Monday, November 17, 2014

Big Hero 6 Review *SPOILERS*

Mickey Mouse Movie House- Big Hero 6  - By Marc Disney 

Pic courtesy of

Look, at your local movie theater, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s not Superman. It’s Disney’s newest animated film, Big Hero 6. The film tells the story of Hiro who aspires to be like his older brother, Tadashi. When Tadashi is killed in a fire, Hiro assembles a group of his brother’s college friends to find his murderer. This group of unexpected and inexperienced superheroes has their jobs cut out for them as they discover that the culprit has stolen a top secret device that if not stopped, could mean the end of San Frantokyo and the world itself. Hiro must trust his team, his huggable robot sidekick, Baymax, and most importantly, his heart in order to set things right.

Since the acquisition of Marvel in 2009, the Walt Disney Company had be trying to develop a story from the Marvel lore that would be entertaining and inspiring without being self-referencing to its roots. I’m happy to say that Big Hero 6 accomplished this goal and exceeded my expectations. While I was initially skeptical about the combination of two very different genres of filmmaking, Big Hero 6 showed me how opposites not only attract but can work very well together. Anyone who is a fan of Marvel knows of their ability to create non-stop action sequences that will have audiences on the edge of their sits while all Disney fans know that the Walt Disney Company is known for creating moments that can touch your heart and cause you to reach for your tissue box. This film combines both elements of storytelling without one overshadowing the other but gentling blending to create an experience that will have you on the edge of your sit one moment and have you wanting to give Baymax a hug the next. In addition to its brilliant storytelling, the animation is amazing. Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams (Bolt and Wreck-It Ralph respectively), the film uses the same breath-taking animation while offering a gentle mix of both eye-popping special effects as well as soothing, soft colors to coincide with the scenes that are designed for (such as Baymax’s visit the dimension within the portal).  As with Wreck-It Ralph, this film is not a musical but the beautiful score is composed by Henry Jackman who previously worked on Wreck-It Ralph and features a new single by the group Fall Out Boy entitled “Immortal”. In conclusion, this magnificent combination of action and heart is not only a lesson in how opposites attract but how two completely different genres can come together to tell a single story with a single lesson- courage and sacrifice. From the Mickey Mouse Movie House, this film soars up, up and away with an A+ See you next time at the movies.

Written by Marc Disney

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Jeff's WDW & Universal Trip Report....

Trip Report for November 2014    Written by Jeff C. 
Number of people: 4 (2 adults, 2 children (ages 17 and 14))
Dates: 11/01/2014 - 11/04/2014
Travel: United Airlines, Disney's Magical Express, Resort Monorail, Resort Bus, Cab
Accommodations: Disney's Polynesian Resort
Parks: Magic Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Universal's Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida
Restaurants: Crystal Palace (MK), Kona Café (Poly), Fairfax Fare (DHS), Hollywood and Vine (DHS), Captain Cook's (Poly), Fast Food Boulevard (USF)

High Points
Disney's Magical Express
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in the dark
Walking just behind the Electrical Parade
MagicBand PhotoPass integration
Wandering Oaken's Frozen Snowground photo-ops.
Star Wars - The Adventures Continue
Mickey Bar almost immediately followed by Dole Pineapple Whip
Harry Potter-themed attractions and areas

Low Points
Did not get to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Lots of construction detours
Ticket prices everywhere
Forced to pay for a park-to-park ticket for Universal
Incorrect wait times at Universal
Exorbitant prices on food and merchandise at Universal

Prepare for a whirlwind tour of WDW and Universal Studios.
Departure from Dulles (IAD) around 2:30PM was uneventful, but we caught a tailwind and arrived over 30 minutes early.  Fortunately, this did not cause a problem with Disney's Magical Express which got us to the Polynesian Resort with no trouble. 

The Poly is undergoing extensive renovations, so much of the lobby is blocked off.  I was able to obtain a few construction photos.  The interior shots are blurry because I had to move quickly when doors were opened by workers.  A guy pushing a wheelbarrow saw what I was doing, so I exited the area quickly.

