Disney: Going Above and Beyond

Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth

For over a year, my husband and I had been planning to return to Animal Kingdom Lodge, Kidani Village in Walt Disney World, Orlando. What? We’ve been there before? Yes and I never got around to writing about it – sometimes I’m too lazy for words! I’ll talk about that another time, because I want to share about this trip and something that happened there.

As I said, we were planning to return for over a year. My husband had a convention to attend, so I decided to accompany him and take one of my sisters – Laura – along to run through the parks with me. Our older sister, Debi, another Disney fan, had been there with her whole family the previous summer (June 2012), but her cancer came back with a vengeance and she passed away at the end of May, 2013. Before she died, I asked her if Laura and I could take some of her ashes to Disney World with us and leave them near one of her favorite places in EPCOT.  She agreed. A little internet research had shown me that this wasn’t an accepted practice at the parks, but we determined that we could be discreet and most likely avoid being kicked out.

Outside of The Land at EPCOT

Outside of The Land at EPCOT

Debi’s favorite restaurant was The Garden Grill in The Land of EPCOT. Neither Laura nor I had ever eaten there so we decided to find a spot near the restaurant to place her ashes and have dinner afterward. We scoped out the area and found that there wasn’t an exterior entrance to the restaurant, so we decided to put her outside the building in one of the garden areas along the walkway leading into the building after dark, before our dinner reservation.

British phone booth pictures.

British phone booth pictures.

We walked all around EPCOT World Showcase, shopping and taking photos. We both decided we needed to stop at the red British phone booths and take pictures. Naturally, they were posted immediately to Facebook to keep Debi’s family involved in our escapades. We were taking a break from all the walking and sat on a bench, checking Facebook to see if our photos had elicited any responses. It had. Our brother-in-law had posted a picture of Debi in a strikingly similar pose from their last trip. Spooky!

As we slowly made our way to the restaurant, we passed a character “meet & greet” that had a stand-by wait time of 5 minutes. We looked at each other and decided, “why not!” What a score! We got to see Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, and Goofy! And we got autographs and photos with all of them!  We hardly had to push any little kids out of the way, either.

It was dark when we left that area, so we went up to the Land and determine where we’d put Debi’s ashes. We sat on the short wall lining the walkway and took turns pouring the ashes from our containers. We took a few photographs of the spot and a man passing by offered to take our picture together.

The characters come right up to the table at the Garden Grill!

The characters come right up to the table at the Garden Grill!

The Garden Grill has a slowly revolving floor and a variety of Disney characters wander around to the tables, visiting with the diners. Food was served family style at each table. Interesting! We told our waiter, Felipe, that we were eating there for a particular reason – to celebrate our sister Debi’s life and told him a little bit about her struggle with cancer. He stopped us and said, “Wait – this story sounds familiar. Was she here in the last year or so with a large group?” We said that she was and showed him a photograph. He recognized her face! It was an amazing coincidence! Felipe made sure he was nearby every time a character stopped at our table so that he could take photos for us. Before he brought us our desserts, he gave us a card signed by all the characters for us to give Debi’s family. Naturally, we burst into tears! It was a very touching and meaningful gesture – one that we will never forget!

A card for our sister from all the characters!

A card for our sister from all the characters!

The Aulaini Resort

This is the large window below the main lobby entry doors.

This is the large window below the main lobby entry doors.

I gave you a room tour, but want to show you a little more of the resort itself. The lobby is always the first impression and it is gorgeous! The arched roof lines are reminiscent of the native canoes and the lighting is a soft golden glow from gourd-like fixtures.

This was taken from the outside at night from near the Dancing Waters fountain area.

This was taken from the outside at night from near the Dancing Waters fountain area.

Standing lobby lights - a warm, welcoming glow!

Standing lobby lights – a warm, welcoming glow!

This shot shows the arch motif nicely as well as the gourd-like ceiling fixtures.

This shot shows the arch motif nicely as well as the gourd-like ceiling fixtures.

My favorite Menehune was tucked up in one of the elevators. A cast member (that's what Disney calls their employees, remember?) told me that this guy will switch elevators upon occasion!

My favorite Menehune was tucked up in one of the elevators. A cast member (that’s what Disney calls their employees, remember?) told me that this guy will switch elevators upon occasion!

