With light rain falling and having just walked past a number of "People Dryers” my sister told me she knew what I was thinking. I was taking a picture of a sign inside Universal Studios Islands of Adventure while trying to piece together in my mind how she knew why I was taking this picture. The sign I was photographing had the word "Row" in it, so I was working on the assumption that she was referring to that when she revealed I was standing directly underneath a thought bubble strapped to a tree that read, "I need a vacation from this vacation.” After several days of waking up early to beat the theme park throngs, with a soggy pair of socks in my pocket, and my feet floating inside my rain soaked shoes, she was absolutely right.
Thursday, June 21, 2012: Checking into Coronado Springs, Magic Kingdom, The Plaza Restaurant
Our trip started quietly enough with the only the minor aggravation of my first introduction to an airport body scanner, which inexplicably could scan through clothing but not through Kleenex in my pocket. Other than that, our first visit to Atlantic City International Airport went smoothly. My sister and I arrived at the airport parking lot just before 9:00 AM for our inaugural flight on Spirit Airlines. As we were led to believe, the parking lot for the Atlantic City airport was right next to the terminal, and we were at the gate waiting for our flight just over twenty minutes after we parked the car. The evening before I checked in for our flight, printed boarding passes, and paid Spirit’s onerous checked baggage fee, so we were able to use Spirit’s Fast Bag Drop service to bypass most of the check-in counter line then head right to the security line. This was our longest wait, as everyone using the airport’s seven gates goes through a single security line, which has (according to others in line) been recently reconfigured. Thus, most of us were not expecting anything more than a metal detector and I was not fully prepared to remove my belt (that has never set off any airport metal detector) or to completely empty the non-metallic contents of my pockets. Usually when airport procedures change, attendants and signs have made this clear, but this may be a drawback to using a smaller airport with less experienced TSA staff (though I was expecting that security would be more user-friendly here, since they have fewer travelers to deal with).
Once through security and after a short walk to our gate, and Spirit flight 147 was relatively uneventful. We departed twenty minutes late because a mechanic had to fix an empty seat that would not lock in the upright position. This required a technician to make one trip to inspect the seat, leave the plane, then a return a few minutes later with tools (who knew you’d need tools to fix a broken seat?) to sort of fix the problem, by completely preventing it from reclining. Donzi, the expressionless mechanic, who did not acknowledge the round of applause he received after completing his work, then had to fill out quite a bit of paperwork (by hand) before we could leave. I guess having an electronic system for recording repairs to planes is one of the "frills” you sacrifice with a low-cost air carrier.
Another perk that Spirit does not offer is free drinks to their passengers. Even sodas cost a few dollars and forget about free snacks, so we were pretty hungry when we got off the plane at 1:10 PM. Spirit’s baggage claim was quite a ways away from the gate (though it would have been conveniently located if we claimed our baggage and wanted to use Disney’s Magical Express bus service), but our bags appeared shortly after we reached the luggage carousel, then we claimed our rental car and left the airport by 1:50 PM. We reached our resort just before 2:20 PM and had no wait for check in, with the only oddity being a conversation we overhead from the person at the front desk next to us, which included something about returning to the hotel on Monday for gall-bladder surgery. Neither my sister nor I were aware that Disney doctors performed in-room surgeries.
We stayed at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, which is set on a large property surrounding a lake enclosed by thirteen guestroom buildings. We did not have the opportunity to explore the whole property on this trip and the rainy weather kept us away from the pools, so the resort may be better than what I saw, but overall I wasn’t terribly impressed by my first visit to one of Disney’s "moderate" resorts. Our room (7754 in building 7B) was in the Ranchos section in the back of the property near what was supposed to be a "quiet” pool, though we found very little quiet about our stay at Coronado Springs. After settling in the room we headed back to the main building for a snack and started to notice quite a few high school aged children in suits, some of whom wore badges, carried bags, or binders marked with the acronym HOSA. We later found that this was a gathering of young folks wanting to work in health care. To us, it meant a lot of older kids running around the exterior corridors and talking loudly in their rooms throughout the night.
When booking the reservation at Coronado Springs we were happy to know that we had a refrigerator in the room and we quickly filled it with food from Garden Grocer. Having breakfast in the room each morning worked out well during our trip in March, so we planned to do the same during this vacation. Apples, chips, and soda were also helpful to have on hand when we wanted a snack. At the moment, however we wanted something a little more substantial, keeping in mind we had 8:00 dinner reservations so we didn't want to have a huge meal. Checking out what was available in the main building, a sandwich at Café Rix seemed to make the most sense, so we split a meatball sandwich and a Coke, then searched for a table that wasn't occupied by the HOSA throngs. On our walk from our room to the main building we felt a few drops of rain, then felt pretty smart to be indoors when the real downpour began, but it looked like the typical central Florida afternoon shower, since it was over before we finished eating. After our quick meal and a few minutes to let our friends on Facebook know where we were it was off to the Magic Kingdom.
Going into the trip, I heard mixed reviews about Coronado Springs’ buses. Many people shared awful experiences waiting for exorbitant amounts of time to get to their destinations, but the 2012 Unofficial Guide transportation matrix showed the travel times to all of the parks to be reasonable, so we gave the buses a shot, even though we had a rental car available throughout the trip. Our first experience didn't give us much confidence, as we arrived a bus stop #1 (at the main building), which is actually the last of four stops on the hotel loop, around 3:45 PM, then watched buses for Animal Kingdom, Downtown Disney and Typhoon Lagoon, the Studios, Epcot, Downtown Disney again, and Animal Kingdom again, before we finally were on the bus at 4:11. Less than fifteen minutes later we were finally at the Magic Kingdom bus station.
During our wait and ride I optimized and re-optimized my personalized touring plan for the afternoon using the Lines mobile phone application. The personalized plans are great for days when you arrive late or other scenarios when there is no published touring plan in the Unofficial Guide. In preparing for the trip the personalized plans gave me the chance to test out a few scenarios to see how many attractions it would be reasonable to expect to see in the time we had before dinner and also give us a good idea where in the park to start. Unfortunately, Lines wanted to send me to get a Space Mountain FASTPASS, but the passes that were available when we arrived in the park were for exactly the same time as our dinner reservations. Thus, we made the decision to kill time in Tomorrowland until the Space Mountain FASTPASS window moved a little later (though we didn’t want to wait too long and not get a FASTPASS at all). We saw the FASTPASS return time for Buzz Lightyear was just about exactly that same time as we would get on the ride waiting in the standby line (assuming the posted time was correct), so we picked up our first FASTPASS of the trip and got in line for the Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor. My sister was proud to extend her streak of getting horrible jokes into the performance to two shows in a row. Afterward, we both failed miserably to master Buzz Lightyear’s laser guns, though my sister found a better target to shoot repeatedly while the ride was stopped to finish with a slightly less bad score than I earned. After this, Space Mountain FASTPASSES for 8:40 – 9:40 were available, which would be perfect for us to eat, see the fireworks, and head back to Tomorrowland.
We wanted to see the progress of the Fantasyland expansion and were pleased to see the construction fences moved a little in the two months since my last visit. The water playground area looked like fun for young kids, though after dodging the earlier showers we were happy to stay on the sidelines where it was dry. We were also surprised to see the second Dumbo spinner running. I had heard of some test runs, but we managed to stumble onto the ride’s first day of official operation. Excited to be in the park for a newsworthy event, I shot some video, which is no longer very newsworthy after I’ve waited all this time to actually share it.
We took in a PhilharMagic performance and after watching the show four times in the last four months I think I like it even more. This is one of the most underappreciated attractions in all of Disney World.
Following our foray into Fantasyland, we found a short wait for the Haunted Mansion, bypassing the "enhanced queue" in hopes of saving every second we could before our dinner reservations for attractions. We then moved onto Pirates of the Caribbean, where we waited nearly 15 minutes. My last few rides on Pirates have all been very late at night, when Adventureland is pretty quiet and I can usually breeze through the queue. Waiting for a few minutes this time gave me the chance to notice some cannons pointing toward the loading area and a few other scenes that either weren't around on my previous visits or that I zipped past in my haste to get on a boat. I’d still rather be on a ride than waiting in line, even if they offer interesting things to look at or games to play, but with few exceptions Disney is light-years ahead of the competition in terms of making the time spent waiting for an attraction bearable (at least, when not glued to your smart phone + for the record, I get horrible cell service inside the Pirates ride building).
We finished Pirates just after 7:00, an hour before our 8:00 dinner reservations. This was my first Disney World visit since Big Thunder Mountain was re-opened after a lengthy refurbishment, so we wanted to ride that and decided getting a FASTPASS would be our best option, but we already had FASTPASSES for Space Mountain, so we had to wait until 7:30 until we could get another. The need to kill some time and the fact neither my sister nor I remembered ever going through the Swiss Family Treehouse motivated us to finally walk through that attraction. I found it entertaining, though I felt compelled to rush through a lot of scenes to keep traffic flowing. I could have waved people past, but we saw enough of the different scenes and the views looking over the rest of the park. Thinking back, I realize that we could have spent more time outside the Haunted Mansion queue area, but since this was just the first day we figured to have time for some more leisurely touring later in the trip.
We arrived at the Big Thunder FASTPASS area a few minutes too early to get FASTPASSES and after our park tickets yielded a few blanks the machine finally spit out a ticket we could use after dinner. We then headed over to Tomorrowland so we would be nearby The Plaza, where we would be eating dinner. I figured we would have time for one more ride before dinner, but the wait for the Big Thunder FASTPASS took a little longer than I anticipated. We thought we would still have time for the PeopleMover, but found the attraction stopped when we passed by, so we ambled over to dinner a few minutes early.
I heard The Plaza Restaurant described a good dining value, so I wanted to see for myself if the restaurant was worthy of recommendation. It was. The food is not spectacular, but both my sister and I had pleasant light meals that I would be happy to have again, and the strawberry milkshake, perhaps my best decision of the trip, was outstanding and in ample supply. In addition to the milkshake, which could've been a meal unto itself, I enjoyed a pleasant potato soup and a grilled chicken sandwich topped with shaved ham. The ham added a nice bit of flavor to the otherwise decent but not outstanding chicken and the sandwich was served on a fresh fluffy bun. My sister had a salad that I must not have found noteworthy enough to, well, note. Though, in my defense, salads aren't really my area of expertise, so my description of her meal wouldn't have done it justice, but I know she was pleased. Having snacked when we arrived at the hotel earlier in the afternoon, this was the perfect sort of meal to cap off our day. Oh, and did I mention the refreshingly delicious milkshake?
