Details of Disney Magic

The Mature MouseTM visits Walt Disney World because it is more than a theme park. A tour of a Disney Park is an intensive experience. Plans for Disney Hollywood Studios, announced at the recent D23, reflect the Imagineers plans for intensifying that experience.

During my recent trip to Disney World, I took some time to capture some of those details in the various parks. The magic of a Disney Park is imbedded in those features; it is the quality that makes a Disney Park more than just another theme park. Imagineers went to great lengths to design an atmosphere that enhances the storytelling. This attention to detail surrounds you at Disney’s resorts, four theme parks, and 2 water parks.

Below are images from my recent visit to Walt Disney World. You should also visit The Theme Park Tourist to read their list of  10 Absurdly Intricate Details at Walt Disney World That Most People Never Notice.

IMG_2018Please visit The Mature MouseTM store for merchandise. Many of the items would make outstanding additions to your vacation gear and attire. This baseball hat is just one of the featured items available through the store. If you are a mature fan of Disney, consider getting an item. Are you a Mature Mouse™?

A travel agent who specializes in booking Disney Vacations is a valuable free resource when planning your next trip, and will assist you in choosing the right resort for your stay at Walt Disney World. I started planning my recent trip by calling Jennie Nowers. When Cool Summer Savings was released, Jennie was up early applying these savings to my trip, which saved me 15% on the price of my resort stay. I did not need to do a thing. Tell Jennie that The Mature Mouse™ sent you and receive a special gift with your next booking.

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Liberty Square Street in Magic Kingdom
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Tangled Restroom in Magic Kingdom
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Tangled rest area in Magic Kingdom
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Harambe Village in Anima Kingdom
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Harambe Village in Anima Kingdom
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Morocco in World Showcase
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Morocco in World Showcase
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Mexico in World Showcase 
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Germany in World Showcase
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Streets of America in Hollywood Studios
Yacht & Beach Club
Yacht & Beach Club

A Disney World Vacation is the best

With so much to do and see at Walt Disney World, The Mature Mouse™ cannot understand why people choose to go anywhere else. This sentiment does not only apply to families; a Disney World vacation is a great choice for the more mature empty-nester. One does not need to have children in tow to enjoy all that Disney World has to offer.

Yes, Walt Disney World has attractions, rides, appropriate for all ages. However, as I have pointed out in numerous post, the resort also offers much more. There are fine-dining restaurants, and first-class hotels. There are first-class golf courses, and miniature golf courses. There are educational experiences, and cultural influences. There is a lot for vacationers, guests, to be thankful for at Walt Disney World.

Disney Questions has created a list of the top 10 things to be thankful for at Disney World. This list is not all inclusive, but it offers the non-Disney fan clear reasons why they should consider a vacation at the resort. I especially agree with number 7 on the list: The Cast Members. I make an effort to acknowledge those cast members who go above and beyond their role by handing them a thank you card during my visit.

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A travel agent who specializes in booking Disney Vacations is a valuable free resource when planning your next trip. I started planning my next Disney World Vacation by calling Jennie Nowers. When the Cool Summer Savings were released, Jennie was up early applying these savings to my trip, which saved me 15% on the price of my resort stay. I did not need to do a thing. Tell her that The Mature Mouse™ sent you and receive a special gift from Jennie with your next booking.

Please visit The Mature Mouse™ store for logo merchandise. Many of the items would make outstanding additions to your vacation gear and attire. Below are just a few of the items featured with my logo. If you are a mature fan of Disney, consider getting an item to let others know. I am a Mature Mouse™, are you?

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Is It Time to Retire Free Dining

freedineDo you agree with dadfordisney? Should Disney World discontinue the offer of Free Dining? Have you booked a trip simply because of this offer? The Mature Mouse™ would like to know what you think. I booked my next trip for June, hoping for summer savings, but not budgeting for this offer. Has an offer, like Free Dining, tempted you to book a trip?

I started planning my next Disney World Vacation by calling Jennie Nowers. When the Cool Summer Savings were released, Jennie was up early applying these savings to my trip, which saved me 15% on the price of my resort stay. I did not need to do a thing. Tell her that The Mature Mouse™ sent you and receive a special gift from Jennie with your next booking.

Please visit The Mature Mouse™ store for logo merchandise. Many of the items would make outstanding additions to your vacation gear and attire.

dadfordisney

For the last several years, Disney has offered a free dining promotion during what are “slower traffic months” for Walt Disney World.  Free Dining started in the early 2000’s when people were travelling a lot.  Free Dining was designed as way to get people to the parks.  My family took Disney up on the Free Dining offer in 2009 and we’ve made eight more trips since that first trip.  As years have gone on and more and more people have come to expect free dining in the fall, Disney has made the dates more restrictive, resort availability more restrictive, and increased the number of days or type of ticket that you need to qualify for free dining.

