Friday, January 31, 2014

Royal Review: Disney Classics (CD Boxed Set)

As a life-long lover of Disney music, I have found one truth to be undeniably eternal:

You can never have too much Disney music.

Case in point: the new Disney Classics boxed CD set that I plucked from beneath the Christmas tree just over a month ago! The collection (released in November of 2013) is a four-disc tribute to the melodies that have helped to make Disney memories for as long as 90 years. Each CD in the set represents its own era or facet of the Disney's wide-reaching shadow to ultimately put forth a fantastic representation of what makes Disney music so very special.

via Amazon

The first player in this tuneful quartet is the "Modern Classics" disc, which covers all ground from the start of the Disney Renaissance (i.e. The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast) through 2010's Toy Story 3. It wasn't until examining the track list for this collection of newer hits that I realized what an eclectic mix has been created in the soundtracks of the latest Disney films. This CD runs the gamut of the musical spectrum, placing sweeping ballads like "Colors of the Wind" alongside the Barenaked Ladies' quasi-rock anthem "One Little Slip" (from 2005's Chicken Little). It also wasn't until giving this album a good listen that I truly understood how deeply my love for Randy Newman runs. Yes, even Pixar works its way into this assembly with both signature ditties ("You've Got a Friend in Me") and more obscure pieces ("The Time of Your Life" from A Bug's Life- this one may not actually be obscure... I had just completely forgotten about its existence). Toss those in with the rousing "Dig a Little Deeper" from the neo-jazz-age masterpiece The Princess and the Frog, and you've got a pretty comprehensive case for Mr. Newman's excellence. 

Second in the lineup, you'll find a collection of "Timeless Classics" which span from the earliest days of Walt's Silly Symphonies to 1981's The Fox and the Hound. (Why this era of music was placed after the "Modern" class in the set's chronology, I will never know, but I digress.) What I find most appealing about this compilation is its willingness to highlight pieces of great musical merit even if they are of waning (or in some cases, nonexistent)  popularity. No, most preschoolers won't already know the words to "Fortuosity" or "Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly)" (from The Happiest Millionaire  and So Dear to my Heart, respectively), but this CD creates the opportunity to expose a new generation to the great Disney films- and scores- of the past. This theme is echoed in both subsequent discs- more on that later. In the meantime, you'll find plenty of the perennial classics you know and love, from the vast and varied melodies of the Sherman Brothers songbook to the wistful "When You Wish Upon a Star". Overall, this collection is a touching tribute to Disney's days of yore, and a heartfelt reminder that it all started with a little bit of magic and, of course, that little Mickey Mouse.

The final additions to the set branch out from the more conventional realm of Disney's hits on the big screen to focus on the great music from parks and television. The former of the two, "Theme Park Classics", is a one-stop shop to fulfill all of your Disney Parks needs. Suffering from Post-Disney Depression? Theme Park Classics. Psyching yourself up for your next trip? Theme Park Classics. Pining for the return of long-lost attractions? Theme Park Classics (and my condolences... though it may be time to let go). Lovers of both Disneyland and Walt Disney World will find familiar tunes in this set, where tracks from both coasts are given their due. Naturally, the bulk of the tracks are taken from Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Park, followed closely by Epcot's wealth of beloved theme songs, while bits from California Adventure and Animal Kingdom are sprinkled between them. As is to be expected, E-Ticket ride scores are heavily represented (the album's longest track is a Splash Mountain medley that clocks in at a whopping ten minutes and thirty-four seconds), but there are a (pleasantly) surprising number of pieces taken from extinct attractions of years gone by. The "Kitchen Kabaret Medley" from the long-gone Food Rocks! show at Epcot and the Dreamfinder's anthem of imagination (my personal favorite) offer up an intense nostalgia for life-long fans, as well as the opportunity for younger generations to carry on their legacies.