Disney did a lot of research into the Hawaiian culture and, although there are the expected “Hidden Mickeys” like the other resorts, the changed it up at Aulani and had Menehune tucked everywhere! Menehune are little mischievous characters that spend their nights creating fantastic inventions and sleep during the day.  I believe there are more than 200 of the little guys all over the resort! Although there is a kind of scavenger hunt activity to try and track them(probably geared toward kids, but that doesn’t usually stop me), I chose to snap a few pictures and enjoy floating past ones placed along the Waikolohe Stream.

This Menehune is the largest one I saw.

This Menehune is the largest one I saw.

The patterns in the hallway wallpaper evoke many native themes - flowers, people, food - but do you see the hidden Mickey?

The patterns in the hallway wallpaper evoke many native themes – flowers, people, food – but do you see the hidden Mickey?

Dancing Waters fountain outside Makahiki Restaurant. Hmmm - I see Goofy and Minnie in there!

Dancing Waters fountain outside Makahiki Restaurant. Hmmm – I see Goofy and Minnie in there!

Water features are prominent throughout Aulani. The Laughing Waters fountain ends in a koi pool which is just across the path from a whirlpool next to the Waikolohe Stream. See what I mean?

The koi pond - Dancing Waters fountain in background.

The koi pond – Dancing Waters fountain in background.

Whirlpool next to Waikolohe Stream. Can you see the shark carving on the far side?

Whirlpool next to Waikolohe Stream. Can you see the shark carving on the far side?

Ama Ama had fabulous views of the lagoon!

Ama Ama had fabulous views of the lagoon!

The views are extraordinary. We enjoyed breakfasting at Ama Ama – which has a lovely view of the lagoon, or lounging near the pool to look for hidden carvings on Waikolohe Mountain (water slide). At night, looking down from an upper floor to the whole pool area is magical!

The Waikolohe Mountain (Disney always has to have a mountain!) has subtle carvings that are fun to hunt for while lounging or walking around the pool area.

The Waikolohe Mountain (Disney always has to have a mountain!) has subtle carvings that are fun to hunt for while lounging or walking around the pool area.

The Waikolohe Valley at night

The Waikolohe Valley at night

HallArtWork

One of the many paintings throughout Aulani.

On every floor, in elevator bays, along the hallways – there was beautiful artwork. The paintings looked like they were painted on sheets of plywood – there was wood grain visible through the vivid pigments used for each piece. The staircase leading up to the lobby from the entrance to the Makahiki Restaurant at pool level is a work of art in and of itself!

Carved container in a lobby display.

Carved container in a lobby display.

Beautiful stair case.

Beautiful stair case.

I’m sure I missed many aspects of the Aulani Resort – I probably should go back and take a little better notes…

Plane, Trains, and Automobiles (and a Ferry, too!)

Our epic journey began with a ferry ride, followed by a commuter train – and then light rail, followed by a plane and, finally, a taxi to the resort! Of course, somewhere in the middle we very nearly missed our flight! We had received a text from Alaska Airlines telling us our flight was as scheduled and that our gate would be D-10. For whatever reason, we believed them and settled in at that gate. After a while, we noticed that there still wasn’t a plane at the gate and it was scheduled to leave in the near future. I went over to the Departure screen and guess what? The gate we should have been at was clear at the end of Concourse C! I grabbed my husband and we started running towards C as we heard the final boarding call for our flight and our last name followed by, “Party of 2, please report to gate C-16!” As we ran, my mouth went as dry as the Sahara. When we got to the gate, they were about to give our seats to someone else! We got on the plane and I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath – I needed to cough long and hard, but I couldn’t. I sat and fanned myself and tried to take even breaths without crying, throwing up, or wetting my pants. It was a struggle to even speak – very disturbing! Eventually, I was able to breath somewhat normally again, but, even as I write this, I have that little, “I need to cough” tickle in my throat. We talked about it later and wondered if it might have been an exercise induced asthma attack – which is a real thing, apparently. And, no, it doesn’t just mean I’m a fat lazy-butt, so get that right out of your mind!
Anyway!!!! We made it to Hawaii and it is warm, lush and beautiful! The Aulani Resort is lovely, the staff very attentive and our room is nicely appointed! We have a Deluxe Studio with an ocean view. In many ways similar to the Grand Californian with lots of nice woodwork and quality furnishings. I’ll do a post with pictures later on. We were greeted with leis – a tube rose one for me (very fragrant!) and one made of some sort of nut (I’ll look it up later) for my husband. I plan to borrow it to wear with one of my dresses later on!
After we unpacked, we decided to explore the resort a bit with the goal of grabbing something to eat. By this time, I was starving, having only nibbled a little trail mix during the 6 hour flight due to my distressed condition. We watched people take floats down a water slide, float along in a “river” as well as a more traditional pool. We later found a hot tub area that were “horizon” pools – very neat! We poked our heads into a couple of restaurants, but it was too early for seating. We felt like it was nearly 7 pm, but here it wasn’t yet 5 pm. We ended up eating at the “Off the Hook” poolside bar at a table with a nice umbrella. We watched people in the pool and could see the ocean just beyond a short wall. We both had the fish tacos which I thought were wonderful and my husband thought weren’t tangy enough. While we waited, a few of the clouds decided to join forces and rain for a bit. No problem! We were under an umbrella and from Seattle – let it rain! It didn’t last long and we soon were witnessing a lovely sunset.
We continued our walk, passing an elegant wedding chapel as we headed to the lagoon on the resort property. We could also see the outdoor movie area – canceled tonight because of the rain (Awww, man!) We stopped and made breakfast reservations at one of the restaurants on our way back to our room. Tomorrow, we’ll try out the pools!

