My Club 33 Experience

Rarely a day goes by when I’m not planning or at least thinking about my next trip to a Disney park. It’s the best way I have of distracting myself from the depressing fact that I’m not currently at a Disney park.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Disney regularly for the past decade or so, and every single trip is special. Whether I’m venturing into Disney Springs just long enough to eat at Raglan Road or I’m spending an entire week in Walt’s original Magic Kingdom in Anaheim, I don’t take a minute of my time for granted.

But even I know some Disney experiences happen only once in a lifetime. For me, some of these are things I have done and have chosen never to experience again, like a Dole Whip or a ride on Mickey’s Fun Wheel in the swinging death cars gondolas. Other experiences are ones I simply can’t relive because they left the earth forever after my first time, like Luigi’s Flying Tires (raise a glass) or The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management (just raze it).

Some Disney experiences are ones I consider to be  “once in a lifetime” because I hope one day they will happen, but I never dream they really will. For me, Club 33 is one of those experiences. Or rather, it was.

Club 33 Doorbell

Due to some lucky, right-time-right-place circumstances that I won’t bore you with, Jeremy and I were given the opportunity to dine at Club 33 this past September. We shared our story on the podcast, but we never posted photos like we said we would. So now, seven months later, I’m finally putting some thoughts on record, not only so our listeners and readers can get a closer look, but also so I can relive that fun day once again through photos and good memories.

Our lunch reservations were for noon on a rainy Thursday. If you know anything about Jeremy and me, you know we agonized a bit over what to wear. We had seen online that lunch attire was fairly relaxed, but still, we weren’t about to be the schlumpiest guys in the joint. In the end we settled on shorts and collared shirts, which, based on what others were wearing, seemed to be the right choice.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Trying to time something perfectly while at a Disney park is very difficult. Do I have time for another attraction? How long will it take us to walk to the other side of the park? Because the last thing we wanted was to be late for our reservation, we ended up walking aimlessly around New Orleans Square for the better part of an hour, waiting for 12:00 to arrive. When it did, we slowly and nervously made our way to the unassuming bluish gray door and rang the doorbell.

Club 33 Door

Have I made it clear enough how ill-suited and under-qualified we were to be entering an establishment like Club 33? I can’t overemphasize how unconfident and out-of-place we felt. But, to our surprise, someone on the other side of the door took our names and welcomed us inside a small courtyard. There we were given glasses of cucumber water and wet towels, which we pretended were perfectly ordinary starts to any meal and accepted as though we couldn’t imagine eating lunch without a few sips of cucumber water beforehand.

Being the ever professional guests we were, we drilled our hostess for information about how long she had worked there and what celebrities she had seen come through the door. (She named a few Disney bigwigs and a Jennifer something-or-other for which we put on a surprised/impressed face, even though we didn’t recognize the name at all.)

After returning our glasses and towels, we took some photos in front of the famous staircase that used to be available to everyone as part of the Court of Angels but is now exclusively for Club 33 guests.

Club 33 Stairs Standing

Because of the rain, the hostess said it would be safer for us to take the elevator rather than the stairs, which we were more than happy to do since we wouldn’t have been able to see the inside of the elevator otherwise. Once we reached the lobby on the second floor, we were shown to our table, which was situated by a window in a dining room that was completely empty except for us.

Club 33 Dining Room

Club 33 Place Setting

Because we were the only ones there, all attention was placed on us. A server immediately brought us a few menus, took our drink orders, and invited us to explore the room and the balconies while we waited. A second server (to whom I gave the name Lurch) stood nearby throughout our meal, always ready to remove a cleared plate or refill an empty glass. He rarely spoke a word or cracked a smile, but he made sure we were taken care of. In fact, after we had taken a few minutes to take in the view from the balcony, we retuned to find that Lurch had refolded the napkins we had left in our seats and had placed them on the table. Again, we acted as though this was totally normal and expected—just another typical lunch for Derek and Jeremy.

Club 33 Balcony 2

Club 33 Balcony 1

Now, let’s get to the good stuff: the food. And when I say “good,” I mean some-of-the-best-I’ve-ever-tasted GOOD.

Jeremy and I both opted for the four-course meal. (Actually, Jeremy initially wanted only three courses, but I convinced him to add a cheese plate as his fourth course so we could share it.)

