Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Disney 2013: Day 8 – Islands of Adventure

While the main reason for this trip was to visit Walt Disney World, there were a bunch of other of other reasons we made this trip. Discovery Cove was one of those reasons and another was that I was very excited to check out all of the new stuff at Universal. I’ve seen tons of people on the Disney message boards who can’t stand the Universal Parks. I never visited back when it was just the one original Studios park, but maybe it was so bad back then that it caused lots of hatred. I don’t understand how people who like good theme parks could dislike Universal, especially Islands of Adventure.

We arrived at the park right after opening and made our way right to Hogsmeade. Part of the reason was to beat the crowds to Harry Potter and the other reason was to make sure that we 101_0390got to see the parts of the park that we missed on our last trip due to the monsoon and thunderstorm while we were there.

They captured the look and feel of the Harry Potter movies perfectly in this part of the park. The only disappointment is that they had to cram this into a tiny corner of the park, but that is being rectified while also boosting business for Universal. Since the Harry Potter ride boosted ticket sales for Islands of Adventure, but not necessarily Universal Studios they made the decision to put a Potter themed ride in the Studios as well. There will also be a Hogwart’s Express train travelling between the school and platform 9 3/4. This just might challenge the monorail as the coolest interpark transportation in Florida.

The wait time for Harry Potter was just 10 minutes, but I decided to try the single rider line. It’s fast, but you miss all of the cool theming in the queue as well as appearances by Dumbledore, Ron, Hermione, and Ron. I felt a little motion sick after the ride which I don’t remember from the last trip. That wasn’t surprising since this ride does such a good job of immersing you in the action. Amazing ride.

We backtracked a little so that I could ride both sides of the Dragon Challenge Dueling Dragons coaster. Jenne and Cass checked out the shops in the area while I was riding. Since they were still browsing, I decided to add another first to my list: using the bathroom in Hogsmeade! This is a cool experience because there’s an audio track of Moaning Myrtle that plays in the bathroom. It doesn’t play constantly so it would catch people off guard. Make sure you’ve got a TacoCorp Pee Bib handy!

Next up was Jurassic Park. We skipped the Discovery Center since we spent so much time there on our last trip to escape the rain. The only ride that we did this time through the park was 101_0394the Jurassic Park River Adventure. Awesomely themed ride with some great dinosaur animatronics. It’s sad to see Jaws go, but this is kind of a flume version of Jaws so it makes up for it a little bit. After I rode, Jenne and Cass spent some time in the splash zone of the ride cooling off.

Right now, I feel this section is lacking a little bit. I miss the Triceratops Encounter. The animatronics were so complicated that I’m sure that problems with them is what led to the elimination of the attraction. There are rumors of a new Jurassic Park ride coming to the park in the next few years. Universal isn’t messing around. They aren’t on even ground yet, but they are quickly closing the gap between them and Disney.

The next section of the park was Toon Lagoon. We were flying through the park because everything was walk-on at this point. No one really goes to Universal on Monday (the Magic Kingdom is the usually the most popular park by far on Monday) and lots of the people getting there early were still in Hogsmeade. I walked right onto Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls which is a hilarious log flume ride. I was already soaked from the River Adventure, so this was no big deal. River Adventure gets your top wet and this ride focuses on sending big waves of water into your log to soak your bottom to complete the job. I love all of the corny jokes on this ride; they perfectly capture the feel of the cartoon.

101_0400 I decided to skip Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges this time around since it was just going to be me riding. I was already soaked and I feel this kind of ride is best when you’re on there with people that you know and laughing at each other getting soaked.

This was the first time that both Jenne and Cass had seen any of Toon Lagoon so we took some time to walk around the area and check it out. Cass tried walking Marmaduke, but that didn’t go so well. We didn’t do any pictures with the word and thought balloons, maybe next time.

Next stop: Marvel Super Hero Island. Disney has got to loathe the deal that Marvel signed with Universal giving them exclusive rights to their characters east of the Mississippi. While you can look at it as Universal advertising for Disney’s characters, you also have to acknowledge that Universal’s Spider-Man ride is cooler than the majority of the rides currently in the Magic Kingdom. It will be interesting to see what Disney does when they start making Marvel attractions. It looks like the first one will be overseas.

The highlight of this section of the park is definitely The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. Even though this ride is almost 15 years old, the technology still seems cutting edge and it’s one of the best rides to be found in Florida. Cassidy didn’t want anything to do with this ride on our last trip which caused Jenne to miss it as well. Cass was a little hesitant at first, but once she saw all of the cartoons playing in the queue, she was ready to go. What I didn’t know was that this ride was refurbished in 2012 to add digital projectors. You can definitely notice the upgrade as this ride is beautiful. This ride is now one of Jenne and Cassidy’s favorite rides as well.

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I was by myself for my visit to Doctor Doom’s Fearfall. This ride is short and simple, but I still love it. Tower of Terror is a better experience, but you can’t beat the view from the Fearfall. There wasn’t any wait for this as they needed a single rider right when I got to the point where the line stopped moving. I got out so quickly that I found Jenne and Cass still playing games in the arcade. I helped them finish off the tokens that they had and it was a good thing that I did because we exited the arcade to find Storm and Rogue outside. This is where Disney is really missing out. Even if they didn’t have any attractions, meet and greets with the Marvel characters would be huge (and the costumes would probably be better looking).

We skipped the rest of Super Hero Island. I’m not good on spinning rides and Storm Force Accelatron is like tea cups on steroids. I’ve been on this once and that was enough for me. I also skipped the Incredible Hulk Coaster. The past couple of times that I’ve ridden this, the coaster has given me really bad neck pain so I decided that it wasn’t worth it with a large chunk of the day still to go.

101_0423 Seuss Landing was last up for the day. It started to drizzle right around the time we entered this part of the park, but it wasn’t heavy at all. We did The Cat In The Hat; Caro-Seuss-al; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; and the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride. This section of the park already has a bunch of fun rides and it rumored to be getting a Lorax ride as well. I love the look and sound of this section of the park. This is right up there with anything that Disney Imagineers have done.

While in line for the Trolley Train Ride, we had our first experience with the new photo system at Universal. They’ve added a bunch of photo experiences around the park and for $60 you get all of those along with your ride photos. That’s not a bad deal since Disney charges $50 just for their ride photos and $150 for PhotoPass. We didn’t sign up for the package at this point because I wanted to see how many photo opportunities there were, but I did get one of the temporary cards. While I was chatting about the photo deal, the sky decided that it was time to open up.

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That wasn’t too big of a deal since we weren’t too far from our next destination: lunch at Mythos. While most of the food choices at Universal suck (I think they want you to go eat at Citywalk), this place is awesome. The decor inside is really cool and the food is delicious. We took our time eating since the rain had gotten really heavy and had a great waiter who made it a great experience even with some bumps along the way. I think when all was said and done we ended up with two free desserts because of the kitchen being out of one thing and messing up the waiter’s special request on the other. When the rain let up a little bit, we pulled on our ponchos and made our way over to The Studios.

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Based on the layout of the park, we knew that our first ride would most likely be Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. On my first trip to Universal, this was a Hanna Barbera ride. That was changed into a Jimmy Neutron/NickToons ride. This new version of the ride is definitely my favorite. The preshow is funny, the ride is excellent, and there’s a dance party at the end! I pressed some pennies and then had to dash back into the ride when I realized that I left my hat on the ride.

From there, we dashed across the road to Shrek 4-D. This story is considered canon which is always cool. It’s a fun and funny motion simulator. I’d make sure to see it once per trip, but I wouldn’t spend time checking it out more than once.

Playing things by ear brought us to the entrance for Transformers: The Ride – 3D. Even though this ride employs the same technology as Spider-Man, it’s awesome technology and this ride is its own unique experience. Anyway, it’s not like Universal has 5 spinner rides or anything like that. I have steered clear of the Transformers movies completely due to Michael Bay, but after going on this ride, I may have to check them out. One interesting effect of this ride was that Cassidy fell in love with Bumblebee. While this version is not as cool as his 80s counterpart, he’s still the coolest Transformer. I remember how I felt as a kid when it came to Figment, so I encouraged this as much as possible.

