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WDW [Late Feb2017] Trip Report


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  • WDW [Late Feb2017] Trip Report

    Hi everyone, like most trip reporters i've just returned from a Disney park. Living in southern California, I pretty much know Disneyland, and recently visited both the Hong Kong and Tokyo Resorts, so i'm lucky to feel i have some breadth of ride experiences. My mom says my first words I ever read were all the Exit signs surrounding us in Circlevision360 while on my dad's shoulders when 18 months old, so, maybe there's some magic.

    In this case, Orlando, was my first time back to the Magic Kingdom in over 40 years. An old college friend was taking his cousin's wintery New England-based family, whom includes a five year old girl and eight year old boy, for their first Disney experience (and plane trip, for that matter), and i was to be an, ultimately unnecessary, adult escape valve (since the kids were amazing). The timing needed to fit within their kids' Spring Break, while ignoring weekend crowds, which meant ideally the short Mon-Thurs week of February 20-23, 2017. Afterwards, my amigo and i took advantage of the trip to grab one extra parkhopper day to ride the monorail from Epcot to MK, and also visit Winter Park, downtown Orlando, and Universal all for a few days.

    We started planning earnestly about six months previous, buying airline tickets and securing timeshare reservations nearby (so very excited to find us sleeping literally one mile west from the lions of Animal Kingdom). To spread out expenses, park tickets were purchased about three months out, with full group Fastpass and dinner reservations getting set up at the 30-day mark. Luckily, the family was willing to trust we could plan the ideal vacation amidst the bloodsport of all you other early-planners of the parks, and they let us figure out all the gory details.

    First task was to figure out which parks in what order.

    Putting the Magic Kingdom as Tuesday, our second day, made sense to us for two reasons - avoiding Presidents' Day Monday there, and not wiping out the kids serotonin completely on the first day with the thrill of the original (okay, second original) park. Epcot seemed a perfect introduction to Disney World, plus we decided a Princess Breakfast in Norway for Monday morning would be a fantastic way to start the vacation for the five year old. With winter's earlier park closing hours, it also meant first day could be limited for the parents that would need way more sleep by then. It was decided that ending the four days with real live animals would be the best we could ever do, so Hollywood Studios (starring Chewbacca for the eight year old, plus Star Tours) got Wednesday, with Animal Kingdom rounding out the kids' very full week on Thursday.

    As the FastPass 30-day open approached, each new day began with an exercise in figuring out when the Disney clock rolled over on the west coast, and frantically jumping on the most popular attractions we could fastpass within times that made sense - worst case was the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train's first availability was 8:10pm. The most difficult task was studying menus and satisfying the Vegetarian and the Gluten-free members of the group, which took a fair amount of google-research, then actually scoring a table for six within times that also made sense.

    We knew, in planning, that kids would completely change our perception of the parks, figuring we'd already be missing what, as adults, we'd speed by knowing there's three E-ticket rides to get to before our fastpass in two hours, would instead totally fascinate the kids to no end. Proved true time and time again - usually by toy kiosks more than anything, though some carvings in the rocks outside Animal Kingdom almost derailed an easy entrance one day. However, what we wanted to prevent was a total group decision meltdown, where we reach the Hub and have no real idea (or too many ideas) what to do next, or have a badly thought out ride decision list with long lines that suddenly required the five year old to walk from one side of the park and back again.

    So, after locking in whatever Fastpasses were left 30 days after the resort dwellers had their fill and making reservations for the few properly vetted restaurants, we started drawing doodles on maps of the parks, trying to discover the most efficient means from point A through Z for each day. Thinking, everyone likes an adventure, (in adobe Illustrator) we turned those doodles into actual adventure treasure scavenger maps we printed out for each park each day for the kids. ...OOOoo Maps.... It gave them something suddenly specific to think about over breakfast, since they'd only learned a month before they were even going and did the amount of park research you'd expect from an eight year old in the middle of a school semester (aka none). At least they knew almost all the Disney films. We marked the exact Fastpass times, food locations, and various attraction ideas that we'd encounter on these walkabout paths. It was hoped that such a map could also prevent mid-afternoon burn-out, if they could see there was a plan and that the plan promised fun.

    And it actually worked. They were suddenly deeply, richly involved in finding real treasures to ride.

    Each day, they were blissfully excited as we were up and ubering in time for rope drops, and with the exception of the Hollywood Studios downpour one night, they stayed up and rocked the parks until they closed us out. I had printed out six copies of the maps, and handcut each one out (so when you held the batch of them together, they never looked made from cookie-cutters). The kids carefully folded them up in their pockets and referred to them throughout the day as much as they did the regular park maps. They even made sure we are on track with our fastpasses, for we just couldn't miss the Haunted Mansion they'd heard stories all about, but they could tell there was plenty of time for them to do whatever they wanted as well. I don't think they felt constrained by our prior planning, since they could look around and see just how many other families were present and trying to do exactly what we were trying to do. The little one kept asking the night before our first entry, about the waterslide at the timeshare pool, "are we at the park now?" - proving (adorably) they had just no idea what was coming.

    [speaking of, this is the first large posting for me, so i need to figure out how to post inline pictures and maps at the correct size, and i'll continue to put stuff up in stages over several posts, as i finish writing - kudos to those that have written these, it sure takes a lot of preparation and energy, i promise to be slow]

    As proof I've figured out out to post pictures inline, the day before I left West Hollywood, I had this sight outside my apartment...

    ...and I'll tangent one moment to explain, I live one block down the street where, the neighborhood story goes, back in 1939 Mr. & Mrs. Harold Arlen were driving east from Beverly Hills into Hollywood for a movie screening, when a similar atmospheric condition struck, and this was right at the time when he was struggling to conceptualize lyrics for an important, primary, 'I Want' song for Judy Garland in MGM's The Wizard of Oz. Apparently, he quickly pulled over on Sunset Boulevard under the Schwabs Pharmacy neon lights, and scribbled out history. I've been looking almost twenty-five years for a rainbow like his, and this... was the exact same rainbow over hollywood.

