Travel Dates: June 17-25, 2011.
Resort: Pop Century, 50s Building, 3rd Floor, facing Bowling Pin Pool; adjoining rooms.
Our Party: Me, Petesimac, age 46, my son, Patrick, age 18, my daughter, Madi, age 16, and in the adjoining room, my Mom and my step-father, who we simply call Tony (late 60s and 70s respectively).
Our Disney Experiences:This is our fourth stay at a Walt Disney World resort (the first in 2005 at All Star Music, and 2007, 2009 and this year at Pop Century although we did stay for one night at the Coronado in the 90s, and for a few nights at the Dolphin last year, blech), but Ive been to the World probably around 30 times throughout my life, including my first visit during the parks inaugural year of 1971. Weve also visited Disneyland two times, staying at Paradise Pier in both instances (I cant wait until 2013 for our next DL visit!).
Im going to take a different tack to writing my trip report this time around. Instead of going day by day and recounting everything we did, I think Ill write it topically, going from topic to topic, park to park, and including entries on transportation, annoyances, likes, favorites, etc.
Air Travel: This was my first time using Southwest, and while the price was good (just over $800 for three round-trip tickets from Pittsburgh to Orlando, scored just after their little incident with the easy opening airplane) I didnt much care for the uncertainty of the seating arrangements. I would prefer to know where Im sitting before I show up for the flight. Although I was able to get early Bpositions for each flight (those of you who have flown Southwest before know what Im talking about), there were few empty rows available by the time we boarded the plane, this was mostly due to how Southwest lets families with children younger than 4 years old to board after A group boards, and when you are flying to Orlando, home of Walt Disney World, there are lots and lots of families heading south! We did manage to sit together on both flights, but as Im not a big fan of uncertainty, I will try to avoid flying Southwest next year; however, if the price is right, as it was this time around, Ill probably use them again. Hey, a buck is a buck, right?
In the end, both flights were uneventful; we arrived on-time in each case, and none the worse for the wear.
My favorite part of our air travel experience: the funny stuff you can find in the Sky Mall catalog.
My least favorite part of our air travel experience: the seating scheme; I dont like it!
Disneys Magical Express: This was my second experience using ME, and I have no major complaints. The bus to Pop Century was waiting for us when we reached the Magical Express line (after a looooong trek from the Southwest gate, and a flattened, soggy-bunned Chick-fil-a sandwich for lunch), and we were off and running in no time at all; first stop, Pop Century; being first on the destination list is yet another great reason to stay at this wonderful value resort. And hey, tip the poor driver a few bucks if he gets your luggage from the bottom of the bus; I was a bit shocked at how few actually did tip the poor guy. At least this year the drivers didnt solicit a tip; maybe thats why no one tipped him.
I didnt like how there was no video playing on the on-board television on our arrival bus (the second time this has happened); the young kids on-board, I am sure, would have loved to watch a bit of Disney magic to heighten their anticipation, and this older kid would have certainly liked it as well, but there was none to be had, and it seems a wasted opportunity. We did have a farewell video on our departure bus, but everyone was already sad enough about having to leave, why remind us that we are leaving? L Perhaps the worst thing about the ME is the departure times for the trip back the airport. I hated having to wake up at 5:00 am for our 8:40 am return flight, especially since Pop Century is the last pick-up stop before the drive to the airport, but it is what it is, and its free!
My favorite part of Disneys Magical Express: the first stop for the second year in a row was Pop Century, that and the fact that its free of charge!
My least favorite part of DME: the trip back to the airport, L
Pop Century:By now, anyone who has read any of the posts about Pop Century on this site knows how beloved it is by people who have stayed there. This is our third stay at Pop and it is amazing how well it has aged. It looked just as nice, new and as fresh as the first time we stayed there in 2007. Every day during our trip someone was cleaning something or trimming something or repainting something; in fact, during our stay, they had begun to work on the barrel that Lady is sitting on near one of the 50s building; they had already finished Tramps base opposite her. The workers removed and replaced the caulk in between the boards of thebarrel and based on Tramps base, they will be repainting it as well.
The grounds were immaculate; each passing year makes the trees lusher, the flower beds fuller and the area more natural looking in general. The exterior of the buildings was repainted in 2009 during our last stay, and at some point since that time the interiors have been refurbished, with new carpet, bed-spreads, chest of drawers and the addition of flat-screen televisions and a curtain to screen the vanity area of the bathroom from the rest of the room; the latter is a nice touch, but we didnt use it once during our entire stay.
The lobby still gives newly arrived guests a little thrill, with the sparkling tiles, the bright colors and the large pictures of people in the prime of their lives on the wall behind the check-in counter; I could stare at those pictures for minutes on end and not feel that I had wasted any of my precious time; I especially like the one of the high school (college?) football players on the bench during a game probably in the 60s.
There was no one in line in front of me at check-in and I was in and out of the line within about 5 minutes; great work by Evan. I didnt use the on-line check-in because I wanted to be able to fix any of the special requests that we had made that might not have been granted, such as the adjoining room request, but all requests were granted and we were soon opening the door to our home for the next 8 days. We were on the 3rd floor of the middle 50s building, the one running perpendicular to the Bowling Pin pool; we faced the pool, but noise was never a real issue; I tend not to go to sleep until after 12:00, and the pool closes at 12:00, so it worked out great. Plus, the sound of kids having fun is not an annoying sound to me, nor is the sound of kids running up and down thehallway; I love it! The renovations looked great, by the way; it was a great second home.
One of our favorite things to do leaving the room each day and upon returning later in the evening, was to read the names of the songs on the giant juke box located in between our building and the Bowling Pin pool. Im old, so I cant remember any of the titles, but many were very clever and funny.
The food: One of my favorite things is to hear people who normally stay at deluxe resorts or DVC locations complain about the lack of a food court. I love this place! Its so convenient. Its so alive. Families are everywhere! Obviously there are some downsides to this, but if you look for the bright side of the situation, its hard to be upset about all the people. I love to see folks having their breakfast, talking about where theyre going that day, what rides theyre going to ride first, etc. I love the cherry turnovers, and had it or cereal (or both!) every day; my son loves the Bounty breakfast (Tony kept calling it the Bounty Hunters breakfast, so we started calling it that too); this breakfast feast has everything you would ever want for breakfast, for about $10, but even with all that food my sone always adds an apple turnover to the tray; my daughter usually chose the chocolate chip pancakes or the waffle, although sometimes she just got the cereal. My mom usually had a waffle, and Tony had omelets, the Bounty Hunters breakfast, pastries, turnovers, and anything else not nailed down, this after doing the twist at 8:00; hed wake up early just so he could lead the food court in this old, familiar dance; hes such a ham.
We bought the new version of the refillable mugs during this stay, but this will be the last time for at least a couple of years. I lost count of how many other mugs I saw people using, many not even Disney mugs. My mom and Tony continued to use the ones they bought in 2007, but all of our old ones were scratched beyond recognition, so we needed some new ones anyway. Well be back next year and I just cant stomach the idea of spending nearly $45 for new mugs when so many other people dont go along with the plan. In fact, Tony said he was told by a cast member that you dont have to buy new ones each visit. Im sure its just a matter of making the guest happy, especially since they have signs posted everywhere that the mugs are good only for that visit, but Ive paid more than my share for a couple of drinks over the course of a week. My son even had his mug stolen while he was playing games at the arcade (who steals mugs; so sad), so Ive already paid for at least one of next years mugs.
While we ate breakfast at Pops food court every morning but the first and last day of our trip, we had dinner there only once, this following our miniature golf outing at Fantasia Fairways. I had the salmon, which was very good, although I almost got the turkey dinner it looked great! And, of course, I had the tie-dye cheesecake for dessert yee-ummmm!
