The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

May 13, 2009

Disney World Trip Report, Part 6: Park Hopping for Dummies

Filed under: travel, Wanderings — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 8:10 pm

Note:  If you missed them, the previous installments of the Trip Report may be found here:

Part 1: Getting There is Half the Fun, Right? (Traveling to Orlando and fleeing from the snow and ice in Seattle)
Part 2: Now with Actual Disney in it! (The Hotel Room, and the beginning of day 1 in the Magic Kingdom)
Part 3: Just Another Day in Never Never Land (The rest of Day 1, in which dreams purportedly come true if you sing about them for long enough)
Part 4: It’s the FUTURE! (Sort of.) (Day 2 begins in Epcot, with a trip halfway around the world in 180 minutes)
Part 5: The Disney Version of Christmas (Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party, and other Merry Things you have to wait in line for)

First of all I apologize for the lack of updates on my Blog in general for the last few days, and on my Disney World trip report for the last, oh, couple of months or so.  I’ve been dealing with a combination of various real life issues related to my employment situation (I should be returning to work a couple of weeks from now) and the usual writer’s block.  Of course on the trip report I’ve just been lazy, but that’s another story.  My goal with this thing is to get it finished before I take another trip to Disney World, and although at this point I haven’t got a clue when that would actually be (Once I return to work I’m not expecting to have any significant amount of vacation time available for a while) at the rate that I’m writing this thing it’s looking like it’ll be a toss-up which will happen first.

Anyway, when I left off on this trip report, I had just finished the second day in the parks,, which had been split between Epcot and the Magic Kingdom.  Tentatively I planned to spend the day hopping around the parks, but the only thing that I had on the agenda as a “must do” item for the day was the Spectromagic parade at the Magic Kingdom in the evening, since I had missed it on Monday, and this was the only other time on this trip that I would have a chance to watch it.   After spending basically all day in the parks yesterday without taking any significant breaks, I ultimately decided that I was going to try to take it a bit easier today, and not to rush everywhere (yeah, like that would ever happen.)  It is from there that the trip report will pick up after the jump.

Aw Man, You Mean I Have to Go to Disney World Again?

Just as it had for the past couple of days, the alarm went off at 7:30 on this fine morning. As seems to have become my accustomed manner, I once again decided to ignore it for another hour or so and try to get some more sleep before finally dragging myself out of bed. By this time, the previous two days worth of walking all over the place had really begun to catch up with me, and getting up and out of bed to go spend another day walking all over the place wasn’t particularly high on my to-do list at that point. For about ten seconds or so, I found myself trying to consolidate this with the fact that I was, in fact, currently at the Happiest Place on Earth(TM), I had two days left of my vacation, and that I better get up, get out there and have some fun, or I was probably going to start regretting the whole thing a lot sooner than I had initially planned to. Thus being properly motivated for the day, I got up and out of bed, got dressed and prepared to face another day of the trip (all the deathmarch fun of a meticulously planned commando excursion, with none of the painstaking planning you’re supposed to do in order to make it actually work!)

After I finished my preparations for the day and prepared to depart the hotel, I decided once again to skip the hotel buses and headed to Downtown Disney to catch a bus from there. This particular plan went out the window in short order, and I ended up spending a couple of hours wandering around the DTD area. Even though my hotel was close to this area, I thought that this would probably be my only chance to explore the area during the daylight hours (Note the word “thought” in that sentence for future reference.) I didn’t take a whole lot of photos from here because I was trying to take it easy to some extent, to try to recover from the previous day’s hectic pace.

After wandering around the Marketplace area for a bit, I ended up taking the water taxi across to the West Side, where I found that most of the stores had not yet opened when I got there. To be honest, I didn’t find the area to be all that interesting. There were a few things at the (soon to be out of business, as it would turn out a couple of months after the trip) Virgin Megastore that looked interesting, but one of my cardinal rules of vacationing is to not spend time on things I can do at home, and video games definitely fall into that category (I did bring a PSP with me on this trip, but only used it on the plane rides in and out of Orlando. I find that Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness makes for an excellent semi-mindless time killer.)  Elsewhere on the West Side, I found it a little bit odd that they needed a whole store that sells nothing but Planet Hollywood merchandise (and, incidentally, even more odd that they needed one inside Hollywood Studios when there isn’t even a Planet Hollywood there, but I’m getting ahead of myself again.)