Club 33 Appetizer Menu

Club 33 Entree Menu

To start, we were given a plate of bread. I failed to get a photo of the bread (Sorry!), but it was a round loaf cut into slices all the way around. The consistency was much like angel food cake, but it was savory, moist, buttery, and oh so delicious.

For our first course, we both unknowingly chose the same appetizer: Sautéed Asparagus with Black Truffle Brown Butter Vinaigrette and Fennel Coulis.

Club 33 Asparagus

Although everything I ate was beyond amazing, this was my favorite course. The white asparagus was perfection, and it paired so wonderfully with the coulis and other vegetables underneath.

After Lurch promptly removed our clean plates, the second course followed. Jeremy received his cheese plate, while I was given a Salad of Frisée with Coastal Strawberries, Avocado, Pistachio, and Buttermilk Dressing.

Club 33 Salad

I love strawberries on my salad, but I’ve only ever had them on salads that were dressed with a vinaigrette. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the combination of avocado, strawberries, and ranch. Course number two was another win.

Besides cucumber water, over-attentive servers, and empty dining rooms, four-course meals are also something I’m unused too. I had long given up on the bread by this point, but I was still afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish all four courses. I have to say, though, that the portion sizes and timing between courses were perfect and made for a meal that was just the right amount of satisfying.

Next we were given our entrées. Being a fan of seafood, I ordered the special of the day: Iron-Seared Swordfish and Royal Red Shrimp in a Sungold Tomato Broth.

Club 33 Swordfish

Jeremy opted for the Petite Filet Mignon, which was served with Haricot Verts and Cabernet Jus.

Club 33 Steak

We both enjoyed our entrées very much. My fish was cooked perfectly, and the broth really brought the whole thing together.

For me, the hardest decision of the meal was which dessert to order. The sweet-toothed side of me wanted to order one of everything, but we were still putting on our “refined and cultured” act and this wasn’t Golden Corral. In the end I chose the monkey bread because it sounded playful and different, and I knew if anyone could master monkey bread it was Club 33.

Club 33 Monkey Bread

While I enjoyed the monkey bread thoroughly (it was very moist and had just the right amount of cinnamon-y syrup), I think I might have liked one of the other desserts better.

By the time we had finished dessert, a few other parties had entered the dining room. But our own Club 33 experience was sadly coming to an end, so we took the opportunity to explore a bit more. First up: the bathroom.

Club 33 Urinals

You’re not crazy. That is in fact a photo of urinals. That was one of the perks of visiting Club 33 on a slow day. We could take pictures at our own leisure without the fear of being judged (unless, of course, you’re silently judging me through the internet right now).

Club 33 Bathroom

Complimentary toiletries included floss picks, mouthwash, and something in that glass jar pictured on the far right. I can’t remember what was inside. Handkerchiefs maybe? Anyway, Jeremy and I both stealthily pocketed some Club 33-embroidered paper towels to keep as souvenirs.

Speaking of souvenirs, we couldn’t leave before stocking up on physical, tangible memories of our time at Club 33. The glass case in the lobby was full of goodies, both simple and gaudy, both reasonable and ridiculously expensive. Choosing which souvenirs to buy might have been harder than choosing what to eat, but in the end we both got some Mickey ears and a limited-edition Club 33/Diamond Celebration pin. Plus, I got a Club 33 mug, which I still use every chance I get. (Whether or not I wear the ears in my living room on occasion is something I’ll leave you guessing about.)

Club 33 Elevator

The bag the souvenirs came in was legit. I don’t think I could rip it if I tried, and the strap was thick rope. Club 33 leaves no detail overlooked.

Club 33 Merchandise

Our experience at Club 33 is something I will never forget. From the kindness we were shown to the gorgeous dining room to the incredible food, every minute was nothing short of perfect. The only thing I regret is that we couldn’t enjoy it as a Mad Chatter trio. If I’m ever lucky enough to go back, I hope Jeremy, Matt, and I can all dine together. We’ll eat as much angel food bread as we can stomach, we’ll toast Lurch and his unsettling watchfulness, we’ll gush about how exciting it is to be eating just above the greatest Disney attraction ever built, and we’ll give thanks for being able to dine in a place that holds so much history and is tied so closely to the man himself, Walt Disney. Until that day, I’ll just keep dreaming about that white asparagus.

Club 33 Piano

– Mad Chatter Derek

Warning: May Cause Discomfort

Woooo! Oh! Whoa! Ow! Wooooo… Oof!

