Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I was thinking “Gee, what can I write about this weekend in my blog?” because I’m trying to get at least one new post up on the weekends. (High expectations eh?) And then it occurred to me that HEY!  Captain America is a Disney movie! I can review it and be on-topic!

Except… this isn’t going to be a specially popular review, because I will say up front that I didn’t care for the movie.  And, I can’t really say all of why without revealing spoilers.  So I’m going to briefly touch on why I didn’t like it, and get that out of the way, and then discuss both the things I did like and a general overview of the film.

I'll say up front, he's not in it and I missed him, to be frank.

I’ll say up front, he’s not in it and I missed him, to be frank.

Continue reading

Review: “3500”, a sweet Disney love story

"3500: An Autistic Boy's Ten-Year Romance With Snow White"

“3500: An Autistic Boy’s Ten-Year Romance With Snow White” image (c) Ron Miles and Michael Montoure, used without permission here but I hope since this is a review it will be OK.

At the end of last year I had amassed some $50 in Barnes and Noble gift cards, and I figured I should do something I don’t often do, to wit: buy some books.  Why don’t I normally do this?  Two reasons, and neither one is because I don’t like reading.  The first is because I have so many books, I feel guilty buying more; and the second is, I have no idea where to start. I actually tend to read the books I own over and over. No joke.

 

Anyway, in this case I decided I’d look up some Disney books. I got some recommendations from friends of various kinds of Disney-related reading, and made my order on the website. They came one at a time.  One of the first to arrive was “3500: An Autistic Boy’s Ten-Year Romance with Snow White”, by Ron Miles.

 

I had read about this book when it came out, a few months earlier (now a year or so ago – it was published in 2013), and was very intrigued by it. A simple version of the story is that Ron’s son, Benjamin, fell in love with Walt Disney World, fell DEEPLY in love with Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and rode it over and over…3,500 times, in fact.  This is a very, very simple and actually almost misleading version of the story, as there is so much more to it.  You get an in depth picture of Benjamin, of the challenges of raising a boy with autism but also the huge rewards, and the whole story is glowing with the love that Ron feels for his son, the pride he takes in the accomplishments that Benjamin makes, and the joy he receives from not only Benjamin’s love of Snow White, but also the way the folks at Disney World treat Benjamin.

 

The story is a very easy read, personal but  not the kind of personal telling that shuts readers out (you know… the ones that are SO personal they feel like a journal, written for folks who already know the writer, and those stories leave you feeling like you’ve missed something somewhere).  This also is not an easy, level story being told.  Benjamin and his parents go through a lot on this ten-year journey; Ron, and Benjamin’s mother as well, make lots of changes to their lives, not the least of which is the decision to move to Orlando just to be close to Disney World so that they can pursue it as a therapeutic option for Benjamin’s development.  There are health struggles, personal struggles, and as we know, Snow White’s Scary Adventures meets an untimely end.  Benjamin, however, keeps going and the whole book leaves the reader with a sense of the growth that Benjamin has undergone and a strong affection for him.

 

I really highly recommend this book, as a memoir, as a Disney World love story, and as a story of meeting the challenges life has handed you with love and determination, and how that can pay off.  I hope Benjamin’s continuing story stays on the same path.  (And I have to wonder if he’s been on the Mine Train yet, and what he thinks!)

 

You can buy “3500” here on Amazon; this is a link to the Kindle edition, but I bought it in print, and like having it available in a hard copy. I am old-fashioned that way. 🙂 The Kindle price is $2.99, paperback price is $11.66.  You can also buy it from Barnes And Noble here; prices are about the same, but the eBook is Nook format instead of Kindle.

Review: “The Muppets”, 2011

Back in 2011, after seeing “The Muppets” in the theatre, I wrote a review of it. So yes, this is a little over 2 years old and some of it may not still stand (I’m not going to edit anything). But I thought it would be fun to post here, because when I read over it, it’s really not bad! I had it posted only in a LiveJournal I keep locked to non-friends, and I felt it was kind of wasting away there. So to kick off my real, actual “With a purpose” Muppets content, here we go!

—-

December 13, 2011 – “It’s like a kind of torture”

I just wanted a cute, random way to quote the Muppet Show theme song.  Because I need to write a review of “The Muppets”!  I mentioned it really briefly on Facebook, a bit more in-depth on DA, but haven’t really given my full thoughts on it yet to anyone outside of my family.  So let’s make up for that. 🙂

Does it seem kind of weird to anyone else that the non-regular Muppet cast is on the foreground of this soundtrack cover? Just me?

Does it seem kind of weird to anyone else that the non-regular Muppet cast is on the foreground of this soundtrack cover? Just me?

Okay, as I mentioned in both other venues, I liked the movie.  I actually liked it a lot.  I think I like it better as a movie, that had the Muppets in it, than as an entry into Muppet moviedom.  Because having it be a Muppet movie means inevitably comparing it to the three Henson-produced Muppet films, as well as to the rest of his body of work, and in that regard it does come up lacking (for reasons I’ll get into later).  But it also has you compare it to recent, post-Henson Muppet work, and in that regard it shines.  It’s lovely because of the shininess.

I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this, you’ve seen the movie, so you don’t need a summary.  If that’s not the case, you can find a summary any other place and come back to read this afterwards.  So hi!  Let’s move on!  We’ll go over the good stuff first.

First and most of all, this movie was funny.  The past few Muppet specials and movies have been not so funny.  Like at all.  They’ve had moments that made me uncomfortable, moments that made me groan, and moments that made me kinda go “heh”.  There have been parts that I’ve liked but on the whole the product was shoddy because the characters weren’t right and the writing wasn’t tight.  The problem, I’ve felt, with recent Muppets is that they are new people who are imitating other peoples’ creations.  We’ve had close to 20 years now of Steve Whitmire imitating Kermit, so I guess that means that technically he’s no longer imitating now, but as far as I’m concerned there’s a difference between Jim Henson performing Kermit and inventing, and understanding and – in all honesty – BEING the character, and Steve Whitmire performing Kermit and having inherited him, learning to do the voice, the mannerisms, and the characteristics.  Now we’re several years into Eric Jacobsen doing half of Frank Oz’s characters and Matt Vogel (?) doing the other half… The end result has been that between new people taking over, and their not having solid writing to rely on for their performances, we basically have seen a major decline in the characterizations of the Muppets.  Which for some bizarre reason are TRULY very important for their movies, which you wouldn’t think would be the case, because the Muppet movies are piles of silliness made out of felt and sometimes, googly eyes.

Googly eyes... LIKE THESE?

Googly eyes… LIKE THESE?

But it’s true.  The Muppet movies operate largely on the strength of the characters, not on the fact that you can throw a Muppet down a flight of stairs or something and the gag will make me laugh EVERY SINGLE TIME THEY DO IT.  So – I said we were starting out with the good stuff, and despite the long preamble, here it is.

Poor Fozzie's time without the Muppets is perhaps the saddest of anyone's fall from grace ;)

Poor Fozzie’s time without the Muppets is perhaps the saddest of anyone’s fall from grace 😉

This movie wins for not only being funny but for having meaningful characterizations.  Fozzie, for instance, has never been the brightest bulb in the box but in the post-Henson performances, Fozzie somehow got relegated to Incredibly Stupid Sidekick.  It was weird and I don’t know why.  My best guess is that Frank Oz wanted a diminished role on all his characters (Piggy got pushed to the side too) but that doesn’t explain the change in characterization.  And in fact, I heard that he initially thought Fozzie’s role in the script for “Muppet Treasure Island” was pretty bad, but sort of warmed up to it during filming, so it’s obviously not Oz’s input that has had Fozzie become a dimwit.  That just somehow sorta happened.  Anyway, Jason Segel’s script knocks that out and we go back to Fozzie, loyal believer and follower of Kermit, not the brightest bulb in the box but not out-and-out stupid, and still telling some of the most godawful jokes around. 😀

The Great Gonzo, plumbing magnate.

The Great Gonzo, plumbing magnate.

