Blogs

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

People often ask us why we go to Walt Disney World several times a year. (If you are reading this blog, you probably get asked the same thing on occasion!) I remember planning our first trip. I had been to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot several times before we were married, but Louis (@disneypicaday) and our daughter had never been. Frankly, we didn’t have the money to go on big family vacations in those early days. When we were finally ready to plan a big vacation in June of 2001, I knew it had to be WDW – even though Louis was not so sure. He found a package deal for a four-night stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Resort, I bought my first copy of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and he relented, but vowed this would be our one and only visit to the magic. Famous last words, right?

We were hooked. It had everything that two totally work obsessed adults could dream of – and more. We had tried beach and mountain vacations. It inevitably ended up with us sitting in chairs on a balcony with our laptops working. We went camping some, but there was this one night of 1000 frogs…that may be a blog for another time.

Disney provided an opportunity for a real vacation. We couldn’t work – it was all about the fun – no news, no contact with the outside world – just complete and utter focus on our family and obsessively experiencing as many attractions as possible in a day.

For us, visiting Disney provides that much needed disconnect that allows us to recharge, dream, be inspired, and return to work and our daily lives – ready to be our best. (After we get some sleep and recover from the muscle soreness acquired by walking 16 hours a day for a week!)

Fast forward to (hopefully) the strangest possible year – 2020. This year has presented everyone with unexpected challenges. We were able to visit Walt Disney World in January, before the virus began to close everything and it was one of the best visits ever. We were able to attend Jocelyn’s (@DisneyGratitud1) Meet Up and experienced Rise of the Resistance multiple times! 

Our next visit was scheduled for April, and although we were disappointed, we completely supported the quarantine and the need for keeping everyone safe. In the big scheme of things, missing a vacation is not a big deal at all! I was incredibly sick for the month of March with the flu (according to the diagnosis – this was before Covid tests) and we have been trying to follow all of the quarantine guidelines pretty carefully. Not only do we not want to become sick, but I am doing everything possible to keep my 89-year-old mother healthy as well.

We rescheduled our April vacation for the end of July, hoping that by then there would be more clarity on the virus. Unfortunately, there seems to be more confusion than ever. The Florida numbers are rising steadily, and we have worked so hard to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Although – we also know that there are a lot of people relying on the parks to open back up and we definitely want to show our support for them as well. We are not exactly sure what to do.

Hence the reason that song by the Clash has been playing in my head for the last few days. I have a feeling we are not the only ones that are struggling with this decision – should we stay home? For now, we are still planning on making the visit to Walt Disney World in July – we made our park reservations on Monday. But the concerns are there…and we are debating it…every day.

But if we can’t go see it in person, we still have the pictures:

Blogs

Great Movie Ride Goodbye

If you took the time to click on this blog, you know about the Great Movie Ride so I am not going to explain it to you. I was never a super fan of the ride, (Unlike my wife, @ValPalMickey, who thought of it as one of her very favorite rides!)

However, the Great Movie Ride holds one particular special spot in my heart as being one of the first dark rides I really tried taking decent pictures of. They made absolutely wonderful backgrounds for computer screens when they were clear enough. I was not terribly successful for many years (and not every picture in this blog is super perfect either!)

In this blog, I wanted to share a few of my favorite pictures from the ride that introduced me to more than a few great movies over the years.

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Of course, you have to start with the marquee as we rode right into the movies!

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Then past scenes of John Wayne, Aliens, Casablanca, Mary Poppins, to name a few (and not in any particular order).

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The action scenes were fun, a bit hokey at times. but who didn’t like a scene with cowboys and fire?

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And why did they always go for the goods? Did they not see what was coming next? Had these people never been to a movie?

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But one of my favorite scenes is from a movie that traumatized me as a child… The Wizard of Oz. The witch and flying monkeys creeped me out!

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The finale was awesome, in fact so awesome it would still make a great attraction without the ride. There are so many movies that people haven’t seen that are just spectacular and the ending of the ride reminded us of that.

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But at the very least… we still have the glorious Grauman’s Chinese Theater!

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Even if we no longer have these glorious signs:

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As much as I will miss everything that the Great Movie Ride had to offer, I am looking forward to seeing the next chapter when we are there in just over a month!

Blogs

The Hidden Batuu Gem:The Datapad

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When we are attending a Disney theme park there is typically one singular focus…experience as many attractions as possible, as many times as possible. We hit the park at rope drop and stay after closing until we fear they will kick us out! My experience was a little different during our last two visits. I was going to WDW for the first time with an injury. When we asked the doctor if I could still go on our planned vacations (the first one was just one week away), he said that I would be in pain no matter where I would be so – always go to Disney. My sad back and I rented a scooter (that experience is saved for another post) and I did as much as I could do each day. I did not want @drsql  to slow down just because of me, so our first day on Batuu I told him to ride Smuggler’s Run as many times as he could, and I would just explore the new land. I told him I might even check out the Play Disney App. Little did I know an obsession was about to begin!

