About Second Star Sisters

We're two sisters who share the love of all things Disney at https://secondstarsisters.wordpress.com/

All Aboard! Taking the Magic Behind Our Steam Trains Tour at Magic Kingdom

There is nothing more iconic or reflective of Walt in the Disney Parks than the steam trains. Recently, we took the Magic Behind Our Steam Trains Tour at the Magic Kingdom. The tour starts before the park opens, so we woke up early and headed over to park at the Contemporary to be ready for our 7:30 tour. We got there early to enjoy the ambiance of a quiet park entry area.

 

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Sunrise over the Magic Kingdom

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We entered the park before anyone else was allowed in, so we snapped some pictures of an empty Main Street.

 

Our tour guide gave a brief introduction to the tour and then our group boarded the train at the Main Street Station.

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As we made our way around the park, our tour guide gave us lots of facts and information about the steam trains at the Magic Kingdom. We learned that the four steam trains that make up the Walt Disney World Railroad were built between 1916 and 1928 and were purchased from Mexico. We also learned that the train whistles you hear are actually ways for the trains to communicate. They blow in long/short patterns to indicate different messages, such as the train is approaching, going forward or in reverse, or if there is an emergency. As we passed through Adventureland, we learned that when you go down the hill in Pirates of the Caribbean, you are actually going under the train tracks to the show building on the other side of the tracks.

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Early morning in Frontierland

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After we pulled in to the Fantasyland Station, the train went in reverse as we headed backwards out of the Magic Kingdom and backstage to the monorail and train roundhouse, the spot where the trains and monorails are maintained and stored. The track actually goes over a public road at a train crossing. We pulled into the roundhouse and then disembarked the train, and were allowed to walk around and explore the area.

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We learned about the way the steam trains operate using fire and steam. The trains are operated by a fireman (or woman) and an engineer. They work on a rotating schedule and spend 40 minutes as a fireman, then 40 minutes as an engineer, and then spend 40 minutes in a really cold break room (it is really hot up in the cab of the engine). We learned that you must work for 6 months as a conductor before being able to apply to be an engineer/fireman. Despite how complicated everything seemed to us, the training consists of only 8 days! We got to hop up into engine cab to get a close up look at how everything works.

 

We got to see how the steam trains are prepared in the morning for their day in the park. An engineer showed us how they light up the firebox to start up the engine.

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We also got to see a process where they build up the pressure in the engine really high and it shoots a huge plume of water out of the engine.

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The shadow going across the street is the huge steam plume!

We boarded the train again and rode back into the Magic Kingdom. As we passed the Fantasyland Station (also named the Carrolwood Station after Walt’s home in California), we learned that part of the station is a replica of Walt’s barn in his childhood home of Marceline, MO. We also learned that there are tracks on the ground of Storybook Circus that lead you to different areas of that land. And if your stop at that station seems a little longer than the others, that’s because the water tower on the left is used to refill the steam engine as it makes its trip around the park.

When we arrived back at Main Street our final part of the tour was looking at all the details of the Main Street Station followed by a presentation about Walt’s love of trains with lots of wonderful pictures.

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As with all the tours we’ve taken, we were given a commemorative pin to add to our collections!

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This 3 hour tour was well worth the price, and as with any tour we’ve ever taken at Walt Disney World or Disneyland, it exceeded our expectations. It was the perfect mix of information about how the trains operate and history of Walt’s passion for trains. We highly recommend it!

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EPCOT’s 35th Birthday – Here we come!

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This Sunday, one of our favorite parks – EPCOT – is turning the ripe age of 35 and we couldn’t be more thrilled to be there for it. Per usual, it will be a whirlwind weekend trip with most of our time spent at the birthday park as well as doing some classics in other parks.

On Saturday evening, we will be attending one of our favorite podcast’s events – RetroWDW Presents: Looking Back at Tomorrow. What’s really cool is it is taking place in the Living Seas Salon that we got a sneak peek of back in June on our UnDISCOVERed Future World Tour. Little did we know then we’d actually be attending an event there rather soon. We are huge original EPCOT Center fans and we can’t wait to be stuck in a room with other like-minded individuals!

We are also planning on catching the ceremony at 10:01 am on Sunday (EPCOT’s actual birthday) at the fountain as well as checking out some merchandise that will only be sold that day. They will be handing out special park guides to commemorate the day as well.

In just over 24 hours Emily will be arriving back at Port Orleans Riverside with Mama Darling and Molly will be arriving in just over 48 hours. But who’s counting? Wait…we always are!

 

 

Beyond Neverland 3.0 – Christmas in July at Disney Springs

 

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There’s always something interesting popping up at the Walt Disney Resort, and our Beyond Neverland non-park trips always seem to be enhanced by something “different.” This year we were treated to Christmas in July at Disney Springs. The Market Place side was booming with Christmas music, decorations, shopping specials and free photopass pictures with the big guy himself. It was cool to see him in his summer attire and we even complimented on his hip converse all star high-tops.

