In the Shadow of the Mouse

Secrets of a theme park obsessed local who lives next door to Mickey, with annual passes to every Central Florida park

Videos show all the Frozen Summer fun at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Recently, I blogged about my day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios enjoying all the Frozen Summer activities. After all, who can resist playing in the snow in Florida, seeing Anna and Elsa, and singing “Let It Go” for the five hundred and thirty-fourth time?

If you haven’t made it over to the park to see it all for yourself, perhaps these videos will whet your appetite and inspire you to run over to the Studios. Just about everything, other than the ice skating, is included with your admission ticket, so it’s a nice little enhancement to a park that already has fun rides and shows like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Star Tours, Muppets 3-D, and the ever-popular Toy Story Mania.

Below, you’ll find a full overview of Frozen Summer, which runs through September 1:

This is an event that you’ll want to tough out until the end. As you saw in the video above, it’s capped with an impressive fireworks display. If you’re hearty enough to arrive at park opening and stay until close, you’ll begin your day with a cute welcome from Olaf, as seen in the video below:

The two big shows are the Frozen Sing-Along and Anna and Elsa’s royal welcome, which combines a mini parade with a cute little stage show. You can see it in the video below:

Frozen Summer is a great way for Disney to integrate one of its hottest (coldest?) properties into its parks. Anna and Elsa already to meet and greets at the Magic Kingdom, but that park is always the most popular, and it also has the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, so it doesn’t really need any other draws. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the perfect spot to act as the center of the Frozen action. In the video below, Creative Director Reed Jones talks about the event:

If you plan to make it out to Frozen Summer, you still have a while. Just hit the park by September 1 and you can witness snow in Florida, make your own snowman, and enjoy winter fun in the summer season.

A day at Disney’s Frozen Summer: Ice, snow, singing and sweets

b3“Frozen” is a box office phenomenon that remains wildly popular nearly a year after its theatrical release. The Anna and Elsa meet and greet at the Magic Kingdom routinely racks up multi-hour waits (hint: get a FastPass if you possibly can, but you need to do that early). Now the sisterly duo is spicing things up at Disney’s Hollywood Studios with Frozen Summer, a daily event that runs through September 1.

Nope, you won’t get to meet Elsa and Anna in person, but you’ll see them live in two shows, and you’ll enjoy winter activities that are pretty hard to come by in Florida at any time of year, like snowman building and ice skating. Just in case it’s been too long since you’ve heard “Let It Go,” you can get your fix at one of the daily singalongs.

I spent a day enjoying Frozen Summer, and I have to admit that it really brought out the kid in me. I arrived before park opening because I’m no fool: summer in Florida means massive crowds at Disney, especially with Anna and Elsa as an added attraction. Early arrival gives you a precious window of opportunity before the influx of humanity gets too overwhelming. If you plan to hit up Frozen Summer, I advise you to get there early too.

Once you arrive, you’ll get a cute little Olaf cutout that you can use for photo opportunities (and he doubles as a handy dandy fan, too). If you don’t get one at the entrance, they’re handed out at many kiosks around the park, too. As you can see in the photo below, Olaf and I managed to find Sven, or at least one of his relatives:

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Since I was there for rope drop, I had a prime spot for the little opening ceremony up on the main stage. There aren’t any live Frozen characters, but Olaf appears up on the screen.You can see the opening in the video below:

Then the rope goes down and the mad rush for Toy Story Mania begins. I thought that Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and the adjacent Frozen Funland might be crowded early on, but amazingly, it really wasn’t. I had no wait to step onto the snowy landscape and make a snowball:

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I watched the fun on the ice skating rink, although I didn’t try it myself. Instead, I headed next door for a little shopping at the trading post, where I got an Elsa Magic Band.

I was dazzled by the wide array of Frozen merchandise, from books to dresses to t-shirts to dolls and more. People were grabbing handfuls of dolls and toys (you can’t buy more than five of any one item). Thankfully, there are many registers for check-out so the line moves pretty quickly. I was able to use my annual pass holder discount, which was a nice plus.

b1Next on my agenda was watching the royal welcome, a miniature parade and presentation on the main stage. You can either stake out a spot early or buy the Frozen Package, which also includes special seating for the singalong show and a pre-fireworks dessert party. If you have limited time and want to be sure to get the full Frozen experience, then I highly recommend it.

