Saturday, September 19, 2009

Post-D23 Expo: The Announcements

Last weekend was the D23 Expo in Anaheim, CA. If you're a Disney fan, you'd have to be living in a cave if you hadn't heard about it. All the Disney divisions made appearances, and I've appreciated many websites and podcasts for covering the event. But I wanted to address the announcements made, or at least my views about them.

First, let's start with the Disney Cruise Line.

Most of us (again, who haven't been living in a cave) have heard that Disney is building two new ships, the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, coming in 2011 and 2012. That means that the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder will probably have some itinerary changes. So it was announced that the Disney Wonder will relocate out of the Port of Los Angeles, where it had previously done Mexican Riviera sailings. But the Big Deal Announcement was that it will sail the summer season in Alaska.

Alaska is definitely a new itinerary for DCL, but I can't get myself excited about the prospect. I work in Chicago and live in a suburb 8 miles away from the office. I'm used to experiencing below-zero frozen tundra weather in the winter. And the semi-frozen spring and autumn. And the four weeks we like to call "summer", or by its other name, "construction season". So going to a place in summer that is generally chillier than Chicago doesn't appeal to me. That's why there are Caribbean cruises, after all.

What I did like was that the statue in the Disney Dream atrium would be Admiral Duck himself, The Donald. And the ships will be bigger, so I want to see them for myself.

Next, let's talk about the Disney films:

The opening speech by Bob Iger concluded with 30 minutes of "The Princess and the Frog". By all accounts from attendees either blogging, podcasting, or Tweeting, this should be a shot in the arm for traditional 2D animation. I'm personally looking forward to seeing this film. I hope I get the same awe I had when I first saw "The Little Mermaid" during its initial run in the theaters.

There were announcements of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" with Nicholas Cage. Again, it sounds like a fun film. I am hoping it will be closer to "National Treasure" than "Race to Witch Mountain" in terms of enjoyment. I'm sorry about all those who loved the latter film. I found it too trite, but the cameo appearances gave me nostalgia from my childhood, so it wasn't a total loss.

But the big news of Johnny Depp making another appearance as Captain Jack Sparrow in the 4th installment of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies really got my attention. But when Dick Cook, who made that presentation at the D23 Expo, suddenly leaves Disney under hush-hush circumstances, it's been reported that Johnny's not happy to work without him in this LA Times article here. I'm not sure I want to count all my Sparrows until they're hatched, now.

And now my favorite part, Disney Parks and Resorts:

I thought Bay Lake Towers was Disney's DVC "Worst Kept Secret". Until someone posted blueprints of what appeared to be a Walt Disney World Fantasyland expansion, that is. Or maybe the Worst Kept Secret was a quote from Anthony Daniels (C3PO from the "Star Wars" films) a few years ago during an interview, spilling the beans about working on scenes for Star Tours v2.0.

Yeah, Anthony shouldn't be trusted with State secrets.

Ok, let's get back to Fantasyland for a minute. I'm really excited about this, because well...I just didn't think Toon Town lived up to its potential. The dedicated areas for the princess meet and greets and Pixie Hollow sound fantastic. I love that they will be themed to each character. And after I saw the virtual ride through of the Little Mermaid attraction from a bonus feature on the DVD, I immediately wanted that attraction to come to pass. I understand that the attraction won't be just like the Tony Baxter mock up, but I'm sure plenty of elements will find its way into the attraction, and I can't wait to see what they do!

I never gave Dumbo much thought, but I think it's great that they are expanding capacity and giving waiting families something to do while waiting. Thumbs up for that. But let's switch to food. The Magic Kingdom was in dire need of another place to eat, and the Be Our Guest restaurant sounds like it might be a good option. At least until I get to try the food. Same goes for Gaston's Tavern. Of course there will be antlers. Maybe Melvin the Moose at Country Bear Jamboree will work overtime at Gaston's.

Back to Star Tours now, but I have a confession to make. While I enjoy the Star Tours attraction, I have to confess that I do not like the "Star Wars" films. Even the first one released back in 1977. Never liked the films, so all the discussion about whether the new attraction will be based on the pod races went over my head and made no impression on me. I will like that the new attraction will be in 3D, pod races or no pod races aside. I'm living proof that you don't have to know or like the source material to enjoy the attraction based on it.

And a quick segue about another 3D adventure: Hallelujah about "MuppetVision" getting a well deserved overhaul to digital. It was really starting to show its age compared to "Mickey's Philharmagic".

