Chapter 1: The Three “P”s — Peer Pressure & Planning: This trip was born around the beginning of the year, when a couple of my Flickr contacts informed me of a photography oriented trip they would be taking in October with some other folks from Flickr (see above cast list for links to their photography). Initially, I declined, citing monetary costs and Sarah’s class schedule as prohibitive. They persisted in pressuring us to take the trip, and eventually we agreed. I don’t think it’s ever really that tough to pressure a couple of Disney geeks into taking a trip to their favorite place.
The one thing that was tough, at least for me, was the idea of taking two trips in such close proximity to one another. The last two years, we’ve done trips in mid August, and then again in late November/early December. While I have always enjoyed the Winter trips for the Christmas decorations and atmosphere of the parks, I have felt that the anticipation for the trip can’t grow enough in the three or so month break between trips. This is the same reason I would be hesitant to ever move to Florida. I think some of the luster would wear off.
Part of this preparation process included determining what we would be for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Normally, I make all of my costumes by hand, which generally means sewing for a while until my hands get tired, then trying to glue or staple the rest of the fabric together. The results are generally less-than-stellar. We initially wanted something that said “Disney.”
After learning that Buzz Aldrin and some other astronauts would be at the Magic Kingdom on the day of the MNSSHP that we were attending, we decided to go as astronauts. We figured we could wear the costumes for the parade, and for Buzz Aldrin’s book signing; an added bonus! The decision was helped by the fact that Sarah had access to an astronaut flight suit, so only I would have to find or make a costume. Even after we made this decision, I hesitated to buy my supplies, continually scouring the internet hoping that I could find a cheaper flightsuit. Finally, I had the realization that my supplies wouldn’t arrive in time if I didn’t order right away, so I started messaging sellers on eBay, asking how quickly they could ship the patches I needed. Ultimately, everything did arrive in time with the exception of a cool ISTC patch that would give my space suit an extra touch of “Disney”, but my heart was racing each day I checked the mail prior to our trip.
The trip was initially set for October 1st until October 4th, which would cause Sarah and I to miss two days of school. I am not all that wild about class, so I wasn’t too concerned with this. In any case, my grades are based entirely on finals, and the month before those finals is the time when I do most of my work for the semester, so it wouldn’t make too much of a difference if I missed a couple of classes. Still, it isn’t encouraged for us to miss class to visit our favorite Disney Parks. The more we thought about it, the more we realized four days was not nearly enough time at Walt Disney World. So we decided to extend the trip by one day, until October 5th, after everyone else left. You’re only young once, and we certainly won’t be able to ‘skip’ work like this next year, so we might as well make the most of our forgivable irresponsibility.
Packing this time was a bit more sporadic and last minute. Of course, this resulted in us forgetting some essential items. Such as our Annual Passes and Disney’s Magical Express luggage tags and tickets. However, don’t worry, we remembered the absolute essentials: extra socks. I guess this will only fuel the fire for those nightmares I have in the weeks preceding our trips in which I forget to pack items for the trip (although usually these are photography-related). Luckily, and thanks to those many nightmares which have caused me to be extra cautious about packing my photo-gear, I didn’t forget any of that. That might have made for one disappointing photography trip!
Getting to Walt Disney World meant either taking the short train ride to Chicago or driving back to Indianapolis. Since our little hellion children, Walter and Yossarian, definitely could not be trusted to behave themselves alone at home for the weekend, we opted to fly out of Indianapolis, where their grandma could watch them, feed them, and take them outside when they needed to use the bathroom.
We left for Indianapolis Wednesday after class. If everything went according to plan, we would be in Indianapolis by 8 p.m., and in bed by 9 p.m.. Well, as they say, the best laid plans of mice, men, and Disney trip planners, often go awry. We got to Indy at 8:30 p.m., at which time I threw my orange space flightsuit in the wash to try to shrink it a bit. After it was done, I began attaching the patches with the iron. The first one went on without incident. As I was attaching the second, I noticed it wasn’t sticking. Come to find out, the remaining three patches were not iron-on. I had no clue how to attach the remaining patches. Like me, Sarah is somewhat remedial when it comes to home economics, and she suggested I use nail glue. Well, that was a disaster. I didn’t think to put a towel between the layers of the costume, so the glue seeped through, and I ended up with a glue spot on the other side of the costume. To add insult to injury, the nail glue didn’t work. While I tried to remediate the issues, Sarah went to Wal-Mart to get the proper glue. Upon her return, I finished the costume, and we finally headed to bed at around 11:30 p.m..
Chapter 2: The First Morning is Always the Slowest
As always, the next morning arrived quickly. It still surprises me a bit that I can sleep the night prior to our trip, because I always am so excited when I head to bed. Sure enough, though, always lights out (I’m probably jinxing myself for the next trip by writing this)! That morning, only one thing raced through my head: Sausage McMuffins. In retrospect, I probably should have double-checked that we had everything packed so that we would remember our DME stuff and Annual Passes, but once my mind becomes fixated on Sausage McMuffins, the only remedy is consumption of Sausage McMuffins.
While we got ready, our sons Yossarian and Walter guarded the suitcases. Sarah’s dad arrived at 7:00 a.m. to pick us up, and we headed off to the airport for our flight. When we arrived at the airport, we had a good deal of time until our 10:45 a.m., which afforded us more time to savor the delicious McDonald’s (although Sarah opted for the treasonous route and got a breakfast burrito from Qdoba’s rather than the delicious American fare of Mickey D’s; I informed her the founding fathers would be spinning in their graves. She was not fazed). I got a kick out of harassing Sarah while she ate her breakfast burrito by taking pictures of her, and I got some fairly humorous pictures, but I am smart enough not to post those here.
After breakfast, Sarah had some work to do for an online class, during which time I decided to put on the Tomorrowland Area Music loop and take a nap. Really, though, when you’re listening to the Tomorrowland Area Music while sleeping, it’s not a nap, nor is it sleep, at all. It’s more like being cryogenically frozen or put into hypersleep and then ‘appearing’ in the future (just don’t have Alcor do it for you!). When I awoke, it was time to head towards our gate to board our flight.