    Good omen.

  • #2
    Keep it coming, Brett, even if the photos are a challenge. It's so fun to hear about life outside the California parks!


    • #3
      Awesome start! Can't wait to hear about their first steps into Epcot!

      Approximately 1.2% of the posts in the Walt Disney World Resort MiceChat forum have been contributed by PlutoHasFleas


      • #4
        I love reading trip reports. I remember my first WDW theme park was Epcot as well. My husband and I took our then 4 year old grandson, in 1997. We headed to Epcot our first night, and that was followed by a full day in the Magic Kingdom.

        I look forward to reading more about your trip. Hopefully we can also see some pics.


        • #5
          Our first day took us to Epcot... over quick breakfast items in our timeshare kitchen, we broke out the first day's maps which gave them all some inkling of the day's attractions. My college friend, Shawn, was last at Epcot about fifteen years ago, while the dad of the family had never been to Disney World at all, and the mom was last at the Magic Kingdom back when she was fifteen years old, so the maps were almost new news for everyone.

          [Our map for the day]

          We got dropped off in Epcot's shared carpool area with enough time to find dad a cup of coffee and to listen to the stomping beats of the rope-drop entertainment. There were so many people gathered at the front of the weird granite Legacy tombstones watching that we couldn't actually see the performers. By the time we had moved up through the crowd to try to see them, they'd ended their show and the gates were flung open.

          Back when we had started all our decisions, the very first objective was finding a reservation for the five year old to have herself a surprise Princess Breakfast in Norway. Once that was established, we attempted fastpasses for Frozen (nope, not available!) and Soarin' (earliest time was mid-afternoon), then filled in with whatever made sense and that was still available. This meant Nemo and Crush, since that was really all left - one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Resort guests with the extra thirty-day window had been quite productive in their proper pre-planning.

          [Our humble narrator, barely prepared for the day]

          Immediately, the map started to break down.

          But in a really good sense - Nemo was a walk-on, so we didn't need our fastpass at all. Walking through the very dark dark entry of the queue, the little one asked "is this is ride?" - but oh she knew her blue tang and her clownfish, and loved the clamshell seats with the moving 'carpets'. And once off the ride, the aquatic wonderland of manatees and seahorses kept everyone busy until the first Turtle Talk show of the day at 9:30. So, within less than a half hour, the kids were both excited and dismayed about not needing or using our lofty magical fastpasses of which they had come to quickly hear so much. But knowing our map, I was excited we weren't needing to retrace all the steps to The Seas later in the day.

          But of The Seas - what an enjoyable difference to the tale of the tail. I adore Anaheim's volcanic Finding Nemo submarines, but really loved the omnimover experience through the ocean with its live animals and ending Big Blue song. Might have been preferable even, but i might be biased because of the submarine windows being a bit low for me. Nice to have an easier load experience as well. The quasi-aquarium spaces of The Seas, and of its gift shop, kept us enthralled, but getting to see Crush and talk to all his Finding Dory buddies excited, mystified, and energized the kids. That, and the gift shop...

          Might be many childrens' first glimpse in a world that is designed specially and specifically to attract them. So much more than any simple toy store anywhere in the world. The merchandizing and eye candy that was manufactured to pop right at their eye level for acres upon days of endless exploration just cannot be anything other than a mind-blowing moment for a child to first experience. Every gift shop was a new world unto themselves, and it was mesmerizing to experience watching their experience of it.

          [We had a talking, he told me to put down the camera until later tonight.]

          Ed. note: I have plenty of photos of the children, probably more of the kids than anything else since they were so adorable, but since the children are not mine, I'm choosing photos taken without them, which lessens my options since so many great photos are starring them, but i'll try to stay to about 9-10 decent pictures per day, as to not overwhelm the thread. Turns out, I really did stop taking pictures during the middle of the first day anyways - think i was having enough fun to forget about documenting the fun.

          Arriving at Akershus for the Princess Breakfast was exciting, as we just encountered Donald Duck while we were passing Mexico and was lucky to snag a photo op, and then we walk right into the Royal dining hall to have the five year old receive her Royal photos with Anna and Elsa. Her surprise was fairly spectacular so far. The six of us were seated in the center of the main hall. The food was, okay enough. The princesses were, amazing and sweet and wonderful with the children (and their mom!) for seemingly endless photos. Much patience was needed as the seven wandered through the hall meeting each table - Anna, Elsa, Belle, Ariel, Merida, Tiana, Snow White (i believe were all of them) - the eight year old boy loved all the spectacle and pageantry. We all applauded as all the princesses of the room were swept up in the conga line snaking throughout the hall.

          [Royal Akershus Hall]

          After the meal, and having the Johnny Depp pirate chair pointed out in the lobby by the lovely Norwegian grandmama cast members helping with the guests there, we went to stand in line at Frozen. They gave me the tracking pass for gauging the stand-by times - it was RFID and once through the line, they had a sensor inside at the gate they bonk it on, and guess the computer automagically takes care of changing the numbers.

          [Frozen: It took 55 minutes.]

          Frozen Ever After was great. The pre-show rooms were intelligently laid out to surprise the kids (us big ones too). Had forgotten about the chance to see Oaken in the steamed sauna. I had only viewed both Frozen and Maelstorm from youtube, so found the physicality of the backward chute ride mechanism fun and Elsa well placed, with Marshmellow and Sven as my favorite characters - both in film and ride.

          Mexico provided us with a break from crowds on Gran Fiesta Tour.

          A ten minute wait for Mission: Space - green - was a really big hit with the kids. If orange wasn't an hour wait, we would have acquiesced to the kids to go ride the faster one. The next morning, they claimed M:S their favorite, with Frozen second.

