Omaha, NE.– The Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) production of Steve Martin’s and Edie Brickell’s Bright Star will open Friday, February 4, 2022. The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre through February 13 with performances Wednesdays through Sundays. Tickets are on sale now starting at $25 with prices varying by performance. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, 6915 Cass St., Omaha, NE 68132, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.
The Omaha Community Playhouse will offer an online streaming production of Bright Star in the coming weeks. Additional details will be released on OCP’s website and social media pages as they become available.
Nominated for five Tony Awards®, written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell and inspired by real events, Bright Star is a story of enduring hope woven through time and set against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Young teenager Alice Murphy is devastated when her infant son is ripped away. But 20 years later, a young man enters her life and ushers in an unexpected glimmer of hope. With a Grammy®-nominated bluegrass score that will seep into your veins, Bright Star is as much a musical experience as it is a journey of the heart.
Directed by: Roxanne Wach
Angie Frey as Alice Murphy Matt Karasek as Billy Cane Dan Wach as Daddy Cane Analisa Swerczek as Margo Derek Bonin as Max Charlotte Hedican as Florence Roz Parr as Edna Kevin Olsen as Daryl Mackenzie Zielke as Lucy Peggy Holloway as Mama Murphy Cork Ramer as Daddy Murphy Mike Markey as Mayor Dobbs Jay Srygley as Jimmy Ray Craig Bond as Stanford Mike Shelton as Dr. Norquist Also featuring: Trey Butler, Angeline Kay Crowe, Brittney Thompson, Amanda Vyhnalek, Tom Westman
A gathering at the home of the Bennetts results in a murder and nobody is above suspicion. Find out who done it in Death by Design which is currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.
This show has two things working against it. The first is the pandemic. Due to the surge in infections, the actors masked up for the performance which robbed them of their ability to use facial expressions. The second is the script itself.
Not only is the story pretty weak with a lack of build, poor motivations for the murder, and an unsatisfactory denouement, but I think writing it in the vein of a 1930s sitting room drama hampered it even further.
Sitting room plays are exceedingly hard sells because the dialogue drives everything. If the dialogue is sharp enough and the cast talented enough, it can be done. Unfortunately, the dialogue of this show’s first act had all the snap, crackle, and pop of a soggy bowl of Rice Krispies. Act II was a bit better as it focused on the investigation which made it a tad more gripping.
This story and lack of expressions would have buried a lesser cast, but it’s a tribute to the strength and talent of this show’s cast and director that they pulled out what they did given the circumstances. Through the use of gestures and vocal animation, they managed to overcome the limitations of the masks. They also managed to have colorful characters and inject a few jump scares which helped to make the tepid tale more palatable.
Jon Flower’s direction got everything it could out of this story. He staged the show brilliantly. The actors were always well placed as I could see all of them at any point and watch their reactions to the events bubbling around them. I was also especially impressed with the murder scene at the end of Act I. Easily the show’s best scene, it was chock full of tension as every suspect loomed over the body of the victim in almost total darkness masking the murderer and method of death. Flower also led his cast to solid performances with nary a weak link among them. That being said, accents were a bit of a mixed bag and some actors really needed to tighten the cue pickups.
This is truly an ensemble piece and each actor more than held up her or his end of the bargain. Bill Bossman makes a fine Omaha debut as an arrogant hypocrite who hides his own moral shortcomings under a façade of moral superiority. Nicki Sitler projects the needed vanity and vapidness of an ingenue actress. Devon Moore is a suitable everyman as the chauffeur, Jack. Adam Kerr has the youthful energy needed for an advocate for the workingman. Charity Williams is a delightful, blubbering mess as the young mistress of Bossman’s Walter Pearce looking to escape from him once and for all.
Sarah Ebke is a delight as the maid, Bridgit. Clearly the show’s smartest character, Ebke’s Bridgit actually becomes the show’s detective character and it’s well foreshadowed as Bridgit silently observes the shenanigans of the other characters as she tidies up the home, putting her in the ideal spot to unmask the killer. Ebke is sharp and clever in the role and her energy really drove the show’s second act.
Chris Ebke does sterling work as Edward Bennett. He utilizes a flawless British accent and has a slightly snooty, upper-class attitude and his “polite” sparring with his vain actress wife provided some needed levity in the show. I also liked the ambiguous malevolence he gave the character. From his first appearance, it’s clear he has ill intent for somebody, but who the identity of that somebody is the real question.
God bless Connie Lee. Her appearance as Victoria Van Roth in latter half of Act I helped kick it out of the doldrums. She definitely got the show’s most interesting character as her Van Roth lives in some outlier of reality where she translates her feelings into interpretive dance. Lee masks her talent as a dancer with a series of ludicrous gyrations that made her look like an Egyptian hieroglyphic on crack, though her movements still had an ugly grace about them.
