Diana and I spent our first multi-day Simon-free vacation at Walt Disney World, the week after Thanksgiving. We stayed at the Beach Club Resort this time, and I'll talk about that and all of the other topics outside of the theme parks in the second part of this report.
We had a really early flight out of GSP to ATL, which put us at MCO at 10:30. Using the Magical Express, we arrived at the hotel just after noon, and they had a room ready for us. We immediately got started by doing a lap around Epcot and had lunch in China. As is pretty typical that week, the park was not particularly crowded. We stopped in to see Voices of Liberty and The American Experience, both of which are as excellent as ever. We decided to spend the evening at Disney Hollywood Studios. After a brief nap in the super convenient location of our room, we used the boat to the studio park.
DHS has an enormous stage up now in front of the sorcerer hat. I'm convinced that ridership on the Great Movie Ride is small just because people can't find it (although we skipped it because it grows tiresome). First look was of course at Toy Story Mania, which was allegedly 100 minutes and no Fast Passes. We moved on.
We got an unnecessary Fast Pass for Tower of Terror and queued standby for Rock-n-Rollercoaster. The sign listed 40 minutes, but it ended up being 50 for some reason. I theorized that they had to take a train off or something. The launch did not seem as strong as it used to be, with quite a bit of coasting toward the end. It wasn't fall into your restraint slow, but I remember it having more of a kick. Regardless, it's still a really fun ride.
Tower of Terror is still the best ride at the park. It just never gets old, and with the varied programs, you never know what you're going to get. What I'd give to have a tour of that thing with the lights on.
We saw they were still letting people in for the Indiana Jones stunt show, so we got a nice seat down front, stage left. My first thought was that I had never seen the show at night, and my second thought was that the show really hasn't changed in the 22 years it has been running. That's crazy to think about! When they introduced a couple of the stunt folks, we found it odd that Marion's double was blonde, and the Nazi muscle dude was a black guy. Well, the film cameras obviously aren't real either, so I guess we can let it slide.
As we headed toward Extra Tragic Hours, as they came to be known, one counter service restaurant after another closed, until we were stuck eating at the ABC Commissary. I was annoyed. Pizza Planet had closed at 6:30. Really? With all of the traffic going there for the lights, that struck me as colossally stupid.
Next up was the Osborne Family Christmas Lights, and they were even more awesome than the last time (2009). The lights they're using now seem to respond better to dimming. They also have a number that can do the "video" matrix thing, including those over the side-street. Instead of doing a long show, they do a song, wait a bit, do a song, wait a bit. Once Magic Hours started, it was possible to actually stand on the street and not get squished.
I haven't been on Star Tours since the year it opened, and we skipped it last time because Diana was pregnant. So with the new updates, it was new to me as well. It's exceptionally well-done. We only did it once, but there are multiple programs. The 3D is pretty solid, especially when you compare it to something like Captain EO, based on 3D from 25 years ago. My only criticism is that it would have been better if it was done at a higher framerate. That's clearly the biggest obstacle to tolerable 3D.
We started our second day by doing the Segway tour at Epcot. Our group of 8 people was 75% non-virgin, so the training session went really quickly, giving us more time to ride around the park. The price is still $100 per person, but they've added breakfast at The Land. They have a cold breakfast of fruit and such, and one of hot stuff like eggs, bacon and taters. It's not bad, and really helps when you're standing on the Segway for two hours. The highlight for me, on this tour, was that we were able to stop briefly and peek backstage where they were loading Illuminations fireworks, including the globe. It's huge when you see it up close!
After a flight on Soarin' and lunch at the ESPN Club on the Boardwalk, we headed back through Epcot for a monorail spin to Magic Kingdom. We noted early on when counter service places were closing so we wouldn't go hungry or get stuck with burgers and chicken nuggets. We orchestrated a sequence to ride Space Mountain, the new Little Mermaid ride and eat, with virtually no waiting time.
Space Mountain was better than I remember. It was outright violent in one place, but I really had a lot of fun. My eyes did not adjust to the darkness at all. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was also better than I remember, though the anti-rollbacks have to be a hearing hazard. Wow are they loud. Epcot really needs a roller coaster.
The new Under the Sea dark ride is really cool. There's nothing particularly unusual or ground breaking about it, although we were both really surprised at how cool the tiny animated Sebastians were. His blinky eyes, which appeared to be some kind of video, were so neat. The big room where they perform "Under The Sea" is particularly neat, and I would have liked to have gone through a second time to see it all.