Determined not to repeat the various food-related debacles of the previous two days, I decided that I would make an early lunch at Downtown Disney before heading for Hollywood Studios. I suspected there wasn’t a good chance of getting in any of the places at DHS I was interested in (I had originally looked at doing the Lunch with an Imagineer at the Brown Derby but it was booked for both times it was offered where I was there,) and there seemed to be more choices here anyway. Ultimately I decided on the House of Blues, mostly because they had steak on the menu and that sounded good at the moment. They didn’t open until 11, so I ended up waiting for a while in order to get in. Only a handful of people were there while I ate.

The place has an interesting atmosphere, but I have to say that the steak wasn’t all that exciting. The sauce it was covered in didn’t seem to contribute anything in the way of flavor besides a somewhat out-of-place sweetness. On the other hand, the meal also met the far more important criteria of not containing any chicken nuggets whatsoever, so I left satisfied (mostly) after eating, and boarded the water taxi back across to the Marketplace, where I had intended to hop a bus somewhere to get to Hollywood Studios.

About halfway across the lagoon, I realized that I was missing something: My pack, which I had left under the table at the restaurant. I ended up taking the ferry back across (there was no way in heck I was going to do that much walking if I didn’t have to at this point,) I grabbed my bag (right where I left it) and realized at this point I might as well just grab a bus from the Pleasure Island stop at this point, since I had no way of telling how long it would take to actually get back across again. Arriving at the bus stop, I determined that the Dolphin/Swan bus was the one most likely to get me there the quickest. The bus arrived after about 10 minutes. I got off, and ended up taking the ferry to Hollywood Studios, where I finally arrived around 12:30 or so.

This being my first time in the park, I mostly wandered around checking out the place, but around the time I reached the giant hat, the approach of the dreaded High School Musical 3 Pep Rally (of Doom) suggested strongly that I should probably be looking to flee in whatever direction appeared most convenient.

This was roughly in the direction of the Toy Story Mania ride, where I figured that I was probably already way too late to get a Fastpass, and sure enough, there was a 70 minute wait with no Fastpasses left. For those of you unfamiliar with Toy Story Mania, it is currently the newest and (by far) the most popular attraction at Hollywood Studios (and at Caifornia Adventure over at the Disneyland Resort,) and the standard advice for riding this ride is to get to the park about an hour before rope drop, and when the park opens you run like a madman on fire being chased by wolves to get there before half a zillion other people do.  If you’re lucky, this will get you a Fastpass (these are usually gone within an hour or two of park opening) and you might be able to get in on the ride without spending half the day in line.

Proceeding on, I opted for the Backlot Tour instead, which was pretty much a walk-on (which is a good thing if your feet are threatening to go on strike, not such a great thing if you realize you’ll have to spend fifteen more minutes waiting through the whole water tank scene before you reach anywhere to sit down.) I ended up sharing a row on the tram thingy you ride with a couple of, er, somewhat colorful characters (I’ll just leave it at that) so I just minded my business along the way.

There were a few props I recognized (sort of, not so much after they’d been sitting outside for twenty years.)  Among these was the Trimaxian Drone Ship (“Max”) from the semi-obscure 80s Disney movie Flight of the Navigator.  To give you some idea of the condition of this, that’s supposed to be a reflective surface.  I think I’d agree with the general consensus that this ride has definitely seen better days, although it still interesting enough to do once.  Twice, I’m not so sure about.

After being deposited into the display of assorted villainy that lies at the end of the Backlot Tour, I wandered back into the park, where I ended up at Muppetvision 3-D next. The good news is that I got there right before the next show started, the bad news is that this meant there wasn’t much time to look around the queue area, which has all sorts of interesting props and gags. I’ve always been something of an old-school Muppet fan, so I liked the show, but as I mentioned earlier in the trip report, I can’t see the 3D effects so some of the stuff is lost on me.

