One of the primary reasons we held onto our Disney passes this past year was to be able to attend the Sugar Ray concerts at Epcot during the Eat to the Beat concert series, which Disney holds during its very popular Food and Wine Festival. Now, this isn’t so much to appease our desire for 90’s throwbacks, or to see the star of Sharknado 2, but instead it is because Brooke loves this music and Mark McGrath happens to be her celebrity crush. Therefore, we had circled the dates for the Sugar Ray concert some time before to make sure we could attend as many of the mini-concerts as possible (there would be 9 show in total). Sugar Ray would be performing on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so we would need my Mom’s help in watching the kids so that we could attend.
Monday, September 26, 2016
On Monday morning, we got the kids ready for school, dropped them off and then headed straight for Orlando. We did, however, make one detour. We had purchased Eat to the Beat tickets at the Biergarten Restaurant in Epcot, but that meal wasn’t until late afternoon. Knowing that we would be hungry before and that we wouldn’t want to have lunch before that buffet, we decided to indulge at one of our favorite places, Fred’s Market . We arrived at just the right time to bridge over the breakfast buffet to the lunch buffet. Fred’s is known for their fried chicken, but their sides and the rolls are my favorite (like the mac and cheese). Using the excuse of the late afternoon meal (and therefore limiting ourselves to two meals for the day), we felt only slight guilty for planning two buffets in one day.
After breakfast/lunch (not brunch), we headed directly to Epcot and then straight to the Disney Chase Lounge. For the Eat to the Beat concerts, you can receive special seating with a wristband that can only be found at the Chase Lounge. The Chase Lounge can be found just to the right of the entrance to the American Adventure and external signage is sparse. Further, the lounge isn’t always open either, though I am unsure if they post their schedule anywhere public. Once arriving at the entrance, you have to show a Chase credit card of some sort in order to gain access. Up three flights of stairs (or you can take the elevator if you so choose), is the lounge, which offers comfortable seating, air conditioning, free sodas (from the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine) and free coffee and tea. You can also purchase beer and wine. When the lounge is open, we like to take advantage of the free drinks and the air conditioning to cool down. Once up in the lounge, there is a cast member handing out the Eat to the Beat concert wristbands, but to receive one of these, you have to have a Disney Chase Credit Card and all members of your party have to be present.
We chose the late show (all that was left was the 2nd and 3rd show) and put on our wristbands. After a while, we ventured back out to explore Epcot, knowing we had some time before our German buffet.
We usually visit Epcot (and the other Disney World theme parks) with the kids, so we were able to take our time looking through the different countries, shops within them and take a peek at the kiosk eateries setup for the Food and Wine Festival.
It was actually quite nice and relaxing to just enjoy some time together without waiting in lines for rides, managing Fast Passes or satisfying any number of needs that four children could come up with at the theme parks. Our time for the restaurant finally arrived and we enjoy our second (or third if you count breakfast and lunch separately) buffet of the day. My favorites at the Biergarten Restaurant are the Mac and Cheese (see a trend here?) and the pretzel rolls. We ate beyond our fill, promising that this would be our last meal of the day and then received our passes for the Eat to the Beat section of seating for the 2nd concert.
It was now nearing time for the first show of the today. The concerts are scheduled to run at 5 PM, 6:30 PM and 8 PM. The shows usually last 30-35 minutes and then give the bands some time to rest in between. While the three shows are fairly similar to each other (they may only vary by a song or two from the set list), Brooke enjoys the concerts so much that we attempt to attend as many of them as possible. We made our way to the American Garden Theatre and found the line already forming. We were only a few spots behind the first group, so Brooke was excited that we may be able to sit in the first row for the first show. While waiting, a conversation started up with a lady just behind us in line and the longer the conversation lasted, the stranger it became. While I won’t go into all the details, the highlights were the custom fashion doll she had made of Mark McGrath, a T-Shirt she had created for her birthday that stated “30 is the new 50” (yes, she had the saying backward, but I just couldn’t let her know) and a homemade calendar to give as a gift to Mark McGrath with pictures of him and his family for each of the months. At least we aren’t that fanatical, I thought to myself, wishing I could sneak a picture of the calendar, shirt or doll. At 30 minutes prior to showtime they began to let people filter into the seating areas. We were able to snag a front row seat and anxiously awaited for the show begin.
