Disney Trip Report December 2016 With some vacation to burn before the year was out and some nice travel/hotel deals I thought I'd get a trip in to Disney this month. I've actually had this report written for a couple of weeks, I'm making myself get it online before the end of the year. Also on the third day of my trip I tried out the the VIP Bussing between Parks. LOVE IT! Day One flying in and a movie at Disney Springs (Sunday, December 4th, 2016) I drove from Aberdeen, SD to Sioux Falls, SD then hopped on a budget airline (Allegiant) for a flight into Sanford, FL. From there is was one Escot Shuttle away to my hotel, Wyndham Lake Buena Vista across the street from Disney Springs; So far so good. I like this hotel, I stayed there last year. Its easy to get good deals although they definitely put you in the older, more rundown section of their building. I had half a day to kill so I checked out the Springs and took in a movie, Moana. Moana Quick Review: The latest CGI Disney Animated film begins very strongly: highlighting the legend of the demigod Maui in a creative storytelling manor then segues to our titular toddler who plays with the ocean which comes alive in order to interact with her. Turns out this was the ocean choosing Moana to find Maui who must journey to a far away island in order to restore a special stone that he had stolen 1000 years ago and is the cause of a Black Death that is killing all the islands in the ocean including Moana's home. The animation is top notch, the depiction of island life is warm and friendly, the songs are very hit and miss, the story is ok but the script feels very formulaic. The character arcs are nothing special. One of the highlights is Maui's interactive sentient tattoos which completely steal every scene. Another scene I enjoyed was the awakened goddess at the end. It felt particularly creative. Overall I enjoyed the film but it doesn't resonate as emotionally as the directors previous movies Little Mermaid, treasure Planet, Princess and the Frog etc. Back to the Hotel I headed back to the hotel, then tried to use the Uber app for the first time to go to Walmart for supplies. When that failed I had the hotel call a cab for me. I wanted to make sure I had some snacks and a case of water for my stay. After the supply run I made it back to the hotel so I could get to sleep early. I wanted to hit up Magic Kingdom at Rope Drop…unfortunately that ended up not going as smoothly as I’d hoped. Disney Trip Report December 2016 Day Two - The Magic Kingdom (Monday, December 5th 2016) I had an early start. The Wyndham is on Disney Property and as an official Disney Springs area Resort they have complimentary Busses running to all of the Disney Parks. I recommend taking a photo of their Bus Schedule Sign. It has the number of the parking spaces at each Park where they will pick you up to bring you back at the end of your day. I was in time for rope drop, but after going through security I was “randomly selected” to go through an additional step; A metal detector. When I go to the parks I have a fanny pack, and a vest with a lot of pockets that I keep various things in. Wisps, Tissues, A cell phone charger, notebook, a sharpie, a pen, cell phone, wallet, bottles of water, etc…but the item that caused the most trouble was my ear buds. I can wire my ear buds into this vest in order to always have them available when I wanted to listen to music or even make a call. This wouldn’t have been a problem if I could let them visually inspect the vest, but security insisted I wear the vest through the metal detector. This meant had to painstakingly empty all of my pockets and remove the ear buds from where they are snapped into place. I’m sure I annoyed the people in line behind me to no end. By the time I finally get through all of the security I had missed half of the rope drop show. This was not a good start to my day. For the record, I am not against security precautions or even the metal detectors. I’m currently re-examining my park packing strategy to see how I can get my essentials through with the least amount of hassle. Maybe a side satchel where once you open it you can see everything mounted in plain view. Certainly I won’t carry much in my pockets from now on. After finally getting inside the park I went straight to the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom headquarters located in Main Street USA’s fire station so I could pick up some more cards. Turns out I had to restart my game because I had neglected to bring in the magic band I used last year. Not a big deal. The cards I had from last year are still good and the game isn’t that difficult to play. Jungle Cruise I decided to go to Adventure Land first and rode the Jungle Cruise, which had been re-themed as the Jingle Cruise. So in addition to the cheesy goodness of the regular Jungle Cruise Skipper Chatter, you get wonderful holiday themed puns. There are also decorations abound throughout the ride, including presents randomly floating in the water. The Tiki Room The Tiki Room is a hard experience for me to pass up. You can check out videos of it on Youtube easily. I think this attraction has held up reasonably well over the years. Some of the clicking could be eliminated and if possible the sound track could be enhanced better, but the banter between the birds and