          As time does move fast when standing in line, we diverted from the map, skipping Spaceship Earth and heading towards Soarin'... deciding to also skip the suggested lunch at Sunshine Seasons altogether, since breakfast and dinner were closer than we needed.

          Soarin' on fastpass - finally! This is what the map had promised, a reason to be pre-excited since breakfast. We had the furthest terminal off to hike, but walking past the endless standby line (110 minutes) for just a five minute wait (hooray for TV's Brock Samson, sorry, it's Lemony Snickett now, and his safety spiel) sorta made the kids day: "There's sooo many peeeople! We're passing EVERYbody!" (Sorry, everybody.) What I loved of Soarin' was the difference from Anaheim where instead of Sleeping Beauty's Castle, it's Spaceship Earth at the end. Now I really can't wait for DisneySea's version.

          A quick spin on Living With The Land - verdict? "Hey, that was not bad for being so educational and all!"

          Figment got a visit next, along with its Imageworks area. It was... interesting. A great candidate for 'plussing'.

          But with that, we'd completed the western attractions, and was approaching dinner reservations down south in Morocco at the Restaurant Marrakesh. Map called for either a leisurely walk or boat ride, but time called for neither, so we hightailed. Yay stroller rental.

          Dinner was fantastic and pricey, but for our first vacation meal in the parks, worth the reserving. Seated off the main room towards the back, the kids had a view of everything. Even the belly dancing, however it stayed down on the floor-room, and thankfully, was way more tame than most others I've seen elsewhere.

          [Moroccan dessert, no princesses, many forks.]

          After dinner, separation. The family headed off to take the li'luns towards bed. Fireworks a few minutes later found them near the Innoventions plaza and us paused us in Japan. We ended the night on Spaceship Earth and Dame Judy Dench. There were a few things missed during the day, but we'd planned a non-family day on Friday for Shawn and I to play catch up with an Epcot morning and a parkhop to Magic Kingdom after lunch, so all in all, we were very happy with how everything worked out.

          Except, there's no cel coverage immediately under the sphere, so plan your ride-pickup communications accordingly once you split parties up, if you are about to be stuck in a short line for Spaceship Earth.

          [I quite appreciated the Canadian nods to the pacific northwest and works of the Haida.]

          [Almost as good as the real thing, Italy, aka Venice.]

          [Temple of the Kawai'i. Japan.]

          [Fireworks, fun fireworks.]

          [Norwegian wood troll at the end of the night, Norway.]
          Analysis: I see the grandeur of what original elements of Epcot were, and totally appreciate them. I see the potential in both the original elements and the empty expansion spaces. I see a few decades of additions that really need to be re-addressed and re-imagineered. I like the concept of IP in the park, as a willing consumer of Disney culture, i know what i'm getting into by attending Epcot, and while a world's World's Fair is a noble goal, I've attended a few and, frankily, i think they all should be more disneyfied anyways. Though... a proper balance is necessary.

          Examples: I know Arendale is made-up, but it gives the rest of Norway a chance to bring itself to the forefront in contrast, which the gift shop cast members did, speaking to people leaving about the historical elements in the rooms. I'm not sure what i learned on Gran Fiesta Tour with the Caballeros, though i both know the original cartoons and have traveled to cities as Juarez, Tijuana, and Guadalajara, but not sure this ride really connected in a modern way. Perhaps future re-imagineering for the pavilion could use the new Coco as inspiration in a manner like Frozen Ever After.

          [Beauty shot, Spaceship Earth]

          Conclusion: Epcot - I like it. (...but fill in World Showcase!)

          Walking distance: 21,445 steps, 10.21 miles, according to apple watch.
          Last edited by brett; 04-07-2017, 04:09 PM.


          • #6
            Day two came way too early for those of us on west coast time (really, just me).

            [Today's map, of which we were the most proud]

            The kids were very ready to see the Magic Kingdom map today when they appeared from their secret envelope. Not every attraction was listed on our maps, mostly for space-issues but also for some sense of the unknown (plus I figured they also have park maps from the entrance too), but, as a spoiler, we never did get on Big Thunder with the kids like the map promised, but they loved the heck outta the surprise Splash Mountain. The guide, it turns out, is not the actual journey.

            Our rideshare dropped us off at the Contemporary Hotel, since the walk over to the entrance is piffling compared to the rest of the day. On the walk, found myself totally blown away by the traintracks unadorned by a berm. Also, memories from being there at age six were also present all day, although the sense of scale was completely irrational - the Kingdom was much larger in my imagination than reality.

            [Your humble narrator shows himself again. Sorry, my mom wanted to see me.]

            Since I was there, I've heard that security situated at the entrance will be moved to the TTC, and that would be my main aesthetic problem at the front of the Kingdom - too much non-show happening in too small a space.

            Also, fix up those ticket booths! (All the tin-siding around the entrance buildings hasn't aged well.)

            Before we could get further into the park, we had to grab a rental stroller, and oh how I totally love the space under the train station - definitely the larger buildings of Florida have their charm for packing even more stuff in there. While waiting, I checked out all the train news, posters, and facts framed on the walls, and when we finally all together walked out into Town Square: wow. What a sight.

            [Not the greatest opening shot, as you can't always clear every other photographer from doing the same idea.
            At the same time. In the same space. But still, you get it. Dig the building wrap on the left.]

            We took not nearly enough time to fully wander Main Street - we promised everyone we'd be through again at night to go in the shops. "We don't want to carry everything all day." But the street brought back different memories, distinctly different than walking Disneyland, or even Hong Kong nor Tokyo - definitely 'prehistoric' and primordial of dreams dating from childhood. Intensely personal recreations of the mind.

            [The exact spot where everyone becomes six years old again.]

            Adventureland! We had two and a half hours before our first fastpass to Haunted Mansion. The E-tickets of the western lands await. And darn if we didn't immediately get stopped at the very first mobile kiosk of jungle toys past the Adventureland sign. We didn't even get as far as the Swiss Family Treehouse!

