Re: Coast-to-Coast Trip Report 2011: Walt Disney World Leg (D23 Destination D)
I neglected to introduce our team previously, mostly because I didn’t want to reveal the photo of my brilliant Figment costume prematurely. Our team consisted of myself and Sarah, plus our friend Nick, and JL Knopp of the Disney Driven Life. As we stood in line earlier that morning at Epcot, we were struggling for a team name. Suddenly, as if my horns picked up on the “signal” of Imagination floating through the air at EPCOT, the team name came to me. It was thought-provoking, deep, meaningful, and brilliant all at the same time. The TouringPlans Tourminators. Get it? Brilliant, right?! Now you know our team and our story.
After finishing the little photo shoot at EPCOT, we took the monorail to the Magic Kingdom. Upon receipt of our book at the Magic Kingdom, we spent about 10 minutes organizing questions, and giving a hard look to the 5 and 10 point questions. We identified a lot of questions that called for answers for Main Street (or started there). This was actually one disappointing aspect of the Hunt: way too many of the questions pertained to the windows on Main Street. These windows are interesting, don’t get me wrong, but far too many people know far too much about these windows, giving those participants an advantage there. Disney touted the Hunt as putting everyone on a level playing field (and for the most part, they did a great job with this), but this is one area I’m sure some had a decided advantage. On top of that, 10 questions about windows becomes a bit monotonous. I don’t know if this was done out of necessity because the Magic Kingdom is somewhat devoid of little details as compared to the other parks (I highly doubt this), or because the windows just really interested those writing the questions.
After spending a long time on Main Street, we headed off to the other areas of the park. Frontierland had some difficult questions, as did Liberty Square. By contrast, the Tomorrowland and Adventureland ones were pretty easy. We even managed to guess correctly at a 10 point question in Adventureland, which was a huge moral victory for us. However, given time constraints, we decided not to answer the questions (16 points worth) over on Tom Sawyer Island. This worried us at first, as we had answered every question at EPCOT, but after the Hunt, we talked with a few other teams that said they also skipped TSI. We were doing the Hunt for fun, anyway. With all of the obsessive Disney historians out there, we highly doubted we’d place in the top 50% of the teams.
We turned in our Magic Kingdom book with 10 seconds to spare (we weren’t really this ‘down to the wire’ we approached the desk, guessed at answers we couldn’t find, and checked other answers all while watching the clock) and collapsed on benches near the table afterwards. Given my brief discussion of the Hunt here in the trip report, it actually did take more than a “couple paragraphs” worth of time. This Hunt was seven hours of our day! By contrast, I’ve fixated on the toppings bar at Cosmic Ray’s for more text in previous trip reports despite it only taking up a few minutes of delicious time. Unfortunately, since I don’t have any photos from the Hunt, and since the questions are impossible to remember, it would get quite monotonous (for both you as the reader and me as the writer) if I wrote, “we went to X attraction/shop/postshow/detailed area in Y land/pavilion/area of the park and answered a 1/5/10 point question. We think we got the question right/wrong/undecided.” The Hunt was very interesting and fun, but reading 400 sentences following that model would be mind-numbing.
Finally, it was time to enjoy some attractions! Or so we thought.
Sarah had to use the restroom, and the line for this looked fairly long, so while she was doing that, I made my way up Main Street to capture some photos. I needed to compensate for the photos I “missed” during the day, after all! As I was taking photos on Main Street, I noticed some beautiful sun rays peeking out from behind clouds up by Crystal Palace. So I ventured that way. From there, I saw the rays at the edge of Adventureland. To make a long story short, I found myself outside of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad when I received a call from Sarah, asking where the heck I was. I had just wandered to the opposite end of the park without giving it a second thought. It’s really a wonder I never got (permanently) lost as a child.
One thing you may notice throughout this report is that I have a lot of weird photos of random buildings or more shots with guests than I have had in previous trip reports. The reasons for this are two-fold. First, in looking through some of my favorite shots from past trips, there have been a surprising number of shots that I would categorize as shots that “take me back” to that moment. They can be as simple as a photo of a tray of food at the water park to a wide capture of Hollywood Boulevard at sunset. These shots are typically far less unique or artistic than my other shots, but I think they’re still pretty interesting (and well-captured), and more importantly, they capture that feeling of being in the parks so well. Maybe I’m alone in this sentiment, but I figured if that type of shot gives me that euphoric (okay, maybe that’s going too far...or is it?!) feeling of being at Disney, it would give others the same feeling.
The second reason I’m including more shots like these is because I took fewer shots on this trip than I otherwise would. During the Scavenger Hunt I didn’t take any photos, and during the Destination D seminars, I took very few photos (and the ones I did take look pretty similar to one another). So I tried to compensate be going nuts when we finally got out into the parks.
I knew they probably didn’t want to wait around while I wandered back to the front of the park, so I told Sarah that she, JL, and Nick could do TTA without me. Not a big loss as far as I was concerned, because it was still too early for the ideal TTA riding conditions. I took some more photos, then met them at the exit of the TTA. From there, we headed to Space Mountain.
When in Tomorrowland, as they say, do what the Tomorrowlandians do. This meant stops at Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and Space Mountain, both of which were pretty lousy experiences. Sarah beat me at Space Ranger Spin, and anytime this happens, it’s clearly the result of my laser blaster malfunctioning. No other explanation is reasonable. Then, when riding Space Mountain, the work lights on the TTA were illuminated! I love Space Mountain as a coaster, but its appeal is largely in the darkness of the attraction. There is a new thrilling wrinkle when the track is brighter, though: the ride track is so close to your head in certain sections that you fear decapitation! This coming from someone who isn’t exactly tall, either. Pretty interesting, but probably not the best way for an attraction to be labeled a white-knuckled thriller. I prefer not to fear for my bodily safety when on board any attraction, but that’s just me.
The Tomorrowland Speedway is an attraction we rarely do. I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it. From a personal perspective judging the substance of the attraction, I’m not that wild about it. However, it seems like one of those Magic Kingdom rite-of-passage attractions, and kids do seem to like it a lot. In that regard, it’s a lot like Dumbo, and I can’t imagine people advocating the removal of that classic attraction.
Perhaps, like Dumbo, the Tomorrowland Speedway should receive some plussing indicative of its status as an important attraction for children (if Disney perceives it as such). In any case, it’s an attraction we’ll do once every few trips just to relive those childhood moments and let loose as kids again.
By this point, Tomorrowland was beginning to come alive in all its nighttime, neon-y glory. When the lights come on in Tomorrowland, you know the party has started. I think there’s is a Ke$ha song to this effect on one of her albums. It was far enough beyond the dinner hour that things wouldn’t be too hectic at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, so we headed there for dinner. The two best Walt Disney World counter service restaurants in one day. We were living the life!
Since we were with others, I restrained myself in the toppings department. Although in fairness, I think it should be poor manners to not load one’s burger with an obscene (well, I guess it wouldn’t be obscene if it were appropriate manners-wise) amount of toppings. Still, I placed a copious amount of mushrooms on the burger, along with plenty of other toppings. My secret to keeping the burger relatively small: condensing the toppings using the bun. The jury is still out on how well that worked, as you can probably tell from the photos.
Halfway through our meal, Sonny Eclipse went silent. I don’t know if Cosmic Ray had gone from paying him weakly to not-at-all or what, but for whatever reason, the music died. This was a bit disappointing, especially given that he’s the reason Cosmic Ray’s scores so highly on the dining “Brick-O-Meter,” but we knew we’d be back again before the trip concluded, so it wasn’t too big of a deal.
Crowds were really low that evening in the Magic Kingdom, so we figured we’d get some of the longer line attractions out of the way. We had a FastPass for Peter Pan, but we figured we’d hit Winnie the Pooh on the way there, as it’s quickly becoming a favorite of Sarah’s. The line was supposedly only 10 minutes, but based upon the look of the queue, it appeared much longer. We quickly got out of line and headed for Pan.
