Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day from Around The Mouse! A huge thanks to all those who've served our country and have paid the price for our freedom. We are forever grateful.

Disney pin image courtesy of a great pin collecting/trading website,

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Two Great Pieces Of American Culture: Disney and Star Wars

Star Wars Weekends at Disney's Hollywood Studios is awesome. I say this not only because I grew up with the original trilogy in the late 70's/early 80's, but also because our kids have grown up with the prequel trilogy and love it just as much (and they've also fallen in love with the original series as well - yes!). So this event combines two great pieces of American culture: Star Wars and Disney.

I mean, honestly - how can you beat Jedi Mickey?

You can't. You can't beat Jedi Mickey. You can only hope to contain him!

Well, unless you're talking Jedi Mickey with R2-MK, of course! That's the only way to beat just Jedi Mickey.

Now, our love for Star Wars and Disney draws to us to this event every year. And there are some really, really GREAT aspects to these weekends. The single best aspect for our family has been the character interaction. Every year they outdo themselves and provide a great deal of entertainment. Whether it's characters in the meet and greet spots (which are spread out all around the Backlot area, Star Tours area and behind Muppet Vision) or characters roaming about freely in those areas, they all are FANTASTIC.

Below is a series of three photos that underscore what kind of fun guests can have with these characters. Aurra Sing is a peripheral character in the Star Wars universe (only having appeared in Episode I very briefly), but she makes for a terrific face character. We camped out for a while by the entrance/exit for the characters over by the Backlot Tour, because it turns out to be a perfect spot to get shots and time with these characters as they're entering and leaving the "stage". Check out Aurra and Chance as he waits for her to come out...she knows he's there, but he doesn't know SHE knows...until she lets him!

She played it up and I'm sure it's something Chance is going to remember for a long, long time. She didn't just pay Chance mind, though...she got right into Katie's face and had a staring contest! Aurra won.

Stormtroopers, Jawas, Clonetroopers, Jabba's Palace Guards, Tusken Raiders and more roam the streets and make for incredible photo ops. To us, this is the best part of Star Wars Weekends.

Also, the face characters at the meet and greet spots make conversation and know their Star Wars stuff, for sure. They can hold their own - because believe me, we tested them a little (I asked Luke if he's been to any good cantinas lately, and he responded, "Oh, there's just this one down in Mos Eisley....that's about all the entertainment we've got on Tatooine." Not bad.

And while we didn't see the parade this past weekend, we've seen it in years past...and it's worth it. Also, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention Hyperspace Hoopla. If you haven't seen it yet, it's worth it. Crowded, but worth it. Well, OK...extremely crowded. So much so that if you don't set up camp early and get your spot, then you'll have a hard time seeing it. So get there well before show time.

And speaking of the crowds... now for the negative. There isn't much negative about the Weekends...except the crowds. It is insane, because it is so popular. But that's OK, because it's totally understandable. Just know that coming in, in order to get into the Jedi Training Academy, the autograph signings, the Jedi Mind Challenge or other limited-capacity events, you have to be there early. As in WAY before rope drop early. I heard that guests were lining up at 5 or 6 a.m....and we arrived for rope drop, and the kids couldn't get into the Jedi Training Academy even then! Oh well, lesson learned.

Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett) signing autographs.
You have to get an autograph fastpass to get
anything signed, and they were given out very quickly,
very early in the morning.

So in the end, regardless of the crowds, if you're a Star Wars fan, you gotta be here. And if you're a Star Wars AND Disney fan, then it's a moral imperative to be here!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Tom Sawyer's Island...?"

Being passholders for years, our kids have not been on some attractions for a long time - even years for certain ones. Winnie The Pooh, Snow White's Scary Adventure, Ellen's Universe Of Energy, Voyage of the Little Mermaid and a few others are attractions that have been done and there hasn't been much of an outcry to get back on them. One that both have been on - but it's been at least 4 years since the last time - is Tom Sawyer's Island at the Magic Kingdom.

So a few weeks ago, we took them to the Island because it was something "new" - something they haven't done in a really long time. Let me tell you - they LOVED it. LOVED it. They've been begging to go back ever since.

Well, I must admit that I probably never gave Tom's island much of a chance. First, it's a pain to get to. Second, with its trees and vegetation, it gets HOT. And they don't even have their quick service restaurant open any more (which is too bad - there's picnic tables and other great spots to eat at on the island). It probably didn't help that I was never much of a fan of Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn and company. Just a series of books and stories that as a kid I never took much interest in. So from a theme standpoint, I guess I just never gave it a second thought. So the thought of heading out there and spending an untold amount of time was not appealing.