In the same way, the last (but not least) disc in the collection, "Television Classics", reads like a timeline from the 1960's to now. It's a playlist that begins with the ubiquitous "Mickey Mouse March" and eventually emptying into the stream of the Disney Channel's sitcom cavalcade, hopping across every small-screen success along the way. There's something for everyone here; from the aforementioned Mickey Mouse Club ditties, to the theme songs from the 1990's heyday of Darkwing Duck and Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, and on to the early-2000s classics like Lizzie McGuire, at least a handful of tracks will make you squeal with childish glee. In that respect, it very much follows the vein of the other three discs in its ability to span generations without feeling dated. One of my favorite things in the entirety of this boxed set is that a large chunk of the TV portion pays homage to the shows of my own childhood, many of which I thought had been swept under the mouse-shaped rug. Sure, Kim Possible and High School Musical are on the roll (and thank goodness!), but it's a special day when the theme from Lilo & Stitch: The Series is included in a "classics" collection! The TV tunes are sweetly capped off with the "Mickey Mouse Club Alma Mater", bringing the disc full circle and offering a lovely little send-off for us listeners!

Overall, this set of CDs encapsulates everything that makes us love Disney: the memories, the magic, and the universality that brings us all together. This is a perfect addition to the libraries of all Disney fans, both young and young-at-heart!

The Disney Classics collection is available from the Disney Music Store, as well as on Amazon and iTunes.

Are your favorite classics on this CD? Let me know which ones in the comments below!

- Becca 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Maelstrom Mayhem: Is "Frozen" the New Spirit of Norway?

This is Epcot...

This is Epcot's World Showcase...

This is the Norway Pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase...

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the pavilion's classic boat ride, the Maelstrom.

... and it may be in for a bit of trouble.

Up until very recently, this particular pavilion in the World Showcase (an area devoted to the appreciation and celebration of countries and cultures from around the world) was a relatively quiet, restful retreat from the hustle and bustle of busier spots, where one could hobnob with trolls and savor a scrumptious School Bread in peace. Without major franchise tie-ins or any obvious marketing angles, the pavilion continued to stand as a monument to the true spirit of the World Showcase. Though somewhat small, Epcot's Norway has always packed a punch with its highly effective theming  and embodiment of the nation's spirit of adventure. Barring only the implementation of character dining in the Akershus Banquet Hall in 2005, the pavilion has largely dodged the "Princess Treatment" that has been given to other pavilions in recent years- that is, until now.
Though initially met with a hefty amount of trepidation from Epcot fans, Frozen's exhibit in the Stave Church Gallery offers great insight into the role of Nordic culture in the development of the film.

In November of 2013, Disney graciously welcomed Arendelle royals Anna and Elsa to take up residence in the pavilion, granting them their own meet-and-greet location and setting up a brand new Frozen-inspired exhibit in the Stave Church Gallery. Fast-forward a month or so: the sleepy little pavilion has suddenly become a booming metropolis of tiny tots swarming about in the still tinier avenues of this idyllic slice of Scandinavia. With a glance, the evidence of the movie's success is undeniable; it is a phenomenon. By the time Norway's neighbors are opening their gates, wait times to meet the pavilion's resident princesses have already climbed past those of E-tickets like Soarin' and the newly refurbished Test Track. The queue for Kringla Bakeri extends out the door and mingles with the growing crowd headed toward the Maelstrom, whose own line quickly fills its designated area and spills out toward Restaurant Akershus. Frozen has cast an unprecedented spell, and park-goers are drinking in every last drop.

Enter: the Maelstrom. Epcot's premier (and only) flume ride has already been affected in Frozen's wake; the attraction, previously regarded as a walk-on, has been seeing waits ranging for 40-minutes to over an hour and getting actual foot-traffic to its typically needless FastPass kiosks*. With that kind of popularity, the prospect for a tie-in to the latest craze simply cannot be brushed aside. The question, then, is what exactly is in the cards for the future of the attraction.

 For those who have followed Frozen's journey into Epcot, whispers of a frosty overlay will be old hat, but sources across the internet have begun to speculate on more drastic changes that could be taking place in the future (and a much nearer one than you'd expect, at that). An article published on earlier this month discusses the potential for a Frozen-themed attraction landing in Epcot's Norway as soon as 2015, in which Disney commentator Jim Hill suggests that Disney won't be repeating the twenty-year movie-to-attraction gap of The Little Mermaid, and that Maelstrom enthusiasts "might want to go visit it" before Anna, Elsa, and their companions inevitably take over.  Other sites have taken it to next level by hinting at the total gutting of the existing boat ride to create something entirely new, possibly along the lines of a classic dark ride or borrowing from the latest technology showcased at Shanghai Disneyland.

