Sunday, March 10 I admit that I have no recollections of the finer points of this morning. We got up…sometime. We ate…something? for breakfast. What I do know is that we eventually ended up at the Magic Kingdom on yet … Continue reading
Saturday, September 15 Moving day! Today we were switching resorts, moving from the Contemporary to the BoardWalk Inn to stay club level for the last eight nights of our trip. We got up around 7:30, which gave us time to … Continue reading
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:
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.
Note 7/2011: A flashback from 2008:
Ah, the end of vacation is near. And with it, mixed emotions.
On the one hand, we’ve had a great time in Florida; I knew we’d have fun, but even I am pleasantly surprised to find my cynicism about Disney and this tourist mecca waning. Sure, critiques are warranted, but if you can suspend disbelief and just allow yourself to have fun, it really can be a magical place.
It’s also been incredibly restorative to have a block of time in which we could really do nothing but have fun. Yes, we’ve done some job searching and even interviewing and have done some worrying (neither one of us has been employed since early summer; we’ve both come heart-wrenchingly close on a number of occasions, but have yet to close the deal), but mostly we have slept late, relaxed, and felt free to take a slow pace and just observe. I notice I even drive more slowly here! (Note, also: we really *do* drive poorly in Massachusetts!)
On the other hand, I will speak only for myself and say that I am – at least in part – ready to go back to reality, ready to see the cat and cooler weather and to start moving forward with a plan. Now that family medical drama is (hopefully) wrapping up and we are a bit more energized after a tough start to the year, it’s time to think about career and five-year plans and all that good stuff. I miss my bed, my food, and all the small things that make daily routines so comforting.
Enough waxing philosophical. Onto the trip report!
Yesterday found us doing our now patented mix of relaxing in the hotel room and going out later in the day in (somewhat) cooler weather. Our day also had a somewhat unnatural break in it, because we had to return our land yacht of a rental car at a nearby hotel and walk back to Disney property. On the way, we stopped at Downtown Disney to visit the Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop and have a sundae:
My traditional hot fudge sundae is on the left (verdict? Great fudge; I’ve had better ice cream. Admittedly we are spoiled living in Massachusetts, what with Herrell’s and Christina’s and the like), and CP’s “Midnight Royale” is on the right.
We spent an hour or so browsing the shops, not so much because we wanted to buy, but because it’s quite fascinating to see what Disney sells and to whom. Around 2:30 we headed to the Regal Sun Resort (not so regal, actually) to return our car, after which we walked back to Downtown Disney to catch a boat back to our resort, which you can see in the background of the picture:
By this time, it was about 96 outside with 80% humidity, so we holed up in our room to watch convention coverage and catch a nap. Later, and now without a car, we headed to the bus stop to play bus roulette and take the first bus that came our way. Moments later, we were headed to Disney Studios again.
Our stop here was brief; things were surprisingly crowded and there wasn’t much we wanted to do again, so we headed to the Tower of Terror for another drop. When that was finished, we headed to the exit to once again play bus roulette; this time, we boarded a Magic Kingdom bus and ended up at the Transportation and Ticket Center, where we decided to take a walkway to the Polynesian Resort.
Now, this is one of my favorites. The exterior is certainly dated, but somehow its datedness is comforting. It’s also one of the oldest Disney resorts, meaning the designers were much more liberal with open space and a precise design aesthetic. The results are pretty breathtaking.
Next, we hopped on the monorail and rode it back to Epcot. Our intention was to head back to Japan for another kaki-gori, but they were all out of shaved ice and we had to settle for frozen drinks from Morocco instead.
Although it was almost fireworks time, we decided to beat the crowds and head out. Instead of walking all the way through Epcot again, we took the World Showcase exit and hopped a boat headed toward the Epcot resorts. We exited at the Boardwalk Hotel:
I wish the picture was better, because the Boardwalk is a surprisingly beautiful hotel. Something about the buildings and the landscape and the actual Boardwalk just works. We poked our heads into the bakery and the candy shop and the ESPN restaurant (where we even got to catch some of the Sox/Yankees game), and then headed out to catch a bus to Downtown Disney. From there, we quickly fled the crowds and found the walkway back to our resort. After some convention coverage, we turned in for the night.
Today is our last day, and as you can see, we’re not out cramming every last minute in that we can. It’s once again blisteringly hot, so we’re doing free laundry, packing, and even some job searching. Later today, we’ll head out to get some final time on the rides at Epcot, and maybe will find a few souveneirs. Then, I’ll start taking more drugs in preparation for my favorite (ha!) thrill ride, flying.
More updates to come!
Note 7/2011: A flashback from 2008:
A slow news day, so to speak. Actually, it’s a slow news day in part because we’ve been watching the news. Lots of news! It’s Democratic National Convention time, and frankly, we are riveted. (us=nerds. it’s okay; go ahead and say it.)
