Tips for Large Groups Visiting Disney Parks

As you may know, I visited Disneyland back in February with my family – and there were 13 of us there together ranging from 9 months to 52 years old. It was a wonderful experience, but could be hectic at times trying to keep everyone together and going on a schedule that everyone was happy with. It generally seems that the larger the group, the more difficult it is to maneuver your way through the park, but I am happy to report that we did a pretty great job at it. Though your party may not be quite as large as ours, I decided to share some of the helpful tips for visiting Disney Parks with a large group.

Melissa H. group

1. Don’t feel like you have to spend you entire trip with EVERYONE in your group. This can come across as a little harsh, but trust me – I don’t mean it that way. In your group you might have different age groups, interests, or ideas of a vacation. Some of your group may love thrill rides, while others just want to keep it calm. Or perhaps you have some people who think that shopping is relaxing, while other would much rather sit and watch a parade. That is just a part of life! Instead of spending your vacation debating about what rides to visit again or whether or not you should see that parade, feel free to break into smaller groups. Once you spend some time apart doing the things that make your vacation special, meet up again and go on your way. This might save you some frustration and will assure that everyone has the vacation they were hoping for!

2. Plan your seating arrangements while in line for the rides. Ride vehicles for different rides hold different amounts of people. When you get to the loading zone for a ride, you can bet that a cast member will be there to ask you how many are in your party. Don’t be afraid to give them your number, but know that they are going to split you into smaller groups that will fit into the ride vehicles. Instead of having to figure out who is sitting where when you get to the loading zone, take some time to figure it out in line and stay close to your buddies for that ride. This will not only help you utilize your time in line, but will also help you to avoid any chaos right before loading. Nothing says stress like trying to hop on the moving cars of the Haunted Mansion while still figuring out who you are riding with.

Melissa H. bugs life

3. Have a meeting time/place whenever you split your group up. If you do decide to break up into smaller groups, it is helpful to have an established time and place to meet up again. Even though most people have cell phones to communicate with, your phone won’t get reception in every area of the park and you most likely won’t hear or feel it if you are on a ride. This helps you to know that everyone is still doing fine and will allow you a chance to regroup and decide where to go from there.

4. Don’t be afraid to eat back outside of the parks or hang out at your hotel. If you are looking to spend quality time with a large group in the parks, you most definitely will. However, you might not really get to relax and just talk with them. By going back and hanging out in your hotel rooms, swimming in the pool or soaking in the hot tub, or going out to eat at a quiet, sit-down restaurant you can spend a little time just talking and relaxing with everyone in your group.

Melissa H. teacups

 

5. Swap it out. Wanting to get food and save a spot in line for Fantasmic? Have some people in your group run off to grab food while the others wait. Want to go on a ride, but also want to grab fastpasses for another ride with a ridiculous wait? Send one person off with your tickets and then meet your party back in line. Have a member of your party who can’t go on a particular ride? Have some of your party go on the ride while others hang out with those who can’t ride, and then swap it out. When you have a large group this can make things so much easier and faster!

6. Cherish the time with your group! Going will a large group offers you the opportunity to experience the parks from many different points of view. Cherish all that the park has to offer and have fun with your group!

Melissa H. group btmr

– Melissa H.

Why I’m a Fan of the Disney Dining Plan

Just yesterday, the most anticipated Disney World promotion every year was announced – the free dining promotion.  On stays of three nights or more, guests receive the free dining plan when booking a stay at most Disney World hotels (guests also have to purchase a park-hopper ticket).  The dates the plan is offered are:

  • August 28 – October 2
  • October 25 – October 31
  • November 8 – November 19
  • December 15 – December 21

As long as you check-in on or between one of those dates you will receive the free dining plan added to your stay at Disney World.

California Grill steak

Before I get into why I’m a fan of the dining plan, let me get through a few negatives of the dining plan and this promotion.

First of all, the free dining plan promotion isn’t actually free.  Most times throughout the year Disney has discounted hotel rooms as part of a promotion.  A guest can either get the room discount or the dining package.  So, by paying more for your room then you get the dining plan.  In that way, the dining plan isn’t technically free.  Do the research when booking your trip and see what works best for you.  Typically, the more people who are staying in your room, the more valuable the dining plan will be for you.

Chocolate Wave

The other downside to the dining plan is that it takes a lot of time and may serve you more food than you actually want.  I’ll get into why that might be a positive later but it can also be a negative. When people are at Disney World, especially first-timers, there is a time crunch to get everything done.  Sitting down for a table-service meal once a day takes up an hour of each day.  If eating more quality food at Disney World simply isn’t important to you, then the dining plan probably isn’t for you.  And while I might not agree with how you are vacationing, I can certainly understand wanting to get everything in.

Now, let’s get to why I’m a fan of the dining plan.  First of all, there’s the food.  The dining plan comes with a counter-service meal, a table-service meal and a snack once a day.  The meals come with a drink and dessert.  You typically get the most out of the plan by doing the meals for lunch and dinner and packing an easy, cheap breakfast to eat in the hotel room.  The food that typically is associated with a theme park, while still at Disney World, isn’t the main option.  There are many different types of cuisine and most are of at least some quality.  If you are trying to branch out in your taste in food, Disney World might be a good place to try it.  The food has been somewhat Americanized (assuming that you try some foreign food) so it may seem a little safer than an extremely authentic restaurant.  The chefs at these restaurants will also be happy to work with you.  Whether you have dietary needs or simply don’t like your dish, be sure to tell someone and they will help you out.

