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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Big Thunder Ranch at Disneyland

Note:  Disneyland has announced that Big Thunder Ranch will be closing in mid-January 2016 to make room for Star Wars Land.

Nestled in the back of Disneyland Park between Fantasyland and Frontierland, Big Thunder Ranch was one of our favorite locations.  Of the four days we were in Disneyland, we stopped here three times and passed by on the fourth day.

Big Thunder Ranch has animals in the cleanest penned area I've ever seen for guests to interact with.  The area pictures had goats.  No feeding of the goats, just petting. 

 There were other animals to say hello to as well.  The boy was incredibly happy!

Hand washing stations were available for guests to wash their hands after interacting with the animals.  And, I'll say again, the areas holding the animals were the cleanest I've ever seen!

 Then there were the characters.  Woody and Jesse were on hand to greet guests.  We eye-spied Jesse first and learned that Woody wouldn't be far behind.  No Photopass photographer, but we had our own camera.

Then there was Farley, the quick-witted, fiddle playing cowboy.  He had us all in stitches with his one-liners and played recognizable melodies on his fiddle.  The boy very much enjoyed interacting with Farley. 

On one of the days we were wearing our Star Wars shirts (yes, I see the irony of this) and Farley played the Star Wars theme on his fiddle.  I had said something to him the first day we met about everyone needing a theme song to follow them around, so he was giving us a theme song.  Memorable!

Then there's the history.  A small  log cabin is located in Big Thunder Ranch and while we didn't catch all of the history, I'm sure there is as this cabin wouldn't be there without a story.  Great rocking chairs were outside on the porch!

Then there is the food!  We had lunch at Big Thunder Ranch.  The food is delivered family style and includes ribs, chicken, sides, and drinks.  Dessert is an additional charge.
Depending on the timing of your lunch, there is also a stage with entertainment.  We had an 11:00 reservation for lunch and the entertainment did not begin until 12:30, but the performers did come and say hello as they were interacting with the crowd prior to the show.  Our family did not choose to wait for the show.

Restrooms were nearby, just behind the stage, and were roomy and well themed.

Speaking of shows, there is also a bit theater at the back of Big Thunder Ranch that includes a stage and seating, but the show was not operating while we were there and the gates were closed.
 Then there was the beauty.  Many colorful displays were located throughout and I was drawn to them as the red, yellow, blue combo are my colors.  I posted on our Facebook page about how I wanted to take home a tablecloth!

Big Thunder Ranch, for us, was a well themed respite from the rest of the park.  We are so glad that we got to discover and enjoy this area multiple times during our trip.

Monday, September 14, 2015

One of the Port Adventures We Selected--Cozumel Beach Break

We are currently on the countdown to our next Disney Cruise, a 7-night Western Caribbean voyage stopping at Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and Castaway Cay.  This will be our second time sailing the exact same itinerary and our third time on a Western Caribbean cruise--the first time we stopped in Key West, not Jamaica.

While in Cozumel, we have selected a port adventure that will take us to Playa Mia Grand Beach and Water Park.

One of the reasons we selected this excursion was because of the floating obstacle course.  The boy is super excited about this part! 

The husband read the description of the excursion that included amenities such as buffet and open bar along with all non-motorized water sports.  He wants to give the water bicycles a try.

When reserving this port adventure on-line, we had two choices of times in which to gather for the excursion on board:  8:45 am and 9:45 am.  I initially chose the 8:45 time and when the screen updated, it indicated that we would return by 1:30 pm.  That would have been okay, but I cancelled that choice and opted for the 9:45 time with a 2:30 return.  This way we get to enjoy a leisurely morning on the ship.  The husband prefers excursions that have us returning to the ship in time to get cleaned up for dinner and relax a bit before the busy evening.  Our return time will work out for him, too.  

I'm predicting that our waterproof camera is going to get a workout! 

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Multiple Countdowns for Multiple Upcoming Trips

Even before we left on our Summer Vacation in July, I had already purchased airfare for two more trips--well, round trip airfare for one and half the airfare for the other.  And now, we're managing multiple countdowns and planning for more than one trip.

