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WDW Day Three: The Magic Kingdom Pt. 2

Having checked out almost all of the left side of the Magic Kingdom, we decided to take the train from Frontierland to get to the other side of the park. Unfortunately I was in Disneyland mode and thought there would be a train stop in Tomorrowland. Oops. We ended up departing the train at the Main Street stop and walking back to Tomorrowland, but that was okay. First stop was the Carousel of Progress. I cannot believe they still have this thing running — it was first unveiled at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, for Pete’s sake! WDW presents it as a golden oldie and they take pains to stress how much Walt Disney loved the attraction. All this buttering up didn’t seem to affect the audience I saw it with; the four teenage girls in front of us thought it was a joke, and there was even a rude woman yakking on a cell phone behind us. Despite those distractions, I found it utterly charming. So what if the audio-animatronics were more creepy than anything else, and the final scene (supposedly set in the present day) had an distinct mid-1990s look. It was kitschy and cool at the same time.

After this we took a cruise through the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. Another ride much beloved by hardcore WDW fans, this ride is very similar to the old and lamentably gone Peoplemover in Disneyland. The main difference might be that these cars move a lot faster than the leisurely Peoplemover ever did. I had so much fun, and surprisingly the ride gives guests a glimpse at the “City of Tomorrow” model which was originally placed at the end of the Carousel of Progress. On the whole, the ride was a refreshing respite from what was getting to be a hot and humid day.

It was getting later in the afternoon, but too early for our 4:00 meal reservations, so we decided to hang around Main Street until the parade started. I got to break away from the parents (for the only time during the trip), milling about and taking pictures of the buildings. From the outside, this area looks nice, but the insides are full of shops that sell pretty much the same stuff. I went into a section with a gallery sign next to the door, hoping to find something nice. Inside was a bunch of Princess crap. Strangely, the left side of Main Street as you’re looking at the castle is one, long shop. I was able to find a nice, overpriced polo shirt with an appliqué Mickey on it. I caught up with my parents as they were waiting for the Disney Dreams Come True parade. I was expecting corniness galore, but as the parade went by I looked in wonder at the way the costume characters interacted with the kids sitting on either side of me. The performers were complete pros, hard working and cheerful in the hot sun, and they had the children completely enthralled.

After the parade wound up, we had a pleasant yet uneventful lunch/dinner at the Plaza Restaurant, located at the end of Main Street’s right side. We got seated in an octagon-shaped room just off the main dining area, a neat little area with lousy acoustics. It was hard to carry on a conversation with two loud families also in the room, but luckily they left quickly and I was able to enjoy a vanilla shake dessert in relative quiet. After the meal was over, we chatted with our server about working at WDW’s restaurants — 12-hour shifts, no-shows, etc. It was really interesting.

Once the meal was over it was time to explore Fantasyland. Well-timed, too, since the park was closing early for Grad Nite and the crowds in this particular area were thinning out. To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations for Fantasyland since some of my favorite things in Disneyland — the Matterhorn, Alice in Wonderland ride, Storybookland Canal Boats, even the Snow White grotto — are completely missing in Florida. With its mishmash of old-style medieval carnival and Swiss village architectural styles, WDW’s Fantasyland seems a bit aimless and incomplete. Our first stop was the Snow White’s Scary Adventures ride. It was a cute attraction, somewhat less substantial than the Disneyland version. The same could be said for the Winnie the Pooh ride. At least Disney used the ride to stress that Pooh’s story was adapted from a book, something my mom noticed with approval. We also caught a showing of the Florida-specific 3D film Mickey’s PhilharMagic, an enjoyable if not very substantial experience. With the exception of the Pooh ride (5 minute wait with Fastpasses), everything was a walk-on.

Since we weren’t interested in waiting in line for the insanely popular Peter Pan’s Flight, we walked onto the WDW version of It’s a Small World and made it our last stop of the day. After the initial disappointment of finding an indoor queue, we got on and found the ride the same reassuringly cheerful experience we always loved at Disneyland. Despite many tinkerings over the years, the ride still hews to Mary Blair’s original designs and the timeless theme of seeking peace through the world’s children. One improvement of the Disneyland version is the fact that the boats sail through a wide “river” as opposed to the narrow canal at DL. I loved the ride and had plenty of opportunity to take (blurry) photos while our boat got into a logjam in the final two rooms.