We began the day with intentions to once again visit Epcot before CP had a phone interview for a job at 2:15 (interview went well, thank you for asking!). After being at the Magic Kingdom until 1am last night, we didn’t even get up until 9am, so we were off to a slow start. By the time we arrived at Epcot around 10:30am, it was unbelievably hot and humid and Epcot was mobbed with visitors. Almost as soon as we arrived, we decided to go back to the hotel. This is the nice thing about having a rental car and flexible park tickets; you really can come and go as you please and not feel like you’re missing out.
When we returned to our resort, we took care of our internet problems, stocked up on bottled water (realized during said hot morning that we were really dehydrated. How do people live here full time??), and went to the laundry room to do free – yes, FREE! – laundry. In a beautiful facility! In brand new machines! One could get used to this. (You can tell we’ve been renters for too long, huh?) CP had the phone interview, and we spent much of the rest of the afternoon hiding from the heat and watching coverage of the convention in Denver.
The day wasn’t totally spent in the hotel, however. Around 5pm, we departed for the Magic Kingdom area for our 5:30 reservation at the California Grill, one of Disney’s (supposed) best restaurants that sits on the top floor of the Contemporary Resort. The Contemporary is one of my favorite Disney hotels; I have fond memories of being three years old and staying there on my first trip to Disney. (At some point I’ll scan pictures of that and post here.) CP was quite taken by the architectural style of the hotel:
Once inside the Contemporary, we checked in on floor two and were whisked in a private elvator to the 15th floor. We were seated immediately (I love early bird dinners!) at a table right by the window overlooking the Seven Seas Lagoon. From our table, we could see the Magic Kingdom, all of the Magic Kingdom resorts, and even Epcot and the Disney Studios in the distance. The view was breathtaking, but short lived. I couldn’t get any good pictures, but a MASSIVE thunderstorm rolled in, and we had perfect views of cloud-to-ground lightning on all sides. Maybe it wasn’t as exciting as seeing the Magic Kingdom fireworks from our table, but I thought it was pretty exciting nonetheless.
Onto the food. As vegetarians, we are pretty used to restaurants being accommodating of our “dietary needs.” At the California Grill, we were not accommodated. We were wowed! Without asking, we were informed of every vegetarian item on the menu, and were also told of vegetarian options that were not on the menu that the chefs would make special for us. Disney or no, this experience was unusual.
We both started the meal with an heirloom tomato, roasted garlic, and provolone flatbread. Next, I had a salad with roasted peaches, blue cheese, candied pecans, and an orange-honey vinaigrette, and CP had an heirloom tomato salad with red onion, sherry vinegar, ricotta insalata, and microbasil. Both were excellent. For our entree, each of us had the chef’s special, which looked like this:
On the top left is handmade zucchini ravioli with roasted tomatoes, kalamata olives, and fried squash blossoms. On the top right is taro gnocchi with corn butter sauce, rosemary fingerling potatoes, confit garlic, currant tomatoes, and eggplant. On the bottom left is goat cheese polenta with button mushrooms and sauteed haricot vert. On the bottom right? I have no idea. I was too full to get there! I believe it is an off-menu impromptu flatbread creation, but we were both stuffed and couldn’t quite get there.
The nice thing about the California Grill – or at least the nice thing about how our server handled things given the massive line at the door – is that we were able to have a leisurely meal, which allowed us to digest between courses and really enjoy the food. All told, our dinner took three hours! We concluded by splitting a Valrhona molten chocolate cake with apricot sauce and house-made apricot ice cream. Amazing. Just amazing.
We rolled ourselves out of the hotel – here is a picture of the monorail rolling into the hotel:
We’re really hoping to stay there if we make a return trip. It’s retro in all the right ways, and tastefully updated in others. Plus, it’s literally steps from the Magic Kingdom, and has a monorail! We are fans.
Now, we are in our hotel room, watching the DNC and its tribute to Ted Kennedy. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit teary. Waiting for Michelle Obama now.
Tomorrow, we get back to the business of being “real” tourists. I think we’re headed to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for a good breakfast, and then we’re going to either the Disney Studios or Animal Kingdom. Much depends on the heat, I’m sure. We’ll keep you posted.
Note 7/2011: A flashback from 2008:
See, I really am making up for lost time. Here’s the conclusion of our activities yesterday, alternately titled “Extra Magic Hours? Not so Magical.” Yes indeed.
After an impromptu dinner of Thai noodles (thanks! Thai Kitchen microwave products! You’re amazing.) and other snacks, we hit the road again for our second night at the Magic Kingdom. Because we’re staying on Disney property we could take advantage of the Extra Magic Hours, meaning the park would stay open for us until 1am, three hours after the normal 10pm closing.