The Merchandise: We didnt do a whole lot of shopping during this trip, although we had to pick up a few things. I purchased a couple of decks of 40thAnniversary playing cards with a really neat, retro design so we could play our card games some evenings (I forgot to bring any of my 10 decks from home), and a few refrigerator magnets, one, a mini-map of the Magic Kingdom, complete with each of the main 5 characters that are also magnets its cool, and another pack of magnets that looked like the old ticket booklets, with A, B, C, D, and E tickets, each listing a couple of rides that you could ride with that particular ticket. They look pretty good, and fairly close to what I remembered growing up; some of the rides listed are, of course, no longer there, including Mr. Toads Wild Ride and the Mike Fink keel boats, but they did make one huge mistake: instead of listing the original name of the Tiki Room (its real name escapes my old mind), they listed it as Under New Management (keep in mind that this is a 40th anniversary item, and is intended to look as though it came from 1971); what an error. We bought a few other things, but not from Pop, so Ill mention those later.
My favorite part of Pop Century:definitely the food court, the lobby, the check-in experience, the music, andaw, skip it, I love it all!
My least favorite part of Pop Century:the location of the smoking section by the back doors of the lobby leading out to the big pool.
The Weather:This is a Disney/family site, so I wont say what I want to say about Mother Nature, but the weather was horrible. I grew up in Florida, and Ive been to Disney many times, but Ive never experienced temperatures like the ones we had to endure on this vacation. Years previous there were days here or there that were warm, one particularly hot day at Animal Kingdom in 2005 that took a terrible toll, and a similarly hot day at Hollywood Studios that caused a rupture in my family that still hasnt healed, but from the rain shower that cooled our first evening at the Magic Kingdom until the rain shower that dampened the afternoon of our last day, also at the Magic Kingdom, the temps in between were 99 degrees each day, with feels-like temperatures of 105-110, with no rain, no afternoon storms (that hit Disney anyway) and no relief.
The sun felt like it was trying to melt our skin off. Shade is never as scarce as when you need it most, and I am stunned by how little shade there is at places like EPCOT and DHS, not to mention the MK. Even the Animal Kingdom with all its trees has large areas of concrete and no shade (not to mention the entire dino-land area, which we didnt even visit). It was unbearable, especially for my mom and step-father, Tony. Im no spring chicken either (although I have absolutely no idea what that even means, not having grown up on a farm), so I was struggling quite a bit myself. As a matter of fact, an early disagreement was caused by my not wanting to walk from Japan to Canada by way of Morocco, France, and England; I just couldnt do it; it was just too hot.
We kept waiting for the weather to break, and the forecast kept calling for a drop in temps to the low 90s, but it never happened. Of course the week after our visit the temps have been mired in the mid to upper 80s; rotten luck. And theres really nothing you can do. We spent entirely too much time seeking out shade as we walked along, ducking into any store with A/C, but aside from that what can you do but suffer? And suffer we did, for 8 long days. There were so many cranky, crying kids and glazed-eyed adults (and that was just OUR party); if we had all been dogs, boy would the tongues have been hanging low. To repeat, it was miserable.
My favorite part about the weather: Not one, blessed thing!
My least favorite part about the weather: We didnt have the afternoon thunderstorms that normally bring some relief from the high temps.
Disney Transportation:As I mentioned, the trip began and ended with Disneys Magical Express, and on both trips, aside from the lack of a welcome video on the first bus, the service was fantastic.
The resort buses ran even more frequently than last visit, and aside from a few instances, we didnt have to wait in any super-long lines for our return trip, although, yes, at Pop, without any shelter, it gets very hot waiting for the buses in the morning, although we never had to wait longer than 5 minutes for a bus.
There was one odd occasion when a driver actually wouldnt let us board a bus, though. We had gone over to French Quarter to check it out for next years trip and were trying to get back to Pop. We knew that wed have to go to a park or Downtown Disney to catch a Pop bus, so we agreed to take the first bus that came, and it happened to be a Hollywood Studio bus. The time was 7:36. As we tried to board, the driver asked where we were going. We indicated that we wanted to go to Hollywood Studios. She replied: Its done. I explained that we were trying to connect to a Pop Century bus. She replied: You cant, its done, the parks done. At first I didnt realize that on some nights HS actually closes at 7:00 (I still cant believe they close this great park that early), but even so, I thought buses ran their routes up to one hour after the parks closed. Anyway, this was a new one on me; very strange. She looked tired, though, so I cut her some slack and didnt press the issue; I have to admit that I was a bit confused anyway, so I meekly walked away. In the end we went to the MK and caught the connecting bus to Pop.
If I could fix one thing about resort transportation it would be that you could catch a bus to another resort without having to go to a park. I know its impractical, but there are times when this would be helpful, especially if the monorail breaks down, which leads me to my next adventure.
After a hot, tiring day at MK, we decided to head for our reservations at Kona Caf at the Polynesian an hour and a half early. Our ADR was for 5:40, and we started our journey via the monorail at about 4:00. Well, we got as far as the Contemporary, made the stop, let passengers off and others on, and then we waitedand waitedand waited. Our pilot made a few announcements about difficulties and that wed be detained for a while. After a few more minutes, he announced that wed be resuming our trip momentarily. Still more waiting. Finally, we were informed that the monorail system was down and that wed have to get off. How nice it would have been to have a few extra cast members around to give instructions and options. There were no instructions on what to do, how to get to where we needed to go, nothing; we were abandoned.
We needed to get to the Poly. Of course, there are no buses to the Poly from the Contemporary, you get there by monorail. So then what? A boat? Nope, no boats from the Contemporary to the Poly. We did manage to find someone to ask about a connecting boat, and we were told that we could take a boat to the Wilderness lodge, and then take a boat to the MK, and then take a boat to the Poly. Yes, yes, I know, you can simply walk to the MK from the Contemporary. But did I mention it was hellishly hot? And did I mention that my mom and step-father were in theerlatter stages of life? Tony, in particular, was really hurting, and I hated the idea of asking him to walk the half-mile to the boat dock. He wanted to take a taxi, and perhaps I should have agreed, but I hate spending money when the transportation is supposed to be free.
So eventually, after a bit of grousing and arguing, we made the death march to the MK. We stood in line and waited as 3 boats came and went; the monorail finally opened, and many of those waiting in the line left to take it instead of the boat, but we decided to wait it out and finish what we started. We boarded the 4thboat and made in to the Poly just in time for our reservations. An hour and a half to go from the MK to the Poly!!! I find it hard to believe that after 40 years that Disney has no contingency plans for when the monorail breaks down. Even just a basic announcement about our options for getting to certain places would have been helpful. It was a surprising bit of disorganization for such an organized enterprise.
However, not all was horrible. On a short (thankfully) trip to Hollywood Studios one morning, the driver coaxed us into singing the Wheels on the Bus song for the younger kids on-board. It was fun, in a way, and Im sure the kids liked it, but Im glad it only happened once during our stay.
Later in the trip, one driver filled us in on how Disney controls their buses and keeps a watchful eye on the drivers. Apparently there is a box on board that records when the doors open, when they close, how long it takes for the driver to load scooters on board, etc. And he also told us that they arent really allowed to open the doors again after they pull away from the stop; if they re-open the doors, they get in trouble. Apparently there are a lot of reasons why a driver would be called in to explain him or herself; like Roz, Disney is always watching.
Now, speaking of scooters and strollers, well, Ill leave that for a bit later.
My favorite part of Disneys transportation service: Youll be home soon.
My least favorite part of Disneys transportation service: Its done, the parks done!
Time of Life:This trip seemed different than all the others, and I think that life had something to do with it. For me, my life is in a bit of a transition phase. I became a stay-at-home dad following the passing of my wife in 1998, and now that my kids are both in high school, with my eldest entering his senior year, I am trying to return to life. Well, in order to do that, I discovered that I needed another degree. So Im back in school, trying for a second degree, this one in GIS-Emergency Management with a minor in meteorology. Without knowing whether Ill have a job after I graduate, and with the burden of knowing Ill be in debt for student loans, on top of the loans that my kids will have to take to get through college, my near future isnt exactly rosy. Also, the prospect of both my kids in college and perhaps away from home is distressing to me as well.
There are some changes in store for my Mom too. She is only months away from retiring, and she and Tony are planning to move away from Atlanta, a place they have lived for 15 years (not to mention a two-week trip to Europe, fun for most, but a bit stressful for my mom); so not only will she be leaving work, shell be leaving home. Plus, with retirement comes a whole lot of soul searching and stress; I went through it with my Dad a few years back, and he didnt do so well; he has never recovered, actually, and doesnt enjoy life all that much anymore.
