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February 25, 2009

Disney Day 5 - Epcot (again) and Fantasmic

Monday was a relaxing day. The six of us took the boat over from Wilderness Lodge to the Contemporary for a breakfast buffet with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto. This was pretty much exactly as advertised, with a mediocre but plentiful spread of standard breakfast fare, accompanied by short visits from all of the major Disney characters. Julia had a great time though I think she was might have been starting to get a bit weary of all of the oversized hugs from oversized characters by now.

Following breakfast, Lynn and I (finally!) boarded the monorail to head off and spend the day at Epcot. We didn’t have very concrete plans—we just wanted to see some of the things we’d missed and enjoy a (comparatively) leisurely day. Here’s what we hit up in the morning:

  1. Spaceship Earth. We had skipped the old favorite a couple of days ago, but there was no line for it so we headed straight here. They’ve revamped all of the scenes inside (and I imagine the narration as well) to give a somewhat updated tale of the history of human communication. And the ride now ends with a cute but somewhat pedestrian look into a custom future based on the touch-screen preferences of the riders. Best part of the ride is still that it’s a relatively long and peaceful ride in the dark.
  2. Behind the Seeds Tour. We headed over to The Land pavilion and signed up for the first greenhouse tour of the day which was starting in 15 minutes. The tour was pretty good, though I think I expected more from a Disney behind-the-scenes tour. We did get a guided walk through the four main greenhouses, along with explanations of many of the techniques employed to keep pests away, to grow fruits and vegetables in novel and efficient ways, and more. Unfortunately, the intern who led our tour, while very enthusiastic, didn’t know the answers to many of the questions asked by the impressively-informed group of people on the tour with us. While she repeatedly promised that people could “fill out forms” at the end of the tour to receive answers to the questions, that didn’t really benefit the rest of us. Got some neat photos though.
  3. Soarin’. The entrance for Soarin’ is right near the starting point of the tour, and we noticed before the tour that the Fastpass time for Soarin’ was only a few minutes after the tour would end, so we grabbed a couple of Fastpasses. The third go-round of Soarin’ was still excellent; we were glad to get one last chance to experience it.

We headed from The Land to the World Showcase, intending to work our way counterclockwise around the countries, focusing on those we hadn’t seen much of the other day. This meant starting in Canada, which we had missed altogether the last time around. The Canada pavilion features a 360-degree “Circlevision” travelogue film about the country, narrated by Martin Short. This is a spectacular movie—I’m guessing that many visitors to Epcot skip the movies in favor of more shopping or eating (or walking), but I think that’s a mistake, as the films are quite good indeed.

Next was the U.K., where we tried and failed to grab a table at the steakhouse for lunch. We perused the rest of the London-like streets and headed across the small bridge to France. We had lunch at one of the three eateries in the French pavilion (Les Chefs de France), sharing what was probably enough food for four or five people. Two soups, a collection of three pâtés, a goat-cheese, grapes, and walnut salad, and a wild mushroom and four-cheese flatbread. It was all quite tasty, putting breakfast to shame but being put to shame by our dinner the previous night at Citricos.

We leisurely strolled the rest of the way around the World Showcase, stopping only to enjoy the (wonderful) 360-degree film on the many landscapes and cityscapes of China. We completed the circuit, saw that even the singles line was a bit too long to justify another ride there (since Lynn couldn’t go on that one), and headed out of the park. We hopped on a bus and headed over to Hollywood to meet up with Mom, Randi, Scott, and Julia.

We arrived a bit early and took our second animation class (Mickey Mouse this time, see the drawings), then met up with the family to have a bit to eat. We had come back to Hollywood to take in their renowned nighttime light & music & more show, Fantasmic. As recommended to us, we entered the Fantasmic stadium nearly 90 minutes before the scheduled start of the show and bided our time. The show was… weird. Some of the effects and the theatrics were truly amazing, but everything was sort of diminished by the, uh, plot. The, uh, plot was a cross between epic, absurd, and nonsensical, with quite a bit of the latter. In the end, I’m glad I saw Fantasmic, but I’m not sure I’d say it’s the “can’t miss” show that others seem to think it is.

Back to the hotel, a bit of dinner, and sleep. One more day to go.

