Musings and Observations for 2013

by Steve Russo, staff writer
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Another year has come and gone and I find myself between trips and trying to survive another Northeast winter. Naturally, my thoughts turn to Walt Disney World and I thought it might be appropriate for an end-of-year stream of consciousness.

  • I never tire of hearing a cast member say, "Welcome home." It's such a simple thing but it always makes me smile.
  • Speaking of being welcomed home… I know this isn't done at every resort and it's not a 24/7 type of thing but on several recent trips I've been greeted by a cast member as I exit the Magical Express bus. The cast member ushers me into the resort lobby and has me take a seat and wait while s/he heads to the front desk and secures my Welcome package, Key to the World cards, etc. Advance online check-in is required for this but, in my opinion, it's customer service at its absolute best.
  • While I love hearing that "Welcome Home," I still get a little warm and fuzzy when I spy the first purple road sign (those who know understand this) and pass under that magnificent arch that welcomes you to Disney World.


A welcome sight. Photo by Steve Russo.

  • I wish there was a bit more stability in rental car prices. I always check as a trip nears and they seem to ride a roller coaster from day to day.
  • Do you know anyone that's been to Le Cellier Steakhouse since the menu changed… and liked it?
  • I really enjoy having a beer at the Rose & Crown Pub. We typically stay at the Boardwalk and most trips begin with a check-in followed by a walk into Epcot's World Showcase. As we walk down that hill, the first thing we see is the Rose & Crown. Natives of the United Kingdom might tell me this bears no resemblance to any pub back home but I don't care. To me, this is a British pub in every way.


The Rose and Crown Pub. Photo by Steve Russo.

  • While mine is a Black & Tan at the Rose & Crown, your particular "I'm at Disney" moment might come with a Dole Whip in Adventureland, a hot dog at Casey's, a turkey leg, a Mickey ice cream bar, or some fudge from the Confectioner's. It doesn't matter as long as it's something you relish while at the World.
  • Big River Grille and Brewing Works has the best burger on property. Period.
  • I haven't sampled the burger at Beaches and Cream in a few years and I need to refresh my memory but my vote still goes to Big River.
  • Did you know there's an anteater living in the brush on the left side (as you enter) of Animal Kingdom's Oasis? He (or she?) is difficult to spot and even harder to photograph. You need to be lucky and fast.


The anteater... asleep. Photo by Steve Russo

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And... if you're really quick. Photo by Steve Russo.

  • There are a number of favored locations to view Illuminations: Reflections of Earth but the only good spot for Wishes is the center of Main Street.


Wishes. Photo by Steve Russo.

  • Does anyone else remember when the scene at the top of Spaceship Earth included an astronaut out for a spacewalk? Or did I dream that?
  • The secret to taking great photos while on Kilimanjaro Safari is… take dozens. I'm not kidding—snap away. There's a 50/50 chance the truck will lurch just as you're taking the once in a lifetime shot of a cheetah actually moving. I probably delete three quarters of the photos I take.


I tossed out several for this one keeper. Photo by Steve Russo.


OK... it was two. Photo by Steve Russo.

  • It's also a good idea to use a fast shutter speed to capture photos there. If your camera allows a Shutter Priority mode, use it. It might be available as a pre-determined setting titled "Sports" or "Children and Animals."
  • The "take lots of photos" advice also holds true for fireworks.
  • I know a lot of folks are down on the new FastPass+ system but I'll tell you… it's really nice to stroll into a park at 9:00 or 9:15 (or later) and know you don't have to power walk to Toy Story Mania (or Soarin' or Space Mountain or…) because you have that FastPass already on your wrist.
  • I know some won't like this but I think it's time to close Expedition Everest for an extended period and fix the Yeti already.


It's time. Photo by Steve Russo.

  • Back to Fastpass+… here's another great use. We often visit one park in the morning and spend our evening at Epcot. You probably know that the chances of being able to ride Soarin' or Test Track in the evening are slim and none. Now it's possible to set them up in advance (and yes, I know that restricts you from getting FastPasses at the morning park but it's much easier to ride the E-ticket attractions at park opening.)
  • Expedition Everest is a great ride with a wonderful queue but there's something about the backwards part that prevents me from really liking it.


Next move... backwards. Photo by Steve Russo.

  • On any trip, during my first walk around World Showcase, I've been known to exhale and say, "Aaahhhh."  I truly think World Showcase is beautiful—especially in the evening. Don't get me wrong, it's pretty spectacular by day. The beauty of the architecture within each country is matched by the restaurants, shops and the cast members that are only too happy to share information about their homeland...


Beautiful by day. Photo by Steve Russo.

  • At night… the place takes on an entirely different personality with the way each pavilion is lit. The combination of the music and the lighted torches around the promenade make walking around World Showcase Lagoon very special.


