Goodbye to The Magic of Disney Animation Building


It seems like every few months, I am doing a post bidding farewell to something at Hollywood Studios. Recently, Disney fans have said goodbye to the Backlot Tour, the iconic Sorcerer’s Hat, the American Idol Experience, the Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow and now the Magic of Disney Animation building, which closes its doors today. I was honestly okay with the closure/removal of the all the rest, but the closing of the Animation building is stinging a little.

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The building was once a working animation studio where guests could witness animators working their craft. In fact, Mulan, Brother Bear and Lilo & Stitch are some of the most famous Disney animated features which were almost entirely produced in that building.


Eventually, Disney Animation’s Florida division was shut down, but the building remained and featured a short film with Mulan’s Mushu showing guests through the process of Disney Animation. After the film, guests were invited to play at some of the interactive animation activities in the building. The building had various meet & greets such as Sorcerer Mickey, The Incredibles, Wreck It Ralph & most recently Hiro & Baymax from Big Hero 6.

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But the best part of the Magic of Disney Animation was the Animation Academy which was a drawing class in which a Cast Member walked you through step by step how to draw a Disney character. Of all the times we went, I think we repeated drawing the same character once. It was always new and exciting because you never knew who the animator would choose as the lucky character to draw.

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^^Husband’s Flawless Mickey^^

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^^Mine…I like to call this Mickey’s Allergic Reaction^^

The Animation Academy was one of my absolute favorite lesser known attractions at Walt Disney World. Many times, we would bypass the Mushu movie and just enter through the back of the Animation Gallery store to just hop in line for the class which really never had too long of a wait. While my works of art were not always pretty, (as if you couldn’t tell) it was fun to feel like an animator and made you appreciate the hard work that goes into creating the animated Disney movies we all know and love. The class was a nice, quiet break away from the hustle and bustle of the park and I loved how they always enforced the fact that they do not provide erasers and there is no such thing as a ‘mess up’ or a ‘bad’ drawing. Speaking from experience, this really helped the non-artists/perfectionists/children with their self-esteem. :)

^^Vampire Minnie…although the Animator thought it was creative^^

Disney has confirmed that the Sorcerer Mickey meet & greet will be relocated to a new area near Studio Catering Company, however no mention was made of Hiro & Baymax or the Animation Academy nor what would become of the area, just that they are working on a new experience and details would be forthcoming. The Animation Gallery store will remain open until August.

With yet another closure at this park, it once again solidifies the fact that some big changes are coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and hopefully those details are finally revealed at the upcoming D23 Expo in August 2015. Whatever the changes may be, I surely hope they find a way to bring back the Animation Academy in some form or fashion somewhere in Walt Disney World.

Here are some of our other works of art thanks to the Animation Academy!

^^Buzz Lightyear. (Left – Mine / Right – Husband)^^
^^Grumpy (Left – Husband / Right – Mine)^^
^^Jiminy Cricket^^




Fish Extender Exchanges on the High Seas

2015-05-16-15h39m01Ahoy! We recently returned from a glorious 4-night Bahamian cruise on the beautiful & majestic Disney Dream. This was actually our first Disney Cruise (first cruise for Hubby) and we had an absolute magical time! When I was researching all that the Disney Cruise Line had to offer, I learned of something funny sounding called a Fish Extender Exchange and just knew I had to partake in such an activity.

A Fish Extender exchange is an organized group in which people on the same cruise leave each other little gifts outside their stateroom throughout their trip. Each stateroom participating in the exchange will put a “mailbox” of sorts on their Fish-Extender hook outside their room. Each stateroom has a fish-shaped hook (seahorse in our case) outside where the crew will leave your “mail” during your voyage.


This hook is where people will hang their “mailbox” which can be something as simple as a reusable tote bag to embroidered pieces of art customized for the family. This was our first cruise, so I decided to go all out with the embroidered piece of art which I ordered from a highly recommended seller on Etsy: Gradysmommy. Definitely check out her store here.
Of course, I forgot to take a picture of the Fish Extender hanging outside our room!