We made our way to Men In Black, but we didn’t want to stash our stuff in lockers and then get soaked walking over to the line so we skipped it for now. Instead, we jumped into the line for The Simpsons Ride. I’m a huge fan of The Simpsons and this ride does a great job of capturing the comedy from the TV show. The wait was about 20 minutes, but it kept us out of the rain so it wasn’t too bad. I guess this was the first time that we had a car down on the very end and I hope it’s the last. When you are down on the end, you aren’t as immersed in the experience. I noticed for the first time that you are in what’s essentially a big IMAX theater and all of the cars are there around you. It probably did the same thing when it was Back to the Future, but I never noticed then or on my previous rides since it has been updated to The Simpsons.

Since we were all wet, we decided to leave a little earlier and head back to the hotel before dinner. We got changed and then made our way to the Wilderness Lodge for dinner at Artist Point. This place was awesome. The restaurant was beautiful and nice and quiet. This wasn’t anything like the loud restaurants that you find in the parks. Our waitress talked us into trading one of our desserts for the artisanal cheese selection, but that turned out to be a mistake. We only really ended up liking one of the cheese, but it’s always fun to try something new. I had the seared diver scallops which I wasn’t thrilled with and ended up wishing that I had tried something different. This just gives us a reason to head back there on our next trip.

A very cool thing happened while we were waiting for our table. Cassidy was doing some pin trading and was looking at the pin cart there. She asked me if she could buy the “World’s Best Mom” pin as a surprise, which I quickly agreed to. She grabbed the “World’s Best Dad” pin and got that one too for good measure. She also constantly thanked us during the whole trip for bringing her to Disney. She’s so amazing.

We looked around the resort a little bit and browsed in the gift shop. We got Cassidy another charm for her necklace and called it a night.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Disney 2013: Day 7 – Hollywood Studios

People like to complain on Disney message boards about Animal Kingdom only being a half day park, but I can’t recall a time where I’ve left that park before closing. Hollywood Studios is a park from which I’ve left early on evenings where there wasn’t a showing of Fantasmic! This is the one park where you should have plenty of time to revisit your favorite rides if you’re spending the whole day there.

We got to Hollywood Studios pretty early which was good because there was a Monsters University topiary out in front of the park complete with PhotoPass photographer. We stopped to get some pictures there and still had plenty of time before the park opening. Even though we had a FastPass for Toy Story Midway Mania! at 10 AM, we decided that we were going to hop in that line first while the wait time was relatively short. I think we waited 30-40 minutes, but it seemed to pass pretty quickly. This trip through, Jenne had the high score from our bunch. Cassidy has yet to master the intricacies of the launcher and you’ll hear, “Please allow the cord to go all the way back in” for half of the ride. While I do love this ride, I couldn’t see waiting more than an hour for it. This is the ride that I’m most interested in seeing what happens once FastPass+ goes live. There won’t be any relief until Disney adds a Cars Land and/or Star Wars Land, but that’s a long way off.

With our first ride on Midway Mania completed, we made our way up Sunset Boulevard so that I could hop on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. No one ever uses the full names, but I think that Hollywood Studios easily takes the cake for longest ride names. I’ve always been a fan of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, but it has been even better on the last two trips when I’ve been wearing contact lenses. I can actually see everything inside of the ride. I was a bit bummed out because they didn’t have the cast member go into the studio and grab the guitar, but that doesn’t happen often during the “slow” season. That’s minor though. I got right into the inside line courtesy of the single rider line and was done in no time at all. From there, we made our way over to Tower of Terror where the listed time was 30 minutes. I don’t think the actual wait time was anything close to that, but I could be wrong.

I checked out of the Hollywood Tower Hotel and we made our way back to Pixar Place to use our Midway Mania FastPasses. This time though, I had the high score and I think my highest score ever on the ride. The wait time to meet Buzz and Woody was ridiculous so we decided to skip that for now. We made our way towards the back of the park and saw that Mike Wazowski was out for pictures. We hopped in line and once we had been in line for a minute, James P. Sullivan came out and joined the fun. This area has been completely redone for Monsters University and feels a little more complete than the previous picture area.

101_0369 After a brief stroll through the Streets of America, we came upon the Phineas and Ferb meet and greet area. It looks cool, but you can tell that the whole thing could be taken down in a couple of hours. Even though this is their most popular TV property, possibly ever, the company is still unwilling to put a Phineas and Ferb attraction in the park. It’s kind of disappointing. I’d rather have one P&F ride than a whole Avatar Land.

The interaction here was awesome though. The cast member running the line was singing along with all of the songs from the show and he and Phineas banged out the beginning of “Ready For the Bettys.” When it was our turn, we got to spend a good amount of time with the characters. One of the cast members noticed that I had Ferb on my MagicBand, but there was no Phineas to be seen. That sent Phineas off to wallow against the fence while Ferb celebrated with me. The only bad part of this experience was that “There’s a Platypus Controlling Me” didn’t come on the fake radio station.

We didn’t have to go far for our next destination as the Cars meet and greet is right around the corner. There was one person in front of us and before long we were saying goodbye to Lightning and Mater and were off again. Since we were right there, our next attraction had to be MuppetVision 3D. I was very excited to see this show because it had just come out of refurbishment and I was expecting it to look like new, but I didn’t notice anything different. Then again, it’s been three years since I had last seen the show so it could have been in bad shape before the closure. We got to see the whole pre-show which is great. It gave us plenty of time to check out the net full of jello and the rest of the great decorations in the room. They did such a great job on this attraction; I always get bummed out that the proposed Muppet Studios never came it be.

It was now time for our next FastPass (12 PM – 1 PM). so we made our way over to Star Tours – The Adventures Continue. I probably haven’t been on this since 2006 since it was closed on our last visit and I don’t think we went on it when we had a 2-year-old Cassidy with us. The new version of this ride is phenomenal. There’s somewhere around 54 different versions of the ride film that you can get, so there’s a reason to visit this ride again and again. There’s also an added fun aspect of one of the people on the ride showing up as the Rebel Spy stashed away on your spaceship. It’s still pretty much the same simulator ride and even feels a little smoother than I remember. I’ve always liked this ride, but the new version is leaps and bounds better than the original.

At this point we were all getting hungry so we decided to grab some lunch. We’ve always had good luck with the ABC Commissary and decided to eat there again since it was close and would likely have something that all of us would enjoy. We ate, rested, recharged, and watched a bunch of previews for last season’s ABC shows. Nothing fancy, but we had plenty of fancy booked through the rest of the trip.

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Our next stop was the The Magic of Disney Animation. How this attraction has been gutted kills me inside. I’m pretty sure that on one trip I saw the animators working on Lilo & Stitch. Now, there’s no more pen and ink animation done by Disney and the Orlando studio had been closed even before that terrible decision was made. After watching the short film with Mushu (I preferred the one with Robin Williams myself), we made our way into the main building and got in line for the drawing class. He can use a little more work and would look better once inked, but I surprised myself with how good my Mike Wazowski ended up looking for a quick drawing. Cass didn’t win the teacher’s drawing (in spite of me giving her the answer: What is Boo’s real name?), so I gave her my drawing to cheer her up.

101_0372 From there, we made our way to Game Central Station so that we could visit the Sugar Rush game where we would meet Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope Von Schweetz. I loved this movie. I probably would have loved it just because of the video game theme, which Disney did a great job with, but they also put together an amazing cast. Jack McBrayer (Wreck-It Ralph, Wonder Over Yonder, Phineas & Ferb, Despicable Me) is quickly becoming one of my favorite voice actors and then you’ve also got John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch. This was the only meet and greet that we did since the lines for Sorcerer Mickey and The Incredibles were very long. I’ve met Mickey lots of times and we did The Incredibles on the past two trips.