Even better after dark. Photo by Steve Russo.


Or at dusk. Photo by Steve Russo.

  • I love the bagpipe music they play prior to Illuminations.
  • Yes, I am a Crescent Lake Snob. I love staying there for the beauty of the resorts as well as the proximity to Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's also very pleasant to simply sit by the water and watch the gulls come and go as you listen to the horns from the Friendship boats as they shuttle people back and forth to the parks. But in the evening…
  • The boardwalk is beautifully lit at night and seems to come alive. There's typically more people about as the restaurants start bustling and the carnival games open. There's also the steady stream of magicians, jugglers and comedians performing. Sometimes, it's nice to grab an ice cream from Seashore Sweets and sit out on the boardwalk to be entertained.


The Boardwalk at night. Photo by Steve Russo.

  • If you held a gun to my head and forced me to choose, I'd tell you that Illuminations: Reflections of Earth is my favorite fireworks show in the world (not just the World). I'd also tell you Wishes is a close second. I would have no problem ending each and every day viewing one or the other.


Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. Photo by Steve Russo.

  • I'm not a parade person. Really, I'm not. But even I enjoy the toe-tapping beat of the Baroque Hoedown that accompanies the Main Street Electrical Parade at Magic Kingdom.
  • The Animal Kingdom boasts two of the finest live shows on property with Finding Nemo: the Musical and the Festival of the Lion King. I enjoy both... but while Nemo has become an attraction I will visit every few trips, I will make it a point to see Lion King on each visit. The show has such high energy it's tough for me to skip it.


Festival of the Lion King. Photo by Steve Russo.

  • Flights of Wonder is underrated.


Underrated? Photo by Steve Russo.

  • The Beauty and the Beast stage show in Disney's Hollywood Studios is also worth mentioning but it has been there for quite some time and, at least in my opinion, doesn't have the repeatability of the Lion King show.
  • I've become bored with the Great Movie Ride. It's been too long without an update.
  • Yet I'll ride the Wedway / Tomorrowland Transit PeopleMover on every trip and that hasn't changed in forever.
  • There's a fun little game where people are asked to choose one superpower they wish they could have. For me, and a lot of others, it's always been flight. Yeah, I know that I fly round trip whenever I visit Florida but I'm not talking about hurtling through the sky belted into a 15" foam wafer inside a metal tube while swapping DNA with 145 of my closest friends. I'm talking about bird's eye-view, hang glider type flight and, given my age and fear of heights, the only way I'm getting that is through simulation and… Soarin' does that for me—very nicely I might add.


A favorite. Photo by Steve Russo.

  • I fell in love with Disney World during my first trip in 1984 and one of the things that drew me in was simulated flight in attractions like If You Had Wings and Horizons. I wish there were more.
  • I know it's not everyone's favorite, but Mickey's Philharmagic delivers the best combination of films, characters and, most importantly, the music I've come to enjoy. Yes, I'm a sucker for the music from the late, great Jerry Orbach singing, "Be Our Guest" to what is probably the 3,000th time I've heard Jodi Benson sing "Part of Your World." And I keep going back.


And another favorite. Photo by Steve Russo.

  • I think the TV in the bathroom mirror feature in the new Grand Floridian DVC rooms is the coolest thing ever… even if I watch very little TV while at Disney World.
  • I have a little less than a month to go before our next visit and… I'm anxious.

As always, thanks for reading. I wish a happy and safe Holiday Season to you all. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Comments

  1. By MaryCGIbson

    I agree with most of what you're saying - although with the age of the child I travel with, we are monorail people! We love the AK and feel that whole park is underrated. I hate going backwards on expedition Everest though.... Your thoughts on Finding Nemo, Festival of the Lion King and Mickey's philharmagic are spot on! I'm not "enchanted" by the Tiki Birds or the Country Bears either. But do ride the TTA every time. Occasionally we go through Space Mountain when it is lit!!!! Tutto Italia is our favorite Epcot Restaurant but nothing beats a fireworks reservation at the Cali Grill!
    As for the Magic Band/Fast Pass + experience -We love it! We were there Dec15-19th and used it to great advantage. Our record was nine experiences in 4 hours, including lunch, the mountains and Rapunzel! No, we did not linger at lunch but neither did we rush through anything! Admittedly our familiarity with MK helped. I'd sure like to see a system where one could get fast passes into more than one park a day!
    I'd like to comment on a phenomena we are running into more and more though - flash photography on "dark" rides- most especially Pirates!!! These rides are being ruined by people too busy taking pictures to enjoy the ride. Who do we message to complain? It was so bad last week that my daughter may never ride pirates again.
    Thanks for your comments! We too are anxious for our next trip! Maybe we will see you in February! But not on a dark ride!