Throughout the cruise, those in your Fish Extender group will stop by, leaving you little trinkets and treasures. Think of it sort of like a secret Santa exchange on the high seas. There are usually many of these groups being organized for one cruise and you can usually find a group to join by visiting unofficial Disney sites such as and searching for your cruise meet thread on the message boards. Sometimes people will also create Facebook groups for your cruise and Fish Extender groups can be organized through there as well. This was how we joined ours and it was so much fun not only to receive gifts nearly every time we returned to our stateroom, but to make/deliver the gifts as well!

We had about a total of 14 staterooms or so in our group and there were no set rules on whether you had to give one gift per person or stateroom. It was left up to discretion of the giver. I have heard some groups have more strict rules regarding this, but I feel when you start putting too many rules in place, that is when things like this can start to lose their fun!

I decided to give individual gifts for the children and one stateroom gift for the parents/couples. Once we had a set group, the Fish Extender organizer posted the final list for everyone where we could see which staterooms we would be delivering to and the names/ages of everyone in those rooms. We also included favorite characters and colors in our group in case anyone wanted to make something more personalized, which some people did!

Since I was doing individual gifts for the kids, I decided to organize them into age groups and then made gifts according to each group. Here is how I broke it down:

The ages 0-2 crowd received a bag of goodies including bath toys and a Disney board book. I figured it could make bedtime and bath-time a little more enjoyable!



Kids between the ages of 3-9 received Party like a Pirate or Party like a Pirate Princess kits. Most Disney Cruise Line itineraries include a Pirate theme night and these kits were meant to help the kids get their Pirate Party on. Included in these kits were: bandannas, eye patch, glow sticks,tattoos, personalized pirate journal, pens or crayons, stickers, foam sword (boys) and princess tiaras (girls).

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The final group, ages 10-18, received root beer float kits which I creatively dubbed as “Enjoy a Float on the Boat”. On Disney Cruise Line, there are self-serve ice cream machines so I provided the container with straw, bottle of root beer and two wooden spoons–all that was left was to add vanilla ice cream.

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For the stateroom/parents/couple gift, I gave each stateroom a clear plastic ornament and labeled it with “Castaway Cay” (Disney’s private island), the ship’s name and the date of our cruise. Inside the ornament, I placed a rolled up sheet of paper (think message in a bottle) with the the following note:

20150329_125409(that cut off word on the second line reads “bay”).

2015-04-12-11h22m59 2015-04-12-11h23m23It was definitely fun to see a family on the tram at Castaway Cay with the ornament in hand ready to fill it up!

Taking part in the Fish Extender exchange was an awesome experience and we received so many fun gifts in return, many of which we will bring back with us on future cruises. Again, I failed and didn’t take any picture of all our loot! Some of the things we received in return were customized frames, magnets for our stateroom door, decorated clothespins to hold our pool towels in place, ice cream sundae kits, drink koozies, personalized water bottles, liquor, wine, amazing hand-drawn pictures of our favorite characters, highlighters to mark our Personal Navigator (Disney Cruise Line speak for schedule of the day’s events), magnetic white boards for our stateroom door, stationery, Disney tote bags, toiletry bag/travel bottles and tons more! It was just fun to come back to our stateroom to find little goodies every day of our cruise.

A Few Suggestions for First Timers – I’ve been there!

  1. When planning your gifts, keep in mind that you have to pack everything and somehow get it on the ship! We drove to the port so had a little more flexibility, but I imagine if you are flying, you really need to be mindful of size! I actually had my husband carry on all the Fish Extenders in a bag because I didn’t want them to get ruined in our suitcases.
  2. List out your staterooms in order by floor so that you can minimize walking back and forth because it is a BIG ship. Also having a floor plan of the ship when you are delivering is helpful too! We delivered our gifts on our At-Sea day and it took about 40 minutes to make it to all 14 cabins. Definitely plan enough to time to make your deliveries–plus it is fun way to see the other parts of the ships, we often caught a glimpse as we were walking by of the other stateroom types as they were being cleaned.
  3. Don’t be surprised if people onboard ask you where they can go on the ship to sign up! Someone in our Facebook group actually posted that that happened. Overall, Join a group, plan your gifts (Pinterest if you are stuck and need ideas) but most of all, HAVE FUN!!



