January 25, 2009

Hannah Montana: The Movie - Opening April 10th

Get ready.


On first glance and what I can tell from the trailer, it seems a little ... low-budget? I mean, Lizzie McGuire got to go to Rome. And I wont even get into the sad desperation that is Tyra Banks, who not only wears the same shoes as 16 year old pop stars, but has fights in public over them.

I'm wondering if this movie will serve as the Hannah Montana series finale, like The Lizzie McGuire Movie did. If Ms.Montana chooses to remain as "Miley," it would be a nice way to close out the show. Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus have made no secret of the fact they want out of their contracts, but will Disney really let them leave?

January 20, 2009

Bonjour Hannah!



Magnifique!

January 19, 2009

Disney World is Much More Fun When We Are Nice to Everyone

I've lived in NYC for seven years now, and New Yorkers have a well-known reputation for being pushy, abrasive, and downright mean. But I can honestly say the rudest, nastiest, worst behavior I have ever seen has been at Walt Disney World.


Perhaps it's the freedom of being on vacation, but guests at WDW become a totally different breed of person. Bluntly, WDW guests can be beastly. We've all seen it happen. Or maybe we've been a little beastly from time to time. There's so much over-stimulation at WDW, the fatigue and noise and heat inevitably get to you, and you begin to forget there's an entire park of people also trying to have a nice time. And honestly, the adults are worse than the kids.

I've compiled a list of Rules for Good Behavior at WDW. These could very easily be summed up in one rule - "Don't be a jerk" - but allow me to expand:

"Quick Service" is so named for a reason. Quick Service locations are meant to get you in, stuffed, and out asap. They are not designed for 2 hour lunches. Loitering after you've finished your meal when there are other people waiting for a table is unacceptable. Eat, and move on - or make a reservation at a Table Service location.

Patience is a virtue - and a must. Lines are a given at WDW, and your whining doesn't make it any easier. Oh, Mom and Dad - that means you too. Zip it.

Calm the eff down. Pushing/shoving/stepping on the back of my shoes will not make a line move any faster. It's been scientifically proven, I swear. And your little monkeys swinging on the queue bars and jingling the line chains? Everyone around you is silently wishing them harm.

There is no such thing as "saving" space.
This rule especially applies if you are that person who "claims" a section prior to Illuminations/fireworks/parade for your party of 17. It's a free World, and if your party's not present, then that piece of sidewalk is fair game. And those fireworks? They're in the sky! So who the hell cares where you stand? (Please see above).

Farting in line is just plain wrong. So maybe occasionally one squeaks out, but if you're going to subject your neighbors to the after-effects of your chili cheese dog, at least own up to it and apologize. And if you feel another one brewing - please leave. This isn't the FastGas line.

You and your family are not an attraction. As in, when attending a performance or attraction like Mickey's Philharmagic - singing along is annoying. We didn't travel all the way to Florida to hear you and your gremlins screech the lyrics to "Part of Your World." Guess what? I know the words too, and I'm considerate enough to spare you the pain of listening to me sing.

When Cast Members make an announcement, that means you. Yes, you. I can't tell you how many times I've seen people plonk themselves in the middle of rows despite the "move in and fill all available seats" request. What makes you so special? Ah yes, nothing. So follow the rules and we'll all play nicely.

And finally - my Golden Rule:

Give a little respect. Respect your fellow guests, respect the Cast Members, and respect the park (no littering!). A little respect goes a long way in making your vacation (and mine) a lot more fun.

Thanks in advance,

The Disney Chick

January 17, 2009

Disney on a Budget: When You Wish Upon an All-Star

News flash: the economy sucks. But the nice thing about WDW is that apart from the entrance fees to get in (plus whatever airfare it takes to get you there), the resort as a whole caters very nicely to all different price points. And since not everyone (and certainly not us) can afford to be staying and dining at Victoria and Albert's every night, I'll be featuring some tried and true ways over the next few weeks on how to save money at WDW without sacrificing any magic.


Disney Budget Tip #23: Stay at one of the All-Star Resorts.

