Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Milky Way Over Sedona - Adventures by Disney

If you've never been on an Adventures by Disney (ABD), I highly recommend one.  This summer we were fortunate to experience the Arizona and Utah ABD.  This was an 8 night itinerary flying into Phoenix with nights in Sedona, the Grand Canyon and Red Cliffs Lodge in Utah with several stops along the way.

In this series of blog posts on our Arizona & Utah Adventures by Disney, I will share a few photos from each location and our experiences along the way.

Before jumping into how I got the shot, I wanted to share some thoughts about our first experience with ABD.  If you've never been on an ABD before, it's not about Mickey popping out while you're taking a hike in the Grand Canyon or off-roading in a Pink Jeep in Sedona.

It's a vacation with the level of service, attention to detail, and planning that you would expect from Disney.  But in addition to that, what makes ABD different from other tour companies are the ABD guides.  Your ABD guides meet you at the airport and are with you for the entire time until you you depart on your plane ride home.  In between, they make your vacation a truly amazing experience.

On this trip, our guides were Samantha and Doug, and we also had a "shadow guide" named Adri.  A shadow guide "shadows" the main team to learn the details of that specific itinerary before they are assigned as a main guide - just another process check ABD does to ensure you have a great experience.  What makes an ABD experience so special and unique is not that the guides are with you for the entire time, but it's how they just make all the Disney Magic happen without you even realizing it.

First and foremost being a part of Disney, storytelling is a big part of what they do to enhance your experience.  It starts immediately when you get on board the coach at the airport and begin the drive to Sedona.  The types of stories they tell aren't just about interesting facts about landmarks or the area.  Instead they focus on telling stories about the people and culture that shape the environment you are seeing right outside the bus window.  You'll learn about people from the past, where names of towns or other landmarks come from, and so on.  You will still learn other things like how the Saguaro cactus is native to the Sonoran desert and if you're paying attention, they'll even point out details like the very last Saguaro cactus you'll see while driving to Sedona.  So shhhh.... don't tell your kids, but while they are having the time of their lives, they're learning too.  The guides do a million little things to enhance your experience like handing out "cactus candy" made from the prickly pear cactus after a short talk about that cactus.  With this approach, you get totally immersed in your ABD vacation experience.  ABD also brings in "local" guides for a more in-depth experience like when you go to the Grand Canyon or other areas where a local guide can bring in a much deeper experience.

The other things I loved (and wondered) about the ABD guides, is, they seem to have magical powers to anticipate your every need.  Very often while we were on a bus ride from one place to another, I found myself feeling like I wanted a little snack or a drink.  I look up, and here come Samantha and Doug with two baskets of treats and handing out water.  Oh and they think of everything. One basket is the "healthy" basket and the other is the, well it's got lots of chocolate and other indulgent snacks.

I can go on and on about things the guides do that I love like special entertainment for the kids while the adults have a nice dinner and wine and cheese party, but this would be a small book instead of an article, but I'll mention one more thing.  It's obvious the guides want this to be your most stress free vacation ever.  But how do you manage a group of people consisting of numerous families with numerous members in each family over the course of a week with all the details like when and where is dinner, when do we do this, when do we do that?  What I noticed is they feed you only the information you need just at the right time.  For example,  just before we get to the resort in Sedona (not so long that you forget) they tell you what you need to do to get your room keys and also what time to meet and where for dinner.  That's all you need to know and my wife will attest I can't remember much more than that anyway.  How easy is that!  Then later during dinner, they tell you the next thing you need to know such as what your breakfast options are or if you want to skip breakfast, when to meet for the group 4-wheel drive tour.  You don't have to think about anything!  Your guides make sure your ABD experience has the maximum enjoyment with the minimal amount of stress on your part.  

We LOVED our guides Samantha and Doug, they made our first ABD truly an experience to remember.  By the way, we have other friends who have done multiple ABDs and their experience is the same.  The Guides are what makes Adventures by Disney a great experience and as we expect from Disney, a cut above everyone else.

That's a very tiny characterization of ABD in general.  While I talk about each photo, I'll go into a little more detail about what our guides do to make this a special experience.

For this picture of the Milky Way, this was THE shot I wanted to get on this trip.  I knew Sedona was designated as a "Dark Sky" city - google it if you want details, but it means you can see almost every star in the night sky.  Here is another ABD difference.  While the Enchantment Resort where we stayed has a star watching party for their guests, ABD guides arrange for a private ABD guest only star watching experience.  The difference is that the guest to telescope ration is a lot smaller, and apparently we had a better spot at the resort which was a little darker than the public event.  Just these small things and attention to detail that makes ABD a better experience.

For this shot a tripod is a must.  I used a wide open aperture for the lens I had which was f/2.8.  The exposure was set to 30 seconds at ISO3200.  I used a very wide 12mm lens (1.5x crop).  One point about focusing on stars at night.  If your lens is like many, if you throw the focus to infinity, you will actually overshoot the focus and you will get a blurry shot.  During the day, I got the lens I would use and focused at something very far off in the distance and made a small mark on my lens so I knew how to reacquire that spot that night when I manually focused.  So that night, I didn't even need to look through the viewfinder to focus, I just manually adjusted the focus to the predetermined spot.  Depending on your gear, I hear it is possible to visually apply manual focus just by looking at some of the larger stars.  

In this shot, the canyon wall was barely visible, but due to the long 30 second exposure, my camera was able to capture the almost imperceptible amount of light from the resort.

Have fun capturing the magic of Disney.