The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

January 10, 2009

Disney World Trip Report – Part 2: Now With Actual Disney in it!

Filed under: travel, Wanderings — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:52 am

When I last left off on my trip report for my recent (well, not so much anymore) Disney World trip, I had somehow managed to get out of Seattle just after the weather got really bad and escaped from the snow and freezing cold…  Or so I thought (I don’t think I need to remind anyone how well THAT one turned out.)  Fortunately, the temperatures in Orlando were just a bit more to my liking, and Disney World was just around the corner (well OK, it was actually a 20 minute bus ride away, but that’s close enough, right?)  I had just made it to the hotel last time, and was about to check into my room, where a couple of surprised awaited…

This, plus much more (and yes, there’s acutal Disney content in this one) after the jump.

In case you missed it, the first part of the trip report can be found here:

Disney World Trip Report – Part 1:  Getting There is Half the Fun, Right?

Nice Room, Just Don’t Ask About the View…

Or, what did you expect for 99 bucks?

After the shuttle ride, I had made it to the hotel, Since I had made my reservation several weeks ago, and I was getting in fairly late, I had previously called to make sure a late arrival was OK, so I was able to check in quickly and with little hassle. I was assigned to a room on the second floor, and pointed in the general direction of said room.

Before I go too much further with this, I should probably mention the fact that over the past few years and a number of vacations, I seem to have had rather poor luck with choosing hotels. I always seem to end up in the room where everything is broken and/or becomes broken as soon as I look at it funny, or the room with some sort of annoying plumbing problem (clogged drains seem to be a favorite technique of the hotel gremlins in my experience,) or I get the room that someone else thinks is theirs, or basically any number of things that shouldn’t go wrong do in fact go wrong. That’s not to say it happens every time (for example, I thought that the Monte Carlo in Vegas was quite nice when I was there back in 2007, except for the fact that the place caught fire a few months later.)

Anyway, back to the hotel here. I was assigned to room #215, and as I walked down the hall and counted down the numbers, I came to the realization that my room was going to be rather close to the end of the hallway, where I noted that a surprisingly fancy looking door awaited…

Well OK, so I wasn’t in whatever big fancy suite happens to be at the end of the hall, but my room turned out to be next door to said fancy suite at the end of the hall (Oh well, I guess that the grass is always greener on the other side, right?)

Turning my attention to the room I would actually be spending the next five nights in, I opened the door to find…

…a rather long hallway leading to the room. Looks like I’m going to need to do just a bit more hiking before I can plop down into the nearest bed and zonk out (Not that I really planned to do so on three hours ot jet lag.)  After what seemed like seconds of arduous treking, I finally reached the end of the hallway, and found this room waiting for me at the end…

Whoa, wait a second… You mean my el cheapo $99 a night Internet special got me THIS? Considering the fanciness of the hotel (at least based on the decorations in the lobby) I was half-expecing to end up in some random broom closet for that price, but somehow I managed to end up in this room, which is big enough that it could just about give my apartment at home (well, half of my apartment anyway) a run for its money.

From here, you can see the nice big walk-in closet on the other side of the room, complete with a couple of nice bathrobes…

…and a nice little desk for my notebook and other stuff. I had heard that some of the bigger suites in this place had big jetted bathtubs in them, but this room had just the standard issue hotel bathroom in it. Either way, this room was huge compared to pretty much every other hotel room I’ve ever been in period, and I had the place all to myself for the next five nights.

Of course, as noted above, I always seem to run into at least one problem with my room, and sure enough, some of the usual plumbing gremlins showed up here. The drain on the tub worked OK (for once,) but it seemed to take forever for hot water to arrive. I think it took a good five minutes of running the faucet before the water warmed up enough to take a shower (given the overall fanciness of the room and the hotel, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were importing the stuff from France or something like that.)

Oh yeah, and then there’s the view. Wait a second, didn’t I say not to ask about the view? Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain… Oh, fine, I’ll show you the view, but I’m warning you, it’s not going to be pretty. You’ve been warned…

Well, you asked for it, you got it.