The show’s technical elements were outstanding. Joey Lorincz continues to show why he’s one of the city’s best scenic designers with the elegant living room of the Bennetts with its striped walls and glass doors. His lights were also of top quality, especially in the crucial murder scene where he left just enough light to see the silhouetted bodies of the actors. Todd Uhrmacher’s costumes well suited the period with the traditional working gear of the maid and chauffeur to the lovely gown worn by Sorel Bennett to the dapper evening wear of the gentleman and the elegant, almost mystic wear of Lee’s Van Roth.
Though the story may try to pull them down, this cast and crew managed to pull it up to a higher level in spite of itself and I salute them for their efforts.
Death by Design plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through Feb 5. Showtimes are 7:30pm Fri-Sat and 2pm on Sundays. Tickets cost $20 and can be reserved at bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com or by calling 402-291-1554. Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.
Rolla, MO–Ozark Actors Theatre announces its 2022 Professional Season and its auditions.
Mamma Mia! June 30-July 10
Prepare to have the time of your life at Mamma Mia! Sophie, a 20-year-old bride-to-be, is on the search for her father. After reading her mother’s diary, she discovers there are three potential suitors. Unbeknownst to her mother, Donna, Sophie invites each of them in hopes of having one of them walk her down the aisle. As the big day draws near, surprises abound with old flames and old friends. MAMMA MIA! is packed with 22 ABBA hits, including “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trouper,” “Take A Chance on Me,” and “The Winner Takes It All.” This worldwide megahit will have audiences shouting “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” more!
Rumors July 12-31
At a large, tastefully-appointed Sneden’s Landing townhouse, the Deputy Mayor of New York has just shot himself. Though only a flesh wound, four couples are about to experience a severe attack of Farce. Gathering for their tenth wedding anniversary, the host lies bleeding in the other room, and his wife is nowhere in sight. His lawyer, Ken, and wife, Chris, must get “the story” straight before the other guests arrive. As the confusions and miscommunications mount, the evening spins off into classic farcical hilarity.
The Great Gatsby August 11-21
Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire, passionately pursues the elusive Daisy Buchanan. Nick Carraway, a young newcomer to Long Island, is drawn into their world of obsession, greed and danger. The breathtaking glamour and decadent excess of the Jazz Age come to the stage in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, and in Simon Levy’s adaptation, approved by the Fitzgerald Estate.
Auditions for Ozark Actors Theatre 2022 Season
United Professional Theatre Auditions – Memphis, Tennessee:
February 4th – 6th (registration with UPTA is necessary to attend these auditions.)
LOCAL auditions at The Cedar Street Playhouse – Rolla, Missouri:
February 18th & 19th
Friday, Feb, 18th | 5 pm – 9 pm
Saturday, Feb 19th | 10 am-3 pm
Callbacks Saturday, Feb 19th | 4 pm-8 pm
Please prepare 2 contrasting monologues or one monologue and 32 bars of a song not to exceed 3 mins. Accompanist provided. Audition from will soon be available at www.ozarkactorstheatre.org/audition.
ST. LOUIS Auditions
10 am – 4 pm
Callbacks 5:30 pm – 8 pm
Please prepare 2 contrasting monologues or one monologue and 32 bars of a song not to exceed 3 mins, and fill out the soon to be available Audition Form at www.ozarkactorstheatre.org/audition. Accompanist provided.
OAT will accept video audition submissions for all shows in our professional summer season. Please submit 2 contrasting monologues or one monologue & 32 bars of a song directly to email@example.com with a headshot and resume
Ozark Actors Theatre (OAT) proudly hires members of the Actors Equity Association (AEA). At OAT we support inclusive casting and encourage performers of all genders, ethnicities, ages and abilities to submit. Submit any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
AEA is committed to diversity and encourages all its employers to engage in a policy of equal employment opportunity designed to promote a positive model of inclusion. As such, Equity (and OAT) encourages performers of all ethnicities, gender identities, and ages, as well as performers with disabilities, to audition.
There’s a new tenant at Armadillo Acres—and she’s wreaking havoc all over Florida’s most exclusive trailer park. Pippi, the exotic dancer on the run, comes between agoraphobic Jeannie and her tollbooth collector husband, and storms begin to brew. A musical comedy that has a little bit of everything: spray cheese, road kill, hysterical pregnancy, a broken electric chair, kleptomania, strippers, and disco!
When Willum has an unexpected party guest, who turns into an unwanted houseguest, he executes an elaborate plan to rid himself of the wacky nuisance. Aided by a rag-tag team that includes friends, a would-be lover and an oblivious boss, creative acts of desperation quickly dissolve into utter mayhem. The twists and turns of this madcap comedy lead to an ending that leaves you feeling happily hoodwinked!
Travel the road with country music’s first music star! This musical follows Hank Williams’ journey from backwoods Alabama, to his triumphs on the Grand Ole Opry, and to his self-destruction at twenty-nine. Audiences will be treated to an unforgettable tribute of more than 20 hits, including “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, “Move It on Over”, “Jambalaya”, and “Hey, Good Lookin’”.
