Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A JOYOUS NIGHT AT THE MAGIC KINGDOM!

   I've had some great moments in my life.  Memorable events that will be recalled with pleasure often.  Of course most of them are family and spiritually oriented, but of all kinds of events, the Night of Joy 2014 will be high on my list of great  memories!  It actually combines "family" and "spiritual"!

   We bought tickets for the event in 2009, I was ready to see P.O.D. in concert, but when I came down with an illness (that didn't last long), we decided to skip it and stay in our room so that I could recover.  I missed seeing P.O.D. (at Disney Hollywood Studios that year), but looking back it did turn out to be for the best as I was able to recover, and go on to have a great vacation with my Wife.

   In 2011 we returned and attended the hard ticket event on one of the nights, enjoying a performance by Francesca Battistelli with 2 of our dearest friends.  It was a wonderful night, and left us saying that we wanted to do another WDW Night of Joy!

   When we saw the lineup for the 2014 event, we HAD to go, and we really wanted to attend both nights.  We purchased the tickets for Saturday night only, since Friday would be our travel and arrival day, we weren't sure if we'd have the energy to attend Friday's show.

   Even though Chris Tomlin, and "For King & Country" were performing on Friday, we were tired and decided to just use our fastpass+ for the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride before heading out of the park and resting up for the start of another WDW adventure.

   The way it works is you buy the separate tickets for the event, and can enter the park for the event a few hours before the scheduled start time, even though the event was "officially" scheduled for a 7:30pm start, those holding event tickets were allowed to enter at about 4:00pm.  They close the park to the general day guests, and you need the special wrist bands to remain in the park for the special events and rides.
The 2014 night of joy wristband for Sat. night

   After spending the day at Epcot, we went back to our room at Old Key West and rested a bit before getting ready for the big night.  As we were leaving Epcot, the clouds were rolling in, and the rain began.  It turned into a monster Thunderstorm, and it didn't look good for our chances.  We waited it out thinking that we may not leave the room that night, but as the storm started to let up, we grabbed our rain ponchos and headed out to the disney bus stop. It seems that we weren't the only ones who were determined to wait out the storm and head to the Magic Kingdom that night as the buses were pretty full!

Saturday's awesome lineup






   As we arrived there was a light rain falling, but it started to let up and eventually stopped just as we found a spot right behind the "Partners Statue" (you know, The bronze of Walt Disney holding Mickey Mouse's hand).  There are no seats for these events, yes, you have to stand for each performance, but honestly, once the music started, we forgot all about standing.

                    THE SETUP                 

   The setup is 3 different stages - The Castle stage, The Galaxy stage, and The Rocketeer Plaza stage.  3 or 4 different groups or performers play at different times for each stage.  Last time we saw Francesca Battistelli at the Galaxy stage in tomorrowland.  This time we saw MercyMe, Phil Perry, and Casting Crowns all at the Castle forecourt stage in the hub area between Main Street USA and Cinderella's castle.
Make sure you grab an event map when you enter the park!

   Since many of them are performing at the same time, you have to pick who you want to see and make plans to be at that stage at the right time. We had a hard time deciding between Colton Dixon (7:30 pm - Galaxy stage) or Mercy Me (7:40 pm - Castle stage), we decided to see MercyMe and then just stay put for Casting Crowns at 9:50 pm with Phil Perry doing a short set at 9:30 pm between bands.  That way we didn't have to leave the area and could see both of these awesome bands!

   Most of the rides, shops, and eateries are open so there is plenty for everyone to see and do all night long.  The park remained open until 1:00 am.

We were very happy with the viewing spot we found to start the evening


           THE MUSIC                        

   MercyMe took the stage and were great, playing many of their hits including "I can only imagine" & "Move".  There was a special moment when the lead singer announced that they had some special guest playing in their horn section, among them was Dan Michaels of Christian Rock group - The Choir.  The reason this was special for me is that the lead singer and guitarist of The Choir is Derri Daugherty who my Wife and I went to High School with, and I played bass guitar in a band with Derri in the late 1970's.  And now here we were at a concert, in front of the castle, at Walt Disney World with a very tiny but still special connection to the show!  It was cool as night fell and the day changed to night.  The atmosphere was fantastic with everyone around us really getting into the music and enjoying the short testimonies given between songs.

Clip of: MercyMe's performance at 2014 Night of Joy

Casting Crowns  Was just AWESOME!  What a performance, song after hit song.  We enjoyed singing along with just about every song.  We found a fence to lean against for their performance, and that really helped since we ended up standing for a few hours.
Casting Crowns just floored us!  What a night!

