Impressions of Walt Disney World 5: Disney’s Animal Kingdom

My favorite of the Walt Disney World parks was Disney’s Animal Kingdom. There were many reasons for this…

  1. It’s the most different of the parks, and the most UNLIKE what we have here in California.
  2. DAK is the most immersive of the parks. While there are different lands, they all have the same wild feel to them.
  3. My absolute favorite of the stage shows is in DAK. (Finding Nemo, the musical. It has incredible puppetry, and really uses Disney-style effects well.)
  4. I love animals.

Safari 1

But the reason I love DAK the most? I think Walt would have approved. I think this is, to some degree, what he wanted to do with the Jungle Cruise. (Our best Safari guide even made a Jungle Cruise joke.) He’d wanted live animals, but was convinced by his team that animatronic animals would provide a more consistent show. In Animal Kingdom, there is finally a Disney attraction that features live animals: the Kilimanjaro Safaris.

It also has the tour I most want to go on: the Wild Africa Trek. It sounds AMAZING, but since it’s a new tour, they weren’t advertising it much yet. We found out about it on our last day at WDW, and all the spots had filled up. That is the first item on my list of things to do for my eventual return trip to Disney World.

Safari 2

However, DAK does also have the thing I probably like the least about WDW also. Hester and Chester’s Dinorama. Can I just pretend that it doesn’t exist? It’s a big, rather tacky, dinosaur-themed area with rides and midway games. And it’s the one thing that really doesn’t fit. The dinosaur excavation playground just outside Hester and Chester’s is cool. They can keep that. But the Dinorama… No.

There is also a moment of sadness. If you close your eyes and pretend really hard, you can go on the Indiana Jones attraction while in DAK. But as soon as you open your eyes, you are brought back into dinosaur-land. This is proof, however, of how much a good soundtrack and theming adds to an attraction.

What am I talking about, you ask? Well, one of my favorite attractions in Disneyland is Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. (It’s not just a favorite of mine, either. It consistently has one of the longest wait times in the entire Disneyland Resort.) If you take the exact same attraction cars, and the exact same track layout, and plop it in Disney’s Animal Kingdom but rename it Dinosaur (with a soundtrack and back-story to fit), you will get… not the same ride, but instead a much, MUCH inferior one. If I ride this again, I will make sure to queue up the soundtrack to Indy before I get on the car, and see how much better it is when I can really pretend I’m on the good version of the ride.

Jungle Trek

At any rate, though I did have a handful of complaints about DAK, it really was my favorite of the parks. True, Expedition Everest was crazy and I won’t be riding it again. (Have you played Rollercoaster Tycoon? Well, that ride is too intense for me.) And we didn’t go on Kali River Rapids because we were avoiding water rides, though if I go back at a different time of year I certainly want to try it out.

Tree of Life

We went on the Safaris more times than any other attraction at WDW. (I think 4 times. We had 2 mediocre guides and 2 great ones.) There’s a live bird show – Flights of Wonder – that we watched twice because the birds weren’t super cooperative the first time around.  We spent a lot of time wandering the Majaraja Jungle Trek and the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. The Finding Nemo musical was wonderful, and the Festival of the Lion King was enjoyable, too. (Though I’d otherwise avoid Camp Minnie Mickey at Christmastime. Its soundtrack has all the annoying kid-style Christmas songs you could ever hope to avoid.)

There are good places to eat, too. We enjoyed our lunch at Yak and Yeti a lot, though dinner at the Tusker House wasn’t as good as we’d hoped. And the seating at even the quick service eateries was the best in the whole resort.

Expedition Everest

Impressions of Walt Disney World 4: Hollywood Studios

I think the park that surprised me the most was Disney’s Hollywood Studios. And it didn’t necessarily surprise me in an “I like this!” kind of way, it just was surprising. Neither a good nor bad surprise.

with Sorcerer Mickey

The biggest surprise was how similar it felt to Disney California Adventure in Anaheim. (Yes, I know, DCA is the newer park. But I’ve known it much longer than DHS.) The entry gates in DHS are the same as the new DCA entry gates. The Tower of Terror is each park’s biggest E-ticket. DHS has a Carthay Theatre. DCA is getting a (bigger and more central) Carthay Theatre. And the feel of the parks are much the same. (It makes sense, in a way, as they are both focused on California. I just didn’t expect it.)