Brooke certainly wasn’t disappointed when it did.
From previous years, she knew that Mark McGrath liked to interact with the crowd, walking throughout it during the songs and posing for pictures with those in the front row. Thus, my assignment was to get the best picture possible of her posing with the Sugar Ray front man. In the first show, I was finally able to coax Brooke into approaching the stage and getting her picture. I snapped the photo, but knowing that we had more shows to come, I planned on doing even better next time.
After this show, we had some time before the next one, but we decided to hang around to be at the front of the Eat to the Beat section. This is where our frustration with the cast members handling crowd control at the concerts began. Eat to the Beat visitors were the only paid visitors to the concert, and thus should be allowed first entry, even if the seating had been roped off. However, the opposite logic was applied, and we were held in a corral until much of the rest of the crowd was allowed entry. The seating was still saved for us, but their choice of seats were not nearly as good as the front section and especially the front row. We were able to snag some better seats and enjoyed the second show. At the third show, we attempted to use our Chase Lounge wristbands, but poor crowd control and uncoordinated cast members meant that most of the prime seating was once again gone to the rest of the crowd. We found the best seats we could near the front and to the side, a place where we knew Mark McGrath would visit. Our guess was right and I was able to snap another photo for Brooke.
When the show began, Brooke got lost in “Fly” and “When It’s Over”.
After the third show, we made the long trek from America to the parking lot and our car, heading toward the hotel for the night. While it was still somewhat early considering we did not have the kids with us, after we checked into the All Star Sports hotel, we decided against heading out to Disney Springs or the Boardwalk and just rested up in the room.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
In the morning, we quickly perused the available Fast Passes at the theme parks (and Brooke attempted to get a feel for which park Mark McGrath and his family might be attending that day) and chose to head to Hollywood Studios in the morning. After a light breakfast at Panera Bread (I think I was still full from our double/triple buffet from the day before), we arrived at Hollywood Studios and enjoyed the Fast Passes and stroller-less experience. We were able to to ride Rockin Roller Coaster, Toy Story Mania and Tower of Terror in very short order.
While Brooke did not see the famous family around (wrong theme park), we did have an awesome time at the theme park together.
It was time to make our way over to Epcot, and while it did not work out that well the night before, we still headed first to the Chase Lounge and grabbed what wristbands they had available in case the rules of engagement had changed for entry into the theatre. We had a leisurely lunch at the Nine Dragons Restaurant. Wow, we were pleasantly surprised at not only the quality of the food, but also the price. Brooke and I are not overly adventurous eaters, so many of the options at the Food and Wine Festival do not interest us. The traditional Chinese food here, however, did. We decided to follow the same strategy as the day before for the first concert and headed to the theatre to wait in line. Here, we encountered the professional Eat to the Beaters. They had already entered the seating area, knew the cast members and claimed the prime of the prime seating. They attended every act that came into Epcot and were more focused on the seating than the artists or show. Whatever, we were just taking notes on how to accomplish this seating arrangement. However, rain and lightning chased us all out of the seating area, much to the chagrin of the professionals. They made their pleas to the cast members as they left, but we were all equals under the force of the weather, so we all had to leave. A short while later (and after a trip up to the Chase Lounge for a drink and a break from the weather), the skies cleared and the theatre was opened back up. We found front row seats again and witnessed another good show. During the show, Brooke approached the stage again and took more pictures. Mark McGrath also reached down to give me a high five (or fist bump) and I came in with a fist bump to his high five and we awkwardly fist high fived. Oh well, only everyone saw. Brooke had worn her Sugar Ray t-shirt, so after the concert, so was able to get the attention of Mark McGrath. He came over and complimented her shirt and took some pictures (I am getting better).
