Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Living the Dream: 2015 Disney Cruise Line Trip Report - Day 2…I Dream about Magic (I Wonder if it’s Fantasy?), Part 3

Part 2 here.

The first thing that everyone instinctively does when they board a ship for the first time is look around.  We looked up and saw the famous chandelier hanging in the atrium.  Pictures simply don’t do it justice…you have to see it in person to get a full appreciation of how beautiful it is.

The next thing we looked at was Admiral Donald.  Every current DCL ship has a bronze statue in the atrium with one of the company’s famous characters.  It just so happens that Donald has always been my favorite; after helping a family snap a picture with everyone in it, I hopped up and grabbed a picture with Donald.

I looked at Sheri, and I received that “this is so cool” face from her as she looked around the atrium.  This part of the ship was absolutely beautiful.  We still had a little time before we could get in our stateroom (we boarded around 1:10 pm), so we moved to the starboard side and headed toward the forward portion of Deck 3, where the shopping area and the Walt Disney Theater were located.  

I explained that the shops onboard would remain closed whenever they were in port.  We continued around and found ourselves by the Bon Voyage bar, located on the port (left…to help you remember, both “left” and “port” have 4 letters) side opposite where Guest Services is located on the starboard (right) side.  We then took the stairs up to deck 4 and started heading aft (towards the back of the ship).  Sheri had seen pictures of the art gallery online, so I pointed out where it was as we passed the Vista Gallery.  Sheri also looked to her right and snapped a picture of the Halloween decorations that adorned one of the windows.

As we continued down the corridor, we found the D Lounge, where quite a few gatherings/events would take place during the cruise.  I had another area I wanted to explore, though…the District!

The District is family-friendly until later in the evening; around 9:00 pm, it becomes an adults-only location.  It is comprised of a number of venues, including the District Lounge (often with live music), Pink (Champagne bar, which will be discussed later), 687 (think Sports pub), Evolution (Dancing center), and the place that ultimately became our second stateroom, Skyline.  We walked into the District and immediately found ourselves in District Lounge.  Pink was just off to our right, and we had heard so much about it that we had to see it for ourselves.  We walked in, and Sheri immediately started snapping pictures, all the while exclaiming how neat it looked in there.  Pink is designed to elicit the feel that you’re actually in a bottle of champagne.

Sheri’s more of an “automatic” picture-taker, whereas I am the one that fiddles with the white balance, shutter speed, etc, to try getting the “perfect” picture.  Yes, I am also the one that forgets to turn the settings back to the default and the mode back to auto (which, in the process, incurs the wrath of my wife…Hell hath no fury like a woman who misses a good shot because the camera was not set up to auto).  After she took a couple of pictures, I switched settings to try to get a better “ambiance” set of pictures in Pink.  We would definitely be back here (hint: foreshadowing).  I valued my life and turned the settings on the camera back to Auto before handing the camera back to Sheri.

We left Pink out the back door, which deposited us at the entrance to Skyline.  I have heard a lot of good things about this one, so I immediately made a beeline to the entrance, and the doors automatically opened for me, as if to say, “Welcome, Mush.  We have been expecting you.  Please do come in and make yourself comfortable.”

Hey, who was I to argue with a set of automatic doors?  We went in…

…and found that we had the entire place to ourselves.  Kewl!

I explained to Sheri the reason for the name of the location.  Behind the bar had screens of the Chicago Skyline displayed, complete with a little animation if you looked closely.  Also, music from Chicago was playing (“My Kind of Town”, selections from the Broadway musical, Chicago, etc.).  Sheri grabbed a picture but was cursing at the flash:

Mush and his obsessive need for the perfect pic to the rescue:

(for those photo geeks, ¼ second shutter, 3.5 on the F-stop, auto white balance, ISO 400)

I was pretty sure we’d be coming back to this one, too (of course…I already said that this became our second stateroom).  I immediately fell in love with the atmosphere of this place.  Its maximum capacity was probably around 30 or so patrons.

We exited and looked around Evolution for a minute or two...

…before making our way to the aft elevators/stairs.  It was around 1:25, which meant that they were to start opening up the stateroom areas in the next few minutes.  The elevators appeared to have a bit of a wait, so we opted for the stairs as our stateroom was only 3 decks up from where we were.  As we started up the stairs, we were welcomed by the various Disney/Pixar art that was located all throughout the ship.  The art in the stairwells were much bigger than the ones located near the elevators, and we paused for a brief second to look at what welcomed us at the stairway landing. 
I decided that we were going to need an art tour of the ship J .

Deck 5 was still roped off to guests, and we turned to continue up the stairs and saw the rope at Deck 6, too.  We fully expected that we were just a few minutes early as we ascended up the final set of stairs to our temporary home on Deck 7.

There was no rope blocking guests from the staterooms.

We could go to our room?


I think we were one of the first to enter the hallway.  As previously mentioned, 7158 was on the port (remember?  four letters…just like “left”), and it was located only about 10-15 feet away from the stairwell.  I noticed that we had our Remy invitation/letter waiting for us, but I left it up there for Wifey to see.

  As we approached our stateroom door, our stateroom attendant, Reuben, popped out of a door that we didn’t initially see and immediately smiled and introduced himself to us.  If you have seen the movie Mr. Deeds with Adam Sandler, he popped up next to us in a similar way that the butler in that movie did to everyone.  He let us open the door and then showed us how to use the Key to the World (KTTW) card to activate the lights in the room (FYI: any credit card-shaped card worked, but we just used the KTTW card).  Reuben told us that he would be around if we needed anything from him at all. 

He closed the door, and Sheri and I got our first look at the stateroom.

Yep...we liked.

In my preliminary research of cruise lines, I knew that staterooms often had a small feel, but that Disney Cruise Line was continually rewarded for having some of the larger staterooms among all of cruise lines. 