I figured I just covered most of what I found appealing at the Expo, except a surprising thing I found while being part of Lou Mongello's walkabout. Lou carried his notebook computer around while a bunch of us were "in the box" (aka a live chat room) at home, so we could experience the Expo. This was "Sounds Dangerous", except with a remote camera that actually worked. Heh. Loved the full-sized Buzz Lightyear made of Legos, as well as the cool mural that guests helped the Master Builder create. The collectible booths were not that exciting to me, but I have to thank Lou for showing us the booth that had The Art of the Disney Princess book. I was floored when I saw a rendering of the famous stretching room portrait from the Haunted Mansion. But the tightrope walker was Snow White! Loved that, and I'll probably buy that book now.

I had my vicarious thrills from the expo from Lou's walkabout and Ricky Brigante's virtual tour of the Parks and Resorts booth at . Thanks for doing this for us stuck thousands of miles away.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hot Button Topic: Refillable Mugs

After my last blog about the guest parking lots, I thought I'd tackle another hot-button issue:

Refillable Mugs at the Disney Resorts

I can imagine people read that topic and think, "Oh no. Not another debate about the refillable mugs!" But I can't wait to share my .02.

It might seem that the refillable mug program has been around forever, but it really started sometime in the middle of the 1990's. For those Disney fans who lived under a rock since then, the program was essentially this:

For a nominal fee per person (somewhere around $10-12), guests could enjoy unlimited refills at the self-serve drink stations at their resort for their length of stay. Coffee, tea, hot cocoa and sodas. Or in the case of some deluxe resorts, there were locations to get the drinks filled for you by cast members.

It was made perfectly clear that the mugs were only good at the resort you were staying, unless it was a "sister" resort group like Port Orleans/Dixie Landings or Yacht Club/Beach Club.

Today, we have a moral controversy over the mugs. Back in the 90's, cast members who sold the mugs actively encouraged guests to bring the mugs back on future trips to the same resort. But somewhere in the early 2000's, the drink stations would have placards posted that the mugs were only good for the length of stay of the trip the mug was purchased.

Suddenly, you had a group of guests who faced conflicting messages from Disney. Repeat guests were allowed to bring back the mugs when the program first started, but suddenly Disney would now frown upon that?

Now I've seen guests clearly abusing the drink stations from Day One. They would fill up any drink container they had. It didn't necessarily have to be a Disney mug. And guests would bring mugs from other resorts, which was a clear "violation" of the original rules.

Do cast members ever tell a guest they are not allowed to use the contraband drink containers?

Never. It would be a guest relations nightmare if the cast members did that. I think cast members are lenient because they know that some guests are a short fuse away from a total meltdown during their vacations.

Do I condone it?

Nope. Never condoned it years ago; still don't condone it today. But when I had lots of 1 and 2 night stays at Pop Century (to avoid weekend points at DVC since 2002), I never bought the mug. I had Mug Guilt. I couldn't justify buying a mug on a short stay, and I felt like those intimiding new placards were going to eat away at my conscience if I bought a mug and used it on future trips.

It was actually funny that in 1999, I did a split stay of 2 nights at All Star Music, 5 nights at Dixie Landings, and 2 nights at Beach Club. I had packed my All Star resort mug and Port Orleans mugs from prior trips, and bought a Beach Club mug to add to my collection. I find it comical that I made sure I used the proper mug for each resort!

Part of me thinks that those of us with original mugs should have a grandfather clause allowing us to bring back the mugs because Disney marketed the mugs to us as repeat visit mugs. Another part of me thinks that Disney changed the rules, so we should now abide by the new rules. And another part of me thinks Disney could really milk the whole "environmentality" thing by encouraging us to reuse mugs at the resorts and the parks to avoid discarding paper cups.

What is the solution for this controversy?

I think Disney had the right idea by testing out a bar code system at the water parks. You were able to refill your drinks on the date of purchase by scanning a bar code on the machine or it wouldn't dispense. I'm not sure how feasible that would be at a busy drink station at the resorts. But if Disney was able to work out a system that would allow you to use old mugs yet pay for the length of stay use, that might end the controversy.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Pod Soup: Same Question, Different Answer

I mentioned that I wanted to do an offshoot similar to TV show "The Soup", but with Disney podcasts. Well, I found my first topic quite by accident. Let me introduce the podcasts first.

First podcast is WDW Today. Podcasters: Matt, Mike, Mike and Len. Mongello y'all.

Second podcast is Inside the Magic. Podcaster: Ricky. My first Disney podcast. Ever. I started listening when he was still in single digits, and wet behind the ears.

