Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Our Kids' First Trip Ch. 2: Riverside with my Daughter

It was our family's first trip to Walt Disney World. I'd visited fifteen or sixteen times over the course of my twenty-six years, while my wife had been to the parks two or three times. However, it was our kids' first trip. We weren't quite sure how it was going to go, as we had two five year old boys and a fifteen year old daughter. Would we spend more time at the resort resting with our boys than in the parks? Would our daughter be "too cool" for princesses and characters?

However, after leaving our emotional visit at Disney's Art of Animation Resort, I knew that this trip was going to be very special.

Because we'd arrived early on property, and our room was not yet ready, we made a side-trip to Disney's Wilderness Lodge to meet up with my uncle, cousin, his wife, and baby for lunch, all of whom (except the baby of course) were cast members at Disney Springs. 

After lunch, we loaded back into the minivan and made the drive over to our home for the next few days, Disney's Port Orleans: Riverside resort. We checked into the resort, receiving our welcome packet at the check-in desk in the lobby meant to resemble a waiting room for passengers preparing to sail down the Sassagoula River on a steamboat. Our room was located in the Alligator Bayou portion of the resort, so we got back into our car and drove down the road that loops around the resort and pulled into the parking lot that corresponded with our building. We unloaded all the luggage from the van and carried our bags up the steps to the second level of the building.

We finally found our room and I touched my MagicBand to the lock of the room. The green light flickered and a click was heard inside the door. I pushed the handle and our door opened to reveal a beautiful room inside. As a family of five, our options were limited within our budget for accommodations. We booked the room at Riverside because it features rooms with two queen sized beds and a bench that converts into a pull-down bed. Our daughter decided to take the pull-down bed, only to find later that her 5'3" frame was too long for the bed, as her feet hung off the edge!

The boys were tired after an already busy day, so my wife and I decided they needed time to rest. Not wanting to limit this first experience for her, I decided to take my daughter for a walk around the resort to explore. We grabbed our refillable drink mugs (which still had handles, mind you!) that we had purchased as part of our dining plan, and headed up to the Riverside Mill Food Court. We filled our mugs with soda and wandered through the resort. We headed up to Fulton's General Store, where she tried on a set of princess Minnie Mouse ears, begging me to snap a picture of her posing. We wandered outside as I snapped pictures of various details on my camera for a future volume of "A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World." As we arrived near the boat dock along the Sassagoula River, we came face to face with Dr. Facilier, the villain from The Princess and the Frog. I encouraged my daughter to get her picture taken with him, and because there were very few other guests around, he spent about five minutes interacting with her, which was awesome. I don't know the cast member that was "friends" with the Shadowman, but I commend his staying in character and having fun with a teenager that I figured would be skeptical. 

After filling our drink mugs again, dehydrated from the Florida heat, we followed the dock around the corner to find the giant waterwheel emerging from the Riverside Mill Food Court. She posed alongside the slowly-turning waterwheel, and I snapped another picture of her: this picture was special for me, as I had a photo of myself standing alongside the water wheel when I'd visited the then named Dixie Landings Resort back in the 1990s. 

We stopped by the pool on Ol' Man Island, when all of a sudden the sky opened up and water began pouring from above. We scrambled beneath the porch of Muddy Rivers Pool Bar and sat at a table, waiting for the deluge to cease. I marveled at the numerous details scattered throughout the bar, such as the fishing gear, boating parts, and alcohol stills. The rain finally stopped, and we made our way through the muggy woods, across a bridge over the Sassagoula River, and back to our room. We let ourselves into the darkened hotel room where the boys were trying to sleep, and together, my wife, daughter, and I sat on one of the beds, planning out our evening at Disney Springs.

Only a month after meeting our daughter for the first time, this first hour of our trip, spent alone together wandering Port Orleans: Riverside together, was very special for me. I was able to share something that was incredibly special to me, especially during my teenage years, with my new daughter, a teenager. I will remember that hour for the rest of my life.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Deck the Streets with Strings of Garland

I am most nostalgic during the Christmas season.

Out of the sixteen or so times I've visited Walt Disney World, at least three of those trips has been during the times when the parks and resorts have been decked out with holiday decorations.

Unfortunately, the parks are incredibly busy during the holiday seasons, and because I have a tough time with crowds (and because I'm a teacher), it is difficult for me to vacation to Walt Disney World during November through early January. However, I do frequent DisTwitter (@HistTourWDW) and various forums, featuring photographs of the resort. All this does is trigger fond memories of our holiday trips and their wonderful Christmas decorations from around the parks and resorts.

One of my favorite decorations from the Magic Kingdom was the Christmas garlands that stretched above Main Street USA. The garland was littered with spherical ornaments and Christmas lights, red ribbons, and gold bells. My favorite part of these garlands, however, was a large wreath in the middle holding a large white candle. I loved these wreaths so much that I was convinced one year to try to make one myself. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out a way to mount a candle in the center of the wreath bought from Hobby Lobby.

I loved these wreaths so much that I was (slightly) devastated to learn that during the Christmas season in 2014, the wreath garlands would be replaced by large white arms that would hang off the facades of the buildings on Main Street, holding the candle wreaths. While Disney eliminated the garlands hanging over the street to make way for the floats of the Festival of Fantasy parade, I was very pleased to learn that, at least the candle wreaths would remain. On a similar note, I always loved the large wreath-garland thingys that are wrapped around the light posts down Main Street; I always thought they looked slightly like Mickey Mouse's head.

Credit: Patricia Baughan Mickus
Another of the most beautiful Christmas decorations at Walt Disney World is the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, which debuted in 2008. For those who have not seen them, Cinderella Castle is covered in thousands of lights to create the illusion that it is covered with Elsa's ice crystals.

Similar to many others, I was in love with the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights over at Disney's Hollywood Studios. I was able to see the lights three times over the years. The first time I saw the lights, we were able to experience them on Residential Street on the Backlot Tour, the lights covering the facades of the various buildings, such as the Golden Girls house. The second time I went, my dad and I were on property for the 2007 Disney Marathon Weekend and were able to enjoy the lights on the Streets of America. The last time I saw the lights was my wife's first experience, over Thanksgiving weekend, 2013 (the same trip I got soaked from the jumping fountains outside the Imagination pavilion at Epcot). The lights were so popular and DHS so busy, that cast members required guests to enter the Streets of America in one place and exit on the opposite end. Like other Disney fans, I was pretty disappointed when it was announced that the Osborne Family lights would disappear along with the Streets of America (although I am stoked about the upcoming Star Wars and Toy Story lands). 

There are numerous other holiday decorations that bring back fond memories of my times at Walt Disney World growing up. From the freaky Minnie Mouse ornament mannequins doing the can-can dance in the storefront window on Hollywood Boulevard at Disney's Hollywood Studios to the Mickey's Christmas Carol holiday window displays at the Emporium on Main Street USA to Epcot's now defunct Lights of Winter and the Santa Claus hat that once perched atop the Earful Tower, Christmas nostalgia at Walt Disney World runs rampant through my mind this time of year like visions of sugar plums dancing.

Merry Christmas, my friends, from the Kiste family.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My Disney Collection pt. 2

I like collecting. As sad as it sounds, I don't really have many talents or hobbies. Yes, I like reading and writing, but I'm not really a musician, and my artistic skills are laughable (just ask my students...every time I draw a map of the US, it looks like some creepy donkey eating something). Disney and Walt Disney World gives me an opportunity to enjoy something, to immerse myself in a world of fantastic story. Studying, reading about, collecting things from, and writing about Disney gives me a feeling of being part of a larger community, which is important to me, as I'm a pretty introverted person when not writing online or performing in front of a classroom full of seventeen and eighteen year olds. 