Boma desserts

When trying the dining plan, you also get to experience different theming within the World.  There is great theming all around Disney World and by missing out on the restaurants you will miss out on some of the best theming around.  There is nothing like dining at Be Our Guest or Sci-Fi Dine-Inn Theater.  Restaurants like those are experiences that you can’t get anywhere else.  Again, research where to eat and pick restaurants that appeal to you.  That makes the dining plan worth it to me.

The last reason that I’ll get into today is that the dining plan makes you sit down and relax for a little bit.  A guest can enjoy good food, great themes, and a dinner with the people they are on vacation with.  Some of my favorite memories at Disney are during these times.  While not on the dining plan, you may decide to just go for a quick bite to eat and then run to the next attraction, the dining plan forces you to sit down and soak it all in.  I think that’s a good thing.  I would imagine parents would enjoy this, as well, because of the break it gives from chasing kids all around the parks.

Meatballs

In short, I think the dining plan forces people to notice a part of the parks that they might miss otherwise.  In my opinion, the restaurants in Disney World are one of the best parts about it.

If you have questions about the dining plan, restaurants or booking a trip please leave it in the comments and we’ll be sure to answer it.  You can also send us an email at wanderingindisney@gmail.com.  Thank you for reading!

Mickey Pretzel

– Andrew

Question of the Week (4/26/15)

Every Sunday our writers get together and answer a Disney related question.  Here is this week’s question and answer, put your answer in the comments!

Question of the Week:  What is your favorite Disney attraction that’s on water? You don’t have to necessarily get soaked on it as long as the ride is a ‘boat’.

Melissa L. – My favorite is the Kali River Rapids in Animal Kingdom. When I think of rides that involve water, I always think of these rapid rides. Now I don’t enjoy getting wet in rides, but I will make exemptions for this one! The thrill of never knowing who in your boat will be the most unlucky is always a blast. I also never leave this ride upset, but rather laughing my head off because of how much fun it is!

Kelsee – I agree, Melissa! I love the rapid rafting-Esque rides like Grizzly River Run and Kali River Rapids. Between the two, I guess I’ll pick Grizzly River Run because I love the Grizzly mountain behind it, and I love the feeling of being in the Northern California area surrounded by the big Redwood trees. Also, I’ve been to the Disneyland Resort many more times than Disney World, so I have more sentimental memories on that ride with my parents, sisters, and our extended family we have in California.

Grizzly Peak

Andrew – Beating out Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean and Living With the Land for me is Splash Mountain (I prefer the Disneyland version). I think it’s close to the perfect attraction. There are some amazing show scenes and extremely catchy song. There’s a succinct, well-told story. There are thrills and a relaxing boat ride all in one. I don’t think it can get much better than this.

Melissa H. – My favorite would probably have to be Disneyland’s version of Splash Mountain. I love that I can go on a thrill ride that offers me the opportunity to actually have a chance to sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery (both inside and outside of the attraction). The view from Splash is fantastic, both during day and night! It’s probably one of my favorite rides in the entire park. Pirates is definitely a close second though.

Splash Mtn

 

What’s your favorite attraction that’s on water in Disney?  Let us know in the comments!  A recap of the week is after the jump.   Continue reading

Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular at Disney’s California Adventure

Tucked away in Hollywood land, at Disney’s California Adventure, is a fantastic show of Broadway proportions. Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular has showtimes throughout the day, so there are different options to meet your needs. You would never know the theater is there, since it’s hidden away as you turn the corner to get to Tower of Terror, but it is a show you don’t want to miss!

Like all things Disney, they do not slack when it comes to putting on an amazing musical. The theater makes you feel as if you are in New York at a swanky, Broadway show, which is a unique experience at the parks.

Once the show starts, you are captivated with visual excitement all around you. They follow the original movie sequence of events pretty closely, which adds a sense of familiarity, especially for the little ones.

Genie parade

Speaking of little ones, I recommend to take them to this show if they are older than 4, and familiar with Aladdin. Even if they aren’t familiar with Aladdin, it is still a neat experience, but if they are familiar they will sit still longer and be more engaged. There have been rumors of switching the musical to Frozen or Rapunzel, to appeal to the new generation of Disney Princess lovers of the younger age group, but no definite plans yet.

As for adults, Aladdin is one of the quintessential movies that signifies our Disney experience when we were children, so to have it brought to life, is a welcomed nostalgic encounter. People of all ages really enjoy this show and keep going back to watch it.

My favorite character of both the movie and this musical, is of course the big blue man himself, Genie. In this particular musical, they have added current pop culture jokes to his monologue, which makes it even more relatable. They do a fantastic job of portraying his playfulness and bringing his character to life.

Throughout the show, there is a few chances for audience interaction. Also, there are puppeteer elephants, camels, and various cast members they parade through the aisles during the “Prince Ali” song sequence. This really catches the children’s attention and wows the whole theater. However, my favorite part of the whole show is the “Whole New World” sequence when they have Aladdin and Jasmine fly in above you on the magic carpet. This is one of the things that sets the show apart and adds that extra Disney Magic. For a while, they did not do this sequence with the “flying” carpet because there was a prop accident during on of the shows, but they have thankfully brought it back.

This is a great show to go to, especially if you are on a longer trip and can fully appreciate hidden gems like this at The Disneyland Resort. Do yourself a favor on your next trip, and fly into a whole new world with this fantastic music spectacle!