Other than Kermit, Fozzie and Piggy, the rest of the original Muppet cast isn’t featured prominently but that’s really sorta OK.  Gonzo has a GREAT scene and is truly The Great Gonzo again in this – I wasn’t really enjoying the forays into deepening his character, Gonzo is supposed to be a thrillseeker with a semi-masochistic bent and he was getting a bit too heartfelt when movies and such were focusing on him. (I LOVE Dave Goelz, don’t get me wrong, but the roles he was given were not so great.)  I’m also just thrilled to death that Rowlf had screentime and a couple of lines in this – he’s been noticeably absent for years and I have a Muppet Crush on Rowlf. ❤  Anyway, Miss Piggy had some interesting characterization – there was a sympathizing of her in this film, something that is somewhat overdue but also somewhat out of place.  (That’s hard to explain.)  Basically in recent years, even more than before, the Muppets have focused on Piggy’s ego and made her the butt of a lot of jokes because of it.  She’s come across as vain for no reason, self-important and aggrandizing but not actually as talented as she thinks she is, so of course it’s funny to laugh at her.  Frank Oz actually gave her a backstory, and it’s partially a joke, but I think of it sometimes when I think of the character as “real”, and it’s essentially that her father left early, her mother drank, and she had a lot of siblings.  She wanted to make something of herself so she dragged herself out of the mud (literally I guess, being pigs) and practiced poise and fashion, entered and won beauty contests, and climbed the ladder (such as it is) until she reached The Muppets.  And yes she has a huge ego and is spotlight-crazy, but in a way I feel like she deserves it, because it’s like she’s legitimately fought for what she has and will keep fighting for the rest of what she thinks she deserves.

And yes I know she’s a puppet. XD  But I think it’s funnier when Piggy has a certain sense of dignity and likability, and then does something so silly herself that it’s removed, then when she’s just made to look pathetic and we all laugh at her.

In The Muppets Piggy may be taken a bit too seriously, since she’s the only truly successful one of the bunch, being the plus-size fashion editor for Vogue in Paris.  She’s been wronged, somehow, by Kermit and she spends a lot of time clinging to her dignity around him and deliberately not doing the “kissy-kissy” thing and throwing herself at him.  She’s incredibly mature and powerful and yeah, egotistical and rude.  But there’s something slightly *serious* about it that feels off. Regardless, though, I love Piggy in this movie.  I love how she is the one who pulls the s*** together and gets the celebrity host when Kermit can’t.  And I love that she does it the same way she does everything, which is to say, by force.  Piggy will get what she wants, SOMEHOW, and if she has to knock heads together to do it she will do it.  We see the lengths she’ll go to in all three of the Henson movies and this is really very natural in building on that.  And she succeeds.  It goes off *perfectly*.  I love that. 😀

Miss Piggy may possibly have a record number of hairstyles in this movie. :D

Miss Piggy may possibly have a record number of hairstyles in this movie. 😀

The last note on the characterizations is that the new Muppet, Walter, is wonderful.  For a completely new and deliberately sorta bland Muppet, he’s very engaging and sympathetic.  He’s not a crazy Muppet (as most of them are) but he’s not boring.  I really felt for him and I really wanted him to be happy and join the Muppets. He carries the film very well.  I was impressed. 🙂

The rest of the good: the music is fun; the cameos are worthwhile; the movie itself is a love letter to the early, Henson years of the Muppets and Jim Henson is a phantom presence throughout.  He’s on banners on the street, he’s dead center in a shot of a “wall of celebrity photos” in Kermit’s office, and I swear that the group rendition of “Rainbow Connection” was a tribute to Jim.  They also play old clips from “The Muppet Show” that include him, even going so far as to use clips of Kermit being performed by Jim Henson, which is interesting to me – it seems strange in a sense to show clips of Kermit being performed by someone other than the person performing him in this film, given that Kermit himself is supposed to be the same guy.

So we can move on to the less good stuff, and that centers almost entirely on Kermit.  I think this is something that has to do with my age group, my respect and affection for Jim Henson, and the fact that I was 12 already when Henson died and had solidified my recognition of Kermit’s voice by that point so that when Steve Whitmire entered the scene as Kermit I could hear a HUGE difference.  If I were younger and had grown up with both of them maybe this wouldn’t bother me.  But, here’s the thing.

Well, I mean, he LOOKS fine.

Well, I mean, he LOOKS fine.

Steve Whitmire’s Kermit is not the same as Jim Henson’s and I don’t just mean the voice.  Whitmire’s Kermit is too quiet, too serious, too maudlin, and dare I say it, don’t kill me, too nice.  Kermit is a nice guy, yes.  But he has a temper; he gets frustrated; he blows his top.  He can be sarcastic and even hurtful (on The Muppet Show, at least).  There are times when he steps back and views what’s going on with a sort of dry humour, and there are times when he is clearly a little disgusted with everyone.  A lot of this is Kermit in The Muppet Show so you can say well, he was NEVER like that in the movies.  Okay, fair enough.  But he gets annoyed in The Muppet Movie, he has a full-on fight with Piggy in both “The Great Muppet Caper” (one of my favourite scenes) and “The Muppets Take Manhattan”, and he shows a full range of emotion in all three Henson films.  He’s very restrained in this one – it seems to be mainly either a kind of reticent chagrin, or he’s doing his YAAAAAYYYYY! flail on stage  which is more showmanship than anything else.

The Kermit/Piggy stuff is interesting.  Almost all unspoken and even though I’ve been a Kermit/Piggy shipper forever and ever, I’m not sure how I feel about it being taken so seriously in this film.  (See how the whole “serious” thing keeps coming back up?)  It’s never stated why they are on such shaky terms in this movie or what came between them.  They don’t quite have a fight, Kermit just tells her that she’s so melodramatic and it forces him to do things that hurt her.  She says that she bought them a house to live and raise kids in and they have a torn picture of themselves evidently on their wedding day.  I actually have a theory that she walked out on HIM for some reason but that it was due to something he said because she was so “melodramatic”.  Here’s the thing: I’d like to have seen them fight in this.  I think that would’ve been more “realistic” for the Muppets than the subdued and sort of heartbreaking conversation/almost-fight they had on the streets of Paris.

This is just... a strange scene.

This is just… a strange scene.

I feel like Steve Whitmire has always been at a disadvantage because his first Kermit role was as Bob Cratchitt in “Christmas Carol” and then he was Captain Smollet in “Treasure Island”.  Neither of these are actually Kermit.  It seems as if when he needed to be able to secure the character, he instead was told to impersonate the character impersonating other characters.  No wonder he’s got a limited range.  (I actually adore Steve Whitmire and when I was really young I kinda had a crush on Wembley Fraggle.  But I have never, ever, ever accepted him as Kermit.)

So in a big way the problem with the film can be summed up thusly: for all that it’s incredibly funny it’s also too serious.  There’s a serious, sad undertone to it about the passage of time, loss, and change.  Growing old and losing loved ones.  Yes, this is combatted by the Muppets’ big comeback and their choosing to remain together as a group, and yes the ending is happy, but the tone is still one of nostalgia and it’s too pervasive.  Too “days gone by”.  I don’t really, really feel as if that’s right for a Muppet movie.  And I guess that’s what makes it work somewhat less *as* a Muppet movie and somewhat better as a movie with Muppets in it.  In fact the opening sequence where the Muppets are basically guest stars to Walter and Gary’s lives growing up in Smalltown or wherever, that part was *great*.  I wouldn’t out and out say it was the best part of the movie… but it was up there.

Life's a fillet of fish! (Yes it is!)

Life’s a fillet of fish! (Yes it is!)

So there’s my really long, in-depth review of a movie that is not meant to be taken so seriously. 😀  I would see it again.  And for all that I complain about the nostalgic tone, it made me INCREDIBLY nostalgic and there were so many parts I kept talking about over and over again… I really loved seeing it.  But it also really really made me miss the original Muppets.  So I guess that’s part of why I loved seeing it, and take from that what you will.