If you’re not in the package area, you’ll want to pick a spot as close to the stage as possible so you can see it for the show.

Various performers head down the street, and Elsa and Anna pass regally by in a horse drawn carriage. Keep an eye out for Kristoff, too. After the parade, they head onto the stage for a cute little show, topped off with a pretty intense “snow” shower. You can see the whole experience on the video below:

b4By now, it was almost lunch time, so I headed to Starring Rolls, my favorite place to catch a quick bite at the Studios. I’d been drooling over all the delicious Frozen-themed goodies in Oaken’s, so I got an Anna cupcake (chocolate with butter cream icing) to go with my sandwich. The Olaf cupcakes are a nice treat too (carrot cake with cream cheese frosting). And yes, that is a bare butt cheek photo bombing my cupcakes at the top of the photo.

Next, I headed for the Frozen Singalong in the Premier Theater, which is just past Muppets 3D. The show has several advantages. First, it’s in an air conditioned theater than feels so good after spending time outdoors in the heat.

Second, it’s so much to watch all the little “Frozen” fans. The young girl in front of me was vociferously singing “Let It Go” as we waited for the show to start, and I was amazed that such a small child would know all of the words.

b5Even if you don’t know all the songs by heart, the words are projected onto three big screens. The singalong is led by two royal historians who tell a Cliff Notes version of the tale while Anna heads out to find Elsa. I was surprised at the amount of humor in the show. Yes, some of the jokes are a little corny, but I’ll admit that I laughed my way through it. All the best songs are featured, and “Let It Go” is in there twice. Kristoff fans will find him here, and of course Anna manages to round up Elsa for a snowy finale.

The third thing I liked about the show was that it wasn’t something where you have to make the kids sit still and quiet. Instead, they’re encouraged to sing their little hearts out, and they really do get into it. Heck, some of the adults were singing with as much gusto as the kids.

The show is presented several times each day. so get a schedule when you get to the park and work your day around your preferred time. You get to pick a specific time for your preferred seating if you get the package.

b6Being a lazy local, I didn’t stick around for the night time dance party and fireworks. However, I highly recommend doing so, especially if you don’t live close by and therefore don’t get an opportunity to run by spontaneously to see them. You can easily plan to spend a whole day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or to take the boat to Epcot for part of the day and then return for the night time fun.

Everything but the ice skating is included with your regular park admission. Of course, it costs extra to spring for the Frozen Package, but it’s well worth the money, especially during the insane summer season. If you plan to hit up this event, do it by September 1, as it melts into oblivion after that date.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse.

Dear past me: Guess what, you’re going to live next door to Disney someday

Tonight’s HypeOrlando Blogapalooza challenge is to write a note to my past self back when I was 18 years old. That’s a few decades back now, but in pondering the topic, I’m happy to say that I don’t think my younger self would think her future is too shabby. So here goes:

b34Dear 18-Year-Old Me:

Guess what? You’re going to live next door to Walt Disney World someday. I know how much you loved all those Disney movies and Disney Golden books and watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” on TV. Sadly, you’re not going to make it to Disney World until you’re in your 20s, but I promise you’ll make up for lost time. How would it sound to never have to dig your car out of the snow again? To never shiver in the 30 degrees below wind chill of a typical Chicago winter? And, best of all, to go to Disney any time you choose? Imagine getting a notion to pop over to the Magic Kingdom and hop on Space Mountain or catch the parade. Go ahead and do it. And you know how they just opened that brand new park called EPCOT Center? Well, by the time you turn into old and crotchety me, Walt Disney World will have four…count ‘em, four…theme parks, not to mention a couple of water parks as icing on the cake.

You know how you keep saying you’re going to be a writer and a psychologist, too? Well, I’m happy to tell you that you’re one of those rare people who really will become what you said you wanted to be when you grow up. Yes, you’re going to work your butt off in school for that doctorate, but don’t slack off. I promise that it will be worth all the effort. Counseling is one of those rare fields where you really can make a positive impact in someone’s life. Yes, I know it’s an awful lot of school, but someday you’ll be me and all that prep work will be in the past and you’ll be doing something you love.