  2. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by MaryCGIbson View Post
    I agree with most of what you're saying - although with the age of the child I travel with, we are monorail people! We love the AK and feel that whole park is underrated. I hate going backwards on expedition Everest though.... Your thoughts on Finding Nemo, Festival of the Lion King and Mickey's philharmagic are spot on! I'm not "enchanted" by the Tiki Birds or the Country Bears either. But do ride the TTA every time. Occasionally we go through Space Mountain when it is lit!!!! Tutto Italia is our favorite Epcot Restaurant but nothing beats a fireworks reservation at the Cali Grill!
    As for the Magic Band/Fast Pass + experience -We love it! We were there Dec15-19th and used it to great advantage. Our record was nine experiences in 4 hours, including lunch, the mountains and Rapunzel! No, we did not linger at lunch but neither did we rush through anything! Admittedly our familiarity with MK helped. I'd sure like to see a system where one could get fast passes into more than one park a day!
    I'd like to comment on a phenomena we are running into more and more though - flash photography on "dark" rides- most especially Pirates!!! These rides are being ruined by people too busy taking pictures to enjoy the ride. Who do we message to complain? It was so bad last week that my daughter may never ride pirates again.
    Thanks for your comments! We too are anxious for our next trip! Maybe we will see you in February! But not on a dark ride!

    Thanks for the comments and I totally agree about the flash photography on dark rides... especially Pirates! I've railed about that previously and I'm sure I've included it in at least one Park Peeves column.

  3. By carolinakid

    I'm also aggravated by those folks who must photograph what seems to be every single moment of their trips now, especially the shows where they hold up their lighted devices in front of you while you're trying to enjoy the performance. I just don't get it...

  4. By DisneyGator

    Laughed out loud when I read your Le Cellier comment. I think the only reason people don't like it is that it's no longer worth it. Used to, it was THE deal to get - 1 TS credit for the best steak. Now it's 2 TS credits, and you realize you can get that same steak for far less at the Outback.

    For Fastpass+, I get your reasoning, but the problem comes when everyone gets to pick a time and then you can't get a FP for Soarin'. Then you're all ticked before the your credit card runs your $200 deposit. I agree, there are merits to the new system, but I'll bet that 80% of visitors will find it a huge frustration.

    The Yeti: why would they need to shut down the whole ride to fix it? It's in a cave, in the dark. They can fix it when 5pm hits and work on it at night. No need to shut down the one reason most people visit AK.

    I'm opposite on the AK shows. I'll catch Nemo every single time, and FotLK every other time. The music of Nemo is just incredible. Plus my kids like it because it's not nearly as loud as Lion King.

    Finally, World Showcase is the best. It's the reason I fly my family 3000 miles to visit WDW instead of driving 350 miles to DL. Just an amazing place. I do wish I could afford to stay at one of the Epcot resorts for that reason. Being able to just walk in once I get to the resort, or even catching WS after a short day at AK, that would be awesome. But not awesome enough to justify an extra $150/night over a moderate for 9 or 10 nights. That's my kids college money. Still, I can dream.

  5. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by DisneyGator View Post
    Laughed out loud when I read your Le Cellier comment. I think the only reason people don't like it is that it's no longer worth it. Used to, it was THE deal to get - 1 TS credit for the best steak. Now it's 2 TS credits, and you realize you can get that same steak for far less at the Outback.

    For Fastpass+, I get your reasoning, but the problem comes when everyone gets to pick a time and then you can't get a FP for Soarin'. Then you're all ticked before the your credit card runs your $200 deposit. I agree, there are merits to the new system, but I'll bet that 80% of visitors will find it a huge frustration.

    The Yeti: why would they need to shut down the whole ride to fix it? It's in a cave, in the dark. They can fix it when 5pm hits and work on it at night. No need to shut down the one reason most people visit AK.

    I'm opposite on the AK shows. I'll catch Nemo every single time, and FotLK every other time. The music of Nemo is just incredible. Plus my kids like it because it's not nearly as loud as Lion King.

    Finally, World Showcase is the best. It's the reason I fly my family 3000 miles to visit WDW instead of driving 350 miles to DL. Just an amazing place. I do wish I could afford to stay at one of the Epcot resorts for that reason. Being able to just walk in once I get to the resort, or even catching WS after a short day at AK, that would be awesome. But not awesome enough to justify an extra $150/night over a moderate for 9 or 10 nights. That's my kids college money. Still, I can dream.

    Thanks for the comments.

    We'll agree to disagree on FP+. I believe that once it's tweaked and fine-tuned, it will be good for everyone.

    Regarding the Yeti... my understanding is the main problems relate to the Yeti's integration with the structure itself, complicated by his size and the speed of his movements. It's not a quick fix (or it probably would have been done already).

