Walt Disney World, Florida, Aug 18-22, 2015: A World of Magic

My family and I love to travel to Disney World Florida. It is probably the only place every member of my family agrees upon as a vacation destination. We have been there at least seven times. My mom, dad, sister, brother, sister-in-law and 5 year old niece would be heading down there on Monday, and I would be joining them on Tuesday night. My dad did a lot of planning for this particular trip, since Disney has changed a lot since we last went in 2007. The FastPass has become a huge component of the Disney experience as well as these neat MagicBands. The FastPass allows guests to reserve a time on an attraction ahead of time, while the MagicBands are these wrist bands that are used for park entry, FastPass access, and a general method of payment. This visit was going to be a very unique experience.

Tuesday August 18

I started my trip to Disney World with a 5pm flight from Boston to Orlando. I planned on getting to Disney World around 9pm. That would allow me a chance to get a meal before going to bed. Unfortunately, the plane that I was going to take from Boston had other ideas. Somewhere along the way from its departure airport the plane I was suppose to take from Boston ended up in Providence Rhode Island. Every 20 minutes the airline would update the passengers with another 30 minute delay. Finally the gate crew was getting tired of seeing the sullen faces of myself and the other passengers and sent us to another gate on the other side of the terminal. Mercifully, the plane found its way from Providence around 8pm and took us down to Florida. I arrived at the hotel around midnight and promptly went to bed.

Wednesday August 19

In the morning I awoke in a large suite at the BoardWalk Villas, a turn of the century Atlantic City themed Disney Resort Hotel. It had a large living room overlooking the water and the BoardWalk. It was really spacious. I was tempted to play soccer in the living room, but lacked a proper ball.

Crescent Lake

I had a quick breakfast and waited for the rest of my family to get up. Today we were going to nearby EPCOT. Just a 10 minute walk away.

EPCOT is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. When Walt Disney was designing Disney World in the early 60’s he intended EPCOT to be sort of a Utopian community where technology and central planning were combined. His vision was drastically altered by the time it opened in 1982, 18 years after Walt’s death. It became more of a showcase for the latest technologies as well as a forum for educational exhibits. It was split into two areas: Future World and World Showcase. Future World has corporate sponsored exhibits as well as attractions about communications, the environment, health, imagination, and technology. World Showcase had restaurants, shops and exhibits from different countries around the world. It had a cultural exchange aspect to it. We entered through this area of the park.

My family had booked a Princess Breakfast at the Norway Pavilion. While I was invited I declined based on how complicated it would be to get me on the reservation. I also had really no desire to eat raw Norwegian fish while getting my picture taken with Elsa from Frozen. Instead of that experience I decided to go on one of the latest attractions to come to EPCOT: Soarin’.

Soarin’ is a hybrid of a ride and a movie. The premise is that guests would be taking a hang gliding tour of California. The attraction is a really neat seating contraption that lifts passengers into the air and simulates wind, flight and even smells of the different areas of California. Thankfully, they didn’t include any smells from Los Angeles as we hovered over the freeway there. I had been on this ride during my visit in 2007. When it first came out I waited about 2 hours. I am happy to report that this time I only waited one hour. When I approached the entrance the wait time was advertised at 10 minutes. That was a bit false. It was really about 30 minutes of waiting to get to a waiting pen, where I waited another 20-30 minutes. While I was doing all that waiting I overheard the mother of a family say: “It said 10 minutes outside so it will really be a 15-30 minute wait.” That would become my main metric of assessing the attraction wait times for the rest of the trip.

After experiencing the 4 minute commercial on the awesomeness of California and its orange grove smells I met up with my other family members to go on Spaceship Earth. This attraction details the advancement of communications throughout time. It is a slow meandering ascent through the large silvery sphere at the entrance of the park. It is affectionately known as the “large golf ball”. It was a nice ride depicting different audio-animatronics trying to communication with one another. It finished with a little video clip depicting how in the future we will be communicating even more through digital devices and never actually have to meet another human being in person again. So positive! I can’t wait!

