Monday, October 20, 2014

Walt Disney World 2013: Day 8 – Training on Jedi Toys and Dancing with Wooden Boys

Disney 2013 Trip Index

The day started similarly to the ending of the previous day with a request for Transportation Cards from a bus driver, albeit a more successful one.  The destination of the day was the same park we began the trip at a week previously – MGM, as I shall continue to call it.  The return added extra fun to playing the “A week ago in Disney we were…” head game while still IN Disney World.

I noticed evidence of Disney’s valuing proper setting and atmosphere above short cuts as we ran through the park.  To keep in the spirit of 1930’s Hollywood, the master wait times sign was still a manually updated chalkboard.  There are probably multiple ways they could have worked a look alike digital version, but they chose authenticity yet again.

We sped over to the Jedi Academy sign up area, housed in the old “Sounds Dangerous” building. They had a gold mine with that little show.  Arriving shortly after park opening, the first chance available for Anabelle to learn the ways of the force in was around one o’clock.  They ran that thing just about on the half hour all day long, and every single one was full, with overflows registered.  This is completely unsurprising as I was sorely tempted to shave everything and spend the day on my knees to be able to try it.

As we crossed the park…

Note: even though MGM is the smallest of the Disney World theme parks, the number of times I start off with, “we crossed the park” should indicate it was not the most restful one.

As we crossed the park, we put modern technology to the test.  By employing two SmartPhones, and an old Captain Kirk flip phone, we accessed MyDisneyExperience and Disney dining to squeeze two of our FastPass Plusses right next to each other after the Jedi Training, and shift lunch before it.

My daughter and I celebrated our successful scheduling and no visible line with a double drop on the Tower of Terror.  Rosa celebrated NOT going on the Tower.

That attraction was truly awesome, not just for the internal show and the wild, yet shake and rattle free drops.  It was the atmosphere of the place.  When in the queue, guests saw the “generator” controlling the elevators straining and sparking, plus the lights in the boiler room dimmed on each run.

We had another Awesome Happy Disney person encounter on boarding.  One of the groups ahead of us was confused on where to sit.  The wives were correct and the Bellhop, in his Haunted Mansion like demeanor stated, “The women were right.”

Then broke character and muttered under his breath, “How often do we say that?”

The other guests either didn’t hear or ignored him, but I busted a gut laughing.  He dropped the rest of his character, looked at me with a big grin and said,
“Am I right?  See, he knows. Gimme a high five.”

We slapped palms and he sent us to meet Rosa after a brief detour…
In the Twilight Zone

I picked up a Hollywood Tower Hotel Bell on the pretense of replacing the broken one Up the Lake…but that sucker’s staying in our house.  The Cast Member ladies at the checkout enthused over our villain shirts, assuming we were thrilled about the upcoming Friday the 13th villain bash.  They expressed sincere condolences that we were going home on the 12th.

It was time for another “we crossed the park” to hit the must see character greetings of the day.  Mike and Sulley were on a coffee break, which gave us enough time to take in the immersive (and well shaded) Monsters University area they hung out in.  They came back shortly, Mike a guest or two after Sully, as he wasn’t the most mobile of monsters.  He couldn’t really hold a pen either, and hugging him meant squeezing a big old eyeball.  Sometimes, Disney Magic takes truly strange forms.

The next characters were nearby, Phineas and Ferb.  They looked kinda off in three dimensions, were also on coffee break, and had a bit of a line.  Anabelle thought we really didn’t have to see them. However, Rosa and I thought very differently about the stars of what was the best written comedy series in production.  The handler filled the waiting time by congratulating Anabelle on reaching double digits with a “high ten.” He then remarked next year she’d have to use her head, which was the best run out of fingers joke we’d heard.  The stars came out and assumed appropriate poses for the many and varied styles of music on their show…as did Rosa and I.  Anabelle put up with us a lot.