So basically, what it amounts to is that I’ve got this great big fancy room, with a lovely, completely unobstructed view of the nearest dumpster. I knew there had to be some catch for $99 a night (and I suppose that a great big room with the dumpster sitting outside the window is still better than a great big room with a high-pressure timeshare salesman hiding in the closet.) Either way, it wasn’t a big deal, and I don’t think I was particularly inclined to complain about it anyway, since if I did, I suspect they’d probably reassign me to the above mentioned broom closet with the rest of the Internet bargain-seekers (actually that’s not entirely true, since I booked the room directly from the Hilton website, although I understand this place does seem to come up on Priceline a lot.)

Anyway, given my night owl tendencies and the fact that I was operating on three hours of jet lag at this point (and in spite of the fact that I was operating on about three hours of sleep the previous night,) I ended up wandering around the hotel grounds for a bit to check out the place, and didn’t make it to bed until about 2AM (in fact, I found it rather hard to even think of getting to bed before Midnight or so on any night during this trip, which is probably why I never made it to any of the parks at the morning rope drop like you’re supposed to in order to ride everything before the crowds show up.)

Here are a couple of shots of the pool area there (which I unfortunately only made it to once on the whole trip since I didn’t have time for much swimming with only four days to spend there) :

There are two different pools there, both of them pretty large, and both of them pretty much empty most of the time I was there. One pool seemed to have been kept at a slightly cooler temperature than the other. There are also two hot tubs (not pictured here) and one of those seemed to have been kept at a slightly cooler temperature as well. The place also has a rather large and quite nice looking exercise room (which I don’t have pictures of) although I have no idea where anyone’s going to find the energy to exercise after spending all day in the parks.) Out past the pool in the second picture, there’s a walkway you can follow that goes to a crosswalk which goes straight into the middle of the  Downtown Disney Marketplace, where you can find just about every souvenir imaginable (well, everything except most of the stuff I wanted to find, but that’s another post for later.)

All in all, I can’t complain too much about the hotel. It has its advantages and its disadvantages (which I will discuss later on, probably when I start wrapping up the trip report,) but I suspect that overall, I probably did better here than I would have if I had booked the Pop Century like I originally planned.  Oh, and did I mention that Disney World is just a couple of miles away from here?

A Slight Change of Plans

I KNEW I should made a left turn at Osceola…

In spite of my rather late bedtime, I set an alarm for 7:30 the next morning, and sure enough, the alarm did as I said and not as I meant, and actually decided to go off at 7:30. Since I’m not exactly the type who does the whole "bright and early" bit (you can pick one, but you’re not getting both,) I hit the snooze button for an extra hour of sleep (I use my Windows Mobile phone as an alarm, and you can tell it how long you want it to snooze for, from 5 minutes all the way up to the "Rip Van Winkle" setting if you’ve decided to give up on doing anything productive for the rest of the decade.) I then slumbered semi-blissfully unaware as the ropes prepared to drop throughout the land, and I wasn’t going to be at any of them.  Finally 8:30 rolled around, and it was time to get up and figure out what I was going to do for the day. Aside from planning to be at the Magic Kingdom for the evening Extra Magic Hours (extra time in the parks for just guests at the Disney hotels and the one I was staying at for some odd reason,) I hadn’r really planned anything specific for the day yet. After taking a look at the schedule, I decided that I would head for Epcot first, then to MK later in the day. In theory, at least. That plan lasted for all of… well, about as long as it took to get to the bus stop.

I grabbed a few things to put in a monopack I purchased before the trip to take into the park (I figured something like that might be a bit more socially acceptable for a guy to carry around than a purse, and a full backpack would be too bulky) and headed out the door, not bothering to give more than a passing thought to breakfast (I’m not much of a breakfast person anyway, so most days on this trip I didn’t eat anything until later in the day.) Since I hadn’t exactly paid attention the evening before when I checked in, I ended up wandering around the hotel grounds a bit before I actually managed to figure out where the bus stop was (it’s in the back, over near the restaurants, instead of in the front where you’d expect such things to be normally.) Eventually I found it, and after a few minutes of waiting, the bus arrived… for the Magic Kingdom. Since I was already getting a bit of a late start, didn’t really know my way around the place yet, and wasn’t really all that set on my plan anyway, I went ahead and hopped aboard the bus. As it left, I saw the Epcot/DHS bus pulling in right behind it. Oh well, there’s time for that later.