  6. By Pammer

    Another fine article - thanks Steve! I'm definitely in agreement on:

    • IllumiNations/Wishes: LOVE them both, and always want to catch them at least once (or more) during my trips!
    • IllumiNations pre-show music: I can just sit and listen to that over and over!
    • Baroque Hoedown (Electrical Parade): I'm also a HUGE fan of this music and the accompanying parade, even more so due to the fact that I first saw it at its original park: Disneyland!
    • FotLK/Finding Nemo: I also love the various stage shows at the World, but FotLK is my all-time favorite and I never tire of it or the vocal talent.
    • Le Cellier: I liked their burger, but it is a very expensive place to eat so I doubt I will go back now (I still need to try the burger at Big River Grille though!)
    • PeopleMover: also a HUGE fan of this ride and hope they never discontinue it; I also enjoy the Carousel of Progress even though it is very out-dated, but it IS a Walt Disney classic!
    • Magic Bands/FP+: I'm curious how this will play out for guests who don't stay on-property (like me); I like the "My Disney Experience" app for checking wait times and show times plus making dining reservations, but I'm worried how my trip will be affected the next time I go.

  7. By Cory Gross

    I'm looking forward to my first trip to WDW this coming year (for our honeymoon in September) and you touched on two things I'm really excited about: Mickey's Philharmagic and seeing the Main Street Electrical Parade actually on Main Street. I'm closer to the West Coast, so I've seen it at DCA before, but not where it belongs.

  8. By bochnikm

    We tried the burgers at Big River Grille and Brewing Works on our last trip. And we agree!

  9. By m1ckeymouse

    Steve

    Thank you for another fantastic article. I totally agree with you regarding Le Cellier, the new menu sucks. They took the prime rib off....are you kidding me, not to mention the prices are way out of line now. Second, the great movie ride most definitely needs to be completely overhauled ( except for the Wizard of Oz portion) Lastly as a regular visitor (monthly at worst) I have to say the Magicbands are the bomb, especially for the night owls like myself.

    Wish you and your family continued good health and a happy new year!!

  10. By relaaxedwheniamthere

    le cellier mr russo does not taste as GOOD PERIOD . 18 years I have been going to " the world " been to le cellier many times some as a walk up . SERVICE , SERVICE , QUALITY , PRICE. you can get better steak at yachtsman steakhouse . one day I am going to walk into rose & crown & there will be she who must be obeyed & yourself & I will have the honor of buying you a " carls combo" or your black & tan & we can swap war stories . that is what I love about Disney !!! it allows you to be young again. welcome home , yes sir gets me everytime im a sucker for that . reflections of earth !! my wife has the opening minutes down to the moment the torches are BLOWN OUT . I would also like to thank you for all your hard work on your blogs all year long . it allows me a moment to once again stop, clear my mind , read your blog & just be a kid again .

    my best to you mr russo,
    dusty

  11. By Dave1313

    Can anyone say when the le Cellier menu changed? I've only been once, so I have only one frame of reference (May 2013). (The details don't seem to be in the original story or follow up comments)

    I did like it, but I'm not sure if I experienced the "old" or the "new".

    So if it changed before May 2013 ,then you all know (or at least know of) someone who likes it since the menu changed!

  12. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by relaaxedwheniamthere View Post
    le cellier mr russo does not taste as GOOD PERIOD . 18 years I have been going to " the world " been to le cellier many times some as a walk up . SERVICE , SERVICE , QUALITY , PRICE. you can get better steak at yachtsman steakhouse . one day I am going to walk into rose & crown & there will be she who must be obeyed & yourself & I will have the honor of buying you a " carls combo" or your black & tan & we can swap war stories . that is what I love about Disney !!! it allows you to be young again. welcome home , yes sir gets me everytime im a sucker for that . reflections of earth !! my wife has the opening minutes down to the moment the torches are BLOWN OUT . I would also like to thank you for all your hard work on your blogs all year long . it allows me a moment to once again stop, clear my mind , read your blog & just be a kid again .

    my best to you mr russo,
    dusty

    Thanks, Dusty. Did you know "Carl's Combo" is on the menu as the "Golden"?

  13. By relaaxedwheniamthere

    Quote Originally Posted by srusso100 View Post
    Thanks, Dusty. Did you know "Carl's Combo" is on the menu as the "Golden"?

    yes sir I knew. carl schutt is the bartender everyone comes to see . he nicknamed it that. & for " FRIENDS OF THE ROSE & CROWN " that is our little facebook page . it kinda stuck . I invite you to join if you wish .

    happy new year, god bless America, dusty

  14. By DwarfPlanet

    Holding out on the fastpass + thingie until they do get it tweaked.

    As I told my son one trip don't be so busy snapping photo's that you don't even remember what happened.

    Otherwise, yep to the rest.

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