Sarah and I always fly Southwest, and the day before each flight, we sit at our computers refreshing until we are able to check into our flight. We do this so we can sit in the front seats on the plane. We rarely are not the first two people to check in online. With the introduction last summer of the reserved spaces for business class passengers, we were a little concerned that we would no longer be able to sit in the front. However, Southwest is not popular for business travelers, or at least not popular for business travelers from Indianapolis to Orlando, so that has never been an issue. Prior to our trip this time, a new system was released, allowing individuals to pay $10 more for priority check-in. This spoiled our front row plans. I don’t quite get it; the only reason we thought anyone flew Southwest was because the airline was so cheap. I am a bit surprised that anyone (who is cheap like us) would be willing to pay $10 more for priority seating. Kudos to Southwest, though, as it seems to be making them money.
The flight arrived early, as always, and I am beginning to wonder why they don’t just advertise the flights being shorter if they can make them shorter 95% of the time. I know it always makes people happy to see the flight ‘beat expectations’, but are people really this stupid? I think most individuals who fly realize that most flights don’t take as long as initially stated. Do the airlines think we are ‘more satisfied’ because they beat false expectations and delivered a ‘shorter’ flight? I guess it’s the same marketing theory at work that makes people come to WDW because they’re getting a ‘great discount’ on their vacation package, even though no one ever pays rack rate. I guess that explains why Disney keeps raising ticket and food prices. Few people are paying those prices anyway, why not make the percentage discount of the packages appear greater?
I’ve commented in the past that, no matter how many times we fly into Orlando International, in the heat of the moment we get excited, and forget the way to DME. Well, this time we had to go to baggage claim first, but we decided to take a divide and conquer approach with Sarah heading to DME to get our tickets printed, and me heading to the baggage claim to get the bags. By luck or divine intervention, not only did I make it to baggage claim without getting lost, but I also took the correct route from baggage claim to DME. Sarah, however, took a bit of a more scenic route.
Even with the slowdown from picking up our own baggage, we still made it from the plane to the DME bus within 25 minutes. This is probably the fastest we’ve ever boarded the DME bus. Looks like we should forget our luggage tags more often!
When we got on the bus, the driver announced that we’d be stopping at Old Key West, Saratoga Springs, Port Orleans French Quarter, and Fort Wilderness. In the past when we had stayed at Saratoga, Fort Wilderness had always been the first stop, but given Murphy’s Law, I assumed we’d be last.
Old Key West and Saratoga were the first two stops, and I have to say, I am somewhat glad we made the stops there. I always love seeing our ‘Home’ at Saratoga, and it made me get a little more excited for our Honeymoon, which is currently booked at SSR. Then, we stopped at Old Key West, which made me a little more excited. I figure we will have no difficulty getting into Old Key West at 7 months if our other preferences don’t pan out, and I really think Old Key West has an underrated beauty. In case you’re curious, we’re hoping for Bay Lake Tower, Beach Club Villas, BoardWalk Villas, or Old Key West, in that order. I think Beach Club will probably be the most difficult to score out of all of those. Looks like we’ll find out in November–we’ll be warming up those dialing fingers and calling early!
After we stopped at Port Orleans, the bus began heading towards Fort Wilderness. We booked Fort Wilderness, essentially, for lack of a better option. I wasn’t so enthused about this idea, but it was the cheapest option when we booked a room at the last minute (we almost did the Dolphin, but it was more expensive and we’d have to rent a car or pay for a shuttle in lieu of DME). When I was young, my parents and I used to stay at Fort Wilderness in our camper. However, I hadn’t stayed there in roughly 15 years. The few memories prior to this trip that I could recall from Fort Wilderness are good ones. I remember getting a Dale (dressed in his Chip ‘N’ Dale Hawaiian shirt) plush on one of our first trips there at the Outpost, and I remember going to the Hoop De Doo Revue a couple of times, but that’s about it. My biggest concern initially was the internal bus routes at the Fort, as I have heard that they can make getting to and from the Parks a pain.
Some of those fears were alleviated the weekend before our trip after doing some more research and stumbling upon the Disboards Camping Board. The best way I can describe that board is as a close-knit community of Fort Wilderness lovers who seem to have more fun there than any of us typical “Resort-Goers” and have a great amount of knowledge about Fort Wilderness. After spending a couple hours combing the Fort Wilderness Picture of the Day thread, I became very excited about staying at the Fort. I also talked to Cory Disbrow, who is a huge fan of the resort, and he gave me some tips for the stay. All in all, I ended up being pretty excited about staying there, and I was moderately enthused about the photographic possibilities for the resort. I would be even more enthused if I could somehow make my way over into River Country.
We wouldn’t have too much time to enjoy Fort Wilderness, as we would be leaving for the Studios immediately upon arrival. We first met up with our friend Nick, who is a Cast Member at the Coral Reef, then we checked in. After we checked in, we waited for a van to take us to our room. It took the van about 15 minutes to pick us up, and my mind began thinking, “so it begins” with the Fort Wilderness transportation system. The van finally picked us up, we got into the room where I snapped some quick pictures, and we prepared to head to the park.
I had planned on requesting a room in the 2800 loop upon check-in so that we could walk to the Outpost Depot. However, doing Online Check-In precluded me from doing this, and we ended up in the 2500 loop, near the bus stop. The pictures of the inside of the cabin don’t really do it justice. These cabins are really nice; I would say they are easily on par with a DVC room as far as amenities go. About the only thing missing was a washing machine and dryer, but we didn’t need it, so it wasn’t a big loss. I really liked all of the pictures in the room–the old Fort Wilderness train was definitely my favorite. Upon leaving our room, a bus almost immediately picked us up. The bus at the Outpost took only a few minutes, and we were off to the Studios.
Chapter 3: Starting at the Studios…Again
Upon arrival, we had our Annual Passes re-printed. Then I called Matt and Jeff, two of the out of town Disney fan-photographers who were meeting us for the trip. They were over on the Streets of America, watching Mulch, Sweat, and Shears with Susan, a local WDW fan-photographer, and her husband, Bill. After saying our initial ‘hellos’ over the deafening sound of the band, we took some more pictures and headed over to Lights, Motors, Action.
