Tag Archives: Florida

I’m About To Ask You For Money

31 Mar

It’s been a crazy few weeks, friends. I’ve moved to a new living situation, which is working out quite nicely, and I’ve been continuing with my weight loss journey through Weight Watchers and keeping track of my activity through my FitBit Surge. To date, I’ve lost 26.8 pounds  and I’m still going.

I am a little disappointed in myself because my walking frenzy has slowed, partially due to moving to a new neighborhood, partially because of my work schedule, but mostly, if I’m being 100% honest with you, because I got a new TV and I’ve been enjoying that a little more than I probably should. I’m making a conscious effort to nip that habit in the bud and get back to being active, but in the meantime I’m continuing to track my food and, consequently, I’m continuing to shrink. The photo below will give you an idea of where I am and where I came from. The photo on the left is from last May and the one on the right was this morning. Same shirt, different body. It’s exciting!!

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 2.40.02 PM

The last couple of weeks have become a bit more challenging, though, because the more weight you lose, the less you’re able to eat in order to continue to lose weight. I mean, it makes sense – I can’t eat the same amount of food I was eating 20 pounds ago and expect to continue to lose weight – but just because it makes sense, that doesn’t mean it makes it easier. Also, because I’ve not been walking as much, I find I’m going back to old habits of eating out of boredom. Luckily I don’t keep a whole lot of food in the house, so I’ve just had to get over it, but the temptation is getting to be too much sometimes.

So…in an attempt to motivate me to walk more and, just to be a good human being and hopefully make a difference while I’m walking, I have signed up to walk with the Walt Disney World VoluntEARS team in the 2016 AIDS Walk Orlando – a charity event to benefit Hope and Help Center of Central Florida.

And here’s where I ask you for money.

I ask you to consider sponsoring me in this walk. The minimum donation is $5, but you can donate as much as you’d like above that. And! The Walt Disney Company will match your donation of $25 or more. I think that’s pretty awesome.

Why are we doing this event and where would your money go? Well…according to the website:

  • All money raised goes to Hope and Help’s client-centered services, which cover the full continuum from HIV prevention to treatment.
  • In Florida, 15% of all new HIV infections reported among females in 2012 were under the age of 25.
  • Of those persons living with HIV disease in Florida, 49% are black, 29% are white and 20% are Hispanic. Men represent 70% of the cases. Persons   over the age of 45 years represent 60%.
  • Approximately 18% of individuals living with HIV/AIDS are unaware of their diagnosis.
  • 1 in 4 new cases of HIV are among those ages 13 – 24.
  • In 2014, Hope and Help Center administered  5,477 HIV tests to our Central Florida neighbors.
  • Hope and Help Center reaches many underserved high risk areas by use of mobile testing units.
  • Hope and Help served over 5,000 clients last year. We provide many services, with many of our clients requiring more than one service.
  • Hope and Help Center is the largest AIDS Service Organization in Central Florida, with 7 locations throughout Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties.
  • There are 12,500 of our Central Florida neighbors living with HIV/AIDS.
I would venture to say that each and every one of us knows someone who has HIV or AIDS, or someone who has lost someone dear to them to the disease, whether we realize it or not. Please consider donating to this worthy cause. If you’d like to sponsor me, please visit www.AIDSWalkOrlando.org. Next to “Donation Type,” choose “Donate to an Individual” and find my name on the list. Again, if you donate $25 or more, The Walt Disney Company will match your donation!

Thank you so much!

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.

 

 

Say Goodbye To The Merch Whore

28 Dec

Two years ago – almost to the day – I started a journey that has taken me across this great country more than once, to cities I’d only dreamed of visiting and, truthfully, to some that I hope to never return to again. Today that journey ends and a new adventure begins.

I never dreamed that I’d be out here as long as I have been – what was supposed to have been 6 months turned into 2 years – and now that I’m facing down the reality of living off the road, I’m having a bit of a freak out. There have been anxiety attacks, cold sores, acid reflux, headaches and ground teeth, not to mention copious amounts of sugar and Doritos consumed. The stress of searching for an apartment from 3,000 miles away has literally kept me up nights and the idea of having a car payment, insurance payments, rent and utilities, etc. gives me heart palpitations and sweats. Add to that the idea of going back to auditioning after 2 years of not singing a single note (and about 60 lbs. heavier) is intimidating, as well.

That being said, the possibilities that are ahead of me get me excited. Jessie, the young lady who’s replacing me as merchandise manager for Kinky Boots, went to college in Orlando and talking with her last night has gotten me really excited for the work opportunities down there. I feel like she’s given me some very good advice and she’s somewhat relieved my anxieties. That’s not to say that I’ve relaxed, but I feel less anxious. I suppose that’s something.