I agreed…definitely not a bad size.  I immediately started looking to see if we could have brought the boys with us and could have stayed in this room without killing each other. 

King bed for Sheri and me.  The sofa converts to a single (Aaron could handle that), and the notch in the ceiling let me know that we could bring that berth down for Eric. Yep…4 could fit in here, and there was even a curtain to pull between the king bed and the remaining living area.  We immediately noticed what we have read before: the king bed was raised so that guests could store their luggage underneath.  Sheri grabbed the camera and started taking pictures around the room before I destroyed it with bags:

I (eventually) figured out how to start cooling the room down.  I peered out our window without opening the verandah door (to help keep it cooler in the room), and I saw that we had a good view of the Carnival Sunshine nearby.  I then grabbed the current day’s Personal Navigator.

Continued HERE.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Living the Dream: 2015 Disney Cruise Line Trip Report - Day 2…I Dream about Magic (I Wonder if it’s Fantasy?), Part 2

Part 1 can be found HERE

(for those just tuning in, we were just leaving the Magic Kingdom)

We grabbed bottled waters from a cart, passed through the tunnel, and exited the gates, still surprised that the numbers entering were so low.  The express monorail was just a couple of minutes away, and we were at the TTC (Ticket and Transportation Center, for you non-Disney geeks) in no time flat.  The walk to the car (remember, 8th in line) also took no time flat, and we started switching from “Disney World” mode to “Disney Cruise” mode.  We moved a couple of things around in our checked and carry-on luggage (making sure the wine was in a carry-on), started setting up the phones to Waze our ways to Port Canaveral (even though I had OCD’ed and mapped the route several times…I-4 to the Beachline).  Sheri decided to put on the scopolamine patch now to make sure she wouldn’t see spots before getting on the ship.  We took the Epcot Center Drive ramp (I ran that twice during the Disney World Half), and I noticed that the signage for Downtown Disney had already changed over to its new name: Disney Springs.  Before we knew it, we were on the ramp to I-4 and rocketing north towards Orlando.  Traffic was light, and the ramp to 528 was in our sight just a few minutes later. 

As we passed just north of MCO (I was hoping to have something on final approach just as we drove by, but nothing was close), I checked in on Sheri to make sure she wasn’t hallucinating too much with the patch, and, while she said she could feel it moving into her body, she didn’t appear to be in the middle of having an out-of-body experience, so we decided to continue on.

The drive on 528 to Port Canaveral was pretty uneventful, except for the fact that, when looking at the car rental I-Pass receiver, I realized that it wasn’t fully open (which led to a humorous conversation about the Budget Car Rental police hunting us down on Castaway Cay and demanding $20,000 in missed tolls).  When we hopped on the first bridge near the Port, I realized that we were on the A1A, and I immediately started humming some Jimmy Buffett tunes (“The Weather is Here, I Wish You Were Beautiful” was what I had going through my head most of the time).  We also got our first views of the terminal area, and…is THAT the ship???  HOLY CRAP THAT’S BIG!

Then we made it to the second bridge, and we saw the Disney Dream in all of its glory from a much closer vantage point.  To think we thought it looked large a couple of miles back…WOW!

We weren’t parking at the terminal, though, so we had to drive away from the terminals to drop off the car (after filling up with gas, first, of course).  As we pulled into the Budget car rental location, we ate exhaust as a shuttle pulled out; it looked like it was full, anyway, so no major loss.  The car was unloaded (after another triple-checking of the checked bags with the tags), and I headed in to return the car.  The attendant promised that we’d be okay with the tolls if the receiver cover wasn’t fully open.  A few minutes later, the second shuttle arrived, and we, along with one other couple bound for Carnival Sunshine loaded up.  We were just about to pull out when another group arrived.  They were heading for Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas, which was at the other terminal, and they decided to wait for them.  Terminal B was the first stop (Royal Caribbean), and we got stuck in traffic for a good 15-20 minutes there as couple of buses had the porters tied up.  Eventually, we escaped and headed to Terminal A.  We got a good view of the Carnival Sunshine, which has an interesting history.  It used to be called the Carnival Destiny before it received Carnival’s “Fun Ship 2.0” upgrades.  Our shuttle driver gave a little history of ships that changed names and had bad luck ever since, so she vowed never to step foot on the Sunshine.  Then, of course, she looked at the couple that was about to embark on that ship and casually said that they wouldn’t have anything to worry about…it gave everyone a good laugh.

We stopped at the Disney Cruise Terminal first, and Sheri got her first look at some of the porters that worked there.  After seeing the biceps of a couple of them, she started hand-selecting which ones she wanted as her cabana boys.  I just rolled my eyes as she retracted her tongue back in her mouth.  We tipped our shuttle driver and the porters and started our journey with Disney Cruise Line for the first time.

 (sorry, folks, no pics of the porters, or their biceps)

I had hoped to time our arrival to the terminal to fall between the early birds who want to be the first wave on the ship and the arrival of the buses from WDW and MCO.  We got there about 30-45 minutes later than planned, but we were still doing pretty well on time.  The first entrance has security there, and only cruisers are allowed past this point.  I tend to have a knack for picking the wrong line for anything, and today proved to be no different.  We had two lines to pick, and I suggested that we pick the closer one (Sheri was still rubbernecking at the porters and their biceps at this point, I think).  Sure enough, the family that was ahead of us didn’t have passports ready.  They didn’t speak much English, and they needed a lot of help/time to make it through the checkpoint.  The other line had 4-5 families go though while we waited, and I think I think I heard a “see ya, suckers” or two as they blew past us.

Nope…not going to worry…it’s vacation.

The family in front of us finally found the passports and the stateroom that they were staying in and made it through security.  We flew through and headed to the main entrance for the full-body search section.  Okay, it’s not as bad as you would see at an airport, but there is a screener that you have to go to.  As we walked to the entrance, we could tell that they were backed up quite a bit.  Argh.  This had to mean that most of the buses beat us. 