Back together again! This favorite girl group from the Jersey Shore reunites to raise money for the good folk s at Sandy Shores Mobile Home Beach Resort. Reliving their heyday from the summer of ’64, these four inseparable friends offer a nonstop celebration of song from their early days through the next two decades. Featuring the hits “Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “I Will Survive,”and “It’s Raining Men,” The Bikinis is a musical beach party!
Ten people are stranded in an isolated English country house during a raging thunderstorm. Suddenly, one by one they’re picked off by cleverly fiendish devices. As the bodies pile up in the library, the survivors frantically race to uncover the identity and motivation of the cunning culprit. Something’s Afoot is a zany, entertaining musical comedy that takes a satirical poke at Agatha Christie mysteries and musical styles of the English music hall of the ’30s.
A Tuna Christmas
November 30 – December 11
It’s Christmas in the third-smallest town in Texas. Radio news personalities Thurston Wheelis (played by MRT favorite Michael McIntire) and Arles Struvie (played by MRT favorite Sean Riley) report on various Yuletide activities, including the hot competition in the annual lawn-display contest. With the “Christmas Phantom” on the loose and the local Christmas production in peril, there is lots of mayhem to report. In this hilarious sequel to Greater Tuna, two actors play all of the crazy citizens of Tuna, Texas.
And so the final day had come and I had saved the best for last for today would be Magic Kingdom day.
I was able to rest up a little bit longer as early entry would be at 8am. Tonight the park would be open until 1am, but I also ordered Genie+ again as I didn’t want to have to wait late into the night to hit my favorite rides. I also bought a Lightning Lane for Seven Dwarfs’ Mine Train, Magic Kingdom’s newest roller coaster.
As I expected, the place was a zoo prior to rope drop. But I figured everyone would head to the Mine Train, leaving me free to visit Liberty Square and Frontierland where my favorite rides were located. To my shock, only Tomorrowland and Fantasyland were opened up at early entry. I thought that to be a poor business decision and a puzzling one. Every other park opened in its entirety so I couldn’t understand why only part of the Kingdom would open.
As my favorite sections wouldn’t open until 9am, I went ahead and rode one of the WDW originals: It’s a Small World.
This is a slow-moving boat ride that takes you through the countries of the world where scads of animatronic children sing the titular song. It’s syrupy sweet and shares a message about world peace since “it’s a small world after all”. I was really struck by how much animatronics had evolved since this ride. The robots are pretty primitive and seem more like oversized toys, but, at the time, this was undoubtedly cutting-edge technology and would lead to much greater advances.
Eventually, the rest of the park opened and I headed off to Frontierland to visit one of my two favorite rides: Splash Mountain.
Splash Mountain was inspired by the Brer Rabbit sequences from the controversial 1946 movie, “Song of the South”. It, too, will eventually be shut down so it can be overhauled into “The Princess and the Frog” so this was likely my last go round in its original incarnation.
Splash Mountain and Haunted Mansion are my two favorite rides in all of WDW and I could spend a day just flipping between the two and consider it a day well spent. I enjoyed the leisurely float as I watched Brer Rabbit outsmart his nemeses, Brer Fox and Brer Bear, time and again before plunging down the 50 foot drop into the Briar Patch just in time to see Brer Rabbit’s neighbors welcome him home with “Zip a Dee Doo Dah”.
From Splash Mountain it was back to Fantasyland to enjoy the Seven Dwarfs’ Mine Train. It wasn’t that bad of a coaster, but it wasn’t spectacular. Though it was amusing to watch the Dwarfs work their mine before heading home to dance with Snow White.
After the Dwarfs, it was off to the Hundred Acre Wood to experience The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Hop on a honey pot and experience the stories of Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Too. It’s a quick ride, but an entertaining one for the young ones.
Then it was off to Under the Sea-Journey of the Little Mermaid which tells an abridged version of “The Little Mermaid”, but leaves out the darker moments to keep from spooking the children.
From there, I moved right along to Tomorrowland where I took a break by riding The Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover. This is a slow moving cart ride that transports you around the Magic Kingdom, gives you a little history of the park, slips you inside Space Mountain, and is just an all around good way to people watch.
Then I went to over to Space Mountain. It’s an oldie, but a goodie as you ride a single car into space and enjoy a rollicking roller coaster ride in pitch darkness. I’ve heard the coaster only moves at a top rate of 25mph, but feels faster due to your not being able to see anything. It’d be interesting to ride it with the lights on and put that to the test.
I then started making my way over to Adventureland, pausing in front of Cinderella Castle (pictured at the top of this article). If the castle looks familiar to you history buffs, it’s because it was patterned after Neuchwanstein Castle, one of the castles of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Fun fact: each Disney park in the world has its own unique castle.
I wandered past Jungle Cruise, astounded at its popularity. Waits never seemed to get lower than 90 minutes. I imagine the new movie has something to do with it plus a friend of mine told me that some Christmas stuff was added to the ride for the holidays. For myself, I consider it a meh ride at best and one I would have ridden only if the line were short.
