Orlando Part I: Arrival and Disney Day 1 (12/10/06)

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 17, 2006, 9:25 PM | comments: 8

We arrived in Orlando Saturday morning, where my mom picked us up. My mom and step-dad, aunt and uncle and grandparents all moved to The Villages, a retirement community north of Orlando. Sounds like a place to go and die, but honestly it's a pretty amazing place to live the last couple decades of your life. Lots to do.

I took my parents and Catherine to Medieval Times. The first time I went, years ago, Stephanie practically had to drag me there, but I had such a good time that I've enjoyed going back every chance I can. The show is the same it has been the last few years, and as usual my knight lost. But my slave topped off my beer many times, so it's all good.

After the show, my uncle dropped us off at the Pop Century Resort at Disney. They managed to hose my reservation and gave us a room with a pair of small double beds instead of the king I asked for. I was not pleased. The front desk was non-helpful, but the reservations guy I talked to figured it out for the next night. They explained that they ran out of rooms, and could not explain why there was any point in having a reservation in the first place.

A few words about Pop Century. First of all, it was packed. Disney considers this the "value season" with the cheapest pricing, but I can't believe how many people were there. I wonder why they haven't continued building out the other half of the century. They built the central hall, and a few of the room buildings, all unpainted. It's also the hotel furthest from Magic Kingdom, by a lot.

Pop Century begins the cattle wrangling in their cafeteria. The breakfast food was OK, but expensive for what it was. That's a recurring theme at Disney.

We started the first day at Animal Kingdom. Stephanie and I went the year after it opened, and honestly it was cool, but not more than a five-hour park. They've since added Expedition Everest and the Finding Nemo musical, and now you can make an eight-hour day of it.

The Nemo musical is amazing. The music was very well done, the sets top notch and the costumes and puppets (which kind of blend into one) were outstanding. The show is about 45 minutes, and the actors are not some second string Broadway rejects. Cath was theorizing that they might be testing the whole concept for Broadway, in which case I'd say they could easily pull it off.

Expedition Everest is a pretty cool ride. Disney does not screw around with capacity either. The ride is well paced and a lot of fun. It's not hour wait fun, but a worthy addition to the park. My only complaint is that you don't get a very long look at the Yeti.

With a 5pm closing, we went back to our room for a little break. Our stuff was moved to the new room, and with some new keys we were in. This one was on the ground floor in front of the pool in the 50's quad.

Let's talk some more about the buses. The reason I wanted to say on-property was the convenience of not having a car and being able to jet around the empire. The truth is, though, that the buses are slow, arrive infrequently and get packed with stinky people with kids who don't know how to behave in public. Hell, half the parents don't know how to act in public. In a nutshell, we had more than our fill of those stupid buses.

So next we dropped in on Disney-MGM Studios. My only real goal was to hit Rockin' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, but the park was really more beautiful than I remembered it. They had their giant holiday lighting display too. We ate at this place where the tables were cars in a drive-in (think Jack Rabbit Slim's). Food was OK. The coaster was down, but we rode Tower and it has a particularly good program on that run. Cath hates drop rides.

Magic Kingdom was open for its extended hours, until 11, so we park hopped again. The bus dropped us off at the transportation center. Remember that, it's an important detail.

The park was ridiculously crowded, and the fireworks ended as we arrived. It was like swimming upstream. Fortunately we got wristbands outside of the park. We did the Haunted Mansion and Splash Mountain, and that was enough. I loved Splash Mountain, and had never been on it before.

We got back on the monorail to the transportation center, to find that the buses back to the hotels didn't load there. It seemed logical to me that they would be there, but they were actually just down the hill from the main Magic Kingdom entrance. I didn't notice any signage to that effect either. That was annoying. Back on the monorail, and about 90 minutes after we left the park, we got back with other sweaty and smelly people.

That was a long ass day. I ended it by reaching into my suitcase and slicing off the top of my right ring finger on a new razor. Think paper cut times a thousand. It bled like a dripping faucet. As if I wasn't exhausted enough.

All in all, the first day at Disney really surprised me because it was so freakin' busy. It didn't keep us from having a good time or anything, as we used Fastpasses and took it easy. One thing was for certain though, that if things were like this in the supposed off-season, no way would I want to come here in July or August!



December 18, 2006, 3:00 AM #

Razor blade cut. Ouch dude. I know exactly what it's like, I have to use them every day for work.


December 18, 2006, 4:53 AM #

You have the exact same complaints that my group and I had. The crowd levels really died down after the weekend though. Transportation was horrible, Pop Century's staff were far from being Disney's best, and that Transportation Center to Magic Kingdom is still making me scratch my head.

This was my first visit to Disney in 10 years (last time I was 7 years old) and I was amazed at the capacity their rides have. WOW! Expedition Everest, Tower of Terror, Rock n' Roller Coaster, and many other main attractions run like clockwork. I've never seen roller coaster come in and out of the station so fast. I was truly amazed.

Check Disney's dining plan if you do this again. With a group of four staying for 6 days (way to much Disney World, by-the-way) it cost about $35 a day for a dining plan. With that you get a snack, counter service, and table service point for each day.

Snacks include all the snacks besides the meals made at the resort cafeterias and the carts on the midways. Counter service allows you to get a drink (non alcoholic), dessert, and entree at any counter service. Table service allows you to get a drink (non alcoholic), appetizer, entree, and dessert. Tips all included.

You can save hundreds of dollars doing that.

The drive in like place is called Sci-Fi Dining. The food wasn't the best.

I was wondering what those empty building were across from Pop Century.


December 18, 2006, 12:46 PM #

I wish I would have told you about my friend Mike. He would have made for a much more relaxed trip. I never go without paying him a visit first.


December 18, 2006, 2:05 PM #

I think it's a shame that someone needs to plan ahead that much just to enjoy a vacation at Disney.


December 18, 2006, 2:24 PM #

We had a good time, and no amount of additional planning would've made things "easier." The bus issues would still have been bus issues. More to come (and listen to the podcast tonight as well).


December 18, 2006, 7:22 PM #

Why is that a shame? You can't expect to tackle something like Disney without planning it out ahead.


December 19, 2006, 5:15 AM #

It's a shame that someone has to put so much effort into a trip to get the most from it. There isn't anything that can be done because the size of the complex is a result of their success.

I just wish that a family that wanted to enjoy Disney wouldn't have to read up on tips or pay some guy for a custom itinerary.

On that note... I want to get to Orlando... now.


December 19, 2006, 9:39 PM #

I love Sci-Fi diner, but mostly for the atmosphere, the food is just decent. It was the only place we were able to get same-day reservations for (priority seating, whatever). Everything else was booked every day, so we got in the habit of calling 2 days ahead to get the food we wanted at normal hours.

I didn't notice any of the mis-behaved kids or overcrowded buses that you seemed to mention, but we did stay at one of the "premium" resorts (The Boardwalk). I do remember seeing long lines though at the All-Star bus stops. Our bus was usually only 1/2 to 3/4 full even if we did have to make stops at 2 other resorts on the way. Walking to MGM and Epcot was nice though.

I'm going again in 2007, but we're going to try out the Wilderness Lodge this time.

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