Disney, Day Six: MGM Studios

We spent the entire day at MGM Studios, even though we hadn't expected to do so since we had already visited that park previously. However, sure enough, by the time we were done with everything, it was the end of the day, and we were both tired.

Photos: today only, all days

Oh, and before I get any further:

BEWARE: This man cuts in lines!

This man cut in front of both of us in line today, separately. He tried to cut in front of Anna in a line for fries, but she thwarted him with a feisty game of "Backpack Bumper Cars." He cut in line in front of me later when I was getting snacks before a show, this time by masquerading as if he were part of the party in front of me. I caught on to his little ruse, though, and did the only proper thing in such a situation–I took his picture.

As I've mentioned before, Anna's favorite Disney movie seems to be Beauty and the Beast, so we definitely had to go see "Beauty and the Beast–Live on Stage", which was basically a live-action 30-minute version of the movie. It was really well done, and we both enjoyed it! Besides Belle, Anna's favorite character in the movie is Mrs. Potts. Know why? If you know Anna, you'll understand. OK, ready? It's because the part of Mrs. Potts in the movie is played by Angela Lansbury, of Murder She Wrote fame. A fantastic a capella group called "Return to Zero" opened the show, and they were hilarious, as those types of groups often are. They and the show were both great, we both had a lot of fun there. 🙂

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We next went to a stunt show, "Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular", where we saw folks who were supposedly stunt doubles for the main characters in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" perform a variety of stunts. The show was entertaining, largely because there was fire involved. Anna met a guy named Robbie working in a gift shop who went to RIT and knew her mother! That was incredible! I took their picture, you know, because that's what I do.

We saw another parade today, the Disney Stars and Motor Cars parade, which was definitely a highlight of the day! Notably, R2D2 was in the parade and came rolling by, and Anna got a hug from a penguin! Later, we saw another stunt show later in the day called "Lights, Motors, Action", featuring car and motorcycle stunts, which was also very good, and which also contained goodly amounts of fire. We later went on the "Disney MGM Studios Backlot Tour", which showed special effects involving largish amounts of water and fire, yet again.

Perhaps the best highlight of the entire day was the show "Fantasmic" which takes place in an amphitheatre. It featured Mickey as the Sorceror's Apprentice, with lots of fireworks and water effects, most notably video projected onto a "fan" of sprayed water! It was incredible! There were three such fans, facing the different parts of the audience, and they showed clips from Disney movies that went along with the storyline. This was a spectacular Disney show, one that I hope I get to see again. Unfortunately, it was so dark that it didn't photograph well, and the video camera had a really hard time focusing on the sprayed water, so we don't have much to show about it. You'll have to just go see it yourself sometime! It alone is worth the price of admission.

Anyway, tomorrow we make our first trip to a water park. We were going to buy some sunscreen in the store in our hotel, but it was twelve dollars so we think we might have to keep looking.

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Disney, Day Five: Magic Kingdom

To make up for sleeping in yesterday, we got up much earlier today, and made our way to the Magic Kingdom by about 10am, and stayed there all day. Anna has decided that it is her favorite park, so we wanted to make sure we had a lot of time there to see everything she was interested in. They didn't have the Main Street Electrical Parade tonight for some reason, so I imagine we will go back at some point to catch that.

Photos: today only, all days

We saw lots and lots of attractions today, but the biggest hits were:

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  • Mickey's Philharmagic – This was a 3D show, much like the ones offered in the other parks (Honey, I Shrunk the Audience in Epcot, the Muppet show in MGM, A Bug's Life in Animal Kingdom), but Anna and I both though this was the best one of the bunch. It was hysterical, and very well done. (How do those glasses work? It's apparently not through polarization.)
  • The Tomorrowland Transit Authority – I went on this ride with Mom, Dad, and Andrew when we were here many years ago, when it was called the Wedway People Mover. It starts off slow, but speeds up and quickly speeds you on a very gentle, enjoyable ride through Tomorrowland, taking you inside popular rides such as Space Mountain. It was a lot of fun, especially to see the rides we'd already been on, from a completely different perspective.
  • Dreams Come True Parade – We got good seats along the parade route. The floats, characters, dancers, and the entire experience were just magical and fun.

We also went to Storytime with Belle, where Belle (from Beauty and the Beast) told us the story. Anna really likes Belle, so it was fun to interact with her for a while. I took lots of pictures of this, since Anna is such a fan. We also rode the Mad Hatter (aka "the teacups"), Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and the river raft over to Tom Sawyer Island.