Should I Get a FastPass+ For…

june245So you finally have your theme park admission linked to My Disney Experience & are ready to make your FastPass+ selections, only to find you have no idea what 3 experiences to choose for each day of your trip! Don’t worry, this is a common problem! This little issue is now exacerbated by the fact that Disney has increased the number of options which offer FastPass+ and include a number of different experiences from rides and shows to character meet and greets and preferred viewing areas of the nighttime spectaculars. Now, more than ever, guests have some decision making to do when it comes to FastPass+ planning.

Now, just because FastPass+ is offered at an attraction or show, does not mean that you should go ahead and book it without thinking it through and having some sort of plan. I have learned that all FastPass+ options are not created equal and choosing wisely is key.

Many factors can come into play when choosing your selections. The first is the season/time of year you are visiting. You will think twice about booking that Kali River Rapids FastPass+ in December when the weather can be in the 60’s and 70’s and the standby lines are almost non-existent. In the hotter months, those babies are a hot commodity.

The time of day you are visiting is also another factor. Let’s say Magic Kingdom Park is open until 1:00 AM and you plan on staying until closing, I can almost guarantee you that you will not need a FastPass+ for Dumbo since it is an experience mostly enjoyed by children, most of which are hopefully fast asleep by 1:00 AM. You will be able to walk right on to this attraction and even possibly ride multiple times with no waiting if you are into that! (Plus it is so much prettier at night!) Here is a tip for you: typically, most Fantasyland attractions (with the exception of the enigma that is Peter Pan’s Flight) can be enjoyed with little or no wait during the evening hours. Many attractions have better standby times during the nighttime parades and/or fireworks too and obviously the same is true if you are an early riser and make it to rope drop (Disney speak for opening time). If it is an attraction you want to ride multiple times, (Tower of Terror, anyone?)  a good strategy is to get a FastPass+ at park opening time (any other time will work too if you don’t mind walking back and forth) and ride it once (or more) standby with little/no wait and then again with your FastPass+ return time.

Another factor in choosing your FastPasses are the ages of those in your travel party. Obviously if you have toddlers, you will probably not be riding Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster, and will want to focus your FastPasses around more family friendly attractions. If you do have young children, but you want to have some thrilling fun, Disney offers a service called Rider Switch at most attractions that have a height requirement. Rider Switch allows one adult to ride while the other adult waits with the non-riders in a specialized area. After the first adult returns from their thrilling fun, the second adult is allowed to ride with no wait.

Along with the ages in your travel party, you also have to take into account the general interests of your travel group. If you know your family will hate sitting through a 25 minute parade, then you most definitely will not want to waste a FastPass+ on a preferred viewing location and would rather hightail it to Space Mountain instead. I highly suggest getting the travel party together before it is time to make FastPass+ reservations to get a feel for everyone’s must do’s. Think of it like a Disney planning party.

The final thing to keep in mind is asking yourself, “Do I really need a FastPass for this?” That is where I come in! Now, I certainly haven’t tried each of these attractions with FastPass+, but there is a general consensus among the Disney community for experiences that you just shouldn’t waste a FastPass+ on. That is not to say that the attraction/show is something you should skip, it is just a suggestion that your FastPass+ reservations could be better utilized!

Here is how it works, below you will find I have broken down the experiences which are available at each park and then separated them into categories such as Attractions, Live Entertainment, Character Meet & Greets and Parades/Fireworks. Each experience is rated by the plus signs meaning:

+++: FastPass+ Highly Recommended — Standby line often has long wait times throughout the day, very popular/headlining attraction.