I had checked in online which saved perhaps three minutes over waiting in line.  Our room was ready and our luggage would be delivered automatically.  It was 5:30PM.  
I had a FastPass for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train for 6:00PM and an ADR for the Crystal Palace just off Main Street for 7:00 PM.  Unfortunately, we didn't get through the turnstiles until 6:30PM because the other members of my party don't understand that it takes time for the monorail to get from the Polynesian to the Magic Kingdom.  I traded my 7:00PM FastPass for a 10:00PM Pirates of the Caribbean slot and figured I would go standby for the Mine Train.
We arrived at the Crystal Palace slightly early and waited outside in the balmy 50-degree weather.  We hit one of the coldest cold snaps Florida had had in a while.  The benefit of that is the Crystal Palace serves free hot cocoa while you wait and it's some of the richest, tastiest hot cocoa on Earth.  The park was doing a brisk business in beach towels which were being used as blankets by guests. 

The all-you-care-to-eat buffet was covered by our dining plan.  Otherwise, it would have been $42 per person.  Note: I tend not to take photographs of food.  The variety and quality of food there was very good although some found the dishes overly spicy.  I added more spice to mine.  The Winnie the Pooh characters were not too intrusive.
After dinner, my wife was too tired from the trip to continue.  It was 8:30PM.  That is one of the chief advantages of being on property.  She went back to the Polynesian while the girls and I went to Space Mountain with a FastPass.   

PhotoPass is now linked to MagicBands for rides and park photographers. 
My kids insisted on Stitch's Great Escape even though it is my least favorite.  I honestly think they've toned down the attraction a little.  We got a photo on the Tomorrowland bridge near the castle which is another reason to take advantage of the pros in the park.  I have very few photos with me in the picture because I'm usually the one taking them.  We tried standby for the Mine Train.  60-minute wait.  That would have interfered with the FastPass for Peter Pan which, once again, had a deceptively long standby line.
The new Fantasyland looks great.  The new castle structures break up the open space well.  We also had to visit the Rapunzel-themed restrooms I have heard so much about.  Yes, they lived up to their hype.  No, I did not take pictures inside the restrooms.  Not breaking theme anywhere is one of those details I look for in a theme park.
Because we were so close to Liberty Square, we went standby for the Haunted Mansion specifically to see the new ride queue which I enjoyed very much.  We got stuck just prior to boarding our Doom Buggy and I saw an empty wheelchair in the load area when they restarted.  I assumed we would be stopping again when that guest was departing.  I was right.  We were stuck in the graveyard scene long enough that the kids memorized most of the lyrics to "Grim Grinning Ghosts."  By the time we got off, Wishes was underway, but I really wanted to look at the new Haunted Mansion gift shop, Memento Mori.  Though small, it was packed with HM merchandise including the one item I've sought for years, an HM tie with the wallpaper pattern.  It cost $40, but it was one of the few things I bought for myself.

The window for the PoTC FastPass had opened, but we really didn't need it.  The kids had never seen the Jack Sparrow version of the attraction.  I like his inclusion, but his audio-animatronic figure is so far advanced that he makes the other ones look very old by comparison.  Wandering though Adventureland, the Jungle Cruise had immediate boarding.  I still say the narration on Jungle Cruise gets more adult-themed at night.  Sometimes the skippers deliberately act a little ruder (all in fun).
Splash Mountain was closed due to the cold weather.  The standby line for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was 20 minutes which gave enough time to appreciate the queue decorations and theming.  I am under the impression that Big Thunder is far better at night.
Then, we had to make a decision.  Did we try to go back to the Mine Train?  It was a long walk and the second performance of the Electrical Parade was starting.  We tried to move quickly, but we had to circle the hub the long way around.  Oddly, we ended up in the parade following the eagle at the end.  Then, the confusion began.  We tried going on the pathway between the Castle and Tomorrowland.  A maintenance worker was telling people not to go that way because they would be turned back.  The parade was over, so the Castle entrances had re-opened.  We went that way and tried to cross the courtyard.  There, we encountered a perimeter defense of cast members telling us the area around the Mine Train was closed and may not reopen that evening.  Soon after, the rumors of a fire began circulating.  That was confirmed by the news media.  Apparently, embers from Wishes caught part of the exterior on fire.