As we crossed the park to the Hollywood Play and Dine, we were not prepared for how good the food would be.  Having the “Talk Like a Pirate” song play as we entered to welcome Jake (and possibly us) added to our already festive spirits.  Uber Happy Awesome Disney Cast Members would lead the kids in dances, along with the Playhouse Disney characters, hence the name “Play and Dine.”

I missed Special Agent Oso on his pass by, which bummed me out a bit, because Samwise is the Man.  June from Little Einsteins, the other “cancelled but still here” character borrowed Anabelle’s giant pen to sign for our neighbors at the next table from New York. Other characters followed suit.  The right prop can help make new friends.

The next batch of dance along songs was from the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  They are all terminally catchy, because They Might Be Giants awesome augments Disney awesome. Anabelle’s audience participation shyness was pretty much evaporated by then, especially after they gave her a new clean birthday button, and she happily danced along with Handy Manny.   By the end of lunch she joined in two birthday dances and Manny’s Conga.   She was sure to tell the Handy one how his theme song was stuck in my head for ages before our trip, which meant I got a picture with him too. 

Do do do dooo do!   YAY!

I almost missed Agent Oso again on his second pass, but Anabelle flagged me down from afar and I got to meet him. I was really happy she insured that when I learned he and June were fired shortly after our trip to make room for Sofia and Doc McStuffins.  Awesome Happy Disney People can be harsh sometimes.

We hadn’t eaten at Hollywood and Vine since it became Playhouse Disney based, and were amazingly surprised that it was one of our best meals.  For a preschool themed offering, the “adult food” was outstandingly good. Rosa found many and varied dishes to savor, and I was close to pitching a tent at the design your own pasta station.  I ate healthy, but a LOT.  And the healthy is only if the huge dessert table with the giant chocolate fountain didn't count, as it shouldn't for such a festive meal.

The characters were done “old style,” less efficient and controlled than the newer assembly line meet and greets.  However, they were much more fun because of more character returns and interactions between them.

I continued a new habit of mine. Thanking the handlers.  For the less Disney Geeky:  the character handlers are the unsung heroes of the parks.  These over worked individuals in blue shirts and headsets insure each table of guests gets their own personal time with the characters. They also insure the safety and protection of the characters, both from kids of the more rotten variety hunting for blind spots, and the mental and physical exhaustion of portraying the beloved individuals for an extended time.  

I made it a point to find them at each major greeting site, and thank them for all the behind the scenes work, since they put in at least as much effort, but get none of the hugs and smiles the stars get.

We crossed the park for attractions to fill the time until Jedi Training.  Because it was us, another Star Tours was one of them.  The new preview film was better and funnier, and all the riders were members of the Star Wars universe.  We scored a newly open Starspeeder, and the Cast Member loaded us with the line:

“This time only, sit anywhere you want.”

Anabelle and I chose the front row for our first journey with the Vader opening, and the undersea adventure on Naboo.

Afterwards, we felt the need to share an experience with Rosa, and picked Muppetvision 3D.


It’s been there since the place opened, and was still the most effective 3D in the parks.  As Jim Henson’s last hurrah as a Muppeteer, I hope it never goes away.  The shut down really amped up the mechanical effects, I don’t think I’d ever seen that many bubbles in one room.
There was a new statue of the Electric Mayhem in the Muppet themed gift shop, meaning they understood the awesomeness of that group. Write your congressman today and demand they reinstate the live Dr. Teeth show.

We browsed a few more stores before Anabelle’s required arrival time.  It still bugs me that Pizza Planet had no claw game that lets guests win green aliens.  The ATM in the arcade game cabinet was a nice touch, though.

The music playing around the Muppet fountain was still only the classic Muppet songs.  Maybe if they’d put more original songs in the new Muppet movies BY THE MUPPETS, they could add more.  I’m just sayin’.

We wandered the Streets of America for a bit, looking for the required Singing in the Rain picture spot.  That’s all those streets had become; a vast area of photo opportunities to distract guests from queuing for popular attractions.  The Osborne Lights were only seasonal.  Hopefully, the rumors of bringing a Cars Land into the largely unused space were true.