Next up, it was time for the Haunted Mansion. Since this was our first time experiencing the attraction in earnest and really exploring the queue, I decided to save my thoughts of the new experience for here. The new queue...where to begin? This has become quite the divisive issue in the fan community, and frankly, I don’t quite see why. I will say that I’m not quite sure why Disney chooses the Haunted Mansion for these constant plussings. While I am a firm believer that things should constantly be updated, I am also a realist, and I think there are so many things in Walt Disney World that are more pressing. Since resources are finite, I would rather see other, more glaring, problems addressed first.
That said, I have no problem with these changes from the perspective that changes to the queue draw from funds that could be allocated towards additional attractions. To be sure, 8-10 of these “NextGen” queues might add up to the same cost as the construction of a new attraction (maybe, I’m just throwing that number out there). Like many others, I’d rather have a new attraction than 8-10 interactive queues. However, the construction of a new attraction is not the only cost of a new attraction, which is what others fail to consider when they make the argument that Disney should be building new attractions with the money.
This is because attractions also need Cast Members to operate, and the operational maintenance of an attraction is much higher than the maintenance of a queue. For example, even if 10 queues cost a total of $75 million to build, and a new attraction costs $75 million to build, the actual costs of the two aren’t the same. This is because a new attraction will also require Cast Members to operate. I don’t work in operations, but I’m guessing there are 20 or so Cast Members working each attraction at a given time. By contrast, at most, an interactive queue adds one Cast Member to the fray. This doesn’t even begin to consider maintenance costs. To be fair, attractions do increase the capacity of the parks, and thereby either decrease the amount of time people wait in line (allowing them to spend more in gift shops or at restaurants when they’re not in line) or increase the number of people at the parks (assuming the attraction pulls from other busy attractions or the park is approaching capacity). However, interactive queues also make the time in line more bearable, and thereby might increase guest satisfaction, which might increase their likelihood of returning.
The point being, as you can see with all of the different above factors and the rampant theorizing, is that this is not a cut and dry matter. It’s not as simple as saying, “spend the $X on new attractions instead of spending the $X on queues for better return on investment!” Things aren’t that simple. The (Disney) World’s problems can’t be solved with a little debate on an internet message board. We simply aren’t privy to all of the variables associated with making such a decision. I fear Disney is tailoring its research to validate conclusions it has already made prior to the research, as seems likely to be the case based on the past, but I hope the company is performing its due diligence and making the decisions based on actual cost/benefit research.
And that’s why the spending on the interactive queues doesn’t bother me. I simply don’t have the information necessary to make an informed decision as to whether they are a good investment. Anyway, now that we you’ve read “The Gospel of Interactive Queues According to Tom,” here’s my take on the substance of the queue itself.
The queue is a distraction while waiting for the main attraction. I am not so diluted (as some) to think it “kills the suspense” as some have claimed, as I really don’t think there’s much suspense to kill for most guests. If anything, for those guests who would feel suspense when in line, the new attraction adds a new layer of foreshadowing. I think most of the aspects of the queue are interesting and skillfully executed. In addition, I think they add nice interactivity to the experience. My only complaints would be that the headstone plots are too small for a body to be buried below, and that some of the queue is a bit cartoonish. Specifically, the busts at the beginning of the queue are a bit overly exaggerated, and just don’t seem to fit with the rest of the Haunted Mansion. Aside from these small quibbles, I think it’s extremely well done. The interactivity is short enough that it doesn’t impede the flow of the queue, and, like I said above, its elements are a nice distraction from waiting in line.
As for the other changes to Haunted Mansion, well, I don’t know how anyone could disparage those. These upgrades, which are to the AA hitchhiking ghosts and the ghost “following you home” projections immediately after, are wonderfully executed, and give the attraction a real cutting edge feel. The AA ghosts are brighter, more acentuated, and their surrounding area has more details. The big upgrade, however, is to the ghosts that follow you home. No longer do they just haphazardly float in the car over one of the passengers, they now actually interact with the passengers in a realistic way. The manner of interaction varies, and is really cool. Definitely a great upgrade!
Next up was the Magic, Memories, and You Castle show. I was shocked at how many people were staked out for the show. Since Wishes! starting shortly after, I figured a lot (most) were just getting spots a little early for that.
The Magic, Memories, and You is definitely a lot better on Cinderella Castle than it is on it’s a small world, and I enjoyed it pretty well on it’s a small world. It really doesn’t bother me that it’s displayed on the Castle, since it’s only like 10 minutes long. Plus, I actually liked the Castle Cake, and that was on the Castle for a full uninterrupted year. As long as there are permanent changes to the Castle that cartoonize it, I don’t really mind.
The scale of Cinderella Castle makes the show much better. The show is very well done, from the projections that are crisp and vibrant, to the transitions between the scenes in the displays. I only thing I don’t really care for about the show is the vacation photos of other guests that aren’t really that discernible, anyway. I know this is sort of the crux of the show, but I still don’t like it. I really hope they use the technology for the show in some capacity for future fireworks and/or Castle shows.
I was shocked when, after the Magic, Memories, and You show, guests began leaving en masse. My best guess is that they thought the couple of fireworks bursts at the end of the show were the fireworks for the night? I’ll bet those people think the fireworks show is really lame!
Wishes was...Wishes. After Remember...Dreams Come True, no Magic Kingdom fireworks show can compare. Wishes was enjoyable, but with Remember so fresh in my memory, Wishes was a bit of a disappointment.
Still, it was nice to see the fireworks show in our “home” part in front of Cinderella Castle. It could be the lamest fireworks show in the world, but by virtue of being set in front of that Castle, it’d be special.
After Wishes, we dredged through the crowds and (slowly) made our way back to Big Thunder Mountain. The crowds at Walt Disney World always baffle and aggravate me. I don’t know how many people could walk around with their heads up their...well, this is a family topic, so I won’t use that language. It just is annoying that so many people don’t know where they’re going, stand in the middle of walk-ways, walk as slow as humanly possible with their entire party in taking up an entire pathway as they walk in a line of slow-ness, and so on. Half of this is my own fauly because I like to walk at a very brisk pace, but I swear, some people need to learn how to walk around in a heavily trafficked public place!
After Big Thunder Mountain, it was on to Splash Mountain. Splash was closed at Disneyland, and we had only done it one time in December at WDW due to the weather (and that one time we got stuck on the ride for 45 minutes because someone got off the ride), so we were really excited to ride again. After all, it is one of our top attractions in WDW. (Probably #2 for me after Tower of Terror!) The attraction was nothing short of excellent, as usual. This is one attraction that I really wish I could have that “first time” experience on again. Luckily, the attraction is so different at Disneyland, and I was so pre-occupied with staying dry the one time we rode it, that it’s basically new for us out there. I cannot wait to ride it again out there!
From here, we began taking pictures in Frontierland and Adventureland. In WDW, Tomorrowland is our usual photo location of choice at night, so it was nice to change things up a little. I had never used my 8-16mm lens at WDW at night, so this was a great opportunity. After a couple of shots in Frontierland of Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe, we headed to Adventureland to the new Tortuga Tavern. Two places you don’t normally see photographed, so I thought it would be a nice change of pace. While photographing Tortuga Tavern, Sarah remarked on the excellent Pirates of the Caribbean background music. We had noticed the music in the past in passing, but we were here for a little longer this time, so we heard more of the loop. It was good stuff.
After exiting Adventureland, we found ourselves on a barren Main Street, USA. We spent some time here, taking a few more photos as we shuffled up Main Street.
It was still relatively early (I loath pre-midnight park closings), but we were exhausted, so we meandered on out slowly, soaking in the atmosphere of Main Street. With all of its lights, and music that is finally audible at night, Main Street is a great place to be when the park clears out. If you exclude Cinderella Castle, which I don’t really think qualifies as being in any land, even Fantasyland, it’s my third favorite land at night, significantly far behind Tomorrowland and in close third to Frontierland.
