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.

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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 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. 😛

Disney Cover CD Review: Kenny Ball

Trumpeter, vocalist and front man, Kenny Ball. Image (c) Solihull Arts Complex, solihullartscomplex.co.uk

Trumpeter, vocalist and front man, Kenny Ball. Image (c) Solihull Arts Complex, solihullartscomplex.co.uk

I’m often on the lookout for different Disney music, especially cover albums. I love covers of pre-existing songs – there’s something really neat about hearing an old favourite being remade in a new way. And with Disney music there are so many old favourites and so many great new spins on them!

Not to say I automatically love anything; I tend not to like anything autotuned, for example. It’s glaring even when it’s kind of subtle, and it’s an instant turnoff for me, so a lot of the pop covers are out. (There are a few times when I can put up with it if I like the song enough.)

Also, not a major fan of Marilyn Manson’s cover of “This Is Halloween”. Just sayin’. (Although this one year on Halloween a radio station played it and I did kind of have to listen and sing along a little bit b/c it was on Halloween and I was desperate for ANYthing on the radio; but I was relieved when it was followed by Rob Zombie’s “Dragula”, a much more worthy song, IMO. BUT I DIGRESS.)

Well, while listening one day to some streaming Disney station or other (I listen to so many that I can’t be sure which one it was – this was 2 years ago), a really neat, slightly Dixieland style cover of “Under The Sea” came on. It was like a neat mix of the music from my two favourite Disney movies, “The Little Mermaid” and “Princess and the Frog”, so I looked up info.

Turns out it was a cover by Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen, from an album called – wait for it – Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen In Disneyland. This was just before my birthday so I immediately emailed my husband and said “Buy me this!”

And he did. 🙂

I am reasonably sure that is not actually Disneyland behind him. Image (C) Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen/? Can't find info as to the recording house.

I am reasonably sure that is not actually Disneyland behind him. Image (C) Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen/? Can’t find info as to the recording house.

You can get it various places – it’s an import, and somewhat hard to find off the internet, but it is available on Amazon. (Hey. If you shop at Amazon, go to MickeyMutineers.com and click their Amazon banner to do your shopping. Just saying.) It came out in 1999 or so and thus it doesn’t have most of the recent movies, but the Little Mermaid and Aladdin tracks are just as great as their version of songs from The Jungle Book and Snow White!

Not every single track on it is perfect – I can skip “Everybody Wants to Be A Cat” and “My Romance”, and I actually don’t care for “Circle of Life” due to the buzziness of the trumpet. But most of the songs are better and a few are worth the entire album on their own. This is great for when I’ve listened to every Disney song in its original form five or six times over and need something a little different. Look up Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen where you can, and let me know if you enjoy as much as I do!

If you have a favourite Disney cover album, leave a comment and let me know!

Review: The Magic Kingdom’s Harmony Barbershop

Here’s the five-word review: I love the Harmony Barbershop.

If you feel a need to read more, however, I’ve got plenty. 🙂

This is the place!  The pole means it's legit.

This is the place! The pole means it’s legit.

So the only place I really enjoy getting my hair cut is the Harmony Barbershop.  This is too bad because it’s about 900 miles from my house, give or take 20 miles.  Everywhere else makes me nervous because the people who do the cutting always seem to feel a need to comment on how poorly I take care of my hair or something, as if I don’t know that only getting it cut twice a year leads to lots of split ends, or as if this is going to make me want to come back and be harangued again in two months.  But!  This is not so at Harmony!  Instead we talk about things I like, such as Disney World, for instance.  I have had two very nice haircuts done there, both with a pixie-dusted ending, and last time I forewent my own cut and let my kids have a go.  That was a mixed experience; my daughter loved it (and had an amusing chat with another customer while they were both waiting their turns), but my son, having his first haircut at age 1 1/2, was less enthusiastic.  The CM who cut his hair handled him extremely well and even kept him smiling and happy until about midway through.  For the record – it is STILL, two years later, nearly impossible to get him to submit to a haircut.  I have to do it myself because it takes DAYS to talk him into it and I usually have to let him watch a video of Splash Mountain on YouTube while we do it.  So Harmony Barbership is still the ONLY place he’s had a haircut, other than home.