the story flow going from one tropical musical style to another tropical musical style builds very nicely. I love the stormy epic ending. Pirates of the Caribbean. I can listen to the Yo ho Pirates Life for Me song all day. I have it on CD and have listened to it all day. I swear Jim Backus has some lines in there. Or at least someone that sounds very similar to Mr. Magoo. The movies don’t impress me so much, but some day I’d love to see behind the scenes of the ride. Splash Mountain On to Frontier Land and my first choice…which was wrong. There was a 15 minute wait for Splash Mountain and a 30 Minute wait for Thunder Mountain Railroad. I went with Splash Mountain. Splash Mountain is a log flume ride that takes you through animatronics of Brer Rabbit and company. It has some of the catchiest songs in the park. There was one scene where Brer Rabbit is supposed to go bouncing right past you, unfortunately the animatronic wasn’t working as I went past. Instead it left Brer Rabbit stuck in the middle of a big black void looking downward. He seemed very depressed and in need of a hug. Unfortunately comforting him would have meant jumping out of the moving log and probably getting kicked out of the Disney Parks. Maybe I’ll send him a card. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad This is a roller coaster themed after mine cart trains from ye olde gold rush days. The story is that the mountain is haunted and the trains run themselves crazily all over the old mine tracks. The locals decided to make a quick buck by allowing tourists to get on. Sounds legit to me. I should have done this ride first because after getting off Splash Mountain the Big Thunder queue was up to 45 minutes and the splash mountain had only gotten up to 25 minutes. In the end I spent a good hour in the Big Thunder queue. Luckily they have some terrific atmosphere. Funny signage and interactive games you can play while waiting in line. Hall of Presidents After Big Thunder I wandered over to Liberty Square and checked out the Hall of Presidents. This is a very large theater where a short movie shows America’s Founding and touches on some of its leadership throughout its existence. This culminates in the curtain lifting to reveal an animatronic of every single President we’ve had to date. It ended with a very touching speech by the current Commander in Chief Barrack Obama. Muppets Right after exiting the Hall of Presidents I happened upon a Muppets show in some of the windows of Liberty Square. Kermit, Sam Eagle and the gang are trying to tell the story of Paul Revere but are constantly interrupted by other muppets. It was pretty funny, but what really made it great is I’m pretty sure they were actual muppets. Not animatronics. Having grown up on the Muppets this made me feel pretty good. Liberty Belle I hopped on board the Liberty Belle, which is a recreated Steamboat in Liberty Square that goes around Tom Sawyer Island. As you go around the island the captain introduces Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) as the helmsman. There are various scenes along the banks that get pointed out including indian encampments and a pirate cave filled with raucous merrymaking. This is a great slow ride that can bring a moment of respite if your day is getting a little hectic. There are even some seats inside out of the sun. Haunted Mansion I hit up the Haunted Mansion next and don’t have too much to say that I haven’t said before. Its a omnimover ride which means it constantly pumps people through. I still had to wait around 40 minutes to get in. I timed it out so that when I got out my first fast pass would be ready. I love Halloween and haunted theming. Plus I’m a big fan of Pepper’s Ghost, so this ride will forever hold a fascination for me. Peter Pan’s Flight This was my first Fast Pass so getting on was a breeze. Some day I’ll have to check out the stand by queue though as I hear there are some amazing interactive features there. This is an overhead ride that takes you on a pirate ship through the Darling Children’s Nursery, out their window, over the cityscape of London and to Neverland. It ends with a large scale creation of Hook’s pirate ship where you see Peter Pan and Captain Hook Dueling before Pan takes over the ship and flies the Darling Children home. Its a truly magical ride. Friar’s Nook for Lunch I’d heard about the Pot Roast Macaroni and Cheese at Friar’s Nook and decided to try it. Not bad. The pot roast is well cooked as is the Mac and Cheese. However the Mac and Cheese is a little rich so its easy to eat too much of it. I think a single order could easily be split between two people. Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train So this is a roller coaster done up in the style of mine carts running around caves and rocky terrain. Part way through the ride it slows down and you see the Seven Dwarfs at work in a jewel mine. At the end of this scene you see the Dwarfs going home up a hill, a hill you ascend in your mine carts to ride the rest of the ride. Right before you get off you can see the Seven Dwarf’s home and inside they’re partying heartily with Snow White. It’s terrific to see Disney make a newer ride, This one opened in 2014, based off their very first animated Motion Picture, Snow White debuted in 1937. Due to the newness and the fact that this is a very fun and interesting ride this is another one where the Queue is likely to be very long. As such they’ve put in a lot of interesting activities in the line. You can play with rainbow musical water spouts, match gems from a gem stream to their collection points and animate the Seven Dwarfs by spinning barrels full of jewels. Enchanted Tales with Belle There is an attraction consisting of acting out the main plot of the movie Beauty and the Beast with Belle herself. The line wasn’t very long when I went, but they were having technical difficulties so even though I was so far in the queue I was already inside Belle’s House, it took a long time to get into the actual attraction. The Queue winds outside and then through Belle’s home. The theming is spot on, with books all over the place and even a painting of Toddler Belle with her mother on the wall. Then you go into Maurice’s workshop for a brief introduction on what you’re about to do. A mirror transforms into a doorway (A very sweet effect btw) and you walk into a room housing the Wardrobe character from Beauty and the Beast. She opens up to reveal props for people (usually children) to take that well help them act out the story of when Belle met the Beast. There are plenty of ancillary roles so anyone wanting to participate is able to get a prop and something to do. After that you go into the Library and Lumiere the Candlestick takes over hosting duties. Lumiere is an effect I saw in Youtube videos of this attraction that really intrigued me. I tried to figure out how they were able to bring this wispy looking animatronic to life. After seeing it in person I am happy to see how they did it and it was more simple (but elegant) than I expected it to be. Lumiere preps everyone to meet Belle and this becomes something of a “Surprise” party for her. She comes in and is happily surprised to find all these new friends and then play acts her role in the story of how she met the Beast with all of these willing participants. At the end of this performance of sorts every child gets a photo op with Belle. Kudos to all the cast members involved with this attraction, with the exception of the technical difficulties that happened before my group got inside they did a wonderful job of keeping everything moving forward and coming together smoothly. Stitch’s Great Escape. I Love this Attraction. It’s wonderful to see Disney delve into the five senses in order to bring a cartoon character to life all around you. Unfortunately due to budget issues this attraction is frequently closed and I did not get to experience it this trip. Which makes me sad because I know its on the chopping block. Space Mountain It was hard for me not to turn straight into Tomorrow Land at the beginning of my day. Space Mountain is probably my favorite ride in the entire park. I love looking around as I ride in the darkness to see where all the stars land. There are disco balls that through stars onto the ride frame and it’s interesting to see if you can make out the shapes in the general darkness. There is also something cool about descending the walkway to the ride. It dips low so it can go underneath the Rail Road Tracks. Space Mountain is actually just outside the perimeter. The games you can play while waiting in line are entertaining, and on the return trip you can see some dioramas of outer space settlements while riding a moving sidewalk. Carousel of Progress This is a ride where the mechanics fascinate me. The main song, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” entertains me, and the animatronics amuse me. There are four scenes consisting of a family and their state of technological progress in four time eras, 1900’s, 1920’s, 1960’s and the near future. (These are rough times not meant to be pegged to a specific year.) I’m torn with this ride because on the one hand it would be great if they envisioned the scenes to update it…when the ride premiered the 1960’s scene was current; but now even the future scene is somewhat dated. So this ride has a catch 22 vibe in it. If you update it you risk losing the charm, if you don’t update it you risk losing its original intent…which is to show progress. In the meantime I thoroughly enjoy it as it is. Monsters INC. Laugh Floor If you’re familiar with the movie Monster’s INC. you know that human screams, and laughter are tangible substances needed to power machinery in the world of Monsters. So the concept for this show is simple…a comedy show to produce power. As the monsters file on and off the stage the audience laughter is bottled into a gigantic Laugh Canister. The monsters appear on a couple of movie screens at the front mocked up in a way to look like it’s a stage. The monsters even have several interactions with the audience. This is an alright attraction, two others I can think of off the top of my head feel like they have a “Similar but Different” take on this audience interaction angle; and even though they aren’t the exact same I can’t help comparing them and picking a favorite. The others are Enchanted Tales with Belle, and Turtle Talk with Crush. Out of those three I don’t have as much enthusiasm for Monsters INC. Enchanted Tales is wonderful, but my favorite is Turtle Talk…I’ll talk about that attraction in my 12-07-2016 update. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin This is a shooting game where you ride an omnimover through several scenes infested with targets. The setup is Buzz’s enemy Emperor Zurg is causing mayhem and you get to shoot him to score points. It’s an ok game. I didn’t have to wait long in line so I rode it, though I wouldn’t miss it if it was gone. Aloha Isle Refreshments I headed across the park to Adventure Land again in order to try a Dole Whip that a lot of people rave about. The Dole Whip turns out to be Pineapple flavored Soft Serve Ice Cream and I agree with the general consensus; it is indeed very delicious. Nap Time Well not really. It was about 90 minutes away from the Wishes Nightly Fireworks, I found a bench on the bridge from the hub to Tomorrow Land…it was almost directly under the Guide Wire that Tinkerbell uses to find her way from the Castle to the rooftops in Tomorrow Land. Having been on my feet all day I was pretty exhausted. I sat against the wall, listening to the background music and ambiance and dozed a little bit. It worked pretty well, when the Wishes Fireworks started up I was reasonably alert. Wishes Fireworks So Wishes is the grand end of the day fireworks display held over Cinderella’s Castle. This isn’t just a Fireworks show. This is a story. Jiminy Cricket narrates the story of how wishes can be very important in a person’s life. The fireworks illuminate a back and forth tale touching on good and evil characters in Disney’s arsenal. It’s a great display and highly worth a watch. Space Mountain…just once more… I wandered back to Space Mountain figuring I could get one more ride in before the end of the night. I should have been just a little faster because I wasn’t the only one with that thought…hehehe. Leaving the Magic Kingdom I blended with the crowd to leave the Magic Kingdom. The boats and Monorail were rather crowded and I had to take one or the other if I wanted to get back to the bus that would take me back to my hotel. Instead I headed for the Disney bus lines. There was a bus ready to go heading for Disney Springs which is right across the street from my hotel. Plus not many people were on this bus, so there was no need to stand on the ride home. Disney Springs The bus stops have been switcharood since I’d last been there. I had to make my way across the entirety of the Springs in order to get to the bridge that would get me back to my hotel. Mission Accomplished though…first nights sleep would be heavy and deep. Final thoughts of the day... •I neglected to stick around for the Goodnight Kiss. •I know that the fireworks display is the best time to check out rides, but I still want to see the fireworks displays. I actually found a copy of Wishes on CD and its even better when you listen to it with ear buds. •Despite the rough start with security in the morning this had been a pretty good day. Disney Trip Report December 2016 Day Three – Animal Kingdom (Monday, December 6th 2016) I had no problem getting up on time despite going to bed completely exhausted the night before. Rain was in the forecast so I made sure I had my raincoat packed. In fact I donned it on the bus ride to the park because the sky was starting to drizzle. Arriving at the Animal Kingdom Of the four main parks in Disney World, this was the one I haven’t checked out yet. Security was a lot easier this time, I still had to go through the metal detector, (random selection) but I made sure my pockets were emptied, and they didn’t ask me to remove my rain coat. The opening ceremony for Animal Kingdom involved letting a lot of parrots fly over the crowd…good thing I had my rain coat on. Expedition Everest I wanted to get one of the more popular rides done first so I wouldn’t be standing in a long line later in the day. The theme is you are going on a train ride roller coaster through the Himalayas. As you ride up and down the peaks you upset the Abominable Snowman who destroys the track you need to ride on forcing you backwards the way you came. The climax of the ride brings you face to face with the mighty Yeti himself who is either very enraged and roaring at you as you fly past him, or is enjoying a scream music fest…its hard to tell with all the strobe lights. The ride was over a lot faster than I was expecting, but well worth it. Dinosaur I backtracked through the park a little in order to check out Dinosaur. The premise is that you will be send in a time vehicle (looks like a jeep) back in time to just before the meteor that wipes out the dinosaurs strikes in order to find and bring back a dinosaur. Naturally as you rove around the past you come across some very large and in some cases very aggressive dinosaurs. Just before the meteor strikes you make it back to the present. I loved the ride, but wish they’d done more theming inside. One complaint I have is that the majority of the ride is in complete darkness…at least it felt that way; scenes were very small compared to the amount of track you traverse. The vehicles used in this are fascinating, I remember seeing behind the scenes footage a long time ago of Imagineers creating them. They look like jeeps and run at a reasonable pace on a flat surface, but the seating portion is on a rig that tilts in all sorts of directions giving the illusion that you are going over rough terrain. It’s a great effect. There are some portions of the ride where the