Finding Your Disney Side


            “You’re going to Disney AGAIN?!” –everyone who doesn’t get it. (probably)

How many times have Disney fans heard this question when they are asked where they will be spending their time on vacation? More times than I could care to count (for me at least), but it always leads me thinking, “What made me find my love of Disney?” Some people treat Disney as an escape from the real world. While you are there, and while you are in the bubble, you can choose to not have to worry about anything…no traffic, no roads, no directions. The only choice you have to make is whether to get a dole whip or a cronut (or both as I suggest).

I have found that it is much more than just a vacation. It is easy to be immersed in the entire world while you are there. You don’t have to cook, you don’t have to drive, and you don’t have to make decisions. Everywhere you turn in ‘The World’  is a new place to escape and throw yourself. Unlike most amusement parks, Disney has a fantastic ambiance that starts with the music. If I ever find myself missing the world too much, the easiest way back is to listen to the park music. There is nothing quite like it in the world, and I would argue that the world would be a much better place if there were background music everywhere.

Some people strictly go to Disney for the food, and I cannot say I blame them! There are so many fantastic options that you can consume while you are in Disney.  You can get any type of junk food that you could imagine, and the fact that it is shaped like Mickey Mouse makes it taste that much better (THAT is a scientific fact*). If you want it, trust me…you can find it in Disney world without a problem. Want burgers and fries? They have that…lots of it actually. Want a 5 diamond rated dinner? Don’t you worry sir, they have that too. Want to eat a dinner while you’re dressed as Mr. Peanut? Not sure why you would, but you can do that too. Want to stretch your palate to more “exotic” foods? You can do all that while never leaving the same area!

In an ever-changing world, it is nice to have a place that you can have a little bit of control and be around people who are just nicer and happier…especially if you want to take a vacation where you can be totally immersed and find your own Disney side.


*Neither science nor fact.

Born on the 20th of July 

Today is my eldest daughter’s 18th birthday! It’s a special day for me and my family for obvious reasons, but it’s also a day that signifies the beginning of something much deeper: Our passion for Disney Parks!

It seems balloons are appropriate today!

See…my wife and I had a love and passion for Disney movies, songs, and legacy that was an early bond of our relationship. For years we would collect Disney animated movies on VHS, to others we would say, “they’re for a future child”, but in reality we personally wore those tapes out!

What Disney didn’t tell us was that the lifespan of these magnetic tapes are about 100 viewings or 10 years (whichever comes first)

Fast forward to when we graduated college, and we started to be financially stable. We began planning our first trip to WDW. As we still do to this day, we really enjoyed the planning part of the trip…and this was back in the day when most of the information was in the form of “books” from “stores”. We had a dramatic life affirmation and accelerated our goal for a child…then our daughter entered our lives. 

The significance of this miracle timed with the summer we were also planning on going to WDW for the first time…so that dream had to be put on pause. Eventually, that desire became amplified with our new child and we succumbed to those desires in 2000!

Carrying toddlers at WDW should be an Olympic endurance sport

So this day is a nice reminder for us…eventually we visited WDW again, and again, and again…often two or three times a year! This passion has even led to getting Annual  Passes, buying Disney Vacation Club (Disney’s “timeshare”), going to Disneyland, and becoming Charter members of the D23 fan club…heck, we even started doing runDisney events (and I’m absolutely NOT a runner).  Who knows what the future brings for us…but we know for certain that Disney will be a big part of it!

Recent trip to Disneyland: We’ve conquered Disney in the US, now we need to go International! #ThanksShanghai 

You are going to Disney Again???

I am the father of four, an 8th grade social studies teacher, and the president of my wife’s fan club.  I am also a self-confessed Disney ADDICT!!  I am not ashamed of this; on the contrary I flaunt it with pride.  I talk Disney every chance I get, and I listen to Disney podcasts on my commute every day. I have an “Ohana” tattoo wrapped around my wrist and happen to be wearing a Disney Vacation Club shirt as I type.

Showing off the ink with Experiment 626 himself.
Showing off the ink with Experiment 626 himself.

Many people question why…some people smile and nod, but very few truly understand.   I am asked the same question all the time, “You are going to Disney Again???”   I simply smile and say, “yes, yes I am.”

My "I'm going to Disney World" face.
My “I’m going to Disney World” face.