I was wrong, and I admit it. Tom Sawyer's Island is really pretty cool. It's old school Disney, and a great place to explore. Of course, it's not the most technologically advanced attraction in WDW. And like I said, I wish Aunt Polly's food stand was still open.

The barrel bridge, the fort, the caves, the mines, the windmill and more make this a fun venture. Some great views of the vistas of Magic Kingdom including Big Thunder Mountain, a unique view of The Haunted Mansion, Frontierland and the Castle are also present from various vantage points around the island..

Now beware - the terrain on the island is old school. Very narrow paths, steeply graded and crooked walkways, dark spaces where it's hard to see in front of you and other obstacles are present. Personally, I love all of that - makes it a very different place to be and explore. However, some of those things can be very challenging to some people, especially those in wheelchairs and strollers. And I also admit the theming is actually very cool. Once again, Disney places you in that time period with their attention to detail. Some of it is absolutely wonderful.

So without further ado, here are some photos of our experiences at Tom Sawyer's Island...

The spooooooooky cave face! Ooooooooh!
OK, it's actually pretty cool.

The stables...

The Fort...the kids love this place. Lots of little spots to run and hide.

Love the view of the Mansion from here...

Gotta love a good old barrel bridge.

Cannons and guns to fire from high up on the Fort.
No wonder the kids love it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Around The Mouse Fitness - Healthy Eating In Magic Kingdom

When it comes to eating healthy, Magic Kingdom can be a major challenge - and in my opinion more so than any of the other parks, especially in comparison to Epcot, the first park of this Around The Mouse Fitness series.

There are some big differences between Epcot and Magic Kingdom in the realm of healthy eating. First, Epcot has many more table service restaurants than Magic Kingdom (11 to 4). And as we mentioned in the last article, it's usually easier to eat healthfully at table service restaurants because if you communicate with the server and/or chef about your wishes and dietary needs, they are usually very willing to work with you. In most cases you can ask for seasoned and steamed or baked veggies instead of rice or pasta. Or you can request a baked, broiled or grilled chicken or fish with no butter or oil and they can usually do something for you. Or a dressing or sauce on the side so you can use it sparingly and control the amount that goes on your food.

Also, Epcot has a very wide variety of food because of the nature of World Showcase. With 11 different pavilions from around the world showcasing their cultural culinary diversity, there is plenty to choose from. Magic Kingdom offers food that is more monochromatic in nature.

But that doesn't mean the original WDW park is devoid of healthy offerings and options altogether. One place I love that offers some healthy options is The Plaza Restaurant just around the corner off of Main Street, USA on the way to Tomorrowland. The Plaza has a Chicken Strawberry Salad with a White Zinfandel dressing that's really very good. Also, the Turkey Sandwich on Multi-Grain bread is a quality choice as well (just ask to hold the mayo and replace with mustard if you're a mustard fan).

Next in line for healthy choices is Cosmic Rays Starlight Cafe. The Grilled Chicken Sandwich isn't a bad option, and there are some good condiments to be had at the toppings bar - just avoid the mushrooms and onions as they are sauteed in butter and oil. You could also ask for the half rotisserie chicken - just make sure to take the skin off to save massive calories and fat. Also, it comes with mashed potatoes and seasoned veggies - you could ask for double veggies and be much better off.

Another Magic Kingdom counter service staple has a couple of items that fit the bill - the Columbia Harbour House. Just beware of the tuna sandwich - tuna fish is always tricky since because it's fish, many believe it to be healthy. Except, and in this case too, it's always mixed with full-fat mayo. Gotta stay away from that. But Harbour House does have a hummus sandwich that is very good and much better for you than the tuna - and definitely better for you than the battered deep-fried fish or chicken. Add the side of vegetarian chili and you're in good shape.