The best part about DHS is the huge variety of shows. From Fantasmic! to Beauty and the Beast to the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, there are TONS of shows.

Broom

The rides are enjoyable too, but the shows are what sets Hollywood Studios apart. This is appropriate, as it’s about HOLLYWOOD. You know, where people make movies? Yeah, that aspect of the park was no disappointment and very well done.

Specific thoughts on the shows:

  • Fantasmic! has its own amphitheater. With bleachers. YOU GET TO SIT DOWN IN TIERED SEATING TO WATCH THE SHOW. I cannot emphasize this enough, because it was the ONLY thing about the DHS version that beats the DLR version. The seating is awesome. The show itself – for the sections which aren’t exactly the same as the original in Disneyland – is a baby version. (Granted, it costs somewhere around half as much. It shows) There are more projections on the water screens instead of live actors. No pirate ship. A puny steamboat instead of the Mark Twain. Plus, where we have the new and improved Murphy (aka Maleficent-the-dragon), they have our old Bucky (aka Maleficent-the-dragon).
  • FantasmicBeauty and the Beast was fun to see. The chorus was lip-synching, though, while the leads were singing (over microphones). Still, the acting was fun, the dancing was great, and the tech effects were wonderful.
  • The Indy Jones Stunt show was cut short when we saw it due to rainy conditions. The rain itself had stopped, but the set was still too wet for about half the stunts. What we saw was great fun, though.
  • The Little Mermaid show was really short. (And the gal we saw playing Ariel was missing a few of the high notes.) The tech effects were great, but that’s about all I can say as a reason to stand in line for this show. If you can manage to walk right on (as we did), that’s perfect.
  • The Lights, Motors, Action! stunt show was great. Tons of fun, and worth waiting for. (Plus it had Lightning McQueen! Ka-chow!)

Specific thoughts on the rides:

  • Tower of Terror in DHS is one of two rides I will say is unconditionally better than the California version. (Snow White in MKP is the other.) This Tower of Terror was the original, and is more entertaining than the DCA one. However, they also had the room to make it whatever they wanted. In DCA they did a smaller version because they had less space. Also, the DCA version follows the same drop pattern every time. (My guy has it memorized.) The DHS version is RANDOM. So much fun. I loved this ride so much.

Tower of Terror

  • Toy Story Midway Mania is the same ride as the DCA one. The queue is fun, and full of big-size classic games, as if you’re toy-sized. But it imagines you’re in Andy’s Room, while the DCA version puts you on the Midway (as the name of the ride suggests). I like them both, they just give you different backgrounds.
  • The Great Movie Ride was okay. Based on reviews I’d heard prior to going to Florida, I expected to love it. But it was just okay. I suspect a lot of it has to do with your guide.

Great Movie Ride

  • The Studio Backlot Tour is essentially a cookie-cutter copy of the one at Universal Studios, but with different sets. (No Jaws. But the same basic idea.) Fun, but not something I need to go on regularly.

Specific thoughts on the food:

  • The Sci-Fi Drive-In Diner was amusing. The food was okay, and the atmosphere was fun.
  • The 50’s Primetime Cafe was one of my favorite places to eat. The food quality was good basic home cooking, but the show! The atmosphere in the place was awesome. Our waitress was “Mom Maryanne,” and she treated us like kids. If someone (always an adult, that I saw) didn’t finish their dinner, she threatened to “airplane” another bite (or three) in their mouth. When the food she brought out was hot, she cautioned us to “use our blowers”. The whole thing felt Disney. It was an amazing, and highly recommended experience.

Something Universal Orlando Forgot

So, among the things I was looking for during this past trip to Florida, I wanted to find unique Christmas ornaments. Such as a Disney WORLD (not just Disney) ornament, or a special Harry Potter ornament. Such as a Golden Snitch.

Snitch in Action

That would be the perfect thing to see at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in November, wouldn’t it?

Unfortunately, I didn’t find any.

So, thanks to a link from EPBOT, I found a tutorial for making my own. I am not going to post the method I used for making the snitches here. If you want to know how they were made, you’ll have to go to the link itself. I want to drive traffic to good sites, not steal it away.

Instead, here are a few pictures of how I made the snitches that I couldn’t buy.