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Next Stop: Aulani Resort in Hawaii!

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We finally did it – we bought into the Disney Vacation Club and booked a vacation at the Aulani Resort for late January 2012! This is a brand new resort that opened this past fall (2011) and, although it is a Disney Resort, it is not “character driven” like the theme park locations (not that there is anything wrong with that!). It looks to have a lot of water/pool features, so I bit the bullet and bought a couple of new swimsuits (and am exercising furiously, but hopefully not futilely!) before our trip.
This will be our first experience as DVC members and also our first trip to Hawaii, so there is much to be excited about! I hope to post before, during and after our trip, so stay tuned! More information about DVC can be found HERE.

Autographs

On this trip, I set about collecting autographs for the first time. Although I did not get very many, I had a great time meeting the characters who were all really wonderful! They must practice quite a bit – especially the ones with the over-sized heads on their costumes. Most of the characters that were allowed to speak (i.e. not in over-sized masks!) were surprised that I was allowing them to have an entire page for their signature. I can’t imagine making them try and scrawl on a shared page!
NOTE: I tried to align my comments with the photos, but couldn’t figure out how to do that – the extra spacing was removed upon publication! Oh well – I’m sure you can figure out what I’m talking about!

The Queen of Hearts


Pluto

I like how Pluto added a bone!

Pinocchio

Pinocchio didn’t realize he could have the full page and left room for Geppeto to sign as well.

Minnie Mouse

Minnie liked my hat – a Mickey pants ear hat with a tail sticking up out of the top. Otherwise known as a “Mickey Butt Hat” – at least by me – I doubt they were marketing it under that style name…

Mary Poppins

Mary & Bert were so fun! Mary was happy to use my red market as it was color coordinated with her Jolly Holiday dress. We agreed that color coordination was important and she said, “But there is really no excuse for Bert’s tie!”

Bert (from Mary Poppins)

Notice the chimney sweep broom!

Mad Hatter - winner of most awesome autograph!

Now how did the Mad Hatter know it was my Un-Birthday? His autograph was the most creative – and he was the most excited to have a full page!

Holiday Autograph from Goofy

Goofy added a Christmas Tree in honor of the season to his autograph – it’s the little things…

Geppeto


Evil Queen

The Evil Queen was magnificent in person! Very fun to watch with the children – who didn’t seem frightened of her at all! She was a great poser – always with mouth down-turned, feet turned out and a frown on her face.

Mickey’s Fun Wheel: A Disney Sidebar

We had a fabulous viewing spot for the Wonderful World of Color show on the boardwalk of Paradise Pier, across from the giant ferris wheel. The light display on Mickey’s Fun Wheel was very nearly hypnotic as we waited for the start of the show. I took a short video clip – wish I’d recorded more! – added a couple of snapshots from the area and put it to “The Spectrum Song.” The song is from one of the old World of Disney television shows and sung by Ludvig VonDrake – remember him? Click here to view the video on YouTube.

PS Unless you open the link in a new window or tab, you will be directed away from this blog post.

Mickey's Fun Wheel at night

Mickey's Fun Wheel at night - beautiful!