February 22, 2009

Bank of America – Security through stupidity?

I can’t find my 1099-INT for my Bank of America accounts, so I logged onto BoA’s online banking, and used their Web interface to email customer service to request a duplicate copy. (They don’t make them available online, which is already strike one against them.) Since I was already logged into my account, my message to customer service was short:

I’d like to request a duplicate of my accounts’ 1099 form.

I received a response today. The gist of it was:

Dear Lee D Feigenbaum,

Thank you for your inquiry dated 2/21/09 regarding your -3825 form. We appreciate the opportunity to service your banking needs.

To ensure that the information we provide is correct and that any changes we make are according to your wishes, please reply to this e-mail with the following information:

  -Account last four numbers.

Of course, I didn't request a "-3825 form", I requested a "1099 form." And, of course, "3825" are the last four digits of my account number. (And of course I've changed them for this blog post.)

That's some great customer service there, Bank of America. Sigh.

Disney Drawings

I mentioned in my day 3 recap that one of our favorite things at Disney’s Hollywood Studios was the animation “class.” Here were the fruits of Lynn and my labors (click to enlarge):

Jiminy Cricket

Mickey Mouse

February 19, 2009

Disney Day 4 – Sea World

On our fourth day in Orlando, Randi, Scott, and Julia, headed off to complete the quartet of Disney parks at Animal Kingdom. I didn’t really fancy a glorified zoo—especially without travelling companions that would be joining me on the couple of thrill rides that are there—so I convinced Mom and Lynn to spend the day with me at Sea World. (OK, ok, so Sea World is a glorified water zoo. Shut up.)

We took our time getting there in the morning, but it turned out that with only two or three rides in the park, lines really weren’t an issue. Over the course of the day, we saw tortoises, sting rays, sharks, manatees, dolphins, whales, an otter, a walrus, sea lions, penguins, puffins, clydesdales (huh?) and lots and lots of fishes.

We saw three shows:

  1. Blue Horizons Whale & Dolphin Show. This was a beautiful mix of human and animal artistry, sort of a bit of Cirque du Soleil meets Sea World. I hadn’t been expecting all of the (human) acrobatics, and while at times it seemed a bit over the top (leaps and flips by dolphins and whales are really just fine for my purposes), the whole thing was a pretty fantastic visual sight to behold.
  2. Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island. Clyde and Seamore are sea lions. This is the comedy show, and it was quite funny… but not always for the expected reasons. Clyde wasn’t exactly at the top of his game, and many of the lines (and even full scenes) had to be redone when he would swim away or wander out of sight while the trainer broke down in laughter at his inability to keep the show on track. Plus, there was a sneaky little otter and a great big walrus. Fun times.
  3. Believe. This is the famed Shamu show. Lots of killer whales swimming around, leaping out of the water, soaking the audience, and just showing off in general. Yet, somehow, after the first two shows, this show was somewhat disappointing. Perhaps it was because they seemed more interested in showing off their four-part big-ass movable video screen then in letting the orcas do their thing. Don’t get me wrong, Shamu and his mates are still stunning and pack quite the punch, but I did leave this one thinking, “is that all?”

Mom and I went on one ride.

  1. Journey to Atlantis. This is Sea World’s log flume, but it’s much more than just a log flume. It’s part (double) flume, part roller coaster, and part sadistic exercise in how to get people soaking wet when it’s barely 70 degrees outside. So you ride through some peaceful indoor rooms filled with glowing coral, and then you head up and around and plunge down in a normal flume. You get decently wet at the bottom. But then your boat leisurely turns the corner by the platform where non-riders are watching, and—unbeknownst to us at the time—people have paid a quarter a pop to shoot extra bursts of water at the sitting duck riders. And to add insult to injury, they then send your boat down a five foot or so micro-flume, which serves no purpose whatsoever other than to tip the boat into deep water that floods the inside of the boat. And so now you’re soaking wet and laughing at the evil nature of the ride, and what’s this? Oh, we’re going up again. A slow, slow, slow climb while we’re soaking wet. And then the ride gets cool again, as it turns all roller coaster on you to go through a high-speed corkscrew into the second flume. And then it ends. And you get out and you look ridiculous because you’re entire bottom half of your body is drenched. But yeah, it was a great ride outside of the sadism; I tried to convince Mom to ride it again later in the day, but to no avail.