That’s the combination of sounds you’re likely to hear come out of my mouth while riding Space Mountain.

You see, this “journey through space and time” is often a bumpy, jolting, unpredictable one.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Why? Because when you’re at your happy place, your home away from home, you’re willing to put up with just about anything, even a bit of physical discomfort.

I realized this recently when having a Twitter conversation with a fellow Disney fan over on the west coast. He was raving about Disneyland’s Space Mountain, saying it’s much better than the original in Orlando. I confessed to him that I found Disneyland’s version to be, well… boring. It has no sudden drops or fast turns. Instead, it lifts you up a long hill then spends the rest of the time slowly guiding you back to the bottom. It’s essentially a long slide. Is it smooth? Absolutely! But to me, it’s missing a certain element of thrill.

I guess I was expecting what was promised by official Disneyland promo pictures like this one.

Space Mountain Disneyland Promo Pic

Talk about misleading!

In response, the Disneylander said that Florida’s Space Mountain, to Disneyland regulars, is kind of like what the Matterhorn is to Disney World fans: rough and uncomfortable.

And then it clicked. He was absolutely right. The Matterhorn at Disneyland is perhaps the first and only Disney attraction I have opted not to re-ride simply because of the pain it inflicts. The seats are uncomfortable, the leg room is virtually non-existent, and the damage it did to my elbows and thighs was not something I wanted to experience again. But to a Disneyland regular, it’s the Matterhorn! It’s a classic! How can you not love it?

Matterhorn

And that’s exactly how I feel about Space Mountain at Disney World.

Does Walt Disney World have its share of uncomfortable rides? Sure! I know people who can’t stand Space Mountain because of its roughness.

I, on the other hand, am in such a state of euphoria whenever I visit Disney World that I’m more than willing to be shaken and jarred a bit. I don’t bat an eye when Pirates or It’s A Small World gets backed up and a boat crashes into ours. I welcome the bumpy, off-road-like experience that is Dinosaur. When Primeval Whirl shakes me like Jell-O and leaves me not knowing which way is up, I just laugh. When Stitch jumps on my shoulders and releases a foul burp in my face…

Okay, I can’t put any sort of positive spin on that one.

Even The World Showcase Players, the former comedy troupe in the U.K. Pavilion, caused me immense discomfort when they volunteered me to be part of their performance, but hey, it made for great pictures and a fun memory.

World Showcase Players

Who knows, maybe in time I’ll even learn to love the Matterhorn as well. You’ll just have to force me on it first.

– Derek

From the Disney Kitchen: Sweet Pretzel With Almonds from Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe

Months ago I (Derek) had the idea to feature a regular column in which I make one of Disney World’s official recipes and blog about my experience.

Clearly I dropped the ball on that one.

But, last weekend I finally got back in the kitchen, did a bit of web browsing, and found a recipe that looked simple and delicious – a win-win!

In case you don’t know, you can ask for and receive the recipe for any dish you eat at Walt Disney World. Judging from what I’ve seen on the Disney Parks Blog, some of these treats require ingredients I wouldn’t know where to begin to find, but I searched specifically for snacks I knew I would be able to tackle.

Which brings me to today’s food item: the sweet pretzel with almonds from Kringla Bakeri in the Norway Pavilion at Epcot. I know, I know, I chose a recipe from Norway that wasn’t school bread? What was I thinking?!?

To be honest, I felt too lazy to buy cardamom and look for vanilla custard. But rest assured; the incredible goodness that is school bread is still at the top of my list for snacks to make at home.

Now for the pretzel. Here’s the recipe I used.

I began by allowing the yeast to activate in one bowl while I mixed the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.

Sweet Pretzel Step 2 Sweet Pretzel Step 1

So far so good . . .

After mixing the dough and allowing it to rise, I flattened it out and divided it into four sections.

Sweet Pretzel Step 3

Easy peasy.

When it came time to roll out each section and form a pretzel shape, I froze up. What’s a pretzel look like again?

Enter YouTube, the how-to capital of the online world. After watching a short video, I was able to make what I thought were pretty decent pretzel shapes.

Sweet Pretzel Step 4

Sweet Pretzel Step 5That is, until they plumped up in the oven . . .

Sweet Pretzel Step 6Yikes!

But no worries. I was confident my poor pretzel-shaping skills would not affect the taste.