Trip Report 2013: Day 3, Part 5: And Now a Resort Break

If I haven’t mentioned it before (I have, but oh well), staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge has been a dream of mine.  It’s the Deluxe resort I most want to stay at.  (It still is, despite having stayed for a night!)  So if nothing else, even if I don’t get to go back, I can scratch one off my Bucket List! 😀

Getting to Animal Kingdom Lodge was a tiny bit tricky, but I figured it out. It was a lot easier, it turns out, than getting to the Magic Kingdom *from* AKL – but I’ll get to that later… 😛  Anyway, I have some advice for anyone who stays at Kidani Village for the first time: Don’t park in the first part of the garage.  Keep driving until you see the entrance to the resort.  That’s all. (I think everyone who isn’t me could probably figure this out.)

An incredibly awful picture of the main entrance to Kidani Village, taken the next morning.

An incredibly awful picture of the main entrance to Kidani Village, taken the next morning as we were leaving.

The fact that they had covered garage parking enticed me, so once we got there I parked at the far end of the garage, in the Zazu section.  We left our bags and things in the car so that we wouldn’t have to lug everything in at once to check in, and so I thought once we had our room I’d come back and get the bags we’d need overnight. Right? Sounds good huh?

It turns out that it was like a five-minute walk from where we parked to the lobby.  Not joking. I don’t know why I didn’t keep driving, but I was just in a hurry to get parked and check in! Lack of judgment on my part. 🙂  It was just walk and walk and walk, door after door of rooms of the resort but no idea how much farther it was to the lobby!  Door after door after door and at this point we suddenly needed the bathroom again.  So once we got to the lobby, before we could check in we had to duck into the (single room) bathroom first.  And there was a line. 🙂

Check-in itself went quite well.  D sat and watched a couple of cartoons and I tried to look around the lobby a little, but the check-in was so quick that I didn’t really have a chance!  They had a sitting area for kids with the afore-mentioned cartoons, and then just behind that an outdoor porch area with rocking chairs where you could go watch the animals.  I was immediately a little chagrined by the fact that I would obviously not be taking full advantage of what was clearly a BEAUTIFUL resort. 😦  Animal Kingdom Lodge needs at least an afternoon of exploration!  I’m not saying I regret staying there, not in the least, but I regret not having more time to take it in!  I hope it’s not my only visit there.

So we got our room number and it was even farther from the car. Ahem.  We were up, I want to say, on the 9th floor (I’m not looking at my room info right now) and since we had checked in we took a little bit of time to look out onto the animals.  We could see some zebras and just barely, a baby giraffe that wasn’t officially “out” yet for the public.  Then we found our room and I had D get settled in, before I went back to the car for our things so that she could get her swimsuit on and we could go to the pool.

As for the room, we were in a Deluxe Studio, which came with a heck of a large bathroom, a queen-sized bed, a pull-out sofa bed, a kitchenette, and the other standard amenities.  The Studio rooms have a balcony, but ours didn’t overlook the Savannah – rather it was looking out on the parking lot front of the resort.  The pics I took were limited because of my low battery, and don’t do the room justice at all, so I recommend you visit the AllEars.net gallery (or your favourite picture collection for WDW) to see some other pics.  Meanwhile here are mine!

Here's all my stuff on the bed! Because that's worth seeing.

Here’s all my stuff on the bed! Because that’s worth seeing.  Note the Mickey towel art!! 😀

The kitchenette!  I actually did like two dishes!! :D

The kitchenette! I actually did like two dishes!! 😀

This is the pull-out couch, pre-pull-out.

This is the pull-out couch, pre-pull-out.

I discovered three great things: 1) the balcony was AWESOME.  I’m sure seeing the animals would’ve been even better but I LOVED just having one! It was waaaay too hot to sit out there at that time, though, so I just stepped out and back in. Sigh.

Here is the view from our balcony, though this is actually the next morning.

Here is the view from our balcony, though this is actually the next morning.

2) we were very, VERY close to the Samawati Springs pool – across from it, in fact.  And 3) we were really close to an elevator that went all the way down into the garage.  So when I took that elevator back down to the lobby floor, I took note of which one it was (I want to say it was Rafiki) and – ten minutes later – was able to park RIGHT by it and get back up to our room almost instantly.

The unfortunate part was that it was already after 3:30, closing in on 4pm.  I had scheduled our afternoon break to be from 2:45-4:30 and then to return to Epcot at 4:45, but obviously that wouldn’t happen.  Fear not for I am not Rigid Planning Momma, but Flexible Momma!  It just meant we’d have to be careful not to miss our Test Track FastPass which was 5-6pm.

The Kidani Samawati Springs pool was awesome. It was large and the play area was even better than the one at Fort Wilderness. Here are a few pictures I didn’t take:

From www.aklresort.com, used without permission.

From http://www.aklresort.com, used without permission.

From www.mouseplanet.com, used without permission.

From http://www.mouseplanet.com, used without permission.

From www.ownerslocker.com, used without permission.

From http://www.ownerslocker.com, used without permission.

D completely avoided the water slide this time, but she did love the actual pool itself and preferred being in there over being in the play area. I’m not sure why because I would have given my arm to get to run around that spot! 😀

We played for about 45 or so minutes, and I felt bad cutting D off after that, but we needed to get back to the park.  She was disappointed but agreeable, and we got back by 5:15 or so and made our Test Track FPs. Our other two FPs were for Soarin’ between 6-7pm, and for the Maelstrom between 7-8pm.  I had scheduled it to try to get around the other half of the WS by 8:30 and to leave before Illuminations, because D is not a Night Owl by any stretch of the imagination and because I hate trying to navigate thru crowds.

But how did that plan pan out?  Stay tuned to see…

Magic Bands: the Return of the Revenge of the Plastic Bracelets

For those of you who are regulars, you may recall that about a month or so ago I got Magic Bands for my upcoming trip (two weeks ago) and promised to update on how they worked.  And now the time has come to update!

This is not my picture, it's a Disney-issued one. However this is not that far off what it's like using the bands.

This is not my picture, it’s a Disney-issued one. However this is not that far off what it’s like using the bands.

Here’s the ending first: I actually really liked them. I found them very useful. 🙂

Ordering and customizing them was pretty simple.  I got a notice that I would be participating in the testing phase, with instructions on where to login to order the bands.  I did so, got to customize them (which basically just means picking out colours for everyone, not much else to do) and they arrived two days later.  Right now there is a limited number of colours available, but Disney is already selling accessories like covers and little  knickknacks to stick into the peg holes so there is plenty you can do with them.

Now, this is the testing phase, and I’ve heard from a few people who have run into trouble with the Magic Bands.  I’m here to say that I didn’t.  Pretty much all of it worked out the way it is supposed to, and better than I expected.  I’ll give a reasonably quick run-down of what I liked, and then mention any negatives at the end.  There aren’t many.  Ready?  Here we go!

1) This is my favourite part.  In the past one of the things that got me was all the stuff I ended up carrying around: Key to the World cards, paper FastPasses, dining reservation confirmation numbers, PhotoPass cards, and potentially even more.  With the Magic Bands, all of that is on your wrist.  Since you can get charging privileges to your room, you can even charge your dining and shopping expenses with your Magic Band.  Seriously, I could leave EVERYTHING behind and travel without my wallet if I wanted to.

This is huge for me. Especially because I don’t let my kids carry their tickets/FastPasses by themselves in case they lose them.  So I keep them, hand them over to enter the parks or get FastPasses, and then take them back and store them again and inevitably get them confused with my own.  Now that they are WEARING their park passes (and by extension, their FastPass+ reservations), I don’t have to worry about THAT, either.

On this particular trip, the Magic Band was a blessing for just this reason.  We were resort-hopping and stayed each night on a different reservation – Ft. Wilderness campsite, then Animal Kingdom Lodge, then a different Ft. Wilderness campsite.  I got a new Key to the World card with each check-in.  However, since the Magic Band was activated with our AK Lodge stay, I only had to use the first set of KttW cards and after that I didn’t need any.  Which is a real relief, because here is what I was travelling with:

2 sets of room keys, Halloween party tickets, and a PhotoPass card.  And actually there were two other room cards that I let myself "misplace" in the car somewhere.

