Monday, May 23, 2011

Florida: I Want To Go Back Already (Part I)

Okay everyone, you can put your knitting away for now.  It's been two weeks since we returned home, and I'm finally ready to give a little trip report.  This started out as one blogpost over a week ago, but then it turned out to be, WOW, way too long, so I have decided to split it up for easier digestion (Blogger is having major issues...  maybe it doesn't like it when you have huge posts with dozens of pictures).  This is Part I: Walt Disney World.

This excursion was a long time in the planning, though most of it was wishful thinking, so I'm so glad it finally happened.  While I was looking for deals I decided to check out a free quote from a travel agency that sponsors one of the podcasts I listen to regularly, and it turned out their services were free, and most useful!  (Thanks, Julie!  Not Wife Julie, but Travel Agent Julie.)  We booked through them and had a lot of nice little perks, including a free giftcard.

It turns out to have been a pretty good week to visit.  The first few days especially were fairly uncrowded (not to mention how, due to how very big WDW is, some areas are virtually empty), and we never waited in line for longer than 20-30 minutes (and sometimes we stood in line on purpose to experience some of the new and awesome interactive queue elements).  The weather was hot, but not miserably hot like it will be in just a couple of weeks.  I was determined not to feel ill this trip, as has been my habit at theme parks of late, so I made sure to take some Dramamine.  We had six whole days at Disney, so we had plenty of time to do everything we wanted to do, some of them multiple times.  We basically went to two parks each day, and worked with the closing times, some of which were pretty early (grad night--grrr).  When we first walked through the parks, I had the strangest feeling, like a blend of nostalgia and total unfamiliarity.  It's been SO long, and I've been to Disneyland so many times since then, it felt almost like some kind of forgotten dream or something.  It didn't take long to get reacquainted with things though, and it was really fun to compare the rides there to their counterparts at Disneyland (of which some are actually better at the west coast parks, and not just according to us, but to general fan consensus).  There was so much to do, but we made great use of our six days!  After our early flight to Orlando, we caught the Magical Express and arrived at our resort with no problems.
Little Wife, so sleepy after the long flight(s).
There was someone writing inspirational messages in the sky for a few days.  We think he might have had some of the words backwards, but his heart was in the right place.
After a nice visit to Downtown Disney, eating at Planet Hollywood (with a coupon we received for booking through our travel agent) and shopping at some of the fun, unique shops there, we tried to get some sleep.  I felt like such a child, I had a hard time sleeping, I was just so excited.
Next year's Christmas card??
Buddies at the Lego store.
Our first four days at Disney were really eventful.  I think I'll just separate things by park to make it easier to report:

Magic Kingdom!
• It seemed only natural to start with the park that started it all down in Orlando, and it helped ease Julie into the sometimes overwhelming WDW experience with something a little more familiar.  I was SO excited on that shuttle turning the corner and seeing Cinderella Castle peeking above the trees.
A li'l tear for Main Street and Cinderella Castle.
No tears this time!  XD
A new Main Street friend for Elise.  He doesn't even need to be named.  He's already called Casey.
They knew Julie was coming to visit so they shipped the hub Dumbo statue to Orlando.
I guess this is Phillip, since he's in Frontierland, but we kept trying to decide if he should be a new character altogether.
What up, Charles?
Good is good, bad is bad.
"Oh Zurg, nothing will keep us apart!" She has this thing for the bad boys.
"Welcome to my kitchen.  Would you like some lunch?"
I am going to have a hat like this one day, you just mark my words.
Down for fire damage, never to open in this incarnation again.  Interpret my thumbs-down sentiment as you will.
• We rode a ton of rides!  We're both so used to the Disneyland counterparts, but it was fun to compare the rides that are in both parks (most of the differences were in the details, but sometimes they were huge, like the queue areas being so much bigger and more covered in the Florida versions, wider walkways and more FastPass options).  Pirates, Splash, Big Thunder, Space, Jungle Cruise, it's a small world, the tour around the park on the train, and a plethora of dark rides (including the soon-to-be-extinct Snow White's Scary Adventures and Dumbo).  There were a lot of attractions unique to Magic Kingdom that I was excited to show Julie too--Stitch's Great Escape (once called Extra-Terrorestrial Alien Encounter), the Peoplemover, the Carousel of Progress, the original Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, the new Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, and the Country Bear Jamboree and Mickey's PhilharMagic (which opened VERY soon after I left the College Program, and which I was so excited to finally see).  We had plenty of days to take our time and make sure we saw everything we could!  We saw the fireworks show at the castle of course, and it was as beautiful as you would surely expect Disney fireworks to be.
I laid the rose on his grave.  (Just kidding, the Cast Members did it, which they do every day.)
• I should also note that we were able to see a good deal of the construction on next year's exciting and major Fantasyland renovation, including the Beast's castle peeking up over the walls.  It will be amaaaaziiiing.
• We met up with Cami and Jake and their kids for a few hours one evening, which was really fun.
We hadn't planned to coordinate our Disney trips (they were just there for a day or so before boarding their Disney cruise--is it wrong of me to feel jealous of one Disney vacation while I'm on one myself?...), but it worked out great!  It was really fun to ride some of the rides with the kids, and with Cami, even though everyone else outright refused to go on Splash Mountain with us three.  Tsk!
We are kissing and OMGoodness, Cami is behind us totally grossed out!  HA HA.
Splash Mountain?  Can't be bothered.
We had plenty of time with Mickey and Minnie because there was no one else in the queue.
It was kind of hard to interpret what they wanted to do for the pictures since the didn't speak, but we figured it out.  It was like posing with mimes
Please ignore my double glasses look.  I tried to remember to take off one or the other for pictures, but sometimes I still forgot.

