Thursday, September 15, 2011

Disney World Reflections, Part 1

Doug: We'd like to begin a 2-post series with some reflections of our recent vacations in the Sunshine State. As reported previously, my family visited Disney World over the first of August, while Karen's family was there around the first of September. Today I'll discuss my experiences and impressions, and next week Karen will take it home with her perspective.

Doug: Before we get into the theme parks, for those who are interested we stayed on-site at the Port Orleans Resort-Riverside. It had a nice proximity to all of the attractions, and we could bus to all of the parks or water taxi to Downtown Disney. We parked the car on a Tuesday when we arrived and didn't get back in it until Saturday morning when we left. In the Port Orleans complex, our building was close to the main center where the shops, arcade, and dining hall were. My wife handled the meal plan, and it was perfect for our family -- no one went hungry, and we didn't spend a single dime out-of-pocket.

Doug: I had been to Disney World once before, in 1978. Back then, the Magic Kingdom had only been open for seven years and Epcot wasn't around yet. So 3/4 of our vacation was totally new for me. I'd have to say that going in, Epcot was probably the least anticipated park in terms of where I wanted to go. But coming out, it was just as good as anything else we saw.
What an attention to detail! As you tour the grounds, the Disney Imagineers have really done a phenomenal job of transporting visitors to the very locales the exhibits represent. We enjoyed the Test Track ride first. It's relatively tame as far as thrill rides go, but the ending is pretty cool, as the vehicle you ride in hugs a vertically banked curve before ending shortly thereafter. Other attractions we visited included the Maelstrom ride in the Norway venue, the American Adventure animatronic feature in the American exhibit (those robots have come a loooonnnggg way in the past 35 years!), The Seas With Nemo and Friends Pavilion (don't miss Turtle Talk with Crush -- very cool interactive exhibit that the little ones in the audience especially loved), the Spaceship Earth ride inside the huge Epcot ball, and the Reflections of China 360 degree film in the China Pavilion. We ate lunch in the Mexican Pavilion at the La Cantina de San Angel with our QuickService plan. Everyone got more than enough to eat, and it was all very good. We left in the afternoon for some napping and/or swimming, then returned in the evening for the laser light show (which was interrupted by a heavy rain shower -- not as big a deal for us as for the wedding party that was just beginning a reception!). Oh -- the boys enjoyed listening to a British Invasion cover band in the England Pavilion before the laser show.

Doug: One of the things I was eager to see was the Marvel Comics presence at Disney World. I can report that there is a very limited presence, and you almost have to look to find it. In Epcot, Marvel was mainly present in the form of the 3 3/4" Thor Movie action figures in the Norway venue. The previous evening when in Downtown Disney we'd spied a few action figures in a toy store, maybe a coloring book or some such thing, but that's about it. I don't know where this is heading from a marketing standpoint, but I'd say at this point Disney has not embraced Marvel as they have Star Wars and the Muppets.

Doug: On our second day we toured the Magic Kingdom. My memories of my childhood visit came flooding back, as many of the attractions were just as I'd remembered:
Snow White, It's a Small World, Winnie-the-Pooh, Peter Pan, the Dumbo and Tea Cup rides, the Country Bear Jamboree, the Jungle Cruise, and just the overall feel of the park. It truly is magical. My wife had meticulously researched our trip ahead of time, and one of the strategies she picked up was to head to the back of the parks first since most people enter and begin their tour near the front. I'd have to say that was a suggestion that paid off throughout the week. We were able to do what we wanted virtually without waiting for the first hour we were in each of the four theme parks. I'd also have to recommend the Disney FastPass system, which allows patrons to get a ticket for a later time; you are effectively allowed to cut people who have been in lines that are sometimes over an hour long. This is no exaggeration -- when we went on Splash Mountain the first time, we cut at least 300 people to get right on the ride. I'll confess right here that other than my older son, none of us are thrill riders. The Tea Cups and Space Mountain was about as adventurous as I care to be. I got through those, but none of the other rides really held any pull for me. I will brag, however, that being a wily veteran I was able to put the boy into a stagger on the Tea Cups, as I had a strategy of looking right at his nose the whole time I was spinning that cup. Not him -- silly lad. If you go, don't miss the PhilharMagic show -- while 3-D movies at the cinema are usually a bust, Disney has perfected not only the 3-D effect, but the integration of 4-D with smells, spritzes of water, etc. Also not-to-miss is the also-awesome 3-D Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. Good stuff! Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin and the totally-revised Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Hall of Presidents are must-sees. As I said earlier, the evolution of the animatronics is amazing! We were able to see parades during the day, and the not-to-miss Electric Parade at night (twice). On the last night we were in Florida, we went back to the Magic Kingdom for extended hours, and basically had the run of the place from midnight to 3:00 am. That was very cool, and as you might guess, the lines were very short the later we were there. Oh, and I guess people aren't too fired up for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, as that ride was nowhere to be found. It was pretty hokey, though, as I recall.

