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Episode VI: Return of the Merch Whore

3 Feb

Greeting and salutations, Dear Reader. I’m so glad you’ve decided to stick with me, despite my lengthy absence. So much has happened in the last year and I’m anxious to tell you all about it.

In last year’s big cliffhanger (OK…it was more of a series finale with the possibility of a spinoff), I was about to leave the Kinky Boots national tour and move to Orlando, Florida to pursue my dream of performing at Walt Disney World. You’ll recall that I was quite anxious about the move and the return to the “real world” after being on the road for so long, and those fears and anxieties were for good reason, and unfortunately, many of those fears have become reality.

Now, I don’t mean to start this reboot on a negative note. Let me first start off by saying that I did, in fact, get myself a job at Walt Disney World, but not as a performer. Within a month of moving, I was hired as an Attractions Host at Magic Kingdom, working at Big Thunder Mountain – the wildest ride in the wilderness! I spent nearly 10 months at Old Man Thunder before I was transferred to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where I am now an Attractions Host at the new Star Wars Launch Bay. I enjoy my job at Disney very much, though it is not by any means where I want to be in my career. Performing in the parks is still the goal, and I’ve been auditioning as often as I can, time and health allowing, for Voices of Liberty, the Dapper Dans, Finding Nemo: The Musical and other shows around the parks. More on those auditions later.

IMG_5993

Me on my last day at Big Thunder Mountain.

In addition to working at Walt Disney World, I also landed a job selling merchandise – surprise, surprise! – at Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which admittedly I knew nothing about when I interviewed for the job. Many would agree that I still don’t, but I do a very good job of faking it. I still can’t tell you what the horcruxes are. I’m not even sure that I spelled “horcruxes” correctly. Don’t you judge me!

Adjusting to life in the real world has been difficult. Money is, as always, a constant struggle for me, which was one of my greatest fears of delving back into reality. My money management skills are pretty much non-existent. Of course, I had to have a car, so I got a cute little green Kia Soul and named him Elliott (SEE ALSO: Pete’s Dragon), and then I realized that 90% of Kia Souls on the road are also Elliott Green, but I still love him. I nearly had a heart attack when I found out how much my car payment was going to be, though. I hadn’t had a car in 14 years and had just quit my job and had no prospects on the horizon. It was no exaggeration when I dramatically exclaimed to my Dad, “It’s fine! I’ll just get a third non-existent job to pay for it!” Even though I work nearly 55 hours a week between the two jobs, it still isn’t enough to cover all my expenses. I’ve fallen way behind on my student loan payments – again – but on the bright side, one of my credit cards is nearly paid off thanks to the credit consolidation plan I started before I went out on the road. Once that’s paid off, I can start applying that money to my loans. So there’s that.

There’s also my health. I would like to go on record to state that I never missed one show while I was on the road. Not one in two years. I was healthy as a horse. But here in Florida, I have been sick with something almost from the day I got here. Allergies, colds, bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections, strep throat, the flu…you name it, I’ve had it since I moved here. I’m sick now, in fact, getting over some sort of malady that laid me out at home for two days. But I can’t afford to call out of work, so I plow ahead, shortening my lifespan by a few years with each mucus-filled shift. I know that most of this illness stems from the other thing that has been difficult to adjust to: the weather.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, Floridians…we live in the Devil’s Armpit. It’s hot, moist and, frankly, sometimes smelly down here. I’ve never lived in a place where a summer rain shower (and by “shower,” I mean “deluge”) actually makes the temperature hotter than before. I have accepted Swamp Ass into my life and should just go ahead and buy stock in Gold Bond powder to foolishly attempt stop the chub rub and chaffing between my thighs. Here’s the truth: It doesn’t work. It’s a fool’s errand to try to soak up all the moisture, so just accept the Swamp Ass and move on with your day.

It took me about three weeks to accept that every time I stood up from my seat on the shuttle bus from the parking lot or from a chair in the break room, I would leave a stamp of sweat behind. Sure, you can try to slide out of the seat to wipe some of it away, but after a while, you just give up. It’s a sad, sick, disgusting part of life down here and I hate it. I worked a parade shift once in August in which I sweat so much that I was sent back to change clothes because it looked like I’d wet myself.

I miss the snow! I miss the cold! I miss the air!

“But what about the good things,” you ask? “Surely something makes it worth being there!”

