Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What's the Deal?

So, some of you have been looking for a new blog post from me. My apologies, friends. I have been absolutely swamped in my personal life. Everytime I plan time to sit and write, something more important comes up and interrupts. I'm sure you know how that is. So, in order to fill the time between real posts, I thought I would make some mini-posts with updates about my Disney life. It will help to keep me distracted, too. ;-)

As you may be aware, we made reservations to visit WDW! Yay us! Our trip is scheduled for November 4 through 8, 2009 and we are staying at the Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa (SSR). Can you believe that there were no other DVC rooms available for the entire stay? Not a one.

Well, the reservations are made, so what's next? Our main reason for the visit, besides the fact that we REALLY need a vacation, is for the Food & Wine Festival at Epcot. So, we need to start planning what we're going to do at the Festival. Of course, this year everything is dependent on our personal financial situation. In fact, I didn't realize it until I booked this trip, but we had not been to WDW since autumn of 2007 due to a series of job losses and financial setbacks.

We had a run of attending this Festival for many years in a row and for the last several years we attended the Party for the Senses on Saturday night. We would like to do this again this year, but are waiting to see how things work out. Other than that, this year may be a bit scaled back, but who cares? We'll still be at the World!

As we work on our family budget, I hope to be able to make some Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR). Would love to try some of the new offerings like Sanaa, The Wave, and Kouzzina along with some of our long-time favorites: Jiko, Kona Cafe and Le Cellier.

In the meantime, I did get a chance to start scanning some slides from my father's solo trip to WDW in December, 1972 as well as a Summer 1975 family trip. There's some great vintage WDW pictures there and I look forward to sharing them with all of you.

See ya real soon!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

People Watching: Tomorrowland

Continuing the People Watching theme…let’s consider the Tomorrowland area. You’re probably thinking: “Tomorrowland? Yeah, right. It’s so crowded and small...and loud.” That may be true, but there are a few fairly quiet spots to sit down, relax and oh, I don’t know, have a snack or something.

Crossing the bridge from “the hub” into Tomorrowland, you will see the Tomorrowland Convention Center on the left, and on the right is Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. Before these two buildings, though, on both sides are shaded walkways, with sparsely placed benches. If it’s not too crowded and if the Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station is closed, these areas can be VERY relaxed. What I like to do is grab a Mickey bar from the vendor in the hub and sit down here in the shade and listen to one of the best background music loops in the Magic Kingdom.

If it’s too crowded around this area, head on back towards the Carousel of Progress. As you approach the Carousel’s entrance veer to the left towards the restrooms located in the now defunct Tomorrowland Skyway Station.

Photo of Tomorrowland Skyway Station courtesy of Yesterland.com

In a very quiet corner is an area with covered tables. This is a designated smoking area, but if no one is there smoking, this can be a great place to relax and listen to the sounds of Tomorrowland…the Tomorrowland Transit Authority moving above you and the occasional pass of the Walt Disney World Railroad next to you.

Speaking of the TTA…this is a great attraction for some R ‘n’ R!

Photo by Jeff B at dispics.com

This attraction rarely has a line, so loading is quick. It’s roughly ten minutes of a slow-moving, almost one mile ride around and through the attractions of Tomorrowland. Originally known as the WEDway PeopleMover when it opened on July 1, 1975, this attraction was based on the PeopleMover at Disneyland. Truly futuristic, the ride vehicles are propelled by use of linear induction motors. In the spring of 1994, Tomorrowland underwent a massive refurbishment and the name was changed to the Tomorrowland Transit Authority.

The TTA gives you a great overview of Tomorrowland and along the way you will get a sneak peek into Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, Stitch's Great Escape and Space Mountain. Then, next time you ride those attractions, try to figure out where the TTA passes by and give a wave! You'll also get a glimpse of a large, beautiful model for EPCOT as Walt Disney envisioned it...a real blast from the past.

These are the best locations in Tomorrowland for some quiet spots. As we move towards Fantasyland, the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway is fairly loud, so not too many good R 'n' R spots here. If you have a favorite spot, let me know. Please leave a comment or email me your idea for more ways to enjoy some R 'n' R @ WDW.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

People Watching: Main Street, U.S.A.

According to Wikipedia.org, people watching or crowd watching “is the act of observing people and their interactions, usually without their knowledge. Naturalistic observation is another more formal way of describing people watching.” I think you would agree that there is perhaps no better place to people watch than at Walt Disney World. This post is the first in a series of what I will call “People Watching @ WDW.” I will share with you some of my favorite places to sit down, relax, smell the flowers, listen to the ambient sounds and great background music and engage in some naturalistic observation.