++: FastPass+ Recommended, But Not Needed — Standby line can be long at times and non-existent at other times. If you are visiting during the busier times of the day (11 AM – 5 PM) you may consider booking it.

+: FastPass+ Not Generally Needed — Standby line are often quick moving or very short. Many of the experiences in this category are shows that hold a whole lot of guests with each showing so with a little advanced planning, you should have no problem just attending them without a FastPass+. Many of the parades/nighttime shows are also in this category because with some simple planning, you should be able to secure a great spot to watch the shows.

***Note that what is listed below are only the experiences that offer FastPass+, each park has a multitude of other experiences that do not offer the service, so make sure you take those into account when making your touring plan, if you choose to vacation with a touring plan that is.


Magic Kingdom

You may choose any 3 FastPass+ selections in advance:


  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad +++
  • Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin ++
  • Dumbo ++
  • Enchanted Tales with Belle (Attraction/Live Entertainment) +++
  • Haunted Mansion ++
  • It’s a Small World ++
  • Jungle Cruise ++
  • Mad Tea Party ++
  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic +
  • Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor +
  • Peter Pan’s Flight +++
  • Pirates of the Caribbean ++
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train +++
  • Space Mountain +++
  • Splash Mountain +++
  • The Barnstormer +
  • The Magic Carpets of Aladdin ++
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ++
  • Tomorrowland Speedway +++
  • Under the Sea Journey of the Little Mermaid +

Character Meet & Greets:

  • Meet Anna & Elsa – Princess Fairytale Hall +++
  • Meet Ariel – Ariel’s Grotto ++
  • Meet Cinderella & Rapunzel – Princess Fairytale Hall ++
  • Meet Mickey Mouse – Town Square Theater ++
  • Meet Tinkerbell – Town Square Theater ++


  • Festival of Fantasy Parade (preferred viewing area) +
  • Main Street Electrical Parade (preferred viewing area) +
  • Wishes Fireworks (preferred viewing area) +

DSC_2370Disney’s Animal Kingdom 

You may choose any 3 FastPass+ selections in advance:


  • Expedition Everest +++
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug +
  • Kali River Rapids +++
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris +++
  • Primeval Whirl +

Live Entertainment:

  • Festival of the Lion King ++
  • Finding Nemo The Musical +

Character Meet & Greets:

  • Meet Favorite Disney Pals – Adventurers Outpost ++


FastPass+ experiences are separated into categories. You must choose 1 from the Tier 1 offerings and 2 from the Tier 2 offerings.

Epcot – Tier 1 (Choose 1)


  • Living with the Land ++
  • Soarin’ +++
  • Test Track +++


  • IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth (World Showcase Lagoon) ++

Epcot – Tier 2 (Choose 2)


  • Captain EO +
  • Journey into Imagination +
  • Mission: SPACE ++
  • Spaceship Earth ++
  • The Seas with Nemo & Friends +
  • Turtle Talk with Crush +

Character Meet & Greets:

  • Character Spot (Meet Mickey & Friends) ++

DSCN7812Disney’s Hollywood Studios

FastPass+ experiences are separated into categories. You must choose 1 from the Tier 1 offerings and 2 from the Tier 2 offerings.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios Tier 1 (Choose 1):


  • Toy Story Mania! +++
  • Rock ‘n Roller Coaster +++
  • The Great Movie Ride ++

Live Entertainment:

  • Beauty & the Beast Live on Stage +


  • Fantasmic! +

Disney’s Hollywood Studios Tier 2 (Choose 2):


  • Star Tours +
  • Muppet*Vision 3D +
  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror +++

Live Entertainment:

  • For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration +++
  • Disney Junior – Live on Stage! +
  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid +
  • Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! +
  • Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show +

The FastPass system has definitely gone through some changes and it can be difficult to adapt to often times only having 3 FastPasses per day. Remember, you can make one additional FastPass+ reservation in the park at the FastPass+ kiosks once your original 3 are used/expired. We have found that what we want to use that 4th FastPass+ for is usually “sold out” for the day. Whatever your strategy may be, I hope this guide has been helpful in making your FastPass+ decisions. Happy planning!