I often get comments in the Parks about my “fancy” equipment (to which I don’t really know how to respond. “Thanks” I guess?). Most people don’t carry more than a point and shoot camera, and those who do have DSLRs usually carry just the camera and the kit lens. Maybe a 50mm as well. I would say I probably have more gear with me than 99.5% of the guests in the Park on any given day. However, this day, I felt a bit inadequate. As we approached Matt and Jeff, I saw Matt armed with duel Canon 5DmkIIs, his grey L series 70-200 and a bag loaded with gear, and Jeff with his 5D and 70-200 f/2.8L IS. Suffice to say, with my D90 and 50mm mounted, I felt a little inadequate. I guess I didn’t realize just how large those 70-200 Canon lenses are. The things are monsters. I guess I really should look into getting a 70-200 f/2.8 soon. Even my 18-200 (my largest lens) is probably only 1/3 of the size of one of those lenses. It might be a pain to carry such a big lens around all day, but like any typical man, my masculinity is more important than a slight inconvenience. Oh yeah, and it would make for some sweet shooting, too (that 18-200 just doesn’t work well enough to control depth of field).
Sarah and I have ever only seen LMA once; it was on our first trip together in 2006. It was raining on and off that day, and we had to wait nearly an hour for the show to start. Then, once the show did start, it seemed to drag on forever. Since that experience, we had not been back. We were a bit reluctant to see it again, but figured maybe our opinion was based upon the hour long weather induced wait. It was not. The show is neat, but is about 20 minutes too long, and just generally seems dull–which is really odd given that it’s an action show. Even photography-wise, it does very little for me. We won’t be back for a while.
After LMA, we headed to Star Tours. Barring some unplanned trip in the near future, this would probably be the last time we would experience the current incarnation of Star Tours. Sarah wasn’t too upset by the prospect. Simulators are not exactly her favorite type of ride. I was a bit more sad, as I love the current version for reasons of nostalgia. The queue is excellent, the pre-ride boarding area and video remind me of my youth, and the attraction itself is fun. I think of all the little details, like the post-show posters for all of the travel ‘destinations’, and hope that those details will exist in the next incarnation of the attraction. I have faith in George Lucas and Disney (they both may independently screw up a lot, but I figure if each bat .500, hopefully they bat 1.000 together…or would they be batting .250 together?!).
We then headed onwards to One Man’s Dream, where we saw the film for the first time. The film was excellent and very interesting, but I don’t think I’d watch it again. There really isn’t anything all that special about experiencing it at WDW, and I would get the same experience out of watching it on my iPod while not at WDW. I think WDW time is too valuable to spend on things like this. It was definitely worth seeing in the Park once, but that’s enough for us.
Following One Man’s Dream, we headed over to Toy Story Mania so Matt, one of the photographers on the trip, could meet up a college friend. During that time, we saw the Luxo Jr. show for the first time. I was very impressed with this, and it just goes to show you the neat little details that are throughout the Parks. I can only imagine how much that cost from design to completion, and I’m sure it wasn’t cheap. For all of the bashing of Team Disney Orlando that goes on in the forums, something must be said for things like this (although I’m sure the standard retort would be that “Lasseter got it done!” Well, how do you know that? Lasseter is a busy man; making sure a Luxo Jr. gets put into DHS wouldn’t seem high on his list of must do projects) that won’t necessarily draw crowds or ‘pay for itself’, but is an excellent detail that will enhance the Guest experience.
Once Luxo Jr. completed his show, I headed around to the front of the BAH/BFH to get some shots with my Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 Ultra Wide Angle lens. I’ve discussed this lens at length in our last trip report (and you can read my full review of it here), but I have a bit more to say about it. I am absolutely enamored with the lens. Prior to purchasing it, I was on the fence about getting a UWA or a fisheye lens or neither. I considered not getting either because I thought both were ‘niche’ lenses that wouldn’t get much use. Ultimately, I got the UWA for this very reason: because I determined the fisheye wouldn’t get enough use. I still figured only around 5-10% of my shots would utilize the UWA.
Well, I certainly was wrong in a big way. Over the past two trips, not including dark ride shots, probably around 50% of my shots have been with the UWA. I think at some point people are going to think it’s overkill or that I took the shots with the UWA just for the sake of the UWA (I know the feeling–it always irritates me when people add an ‘artistic’ tilt to images for no reason whatsoever. It’s like they’re trying too hard to make the image artistic. Well, slanting an image just for the sake of slanting it doesn’t make it artistic, but I digress…), but I don’t think I’ve hit that point yet (at least I hope not). The UWA is great for close-ups, introducing distortion, heck, even fireworks. It’s an excellent lens (type), and something that needs to be in any Disney photographer’s bag.
Following my BAH picture session, Sarah, Nick, and I headed over to Tower of Terror. Guess what? We got one of the ‘rare’ ghost guest sequences during our ride. First time since 2007!!! It was amazing. Okay, maybe not that great, but it was pretty cool. I think I write this every time I write a trip report, but I love looking for all of the little Twilight Zone references in that attraction. I swear I see something new each time we ride. Is there a list online of all the references? I’d love to see it.
At this point, we were all getting pretty hungry, so we stopped to eat at the food stands (the name of which elude me right now) near Tower of Terror. In an uncharacteristic betrayal of the House that Sonny Eclipse Built, I had a burger. It was alright, but without that topping bar, it just isn’t the same. We then hit Great Movie Ride and the guys grabbed their tripods in preparation for Fantasmic, before we headed to the 9:30 p.m. showing.
We only arrived at the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater about 20 minutes before the show, but we still got really good spots. In fact, given the relatively light crowds, I was somewhat surprised Disney extended the park hours by a half hour that night and added a second showing of Fantasmic. Where were those extended hours in the elbow to a…… crowds that we experienced in August?
Sarah is not especially keen on Fantasmic, and while I think it’s alright, it certainly is my least favorite nighttime show on property. Something about a show full of water projections and Pocahontas scenes just doesn’t do it for me. I don’t think a new dragon would do it for me either (the dragon didn’t even come out on this particular night!). The show needs some better effects, and less Pocahontas. I don’t think WDW still needs to be advertising the “newly released” Pocahontas, so it’s time for a change. Here’s a good idea–theme the show to Meet the Robinsons, so the show is incredibly dated again in 10 years (as I’m sure it would take that long to update again), when no one has heard of Pocahontas. I guess the one positive is that Pocahontas wasn’t a flop, so it doesn’t feel incredibly dated. Still, Pocahontas falls far short of being an animated classic, in my mind.