            Ten minutes later, off again, Adventureland! And explaining that we would return to the easy tree when we needed something slow - as dad asks "We have to climb it? No ride? Nope, walked enough right now!" - the Jungle Cruise promised a five minute standby time with an easy bum notice.

            [Our vegetarian of the group was happy to eat elsewhere. We weren't yet hungry.]

            [March Madness - Jungle Cruise Head Hunters on the Jungle Cruise. Represent!]

            -- Insert jungle puns here --

            Since I've been on all four Jungle Cruises, I guess i finally get a chance to rate them. But difficult it is, however, as each has charming features that sets it completely apart. Disneyland has the Walt factor, the fact how tiny the land really is for what it packs, and they shoot live guns. Magic Kingdom has so much space, giant waterfalls, and thriving lush flora. Hong Kong has Tarzan's Treehouse on an island you sail around, with a big fireball finale. Tokyo has my favorite feature when you go under and into the temple for a plussed-up animated experience in the dark, plus it's all in Japanese which is cool. Combine them? Or just try to see them all, I guess.

            Pirates of the Caribbean was a twenty minutes stand-by line. Fully enjoyed it, but preferred Anaheim as I miss the Blue Bayou swamp. It might be heresy, but I'd suggest imagineering do some Shanghai-ing to parts of Florida - the ship and town rooms were feeling some physical age. The gift shop captured us for another fifteen minutes.

            Still, a day with Pirates is way better than a day without Pirates.

            Somehow we made it through Adventureland with both E-tickets notched. Frontierland!

            We got nervous with two E-tickets ahead, but really only time for one, but luckily the kids were adamant about Splash Mountain. Adults were worried about the wet factor, since Disneyland's has a bad tendency to capture water over the sides and into our shoes. Disney World seemed to understand we'd rather get blasted right in the face than below the belt, so seem to have designed the ride with that in mind... this is a definite improvement. Some missing AA elements between the two versions made me miss Anaheim, however. It's hard to not compare.

            [I have such unfathomable dreamscape memories of this building.]

            Kids got excited - fastpass time again! Haunted Mansion was well on point. Until recently, I had no idea the stretching room took us upstairs rather than down, but in assuming the opposite, I was rather confused upon exit but just couldn't figure out why. It was so interesting riding past the paintings and busts rather than walking past. This has formed definite dream moments between the two modes of movement past. Memories mixing and remxing. So very glad this was a fastpass, just to know for a month we were guaranteed this ride.

            Lunchtime appeared fast. Enough research had been done on Be Our Guest lunch to know it would dietarily work, but in the case of this one meal, the same research energy was not applied towards the venue's lunchtime popularity. Stand-by wait time started at 45 minutes and was expected to rise. I haven't mentioned Disney's iOS app, but it saved the day, finding available food right next door at a fraction the wait and price. Finding seats to actually eat, well, only a mom could save the day.

            Many attractions got listed on our map that we never were able to attain that day, and Fantasyland was one spot where our virtual eyes were bigger than the park's availabilities, yet we did hit up in quick succession Philharmagic and the Carousel, while waiting for...

            Fastpass time again, again! This time Peter Pan called. Shawn's most favorite, and including Disneyland's long plussing, he had been thwarted riding in Tokyo and Orlando for many visits. Unfortunately, you miss the excellent queue animations with the fastpasses (we went stand-by later on Friday), but the 3D city is an unique sight to behold.

            Small World was too convenient right across the street, so first the castle had to be checked. Once the castle cleared five year old's customs, we were cleared to loop back to It's A Small World. Soon after, it was decreed by the eight year old that he and dad were to raft over to Tom Sawyer's Island for a bit, while the rest of us took a rest break with a snack in the general Tortuga Tavern to Pecos Bill mega-restaurant. It was a long day, and we figured that low blood sugar in adults might be more common than the kids, so we all did our best to prevent it with sitting breaks and snacks.

            [Sam the Eagle should host absolutely everything in Liberty Square.]

            I wandered into a full song and dance number by the Muppets and Gonzo's chickens. By the time everyone else finished their restroom breaks, the only sign it had even happened was some video and a few photos on my phone that i could share with them. Blink and you miss sometimes.

            [This is a E-ticket show. Do not miss.]

            Adventureland called - going off map! - we had promised to return to the Treehouse, and so cut past the Flying Carpets, and lovingly shuffled our way up and down through the "long queue with no ride" as the eight year old called it later. But everyone agreed the views were worth the stairs.

            [Treehouse view, pre-Tarzan. Smoothest ride to a buena vista.]

            Right after, the adults decided to vote with their feet, and so we rested with the toucans with the double-feature sit-down extravaganzas of Tiki Room followed by the Country Bear Jamboree.

            [The hitchcockian abstractivitiness of the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tower.]

            By this point, the sun was fading and we were well off our map as we headed across the hub. Visions of The Little Mermaid, Dumbo, and the circus vanished with the neon bright world of Tomorrowland suddenly commanding the kids' full attention. Space Mountain was advertising 100 minute stand-by times, so we again promised everyone to return to it before the night was over. Monsters Inc Laugh Floor was the chosen second place instead, where apparently upon sitting down, it was promised on the video screens that i would buy everyone churros.

            Again, past this point, the idea that my phone was a camera was forgotten, except for some blurry photographs later at Space Mountain of the ride monitors, and the night-time lit-up sign for the seasonally-closed Stitch's Alien Encounter (figured i'd shoot just in case it was gone completely before I could make another visit).

            There was a split reservation at Tony's Town Square, where saving an expensive meal for another night meant the family actually ended up right in the middle of Main Street when the fireworks show started. Perfect timing.

