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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Looking Good for 40!


In the summer of 1955, a man that started with just a dream and a sketch of a mouse he had done on a train, opened the doors to a real-life fairytale: Disney Land. There was nothing else like it in the world…until the infamous opening of Walt Disney World on October 1st, 1971. Back then, Florida was nothing but trees, marsh, and orange groves. Now, Orlando is one of the tourist capitols of the country, with people from all over the world flocking to see the legacy that Walt has left behind.

My first trip was 20 years after that, close to the anniversary date. I was five years old, and for me, my dream started with a rabbit…Roger Rabbit. He was the first real face character that I saw, and I was overjoyed. Even for a child, I had a point of serenity; this fantastic place where I was transported to turned my reality upside down. As I grew older, I appreciated it in a much more different sense: I learned the history and work of the Imagineers and fell in love with the art of animation. I obsessed over storyboard paintings, classic animated films, and the music of Alan Menken. It consumed my life, and filled the empty place in my heart that family struggles had placed there. I found solace and peace, and every opportunity I could, I would go to the parks with visiting family members. Seeing the castle, riding the Carousel, meeting Mickey and his gang…it always brought things into perspective, like nothing could go wrong here, in the happiest place on Earth.

Seasons change, as did I. Now I’m twenty five, and I celebrate each visit with the love of my life. Now it’s not just the glitter and fireworks of it all, it’s the lessons behind it: learning the struggle and work that Walt put into this place, the history and imagination behind every single ride and inch of the different lands, the inspiration planted in the young minds yearning to leave something magical in their steps.


 Today, Walt Disney World turns forty…and it’s just as beautiful as it once was. The new expansion of Fantasy Land, which opens next year (and of which, locals are keeping a close watch) will undoubtedly put that familiar sparkle in everyone’s eyes, be it young or old. Today, I was lucky enough to be a guest of the 40th celebration, and I got to see things that I hadn’t witnessed in years: the horse drawn trolley ringing its bell through Main Street, dancers tipping their hats and swooshing their skirts as they sung those familiar songs of yesteryear, characters signing autographs throughout the park (most of them are secluded to the Town Square Theater and the former Big Top in Toon Town), and vintage designs on available merchandise, guide maps, and buttons. It was a day that memories were not only celebrated, but made. 










Unified, it felt shiny and new, as if I were seeing The Mouse for the first time all over again. I felt like that five year old girl again, with a freshly printed pair of Mickey Ears, walking up to Cinderella Castle, feeling that magic envelope me. And I know in the deepest part of my heart and mind, that that was Walt’s intention: to always have the magic inside you.

Happy Birthday, Walt Disney World. You are always a part of me. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tale As Old As Time

My love for the parks initially started with a love for the classic animated movies brought about because of the musical geniuses Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. Along with Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast still remains as my top favorite movie, for mountains of reasons. It holds such a great place in my heart, and with the release of the new Blu-Ray edition in two days, I felt like I had to share what makes this one of the greatest pieces of animated film of all time.


In 1991, I was five years old and had just moved to Florida a year prior. I was still getting used to everything, especially with learning English. I wasn't looking forward to starting school in a new country/state/city with no friends. No one I knew. My one friend, however, was my babysitter Alex. My mom worked herself to the bone everyday for me and my newborn brother, and Alex helped take some of the load off. The funny thing is, I don't remember what Alex really looked like. I don't remember what she wore or what her voice sounded like. But the one thing I do remember, was the fact that in December of 1991, I got dressed up in a jean skirt, a pink shirt and bow, and she took me to see The Beauty and The Beast in the theater for the first time. It was the first movie I had ever seen in a theater. And what a spectacle it was. Seeing all those colors, the music, the lights for the first time....it was a life changing experience. I left that theater, love at first sight. From that point on, I tried to get my hands on everything Beauty and The Beast related. And when my mom bought the VHS for me the following year, it took all of my energy not to watch it every moment of every day. (However, Aladdin came out this year which started the vicious cycle all over again).

A couple of years later, my brother, Jon, was first diagnosed with autism. I now had another brother, 1 year old, and it was a lot for our family to deal with. But we didn't get loved any less by my mother. Autistics has something called echolalia, which means that they commonly repeat what they hear verbatim, even to the pitch or tone of the sound that they hear. This also causes them to want to repeat the things that they do hear...so my brother got my VHS tapes, and we often watched Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, and other Disney films all day long together. While most would find this completely tiring, I found it as relieving. If I didn't want it, all I had to do was leave the room. But most of the time I stayed.