At the end of the day we fed the dolphins. Now, many of you might not know this, but underneath my macho, tough guy, pickup-truck driving, gun-toting, cigarette-smoking, rough-and-tumble persona, I’m a sucker for dolphins. I think they’re ridiculously adorable, and it helps knowing that they’re pretty damn smart, also. So I was pretty glad to fork over a few dollars and feed several dolphins a few fish. Pretty much the height of touristy clichés at a place like this, but that didn’t (and doesn’t) faze me one bit.

We had scheduled our one more sophisticated dining experience for this night, as Mom, Lynn, and I checked out Citricos at the Grand Floridian. The appetizers—a boring salad and an elegant cheese plate—were good but not spectacular. But the main courses blew my socks off. Lynn had a sautéed shrimp dish that happened to be standing in for a swordfish (?) dish for one night only. Mom had a meltingly tender braised veal. And I had a filet—which was cooked & seasoned beautifully—with house-cured vegetables and the most unbelievably delicious four-cheese mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. We shared an excellent tiramisu for dessert and called it a night.

February 16, 2009

Disney Day 3 – Hollywood Studios

On our third day at Disney World, the six of us piled into our rental minivan and drove over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (nee MGM Studios). Perhaps the lack of lines at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot made us a bit lax, but we didn’t bother getting to Hollywood until well after it was open. So there was to be no avoiding crowds by getting there early. Despite that, we did everything we wanted with little trouble.

Oh, and did I mention yet that there were busloads of cheerleaders all over the place? Yeah, it was the Feigenbaums and the National High School Cheerleading Championships, together again for the first time.

It took us a bit to get going, and so we first grabbed a batch of Fastpasses for the Toy Story 4D ride. They were already going for the middle of the afternoon, so we started to plan our day around that. We then got on line so that Julia could—at long last—meet Daisy Duck, but Daisy disappeared and turned into Chip and Dale before we got to the front of the line. In my opinion, that’s a significant upgrade.

Finally, we hit up a ride:

  • The Great Movie Ride. There was no line for the Great Movie Ride, probably because it’s long since been upstaged by lots of newer rides. But the Great Movie Ride was one of my favorite memories of the last time I was at MGM, so I was glad to make it our first ride of the day… I couldn’t have been more disappointed in it. We ended up in the back row of the two car convoy, which meant half the time we were in a different room from where the action was going on. Add to that the fact that both our guide and our kidnapping mobster were both unenthusiastic and bad actors, and the ride was a giant disappointment. The Wizard of Oz room was still great, though.

We met up with Mom, who was feeling a bit under the weather, and she and I hung out in the beautiful weather while the rest of the gang went and saw the Little Mermaid show. Randi, Scott, and Julia then headed off to meet some characters, and Mom, Lynn, and I went over to the “animation courtyard.” The short film about Disney’s animation processes was cute, but the real highlight was:

  • The Animation Academy. We didn’t know what to expect, but Lynn was dying for the chance to do some drawing, so we waited fifteen minutes or so for the next drawing class. What we found was a 25-minute class in which a Disney animator led us through the process of sketching a Disney character—Jiminy Cricket in our case—from scratch. While it was a bit challenging to keep up with the pace at times, this was a ton of fun and we left with three impressive renderings of the little guy. (Well, ok, Lynn’s was really impressive, mine was not half bad, and Mom’s looked a bit like Jiminy’s aging father, but all three still exceeded our expectations.) Mom enjoyed it so much that she returned later in the day and drew Goofy.

We capped off a slow morning with a rather pedestrian meal at one of Hollywood Studios’s fast-food restaurants. We finished eating, squeezed past the street performance of High School Musical 3, and got on line for our next attraction:

  • Lights, Motors, Action! An old favorite, the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, was closed for the day so that the high schoolers could compete for glory and ESPN air time, so we made sure to go to this big time vehicle stunt show, imported from Eruo Disney. I thought that the show was pretty entertaining. It was a good mix of informative, amusing, and entertaining, watching high speed car chases, boat and motorcycle stunts, and a few explosions thrown in for good measure. Well done, and I’d go back.