Yes. The people I’ve met down here make it worth it. I’ve made wonderful friends at both of my jobs. Getting to go to Disney World pretty much whenever I want to makes it worth it. Mickey and I are very tight, and I get to talk about Star Wars all day long. I even run into Darth Vader – sometimes, quite literally, run into him – backstage and he scares the bejesus out of me, because I get to be an 8 year old again. At work. And that’s awesome. I’ve met some of the most incredible Guests and made Magical Moments for people and

Me and Neil

That’s me behind Neil Patrick Harris.

have gotten choked up over meeting the coolest little kids on the planet in their cute Princess gowns and their little Darth Vader costumes. I’ve seen people weep over being chosen by a wand. I even got to perform at Epcot this Christmas as part of the Candlelight Processional, finally singing again and getting to do it behind people like Neil Patrick Harris and Daniel Dae Kim. And one of my best friends in the world, Brance, moved down here this summer and we’ve played mini golf and watched movies and played in the parks and shopped for Star Wars t-shirts and I’ve loved getting to spend that time with him. I’ve hung out in the parks with my college friend, Sara, and her wonderful husband and totally amazing daughter, Nora. I’ve seen old friends from all aspects of my life when they’ve come to the parks on vacation and I get to see my Mom and Dad more often than I did when I lived in New York because my Dad works in Tampa for a few days every month, and we meet up for dinner when he’s near.

So things aren’t all bad, and part of the reason that I’m rebooting the blog is to remind myself of that. Don’t get me wrong, y’all – the struggle is real – but I’m not alone in this. And I’m still pursuing my dreams. I’ve started taking better care of myself and taking control of the enormous amount of weight that I have gained over the last 3 years. Oprah and I are doing WeightWatchers and I’m making excellent use of my new FitBit Surge, walking an average of about 14,000 steps a day. More, if I’m able. It turned out to be one of the best Christmas gifts I could have asked for. And I’ve lost 11 pounds in the last month.

FitBit Report

Almost every night, I take a screenshot of my FitBit summary and post it to Instagram (jasonb1976) and Facebook, mostly to keep myself accountable and excited about going out to exercise, but hopefully to also encourage others to do the same. Tonight, a friend of mine from the Evita tour sent me a message on Facebook to let me know that she was inspired by my FitBit posts and that she’s about to embark on a 28 day fitness challenge that’s making her a bit nervous. She wrote, “Long story short..it’s going to be hard for me but I was thinking about your posts and they just put a smile on my face and made me excited to work toward a healthier me.” Guys. Pick me up off the floor. I don’t even know how to respond to something like that. I have inspired someone to work toward being healthier!?! That’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever told me. If I can inspire her, maybe I can inspire someone else on here, too. And then I can inspire the world! Or at least take over the entire tri-state area!

Next month I’m moving into a new living situation that I think will be better for me both financially and emotionally and, as you can see, I’m writing again, which excites and scares me. I’m under very strict guidelines regarding what I can and cannot write about with both of my jobs, so please understand if I don’t mention work very often. You won’t get any secrets out of me. Nor will you get free tickets, but that’s another entry for another day.

So there it is, folks! Episode VI: Return of the Merch Whore. I look forward to seeing you again very soon. May the merch be with you.

 

 

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Sad News: The Cafe Edison Will Close

18 Dec
Cafe Edison will close on Sunday, December 21, 2014.

Cafe Edison will close on Sunday, December 21, 2014.

Despite our efforts to save it, the Cafe Edison will be closing its doors when the last customer leaves on Sunday evening, December 21, 2014.

Thanks to all 10,024 (!!) of you who have signed the petition, forwarded, texted, tweeted, Facebooked, handed out flyers, sung, done magic tricks, made signs, stood out in the cold and fought to keep this special place open.

The Strohl family is considering relocation and, if that happens, I hope each of you will lend them your support and business at their new location.

I knew when I started the petition that we were fighting an uphill battle – I’m sure contracts were in place for the renovations and new restaurant for months prior to the public announcement that the Cafe would be closing – but my hope in starting this was to at very least show our love, support and appreciation to the Strohl family and all the service and kitchen staff.

If you’re in the city and have a moment, please stop by Cafe Edison one last time before Sunday. Bring a card or some flowers or even just a hug for the staff there. Let them know how much they mean to you. And give Betty a big hug for me.

If the closing of Cafe Edison has inspired you to do more to help save what’s left of old New York, please check out Jeremiah Moss’ new Facebook group, “SAVE NEW YORK.”

