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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Better night photos at the Osborne Lights

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

Now that the holiday season is officially upon us, I wanted to give some tips specifically related to the holiday season.

It's no surprise that my most favorite holiday event at Walt Disney World is the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney Hollywood Studios.  There's nothing like it in the world!  If you're looking to get some good photos, however, you might find that's much harder that you think.  Mostly, it's because the event takes place at night and you're using a standard point-and-shoot camera, you're probably going to have to shoot your pictures using a small flash which tends to wash out the background.

If only you had better equipment to use... but you do!

Disney has several PhotoPass photographers station at various locations throughout the Osborne lights area.  Each photographer has a professional-grade Nikon camera with lights and (most importantly) a good steady tripod.  This means they can take those longer exposure shots that allow the background lights to be much more vivid in the final photo (see above).

If you take advantage of these and other PhotoPass opportunities, you can later purchase a digital download of the photo or (better yet) a CD of every shot.  You'll really appreciate the kind of pictures you'll get -- far better than what you (or anyone else) could take with a standard point-and-shoot camera, or even a decent SLR.

So be sure to take advantage of the top quality provided by PhotoPass - it really will help you best capture all those holiday memories at Walt Disney World!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Photo Friday: Castle Dreamlights at dusk

Cinderella Castle Dreamlights
Welcome to another Photo Friday!

Now that the holidays are officially here, it's time to start sharing some of my many holiday photos from Walt Disney World.  Where better to start that at Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom.  I absolutely love the Castle Dreamlights that were added in 2007.  This is a shot at dusk when the lights were on before the lighting ceremony.  I especially like this shot because there is enough light to still see the moat, trees and the fading sky, yet the lights are prominent.

I hope you enjoy this first of several holiday photos!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Country Quizzes

Canada quiz
Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, we're back in Epcot to highlight yet another overlooked experience.

Most pavilions have some sort of retail store offering goods from the country the pavilion represents.  However, these stores also often have one little extra bit of fun -- a quiz about that country.

I often encourage Guests to take a few moments to try their hand at these quizzes, not really to show off what they know, but rather as a way to talk with Cast Members who are from those lands.  Invariably, you'll strike up a conversation and learn more about that country, which is what World Showcase is all about.

UK quiz
This particular quiz from the UK pavilion was especially fun for my oldest son, who recently discovered The Beatles and was very interested in the Beatles quiz.

So as you're making your way around the World Showcase, try to take a moment to stop and test your knowledge about the different countries represented in Epcot -- you might know more than you think you did and you certainly will learn something!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Photo Friday: Injun Joe's Cave

Injun Joe Cave

Welcome to another Photo Friday! 

I was looking through photos of past trips and ran across this photo I had forgotten about.  This is a scene towards the end of your journey through Injun Joe's Cave on Tom Sawyer Island in Frontierland.  I like how the lighting creates the creepy skull effect.  This was a particularly hard shot to take as I had to hold very still in a tight space in order to take a slow-shutter shot.

Enjoy -- if you dare!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Best marathon cheering spots

Marathon finish line

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, I'm returning to a topic that's high on my priority list:  SURVIVING the full marathon!!!

Ok, actually I'm talking about some of the best places for spectators to cheer those runners on (believe me, I'll need all the cheering I can get!!).

So without further adieu, here are some of my suggestions for spectator spots along the course (and a few places to avoid).

The starting line
Forget about it.  The race starts at around 5:30 a.m. and you really can't get to the starting line since it's out on Epcot Center Drive.  If you want to pep up your runner, your best bet is to be a the pre-race meeting area where runners will be warming up, checking bags, etc.  Once the runners are called to assemble at the starting line, that's your cue to move to your next spot.