Star Wars: Datapad

Picture2Even though we had not planned to, we decided to visit Galaxy’s Edge on the first day of our arrival, so it was later in the day when we first walked into Black Spire Outpost. Going to the Play Disney App, finding the Star Wars: Datapad option on the Hollywood Studio’s map- I began to explore Batuu as a spy working for the Resistance. It took some time to figure out exactly how it worked, but there are several options of activities to choose from – and it took a lot of trial and error to figure it out at first. The map helps you locate panels that are placed all around Batuu. After spending some limited time with it, I could not wait to return and play again. Over the next week (and the week of our next visit), we returned to Batuu several days and I spent a great deal of time interacting with my Datapad as we waited our turn to join the resistance in space on Rise of the Resistance! I am going to quickly review the activities and give some tips that may help as you start your Star Wars adventure in Black Spire Outpost.

 

Outpost Control

The first activity I accepted was to work to gain control of the Outpost. You use the Datapad to hack into panels located all around Batuu. Puzzles are provided for each panel; solve the puzzle and you gain control of that area for the Resistance – or the First Order – whichever side you choose. Some of the puzzles are very simple, some take a fewPicture3 minutes to figure out. All of these puzzles are similar, so as you solve puzzles the patterns become more obvious. While the puzzles were fun and pretty easy, how the total challenge worked confused me a little. Sometimes I was notified that the area was locked down for the Resistance and I was never exactly sure how that happened. I felt like there was not consistency in the process. I accessed every control panel on the map one morning, but it did not seem I had completed everything. There were some panels I could not hack but I was not sure why. I tried to ask some of the citizens of Batuu (Cast Members) for information, but the ones I talked with really knew nothing about the Datapad and could not direct me to anyone with more information. I ran into the same problem during our next visit, I could hack some control panels but not each one. Occasionally I received a notice that seemed to indicate the control panels reset and the activity started over. I would like to work on understanding that challenge a little more next time.

Hack

There are many items that can be hacked with the Datapad located around Batuu. Hacking means that you can do actions with ships, droids, transmission towers, evaporators, and other items by completing puzzle activities. Sometimes you will receive schematics or other information. These items Picture4will usually make noises and sometimes surprise you with something visual. When you choose “Hack” under the Tools tab on the data pad, any item that is hackable in the area will appear on the screen. Something I learned on our last visit; it is important to hack items more than one time. Apparently, you sometimes you receive different materials.

 

Scan

Scanning objects with the Datapad is a lot of fun. There are items placed all around Black Spire Outpost with QR codes. I am sure I missed many of them, but I definitely tried to find them all. Sometimes you have to scan specific items for a job. I wish I had learned earlier, if you are scanning an item for a job, scan it a second time so you can store the item for your personal stash. If you scan the crate for a job, it does not save the item in your Datapad personal stash, it just completes the job.

 Translate

I struggled somewhat with the translate option on the app. Maybe there was just too much ambient noise, or maybe I didn’t know what I was doing when I tried it.  I had trouble getting it to work. There are certain signs written in Aurebesh that can be translated, but not every sign. Some of the messages were really funny – I enjoyed translating what I could.

Tune

There are all sorts of secret transmissions that can be found around the Outpost. The Tune tool in the Datapad gives you the ability to unscramble the transmissions. Some are needed for jobs; some are just fun to read. The puzzle for this is simple once you learn it and although I carefully followed the map, I feel like I missed many of these. Be prepared to look a little silly moving your Datapad around in circles trying to pick up the transmission.

Jobs

Another activity I really enjoyed was the opportunity to earn credits by completing Jobs2020-01-20 15.00.03 for some of the residents of Batuu. The Jobs are divided by Resistance, First Order, or Scoundrel and this gives you the chance to not only explore Batuu but also interact with the ships, cargo, and transmitters.  Completing these jobs can give you star maps, credits, ship schematics, or items to trade. Every time you hack into a ship, like the Millennium Falcon, you will hear sounds or see lights flashing, from the ship itself. It was fun to see the reaction of people standing around taking pictures of something when suddenly they heard noise coming directly from it! I was able to complete every Job that was offered to me, so there are not many. One request from Finn was really fun, but I also learned it could be done several different ways and you can receive different items with the choices you make. So be sure to repeat the job if the Datapad continues to mark it as incomplete, even if you think you have done it already.

Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run

An option on the Hollywood Studio’s map in the Disney Play App is a game designed to play in the queue for Smuggler’s Run. I wasn’t able to do very much for this game during our first visit. Due Picture5to my injury I could not experience the attraction more than once and I didn’t feel like I should explore the entire queue.