Instead, I bypassed that and went to Pirates of the Caribbean. Yes, it’s the ride that gave the world Captain Jack Sparrow and launched a lucrative franchise. I floated around and watched a battle on the high seas and watched pirates loot a town that was going down in flames. Captain Jack popped in from time to time and even warbled “A Pirate’s Life for Me” as you exit the ride.
Then I was off to my other favorite ride: Haunted Mansion.
Enter the home of Master Gracey for a chilling (albeit Disneyfied) ride through a haunted house. I’ve always been amazed at the depth of detail in this ride. It begins in the foyer of the mansion where a picture of Master Gracey ages from a young man to a skeleton in front of your eyes.
From there you enter the stretching room where you see the untimely ends of some of the mansion’s past residents. After escaping you get on your doom buggy to ride through the mansion where creepy events unfold around you. One of my favorite moments is the séance where the disembodied head of Madame Leota (voiced by Eleanor Audley, the voice of Maleficent in “Sleeping Beauty” and the stepmother in “Cinderella”) summons the spirits.
Soon you ride past a ballroom where the ghosts whoop it up in a party except for the two engaging in a duel. Eventually you make your way through a graveyard before picking up a hitchhiking ghost as you exit. For some extra fun be sure to ask a cast member about the legend of Master Gracey.
Eventually I made my way over to Epcot for another early dinner at the San Angel Inn in the Mexico Pavilion.
San Angel Inn is another intime dining experience. I started with a bowl of Sopa Azteca which was a spicy red soup with tortilla chips and followed it up with a main course of Enchiladas con Pollo. Very satisfying meal.
Then I took a ride on the monorail over to the Grand Floridian. This is Disney’s most luxurious hotel and the last thing on my Disney bucket list is to stay one night at this hotel. Brenda had tipped me off that the Floridian goes all out for Christmas and indeed it does.
The decorations here are what I expected to see all over WDW and its centerpiece was an authentic gingerbread house.
After enjoying a quick blast of Christmas cheer, I returned to the Magic Kingdom to enjoy Disney at night. The Kingdom was getting ready to do the first of two fireworks shows and I maneuvered through the crowd to enjoy Pirates and 3 straight runs on Splash Mountain (where I also enjoyed watching the fireworks). From there it was off to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as I roared through the mountains on a train coaster.
Disney was hosting an early New Year’s party so the crowds weren’t really dissipating much. In terms of endurance, I had the juice to go all the way to closing, but my poor feet were throbbing. Small surprise after being on my feet from before sunup to well after sundown and walking an estimated 60 miles over 4 days with little downtime except for sleep.
I took one final ride at Pirates and decided to call an end to the day. I caught the bus back to Coronado Springs. When I got back to my room, I slipped off my shoes and peeled off my socks and just knuckled my tired feet and it felt fabulous. Soon after my lights were out.
The next morning I packed up, boarded the Magical Express, and began the trek home.
It was a grand adventure and I look forward to my next adventure in WDW.
I got to sleep in an extra half hour today as I would be starting things off at Disney Hollywood Studios and early entry would begin at 7:30am.
I opted against purchasing a Genie+ for the day as Hollywood Studios doesn’t have a lot of rides. Instead, much of its focus is experiencing the world of Hollywood from backstage lots to lavish productions to walking down a replica from Hollywood and Vine. Oh, and a little thing called Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
I knew the crowd would immediately make a beeline to Galaxy’s Edge in order to ride Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance so I purchased a special Lightning Lane pass to ride it at 1:35pm and immediately veered towards Hollywood & Vine to ride two of my favorite rides: Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror and Rock n Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith.
The Tower of Terror is a truly unique experience. You’ll be thrust into a Twilight Zone story that tells the story of the Hollywood Tower Hotel which catered to the rich and famous of the 1930s. One night a bellhop and 4 guests were riding the elevator when it was struck by a bolt of lightning and they were vaporized. Now their ghosts haunt the abandoned hotel and you’ll be exploring it.
It’s a genuinely eerie ride as strange phenomena take place and the ghosts beckon you towards them. The highlight of the ride is the famed drop. Originally, the ride took you to the 13th floor where the doors opened, gave you a view of the park, then dropped you 13 stories. Now it’s a random experience where you could rise and fall up to 5 times. It’s never the same ride twice. And I should know for I rode it twice.
I then made my way towards Rock n Roller Coaster only to find it was down and they didn’t know when, or if, it would come up (it never did). This would set a distressing note for my time at Hollywood Studios.
I decided to explore Galaxy’s Edge myself and was extremely impressed by its attention to detail. I genuinely felt like I was in a Star Wars movie. I walked by the Millennium Falcon and noted it was the entrance to the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run ride. Even better, I noticed a single rider line.