The next experience on our itinerary was Turtle Talk with Crush at the Living with the Sea Pavilion. We had booked a FastPass for this ride in advance. I just had to touch my wristband to a little sensor at the entrance and I could go in ahead of everyone else. Apparently, I needed to wait a few minutes after the start time of my reservation. Being on the minute was slightly ahead of schedule. After trying a couple of times I was finally permitted in. While waiting in the holding pen, and feeling like human cattle, I looked at a tank with a couple of lonely jelly fish. From a distance the tank looked empty, but inside the cavernous structure were two listless transparent jellyfish. I hope they didn’t eat the rest of their group.

We were finally let into a room that would allow guests the chance to talk to Crush the sea turtle from Finding Nemo. It consisted of a large screen that reached from the ceiling to the floor. When we were ready Crush came out and started talking with the guests. It was really neat to see him interact with the audience members. My niece seemed to really get a kick out of it. Afterwards, my sister and I stayed to look at more fish while the rest of my family went off to World Showcase.

After a quick lunch and looking at fish my sister and I went on The Living Seas with Nemo and Friends. It was a ride through a series of elaborate screens and audio-animatronic sets. The clown fish Marlin is searching for his son, Nemo, again, but this time he finds him in less than 2 minutes, as oppose to the 2 hours it takes him in the movie. When they regroup they have all the animated characters singing in the real tanks. It looked like they were actually swimming with the rest of the fish! Not sure how they did that, but it was pretty cool. My sister and I had our fill of fish so we went to the Imagination Pavilion nearby.

There we walked onto Journey into Imagination. It is a neat ride about creativity and using your imagination. The main character is a little purple dragon named Figment. Again, lots of audio-animatronics and singing. It has gone through a number of changes over the years, but fortunately the main song of “One Little Spark” has remained a constant in all of its iterations.

My sister and I had a FastPass for TestTrack, so we waited for our time slot by visiting the Innoventions exhibits. They mostly consisted of corporate sponsored interactive galleries. Most of the space as being renovated. One that was open was a Coca Cola tasting room. It was rather crowded because it was giving away free soda from around the world. I tried a raspberry flavored concoction from Zimbabwe. I have not had soda for about 4 months and upon sipping this unnaturally bright red elixir my teeth started hurting. It was incredibly sweet, so much so that I couldn’t taste the raspberry. I decided to pass on the other flavors from around the world since our time for TestTrack was coming up and I wanted to preserve my teeth.

TestTrack is a ride about cars. It is basically a car ride through obstacle courses that then goes into a high speed trial. There was a long wait to get to the front. After entering through the FastPass entrance my sister and I waited to enter this room where we designed our own car. We made an absolute monstrosity of a gas guzzler. Though we designed ours to run on plasma, whatever that is. After waiting in another pen (Moo!) we got into our car where we were whisked around a neon obstacle course. As we traveled through it we saw the ratings of the car we designed, if it went through that test. Ours failed at a lot of things such as handling and efficiency. However it was great at speed and power. We definitely could design appealing cars for Americans.

After getting whisked around the TestTrack my sister and I walked around World Showcase where I got pictures taken with my Devil Duck. We stopped at Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the United States, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom and Canada. We did get a funnel cake snack at the United States. I also got a craft IPA. Normally drinking alcohol isn’t common in the parks, but I noticed as I walked around the different pavilions that some guests were wearing shirts with a checklist of all the countries they got an alcoholic beverage from. I guess drinking a beer at every country is a challenging drinking game. It was getting a bit hot out so we met up with the rest of my family members at the BoardWalk hotel.

After a bit of pizza and some air conditioning, my brother, dad, niece, sister, and sister-in-law headed over to the Magic Kingdom for a few more rides.

The Magic Kingdom in Florida is a replica of sorts of the original Disneyland. Opened in 1971 it had a similar layout as well as attractions as its California brethren. The Florida iteration contains Main Street, Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland. There are a lot of neat stories about the set up of the park, such as there being a series of tunnels beneath the park that cast members use, or that the names in the windows on Main Street were from key Disney World contributors, or the fictitious names used to buy land in Florida. The original idea Walt Disney had for the park was for guests to become a part of the stories. We decided to start with the Enchanted Tiki Room in Adventureland since my niece was adamant about seeing that show.