Now for some specifics!

First of all, if this is all entirely new to you and you’ve never even heard of Harmony Barbershop, it is located on Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom, near the horse stables.  It’s tucked away to the side, on the left near the trolley tracks.  Last I checked, they do accept walk-ins, but it’s a small shop and if there is more than one person ahead of you waiting, you will wait for a WHILE.  This is actually the case even if you make reservations (which you can do). So don’t expect to be in and out in like, 20 minutes… it can be up to an hour.  Having said that, though, I feel it’s worth the wait so long as you know what you’re getting into.

As with everywhere else in WDW, the CMs have uniforms, which I find charming.  There are oversized novelty scissors, too.  And it’s really surprising to me that the staff is, in fact, really GOOD at cutting hair.  I guess it shouldn’t be such a surprise but who thinks they’re going to be getting a great haircut at a theme park?  Well, you know, this is Disney so there it is. 😉

I didn't specifically take any "before" pics of my hair the last time I had it cut there, but this shot includes the back of my head :P

I didn’t specifically take any “before” pics of my hair the last time I had it cut there, but this shot includes the back of my head 😛

And here's an "after" shot - cute, curly, and apparently I am infatuated with Goofy. (This was my birthday dinner.)

And here’s an “after” shot – cute, curly, and apparently I am infatuated with Goofy. (This was my birthday dinner.)

For children, there is an utterly adorable “First Haircut” package that you can get which comes with special mouse ears and a certificate. I took photos and movies throughout my son’s haircut and captured his decline from amusement to frustration to eventual “WHY ARE YOU NOT PICKING ME UP” by the end, but he was positively shaggy the first three days of our trip and looked like a delightful little man at the end.  The CM did this while he was screaming towards the end so I give her immense props, not just for being a good hair stylist but for putting up with a screaming 18-month-old. 😀  Anyway here is just a fraction of the drama as it went down:

The CM had him touch everything before she used it, to warm him up

The CM had him touch everything before she used it, to warm him up

He loved the R2D2 spinner thing.

He loved the R2D2 spinner thing.

He also loved the spray bottle - at first. He laughed pretty loud the first few times she spritzed him.

He also loved the spray bottle – at first. He laughed pretty loud the first few times she spritzed him.

Another thing - the CM encouraged my husband to hang around and distract him instead of acting like he was in the way.

Another thing – the CM encouraged my husband to hang around and distract him instead of acting like he was in the way.

This is pretty far into it and he's still reasonably happy!

This is pretty far into it and he’s still reasonably happy!

Aaand there we go.  But by this point we have achieved Small Man haircut.

Aaand there we go. But by this point we have achieved Small Man haircut.

Not a fan of the mouse ears at first. In fact it was about a month before he wanted them at all.

Not a fan of the mouse ears at first. In fact it was about a month before he wanted them at all.

See how handsome!

See how handsome!

As for my daughter, she has had multiple haircuts professionally and was more than ready to submit to this.  Not that we didn’t take plenty of photos but they’re not as entertaining. 😉  So instead here’s a before, during, and after:

My daughter is the blonde. The shorter one.

My daughter is the blonde. The shorter one.

No spinny thing for her!

No spinny thing for her!