Of course, none of this "news" has been confirmed by Disney, nor has anything been announced to suggest that it transcends the realm of mere speculation. However, the fact that it is being discussed presents it as a real threat to the attraction so many Disney Parks fans know and love. As previously mentioned, the World Showcase was conceived as a place where guests could come to learn about rich and exciting cultures across the globe, and the Maelstrom is a shining example of that goal. The attraction explores the deeply fascinating history of Norway, its culture, and its mythology. Critics who slough the Maelstrom off as a stale and un-thrilling waste of prime real-estate miss its true value, as this fast-paced, adrenaline-seeking is so apt to do. This is the ride that gave me a taste of Norway and whet my insatiable appetite for its vikings, trolls, and fearsome one-eyed gods, and it never fails to leave with me a lingering ghost of the nation's spirit: a thirst for adventure.

What's your stance on a Frozen attraction in the World Showcase? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! 

* At the time of publishing, traditional FastPass kiosks have been closed indefinitely to make way for the new FastPass+ system.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Road to runDisney: Frozen and the Flu!

In this week's post, I come bearing good news and bad news.

The bad news is that I spent the better part of last week curled up in bed, surrounded by Kleenex and cough drops, and thus not running a lick for five days straight.

The good news? That's not what this post is about!

No, this post is about the one thing that got me through every single run I completed the week prior to flu-mageddon (well, that and this magnificent interval-training revelation from Fairest Run of All). That thing, my friends, is the Frozen soundtrack. Like a vision in the night, the stunning score and hugely hummable songs swooped in to add a little somethin'-somethin' to my workout playlist. While it's certainly no secret that the tunes from Disney's newest hit have been lauded as the best in years, they definitely don't get as much credit for the way they make a workout about a hundred times more fun. Honestly, the entire album is enough to keep me going for miles, but there is one very special "power song" that will always push me through when the going gets tough... and I have a feeling you all know what it is!

via YouTube

"Let it Go" is an ultimate anthem, and it instills me with strength and confidence long after I take off my running shoes!

Has Frozen made its may into your workout playlist yet? It's become a staple in mine, and I have a feeling it's there to stay!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

In Which Mickey is the Best Medicine...

Hey there, princes and princesses!

You know that lovely "cold and flu" thing that happens around this time every year? Well, wouldn't you believe, it has made it's way all the way over my neck of the woods and paid me a visit! Ah, yes- four days of sniffles, Tylenol, and chicken soup... really, what could be more magical?

While falling ill is certainly a less-than-ideal situation to find one's self in, it does offer a perfect excuse for one very important thing: lots and lots of Disney! Today, I turned to one of my favorite shows (on  the beautiful portal-to-everywhere that is YouTube... California is a just a little far), Mickey and the Magical Map at Disneyland Park! Nothing can put a smile on my face quite like that marvelous mouse, and the heaping dose of positivity keeps me from feeling too down!

via YouTube

Keep an eye out for fierce Pocahontas stoicism/belting, infectiously energetic dancing, and a terrific tribute to the ever-fabulous Princess and the Frog (my personal favorite) in the grand finale!

What's your go-to sick day entertainment? I usually go straight for the animated classics, but sometimes Parks shows are just what the doctor ordered!
- Becca :)

P.S.- Sorry for putting out such a short post today- I've got some really fun stuff planned once I'm feeling up snuff!

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Road to runDisney: Running Reads!

Let me tell y'all something:

I am one of those people who needs encouragement before I can get something done- a lot of encouragement.

... seriously. I hem, haw, and procrastinate like it's my gosh-dang job.

However, that way of life isn't exactly conducive to training for a half marathon, so sometimes I have to go out and search for a good kick in the pants. And that, my friends, is the situation from whence the subject for today's post comes. When I first began to entertain the idea of lacing up my shoes and hitting the pavement, "runners" were an enigmatic, elite group who were, and always would be, about five billion times more athletic and awesome than I ever would be. "No", I decided, flopped on the couch watching the Food Network, "I'll never be one of those people!"

This was also around the time that I was first discovering the magic of the online Disney community, where one day I stumbled across the Twitter feeds of a few avid runDisney racers. These runners weren't scary and intimidating; they were just like me (Well, like me, but a heck of a lot more physically fit!). After a few exploratory tweets, I quickly found (to absolutely no one's surprise) that I had no reason to fear- runDisney folks are some of the nicest people you'll ever meet... and what do you know, a lot of those super-sweet, ultra-encouraging folks also happen to operate runDisney blogs!