– Kelsee

“Reusing” Some Disney Magic

Happy Earth Day dear readers!

As I sat down to write my post for this week I realized that I would be posting on Earth Day 2015. Even though I wouldn’t consider myself an avid celebrator of the holiday, I wanted to write something that could fit with the general theme and spirit of Earth Day. Of course, my mind immediately turned to talking about Animal Kingdom, but I was worried that I would not be the only Disney Blogger to turn to this Earth-friendly park for inspiration. While preparing a lesson for my first graders on the 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) it hit me! ~ I should post about some great Disney purchases/souvenirs that can be reused or used in multiple ways!

So many of us go to the parks with the intent of spending at least a little money on a special something for ourselves, our families, or other loved ones. I have found that visiting the parks has led me to spend outrageous amounts of money on souvenirs that I love at Disney and that go untouched at home. Many of these have ended up in the trash or in a box marked for donations, so I have made a conscious effort to reuse/repurpose old purchases or buy things that I can use for something else at home.

• Mickey/Minnie Ears & Hats: Admit it – you find Mickey Ears positively charming and adorable on people of all ages in the parks, but you would seriously question the sanity of an adult who wears them outside of Disney property. I agree, though I sometimes wish I could make those adorable little pieces an everyday fashion statement. I always find myself yearning for a new pair of ears when I go to the parks and let me tell you, these babies ain’t cheap! Enter, my new way to save money – packing my ears for trips. I don’t know why this never occurred to me before (maybe I am just slow), but I really don’t need to find new ears for every trip that I go on. I have two pairs that currently fit me (my favorite being my adorable Minnie Mouse ears) and both pairs permanently reside in my suitcase. If you are a frequent Disney visitor, I find it much more justifiable to spend money on a cute pair that I really want knowing that I will wear them over and over again. My Minnie Mouse ears have already been worn for 2 trips to the park and will get some good use again in October!

Melissa H. ears 2
• Other Clothing Purchases: Just like the ears, you can pack and reuse pretty much any clothing, jewelry, etc. that you purchase at the park. As a general rule, I try to stay away from anything that is dated by the year unless I am totally in love with the design and know I can get a ton of use out of it. By packing and wearing park purchases I find that I save myself a lot of money because I realize just how much stuff I already own! Another option with t-shirts is to frame them – something especially wonderful for those shirts that you love but have grown out of. I currently have several cute, Disney shirts that I am planning to frame and hang in the near future. These can become cute, cheap pieces of artwork for any Disney fan! If you are interested in framing you can find a great tutorial here: http://sometimes-homemade.com/how-to-frame-t-shirts/

On another note, I would also suggest checking out your local Hot Topic and Disney Bound for some outfit inspiration. Both of these put more Disney into my wardrobe and are often things that I would wear on a more regular basis outside of the parks.

• Pressed Pennies: I used to have a jar of pressed pennies that I had done in the parks and recently dumped a bunch of them, only keeping a few that I just couldn’t seem to part with. I have been sitting around and wondering what to do with these things that just sit in a drawer when I came across a tutorial for making pressed pennies into charm bracelets! Now, I probably would only wear my bracelet with certain outfits or on certain occasions, but this is certainly more practical than buying an expensive book to store them in and placing them on a shelf or in a drawer to be forgotten. If you would like to see the tutorial to make this cute little accessory you feel free to check it out here: http://www.cutoutandkeep.net/blog/2011/8/pressed-penny-bracelet

• Disney Maps and Autograph Books: It wasn’t until I was writing this post that I realized I have many Disney Maps lying around along with an autograph book that has been sitting on my shelf since I was 8 years old. I decided to go to my trusty, inspirational craft guru (*cough* Pinterest *cough*) to see what I might be able to find. Well, I hadn’t expected it, but someone had created a pin all about different ways to repurpose old maps (http://www.brit.co/diy-maps/?utm_campaign=pinbutton_hover). I am so excited about trying some of these out and am really thinking I might turn my Disney land maps into some adorable coasters for my coffee table! Many of these same crafts could work for those autograph pages!

I find myself wishing that I were more on the ball with actually completing some of the crafts that I have mentioned instead of just letting them stack up on my desk at home. However, I know that I have a lot of fun things to make once school gets out for the summer! I will be sure to post again with some of the cool Disneyfied crafts that I have made using the wonderful inspiration that I have found online! Have any of you ever repurposed/reused Disney purchases? How did they turn out? I would love to hear your ideas!

With that, I would like to leave you with a few facts about how Disney Parks help to care for our environment and celebrate Earth Day:

• Disney train engines (even the originals that Disney drove himself) have been switched over and remodeled so they can run on 100 percent biodiesel. They have also started/worked on other energy-saving practices such as installing LED lights instead of neon bulbs and more.

DL Railroad

• After starting the reusable mug program Disney found they were able to save half a million dollars and drastically reduce the amount of waste created at the parks.

• Disney has set aside about 1/3 of the 40 square miles at Disney World Resort for wildlife conservation.

• The majority of Disney Resorts’ water needs are met with “reclaimed water” this means that the water is filtered and then reused throughout the parks.

Have a magical Earth Day everyone!

– Melissa H.

La Hacienda de San Angel Review

La Hacienda de San Angel is a table-service restaurant in Epcot’s Mexico Pavilion.  It is on the dining plan (as one table-service credit).  The restaurant is located right along the World showcase Lagoon on the opposite side of the road from Mexico’s pyramid.  There are two table-service restaurants in the Mexico Pavilion, San Angel Inn being the other one.

