Wednesday, June 27, 2012

[Disney] Days 46/47: A Quick Tour Around Walt Disney World

This post is not going to be what I hoped it would be. I thought "when I get home I'll take a quick spin around each of the four Walt Disney World parks so that I can say I did all 11 worldwide within 45 days and I can show my precious few readers some of my favorite rides and foods". Then Tropical Storm Debby hit and, while I did step foot in all four parks, two of those were literally me entering and then exiting and not taking any photos because I was completely soaked and had stored all my electronics (including my phone) safely in the dry car. So much for that. Instead you will have to settle for a brief tour around Animal Kingdom and a comprehensive tour of half of EPCOT.

My day, though, began at home, a 90-minute drive from WDW. I hadn't really gone food shopping since getting back so breakfast meant a trip to Publix. For those of you who don't live near a Publix, it is one of the two greatest supermarkets I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing (guesses on the other? No it's not TJs or Whole Foods). In honor of the trip I had some pretzel bread. A nice start!

No, it's not as good as even the worst pretzel in Germany, but I'll still take it

On the way over the rain began. It would not let up at any point over the next 36 hours. At times the wind was so fierce that it rendered my Hong Kong Disneyland umbrella completely useless.

I started the day at Animal Kingdom. I got there 30 minutes after park opening and it was completely and totally deserted. Even when I left 90 minutes later it was still deserted. That's a shame because it's just about the only Disney park that I think might (operative word: might) be improved by the rain.

Animal Kingdom is a divisive park. To some it is a sign of Disney at its best. It's not a theme park in the classic sense. There are rides, but only a few of them are headliners and most are crappy midway rip-offs. But what it excels at is incredibly immersive theming. It's a park that rewards you for slowing down and looking at everything, from the markings on the ground to the canopy above your head. To others it's the perfect example of a half-finished, half-day park that was opened before it was ready and that still doesn't have enough to justify a family visiting for more than a few hours.

As a semi-local I enjoy it, though if I was visiting without a hopper pass and spent an entire day's ticket on it I would not be pleased at all. As I take you on this photo tour, I'll try and point out both the great theming and some of the lacking elements. 

Not a lot of great photos from Animal Kingdom as I accidentally left the camera in the car and was forced to use my phone. Here you can see the centerpiece in the distance, the Tree of Life:

DinoLand USA is a really good example of the conflicting views of Animal Kingdom. On the one hand, it's an area that is full of really crappy rethemed midway rides similar to Paradise Pier in DCA. It's even got the same awful carnival games that Walt swore he'd never have in one of his parks. You could look at this area and think "this is a mockery of what Disney parks are about". On the other hand there's a great story underlying the entire section of the park - the Dinoland Institute, where the headlining attraction Dinosaur is housed, discovered dinosaur bones in the area. After they set up shop, two hucksters in the style of P.T. Barnum and John Ringling came along and built up roadside amusements to profit. Plus there are a bunch of prank-playing grad students (which is ridiculous and sounds like basically no grad students I went to school with but still fun) who do thinks like go around and paint "osaurus" at the end of everything:

Is it a really nicely thought out area of a park or a story hastily tacked on to cover up for being cheap? Your call!

Either way I headed to Dinosaur, which was a walk-on. That was the theme of the day in AK as I waited for absolutely nothing. Dinosaur is a fun ride, though definitely scary for little kids and other people who don't like giant animatronic dinosaurs popping out at them. The ride itself is very, very similar to Indiana Jones except dinosaur themed. That and it breaks down much less frequently. In many ways it is an evolution of the Fantasyland dark rides, and I always enjoy a trip on it.

It does look kinda cheap

A ride that you can and do see at county fairs across the USA

For some reason this really bothered me. It's supposed to be a cutout you can take a photo in front of. It fits the general theme (Dino-Rama is the name of the fake roadside attraction area) but then it also has "at Disney's Animal Kingdom" on it, which takes it from cool bit of theming to cheap piece of crap.

My next stop was one of Disney's most disorienting rides, Expedition Everest. Animal Kingdom really is a beautiful park, and in any Six Flags-type theme park the facsimile Mount Everest would be the central visual element. The ride itself is a mixed bag. As a coaster it is very fun, complete with both forwards and backwards segments. The crowning jewel of the ride was supposed to be a massive animatronic Yeti that, from reports of riders in the early days, was truly a sight to behold. It was also the most advanced animatronic made by WDI and it broke frequently. Rather than spend the money to figure out how to fix it, they just set up some strobe lights behind the now-immobile Yeti to make it seem like it moves. Disco Yeti! The day I rode it there was nothing there - just darkness. Emo Yeti? Sad and pathetic.

Additional note: riding Everest in the rain is painful.

I can say from experience this part of the ride absolutely stings when it is raining

Hoof prints in the ground - brilliant!

Bicycle prints in the ground - brilliant again!