And as for writing, you know how you’re currently doing it with that Smith Corona Selectric that you think is so cool and state of the art because it was a correction cartridge. Well, just wait until you catch up to me and see how I’m writing this letter to you. I’m typing on a handy dandy device perched on my lap. Not only can I write with it, but I can publish my thoughts instantly and have them accessible to literally almost everyone in the world (whether they actually want to read them is another question). Really, though, you’ll do well as a writer, even though you’ll shift from your magazine and newspaper work to something called the Internet. What is it? Well, imagine having a treasure trove of all the world’s knowledge at your fingertips and the ability to communicate with people around the globe just by tapping a few keys. Then imagine using that technology mainly for looking at funny pictures of cats and you pretty much have the right idea.

I know that you’re going to go through some hard times between then and now. I can’t say anything to save you from them because they’re all part of your development and what turns you into me someday. All I can say is, there’s going to be a happy ending. You’re going to get to do work that you love and visit not only Walt Disney World, but also other theme parks that don’t even exist yet in your 18-year-old world (hint: keep an eye out for something called Harry Potter).

I know that the year 2000 feels like it’s a million miles away, but believe me, it will come in the blink of an eye. Then, before you know it, the new millennium will be over a decade old.This Five for Fighting Song sums it up very nicely:

Technology is going to go into crazy fast-forward mode, so be prepared (psssst…Apple….it’s gonna be huge). And next time you’re scraping the ice off your car window with a credit card and praying that the engine turns over in the Arctic tundra temperatures, just remember…someday, single digit temperatures will be a foreign concept as you shiver any time the mercury dips below 70 degrees. I know you think I’m crazy now, but just you wait….

Love,

2014 Barb

b33As a quick addendum to today’s post, my regular readers know that I recently did a couple of posts on Gay Days, which just wrapped up last weekend. I got some colorful comments, including one from a reader named Joel who mentioned the t-shirt he wore to the Magic Kingdom. I invited him to send me a photo so I could post it. You can see it at the right. While I’m usually not offended by the shirts I see on Gay Days, I have to admit it’s an interesting twist on the usual sea of quips and double entendres. Thanks for sending it along, Joel!

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse. Email comments and story ideas to hypeorlandoblogger@gmail.com.

The ‘shocking’ reality of Gay Days: What really goes on at the Magic Kingdom

gayEvery year, I hear wild and crazy assumptions about what goes on at Gay Days. The Magic Kingdom supposedly turns into a hell hole of debauchery that’s something like Amsterdam and Las Vegas mating and producing an army of gay love children who go on a rampage of murdering nuns and slaughtering puppies and kittens. Think I’m exaggerating? Here are some quotes from an actual anti-Gay Days website:

“(Families) travel from across the country to Disney World, only to discover that the park has been taken over by red-shirted, orgiastic homosexuals. And imagine the horror of seeing the lovable and innocent characters, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, whom the children have been taught to accept and cherish, suddenly promoting the gay lifestyle to children.

Throughout the day within Disney’s Magic Kingdom, they can be seen fondling each other, groping each other, engaged in open-mouth kissing, group urination in public restrooms – and worse.”

What the heck is group urination? And what could be worse? Group pooping? But wait, there’s more…

During the recently concluded Gay Days, I not only saw men kissing men, but these shirtless homosexuals were twisting the nipples of each other and fondling the butts and groins of their lovers. All of this occurs out in the open, in public, every year, at Walt Disney World.”

All that is paranoid whacko enough, but here’s where it takes a turn straight into Crazy Town:

“You might cringe at the thought that kids as young as 4 or 5 will be at this meeting, but they surely will be. You can count on it. Their homosexual parents will take their little kids and parade them around as Gay and Lesbian Tykes. But how do these kids know they are homosexuals? Forget about the little ones. How does a 13 or 14-year-old know he or she is homosexual? There’s only one way to know for sure. And that means these parents are allowing them to engage in sex. Yet, more probable, it’s because these parents are making a determined effort to turn them into homosexuals, by taking such actions as: Carting them off to Gay and Lesbian Youth Meetings.

“Yes, these young kids are being TRAINED  into a gay or lesbian relationship. And what a great place to start? Disney World! Where fantasies come true! Take the little tykes into a seabed of 100,000 homosexuals, introduced them into the raucous sex that is all around them, show them other little children who are homosexual, and maybe they can force their homosexuality on their kids.”

It’s pretty obvious the website’s author is clueless about homosexuality. As a doctor of psychology and trained counselor, I’ve worked with many gay and lesbian clients. All knew they were gay by their teen years, and many knew they were different quite early on, even though they were too young to know exactly what that difference was.