Day 3: Don & Shirley do Disney (part 2)

Disney California

Just outside California Adventure

After a quick stop in our room, we headed back out to Disney’s California Adventure. We had several “must do’s” for this park – first on the list was Soarin’ Over California. This is an amazing ride that gives you the sensation of flying through the many environments in the state of California – including the scent of pine or orange trees! We decided to go as single riders as it had worked out so well for me before, but -maybe because it wasn’t as busy – the cast members seemed to be more sticklers for protocol and separated us down different hallways. They kept everyone in their lane from the line before “boarding” to seating assignments – ah well! Next time through, we stayed together and got in the front row – weeee! Before going through “Soarin'” again, though, we went over to the Grizzly River Run – a “white water rapids” ride where everyone gets wet – at least a little bit! We had tossed a Mickey poncho (from a previous trip to Disney World) into my backpack as well as some large plastic bags for Don’s shoes. It was in the low 70’s that day, so we weren’t worried about a little bit of water, but it is uncomfortable to walk in wet shoes and we had miles to go before we slept… The locals considered the weather to be too cool for Grizzly, so we walked right on and shared our “raft” with a young man – a kid in his mid-teens. We gleefully bagged Don’s shoes and tucked my backpack (with my shoes & socks) under my poncho, regaling the kid with tales of our upcoming soaking! It was great! I did get a good-sized splash in the face, but our clothes came through just fine.
We headed to the Paradise Pier area next to check the line for Toy Story Mania – it was long, so we decided to try out the Mickey Fun Wheel. The boarding process was tedious – it took a while to fill all those “cages” and I insisted on a non-moving cage. After the Ferris wheel was filled, I think we only went around twice before the unloading process began. The views were amazing from the wheel, though – you could see the whole California Adventure Park and the higher points of Disneyland. After dark, the wheel was beautifully lit with changing colored lights and simulated movement, but I’m getting ahead of myself…
Next was Toy Story Mania with it’s 40 minute wait – and this was a slow day in the park! It is much better to stand in line with someone instead of by yourself, though!! Don beat my score this time, although my accuracy percentage was better than his – I consider that a moral victory.
By now, it was time to pick up our picnics for the World of Color Show. I had purchased them online ahead of time to get us into a preferred viewing area for the show. We were still stuffed from our huge lunch in Blue Bayou, so we planned to take them up to our room and tuck them into the fridge for later. As we walked away with our cool new lunch bags, we found that the Pixar Parade would be starting soon and we had the opportunity to sit along the edge of the route – we took it!
Monsters Inc character Boo in parade

Boo from Monsters Inc toddles toward us.

We were able to see the full parade unobstructed and you know Disney does a good parade!
We hustled our food up to our room and grabbed our previously discarded jackets and headed back into Disney California. We had a bit of time (still!) before we were to get into the queue for our viewing area, so we wandered into the Backstage area and went on the Monsters Inc ride. Now this ride is specifically for the little ones – too bad they didn’t take the chase scene in the door area from the movie and make that into a ride. That coulda been something! It is a cute ride, though and it is fun to see the little ones as they enjoy the animatronic figures. As we walked out of the ride exit, Don said, “let’s go through again!” He wanted to try to get some pictures inside the ride. He cajoled me (and was supported by the lady with two kids who was following us out – “Aw c’mon! Let him ride again!”) so we went through again to take pictures. Weee! (the pictures did not turn out)
Now it was time to head back to the Paradise Pier area and find our preferred viewing area. Oh – that would be the hundreds of people surrounded by cast members and guided by rope lines across the water from Mickey’s Fun Wheel. Holy crap! Not so exclusive feeling anymore! Eventually, it was announced that, if we didn’t mind the possibility of getting wet, people could get right down on the boardwalk and line up along the water. We decided to chance it and settled on a couple of folded towels right at the railing. Others filled in around us, including a set of grandparents with a couple of grandchildren who pondered aloud what would happen if we should stand up. “They will let you stand in front of them and you will have a front row view!” exclaimed the grandpa. “As if!” I thought. This family was swathed in ponchos to avoid the splashes we were warned about. While we were waiting, the grandpa talked loudly and constantly so I was worried we’d get a running commentary throughout the show. We were also treated to a light show on Mickey’s Fun Wheel – very mesmerizing! I took some video of the changes and now wish I had taken more. (Look for a side bar on the Fun Wheel light show soon!) The show began and the music was loud enough to mask “grandpa’s” remarks. The prevailing wind – which was very slight, moved across the water parallel to our seats so we had the occasional light mist.
It was an amazing show – animation was projected onto walls of water, jets of color shot into the air (how did they make the color so intense!?), familiar Disney songs played throughout, fire blasted up from the water – hot enough to feel the heat. I highly recommend going to this show – and getting the picnic lunch for a preferred view as it is cheaper than the dinner at Ariel’s Grotto and the viewing area is not much different.
Our day of doing Disney together came to end after our late picnic in our room and we went to sleep knowing we would be leaving the next day….sigh!

