D23 Destination D Review

I just got back from a long weekend at Walt Disney World. Mama Darling and I attended the D23 event called Destination D. D23 is the official Disney fan club and two years ago they began a special event called Destination D at Walt Disney World. That event was amazing, so as soon as this year’s event was announced, I bought tickets. The tickets are expensive, but worth every penny we spent, as we were provided with very unique and exclusive experiences.

The theme of this year’s event was Amazing Adventures, and presentations were focused around this theme. We arrived at the Contemporary Convention Center and checked in on Friday.

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Here’s what we got in our swag bag:

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Attendees were the first people to receive the new Magic Band 2, which is going to be rolled out across the WDW resort very soon. It features a removable puck which can be placed in lanyards, key chains, etc. This new technology is supposed to create more personalization moving into the future. The magic band itself is much more lightweight and flexible, and I found it easier to use on the touch interfaces throughout the resort.

 

We were up bright and early Saturday morning and very excited for the day’s events. The presentations were held in the Fantasia Ballroom, and we were not allowed to take any pictures inside of the presentations. It was nice because everyone had their devices away! First up was a conversation with Bob Chapek, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. He talked about the focus on guest experience and placing guests in an even bigger Disney bubble. For me, the biggest announcement was that major changes are coming to Epcot. While nothing specific was announced, he said that it will be more “Disney,” more relevant, timeless, more family, and true to the original vision. I’m looking forward to hearing more about these changes as we approach Epcot’s 35th anniversary next year.

Next up was an interesting look back at Disney’s True Life Adventures movies. It was interesting to learn about how the filmmakers lived in the wild for years at a time, how they respected the animals and their habitats, and how they invented different gadgets to help with filming.

We were then treated to a presentation by Disney Legend, Marty Sklar. He talked about the design of Adventureland in Disneyland. I loved when he said that Walt wanted every square inch of the park to be part of the show, immersed in details. This is one of the ways that Disney parks are unique, and it is clear that today’s Imagineers still follow this vision. He shared many details about the landscape and attraction design of the Jungle Cruise. For example, Adventureland was supposed to be on the other side of the park, but they moved it to make use of native eucalyptus trees. They also rescued palm trees that were going to be destroyed by freeway construction and moved them to Adventureland. Marty also said that since the show figures were constructed offsite, it was common to see the animals heading down the freeway towards Disneyland. Marty Sklar has amazing stories to tell and it really is amazing to be able to hear stories from someone who worked directly with Walt!

The next presentation was by several Imagineers including Disney Legend Tony Baxter, and it focused on the Adventurelands around the world. Each park’s Adventureland is based on its culture. For example, the Adventureland in Disneyland Paris is Arabian themed because of their strong interest in Far East fairy tales. My favorite fun fact from this presentation is that the guests at Shanghai Disneyland are obsessed with turkey legs. They wait in line for hours, and the park often sells out of their supply within a few hours each day. This presentation was followed up with “Tales from the Jungle Cruise.” This featured several current Imagineers who began their Disney careers as Jungle Cruise skippers. They had plenty of amusing tales to tell.

Next was a discussion of the Polynesian Resort, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary along with the Magic Kingdom this year. I like how the updates at this resort include a lot of original design work, including Mary Blair textile designs. My favorite fun fact came from this presentation: Greg Brady’s tiki necklace from the Brady Bunch is found at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at the Polynesian. I definitely need to hunt for it next time I’m there! One of my favorite moments of the weekend was when they brought Auntie Kaui, an original cast member from the Polynesian who has worked there for 45 years, up on stage to teach everyone the hula. She was lovely and looked wonderful at the young age of 86! The day ended with the screenwriter for Moana discussing the upcoming film. That evening, guests were treated to an advanced viewing of the film at the Polynesian Resort, which we did not attend.

Day 2 began with a discussion of the newly released book about Disney maps (that I definitely want to buy). The next presentation was one of my favorites of the weekend. Tom Vazzana, the Imagineer who directed the new holiday show Jingle Bell Jingle Bam at Hollywood Studies, showed us a video of the new show and provided live “director’s cut” commentary. His enthusiasm for the show was infections, and I enjoyed learning all the details you wouldn’t necessarily get watching the show without commentary. We definitely want to return to see the show, which includes references to Mary Blair, the Osborne lights, and the tragedies in Orlando. He was kind enough to come into the audience to meet guests after the presentation.

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Next, Imagineers took us on a nostalgic journey through Walt Disney World adventures of the past, such as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Fort Wilderness, Discovery Island, If You Had Wings, and the wave machine at the Polynesian.

