Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Power of the Puzzle

On our 3rd trip to Disney we started the puzzle tradition.  Each time we visit The Mouse, we bring along a Disney puzzle (or two).  The puzzle is placed on a desk or table or any place we have a little room.  We open it and walk away.  Then slowly, little by little, day by day, piece by piece, the puzzle comes together.  First the edges then the middle until our masterpiece is complete.  Okay, it’s a puzzle.  So, what is this “power” I speak of?

Sometimes a day full of Disney magic can end on a less than magical note.  After all, we go from 50 miles an hour to 0, from a huge park to a very cozy space we all share.   Family overload and boredom often get the better of the situation.  Let the games begin.
I don’t want to watch that TV show... I’m too excited to sleep... I didn’t mean to draw a picture over my entire right arm with markers, I was bored.
Okay, that last one is a long story. I will just say my daughter has mad drawing skills if she ever wants to be a tattoo artist.  But, this is where the puzzle comes in.  Still don’t get it?  Let me explain.

This past trip we were fortunate to have condo with a lovely dining room table.  My children scoffed “again?” as I unloaded the puzzle and opened the box.  Then they gave me that look only an embarrassed teen can master.

At the end of our first busy day at the parks, I grabbed a glass of wine and started working on the puzzle.  The kids watched TV for a bit, and I suspected I would be working on the puzzle alone this trip.  But then, curiosity crept in.  First, the 15 year old came over and took a look.  I offered him a seat and he started working on the top edge.  The 12 year old peered over his shoulder and took a seat on the other side.  Then hubby joined our merry crew.  We sat there working away and began to talk.
Do you have a piece that looks like this?... Oooh, I know where that goes!... Here is part of Dory...  That reminds me of the park today.
And so on.  We worked for about 20 minutes or so and then all decided to call it a night.
Each evening as we returned from the parks, some of us would work on the puzzle.  In fact we finished one (1000 pieces I might add), and then began another.  The best part was that everyone was still together, not arguing, not complaining, and just enjoying the puzzle and relaxing after a long and busy day.  THAT is the “power of the puzzle.”

So next time you take a trip to The Mouse.  If you find that time in the room is less than magical, try a puzzle.  Yes, Disney puts magic in those too.  And hopefully you will find a “piece” of family fun you never expected.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Understanding Disney Addiction for my Non-Disney Friends

As an adult Disney fan, I’ve had to explain my addiction to friends and co-workers time and time again.  This is a difficult task.  How do you explain as a person over the age of (cough, cough) that you love going to Disney World as much as your kids, if not more?   And this is especially hard when you run into people that have had less then fun Disney experiences.  I’ve heard all the Disney woes.  “I hate the crowds!”  “I hate waiting in line.”  “That place is just too crazy.”  So, how do you explain Disney to these people?

On our trip a week ago, I took some time to really think about why I love visiting with The Mouse.  I love that when you step inside a park, the outside world melts away.  There is no work to think about, no housecleaning, and no homework or carpool.  The everyday world disappears and you are in Disney World.  But, it is more than that, much more than that.

Sitting in Tomorrowland, it came to me.  What I enjoy about Disney is not completely disappearing from my life, but seeing all the life going on around me.  It’s the memories being made around me as I walk down Main Street or step onto a ride.  The ones that make me stop, smile and appreciate that moment in time.  And last week I wrote down a few to share.

There was the 3 year old girl in the bathroom outside Crystal Palace singing “Let It Go” at the top of her lungs as she washed her hands and waited for her mom.  I think everyone in or out of a stall at that moment couldn’t help but smile. And yes, in the bathroom.

There was the couple in their 60’s on the Tea Cups.   The husband was laughing away as he spun them in circles. The wife had a sly smile on her face and a playful look.  They spent the entire ride staring at each other, laughing, flirting and just being young again.

My favorite moment, though, had to be a group of teenagers riding Dinosaur with their grandpa.  They were excitedly telling him about the ride and nudging him along.  He playfully joked with a Cast Member “Is it too late to leave” while giving a wink.  The teenagers roared, “Oh no grandpa!  You have to go!”  He laughed and got on board.  The entire ride the teens called out to their grandpa to look here and look there and “here we go grandpa!”  They were more excited to be riding with him than anything else.

Those moments are why I love Disney.  Seeing a young child’s imagination come to life while they sing at the top of their lungs.   Watching grown adults become kids again and experience true love.  And seeing generations, old and young, sharing time together and making memories.  So next time someone asks you to explain your Disney addiction, I hope this will help.  And I challenge you next time you are at Disney to take a few moments and look around.  See the memories being made, feel the excitement in the air, and smile.   That’s what it is all about.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Mane Event - Harambe Nights at Animal Kingdom

For a month, we kept a secret from my Lion King FANATIC daughter.  And when I say FANATIC, I mean FANATIC!  She can quote lines from all three Lion King movies.  She can tell you the names of Simba and Nala’s two children and the real name of Scar.  If there was a Lion King Trivia competition, this girl would win hands down!   So what was the big secret?  We had tickets to Harambe Nights, the after-hours celebration at Animal Kingdom marking the 20th anniversary of the Lion King.

We arrived at the park around 5:15pm. Disney Daughter (DD) thought we were there to buy something for her birthday.  As we walked in, cast members held signs announcing the entrance to Harambe Nights.  Our acting skills were spot on.  We asked a cast member what the event was all about .  “Hmmm, wish we had tickets,” hubby said.   Wasn’t until they put the special band on DD’s wrist and gave us our event booklet that she realized we were going and that was her present. 

