We may live in Tennessee but our hearts are in Walt Disney World every single day! Constantly planning our next trip to our happy place, we share a personal Disney pic a day from our over 16 years of traveling to “The Most Magical Place on Earth”! You can find us on Instagram @disneypicaday or on Twitter @disneypicaday. This blog is our place to write extended articles with stories, recommendations, critiques, and tips to help you plan your visit!
Disney and I have been on a break…well not exactly…but sort of. @DisneyPicADay and I have been DVC Members and Season Passholders for many years. We typically visit Walt Disney World three (and sometimes more) times a year. January or February for our anniversary, the fall for the Not So Scary Party, and then we fit one other visit in sometime. (It used to be May for Star Wars Weekend…play sad music here for a moment of silence and then go watch our Figments In Time episode on SWW)
Obviously, there were several months last year when no one could visit because the pandemic closed the parks…but that is not the break that I am referring to as we actually went for Christmas last December…no, we had to take a break this year because of some personal health issues.
A long time ago Walt Disney World became our favorite place to vacation – there were a lot of reasons. The first and most important reason is because @DisneyPicADay is addicted to roller coasters (editors note: all thrill rides!). Disney was one location where he could ride every attraction. Another reason was that it was the one place we could actually disconnect and just have ridiculous fun. We both had very intense jobs (and side jobs!), and before we found Disney, no matter where we went on vacation, we found ourselves working. At Walt Disney World we did not check our email or look at the news – we just had fun.
Over time, Disney also because the place for me to make decisions and decompress when life was difficult. Walking all day, looking at the amazing scenery, laughing, riding thrill rides…it cleared my brain, helped me process, and gave me time to think. I do some of my best thinking while at a Disney Park.
We have had a lot happen over this past year…really over the past few years. I have missed my thinking spot…my get away from everything and process spot. I know people don’t understand why adults love Disney – but quite honestly everyone really needs to just be kid and have fun sometimes. I am looking forward to reuniting with my happy place.
Due to my health issues from this year, I will become close friends with a scooter…and hang out at the resort way more than usual…but I am super excited about it. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my birthday! Plus, I get to see Happily Every After fade off into the happily ever after… happiness mixed with sadness mixed with happiness!
Ok…so maybe that title is a little dramatic, but it is the way I am feeling at the moment. I have a lot of Walt Disney World attractions that are very important to me that I would never want to lose (I am looking at you Haunted Mansion!) but shows, especially fireworks shows, are not typically on this list. I understand stage productions can become stale or dated over time and they need to be refreshed. And honestly, some things can run for too long. So, I will typically try to visit one last time to bid a show a fond farewell and look back on pictures fondly.
I was not a huge fan of Wishes and I totally understand that I just lost many of you with that statement. It was a great show, but because of some silliness from my husband, I really struggled with the music, and I didn’t love waiting for it. We had just seen it so many times that we often just worked hard to be on Big Thunder Mountain or Splash Mountain for a special view of the fireworks. I didn’t like to wait in front of the castle, with a sea of people for Wishes – so I was excited to hear we would receive a new nighttime spectacular.
I thought I might enjoy Happily Ever After and watch it occasionally, but I was not prepared for what I experienced the first time I saw this show. There was something uniquely special about this production. It is not just that the projections are amazing, which they are incredibly so, or that the fireworks are timed well…they are, it is something else. The music…the music is incredibly emotional…unlike any other fireworks show I have seen. Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular has an incredible score with music that we are familiar with…that reaches the fans nostalgia. (And I do love that show.) However, Happily Ever After uses its music in a more unique way to tug at our heartstrings. They utilize songs that we are familiar with (some more than others) but in an incredible arrangement that utilizes versions of songs that I have never heard in another setting.
Bear with me, I am going to make another controversial statement – I am not a huge Tinkerbell fan. I know…now you really hate me. (When I was a kid, I thought she was too mean to Wendy, and it just stuck with me…but I digress.) When Tinkerbell took flight in Wishes I thought it was really cool, but it didn’t strike me that much in the feels – it was early in the show. I remember watching Happily Ever After the first time and thinking…oh something must be wrong tonight and Tink is not flying. But then…when she took off from the castle…I started crying. The timing is spectacular… when Tinkerbell makes her flight…it is just perfect. I have never cried so much in a show with fireworks – not in all of these years of visiting the parks. (Even seeing Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular was amazing, but I did not burst out into hysteric tears.) Happily Ever After became a must do for me. I would gladly wait in the heat, with a crowd, to get a great view.