After dinner, we were left with an hour and fifteen minutes (not that anyone was counting) before Wishes. We wanted to watch the evening fireworks show and I wanted to try photographing the fireworks after having read someone advice on how to take better fireworks pictures [How to Photograph Fireworks from the Disney Photography Blog]. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to put much of this advice to use tonight, since I cleverly forgot to put my tripod in my backpack before leaving the hotel. We did, however, have FASTPASSES to use, so we headed to Big Thunder Mountain. Our Space Mountain FASTPASS was good until 9:40, while our Big Thunder pass expired at 9:30, so we opted to head there first.
The new Big Thunder looked (to me) a lot like the old Big Thunder, but that's a good thing. I don't know the attraction well enough to tell you if the third goat from the left used to wink at you or which geysers are new, but it's a great roller coaster. No huge drops and not terribly fast, but proof that there are some things to making a great ride that you can't measure and Big Thunder has most of these. I'd like to see it again during the day, just to get a better look at some of the trackside details, but if I had to choose a time of day for this ride, then it's pretty cool at night and I'm glad that's when we rode it then. We were done at 9:07 and decided to cut through the Central Hub to get to Space Mountain to avoid the normal bottlenecks in Fantasyland. Of course anyone who knows the Magic Kingdom parade schedule (and I'm one of those people, so I should have thought this through better) may find the flaw in this logic. If you don't already know this, the Main Street Electrical Parade runs down Main Street, blocking the route across to Tomorrowland, and there are no breaks to allow people to cross the street. Not only that, but a number of cast members have the unenviable task of making sure guests don't linger near the break in the parade viewing area that normally provides a path across Main Street. This caused some FASTPASS window anxiety, as we settled in the outdoor entrance to Casey's Corner, just far enough away that we wouldn't be marshaled away and close enough that when I saw the last float of the Electrical Parade approach that we could make our way to the rope as soon as the cast members re-opened Main Street.
We made it to Space Mountain two minutes before our FASTPASS window was set to close (though we still would have had some grace period before we would have needed a "trapped by the parade" sob story (I'm glad we didn't have to find out of that would have worked). Every time I've been on this ride in recent years we've used FASTPASS and this was true again this time, but we got to ride on the other track for a change, and I'm always happy to see an attraction from as many different perspectives as possible. I like the start of the attraction better from the non-FASTPASS side, but once you get going the ride seems the same (to me) from either track. For a while, Space Mountain was one of my favorite rides in Disney World and it still is through the "launch" and through the top of the attraction where you see first see the stars. After that, I've grown increasingly uncomfortable being jostled around coupled with the completely unfounded (though not unprecedented) concern that I'll bang my head on one of the unseen obstructions lurking in the darkness. I haven't figured out whether sitting in different places in the car may make this ride more or less comfortable, as I haven't always felt uneasy on this roller coaster, but the last three rides have all been similar. It's a worrisome trend, but I'm not ready to give up on this signature attraction yet.
We finished the roller coaster just in time for Wishes, though by the time we walked toward Main Street and decided all of the good spots nearby were already occupied the show had been going for some time. We eventually settled in between Tomorrowland Terrace and Tomorrowland, watching the fireworks a little off center, but with an otherwise unobstructed view. Wishes is always a good show, though arriving partway through and in a bit of a rush wasn't the ideal way to enjoy it. We decided to try to see the show again later (when I hoped to remember to bring my tripod).
Following the fireworks, we took advantage of the late night exodus to ride the PeopleMover, Splash Mountain, and Pirates again, all with no wait. When we visited the parks in March, my sister didn't get to Pirates at all, because the attraction was shut down every time we had the opportunity to ride. I made a point to ride (twice) when I returned in April, and we made sure we got our Pirates fix this trip while we had the chance. By the time we exited the ride, the park was closed (though the gift shop was not). We took a little time in Emporium on our way out, reaching the end of the Main Street shops just in time to see the end of yet another Electrical Parade and head out of the park ahead of everyone who stayed to watch. We waited a short time to catch a bus back to the hotel, which was not a normal Disney bus, but rather a motor coach similar to the Magical Express buses, with the name Empire Coach on the side. The driver seemed a little confused by the Coronado Springs layout, trying to take a shortcut through a parking lot that didn’t connect with where we were trying to go, but twenty minutes after we got on the bus, we were back at our bus stop and in the room a few minutes later. I started uploading pictures to Facebook, showered, and had a drink before finally going to sleep at 1:20 AM. This had been a hectic visit to the Magic Kingdom, but that was our plan and things pretty much worked out as well as we could have hoped. We saw our favorite attractions, ate a pleasant meal, and were tired enough that the loud people walking past our room didn't keep us from sleeping soundly.
Friday, June 22, 2012: Studios, Epcot, Sunshine Seasons, La Hacienda de San Angel
Growing up, I've never been a "rope drop" person. I've never experienced morning Extra Magic Hours and always valued my rest while on vacation. Couple that with liking to stay up late at night and it meant what many would consider inefficient Disney World touring. However, in recent trips I've been arriving at the parks earlier and earlier, motivated in part by securing FASTPASSES for popular attractions, but also hoping to squeeze in more attractions during visits when the park is busier (which have historically coincided with when I could visit). With all this in mind and hoping to see my first rope drop, I awoke to my cell phone alarm at 7:00 AM and was out of bed by 7:15.
After eating breakfast in the room and showering, I checked the weather online, knowing that a tropical system, possibly a hurricane, was near enough to possibly affect the weather around Disney World. The forecast was for an afternoon thunderstorm, which sounded like a typical Central Florida day, and "evening drizzle", which had the potential to be a little more unpleasant, but we had ponchos and were out the door just after 8:15, ready for our first full day in the parks.
We arrived at our bus stop at 8:20 and were on board by 8:24. So, maybe the Coronado buses aren't so bad after all. This morning, when we were in a bit of a hurry, along came a bus right when we needed it! After a thirteen minute ride, we were off the bus well before the scheduled 9:00 AM opening time for Disney's Hollywood Studios and were through bag check and the turnstiles just before 8:45. Right around that time I saw a man with a camera and other photo gear and realized I had again forgotten the portable tripod I brought along for this trip. Drat. However, there was no time to fret about that, since we had attractions to see.
Our first stop, according to my Lines touring plan was Toy Story Mania, which already had a 25 minute posted wait when we arrived at 8:52. So, this attraction either opened early or somehow today had surprise morning Extra Magic Hours. I clearly wasn't meant to see what a rope drop looked like, but at least we could see Toy Story with a relatively short wait. Neither my sister nor I had ever been through the full queue for this attraction, so we walked through the Tinker Toys, climbing monkeys, and board games on the ceiling, before finally meeting interactive Mr. Potato Head. I wouldn't wait 90 minutes in line to see these things, but was glad I saw what the non-FASTPASS crowd sees while waiting for Toy Story.
Following a sound defeat to my sister on the midway, Lines sent us to Star Tours, where we had no wait for our pod race and attack on the Death Star. We picked up a FASTPASS to return for another Tour between 10:15 - 11:15, and then headed to Sunset Boulevard. Again, neither my sister nor I had ever seen the non-FASTPASS queue for Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, so we got in line for that attraction at 9:42. Many people rave about the detail inside the hotel, but most of our wait was outside in what was feeling like an increasingly hot and humid day. By the time we had a chance to see all the creative touches we were herded into the preshow. Hopefully, I'll get to see those on a future, less-crowded visit, but at the time we were pretty happy to have already seen three of the top attractions in the Studios before most people had even arrived at the park. After our drops down the Tower, things worked out perfectly for us to pick up a FASTPASS for the last headliner attraction in the park at Rock n Roller Coaster, which we could use starting at 11:45. Again, that was perfect timing as we could ride the coaster on our way out of the park and have lunch in Epcot!
There was still more we wanted to see in the Studios, though, and first up was another ride on Star Tours, this time visiting the Wookie planet and seeing the dramatic conclusion to the ride on Naboo, which is currently my favorite Tour. We then had a short walk to MuppetVision 3D, where we got in line by 10:50 and were done at 11:24. That left time to explore Walt Disney: One Man's Dream, where I wanted to get a close look at the model for New Fantasyland. My model-viewing was interrupted briefly as a showing of the movie on Walt was about to begin, so we sat down to watch that, then walked by through the theater entrance doors back into the exhibits, finally leaving just after noon. We walked through some shops and took pictures on the way back to Rock n Roller Coaster, where we still waited ten minutes for the preshow and another seven minutes afterward, even with our FASTPASSES, but were done by 12:40 PM. It had been a busy morning, but we saw all of our favorite rides in the Studios and still had the rest of the day for Epcot and might even arrive in time for a Soarin' FASTPASS!
We left Disney's Hollywood Studios at 12:56 PM, though our egress was delayed slightly when my sister walked into a turnstile. Apparently, she was so excited about seeing Epcot that she forgot how to operate this relatively simple machine, but was quickly able to get her thoughts together and exit the park. As Man with the Golden Gun played in the background, we saw a boat had just left the docks so we started along the path to walk through the Boardwalk and into Epcot's International Gateway entrance when we noticed a bus with an "Epcot" sign. As we approached, we found it was just about ready to leave, so we hopped on board at 1:01 and arrived near the Epcot main entrance (or at least, as near as you get from the Epcot bus stops) twelve minutes later. On the way, the bus driver offered some Disney trivia questions, which I chose not to answer to let the kids on board answer and have all the fun (though I did whisper the answers to my sister, so at least someone would know how brilliant I was). I was stumped by the question about the names of Donald Duck's nieces. We all know Huey, Dewey, and Louie, but I now know some more members of the Duck family and have an easy way to remember those names, thanks to our bus driver John (at least he said that was his name if we liked the ride, while it was Steve if we didn’t… ah, bus driver humor). We also delivered some bad news to some girls looking to ride Test Track, since they didn't know it was closed for refurbishment. I'm pretty sure they hadn't done a lot of prep work for this trip, as we later heard them talking about visiting the Jamaica pavilion.
Our goals for visiting Epcot were relatively modest. We had 8:15 dinner reservations in the Mexico pavilion and were hoping to get a FASTPASS to ride Soarin' before dinner. We were also relatively hungry for lunch as we arrived, but beyond that we had a pretty flexible schedule after our busy morning. The Land pavilion offered solutions to our immediate needs. We arrived there around 1:30 PM and the Soarin' FASTPASSES were available for 7:45, which should just barely allow us to ride before dinner, so we grabbed then and headed to Sunshine Seasons for some food. I decided rotisserie chicken was relatively healthy, my sister had a chicken salad, and we shared a Coke (and a cup of ice) for $22.98. I was eager to try Sunshine Seasons, having heard it consistently rated as one of the top counter-service options in Disney World and it did not disappoint. My chicken was juicy and tasty, but even more impressive was the black beans and rice that came with this dish. Rarely do I enjoy the non-meat sides more than my entrée, but I would have been content to chow down on just the rice and beans as my lunch. This was my second favorite meal of the trip (you'll have to wait for a few days to get to my favorite) and I can't wait to return to Sunshine Seasons to confirm that it is one of the best places to eat in Disney World.