Duh, you say. But you would be surprised how many guests visit WDW and stay at an off-property hotel or in nearby Kissimee. I know, because that's what we used to do. But the All-Stars cost just as much as those other budget hotels, and you get the added benefit of staying on property. When you factor in how much money you're spending on gas (not to mention the trouble of driving yourself to/from) getting around the parks each day, staying at an All-Star resort is a much easier, yet still affordable option.

And please, an All-Star resort is way more fun than staying in some other budget hotel chain. They're bright, colorful, and themed right down to the tiniest details. The rooms aren't huge, but it's not like you're really staying in them much. And the on-site restaurants offer a nice selection of basic kid-approved food (mac and cheese, pizza, etc), which makes mealtime a breeze. And while the food isn't exactly cheap (they charge per slice of toast), it's definitely cheaper than eating in the parks - a budget tip within a budget tip!

There are downsides, of course. The All-Star Resorts are extremely popular, especially with families. It's hardly a relaxing experience (but when you're staying in a Toy Story themed hotel, what else would you expect?). And the resorts themselves are large, so you have to choose between staying in a unit close to the pool/restaurant/lobby and dealing with the noise/hubbub, or staying in one of the units on the outskirts of the resort and having a 10 minute walk to and from the bus stop. And speaking of buses, they're crowded. When we first stayed at an All-Star (Music), there was only one bus to service for all the All-Star Resorts. Oftentimes we had to wait for 2 or more buses to pass before we could even fit into one. Nowadays, each resort has its own buses, but prepare to line up early to catch them, especially in the mornings.

Rates vary depending on the season, but rooms can be found for as low as $79.00 a night.

January 15, 2009

THIS is (Not Really) AMERICAN IDOL

Ba nah nah nah nah nah ..... whoa-oa-oa. Okay, so I've been terribly negligent with blogging this week (Bad Disney Chick! Bad!) but my absence can be blamed on a few things: American Idol, otherwise known as the Greatest Timesuck on Television, is back, as are most of my usual shows (House, LOST: I'm still waitiiiiing), and a plane crashed. Fine, so that last one doesn't have as much to do with my absence as the first two. But it did happen! In my fair city!

Anyhoo, I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday night rejoicing in all the silliness that is American Idol. Simon's blank staring, Paula's too-nice demeanor ("look on the bright side - you're a pretty girl"), Randy's general awesomeness, and even newbie Kara Dioguardi's no-nonsense criticism (finally, a good role model for girls on this show). And being a big Idol nerd, one would think I'd be super stoked about the American Idol Experience at the Hollywood Studios, which has started the soft opening phase. But I'm not. I want to be, but - meh.

Here's a sneak peek at the setup (via Orlando Attractions Magazine):



Meh. I mean, it all looks authentic, but what makes American Idol so great isn't the sets or the lights or the pseudo-drama - it's the people. I'm sure the Cast Members will do their best, but is it really going to be the same when some person who is not Randy Jackson yells "We got a hot one tonight!" Or when another Cast Member giggles and falls off her chair and accidentally gives away the ending a la Paula Abdul? Or when AIE's "Simon" sneers and refers to a performance as "caberet"? Okay, that's unlikely to happen, but what will be even worse is when the critiques come out all soft and Disneyfied (as they have to - guests aren't paying good money to be publicly humiliated):

non-Randy: "You're in the Dawg House tonight- with Pluto!"
non-Paula: "A dream is a wish your heart makes - and I WISH to hear more of that singing!"
non-Simon: "You sounded like Donald Duck sneezing into a tuba."

Ugh. If anything, watching the actual American Idol has convinced me that the show's popularity is due to 3 things: the chemistry between the judges, the personalities of the contestants as they get revealed over the course of the show, and the anticipation that someone is going to fall flat in a spectacular fashion. So for me, all the American Idol Experience would be is watching moderately talented people sing with lots of crazy lights and music and whatever. But having musically talented (and willing) people in the park every day isn't a given, so I guess I don't see the long-term potential in this attraction - and I haven't seen it, so if you've been able to get into one of the preview performances, I'd love to hear about it.

But unless the non-Ryan Seacrest is going to try and high-five a blind guy, I remain unconvinced.