An Introduction to FastPass+


What is a FastPass?

Disney’s FastPass has been around for quite some time now, but has recently gone through a major re-haul with the addition of MyMagic+. A FastPass is basically a coveted pass which allows you to enter a different queue and bypass the standby line, resulting in shorter wait times. Different from other theme parks’ “front of the line” passes, FastPass is available to all guests, free of charge. FastPass used to be in the form of a paper ticket that you would receive from a FastPass machine which were housed in the front of the most popular attractions. The paper pass had a return time indicating when you were allowed to come back to enter the FastPass queue. You could obtain another FastPass after two hours of pulling your first ticket or after the return time (whichever came first). There was also no limit in the number of passes you could pull in a day. This “legacy” FastPass system with its distributing machines and paper passes is now a thing of the past although the basic idea of having a reservation to bypass the standby queue still remains in FastPass+.

FastPass+, What Makes it +?

FastPass+ allows you to make reservations in advance to some of the most popular Walt Disney World attractions and entertainment. If you have valid theme park admission and a My Disney Experience online account, you can make reservations before you even leave for your trip. This is very different from the legacy system in which you had to physically walk to the attraction in order to receive your FastPass, only to sometimes find out that they were all distributed for the day.

FastPass+ is not just for rides, users can reserve character greetings (Anna & Elsa, anyone?), shows, parades and fireworks too-which is a new welcomed addition that was not available with the legacy system.

One of the best and most innovative features of the system is that your FastPass+ reservations are linked to your My Disney Experience account and if have a MagicBand, you can simply scan it at the entrance at the FastPass+ queue when you reach your return time. If you are not using a MagicBand, you will need to scan your RFID enabled ticket.

FastPass+ is still available to ALL guests visiting Walt Disney World, but how soon you can make them in advance varies. If you purchase your theme park admission in advance and are staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel, you may make your FastPass+ reservations 60 days in advance. If you purchase your theme park admission in advance and are staying offsite, you may make your FastPass+ reservations 30 days in advance (same holds true to Annual Passholders). If you are planning on buying your admission at the gate, you will have to make your FastPass+ reservations that day, but note that availability will be limited since many have made them 30-60 days in advance. If you can, I highly recommended you purchase your tickets in advance!

How do I make FastPass+ Reservations?

FastPass+ reservations are managed through the My Disney Experience website and app. Remember, in order to make FastPass+ reservations in advance you must have already purchased valid theme park admission and have it linked to your My Disney Experience account. If you purchased a vacation package or tickets directly through Disney, this will most likely automatically show up in your account. If you purchased your tickets elsewhere, you will need to manually add them. Those wishing to make reservations 60 days in advance must have a valid Disney hotel reservation linked to their My Disney Experience.

(Click on screenshots to enlarge them, these instructions are for using the website not the app, though the process is very similar)

Step 1: Visit and log into your My Disney Experience. From the My Disney Experience menu, select FastPass+. This will take you the area of the website where you can make new, modify or cancel any FastPass+ reservations.23-MDE-Tutorial-FPFRONT

Step 2: If you are looking to set up your FastPass+ reservations for the first time, choose “New FastPass+”. Otherwise- choose modify or cancel.14-MDE-Tutorial-FP

