Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My December Disney Trip, Part 3: The End of Day One!



Okay, folks, ready to wrap up Day One with me? I'll probably try to make this quick. It's past my work-night-bedtime, and my fish hate it when I keep the light on really late.

Anyway, another quick disclaimer: Yes, I'm forcing you to look at my vacation photos, but we'll keep sticking in your regularly scheduled programming of movie and food reviews, fun articles and promises of new comic strips soon to come, and if you hate vacation blogging, don't worry, it'll all be over soon. This is for my fellow Disney fanatics. It was my first Disney trip in 10 years, so I gotta talk about it! Heck, a year between trips is long enough!

Now, when we last left off, we had one more scheduled excursion left on our first day of arriving in Florida, and that was "Chip 'n' Dale's Campfire Sing-Along". This was our day for doing a few activities outside of the park, but still at the Disney resorts. There's so much to do at the resorts without even visiting the parks, and that sort of thing was a first for us. Staying at the resorts was a first for us. We had already made our way from our own resort, Port Orleans Riverside, to the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground for dinner at the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, and now it was just a short walk to the campfire location. What we discovered along the way though, was quite a welcome sight!



Yes, if you know your Disney movies, this should look familiar! On our way to the campfire site was Doc Terminus's wagon from one of my favorite Disney movies, "Pete's Dragon"! Scratch that one off my to-do list! I wanted very much to see this in person and get a picture of it! Yes, I took a picture next to it too, but this one came out better. It was a bit dark, so hopefully someday I'll get a chance at a daytime pic standing next to the wagon. Anyway, still very cool! One of my all-time favorite Disney characters. Keep in mind, I'm not saying this was the same wagon used in the movie, ha, but it's just a thrill to see classic Disney live-action features referenced at the parks and resorts. As a hardcore Disney fan who even loves the less-known, oldschool live-action stuff like Bullwhip Griffin and Toby Tyler, things like this give me a special, geeky thrill! And, what's this on the side...



Yep, looks like we were almost there! Just up a path, we found a nice little area of campfire setups, audience benches, a chuckwagon for buying snacks... This was the location of Chip 'n' Dale's Campfire Sing-A-Long, a FREE event at Disney's Fort Wilderness that doesn't require reservations! At the Sing-A-Long, you can pick up some snacks, marshmallows and roasting sticks, or S'mores kits at the chuckwagon, melt 'em down over one of the campfires, and sit back and enjoy a fun sing-along with Chip 'n' Dale and their musical cowboy friend who hosts the show with his trusty guitar. During the sing-along, Chip 'n' Dale make the rounds greeting and taking photos with guests, and after the show, you can stick around for a movie screening of a Disney classic!



While a team of Disney cast members got the firepits going, the first thing we did was pick up one of those S'mores packets. Now, those aren't cheap, let me tell ya (9.50 or so), but hey, making S'mores by the campfire was another first for me.


My ultimate opinion of S'mores though, having finally tried the authentic, real-thing, is that they're a bit overly sweet for me, ha. Maybe if I'd had a glass of milk. I love all three ingredients, but boy, put them all together, and we're talking major sugar overload, ha. I'd do it again though.

After enjoying our S'mores, we found a good spot among the benches to sing-along with Chip 'n' Dale and friend. It was loads of fun. My sister and I can get pretty vocal in those situations, especially when no one else is participating well enough for our liking, ha. We helped get it going though. Now, I can't remember what songs were sung that night anymore, but most likely it was the traditional campfire stuff, plus some Disney probably, like Davy Crockett or something. Again, just guessing, because this was back in December, and I've forgotten by now. Hey, we already went over why I didn't write these articles sooner, and I'm sorry, okay! Pipe down and enjoy these photos...



 


Yep, the campfire, S'mores and singing was a lot of fun. Highly recommended to all who visit the Disney resorts. We didn't stick around for the movie screening though. We had to head back towards Pioneer Hall and the nearby general store to wait for our turn on a horse and buggy ride through the campgrounds. 




This was another of those pricey, book it far in advance sorta things, but really enjoyable, especially during the holiday season. The people who stay on the campgrounds in their motor homes have a tradition of decorating elaborately for the holidays. Now, either we couldn't get any photos of these lovely sights to come out well enough in the dark or we just didn't take any, I forget. All I know is I don't have any, ha, but here's one of all of us in the buggy, anyway...