Growing older, I found myself as a mirror image of Belle. I would find myself reading while walking to and from school, and pretty much wherever I went. I would go to the library and check out the same book every month (a pink, Random House fairy tale book for children which now proudly resides on my bookshelf), and more often than most, I felt like an outsider compared to all of the other kids in the neighborhood and at school. I felt that way all through middle school, high school, and college. The thing with Belle is, to the townspeople of her village and [and her family in the classic stories] thought Belle a mediocre woman, one of questionable idiosyncrasies and habits; a smart, independent woman unusual to that time and place. But to an outsider, she was a beauty like no other, and for a girl growing up in a familiar setting, Belle was always one that was easy for a girl to sympathize with. Sure, Snow White was an orphan, and Aurora had to be banished in a forest and needed a band aid for her finger, but they were taken care of. They had minimal challenges (their princes took care of those for them). While Jasmine could be classified in that same respect, she was very independent and risked losing everything to WANT to be an outsider. That's a real woman, my friends.

There was one thing that I completely envied Belle for (you know, besides the true love of a prince, an awesome buffet, and an enchanted wardrobe that picked your clothes for you) and that was this:


Um, excuse me? Completely ruined my standards for a future library in my house. If I were ever to win the lottery, this will be the first thing in the plans.

But I digress.

What all this boils down to, especially for a young girl, is the romance. As gruesome as the beast can be, from a different perspective, you can see the soul behind the man, and root for it to shine to Belle like a brilliant star. Glen Keane and fellow animators said it best in their notes about the Beast:

"[The] Beast must show a sadness within--great frustration and inner pain & turmoil. It is this fire within that has been a cleansing catharsis for the proud, selfish man who once was. There is a humility mixed with determination, a gentleness mixed with ferocity. An anger mixed with passion. A sensitivity mixed with basic animal instinct. Beast's eyes are a window to his soul.
His face can frighten yet intrigue, even captivate. Beauty must be drawn into the man inside, past the animal exterior....The animal and man wrestle for dominance for the heart of animal instict mixed with the heart of mankind's love."

--From The Art and Making of Beauty & The Beast

When we see these two characters fall in love, there's magic behind it. Whether it being the strokes of the animator's pens, the softness of the character's voices, or the majestic, soft sound of Ashman and Menken's score...it all falls into place so gracefully, that when it reaches the
climax of the film, it's nothing short of extraordinary. And then there is the line that wraps everything up so nicely, it hurts the heart..."At least I got to see you one last time." Something that Jeffrey Katzenberg said when working on the finishing dialogue really struck me, and it still holds true today--"...sometimes the most important thing you can know is the last line of a movie. Because if you know what the last line is, which is in effect the goal line,, you can go back down the field and play to get to that line...If you can tell me the last line your main characters say to each other, everything else will fall into place."

When you mix in all the factors, the shooting fireworks, the bewitched beast turning into the man [you and] Belle believe he is to be...it's something that can't be messed with.
It's something that can't be wrong. It's something that even though it is considered a classic in present time (has it really been almost 20 years? Sheesh), it will transcend through every other film after it...all hoping to capture that magic Disney essence. And that's why I'll be getting up early on Tuesday and picking this up post haste. Because it's more than just a silly Disney movie to me. It's my past, my memories. It's the magic of everything I hoped my life would be, and possibly can be.

'Til next time, friends...don't forget: "If it ain't baroque, don't fix it."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Curse of the Black-Out Dates

Nothing hurts the heart of a theme park enthusiast more than looking at your tickets and seeing that you are blacked out of the parks. Granted, theme parks in the summer, for the hometown hero at least, are not the most relaxing place to be. Most especially in Florida where temperatures can reach and go over 100 degrees. Nevertheless, as the summer winds down and the prison of those black out dates nears ending, I get all amped up again. There were so many new things to see upon our return...

The Deliciousness of Fall

I've always been a Christmas person, and living in Florida and the tropics all my life, I've never experienced the essence of autumn and all it brings: the vivid oranges, browns, and earthy colors, the cool weather, and the anticipation of upcoming winter. Disney World gives me the satisfaction of having those visuals and those feelings (well, minus the cool weather).
When you first arrive in Magic Kingdom, the soft orange of leaves and pumpkins greets you as soon as you come in. I can smell the wonderful smell of the Main Street confectionery all the way from the entrance. My problem with a lot of places is that they use the autumn season as in excuse to make everything scary. To me, autumn is beautiful. It's hibernation and comfort. It's food and candy. It's pajamas, boyfriends' sweaters, and fatty desserts covered in powdered sugar. It's testing your talents with a knife...while carving a pumpkin. Magic Kingdom fulfills all of these for me (well, minus pajamas).