These past few weeks, Jeremiah and a group of devoted Cafe Edison supporters have been tireless in their efforts to raise awareness of the Cafe’s closing. Jeremiah has done some amazing work to organize weekly lunch mobs and entertainment all while maintaining his blog, “Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York.” He has planned one final meal mob this weekend. Click here for the event information on Facebook.

If you aren’t reading Jeremiah’s blog yet, please do. Here’s the link: http://vanishingnewyork.blogspot.com

Again, thank you all for your support and outpouring of love to the folks at Cafe Edison. It’s been an honor to have been a part of this movement, and I hope to share a bowl of matzoh ball soup with you all if and when a new location should open up.

Best,

Jason

Put Up or Shut Up, Pt. 2

1 Sep
DeQuina Moore: Singer, Actress, Dancer, Author and Amazing Human Being.

DeQuina Moore: Singer, Actress, Dancer, Author and Amazing Human Being.

I have to take a second to brag on my amazing friend, DeQuina Moore. Last week I challenged her to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and, rather than pour iced water on her head, she opted to make a donation to ALSA.org. Her friends and family, however, raised their voices in solidarity and finally convinced her to go ahead and make a video.

Even though I know she hated to do it, she finally did the ice bucket challenge tonight, but with her own twist. Rather than make it about ALS (remember, she already donated to them), she chose to bring awareness and donate to the Sickle Cell Disease Association in honor of some of her family members who suffer from the disease.

What is sickle cell disease? That’s a good question. To be honest, I didn’t really know a whole lot about it myself, but isn’t that the point of these videos…? To make people ask questions and do research and learn about these things? So here we go:

According to the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America’s website, Sickle Cell Disease (sometimes called Sickle Cell Anemia) is an inherited blood disease that affects red blood cells. The cells mostly contain an abnormal type of hemoglobin that causes the red blood cells to become sickle-shaped, which makes it difficult for the blood cells to flow through small blood vessels. As we all know, if blood doesn’t get to our body tissue, that tissue doesn’t get oxygen and it becomes damaged.

Sickle cells have a lifespan that is about 1/10 that of normal, healthy blood cells. When those sickle cells are destroyed by the body, it leads to anemia, jaundice and the formation of gallstones. When the blood vessels become clogged or blocked by sickle cells, there can be lung damage, pain in the chest, arms, legs and abdomen, organ damage and it could lead to a stroke. Also, because of sickle cell-related damage to the spleen, the people who suffer from this disease – especially kids – are more prone to bacterial infections.

There are treatments to help with the symptoms, including blood transfusions (which can lead to other issues) that can help reduce the risk of stroke, but there currently is no cure for sickle cell disease.

It is estimated that 70,000 people in the United States suffer from sickle cell disease with approximately 1,000 cases in newborns each year. The life expectancy for patients with sickle cell disease is in the mid-40’s, which is apparently an improvement over what it used to be.

Contrary to popular belief, it does not only affect people of African descent. It is also present in Portuguese, Spanish, French Corsicans, Sardinians, Sicilians, mainland Italians, Greeks, Turks and Cypriots and also appears in Middle Eastern countries and Asia.

So now you – well, we – know. In support of DeQuina and her family, I have made a donation to the SCDAA and hope that you will consider doing the same. I know – a lot of people have been asking for charitable donations lately, but at least consider it and, if nothing else, take the time to educate yourself about this disease.

And, while you’re at it, check out DeQuina’s website. Listen to that glorious voice. Order her book, “Under His Watch: 100 Reasons to Re-Elect & Remember President Barack Obama.” Follow her on Twitter: @DeQuinaMoore. Enjoy this video, which she made out on the road with some of our Flashdance friends. She is one the most beautiful people I’ve ever known, inside and out. See if you don’t fall in love with her, too.

Ice Cubes Keep Falling On My Head

19 Aug

Well, not my head – at least not yet…I keep waiting to be nominated.

As I’m sure many of you have seen or even experienced, there is an internet craze going around of dumping a bucket of iced water on your head to raise awareness and money for the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association. While I have found the videos to be quite entertaining and funny, apparently a few people are sick of seeing them and fundamentally disagree with what they’re intended to do. Others have taken issue with the wasted water being dumped over people’s heads because of the drought out west and the millions of people without fresh drinking water around the world. I think those people have valid concerns, but I also think this challenge has done a lot of good, as well.