A major highlight of today, and of the trip so far, though, was our dinner experience. We ate at the Royal Table inside Cinderella's Castle! In reality, this is just a nice restaurant in the castle, with the addition of a complimentary set of photos with Cinderella (taken before you eat), and a show with the Fairy Godmother while you're eating. The inside of the castle was beautiful, so Anna and I lingered a bit so we could enjoy it. Anna was brave and ordered a Crab and Corn Chowder for an appetizer, as did I, and it was great! For our entrees, I had prime rib (so-so) and Anna had pork tenderloin, which was quite good. I finished off with a "Blueberry Buckle," (lemon ice cream on top of a crusty blueberry muffin, it seemed) which was delicious, and Anna had a strawberry sorbet.

After eating there, we headed on over to Tomorrowland, where, among other things, we rode the previously-mentioned Tomorrowland Transit Authority (awesome). It was nearing 7pm by this point, and Anna was tiring quickly, so we nearly decided to go back to the hotel, to the point where we were almost ready to go through the exit turnstiles. Anna changed her mind, though, so we went back in to see the electrical parade and the fireworks show. We went shopping a bit and rode the Adventureland Jungle Cruise first, then picked a comfy spot on the curb on Main Street USA where we intended to watch the parade, which was only about a half hour away. At that point, we overheard someone say that there wasn't going to be a parade that day, so we checked our schedule and found that they were absolutely right! We decided to cut our losses and go back to the hotel at that point, rather than waiting an extra hour and a half to see the fireworks show which we've seen already, and which we'll see again later in the week.

When we got back to the hotel, we went to the main building to pick up some packages. First, Anna ordered us some costumes(!) for a special "Mickey's Not-so-Scary Halloween Party" which we're going to this Friday evening, and we had some boxes waiting for us from some gift shop purchases we'd made in the various parks. (If you stay on the Disney grounds, any time you buy something in a gift shop, you can choose to have it delivered to your hotel for you, if you'd prefer not to carry it around for the rest of the day. How awesome that is!)

Tomorrow, we are scheduled to go to MGM Studios again for the full day, but we saw a lot of it on Saturday, so we might head out early and go back to another park. We shall see!

Disney, Day Four

We allowed ourselves to sleep in today, since we were both exhausted from yesterday, so we didn't get out to the park, Epcot, until about 1:30. We had a reservation at the Coral Reef restaurant, which was to be our "table service" meal of the day. (And, again, the free Disney dining plan we got still rocks.) Anna started with an appetizer of crab souffle and I started with a bowl of lobster soup. Mine was fantastic, but Anna didn't care for hers too much, and sent it back in favor of some braised beef, which was excellent.

Photos: today only, all days

From there, we proceeded to walk around the Future World portion of Epcot, where we hadn't really spent much time so far. We both enjoyed the "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience" show, which is much more impressive than the corny name would suggest.

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We also saw an interactive show called "Turtle Talk With Crush" where the audience interacted with an animated turtle named Crush, from the movie Finding Nemo. It was very impressive. Our favorite experience there was a ride called "Mission: Space" which simulates a rocket blasting off, performing a gravity slingshot around the moon, and landing on Mars. We were both a bit concerned about it because we'd heard many negative comments about how it made folks motion sick. Disney offers two different "experiences" there: green ("less intense") and orange ("more intense"), with the biggest difference seeming to be that you don't experience as many G-forces in the green side. On the orange side, several cars like the one you're in (apparently, I'm guessing here) are arranged in a wheel shape, and they revolve around the center to simulate the G-forces. Well, we tried the green side, and loved it, loved it. As soon as we left the ride, we turned around and got right back on, taking the orange side this time, and had a blast! The G-forces were rather strong, though; at one point, you are asked to push some buttons on a screen in front of you, and it was difficult to even lift my arm to do so! If I had to guess, I think we might ride that one again. It was awesome!

Also, we got to ride Segway scooters! There was a small test area inside Innoventions, where you could try them out for a minute.  They were so fun I almost couldn't stand it!  When I got on, I kept moving backward, apparently because I was balancing that way–the scooter senses minor shifts in your center of gravity and responds with movement.  But, after just a couple of seconds, I got the hang of it, and drove it up and down the little test lane with no problem.  It was great!  Anna got on next, and had no problems at all.  How dare she make me look so foolish!  🙂  We discovered that they offer Segway tours of Epcot, where you get to ride the scooter for an extended period of time.  Those cost extra, but we might have to book it anyway.