Step 3: You will now be asked to choose the people whom you are making the reservation for. Only those with valid theme park admission linked to your account through the Family & Friends section will show up. Keep in mind that children under 3 do not require theme park admission, therefore, they will not need FastPass+ reservations. 15-MDE-Tutorial-FPStep 4: Choose the park you would like to visit and the date you are planning to visit it. The dates you are eligible to make reservations will be highlighted in blue. If the dates you are planning on visiting are not highlighted, make sure you are making reservations 60 days or less before your check-in date if staying at a Walt Disney World hotel or 30 days or less from your planned park date if you are staying elsewhere. The system will not let you book days that do not fall in that range no matter how hard you try. 16-MDE-Tutorial-FPStep 5: Choose your FastPass+ selections. You are allowed 3 reservations per day and all 3 MUST be in the same park. It is important to note that at Magic Kingdom Park and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, you may choose any 3 attractions from the list. Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios group their FastPass+ selections into different tiers, creatively called “Tier 1” and “Tier 2” experiences. At these parks, you may only choose one selection from their Tier 1 grouping and two selections from their Tier 2 grouping. These parks have fewer headliners/thrills so the thought behind this is so that everyone doesn’t flood these popular attractions resulting in long FastPass+ queues and it forces people to other areas of the park.17-MDE-Tutorial-FPStep 6: The website will now generate 4 different timing options for you to choose from based on the attractions/entertainment you picked. Choose the option that BEST fits your plans. Do not fret if the times aren’t perfect because you can tweak them to better meet your needs right after they are booked. The system also already takes into account any dining reservations linked to your account, so there will not be any conflict, however, it does not account for transportation time or if your party consists of an extremely slow group of eaters, so make sure you keep that in mind when you are reviewing your options, Now click “Done.”18-MDE-Tutorial-FPStep 7: This will take you to the confirmation page showing you that your FastPass+ reservations have officially been booked! If you want to modify the times to better fit your needs, you will be able to modify them easily from this screen, just click “Select New Time” or “Modify” to change the experience altogether. Note that the time you really want may no longer be available, so be prepared to choose the next best option. You may now repeat this process from steps 2-7 for other dates that you are eligible. 19-MDE-Tutorial-FP20-MDE-Tutorial-FP

Also note that your FastPass+ reservations will now be available in your itinerary section of My Disney Experience to easily view, modify or cancel if needed. 21-MDE-Tutorial-FP

Overall, making FastPass+ reservations is actually quite simple and very user friendly!

Tips, Tricks & Other Information



  • Did you know that you are allowed to make additional FastPass+ reservations in addition to your 3 in advance? The caveat to this rule is that you must use your 3 FastPass+ experiences for the day (or be past your final arrival window). This additional FastPass+ can now be made on the My Disney Experience App or by visiting one of the FastPass+ Kiosks in the park. You may only make one additional FastPass+ at a time, but there is no limit to how many you may make in a day. To take advantage of the “bonus” FastPass+, it is recommended that you make initial FastPass+ reservations early in the day to give you a better a chance of getting additional ones.
  • The FastPass+ kiosks are also used for people who did not purchase tickets in advance or chose not to make reservations in advance. These guests may visit these kiosks to make their 3 selections for the day. There are always plenty of Cast Members available to help you along the way or make the reservations for you.
  • You can easily use your Smart Phone and the My Disney Experience app while on your vacation to tweak your FastPass+ reservations as you see fit. You probably won’t have a ton of availability, but it is easy to do and does not hurt to try if it means you get to sleep in a couple more hours. If you don’t have a Smart Phone or access to a computer, lobby concierge at your Walt Disney World hotel can assist you.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how the FastPass+ system works. I will be doing part 2 of this post highlighting the best (and worst) attractions/entertainment to use FastPass+. That topic is just way too long to add on to this post!



Do you know where the Magical Escape’s tagline of a A Glimmering, Shimmering Carousel-ing Kind of Blog came from?

The tagline stems from the lyrics of Disney’s SpectroMagic, Magic Kingdom Park’s nighttime parade that ran from October 1, 1991 to June 2010.

The parade filled the Magic Kingdom with the most memorable music starting with the lyrics:

On this magic night,
A million stars will play beside us,
Cast a spell of light,
Glimmering, shimmering, carousel-ling
‘Round the world tonight,
A symphony in SpectroMagic.
Pure enchantment lights our way!

I still get goosebumps when I listen to it!

Listen to the soundtrack and enjoy these pictures of SpectroMagic taken by our family in 2005. I miss it so much!!

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