So gorgeous! The next thing she said was "I want to go swimming now!" :P

So gorgeous! The next thing she said was “I want to go swimming now!” 😛

Prices at the Harmony Barbershop are $15-19 for adults, and kids 12 and under are $14.  You can get packages, similar to what they do at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (the basic stuff, that is – no costumes/manicures), with glitter and coloured gel.  They distract with bubbles and spinny shiny things, and even adults can get the pixie dust and Mickey stickers.  And although this has never happened to me, well, they call it “Harmony” for a reason – you can sometimes get serenaded by the Dapper Dans while you’re getting the cuts done.  I keep hoping next time will be my time. 😀

Review: The Campsites at Fort Wilderness

In 2008 I went on my first (and so far, only) solo trip to WDW. I’d been planning a family trip forever, intended for my daughter’s fifth birthday, and this trip was a surprise treat to myself for my 30th birthday in between that long, long five-year period of no Disney. (It was still nearly another 3 years before our family trip, which is a whole different story.)

At some point I’ll probably write up an abbreviated trip report, but for now I’m going to focus on the digs. The trip happened mainly because I was pricing out options for a vacation – you know, as you do – and though to check out how much it would cost if I stayed in a tent, by myself, for a long weekend. I was startled by how inexpensive it was. The campground and tickets together were only about $400. I just needed to get there, and since it was only me, the airfare was manageable too. So after going back and forth and harboring intense guilt at taking myself to WDW and leaving my family behind, I booked my trip to Fort Wilderness for three nights.

Here's the reception building circa 2008, aka, IWantToBeThere

Here’s the reception building circa 2008, aka, IWantToBeThere

I’ll skip everything that doesn’t pertain directly to the resort. I arrived there on Magical Express at around 10 am or so, did a pre-check in, and left my carry-on bag behind the desk. The staff was very nice and said that it would be no problem to come back in the evening and pick up my luggage there (since I didn’t technically have a “room”, Magical Express would leave my bags at the desk) and be taken care of then. So I went outside to the bus station to catch the bus to Hollywood Studios (which as I’ve said before is my automatic “First-Day Park”).

I took my time waiting, and wandered around. The whole of the resort is, of course, very rustic, and the front area has a stable with plenty of horses and a small attraction that celebrates the horses of Disney films, animated and non. I’ve also heard that the horse who leads the “Boo To You” parade at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, aka the Headless Horseman’s Horse (not to be confused with the Headless Horse), lives here too. I didn’t see him.

Trail rides area circa 2008 with real non-animatronic horsies

Trail rides area circa 2008 with real non-animatronic horsies

I didn’t spend a whole lot of time exploring the resort grounds, just got onto my bus and went, but I had read up on the resort and knew in advance that it’s big. It’s widely spread out and pretty much impossible to easily navigate without the inner bus system that they have in place. You have two inner bus lines that just go from the resort entrances to the various campsite/cabin loops, and the outer bus line which picks up from the entrance and takes you to the various parks. To get to the Magic Kingdom you can take a ferry, which is one of my favourite things about this location.

Choppy pre-storm waters. Oh, Florida.

Choppy pre-storm waters. Oh, Florida.

So, I stayed out at the park until about 8pm or so, then came back so I could set up my tent. (I am SO glad I did not stay for Fantasmic and get back later, because long story short, I totally failed at putting up my tent alone and another family had to come help me. Disney fans ROCK.) When I got back to the resort and went into the reception building to get my luggage and tent, the staff very kindly offered to drive me to my designated camp site instead of leaving me to the mercy of hte inner bus system and trying to find my site alone. I would’ve been SO lost. I had a nice conversation with the young lady who drove me there, as she asked what brought me there and then what my favourite Disney movie was; I ended up going into a lengthy train of thought musing on Ariel and Ursula and how they’re really two sides of the same coin and you could almost HEAR her eyes glazing over, but hey, she asked. 😉

Moving on and ignoring my troubles putting my tent up, once I settled down for the night, it was sooooo nice. The “comfort station” nearby with restrooms and showers was in close walking distance, and you needed the Key to the World card to get inside (both a huge improvement on some campgrounds I’ve been to), and even with plenty of other guests nearby it was peaceful and nice when I settled in. It was raining lightly, and I just lay there, dim lights seeping in through my tent (it was fully dark by now), quiet music and voices nearby, and I thought, I am here.