We left Animation to a light drizzle. As we started walking, the rain started getting harder and then the thunder and lightning began. Our original plan was to check out Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream, but a ton of people had the same idea and this attraction had a line quickly. I like to take my time to check out the exhibits before the movie and a crowd in there would annoy the crap out of me, so we passed. Since we were still on the lookout for new experiences, The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow caught our attention. Jenne is a huge fan of the Pirates films and the attraction had a huge, covered queue area, so we hopped in line. The line moved quickly, but that didn’t matter since the current downpour made staying dry the priority. I’m glad we hopped into this line though. This seems like an attraction that most people would end up skipping (I skipped this ever time it was just a collection of movie memorabilia), but they’d end up missing a cool attraction. Disney employs technology very similar to what Universal uses on the Harry Potter ride to make it look like Jack Sparrow is right in the room with you fighting evil pirates. There were some cool special effects and humor that added up to a fun experience. It’s a nice little addition to the park.

This was the perfect place to wait out the storm and when we exited the attraction; things had slowed down to a drizzle once again. We walked past the gutted and neutered Studio Backlot Tour. Catastrophe Canyon is cool, but it’s not worth spending 35 minutes on the rest of the boring tour just for that. I miss the old 2 hour long tour that showed you active soundstages and actually had something to do with the creation of movies and TV shows. That time has passed for the park and this ride needs to be one of the first things to go so that space can be made for Cars Land.

There were new pressed pennies to be had at the gift shop near the exit to the Backlot Tour, so we hung out there for a little while. This little shop used to be so cool back when I was a kid and it was full of Roger Rabbit stuff. They got rid of most of it to make space to sell more merchandise and now it’s just another generic shop. At least I’ve got my awesome picture from when I was a kid of myself sitting in Benny the Cab with Roger along for the ride. The photoshopped pictures that they do now just aren’t as cool and they aren’t even that popular any more.

We came across a random cast member with hula hoops, so we stopped and wiggled our hips for a little while. It was well worth it as I walked away with a Woody sticker. From there, it was time to ride Star Tours again. The wait time was listed as 10 minutes, but we walked right on. This trip was even better than the first. We had to flee from Darth Vader to star our journey and Cassidy was revealed as the Rebel Spy. The only unfortunate thing was the picture that they took while she was itching her nose made it look like she was knuckle deep. (It wasn’t a pick, it was a scratch!) After the ride, this led to me taunting Cass with “Gold!” as a walked down the hallway in my best prospector imitation.

After purchasing the “I Am the Rebel Spy” shirt for Cassidy, we were greeted by another downpour. We got out our ponchos and made our way through the rain. We stopped at the nearby bathrooms and the rain promptly stopped. Away go the ponchos again. It was now pin shopping time under the giant Sorcerer Hat. On some trips, I’ve had problems not buying every pin in sight, but on this trip there weren’t as many pins of the characters that I like (that I didn’t have at least). We checked out the hand and foot prints in the concrete and then hopped on The Great Movie Ride. We had the gangster version of the ride which I like better. While I like this ride a lot, I can’t help but to wonder what the proposed Great Muppet Movie Ride would have looked like.

There was still more time before dinner, so we made our way back to Sunset Boulevard because we had to spend some time browsing in the Villains shop. I also took second trips on both Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. Had a great cast member in the Tower. “But you’ll want to sit in the front row, that way you’ll have a shorter distance to fall.” “Don’t worry, I’ve only lost 5 people today. That’s pretty good.” The best reaction was on my first ride. The cast member leading us into the library said, “We’re sorry, but your rooms aren’t ready yet. Please wait here in the library and when it’s time, we’ll lead you to your dooms… rooms.” Little kid: “What did he say?”

101_0379 At this point, it was getting close to our 6:25 dinner reservation at Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano, another place that I hadn’t eaten at before, so we trekked back across the park again. We got there a little early, but were told that they were running 15-20 minutes late. This didn’t bode well for our Fantasmic! FastPasses, so we started to stress out a little bit. Luckily, we were called just 5 minutes after our reservation time and our waitress was awesome about taking our order right away and getting things out as quickly as possible. She earned herself a huge tip. I had the Chicken Campanelle which was good, but not great. We took our Tiramisu to go and booked it over to the theater for Fantasmic! We got there just before our FastPass time of 7:45 ended, but we were still able to get great seats. The FastPass section is right in the middle of the theater which is awesome. There was a long wait to grab a couple of snacks, but I got back to my seat right as the show was starting.

I love Fantasmic! and was bummed that we didn’t get to see it on our last show. That being said, they either need to invest some money into improving this show or they need to replace it with something else. There was no big steamship at the end of the show which bummed me out. I’d much rather see the show improved and invested in, but Disney doesn’t seem to like it. After getting rid of it almost completely for the ridiculous American Idol attraction (which they have to beg people to go to now, trust me, we saw it) to stripping bits of the show here and there. It’s sad how much of this park has been stripped away through the years.

After the show, we did our usual browsing on the way out of the park and got some PhotoPass pictures taken. From there, we called it a night and got ready to visit the competition.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Disney 2013: Day 6 - SeaWorld

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Since we got home so late from the Magic Kingdom the previous night, we slept in and got a later start at SeaWorld. It definitely was the right decision even if it meant that we missed out on some of the attractions. We kept things relaxed all day and moved at a slow pace. I don’t know about anyone else, but I wasn’t feeling that well to start the day and remembered getting heat stroke the last time that I was at SeaWorld.

The first thing that I noticed was that SeaWorld put in a lot of trees when they built the Manta coaster. This was a welcome change from the last time I was at the park (approximately 10 years ago) when it seemed like there was no shade to be found. The other thing that I noticed was that SeaWorld has a ton of pressed penny machines. They’re all over the place, but not many of the designs are memorable. I got a couple of dolphins and penguins as well as pennies of the rides that I liked, but I passed up most of the pennies that were available.

101_0302 We started our day at Stingray Lagoon feeding and petting the rays. After a timid start, Cass was soon petting the rays along with Jenne and I. She had passed up the opportunity a few times previously at other locations. The line was already long for the next dolphin feeding opportunity, so we kept going into the park. We checked out the dolphins underwater for a little while before making our way to the Dolphin Theater right before the show started. It’s a cool show that combines aerial acrobatics and diving with dolphins doing tricks.

SeaWorld can be a pain in the ass to experience. You have to keep an eye on all of the different show times and then fit everything else in between those times. It’s not exactly my idea of fun. It’s one thing to pick a time for a FastPass+ and dining reservations, but scheduling my day around a bunch of arbitrary show times is no fun at all. Part of it was that I really didn’t do any research at all on SeaWorld. It was kind of an afterthought compared to everything else. We had a great day, but with more knowledge it could have been better.

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TurtleTrek was our next destination. Having seen this once, I would probably skip this on the next trip. It’s a 3-D movie in a dome showing you the experience of a turtle from birth to adulthood. For what it is, it’s really not worth the wait and the waits can get long at SeaWorld because there really aren’t a lot of attractions to occupy the people in the park. Outside of the ride, you can see turtles, manatees, and alligators. They shouldn’t be missed, but the ride is something you can skip.

From there, it was my turn to check out Journey to Atlantis while Jenne and Cass checked out the Jewels of the Sea Aquarium. Thanks to the single rider line, I was on and off of the ride in no time. This is a fun flume ride with a little bit of a coaster added to the end, but the themeing is terrible. If I understand it correctly, a seahorse guides you to the lost city of Atlantis. This same seahorse squirts water in the wrong place and pisses a lady off who exiles you from Atlantis. Lame. Fun ride, but just keep your eyes closed for the beginning of it.

It was now time for lunch so we walked over to the Terrace Garden Buffet for pizza, pasta and salad. The food was ok. The quantity made up for a lack of quality. Since it was a buffet, we were in and out quickly and able to continue our day. We checked out the sharks and walked through the awesome underwater tunnel at Shark Encounter. We then made our way to the Seaport Theater for the animal show. This show was funny and entertaining. It was a nice rest in air conditioning as well. From there, I got in line for the next dolphin feeding while Jenne and Cass visited with the rays again.