We headed back to Toy Story 4D so that the other five could ride while I took a nap outside. I think that they universally preferred the Magic Kingdom Toy Story ride. Around now I was starting to get a bit frustrated that my relative efficiency was greatly lacking compared to the two previous days. Randi had agreed earlier to go with me on two of the park’s headliner rides—Tower of Terror and the Aerosmith roller coaster—so we headed over that way next to scope out the situation. Turns out that while there was a 30 minute wait for Tower of Terror and a 70 minute wait for the roller coaster, both had Fastpasses available. With the help of Lynn and Scott’s tickets, we picked up Fastpasses for both.

To kill the hour or so we had, Lynn and I wandered around and watched a “block party,” a bunch of cheery-eyed singing and dancing and shenanigans. It was loud and colorful, but not particularly mindblowing. We then met up with Randi and Scott and Julia once more, and Randi and I went on…

  • Tower of Terror. I’d never done this before, having been too scared when I was younger. This was fantastic. Easily the best attraction at Hollywood Studios, and in the same “heads and shoulders above the rest” category as Splash Mountain at MK and Soarin’ at Epcot. The atmosphere is creepy, the confined setting with 11 other screaming people is immersive, and the ride itself is fun. I ended up grabbing a new Fastpass when we left and riding it a second time a couple of hours later, and it was a mostly different experience the second time around. Who would have thought that a plunge in an elevator could be so much fun?

We split up once more because we had a few hours until our roller coaster Fastpasses. Lynn and I headed to the other side of the park where Lynn watched a bit of the cheerleading (lots of teenage girls in tears by this point in the day; no joke) while I checked out another old favorite.

  • Star Tours. The line was non-existent for what used to be the top headliner. Kind of sad, but the ride has held up pretty well over the years. It’s a straightforward, fast, and relatively smooth simulator. They don’t fool around too much with extra story, you just get on your spaceship and go. Terrific, still. (Far better than MIssion: Space, if you ask me.)

Lynn and I stopped by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences “Hall of Fame” to brush shoulders with some busts of Hollywood greats. We meandered back across the park, peeking in again at the cheerleading and stopping to watch a street comedy/improv show that was pretty funny. I ran off a bit before the end to ride Tower of Terror for the second time, and then headed a couple of hundred feet away to meet up with Randi.

  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Even with the Fastpass we had a 10-15 minute wait. Randi got a bit nervous as we got near the front, but not nearly as much as the poor girl whose friends/family were literally dragging her and carrying her onto the coaster against her will. This was a great roller coaster. The most intense part was the 0-to-60 acceleration into a loop right at the start. (We thought it was probably a loop at the time though we couldn’t tell; Wikipedia confirms that it is.) The rest was a very smooth and fast ride past all sorts of neon street signs. Way better than Space Mountain, but still pretty short. I just don’t quite understand why people wait on line over an hour for an 80-second ride.
  • Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage. An abridged version of the classic Disney movie. Excellent singing, dancing and production values for a show they put on a bajillion times a week.

We had dinner at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe, where, when my Mom complained that pot roast in the 50s never looked quite so professional, the waiter astutely responded that they didn’t have multicolored “glow cubes” in the drinks in the 50s either. Staying somewhat true to the theme I had the fried chicken, which was crispy and tasty if a bit greasy and a ton of food. Drove back to our hotel and retired for the night.

February 12, 2009

You can call her Mrs. Walker?

(Call Lynn, that is.) …Just goes to show that the “obscenity ratio” is not a scientifically accurate metric.

Click to see him up close.

it's a boy

February 8, 2009

Disney Day 2 - Epcot

We followed up our day at Magic Kingdom with a day at Epcot.

We arrived a few minutes before Future World opened at 9am, and joined the crowd queued up to the right (west) of Spaceship Earth (the giant golf ball). The rope dropped, and we walked with the crowd over to The Land to start our day.