vehicle is going at a slow pace but by rocking back and forth and having the appropriate sound effects surround you the vehicle feels as though it is having a hard time getting through mud or over rocks. I think they originally developed these vehicles for the Indiana Jones Ride in California which I will ride some day. It’s Tough to be a Bug in the Tree of Life Theater The Tree of Life is that ginormous tree in the center of Animal Kingdom. There is a movie theater inside that hosts characters from Pixar’s A Bug’s Life who treat you to a bug’s eyed view of the world. This is a 4D experience. It’s a 3D theater/movie with extra elements thrown your way for good measure. Giant Spiders drop from the ceiling, there is a large animatronic of Hopper (The villain from A Bug’s Life), cockroaches crawl under your seat, plus a host of other elements. It’s a reasonably enjoyable show, although aimed for kids it does have plenty of elements that will make a person’s skin crawl if they can’t stand bugs or spiders. Kilimanjaro Safaris This is the real heart of what Animal Kingdom is supposed to be. It isn’t a straight up Zoo; they have recreated habitats for a wide variety of animals from around the world. This Safari takes you on a large vehicle through and past many of these habitats so you can get a look at the animals. The ride will be slightly different each time depending on when you go, (time of day, time of year, etc.) and who you get driving. Many of the cast members driving this route have all sorts of background detail on the animals you’re going to witness and will often point them out for you to grab a photo. Kusafiri Coffee Shop and Bakery I grabbed a small lunch; a roast beef Panini with a side of some kind of chips. Neither impressed me. I choked down the sandwich but the chips I could only handle a few. They were bone dry and very over-seasoned. I followed this up with a Mickey Ice Cream bar which was very tasty. Festival of the Lion King So I thought this was going to be a condensed version of the Lion King play from Broadway…I was wrong. When I was let into the auditorium, the set up struck me as rather odd. There were four large bleachers facing into the center of the building in a cross pattern. I did notice guide rails on the ground set between these bleachers and forming an X in the middle of the room. After being seated the show begins. Four people that I assume are African Natives come out in colorful attire and host the show. Each of them takes a section of Bleachers which are named after an animal: Lion, Elephant, Giraffe and Warthog. Each audience will roar or call out in the manner of their named section. Then they brought in huge floats. Four of which had these audience animals on them, and a large stage/float in the center. Simba is the Lion and Pumbaa is the Warthog. The show itself is a medley of songs from the Lion King movie along with acrobatics and tumbling. The show works very well and I have to say the singer they had for the song “Be Prepared” was so good it gave me goosebumps. Finding Nemo the Musical I headed across the park to the Finding Nemo stage and this is when the sky opened up and started down pouring. I zipped up my rain coat, unfortunately it was such a heavy deluge that my shoes/socks and pants got very wet. Fortunately the Finding Nemo show was completely indoors. Finding Nemo the Musical is a retelling of the film of the same name. The characters are puppets operated by actors holding them as they walk this way and that on stage. The movie is very condensed and makes way for many new songs that help fill in some of the exposition. There is quite a bit of wire work for some of the actors to fly, ere, I mean swim across stage. I was extra delighted to see a very tall animatronic of Nigel, the Pelican that pokes his beak into the Dentist’s office. The songs are very hit and miss, that could be more to my being familiar with the movie though, I’m sure if I saw this show a few times I’d acquire more of a taste for these medleys. Maharajah Jungle Trek This is a walking path through several animal enclosures. It has a lot of neat architecture made up to look as though its been decaying for hundreds/thousands of years. Yak and Yeti Restaurant I got some Korean BBQ Rib Tips, fries and an egg roll. I have nothing good to report about this meal. Most of it went into the trash. Walking About I walked about randomly at this point just soaking in the ambiance. Unfortunately my water logged feet weren’t feeling too well. I figured I’d do one more ride and then head back to the hotel early for some rest. So I hit up Dinosaur again. The Journey Back I wanted to catch the bus back to my hotel, but I wasn’t sure of the parking space number. So I got on the bus to Disney Springs instead. A Hotel Evening There was one experience I wanted to try out at the hotel. Dominos has a kiosk in the lobby where you can order a pizza and it will be brought straight to your room. I had to do it, even though Dominos is a pizza I’ve had plenty of times in my hometown. The rest of my evening was chillin’ in my room with food and watching cartoons. Just one park day was left, and it would feature a New Experience Disney was offering…VIP Park to Park Shuttle Service. Disney Trip Report December 2016 Day Four – Park Hopping with VIP Shuttle Service (Monday, December 7th 