Although I’ve done it before, feeding the dolphins was very cool. This was a better experience than it had been in the past where food was always for sale and there were a ton of people 101_0327around Dolphin Cove. Now they have a separate area for the feeding, it’s not crowded, and they direct you on how the dolphins have been trained to be fed. You put your hand on the bottom of their head and then put the fish in their mouth. They don’t give you a lot of time because they want to bring in the next group of people at $7 a head, but it’s enough time to snap a few pictures and hang out with the dolphins. The only disappointment was that the SeaWorld photographers didn’t get any pictures of Jenne or Cass feeding the dolphins. They’ve got a great perspective from across the water and take some pictures that usually come out really well. They got some nice pictures of me and we ended up buying one with a couple of the pictures that they took of us upon entering the park.

Cassidy had her heart set on seeing the Shamu show while the prospect of watching a killer whale swim around for a half hour didn’t interest me at all. Since Cass was freaking out about going on Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, we decided that I would go and wait in line for the ride while Jenne and Cass went to watch Shamu. The wait time was listed at 40 minutes, but that wasn’t accurate. I think it was around 20 minutes before I got on the ride. Unfortunately, on the way to the Shamu Show, Cass started feeling badly and decided that she wanted to go on the ride after all. At this point it was too late, but Jenne had a hard time getting her to the show.

The Antarctica ride has a really cool ride system that is kind of wasted. I don’t know if it is due to space limitations, but the ride is really short. Very cool, but very short. The ride vehicle is 101_0347round with two rows with four seats each. There’s no track, instead the vehicles are programmed on their course around the ride. You spin and slide around a pretty looking room and then go past a couple of screens where your ride vehicle becomes a motion simulator moving in time with the action similar to Star Tours. The best part is the end where you find your way back to the rest of the penguins and your ride vehicle turns around to reveal the awesome penguin habitat. The habitat is 0ยบ and wide open, so you’re going to be cold. It’s amazing how close you are to the penguins. Even if you don’t like the ride (and there is a mild version for those who don’t want the bumps), it’s well worth it just to go and see the penguins.

Since I got through the line a lot quicker than anticipated, I started to make my way over towards Shamu Stadium. I thought that I might get there in time for the show to start, but I didn’t get through the ride that quickly and had spent some time in the gift shop looking around. SeaWorld may have a ton of pressed penny machines, but they don’t have a lot of pins; not pins that interested me anyway. Oh well, we spent enough money on food to feed the animals there.

On the way to meet the rest of the family, I contemplated going on the Manta lay-down coaster since there was just a 5-minute wait, but my neck had been bothering me all day and I was already a little nauseated and decided to skip it. I didn’t realize that there was a manta aquarium there to look at until spotting it on the map after the fact. Oh well, we know that there would be things that we would miss due to the late start and since we had already spent a good chunk of time petting rays, just looking at them swimming around probably wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

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I stopped along the way and spent some time at the Dolphin Nursery. You don’t get to stand that close to the water which limits your visibility of the dolphins. It’s done to protect the baby dolphins, but maybe they should move the viewing area back a little further and then elevate it a little bit so that you are looking down into the water. No one really wants an exhibit that you can’t really see.

At this point, the Shamu Show was about to end, so I just waited outside for Jenne and Cass to come out and meet me. Cass loved the show and seemed to be in better spirits so that was good. We made our way out of the park after a little shopping and a quick purchase of some pictures from our day at the park. They’ve got a great deal at SeaWorld for 3 pictures with frames for either $30 or $35 (I forget) which we couldn’t pass up for the shots that they got.

101_0561 This was far from the end of our day though. Jenne’s sister, Patrice, had decided to stay an extra day in Florida since we’d have some time after SeaWorld to hang out with her. Our plan was to have dinner somewhere at Downtown Disney, but it was ridiculously crowded once again and so after checking out a couple of shops, we made our way back to Pop Century with Patrice and made the trek across the bridge to Art of Animation for dinner and to check out the resort. Before I get to that, I’ve got to share a picture of the awesome Sorcerer Mickey statue that I got in the Arribas Bros. store. I could easily spend thousands of dollars in that store, and that’s just on Sorcerer Mickey merchandise! I’ll post all of our cool stuff after I’m done with the trip, but this statue was too cool to save until the end.

The Art of Animation resort is awesome and I think it would be the perfect place to stay on a trip with grandma since they have family suites. The choices at the food court for dinner were much better than those at Pop. I ended up going for a cheeseburger with bacon and popcorn shrimp on it which was delicious. I had a delicious dessert as well, but I don’t remember exactly what it was at the moment. I’ll have to see if I can find it on my receipt. It’s not on any of the food review blogs that I see.

Once our meal was done, we browsed around the resort gift shop. Even their shop was cooler than ours. There was a bunch of resort specific merchandise while there was none to be found at Pop. They also seemed to have cooler items at AoA instead of the junky items at Pop. Jenne found an awesome white 2013 sweatshirt that we hadn’t seen anywhere else that I told her had to come home with her. We looked around the resort a little bit more and then sadly made our way back across the bridge to our room at Pop Century. Cass and I got ready for bed and called it a night while Jenne took Patrice back to her car at Downtown Disney.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Disney 2013: Day 5 – Magic Kingdom (Part 2)

Now that we had our party wristbands and had found Patrice, we were ready to get started on the second half of our day. Our first stop was the Fire House on Main Street so that we could pick up our special Sorcerer’s of the Magic Kingdom Halloween card. With Haunted Mansion cards acquired, we grabbed our costumes from our lockers and got changed for the party. Cassidy was Merida, Jenne was Mabel Pines, and I was Dipper Pines. Patrice was already in her Esmeralda costume so we were all set for some Halloween fun.

Our main plan was to take advantage of the shorter wait times during the party to power through the rides that we hadn’t gotten to earlier in the day. While the parade and fireworks are both very cool during the party, we’ve seen both before and sitting around for those things just feels like a waste of money to me. Last trip, we spent the majority of the party sitting in Main Street eating our dinner, staking out a spot, and watching both the parade and fireworks. After that, we had time for a visit to the Princesses and that was about it. This time around was going to be different.

We had a little bit of time before our 7:10 dinner reservation at the Liberty Tree Tavern so we made our way to Adventureland where we hopped onto The Magic Carpets of Aladdin. When our carpets landed, we made our way to Frontierland so that I could purchase some of the special MNSSHP merchandise. I’m sure they had stuff last time we were here, but I knew nothing about it. This year, I picked up the special event pin and one of the blind boxes of Disney characters dressed up as characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas for Jenne. The items went on sale at 7 so it was cutting it close to our reservation, but since it was just a couple of buildings away, we didn’t have a problem. We once again arrived for our reservation right on time.

The Liberty Tree Tavern serves a meal that is very close to Thanksgiving Dinner. It’s family style and all you can eat salad, roasted turkey breast, carved beef, pork brisket, mashed potatoes, veggies, stuffing, and mac and cheese. This was a ton of great food. I think I finally found a table service restaurant that I like in the Magic Kingdom. The service seemed a lot slower than it should have been for a meal where everyone is getting the exact same thing, but it wasn’t bad and gave us time to rest up for the remainder of our night. We finished eating while the first Boo To You Parade was going on, but we were able to get from the restaurant to the bathrooms at the shortcut to Adventureland without any problems.

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I led us over towards the back of Frontierland because I figured that it would be smooth sailing to get on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. There wouldn’t be a line, but getting across the bridge to that area proved to be a pain again. This time it was due to an awesome photo opportunity. The full moon was perfectly framed between the spires of Cinderella Castle. After trying a bunch of different settings on my camera, I was finally able to get a decent picture. It’ll look even better once I get a chance to crop it.

Big Thunder Mountain is a good ride, but it’s better at night than it is during the day. If you haven’t ever checked it out at night, give it a chance. This ride and Splash Mountain both become something special if you ride them during the fireworks. Haven’t done that yet? Give it a go on your next trip.

