Meet the Authors Series: Steven M. Barrett
This article appeared in the October 28, 2003, Issue #214 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
ALL EARS® continues its occasional series: Meet the Authors! These interviews give you an opportunity to get to know the authors of various Disney-related books, as well as ask them questions directly. This month, ALL EARS® visits with Steve Barrett, author of "The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation" guidebook and "Hidden Mickeys, a Field Guide to Disney's Best-Kept Secrets."
ALL EARS®: You're a medical doctor — what made you decide to write books on a subject so different from your field?
STEVE: For 11 years, I was an academic emergency medicine professor and researcher at the University of Oklahoma. I published 20 articles, letters, book chapters and original research in medical literature. Initially, WDW was a great stress relief for me from the rigors of emergency room work. (I'm sure many WDW fans have stressful lives and jobs and feel that pressure relief at WDW as I do.) Eventually, my love of writing, research and WDW merged into a desire to write about the place I enjoy the most. Not to mention the fun of it; experiencing and writing about WDW is much more fun for me than working in emergency rooms!
ALL EARS®: Have you had a lifelong interest in WDW? If not, when did you first get interested in WDW? How often have you been to WDW?
STEVE: I became a Walt Disney World zealot in the late 1980s. I lived in Oklahoma at the time, and I would travel to WDW to medical conferences whenever I could. For casual reading at home, I would read every book I could find about WDW. Trips twice yearly weren't enough. In early 1998, I found a job near WDW and voila! I was in heaven! Since my magical move to Florida, I visit WDW almost weekly. My publisher asked me recently if I ever tire of WDW. I answered a resounding "NO!" In fact, whenever I'm on Disney World property, I feel recharged, like I never want to leave.
ALL EARS®: What prompted you to write the Hassle-Free Guide to WDW and the Hidden Mickeys book? How long did it take to research and write these books? When did you first get interested in Hidden Mickeys?
STEVE: Because of my fervent interest in WDW, my family and friends began turning to me for advice about the attractions, restaurants, and touring the parks. I still get dismayed when I notice a visitor who is not having a good time at WDW; it's often because wrong decisions have been made. I decided to write a book that would serve as a "personal touring guide." A guest could study the book for preparation or pick up the book on the way to WDW without any preparation. Either way, a guest could turn to the appropriate touring plan, which would guide him or her step by step around the parks with minimal waits in lines. I wanted to write the most detailed touring plans in print to assure, as much as I could, a fun experience at WDW for anyone. WDW presents the visitor with an overwhelming number of options. The key to a magical vacation is making the right decisions at any given time. (The "Hassle-Free" book took form in 1998, and after constant research and revision it was first published in 2001 and has had updates every year.)
Hidden Mickeys have long been an interest of mine. I learned about them in the mid-1990s, probably from a Disney cast member in the parks. Two of the early Hidden Mickeys over which I recall marveling (pointed out to me by cast members): the one in the mural above the entrance to Body Wars in the Wonders of Life Pavilion at Epcot, and the one in the hanging vine above the giraffes in the Africa room of the It's a Small World ride in the Magic Kingdom. I decided to write about the Hidden Mickeys that I could find and that I expected others could find as well, with help from Clues (sketchy descriptions for a challenge) and Hints (more complete descriptions if you need help).The Hidden Mickeys book was a natural follow-up to the Hassle-Free Guide, since the touring plans I developed for the attractions were easily transformed into efficient Hidden Mickey scavenger hunts. I researched and wrote the "Hidden Mickeys" book over a seven-month period in early 2002.
Recently ALL EARS® subscribers sent in questions for Steve to answer. You had so many questions and Steve was so thorough in his responses, that we have to divide this feature into two parts! Here's Part I — Look for Part II of "Meet the Authors: Steven M. Barrett" in November.
Donna M., Texas: I do understand that you are developing tour plans. If this is correct, can you give me more information?
