Visiting The Mouse

Our 2017 high school graduates, Anna, Kate, and Cat.

Catherine, you’ve just graduated from high school! What are you going to do next?

“I’m going to Disney World!”

My daughter Cat graduated from high school in May, and we’ve been planning a graduation trip with two of her friends and one of their moms since last fall. When I saw the Class of 2017 Mickey Ears from Disney, I knew they’d make the perfect trip-morning present. Cat and Anna and Kate jumped on the ears — which became props in numerous selfie and video shots. The five of us had a great four-day visit, and a fine time was had by all. Here’s the fun video overview:

(Video by Anna Costantini; editing for short version, Ann Fisher).

Catherine and I go way back with Mickey.

We’ve been to Disney so many times that my daughter and I could give tours. In essence, that’s what we did in May. I was the concierge — arranged all fast passes and meals, and my daughter and I ran the “Disney Experience” for Missy, Kate, and Anna.

Catherine and I are lucky that my sister has been in the advertising business for a long time. She’s a MadWoman. We were guests of Buena Vista for a number of years.

Catherine and Mickey Mouse strolling Disney MGM Studios
Catherine visited Disney World in October of 2001. We were guests of Buena Vista, and since 9/11 had been so recent, not many children were in the group. Mickey spent nearly an hour with Catherine – it was quite an evening. Here, they’re strolling up and down the backlot streets in what was then Disney’s MGM Studios.

October of 2000 was my neophyte visit at Walt Disney World — my first time there as an adult. My sister was there on a advertising exec trip. I arrived, and Carolyn introduced me to her ad friends, one of whom had played concierge for all of us.

I can remember saying, “Disney World Reservations? You need dining reservations at Disney? Seriously?”

Catherine and Stitch ride Cinderella's Carousel in 2004.
Catherine and Stitch ride Cinderella’s Carousel in 2004.

Yes. Oh, yes. If you don’t have them, you’d better like counter-service meals, because you may not get in at a sit-down restaurant.

I was properly trained to “do Disney” by this super-savvy mom from New Jersey. I was well-schooled on Cindy’s castle.

“Okay, darling. Now, when you’re ready to take Catherine to have dinner at Cinderella’s castle, this is what you do. You wake up super early 6 months from the day you want that reservation. Get your coffee, and get settled in, and you start calling Disney World thirty minutes before the switchboard opens at 7:00 am Florida time. And you keep calling until you get someone. Otherwise, the reservations for that day will be all gone within fifteen minutes of opening time.”

Really?” I said. “I’d never do that.”

Well, um. Yes, I did.

When we decided to take a family trip to Disney World during the month of September 2004, we made plans a long way out, and I did indeed go through the rigamarole to get dining reservations at Cinderella’s Castle. Catherine was six. Big smile. And I’m glad I did it. (If you’re wanting current tips on snagging this reservation, check out the Birnbaum Guide to Walt Disney World to Disney World. — Also, it’s one of only restaurants at Disney that requires this much effort. I always find reservations somewhere, sometimes not my first choices, even a couple of weeks ahead of a trip).

On that trip, as an extra-special experience, we weathered Hurricane Jeanne at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Jeanne was a strange hurricane. After hitting Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, it dissipated, headed out into the Atlantic, then looped back and smacked Florida. We saw Disney planning at its finest. The entire hotel was on lockdown as the hurricane blew through. It was the most original hurricane party I’ve ever attended — and I grew up in New Orleans. The staff was amazing — there were ongoing activities all over, and periodically characters like Tigger and Pooh appeared to entertain the kids.

The next day, we were in the Magic Kingdom, with only the Jungle Cruise down post-hurricane.

Cat Gassiot and the Cinderella mosaic
My princess and their princess. Cat and I sure love Disney. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

You May Love it — You May Hate It . . .

 . . . but it’s impossible to be complacent about Walt Disney World.

A good friend who took his family at Christmas 6 or 7 years ago couldn’t stand Disney World. Hated it. I mean really hated it. All he could see was the commercialism and the crowds.

I’m in my fifties now, but my inner child is still alive and well. I went to Disney World for the first time when I was seven. The year was 1972, and Disney World was having its first birthday. I’ll never forget — ferry across — seeing Cinderella’s castle for the first time.