After Pocahontasmic!, we began shooting pictures. Jeff headed to the front of the park (rookie mistake ;)) while Matt, Sarah, and I stayed back by Tower of Terror. We quickly got shoed away from this area, as there was an after-hours private party being held near Rock ‘N’ Rollercoaster. Shooting went well that night, although I could already sense a trend that would dominate that trip. Since I was usually using the UWA lens, I would usually get really close to the subjects. Well, this didn’t work out so well for Matt and Sarah, who were using the longer end of their lenses, meaning they were standing farther away, and also meaning that me and my tripod were in their way. Given that we had up to 6 tripods operating all at once at various times in the trip, this was bound to happen at some times, and I think we handled it fairly well most of the time, but then again, maybe I only think that because I was always the one that was getting in the way, not the one having others obstruct my shots.
One way I screwed up, and it would have been such an easy thing to correct, was in failing to use the flash gels I bought for the trip. I carried them with me each day, but I didn’t use them once. They would have been really helpful, mostly for these night shots of us, but I just flat out forgot to use them. In a few instances, I used Smart Objects in Photoshop to do separate white balances for us and for the background, but that was a huge pain. Next time, I am making sure I use the gels. Maybe I will write it on my hand or something.
When we finished shooting the Studios, I suggested we head over to the EPCOT resorts to do some more nighttime shooting. As Jeff turned around to answer, the look on his face answered before he even opened his mouth. I can’t really blame them, as both had fairly early flights (Jeff had been up since before 5 a.m.). Sarah and I opted to not go by ourselves (the look on her face told me that she didn’t want to go, either). Little did I know that Joe, who had just arrived in town, had the same idea as me, and was out shooting those resorts as we spoke! Drats!
We finally got back to our room at around 11:45 p.m.. It’s an absolute rarity for us to get back to our room this early, and I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I really wanted to go take pictures of our resort, but figured I should acclimate myself to the grounds during the day, so I didn’t get lost at night and consumed by Grizzly Bears (well, since there are no known Grizzly Bears in Fort Wilderness, I suppose Alligators or Armadillos would be my more likely predators). Instead, I went to bed. That turned out to be a terrible decision. Although Sarah fell right asleep, I could not get a wink of sleep over her deafening snoring. We actually got a call from the front desk telling us to keep the noise down.
Chapter 4: All Hallow’s Eve — In Early October?!
Okay, that isn’t true, Sarah doesn’t really snore. The real problem was that I consumed 32 ounces of Coca Cola just three hours earlier. I don’t normally ever drink caffeine, and I assumed we’d be up later, so this much caffeine really did a number on me. I finally got to sleep only to wake up less than three hours later, still jittery from the caffeine. At that point, I figured I might as well get up and go take some sunrise shots of Fort Wilderness–and the shot I really wanted to get, the sunrise over the Contemporary.
The walk from our loop to the Marina was a nice one. It was cool seeing all of the decorations people had set out, and it was fun checking each trash can for the elusive “Musket Mickey” (I found one) and the even more rare “River Country” trashcans (didn’t find one; I don’t even know if there are still any around). When I got to the Marina twenty-five minutes later, I had a startling realization: I don’t know a lick about geography or meteorology. Many of you may know that the Contemporary Resort cannot be seen from the Fort Wilderness Marina (if you don’t have personal experience, maybe your intuition or logic informs you that it can’t). I didn’t. Many of you may additionally know that the sun rises in the east. I didn’t (or at least I didn’t think about it this particular morning). Thus, even if I could have seen the Contemporary from the Marina, the sun would not be rising behind it. I believe this is something the kids would call an “epic fail.”
After my unsuccessful, but very fun, morning shoot, I boarded an internal bus to take me back to our cabin, and finished getting ready. We then headed off to EPCOT. The bus system that morning was very quick; I was pleased, but still weary of the previous day. During the ride, we heard from the guys, who were already at EPCOT waiting for the park to open. Shoot, the first morning and we’re already running late. We finally got to EPCOT 5 minutes before the park opened. When we made it inside, I began speed-walking to Soarin’ to catch up with the rest of the party. In my haste, I passed them; I didn’t stop until I heard a loud “Tom”.
We got our FastPasses for Soarin’, and then headed over to Test Track and Mission:Space. Upon exiting M:S, I noticed they had patches for sale that could take the place of my patch that had not arrived. At $6, I decided to pass. We then headed back to Soarin’, which was great as always. Oddly, there was an announcement totally prohibiting photography. I’ve never heard that one before on Soarin’. We ended up hearing it both times we rode Soarin’ that day. We then headed over to World Showcase, where we contemplated trying to make pigs fly by getting walk up seats for a party of 6 at Nine Dragons. The good news was that they had open tables! The bad news was that the only reason tables were open was because the restaurant had not yet opened when we arrived. Not wanting to wait the 40 minutes to find out that they were booked solid, we ate at Lotus Blossom Cafe. This was a pleasant surprise for Sarah and I. We hedged our bets initially by splitting the Shrimp Fried Rice and getting a side of Egg Rolls after seeing what appeared to be small portions on the menu, but were happy to find that the portions were larger than the menu depictions. Portions bigger than the pictures? That has to be a first!
Following lunch, we headed out to the grounds of China for some photography. Prior to the trip, an unfortunate incident (not self-induced like my tripod fiasco from August) forced Jeff to rent a 5D for the trip. Jeff also grabbed a fisheye lens for the trip. Up until this point in the trip, so far as I know, Jeff had not busted out the fisheye. Then, he did, and all hell broke loose. Like a cruel succubus, that lens would taunt all of us throughout the trip, and I’m sure we’re all closer now to lightening our bank accounts than we were prior to the trip thanks to Jeff. Since Jeff is to blame for us potentially purchasing the lens, I think it’d only be fair if we billed him for it, but something tells me that bill would go delinquent. Check the picture of the day thread
After that, the guys suggested we do something that Sarah and I have never done: watch Reflections of China. I don’t know how we’ve always missed this; perhaps it’s because we always arrive to World Showcase later in the day and I want to make sure we don’t miss the festivities at American Adventure, so we head directly there, overlooking much of the other countries? All I can say is that I’m glad we watched it. While it was no Timekeeper, it was really cool. CircleVision films rock! I think Sarah and I need to start making more of an effort to spend more than a day at EPCOT. One day really isn’t enough time to do everything, especially when we try to do Soarin’ twice each day we’re there, which requires heading back to Future World after we’re in World Showcase.