If they need further explanation I simply say, “do you ask a person who goes to the Jersey Shore every summer, you’re going again???” The answer 9 times out of 10 is no.  Now I got them, so I ask them this:  “Would you like to go to a place where you can be a kid once again? A place where all your worries from the real world seem to melt away, and no matter how many times you go you always find a different experience or something different to do?

Dave was on to something when he said the The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was one of the best attractions on property.
Dave was on to something when he said  The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was one of the best attractions on property.

A place where you can visit other countries all at once, you can go back in time or into the future, dine at world class restaurants or simply have a snack by the pool?”   Disney is a place where you can be immersed in different ideas and cultures by simply staying at one of the many unique resorts on property, a place where someone drives you to wherever you want to go, and everywhere people are smiling, happy and kind to you.


Disney has everything, even the Kitchen Sink!
Disney has everything, even the Kitchen Sink!

So I state again “yes, yes I am going back to Disney World again,” and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

On top of that the official coffee of Walt Disney Word and The Mickey Dude's Podcast, Joffrey's Coffee, flows in abundance throughout the Disney property. #Winning
On top of that the official coffee of Walt Disney Word and The Mickey Dude’s Podcast, Joffrey’s Coffee, flows in abundance throughout the Disney property. #Winning

Walt Disney World – Then & Now

Walt Disney World Trip – Then And Now

Everyone knows the amount of planning that is needed to visit the World, especially from a British point of view. From organising your Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to obtaining entry into the United States…nevermind the booking of your Advance Dining Reservations (ADR’s) and Fastpass’s via your Magic Band at Disney! It’s no wonder people look at you open mouthed when you speak about your ‘relaxing holiday’.

The first time I visited Florida (or the US for that matter), life was a lot simpler. My first trip in July 1992 I travelled with two of my friends, leaving from Glasgow on my first real trip abroad. To book the holiday we used a one-stop shop travel agent. At the time it was great as we only had to pay the deposit when we booked and pay the final amount 6 weeks before we flew, giving us plenty of planning time.

To start, we organized a 5-day pass for WDW. This was before advanced technology so there was none of these ‘plastic cards’ or ‘Magic Bands’…just hard cardboard tickets that had to be guarded with your life, because if you lost these there was no going back. There were also no park hoppers, so once you got to your park of choice you were there all day.
The only good thing about this was that there was only three parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot & Disney / MGM Studios. You also got the opportunity to either spend the day at Discovery Island, which was a nature reserve on Bay Lake, or spend the night dancing at Pleasure Island (where every night was New Years Eve). This was complemented with Disney’s two water parks: River Country (now being found to have brain eating amoeba in the water), or the safer option Typhoon Lagoon, as long as you were able to ride the tidal wave.

Having booked a holiday for 14 days, we obviously had days to play with and these we filled by trips to Seaworld, Universal Studios (only one park at that time), Busch Gardens, Silver Springs and Kennedy Space Centre.

As there was no such thing as a fastpass in 1992, if you wanted to go on a ride or see an attraction you had to queue up, (imagine having to do that now) and this could mean standing in a line for well over an hour to get on a 4 minute ride. One of the worst (definitely not the longest) experience of this was waiting to get on Mr Toad’s Wild Ride at the Magic Kingdom- Due to crowd levels and the ride breaking down – this is 45 minutes of my life that I am NEVER getting back! This is a ride that is held highly in the heart of many a Disney fan – I just wonder how many have actually ridden it…because it is one of the worst rides that I have ever been on. Although, the most I have waited in line for a ride was Kong-Frontation at Universal Studios Florida. It was two hours in the blistering heat of July in a building with no windows, very claustrophobic, and was themed to a tight tram-station in New York. (Great Ride – Not Great Line Experience).

Visiting in July meant that from rope-drop to fireworks you were possibly in the parks for well over 14 hours. As there were fewer attractions back then, this meant that you were able to start at one side of the park and complete every single ride! Yes, it was tiring, but you felt a sense of achievement as you crossed off each ride. If you were to visit the World today, you would be lucky to get 13 to 14 attractions completed.

Since my first visit in ’92, the World has changed so much: new Parks opening and closing, removal of attractions and the installation of brand new lands coming from the minds of Disney Imagineers. However, I have to ask, “Has this been to the benefit or detriment of Walt Disney World?”