For Tony, as he begins his 77th year on the planet, he has to be thinking about whether this trip will be his last, or perhaps the next one. I dont think that way, but one cant help but dwell on it just a little bit when you start getting close to 80. One other little thing has to do with Tonys alcoholism. Tony has been a recovering alcoholic for a dozen or so years, but he recently decided that at his age, he should be allowed to have a drink every once in a while. He has actually been indulging for a while, but I only found out about it recently. Sure enough, at every table-service meal, Tony ordered a glass of wine. While it seems to be okay, for now, just having to think about what might happen if he loses control added extra stress to all the above.
Then add the heat, and breaking monorails with no contingency plans, and long lines of people and scads of strollers and scooters and texting maniacs, and youll get some idea about how wonderful our trip was. LOL, no, actually it wasnt all THAT bad, and we DID have fun on the trip, but there was definitely a dark edge to the trip that isnt normally there, and I think we all saw and felt it.
Magic Kingdom:After the gang had all assembled on the first day at Pop Century, we headed immediately, as always, to the Magic Kingdom; it has been a tradition since our first visit as a group (staying for multiple days at a Disney resort) back in 2005.
My favorite moment on every trip is that feeling you get as you walk into the park for the first time from underneath the railroad tracks; its like Disneys front door. I never get over how excited I am at that moment! Then that first whiff of Disney popcorn wafts into your nose; thats when you know youre home. We naturally aim for the candy shop as our first stop, taking a long glance at all the wonderful things to eat. Last year we had the chocolate strawberries, but I didnt feel like wasting a snack credit within the first 5 minutes of our visit, and my mom didnt feel like parting with $5 for one strawberry. Still, wed be back.
Something came to mind as we shopped throughout the week. When I was a kid, every Disney trip (they were single day affairs back then) would end with the purchase of Donald Duck-packaged chocolate licorice. I could swear I bought a pack not too long ago, but no matter how hard I looked, I couldnt find it; its gone L. I know you can buy chocolate flavored Twizzlers, but theres something about that Donald Duck packaging.
That first night we hit Small World, always a favorite, and it is a great first ride for any visit. Later in the week we ate at Pinocchios Village Haus, at a table right over the Small Worldriver; I had always wanted to do that!
Tony wanted to do the Haunted Mansion the first night, so we did that next. My least favorite part of this attraction is where you and all the other unfortunate souls are herded like cattle into the final line for the doom buggies; I get claustrophobic as all the people from the different stretching rooms empty out into the line. I employed a bit of a fix for this particular problem the last time we rode HM during our stay: we stretched out our party of 5 to make sure that no one tried to push in front of us; it made it a much nicer experience. The problem with HM this visit was that it kept breaking down during the ride. I know that sometimes this happens because they need extra time to get certain people out of their doom buggy, but this time around the delays were very long; one lasted for 10 minutes!
Still, how can you complain too much about anything in HM? And in fact, I dont mind the delays if Im on the ride; it gives you a great opportunity to study things that you might otherwise miss. I noticed that in the dining room scene, you can actually see the shadow of the real animatronics dancing beneath you, under the floor, the reflection of which on a pane of glass is what you see in the dining room. I have to say, I loved the new effect at the end with the hitchhiking ghosts. The first time through I was riding with my two kids, and, of course, the ghosts exchanged our heads; later in the week when I rode by myself (3 full-grown people are a pretty tight squeeze in those doom buggies), the ghost took my head off, blew it up like a balloon, and then let it go; it flew around in the air until landing right back on my head too good!
Mickeys Philharmagic was next, and its always a good time. Dont be afraid to move completely across the row; even the last seat is perfectly situated for this movie. The last day, however, a couple of girls sat in front of me with their Minnie Mouse ears on, and it obscured my view; it didnt ruin the experience, but it would have been better if they had taken them off. I especially like the smell of the apple pie; yum!
We had secured a few fast passes for Space Mountain upon our entry to the park earlier in the day, and returned toward the end of the first night to ride it. This was my first ride since they added the music. Now, the music isnt nearly as audible as it is at Disneyland, but it does add a certain something to the experience, so good on ya, imagineers! But I still miss the oatmeal cookies falling from the sky that you used to be able to see from the queue; I dont understand the reason for that part of the renovation; it was always so cool to be able to look up and see the faint silhouette of the track, and the occasional sighting of the glow from the white stripe on the dark cars as they whizzed by; its much too claustrophobic now. As for the ride itself, I nearly died (kidding) last year when I rode in the last seat of the last car, so this year I rode in the first seat of our particular space module. I had to fashion a headrest for myself by clasping my hands behind my head to keep my neck from breaking, but I made it through. Its the last ride for me, though; its just too rough now. Ill be able to ride the DL version, but the WDW Space Mountain is closed for good, at least for me.
We returned to MK on the 5th and then the 8th day of our stay, and managed to see all we wanted to. Our ride on Splash Mountain was a bit odd in that some of the audio seemed to be missing. You know the part where Brer Rabbit sings time to be turning around? Well, he never sang it; or if he sang it, it wasnt very loud. Obviously this didnt keep us from being thrilled by the final drop; Patrick and I tried to make our most frightened face as we plummeted into the briar patch, and it came off well; very funny!
Thunder Mountain had a glitch too. You know that part where the rocks start shaking at the end, and it looks for all intents and purposes that these large boulders are going to fall on you? Well, they didnt move one smidgen; what gives? Aside from that, the ride is golden; I would have liked to ride it again, but the heat did me in, and we never made it back to that side of the park.
Pirates. Heres the best advice I can give. Always enter the left line in the queue. The right line has to go over a final bridge before getting on the boats, whereas the left line does not; its a good few minutes shorter. The ride was in fine form. I did notice one interesting thing that probably has no significance at all, but that one pirate with the hairy leg hanging down over the bridge, his drink, his jug of grog or rum or whatever, has a single streamer sticking up out of it, almost to indicate steam; think of a fan with streamers attached to the grill; you know how they flutter about from the wind? Well, this mug of grog had its own streamer fluttering about inside of it. Weird, huh?
I always have to mention how much I prefer the DL version of this ride, but even the truncated version at WDW is special. I do miss how way back when, in the first few scenes after the waterfall, the pirates chased the women around the rooms, and then later, one really big woman is chasing the pirate; I hate how politically correct changes have stolen that funny punch-line. Now the scenes dont make any sense. Ah well. An annoyance that will be discussed later is the epidemic of flash photography on this ride; it has to stop.
We had a great skipper on Jungle Cruise. His name was Kyle, and he was fantastic. The skipper can make or break this attraction; weve been very fortunate in this regard. I cant remember when we had a bad skipper. My favorite line was at the end of the ride when Kyle kept telling us to teach the rope after it had been tied to the dock, teach the rope, teach the rope, ok, its taught! LOL. I love that kind of humor.
Miscellaneous attractions.I missed being able to see the Tiki birds this year, and I cant wait for it to return next year. I didnt miss not going on Stitchs ride, although the lines seemed to disagree with my sentiments. We didnt do laugh floor either; while I enjoyed it last year, for me it is a one and done experience. We did do Carousel of Progress, and even as dated and tired as it is, tired meaning the condition of the seats and the smell of the theater, its still a fun show. Although where we were sitting, the audio was a bit off, and sometimes the music was too loud, drowning out the dialogue.
Im not sure when Snow Whites Scary Adventure is going away, but we made sure to ride it just in case it isnt there next year; in fact, it was our final attraction for the trip. Pooh was great, as usual, and how cool is it to see the picture of Owl and Mr. Toad shaking hands on that first panel of the ride? The Hall of Presidents was great, also as usual; its nice to see such a great turn-out these days. As for turn-outs, I was amazed to find a packed house at Country Bears! Last year the auditorium was nearly empty, so much so that I was embarrassed for Disney. What a relief to see a full house this year; it was a great show; I think the performers can sense when there is a big crowd; they definitely brought their A game J.