  1. Soarin’. We headed here first because we hoped that Julia might make the 40” minimum height. Luckily, she passed with flying colors and an inch or two to spare. Though we weren’t at the front of the crowd, our wait was less than five minutes. Soarin’ was tremendous: a super-smooth simulation of flying accompanied by dramatic scenes of California cities and landscapes. Really great.
  2. Living with the Land. Since we were at the pavilion already, we walked right over to the old Listen to the Land boat ride (now Living with the Land). No line at a “tier 2” attraction like this this early, of course, so we got right on a boat. I was disappointed that the tour guides of the past have been replaced by recorded narrations, but the second half of the ride—through the Epcot greenhouses—were tremendous. Super-sized melons, tomato trees, tiny wheat plants all made for remarkable sights to see.

Randi and Julia ducked off to meet Donald Duck and some other friends of his, so Mom, Scott, Lynn, and I crossed Future World to pick up FastPasses for the Mission: Space simulator ride. Scott and Lynn then killed some time while Mom and I went on the next ride together.

  1. Test Track. After much debate about whether we had been on this ride before (we hadn’t, as it only opened in 1998; we confused it with the former GM World of Motion ride), we got to the front of the ride and boarded our “test vehicles”. Several warm-up tests were followed by an exhilarating high-speed straightaway and turn. While the GM sponsorship of Test Track was a bit heavy-handed in some parts, the ride itself is still masterfully conceived and one I’d love to try again some time.
  2. Mission: Space. Lynn and Julia headed off to Innoventions to play video games, and the other four of us used our FastPasses to walk onto Mission: Space. Against her better judgment, Mom joined me for the more intense “orange team” while the other two tried the “green team.” I thought the ride was good but not great. It started off extremely intense with significant pressure generated from faux G-forces as our rocket launched into space. The rest of the ride was pretty intense simulator fare, but nothing out of this world. I’d pass on a return visit.
  3. The Seas with Nemo. Julia had sat out a couple of rides, so we headed over to ride with Nemo. While the ride was cute, it doesn’t really match up with the quality of kids’ rides like Peter Pan at Magic Kingdom. I took a bit of a nap. The best part of this pavilion was when Lynn and I scored 3 of 5 taking an “advanced quiz” about sea creatures—all in Spanish.

At this point it was time for the Marshalls to head off to their princess lunch at the Norwegian pavilion, and the rest of us grabbed lunch at the Seasons restaurant at The Land pavilion. (Decent, better than most fast food at Disney.) Deciding that lunch could serve as a useful logical barrier in our day, we headed over to the World Showcase. I don’t have much of a blow-by-blow for the country pavilions, but here goes nonetheless:

  1. Mexico. We watched a glass-blowing demonstration here and wandered through the bazaar. Mom picked up a beautiful wooden eagle to add to her collection.
  2. Norway. We rode the Maelstrom ride, one of Lynn’s favorites. I tried to convince her that the lead up to a backwards drop over the steep waterfall was the real deal, but failed miserably. I snoozed through the Norway travelogue film.
  3. China. Walked through it, skipped the film, though we decided we might return to it.
  4. Germany. Enjoyed a Spaten draft. Disappointed that the Clock and Crafts shop didn’t feature many clocks for sale.
  5. Italy. Enjoyed the replicas of the Doge’s Palace and the clock tower at St. Mark’s Square.
  6. U.S. Mom watched the film so that she could hear her favorite song (“America, Spread your golden wings”), but the rest of us skipped it. We did watch a five-person drum and fife corps outside the pavilion. They were pretty good, even though I think their leader and one of the fife players (fifers?) were jerks.
  7. Japan. Walked around, enjoyed a beer.
  8. Morocco. We wandered through the streets of Morocco, before stumbling upon the Genie from Aladdin greeting people for photos and autographs. After a small amount of arm twisting, I convinced Lynn to get on line to meet her favorite Disney character. To our pleasant surprise, as we joined the line, the Genie was joined by Princess Jasmine. The characters’ handlers heard Lynn softly singing some music from Aladdin while we waited, and after he told the Genie that he (the Genie) refused to pose for a picture until Lynn sang to him. Much hilarity ensued (for me, at least).
  9. U.K. We caught a bit of a performance by a Beatles cover band, but then headed off for dinner.