To the others, though, who are just bored with the videos, my response is this: Get over yourselves. If you don’t want to watch the videos, don’t click on them! It’s that simple. Some people have also expressed that this is simply a gimmick for ALS to raise money. To those people I posit this: Isn’t that what Broadway Bares is? (For those of you who don’t know, Broadway Bares is a bunch of Broadway singers and dancers stripping to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS). Ironically (and sadly), many of the dissenters have actually performed in Broadway Bares.

In the defense of the people I know who have taken the ice bucket challenge in California, including many celebrities, I have seen them standing in their gardens or in or near their swimming pools when they douse themselves so that the water at least gets used to water plants or goes back into their pools. (If people are going to be upset about folks dumping a bucket of water on their heads, wouldn’t their outrage be better served focusing on those people in drought-stricken California who have gigantic pools of water in their back yards or the 22 million gallons of water used in the water fountain show in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas – or, to be completely fair – the 15 million gallons used in Disney’s “World of Color” show? Isn’t that a bigger issue? But I digress…) That being said, I can’t deny that there are many people around the world who need clean water to drink. There is a link at the bottom of this entry if you’d like to donate to charity: water.

When the ice bucket challenge began, my initial understanding of the challenge was that if you were “nominated” to take the challenge, you had 24 hours to either pay $100 to ALSA or videotape yourself dumping a bucket of iced water on your head and post it online. You could then nominate 3 people to do the same. Many people chose to just go with the iced water and I think that’s where so many people were getting upset – if everyone dumped water on their heads, who was actually donating money to the cause? Well, apparently someone was donating – ALSA has raised over $20 million in a month. Many people chose to donate  and do the bucket challenge, including a lot of high-profile celebrities. Jimmy Fallon and his team at the Tonight Show did it. Ty Burrell from “Modern Family” has done it. Ben Affleck, Chris Pratt, Taylor Swift, Ricky Martin, Justin Timberlake, Tyler Perry, Lebron James, Jack Black, Matt Lauer, Gwen Stefani, Ashton Kutcher and Wilmer Valderrama, James Franco, Michael Bublé, the entire cast of “Grey’s Anatomy” and even Ms. Oprah Winfrey herself have taken the challenge in what is, honestly, one of the funniest videos I’ve ever seen.

“But what’s the point of all this tomfoolery?,” you ask? Well…to not only raise money, but also to raise awareness about Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or what we Americans call Lou Gehrig’s Disease. According to ASLA’s website, ALS is a “progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.”

In laymen’s terms, what does that mean? According to MDA.org, it means your muscles weaken, especially involving the arms and legs, speech, swallowing or breathing – basically all of your voluntary muscles. Hearing, vision and your sense of touch is not generally affected, so it means you can see and hear what’s going on around you, but you can’t communicate because the muscles that allow you to speak have atrophied. Some with ALS suffer from uncontrollable twitching and/or painful muscles cramps. Many display changes in character and behavior and a few suffer from pseudobulbar effect, or uncontrollable bouts of laughing or crying which are more associated with the disease than the actual corresponding emotions of happiness or sadness. It can affect anyone of any age, but it tends to show up in middle age (40-70 years) and the life expectancy is 2-5 years after diagnosis.

ALS is known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease because on July 4, 1939, New York Yankee Lou Gehrig, also known as the Iron Horse of Baseball, stood before a crowd of 62,000 people to announce that he would be retiring from baseball because just a few days earlier he’d been diagnosed with ALS, which most people had never heard of at the time. Just two years later he died of the disease. Seventy-five years later, there is still no cure for Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig

I know many people who have taken the challenge. One of the cast members of our show chose not to do the ice bucket challenge, but posted a video of himself chugging a beer and announcing that he’d donated to 4 charities of his choosing, including the ALSA. Many people have chosen to just donate money, as I have, and I haven’t even been nominated to do the ice bucket challenge. I’m not saying this to brag on myself – I couldn’t donate much, and I certainly wish I could donate to more organizations – but the point is that I probably wouldn’t have donated to their organization if I hadn’t seen these videos because I wasn’t really aware of it. Now I am aware, and here I am devoting an entire blog entry to the subject and hopefully now you know a little bit about it, too.

There are many organizations and charities that could use your help. Please consider donating either your money or time to a charitable organization today, whether you choose to dump a bucket of iced water on your head or strip to your skivvies or not. In addition to my donation to ALSA, I have also made a donation to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in memory of Robin Williams. To make a donation to ALSA, click here. To make a donation to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, click here. To donate to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, click here. To donate to charity: water, click here.

New From Disney: It’s “Market Me Elsa!”

12 May
"Frozen" is coming to ABC's "Once Upon A Time."

“Frozen” is coming to ABC’s “Once Upon A Time.”