One of the cast members stopped us prior to entering and said that we might have better luck heading upstairs to the second level.  I didn’t even know they screened on the second level.  We were directed to a set of escalators, and I finally figured it out; we were going to enter where those coming from the parking garage entered.  The line was MUCH shorter.

In case you missed what I just mentioned, that was a good hint for those of you thinking of heading to Port Canaveral for a Disney Cruise: if the lower level is jammed, don’t be afraid to head to the second level to enter the terminal.  We did and were welcomed with only about a 4-5 minute wait to make it through security.  Once we were past that section, we turned left and got our first view of Disney’s Cruise Terminal.


We were too focused on getting in line to grab pictures.  Next cruise, we'll have to take some pictures inside the terminal (next cruise, right Sheri?)

We hopped in line and, after just a couple of minutes, we were directed to the Castaway Club queue-up.  As we waited, we took in the sights and sounds.  Reality was really setting in now...we're actually getting on the ship soon!  We looked for the pen that we got from the Boardwalk to finish filling out the required medical form (which we had printed out but didn't fill out're supposed to wait until the day of) and couldn’t find it anywhere.  We borrowed on from the cast member who was handing out the medical form to everyone else who didn’t know about it and/or didn’t print it out.  Once that was done, it was just a couple more minutes before we were checking into the cruise.  We had already done the online check-in, so it took nothing more than a quick scan of the document we printed out and a scan of the passports.  They took our picture (this is required…it is the picture that they use when you try getting on/off the ship to make sure the counts and the people are accurate).  They asked about airline check-in, and I handed them our final docs binder that already had the information filled out.  He tried figuring out where BMI was (mistaking it for BWI, which is common…when I worked for AirTran, we would sometimes see a BWI bag make its way onto our BMI cargo holds). 

I was getting antsy here…the moment of reckoning was nearly upon us…our dining rotation.  We had Remy set up for the first night, but I wanted to make sure we had Animator’s Palate on night 2 or 3.  Luckily, we had it set up for night 3!!! We were going to miss Enchanted Garden, but we could catch that for breakfast or lunch.

With Keys to the World Cards in hand, we thanked the cast member and made our way to the Golden Mickey head (the entrance to the gangway).  They were already doing open boarding (since we were a bit late, they were already passed boarding group 16), so we immediately walked through.  Sheri was a bit nervous here because the saw videos where it looked to be really full and stuffy.  Nope.  One swipe of our cards, and we were immediately in line for the embarkation photo.  It was our first cruise, so we had to get the pic taken.

The next part had Sheri even more worried – they were going to announce to the entire world that the Mushrush family was boarding the ship.  Seriously, she was expecting all 4,000 guests (even the ones not onboard yet) and 2,000 or so crew members stopping what they were doing to gawk at the family with the weird last name getting on the ship.  I told the crew member with the microphone our name, and she paused for a second, sort of like, “really?  I know people make up names, but that’s the best you could come up with?”  I ensured her that it was our actual last name, and she welcomed about THE MUSHRSSSSSH family!”

About 8 crew members clapped as we walked in.  Sheri thought it was 800.  One of the crew members approached us and gave us a quick run-down of what to expect (staterooms should be accessible around 1:30, Guest services is located over (points) there, etc.).


The next part can be found HERE.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Living the Dream: 2015 Disney Cruise Line Trip Report - Day 2…I Dream about Magic (I Wonder if it’s Fantasy?), Part 1

(Day 1 can be viewed HERE)

I had the phone alarm set for 6:45 am.

Why the heck would we set an alarm for 6:45 am when we’re on vacation?


(that, and we had 7:45 reservations at Kona Café).

Unfortunately, I was up before 6 – too many things going through my mind.  In an effort to keep the peace with Sheri, I didn’t get up so she could sleep a little longer.  Around 6:30, I got up and started getting ready; of course, I forgot to turn the alarm off, and Pirates of the Caribbean Music filled the room 15 minutes later.  I turned it off, and we went into what can only be described as checking-out-and-going-to-Magic-Kingdom mode.  We triple checked everything, said goodbye to the room, looked at the Belle Vue Lounge and contemplated getting coffee for the road (but decided to resist and wait for the ambrosia that we would be enjoying soon), and headed down to the lobby to drop off our keys.  Sure enough, in true Disney fashion, there were people touching up paint all around the resort.  I walked out to the car, fired it up, and headed to the lobby area to load up and get going.

Until 2012, I had never driven on Walt Disney World property (well, there was our 2001 trip, but we were clueless, so that didn’t count).  Since 2012, though, we’ve driven a couple of times, and I have to admit that I’m becoming a fan of driving to the parks.  Normally, I recommend to people staying on-site to use Disney Transportation to Magic Kingdom, but we weren’t going directly to the park today.  We were stopping for Breakfast at the Polynesian Village Resort, so driving would definitely be quicker.  As we took the ramp off of Buena Vista Drive, I pointed out to Sheri (in true Brad Garfinkel fashion) that I ran that on-ramp on the other side of the road (mile 22.5).  I don’t know why she rolled her eyes (her and Cindy, Brad's wife) are kindred spirit).  We breezed through the Magic Kingdom toll plaza (Wifey took about 40 pics as we approached it…my turn to roll my eyes)...

(if you scroll through those fast, it might appear animated)

... and I noticed the work being done to bring down the Speedway (I ran that, too).  Upon entering the Heroes lot (where I also ran), I was disappointed to find that there were 7 cars in the parking lot before us.  We’re usually the first or second car in the lot.  We hopped out, grabbed what we needed, and made our way onto the road under Seven Seas Drive (I ran that) (oh, and I also cheered nearby to that) to hop on the monorail to the Poly.  I noticed for the first time that the flags were at half-staff, and then I remembered that it was September 11th.  We paused for a moment to reflect what happened on that day in 2001.