            After a glass of wine at Tony's, and catching up with them in town square, meant swimming upstream through the exiting crowds around to the final fastpass - the Seven Dwarves Mine Train. The five year old was tuckered out, falling asleep on the way, while in line, and between standing up to get in the ride and being buckled into the seat. We were all wondering what the ride would be like for her to wake up on, but the adrenaline rush fueled her all the way to Space Mountain.

            Everything people say about the Seven Dwarves Mine Train is true. It is a great ride, especially at night.

            Only 90 minutes wait for Space Mountain where the kids were troopers, and off onto the long walk back to the Contemporary Hotel to be picked up for the car back to the timeshare. It really was a long magical day.

            Ed. note: Audio. At Epcot, I had noticed inconsistencies in audio quality during almost all attractions, usually where it feels like the vocals have been dialed down in the mix. Today at Magic Kingdom, I noticed even more of the same thing, and this holds true throughout all four parks. It made it so very hard to hear many plot lines in so many rides, that we started joking about all the deaf audio quality specialists of Florida. Last year, Disneyland's Critter Country was completely closed for a couple of months, and when Splash and Pooh re-opened, their audio systems had been definitely upgraded - before, it sounded like we had on earmuffs, and after, every lyric and verse were understandable. Whatever they did, this needs to happen throughout Disney World.

            Analysis: I recognize that Disneyland has a few flaws - some aesthetically from age and history and many due to the physical nature of its tiny island in Anaheim, so it is lovely to have the expansiveness at the confluences of Reedy Creek and Bay Lake. To have room to roam was quite an amazing experience. I'm already looking forward to Friday's half-day return to the park.

            Walking distance: 19.057 steps, 9.09 miles, according to apple watch.
            Last edited by brett; 04-05-2017, 01:18 PM.


            • #7
              Great trip report. Some of your photos are absolute gems, and have become part of my desktop. I love the maps with your footpath plotted. Too bad I never thought of that idea.

              No matter where you go, there you are.


              • #8
                Great write-up of your trip Brett! I love reading about other people's adventures at the park. Helps me see the park in new ways so I can plan my next trip better too!

                I love the idea of the maps! Despite being "Big Time Patented", I might just have to borrow that idea for when my kids get a little older and more involved in the planning.
                Visit my blog at

                I stayed overnight in the Disneyland Dream Suite! Read all about it here!
                Joe's Epic Overnight Disneyland Dream Suite Trip Report


                • #9
                  Day three: A Wookiee Awakens.

                  We kept Monday's Princess Breakfast a secret, and so did we as well for today's Chewbacca meet and greet.
                  Until the maps came out. Had to explain what was a Launch Bay.

                  [Another big ol' map - it wouldn't be so weirdly shaped if they'd hurry up with Star Wars Land. Hurry, hurry, hurry. ...and the map claims it's patented, but feel free to steal it, no one is watching you. Almost.]

                  Star Tours, Indy, Muppets - excitement started brewing, so we made coffee and got on our way. Or rather, pushed the button on the app and someone came and picked us up. Off to Hollywood Studios. Didn't bother to explain the tall construction cranes to the kids, but as we rounded the front, I was excited to see work commencing on whatever planet they will eventually call Star Wars Land.

                  [Do not remember the off-show security pop-ups as part of the Pan Pacific Auditorium back home.]
                  I really wasn't sure what to expect of Hollywood Studios. Was it LA? The real Hollywood is nothing like the fantasy. But in crossing the gates, I decided i liked the fantasy Hollywood offered. I really love the art deco gates themselves, both these and their duplicated rebirthing at California Adventure. I remember the post-arsoned burnt-out husk of the original Pan Pacific building that it mimics, and I'm very glad there are multiple versions out in the world.

                  [I've not only been to every place listed, I've now even been to visit the sign itself.]

                  I appreciate all the blogs that chronicle the origins of the faux DHS buildings - I read a few before I went, but they make more sense after i've been to the park. Especially happy to have missed the ugly reign of the giant sorcerer's hat. I couldn't imagine having something so incredibly nasty and Pop Centuryish smacked into such a delicate, beautiful vista as created down the length of the park's main street. The Chinese Theatre is a fine show piece. They shouldn't mess it up.

                  [There's a lot of familiarity on this street.]

                  [...oh yeah, because I shot this just the week before at the original location!]

                  Our first fastpass wasn't until 9:30 just up the street, so we decided to take the time to wander slowly, enjoy the Starbucks electrical transformer building, throw a bunch of switches on the walls, and just as we gather outside, the ominous thunder of severe bass greeted us. Really, both atmospheric thunder AND the Imperial March at the same time. Before the stormtroopers got up the street, a check on the weather apps showed, oooo, yep, February rains coming later that day.

                  The eight year old was enthralled. "Captain Phasma! It's Captain Phasma!"

                  [Starbucks parade, I mean, we just got coffee then these guys showed up...]

                  Great Movie Ride time! After a few forecourt handprint checks, we proudly fastpassed our way into the building, which is all VIP, where you zip by so quickly there's barely enough time to see the few items on display close to the fastpass lanes and miss most all of the introductory films that set the stage for the ride itself.

                  Now, I was a film student in college, and enjoyed seeing Robert Osbourne (which was a week before his death, so was not immediately melancholy), but I do have issues with the aged nature of this attraction. Not to say the films picked as AA parts are not classic works, but the wrap-around elements just don't inspire. The interacting Cast Members did their darnedest to bring Bugsy, or Capone, or Cagney, or whatever noir pastiche gangster they were inventing, to life, but the guests were pretty passive about the whole experience.

                  [Fantasyland recreation.]

                  My updating suggestion, not that it goes any further than just us, would be filming new wrap-arounds each year, with the coordination of the Academy, with the winners of the various acting and crafts awards speaking enthusiastically about 'the movies' and why they matter personally to them. And use movie clips that really resonate, not just because they could license them cheaply. This re-edit? I could fully do it for them right now, list of films in my head, but... I've already worked for The Mouse once. (heh!) Of course, if they want to just redesign the whole ride to be completely Mickey Mouse 2.0 themed, I'd be okay with that too. As a new guest, I guess I'm not that picky about changes (sorry, to all that might be!).