Our Small World departure marked the end of Fantasyland and the conclusion of our Magic Kingdom day. I’d say that this was the most fulfilling day of the three, since we achieved everything we wanted to do at a leisurely pace. The only major rides we skipped were Peter Pan and Space Mountain (which all three of us didn’t have much interest in). And all of this was completed before 6:30 p.m., too! Since the evening was still early, I was telling my parents that we should take a bus to nearby Blizzard Beach to play a round of miniature golf. They didn’t seem too hot on going, however, and by that time I was getting a bit peaked — so we went back to the hotel. At least that (and the part of World Showcase that I missed) will give me something to look forward to for a far-off “next time.” All in all, it was a once in a lifetime trip that I’ll never forget!

WDW Day Three: The Magic Kingdom Pt. 1

Friday, April 18th, 2008 marked the end of my Florida trip with the parents and a full day at Walt Disney World’s premiere theme park, The Magic Kingdom. As a lifelong fan of Disneyland in California, I always wanted to check out the Magic Kingdom just to see how it differs from its West Coast counterpart. It turns out that the two parks are very similar in the essentials, but they also have some marked differences — maybe its an East Coast/West Coast thing. Generally speaking, I’d say the main difference between the two is that Disneyland attracts a more laid-back, local crowd who are there for a pleasant day trip. On the other hand, the Magic Kingdom can be summed up more like an expensive, all-encompassing vacation spot geared toward (mostly out-of-state) families who desire a quintessential “Disney” experience.

We arrived at the transportation center bright and early for the park’s opening at 9:00 a.m. Taking the monorail though the Contemporary Resort, I got to catch a glimpse of Mary Blair’s massive multi-story Grand Canyon tile mural — an exciting, old-style way to enter the park. We arrived through the turnstiles and found that we had to wait in the front area for the gateway to Main Street U.S.A. to open. Before the opening there was a splashy musical number to herald the beginning of the day. It was cute and all, but this kinda underlines the differences between Disneyland and WDW. At times it felt like Disney was grabbing me by the collar and yelling “ARE YOU HAVING A MAGICAL TIME ALREADY? WELL, ARE YOU?” I like finding the magic on my own, thank you. Luckily there was a lot of magic to be encountered during the course of the day.

With the throng of morning visitors, we entered Main Street U.S.A. My, that area of the park is huge. I loved the ornate architecture everywhere, but at this point there was no time for dawdling. We made our way to the central hub, where I quickly snapped some photos of Cinderella’s Castle (also much larger than I imagined) on our way towards the Liberty Square entrance. It’s funny that they open the park in stages, but I can see where it helps in terms of crowd control. The bottleneck at the entrance was massive, but our group waiting to get through Liberty Square was much more manageable. Eventually the gate opened and we made a beeline for Splash Mountain to get Fastpasses. By the way, the Fastpass system was a huge, huge help in getting the most out of our trip. The first advice I’d give any Disney theme park visitor — use Fastpasses, and use them often! First thing out of the way, we dropped into Big Thunder Mountain next door for some morning thrills. This was a lot of fun, and we only had to wait for about five minutes to get on. The differences between the WDW and DL versions of the ride seemed pretty minimal to me; mainly the WDW queue is situated indoors and the trains pass by a large area with a fake prospector’s camp.

It was at this point that we took a walk around the river bend to ride on my all-time favorite, The Haunted Mansion. Walking along the nearly deserted pathway through Frontierland and Liberty Square was beautiful. I marveled at the buildings and theming, even telling my parents that I wish it was this empty all day. Approaching the Mansion, we walked right in with no wait. This was a great ride, although it was really dark and my eyes never adjusted to the change in light from the outside (the one bad thing about going during the slow time of the day!). The WDW iteration of the Mansion recently underwent some renovations — everything was in tip-top shape and I’d even say the experience is slightly better than the DL version. It seemed a little longer, and although I love the elegant exterior in Disneyland, the WDW Mansion exterior seems a lot more foreboding. I love the exterior theming, too — that little pet cemetery is the coolest! They even had a gravestone for Mr. Toad, whose ride in Florida was destroyed to make way for Winnie the Pooh.