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The parade had finished by the time we started making our way through Liberty Square to Fantasyland. Most of these wait times were still ridiculous so we skipped most of the dark rides there. Mickey’s PhilharMagic is one of my favorites and Cassidy wanted to make sure that her Aunt Patrice saw it so we walked right on and waited for the next show. This ride just simply celebrates Disney Magic. You’ve got Disney classics Mickey and Donald combined with some of the great Disney music from the 90’s. This is always on my must-do list. Upon exiting, Cass made sure to show Patrice where Donald landed after getting launched out of the tuba at the end of the show.

We exited the gift shop just as HalloWishes was starting. At this point, a lot of the attractions in Fantasyland were closed due to the fireworks so we made our way back to New Fantasyland. Cass had been eager to see the new Enchanted Tales with Belle all day, but when we checked earlier we saw wait times of 40, 30, and 40 minutes which seemed too long to wait. The wait time was now 20 minutes so we jumped into line. While we were waiting for the show, we found out that Maurice’s cottage is a great place to watch the fireworks. The main fireworks are right in front of you, the rooftop fireworks are behind you, and the perimeter fireworks are all around you. Somewhere towards the back of New Fantasyland might be an even better spot to watch from.

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I’m not going to discuss this attraction. I went in knowing nothing about it and I think you should as well. I’ll just say that this attraction, more than anything I’ve seen at Disney as an adult, reminded me of the magic that I felt going to Disney as a kid. All of the thrill rides that Disney has added are cool, but it’s the attractions such as this one that separate Disney from all of the other theme parks out there. Universal matches and at times exceeds Disney when it comes to themed thrill rides, but they don’t have much when it comes to these sort of attractions. The closest was Poseidon's Fury back when it was new.

If you go to Disney with little ones, you have to check out this attraction. You still want to see it if there aren’t kids with you, but if you there are then this will definitely be one of the highlights on their trip. I know it was for Cassidy.

Now it was time for some Trick or Treating! Instead of going from candy location to candy location, we decided to save time and just do the Trick or Treat trail leading from Tomorrowland back to Fantasyland. No line for Buzz Lightyear meant it was time to ride that again and this time we had our ride photos added to our PhotoPass+. It took a while because the two people working there were tied up for a long time and the guy restocking the shop didn’t seem to care that a long line was forming.

The long wait almost cost us, but we just made it in time for the last Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor show of the evening. We didn’t get a chance to submit a joke (last trip one of our jokes was used), but I was Randall in the show. I’ve seen the show so many times that I know how to disappear so I didn’t get the usual mocking that people get when they can’t figure it out. I’d have to say that this was the funniest Laugh Floor show that I’ve seen.

On the way out of the park, we hopped into like to see Jack and Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas. Midnight arrived and the line was still long and we were all fading quickly. Everyone was willing to stay so that Jenne could do the meet and greet, but with a wait of possibly another hour to go, we all decided it was time to call it a night.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Disney 2013: Day 5 – Magic Kingdom (Part 1)

Ready for a completely different approach to tackling the Magic Kingdom? Some of this was by design and some of it just happened, but it all resulted in an amazing day.

Adding to our list of new experiences, I finally arrived at the Magic Kingdom in time to see the opening ceremony at the train station. It’s a perfect way to start the day off. Also cool: greeting the Mayor on the way down Main Street once we got into the park. The top thing on our list for this day was to meet Merida so we made a beeline to her meet and greet. This area has a bit of a weird vibe to it since it was previously Rapunzel’s meet and greet area and still has the lanterns from her theming. Other than that, the area looks awesome. There are plenty of great touches taken directly from the movie.

101_0166As was the trend all through this trip, our interactions with face characters were magical. Before meeting Merida, Cassidy had asked the cast member running the line why there was an arrow up in the lights. The cast member said that it was a stray arrow that Merida had shot, but that she tells everyone that it was one of her brothers. So, Cassidy had to ask Merida how that arrow got there and Merida said that it was indeed one of her brothers. Since Cass was wearing her Ariel ears, it led to a conversation about how silly it is to brush your hair with a fork and how Merida could never do that with her hair. This started Cass and Jenne on cloud 9 for the day and the rest was just icing on the cake.

Our next stop was Princess Fairytale Hall to see Rapunzel. The hall is beautiful, but this is a new attraction and still has its kinks to work out. This one has a problem with FastPasses. Instead of mixing regular riders and FastPass holders like they do on normal rides, once someone with a FastPass shows up, they go right to the front of the line even if it means that the standby line doesn’t move for 15 minutes (which did happen while we were waiting). Enough of the negative because this was another awesome experience.

Rapunzel came over to us and signed Cassidy’s autograph book before heading back to the area lit for pictures. Right away, Rapunzel  noticed 101_0188that Cassidy’s hair was dyed purple. Being an artist herself, Rapunzel loved this and said that she would have to do the same to her hair (and she would need a lot of paint). She then started scheming with Cassidy over what color they should make Show White’s hair. All of this was after another great encounter with a family with matching shirts from Missouri that had Rapunzel thinking that everyone living there wore those shirts and asking for one for her and Pascal. Extremely magical. Snow White was cool as well, but there’s no way that she could match the awesome experience we had just had.

It was now around 11:30. We were running about 30 minutes behind my tentative schedule due to the long wait to see Rapunzel, but it wasn’t a big deal. We had already tackled the two main things on our to-do list and had a ton of time left since we were sticking around for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.

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We made the short trek from Old Fantasyland to New Fantasyland and jumped in line for Be Our Guest. I wasn’t able to get reservations, but we just wanted to eat there and quick service at lunch provided the perfect opportunity. The line moved so quickly that I didn’t even notice how long we were waiting, but it wasn’t very long at all. Jenne had an umbrella to shade her from the sun and we had a great morning to talk about that helped make the time fly.

What makes the line move so quickly is the technology that they employ at this restaurant. You place your order at a touch screen kiosk and then tap your MagicBand or a magic “rose” and go and find a seat. 5 minutes later, your food is magically delivered to your table. It’s amazing what Disney has done with this restaurant. Even the soda fountains are beautiful.

We were lucky enough to snag a table in the West Wing which is by far the best room in the restaurant. This is the 101_0227room where Beast kept the enchanted rose from his curse. As you dine, a petal will occasionally fall from the rose, lightning will flash, thunder will boom, and the portrait of the prince will briefly transform into the Beast.

I had a yummy roast beef sandwich with horseradish sauce for my meal followed up by a very nice chocolate cream puff. All of the food looked great for a quick service restaurant. The prices are a little higher than the other quick service restaurants, but it is worth it for the ambiance. Like most people do, once we were finished eating, we made sure to check out the other rooms in the restaurant.

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The ballroom is huge and beautiful. None of my pictures of the room itself came out that well so I’ll show you a picture of the chandeliers and beautiful ceiling. The picture doesn’t do the ceiling justice. There are painted angels laying on clouds. I didn’t notice it, but I’ve read a lot about this room being very loud because of the size and all of the hard surfaces. What I did notice is that if you look out the ballroom windows you’ll see that it is snowing outside.There are just so many amazing touches that you’ll find in the restaurant, I can’t possibly touch on all of them.

The final room is the Rose Garden. This room is not open for dinner service from what I hear. This room is also not one that you’ll see in the 101_0236movie. The Imagineers put this room in so that they could show the other characters as well as what Belle and Beast have been up to since getting married. In the middle of this room you’ll find a giant clock/music box with a giant rotating sculpture of Belle and Beast dancing on the top of it. All along the walls of the room are paintings of Belle, Beast, and the other residents of the castle. Can someone explain to me why Beast is still a beast in Disney and why all of the servants are still plates and candelabras?

It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I guess the next part of our day was to walk off our lunch. I underestimated the distance from Be Our Guest to Splash Mountain, but that’s where our next FastPass was and so that’s the direction we set off in. I 101_0248think I remember getting on Splash Mountain at 12:48, but it was all a bit of a blur. The bridge leading to Splash Mountain is always a pain to cross and this time was no different. Right before I left the ladies to go on the ride, Cass tripped over a stepstool that she didn’t see at a water fountain and scraped up her knee a little bit. With the crowd in the area, it made the whole process of getting Cass somewhere to get ice for her leg and getting Jenne somewhere that she could sit was a lot more difficult than it should have been. From what I saw, Cass didn’t react that badly to the injury, but for the rest of her trip her knees looked like she had been whacked pretty good. Thanks to my FastPass, I walked right on to Splash Mountain which is good because it’s a long ride. I hate making Jenne and Cass wait when I go on a ride by myself even though they don’t mind. Cass had deliberated taking her first ride on Splash Mountain, but she decided that this trip wouldn’t be that time.