We made it back to the abandoned Sounds Dangerous building housing the Jedi prep area the prescribed half hour before show time. There were far too many standby Star Wars fans hoping for a spot to open up to fool with timing.  Rosa got Anabelle’s hair into Leia like pigtails. (Empire braids, not New Hope cinnamon buns for the nerdly curious out there.) Force Sensitive Cast Members lined the kids up to distribute robes.  From the planning side, they had robes of all different sizes to cater to the varied children desiring lightsaber training.  From the getting off an unending stream of full shows every day side, they didn’t check which kid got which size.

The pint sized Padawan’ s robe next to Anabelle trailed behind him like a bridal train, while she, as almost the tallest in the pack, was outfitted in a 60’s era mini-dress.

The rest of the time was to get the kids calm, in order and in the mood.  They asked Star Wars trivia questions, peppered in with some jokes.  I was very proud that Anabelle was one of the few who knew Mace Windu had the only purple lightsaber, and the only one who knew Anakin’s mother’s name. (Shmi)  Thank you Star Wars Character playing cards.

The jokes served to get the kids, and their old Star Wars Geek parents, laughing as well.

“Why did the Stormtroopers buy IPhones?”
“They couldn’t find the Droids they were looking for.”

Rosa had already gone to stake out a spot to document the momentous occasion with her Super Deluxe Magic Camera.  I arrived with the parade of hopefuls and joined my wife while they sat in the shaded area.

Before the show began we were told the kids would get three rules, but we’d only need two.

Ours were stay behind the yellow line, to prevent the special PhotoPass Guy from breaking our legs with his rolling chair, and to cheer as loudly as possible.  There was actually a third rule, based on us being informed it would be far hotter on the stage under a Jedi robe than the considerable heat we were standing in.  We were strongly advised to hydrate our young warriors as soon as possible.

Their rules were equally straight forward and safety conscious.
1) Keep two hands on the training lightsaber al all times – to prevent the lightsaber flying off and hitting the instructor or the crowd.
2) Stay within the assigned training circle - to prevent the lightsaber from not flying but hitting the instructor or a fellow student anyway.
3) Don’t fall off the stage – to prevent a lightsaber wielding kid from hitting the crowd.

The show was a hoot to watch, and a dream to participate in. Anabelle showed focus and confidence surrounded by quite a few hyper classmates that needed to be reined in a bit when it was time to face Vader.  The gags illustrated once more that Awesome Happy Disney people receive preparation for any event, scripted or unscripted.

For the short one’s – “Ducking is optional.”
For those whose nerves had frozen them - “Here, I’ll move your arms for you.”

They mixed well with the canned gags, such as Vader’s line about the Emperor foreseeing the kid’s existence – “Way to stay under the radar.”

The one disappointment I had in the show was Anabelle emphatically and embarrassedly looking at me and shaking her head no after Vader offered to train them if they turned to the dark side, and I was jumping up and down trying to get her to say, “Yes.”

One final note about Jedi Training, a comedy lesson from Jeff:

Joke telling 101: don’t use the words from the punch line in the set up. 

Not funny – “What happens when you cut off your opponent’s arms?”
“You’ve disarmed them.”

Funny – “What happens when you cut off your opponent’s shoulders?”
 “You’ve disarmed them.”

Most used the not funny version, only a few used the funny version. 

A single Jedi Master used the extra funny version:
“What happens when you cut off your opponent’s legs?”
 “You’ve de-feat-ed them.”

Feet are inherently funny.

Luckily, when a joke didn’t work, they could fall back on throwing a Jedi Finger Wave and saying, “You do find these jokes funny.”

The next obvious step, with Anabelle’s Padawan Training certificate in hand, and the defeat of Vader singing in her soul, was one more return trip through Star Tours.  The wait sign read twenty minutes; a long time to we off peak visiting guests, especially since it meant abandoning Rosa for that time. Not counting character meets and shut down redeeming FastPass floods, Disney estimates ran on the conservative side.  There was virtually no wait.  Though we saw the same three scenes from earlier in the day, the extra Star Wars energy her training infused us with added an excitement factor to the ride.