Anyway. It occurred to me just a few minutes ago that, since Jessie will be working today’s matinee on her own as a trial by fire of sorts, I quite possibly sold my last t-shirt/magnet/CD/program/pair of socks ever last night. Today I will spend the majority of the show counting and packing inventory and getting things ready for load out. I suppose it’s a bit of an unceremonious ending after so many years of doing this job, but…this job has never stood much on ceremony.

Monday morning I will board a plane to fly out of San Francisco. I’ll meet my parents in Atlanta, where we’ll have “Christmas” with my brother, and then we’ll drive down to Orlando for New Year’s, where I’ll hopefully get to check out a couple of apartment complexes. I’ll go home to Kentucky after that for a few days, I suppose, and then I’ll have to head up to New York to collect my belongings from my storage unit. From there I’ll have to drive back to Kentucky to offload some of those things and pick up other things that my Mom wants to give me before driving down to Florida and starting my new life. Y’know…no big deal. Easy, right? Riiiiight. Just writing it out makes my eye twitch.

So, there you have it. Today’s the day. The Emancipation of the Merch Whore. Stay tuned for what happens next – it’ll be just as big a surprise for me as it will be for you.

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!

Continue reading

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!

Who’s The Leader Of The Club That’s Made For You And Me? M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E!

22 Nov

Someone just had a birthday! He’s cute, sweet, funny, rich and incredibly famous. Those last two adjectives clued you into the fact that it’s not me, right? No, folks…I’m talking about Mickey Mouse’s 85th birthday, which was this past Monday! Can you believe it? He doesn’t look a day over 63.

My love of Disney and the Mouse started as a kid. As I mentioned in my last post, my grandparents had a lot to do with that, taking me to the movies to see re-releases of the classic animated features or to meet-and-greets with the Mouse himself. My parents spoiled me with dozens of Disney albums (remember LPs?) that featured classic Disney tunes or told the stories that we all know so well. I had Picture Disc albums of “The Lady and the Tramp,” “The Fox and the Hound,” which still breaks my heart, and “Mary Poppins.” I was a member of the Mickey Mouse Club and had a big pin to prove it. I used to Mousercise. Don’t judge – it was a thing!

When I was 8 or 9, my Grandmama and Popaw decided that we should take a road trip to Orlando so I could meet the Mouse on his home turf. My uncle, who’d just gotten out of a stint in rehab, and his friend were going to join us. The plan was to go to Fort Myers first, hitting the beach before we headed up to the Happiest Place on Earth. It was the first time I’d ever taken a major trip without my parents and honestly, I wasn’t terribly excited about it, even with the looming opportunity to meet Mickey and friends.

My Mom bought me a brand new (expensive) pair of Reebok high tops (that was a thing, too) and packed my case full of matchy-matchy Bermuda shorts and button down short sleeved shirts and we were off. On the way down to Florida, we got a flat tire somewhere around the Georgia/Florida state line. It was a real doozy of a storm, and I’ve always had a paralyzing fear of being caught in a tornado, and as my Popaw and uncle got out in the storm to change the tire, I sat in the front seat with my grandmother, sobbing and begging them to get back in the car before they were killed. They lived, of course – it would be inappropriate to write such a macabre story on Mickey Mouse’s big day – and we continued our trip down to Ft. Myers.

It was in Ft. Myers that I developed a distaste for beaches. It’s not the beach itself that I dislike – I think they’re quite beautiful – but the experience ruined me on beaches for life. We found a choice parking spot in the beach’s public lot and in my excitement, I ran ahead as my grandparents got the beach bags and towels and things and locked up the car. I was still wearing my Reeboks and my grandmother didn’t want me to traipse through the sand in them and told me to take them off and put them in the trunk of the car. Well, who had time to run all the way back to the car when we were losing precious time on the beach? Not me! So I took my shoes off and hid them next to a garbage can and ran back out to the beach. I hastily slathered on some sunscreen and headed straight out into the water.

Grandmama asked me several times if I had applied sunscreen – and I had – so I always answered, “Yes.” Had she asked me if I’d reapplied after being in the water, things might have turned out differently… We had a great time at the beach, running in and out of the water and building things in the sand, but all good things must come to an end, so we packed up our things and headed back to the car. On the way, I went back to my secret hiding spot to pick up my shoes. They weren’t there.

I immediately started to panic. My grandparents quickly caught on to the fact that something was up, but I was scared to death to tell them what had happened. It had never occurred to me that anyone might even find my shoes, let alone take them. My Mom had made such a fuss over how much the shoes cost that my first thought was, “My Mom is going to kill me!” and I started to cry. We looked all over Ft. Myers beach for those shoes, with my grandmother even going so far as to ask the people at the hotel (where my not-so-secret hiding place was) if she could dig through their dumpster to see if they’d been thrown away. The hotel wouldn’t allow it, of course, so we were forced to leave with me in tears and barefoot.

