Friday, February 04, 2011

Oh, Orlando!

A business trip brought me to Orlando for the first time ever. How is it that I've never been here before? I had some time to myself on Sunday, so I decided to pop over to the Magic Kingdom. I expected it to be kind of weird, to be all alone at a family theme park, but it turns out that it wasn't at all! It was really easy to navigate around so I used my newfound nimble-ness (nimbility? nimibilitude?) to explore the entire park. And, as it turns out, I was a little too nimble. I was able to see and do just about everything in under 5 hours. Pretty crazy!

Of course, I brought my camera but forgot my battery charger at home, so I was only able to take a few pictures with a real camera and a handful of iPhone pictures.

When I first arrived, there was some sort of "celebration" thing happening at the castle with Mickey and friends dancing in front and then some small fireworks (that's what the dark clouds are all about -- it's the smoke blowing away).

post fireworks, hence the smoke

My first stop was the Haunted Mansion. It's my ultimate favorite at Disneyland and I wanted to experience the Florida version, too. I don't think one is better than the other, but I definitely had some likes/dislikes about this version.

Haunted Mansion

The wait queue is boring, which is surprising. The Disneyland version has the crowd winding through the graveyard, which gives some visual interest to the line. In Florida, the graveyard is saved until the end of the ride (at the exit point) and it was mostly covered in tarps while some improvements were being made. With the exception of the large family tombstone for "Bluebeard" I think most people just walk right past the graveyard and miss all the details, which is too bad. The loading area is awkward, too, which I think detracts from the "story" of the Mansion. Guests are herded into a parlor room (which was too dark, there was no lighting at all, so any decorative details were lost) and then immediately into the stretching rooms (which aren't elevators at this park). I liked the "surround sound" of the Ghost Host in the stretching room (his voice moves from speaker to speaker around the room) and the creaking noises from the stretching ceiling were a nice touch. But I think overall people miss the fun theming of this room. No one screamed! Maybe that's a Disneyland difference, since the Ghost Host reveals himself and there's a faux ghostly yell at the moment that the elevator stops, which prompts everyone inside to yell along. I rode the HM 3 times and no one ever screamed along.

But I REALLY liked the "stair room" inside the Mansion. That was an interesting twist! And the ghost pianist in the entryway was cool, too. I also liked the Madame Leota better -- how do they light her without the spot light on the glass? And why can't they do that at Disneyland? -- but the "little Leota" at the end was too rushed and in an odd place. At Disneyland, she's standing among the crypts (some of which are ajar) but at WDW, she's on a shelf near the ceiling.

My next stop was it's a small world which was another disappointment. The indoor version of the building facade was... cheesy. I don't know why, but it looked like a prop and didn't have the same WOW! factor that the one at Disneyland has. Also, because it's part of the queue, people touch the walls and decor pieces, so they were grimy and broken around the edges. That was too bad, because it's supposed to be this big impressive art piece. The ride itself was mostly the same (minus the Disney characters) and the lighting was better than the DL version.

it's a small world at Magic Kingdom

Cinderella's castle was really impressive. I even liked the tarps that they had hung over the pieces undergoing refurbishment, printed to look like the castle so the total effect wasn't as detracting as a plain tarp would have been. A nice touch. (Visible in the image below, almost everything above the windows and below the topmost spires is a tarp)

castle view from Fantasyland

Next, I grabbed a fast pass for Peter Pan and then walked through to Tomorrowland. I rode the People Mover (very much missed at Disneyland, although the WDW lacks any of the "plussing" that the DL version used to have, like the Tron matrix and peeks inside the rides), which was lame but fun. I also went on Stitch's Escape, which was... a waste of time. Sorry designers! This is really a brief "show" with 4D elements (water sprayed in your face, Stitch bouncing on your shoulders) but the story was awkward and didn't make much sense. The seating was also kind of scary - the chairs have shoulder harnesses that pin you in your seat for the sole purpose of simulating Stitch "bouncing" on your shoulders, but it makes the whole experience really claustrophobic. Not to mention that about 70% of the "show" is in total darkness (required for you to believe that Stitch is standing on your shoulders) which was a weird choice and the chair was really uncomfortable for me. Not something I would do again.