I actually thought that the Muppet gift shop was well themed too, although I didn’t buy anything here. I think I’ve probably worked in places like this…  Anyway, at this point I couldn’t think of a whole lot else I wanted to do at Hollywood Studios at the moment (I was planning to come back the next day anyway,) so I decided to head for the exit.

Unfortunately, right around the time I got back to Hollywood Boulevard I ran right into the Block Party Bash. Since I didn’t figure there was going to be much chance of getting around the thing, I decided to just wait it out and grab a few pictures. As I was fiddling with the camera and not paying attention, it reached the part near the end where they throw a bunch of foam rubber “stress balls” to the audience.

One of them happened to land right on my arm, which was rather unexpected really. A quick check of the immediate proximity seemed to suggest that the children in the area were well supplied with balls already, so I kept the one I “caught,” and as the festivities moved further into the park, I headed for the exit. Initially, I considered taking the boat over to the Epcot International Gateway. but ultimately I decided a bus would probably be quicker than waiting for the boat, so that is what I did.

Well, I THINK It’s Still the Future Anyway…

When I arrived at Epcot following the bus ride, I didn’t really have any set plans, although I wanted to see the portion of the World Showcase that I didn’t make it to yesterday (which consisted of France, UK and Canada,) and try to get a ride on Soarin’ in if possible. I did, however, plan to hop over to the Magic Kingdom to catch the Spectromagic parade around 7pm or so (it was around 3:30-4 by the time I made it to Epcot.) Since I wasn’t exactly in a big hurry at this point, I decided to take it easy (yeah right) and slow down a bit. Not enough that I would do anything silly like actually figuring out where I was going or anything like that, but enough that I could actually stand to walk a bit. Upon arriving in Epcot, I saw that Spaceship Earth had no significant wait, so I decided to take another ride on that (not sure if my future turned out any better this time around than the last one though…)

After that, I headed over to the Land pavilion, where I briefly contemplated getting in the standby line for Soarin’ with a posted 35 minute wait, but ultimately I decided to skip the line in favor of picking up a Fastpass (with a return time around 7:30pm.) After that, I wandered around the pavilion for a bit, looking at the selections available at Sunshine Seasons (that steak I had for “breakfast” was starting to wear off) before deciding to continue on.  I did see that the Living with the Land boat ride was basically a walk-on though, and hopped aboard for… something. I guess I had a vague idea that there were greenhouses somewhere in Epcot, but it wasn’t until after I rode this that I figured out that this was the ride they were found in. That said, my occasional tendency toward general nerdiness meant that I found this quite interesting. It’s definitely not the most thrilling ride in the place, but given the fact that 80% of the TV I watch these days comes from the Discovery and History Channels (and the other 20% is mostly Food Network,) I didn’t mind.

If not for the fact that I’d have nowhere to put the thing or even keep it alive, I wouldn’t mind having one of these things around. Anyone seen how much they’re charging for bell peppers in the grocery store these days?

I think there’s some unwritten law over on the DISBoards (where I’ve been initially writing these trip reports)  requiring that this photo must be included somewhere in every trip report. This requirement has now been fulfilled.

They even managed to find a way to sneak a bit of Christmas decoration into this one.

Having fulfilled my educational content quota for the day (sort of,) I made my way over toward the World Showcase again, but not before pausing for a look at the fountains over by the Imagination pavilion.

Ah, the world-famous jumping fountains, one of the stars of the occasional “kid gets sprayed in the face” montage on America’s Funniest Home Videos. I made sure to keep my distance, lest I become yet another statistic. Incidentally, if you ever make it to Las Vegas and are sober enough to do anything besides lose huge quantities of money on the Blackjack table, the conservatory at the Bellagio has some really cool jumping fountains like this. Obviously not as famous as the ones outside, but cool looking nonetheless. If I ever get around to writing the Cynic’s Guide to Las Vegasproject I’ve had sitting perpetually on the back burner for years now, I’ll have to note this. That particular project is mostly waiting for me to become foolhardy enough to actually go to Las Vegas again, but that’s another story for another time (and no, that’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds.)