•  There are so many cool things at Epcot.  We were there during the Flower and Garden Festival, so we saw a lot of themed topiaries and butterfly gardens and sand sculptures and garden displays.
•  The Seas and The Land pavilions are areas I've never really explored, so it was fun to go there and see fish (real and animated) and creatures and the plants growing in the greenhouses (and also to be thoroughly chastised for being wasteful, toxic, polluting humans by Simba in a delightful little propaganda film).
Julie and Anchor are seeing eye-to-eye.
I get it, Simba, men are the polluting scum of the earth.  Have a nice day.
•  The World Showcase!  It's awesome!  We tried foods from a few of the countries and rode the few rides (Maeeelstrooooom...) and watched the few shows they have, but mostly it was fun to walk around and feel a little bit like we were traveling the world.
Fish & chips in the UK!
A giant troll in Norway!
Resting our feet before watching the China Circle-Vision show.
Rapunzel's tower near Germany (just because).  You can hear her sing and her hair is apparently supposed to glow, but I think it was unplugged so it didn't work.
Italian pizza!  In Italy!  Word is they import water from Italy to make the dough so it's super-authentic.
Jasmine noticed us walking by with our camera and showed Aladdin, and they totally posed for us so we wouldn't have to stand in the long line, and then that lame lady was like, "I think I'm going to be a super tacky tourist and feel this hair!  Wow, it feels like a wig or something!" Otherwise a really nice picture.
Welcome to Agrabah.
I have a hat like this at home.  But this is a Disney Morocco hat.
"Lookee here, men!  A street mouse!"
Pastries in France!  This is the Napoleon.  Can I have another one?  Right now?
This was a delicious strawberry tart.
OMGOMGOMGOMG, Davy Jones!!!!!  We briefly thought about coming back to see him, but then we weren't around.  It turns out there was quite a crowd waiting, some people came hours and hours early.  We figured we can always just watch The Brady Bunch Movie if we get a hankering for some Davy Jones, as almost no one ever does.
I really really wanted a funnel cake and we finally bought one at the American pavilion.
They have a new Kim Possible activity where they give you a "Kimmunicator" cell phone that leads you on a top-secret mission in one of the countries, which includes interactive elements that happen only when you're in the right spot and following instructions correctly.  It was super cool.
"Call me, beep me if you wanna reach me."
• We did the cool rides too like Mission Space (which is new since I was there, and which I was glad they had a "mild" version of, which doesn't spin) and Test Track.  We skipped Soarin', because it's exactly the same as it is in California (same movie and everything), and because the line was always too long.  It would be cool if they had a Florida version (and isn't it sort of expected?).  Maybe someday!
That girl on the left was way into it.  Single Rider, but she didn't seem to mind.  Also, SO lame that they put words up on the pictures now.  They flash away, but then you have to time for photo just right.

 • IllumiNations!!!  It's one of my favorite nighttime shows and it is just as awesome as I remember it.  It was some kind of dream come true to stand next to the World Showcase Lagoon in Italy and watch the fireworks and hear that glorious music with my splendid wife in my arms.