Living my entire life away from my favorite place on the planet (I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and currently live in Greensboro, North Carolina), I've always loved to collect Disney artifacts, books, and collectibles, to create for myself the illusion that I'm not so far from the magic. You can usually find me listening to Subsonic Radio's live streams of Walt Disney World music while I'm at home or at work. I enjoy putting tiki torches on in my backyard during the summer while listening to the Illuminations pre-show loop over my wireless speaker. And I really enjoy eating at Longhorn Steakhouse, because it creates the illusion that, for a few minutes at least, I'm eating at a western-themed restaurant at Walt Disney World (I go into more depth about how I deal with my Walt Disney World Withdrawal, or WDWWd, in a previous post). Adding to and surrounding myself with my Disney collection does the same thing: it provides me the temporary illusion that there are things that bring me joy and bring back the flood of good memories, especially when I'm dealing with the stress of my world or my health concerns. In a previous post, I shared the first part of my Disney collection; this is part two of my Disney collection, in which I share with you a few of my favorite pieces.

I am an avid coffee drinker. Like, it is slightly pathetic. I have two cups a day, every day. My family and students alike know not to talk to me until I have at least one cup in my system, otherwise I'm not pretty. What better way to start your day with your cup-o'-Joe in a Disney mug? My collection features numerous Disney mugs, such as a few of the "Mickey's 'Really Swell' Coffee Brand" cups, as well as a couple Disney collage mugs. 
That princess mug is my wife's. I promise.

Some pieces of my collection are souvenirs that were purchased either by me or for me on my various Disney trips. One of my recent additions are a magnet set purchased by my parents at the Memento Mori shop near the Haunted Mansion in the Magic Kingdom. The magnets depict the hitchhiking ghosts and the Hatbox Ghost from the attraction. However, the magnets are only the upper half of the characters, leading the viewer to believe that they are emerging from your refrigerator. The magnetic figures are a light green color to create the illusion that they are ethereal beings emerging from the afterlife. The best part is that the magnets are meant to glow in the dark, leading people to believe that the ghosts are real (I'll admit...when the glow-in-the-dark actually worked, this used to freak me out when I'd come downstairs to make my coffee early in the morning).
"Welcome, famished mortals to the Haunted HAMsion!" Get it? Okay, nevermind...

Another of my souvenirs has an interesting story attached to it. In November of 2013, my wife and I traveled down to Walt Disney World to spend a few days there with my parents and brother over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. My parents and brother live in Michigan and had decided to catch a flight down to Orlando, while, living in Greensboro, NC, my wife and I decided to make the ten-hour drive after getting out of school on Tuesday, to arrive at the off-property condo we were renting a few hours after midnight. Over the course of the next four days, we visited three of the parks and SeaWorld, where my cousin was working as a restaurant manager in the newly opened Antarctica experience. We spent our first day of the trip at the Magic Kingdom. Having spent many vacations growing up at Walt Disney World, including during the winter, we all knew that the average temperatures for central Florida during the winter months was in the high sixties during the day and somewhere in the forties or fifties at night. However, when the sun went down on that day in late November while we were at the Magic Kingdom, the temperatures plunged into the high thirties or low forties. We were all walking around in shorts and a tee-shirt, completely unprepared! We walked into different shops in Adventureland, looking for cheap sweatshirts, but it being Disney (you'd think we'd know better by now), none were to be found. We realized that even purchasing a towel would provide some protection against the cold, but we had a hard time finding those, as well. My dad finally noticed that many of the stores throughout the Magic Kingdom were prepared for the cool temperatures and had a special deal: spend $50 on merchandise and you would be eligible to purchase a special souvenir blanket for an additional $20. My dad went up to the cast member behind the counter, trying to convince her to simply sell us the blankets without spending $70, but she redirected us to the sign. Dismayed and very cold, we wandered around the store for a few more minutes, looking at the sweatshirts, ready to each purchase a sweatshirt (that we'd probably never wear again) for $35 each, when the cast member came over to us and told us she'd gotten her manager's permission to sell us the blankets, offering us a little bit of Disney magic for the evening. We were able to purchase two of the blankets, which my mom and wife carried around the rest of the evening to keep themselves warm. I do have vivid memories, however, of getting on the parking lot tram after getting off the Riverboat at the end of the day, my wife and I pulling the blanket over our heads and tucking ourselves against the seats in front of us, trying to stay warm.

Other pieces of my Disney collection that are pretty special to me are posters from the park. In the mid-2000s, on a trip to Walt Disney World with my family, I learned that the Art of Disney store at Downtown Disney sold print-to-order copies of the attraction posters from the Magic Kingdom. In other words, for a price, guests can purchase copies of the posters hanging below the Main Street train station. I went through the digital collection on the kiosks in the store, and ultimately chose posters for Mickey's PhilharMagic and Tomorrowland, which we framed upon arriving back home.

Five or six years ago, my parents found some more awesome posters to add to my collection. While browsing on eBay, they came across a Wet Paint sign used at Walt Disney World in 1987 featuring Donald Duck and his nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie. A couple years later, while shopping through an antique store in Michigan, they came across some old Wheaties boxes from the 1950s that featured cut-out masks of Mickey Mouse and Dumbo. These boxes were in perfect condition, as the previous owners had not cut the masks off the box. Quick research has shown that there were a total of eight different masks consumers could purchase, including Cinderella, Bambi, Lucifer, and Brer Rabbit. A quick glance on eBay has shown that an uncut Mickey Mouse mask in worse condition than mine is going for $75, while an uncut copy of the Pinocchio mask is fetching upwards of $250. Unfortunately, after a cursory glance, I've been unable to find anything about the value of my Dumbo mask.
Those Wheaties box masks are the things of nightmares! So, naturally, they hang in my 5-year-old boys' bedroom.

I know I seem to say this every paragraph, but some of the most special pieces of my collection are things that were actually used at Walt Disney World (and I'm not just talking about the resort soaps that I put into my suitcase every day so Mousekeeping brings me more and I come home with ten bars of Disney soap and ten bottles of Disney shampoo that I never use because how could I even think of using them??? Oh, come on, don't judge me...you know you do it too...). For example, many years ago, my parents gifted me with a comforter that was once used at the All-Star Music that they had purchased online from one of those stores that sell Disney World memorabilia. The comforter is thin, so it is great during the summer months. It features images representing different genres of music, such as big band, rock n' roll, the big budget musicals of the 1920s and 30s, and country music, as well as numerous Hidden Mickeys. I slept with it on my bed for many years, until I got married and the "feng shui of decor" actually mattered... -_-
Interestingly enough, I never gave it much thought that perhaps thousands of people had slept (and perhaps other things) below this comforter... O_o

Perhaps the coolest and most unique collectible that I have from Walt Disney World is a pair of wall sconces that were also used at the All-Star Music Resort. These white light fixtures are cylindrical in shape and feature music notes on them. Holes in the top and bottom of the cylinder allow the light to shine on the wall, creating illumination. The musical notes are a translucent blue, allowing for some light to shine through them. These fixtures would have hung inside the rooms at the All-Star Music resort; in fact, I vaguely remember these lights hanging on the walls of the room we stayed in at the resort sometime in the mid-1990s.

Photo Credit: Stan Kiste. There, happy dad? ;-)

While my Disney collection brings back so many fond memories for me and creates that sense of warm, joyful nostalgia for me on the toughest of days, it also has another effect:


It allows me to slowly fulfill my evil plan of indoctrinating my children to love Disney as much as I.