I have spent many years as avid Disney follower, one year as independent Disney blogger, nine months as an independent travel agent specializing in Disney vacations, and will be soon coming out with…

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Walt Disney World Value Resorts

“In 1994, the first of the Walt Disney World Value Resorts opened.” Dad’s Guide to WDW recently posted an overview of the Value resorts at Walt Disney World. As I have mentioned in this blog, my favorite resort is Disney’s Beach Club for many reasons. You can read about our resort choice back in Chapter 2: The right Disney Resort, for us. However, my budget will not always afford me the opportunity to stay at a deluxe resort. I am looking at Disney’s Pop Century Resort for my next trip. This value resort offers dedicated busses to the parks, and some great theming based on the pop culture of the 1950’s, ’60’s, ’70’s, ’80’s, and ’90’s.

Have you stayed at a value resort? If so, which one and how was your experience? If you have not stayed at a value resort, why not? IS it because these resorts are themed more for families with children, or because you really enjoy the comfort of the moderate and/or deluxe resorts at Walt Disney World.

Click on the image of Disney’s Pop Century to visit the full article by Dad’s Guide to WDW.disney-world-value-resorts-pop-front-judd

Chapter 8: Feel the Force at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Today we head over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. After grabbing some breakfast, we walk out on the dock to wait for the ferryboat to the park. The view from the dock of the surroundings of Crescent Lake gives you the sense that you are at a seaside resort community in the Atlantic North East. Disney resorts, like the parks, are known for their quality of the theming. The boat ride to the park reminded me of a few canal rides I have taken, connecting various towns by natural and man-made waterways.

We arrive at the park approximately 30 minutes after opening, and make our way down Hollywood Boulevard. This part of the park, along with Sunset Boulevard, represents the romanticized ideal of Hollywood during the 1940s. We grew up with the movies and old newsreels that depicted this golden age of Hollywood, which the Imagineers have recreated here in the park.

Our plan is to head directly toward Star Tours, use a FastPass+, then possibly ride the attraction a second time. We take the path behind Echo Lake. We pass Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, which is not on our to-do list for today’s visit to the park. I had read mixed reviews of this attraction and we were not sure we wanted to experience it this trip.

As we approach Star Tours, my inner geek is overcome with excitement at seeing the Ewok village and an AT-AT looming over us. The FastPass+ line is empty, so we quickly make our way through the Rebel bunker and into the Star Tours Spaceport. 2014-06-23 10.10.30-1C-3PO and R2-D2 are working on a Starspeeder, along with various other droids. I had thought that the FP+ line would take us on a different path through the queue. However, the FP+ line runs parallel to the standby line and directly pass the various vignettes.

The actual ride is amazing! You wear a pair of 3-D glasses, which bring the digital images to life. There is another layer, or dimension, added by the presence of an animatronic C-3PO in the pilot’s chair. I will admit that I did develop a little motion sickness while on this attraction. However, we enjoy the ride so much that we quickly went back to the standby entrance to ride it again. We did not wait long; the standby line moved very quickly. This ride, this Star Tour, is very different from our first experience. According to the Disney World website for this attraction, with “over 50 story combinations, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue invites you to experience a unique adventure almost every time.” I could have spent hours, and a considerable amount of money, wandering through Tatooine Traders.

Instead, we make our way over to The Great Movie Ride for our next FP+. Most Disney World ‘experts’ recommend not using FP+ for this attraction. To some extent I agree, the lines move quickly. However, if you do not want to take the chance, I recommend using your FP+ reservations to create the type of experience that best suits your touring plans. We enjoy the attraction, probably for the same reason we can appreciate the theming of the park. We grew up watching these movies, albeit many of them as television reruns. Whether it is visiting Munchkinland, or watching Rick convince Ilsa to get on that plane with Victor; The Great Movie Ride immerses you in classic movie moments.

We have some spare time before our next FP+ reservation, which is for the performance of BUnknowneauty and the Beast-Live on Stage. We take a stroll down the Streets of America, and make our way over to Muppet Vision 3D. The action and gags are fast paced, with numerous 4D surprises. And, as a Muppet fan, I really enjoy the humor of the animatronic Statler and Waldorf as they comment from their private balcony. The only regret I have is that we did not take time to explore the queue, which is themed as a movie soundstage with many Muppet surprises.