After lunch, we rode Living with the Land with no wait. As a child I'm not sure if I found this attraction more boring or annoying, but now that they've removed Listen to the Land from the soundtrack (I went back and listened to this song again recently and it's even worse than I remembered) I've started to really enjoy the boat ride focusing on innovative techniques for growing foods. With Horizons and World of Motion gone, this is one of the few rides left that retains the original Epcot combination of education and entertainment, which is probably why I appreciate it more now than I did growing up. Well, that, and they've removed that horrendous song.
After departing The Land, we visited the Imagination pavilion. As much as The Land has improved over the years, Imagination has gotten that much worse. We rode the current version of Journey into Imagination, which is a ride that isn't as bad as many people think, but it's also not up to the standard that Epcot set when it first opened. There are a lot of amusing scenes in Imagination and I'll make it a point to visit on every trip, but it's not an attraction you feel the need to see again and again, and the lack of crowds reflect that (we waited three minutes for this and most of that was walking through the queue). Perhaps even more disappointing is what remains of ImageWorks after the ride. I walked around looking at the different kiosks and as someone who is easily amused I left this area not finding anything to inspire my imagination to do anything except move onto the next attraction.
Leaving Imagination around 2:45 PM, we saw a cart where it appeared the new Phineas and Ferb World Showcase Adventure game might be open. I had heard some people had played the game in recent days as it was being tested, so since we were headed to World Showcase we picked up a F.O.N.E., then chose Germany as our first country to save from destruction. There were some pretty ominous looking storm clouds and the summer thunderstorm looked to be right on schedule today, so Dr. Doofenshmirtz didn't appear to be the only threat to our well-being. The impending storm and the relatively short time before our guide warned us that our mission would time out meant we made pretty good time walking briskly clockwise toward the German pavilion. We checked our mission and found we needed to enter one of the gift shops, which worked out well, as rain drops were starting to fall just before we made a row of beer steins sing. We put on our ponchos as we made plans for how best to deal with the inclement weather. While contemplating our next move in the gift shop doorway, a young child and his mother inquired about our F.O.N.E. and we explained where we found them and how the missions work. I knew that there are used to be kiosks around World Showcase for the Kim Possible missions that preceded the Phineas and Ferb adventures, but I wasn't sure if they were open yet or if they would stay open in the rain, so I offered our F.O.N.E. to the family and we moved on to China. I would have liked to see more of the Phineas and Ferb game (we were told there were three missions in each of seven different countries), but didn't think we'd be able to see much with the weather being bad and figured that this family might get some enjoyment out of the games.
We scurried into the China pavilion, figuring the rain might pass while we watched Reflections of China. I hadn't seen this movie since the 1990s, and while it's not a must do I was pleased to get a look into a country I may never see in person. The circle vision movies have a way of making anyplace they show look wonderful and vibrant and this was one of the few times I appreciated not having seats, because it gave time for my poncho to air dry.
After a twelve minute show in China, it was still raining, so we moved onto Norway for Maelstrom. We even decided to actually watch the movie after the boat ride, but only caught the ending as we sat down. We weren't quite committed enough to wait for the next showing, so we walked through a light rain inside the pyramid in Mexico. We found a table inside Lava Cava Tequila, where we figured we could rest, wait a little longer for hopefully better weather, and possibly get liquored up enough to enjoy the Mexican boat ride. Things didn't go exactly as planned, but we tried some different margaritas and got to sit down for 45 minutes. My Wild Passion Fruit margarita was absurdly sweet. It wasn't bad for a couple sips, but drinking the whole glass was a bit much. However, my sister enjoyed her Cucumber margarita, which tasted refreshing when I tried it, though it did, unfortunately, also taste like cucumber, which doesn't put it high on my list, but it made her happy. Eager to wash the sweetness out of my mouth, I ordered a Dos Equis lager, which we shared while looking around the inside of the Mexican bazaar. La Cava was pretty crowded this day, but it provided a nice place to take a break, though the $33.55 cost (plus tip) made it a rather pricey place to do this.
People were still wearing ponchos as they entered the Mexico pavilion, but one ride one Gran Fiesta Tour was also we could take. We couldn't afford enough tequila to make that ride great, so we headed back outside into a light rain. Wanting to protect my camera bag, I still wore my poncho, though I had somehow managed to unbutton part of it and it took longer to reassemble myself than I really should have, however, after that delay we were on our way back to Future World before dinner.
My sister and I continued our tradition of flying to Mars after a margarita, where we accompanied a couple English girls on their first flight. My favorite moment of the mission occurred while we were in "hyper sleep", when one of them asked in a delightful accent, "are we asleep?" Following Mission Space and still looking for indoor activities to avoid the rain, we moved on to Ellen's Energy Adventure, during which time my sister actually did sleep, apparently unconcerned enough by the dinosaurs surrounding us to sneak in a short nap. We could both have rested comfortably if we wanted as we could have ridden our own car in this attraction had I acted faster before we started our tour and moved to the ride vehicle to our right that was full of empty benches.
It was just before 6:30 when we finished Universe of Energy, so we still had more than an hour before we could use our Soarin' FASTPASSES, which left time to see more of Future World. With the weather still not getting any better, we ducked into Innoventions, where we found a surprisingly short wait for Sum of All Thrills. This has to be up near the top of underrated attractions in all the Disney Parks and I can't figure why there is seldom a wait of over 20 minutes. We designed a coaster that flipped us upside down twice and earned a score of 686. I don't know if this is a great score, but we had a fun ride that was well worth the 25 minutes we spent in line, designing, and riding our creation. We then rode Spaceship Earth, and the ride at The Seas with Nemo and Friends before getting in the FASTPASS line for Soarin' at 7:46 PM. There we must have just missed a ride, because we waited ten minutes before we were lined up to watch the preshow video, but it was worth the wait since we got to ride in the top row of the theater, which provided a different (foot-free) perspective that I had not seen before.
We left Soarin' at 8:11 PM, not leaving us much time to get to our 8:15 dinner reservation. Further complicating matters was the increasingly heavy rain that required us to poncho up again, which meant we were nearly ten minutes late for our reservation at La Hacienda de San Angel. This didn't seem like a problem as there was only one other group waiting to be seated, which meant we had a place to sit and we were out of the rain until our table was ready and it pretty much locked in that we would get to see Illuminations from the restaurant. We asked if it was too late for a table by the windows and were told that it was, but when were seated (just before 8:35) we found that every seat was designed to have a view out the large windows. We ended up in a raised booth, which didn't offer the more complete view that a table by the window would have, but was still a better view of World Showcase Lagoon than most restaurants offer, and it turned out that the show on this rainy evening was pretty tough to see through the mist and rain covered glass. The food was also a bit of a letdown at La Hacienda, though it won't deter me from returning, since there are a number of items on the menu that I'd like to try and the dining room was a very comfortable place for a meal. I ordered the Puerco en Salsa de Mole Negro, after seeing that the dish featured pork tenderloin with beans and rice, though I should have inquired about the mole negro sauce and noticed the sweet potato mash was part of the meal. The sauce was far too sweet for my liking and so was the roasted corn that the pork was served on, so I ended up eating around a good part of the entrée. I couldn't even fill up on the complimentary chips, because they were far too salty and didn't taste as fresh as I was expecting. I did get a taste of my sister's meal, Tacos de Camarones (fried shrimp tacos) and that seemed pretty good, so had I ordered better this could have been an above average meal in a great location. The prices were about what you'd expect for Disney table service, with our meal, including a Coke and a margarita, costing $67.43 for both of us with my Tables in Wonderland discount (20% off the total bill, but with an 18% tip included, for those not familiar with that program).
One benefit to a late meal at Epcot is that your exit from the park is a little less hectic, since a lot of people leave the park right after Illuminations. We left La Hacienda at 9:30, just after the biggest wave of people had already exited the park, and made the long trek to Epcot's bus stop by 9:47. We only waited two minutes for a bus this time and were back in our room at Coronado Springs by 10:11, so we did pretty well with bus service today. The weather went pretty much as it was forecast, with rain in the afternoon continuing throughout the rest of the day, so I studied the predictions for the following day and it looked like things were supposed to be clear until 3:00 PM, which meant we should be able to enjoy a day in the park without getting soaked. I had stepped in a puddle (more like a small lake) walking to dinner, so I was looking forward to giving my shoes time to dry out. I also showered, uploaded pictures to Facebook, and downloaded all the black beans I ate during the day, before going to bed at 11:40. Our neighbors were still making a lot of noise in the outdoor corridors and the "quiet pool" continued to be anything but that, however, after a busy day I had no trouble falling asleep quickly.
Saturday, June 23, 2012: Animal Kingdom, Flame Tree Barbecue, Magic Kingdom, Tomorrowland Terrace
A decent sleep ended with a 7:15 AM alarm and I was fully awake before two snoozes. Perhaps it was a sign of an aggravating day (not disastrous, but packed with minor nuisances) that the first thing I noticed was that my cell phone charger had unplugged itself at some point during the evening and my phone was only 70% charged. This was not a good sign for someone eager to earn new badges by submitting wait times in his Lines cell phone application. I also must have had some concern for my health, since my notes show that I included an Airborne tablet with breakfast. I knew that I had a bit of a headache the night before, enough that I didn't have any booze with dinner, and didn't have much of an appetite in the morning, but I wasn't really sick and didn't want to miss out of the reasonable weather this morning before more rain came along.
In checking the forecast, it looked like things should stay clear until 4:00 PM, with thunderstorms coming a couple times in the evening hours. That looked like it would fit perfectly with our plan to visit the Animal Kingdom at the beginning of the day and we could make plans for the evening depending on the weather and where we felt like having dinner. With the day looking brighter, we left our room at 8:35 and were waiting for a bus by 8:39. We just missed a bus to the Studios and saw a Magic Kingdom bus drive past, then and Epcot bus, and another for the Studios, immediately followed by a third Studios bus, before we finally saw a bus headed to Animal Kingdom (and Blizzard Beach) at 8:55. The only trouble was that the first Animal Kingdom bus we saw drove right past us, looking pretty much packed to the gills, so our wait was not over. We then watched buses to Downtown Disney, two for the Magic Kingdom, and one for Epcot while we waited. There was an attendant at our bus stop, but she said "they" didn't give her a radio this morning, so she had no way to report our dilemma. She tried using the phone at the bus stop to call someone internally to report how long we had been waiting, but that didn't seem to accomplish anything. Adding to the helplessness of our greeter was her need to make notes of something without any paper to do this, so I offered her a page from my notebook. Maybe I should have also offered her my phone, but I was already in conserve battery mode, which also limited my ability to distract myself from our every increasing wait. Nonetheless, at 9:07 another pretty much full bus to Animal Kingdom finally stopped and we squeezed in, finally arriving at the park at 9:25, 50 minutes after we left our room. Not good work from the bus service this morning, though we did learn that the closest bus stop to our hotel room may not be the best place to catch a bus in the morning, as it may make more sense to walk to a stop that picks up passengers at the beginning of the loop to make sure you get a seat.