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It was so fun walking around listening to Christmas music blasting. That was probably our favorite part. Even Starbucks got in on the action.

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We also found something really fun to take home with us, a ceramic Figment!

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Although it had nothing to do with Christmas in July, we enjoyed a fabulous meal at Wolfgang Puck Express. It’s a nice place to get a quality meal, while still being a quick service restaurant.

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We enjoyed celebrating Christmas in July at Disney Springs, and, just think, it’s only a few months until WDW starts celebrating Christmas!

Beyond Neverland 3.0 – Shopping at a Disney Outlet Store

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Something we have always been intrigued by are the Disney Outlet stores. Called Disney Character Warehouse, there are two of these stores in the Orlando area. The larger of the two is at the Orlando Premium Outlets and is only a few miles away from Walt Disney World property. These outlets are official Disney stores and carry discontinued park merchandise at deeply discounted prices. This is something we had always wanted to do, but we could never justify leaving WDW while we were visiting the resort. There is something about leaving Disney property and going back into the “real world” that can be a little jarring. Since we weren’t going to parks on this trip, we decided to give it a shot.

From our resort at Port Orleans Riverside, it was about 6 miles away and it took about 20 minutes to get there. Once we arrived at the outlets, we could tell it was really busy because we had to park near the top of the parking garage. The store map had tiny print, so it was hard to navigate, but we managed to stumble upon where we wanted to go.

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The store indeed was large, and had a wide selection of items. Molly saw the stack of parade cushions, normally 14.95 on sale for 1.99, and picked up a bunch for her classroom.

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Emily found a cute princess tree that she had been spying last year at Christmas for $7.95 (regular price $30), but upon further inspection she discovered it was really poor quality.

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There were lots of holiday merchandise, and items from old events such as the Flower and Garden festival that just ended. The majority of the items were priced to sell, such as a whole rack of $5 tee shirts. There was a wide variety of items, and there probably is something for everyone in this store.

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However, the store was EXTREMELY crowded. It was hard to move and negotiate our way around the store. We moved quickly through the store, looking for anything of interest, but this was not leisurely browsing. The line for the registers was very long, but we give the cast members credit, because the line did move quickly (the outlet is staffed by official Disney cast members)

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The line stretched towards the back of the store!

 

In the end, we scored some cool merchandise, including Disneyland 60th lanyards.

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All of these items totaled $24. We did ask one of the cast members if the crowds we experienced were normal, and she said this was more crowded than usual. It would probably be a much better experience if we went back on a less crowded day, but this is the kind of thing we did once and probably won’t do again. The best part about the Character Warehouse was its proximity to a Starbucks across the way, because we needed some nourishment after that adventure. As we drove “home” in a massive thunderstorm, we laughed and decided we weren’t leaving Disney property again on that trip!

Beyond Neverland 3.0 – Unwinding at Port Orleans Riverside

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When we plan our Beyond Neverland trips, which are trips in which we don’t go to the parks, we try to always stay at least at the moderate level. These resorts have more offerings and since we normally are spending more time there than a regular park trip visit, we don’t hesitate the splurge. We had ideas in mind such as the Ft. Wilderness Cabins and Animal Kingdom Lodge, but when we saw a summer rate for Riverside pop up in our search, we couldn’t pass it up.

We love the Port Orleans Resorts! They are so peaceful and laid back, and there’s something so calming about staying on the Sassagoula River.

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While French Quarter’s theme is New Orleans, Riverside is themed in the heart of rural Louisiana’s southern charm. Both resorts are very close to each other, so we were able to easily walk back and forth in between, as our section was the closest to French Quarter. Upon arrival, we noticed we were upgraded to a “Royal” room, which is one of Princess Tiana’s special rooms in the Mansions section. We particularly enjoyed the “fireworks” above our beds.

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Royal Room

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Our Mansion building

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View from our room

Emily especially enjoyed running around the property one morning, and happily saw there were plenty of other runners out there with the same idea in mind. Although Riverside has a bunch of nice pools, we never made it due to the weather, but it didn’t damper our time. The ease of getting to and from Disney Springs on the Sassagoula Steamboat was the icing on the cake. It’s a relaxing 15 minute ride from the resort to Disney Springs.

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When it comes to the moderate resorts, our favorites are by far Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter! The theming is impeccable, and you really feel like you are getting away from it all!

Beyond Neverland 3.0

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From our first Beyond Neverland trip!

 

We can’t believe it’s already time for our 3rd installment of Beyond Neverland !

That is right, it is time for our annual summer trip without setting foot in any park. As usual we have a few things planned, but also will play things by (Mickey) ear. We leave Friday and will be staying at Port Orleans Riverside for 2 nights. We haven’t stayed at this resort for a few years, so it will be be nice to revisit the resort and take in the calming atmosphere.