I went through the special queue and became part of the crew of the Falcon as I took part in a smuggling mission as an engineer along with two pilots, two gunners, and another engineer. It’s an interactive full motion ride and your team is actually scored. You get a share of the profits minus the cost of any repairs required for the Falcon. As an engineer, it was my duty to repair the Falcon, if damaged, as well as launch the grappling hook to snare the item we were trying to swipe. Whenever buttons and switches flashed on my panel, I’d press them and flip them to fix the Falcon. I only missed one repair on the first go round and was perfect on the second mission.
Then I walked past the famed Rise of the Resistance and saw a swarm of people exiting the attraction. It had gone down.
I made my way over to Muppetvision 3D. Now this is a really fun attraction that puts you right in the middle of a The Muppet Show performance. You walk into a perfect replica of the Muppet Theatre, complete with Statler and Waldorf up in the balcony heckling the Muppets as you experience Muppet Labs latest invention: Muppetvision 3D.
Now this is truly impressive 3D as the images really do seem to pop right off the screen and you think you could really interact with them. As is wont to happen, things go to pieces when Sam the Eagle’s “Tribute to all Countries, but mostly America” number goes haywire resulting in the destruction of the theatre. It truly is the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational time.
I wandered back to the front of the park where I saw an electronic billboard and paused to look at ride wait times. All of the big ones were down with the exception of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railroad. With that being the only working ride, the line was long and the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular wasn’t set to start until noon.
I didn’t feel like twiddling my thumbs for an hour so I left the park and took some rides of a different sort.
First, I hopped on the Disney Skyliner. This gondola system connects Hollywood Studios and Epcot with some of the resorts. I was meeting a friend at Epcot at 2pm and wanted to do a dry run to see how long it would take to ride the gondola as I figured it would be more efficient than waiting for a bus. It was a gentle experience and gave me a good view of the parks and resorts. Total time was 20 minutes. That seemed like it would work, provided Resistance came back up.
Then I got a boat which ultimately took me back to Hollywood Studios where I caught a bus back to Coronado Springs and I rested for a bit.
At 12:45pm, I checked My Disney Experience and saw that Rise of the Resistance was back up so off I went to Hollywood Studios. To be safe, I sent a message to my friend letting her know that we should make the meet-up time 2:15pm and she replied that we should make it 3pm as she was stuck in traffic on I-4. Plenty of time to do the ride and then meet up. . .or so I thought.
When I arrived at Hollywood Studios, my eyes popped when I saw the wait time for Rise of the Resistance. 245 minutes!! And people were truly waiting for 4 hours to ride. Thank goodness for my Lightning Lane.
Then again, maybe not.
The catch with Lightning Lane is that if the ride goes down during the period you were supposed to ride it, your pass is still good. I made my way to Lightning Lane and found the wait was an hour!! Clearly the ride had only recently gone up. I couldn’t wait that long as I had to meet my friend so I opted to eat the cost of Lightning Lane.
Then I boarded Skyliner to get to Epcot. About halfway through the ride, I felt the gondola slow down and then it stopped. And it stayed stopped. . .for 45 minutes. While I was just hanging around, I spoke with the older couple sharing my gondola to pass the time. Slowly, but surely, we finally reached solid ground. To my surprise, a Disney rep was waiting with a $25 gift card to make up for being trapped. This covered my cost for Lightning Lane and then some.
Luckily, I managed to arrive at just the same time that my friend, Brenda Elze, was arriving at Epcot.
I’ve known Brenda for nearly 30 years where we were part of the Papillion-LaVista High School band (Go Monarchs!). We met on a band ski trip where, ironically, we got stuck on a stalled ski lift and I was talking to her to keep her mind off the cold and we’ve been friends ever since.
We spent our day hitting up some rides and noshing our way around the world from the various kiosks. We snacked on poutine, smoked salmon potato latkes, cheese fondue, and a chocolate peppermint stout.
We closed the night having dinner at the Rose and Garden in the UK Pavilion. We both had the Shepherd’s Pie. It was tasty, but not quite as good as the one I enjoyed in Ireland.
The day started off rough, but my time with Brenda ended it spectacularly. After sharing a long hug we said our good-byes and I returned to Coronado Springs.
One of the perks of staying on a Disney property is that you get early entry into the parks. Later hours for on property guests are also making a comeback, but are currently limited only to the deluxe resorts, but I digress.
The final week of December is one of the most crowded of the year (a fact I was unaware of when I booked as when I last visited during this time frame in 1994, it was a low-capacity week, but times change). Though WDW is still capping capacity, the parks do get awfully crowded, but not as bad as I feared. I’d actually seen much worse on certain event days in the past. That being said, I was still banking on the early hours to be able to do my favorite rides first thing without having to endure long waits. Also, because of the heavier crowds, early entry would begin an hour before regular opening instead of 30 minutes.
Currently, you need to make a reservation to visit a park in order to gain entry. The Park Hopper pass has returned so you can bounce between parks, but you have to start in the one you reserved and you can’t start hopping until 2pm. OK, enough prefacing.