OK. So I admit, I haven’t watched the show in a couple of seasons because I can’t really watch TV shows in real time on the road (and, honestly, because I was starting to lose interest), but ABC’s “Once Upon A Time” has grabbed my attention with the teaser that they showed at the end of last night’s episode, although I have no idea what the blue liquid has to do with Elsa…

Apparently Elsa, the Snow Queen from Disney’s “Frozen,” will be joining the citizens of Storyville next season, and I have to say – she looks good! I have a few friends that object to Elsa’s inclusion in the roster of storybook characters mostly because she’s the princess du jour thanks to the popularity of the movie while many other more classic Disney characters have yet to make appearances on the show. Others think it’s just too soon to have her included on the show, but I think it’s a brilliant marketing plan – not for the movie (it’s done $1.19 billion worldwide and sold 3.2 million DVDs and BluRays in a single day), but for the show, which has been showing a slightly declining viewership since last season. Disney would be foolish not to take advantage of the film’s popularity to tie in with the show, regardless of how new the character and film may be. People clearly have connected with Elsa (and Anna), so why not give them what they want?

Another complaint I’ve heard about Elsa’s appearance last night is that her hair is too blonde – not white enough. I’m going to reserve judgment on that, but I will say, though, that hers is the best Elsa costume I’ve seen yet. Even better than the costumes being used in the parks, in my opinion.

Speaking of Elsa costumes…there’s still an alarming lack of “Frozen” merchandise out in the world. I was at the Disney Store in The Woodlands Mall here in Houston today and I did not see one piece of “Frozen” merch anywhere in the store. Not even a keychain. I don’t really care, personally, but there are some incredibly angry parents out there who want – no, need – to dress their little girls from head to toe as Anna or Elsa or their children’s lives will be ruined. Or they’ll just learn that you don’t always get what you want. Either way, this site is hilarious and sad all at the same time. Have some patience, people! They’re making it as fast as they can!!

In related news, however, I did manage to pick up a Maleficent t-shirt and keychain at Hot Topic…and that movie hasn’t even been released yet! Even Barnes and Noble had an end cap devoted to the old bat. Perhaps Disney has learned from their mistakes with “Frozen…?”

Maleficent is also coming May 30.

Maleficent is also coming May 30.

P.S. – This was officially my 100th blog entry!!

Return To Neverland

10 May

Do you ever have moments in your life where you stop and think, “When did I become such a grown up?!” I had one of those moments a couple of days ago as I began to put the finishing touches on my upcoming (and much needed) vacation. We’re in Houston, Texas, now, just wrapping up our first week with one more to go and, apart from my general distaste for Texas in general and Houston specifically (this is the only city in my 18 months of touring that I’ve been cussed out by a patron because I told her grandmother she couldn’t walk away from my booth with merchandise she hadn’t paid for), I cannot wait for this upcoming layoff.

“Layoff” is often a scary word to “normal” people (read: those of you who don’t work in the theatre), but to those of us on the road, a layoff is doesn’t mean you’ve lost your job – it just means that you have a week or two (or four) off before your next city. For the cast and crew of the show, it means they’re able to file for unemployment insurance for the duration of the layoff. For me it just means a week off and, for the first time in my adult life, a full-blown vacation! Normally I would either go home to Kentucky for the week and sit at home or be put to work by my mother on various projects that she always has going or I’d go back to New York to work whatever shows our company has running on Broadway, but I opted out of both of those options because I have an incredible opportunity to take a very cheap cruise on the Disney Dream for 3 days.

One of my best friends from undergraduate school is a cast member, both by Disney and theatrical terms, on the Dream, performing in their stage shows for the cruise guests. As a Cast Member, he is allowed to have guests on the ship from time to time and they can either stay with him in his cabin or, if space permits, the guest can upgrade to a stateroom for $60/night. There’s a $12 charge per day to cover food, as well, so basically it’s a cruise for $72 a night. That’s an absolute steal. The ship sails out of Port Canaveral, FL, on Thursday afternoon and returns on Sunday. Since our first city after layoff is Miami, I asked my boss to book me a flight from Houston to Orlando on Monday and a flight to Miami the following Tuesday. That means I get three days at the parks before I head to the ship, and then an additional day at the Magic Kingdom the Monday after the cruise! So much Disney, so little time. I know, I know…I was just there less than a month ago, but this time will be different. This time I don’t have to work shows at night, so I can spend the entire day in the parks, allowing me time to do whatever I’d like without feeling rushed or worried about time.