Now what do these two podcasts have in common as of this week?

Both podcasts tackled a similar question, but gave polar opposite answers. And of course it had to be a hot-button issue, too. To be fair, WDW Today answered this question on a live show a month ago, and the question came up just this week on Inside the Magic.

The question:

If you've got a breakfast reservation at the Polynesian, is it ok to leave your car there for the rest of the day and go park hopping?

When WDW Today answered this question, it seemed that Matt was ready to tell the listener that he should be able to park and stay without a problem. But Mike Newell suddenly discovered he had vocal cords (yeah, who knew?) and completely stood his ground about this being a bad idea. Mike Scopa then piped up in support of Newell. Newell said that the guests of the resort can have a difficult time finding decent parking spaces for themselves when those who park there all day take spaces that guests of the resort should have. Scopa said that he encountered that problem personally as a guest of the Polynesian.

But Newell didn't stop there. He suggested that if you know you're going to want to hop for the day, it's not difficult to park at the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC), and either take the resort monorail or walk to the Polynesian. I completely agreed with Newell. I've walked from the TTC to Polynesian. It's not a far walk. Those with mobility issues would still be able to catch the monorail. One li'l stop.

So as I listened to Ricky's podcast today, I heard myself mentally screaming at my iPod:

"Ricky, Noooooooo!"

Ricky encouraged the listener to go to his Kona breakfast and leave the car there all day.

Gah. I'm disappointed, Ricky. I know this is one of those hotly debated issues on message boards. And yes, I know people who have no problem giving this advice. Technically, Disney gives you a 3-hour pass to park at a resort. I don't think people should park there all day, but they do. Now Ricky is giving his listeners carte blanche to do this, and I cringe. Mostly because I know there's a convenient alternative at the TTC, and nobody would be breaking any "rules".

I have a feeling Ricky's going to get some listener feedback about this advice. Should I email him and give him my .02 on this subject? Ricky, love the podcast, hate the answer. I hope he changes his tune on next week's show.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

August 11th - Food and Wine Frenzy

Well, since it's technically still August 11th where I am, I figure I'd share some thoughts about the mad frenzy this morning calling Disney Dining. Or rather, the 407-WDW-FEST phone number, which dumps you into the main dining queue.

Those of us "in the know" about the Epcot Food and Wine Festival at Walt Disney World can tell you that come late July / early August, Disney will release the information about the special dining events, which I mentioned in the previous post. But once you decide what you want to book, you have to prioritize your choices by the order of which you'd think things might sell out.

For me, that was easy. There was a signature wine dinner held at Flying Fish on October 15th, and some of my friends with an inside track to the restaurant know that prior wine dinners held at other times during the year only hold 35 people. Since this was one of my choices, I decided to try to book this first.

I only wanted three events this year. For the first time since 2003, I decided to skip the Party for the Senses. The money I would spend there would be put to better use at the Flying Fish dinner. So the events I wanted were:

10/15 Flying Fish signature wine dinner
10/16 Todd English's bluezoo™ signature wine dinner
10/17 Mexico Tequila Tasting

Since a friend of mine wanted to go to Flying Fish and Todd's place, too, she suggested we divide and conquer. She would book Todd's dinner, and I would book Flying Fish. So this morning, armed with a note listing the event names as they appeared in the schedule posted by Disney, I set my alarm for 5:50am Central in order to get up and start dialing a few minutes before 6am...which is 7am Eastern, when the dining line opens.

The dialing frenzy began for me and a bunch of friends on the DIS boards. I was lucky enough to have the Disney Dining gods smiling down on me. By some miracle, my call got through almost immediately, and I was talking to a dining reservation agent and quickly telling her that I wanted to book the special events for the Food and Wine Festival. Thank goodness she knew about the festival, because others who posted to the DIS got the worst end of Disney Dining Roulette. They got stuck with cast members who did not know where to find events and put the others on hold in Disney Dining Purgatory, where my friends would be taunted by the "hold" music.

I was finished by 6:11am!

At first, my agent wanted to know the Disney resort I'm staying, and I forgot to grab my confirmation number. Luckily she found me quickly and entered my info. She told me that she could booked a party of two for the Flying Fish dinner and set my mind at ease when she went into the dress code spiel and quoted me the price she would be charging me. I added the Mexico tequila tasting for myself, and hoped my friend was able to book Todd English's bluezoo™. After my card was charged and had confirmation numbers written down, I texted my friend to let her know I was successful. She managed to get Todd English's bluezoo™ as well as every other event she wanted, so I was happy for her.