Monday, December 19, 2016

My Disney Collection pt. 1

I'll admit it. They say that the first step in dealing with a problem is admitting that you've got one.

I'm a Disney addict.

There. I said it. But here's the problem(?): I don't want to deal with it. I enjoy the feeling that Disney and Walt Disney World gives me. It keeps me young. It gives me joy. It brightens me up on my cloudy days. It's more than just a hobby today.

This is something I've been dealing with since infancy. In fact, I have a photograph of myself wearing a onesie as a baby with Mickey on it. Well, I guess start me young... My parents are not huge fans of Disney like I am. I mean, they like vacationing at Walt Disney World every few years, but their enjoyment is more from the distance of appreciation. I'm more bordering on the insane.

Case in point: when I was in 7th grade and got my first email address, I registered the address Disneyobsessor2000 (an email address I still use, in fact). Pretty sad, huh?

Because of my love for Disney, over the years I've accumulated a number of Disney collectibles. Many of these things were purchased in stores, but a lot of it has come from flea markets and one of my other favorite past times, antique stores. A few of my favorite and more valuable (to me) collectibles even came from eBay as authentic props and items from Walt Disney World theme parks and resorts.

A few years ago, my wife and I decided to purchase a set of IKEA bookshelves for the corner of our living room. I am an avid reader and have hundreds of books, but living in North Carolina, we unfortunately do not have a basement to store our things (something I really miss about living in west Michigan). In other words, we needed somewhere else to store all of our junk treasures. I was able to convince my wife to give me a few shelves of the bookshelf to display some of my favorite Disney collectibles.

As a Disney fan, I have some of the requisite figures, but the problem is that Jim Shore and Robert Olszewski works are pretty expensive. The one Jim Shore that I have is of Sorcerer Mickey, while I also have a Mickey Mouse as Steamboat Willie figurine. When the Lego Disney mini-figures came out a few months ago, I hunted them down at a local Target and splurged the $3.99 price tag to purchase myself one, finding a Peter Pan minifig inside. I also have three Vinylmations: Zoot from the Muppets, Minnie as a Halloween witch, and Minnie as the Statue of Liberty, which I picked up from the Times Square Disney Store during my trip to NYC back in 2014. I also have a figure of Mickey from the Epic Mickey video game that came with the game, as well as stickers to add to the Nintendo Wii console and Wiimotes. For my birthday this past September, my in-laws gave me two Star Wars itty-bittys, sold at Hallmark: Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper.

As a bibliophile (someone who loves books), it is obvious that my Disney collection would include Disney books of all kinds. Some of the books are more common and owned by many Disney fans, while others are more rare.

One example of some of the more common pieces of my book collection are the Disney Imagineering book (written by the Imagineers), the Walt Disney biography by Neal Gabler, the Kingdom Keepers series by Ridley Pearson, the new Haunted Mansion book (The Fearsome Foursome), They Drew as the Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney's Golden Age by Didier Ghez, and two of the Marvel Disney Kingdoms graphic novels, Figment vol. 1 and The Haunted Mansion. I also have numerous copies of A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World vol. 1 and vol. 2, for obvious reasons.

Some of my less common books a part of my collection include the 1993 Birnbaum's Guide to Walt Disney World (a book that played a huge part of my childhood), a EPCOT souvenir guidebook from the 1990s, Walt Disney's Story Land collection, a four-book boxed set of The Wonderful World of Walt Disney published by Golden Press, a Bambi storybook from the 1950s, Robin Hood to the Rescue storybook paperdoll playset from the 1970s, the "Mickey and Goofy Explore the Universe of Energy" comic book, as well as various Little Golden Books, including Donald Duck in America on Parade

Awhile back, my parents gave me a glass Magic Kingdom candy dish as a Christmas gift. The dish was sold at the Magic Kingdom in 1971 and is intentionally warped around the edges. At the center of the dish is a blue, green, black and white image of Cinderella Castle, while wrapped around the outside of the dish are images of popular attractions, such as the monorail emerging from the Contemporary Hotel, the Jungle Cruise, and "it's a small world." A few years later, as I was picking through an antique store, I came across a similar candy dish from the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. I quickly purchased the dish. While the candy dish does not feature any of the attractions created by WED for the World's Fair (the seven images include the famous earth globe, the Main Mall, the Monorail, the General Motors pavilion, the US Pavilion, the Heliport, and the Lunar Fountain). However, simply because of the connection of the '64 World's Fair to Walt Disney and Disney history, I just had to have it. I also found another square candy dish featuring Cinderella Castle in the same styling at another antique mall and quickly purchased that as well. The store also had a Disneyland candy dish featuring Sleeping Beauty Castle that I'm now kicking myself for not purchasing.

I also like to collect older Disney things, as well, if they are affordable. A few years ago, while visiting the Shipshewana Flea Market in Shipshewana, Indiana with my wife and in-laws, I came across some awesome finds. One of these collectibles was a red Donald Duck paint box from 1948. This tin box would have held small paint palettes inside for kids to use. Quickly looking on eBay, I've found that a mint-condition, unused Donald Duck paint box has a starting bid of $199.99. Mine would not fetch that much, however: it is slightly bent and has a few rust spots. However, I don't usually purchase my collectibles with the intention of selling, but rather because of the novelty and rarity of them. 

Another one of my Disney treasures is the Walt Disney's Disneyland Electric Tours board game from the 1950s. This board game is similar to Chutes and Ladders or Candyland: players make their way across a colorful and detailed game board, using a spinner. However, there is a circuit board below the game board, triggering a red electric light to track the player's progress. The most special part of the game, in my opinion, is that it features four different game boards: Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland, each complete with images of attractions or the subjects of the Disneyland television show from the 1950s. Another quick Google search revealed that this artifact is going for anywhere between $30 and $65 at online auctions, which does not seem to be very much. However, before my purchase at Shipshewana (at which I found this game pushed back on a top shelf in a booth), I'd never seen this game before, either in person or online.

Many pieces of my Disney collection were purchased or gained during trips to Walt Disney World. For example, awhile back, my wife helped me to put together a shadow box for some of my favorite Disney ephemera (paper collectibles). This shadow box holds my very first Disney World ticket from either 1992 or 1993. It also holds a theme park map from Epcot and the Magic Kingdom from sometime in the 1980s. In 2007, I ran in the Pirate and Princess 5K at Disney-MGM Studios and the Walt Disney World Half Marathon; both of my participation medals are in the shadowbox. I also received a copy of a Disneyland guide map book from the summer of 1969, which was given to me by my mother-in-law. One of my favorite items in the shadowbox is a small red plastic coin that I got from the Walt Disney World Party Gras parade during my first visit to WDW in 1992, which features Roger Rabbit on it. Many of these hard-to-display items are very special to me, because most of them hold a special significance for me.

These Disney collectibles may seem like a hoard or excessive (I do have two large Tupperware tubs and a document box of additional Disney knick-knacks in my bedroom closet, as well). But ultimately, these things bring me joy. My happiness is not rooted in the objects, but rather in what they stand for, the memories they represent. As a hopeless nostalgic, and to a lesser degree, as a history teacher, I am someone who finds my past as something that has heavily influenced the person that I am. Walt Disney World and the culture of Disney heavily influenced me as a child, whether through the Disney VHS tapes I watched at my grandparents' house or the numerous vacations taken with my parents and my brother growing up. I remember riding on the monorail and being fascinated by the fact it was a "highway in the sky" and passed through the Contemporary, so while it is cool to have the small monorail toys in the picture above, what they represent is what is special to me. Growing up, one of my favorite attractions was Journey into Imagination. Therefore, owning the Figment comic is not just a cool part of my collection, but is rather an opportunity for me to relive those important memories from my childhood.