Part of me is still seven when I’m in Disney World.

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) gives Mary Poppin's writer Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) a personal tour of Disneyland.
In Saving Mr. Banks, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) gives Mary Poppin’s writer Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) a personal tour of Disneyland. She was not amused. My friend disliked Disney World just as much.

Yes, there is a gift shop at the end of every ride. I barely see it anymore. We never had a problem with Catherine and the stores. Each trip, I set a limit — you can buy one small to medium stuffed animal + spend an additional limited dollar amount. She was happy and we weren’t crazy. This year the teenagers were much more interested in shooting selfies and video than in buying things.

When my husband was still alive, his impressions of Disney were from the perspective of a CFO. Drew was fascinated by the way things work in Disney World — all of the systems that it takes to run such a massive enterprise successfully. If you find this part of Disney World interesting, and I do, then doing one of the behind the scenes tour might be right up your alley.

When I was in Disney World last year, I did the full day Keys to the Kingdom Tour, which I loved. The tour took us everywhere — through the costume design building, props and sets, to one of the laundries — which was way more interesting that laundry ever has been at my house! We had lunch at the Whispering Canyon Cafe in the Wilderness Lodge. We went behind the scenes at Epcot into the American Experience and learned all about set design and the use of forced perspective — and of course, we did a tour of the utilidor system under the Magic Kingdom. If you’re a big Disney geek, you’ll have a wonderful time!

Lagoon at the St Louis World's Fair
St. Louis World’s Fair, 1904.

Epcot of course, is based on Walt Disney’s concepts of what a permanent World’s Fair could be. Walt grew up in the age of great American World’s Fairs, and each time I visit Epcot, I think about the American love affair with this kind of entertainment.

American Experience and Walt Disney

Want to know more about Walt Disney as a person? American Experience did a two part documentary of the man behind the mouse in 2015 “An unprecedented look at the life and legacy of one of America’s most enduring and influential storytellers.” I learned many things I didn’t know about Walt — giving me further insight into how much this man changed both the film industry and American business.

If you subscribe to PBS, you can watch a high-quality version there, (link to PBS to watch Walt Disney on the American Experience) otherwise, look for both parts of the documentary on Youtube, but low quality. It’s fair and well-done, covering both the positive and not-so-positive aspects of Walter Elias Disney’s life and career.

Geodesic Sphere — Planet Earth at Epcot on a foggy morning. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Thinking about a trip to Disney?

Cinderella's castle in Disney World with Christmas lights.
The Christmas season at Disney World is magical. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Over the years, I’ve stayed at the Contemporary Hotel, the Coronado Resort, the Animal Kingdom Lodge a couple of times, then the Boardwalk, the Beach Club, the Yacht Club, and the Swan Hotel. Cat and I stayed off-property once, in December of 2006 when I was in Orlando for a conference — and we’ll never do it again. I’ll be in a Disney World Resort, or I’m not going.

Our strong preference now is to stay at one of the Epcot area hotels since we spend more evenings there than any other park.

I hate the heat, and I really, really dislike being at Disney World in the summer. We did it August about four years ago. I don’t know what I was thinking — and it won’t happen again. Our preferred time to visit is in the fall. We love the Not So Scary Halloween party, the cooler weather, and the international wine festival at Epcot.

Disney during the Christmas season is gorgeous, just be sure not to visit the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve — when there are always record crowd numbers — something I avoid. I did, however, meet a woman who comes every year for New Year’s Eve. Everyone is different :-).

In my opinion, Birnbaum’s Guide To Walt Disney World is the most comprehensive guidebook available. Whether you’re going for the first time, doing Disney as a family, or going it alone — this guide covers EVERYTHING, in more detail than most normal people will need — and in enough detail that most obsessive-compulsive types will be satisfied.

Blogging about Disney is a massive cottage industry. My favorite Disney blogger — I call him Mr. Disney — is Tom Bricker. Bricker constantly updates his information, so it’s as current as it gets, and he gives great photography tips and lessons away for free.

If you’re planning a trip to Disney World within the next year, I’d recommend subscribing to Bricker’s site, Disney Tourist Blog. He sends updates whenever Disney changes something, or when there’s a really great deal going.