Originally a cast member told me that I could do everything for this activity outside of the queue. When I realized that was incorrect, the second cast members I asked (one was management), said that I only had to be behind the Millennium Falcon, and they allowed me access. (The first job for Hondo was really fun. You are locating cargo and have to solve puzzles to discover what items are in the crates. You use the info you are given and the markings on the crates to help Hondo. – I loved that one! All of the crates needed for that job can be found directly behind the Falcon in a rarely used part of the queue.)

Unfortunately, I found out you do have to go through the entire queue to complete the jobs for Hondo. On our second visit I made sure to take the time at the end of the evening to go through the entire queue. That was a little complicated, the line was very busy, and I felt like I was in the way trying to answer Hondo’s questions. Even though I moved as far out of the way as possible. I also had a little difficulty figuring out where I was in the queue when Hondo asked me my location. Without FastPass at the time, the queue constantly moved, but we just let people pass and ended up the last riders of the night.

It was still a lot of fun and the app interacts with how well your flight on the Falcon goes – so it was fun to receive the information from Hondo after the attraction!

Final Tips

  • It is definitely easier to complete your mission when Black Spire Outpost is less crowded. We were able to visit during Extra Extra Magic Hours on several mornings of our first visit, and after the park officially opened it became more difficult to get around to certain areas.
  • If you plan to scan items with your Datapad early morning or in the evening after dark, make sure you have a flashlight with you that is NOT attached to your Datapad. In more remote areas of the Outpost, the QR codes would not scan in the dark and my phone would not allow the flashlight to be on when using the Datapad to scan.
  • Take a phone charger. I was able to complete tasks for several hours without running out of battery, but my phone definitely needed charging later in the day.

I enjoyed the Star Wars: Datapad so much. I had several citizens of Batuu interact with me during my missions. They would stop and ask me questions about the job I was completing – sometimes acting afraid that I was breaking a transmitter or evaporator. At one point someone pointed me out to a group of Stormtroopers as someone doing something suspicious. They came over and grilled me about why I was on Batuu – saying no random traveler should be there. I also had an awesome interaction with Vi – she was amazing and spent so much time with me helping me locate a location for my work with the Resistance.

I do wish the citizens of Batuu were more familiar with how the Datapad works, I could have used some advice. I prefer figuring out things for myself, but a little info would have been helpful since my time was slightly limited, unfortunately we had to go home eventually.

I highly recommend interacting with Batuu on your own Datapad – it was excellent, and I will definitely be earning credits again on our next visit!!

Blogs

Happy New Year’s Resolutions!

Of all of my endeavors in social media, our stuff with Disney Parks is the one I am most satisfied with. This year has been great, and I have added a lot of new followers, many of which I have to say comes from those folks who do #FollowFriday on Twitter! I have been able to keep a new, reasonably fresh pic up every day, even during the month I was laid up healing from knee replacement.

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This year, I plan to do more of the same, posting one or more pictures every day of the year, keeping up new pictures from my upcoming 2-4 trips to Disney World (and possibly Disneyland, that is still up for discussion after our wonderful trip last year)!

Still, I don’t think everything is perfect, and there are a few areas where I feel I need to change/improve.

  • Blogging consistently – We have been terrible about putting out blogs. Some of that is that I don’t post them very quickly, like the fact that I have a post that my wife wrote a few weeks ago that I need to edit. This next year I want to make sure we post at least one blog a month, some with tips about the parks, and maybe a blog or two about my process and tools (like the latest iPhone camera).
  • Scheduling less – In the upcoming days, my goal is going to be posting tweets live, to interact more with followers (based on advice from @ivysaysrawr). I won’t abandon scheduling altogether, as posting daily pictures will not happen if I have to stop and do this daily. All this means is that I am going to schedule tweets later in the day, and try to come back and post live if possible.
  • Paying more attention to everything Disney! – I missed an opportunity to go to the Midnight Magic party at Animal Kingdom on our next trip because I didn’t see that it was open for registration. I had weeks I could have signed up, but I missed it, only realizing it because I read someone else’s tweet…two weeks later. I missed the one at California Adventure last year the same way.
  • Changing Friday tweets – Friday’s from now on will be just #FollowFriday tweets (unless we are doing a countdown, perhaps, or if we are not posting a #FollowFriday post as I have not done during the Christmas month). No matter if I am mentioned or not, there is so much glorious noise on Fridays that the normal tweet on that day rarely sees attention. It is already so hard to figure out what to post, having an easy day on Friday will actually be kind of nice, even though picking out fireworks/explosion pictures is enough work on its own!)
  • Expand my Follow Friday list I know there are many great people out there to follow and recommend, and I like to really believe in an account before I suggest to others. I have been so busy this year that I haven’t taken enough time to consciously look for accounts to follow.
  • Listen to more podcasts – One of the reasons I have stuck with Twitter for almost 12 years is because of the community and the reasonable time involvement. I can be sitting in a doctor’s appointment, or a boring meeting, etc and read and reply to tweets in just 5 minutes. I work at home, so without a commute podcasts were never something I had time for. When I was recovering, I had a lot of extra time on my hands and really started to like the Dillos, the Monorail family, and the Disney DNA podcasts. Now that I am back to working 12+ hours a day, I haven’t listened as much.