From the Muppet Theater, we make our way over to Sunset Boulevard to2014-06-23 12.09.14 see the performance of Beauty and the Beast. Our FastPass reservation allows us to enter the theater without waiting in line, and gives us seating in a preferred section. Unfortunately, it is an open-air theater, so there is no air conditioning, just shade and fans. This production is well staged, shorter than the full Broadway production, and very enjoyable.

We decide to explore the rest of Hollywood Studios as we meander our back toward the Sci-Fi Drive-In Theater Restaurant for our lunch ADR. Although we find the park to be smaller and easier to maneuver, the sections, or lands, are not as clearly defined as they are in other parks. There are more adult oriented attractions at Hollywood Studios, including a few we knew would be too intense for us. I am a fan of Aerosmith, but the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is not in my wheelhouse. If it were not for those sudden drops, I would really enjoy The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Maybe Disney Imagineers will someday create an alternate version that allows you to experience the haunted hotel without the stomach churning plunges.

Our ADR at the Sci-Fi is at 1:40; we arrive at 1:30. We wait 30 minutes before we were seated, during which time a lot of people are turned away because they did not have a reservation. This is a very popular restaurant in Hollywood Studios, and we can see why. There is a juxtapsci-fi-dine-in-theater-gallery00osition to the theming: the entrance is styled as the back of a Hollywood sound stage, while the dining room is designed as a 1950’s drive-in theater, with tables set into the body of a retro cars. A 45-minute loop continuously plays clips from science fiction B-movies, as well as newsreels and advertisements from the 1950s. The menu offers things like burgers, popcorn chicken, fries, and old-fashion milkshakes, but these are not your basic drive-in staples. The chef has developed delicious variations on these classic American dishes.

As planned, we make our way out of the park after lunch. We take the boat back to the Beach Club for an evening of relaxation by the pool and a light dinner. I have enjoyed our time at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and look forward to returning during my next trip. There certainly will be new things to experience in the park in years to come.

Walt Disney knew that change is important and inevitable in the parks. There are certainly many changes in the works for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, not the least of which is an expanded presence of Star Wars and Pixar. At the writing of this post, the Sorcerer’s Hat is down and the Great Movie Ride is undergoing an update due to Disney’s new association with Turner Classic Movies. There are even rumors of a name change for the park. What are your thoughts about Hollywood Studios? What changes would you like to see happen at the park? Which attractions should go, and which need to be updated?

In the next chapter of The Mature Mouse I will review our Be Our Guest Restaurant dining experience, followed be an evening at Magic Kingdom. If you are indeed a mature fan of Disney, a mature mouse, please use the link to visit The Mature Mouse store for logo merchandise. And, do not forget to consult Jennie Nowers about your next Disney vacation. Tell her that The Mature Mouse sent you and receive a special gift from Jennie with your next booking.

Chapter 7: Disney Magic and Romance at the California Grill

Our Walt Disney World vacation was a celebration of our 20th anniversary, and we chose to make an ADR at the California Grill as an elegant and romantic way to commemorate the occasion. It was important to us to fill this experience with as much Disney magic as possible. After all, that is why we came to WDW for our anniversary. To that end, we planned to walk from our resort at Disney’s Beach Club to the front of Epcot, by way of the International Gateway that leads into the World Showcase. From the Epcot monorail station, we could ride to the Ticket and Transportation Center, transfer to the resort loop in order to ride into the Contemporary lobby. It would take us about 90 minutes, but it would be a truly Disney experience.

On our way through the World Showcase, we stopped on the bridge that leads to France and had a Disney photographer take our picture with the France pavilion behind us. This certainly added to the romance of the evening. We also stopped at a Disney photographer at the entrance to Future World. He took a picture of us in front of a fountain and Spaceship Earth. It was a little further to the front of the park than we had imagined, and it was a warm afternoon, but we took it slow and enjoyed our first look at Epcot.   Our first ride on the monorail gave us an extensive view of the expanse of Walt Disney World between Epcot and the Seven Seas Lagoon. Luckily, we did not need to wait long for the resort monorail. This ride gave us an opportunity to get a glimpse of the Polynesian and Grand Floridian Resorts, as well as the entrance to the Magic Kingdom Park. There we were, on the monorail, traveling in true Disney style.

We arrived at the Contemporary with some time to kill, so we explored the massive lobby. There are several gift shops, and the beautiful 90-foot-tall mosaic by Mary Blair, which celebrates the Grand Canyon and the American Southwest. I was most fascinated by how smoothly the various monorail trains glide in and out of the foyer.