2 sets of room keys, Halloween party tickets, and a PhotoPass card. And actually there were two other room cards that I let myself “misplace” in the car somewhere.

Since the first set was still active the entire time and had the tickets on them, I kept them with us.  We did end up using them for extra FastPasses (this will not continue to work once FastPass+ completely takes over).  But I have to tell you, it was a relief not to be pawing through my wallet constantly for everything. (I did not charge to the MagicBands b/c I had everything either cash or on gift cards. But having the option was even more convenient, and next time I come and actually use my credit card, I’ll MagicBand it.)

2) FastPass+.  I have heard the very real complaint that this removes spontaneity from your trip, and this is true.  But it also gives you the option to decide in advance what you absolutely cannot miss, and make SURE you don’t miss it.  Our first day, Magic Bands were not active yet so I couldn’t do FastPass for Hollywood Studios.  We got to the park at 11am and Toy Story Mania FastPasses were already for return times of 6pm.  Over Columbus Day weekend, though, they were gone by 10:30am!  Meanwhile, I was able to get FP+ reservations for most of the rides I wanted – at times of the day I wanted – at Epcot, Magic Kingdom, and Animal Kingdom.  Yes, there is something about being able to check a line first to see if you NEED a FastPass for it, and making a decision based on that, but… I didn’t really miss that.  Instead I had peace of mind in knowing that I would DEFINITELY be able to get onto the rides I had picked out, and since I knew the time windows in advance, I was able to plan my day around them.

3) The fit was better than I thought it would be.  You may remember from my earlier review that the plastic was harder than I thought it would be, and I was having a hard time getting a fit I liked.  Well, I played around with it and I did end up getting it more comfortable… still not ideal, but OK. Then I got used to it.  Meanwhile, my daughter wore hers the ENTIRE TRIP.

D wore her Magic Band the entire time, from the moment I showed it to her. Even though we wouldn't use it for two days.

D wore her Magic Band the entire time, from the moment I showed it to her. Even though we wouldn’t use it for two days.

Plus it was kind of stylish. 😉  I felt all punk rock, in a kind of weird “slave to the system” kind of way.

A few minor negatives:

1) The small inconvenience of not being able to get FastPass+ for our first day.  Since the Magic Bands were assigned to our Animal Kingdom Lodge stay, they were not activated until then, even though I had all my reservations linked on the My Disney Experience page and my tickets were from a Magic Your Way package starting the day before.  I had 4 days’ worth of tickets I could choose FastPass+ for – but that was starting on 10/2, no earlier, and we officially arrived on 10/1. 😛  That was OK and obviously will not be a problem when ALL resort and park media is Magic Band oriented, but it was a hiccup for me this time. That’s OK though.

2) FastPass+.  I know I said I liked it, but it gets a little mention here anyway, for the reason that it will be tricky for people who don’t research their trips in advance but want to use FP+.  You have a few options to do this: You can do it well in advance on your My Disney Experience, or you can do it via the MDE app either at home or even in the parks, or you can do it from a kiosk in the parks.  Let’s say that you don’t know to go to My Disney Experience before you get there, and you don’t have a smartphone so you can’t use the apps (don’t say “Everyone has a smartphone!” because I don’t.).  But you get there and you see a tip about getting FastPasses and that they’re free and everyone can get them… what do you do?  You have to track down one of the kiosks and do them from there.  If you’re in the park and you want to make changes to your FP+ selections – which you can do right up until the time it becomes active – you’ll have to use the app or the kiosk, too.

I just feel like it was easier and more accessible for everyone to get the paper FPs – sure, some people didn’t bother/didn’t know about them, but at least if you did find out about them it was relatively easy to get them.  FP+, it’s a bit more complicated and if you’re not tech savvy you might end up confused.  I only saw one kiosk and it didn’t seem obviously marked to me, nor did it seem clearly to be staffed with a CM to answer questions (though it might have been – I will admit that since I didn’t need it, I wasn’t looking for any).

You will also want to write down your times for your FastPass+ reservations, because I’ve heard a few people say that the My Disney Experience app can be buggy and slow.  Have that info with you with old-fashioned paper to make sure you don’t miss it, just in case!

3) There IS room for confusion.  I’m not speaking about myself personally since things went smoothly for us, but just like anything where you are relying on technology there are opportunities for mistakes, glitches, and just plain confusion.  Things can be reset, things can still be lost, it’ll happen.  This isn’t a negative so much as a reality.

4) The procedure to use the Magic Bands is very, very precise.

Here’s the thing: there is a Mickey Mouse head on the flat front part of each Band. In order to “check in” with the Bands, you have to hold them to the round Mickey sensors. Once they connect, the sensor lights up and then the light spins in a green circle. (For adults entering the park, you still ahve to do the finger sensor as well, but it’s only a second; kids don’t have to do this.)

Anyway, it’s really easy. EXCEPT that you have to do it just the right way, with the Mickey on the Band flat up against the Mickey on the sensor.  If it’s not flat, the sensor won’t read it. This is not so hard for adults, but it’s tricky for kids. I kept telling my daughter “You have to make the Mickeys kiss”, which made her giggle, but I was trying to make her remember that they had to be flat together.  She held up a few lines getting through – not a problem, not really, but if you don’t know what the problem is, it could go on for a while.  It did take her 2 or 3 tries sometimes, especially checking in on the FPs.

This photo is (c) www.adventurevacationcruiselineblog.com

The box that the bands come in. ELASTIGIRL, you guys!! This photo is (c) http://www.adventurevacationcruiselineblog.com

Now here is the single biggest negative for pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to: You can only get FastPass+ reservations in one single park, per day.  You get up to 3 but they are ONLY eligible in one park.  If you’ve got park-hopper tickets, right now at least, you have to pick which park you’re going to use FP+ in.  This may change – most people hope that it will, because if you’re parkhopping it’s a major drawback!  I will say, we were NOT parkhopping, so it was not an issue for us. But it’s undeniably an issue for anyone who does.

The other part of this is the limited number you can get.  Under the old system it was possible to get more than 3 without bending any rules; it just depended on your timing, what crowds were like, what rides you picked, etc.  Having a solid limit of 3 per day can be a letdown.  Adding the single park rule makes it downright inconvenient at times.  There are probably some ways around it, and we are still in the testing phase (this is optimism, folks!) so expect tweaks and alterations as we go.  I’m crossing my fingers that these two restrictions will lift sometime within the next year, at least.  Does anyone remember how many bumps Magical Express used to have?  It always takes a little while to get a system working perfectly, tests or no tests.

Optimism!

I think that covers everything!  All in all, I give my experience a high rating, and I hope it continues to get smoother for everyone.  If there are things you don’t understand, I’ll be happy to take questions! 🙂

Review: In the Key of Disney [CD], Brian Wilson

In recent years I have, since collecting most of the Disney music I love, developed a peripheral love of Disney music *covers*. There’s a lot of it out there, but I have an allergic reaction to AutoTune, so most of the pop covers that Disney themselves puts out do not appeal to me.

Now as I said, there is no shortage of artists covering Disney music, and by no means have I heard all of it – some Dave Brubeck, the Kenny Ball CD I reviewed earlier, and a few bits and pieces here and there. That’s about it. I don’t even know where to start, so I recently asked for recommendations based on my musical tastes – other than the aforementioned aversion to AutoTune I like most anything so long as it’s creative and sincere.

So one friend recommended Brian Wilson’s “In the Key of Disney”. I sampled a few songs on YouTube and knew we had a hit, and a couple of weeks ago I bought the CD.

Cover art for In the Key of Disney

Cover art for In the Key of Disney

Now you know Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. I know, that goes without saying, but just in case you were like “Oh, that name is familiar, who IS it?” or you’re twelve or under, I thought I’d mention that. Wilson is an amazing songwriter. His understand of harmonies is intuitive. His lyrics are sometimes, uh, a bit shallow… but his music? Genius!