January 11, 2009

Nooooooo

It's official: Space Mountain will be closing April 19 - end of 2009 for a "refreshment." Apart from the fact that roller coasters apparently get thirsty now (get thee to Club Cool!), this means that Space Mountain will be closed during the summer season - as in, when we have planned our next trip.

From orlandosentinel.com:

The construction work will include installing new track inside the enclosed coaster, which carries guests in the dark through a series of sudden drops and sharp turns. The layout of the track will remain the same, however.

Other upgrades will include a new enclosure for the ride’s queuing area
and a new ceiling inside its signature white dome

Okay, so the ride hasn't been refurbished in awhile. And I guess it's better that they update the tracks now before something breaks and someone gets hurt. But I'm crossing my fingers and toes that this "upgrading" doesn't tinker too much with this classic ride that everyone knows and loves. Remember the suckfest that was the new version of "Journey into Imagination"? The one that was so awful Disney had to revamp the revamp to put some semblance of the old ride back in? Let's hope Disney learned its lesson there.

Whiiiiine, I can't believe I'm not going to ride Space Mountain this year .... so bummed.

January 7, 2009

And My Oscars Go To ....

I've already written at length about all the reasons why I think Wall-E deserves an Oscar nod in a few weeks, but with the Golden Globes coming up on Sunday and most of the major guilds having announced their nominations and/or awards by now, I want to step away from the Disney beat for a second and give some kudos to the ther 4 films I loved this year and would want to see recognized:


Slumdog Millionaire: It's rare that a film that makes you think can also make you smile. And it's even more rare that a film could be described as being both gritty and whimsical at the same time. A poor boy from Mumbai reflects on his life while attempting to win the girl of his dreams and the fortune of a lifetime on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. I was at the edge of my seat the whole time, and came out grinning from ear to ear. With no stars, a hit-or-miss director, and lots of subtitles, this will be a tough sell for the Academy - but if they don't nominate (and award) this one Best Picture, then they're even more outdated then I thought. See it. And take your friends.

Frost/Nixon: I am more than a little obsessed with The West Wing, and this film has a similar tone and pop to it. Michael Sheen (perhaps the most underrated actor working today) and Frank Langella are absolute perfection, and the supporting cast - complete with Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, and Matthew Macfadyen - are a joy to watch. It's a film about talking, and that's pretty much all there is to it, but the dialogue is crisp, the staging is tight, and the film's climatic omigod moment was one of my favorite film memories this year.

The Fall: I am probably one of the 17 people who saw this movie, but it's incredible. Every frame is a painting, every scene is breathtakingly gorgeous. The film was shot across all continents, and director Tarsem's style is so visually arresting that I couldn't take my eyes of the screen and when the film was over, sat there in a stupor. Watch the trailer and be amazed. Then rent it immediately.

In Bruges: This one's up for a Golden Globe but has virtually no chance of making it to the Oscars. That being said, this movie slam-dunks the hard-to-define dark comedy genre, and does it wonderfully. You'll belly laugh, you'll think, and you'll want to talk about it with your friends after.

And the ones that are completely overrated:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Like watching paint dry. It's a 3 hour film that feels like 9 hours. And apologies to David Fincher, one of my favorite directors, but the film is not interesting whatsoever, and there is absolutely no chemistry between the leads, and it's just terrible. I've met people who claim it's God's gift to cinema, but those people are clearly being paid off by Paramount.

The Dark Knight: No throwing things, no throwing things. But let's get serious: if Heath Ledger hadn't died so suddenly and so tragically, would we really still be talking about this film? Apart from his performance (which I do think is Oscar worthy, and probably the most memorable of the year), the rest of the movie is blah by comparison. By the end of it, you're rooting for the bad guys to win because Batman and his cronies are just so darn LAME (not you, Michael Caine. You may live). And as far as superhero movies go - Iron Man is a million times better, and if we must waste a Best Picture nomination on a popcorn movie, can we at least give it to the more awesome of the two? Please?

