Cultural Observations: Walt Disney World

I know I went on vacation three weeks ago, and now I’m back to the blog. Over those last three weeks, I’ve put together some thoughts and have decided to post them on here for you to read; just in case you are ever planning that “magical” trip to Lake Buena Vista, Florida. My obsessive compulsive review commences after the jump…

Three weeks ago, I was invited to go along to Walt Disney World with my girlfriend Emily’s family. The trip was terrific, even though it was very, very hot all week long. It had been 12 years since I went to Disney, so needless to say, a lot of things had changed. Most of our time there, we spent in the Magic Kingdom. When I had gone there before, this was my least favorite park of the three (Animal Kingdom did not exist at that time). Here’s an extensive review of the trip, after the jump…

Rides

While at WDW I rode 18 rides. 18 rides I six days is not much to be proud of, but we worked very hard each day to wean out the rides that we thought would be terrible. Here’s a review…

Epcot

Epcot, based on my obsession with geography at the time, was my favorite, even despite not riding Spaceship Earth. I loved walking around to the different countries and seeing the different style buildings and such. My favorite thing to do in Epcot was the Canada movie, which I did not do this time around. I’m not sure as to why, but when I was ten and we went to Epcot, we didn’t really do any rides. I’m not sure who’s fault that was (it all depends on which parent you’d ask). All I remember was the Canadian movie and Honey I Shrunk the Audience, which I hated.

This time at Epcot, we got around. The Seas w/ Nemo and Friends was a very fun ride, and I did it twice. The best part of this ride was after it was over and you walked through an aquarium. Spaceship Earth is a relaxing ride upwards to the top of the ball at the main entrance to Epcot. Along the way to the top, you see innovations in life, language, communication, and most importantly, quality of living. When you reach the very top, you enter an outer space-like dimension complete with a giant earth on the other side of the ball. Then, on the way back down, you are instructed to answer a few questions to determine your future. After a brief video montage on your touch-screen in your car, the picture taken of you at the beginning of your ride is superimposed onto a giant sphere video screen in the lobby that disappears to where you are from. In the World Showcase section of Epcot, Mexico and Norway offer two differing boat rides through each country’s history and heritage. Go with the Mexican one, the wait is shorter and you don’t have to sit through the lame and oppressively loud Norwegian video at the end of it.

The best ride at Epcot though was one of the newer additions to it, Soarin’. Soarin’ is a fast paced, free-flying journey through the state of California. Images are displayed on an IMAX-sized screen in front of you as you are suspended in the air on a seat that gives one the feeling of hang-gliding. You fly over the Golden Gate Bridge, Death Valley, the snowy slopes of a ski resort, downtown Los Angeles at night and PGA West, which I knew we were flying over before anyone else did (ask Emily, she was next to me). This was one of the only rides that were worth the wait, which was an hour.

Animal Kingdom

We did not spend much time in Animal Kingdom, as we did only two rides. On Thursday night, we ventured on a behind-the-scenes tour of the park’s savannah. Warthogs, antelope, giraffes, crocodiles, hippopotamuses, elephants and flamingoes were all part of the tour, even though we did not see the cheetahs or lions on our trip. After the tour, we ate an African themed buffet dinner at the Tusker House restaurant on the parks western side. Complete with an African band, this was one of the better dinners of the week, and it was completed with a visit and picture from my favorite Disney character of all-time, Rafiki from The Lion King. On Friday morning, we rose early to ride the most hyped ride in the park, Expedition Everest. Animal Kingdom opened early Friday to resort guests, so we boarded the ride almost as soon as we could. After going around a set or curves and up a massive lift hill, you come to the very edge of the mountain, where there track that you seem to be on disappears in front of you. Then you’re sent hurtling backwards into a dark cave where you go through a loop and a set of corkscrews before you end up in an open space inside the mountain. After a brief encounter with the Yeti, you continue your downward descent to earth, filled with more sharp, hairpin curves. While Everest was good, it didn’t live up to the hype that everyone and everything had given it.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Immediately after we rode Everest, we quickly headed to Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios) to get on Aerosmith’s Rock ‘n Roller coaster before the crowds got too big. This ride hurls you from zero to sixty in just under three seconds. The ride, which is entirely inside a building in the dark, features a loop and numerous corkscrews. While on the ride, an Aerosmith song plays behind you; which one I do not know because I was too concerned with not vomiting to work about any of that. Earlier in the week, when we visited Hollywood Studios, we rode The Great Movie Ride and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. On my first Disney visit, I chose to not ride the Tower because of fear. When I was a young’n, those rides were not my thing. I never really did roller coasters until I was 14 or so. The coolest part about the Tower of Terror ride, just like the Haunted Mansion in Magic Kingdom, is the pre-ride sequence. After going through the hotel lobby, you come to a library where all the lights go out and the opening sequence from the Twilight Zone is played. Once this ends, you travel into the boiler room of the hotel where you are loaded onto the elevator and whisked up 13 stories and dropped back to earth. Great ride and I wish I would have done it forever ago.