Stretch goal:

  • Start a podcast, or at least guest on one – Over the years, I have been on several podcasts for technical topics. That is fun, but not Disney fun. I have contemplated starting a podcast for years, and have ideas, but the time commitment has been a blocker. To be honest, I have other side work that pays me, which leads to more Disney trips which leads to more pictures that have to take precedence.

All in all, I don’t want to change much. I am totally looking forward to meeting a solid number of my #disTwitter colleagues (and dare I say, friends) in early January for Jocelyn @disneygratitud1‘s meetup in late January!

I have met only a few people from my theme park twitter accounts over the years, and I hope it becomes more like my @drsql account. Through that account, I interact with people that I actually get to see occasionaly around the country at conferences and meetups. Of course it will be a lot more fun to meetup with people at Disney World because, you know… you are at Disney World.

Blogs

Staying at The Grand Californian

A review of any resort located on a Disney property is not exactly difficult to write, all the resorts, even the value ones, have tremendous charm. We stayed in most of the value and moderate resorts before joining the DVC several years back, and since then, have been able to stay at many of the deluxe resorts located at Walt Disney World. We enjoy staying on property so very much whenever possible because the comfort, location, and transportation options make the vacation even more enjoyable. Because we were not familiar with Disneyland, and since we were celebrating our 30th Wedding Anniversary, we decided to go large and stay at the Disneyland DVC resort: the Grand Californian. It turned out very similar and very different from Disney World resorts in amazingly good ways…and in one slightly negative way.

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I am a huge fan of the Craftsman style of architecture, the Grand Californian is an amazing example. The expansive lobby is warm and inviting, I wish we could have spent some time there, it was beautiful. As I mentioned in the last blog, it took us some time to check-in, there was a long line. The cast members were friendly and tried to make the process as quick and painless as possible.

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Our accommodations were lovely. We had a 1 bedroom suite which had a kitchen, living room, master bedroom and bath. My favorite thing was that our balcony overlooked the Grand Californian entrance to California Adventure. We could see the Soarin’ building and the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail from our balcony and hear the sounds of the park. If we had been there longer, I would have spent so much time sitting out there – but the parks were calling, and we spent every minute we could in them. (In fact they were calling so loudly that the only pictures we have of our room are in our minds!)

The only negative surprise that we experienced at the Grand Californian was the lack of a store to purchase basic sundries on property. We had not planned on using our kitchen very often, but we were hoping to pick up a few basic items (soft drinks, bottled water, bananas, etc.) to have in our room. At the WDW resorts, the gift shops and counter service restaurants usually have some small items like this for available for purchase, and the DVC properties usually have a few frozen meals for purchase.

We did not have a car and really had not planned for the possibility we could not find these items. When the cast members told us there really wasn’t another option, we checked into the grocery delivery. There were generally minimums that we didn’t really need to meet (even paying resort prices we rarely spend $30 in a week), and honestly, the biggest concern was the four-hour delivery window, we would have had to stay in the room until delivery was complete. We did not want to miss that much park time, so on the second morning, @drsql walked to a close (Note: @drsql did not write that word close, as it was about a 2 mile round trip!) convenience store off property for a few small things and we relied completely on meals in the park. It was not a huge problem, but one we wished we had been aware of so we could have planned better.

 

I believe the most amazing advantage of staying on property at Disneyland was the proximity to the parks. At WDW we obviously have to use the resort transportation or our personal car to access the parks, which can take over an hour at times to get from room to entry gate. When you stay on property at the Disneyland Resort there is no need to ever get on a bus once you arrive at the resort. There was a private entrance to California Adventure and another to Downtown Disney. Security was handled at these entrances. (And others, like the Downtown Disney monorail stop, the entrance by the Disneyland Hotel, and another entry point by the entrances to Disneyland and California Adventure. I didn’t see it, but there were parking trolleys delivering people, and there must have been a security checkpoint around parking too.) So very different from the Disney World experience, in an amazing way. Once you were in the “land”, you were checked and could move around freely.

The proximity of the parks to our rooms was amazing – and almost won our hearts away from Walt Disney World. Just knowing we could make a quick trip back to the room to pick up something we had forgotten, or to dry off on the super rainy day, was wonderful!!