La Hacienda sign

La Hacienda has one of the best dining locations in all of World Showcase.  Because of the seating right along side the lagoon, this is a pretty good spot to watch Illuminations.  There are large windows that let guests overlook the water as they dine here.  On my last trip to the World we dined at this location, here’s my review from that experience.

My family and I had spent most of the day in Epcot with the latter half of it in World Showcase. We headed to La Hacienda as the sun was setting.  It was a beautiful night, with an orange Florida sky.

Epcot Sunset_edited-1

We were checked in and seated within a few minutes.  The restaurant was crowded with the Illuminations rush.  I requested a seat close to the window and we were accommodated fairly well.  Apparently my photography skills were really off (or they never existed) that night because my pictures of the lagoon from inside the restaurant were shaky and not very well done.  Here is the best one (or the least offensive to photographers).

La Hacienda

As you can see, the restaurant gives a good view of the other side of World Showcase, as well.  The Swan and Dolphin also pop up in the distance past the International Gateway.

The architecture of La Hacienda has an understated Mexican theme to it.  The lighting is the most ‘stand-out’ feature.  The lights are all different shapes with several colors coming out of them.  The building has an old-fashioned style to it.  La Hacienda definitely takes advantage of being right by the water, making that the restaurants focal point.  There is no denying this restaurants beauty.  One negative about the design is that the tables are very close to each other.  There isn’t much room if guests are trying to enjoy a private night out.  It was also fairly loud when we ordered.

La Hacienda lights

A restaurant can be as beautiful as possible, but it’s nothing without the food.  With that in mind, we got to ordering.  La Hacienda, and the Mexico Pavilion in general, are known for their drinks.  La Cava del Tequila is especially known for a nice margarita.  With that in mind, I ordered a Mango Blueberry Basil Margarita.  I’m definitely not a margarita expert, but this is my favorite one that I’ve ever tried.  It had a ton of flavor to it and the basil made it feel especially refreshing.  Some may want their margarita a little stronger, but I thought the flavor more than made up for it.  My sister had the classic margarita and that was definitely stronger.

margarita_edited-1

As far as food, La Hacienda had several different options.  They have standard entrees that you could order for one or two different platters that two guests could share.  We decided to share the two different platters between the four of us.

The first platter was called Parrillada “La Hacienda”.  This had New York strip steak, chicken al pastor, and chorizo, as well as vegetables and tortillas.  The steak and chicken were both tender but not as flavorful as I’d like.  They also didn’t feel very authentic to me.  Now, of course, most foreign cuisine is Americanized at Disney (and most other places) but this seemed a little too safe for my taste.  The chorizo was in little links.  They had good spice and were my favorite part of the platter.  To be fair, I enjoy chorizo more than the normal human.

Parillada La Hacienda_edited-1

The other platter was called Parrillada Del Mar and consisted of seafood.  Grilled shrimp, fish and scallops were included with this platter, as well as vegetables.  The fish was my favorite part of it, as it was very flavorful and heavily seasoned.  The shrimp and scallops were a little more disappointing.  They were a little rubbery and didn’t have nearly as much flavor as the fish.  Another negative I had with it was that everything was seasoned similarly, so all the tastes ran together.

Parrillada Del Mar

As a whole, the entrees were good but nothing special.  Both entrees came with rice and beans.  Still, there was more food to come as dessert was on the way.  I ordered the Empanada de Manzana which is a puff pastry filled with caramel apples.  It also had dulce de leche ice cream served with it.  The dessert was delicious and the best part of the meal.  There was a variety of flavors within the dish and even though it was pretty sweet, I had to finish it all.  I mean, it had apples so it was healthy, right?

Apple empenadas_edited-1

As we ate dessert, Illuminations began outside the window.  While the view wasn’t perfect, we could still see a little bit of the show.  It was a bit of a metaphor for the meal; a great view, atmosphere and location, but we missed out on a wonderful experience because the food was a little bit off the mark.

One question that I see online quite a bit is whether to go San Angel Inn or La Hacienda de San Angel for Mexican food at Epcot.  I would choose San Angel Inn because I think the food is a little more unique and the experience and atmosphere is just as good as La Hacienda (both are incredible).  The only way I’d recommend La Hacienda over San Angel Inn is if you are a little apprehensive on trying more authentic Mexican food, which I think is fairly common.

Restaurant Rating – 7/10

Have you tried La Hacienda?  Tell us about your experience in the comments!

– Andrew

Question of the Week (4/19/15)

Every week our group of writers get together and answer a Disney-related question. Here is this week’s question and answer (leave your answer in the comments).

Question of the Week: If money was no issue, what Disney hotel would you most like to stay in?

Leslie – Animal Kingdom Lodge Jambo House will always be my vote. While Animal Kingdom might be my least favorite park it is definitely not my least favorite lodge. With so much to do I feel like it has a lot to offer families of many sizes. I definitely enjoy my time there whether I’m relaxing in my room, eating at one of the restaurants or watching the animals from my balcony. 