That was our cue to do some shopping and leave.  The park was open until midnight and it was an EMH night until 2:00AM when the clocks got set back to 1:00AM for Eastern Standard Time.  I had scheduled the vacation to get that extra hour of sleep and we were going to take advantage of it.  We returned to the Poly around 12:30AM.
Because the main pool is also undergoing renovation, we were offered free admission to Blizzard Beach.  The temperature around sunrise was 45 degrees.  Blizzard Beach was closed as a result.  We hadn't planned on going, so it was no loss.
I went down to Captain Cook's for a refillable mug of coffee while wearing a t-shirt, shorts and sandals.  I'm originally from New England, but a Michigander thought I was nuts.  I also had an ADR for the Kona Café at 8:30AM.  DHS opened at 9:00AM and would close at 7:30PM with EMH to 9:30PM.  I got my customary Tonga Toast.  I know some people think it's overrated, but it's my first choice.  I got my first of several Polynesian Resort hidden Mickeys at the Kona Café in the carpet. Two others were in the lobby in a wall hanging and the carpet.

My older daughter and I shared a pot of French-pressed Kona coffee.  She really wanted a bag to bring home. I had seen that a bag of 100% Kona was $40, so I asked our server how many pounds were in the bag.  The answer was 12... ounces.
I put out a Mousekeeping tip envelope for the maid.  My wife questioned why I didn't just leave a bigger tip on the last day instead of spreading them out.  Many people know that if you leave a little bit each day, the maid puts some extra effort into making more elaborate towel animals. One of ours was unrecognizable.

The first bus to arrive at the Poly was bound for DHS.  I took that as a good sign.  We arrived around 10:00AM.  We did the family photo in front of the sorcerer's hat knowing that it will be removed soon. 

Our first FastPass was for the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster in the afternoon.  DHS has a tiered FastPass system, so I couldn't also get Toy Story Mania or Tower of Terror.  This was frustrating to say the least.  After picking up some trading pins, we tried to go standby on Toy Story Mania.  The wait was already up to 110 minutes.  We bypassed that and went to Wandering Oaken's.  That was a huge hit for a number of reasons.  Even though it's temporary, it's very well themed.  The adjoining Frozen Snowground is a good place to take Christmas card photos using the Aurasma app on the iPhone.  It will insert characters from Frozen into your own photos without having to use PhotoPass.

I do not do a lot of pin trading, but I brought three duplicate pins I've received from prior trips.  They were typically included with a resort package with one for each guest.  When we were buying a stuffed toy Sven the reindeer for my younger daughter, I noticed the register worker had two different styles of monorail pins. 

I traded two of mine to her and one more to another register worker for a Beaker pin.  My girls then came up with an idea.  They both wanted Doug the dog from Up, but it was only available as a two-pin set with grumpy old Carl.  They wanted sets to trade away the Carl pins for something else.  So, it was back to the Sorcerer's Hat.
We went standby for The Great Movie Ride which I call The Meh Movie Ride.  The wait was only 20 minutes and, by the time we finished, we could get to the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster.  I can no longer ride it due to a medical restriction concerning a prior retinal detachment.  The G-forces are too high.  Rock 'n' Roller Coaster is great, but it's not worth blindness. 