This was followed by a presentation by Avatar creator James Cameron and Imagineer Joe Rohde about the new Pandora land coming to the Animal Kingdom next year. They told the story of the land as if it was a real place they had been to. Lots of show art was shown and discussed and it looks really incredible!

It was time to take a little break and check out new Disney furniture by Ethan Allen. Totally cute, but really expensive!

 

After the lunch break, we were treated to a presentation about the art of Disney Legend Marc Davis. He worked on classic attractions such as the Jungle Cruise, the Enchanted Tiki Room, and Pirates of the Caribbean, which was originally supposed to be a walk-through wax museum. Next up, Imagineer and Disney Legend Tony Baxter shared some of the attractions from Shanghai Disneyland, and they are pretty mind blowing.

The rest of the afternoon focused on the Animal Kingdom, with the head of Animal and Science Operations talking about how they have cared for the animals during times of change such as during construction of Pandora and keeping the Animal Kingdom open at night. They have extensive processes of data collection and animal care and welfare is one of the park’s core values.

The grand finale presenter was Imagineer Joe Rohde, who I consider to be the heart and soul of the Animal Kingdom park. A true visionary, he is also painstakingly meticulous about the details. He has such an engaging and intelligent way of telling stories. If anyone is not a fan of the Animal Kingdom, they should listen to Joe speak. The park is more about immersing you in landscape than it is about running around to ride attractions. He spoke about wanting to feed guests imaginations with experiences of the world. The Magic Kingdom is about being in the middle of fantasy and fairy tales. The Animal Kingdom is like being in the middle of a documentary. My favorite story he told was when he was researching in Africa and a member of the Masai tribe asked him where he was from. Joe said, “Disney.” The tribe member replied, “ahhh theme parks.” I can’t think of any better way to end the weekend than with Joe Rohde.

The weekend ended with guests being given free admission to the Magic Kingdom Sunday night with fast passes to the Jingle Cruise. It was cold by Florida standards, and we were exhausted from the weekend’s activities so we skipped it!

All in all it was an incredible weekend. My main takeaway was….Imagineers have dream jobs. They love what they do and it shows. They are inspired by Walt’s core values and continue to create wonderfully immersive environments with meticulous attention to details. People have many reasons they visit the parks and different goals around their adventures. Some are rope droppers and their goal is to cram in as many attractions as possible. Some like to visit to create family memories. For me, it’s about the history and details. I don’t need to ride a single attraction to get the most out of my visit. And I like that there’s something for everyone, including die hard fans like me who love events like Destination D and will keep coming back for more!

 

Beyond Neverland : Relaxing in the Tiki Room?

Trader Sams

One of the things we rarely have time to do on “normal” trips to Disney is tour the resort hotels extensively. After our ride on the Highway in the Sky we decided to transfer monorails to the resort loop and ride on over to one of our favorite hotels on property – Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. There’s something about departing the monorail at the Polynesian and smelling the scent when you walk into the hotel lobby that brings back so many memories. We don’t know what it is, but we hope it never goes away.

 

They recently refurbished the lobby, and while it’s not quite as good as it used to be, it still captures the essence of being whisked away to the Hawaiian Islands.

 

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Old Lobby

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New Lobby

It is also interesting to note that the time was around 3:15pm and people were already lined up for ‘dinner’ at ‘Ohana that begins at 3:30pm. After making our way downstairs and out towards the pool and beach, we looped around and came back in through a side door that just happened to be right by Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto and Tiki Bar – a somewhat new establishment at the Poly that opened in 2015, which is based on Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel. We knew they only take guests on a first-come first-served basis and the opening time was just 15 minutes away, so we figured why not try it? We placed  our name on a wait list and shortly after opening we were buzzed and were told to select a seat.

At first glance Trader Sam’s really looks like the famous Enchanted Tiki Room located in the Magic Kingdom. It’s a dark room with lots of wood accents and a thatched ceiling, and “windows” provide a view of a tropical landscape.The cozy bar has a limited capacity of 51, and the name of the bar and many of its details are related to the Jungle Cruise. We wish they would give tours of the room outside of operating hours, because there are hundreds of details to examine. The menu offers some Polynesian themed appetizers and the cocktail menu has drinks such as Polynesian Pearl, Shrunken Zombie Head, and Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Rum, many of which are served in souvenir glasses. While we enjoyed drinks that did not come in souvenir glasses, some people that we met had the Nautilus, and the souvenir glass was pretty impressive!

