Monday, January 11, 2016

Donald Duck's Uniform

What’s up with Donald’s outfit? What navy was he with, exactly? Why is he still wearing part of his uniform?

Photo used from
The hat seems mostly legit. It’s usually blue (although occasionally white) and it seems to be the basic “flat hat” that was popular from 1863 until 1962. It might have still been in use had the materials not become prohibitively expensive (maybe if the US military stopped using money like it was toilet paper, there would be enough left over for hats, but that’s a whole other post). By the late 1930s it was colloquial called “the Donald Duck.”

Photo used from
If you couldn't tell, this pgoto is copyrighted by Marlow WhiteThe rest of the uniform? I can find pictures of similar uniforms , but none that are really close. Some of the enlisted uniforms from the WWI-WWII era, the era in which Donald was created, look a little duck-ish. He does have the flap in back, but the flap is essentially useless. It was there to protect the more expensive articles of clothing – coats, shirts, etc. – from the hair grease that inevitably built up on men who were rarely able to bathe. Readers may have noticed that Donald has feathers, and not hair. That shade of blue is definitely out for the Navy; it’s called “navy blue” for a reason.  
The neckerchief was actually a sweat rag, and black so it didn’t show dirt. He is wearing a bow tie, which is a Navy thing…if you’re wearing dinner dress blues. Does Donald seem like a tuxedo kind of guy to you? Me either.

I suppose we should address the pants. Donald is a bit of an exhibitionist.  For a while in the US Navy, you could wear shorts if you were stationed in the tropics, but nobody ever wore them. I suspect nobody ever wore them primarily because you had to wear them with black socks, which is fine if you’re my grandfather, but lame when you’re out hunting pirates. To the best of my knowledge, all national navies require sailors to wear pants.

You can find another excellent article about the lack of duck pants here. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Planning a WDW vacation for grown-ups - part one, the basics

This year, I am graduating from law school.  Like scores of Super Bowl winners, I decided I wanted to celebrate with a trip to Disney World.  Makes sense, right?  My husband thought I was a little crazy (since I could have chosen any number of other destinations), but decided to go with it.

We've been to WDW as a family before.  A few years ago we took a family vacation, which was amazing.  We spent about 10 days and visited both Disney and Universal.  We went as a family and sort of flew by the seat of our pants.  We decided each evening what we'd do the next day and over the course of the 10 days, we saw pretty much everything we wanted to see -- no one left thinking "oh wow!  I missed X."

However, this time it's just the two of us and we only have 7 days.  So, we decided to go 100% Disney.  So much has changed in the past couple of years, not so much in the parks themselves, but in the planning, that I thought it was worth a blog post.

I am no novice when it comes to travel planning.  I've organized and executed dozens of vacations over the years, including a number of international trips spanning multiple countries.  I'm used to working with a lot of moving parts.  Somehow, Disney is almost as complex as one of those trips.

Here are my recommendations.  I think much of it could be applied to a family trip as well, but children come with a host of other considerations (meal times, bedtimes, etc), so that would likely add another level of complexity:

1.  Choose a time to go.  Some people are very lucky and can go on vacation whenever the mood strikes, or whenever the deals are good.  As teachers, we're pretty limited to school vacations -- which is also the worst time to go to a Disney park, but we work with what we've got.  Certain times of year have their own benefits - some people love the holiday season and the magical decorations, Epcot has the annual Flower and Garden Festival in the spring, as well as the Food and Wine Festival in the fall - any of these "special" times of year add another facet of excitement.

Basically all of the red dots are school vacations

2.  Once you've got your time frame, then start working on lodging.  I recommend finding a place to sleep before booking airfare.  If your days have to shift a tiny bit to get the best deals, you don't want to be caught with a non-refundable ticket that throws everything off.

There are a few types of lodging when it comes to WDW: Disney properties, non-Disney hotels, and timeshare.

Disney properties in Orlando are much different than in Anaheim.  As frequent DL visitors, we don't even think about Disney properties.  Disneyland only has 3 hotels and all three are very expensive.  A "good deal" at a Disneyland hotel in the low season will still cost $200 or more per night.  Disney World is massive and has space for numerous hotels, at a variety of price points.  

Look at all these hotels!

Disney properties have a lot of benefits - extra hours in the park, quick and easy transportation, the option of using the Disney Dining Plan, an all encompassing Magic Band (both DDP and MB are new since our last visit - so more on that later), and general Disney fun.  Some of the resorts are themed up to the nines.  

Pool and room at Disney's Art of Animation Resort

Others are more subtle and traditional

Saratoga Springs Resort

But it's Disney, and that's kind of what you pay for.  More than anywhere else, Disney has perfected the art of the "package deal".  You pay upfront and then don't worry about anything - ever.  It's almost like a cruise.  Your room, theme park tickets, meals, transportation, and more can all be handled by Disney for one price.  Yes, you'll buy other things, but if you stay with Disney you can use a cardless system and not even have to carry any money!