As Gay Days winds down for 2014, I’d like to set the record straight (no pun intended). Will you really see prancing she-males shoving their tongues down their partners’ throats at every turn? I’ve attended the event for many years now, and I hate to tell all those expecting horror and mayhem that you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Here’s the reality

1) You’ll definitely see a lot of red shirts. The red shirts are tradition, so yes, you’ll see a sea of them. They’re not only worn by gay men and lesbians, but also their family members and others who support them. Personally, I either don a red shirt or my rainbow “Straight But Not Narrow” tee. You might see some shirts with humorous double entendre sayings that have a gay twist, but they’re not any more graphic than the general t-shirts with double meanings you see on any other day. I personally love scoping out the best shirts, as some are very creative.

2) You’ll see PDAs, but very minor ones. I’ve seen some pretty shocking PDAs among straight guests on nearly every visit to the Disney parks. For example, go during the cheerleading events and you’ll need a gallon of eye bleach and an hour-long hot shower just to feel clean again. Most of the gay and lesbian guests keep things keep things tasteful during the event. You might see hand holding, quick kisses, and the like, but it’s very rare to see anything too intense. I personally see it as a great opportunity to introduce kids to the world’s diversity. If you have a young child who asks, “Why is that man kissing another man?” or “Why is that lady kissing that other lady?” it’s easy enough to say, “You know how men and women love each other? Sometimes two men or two women love each other that way, too.” Great teachable moment.

3) You’ll see a few ostentatious guests. Yes, there are some ostentatious guests during Gay Days, but I never find it to be in an obnoxious way. You know how adults come in elaborate costumes for Star Wars Weekends or Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party? Picture that on a very tiny scale. My favorite was the two guys in rainbow Tinkerbell costumes, but alas, displays like that are few and far between.

4) The Country Bears Jamboree will actually have a line. The line will be made up mainly of large, hairy men. Visit my fellow HypeOrlando blogger, Adam Rhodes, if you need a hint on why that might happen.

Basically, you really won’t see all that much of a difference on Gay Days from any other day. Granted, wild activities do take place at private events during the week, but those require separate tickets and only attract the wilder element, much as parties at any typical conventions attract the party crowd. The average tourist is never going to see that because they’re not part of the private group activities.

Gay Days is ending for 2014, and somehow Orlando once again managed to escape a plague of locusts or a rain of toads, so I guess we’re still okay with God. Or wait…maybe I have it all wrong. My vehicle already got covered with love bug guts this year. I’ve always thought that, despite what Snopes says, they’re really the result of a genetic experiment gone awry. Maybe, just maybe, they’re actually a Biblical plague to punish us all via destroyed car paint for allowing this annual tourism boost in our town.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse. Email comments and story ideas to hypeorlandoblogger@gmail.com.

The many faces of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train: Join me for five rides on video

One of the best parts of the recent Seven Dwarfs Mine Train media event was that not only did I get to try out this new ride, but I got to ride it multiple times. In the first go-’round, the camera was on me to catch my initial reactions. I’m happy to say that the ride was just as delightful as I’d imagined it would be.

Later in the evening, I attended the pre-dedication party and had a chance to ride it several more times. I captured video from the front car, middle, and even the back with the camera pointing backwards. If you’d like to see the ride from all those angles, check out the video below, which captures five of my rides.

I actually rode Seven Dwarfs Mine Train eight times in total, but three of them were for pure enjoyment. I love writing about the theme parks because I get to do so many cool things, but sometimes it’s nice to kick back and relax and enjoy the attractions as a tourist.

By the way, I know that my first ride looks a little wild, but I promise you that it’s not. Yes, you move around some, but it’s nothing like the vicious whip action that Big Thunder Mountain can conjure up when it’s in a mean mood or the abrupt dips and turns in the darkness on Space Mountain. It’s a pleasant ride for everyone, and the dark ride through the dwarfs’ mine is just as much fun as the coaster itself.

The ride has already been officially dedicated, and it opens on May 28. If you’d like to see the dedication ceremony in the meantime, check out the video below:

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse.