After the slight pause, we started to make our way over to the Resort Monorail ramp and helped a woman who was trying to figure out how to get to Epcot (“ma’am, you’ll want to head down the ramp and take a left…when you see the Epcot sign, just take the ramp up, and you’ll be good”…I think I even used a double-finger point).  Monorail Lime was waiting at the station, and they waited for us to ascend the ramp.  We got on and both immediately chanted (all together now): “Please stand clear of the doors.  Por favor manténganse alejado de las puertas.”.  A short ride later, and we were hopping off at the Poly.  This was the first time either of us have had the chance to see the new lobby:

Hmmm….staying here is still on my bucket list, but the atrium theming looks a lot smaller (and makes the atrium feel a lot bigger).  Oh, okay, it’s not too bad; just a little smaller than before.

We checked into the Kona Café station and only had to wait about 3 minutes before our buzzer buzzed.  We looked to see if one of our former Moose friends (Patricia, or “Pixie” as she was known on the Lodge) was working, but we didn’t see her.  We did notice again, though, that there were still quite a few familiar faces working here – the turnover is remarkably low at Kona.  Our server was a repeat for us, and, while I don’t think she would have remembered us at all (it had been 2.5 years since we last ate there together…though I ate there during Marathon Weekend 2014)(twice), she continued to be awesome!  We knew what we wanted before we were even seated: pressed pot of 100% Kona bean coffee, Tonga Toast for me (TONGA TONGA TONGA), and Macadamia Pineapple Pancakes for Sheri.

The table next to us also ordered a pressed pot, and two of them ordered the same thing as us.  She initially set down their pressed pot at our table, but only so we could put in our drink order.  Tease.  Later on, she had Tonga Toast and Macadamia Pineapple pancakes in her hand and walked right towards us (making eye contact and everything)…only to turn at the last second and head to the table next to us, giving us an "awwwwwwww" as she passed us.

I nearly cried.


I told her that I expected her to give them our check, too.

Wait…I’m getting a little ahead of myself…first, the pressed pot.  That first sip of coffee…oh, man.  Hands-down, we both think that it’s the best coffee out there.  We contemplated ordering a second pot but decided against it due to Sheri already being a little nervous about the ship as well as her being a little jittery thanks to the Kona caffeine.

As we devoured our food, we noticed that ‘Ohana looked extremely quiet (it’s a character meal at breakfast with Mickey, Pluto, Lilo, and Stitch).  Yep, September is the quietest time we’ve seen so far.

With my Tonga Toast gone, I gave Sheri my best Bambi eyes, which freaked her out.  It served the same purpose, because I was able to get some of her pancakes.  As we ate, a couple was seated by us, and we immediately struck up a conversation with each other.  It started out as a comment on the woman’s awesome Haunted Mansion shirt; however, it eventually turned to the Disney Nerds podcast, which the gentleman sitting by us was an active listener and member of their forums.  He was very knowledgeable, and we had a really nice conversation about some Disney history.  We exchanged e-mail addresses as we finished up and were about ready to leave.

We usually try to be heading out of Kona around 8:20-8:30 so we could make it in time to catch the Welcome Show.  We got out to the monorail station around 8:35, and we just missed a monorail as we walked up.  The next one took longer than the monorails typically take (no worries…I was just antsy), so we didn’t make it to the bag check at Magic Kingdom until 7:49.   As we approached the “turnstiles” (the MagicBand readers), we noticed that people were already walking into the park and that the train was pulling into the Main Street Station empty.  We wondered if either they didn’t do the show as a nod to 9/11 or they moved the opening up (Steve Soares’ site currently lists the opening show at 8:40 now).

We had a VERY tight schedule in MK today, as we were planning on being in the parks for just over an hour before heading to Port Canaveral.  We still keep in touch with a former neighbor of ours, and her mother typically works either in the Emporium or the Baby Center on Fridays, so we were going to try meeting up with her.  During a Facebook message with her to coordinate, she said she might come in a little early to greet guests on Main Street.  As we walked up Main Street USA, we looked for her but didn’t see her, unfortunately.

Sheri always wants to get a PhotoPass picture in front of the Cinderella Castle, but I had a mission to get to our first attraction.  I promised her that we’d get a pic on the way out, and she made it clear that bodily harm would come to me if we didn’t get that pic.  As we hit the hub, we stopped for a quick second to look at the new expansion.  They did a really good job with it!
Then Sheri saw a crane.


“They’re putting in the turret extension on each side of the castle.”

“They aren’t supposed to do that while I’m here!”

We both paused and, at the same time, mentioned that it was going to ruin her vacation (inside joke).

The first stop was going to be Space Mountain.  On the bridge to Tomorrowland, I noticed that the Rose Garden was no longer there, nor was there the topiaries by the Photo spot.  Creative Destruction, right? (rim shot).

We entered Space Mountain’s queue, and, being a stats geek, I started timing the actual wait for the stats geeks.  The result was 7-8 minutes from entrance to getting in the rocket, with most of it being the walking to the Omega boarding platform.  I let Sheri know that I’d give her a countdown for when she’d scream.  She seriously screams twice on the attraction at the exact same places.

I made a stupid face for the on-ride photo….ride ride ride ride….THREE…TWO (from behind me: “Nope…not gonna…”) ONE…(“happen…I don’t screAAAAAAYYYYEEIIIUUUGGGHHHH”).
I didn’t count down the second one so she wouldn’t expect it.  She screamed even louder and bopped me on the head.

One ride down, and, as we exited, we were again reminded that there was NOBODY in the park.  Next up was a FP+ at Peter Pan.  I entered a few posted wait times for TouringPlans as we walked over to Fantasyland, and we were done with Pan in no time at all.  Up next was a walk on to it’s a small world.  I thought we’d get a boat to ourselves, but they threw us in with 2 couples and left the second boat empty (bummer…vacation is ruined).

