3 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Mark Twain

Today is Mark Twain’s 176th birthday. I know this because the Google doodle told me. (Isn’t that how we find out most things?) Now, you may not immediately think of Walt Disney World when you think of Mark Twain, but that’s just the way my mind works. In fact, there are a number of references to Mark Twain and his works throughout the Parks.

So, here are three things to do in Walt Disney World if you love Mark Twain.

1. The American Adventure

I think I was an adult before I ever saw The American Adventure, because it seemed too educational. If you’re like I was, and you’ve never actually seen the show, you might not know that Mark Twain is one of the hosts. He’s played by a particularly advanced Audio-Animatronic (actually three), who smokes a cigar. (Not that I condone smoking, but a smoking Audio-Animatronic is pretty impressive.) He has some humorous lines, and I think he serves as a fitting narrator of American history.

2. Tom Sawyer Island

Accessible only by raft, this island in Frontierland is, obviously, named after the main character in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. According to this sign, all the names on the island can be found in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (Although I don’t know that that is true of Fort Langhorn, which is a reference to Mark Twain’s real name: Samuel Langhorn Clemens.)

Map of Tom Sawyer Island in Frontierland, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

The most famous scene from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is when Tom tricks his friends into whitewashing a fence for him, so each morning, cast members hide a few paintbrushes around the island. If you find one and turn it in to a cast member, you get a reward (such as a FASTPASS). They’re usually all found by midday, so if you want to hunt for one, head to Tom Sawyer Island as soon as it opens (usually an hour after park opening).

3. The Liberty Belle

In Disneyland, one of the riverboats on the Rivers of America is actually called the Mark Twain, but in Magic Kingdom, it’s the Liberty Belle. Mark Twain was a riverboat pilot in his youth, and that experience led to his adopting Mark Twain as his pen name. Calling out “mark twain” meant the river was at least two fathoms deep, making it safe for the boat to pass. So, I say a riverboat ride is a fitting way to honor Mark Twain, even if the boat doesn’t bear his name.

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A Mark Twain–themed day would actually be comparatively relaxing compared to many I’ve described here on Vacationearing. There are only two parks involved, and nothing that would require standing in long queues. If you want to try to find Tom Sawyer’s paintbrushes, you should start at Magic Kingdom and try to get on one of the first rafts to Tom Sawyer Island. You could frantically search for a brush or just wander around the island, enjoying all the literary references. When you’re ready, take a raft back to shore, and then take a riverboat ride. After that, head on over to Epcot (consider taking the ferryboat to the Transportation and Ticket Center) to experience The American Adventure.

Happy birthday, Mark Twain!

4 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Street Theater

Walt Disney World is, in essence, one great big show. That’s why Disney employees are called “cast members.” A big part of that show is created by the scenery and attractions, but those elements are relatively static. The most dynamic part of the show is the ever-changing band of performers who create a form of entertainment known as Streetmosphere. Streetmosphere is Disney’s take on street theater, and while it originated in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (see Studios Central’s history of Streetmosphere), you can now encounter it in various forms throughout all four Parks (plus Downtown Disney and Disney’s BoardWalk).

So, here are four things to do in Walt Disney World if you love street theater.

1. Interact with the Citizens of Hollywood

When you enter Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you’re walking down the streets of Hollywood in its golden age, so what else would you expect to find but movie stars, directors, and divas? As I mentioned, there are street performers in all four Parks, but they are at their most theatrical in Hollywood Studios. If you love improv, here’s your chance to interact with talented performers who will stay in character no matter what happens (within reason). For an idea of whom you might meet, check out Studios Central’s Citizens of Hollywood directory.

2. Meet the Citizens of Main Street, U.S.A.

If you arrive at Magic Kingdom before opening (and you should), you get to see the delightful opening show, which stars the Citizens of Main Street, U.S.A. and a trainful of Disney characters. A citizen (often the mayor) starts the show and leads the countdown to rope drop. After opening and throughout the day, you can meet and take photos with a variety of citizens, all with names, job titles, and life stories. Depending on the day and time, you could encounter:

3. Enjoy International Performances in World Showcase

The street performers in World Showcase in Epcot are as diverse as the countries they represent. If you love a cappella music, don’t miss the Voices of Liberty in the American Adventure pavilion. If you enjoy acrobatics, look for the Jeweled Dragon Acrobats at the China pavilion or the Serveur Amusant at the France pavilion. If you want to be involved in the show, find the World Showcase Players in the United Kingdom pavilion. Unlike the citizens you encounter in Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom, the performers in World Showcase have specific scheduled showtimes, so keep your Times Guide handy.