2016) This was my final Park Day for this trip and I was going to do something I’d never done before…Park Hop. I was in luck as well because this was the first day Disney rolled out VIP Park to Park Shuttle service. Talking with some of the Cast Members working this it sounds like this is a very limited service; being tested through the end of the year to gauge interest. I’m really hoping that interest is there, because I found the service to be invaluable. Before leaving on the Hotel’s Shuttle that morning I made sure to snap a photo of their bus schedule which had the pickup locations at each Disney Park. Hollywood Studios My first stop of the day was Hollywood Studios. Having learned my lesson I kept most of my items in my fanny pack that way when I was “randomly” selected to go through the Metal Detector I didn’t have to empty a lot of pockets. Sure enough I was “randomly” selected again. They should issue me a metal detector card, for every 5 times I’m selected to go through a metal detector, the next one I can skip. Star Tours Disney’s classic Motion Simulator ride; I still miss the one I rode back in the early 90s, where a random droid takes you on his first mission to Endor. I can see why they wanted to get the more recognizable C3PO into the cockpit though. Its also nice to see that they keep incorporating the characters from the newer Star Wars films. It’s a good ride to go on multiple times since they can change it up so much. Mickey and Minnie Red Carpet Dreams I’d never heard of this attraction before, its tucked in on a back street. There was a Zero minute wait so I thought I’d give it a try. Turns out it was a character meet and greet. Minnie was wearing a fashionable Hollywood Premier Style dress and Mickey in his wizard attire from Sorcerer’s Apprentice. You’d think they’d match a little better, certainly Minnie deserves her own Sorceress Attire. The Great Movie Ride This ride is in a recreation of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood; You in giant moving audience seats and ride through scenes from famous movies like Mary Poppins, Alien, Wizard of Oz and more. Your driver/guide through these movies will get kidnapped either by a gangster or an ol’ west bandit who then takes over your tour until you get to a scene where he(she) will perish in an attempt to steal a valuable gem. I’ve heard word this ride will be going away soon to make way for something else; so it was nice to ride it again before that happened. Toy Story Midway Mania This was a ride I’ve never been on before. It feels somewhat similar to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin over in the Magic Kingdom except whereas over there you are specifically shooting up evil space aliens over here you have a pop gun style shooter and every target is an interactive television offering a variety of items to shoot at an ammunition to use, (IE: Pies, Darts, etc.) I adored the theming in the Queue line as you are brought into a kid’s playroom the size of a toy. The ride itself is kind of boring. They sacrificed the practical theming in favor of row after row of television screens that you are brought before in order to just keep racking up points. I think the Space Ranger Spin does a better job of bringing you to other worlds. I probably won’t ride this one again unless it has a super short wait time. Walt Disney One Man’s Dream This is more of a history exhibit on the origin of the Man behind the Mouse Walt Disney. It has a walk through section with lots of props and information, of special note are conceptual scale models of parks and lands of parks and even the Abraham Lincoln robot from long ago, stripped of skin so you can see the inner mechanisms. The Tour ends with a short film on Disney’s personal history starting up his companies. It’s a fascinating take and I’m glad I got to see it. I’d probably spend a lot longer there in the future on a day I wasn’t anxious to get to other parks. Rock n Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith This is a launch style Roller Coaster completely housed inside a building. The theme is you are riding in a stretch limo trying to reach the Aerosmith concert in time. Being solo is great because of rides like this where there is a Single Rider line that shortens the amount of time you have to get to the actual start. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror I heard they are converting the Tower of Terror in Disney Land into a Guardians of the Galaxy Ride, but the one in Florida will remain as it is due to Universal Studio’s contract with Marvel for use of their characters in parks. I’m actually ok with this. It makes the Twilight Zone version of the ride more unique and gives a spin on the ride in a different park. I can’t give enough praise to the theming of this ride, from the exterior housing of the ride as an old hotel, to the queue line going through the dusted up front room through the maintenance/furnace basement to the actual ride itself which makes you feel like you’re literally going into an episode of the Twilight Zone. I’m not much of a fan of the rides that drop and raise you quickly so that final portion of the ride I’m just so-so on. But the immersive nature of the universe it offers you is so complete I have to ride it at least once per trip. Park Hop to Epcot This was the first day