And the ones I haven't seen but hope to see and thus cannot judge:

Milk
Doubt
The Wrestler

January 2, 2009

Disney Dining: Restaurants to Avoid

Okay, okay, it can't all be sunshine and roses - even in Walt Disney World. Having posted on my favorite restaurants in WDW earlier this week, it would only be fair to also share some restaurants where we've had not-so-great experiences. None of the ones on my list are truly, truly terrible - but with so many options in WDW, why waste your time, appetite, and money? I want you (and I want me) to make the best out of the vacation, so here are the ones you can skip:

Coral Reef, EPCOT - Living Seas:
This restaurant used to be great. One of our favorites even, and the one we would save for the end of the trip as the final, special meal. The last time we visited (and were on the hated Disney Dining Plan to boot) my shrimp was completely overcooked, my pasta was undercooked, they didn't have the steak that was on the menu (and the Disney Chicklette does not eat fish), etc etc. And predictably, since the pavillion received its "The Seas with Nemo and Friends" makeover, the restaurant has become a bigger draw for families - so our once tranquil eatery is now crowded, loud, and full of screaming kids. I could overlook the loss of ambience if the food was decent, but when you're charging $20+ per entree, you need to step it up.

San Angel Inn, EPCOT - Mexico Pavillion:
This restaurant is just one big mind boggle. And I know it's also one of EPCOT's most popular (no hate mail, please), but I've never really understood it. Yes, it's kind of nice when you first sit down, with the temple on one side and the marketplace behind you. But guess what? It's as loud as a Mexican fiesta in there, and as crowded as a Cinco de Mayo party. Personally, if we're paying $100+ to eat there, I shouldn't have to deal with waiters kicking my chair every 5 seconds as they try to navigate the overcrowded seating space. And the menu, while okay at best, is overpriced and not particularly Mexican at all (if you want real Mexican, come to New York City. Or Mexico, obviously). And here's a minor quibble, but it gets us every time: It is freezing in there. I'm all for air-conditioning, but when you're just as uncomfortable inside as you are outside, what's the point? The Cantina de San Angel right outside, however, is a fantastic place for lunch and the cheap eats they offer are miles better than what you'll find indoors.

Tutto Italia (formerly L'Originale Alfred di Roma Ristorante), EPCOT - Italy Pavillion: Again, it's loud, it's ridiculously expensive, and the food is only okay. There's no giant flaw to really point out, and out of all the EPCOT restaurants, it's probably your best bet if you need everyone to agree on something or are traveling with picky eaters. But $24 for spaghetti? Bish, plz.

Pinocchio Village Haus, Magic Kingdom:
Let's just say some food poisoning occured here and leave it at that.

Sci-Fi Dine-in, Disney Hollywood Studios:
This used to be another one of our favorites - once upon a time, it was something of a hidden gem. But there aren't a lot of options for moderate priced dining at the Hollywood Studios, and once word got out, the place was doomed. Visit once if you've never been, get it out of your system. The concept and execution is really cool (although it's awkward not being able to see everyone in your party / have a conversation). The 2 hour wait to get in, however is, like, totally square.

Anywhere in the Animal Kingdom:
Now, I haven't been to the Yak and Yeti yet, but in the name of all things Mickey Mouse, would it kill them to put in some air conditioning? Of all the parks, the Animal Kingdom is the hottest and most uncomfortable (because of the amount of walking it entails and the overall lack of shade). And yet - all your dining options are counter service (except the YnY and the Rainforest Cafe, which isn't really in the park), and you're stuck eating outside, sweat dripping into your french fries as you helplessly watch your ice cubes melt into oblivion. My advice to beat the heat? Have a big breakfast before you go, skip lunch, and power through until dinnertime - and then go somewhere else to eat.

Other horror stories/places to skip? We want to hear them! Shout it out below.

January 1, 2009

Disney Dining: The Disney Dining Plan, or "How I Learned to Stop Worrying About My Figure and Love My Sweatpants"

I like food. You probably like food too. And it's safe to say we both like eating at Disney World. So when WDW unrolled the Disney Dining Plan a few years ago, my family jumped on it. Pay for all your family's meals up front, then just swipe your room key/card when it's feeding time. No fumbling for cash, no whining about being hungry, and you've accurately budgeted your costs for food. Easy peasy, right?