4. Find DiVine in Animal Kingdom

See anything amiss in this picture?

DiVine, stilt walker in Disney's Animal Kingdom

It’s DiVine, the stilt-walker whose leafy costume allows her to blend into the flora of Animal Kingdom… except when she decides to cross the path.

DiVine, stilt walker in Disney's Animal Kingdom, crossing the path

Now, sometimes you find DiVine, and sometimes she finds you! I love seeing people who have no idea that DiVine is there suddenly realize that the foliage is alive! She’s usually spotted on the pathway between Africa and Asia. Her appearances aren’t published in the Times Guide, but cast members can give you a hint on when to look for her.

Close-up of DiVine, stilt walker in Disney's Animal Kingdom

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Since street theater is more something you stumble upon rather than plan to see, I’m not sure a street theater-themed day hitting all of these experiences is all that desirable. You may spend a lot of time waiting around on the chance someone will appear, and that’s especially problematic when you’re trying to do all four Parks in a day. Also, since most of the performances are between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., you won’t be able to take advantage of evening hours.

If you really want to experience Streetmosphere, I’d suggest touring relatively normally (visiting one park or maybe two per day), but with one big exception: don’t run from attraction to attraction! Spend more time wandering in places where attractions are fewer but street performers abound, like Main Street, U.S.A.; Hollywood Boulevard; Sunset Boulevard; and World Showcase. Keep an eye out for any performances starting, and when you see them, stay and watch. Take photos. Get involved. Make a fool of yourself. (You won’t see most of these people again anyway.)

If you still want to try to see Streetmosphere in all four Parks in one day, I’d suggesting starting in Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios, depending on which set of citizens interests you more (or, if applicable, which park opens earlier). Then head over to Animal Kingdom, since DiVine is most often found between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (You’ll want to talk to a cast member when you get there to find out when she might appear that day.) Once you’ve spotted DiVine, head to Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios, whichever you didn’t start at. Then make sure you get to Epcot before 5 p.m., as most performances in World Showcase are between noon and 5 p.m. It won’t be easy, but I warned you.

So, what magical moments have you experienced with street performers at Walt Disney World?

3 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year, but I like giving Thanksgiving its due before leaping into the Christmas season. Everybody loves something different about Thanksgiving. Some enjoy the food, others the football. There’s a taste of American history, and perhaps time spent at the kids table. Whatever you enjoy most, you can experience your favorite parts of Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World any time of year.

So, here are three things to do in Walt Disney World if you love Thanksgiving.

1. Enjoy a delicious meal

If you’re in Walt Disney World on Thanksgiving itself, you can get a traditional turkey dinner pretty much anywhere, so the restaurant’s availability and atmosphere are the key factors to consider. If you want a place that feels like home, with people who will tell you to eat your vegetables and keep your elbows off the table, eat at 50’s Prime Time Café at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you’re fascinated by colonial America, try Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom. If you’re just in it for the football, head to ESPN Club at Disney’s BoardWalk.

If you want a Thanksgiving-style meal at another time of year, Liberty Tree Tavern is your best bet. They serve Pilgrim’s Feast—”traditional roast turkey and herb bread dressing, mashed potatoes and a garden vegetable”—year round.

2. Watch a parade

A lot of people watch this one particular parade every Thanksgiving. I can’t say the name of its sponsor, because I’m loyal to Chicago and Marshall Field’s, but I think you know the one I mean. Although they don’t have any giant balloons, Walt Disney World’s parades are pretty fantastic. You can choose from A Dream Come True Parade (afternoon) or Main Street Electrical Parade (evening) at Magic Kingdom, Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun! (afternoon) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Jammin’ Jungle Parade (afternoon) at Animal Kingdom.

3. Eat turkey

You can’t spend much time in Frontierland without spotting people eating turkey—more specifically, gigantic smoked turkey legs. (You can also find them in the other Parks, such as at Toluca Legs Turkey Company in Hollywood Studios.) I find the idea of walking around eating a huge chunk of meat in the Florida heat pretty unappealing, but to each his own. If what you love best about Thanksgiving is the turkey, have at it.

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This is where I usually suggest an itinerary for doing a day at Disney themed around what you love, but this one is pretty much a choose-your-own-adventure. Pick your restaurant and parade of choice, and enjoy a leisurely day with the family (or friends who feel like family). And eat lots of meat, if you so desire.

Happy Thanksgiving!