Our new favorite is a great counter service restaurant in Adventureland that's open only sparingly (usually only for lunch) - El Pirata Y El Perico. It is basically standard Mexican counter service-type food: burritos & tacos. But first of all, we love this restaurant because it's very cost-efficient...some of the cheapest counter service meals in the parks. Second, they have a vegetarian taco combo that is very good and relatively healthy. Instead of ground beef or chicken, the veggie taco comes chock-full with black beans - which are loaded with protein and fiber and next to no fat. Ask for double beans and no rice (which they've done for me), and it doesn't seem to be a problem. It also comes with a little side cup of white rice and black beans. Again, ask for more beans and no rice and it shouldn't be a problem. They also have a GREAT toppings bar with incredible salsa. Add some lettuce and diced tomatoes and you've got a great taco - you could choose to not eat the corn tortilla and be better off, but you could do worse even if you eat the shell.

One other location that I always recommend is the Liberty Square Market fruit stand beside The Hall Of Presidents. They offer a variety of fruit which are PERFECT summer snacks (or snacks for any time of year). Fruit is particularly great in the summer because most have a high water content (which will help keep you hydrated along with regular water consumption), a decent amount of fiber (to help you feel satiated) and fructose (natural complex fruit sugars) to give you energy to keep navigating the parks. Try going there instead of for the turkey leg! ;)

So that's a three counter service restaurants, one table service restaurant and a food cart area to take advantage of in the Magic Kingdom when it comes to healthy eating options. And while it's a battle to try and avoid the Dole Whips, the Churros, the Confectionary fudge squares and the Popcorn, it is possible to do!

Next up, Disney's Hollywood Studios!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Around The Mouse Fitness - Healthy Eating In Epcot

Epcot is the King Of Dining in The Mouse. It really is. Just think about how many restaurants - both table service and counter service - they have all around the park. Some of the best establishments in both categories are present: Le Cellier, Sunshine Seasons, Les Chefs de France, Tangerine Cafe, Biergarten, Coral Reef, and Teppan Edo just to name a few. The options are almost limitless.

But what about options when it comes to eating healthfully? What if a guest needs to limit or balance their calories? What if they don't want to blow their eating habits out of the water by coming to the vacation kingdom of the known world? Is it even possible to not blow it up?

It is possible. And it's very doable...especially at Epcot. You just have to pick your battles and know where to look.

First, let's be honest: most people who come to Disney World are on vacation and want to splurge - and they have every right to. And WDW has some of the best food you'll EVER taste, period. You don't want to miss it, and shouldn't miss it. But you can control it. The secret lies in eating healthy when the options make it at all possible, so it helps balance out the few times you truly splurge because the best options might not be there. That means knowing where those healthy options are present.

One of the best places to look for healthy options is the winner of Around The Mouse's best counter service restaurant, Sunshine Seasons. Don't get me wrong - there's plenty here that's REALLY unhealthy - so just going to this expansive restaurant in The Land pavilion doesn't make all the choices optimal. Amongst the best from which to choose from in Sunshine is:

Black Bean Soup
Seared Tuna on Mixed Greens
Spicy Thai Chicken
Oak Grilled Vegetable Flatbread
Grilled Salmon with Kalamata Olive Pesto
California Sushi Rolls
Cous-Cous side
Mixed Green Salad with Apple-Balsamic Dressing
Broccoli side

Our vote for healthiest choice would be the Seared Tuna on Mixed Greens (with Seasame Wine Dressing) with a side of black bean soup. The soup is low in calories and fat while being high in protein, fiber and complex carbs. The Tuna & greens is relatively low in calories, high in Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins and minerals. Just be careful with the dressing - there are worse dressings out there (anything in the cream dressing department), but you don't want to go overboard. Also, just a little sushi goes a long way - the white sticky rice is nutritionally empty and very high on the glycemic index (see more on the Glycemic Index here). It is packed with veggies, however, at least giving it some nutritional punch.

Another great option in Future World comes from the surprising Electric Umbrella. This counter services next to Innoventions and across from Mouse Gears offers a good old fashioned Whole Wheat Turkey Wrap. Ask for no cheese and you have a low calorie, low fat, high protein and moderately high fiber meal. Mustard or a light Italian dressing can provide some extra flavor.

Moving over to World Showcase, the Yakitori House in the Japan pavilion offers their broiled Chicken Ginger Salad and Miso Soup. Both are low on calories and the Ginger salad high in protein and low in fat. The Miso Soup may be an acquired taste, but I love it.

The Tangerine Cafe has some offerings that can help a healthy diet. The vegetarian platter is wonderful, as is the Mediterranean Chicken Wrap. Sides of hummus, tabouleh, lentil salad and cous-cous are also good choices with quality nutritional value.