At that end of the park, the other big attraction is Tower of Terror.  Standby was 50 minutes and would remain that way for the rest of the day.  It was time for a late lunch anyhow.  Eating lunch at 2:00PM avoids most of the crowds.  Three of us went to Fairfax Fare.  My older daughter is a strict vegan, so she used multiple snacks on the dining plan at Anaheim Produce which proved a great option for vegans.
This is where my impression of the new FastPass+ system went downhill fast.  I already didn't like having to pick attractions two months in advance.  I didn't like that the Mine Train FastPass slots were all taken between midnight and 5:00AM 60 days before my arrival.  I didn't like that I had to ping the My Disney Experience website every day for weeks hoping for a cancellation to get a Mine Train FastPass.  I already said that the two-tier system at DHS blocked going on Toy Story Mania.  At 2:15PM, the FastPass window for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster closed.  I thought that if one of my three FastPass selections has been used, I can then pick a new one.  I could not.  I asked a cast member about this and was informed that I have to use all three FastPass selections before picking an additional one.  Of course, by the time the third window closes, either all slots are allocated or the park itself is closing.  They told me that I should have put all my selections earlier in the day.  But, the standby line is usually short enough at that time, so having a FastPass doesn't make much difference.
I already sent a letter of complaint to parks management and they set up a case number I can use on my next trip to obtain Priority Entrance Passes from Guest Relations that I can use as desired with no time window restrictions.  That's the Disney difference.
That was a lowlight.  Now, a highlight.  We went standby to Star Tours – The Adventures Continue and, by the time we finished, our FastPass window had opened for a re-ride.  I don't mind the loss of the attraction's original version; everyone enjoyed the second ride on the new version even more than the first.  Why?  Well, because... *** SPOILER ALERT*** ... my younger daughter was the rebel spy.
I had a FastPass for Muppet*Vision, but the standby line was only 5 minutes.  I cancelled the third FastPass and immediately tried to get another one for anything in the park.  No luck.  Everything had been allocated for the day and no one wanted to stay for EMH.
Dinner was at Hollywood and Vine.  The buffet was good and plentiful.  My vegan daughter had multiple plates of salad, fruit and other vegetables.  Protein always proves to be a problem at restaurants for her.  The desserts are really good here too.
After dinner, we made one last attempt at Toy Story Mania.  65-minute wait.  So, we walked back to see if there was anything available for The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow.  Everything was taken, but starting at 7:45PM they would do first-come-first-served for EMH guests.  We opted to listen to Mulch, Sweat and Shears instead while we exited the park. 

Fantasmic! had just started while we were walking to the bus.  I prefer the Disneyland version as it is integrated into the park rather than being held in a separate venue.

Temperatures would soar into the low 70s this day.  I have been in Florida in July and August.  This was the first time ever in November.  I have to say that I believe touring theme parks in cooler weather is superior.  You can always put on a coat.  If it's 98 degrees and 98% humidity, there's not much you can do except maybe stay inside.
Breakfast was at Captain Cook's which was oddly quiet.  We put our refillable mugs to good use.  My younger daughter discovered that she can cool her hot cocoa with creamer and make it even more decadent.  Here's a tip.  If you have a refillable mug, counter service meals include a beverage.  We stocked up on expensive soy milk and orange juice.  The food was standard fare for counter service at a resort, but my younger daughter was upset that all the breakfast meats were pork-based.  We found out later that the turkey bacon in the children's meal could be substituted for any meat.
Universal would open at 9:00AM, but Islands of Adventure would close early at 6:00PM instead of 7:00PM for some reason. The plan was to go to IoA first and then switch to USF.  We had to take a cab.  With 4 people, it was cost-effective.  I budgeted $50 including tip each way.  That was spot on.  I asked the cast member in front of the Poly to hail a taxi.  He asked where we were going and I whispered, "Universal."  His jaw dropped and he had a stricken look on his face.  Then, he said, "Just make sure you go on all the Marvel rides.  We get a cut of that now."
We got through the turnstiles right about 10:00AM.  Some couple to our right was trying to get in using a Disney World pass.  I thought they were kidding and then I thought they were trying to scam their way in.  No, they just didn't know that Universal is not Disney.  This trip would finally allow me to directly compare and contrast the two.
There are numerous things I don't like about Universal.  The entire concept of Express rubs me the wrong way.  The more you pay, the shorter you wait except for Harry Potter attractions which don't use Express.  I don't like the whole locker system.  Why can't they just have a mesh bag with a firm closure on top so loose articles are secure on the ride?  The fact that you have to pay for a park-to-park ticket to see all of the Harry Potter-themed attractions is a cynical, venal tactic on Universal's part.  I don't like when merchandise and food have no prices listed forcing you to ask how much.  Finally, Universal has no concept of what an accurate wait time is.  I even had the app.  The app's time matched the times posted at the rides themselves.  But, a 5-minute wait was closer to a 20-minute wait.  A 20-minute wait could be 30 minutes or even an hour.
Interestingly, my kids first choice in IoA was the Incredible Hulk Coaster.  I couldn't ride it because of the G-forces, so my wife and I held all the loose articles and waited and waited and waited.  The kids enjoyed it.  It may have been their favorite of the trip.