Unfortunately, making uniform pretzels is not the only thing I’m bad at. I made the icing as instructed, but after dipping the pretzels in it, I realized I should have thickened it with more powdered sugar. It was basically an ultra-thin glaze, which meant the slivered almonds just rolled off rather than sticking in the “icing.”

For reference, here is the actual pretzel I was trying to recreate.

Sweet Pretzel With Almonds

And here’s mine.
Sweet Pretzel Step 7

Nailed it.

Actually, despite the disfiguration of my pretzels (and the picture above was the best one!), they did taste quite good. The texture was as a pretzel should be: dense and soft.

Here were a few takeaways from my experience:

  1. More cinnamon and nutmeg – One eighth of a teaspoon? Really? These two ingredients completely disappeared the second I incorporated them into the flour. Next time I will add a teaspoon of each instead.
  2. More icing – Besides making the icing thicker, I’ll make more of it too. The icing is the money-maker, but it barely had a presence on the pretzels I made.
  3. Disney snacks should be left to the Disney pros – Were my pretzels good? Sure, they were fine. But making a snack, any snack, at home is just not the same as eating it on Disney property.

But don’t worry. That won’t stop me from going back to the kitchen for more Disney baking and cooking, and I’ll be sure to share my experiences right here on madchatters.net.

Alas, Poor Yeti, We Knew Thee… Not Very Well at All Actually

Expedition-Everest-Yeti-783404

I remember catching my very first glimpse of the concept art for the newest major thrill attraction coming to Walt Disney World in the now discontinued Disney Magazine. A new “roller coaster-type attraction” was on the horizon for Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest.

I can remember imagining all the excitement such an attraction would bring. Immense, highly detailed, and thrilling, Expedition Everest promised great things for a park in great need of something spectacular.

Indeed, Expedition Everest was going to offer fans everything they had come to love about Walt Disney World attractions. At the top of this list was the news that Expedition Everest would feature the fastest, most fluid, largest, and most advanced animatronic figure of all time, a twenty-five foot tall Yeti; the mythic Himalayan version of the abominable snowman, the guardian of the mountains.

I mentioned in Episode 6 of the Mad Chatters Podcast that there was a TV special that featured an extensive look into the making of Expedition Everest and the highly anticipated Yeti. Since that episode, I did a bit of searching and found the full Discovery Channel special entitled, “Building a Thrill Ride: Expedition Everest.”  I’ve included it below. The portion about the Yeti begins near the 30-minute mark,

Disney went to great lengths to be sure that the general public was very aware of the Yeti, now clearly billed as the hands-down highlight of the new attraction.

To see the Yeti in its original and full glory, watch this video below:

Having experienced A-Mode Yeti several times, I can tell you that it was quite terrifying. The train slows just a bit as you enter that last cavern, and you hear an ungodly roar just before you turn the corner to see this huge, 25-foot monster glaring at you. Well lit and fluid as ever, you’d have sworn his huge five-foot diameter hands came within inches of the train as he literally lunged at the vehicle.

The coaster was great, but it was this climactic moment that left you breathless when the train came to a halt in the station. You really felt as if you had just escaped the Yeti’s terrible claws.

However, after only a year (give or take a few months), the famed, longed for, highly anticipated, insanely advanced Yeti animatronic entered a non-moving, immobile state now known unaffectionately as “Disco Yeti.” Also known as “B-Mode,” Disco Yeti was dubbed as such because that terrifying, free flowing, lunging Yeti is no more. In its place is a still figure, barely lit except by the occasional strobe that is so quick, it is easily confused with your on-ride photo-op.

For the last seven years of the attraction’s existence (essentially the vast majority of the coaster’s life), the Yeti, the prize of Disney Imagineering at the time, has not been operational.

The first logo to be released for Expedition Everest featured a mountain peak-looking focal point, which upon closer look also doubles as the Yeti’s furry head, the two “e”s in the wordage composing two red, glowing eyes.

Expedition_Everest_logo.svg

You will do well to find any remnant of this logo today.

Also, earlier advertisement for the attraction was heavy on the Yeti. It promised a certain encounter with “The Guardian of the Forbidden Mountain,” and clearly billed that encounter as the highlight and climax of the ride.

Newer advertisements still feature the Yeti, but are quick to use phrases like “glimpse” and “watch out for,” rather than “encounter.”