Next was trying to figure out what would fit in “we crossed the park” time before our next FastPass Plus show.  The Back Lot tour line was too long, as was the line to meet Buzz and Woody. Note: if we hadn’t already met themindividually in the Magic Kingdom, we would have had a drastically different definition of what “too long” meant.

We entered the Animation courtyard to check on Sofia the First’s line.  As a new character with only one meeting location and a hit show, the line was extensive.  Anabelle took one look at the crowd waiting to see the star of a show she watched and loved regularly and said:
“I don’t really like her that much.”

Part of me felt saddened and aged as I saw my little girl growing up.  The rest of me danced a little jig at the notion of not having to spend the better part of an hour mashed between other guests as we wound through ropes to spend a few seconds with a Mardi Gras Head girl in a purple dress.  We took some pictures of Sofia using “stunt kids” and continued into the Animation show.

On the way there, I noticed that a week in Disney had battered my new Aquaman Converse sneakers into the same condition as my six year old Four Color Converse sneakers.  More Disney Magic!

Chunks of the Animation Show are unchanging, but the addition of a live host adds an element of freshness to it.  I’m still amazed that they let Eddie Murphy get away with starting off the “where did Mushu come from?” bit with:

“When a momma dragon and a daddy dragon love each other very much…”

At the end of the show, we thanked our host and went back to the character area.  There were no new people, and no empty queues to allow a return visit in our limited time.  Anabelle tried out the “which Disney character are you” kiosk.  Finding out that she was Ariel provided a high that stayed with her the rest of the day. 

We peeked briefly in the Villain Store on Sunset Boulevard. We didn’t stay too long, because we had a show to catch, and more importantly, it no longer sold almost any villain stuff. 

We used our next FastPass Plus for Beauty and the Beast Live on stage.  It was obvious that the system was new, because not everyone had figured out what to do with it.  They let us in to the auditorium at the same time and rate as the main gate, which meant the only advantage of using the FastPass Plus was we showed up early, and got better seats than any previous visit based on that alone.

Gaston was particularly huge and not only in height and voice.  He was easily, “roughly the size of a barge” without needing any padding.  Girls in the audience reacted to him much the same way the Bimbettes were on stage.

One thing I noticed this time:  Gaston got no comeuppance for inciting a riot, breaking and entering, unlawful coercion into marriage, and attempted murder. The Beast gave him a little shove after being stabbed and he ran off.  He returned to take his bows completely in character to the cheers of the ladies in the crowd.

Women are weird.

With the first of our back to back FastPass Plus shows completed, it was time for our highest rate “we crossed the park” yet.  We made it just in time to the Indiana Jones Stunt spectacular.  These Cast Members knew how to use the new system.  She called us “My FastPass people,” and admitted us well before the main gate was open.  It’s possible this happened because the arrival window is earlier than that of other attractions, due to the pre-show casting session.   We ambled down the stadium steps in amazement and grabbed seats at front row center.  I’d never been anywhere that close in the decades I’ve been visiting MGM. (That Disney Studios name thing has only been there five years, it’ll never last.)  Did you know there’s a dead guy in the spikes at the start of the show?

I had been contemplating volunteering to be an extra.  However, with those seats I decided I’d end up being further away from the pyrotechnics if I was in the show, and didn’t raise my hand.

Of course since Indy let out right next to the nearly lineless Star Tours, Anabelle and I felt compelled to run in again.  I wonder if the new travel ads video was cool? The wait was never long enough to see much of it.  The Falcon-Wookie-Death Star sequence was new for us on that day.   I got anxious to meet up with my wife again afterwards, and learned the seat belt release buttons don’t work until the Cast Member activates them.  Smart move Imagineering.