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Since there was still lunch to be walked off, our next stop was back at the Haunted Mansion. I’m not sure why, but over the past two trips Cassidy has developed a severe fear of the Haunted Mansion. We ended up skipping it completely on our last trip and weren’t going to do that again on this trip. I told Cass that she could sit with me, close her eyes, and ignore the ride, but she still had a small meltdown ride before we got on the Doombuggys. I’m not one to force Cass to do things that she doesn’t want to, but I thought this would be just a little resistance and then she’d be alright, but that was far from the case and we felt terrible about making her go on the ride. Jenne and I both loved it as kids and thought that she’d enjoy it as well. Maybe when she’s older, we’ll see.

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You know what makes a theme park really fun? Themed bathrooms. I’m being serious here. Disney could have plunked boring buildings here, but these Rapunzel themed bathrooms are awesome. You’ve got Rapunzel’s paintings at the ladies room and a bunch of wanted posters at the mens room. There are lanterns hanging overhead and if you look closely you’ll see Flynn’s satchel and Rapunzel’s frying pan. My favorite themed bathroom is still the men’s room in Hogsmead because you can hear Moaning Myrtle in there, but these bathrooms are a close second. Once we were done at the bathroom, we took a quick ride on “it’s a small world” because it was there.

Our next FastPass for the day was a bonus FastPass that was automatically assigned to us for Under the Sea – Journey of The Little Mermaid. This ride shows you just how far Disney has come with audio-animatronics. You are up close to the characters on this ride and you don’t see any seams or anything like that. Ariel doesn’t wear a heck of a lot of clothes, but her animatronic looks better than ones where they were able to hide seams under clothing. We got a chance to check out this ride in extreme details because it kept stopping every couple of minutes. Before too long we were mocking Sebastian’s message that would play when the ride would stop and start up again because he obviously wasn’t doing a good job of things. The ride is good and in the tradition of Disney dark rides of the past like Peter Pan, it just retells the story from the movie.

101_0258Once our ride was finished, we backtracked through New Fantasyland a little bit to take some pictures. Gaston’s Tavern was high up on Jenne’s list of places to visit so we stopped there to try LeFou’s Brew. I thought it was alright, but Jenne loved it. The theming in the tavern was great. Just like the song says, there are antlers as decorations all over the place. One room has a dart board, but none of the darts have been thrown anywhere near the board. Somehow, Gaston still managed to win. The other room has a giant fireplace, giant chair and enormous portrait of Gaston. We hung out here for a little while Jenne recovered. A cast member noticed that she was looking a little off and came back with a cup of ice to help her cool off.

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Since the wait time was only 15 minutes, we jumped in line to meet Ariel in her Grotto. This is a cool themed meet and greet area. The rooms are lit by some sort of weird luminescent slugs and there’s a little box next to Ariel’s chair that kids can open and see some of her thingamabobs. Cass decided that she was going to get her Ariel ears autographed which made a cool souvenir even cooler.

Our final FastPass for the day was for Dumbo. I was glad that we saved the time waiting in line, but I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to check out the new waiting area. There are places for kids to climb, slide, and play. There are also places for adults to sit and relax in a nice air-conditioned space. You’re given a pager upon entering the space and when it is your turn to ride, your pager goes off. It’s a whole new way of waiting in line. We had no line though and were able to walk right onto the ride. Even though there are two Dumbo rides now, it seemed like the ride time was really short; shorter than any of the other spinner rides. You’d think that with two copies of the ride they’d be able to extend the ride time a little, but it’s still just 90 seconds. Now I’m really happy that we didn’t have to wait in line.

The Storybook Circus also includes old favorite The Barnstormer, Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station, and Pete’s Silly Sideshow where you can 101_0274meet Minnie, Daisy, Donald, and Goofy in circus attire. We cooled off for a little while at the Soak Station and were about to hop on The Barnstormer when we noticed that it was stuck on the incline of the first hill. They were very slowly evacuating people from the ride, but climbing out of the ride car on an incline wasn’t easy, especially for the little ones on the ride and getting down the narrow staircase on the hill didn’t look any easier. So, our new plan was going to meet Daisy and Minnie at the Sideshow. A little shopping came after that with some pin trading and pressed penny acquisitions. When that was done, The Barnstormer was back up and running so we hopped in line. Cass loves these kiddie coasters which gives me a lot of hope that she’ll soon be accompanying me on all of the thrill rides.

We hit a few more rides as we made our way back towards the front of the park. We all took a ride on the Mad Tea Party since it was walk on at that point. We also did a lap on the Tomorrowland Speedway. I took care of the gas and Cassidy took the wheel which resulted in a very bumpy ride as we bounced from one side of the track to the other. Jenne was in the car behind us and got to witness the carnage. I wouldn’t be upset if Cassidy wanted to ride by herself on our next visit.

At this point, there was another surprise that was about to be sprung on Cassidy so we had to start that in motion. Jenne’s sister Patrice was arriving at the park for the Not So Scary Halloween Party and so we made our way to the front of the park to get ready and to meet her. Last time we were here for MNSSHP, we picked up our bracelets near City Hall and so we made our way to the front of the park. Turns out that they were giving out bracelets at the Rose Garden near Tomorrowland and right outside of Adventureland. So, we made our way back up a crowded Main Street and picked up our wristbands.

Jenne split off from us to go and meet her sister while Cass and I made our way back up Main Street to head to the Firehouse where we could pick up our special Halloween card for Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. There was just one little hiccup along the way, we were quickly approaching Jenne’s sister who had stopped to text Jenne. I had to make a quick decision of whether to pass by Patrice or to spring the surprise right then. Given that Cassidy is ridiculously perceptive, I didn’t want to pass by and have Cass pick her out of the crowd so we walked up to her and I asked Cassidy is she knew which character that person was dressed up as. Cass quickly recognized her aunt and gave her a huge hug. Jenne was only about 10 seconds behind us and soon was joining in on the happiness.

This post is already pretty long, so I’ll tackle the Halloween Party in part 2.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Disney 2013: Day 4 - Epcot

Welcome to the fourth day of our trip. Epcot is a park that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with. As a kid, I absolutely loved EPCOT Center and I guess I was in the minority. I loved the educational nature of the pavilions and it didn’t matter that Mickey wasn’t in EPCOT because Figment was. It was a huge shock when I first returned to Epcot as an adult in 2001. Journey Into YOUR Imagination was an abomination. There was no Figment and the ride was terrible. Horizons was closed and World of Motion had been replaced with Test Track. Innoventions was terrible with no real theme. The only real improvement to me was that they had added Ellen DeGeneres to the Universe of Energy pavilion. It was still really long at 40 minutes, but now it was a little more entertaining.

Over the years there were more changes and it was to transform EPCOT Center from an education theme park to Epcot, just another Disney park. These aren’t necessarily bad changes, but the park has completely lost any educational value that it used to have outside of the World Showcase and even that has been Disney-fied. The final nail in the coffin was the closing of the Wonder of Life pavilion. Unlike Horizons and World of Motion that closed for new attractions, the unused Wonders of Life pavilion still sits there unused and neglected. I was lucky to catch Cranium Command, The Making of Me, and Body Wars a few more times as an adult and wish there was still something in the park that was still like these attractions.