Magic Kingdom

Then there is the Magic Kingdom. This park is timeless. Maybe it was my young age at the time, or my fascination with geography (when we drove down the first time I slept for half an hour the whole way) that made me dislike the Magic Kingdom. Maybe it was the fact that I did not spend enough time in the Tomorrowland section of the park. Whatever it was, this time around things were different. A ride I would not get on last time, Splash Mountain is amazing. No matter what, it never gets old; even if you go down the big hill entirely too close to another car, as we did very late in the night on Monday. The first night we were in the park, we watched the spectramagic parade and then rode the Haunted Mansion for the second time in the day. The mansion, which has changed considerably from the first time I was in it, it what I find to be the most enjoyable ride on the property. In the four times I rode it, the longest I waited was just 10 minutes. New ghosts and a completely new dining room scene have been added and at the end it appears as if a ghost is in the car with you. Close by the Mansion and Splash Mountain is the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. I took Emily’s sister and two cousins on this ride the first time we rode it and Emily went along with me the second time and it was a nice, relaxing ride. Nothing real exciting, but decently fast for what it is. Elsewhere in Magic Kingdom is the ride It’s a Small World. I rode this because I was really hot and I wanted to get out of the heat for a bit. I remembered this one from when I was a kid and it seemed to be more enjoyable this time around. Calm boat rides through water are nice (see the Mexico and Norweigan rides at Epcot) on 95 degree, 75 percent-plus humidity days in Florida. The beef and potatoes of the Magic Kingdom for myself is the Tomorrowland section. When I was little, this was the most obscure part of the park for me, mostly due to my fear of Space Mountain and the Alien ride that used to be there. That ride is now gone and after my Dad tricked me into going onto Space Mountain the first time I was there, there was nothing left to fear any more. The first night we were in the park we hopped aboard the Tomorrowland Transit Authority train that runs for 10 minutes through numerous sections of the rides in Tomorrowland. When the train goes through Space Mountain, especially at night when your eyes are adjusted right, you can see the track that Space Mountain runs on. Space Mountain, which I rode only once, isn’t a very fast ride, but Aunt Angie screamed the whole time. The ride goes only three miles per hour faster than the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, but feels much faster due to the darkness that you travel in throughout the ride. The dips and drops are sudden and the turns are tight and even though I did not wear glasses on the ride, I could easily make out the track in front of me on the ride because I was in the front seat of the car. Also in Tomorrowland is Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, a ride similar to the Reese’s Extreme Cup Challenge at Hersheypark, where you use a laser gun to shoot at targets and try and defeat the evil Emperor Zurg to save the galaxy. For everyone’s knowledge, Emily beat me really bad on this ride, as she more than doubled my score despite me saying “Zurg” every time I hit a target. Each rider has a laser gun and a knob in between the two controls the rotation of the car you sit in, which is similar to the cars on the Nemo ride at Epcot or the Haunted Mansion ride across the park. The last ride at the Kingdom that I have yet to tell you about was the Pirates of the Carribbean, which we probably waited on the longest of any ride we did. Not only was it hot, and humid, but my sister called me while I was in line and told me that it “was too cold back here to go to Hersheypark.” Whatever that means. In a short summary, I was a shade disappointed with the Pirates ride, as it seemed very short and there was little to nothing that was interesting to me while on it. Except for a couple cool explosions in the boat fight room.

The following is a rating scale of the rides I ventured on. When I rate rides, everything comes into play. Enjoyability, how cool it is once you’re there, how long you waited once you decided to ride it, and if I’d do it again. For example, Soarin’, despite it’s long wait was very memorable, it was unique and was very, very cool and if Epcot wouldn’t have been closed by the time we left we’d have done it again. Maelstrom, even though it was a cool ride, required 35 minutes of my time, and ultimately, was just another boat ride (which four of the 18 were) with a dreadful movie at the end.