Because, to me, while all of these trinkets could be destroyed in a house fire tomorrow (which truly would upset me), the important part is that (at least for now), the memories that these things represent will not be stripped from me.

Friday, December 16, 2016

My Disney Christmas Gadgets, Gizmos, Whose-Its, Whats-Its, and Thing-a-ma-Bobs

Christmas is my all-time favorite holiday. It is also one of the times of years when I get most nostalgic for the past. I often find myself listening to the albums of Christmas music that my mom constantly had playing around our house or in the car during the Christmases of the 1990s, such as the Time-Life Treasury of Christmas, the "Charlie Brown Christmas" album performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, or any Christmas album ever recorded by Amy Grant. The nostalgia of the season also allows me to display my Christmas trinkets that I've acquired over the years.

I use this excuse to pull out any Disney collectible that I own that has any inkling of Christmas connection to justify to my family my reasoning for putting some pieces of my Disney collection on display.

A few years back, my wife purchased for me wirelessly connected and synchronized figures from Hallmark of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Sitting atop silver wrapped gifts, they are dressed in Christmas garb. Mickey holds a saxophone in his hands, while Minnie sits behind a keyboard. When you push the button on one, it will begin to play a Christmas song with the instrument. However, when there are more than one figure in the vicinity, the other figures will begin to play the same song with their instrument. When released, the set included five different figures, including the two I own. The other three were Goofy playing an upright bass, Donald playing a guitar, and Daisy playing the flute.

My wife has also started purchasing the Mickey Hallmark ornament series that began in 2013, so as of now, I have the first three Mickey ornaments of the series. In 2013, the ornament was Mickey from "Brave Little Tailor." In 2014, Mickey was dressed as a fireman from "Mickey's Fire Brigade." Last year, in 2015, Mickey dressed in his role from the "Sorcerer's Apprentice." These Disney ornaments join various other ornaments that are Disney themed, such as the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head visit Disney World ornament my wife and I got on our first trip to Disney as a couple back in 2012, on my "Disney Christmas Tree" in our home's front room.

 The last Disney Christmas item that I have out this year is a new item for me. While shopping at Target for my kids a few weeks ago, I noticed that there was a sale on plush Tsum-Tsums (which are based on a game, Disney Tsum-Tsum, similar to Tetris or Candy Crush, where players have to stack and make combinations of rectangular versions of Disney characters). I picked a couple up as stocking stuffers for the boys, when I noticed they also had Christmas Tsum-Tsums as well. I would have purchased a whole set of Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Minnie, but had already spent enough money on the boys, so I simply picked up my favorite of the four, Goofy all decked out in his holiday garb, wearing an ugly Christmas sweater and a Christmas tree atop his head.

What are your favorite Disney Christmas decorations? Share in the comments below! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Using Disney World in the Classroom

Standing guard over their king for thousands of years and every one of them is an individual? How can you NOT be fascinated???
As a high school history teacher, my goal is to engage and interest students in the content that I am teaching; student engagement correlates directly with learning. Whenever I tell people that I meet that I'm a history teacher of high schoolers, they always give me a look like I've got a third eyeball or respond with the good ole southern adage, "Well bless your heart!" Many times, people tell me how much they hated history class when they were growing up, how bored they were by the subject, as though I'm supposed to understand or be sympathetic with them? Like would you tell the doctor that is about to give you open-heart surgery how lame you think the medical profession is or complain to the auto mechanic who is fixing your brakes how worthless to society those who fix cars are? I don't think so!

Obviously, I am fascinated by history, both that of America and the global story of our past (otherwise I'd be a really crummy history teacher, wouldn't I?). Philosopher George Santayana is famous for having said that "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it." While I agree with this to a degree (because let's be honest, we remember the things in the past, but more often than not we still make the same stupid mistakes), I love and value history for a very different reason: I love figuring out how we have gotten to where we are in human history. People stress out about the wars in the Middle East and ISIS and believe that these emerged out of nowhere, without understanding that the foundations for this stretch back to imperialism of the early twentieth century and the role the US had in arming a little group called the Taliban with weapons in their fight for independence against the Russians. Or people feel sorry for "third world" countries in the Caribbean or Africa that are portrayed on infomercials with the hungry kids or that are constantly at civil war with each other, simply relegating these things as happening because "they must be inferior," without really understanding that the bad economies and corrupt governments of these nations are a direct result of European and American imperialism and colonization of the late 1800s and early 1900s. By teaching these causal relationships to my students, my hope is that ultimately, they will see that certain actions our country and humanity performs today could have detrimental (or conversely, positive) effects on the future of human history.

With that being said, history is just a story of what a bunch of "dead white guys" did wrong (erm...sorry, I'm supposed to say that everything America has done is right...my bad). This is often hard for my students to understand and grasp (working in a diverse school), even my white kids. We often teach history as a series of snapshots that don't have a whole lot to do with each other. For instance, in the first unit of my American History class, I teach about the Old West, the Indian Wars, Immigration, the Robber Barons, western farmers, and labor unions. All of these events were contemporaneous in the years between the Civil War and 1900, but more often than not are case studies of events or movements during the latter half of the nineteenth century, rather than an examination of the connections. As a result, my students have a hard time being interested, simply because they can't visualize or see the realism of said events. Therefore, it is my goal to try to pull this into modern-day contexts or at least give the kids something visual (other than Forrest Gump) to make the connection with and garner their interest.

As someone who loves Walt Disney World (and has written two books about the historical contexts of many popular Walt Disney World attractions), I've found that there is a lot one can learn about American and world history if you just know where to look; Disney World exemplifies historical "edutainment" fairly well. As a result, I've compiled a list of the various ways I use Walt Disney World in my classroom to teach American and World History.

World History
Possibly the best place to look to learn the history of the world is Epcot's World Showcase. While the land is short on listed attractions, many of the concepts of world history can be gained through the examination of cultures, shows, architecture, and music of the park. For instance, when I teach Chinese and Japanese history, my students examine the architecture of the buildings of the Epcot pavilions. After showing the kids a geographical map of east Asia, noting the proximity of ancient China and Japan, we look at the architecture of Japan and China at Epcot. The kids ultimately will notice that both the buildings of China and Japan have the curved corners on their roof lines. They will remember that the aristocracy of the Tang Dynasty of China (618-906 CE) often showed their wealth and make the connection that if the roof lines of the Japan pavilion has curved corners, it must represent that the ideas of the aristocracy and Confucianism spread from China to Japan at some point (in fact, it was a result of the Chinese empire's influence over Japan during the Tang and Song dynasties).

This Moroccan tower represents a minaret, a Muslim prayer tower.
The Morocco pavilion is also known for the intricate tile mosaics, traditional Umayyad art in the Moorish fashion.

I also like to use the music of World Showcase and other parts of the Walt Disney World resort to teach students about the musical styles of the various civilizations that we study. On a daily basis, while my students are working on their bell ringer assignment (vocab and questions that get them prepared for the day's lessons) or working on an outline for an essay, I like to put period music on my computer for them to listen to as a way to connect their love for music to a specific era in history (For example, as I'm writing this blog post and my students are working on an activity about the Women's Lib movement of the 1970s, I am playing music from that decade..."Ramblin' Man" by the Allman Brothers Band is currently playing on Pandora). As a result, when we study the Polynesian migration, I play music from the Polynesian Village resort. When we study the ancient tribes and empires of Africa, I play music from Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge resort. When we study the founding of Islam and the Islamic empires of the Umayyad and Abbasid Empires, I play music from the Morocco pavilion or Mo'Rockin. This gets the students engaged and immersed more in the culture and history of the region and era that we are studying.