In my singleminded quest to hit the most popular attractions before 11:00 a.m., the Pirates of the Caribbean was next on the agenda. Having heard that the Magic Kingdom version is widely considered disappointing compared to the Disneyland version, I literally walked onto the ride with lowered expectations. I thought it was pretty good — this biggest loss being the atmospheric intro via the Blue Bayou on the DL version. This was a huge loss since it bridges the gap between the real world and the pirate world. WDW’s Pirates also seemed shorter, but the scenes are presented in an order that makes more narrative sense. The Jack Sparrow audio-animatronic figures were impressive, but it bothered me that there were more than one. For some reason, I always thought of PotC as being a journey through several scenes taking place simultaneously, and having multiple Jacks popping up spoils the illusion. After the ride was over, we had a bathroom break and I took some photos of the great Spanish-style theming around Adventureland.

Further exploring Adventureland, we went over to the Swiss Family Treehouse. That’s one of the great things about the Magic Kingdom — some of the rides haven’t been updated in years! I enjoyed climbing through the unsullied treehouse (even as an adult, it’s fun). That in mind, we avoided the Tiki Room, now updated dumbed-down as The Tiki Room: Under New Management. I can’t stand the thought of my beloved Tiki birds having to deal with obnoxious newer birds. After the treehouse, we went over to check out the hoary old Jungle Cruise. It was another walk-on. This was relaxing and enjoyable, even if our skipper seemed on the blasé side. I liked the addition of a small dark part missing from the DL version. The Kiliminjaro Safari in Animal Kingdom, however, has rendered this quaint boat ride irrelevant.

It was getting time to head down to Splash Mountain and take advantage of our Fastpasses. We only had to wait in line for about five minutes. No matter where it’s located, this is one of my favorite Disney rides. It combines classic “Dark Ride” storytelling and log flume thrills so skillfully that one can enjoy it multiple times. This WDW version didn’t seem dramatically different from the DL version, with maybe not as many scenes containing audio-animatronic critters. It is better placed within the park, and for that reason alone I’d give it an edge over Disneyland’s.

Since the park was considerably less busy than I anticipated, we threw away the touring plan at this point and decided to truck over to Tomorrowland and get Fastpasses for the Buzz Lightyear ride (something I didn’t plan to go on). That done, we stopped in the hub and snapped some gorgeous shots of the Castle at midday. My parents were getting hungry, so we stopped for some hot dogs and fudge in Frontierland before riding on some of the less popular attractions. I wanted to check out the old Country Bear Jamboree, an attraction that hasn’t been in Disneyland since 2001. My parents and I have many nostalgic memories of this particular one, so it was a bit heartwarming to find the original still going — albeit a bit threadbare — in WDW. I even bought a souvenir pressed penny there.

I think at this point (around noon or so), the park was at its capacity. We ducked away from the crowds in the nearby Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square. This is another moldy oldie of an attraction, but I enjoyed it in all its patriotic earnestness. Basically its more like a Presidential Roll Call with speeches only by Abraham Lincoln and George W. Bush. I loved noticing how some of the audio-animatronic presidents on display would keep moving or reacting even when the spotlight wasn’t on them (for some reason Ronald Reagan’s tapping toe stood out for me). That stage is getting awfully crowded — where will they put the next president, out in the audience? We also took a tour of the river in the Liberty Belle Riverboat, where I saw several fake deer and moose and a real alligator.

Yep, I’ve been going on too long on this baby — next time I will write about the conclusion to our Magic Kingdom day.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom Flickr Montage

WDW Day Two: Animal Kingdom

Thursday, April 17th 2008 was the day me and my parents explored Disney’s Animal Kindgom. Although we got off to a late start due to a mysteriously un-set alarm, it ended up being very eventful full day and we wound up doing everything we set out to do. After a filling breakfast at the downtown Kissimmee Denny’s, we took the 10:30 a.m. shuttle into Walt Disney World. Our first priority upon entering AK was getting the “forgotten tickets” issue from the day before resolved. Luckily the employee we talked to cheerfully issued us refunds for the lost day on our three-day passes — Jonathan in Animal Kingdom Guest Relations, thank you very much for saving us a lot of heartache!

