Whether you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of Fastpass+ strategy or you prefer a poetic approach to your Disney World analysis, you’ve probably run across the writings of “J R Toastyman”, James Rosemergy. Recently, James agreed to take a break from deciding what 100 yard plot of land was the optimum location to spend eternity at Disney World, and (virtually) sat down for a Rope Drop [dot] Net interview.
(As always, my questions are bolded and James’ answers immediately follow. Minor edits were made for readability, but all efforts were made to keep the content of the questions and answer as is.)
What are your earliest Disney World memories?
The truth is that I don’t really have an extensive childhood background with Disney. Growing up in North Carolina, most of my early theme park memories as a kid were from trips to Busch Gardens Williamsburg when I’d go to visit my grandmother in Virginia. It was always a goal, but we didn’t actually make it down to Disney World until I was 14 (which was the only trip I tool down there as a “child.”) Some of the most vivid memories of that trip are actually of the family sitting down with an Unofficial Guide and having a great time planning our trip together and then having fun executing our plan (which is perhaps fitting considering that I’m helping Unofficial Guide readers with their planning now on TouringPlans.com.) Regardless, I always viewed Disney as the gold standard of vacations, and I remember it being my favorite childhood vacation.
I had a couple more trips – once while in college and then another all-adults trip with my extended family and my wife in 2007 – but the real turning point, the moment that got me hooked, came the first time we took my then two-and-a-half year old daughter to Walt Disney World as part of my niece’s graduation trip in 2011. The very first thing we did upon arriving to the Magic Kingdom was to go visit the Princesses to make sure that we checked that box.
As Kenley was waiting her turn, she basically displayed no emotion one way or the other and we didn’t even know if she knew these characters, so we weren’t really sure how she was going to react. First up was Princess Aurora, though, and when it was her turn, Kenley bolted across the room and literally launched herself into her arms, leaving the ground and everything. The room then suddenly got kinda dusty, but when the dust all settled, our whole family was officially hooked. We bought into Disney Vacation Club on that trip and have been going regularly ever since.
It sounds like you were a reader of the Unofficial Guide from even your first trip. Did you continue following new developments at Disney World even when you didn’t have trips planned? How has your research into planning Disney World trips changed since you started going more frequently?
I would say that prior to 2011, Disney World was something that I thought of fondly and wistfully, but it wasn’t really on my radar day to day. Any time we did have the opportunity to go, we’d plan the trip to the hilt and tour commando-style, just as we did on that first trip, but unless there was a trip planned, I wasn’t thinking about Disney. Any time there was something big and new that was announced – for example, I remember the opening of Tower of Terror – it would catch my interest just as a theme park fan, but without kids or regular ties to it growing up, it wasn’t somewhere I seriously considered as a vacation destination. With that said, in 2007, my wife had a conference in Orlando and, remembering how much I enjoyed Disney the last time I had been, I suggested that I meet my wife down there after her conference and that we take in the parks. As it turns out, we tried to pack WAY too much into what was basically a long weekend, but it was still ultimately a fun trip. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that laid the groundwork for the unfathomable geekery that would unfold a few years later.
The 2011 trip was the real turning point. We were going to be there for a week, so I had done a ton of planning for the trip, as was my wont. Not only did I buy a fresh copy of the Unofficial Guide, I started listening to WDW Today and other podcasts, and going on the message boards and blogs to be as prepared as possible. We had that sort of light bulb moment that I described earlier with my daughter and the Princesses, and after buying into DVC, I was all in returning from that trip.
Probably because I knew we would be there regularly, I took it upon myself to learn as much as I possibly could and keep abreast of everything that was happening at Walt Disney World. Blogs, books, podcasts, message boards, anything I could read that would inform our future trips. Part of the thing I always liked about the Unofficial Guide was the idea that just by taking the time to read up on WDW, I could tour much more efficiently than most people that were there. Since I’d be there a lot (although I didn’t realize how much at that time), it seemed like a good idea, but it just kind of snowballed from there. I continued to uber-plan our trips for a while, not so much because I thought it was necessary, but because I felt like planning the trip – or helping others plan theirs – kept me in that Disney vacation mindset.
Over time, the planning has definitely changed, just in that some aspects of the trips become second nature, as it does for most of us Disney geeks, I would assume. There’s obviously not really a need to bone up on the various attractions, restaurants and hotels, because we’ve been enough to be familiar with them. With that said, however, we still map out our days in a rough way, and make sure we’re locked and loaded when it comes time to make ADRs and FastPass+ reservations. For me, deciding what to do and then trying to piece it together in a way that is as efficient as possible is part of the fun of a Disney trip, so I doubt that will ever change.
You’re known throughout the Disney online community for some of your application of (semi-?)ridiculous scenarios to Disney World trips. (My personal favorite is the where to spend eternity at Disney World one.) What caused you to start creating these scenarios?
The guys from Mighty Men of Mouse probably unwittingly contributed to that as much as anything. As you are no doubt aware, there are countless Disney podcasts out there, and when you listen to a lot of them, as I did and do, you certainly begin to notice some sameness in the subject matter. There are only so many ways to frame a discussion of your favorite attractions at Disney, and after a while, repetition becomes inevitable and the discussion just becomes less interesting. Enter the Mighty Men of Mouse. I was introduced to their show when they joined the Touring Plans network, and I really enjoyed that they brought a more analytical view to Disney and sort of put the traditional questions that are raised in the Disney community into different contexts that would require you to think about these attractions, restaurants, and hotels in a unique way. Their fantasy drafts are a great example, because drafting a great trip required you to balance all of those things and make determinations about what was most valuable at that moment in the draft considering what else was out there, rather than just going for your favorite thing.
My penchant for quirky topics is really an extension of that idea. Taking the “Best Places to Spend All of Eternity” as an example, it was an opportunity to go beyond the “what is my favorite attraction in each park” question that we’ve all thought about millions of times and instead look at things like density and variety, and possibly force you to forego your favorite attractions in favor of areas that you might not like as much, but that have more going on because, you know, forever is a long time. Each of those articles is intended to have some substance underlying it, though. Believe it or not, the zombie article was a roundabout way of giving deeper consideration to the architectural features, details, and flow of the parks – it’s just a more interesting way of getting at it, in my opinion.
At the end of the day, it’s a way for people that are very familiar with the Disney Parks to think about them in different ways, and I’m glad to see that at least some people share my enjoyment of these non-traditional, if not outright absurd, quandaries. It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that I’m a huge fan of the “Preposterous Ponderings” segment that Jeremy & Ryan do over at Backside of Magic. Also, the day the Disney haiku article posted was an unmitigated blast, I had a great time reading a parade of creative haiku roll in all day long. It makes for great discussion and is a lot of fun, I think.
A huge thanks to James for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk with us. It’s great to finally get the perspective of an attorney on this site (I kid, obviously. Having James agree to be interviewed was fantastic, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to share the interview.)