Three rides down.  We’re WAAAAAY ahead of schedule, so we decide to add an attraction: the Tangled Restroom.  Even after that, we had 15 minutes before our Seven Dwarfs Mine Train FP window, so we headed to Haunted Mansion, which was AFAYCW (see previous day’s post for translation).  We saw a young family talking with their 4-5 year old son who was a little hesitant to enter the Mansion.  They asked us about how scary it was, and we told them that, after the “first part” (translation for Disney geeks: get past the stretch room), it’s funny-scary rather than scary-scary.

One of the things I’ve found myself doing at this attraction when entering the stretch room is that I immediately walked to the panel that becomes the door that opens up after the stretch sequence ends.

 This put us ahead of everyone else heading to the doom buggy loading area.  It’s the economist in me…I’m efficient.

Mansion…done…Phineas swapped our heads at the end (I will always love the hitchhiking ghosts).  We checked with the younger family, and their son gives a big thumbs-up…he loved it.

Let’s take inventory here…in 1 hour, we’ve done Space Mountain, Peter Pan, Small World, and Haunted Mansion.  In the next 10 minutes, we’ll also have Mine Train done.  For those keeping track, that’s four headliners and a long boat ride with a mind-numbing song in a little over an hour.

Yeah, we like September and FastPass+.

We entered the mine train queue and were done in just a few minutes.  It’s a cute ride, albeit short, as many of the reviews have mentioned.  Considering the amount of space that they had to put the coaster in, I’d say they did a good job with it.  I’d definitely place its thrill factor between the Barnstormer (Goofini) and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  The next time I/we ride this, I might try the standby queue to get a feel for the interactive areas that they have included for guests.

With that done, we started to make our way towards Main Street. We were going to head through the Castle (Sheri loves the mosaics in there); however, they had it closed up, most likely for the Dream Along with Mickey show on the other side.  We headed past the Cinderella Fountain and resisted the urge to stop at Sleepy Hollow for one of their famous waffle sammiches.  Past the Tiana meeting area and across the bridge, we made it to the Baby Care Center in no time flat.

We were the only ones in there, which meant that it should be easy to find Judy.  We spent a couple minutes with one of our favorite cast members to catch up with how she was doing, what her son, Gene, who is an entertainment producer at Walt Disney World (in short, he has one of the cool jobs that we all want someday in the parks), was up to.  She mentioned that she was out on Main Street at opening, so we must have just missed her (sorry, Judy!).  We couldn’t stay too long, though, because we had a ship to jump on that was over an hour away.  We grabbed a picture…

…and said our goodbyes until next time.

We made our way to Main Street (of course, after stopping for a PhotoPass pic in front of the castle) and soaked in the atmosphere as we slowly headed out.  The Halloween decorations were all throughout this area, as it usually is.

As we made our way to Town Square, we saw the Main Street Performers doing one of their shows on the Town Square side of the station.  We got to watching that as we walked towards the tunnel under the station and forgot to do one of our big traditions: we forgot to look back to tell the castle “Goodbye”.  Oh well…we have annual passes, so I think we’ll be back soon.

(Part 2 can be viewed HERE)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Living the Dream: 2015 Disney Cruise Line Trip Report - Day 1: UNDER (a time constraint trying to get to) THE BOARDWALK, Part 2

Part 1 can be viewed here.

We dropped everything off, freshened up, and started heading out to the International Gateway.  This was the first time we have stayed at an Epcot resort, so not taking a bus or car to a park was unnatural to us.  When we walked out of the Boardwalk Inn and onto the Boardwalk, we both felt the smiles slowly form on our faces.  The entire area is!

ESPN Club was getting busier as it was opening night for the NFL.  When we crossed the bridge over the water that the Friendship boats used, I had to pause and look over at the Beach Club.  I grabbed my phone and took this pic:

When Sheri asked what that was about, I told her that the last time I was there, I had the best beer I have ever tasted.  During the 2014 Disney World Marathon, one of the families that I have come to know and love, Tom and Molly Troost, had people stationed there to cheer the marathoners.  Tom was running his very first marathon (with no training for it, either, I might add…a bib fell into his lap the day before), while Molly and a couple of their daughters had some beers that they were handing out.  This was around mile 24.5, and I was struggling; my running partners, Ellie (a fellow Team AllEars teammate) and Darrell (someone who joined our group at the start and stayed with us the whole way…we bonded over those 26.2 miles), were good enough to stay with me to the end, despite my protests for them to finish.  Anyway, Molly saw us approaching and started screaming.  Then she showed us the cooler, which still had a couple of beers left.  She handed Ellie and me a Michelob Ultra, and we split the best-tasting beer I’ve ever had.  That place will forever be known by me as Troost’s Beer Corner! (You can read about this in one of my marathon

When we arrived to Guest Services, it was about 7:43, which was 2 minutes before the end of our FastPass window for Test Track.  I  knew we weren’t going to make it, so, while we waited for one couple ahead of us to get their issues straightened out (they needed a travel agent…badly), Sheri and I discussed what we should do.  We contemplated single rider line for Test Track, skipping Test Track and just going to Soarin, forgetting all the attractions and just going to La Cava del Tequila for the night…about eight minutes later (they REALLY needed a travel agent to help them before they got to the parks), we approached the cast member with the voucher and our IDs.  He smiled and said, “You’ve done this before, haven’t you?”  After the beating he took with the last guest, I think he was relieved to have an easy thing to do.  As we talked, the excellent Epcot background music changed, and I mentioned that I always thought Epcot had the best background music.  He agreed wholeheartedly, and we both also agreed that Adventureland in the Magic Kingdom was a close second.  He let us pick our characters for the AP cards and asked if we had dining reservations.  I mentioned that our flight landed over an hour late, and we ended up missing our last FP window; we were likely just going to enjoy the Epcot atmosphere until Illuminations and then grab something after the park closed over on the Boardwalk.