So, in my family, we love us a little Mouse. And it won’t be long before we return to get down with Stitch and all our other Disney pals.

Rockin’ it with Stitch — one of our favorite characters.

The Bestest: My Favorite Travel Bloggers

One of the best things about moving into the travel blogging world is meeting so many wonderful fellow travelers.

I recently spent time in Huntsville, Alabama at the TBEX conference: a place where travel bloggers meet, share information, learn, and network — both with one another, and with travel bureaus, companies, and destinations.

Huntsville, Alabama, really went all out for the travel bloggers at the TBEX conference in May 2017. Swing orchestra, drinks, and dinner under the Apollo rocket at the Davidson Rocket Center. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Huntsville, Alabama, really went all out for the travel bloggers at the TBEX conference in May 2017. Swing orchestra, drinks, and dinner under the Apollo rocket at the Davidson Rocket Center. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I loved TBEX! And who wouldn’t? Meeting other travelers focused on writing and photography was wonderful, and the city of Huntsville rolled out the red carpet for us. One amazing event that week — the reception at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center — with dinner and swing music under the Apollo rocket.

 

As I get to know more people engaged in travel writing, this article will become a growing, evergreen list of my favorite bloggers, listed in alphabetical order.

Pat Wetzel does the Cancer Road Trip.

Cancer Road Trip

CancerRoadTrip, a mission for health and healing, is part travel blog, part inspiration. As a blog, it explores healing and adventure in different cultures. For inspiration, we plan to give healing journeys to others.

Follow #CancerRoadTrip, and the journey of one woman (and her friends) as they forge forwards, even in the face of cancer. Laugh, explore, cry. Join us: It’s a very human journey.

Great starting point to “hook in” to this blog? Find out about Pat’s cross-country trip with her sail plane Whiskey Oscar by reading Pat’s post on Adventure (summary): I am always up for a bit of adventure. I think it comes from my childhood. I travelled extensively with my parents. I found myself in cities where I didn’t speak the language, sometimes without an adult. 

Pat Wetzel and I are planning a joint Florida road trip for fall 2017. Look out! I see fine times and adventures ahead!

Jenn and Ed Coleman of Coleman Concierge.
Jenn and Ed Coleman of Coleman Concierge.

Coleman Concierge

Hi! We are Jenn and Ed, aka Coleman Concierge. Let us serve as your guide to inspire you to get out, expand your world, and to seek adventure in all its forms. Currently, home is on the beach in Southern California, but we have lived all over the deserts and mountains of the Western United States.  Told with our unique perspective and personality, our site will provide tools and tips for you to experience heightened adventure in your own life. –– Ed and Jennifer Coleman

Just after I met Jenn and Ed, they headed off for a Tennessee adventure, in and around the city of Chattanooga. Start with their trip overview, that has links to focused articles, like their visit to Ruby Falls in Lookout Mountain cave. Loved the cave picts! Chillin’ in Chattanooga – the Guide to Good Times  (summary): Do you know the dixie dynamo city where cotton meets corn that’s the birthplace of tow trucks? It’s none other than Chattanooga Tennessee. Situated on the southern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s the gateway to the mountains for much of the Southeast.

 

It’s Summer – Podcast #1

Podcast version of “It’s Summer” -Remember how you felt the first day after school was over? How the summer stretched out in front of you?

Podcast Version of post, It’s Summer

Man lying in a beach chair reading
Photograph, Nednapa Sopasuntorn -Shutterstock.

Summary:

Remember how you felt the first day after school was over?  How the summer stretched out in front of you so impossibly long that it didn’t seem that you’d ever have to deal with September?

You were free. Free to do so many wonderful things. This summer I’m taking class with Steve MARTIN!

My beginning efforts with podcasting. Wish me luck!

The Forest Primeval

the runes of the gatekeeper's daughter

Time flies by and I fear I will always be behind from now on, but, I have a few things for you. This was my submission to Leanne’s Monochrome Madness this week.

Our west coast forest floors are laden with the ancient fern while giant fir trees keep the sky from collapsing. Ferns, cycads and tree ferns have been around for  300 million years since they first sprang up in the savage paleozoic garden.