As discussed above, the bus stopped at two other hotels (the Regal Sun and Doubletree,) and by the time it eventually made it’s way toward the TTC (Ticket and Transportation Center, basically where you go to catch the monorail from the main Magic Kingdom parking lot to Magic Kingdom, Epcot or the monorail hotels,) it was fairly crowded. When we got there, it turned out that the drop-off point was a fair distance from the monorail entrances, and it was going to take a bit of hiking to get there. Once I finally figured out where I was going, I saw that there were a number of people waiting for the monorail, so I decided instead to just take the ferry into the park. After all, as a Disney World first-timer, wouldn’t it be more magical that way?

As I boarded the ferry, I saw the monorail approaching on the track.

As the ferry departed from the dock, the Magic Kingdom began to appear off in the distance.

On the boat, I noted that the flag seemed to be a couple of stars short for some reason. I didn’t find out until later (in a random trivia thread on the DISBoards) that the reason for this is because older style flags are considered "pennants" and do not need to be retired at the end of the evening like a normal American flag would be under proper flag etiquette.

As the ferry came closer to the Magic Kingdom, I got this picture, which seems to make it look like the castle is sitting right next to the train station. Finally, the ferry arrived, and it was time for the first glimpse of Main Street decked out in Holiday splendor…

As you can see, I didn’t exactly have the park to myself that day. I ended up cutting through the shops on the left side of the street to get past some of the crowds. It’s kind of odd how the forced perspective on the buildings makes the decorations look like they’re hung a lot lower than they actually are, doesn’t it?

The obligatory castle shot. Doesn’t look quite so big from back here, does it? Then again, I’m used to the Disneyland one which is much smaller…

As I made my way to the end of Main Street, I headed first toward the Adventureland side of the park, intending to make the Jungle Cruise my first ride. I found that there was about a 20-minute wait, so I grabbed a Fastpass (with a fairly short return time) and headed next for Pirates of the Caribbean. Along the way, some sort of Pirate Tutorial was just beginning, and I very nearly got run over by the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow as he prepared to ship off another batch of swabs to the high seas. Who does he think he is anyway, some sort of pirate? Pirates of the Caribbean was a walk-on at this point, but there seemed to be a back-up of some sort at the unloading queue, and a bunch of boats ended up waiting in the jail room for about 10 minutes while they got it sorted out (Not sure how many times I had to listen to the "’it im wit a stick!" line though.  I think I lost count after about twelve.) Finally, they managed to get things sorted out, and after Davy Jones somehow failed to shove us in his locker, I was off to find the Haunted Mansion, which turned out not to be where I had expected it based on my previous trips to Disneyland, just a "this area is under refurbishment" wall.

After just about accidentally wandering onto Splash Mountain (also not exactly where I would expect it to be) I eventually found my way around the lake to the Haunted Mansion, where I took the first of what would be several rides on this during the trip. The wait was short (and I don’t think I ever waited more than about 5 minutes or so to ride it.) By the time I was done with that, it was time to head back to the Jungle Cruise with my Fastpass.

Running them down the side of Splash Mountain, on the other hand, is perfectly OK.

I can’t say that I’m all that familiar with the standard Jungle Cruise spiel (I only got to ride it once on my last Disneyland trip, and the guide was pretty clearly mailing it in at the time,) but I could tell there was plenty of improvising going on here. He let a ten year old “steer” the boat and frequently commented on her driving skills. Things were going pretty well (OK, as well as you can expect for a doomed boat ride into a deep dark jungle full of things that really want you dead) right up until…

…These baby ducks showed up right near the unloading dock, at which point the guide knew he had been completely upstaged, and just gave up, apparently overwhelmed by the sheer cuteness of it all. He even “complained” to the unloaders at the dock about it.

Anyway, after the Jungle Cruise I next headed toward Fantasyland to grab a Fastpass for Peter Pan (with a return time a couple of hours away) and with some time to kill, I went to see the Philharmagic show next. Since I have some eye problems that prevent me from being able to "see" 3D movies much of the effect was lost on me, but the kid in the seat next to mine sure seemed convinced. After that, for some unknown reason I next headed toward It’s a Small World, fully aware of the dangers that await inside…

Just as I got there, the clock scene went off signaling Noon. I think it took about a 20 minute wait to actually get on the ride at this point.