AK Lodge

Kelsee – I am a sucker for Disney themed rooms. There are many extravagant and luxurious resorts at the Disney Theme parks such as The Animal Kingdom lodge, The Grand Floridian, Grand Californian, Polynesian Resort, etc. However, out of all of the resort hotels I would love to stay at, I choose the Disneyland Hotel because of their amazing themed signature suites. If you have never heard of them or have never seen pictures make sure to look them up. They have 5 signature suite rooms which are; The Fairytale Suite, Adventureland Suite, Pirates of the Caribbean Suite, Big Thunder Mountain Suite, and Mickey’s Penthouse. If money wasn’t an issue, I would stay 2 nights in each room and fully enjoy every detail. I chose this hotel out of all of the other hotels because my dream Disney experience would be to be surrounded by Disney magic at all times, and the signature suite rooms definitely keep the magic going even after you have left the parks.

Here is a link to what the signature suites are like inside: http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/2014/04/inside-the-signature-suites-of-the-disneyland-hotel/

Andrew – The Grand Floridian and Wilderness Lodge have always been on the top of my list. I’m a sucker for the big, beautiful Victorian style theming at the Grand Floridian. Wilderness Lodge is so beautiful and combines nature with the beautiful natural looking buildings. Both are very close to Magic Kingdom, which is a plus.

Now, that I’ve answered the question I’ll give my real answer. Right now, the resort that sounds most appealing is the Beach Club. The theming doesn’t appear to be overdone and the restaurants in the area are pretty interesting. Staying at an Epcot area resort sounds like fun to me, since Epcot can be such an easy dinner destination. The pool (Stormalong Bay) is said to be the best pool in all of Disney World and has sand on the bottom of it, as opposed to a standard pool bottom. There are beaches to sit on and relax, as well. That doesn’t sound too bad at all right now.

Melissa L. – Does the room in Cinderella or sleeping beauty castle count? Because that would be my number one choice! My second choice though would be the Grand Floridian! It’s elegance is just so striking and I think it would be a lot of fun to stay there.

Grand Floridian drums_edited-2

What hotel would you most like to stay in?  Leave your answer in the comments.  A round-up of the week is after the jump!   Continue reading

Helpful Tips When Packing for a Baby on a Disney Trip

When going on a Disney trip, there is a lot of thought that goes into what to pack. When you have a baby, there is even more planning and packing, not to mention being prepared for the unexpected. I have compiled a list of things you don’t want to leave behind on a Disney trip with your baby. I have not included the items on the list that are a given such as diapers, wipes, medicine, formula, etc. Here are some items that I have found helpful to bring along on our Disney trips with our baby.

Hallie mickey hat

1. Plan on bringing 3 sets of clothing for each day you are on your trip. Even if you don’t use each set of clothing each day, you have a back-up for other days.

2. Bring a jogging stroller: If you don’t have a jogging stroller, rent the strollers they provide at the parks. In my opinion, jogging strollers are the easiest to navigate through the parks. These are ideal for napping because they most often recline back to make your baby more comfortable unlike umbrella strollers. They may seem bulky, but it’s much easier to use them at the parks, especially on the train tracks on Main Street.

Hallie stroller

3. Table covers: These are easy to put on any table and puts a parent’s mind at ease.

4. Disposable bibs/ wipeable bibs: I have brought cotton bibs to the park before, and it’s just a disaster waiting to happen. It’s all about convenience on a Disney trip with a baby.

5. Sandals or bare feet: Especially if you are going in the warmer months, do not put socks and shoes on your little one. It will be much more comfortable for them without sneakers or shoes at all.

Hallie carasoul

6. Clip on fan/stroller cover: Fans and stroller covers help keep baby cool. To keep your Disney day going smoothly, the key is to keep baby cool and happy, so these two items help you reach that goal. The misting fans are the most ideal ones to purchase.

7. Pack bubbles for waiting in lines/ waiting for your party to get back from a big ride: Bubbles are a lifesaver with grumpy babies.

8. Insulated cooler/ insulated tippy cup or bottle: Since babies have special needs when it comes to eating, bringing everything insulated is ideal. You don’t want to have your food spoil mid-way through the day. Also, it’s very important to keep baby hydrated throughout the day.

Hallie snack

9. Bring a swimsuit to the parks each day: There are splash areas around the parks that your baby will enjoy and it helps keep them cool. Also, bring a swim bag or disposable bag to put the swim suit in after your baby is done getting wet.

10. Backpack: If you carry an over the shoulder bag for a diaper bag, my advice is ditch it for the trip and bring a backpack in place of your diaper bag. They are so much more convenient to carry during your visit.

Hallie Flynn Rider

If you forget anything at home, do not worry Disney has your back. At the baby care centers around the parks, they have various baby products stocked up for parents that might have forgotten something. Do not pass these facilities up, they are kept impeccably clean, there is privacy for nursing mothers, microwaves for heating up bottles/food, and several changing tables. Just like any other guests, the comfort and convenience for babies and their mothers are one of their top priorities.

– Kelsee

Happy Haunts Materialize

My post this week is dedicated to explaining the exciting news about one of Disneyland’s most iconic dark rides – The Haunted Mansion.

Now, if you don’t know me personally, it is only fair that you are aware of the fact that I am a huge chicken. I am the girl who watches Walking Dead through her fingers, who jumps at the smallest noise in horror movies, and who still is scarred by the scene in The Sixth Sense where that little girl’s hand shoots out from under the bed. But, as much as it gives me the creeps, I adore The Haunted Mansion. To me this ride is definitely a Disney classic, so I was excited to hear the news about an exciting change coming to the ride. Enter – the Hatbox Ghost.