The song choices are a mixup of contemporary – some from Pixar movies, even – and the usual classics. So we’ve got a whole range like “You’ve Got a Friend In Me” to “Stay Awake” from Mary Poppins and plenty in between. Okay, I know 1995 is not THAT recent but it’s still interesting to me that he chose Pixar themes to include here. 🙂 And there is a song from “Toy Story 3” on the CD so there.

The really nice thing is that Brian Wilson is a songwriter unafraid to reinvent the sound of a song, so he doesn’t only cover them, he really remakes them. The songs are noticeably in his style, and in some cases it’s not only a great match, it is an improvement. For instance, “Colors of the Wind” – I’m not saying the original song is bad, but I *love* his version. It’s laid back, the beat actually makes the lyrics stand out more, and it keeps the earthy messages of the original. It’s a simplified version, because the original has a technically complicated arrangement. But I like it for its simplicity.

A personal favourite of mine is “Baby Mine”, which is just as sweet as the version in “Dumbo”. This song has been my daughter’s lullaby since she was an infant and she still asks for it each night (she’s seven now). She loves this version as much as I do. The movie version has an almost melancholy feel, appropriate for the scene it is in; this version is instead comforting and warm. The harmonies added into this version are lovely. (I’m also pleased that he stuck “Stay Awake” on here too, because that one is my 4-year-old son’s lullaby, haha)

One more really nifty track is the mix of “Yo-Ho (A Pirates’ Life For Me)”, “Heigh-Ho”, and “Whistle While You Work”. And even though everyone, everywhere, EVER does their own version of “When You Wish Upon A Star”, I’d be disappointed if Brian Wilson didn’t include his own take on it. And it’s as good as expected. 🙂

I will admit to one thing: Brian Wilson is not, at this stage in his life, a strong singer. I like the sound of his voice, for several reasons – it’s appealingly real, for one thing (did I mention I hate AutoTune?), and for another there’s just a lot of sincerity to it. But if you prefer trained singers and pretty voices, his voice may not appeal to you. For quite some time I mistakenly thought that Brian Wilson did not actually sing with the Beach Boys, he just did all the behind the scenes work on the songs, but that’s been pointed out to me that it’s a mistake (and I’m just updating this blog post now, a month later, to correct my misconception).  He was indeed a lead vocalist of the group, but the vocals on this album are not up to par with the Beach Boys’ hey-day.  Regardless, I actually consider his vocals a strength of the album, but your mileage may vary. 😉

You can buy the album on Amazon.com here; the Amazon Exclusive includes a digital download and an extra track on the physical CD. You can sample some of the songs on YouTube, too, the way I did. Enjoy!

Review: The Imagineering Field Guides to Walt Disney World

Coincidentally, a shot of the two books I own! This came from www.imaginerding.com and not me.

Coincidentally, a shot of the two books I own! This came from http://www.imaginerding.com and not me.

I don’t own a whole lot of Disney books, believe it or not. I only own one copy of “The Unofficial Guide to WDW” for instance (the 2013 edition); prior to that I’d just take them out from the library periodically. For fun, actually. 😀

Anyway, in spite of my tendency to not buy myself Disney books, my husband knows to look for WDW themed items for gifts for me, and sometimes he has to get creative b/c I don’t look for them myself and have no idea what to ask for.  A few years ago he picked out two books I ended up loving: The Imagineering Field Guide to Epcot and to Magic Kingdom.

If you take a look inside the two books on the Amazon links above you can get a vague idea of what they’re about, but it’s not really going to show you just why they’re so interesting.  What the books do is they talk about the design of the parks from the Imagineers’ perspective – yes, that’s obvious – and then give you a lot of little insights into the designs.

Like the fact that everything in Future World East is angular and hard-sculpted, and everything in Future World West is free-flowing and rounded.  Or that there is a “geographical and chronological transition” between The Haunted Mansion to Big Thunder Mountain, as the design of the areas flow from the Hudson River Valley in the early 1700s (Haunted Mansion) to a journey west across the United States, stretching up to the late 19th century.

The books are laid out section-by-section of each park with stories, concepts, details, histories… just everything.  There’s a lot that hardcore Disney fans will probably know but there is so much that there may be things even they *don’t* know.  I’m not going to suggest facts that people might not know yet because I think it would vary person-by-person and I don’t want to sound stupid. “Bet you didn’t know that John Hench suggested that Spaceship Earth be made in two pieces with the bottom part hanging from the top!”  “Uh, DUH.”

The interior of the Epcot book, again not my picture; displayed in a post here: http://waltswriters.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/the-imagineering-field-guide-series-epcot/

The interior of the Epcot book, again not my picture; displayed in a review post (with more detail than mine) here: http://waltswriters.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/the-imagineering-field-guide-series-epcot/

Another feature of the books that I really like is at the beginning, the same in all titles.  The first few pages of each book comprise a section called “Imagineering 101” and it just covers the history of Imagineering, Imagineering Lingo (very informative), and my favourite, WDI Disciplines.  If you are interested in working as an Imagineer, this basically gives you a list of your job options.  I’m not looking for a career as an Imagineer and yet I STILL love this part. It just gives such an amazing description of all the things that the Imagineers do.  All this stuff you’d never realize.  Like “Character Paint”.  Guess what that is?  “Character Paint creates the reproductions of various materials, finishes, and states of aging whenever we need to make something new look old.”

Also included are plenty of pictures, concept art, designs, blueprints, and quotes and quick facts.  The whole thing is illustrated in a variety of ways, not only by visual images but with brief presentations.  You know, I’m suddenly remembering how long it’s been since I read these…

So honestly – these are a great, great buy. I have no attention span whatsoever so the fact that these can be read bit by bit is a huge plus. Actually I read some of them aloud in the car once on the way to the beach! (I promise I was not driving at the time.)  Of course, with recent park updates, they are not the most up-to-date information available but just for historical info and trivia, these books are top-notch.

Animal Kingdom and MGM/Hollywood Studios are also available. I haven’t read them but I can only imagine they’d be just as good. The cover price on my copies is $9.95 and on Amazon it looks like they’re around a dollar less than that!

Review: The Garden Grill Restaurant

 

To be honest, I'm not 100% sure if this is still the logo. But it works.

To be honest, I’m not 100% sure if this is still the logo. But it works.

 

As far as character dining experiences go, one of my all-time favourites is the Garden Grill in Epcot.  I’ve been two times, and both times were terrific!

Now one thing I’ll say up front, before I delve into the review, is that I am not a picky eater.  I can be happy with somewhat mediocre food so long as the experience is unique or exciting over all.  (We’ve all heard about me and the Sci-Fi Dine-In.)  So when it comes to Garden Grill, I’m definitely ranking it based more on the character interactions than on the actual MEAL.

With that said, read on for some specifics!

This is how they bring out the dishes, btw. :)

This is how they bring out the dishes, btw. 🙂

Garden Grill, as I said, is located in Epcot.  Specifically it’s in the Land Pavilion, on the same floor as the entrance; you enter, walk past the Circle of Life, and the restaurant is just before the escalators that take you down towards Soarin’, Living With the Land, and Sunshine Seasons.  As I also said, it’s a character dining experience with visits from Chip and Dale, Pluto, and Farmer Mickey.

One novel aspect of the restaurant is that it rotates – very slowly, throughout your meal.  It’s such a slow rotation that it’s not at all disorienting and you can’t even really feel the motion; you just see your view changing, bit by bit, the whole time.  Usually you’ll get a little over one full rotation in the timespace of the average meal.  Another novel aspect of the restaurant is that it actually overlooks part of the Living With the Land ride; there is a balcony section you’ll rotate past, and when you look out over that balcony you can see the boats going past, and the buffalo and farmhouse scenes.