Doug: Our third park was the Animal Kingdom, and to be honest it was the least fun. It was the hottest day of the trip, with the mercury at 98 and the humidity around 80% -- just miserable. So that was a tremendous factor in our decision to cut that day a bit short. Our first stop was at the Festival of the Lion King, and it was spectacular. We've seen the Broadway version of Lion King in Chicago, and while this was similar it was different enough to be special in its own right. The vocalists, dancers, and aerialists were top-notch, as were the large puppets of Pumbaa and Simba.
Again, little ones were just enthralled. Shoot -- big ones were spellbound, too! We took the Kilimanjaro Safari, but were a bit disappointed that it began with basically zoo-type enclosures. Once out on the "savanna", we did see some animals, but none were too close and certainly by the middle of the day when we went none were too active. We did later walk through the Maharajah Jungle Trek to see the tigers and the Pangani Forest Expedition Trail to see the gorillas -- in both settings we were able to get pretty close to the animals, which was neat. There's also a 4-D movie experience called It's Tough to Be a Bug -- it was a lot of fun, with a couple of surprises at the end that got us! That's me and my homeboys readying for the feature.

Doug: We finished up our week at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and it was a great way to end. As I mentioned above, we went to the back of the park first, and the boys immediately ran into Piglet and Donald and Daisy. You might not think that 19- and 17-year olds would get excited to have their photo taken with the characters; you might be wrong! One of the first things we went to was the Journey Into Narnia: Prince Caspian. Don't waste your time -- it was a glorified trailer, nothing more. However, we made a nice save by then going to Walt Disney: One Man's Dream. The museum-like entry was just wonderful, and the film was outstanding as well. After that we went to The Magic of Disney Animation. The surround sound and the calibration of the multiple speaking parts was something to behold -- extremely well done. After one of those, I can't recall which, we found Mickey in his "Sorcerer's Apprentice" togs, and Pooh Bear, too! Again, the boys were very excited for the photo ops. Perhaps the highlight of the day was the super 3-D ride Toy Story Midway Mania; the boys were lucky enough to get an extra FastPass, so they went right back in while my wife and I scored a table at Pizza Planet (check out the meatball subs!). It was again really hot on the day we were there, but we soldiered on to check out the Great Movie Ride (could have been better -- there was some goofy interactive parts) and the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular (very fun). The Muppet-Vision 3-D was a lot of fun, but not at the top of our 3-D list. The very top, in fact the pinnacle, of the 3-D fun was the Star Tours ride. My oldest and I went on it once; Karen will discuss this ride further next week. Let's just say that it was so effective that we both jumped and covered our faces at the end!

Doug: If you've never been to Disney World, or if you're like me and hadn't been in ages, I cannot recommend it enough. Big kudos go to my wife for doing all the research ahead of time. Honestly, the boys and I just showed up and had a blast. She did, too, and we're already talking about going back in two years for our 25th anniversary. I'm looking forward to Karen's take on the same attractions next week!


david_b said...

Doug: Thanks much for your travelogue today.. I didn't have much interest in Disney, but your comments are always timely and spark reflection.

Until my wife and I went a few years back for 'Nights of Joy' with Christian bands playing for 3 nights.., I had only been to Disney in '73, '76, and '92. LOVED your comment about Animal Kingdom, it reminds me of going with my wife because she was insisting we see this noon-time parade they have.. It was like you said, Upper-90s, sweltering humidity, I was dyin'.. I finally told her, "I'm going in to A/C, let me know how it is.." No I wasn't impressed much with it, but it makes me wonder whether it was just me, expecting more color, or characters, or what. I do see it as a nice change of pace from say, Magic Kingdom, but I know it would be challenging to make it into something more: It's basically a zoo, with tours with kids sitting behind you asking 'Can we go back to the Buzz Lightyear ride after this..??'

Being a veteran, I haven't had the chance to stay at 'Shades of Green' yet, but I heard it's very nice, as is all the lodging. I don't recall the lodging we stayed at, but it was by some nice man-made lakes and quite peaceful actually.

I still love the awesome Monorail, and I know some of the financial history of it's construction; I wish they would expand that to throughout the park, but it would be pretty cost prohibitive at this point. I still love riding it.

Being with the group I was in, I thought the Princess breakfasts were cool to see (we had some young girls and parents with us). I liked the 'Bug' movie as well, and yes, my wife and I loved Buzz's ride. The added incentive is going on-line and hunting down the 'tips and tricks' on high scoring, which is covered in Disney books as well.. The park is certainly engaging on many levels. Actually picked up a SUPER Beatles paperback book with oodles of facts I didn't know at the British giftshop, read it for years afterwards. It was a tiring, but nice experience.

J.A. Morris said...

Doug, thanks for sharing, sounds like a great trip. My wife and I spent our Honeymoon there 4 years ago, neither of us had been there before. I also recommend staying at one of the Disney motels, it's a lot easier than driving everywhere.

I'm not into thrill rides either, but I loved Space Mountain, my favorite ride in all the Disney parks.
I agree with you about Philharmagic, we saw it twice.

Did you make it to the Sci-Fi Drive-in at Disney Hollywood Studios? It's very cool:
Unrelated, I wanted to mention that I've started another blog (I'll update Assistant Editors' Month next week too!)called Bronze Age Reprints. Here's the intro:

And here's the first review:

Check it out if you're feeling it.

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