                  Outside the theatre, an adorable meet-n-greet with Eeyore. Followed by a short walk to what recalls Endor.

                  [Finally, an AT-AT. I traveled across a continent for this one.]

                  Not sure whom was more excited, mom or son. I was too, but I've gone star touring before.


                  [..quite impressive...]

                  [...whoa, way way less impressive.]

                  [Six bays? Like Tokyo? I'm impressed again.]

                  We had a crazy pod race and won. Then, absolute total silence as Princess Leia messaged us causing us to jump over to a Coruscant battle right at twilight. Palpable how she's missed. One mission down, and suddenly gift store, gift store, gift store, "I want every thing in this gift store!" so say us all, and it was only hunger that dragged us outside after a considerable amount of time shopping for nothing. The brand new Pizzerizzo Muppet-operated eatery gave us an outdoor balcony table with a touch of misting drizzle. The rain was letting itself be known. Rizzo and Remé should really open a French Pastry Shoppe together nearby.

                  [Stopped in for DJ Electric Mayhem, but they had just gone on break.]

                  [This one's for mom.]
                  From upstairs, we sat awhile and peoplewatched folks going into the Muppetvision theatre as throngs are simultaneously flowing out the back streets from the exits. The kids are excited about the upcoming fastpass to the theatre. The pizza was also pretty good. Thumbs up on this redesigned spot.

                  [The details of Muppetvision, since losing DCA's, I'd almost forgotten.]

                  [The pre-show queue theming was all this, plus Sweetums.]

                  [Original grumpy old men - or... Bert and Ernie time travelers?]

                  Jim Henson's final project always charms me. The gift shop forced me into adopting Animal. My popcorn bucket Stitch from Tokyo Disneyland had been busy feeding the children all week, and was in need of a refill, so a bag of Confetti Popcorn was obtained and poured down into his stomach. Burppp.

                  [Santa Stitch makes a rare appearance from DisneySea, since he was a bit camera shy in Orlando.]

                  [...popcorn both goes in and comes out here. Rawrrr.]

                  Onwards, finally, to Chewbacca at the Launch Bay. We beeline it. I'm also overhyping the experience since I'm refraining from sharing family photos, but rest assured, the lines were a half hour, the daughter fell asleep, the father fell asleep, but at least he was awake for the family picture with our wookiee, as she was most assuredly not. I have plenty of live-photos with Chewie poking her arm, then shrugging to the camera. This may be one of the best meet-n-greet experiences all of Disney World has to offer, since he's really tall and really really present. But ya gotta stay awake.

                  [Case in point: from Disneyland last year on my birthday, Chewie helpfully checking my look.]
                  [Oh no! No one expects the Imperial Inquisition.]

                  [...but with most people glued to cel phones, expectations and observations both total zero.]

                  [Li'l jawas need the most love.]

                  The rest of Launch Bay becomes a blur of stuff. Kylo Ren humored the mom & son team for a moment then told them in no uncertain terms to leave, now. We left him to find father & daughter completely asleep together on a bench.

                  [Words to live by... helps to also have money.]

                  [A third Death Star? Seems a little short to be a death star.]

                  [Launch Bay is okay, but hope not permanent. I smell original Pirates walkthrough attraction.]

                  [Security! Found a weapons cache here?]
                  Following our map, the next stop was to be the Beauty and The Beast live stage show. Deciding to go ahead and go find seats even without a fastpass turned out to be rather easy, and we sat pretty far in the back. I was afraid that it might be too old or too young for our group, but the five year old was captured by the performance, and dad was enraptured in watching her captivation by the show.

                  The most exciting part of the story, when the villagers start to mob up against their perceived threat of the beast and all the thunder and lightning crack, was only enhanced by the heavens outside dropping a monsoon of water at our backs. Apparently, we finally received a typical Floridian afternoon shower, but only perfectly timed enough that dad whispered "this was such a great idea to be in here for this!" and we could only agree. Both wunderground and accuweather apps agreed to the minute when the monsoon would pass us, and that turned out to be precisely 3 minutes after the show ended. The show was also good.

                  We had a temporary parting of the group after the show, as Shawn wanted to experience the high-end Brown Derby restaurant, so we'd made separate dining plans for the evening, with the family heading off to do some family time and eventually stopping by the ABC Commissary (of which they later gave fine reviews of both food and decor). There was still about an hour before our reservations, so we thought to explore the north end of Sunset Boulevard. Tower of Terror was not high on Shawn's list as 'up up up down' doesn't rock his world, plus wait times had been running above 100 minutes all day long, even through the rain, but Rock'n Roller Coaster seemed to just finished undergoing a mid-afternoon hiccup and claimed only 10 minutes. So... Aerosmith...?

                  [Excited to see the original...]

                  [...except it was a consistent 90-minute queue.]
                  Aerosmith? I grew up in-between the times that Aerosmith was either popular or ironically popular, and because of that timing, I have some severe problems with this ride. Really don't understand their connection to Disney nor movies nor Hollywood at all. If the only time we actually see the band is in the recording studio, then any band could be in that recording studio. They don't need to remove Aerosmith (though I'd like for it to be explained 'Why Aerosmith?'), but could easily a 'Star Tours 2.0 plus' of this attraction with other bands for each different tour walking into that studio - Daft Punk? why not add video projections to make this a Tron coaster when Daft Punk is in the studio? Shakira could ask us to Try Anything on our first visit into Zootopia. or why not Owl City asking When Can We Do This Again while racing WreckIt Ralph through a candy-colored gumdropland racetrack. Ooo! Fall Out Boy can ask us to be one of the Immortals while riding Baymax?? Disney has a lot of great tunes that would work with a multi-functional plussed coaster ride, so why not never know which group will be in your control room on your visit?