Enough of my old man ramblings, let’s get back to the current trip. We got to Epcot right when they were starting to let people into the park which was great timing. Our first FastPass for the day was Soarin’ Over California at 10, so we weren’t in any rush. We started off the day at Spaceship Earth because you just have to. Everyone else can rush to the thrill rides. We still had plenty of time before we had to head to Soarin’ so we went next door to The Seas with Nemo & Friends. It’s not The Living Seas any longer because none of the main attractions here are alive. The Nemo ride is great and if you’ve already seen the Finding Nemo show at Animal Kingdom, will get Big Blue World stuck in your head again. The real gem of this pavilion though is Turtle Talk with Crush. Cass asked a question this time around, “What’s the biggest wave you’ve ridden?” which led to a lengthy conversation between her and Crush. Due to FastPass timing, we had to do what the majority of Epcot visitors do and skip looking at the fish. Cass and I did get to look at the manatees for a little while Jenne ran to the bathroom, but we’d make up for this later in the week.

The Land was next. While I do love Soarin’, it’s a shame that they couldn’t relocate Food Rocks to somewhere else in the pavilion. Maybe replace The Circle of Life? Cass loves The Lion King, but didn’t want to watch the boring movie about recycling and conservation. Since they’re getting rid of everything else educational, maybe it’s time to replace this film with something else. We used our FastPasses for Soarin’ and waited about 5 minutes. The ride was fun as always, but I wouldn’t mind if they were to update this film as it is looking a little worn. Also, I don’t think that I’ve ever experienced this ride from the front row. I can’t remember for sure. Next trip, we’ll just ask to wait for the front row of the next flight. After pressing some pennies, we made sure to ride Living with the Land because it’s one of the few classics remaining. Sure, it’s had some tweaks here and there, but I love the nice relaxing boat ride through the greenhouse.

101_0129 We made our way back towards the middle of Future World for our next FastPass, the Epcot Character Spot. The wait time wasn’t high yet at 11 since everyone else was still riding the park’s three thrill rides, but I’m still glad that we had the FastPasses. It turned what was advertised as a 15 minute wait time into about a 5 minute wait time. It can take a while to get through this attraction so any help that you can get is greatly appreciated. We got to see Mickey, Pluto and Minnie. The characters went on break right before we got to Minnie who was in the back snacking on some cheesecake, so it extended our time in the attraction for a little longer than usual. Once we were done, we hopped in line for Chip and Dale who have been relocated outside of the Character Spot after the latest renovation.

This brought an end to our time in Future World for now, but we’d be back later. Since we had lunch reservations in the World Showcase, we figured that we’d make our way there and visit the country pavilions on the way. Now that Epcot is all about rides, I’m not sure how kids react to the World Showcase. I remember enjoying it as a kid, but I don’t think that we spent a ton of time there. Disney is aware of that and has added something that makes kids love the World Showcase. What started as the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure is now Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure.

We did one or two missions of Kim Possible on our last trip, but that wasn’t enough to really get a feel for the experience. Since this was rebranded as a Phineas and Ferb attraction, I’m counting this as a new experience. There are three locations in the World Showcase where you can sign up to be a secret agent and help OWCA (Organization Without a Cool Acronym for those won don’t watch P&F) thwart the evil schemes of Dr. Doofenshmirtz. When you sign up, you are given your Field Operative Notification Equipment (or FONE) which is what you use to play the game. You are given a mission by Major Monogram and Karl the Intern from OWCA in one of seven World Showcase pavilions that you have chosen. You’ll view humorous clips on your FONE and get clues leading you to specific areas in the pavilion. The coolest part of this attraction is how all kinds of little things are hidden in the pavilions. You wouldn’t ever notice them if you weren’t playing the game, but they’re extremely awesome once you see them in action. Each mission takes 20-30 minutes depending on how quickly you decipher the clues. I can honestly say that I’ve never had more fun in the World Showcase. You use your brain to figure out some of the clues, you get exercise, you learn about the countries, and you have a ton of fun. This is a huge addition to the park experience, especially if you have kids. (I saw a few adults on missions without any kids in sight.)

We saved Mexico and Norway from Dr. Doofenshmirtz before it was time for lunch (with a ride on the Gran Fiesta Tour thrown in there as well). We finished our second mission and then got to Biergarten in Germany just in time for our lunch reservation. We love this place and come here every trip. The food is delicious, you sit at a long table with other people, and there’s an Oompah band. I love that this is a buffet because there’s always so many delicious things to eat. I know that I’d have a hard time deciding on just one thing if I had to pick from a menu. We shared a table with two couples. One was local and not very talkative while the other were taking a Disney vacation without their kids for a change and were as awesome couple to share a table with. Cass was happy once the band came out since she had been looking forward to dancing for the whole meal. Ziggy zaggy ziggy zaggy! Oi oi oi!

101_0138Once we were finished with lunch, we picked up a new FONE and took a Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar break. After a ride on the Maelstrom, we saved China and Germany from various –inators. We were a little delayed between China and Germany due to the bridge opening for the inferno barges. I wouldn’t have minded as much if it was the opening for the lighted globe, but the barges are nothing to look at. I hope that I never get stuck at the bridge opening again. I’d rather wait in line 30 minutes for a ride because at least then there’s a payoff for your time spent. All we got was to witness the worst of Disney tourists as everyone rushed the bridge as it was about to open back up. You would have thought that they were giving away unlimited FastPasses on the other side.

After finishing our Germany mission, we hopped on the boat back to Mexico so that we could return to Future World. We had FastPasses from 5-6 for Test Track and were looking forward to seeing what they did with the ride refurbishment. The previous version was looking pretty shoddy on our last trip with many of the effects not working. Once they stopped having the other car full of crash test dummies crash right before you “hit the wall” this ride was ruined anyway.

We got into the car design area pretty quickly thanks to our FastPasses. Cassidy was in charge of designing the car so we ended up in a big, pink speed machine that did really well in the metrics that are measured during the ride. I like the look of the new ride a lot. It’s still basically the same ride, but they’ve managed to improve the overall experience which is great. The biggest addition to this ride is the experience once you are done racing around the track. You can check how your the car you designed rates against all of the other cars designed that day and you can race your car against other people. My favorite thing was the automated photo opportunities that they have set up. You tap your MagicBand, pick what you want your picture to look like, and then get in line. When it is your turn, you tap your MagicBand again and proceed to the picture area. The camera takes three pictures which are emailed to you. You end up with great pictures unless some neglectful parent allows their child to climb into the car while your pictures are being taken.

Our next stop was Innoventions East. My main reason for going there was the two new pressed penny machines that had been placed, one in each side of Innoventions, but we ended up having a great time. We beat up on things for a little while at the Test the Limits Lab. I skipped The Sum of All Thrills this time around in the interest of time. I enjoyed it last time, but Universal’s Kuka Arm attraction is a much better experience. We did check out StormStruck which was a lot of fun. You watch a 4-D video of homes getting wrecked by a storm and then are asked to make choices to improve the durability of the house. Another storm comes through and you get to see how your choices improved things (if you chose correctly).

Across the way in Innoventions West we found some great attractions as well. We played Where’s the Fire? which is a fun game that teaches fire safety. Next up was The Great Piggy Bank Adventure which was also a lot of fun. We skipped the Videogame Playground because we didn’t come to Disney to play videogames. I really wish that they’d get rid of this, but it’s one giant commercial for all of the Disney videogames out there. We had a great time and I got a bunch of new pressed pennies so I’m a huge fan of Innoventions now. I’m bummed that you can’t ride the Segways any longer without paying for the tour, but everything else we saw were big improvements over three years ago.

101_0146 At this point it was getting close to 7 PM and not only was Innoventions closing, but we had a 7:30 reservation at Teppan Edo that we had to make. We had to skip O’ Canada for now, but I know that I’d visit with Martin Short before the end of this trip. While we didn’t have time for the movie, we did have time to pose for some fun pictures.

We once again got to Teppan Edo right on time. We made the most of every single minute on this trip. No waiting around and wasting time. Teppan Edo is another restaurant that we try and visit on every trip. Teppanyaki cooking is always fun, but they take it up a notch at Disney. I had steak and scallops and loved every bite. While we were eating, Cassidy noticed that a girl we had met at a Wilderness Explorer activity the previous day was at the other table in our room. They chatted for a bit when we were done eating. Dinner seemed to go a little slower than we planned and we didn’t get out of there until 8:50. We had already planned not to watch Illuminations and that plan was reaffirmed by the fact that Cass is going through a phase where fireworks explosions really bother her. The booms started right around France and then paused right around the United Kingdom as the globe took center stage. There were more booms on the way out, but by then we were far enough away that it didn’t bother Cass. We beat the crowd out of the park and called it a night.