Of course, the stars of the dining world in Epcot are the table service establishments. Almost all of them will be more than willing to work with you on creating healthier options for your meal - remember, you're never relegated to only what's on the menu. The server and chefs will definitely assist in providing something tweaked to be healthier (no butter while sauteeing, dressings/sauces on the side, veggies instead of rice/pasta, extra spices or seasonings to add flavor, lower sugar options, etc.). Don't be afraid to ask.

Two places that might give you an issue as far as healthy options is Biergarten and San Angel Inn. And the Inn might be able to work with you as far as switching out ingredients or altering preparation, but Biergarten is a buffet - a buffet I love - but it is a LOT of heavy calorie, heavy sauce, heavy carb dishes. They do have some salads, but I don't know if I could justify spending upwards of $30.00 per person for a salad buffet. It pains me to say it because I flat-out love the place, but enter with caution.

In the end, Epcot has tons of options, even counter service options that can help you come to Disney World and not consistently have a 4,000 - 6,000 calorie day. That can add up quickly. So when you have an opportunity, look for some of the above recommendations if you need to watch your caloric intake.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

We Love The little Things

The question I asked recently on the Around The Mouse facebook page got me thinking. The question was, "If you were at WDW right now, what is THE one thing you'd most want to do on this fine, sunny day?" The answers were (and they're still coming in as I write this) very interesting. For every major attraction listed (Splash, Soarin, Pirates, etc.), many people answered, "Just being there" or something similar. What is it about WDW that brings out that feeling in so many people?

Sure, we all love the big, popular attractions (Toy Story Mania, Haunted Mansion, Soarin, Everest, etc.). The awesome end-of-night fireworks and shows (Wishes, Illuminations, Fantasmic!). The major restaurants (California Grill, Brown Derby, Le Cellier, Boma, etc.). The most popular desserts and treats (Dole Whip, Zebra Domes, etc.). But what are the many things that make Walt Disney World feel like Walt Disney World...that have nothing to do with the big things?

I'm talking about the elements of WDW that you see, hear, smell and feel that makes you LOVE being IN Walt Disney World. And I think the vast majority of those things have nothing to do with the biggest, most popular attractions.

Maybe it has to do with a few of these things...

...the Welcome to Walt Disney World sign that crosses over the highway.

...walking down Main Street, USA in the morning with the Philharmonic playing in the distance.

...the smell of popcorn on Main Street, USA?

...the hammocks at Poly beach.

...watching Wishes from the Poly beach.

...the idea of watching Wishes from the Poly beach hammock.

...the slow incline up at the beginning of Spaceship Earth.

...the pre-Illuminations loop that plays over the speakers as you stroll around World Showcase after dark.

...the miso soup from the Yakatori House.

... the hanging garden lamps and the sound of the water falls behind the Yakatori House. Especially at night.

...being told, "Welcome home," as we enter the resort lobby.

...hearing, "Look at all the lazy people in the lazy rivah."

...seeing the morning sun rise over the Boardwalk.

...seeing the morning sun glow on the Castle.

...seeing your kids meeting Pluto and KNOWING it's HIM.

...experiencing familiar scent of Pirates of the Caribbean.

...having a seat on a bench somewhere around World Showcase and just r-e-l-a-x-i-n-g.

...the first time you see Cindy's castle in the distance as you're walking through the TTC toward either the monorail or the ferry.

...getting choked up during Wishes. Or Illuminations. Or the Candlelight Processional. Or from watching the Voices of Liberty.

...lining up at the turnstile to any of the four parks and knowing you have a whole day ahead of you in a fantasy land...or at least part of a day in Fantasyland.

...watching a CM trade pins with your kids and giving out advice for touring.

...watching the glass blowers at Magic Kingdom.

...and about a million other things.

More and more over the years I've discovered that Walt Disney World isn't about riding rides. It's about the feeling the experience evokes as you envelope yourself in its wonderfully unique atmosphere. When you're there, soak it all in and enjoy every moment - there's no place like it anywhere else.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Around The Mouse Fitness - Resort Fitness Centers

Nothing can sabotage a fitness program or regimen like going on a vacation. Between the incredible food, being immersed in the escape from reality and tight schedules, fitness can be put on the back burner for a while. But it doesn't have to be that way! Especially when you consider the array of awesome outdoor and indoor activities offered around Walt Disney World.

Mickey needs some work on his deadlift form.