One of my favorite overheard moments at a Disney park happened a few years ago in the Magic Kingdom. This little girl wanted to go see one of the docile ducks wandering the park. Her dad said to her mom, "great, we're spending four thousand dollars so she can feed a damn duck. I'm really glad we took this vacation".

The size and scope of the Tree of Life - which includes over one-hundred animals sculpted into the trunk, is just staggering.

Finishing off my whirlwind tour of Animal Kingdom, I headed to the back of the park for a fun safari adventure. I absolutely love the safari ride. It's the one attraction that you guaranteed will not see the same thing twice. I once rode it with a friend right at park closing and they let us stay on to go through twice in a row. Even in that short time period a lot of animals had moved and we saw some new ones.

Welcome to the village of Harambe

I really like this sign though I couldn't tell you why

I ended up at the front of the loading zone and my Disneyland shirt spawned a nice conversation with the Cast Member about how excited we both were to check out the new DCA. As I got on the safari vehicle the driver commented that I must have gotten lost as I wasn't in California any more. I wonder what she would have said if she'd seen the Hong Kong umbrella?

This was the first time I'd ever ridden the safari in the rain and it was fantastic! I saw far more animals on this trip than I'd ever seen before. I'll have to remember that trick for the future. This was also the first time I rode the safari since they got rid of the extraneous and idiotic poacher story line. Much nicer this way!

Every single giraffe save one was looking intently in the same direction. None of us could figure out what was going on over there.

Hooray, no more stupid poacher story line!

Before leaving the park I really wanted something small to eat. That's when I made my biggest mistake of the day. I saw an advertisement for seasonal fruit salad but couldn't find a price on the menu. I thought "how much could a fruit salad be"? This would have cost $3.99 tops at Publix. It cost more than twice that at Disney. Price gouging at its worst:

My greatest regret

There are certainly lots of other things to do at Animal Kingdom, including two great shows and a lot of animal viewing areas. But it was raining and I had a World Showcase to eat my way around so it was back to the car and on to EPCOT.

EPCOT is just a complete mixed bag of emotions for me. It is Orlando's DisneySEA in the sense that it's a park you will not find anywhere else in the world and that Disney would never make in the same way if they did it over (much to its detriment I'm sure). It is a shell of Walt's real vision of an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow, a hint of what his dreams would have been if they'd been condensed into a theme park. And I love the place, except. Except. Except. Except. Except it's probably the only theme park in the world that would be much better off if we could just roll back the clock fifteen years. Nearly every decision that's been made since then, with the exception of adding Soarin', has made the park worse. Horizons was replaced with Mission: Space. World of Motion gave way to Test Track. Imagination, which used to be this charming little ride, was replaced with the godawful thing they have now that I only ride out of nostalgia. The Living Seas became the Nemo ride, which is a pale imitation of the DL version. Heck, even Spaceship Earth now has the most condescending possible narration (thank you Dame Judy Dench) to the point that I choose Japanese when riding it so I don't have to listen to it in a language I understand. When I visit EPCOT it feels like the stereotypical 25th year of marriage - there's a level of comfort, familiarity and yes, even love there that makes me happy but I can't help but remember how much more exciting everything was when we first met.

On that cheery note, EPCOT:


Hey, where is everyone?

Just stop. No one gives a damn about Duffy here.

Not helping

The front of the park was surprisingly busy so I headed straight for World Showcase. Centered around a large lake, World Showcase houses eleven different country pavilions, each featuring food, shops and theming from the respective countries. It's probably my favorite non-Magic Kingdom spot in Orlando. Let me show you a bit of each of the pavilions:

Great example of sight-line consistency: painting the Tower of Terror the same color as Morocco so that people looking out from EPCOT would not have any clashing colors.

Less great example. Stupid Michael Eisner and his *$&#ing Swan and Dolphin hotels

Welcome to Mexico!

My favorite interior space anywhere on property - just absolutely gorgeous

Hey, I remember when this ride didn't suck before they added in the three dumbasses. Sure it was borderline racist before, but now it's just painfully boring. Proof? I was the only one in my boat. And the boat behind me. And the boat behind that. No one rides this. Ever. 

Great, it's a Mexican-themed It's a Small World

How long have you guys been stuck here?

I warn my students not to cause trouble in Mexico on Spring Break. Who doesn't want to beat Donald with a stick though?

I never understood this part of the ride...Donald wears a bathing suit? But no pants? What?

The only part of the ride I find even remotely funny and that's only because this here waiter is showing two of our three bird-protagonists the cooked body of one of their friends. Messed up, right?

Do not visit this Donald. Every story I've ever heard about a creepy costumed interaction has involved the Donald over by Mexico. Let's just say he might be an ass-grabber and leave it at that.

Normally yes. In a downpour, alone, no.

Welcome to Norway!

The one restaurant I really want to go to (I like Norwegian food) but can't do alone because it's a Princess-themed buffet and damn it I have my limits.

I really like this area

One of my favorite rides. It's short and not especially thrilling, but I still find it charming and enjoyable. And if you can read that last sentence without any innuendo then good for you!