More wonders of FastPass+: Not just for rides and attractions (eat at Be Our Guest too)

Recently, I blogged about how I used FastPass+ to slash a three hour wait down to just ten minutes. In this article, read about how it makes the wait to meet Anna and Elsa of “Frozen” manageable, even though their wild popularity means multi-hour standby waits every day.

bb1You can use FastPass+ on a wide variety of rides and other character greetings, too, and you can even reserve a viewing spot for attractions like Illuminations at Epcot and the Festival of Fantasy Parade and Main Street Electrical Parade at the Magic Kingdom. But did you know that it’s also good for a special dining experience that’s second only to Anna and Elsa in the crazy crowds it attracts?

I’ve been dying to have lunch in the Beast’s castle ever since the “Be Our Guest” restaurant opened there. I’d tried the delicious dinner menu, so I wanted to see how the counter service lunch stacked up. Alas, lunchtime brings long lines that stretch through New Fantasyland, so lunchtime in the Beast’s ballroom has remained but a wistful dream.

But did you know that you can book a lunchtime FastPass+ reservation for “Be Our Guest” if you’re staying at a Disney resort? I gave it a whirl when I was in the Magic Kingdom last week for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train media event. The standby line was long and intimidating, but I stepped up to the FastPass+ check-in, gave my name and flashed my Magic Band, and I was walking into the castle almost immediately.

bbI tried the ham and cheese sandwich and the tuna salad, and both were very tasty. You could easily share a lunch entree between two people here. It’s a place to come for the atmosphere as much as for the food; besides the heavily themed dining rooms, you’ll love the way you use a magic rose (see the first photo in this article) to alert the servers to your location. Place the rose on your table, and they magically appear when your order is ready, serving it up out of the same fancy carts that are used for dessert in the evening.

As of right now, you can only book a Be Our Guest FastPass+ if you’re staying at an on-site resort, and it’s still in a testing phase so you may or may not be able to make the booking. Go to the Be Our Guest booking website and have your reservation number handy to see if you can grab your spot at this lovely restaurant.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Disney World fulfills its promise as amazing family ride

d2There’s been lots of hype surrounding the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, the very last attraction that finishes off the New Fantasyland expansion at the Magic Kingdom. Over the past months, as a new mountain arose near the carousel, Disney promised a ride that would showcase the latest in Audioanimatronic technology, as well as an innovation twist on roller coasters that would allow the trains to sway on the track. All that, and the ride was supposed to be completely family friendly, too. That’s a big promise. Does the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train really deliver?

I was lucky enough to ride the mine train several times at the Thursday night media preview, and I can assure you: yes, it does! It combines a roller coaster and dark ride, which certain isn’t a new combination, but the dark ride scenes most definitely bring Audioanimatronics to a new level. You see the dwarfs mining for gems inside the mine is an adorable scene that will leave you humming “Hi Ho, Hi Ho” all day. Their faces don’t come out too well in photos because of the technology, but trust me, you’ll be impressed when you see them in person.

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The trains really do sway on the track, but not in a scary way. Rather, they serve to equalize the forces and make the ride smoother. Pretty much anyone can ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train unless you’re absolutely, positively scared to death of even the slightest height and speed.

I recommend riding this ride at night, if possible, because of the spectacular views it offers of Fantasyland. I love night rides on Astro Orbiter for the same reason. The colorful lights and castles and scenery add an extra level of magic.

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d1Of course, your fun will start before you even board the mine train. Be prepared to spend some time in the queue line enjoying the interactive features (my favorite is making music with your hands in the waterfall, although the spinning barrels of gems are a lot of fun too).

You can experience all this for yourself on May 28, the ride’s official opening date. However, if you’re a local or an annual passholder, like me, keep an eye out for soft openings and pass holder previews.

I met a very special celebrity at the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train party. Go to this article in my Doggone Orlando blog to see my encounter with Grumpy Cat.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse.

Quick Disney media event check-in: I rock my Disney side

I promised to issue full reports on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train event at Walt Disney World this week, so here’s  quick installment from the first night (if you missed my previous article, you can find it here). The festivities kicked off with a Rock Your Disney Side party at Epcot, followed by Illuminations viewing. The party was packed with delicious food, wine, margaritas, and other drinks, and some great entertainment. However, I have to admit that the Disney characters were a big highlight of the night.