THERE WAS A HUGE PROBLEM WITH BUZZ LIGHTYEARS RIDE!!! And Im sorry that I dont call every ride/attraction by their given name; my memory is not so good, and there are many more important things I need to remember, so there you go. Anyway, THERE WAS A HUGE PROBLEM WITH BUZZ LIGHTYEARS RIDE!!! I couldnt see my little red blip of light. I couldnt tell where I was aiming. I ended up with like 5 points. I prefer the guns at DLs version of this ride. At least with those, being able to pick them up, you can kind of figure out where youre aiming. It was horrible.
My son and I were the only takers for the Grand Prix. I cant explain why I like riding this attraction, but I just do. Maybe its a flashback to when I was too young to drive, but there is just something about driving that little car around the track. I always try to pass the other cars beside me and catch up to the person in front of me before the finish line, but every year I end up in a lame car. This year was no different. I kept trying to pass this one lady, and even though she was banging the rail over and over again, and I was strong and steady, I couldnt catch up! I was only able to pass her when she stopped her car to answer her cell phone; yes, thats what I said, er, wrote, the woman stopped on the race track, took out her ringing cell phone and answered it. I have no idea how long she sat there, but at least I was able to make the pass. I wish I could of Kyle Busched her, but, well, I had to be satisfied with beating her to the end of the race. My son, of course, got a great car and was passing everyone in sight. Sigh.
One last thing. For those who havent been to MK in a while, even since last year, theyve changed the queue at Small World. You enter the line at the same spot, but instead of heading down the ramp in two lines, you cross the bridge and enter the boats from the other side, where they used to load people with disabilities; the old location is where they now load the disabled. Im not sure why they made the change, but it might be to keep the Small World line from stretching out into that already cramped space beyond that attraction; that area tends to be a bit of a bottle-neck. It might also be to make sure that as many people as possible are kept out of the sun as they wait in line. In any event, the change doesnt appear to have made the wait any longer, so its not an issue, I just wanted to notify everyone of the change.
And thats pretty much it for this park.
We didnt stay for the fireworks on any of the days we visited the MK, mostly because of heat fatigue, and the fact that we really didnt feel like waiting in a long line for the bus. It is so much nicer for my family to be able to head back to the resort, shower, and recover from the long day.
The food: We always eat at the Columbia Harbour House on the first night of our stay, and this trip was no exception. I led the gang upstairs so that we could eat on the bridge! I had the fried shrimp, as did my son and Tony. I cant remember what my daughter and mom had, but the shrimp were sooo good. Speaking of quick-service, we ate at what used to be El Pirata y el Perico (shouldnt it be la pirata?), called, I think, the Tortuga Tavern or Tortuga Inn or something like that. They have, of all things, Mexican style food, but whos complaining? It was great food. My chicken burrito with rice and black beans was fantastic, especially with all the fixings from the fixings bar. As for snacks, I think the only item we had was where they sell the Dole whip. I had a new concoction, a pineapple float but with a citrus swirl on top instead of just one flavor. So good! Sadly, they dont even call it the citrus swirl anymore, you just have to know to mix the orange with the vanilla flavored soft-serve; such a great combination. We meant to get some of their famous popcorn before the end of our stay, but the storms on the final day of our stay prevented us from doing so; its too bad, it smelled so good!
We ate at the Kona Caf twice during our stay, each time we visited the Magic Kingdom for the full day. I love this hidden gem of a restaurant. The sweet Hawaiian bread and macadamia butter are worth the trip (for dinner only) alone; we always start with two loaves. During our first meal there this trip I had the dinner meal, this is where you get an appetizer, a main dish and a dessert for one price; I chose the shrimp and curry soup for my app, the shrimp noodles with peanuts for my entree, and the pineapple upside down cake for dessert. I enjoyed everything except for the tough and bland pineapple upside down cake. The second visit I had the shrimp and scallop meal with a great bananas foster crme brulee (my second favorite dessert during this stay; stay tuned to our dinner at Yak and Yeti for my favorite dessert).
The Merchandise: As I mentioned before, we didnt buy too much this stay, but I did need a new Mickey watch after the really expensive one I had bought in 2009 stopped working a year after I bought it; I bought a less expensive version on our final day at the watch store on Main Street. I also had to buy one of the great retro-looking items from the artist Shag, commemorating the 40thanniversary of the MK. They had postcards, drink coasters, a matted print, and juice glasses, all with a very distinctive retro (think Mad Men) design. I bought a single juice glass (or I guess its more like a scotch glass, although I dont drink scotch, unless youre talking about the butter kind), and its my new favorite glass; I use it constantly. I think you can see these items on-line now; we were actually in the park the first day the merchandise was available; the artist himself was there for autographs, along with a much larger framed version of the print, perhaps his original.
My favorite part of the MK this year: Sorry, folks, as far as food goes, its still the Columbia Harbour House; Id live there if I could. The pineapple float with citrus swirl on top is a close second though. As for attractions, I think Im kind of partial to Pirates, even though its a poor cousin to its better relative on the other side of the country.
My least favorite part of the MK this year: Scooters and strollers and iphones, oh my. More on this later.
EPCOT: Our first full day was spent here, and then we came back on the penultimate day of our trip. We usually hit the future world during the first day, and then hit the world showcase the second day, but for a variety of reasons, we ended up running out of things to do in future world on that first day, so we sampled a few things from the showcase to fill out the day.
Future World: Spaceship Earth is always our first attraction when we go to EPCOT, after, of course, I make the trek to the Land to get our Soarin (or as Tony calls it, Zoom!) fast passes (someone is always the fastpass runner in the family, and for my family, it is me, erI). Spaceship Earth is such a cool ride, and as I mentioned during the last visit, my favorite thing to do (with my partner in crime, my son) is to make a really funny face at the beginning of the ride, so that when they show you your future, it looks hilarious with that funny face pasted to that cartoon body. We went one step further on our second trip later in the week, picking German as our language; it sounded so odd; I didnt know that Dame Judy Dench spoke German so fluently; well done!
I had expected to ride Ellens ride, but my mom didnt want to; she said it was too loud! That was a new one on me. I kind of like this ride and miss not seeing it; it also left quite a large hole in our day. We tried to fill that hole with Mission Space, green please for me and my daughter, but my son chose orange. Even the green side is fun; I love pretending Im an astronaut!
Next we headed to the Land to ride Living with the Land before lunch. Now, I love this great little attraction, but as I was checking out the night before we left, I heard a guy who was checking in talking in less than favorable terms about this ride. Whats not to love about it? I cant really tell you why I like it, but hey, it has a boat! And who doesnt like to see huge vegetables, and tubs of fish, and other tasty things?
Soarinis still so much fun. Ill add the obligatory request for a new movie, but Im still okay with what they have. We ended up in the second row each time, so we had to see the shoes of the folks above us, and the second time we rode the attraction I was on the end of the row, and a guy on the end of the glider beside me kept turning around to talk to his friend in the glider behind him; what a distraction; it kind of ruined the ride for me as I kept worrying about him falling out, and then I started hoping hed fall out. Well, not really, but it was distracting.
My son and I were the only two to ride Finding Nemos ride. We did this on the second visit to the park. I like this ride. I remember it getting a lot of guff from some, but even though its not as good as the DL submarine version, its still a fun little journey through Nemos world. I wonder, though, whether Marlins voice in the ride is still Albert Brooks; it sounds a bit off to me.
We only managed one visit to Test Track (Fast Track according to Tony) thanks to the threat of a thunder storm on our second and last visit to EPCOT, but thats okay. May this attraction never leave; its so much fun. I love that thrill you get coming around that final bend in the track; what a rush! And I hope they never replace the pre-ride show; that gal at the terminal is perfect; her facial expressions are priceless!
World Showcase: We hit the Mexican Pavilion twice during our visit, and rode the Three Caballeros ride each time; its a bit simplistic, and I think I prefer the original version, but its still something to do in air-conditioned comfort. The biggest down-side was hearing Donald say,Hasta la vista over and over again as we waited to disembark; whoever is doing Donalds voice now doesnt quite have it. I cant remember if I identified a hidden Mickey during our last visit, but the bongo drums in the boat with viva Donald form a perfect Mickey
Norway means Maelstrom, and we got to ride this short but enjoyable attraction twice during our stay. It always amazes me how frightened some kids are to ride this ride; maybe if their parents wouldnt force them to ride the truly scary rides this wouldnt happen. Did you ever take a close look at the mural while in the queue? On the left side of the mural there is a bank of trees that is actually a hidden troll; may daughter picked that out.