Everyone loves the original longstanding attractions and rides, but the difference between ‘Keep Moving Forward’ and keeping the legacy rides has had guests debating for years. For example, should a ride like “Carousel of Progress”, which is in a prime piece of real estate at Magic Kingdom, be closed due to the decreasing amount of traffic it gets? Or, is it so much of an iconic attraction that is should remain as an original feature? Since Walt himself had such an involvement with it, would it be inconceivable to close?

The most up to date re-boot has been at the Norway pavilion in EPCOT, where the ever popular Maelstrom water ride has been overhauled to shoe horn in a piece of Arendelle into the park. This is even more shocking due to the fact that other countries like Brazil, Australia or Puerto Rico have been trying to get in for years. This ride has been completely re-themed inside the pavilion to all things Frozen, including Elsa, Anna, Sven and even Olaf. But the structure of the ride system is completely the same, as are the gondolas that you ride.
On opening, the lines for “Frozen Ever After” had a waiting time of up to 300 minutes.  That’s 5 HOURS (and I was moaning about my waiting 45 minutes)!! There would be absolutely no way that I would wait for that long for a ride (except if they bring the new TRON ride from Shanghai to WDW).

Although Disney is playing to the masses by updating their existing equipment to a reflect the current popular animated Disney film, while elongating the life span of the ride without changing the transportation mechanism – only time will tell if it is effective. With Universal Studios Orlando consecutively running with the popular franchise of Harry Potter, which although has drawn crowds in to the Parks, Disney should be wary of putting all their eggs in one basket with Frozen, regardless of how popular this has become.

With the building of Cars Land in Disneyland and Pixar Place in Disneyland Paris, Disney have always driven forward with popular franchises that they have built off the back of blockbuster films. With the emergence of Star Wars Land being built at Walt Disney World, this may be the one that takes the mantle back from Universal and the Harry Potter phenomenon.  Many tourists go when visiting the Orlando area – but as we all know ‘They are tourists- What do they know’?

To be continued:

Twitter: @sjmdisney

Facebook: Steven James Maxwell

How ‘The Mickey Dudes’ Came to Be

Eight (soon to be nine) men scattered throughout the county who previously never met in person came together almost a year ago to form The Mickey Dudes podcast. Each of us was a Disney fan who extensively tweeted about the company’s material.

On August 8th of last year each of us, along with a few others, were messaged on Twitter by an individual who has a reputation of bringing together quite a few podcast within our fan community. This individual asked us to form a podcast that involved guys talking about Disney.

I personally wanted to be on a podcast for a very long time…however, being burnt before on a previous Disney podcast endeavor I did not put much stock into this invitation. Having already experienced such a disappointment, I did not want to be let down in the event that such a project would not get off the ground . Adding to that, the premise for the show has been done over and over again in our fan community.

To my surprise many guys in the group chat were just as eager as me to work on such a project. Quite a few also promptly declined the invitation and left the discussion. Those who remained with the exception of a select few became The Mickey Dudes. We moved the discussion to a group Facebook chat and friendships were born.

None of us had ever met before, but we found ourselves talking every day. We decided that we would take the autumn months to learn the ins and outs of podcasting and plan out our show. Our goal was to record our first show in January: a goal we which we succeeded.

We hit a few hiccups along the way. First, we needed to find a name. This was by far the hardest part of creating the show. Variations of anything that we brainstormed already existed either as a blog or a podcast of a similar name. The Mickey Dudes name was not our first choice. I personally thought the word dude was dated and had no more relevance in today’s pop culture.  The name did however have one thing going for it: It was available! In the end, we narrowed the name choices down to two. We decided to let Pat’s son pick the name from the two choices he was given and liked us becoming The Mickey Dudes.

Aside from that issue, association with our facilitator (the guy who originally tweeted us) was severed due to creative differences of the direction we wanted to take the show.

Today The Mickey Dudes runs as a well-oiled machine.  Sure, Chuck is always wrong, Tim has a short fuse, and Pat is a propaganda drone of the guys at the WDW Main Street Podcast, but every family needs some wackos in it.

Truth be told, I kid because I love. Oddly enough these men have become amazing friends despite the fact that I have yet to meet some of them in person. I sometimes sit back and marvel at the product we put out and find myself overcome with a feeling of gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of this group.