Walking down Main Street U.S.A., you feel a change in the essence of the park. September marks the beginning of off season (there's really no such thing as slow season at Disney) and so you can feel yourself breathe walking down the path. People are laughing more and yelling at each other less, they're less tense, and are...hospitable? Gracious? In fact, several times yesterday, people actually said "excuse me", waited for us to take photographs, and a wonderfully nice couple from Texas handed off their fast pass tickets to us as we walked by. It felt pretty darn good.


Space Mountain is Jammin'

Last time Revy and I rode the intergalactic coaster after it was unveiled from its revamp (new comfy seats! Post ride picture! Post ride, postcard-esque displays!) , we definitely felt like something was missing. Amongst the stars, the silhouette of the coaster's inner workings, and the riders' screams, everything still felt....quiet. Thankfully, all was not forgotten and this week, Space Mountain unveiled its new music and sound system to guide you through the galaxy.
And it was worth it! The music amps you up and escalates to an intergalactic dance party. The sound effects alone were what made it though...the zooms, zips, alien static, and keyboard synthesizer notes. You focused on the sounds enough that the ride seemed like a surprise all over again. In fact, I got off the ride more than satisfied...like riding a whole new ride altogether.


The Return of Captain EO

I have long said Honey I Shrunk The Audience felt too dated. And not dated in a Muppets S
how 3D sense. It just doesn't have that long lasting quality that the Muppets does; something that transcends generations. Secondly, there was already the themed playground at MGM/DHS, and to me, that's always been enough. Captain EO was first premiered in 1986, the same year I was born and was taken out to make room for H.I.S.T.A. Like many, many
people, I was deeply saddened with the loss of Michael Jackson. I had been his fan through all of his years, even the years of controversy and the CDs that no one else would go out and buy because he wasn't deemed "cool" anymore. To me, it didn't matter. There was nothing that this man couldn't do musically and visually. So after his death, when this news came out, it was like a gift at the bottom of the CrackerJack box--a very sweet surprise. The short film is returned to its 3D, 70 mm film brilliance, sharp and fun as ever. The icing on the cake? The sincere applaud and hoots from the audience, and the sound of
several sniffles from various visitors. When you have that kind of power, you know that legacy will never die.



Via Napoli: Delizioso!

Regrettably, most natives will walk past the World Showcase countries without diving in to see how far back and deep they really go. Sometimes we're in a rush, making a fast pass, making the next park, show etc. I'm just as guilty! But every so often, you get something new in a country and it sparks your love for that section all over again.
Enter...Via Napoli, Epcot's newest Italian pizzeria/ristorante...decorated in wonderful Roman architecture and 'vintaged' painting in the interior (similar to some of the restaurants in Animal Kingdom with the peeling paint and dull colors). It's smaller than what you would seem (there is a big bar in the center and fire brick ovens on the left where the chef's pass is)
with seating predominantly only on the right side. However, there is plenty of shaded seating on the outside for smaller groups. On a breezy, late summer day it's rather nice...when it's not raining of course. Since it was Revy and I's first outing there, we only can critique the pizza, which was absolutely delicious. While it's a bit overpriced to be considered sensible (it was about 40 bucks for a large pizza and 2 drinks), it was reasonable enough to try something different.

The get the water directly from Naples, Italy so it's authentic to its core. The sauce is very light, not chunky or thick, and the mozzarella is melted in chunks as if sliced right from the block. They top the pizza off with fresh basil which gives it a good zest. Revy and I devoured the large (it almost seems like an XL by pizza chain standards), but the formula is so nice and light that you eat a lot and you don't get the "I'm a pig" feeling afterwards. We even had room for dessert!