Then, came the long walk to the back of the park to get to Hogsmeade.  Both kids appreciated the look of Seuss Landing on the way over, but neither wanted to do anything there.  They also bypassed The Lost Continent.  The focus was on Harry Potter for the day.  Both kids rode both tracks on Dragon Challenge while the parents tried to do some Christmas shopping.  I had been warned that the stores were small and cramped.  This proved accurate.  Plus, the line for wand lessons was inexplicably long.
I will say that the workers in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are very knowledgeable about the stories and even play with guests in a similar way that cast members do at Disney.  When I asked why there were no wands marked "Argus Filch," the worker replied, "Because, he's a Squib and can't perform magic.  And, you're the first person to have ever asked me that."  I told another that I wanted to buy a cloak of invisibility.  She said that they just got in a shipment, but no one had seen them.  Well played.
The theming in the Harry Potter sections of the park is very immersive right down to signs that say "Lift" instead of "Elevator" and "Public Conveniences" instead of "Restrooms."  But, does Moaning Myrtle have to be in the men's bathroom giggling and commenting "Not much to get excited about here."?  Out in the main plaza, we had to sample the butterbeer which is like cream soda with a hint of butterscotch.  The pumpkin juice was okay, but ridiculously overpriced.

The standby line for Forbidden Journey was about 30 minutes which was just about the right length to take in the elaborate queue.  The locker area here was especially crowded and the lighting was very dim.  They also broke theme.  Would it have been so difficult to make it look like a Quidditch team's locker room or to have the touch screens help you cast a wizard lock spell on your compartment's door?  The ride itself was excellent combining many elements from the films.

After taking in a another bit of the live performances given by Madame Maxime's students from Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, we headed over to the Hogwarts Express. 

The immersive theming here extended even to the rental lockers in Hogsmeade Station which is a logical place to have such storage.  I had been told ahead of time that the trip was not very impressive, but I thought it was exceptionally well executed.  I was not able to make the return trip from King's Cross Station because we ran out of time.  My younger daughter wanted to buy a time turner, but they were sold out everywhere.
Diagon Alley was just as well themed and immersive as was Hogsmeade although it felt smaller.  It does, however, have a fire-breathing dragon.

We only took a quick assessment before exiting to look for lunch.  This is another place where Universal fell flat.  I had meticulously mapped out every vegan option available everywhere in both parks.  To Universal's credit, the Magic Neep in Hogsmeade had delicious-looking watermelon pieces, but my daughter wanted the crudité plate allegedly at the Duff Brewery.  They hadn't served that there in years, but a website still listed it.  We settled on Fast Food Boulevard which has a Simpsons theme.  Oddly, Lisa's Teahouse of Horror is not vegan even though the character is.  Once again, prices weren't readily posted.  We got three meals, a fruit cup, and vegetables with hummus for a mere $54.  The food was standard theme park fare although I've heard it's vastly improved over whatever Fast Food Boulevard replaced.
There's another odd feeling here.  Much of the Simpsons is steeped in cynicism.  It's one thing for Krusty Burger to serve the addictive and nutritionally questionable Ribwich on the show.  It's quite another to serve it for real.  The same goes for giant Lard Lad donuts. I also saw an obvious thematic break in that the Springfield sign is surrounded by palm trees.

