Red 5 Standing By, Star Wars Weekends Are Almost Here!

24491c28adc2a32e0b83fb52312dfd60

Probably the highlight of my time spent at Disney’s MGM Studios as a Cast Member was working Star Wars Weekends, 2001.  Imagine showing up to your work and there is Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Jeremy Bulloch you know just signing autographs as you walk past like it’s the most normal everyday thing in the entire World.  Stormtroopers were everywhere and even we Castmembers thought, “The park has been invaded by the Empire!” It was also the first and only time that Carrie Fisher attended Star Wars Weekends and being able to see the q and a panel with that amount of star power that year made me as a Star Wars Fan for lack of a better term, Geek Out!

We’ve gone to Star Wars Weekends 3 times since then and each time it packs an emotional geek filled resonance for me personally.  I have been fortunate to have taken my kids as well, we even were there on the opening Star Wars Weekends for Star Tours 2.0 back in 2011.  It is safe to say that if you have even a small, minute interest in a galaxy far far away you will love this event!

Here is the run down of events and what to expect for Star Wars Weekends 2014!

Stars and Autograph Sessions!

First there are the celebrities and just like my experience in 2001, you will not be disappointed at all in this years lineup of Star Wars stars and backstage artists who brought the films to life:

May 16-18, 2014

  • Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks)
  • Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca)
  • Vanessa Marshall (Hera Syndulla – Star Wars Rebels)

May 23-25, 2014

  • Warwick Davis (Ewok, Wicket W. Warrick)
  • Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett, Capt. Jeremoch Colton)
  • Tiya Sircar (Sabine Wren – Star Wars Rebels)

May 30 – June 1, 2014

  • Ray Park (Darth Maul)
  • John Ratzenberger (Major Bren Derlin)
  • Taylor Gray (Ezra Bridger – Star Wars Rebels)

June 6-8, 2014

  • Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker, Darth Bane – The Clone Wars) (will not be signing autographs)
  • Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian)
  • Ray Park (Darth Maul)
  • Taylor Gray (Ezra Bridger – Star Wars Rebels)

June 13-15, 2014

  • Dee Bradley Baker (Captain Rex/the Clones, Bossk and more – The Clone Wars)
  • Cat Taber (Padme Amidala and more – The Clone Wars)
  • Tom Kane (Yoda  – The Clone Wars and more)
  • Matt Lanter (Anakin Skywalker and more – The Clone Wars)
  • Steve Blum (Zeb Orrelios – Star Wars Rebels)

The great thing about these weekends is that during the autograph sessions there are a number of Fastpasses you can get though limited to help with your wait!

 

Daily Schedule of Events

Each Weekend has a similar rundown of events in order so that no matter which weekend you choose you are sure to experience the fullness offered.  believe me you won’t be able to take it all in in one go!

  • Stormtrooper Welcome – 7:30am on Hollywood Boulevard
  • Autograph Sessions throughout the day (check Times Guide)
  • Legends of the Force Motorcade and Welcome at 11:30am
  • Stars of the Saga Talk Show and Q&A Session (Premier Theater) – 3:15pm
  • Jedi Training Academy – Check Times Guide
  • Behind the Force (Premier Theatre) – 1:45pm
  • Obi-Wan and Beyond (Premier Theater) – 7:00pm
  • Padawan Mind Challenge at 1:00pm, 2:15pm, 4:15pm, 6:30pm
  • Star Wars Character Encounters – 8:00am – 7:30pm (Check Times Guide for locations)
  • DJ Lobot Dance Party – 7:00pm
  • Symphony in the Stars Fireworks – 9:30pm

Character Dining for Star Wars Weekends

New this year are Star Wars Weekends Character Dining Experiences at both Hollywood and Vine and Sci Fi Dine In Theater!

These include your favorite Disney characters dressed as some of your favorite Star Wars Characters like: Jedi Mickey, Leia Minnie, Vader Goofy, Ewok Chip & Dale, and Stormtrooper Donald!

  • Star Wars Dine-In Galactic Breakfast! at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant (8:00am-noon, cost is $47.99 for adults and $29.99 for kids (ages 3-9)
  • Jedi Mickey’s Star Wars Dine at Hollywood and Vine (4:15pm-park closing, cost is $55.99 for adults and $33.99 for kids (ages 3-9)
  • Jedi Mickey’s Star Wars Dine at Hollywood and Vine withFantasmic! Dinner Package (you can add the Fantasmic Dinner Package on for a slight uptick in price which will also guarantee priority seating at Fantasmic! later in the evening)

You will also be able to meet LOADS of characters from every spectrum of the Force throughout the parks throughout your days in addition to your standard Disney characters!