When I'm having a hard time getting psyched up for a run or just feeling a little"blegh" about a workout, a visit to one of my favorite Disney running blogs are almost guaranteed to knock that funk right into next week (and I'll cross that bridge when I get to it, thank you very much!). One such wonderful site is The Fairest Run of All, where writers Jenn and Moon regale their readers with race recaps, amusing workout-related anecdotes, and general witty banter that banishes any hope of keeping a straight face. Jenn was one of the first runDisney folks I ever came into contact with on Twitter, and she's been incredibly lovely and encouraging ever since- in fact, she's the one who prompted me to write about running on Princesses and Pixie Dust in the first place! Also, we both share a grand love for the treadmill and a loathing for outdoor runs, so posts like her lament against braving the elements and the epic "treadmill v. the great outdoors" debate kind of speak to my soul.

Side note: By the time this post goes up, both of the Fairest Runners will have run (and rocked) the Tinker Bell Half Marathon like the champs they are! Congratulations, Jenn and Moon!

And that's not all! Here are some other Disney-centric running blogs I've been loving lately:

So, whether you're in the market for runDisney racing tips or simply searching for a pre-workout pick-me-up, these blogs are most certainly worth checking out!

Did I miss your favorite runDisney blog? Any recommendations? Be sure to add yours in the comments!

- Becca :)

Friday, January 17, 2014

For the First Time in Forever... Frozen's Coming to the Stage!

As I'm sure you're all well aware, this past Monday (January 13th), Disney chairman announced the company's plans to bring the smash hit (and brand-spankin'-new Golden Globe winner) Frozen to the stage, and the Internet rejoiced! I don't think I've seen such an enthusiastic response since... well, since the release of the movie!

It's no secret that Disney has a reputation for unparalleled theatrical productions; from the wonderfully charming shows in their parks  to Tony-Award winners like The Lion King and Newsies, the company turns out nothing less than top-of-the-line work. And since the news broke, the Disney community has been abuzz with wild speculations over everything from casting to sets, and wen can expect to see it (which, sadly, is probably quite a ways into the future). All this  chatter got me thinking about what I'd like to see in an eventual Broadway mounting of America's new favorite film!

1) The Overture

I am a self-proclaimed musical theatre nerd, which is painfully apparent in my proclivity to become a blubbering mess when the opening strains of an overture drift over the audience, signifying that something incredible is about to happen. The grand orchestral medleys in the moment just before the curtain rises is so special to me, and Frozen's is guaranteed to be absolutely gorgeous. Imagine the seamless melding of the movie's best-loved tunes into a mellifluous medley; "Frozen Heart" flows effortlessly into "Let it Go", which bounces on to "Fixer Upper", and brushes every fleeting theme along the way.

The Frozen overture that lives in my dreams is quite similar to that of the The Little Mermaid's, which came to the Broadway stage in the fall of 2007.  While the show enjoyed only moderate success by Disney's standard (it closed after only a year and a half of performances), it will forever hold a special place in my heart for its innovation, ambition, and eclectic and deeply moving score. This overture captures so perfectly the wonder and enchantment that pervades this most beloved story- qualities that are also exemplified in the brilliant score of Robert and Kristin Anderson-Lopez. Get a taste by listening to the overture below!

via YouTube

2) "Frozen Heart"

Despite the bubbly show-stoppers and punching power-ballads that abound in the film (and believe me, I cannot wait to see me some rock-trolls prancing about the stage in choreographed glory), the song that first captured my heart (no pun intended!) was the humble opening song of the ice harvesters. Not only did the work song set the tone for the story to come and deliver some very eerie foreshadowing, it hearkened back to older Disney pieces like The Little Mermaid, as it possesses an intrinsic thematic feel and purpose similar to that film's "Fathoms Below". The song's driving rhythm and harsh, natural setting open up possibilities for what could be an iconic and chilling (I swear I'm not doing this intentionally) opening tableau. Just picture it: a starkly lit stage populated with a tired chorus, going through the motions and warning the audience of the dangers that lie ahead. I've got chills just thinking about it!

(Fun Fact: Composers Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez drew upon "Fathoms Below" and Dumbo's "Song of the Roustabouts" for inspiration while writing "Frozen Heart"! Read more about it here!)

3) Furry (and Frosty) Friends!