Our dinner reservation at the California Grill was for 7:30. My wife did not realize that I had left special instructions with our reservation. It was important for us to have a table next to the window to give us the best view of the Magic Kingdom. FL0005_dtI had also placed a special order with the Disney florist for a rhinestone tiara, which comes sitting on a rhinestone-studded pillow, surrounded by roses, on a silver-tone plate. This surprise was to be delivered to the restaurant earlier that day and placed on our table before we were seated. During our check in at the restaurant podium on the 2nd floor of the resort, I tried to convey who we were and the special instructions for our reservations without openly telling the hostess. It was a little awkward for me, and I had no way of knowing if things were going as planned when they finally called our name.

The hostess instructed us to follow a cast member to a private elevator, which took us up to the restaurant on the 15th floor. DSC04639-940x624A wine wall greets you as you exit the elevator. The California Grill has a curved wall of windows with a vista of the lagoon, the Floridian and Polynesian Resorts, and the Magic Kingdom. The entire dining room opens to the bank of windows, IMG_1413but it was the tables nearest and next to the windows that offer the guests the best view. There are linen tablecloths and napkins, as well as a candle centerpiece. The décor has a retro feel, and the rug design echoes the southwest mural in the lobby of the Contemporary.DSC04633-940x624

As we approached our table, I could tell that all my arrangements, along with some Disney magic, had gone as planned. On our table for two, which was next to a window, sat the tiara and roses. The staff at the California Grill had spread Mickey glitter all over the table and left us a note wishing us a happy anniversary. My wife was very surprised and very happy. OuIMG_6456-940x704r meal was delicious and the wait staff was very friendly and accommodating. I ordered the Pork Two Ways, which is a plate of grilled tenderloin, goat cheese polenta, mushrooms, lacquered belly and applesauce. We took our time, and ended our evening with a spectacular view of Wishes. The restaurant turns down the lights and the audio from the Magic Kingdom is piped in to the restaurant.

We were surprised that there were many young children at the restaurant that evening. There was a young couple, with a baby in an infant seat and a toddler, sitting near us. This family had come in shortly after 9 and stayed through Wishes. Most, if not all, Disney restaurants try to accommodate young children with different menu items. However, these parents had to, or decided to, bring infant and toddler food into the restaurant. I can only assume that they chose to come to the California Grill for the view of the fireworks, but their children seemed too tired to enjoy the show. I would not bring young children to this restaurant; they would not be able to appreciate the fine-dining experience.

Have you ever had the opportunity to dine at the California Grill, or one of the other fine dining restaurants on Disney property? What are your go-to restaurants for romantic evenings? How do you prefer to travel around Walt Disney World? Do you make an effort to ride the monorail during your vacation, even if you are not staying at one of the Magic Kingdom resorts?

In the next chapter of The Mature Mouse I will discuss our trip to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, including our lunch at the Sci-Fi Drive-in Theater Restaurant. If you are indeed a mature fan of Disney, a mature mouse, please use the link to visit The Mature Mouse store for logo merchandise. And, do not forget to consult Jennie Nowers about your next Disney vacation. Tell her that The Mature Mouse sent you.

Chapter 6: Our trek to Disney’s Animal Kingdom

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Based on all of the crowd calendars I read, we decided that the first morning of our vacation would be spent at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Many regular WDW visitors do not recommend scheduling a FP+ during the first hours of the park opening. However, we did not want to rush to the park for rope-drop, then dash through the park to an attraction. We had scheduled a FastPass+ for Kilimanjaro Safaris from 9:15-10:15. If we really enjoyed the attraction, and the lines were short, we could ride it again. This is the way we structured all our mornings in the parks. This morning would be a test-run for our system.

We had stocked a few food items in the room for a quick breakfast. So, after a quick stop at the Beach Club Marketplace for coffee, we headed off to take the bus to DAK. The wait was not long, and the ride was fairly quick and uneventful. Before entering the park, we stopped to have our picture taken in front of the park sign by one of the Disney PhotoPass photographers. We had added Disney Memory Maker to our package. I will address the value of this added expense during my post-trip blog. For now, let me say that it was a pleasure to have our picture taken together in front of the park. We have so many vacation photos of one or the other of us, or selfies that do not include much of our surroundings.

We took our time wandering toward the back of the park. This would have been an appropriate time to explore some of the various paths heading toward Africa. We did not do this and I wish we had taken more time to discover the unique elements of this park. However, being June, it was hot and humid that morning. We did not want to take too much time getting to the attraction.