Obviously the rest of the showcase is shopping, eating, shopping and eating. Now, I didnt forget the best little gem in EPCOT, Impressions de France. One of my regrets from this trip is having only seen this great movie once. We never do the American show anymore; I just dont like it. I wish they could relocate the Hall of Presidents and have that show represent our country; its much better, I feel. Over in Canada, as much as I like Martin Short, I have to say that I definitely prefer the original version of this movie.
No illuminations on either day, again due to the heat and being tired and not wanting to wait for a turn on the bus. Next year, I think, well take my moms car to EPCOT; then we wont have to worry about the whole bus thing, and can stay late for Illuminations, which I like more than any other pyrotechnic display at WDW.
The best thing about EPCOT, for me at least, is the dining options they have there.
The Food: First and foremost, boy did I hate Via Napoli. Well, hate is a pretty strong word, but I was very disappointed it the place. The first time I saw a picture of the pizza theyd be serving, I couldnt wait to taste it. Supposedly they fly in just the right kind of flour, they use water from western Pennsylvania, my neck of the woods, because it so closely resembles the water in Italy, and even the mozzarella is supposed to be a cut above what youd get from the local pizzeria. Well, while it wasnt as bad as Chuck E. Cheeses pizza, it wasnt what I was hoping for. Now, Ill be the first to admit that my expectations were too high, and I wouldnt have minded if the price had been more reasonable, but for just under $40, the mezzo metro size, a large rectangular pie, was barely enough to feed 3 people let alone the 5 people it claims to feed. Tony enjoyed his eggplant parmesan, and we all enjoyed our very pricey desserts, with the majority getting fried puff balls filled with sweetened ricotta cheese, called Zeppole diCaterina; I had something called Coppa Amarena, but although I remembered it being tasty, I cant for the life of me remember what it was. No, the food wasnt horrible, but the restaurant was way too noisy thanks to the tile floor and open concept; we literally couldnt hear one another talking. And the cost for the quality of food delivered was not compatible, most specifically was the $5 cappuccino that was served in a mug about the size youd get at Dennys with at least half of the contents being foam; there was literally only about three inches of liquid in each cappuccino; epic fail. And I think there was a bit of a communication problem as well; even though I was told my daughter could order the tiny cappuccino as her dessert for the dining plan, they still charged us the $5 (it was so loud and the process so confusing, that I didnt realized that I had paid for it); the cast member at Pop was nice enough to give me two snack credits to compensate me for the mistake (I had only asked for one).
Our meal at Le Cellier was so much better. While I hated to part with two table credits to eat here, everyone else in my party loves this restaurant, especially my mom, so in we went. I can honestly say that our meal here was better than all of our other meals at Le Cellier put together, and that is saying something. Their new menu reflects their new designation as a signature dining experience. Everything was a cut above what it used to be. My halibut was fantastic; each dish was served as one would expect from a fine dining restaurant; there was more attention to detail both in how the dish was prepared, the size of the portions and the way it was served on the plate, including dessert; I had the lemon cheesecake, and it was so very good. We had an excellent server. One fantastic meal!
The first of our two lunches at EPCOT were eaten at Sunshine Seasons, where I had some excellent lomein and, finally, my pineapple upside down cake (I made the mistake of not ordering in in 2009, and then it wasnt available during our short visit last year), which sadly wasnt as good as I was hoping; I have very high standards for pineapple upside down cake, and both Kona Caf and the Seasons let me down, boo-hoo; Ill keep searching! The second lunch a few days later was eaten in England, our favorite fish and chips; it was so good, so crisp and fresh, even under 100 degree conditions; yummy! My mom and Tony ate their usual lunch at the French Pavilions pastry shop, consuming with relish their cheese plate and bread with additional crescents!
My biggest disappointment, aside from Via Napoli, was the new caramel shop inGermany. Now, there is a caveat: my disappointment was only with the caramel corn, not the shop in general. Those lucky enough to have savored the caramel corn from Sleepy Hallow in the Magic Kingdom have eaten the real deal; I am still crushed that they only serve funnel cakes now. When I heard that the new caramel shop would be selling caramel corn, I was so excited. But sadly it is not made nearly as well as what they used to sell in the MK; it turned chewy almost instantly instead of being nice and crispy and sweet and delicious; trust me, Im a caramel corn expert, dont try this at home. But, and its a big one, Ive seen it in person, they had some very fine stuff in addition to the sub-par caramel corn. On our last day at EPCOT, my son and I each had the caramel cupcake, which was a yellow-cake cupcake, with frosting, drizzled with caramel; delish! My daughter and my mom both had the dark chocolate caramel with sea-salt candy; my daughter is still salivating from the experience and craves it constantly. I never got even a whiff of her candy; both she and my mom ate it at quite a distance from us, making sure we wouldnt ask for a taste; next year!
I also want to make a quick mention of the wonderful slushies they sell at EPCOT. On the kind of days we experienced, nothing cooled us off faster than the strawberry/mango slushy; we had another one at the Animal Kingdom a few days later. So very good and cooling.
Getting back to Mexico, I have never noticed the tequila place until this visit. Has it always been inside the Mexican Pavilion? Im not a drinker except for the occasional lager or glass of wine, so it isnt my thing, but it is strange to have been somewhere as often as I have and missed such an obvious thing.
The Merchandise: Like many people, one of my favorite things to do at EPCOT is shop around the world. Now, I dont buy much, but its so much fun to look at all the merchandise from all around the world, most of which is made in China (except for the decorative umbrellas we bought in China which, oddly enough, were made in Japan just kidding). The Mexican Pavilion is my favorite place to shop, if only because of the ambiance. No, thats not entirely true; I actually love the colorful items they sell: the suns, the animals, the pottery; I love this stuff. If I were a rich man, Id have a house full of it. We didnt buy much this visit, but my daughter did find a fairly unique looking wrist watch in Japan. I saw a few things I wouldnt mind owning in England, including one of the female cast members, lol, and the new Keep Calm and Carry On stuff they have now, but itll have to wait until Im gainfully employed again (for the Keep Calm stuff, not the cast member, although, I wish). As for future world, I can honestly say that for the first time since I started going to EPCOT, I didnt set foot in the main retail store there toward the middle; you all know which one Im talking about, I just cant remember the name of it. I normally love shopping here, but perhaps knowing that I couldnt buy anything kept me from teasing myself.
My favorite part of EPCOT this year: The treats at the new caramel shop in Germany (the caramel corn notwithstanding), and our dinner at Le Cellier.
My least favorite part of EPCOT this year: The caramel corn, and the fact that the newest version of Figment is still around; boy do they need to re-theme that attraction; does anyone even ride it anymore?
Disneys Hollywood Studios:Such a lovely little park. I say little because, distance-wise anyway, its not that big, or at least it doesnt feel as big as the other parks, but boy can it get hot; with all that cement and limited shade, its one of the hottest, if not THE hottest parks in the group. My other problem with this park, and with AK, is that there are not enough things for the older set to do here. Sure, we younger folk have the Tower of Terror and Rockn Rollercoaster, but the options are limited for those beyond their 70s. Even Toy Story Mania is too much for my mom, who could get motion sickness standing still on a cement slab. Needless to say, my mom and Tony did a lot of waiting for us, but waiting means eating for Tony, so he was okay with that.
We were all able to stay cool (and together) by riding the Great Movie Ride (something I love anyway); we rode it twice during our stay, and both times we got the cowboy part of the ride (I prefer the gangster); it had been a while since I had the cowboy part of the attraction, so it was a pleasant surprise. Ungowa, Timba, ungowa! Oh that Jane from Tarzan. I wish the hosts could make it their ownlike the Jungle Cruise skippers do; both hosts read the exact same lines in the exact same manner; if they added their own little nuances, the ride would be fresh each time. Still, I like it. I did notice something interesting though; at the conclusion of the ride, once the guests have started to depart the vehicle, the hosts were handed a slip of paper each time. What is on this paper? Information on which genre the next ride will be? Im just so curious. I almost asked a manager, but I didnt want to be too nosey. Anyone know?