Epcot - full marathon part 1 (and half marathon finish)
Once the race starts, runners (and half marathoners completing their race) will enter Epcot near the Living Seas Pavilion and run along the West side of Spaceship Earth, down to World Showcase.  Half-marathoners will turn around and head back toward the East side of Spaceship Earth and out to the finish line (see below for my comments about the finish line).  Full marathoners will continue into World Showcase, turn left and run along the promenade and go backstage just before the Germany pavilion (based on the map provided by Disney).  Good viewing places along this leg are anywhere in Future World by the fountain.  There's plenty of space for lots of spectators.  I'd be careful about venturing down into World Showcase itself -- it can get a little tight along the promenade, especially by the Mexico pavilion.

Following the Monorail...
After leaving Epcot (and once the half marathon starts), runners will again head down Epcot Center Drive, and will turn north onto World Drive, running through the Magic Kingdom parking booth and through the parking lot to the TTC.  Unless you have the ability to get to this part of the course, I'd recommend against trying to find a spot along this stretch until the TTC.
There are a few possible spots to cheer on runners at the TTC, especially right at the entrance.

Approaching the Magic Kingdom
After passing the TTC, runners will return to World Drive, pass the Contemporary and will turn left into a backstage entrance to the Magic Kingdom.  While it might sound like a good (and convenient) option, the Contemporary is not a good spot for spectators.  The main reason is the runners use the southbound (far) lane and spectators can't get close to the course, so you're cheering from a distance at best.  Also, forget about trying to walk to the Magic Kingdom -- can't happen.  Disney cast members won't allow it.  You have to use the monorail.

I'm running right down the middle of Main Street USA...
Probably the best spectator spot of all is along Main Street USA.  I recommend staying on the West side of the street (the Emporium side), as you can easily see the runners go down Main St. and then walk to the hub to see runners pass through Cinderella Castle and turn down Liberty Square.  Depending on the time of the morning, you might not be able to go down to Liberty Square or Frontierland, so if you want to see your runner(s) go through the Magic Kingdom, you need to arrive about an hour in advance.  Oh, and you just might see a bunch from WDW Radio Running Team cheering on runners here.  This is the traditional spot for Team WDW Radio.

The Grand Floridian
After heading backstage from Frontierland, runners turn south on Floridian Way and head to the Grand Floridian.  Like the Contemporary, this might not be the best of viewing spots as it's hard to get close to the runners.  It's a little easier here than the Contemp, but not much.

Here's where we part company...
From here, half marathoners will continue down Floridian Way onto World Drive and back onto Epcot Center Drive for the return to Epcot and the finish line (see Epcot above).  Full marathoners, however, are only halfway home.  The full marathon course turns right onto Bear Island Drive and heads to Animal Kingdom.  Like the leg approaching the TTC, this is probably not the best place for spectators.  Head onto Animal Kingdom, if you really want to.

Animal Kingdom
After making it through the relatively uninteresting portion of Bear Island Drive, runners will enter Animal Kingdom from backstage around Asia and run in front of Expedition Everest, the Nemo theatre and into Dinoland USA and then backstage again.  That's it for Animal Kingdom (based on the official race map).  The runners do make a brief appearance at the main entrance before heading back out onto the road.   If you really want to see runners go through Animal Kingdom, I'd suggest watching from Dinoland USA where you can easily leave the park afterward.  All-in-all, Animal Kingdom isn't the best place for spectators, based on the limited availability to the runners.

Another dreaded stretch
Here we go again, another uninteresting stretch of plain ol' road called the Oseola Parkway.  The runners will come close to the ESPN Wide World of Sports, but not quite.  Not the best leg for spectators -- skip it.  We'll see you in the Studios.

Hollywood Studios
Ahh, something interesting at last!  There are a ton of great spots here.  The runners enter from backstage somewhere near the Animation courtyard (it's hard to see on the official map), and run through Pixar Place, down the Streets of America (an awesome place for spectators!) and down Hollywood Boulevard (another awesome spectator spot!). 

Almost there!
After leaving the Studios, runners follow the walkway to the Boardwalk, run in front of the Yacht and Beach Clubs and proceed to Epcot's International Gateway.  All along here are outstanding spectator cheering locations, so take your pick.