This past week, Disney announced the return of the Hatbox Ghost to The Haunted Mansion in May 2015. You can read the announcement that they posted on their blog here. If you are a Disney fan and don’t know who the Hatbox Ghost is, you are not alone (and you actually probably do know him, you just don’t know that you do). I have seen multiple postings on articles asking for more information about this Grim Grinning Ghost and have had friends who are fans of the parks asking me for more information as well, so I would like to clear up the confusion for anyone who has been left wondering!

The Hatbox Ghost is a classic character who appeared in the Haunted Mansion right around the opening of the ride in 1969. The ghost was supposed to be a sight gag within the scariest scene (in my opinion) of the entire ride – the attic. According to reports, this gag was basically supposed to work in rhythm with the heartbeat in that section of the ride. Along with the heartbeat the head of the ghost would disappear from his body and then reappear in the hatbox that the ghost was holding. If you are familiar with the ride, you can see how perfectly he fits within the attic scene. The only problem was that the illusion didn’t work properly due to the close proximity of the ride vehicles and the fact that the ambient lighting in the scene prevented the head from disappearing all the way. Because of these speculated issues, he was removed from the ride shortly after the opening. Even though the ghost was removed soon after opening, he has appeared in Disney artwork and merchandise and has developed quite a large fan base.

Still wondering who he is? If you are a Disney fan, these pictures may look familiar to you:

Hatbox ghost

 

Hatbox ghost 2

 

Hatbox ghost 3

So that leaves the question: why am I so excited about this guy making a return trip to Gracey Manor?

I am a lover of Disney history and enjoy when Disney pays tribute to the iconic rides, characters, people, etc. from the early Disney days. I find it incredibly exciting when the parks try to reimagine rides, technology, and more to update it for the ever-growing and changing theme parks. This love for Disney history is why I was so excited when Disney brought back the failed Flying Saucer ride in the form of Luigi’s Flying Tires in Cars Land (which now has also been shut down, RIP to the ride that makes me feel like an air hockey puck). To me, this is just another example of Disney bringing back and retrying some “failed” characters to make a ride even more memorable. I will have to try to get a picture of this happy haunt during my trip in October.

Until then, if you are interested in learning more fun facts/history about the Haunted Mansion I have a few sites you can visit. The mansion has a huge following and actually has a website created by fans totally dedicated to sharing more about the story and history. It is pretty cool!
http://www.doombuggies.com
http://mentalfloss.com/article/58272/13-facts-about-disneys-haunted-mansion
http://hauntedmansionbackstage.tumblr.com/

Have fun, and happy haunting!

– Melissa H.

The Muppets at Disney Parks

The story of the Muppets at Disney Parks is a complex one that has been told many times.  At this point, the story has become almost more of a legend than a story, as it’s been passed on for nearly 25 years now.  With the recent news that ABC is developing a Muppets pilot, I think it’s time I pass the legend on to a few new sets of eyes.  I’m not doing this because I think I can tell the story better than others or because I have more information than others have, I don’t.  I’m writing because stories are meant to be passed on, especially stories about topics people love.  I for one love the Muppets and the Disney Parks. Thank you to Jim Korkis, Jim Hill, Lou Mongello and many others from which I’ve heard bits and pieces of the history of the Muppets and Disney Parks.

Before I really jump into the story, I do want to reiterate that I really love the Muppets.  I have a different Muppet shirt for every day of the week.  Some may find my love for them unhealthy.  With that love can come biases.  Thankfully, I really love Disney Parks too so things kind of even themselves out in that aspect.  Without further ado, here is what I know!

Muppet-Vision

The Story

In the late 1980’s Jim Henson (the Jim Henson Company) started to negotiate a deal in which the Muppets would be sold to the Disney company.  Michael Eisner, the CEO of Disney at the time, was looking to expand Disney’s reach by purchasing other franchises.  Disney and the Muppets seemed like an easy match.  Both had experienced incredible amounts of success at times in their history.  Both had brought a lot of happiness to an incredible amount of people.  Walt had Mickey and Jim had Kermit, both incredibly iconic.  The Muppets have the kind of light-heartedness and joy that Disney would crave, so the match seemed right.

Jim Henson seemed to think so too.  Henson was tired of the business of it all and wanted to get back to creating.  The Muppets were in debt, like many franchises tend to be, and the sale would wipe that debt out.  Lastly, although there were other smaller reasons, in the late 1980’s the Muppets weren’t as hot of a commodity as they were earlier in the decade.  A sale to Disney may reinvigorate the franchise and boost the Muppets popularity.  The deal moved forward but, as all big sales do, there were many different hurdles to surpass before it became official.  While in negotiations, Henson and Disney combined to produce a 60-minute special called The Muppets at Walt Disney World.  

He had also started work on the attraction that we now know as Muppet-Vision 3D.  Disneyland appeared ready for a Muppets themed takeover to help celebrate their 35th anniversary in 1990.  This seemed to be a sign of progress for the Muppets popularity and a precursor of what was supposed to come.  But as there were negotiations over details like what constitutes a Muppet, who owns the rights to Jim Henson’s new creations, and what would become of the Muppets under Disney’s watch, a dark day creeped closer.  Everything was close to done and the new deal was going to allow Disney the exclusive rights to anything Jim Henson produced over the next ten years.  Still, a deal was never quite signed.

On May 16 of 1990, Jim Henson passed away.  I’ve heard several people say that the Muppets were merely days away from being sold to Disney.

