December 15, 2007

mousefest 2007

Some might say we're Disney geeks. Some might be right.

On our sixth trip and final trip to the world this year, we were understandably moving at a different pace than some of our prior trips. Plus, we had three reasons for going:
  • Christmas Decor
  • The usual Disney stuff
  • MouseFest
MouseFest is a week-long meetup of Disney fans from communities across the Internet. We found out about it through our favorite Disney podcast WDW Today. It can best be described as a "federation" of loosely affiliated groups. It began back in the USENET days when people who frequented the rec.arts.disney.parks newsgroup decided that it would be neat to see who was behind the posts. With the advent of newer technologies like websites and discussion boards and podcasts, all the Disney flies have found their favorite flames, and Mousefest brings all those groups together.

The interesting thing about us being there is that we're not really a part of any community. We are just "consumers," we listen to podcasts and read the websites... we don't generate any content or contribute to discussions on a regular basis. Actually there's one exception - we have called in to several of WDW's live shows this year asking questions about all our trips. I'm happy to report that even if you're mainly an onlooker to the Disney community, Mousefest is still worth the trip.


We arrived late Wednesday night, picked up our rental car and checked in at Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort. This was the first time we had ever stayed in a "moderate" resort at the World, and we would do it again. The campus-style setup has about eight buildings in a semi-circle around a pool and main building. The whole resort is deep south-styled... not so much "downtown" New Orleans... but more like a plantation. Music is pervasive at the World, and at POR, that means dixieland, and in December... dixieland Christmas carols. By day 4, I didn't "need a little Christmas" any more. Mouse Fan Travel had secured us a great rate, actually a group rate, for the trip.

On Thursday morning, we drove to the ticket and transportation center, and took a trip around the monorail hotels to see their Christmas decor. It's pretty impressive, but I have to admit that we are a little spoiled around here in Tennessee.

We went from the hotels to the Magic Kingdom for the first MouseFest event: MouseFest 101 - an introduction for "newbies" like us who had never been to MouseFest before. Toward the end, they encouraged us to mingle and create our own MouseFest meets, so I suggested a "Pack the Carousel of Progress" meet. Since it wasn't on the schedule, and was only two hours after the first meet, we didn't exactly "pack" the Carousel, but some folks did show up!! That was pretty cool.

After our ad hoc meet, we went to the castle to see it light up for Christmas. They've strung hundreds of thousands of LED lights all over it, creating sort of an icicle effect. Always great at telling a story, the Disney folks said it was Cinderella's "wish come true."

We had dinner at Pecos Bill's, and got our armbands for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. This is a "hard ticket" event - one that even annual passholders can't get into unless you buy a separate ticket. About 6:00, they start making announcements that are basically, "the Magic Kingdom will be closing... get out unless you've got a ticket to the Party." At 7:00, cast members are stationed at strategic places throughout the park asking to see your wristband. Also, cast members at the shows and rides start prohibiting non-banded guests from entering. I got the feeling they wouldn't have blinked about radioing security if you were noncompliant.

During the party, there are several exclusive things that happen. Several shows play that never get played any other time. Mickey's Night Before Christmas was a fun interpretation of the classic story. Also, it snows on Main Street. Okay, it soap chips on Main Street, but it looks like it's snowing. And, due to some sort of gap in the space-time continuum, you can actually get free food in the park. The extent of the free food is hot chocolate and sugar cookies, but if you wanted to, you could eat a thousand of them. (Yes, I know it's not really "free," but any other time in the park, you would have paid for admission and then paid again to eat.) There's a Christmas-themed parade, and the evening is capped off by the "Holiday Wishes" fireworks show. It ends up with fireworks going off all around the park simultaneously. It's a great effect.


Amazingly, we had two late starts in a row at the World... not something we normally do. And this day, we hit three parks. We started in Disney's Animal Kingdom to see Matt Hochberg ride Dinosaur , a ride that he is mortally afraid of, for charity. We didn't actually see him at the ride, but did see him and his fiancee Marissa as they were headed out of the park. Since we missed the festivities, we decided to try to get into the new, but unfortunately named Yak and Yeti restaurant. They had an almost immediate seating for two, and we got to dine on miso salmon and lettuce wraps .

From there, we went to Disney -MGM's Hollywood Studios for the "PodFest" meet where we got to see eighteen different podcasters and hear about what they had to offer. There are a bunch of Disney podcasts out there... everything from the ones we listen to to ones that just focus on a specific park to ones that focus on special features to... uh... general interest ones? Again, a great place to put names and faces together. And, we happened upon Marissa (to be Hochberg) and enjoyed getting to know her a little.