First in the series: the Magic Kingdom.

Let’s break it down by area…

Main Street, U.S.A.

One of our favorite places to sit and take in Town Square, Main Street, U.S.A., and Cinderella Castle is atop the Railroad Station.

View of Main Street Railroad Station courtesy of the Vintage Disneyland Tickets blog.

There are a number of benches on the second floor under a glass-covered promenade that face Main Street, U.S.A. Dusk is my favorite time to sit there and watch the transformation: Main Street and the Castle come alive when the lights come on. It’s a beautiful sight as the temperature starts to drop a bit and the hustle and bustle of the streets below take on a new life. It gets crowded up there for parades and fireworks, but it’s a great viewing spot. If you take the time to enjoy this gem, be sure to explore the Station…the detail here is amazing! Beautifully detailed lighting fixtures, period seating and games, and wonderful artwork will take you back to yesteryear. There is also a bulletin board with arriving and departing trains listed…all the locations listed have a backstory.

View of Main Street Railroad Station courtesy of the Vintage Disneyland Tickets blog.

As you walk down Main Street toward the “hub” you will cross East Center Street. Indeed, Main Street has a side street. Before 2001, it was actually a cross street, but that changed with the expansion of the Emporium, which closed West Center Street. In fact, the Harmony Barber Shop was originally on West Center Street along with the Greenhouse Flower Shop, the Hallmark Card Shop and a few other now extinct shops. So, make a right turn and take a stroll down East Center Street. A caricature artist is usually stationed here; beautifully potted plants and landscaping will invite you to explore the area as the noise of Main Street fades behind. Take note of the detail on the buildings, including the balconies above you and the planters on them. The building at the end of the street has an “Art Festival” sign above it…it really was an art “festival” gallery back in the early to mid-1970’s.

View of East Center Street courtesy of the Vintage Disneyland Tickets blog.

There are benches under the awnings and further in there are seating areas with tables. Grab a snack from the Bakery or some fruit from the fruit stand that is often located on this street and head down here for a respite from the Main Street crowd! Drink in the ambience and background music of the area. Look for the windows marked “Singing Lessons” and “School of Dance.” Listen closely to hear singing, voice and dancing lessons coming from the various upstairs rooms!

I hope you enjoyed this look at some more ways to slow down and relax while visiting Walt Disney World. We’ll be discussing more places to sit down, smell the flowers, people watch and fit in some R ‘n’ R around the entire WDW Resort area. If you have a favorite spot, please leave a comment below or send me an e-mail…I’d love to hear from you. If you have pictures of you and/or your family enjoying these locations, please send them to me and I'll post them in this article.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Harmony Barber Shop

From L to R, the author, his sister-in-law Yvonne, mother-in-law
Becky, nephew Nathan and nephew Elijah in front of the
Harmony Barber Shop after haircuts and treatments.
All the boys (including me) got haircuts.
Everyone got colored hair gel and "pixie dust."
(See picture at the end.)

My first R 'n' R post is about one of my favorite "hidden treasures" at WDW and one of my favorite things to do every trip for a number of years: the Harmony Barber Shop at the Magic Kingdom.

Located on what I would call the border of Town Square and Main Street, U.S.A., Harmony Barber Shop is an experience within an experience. The shop is tucked into the Northeast corner of Town Square between the Car Barn and the Emporium, its official address is 43 Main Street. There is a sign above the door that reads “Barber Shop” and a large, traditional candy-stripe barber pole outside, yet many people miss it. What’s so great about it? It’s a real, old-fashioned, working barber shop! “No way!” says you. “Way!” says I.

My first visit to the shop was probably about seven or eight years ago, but they have been in operation since 1975, originally on West Center Street before moving to their current location during the expansion of the Emporium. My first haircut was done by one of the most popular cast member stylists, Michal Marach. Little did I know at the time that people actually come and wait specifically for Michal and that if he’s off that day, they will come back when he is scheduled to be on again. After that first haircut, which was quite good, I went back a few months later and believe it or not, Michal remembered me. He didn’t remember my name, but he remembered my face, and he remembered things we talked about…and it’s been that way ever since. He epitomizes the WDW cast member. When I go for a haircut, I wait for Michal…and I typically try to time it so I need a haircut during the trip. When the shop is slow and there’s no line outside, it looks like nothing more than a Main Street façade. I always get a good laugh sitting in the chair when someone pokes their head in and realizes that we’re not Audio-Animatronics.