Now that Disney's California Adventure has unveiled significant renovations and a whole new "Land", the Animal Kingdom is probably Disney's most-maligned park, but I have enjoyed all of my visits. I like zoos and while Disney thinks of their park as more than a zoo (and it is), they do a great job with the animal exhibits, while offering a handful of fun rides and shows. The park doesn't require a full day to see everything I want to see, but that's also not a bad thing. It's nice to have a free evening to see a show, visit different resorts, walk around Downtown Disney, "hop" to another park, go to bed early, or do anything else without feeling like you're missing out on time in the parks. You could do those things when visiting another park, but it seems better to me with the feeling of having accomplished everything I wanted to do in the Animal Kingdom.
The bright side of our slow travels in the morning is that Animal Kingdom is perhaps the most forgiving park for later arrivals. There's a little rush toward Expedition Everest when the park first opens, but since Everest, Kali Rapids, and the Safaris are the only attractions that require a FASTPASS it's pretty easy to get in everything you want to see with minimal waiting. This worked to our benefit, since our arrival was further delayed by a brief photo shoot with our family lion, Dexter (long story, but he's a well-traveled stuffed animal), followed by the discovery that I misplaced the lens cap for my camera and my fruitless attempt to find a store that would sell me a replacement (In the 90s I bought more than one Disney World lens cap for different cameras, so it was disappointing to see how poorly stocked their camera center is these days). So, let's take a quick count of today's aggravations: cell phone charger unplugged, long wait for packed bus ride, and lost lens cap. This was looking like a day when I needed to remind myself that I was on vacation, so things were still pretty good and I shouldn't complain, but the day was still testing my patience.
It wasn't until 9:46 that we were actually in line for an attraction, but we started to make up time since we walked straight into the preshow for Dinosaur! Someday I'll actually look around the exhibits in the queue for this attraction, because I've never actually waited in a line for it, but today wasn't going to be that day. We were in our ride vehicle by 9:52, after bypassing the opportunity for my sister and I to have our own time rover, instead sharing a ride with some very screamy young (and older) ladies. We beat a hasty retreat out of Dinoland, because there's nothing either of us wanted to see there (I know there's a backstory and lots of little nuances that support that backstory, but I don't like the backstory, the rides in Dinoland are mediocre, and I think I'm even a little offended by the midway games in a Disney park) and arrived at Expedition Everest at 10:08, at which time we were faced with a 35 minute posted wait time or we could pick up a FASTPASS for 10:45. That seemed like an easy decision and it even meant we wouldn't have to wait very long before getting another FASTPASS for Kali River Rapids. Now that we were rolling, everything seemed to be going smoothly.
Our plan was for a leisurely stroll through the Maharajah Jungle Trek at which point we could get FASTPASSES for the Rapids, then return to ride Everest. However, our plan changed when we saw the posted wait for the Kali Rapids was only 10 minutes. After a brief deliberation, we headed into the meandering queue and spent most of our six minute wait time walking through empty cattle shoots before we were seated for my first trip through the rapids. In previous visits I chose not to ride the rapids because it was either too cold or I didn't want to walk around wet all day, however, since we had already broken the ponchos out earlier in the trip, we just put them on again before the ride. My sister, who had ridden this a couple times, assured me there was a place to put our backpacks and that even though you're not supposed to take your shoes off, she's seen a number of people do that as soon as the ride vehicle is out of side of the operators. The only trouble is that canvas flap that is supposed to keep your belongings dry didn't close all the way and our storage bin was too full for me to sneak my shoes in. I ended up going through the rapids with one foot holding the flap in place and the other slightly elevated on a rail in the center of our boat, which left we with soggy shoes before we returned to the dock. We left the ride pretty wet, but not as completely soaked as some of the other people who we rode with. One of our travelling companions, apparently not satisfied that Disney provided enough moisture on the ride announced on two different occasions, "I think I peed my pants."
Fortunately, I had the foresight to remove my socks before riding the Rapids and had also brought a towel from our hotel room, so after the ride we took a few minutes to dry off and remove belongings (like my sister's mouse ears) that we stowed in my backpack during the ride. The towel was a big help, though it was of no use to my waterlogged shoes. (Mark that in the tally of today's aggravations) Since the Kali Rapids is right next to the Jungle Trek, we spent 15 minutes visiting with the local tigers before doubling back to ride Everest, where we slipped into the FASTPASS line just in front of a large group of people in red shirts that appeared to be part of a band camp. Everest is always a very good ride and never fails to disappoint, unless you go in expecting the Yeti to actually work (I've given up on that dream). So, with three headliner attractions done and having seen tigers we were now having a pretty productive morning.
We thought we could walk over the Kilimanjaro Safaris, get a FASTPASS, then grab lunch. However, much like our experience with Kali Rapids, we found a surprisingly short posted wait time of only 15 minutes. There's no way FASTPASS would save us the time required to walk back to the Safari later in the day, so we got in line and were seated in our truck in ten minutes. Our driver, Aloysius, was energetic and upbeat, which added to the experience. The animals must have sensed his positive energy, because they seemed very active, with the exception of nature's most inactive creatures - the lions. We saw construction (I'm not sure if that is the right word for what is supposed to be a natural environment) of the new zebra facilities and this was the first time there was no sign of fake elephants on our way back to the loading docks. At this point, I'm ambivalent as to whether the safari is better without the backstory to fill in the animal-free parts of the tour. I don't think the chase for poachers added much to my experience with this ride, but if some people liked it, then it didn't really bother me. In any case, it's always nice to have something new to look forward to during future visits.
Our early departure from the hotel and unexpectedly early safari meant that we were ready to eat as soon as our ride concluded. I heard enough good things about Flame Tree Barbecue to be eager to try that counter service location and I left not being blown away by my half-chicken and baked beans. I may have been biased by the outstanding meal at Sunshine Seasons the day before, but I would only characterize my meal as decent. I wasn't up for the chicken and ribs combo, so I know there is more to try at Flame Tree, but it was a bit of a letdown that this meal wasn't as outstanding as I was hoping. My sister seemed to enjoy her enormous chicken salad and we shared a Coke, bringing the cost of this meal to $21.37, a little less than our counter service meal the day before.
We finished lunch just in time to catch Finding Nemo, The Musical. One of my fellow Disney enthusiast friends has been raving about this show for quite a while, but I never managed to fit it into a visit to Animal Kingdom until this trip. I've not actually seen the Finding Nemo movie in its entirety, though I recently saw parts of it on television (but had to turn to another channel when Nemo's dad first sees Nemo in the dentist office). That was just too sad for my tastes and the musical brings out those same emotions. We sat a few rows up on the right side of the stage, so we had a pretty good view of what initially appeared to be a bit hokey. I knew the show featured puppets manned (and womaned) by live performers and that I had never seen this sort of theater in person. After the first few moments of adjusting to what I was watching I soon found myself focusing on the fish puppets, occasionally noticing that the expressions and movements of the live actors matched the feelings of their puppets. I was pleasantly surprised how taken in I was with the story, filled with enough upbeat songs to drown out the sad parts of the story. The Nemo show is definitely a keeper.
Our biggest time constraint for the rest of the day was choosing when to see Festival of the Lion King. After deciding to see the 3:30 PM show, we figured to have time to see and do everything else we wanted before then. We started with a train ride to Conservation Station, where I had the chance to meet with Dale in April of this year, with very little wait. My sister is rather close with Dale (he once proposed to her, which made his presence on her honeymoon, after marrying a non-chipmunk, last year at Aulani rather awkward), so we thought the excursion out to this less popular part of the park was worth the chance to meet him. Sadly, Dale was not to be found, but we spent a short time exploring the animal exhibits before returning to the train. It's also probably worth noting that the petting zoo in this area was closed, further limiting the already limited entertainment options in this area.
We returned from Conservation Station and walked through the forest trail, which always provides better views of gorillas than I have seen anywhere else, then watched It's Tough to be a Bug, before arriving unusually early to the Festival of the Lion King. In two previous viewings of this show, I've always walked in just as the show was starting, meaning that I am quite familiar with the "bleating" sound a giraffe makes, since the giraffe section appears to always be the place where late arriving audience members are seated. However, since we sat down five minutes before showtime for this performance, we were to be warthogs today. We had made our way to the show in a slight drizzle, so we were happy to be inside for half an hour, while whatever rain was in the area hopefully passed by. The high energy show was dazzling as always, with agile dancers, able singers, and athletic acrobats. There's not much of a plot, but the Lion King show is always entertaining.
We were finished the show at 4:00 and were ready to head back to the hotel to regroup for the evening. We were the first people in line for our hotel bus at 4:13, which usually isn't a good sign, since no one in line tends to mean a bus just picked up everyone who had been waiting. This turned out to be a good indicator, as we waited until 4:39 before finally boarding a bus back to Coronado Springs.
The late afternoon break gave me a good chance to upload pictures to Facebook for friends to comment on and freshen up for the evening. While I was over by the bathroom sink I heard my sister exclaim, "Good Lord!" while she was watching in hotel television. In the moment before I inquired as to what horror she had just witnessed I wondered whether she saw a forecast for torrential rain, whether a war had broken out, or what could possibly ruin our vacation. I found that things were worse than I could ever have feared, when she announced, "They gave Duffy a TV show". Now, I know more to the backstory of this contrived attempt to sell me bear clothing than I ever should and I fear I'll never be able to unknow what I've learned.
During our long wait for the bus from Animal Kingdom, my sister sent some messages back in forth with an acquaintance, the brother of her best friend, who was visiting Disney World with his wife and young sons. We agreed to meet them in the Magic Kingdom and after some deliberation decided a counter service meal would work best for the kids (for a few minutes, we had a reservation at Liberty Tree Tavern). We had an uneventful bus ride to the Magic Kingdom (after briefly considering driving, then thinking we'd still have to take a monorail or boat from the TTC parking lot), exchanged pleasantries on Main Street, while I admired the Muppet Star Wars characters the family had accumulated, then moved on to Tomorrowland Terrace. I decided that I hadn't had a hamburger on this vacation, so now seemed like a good time to get one, so I ordered a bacon cheeseburger, my sister had chicken nuggets, and we split a large Coke. Our table was pretty full when I dropped off the tray and walked away to get napkins. The tray wasn't all that well balanced and my sister didn't seem to notice that when she removed her food only to send my burger toppling onto the ground. After cleaning up the mess, I returned to order another meal and then rejoined the group.