Let's be real, you guys: Olaf was the best thing to ever happen in Frozen. From his hysterical string of one-liners to his surprising wisdom in the realm of romance, the quirky little snowman plays an integral role in the film not only as comedic relief, but also by providing tangible evidence of the bond that exists between Anna and Elsa. Olaf already carries a musical theatre-y sensibility (thanks to Tony-nominated voice actor Josh Gad), so it's only natural to sit back and imagine what it'll be like when he and his snow-buddies soft-shoe their way through "In Summer".

via Tumblr

Of course, I couldn't leave Kristoff's beloved reindeer sidekick behind (they are  better than people, you know!), if not out of sheer curiosity. Disney's history of anthropomorphizing animals (and housewares... I'm looking at you, Beauty and the Beast) is certainly extensive, so I'm very interested to see how Sven will be handled in a stage adaptation. Will he be a wise-cracking be-antelered fellow in a reindeer suit, or will he continue to be voiced by his human companion (perhaps as some sort of puppet)? Much of that will rest on the stylistic approach taken by the creative team, but I can't wait to see how they tackle it!

4) Even MORE great songs!

One need only glance at the track list for Frozen's Deluxe Soundtrack to see that Disney's aural arsenal is locked, loaded, and ready to dispense extra tunes at the drop of a hat, and the longer running time for a musical production gives ample reason to do just that!  So which ones will make the cut? Personally, I would love to see the younger Anna and Elsa make mischief through "We Know Better", the first deleted track on the extended edition. How fun would it be to see the sisters' relationship in their younger days?

via YouTube
(The melody of "One Step Closer" comes from the scene on Prince Eric's ship... you know, before it's burned to a crisp!)

Another trick often used by Disney's composers is to beef up the stage show's repertoire by expanding upon and writing lyrics to instrumental themes. This method has been employed to great effect in adaptations of both The Lion King and The Little Mermaid, and I only hope that Frozen will receive a similar treatment! Two such score pieces that I'd love to hear made into full-fledged numbers are the unused "Hans" and "Oaken's Sauna" tracks, also from the Deluxe edition. Both songs have possess great character and could definitely add a special something to the story!

Other things I'd love to hear from an extended Frozen score: A Kristoff/Anna duet (naturally) and a malicious, sinister reprise of "Love is an Open Door".

5) The "Let it Go" Sequence

via Tumblr

While it's hard to imagine a more spectacular sight than watching Queen Elsa create her crystalline masterpiece on the big screen, the prospect of seeing the Oscar-nominated anthem onstage is almost too wonderful to imagine. I can already see the spires of a massive, glassy ice palace shooting up from the stage in a display of technological wonder and sheer Disney magic. The creative team has a tall order to fill, but it'll certainly be a sight to behold!

What do you want to see on stage in Frozen? Add your suggestions in the comments below!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Out With the Old, In With the New!

Just a couple of short weeks ago, the Disney community bid adieu to the long-running "Celebrate a Dream Come True" afternoon parade in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom Park, and this fan of princesses and fantasy was more than a little bit sad to see it go. However, I'm not as broken up about it as I could have been.

You see, "Celebrate a Dream Come True" didn't just up and leave without good reason. This wonderful thing came to an end to make way for the first all-new daytime parade in over a decade! Yes, this spring, a new parade is coming to the Magic Kingdom and it looks absolutely amazing! School and work have been keeping me pretty busy this week, but I wanted to share a few sneak previews of this fantastic parade with you!

Images via the Disney Parks Blog

It's pretty clear that Disney is safely betting on its most popular properties with this one, highlighting newer films like Tangled and Brave and perennial favorites The Little Mermaid and Peter Pan. In this case, though, "popular" does not mean "cookie-cutter", as some might fear. The concept art for these floats demonstrate the kind of wild imagination audiences expect from its fantastical theme. Giant bagpipes and viking ships? Sounds anything but ordinary to me! One of my favorite bits of concept art is that for the Little Mermaid float, which features an ensemble of sea-creatures boogie-ing behind Sebastian as Ariel and Flounder look on from atop an enormous clamshell throne. Ariel's perch above the action hearkens back to Magic Kingdom parades of yore (not to mention being slightly reminiscent of her spot in the spectacular "Soundsational" at Disneyland Park).

Image via the Disney Parks Blog

Lest you think that the folks over at Imagineering are playing it safe with a princess-y procession, check out the seriously awesome Steampunk Maleficent float the Disney Parks Blog unveiled this week!