Our next stop was a meet-up to see the Muppet Vision 3D attraction, and we won a free T-shirt from Magic Meets. After the show, we went to the Streets of America to park and get a good viewing place for the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. This five million-plus light display began at the Osborne's home, but grew so large that Disney approached them about continuing it at the studios. It "snows" there too.

After about an hour of the lights, we left for Epcot and a special viewing of "Holiday Illuminations," the end-of-the-day fireworks show. Because it was MouseFest and because we had booked with Mouse Fan Travel they had arranged a dessert party and private viewing of the fireworks show near the England pavilion in World Showcase. Not only was the fireworks show incredible, but Mouse Fan Travel really "plussed" the experience. Highly, highly recommended.


Our third late start in a row, we headed to Epcot with the intent of getting a fastpass for Soarin', but when we walked in the front gate, we found that they had briefly opened the still under refurbishment Spaceship Earth.

This is the kind of thing that is the reason behind why we love going to the World. It's a "behind the scenes," "in the know," "limited time only," "magic" experience that we just go nuts about. Invariably, there's always something on our trip... a cast member we talk to, a dessert we get... a show we see... a detail that we notice... that is just above and beyond our expectations.

As far as the actual ride goes, it's not wildly different from before, but several of the audio animatronics are much more realistic, and the "descent" at the end is much more interactive than just watching fiber optic lights zip around over your head.

Since our plan was blown, we went to Sunshine Seasons for lunch and then to the International Gateway to take a boat to the Dolphin Hotel for the Mega Mouse Meet.

The Mega Mouse Meet was a fun place to meet all of the "meta-celebrities" that we know from Disney websites and books. We got to pick up lots of free souvenirs from travel agencies, publishing companies and podcasters. There were several door prizes, but our numbers weren't drawn. Lydia wore the special shirt that her friend Susan made for her and got lots of smiles.

After the meet, we saw the new film at Canada and saw the Impressions de France movie before getting in line for Epcot's major Christmas production, Candlelight Processional. Involving local choirs, Disney employees, the Voices of Liberty and a celebrity narrator, this show has been going on for 13 years, and is one of the few acknowledgments of the real Christmas story on property. And I'm not talking about Santa.

I put Lydia in line at 4:00, and I went and got us dinner from Yakitori House. We waited... and waited... and didn't get in to the 5:00 show, so we had to stay in line until the 6:45 show, where we got fairly good seats. The moral of the story is - if go to see Candlelight Processional, splurge for the dinner package. Although it doesn't guarantee you a great seat, it does guarantee you a seat for the show you want to see, thus saving you two hours of touring time.

The show was good, memorable, and on par with what a megachurch could/would do. My feeling was that if you never normally went to a large church at Christmas, you would be very impressed. Also, (and I'll make this brief,) the script told the entire story of Jesus's life... through his ministry, persecution, crucifixion... and... uh... that was it. They kind of left out the most important part, but I guess there's only so much "separation of church and mouse" that can be violated. Hang on while I snag that speck because...


We went, planks in our eyes and all, to the Magic Kingdom again. One of the meets we went to was a "DSI - Disney Scene Investigation" with Lou Mongello and Jeff Pepper. They started at Liberty Square and worked their way down Adventureland telling us about every detail of architecture and story that Disney had worked in. Did you know that the architecture moves forward in time from the 1700s to the 1900s? Did you know that there was originally a gunfight between the DVC outpost and a tower across the street? Did you know that there is a detailed story behind the McDonald's fry cart? Did you care? I thought not.

We couldn't make it through the whole meet because we had reservations for lunch at the Kona Cafe at Disney's Polynesian Resort. The "Poly" is our favorite hotel on property, and we kind of have a tradition now of having our last lunch there before we go to the airport. However, Lydia wanted to milk some more out of the experience, so we hit the MK one more time to see a few more attractions.

Lessons Learned
  • Getting around WDW seven months pregnant is not easy, but it's still very doable
  • If you go at Christmas, either go to do the Christmas things, or go to do the Disney things. Don't try to do both... your head will explode.
  • When we go with Watts 2.0, we'll probably try to stay in a king bed at a moderate resort. There's lots of room for a pack-and-play.
  • MouseFest is fun
  • Get a reservation for Candlelight Processional
  • Book through Mouse Fan Travel. It's either the same as or cheaper than booking through Disney, and you never know what cool little plusses you're going to get.
  • The slowest transportation option is always the boat.
  • Unless you're in the front two rows at Epcot, always take the parking tram.
  • Six trips in one year is enough. Okay, it's too much, but it sure was fun.

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