After dinner, our friends were ready to leave the park after a long day and with one child complaining of stomach pains, so my sister and I decided to take in some rides. We grabbed FASTPASSES for Pooh, then found a relatively short line for Buzz Lightyear, where I achieved Galactic Hero status for the first time. We then sat down for our traditional visit to Carousel of Progress, which was most notable for the horrified looks on the faces of the teenagers sitting behind us that my sister noticed on the way out of the attraction, then onto the Mad Tea Party, where we saw there was no line. We finished our rides at 9:25, which seemed like it was going to leave plenty of time to find a spot on Main Street to watch Magic, Memories, and You and Wishes. This time I finally remembered to bring my tripod, so I hoped to improve on my previous efforts to photograph these shows.
Walking back from Pooh, I made the poor decision to walk through the Central Plaza, rather than walking around the hub and through Tomorrowland or Adventureland. This left us in a mass of humanity moving at a speed that would make molasses look like a hummingbird after an energy drink. In the process, we got stuck behind a wheelchair and somehow absorbed into a line for a popcorn stand. I can deal with crowds so long as I have the ability to maneuver, but being in the middle of this slow moving flow we had no opportunity to bail out or even double back left me uncomfortable and aggravated, on top of my increasing concern that we would not have time to get my camera setup before the castle shows started. It was only a few minutes before Magic, Memories, and You before we finally settled on a spot on Main Street behind a couple balloon vendors that I knew would soon move out of the way.
Once I had the camera on the tripod and had a chance to take a deep breath, we could finally enjoy the shows. I didn't get many pictures of the first show, because I spent most of the time adjusting to a family who seemed to be taking turns stepping in front of my camera. They appeared completely oblivious to my plight, but had a knack for moving exactly the same direction as I did on multiple occasions. Fortunately, they dispersed before Wishes started.
We left Main Street at 10:11 PM, were at the bus stop at 10:16 and waited until 10:23 before a bus arrived, finally returning to our hotel room just after 11:00. Our plan was to visit Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure the next morning, and it looked like it was going to be a very early morning, since I saw the park hours listed an 8:00 AM opening time. With seeing the Harry Potter attractions being our primary reason for visiting that park and having read the Unofficial Guide's touring plan, we knew arriving for park opening would be essential. Still, I showered and uploaded pictures from the evening activities, so I wasn't in bed until 12:40 AM. As was becoming the norm for this trip, I was tired enough that the loud talking, door knocking and slamming, and laughing from the room next door didn't stop me from falling asleep right away.
Sunday, June 24, 2012: Rain, The Wave, Monorail Hotels, Epcot, Teppan Edo, Magic Kingdom, Ice Cream
Ugh, a 6:00 AM alarm. This feels like work. I was out of bed at 6:10 and immediately checked the weather conditions. It appeared that Tropical Storm Debby had finally arrived and was predicted to cause rain all morning and afternoon, with some heavy thunderstorms around 10:30 AM. Being unfamiliar with Islands of Adventure and the best places there to avoid the rain, we decided to postpone our visit to that park in the hopes the weather would improve in one of the upcoming days. Knowing that I was feeling a little testy a couple times the night before (after my fallen hamburger and in the middle of the crowd gathered for the Magic Kingdom fireworks), I was quite content to sleep in this morning. My sister said she was feeling a little nauseous, so we shut off the lights and television at 6:50 and both went back to sleep. I awoke again after 10:10 AM and heard rather heavy rain outside. Jim Cantore was in Florida (up in the panhandle area), and it's usually not a good sign when he's nearby, so it seemed like we may have picked the right time to stay indoors. There was a forecast for a break in the weather this evening, so we started to get ready to head out and make the best of the remainder of the day.
We thought it would be a good day to visit the Magic Kingdom resorts on the monorail loop, because once we arrived at the first hotel we could stay under cover during our tour. To go along with those plans we made 1:00 PM reservations at The Wave at the Contemporary. We also made dinner reservations for 8:40 PM at Teppan Edo in Epcot. Neither reservation required a credit card, so that meant we wouldn't be charged a cancellation fee if we didn't show up, but we now had a plan for what we wanted to do.
We left the hotel room at 12:15 PM, with the good idea to use our rental car to minimize our time in the rain. There wasn't a downpour when we left, but it was raining hard enough that we wore our ponchos on the short trek to the car. Somewhere along our drive toward the Magic Kingdom we decided to park at the TTC lot, rather than at the Contemporary. I'm not sure what motivated this decision, probably a little bit of familiarity and the desire for an extra monorail ride, but this turned out to be a poor decision in the short run and again later in the day. I knew this was a poor decision in the short run because the rain was now pouring down on us as we again donned our ponchos and summoned the courage to find our way to the monorail. A parking tram pulled out as we were walking across the parking lot, but fortunately another tram immediately took its place. That's the good news. The bad news is that the Disney World parking trams aren't exactly sealed shut. We were able to scoot across the seat toward the side of the car where the rain wasn't coming in (though I'm not sure why we bothered, since we were already soaked), but once the car started moving we only managed to stay a little less wet than had we just walked through the parking lot. The rain seemed to get even worse during the five minute ride toward the monorail, but we weren't going to spend the whole day on the parking tram, so we jumped out and into another wall of water.
The first thing we encountered at the TTC monorail station was an extraordinarily long line for the "Express" monorail to the Magic Kingdom, which we soon found was stuck in the station. We waited less than five minutes for the resort monorail and after we were seated we were soon joined by guests from the Express line, as monorail operators tried to get guests waiting for the stopped train moving. As fans of the monorail, both my sister and I were happy to go the long way around the loop, stopping at all of the other resorts and the Magic Kingdom before arriving at the Contemporary at 1:05 PM. We were finally inside and, at least for the foreseeable future, dry.
We were late for our reservation at The Wave, but there was still no wait to be seated. We didn't figure to need this reservation, as The Wave is seldom crowded, but figured it didn't hurt to have in case hoards of people decided to stay indoors while Debby soaked the parks. Our monorail ride showed that there were still plenty of people going to and from the Magic Kingdom, enjoying the smaller than normal crowds, and we certainly didn't find all that many people in The Wave. Hearing talk about the fresh foods made this restaurant sound appealing, despite its relative lack of popularity, however it was hard to describe our meal as anything better than average. I started with bacon and corn soup, which wasn't particularly memorable, and made a roasted turkey sandwich my main course. This was another case where I should have read the menu a little more closely, as the turkey was served with a very sweet sauce (it tasted like some sort of fruit jelly) that obliterated the taste of what was probably some reasonably good turkey. As happened a few nights ago at La Hacienda de San Angel, my sister ordered a much better meal than I did, choosing multigrain penne pasta with chunky tomato broth, roasted chicken and locally-sourced basil. Her meal was very good, tasting like chicken parmesan with very fresh ingredients and without the cheese. Even better was that my sister didn't finish her meal, so I got to eat half of her lunch, since we weren't going to carry around a half-eaten meal all day and there was no way we were going back to the car or room anytime soon, at least not unless the weather made a dramatic turn for the better. So, the food at The Wave may have some potential, but the service was borderline atrocious. Our server was very friendly, chatting about some of our shared airline experiences, since her family lived somewhat near where we are from, but as pleasant as she was to talk with, she was nowhere to found throughout most of the meal and for quite a while afterwards when we were ready for the check. At no point during our 50 minute meal did anyone offer to refill our sodas or water, and while we already had plenty of water on our clothing when we arrived that wasn't exactly potable and isn't what we expect from Disney. We weren't in a hurry on this particular day, but we also shouldn't have needed to wait ten minutes after we finished eating to get our check and only then after seeking the waitress out ourselves. Our meal was $38.04 with Tables in Wonderland, a reasonable price for a Disney table service meal, but we could have done just as well or better at many counter service locations for two-thirds the price.
We spent the next 45 minutes walking around the Contemporary, looking around the lobby, outside where the rain didn't look to be letting up, around the concourse area, and through the shops. We repeated the same process at the Polynesian and then Grand Floridian, thoroughly exploring whatever parts of those resorts we could see without leaving the main buildings. While attempting to photograph the grand staircase in the Grand Floridian lobby without anyone walking past (and failing to do so) I struck up a lengthy conversation with a gentleman living in Southern California, but born about fifteen minutes from where I grew up. He spoke of his admiration for the Disney parks and how he always makes a point to see the Grand Floridian when in Florida, his 99 year old mother living in an apartment building across the street from where I went to high school, and how there is no plaque commemorating the building of the Grand Floridian (today wasn't the day for me to look around the outside of the building to confirm this was true). I don't know that my sister found our conversation all that fascinating, but it was a good day to interact with other guests, instead of our normal days running ourselves ragged. We had another pleasant surprise while visiting the Polynesian, where my sister noticed that guests checking in were given free cookies. That seemed like a nice perk, but with room rates often approaching or exceeding $500 a night we figured we could just buy our own cookies. However, we were in for a pleasant surprise when a Disney cast member roaming the lobby with a tray of cookies offered each of us one. So we got our cookies after all!
By late afternoon, it was still raining, but we had pretty well exhausted our ability to amuse ourselves in the Magic Kingdom resorts, so we headed out to the monorail platform at 4:25 PM. After a short wait for a train, our monorail ride was a little longer than usual and we didn't arrive at the TTC until 4:43. We were happy that the walk to the Epcot monorail was under a canopy, which prolonged the inevitable soaking for a few minutes more. After a short wait, the silver monorail picked us up and delivered us to Epcot at 4:57. Carrying a backpack that contains a camera bag under your poncho makes bag check rather tricky. The guard only gave my belongings a cursory look, but getting everything packed back up and keeping it dry without holding up other guests proved to be a bit of a challenge, but we were soon walking through light rain through Epcot's main gates.
Having already ridden the rides we wanted to see in Epcot and with the weather not ideal for us to stroll around World Showcase, Innoventions seemed like a good (dry) place to start off and we decided Storm Struck would be the place to start, mostly because I thought it was funny to visit the "storm" attraction during a storm. I got most of the questions right about protecting the model house in the show, but I was intrigued enough by my sister's idea of answering everything wrong in hopes the simulated house would be obliterated to want to return to this attraction with the audience stocked with people having the same goal in mind.