Space Mountain had a long line (35 minutes) so I grabbed a Fast Pass for that, too and headed off again. Pirates of the Caribbean was a 5 minute wait. I loved the wait queue! It is elaborately themed, similar to Indiana Jones at DL. I almost wished there was more of a wait so I could look at it. Instead, I just walked right through. The ride itself is pretty similar to the DL version, except there is only one "drop" and it comes as a surprise and, again, in total darkness. Seemed to be a theme at this park!

I only had to wait a few minutes for the Jungle Cruise, which was fun. We had an enthusiastic skipper, but the passengers weren't into it. No one laughed or played along, which was too bad. That's what the Jungle Cruise is all about! I felt like apologizing to the skipper.

I went back to use my Fast Pass at Peter Pan and that was great. At DL, there's no option to skip the line, which is ALWAYS long. The interior of the ride was mostly the same with a few changes that I thought were better, although some of the figures were uglier (why not use the same ones?). I was surprised that the line was as long as it was, since the WDW version is an omnimover system (like Haunted Mansion) where the ride vehicles are continuously moving and don't have to stop for passengers to enter/exit.

I then headed over to the Country Bear Jamboree. One of my old favorites! I miss it at Disneyland so I was really excited to see it again. Only... it was terrible. I don't remember this version of the show, so maybe it was created special for WDW and it was awkward. There was no "story" and the bears just sort of popped up, played 2 lines of a song, then disappeared. The animatronics needed a little TLC too. They were clicking loud enough for me to hear it in the back row. I think that's why almost half of the audience got up and left at some point during the show. There were no audience participation moments (no clapping along, stomping your feet) and I think for the largely foreign crowd, the "country bear" jokes went over their heads (if you're not familiar with regionalisms and dialect jokes, it wouldn't make any sense). I was really sad and wished that I could go back and see the old Jamboree -- especially the summer version, which was my favorite.

After that, I went over to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Again, another elaborate wait queue, which was great. But the line was moving too quickly for me to photograph much -- I did snap this picture of a dynamite crate. Good stuff.

Lytum & Hyde

Splash Mountain was closed, so I went back to Tomorrowland to ride Space Mountain. Another GREAT queue with interactive games to play to keep the crowds entertained, very thoughtful. But I bypassed it all and walked right on to the ride. The vehicles are different than the DL version which was interesting but I wonder why since this ride allows for small kids to ride, but they have to sit alone (the rockets are all single rider seats in a row, rather than the DL version which has 2 seats next to each other). This freaked out the 2 young boys that I saw waiting to ride and they backed out at the last minute. Too bad! The ride itself was pretty fun and kept me on my toes (different track setup from DL, so it was hard to brace properly and I got surprised a lot: fun!).

I even decided to ride the train, just so that I could say that I did! I hit the restroom near the train station and was surprised to see the tampon vending machine. I've never seen one of these before. It totally makes sense, and if I were a Disney merchandise person, I'd suggest adding more sundries (which are available in every shop, but they're not on display, you have to ask for them) like sunscreen and chapstick. Make your restroom visit an impulse buy.

tampon dispenser at WDW

The whole trip felt like a cheat. I was able to do/see everything in the park in just a few hours. Which was glorious! The whole day, I kept sending text messages to my husband telling him to start saving because we definitely need to bring our nephew.

The conference itself was good, too, and it was held at the Swan and Dolphin hotel, so I got to stay there, which was interesting. The key takeaway is that it's too pricey for what you actually get from the hotel, so I wouldn't stay there again if I was paying for it myself. But it was a nice place to be. My room had a little balcony and I took a couple of pictures from there.

view from my balcony at the Dolphin Hotel

The boat takes you to the nearby Boardwalk (restaurant area) and nearby hotels as well as Epcot. I walked to the Boardwalk one night and then took the boat back, just so I could say that I did.