Harambe Nights started at 7pm, so we had a little time on our hands and headed straight to Expedition Everest.  A 5-minute wait, WHAT?!?!  Yes, we hopped on it twice before meandering over to Africa around 6:10.  Guests gathered around the Dawa bar waiting for the night’s festivities to begin.  And, yes, the early bird catches the worm - or in this case, early entry.  Around 6:40, guests were led into the area in front of the newly constructed home of the Festival of the Lion King.

We were greeted by the music of an Afro-Pop band as the MC welcomed us to the evening’s festivities. Cocktail tables topped with African-themed décor filled the area along with food and beverage stations serving drinks and appetizers.  It was a party atmosphere and excitement filled the air.

2014-06-07 18.42.18
The Spicy Durban Chicken, Pickled Fennel Paneer Cheese and Moroccan Beef Kefta were delicious and seemed authentic.  However, the big hit was the Safari Cheeseburger Roll.  Hubby had 9. No joke, 9.  The beverage stands offered a variety of beer, wine, soda, water, and Jungle Juice.  On its own, the Jungle Juice was non-alcoholic and had a mango and citrus flavor.  And on request, bartenders would add a splash of rum. Yum!

Our MC encouraged guests to talk to the Cultural Representatives stationed throughout the venue.  We spoke with a lovely young lady from South Africa.  She said that people usually think Africa looks like the Pride Lands in the Lion King and are surprised to learn that she is from a big city.  Another Cultural Representative taught us how to play Mancala, an African game.

2014-06-07 18.51.01
Adding to the atmosphere were painters brushing neon tribal prints onto the faces of willing guests. A splash of bright orange and green markings, and DD was ready to go!

We had plenty of time to mingle, eat, and drink before we were asked to enter the show.  Entrances were divided into the four animals we recognized from the Festival of the Lion King.  We were Giraffes and headed to our designated area where greeters handed out wooden tubes containing “Lion Chow”.  

2014-06-07 19.18.08

DD and DS (Disney Son) weren’t too big on the Lion Chow spices.  Hubby enjoyed the candied pecans while I “Lion Chowed down” on the Sea Salted Toasted Pretzel Chips.  And yes, we kept the wood container as a souvenir.

The VIP ticket holders sat center stage on the floor.  Our Giraffe area was to the side and still had a fantastic view.   The band was located on the left, the choir on the right, and in front was an empty space for performers.  The guest narrator and host were elevated on Pride Rock at the center of the stage while large TV screens flanked each side.   

The show took clips from the beloved Lion King movie and intertwined them with live music, live performance, choir accompaniment and narration.  We were fortunate to have Viola Davis, star of the movie The Help, as our Guest Narrator.  She began with a note about her own connection with the Lion King 20 years ago, how she cried when Mufasa died and felt as though she had lost a member of her own family.  I saw my DD connect with her, a kindred spirit.

Ms. Davis’ performance was passionate and included a cute “Simba” voice for parts as well as a terrifying Scar.  Several talented Disney artists emerged from the choir to sing beautiful solo performances including “He Lives In You”, a song my DD identified as not from the 1st movie, but from the sequel and Broadway musical. The choreography was beautiful and the performances fantastic.  Dancers played the role of jungle animals, cackling hyenas, the beloved Rafiki, and our jungle lovebirds (or lions that is) Simba and Nala.  The show ended with a well-deserved standing ovation.

After the performance, dinner was served and the Street Party began.  We were directed to the central Africa area of Animal Kingdom.  The celebration stretched from the Discovery Island Bridge to the Kilimanjaro Safari exit.  Food stations filled up quickly both outside and inside the Tusker House.  We had to wait a bit in line but found an impressive variety and amount of food once we reached the buffet.   There was something to appeal to everyone in our party.   
2014-06-07 21.15.15

I enjoyed the Watercress, Melon, Feta and Berry Balsamic Onion Salad as well as the Fork Tender BBQ Pork.  Oh, and of course, the Papadum Bread and Vegetable Samosas were delish.  DS ate 2 helpings of the Seared Lamb Chops with Tamarind Pomegranate Sauce.  And for DD, Macaroni and Cheese was the highlight of her dinner.

The desserts were quite interesting.  Pineapple pieces covered in coconut  were hubby's favorite.  Not as big a hit was the Rice Pudding with Dried Fruit Compote and Pistachio Gremolata.  It required several other foods and drinks to clean the taste off of the palate.   The Chai Cream with Zebra Stripes reminded me of Egg Nog with a touch of Nutmeg.   Just when we thought we were finished, they brought out the Mickey Bar and other ice cream treats.  A perfect end to a delicious meal.  Did I mention that the St. George and Tusker Lager were refreshing on the hot and humid night?

There was dancing in the streets with the Afro-pop band and various dancers encouraging party goers to get on the floor and shake it.  Mickey and Minnie in African garb floated around the party as well as Timon and Rafiki.  The Africa shops were open and offered event specific merchandise and limited edition Lion King Collectables.  Costa Alavezos, a Senior Character Artist for Disney was on hand signing Lion King Prints.  We purchased a sketch of Simba, Timon and Pumba that he personalized for our DD.

By 10pm we were partied out, had full bellies, and huge smiles on our faces.  As we left the park, the Tree of Life was aglow with twinkling lights, like fireflies dancing in the night.  A parade of animals and cast members bid us farewell.  It was a night to remember.  Was it a huge price tag?  Yes.  But we felt it was worth it.  The performance was a top notch production, the type you would expect from Disney.  They spared no expense on the unlimited food and beverages.  And the décor and cast members led you into a magical world of fun.  When asked to sum up the night in two words, everyone agreed… Hakuna Matata!


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