In this first article in the Around The Mouse Fitness series, we'll start off with some basic options for keeping active while at WDW. One of the best ways to do so is to visit the closest resort Fitness Center. Not all resorts have one, but many do, and they are all of high quality (although some are relatively small). Cutting edge equipment from some of the biggest names in the industry (Life Fitness, Cybex) help make the experience feel top-notch. And remember, a little resistance training can go a long way to increasing your metabolism, and therefore your calorie burn - even at rest. Combine that with some aerobic training to get your heart rate up and it can help you greatly in staying fit in the middle of a vacation*.

Of course, if you stay at these resorts, usage of the fitness center is complimentary. If you're not staying, the fee is $12.00 (subject to availability). The fitness centers are also complimentary for the day if you purchase a spa treatment. Resorts that offer their own fitness centers:

Animal Kingdom Lodge: Zahanati Fitness Center

Boardwalk Inn: Muscles & Bustles Health Club

Coronado Springs Resort: La Vida Fitness Center

La Vida Fitness Center

Contemporary Resort: Olympiad Fitness Center

Grand Floridian Resort & Spa: Disney’s Grand Floridian Spa & Health Club

Old Key West Resort: R.E.S.T. Exercise Room

Polynesian Resort: Disney’s Grand Floridian Spa & Health Club

Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa: Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa Fitness Center

Wilderness Lodge and Villas: Sturdy Branches Health Club

Disney's Yacht & Beach Club: Ship Shape Health Club

Ship Shape Health Club

Of course, fitness centers aren't the only way to be active at WDW - there are literally countless ways to get moving and get your heart rate up a little. In upcoming articles of Around The Mouse Fitness, we'll go over many of those options in detail.

*Of course, if you have any health issues, check with a doctor before beginning any workout program.

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day from Around The Mouse!

And an especially big Happy Mother's Day to my loving wife and mother of two, Hope, and my mom, shown below with my brother and I at Magic Kingdom in 1989 (in all our 80's fashion goodness!).

Holy 80's neon green hats and sunglasses, Batman!

Monday, May 3, 2010

2009 Theme Park Attendance

We don't usually do "news" at Around The Mouse, but we figured we'd throw this out there in case you missed it.

Mickey and Minnie are celebrating
after this latest attendance report.

The TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) released the theme park attendance report for 2009. Once again, our beloved Magic Kingdom topped the list, and Walt Disney World theme parks in general dominated the top 10 (although both Japan parks decreased in attendance slightly). And while much was made of the recession and how it had a drastic impact on the parks, all four WDW parks still rose in attendance. Of course, the special deals they offered helped (buy 4 days, get 7, etc.), but it still speaks to the appeal of Disney Parks and Walt Disney World in particular as to how they've weathered the storm.

Here's the list of the top 10 theme parks world wide for 2009:

1) Magic Kingdom (Florida) - 17,063,000
2) Disneyland Park (California) - 14,721,000
3) Tokyo Disneyland (Tokyo) - 14,293,000
4) Disneyland Park at Disneyland Paris (Paris) - 12,688,000
5) Tokyo Disney Sea (Tokyo) - 12,498,000
6) Epcot (Florida) - 10,935,000
7) Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Florida) - 9,608,000
8) Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Florida) - 9,540,000
9) Universal Studios Japan (Osaka) - 8,300,000
10) Everland (Gyeonggi-Do, South Korea) - 6,600,000

Here's the link to the story:

How Do You Do? Mighty Pleasant Greetin'

In the last installment of Around The Mouse, we talked about attractions that needed a little TLC. That story was inspired from our trip onto the newly refurbed Splash Mountain. And while we went over our thoughts about how imagineering knocked this refurb out of the park and what it did for that attraction, I figured we'd expand upon that a little by showing you more from our experiences from around the ride (just remember our little digital camera doesn't do the interior of the ride justice at all - doesn't do that well in the dark).

In fact, the refurb was so well done that it kicked Splash Mountain up the ranks of Can't Miss Attractions (see the list here) in Magic Kingdom. In fact, I'd only put two attractions ahead of Splash - the Haunted Mansion and The Stroll Down Mainstreet, USA. Space Mountain and its recent refurb might have done more for that ride than did this refurb for Splash, I think from top to bottom Splash is a more enjoyable experience and it now looks the part.

And besides, with 90 degree weather already here and summer coming, getting potentially soaked can be very appealing!