Epcot, the Sequel
Home at last! Runners enter Epcot from backstage in between the Canada and UK pavilions and run all the way around World Showcase, passing in front of every pavilion before running through Future World on the East side, exiting Epcot and ending at the "thank heavens I made it" Finish Line!  There are plenty of great spectator locations all along World Showcase, with the exception of the Mexico pavilion -- that area is too narrow to allow for good spectator viewing locations.  Likewise, there are plenty of great spots in Future World.

As for the finish line, I really don't recommend it.  Most of the finish line spectator areas are reserved for those who purchased Disney's CheerSquad packages.  Besides, the finish line is a zoo.  You're far better off cheering on the runners from somewhere inside Epcot and then meeting up right after the race ends.

So there you go -- a quick overview of some of the good (and not-so-good) places to watch the 2012 Half and Full Marathons.

To those who are running this year -- good luck and I'll see you in the full marathon!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

PhotoFriday: A tribute to Veterans

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

In honor of Veterans Day, I thought I'd share a photo from June 2010 of the Eagle at the end of the Main Street Electrical Parade.  I like this shot because that bright light above the eagle's head is the full moon.  This photo doesn't do the vista justice.  It was a magical moment!

To all our veterans who have served and to those who serve today, I want to thank you for your sacrifice and for your tireless efforts to protect our freedoms to enjoy places like Walt Disney World.

This photo is dedicated to you.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Voices of Liberty

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, I wanted to follow up on last week's post about the preshow area of the American Adventure pavilion at Epcot.  And what a preshow it is:  The Voices of Liberty.

If you've never experienced the Voices of Liberty, you're missing one of the true gems of World Showcase and one of the few live performance opportunities at Epcot.

The Voices of Liberty is an acapella group that sings patriotic songs and hymns inside one of the most acoustically perfect locations anywhere.  The group stands in the exact center of the rotunda that makes up the entrance to the American Adventure attraction.  Standing in that center creates incredible acoustic conditions.  Just talking about it doesn't do the experience any real justice.  In fact, listening to a recorded performance of the Voices of Liberty doesn't truly capture the live experience.  You really have to hear it to believe it.

The Voices of Liberty performs several times a day, usually before the start of the next showing of the American Adventure.  If you want to hear the Voices of Liberty, it's a good idea to arrive at the American Adventure about 30 minutes before the start of the next show. 

The Voices of Liberty also can be heard outside the parks as well.  The group is known as the Liberty Voices - and they do have CD's available for purchase.  Visit their Web site at:

So the next time you see there's 30 minutes before the next American Adventure attraction, go ahead and go on it -- and experience the wonder and beauty of the Voices of Liberty!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Photo Friday: A face can say a lot... even for a giraffe!

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

It's been a few weeks since my last photo post... it's just been one of those months.

Anyway, by popular request (from my nieces!!!  Hi E. and S.!), here's shot of a giraffe from the Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

I especially like the expression on the giraffe's face.  It's almost as if he's saying "how you doin'?"

I'll have to share a few more pics from the Safaris in future posts.

Happy Friday everyone!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tip Tuesday: American Heritage Gallery

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week, we're heading over to the American Adventure pavilion at Epcot to visit a bit of a hidden treasure - the American Heritage Gallery.  This small exhibit opened late September 2007 and reopened about a year ago after being closed for several months for an update. The updated exhibit features displays about some of America's most notable citizens including Thomas Edison, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Beacher Stowe, Daniel Inouye and Frederick Douglass.  There also are special displays about your "hosts" inside The American Adventure attraction, Ben Franklin and Mark Twain.  The displays include original artifacts on loan to Epcot.
Here you see some items used by astronauts Gus Grissom and John Glenn.

It's important to take a few minutes to walk around the gallery to learn more about the real people, some of who you will meet in the attraction. 

The gallery, along with the Voices of Liberty (which I'll discuss in a post very soon), is yet another reason why it's a good idea to head into the American Adventure pavilion even if the next showing of the attraction isn't soon.  You'll be glad you did.  You just might learn something too.

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