Two-thousand ten, I think, has been a year where I’ve been to the WDW parks in Orlando more in one year since I moved up to the Atlanta area from my hometown of Bradenton, Florida. At least if you count the raw number of days spent in "the World" as my trips this year lasted anywhere from three to five or six days each for park time.
There is one thing about going to the parks that still proves true for myself: I have a better time there when I have friends/loved ones there with me to share in the experience. If I am there alone I am more apt to "get lost in my own head" while wandering around.
For some, this is not a bad thing...roaming the parks alone. I fully understand the concept of being able to follow your own path/choices on what to do when and using the "single rider" queue whenever possible. However, for me, I’ve been plenty enough times where I’ll just begin people watching, hearing the cheerful cries and laughter of young children, and taking pictures. This feeling of "sharing is caring" really came to play during my first two trips this year: June and August.
June I was in "the World" around the first weekend during an "unofficial" event known as GayDays as well as it being during Star Wars Weekends at Disney's Hollywood Studios. I had friends to hang with from the Atlanta area, Dallas, Texas as well as from right within Central Florida. Things conspired, as they do, where we would often be following our own agendas from time to time which left me in that wandering alone state. Boredom set in (I know? I’m in WDW and I’m bored?? WTF??) and I began feeling a bit let down.
A kind and sweet highlight was being in the Magic Kingdom the same day that park management decided to use as a "sneak preview" of not only the return engagement of the Main Street Electrical Parade but also the "Summer Nightastic" fireworks display. Getting to see the Electrical Parade again after nine years since the previous time was still bittersweet for me...and possibly not for the reason(s) you think...or maybe possibly. (Trust me...I have an entire blog post burbling about that. Just need to work through and make it cohesive.)
The Tower of Terror under gloomy skies
Rose Garden at Magic Kingdom (aka: former queue for the Swan Boats)
August happened as almost a last-minute kind of trip for me. This one was the shortest of all four trips I took. It came about as two of my cousins from New Jersey were headed down to Orlando with their immediate families and I wanted to catch some time with them. Was able to save some travel costs thanks to a friend who let me crash at his place during my stay; however, I think that was a wash on the expenses as it turned out my cousins were there for Universal Studios this time and weren’t planning on doing any of the WDW parks.
I don’t have anything against Universal. Not in the least. I enjoy their parks quite well. Was just the unplanned expense of getting a pass to enter Islands of Adventure on the day we all planned to hang out as their kids were anxious to do the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction (before they began modifying the Kuka arm ride vehicles for those of us with girthier bodies). I can say that I was nicely surprised by how well the theme, detail and immersion is once you are in the Hogsmeade section of the park.
One of the many views within the Harry Potter area of US-IOA
This trip, aside from the jump over to Universal, I was basically all by myself at the WDW parks. So, I just idly wandered and began snapping photos of the architecture in the parks. Ehh...what can I say?
October was the next time I ventured down to WDW. This time, my friend and WDW-padawan Kevbot was going to be along for the excursion. We were there for the first week as it encompassed my birthday. I enjoy sharing experiences with him as he is still rather "new" to the WDW parks. Having him around allows me the chance to play the "old sage" and usually say silly things starting with "I remember when..." while we roam the parks together.
Through him and his enthusiasm I have found myself peeking in on things happening in the "Disney Parks Fan Community" as it were. Kevbot is not so much as an "enabler" as he is the one to jump in with both feet which finds me in the splash zone from time to time. One portion of the DizComm he has been following is the TouringPlans.com group and their mobile app known as "Lines" (an app that helps the user determine how best to make their way around the WDW parks by providing them estimated wait times, crowd levels, etc). During our time in WDW this trip, some of the staffers of TouringPlans.com were also in "the World" and had announced a meet-up they were hosting.
Kevbot attended their meet-up while I opted to take a break and rest a bit. Lo and behold, he made a few new friends right then and there (and he claims he was scared to go to it thinking he’d not know anyone and would feel out of place...sillyKevbotissilly). I got to meet a good few of these people, this Crew, later that evening during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party: Kristen H, Kimber K, Stevie B, Scarlett L, Megan A and a few others whom I’m not really sure from then but believe we’ve all swapped Twitter handles by now.