Unfortunately (and strangely enough), the Future World portion of Epcot closed at 7pm (the World Showcase stayed open until 9), so Anna and I decided to head on over to the Magic Kingdom, which was open for a couple more hours. It was almost 8pm when we got there, which was when everyone else in the park was lining up to see the Main Street Electrical Parade, but we decided to take that opportunity to ride some of the more popular rides, and then catch the parade tomorrow. (It't still not busy around the parks, so we probably wouldn't have had to wait more than five minutes anyway, but, with our plan, we didn't have to wait at all.) We rode the Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan's Flight (nifty), and (gulp) Space Mountain. Now, I've been to Disney several times, and never ridden it before, because it's a roller coaster, but I was newly emboldened by my other experiences on the trip. So, I rode it, even though I thought I would throw up while I was waiting in line, just from the anticipation. I've decided that the thing I hate the most on rides are drops, and, perhaps just as much, the anticipation of drops. You know that sensation when you (an obviously normal person in all regards) are riding a roller coaster and you see the crest of a hill coming up? You know how that makes you feel excited? Well, it makes me want to:

  1. poop, then
  2. run for the hills.

Anyway, Space Mountain is in the dark so you can't see that well, and I was told it didn't have big drops in it anyway, so I took a chance. How was it? Well, it was too fast, and it really jerked you around quite a bit, but I don't really remember very much about it because I was bracing for a drop the whole time. But hey, now I've ridden it, so no one can pressure me to do it now. Yeah, that means you. Stop it.

When that was all done, we found a spot behind Cinderella's castle and watched the fireworks, which were synchronized with music, and generally just awesome. We plan to find a spot in front of the castle tomorrow so we can see everything even better.

Disney, Day Three

We started today by getting up relatively early and heading over to Animal Kingdom, a newish theme park that neither Anna nor I had been to before. I don't think it was even here when I've been in the past! Our first stop of the day was for breakfast with Donald Duck at "Donald's Breakfastosaurus". That was a buffet-style breakfast with all kinds of good stuff, and before long, Pluto, then Goofy, then Donald(!), and then Mickey came around to our tables to play with us! We met another nice couple from Jacksonville, FL, so we took pictures for them as well (that's who those folks are if you see them in the photo stream).

Photos: today only, all days

In that park, I rode a smallish roller-coaster named Primeval Whirl, which was OK because it didn't have a lot of drops. I don't like drops. We also went on the "Kilomanjaro Safaris" where you actually get in a truck driven by a guide through some beautiful animal sanctuaries. This one was awesome! Anna wanted to go on Expedition Everest, but that one closed down because it was having "technical issues". I'm sorry she didn't get to ride it, because there was no way I was going to get on it myself (reference earlier commentary regarding "drops"). Aside from Kilomanjaro Safaris, another of our favorites was "Dinosaur!", which was a bumpy, scary ride through the dark; it was great! 😀

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I took lots of pictures while we were there, but it definitely wasn't Anna's favorite park–it was warm, and there was lots of walking, and bugs were noticeable. About 3:30, then, we hopped aboard a bus and headed over to Epcot.

We decided to spend our time in the World Showcase portion of Epcot, where there are a bunch of small areas for many different countries arrayed around a largish lake. However, we swung by Test Drive, a very popular ride in the Future World part of Epcot, to see what the line was like. It was empty, so we went ahead and got aboard. It was great! We got in a little car that zipped all around a test track, sometimes going 60+ miles per hour around the outside of the building. It was fantastic!

The rest of the day we spent in the various countries of World Showcase, seeing what all they had to offer. The highlight of the day, in my opinion, was the "Illuminations" show at 9pm. This is a fireworks and light show that takes place every night in the lake at Epcot. It was really, really good. It started to rain on us a bit before the show started, so Anna ran and got ponchos ($7) for us while I held our coveted spot on a bridge overlooking the lake. That's not the first time she ran off, though; she also ran back to Japan and picked up some tasty items for us to eat, since it was nearing 9pm and the last time we had eaten anything significant was at Animal Kingdom at 10:30am.

I should mention that we got a "Disney Dining Plan" for free with our tickets, since I booked them within a certain time. That means Anna and I each get one counter-service meal, one table-service meal, and a snack for free, every day we are here. We just swipe our room cards and go! What a deal!

Anyway, tomorrow holds more Epcot in store for us, this time in the Future World section. It should be a blast!

Disney, Day Two

Anna had planned for us to get up this morning and leave by 7:30am; however, our experience yesterday with the light crowds convinced her it would be OK for us to sleep in a bit. We got going at about 10am, and headed for the Magic Kingdom using the fabulous Disney buses.