The Promise of Fantasy Land's Future

Walking through MK at night is always a great feeling. This time around, brings a new feeling....one very similar to how PotterWatch was for WWOHP, and that's great anticipation.
A Great Wall borders the end of the current Fantasy Land, and even in the dark of night, you can see a giant crane and a HUGE dirt pile. The start of construction of what will be one of Disney's greatest improvements. Every few feet, the wall turns into a concept/scene painting of one of the classic Princess movies (mostly landscapes with the appropriate castle in the background) with a scroll of the description of the upcoming attraction. While Beauty and the Beast has always been my favorite with its beautiful French setting, I'm mostly looking forward to The Little Mermaid [ride] attraction. I've been looking forward to it since the re-release of the DVD showing the behind the scenes look as to what could have been.....and now it actually will be! For anyone who wants an idea of what it'll look like [SPOILER ALERT], then go here.


All in all, a great first trip back from the Curse. Looking forward to the rest of autumn and the beginning of the Christmas season (the best!), and tons of more pictures. In between that, you can catch me at WWOHP as well. Ciao for now! :)



Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kindly step all the way in please...

So I've been out of town for the past week or so, and my prior post I was writing was just dwarfed by the awesome news that was released today!

Sources at Comic-Con revealed this:

Guillermo del Toro just made a surprise announcement at Comic-Con that he will be directing a brand new Haunted Mansion movie in 3D, told from the perspective of the Hatbox Ghost, and it will be SCARY!!!

FINALLY! Someone brilliant coming along that will make this into the the amazing story that it is, sans Eddie Murphy and cheap jokes. And while I hate the prospect of most films being in 3D, this is definitely a movie that I could see in 3D because Guillermo is smart. He'll shoot in in 3D and not use the stupid conversion. Here's hoping to an awesome, fun, scary Disney movie! :D Yay!

The HatBox Ghost is not really in the ride anymore (with the exception of his picture in a frame), but he was originally supposed to be in the attic where the "Black Widow" Bride is now. For a quick read on his story (and pic!) go here!

And for more on the exclusive story and interview with Guillermo, go here!

"Be sure to bring your death certificate if you decide to join us. Make final arrangements now. We've been dying to meet you."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Chapter 1: Etiquette and The Park Criminal Force

I've lived in Orlando all my life, and I couldn't even begin to fathom how many times I've been to the Parks. As you get older, you enjoy it for the same reasons but with a much more different rationale. When you're a child, everything looks so....BIG. It's bright, shiny, and filled with more colors that you never new existed. You want to know who lives in the castle, what's inside this building, where is this character and that character? How much stuff can I take home with me?

When you're older, it's no longer about you. You begin to see the bigger picture. You realize it took a lot of people and a lot of creative minds to put all of this color and wonder together, and they did it for us. You see all of the little details in the buildings, architecture, rides, and shows. You learn the inspiration and drive behind everything you love at these parks, albeit movies, shows, people, etc. You realize that sometimes what makes an atmosphere is having all these visitors appreciate and react to something at the same time as you.

Unfortunately, you also begin to realize that not a lot of people do appreciate it. Or, frankly, only care about their visit and how awesome they need to look without realizing that their behaviors affect those around them.

I see them way too often....The Trespasser, The Underdresser, The Pushover, The iPod Addict, The Field Trippers, The Loud Family, The Lost Stoppers, The Odorizer, and the most dreadful of them all...The Unimaginative.

Here's a break down of these Park criminals:

* THE TRESPASSER(S)

You know when you find a great photograph spot? It's either the place you always overlook and suddenly find like a treasure trove, or the spot where people wait in line to snap for. You go and stand in your favorite pose while your significant other lines up the camera for the perfect shot. And right before they press the button, THAT guy walk into your shot. Walks right in, and doesn't even acknowledge your presence. You and your partner look at each other, completely dumbfounded and try again, lining up the shot. And then MORE people walk through. Seriously? And then even more people walk through, and there's always that one person in the group that tries to rush by and apologizes. NO. How about you just wait until the photo is taken instead of just trespassing in our space? You end up getting one good photo, but the rest of them have the backs or profiles of strangers on the left or right side of the photograph...and you look annoyed. That one good photo is a treasure knowing that you're just rushing the rest of the time so other people can have a turn.

Lesson: If you obviously see someone is trying to take a photograph, just stop and wait. Or even better? Walk around!