                  But about the ride? I like going upside down, so upside down inside in the dark was very fun. The weird glowy cut-outs you are flung past were interesting but not that interesting. Shawn found a wormhole to meet me in the gift shop. The gift shop could be plussed too - i was promised a big giant Hollywood party, and some how, thematically, being dumped off in a gift shop was no party.

                  Tower of Terror was up to 110 minutes, and Rock'n was back up to 90 minutes again, so we wrapped up our north end visit, and took a lot of photos along Sunset at sunset on the way to dinner. But real terror waited outside the meal, as the rains came back.

                  [The Brown Derby.]

                  [Complete with old-fashioned caricatures. Originals or not? I forgot to ask google.]

                  [Vegetarians beware! Actually, they had wonderful options for vegetarians too.]

                  [Especially in the desserts.]
                  Rain! So much rain! The family had a bit of a blast, catching some of the Indiana Jones stunt show and another run through Star Tours before eating, but the rains decided to return and stay. One umbrella was doing them okay, but by the time we finished our meal, they were very ready to call the night. We walked them to the stroller return at the entrance, hugged good night with a check on making sure they had arranged their ride home, and turned around, deciding rain wasn't going to stop us.

                  Three walk-on Star Tours later, followed by one solid drenching while staring straight up into the rain for the fireworks show, decided for us that the rain had finally stopped us. A Boba Fett hoodie protects nothing when standing out in a squall for a half hour, though it remained internally dry almost the whole show. The fireworks were worth it - the movie clip sequencing is pretty random, but the show's length goes on for so long that it felt worth getting soaked under it. I wish the Cast Members didn't have to keep telling people hiding under trees that they couldn't block the paths there, when it was quite obvious that there was no one even walking the park to block, but even that didn't ruin the weird fun of crazy fireworks in the rain.

                  Looking back at our maps, we didn't even walk back to Pixar Place (Toy Story averaged an hour wait all day) nor had time to look in on Little Mermaid. Fantasmic didn't stand a chance after the rains dropped, and while the new expansions will add so much to do, we still had a very full complete day in the park.

                  Analysis: I like this park. I'd like this park more in two years. I'd love this park with Daft Punk. (Please make that happen.)

                  Walking time: 13,747 steps, 6.73 miles.
                  Last edited by brett; 04-07-2017, 03:43 PM.


                  • #10
                    Animal Kingdom! Oh, day four, we found our groove.

                    To be honest, i thought we'd all be out of steam by now, but on the fourth day, we were given animals. And a severe lack of humidity and heat, which apparently makes summer sound difficult over here in Creatureland. Surprise ending was discovery of a full working Rivers of Light show just starting that week.

                    [Day four, our final magical map for the week]

                    We were up early. The kids didn't wake us, but anticipation might have. As a rule, we try to have an "inside the berm" lockdown once we enter the parks - no news, no phone calls (except emergencies), no work, no outside talk about outside subjects at all. So before breakfast, we caught up on news of the world, of the weird, and of all the wacky stuff we miss inside the berm all day. It really was a sweet relief to be inside that berm for the week, and i recommend everyone try it sometimes. The kids had built up a nice new collection of princesses and star wars characters over the week, so we'd find those all fighting and dancing and fightdancing over our breakfasts, and their storylines were at least as crazy as anything else going on outside the berm.

                    Everyone was ready to go quickly, and again we got to learn the backroads away from International Drive. The drivers know all the shortcuts, and I liked seeing the corporate offices and wardrobe buildings backstage on tiny non-descript roads.

                    [Hi moms. Hi dads.]

                    We took photos in the front, we got our stroller rental, and somehow I totally spaced on looking for Pandora. Not even just looking west to try to see the floating mountains. "Somehow", meaning we immediately got lost with the animals in the Oasis, with snakes and other strange creatures offered to the children like Ghirardelli chocolate squares at the candy store.

                    No sooner past the Oasis, but we were lost in the gift shops again. i plead guilty. i was curious too. Another forty paces north would have taken us past Tarzan's meet and greet (i would have geeked out), but we ended up turned around and found Pocahontas' instead. Our resident mom was maaaybe more excited than the kids.

                    [Eye popping detail.]

                    Figured that The Boneyard of Dinoland USA would let the kids run off steam, but never anticipated that they'd have us running all over the 'yard to see what else they just found. The five year old had found something hysterical about the giant bridge dinosaur's rear end, but i'm not sure i ever understood what it was all about.

                    [Oh yes, we saw you there hidden Mickey. You couldn't hide, even in Dinoland.]

                    The map was spot on, taking us from the Boneyard over to Dinosaur, which has recently been refurbished, to a simple yet delicious Restaurantosaurus lunch. Anytime the all-you-can-fixin' burger bar is available at a Disney property, I've learned to embrace it. The kids talked about Dinosaur the entire meal, as it was a favorite for the moment.

                    The map was spot off - we didn't head towards Finding Nemo, as we were already pushing its start time. Instead, a return to Discovery Island with It's Tough Be A Bug. Okay, okay, this east coast version is waaaaaay better than the DCA counterpart, in both queue and theatre. Oh that tree takes the cake over that soundstage. You win this time Florida, nicely played.

                    [There is a monkey something something, right center middle, i tell ya.]

                    We still had time to spare before our afternoon Expedition to Everest, so a trek down the Maharajah Jungle Trek trail interested us more than the Kali River Rapids. I take that partially back - the kids were ALLL for the River Rapids, but the adults eyeballed all the folks getting off the ride with soaked shoes (as well as clothes) and sensibly suggested the jungle might let us see more animals.

                    [So incredible...]

                    [Wish my zoo even came close to this beauty.]

                    [Tyger tyger sleeping sound.]

                    [The random insect.]

                    [The excellent art directions.]

                    [Totally random bird things. Pandora open early? Something escape?]