We, Kevbot and I, even garnered an invite the next day to spend time later in the evening for drinks at Bay Lake Tower. Evidently, they took to me well enough where I was made part of the Crew family that evening while we all christened the Canoodle Hole at the Top of the World lounge atop Bay Lake Tower.
Color me flattered...here I am, just someone who would normally just amble about along his way at the parks not worried about being "part of" any particular set of fans or groups of like mind and I am thought of as "one of us". The evening at the Canoodle Hole was something I needed. A chance to make some new friends...collapse in fits of laughter...and just being in the moment.
A birthday cupcake after breakfast at Kona Kafe
Kevbot being silly in the BouTiki at the Polynesian Resort
One thing I got to do for the first time this October trip was the evening Extra Magic Hours for Animal Kingdom. My, the park is beautiful during onset of twilight and evening. Also, riding Expedition Everest after dark makes it easier to see the Yeti animatronic; believe it or not.
I also got to find out that the enhancement that was put in place for the Haunted Mansions’ stretching rooms actually lasted longer than I thought. I enjoy the plussing that has been done to the audio used in that sequence and always hang back to hear it. What I didn’t know is that instead of just the audio playing and going "indistinct" then fading out before being reset for the next batch of guests there is a definitive end to it where one of the ghostly voices grows a bit out of the indistinct "noise" and can be heard whispering "Get out" to anyone still lingering in the stretching room. For that, I thank the castmember who saw me linger and nod my head happily listening to the audio and then asking me if I had ever heard the entire thing. I replied to her that I didn’t know there was more and she motioned for me to stay and hear the rest of it.
This trip was also Kevbot’s first chance to see the Main Street Electrical Parade. Watching him and his ever increasing levels of exuberance and giddiness during it kept the bittersweets at bay for me. Instead of my mind rolling back to when I’d be viewing the parade with my late-mother next to me I got to share a parade that is special to me and my childhood with a friend who became instantly enamored with it.
The truly tender moment of this trip, though, was when during dinner at the 50’s Prime Time Café Kevbot pulled a simple, wrapped gift out of his backpack for me. I unwrapped it to see it was a photobook he had made for me using pictures taken of our previous shared trips to WDW together. On the frontispiece he titled the book he created for me "Joe & Kev Love Disney World". If that little stinker didn’t know I was a sentimental sap before, he found out pretty well at that moment.
Sometimes it isn’t just about "being in the parks" with those you enjoy in your Life. It’s the small, quiet moments where those people and you come together that can be the most special.
December...ah, December. Kevbot and I again, this time we had booked and made plans to partake in an event called Reunion. It is a small gathering of Disney Park community fans where there were some meet-ups and special gatherings. After Kevbot and I mentioned our October trip to friends far and wide, an old acquaintance of mine now in San Diego had his curiosity piqued.
Paul had met Kevbot earlier in 2010 during Kevbot’s first ever trip to Disneyland. Paul, as I’ve come to find out, has been as big a fan of WDW as I am and became intrigued as to possibly returning to WDW one day. Kevbot and I both replied to Paul that he should consider December with us.
Getting Paul added to our booking was easy enough. (Bless the staff with MousefanTravel.com for their assistance with that.) Intermingled with Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, the events/meet-ups for Reunion and just roaming about the parks I got to enjoy getting to know Paul and the Crew better; plus feeling even more a part of the "inside jokes" and camaraderie. And, can I say, sharing hugs with the likes of Kristen H and Scarlett L can make one feel like family.
Cinderella Castle all lit up for the Christmas holiday
The Osbourne Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney Hollywood Studios
Made a few more Crew friends during December/Reunion: KChristine, Caroline B, Susan C, ErinSpice, Deanna S, Elizabeth & Colin O and probably many others whose names and Twitter handles escape me at the moment. To say that my circle of friends has been broadened in 2010 might be an understatement...and through these people there are others who I am coming to know via Twitter only so far. And it continues...
Four trips, one year, four parks...
What other experiences are waiting for me there? Time only knows what each excursion-yet-to-be will contain.
(photos taken by JoeZer)