The ride was wonderful and the driver was extremely sweet, like the majority of Cast Members at the Disney Resort and Theme Parks who often go out of their way to give you a special experience. After the buggy ride, we hopped a Disney bus back to our resort, ready for a night's rest. 




The lobby at Port Orleans Riverside sure looked nice and peaceful late at night though.






That was the end of our first day back at Disney World after 10 years, and our first day ever simply enjoying a taste of what the resorts have to offer. I gotta say, we're pretty hooked on Disney Resorts now. But, of course, the real reason for traveling to Disney is the parks! And, on Day 2, we naturally made our first park The Magic Kingdom! But, I'll get into that in Part 4! T.T.F.N.!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

More Christmas in July! My December Disney World Experience! Part 2



Well, I'm back with more on my December Disney World trip, folks! For those of you wondering why this site has turned into a vacation blog, it's only temporary. The usual stuff will be mixed in as I do this, and when it's over, I plan to get crackin' with new Moonlight Motel comics! Yeah, for realz! But, for now...

 Let's see, I left off at the beginning of the evening on Day One. My mother, my sister and I were refreshed and leaving our Port Orleans hotel room for a ferry boat to Downtown Disney so we could catch the bus to Fort Wilderness. The Ferry was boarding just an extremely short walk from our building. We were staying Riverside, after all.


 



 From the ferry to the bus, to our own two feet, we eventually found ourselves at the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground in front of Pioneer Hall, where we were scheduled to have dinner while viewing the extremely popular (and therefore, you gotta book it early and fast) "Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue".




Ya gotta love how everything is decked out for the holidays, huh? Even if it was sunny Florida all over.




Inside, we sat down at our designated table and a waitress took our drink orders.


 


Here's a look at the evening's menu, which is basically all you can eat. And, there's a reason this meal is wildly popular with Disney park-goers. I mean, all you can eat ribs and fried chicken? And it's SUPER GOOD too! Let me just give you the review right now: If you love chicken and barbecued ribs, you're gonna wanna hit this place! But, like I said, book it right away! 



After you're served up cornbread and salad, the ribs come in one bucket and the chicken in another. Finish it up and they'll bring ya more! You also get beans and mashed potatoes, and we received corn as well. I guess that was the "seasonal vegetables", ha. It's the perfect meal for the accompanying show, and it's sooo good! I'm not wild about the salad, I'll admit. I'm pretty finicky about salad and didn't care for any Disney World salad that comes to mind, but the rest of my party liked it, and everything else was fantastic!

 

 







Oh yes, and there was a DELICIOUS Strawberry Shortcake for dessert! This meal is a real winner for sure! One of the best we had on the trip! That won't be the last time I say that, but definitely some meals were better than others.





Now, how about that show? Well, I'll tell ya, it's corny, it's goofy, it's cheesy, but it's entertaining, energetic, and at times, really good! Plus, we saw the Christmas version, so that adds something very special to it. We were eager to see something like this, because both my sister and I are big fans of Wally Boag, who did... something similar over at the original Disneyland in California every day for years and years. He was a delightful living legend whom we never got to see in person; the inspiration to modern faves like Steve Martin, who I suppose must have been something of a mentor for him since I know Steve worked at Disneyland for a while, though maybe he just admired Wally from afar, I really don't know. But, yeah, the guy was brilliant, and though we can't go see him anymore, at least there's the Hoop-Dee-Doo, which has some similarities to that old Golden Horseshoe show, if a little more Branson-ish. I know it's probably too cheesy for some of you though. If you're unsure, well, just checkout some of the MANY videos of it on YouTube. But, let me tell ya, even if it's not your thing, you may want to reconsider for the amazing all-you-can-eat feast! Just be forewarned that some audience members do end up participating! But... it's unlikely to be you if you don't want it to.