The character interactions have been top-notch, both times I’ve eaten there; the first time was without kids and the second time was with.  Both times, we got a lot of attention, particularly from Chip.  In fact, I’d say our best actual experience was with just me and my husband and Chip; Chip messed with my husband incessantly.  He put packets of sugar onto his head and at one point he picked up a pile of sugar packets, opened each, and started pouring them one at a time into my husband’s lemonade.  Staring at him the entire time. “You gonna stop me?  Does this bug you?”  OMG I died.  He also gave us his “agent’s” name and phone number when Dan asked if Chip would come live in our Christmas tree that winter.  “Mickey M” and a “Big Cheese” 800 number. XD  Dan also got complimented on his Pink Floyd shirt by Pluto, who apparently has a classic rock taste in music. 😀

The munks are such huggers.

The munks are such huggers.

Our second visit was a birthday dinner (slightly early) for my daughter.  We were given VERY attentive service from the waitress, who towards the end brought out a birthday card signed by all the characters; visits from the Disney friends were all excellent.  Man, my daughter was so beyond thrilled to meet Mickey, she just loved him! And she’d already met him twice that trip! 😀 But this was our first character meal, and having him come to the table to hang out with us was like, new and different. 😉  I still feel like the chipmunks were the top of the experience; they were charming, danced with my daughter and played with my son who was 18 months at the time.  They really seemed taken with him.  Pluto was also super sweet with him and a super-hugger for both kids.

No meal is complete without a Mickey!

No meal is complete without a Mickey!

Funny story: at one point the kids and I got up to look around the full restaurant and see all of it without waiting for it to come by (haha), and as we walked, my daughter saw Mickey arrive at a table of other kids.  “MICKEY!” she squealed, and if I hadn’t caught her around the waist and lifted her off the ground she would have run off to him and tackled him. XD  OH THE EXCITEMENT!

So regarding food; well, I like it.  It’s not amazing food, this is not one of their high-end restaurants, but it’s food I enjoy.  You can find the most up-to-date menu here from AllEars.net.  The restaurant is a Family-Style meal, meaning it’s fixed price, fixed menu (although they will always accommodate allergies or dietary restrictions; it’s recommended that you ask in advance!) and that you can ask for more of anything you want seconds on – or thirds, fourths, etc.

Peekaboo!

Peekaboo!

I believe that all – and if not all, definitely most – of the food served at the Garden Grill is actually grown in the Land.  I guess probably not the turkey or beef (lol), but the fish are raised there, and all vegetables are from their greenhouse.

The bread basket comes first, and is pretty standard.  I remember it being pretty tasty, but I am generally easy to please when it comes to bread. 😀 I can actually go without the maple butter, as I’m not a fan of sweeter spreads on my bread products. (Conversely I rarely put butter onto pancakes, ick.)  Most everything else comes all at once.  The meats are good. We had tilapia for the fish.  They consistently have beef, turkey, and fish, but the presentation changes; rather than “red wine butter” we had a cranberry relish, and instead of “lemon caper sauce” we had gravy and stuffing with the turkey breast.  The fish was breaded.  It sounds like they’re trying to move away from the “country style” food presentation here and make it more of a classier selection.  Not having had any of the new presentation I can’t comment, but I’ll miss the gravy and stuffing.  On the other hand, the caramelized onion mashed potatoes actually sounds really good, as does the red wine butter with the beef. (Again, I’d rather avoid sweetened stuff with dinner for the most part.)

The childrens’ meal when we were there was not turkey breast as above, but chicken legs, served with sweet potato French fries, and macaroni and cheese.  (The broccoli was the same.)  There’s a clear effort to health-up the kids meals in effect now since they’ve subbed out rice pilaf for the mac and cheese, turkey breast for the chicken legs, and fruit cup for the sweet potato fries.  I know I’m not the one eating it, but I won’t miss the mac&cheese (though my m&c-loving daughter sure would), but I do kind of miss the sp fries.  My daughter didn’t care for them but my son did and I was happy to eat the rest. 😉

Now to be honest, I don’t remember our dessert. Currently it’s bread pudding, and skillet cake with vanilla bean whipped cream; I’m wanting to say there was something to do with berries when we went but I might be making that up.  However, I know for a fact that they used to have a special kids-only dessert, a variation on dirt and worms; they definitely had that on our first visit, though we didn’t get it since we were kidless.  On our last visit the kids got a kind of cookies-and-cream… thing; they came with two oreo-style cookies and a blob of what I thought at first was cookies and cream ice cream, but came to realize was a kind of whipped cream instead.  Now, I’m not clear on whether this was their standard kids’ dessert of the time or if they were doing this as a birthday special for my daughter; hers came with a candle in it 😀  But either way, it was CRAZY popular.

Definite success on the cookies n' cream.

Definite success on the cookies n’ cream.

Any dessert that gets you messy will be popular with this guy.

Any dessert that gets you messy will be popular with this guy.

 

So. I love this restaurant and will definitely go back, not on my next visit (not enough time for a sit-down meal), but the next family visit.  It is always worth it, and I highly recommend. 🙂

Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

It’s not that often that I get to see new movies. 🙂  The reasons are lengthy but boil down to: I only see 1-2 movies in a theatre per year and at least one is a child’s movie, I don’t have cable, and I only have streaming Netflix and not the discs so basically, if it ain’t on Netflix, the chances are not that great that I’m going to see it. Plus I split the kids-movie detail with my husband, so I see about half of the main releases. (This means that to date I STILL have not seen Wreck-It Ralph. I know.  No, really, I know. ^_~)

Anyway!  When I recently took a long work trip to San Francisco, I had a six-hour flight both ways.  Lucky me. 🙂 On the return flight the DirecTV option was free for some reason!  So I took advantage, and although “Wreck-It Ralph” was available, I (for reasons that are valid but I won’t go into) opted to save that for later and selected “Oz The Great and Powerful”.

I'm sure if you actually see it in 3D, it's like being inside this poster.

I’m sure if you actually see it in 3D, it’s like being inside this poster.

When I heard of the movie’s upcoming release, about a year or so ago, I wasn’t sure what I thought about it.  I am well-used to Disney doing really awful live action movies.  Even the recent ones that I’ve enjoyed (“Tron Legacy” for instance) have been more like… “I’m not sure why I’m enjoying this, because I can see EVERY SINGLE TURN this script is going to take, but I like it anyway!”  On the other hand, Sam Raimi and I are old friends who go way back.  Yep.  We are buds.  I won’t take this line of thinking so far as to let anyone think I’ve actually met him, oh no, but like… I saw “Army of Darkness” when I was in college, so… 😉  No, but seriously, I did discover the whole Evil Dead thing when I was the appropriate age, and I have a fierce love of Bruce Campbell – as everyone should – and you can’t really separate Bruce from Sam. I mean, if you love Bruce you have to at least like Sam because Bruce is in nearly every movie Sam makes; conversely, if you love Sam, you have to at least like Bruce, for the same reason. *G*  It doesn’t hurt that I adore Bruce, who comes across as the most incredibly snarky yet still honestly NICE guy ever, and Sam is a really INTERESTING and inventive director.  I – um… this is really turning into an unnecessary digression, isn’t it. 😦  *Ahem*

So the thing I like about Sam Raimi is that he’s got a very recognizable style. I really appreciate and like directors where you can look at a movie and say “Yep, that’s Sam Raimi!” or substitute, say, “Wes Anderson”, “Tim Burton”, etc.  So my hopes were mixed for this film, because Sam Raimi is a great director, but Disney has – pardon me but it’s true – ruined films by good directors before this.  I also dislike prequels as a rule, but that is not a subject I’ll go into here. 🙂  SO – I was wary.  I heard good reviews but I was still wary, because a lot of times I and the general movie-going public disagree. *G*

Well, here’s the spoiler-free Teal Dear (TL;DR = Too Long; Didn’t Read) summed up version: I liked it.  I had issues with a few things, but I liked it over all and I call it a solid film from Sam and a successful live action film from Disney. Yay!

She is never not adorable. Seriously.

She is never not adorable. Seriously.