One of my favorite Hidden Mickeys


I do believe that troll is hitting on me

I love this flame effect

True story. When we were kids we visited EPCOT and bought a very similar (though less creepy) doll that we named Norge. One New Years Eve my brother and I had a massive fight over who the doll belonged to. He said it was his. I said he was a liar. Here's all that really matters: I've still got it and he doesn't. And if he even thinks of posting a comment on here I will moderate it in a heartbeat. Welcome to North Korea!

Swedish flag in a Norway store? Subversive.

One of the most delicious things anywhere: school bread from the Norway pavilion. Mmm, cardamom.

If you're in EPCOT and you don't try this I'll be disappointed.

Welcome to China! Also known as the really boring pavilion that I never, ever stop in except to get some strawberry oolong tea slush

Funny story. I went to buy this slush and the woman serving it to me was from Hong Kong. She saw my HKDL umbrella which launched a short conversation. We both ended up lamenting our lack of access to Tim Ho Wan's BBQ pork buns. 

Welcome to Germany!

My favorite pavilion, visually. Also houses one of my favorite restaurants, Biergarten.

You're shocked I know

This was my quick photo of an intense duck-fight. I feared for both of them.


Welcome to Italy!

Welcome to America. Sigh. Did we really need to give the central pavilion an the largest building to the US? Basically half of Magic Kingdom is a living advertisement for how awesome the US is. Inside this building is a show so cheesy and over the top with its patriotism that I find it hard to watch. Strangely, my English friends love it. Go figure?

Another of my favorite snacks

Go for the melon flavor. You won't be sorry. This was the largest one I've ever been given. Was it because it was so slow? Or was it because I attempted to use the little bit of Japanese that I knew? You decide.

Welcome to Japan!

This man sells blue slushies. He also sells alcoholic drinks featuring amaretto. If you ask nicely he will combined the two into a drink of my own creation that is absolutely fantastic.

Welcome to Morocco! The only pavilion still run by the home country. 

Welcome to... France. Eh.

What does it say that I had far better, more pleasant service here than I did in all of Paris?

You are a lie!

Ham and cheese, French style. Tasty enough.

You probably want to stay out of the Haunted Mansion

Ah, he's everywhere!

Welcome to the United Kingdom! Except for Wales, because they are the West Virginia of the British Isles.

The entirety of the Arsenal gear at the moment. Sad.

The phone numbers for these payphones are published online. It's fun to call people as they are walking past. Scares the crap out of them.

Welcome to Canada!

Once I left Canada it started absolutely pouring. The wind was whipping so fast that my umbrella inverted repeatedly and I got absolutely soaked. I had hoped to take in some of the rides in the front part of the park but I was so wet by this point that other than stopping to snap a few photos of the various sodas from around the world (courtesy of Coke), I made a beeline straight for the car and went to check into the hotel.

World of Coke! Not to be confused with the far more edgy World of coke!

Mezzo Mix: It exists! Beverly: Why the Hell Does This Drink Exist?

One of the longer lines I've ever seen for Spaceship Earth. Slowmoving journey inside a giant ball sounds real nice in a tropical storm.

Because my original plan called for me to see the other two parks the next day, I decided to spend the night in Orlando. Club Carlson was once again running their promotion for massive numbers of free points for a one night paid stay, so I happily snagged a night at the Radisson right off Disney property for less than $100. In return I got enough points to stay at that same property five more times. Sweet!

I hate to say this because Radisson has been good to me, but there beds are the worst in the entire Western hotel world. They are sleep number beds but I swear to god they got them bulk discount because they never work right. Both of these queen size beds were "two zone" beds but in both cases one of the zones didn't work. So I basically had to sleep on half a soft bed and half a stone slab. Lovely!

Mmm, free Milano cookies

After a shower and a nap, I headed over to Victoria & Albert's for a meal to remember (subject of tomorrow's post). The next day I had hoped to take in Disney Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom but in the end I just went in, saw enough to feel justified that I'd "visited" the park on this trip (hey, I'm a completionist) and drove home to see if my house had floated away yet. The joys of living in Florida!


  1. Does Fanta even count as a foreign drink? They sell it in like 5 flavors here.

  2. Did you forget the Cloudberry Horn, love those.

  3. Every time I go in the Norway bakery I eye the cloudberry horn and think "you look delicious, but your sibling the School Bread looks even more delicious". Maybe next time I'll just get both!

  4. Ah, but that's a flavor of Fanta that we don't have in the US.

  5. Beleive me you won't regret it. :)


  6. Love your pictures of food from around the "world"!

    Personally, I think Dinoland is the most under-rated area at Disney. The theming is so fabulous and crammed in every corner. One of my new favorite things is how they took their (car) greasy handprints and made dinosaurs on the wall of "auto repair" section in Restaurantosaurus. Obviously I am in the minority, but I really love Dinoland.

    And I do agree that Epcot from fifteen years ago was so much better than it is today.

  7. I definitely started liking Dinoland more once I read about the backstory and really started to "get" it.