Saturday, January 6 - arrival date
The Caribbean Beach Resort is *really* nice. This is our second visit to WDW and our first staying on property. We're staying in the CPK village - Jamaica - their color is yellow, and the room numbers are like diamonds, so from a distance, the rooms all look like they have the CPK symbol on their door. I also keep having "Kokomo" pop into my head every time we're driving in our resort ("Aruba, Jamaica, ooo, I wanna take ya").
Only complaint - Disney apparently thinks that taco lettuce (aka shredded lettuce) is acceptable on hamburgers and other sandwiches. Blech. Have to live with it because I have no other choice but I prefer leaf lettuce.
Sunday, January 7 - day at the Magic Kingdom
The castle doesn't look nearly as huge as I remember from last time. Still didn't go on Tiki Room. Pirates was fun - same changes as at DL. Mansion was fun, even though I think I like DL's better. Two cast members commented on my Haunted Mansion Holiday shirt, so the trolling worked. Stitch's Great Escape was ok but still had flashbacks of Alien Encounter. Pooh ride was fun. Small World is so much smaller. Still hate that most of the food is either sit-down table service or counter service with only hamburgers and chicken really as options with nothing in between or different.
Highlight of the night - "Wishes" was a great fireworks show. *LOVED* the frowny face. It was also nice knowing people to call back in California to ask about a good spot from which to see the fireworks. But even with as good as the show was - it doesn't hold a candle to either "Believe" or "Remember".
Monday, January 8 - day at Epcot
I think Epcot is going to end up being my favorite of the parks. Test Track was fun. Mission Space cheater green version (as opposed to more intensive orange version) was just the right amount of fun. The new Nemo ride was outstanding, and the aquarium addition is pretty awesome too. Spaceship Earth was fun. Maelstrom (Norway) was slower than I remember, but I think it was just my mis-memory.
Highlight of the day - the Segway tour we took in the morning - Oh my goodness. So much fun and so worth the money. I was really hesitant going in, but it won me over pretty quickly. It would be so awesome for shopping. After doing World Showcase on a Segway, walking just isn't the same.
Second highlight of the day - Illuminations - It was just as good I remembered it being from when we saw it in 1999. How the heck do you describe this show to someone who's never seen it? It's a difficult as explaining Fantasmic. And then the kicker of having Tapestry as the exit music was killer. Is it really possible to miss a show this much that you've only ever seen once?
On Tuesday, it's Disney-MGM day. Looked at the guide map and there aren't that many things we want to do (lots that we've either seen and aren't interested in seeing again or are outright not interested in at all), so not sure how we're going to occupy our day long enough to stay while our friends watch Fantasmic. No way we're interested in seeing that show again.
Tuesday, January 9 - Disney/MGM day
We unexpectedly had a much later start to the day than we expected, so we didn't get to the park until about 2:30. Of all days for this to happen, this was the best for it to happen since we didn't see all that much to do there anyway. We got there in time to get seats for the Stars and Cars parade. It was a lot of fun. The one change I noticed from having heard about the parade previously is that R2D2 and C3PO are no longer riding the car. Luke and Leia ride the car, R2 is tooling around on the street (very cool) and 3PO is gone altogether. We ended up sitting next to a small child in a red Power Ranger costume - during the parade, we got the red Power Ranger's attention and pointed out the child. Red Power Ranger came over and gave the kid a big hug. The kid was beaming! A friend of ours was wearing a hat that said "evil". Radcliff noticed it and absconded with it for a while to show a few of the other villains and put the hat on himself before giving it back. Can't remember much about the parade music, but it was a fun parade.
Tower of Terror was a lot of fun. I like DCA's version, but the extra element in this version is awesome. One of the friends with us had never been on the ride before, even DCA's version, so that made it even more fun. My only disappointment was that I couldn't find a cool ToT shirt that said Disney-MGM on it. All the shirts that I liked were generic ToT. I wanted something cool and park specific. The only shirt that named the park was ok but not interesting enough for me to buy.
We went over to Star Tours and saw the new queue area that was Endor. That was cool. I haven't been on the ride even in DL in a really long time, so it was fun. I found a really cool shirt in the gift shop that I had to buy - I'll post pictures when we get home.
We had planned to go on the tram tour, but we ended up getting there after they had already stopped. We ended up doing ToT again before our friends went to see Fantasmic, and we went to see Voyage of the Little Mermaid. OK show, some neat stuff, but I was really disappointed that Ariel didn't do her own singing. Don't feel the need to ever see this show again.
When we met up with our friends again, they were definitely not whelmed by this version of Fantasmic.
We ended up at Spoodles at the Boardwalk Resort for dinner. I had the seafood stew. Yum yum. Pictures when we get home.
Tomorrow, it's Animal Kingdom and conquering Everest!