---------- Post added 08-04-2011 at 03:42 AM ----------
Another update has been posted since this one, and ANOTHER update will be posted later this morning. Refer to this page to navigate to each of the updates (if Part XIII is just plain-text when you visit the link, that means it hasn't been posted yet, not that the link is broken):
Re: Coast-to-Coast Trip Report 2011: Walt Disney World Leg (D23 Destination D)
Originally Posted by sbk1234
Great, great, great. Takes me back to WDW! Those shots of Crystal Palace, and the Castle with its reflection are simply perfect!
Thanks - the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is a gem for night shots!
Originally Posted by dland_lover
You're really making my not being able to go back to WDW for a couple years even harder for me, you know! >_>
Great report and, of course, the pictures! Oh the pictures!!
Originally Posted by sbk1234
Well, if it helps the two of you out any, I'll be heading there a couple more times this year with accompanying reports following!
Originally Posted by Meville
That Splash Mt pic is nothing short of amazing.
Yeah, I really like it. Once Sarah saw that, she wasn't quite so irritated that I wandered off "chasing the light."
---------- Post added 08-08-2011 at 04:35 AM ----------
On the second morning, I headed out early again to snap some more photos. While out, I pondered my rankings for the Value Resorts based only on the look of the resort. (Once you take into account room quality, transportation, and food quality, Pop Century easily wins.) I quickly concluded that All Star Sports is my least favorite. It does have a lot of cool ‘fields’ between buildings, but few of these feature Disney characters, so they don’t really do it for me. The other three were all really close, with Movies having probably the coolest feature: the brooms from Fantasia looming among palms, but beyond the Fantasia stuff, Movies didn’t do a whole lot for me. The Mighty Ducks area seemed dated, and the Herbie area wasn’t much to my liking, either. By contrast, Music was really cool, as was Pop Century. Ultimately, I think I’d rank them: Music, Pop Century, Movies, and Sports.
Animal Kingdom was our first park that morning. Between the heat and our unfamiliarity with Animal Kingdom, this was something about which we were a little weary. Conversely, this was the one park that we hadn’t appreciated to its fullest, and maybe the Scavenger Hunt would give us the opportunity to see the park in a new light. With these thoughts swirling in our minds, we grabbed the Scavenger Hunt books, and began.
For EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom, we identified what land we’d need to visit to answer each question. We knew we were in serious trouble at Animal Kingdom, when there were several locations that none of us could pinpoint to a particular land in the park. We grabbed park maps to aid our effort, and continued categorizing. At that moment, we knew the DAK hunt would be daunting.
It was somehow determined, probably on the basis of the number of questions pertaining to Dinosaur, that Dinoland would be the place to start. Even these questions were more difficult than we anticipated, and we had collectively probably spent more time in this land than any of the others in AK. We spent far too long in Dinoland, and we didn’t even answer every question.
Things went downhill from there. We wandered around aimlessly while trying to solve a multi-part question that eventually led us to the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail for far too long. I was dumbfounded. I didn’t even know how to pronounce “Pangani,” let alone even begin to answer a question about the Trail. This was just the first of a long list of attractions at DAK that we had never experienced. To say we struggled, well, that would be an understatement.
To be fair, though, at one point we did hit a bit of a groove. We nailed a couple of 10 point questions in a row (pertaining to the seating area of Flame Tree BBQ, of all things, I think), which helped give us some momentum. By the end of the Hunt at DAK, we were actually on a bit of a roll. If we only had an extra hour in that park, I think we could have ‘mega-dominated’. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that extra hour. Instead, we approached the book-return table with 3 minutes left in the Hunt, and feverishly began scribbling answers into the book. The “call of the question” pertained to an attraction featuring ‘small creatures’ and the answer blank had two lines? It’s Tough To Be A Bug! Sure, why not!
As the final seconds ticked away, we turned in our book. The time-tested and venerable phrase ‘drop it like it’s hot’ actually may apply to how we returned our book, wanting to take every last second to answer questions, but not wanting to be penalized for a time overage.
Afterward, we stood in disbelief, our sweat-drenched clothes clinging to our bodies as if we had just exited Kali River Rapids. It was easily the most difficult park on the Hunt. I don’t think I have any experience I can compare that to for a meaningful frame of reference. It was like the SAT or Bar Exam in that it was a test of wit with a nerve-wrecking time constraint. However, it was dramatically different in that it was a boatload of fun.
Yes, that’s right, I described it as a boatload of fun. After describing the challenging nature of the Hunt thus far, you might be thinking that you’re glad you didn’t participate. Well, despite the Hunt’s demanding nature, lack of attractions, running around in the scorching sun, and the likelihood that most teams would “lose,” it was some of the most fun we’ve had in the parks. If we only visited once per year, I probably wouldn’t want to do it, as it would take away valuable attraction-time for our vacation. However, as we visit more and more, it was something that was a great change of pace, and great fun. More importantly, it was illuminating.
Not often is the word “illuminating” used to describe a scavenger hunt. However, that’s just what D23’s Great Disney Scavenger Hunt was. Especially at Animal Kingdom. If you’ve read my previous reports, you probably know that we’re not exactly wild about Animal Kingdom. If you haven’t, the short and sweet of my thoughts is that Animal Kingdom is severely lacking in substantive content, and tries to obfuscate this with amazing attention to details; moreover, the content that it does have is far too dependent on content similar to a well-done zoo (which explains why the natazhu campaign occurred--and why public sentiment that necessitated the campaign was justified!).
The Hunt, especially in AK, was definitely illuminating. It showed us details we had never seen, and gave us a new appreciation for the parks. Animal Kingdom without question had the most details, and the authenticity of these details was really impressive. From text on worn posters around Tusker House to the ornate carvings of the food chain on the top of the seating areas adjacent to Flame Tree BBQ, Animal Kingdom’s attention to detail, and even the details within the details and the storylines executed across the details, is amazing. It really gave us a new appreciation of the park, and made us want to explore there more.
While I have to give kudos where kudos are due, the details don’t move AK from the bottom spot of the Walt Disney World parks. These worn posters became a punchline for the trip, with us joking that WDI’s largest department during AK’s construction was its “Worn Poster Department” staffing twice as many Imagineers as the next highest department. We joked that this department had a $100 million budget, and the Imagineers constantly demanded “more worn posters!” like Will Ferrell once demanded “more cowbell!”
These jokes may be half-truths. There are just so many details in AK that I would be shocked if someone of the cost of these details did not come at the expense of substance elsewhere. Michael Eisner is lauded (and sometimes scorned) for his focus on the minutiae of the parks and resorts (the book Disney War contends that he chose some of the lamps for the Yacht Club resort, as an example...something your average CEO would not do personally), but I would imagine this is one case where a more level-headed CEO might have put the brakes on Imagineering, and specifically the great Joe Rohde, who is known for his attention to detail, making sure that funds were appropriately allocated to actual attractions. Still, this is supposed to be me praising AK and conceding my new-found appreciation for the park, which I absolutely have. Both Sarah and I can’t wait to spend more time there, even if the attraction lineup is less than stellar.
With the AK Hunt complete, we collapsed on benches across from the D23 table, and paused for a moment, before regrouping. We discussed the questions with a couple other teams, and both said AK tore them apart. When discussing it with others over the course of the weekend, this seemed to be the general sentiment. It was relieving to know that we weren’t alone, but I wondered why it was so difficult in the first place!
Next, we debated where to eat. I was hoping we would eat somewhere in the park so I could use my infrared camera to grab some photos while everyone ordered food and after we ate, but I was outvoted. Well, I shouldn’t say I was outvoted, as I voted for the final choice, Sanaa, too. It just wasn’t my initial preference.
As a concession, Sarah agreed to let me go back into the park for 10 minutes and take photos while they went to get the car and bring it closer to pick me up. With that, I was off! I may have practically collapsed on a bench moments prior, but once a limited window for photography opened up, I was back, ready to rip and roar through the park!