The skies remained dry for the entire performance.
I remember just standing there looking out at the entire scene with the music filling the air, just thinking, "Wow, I just can't believe this night!"

Looking back towards Main Street between sets
Waiting for Casting Crowns to start.

Casting Crown's 2013 Performance at Night of Joy

We enjoyed hearing Phil Perry who is a new talent on the Contemporary Christian Music scene, and he played solo on keyboard between MercyMe & Casting Crowns.  His gospel style was a nice touch to the evening!

              The EVENING OVERALL                               

We heard stories of rowdy teenagers running rampant during these events, but we've been to two of them now, and haven't encountered anything like that.  Maybe that's just happening at the rides, or maybe we've just been lucky, but we felt surrounded by fellow believers with lots of local church youth groups and such.  After Casting Crowns finished, we were just glowing.  We headed to the Tomorrowland Terrace where everyone was buzzing about the performance.  The younger set were getting amped up for Skillet to take the Castle stage.  We grabbed some Night of Joy 2014 T-Shirts, and a pin, and then grabbed some Mickey Premium ice cream bars and just sat back and looked out at the scene before boarding the bus back to Old Key West.  We were in contact with our Daughter back home, where she and her family watched some of the performances on a stream that Disney provided.  She said they really enjoyed it and would love to attend some day.


   It was one of the absolute highlights of our Disney trips and we will be back for another one some day.  It was "a joyous night" indeed!







  
  



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

GRAD NITE AT DISNEYLAND... 1977!

I was looking through some old photo albums, and I couldn't believe what I found.  It was the ticket from my 1977 visit to Disneyland and "Grad Nite"!
Disneyland Grad Nite 1977 Ticket
ABOUT 37 YEARS AGO!  I took my "Girlfriend" to that event.  Now we've been married nearly 36 years!

   I honestly don't remember too much about that night.  I know that we went with one of my best friends and his date.  We met up with some of our High School friends there at Disneyland and had a great time.  The one thing that I remember pretty clearly is riding Space Mountain!

   You see, I was TERRIFIED of roller coasters in those days, but with my cute girlfriend and all of our friends pushing me, I finally gave in and got in line.  Maybe THAT is why I don't remember much from that night?  Maybe everything was just a blur after surviving Space Mountain?  I don't know.  But I guess I picked the right girl (or she picked me), because here we are 37 years later and we are STILL Disney nuts!

   Did you notice the price on the ticket... 9 BUCKS!  I think the Grad Nite tickets are $75 these days.

 
The back of the ticket had the "rules" in 1977


   Check out the back of the ticket.  I wore a suit?  Anyone that knows me, knows that I only wear a suit to a wedding, funeral, or when I'm working a boxing event as an official, that's about it.  Ahhh... the things we do for love!

   They don't offer Grad Nite at Walt Disney World in Orlando any longer.  They still have it at Disneyland though.

Ed & Dan ready to head to Grad Nite 1977 at Disneyland

I do remember buying my "Girlfriend" a Winnie the Pooh Graduation plush bear.  And I do remember getting into line at Space Mountain with my heart pounding all the way through.  It was a great night!

Friday, February 14, 2014

OUR FIRST VISIT TO DISNEY'S WILDERNESS LODGE RESORT

   Guess where we just got back from.  Yup, another great WDW trip is in the books, and just like all of the others, it was fantastic!
It's not the "Fab 5" but they look ready for fun!

   As any good Disney nut knows, no matter how often you go, there is always something new to see and do in this vast world of exploration.


The Wilderness Lodge Villas:  We did a "Split Stay" which started with 2 nights at Pop Century, and then we moved over to the Wilderness Lodge Villas for 5 nights.  This was our first time staying at the Wilderness Lodge, and it was great. 
Welcome Home!

We always wanted to stay here!
   The room was comfortable, and the 4th floor view was so pleasant.  From our windows and balcony we could see the trees and lake - that's it.  It was like we were at a lake in the mountains or something, no sign of Walt Disney World in sight.  As if we were transported to another place just by entering our room.  Actually, there was 1 reminder of where we really were.  Each night at about 9:30 we would hear the music and look out to see the Electrical Water Pageant out on the lake.  We could see it with just a few trees in our view, but we would step out onto the balcony and take in the short spectacle.  The Water Pageant is one of those little WDW touches that we appreciate, both for the actual color and novelty of it, but also for the historical significance of it, since it is something that has remained from the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971.
Everything is better on a boat
Getting there was a big part of the fun!