* THE UNDERDRESSER

It's hot in Florida. I get it. In the summer, with hundreds of thousands of other people plus the 100 degree weather, I can see where you may get a little uncomfortable. You may get a *tad* bit sweaty. But my question is this: Is that any reason to be walking around half naked at a family theme park? And why is it that it's usually the people who shouldn't be wearing tight shorts and a bikini top that do wear them? Yes it's hot, but wearing a little bit longer shorts and a loose tank top, sleeveless shirt, or light T-shirt would have the same, if not better, effect of keeping you cool then just a too small bikini top with sweat dripping all over you. It's gross. Come on, be modest. Just because you're comfortable with your body doesn't mean you have to flaunt it. I say this for women-and men-of any size and shape. I get just as pissed off at a skinny teenage girl walking around in a bathing suit top and Miley Cyrus shorts as a I would a middle-aged, overweight woman. It's not appropriate. There are women who come from all around the world who dress in long sleeves and pants in the middle of summer out of respect for their culture and people, so if they can handle it, we can handle a T-shirt.

Lesson: There's a big difference between confidence and denial.

* THE PUSHOVER

The more I see mothers and misbehaving children at theme parks, the more I fear for the upcoming generations. These kids get away with everything nowadays. When Revy and I went to Magic Kingdom one weekend, and stopped to get a bite at Pinocchio's Haus, there was a woman with a double stroller (curse whoever invented those) who was walking in front of us. Her kids were screaming for food. As soon as Revy and I manage to escape the noise and get our food, we walk over to a table overlooking the inside of It's A Small World. Not even five minutes later, I hear the squeaky wheels of the double stroller and then the mother and troublesome kids sitting at the table next to us.

The screaming ensues.

The older child gets on top of the table and stands there, and proceeds to wipe his dirty little hands all over the glass that overlooks the ride. He's slapping and streaking all those germs and prints over it. I cringed and dreamed of hand sanitizer. But get this...instead of disciplining this child, the mother is feeding. him. french fries; while he's standing on the table! Wiping his gross hands all over the place! Meanwhile the other child is smacking his sippy cup on the tray of the stroller and emitting that high, cringe-worthy scream that you fear hearing.

I don't think I've eaten a meal faster in my life.

It's just insane how women just let their children walk all over them and let them get away with so much! Is that how you would want your kids to act in your home? Or at a guest's home? Is that how you would want a guest's kids to act in your own home? Any rational thinking human being would say, of course not! And there really is no excuse. Pack some snacks and small toys to keep kids occupied. Practice positive reinforcement and reward good behavior. Reprimand only when necessary and not loudly in front of big crowds. There's always the last and final solution: If they act up, go home. And mean it when you say it.

Lesson: You're the parent for a reason.


* THE IPOD ADDICT

I have a big problem with the youth of America. Technology has made it impossible for most of present day Americans to live without their cell phones, Blackberries, portable gaming systems, and most predominantly...their Ipods.

Oh, how I hate the iPod. And now we have the iPad.

I love music, don't get me wrong. I listen to it all the time and I couldn't live without it. However, there is a time and a place for everything. Walking around a theme park, especially if you're there with family and it's the first time, with those little white headphones stuck in your ears is completely disrespectful. How are you supposed to take in all the sights-and sounds, duh!-of everything these lands have to offer while you're too busy listening to Party in the USA or Booty Jams blasting in your ears? Would you be listening to your ipod during your sibling's graduation? Or their wedding? Money is hard to come by nowadays and tickets are expensive. When your family is spending money on you to enjoy the day, it's disgraceful that you can't even put away your music or phone to spend that precious time with them. If I had a nickel for every time I saw some punk ass teenager ignoring their parents or friends while they ho-hummed their way in line, I'd buy annual tickets for every single theme park on the planet.

Lesson: Family is much more valuable than Justin Bieber's new single.


* THE FIELD TRIPPERS

They come in flocks with their neon-colored T-shirts, in all shapes, sizes, and ages. They bring their ipods (ugh), cameras, cell phones, and different colored, faux 80's, Ray Ban wayfarers. They're loud, obnoxious, and not appreciative of theme park property. They climb around, leave trash in the wall crevasses of ride lines instead of the designated trash receptacles, and laugh at things that aren't funny. And even more annoying....they chant.

Waiting in line for The Dragon Challenge in WWOHP, formerly known as Dueling Dragons, there was a group of Field Trippers that started singing old pop songs. It wasn't one of those times when someone starts a round of Kumbaya and everyone joins in. Oh no. It was a time when these kids started singing a horrible, off key rendition of an NSYNC song and everyone else was covering their ears and yelling an occasional "shut up!". There was no stopping them.

And on this note: What the hell ever happened to chaperones?! The times that I have seen the Field Trippers, there is almost never an adult supervising them, and if they are they would be classified as one of The Pushovers (it really is a vicious cycle). Discipline, discipline.