Another example of World History that I often like to use to show causation is a ride-through video of Spaceship Earth. This shows how one technological advancement leads to the next, ultimately putting us where we are today. Rather than simply being a trip through time and space, I like to use the attraction to teach students about causal relationships and have them analyze why the outcomes resulted.

As a cultural historian, I am fascinated not only by the government and economy of different civilizations, but more so by what regular people were doing in their day to day lives, such as the way they worshiped, the clothes they wore, the art they created, and the food they ate. As a result, I love to teach this to my kids. I feel it helps them to grasp historical themes better and become more interested in the subject. There aren't many opportunities for using the attractions of the Walt Disney World resort to teach the cultural history of world civilizations outside America, but one example I often like to use is Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. The lobby and hallways of this resort are replete with display cases featuring artifacts from African history, from the large African story mask near the stairs on the far end of the lobby, to the handmade shields on every room door, meant to repel evil spirits from the domicile. While not necessarily teaching history, these artifacts help students to understand the cultural practices and beliefs of African peoples, which can help facilitate and understand the complex history of these diverse peoples.
Each door in the resort features a handmade African shield, meant to keep evil spirits out of the room.
One of the most fascinating attractions that can provide a brief history of world events, as well as add to mythology, is Pirates of the Caribbean. In volume one of my book series, A Histoical Tour of Walt Disney World, I actually analyze the accuracy of the attraction to some surprising findings. I like to use videos of the attraction to set up for students that the image and myths that we have of pirates, as portrayed in the ride, are factually inaccurate. Pirates often did not make people walk the planks, nor were they always as ruthless and bloodthirsty as often portrayed, nor was "pirate treasure" only gold and jewelry. I go into depth as to why pirates buried their treasure, how they were expected to treat people, and why they spoke and dressed the way they did. I also use this as an opportunity to explain to my students why piracy began during the 1600s and how common it was in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean as a whole.
Thanks to my father, this hairy-legged pirate was always my favorite. :)

American History
I'm going to be honest: Walt Disney World has a ton of American-history themed attractions and details around the parks, lands, and resorts. Walt himself once described that he had "red, white, and blue running through [his] veins," showing his love for America and her history. In fact, Walt Disney World's attractions are part of what inspired me to study history through high school and college, ultimately leading me to share one of my passions with young people.

While I could teach the progression of America through the events of the American Revolution into the period of Manifest Destiny (as America began its march westward) in Liberty Square and Frontierland, I usually begin using Disney World attractions to teach American history around the turn of the twentieth century. One of my students' favorite lessons that I teach is one on the culture of Victorian Era America, which began around the 1880s and lasted into the 1910s. I use photos of Main Street USA to show students Victorian style architecture, playing the music of Main Street to teach them about ragtime music stylings. I show them film clips from Meredith Wilson's musical, The Music Man, to teach them about morality, as well as the Mickey Mouse cartoon, "The Nifty Nineties," to show students an example of courting, dress, and vaudeville of the turn-of-the-century.

However, the attraction that, I believe, gives the best educational example of cultural history during the Victorian Era, is the Carousel of Progress. I use three of the four scenes of this awesome show to teach the cultural history of America: scene one (which takes place on Valentines Day in the 1890s), scene two (which, according to my research that I explain in volume 1 of A Historical Tour of Walt Disney World, takes place on July 4, 1926), and scene three (which takes place on Halloween during the late 1940s). The Carousel of Progress does a great job tying together a lot of the historical themes of each of these eras that I teach my kids (Victorian Era, the Roaring Twenties, and post-WWII America), such as morality, popular culture, and technological innovations. This makes a lot of the factual content I teach my kids (i.e. the Wright Brothers' first flight, the invention of the talkie film starring Al Jolson, the creation of the radio, the perfection of automobile and locomotive transportation systems, etc) more real and grasp-able.

Maybe someone should tell him now not to burn the Christmas turkey? Then at least he has 100 years to perfect his technique...

Another history-based attraction that I like to use to teach the concepts and events of American history is the American Adventure show over at Epcot. This show does a great job to show some of the different movements and events of America and what has made America "great." While I am somewhat critical as it portrays a rose-colored view of America and leaves a lot of things out of history (such as the end of slavery, the successes of the Civil Rights movement, immigration, etc), it does a nice job exploring some of the lesser known parts of America. For example, a lot of kids have a cursory understanding of President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt from the Night at the Museum films, but don't really know much about him. When I teach the Progressive Era of American history, when reformers and presidents such as Roosevelt made reforms to try to improve the culture and society of America, I show a clip from the American Adventure when Roosevelt and conservationist John Muir are at Yosemite National Park. We use this clip as an impetus to discussing why Roosevelt would create the National Park system and how this was a positive or negative change for America around the turn of the twentieth century. I do similar activities and hold similar discussions over other scenes in the show, such as the speech by Chief Joseph ("From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more, forever...") and the advances in women's rights and technology during the last few decades of the nineteenth century as portrayed at the Centennial Exposition of Philadelphia in 1876 by Susan B. Anthony ("We ask justice, we ask equality, we ask that all the civil and political rights that belong to citizens of the United States, be guaranteed to us and our daughters forever."), Edison, Carnegie, and Twain. 

There are numerous other examples of how I use my favorite place on earth to teach and make real the subject that I love. Many think that Walt Disney World is just a vacation experience, but to my students and I, it's not. It's a teaching opportunity. Being in North Carolina, the opportunity for an "edutaitional" field trip is not feasible, but thankfully, due to the Internet, I can bring these two spheres together to make history real and alive for my kids. And hopefully, by doing this, I can inspire the love of either Disney or history, if not both, in my students.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Navigating the Magic Kingdom: Going Against the Flow

Going to Walt Disney World for the first time or for the first time in a long time can be quite intimidating. Many save up for years and years for their trips, hoping to squeeze in as much as they can into the span of a few days. After months of planning (or maybe no planning at all), guests arrive and can become completely overwhelmed due to the great expanse of the resort property, unable to fit in all of their must-dos.

What is a guest to do?

As someone who has visited Walt Disney World numerous times over the past 28 years, and as someone who grew up during the age of the Internet, spending countless hours watching park videos on YouTube, reading blogs, playing with GoogleEarth, and looking at photo galleries of the parks and resorts, Walt Disney World has become a second home to me. While I still need to use the road signs to navigate how to get to the different resorts or parks (because let's face it--navigating the roads of Disney World can be pretty confusing), drop me into the theme parks and I could get you to where you want to go no problem, without the use of a park map. I remember when I was in high school, sitting on the bus with a kid from down the street and literally listing off for him, land by land, each of the attractions in the Magic Kingdom. I know, I know...it's a gift..and a curse...

Not everyone is an idiot savant like me, though. So for those of you who haven't been before, don't go very often, or don't go often enough to please you (like me), here is one of my tips and tricks to getting the most out of your time at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Navigating the Magic Kingdom
The Magic Kingdom is the smallest of the four Walt Disney World parks, but can also be confusing due to the different lands that make up the park. Growing up, when we would travel to the Magic Kingdom, my parents always experienced the park differently than the rest of the guests and I never quite understood why: upon entering the park and arriving at the hub from Main Street, USA, we would always turn left, past the Crystal Palace and cross the arched bridge into Adventureland. This was somewhat backwards, although I didn't know it at the time, because the majority of guests, upon arriving at the hub, turn to the right and pass through the Tomorrowland Noodle Station into Tomorrowland. We would then experience the park "backwards," moving in a counter-clockwise fashion from Adventureland, into Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, Mickey's Toontown Fair, and ending up in Tomorrowland to finish off our afternoon before doing it all again in the dark of the evening.

