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... 


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!

No comments:

Post a Comment