Photos: today only, all days

While we were on the way, an amazing thing happend: we saw the Space Shuttle Atlantis take off! We were just arriving, and saw a rocket streaking up into the sky in the distance; we watched it go up as it blasted off into space! All of us on the bus had goose bumps from watching it go up. Even though it was at a distance, seeing that made the whole trip worth it, even without all of the Disney fun!

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We spent a few hours in the Magic Kingdom, where we again didn't have any problem with lines. We rode Pirates of the Carribbean, It's a Small World (the song is still in my head), and saw the coronation of Cinderella, The Hall of Presidents, and the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse while we were there, among other things. Anna found a Christmas store, which made her very happy, too. It was warm out, but we were in enough air conditioning that it didn't seem too bad to me, although Anna may disagree.

At 3:20, we had tea at the Grand Floridian, a fancy resort on the Disney grounds. Anna had read about the tea they had there, and we absolutely had to be there, even though it wasn't one of our prepaid meals. We had a fantastic time! The tea was OK (for being warm, and not Luzianne anyway), and we stuffed ourselves on a fruit/cheese plate, a scone with cream and butter, a plate of finger sandwiches, and a dessert–I had a fantastic English trifle, and Anna had a couple of pastries. It was great! We stayed there for a couple of hours enjoying the whole thing.

After that, we decided to make our way out to Downtown Disney, where they also had DisneyQuest, an indoor "virtual" theme park where they have lots of virtual reality rides and such. To get there from the Grand Floridian, we took a monorail to a monorail station, got on a different monorail to Epcot Center, then took a bus back to our hotel, and from there took a bus to Downtown Disney. Quite elaborate!

There were lots of shops and clubs there; Disney's "Pleasure Island" is there with lots of dance clubs and such, none of which really interested either of us. We browsed a few of the stores (including an amazing Lego store), but spent most of our time in DisneyQuest. We rode several of the "rides" in there, including a virtual whitewater rafting trip, a virtual magic carpet ride, and others. They also had FREE arcade games in there of all sorts! Unfortunately, as it was Saturday night, the place started to fill up with (as we understand it) local residents (punk kids), so we made a hasty exit. It was sprinkling rain, though, so we had a long walk back to the bus stop at the other end, where we caught a ride back to our hotel.

Lots of fun. Tomorrow, we go see Animal Kingdom! 😀

Disney, Day One

I booked (and paid for!) a Disney vacation for Anna for her birthday, back in May. Why? Because she's never been, and that issue needed to be addressed. 🙂 Today, we made the trip to Orlando. The day started too early for my taste (7am), but we really packed it in.

Before I get too far, photos are available here.

We flew Southwest, which was awesome; we'll definitely do that again. The staff was super-friendly, and, since we got there so early, WE GOT TO SIT IN THE EXIT ROW. Since I'm (apparently) quite tall, most airline seats are not (how do you say it) "comfortable," but these rocked.

The entire experience of geting from the airport to the hotel was smooth; we went downstairs in the terminal to a desk, where we were directed to a bus, which drove us to our hotel. We made special reservations for our bags, so we didn't even have to pick those up–they just showed up in our hotel room later!

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Once we got to our hotel, we turned around pretty quickly and took a Disney bus to MGM Studios, which I was interested in, since I'd never seen that park before. Amazingly, there were very few people there–we had no waits on most rides, or, at the very worst, short waits of five minutes or less. I spoke with a park worker who said that the reason is just that kids are back in school; the parks have been that lightly crowded all week! Given that, it sounds like we should have awesome experiences throughout our trip, but I think we'll probably play it safe for the next few days just to be sure.

Those of you who know me realize that I'm not much of a "heights" person, so it will likely come as no surprise to you that I didn't get on the "Tower of Terror". I waited outside while Anna went on it, but that was only for a few minutes since the lines were so short! She, like everyone else, claims that it's "not that bad" and that I should "totally do it," but I don't think that will probably happen. Maybe later in the week. 🙂

Later, we took a boat to the Beach Club resort where we had a fantastic seafood buffet at the Cape May restaurant.

We decided to walk to Epcot, and go through it to get to a bus, which would take us back to our hotel, the Pop Century. We rode Spaceship Earth (cool!) and a new ride called "Soarin'" (cool also!) before braving the crowds and catching the buses back to the hotel. This, of course, was the only long line we waited in all day (and, actually, it only took us about twenty minutes to get through it).

More fun tomorrow!