Snitch progress 1

Snitch progress 2

The one thing I will say about my method of making them as opposed to the tutorial is that (even though I was using glass ornaments too) I ended up finding that hot glue worked best to keep the wings attached.

Snitch progress 3

I ended up making six: two for friends, two for family, one for almost-family, and one for myself.

Snitch flock 1

I think they turned out quite well, if I do say so myself.

Snitch flock 2

God Bless Us, EVERY One

It’s funny. I used to hate when people wished me “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.”

And for the most part, I still disapprove of the reason why they say that. It seems to me that most people use one of those two sayings because it’s more politically correct than saying “Merry Christmas.”

For the longest time, I rebelled by wishing people a “Merry Christmas” because, darnit! That’s what I celebrate, and so that’s what I want to say. None of this PC nonesense.

And then I started thinking about it.

Yes, some people – even most people – say “Happy Holidays” because it’s PC to do so. They say “Season’s Greetings” because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings if they celebrate another holiday.

But some people speak of the more generic “holidays” because they recognize that there is more than one winter holiday which falls within a two week span. (Possibly more, possibly less… while I know there are lots of holidays right around now, I don’t know when they all occur. And then there’s Hanukkah, which moves.)

At any rate, I think Tiny Tim had it right. “God bless us, every one.” Whether or not “every one” of us worships the same god.

Impressions of Walt Disney World 3: Epcot

(Oops. I had meant to write before this. But it’s Christmas, and I’m trying to finish a last few things before giving them away as presents, and that means… you guessed it. The blog suffers from neglect. Sorry about that.)

Monorail in Future WorldOf all the parks in Walt Disney World, I expected to like Epcot the best. It is the most recognizable of the WDW resort parks: I’d go as far as to say it’s more recognizable than Magic Kingdom Park. People confuse Magic Kingdom with Disneyland, but there’s nothing I’ve seen that’s anything like that giant silver golf ball in the middle of Epcot. (Yes, I know it’s not actually in the center of the park, nor is it a golf ball.)

When it comes to things to do in Epcot, however, there’s not a whole lot. (It wasn’t actually my favorite of the WDW parks. Stay tuned for more on this.) There is amazing food, and a couple of fun rides. The live street performers are fun, the theming in the World Showcase is fabulous, and the food is amazing. I really like the shops. It’s great walking around the World Showcase and hearing the actual accents from that country because the Cast Members who work there are FROM said countries. And did I mention that the food is AMAZING?

UK Pavilion
UK Pavilion

Here’s the basic layout of Epcot: you enter into Future World, where there are attractions such as Spaceship Earth (that big golf ball), Mission Space, and Test Track. There are also “The Land” and “The Seas”, which are amusing as well.

Beyond the golf ball, you come to the World Showcase. This, in my opinion, is the highlight of Epcot. There are 11 countries represented here: (clockwise) Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, America (as in USA, not as in the continent), Japan, Morocco, France, the UK, and Canada. It’s like a permanent World’s Fair, though only some nations are represented, and the area for each is larger. Each of the pavilions is impeccably built and decorated, and staffed by people from the countries. Some, if not all, of the Cast Members in the world pavilions are there on work-study or other similar exchange programs. The CMs we met there were among the friendliest I encountered in our whole trip. They seemed to truly WANT to be there.

Norway Pavlion
Norway Pavilion

Random notes:

  • We dubbed Epcot “Foodlandia,” because every time we asked each other, “Where do you want to eat?” the answer was somewhere in Epcot.
  • I’m sad that Epcot is no longer EPCOT. Walt had named it EPCOT – an acronym for “Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow.” I love that the name he picked stuck, and am sad that the punctuation and meaning have changed. Though, when all’s said and done, Epcot isn’t really a prototype of tomorrow, so I guess the change was a good thing.
  • If you go, eat at Les Chefs de France. The food is great, and the chef comes to visit your table, too.

Chef Remy

  • Test Track is amusing, but I’m looking forward to Radiator Springs Racers. Unlike Test Track, the DCA version will have a plot and (I suspect) much better theming.
  • Based on the ride times, “Soarin’” is one of the popular items. However, as someone who is used to DCA, I have two thoughts on this. One: the name is wrong. It is “Soarin’ over California,” and while they changed NOTHING ELSE about the attraction, they changed the name. Dumb. Two: I have only once waited longer than 45 minutes for that attraction, and that was when it was brand new. No matter how fun it is, I don’t get how it has a constantly long wait time. Fast pass is your friend.
  • Italy Pavilion. Rosa Regale wine. The closest thing you’ll get to Magicale in Walt Disney World. (It’s also found at BevMo. Tasty stuff.)