Prices at Disney resorts range from "Value" (which can be less than $100 per night) to "Deluxe" ($500 or more) and everything in between.  There's even a campground if that's your thing.  

Hotels off property are plentiful.  There are hundreds, if not thousands of hotels in the Orlando area.  The only place in America with more available hotel rooms on a given day is Las Vegas.  Orlando doesn't have the mega-resorts that we have, but they do have plenty of hotels.  If you choose to stay off property, there are less expensive options - one could reasonably find a hotel for $50 per night in all but the busiest times of year.  I'd advise using Trip Advisor or something similar to make sure you don't end up in a total dud of a hotel, but travel is always a risk -- that's part of the fun!

I'm putting timeshare resorts in their own category, because they aren't technically hotels, although you can make reservations similarly to hotels.  For anyone that's never stayed in a timeshare resort, they may be a good option for a lengthy trip.  (In full disclosure, Mike and I own a timeshare, but I'm not even going to tell you the name of the company so you don't think I'm trying to sell anything)  

Typically the difference between a timeshare and a hotel is size.  A timeshare will be a bit (or a lot) larger with a full kitchen.  Think of it as a short-term apartment rental.  You can rent anything from a studio with a mini-kitchen to a 3-bedroom/3 bath deluxe.  Surprisingly, a timeshare can be competitively priced to a hotel -- largely because Orlando has more timeshare resorts than any other location in the world - hands down.  

The upsides, in addition to the extra space, are the abilities to cook your own meals (or at least keep some food around), do laundry (as most will have a washer/dryer), and sleep more people in the space comfortably.  Even a one bedroom unit will have a pullout sofa for two more adults.  A timeshare feels like a home away from home.  It is an apartment in every sense.

The downside, however, is that it is a "hotel" in the sense that you're renting a room short term, without all the perks of a hotel.  There isn't daily housekeeping; you do sort of need to clean up after yourself on a day-to-day.  There isn't a "free breakfast" or some of those other perks hotels can offer.  You will have a pool and clubhouse, but that's about it.  Also, some places are relentless about calling to see if you want to sit through their timeshare presentation.  Unless you really are interested, skip it.  They take a long time and the "free gift" they give you isn't ever that good.

So now, you've got a date and a place to sleep... next step... getting there!

Monday, January 4, 2016

RunDisney for non-runners: Part 2, the race!

The most exciting part of a RunDisney race, is without question, the race!  You've trained, you've prepared, you've got your amazing outfit... and now it all comes down to race time.  The excitement is mind-blowing.  There are thousands, literally thousands of people running this race with you and they ALL want you to succeed.

Seriously - look at all these people

Disney races start incredibly early - generally around 5am.  Why 5am?  Because you need to get through the parks before they open for the day.  Oh yes, you get to run through Disneyland/World while it's closed.  

As I said in my last post, we've only run the Anaheim races, so I can't speak to the Orlando courses, but I imagine the concepts are similar.  

Star Wars 10K map 2015

Look at that!  While we did start off by running to the highway and back, we circled back and ran through both Disneyland and California Adventure... not just the parks, but the backlots that guests normally don't see.  3 1/2 of the 6 miles in the 10K course were in and around the parks themselves.  Going through the parks is incredible.  There are hundreds of cast members standing out cheering the runners on, giving high-fives, and generally making everything exciting.  The city of Anaheim also provides some cheerleaders, marching bands, and random citizens to make running down the road tolerable.  During the Avengers race, there was a huge cos-play group decked out in full costume by the side of the road during a really boring part.  So, not only are there thousands of fellow runners hoping you succeed, there are thousands of cheering spectators rooting you on!

But, I digress.

So, it's 5am, you're in a crowd with 10,000 other people dressed like Chewbaccas and Storm Troopers (or whatever the theme may be), and you're waiting.  There's a lot of waiting for your turn.  So, you meet new people, talk about random Disney things and mentally prepare.

Our race experience has been "winter" races - November and January, so it's pretty chilly at 5am.  But, after running 6 or 13 miles, it's anything but.  I wear a throw-away sweatshirt while I'm standing around and leave it at the start line.  Disney actually collects them up and donates them to a local shelter.  It keeps me warm while I'm waiting, but I don't have to carry it with me.  Some people toss them later on the course, but I'm ok once I start going.

Buy it at Goodwill and throw that bad boy away!

Besides - I want to look awesome the entire time I'm running.

Look at my muscles!

So now --- 3... 2.. 1... Go!  Disney starts in waves, so about 20% of the group will go, then there's a 5 minute wait before the next group, and so on.  You're assigned a group when you register and unless you have a provable history of running fast, you'll be somewhere towards the back of the pack.