The people on the DIS who didn't fare well with today's frenzy...I have to feel for them. You would think Disney would give their agents better notice about how to deal with the crazed foodies who book this year after year, but no, they don't. At least I know that while some of my friends were shut out of events, they did find events that weren't sold out before they had a chance to book them.

This pretty much ended my trip planning for October. Now I can relax before my trip.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gluttoberfest aka the Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Well, you know it's late July when kids will start telling their parents "I'm bored" before the Back-To-School sales have begun, or when Disney fans all over the internet are asking each other, "Did you see the Food and Wine Festival schedule yet??"

Last year, Disney gave people a scant three days advance notice of events on their website before the booking date. So mad props to Disney for giving us twenty days to make our plans. Of course, I'm being slightly facetious, because the Examiner website had presented some info ahead of time, much of which turned out to be accurate. Here's Disney's link.

And here's the Examiner post that had us all chomping at the bit:

One of the interesting changes this year is that the culinary and wine/liquor demos that used to be free with the price of admission to Epcot are now going to have an $8 fee per person. I believe the changes stem from Disney needing a source of income to offset budget cuts, or they are trying to discourage the "festival freeloaders" that have rudely left the seminars in the middle of a session just to get back into queue early for the next "freebie". After I read the description of the food demo, if I get a food item with a wine pairing, I find the $8 charge reasonable. I expect that the $8 wine seminars will give people better pours, as well.

I'm going to the festival in mid-October, which is how it became Gluttoberfest. I'm not that clever. A friend of mine heard me call it "Gluttonfest" and changed it. It will be appropos for me, because I intend to nosh at the festival kiosks, but I have two signature dining events on the list that I want to book. If I am successful booking these events, I'll post later. I hate jinxing myself. I am excited about the tequila tasting event. That's also new this year. Events I did in the past that I am not doing this year include the French Regional Lunch, Sweet Sundays, and Party for the Senses.

I used to go to the Party for the Senses every food and wine trip. It's a grand tasting event of the festival. Visiting chefs from around the country (and world?), along with executive chefs at Disney restaurants from the parks and resorts, would create tasting samples of higher quality than could be found at the outdoor kiosks. Wineries would pour tastes of their wines, and entertainment was typically Cirque de Soleil acts (until very recently). You would eat and drink your way around different stations, and your wine glass was a commemorative souvenir. This year, there's an upcharge for a VIP section with guaranteed seating, premium bar with spirits, and some sort of upscale cheeses.

I'll pass on that and put the money towards some upscale dining events instead.

I can say that I did try to get Victoria and Albert's Chef's Table for October 18th....and failed. Someone with fingers that dialed like the wind managed to shut my friends and me out of this. But that's ok. We'll have dinner in the main dining room...and enjoy the Tables in Wonderland discount!

Friday, July 17, 2009

R.I.P. Walter Cronkite

Well, I just heard the news. Beloved journalist and anchorman Walter Cronkite is dead at 92 years of age. Known as "the most trusted man in America", Walter would be remembered by many as a reassuring presence on TV news in turbulent times from the 1960's through the early 1980's.

But I will remember him most fondly as a presence at Walt Disney World.

Walter Cronkite replaced the original narrator of Spaceship Earth in 1986. My first experience on Spaceship Earth in 1987 featured Walter Cronkite. I will always have a place in my heart for his narration.

But that's not the only place I'll remember him at Walt Disney World. When I returned to WDW on my next trip in 1992, I enjoyed his contribution to the Magic of Disney Animation area at the Disney-MGM Studios. He played a wonderful comedic straight man to Robin William's manic improvisations in "Back to Neverland".

I still have those memories of Walter on TV and at Disney. He will be greatly missed.
Rest in Peace, Walter.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Blog? Me?

Hi there.

I'm Lori, also known as BriarRosie in various Disney fan communities. The last thing I ever thought I'd do is start blogging, but here I am. I usually limit my ramblings to the DIS message boards, where I'm usually found talking about food. Complete with "food porn" reviews from Walt Disney World restaurants.

I'll probably share my food porn and other random blatherings about my trips to Disney. And perhaps my birthday trip to Vegas will make it here, too. Although parts of that might fall under "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!"

But I will also tackle what I call The Disney Podcast Soup.

I often find myself wanting to comment about things I hear on various podcasts. I might comment on someone's interview, opinion, list, or even mini-rants.

If you're actually reading this, I might fall off my chair in a dead faint. ;)