 



 




We had a fantastic time with the show and meal. The evening wasn't without its stress, though. Our mom has suffered for years with an as yet undiagnosed esophagus condition that makes it difficult, sometimes impossible, for her to swallow food or even water when it flares up, which it does at the worst times. That night was one of those times, and she wasn't truly able to enjoy the meal and also missed out on the part of the show she would have enjoyed most (the really Christmassy part), and this tends to stress us out a lot as well when it happens. But, overall it was definitely a fun experience we'd love to do again, perhaps on all our future Disney World trips. 




From that point, we had to say a sad goodbye to the Pioneer Hall and move on to our next scheduled event.

Now, I really did want to finish up talking about Day One in two parts since we didn't even go to a park that day, but I think, since I"m out of time for tonight, I'll save the Chip 'n' Dale Campfire Sing-Along and the rest of the evening for next time. That will definitely be the end of Day One, and by part 4, we'll be getting into the parks. Of course, I won't be able to call this Christmas in July by then. Christmas in August, I suppose, ha! See ya then!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Christmas in July! My excuse to share my December Disney World experience! Part 1



Okay, this "vacation slideshow" (not an actual slideshow, don't worry; this isn't one of those browser-freezing Yahoo articles) has been a long time in coming. Honestly, I hope my memory can do everything justice. It's gonna be less detailed than I wanted, probably. Should have done this back in December (or even earlier this month! I realize it's a bit late for Christmas in July), but who has time for an in-depth report on a week-long trip during the holiday season? Oh well, gonna do the best I can. As for the quicky illustration above, man, I totally didn't think to do a Santa hat, even though it was a mouse-eared Santa hat I bought and wore on the actual trip. Maybe this way I'll at least get more use out of the above drawing for any other Disney-centric articles I write in the future. Anyway, let's get started here. And, keep in mind that I'm not writing this series of articles as Monty, but as myself, Austin-based cartoonist and illustrator Nathan Lee James. Monty may be my werewolf half, but comic strip Monty has some differences from real-life Monty, AKA me. For one thing, I have siblings (two sisters, one I share an apartment with). Comic-strip Monty is an only child. Also, comic Monty is in his werewolf form 24/7 for some reason, while I become Monty far less often. At least, physically. The point is, in this article you'll see lots of photos of me, my mother, and one of my sisters. It was the three of us who took this trip together in early December of 2013. It had long been a desire of ours to visit the parks during the holiday season, especially our mom. This seemed the perfect time. My mother had just survived a bout with cancer (something my father had lost only shortly before), and a bit of a vacation was in order for her, the whole thing thanks to the hard efforts of my sister, who incidentally may start doing some modeling for this site in the near future.

That seems like enough setup and backstory, so let's get on with it. And, if you're wondering what the point in sharing this all is, well... If you follow the site, you should know by now that I'm a Disney fanatic, and a lot of my readers are too. That means, yeah, we just enjoy reading and writing and generally sharing on subjects like our Disney trips. But, if you're not familiar with Disney World vacations, this is to serve as a "this is what it's like" kinda thing, obviously. Especially around the holidays. Now, I realize this is not the usual material here of movie and junk food reviews, girl-worship, Moonlight Motel comic strips and nostalgia articles, so if you're not into it, no worries, it's only gonna take a few articles and we'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming. 

Let me start off by saying, to do a Disney trip properly takes A LOT of advance planning. Even doing it badly does, but this was our first trip in ten years (and that is a big deal for a Disney fanatic), and for the first time ever, we were going full-on with it. We were going to stay at a Disney resort, eat every meal at the parks on the Disney Dining Plan, use the complimentary transportation, and we were flying as well, which I can't believe we'd never done before. Let me tell ya, when you live as far away from Florida as we do, you really shouldn't do this trip in a car (okay, it can be fun... but, c'mon!). All those things made this trip so much easier and more amazing than our many previous trips growing up. We just kept saying, "I wish Dad could have been with us on this trip," because he actually would have LIKED Disney World if we had done it this way with him. Poor guy usually drove us the whole way (many, many times), and he wasn't even into Disney. Planning in advance, however, means waaaay in advance. I think my sister was working on this over a year beforehand. Ya know, I'm really the only Disney-fanatic in the family (heck, I'm the only Disney-fanatic I know offline, so if any of you Austinites are Disney fanatics, you should drop me a line... especially if you're pretty girls), and yet, I must admit that I learned quite a lot from my sis about planning a Disney trip properly, even if she was just learning it for the first time herself. I found out you have to get up in the wee hours on specific days to get all your reservations, for example. And, I'm talking FAR in advance again, because you gotta jump on them as soon as the days open up if you want to eat in Cinderella's castle or stay at one of the major resorts, get decent seats for the Candlelight Ceremony at EPCOT, attend the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue dinner show or Mickey's Christmas party. Folks, if you've never planned a trip like this before, do your research over a year in advance! To cut to the chase though, after a long time of preparation (through which I recommend psyching yourself up with lots of Disney movies and park-related programming; Order the free vacation planning DVD, and there's some great stuff on YouTube even!), we finally got our first bit of excitement when these babies arrived...