V.I.P. Experience

Disney has released an exclusive V.I.P. experience for those amongst us who might want a full package that has some exclusivity to it.  If you are an uber fan and convention costs aren’t that big of a concern this may be the droid you’re looking for:

  • Premium seating for Star Wars Weekends shows at the Premiere Theater, such as Stars of the Saga—a Star Wars-themed talk show that’s as entertaining as it is surprising
  • Expedited access to attractions like Star Tours – The Adventures ContinueToy Story Midway Mania! and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
  • Private continental breakfast  at The Hollywood Brown Derby
  • Reserved viewing location during the Legends of the Force Motorcade
  • Table-service lunch at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

The cost for this package is $499 and does not include park admission.  It is available May 16 to June 15, 2014 and can be reserved by calling: (407) 934-7973.  According to Disney advance reservations are HIGHLY recommended for this experience.

 

Merchandise and Goodies!

Like all things Star Wars (believe me I’m a parent to a Star Wars fan on top of being one myself I can’t see the walls in some rooms because of our lightsaber collections) what would the experience be without the merchandise?  “Merchandising, Merchandising, Merchandising!”

spaceballs-03

Yes, that’s Yogurt from Space Balls, but it’s an apt description of the BEVY of buying opportunities you will have throughout the weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Weekend exclusive merchandise, to your own likeness frozen in carbonite ala Han and shipped to you, to Lightsabers, and yes even a Vader Cupcake!

vader-cupcake

The possibilities for purchases are endless so be prepared for a steady stream of “I WANT!” and that’s not just the kids!

 

Jedi Training Academy

29937580097

The JTA is in full “force” over these weekends and as you would imagine it is CRAZY difficult to score a coveted spot.  I recommend though if you want to give it your best go arrive WAY before rope drop, like more than an hour and be prepared for a line to sign up.  You may have to be flexible in your plans and take the most available spot though if you want your Youngling to train on a Star Wars Weekend.  It takes on a special nature to do JTA on these weekends at Disney so be prepared with cameras!  For our Review Read Here, and For A Video Click Here!

 

As with all special events my advice on this one is no different, be prepared for crowd levels to spike.  The area near Star Tours especially will feel crazy congested throughout the day.  So if Star Wars isn’t your thing I would avoid that area of the park.  Also something to think about is there will be special shows, fireworks, characters mingling so if you have a child who is used to the standard park experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios you had better prepare them for the changes.  We took our youngest aside as we were walking in to let him know Star Wars had invaded the park so it would look a bit different and had to keep re-iterating throughout the day, that all was fine this was okay.

For more details visit the official home of Star Wars Weekends online:
Disney’s Official Page 

Official Facebook Page for SWW

Have you ever been to Star Wars Weekends?  What did you think?

 

Dining Review- Hollywood Brown Derby


What could be more glamourous than dining amongst the stars? The HollywoodBrown Derby brings you back to Hollywood’s heyday as no other restaurant will in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We had our first experience dining at the Brown Derby back in May of 2011 and we seek out an ADR for each trip because, well it’s just that good!

First and foremost, this is a table service restaurant and one that is typically in high demand. You will need to get an Advanced Dining Reservation in order to dine here during your vacation. That being said though we have never had issue with getting an ADR. This restaurant can also be booked along with the Fantasmic Dining Package that will provide you and your party priority seating at that evenings performance. If you are on Disney‘s Dining Plan, this is considered a signature dining experience and will take two table service credits. You will also have to provide a credit card to book your ADR and there is a penalty for no shows. You can read more on the Disney Dining policy here.

When you arrive at the Hollywood Brown Derby, you will check in with the Host station and start to look around. Now, if you have any affinity for the glory days of Hollywood take a look at the Hirschfeld drawings and see how many you can name. And these drawings literally adorn every corner of this restaurant so you are literally dining amongst the stars. And the staff also treats you like you are one as well. Every time we have dined here we have been treated and served with such respect and grace we always make it a priority to return.