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Another reason this bar is so unique is the cast members. The bartenders and servers are really friendly and wacky, and when certain drinks are ordered it sets off a chain reaction of events that happen. Here’s a video of some of the antics…

 

It was really cool to kick back in our comfy chairs and relax for as long as we wanted. Even though the bar was tiny, there was no pressure to leave. The AC was very nice considering the heat index was over 100 that day as well. What we enjoy most about our “Beyond Neverland” trips is that we don’t have to plan or stick to a schedule. We just happened to walk by Trader Sam’s right before it opened and decided, why not, let’s check it out! We also met some locals who were doing the same thing as us….riding the resort loop and checking out the different resorts and not going to the parks. We definitely recommend Trader Sam’s, and if you don’t want to have a long wait, then be sure to get there before it opens at 4pm.

Beyond Neverland: Riding the Highway in the Sky

One of the things on the top of our to do list on our recent “Beyond Neverland 2.0” non-parks trip was to ride Disney’s “highway in the sky,” the monorail. With around 14 miles of track, the monorail operates on 3 loops from the Transportation and Ticket Center: the Resort Loop, the Express Loop to the Magic Kingdom, and the Epcot Loop. The Epcot Loop is the longest stretch of monorail and it also allows riders to see inside of Epcot.  For us silly sisters, we thought it would be fun to be inside of Epcot without setting foot in the park. After we met up at the Transportation and Ticket Center, Molly treated herself to an iced coffee from the Joffrey’s kiosk.

Then, we headed up to the ramp to the Epcot. We waited for a few minutes until monorail silver pulled into the station.

It used to be so cool to ride up front in the monorails, and although it’s no longer allowed at Walt Disney World, you can still ride up front at Disneyland in California. We took a relaxing round trip ride to Epcot and back to the TTC. The highlight is when the monorail goes into Epcot where you get a bird’s eye view of Future World and World Showcase. Back during Epcot’s heyday in the ’80s, we used to be so excited when we would get a sneak peek into the fun that was ahead. While it was nice to look inside the park that day, what we could see from the monorail is that the buildings are really showing their age and in need of some serious TLC.

The rumors that are floating around are exciting for some, but for folks like us who loved the Epcot of the ’80s, the rumors are worrisome as it seems they may be moving away from edutainment at Epcot. Overall, the monorail ride was lots of fun, and we took some video of the ride through Epcot, so join along….

After we returned to the TTC, we boarded the Resort Loop monorail and set off on another adventure…..

Beyond Neverland 2.0

It’s time for our Second Annual Beyond Neverland Trip! I can’t believe it’s already been one year since our first. It was a year ago on our trip that we decided to document our travels in this blog.


As usual, we plan on taking it easy, while trying at least one or two new activities. One thing we always say that we’re going to do is play mini golf at either Winter Summerland or Fantasia Gardens. It has become the running joke that we will play mini golf everytime we go, because we always seem to run out of time to play. This year we are staying at Carribbean Beach Resort – a hotel we haven’t stayed at in 26 years. I remember it vividly and look forward to rediscovering the offerings. I am so ready for
our little two night sisters’ getaway. At this time tomorrow, we will be there!

Christmas at the Yacht Club Resort

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To celebrate Christmas in July, I am taking a look at one of my favorite resorts to visit during Christmastime. All of the resorts in the Boardwalk area are beautifully decorated for Christmas, and I really enjoy the way the Yacht Club is decorated with a nautical theme. I adore how the Christmas tree peeks through the glass doors from the Boardwalk entryway.

 

The best part of the lobby is the whimsical train set and Christmas village. I am a huge fan of miniatures and little villages, and I always spend time looking at the train set and all the details of the miniature village at the Germany pavilion in Epcot. The train winds its way through a snowy seaside village that features Disney figurines and buildings (some of which are sold at Department 56) as well as shops and restaurants throughout the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts. Some of the displays are a nod to Disney films as well. There is an incredible amount of detail to look at, and the last time I was there during the holiday season, I went back to look at the display a few times. So with only 5 months left until Christmas, I look forward to seeing the Yacht Club decorations real soon. The next time you’re at WDW during the holidays, make sure to check out the Yacht Club!!

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Food fun from my last trip

One of the greatest things about heading to Walt Disney World is the dining. There are so many different wonderful food options, from super fancy to a walk up counter – you can find pretty much anything you are looking for or craving. On my last trip I enjoyed some of my must-haves as well as a few new finds:

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These are the most authentic pizzas I’ve tasted since dining in Rome in 2009. I know they import their flour and tomatoes from Naples and I think that might be what puts theirs’ over the edge. Every time I eat here, I must have the same pie – Carciofi Pizza which is a white pizza topped with fresh artichoke, fontina, mozzarella and truffle oil. I had never tasted truffle oil until trying out this pie years ago and I am hooked on it. It adds a really unique element to the pizza. The other pie pictured is a simple Margherita topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil. We traded slices, but I dominated the Carciofi. The Margherita was really good too!