The Mickey Dudes Podcast is my hobby. It’s my diversion from the stressors in my life. This project has done more for me than I will ever be able to do for it.

It is truly an honor and a pleasure to call myself a Mickey Dude and to work with such a league extraordinary gentlemen.


How I Finally Learned How to Relax at Walt Disney World

Every so often, I throw off the shackles of Midwestern living so I may journey to Central Florida in search of my old familiar friend: Mickey Mouse.  To borrow a phrase from Jimmy Buffett: Walt Disney World is my ‘one particular harbor’.  It is the place I go to relax, have fun, and escape everyday life and the hectic pressure that is the American workplace. From as short as a weekend to as long as a week and a half, those 43 square miles of happiness provides me a time in which I have no schedule, no set alarm, and at least one breakfast meeting with a few giraffes (and maybe a zebra or two).

This type of relaxation, however, did not come easy.  I had to teach myself to relax.  From the time I was little, family vacations were full throttle.  As soon as we pulled out of the driveway, vacation would start, and each minute would bring us one day closer to vacation’s end.  We ran from place to place, accomplishing as much as possible in the time allowed.  Starting at age 8, I learned and slowly became a veteran of the 15-hour theme park day.  One day at the Magic Kingdom, the next at Epcot, then we would move along on our annual tour of Florida.  Looking back, it was absolutely hectic, but I wouldn’t change a thing.  I cherish those trips for which my parents sacrificed so much that a working class family from Illinois could make a yearly trek to a place many kids only saw on TV or in books.

Fast forward to 2005; my wife and I had already been married a year, and with her, my love for WDW was back with a vengeance.  We took our first trip together in 2001, returned in ’02, made our first on-property visit together to the Animal Kingdom Lodge in ’03, and stayed at the Grand Floridian for our honeymoon in 2004.  Each of these trips were met with the same kind of hustle and bustle I had learned as a child, rope-dropping park after park and spending as much time in them as possible.  When I returned home from these trips, however, I felt like I had not been on a vacation.  I largely chalked it up to false stress, though, and had no real plans to change my plans.  We made our reservations for the Caribbean Beach Resort for our 1-year anniversary and started walking extra each night to prep for the trip that lay ahead.

I should’ve known the 2005 journey was doomed when I got a flat tire on the way to get the oil changed the morning of the trip.  I simply thanked my stars it didn’t happen on the road and continued on with the day.  The first two-thirds of the drive were uneventful, until 10 miles before the Florida line, we blew a tire, the SAME tire, at 5 in the morning!  Luckily, I was able to change the tire rather quickly, and we limped off the highway in search of a service station.  As luck would have it, a large box store’s tire center was open early and we were able to get a new tire free of charge since it was under warranty.  I commented to the technician we had already blown the same tire, and asked if he would please check out the area to make sure nothing was causing the flats.   At this point, I was not over the top mad, but I was getting close.  Two flats had turned a 16-hour trip into almost 22.  I shook off the anger and got back on the road.

Then it happened.  I had almost reached the Florida turnpike, when I heard the pop.  It was that same infernal tire, and I just lost it!!  I unloaded the back of the car in record time (all while laughing maniacally and seriously disturbing my wife) and proceeded to change my third tire in less than 24 hours.  I finished the job, loaded our luggage back in, and I powered through the final hour of the trip on a donut tire and crawled into the Walt Disney World Resort.  I must’ve looked a sad sight, because when I approached the check-in desk, the lady gasped and said, “Oh, honey!  You have had a long trip.”  I decided, since we were on-grounds for a week, I was going to park the car and deal with the tire after the stay was through.  We grabbed a quick nap, showered up, and headed to Epcot for the Food and Wine Festival.

On the way to the bus stop, something just clicked.  I told myself there was no way I was rushing through that week just so I could deal with that infernal car and the forsaken tire yet again.  Throughout the week, my wife and I took it at our own pace.  We explored new spots, stopped to grab a snack or drink more often, and just enjoyed our time in such a magical place.  I couldn’t believe all of the cool, new, and different things I discovered when I finally stopped to smell the roses.  We cancelled numerous ADRs that week just because we didn’t want to stop our fun, and ended up trying all new places that have ended up being favorite spots.  I struck up conversations with strangers, talked to many cast members, and read more signs on this one trip than I had in my 20 previous visits.