It's finally your turn... and off you go!  Some people will be faster than you; some people will be slower than you, and it's all ok.  Go your own pace.  Unless you are the very last person in the very last group to start, you have a little bit of leeway in your pacing.  The official Disney rule is that you have to maintain a 16 minute mile.  But what that technically means is they start timing 16 minutes per mile after the last person crosses the start line.  Honestly, my final time for the Star Wars 10K last year was almost 17:20 per mile... and I finished ahead of about 800 people.

As you go through, enjoy the sites, take a couple of selfies as time allows, and if you're really ahead of schedule, get a couple of RunDisney photos.  There are a number of character and site stops throughout the race.  Some of them have longer lines (Darth Vader was SUPER long), and some of them are short (Cinderella's castle).  Depending on how you're doing, you may be able to pause for the photo-op.  Mike liked taking selfies.

Mostly, I recommend having an amazing playlist programmed onto your phone and just enjoying the sites.  It is hard.  You will be tired, but you'll eventually finish and then you'll get your medal.  And you want to know a secret... it's the same medal everyone else gets.  No one knows if you're first or last, you finished... which is more than most people will ever do!

I was super-slow... but I got it anyway, because I finished!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

RunDisney for non-runners: Part 1, before the race

Exactly one year ago, Mike and I were thinking about dropping out of our first RunDisney race. We were signed up for the inaugural Star Wars 10K and were wondering if we could cut it.

RunDisney is amazing in many ways, but it can be incredibly intimidating to a non-runner. This post is going to go through some of the ins and outs of RunDisney for someone that's never tried it. 

Today - Part 1... Before the race:

First - sign up early. These races can sell out quickly. Entries go on sale 6-10 months before the race and the most popular races and events can sell out within hours. Some won't sell out as quickly and can be picked up later; a friend of mine picked up a Tinkerbell 1/2 marathon entry about six months after they went on sale without issue (even as I write this, I see there are some 1/2 marathon race bibs available).  But things like the Star Wars events, for example, are completely sold out and have been for quite some time.  We signed up for our first few races through a third party service - RunDisney partners with a few different agents, but we love Jim and Pat Stone at Acclaim Travel.  They make the registration process seamless. We paid more, but the races were sold out and they came with park tickets - more on that later. 

Next - train. If you've never participated in anything of this distance, train a lot. You don't have to start running like a fool, but put in some distance every day. 6 miles, or 13 miles is a long way if you've never gone that far at once. For me, walking a couple miles, or even a 5k wasn't a huge deal, but I wasn't prepared for the sheer endurance it would take to finish a whole 10k.  

This is where Mike and I slipped up the first time. We'd been training, but then I injured myself and needed to spend a few weeks resting. It threw everything off and we never got back in the groove. We doubled down the last couple weeks, but it was still rough.

To prepare for our second race, we consistently did 8 mile walks (at least once a week), and did shorter walks 3-4 times per week.  We worked up to jogging after a little bit, and started reducing our time to make sure we could improve our time for the second race.

Since we were not runners, or even in very good shape before we started this ordeal, it wasn't easy.  For a casual runner, it would probably be less taxing, but we were in it for the experience.

Finally, pack your bags and head to Disney!  The check in process is pretty lengthy, so make sure to get there in plenty to of time. We typically go an entire day before our race so we can check in and hang out in Disneyland. 

Here are the things I recommend taking with you:

1.  Race Costume - the Disney races are incredible.  Most people wear a costume of some sort, or at the very least a themed t-shirt.  Our first race, we wore sweatpants and Star Wars t-shirts.  For the Avengers races, we felt we needed to amp it up.

2.  Running shoes - this should be obvious, but your shoes need to be comfortable.  I add my own insoles to my shoes for comfort.  I like these, but everyone needs to find something that will be comfortable.

3.  Race snacks - There's a lot of standing around before the race starts, so we bring some power bars to snack on while we are lining up.  Mike also likes the "power beans" or the running gels for during the race.  These are just enough sugar to give you a little boost of energy.  They sell these things at the race expo, but they're much cheaper if you buy ahead of time.

3.  Post-race relaxation... whatever you need... bubble bath, muscle roller, compression socks, etc.  After the first race, I realize I'd never been so tired in my life.  All of those things helped me relax and kept my muscles from seizing up.

4.  Disney clothes!  After the race,  you'll want to hit Disneyland/World (we do California races, but all of these hints work for Florida too!).  We always make sure to have our Disney clothes so after a good breakfast, we're ready to go.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic

The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic

One of my all-time favorite rides at Disneyland, like many folks, is the Haunted Mansion.  It has that perfect mixture of elegant Victorian style and wacky design, that combination of humor and horror that transcends the decades. Most of all, it doesn’t tone down the scary bits for the sake of the little ones. It reminds me of this quote from Maurice Sendak:

“. . .from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustrations as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.” 