My mom and Tony also enjoyed the Walt Disney movie. It had been years since I had seen it, and although the audio is really poor, its such a great story; very inspirational. Beyond that, I think all my mom and Tony did was watch Beauty and the Beast, and sit and eat while the rest of us rode our younger-themed rides.
We dont do Indy, or watch any of the plays, and American Idol is dead to us, but we had plenty of other stuff to do. We waited in the stand-by line both times to go on Toy Story Mania. We could never get to the park early enough to get fast passes with relatively early return times, so we just waited in line. Both times the clock said itd be a 50 minute wait, but in each instance, the wait was more like 35 minutes or so; my rule of thumb is this: if the line extends just beyond the inside of the building, go ahead and jump in; its not so bad, and it moves quickly. Its a fun ride!
My son and I rode Tower of Terror twice on the trip, and both times were simply fantastic; it makes me laugh so hard. I was a bit preoccupied on the last ride though, a little girl of about 5 was going on the ride with her dad, and she didnt look too excited. She wasnt fussing, and was putting on a brave face, but boy was she small. After the ride the dad indicated that this was her 3rd time. He then asked if she wanted to do it again and she quickly answered, no. There was another younger girl, probably age 8 or so that had to be forced onto the ride. While she was all smiles afterward, she too indicated that she was NOT interested in another go around.
As for Rockn Rollercoaster, what a launch, am I right? I can only ride this great coaster once a visit; too many attempts would ruin my neck and equilibrium. Still, one ride is at least better than no rides.
But the best ride of all, the best ride of the entire trip, all parks included, is the new Star Tours ride. What a great job they did on this update. We rode it a total of 5 times during our stay, and experienced a fair amount of destinations, going to Hoth, Tatooine, Courescent (sp?), Naboo and the Wookie planet. The best intro is the one where Darth Vader crashes the party, holding us with the force, telling us that he wants the spy on-board (every car has a spy, a guest whose picture is shown to the entire crew we were never the spy, boo-hoo); but we also got the beginning where we follow the Millenium Falcon (and forgive me, Star Wars geeks if I misspell any of these names; I dont have the time or energy to spell-check every one, lol) out of the launch bay. My favorite destination was Hoth, although the trip to Naboo was great too. We received a message from Leia and General Akbar, but not from Yoda, the one I most desperately wanted; oh well, maybe next time. And for all you on-liners, I couldnt believe that General Akbar didnt warn us that its a trap! It seemed like a missed opportunity on the part of Lucas not to throw in that little inside joke amongst Star Wars fans. We waited in the stand-by line for this ride each time, and never had to wait more than about 20 minutes to get on-board. A silly little thing is my discovery of a new hidden Mickey. There is a window where you see the silhouettes of passengers from all the Star Wars movies, including R2D2; well, anyway, R2D2 comes rolling into frame, he turns toward the window and raises antennas/small satellite dishes on each side of his head; for a brief moment you have a perfect hidden Mickey. My advice: ride this ride early and often; its so much fun! My new favorite ride. As an aside, I love how they do the whole Jedi training thing outside of the Star Tours location; is it okay that at my age I still get a bit of a thrill seeing someone dressed up as Darth Vader? So very cool!
The Food: We ate at two restaurants here, the first being Prime Time Caf. We had eaten here before to mixed family reviews, but I had been craving fried chicken, and this was the only place in the parks where it is served. It was good, by the way, but nothing topped the malted-milk shake I ordered with my meal as my drink on the dining plan. It was so big; you get a tall glass filled with the shake and then the metal mixing can with more than another glass-full of shake. My daughter ordered one for dessert. My mom and Tony didnt eat much here; part of it I think, was the limited menu, and the other part was I think they were full from their afternoon of eating while they waited for us to ride all of our rides; plus, I think the heat bothered them to the point that they really werent all that hungry. I noticed that the servers play the Prime Time game more when there are young kids at the table. While our server was great, she wasnt nearly as picky as the server at the table where there were two younger kids; perhaps that is as it should be. One thing, though, about trips, guys: let your kids indulge, if only for a few days while on vacation; there was this poor kid who really wanted fried chicken nuggets, but was forced to get grilled chicken strips; you should have seen the look on this poor kids face; hopefully they at least let him get dessert, and by dessert I mean ice cream or cake, not apple slices; geesh.
We also ate at Sci-Fi Dine-In, our most favoritest place to eat. I know some claim the food is not all that special here (something with which I disagree), but you simply cannot beat the ambiance. I do wish they had some twinkling lights on the ceiling; they have some around the side of the upper part of the walls to represent stars, but there are none on the ceiling. I didnt like that the servers didnt do any of the schtick anymore, like screaming when the Growing Man gets stuck with the syringe, but still, what a great place to have a long, cool, relaxing lunch. I had the shrimp pasta, a vanilla shake for my drink and an apple crumble for dessert; can you say, yum? It took them a while to get us seated, though; we waited about a half an hour. I think its because so many people wait for an hour or more for walk-up service; the place just looks so inviting that people who didnt make reservations still want to wait to eat there.
For lunch the first day, my daughter got a barbecued pork sandwich, just because she happened to be craving one, and my son opted for the ribs; I didnt have any lunch on either day for some reason. As for snacks, beyond drinks, I dont think we bought any during this trip. I did buy my mom a slab of toffee that she had been eyeing, and I brought it back to her at the resort; she, Tony and my daughter had gone back to the resort at the end of the first day, while my son and I rode Star Tours a few more times (thats when we finally got to Hoth!).
The Merchandise: I saw a couple of shirts I would have loved to buy under better financial circumstances, but other than that, the stores were more a place to get cool than to buy.
My favorite part of Hollywood Studios:Star Tours! Plus, I have to include the incredible malted milk shake at Prime Time Caf, as well as another enjoyable lunch at Sci Fi!
My least favorite part of Hollywood Studios:Same as last time there just arent enough things for the older set to do. They need more dark rides, at all the parks. The emphasis lately seems to on extreme rides, but Disney is forgetting that Walt wanted a place where the entire family could have fun together, not apart. They need at least 3 new dark rides at HS (I would have loved it if they had placed the new Little Mermaid ride here instead of the MK), and at least two dark rides at AK. They need a few more attractions at the EPCOT world showcase, including a Mary Poppins ride in England, a flying carpet dark ride in Morocco, and perhaps a new and better attraction at the American Pavilion.
Animal Kingdom:OK, part of me wants to say this is my least favorite park, but once you get there, I mean, almost immediately, you are reminded why this park is so special, the trees and animals and just the general feel of the place; theres nothing like it, anywhere. However, I still feel that this is a half-day park; there just arent enough things to do here. I mean, if youve never been there before, perhaps you can fill a full day, but for us, people who dont do Bugs Life anymore, or any of the Dino-land attractions, its a half-day park at best. Heres hoping they pull out Dino-land and add some nice dark rides in the near future.
For the elderly in particular, there are only a few things to do: the safari ride, the Finding Nemo and Lion King shows, neither of which we do every year, only once in a while, and the fantastic bird show which we see every year. Now, my mom and Tony love the rapids ride, but Im guessing thats not the case with all seniors. Plus, its so hot at AK; while there are a lot of trees, there are also a lot of areas without shade, and some areas without any air conditioned relief zones. It can be a very dangerous park if youre not careful. Having said all that, we enjoyed our one day at AK.
We got fastpasses for the safari, and when we eventually had our turn, we saw lots of animals, including an extremely close sighting of a white rhino (I love rhinos). A word of caution though; for those of you with even minor motion sickness issues, dont sit in the last row of the car; thats what happened to us, and it made the ride very uncomfortable.