RIDE

TIMES RODE

WAIT TIME

FUN

OVERALL RATNG

Haunted Mansion

4

:5

5

1

Splash Mountain

4

:30

4

2

Soarin’

1

:55

5

3

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

1

:15

4

4

Space Mountain

1

:50

4

5

Rock ‘n Roller Coaster w/ Aerosmith

1

:25

3

6

Spaceship Earth

3

:10

4

7

Expedition Everest

1

:10

4

8

Tomorrowland Transit Authority

5

NONE

2

9

The Seas with Nemo and Friends

2

:5

3

10

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

2

:10

3

11

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

2

:15

2

12

The Gran Fiesta Tour (Mexico)

1

:10

3

13

Pirates of the Caribbean

1

1:00

2

14

It’s A Small World

1

:5

2

15

The Great Movie Ride

1

:10

2

16

Maelstrom (Norway)

1

:35

2

17

Carousel of Tomorrow

1

NONE

1

18

MAGIC KINGDOM EPCOT HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS ANIMAL KINGDOM

Weather

Every day in June in Florida is pretty much the same, high humidity, 90-degree heat and a quick afternoon downpour. The only two days of the week it did not rain were Saturday and Tuesday. When we ate on Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday it rained as we were eating, and on Wednesday it rained immediately afterwards. On the way back home we hit terrible storms in Virginia, but nothing all week was ruined by rain; which is a plus, when you drive 1,000 miles to do something.

Food

As part of our package while we were there, we were able to have a snack, a quick service meal and a dining service meal every day. On our first day we had dinner with Cinderella at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. The buffet style dinner featured myself doing a one-handed dance with Cinderella’s Stepsister Anastasia. Brady and Uncle Bill really threw me under the bus there.

On Sunday, we went to Tony’s, which lies right inside the gates of the Magic Kingdom. Themed off of Lady and the Tramp, Tony’s featured Italian cuisine and wildlife, as we had ducks around our table (technically, Disney World is a wildlife preserve, so they can not do any harm to the birds or kick them out).

Monday at Hollywood Studios, we ate at the Sci-Fi Dine-In. Themed after a drive-in, this restaurant features car-type booths that you sit in to eat your meal, and random science fiction movies on a giant screen at the front of the room. Very, very cool, just as Emily promised (that’s her favorite).

After we skipped a day on Tuesday, we ate at the renowned Le Celier Steakhouse in the Canada portion of Epcot. I thought the steaks were great, the cheddar cheese soup was hot and the Moosehead pale ale went down smooth. The dessert left a bad taste in our mouths however, so don’t get the only thing on the menu that has the word maple in it.

Thursday night we went to Animal Kingdom for a safari dinner. After a tour of the park’s savannah, we returned to a restaurant for a dinner that was African themed. Lamb, chicken, prime rib, pork, corn dogs, rice, green beans, numerous different styles of bread and salads were featured. Afterwards, Timon and Rafiki from the Lion King came by and visited. I of course got my picture taken with them, Rafiki is the man.

Or last dinner of the week was at the Whispering Pines Café in the Wilderness Lodge Resort. We took a boat from our hotel and had a buffet-style dinner with ribs, chicken, pork, potatoes, corn, shrimp and baked beans. Topped off with a milkshake and it was quite the way to end a week of great food.

Also during the week, we used our quick service meals at places throughout WDW. Cosmic Ray’s in Magic Kingdom, the Electric Umbrella in Epcot, Casparilla Grill at our own hotel, Peco’s Bill’s in the Magic Kingdom and of course, pretzels with cheese and churros throughout the parks.

Our Hotel

We stayed at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, which featured a few restaurants, live entertainment in the lobby, boat rentals (which we did not take advantage of), a balcony of Space Mountain (pine trees obstructed the castle) and a pool bar that was never open. The monorail also made stops at our hotel, offering us transportation to the Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary Resort, the Transportation and Ticket Center with access to Epcot and the Polynesian Resort. The Grand Floridian was the building featured in the mid-1990’s TV series “Thunder in Paradise”, in which Hulk Hogan starred. Oh yeah, brother.

Other things to burn on

In addition to all the great and wonderful things above, Walt Disney also features some of the worst behavior when it comes to parenting that I have ever seen. For the first time in my life, I saw kids leashed up like dogs to their parents so they couldn’t run away. I think that that’s one of the more horrible things I’ve ever seen, and I wanted to punch everyone I saw with those in the neck. Furthermore, if you’re trying to take a picture in front of something, do it quickly or throw people to do so. Emily and I tried to take a picture in front of the castle for 10 minutes before someone wasn’t in the shot. 85 percent of the people in the park have no respect, and I’m going to go no further with that for fear of sounding like Don Imus. You understand what I’m saying.

So in a not so short summary, this was the week that was. Great fun, good times, and experience I will never forget for the rest of my life. Thanks to everyone that I went with, everyone made it a very enjoyable week and it’s now time to get back to the real world, which is slightly less magical that the one we were in last week.

NOTE: Please pardon any grammar errors, that’s a lot of writing to be reviewing…

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