This is actually backwards, not only in the American train of thought, but also in terms of how Imagineers designed the park.You see, the Magic Kingdom can actually be experienced as a trip through history, if guests move through the lands in a counter clockwise fashion (and bypass Tomorrowland). The trip through western history begins in Fantasyland, which is depicted as a European feudal village. The Enchanted Forest stands on the outskirts of the castle walls with a nearby kingdoms ruled from Beast's and Prince Eric's castles off in the distance. A family of dwarfs live in the center of the forest, mining diamonds as their income. However, enter the walls of the fortified city and you find yourself in late-medieval Europe where a festival is occurring. During the later years of the middle ages, (1200s-1400s), it had become very expensive for kings to pay feudal lords to defend the kingdom, as these warrior lords, known as knights, wanted increasing amounts of land and power in return for their military service. As a result, monarchs began to look outside the kingdom for paid mercenaries and internally at a conscripted peasant army to defend their landholdings. As a result, the aristocracy of Europe no longer had a purpose and instead used their fighting skills, such as jousting and horse riding, as well as their artistic abilities (gained from a lot of sitting around and doing nothing) to participate in festivals and tournaments. As a result, as guests wander through Fantasyland, they find themselves in the midst of a medieval village enjoying a late medieval festival, complete with tournament tents and experiences located along the castle wall. As guests wander westward through Fantasyland, they find themselves passing under an overpass a part of the Columbia Harbor House and are immediately transported into Liberty Square. The theming of this area is reminiscent of early New England, shortly after European colonists set up towns on the shores of North America. However, as guests continue west, they also move through history as the building facades subtly change into those from the 1700s. The House of Burgesses and Independence Hall stand on the left, signaling the start of a movement toward separation of the colonies from their British monarch, culminating in the village square, where a series of flags representing the new states, a Liberty Tree holding thirteen lanterns, and the Liberty Bell representing freedom, all stand, symbolizing the creation of a new nation. Continuing through Liberty Square, guests come upon the Rivers of America and the steamship, representing a push westward through Manifest Destiny, America expanding toward the western unknown. As guests stroll (or push their strollers) forward, they cross a small bridge beneath which runs a (usually) unnoticed waterway, signifying the crossing of the Mississippi River into the western territories of America, Frontierland. The buildings become more rough, the landscape more dusty, as guests continue through Frontierland, until they arrive at Big Thunder Mountain, where prospectors are mining for precious metals, something that occurred in parts of the United States like California, the Dakotas, and Nevada during the mid-nineteenth century. As the path turns southwest, guests pass into Adventureland, signifying the move America took southwest geographically into places like Mexico, Hawaii, and other Pacific locations during the latter years of the 19th century. Finally, as guests pass over the bridge from Adventureland back into the hub of the Magic Kingdom, they find themselves headed out of the park onto Main Street USA, a turn-of-the-century town during the Victorian Era of the late 1800s into the early years of the 1900s. Guests who then want to continue back up Main Street and into Tomorrowland can continue the story of history, into the future that was imagined and inspired by visionaries like HG Wells and Jules Verne.

While thematically and story-wise this journey through the Magic Kingdom makes the most sense, I've always found that going into the park in the morning actually slows my day down if I experience it in a counter-clockwise fashion. Most guests rush over to Space Mountain in Tomorrowland or the Fantasyland attractions such as Peter Pan's Flight or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, while others simply head to the right because of the tendency to head right in America based on the hand most write with or the fact we drive on the right side of the road. This means that during the morning hours until about noon, the east half of the park (Tomorrowland, Storybook Circus, Fantasyland) are generally more busy, while the west side of the park (Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square) are generally less so (save for Splash or Big Thunder Mountains). As a result, I've found that I can get in some of my favorite attractions early without much of a wait, such as the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion, prior to enjoying my lunch at Pecos Bill's around 11:30. This then gives me the majority of my day to wait in line in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland for some of the more popular attractions before park closing.

This has generally been my experience. As a teacher, I usually travel during the peak times in the summer, and his is the philosophy I've generally taken on trips with my whole family and those with just my wife. However, I'm sure there are days where this would not work as well, such as the busiest days of the year.

Hopefully this helps someone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving 2013: A Face Full of Water

It was Thanksgiving, 2013. My wife and I had traveled to Walt Disney World for a whirlwind weekend with my parents and my brother. We'd decided to skip the traditional Thanksgiving; my parents and brothers flew on a plane down to Orlando, while my wife and I hopped in the car after school on Tuesday night and made the ten-hour trek in the dark to Walt Disney World, arriving at the off-property timeshare resort around 2:00 in the morning.

My mom met us in the downstairs lobby of the condo building to let us in and we rolled our suitcases into the elevator and rode up to the eleventh floor. We followed her, squinty and in her pajamas, to the front door of the condo, where my dad met us, his curly hair a hot mess. My brother was passed out on the couch of the condo, his mouth wide open and drool hanging down his check.

We spent the next three days in three of the four parks, visiting the Magic Kingdom on Wednesday, Epcot on Thanksgiving, and Hollywood Studios on Friday, before leaving Orlando on Saturday to stop-and-go traffic along I-4 and I-95, making our ten hour drive back to Greensboro closer to fourteen hours.

On Thanksgiving, we had made dinner reservations for Tutto Italia, enjoying a meal of Fettuccini Alfredo for our meal rather than the traditional turkey-and-potatoes fare. While a fairly untraditional holiday, it was quite enjoyable wandering through the park, as it was not overly busy. We were able to ride and experience everything we'd wanted, including Soarin', the new Test Track, and Maelstrom (which I was later to learn would be my last experience on the attraction, later closing to make way for Frozen).

Midway through the day, we had made our way up to the Imagination pavilion, riding on Journey into Imagination with Figment and donning our 3D glasses for a musical trip with Captain EO. Upon exiting the show, we made our way to the jumping fountains, watching in wonder as the jets and bubbles of water jumped from pod to pod. I'd always been fascinated with these during every trip to Epcot (and EPCOT Center), ever since I'd first experienced the wonders of the Imagination pavilion back in its heyday with Figment, the Dreamfinder, and ImageWorks.

While generally pretty introverted, as a teacher, I'm often on display and performing. There were a few other families around marveling at the jumping fountains as well, leapfrogging from pool to pool. I came up with a brilliant idea.

I watched the water as it leapt from pond to pond, and walked forward, away from my family.

"Where are you going?" my wife asked me. I didn't answer. I stopped in front of one of the ponds, situating myself about three feet away from it. "Andrew!" my wife said, trying to get my attention again, thinking I hadn't heard her. I continued to ignore her. I watched the water leapfrog around the courtyard and towards me. My moment had arrived.

The water spilled from a nearby pool and leapt toward the spongy pool in front of me. As it finished dropping into the pool, the stream shot out towards me. I quickly adjusted my position...

and got drilled in the face by the entire stream of water.

Watching the leapfrogging water from a safe distance, you don't realize how much water is used for each jumping stream. It's more than you think.

My wife and mother gasped behind me. The other families around starting laughing hysterically. I turned around, water dripping off my bangs and down my cheeks. My tee-shirt was soaked. I slowly turned around to look at my family. My wife had a horrified look on her face, while my dad and brother had cracked a grin. I flickered my eyes around the small group congregated around me and smiled widely. I threw my fists in the air and yelled "woohoo!!!" This made everyone laugh...except my wife. She jumped towards me and smacked my arm. "I can't believe you!" she said, only sort of frustrated, a small smile twinkling in her eyes.