The theming of Harambe Village is very authentic to an African village, from the thatch roofs, to the aged and weathered look of the buildings, even the crumbling or missing walls left over from the occupation by the British. For some, this could seem unwelcoming. I found the theming to be part of the DAK experience; I was immersed in my surroundings. I felt as if I was in Africa, and the weather was adding to the atmosphere.2014-06-22 09.51.53-1

Kilimanjaro Safaris was also very authentic, although I doubt you would find all those animals in such close proximity to each other in Africa. However, that is not the point. A ‘real’ African Safari would take days or weeks, without any guarantee of seeing an animal. The Disney Imagineers have created an authentic safari experience, including creaky, old bridges and washed out roads, without any visible barriers or pens for the animals. I was surprised at just how close you get to them. The ride was often jarring, but that added to the experience.

PartScreen Shot 2015-02-02 at 4.18.10 PM of our vacation planning included designing and printing thank-you cards for exceptional cast members. These were the size of a business card. It was an idea I found on a few of the planning blogs I had consulted. Our safari driver was the first park cast member to receive one of these cards. She did an excellent job explaining the surroundings and the animals, and making us feel like we were on an African safari.2014-06-22 10.18.51-1

We took a walk through the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. Unlike Kilimanjaro Safaris, this felt more like a zoo. Despite the fact that animals were situated within authentic environments, they were behind cages or glass walls. One of the silverback gorillas mooned us while bending over for a drink at a spring.

2014-06-22 10.35.26-1Our next FP+ was scheduled for Dinosaur, between the hours of 10:40-11:40, which is located on the other side of the park. We took our time walking in that direction. Again, it would have been nice to explore diverse areas on Discovery Island, but the crowds were building along with the heat, which kept us moving. We did stop along the way for a few shots of the Tree of Life. This was a little emotional for both my wife and me. We had heard so much about this park icon, and there we were standing right in front of it.

Dinosaur was a thrilling experience, albeit a short one. We were given the opening spiel about time traveling back in time, just before the meteors wiped out all the dinosaurs. ThroughDino special lighting effects, a jeep that bounced and jarred us through the blackness of the past, we were given a fantastic ride. This is one of the attractions that include an on-ride photo. Although you know that this world and the creatures in it has all been imagineered into reality, you do get caught up in the moment. I certainly did.

We lunched at Restaurantosaurus, which is humorously themed as living quarters for a group of young paleontologists. As quick service food goes, it was good. We each had a Chicken BLT Salad. Each quick service meal comes with dessert, and who were we to argue? I had the cheesecake and my wife had the chocolate mousse. Both were served in a glass. Our meal also included two bottles of water. You need to remain hydrated! The price of this lunch was just around $33 for the two of us, just over $15 per person.

NemoWe made our way over to the theatre to see Finding Nemo – the Musical. We had a FP+ for this production, which did get us quickly through the line, but did not give us preferred seating. The theater is large, as are the sets and characters. We are fans of the movie, and we became fans of this live-action version of the story. The characters are huge puppets controlled by actors, who also give the characters their voice. Without giving too much away, there are special effects that immerse the audience in the underwater adventure of Nemo, Marlin, and Dory. This is a must-do for all ages.

As we were leaving the theater, heading toward Asia, we decided the park was getting very crowded, and we were getting tired. We had a special evening planned for at the California Grill, so we decided to head out of the park and back to our room at Disney’s Beach Club. The wait for the bus was short, and the ride not too long.

Some consider DAK a ‘half-day’ park because it does not have as many attractions as some of the smaller parks. However, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is huge, and attractions are dispersed throughout the park, which requires a lot of walking. There are a few walking trails to explore and details to investigate in all areas of the park. It is also considered the hottest park; for some reason, the temps are always higher at DAK than in the rest of the parks. I would like to revisit this park, on a cooler, less crowded day, and take some time to study all the special touches the Imagineers included in their design of the park. There are new experiences coming to DAK, including Rivers of Light and Pandora, a separate area based on the movie Avatar.

How do you plan your time at Disney’s Animal Kingdom? Do you consider it a half or full day park?In your opinion, is Disney’s Memory Maker a good value? Has a cast member ever gone out of their way to share some extra Disney Magic with you? Do you give thank you notes or gifts to exceptional cast members?

In the next chapter of The Mature Mouse I will review our evening at the California Grill. If you are indeed a mature fan of Disney, a mature mouse, please use the link to visit The Mature Mouse™ store for logo merchandise. And, do not forget to consult Jennie Nowers about your next Disney vacation, and mention this blog for a free gift with your booking.