We then headed back to Soarin’ to use our second FastPasses before heading to pick up our MNSSHP costumes from a locker and catching a monorail over to Magic Kingdom for the pre-parade featuring Buzz Aldrin at 2:45 p.m..
Always ones to cut it close on time, we arrived only a few minutes before the parade began. I didn’t expect the pre-parade to be crowded, as I hadn’t really seen it advertised at all online. I was sadly mistaken. People had signs all over, and Main Street was packed. We couldn’t find any good spots to stand until suddenly a woman recognized me and offered to let us sit near her. Unfortunately her name eludes me now, but I know she had stumbled across the forums while planning her first trip. She seemed to be having an excellent time, and she certainly made our days by making some room for us. If you’re out there now, thanks again for the great spots!
After the pre-parade, our objective was clear. We must ride the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. We headed directly to Tomorrowland for our first ride on the TTA since last December. As we entered the attraction, I heard Nick talking to one of his friends who works in Tomorrowland and the words “new today” were spoken. I didn’t think much of these words at the time, but they foreshadowed the devastation that lie ahead.
As we took our places aboard the ride, I sat back and prepared for the narrator’s deep voice to inundate my ears. Instead, a pimply faced, crackling voice, pre-pubescent teenage boy hiccuped from the speaker, talking about Stitch and Pixar.
Now, I normally don’t mind wussy narration, but this was a big deal to me. A big deal. I know there is some controversy online about this, with many claiming the new narration is better and/or that the narration should not be a big deal. I will now explain how these opinions are patently wrong.
First, the narration is a big deal. This is because it is half of the sensory experience. There is nothing to taste, smell, or touch on TTA so the only experiences are sight and sound. The TTA does offer some pretty good views of Tomorrowland, but it also quite bare in some spaces. Given that you can see Tomorrowland from elsewhere, and given that bareness, I think any argument that the TTA is solely about the sights is fundamentally flawed. The sights may be a large component, but the sounds aboard the TTA are a large part of the experience. The sounds consist of the narration, and the area music. The area music also exists all over Tomorrowland, so it isn’t necessary to visit the TTA specifically for it. That leaves the few show scenes and the narration as the only truly unique aspects of the TTA, if we reduce the ride to its most basic terms. How can the narration not be essential? The answer is that it is essential.
Moreover, and if you don’t buy that argument, it’s a Disney Detail. The argument that people shouldn’t ‘care so much’ about the new narration ignores exactly what sets Disney apart from the competition–attention to detail. Do people honestly think guests should not pay attention to details? That basically would sanction Disney building nothing but unthemed rollercoasters a la Cedar Point or Six Flags. Do any fans really want that? I’ll ignore the discussion about whether it’s the most ‘important’ thing in Tomorrowland. That argument is misguided. All that matters is that it is important. Given that Disney Details are what separates Disney from the competition, every detail is important. I happen to think this is a pretty important detail; maybe not the most important, but pretty high up on the list. Regardless of where you rate it on the list of importance, you should care about it as it is a detail.
Second, there are those who say this version is better. There are generally two camps as far as this goes: those who don’t like it because it was chopped up over the years and/or because they liked the ORAC-1 narration better, and those who just like the new version better. Regarding the former group, I think that’s a dumb rationale. So they like the current version not on its merits versus the last version, but because of some other version that doesn’t really have a horse in the race? That isn’t rationally grounded. I don’t care if the current version were chopped up over the years because: 1) I don’t remember the preceding versions, and 2) that version definitely isn’t coming back. It would be like being okay with the Winnie the Pooh dark ride being replaced with a much worse attraction featuring Stitch, Jar Jar Binks, and Carrot Top. I’m not going to be okay with that simply because I was upset when Pooh replaced Mr. Toad. Mr. Toad, at this point, definitely is not coming back. Pooh getting its “just desserts” is only something I’d advocate if its replacement is superior to it.
The other group, those who just like the new version for its substance, I can understand. At least their reason follows logic. Now, I think it may not be sane to prefer the new version, but it doesn’t have a logical flaw like the other arguments I’ve seen. Of this group, I’ve seen people say it ties together Tomorrowland better. I don’t see how, but whatever. My biggest problem with the new version is the voice, and the lack of anything memorable. The old narration was rife with quotable portions, this new version is mellow and lacks any lasting appeal. I would have been fine with a new narration if they at least made it unique and entertaining. This version simply states what is where–I have no problem with the narrator stating ‘what is where’; that makes sense and is fitting of a transportation system, but why not do it in a fun and memorable manner? Insert witty little catchphrases or some sly humor. Do something, anything, to keep it from being dull. This version is dull. Throwing in some references to the “Peoplemover” to appeal to the Disney purists doesn’t do a whole lot for me. This isn’t all to say that these problems couldn’t be ironed out, and some witty references inserted, and I hope they do just that in the test and adjust phase.
Alright, enough of that rant. It just is a big deal to me, and it’s irritating to see people advocate the new version not because they prefer it, but because they think other people shouldn’t care.
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out–because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out–because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
~Pastor Martin NiemÃ¶ller
I know the TTA isn’t quite equivalent, but you get the idea. After TTA, we headed to Buzz Lightyear’s Spaceranger Spin, where I conquered all! That’s right, I maxed out my gun for the first time ever! I would like to thank a lot of people for helping me in this endeavor. First, I’d like to thank Walt & Roy Disney; without their dreams and visions, my accomplishment would never have been possible. Second, I’d like to thank my parents; without them bringing me into the world, we would never have this great achievement. Finally, I’d like to thank my fiancee, Sarah; without her to whoop on at Buzz, I would’ve never achieved such a brilliant score! As you can probably tell, I was pretty excited about the score.
Following Buzz, we headed to Haunted Mansion, followed by Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and Pirates. The heavy hitters–all within about two hours. That would never have been possible in August! All were as great as usual.
After that we headed to eat at the greatest restaurant in the world. I don’t know if I mentioned it previously, but Jeff and Matt had retired to their rooms for…well, they said to grab their tripods, but since they were both staying at the Contemporary, and it took them several hours to meet back up with us, I’m guessing they actually took naps. Keep in mind, these guys are in their thirties, which means they’re practically pushing daisies already, so the afternoon nap is permissible. I guess. Anyway, I state this now because I was a bit relieved that they weren’t joining us for dinner, as that meant only Joe would see my disgusting burger consumption style at Cosmic Ray’s.