Lesson: Save the chants for the campfire; R.I.P Art of Good Chaperoning.


*THE LOUD FAMILY

Self-explanatory. It's pretty bad if the people in the back of the line can hear every word of your conversation to your Aunt Tina on the phone. I know she did you wrong! My suggestion would be to put some ex-lax in her slice of pie during Thanksgiving dinner.

Lesson: Just shut up.


* THE LOST STOPPERS

There is nothing else that drives me more crazy than this group of people. The bad part, is half of the time, most people don't know that they're doing it. I see this more with new visitors. They have maps and brochures in hand, and are trying to figure out where to go next. They're walking down the middle of road/walkway, and what do they do? They. STOP. Right in the middle of where you're walking so that you have to stop and either walk around--if there's space--or just crash into them. They STOP right in the middle of doorways and entrances. Aside from newcomers, another trending culprit would be anyone with a stroller. The more stuff they have, the bigger space they take, the more likely they're going to stop in your way.

If you don't know where to go, then go to the corner and figure it out!

Lesson: A game plan and lively step is the key.


* THE ODORIZER

This one is simple. There's nothing worse than being in a long line for a ride on a hot summer day and the person in front of you, drenched and sweat and pit stains, smells like horrible B.O. It's not necessarily something that that particular person can help (physiologically), but for the sake of all others in line or around you, please wear lots of deodorant. At least you'd be trying!
Lesson: Don't skimp on the Secret.


* THE UNIMAGINATIVE

There are people in this world who do things and go places for the sake of saying that they did it or that they went. They use it as a status symbol and as a free card for bragging at the executive water cooler the next day. More than likely, The Unimaginative is possibly a good mixture of all these other Park criminals put together. They don't give a fart in space about anyone else there, nor about the incredible amount of work, determination, and creative genius that the Park employees and TMs have to put in to make it what it is. Seventy-five percent of the time they are probably on the phone: talking, playing, texting...and if not, they're walking around with a matching Bluetooth (Blueteeth?) in their ears. They're pushing, prodding, yelling, Trespassing, smacking gum in their mouths like cows chewing on grass. They're covered in expensive brands and stopping in the middle of walkways. They're renting the wheelchair just because they don't want to walk. They take 50 napkins and leave the next person in line with none. They leave water bottles on seats, tables, and resting areas. They put out their cigarettes all over the ground. They deface property. They yell at TMs and make working at the Parks a living hell.

They are every single type of obnoxious.

And it's sad. It's sad that people like me, Revy, and my readers appreciate the Parks for the magic that they exude; for the desire of wanting to feel what you haven't felt in a long time-to feel small, to feel like a kid again, to have everything be just about colors and size. To not worry about all these people, because to you-just being there in that magical place is important. It's not about the money to kids. It's not about the music that can wait until the car ride home. It's not about the noisy children and unhygienic people. It's not about the long waits, the costly food, or the extreme weather.

To us, to fans, it's about wanting to be a part of this big picture; to experience and to learn. To swim in those colors again and see more of what you've been missing being stuck in an office five days a week. To honor those who drew, built, cried, bled, and imagined for these places...so that we can have FUN. The thing that we understand, that these criminals can't, is that we can have that fun, but let others revel in it too.

Lesson: Be that kid again, just a well-behaved one.

___________________________________

Coming soon: The Curse of The Black-Out Dates

Monday, June 14, 2010

Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treaure: The WWOHP

I have to admit, my heart was racing a mile a minute when it looked like me and my boyfriend (Revy) were about to get into the gates of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The park had been doing their "sneaky, we don't know wheeeeen we're going to soft open" dance for a couple of days, so we decided to take a shot. Thanks to our fellow Potter fans (as I've rightly named, in all the nicest intents and purposes, the Potterwatch Nerd Coalition) for keeping us in the loop. We fans gotta stick together :)

So there we were...8:00AM...on a Saturday...when I could have been sleeping in. But if we got in, it would have been worth it. By the luck of the draw, we were the first people in one of the lines at the main-center-gate. Hotel guests had already been going in. Revy and I met a couple behind us that were in from out of town. I teared up after talking to them: I saw me and Revy in their eyes 40 years down the road. He was all excited with books and travel guides in his explorer vest, and she had her arm looped around his, just checking out the crowd.They had taken a shot in the dark and decided to come and were highly anticipating the journey.