It consisted of a set of mechanical birds singing. It was one of the original attractions at Disneyland. There was a time at the Florida park where the show was updated to include more present day animated birds: Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from the Lion King. Unfortunately, that version caught fire and the annoying Iago was burnt to a crisp. The original version was then restored. While the Enchanted Tiki Room is considered outdated today, I imagine it must have been extremely complicated to coordinate all those mechanical birds and sync them with the soundtrack when it was built. Having the theme song thoroughly embedded in my ear my sister and I split from the pack and headed to Tomorrowland.

There we went on Stitch’s Escape. It is a comical show consisting of Stitch, from the movie Lilo and Stitch, escaping captivity and poking fun at the audience with bad pizza breath and spit. I love the movie and this is one of my favorite shows. I was amazed that we were able to just walk in when we arrived. I know a couple of years ago there was another alien themed ride there called Alien Encounter. That was really freaky. It consisted of aliens getting vaporized and shot into space. There was also a lot of creepy effects in the show such as alien blood getting splattered onto the audience. Not exactly a family friendly event. Perhaps people still have bad memories of that time and kept away from the area.

The next show on our list was Philharmagic. I went to this show in Hong Kong. It was exactly the same, but still enjoyable and contained smaller crowds. After listening to the music of the Disney Renaissance my sister and I met up with my brother. We originally booked a FastPass for the Haunted Mansion, but it was turning people away when we arrived. There was some sort of mechanical failure. Instead of dealing with that issue we waited in line for another classic.

We made a beeline to the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a train ride through a mining settlement. The park operators updated the queue area by adding interactive exhibits and activities. I guess people were waiting around a lot in line there so they needed to be entertained. Fortunately, our wait wasn’t too long and we got onto the ride under 30 minutes. After a night-time zip through some mines we headed back to the Haunted Mansion to see if it was open.

Actually, I got an e-mail stating it was open and that our FastPass was good for the rest of the night. We went on in and enjoyed another class attraction. There were a few updates, such as the floating crystal ball and the hitchhiking ghosts being computer animated. The Haunted Mansion is another one of my favorite rides at Disney World. Thoroughly exhausted we headed back, though my brother still wanted to go on Space Mountain. Mercifully, it had over an hour wait so we decided to skip that experience and head back to the hotel while everyone in the park was staring at the nightly fireworks.

Thursday August 20

In the morning I went to the gym at the hotel to get some exercise. I kept away from doing leg workouts since I had done a lot of walking around the parks. Today, we were planning on going to Disney Hollywood Studios. This was the third park to be built at Walt Disney World. It was completed in 1989, some say as a response to Universal Studios being built near Orlando. Disney Studios is the smallest of the parks but has grown over the years. It was originally called Disney-MGM Studios, but that partnership was severed in 2008. The main theme of the studios is, well, Hollywood and movies. While I like a lot of the rides in this park it is also not very well planned and it can get confusing as to where things are.

My siblings and I arrived when the park opened at 9am. Our first stop was the Rock’n Rollercoaster, an indoor inverted roller coaster that blasts the music of Aerosmith. When we got in line it said that the wait was about 20 minutes. We opted to go in the single riders line since we preferred sitting next to complete strangers rather than with each other. We got to the front of the line pretty quickly and then suddenly the operating crew stopped loading cars. Instead, they were being taken out of service. This went on for a good 20 minutes or so before we finally got on. We were all happily shot from stand still to 57 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds. Definitely an exhilarating experience.

After getting rattled all over the place we headed over to Star Tours to meet with the rest of the family members. Along the way we had one of the many roving Disney photographers take our picture. He had us do various poses in front of the Tower of Terror on Sunset Boulevard. It was pretty cool to see the photos later online. Disney added cartoon characters to our photos and it appears like we are looking at them.