Disney's Hollywood Studios!
I had been having serious withdrawals from this hat for the last several months.
• My old alma mater!  It was really crazy to walk through there and remember the tiniest details about the layout and the backstage passageways and the Cast Member Only areas and things that happened on this corner or that pathway.  The popcorn wagons have been replaced with these odd stationary structures, but the rest of my old haunts looked pretty much how I left them.
Popcorn!  It's as good as ever (but still not as good as mine).
Ice cream!  Check out that outdoor foods station behind me.  That's me ten years ago.
• So much of it is the same (The Great Movie Ride, Tower of Terror, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, Backlot Tour, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid shows), but there are lots of cool new things that make it a much more exciting park (Toy Story Mania, the upcoming Star Tours 2, and that which I describe next...).
I heart NYC.
Even though Star Tours 2 wasn't open yet, they still had the old Star Wars stuff around.
There was one guy on my other side who said my drawing of Eeyore was really good.  He even told the workers in the gift shop at the exit.
She loves that Mal.  But not so much the girl in Castle (which is why she's covered up).
Me at the Stone Table. (Worst move ever, dropping the Narnia franchise, Disney.  This could have been an awesome Dawn Treader update instead of a dated Caspian exhibit.  But I thought it was still cool.)
Julie loves the creatures.
I love the treats.
I volunteered for the Backlot Tour special effects show.  I was the comic relief.
(I'm the one on deck.)
Remember what I said about the bad boys?
It's a sickness.
I do not approve of the baddies!  Down with this White Witch!  (Though her costume is cool.)
Davey Jones once played this organ.  Or his tentacle beard did.
Here she is kissing the decapitated head of Boba Fett.
Betty.  (What's the big deal with her anyway?)
Oprah.  I think Julie is asking her why she's so lame and has to buy all her friends.
Bill.  He makes me laugh, so I 'm laughing.  I love how he even has his sweater on.
This is Julie's tribute to Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts.
Gertie's is no more! :(
Glamorous Hollywood Wife!
Sleeping on the Tower of Terror.

• They have also in the last year or so opened their new American Idol Experience, in which guests can audition and hopefully go on to perform in live AI-styled shows, complete with host, judges and audience votes choosing a winner.  If you win, you perform in the finale show at the end of the day, and the winner of that round wins a "Golden Ticket," which allows them to jump to the front of the line at any city's audition for the real show in the upcoming seasons.  Of course, I'm a little too old to be on the actual show by now, but the WDW version allows a slightly wider age range to participate in the show, so I decided I really just better go for it.  There are a lot of pictures and video of this, so I think I'll post it separately.

• Fantasmic!  I missed it so, it's such a unique venue and such an exciting show.  I even bought a refreshment from those CP kids carrying their familiar trays of snacks.

Disney's Animal Kingdom!
• This park is so different from all the others, it was really fun to just explore it and find our way around its maze of paths and various activities.  There are a few shows that we saw (the new Finding Nemo musical--wow--The Festival of the Lion King, and of course It's Tough to Be a Bug), and some great rides (we loved the Kilimanjaro Safaris, Julie was BLOWN AWAY by Dinosaur, and we both immensely enjoyed the amazing Expedition Everest, which is new since I was there).
Dinosaurs?  Yes plz.
She was SO excited on the Dinosaur ride.
• It was fun to see a lot of creatures there too, even though some of them were kind of elusive.  The only day we had a little rain was at this park, but it was just fine, and cooled things down a little bit.

So there you go, the four parks!  There was so much to do and we did so much of it.  Here are a few general other things:

• We ate delicious foods.  There's a LOT of food to be had at WDW.  A lot of times we just grabbed something from the restaurant in the resort, or we ate in the parks.  We opted out of the dining plan, since we figured we wouldn't eat (rather, dine) enough to make it worth it, and we were right.  We ended up saving a lot of money that way.
Tie-dyed cheesecake.  We saw it advertised in the elevator and finally just had to try it.  It was, um, okay.
• We became well-acquainted with the transportation system, including shuttles (for which we waited at times for longer than an hour after park closing, I kid you not) and the Monorail.  It's interesting because at Disneyland the Monorail is more or less a ride, but at WDW it's a very crucial mode of transportation between parks and resorts.  Julie was thrilled to see the TRON-themed "TRONorail".

• We stayed at Pop Century, which was really cool, and had fun theming.  It was based on several decades of pop culture icons, and had a lot of dancing silhouettes, catch phrases along the railings, huge statues of Disney characters and three pools.  Thanks to our travel agent, we managed a really great deal.
Bowling pool!  It was right outside of our building.
So there you have it, Part I!  Harry Potter fans especially should look forward to Part II...  Stay tuned!


  1. Julie is totally correct: Captain Tightpants = rawr. He also seems to be a bona fide geek, which is always gratifying.

    How you guys can even pretend to be asleep on Tower of Terror is beyond me. I'm always photographed hanging on for dear life, with that oh-crap-oh-crap-we're-all-gonna-be-an-elevator-fulla-humanberry-jam expression.

  2. A Non-Rhyming Ode to Dinosaur:

    (to the tune of 'Canada')

    Dinosaur! (Dinosaur!)
    My Dinosaur!
    You're a magic journey with some dinosaurs.
    Dinosaur! (Dinosaur!)
    My Dinosaur!
    You're the best ride with dinosaurs in the whole 'verse.