The changes to Fantasyland overall really up the ante for the theme throughout Magic Kingdom. Even the circus area, where they have the dual-Dumbo, is pretty great. The playground and pager queue for Dumbo is so smart. If we had Simon with us, good luck getting him actually out of there and on the ride!
Other notes, I'm so glad that they restored The Enchanted Tiki Room back to its pre-bastardized Disney bird mess. I don't know if my love for that show is nostalgia or what, but I love to see it every time. Pirates and Haunted Mansion were their usual thing. Hall of Presidents was closed by the time we got there, unfortunately.
We started Tuesday, the third day, with a brief visit to the studio park to hit Toy Story Mania. With a surprise diversion up the right side of the stairs, we ended up only waiting about 35 minutes. I totally crushed Diana's score, but her gun appeared to be miscalibrated.
By 2:30, we were back at Epcot, scoring margaritas and nachos in the Mexico pavilion. We were pretty wrecked after the previous day, especially given the Segway-induced fatigue. With plans to have dinner at Tokyo Dining, I decided to try drink-around-the-world half-way, but ended up doing the whole tour (I blogged about that here). Along the way, were able to see the British Revolution, and they were awesome despite a crowd that was totally not into it. We also so Mo'Rockin, which seems to have an ever-changing lineup.
The Candlelight Processional was being read by Neil Doogie Harris, and he was really excellent. While that was going on, we were talking with a Sarah from Kent State who was in the Disney College Program. She was minding a colonial toss-across. After an awesome dinner (details in part 2), we went back to our room briefly, then headed back and finished in the Norway ride.
Illuminations has changed a bit since we last saw it. I can't tell you exactly how, but it's different. It remains the best night time show of any theme park that I've seen, though I'm told World of Color at California Adventure (if you can get close enough to see it) gives it a run for its money.
On day 4, Wednesday, we struggled to get out of bed. We hoped to get to Animal Kingdom early and do Kilimanjaro Safaris, but it wasn't meant to be. We bailed on it entirely. On previous trips, I've always stayed an extra day, and spent one in the middle doing very little. This time, because of expected anxiety over being away from Simon that never really materialized, I left that day out. We were really dragging ass. I'm sure the night of drinking for me didn't help, although I wasn't hungover at all.
We did eat lunch from the counter service next to Yak & Yeti, and honestly, it was pretty close to the same food, some delicious Asian fusion type stuff. The setting outside, behind the building was surprisingly lovely.
The unexpected treat was getting stuck on Expedition Everest. At the end of the backward segment, which still freaks me out to no end, we stopped to see the Yeti animation, and then... nothing. Stopped under an air conditioner blower, we just sat there. Soon, the work lights came on, and shortly after that, we were greeted by three very tired cast members who just walked up 17 flights of stairs.
From the point where we were stopped, you could see the track switch, which did flip, just before you go out of the front of the mountain. We walked down from the train, to a large platform inside the mountain, about 150 feet up from the floor. You could see the backward spiral tunnels and the mass of very tall support columns for the coaster. An enclosed stairwell, which had several restricted exits along the way, led us all the way down to the floor. There we crossed the bottom of the mountain, dodging huge supports, and it was just a huge, cavernous space. We exited through the final brake run, which was surprisingly not fenced in from the rest of the interior as a low zone. They gave us Fast Passes to come back another time, which we never used.
No Animal Kingdom visit is complete without seeing Finding Nemo: The Musical, and it was mostly solid. Wasn't a fan of the dude singing Crush this time. Diana got to talk to the stage manager, who calls the show from next to the sound console. Seeing shows is still very hard for her, because she still has her Actors Equity membership, but left stage managing some years ago because it's such a hard lifestyle to manage.
After that, we bailed on AK and took a nap. That evening, we met a friend at another Boardwalk restaurant, and the three of us did the Fantasia Fairways mini-golf course (see part 2).
Our last day, before we had to go leave for the airport, we did pick-up stuff at Epcot, including a little shopping. We did Spaceship Earth (in French), Universe of Energy, Captain EO, The Seas, and saw Off Kilter perform.
Overall, it was a much needed vacation, qualifying as a second honeymoon of sorts. It was also a day too short. Next time, I'm pretty sure we'll schedule an extra day to just crash at the pool or whatever. Even without a specific agenda, we were just hitting it hard the entire time, and that makes you tired.
In part 2, I'll talk about the hotel, the dining plan, mini-golf, transportation and such.