All six of us ate dinner together at the Rose and Crown pub at the U.K. pavilion. We timed our dinner reservation carefully so that we’d have a table outside in good position to watch the Epcot light show at night. What we didn’t take into account was how freakin’ cold it might be. Still, we had a great table and battled trough the chill to eat a leisurely-enough meal to stretch from a bit after 6pm to show time at 8pm. The food was nothing special (Lynn and I shared fish and chips and a “lamb two ways” dish), but the show was great and the pub did manage to serve me a flight of three single-malts after my meal.

We had chosen to go to Epcot on day 2 since it had three extra hours at the end of the day for Disney resort guests. We took advantage of this following the Illuminations light show by hitting up a couple of final rides:

  1. Journey into Imagination. I was expecting to be disappointed by the way in which they butchered the former ride, and I was. While I was glad that Figment now has even more of a starring role, the rest of the ride was pretty bad. And the trademark “Imagination” song was sung strangely—either off key or with some weird harmony that was completely unnecessary. Oh well.
  2. Soarin’. We ended the day the same way we started, back at The Land pavilion with Soarin’. It was great again. Two times riding it, two thumbs up.

All in all, another good day, and not very crowded. The longest line we waited on was actually about 15-20 minutes for Soarin’ at the very end of the day. We missed a few things: Spaceship Earth, the film at the China pavilion, the France pavilion, the Canada pavilion, the American Adventure film, and most of the U.K. pavilion, but we figured we could try to make some of that up on Monday. What doesn’t really come through in the play-by-play is how peaceful it is walking around Epcot for a day. I’ve gotta say, Epcot still shines in my mind as probably the top Disney World park.

February 5, 2009

Disney Day 1 – Magic Kingdom

We went to Walt Disney World in Orlando along with Mom, Randi, Scott, and five-year-old Julia. Some recaps and thoughts for posterity to follow. (Pictures to follow at a later date.)

It was freezing cold. When we set out to take advantage of the extra morning hour allocated to Disney resort guests, the ambient air temperature was an absurd 32 degree Fahrenheit, with wind chills another five to ten degrees colder than that. Add to this the boat ride which was the sole transportation option from the Wilderness Lodge over to the Magic Kingdom, and the day got off to a chilly start, to say the least.

But we quickly learned that touring Magic Kingdom on such a freakishly cold day was not without its benefits, as the early-morning competition to tour Fantasyland was practically non-existent. Without needing to run, elbow small children out of the way, or break a sweat we walked right onto all the headliner Fantasyland attractions:

  1. Dumbo. I didn’t realize adults can ride on this. It was a tiny bit better than I expected, but then again I didn’t expect much out of it and it was over before I knew it. Good to get it done with first.
  2. Peter Pan. Love the faux-flying and love Captain Hook in a state of being perpetually almost eaten by the croc. Just like I remembered it.
  3. Winnie the Pooh. Pretty good tale of Pooh and friends, though I didn’t really understand the trippy acid-inspired scenes in the middle. I am a big Tigger fan though, and he made plenty of appearances.
  4. It’s a Small World. Still a classic, still love the individually singing dolls, still a dramatic oversimplification of the world, and still a tune that gets stuck in your head for hours after.
  5. Carousel. I skipped this and took a few pictures. I’d already done flying elephants that go up and down, so I opted out of the horse equivalent.

At which point it was 8:40—only 40 minutes since we entered the park—and we were done with (round 1 of) Fantasyland! Remarkable. So on my insistence we headed over to Tomorrowland to see if we’d blown our chance to experience crowd-pleaser Buzz Lightyear without much wait. We took a brief detour so that Julia could take a spin on the tea cups, and then meandered over to Tomorrowland.

