Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Whole New (Walt Disney) World

Hey everyone, I'm back! I had planned to post a bunch of pictures in this post, but I just spent hours going through them all on Flickr to label and add descriptions, so I'm just going to link to the Flickr sets, instead. Hope you don't mind. It won't be as pretty, but I don't think you'll be disappointed in the pics, so please take the time to click through the links. If you want an overview, the whole collection can be found HERE.

The trip was incredible. Walt Disney World is a park on a scale like no other. The resort area spans for miles and the size of each individual park is intimidating. Disneyland in Anaheim feels like an intimate, cozy park. Magic Kingdom in Orlando feels truly like another world. It was nice having ample walkways and the kind of theming you can only do with that kind of space. But enough about general impressions- on to the tour!

Port Orleans French Quarter
Port Orleans Pictures
This was the first time Melissa and I had stayed anywhere other than an All-Star Resort and the difference was palpable. While I'm sure there were plenty of families around, the layout just made it feel like there weren't screaming kids everywhere, even the public areas. The river and jogging trail made for a very serene environment. The pool was incredible, with fountains and a slide and plenty of alcoves and spaces that made it feel rather private, even when it was crowded. The rooms weren't luxurious, but they were certainly a level above Motel 6. The tv wasn't great, but really, who cares? You're at Walt Disney World. How much TV time do you need. Also, the arcade had Donkey Kong. Score!

Our first night in, Melissa and I went to The Wave at the Contemporary Resort. I can't wait until we can afford to stay in a place like that. It felt classy top to bottom (and I hear the rooms have all been remodeled to be extra fancy). The dinner was top notch, focusing on contemporary fusion cuisine with an emphasis on sustainable and organic foods (which I appreciate). I had a pork loin with roasted fingerlings (which are becoming my favorite potato) and a flight of organic ales. The seared tuna appetizer was cooked perfectly and set things up nicely. The wine pairings all worked and Melissa and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The only downside was how many crying children there were. There was no doubt when you walked in that this was an elegant, fancy restaurant (and the prices confirmed it). I understand you're at Disney, but who thinks their kids are going to enjoy a meal like that? Also, our reservation was at 9:20, pretty late for most kids. Eventually, the families cleared out and the restaurant calmed down considerably. I would certainly eat there on my next trip (though I hope to be able to eat at the California Grill on the top level of the hotel). We also ate at Boatwright's, the full-service restaurant at Port Orleans. It was fine, but felt more like an Applebee's than a destination restaurant.

Animal Kingdom
nimal Kingdom Pictures Day 1
Animal Kingdom Pictures Day 2

There's not a whole lot of attractions at Animal Kingdom (yet), but it's a very enjoyable park. The theming in Africa and Asia is very detailed and immersive. Expedition Everest looms over Asia imposingly, and the ride itself doesn't disappoint. Going backwards in the dark is pretty intense. I do wish the giant Yeti was operational, though. He's so cool, but not as mind-blowing as when he's actually moving around. The Dinosaur ride uses the same ride technology as Indiana Jones, though it's a little slower-paced. The many dinosaurs are very well done and I enjoyed the ride more than I remembered from our honeymoon.

Speaking of dinosaurs, on Day 2 Melissa and I decided to be silly. In Jurassic Park, the little girl always screams at things by putting her arms at her side stiffly and tilting her head. So, every dino Melissa and I saw (and there were a lot of them) we took a picture doing that pose. It's a good way to get people to look at you funny.

The main highlight of the park, though, is the wild animals. Between the Safari ride and the two walking trails, you can see a lot of animals that feel much closer and more natural than they do in most zoos. Look at the pictures on Day 1 to see what I mean. They'll say more than my words can.

We also took in two shows- Finidng Nemo: The Musical and Festival of the Lion King. Nemo is a retelling of the movie with a bunch of new songs created for the show and extensive puppet use. It's Broadway caliber. The performers were pros and the songs were catchy. Very cool. Lion King is setup by a troupe of singers who are celebrating with Simba. There are four animatronic animals (Pumbaa, Simba, a giraffe, and an elephant) a Timon walking around, and a whole troupe of acrobats and dancers. It's high energy, audience involving, and just beautiful to watch. It was much more impressive than I was expecting.

We also took in a dinner at Animal Kingdom Lodge. From the hotel, you can look out on to a savanna where more animals roam (we saw some antelope and ostriches). We ate at Boma, an all you can eat place much classier than any buffet I've eaten. All of the food is African-inspired (except for the coward's table (my name), which has chicken fingers and such) and very unique. I probably tried about 25 dishes and was blown away by all of them. The roast steak they were carving was unique, especially with the spicy mustard sauce. I loved the watermelon rind salad. So many spices and flavor profiles I don't usually get to eat made this my favorite dining experience on the trip. I can't recommend it enough.

Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom Pictures

What can I say about the Magic Kingdom? It's taller and wider than the kingdom in Anaheim, and, as a whole, a better experience. Disneyland's Fantasyland is cooler, and our Pirates is a much more complete ride. Also, our Tiki Room isn't the embarrassment they've created in Florida (Iago and Zazu take over and basically rape the classic show right in front of your eyes). Other than that, everything is better in Florida. Most rides have two or three additional scenes and just feel more impressive than their California counterparts. The Haunted Mansion stands out. As many of you know, this is my favorite ride by a wide margin. I probably rode it ten times on this trip (and would have gone more if I felt like abandoning my wife and her family). Last year, they upgraded the sound system (the Ghost Host moving around you in the stretching room and the bats and whispers after you are let out of said stretch room are spine-tingling) and added a couple of new scenes. Most notably, they took out the cheesy spiderwebs and put in an MC Escher inspired staircase room, with stairs going in every direction and ghostly footsteps appearing and disappearing. Then, you encounter glowing eyes which blend into the wallpaper of the next scene. Some of the eyes in the wallpaper even blink at you, which took me by surprise. I could go on (the pop up ghosts in the graveyard still really pop, the Madame Leota projection is cleaner, the whole ride feels darker), but suffice it to say that the whole ride is creepier and feels much better cared for than the original at DL.

The whole park was, to borrow some cheese, magical. It really transports you out of the everyday world and into a world of fantasy and adventure. We went on the Keys to the Kingdom tour our second day in the park, which led us backstage and showed us the operational secrets of the park. I didn't learn much I didn't know, but it was neat to walk around those areas and really see things working (we got to witness a parade rehearsal, for example). We had a lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern, which was good, filling food (pot roast, pot pie, turkey and gravy), but not necessarily anything to write home about. Plenty good, just not on the level of some of the other meals we ate. I enjoyed the nighttime parade, Spectromagic, more than I remembered, but it still feels a bit like a cheap replacement for the Main Street Electrical Parade. The Chernabog float makes it all worth it, though. Basically, from the extra height of Main Street to the towering castle, the whole park was a sight to behold.

Epcot Pictures

I can see where Epcot may be boring for kids, but I adore it. Test Track is 30 seconds of very thrilling ride, preceded by a 3 minute riding commercial for anti-lock breaks. Mission Space, on the other hand, is a thrill unlike any you've ever felt. They do an excellent job of simulating a rocket launch and the g-force you feel can't be matched by a roller coaster. A completely unique experience. I'm also a big fan of Spaceship Earth, the ride in the geodesic dome. Anything with a ton of animatronic figures is cool by me, and I love traveling through world history. The new voice-over by Judy Dench is a little cheesy, but it works.

The World Showcase houses the best theming in any of the Disney parks. Even though each country occupies a small physical space, you really can forget that you're in the middle of Florida. There may not be any great rides (Norway's Maelstrom and Mexico's river ride are basically like Pirates of the Carribean, if Pirates taught you about a country's exports instead of being exciting), but the experience is unforgettable. Moving from England to France to Morocco to Japan is exhilarating. I also appreciated that each pavilion had unique items from the represented country in the stores, instead of generic Disney junk. It also helps that each employee in the pavilions is a native of the country on display.

We had a lunch at Le Chefs de France (guess what country that was in) that was quite entertaining. The food was delicious and well-prepared. My salmon was cooked perfectly and I will be looking up a recipe for that tomato bernaise. I also experienced my first escargot. I enjoyed it, though I didn't taste much of the snails. It mostly just tasted like garlic and parsley. The highlight of the meal, though, was Remy. There's a little animatronic figure that they wheel around on a serving platter. Ok, I'll post just one picture:
The man behind Remy is his "handler," Armand. Armand was hilarious. Since Remy doesn't talk for himself (he just squeaks), Armand did all of the talking. He played the part of an arrogant egotist beautifully, insisting that I wanted a picture of him, not Remy. It was just delightful; one of those little surprises that make Disney dining so special. It's these little things, these little details, that made Epcot (and all of Walt Disney World, really) just so special.

Disney's Hollywood Studios
Hollywood Studios Pictures

Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM) is the least impressive of the parks, really. Tower of Terror and the Aerosmith roller coaster are great thrill rides, but that's really most of what the park offers. The Great American Movie ride is a neater idea than an execution. It could use an update (and some new animatronics). I do love the Muppet 3D movie, though the print has seen better days (thankfully, it's being digitally restored as we speak). I enjoyed the Toy Story Midway Mania, but it's exactly the same ride we have at California Adventure (albeit with a much cooler queue area). Melissa and I did manage to get the top 2 scores of the morning, though. Even though I don't care much for cars (at all), the Lights Motors Action stunt show was kind of mind blowing. There were cars jumping over ramps, spinning all around, driving backwards at high speeds- The fact that they hit those marks every single day was very impressive. Add in some explosions for good measure and it's a very cool show. The last thing we did in any of the parks was take in Fantasmic at this park. We got there more than 2 hours early and were among the first ones in the amphitheater. We were third row dead center. The show is much longer out there, though I'd rather have California's awesome Peter Pan scene than Florida's lame Pocahontas scene. The extra emphasis on the villains is cool, too. It was as magical and inspiring as it is intended to be. It was a great, totally fitting way to end the trip.

Sooo, still with me? I hope you enjoyed my tour and had a chance to flip through the pictures. It was a great experience and I can't wait to go back. I'll be back tomorrow as Selzer & Smuckles gets restarted. You won't want to miss it. Hope you've all been well while I've been gone.


1 comment:

  1. I skimmed over this, and I will read this more in depth tomorrow. I think the four of us should go to WDW sometime.

    I miss my home away from home. *sigh*

    Now go get your iPhone update! :)