Hope dawned as the gates opened at 8:45 and the team members (TM's) started scanning. We pass through, and watch people starting to run. Most of these people running are the ones who had already gone in. See, we're cool. We don't run...we hasten. The TMs were yelling for the runners to not run, "it's not going anywhere". Well, they've been closing around 10:30/11, so yeah..it IS going somewhere, people. They stop us on the bridge right in front of the eagle statue. Hotel guests are still going in, but the TM is not telling people to go away. Five minutes later...the ropes move. Revy and I look at each other and start...hastening. The walls are down in Hogsmeade---the walls. are. down. This is what we've been waiting for...FOR. EV. ERRRR.

The first couple of moments were a blur. Seriously-if you look at our digital photos, they're all quite blurry. We had already decided that Forbidden Journey would be the first stop. We raced through and when Hogwarts appeared right in front of us, we both lost our breath for a moment. Man, did it give Cinderella Castle a run for its money. We get in line, I take a couple pumps from my inhaler, and the next couple of minutes are filled with statements like, "I can't believe it!", "We made it in! We made it in!", and "Holy shit, we're finally here." ::gasp gasp breath breath::

[SPOILER WARNING] The line for the Forbidden Journey is nothing short of fantastic. When you first get in, you see the dungeons (The Mirror of Erised, the gate to where Fluffy lives, etc.), then out you go to the garden house with lots of hanging plants and a rusty cage of buried mandrakes. At this point, I'm looking around in line, and who do I see, but the older "us" couple a few people behind us. Like true fans and appreciators, they wave to us with huge smiles and thumbs up. Love and fan-gushing knows no age. We walk into the castle to greet some statues, the house points (Griffyndor is winning of course), and then the eagle from Dumbledore's office. Around the bend, lies the moving portraits--definitely the most impressive thing I've seen in a long time. The house heads bickering back and forth was entertaining. I loved how different things floated from picture to picture. Dumbledore's office and the Defense of the Dark Arts rooms were spectacular with the projections of the cast talking, making it snow, etc. The Fat Lady....reminds me of Delta Burke. I'm not sure why...but next time you see her, don't tell me you don't see it too..Griffyndor common room was SO detailed, the paintings and set ups of the furniture...to the T! We see the sorting hat in the background...and we also see quite a few people walk the Exit of Shame for not fitting on the bench seats. I feel horrible about this: so many people from around the world, and many of them won't be able to see this fantastic ride (for a good read, visit Banks Lee's blog). The ride itself was so smooth and fun. A great cross between Spider-man, Soarin', with the frights of a haunted house. SO. MANY. CLOSE-UPS (holy dragon in my face and spider spit!). Didn't like the dementors though...creepy as all hell, but just as cool. The movement of the ride is so fluid and effortless...you take off and land and you don't even realize you're on the ground again. Amazing. The emporium after the ride had the coolest stuff, including the Marauder's Map enclosed in a glass case ($65, what!!) and some great magical creature themed clothing.

Side note: Dear TMs, I'm so, so, so, sorry that you have to wear those thick robes in this dreadful FL heat...but us fans sincerely do appreciate it!

Now, onto Hogsmeade...

First stop--The Three Broomsticks for some Butter beer. Ooooohhh, butter beer, sweet, sweet Butter Beer, how you deserve an entire blog dedicated to your sweet wonderfulness...the concoction itself would be best described as a light, almost diet cream soda, and the froth on the top--the froth SO makes it!--is a rich, thick, butterscotchy-vanilla cream that doesn't go away...it goes down to the last drop of the beer and doesn't waver. It was glorious, and the frozen kind was even better, especially in, you know, 98 degree weather. I ended up being a Butter Beer slosh, walking around Hogsmeade with a big ol' mug in my hand but it was so worth it. Next, was the Owl Post, nothing too fancy here, but I loved the screaming Howler, and how they painted owl feces all over...that's dedication folks.

And then there was Honeydukes. Oo0o0ohh, Honeydukes. How you make my teeth ache with pre-destined cavities. It was so pretty in there, like they cut and pasted it from Suess Land-lots of bright pinks, turquoises, and yellows. Candies, candies, candies and ten buck chocolate frogs. Holy crap. Best deal you could get...the candy bar where you just fill up your bag of whatever you want and pay by the weight. Good stuff. The bottom of my Honeydukes bag is now filled with sugar like a bag of sand. (Try the fruit slices, they are awesome!!)