In the Devonian period, some trees grew to over 30 meters. Dinosaurs didn’t arrive until the mesozoic era and flowers only came into being during the cretaceous period but insects had already appeared (Devonian) and often grew  to a meter long although they may have been wingless for a further mere 100 million years. Some arachnid ancestors (spiders) had 6 inch legs. They would definitely have been unwelcome guests at a picnic.

dragonflies have been around for eons and may have grown…

View original post 153 more words

It’s Summer!

Remember how you felt the first day after school was over? You were free. Free to do so many wonderful things. This summer I’m taking class with Steve MARTIN!

Man lying in a beach chair reading
Photograph, Nednapa Sopasuntorn -Shutterstock.

Remember how you felt the first day after school was over?

How the summer stretched out in front of you so impossibly long that it didn’t seem that you’d ever have to deal with September?

You were free. Free to do so many wonderful things.

Each year, even now, I feel like that.

In my house, my daughter Catherine has just graduated from high school. She worked long. She worked hard. It’s paid off — we’re thrilled that she’s heading off to Fordham University in the fall with an amazing scholarship.

And now the summer stretches out. I just feel the need to celebrate that, to glory in the feeling of free.

Then — summer plans. I LOVE summer plans. For me, it’s always a combination of things — summer reading, catching a few summer movies, maybe a doing a project that I want to do (not have to do).

First stop: Cat’s a counselor at a camp for children with seizures (Camp Spike ‘n Wave)– she can hardly wait to get back to the campers she bonded with last year.

Then we’re headed to Zambia with my sister on a family trip. We’re all so excited about this that the vaccinations didn’t even hurt. Much.

Once we’re back from the big trip, then our focus will be on getting ready for Cat to move to New York in the fall.

My summer project last year was taking the Masterclass with Aaron Sorkin. I write almost everyday, and while I don’t plan on writing screenplays for television or film, I firmly believe that learning from a great writer is something that benefits me. And I think it’s fun. Yes, I know. I’m a little odd — but I find learning new things entertaining.

Steve Martin in his Masterclass
I plan to spend part of my summer watching Steve Martin and doing homework in his Masterclass.

I had a wonderful time in Masterclass last year. I was impressed with how well the course was written: 35 lessons, each with a video of Sorkin talking, then assignments, and a interactive hub where students discussed and shared. I had a great time and learned a lot, and I particularly like that the class continues to be available to me. I’ve gone back and re-listened to some lessons several times.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the Sorkin class, and it led me to my summer project this year: I’m taking class with Steve Martin.

I’ve just listened to the introduction for my Masterclass with Steve Martin. How I love this guy. This is going to be fun! The course is Steve Martin Teaches Comedy; and no, I don’t expect to become a standup comedian. But hey, if I end up as a guest  on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, you’ll know the course worked really, really well 🙂 .

Why am I taking a comedy class if I don’t plan to be a comedian? All of the things I said about taking class with Sorkin apply here. I write. And I believe that my ability to handle comedy within short stories and blog posts will improve by doing this work with Steve Martin. I’ve already found a group of students on the Masterclass student Hub talking about the same thing. Very fun to connect with fellow writers!

I’ll report back on how class with Steve Martin goes, and give you a full review my Master Class experience, along with my best take aways.

Gotta love my pre-class homework assignments: Watch Roxanne, Bowfinger, Father of the Bride, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels . . .

Which one would you choose first?

Steve Martin teaches Stephen Colbert all about comedy. Love these two goofballs!

I think I’ve got my work cut out for me . . . I’ve just been reviewing Steve’s office hours — he’s doing video answers to students’ questions. Students submit a video asking a questions, and Martin records his replies. I’d better get with the program and do some real homework so that I can ask an intelligent question!

Here’s to a great summer for everyone!


Podcast of It’s Summer:


*** Masterclass has given me free access to Steve Martin Teaches Comedy. I have taken two courses with Masterclass previously that I paid for — both the class with Aaron Sorkin, and the course with James Patterson. I’ve loved my experiences, and I’m a big believer in the Masterclass courses. As I take the class with Steve Martin, I will write an honest review.