And to end, here’s a story of Disney Magic. While we were dining at Teppan Edo (a hibachi-style Japanese restaurant, similar to Benihana here in California) we started chatting with another couple seated at our table. They hadn’t been having a great day: she said that the Cast Members they’d encountered so far hadn’t been very friendly. She said they had been to the park before, and from what I heard, they (or at least she) wasn’t on the way to enjoying her vacation.

Well, I am a big believer in Disney Magic, and we’d been having a fabulous trip. So it only made sense to me to spread some of that Disney Magic around. I did something I’d seen a Cast Member do before: I pulled a penny out of my pocket, and handed it to her, telling her that her mission was to throw it in the water before they left the park that night, and make a wish. It seemed to work… She was in a much better mood the rest of the night, and I like to think I brought back a little Disney Magic to their vacation.

Spaceship Earth(His mission, when she’d completed her mission, was to kiss her. He didn’t have a problem with that.)

Impressions of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Prior to this trip, I had only been to Universal Studios in California, and only rarely. So I was pleasantly surprised by the level of theming detail in Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Florida.

Granted, the entire reason we visited the Islands of Adventure was to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But we decided that, while we were there, we’d see the rest of the Islands of Adventure, and we left Potter-land for last.

Islands of Adventure

It seemed that a large percentage of the rides in the Islands were water rides. While this makes sense theme-wise, it meant that we had little desire to ride most of the attractions for one reason or another. (I didn’t want to do the huge rollercoasters, and neither of us wanted to go on water rides.)

The first of the lands where we spend significant time – other than wandering around being amused by the theming – was Seuss Landing. They were in the process of adding Christmas decorations for “Grinchmas”, and the whole thing was appropriately Seussical. I really enjoyed it. And most of the Christmas decor we saw in Universal’s Islands was in Seuss Landing… while I love Disney’s all-over approach to Christmas, it was also refreshing to see a mix of Christmas and standard decorations.

Seuss Landing

In Seuss Landing we rode The High In The Sky Seuss Trolley Train, which was an amusing way to see the majority of the area without having to walk through it. Amusing, though the music in the queue was the sort that would drive you nuts after a very short while. After that, we rode the Caro-Seuss-El, which is a merry-go-round with Seuss characters for the horses. And the most amusing part of the ride was the way you could make the animals move. Depending on what creature you were riding, you could move its head, or make its eyes blink, which entertained me through the whole ride.

Hogwarts Express

When we got to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we were definitely not disappointed by the look and feel of the place. It felt like we stepped out of our world and into Harry’s, which (I’m sure) was the idea. My biggest complaint about the land was that I would have LOVED to ride the Hogwarts Express, but the train was only represented by the engine sitting at the entrance to the world. I didn’t even see the engine blow off any steam while I was watching it. (The chimneys smoked, though.)

Once we’d wandered around, taken a ton of pictures, and had a mug of butterbeer, I ignored the “if you get motion sickness, DO NOT RIDE” signs and went on the main attraction of the area: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It’s a simulator ride located inside Hogwarts Castle, and the queue alone is worth taking a look at. Even if you don’t want to ride the ride, you should walk the queue. They have portraits that move and talk, the Sorting Hat giving a speech, and characters from the movies setting up the premise for the attraction.

Hogwarts Castle

The ride itself was very well done. I was (mostly) able to ignore the dizziness and focus on the way they blended projections with animatronics to enjoy the experience, but they do mean what they say when they warn you about the ride. It is an intense ride. It is also extremely well done, however, and I’d go on it again… maybe. It is certainly not one that I can do multiple times in the same day, but with my history of vertigo it’s surprising that I could do the ride at all.

We ended our day with some shopping in Potter-land, and a Hog’s Head brew at the tavern. I could easily have spent twice the amount of time we did spend just wandering around and looking at things – the window displays were great, with the complete works of Gilderoy Lockhart in one window (complete with a moving picture of him posing for the camera), a tape measure working without assistance from a tailor in another window, and Moaning Myrtle in the girls’ bathroom.

Hogsmede