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I Am Thankful For The Happiest Place On Earth

7 Dec

I have failed you, dear reader. I told you I’d recount my Disney Thanksgiving yesterday, but the day got away from me and…well…that’s the only excuse I’ve got. I’m sorry. And I can’t believe I didn’t post anything yesterday about it being Walt Disney’s birthday! I’m really slipping here… Well, Happy 113th Birthday, Uncle Walt!

As some of you may recall, I recently spent a week at Walt Disney World completely on my own, enjoying the parks on my own schedule, at my own pace and on my own budget. Several people were shocked that I would want to go to an amusement park by myself – especially for a full week – but I had the absolute time of my life. I rode what I wanted, I met the characters I wanted to meet, I ate what I wanted whenever I wanted and I took the time to take photos and soak in the world famous Disney atmosphere and attention to detail. I found myself talking to strangers and laughing and walking around with a smile on my face. It was heaven.

So, when I found out that we had Thanksgiving day off in Los Angeles, I decided to forgo a traditional theatre orphans’ Thanksgiving, which usually consists of 5 or 6 people who haven’t any friends or family nearby getting together and cooking (and is, for the record, always fun and a wonderful way to spend the holiday), to treat myself to a day at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

My mother always asks me, “What exactly do you do there all day?” Obviously she has never been to a Disney park, though not for my lack of trying to get her to one.

Rather than tell you what I did, I’ll just show you. Nothing more exciting than looking at someone’s vacation photos, eh? Enjoy!

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American Horror Story: Fantasyland

8 Aug

Have you guys seen this floating around the internet? It’s a collection of photos with some of the creepiest Disney characters in Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s history.

Well, it gave me an idea… What if Ryan Murphy decided to do a season of his television series “American Horror Story” based on these creepy images? My imagination got the best of me and I came up with these pitch ideas. I hope you get as big a kick out of them as I do.

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

American Horror Story: Fantasyland

See Ya Real Soon

25 May

Hi, readers! Greetings from Orlando, where tomorrow I will spend my last day of vacation. This week has been absolutely unreal – three days at Disney World followed by an incredible three days aboard the Disney Dream with my friend, Brance, and today I spent the day at Kennedy Space Center with my friends Kristi and Sara, who were also good enough to drive me to my hotel so I didn’t have to find a shuttle bus or taxi.

There are so many things to write about – and I will, but not necessarily tonight because I need to get to bed if I’m to get up in time for the bus to Magic Kingdom in the morning. But there were so many magical moments this week and, honestly, I’m quite sad to have said “so long” to Brance and the Disney Dream. I found myself getting quite emotional and reflective yesterday, wishing that my cruising experience could continue and that I could spend more time with my friend. I miss him already.

Pirate Mickey and me on Pirate Night aboard the Disney Dream.

Pirate Mickey and me on Pirate Night aboard the Disney Dream.

I cannot begin to express the gratitude that I feel for this past week. “Thank you’s” and small gifts just don’t seem to be sufficient expressions of appreciation, but I’m afraid they’re all I can offer at this point. Brance can’t possibly know what this has meant to and for me. This was exactly what I needed to recharge my batteries and to find my bliss again, and I’m so excited to have one more day in the Happiest Place On Earth.

I will definitely have more to write in the coming days as I return to Evita and the road. See ya real soon!

If You’re Ever Down In Dallas

15 Apr

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Howdy from the Lone Star State, y’all! I’m (almost) back to where this whole blog experience started – I started writing in San Antonio, which is our next tour stop, but we’re in Dallas for the next two weeks at the Music Hall at Fair Park. We’ve played repeat cities, meaning I’ve already sold in certain venues for Flashdance or Peter and the Starcatcher, but I feel like I was just here with Flashdance, though it was actually back in June. I’m in the exact same selling location with the same staff and I’m even in the very same hotel room I was in so many months ago. It’s like Groundhog Day, only not as hot this time. In fact, it was downright cold last night as I stood on the roof of the parking garage next to our hotel to look at the Blood Moon last night – the very same spot I stood to watch the 4th of July fireworks last year. It’s deja vu all over again…

The Blood Moon as seen from the roof of our parking garage in Dallas, Texas.

The Blood Moon as seen from the roof of our parking garage in Dallas, Texas.

Speaking of the Blood Moon…did you guys see it? It was really pretty cool. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one before, though I know they have occurred in my lifetime. I think it’s funny that people have gotten all apocalyptic about the Blood Moon, claiming it’s God making a statement about some sort of upcoming “event.” From what I remember in Sunday school class, God doesn’t need to announce himself or warn us of when He’s about to do something. “Like a thief in the night…” seems to ring a bell. Just sayin’…

Anyway…enough about that.