On our way to the restaurant, Joe and I chatted about how cool it would be to be a WDW photographer. He told me about the cool tilt-shift video on the Disney Parks blog, which led to a discussion about how many cool photographs the photographers working for Yellow Shoes (the creative photographers working for Disney–the ones who likely take the images in the souvenir books) take that the world never sees. Given that Disney has several full time photographers, and the company reuses many of the same pictures from souvenir book, I really wonder what these photographers spend their time doing. Obviously they don’t just do souvenir books, and obviously their creativity is constrained in the souvenir books because they must have mainstream appeal, and most people aren’t into creative photography. Still, it would be cool to see a Disney Photography book–one with an art orientation rather than one that just uses pictures to illustrate what attractions exist in the parks. I think our general consensus was that we’d both love to be Disney photographers. Heck, I think I can speak for everyone on the trip in saying that being a Disney photographer (for Yellow Shoes–not PhotoPass or the Fairytale Weddings) would be one cool job. Just imagine all of that access for shots. I am salivating at the thought.
At this point, you may be thinking, “then Tom, why not just tame the act a bit, and not load up on the toppings?” Well, that is one option, and would have preserved proper decorum and probably also preserved Joe’s opinion of me as a decent human being, but it was also the lame way out. Anyone who knows me knows that anything I do, I do in an extreme manner. Surprisingly, Joe didn’t say anything about my mountain of toppings. He’s more polite than I am.
With fully bellies, we headed back out into the park. Nick would not be joining us for the party, Joe wanted to do some Golden Hour shooting, and Sarah and I had to get our costumes put on, so we split up. I presume most people go back to their resorts when it’s time to get costumed up, but not Sarah and I. That commute is valuable Disney time. We had brought our costumes with us, and were not above getting changed in the handicapped stalls in the bathroom. I didn’t see anyone else doing this (not that I was snooping around looking in other stalls…), so I can only assume we’re in the minority. With that accomplished, we emerged as Astronauts!
After picking up our party tickets from Guest Relations, we debated how to proceed. I knew we would be getting character pictures, so I told the guys we’d meet up with them later, knowing they would not want to wait around for us while we embraced our inner children. I had solicited a lot of advice regarding touring plans for MNSSHP, and I received some good advice. However, much of this went out the window when we passed the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs line to find it stretching fairly long at 6:45. We initially planned to get two of the Pooh characters before getting into this line, since Snow White didn’t come out until 7:30, but Snow White was a “must get” for us, and the prospect of waiting in an hour plus long line during the height of the party scared us, so we got into line.
You may wonder why Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would be must get characters for a couple of twenty somethings. Certainly the characters were not staples of our childhood, which is right, but they resonate with us for another reason. You see, Sarah loves Snow White for Princess White’s germ phobia. Like Snow White, she has a dictatorial attitude towards handwashing. For me, the Grumpy hits home. Similar to him, I don’t understand the reason for washing my hands more than once per day, and I can find a reason to complain about anything. Plus, I’m the height of the little gem miner.
While in line, we made friends with a mother and her college aged son who were dressed up as the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter, respectively. They were obviously big Disney nuts like ourselves, and we talked about various things, from DVC to the MVMCP. Whenever we’re talking to people like this, my mind invariably wonders if they’re a member of the forums here. I then wonder whether I should ask, and I weigh the pros and cons. Pros are that they are, and we have something in common, or that they aren’t, but only because they had no idea such a thing existed. It’s probably hard for some of us to imagine that people like this are out there–huge fans who don’t have any online presence–but such fans existed prior to the internet, and not everyone even has the internet, so it’s definitely a possibility. The cons are that they are the non-internet type folks, and would either look at me strangely, not understanding what the heck I mean by a “Disney forum” or even a “forum” in general, or that they would think I’m crazy for actually discussing Disney online. I can almost hear them say, “we thought we were big fans, but you discuss changes in sponsorship of the little ‘handwashing tips’ with other people on the internet? Jeez oh pete, you’ve really gone off the deep end!” Upon balance, the cons always win out, and I err on the side of not being perceived as a lunatic. I’m not saying we’re lunatics for posting here, but to the un-assimilated, it may seem a tad peculiar (really, though, they’re the odd ones!).
At around 7 p.m., at the official start of the party, we saw Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum appear outside the teacups. I made an offhand remark to Sarah, and the Queen of Hearts in line in front of us encouraged us to go get our picture with them while she saved out spot. I was a little hesitant to do this at first, thinking it would irritate others waiting in our line (there is no “Fast Pass” for character pictures, after all) but several people behind us chimed up, and also encouraged us to go. So we did. It made the ‘sting’ of waiting in line 45 minutes for pictures a little more bearable, as we ended up getting two sets of “must get” pictures.
Oddly, while we were over with Tweedle Dee and Dum, a Cast Member asked us if we were there with NASA. I thought it was all in fun, so I played along, stating that we were, and he asked us some more questions. Finally, when I said that we had actually been on a flight to Mars, I saw his face drop a little. Obviously, he had realized we weren’t actually astronauts, and he was not just joking around with us. Two other Cast Members later engaged us in similar dialogues (although one may have been kidding, it was tough to tell) and it was clear that given the day’s events, some thought some astronauts might have hung around after the parade. As one of the disappointed Cast Members lamented, “I guess if you guys really were with NASA, they’d have security following you, or something.” It made us proud that our costumes really were ‘that good’, but I couldn’t help but think of all the ‘giveaways’ that should make anyone quickly realize we weren’t real astronauts. I guess we should’ve just pretended a little better, signed some autographs, and been content knowing that we brightened the days of those who usually brighten ours.
As 7:30 approached, I frantically contemplated my camera settings. Not only did I have to bear with the camera settings, but I worried about the fog that Disney was pumping in right behind Snow White (I have no idea who decided that the biggest photo op of the evening should be obscured by smoke, but it really was a boneheaded decision). One of the most difficult aspects of photographing our trips is that I must hand my camera off to someone else to get pictures of us. I always survey the scene in advance and determine the appropriate settings, but even doing that, the pictures don’t always turn out properly. To account for this, we hand both Sarah’s and my camera off, hoping that we get at least one good shot. This has its own unintended consequence at time, that being that the character attendant and PhotoPass CM (if there are one of each), don’t indicate to us who is taking the picture when, so Sarah and I look at the wrong camera. The Queen of Hearts and Mad Hatter had taken pictures of us while we were in line, and they had done a good job and taken several pictures, so I decided to see if they could take the pictures for us rather than the PhotoPass CM and character attendant in this line. They happily obliged, and the result was several good shots. So, if you’re out there reading this, Queen of Hearts or Mad Hatter, thank you so much!