Zonko's...well, Zonko's is weird. But it's supposed to be! Had almost everything you could imagine. Reminded me too much of clowns so I couldn't stay in there for very long without getting creeped out, especially when an eerie laugh utters sometimes when you open the door to exit.

The Hogwarts express train was beautifully constructed and was greatly complimented by the conductor. He was jolly, full of vigor and full of even more knowledge: he "remembered" certain students of Hogwarts, what they studied, what kind of wands they had, etc.

Ollivander's, I have to say, was my favorite spectacle...they had dust on the boxes. Seriously? That's amazing detail, and a GREAT way to sell the merchandise. My only problem is that the Ollivander's "shop" where you see a guest get picked for a wand (or rather when the wand picks them) is much bigger than the actual room where you buy the wands. The actual wand store is probably the size of Harry's cupboard under the stairs. What they need to do is just take the cashier out of the middle of the room and have people pay in Dervish & Banges (which is connected). However, that was my only gripe, and I thoroughly enjoyed walking around in the shop(s).

My ABSOLUTE FAVORITE thing, out of the whole wizarding world would be the "window" shops. The ones, where you just stare into the windows and things come to life, move and play music. The writing quill? Great. The measuring tape cat? Cute! Gilderoy's moving portraits? Hilarious. The jittering quaffles and the flying golden snitch in the background? Frickin' awesome.

The rest of the morning (before they started closing everything down) was spent taking hundreds of pictures and enjoying every last moment there was before the security came out. It was hard to say good-bye, as crazy as it sounds. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to see everything so clear and new, and without the huge crowds. One thing that I will miss, that I'm sure will slowly dissipate with the oncoming onslaught of rude Floridians, was the politeness and generosity of the TMs. On three separate occasions, when Revy and I were trying to take a picture of ourselves, a TM was quick to offer to take a photo (and not a crappy one at that!). The servers that were getting your food at the Three Broomsticks actually striked up conversations with you while you waited and while they sat you. Cashiers made jokes about how they couldn't use their magic during working hours (<--lol). And everyone said hello and goodbye with a smile, wave, and thank you. Man, I'll miss that... The next weekend was the first time WWOHP was open to the public at night, and the pictures were even better during the sunset. Crazy, but even in the god awful heat of the FL sun, the sunset and glowing lights of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade made it feel like Christmas. I'll certainly miss it...I know it won't be the same with the big crowds and the agoraphobic within me knows that it'll definitely be at least a few weeks/couple months before I could brave that craziness, but either way it will undoubtedly be worth it. Sometimes it pays to be a dedicated fan. Thanks again to PotterWatch and all the dedicated TMs that have made all this possible for nerds like us. Let the magic continue on!! :)

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Coming up: Etiquette in the parks, aka don't walk in front of my picture asshole!

Textbook Introductions


For most people, it started with a mouse.

But for me, it all started with a rabbit.

Roger Rabbit that is. I was about three or four years old, going to Magic Kingdom for the first time, and Roger Rabbit was the first character that I met. I was so excited, I practically lept in his arms and yelled at my mom to take a photo. That photo, 21 years later, is framed on the same desk that I'm typing on right now.

Then came the magical year of 1991. Beauty and the Beast was released and it was the first movie I had ever seen in the theater. I remember wearing jean overalls, a pink bow in my hair, and holding the hand of my babysitter Alex. I remember coming home, with stars in my eyes, wanting immediately to see the movie again. The complete magic of the colors and music and love, even in the eyes of 7 year old girl, was one that stood out and will always stick in my memory. Aladdin came as a very close second, filled with that same wonder.

Since then, it's been a magical ride. Countless trips to Disney and Universal Studios, both with family and friends, and now with the person that I love the most in the world. Never afraid of being silly and capturing every moment.

I'm a psychologist, a scientist, and a writer. I was born to observe and solve. But although I'm technical, my mind is almost always lost in the fantasy that are the stories and ideas of imagineers, animators, and all around storytellers. My hope is to tell a story too. But for now, my duty is to share and connect my love and dreams of the theme parks with you: sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, most of the time in all around giddyness...

...but that's the joy of still being a kid right?

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Coming up: Chapter 1-Etiquette, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

In other news:

I will let it be known, that for ethical reasons, I do not go or donate to SeaWorld or its affiliates (Discovery Cove, Aquatica, etc.) due to the neurological damage that they proceed to inflict on the animals there. That is my belief. You can disagree if you want, but please respect my decision and honesty. The only times I will talk about SeaWorld, please know that they will not be in a positive light. Thank you!