Heading to our next adventure, Anabelle started getting used to other guests wishing her a happy birthday along with Cast Members.  The exchange of Disney Magic continued with her enthusiastic, “Thank you”s.

En route, I dug in the pack and cashed in a snack for the Power duo that kept me from Crazy Hungry Land:  Power Bar and PowerAde.

We reached the Back Lot Tour, and my brain started playing games with me. It accused me of chickening out of volunteering for Indy and making up an excuse of not wanting to leave the great seats. Therefore when Morgan, the casting director, called for volunteers, my hand shot up before I knew what was happening.  (Partially though, Anabelle was reluctant to try this attraction, and I thought seeing something bad happen to me would make it worthwhile.) We had just made it into the group, and she beckoned me up all the way through the crowd.  I handed off anything I “didn’t want to get wet” and followed her to the little ready cabin.  Our group consisted of three, petite young women from all over the world (Brazil, San Diego, and South Africa) and me.  Morgan took one look at us, pointed at me and said, “You’re my engineer.”  No, she didn’t have psychic career sensing abilities.  I have a hunch she pulled me from the back of the mob based on body type alone.

The other three were the Captain and deck hands. We got general guidelines about keeping it Disney Clean for the lip readers, and that the show would stop if anyone or anything fell overboard or feigned injury.

The ladies’ stage directions were detailed and varied about all the actions they were seeing and reacting to. Mine were much simpler.
1) Answer the phone.
2) Hold on tight.
3) Don’t look left.

Clad in our blue cover suits that threatened to bake us inside, and with Shaq sized rubber boots that made me walk more like Frankenstein than I usually do, we took up our posts.

They made the joke about telling me they were dumping eight hundred gallons of water on me, but it really being a thousand. I stayed calm since I’d seen the show many times before, and always assumed the little structure blocked most of the barrage so it couldn’t be deluging the guest with nearly as much water as it looked like.

Let me state for the record:
It was EXACTLY as much water as it looks like.

After dowsing me, my stage direction while they filmed the rest was to, “sit there and look dry.” My enthusiastic thumbs up got a cheer from the crowd, the loudest and most laugh filled from my daughter who was immensely proud and happy, and said it looked like fun.

Mission accomplished.

We left our soggy blue union suits behind and rejoined the crowd, passing through a warehouse of props that would have been very interesting if they still showed the Bette Midler short film they were used to make.

Catastrophe Canyon hadn’t changed, but there were no pretentions that it was an accident anymore. Still, we didn’t tell Anabelle what was going to happen, and let her sit on the wet side. It wasn’t a thousand gallons, but she still enjoyed the splashy surprise alongside the exploding experience.

The tour guides didn’t point out almost anything from the tram anymore.  It served mostly as an advertisement for the Car Stunt show that I’m too lazy to look up the name of right now, since we had no interest in seeing it. 

Similar to any ride that passed other guests; Anabelle didn’t care and had a grand old time waving to anyone outside our vehicle.  She’s tailor made for riding in a parade someday.

The AFI exhibit after the ride had costumes from Oscar wining movies. They were all a heck of a lot easier to see than the unannounced ones we sped by on the tram.  I know it isn’t a working studio anymore guys, but there’s still some cool stuff to look at in there. Maybe the refurbishment right after we left added back some pizzazz.

We didn’t have time for the Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow, or the film at Walt Disney, One Man’s Dream next door. We did walk through the Walt exhibit. It was sedate and simple by Disney Parks' standards, but piled high with historical coolness for Disney Geeks like us.  I was very happy to see the extensive credit they gave Roy Disney for having the business sense to make his brother’s dreams a reality.

On the way to our FastPass Plus reserved seating at Fantasmic, we passed the Character Dance Party under the Sorcerers Hat. 

Well, we almost passed it.

Anabelle had actively avoided it both days we’d been at MGM, but this time, she saw Pinocchio dancing near the stage.  She ran over to see him, and also noticed Minnie, a Poppins Penguin, and an announcement that villains were arriving.  Overall, the dance parties are a fantastic recreation of how character meetings used to be in the medieval ages when I was a kid.