After admiring (or staring blankly at, depending on your point of view) the fountains for a few minutes, I continued my journey to the World Showcase, where in spite of my plan to see the side I missed yesterday, I ended up heading in the same direction as the previous day.

I had intended to ride Maelstrom (which I missed yesterday since I basically just completely skipped the Norway pavilion en route to China,) and when I got there it showed a 10-minute wait. In theory this would have been true, but the line was clearly not moving when I got there. After about five minutes of waiting (I probably wouldn’t have done so if they hadn’t given me one of those red FLIK cards they use to track wait times on the way in) they announced that the ride had broken down, and it looked like they were going to have to do an evac.

In order to make it at least look like this wasn’t a wasted trip, I wandered into the gift shop for a bit. While I was there I ran into this guy, who seemed to be either a mythical creature of Scandinavian lore, or a typical Internet forum poster.

Following the non-ride on Maelstrom (which ultimately ended up on the list of things I missed on this trip,) I remembered that I was getting hungry, and in spite of yesterday’s misadventure in line at the Mexico counter service place, I decided to give it another shot, and finding no significant line this time I went and ordered the nachos. In retrospect, I probably should have taken yesterday’s misadventure as a hint, since I found the resulting product to be rather disappointing. I suppose some of the other selections here might have been better, but I’m not sure I’d try this place again. I’ll probably try to get an reservation for the San Angel Inn (the table service restaurant inside the Mexico pavilion) next time I go and give it a try, since it seems like they havfe a pretty decent menu.

Following yet another culinary misadventure (That seems to be turning into a recurring theme for my travels, doesn’t it?) I continued on another trip around the World Showcase, managing somehow to completely ignore what little plan I had made and travel in the same direction that I had gone in the day before, not bothering to stop anywhere until I reached the pavilions I didn’t reach yesterday. After all, whenever you get a great opportunity to do a half mile of extraneous walking when your feet are about to fall off, you’ve just got to take it, right? Anyway, as I made my way around, the sun began to set, and dusk began to settle upon the World.

By the time I made it over to France, it was pretty much dark. In spite of that, I somehow managed to get this shot to turn out decent.

Unfortunately, I still didn’t get a chance to do much more than wander through the France and UK pavilions (more on that when it comes time to wrap up the Trip Report) a bit before I saw that it was getting to be just about time to consider heading for the Magic Kingdom if I wanted to catch Spectromagic. I had to skip Canada (again) and head for the monorail. Ostensibly, my plan at this point was to head to the Magic Kingdom, watch Spectromagic, then come back to Epcot to ride Soarin’, then settle in and find a spot for Illuminations.

I made my way out of the park, and to the Monorail to make the ride across.

Park Hopping For Dummies

The monorail ride back over to the Magic Kingdom was quick and painless, and before I knew it I was back there, but it seemed that I wasn’t the only one looking to catch Spectromagic that evening.

As seemed to be the case with just about every parade I actually wanted to watch, finding a decent spot was going to prove to be a challenge (of course, all the parades that were just getting in the way when I was trying to get somewhere had plenty of good seats available, but that’s beside the point.) I also had a good 15-20 minutes before the parade was scheduled to start, so I spent a bit of time wandering around Main Street. Along the way, I happened to catch a conversation between a Cast Member and some guests about the then unannounced rehab of Space Mountain, providing some details about what would be happening there. Some have proven correct (the Cast Member gave an April date for the ride shutdown) and others haven’t been determined one way or the other yet (he said the cars would retain the same single-seat layout and the track layout would also remain unchanged.) We’ll have to see how true this conversation turns out to be when we see the upgraded Space Mountain in the Fall.

After that, I ended up wandering through the shops a bit more, but didn’t buy anything. Finally, I went looking for a halfway decent viewing location for the parade (it had become apparent by this point that an entirely decent location was going to be out of the question,) and settled into a spot that was only partially obstructed near the front of Main Street. Soon, the parade began:

I made a valiant attempt to get some photos of the parade as it passed by, but it seems that my camera isn’t quite up to the task of taking photos in such low-light conditions. For some reason it did OK with Wishes, but Spectromagic seemed to not be allowing the camera to take short enough exposures to get anything but blur.