Here’s the spoiler-free longer, but still not too long, version: I really liked it as a standalone movie.  I went into it without any spoilers so other than most of the cast I didn’t know what to expect.  I did have some issues with a little bit of the casting but most of it was excellent, particularly Rachel Weisz.  The film was a little bit pat in spots, but one of my favourite things was the China Girl – not for how cute she was, though she is adorable, but for the way that she links back to the opening sequence.  Also, an issue that I have with 3D movies is that I normally don’t see them in 3D (remember what I said early on about not seeing them in theatres often, and even when I do I usually opt for the cheaper 2D), and when you view a film in 2D that was created for 3D, the sequences with the 3D effects usually stand out. Painfully, sometimes (like “Hugo”).  But Sam Raimi’s visual style lends itself extremely well to 3D, and as a result, there are very few moments where the scene’s effects fall flat without the 3D aspect present.  In particular the twister scene is excellent; I can see how it would be enhanced with 3D, but it’s really well-composed even without it and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.

I was less impressed with the hat flying out at you, since that was more obvious, but ya know.  Raimi likes flying objects. 😉

I wasn’t able to view this film as a prequel, or as related to the Oz books by Baum.  Why?  Well, although Disney had to avoid all direct references to the MGM movie from 1939, they still seemed to follow that film’s continuity rather than the books’.  Having read the books a lot throughout my youth and now going back to them with my kids, the movie bears very little similarity to the books.  The Wicked Witch is not green in those books, Glinda is not the witch of the North, lots of other things.  They DO pick up extra details from the books: the Quadlings, the China Dolls, some of the beasts that the Wicked Witch commands.  There are also direct visual cues that clearly are inspired by the MGM film even though they’re not replicas of them: Glinda travelling by bubble, etc.  So – this movie feels like it’s intended to be a prequel to the MGM movie even though, by legal rights, it can’t be.  It isn’t based on any existing Oz stories and it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be linked to that world.

The Wizard himself... duh. :)

The Wizard himself… duh. 🙂

Having said that, it does not work for me as a prequel either, and here’s why: James Franco.  I think he gives an excellent performance and is a real natural; but if you look at his performance in this movie, and then you look at Frank Morgan at the end of “The Wizard of Oz” and how he presents the character, it’s night and day. I cannot see James Franco developing into that man, pure and simple. 🙂  I mean, it would be nice for Franco’s Oz to say, in his old age, “No my dear, I’m a very good man, I’m just a very bad wizard”, but that’s not who this character is.  There are also aspects of the Oz and Glinda relationship that make me want, on a personal level, to keep this movie separate from the MGM film.  And I’m not talking about a romantic relationship, but if I go into it, I’ll be giving spoilers. I’m trying to avoid the spoilers.

My casting issues are mainly with the Wicked Witch of the West.  I just don’t buy her.  I actually love her origin but I don’t buy her performance, I’m afraid.  Not her fault, I think she was just miscast.  If you don’t know who plays her… DON’T look it up.  It’s worth not knowing for the scene when you find out. 😀  That was one area where I was kept guessing for a little while, and I enjoyed that.  I liked Glinda, but I thought the interpretation of her character was a little one-note.  She’s smart and strong, and that’s great, but she also ends up boring.  There are ways to have a female character be strong and inspiring and GOOD without having her be dull.  I felt the women characters in this didn’t quite make the grade; the most interesting ones are evil, and the good ones are uninteresting. 😛

The Oz Ladies. There are differing reasons why I feel like each of them is kind of an incomplete character, but they're also all kind of awesome in their own way.

The Oz Ladies. There are differing reasons why I feel like each of them is kind of an incomplete character, but they’re also all kind of awesome in their own way.

So!  I recommend this movie, I think it’s appropriate for kids ages… let’s say, ages 8 and up?  I think anyway… And I’d like to see it again.  I’m really looking for someone I can discuss it with, but nobody I know has seen it yet, so if you want to have an in-depth discussion in the comments I am ALL for that! 😀

 

I actually like how they "updated" the whole travel-by-bubble effect from the MGM movie.

I actually like how they “updated” the whole travel-by-bubble effect from the MGM movie.

 

I do hope that Disney does something else with the Oz rights, though.  The books are SO good, and I love that they tried to adapt “Ozma of Oz” before – back in the 1980s with “Return to Oz”  – but it’s too bad that film turned out the way it did.  I love it, and I loved it when I saw it in 1985, but it really is messed up.  They took what was already a story with a few slightly weird/frightening elements and made parts of it downright sinister – changing the gnomes from funny little elf-like guys into giant creepy rock faces, having Mombi take over Oz, and LORD ABOVE, committing Dorothy to an asylum at the beginning for electro-shock therapy…!  WHO MADE THESE CHANGES? 😀  There’s so much whimsy in the Oz books, and some of it is dancing the edge of creepy, but it’s never sinister.  I hope Disney knows enough to blame the creative changes and NOT the original content for the failure of Return to Oz, because they have huge amounts of material to mine in order to make another Oz movie and I’d hate to see that wasted. Especially since they’re basically holding those stories hostage so that no one else can do them, either. 😛

Top 5: Most Overrated Places to Eat at WDW

 

Some weeks ago, I asked friends for ideas for blog posts.  Specifically Top 5 ones.  I got two ideas and it’s taken me forever to get around to writing up just the first of the two… but here it is.  On the advice of a friend who cared enough to bother to suggest a topic, here are the Top 5 Most Overrated Restaurants on Disney Property!  … Kind of.

I haven’t eaten at that many restaurants on Disney property.  Most of the ones I have eaten at, I’ve enjoyed.  So this isn’t based on experience – mostly – but rather, on research and opinion and conjecture.  Hey, it worked when I did a Top 5 Places to get Cupcakes, when I’ve never eaten a single cupcake at WDW!  In any case, this list isn’t meant to give REVIEWS of the restaurants.  Just because a restaurant is on this list doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad. It just is a way of saying that it doesn’t live up to the buzz of expectation, whatever that expectation may be.  It might be a perfectly good and enjoyable restaurant but if it has a reputation that makes you expect more than you will necessarily get, it’s potentially overrated.  That’s what its inclusion here means.  So it’s very possible that if you adjust your expectations somewhat, you’ll enjoy it more.  OR maybe not! Maybe you can keep high expectations and they’ll be met!  Things change all the time at WDW and they certainly want to please their customers, so someone’s previous letdown experience does not equal an absolute.

In other words, however much research I put into this, it remains my opinion (often based on the opinions of others). I can say I did not ever just say “Hmm, I don’t know, I’m going to just pick any random restaurant and stick it on here”, I only put things on this list for a reason; but I can also guarantee that you don’t agree with me 100% so your favourite restaurant might be on here and you might be like, fighting down the urge to strangle me while reading this.  Please calm down and remember this is just a blog post and I’m not actually reviewing, nor am I telling anyone to avoid these restaurants. I encourage everyone to try each Disney restaurant for themselves and make up their own minds!

And now, on with the show. 🙂

Because this is totally what my kitchen looked like when I was growing up. Photo (c) The Walt Disney Co.

Because this is totally what my kitchen looked like when I was growing up. Photo (c) The Walt Disney Co.

#5: 50s Prime Time Cafe (with runner up, Sci-Fi Dine-In)

Okay. I said it. Be it known that I actually like 50s Prime Time, quite a bit actually, though I have only eaten there twice and the last time was in 2005. The first time was fantastic – after a long wait where we then learned that “Mom” had lost our order, our waitress/big sister was so apologetic that we actually got half our meal comped and then were presented with a free banana split for dessert before we left. We were all stuffed, but agreed that since it was free and such a nice gesture we should eat it anyway, which we did, and although I probably felt like throwing up afterwards I only remember the kindness of it.

More recently though, we learned the rule of 50s – the staff won’t necessarily play with you. See, I’m shy and I don’t initiate interactions well in real life; my husband is a lot better about it, but when I took him to 50s, it was just the two of us, we were both on the quiet side, so the waitress/our cousin just… waited on us. I even deliberately sat with my elbows on the table when she walked by just to see if she’d say anything, but nada. 😛 She played a lot with the larger table near us, even making one of the party go stand outside for not eating his green beans, so it wasn’t her spirit. She just had us pegged as not interested in the games, which wasn’t true, and I had NO idea how to get around that.

