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Hanging with the Big Top Boys

Big thanks to Katherine for helping me out of this strange (temporary?) blog funk I’m in. Do you ever just have no idea what to write about but you know you want to write something? That’s me tonight. I suppose I could write about the Sorcerer Hat leaving Hollywood Studios but after this great post from Zannaland, I don’t think I have much to add to the blog world about it. This is definitely a positive in the quiet life of DHS but I am hoping the changes that come after January are positive ones. (Don’t hurt my Muppets!)


I’ve written before that I never actually liked character meet and greets when I should have been the age where they were “acceptable”. What is acceptable anyway? You have grown men walking around with Goofy hats and moms in Mickey Crocs… I think it’s save to say nothing is off limits when you are on vacation in a Disney Park. I mean, that’s why we go, isn’t it?

In the past few years, I have a new found appreciation for meeting characters. Maybe I’m more comfortable with my inner-nerd, who knows? Maybe I just like to hug furry things and talk to characters who aren’t going to talk to me back. It’s such an easy relationship! Especially when they are fun, and if you have ever stopped to visit the famous pals at Pete’s Silly Sideshow Meet and Greet in Storybook Circus.

During our very delightful Magic Kingdom day before the Wine & Dine half marathon last year, Katherine and I headed over and snapped some shots with The Great Goofini and The Amazing Donaldo. I have to say… it was very sweet how everyone around us kept wanting to take joint shots of us with Goofy and Donald, but Katherine and I needed a little solo time… because they were practically fighting over us.

I have no idea what The Amazing Donaldo was trying to accomplish. But I do feel like we had a very Dawson’s Creek moment at one point. Not sure if I won that fight or not… (I think he took Katherine on a magic carpet ride.)

Clearly, Goofy and I did not have the same connection that he had with Katherine.

Aren’t these fun? I never thought a meet & greet would be a must-stop for me on a vacation or I would call THIS my favorite spot in Storybook Circus. (I do also like the bathroom very much.) I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of crazy antics ensues the next time I stop in and say hello to Pete’s Silly Sideshow.

Any other meet and greets I should stop in? Please share!

I Am Big Bird (and Oscar) | Muppet Monday


I hope you all had a grand weekend. It was a pretty relaxing, delightfully blustery few days in New York City, and a perfect afternoon to head to The Brooklyn Academy of Music for a showing of the I Am Big Bird documentary — spotlighting the almost 50-year career of Caroll Spinney, the man behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.

I don’t know why I was so surprised by what I saw in the film because I don’t know a ton about Caroll Spinney. It’s not because I have never been interested, either; you just don’t see it out there. Here are a few new things I learned:

  • Caroll Spinney was supposed to be on the Challenger flight as Big Bird
  • Matt Vogel (Constantine!) is his apprentice and will take over when Spinney officially retires
  • Caroll originally wanted to be an animator and was turned down for a job at Disney
  • He came dangerously close to quitting Sesame Street

One thing I never thought about that was so utterly fascinating:

  • Big Bird/Oscar the Grouch are both operated differently than other Muppets so Caroll is always kind of on his own. They talked a lot about how he wasn’t “a part of the group”

Not only does I Am Big Bird chronicle Spinney’s career but it’s also a tribute to his love story with his wife, Debra. Spinney went through a difficult divorce early in his career, married to someone who didn’t support his art. A few years later, he met Debra and their love story was just off the charts adorable and sweet. It was such an unexpected sub-plot to the documentary but I loved it because it really drove home the point about how important it is to love your life and love your work.

I also can’t say enough of the behind-the-scenes footage from Sesame Street, Follow That Bird, and even social events. There were a lot of special Jim Henson cameos (it’s always great to see new footage of him) but the real kicker was Spinney’s absolutely heartbreaking performance at Jim’s memorial service. I’ve seen it on YouTube but there’s nothing like seeing it on the big screen. I was the loud sobber on the left, guys. So difficult to watch, but also the perfect way to see how much Jim meant to Spinney.

I keep gushing, I know, but I have to mention the great animated scenes. There are a few that depict how Jim and Spinney first met, and then others that show exactly how the puppet of Big Bird works. That was so nice to see, and the animation makes it so much easier to understand the mechanics of the characters. Every time I see a documentary like this or learn more about the Muppets or puppets, I am just amazed by the dedication, talent, and arm muscles of these people. It’s such a demanding job — physically and emotionally — and here is Spinney still going at 80 years old. It’s truly amazing.