The trip furthest away is a celebratory birthday jaunt to Walt Disney World, but due to the Disney planning calendar--180 days prior--the planning for this trip came first.  I asked the guys to give me one restaurant to put onto our list.  The boy, without hesitating, said Tony's.  The husband, after thinking about it awhile asked for Garden Grill.  'Ohanas, Crystal Palace, Rose & Crown, Tusker House, and 50's Prime Time Cafe round out the other dining locations.

The trip that is happening first, a seven night sailing on the Disney Fantasy, requires planning attention next.  Since we are Gold Castaway Club members we can make reservations for Port Adventures and on board experiences such as the spa or adult dining 105 days prior to our sailing if when paid in full. 

So now we need to look closely at port adventures.  Right now the top runners are a Cozumel Beach Break at Playa Mia Grand Beach and Water Park and  River Tubing in Falmouth, Jamaica.  Some of our criteria for selecting port adventures is the value of the experience, the length of time--Does the travel time to the port adventure last longer than the experience?  And is it something that all of us would enjoy? Right now the husband has his eye on the water bicycle that is include in the Cozumel Beach Break.

Soon it will be time for us to check-in online for our cruise; filling out the required paperwork online.  And since the boy has a new Passport, we need to update that information as well.

As a part of our cruise, we needed pre and post cruise one night hotel stays.  Our fantastic travel agent is on this and we have reservations at the Hyatt at Orlando International Airport.  The location of this hotel could not be any more convenient. 

Another day in the countdown I need to keep track of is the 60 day before Walt Disney World so we can make Fastpass + selections.  My current calculations indicate that we will be sailing on the Disney Fantasy when the 60 day mark arrives.  A dilemma.  Do we purchase wi-fi on the ship and make our plans using the app on my phone or do we wait until we disembark?   When I posed this question to a message board group I am a member of, the results were mostly to wait unless we can get in on a free wi-fi offer the first day on the ship.

It's exciting to anticipate an upcoming Disney vacation.  It's doubly exciting to have two upcoming Disney vacations!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Disneyland Dining--Ariel's Grotto

Ariel is the husband's favorite Princess.

 One of the goals for our Summer 2015 vacation to Disneyland was to try all of the character dining.  We figured if we were only going to make this trip once, we better do it up right!  So on the first day we visited Disney's California Adventure, we made an 11:00 am reservation to dine at Ariel's Grotto.
 Ariel's Grotto is located in the Paradise Pier area of the park.  Walk up and over the "bridge" to find Ariel's Grotto on the right hand side, overlooking the water.  Ariel's Grotto features character dining for both breakfast and lunch.

 We checked in outside of the restaurant, were given a buzzer/pager, and when it went off, we went inside.  It was then that we were placed in a line going down the spiral staircase with continuous reminders to stay to the right.  Note:  Checking in and making our way down the stairs (there is an elevator, too) was the worst part of this experience.  We didn't really know where we were going or why, and no one seemed to want to fill us in.  By the time we got to the bottom of the stairs, we had figured out what was happening.

Bathrooms are also located on the bottom floor, just to the left of the bottom of the staircase.

At the bottom of the stairs, Ariel was greeting guests.  A Photopass photographer was on hand to take photos.  Guests could either purchase the photo package or if they had Photopass +, the photo package was included as well as having the photos added to their Photopass account.

 The restaurant has two distinct areas--inside and outside.  The inside was designed to give the impression of being "under the sea" and outside overlooked the water of the World of Color Lagoon.  We were seated inside.  Watching the function of the restaurant, it was evident that all tables inside were seated first and then the outside which functioned well for the visiting Disney Princesses.

We were given menus for lunch and the bread course was delivered to our table. 

The boy was hungry.  Well, we all were given the time change, the 7:00 am park opening, it had been several hours since we had eaten breakfast in our hotel room.  We had even devoured the snacks in our bags waiting in the Olaf meet and greet line earlier in the morning.