This has absolutely nothing to do with anything else I’ve written about tonight, but in the last couple of weeks I’ve discovered a couple of new albums that I’m listening to on repeat. “What are they,” you ask? A Great Big World’s “Is There Anybody Out There?” and Ingrid Michaelson’s “Lights Out,” which actually features a track with A Great Big World. I’ve been a big, big fan of Ingrid Michaelson since her music was heavily featured on the first couple of seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy.” “Keep Breathing,” which was featured in the Season 3 season finale when Yang was left at the altar (yet another of Sandra Oh’s amazing acting moments), is still one of my favorite songs. I was really excited to hear that she was releasing a new album (today) and it’s just as good as I wanted it to be. Quality stuff, folks.

The cover of Ingrid Michaelson's new album, "Lights Out"

The cover of Ingrid Michaelson’s new album, “Lights Out”

You’ve probably heard the new version of A Great Big World’s song “Say Something” that they re-recorded with Christina Aguilera. If you haven’t, you need to hear it. It’s the first time in forever that I feel like Xtina is actually singing and not just grunting and growing and riffing all over the place, and it is one of the most honest, haunting songs I’ve heard in a long time on the radio. It’s pretty great. The rest of their album, however, is very different – sometimes silly, always fun and very uplifting with a musical theatre-meets-Ben Folds vibe. A great listen for long road trips. I look forward to hearing more out of these guys.

Sorry for the hasty post, but Eva’s almost dead and I’m going to have a bunch of Texans out here in a minute buying magnets. Yeehaw!

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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I’m So Excited! I’m So Excited! I’m So…EXCITED!!!!

14 Mar

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve written an entry. It’s unacceptable, really. I have no excuse beyond laziness. We’re in Durham, North Carolina this week, where there is little more to do than eat and nap, which is exactly what I’ve done. The weather here has actually been fairly decent – we had one or two days in the lower- to mid-70’s, which is incredible, but yesterday a big rainstorm came through and the temperatures plummeted again into the 40’s. It’s supposed to warm up again this weekend and then next week…Florida!!

We’ll spend a week in Tampa (been there, done that) before we head to Orlando, which is what I’m really excited about. One of the guys on the crew and I decided to look into sharing a room at one of the economy Disney Resorts and, as it turns out, we can actually stay there cheaper than what we would each pay out of our per diem for the company hotel option. We’re getting a room at the All-Stars Sports Resort near Disney’s Animal Kingdom for $115/night, which works out to less than $60/night per person. My regular budget is $70/night, so I’ll actually be able to put the money I save on hotels toward my tickets to the parks. The hotel that the company is staying in is far enough away from the venue that rental cars will be needed, so I don’t even have to pay for a rental car – just the difference in how much gas I use getting to and from work, which Steven and I will split.

In addition to that good news, it turns out that because we’re staying on property in a Disney Resort Hotel, we get to enjoy Extra Magic Hours, which means one park each day will open one hour early just for the people staying in the Disney Resort Hotels and one or more of the parks will stay open two hours past regular closing for us, as well! That’s great because we will have to work in the evenings, so we can get up early and enjoy some extra time in the parks before the major crowds come in. We also get to “test” the new MagicBands system that Walt Disney World is installing into the parks. We will receive colored wristbands (like slap bracelets) that, when scanned, will work as our hotel key, our tickets to get into the park, our FastPass and, if we were buying them, our meal plans. It’s kinda genius and I’m really excited to get to try them out.

Our MagicBands have shipped!

Our MagicBands have shipped!

In doing some research (I’m a planner), it looks like I’ll be able to get a 5-day pass for $304, and for $60 more I can upgrade those passes to Park Hoppers so I can go to any of the parks I want whenever I want to. That’s a nice option because, for example, we have a limited amount of time at the parks in the evening, so if we want to see Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at 8:30 on Monday night and the 10:00 “Wishes” fireworks show at Magic Kingdom, we’d have to have Park Hoppers to go from one park to the other.

My friend Chris, who is doing merch for another tour that will be in Fort Lauderdale at the same time, will be driving up to spend our day off in the parks, too. That’s the day that the rest of the Evita company will be traveling to Naples, Florida, but I’ve booked a room at the Hilton Lake Buena Vista that night using my Hilton HHonors points, so I don’t even have to pay for the room that night. It’s all happening, folks. It’s all happening.

The way I see it, I’ll have six days to see everything in the four parks. One of my goals is to get lots and lots of great pictures – especially with characters. I’ve written before about how miserable my first trip to Walt Disney World was – that was 30 years ago and I intend on having the time of my life this go around. I want to make sure I see my friend Liz hanging out with Pluto in the new Festival of Fantasy parade. I want to see fireworks. I would love to meet Elsa and Anna, but according to Liz, the wait can sometimes be up to 5 hours, if you can imagine. I definitely want to see “Fantasmic!” and “Finding Nemo: The Musical.” And I have to ride Expedition Everest. Basically I want to do it all.

What are your Disney World must-sees and must-dos? Where should I plan to eat that’s both affordable and delicious? And where do I find those much talked about turkey legs?

10 Days To Walt Disney World!

10 Days To Walt Disney World!

Zoobilee Zoo…Cincinnati Style

22 Feb

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