Since we couldnt do a fastpass for Expedition Everest, my son, daughter and I did the single rider line, and we were on the ride in less than 15 minutes. Its a great ride, but because of my physical issues (neck issues mostly), I cant ride it more than once per visit. As for our poor Yeti, boy did it look sad, especially compared with the more animated version showcased on the Stacy show every fifteen minutes; to me it looked like it was propped up with strings; hardly menacing. I know weve discussed this ad nauseum on the site, but I think its a near outrage that Disney hasnt fixed this problem; the Yeti s appearance is supposed to be the highlight of the show; without him, its merely a rollercoaster, something you can find in any park; for Disney, the theming is the difference, and with a lame Yeti, the theming is broken. FIX THE YETI!!!!
As I mentioned, we thoroughly enjoyed the bird show again this year; I dont know, but I just cant get enough of seeing so many beautiful and powerful birds close up, especially the American Eagle. We also did the Lion King show for the first time in years, and Im pleased to announce that it hasnt lost a step at all; its just as fresh and exciting as the first time we saw it during the parks inaugural year. The place was packed, though, and the trip into the auditorium was nearly as claustrophobic as the Haunted Mansion issue I mentioned earlier.
As hot as it was, we were all really keen to go on the rapids ride; we were not disappointed: we got soaked, each and every one of us! We had a great rapport with the other people on our float as well, so this made the trip especially fun. Sadly, we were dry in just a few minutes and hot again. Thats okay, because it was time for dinner at Yak and Yeti.
The Food: Yak and Yeti says it all. For those of you who havent tried this incredible restaurant, please put it on your must-do list. While tastes and expectations vary, I think most if not all people will enjoy this place. Its our second visit and we enjoyed it just as much if not more than our first visit. I had the seafood curry, and it was as good as it was filling; I wouldnt have minded if it had had a bit more spice or kick to it, but they do have some hot sauce if you want it. We had a great server, Hector, who allowed all of us on the dining plan to have coffee with dessert for no extra charge (a small gesture, but a welcome one). I had the indescribable, super-delicious mango pie for dessert. I hear that you can order this at take out, but that it doesnt come with the raspberry/mango sauce that they drizzle on the plate, or the mango relish, so do yourself a favor and come on inside for the best version of this incredible dessert. The mango pie is easily my favorite thing to eat, not only in the park, but in the world. I kid you not; if you like mango and pie, you will crawl over broken glass for miles for a taste of this pie.
For lunch we took refuge from the heat in Pizzafari; its not great food, but its cool, and the theming is fantastic there.
We found another mango/strawberry slushy at AK, but we were not able to use snack credits at that particular location; I found that a bit odd, but gladly paid cash for the cooling effects of this delicious drink.
My favorite part of Animal Kingdom this year: the mango pie at Yak and Yeti.
My least favorite part of Animal Kingdom this year: my last bite of mango pie at Yak and Yeti, and the sad state of the Yeti himself.
Non-park-hopping passes:Just a short word about the park-hopper option. I saved a bit of money on this trip by not getting the park-hopping option. While we didnt need this option, and havent used it a whole lot when we have gotten it in the past, I didnt like not having it. There were a few times when we wanted to call an audible and change up our plans but couldnt because we didnt have park-hoppers. I wont make this mistake again.
8 days versus 10 days: Again, as a cost saving measure, we only went for 8 days instead of our usual 10; this meant no water parks. Now, we dont usually spend an entire day at the water parks, but I found that without having a few days out of the theme parks, you get burnt out. I missed having those two days where you are doing something different, enjoying a bit of cool, down time; plus I missed those incredible donuts at Blizzard Beach. We did have one day where we did HS for a half-day and then played Fantasia Fairways, but it wasnt a long enough break from the rat race that a Disney trip can become. So if you can swing it, get the water park fun and more option for your visit, and stay as long as you can. Of course, our problems would be solved if we could just live there!
Fantasia Fairways: Do it! We have played a round at this challenging mini-golf course every year that we have gone, and it wouldnt be a Disney trip without it. Its right across the street from the Dolphin/Swan resort, so just take the bus to HS, then take the boat to Dolphin/Swan and then walk across the street (or drive). It was insanely hot the day that we played, and my mom and Tony didnt even finish their rounds because of the heat, so for this reason, if you go during the summer, plan to start your round at about 6:00 p.m.. It takes about 2 hours for a family of 5 to play 18 holes, so youll have plenty of time. Anyone who buys a resort and ticket package receives a coupon for a one free round of mini-golf, so use it! Obviously youll have to pay for everyone else in the party, but $12 is $12 last time I checked (unless youre converting to Euros or the Yen). As to the actual Fantasia Fairways course; its challenging but fun. They actually made it a little less challenging by replacing the faster surface they used to have with a brand new surface. Because it was newer and has more nap, the ball trundles much slower. Its still insanely hard, but a lot more fair. I was able to shave 8 strokes off of my all time low score; I shot a 67 this year, down from the 75 I shot the two preceding years.
One more thing about Fantasia Fairways: about half-way through the course, youll come upon a coke machine; but try as you might, youll not get the blasted thing to accept your dollar. I cant imagine how much money that vendor is losing because of the flawed intake device. Theres some water there, and you can buy cold beverages back at the counter, but it would be so much more convenient if the coke machine actually let you purchase a coke. So if you go, and think youll want a drink half-way through the course, bring a pocket full of quarters.
Fastpasses:I think there is a conspiracy afoot. I think that a majority, and maybe a large majority, of people who visit the Disney parks are unaware that they can use the fastpass system. I dont know if its because Disney doesnt do enough to inform the guests of this great tool, or whether they intentionally keep this information from people, thinking that perhaps the system would bog down if everyone used it. I kept wanting to shout to all the people waiting in the stand-by lines for Soarin and Splash Mountain to use the fastpass system, its free and for everyone in the park! However, I think that certain rides should lose their fastpass designation as it makes the standby line ridiculous. Peter Pan and Pooh dont need fastpasses; I feel that the stand-by line would be right about the 30 minute mark for each ride if they didnt have to keep stopping the stand-by line to let the fastpassers in. Just my opinion.
Annoyances:Okay, so, as promised, a gripe session. Now, I dont want to alienate myself with anyone here, because I consider all of you my friends and part of a wonderful extended family. In fact, while walking through EPCOT, and as we were walking by the Rose and Crown, I told my family about Dan Young and how he likes to go there and sing Danny Boy; I love this strange family we have here. But we dont always agree or get along, just like a family. So, if I gore your particular ox, I apologize. Im merely venting some frustrations that accumulated over our 8 days; none of this is intended to be personal.
Scooters: First and foremost, I am an empathizer; its hard for me to see anyone or anything in pain and not feel sorry for it, him, her; so I feel very sorry for anyone who is physically so weak, injured, disabled, etc. to the point where they have to use a scooter to get around, and obviously I have no problem with that at all. Sadly though it seems that more and more people who arent injured or disabled, etc. use scooters because they cant turn down that fifth piece of pie, or they just dont feel like walking. Now, certainly, there is no way of knowing for certain that this is true; no one knows what another person feels. There is a chance that everyone I saw at WDW using scooters during my last visit just might have been physically unable to walk around the theme parks, so thats on me. But the sheer number of people in scooters has to mean that there are some who truly dont need them. Or, perhaps because of the sheer number of people from the baby-boomer era who are starting to reach their golden years, perhaps this is why there appears to be so many more people getting around by scooter. In any event, why so many stinking scooters?!
Alright, hold on, maybe Im looking at this the wrong way. Lets just say that its okay for people, all people to use scooters. No problem. But do all of them have to take the scooter everywhere? Case in point: at the food court one morning, as Im eating my cherry turnover, I notice a large family sitting down to eat their breakfast fantastic, I love it. But then here comes granny in her scooter with a large awning on top, rolling into the food court and up to the table, parking in the walking aisle. Then here comes pop-pop in his scooter with a large awning on top, rolling up to the table, parking it alongside the other end of the table. Still, no real problem here, right? Im sure that both people really needed their scooter to get everywhere, and they cannot walk even 100 feet from the outside to the inside to eat breakfast, right? Well, granny, after parking her mini-car, proceeds to get up out of her car, fill a tray full of breakfast goodies, stand in line to pay for her goodies, and return to the table without missing a step. If you can walk at all, walk when you can, be considerate of the people around you and the limited space available, and leave your car outside the food court.