4 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love the Muppets

It’s time to play the music. It’s time to light the lights… because I’m going to The Muppets tonight! I love going to midnight showings, and I am so excited to see the new Muppets movie. I’m also eager to see what the movie might do for the future of the Muppets franchise. If it’s a hit, maybe we’ll finally see more Muppets in Walt Disney World!

Until that happens, there is still Muppetational fun to be had in the Parks, so here are four things to do in Walt Disney World if you love the Muppets (and who doesn’t?).

1. Muppet*Vision 3-D

While the Muppet Studios section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios never came to fruition, I’m so glad we got Muppet*Vision 3D, the last film directed by Jim Henson. The film is delightful, of course, but what I enjoy even more are all the details in and around the attraction, like a net full of Jell-O (say it aloud a few times to get it) and the key under the mat. Take your time going through the queue, and make sure you get to see the entire preshow… “Will you stop this foolishness?” “What foolishness would you like to see?”

2. Stage 1 Company Store

While Muppet merchandise can now be found in more shops than in the past, the best place to shop is still Stage 1 Company Store, located near Muppet*Video 3-D.

Stage 1 Company Store in Disney's Hollywood Studios

Inside you’ll find references to The Muppet Show and the Muppet movies. You can see photos of some of them over at Walt Disney World for Grown Ups.

3. The American Adventure

I’m not kidding. Toward the end of the show, there’s a video montage of famous Americans, and there’s a wonderful image of Jim Henson with Kermit. (Thanks to the Muppet Wiki for pointing this one out.)

4. See a puppet show

I know, I know, Muppets are no mere puppets, but if you appreciate the art of Muppeteering, you might also enjoy seeing other forms of puppets. My favorite show at WDW involving puppets is Finding Nemo—The Musical (as previously discussed in my posts on musical theater and fish). Other options are Voyage of The Little Mermaid and Disney Junior—Live on Stage!

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I have to throw in a couple honorable mentions as well. First, some of you might remember The Magical World of Disney special called “The Muppets at Walt Disney World,” which was shown on NBC on May 6, 1990. I have no memories of this, but I read about it on the Muppet Wiki. It doesn’t seem to be on DVD anywhere, but I hope to see it one day. It sounds awesome!

Second, something more recent some of you might recall is the Muppet Mobile Lab, which featured Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker in a roaming, streetmosphere sort of show. I only saw it once, in 2007, and I got this very brief video of it:

The Muppet Mobile Lab is now in Hong Kong Disneyland. It’s advertised on their website, and if you click on the video button, you can hear Dr. Honeydew speaking Cantonese.

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For the most sensational, inspirational, and celebrational fun you can have in a day, you’ll want to spend hours in Disney’s Hollywood Studios exploring the area around Muppet*Vision 3-D. Seriously, start there and spend your whole morning in and around the attraction looking at all the little details. In the afternoon, go see your puppet show of choice. Voyage of The Little Mermaid and Disney Junior—Live on Stage are the most convenient, because they’re both in Hollywood Studios, but I think a trip to Animal Kingdom for Finding Nemo—The Musical is totally worth it. Wrap up your day with a trip to Epcot for The American Adventure, and when you see Jim Henson’s picture, send up a little thank-you for all the joy he brought to so many.

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So who’s your favorite Muppet? The winner of the Tournament of Muppets is being announced tomorrow (it will be either Kermit or Gonzo), but my vote is Beaker!

Auntie Tip: Enjoying Fireworks While Protecting Children’s Ears

In my auntie tip 6 More Things You’ll Wish You Had Remembered to Bring on Your Walt Disney World Vacation, I mentioned how all of my nieces and nephews have gone through a phase of being scared of fireworks, because of the loud noises. We had yet to find a solution, although I was considering kid-sized ear plugs (if only we could figure out how to get the kids to let us put them in).

Well, the problem has been solved! My brother bought noise-reduction ear muffs for his kids for their recent trip to the World, and the kids were wild about them! They all were willing to wear them; in fact, they and their cousins fought over them. (Now that we know they work so well, we’ll have to bring enough for all the kids next time, even the ones who aren’t afraid of fireworks!) I was so happy to hear about how my five-year-old nephew watched—and thoroughly enjoyed—IllumiNations (my favorite fireworks show) for the first time ever.

My brother bought the ear muffs on Amazon for around $14 each. They are 3M Peltor brand, and they come in kids and junior sizes. They are highly adjustable, so they should last a while as kids grow. Do some searching online for the best prices; I found a few sites that had them for closer to $10 (but watch the shipping costs).

I am so excited that I will now be able to enjoy all the fireworks shows with all my nieces and nephews! Has anyone else out there dealt with a fear of fireworks?