The prevailing ruling on why the Yeti no longer works in full A-Mode is that the Yeti figure itself moves so powerfully and so forcefully it needed its own compartmentalized section of show building to withstand the pressure. Apparently, even the foundation of this structure began to crack and wear with the ever-forceful (and impressive) lunge of the immense figure. It was seemingly deemed unsafe for full use.

“Why so long to fix?” That was my question as well. Now that you’ve spent millions of dollars on an attraction that was to feature this game-changing figure… why let it rot in “Disco Mode” for seven years?

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park opened in 1998 to much commercial fanfare, but aside from the massive Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction and Dinosaur (then called “Countdown to Extinction”), the park didn’t have much in the way of ride-type attractions. The arrival of Kali River Rapids soon after the park’s opening gave a small bump in that direction, but it wasn’t until 2006 and the opening of Expedition Everest that Disney gave a loud answer to the demand for more attractions.

That being said, the park still doesn’t have much in the way of serious E-Ticket (top billed) attractions; and with Expedition Everest as the park’s main draw both visually and otherwise, management simply can’t afford to shut it down for the length of time necessary to return the Yeti to its first glory… Unless something large is added to the park.

With the announcement of and groundbreaking for the much-anticipated “Avatar-Land,” now known as “Pandora: The World of Avatar,”  Animal Kingdom is set to receive Walt Disney World’s largest and most comprehensive park expansion to date.

Speculation seems to agree that when this large expansion opens in 2017, offering a whole new land and several new major attractions to enjoy, Expedition Everest will receive some long overdue TLC.

Here’s hoping that when the big flying dinosaur things and naked blue people finally arrive, they’ll bring a new Yeti with them!

Relax… At Walt Disney World?

Every time I came back from a vacation at Walt Disney World as a child, I remember people asking my parents, “so how was your vacation?” I remember the one-liner my parents would always give in response: “I feel like we need a vacation from the vacation!” In short, “we’re worn out from our ‘vacation’ at Walt Disney World!”

crying girldIndeed when many families begin thinking about a Disney vacation, all that comes to mind is the heat, the crowds, the lines, the hassle, the stress, and the list could go on and on.

But what if I told you that your Walt Disney World vacation could be packed with theme park fun and be relaxing as well? Unbelievable? Here are some simple strategies to help you get the most out of your Walt Disney World vacation and relax at the same time.

blog_smallworldline1. Avoid Crowds and Lines

If you have the flexibility to avoid late May through mid-August, do it. This is “peak season” and obviously covers the time known as “summer vacation” for most schools. Also avoid major holidays such as Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas as crowds often force some parks to completely close due to reaching capacity. Weeks leading up to these holidays can also be pretty crowded. Try going a few days after major holidays. You can also check crowd calendars that use park attendance research to approximate crowd levels for months, weeks, and even days. While not always accurate, they may at least help you find your way to the least crowded park on a given day.

Disney’s new FastPass+ system is an absolute MUST for those wanting to avoid as many lines as possible. You get three per day in any of the four parks at Walt Disney World. Your choices include everything from rides and shows to preferred viewing for parades and fireworks. Try to book your FastPasses for the late afternoon and evening. If you get to the parks early enough in the morning, the crowds are pretty low and access to many attractions will not be too difficult.

Pool at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort

2. Take an Afternoon Break

This is THE strategy for those concerned about vacation burnout. Get to the parks at opening when the crowds are lighter. Make your way around the park until lunch and then GET OUT OF THERE! Head back to your resort (on property is a must but that’s another post), grab some lunch there, then chillax it at the pool or in your room for a good two or three hours. Eat, swim, take a nap, and refresh before heading back out to the park in the late afternoon. Take advantage of those afternoon/evening FastPasses, and enjoy the parks at night.

When you see a toddler melt-down or the infamous “sweaty sweaty princess,” it is almost guaranteed that the sighting will occur in the heat of a Florida afternoon. Naps are missed, the heat sets in, and calamity ensues. You can avoid all that with a simple trip back to your resort.

3. Take a Break from the Parks

Your whole vacation at Walt Disney World does not have to be consumed with day in, day out attendance of the parks with no break. Now I must admit that if your goal is to get the most out of the parks and take this advice, you will need at least a five-day ticket with the Park Hopper option.

While much of your time will be spent in the parks, take a few mornings and/or evenings to enjoy more Disney magic outside of the four parks.