You will be sat at either a table in the center of the restaurant, or in one of the many booths that surround the center. We have sat in both and prefer the booths. They provide an intimate seating arrangement that harkens back to the Hollywood lunch and doing movie deals over Brown Derby’s famous Cobb Salad.

Our servers each time have been some of the best staff we have encountered on property. They attend to our family like we are the only ones in their area, which I know isn’t the case. But, it’s this attention, mindfulness of our requests and seeing that dishes are brought out a good pace (rolls, appetizer, salad, entree, desert) in no rush and also at the perfect temps that brings us back each time. They also have never let our water, wine, milk, soft drinks get dry. They also always pre bus and pay attention to our kids needs.

Now what you really want to know about, the food. I have made no secret of my lack of appreciation for Disney food on my blog before. But, the Brown Derby is one of the few exceptions I will make with regard to spending money on Disney food in the parks. The food is worth every penny. Each time we have eaten here we have never had a complaint about the level of quality, the pairings, the specials, etc. Each item, like the wait staff, feels as if it has a special touch added to give it that “Wow!” factor when it is presented to you. Our compliments are always sent back to the chefs with the wait staff on both taste and presentation. This is more than just the burger and fries you will get at any quick service counter on property. Care is usually given to each selection, pairing and presentation. Our servers as well have always approached us several times to inquire to the quality.

For our kids, I mean I guess I haven’t met a kid who wants higher end fair, and both of my boys have been well served, fed and entertained. Granted, the menus are the same as you will see in most of the Disney Table Service locations for kids. And having a couple of picky eaters, I’m fine with that. Our youngest likes knowing that at Disney no matter what high end food his parents want, he can still get a hot dog, know what I mean?

The desserts at the Brown Derby are exquisite. And quite large enough to share. Especially after you have been stuffed by such wonderful fair as can be experienced from start to finish, soup to nuts, at the Brown Derby.

Here are some tips for enjoying your experience at the Hollywood Brown Derby:

  • Make sure to make an Advance Dining Reservation.  Walk-ups usually don’t happen here due to the popularity of the restaurant.
  • Be sure to get to the Brown Derby 10-15 minutes before your stated reservation time.
  • Request a booth if available to give you more comfort and intimacy.
  • Don’t worry about showing up in vacation clothes.  Most people in the restaurant are dressed similarly.  You are in a theme park after all.  The only restaurant on property with a stated dress code is Victoria and Alberts at Disney’s Grand Floridian.
  • If you have younger children, you may want to consider bringing something to entertain them.  Having a child who is autistic we usually bring ear buds and an iPod touch for him anyhow for the times he becomes overwhelmed by noises and people.  The Disney kids menus have activities but not enough to keep your children entertained for the duration of the meal.
  • Plan accordingly.  If you aren’t prepared to spend an hour to an hour and a half dining here and it doesn’t mesh with your plans or plan of attack on the park forego dining here.  This is a longer restaurant to experience and relax in, something to absorb and process.  We actually love the respite it provides away from the hustle and bustle of running from attraction to attraction.  Somewhere you can sit down a spell and enjoy being taken care of.
  • The prices can provide sticker shock if you aren’t on the dining plan.  You can view the menu online at several places.  But, suffice to say, if you aren’t aware going in that this can be quite a bit more than a character meal you can get quite a shock.  We factor in dining here into our overall vacation budget because it’s of great importance we dine here at least once a trip, but to others there would be no way they would spend what it costs to dine here out-of-pocket without the dining plan.
  • Something I like to do in the run up to leaving is watch old movies.  We have a contest to see who can name the most of the pen drawings at our table.  Whomever wins gets to choose the desert.  It’s silly, but it’s fun to guess.  And if you get particularly stuck, ask your server.  Most will know each of the drawings in their assigned area.

Disney Review: Jedi Training Academy

Let me preface this whole experience by stating I love Star Wars.  In the grand scheme of the entertainment world I would wager I love Star Wars maybe 3rd to Disney with Harry Potter coming in at second.  I think it was impossible to be part of the 70s and 80s and not know Star Wars was out there, and thankfully I grew up with enough geeks and nerds to make it a veritable necessity to know.  Once I watched, I was hooked.  And so I passed the passion on to my eldest child who is collecting lightsabers and action figures with a fierce abandon.  Who loves to sit and watch the ORIGINAL trilogy with me on weekends and won’t ask “Can we change the channel now?”  He’s as crazy about it as my husband and I are.