I giggled and started walking toward the restrooms on the back side of Innoventions. The weather was cool that day and I needed to dry myself off. I went in and used paper towel to soak up the moisture from my shirt. I used some to mop the water out of my hair and off my face and arms, and exited the restroom, pleased with myself. I gave everyone a good chuckle that would last the rest of the day.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

My Favorite Resort Pools

Welcome to this month's Blogorail Orange Loop. Today we are the best Disney resorts for relaxation.

Growing up, my parents realized that I got grumpy when I was tired. This especially happened during our vacations at Walt Disney World.

And when I say grumpy, I mean to say that I was a major turd. Unfortunately for my family, not much has changed almost thirty years later.

In an effort to minimize the crab-factor, my parents often took a break from the parks to head back to the resort during the hottest part of the day to rest, relax, take a nap, or spend time by the pool. We also took days off between park days to hang out at the pool.

As a result, I have many fond memories of my favorite pools on property. This list is not the standard "Top Pools to Visit at Walt Disney World!" but rather the pools that have meaning for me by being tied to fond memories. While these pools may not be as significant to you because they are my memories giving them importance, if you are like me, you will take whatever chance you can to read about someone else's experiences at Walt Disney World because it fuels your desire for all things Disney and helps to satiate your WDWWd (Walt Disney World Withdrawal, which I explain in more detail here).

One of the earliest memories I have of Walt Disney World resort pools is the pool at Caribbean Beach. I stayed at this resort during one of my first trips as a two or three year old. I don't remember much about the trip, but I do have a strong recollection of swimming with my dad in the pool while the themed structures of an old Spanish fort towered over and around the pool. Sticking out from the turrets was a number of cannons. I don't remember if the cannons spilled water into the pool or not, but I do have some sort of memory of the cannons making exploding noises, although that could be a mixed up memory of the cannons at Caribbean Plaza near Pirates of the Caribbean in Magic Kingdom's Adventureland. Like I said, I don't remember much about the pool, other than the experience and emotion of swimming with my dad in the pool. A few years back, Disney refurbished the pool and its theming, rebuilding the Spanish fort buildings. The turrets look similar, albeit some subtle changes. The cannons poking out of the windows of the turrets now spill water in a stream into the pool, and the bridge that stretched over the pool has been removed, looking as though it crumbled into the pool below. Disney also added an additional building on the deep end of the pool, housing the structure of a waterslide. Because of my fond memories attached to this pool, the refurbishment was bittersweet: the refurbished structures and theming look great, but the images attached to wonderful memories are no more, preserved only in my mind's eye and online.

Another early memory I have of a Disney pool is the pool at Disney's Port Orleans Resort. Originally opened in 1991, we must have stayed at the resort in 1992 or 1993, making me somewhere between three and five years old. This was the original Port Orleans resort, now known as Disney's Port Orleans Resort: French Quarter (Riverside would not open until 1992 and was known as Dixie Landings until the two resorts merged into one in 2001, each part becoming known respectively as Disney's Port Orleans Resort: French Quarter and Port Orleans: Riverside). The pool of Port Orleans: French Quarter (which I will from hereon refer to as simply Port Orleans because that is what it was called during my visit) is known as Doubloon Lagoon and features statues of fiberglass alligators (similar to those in the "Dance of the Hours" sequence of Fantasia) around the pool area. A large seashell serves as a band shell along one side of the pool beneath which the gators pose as playing instruments, while streams of water spray out of the tips of the shell. However, the centerpiece of the pool, and what made it most memorable to me is a large sea serpent that arches over the pool as bridges until it becomes the waterslide, guests cascading down its tongue into the pool. Mounted atop the serpent's head sits Poseidon, king of the sea, looking mysteriously like King Triton from The Little Mermaid. The official backstory of the resort's pool, when it opened in 1991, explained that due to the danger posed by the numerous alligators and snakes that frequented the ponds of the Sassagoula Bayou, the fathers of the village built a large sea serpent out of chicken wire and bedsheets to scare the children out of the swimming hole. However, over time, as the official backstory has dissipated, the pool area has become an extension of the overall theme seen most heavily in the food court of the resort, the Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory, which, according to backstory, serves as a manufacturing factory and storage facility for Mardi Gras floats. With this new backstory, the waterslide has become an extension of the Mardi Gras theme and has become known to be a float for the Mardi Gras parade, the music-playing gators the performers on the street corners and musicians of the festivities. As with the pool at Caribbean Beach, I don't remember much about this pool from the early 90s, but what I do remember is swimming under the arched coils of the serpent and sliding down the pink tongue slide of the creature into the waiting arms of my dad at the bottom of the slide. I also remember standing next to a pair of alligators on the path to the pool from the lobby building, one playing a banjo and the other, a drum, my parents taking my photo as I pretended to play an air-banjo. This pool became even more special to me during the summer of 2015, when my wife and I took our three kids to Walt Disney World for the first time. We stayed at Port Orleans: Riverside, as it was one of the only resorts that could accommodate the five of us for a low cost. The Port Orleans Resorts are a special breed of resorts on property: while operated as one resort with a shared management team, they can be booked as separate lodgings, similar to Disney's All-Star (Sports/Music/Movies) resorts. As a result, guests staying at one of the Port Orleans resorts can use either resort's pool(s) (pool hopping at other resorts on property is quite the no-no, as one of the perks of staying at the resort is having exclusive use of its themed pools). As a result, as guests of Riverside, we spent an evening midway through our trip over at the French Quarter, eating at the Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory and enjoying an hour of swimming in the Doubloon Lagoon. We enjoyed swimming under the coil bridge of the serpent, screaming excitedly as we stood under the spraying water jets emitting from the sea shell band shell, and even catching our then four-year-old boys as they came down the waterslide (sitting up like goofballs). We ended our evening at the French Quarter's pool by snapping a picture of our three children surrounding the drum and banjo playing gators, all three of them playing air-banjo, coming full-circle from my original trip to the resort.
Photo Courtesy of Melissa Knight

Another Walt Disney World pool that is near and dear to my heart is the pool over at a lesser-known Disney resort, Coronado Springs. It was at this resort, in the early 2000s, that my true love for Walt Disney World became an obsession. I was in high school and was finally starting to understand the implications of why I loved the resort so much. Shortly before this trip, I had received a burned copy (shhhh don't tell!) of the Walt Disney World Explorer CD-ROM (kids, this is a program that you use on you computer that is loaded onto a CD disc before we could download programs from the Internet) from my high school computer teacher, a fellow obsessor (looking at you, Dudka!) over all-things Disney. Being in high school, my parents gave me more leniency on this trip, and I spent the time at Coronado Springs wandering the resort alone, exploring things. I spent quite a bit of time in the lobby building, the gift shop (where I was ecstatic to find fiberglass statues and references to one of my favorite Disney films, The Three Caballeros), the Pepper Market Food Court, and the resort pool, which was centered around a Mayan pyramid. A stream of water bubbled out of the top of the pyramid and spilled down the steps of it, large sticks and logs blocking guests from climbing up to the top. In fact, I enjoyed exploring the resort so much during this trip, that shortly after coming home, I wrote a fan-fiction that took place at Walt Disney World about a teenage detective team trying to uncover a murder at a local resort, chasing down clues at the different parks and eventually catching the killer at Coronado Springs (I was really into the Hardy Boys, okay?). While the pool itself wasn't anything terribly special, one thing sticks out in my mind about this trip. I was a weird high school kid. Anyone who knew me would describe teenage-me as a dork, a nerd, a dweeb, one of those kids who would make jokes and laugh at himself. I distinctly remember large pillars, designed like an Aztec or Mayan religious statue of a chieftain or priest standing along the edge of the pool. The pillar acted as a shower for guests getting into or out of the pool. However, to add to the "fun" of the pool, designers had also created a steady stream of water that shot out of the pool side of the statue, emitting from the mouth of the statue. Because I was so weird, I thought it would be funny for me to stand at the end of the stream of water. I'm not sure if the water pressure coming out of the statue was especially high that day, but I remember the spray being so hard that it felt like it was ripping the skin off my back. Finding weird things funny, I stood in the same spot in the pool, the water drilling into my back, for a good fifteen minutes (it probably looked like I was peeing in the pool or something). By the time I left the spot, my back was a big red welt, but I didn't care, because the entire experience made me laugh. To this day, there are times when I am standing in the shower and have flashbacks to this moment of the water pounding into my back in the middle of the Coronado Springs pool.
Photo Courtesy of Melissa Knight

While there are numerous other pools that I have experienced over the years (Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Port Orleans: Riverside), and there are some pools that I would LOVE to swim in (Polynesian Village, Art of Animation, Boardwalk), the three I discussed above are the most special for me.