Like all trips, this one came to an end.  Long story short on the tire: a sharp piece of hard plastic in the wheel well was discovered by a technician.  He removed the sharp piece, replaced yet another tire, and we had a worry-free journey home.  I do regret one thing, however; I wish I had asked to keep the sharp piece of plastic.  That little piece inadvertently caused me to realize I shouldn’t rush life, especially vacation.  That trip caused me to look at WDW with different eyes, and for the first time since my inaugural visit, I looked upon the parks with magic and wonder.  Just as I commented earlier on my childhood trips; this trip, too, was absolutely hectic.  However, I would not trade it for the world.

Touring with a Special Diet Child… Part 1: The Planning

Well, I’ve gone and done it. I canceled my ADRs for Hollywood & Vine and Sanaa for our upcoming July trip.  Hollywood & Vine was going to be my youngest son’s  4th birthday meal and I’ve been trying to get into Sanaa for years now.  No, the trip has not been canceled or in danger of being canceled.  Why the heck would I do something crazy like that?

You see, our 4 year old has epilepsy.  He has been on approximately 9 medications that have failed and we have now moved onto what the medical field calls Ketogenic diet.  It is a high fat, low carb diet that somehow adjusts the chemicals in the brain to reduce or completely eliminate seizures.  The meals that have to be prepared are measured to the nearest .1 gram and much of the goodness found at WDW is not on the diet.  When we go to the World at the end of July 2016, we would have only been on the diet for a month.  So the wife and I decided that since we will still be newbies to diet, it would only be fair to us and the boy to just cancel the ADRs and modify our touring.   Yeah, we could tell the chef of dietary restrictions, but as you will see below we will feel better preparing the meals ourselves.

Without getting too technical, the boy must have X amount of fat, carbs, protein and calories that are put into a calculator and magically produces a number that we must stay within in order for this diet to work.  Eggs, bacon, lots of butter, some fruit and veggies are some of the foods that are allowed.  The foods must be meticulously measured out and he must eat it all (our major struggle at the moment).  Any deviations could cause the diet to fail and seizures to re-emerge.

This has obviously thrown a major monkey wrench, even gorilla wrench, into our lives.  So, how are we going to tour the World with all these restrictions?  Don’t worry, we have a plan.

family and vader

First hurdle: getting to WDW.  We always take the 7-9 hour drive from central South Carolina to Orlando.  For meals we would just hit the drive-thru of whatever “grease house” is on route and drive on.  Now we are going to have prepared lunches and snacks that will be consumed at a rest stop, adding extra time to our trip.  All of us will now enjoy a tuna-fish sandwich and broccoli instead of a Big Mac and fries.

Second conundrum: Where to stay?  We were booked for a Savannah View studio at Jambo house.  This was our first stay at AKL and were overly excited about getting to experience the resort.  However, we now need at least a 1-bedroom Villa so that we can take advantage of the full kitchen to prepare the youngster’s meals.  With less than 30 days left to vacation time I hit the DVC website to find one for the length of stay.  Of course, there were no 1-bedrooms at AKL (or anywhere else we wanted to stay without having to change rooms at least once).  So I did what any man who loves their children would do: I called DVC and gave them the sad story of what we needed and why we needed it.  Through Disney Magic, and a most gracious and awesome Cast Member named Lolito, we were able to book a 1-bedroom at Wilderness Lodge for length of stay.  Not our first choice, but good enough!

Third, and hopefully final hindrance: Meals in park: The meals and snack will be prepared in the kitchen that will be placed in plastic containers and put into a cooler.  When meal time comes around, we will essentially do a child swap.  The youngest will dine on his prepared meal while one of us stays with him.  The older one will go with the other parent to a quick service meal and then switch with the parent who stayed behind.  Not ideal, but it would not be fair to eat a good ole’ Columbia Harbor House lobster roll and homemade chips in front of a child who can only have 2 slices of salami and some broccolli slathered in ranch dressing.

the other mickey

To the thousands of readers who took time out and read about this, thank you.  I don’t normally put personal stuff like my child’s condition out to the public, but I feel that it needed to be said so that someone could possibly learn from it.  Part 2 will be a trip report.  Not about how much we enjoyed the world, but from our experience with dealing with this diet and stuff we learned that could help us in planning our next trips.  If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to me.

Twitter: @turkyleg1

Facebook: Kyle Ostrander