It was in this year that negotiations fell apart.  Disney wanted to renegotiate the deal because they didn’t have access to one of the most imaginative creators of all time in Henson, therefore the Muppets weren’t as valuable.  Of course, that’s sad.  At this point in the story, it’s easy to forget that these two companies are businesses.  What Disney did makes a great deal of sense business wise and was the right move financially.  That doesn’t mean I can’t be annoyed by this aspect of the story, as a Muppet fan, but there are always two sides to a story and the Disney side is complicated.  Of course, the Henson family felt disrespected because of this.

Kermit and Miss Piggy

Another reason the negotiations may have been hurt is that nine days after Henson passed away, a new attraction called Here Come the Muppets debuted at Disney MGM Studios.  The show premiered at where Voyage of the Little Mermaid currently resides.  Here Come the Muppets was a stage show Henson had worked on.  Here’s a summary of the show that lasted for about a year and a half.  This attraction debuted Muppets that were able to walk around on their own feet (not a true Muppet, in that sense, but convenient for meet & greets).  Since the show debuted so close to Jim Henson’s death, it is believed that some felt this was disrespectful and the show should have been put on hold.  I don’t buy into that thought but it’s not really my place and emotions were running high, I’m sure.

Here Come the Muppets wasn’t the only Muppets presence at the park though.  Kermit and Miss Piggy made a quick appearance in Hollywood’s Pretty Woman, a show that only lasted for about 2 months.  As Jim Korkis recalls, this was to invoke the theme of the Muppets running lose in the Studios.  It was supposed to be chaotic, crazy, and hilarious, just as the Muppets were in their shows and movies.  They were going to pop up everywhere; in a ride, in a show, on the streets, the Muppets would be there!  This is why Here Come the Muppets debuted Muppets that would be able to walk around.  Just as the TV special, these shows were supposed to be a sign of what was to come.

Fozzie

Once Here Come the Muppets had run its course, a new attraction called Muppets on Location: Days of Swine and Rose debuted and ran for nearly three years.  The show’s plot revolved around the Muppets filming a movie and acting that out over a course of the show as park guests looked on.  A very meta idea but that’s how the Muppets usually go about their business.

All of these attractions were supposed to lead to an even bigger Muppet presence in the studio.  The Muppet Motorcade was supposed to join the action, which was a large Muppet themed parade.  Shortly, an entire Muppet Studios (for lack of a better name) was in development.  Disney had created a large amount of content for the Muppets at MGM Studios because there was every indication that the contract was nearing completion under Jim Henson’s watch.  Unfortunately, Henson passed away.

So, what was this Muppet Studios supposed to be?  Again as our friend Jim Korkis recalls, this land was supposed to be the place where the Muppet’s lived and worked.  The area would be anchored by the Muppet-Vision 3D, which did come to fruition, of course.  The other item that came to be was a fountain in Muppet’s Courtyard that is hilariously detailed.  The area we currently have in Disney’s Hollywood Studios is still a lot of fun.  Classic Muppet songs play throughout the area and there are several sight gags as well as a store themed after the Happiness Hotel.  What didn’t come to be is even more interesting to me.

Miss Piggy

Lew Zealand was supposed to have his own fish market in this Muppet Studios where guests could hear cuts of Lew Zealand yelling from up above.  That is not nearly as big of a loss as Great Gonzo’s Pizza Parlor, which would have sat where Mama Melrose’s currently sits.  Gonzo had decided to open an Italian restaurant.  Said to have taken its theme from Planet Hollywood, this restaurant was supposed to have TV monitors everywhere showing Gonzo telling guests that everything is fine, as things have gone off the handle in the background.  Gonzo’s Pizza Parlor would be full of sight gags and word play with appearances by characters, as well.  Swedish Chef had signed up to be the cook.  This restaurant never opened although it was supposedly all ready to go.

Another attraction that the Muppets were supposed to star in was the Muppet Movie Ride.  Parodying The Great Movie Ride, which is in the front of the park at the Studios, the Muppets would take classic movies and add a Muppet twist to them.  This attraction never happened but it’s easily my favorite attraction of all-time (I’m only halfway kidding).  In usual Muppet fashion, the attraction would have gotten out of hand and chaotic.  The Muppet Movie Ride would have been a significant addition to the park and especially to the Muppets presence within the park.  While I will always be one to harp on the value of slowing down at a theme park and not just doing attractions, there is no underestimating how important actual attractions are.  The current state of Hollywood Studios shows us that.

All of what I have mentioned was planned.  These attractions, restaurants, shows and gimmicks weren’t just rumored.  There was concept art revealed, there were budgets approved, and there was progress being made on the attractions.  The Muppets were coming, it was just a matter of how soon they would be there.  Then, Jim Henson passed away and everything was put on hold.

MuppetStudios

Still, this area was still supposed to be coming as the Jim Henson Company and Disney worked together to work on attractions.  As I mentioned and you probably know, in 1991 Muppet-Vision 3D premiered as well as the courtyard in front of it. It premiered on the one-year anniversary of Jim Henson’s death.  Jim Henson directed most of the film.