He looked at me and said, “Wait a second…let’s see what we can do.”  Yep, he was able to get us a FP for Test Track that was good until park closing.

Gotta love the Disney Magic..

Disney, if you’re reading this, please give the guy working at Guest Relations at International Gateway the evening of September 10th kudos in his record…we weren’t looking for anything at all (we were just happy we made it), and he surprised us with the magic.  I wish I could have remembered or written down his name to pass it on.

He asked again if we wanted to look for reservations, and we declined, though I think he would have tried to get us whatever we wanted.  After expressing our thanks, we parted ways and headed to the entrance.  Another collective breath-holding commenced as we tried our MagicBands with the Annual Passes to get into a park for the first time.  Green lights all around (translation: they worked flawlessly).

The first thing that Sheri and I both noticed was the complete lack of people in Epcot.  It was QUIET!!!  Touringplans had predicted a 2/10 on the crowd calendar, and it was at most a 2.  Normally around 8pm, the UK Pavilion is bustling with tons of people; this night, however, we were able to make it through the UK with no problem at all.  There were a few starting to line up for Illuminations, but there were a LOT of open spaces.  As we turned towards Future Land, we saw our first crowd: a bunch of folks waiting for the FP viewing area. 

We caught a quick pic from PhotoPass in front of Spaceship Earth before heading over to Test Track.  We were immediately sent into the car design room, which took too long (LET US ON THE ATTRACTION…WE WANT THE CAR…WE WANT THE CAR…WE WANT…)  Okay, it actually was kind of neat once we saw how our designs performed on the course.  I checked the time, and, while we waiting for the final queue, Sheri and I discussed the next plan of action.  She asked if La Cava closed at 9.  I sent a message to my Moose friends to see if they knew how La Cava closed down (did they close at 9 or just quit seating people at 9?  I know that the Moose would know the answer).  We got our answer within 5 minutes, and, after checking the wait time for Soarin (5 minutes…5 minUTES???  ONLY 5 MINUTES??!!!!!!!), we decided to forego the tequila and salsa for Soarin.

We scanned our design and made it into the car.  I have to admit that I think I like the older version just a bit over the new Tron Track.   It’s close, but I think I like the hot/cold/corrosion room along with the more realistic semi-truck and the crash test.

After Test Track, we made a beeline to the Land Pavilion to see if the 5 minute wait was for real.  I timed the wait for TouringPlans and found that it was the AFAYCW time (Mush-speak for “as fast as you can walk”)…we were blowing by the Kronk Video and stopping the timer at exactly 5 minutes.
Holy cow…Test Track and Soarin both in 35 minutes!  Yeah, I agree that September is a good month to tour the parks.

But wait…the day is not yet over!  We walked out and took the Imagination Pavilion route to World Showcase.  We decided that we would see the Imagination fountains and then just walk around to say HI to all the Pavilions while Illuminations was going on.

We made it to Mexico in the hopes of trying to grab a drink before it all closed, but 9:00 pm hit just as we got by La Hacienda de San Angel, and everything started shutting down.  We heard, “Good Evening….”, and the Illuminations spiel was starting.  As we made it out of Mexico and near Norway where they were building the Frozen stuff that caught on fire the day before, I stopped to look for a spot that wasn’t too bad to view the show, fully expecting to find nothing.  Sure enough, they were only about 2 deep by the railing almost all around the lagoon, so we stopped and helped blow out the torches to watch the show.

I still love love love this show!  This was the first time I’ve seen the show with the laser addition, and I have to concur that the lasers add quite a bit!  I know that there are rumors about a replacement coming in sometime in the future (rumors about the use of drone technology in the new show….kewl).  After the show was over (PEOPLE, don’t leave when “We Go On” starts…the show’s not over yet!), we continued our tour of the World Showcase Pavilions in a clockwise motion…Norway, China, Germany…I paused at Italy to grab a photo and post on Facebook, knowing that several friends were (then) currently on an Adventures by Disney European tour and just finished Venice and the Piazza San Marco, which the Italy Pavilion is fashioned after.

Mexico Pavilion

Germany Pavilion

Italy Pavilion

Continuing our tour of the World Showcase are the American Adventure and Japan, which are both dazzling at night.  Morocco was followed by France, and we had to get a picture there, of course!

France Pavilion

After crossing the bridge, we felt odd as we took a left to exit the International Gateway. 

Oh yeah…we could definitely stay at an Epcot Resort again!  #coughcoughBeachClub

Knowing that the chances were very slim, I tried to see if Beaches and Cream had a table available, as we were nearing the starving stage.  As expected, the Disney World App laughed at me.  We headed toward the Boardwalk and started walking around, in search of grub.  ESPN Club erupted in shouts and applause as we walked by.  I’d like to think it was because we were walking by; it was just a coincidence that Gronk grabbed a TD pass from Brady at the same time.

Boardwalk Joe’s came into sight, and a margarita was starting to sound good; however, the lack of food, coupled with alcohol, might have resulted in us skinny dipping in Crescent Lake.  We popped into the Boardwalk Bakery and each grabbed a smoked turkey sandwich (advice…they’re big enough to share) (reality…we didn’t share and regretted eating the entire sandwiches).  With food in hand, we made our way to Boardwalk Joe’s in search of fermentation.  While we both initially were thinking of margaritas, the Captain’s Seaside Sensation started calling our names, and we decided to give them a try.

I think that the base of the drink is the same base that they use for the ever-popular Dole Whips.  I knew it was going to be good, because they added a little Spiced Rum to it.