Except for some jarring scene changes and a dependence on music to drive home the emotional point (it didn’t need it), an hour and thirty minutes of Big Bird, Oscar, and, of course, Caroll, simply flies by and you feel like you could listen to Caroll tell life stories all day long. More and more, I am anxious for someone to get cracking on a Sesame Street documentary because there were so many intriguing points brought up by the cast in interviews. I am very interested in how the show has changed over time (I didn’t realize the adults weren’t a part of the show as much anymore) and even the shifting popularity of certain characters (Big Bird has nearly been replaced by Elmo). So while I wish for more documentaries, I hope you’ll find an opportunity to catch this flick. I Am Big Bird will leave you feeling inspired and dying to know more.

Thanks to Copper Pot, Carrol Spinney, and BAM for an excellent afternoon!

I Am Big Bird at BAM

Cheryl Henson, Caroll Spinney, Debra Spinney, and Dave LaMattina.

Caroll Spinney and Oscar the Grouch at BAM

Oscar wishes us a rotten evening.

Weekly Round Up: October 28October 28, 2014 - 7:00 am

[…] all there is to learn about the biggest, most yellowest Muppet on This Happy Place […]

Trip Prep: Something’s Roasting (On an Open Fire)

Somehow it’s almost November. Somehow I am just about at the 2-week mark before my trip.


I’m not going to fight it. Nope. My trip preppin’ continue with FOOD. Sweet, delicious food. (Be sure to check out Alex’s take on pretty much the most important part of vacation.)

I’ll admit I don’t have many big food plans. (Part budget, part Food & Wine opportunities.) But here are a few of the spots I’m looking forward to checking out:

The Landscape of Flavors at Art of Animation

The lunch/dinner menu is the one that catches by eye more with a lot of stir fry and tandoori shrimp, sausage, and squash! Sure, there are the basics like pizza and burgers but I like that Disney has taken some care with the food situation at the newer value resorts. It definitely inspires me to make this a stop, instead of leaving it up to the parks to fill me up.

A return to Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater and ‘Ohana

It’s always fun to revisit eating spots too. I can’t remember the last time I went to Sci-Fi but it was always a top stop during family trips. (I can’t get enough of that movie loop!) It’s been about six years since I’ve been to Ohana, and, unlike my first trip there, it will be nice to be with a big group. I know there have been a lot of changes to the menu lately, and, of course, ambiance isn’t at a high because of the Polynesian renovation so I’m definitely curious. (But hey, I get to drink out of a pineapple. Win!)

Food & Wine stops

Working on my Kill Refurb Marry post this month REALLY helped with my Food & Wine wishlist. Most of the time I don’t prep ahead of time and I think that was part of my failure at making the most of the festival last year. It gets so crowded and so frustrating that I’d rather just avoid it. But not this year. Gimme some Desserts & Champagne, let me say hello to the Puerto Rico kiosk, and try the new escargot offering in France. (Man, I’m bummed my old standby is gone.) Sidenote: is anyone confusing Food&Wine with the Flower&Garden festival now? I swear, my brain can’t handle both.

Some other food thoughts:

  • Give up on the Citrus Swirl (the line at Sunshine Seasons always takes forever) and just get a Dole Whip.
  • Will I have time for a Waffle Sandwich at Sleepy Hollow (Magic Kingdom)? I hope so.
  • Are we there yet?

Waffle Sandwich at Sleepy Hollow in Magic Kingdom

Hope this post made you hungry… I’m going to have some crackers now and pretend it’s a Food & Wine delicacy.

Catch up on my Trip Prep posts: going to disney world!trip checklista non-runner at a half-marathon

Say hi to my vacation twin: Alex at Practically Imperfect to hear about her Wine & Dine trip AND her Cruise. (Still jealous.)

Jenn @ Fairest Run of AllOctober 23, 2014 - 10:32 am

I will totally split a Sleepy Hollow waffle with you. I like all flavors!

[…] Happy Place Blog reviews her food plans for her upcoming […]

My Happy Place: Fantasia Gardens (Disneyland Paris)

Very happy to be whisked away to Disneyland Paris today with a post from our friend Q, who last chatted with us about the charming Cape Cod area at Tokyo DisneySea. Once again, he brings attention to a spot in the Disney Parks that you might not immediately think to look for. Thanks so much, Q! – e

Let me take you to a place nearly every single guest of Disneyland Park at Disneyland Paris passes without soaking in its beauty and romance, as they rush to exciting adventures in the nearby magic kingdom.

Welcome to Fantasia Gardens — another happy place of mine that leaves me captivated — as it sits resplendent in front of the fanciful Victorian ‘Disneyland Hotel’ (Paris) before you pass underneath and head into Disneyland Park.

Whether snow-covered in the coldest parts of the Marne-la-Vallée winters or ablaze in colourful abundance of the spring, Fantasia Gardens is a beautifully landscaped garden with intriguing winding pathways that meander through mini woodlands and ponds. After crossing small stone bridge-ways and walking along the paths nestled amongst the trees, four stunning and romantic gazebos appear.