Image via the Disney Parks Blog

If that won't be the most beautifully terrifying beast to ever roll down Main Street, I don't know what is!

On a scale of one to free lifetime Disney passes, how excited are you for this parade? I'm hoping that it'll be up and running by the time I return in March... I don't know if I could wait much longer!

Have a magical day!
- Becca

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Road to runDisney: Back to the Grind!

Okay, may "the grind" isn't the most fitting term for the amount of running I actually do. Perhaps a more accurate title would be "the pattern of gentle trotting followed by a whole lot of whining"! (I kid, of course!)

Anyhow, the past month has been jam-packed with various running-related sundries, the first of which was my second-ever 5k race! A week after landing back home in Florida, I laced up my sneakers and jingled all the way through a Christmas-themed course in my first "Jingle" 5k. Believe me when I say that my experience in this race was nearly the total antithesis to my first. Lest you write that statement off as mere hyperbole, allow me to elucidate:

1. My first 5k took place at 8:30 AM on a brisk, 25-degree morning; this one transpired on a balmy Florida evening, with the forecast boasting a heartbreaking 73 percent humidity.

2. In the weeks leading up to my first race, I ran planned out every workout, got plenty of sleep, and gave myself proper fuel; the meticulous planning for my Jingle 5k consisted of skipping training entirely two weeks prior (In my defense, it was finals week!) and Christmas cookies for breakfast.

3. In my first race, I hung tight with a running buddy who pushed me on when I felt like quitting; this time, I was flying solo.

Clearly, my main issue in this whole debacle was assuming that, because I had already knocked out my first 5k, it would be a breeze. Of course, I now realize where my thinking was flawed (hint: the list above is a good indicator) and have most certainly learned a valuable lesson! Hey, this whole thing is a journey, isn't it?

Ah, the pre-run pic! The innocence! The unbridled hope for the 5k of a lifetime!

Now, the race isn't all as bad as I'm painting it to be- more than a few positives were to be found in the ordeal. First of all, I PR'd by a little over 45 seconds! Apparently, even though my body didn't appreciate the shock of the heat and humidity, the plateaus of Florida are far more conducive to running than my rolling hills in North Carolina! Additionally, while the evening timing of the event took some getting used to, it made it a lot easier for my two biggest cheerleaders (aliases: Mom and Dad) to encourage me from the sidelines without needing copious amounts of caffeine. (It also meant being treated to a dee-licious celebratory dinner afterward!) Most importantly, though, the race reminded me that even when the going gets tough, there's nothing like the pride of crossing that finish line, knowing that all of your hard work has paid off.

That same week, I did something crazy. In a brief moment of clouded judgement and total insanity, I signed myself up to run a half marathon in April! I can still remember the moment after submitting the registration, when my feelings of excitement and satisfaction were washed over by a sudden wave of terror when I realized the gravity of what I had just done. Luckily, the panic quickly passed and I've recently begun training for this momentous new hurdle to overcome... though I wish it were a runDisney Half! Despite the lack of Disney magic in this upcoming race, I'm excited that I'll be able to present proof of time for my first Walt Disney World race! (Princess Half 2015, here I come!)

2014 is going to be an exciting year!

What races are you most excited for this year? Let me know in the comments!

Have a magical day!

- Becca  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Pixie Dust-ed Trip Report: 12/14/13, Part One!

When it comes to Walt Disney World, I like to refer to myself as a "part-time semi-local", meaning that for about half of the year, I make my home just two hours from the parks in South Florida. (Snowbird? College student.) Luckily this means that, armed with an annual pass and a full tank of gas, I'm able to visit the most magical place on earth as often as my whims demand (so long as those whims present themselves during the appropriate seasons)! They do tend to get get rather antsy, though, which is why I was en route to my beloved kingdom less than 24 hours after I set foot in the Sunshine State this December.

Just look at all that holiday cheer!

I awoke bright and early that Saturday morning, poured myself a steaming mug o' joe (because, while I am a self-proclaimed "morning person", pre-Disney adrenaline only goes so far at 5:30 in the morning), and hit the highway for my grand adventure! I always make it my goal to reach the Transportation and Ticket Center no later than 8 AM, which ensures that I arrive at Magic Kingdom's gates with ample time to stake out a spot for my favorite park-opening ritual of all time: the Welcome Show at Main Street Station. Guys, I never miss this show. I mouth along to every word, frantically wave to the characters as they ride in on that glorious steam locomotive, and it is not unheard of for me to shed a tear or a hundred. (Side note: This behavior has been witnessed by several of my park-going companions, one of whom (lovingly) described it as "the dorkiest thing [she]'d ever seen".)