Wednesday, January 10 - Animal Kingdom day
We had skipped going to Animal Kingdom on our previous visit to WDW, so this would be our first visit to the park. The park opened at 9am, but we got there about an hour or so after opening. We decided to head for Expedition Everest to get Fastpasses and then do something else in the meantime. We got to the Fastpass station at about 10:40, and the CMs were just covering the Fastpass stations, saying that all Fastpasses were already given out for the day. The park closed at 5pm that night. The standby line said that it was a 30 minute wait, so we decided to just join the line. The theming of the attraction is amazing, with a Himalayan village in the area just outside the attraction and the village theme continuing throughout the queue. As you make your way through the queue, there is more of the village to see, as well as the base camp for the expedition. There is also a lot of information about the legend of the yeti and how the locals view the yeti, as well as a museum documenting sightings and other encounters with the yeti. The line moved very quickly, and we ended up waiting only about 15 or 20 minutes.
I loved Everest. There is a backwards section that’s really cool, and the yeti makes a couple of appearances, including one at the end that prompted me to duck out of his grasp. You exit out into a gift shop, and I found some cool merchandise there as well, including one particular item that I love and that I had to add to my collection - pictures when we get home.
We have two friends who moved to Orlando a couple of years ago, and we got a call from them saying they would be able to join us for the day, so we looked forward to that. On our way to get a locker, we ran into another familiar face - Maynard! He was on vacation as well at WDW, so the five of us ended up spending the day together at Animal Kingdom, and we had a great time, and since our friends knew the park very well, it was almost like having a personal guided tour, since they knew a lot of tidbits about the park.
We made our way to the safari, but the wait time was an hour, so we got Fastpasses. We then went on the train and stopped at the conservation center, and we also did a walk along Rafiki’s trail. It was then time for our safari, and we ended up with a guide that was really good. It took me a while to stop expecting Jungle Cruise jokes from her, though she was very humorous in her own way anyway. The ride was extremely bumpy, so that added to the adventure. We saw a number of animals that apparently are sometimes hard to see, so that was great. Among other animals, we saw young giraffes and elephants, and cheetahs and lions as well.
After the safari, we had lunch at Flame Tree BBQ, which had really good ribs. We also enjoyed our lunch with a terrific view of Everest from a spot that our friends knew well. After lunch, it was on to wait for the Jungle Jammin’ parade. It was a nice parade, but it didn’t particularly catch my fancy. After the parade, we headed to the last show of the new Finding Nemo musical. Visually, I thought the show was stunning, with the use of puppets much like how Zazu is done in the Broadway musical of “The Lion King”. The songs didn’t do that much for me though. It was a packed house, and the audience seemed to like the show very much. After the show, the park was technically closed, but it was an extra magic hours evening, and we had gotten our wristbands earlier in the day, so we bid farewell to Maynard and our friends, and we made our way to the evening show of Festival of the Lion King. It was a nice show, but it was nowhere on the level of the Lion King Celebration parade that I adored so much. The singers were good, but some of them took some liberties with some of the songs that I didn’t care for.
After the show, we headed off to ride Dinosaur. It was in fact better than Knott’s now defunct Kingdom of the Dinosaurs, but even though it uses the same technology as the Indy ride, the excitement and adventure were nowhere near that level. It was a decent ride but probably not one I’d do again. I opted out of doing Primeval Whirl, but the husband went on it and didn’t care for it much.
We decided to end our evening with another ride on Everest. At about 7pm, it was pretty much a walk-on. With the height of the ride, and it already being dark, you get a spectacular view of the surrounding area as you ascend to the top, and you can even see the Sorcerer’s hat from MGM and the ball from Epcot. We enjoyed the ride again, did some shopping, and then headed out and back to our resort, where we had dinner at Shutters, the table-service restaurant, which was ok.
Thursday, January 11 – Universal/Islands of Adventure day
Having already been to all four Disney parks, we had decided to spend two days at the Universal parks. We were figuring on spending the first day at Universal and the second day at Islands of Adventure. We retrieved our pre-purchased tickets and walking through the main entrance and down the streets, the place was fairly empty. Many of the shops and dining locations weren’t open, and there weren’t a lot of other people walking around. Our first stop was the E.T. ride, which has been gone from the California park for some time but is still in Orlando. It was a nice little ride, though I recall that the queue in California was a bit more elaborate. The ride itself also seemed slightly less psychedelic than I recalled. Next, we headed to the Men in Black ride. We were a bit surprised that you had to put all of your belongings in lockers before you could ride. There was literally no one else near us, so as we walked through the extensive queue (extensive, unused indoor queues would turn out to be a recurring theme for the day), we took the time to look at all the details along the way. By the time we got to the loading station, there were actually a few people behind us. The ride itself was ok, but I was not happy that they didn’t really tell you where you needed to shoot the monsters. We shot at them in random locations and apparently would hit them periodically, but it would have been nice if there had been some indication of where you’re supposed to shoot them. I also didn’t care for the several times that the spinning got fairly intense.