Those are Disney Magic Bands. They're these new things from Disney that, this past December, were still considered in the testing phase, and we got to test some out! For those who choose them, they become your room key, park tickets, Fast Passes, reservation check-ins, meal plan points, and probably other stuff I'm forgetting. If I remember correctly, you can even use them to pay for stuff in general somehow, though we didn't go that route, and you can use them as part of this photo pass thing they have now. See, now there are photographers all over the park who take pictures for you if you'd like to do it that way and just order them after your trip from a site on the internet. I wonder how well that program is doing though, now that everyone has a camera phone on them all the time. I can see it being helpful when you want to get everyone in the photo or when your phone dies (we'll talk about that problem later on), but otherwise I can't imagine people wanting to fork over more dough for that. Of course, I won't be too surprised if I'm doing it myself someday in the future. Convenience eventually sucks us all in...

So, our Magic Bands arrived in early November. We weren't trying to get Christmassy with the colors either, we just chose our favorites. Green happens to be my favorite color (though more of a forest green, but as long as it's not a drab green, it's all good). Soon after, our mom joined us in Austin for Thanksgiving, and not long after that, time for our trip had arrived. It was early December, as I mentioned before, and it was rather hectic getting ready those last few days. Our flight was early on a Sunday morning, and we had to be there REALLY early (how many times can I say "early" in this paragraph?), but I worked on Saturday and still had much to do after that, so I didn't get much sleep. Then, there's the fact that my mother never sleeps AT ALL before any trip, ha, which always puts someone in a great mood for the ride over... So, even though we were flying instead of driving, that first day started out a bit rough. Luckily, we made it safely to Florida two plane rides later and hoofed it to the area where the Disney Resort guests are picked up. Here's where things started getting... well, Disney!

In the shots below, you can see our first sighting of Mickey Mouse, while still at the airport no less. Excuse the random strangers. This was the area where we were to get in line and wait for the bus to our resort hotel, Disney's Port Orleans Riverside. My sister's favorite Disney Princess is Tiana, which may have played a role in selecting that resort. She's a big fan of New Orleans in general though, and I gotta say, it was an excellent choice, but more on that in a moment. The second shot below is one I took from my seat at the front of the bus as we approached the Disney property! Believe me, to the hardcore Disney fanatic, all these sites bring a tear to the eye when experienced in person, especially for the first time, or for the first time in 10 years! The next two pics are from the lobby of our resort, which is actually a building of its own with a restaurant on one side and a general store/souvenir shop on the other.


And, let's not forget it was Christmas! Check out the tree in our resort's lobby! As you've probably seen on a Samantha Brown show, all of Disney World gets elaborately decked out for the holidays, and just about everywhere you go, there is an enormous and uniquely decorated Christmas tree!


After checking, we all needed a bit of a boost. On the upside, our luggage was delivered directly to our rooms for us. One of the perks of those Disney Resort package deals! So, we were able to go from the counter to the general store to pick up some snacks without dragging our suitcases behind us. I totally love stores at Disney parks. They always have these big, animatronic displays! I'll try to post a video I shot of one here, if I can get it to work... 

video

Now, with the Disney Dining Plan, you get points for your meals and for snacks as well. This was our first time on the plan, and we know this was going to be a trip with A LOT of food. We had never had that luxury on a Disney trip before, and there were lots of restaurants we wanted to try out, so we figured it was worth trying. When all was said and done, 3 meals a day at Disney Parks is too much food, ha, plus the snacks, but definitely all the snack points were a bonus. After all, if you're smart, you can even take some home with you in your luggage. The best things we could find at the resort shop were these wonderful Chip 'n' Dale trail mix packages! These were an excellent pick me up before we continued with our day, and they're a nice snack to have in your hotel room too.