And it all goes back to those happy (and odd) memories that are linked to them. But isn't that why we love Disney?
For more family road trip ideas, check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!

Here is the map of our Blogorail Orange | Best Disney Resorts for Relaxation

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Nostalgia Snacks at Walt Disney World

I am a nostalgic. And being nostalgic makes me stubborn. And stuck in my ways.

This happens all the time at restaurants. I go out to eat to a restaurant for the first time with my family and find a meal that looks appetizing to me. If we enjoy the restaurant, and we go back...I order the exact same thing. There could be forty other things on the menu that look slightly appetizing to me, but I will only order the one dish every time we go back. Take, for example, Texas Roadhouse. They've got many delightful dishes on their menu. However, I will only ever order their chicken crispers, which are a crispy, lightly-breaded chicken tender with fries. Or take, as another example, one of my favorite (and my mom's favorite--shout out, mom!) restaurants: Cracker Barrel. This is a restaurant you could get breakfast during their operating hours, as well as country fried steak, hamburgers, chicken pot pies, or roast beef. However, every time I go, I get the Chicken Tender platter, which allows guests to choose three sides and their choice of biscuits or corn bread. I always get the fried chicken tenders with fries, mashed potatoes (and butter), macaroni and cheese, and buttermilk biscuits with a Diet Coke. I could choose anything off the menu, but I always choose the same

because it is comfortable.

It's much the same way at Walt Disney World. However, once in awhile, I decide to be "adventurous" and try something new in the way of snacking. And very rarely the snacks I've tried at Walt Disney World have been disappointing to me.

Here are my top suggestions for snacks at Walt Disney World that everyone should try at least once.

Disclaimer: Remember, I'm a good Dutch boy who is a nostalgic who likes to be comfortable, so this is by no means an exhaustive list. I know that there is a ton I need to reach out and try yet, so don't judge! These just happen to be my favorites. :)

1.) The granddaddy (arguably) of all snacks at Walt Disney World: The Dole Whip. I saw online once that someone stated the Dole Whip to be overrated. This is an objective opinion of that poster. I would argue that the Dole Whip is an amazing snack that I personally go out of my way every trip to enjoy. There are two places on Walt Disney World property one can go (to my knowledge) to get a Dole Whip (or a Dole Whip float if you prefer): Aloha Aisle at the Magic Kingdom (although during my last trip in August 2015 they were being sold at Sunshine Seasons Terrace) and the Pineapple Lanai outside Captain Cook's at the Polynesian Resort. For those of you who are unaware, a Dole Whip is a traditional twist-style ice cream dessert. However, rather than the snack being a twist of chocolate and vanilla, a Dole Whip is a twist of pineapple ice cream and vanilla. It creates the perfect taste combination of tangy and sweet ice cream. A Dole Whip Float, on the other hand, is similar to a root beer float, but instead of root beer, the ice cream is suspended in pineapple juice. Guests who are crazy enough to not enjoy pineapple (such as my father), can opt to choosing a Citrus Swirl, which is identical to the Dole Whip, but substitutes orange-flavored ice cream for the pineapple. When visiting during our last trip in Summer 2015, we snacked on our Dole Whips twice: we quickly slurped our dessert at the tables between Sunshine Seasons Terrace and the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, as well as at tables overlooking the Volcano Pool of the Polynesian. I am unashamed to say that I got my daughter hooked on the delicious treat. I was also lucky enough to find that a small ice cream shack in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan also sells Dole Whip desserts, which will now give me a chance to enjoy the nostalgia of fond memories when I go home for the summer.

2.)  The second treat that I enjoy when visiting Walt Disney World is the churros. My first exposure to Disney's churros took place during my second anniversary trip with my wife in June 2012. We had been staying at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge (when my wife accidentally almost killed a giraffe...read about it here) and had taken advantage of the deal of free dining by staying at a deluxe resort. As a result, during this trip, we had eaten an enormous amount of food, being lucky enough to have both an entrĂ©e and dessert with each meal. We were visiting Epcot and decided to eat at La Cantina de San Angel (the outdoor counter service adjacent to La Hacienda de San Angel across from the Mexico Pavilion). After eating our tacos and quesadillas (or whatever we ordered), we decided to choose the hot churros with the caramel dipping sauce as our dessert. We were both lucky enough to order these warm, delectable treats, each getting four or five churro sticks as part of our dessert order. I had never enjoyed a churro before. And after this experience, I was hooked. A churro is a stick of fried batter covered in cinnamon and granulated sugar, that is usually served warm and often dipped in a sauce such as caramel or cream cheese. It was delicious and now, every time I go back to Epcot, I will be getting this delicious treat. I know they have churro carts elsewhere, but the positive memory of eating them with my bride at Epcot's Mexico pavilion may hinder me from enjoying them anywhere but there.

3.) Some peoples' go-to snack at Walt Disney World or any Disney park is popcorn. People line up, especially in the international parks, to try different flavors of popcorn. However, I'm such a nostalgic that I don't even know whether Walt Disney World sells any flavors of popcorn other than butter-flavored. I'm not a huge popcorn fan at home. Even when I go to movies in the theater, I don't really care for popcorn: it gets stuck in my teeth, I usually swallow a kernel or two, and I inevitably inhale a piece of popcorn into my lungs, leading to a coughing fit and the beefy muscle man in front of me turning around and giving me dirty looks for interrupting a mushy scene of the chick flick we are watching. However, while not a fan of popcorn, eating it at Walt Disney World at least once during a trip is a requirement due to the nostalgia factor for me. When I was growing up and I would visit the parks with my brother and parents, we would always eat a big breakfast at our resort's food court or a character meal before starting our day in the parks. We would also plan on a big meal in the evening. To save money, we would usually have a snack mid-afternoon. Because a "small" popcorn was usually served in a big box (we so felt like we were playing the system), we would get two boxes of popcorn to share between the four of us and some 20 oz. of soda as a snack. We would find a spot in a rocking chair or on a step or porch of Frontierland or Liberty Square and eat our popcorn and drink our soda while we people watched. Again, I'm not a huge fan of popcorn and I'll rarely eat it (I'd opt instead for ice cream or chips for a snack at home), but there is something comfortable and happy about eating popcorn at the Disney parks, Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios especially, that makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

And there you have it. There's round one of my favorite Disney snacks. I know there are a lot more that I haven't even touched on, like a turkey leg or a Mickey pretzel or even a Mickey ice cream bar. However, these are my top three, all because they are attached to a special place in my Disney consciousness.