We arrived at Star Tours promptly at the start of our FastPass time. Just my brother, father, sister and I went on this one. The story behind this attraction is that C3PO and R2D2 from the Star Wars franchise navigate a commuter shuttle through different battle sequences in the movies. I am told that the sequences and scenes change, meaning there are numerous possible rides. We flew from a space station to the ice planet Hoth then Naboo. At one point the universally despised character Jar-Jar Binks makes an appearance. I wish I had blaster control at that point. After getting our Star Wars fix we headed over to the center of the park for a Frozen fix.

For any little girl under the age of 10, Frozen is the greatest film of all time. My niece idolizes the characters and pretty much demands any item with Frozen plastered across the top of it. I am sure she would insist on getting a Frozen themed lawnmower if such thing existed. In any event she was happily watching an outdoor live performance of Frozen. These hard working cast members were sweltering in winter clothing, but looked like they were having a blast. My family was going to watch a Frozen Sing-a-Long later. I politely declined (plus I lacked the requisite FastPass, completely unintentional) and headed over to an exhibit about Walt Disney.

Taking shelter from the burning Florida sun I went to Walt Disney One Man’s Dream. It was an exhibit about Walt Disney’s childhood and career progression. I was struck by his dedicated work ethic. Here was a man who knew exactly what he wanted to do and he was determined to make it a reality. There were also exhibits about the development of the parks. I was going to watch the inspirational movie at the end of the exhibit but I was running low on energy so I sought out some caffeine refreshments.

After stopping at a cafe for some coffee I headed over to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. I was able to obtain a FastPass for this attraction in place of the Frozen Sing-a-Long. I would like to reiterate that this was completely unintentional. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is suppose to be a 1930’s Hollywood Hotel that had a horrible accident with its elevators. Rod Serling greets guests of the hotel and tells them about the elevator incident that occurred there. He then challenges everyone to enter an old service elevator where they will be transported to the Twilight Zone. After hearing the familiar intro I went ahead and got in that elevator. After a creepy tour of the hotel the elevator was shot up to the top of the tower then promptly dropped a few times. All of this was captured on video in the Memory Maker package. I refuse to share this with anyone. I looked rather ridiculous with my arms flailing about.

Since I completed my goal of capturing my silly reaction to being dropped down an elevator shaft I met up with the rest of my family for lunch. The grownups were snacking while I took my niece to the Honey I Shrunk the Kids play area. It is a playground consisting of oversize bugs, grass and toys. My niece was having a blast running all over the place. She particularly liked a web climbing contraption. She insisted that I follow her up it. I dutifully followed. Fortunately, my sister joined us and was rotated into the web climbing.

We rejoined the clan to head over a newish attraction: Toy Story Midway Mania. The premise here is that a car of four people are competing against one another in a variety of 3D carnival games. Riders throw digital pies, rings or bean bags at targets moving across a screen. It sounded awesome and everyone in the park thought it was awesome too because the FastPass line stretched outside the gates. Apparently, even with a reserved time Midway Mania was extremely crowded. It was also a peculiar loader, which slows down the lines. Undaunted, my dad, sister and I waited in the brief rain storm to get on this ride. Midway Mania was worth the wait, though I was a bit peeved that I didn’t have the highest score of the group. We joined up with everyone else and headed back to the hotel.

After resting a bit my mom and I went to Downtown Disney to get dinner and watch the 6pm performance of the resident Cirque du Soleil show. Downtown Disney is a mall like area. In addition to restaurants and shops there is a movie theater, Cirque du Soleil theater, night clubs and a huge video arcade. In the past when we have gone during the day the shopping center was pretty empty. This time it was very crowded. We pressed on through the sun and the crowds to the West End where the performance was located. We ate at Wolfgang Puck Express before heading over to Cirque du Soleil. We both thoroughly enjoyed the show. We had great seats dead center and could see how hard each performer was concentrating. My mom really liked the Diabolo performance. These four tiny girls whipped a cup like prop all over the place and did stunts in between. My favorite performers were the ones on the bicycles. They doing all sorts of crazy tricks in a limited amount of space. The clowns were also entertaining, pretty much throwing popcorn at everyone and stomping on each other’s paper airplanes.