In the photo above, we're enjoying our snacks at the food court area at the other end of our resort's lobby. Now, I can't quite remember if the table service restaurant is in this same building. We didn't eat there ourselves. Sadly, we rarely spend much time outside of the parks, so we don't get to take advantage of things like the resort restaurants and pools and such. Next time, we certainly need to add a day just for that and Downtown Disney (and that's beside the fact that we take two extra days to hit EPCOT and Magic Kingdom a second time each). You'll notice also that we have some cute Disney mugs in the picture above. These were also part of our resort deal! One free for each guest, these mugs mean free soda or whatever else is in the fountain drink area (pretty sure we got hot cocoa in them once or twice) within your own resort's designated areas (like this food court). There's actually a microchip in the bottom of the cup, so I suppose they only work during the length of your stay, ha. But, again, to really enjoy these perks, you have to spend some extra time at your resort. We always find ourselves too busy at the parks!

























Yes, the green cup was mine. A shame they didn't have holiday versions for that time of year, but it was still quite the summer vacation scene. As for the image above on the right, this part of the building is like being in a big mill, and that's the huge wheel you can see moving from the window, all the inner workings being on the inside. It's a gorgeous place, really! The whole resort is simply beautiful! I am a huge fan of Mark Twain, and let me tell ya, strolling around this resort is like being in Huckleberry Finn. It's pretty glorious! And 99.9 percent of the people you'll meet are super friendly. It's a pretty heavenly place!






Mind the finger...



 Oh, almost forgot. I also used my snack points to pick these up that day (they were just too cute)...


 I actually didn't try them till I was back home in Austin. They are more impressive on the package, and I kinda wish I'd gotten a box of the Mickey shortbreads instead, or in addition to these at least (if I got them instead, I would have kept wondering about these, after all).

After we recharged with our snacks, we finally headed across the bridge to our temporary home to freshen up a bit before the long night ahead of us. Yeah, that's our place in the picture below. Well, actually, there are several rooms to that plantation house-looking building. Ours was the one on the first floor, directly at the end of those brick steps. The gazebo pics are basically right outside our door. Such a gorgeous place!



Now, this particular resort is sort of a mid-range resort. It's not one of the cheapo ones, it's not one of the outrageous ones. So, when you enter your room, the arrangement is similar to a standard hotel room. However, the details are quite lovely. Unfortunately, I haven't run across a whole room shot in the hundreds of photos I'm going through as I write this article, but I do have some of those great closeups of the little touches that make a Disney Resort hotel stay so very nice...








Still have some of those soaps. I think I'll put them out during the holidays.

Now, here's a very tired (and bad at taking selfies) me taking a shot of the hat I bought before leaving the resort's main building to checkout the room. I naturally came on this trip with a bit of a to-do list, and one item on that list was to get a Santa Mickey hat to wear at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. 




Some other things I had on my list: Get photos with my main Disney dreamgirls and especially my favorite cartoon character ever, Scrooge McDuck, who is only out during the Christmas party! Get a giant rice krispies treat shaped like Mickey, get a poison apple candy apple, get a souvenir pin at the Christmas party, ride the new Star Tours, ride Expedition Everest, get a photo with Santa Claus, try the Grey Stuff, ride Stitch's Great Escape, ride Ariel's new ride and Nemo's ride, take a photo with Doc Terminus's wagon, and probably some other stuff I'm forgetting by now. 

But, that first night, we had three things planned. First, we'd hop the ferry right outside to Downtown Disney and then take a bus to the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, where we'd enjoy the wildly popular dinner show, "Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Reivew". Then, we'd head to Chip 'n' Dale's Campfire Sing-Along, and then we'd have a horse and buggy ride through Fort Wilderness before coming back for alll too little much needed sleep, ha. We'll have to talk about all that though, in Part 2. So, for now, folks,...

To Be Continued!