I say all of this to say – Happily Ever After is going away too soon. We were not ready…we didn’t have enough time. I know the pandemic kept us from visiting as much over the last couple of years, but I don’t think more viewings would change my feelings of loss right now. I am not angry, and I do not hold it against Disney because I am sure they have their reasons…but I have a request. Walt Disney World…please at least give me an official soundtrack.
This is my first attempt at writing a blog with a clickbait title. I expect on that aspect it will fail to take me to the viral levels of most clickbait (I suppose I could have said “Why I am Glad a Disney World Attraction is ending” so you wouldn’t know what I meant until you clicked, but I am new at this. Keeping with the clickbait tradition, I will reveal my reasoning at the end of the blog, but I won’t make you read two pages of text explaining to you what Happily Ever After is, WaltDisneyWorld.Com will do that for you just nicely.
I read a lot of people who Happily Ever After for various reasons. The music, the magic, the wonderful fireworks, or even a personal attachment. A good friend was proposed to during this show. That is a strong attachment. It was one of my grandaugther’s favorite memories from her first trip to Walt Disney World (okay, it was second next to the dessert party we went to first.) There are tons of amazing memories of this show out there. I personally love the show very much, and largely use pictures from the show in my sorta weekly #FollowFriday posts.
On #Distwitter and various YouTube channels, back room Discords, and probably around the water cooler in the Utilidors (has anyone actually worked at a place that had a water cooler that you stood around talking?), comparing “Happily Ever After” to “Wishes” to “Fantasy in the Sky” and other nighttime spectaculars. If you want to listen to one such debate, check out episode 160 of our Monorail loving friends at the Morning Monorail.
On that episode of the Morning Monorail podcast, my answer was read and I liked Wishes better, but that is not why I am glad to see Happily Ever After ending, I don’t even want Wishes to come back. I clearly love the visuals because for something that you have to wait an hour or more for that only happens once a day, I have a lot of pictures of it (and have spent a decent amount of money on dessert parties and camera equipment to get better views and pictures of it too!)
I did slightly prefer when the projection show was distinct from the fireworks, but that is a minor quibble. No, the one reason I am happy it is going away is for the simple reason that I want more memories. I love the familiarity of going to a theme park and seeing the same sights, hearing the same sounds, smelling the same smells, riding the same rides… But it is nice to get new sights, smells, rides too.
When I am scrolling through my pictures preparing for FollowFriday, I often hear the crescendo of the songs from “Wishes” and “Happily Ever After” in particular. I don’t remember the words of the songs, but I do remember “Star light, star bright… Wishes” and “Happily Ever After” (made all the easier since it is right there in the title). I selfishly want more memories to squirrel away in my brain.
As you can see here on Disney World’s website:
I can’t wait to see this. And after the 18 months they tell us that the 50th celebration will go on, I look forward to the next spectacular “Enchanted”. After all… the title of the current show is more typically heard in the phrase “and they lived happily ever after” … at the end of the story… The memories of seeing this the first and last time will still be there without seeing it again.
And while watching fireworks on TV can’t compare to the real thing, if you need your memory refreshed… Disney already has that for you.
Three months ago, we wrote a blog entited “Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?” discussing the pros and cons of planning to go to a theme park like Disney World during the pandemic we are current in the midst of. It wasn’t an easy topic then, nor is it exactly an easy topic now. But for me, I have decided it is time to give it go, so Saturday, Septempber 20th, I will be on my way to Orlando for a week at Disney World and I am cautiously excited. Obviously there are reasons to be excited, I mean, it’s Disney Freaking World, right? I have a new camera, and I am truly excited to expand my picture inventory, especially catching some pictures of things that I don’t have nearly enough of (like my extreme lack of pictures of the teacups!)
I expect crowds to be rather low, especially since school is back in, and frankly the parks are only open 8 (AK and EP) or 9 (MK and HS) hours a day. It is rare that I spend that few hours in the parks in a day, unless something interesting is going on (like a certain meetup in January reduced one of our days, another trip it was illness, but usually I go at least 12 hours a day).