We then went on the Earthquake attraction, which is pretty much a cut-out of that particular section of the tram ride in California (Orlando doesn’t offer the tram ride since there’s no working studio adjacent), where you’re in a subway station when a huge earthquake hits. We also went on the Jaws ride, which has you in a boat as a shark menaces you as you go around the island. You get fairly wet (getting wet on lots of attractions, even when you don’t really expect it, would be another recurring theme for the day), and I didn’t care for the mangled shark that you see at the end. We looked at the Twister attraction, but since that also apparently involves water, and while we were in the gift shop, the husband saw some people exiting who were fairly wet, we decided to skip that. We also wandered by the television preview station, where you sign up, and they showed each of us promotional trailers for two upcoming shows, and you answer a series of questions about them. The entire process took about 20 minutes, and you get $10 each for your services, so that was a nice way to offset the $11 parking per day.
Right before lunch, we decided to go on Revenge of the Mummy. We had been on the California version of the ride, which we thought was pretty lame, and friends had told us that the Orlando version was much better. Again, you had to put away your belongings in a locker before you could ride. The queue was very nicely themed, and the ride itself was fun, and yes, definitely tons better than the California version. I loved the roiling fire (yes, real fire, not the stupid fake light fire in the California version) on the ceiling, and it was a nice ride. I liked the fake ending, but the ride part after that was much shorter than I expected.
We had lunch at Finnegan’s, the Irish pub in the New York area, and we enjoyed that very much. We then decided to see Terminator 2-3D since we had enjoyed the show in the California park. The water aspect of that show seemed much longer, and it actually went on for longer than the story would dictate. We weren’t interested in doing the other rides and attractions in the park, either because we’d already done them in California and didn’t care to do them again or because we weren’t interested at all, so at 2:30pm, we decided to just head over to Islands of Adventure.
We started off on the Dr. Seuss ride, which was pleasant, but I think it would have been a lot more fun if they didn’t feel the need to add in the unnecessary quick spins that threw you against the side of the vehicle. I also think that kids would have enjoyed the ride more without that aspect - I can’t remember if there was a height requirement.
We then rode the little overhead train that runs along the top of Seussland, and that was fun, and you got to learn the lesson of the Sneeches as well.
We looked at Dueling Dragons for a while, but they had a problem with the blue train, which sat on the track for some time, and which they apparently had to evacuate, so we decided to save that for the following day. We rode the Flying Unicorn ride, which was cute and along the lines of Gadgets Go Coaster. We also did Poseidon’s Fury, which was a walk-through attraction which pits Poseidon against his mortal enemy. The projections on water were reminiscent of Fantasmic, and there was a cool part where you walk under this tunnel of shooting water, but yes, you get wet. Not an attraction I’d do again though.
One section of the park is called Jurassic Park, themed after the film, and we rather enjoyed that section. It’s as if you had entered that theme park itself. We skipped the water adventure, which seemed to be pretty much the same as the ride in California. They had a Discovery Center modeled after the one in the movie, and it looked great. We went inside, and we watched a dinosaur hatch (that was actually pretty cool), played with the DNA sequencing stuff and there’s also a section called Beasaurus where you can look through the eyes and control the head motion of a few different dinosaurs, including a T-Rex. The only thing missing and that we thought it really needed was the “when dinosaurs ruled the earth” banner across the top of the dome inside.
It was getting towards the 6pm closing time, so we headed toward the exit. On the way, there was a Spiderman ride, which I opted out of, but which the husband went on. He said it was a kind of 3D movie dark ride simulator, and he really enjoyed it. Oh, and there’s a part where you get wet. For our last ride, we went on Hulk, where we again had to put our belongings away. Since the ride goes upside down a few times, it at least made sense that they didn’t want you to have anything in the ride vehicle, but it still puzzled us why the other rides which didn’t go upside down had that requirement as well. We really enjoyed the Hulk, and even though there were several upside down sections, it didn’t make me as dizzy as coasters like that sometime can.
We walked around Citywalk a little bit to figure out where to have dinner the following night. We stopped into Emeril’s, which is the kind of restaurant we like for finer dining, and the menu looked really good. We tried to make a reservation for Friday night, but the only availability left was for either a very early or very late dinner, so we passed. I wasn’t that disappointed because in the time we were there, there was definite attitude that we were dressed in theme park wear (we were both in t-shirts and jeans). There was no dress code for the restaurant (other than no sleeveless shirts for men and boys), and we saw other people seated in the restaurant dressed similarly to us, so I definitely didn’t care for the attitude. We figured we’d just decide the next day when dinnertime came around.