When we got done with Snow White, we immediately headed over to the Pooh line. Tigger and Piglet were out. I was hoping to get Eeyore and Pooh (if we only could get two), but I would be content with Tigger and Piglet. What would have been really cool is having them do an overlapping set change while we were “up”, but given the odds of that happening, I wasn’t holding out too much breath. We got Tigger and Piglet on that trip.
It was around 8 p.m., so we figured we might as well get spots for the parade. I told Sarah it would probably be crowded for the first parade, so we shouldn’t expect good enough spots to get any pictures, but we both really wanted to see the parade twice. Well, when we arrived on Main Street, we found much lighter crowds than we expected! We thought maybe Disney was finally doing a good enough job advertising that the second parade was much lighter. Whatever the reason, we were pleased. We got spots right on the curb. Shortly after we sat down, announcements began that the Headless Horseman would be riding soon, and Cast Members began making sure people didn’t have their feet in the street. I thought this might be a bit excessive; after all, what difference would it make if my feet were on the street or up 5 more inches? If that horse really wanted to run me down, I didn’t stand a chance in either way. However, not being one to flaunt the rules, I happily obliged. Well, in retrospect, I can see how it might actually be a game of inches. The Horseman came really close to us! I wondered to myself afterwards if the rider has a difficult time steering given his…err…headlessness, and whether the horse is trained to stay between the curbs. In any case, it was very very cool. Photographically difficult to capture, but seeing it was the real fun.
Following the horse, the parade took a long time to come. I’m thinking it was almost twenty minutes later. I’ve heard the horse often comes in slight advance (5 minutes) of the parade, but I didn’t realize he’d be that early. The parade was awesome. Coolest parade I’ve ever seen at Disney (excepting SpectroMagic). It even beat the Christmas parade. It was that good. I think what set it apart from the Christmas parade was the performers, as the floats (some of them, at least) seem fairly similar between the two parades. The shovel dancers, the Haunted Mansion dancers, the Headless Horseman, the Haunted Mansion caretaker–I’m probably forgetting someone–all were excellent. They absolutely made the parade. I now think the key to any successful parade is: headless people, scrapping shovels on the ground, proclamations of it being “good to be bad”, chickens ‘bawking’ to the beat, and the Country Bears rocking out. Any parade organizers out there reading this, you can thank me later for my solid advice.
After the parade, we met back up with the guys, and found spots for HalloWishes. Matt has been anointed as the fireworks guru among our group, so we followed his advice when choosing our spot. When he went to the end of Main Street nearest the Train Station, I was pleased, as I think that is a great location to watch any fireworks shows that have perimeter bursts. We set up our tripods and fidgeted around while waiting. As we waited, we all could not get over about the light crowd levels. The place was dead. We were all shocked, especially since we were attending a Friday party. I guess that was one of the benefits of people tightening their spending on their trips, I’m sure the MNSSHP was one of the first things to get cut. That’s really too bad, given the quality of the party. Well, too bad for them; their decision not attend really help us out!
At one point, Sarah said she should get a picture of the line-up. I really wish she would have done so. It was quite the sight to behold. I don’t know the exact cost of everyone else’s gear (although curious, I’m not about to start a conversation by asking, “so how much did you pay for that? ….and that? ….and that?” That may make some folks uncomfortable.), if I had to guess, I would say there was around $15-20k worth of photography equipment sitting on that street that evening. I offered to watch it for them while they went to grab some candy, with the hopes of hawking it to passersby, but the guys didn’t take me up on that offer. I think they saw the big sign I had folded up in my bag that said “Photography Stuff 4 Sale CHEAP!” Oh well.
HalloWishes was awesome, and we had a great location for it. While the Boo to You parade exceeds the Christmas parade, HalloWishes does not trump Holiday Wishes! Not even close. Maybe from a pure pyrotechnics perspective, but the show elements of Holiday Wishes are far superior. Can’t beat that “Oh Christmas Tree” portion, the wonderful score in general, and the neat juxtaposition of the bursts with various dialogue, sound effects, and the score.
After HalloWishes, we headed back to see if Mickey and Minnie’s lines had quieted down. They had not, or at least had not enough to make us ready to queue up for them. Instead, we lined up for Pooh and Eeyore. After only about a 7 minute wait, we got to see them. Not bad!
We then decided to see the “less popular” characters in Adventureland and Frontierland. First up was Woody, Bullseye, and Jessie. We already had pictures with them from Christmas, so we didn’t plan to wait in more than a 5 minute line. Even better, there was no wait. Same was true for the characters over in Adventureland. We even got to play around with King Louie and Tarzan over there. I have to say, whomever was friends with King Louie that evening had some rhythm. I’ve never seen a primate moonwalk quite like that. I guess those good ape-feet are good for something!
Tarzan and Terk were just as much fun. Sarah let me go visit with them first, and Tarzan immediately began joking around. I made the mistake of saying that we liked to hunt gorillas, but made a quick save as soon as I realized this was probably not what he wanted to hear by saying that we hunted gorillas with cameras. When Sarah finally joined in the fun, Tarzan indicated that he was impressed by her bilingual skills, and asked me to translate the “Giggle” language for him. Sarah then said we liked to eat gorillas! She’s even worse than me! I quickly jumped it to correct her, saying we liked to eat pictures of gorillas. Tarzan harassed us a little about the taste of pictures, and Sarah spoke in her native tongue of Giggle some more, before we headed on our way. If meeting with characters and having some fun are more important than just getting cool pictures of them, then these locations in Adventureland and Frontierland are the hidden gems of the parties. At both MVMCP and now MNSSHP, we’ve had a blast having extended interactions with the characters. You won’t get that from Snow White and the Dwarfs given their huge line!