We wandered around Innoventions for a little while afterwards, finding pretty much nothing to hold our interest. I was amused that one of the computer terminals outside the "Vision House" was malfunctioning and even more worried about the house of the future when one of the attendants explained how she sometimes has to pry the exit door open. Still, even on this gloomy day it wasn't worth our time to wait for the next tour of that potential car-wreck of an attraction. On our way across to Mouse Gear (still under cover), we ran into our second excessively chatty person of the day, a cast member named Bobby, who took time away from picking up trash to notice my soccer jersey and explain all of the "problems" with that sport. Many people tend to politely excuse themselves from conversations like this, that can only get more bizarre, but when I'm not in a rush I sometimes enjoy seeing where a colorful character like Bobby may go (I'm not sure my sister shared my amusement) and we moved on to his hockey career (sadly, he was a Montreal Canadians fan; I wish I had run into him in April when I was wearing my Flyers t-shirt as they were eliminating the Penguins from the NHL playoffs), where we found out he was a defenseman until a groin injury put an end to his career. The groin injury was enough for me to push the eject button and announce that we had dinner reservations that we had to get to, omitting the fact that those reservations were almost three hours later.
After thoroughly exploring Mouse Gear, my sister found a new set of ears that she thought would hold her poncho hood on in the wind, and was pleased with the results when we finally went outside again around 6:10 PM. She purchased English-themed mouse ears, in honor of her English-born husband and these proved popular as we made our way to the UK pavilion. After a short time in the shops there, we walked over to France and watch Impressions de France, for the first time in twenty years. I'm not sure the movie has changed much in that time, but I have and I enjoyed the show much more than I did as a teenager. There was still light rain when we emerged from the theater a few minutes after 7:00, but that did not deter us from visiting the frozen drink kiosk outside the French pavilion, though we had to quickly consume our adult beverages before they were too watered down to drink, which led to a disturbingly long and ill-informed (on both of our parts) discussion about "brain freeze" and whether it has any long-term effects on one's cognitive abilities. Unfortunately, stopping for drinks did have one negative effect.
We arrived at The American Adventure shortly before the 7:30 show and I asked the attendant whether there was a restroom inside the theater building. She said no and pointed me to the restroom to the side of the fast food restaurant, so I walked over there while my sister waited in front of the theater. When I returned, still before the scheduled 7:30 start time, we found the entrance to the theater roped off and when the hostess returned she would not let us into the show, even though I pointed out that it was before the scheduled start time and that she just sent me around the corner to the restroom. This was astonishingly un-Disneylike service. Not wanting to create a scene and with the hostess seemingly oblivious to my stares of disbelief we walked away to see if we could eat dinner earlier than our scheduled reservation.
We arrived at Teppan Edo nearly an hour before our reservation, hoping there may have been some cancellations that would allow us to sneak in early. We were given a towel and a pager, the latter supposedly worked in the nearby shops. Since all of the seats in the restaurant's entrance area were occupied we headed back outside and looked through the unusual merchandise available in the Japan pavilion (would it kill them to have one Disney character wearing a kimono for sale somewhere in here?), then returned to the restaurant to dry off and cool off from the American Adventure experience. We ended up being seated at 8:00 PM with a family of four to our right and what appeared to be a young couple across the cooking surface from us (they were too far away to have any sort of conversation). One of the many attendants surrounding the table quickly took our orders and our chef soon arrived to begin preparing the meal. He didn't put on the most amazing show I've ever seen, but did create a volcano of onions, which he pushed toward one of the younger people at our table while making "choo choo" sounds. In addition to smiling throughout the meal, our chef seemed pretty good at preparing the food, as everything I ate was excellent. I ordered Nihonbashi (steak and chicken) and my sister ordered Ebi (large shrimp). Both were served with rice, vegetables, and Udon noodles, all (except for the rice) cooked in front of us. Our chef prepared and served the vegetables and noodles before cooking the meat dishes, so I sampled these while waiting for the rest of my meal and was amazed how good everything tasted after what seemed like such a simple preparation. For the second time during the trip I was surprised how good the accompanying parts of a meal tasted and the meats were just as good. Teppan Edo was one of the highlights of this trip, providing a fun dining experience and excellent food. The only bad part of the meal was finding out this restaurant does not accept the Tables in Wonderland discount card, which meant our meal (including beers for each of us) cost $70.99., still not a bad value, but our most expensive meal of the trip by a wide margin.
As we put on our ponchos to head back outside we could hear the last blasts of the evening’s performance of Illuminations. I thought we might catch the spectacle if we finished dinner quickly, but the dinner show was worth taking the time to enjoy. Besides, the wet weather would have made for a less enjoyable show and would have prevented any decent photo opportunities. An even bigger concern, however, was that the weather was getting wetter and wetter while walking out of the park. Somewhere around this time I had the marginally good idea that we didn't have to go back to the Epcot Main entrance, but rather could just duck out International Gateway to the Beach Club and catch a bus there. Whether that saved any time for us or not isn't a sure thing, but we avoided the typical end of day rush for the Epcot monorail (I’m not sure whether or not there was one in the inclement weather) and probably stayed slightly drier. We particularly appreciated the towels the Beach Club made available when we walked through their lobby.
Since our car was parked at the TTC and the Magic Kingdom offered Extra Magic Hours this evening, we headed to that park for a few more rides to cap off the day. After waiting at the Beach Club nearly fifteen minutes for a bus we were finally picked up at 9:46 PM and arrived at the Magic Kingdom just a little less than twenty minutes later, just in time to watch Wishes through the bus windows while we pulled into our stop. There wasn't much of a line to enter the park and the bag check stations were all shut down, however, a security guard still checked my backpack, which required me to empty its contents into a puddle. At this point in the trip, most everything was already wet, so that didn't much matter (except I was trying to protect my camera), but did slow us down a little.
One of the few rides we missed in our earlier visits to the Magic Kingdom was Peter Pan, so with lines looking short throughout most of the park, we took a quick flight over England, emerging at 10:41 into what was now, indeed, a torrential rain storm. Those familiar with the exit to this attraction know that there isn't room for much of a crowd to huddle under cover to avoid the rain, so we elected to make a run across the walkway to it's a Small World, figuring that ride was long enough to be a good place to wait out the storm. We were right about that, however, our ponchos were no match for the rain and we arrived soaked enough that we probably could have waded through the attraction and not felt much more wet. On the attraction, I tried to avoid whatever brain damage may occur from three rides on Small World in four months. I'm sure others have higher tolerance for the incessantly optimistic attempt to bring the world together, but I'm pretty much at my limit for this ride without needing medical attention when I get off the boat.
As we peered out from the cover of Small World we saw light rain, which nearly stopped during our walk to The Haunted Mansion, but then picked up when we decided to explore the interactive graveyard queue. We ended up skipping the interactiveness and dashing into the stretch room as quickly as possible. I felt pretty smart as I quickly positioned us next to the exit door so we would be the first in line when the room stretching was complete. When we emerged from this attraction and ditched our hitchhiking ghosts we walked onto Pirates of the Caribbean with no wait, finishing at 11:34 PM.
At this point, we felt we had seen enough rides, but with the park open late and the rain easing up me chose to make a leisurely exit, starting with some ice cream. After my milkshake at the Plaza on our first night I had been eager to return for some ice cream. Since we skipped dessert at Teppan Edo and had some time this evening, now seemed like the perfect time to satisfy that craving. My sister and I each had cookies and cream ice cream. I had a larger serving and she chose the children’s size, because it offered Mickey ears, and we found a table outside where we watched Cinderella’s Castle change colors at midnight.
Shortly afterward, we made our way to the park exit, where we were disappointed to find the monorail to the TTC was no longer running. We were then further disappointed to see that there was no boat running. Since there's no way Disney could strand people at the park, we headed over to the bus loading area to find another way to the TTC. We arrived at stall 18 (the farthest away from the park) at 12:11 AM and waited, and waited, and waited some more, before finally boarding a bus at 12:28 AM, all the while regretting having not parked at the Contemporary when we started the day. It was a minute before 1:00 AM before we returned to our hotel room. After hanging everything I was wearing out to dry and uploading the days pictures to Facebook I was finally in bed for a brief nap at 2:20 AM.
Monday, June 25, 2012: More Rain, Universal’s Island of Adventure, Mythos, Studios, Pizza Planet
The night before went a little longer than I had hoped, but this was to be our last chance to see the Harry Potter attractions at Islands of Adventure, so even though we woke up with the rain still falling we planned to make our first trip to one of the Universal Studios parks today. Before going to bed the night before I saw that Islands of Adventure was scheduled to open at 8:00 AM, an hour earlier than I was expecting. Having read about the throngs of people visiting the Harry Potter attractions I knew we needed to arrive early, but after the hassles in the rain the day before I wanted to get some rest, so didn’t set an alarm until 6:15 and didn’t get out of bed until 6:25.
My first observations from the morning, after resting for just under four hours, was that my socks from the night before were not yet dry (that was ok, since I had dry pairs to wear), my wallet was "sorta" dry, and my jacket, poncho, and insoles of my shoes were dry. I also noted that I had a blister in the middle of the ball of my right foot, which developed at some point the day before, while I was walking around with an inch of water in both of my shoes. For some reason, I felt compelled to shower before going out, but it wasn't long before it seemed pointless to have wasted the time drying off after doing that. As soon as my sister opened the door to our room we heard the rain and knew what we were in for the rest of the day. Nonetheless, we started out on our trek, leaving the room at 7:55 AM.
When we arrived at Universal Studios at 8:28 AM, the parking garage did not seem terribly crowded, which boded well for being able to see a lot of rides, though it did call into question why so few people were going out today. Despite being unfamiliar with the layout of the Universal Parks we had no trouble following the overhead signs to Islands of Adventure. We also appreciated the covered parking and covered walkway for part of our journey, but we were soon at the mercy of the elements once again while walking through CityWalk. At this point, my sister was being magnetically drawn toward Hogwarts, even though we had not yet reached the park entrance. As I tried to look around at the shops, while hoping for some sign that the rain was letting up she moved steadily with increasing determination toward the turnstiles and before long we were in the park.
I studied the park layout enough beforehand to have a pretty good idea where to go once we arrived. I figured that we would just join the herd heading toward Hogsmeade at park opening, but there was no herd to be found. Actually, there were hardly any people to be found. I was starting to wonder if the attractions were actually open today, but we saw an electronic sign showing wait times for attractions around the park and were pleased to see that everything, including the Harry Potter attractions, had waits of five minutes or less. While we paused here, I decided to remove my already soaked socks in the hopes that my feet might stand a tiny chance of drying out at some point later in the day if they weren't covered in soaked cotton, then we continued to march on through the Dr. Seuss attractions, past Poseidon's Fury and eventually past the Hogwarts Express and into the world of Harry Potter.