Muppet-Vision 3D and Muppets on Locations: Days of Swine and Pig were phase 1 of the Muppet takeover, phase 2 was everything else I’ve talked about.  Phase 2 never happened.  In fact, according to Jim Hill, phase 1 barely happened.  As he said on the Disney Dish Podcast, the Henson family was treated very poorly by Disney lawyers in a meeting in November 1990 which led them to backing out of a deal with Disney.  Frank Oz had to convince Brian Henson to let them show Muppet-Vision 3D in Disney World, even though it was already completed.  Brian relented but not without some strange restrictions.  He would not allow Disney to show the 3D movie west of the Mississippi (sounds a little similar to a Marvel contract that happened a few years ago).  This is the reason why Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened Muppet-Vision 3D but none of the phase 2.

The Muppets in Disneyland

The story of the Muppets in the Disneyland essentially coincides with what I just wrote.  They would have had an increased presence in Disneyland if the Jim Henson deal went through.  This was evidenced by Disneyland’s 35th Anniversary Special shared on CBS (check out this clip around the 4:30 mark).

Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, Muppet-Vision 3D wasn’t allowed to be put in California when it opened in Disney World.  For a time before Jim Henson died, Muppet-Vision was rumored to take the place of Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln.  The Muppet takeover of Disneyland’s 35th anniversary didn’t happen either.

With the opening of Disney’s California Adventure in the early 2000’s, Disney was looking for more attractions to put in the park.  They approached the Jim Henson Company about putting Muppet-Vision 3D into Disney’s California Adventure and eventually struck a deal.  The attraction opened with the park on February 8, 2001.  This led to more negotiations and Disney eventually, and finally, bought the Muppets (who had been sold a few years earlier and then bought back by the Jim Henson Company) on February 17th, 2004.  It’s unclear if the negotiating to get the Muppets to California Adventure reopened the door for Disney to buy the Muppets, but the timeline would lead me to believe that it did.

Muppet Vision

In the years leading up to the acquisition, the Muppets had floundered and lost their popularity.  Disney helped co-produce Muppet Treasure Island and The Muppet Christmas Carol in the 90’s which, in my opinion, were both fine films but nothing more.  In 1999, Muppets From Space was released and failed.  It was a bad movie that didn’t stay true to the Muppets, although some love it because of how weird it is.  Columbia Pictures produced this film.  This film has its own crazy story behind but there is way too much going on in this blog post already!

At the time of the Disney acquisition, the Muppets were a sinking ship.  Being bought by Disney should have been a life raft but the acquisition took place a few months before Michael Eisner left the CEO position and the new CEO, Bob Iger, didn’t have as much interest in the franchise.  So, the Muppets sat.  In the contract there was a five-year period where Disney had to get the Jim Henson Company’s approval on anything they created involving the Muppet’s.  Maybe they wanted complete creative control, maybe not, but Disney waited about five years before starting to make a Muppet movie.

Meanwhile Muppet Mobile Lab was created for the Disney Theme Parks.  It was an audio-animatronic that interacted with guests.  It debuted in California Adventure in 2007 and has hopped around the world ever since.

In 2011, The Muppets came out in theaters.  After a smart, useful marketing campaign that utilized Youtube and the easy appeal of the Muppets, the film did well in the theaters and drew mostly good reviews.  It was a nostalgic film that was meant to push the franchise forward.  In 2014, Muppets Most Wanted came out to theaters and while the reviews were mostly favorable, the film didn’t do very well in the box office.

Camp Wocka-Wocka

Muppet-Vision 3D closed in Disney’s California Adventure in early 2015 and it is not clear at the moment if it will return.  The film was never as successful in the Disneyland Resort as it was in Disney World.

The Future of the Muppets

With Muppets Most Wanted failing at the box office, the Muppets sit in limbo.  While it would be easy for Disney to stash them away for a while and then pull out a nostalgic film every 15 years, the company seems to be more pro-active than that, thankfully.  As I mentioned, ABC is developing a pilot episode for a show based around the Muppets.  TV may be the best format for the Muppets as they have really only had two great box office successes out of their six original pictures.

For the Muppets at the theme parks, it’s hard to imagine that things will get better before they get worse.  Having attractions based off of franchises that aren’t as popular with kids is a dangerous way to go and, frankly, not a way that Disney will probably pursue.  Muppet-Vision 3D in Disney’s Hollywood Studios is still open but most attractions at the Studios could be on the chopping block as an overhaul of the park appears to be right around the corner.  Maybe the attraction survives, but if it does it could really use an update to the film or a new film entirely.  Maybe the Muppets will reappear in Disneyland but thinking that Disney will keep trotting out an old attraction when they could have an increased Marvel presence in the park is hard to buy into.

Kermit guitar

The Muppet franchise has a big few years ahead of them.  Hopefully, success on a TV show will help them gain attention from all generations and that will lead to an increase of Muppets in the theme parks.  That’s the best case scenario.  If the TV show fails, it’s easy to see the Muppets disappearing for a while.

While thinking about the future of the Muppets it’s easy to let the mind wander back to all of the attractions that were about to come to Disney’s MGM Studios in the early 90’s.  As successful attractions have shown us, they can keep the popularity of a franchise high even when their isn’t original material being produced (Pirates of the Caribbean is a somewhat different but good example of this).  If kids could have gotten their laughs at Gonzo’s restaurant, they would have been more apt to enjoy the greatest plumber of them all in the movies.  If kids would have been able to meet a walking around Kermit, they would have understood the most personable franchise icon since Mickey Mouse.

Through a complicated set of circumstances, these attractions didn’t happen.  Now Muppet fans, are left to wander what might have been and hope that these ideas someday, and somehow, come to fruition.

– Andrew