Even though we had originally planned on two full days at Universal/IOA, we knew we wouldn’t be able to spend another full day there, so we figured on doing something else the following morning and then heading back to the Universal resort later in the day. It really takes going to a non-Disney park to appreciate how good Disney is at what they do. One of the things that I happen to hate at other parks is how aggressive some of the various employees can be. Walking from the parking structure to the parks and before you get to bag check, there are several stations where you can apply for what looks to be a Universal-associated credit card (like Disney visa). One particular woman came up to us, and when we declined, she followed us for a while, trying to talk us into it, and she was rather pushy. Another man also wouldn’t simply take no for an answer. While we were in IOA, there were a number of kiosks for some kind of travel club (presumably something like Disney’s vacation club), and again, they were very aggressive with passers-by, trying to make you feel guilty and/or stupid for not stopping to listen to them. In a section of Universal, there were people taking surveys for what later appeared to be Burger King since they eventually asked you how often you ordered Burger King fries. I agreed to take the survey while we had stopped for a pastry for breakfast, and the man who was asking me was standing quite a bit away from where we were seated, and with the loud ambient music, it was a bit hard to hear him, so I had to ask him to repeat himself several times. Having the start of your day or having your day interrupted by very rude, overbearing salespeople is definitely not something that adds to your enjoyment of the park.
We then headed off to Downtown Disney. Parking was a bit hard to find, but after that was done, we had to decide where to have dinner. We wandered over to the Portobello Yacht Club, and their menu looked good, so we stepped in. Luckily, even without a reservation, it was only about a 5 minute wait. I knew I’d enjoy the restaurant because even though it was also a fine dining establishment, they didn’t treat us any differently because of what we were wearing. We both enjoyed the minestrone soup, and I had a terrific ahi tuna cooked as little as possible while the husband enjoyed the veal, and we also split a side of asparagus, though we both passed on dessert. Definitely somewhere we’d go back to and recommend. We then spent quite a bit of time walking through the various Disney stores, including World of Disney, Once Upon a Toy, Pooh Corner, Disney Tails, The Art of Disney and other places. Luckily, we got out of there with only buying a few items. There were a few other stores we had wanted to visit, but it was alte enough that they would either be closed or would be closing shortly, and they were on the other side of Downtown Disney. We had thought about making a visit to Pleasure Island, but by that time, it was already a bit late and we were already quite tired, so we decided to head back to our hotel.
Interestingly enough, on our way back to the car, we were approached by a Disney employee who asked if we wouldn’t mind taking her survey. The survey actually took about 5 or 10 minutes, but she was incredibly polite and helpful the entire time, a decidedly different experience than we’d had at the Universal parks.
Today, we’re spending some time at our resort, and the husband wants to rent a watercraft to tool around in the river. Later this afternoon, we’ll head back to Islands of Adventure. We might stop in for a second ride on Revenge of the Mummy at Universal. We may also catch the Sinbad Stunt Show at IOA. We do plan to do Dueling Dragons, and he’ll go on Spiderman again so I can go on it this time as well. And, I’ll hopefully be up for another run on Hulk. After that, it’ll be dinner somewhere in Citywalk.
On Saturday, we’ll be park hopping between the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, with dinner at Le Cellier. Sunday, we’re not sure what we’re doing in the morning, but we’ll need to leave for the airport in the afternoon to catch our flight home.
Friday, January 12 - random things day
The husband had wanted to rent a sailboat at our resort today, but with the small size of the craft and my complete and utter inexperience, we decided to rent a two-person sea raycer instead. We drove around the lake (not river) at the CBR for about an hour, and that was a lot of fun, and the weather was perfect for it. We then headed back to Islands of Adventure, got there around 3:30, and rode Dueling Dragons. You're given a choice of the red dragon (fire) or the blue dragon (ice), so I of course picked the red dragon. It's a suspended coaster, and it was ok, but I liked Hulk a lot better. We then wandered around the Jurassic Park Discovery Center for a while again and then we rode the Spiderman ride. It really is a fairly spectacular ride, and the effects are really cool, especially when you're levitated and then when you're about to come crashing to the ground. The effect of traveling in the air was enough that I had to close my eyes through parts of it because it was making me dizzy. We only had about 35 minutes left before both parks closed, so we decided to skip a second ride on Hulk and went back to Universal instead to ride Revenge of the Mummy again. When we got in line at about 5:45, the posted wait time was 40 minutes. It ended up taking about 25 minutes, and it was another fun ride. The park was closed at that point, so we headed out in search of dinner. We decided on Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, which neither of us had been to before. We had a good dinner there, and the place had a fun atmosphere, though it was a bit loud. We then wandered around Citywalk for a bit, but there aren't nearly as many stores there as there are in Citywalk at Universal City. This was one of the nights we came back to the resort fairly early in the evening.