Once the show was over we headed over to the Cirque du Soleil shop. A bit fatigued we went to Ghiradelli Chocolate for a snack. There a frog jumped onto my face when we entered the store. I quickly brushed him off, and he dangerously hopped into the store full of stomping feet. I am not sure how it jumped onto me or where it came from, but I decided to recover from this traumatic experience by getting a brownie sundae. Afterwards, we went to the largest Disney store on the planet, The World of Disney. There was just wall after wall of Disney products. After getting a few gifts we headed back to the hotel to meet up with the others.

Friday August 21

On Tuesday my brother mentioned that he saw some crazy people running in the morning around the lake outside the hotel. I decided to join those crazy people on Friday morning and ran about 3 and half laps around the lake before the sun got too high. We had one more full day at the park and the goal was to go to the newest one: The Animal Kingdom.

The Animal Kingdom was completed in 1998. It’s main themes are the wild natural environments of animals as well as conservation. In addition to theme park attractions it had animal exhibits. While I love a lot of the rides at this park I was somewhat fatigued from the heat, walking and the people over the past few days. Everyone else in my family was a bit tired too, so we arrived at the park around 10am.

We got our picture taken front of the Tree of Life and then headed over to the Asia themed area. My siblings, dad and I were going to go on Expedition Everest. The premise of this attraction is that a Yeti terrorizes a simple train ride through Mount Everest. It goes backwards at some point and there is a huge audio-animatronic Yeti that tries to grab at the train cars. We didn’t wait too long and were promptly seated for our planned ill-fated tour. It was pretty cool to see how the train changed directions. We met up with the rest of the group to see Flights of Wonder.

It was a pretty neat show about the different birds in the wild. The birds in the show were all very well trained. One was able to use cues to appear to be adding and subtracting numbers. Another did a good job moving props around. The most interesting part was when the hosts brought out an American Bald Eagle. It was endangered for a long time, but had recently been taken off the list. While the host was doing this spiel the eagle decided to relieve itself on the stage. The other host quipped: “Now that’s a FastPass,” to help the first one get back on track.

We wanted to see more animals so we went on the Kilimanjaro Safaris. It is a nice open tour of grass land habitat recreated in the park via all terrain vehicles. It looked like the animals were roaming around freely. Fortunately, the attraction designers made it so that the animals, who would normally be hiding were in plain site of the visitors. They had also removed the awkward story line about capturing poachers. So rather than tearing around the park, the truck did a leisurely drive. At the end of the tour we were deposited near Harambe Market where we picked up some food.

After lunch my sister and I went to Dinosaur in Dinoland USA. It is an indoor ride where a jeep is sent back in time to rescue a dinosaur. The effects are pretty neat as the track-led jeep tears through a prehistoric forest. I had done this ride a number of times before so I knew when to pose for the requisite ride photo.

Running low on energy my sister and I then just did a shaded tour of the animal exhibits at the Maharajah Jungle Trek and headed back to the Boardwalk Inn with my brother and my sister-in-law.

When the others got back we had Italian food at Trattoria al Forno on the BoardWalk. I had one the best chicken Parmesan ever there.

After dinner my sister and I returned to EPCOT. I wanted to watch the American Adventure show at the United States pavilion. It is a very patriotic show with audio-animatronics of various historical US figures. It does need to be updated a bit. During the montage at the end it featured images of Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France. He is not exactly a popular person these days.

Having gotten my patriotic fix we headed over to the United Kingdom pavilion to get pints at the Rose and Crown pub. The crowd was rambunctious in the small pub so we took our drinks outside and watched the Illuminations fireworks. Once those were over we slipped out of the park and headed back to the hotel to meet up with the others.

Saturday August 22

After doing another work out I left Disney World with the rest of my family for our return trip to Boston. This time it was very uneventful flight back. Every time we go to Disney it keeps getting better and better. The week we got there the CEO of Disney, Bob Iger, announced expansion plans at some of the parks. He just gave us another excuse to return. I can’t wait for the next trip there. As Mickey would wisely state: “Oh boy!”

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