It was hot though, until about 2 am. I had to wake up and take off my overshirt, then wake up later and put it back on. XD

I woke up to birds and early morning light around 5:30 or so in the morning. My back was raginginly stiff but I felt good. I got up, bit by bit, and dressed to take a run on the jogging trail. I checked the resort map to get an idea of where to go, then headed out and followed the general direction and the signs. I passed by one of the pools – at the time, none were heavily themed, but since I’ve been they have refurbished the main one with more theming – as well as some other campsites, RVs, and barbeque pits and the like. I just walked until I got to the harbour area, which is where Trail’s End Restaurant is, as well as Hoop-De-Doo Review, the beach, and of course the ferries to the MK. From there it’s around the curve a bit and you’ll find the trail. It’s not all that long, only, as I recall, a little over a mile or so one way, and back. I ran all the way to Wilderness Lodge, and even at 6 am, it was *swampy*. I probably couldn’t have run longer even if the trail had been longer. Still, it was a good run, and I loved it because of where I was. 🙂

After getting back, showering, dressing, and eating a quick breakfast I set off to catch the bus to Epcot. Now, I thought to myself “I am young, healthy… I don’t need to wait for the bus to get me to the front of the resort! I’ll just walk there!” And I did. And I made it… but I immediately saw the need for the bus systems within the resort. It was not a walk I’d want to do twice in one day. It was long, not the easiest walk of all time even without the length, and much of it was not even near the campsites so there wasn’t much to see. So if you have no other transportation, and you’re weighing the options of either waiting for a bus or taking the time to walk… wait for the bus. It probably won’t take much longer (might even be shorter) and you can save your energy for walking around Epcot for 14 hours!

That night I got a ride back to the resort from a friend I met up with, and it was past 10 pm. I took the bus from the entrance to the campsite this time, having learned my doggone lesson. 😉 I had another good night but awoke, once again, at dawn. Oh, and: the famous Florida weather had brought up a few thunderstorms that day and like an idiot I had not secured my tent from weather. LESSON LEARNED. So I had to use my jogging clothes to mop up the puddle in my tent, and didn’t manage to jog again. Oh well.

The next morning I took my time getting ready, ate my own breakfast again, then went to catch the ferry to MK.

Here's the beach, actually circa 2011, because I'm cheating

Here’s the beach, actually circa 2011, because I’m cheating

I actually got there before it was running and had to wait a while. Finally a ferry arrived that was going to the Contemporary and they said we could take that. I jumped at the chance to ride the monorail, and took that ferry. It was a quick jaunt and I spent a long, happy day at the MK, getting back well past midnight. This time, coming from the harbour, I walked back to my campsite and had no qualms doing so.

The final morning, I had no park plans since my flight was leaving in the early afternoon; instead I had dining reservations at Trail’s End for breakfast with my friend. The breakfast was fabulous: not only inexpensive, not only incredibly filling, but each table had crayons and colouring sheets of “country”-themed Disney folks like Woody and the cows from “Home on the Range” (as if anyone wants to remember that film). After breakfast, we walked around the grounds, looking at the decor, the animals, and just killing time.

HORSIE!

HORSIE!

We examined the pool and went into one of the supply stores to look for souvenirs; I was still wearing my birthday button and a cast member asked me if I’d had a birthday call from Goofy. Since I hadn’t, they called for me and put him on, and I got a birthday serenade. 🙂

The ONLY downside of this entire trip was on my last morning: when I woke up, I wanted to get an early start so I packed up my tent. Remember I had NO transportation and with the tent, more bags than I could easily carry, so I didn’t love the idea of sticking it all onto the bus to get to the front of the resort. I had been told I could call the reception desk and ask for a pickup of my things when I checked out, so I did, and the CM argued with me about whether or not I really needed a pickup. I told her I had three bags and a heavy tent and would rather not stuff it onto the bus, and she suggested I leave all my things at the site and someone would come by within a few hours.(!) I think maybe it was a misunderstanding of my circumstances, since I’m sure they dont’ have that many people who show up with JUST A TENT, but it was an aberration of otherwise great, great service.