I love the long row of wreaths hanging over the Main Street promenade! They take my breath away every time!

After going through the pomp and fanfare of park opening, I passed through the gates to be welcomed by one of the most beautiful sights known to man: Main Street at Christmastime. If I were to stress only one thing, it would be to take a moment and drink everything in; the sights, sounds, and even smells of this idyllic avenue are worth every second spent soaking up the atmosphere.

I know the quality leaves a bit to be desired (my camera is decidedly un-fancy... and built into my phone), but check out these amazing portraits! Tiana's is definitely my favorite!

Once I had spent a truly excessive amount of time gazing at the enormous evergreen in Town Square, I hurried over to Fantasyland to check out the newly-minted Princess Fairytale Hall. If you haven't paid a visit to this new meet-amd-greet location, get thee to Orlando A.S.A.P. because this penultimate attraction in the New Fantasyland expansion is not to be missed! The princess' new home is truly befitting of its regal inhabitants; the designs of both the indoor queuing area and the greeting chambers themselves are positively stunning. Imagineers spared no attention to detail when creating this opulent royal retreat. Guests may gaze upon the gorgeous portraits that adorn either side of the grand hall before catching a glimpse of a very familiar slipper on the way into the princesses' rooms. Of course, the princesses were perfectly wonderful (per usual). Rapunzel and I chatted about her lovely new abode, while Snow White gushed her excitement over the Dwarfs' nearly-finished mine train.

Their royal highnesses!

My visit to Princess Fairytale Hall kicked off what turned into a morning-long mixer with my favorite Disney pals (and really, what locale better serves a character-palooza than Fantasyland?)! After rubbing elbows with the aforementioned royals, I kept the princess-y theme going as I dove "under the sea" to hang out with Ariel, then looped back to the castle to find Cinderella's Fairy Godmother (who, incidentally, is too sweet for words). However, the real highlights of the morning came when I was able to catch up with two of my favorite parties: the Tremaines, and the illustrious, the incomparable, the utterly inimitable... Gaston.

Anastasia and I declared ourselves best friends just prior to this photo being taken... I don't think her family was too pleased!

Princesses are nice and all, but there's nothing like a character that can (and will) set me up with a heaping helping of sass. Fortunately, the Tremaine family (consisting of Anastasia, Drizella, and the Lady) are guaranteed to serve up just that. If you haven't yet experienced the gloriousness of these three, believe me- it is not to be missed. No, these ladies will not be telling you "how beautiful you look in those Minnie Mouse ears", and the very mention of that Cinder-somebody's name will get you nothing but some serious side-eye... these are, after all, the kinds of women to hold a grudge. Still, in the case that you're looking to score a few brownie points, flattery will get you everywhere.

Speaking of flattery, it'll get you quite a long way with the dashing, debonair hero of New Fantasyland. I've thoroughly documented my love for Gaston here on the blog, and he has quickly joined my top ten-or-so list of characters to meet (other members of this elite group include Peter, Alice, Tiana and Naveen, and several others I can't recall), which is why I made absolutely certain that I would be first in line when he made his grand entrance! While I wish I could recount our entire exchange in excruciating detail, I offer you these few highlights:

Best buds.

(On Antler-Based Decor)

Yours truly: "So, I noticed the fantastic incorporation of antlers into your Christmas decorations at the Tavern. I love it!"

Gaston: "Well, you know, I don't actually use antlers in ALL of my decorating."

YT: "Oh, you don't?"

Gaston: "It's a common misconception; I only use them in half of my decorating. The rest are portraits of me... in antlers."

(While Posing for a Photo)

Gaston: "It's alright, you may throw your arms around me! I often do it myself..."

I mean, I certainly wasn't opposed to it...

Seriously, how could you not love this guy? 

Now, lest you think meeting characters was all I did on this most momentous day-trip, I can assure you that I did actually ride things on this Disney day! However, the post is getting a little long, so I'll regale you with the rest of my thrilling tales in another, soon-to-come post! (And I promise it will come to you in a timely manner unlike this one!)

Have a magical day!

- Becca