Dinosaur Ride Photo, Disney’s Animal KingdomAlthough we entered Animal Kingdom later than anticipated, that turned out to be all right since I intended to skip some of the more popular attractions and concentrate more on exploring the various areas. The first place we hit was the popular and relatively new Expedition Everest roller coaster, in order to secure Fastpasses for later in the day. This involved walking through the Asian area of the park, which was beautifully themed to look like a crumbling Asian villiage in the Himalayas. It was even hot, humid and crowded — exactly like the real Asia! We then walked to the silly Dinoland U.S.A. area to ride on the Dinosaur attraction. The vehicles for this bumpy ride were modeled on the oversized jeeps in Disneyland’s Indiana Jones ride, only this time you have to travel back in time to retrieve a dinosaur. It was frenetic and fun, a bit on the short side, and the many areas where riders are plunged into complete darkness made me even more uncomfortable than the huge dinosaurs that keep popping out at you. My parents had a blast. Once the ride was over, I bought one of those overpriced photos that they sell you at the end. In the photo, I’m the goofy looking guy sitting upper left.

Since trumped-up carnival rides don’t interest me much, we didn’t explore the rest of Dinoland, USA. Instead, we hightailed it back to Asia and went through an animal exhibit called the Maharajah Jungle Trek. What was interesting about this part weren’t so much the animals (much of whom were sleeping or hiding) but the gorgeous theming of the trail. It was made to look like an ancient temple with statuary and crumbling walls covered in murals. The other guests seemed especially annoying, elbowing their way to find the best viewing spots, but I enjoyed snapping pictures of things others were basically ignoring. That done, we went down the Asian walkway to catch the park’s daily Flights of Wonder bird show. At this point I noticed how the park, nicely designed as it was, was not made to handle high-capacity crowds very efficiently. Smaller than usual walkways, humidity-enhancing extra vegetation, and a crucial lack of shade add up to an unpleasant experience. Luckily we found a small respite at Flights of Wonder. This was a cute ‘n corny comedy show with a wide variety of birds, wrapped up in a superficial conservation message (something that pops up often at AK). Still in Asia, we took a break at the Coke stand which (yet again) was subject to some amazing theming.

Newly hydrated, we decided to trek over to the other side of the park to catch the Festival of the Lion King show. This was an impressive and grandly entertaining spectacle with a huge, energetic cast. If the show wasn’t quite Broadway caliber, it does beat anything seen on a cruise ship — and the family audience ate it up. I captured a bit of the show where huge floats get rolled out and posted it on flickr.

After this we decided to explore the area around the park’s “weenie”, the Tree of Life. Though the tree isn’t an attraction per se, several understated animal habitats and trails snake around the tree’s base. The parents and I spent a long time just gawking at the tree itself, which is intricately carved with animals in its base. A cast member walked by and aptly remarked on how guests just can’t stop looking at it. Later on, mom and dad searched for a guidebook on the carvings — in vain. Apparently Disney can stock about a million pieces of “Princess” merchandise in their shops, but no simple Tree of Life guidebook exists!

It was getting time to head back to Asia to honor our Expedition Everest fastpasses. This attraction definitely lives up to its “E Ticket” status. We ended up getting on in less than five minutes, with me and dad sitting in the front row of our runaway train. This was a quick and bone-rattling ride, climaxing in a view of an animatronic Yeti (which buzzed by too fast for me to really notice it). We had an intense time, and at the peak of the ride I had some time to look out and marvel at how massive the Walt Disney World property is — acres and acres of trees with bits of hotels and such in the distance.