Cutest Bathroom Ever: A Disney Sidebar

We came upon the cutest restrooms around the corner from the Alice in Wonderland ride, near the Matterhorn. It had white ceramic tile with an “eye-height” border of right-side-up and upside-down bright red hearts – like a playing card – and all the stall doors were playing cards. Don’t worry – I waited until the coast was clear to take a picture!

cute bathroom

The Cutest Bathroom Ever!

Day 2: Autograph Hound

Today I was determined to get some autographs and managed to snag a few. Minnie, Goofy & Pluto were in Toon Town and I found Mary Poppins and Bert just before leaving Fantasyland. I also got Pinocchio and Geppeto out on Main Street as I was headed back to the room for a few minutes. I looked for others in Disney California and actually got in line to see Sully (Monsters Inc) but was told he couldn’t do autographs because of the claws. I saw Mickey several times but he was always swamped as soon as he appeared. In fact, I was pushed aside by a “lady” who abandoned Pinocchio’s line…in her defense, she did say “excuse me” as she shoved. I also had pictures taken with most of them! I took advantage of the photo-op spots, too when there was a cast member to take the  picture. They were very nice and took pictures both with my camera and theirs – I’ll need to look at those online.

Mary Poppins, Bert & Me

It's a Jolly Holiday!


I went to the animation studio at the Hollywood Backlot section in Disney Cali and saw the Talk with Crush show (sea turtle from Finding Nemo) which was very cute. It’s a Pixar animated show, but the twist is that he actually can interact with audience members -asking to speak to specific “dudes” and “dudettes.” It was totally awesome, dude! It started raining in mid-afternoon – I thought it never rained in California! Actually it wasn’t too terrible, considering where I live! I caught part of the Pixar Parade, but was behind a pile of people so I didn’t have a very good view. What I saw was cute, though! “Life-sized” Pixar characters dancing and singing – very colorful!

We had a dinner in the evening at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. with the Pharmacy Residents (and others) – about 2 miles from our hotel. We decided to walk and got soaked on the way back. We hoped to see the fireworks again from our balcony, but apparently they were canceled due to the rain. Wimps.

My friend, Minnie Mouse

Spring Break 2009

We returned to Disneyland in March of 2009. One of Jonah’s oldest friends was in school in Pasadena and we thought a trip to California for Jonah’s Spring Break would help ease his pal’s homesickness. Not to mention feeding our need for all things Disney! Again we were without Andrea, as she was now married and in the veterinary medicine program at Washington State University. She and her husband were planning a late May trip that same year, though, so we gave them Park Hopper tickets for Christmas.  It was a good trip – we stayed in a hotel around the block from Disney California (a park we hadn’t visited before) so we were able to easily walk to the parks and back. Jonah, his friend, Kent, and other friends from Washington hung out together much of the time so Don and I were able to experience them as a couple for the first time ever. No meetings to attend, no receptions, no work at all! It really was great! We enjoyed the new (to us) California Adventure Park – Grizzly River Run and Soaring Over California were particular favorites, but my new all-time favorite Disney Ride is the Toy Story Mania ride. It’s like an old fashioned penny arcade with the Toy Story characters and an interactive interface that has you shooting at a gallery, tossing rings and other games to get a high score while on the ride. It by far had the longest lines, but I think we went on it 3 or 4 times! While in Anaheim, we discovered a short-cut into Downtown Disney (a “street” of retail shops and restaurants between the two parks) through the new Grand Californian Resort. This is a huge hotel built in the Arts & Crafts style and we fell in love with how beautiful it was. One time through, we sat in the lobby near the “walk-in” fireplace and enjoyed the ambiance while I kept thinking they would toss us out on our ears at any moment (they didn’t)! One of our non-Disney adventures was going to go see a couple of tapings of Jeopardy at the Sony Studios – it was amazing and more surreal than spending time at Disneyland! Being an audience member is free and I would recommend that anyone who is planning a trip to the area check out ticket availability while they are there (in advance – they run out quickly).

Don & I on the Flick's Flyers ride in "bugs' land"

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