STEVE: In "The Hassle-Free WDW Vacation" book, I have one-day and two-day touring plans for each major theme park (Disney's Animal Kingdom has a one-day plan only). These plans differ depending on the age of the guests. I have plans specific for adults and teenagers, families with young children, and seniors. They are the most detailed touring plans in print, including suggestions about when to take breaks and when and where to eat meals. The primary goal is efficiency — to maximize fun with minimal waits in line. I update this touring guide every year.
These plans were used to develop the Hidden Mickey scavenger hunts in my "Hidden Mickeys" field guide. The guest can efficiently find a great number of Hidden Mickeys by following the scavenger hunt plans. Don't forget to check for Hidden Mickey updates at the publisher's website ( www.theotherorlando.com ) to be current on "lost" and new Hidden Mickeys.
Sharon C., Seekonk, Massachusetts: My family and I are planning a WDW vacation for next March. There will (hopefully) be seven of us, my parents, my husband and I, and our three children ages 5, 3 and 3 (twins). We are planning on staying at the Polynesian so we can have good access to monorail and parks. What else can we do to have minimal stress? I want this to be a fun vacation for all of us, especially the children.
STEVE: The following comments are weighted heavily with the kids in mind. The Polynesian Resort is a great choice. Make Priority Seating reservations for meals, especially lunch and dinner (unless you want to go for counter-service or fast food eateries at times). Many folks eat a snack at the hotel for breakfast before leaving for the parks. Then eat early for lunch and dinner; priority seating often works best when or soon after the restaurant opens for the meal. Plan as many character meals as you can manage. You'll get many terrific photos and autographs at the character meals. In the parks, don't wait in any long lines (more than 10 or 15 minutes is too long for young kids). Have a plan in mind for the parks (like one of the touring plans in my Hassle-Free book). Prepare the children that you're following a plan "so you can have the most fun." You don't want to get into "discussions" about what to do next. I like taking advantage of Extra Magic Hour (http://allears.net/tp/emhour.htm) so you can enter the park early, have fun in the morning, eat an early lunch, and take a break in the early afternoon back at your hotel.
If you can arrange it, and if you want to experience all the parks, go to Epcot first, then Animal Kingdom or Disney-MGM Studios (or vice-versa), and Magic Kingdom last. (If you go to the Magic Kingdom first, your kids may expect the other parks to be just like the Magic Kingdom.) At Epcot, make liberal use of the Kidcot Fun Stops in the World Showcase countries, where the kids can make their own individual masks to carry around. Visit the playgrounds (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure at the Studios and the Boneyard at Animal Kingdom) and let the kids get wet (if it's practical) in the flat fountains at Epcot. At the Magic Kingdom, plan to visit Ariel's Grotto, Storytime with Belle, and other character greetings areas. (Check your Times Guide for times.) When Mickey's Toontown Fair at the Magic Kingdom opens (usually 10 a.m.), get in line in the Judge's Tent behind Mickey's Country House to meet Mickey Mouse and then line up in the Toontown Hall of Fame Tent to meet other characters.
If you're in the Magic Kingdom to watch the fireworks in the evening, stand on the main bridge to Tomorrowland, near the Mickey and Minnie topiary, to watch Tinker Bell float right over you before the fireworks show. Leaving the parks at closing can be a hassle. One strategy is to relax in an out-of-the-way place and let your kids play around for 30 minutes or so (with some of those souvenirs you bought them!) until the crowds thin out. Inspect your kids' feet several times daily to prevent blisters, covering hot spots with bandages or moleskin. Drink liquids frequently to prevent dehydration. When your kids get tired, take a break and let them snooze in the stroller or let off steam in a playground or fountain. Many kids like afternoon breaks in the hotel swimming pool. On one or more evenings, watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the Polynesian beach. Don't miss the Electrical Water Pageant as it floats by the Polynesian Resort in the lagoon, usually at about 9 p.m. each evening. Have a memorable vacation!