The Barber Shop is not large, in fact it only has two stations and a few chairs inside to sit and wait. Guests are taken on a first-come, first-served basis only. The wait can range from ten minutes to over one hour, depending on when you arrive and how busy the park is, there may be a line outside. The inside décor is well-themed and old-timey, like you would expect. Hair tonics and talcum powders line dark burgundy shelves, there is an old “potbelly” stove, and all sorts of little touches to make you feel like you stepped back in time. They even have an old-time cash register dating from 1912. In fact, until recently the theming was so complete, they only used that cash register for all transactions, cash only. About two years ago they started accepting credit cards.

For even more nostalgia and that famous Disney showmanship, you might even be treated to a visit by the Dapper Dan’s, Main Street, U.S.A.’s very own barber shop quartet. When they make an appearance, this talented group of guys fills this small space with beautiful old-time melodies and a few corny jokes for good measure. When they visit, it’s easy to think that you’ve been magically transported to the early 20th century.

Naturally, the shops specialty is “First Haircuts.” Young guests who receive their first haircut at the Harmony Barber Shop are treated to stickers, bubbles, pixie dust and a good time (most of the time). They also receive an extra-special “My 1st Haircut” certificate and set of “mouse ears.” I generally get a standard haircut and the colored hair gel and pixie dust treatment. Yeah! Why let the kids have all the fun?

Last I checked, children’s haircuts (12 & under) are $14, adults are $17. If you just want the colored hair gel and pixie dust treatment, that’s $5. There are a number of places on property to get your hair cut and styled, but the Harmony Barber Shop will do it with style. And that's why it's one of my picks for a great way to get some R 'n' R @ WDW.

I look forward to your thoughts on this topic and other topics. If you have a question, suggestion or just want to chat, please drop me a line or leave a comment.

Welcome to the R 'n' R @ WDW Blog!

I have finally given birth! So glad it wasn't too painful. This concept, this R 'n' R @ WDW idea has been percolating, incubating, growing until I just couldn't ignore it any longer and now, it has appeared in the form of a blog. Why am I writing this and how am I qualified?

I'm a huge Walt Disney World geek and fan of all things Disney! For those who didn't know this about me...it's a true guilty pleasure. For those who did know, well, I'm sure you're not surprised.

When my father visited Florida sometime late-1970/early-1971 to scout some places to move to (from New Jersey), I was just an infant. When I was older, I remember seeing the slides (pictures) from his trip, which included pictures from the Orlando area including a visit to the WDW Welcome Center. When I can, I'll have to scan those old slides and post them. I don't remember my first trip to WDW, but it was probably around 1973/1974 when I was just 4 or 5 years old. My dad could be a tough guy to live with, but he did love to go to WDW throughout his life and that's when I saw the softer side of him. My dad was a dreamer and I think he identified with Walt Disney. I know that he saw many of Walt's innovations at the 1964 World's Fair and those things left a lasting impression on him.

Growing up just a two hour drive from Walt Disney World meant that we were practically locals and I remember begging my parents to buy me just one more "E" ticket or "D" ticket or whatever ticket I needed to ride just one more ride. I remember the Skyway and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and Horizons. When I was dating my wife, who lived 300 miles south of me, we would often meet in Walt Disney World and spent many happy days there together throughout our courtship and so it was only logical that we honeymoon there as well. We stayed at the Contemporary since there still weren't that many hotels on property in May of 1990 and we were hooked.

Walt Disney World has been a big part of our lives and we have watched it grow as we have grown. Now, as adults, we have learned how to really enjoy the Resort area without feeling rushed to see and do everything in one trip. And that's what this blog will be about. As I've often said, Florida residency has its privileges: frequent visits to Walt Disney World. Perhaps that's why so many people are moving here. Sorry, I digress.

I understand that for many people, a trip to Walt Disney World is a special, rare occasion. Some save for many years to visit, others can only visit during breaks from school or other holidays. So for many people, a visit to WDW is rushed...they must see and do it all during that trip or they will have to wait perhaps a long time until the next opportunity. For me, though, it will only be a matter of weeks or months until I visit again, so my view is: RELAX. ENJOY. SOAK IT UP. If I miss something, I'll catch it next time.

My hope is that I can impart some of that to you, the readers of and participants in this blog. Even if you must visit "commando" style, perhaps this blog will help you to just slow down, even for just a moment and smell the roses, listen to the music, or discover some other "hidden treasure" at one of the 'happiest places on earth.'