They didn’t sign anything, and they barely stood still long enough for a picture.
They did, however, interact with and dance with giant crowds of guests in a fun and free atmosphere. 

Rosa and Anabelle dumped all the park travel gear on me, because they have much stronger and more effective dance genes than I do.  I took pictures, enjoyed watching them have fun movin’ and groovin’ with Disney favorites, and switched our Fantasmic FastPass Plus for an end of day Toy Story Mania.

Pinocchio was clearly dancing with a friend and ignored Anabelle’s attempts to maintain the puppet’s attention, as well as anyone else’s. Luckily, Mr. Smee proved to be a surprisingly adept hoofer for a little fat guy, and grabbed her focus.
When I looked up from SmartPhone scheduling, I lost them for a bit.  They had been pulled into a conga line with both Smee and Captain Hook. 

No one was too broken up about missing Fantasmic, the whole reason Anabelle wanted to see it was to wave at characters. Boogieing with them was highly preferable.  It was definitely a new and exciting form of Musical Disney Magic that looked to be here to stay in several forms in many of the parks. 

The Green Army Men had completely inundated Pixar Place as we made our way to Toy Story Mania. Anabelle scored about the same as her first trip, but didn’t get nauseous, which was a vast improvement. Her secret:  she closed her eyes every time the car was going to spin.

I had been enough of a pest about seeing it, and played up being abandoned at the edge of the dance floor causing me to have painful middle school flash backs, that we squeezed in Captain Jack’s Pirate Adventure before we left.

What a show!  It was a fantastic demonstration of how Disney can take something very simple:
In this case a small room and projecting on shaped surfaces, like Celebrate the Magic but on a smaller scale, and generate an immersive, story filled experience.

Through the magic of video, Johnny Depp reprised his role as Captain Jack, leading his new crew members (that would be us) through battles with various enemies from the films. 

If you told me when MGM first opened that there would be an enjoyable family attraction featuring attacking undead and hosted by a drunken lunatic, I’m not sure I would have believed you.  The show was filled with adventure for the kids, and knowing self reference for the adults:
Jack suggested if we had fun, “Come back in eight minutes and we’ll do it all again.”

It also was introduced and hosted by the talking Jolly Roger skull. Nice to see Disney found him a job after firing him from the original Pirates of the Caribbean ride to fit in movie references.

The show ended with Jack and the skull leading us all in a chorus of “A Pirate’s Life for Me.” Woo!

Although it was Extra Magic Hours night in MGM the bus line at normal park closing time to get back home to the POP was insane. It stretched through the whole normal queue space and back past three other stops.

Fortunately, we were in Disney World.  Two oversized buses showed up side by side and pulled a majority of the crowd off in a very short span of time.

We realized upon returning home, that we hadn’t actually eaten dinner.  Disney can be distracting sometimes.  It was early enough to let Anabelle finally get the hot dog she was hoping for, before that line closed.  New Cast Members who were quite obviously “earning their ears” slowed us down a bit, which meant by the time Rosa came back from the room, changed and carrying Anabelle’s suit, I returned to the lines to find them greatly expanded.  Luckily, the bean burgers were premade that night. Days of walking had taken their toll on me physically. When ordering, something deep in my core shouted, “WE NEED SALT!”  I broke down and ignored my usual sad little pasta salad to devour some excessively needed french fries before I seized up.

Rosa and Anabelle got many compliments on their “Toys Just Want to Have Fun” Buzz and Woody shirts throughout the day.  Only a couple Cast Members noticed (and went crazy over) my “Every Disney Villain Ever” shirt that was a hand-me-side from my sister. I think it was too overwhelming.

They hit the pool and due to my plavix induced cold susceptibility, I delayed as long as possible eating and changing before joining them.

With three days left, the backup camera had just passed 1500 pictures, and the printed Grid was barely surviving.  But there was no way we were slowing down now.

Disney 2013 Trip Index

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