Following our character fun, we headed back to Main Street for the parade. We arrived just prior to it starting, and sadly missed the Headless Horseman. Oh well, you can’t do it all. The parade was just as good the second time as it was the first. After the parade, we debated between hitting the Villains Mix and Mingle, or going to see Mickey and Minnie. This was tough for us. If we went to the Villains Mix and Mingle, we probably wouldn’t make it back to Mickey and Minnie in time to see them. Same if we went to Mickey and Minnie first. I also warned Sarah that if we went to Mickey first, we may not see Minnie. Alternatively, we could try to ‘go for broke’ and hit Mickey and then race to the Castle forecourt to catch the Villains. We ultimately decided to see Mickey, then go from there.
We got done with Mickey relatively quickly, and it was decision time. The time was 11:27. The Villains show had ended at 11:17. My bet was that they would be very close to cutting the lines. We had never met Malificient, and I really wanted to get our picture with her and Cruella. I was almost positive that we’d only get our picture with one of the two, if that. Then, there was the risk that we’d get neither, and we wouldn’t make it back to Minnie in time to get her, either. We opted for the safe route and just got Minnie. Knowing our luck, someone who was there on October 2nd is going to respond to this and say, “You really missed out, the Villains in the forecourt stayed out until 11:50 p.m.. We got our picture with each of them 5 times! I’ve never seen them stay out that long! You losers missed out!!!”
After Minnie, we decided to head to Haunted Mansion for some pictures there. Along the way, we saw the Queen of Hearts (the real one) and White Rabbit. Without reference to the time, we stopped to get our picture with them. Here we experienced one of my beefs with the character meet and greets at the hard ticket events. For all of the great lighting that Disney puts out for these parties, they often fail to illuminate the characters. In my opinion, there should be enough lighting at all of these M&Gs to make an on camera flash optional (I would use it as fill, anyway, but I mean I should be able to get a proper exposure with the camera). Instead, the flash is the only way you have any light in the scene, and you end up with almost entirely black backgrounds. This is one of the reasons we didn’t do the Villains show–the lighting there was atrocious, versus the decent lighting on Mickey and Minnie.
Overall, the party was a great success for character meetings. My only complaint is that the Country Bears were not out (I don’t think they ever are for the party). Then again, I think the Country Bears should always be out. Those bears rock. I think they should actually make of subset of Frontierland and coin it “Bearland” (creative, right?). Maybe make a dueling banjo bar starring the bears, and a ride on a bloody saddle with Big Al. Then you could visit everyone’s favorite 3D film, “Pucker Up” starring Liver Lips. Heck, the options are so endless, maybe a subland isn’t what’s needed at all, maybe the Magic Kingdom just needs to become “Bear Kingdom”. WDI, if you’re listening, I am looking for a new job…
After the Queen and Rabbit, we headed over to Haunted Mansion. Come to find out, it was midnight! I thought it was around 11:45. I guess time flies when you’re having fun. Luckily for us, the PhotoPass photographer beckoned us within the gates (I always feel uncomfortable shooting HM after hours. Are the ‘inner gates’ off limits? I’m not sure, but we don’t push our luck). We were able to get some decent shots there and some of the Cast Members even joined us for a shot!
Following that, we headed towards the entrance of ToonTown to get a shot of the sign all dressed up for the event before heading to Tomorrowland. I was actually a bit surprised that we made it from Liberty Square all the way to the other side of the park without running into any sweepers. I guess it was good luck. Tomorrowland was our final destination, as any good astronauts dream of the future…or Monstropolis…or science fiction….or whatever the exact theme of Tomorrowland is. Obviously, whatever the theme, as astronauts, that’s where we’d get the most apt pictures. While I really liked our costume choice, I have to say, in the future, we might go with something that will be more fitting with the character M&G pictures. Obviously, we couldn’t have fit the theme with everyone, but we didn’t get any “futuristic” meet and greet shots (where were you, Buzz and “626 Stitch”?!) whereas we got a lot of Fantasyland-type characters.
When we arrived in Tomorrowland, we met back up with the guys. From there, we slowly made our way out, photographing various things as we left. I was more mindful of getting in the way of the other guys, and Sarah and I wanted to keep getting pictures of us, so I kept the 18-200 mounted that night. I think after getting some more creative shots with the UWA, I can’t go back to just ‘standard’ shooting of static objects at night. Don’t get me wrong, I love those static shots, but it just seems like I’ve done it all with that type of night shot. Now, I either need to experiment with angle, perspective, and depth of field at night, all of which are difficult with the 18-200. Conversely, that seems to be the best lens for night shots of us. Sarah, if you’re reading this, skip ahead three sentences. What I need to do (Sarah, you’ve stopped reading, right?) is get (really, stop reading…) a second camera body. That way, I can quickly change cameras between shots rather than take the time to switch lenses. It’s the perfect solution for all…besides my bank account.
We then made our way up Main Street, getting some shots of the cool lighting and mist before exiting. The other guys had already left, but Sarah and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get some shots at the Train Station (we usually have Cast Members walking with us all the way to the buses, but didn’t on this evening), plus Sarah had to get a refund for our locker, so I set up the tripod while she did that. We managed to get about 10 shots or so before, much to our surprise, Joe magically appeared. It turned out that there was no magic involved whatsoever. He had wandered down to the old Swan Boat landing, and the rest of us had forgotten about him. I guess that shows how we rate as friends! We chatted briefly, and Joe set up for some shots as well. Then a Cast Member arrived and, in so many terms, informed us that it was time to leave.
We then boarded a bus for Fort Wilderness. I have to say, prior to our trip, I was a little concerned about the logistics of staying late in the Magic Kingdom after closing, as normally the only way to get from the Magic Kingdom to Fort Wilderness is via boat. The Disney website claims that these boats run “up to 3 hours after park closing” without pinning any definitive time on when they stop running. On this particular night, would “closing” be 7 p.m. or 12 a.m.? Regardless, what would “up to” mean? By using the “up to” language, Disney effectively has free reign to stop the boats whenever it wants. I recalled from previous trips seeing the boat launch closed when as we left the Magic Kingdom, so I knew they didn’t always run the full three hours after closing. We ended up being fine, fortunately.
This night, having been exhausted all day, and being more conservative with my caffeine consumption, I slept like a baby. Morning still came quickly the next day, but at least this time I had nearly four and a half hours of sleep. That’s nearly an eternity!
Any comments or questions about the trip report thus far? Please share them below–we make an effort to respond to every comment!