No one was interested in riding The Simpsons Ride, but we wanted to do something other than Harry Potter.  We're all fans of Men In Black, so we once again secured all our loose articles in a non-themed locker area. A locker was even an important element in MiB II, but no reference to it was added here.  The standby time was 20 minutes, but something was seriously wrong.  No one followed us on the way in.  The "elevator" to MiB headquarters was left open on both sides.  My assumption was that one of the tracks malfunctioned.  We were in the briefing room a long time.  It was long enough for me to notice that it was really done on the cheap.  The desks of the agents have repetitive layouts of papers and other items.   The ride itself was pretty tame when compared to all the warnings.
Our final push into Diagon Alley would have to include Escape from Gringotts. 

The standby time was excessive, but the single rider option was only 20 minutes.  My wife stayed behind to avoid using lockers yet again.  Single rider doesn't let you see much of the elaborate queue, but it did save a lot of time.  The ride was great and the kids wanted to go again.  So, my wife and I traded sitting duty.  I was able to take in a performance by Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees.  I appreciated the background music from the films near Gringotts as well.  You can't go wrong with a John Williams soundtrack.

One of my favorite places in Diagon Alley is the side street of Knockturn Alley.  The dark arts store, Bourgin and Burkes, is essentially hidden away here.  I thought that was well done.  Plus, some of the workers here try to spook you.
The successful use of the single rider line for Gringotts inspired the kids to try it again for the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit in the Production Central area of USF.  This would prove to be a very unwise decision.  The single rider wait time was 20 minutes.  It was more like an hour.  My wife and I suspected that they had ridden once and immediately got back into line without us seeing them.  That was not the case.  It was Universal's completely inaccurate estimates again.  That mistake basically cost us the rest of our time before the closing of IoA.  It precluded taking the return trip on the Hogwarts Express and entering track 9 3/4 through the wall at King's Cross Station.
With tired feet, we exited at USF, walked back to the cab stand and returned to the Polynesian for dinner at Captain Cook's.  It's known mostly as a breakfast place, but the counter service dinners here were surprisingly good.  We had curried meatballs, udon noodle soup and Polynesian chicken salad.  A particular dessert item was something I had been hankering for all trip, my customary Mickey Bar.  I put it in the refrigerator in our room while we ate dinner.  We still had more snacks on our meal plan, therefore I suggested we could share a Dole Pineapple Whip from the new Pineapple Lanai.  I'm not too thrilled that they moved the Pineapple Whip machine out of Captain Cook's, but apparently some people kept sticking their heads under the outlet.  I guess I have no one but myself to blame for that one.
While walking back to the Great Ceremonial House, I hadn't noticed my Mickey Bar had melted more than expected in the fridge.  It fell off the stick.  Fortunately, my "save the Mickey Bar" instincts came into play and I snatched it out of the air with my left hand which still held the wrapper.  It was messy, but I still got to eat it.  After that, I obtained the Pineapple Whip and returned to the room.  My younger daughter tried it for the first time and declared it absolutely delicious.  "Why didn't you tell me about this before?" she asked.  I've talked about it numerous times over the years including during that brief, glorious time when a Hawaiian-themed ice cream parlor opened in our hometown and served it. I mourned when that shop closed.

It's departure day.  I had one glitch with MagicBands.  I received notification that the credit card on file for the room didn't match the one associated with the MagicBands.  That's because I had been issued a new card the week before our arrival.  I had updated it online, but that didn't seem to get into the hotel system properly.  The staff corrected it promptly.
We had one more breakfast at Captain Cook's.  My younger daughter got her Mickey Waffle and turkey bacon.  I tried the breakfast burrito.  It's kind of odd they put home fries in it instead of just serving them on the side.  The others had oatmeal.  We had to hurry.  Our Magical Express bus was due out at 10:40AM.  I had to call United to pre-pay the baggage fee on my first checked bag. I wrote a complaint letter to the airline about that fee later.
I handed over the one big bag at resort airline check-in.  At 10:43AM, the bus arrived.  By 10:44AM, we were on our way.  When they give you a pick-up time, they mean it.  The bus trip back to MCO was uneventful although it did give me time to think about what resort I may want to try next time.  The leading candidate is the Yacht Club.

At the airport there were the inevitable tears and pleas to stay at Disney World forever.  Then, my kids and wife told me to get on the plane.

Written by Jeff C. 

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