I had taken mental note of several areas I wanted to photograph as we were doing the Hunt, but there was no way I’d have time to hit all of these, so I focused my attention on the Flame Tree BBQ area. I snapped about 20 frames in 5 minutes before receiving a call from Sarah informing me that they realized that they could not pull the car up to pick me up. I informed her that I was already heading towards the front of the park, a shock to her as I usually take way longer than I estimate for photo-time and practically be dragged kicking and screaming from the parks. By the time they were at the bus stop directional sign, I had caught up to them. The only downside was that I was still drenched in sweat when we arrived at Sanaa, whereas everyone else was dry and reasonably presentable. Such is the sacrifice I make for photos!
Sanaa always brings back one of my fondest memories of our honeymoon. Sitting across from the table from my new beautiful wife, sitting at the table grasping her hands, looking longingly...out the window...seeing two zebras going at it! Oh, that is one of the funniest things I’ve seen at Disney. I can only imagine the parents in the restaurant having to explain why one zebra was trying to ride another zebra! Whenever it’s even remotely relevant, I like to share this story with people we see, theorizing as to humorous conversations that took place amongst other patrons watching the ‘Wildest Ride in the Wilderness!’, so I certainly took the opportunity to share the story with Nick and JL.
Sanaa was absolutely dead, which I’ve heard is pretty common. Even though it’s way out in the middle of nowhere on the edge of property, and then far away within Animal Kingdom Lodge, it’s really disappointing that this location isn’t more popular given the delicious cuisine. This became a topic of conversation at lunch, as we discussed how it was disappointing that Disney pays such great lip service to healthy diet initiatives (among other progressive initiatives) yet the substance isn’t really there to back it up. For example, the company has taken baby steps such as adding apples to kid’s meals, but it won’t actually add more than a few token healthy items to the menus.
My position was, and is, that Disney’s clientele dictates that it does not make such changes. As is evidenced by the poor performance of a unique menu at Sanaa versus the “steak and potatoes” menu at a restaurant like Le Cellier (although in all fairness, one is in a heavily trafficked area of Epcot whereas the other is in the middle of nowhere, so this isn’t an apples to apples comparison), Disney guests just do not demand healthy food in high enough numbers to to justify menus with more healthy items or organic items. Disney is a cheaper vacation destination than most other destinations (relatively speaking--I’m not saying it’s cheap by any means!) so it tends to, generally, attract a lot of guests who, to put it bluntly, are less sophisticated in their dining choices. Obviously there are plenty of guests who would enjoy the more refined menus, but the demand probably isn’t sufficient. Disney is a business, and if the demand isn’t there, there is no reason to add the items to the menus.
In any case, our meal at Sanaa was excellent. I wanted to experiment a bit with what I ordered, so I decided to just order a random plate. It turns out that the random plate I ordered (I ordered first) was exactly the same as what Nick and Sarah ordered. Had I known Sarah was going to order the same plate, I would have ordered something different. After all, I can always eat what she doesn’t finish!
Immediately after we ordered our meals, our server brought out the Indian Bread Service for us to share, compliments of the chef. This service included the followings breads: Naan, Onion Kulcha, Papadum, Paneer Paratha. It also included the following for the dressings: Red Chile Sambal, Cucumber Raita, Coriander Chutney, Mango Chutney, Garlic Pickle, Green Mango Pickle, Roasted Red Bell Pepper Hummus, Tamarind Chutney. If, right now, you’re thinking, “wow, he must be one of those sophisticated foodies,” stop. I’m just copying and pasting from AllEars.net. While I would like to think my palate has become refined since my college diet of Slim Jims and Busch Light, I still can’t identify obscure foods without external reference.
I don’t know why the chef gave us these breads to try, but it was a nice treat. I am continually impressed by the gracious service and seemingly egalitarian treatment of patrons at Walt Disney World. On more than a few occasions, Sarah and I have been snubbed by servers or chefs (as they visit every table *except* ours) when dining out in the “real” world. Granted, we are probably the youngest people in some of these restaurants by 20 years or so, but we are appropriately (or over) dressed for the restaurant, are behaving in a well-mannered respect, and aren’t merely ordering side salads and waters. This has been really aggravating for us, and there are a few restaurants we won’t visit again as a result. (If you’re young and you have an Eddie Merlot’s around you, avoid that place!) This has never been the case at WDW or DLR. We’ve always been treated as if our business were appreciated, and for the most part, our service has always been exceptional (and if it hasn’t been, we’ve never felt it’s because the server was snubbing us).
I had ordered the Lamb Kefta, which is lamb wrapped in Naan Bread with Tamarind Glaze, Minted Greens, Tomato, Onion, and Cucumber-Yogurt Raita. For the sake of comparison only, it’s closest cousin to American fare (or Americanized fare) would be a gyro. I’m not sure whether the the Kefta was intended to be consumed like a gyro, but given the heaping pile of lamb, dressing, and greens, regardless of how it was intended to be consumed, I was going to have to fork ‘n’ knife it. I’m not complaining about being “forced” to eat it this way, though, as I always prefer to err on the side of dishes that are too large, rather than ones that are too small!
Lunch didn’t last long, as we were already pushing it by doing a sit-down meal between hunts that day. (Since D23 Cast Members had to score the books prior to the Awards Ceremony that day, the deadline for returning books was, at the very latest, 5 pm, as contrasted with 8 or 9 pm, I can’t remember which, the previous day.)
We arrived at the Studios and started the Hunt around 1:50, phew, just in time! We started by knocking out some low point-value questions on Hollywood Boulevard and Echo Lake, also beginning a few of the multi-point questions that started here. Along the way, we made a prolonged stop at Min and Bill's Dockside Diner. I have no clue what we were doing there, but I know it was hot as heck with no shade! From there, we meandered our way back to the Streets of America.
The Streets of America stuff kicked our butts. We fixated on questions there for far too long, and I think most of them were only one point questions. Time wasn’t the only casualty. They might as well rename the Streets of America as the, “Streets of Death Valley,” because the pavement coupled with the lack of shade make that place a hot-cooker when it’s sunny. Focusing on this area for so long made us sluggish and crabby during the time that followed, I think.
From the Streets of America, we made our way over to the Animation Courtyard and Animation Building, where a lot of questions could be answered. This was a nice reprieve, as the Animation Building has wonderful, wonderful air conditioning! It certainly revitalized us, and got us primed for the rest of the Studios Hunt!
From the Animation area, we headed to Sunset Boulevard. We went on an absolute tear here, knocking 10 point questions out of the ballpark in no time. There were probably 40 points we got here within 10 minutes. That’s excellent time, right there. I wasn’t especially confident in my knowledge of the Studios, but somehow, certain things jumped out to me from the questions as things I had seen in photos of the Studios before. Likewise, my awesome teammates brought their A-game on Sunset. As we winded up our Sunset questions, we encountered a sight that we hadn’t seen since EPCOT: our book was almost complete without us guessing at the end! What a shock, especially given that we should have been super-tired in the last park! We turned in our books, then contemplated what to do next, now that the Hunt was OVER!
Although all of the events for the weekend, including the Scavenger Hunt, were billed as being special events for Walt Disney World’s 40th Anniversary, I will bet it becomes an annual event. That being the case, we learned some lessons and there are some things we would definitely do differently next time. I think the Studios was definitely our strongest park, and we would have improved in each park were Animal Kingdom not so difficult. I’d share some of these strategies here, but I don’t want to enlighten the competition!
One thing worth mentioning to anyone who may not have participated because they couldn’t find 4 people: I don’t think any number above 2 gives a decided advantage. There were plenty of times when I didn’t have any idea what we were doing because it’s so difficult for four people to crowd around a question book. Except in circumstances where your team is so familiar with the parks that you have players who can answer large portions of the books without even stepping foot in the parks (in which case, more team-mates are better!), I don’t think team size makes a huge difference. In some cases, it impeded us a bit, as we had to stop at drinking fountains or wait for the slowest moving teammate to catch up. (Not one of us, however, EVER used the restroom during the Hunts!) In this regard, you have to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
Another thing that I think bears mentioning if you’re considering doing a Hunt in the future is thinking about how the likely weather int he parks might affect your team. The weather for this Hunt was brutally hot. That sucked. The only rationale I can see for NOT doing this event in October when the ACTUAL 40th Anniversary occurs is to draw out of town guests to Disney for the 40th on two separate occasions. In October, the weather would have been better, and even though there are a lot of events that weekend, there’s no reason it couldn’t have been the week before or week after (since this Hunt did fall during the week, anyway.) Like I said, the only justification I can see is Disney wanting to get people down twice for the 40th, so what better time than to schedule an event during the slow season?!