I had never read a Harry Potter book nor had I seen any of the movies (NOTE: I've since seen all but one of the movies), but was impressed by the thorough theming of the village we walked into. My sister, a fan of the books since they were first released, was not at all disappointed with the physical manifestation of the stories. The rain even seemed to fit the somewhat dreary town setting with the foreboding structure of Hogwarts in the background. However, we still wanted to beat the crowds to the big ride, so we figured to return later to admire the surroundings.
I had heard the hype about the Forbidden Journey ride being perhaps the best theme park ride on the planet, so expectations were pretty high as we walked into the castle. As we approached the landmark structure in the back of the Islands of Adventure property, I was already impressed with how it looked on the outside, but was just as amazed when I saw the inside. Even with no idea about the story, I was a little disappointed at how quickly the line was moving, because I wanted to stop and admire items along the way. We were greeted by Harry, Hermione, and Ron, then walked past a dragon, and zipped through walls of talking portraits and newspaper clippings before we finally slowed down just moments before boarding the ride. Once we sat in our benches, we were off on an amazing journey combining video and animatronics in such a way that I have never experienced before. The ride was as good or better as I could have hoped, almost worth the inflated daily admission price by itself. For those who've never ridden the Forbidden Journey, imagine huge video screens, like you see in Soarin', combined with simulator technology that moves you in just about any direction the show producers want you to go, then combine that with live sets and you raise the bar for theme parks attractions. This is a must see for anyone who enjoys thrill rides, dark rides, great stories, great sets, or pretty much anything else you could ask for in a ride.
Immediately after riding the Forbidden Journey, we got right back in line, slowing down a little in the queue to look at some of the details a little more closely (and letting a few people pass us in line). I then spent most of the ride trying to look around corners to figure out how things worked, which was tough with all the swinging around while flying through Harry Potter’s world of witchcraft. Then, with minimal crowds and only light rain, my sister needed to sample the Butterbeer, which turned out to be a pleasant tasting beverage, at least before the rain got to it. We walked through Jurassic Park, on our way to see Spiderman, Islands of Adventure's other highly touted groundbreaking attraction. With the rain letting up a little, I stopped briefly to try to dry out my feet using paper towels from one of the restrooms, though the towels were hopelessly overmatched. Already soaked, we figured this was the best time to try a log flume (how much more wet could we get?), so we walked through the queue for Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, where we boarded a log, but were asked to disembark before we could ride. The attraction operators seemed somewhat in the dark as to why someone told them to run a few test logs through before any guests were allowed to ride again. After about ten minutes of standing around with no sign we were going anywhere, we figured we wasted enough time here and asked for directions to the exit. Ironically, we were as dry as we had been since leaving the hotel room while in the cave for the entrance to the log flume.
As soon as we were outside again we found out why we couldn't ride Ripsaw Falls, as the rain was falling as hard as at any time during our trip. I was somewhat tempted to try out the People Dryer contraptions until I saw the $5 price tag and figured I'd still just go right back out in the same mess. We walked through Toon Lagoon, going down the wrong path at one point, where we saw a Popeye ride that just dumped what looked like about 50 gallons of water on guests near the end of the ride. It seems we would've been soaked at this park even if it weren’t raining.
We finally made it to Spiderman, where we again zipped through the queue with almost no wait until near the boarding area and were soon in our SCOOP vehicles and off for more adventures. This ride was simply amazing, as close to a perfect attraction as I ever experienced. As good as the Forbidden Journey was, Spiderman was even better. The word that best came to mind was seamless, again combining video, simulators, and live sets, but this time with the video presented in the clearest 3D I’ve ever seen (outside of real life). Even better, the villain in the story blasted us with hot air twice during the ride, which pretty well left us dry (other than my shoes) when we left our vehicles at the end of the ride.
I'm not much of a fan of Spiderman, so the gift shop didn't hold much appeal, but the rain was pretty steady after the ride, so we spent a few minutes in the doorway contemplating our next move. I decided to visit the restroom, which required walking outside, while my sister stayed behind and stayed dry. I tried jet-drying my hat, then walked back to the gift shop in what was now just a light drizzle. We decided to ride Spiderman again to take advantage of the relatively light crowds today, though we found a lot more people in line this time, waiting more than twenty minutes to ride this time, which is still a lot better than the wait time on a day when the crowds haven't been thinned by a Tropical Storm.
It was 11:15 when we finished the second Spiderman ride, and we were ready for lunch. We stopped to ride Cat in the Hat, which was a lot like a more intense version of the Winnie the Pooh ride in Disney World's Magic Kingdom. It seems even the kids rides at this park spin you around pretty quickly. We then sat down at Mythos just after 11:35.
Universal promotes Mythos as having won awards as "Best Theme Park Restaurant" several times in recent years, so this seemed like the best place to eat in the park. The décor was impressive, with faux rockwork making it look like we were eating inside a cave. The menu was decent, but not amazing and the food followed suit. I tried a steak Panini with parmesan fries and my sister had a bacon cheeseburger, so neither of us tried any exotic items, and neither of us was unhappy with our meals, but there was also nothing outstanding about our food. Our server was friendly and efficient (though the place was practically empty) and we were able to sit down and get out of the rain for a little while. The meal for two cost us $28.18.
We walked across from the restaurant to see Poseidon's Fury, where there was no line to enter, but we ended up waiting close to twenty minutes before our show finally began. This was an unusual attraction, as we walked from scene to scene, though it flowed well as the story and our energetic guide made the movement all seem natural. We did manage to get wet INSIDE the attraction as we were forced to walk through a wall of water before the epic final battle, where I again found myself tacitly rooting for the "bad guy," because he shot fire, which made me feel warm and dry. Some of the effects in the climactic battle pale in comparison to the cutting edge rides we saw earlier in the day, but Poseidon’s Fury is a cleverly designed attraction that was worth the time to see.
We returned to the surface from the catacombs where we encountered Poseidon at 1:00 and returned to Hogsmeade and the Harry Potter attractions. Before leaving the car, we made the decision to leave our bags behind, partly because of the rain and partly because we figured to be on a lot of rides where Universal does not allow bags. We ended up having to try out their lockers, however, because my sister kept her souvenir Butterbeer mug and wasn't allowed to bring it on the Dragon Challenge roller coaster. We rode the Chinese Fireball with no wait, and then had to ask for help when our locker wouldn't open after the ride. We skipped the Flight of the Hippogriff, since the rain had stopped for the time being and wait times were listed as 40 minutes (though the line looked to be getting longer). We then looked around the replica village and through some of the shops before my sister decided she wanted to see the wand shop.
I didn't realize what was in store for us and why there would be a half-an-hour line to enter a store. I heard the wand shop was small, but didn't realize there was a "preshow" before you actually enter the place where you can buy things (you can skip the show, but unless you're in a hurry, I wouldn't suggest doing that). While waiting outside we saw dark clouds approaching and after about five minutes in line a big win blew through. After about twenty minutes in line, the rain returned, but we already invested a fair amount of time waiting, so we hung in in were inside the wand shop after only a few minutes of rain. What we saw was a short (a little over five minute) presentation where Ollivander, the proprietor of the wand shop, descended from a staircase, identified a child from the audience of about two-dozen people and helped that child find an appropriate wand (Harry Potter fans will point out that the wand choses the Wizard and not vice versa). There was some sorcery in the presentation (I don't want to spoil the details for those who haven't seen it), which I found cute and almost touching, largely because of the convincing performance from Ollivander. The wand shop was one of the most pleasant surprises of this trip.
Working on a few hours of sleep, several days into the trip I was feeling pretty tired and the rainy day didn't give me any extra energy. Stopping for lunch gave me a little boost, but we saw everything that we really wanted to see and I was ready for a nap, so we started working our way back toward the park entrance after making one last stop in the Harry Potter gift shop at the exit to the Forbidden Journey (this was the shop least packed with people). My sister found a number of items she wanted when we first exited the ride, but was waffling back and forth between whether any or all of the items were worth buying, while also trying to decide which "house" she should join. We weren't in any rush at this point and she eventually resolved this dilemma, leaving with enough merchandise to make her friends back home jealous and the folks at Universal happy.
We made our way out through Jurassic Park, stopping in the visitor's center briefly and taking some pictures by the lake. We were dry enough that we skipped the big log flume ride and continued along to the park exit. We stopped briefly in a large gift shop near the exit, where we found a lot of the Harry Potter items that were available back in Hogwarts and Hogsmeade (but with smaller crowds), which gave my sister one last chance to give into the temptation to buy a $100 robe (she didn't give in, but we did take a picture). I was also a little tempted by the Simpson's merchandise, but didn't see anything I had to have. Still, we took our time looking around when another huge band of showers passed overhead. There were still a lot of rides we would have liked to try at Islands of Adventure, but we accomplished our goals and chose not to run ourselves ragged trying to get our money's worth out of part tickets. At this point, changing out of my soaked shoes and taking a nap were our biggest priorities.
We left the Universal parking garage at 3:54 PM and were parked at Coronado Springs at 4:18, then in the room a few minutes later. I showered, posted more pictures to Facebook, and hung just about everything that was on my person earlier in the day up to dry, then napped for a half hour until a little after 6:00. We decided to spend the evening at Disney's Hollywood Studios, to take advantage of the Evening Extra Magic Hours.
Having pretty much given up on the Coronado bus service at this point, we drove to the Studios in less than ten minutes (though it was another eleven minutes to walk from our car through the turnstiles and into the park) and got a FASTPASS for the only attraction for which they were still available, Star Tours, and set out in search of dinner. Our first stop was Pizza Planet, where we looked at the menu and I wasn't all that impressed. However, as we were on our way out the door we saw a lot of people with umbrellas and ponchos outside. Having spent enough time getting soaked, we ordered pizzas and found a table across from a bunch of video games. My sister thought her pizza was one of the best counter service meals we ate during the trip, while I thought my slightly larger version of the same food was too greasy and otherwise very average. Our two pizzas (one was a kids size) and a shared Coke cost us $19.04.
Following our meal we used our Star Tours FASTPASSES to visit the ice planet Hoth and the city scenes in Coruscant. We found a lot of attractions in the Studios were closed at night, and those that were open had relatively long wait times (and no available FASTPASSES), so we decided to set out on our version of a Studios bar crawl. From what I could tell from looking at Disney's Mobile Magic cell phone application and from Lines there appeared to be two bars, making this a relatively easily achievable "crawl." Unfortunately, despite several passes through the old backlot area, we were unable to locate the Christmas-themed bar (which we think may have actually just been an outdoor cart), but eased our sorrows with glowing drinks from the Tune-In Lounge. We opted not to sit at the bar to enjoy those drinks in part because the bar was occupied by a baby. I've seen children around bars, but never actually sitting at one, but I guess in Disney World I shouldn't be surprised.