Today my reservation was for Animal Kingdom which opened at 8am, meaning that early entry was at 7am. I’m a bit of an early entry veteran so I knew how light the crowds normally were and was counting on that again, especially with such an early opening time.
I arrived at Animal Kingdom and my eyes went wide at the huge lines already waiting to enter the park. Fortunately, I had taken a few precautions.
That morning I booked Genie+ through My Disney Experience. For an extra $15 a day, you can start reserving the Lightning Lane on WDW’s more popular rides.
Lightning Lane replaces the Fastpass system. You can reserve an hour’s time frame to return to the ride and get into a special line where you’ll only wait a few minutes before getting to board. Through experimentation, I found there was a 10-15 minute grace period before and after the time frame you’re given for the most part. Use of Lightning Lane is unlimited for the day, but the catch is that you can only book a new experience every two hours. Please note that you can start booking at 7am, but the 2 hour clock doesn’t start ticking until the park officially opens. So that means I booked a pass for Kali River Rapids at 7am, but wasn’t able to book again until 10am since the park officially opened at 8am. After that I was able to book every two hours for any park until they closed or until all the Lightning Lanes got used up. To keep people from cheating you have to pass through two checkpoints with your park ticket card, Magicband, or Magicmobile device in order to utilize the lane.
With Fastpass, it was impossible to have overlapping times with another ride, but you can do that with Lightning Lane. So with a little strategy, you can stack Lightning Lanes and get a series of line skips.
My other precaution was that I knew everybody and their uncle would be heading for Avatar: Rite of Passage. Due to its mega popularity and relative newness, you can’t get a regular Lightning Lane pass, but you can purchase a special Lightning Lane pass just for that ride. I did so and would return around 6:30pm to ride it. As such, I was able to hit all the other rides in Animal Kingdom with minimal waits.
Animal Kingdom is a hybrid of amusement park and zoo and is my least favorite of the four. Sure, there’s plenty of fun, but you can do it all in a half day, at best.
I followed the crowds to Pandora since it was new to me and wanted to see what it looked like. I was blown away by the construction of the world of Pandora which housed the Avatar ride, but while a humongous line formed over there (the wait was already at 2 hours), I moseyed over to Na’vi River Journey which had a wait of zero minutes.
Na’vi River Journey is a pleasant boat ride through the world of Avatar and I was blown away by the advancement in animatronics. With the use of projected animated faces for expressions and the fluidity of movement, the robots seem like real people.
It was an enjoyable ride, but not enough for me to take a second go so I headed over to Dinoland, USA to ride Dinosaur.
Dinosaur is a dark EMV attraction where you ride a time rover back to the age of the dinosaurs. The tour is supposed to take you to the early Cretaceous period, but one of the scientists, Dr. Grant Seeker, informs you that he intends to send your group back to the late Cretaceous period in order to save an Iguanodon from extinction and bring it back to the present. Unfortunately, the late Cretaceous is when the theorized meteor shower that wiped out the dinosaurs struck so you’re racing against the clock.
It’s a bumpy, exciting ride as you see legendary beasts of yore before escaping from the meteor shower with the Iguanodon who then starts wandering about the Institute, but that’s Dr. Seeker’s problem.
Then I made my over to Expedition Everest. This is a thrilling roller coaster ride where you search for the legendary Yeti, but be wary. Thanks to this ride’s single rider line, I dashed through it three times in a row.
From there I visited Kali River Rapids and the line was so low that I took a ride on it. It’s a river raft ride meant to show the dangers of deforestation, though that seems to be a bit more underplayed nowadays. It’s a fun ride and I got a fair dousing after barreling down a waterfall which was more invigorating than a morning cup of joe.
I wandered through Maharajah Jungle Trek to dry off and view tigers, monkeys, and other animals. Then I used my pass to get through Kali River Rapids again.
By 10:30, I had done everything I wanted. Normally, I would have hopped to another park, but since that was out until 2pm, I simply went back to Coronado Springs to rest and use the pool.
Coronado Springs does have multiple pools, but the main one is called the Dig Site. A towering Mayan pyramid dominates the site and the site has a large heated pool and hot tub. It also has a pretty fun water slide called the Jaguar Slide, so I enjoyed a pleasant period splashing, sliding, and luxuriating in the hot tub.
Then I caught up on some reading in the hotel room before making my way back to Epcot.
I did some more exploring before heading to the Canada Pavilion to have a very early dinner at Le Cellier Steakhouse.
I had been looking forward to this meal for a long, long time. I had tried to get a reservation on every trip I’d taken to WDW for the last 20 years and was denied each and every time. Finally, I managed to get that elusive reservation and mark it off the bucket list.
As I was led to my table, I saw why I had so much difficulty snaring a reservation. If that restaurant could hold more than 150 people, I’d have been amazed. It’s also one of the most popular restaurants in all of WDW.