   Something that we really enjoyed about staying at the Wilderness Lodge was the transportation via boat  between the resort and The Magic Kingdom.  I don't know if we hit it just right, or if it's always that way, but we never had to "crowd" onto the boat.  It was very relaxing to cruise the waters and glide past the other beautiful resorts with the Magic Kingdom in sight. 

   The pool was so much fun.  We spent an afternoon at the main pool and just like all of the pools at the Disney resorts, it was pure fun.  Grabbed a BBQ Pork & Slaw Sandwich with Chips and a Coke from the Roaring Fork with my Son-in-Law and kicked back at a poolside table before hitting the water.  Looking up at the Lodge itself, with the flags waving lightly in the breeze was just a beautiful moment in time, and writing about it here makes me want to experience that again soon.

The lobby of Disney's Wilderness Lodge is stunning

   Wilderness Lodge is everything I thought it would be, and like I was telling my Daughter - Which is my favorite DVC resort?  It seems like whichever one I stayed at last is my "new favorite".  They have all been awesome, and Wilderness Lodge is no exception.

For more on this awesome Disney resort, check out this website: wildernesslodgesite.com


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

THE PLAZA RESTAURANT

When it comes to descriptive words for this place, a few come to mind quickly! ...Location, Simple, Charming, and Yummy are 4 words that I see to describe this place.





Location is at the end of Main Street U.S.A. near the hub.  If you are seated near a window, it's a great place to people watch, with Cinderella's Castle making a great back drop.  As we ate lunch, we could see the parade going by and really enjoyed all of the excitement that goes along with it.  We didn't have a clear view of the parade as much as we could see the whole scene with the crowd enjoying the event itself.

A beautiful place to eat!


The colorful and busy location can't be beat!

We loved it because it made us feel like we were part of the "Main Street U.S.A. scene".  It is such a colorful spot with the beautiful landscaping surrounding the immediate area, just steps away from entry to the different lands of The Magic Kingdom.


The grounds around the Plaza are beautiful

Simple is a word that comes to mind because the seating is not fancy, just tables and chairs.  It has the feel of a counter service eatery, except that you are given menus and served.  It's a basic dining room with ornate mirrors on the walls.

The menu is also very simple.  Salads and Sandwiches are offered along with a Meatloaf Meal and Desserts.

Hmmm.... Meatloaf meal or Grilled Reuben?


Charming comes to mind because of the simplicity of the whole experience.  It is a less expensive place to eat in the Magic Kingdom, and it's a place where you feel very comfortable sitting down and enjoying a meal while wearing your WDW today podcast, or Mouise Junkies T-Shirts!  I guess "Charming" and "Simple" go hand in hand but both words came to mind when I thought of The Plaza Restaurant.

A very casual place to enjoy a meal
Yummy is the key word here.  We booked our ADR for 11:00 am, right when they opened and we were ready for an early lunch to fuel us up for the rest of our park touring day.

The Grilled Reuben was a masterpiece!

I had the Grilled Reuben, and it was a winner.  Generous portions of Corned Beef on a marbled Rye bread with Sauerkraut and Swiss Cheese, one of the better Reuben sandwiches on property.







The Mrs. went with the Tuna Salad sandwich and it was another hit!  It could have used a little more Tuna salad, but it was delicious.
The Tuna Salad sandwich
We kind of cheated and had our "dessert" WITH our meal... Chocolate Milk Shakes just sounded too good to wait for, so we had them along with the sandwiches.
Why wait for Dessert?

Overall, it was a great part of our day at the Magic Kingdom.  I agree with those that say this would not be a wise choice if you are on the Disney Dining Plan, since the entrees are so much less expensive than the other park eateries.  But for a "Simply Charming Yummy Location"... THIS IS THE PLACE!

Information for The Plaza Restaurant




Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Walt Disney World Side Trip: GATORLAND? ...GATORLAND!



   When I was a kid, growing up in the southeast Los Angeles area, we would often go down to Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park.  One thing that sticks in my head is the memory of driving past a place called "The Alligator Farm" (or something like that).  It was across the street from Knotts, and I always planned to go check it out, but never made it.  Now, many years later while searching around for things to explore on our Walt Disney World trips, I found a place in Orlando just 20 minutes away from the WDW "City Limits" with all of the Gators you can handle!

   We hopped in the rental car with our 2 dear friends that were spending the trip with us, and headed out to breakfast before moving on to Gatorland.  When we pulled into the parking lot, it looked like nobody was there.  I thought, "Oh this poor little sideshow will be easy to see in an hour or two, and we'll be on our way."  THINK AGAIN!  About 4+ hours later, we were heading out the door to a pretty full parking lot, and already talking about the fantastic things we saw there.