Second point, and this may be a money issue, but why does everyone who needs to use a scooter for the theme parks (not those who are truly disabled and need them all the time) have to rent them at the resort? Not only do they clog the food court, but they slow the whole transportation system down; the drivers of the buses have to load each scooter individually, taking about four seats in the process, making others have to stand or wait for the next bus? If you can walk, but cant walk all day at the parks, rent one at the park! Tony may have to do this next year, and if he does, I can guarantee that he wont roll onto a ride or into a restaurant; hell park it outside and walk in.
Finally, people, can we agree that were getting way too fat for our own good? So many, both at Disney and at my local grocery store, seem to use scooters because theyve grown so fat that they can no longer walk comfortably. Havent we all seen Wall-E? This is where were headed folks, everyone in their own personal transportation vehicle, with their heads buried in a smart phone or ipad or something of the like, barely able to notice anything else going on around them. I mean, Im not talking about people with a bit of a gut, or someone 20-30 or maybe 50 pounds overweight; Im talking about obese people here. We all try our best, and some of us, including myself, are seemingly always on a diet of sorts, trying to lose a few inches here or there, but to let yourself get to the point where you are no longer able to support your frame is a sad state of affairs.
Heres a quick story. Were walking toward the Canadian Pavilion at EPCOT (obviously, lol), and theres a very large woman in a scooter; she has dropped something on the ground; yes, its a bag of Fritos, fried corn strips; shes reaching down to try to get this bag of Fritos, trying to be careful not to spill her Big Gulp (Im guessing its not diet Coke). Well, she reaches too far and the scooter tips over. Theres a big commotion, the rest of her large family (both in number and in girth) come to maw-maws rescue and get her upright in no time. Again, she could be ill, she could be injured, she could be disabled in some way, and my rantings would be misplaced in that event. But even if she were any of those things, you know as well as I do that there are many out there for whom this story would be accurate; sadly, there are people out there who have grown so large that the only way they can get around is by scooter. Dont give up on yourselves, people. If you can walk, walk! Get some exercise! Perhaps in time you wont even need a scooter anymore.
Phew, okay, one issue done. Here comes the other.
Strollers: I was an only parent with two young kids at one time, and I know the value of keeping them together, safe, rested and happy in a stroller. Wed rent those silly strollers all the time when we went to Disney. So trust me, I understand and can appreciate the predicament. But why, oh dear God why do people have to bring these super-huge ,double wide, double or triple length strollers with more storage capacity than my 3 bedroom, two bath house? Its convenient for them, Im sure, but its selfish; these huge things take up so much space; its like the big 18-wheelers on the highways; take them away and the freeways are almost spacious. If everyone minimized and took a stroller just big enough for their kids and just a few items, thered be so much more space to walk around the parks. But probably the worst part about these huge things is the fact that so many parents refuse to fold them up when they enter the monorail. I mean, you have to do it when you load on the bus, why should the monorail be any different? One family with a super huge stroller took up all the standing room space in one bay of a monorail. It was ridiculous! Its especially ridiculous when you see these same parents pushing around an empty stroller but still refusing to fold it up when they enter the monorail. Like anyone else, be considerate, think of others, and dont be selfish.
Cell-phones/texting: I know we live in a world where everyone has to be connected at all times. We live in a society where the first thing some people do when they get into their cars in the morning is to pick up the cell phone and either call or text someone they know. For the love of Mike, why? What can be so important that you wont allow yourself even a brief moment of sanity on the way to work? And even worse, why not allow yourself a vacation where youre not constantly checking your e-mail or texting your boo, or chatting on-line with your friends at home. YOURE AT WALT DISNEY WORLD!! PUT THE PHONE DOWN! I saw a family on the monorail and each of them was absorbed in their personal communication devices to the point where they became strangers and not a family trying to reconnect while on vacation. I mean, I know you cant force these kinds of things; you are either a family who enjoys one anothers company and wants to talk and laugh and get excited about the vacation, or you are a family that endures each others company, taking refuge and seeking escape any time you can by jumping on your smart phone or iPad or tablet. Now, I did have to talk to my pet-sitter on the phone as we were heading into Mickeys Philharmagic. While it wasnt an emergency, it was a semi-important phone call. It was over in 3 minutes and that was that. And yes, we did use our cheapie trac-fone phones to communicate with one another in the parks (where are you? Okay, were on our way), but that was the extent of our phone use. Escape, folks, from the real world while you are at Disney. Put your real life behind you and enjoy the fantasy of life without worries; again, PUT THE PHONE AWAY!
Finally, and this is unrelated to anything above, have fun while at Disney. Laugh, or at least smile. I saw so many families eating together, riding rides, taking transportation, all without smiling or enjoying each others company; in fact, they were often yelling at each other, or complaining about something. Sure, problems arise, disagreements occur, but get over it quickly and get back to the fun! And yes, my family had some disagreements along the way; both my mom and I like to take charge, so there was a bit of stubbornness involved, and a few hurt feelings; but within the hour all was forgotten, we were laughing again and having fun! Its Disney, folks, this is supposed to be fun.
We had our share of bad parents over our 8 days, parents who walked their kids about on leashes (sorry, folks, but if you need a leash for your kid, you are either lazy or over-protective; cut the leash, they look ridiculous and everyone laughs at you behind your back except for the other parents who walk their kids on leashes), parents who cannot communicate with their kids except by yelling at them, parents who threaten or berate their kids if they dont eat all their expensive Disney food or ride the scary rides like a big boy or girl. Yet I am pleased to report that a large majority of the parents were fantastic, patient, understanding, and loving; well done, aller, most.
Flash photography in dark rides: STOP IT! BASTA! In any language (and perhaps Disney should start making notices in more languages about this horrible trend), it needs to end; it can ruin a visit to Pirates or HM or a number of other attractions.
A few last-minute tips:
If you always ride a ride on one side of the boat or car, try to ride on the other side the next time; I was amazed at what seemed new to me because of where I sat in the car/boat.
Keep moving: if the entry line at the front of the park seems long, just keep moving to the side; I cant tell you how often we were able to walk right in the park by using this simple technique.
Watch the glass-blower in the Main Street glass-works shop; it was a lot of fun; very interesting, especially to my artist-in-training daughter.
Dont forget to eat some popcorn; I hate that we ran out of time to enjoy this delicious Disney treat.
Use the single-rider line wherever you can if you cant get fastpasses.
Slow down, relax, smile, be happy, and enjoy your time at the Most Magical Place on Earth.
Next Years Plans: So, next year were heading back to WDW to celebrate my sons graduation from high school. Hed like to stay at a nicer place, even though he loves Pop. I think he wants to live it up a bit, to make the celebration a bit more special. Anyway, if they offer the same discounts next year as they did this year for the deluxe accommodations, well be staying at the Polynesian with a lagoon view; otherwise, well be staying at a moderate resort, most likely the French Quarter. Well be going for 10 days and nights, with the water park fun and more tickets, WITH the park hopping option. We wont be doing the dining plan next year though. They finally increased the price of the dining plan to the point where I can no longer save money. This year it was tight, but we did save some money. But with the increase for next years plan, Id actually lose money. This is sad, because I love the dining plan, especially in its original form with an appetizer, entre, dessert, and tip included. Ah well, nothing good lasts forever.
And so, dear people, again, I hope I havent offended anyone with my rants, I hope I havent rambled on for too long about our visit, and I hope those of you who hate serialized trip reports will appreciate the time I took to type this all down first so that I could publish it in one fell swoop; it took me stinking forever to do it.
Finally, and yes, I know Ive already said this a dozen times, but this time I mean it, my favorite thing on this vacation was two-fold: our dinner at the Yak and Yeti (especially the mango pie) and Star Tours 2.0!
My least favorite thing on this vacation: strollers, scooters and cell-phones, of course, and the new Pixar movie Cars 2. I know, I didnt see it while on vacation, but we saw it when we returned and I thought it was the worst thing Pixar has ever done; it smacked of Dreamworks. Even the Toy Story short was weak. And now to hear the rumor (or worse) that a Toy Story 4 is in the offing has me really worried about the future of this great group of people. Well, Ill stop ranting; this is a topic for another thread.
Hope you enjoyed at least some of this trip report. Until next time.