So fast forward to our trip this past October.  We didn’t tell him why we were getting to DHS at the butt crack of dawn, we just piled everyone in the van and headed that direction.  Once he was in line though and started to overhear conversation he began a guessing game with me.  “Are we going to meet Master Yoda?”  “Nope”  “What about Mace Windu?” (he has a fascination already in life with Samuel L. Jackson’s Windu, good boy!) “Nope”  “Well why are we here????” “Not telling”

When we got to the Sounds Dangerous building where they do the actual sign ups I told him, “They are going to take you from a youngling and make you into a full fledged Padawan Jedi.  Think you can handle this?”  “I’m so ready Mom.”  That’s my boy!  So we signed him up and the Cast Members only asked him 3 things, “Will you get up on stage?”  “Yep” “Can you take direction?” “Yep” “Will you use the force to the best of your abilities and listen to your instructor?” “Oh yeah”.  And we were ready to go.

We played around at the Muppets and Toy Story then made our way back over to the Sounds Dangerous at 11 to check in.  We waited and they started to line the kiddos up to take them to the stage.  Parker kept turning around and giving me a thumbs up.  Then I found Adam and Thomas down in front of the JTA stage outside Star Tours and we waited for the Younglings to be presented.  Yes, they played the award ceremony music from the end of Star Wars Ep IV when they came out, yes I cried when he came out prepped in his Jedi robe with lightsaber.  I am such a sap.

They were soon introduced to their Jedi instructor who told them how he sensed the presence of the Dark Side.  And that the Younglings must practice hard in order to vanquish it from the galaxy.  Here are some action shots of Parker being trained in the ways of the lightsaber and the Force:

Then who should appear?  “Dark”* Vader, himself!  Each child was given a turn to battle Vader.

*This is how my youngest son, Thomas, refers to him.  And he promptly screamed out from the crowd, “Here comes Dark Vader Mommy!”

But, Parker must have sparked a fear in Vader’s accompanying Storm Troopers as they advanced on him.  His instructor quickly told Parker to use his force push!  And they were slammed back into the building!

At the end of the training, each Youngling was now a certified Padawan in the ways of the Force.  Each was presented with a certificate, and we bought Parker a lightsaber and robe.  What? He totally rocked that look!

All in all I cannot recommend the JTA enough.  It was one of the highlights of our trip and one that we comment on regularly.  Parker did his show and tell on it the following week and I am sure as he gets older it’s going to be one of those Disney moments that come up when he describes why he returns to Disney time and again.

Helpful Hints for experiencing Jedi Training Academy:

  • Get there early!  Rope Drop or before gives you the best shot of getting on the sign up sheet for the shows.  The first show is I believe at 9:30 a.m., though it varies, and the last show is at 4:30 p.m.
  • Only one parent needs to be with your child to sign them up, but every child you wish to sign up MUST be present.  So this means if you want Dad to sign up Junior, and Mom wants to get Fast Passes for Toy Story Mania you will need to go in opposite directions and meet back up after you get this accomplished.  Very often this is what most families do in the a.m. at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
  • When you are told what time to be there for your show, arrive 15-30 minutes before.  Only one parent needs to be present with your child in the waiting area.  The other parent can get seats around the stage outside of Star Tours, and I would recommend getting there early as the shows always attract a crowd.  I mean Darth Vader comes strolling out on stage to the Imperial March, that will turn some heads!
  • There is a Photopass photographer taking pictures of each show.  If you request one she/he will give you a card that has images not just of your child but the entire production.  If you wish to remove everyone else save your child’s photos go to the Photo shop (hint it’s shaped like a giant camera) on Hollywood Blvd. and they can parse it down for you.
  • Take Video! That’s one of my biggest regrets.  We have stills that would choke a camel, but no video.
  • Prep your child before they go on stage that there will be people watching them, loud music, smoke, lights, etc.  Some kids can get freaked out by all of these items so let them in a little on what’s going on.  YouTube has tons of JTA videos if you want to show them before you leave.
  • Be prepared to be surprised.  You never can tell how your child will react.  Mine had his Sir Alec Guinness down pat for the force push which shocked me!  That and he could face Vader with such a calm resolve.  Your kids will definitely surprise you so just wait!