                    [Distant animals.]

                    [All the prayer flags.]

                    [Top notch decor around every bend.]

                    [In awe in the aviary. Keep your mouth more closed.]

                    [Bird. Crazy colored bird!]
                    What a friend we have in Expedition Everest. On a par with Grizzly Gulch in Hong Kong, which uses the same backward switching concept, this hit all the adrenaline centers for everyone in the party. The five year old decided she could then ride anything anywhere anytime, whereas the eight year old bounced around the gift shop proclaiming it 'the best ride evvvver'... so it was a bit of a success. We promised we'd look at it again later.

                    [This wasn't just a ride, this was the kids' favorite best ride - three times before leaving the park.]

                    With a bit of time before our Kilimanjaro Safari fastpass, we found the line at Flights of Fancy short. Actually very short, as I found myself looking over everyone's heads as most "everyone" was a large childrens' school group. The show was silly, but the birds were very cool as the first one out flew inches over our heads.

                    The Safari fastpass zipped us right to the front and onto a bus in under five minutes. We did see wildlife. I really wondered what the animals thought about their whole lives living out with these streams of buses meandering through their homes every day.

                    [The random wildlife.]

                    Same with the gorillas of the Gorilla Falls Trek afterwards.

                    ["Weirdo humans."]

                    As the final meal of the family Disney vacation drew close, the smells of Tusker House continually wafted out to cover us in the outside waiting area as we patiently hung about for our character meal buffet. We had a hard time finding out from the Disney website and apps which characters would be in attendance, and even the check-in cast members couldn't confirm whom would be there, suggesting that Mickey, Donald, and Goofy had been spotted around. Definitely no Tarzan, as they could see him having problems with hair nets and shoes. And no Terq, as they apparently allow mice and ducks into the kitchen, but draw the line at gorillas. Sigh.

                    Finally, the doors opened to us and we got a chance to spy inside the main buffet room. The various unique smells I was extremely familiar with, but the combined sights and smells were stunning. My local restaurants don't have such a gigantic atrium covered in hundreds of tiny flags and bunting, and the variations of curries and spices were almost overwhelming. Our table was plain and back in the corner, but the characters went slowly and cautiously through the rooms, insuring everyone had time to take photos and talk with them a bit.

                    Three plates. I went through three plates of food before dessert. Simply amazing buffet. And i was hungry.

                    [Seconds after being mauled in my seat by Donald. Tried to get up to hug him, was knocked sideways, but the hugs never stopped and somehow he righted me. Enthusiastic magic!]

                    [Tusker House flabbergasted our senses. Recommend highly this restaurant i do.]
                    This guy. Goofy. Pulled my hair, high-fived, stared down on top of the eight year old for what seemed like hours before the eight year old looked upward into his face, happy freak outs - this guy knew how to goof. Mickey was super fantastic to talk with (not that he spoke back), but Goofy stole our hearts. Daisy and Minnie both came through, and Daisy may have actually come around to visit us twice - Goofy definitely did, while lovable Donald knocked me out of my seat in his enthusiasm in wanting to give me a hug. This was one of my favorite meals of the week.

                    [Goofy and I bonded completely.]

                    Tusker House eventually had to end, after at least two helpings of desserts (and a squirreled-away napkin of cookies), and off to the Legend of the Lion King. An interesting extravaganza that i was super-excited to have the kids see, mostly based on seeing the Hong Kong version. Which, turns out, to be different. Slightly. Still a great show, and the kids really liked it, but HK has a different telling of the story, one i found more cohesive. Their's more a chronicle of the legend being retold to the king, Simba, so there are the AA characters, then another set of animal-human-actors specifically being those main characters in restaging the tale for us. And HK's finale brings all four giant floats back into centerstage, and then those all spin together in one giant eyeboggling mass, which i thought one of the best of the missing elements between the versions. Still, a lovely show.

                    The kids were all about more Everest, so back we went, where the line was so short, thanks to the Rivers of Light stands filling up, that we were able to ride twice back to back. Albeit through the gift shop each time. The eight year old planned to wear his new 'I Survived' tee shirt that night, the next day, and all the way up to school the following Tuesday.

                    The kids alternated on a few of our shoulders while in the standing room section for Rivers of Light. Nice show, needs drones, or something higher in the air as well. Great floats, but hard to make out the video projections in the water sprays if you are standing on the sides of the show. Sounded wonderous.

                    [The standing room only view when without fastpass seating to Rivers of Light.]

                    [Love the floating animals.]

                    [Don't think you can see this close without a zoom involved somehow.]

                    [Your view is closer to something like this, but it's still pretty spectacular for no fireworks.]
                    Slowly wandering towards the exit, past Asia and onto Discovery Island, we discovered the light projections on the Tree, stopping up right in front in our tracks. Luckily not in front of anyone else.

                    [The Tree of Life's animations are very hard to capture with a phone at night, but still, wow...]

                    And finally, back to the long-promised gift shop! Some medium-sized Experiments were purchased, one Stitch for the boy, an Angel for the girl, one super smaller six armed Stitch for myself. Soon after, our carpool ride took us away for a well-rested nap.

                    [Trying to shoot a photo of the kids, and Stitch kept nosing into frame!]

                    [Thinks he's being sneaky...]

                    [Cute and fuzzy takes you a long long way sometimes...]

                    [Now, these guys at toddler eye level? Disney... I swear... I almost missed them!]

                    [The details above the shopping area.]

                    [Astounding work everywhere you look.]

                    [This li'l guy followed me home.]

                    [At least these two hit it off pretty swell, because that could have been awkward.]
                    ​Conclusion: Would i go again? Oh heck yes. Wintertime? Yes, no humidity please. After Pandora? Yes. Going again soon? No, not for a long while.

                    Walking amount: 15,930 steps, 7.68 miles.
                    Last edited by brett; 04-17-2017, 10:47 PM.