As we dined, we didn’t talk too much; we took in the sights and sounds around us: the occasional shouts from the ESPN Club; the friendship boats’ horns and engines; the end credits of a movie under the stars on the Boardwalk lawn; and the occasional clap of hands nearby.  Wait…clap of hands?  One of the cast member performers was doing his set on juggling and magic about 50 feet away from us, so we finished eating and headed over to catch the last few minutes of his set.  He brought up a couple of children from the gathering crowd and had them take part in the last skit.  I don’t think he said a single word, yet he was very entertaining.

Nice job Disney…it’s great seeing roving acts like these still around!

(please bring back Off Kilter)

Tomorrow was going to be a big day for us, so we decided to forego walking down to check out Jellyrolls and head in.  We walked around in the Belle Vue Lounge for a bit before calling it a night and heading up to our room.  I put the cruise luggage tags on the bags (after removing the airline tags), and we crash for the night.  I turned the television on and put it on sleep mode.

What channel?

Disney cartoons, of course.

(Day 2 starts HERE)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Living the Dream: 2015 Disney Cruise Line Trip Report - Day 1: UNDER (a time constraint trying to get to) THE BOARDWALK, Part 1

Pre-Trip post can be found HERE.

Typically, I like having a countdown for an upcoming trip; this adds to the excitement.  Things were so absolutely busy with the boys’ sports and other functions, coupled with real-world job and volunteer issues keeping us busy and stressed out, that we didn’t really have a countdown at all.  It seemed like we rolled over to each other in bed, looked at each other, and casually mentioned that our vacation was starting the next morning.

We NEEDED this trip like you couldn’t believe.

September 10th rolled around, and we had everything ready.  Since we were heading down to Florida the day before, we decided to take advantage of it and have a bit of fun at Disney World.  I was able to snag a great car rental rate (with taxes and fees, renting at Orlando International Airport and returning it at Port Canaveral, it was around $36).  I was also able to find a really good rate for a resort that I haven’t yet stayed at (Disney’s Boardwalk Inn), so we booked a room at the Boardwalk.

FastPass+ and dining reservations were made, and MagicBands were ordered.  Our passports had arrived, bags were packed, clients were all up-to-date, logistics for the kids/cat were all set…yeah, we were ready.

Oh, the things I do for research.

We polled the boys about 374 times to make sure they had everything they needed as they were heading to friends’ places for a night (they had school the next day).  After the 7th time we asked, they assured us that they had everything (we still polled them the remaining 367 times).  After we dropped them off at school, we went back home and waited.


I like taking the first flight out and getting to our destination as soon as possible.  This wasn’t going to work this time because of school.  To placate my A.D.D./O.C.D. tendencies, I worked a bit until it was time to leave.  The cat sensed that we were never coming back and bit me multiple times (anyone want a cat?).  We quadruple-checked everything, packed everything we were taking into the van, and headed out for our ten-minute drive to the airpoWAAAAIIIITTT!!  Wifey wanted a selfie first (grrr).

FINALLY, we were on our way to the airport.  Free parking was found (no money in the middle of the Monopoly board, though), and the first thing that told me that we’re on vacation occurred: I put my car keys in my carry-on instead of in my pocket.

Yeah, it’s a minor thing, but I still get giddy when I put the keys away.

I took a picture of where the car was located (in case I forgot when we got back)...

The checked bags got sent away, and we headed to the TSA checkpoint with our Passports for the first time ever.  I was half-expecting that we forgot to do something with the Passports and that the TSA agent would laugh at us when we presented them, telling us that we’re morons for not registering the passports online or calling them in for verification.  We made it through easily, even without a comment on how crazy my last name is!  I did, however, forget to take off my belt when I went through the scanner, so I had a TSA agent get to second base with me…since I forgot my belt, I almost expected him to steal third (he didn’t).

After verifying that all was good, I met back up with Sheri, who also got some action with a pat-down.  We grabbed a seat and waited for the flight, which came in early.  This was good…hopefully we could depart early and then arrive in Atlanta early enough for us to have a chance at flying standby on a flight that would get us into Orlando over an hour earlier (remember, we were going into one of the parks tonight…Epcot was the plan).

We departed on time.


It was an uneventful flight.  We landed, checked the earlier flight (which was already starting to board), and decided to just take our time and make our scheduled flight.  We subwayed to the terminal we needed to be at and decided to grab a bite to eat at Chick-A-fil (yeah, it’s Chick-fil-A, but I made a mistake about 250 years ago and said “Chick-A-Fil” to wifey, and she still reminds me of my gaffe…every…time…we…see…a…flippin’…Chick…A…Fi…I MEAN CHICK-FIL-A!!!)

Food eaten, we chilled for a while, and I made the mistake of checking my e-mail while on vacation; I already made the mistake at the Bloomington Airport and had to deal with a volunteer position where I had to make an executive decision on a funding/budgetary concern on the fly.  The Atlanta e-mail crisis, though...ugh.  Our school district had to deal with an unanticipated mold problem, and they have done an awesome job trying to work around it while one building was cleared out.  The decision was made to make a change to the schedule and not have school on the following Monday (the day we get back).  This decision made perfect sense; however, when you’ve got logistics set up with the assumption that the kids will have school on Monday and you’re about 700 miles away and about to board a plane, you tend to go into overdrive and start thinking up alternative scenarios to recover the logistics that just got completely torpedoed.  We were already dealing with baseball changes that were occurring on the fly, thanks to the weather and to schedule additions.  The school thing…argh  (note to Dave…it was the right decision to make…it just had my heart rate hit around 220, which was probably where my blood pressure top number was approaching LOL).

I made a phone call and got voice mail.  Attempted phone call #2 and got the answering machine.  The third time was a charm, and I broke the news to my Mother-in-law, who was one of the primary logicians in our plan.  Luckily, I get along well with my Mother-in-Law, and, as she’s now connected to the internet, I will only say good things about her from here on out (Hi Cindy!).  She said that they’ll figure it out and that we shouldn’t worry about it.