Resort hopping is a popular pastime of those in the know. A great way to visit the resorts is to make a few dinner reservations at some of the beautiful resort hotels at Walt Disney World. There’s no need to fight your way through the lines for fast food in the parks when you could be enjoying a relaxing evening at Disney’s Polynesian Village or Wilderness Lodge Resorts.

Take a morning, an evening, or both to visit Downtown Disney. Meandering through the wonderful shops and grabbing something to eat can be a great reprieve from the hassle of the parks.

Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Waterpark

Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Waterpark

Also, don’t forget about Disney’s water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Even if you don’t have the water park option added to your ticket, it’s worth the money to slip away for one morning to relax in the pools and lazy rivers. Spend a good amount of your day there before heading back to the parks or even to Downtown Disney.

Taking a break from the parks can seem counter-productive, but it’s all Disney magic and can only improve your vacation when you know where to go and what to do.

Following these simple words of advice can greatly improve the quality of your vacation by helping you avoid the dreaded crowds, lines, and heat that often seem to plague a Walt Disney World vacation. It can also keep the meltdowns to a minimum as everyone has a chance to refresh and get the most out of their resort hotel.

No tips work one hundred percent of the time, and these may not work for your family or situation. But hopefully some of the strategies given here can help you find out what works best for you and your Disney vacation.

It’s Not Easy Being Clean

I like clean things. Tidiness, hygiene, the indoors, brand new shoes, fingerprintless iPhone screens—these are the small things in life I appreciate.

This September, when Jeremy and I visited the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, I was reminded of how much of a man after my own heart Walt Disney was. (I say “reminded” because, let’s face it, I go to a Disney park every year and co-host a Disney podcast. Obviously part of me already knew this to be true.) In the giant—not to mention glorious—room dedicated to Disneyland, I came across this plaque:

Disneyland Experience Plaque in WDFM

Now, it’s no secret that the Disney parks have set a standard in the theme park industry when it comes to cleanliness. When training their employees, many businesses actually point to Disney policies in order to illustrate the importance of appearing put together. Still, it was cool reading this quote and being reminded that providing a clean, welcoming environment has been part of Disney’s mission since the very beginning.

On my most recent trip to Disneyland, once we had nabbed a good viewing spot for the World of Color nighttime show, we joined the crowds around us who had taken a seat on the pavement. The woman beside me quipped, “If you’re going to sit on the ground, Disneyland’s probably the best place to do it.” My mindset was more, “It’s been a long day and I’m disgusting anyway,” but I couldn’t really disagree with her logic. Despite the sweaty tourists and the abundance of germs, Disney parks really do feel, well . . . clean. The paint on walls and railings always seems to have just been touched up. The pathways are always free of litter and scraps. Even the restaurants, which could be excused for having half-eaten French fries strewn among the recently vacated tables, seem like they just opened for the day. For a park as big and as well attended as Disney, that’s quite the feat.

There is more to Disney’s sparkling appearance than just a team of excellent janitors. First, the parks don’t sell gum. Anywhere. As a gum addict, normally I would be infuriated by this, but if it means being able to sit on a bench or walk on a sidewalk without the fear of sticking a body part in minty goo, I’m happy to throw a few packs in my backpack before the day begins and be on my way.

On top of that, all Cast Members are asked to pick up trash whenever they see it. No questions asked. No “That’s not my job”s allowed. Plus, Animal Kingdom, in an effort to stay true to its mission of caring for the environment, does not allow plastic straws or lids. Talk about dedication!

I’m not saying Disney World will ever completely satisfy my insanely high standards when it comes to cleanliness. It’s still a theme park, after all. Have I seen a stray paper cup sitting on a low wall? Sure. Do I apply hand sanitizer immediately after holding on to one of the metal poles aboard the monorail? Absolutely. Did I once lift my arms in the Typhoon Lagoon wave pool only to come up with a used Band-Aid clung to my finger? Sure did. But these instances were exceptions.

A few days ago, a blogger I follow on Twitter posted a photo from inside a building at Tokyo Disneyland. It showed an Asian family sitting on a bench, a neat pile of popcorn at their feet. The caption read, “Kid spills popcorn, mom puts it in a nice pile, mom tells a [Cast Member], and now they are awaiting a custodian.” Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the American Disney parks will ever get to that point. Let’s be real: that’s just not who we are as a nation. But you better believe that when popcorn is spilled, someone—whether it’s a custodian, parade performer, or, who knows, even Mickey himself—will take care of it before you can blink an eye.