With a 3:00 p.m. parade about to rumble through the park, I decided to get to AK’s African section to find out if we could get fastpasses for the park’s other E-ticket, Kiliminjaro Safaris. It turned out the attraction ran out of fastpasses for the day, so we just decided to go on it anyway. The other alternative was trucking to the park’s other side to see the last daily performance of the Finding Nemo show. We decided to stay put, a good decision since the queue was at most about 15 minutes long (just long enough to call Christopher at work!). The safari was tons of fun. I’d heard that it was better to catch this ride earlier in the day when the animals were more likely to be active, but that turned out to be no problem at all. There were dozens of animals out and I snapped a ton of photos. This was basically a Disneyfied African safari with a throwaway storyline relating to poachers. Me and my parents agreed it was the highlight of the day. After this we explored the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, which does for African critters what the Maharajah Trek did for Asian creatures. I thought this one was more enjoyable and better put together than the Asian trail, even if the theming wasn’t quite as strong.

The day was winding down and there really weren’t any other rides I was interested in, so we got a little (disappointing) shopping in and departed the park a half hour before its 7:00 p.m. closing. I always wanted to see the nearby Animal Kingdom Lodge, so we decided to catch a convenient bus over there for some dinner. The main building opens up to a gorgeously designed vaulted lobby with African accents everywhere (even on the floor!). I was hoping to see the fake savanna which hotel guests can see from their room balconies, but when we made our way outside only a huge and noisy pool could be found. This was one of the few times I wished I’d planned better, since we could have made early reservations for the lodge’s delicious looking African buffet Boma. Instead, we made our way to the cheaper counter service restaurant near the pool and had to make due with typical burgers and fries. It was here that I noticed most of the guests were either British or South African. All in all, Animal Kingdom Lodge was a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to stay there (too many kids).

Since the shuttle back to the hotel wasn’t due for a couple of hours, we did some further exploring, taking a bus from AK Lodge to a bustling Magic Kingdom. I wanted to check out the super luxe Grand Floridian Resort, so we waited for a boat ride. In a bit of bad timing, a loud and obnoxious white trash woman got in line behind us and started arguing with her teenage daughter. We ducked out and tried to take a monorail to the resort, but there weren’t any available at the time. Trudging back to the boat dock, we found that obnoxious white trash woman left on the previous boat (or maybe she was fed to the alligators). Finally we got onto a much quieter boat; it was an excellent ride. On the Grand Floridian: what a beautiful resort. This is definitely where I’d want to stay if I won the lottery. All white buildings facing quiet courtyards, done up in understated faux turn-of-the-century elegance. Like the AK Lodge, the Grand Floridian opens up to a huge and impressive lobby filled with sitting areas containing overstuffed chairs and soft lighting. We made our way up to the second floor lounge to enjoy drinks while a live band played Disney tunes in jazzy arrangements. Seeing a couple dressed in evening attire, my mom at first was hesitant to go in with us looking like sweaty, dirty tourists — but she relented and we had a good, relaxing time. I sipped on my first Mai Tai, one of the best drinks I ever had. The resort was wonderful, and even more importantly it was a nice break from the crowded family-energetic atmosphere everywhere else in WDW. The visit was a pleasant capper to the evening and left us rested for the bus shuttle ride back to our comparatively spartan hotel. Next stop: The Magic Kingdom.

Animal Kingdom photo montage

WDW Day One 1/2: Epcot World Showcase

Wednesday I outlined our day at Future World in Walt Disney World’s Epcot. Today I look at our afternoon/evening at the other side of Epcot, World Showcase. This was an inspiring and fun-packed segment of the trip and in a way it made up for the small disappointments in Future World. The W.S. pavilions, each devoted to a specific country, have a timeless appeal and luckily they haven’t been as “Disneyfied” as the rest of Epcot.

We set off by exploring the pavilions in counter-clockwise order around the large lagoon in which they were situated. This meant encountering Mexico first, but before that we needed to hightail it to Norway to get Fastpasses for that pavilion’s Maestrom boat ride. After that (and a bathroom break), it was time to check out Mexico. Unlike other pavilions, Mexico is mostly situated indoors in a gorgeously fake environment meant to be evocative of a remote village surrounded by volcanic mountains. A restaurant patio is situated near an indoor lagoon in which diners can watch people riding the pavilion’s boat attraction, Gran Fiesta Tour. This was a neat effect, reminding me of the Pirates of the Caribbean/Blue Bayou setup in Disneyland. Unfortunately at the time we were there it was both crowded and noisy (a live mariachi band was playing), so we quickly made our way to the boat ride queue. Gran Fiesta Tour is another WDW ride that recently underwent a renovation, this time in the form of an overlay with animated sequences starring The Three Caballeros (only one of whom is Mexican). Although it isn’t earth-shatteringly great, it was a pleasant diversion which I enjoyed a lot more than I thought. Tableau with dancing dolls were lively and fun, and the animated sequences weren’t too intrusive.