Dolphin Hotel

The crazy weather storms in the midwest left me "stuck" in Orlando one day longer than I'd planned because I couldn't get ANY direct flights back to California and all the connection points (Dallas, Chicago) were closing on and off, I got bumped back a day and had to change airlines to connect through Phoenix just to get out of there. The upside was that the final night of the conference always has a "fun event" which I was going to miss and instead, I got to stay. The fun event this year was a buy-out of Universal's Islands of Adventure - so I got to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

THAT was awesome. The WWoHP is incredibly, elaborately themed. The ride queues are so extravagant that it was almost a shame that there were no lines! Because our entire group was so small, there were no lines longer than 10 minutes, so we mostly just walked past everything. But it did make it easy to ride every ride in the park! I was able to experience both dragons at the Dragon Challenge (someone working there tipped me off that red always wins because the track is slightly shorter) and both were equally fun coasters. The Flight of the Hippogriff was a mild and cheesy coaster ride, but again the theming was incredible. The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction was... indescribably amazing. The staff at the gates were telling people it was a motion simulator ride, which is true, but that's REALLY oversimplifying it. It's a blend of all the best attractions you've ever experienced, similar to a roller coaster, a flying ride, a 3D film, a dark ride, an IMAX experience, and a motion simulator. Honestly, I can't tell you what it's like -- but it is AMAZING and something that everyone should experience. Again, the queue through Hogwarts is phenomenal and well worth seeing (even if you chicken out on the ride itself). I stopped to watch part of the Triwizard Tournament pep rally, which was really cute, and the chorus of frogs - also cute. The performers involved with both were really sweet and hammed it up for the crowd, which was LOVING everything.

Part of the event package was that all the food and drinks at the restaurants were free, so I even tried a Butterbeer! You have the option of "cold" or "frozen" and I chose cold... it was too rich for me to finish (which I knew going into it, I ordered 1/3 of a glass) but it was good. Essentially, a cream soda with caramel instead of just cream, so the foam tastes like a frothy caramel. I really wished that I didn't have to travel so early the next morning, because my touchy stomach requires me to eat carefully. But I did try one of those gigantic turkey legs and also had a churro -- how can you NOT when they're free? I was really pining for a triple scoop of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, but I would have been mercifully sick. So instead, I went on more rides.

The Jurassic Park river boat ride was really fun and I only got moderately wet (it was 80 that night, so it actually was nice to get a little splash). The Hulk coaster was also really incredible. It's a pretty long coaster, too, and the "blast off" at the start was a fun surprise. Apparently, the top speed is 67 mph, which is pretty dang fast! I skipped the "Storm Force Accelatron" which is a high speed tea-cup style ride and the Spider-Man 4D (motion simulator) ride, but I got to go on all the good ones.

This trip, I was positively spoiled on theme parks. The WWoHP was so amazing that I want to go back immediately -- but I hear that the queues are routinely 3 and 4 hours long. WHAT?! I don't know that I could wait in line that long... especially after only having to wait 10 minutes. I'm ruined! And the rest of the park is cute, like the Seuss stuff, but it's not anything of great interest to me and not anything that I'd be rushing back to see again. But I am very grateful that I got to experience it and see what the fuss is all about: well worth the buzz!

I'm also glad that I eventually made it home. My trip was easy enough, although I'm still pretty jetlagged. I never really adjusted to the time change and 5 days of (being sick and) going to sleep at 4am and waking up again at 7am, then being on your feet for 10 hours... it takes a lot out of a girl. I'm so glad it's the weekend. Although, now I need to get my butt into gear to make some crafts for Emerald City Comicon! Yikes!


Bex said...

Oh the HP part sounds fun! I've only been to WDW and that was in 1988.

Fizzgig said...

you got some great pics! i have always wanted to go to florida...let alone disney!

giddy99 said...

AWESOME POST! We're going for a week at the end of the month, so I appreciate knowing what to check out! I haven't been to WDW since I was 11... :)


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