There were many traditional favorites on hand, like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, who dressed up in their formal wear to celebration the 25th anniversary of Disney’s Hollywood Studios:

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Goofy was there to promote Blizzard Beach:

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There were lots of characters from the Festival of Fantasy parade on hand, but the “Sleeping Beauty” contingent is my favorite:

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Several Cast Members from Festival of the Lion King also paid a visit:

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There were even living statues in the entryway:

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But perhaps the best surprise was having Anna and Elsa sneak up on me as I was grabbing a photo with Olaf. I didn’t even know they were coming, and suddenly there they were!

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Disney definitely knows how to throw a party, and I consider myself very lucky to attend. Here’s one last photo to show how my night ended with a perfect view of Illuminations:

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Stay turned to “In the Shadow of the Mouse” for continued coverage, and follow me via @themeparkwriter on Twitter for live updates as we progress toward the dedication ceremony for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train on Friday.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse.

Stay tuned for live reports on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train from Walt Disney World

Update: Scroll to the bottom of this article for a video ride-through of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and go here to see the next part of my report.

In addition to my HypeOrlando blog, I’m also a long-time theme park writer for Examiner.com, which means I get to cover many major events at Walt Disney World. This week, the big news is the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train event, which includes a media party and previews on Thursday night and a Friday morning dedication ceremony.

Watch my HypeOrlando “In the Shadow of the Mouse” column, as I’ll be covering all the fun right were, as well as on Examiner. Highlights will include a full review and video of my first ride on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, the very last piece of the New Fantasyland expansion.

I’ll also be sharing information about MyMagic+ and multi-generational Walt Disney World vacations. I already know all about the joys of using FastPass+, which I’ve written about previously. If you’d like to know just how valuable FastPass+ can be, hop over to this new post, where I explain first hand just how much of a time-saver it can can. In the meantime, here are some photos from check-in day for the event, including the swag and an absolutely adorable special Magic Band commemorating the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train opening:

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My ticket to ride for Tuesday:

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Swag! I especially love the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train chocolates, which are almost too cute to eat:

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One more swag item:

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Keep watching “In the Shadow of the Mouse” and follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter for updates over the next several days. Meanwhile, here’s Disney’s official ride-through video. I’ll post my personal ride within the next day or two:

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse.

The wonders of Walt Disney World FastPass+: Turn a 3-hour wait into 10 minutes

b7FastPass+ is the next generation of Walt Disney World’s FastPass service. Instead of going to a machine and getting a paper slip, you make ride, show, and attraction reservations right from your home computer before your trip. Of course, you can also book them at kiosks in the park, but doing it early is the best way to ensure that you’ll nab a time for the most popular options.

At the moment, nothing is more popular than “Frozen” sisters Anna and Elsa. They do a meet and greet at the Magic Kingdom, and wait times routinely skyrocket to three to four hours…if you don’t have a FastPass+. Granted, if you want to get one, you need to be online at the very moment you’re eligible to grab one. That date varies, depending on whether you’re staying at a Disney resort, coming in with a day ticket, or using an annual pass. Resort guests get to book at 60 days, while day ticket holders and annual pass holders have to wait until 30 days out.

So is it worth obsessively waiting for your booking date and making a frantic grab for a FastPass+ online? In reality, that sort of thing isn’t without precedent. Those who want to book a popular meal like breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table have been doing it for years. The only different now is that instead of frantically dialing a phone, you’re banging away at computer keys.

Yes, it’s a little hectic, but I have to say “Yes, it’s worth it. It’s worth it 100 percent.” Case in point: I’ve been dying to get a photo with Anna and Elsa, but there’s no way I would spend three to four hours in line to do so. I’m a local, so I wouldn’t be using up a big chunk of my vacation time, but I feel sorry for guests who are in Florida for a limited number of days.

Thankfully, I had a FastPass+; when I arrived at my designated day and time, the line was already three hours. I touched my Magic Band to the reader and headed into the FastPass line Princess Fairytale Hall. I was meeting Elsa and Anna literally within ten minutes.

Granted, your experience may vary, as things can happen that cause delays. When I left, the posted time for the princesses next door (Cinderella and Rapunzel) was 70 minutes, and the FastPass+ line was 30 minutes. That’s still a big time savings, but I found it ironic that Elsa and Anna’s FastPass wait was shorter.

If you have must-dos for your upcoming Disney vacation, FastPass+ is your friend. You might have to get a little frantic to make sure you grab the attractions and times you want, but once that’s over, you can relax and enjoy your trip. You’ll get to do those must-dos, no matter how big the crowd.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog  In the Shadow of the Mouse.