Obviously the title alludes to the saying “a tempest in a teacup” which means a small event blown way out of proportion. But this is clearly not that. It is a true tempest, something my wife and I take seriously. We canceled multiple trips before this because we were uncomfortable with the situation on our planet, most importantly Tennessee and Florida (and also somewhat Georgia, since I will drive through it from top to bottom getting to Florida.) This week felt like the best time to go, so we made our plans, and were both planning to get in the family truckster and head south before colder weather arrives and situations possibly change.
Unfortunately, I use the word I instead of we because non-Covid things have gotten in the way for one of us, in that Valerie’s brother had a cardiac event recently, and she doesn’t want to risk being away and out in the world so soon. He has progressed past the fragile state (or I would cancel my trip), but is still a long way from OK. So we are planning a trip together in November for Christmas décor.
As such, I will be lone wolfing it for the week. This is sad for us, but will also be a little fun too (and perhaps for any of you that want to help determine my fate.) The last time I went to Disney World without Val (she was furiously writing her dissertation for her doctorate!) she prepared missions for me. This week will be the same. The last time we did this (chronicled here: https://disneypicaday.wordpress.com/2018/07/01/my-husband-went-to-disney-world-alone-so-he-had-to-suffer-a-little/), the hardest missions for me were the meet and greets. It is a very dorky feeling as an lone adult standing in line waiting to meet Sofia! And the picture bears out that dorkiness as you can see:
Some of the ideas she has had so far include:
- Standing in front of the fountain outside of Imagination and singing “One Little Spark”
- Pictures of obscure things
- Livestreaming walks around some areas
- Asking our Twitter followers for ideas
Yeah, that last one is the most concerning of them all!
Of course, like last time I was there by myself, I won’t be going to the Halloween party. This time for much different reasons. My schedule for the week is as follows.
- Sunday 20 – EPCOT
- Monday 21 – Hollywood Studios
- Tuesday 22 – Magic Kingdom
- Wednesday 23 – Animal Kingdom
- Thursday 24 – Hollywood Studios (Considering changing to Animal Kingdom, depending on how Monday and Wednesday go)
- Friday 25 – Magic Kingdom
- Saturday 26 – EPCOT
The whole thing has me a bit concerned about how it will go, but from my experiences at Dollywood over the past few months, plus knowing how strongly Disney has been enforcing their rules, I feel confident that if I keep mostly outdoors that things will be just fine. I also understand the people who say that it isn’t time for them to go, it is complicated. I know this won’t be a normal trip as I will be spending almost all of my time outdoors except when going on a ride. This can be an interesting proposition in mid September Orlando as if I recall correctly, it can be a bit warm, but keeping safe is still very important. According to weather.com:
During our visit to Batuu in January 2020, @disneypicaday surprised me with a special anniversary present – a visit to Droid Depot in the Black Spire Outpost. He had made a reservation in advance, but one very cold evening we were passing by the Depot and it wasn’t very busy so he stopped and asked if we could change our reservation. We were able to walk right in and get in line!
I was not expecting to take part in the experience – so I had not done any research at all – I was walking in with no expectations and no clue to what was about to happen. As we were waiting in line, I was thinking about what type of droid I would be creating. My initial idea was a droid like Chopper from Star Wars Rebels. We already have a BB-8 remote control droid and many versions of R2-D2 (although none that move), and Rebels is one of our favorite shows. Talking with the citizen of Batuu at the register, I was told that at this time there are only two options – a BB-series droid or an R2-series droid. Since we have a BB-8, I decided that I wanted to create an R2 series droid – but not make it exactly like R2-D2.
The Droid Depot is an eclectic building with a lot going on in a very small space. There is not a lot of room to move around and all of the noise echoes pretty well around you making it a little difficult to hear. The design matches the esthetic of Batuu – an industrial look with a lot of distressed accents. There are many droids and mechanical parts all around the room – on shelves, moving around the ceiling – every inch of the room is being used. The lines for each of the stations weave all around the space.