This is what most of my photos ended up looking like.

The flash, of course, didn’t seem to help much either.

In spite of the difficulties faced, I did still manage to luck into a couple of good shots here and there. This one actually turned out pretty decent.

As did these two, although there’s not much to see in the background.

Eventually, I managed to sneak into a slightly less obstructed spot as some of the people watching in front decided to leave, but I still had to stand up (which wasn’t exactly my favorite thing in the world to do at that point.)

From there, I was able to get some much less obstructed shots, although most didn’t really come out.

Eventually Spectromagic came to an end, and since my Soarin’ Fastpass time was at hand, I didn’t have time to hang around. I departed the Magic Kingdom for what would turn out to be my last time on this trip, and caught the monorail back to Epcot.

Epcot is definitely a place that has a different feel to it at night.  The lighting on Spaceship Earth looks really cool from here.

Once there, I headed for Soarin’, where I got in the Fastpass line which, all things considered, didn’t seem to be moving particularly fast. I suppose I’m a bit spoiled as far as Soarin’ goes because on my 2006 trip to Disneyland I managed to ride it six times in three days with little to no wait. Still, the ride remains impressive, even if it does take a lot longer to get to over here.

Once I got off Soarin’ there was still about an hour left before Illuminations, and at this point I came to two realizations: 1) If I had to stand up and walk around for much longer, I ran the risk of something important falling off and 2) I still hadn’t had any dinner. As I pondered my options, I wandered over to the MouseGear store for a few minutes, and while there, I ultimately decided that Illuminations could wait until tomorrow, and proceeded to head for the exit, temporarily forgetting that it was a long freakin’ walk from the Epcot gate to the charter bus lot where the hotel buses picked up.

Fortunately by the time I made it over there the bus was already waiting, so I boarded for the return trip to the hotel. As it would turn out, the bus ride would prove to be just a bit more interesting than I had planned on, as the driver of our bus seems to have been some sort of refugee from the Jungle Cruise. Fortunately, my half-mumbled sarcastic suggestion that the driver quote the omnipresent “Top 7 Things You Must See at Disney World” video  (I think I managed about four) from memory throughout the ride was only half-considered by our driver. This was definitely a good thing, because if he had I suspect there’s a good chance I might have gotten myself tossed out the nearest emergency exit by an angry mob of fellow passengers. Instead, the ride back to the hotel (by way of Hollywood Studios) was filled with some of the corniest one-liners, knock-knock jokes and low-budget puns I’ve ever heard this side of a third grade jokebook. Eventually we made it back to the hotel, but I cannot confirm or deny that I fled the bus in panic when I got there. After sitting down for a few minutes in my room and making a quick check of my e-mail, I decided to walk over to Downtown Disney to find a nugget-free meal of some sort.

Since Earl of Sandwich was the closest place to the entrance (and well-reviewed on the DISBoards,) I opted for that, and grabbed a meatball sub and a cup of potato soup.

Food never looks that great in the dark, does it? I suspect if I looked, I could probably find a questionable diet or two based on this fact.  The sandwich was pretty good though.

After polishing off my (late) dinner, I wandered in and out of some of the shops in the area, but didn’t bother buying anything (yet). Eventually it was just about closing time for Downtown Disney, and time to head back to the hotel.

I did make another stop at Ghirardelli for an ice cream cone on the way out though. After all, I don’t seem to get a whole lot of chance to go on vacation, especially here. I might as well make the most of it. Anyway, I took the waffle cone back to my hotel room, and settled in for the evening. Tomorrow would be the last day of the trip, but at that point my plans were still pretty much up in the air for the day. I will pick up from there in the next installment, which I promise (for real this time) I won’t take a month to write… Which, given my track record, probably means it’ll take two months, but that’s beside the point.

Coming up:  Part 7 – If You Can’t Make it Here, You Won’t Make it Anywhere (Gone Hollywood – Back in 5 minutes.)

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