So, you know, that’s enough to get me to put it onto The List. It’s not that it’s a bad restaurant, but the danger with a themed restaurant is that you go in expecting a particular experience, and you may not get that experience. I didn’t actually, believe it or not, go for the food. *G* The food is not BAD, by the way. (My meatloaf was good, but a little sweet, which might have been b/c I was pregnant and things sometimes tasted weird to me at the time.) And it’s not like it’s over-priced. This is just a pure experience-based overrating, and it’s completely disputable b/c many, many people will have a different experience.

If you always have exactly the experience you want at 50s, well, worry not; I’m also including Sci-Fi Dine-In on here as a tie/runner up. And Sci-Fi is actually among my favourite restaurants. But I like it explicitly for the atmosphere, not the food. Again, food is not bad, it’s just not the focus. You’re really there for the setup and decor, the whole “inside/outside drive-in” thing. I love it. My husband, not so much. Sci-Fi tends to have its very loyal fans, like myself, and then the people who really cannot stand it, and that’s just how it is; and frankly, I’ll be honest, anything that is so divided is perfectly suited for an “overrated” list. Because I can honestly recommend Sci-Fi due to my love of it, but I also know there’s a good chance the person I recommend it to will find it very underwhelming. Them’s the breaks. *g*

If it is good enough for Tina Fey then it is GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME I tells ya.  Photo (c) The Walt Disney Co.

If it is good enough for Tina Fey then it is GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME I tells ya. Photo (c) The Walt Disney Co.

#4: Yak & Yeti.

You can't call it just another Chinese restaurant! I bet you've never been in a Chinese restaurant with this décor! Photo (c) the Walt Disney Co.

You can’t call it just another Chinese restaurant! I bet you’ve never been in a Chinese restaurant with this décor! Photo (c) the Walt Disney Co.

My disclaimer applies here; I haven’t eaten at this restaurant. I’ve only been to Animal Kingdom once since it opened. But this is going purely from reviews, and from what I’ve seen people mention on social media. And from what I’ve heard Y&Y is another divided opinion: some people swear by it as one of the best in-park restaurants, and some people say it’s just your average chinese/asian food. I’ve read reports that the food is overcooked, overseasoned, or just not interesting. I’ve heard that the crispy honey chicken (was that it?) is amazing, and also that it’s disgusting.

So, keeping in mind that this list isn’t a *review*, precisely, more of a “your experience may vary from what you might expect”, and also in that I’m trying to put some variety into the places that the restaurants come from (like, not ALL from Epcot), here’s Animal Kingdom’s Yak & Yeti. Buyer Beware, I guess. I’ve also heard from people who say that they just don’t bother with it b/c they don’t even like Chinese food, which is an important thing to keep in mind, heh. But mainly, if you’re promised a restaurant experience that is better quality than what you’d get from a food court stand in the mall, you know, you want that to live up to it. I’ve heard mixed reviews on whether Yak & Yeti pulls that off.

#3: Chef Mickey’s.

I still maintain that this is somehow reminiscent of an airport... photo (c) The Walt Disney Co.

I still maintain that this is somehow reminiscent of an airport… photo (c) The Walt Disney Co.

I have eaten here. It was extremely expensive and I was struck by the fact that they have you wait to get your picture taken with a prop – not a character but a prop – then that is not even included in the price. Akershus, you get a picture with Belle and it’s included! But Chef Mickey’s it’s not? I was disappoint.

The food was fine, it was your standard very huge breakfast spread, nothing fancy or special; I feel like usually when you do a character breakfast buffet, your expectations for the food are not the important part. You’re not going for the food above all else, or you’d have gone someplace else. You’re going to meet the characters. Right? Well, I will say, the characters were great. 🙂 We didn’t end up doing any dances, and actually my daughter missed most of them – not her fault, she was in the bathroom and in fact later that day it turned out she got sick 😦 – but they spent a LOT of time with my 18 month old son, even sitting down at the table to hang out with us.

Still it felt like we were missing something, somehow. The restaurant is so HUGE, and I couldn’t go get food without being afraid we were going to miss the characters going by. And really, I’m still kind of miffed over the cost NOT including the photo. I know that’s minor (and it wasn’t that great a photo anyway), but it’s the start of the whole thing and it kind of left a bad taste in my mouth.

#2: Coral Reef.

I will admit, I do like the impression that you are actually Unda Da Sea, as it were. Photo (c) The Walt Disney Co.

I will admit, I do like the impression that you are actually Unda Da Sea, as it were. Photo (c) The Walt Disney Co.

This is another one I haven’t eaten at, but I’ve been hearing this in terms of reviews forever, now. I love seafood, and I’d actually love to eat at Coral Reef just for the experience and decor; it’s a lovely idea to be surrounded by live fish durin your meal. But what I keep hearing is that the food itself is actually just standard. You’re not getting terribly great selections, the portions are small, and it’s expensive. You’re basically paying for the atmosphere – well, OK, and granted that’s what you’re doing at Sci-Fi. 😉 But the price difference between Sci-Fi and Coral Reef is a pretty significant one, so there’s that.

Here’s a review that showcases what I’m talking about, on the DIS Unplugged website: http://www.disunplugged.com/2009/04/02/the-coral-reef-review/

Here’s a less negative one that still mentions that the food is by far the low point: http://goflorida.about.com/od/wheretoeat/fr/wdw_epcot_coralreef.htm

And here’s a nice positive one from the Disney Food Blog, because I want to remind folks that every visit is different, and every expectation can’t always be met, so you may very well have a TERRIFIC time anywhere you go at Disney: http://www.disneyfoodblog.com/2012/02/15/guest-review-coral-reef-restaurant/

Again, my only point here is not to dissuade or give negative reviews, only to say… well, this might be a bit built-up based on how it’s presented. 🙂

#1: You probably know what I’m going to say. When I was researching for this list, the same restaurant kept coming up over and over in every article I read (and I had already put this restaurant onto my list before I started the research, just based on what I’ve heard).

Le Cellier Overrated House? Photo (c) The Walt Disney Co.

Le Cellier Overrated House? Photo (c) The Walt Disney Co.

Le Cellier Steakhouse in Epcot.

If you’re at all familiar with fine Disney dining then you have probably already heard this complaint. I myself have never eaten at Le Cellier (it’s too pricey for my range, and too fancy even when I’m on the DDP), but I’ve heard buzz about it being overrated for YEARS now. To be on the fair side, I made sure to find as recent reviews as I could just to make sure that this was up to date, because Disney revamps its restaurants all the time – changing menus, prices and experiences.

And this is what I’ve heard. Essentially, Le Cellier was always expensive. This made it a good selection if you were on the DDP, since you’d get more for your Dining Plan money. The food was generally good, though from what I’ve read, not brilliantly great, but good enough to deserve the prices it had. It was/is a fancy, nice restaurant. A few years ago, though, Disney elevated it to Signature Dining status for dinner; meaning that on the DDP, you’d have to use 2 credits to dine there in the evening, instead of one. They also upped the prices without changing the food.

Many people who liked the restaurant but not enough to put down two credits/extra cash continued to go for lunch, which was all well and good, until the past year or so when Disney did away with the lunch/dinner menu and went to single dining menu. Meaning same prices all day, or two DDP credits all day.

So now the consensus is that, again, the food is not BAD. It’s just not Victoria-&-Albert’s-level GOOD, either; so there is a high percentage of people who consider it very overrated for the status it’s achieved. Whereas I NEVER see anyone say that about V&E. So we’ll see.

Some reviews: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/le-cellier-review/ (very recent, April 2013, from the Disney Tourist Blog)
http://www.disneyfoodblog.com/2011/03/27/review-new-le-cellier-signature-dinner/ (From 2011, just after they got Signature Dining Status for dinner, by disney Food Blog)
http://www.mousesavers.com/walt-disney-world-restaurant-review-le-cellier/ (Mouse Savers review, very positive for the food but does note the “spendy” aspect of the restaurant)