We drove to the nearest K-Mart and my grandmother bought me some cheap – CHEAP – sneakers (which lasted me forever, by the way) as I followed behind her, still sobbing and mumbling, “My Mom is going to KILL me!” I hated the shoes Grandmama picked out, but beggars can’t be choosers. We went back to the hotel to clean up before dinner and I calmed down a bit, though I was still certain my Mom was going to disown me when she found out that I’d lost my Reeboks. We went out to eat and when we came back to the hotel, my grandmother told me to get ready for my shower.

I started to take my shirt off and couldn’t get my arms over my head. I knew I was sunburnt – I could feel it – but my grandfather couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to get my shirt over my head. He was, understandably, a little fed up with me by that point, and started to yank the shirt up over my head as I started to scream in pain. By the time he finally got my shirt off, my grandmother gave a little shriek (she’s a bit dramatic) and started to cry. On each shoulder were blisters that covered the entire tops of my shoulders and they were probably a quarter of an inch thick. I was still crying from the pain as my grandfather put in me in the bathtub and started pouring cold water over the blisters. My grandmother was still a blubbering mess in the bedroom. I guess I know where I get my excitability and inability to function well in times of crisis…

The next day we drove to Orlando. I have a long history of car sickness, and about the time we pulled into the hotel parking lot, I started feeling a bit green around the gills. My grandmother grabbed my sand bucket and I puked in the front lobby of the hotel. I’m classy like that. I felt better a few hours later, but my grandmother was still a mess. The next day we headed to the Magic Kingdom.

I don’t remember much about our trip to Walt Disney World. Mostly I remember wondering why all the costumed characters were putting their arms around me and patting me on the shoulders. I was wearing a red button-up cotton shirt, and the first character that patted me on the shoulder popped the blister and it oozed all over my shirt, leaving a dark red stain. And I cried. But at least I didn’t puke.

Me with Bianca (of "The Rescuers") at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

Me with Bianca (of “The Rescuers”) at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

The next day we went to EPCOT Center, which I also don’t remember well, but I do remember feeling much better that day. I vaguely remember riding the ride inside the big golf ball and Captain Nemo’s submarine ride, and I remember Figment, the little dragon. Other than that, I don’t remember much of EPCOT, either.

My mother obviously did not kill me over the shoes and I didn’t die from sun poisoning, but my interest in Disney ceased as soon as we got home. I didn’t want to set foot in another Disney park again in my life, and I was approaching the age where the animated features didn’t interest me much anymore. Like Wendy in “Peter Pan,” I was growing up.

In 2011, I was hired to sing in a concert tour of Disney music in Japan. I was incredibly excited to visit another country, but I really couldn’t have cared less about singing Disney stuff. I was a serious singer/actor! Who had time for that bibbidi-bobbidi crap? It didn’t take long to get wrapped up in that bibbidi-bobbidi goodness and at the first mention of going to Tokyo DisneySea, something that had been buried deep inside me for a long, long time got very, very excited. A few weeks later I got to visit Tokyo Disneyland. It had been more than 25 years since I’d been to a Disney park, and this time around I made sure I did it right.

The joy that I felt seeing the costumed characters – that I still feel – continues to baffle me, but it’s there. My friends Eri-san and Saya-san stood in line with me for 30 minutes to get our picture made with Mickey Mouse and throughout the day at Tokyo Disneyland, we stopped and took pictures with each character we met. They didn’t judge me – they loved it! I felt like I was that 8-year old boy again. We rode every ride, we ate tiny little Japanese turkey legs, we watched the Electric Light Parade, we sang “It’s A Small World” in our native languages as we went through the attraction and we went to our laughing places. It truly was magical and for the first time in years, I felt carefree and, as silly as it sounds, nourished.

My first picture with the Mouse! Saya-san (on the left) and Eri-san (kneeling) brought ears for us to wear.

My first picture with the Mouse! Saya-san (on the left) and Eri-san (kneeling) brought ears for us to wear.

This past May I was lucky enough to take my first venture to the original Happiest Place On Earth – Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, with two of my best friends who now live in San Diego. I arrived at the park before they did and I was like a kid in a candy store. I got my picture with the Big 5 characters – Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto – and I took my time marveling at Main Street, U.S.A., taking as many pictures as I could before Tom and Anthony arrived. Since that first visit, I’ve been to Disneyland and California Adventure five times with another visit planned the week before Christmas. It doesn’t get old. It doesn’t feel silly. It’s wonderful. And it all started with a mouse.

So, to my friend Mickey Mouse, I wish a very happy 85th birthday. I’ll never leave you again, and I know you’ll always be there for me, too.

See ya real soon!

Disney Character Collage