Anyway, after parting ways with my friend I checked out, then hung out waiting for the ME bus to go back to the airport. Sigh. The end result? I am doing this again, as soon as I can get the money together, with my now-seven-year-old daughter. She will LOVE it. I only got to experience a fraction of what Fort Wilderness has to offer, and I hope I can come back again and again and enjoy more of it.

The biggest advice I can give anyone is, be prepared. Know how to set up your tent. *lol* The “sand pits” they advertise are gravel, and not comfortable or easy to get the tent pegs into, so you’ll need a good hammer and a good sleeping mat. Secure your tent when you’re not in it. I had all my valuables with me so I was not worried at all about theft, but didn’t think about weather. 😛 Stuff like that – some things, you will only learn by experience, but always read up on other experiences to get an idea of what to expect.

And beyond that… enjoy it! Disney is probably the best camping experience you can ask for! 😀

Flame Tree BBQ – A Review

It’s Review Day at Disney With Me! I’m trying not to only do restaurants but BOY there are plenty of restaurants at WDW to review. (By the way, did anyone see my Boma review before WordPress ate it? I’m not kidding, it’s GONE. I’m peeved, it was an early post but a GOOD one. Anyway.) So today I thought I’d do a counter service restaurant, so as to get a little bit of variety in.

I had researched our dining options in Animal Kingdom in advance to try to figure out what would probably be the most family-pleasing, budget-friendly, and still thoroughly delicious place to grab quick food. I chose the Flame Tree Barbeque (or as you plebes would spell it, Barbecue, but I like my fancy-pants spelling better and will stick with it, unofficial or not), because first of all, “flame” and “barbeque” in the same cluster of words makes me drool.  I have no clue why. It just sounds so… so… flamey.  And barbequed.  It’s funny, because I’m not a meat fanatic and I’m not even that big on actual BBQs but… somehow that combo hits all the right spots in my brain to make me REALLY crave it.

Uh, but I digress (I think this is one of those “don’t type hungry” moments).  I picked this counter service restaurant out because they had a good variety of options and I was definitely looking for something non-pizza, and because the reviews on it were consistently very good.  After reading the menu at AllEars.net, I was doubly sure I had picked the right place.  Chicken?  Pork sandwich?  Ribs?  I am a ribs fanatic so they had me at “hello”.  (Ironic spoiler alert: I did not actually order the ribs.  Go figure.)  The kids’ menu was good, because although my children both love mac and cheese, it’s ubiquitous at WDW and I wanted someplace with OTHER options.  Same deal with chicken nuggets.  So the baked drumstick and the hot dog were music to my ears.

So what we ended up with was a drumstick for my daughter, a 1/2 chicken for me, 1/2 ribs for my husband, and my 1 1/2 year old son shared my chicken.  My daughter didn’t finish her chicken, but that was pretty standard for her at the time.  My husband said the ribs were very good, and I tried a bit so I know it’s true.  I loved the chicken.  I ’bout died over it.  Oh wow.  I know I said I’m a rib fanatic but I’m glad I got the chicken.  (Yes, you can get a rib/chicken combo; I didn’t because I have a weird thing about getting something different from what the hubs gets.)  It did not cost that much, and I had a hard time finishing it because it was so large.  There was no problem giving my son some without me feeling short changed.  Also, the beans and coleslaw that came with it were GOOD.  I don’t consider myself a big fan of coleslaw, but when it’s GOOD, I really like it.  This was some good slaw.  Beans aren’t all that hard to get right, so I don’t have a lot to say there. 😉  Funny thing: I don’t remember having dessert.  I’m pretty sure we did but I have NO idea. According to the menu, the desserts are mousse, and I just don’t remember having any mousse.  Chalk this up to a poor memory and not to it being underwhelming, okay? *G*

We also got two conservation pins, one for each kid, and a beautiful outdoor seating area with birds wandering around on all sides.  I don’t have any pics of my own to share so rather than nip off with someone else’s, here are the results of a Google Image search for you to enjoy!  (That chicken. I’m dying here.)