Okay…all we needed then was for this Boeing 757 to adhere to the laws of physics and aerodynamics, and we would be in Disney World by 6:45…enough time to use the FastPass we set up for Test Track.  Even if we were slightly delayed, we’d still have until 7:45 pm to make it.

For those not used to my writing style, that last paragraph is known as foreshadowing.  Everyone knows that something had to happen, right?


We departed on time and were heading out to the active runway (the gate was at the west end, and the winds had us departing from the east to the west).  After the longish taxi, I noticed that, as we were heading to runway 27R, the second engine hadn’t been lit yet and that we were turning left near the international terminal instead of turning right to take the active.

That’s when the captain came on the intercom and informed us that they had blocked departures from the south side of the airfield due to weather.  Ops was working on a new route, which meant that we would likely have a longer route (just as the Captain said, “this new route will add about 20 minutes to our original flight”).  Immediately, I hearkened back to my online flying days (yeah, don’t ask).  Typically, we’d fly to Valdosta, GA and enter the LEESE2 or PIGLT4 arrival into MCO.  With the storm south of the airfield and us departing to the west, I figured we’d depart and make a long turn north, then east, and we’d have to join a new arrival, like the CWRLD4.  After about ten minutes, we started rolling west and then snuck through the ramps; we were going to depart on the north side.  Luckily, they snuck us in the queue and were only third in line rather than 238th in line.  We blasted off and headed west for quite a while…and then we turned left (south).  Were we going to come in over the Gulf and take the southwest arrival route in (COSTR3, for you aviation geeks)?

Nope.  We played chicken with a number of cells that were popping up.  I think I know how those in the shuttles felt during the asteroid collision avoidance scene in Armageddon.  We were banking left and right all over the place.  We ended up coming back north after that long detour south and came in over Valdosta.  Long story short: we were going to be landing quite a bit later than expected.  I looked at Sheri and, in my best Tom Hanks (Apollo 13 Hanks), I said, “We just lost Test Track.”

Luckily, we did land from the North, so that cut the taxiing time by a lot.  This was going to be a new experience for us; this was the first time we have ever landed in Orlando and not taken Magical Express to Disney World.  We still did the same routine, though…we got off the plane and skipped the bathrooms; we went straight for the tram to the terminal and made a beeline for the escalator down.  Off the escalator and…..whhooooaaaahhhhh…turn off the autopilot…we had to get our checked bags.  We headed left and made use of the (very quiet) facilities before grabbing the bags, which came out soon afterward.

Our instincts had us heading down the escalator and heading to the folks with the big white hands, but we instead had to force ourselves to head outside and over to the parking garage where the Budget FastBreak kiosk was.  We were first in line; all I had to do was show my ID, and we were heading to our car in less than a minute.  After we loaded up, we grabbed our Garmin and fired it up…and it never synced.  Sheri was getting a little concerned, but she forgot that she married a massively anal retentive guy who researches the heck out of everything and had already Google mapped the route no fewer than 8 times.  I looked at her and said, “All I need to do is get on Jeff Fuqua and hop on 417…trust me”.  She looked at me with this weird expression on her face (I see it at least 4-5 times a day), like “How the Hell do you know that??!!”  She finally gave up on the Garmin, grabbed her phone, and turned on Waze.  Boom…Fuqua to 417.

She didn’t appreciate the dance I did while driving.

Since we saved quite a bit on the car rental and were running late, we decided to turn on the I-Pass for the car and just blow through the toll booths.  Waze was trying to get us to stay on 417 and take Osceola in.  Hell no!  I mapped out (8 times…Google mapped) hopping on 536 and coming in Epcot Center Drive.  Sheri questioned her decision to marry me as well as my decision to ignore the Waze, especially since we have never been on 417 before.  “Trust me”, I said.  She gave me an “okay”, but I think she secretly started looking up AAA’s or the Boardwalk’s number to call for directions.
We got on 536, and Sheri started praying.  I ignored the signs telling me to take I-4.  Sheri just looked down at her phone (Waze was giving up on me, too).  We saw the “Welcome to Walt Disney World” sign.  Sheri wept with joy.

One turn onto Buena Vista Drive…one turn onto Epcot Resorts Boulevard, and Boo-yah…welcome to the Boardwalk!

We pulled in, checked in with at the security gate, and received our parking pass.   Once the gate was opened, we headed straight for the main entrance (we’re late…get outta da way, youz guyz!  Boardwalk…Jersey…get it?) and didn’t even give the valet/bellhops a chance to help us with our bags.  We had the trunk empty and were walking up went we received our first “Welcome Home, Mr. and Mrs. Mushrush!”

I love hearing that…waaaiiiiiit a minute…we didn’t tell you our name yet…how in the…??? (yes, I know how, but I still love seeing the Disney Magic going on here).  Sheri thought that was a nice touch.

The cast member who welcomed us home guided us to an open check-in slot, and all was done in a couple of minutes.  Sheri’s jaw dropped at the lobby and willingly let me park the car while she stayed behind to watch the bags.  I pahked the cah (that’s my Jersey accent, in honor of the Boardwalk) and found Sheri, who was busy taking pics around the lobby:

We headed over to the Inn side of the resort and finally saw the Belle Vue Lounge, site of the (in)famous 2007 Braless Girl incident at the Moose Meet.

There are pics out there of the incident (including an absolutely hilarious one of Tink trying to maintain eye contact with this unknown woman), but I just can't get myself to post them.  If you weren’t there…don’t ask.  We were fortunate to have missed that one as we hadn’t arrived yet for the Moose Meet.

We marveled at the theming of the hallways and then held our collective breath as Sheri tried using her MagicBand for the first time.  It worked!  We opened up the door, and it was my turn to have a jaw-drop moment…absolutely beautiful!

(The next installment can be viewed HERE)