And that’s just one of the reasons I keep going back. To be able to experience the magic of Disney while at the same time resting assured you’re in a clean place is a wonderful thing.

Thank you, Walt, for knowing what’s up.

– Mad Chatter Derek

On a related note, I have to give a shout-out to the incredibly themed trash cans at Disney parks. They are everywhere, and they’re each themed to the land they’re in. I know they’re just trash cans, but they’re one of those details Disney just gets right. Keep an eye out for them next time you visit.

It’s Tough (and terrifying, apparently) to Be a Bug

I was a legal adult the first time I stepped foot in Walt Disney World. So, naturally, my best memories from that first trip include the thrill rides, the park hopping, the feelings of nostalgia, the late-night entertainment, and the food. Ah, how well I remember the food . . .

As I continued to return in the years that followed, I always made a point of hitting up my favorite things, like Wishes and Spaceship Earth, and avoiding the attractions clearly not aimed at me. (Thanks but no thanks, Disney Junior: Live on Stage.) Oh, and of course I always made time to squeeze in some fine dining.

Just about the time I had perfected the art of Disney World vacationing, a curveball was thrown my way. My entire family would be making a two-day trip. Yep, parents, siblings, spouses, and my nephews and niece.

Lewis Family 2013

While I was excited to be able to experience the world (big W) with some of my favorite people in the world (small w), I also was a bit nervous about traveling with small children for the first time. Would they slow us down? Would they throw fits? Would they get tired and want to leave by 4:00? Would they prevent me from riding Space Mountain? Would they enjoy the charm of It’s a Small World and Peter Pan’s Flight as much as I do? Would they appreciate the theming and architecture of the Africa area in Animal Kingdom? (Okay, I was pretty sure I knew the answer to that one.)

In all of my mental preparation, though, one question never even crossed my mind: Would any attractions be best to avoid because of the psychological trauma they would inflict on the children?

Thanks to a little 3D show called “It’s Tough to Be a Bug,” the answer to that last question was a resounding yes.

In those two days, I got to see the parks through a child’s eyes, and until It’s Tough to Be a Bug, I loved what I saw. But from the moment that frightfest started, all I wanted to do was escape that dark underground theater, feel the sun again, and maybe hug my parents and tell them how much I love them.

Let’s take an inventory of all the frightening aspects of It’s Tough to Be a Bug:

  • The giant bugs (Granted, the name of the show does a pretty good job of preparing you for that one.)
  • The acid-spraying termite
  • The sudden moments of pitch blackness
  • The large canister of bug spray aimed right at the audience
  • The supersized spiders that fall from the ceiling through a haze of fog

And that doesn’t even include the scariest part. When the audio-animatronic version of Hopper the grasshopper popped out just feet from my family, my three-year-old nephew gave an ear-piercing scream that said to me, “Uncle Derek, I can’t believe you brought me into this torture dungeon. I will spend the rest of my life trying to feel happiness again.”

It also didn’t help that the theater was full of other children’s screams, which just added to the effect of feeling like I was in a gas chamber of death. I’m just thankful for small blessings, like the fact that my nephew was sitting on my mom’s lap, which meant (A) he couldn’t feel the bug’s stinger near the end of the show and (B) he could hold on to her for dear life.

Now, there are a few caveats to this story. First, I love It’s Tough to Be a Bug. I think it’s a fun little show with really creative elements. I just know now not to introduce small children to it.

Second, I probably should have known better than to take my nephew to see it. Just an hour before, he had been nervous about meeting Winnie the Pooh and, after finally agreeing to take a picture alone with the huggable bear, had called himself “brave.” That should have been a giveaway that perhaps he wasn’t ready for a dark horror film.

That trip was full of fantastic memories and picture-perfect moments like this one:

Derek's Parents With Two Grandsons

I’m so glad I got to experience my favorite place in the world with my nephews and niece. But I will never forget the terror I felt in that theater or my worry that my nephew was scarred for life. As we exited the theater and he admitted to the rest of us, “I was NOT brave,” I just wanted to hug him and say, “Me neither, buddy. Me neither.”

I most certainly will watch that show again on my next trip, but you can bet it will be with different eyes.

– Mad Chatter Derek