I started off with an exquisite bowl of Canadian Cheddar Cheese soup. It was seasoned just right and had bits of bacon and chives mixed into it. It was also served with three kinds of rolls (sourdough, pretzel, and multigrain with sunflower seeds). The main course was a NY strip with cheddar potatoes au gratin, crispy onions, and le poivre (ground black pepper) sauce. This was the tastiest steak I had ever eaten. So tender and juicy. I spent over an hour savoring this meal and sent my compliments to the chef. My server, Sharee, was perfect. She checked on me just enough so I could savor my meal and gave me a to go cup so I could sip my soda as I walked around Epcot.
After walking off some of my meal, I dashed back over to Animal Kingdom where I worked my way through the crowd getting ready to watch the closing show at the Tree of Life to make my way to Avatar. Animal Kingdom closes shortly after sundown due to its lack of artificial light.
Avatar takes full motion technology to the ultimate level. The theme of the ride is that you’re linked with a Na’Vi avatar to experience the rite of passage of flying on an ikran or mountain banshee. With the use of 3-D glasses and the motion technology, you fly around the beautiful world of Pandora and actually feel like you’re flying on the ikran. You can even feel it breathing and its wings flap. Definitely worth the money I paid for the Lightning Lane.
Speaking of which, I had been stacking them up at Epcot so I returned there to start burning them off.
The two new rides I rode were Soarin’ and Frozen Ever After.
Soarin’ is also an impressive piece of motion technology that simulates taking a hang gliding trip around the world as you sail over pyramids, oceans, deserts, mountains, elephants, and whales. Frozen Ever Water is the 2nd most popular ride in Epcot and replaced the Maelstrom ride in Norway. I think it tells an abbreviated version of Frozen, but I’m unfamiliar with the film. I did marvel at the incredible animatronic technology.
After the ride, I nabbed a peppermint sundae from the Holiday Sweets and Treats kiosk and enjoyed some ice cream before returning to the hotel for the night.
I just finished one hectic adventure. So hectic that I had neither the time nor the energy to do my daily write-ups. So welcome to Part I of the tale of my final visit to Walt Disney World.
WHAT???? I hear some of you expostulate. Let me clarify.
Those who know me know of my fondness for the Disney parks. While I have enjoyed them as a solo visitor, I realize that adventures like this are even more fun when shared. So, barring unusual circumstances, the next time I visit Disney, it will be with friends and family.
Upon making this decision, I decided to plan a very special finale, especially as my last visit to WDW was ten years ago. Normally I visit during the summer, but that brutal heat and humidity eat me alive. Now my love for Christmas is legendary and having done an early family Christmas, a most wonderful idea struck me.
I would visit WDW right after Christmas and fuse my love for the holidays with WDW.
December 27 found me flying a non-stop flight to Orlando via Southwest. God was looking over me that day as a powerful tail wind brought me to Florida almost 40 minutes early.
During the pandemic, I finally caught up to the rest of the planet and invested in a smartphone. So I downloaded the My Disney Experience app and I’d highly recommend it for your visit to Disney parks. You can plan an itinerary, get tips, order food, make Lightning Lane and restaurant reservations (120 days in advance as opposed to the 60 using the webpage via a computer), and check into your hotel far in advance. On arrival day, the app will give you your room number and, with MagicMobile, your phone turns into the room key and park passes. That way you can bypass the front desk, go straight to your room, and have more park time.
But first, you have to get to your hotel. I made use of Disney’s Magical Express which provides free round trip transportation from airport to hotel for those staying on Disney property. Once upon a time, the Magical Express also took care of your luggage so you could skip baggage claim, but I learned that particular service was no longer offered when I booked this trip.
Regrettably, you will not be able to make use of this service as Magical Express ended operations as of Dec 31 so I ended up being one of the final people to ever make use of it. Mears, the company that managed Magical Express, will still work with Disney to provide transportation, but it’s going to cost you. Standard service will be $32 a head for round trip standard service and an express service will be offered for $250 (for up to 4 people). I’d stick with standard service as you’ll be on your way within 20 minutes. Outside of price, the only real difference is that express takes you straight to your resort while you might make a few stops with standard service which was how the Magical Express operated.
As my final solo outing, I decided to book a moderate resort (Disney’s middle tier). Moderate resorts will have some onsite restaurants and bigger rooms. I picked Coronado Springs and hit the jackpot.
Coronado Springs has been dubbed “the deluxe resort (top tier) priced as a moderate” and I believe it. It had recently gone through a massive renovation which updated the rooms and added the Gran Destino Tower which is a more luxurious set of rooms. The property also contains a fitness center and spa and is Disney’s largest property. It’s like a small town and has multiple bus stops. Since the price difference was negligible, I booked a preferred room with a king bed. Preferred rooms guarantee a good view of the property and usually contain a view of the lagoon or swimming pools.
I was notified that my room was ready while I was on the Express so I was delighted that I could go straight to my room without having to store my luggage since I was arriving several hours earlier than the 3pm check in time.