Soon the music blared and our attention was drawn to the court appointed spokesman for the visiting Disney Princesses.  He delivered his lines in a way that left guests excited and guessing as to which Disney Princess would be coming and once announced, appropriate music played along with a bit of a dance as a the Princess appeared.  The Princesses came out one at a time, with an appropriate amount of time in between as to allow the Princess to get a start moving from table to table.  We were sitting at the table furthest back from the happenings, but could still see and hear just fine.

 The soup course arrived--Lobster Bisque--yummy.  We had a choice of soup or salad with our entree.

 Rapunzel was the first Disney Princess to come to our table.  Great interaction, autographs, and photos.  It was at this character meal that I determined that mom's don't get to eat at character meals. Preparing autograph paraphernalia and readying the camera, and then capturing the shots kept me from getting at my meal.  Oh, well!

Belle was next in her lovely yellow frock.

 And then, our meal was served.  The boy had Sauteed Shrimp and Angel Hair Pasta - with seasonal vegetables and basil, tossed in a tomato broth and very much enjoyed it even though the picture does not indicate as such.  The shrimp came with tails on and had to be cut off.
 I had Fire-Roasted Corn Cakes - sauteed spinach, onions, and shiitake mushrooms with spicy bean salsa and chili oil drizzle and it was delicious.  The boy asked for a bite and gave my dish a thumbs up.  One of the many things I appreciate about the boy is his willingness to try new foods.

The husband ordered the Fresh Catch of the day and was very impressed.

 Soon Tiana and Cinderella were at our table saying hello.

Then it was time for dessert which is a sampler platter featuring creme brulee, an all around favorite of the entire family. 

Be ready to shell (get it?) some bucks for this meal as even for lunch, it was expensive.  We had pre-purchased Premium Character Dining Vouchers and used them to pay for this meal.  The voucher also included tax and gratuity.  There are Passholder and DVC discounts available.

It was, however, one of our favorite meals and experiences.  The food was top notch and the service was great.  Once we got past the chaos of the upstairs, it was as if we were in a different world on the bottom level. 

As far as I know, this is the only place to meet Ariel in all of Disneyland.  The other Princesses can be found in the other park.  If I were in search of Disney Princesses, coming to California Adventure for this experience along with being able to meet Anna and Elsa would do the trick.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

How We Checked Off Fantasyland During Morning Extra Magic Hours at Disneyland

We had 4 days to tour Disneyland Park—Magic Kingdom.  Out of those 4 days, we knew we could be a rope drop for 3 of them.  One of those Extra Magic Hours mornings was dedicated to Fantasyland. 

It didn’t take us long to realize a recently re-opened Peter Pan’s would need to be an early morning target.  Wait times shortly after park opening hit 70-90 minutes and stayed that way throughout the day and at Disneyland, this attraction is not a Fastpass attraction.

So, we were a part of the pack that walked through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and wound our way through the queue for Peter Pan’s Flight.  We were in the first 30 or so people to make it onto the attraction.  The crowd was behind us as by the time we exited the ride, the wait times had hit 70 minutes.

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was next as the entrance was right next to Peter Pan’s exit.  No wait!   Loved how the beginning of this ride makes an extra turn for the car on the left.  You think you’re going a different direction, but it is really just a U-turn.  Funny!

Momentum was with us at this point and we paced across the courtyard to Snow White’s Scary Adventures.  I vaguely recall this now closed attraction from Walt Disney World and the Disneyland version is better. 

Pinocchio’s Daring Journey was next.  The crowd really was behind us, or so we thought.  It wasn’t until we went around the corner to Alice in Wonderland that the lines were starting to form. 

The boy and the husband rode Mad Tea Party then we settled in for what was a reasonable wait for Alice in Wonderland.  This attraction has recently undergone a renovation and includes some interesting technology.

It wasn’t 8:00 am by the time we exited Alice in Wonderland.  Storybook Land Canal Boats were our next target, but they didn’t open until 8:00 am.  So we headed to “It’s a small world” where there was no line. 

We then queued up for Storybook Land Canal Boats and other than Jungle Cruise, it was one of the longest lines we waited in during our visit.

But, we had done it.  All of the attractions we wanted to ride, including the boy hopping into the single rider line of Matterhorn Bobsleds.