We had Chase Lounge wristbands for the third show, so after the first one, we attempted to find the best place to enter the seating area. However, the lack of consistency by the cast members on how they handled the crowd meant that we chose wrong again. We found seating near the side of the stage. Partly through the show, I decided to go and wait in line for the 3rd show in order to get better seats. I obliged because I had already heard the concert 5 times now and I like making Brooke happy.
She met me in line after the 2nd show ended and we watched our 6th concert in a row.
We planned on returning home after the last show, but before doing so, we decided to let Customer Service know about the experience we had had the day prior with our Eat to the Beat tickets. Now, we both were already aware that it really wasn’t a huge deal, we had gotten to see all six concerts thus far, and simply by being willing to wait ahead of the shows, we had been able to sit in the front row many times. But, at the same time, we had paid extra for the Eat to the Beat tickets and from my background in leisure travel, I had always preferred when customers let me know when they had experienced frustrations so that I could improve the situation in the future. With that frame of mind, we informed the cast member of the experience. He was well trained; he validated our feelings, attempted find common ground outside of the experience (we were all UCF alumus) and then searched for a viable solution. We would have been satisfied with an apology and told him so, but he insisted on more. He provided us with VIP seating for the next day’s last show, as well as two extra Fast Passes for any ride the following day. We had been on the fence on whether or not to come back up to Epcot for the last day of the concerts with the kids, but now our minds were made.
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
The next day, the kids attended school as per the normal schedule, but when it was time to pick up Weston from Pre-K at 11:30 AM, we also got the other kids out of school and drove over to Epcot. We had packed a lunch and lots of snacks for the kids if we had any hope that they would be OK waiting as much as we had in previous days. We first decided to use our Fast Passes, and headed to Soarin’. Only Emily and Caitlyn were tall enough to ride it, so I waited with a sleeping Weston and curious Lila, while the girls rode the ride. Afterward, we crossed the park and went through the Fast Pass line for Frozen Ever After, a newly opened ride in the Norway area. We snaked through the line until we were about 10 people from the front when it broke down. No timetable was given for a fix, so we opted for another Fast Pass later in the day and left. It made sense now to head to the Theatre and wait. We were able to snag the best seats in the house, in the front row, by the corner of the stage for our family.
We let the kids eat their lunch and snacks while taking turns heading up to the Chase Lounge. During the show, the kids were split between excited and unsure, standing when we prompted them and enjoying the music.
Finally, we were able to convince Emily and Caitlyn to approach the stage for pictures. Mark McGrath leaned down and took pictures and the girls headed back to us, but he was motioning for them to do something else. They missed the cue and an awkward Mark McGrath left the area.
After this show, we made a beeline back to the Frozen ride and were finally able to make it onto boat and ride through. After this ride, we split up, Caitlyn and Brooke heading back to the 2nd show and the other kids and me heading to Mexico. One of their favorite rides is the “Donald” ride in Mexico, so I took them on it while Brooke and Caitlyn enjoyed the next show until the lightning came and made them call off the show about 15 minutes into it. I met her and Caitlyn inside the Liberty Inn for some dinner and snacks. Brooke ordered the food while I waited with the kids and hoped that the weather would cooperate for the last show for which we had the VIP passes. While ordering, the cast member hit on Brooke and asked if she was a teacher due to the number of kids meals she had ordered. Nope, she told him, it is for my four children. Thankfully, the weather did in fact clear in time for the last show and we were able to sit in the second row right near the center of the stage for another great view.
Brooke had successfully attended all 9 shows over the course of the three days and I was able to snap an acceptable picture (hopefully) – mission accomplished. We trudged back to the van, loaded up and made the drive back home; the kids had school in the morning.