While riding, I made a number of attempts to take photos inside the ride without using the flash. My camera doesn’t do a great job of this, but occasionally gets one or two good pictures. Here’s the one that turned out best from the ride. After sailing happily around the world (others might suggest alternative adjectives there,) we got to the end of the ride… and promptly got stuck again at the goodbye room. It took about 10-15 minutes before we were able to unload from that point, and if I had been in there much longer I think there’s a good possibility I might have gotten the “please remain seated” spiel stuck in my head for the rest of my life. I suppose that given the alternatives that wouldn’t be so bad.

Next on the agenda was lunch, so I headed over toward Columbia Harbor House, where I got the fish and chips for lunch (or breakfast, as the case might be.) The place was busy, but kept things moving (a CM was directing traffic) and I was able to get food fairly quickly. I found the fish and chips to be so-so, and I’ve definitely had better (then again, with some of the places we’ve got for fish ‘n chips here in the Seattle area, we’re a bit spoiled in this regard.) Columbia Harbour House is an interesting little place, but it can be just a bit hard to find your way out of (I somehow ended up taking a set of stairs which was roped off at the lower floor, but not at the upper floor.) Eventually I found my way out and headed back to use my Peter Pan Fastpass, but didn’t realize I still had an hour left before it was usable until the Cast Member at the entrance pointed it out. I blame the lack of sleep for that one.

With more time to kill, I headed toward Tomorrowland, and made a beeline for the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (or the Peoplemover, for old timers.) I had been on the Disneyland Peoplemover once before it was removed (and I really wish they’d hurry up and bring it back), and wanted take a ride.

I think this one of about five photos total that have me in them from this trip. Next time if I’m still traveling solo, I should make sure to use Photopass…

For some reason, Space Mountain seems a lot farther away in this shot than it actually is. All the Forced Perspective tricks Disney uses sure seem to mess with your head after a while…

As we went of Space Mountain, I happened to catch the train passing by. Kind of an odd thing to see in Tomorrowland, don’t you think?

After getting off the TTA, I saw Buzz Lightyear visiting kids and briefly thought about getting in line, but decided against it (well that’s what I’ll claim, but in reality I was probably just getting lost trying to find the Carousel of Progress line. Oddly enough, I never actually made it onto that one during this trip even though I had intended to do so…)

After that, I next headed over toward Space Mountain for what would turn out to be my only ride of the trip (and what would have probably made a much better use of a Fastpass than Peter Pan, come to think of it) but not before wandering through the arcade a bit to check it out. I’ve always been something of an arcade junkie (in fact, I have an arcade machine here in my office at home) but since I generally try to avoid spending time playing video games while I’m on vacation, I didn’t bother actually playing anything. After that, I got into the standby line at Space Mountain, which took about 30 minutes of waiting. I actually got a call from my Mom just before boarding (apparently outer space has great wireless reception these days) but it was too loud to really hear, so I told her I’d call back afterward.

Based on research I had done before the trip, I had heard a number of rumors (since confirmed) about Space Mountain being redone during 2009, and although I didn’t feel like the ride was all that bumpy (as some people had talked about) I found the really loud lift chains to be particularly distracting and an immersion breaker. I have been on the  Disneyland version of Space Mountain (which received a major overhaul in 2005) several times, and the difference between the two is pretty clear. On one hand, I can see the need for the rehab to get this classic ride back into shape, but on the other hand, there’s something to be said for some of the older rides like this one, and keeping things entertaining without all the bells and whistles needed for the newer rides. I guess I’ll have to see what the new Space Mountain ends up looking like when all is said and done, but I’m just glad I got a chance to ride this one at least once before it gets redone.

Anyway, since this is starting to get long at this point, I will leave off here for now, and finish off Day 1 in the next post…

Coming Up: – Can’t I Get Just a Little Bit of Pixie Dust Here?(In which a Fastpass turns out not to be so fast. Also, who’s going to run out of juice first, me or the camera?)


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