If ever in Animal Kingdom, this is my first and most vehement recommendation for a dining location.  Good food, good location and good prices.  I didn’t try the chicken salad but based on the quality of the food we did have, I’m willing to bet it’s great.  I have yet to read a bad review of this restaurant. 🙂  Admittedly, it is not the ideal place for a vegetarian to dine, but other than that – go!  Enjoy!

Vegetarians: Bradley Falls and Tamu Tamu Refreshments have a few good, and not-just-cheese-pizza, options.

Review: Guide to the Magic For Kids

So before I start, I want to make it clear that I chose to write this review, I have no affiliations at all with Tim Foster and I didn’t get any review copies or anything.

However, I am *willing* to do Disney-related product reviews if approached, you know, just saying. 😉

So! There’s a pretty decent chance you’ve heard of Tim Foster’s Guide to the Magic website and books. If you haven’t, they are travel guides to WDW that are largely photo-based and very nicely graphically designed. I’ve only seen the “Guide to the Magic For Kids”, which I ordered two years ago as a Christmas present for my daughter just before we went on our first trip together. I got the previous revision – it’s been recently update with information on New Fantasyland and the new Test Track, and I can’t speak to the quality of that information. Given what I know about Tim Foster from his appearances on WDW Radio, I’d have to assume it’s very well-researched.

In any case, I ordered the book a short while before the latest release was ready, so I had to wait a while to get it. Not a problem because it was shipping just in time for Christmas. The only downside? We moved while I was waiting, and I nearly forgot to email Tim with my updated address! I got him JUST before the book shipped so all was well.

Guide to the Magic for Kids cover (c) by Tim Foster, not by me

Guide to the Magic for Kids cover (c) by Tim Foster, not by me

The book, when it arrived, was so attractive and appealing that I wanted to read it all by myself. I should give a disclaimer that I am consistently fascinated by Disney guidebooks and I am prone to taking them out from the library and reading them like novels. You know, as you do. Anyway, the photos… oh, the photos. They’re great.

GttMfK is also interactive, which I love. It includes not just photos, descriptions and trivia of each attraction, but also stickers for each attraction to put on the corresponding pages; activities like checking off which monorails you’ve ridden on or which characters you’ve seen; a journal to list what you did each day, where you ate, what the weather was like, what park you visted; and there are scavenger hunts and hidden Mickey information, too.

Well obviously I was delighted with it, but what did my daughter think? Nearly five at the time, she loved it. She was just learning to read and this was a little over her head by herself, but there are so many photos that she didn’t need to read. We went through it to drive up our excitement pre-trip, brought it on the trip, went through it at night to recap our days and plan our next day, passed time with it on the monorails, and once we got home we finished filling it in, ranking favourite rides, and then got to use it to relive the memories and look up the things we hadn’t had a chance to do but would try for next time.

In short, I really recommend this book for kids, I’d say probably up to age 10 for certain; since my daughter is currently about to be 7 and is the eldest in the family, I don’t know how much past 10 it would go up to, but hey, I’m in my mid-30s and I love it. So there ya go.

The latest edition of GttMfK is currently on sale from the full price of $29.95 and is marked down by 33%, to $19.95 plus shipping and handling. You can also get an Autograph and Sticker Book, which I haven’t tried and can’t review, for $11.95 plus s&h. I give this book two thumbs up and really recommend it, especially as a pre-travel gift for a child who has never been to WDW!