Onward to Norway — for some reason, I ended up spending more time at this pavilion than any other (or so it seemed). We needed to kill some time before the fastpasses took effect, so we took in a nice little exhibit on Vikings in the reproduction stave church. At some point my parents decided to relax with beer and wine in the café, which annoyed me since it was only an hour before our dinner reservations. The Maelstrom boat ride was also fun, even if it’s less about Norway than about passing a bunch of scary trolls in a big Viking ship. The ride ends with making guests wait to enter a theater showing a travelogue film. Upon being released, most of the people we were with bolted for the exit. After sitting for another five minutes with no film showing up, we did the same thing.

The next pavilion on our tour was China. For the Flower & Garden Fest, this pavilion was decorated with cool little seed topiaries depicting the animals of the Chinese New Year. Since it closing in on dinnertime, we just milled around browsing the shops. Although the Beijing Olympic mascot merchandise was tempting, I decided to buy something cheaper — a lovely blue silk shoulder purse. I have no idea what I could use it for:

WDW souvenir Chinese silk bag

I also bought a bag of a Chinese candy called White Rabbit (pictured further below), which is kind of like a subtly sweet vanilla Tootsie Roll wrapped in edible rice paper. Ever the weird candy connoisseur, I was hoping to get a wide variety of goodies from around the World, but alas I only ended up with stuff from China and Japan.

The afternoon sun was setting, almost time for our 5:00 p.m. dinner reservations in the Germany pavilion next door. My dad picked out the Biergarten, which coincidentally was one of my top choices since I love German food. Biergarten is a buffet-style eatery with live music and communal seating with eight to a table. I was looking forward to meeting the guests we’d be seated with, but unfortunately they were a dud. They didn’t speak a word to us or even look in our direction! (And, no, they weren’t a foreign tourist family.) Luckily the restaurant made up for that in every other department. Our server was gracious and eager to talk about her hometown of Frankfurt, and the food was deliciously filling. I had (among many other dishes) two schnitzels with hunter sauce and two apple strudels for dessert. Waddling out of the restaurant, we browsed some of the German shops. I was so hoping to find some of my favorite chewy raspberry candies in the candy shop, but alas they had mostly gummy bears.

Italy was next on the agenda, and since that pavilion has no attraction it was a brief visit. We only spent about five minutes there, but I got some good photos of the pavilion’s faux Renaissance architecture. At this point, the sun was setting and we bolted to America for another bathroom break. A viewing of the audio-animatronic extravaganza The American Adventure was to be in store, but the next showing wasn’t starting for at least a half hour.

While mom waited in the pavilion, dad and I took a quick trip next door to Japan. It was beautifully crafted with a pagoda and nice gardens. I checked out the Mitsukoshi department store, hoping to find some cool toys — maybe a Kubrick Disney action figure or some hip Oswald the Lucky Rabbit branded stuff? Unfortunately, they had a bunch of Hello Kitty, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh merchandise that’s already familiar to most Americans. Exploring further, I did find a couple of things to get. One was this wonderful cat-shaped teacup which I bought for Christopher:

Japanese yellow cat teacup

In the candy section, several bags of a gummies made by a company called Kasugai caught my eye. These were in a dizzying array of flavors; I picked out a pineapple one. What a treat — very flavorful and delicious!

Epcot Candy

After my dad and I breezed quickly through a cool little exhibit on vintage Japanese tin toys (boy, I wish I could’ve stayed longer), we went back to the American Adventure to meet up with mom. This was a beautifully mounted and super-corny show hosted by audio animatronic versions of Ben Franklin and Mark Twain. Things got so sugarcoated and patriotic that I almost felt guilty that I was moved by the ending. This is one of the best shows in WDW from an imagineering standpoint — the craftsmanship on display is top-notch.