Fantasia Gardens Disneyland Paris 6

Sit and relax, people watch, or wait to meet your group or partner for your imminent adventures on the ornate park benches as you relish the natural beauty of the gardens. Grand staircases offer views of the magical landscaping, and the excited guests preparing for their dreams to become reality.

When not frozen in the colder months, trickling streams bubble down rocky waterways and birds bathe in waterfalls as leaves fall gently to the ground below. Fountains spray from the gleaming lake, with the famous Floral Mickey smiling from across the way. The gardens and pathways on the outer edges are often deserted, and perfect for catching a quiet moment of reflection.

Fantasia Gardens Disneyland Paris 5

At night, Fantasia Gardens turns into an enchanting place, gently lit by elegant cast-iron light poles, and the hundreds of glowing popcorn lights that adorn the Disneyland Hotel, the stunning garden gazebos, and the trees throughout the gardens.

It’s the perfect farewell after experiencing a day in Disneyland.

I visited Disneyland Paris, the jewel of Disney’s Magic Kingdom Parks, in February 2013 and February 2014, and though it didn’t snow during my stay, it was very cold (weather I adore after our brutal Australian summers). Fantasia Gardens wasn’t in full bloom because of the time of year, but even without flowers everywhere, the gardens completely bewitched me. After finding a few other pictures online, I could only imagine basking in the breathtaking beauty of these gardens during a Parisian spring, summer, or autumn.

Fantasia Gardens Disneyland Paris 2

I would give anything to have a yard big enough to landscape (perhaps with a trickling stream!), along with a gazebo as beautiful as those in the Gardens. It is for sure a Happy Place for me that I remember fondly, always dreaming of the day I can return. When I think of it, view pictures of it, or watch the rare video footage of it, I am overcome with a sense of peace.

At the Gardens, you may be only a few seconds away from entering “worlds of history, discovery and ageless fantasy” but, for me, they are more than their location. They offer their own kind of magic.

Note from Q: for more info on the history of Fantasia Gardens, check out this wonderful piece from Designing Disney.

markOctober 22, 2014 - 2:50 am

Great post! I love love love Fantasia Gardens and always make sure to leave some time to just sit, take it all in and people watch during a busy day in the parks. Even now as an AP of Disneyland Paris, it doesn’t get old. I can assure you that spring and summer are absolutely breathtaking- the flowers are magnificent during the warmer months! Make sure to plan another visit for Swing into Spring!

Hook, Line and… | Hook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz

HookHook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz
Part of Disney Hyperion series.
Release Date: 9/16/2014 | Pages: 304
Age group: 8-12 years old (Middle Grade)
Find on: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Big thanks to Disney Hyperion for supply a galley of Hook’s Revenge for an honest review.

If you’ve ever wondered about Captain’s Hook’s possible offspring, then here’s your chance to dive into Heidi Schulz’s version of the story with the spunky, fearless Jocelyn, daughter of the infamous Hook.

You see Jocelyn was born with a spirit of adventure in her bones but finds herself learning how to be prim and proper in a boarding school. She dreams of life on the ocean, and learning about the father she’s never met. Imagine The Little Princess with a little Disney magic thrown in.

A major highlight for me was Jocelyn’s budding friendship with Roger. She’s never really had a friend on her side, and when the two meet and dream of faraway places together, it was pretty adorable. But like most stories, a wrench is thrown into their plans and the two friends are forced to learn a lot before their joint daydreams can be realized.

Jocelyn must also deal with her father’s reputation and figuring out what kind of person she wants to be. Not so easy when you are a kid and there’s a lot of pressure from those around you to act a certain way, but, from page one, you know that Jocelyn will find her way even if she gets herself into a few messes first. (She really, really loved to be messy.)

With some quirky and fun illustrations from John Hendrix, Hook’s Revenge is the kind of read to pick up before bedtime for the kid at heart and the kid in your life. For the big kids there are plenty of grown up jokes (the narrator is pretty excellent) to keep you chuckling and for the kids, it was great to have such a strong young lady at the helm of this quest. To me, this is the best way to present a middle grade book because you want it to be an experience for everyone reading.

What can I say? I was hooked. (Har, har. Stay tuned for book 2, The Pirate’s Code, out in 2015.)

What others are saying about Hook’s Revenge:

  • “…it wasn’t a re-telling of Peter Pan. It was a full blown, “this is what happens after the fact”, dealing with the family of one the notorious literary villains of all time. It was wonderful. Quirky, funny, quick, witty, and more.” – Jeff, MiceChat & Communicore Weekly
  • “This is middle grade fiction at its best. Clever, riotous, fast-paced and bewitching with an imaginative premise, a cast of sincere, lovable characters and a message both profound and deeply felt, Hook’s Revenge is a book I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to even the most reluctant of middle grade readers.” – Jen, Pop! Goes the Reader