Dole Whip

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A true, tried and tested treat, it’s one of my go-to items to have for lunch when I’m hot and saving room for a big dinner. I also really appreciate how it is available almost year round at Epcot (at the Flower & Garden and Food & Wine festivals) since I usually spend a lot of time there.

The Bread Basket and Romaine Salad at Le Cellier

Bread and salad, sounds basic right? Not here. I was blown away at these starter options. The bread was soft and absolutely delicious – pretzel, multi grain and sour dough. I love having different choices and not just a basic plain roll when a bread basket is presented at a a restaurant. The salad description reads as “Black Truffle Vinaigrette, Pecan Whisky Sabayon, Parmesan Brioche Crumbs.” It was seriously one of the freshest tasting salads I had ever eaten. And the Sabayon, had a hint of sweetness that I couldn’t get enough of. The next time I return to Le Cellier, I really hope it is still on the menu.

The Loaded Mashed Potatoes at Le Cellier

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This decadent side is Molly’s favorite accompaniment in all of Walt Disney World. It is gluten free, but that’s where the health benefits end! The mashed potatoes have smoked cheddar, bacon, chives, and potato skin crisp. C’est magnifique! Of course, there was plenty to share, so we all enjoyed this treat.

It has gotten to the point where my favorites list continues to grow and grow. That is another element that keeps Walt Disney World “fresh” for a veteran like myself!

 

 

 

Wildlife of Walt Disney World

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With the recent tragic events last week, it’s a good reminder that as much as we like to be in the bubble, Disney parks are part of the “real world” as well. One thing that has always fascinated us is the variety of wildlife that makes Walt Disney World their home, the real, non-animatronic kind.

Ducks

We have always said that Disney ducks are the happiest ducks on Earth. They make their way into any and every bit of water you can find on property. Lakes, canals, fountains, even pools. You name it, you will find ducks there. Unfortunately people feed the ducks, which is not healthy for them, but I think the ducks are used to enjoying human food at this point. The best time of year to visit is during the oh so cute duckling season. Our favorite duck memory is seeing a cast member with a net standing on the edge of a pond near Journey Into Imagination at Epcot. We stood there watching for a while until we figured out what he was doing. There was a duckling with a plastic ring stuck around its neck. The cast member caught the duckling, much to the vocal dismay of the mama, removed the ring from its neck, and plopped the baby back in the water, unharmed. Here is a slideshow of some pics we’ve taken of Disney ducks over the years:

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Armadillos

Normally seen at night, we spied this lady or fellow one night after eating at Trail’s End.

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Bunnies

Not quite as abundant as ducks, Disney bunnies do have a presence on property. We saw this little one under a building at Fort Wilderness.

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This friend was nibbling grass at Port Orleans.

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We discovered a mama and her babies enjoying the grassy area in the Canada pavilion at Epcot during our most recent visit:

 

Deer

We have seen some deer on World Drive near dusk and while riding the monorail. So, you have to be cautious at night because deer usually don’t travel alone.

Cats

We have seen a couple cats at Walt Disney World, and didn’t have a chance to photograph those. Molly once saw one on the path between Epcot and Hollywood Studios and Emily saw one recently in the parking lot of the All Star Movies Resort. When we visited Disneyland in Anaheim a couple years ago, we didn’t know that Disneyland cats were a “thing.” We snapped pix of this cutie at our hotel:

 

We also saw a cat in Frontierland walking around the remains of the old attraction, Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland, although it was really far away. Molly has a sixth sense for spotting cats…

We have since discovered that the Cats of Disneyland have a pretty prominent presence in the parks and on social media. Disneyland is home to feral cat colony, and the cats have lived there since Walt’s days, helping to control the rodent population. They are cared for by Disney cast members. Their twitter account @disneylandcats is quite hilarious, and they typically tweet out pictures of cats found all over the resort.

Bald Eagles

We saw this bald eagle, which is really hard to see in the picture, sitting atop the Swan Resort. We weren’t sure if it was, but a cast member confirmed that bald eagles love hanging out in the Boardwalk area.

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Gators

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Being Floridians, we understand that alligators and venomous snakes come with the territory. We snapped a picture of this small gator on the shores of the Rivers of America near the Haunted Mansion a few months ago. Cast members didn’t seem to be too alarmed, and we heard that they only remove alligators that are large or aggressive. We would’ve never imagined the event that happened this week at the Grand Floridian, and we are happy that Disney is now taking steps to educate the public to the fact that even though you’re at Disney, you still are part of the real world. It’s likely that Disney probably won’t even allow an alligator of this size to remain in the parks or in public view going forward. So when you’re out and about at Walt Disney World, be on the lookout for wildlife. You never know what you may find!