We finished off our drinks while we heard a little of Mulch, Sweet, and Shears performing until the Sorcerer's hat, then got in line for the 9:20 Voyage of the Little Mermaid show. Neither of us had ever seen this stage show before, but I remember my sister watching her Little Mermaid video tape what seemed like every day while we were growing up, so it seemed like we ought to finally watch the show at the Studios. It was a decent show, though the effects weren't all that impressive and the theater felt a little worn. We also didn't really appreciated being misted when we descended under the sea, but that was pretty much par for the course on this day.
After Little Mermaid, we rode Star Tours again, this time waiting in line for seven minutes, which gave me a little time to take pictures of the queue (this is my favorite of Disney's attempts to entertain guests waiting for attractions), this time visiting the Wookie planet and Naboo. It was 9:57 when we landed, so we made a leisurely stroll across the park toward Fantasmic, stopping to take pictures of the Studios at night. I've rarely seen this park after dark, but found it very photogenic.
I've found the need to point out the proliferation of popcorn vendors around the Disney parks to my sister over the years, but we never seem to actually buy any. Before seeing Fantasmic, we decided (partly because I didn't think we had much of a dinner) that some popcorn would make the evening show a little more enjoyable. It did, but the popcorn is still a rotten value at somewhere around $5 a box. The late showing of Fantasmic was just as good as we've seen in the past, though we ended up in seats right in the path of the mist from the water used for the video projections, which meant (you guessed it) that we once again ended up getting wet. I was exasperated enough with the day's precipitation that I could now laugh at how silly were the variety of ways we found ourselves being soaked today.
We were in one of the far left banks of seats during Fantasmic, which meant we were not anywhere near the first people to exit the show. When we finally escaped, we found wait times over 40 minutes for Tower of Terror (the wait was posted as 30 minutes, but it was clear the line was longer), longer for Rock n Roller Coaster, and an hour for Toy Story. Since my sister was now Star Toursed-out, we rode the Great Movie Ride (there was even a fifteen minute wait for this), walked by Tower of Terror one last time, and then finally exited the park a little before 12:30 AM. We were back in the hotel room a little after 12:40, uploaded some more pictures, and asleep before 2:00 AM.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012: Epcot, Tangierine Café, Art of Animation, Landscapes of Flavor, Quality Time in Airport Waiting for Spirit Airlines
Well, the vacation was pretty much over now, with just one last day to walk around the parks. We had already seen everything we really wanted to see, so we weren't in a rush to get started this morning. I didn't get out of bed until 9:10 AM. I showered, packed, and snacked and we said goodbye to our hotel room around 11:10 AM. With the skies clear (or at least, not rainy for the time being) we decided to explore World Showcase, so we parked at the Boardwalk to take advantage of the International Gateway entrance. While entering the park, we struck up a conversation with a couple women and their daughters when they commented on my New Jersey Turnpike t-shirt, during which one of them asked if we were at the Studios last night. They said they recognized us. Odd. I didn't think we were that distinctive looking and my sister wasn't even wearing the same ears.
Our first goal was, if possible, to obtain a Soarin' FASTPASS to use before we left, however that was quickly thwarted when I saw the passes being distributed when we entered the park were for 6:25 PM. Since our flight home was scheduled to depart at 8:50 PM that wasn't going to work out. On top of that, some light rain started to fall as we reached Canada, so we turned around and headed for lunch in Morocco.
Neither my sister nor I had eaten in Morocco, initially because I was a picky eater during our trips while growing up and later on because other members of our traveling party didn't think the food would be any good, so this seemed like the time to finally try it out. We ordered from the Tangierine Café and were seated outside under an umbrella a little before noon. I had a Kefta sandwich and fries, while my sister had a chicken wrap with leeks and couscous, along with a Moroccan beer (I didn't note the brand, but I tried some and it was good). We had a leftover bottle of Coke in the hotel room that I brought with me for lunch, so I also ordered a cup of ice, which seemed like a reasonable idea except that I didn't account for the effect of the hot weather on the previously cooled soda, which bubbled over half the table when I opened the bottle. However, it wasn't long before nature helped clean off whatever soda remained on the table when rain started falling at increasingly rapid rates while we gradually repositioned ourselves under the oversized umbrella to stay relatively dry. Other than the rain, the meal was acceptable, though my fries were cold and my sister's side dishes were relatively bland, but the main courses we ordered were decent. The meal was one of our pricier counter service offerings (partly because of the beer) at $28.73.
As the rain subsided we walked around World Showcase and made our way to the United States pavilion, where we had time to walk through the American Heritage Gallery before watching the 1:00 presentation of the American Adventure. In the gallery, we saw memorabilia from Space, from Senator Daniel Inouye, women's suffrage, Will Rogers, and Thomas Edison. I also noted this dubious advice from Mark Twain, "never put off to tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow just as well." We then settled into the nearly empty theater to relive moments from our country's history.
After the American Adventure, we continued counterclockwise around World Showcase, ducking in any country pavilions where we hadn't spent much time. Afterwards, we returned to Future World and walked through Innoventions, trying out the Great Piggy Bank Adventure for the first time (it was an amusing diversion, but by no means a must do), then got in line for Spaceship Earth a little after 3:00. There was a posted wait of 20 minutes and we saw the cattle shoots on both sides of the attraction were in use, but since our time in the parks was winding down and we didn't figure to have another chance to ride this, so we got in line. Before we progressed very far toward the safety inside the sphere we felt a powerful wind blow through, then a powerful rain followed right behind. Even though we were somewhat under cover the wind made it pretty much impossible to stay dry and running for cover wasn't really an option (we were going to be under shelter just as fast by staying in line). Our ponchos weren't much help, either, because the wind blew them all over the place, so I just focused on keeping my camera bag dry.
When we finally made it inside, I checked messages on my phone after submitting our wait time to Lines and saw my friend Todd was reporting that our flight home was delayed. Our Spaceship Earth ride was also delayed for about five minutes on our descent, providing a relatively comfortable place to rest near the end of our not terribly relaxing vacation.
Knowing that our flight would be leaving late meant that we had a little more time before heading the to airport, but we didn't want to chance things too much, so we decided to move on from Epcot, stopping for a ride on Journey into Imagination on the way out. I think this much have been a day with Extra Magic Hours, because crowds were pretty high and we even waited fifteen minutes to see Figment, giving me time to actually notice things in the queue that I've never seen before.
We exited through International Gateway and left the Boardwalk parking lot a little before 5:00 PM with plans to explore the new Art of Animation Resort. After a fifteen minute drive we were on the grounds of this new property and I was pleasantly surprised. For a value resort (albeit the priciest of Disney's "value" offerings) the theming was pretty thorough as we walked through the Cars and Nemo sections of the grounds outside the hotel buildings. We also saw the Lion King wings almost ready to open, but didn't make it near the Little Mermaid rooms, that weren't due to open for a couple months. It didn't quite feel like Cars Land while walking around the resort, but the characters were present for a lot of photo opportunities and the pools and play areas looked like they would provide ample opportunity for youngsters to entertain themselves.
Inside the main building, we looked around the lobby, which looked better in person than it did in the pictures I had seen. The artwork on the wall, which starts with sketches of characters from the movies depicted in the different themed wings and works its way toward fully drawn and colored characters as we're used to seeing them, was engaging and the property seemed to operate efficiently, with things like an electronic message board showing all of the park hours for that day located right next to the door to their bus transportation. Think Ink and Paint gift shop looked like a gift shop, but was very open and inviting and better themed than most.
Our last stop at Art of Animation was their food court, Landscapes of Flavor, which was more impressive than I expected. One of the first things I noticed was the actual metal cutlery (no plastic knives and forks here) along with the ample supply of soda and other beverage dispensers in the middle of the room. There was a good variety of food stations, with food cooked to order, then a central cash register were you could pay for whatever you put on your tray. We decided this was a good place for our last meal in Florida, but weren't feeling very adventurous with our choices of food before our flight. I ordered a chicken sandwich and my sister assembled something at the make your own pasta bar. As was our habit on this trip, we shared a Coke and this time couldn't resist the Mickey Mouse shaped cupcake, bringing our total bill to $28.82. Everything we ate was above average and there were a number of other menu items that I would have been happy to try if we returned, making Landscapes of Flavor a good place for someone who may eat multiple meals at their hotel.
After dinner we returned to the car, where I retrieved my long pants and shirt that I planned to wear on the plane. I walked back to the main building, where I changed in the restroom, then returned to the car just in time for one last rainstorm that blew in just as I had my suitcase open and other bags removed from the trunk. That just seemed unnecessary. In case we weren't already wet enough, now it had to rain IN my suitcase? It was time to head home.
We left Art of Animation and stopped to gas up the rental car before returning it to Alamo around 7:50 PM. Looking at Spirit's web site, the scheduled departure time for our flight was after midnight, but we didn't want to arrive at the airport too late. Even though we would have enjoyed some more time in the parks, we accomplished our goals and were ready to get moving home. Spirit didn't seem to share our enthusiasm to get moving, however, starting with the half hour wait to check in because they were having some problem checking people in (though the problem only affected people on our flight). Eventually we checked our bags and walked through the very short line for security screening a little before 9:00 PM. We stopped in a few shops, including a Universal store, where a clerk was able to remove the security tag from one of the Harry Potter items that my sister bought on Monday, but didn't notice until we got back to the hotel room. We also perused the Disney store to see if there were any souvenirs we wanted that we didn't already buy (there weren't), where we were delayed briefly when we noticed they locked us inside the store. I guess it was good we looked in the stores now, since it quickly became clear than everything in the airport was closing.
We arrived at our gate around 9:25 and saw the flight was still scheduled for a 12:25 AM departure. We heard a variety of rumors, including one that our plane would arrive soon, but there was no flight crew available after midnight and settled into what became a relaxing airport experience. We found a spot with ample electric outlets to charge our various portable electronic devices, then I used the free Internet service while my sister read. Around us, kids were throwing balls, sliding in their socks on the floor, and jumping up to slap overhead signs. We watched the sign at our gate change to say "Boarding" at one point when there was no one from Spirit at the gate and I don't even think there was a plane there, then saw the sign change to read, "Delayed."
Our flight finally started boarding at 1:08 AM, we were seated at 1:16, and finally left the gate at 1:32 AM (more than 4 hours and 40 minutes after our scheduled departure time). After being admonished by a cranky father who thought I was making fun of his child (for the record, I wasn't), I shut off my reading light shortly after takeoff and slept about as soundly as I ever have on a plane until 3:27 AM. We were on the ground less than fifteen minutes later, off the plane by 3:53, then quickly claimed our baggage and were in our car by 4:06 AM. A little over an hour later, I dropped my sister off at her house and was back to my apartment by 5:35. Our long vacation was over and I was happy to be home. After catching up on some rest I realized how busy we had been and, despite the petty aggravations, what a successful trip it was.
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