I believe that Old Walt understood this on some deep level. It’s okay for your children to be frightened sometimes. They’re going to be scared off and on (often for excellent reasons) for the rest of their lives. By sheltering children from all fear, you’re not protecting your children, you’re crippling them. Hence, the Haunted Mansion ride.

For the next couple of weeks, I will periodically review and discuss The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (and hopefully blog some about Scrooge McDuck comic books, or maybe just Marvel/Disney comic books in general). Let’s begin by judging this book by its cover:

Sadly, the glowing-in-the-dark paint wears out quickly
As you can see, it’s the classic 1969 poster (it’s driving me crazy that I can’t find the names of the artists; I wrote them down and promptly misplaced the note). What you can’t see is that the three hitchhikers are glow-in-the-dark. Is this a reason to buy the book? No. Does it look cool on the coffee table when the lights are off and you’re watching TV? Heck yes it does. 

The author, Jason Surrel, has a wealth of experience writing about Disney, including a previous book about the Haunted Mansion (which looks cool, but is out of print and very expensive from secondary retailers), books about Pirates of the Caribbean, books about imagneering in general, and being the showrunner for half a dozen theme park rides and attractions. His prose is clear and informative. My only real criticism isn't so much of his writing, but of the layouts. The pictures aren't always labelled very well, nor do they always fall where expected. Much of the time, I'm not sure what I'm looking at.

The history of the ride is interesting and clearly presented. Short version: it was planned for the original Disneyland park in 1955, but due to several curious complications (creative differences, the death of Walt, the World's Fair, and others) it wasn't completed until 1969. Being an instant classic, it was exported to other parks when they opened or soon after, but all underwent modifications from the original Disneyland. A French-style mansion didn't make a whole lot of sense in Paris, for instance, so they changed it to an Old West mansion in Frontierland and the ride finishes in a ghost town called Phantom Ranch.

Why does the French ending vary so much? The book doesn't say, but the truth is, the Old American West is weirdly popular in France and Germany (and I presume in the rest of Western Europe), and has been for a hundred years. To me, the American West is where I keep my stuff. To many Europeans, it has the same allure and mysteriousness that the heart of Africa might have. Cowboys and Indians have been the subjects of thousands of books, movies, and songs; one TV miniseries from the 1950s or 60s inspired a yearly parade in some German towns; there are entire museums devoted to America's First People (and proudly still displaying scalps taken as war trophies, but that's a different blog post entirely).

Hong Kong's Mystic Manor seems like the place to go (music by Danny Elfman!), but I'll write more about that later. If you're curious or impatient, you can buy the book (published by Disney itself and targeted at D23 members) here.

You can also check out Doom Buggies, home of the Haunted Mansion Fan Club and source for another HM book, The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion. I'll read and review that one as soon as I get the chance, but you should know that there's a lot of cool stuff going on at that site!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Introducing Us

So - this is us...

Michael and Jessica Gandy
(and Navidad Donald)

We've been married for about 5 years and while we've always had an affection for Disney, we recently amped it up a little when we started participating in RunDisney races and became Disneyland annual pass holders because of our frequent visits.  So far, we've participated in both the Star Wars and Avengers races in 2015, and are planning the Star Wars, Tinkerbell, and (maybe) Disneyland 1/2 Marathon for 2016.

We live in Las Vegas, so Disneyland is a nice weekend getaway for us.  We are both high school teachers, so we have predictable schedules, weekends off, and the ability to get away pretty regularly.  We started by going occasionally, but have started visiting much more frequently when we realized what a fantastic time we could have.

 I mean, where else can a couple of grown-ups spend the day taking photos in giant cartoon cars and seem totally normal?

Of course, we love to ride all of the rides.  Mike's favorites are Space Mountain and California Screamin', while I will always be partial to some of the more nostalgic rides like It's a Small World and the Splash Mountain.  But don't get me wrong, I love them all.

The real fun started when we realized how much Disneyland there was and despite our numerous visits, how much we had yet to experience.  On our last visit, we wandered into Pixie Hollow for the first time and were blown away.  Not that it was amazing in and of itself, but that it existed.  Also, it's very weird.  :)

While Disneyland is our "home" park, we visited Disney World in the summer of 2013 and Disneyland Paris in the summer of 2014. We are currently planning to return to Disney World this March (2016) and hopefully will have the opportunity to visit Disney Paris again soon, along with all of the Asian parks - Disney Tokyo, Hong Kong Disney, and the soon-to-open Shanghai Disney.

So then, why Duckberg?  Why not just Disney?  I'll let Mike explain more fully on his own, but it comes down to his love of everything Uncle Scrooge, and Duck in general.  In some ways, that (and the Star Wars race) is what kicked this whole thing off.  At the end of the day, we have such an amazing time & that's what really matters, right?