Even better? I’m not paying for a single night in the hotels in Orlando. Not with money, anyway…though I am paying with months and months of hotel stays. After being on the road for so long, I have racked up some serious hotel loyalty rewards points – enough to book 3 nights at a Hampton Inn (with free shuttle to the parks) for free and still have some Hilton HHonors points left over, and I barely had to dip into my IHG points to get two free nights when I get off the ship. As I’m allowing myself to splurge a little bit (I haven’t had a proper, non-working vacation since 1991), I bought myself a 4-day Park Hopper pass and made reservations for lunch at two of the full-service restaurants (Liberty Tree Tavern at Magic Kingdom and the 50’s Prime Time Cafe at Disney’s Hollywood Studios). I’m going to try to get into Be Our Guest for lunch one day, though as I wrote in a previous post, it’s nearly impossible to get in without a reservation. We’ll see… Anyway. As I sat at my computer making hotel reservations and arranging transportation and things I thought to myself, “When did I become the grown up who books his own vacation?!”

Sometimes I find myself feeling that way on travel days – especially if I’m traveling separate from the company. I find myself walking through the airport thinking, “Did I really just get myself from Los Angeles to Miami on my own? Aren’t I the grown up!” It’s usually at that point that I find myself face down on the sidewalk with my suitcase, full of Disney plush toys, splayed open for the world to see, having tripped over a floor mat or small child, and I am suddenly snapped back to reality.

After my three days at the parks I will (somehow) get myself to Port Canaveral to board the ship. If I’m lucky, this will be the most stressful part of my vacation. I still haven’t found an affordable way to get myself to the Port, but Brance and I are working on that. I know there is a shuttle bus that runs from the Walt Disney World Resort Hotels, but in order to get a spot on one of those shuttles, you must have a ticket confirmation number – essentially a boarding pass. Since Brance is walking me onto the ship as his guest, I don’t have a proper ticket, so I can’t get on that shuttle bus. Not even Disney magic could make that happen, apparently. I also know there’s a shuttle from Orlando’s airport, but I’d have to take a cab all the way back there, which won’t be cheap. I tried calling the Hampton Inn to speak to their concierge, who is actually a Disney concierge, but s/he wasn’t available after noon. That totally makes sense to me – who needs a concierge after noon in a town that is solely driven by tourism? If any of you have any insights or ideas about getting from WDW to Port Canaveral without having to cab it back to the airport, I’d be very appreciative!

Once the cruise is over, I’ll head back to Orlando and check into a Staybridge Suites for Sunday and Monday night, and I’ll spend Monday at the Magic Kingdom again. Tuesday morning I’ll be on a plan to Miami, where we’ll open that night. It sounds a little hectic, and perhaps it is, but I’m excited for it. And who knows…maybe this time I’ll get to meet Anna and Elsa…?

And in other news…I’ve lost 25 lbs. Have a magical day!

Cinderella's Castle at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Y’See…It’s Just Like I Told You…Wishes Can Come True If You Believe In Them With All Your Heart

5 Apr

It’s been a long time since my last entry. The last couple of weeks have been incredibly busy and exciting and, if you’ll forgive me, magical.

As I wrote in my last entry, I spent last week at Walt Disney World, visiting the parks for the first time in 30 years. The last time I was there was with my grandparents and it was absolutely the most miserable vacation of my life. I got so sunburnt at the beach that I had huge blisters on both shoulders, making it impossible to raise my arms even to take my shirt off, and the ensuing sun poisoning had me puking my way across Orlando. I didn’t really get to enjoy my time at Disney World which, at that time, consisted only of the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. Because Evita was playing Orlando for a week, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to go back and have the experience I had wished for as a kid.

A photo of me looking at a photo of me standing in roughly the same spot 30 years earlier. Very meta and just a little bit magical.

A photo of me looking at a photo of me standing in roughly the same spot 30 years earlier. Very meta and just a little bit magical.

The show’s head electrician, Stephen, and I decided to stay in one of the value resorts on Disney property, sharing a room at the All-Star Sports Resort near Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The room was only $114/night which, when split between the two of us, ended up being cheaper than what we would have paid at the hotel where the company was staying. Parking was included in the resort stay, both at the hotel and at the parks, and we also had access to free shuttle buses to the parks. As resort guests, we also got to enjoy Extra Magic Hours, meaning one of the parks would open an hour early and one would stay open two hours after closing each day exclusively for resort guests. Because we both had to leave for the theatre at 4:30 or 5:00, depending on Orlando traffic, those Extra Magic Hours were crucial in our getting to fully enjoy the parks.