The first station is the register, where you decide which series of droid you will be building, pay, and receive initial instructions. The cost to build an astromech droid is (or at least was in January 2020) $99.99 plus tax. The price includes the droid, a cardboard carrying case, and remote control. The cast member gave me a basket with a copy of the blueprints for building. He directed me to the depot’s conveyor belt to begin choosing my parts.
The R2 series required four components. There was not a defined line to the conveyor belt, the second station, so you just make your way to any spot where there is room – sort of like picking up your luggage after a flight! There was another cast member standing near the conveyor belt to help with my questions. Random parts were coming by and the blueprints showed me what I needed – I wasn’t sure what all of my color options were – so I was afraid I would miss something I liked better or a matching piece. The cast member reviewed the blueprint with me and told me my color options. He explained that a lot of people like to mix and match their parts in different colors but that many people chose to go with one – either would be a great decision.
I decided to go with my favorite color – purple – and created my R2 unit as a, not so unique, tribute to R2-D2. I picked up the purple dome – but there was not an option for any other parts to be purple. I decided to go with basic white for the two side legs, body, and center leg. This station only took a couple of minutes, it actually felt a little too quick. After all four of the components had been collected, the next station is where the assembly takes place. This was the longest line and it moved very slowly.
Although, time seemed to move a little faster for us because we struck up a conversation with a couple from, I believe, Michigan who was trying to take a picture of one of the cast members at the assembly station – their daughter who was starting her first week in the college program. They could not be more excited – or nervous – about bringing her to Florida to participate in a program she had always wanted to be a part of and was so happy to begin. When it was our turn – their daughter was the first cast member helping me assemble our new R2 unit.
She reviewed the directions for assembly with us that were detailed on the station. There are several people building at a time with just a couple of cast members working at the station, so they are running around behind the station pretty busy.
We followed the steps outlined on the station: Initializing, Assigning, Formatting, Preparing, Priming. I was a little intimidated by the tools at first, but it was much easier than I expected and if I had any questions a cast member helped me when I could get their attention.
After R2-66 (my choice of name for the new droid) was activated, we paired it with the remote control and a cast member showed me how to help him come alive! I was given the cardboard carrying case and sent on my way.
There are a lot of accessories available for purchase in the Droid Depot. (One of which was a really cool sign I wish we had added to our collection.) But I only purchased one additional item – the accessory panels. Available in all of the matching colors, these panels can replace certain pieces on the white components so that the body and legs can match the color of the dome. These purple panels really brought R2-66 together visually – and makes him stand out so much more than having the purple dome and all white body. I believe they cost around $12.00 and I was very glad I added them to my R2 unit. I decided against getting a personality chip on this trip – but I have it added to my list as a possible souvenir for a future visit.
The most fun I have had with R2-66 has been with the app that I downloaded on my iPhone. The Droid Depot app is available from the App Store at no cost and will connect to your astromech droid. There are four activities that you can enjoy with the app. First, Piloting – it can serve as the basic remote control for your droid. It serves the same function as the remote that comes with purchase – the buttons are exactly the same. Another option is Droid Builder, a basic choose and build activity where you can create a very basic collection of images of droids you can put together in the app.
My favorite two functions are Maneuvering and Strategy. In Maneuvering, you have three choices of songs and can program your astromech droid to dance along with the music. It is just fun to watch!
Through the Strategy option, you can play tic-tac-toe with your droid. There is an easy selection or hard selection, and the noises my R2 unit would make when he loses (and when he wins, if I let him) are really cute. I am looking forward to my granddaughters’ next visit – they love to interact with R2-66 and they are going to have a lot of fun with the app!
All in all, it was a really fun experience. It did not take nearly as long to build a droid as I expected (and it would have been even quicker if that last line wasn’t so slow) so it did feel slightly too rushed for me. The crowd and noise made it feel a little more frenetic than I would have liked. But I am so glad I had the opportunity to experience it. My R2 unit is a lot of fun and it was so awesome to be able to build one personally. It makes him more special that the BB-8 droid we purchased. (And R2-66 is larger and feels sturdier than our BB-8.) If you or someone in your family loves Star Wars, Droid Depot is an experience you do not want to miss. (Trust me, I am going to keep an eye out for when they have an option to build an astromech like Chopper…I will be back!!)