ALL EARS®: What would be your single best piece of advice for a first-time Disney visit? Conversely, do you have a little-known fact or tip for the seasoned Disney veteran?
STEVE: I'm assuming that the first-time visitor has done at least some preparation for the visit or has a guidebook and some sort of plan. The first-timer's prescription for failure is to show up at the front gate with no idea or plan and expect that everything will be marvelous. (This tactic might work, but the odds are that the visit will turn sour sometime during the day.) That aside, I recommend that the first-timer stay cool and hydrated, walk only as much as their body can tolerate (some folks need frequent rest stops), relish each experience they have time for (you can't do everything!), and not wait in any line more than 15 to 20 minutes.
Many of you are seasoned veterans and could give me advice. Indeed, I continue to learn plenty from Internet Disney discussion boards. Two tips come to mind:
1. Test the Disney magic: Ask a roving cast member where you can get a cup of ice water. As you approach the suggested food counter, a cast member should hand you the cup without your even asking. The first CM alerted the second CM by phone or radio and gave your description. If this works, give the CMs some deserved kudos!
2. For a really special treat, call 407-566-6297 and rent the lower waterfront terrace in the United Kingdom pavilion next to the Rose & Crown Pub in Epcot for your own private IllumiNations viewing party. This site is one of the best places to enjoy IllumiNations. You can reserve food and/or wine if you wish, your kids can frolic around the small enclosed area with abandon, and you'll feel really important as the crowds behind you will think you're celebrities, royalty or at least quite wealthy! Other venues around World Showcase can be rented as well.
Mary B: Are there any Hidden Donalds/Goofys/Minnies in the parks /resorts/etc.? Also, do any Cast Members' costumes incorporate Hidden Mickeys?
STEVE: Yes, other hidden characters are scattered around Walt Disney World. Some of the ones mentioned below are recently new to me and will be posted on the www.theotherorlando.com website. In The Great Movie Ride at Disney-MGM Studios, Donald Duck is facing Mickey Mouse in the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" segment (on the left wall near the end of the room). Some people claim they can see the outline of Donald's head on the back of a chair (near the endless mirrors) in the Haunted Mansion ride, but it's a bit too abstract for me. Find Goofy in the central Genie Room at the World of Disney store in Downtown Disney Marketplace; on an antique-looking map painted to look like a tapestry on a wall of the room, he's in side profile as a land mass. (A side profile of Winnie the Pooh is on this map as well.)A great Hidden Minnie is also at The Great Movie Ride; she's in side profile as a shadow above and to the right of the house in the center of the mural at the loading dock. I ranked her number four in my Top Ten Favorite Hidden "Mickeys!" Along the moving walkway at the exit of Space Mountain in the Magic Kingdom, a shadow of Winnie the Pooh repeatedly moves across a hole in the rock in the second scene to your right — a worker at my local Mail Boxes, Etc. told me about this one! Spot a Hidden Kermit the Frog along the right side of the entrance queue of Star Tours, in the room with the overhead moving baskets. Finally, in the second room of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, a picture of Mr. Toad standing by Owl is hanging on the left wall, and another picture on the floor to the right shows Mr. Toad standing with Winnie the Pooh. Undoubtedly, other characters are in hiding at WDW.
Mickey Mouse designs are on various cast member costumes and are especially common on name or identification tags. Are they "Hidden Mickeys?" I don't mention them in my book, since these Mickey designs seem to change from time to time, and some of them are more like "decorative" Mickeys (Mickey shapes in plain sight to enhance the decor) rather than Hidden Mickeys.
That's all we have room for in this issue. Check back in November when Part II of our talk with Steve Barrett concludes — the discussion will deal exclusively with Hidden Mickeys!
Steve will be just one of the many special guests who will be at MouseFest 2003 in December! Be sure to join us at the Mega Mouse Meet on December 6th.
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.