Here’s a shot of the sunset over our resort as we left:
After arriving by monorail (let’s be honest; we’re going to ride it every chance we get), we headed over to Tomorrowland (another area of Disney that looks about 20 years overdue for a rehab) to get FastPasses for the Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin. To kill time before that ride, we went and saw Mickey’s Philharmagic, a 3-D movie and music experience that incorporates smells, sounds, and other special effects (including being doused with water). Hands down, the most amazing 3-D experience ever, and usually I could care less about 3-D.
Next, we rode It’s a Small World (I know, I know. What were we thinking???) Surprisingly, this ride is much nicer than I remember, due I believe to a recent rehab that improved the sound quality and restored the visual elements to their original World’s Fair vibrance. Here, a shot taken when we got stuck at the end of the ride waiting to disembark:
The ride itself was fairly unremarkable, save the Darwin-Award-winning child who sat in front of us and constantly stuck her arm into the water and under the boat, playing with the boat track and narrowly missing amputation. I am not stating this too strongly; as a child, I was at Disney when a girl did exactly the same thing and ended up horribly disfigured when her arm became trapped between the boat and the loading dock. After grimacing for most of the ride and silently cursing out the girl’s parents, we disembarked. For such a child-centered ride, it was quite a tense few minutes!
Next, we returned to Buzz Lightyear to use our FastPasses, and exited the ride at just about 10pm. We debated watching the 10pm fireworks from Tomorrowland, but decided instead to walk through the crowds to go to the back of the park and ride some of the bigger rides that would be open late. Well, we barely made it through the hoardes of screaming children (and parents!), but we did manage to snap some pictures on the way to Frontierland:
Incidentally, I know from working at Disney that the Magic Kingdom has to have several fire trucks on hand each night during the fireworks show, as invariably the fireworks catch brush, weeds, and trees on fire with surprising frequency.
Next, we hurried to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and found it had a posted wait time of 40 minutes. Undaunted, we entered the line and found it to be more like 5 minutes. (We have learned that if a sign says 5 minutes, it really means 40 and vice versa.) After riding, we debated riding BTMR again, but were HORRIFIED to see THRONGS OF PEOPLE (again, can’t state this too strongly) EVERYWHERE!! Naively, I sort of thought that the park being restricted to resort guests only would mean that it would be emptier with far shorter waits. Well, I was dead wrong about that.
Abandoning our hopes for another BTMR ride, we decided to ride Pirates of the Caribbean again, thinking maybe it would be as empty as the previous night. Not a chance. We did get on, although not quickly, and found the ride to be a bit less fun when filled to the brim with stinky, screaming boatmates. After PoC, I took CP for a cruise on Walt Disney’s journey-into-the-heart-of-colonialism-ride, otherwise known as the Jungle Cruise. Again, the 5 minute posted wait time turned out to be more like half an hour, but we perservered and were rewarded with a very funny skipper. The corny jokes are even cornier than when I was a kid.
By this time it was close to midnight; we were tired and hot (no storms yesterday, so no relief from the heat), so we decided to check out Space Mountain and then hightail it out of there. As we crossed through Fantasyland, I noticed that Cinderella Castle was finally open for visitors (it used to be an open walkway all the time, but now during the day showcases some kind of Princess show), so I snapped a couple pictures of the Cinderella tile mosaics:
On a whim, we rode the Winnie the Pooh ride since CP is an AA Milne fan; a good ride, but I wouldn’t wait more than 10 minutes or so for it. Clearly, I am not in the 4 year old demographic they are shooting for! Space Mountain turned out to be MOBBED – at least an hour wait, and no FastPasses left to avoid the crowds – so we gave up and exited the park.
To get to our car we again had to take the monorail, which normally would be a thrill. Not during Extra Magic Hours. During regular park hours there is an express monorail that takes visitors directly to the parking area, but during the late hours only the resort monorail runs, which means making extra stops on monorails even more crowded than normal. If the cattle-car feeling wasn’t bad enough, our line-mates were obnoxious whiners (I’m referring to the adults here; the children were all up way past bedtimes and at least had an excuse for bad behavior) who hurled expletives and instructed their children to commit bad behaviors all in service of cutting the line and boarding the monorail faster. This was backed up by a chorus of screaming coming from the hoardes of toddlers who clearly weren’t used to staying up until 1am. Absolute madness. Madness!
Around 12:45 we poured ourselves into the rental car and headed back to the hotelresort. It’s definitely nice to stay on property where the drive “home” takes mere minutes, so we were showered and sleeping shortly after 1:15.
A final note about Florida weather, with some visual evidence. The humidity here is KILLING us. It’s hard to breathe (my allergies HATE Florida, to boot), it feels uncomfortable, and it’s doing crazy things to my hair. Exhibit A: My hair before leaving the golf resort yesterday morning:
Next up – politics, good food, and Hollywood.