Like I said above, despite any complaints about the heat or the pace of the Hunt (the pace was unsurprising and was a necessary evil--if it were slow paced and everyone could finish every question, what would be the fun?!), the Hunt was amazing. If it’s offered next year, we will probably do it. We learned so much about the parks and had a great time just running (sorry - briskly walking) around the parks just exploring. We were a little apprehensive at first that it would be a waste of two valuable touring days, but it most definitely was not. Plus, we had time in the evenings to do other things. I would give the Hunt a solid 8.5 out of 10, with it only losing points due to the time of year it was scheduled, and the difficulty of Animal Kingdom.
Re: Coast-to-Coast Trip Report 2011: Walt Disney World Leg (D23 Destination D)
^Thanks for the kind words!
---------- Post added 08-16-2011 at 04:47 AM ----------
Handing in that final book brought us a great sense of accomplishment. It was as if we had just finished the Tour De France, except undoubtedly much more awesome. I had heard great things about the Tune In Lounge on a recent episode of WDWToday, so we headed over there for celebratory drinks. Well, at least I thought that’s what we were doing. It turned out that Sarah’s idea of a celebratory drink was a milkshake, so she ordered that. We were trying to be quick with this so we could get out and start doing rides, but the first milkshake Sarah ordered took forever to come out, and when it finally did, it was oddly lukewarm and tasted funny. She asked for a replacement, which quickly arrived and tasted decidedly better.
I ordered Dad's Electric Lemonade. At over $10 for the drink, it was a little on the small side. In addition, it wasn’t much as far as the drink went. It lacked punch, essentially just tasting like a regular lemonade. But it did come with an awesome light up glow ice-cube that I had been looking forward to, for some odd reason, for quite some time, and it gave us a chance to relax in the ambiance of the 50s Prime Time Cafe.
Honestly, the light up ice cube was the whole reason I ordered that drink. I spent about 10 minutes taking photos of the drink. People probably wondered why the heck I was so I was so enamored with my drink. Once I was done with the photo shoot, I sat down and drank up the ambiance--and the lemonade.
What ride to do first?! Well, we were definitely tired, and the Great Movie Ride was equal parts awesome, close, long, and seated, so we went straight for that. It was a nice relaxing ride--one of those rides that just subdues you into a “vacation mode” stupor. Some people get that from sitting on the beach in the Bahamas, I get it from the Great Movie Ride. To each his own.
Not having taken many photos all day long, I went crazy with the camera on the Great Movie Ride. I think I was trying to make up for all of the “lost shots” in one ride through. I actually had great success capturing a lot of the scenes!
Next it was on to Toy Story Mania, something we don’t often do at Walt Disney World. With its ridiculous lines, this is just an attraction that’s better saved for Disney California Adventure, where the line has peaked at about 30 minutes on all of our trips. Disney really needs to build a few more family-oriented attractions in Disney’s Hollywood Studios to alleviate some of the burden that presently rests on TSM. It’s a good attraction, but not 90 minute plus waits good.
Following that, we headed to Rock ‘N’ Rollercoaster, which I hadn’t experienced in a while. For a while, I rode RNRC while Sarah would ride Tower of Terror. However, even with a FastPass, RNRC takes much longer, and getting a FastPass for it really monkeys with our FastPass system, because typically, we could get another FastPass for Tower of Terror sooner than we could get one for RNRC, so Sarah was then on a different FastPass schedule, so to speak.
Like a brave little trooper, Sarah entered the Rock ‘N’ Rollercoaster queue. It must have seemed like a wholly new experience to her, as I think the last time she rode this attraction was way back in 2009. Okay, that’s actually not that long ago, but it certainly seemed like a long time to me.
Rock ‘N’ Rollercoaster was an enjoyable experience--I mean, who doesn’t love looping around in almost complete darkness with a couple cardboard cutouts illuminated in black lights--but when we exited the attraction, we found it had started raining. Actually, a torrential downpour had started is more apt.
The one positive thing about the freak downpour was that it cleared out the queue for Tower of Terror. We waited in line only about 5 minutes there, and by the time our elevator began descending, we saw that the sky had cleared and a beautiful sunset was trying to peak out from behind the clouds.
At this point, we were faced with a dilemma: 1) the counter service food at the Studios isn’t that great, 2) we weren’t sure if we wanted to attend the Scavenger Hunt awards presentation at the Contemporary, as we knew we hadn’t placed, and 3) Epcot had good counter service options. nt Epcot’s food won out, and we decided to head there to visit Sunshine Seasons again.
Once there, we started with a quick trip aboard Spaceship Earth. In case you want a two and a half month old news update, the descent is still unfinished and the paper boy still faces the wall. But all else is well in one of our favorite Walt Disney World attractions. We could seriously ride it over and over again (and we have!).
We then headed over to Test Track, hoping to make it quickly through the single rider line before heading to Sunshine Seasons. While in line, Len (of the Unofficial Guide) text messaged me asking when we’d arrive for the resort nightlife testing. In my food-deprived state, I had completely forgotten that we were doing nightlife testing of appetizers and specialty cocktails at the Deluxe Lounges over the course of the weekend. Whoops.
As soon as we made it out of Test Track, we booked it out. And I mean booked it. It took us about 13 minutes (if I recall correctly) to get from the exit of Test Track to the parking lot of the Contemporary (JL drove us). To demonstrate just how quickly we were moving, we opted not to take the tram to her car, as the tram was slower than we could move ourselves.
We finally got to the Contemporary, right on time! Unfortunately, we couldn’t get up to California Grill because it was “full.” While we waited for “room,” I texted Len, who indicated that they had a table with open spots for us. I explained this to the hostesses downstairs at the California Grill check-in, but they didn’t budge. It was quite odd.
I relayed this to Len, and suddenly he appeared in the elevator, and told us to come on up. Finally, we would be arriving to the promised land, a land with wonderful food and drinks, after not eating for so long.
Unfortunately, I can’t go into much detail about the food and drinks that we had at California Grill, other than to say that they were exceptional, but here are a few photos to give you an idea of how exceptional the food was.
We sampled four flat breads and every type of sushi California Grill offers. The flat breads were really good, although I like my pizza-like foods a bit thicker and with more cheese.
Having a giant plate with every type of sushi California Grill serves made me feel like a king. If only I would have worn my crown and brought my chalice to the restaurant!
Suffice to say, I stand by what I’ve thought for years: California Grill has some excellent sushi. I’ve heard some negative things about it, but that has not been my experience with it at all. Although I haven’t sampled much sushi at Walt Disney World, in comparing it to sushi at nice restaurants in the real world, Cali Grill scores quite well by me.
Since we were splitting this research up amongst several nights, we didn’t have to move too quickly from Cali Grill. We loitered around for an hour or so, before heading to our next destination: Mizner’s Lounge.
On our way out, Henry and Kate arrived. Henry had previously indicated that they wouldn’t be participating in that night’s research, as they were going to the awards ceremony and were really worn out. So it was a pleasant surprise to see them.
We boarded a croweded monorail to head to a similarly crowded Mizner’s Lounge. Right as we were arriving, a large group (the winners of the Scavenger Hunt, actually) was leaving, and they gave us their table, which was a huge victory for us!
After having “issues” at Club 33 choosing a sophisticated drink, I had decided that I needed to establish a go-to manly drink for such situations. Since I fancy myself a modern-day James Bond, this was an absolute necessity. I figured the Grand Floridian’s flagship lounge would be a good place to find such a drink, so I ordered the most suave-looking drink on the menu: the Classic Manhattan. Unfortunately, never having had a Manhattan before, I didn’t realize questions would be asked of me after I said, I’d like a Manhattan, so I was a little unprepared.