Also planned are renting a pontoon boat from Ft. Wilderness and checking out one of the nearby outlet stores for Disney merchandise (neither of which we have done before). Who knows, maybe we will finally get in a round of mini golf! Our running joke is we always plan mini golf on these trips, but always run out of time. This year, Molly has a pass that isn’t blocked out, so will she really spend the whole weekend without setting foot in a park? Stay tuned for recaps of our adventures to come!!!

UnDISCOVERed Future World Tour at Epcot

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We recently took the UnDISCOVERed Future World Tour at Epcot. While we had taken a couple of tours at Disneyland (which we loved), this was our first tour at Walt Disney World. It was a fun and informative look at one of our favorite theme parks. We are huge fans of Epcot of the ’80s, so we were looking for any glimpses into the past that we could find.

Our tour guide, Julie, was wonderful, and shared lots of knowledge with us. She had worked at Epcot for 9 years and operated many of the attractions, so she had a lot of interesting stories to share. What’s nice about the tours at Disney is that you wear an earpiece and the tour guide has a microphone, so you can hear everything she is saying as you walk around. Our group had 14 people in it, and everyone was very friendly and fun. The tour started off in the former Innoventions West Building with a discussion about Disney history. We knew a majority of the information our tour guide was sharing, but it always is fun to hear the stories about Walt and the park’s creation. We got labeled the “Disnerds” by Julie, because most times when she asked a question we knew the answer.

We got to see many backstage areas, which we were not allowed to photograph. We went into a lounge at Mission Space where anyone who is an employee of the sponsor (HP) can go if they show their employee ID.  It’s this really nice lounge above the ride queue with comfy chairs and couches, free drinks and snacks etc. We also learned that every VIP lounge has its own VIP entrance to the rides. We rode Spaceship Earth using the VIP entrance, so we got to board the ride where people get off! We also had a chance to ride Test Track using the VIP entrance as well.

The windows here from the Spaceship Earth Lounge, which overlooks the fountain of nations plaza:

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We got to visit this AWESOME space at the Living Seas which was formerly a sponsor pavilion. Now that it’s not sponsored, it’s used for weddings and other events. It was huge and gorgeous, with a definite ’80s vibe and was next to the aquarium above the Coral Reef restaurant. We also got to see some of the retro Living Seas icons. Fun fact: the aquarium is large enough to fit Spaceship Earth inside.

 

 

We also got to walk backstage behind Soarin’ and Journey Into Imagination, and we saw the area where they clean ALL the 3D glasses for the whole resort! It was like a HUGE dishwasher type machine. There is a special place for the truck to park too that gets them from all the different parks and brings them there. We couldn’t take pictures, but it was funny to see. We had to wear safety glasses inside, even though we weren’t close to anything dangerous!

We went underneath the outside area where Test Track goes around and then we walked over behind where the old Odyssey restaurant is and there’s a huge building for cast members. This is the central location for cast members. The most impressive part we got to see was the costuming area. We walked through this massive space that had racks of the costumes that cast members wear at Epcot!!! It was so interesting. They were all lined up perfectly and they explained how you just go in, grab what you need, scan everything to check out, and you walk out. You bring everything back to be laundered, or you can check 5 costumes out at a time and launder them yourself. We saw a bunch of other cool things in this building like the cosmetology and wig area, random retro props, the employee cafe, and murals painted by each department at Epcot.

It’s also interesting to note that in this backstage area that there is a bus loop that goes around the whole perimeter. so if you park back by the costume place but work in Canada for example, you just board the bus and it brings you to that area. There truly is a whole other world going on backstage! 

Here are a few of our favorite “fun facts” that we learned on the tour:

There are 7 different song sequences for Fountain of Nations.

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This animatronic in Spaceship Earth was made from the same mold as the father in Carousel of Progress. Disney often reuses animatronic molds for other characters.

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The landscape design in Future World West is different from Future World East. When you walk into Epcot, you are heading south, so Future World West pavilions are to your right (Imagination, the Land, and the Seas) and represent the “soft sciences”. The walkways and planters are more flowy and curved to represent the more free flowing sciences.

 

Future World East, which is to your left upon entering (Energy, Test Track, Mission Space), is designed with more angular edges to represent the “hard sciences” which focus more on engineering and math.

 

 

We were shown where the “green tile” is on the mural of Living with the Land. We had known the story that the artist made the murals that decorate each side of the entrance to the Land pavilion almost exactly the same except for one tile that doesn’t match the other side, but never had found it. Here it is!

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We walked over 4 miles on our 4 hour tour, which ended up lasting 5 hours. We were tired at the end of it and ready for an iced coffee break. As with all tours you take at Disney Parks, we were presented with a special pin to commemorate our tour.

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We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and are looking forward to taking the World Showcase DestiNations Discovered tour next!