  1. Buzz Lightyear. No wait whatsoever. We rode it twice now, and once at the end of the day. Wonder why it took Disney so long to marry their unique ride designs with competitive video games? The formula works well, even if I was consistently outscored by tens of thousands of points by the rest of my family.
  2. People Mover (aborted). We got to the loading platform for the People Mover (Tomorrowland Transit Authority) only to have the ride break. Came back later.
  3. Carousel of Progress. No longer the GE Carousel of Progress, I was surprised to see this one open. Having both fond and maddening memories—we were once stuck on the 3rd scene for four or five consecutive tellings of it—we jumped at the chance to walk right in. The Carousel is still using the original theme song (A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow) rather than the 80s version (Now is the Time). It’s also a bit of a leap to go straight from the 1940s to today. Still, the animatronic family is entertaining as always.
  4. Space Mountain. Well, we hadn’t had a single line yet, so why not check out the real superstar in the area? Mom and I walked right onto Space Mountain without pausing for a second. This was my first time on Space Mountain, and I have to say, while it was fast and dark and fun, I don’t see what the big deal is. I definitely don’t see why people wait upwards of an hour at busy times to ride it. It was just ok. But quite passable for zero wait!
  5. Stitch’s Great Escape. Lynn, Mom, and I went on this without knowing what it was. In the end, what it was was silly. Cute story, dramatic atmosphere, and silly sensory execution. Glad we experienced it, but it wouldn’t make the top of my list on another visit.

At which point it was approaching 11, and we caught the tail end of a singing/dancing/fireworks show at Cinderella’s Castle. The girls then went off for a couple of hours of makeup and princesses, and Scott and I leisurely killed a couple of hours with:

  1. Haunted Mansion. The jokes are great, the ride is decent but not as amusing as I remembered, the ambiance is great. This was the first ride we had any sort of wait on whatsoever—about 10 minutes.
  2. Lunch at Liberty Square Tavern. Nothing to write home about. I had pot roast, and it was uneventful.
  3. WDW Railroad. Rode two-thirds of the railroad circuit, from Frontierland over to Main Street. The narration is entertaining, and the “behind the scenes” feel, such as Pocahontas’s camp site, make it worth the time.

We rejoined the rest of our group, spent some time browsing through Tinkerbell’s souvenir shop, and then Lynn and I walked over to Frontierland.

  1. Splash Mountain. Yes, it was cold. Yes, it’s not peak season. Still, I thought it was a travesty that there was no line for Splash Mountain at 1:45pm at Magic Kingdom. No line! Lynn waited outside with the camera while I walked right on and shortly thereafter remembered why this is by far the best ride at MK. Great story, great setup, great music, great head fakes, great climax, great end.
  2. Splash Mountain. Mom joined us, and I convinced her to go with me for a second round on Splash Mountain. Got a bit wetter the second time, but nothing too serious.

They had to close Thunder Mountain for one reason or another, so we met up again with the Marshalls and headed to Adventureland:

  1. Pirates of the Caribbean. I was expecting this to disappoint me, since I thought it had been completely neutered by the movies. It actually lived up to my memories of it almost exactly. Pleasant, amusing, but not spectacular. Still, it was peak time in the park and we walked right onto the ride. Still incredible.
  2. Jungle Cruise. Loved every second as our guide—Tre—regaled us with pun after pun after corny joke after corny joke. And all the computerized wildlife was as entertaining as ever.
  3. Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride. I sat this one out, as the Disney folk can’t quite fool me by taking Dumbo, moving it across the park, and changing the elephants into magic carpets.

We headed back to Fantasyland, where Julia and folks used their Fastpass for a second go-round of Pooh while we snacked on some pretzels. Randi, Mom, and Julia then headed off to storytime with Belle while Lynn, Scott, and I went back to Tomorrowland.

  1. People Mover. Oh man, still one of the best rides in the park. And when we went through Space Mountain, something was wrong and all of the lights were on, giving us a rare glimpse into the cavernous room and elaborate setup that makes the dark roller coaster go.
  2. People Mover. We declined the attempt by the Disney employee to solicit a bribe for us, yet he let us stay on the People Mover for a second time around nonetheless. This time it was properly dark when we traveled through Space Mountain.
  3. Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. The rest of the group joined us for this as the afternoon waned. Wow did this blow away my expectations. What a hoot. And they used the joke that I text-messaged during the pre-show. Woo.
  4. Buzz Lightyear. Just for the heck of it. I got my butt kicked one more time.

At which point there were still a couple of hours left in the MK’s day, but it was dark and freezing and we had seen just about everything we wanted to see. We skipped the parade and the fireworks and headed back to the hotel. Need to rest up for Epcot tomorrow.