As resort guests, we were also able to test the new MagicBands, which are basically plastic wrist bands with RFID chips in them. These chips connect your MagicBand to your vacation account – you can charge your meals and merchandise to your room with the band, it serves as your room key and park ticket and is connected to your three FastPass+ choices each day, as well. FastPass+ allows you to choose 3 attractions per day (all within the same park) for which you are assigned a time and during that timeframe you are basically able to skip the majority of the line. For instance, you could book FastPass+ for Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean for your day at Magic Kingdom. You are given three or four options for time slots for these reservations, so you can shape your day as you’d like it based on availability. Your FastPass+ time for Haunted Mansion might be 10:30-11:30, Space Mountain from 12:15-1:15 and Pirates from 2:30-3:30. You can show up during that hour-long window of time and get in the FastPass+ line and essentially skip the lines. It’s a great way to basically ensure you get to ride your top 3 attraction picks, but the drawback is that you can only reserve times within the same park and you cannot get FastPass+ for the same ride twice in one day. This past Monday, FastPass+ and MagicBands became available to the general public. I’m curious to see how that works out considering resort guests can make their FastPass+ reservations months in advance – I’m not sure if non-resort guests will have that option.

My MagicBand!

My MagicBand!

Speaking of reservations…I was quite disappointed with the reservation system they have in place for their sit down dining – particularly at Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Disney World offers many food options throughout the 4 parks, including sit down full-service dining, quick-service cafeteria-style dining and food kiosks. In addition to being known for world-class attractions and entertainment, Disney parks are known for their fantastic food – especially in the World Showcase at Epcot – and I was really looking forward to some great meals. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the full-service sit down restaurants were booked months in advance and had no seating available. Stephen and I were able to grab one of the last available tables at the Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom, but it was 11:30 in the morning and even that early, they could barely fit us in. This past Monday, my friend Jonathan and I were able to walk into the Biergarten Buffet in the German section of the World Showcase at Epcot. It was around 4:30 and by the time we left at around 6:00 the place was filling up quickly. (No, we didn’t eat the whole time – there was a great show during our dinner that we took a break to watch).

One of my goals at Magic Kingdom was to eat at the new Be Our Guest restaurant in New Fantasyland. I really wanted to try the Grey Stuff. I hear it’s delicious. That restaurant is booked up 6 months in advance. While that’s no skin off Disney’s back – they’re making their money and there are butts in the seats – there’s little opportunity for park goers without reservations to eat there. Ever. Because it’s so difficult to eat at a sit down restaurant in the parks, the quick service options are constantly packed with lines spilling out the doors and into the specially tinted streets of Frontierland and Fantasyland. Stephen and I waited a good 30 minutes in line at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe only to end up eating our BBQ pork sandwiches sitting on the edge of a flowerbed because all the tables were taken. We were both so hungry at that point that we didn’t care where we sat, as long as we weren’t on our feet any longer and had food in our bellies.

So where did we eat? At Magic Kingdom, we had a great meal at the Liberty Tree Tavern. I had the Pilgrim’s Feast, which is basically Thanksgiving dinner, and it was delicious. Stephen had the same thing, but he also ordered a bowl of clam chowder, which he said was very good. At Pecos Bill’s we had the BBQ pulled pork sandwich and fries. It was very good, but like I said – we were so hungry, I think we would have thought a cardboard box tasted good. We also had gigantic cinnamon rolls at Gaston’s Tavern in New Fantasyland. Here’s a tip: SHARE ONE. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, he and I had a so-so cheeseburger lunch at the ABC Commissary. The original plan was to eat at the 50’s Prime Time Café, but they were booked up with reservations. At Animal Kingdom we had a pretty decent breakfast at Pizzafari – one of the few places we found that actually served breakfast. Here’s a little money- (and calorie-) saving tip: You can order child sized portions and they won’t question you.

 

The Pilgrim's Feast at Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square at Magic Kingdom.

The Pilgrim’s Feast at Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square at Magic Kingdom.

