August at Disneyland Paris, in my estimation the prettiest of the Magic Kingdoms. As much as it would be great to be headed to Florida again soon, I’m also glad I’ll be giving it a little time, so that next time I visit I’ll be able not only to revisit these new favorites, but try out whatever new stuff they’ve cooked up in my absence!