One thing that I’ve got to say about this trip: We didn’t do any of the parades or nighttime shows without a FastPass. On past trips, we lost hours and hours just claiming spots for these shows. What a waste! By skipping all of these things on this trip, we had so much extra time for other things. We also didn’t have to deal with the ridiculous crowds getting out of the parks after these show. It might sound sacrilegious, but this approached really worked for us this trip.

I also wanted to mention that I’m finally very happy with the status of Epcot. It was in a state of flux for a while, but they’ve done a good job of making the park kid friendly while also putting some of the educational experiences back into the park. It’s still not the park that I loved in my youth, but it’s the best it has been since then. Now they just need to bring back the original Journey Into Imagination along with the Figment meet and greet and I’ll be completely happy.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Disney 2013: Day 3 – Animal Kingdom

Ok, here’s where the Disney part of our trip really starts. I made use of Easy WDW while planning this trip and planned each of our Disney days on days said to be less crowded compared to the rest of the week. I checked out a couple of sites for this info and Easy WDW got the nod because it was free and because the explanations for their recommendations seemed more reasonable than the other sites.

Since this was our first full day in the park, we had business to take care of before we could start enjoying the park. Jenne picked up her Guest Assistance Card (which she never had to use, all of the cast members were very accommodating when it came to stairs) and upon entering the park, I picked up our PhotoPass+ lanyard. We were now ready to go.

100_9994 Since our FastPass for the Kilimanjaro Safari wasn’t until 9:30, we took our time walking through the park to get there. We discovered something awesome along the way: Wilderness Explorers! The big thing at Disney lately has been adding extra value to the park through games and experiences tailor-made for kids. Once you sign up to be a Wilderness Explorer, you get a book that you take with you around the park. Once you complete activities at stations located all over the park, you get a badge sticker for your book. Cass had a blast learning new things as we explored the park. This picture here is from the first stop that we made right in front of the flamingo habitat. We probably made 15 – 20 stops through the course of the day and each stop had new knowledge to share. The cast members that we encountered at these locations were all extremely friendly and enthusiastic. This was a great addition to Animal Kingdom and something else for our list of new experiences.

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The Kilimanjaro Safari is always awesome and I’ve got a ton of pictures from our trip. This one is probably the best of the bunch though: baby giraffes! We had a great safari with a close-up view of the baby giraffes, rhinos blocking our path which extended our trip, and the best view of the male lion that I’ve ever seen. You can click on the giraffe picture to see a larger version and those of you who know me on Facebook can see all of my pictures there.

101_0093 We didn’t have another FastPass until 11:30 so we took a stroll along the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail which had even more Wilderness Explorer badges to earn. From there, we made our way towards Asia collecting more badges as we went. Cassidy made a last minute decision to join me on Expedition: Everest which started a week where she was mostly brave, but still had some moments where she didn’t want to go on rides. She was a lot more excited about the ride this time than she was last time which was awesome. She just wanted to close her eyes for the Yeti part. That’s no big deal because I want to close my eyes at that point also because I’m ashamed that Disney has left that neglected, broken Yeti in that state for so long. There’s no way it is ever getting fixed.

From Everest, we made our way to Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama. If you ever visit a Disney message board, you’ll see nothing but hate for this section of the park, but I kind of like it. I can’t wait until Avatar-land is completed so that everyone can direct their hatred there instead. We played a quick game, rode TriceraTop Spin, and browsed in the shop until 12:30 came around which meant it was time to ride DINOSAUR. This is one of my favorite rides in the park and this is the best that it has looked in years. Some effects were working that I hadn’t see in years. I hate that you miss the Bill Nye stuff in the entry hall and the beginning of the preshow when the ride isn’t busy, but on the other hand, the ride wasn’t busy. I always make sure that I point out all of the little details to Cass that everyone else misses as they chat away during the preshow or are too busy rushing to the ride. One of my favorite things about this ride of the “security camera” footage of the dinosaur wandering through the halls after the ride, but the majority of the people just blow past that area to get to the next attraction. Then they complain that Animal Kingdom is just a half-day park. #You’reNotDoingItRight

The rain started right around the time that we got out of DINOSAUR. It was a little heavy at times, but it never got us down. You can’t take a trip to Florida if the rain bothers you too much or else you’re going to be miserable. Heck, I didn’t even use a poncho most of the time. The only bummer for me is that I don’t like taking my camera out in the rain so that led to a bit of a lack of pictures in the middle of the day.

Seeing that there was a Wilderness Explorer badge to be had in The Boneyard, we made our way there which was another first for me. The rain kept Cass from playing around in there, but she did get her badge. Getting through there quickly gave us time to watch It’s Tough to be a Bug! before lunch. Starting a trend of things going our way and arriving places just in time, we arrived at Yak and Yeti one minute before our reservation time.

Yak and Yeti was another first time experience for all of us and we were glad that we tried it out. The food was great and the theming of the restaurant was nice. I had a yummy rack of ribs. Our waiter was great, but that was the case for all of our dining experiences. Dessert was nice, but what was even better was the pressed penny machine in the lobby of the restaurant. I think I added around 50 new pressed pennies to my collection which isn’t bad at all.

Our one disappointment for the day came after lunch. We had planned on heading back to meet Russell and Dug, but their meet and greet time ended around noon. We had been in the line earlier in the day, but they were going on an extended break while we were just at the end of the line and ran out of time to wait. That’ll just be the top thing on our list of new things to do on our next trip.

101_0113 The rain stopped right after we finished lunch and we made our way back to Asia for the Maharajah Jungle Trek. This wasn’t a first for Cassidy, but since we didn’t get a chance to do it last trip, it wasn’t really something that she remembered. The bats are great and the komodo dragon is awesome, but the best things about the Jungle Trek are the tigers. There were a bunch of Wilderness Explorer badges to be earned all along the trail which made Cass very happy.

Between this being a slow day for Animal Kingdom and the bad weather driving people people away, there were barely any people waiting along the parade route. The fact that the parade was delayed might have had something to do with that as well. We easily made our way along the parade route back to Africa so that we could visit Rafiki’s Conservation Station. We weren’t going to have much time there, but Cass wanted Rafiki to sign her autograph book and there were 5 badges to be collected there. We had to rush a bit once we got off of the Conservation Station train, but we got to the Finding Nemo theater right at 5 for the final show of the night. We sat down right as the show was starting in some conveniently located seats that were right on the entrance level.

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Our plan for the evening was a trip to Downtown Disney. This place was packed all week. It felt more crowded than the parks and I don’t remember it ever being this crowded. We browsed through World of Disney and got both Jenne and Cass set up for pin trading. Jenne and Cass also got their themed Mickey ears: Evil Queen for Jenne and Ariel for Cassidy. I got a Roger Rabbit shirt and some pins.

When hunger approached, we decided to try out T-Rex which was another new experience. For those of you who have been to Rainforest Cafe, this is the same thing, but with dinosaurs instead of rainforest critters. We put our name in and waited for 45 minutes or so. Cass and I took a stroll over to the Lego store and checked out the cool Lego sculptures. Once they call your name, you just go and wait somewhere else. After another 15 minutes or so, we finally were seated. This was honestly the only thing that I really disliked throughout our whole trip. The food is overpriced, the place is way too loud, it just wasn’t a relaxing experience at all.

Since the majority of our time this evening was spent waiting at and then eating at T-Rex, we didn’t get to finish all of Downtown Disney. We did get to check out more of the shops, but not strolling through the Art of Disney store was painful. It’s probably good that the shops closed when they did because we wouldn’t have wanted to stay out any longer. We were getting to bed later than we probably should have anyway. That’s it for day 3!