Disney rolled out its new VIP Park Hopping Bus. You can be picked up inside one Disney Park and Dropped off inside a different Disney Park. The pick up point at Hollywood Studios was right by the front of the line for Rock n’ Roller Coaster. You check in and get shown backstage to an area where the bus will pull up. This turned out to be directly behind the Tower of Terror. Since this is backstage there are signs asking you not to do photography, which I honored; however I did zoom in on Google Maps and screen shot my location. I can’t rave about this service enough. You get to see glimpses of the backstage, you don’t have to go through security checkpoints again, the busses run regularly, its extra convenient for someone like me from out of town with no car. The drop off point in Epcot was to the east of Spaceship Earth, just past some restrooms. Club Cool I missed this little building last couple times I was at Epcot. You can sample soda flavors from around the world. My only disappointment was that it didn’t have nearly enough flavors. A lot of the sodas seemed doubled up. Still an interesting thing to try, especially for an adventurous sweet tooth. Journey into Imagination with Figment This is one of my favorite rides in Epcot. (Note I have no experience with the previous incarnations of this ride) A scientist takes you on a trip to explore the human senses and a little purple dragon named Figment hijacks the ride to explore how the senses give life to human imagination. It’s a short sweet ride with fun characters and a catchy song. Plus it has one of my favorite people Eric Idle as the Scientist character. Every time I’m in Epcot I will make sure I ride this attraction, I can’t miss it. The Seas with Nemo and Friends This is an omnimover ride that goes through various underwater recreations showing various characters from the Movie Finding Nemo trying to locate Nemo. The air conditioning is extra cool, the ride is soothing and the scenes are interesting. There is a healthy mix of physical prop scenery and video screens. The final part of the ride goes past windows showing off Epcot’s enormous saltwater tank with real fish in it. Except they use hologram technology to put Nemo and friends into the tank with the real fish. This is another ride I’d rather not miss at Epcot. Turtle Talk with Crush This is an interactive attraction. You go into a room with a screen that is looking in on the ocean. There is a hydrophone (underwater microphone) hanging inside the tank. Little kids sit on the floor right in front of this tank, adults luckily get benches to sit on. Crush the Turtle is introduced and swims up. This is a question and answer session where the kids can talk with Crush so he can learn about humans and humans can learn the Turtle perspective on the ocean. This attraction is very dependent upon the actor playing Crush and that actor seems to be able to really get into this role. I love how unique and interesting it feels despite being a simple Q&A. This is driven by personality and the kids respond to it so well. I think everyone should check it out at least once. The American Adventure I hopped a boat ride across the world showcase to check out The American Advneture in the American Pavilion. This was another attraction I hadn’t been in before. It’s a retelling of how the United States came into being and some of the trials and tribulations it went through in its relatively short history. This is done with a lot of animatronics that pop up on stage. It’s an ok attraction but not one I’d go out of my way to see again. Park Hop to Magic Kingdom I headed to the magic Kingdom using the VIP Park to Park Bus again. The drop off point was in tomorrow land between Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and Buzz Lightyear’s character Meet n’ Greet. I took the opportunity to secure a fast pass for Space Mountain on the ride over because…well Space Mountain. Under the Sea Journey of the Little Mermaid I got in line for the Journey of the Little Mermaid ride. After waiting about twenty minutes the line speed picks up. It picked up a little too fast in fact. Sure enough once at the ride the line was being directed back out again. Turned out the ride was experiencing technical difficulties and shut down. As soon as I was out I looked up and noticed a plane in the sky doing sky writing. It spelled out “Trust JES.” Which are my initials; Where the heck was that plane when I was going through the metal detector. I could have used that sort of support when they made me empty everything out of my vest. People Mover I had a little bit of time before my fast pass for Space Mountain was ready so I thought I’d hit up the People Mover. It’s a series of cars that take you on an elevated view of Tomorrowland. It even takes you partially inside some of the buildings, which is when I discovered that Space Mountain had its lights on, and was not running. After debarking I headed to Space Mountain and was told by the cast member that they don’t expect it to be down for long; and because it was down as my fast pass was taking effect my fast pass would be good for the rest of the night. Carousel of Progress I wanted to kill some time waiting for Space Mountain to open again, so I hit up the Carousel of Progress. It has a fast throughput so I got into it pretty fast. I could probably ride it several more times before getting truly bored. Space Mountain After Carousel I walked over to Space Mountain and rode it for the third and final time of my trip. My only regret is that each time was on the same track. Space Mountain is actually two roller coasters running in similar but ever so slightly different paths. I rode Alpha Bay all three times. Sometime in the future I’d like to ride both tracks in the same day in order to properly feel the comparison. Casey’s Corner I had a hot dog and fries at Casey’s Corner and it was the first meal I was truly satisfied with. The hot dog was inoffensive and tasted great when I loaded it up with onions. The fries were extra thin and not over-seasoned. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom I played some of the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom in Liberty Square before heading to the headquarters to pick up some more cards. If you have more than a few days at Magic Kingdom I highly recommend checking this game out. It has collectible cards, it pushes you to explore the Kingdom looking for checkpoints, and the actual gameplay battling Disney Villains is very fun. Park Hop back to Epcot I skipped out on the VIP trip to Animal Kingdom in favor of returning to Epcot. There were two more things I wanted to do before the end of my final night. Frozen Ever After Frozen is in the Norway Pavilion at the World Showcase. It is an overlay of a Norwegian Boat Ride that I never had the opportunity to see. Being a newish ride and tied in with the Super Popular Frozen Movie, there is normally an extremely long wait. My wait was around an hour. It would be fun to play the Movie Frozen and see how much you can watch before you get to the front of the line. I didn’t have it downloaded so I couldn’t play the game. (Come to think of it this would be interesting for all the movie themed rides. It’d probably be pretty easy to finish Snow White before getting on board the Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride) The ride is a Boat ride through snowly lands inspired by Frozen. You animatronics of several characters including both princesses Anna and Elsa, Sven, Kristoff and Olaf. At one point you’re poised to see Elsa and float towards her as she belts out her power ballad from the film. This is when the boat switches from frontwards to backwards momentum, so you glide towards and then back away from Elsa as she is singing. One of the last scenes is Elsa and Anna with Olaf singing the Summer song from the movie. All in all this is a fun ride. I’m sure it’ll remain a ride with a long line due to the popularity of the movie as well as the fact that a sequel is on the horizon. I really wish Tangled could have gotten a ride as well. Grand Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros. Hidden at the end of an outdoor marketplace inside the Pyramid of the Mexican Pavilion is a quaint little boat ride going through scenes of Mexico while Donald’s co-stars try to locate so they can perform at the end of the tour. I grew up watching the Three Caballeros so this ride is a real treat for me. I love the cartoon/human interactions. The camaraderie between the Three Caballeros Donald Duck, Panchito Pistoles and Jose Carioca; Plus it’s another cool, calm boat ride. La Cantina de San Angel I grabbed some Beef Tacos at the Mexican Pavilion. It was about an hour before the IllumiNations Fireworks show was starting so no one in the eating area was giving up their seats. After trying in futile to locate a table I ditched my tray and found a park bench elsewhere to sit and enjoy my food. The tacos were ok, but the Spanish rice was very tasty. IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth I stayed on my park bench hanging out with a random duck waiting for the show to start. After it did I realized that the majority of the show was blocked. I could see the high fireworks fine, but there was a lot of water jets, lasers, fireballs and other things I had to move closer to the water to see. It was a very good performance though with a spectacularly impressive finish. Back to the Hotel It wasn’t a far walk to the bus back to my hotel. Once back I dozed lightly because I had an early flight. Epilogue I’m really enjoying my solo trips to Disney and Universal Studios. Now that I’ve experienced their parks I’m ready to tackle other venues around Orlando: Legoland, Eye of Orlando, etc. Though there is something nice about getting to the hotel and only needing to worry about getting on the shuttle and not having to deal with traffic. When I can get my school loan paid off I think I’m willing to get an annual pass for Disney World. At which point I’d watch for airline/hotel deals and come down a lot more often. This would make me slowdown in the parks more; for instance when I arrived on Sunday I wasn’t willing to buy another day at the park, but with an Annual Pass it’d be no big deal to go in for a few hours at a time. With any luck they Disney will keep the VIP Park to Park Bus service as well. On talking with cast members running this service I discovered that it is being tested through the end of the year to gauge interest. There is also some conversation between departments on the merits of the program. Security is not happy with it for instance. I for one give this service Two Big Thumbs Up.