Note 7/2011: A flashback from 2008:
This post brought to you by Hennepin ™ beer and Barack Obama! Well, our sponsors aren’t so official; actually, last night we toasted Obama’s acceptance speech while having some very nice Belgian beer. So here’s to you, Barack…nicely done.
Anyway, greetings once again from Massachusetts. We’re back. It’s….Massachusetts. The weather is nice, it’s great to see our cat and our stuff, but I’m still a little sad. There is always post-vacation letdown, no?
Onto our last night in Florida. Yesterday was another abbreviated day of touring, thanks mainly to the oppressive heat. We spent much of the morning packing up and doing laundry, and then headed out around 2pm to do some final shopping and to ride a few rides. Our game of bus roulette was not fun yesterday. Instead of taking the Downtown Disney bus that went by 1….2……3…. times, we waited close to an hour for the Epcot bus to arrive. This experience, coupled with a later bus excursion, really did confirm for me the value of renting a car. (More on that later.)
As we waited for the invisible bus, we took some final shots of the Saratoga Springs Resort:
My review of the Saratoga is generally positive; the rooms are well-appointed and the facilities are lush with very thoughtful landscaping. In general, the buildings are far enough apart that claustrophobia is never really an issue, and public spaces are planned out in such a way so as to avoid crowding. That being said, the resort is almost so large as to be unwieldy and was so far removed from everything that both taking buses to the theme parks and walking the path to nearby Downtown Disney took a great deal of time away from the business of having fun. The public areas are nice, but lack the themeing that really unifies other Disney resorts. Plus, Saratoga is the host Disney Vacation Club resort for visitors looking to see model units and learn about ownership, so there is a steady stream of visitors that can be cumbersome, especially if you were staying in our building, Springs 33. The positives, however, far outweighed the negatives, and at Disney the issue is usually one of mere personal preference, not major problems.
Anyway. We finally caught our bus to Epcot, and once disembarked from said bus, we hightailed it to Soarin’ to obtain FastPasses for a ride later in the day. Next, we decided to hit Test Track and see how long both the regular and the single rider lines were. The single rider line was only 20 minutes, but we decided to ride together and go in the 40 minute line:
This is my old car, the Malibu, after several run-ins with the barrier test and a host of other safety inspections. nice, huh?
As I’ve said before, a 40 minute wait usually turns out to be shorter than that, and this ride was no exception. After maybe 20 minutes we boarded our test car, and were delighted to find out that the track crew (ahem) was allowing us to stay in our car and ride the ride again with no wait. Nice! Would have been even better if the ride hadn’t broken down while we were on it the second time (Test Track is notorious for this), but still a great ride. Here, a video I took while going out on the test loop at 65+ MPH:
Unfortunately, the g-forces felt at about the end of the film above made me accidentally hit the “off” button on my camera, so you can’t see the end of the ride. You’ll just have to go yourselves!
By this time it was blistering hot and humid out, so we decided to take a bus back to our resort, clean up a bit, and walk over to Downtown Disney to do some final shopping. According to the Lego Loch Ness Monster, a storm was brewing:
By walking quickly, we were able to complete all of our tasks before the deluge, including another stop at the Ghirardelli Soda Shop to have an iced mocha. Incidentally, NCH, CPA is correct – the mochas here *are* incredible!
Just as the first raindrops started to fall, we packed up and were ready to head back to Epcot. For some reason, I thought that one could easily find buses at Downtown Disney that would go to each of the theme parks. I was wrong. Our next plan was to take an Epcot resort bus – one that would take us to a hotel within walking distance of Epcot – and simply walk from there. We were buyoyed to discover that a bus for the Boardwalk Hotel showed up within minutes, and thought that we would get to Epcot quickly.
We. Were. Wrong.
After boarding the bus, we did not proceed directly to the Boardwalk Hotel. No, our bus stopped first at Typhoon Lagoon, a water park that closed at 6pm (the precise moment we boarded the bus) and was full of half-naked tourists running with wet hair, arms flailing behind them. And of course, all of them wanted to board our bus, because it wasn’t just a bus for the Boardwalk, but also for the Yacht Club, Beach Club, Swan, and Dolphin hotels. (You can see where this is going.) So now, we’re on a hot bus full of damp, cranky people and we have to stop at all five hotels before we can exit.
This was a long trip. Never, ever again will I do Disney without a rental car, even for a day. This goes against nearly every “green” principle I espouse, but I think blame goes two ways. There is much, much more Disney could do to improve transportation efficiency; until it does so, I can see why 70% of people choose to drive to Disney on their vacations. I may rant about this in the future, but for now, we continue….
Back to Epcot! We have arrived. Finally! We now have six minutes left on our FastPass to ride Soarin’, and as the rain really starts to come down, we run through the World Showcase and Futureworld at an alarming clip, nearly taking down small children in the process. We make it to Soarin’, and are thrilled to see that our FastPass line moves right along.
Until it turns the corner.
And we wait.
And wait some more……
The posted line wait time for Soarin’ was 60 minutes. By my watch, we waited nearly 45 minutes to ride, even with FastPasses. I don’t know if this is a design flaw of the ride queue itself or a human failure to load riders efficiently, but WOW did we end up in line with some grumpy people because of this. When we *finally* gain entrance, we are rewarded with the top seat of the glider, giving us an unobstructed view and full immersion into the film. I can’t speak highly enough of this ride. If you are ever in Orlando or in Anaheim at either Disney park, it’s worth the price of admission to do this just once.
After Soarin’, we decide to finish our last night in the World Showcase, seeing and doing the few things there that we missed on our first four (seriously!) visits to the park this week. We vetoed the Mexican boat ride, both because the Mexico area is always mobbed and the ride has been updated in a vaguely racist way that I just can’t really get behind. Next up was Norway, where we rode the Malestrom boat ride, a short but very cute ride through forests full of ogres and trolls.
After leaving Norway, it was off to China and Japan for some shopping, and then to Germany for a pretzel to stave off hunger. Within moments, the evening IllumiNations program began, and we walked quickly to the front to beat the crowds and catch our bus to go back to the hotel. It was hard not to linger; in spite of everything – my liberal critiques, my bad experiences working there, my cynicism – it is always hard to leave this place.
But we did. Twenty minutes later, we were back in our room, watching Obama give his speech, packing our bags and readying ourselves for the 4:45 am wake-up-call.