The Manhattan was good, but when it comes to mixed drinks, I guess I skew towards the fruity feminine ones (I don’t really care for mixed drinks that much at all, and would rather always order a great craft beer as I stated in the Disneyland installments, but many fine-dining restaurants turn their noses up on craft beer for some reason), as Sarah’s drink, the Godiva Chocolate, with Stoli Vanil vodka, Godiva chocolate liqueur, white creme de cacao and Frangelico, looked and tasted far superior to my Manhattan. Like I said, though, I’m going for the James Bond presence.
Epcot had Evening Extra Magic Hours on this particular evening, and our plan from the outset was to stick around at Mizner’s until around 11, then head over to Epcot for the last hour of Evening EMH. Well, that plan did end up working out, as we were having so much fun that we didn’t notice the time until about 11:30, and by then, we knew we’d really be pushing our luck to get into Epcot before it closed. Instead, we just decided to stay at Mizner’s.
Two years ago, the idea of missing an evening of shooting in the park would have been like heresy. Beginning last Christmas, we spent less and less time photographing the parks at night, and more time doing other things, like hanging out with friends. It’s not that we’ve lost interest in nighttime photography, I just think that our interests at Disney are evolving. I can’t imagine ever losing interest in Disney photography, but I’ve lost interest in every single other hobby I’ve ever taken up, so who knows. I have no doubt that our touring style will continue to evolve, and maybe eventually we’ll return to just using point and shoot cameras exclusively. In any case, I’m sure that date is far off.
Back to Mizner’s. Even though the bar closes at midnight, we didn’t end up leaving there until about 12:15. Of course, it was “only” a little after midnight at that point, and we weren’t ready to go to bed. Plus, we were hungry again.
At this point, it was really helpful to have the knowledge of Unofficial Guide researchers at our disposal. Henry quickly rattled off the locations in Walt Disney World that were still open, and conveniently, one of them, Gasparilla Grill was located right in the Grand Floridian! We immediately headed down there to get some pizza.
Unfortunately, the pizza looked less than appetizing. It was the only thing they had available right then, so we decided to take a pass. I can’t recall if there were other options, but we weren’t incredibly hungry, so we essentially gave up after we declared that our first choice wasn’t a viable option. Instead, we headed outside to soak in the ambiance of the Grand Floridian.
We were on the side of the resort facing Cinderella Castle, and as we sat there chatting, it was cool to see the Castle change colors. It really made me want to book a Magic Kingdom view room! Although, in fairness, I think if I had a Magic Kingdom view room, I’d be up all night on the balcony gazing at the Castle. That lack of sleep probably wouldn’t be a good thing! It really was nice and relaxing to just sit outside at the Grand Floridian and enjoy the ambiance, watching the Castle as it changed colors. It was so relaxed that I didn’t even think to take any photos; now I wish I did to forever capture the mood of the night. Then again, I suppose I wouldn’t have been as relaxed were I trying to capture the perfect photo!
Finally the bugs got to us, and we decided to call it a night. It was about 1 am by this point, so we figured we’d have to catch a taxi back to our resort. Unfortunately, everyone else was in the same general resort area, so they could split taxis. We were the only ones at an All-Star. Sucked for us, but the night was worth it. Then, unexpectedly, I saw a bus pull up. I asked where the bus was going, and it said Downtown Disney. When I said, “oh, thanks anyway,” the driver asked where we were going. I responded All Star Movies, and he said, “get on.” Success! No cab fare for us at all! We enjoyed the long bus ride from Grand Floridian to All Star Music, then went to bed.
---------- Post added 08-16-2011 at 05:30 AM ----------
The next morning was another early one with the Destination D events beginning promptly at 9:30 am. Since we had purchased a refillable mug, I was going to get as much use out of it as possible, so I headed to the food court with it.
Of course, what would a trip to the food court be without taking the camera to snap some photos along the way?! (I hope you all aren’t fed up with All Star Movies photos yet!)
Those of you who follow our exploits may recall my rather scathing review of D23’s Magic & Merriment Christmas event. After that event, I sent a similar scathing survey response to D23 in which I informed the club that I would not be renewing my membership due to the quality of the event, which meant that I would not be attending the Destination D event.
Despite this, when we saw the schedule for Destination D, it was difficult to resist. We did initially, fearing it would be a diluted version of the California event by the same name from 2010. However, as time wore on, we eventually became more and more receptive to the idea of attending Destination D.
After much deliberation and second-guessing, we ultimately decided to do Destination D when Henry told us we should (yeah, that’s really all the prodding we need). We figured we could always skip the seminars if they turned out to be disappointing, but we couldn't go back in time and attend the events if we decided not to go, and reports came back that they were exceptional. Basically, we erred on the side of not missing something special.
In one word, Destination D was flawless (to us).
We were fairly tired from the late closing the previous night and probably still “catching up” (Sarah and I have a running debate as to whether it’s possible to catch up on sleep; I think it’s possible to a degree, over maybe a 2-3 day period, but if you don’t get any sleep on a Monday, you can’t catch up on that sleep on the following Friday) on rest from the grueling Scavenger Hunt, so we didn’t make it out right on time the next morning. This wasn’t too big of a concern, as the first segment was just a “welcome.” We knew that wouldn’t be too exciting.
Still, we wanted to be there if possible. When we arrived at the bus stop for the Magic Kingdom at 9:10 and the line was already at least one bus deep and we questioned whether we’d make it on the first bus that came, we waited a bit before I went and looked for a taxi. Right as I left, a bus showed up, so we opted to take it. We finally arrived at the Contemporary at 9:45, right in time for the meat of the wrap up of the opening seminar by Steven Clark, head of D23.
As we quietly walked in, we noticed that we were pretty much stuck in the nosebleed section. Not a big deal to us, as we planned on treating the presentations pretty lightheartedly. If it felt too much like a boring conference, we’d leave and head to the Magic Kingdom for a few hours.
Right as we sat down, Steven Clark introduced the first Disney Ambassador (I don’t remember her name), who worked in the Walt Disney World preview center while the Resort was being built. She reflected on some of her experiences, and her love for Disney. Her stories were neat, and the short segment was the perfect allotment for them.
The next presentation was called “Weird Disney.” I didn’t really have high expectations for this one, but it really floored me. It was by Becky Cline and Paul Anderson. We had met Becky previously at D23’s Magic & Merriment, but we didn’t realize just how passionate she was about Disney at that time. It was abundantly clear from this presentation.
The first thirty minutes or so of the presentation were entirely about Disneyland. Near the beginning of this segment, Henry & Kate showed up, and sat next to us. Henry later told me that everything from the Disneyland segment was recycled from Disneyland’s 55th Anniversary event, but to be fair, Disneyland did play a prominent role in Walt Disney World’s development. Plus, the Disneyland stuff was pretty outrageous. I can’t believe some of the things Walt let pass as “characters.” The Alice in Wonderland costumes (more like Donnie Darko!) were especially weird!
Once it got to the Walt Disney World portion of the presentation, the ‘weirdness’ essentially revolved around people wearing ridiculous 80s outfits. Oh, and they were ridiculous! Other aspects of the presentation ranged from a “baby” New Year at Disneyland, Ninja Turtles and Ernest at the Studios, terrifying SpectroMagic dolls, crazy EPCOT Center costumes, the Astuter Computer Revue, and many other things.
However, by far, the weirdest thing out of all was this extended advertising video for Grad Nights that was probably from the late 1970s. The video featured two guitarists dressed like...I don’t know...Peter Pan imitators, maybe, walking around strumming on their guitars as they played folksy music about Grad Nights. Weird doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Becky and Paul ended the presentation by attempting to give-away several different things they found on the grounds of the Contemporary (they were quite hilarious!), before Paul came out totally adorned with Kitchen Kaberat toys.