Here's what's included in the 2009 Dining Plan:
  • 1 Table-Service meal including entrĂ©e, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage or one full buffet
  • 1 Quick Service meal of either a complete Combo Meal or one entree with one dessert (Lunch or Dinner) or one juice (Breakfast)
  • 1 Snack choice of a frozen novelty ice cream, popsicle or fruit bar, single serving grab bag of Frito Lay's chips, one 20 oz. bottle of Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite or Dansani Water, single piece of whole fruit, medium fountain soft drink or apple juice

So basically, that's 5 courses of food per day, per person. And herein lies the problem: It is physically impossible - and downright unhealthy - for one person to eat that much food in a day.

We tried. We really, really tried. And perhaps its a testament to the generous portions at WDW, but all 3 of us (all adults) can split ONE quick service meal and be tied over for the afternoon. I mean, it's hot, it's muggy - do you really want to cram down 6 chicken tenders and a forklift of fries (plus a dessert!), as if you don't feel greasy and gross enough from all the sweat and crowds? And nothing slows you down like all those extra calories in your system - while you're rushing to get to Splash Mountain, your body is trying to process all the fast food you've just ingested, and the next thing you know, you've yakked up your turkey leg all over Liberty Square.

But that's just lunchtime - you've got a 3 course dinner ahead of you! (Note: when we did the dining plan, an appetizer was included in the Table Service meals) And as a group of normal, healthy-weight, incapable-of-dieting-even-if-we-wanted-to ladies - we can split an appetizer and a dessert and still enjoy our entrees and feel great afterwards. Nothing ruins a meal like hours of "I'm so stuffed" indigestion that persists through the fireworks. Having 9 courses between us every night became so daunting that we actively sought out the restaurants that count as two dinner meals (like Jiko and many of the fancier places) - just so that we could use up all the extra Quick Service meals we were accumulating and eat those for dinner.

The Cast Members don't make it any easier. Witness this exhange at a Liberty Square kiosk:

Me: Just this bottle of water. We're on the Dining Plan.

Betsy Ross: You're using this as your snack portion for the day?

Me: Yes.

Betsy Ross: Well, that's kind of a waste. The snack option is valued at up to
$4, and this water only costs $2.50. Wouldn't you rather get something else, like a baked potato?

Me: No, not really. I'd just like the water.

Betsy Ross: Okay, but you're throwing money down the drain.

What. the. hell. Mmm, nothing polishes off that 2 course fast food lunch you just had like a baked potato - the perfect treat when it's 98 degrees and sunny out (which it was). Is WDW secretly fattening its guests for Thanksgiving? It's ironic that the same company that released Wall-E is dooming its theme park patrons to the same kind of overindulging, crippling obesity the film rallies against.

I guess the saddest part is the sheer amount of waste that occurs - half-finished appetizers, packaged brownies that never get eaten - it becomes difficult to get past the mentality of "we paid for this, I guess we should eat it." And so many of our days became dictated by needing to be at X restaurant in time for our reservation, instead of being able to mosey along and just eat when we felt hungry.

At the end of our 6-day stay, we ended up with about 7 leftover snack credits between the 3 of us. After eating our final breakfast (and last Quick Service credit) in Saratoga Springs before heading to the airport, we used them all at the little gift shop and picked up bags of pretzels, cookies, rice krispie treats, etc. "This must be your first day - stocking up for the week, are we?" asked the Cast Member. Uh, no - we're on our way to the airport, just thought we'd do a little looting before we left.

Instead of forcing guests to buy meals they won't eat, wouldn't it be better to offer a system where guests could choose how many Table Meals, Quick Service, and Snacks they want to buy? Everyone enjoys eating well on vacation, but no one likes being forced to eat. And while you're popping Mylanta from your afternoon baked potato, I'll be powerwalking my way to Big Thunder Mountain, hydrated and happy - even if I did lose $1.50 in the process.

*For more blog posts about Disney food (and everything else), check out DisMarks Disney Blog Carnival.

Happy New Year!


Wishing you a safe and happy New Year! Let's toast to a magical 2009! (cue clinking glasses)