Epcot was where I did some serious eating. My first day there I was nursing a queasy stomach after riding Mission: Space, so I waited too long to get anything in a sit-down restaurant, so I hopped from country to country in the World Showcase and sampled foods from the quick-service restaurants. I had a delicious cinnamon sugar croissant donut in Canada, some fish and chips in the UK and an amazing caramel bar from Germany. We pigged out at the Biergarten Buffet on my second trip to Epcot, where we enjoyed sausages, potato salads, pot roast, roast pork, pork schnitzel, spätzel, German cheesecake, berry compotes and more. The price is a little steep at $40, but it was worth it. I left full, but not sick and didn’t need to eat again until I got back to the hotel at the end of the night.

The Cinnamon Sugar Croissant Donut from the Canadian Pavilion at the World Showcase at Epcot.

The Cinnamon Sugar Croissant Donut from the Canadian Pavilion at the World Showcase at Epcot.

The dinner show at the Biergarten Buffet in the German Pavilion at World Showcase in Epcot.

The dinner show at the Biergarten Buffet in the German Pavilion at World Showcase in Epcot.

My biggest food indulgence on this trip was the incredible Dole Whip and Citrus Swirl floats at the Aloha Isle kiosk in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom. Dole Whip is essentially pineapple soft serve that is only available in a handful of places at Disney World, whereas Citrus Swirl is an orange/vanilla soft serve twist that tastes like an orangesicle. What makes it a float, you ask? The cup of ice cold pineapple juice that the soft serve is floating in. It is the most refreshing thing maybe on the planet and, unfortunately, the floats are only available at the Aloha Isle kiosk in Magic Kingdom, which means lines. There are four windows, but only two lines, so be prepared to wait at least 10 minutes – maybe longer – for your delicious float. It’s totally worth the wait. I promise.

The Citrus Swirl Float from Aloha Isle in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom. Definitely worth the wait.

The Citrus Swirl Float from Aloha Isle in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom. Definitely worth the wait.

If you’re planning a trip to Disney World, be prepared to hurry up and wait. As the busiest theme park in the world, you should expect the lines to be pretty long. It’s quite common to wait an hour or more to get onto any attraction and the wait to meet characters could be just as long, if not longer. It’s no secret that I love to meet the characters – even as a 37 year old man, they’re magical to me. I remember when I was there 30 years ago, the characters would wander around the parks in their appropriate “Land” and we, the guests, could approach them for pictures. No more. With the crowds swelling to 100,000 on capacity days at the Magic Kingdom, poor Mickey Mouse would be absolutely trampled if he were seen just meandering about the park, so characters now have designated areas where guests can wait in line to meet them. Depending on the character, the line could be 5 people deep, which equates to a 5-minute wait, or it could be 50-100 people deep, which means more than an hour. The most popular characters – the Princesses – often have waits of 2 hours or more, though you get more bang for your buck with them as you typically get to meet 2 Princesses in one room. This may sound like a very long time to wait to meet Snow White and Rapunzel – and it is – but it’s nothing compared to the 5-6 hour wait to meet Anna and Elsa at the Norway Pavilion at Epcot. Yes…5-6 hours for a 1-minute meet and greet.

While I really wanted to meet as many characters as I could, I felt it was more prudent to spend my time enjoying the attractions and soaking in the atmosphere, which is as much a part of the experience as anything else. I spent hours with my camera walking around snapping shots of iconic rides and buildings and, yes, characters, trying to capture the spirit of it all in a few thousand photographs. But really, this trip was about reclaiming the experience that I wanted to have when I was a kid, and I really feel I succeeded. Whether it was watching the fireworks at Magic Kingdom or Epcot or seeing the parades or meeting Mickey Mouse (who now talks to you!), I never stopped being amazed and slightly baffled by Disney World. What a strange thing to be a grown man waiting in line to meet a talking mouse or waving at a Princess as she passes by on a giant float or to catch yourself singing along at full voice as you float through Splash Mountain or to catch yourself crying during the fireworks show. Stephen kept pointing out that the parks are basically nothing but a marketing tool to promote Disney’s films – a never-ending opportunity to sell merchandise and make money – and even though the grown-up in me was aware of that, part of me didn’t care. Seeing a Make-A-Wish kid hugging Minnie Mouse – and seeing that Minnie clearly did not want to let go – reminded me of what Disney means to me. Hope. Love. Magic. Dreams coming true. There is something magical about it and I can’t wait to go back and maybe even work there someday.

Minnie Mouse and me on Main Street U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom.

Minnie Mouse and me on Main Street U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom.

This entry has become quite long and there’s still so much I could say about my week with the Mouse. Maybe I’ll write more later, or maybe I’ll just hold on to the rest of my memories as a personal souvenir. But I will share with you some of the photos that I took during the week after the jump. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did when I took them!

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