By the time the show let out, it was nearing the end of the day and the showing of Epcot’s nightly IllumiNations fireworks display. Five minutes before starting time, we managed to snag a great viewing spot on the island located between the French and British pavilions. We found some empty spots on the stairs and it was nice just to get off our feet. The show was beautiful, although I was a teensy bit disappointed given the hype I’d previously read. Mostly it’s lots and lots of fireworks — beautiful, awe-inspiring fireworks, but fireworks nonetheless.

With the closing of IllumiNations it was closing time on our Epcot day. Unfortunately we never had time to visit the Morocco, France, United Kingdom and Canada pavilions, but I did get to look at the buildings on the crowded walk out of World Showcase. Trudging to the monorail ride back to the WDW transportation hub, I was impressed with the efficiency Disney has to move thousands of bodies where they want to go in a timely manner. Everybody got out in a timely manner with little jostling or stress. We returned to the hotel room exhausted but happy that we had a first day to remember. Tomorrow we’d be back on our way to Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park.

WDW Day One: Epcot Future World

A week ago today, we (my parents and I) took a day-long holiday Walt Disney World’s Epcot. You gotta understand that this is something I’ve wanted to see ever since it opened in October 1982 — but, firmly rooted in Arizona, we always went to Disneyland next door in California for our Disney getaways. As a longtime Disneyland fan, it was interesting to compare and contrast the two parks. Having fun in a casual way that wouldn’t overtax the parents was the main objective, but I planned everything in advance to take advantage of the best times to ride each attraction.

We started off the day dragging ourselves out of bed for the shuttle’s 7:30 a.m. pickup. Sure, our flight arrived really late the previous night and we we in no mood to get up, but I had a fully packed day planned with lots to see so there truly was no alternative. We arrived at WDW’s central transportation hub to board the monorail entering Epcot. It was there, unfortunately, that my mom discovered she forgot to bring our three-day passes. Damn! Instead of heading all the way back to the hotel, we decided to buy one-day passes and hope that a Disney employee could spread some pixie dust and get us a partial refund on the other passes.

Seeing Epcot’s Future World unfold via monorail was (I hate to say it) a magical experience. My heart jumped when Spaceship Earth could be spied in the distance peeking over the trees. Getting closer, I was surprised to find the place a bit smaller in scale than what I imagined. I pictured us trucking along all day going from pavilion to pavilion, but in reality they’re all relatively close together. We bought our passes and entered the park. Upon arrival, we made a beeline for the Test Track attraction to get Fastpasses. For those who don’t know, a Fastpass allows you to go on a ride using a faster moving line later on in the day, providing you go back to an attraction during the time frame printed on the ticket. This early jostling with the crowds was a bit trying, so my mom suggested a little break with coffee and pastries. It was nice, and I flung some pieces of cheese danish at the aggressive white seabird hanging around.

The first ride we went on was Mission:Space. This is one of the newer attractions that has undergone criticism for not being “futuristic” enough, but I actually found it enjoyable in a low-key way. Guests play the role astronauts piloting a claustrophobic spacecraft to Mars, coached along by Gary Sinise. I was planning to do the wimpier version of the ride, with no spinning, but the parents insisted on playing it dangerously. The experience wasn’t too bad, but the odd moments of disorientation gave my stomach a pronounced queasiness that wouldn’t let up for an hour or two. It was weird, but the only thing that truly bothered me was the constant cold air blowing in my face. After the ride finished, we trudged down a spartan, flourescent-lit, too-long hallway — a very un-Disney like ending.

One ride down, several more to go. Onward to the Universe of Energy pavilion to ride on something called Ellen’s Energy Adventure. This was Disney’s attempt to liven up an older ride by framing it in a film with hip, young celebrities like Ellen DeGeneris, Alex Trebek and Bill Nye, The Science Guy. Unfortunately the film basically screams “1996” and suffers from having a squishy, corporate-safe message (offshore drilling is the best thing ever!). Long, tedious, shoulda been skipped — even the part where the ride vehicles go through dioramas with audio-animatronic dinosaurs let me down. And Ellen was so annoying!