I entered the main lobby at Gran Destino where I was directed to my room. I felt my Christmas juices flowing as I gazed at the elegantly decorated lobby and couldn’t wait to see what the parks had prepared for Christmas. I took the elevator to the lower lobby and marveled at the button design as they were on the outside of the elevator. You press the button for your floor, then get a message saying what elevator will be transporting you.
It was a fair hike to my room at about 10 minutes, but I had a room on the top floor with a lovely view of the courtyard and swimming pool. A very spacious room awaited me and I put my clothes and toiletries away and immediately headed to Epcot. For those on property, complimentary bus service is available at all resorts. Some of the resorts also have alternate modes of transportation. Depending on where you’re staying, you might be able to travel via boat, monorail, or gondola.
EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) is the park I always do on the first day since I can’t get a full day. It’s a more adult themed park as it’s very educational and cultural. While it does boast rides, they’re all very slow paced and perpetual motion based with a few exceptions.
Epcot is also broken into two sections: Future World and World Showcase. Future World deals with science and technology (mostly) while World Showcase takes you on a miniature tour of the world.
I started things off in Future World by visiting Test Track. This is the lone power ride of the park which simulates the testing of a new car. This ride also boasts a single rider line so solo guests can bypass the main line and just fill in a gap. Groups can use this line, but you will be split apart. But I highly suggest using it as you’ll get to ride in about 5 to 10 minutes so you could do it several times over.
From there I also enjoyed rides on Spaceship Earth, Living with the Land, and Journey Into Imagination with Figment.
Spaceship Earth (pictured at the top of this article) is the ride in Epcot’s famed geosphere (or giant golf ball, as its nicknamed) which takes you on a tour through the history of communication. It’s also the longest ride in any of the parks at a whopping 16 minutes and is narrated by Dame Judi Dench. The ride is slated for a massive overhaul which will shut it down for two years, but that project was delayed by the pandemic and has not yet been rescheduled.
Speaking of the pandemic, masks are required on all rides and anywhere indoors. Now back to the rides.
Living with the Land takes you on a boat ride where you learn about growing foods. The fruits, spices, and vegetables you see growing in the greenhouses are actually used in Disney restaurants. Journey Into Imagination with Figment takes you on a tour of the Imagination Institute hosted by Dr. Nigel Channing (played by Monty Python alum, Eric Idle). Channing’s tour gets taken over by Figment, a talking purple dragon who teaches you how to unleash your imagination.
Then I made a stop at Club Cool which is an exhibit where you can sample Coca-Colas from around the world. It’s a good place to get free drinks though you can also get free cups of water at most eateries as Florida law mandates that it be available due to the sweltering heat in the summers.
They had actually changed up the flavors from my last visit. My favorite was Country Mix from the Dominican Republic which has a creamy, fruity flavor. Beverly, from Italy, is my least favorite and isn’t meant to be enjoyed. It’s a bitter aperitif meant to activate your taste buds so you can enjoy your meal more.
Then I began meandering around the World Showcase beginning with the giant Christmas tree. I admit I was surprised at what I considered the lack of Christmas decorations. Don’t get me wrong. There were elegant wreaths and lights everywhere, but I was expecting a lot of flash and pizzazz and not the understated beauty I saw.
Epcot is running its Festival of the Holidays so each country in World Showcase is doing little shows explaining how Christmas is celebrated in that particular region. It also does a Candlelight Processional telling the story of Jesus’ birth each night with a different celebrity reader each week of the holiday season.
Each region also has special food kiosks for the holiday season so you can sample food and drink from different cultures and each sample costs between $5ish to $15ish. I hadn’t eaten all day so I stopped at L’Chaim where I had a delicious pastrami on rye with a homemade pickle and mustard to tide me over until dinner.
I did walk through all the countries, but stopped at the Mexico Pavilion where I entered the faux Mayan pyramid so I could ride Gran Fiesta Tour, a boat ride that shows you the culture of Mexico under the conceit of Panchito and Jose Carioca of the Three Caballeros searching for Donald Duck so they could perform their concert.
Then it was time for dinner. Epcot has the best restaurants of the 4 parks so I had dinner there each night. For the first night, I hit up one of my favorites: Teppan Edo in the Japan Pavilion.
Teppan Edo is teppanyaki dining which means the food is cooked at your table. A salad course precedes the main entrée and it was served with a ginger peach dressing that blew my socks off. For my main course, I enjoyed steak, chicken, and shrimp served with vegetables and Udon noodles along with steamed rice and enjoyed some conversation with Dave and Kyla who were seated with me at the table.
With a fine meal under my belt, I enjoyed the Christmas lights as night had fallen and the geosphere had been turned into a mammoth Christmas ornament as it went through a beautiful light show.
I had thought about using my Park Hopper to dash over to Magic Kingdom, but it had been a long day. So I returned to Coronado Springs to go to bed as I had to get up mighty early the next morning.