We were ready to explore!
   
    We walked in and were immediately thrilled by Gators... everywhere!  There were gators swimming, sunning, sleeping and we were drawn into their world right away.  Little gators, big gators, they are such fascinating creatures I could not help but to think of them as small, modern Dinosaurs.
Here come my "Little Dinosaurs"!

    Gatorland is not some backyard sideshow, but is actually a 110 acre park.  Not too shabby when you consider that Disney's Hollywood Studios is only 25 acres bigger at 135 acres!

  There is plenty of space to stroll your way around the exhibits.  Pick up a map/guide and check out the different shows.  The Gator Jumparoo show was a hoot,  They send out whole raw chickens on a line and the huge Gators actually jump up out of the water to snag a meal!
The "Gator Jumparoo" show.  These guys actually enjoy their work!
 
Kids, don't try this at home!
No Flying Elbow Drops or Spinning Body Slams, but Gator Wrestling was still fun!
   The other can't miss show is the "Gator Wrestling" show.  It's a small arena with a Gator pit and the handler does some daring feats including resting his chin on the open mouth of an Alligator!  Again, this one was a hoot.


We rode the "Gatorland Express" train, walked the Swamp walk trail, checked out the breeding marsh, and had lunch which included Gator Nuggets.
Everyone loves a train ride
A walk on the wild side


Gator nuggets from the smokehouse

   There are White Gators which are not albinos, but are actually white Alligators , they must be kept in a covered area because they can get a very bad sunburn due to their lack of skin pigmentation.



 And it's not just Alligators.  There are Giant Tortoise, Florida Panthers, Turtles, Birds, Pythons and Snakes of all kinds, even some Deer and other critters.

Not just Gators
No, it's not the Enchanted Tiki Room


  

   If you ever get out to Gatorland, be sure and find "Chester".  Who is Chester?  Well, he's a 13 foot, One thousand pound Alligator that was rescued.  He had eaten several dogs (he seems to favor German Sheperds) in the wild, and was caught, but Gatorland took him in and gave him a home.  He doesn't get along too well with the other Gators, so he has his own special place in Gatorland.  Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of ol' "Chet", but here is a 1 min. video of the big guy:

video  

   It was a solid half day experience, and while it doesn't qualify as "Disney World's fifth gate", it is a very fun place with lots to see and do.  I never made it to the Alligator farm in Buena Park, California and now that place isn't there anymore.  But I found Gatorland, and I'm already looking forward to our next visit!

This guy loves to use Turtles for pillows!


 For more information visit:    GATORLAND WEBSITE

Thursday, July 4, 2013

THE ROYAL ROOM

   It's going to be a little while until we return to WDW.  Things are still in the planning stage, and we have our resort all set, ADR's are lined up, flight is booked, AP vouchers in hand,  We are set.  The countdown is on.

   Now, I'm thinking back to the last time we were there, and it was a great time.  We stayed in one of the "Royal Rooms" at Port Orleans Riverside.  POR is one of our favorite WDW resorts.  This was our 3rd time to stay there.  It was the place we stayed for our first time at WDW back in 1994 and we have a special place in our hearts for the Riverside.

The marina at Port Orleans Riverside is a beautiful place





   I usually make notes on our trips for trip reports, and just to remember things.  But this time I didn't.  Looking back at the pictures jogs my memory and brings some really good memories up!


   I remember our arrival evening, we were hungry and went down to the food court.  I remember getting a turkey dinner and taking it back to the room.

Turkey dinner from the food court was a nice way to start
    The room was really nice. Lots of nice details including a "welcome letter" from Princess Tiana herself.  We kept remarking about how much our Grand Daughter would have enjoyed staying in a "Royal Room" as guests of Tiana, but this time it was just the two of us, and we were loving it.




   The decor is beautiful.  Royal trimmings on everything, pictures of characters from the royal courts, fixtures and even the headboards on the beds were something special, they have a button that makes the entire headboard light up with "fireworks".  It's like the headboards at the rooms in the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.






  



   We lucked out with the room location.  It was a corner room, and we had windows looking out two different directions.









Now you might be asking yourself "What's the deal with two old Grand Parents staying in a Royal Room without kids?".  That's what the Disney Fountain of Youth is all about.  WE ARE THE KIDS (this time)!  Some trips we are the "Guides".  Some trips we are the "Friends".  One trip we were the "Parents".  But for this trip we were the "Kids".  Just enjoying being "guests" of Princess Tiana and her friends.