By this time we were due back at Test Track, Fastpasses in hand. I’ll say it now: the outside of this building sure is ugly. Cheesy banners and scaffolding everywhere; certainly not something that inspires wonderment in the possibilities of the future. The inside queue, seemingly inspired by the local Home Depot outlet, doesn’t improve things. We only had to wait about five minutes to board our “car”, and once the ride got going it was fun, if a little on the brief side. I’d love to go on the speedy outside section of track during a hurricane. The ride dumps you into a GM showroom and gift shop, not exactly a transporting experience.

After that I was getting thirsty, so we checked out the Coca Cola-sponsored Club Cool in Innoventions. This is a little area in which guests can sample — free! — various sodas sold throughout the world. The bitter Italian soda is the most notorious offering, but there’s also a German lemonade, a Mexican apple soda (my mom’s favorite), and the best one of all — a light-tasting Chinese watermelon soda. This little diversion actually made for one of the highlights of the day (we ignored the rest of Innoventions).

The park was starting to get crowded, so I decided to fit a visit to the recently refurbished Spaceship Earth, a.k.a. the giant golf ball. This had one the longest lines in Epcot, but we toughed it out and got on in about 15 or 20 minutes (the longest wait during our entire trip). Despite technical difficulties with the ride vehicles’ computer screens, it was a lovely and inspiring journey. I loved Judi Dench’s narration and all the detailing in the various audio-animatronic figures. This is Epcot the way it should be.

Reaching high noon, we trekked to the other side of Future World to get a Fastpass for the Living with the Land ride. On the way out of the pavilion, my parents insisted on taking a detour from the schedule — they wanted to see the Lion King movie (sigh). Okay, fine. It was cute and nicely animated, addressing pollution for the kiddie set, but also skippable for anyone over the age of eight. We also took an unscheduled stop at the former Wonders of Life pavilion, which was holding some exhibits relating to Epcot’s annual Flower & Garden festival. I waited outside on the patio and took a moment to call Christopher and bug him about how he’s working and I’m not!

With the afternoon sun blazing away, we took shelter in another renovated pavilion, The Seas with Nemo and Friends. Now, the idea of riding a clamshell to meet Finding Nemo creatures sounds like something too irresistible to pass up, but in reality the entire pavilion was a bit of a letdown. The Pixar overlay seemed a bit like a cheap afterthought (the exterior, with the “mine” seagulls and a waterfall, was a lot more creative), and the sealife exhibits were beautiful but not any more impressive than what you’d find at a real aquarium. All in all, I took a bunch of blurry photos and left pretty quickly.

It was here that we trucked over to the Land pavilion to use our Living with the Land fastpasses. Truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect of this ride. But I unconditionally love boat rides of every kind, so we decided to give it a shot. The ride takes guests though greenhouses and aquariums showing new methods of growing produce and fish. That might not sound like much, but I was totally enthralled. Who knew? This made up for the Land pavilion itself, which had all the ambiance of a shopping mall food court.

Throughout the day we were going through Future World in roughly counter-clockwise order. That put the Imagination pavilion next, but I decided to skip it entirely. Instead, we went to the butterfly tent set up as part of the Flower & Garden festival. This tent was crowded and there weren’t many butterflies (which kinda had me worried for their safety), but there were some great topiary and flower displays around the lagoon that connected Future World to Epcot’s other half, World Showcase.

Well, this entry has gone on too long — and we’re only halfway though the day at this point! — so I will write about the gorgeous sights of World Showcase tomorrow. Photos from the day can be viewed in my WDW flickr set.

WDW Epcot flickr set

Whoa, Ho, Ho It’s Magic

I limped back from my Disney World trip last Saturday with jet lag, achy feet, sniffly nose and a dry throat. At this point it’s safe to say that I’m all Disneyed out for awhile. It was a fun and frenetic three days — I will have a more detailed report on each day later. By the way, I am so sick of tourists. Think of the dumbest, most obvious things that someone would say in a theme park, then multiply it by a thousand. That’s what it was like, and it sure doesn’t reaffirm one’s faith in humanity. Despite those annoyances, I had a memorable time. More later!

Animal Kingdom Tree Of Life

Magic Kingdom Castle in the Morning

Epcot Flower Display