Yep, they are certainly geeks just like us. I could go on and on about this segment, but I’m sure the jokes don’t work quite as well ex post facto. It was definitely one of those “you had to be there” type presentations. It really was reassuring how they had no problem being frank, genuinely interested in their topic, and willing to poke fun at Walt Disney World. It was a nice departure from some of the people in Team Disney Orlando. This presentation could have lasted 4 hours and I think I would have been on the edge of my seat the entire time. Luckily, “weird Disney” seemed to be a theme that permeated the entire weekend, so we saw plenty of weird after this presentation was over.
Dave Smith was next up, showcasing the development of EPCOT Center and the Magic Kingdom from construction to opening. About 10 minutes into this presentation, Tony Baxter showed up and sat five seats away from me (yes, I counted). I guess there was some benefit to us showing up late and getting stuck with seats in the back!
As the segment continued, Dave began showing photos of extinction attractions, while pausing for applause. The audience took this cue, and began applauding to certain portions. Tony Baxter participated in this, and I kept one eye on him the entire time as he applauded--or didn’t applaud--for certain attractions. For those interested, based on his applause, it seems The Living Seas is his all-time favorite Walt Disney World attraction. You know, based on my highly scientific applause-reading.
All of this audience participation really was fun, and added some character to the presentation. Dave Smith is an awesome, awesome man, but he’s definitely not the most inspired public speaker. Luckily, he didn’t have to be, as the rare photos he presented from the archives spoke for themselves, and the audience’s reaction supplemented these nicely. Dave threw in a few jokes here and there that went over well, and made the presentation an overall success.
When Dave Smith’s presentation concluded, it was time for our lunch break. We had two hours for the break, and we had grand plans for that time. We anticipated riding rides, eating lunch, and heck, probably even hanging out at our resort’s pool. Okay, we didn’t actually expect to do the last thing, but we did figure we’d have time for at least lunch and a few rides in the Magic Kingdom.
We headed to the Magic Kingdom with Kate and Henry, and decided that we’d give the newly opened Tortuga Tavern a try for the first time. Sarah and I had never eaten there while it was El Pirata y el Perico, so it was basically an entirely new restaurant to us.
As we began walking towards Adventureland, I saw a woman wearing a Figment backpack circa 1992-1998. As these high-quality Figment backpacks can be difficult to find and hers was in exquisite condition, I raced over to her and engaged her in conversation. I really wanted to ask her if she’d sell the bag, but: 1) I don’t carry cash, and 2) that just seems sort of odd. I mean, after all, it’s Walt Disney World, not a flea market in Indiana. However, lady with the beautiful Figment backpack, if you’re out there reading this and are interested in selling, email me at: [email protected]!!!
I had read that Tortuga Tavern has some cool details (no monkeys!) before our trip, but since we were in such a hurry to eat and experience some attractions, we didn’t take the time to explore the place. Hopefully next trip we will get the chance to do this when we have more time.
The food was pretty average at Tortuga Tavern. It was definitely (unsurprisingly) heavily Americanized Mexican food, and it wasn’t bad by any means (and the servings were large thanks to the toppings bar!), but it was pretty forgettable. Overall bland and really mild. Of course, it does have to appeal to a broad demographic, so I can see why Disney goes for seeking the lowest common denominator rather than making the food more authentic.
We ate fairly quickly, but even eating quickly, we realized that we didn’t have much time to do anything else. We wanted to see Carousel of Progress, but we knew that would be pushing it. Instead, we went for the time honored tradition of taking a relaxing post-meal voyage aboard the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. Although it does have a couple of loops and sharply banked turns, it didn’t jostle our stomachs too much.
After the TTA, we had to rush back, as our lunch break was 10 minutes from being over. We didn’t make it to the Contemporary in 10 minutes, but luckily, the next presentation started a few minutes late, so we were right on time.
Again, we were “stuck” with seats in the back. We never got to a single presentation early, but based on seeing people camped out in the halls, I’m assuming that people waited in line all through some of the meal breaks for good seats. We had fun during meal breaks, and could see just fine (and when I wanted better photos, I’d just walk forward on the side of the ballroom). To each his own.
I’m not sure how exciting it is to read about seminar presentations second-hand (my intuition tells me “not very”), so I’m trying to keep each of these as brief as possible. I was really excited for the next presentation, until Steven Nagnini and Paul Anderson informed us at the outset that it wouldn’t really be about EPCOT Center, but instead about Walt's vision for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
I’m actually a bit torn about this presentation. The history was fascinating, and E.P.C.O.T. interests me, no doubt. That said, it was presented like your typical history class. It was dry, and not as lively as most of the other presentations. I’m sure rabid World’s Fair or Walt fans would vehemently disagree with me, but I wasn’t overly impressed with the presentation. Additionally, a lot of what was presented near the end of the talk seemed to be forced attempts to tie Walt’s concept with present day Walt Disney World. Yes, Walt Disney World does utilize some impressive technologies, but I don’t think utilidors really make the Magic Kingdom similar to the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. It was incredibly interesting to see just how refined Walt’s city-planning chops were, and I truly believe that had he lived another 10 years or so, the world might have seen its first successful utopia.
Once the presentation pushed past the discussion of Walt’s plans, it felt a little contrived. I think most people realize EPCOT Center was a substantial departure from Walt’s vision for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Rather than attempting to say, “the vision was realized in EPCOT and throughout Walt Disney World,” maybe it’s time for the company to admit that the vision wasn’t realized at all. Or if the company isn’t willing to admit that, maybe it should at least stop contending that certain systems in place at WDW are connected to the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow in some tenuous way.
Up next: Past Forward: A History of Walt Disney World on Television, with Rob Klein and Tim O’Day. This one started out very strong (although I had seen some of the pieces they showed thanks to the internet!), but reached a really odd point where some musician was singing, and talking, and singing, and talking in the Contemporary. This segment seemed to drag on and on, and after a while of watching in bewilderment, I turned to Sarah and told her I was going to the Contempo Cafe to get something to drink.
Of course, no trip to the Contempo Cafe is complete without taking a few photos of the inside of the Contemporary. I attached the fisheye to the camera, and had a little fun “bending” the lines of the resort.
After spending probably 15 minutes upstairs, we returned to the ballroom, where we caught the last 20 minutes or so of the Television presentation. Again, there were some odd clips, some clips I hadn’t seen, and some clips I had seen.
The next segment was easily the highlight of the first day. The Walt Disney Resort That Never Was with Tony Baxter and Steve Vagnini. The first name should say it all. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed during this segment, and I was so overwhelmed by the Western River Expedition conclusion that I’m sure I forgot a lot of what preceded it. Here’s what I do remember.
The un-built resorts were covered in some detail. Baxter discussed the plans for some of the other resorts, and postcards and other art was shown (including those original maps that appeared in rooms at the Polynesian and Contemporary that now go for exorbitant prices on eBay) demonstrating how these resorts would have looked. Some of this was new, but a lot I had seen before. (Gotta love The Art of Walt Disney World book!)
Other plans were discussed, such as some of the plans for the Living Seas and Journey Into Imagination, a Mary Poppins attraction, and other Fantasyland dark rides, among other things, but I think it’s safe to say we were all there with one thing on our minds: Western River Expedition.
When Baxter started talking about the Western River Expedition, I got chills. They didn’t subside until about 20 minutes later, when he was finally finished. I won’t even attempt to describe the attraction (for those unfamiliar with the concept, you might want to Google it now), but this was definitely the most vivid description I had ever heard--and seen. Baxter had a multi-media presentation that was a ride-through of the attraction of sorts. Seeing the Blair artwork, along with Baxter’s commentary, all set to music and with some dialogue was an amazing experience. That alone probably would have justified the cost of the weekend’s admission! Seriously.
Next stop, dinner time! We had a tad over two hours, so we thought maybe a table service monorail restaurant would be in order. It seemed, though, that the Mashable conference’s dinner break had started shortly before ours, and there already was a pretty sizable line at The Wave. We figured we could outsmart them by heading to the Poly and grabbing a table at the underrated and typically underbooked Kona Cafe. After waiting 20 minutes for the monorail, we arrived at the Polynesian, and discovered this social media geeks were a little more savvy than your average guests, and had already found their way over to Kona Cafe, as it had a huge wait.
I relayed this information to Henry, who had somehow ended up pretty far behind us in line for the monorail, and they didn’t even get off at the Poly stop. Sarah and I walked over to the Ticket and Transportation Center from the Poly (giving us flashbacks to walking in 30 degree weather in the wee hours of the morning during our Christmas 2010 trip), and arrived at roughly the same time as Henry and Kate.
At that point, we were getting really hungry, and Sunshine Seasons was sounding really good (mind you, we had only eaten there ONCE this trip at that point!), so we caught the monorail to Epcot. Henry and Kate weren’t feeling the Sunshine Seasons vibe, so they headed to Morrocco.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my favorite menu items at Sunshine Seasons used to be the Turkey and Monterrey Jack Cheese on Foccacia with Chipotle Mayonnaise, which hasn’t been offered since at least last fall (way to keep your menus current, All Ears...). This was a huge issue for me on our Christmas trip, as none of the new sandwiches looked like a suitable alternative. When we ate here a few days earlier, I got the roto chicken for this very reason.
As you can see based upon the photo above, the gross Reuben Panini now uses the excellent light and fluffy Foccacia bread, whereas the excellent Turkey and Monterrey Jack Cheese with Chipotle Mayonnaise is now on the dry and hard Ciabatta bread.
On this particular evening, I realized I’m an adventurous man. So I decided to take the plunge and order the Turkey sandwich anyway. I was heading into dangerous waters, I feared, but I realized that I must know whether the Ciabatta bread was truly as dry and as hard as I expected.
Luckily, it was not! Now, this isn’t to say that it was as good as the wonderful Foccacia bread, because it most certainly was not, but the sandwich was still a rousing success! It truly was a revolutionary moment in the history of Sunshine Seasons dining!!!
Sunshine Seasons was largely empty at this point for some reason, so I decided to snap some photos. I really love this restaurant, although I wish the table umbrellas and large center fountain were still around. I’m a sucker for EPCOT Center. After I took my photos, we thought we’d do a quick spin on Livin’ with the Land, but it was closed!
At that point, we had a decision to make: head back to catch the last seminar of the day (20 minutes late), or skip it. At the time, I didn’t realize it was a Tony Baxter presentation, and I thought the History of the Resort on film would be largely videos I’ve already seen. I knew Sarah was a bit tired of the presentations, plus the Nightlife Reviews were at the Epcot area resorts that evening, so it made sense to skip the last presentation. In retrospect, I sort of wish we would have gone, as I heard it was an excellent session. Oh well, you have to strike a good balance, and I feel that some breaks from the presentations were necessary.
Instead, we decided to head over to World Showcase to meet back up with Henry and Kate. On our way there, though, we saw the sunset. Wow. I couldn’t let that go unphotographed, so we spent some serious time up by the Imagination pavilion capturing the scene. Luckily, the attraction was also closed (must have been a 7 pm closing for Future World that night?), so no one was around to interfere with the shots! I was pretty pleased with how they turned out.
At that point, we headed over to Rose & Crown, where Henry and Kate were hanging out. On my way in, this clearly intoxicated man saw my camera and started asking me questions about it, as he was having trouble taking photos with his point and shoot. I showed him my LCD screen, and scrolled through a few of the sunset photos I had taken. Now, I realize it’s pretty easy to impressive a drunk dude, but this guy was absolutely floored. He immediately told me to “name my price” for taking pictures of he and his friends. Perhaps “catching himself” he quickly modified his offer, instead saying he’d pay me $100 to take some photos of his friends. I didn’t want to take advantage of this guy, and he was amusing anyway, so I told him I’d take the pictures for free. Now that I finally have them edited, I should probably email them to him...
Illuminations was starting soon, so I told Henry that we’d head over to the bridge and set up to shoot the show. The bridge was already packed, and it was a bad location anyway, so I made a lame attempt to photograph the show. Unsurprisingly, the photos I took are pretty lame. I sort of like that you can see the crowd in the lower left corner, which gives the fireworks an enormous scale, but overall these shots are definitely duds. This trip was definitely a colossal failure for fireworks. I definitely need to try harder in October!
Len texted me as Illuminations was ending and said they were at Flying Fish. So, once it was over, we headed that way, but not before I stopped to capture some photos of the Swan & Dolphin. Being in this area once again reminded me of how much I love the Epcot resorts. I can’t wait to stay in one of them again. Hopefully the Beach Club, Yacht Club, or Swan & Dolphin are in our travel plans sometime soon!
Sarah decided to photograph me, photographing the Swalphin.
Flying Fish wasn’t too busy when we arrived. I guess this shouldn’t be too surprising, as it was pretty late, but I was under the impression the BoardWalk was always hoppin’! The empty restaurant gave me the perfect chance to get photos. I wasn’t about to pass this up, so I wandered all over the place, photographing anything that was even mildly interesting. I’ll spare you the boring details shots (although I’m sure none of these are exactly “exciting!”) and just post some of my favorites. Yeah, I like restaurant interior photos.
They may be difficult to see, but this is our party--minus me, of course.
Once again, I won’t go into too much detail here, but if you want to read our Nightlife Reviews, check out an upcoming edition of The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World! I will share the photos, and they sort of speak for themselves.
Okay, if the photos didn’t say enough, I’ll say this: these were some of the all-around best desserts I’ve ever had at Walt Disney World. Top notch preparation and taste, all around!
The next stop was the Beach Club, and the Martha's Vineyard Lounge. It was already getting late, and Sarah and I were dead set on making it the Magic Kingdom in time for some night shooting, so we only stuck around for one drink (another Manhattan for me, I was already improving my ordering technique!) before heading out.
As soon as we headed outside, we saw a bus for the Magic Kingdom. Right away. It was awesome, especially in light of all of the bus problems we’d been having. We took quick naps on the bus to rejuvinate, then headed into the Magic Kingdom fully charged. Well, at least one of us was fully charged...
Sarah, by contrast, was still a bit tired, but she didn’t let that slow her down (at least not until her nap in Carousel of Progress!). Not at first, at least Obviously Tomorrowland was the destination of choice, and we started, how else, but with a ride aboard the TTA. Nothing is as relaxing as that ride at night. Nothing. I think our world leaders should handle all of their negotiations aboard the TTA. All of our disputes would be resolved in 10 minutes.I know it takes at least 200 bureaucrats to make any government decision, so perhaps the ride vehicles would have to be modified.
After the TTA, we made the rest of ‘the rounds’ in Tomorrowland, hitting Buzz Lightyear’s Spaceranger Spin, the Carousel of Progress, and rounding the night out with Space Mountain. Talk about an awesome way to end the night. Even though we had spent all day (pretty much) in a convention center, and had only experienced a handful of attractions, it felt like we accomplished so much that day. I think we were both pretty pleased.
Of course, the night wouldn’t be over without a little late night photography. We started out, unsurprisingly, in Tomorrowland, where I played around with the fisheye too much. I probably should have used the ultra wide angle instead (next time!), but oh well.
Then, we headed to the Castle to get some fun shots of the two of us. We didn’t get nearly enough of these on the Disneyland leg of the trip, so we decided to make up for it a bit this evening in the Magic Kingdom. I get plenty of ‘artistic’ shots of Disney on other trips, this trip I felt the urge to get more shots of us. Especially since we wouldn’t get many during the day, thanks to Destination D.
Following our Castle shooting, it was off to Main Street, USA. Here, we got a few shots of ourselves with some of details on Main Street. It was a great time, but we were getting really tired by this point, so it was time to call it a night!
We headed towards the exit, grabbed the first bus we saw, and made haste to All Star Movies. When we arrived, I thought about doing some night shooting, but again I was too tired.