Day 16: shopping and logistics

I’ll fill this out later…but we’re going to talk about the happiest child in Disney World right now…

This family of six comes into the restaurant we’re eating at tonight. The staff asks if they were celebrating anything special today. This little girl, who was *maybe* 3, has the biggest smile as she proclaims, “My adoption!!!” Absolute most adorable thing. It made me so happy.

Day 13: Epcot, day 2

So, our day started a bit late. I like sleep, but that’s one of the issues with a Disney vacation – you don’t get much of it if you’re going to do everything. This required multiple cups of coffee.

Assorted wardrobes from the next three days, in no particular order:

  • “I grew this beard while waiting on line at Disney”. I’ve seen this shirt a few times before, but this guy had a beard like a Civil War general.
  • “Awww, another bottle of wine with no genie at the bottom. Guess I’ll have to keep looking!”
  • A stroller with a sign “This is not the stroller you’re looking for”.
  • Another stroller – a McLaren stroller.
  •  

First stop, World Showcase. Lizzy had some snack foods she wanted to try, and she also got a mimosa flight.

Once we did that, we headed to Spaceship Earth, aka The Golf Ball. I am generally a fan of that ride, but this particular run-through had three multi-minute stops during the ride, which totally broke the immersion. The overhead announcements were what did it in, but even so, it’s always nice to ride the golf ball. The other amusing thing was the “vision of the future” thing they put on the screens…which is funny because most of it has already come to pass…essentially it said that in the future we’d have Zoom calls and work-from-home options and smarter cities….well, all of those things are technically in place now, but it reminds me of the problem with most forms of prediction – it fails to account for the human element. Very few people would describe Zoom calls as ‘enjoyable’; most would cap out as “effective necessary evil”. Lots of the future predictions you’ll see in Disney (and on Youtube for that matter) seem to reflect this.

Next up was Club Cool, a small area where Coca-Cola has a relatively unique attraction: an array of soda fountains which feature internationally popular Coke products. Some were better than others (Russian Sprite has this cucumber flavor mixed in that I’d happily buy tomorrow), but apparently, getting newcomers to try the bitter “Beverly” flavor is a running gag, and yes, I was the newcomer, to the amusement of pretty much everyone else there. We stayed for several minutes, enjoying samples of the different varieties in the provided paper shot glasses. I’m surprised that only the standard American products were available to buy (Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Dasani, etc.), but the sampled products were not. I definitely would have bought a bottle or two if it were practical to do so. 

Next up on our ride list was “Soarin'”. Really, this one was simple and solid. A large, concave screen provided scenic views, during which seats moved in sync, along with a few scents for different scenes. No need for excessive motion or sudden movement, its elegance is in its simplicity. If ASMR was a Disney ride, this would be it. Definitely a fan.

It was snack time, so we got a Mickey pretzel, my first this trip.

Next stop, Living with the Land, where Disney showcases developments in farming and other forms of environmental utilization. As it’s intended to be a more educational ride, there’s not much in the way of lighting effects or anything else that moves the focus away from where it’s supposed to be.

Right next door, the Finding Nemo ride! This one reminded me of the Pandora boat right, in that it was primarily a beautiful spectacle. The clam-shaped tram cars were adorable, though. The real fun was in the aquarium area after the ride. There were manatees and sharks and dolphins and lots of other things I couldn’t pet. But, one particularly interesting thing they had was a fish tank which included all of the different fish present in the dentist’s office tank in Finding Nemo. The area had games and other interactive things for young kids; it was adorable to watch them play for a bit.

Mission Space! Why did I have no idea that this ride existed? This is exactly the sort of ride that I’d love to go on with my dad – it’s a space sim with interactive controls and a great setup…and lots of G-force usage that makes launches and space travel feel about as realistic as it’s going to get in a theme park ride…but that’s also why I’ll probably never do it with my dad – I 100% guarantee that he’d make use of the space sickness bags that are included in the ride’s cabin. A well done ride for sure; I was glad I did it.

Chevrolet CEO: “We should make a theme park ride!”
Chevrolet engineer: “It should be fun, right? Aren’t our cars already fun to drive?”
CEO: “Nonsense! I mean, if it happens to be fun, great…but if there’s a square inch that doesn’t have a Chevy logo, you’re fired!”
Welcome to Test Track. It’s the ride I’m probably the most torn about thus far. On the one hand, it is probably only second to Rise of the Resistance in how well it integrates the different stages of the attraction. In the queue, there are a few interactive touch panels that help familiarize riders with things they will need in the next part – the design center. One starts with a base model Chevy car, then customizations are made. You can min/max for power, fuel efficiency, aerodynamics, vehicle size, and of course, colors, decals, and spoilers. This design is then tied to your magicband. When you finally enter the ride, there are different sections that “test” your vehicle against other riders, and at the end of each section, your vehicle is ranked. At the end, you can – I kid you not – customize the commercial for your car, and get a copy of the generated commercial e-mailed to you.
On the one hand, the end-to-end experience is easily one of the best, and makes the most of every minute spent waiting in line and distributing the crowds in the different sections. On the other hand, it is without a doubt the most heavy-handed non-Disney advertising I have felt this entire trip, and that includes the Coca-Cola building where the attraction was “tasting different Coca-Cola products” in a room stock with nothing but Coca-Cola products. I get that it’s being sponsored by Chevy, but based on how I felt being in the process, it did absolutely nothing to nudge the needle about my next car being a Chevy. 

Over in Norway (I think), there’s a Frozen boat ride. A lovely spectacle of a ride, whose schtick (besides an animatronic Olaf and Elsa, of course) is the fact that the boats move backward for a bit; the ride moves in a bit of a “Z” shape. This was a bit of a unique twist, which I appreciated. Lots of blue lighting and snow imagery and all that other stuff associated with Frozen filled out the visuals, with a short-but-present drop at the end. Overall, one of the better boat rides we’ve been to thus far.

Lizzy and I went back to the hotel for a bit to get changed; our next stop was Jellyrolls, a dueling piano bar on the boardwalk. I was reminded of a high school friend who did something similar in high school; the mix of comedy and request playing was fantastic, if just for the sheer breadth of songs that were sung. “Let It Go” and “It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” were played for laughs. Other songs spanning from the 50s through 2019 were played, pop to country to…even a rap song, they got ’em all in. It was very impressive to watch. It was funny to see how many songs Lizzy’s mom didn’t recognize. On the one hand, her not recognizing some of the newer Taylor Swift songs, I could kinda understand…but not even recognizingI Want It That Way” or “A Thousand Miles“? I’m pretty sure the woman threw out her radio in 1995, but we had a good laugh. During “I Want It That Way”, Lizzie, Beatrice, and I had a fantastic time singing Weird Al’s satirical version “eBay”. 

Lizzy stayed longer than I did, so her parents and I split a Lyft. To get to the spot for pickup, we walked through the Boardwalk Hotel. Y’know how everyone goes broke if they land on Boardwalk in Monopoly? This hotel makes it perfect sense. It’s an extremely posh hotel I sincerely doubt I will ever be able to afford to stay in. Amusingly, our driver was Jesus, so the notification texts were the best. “Jesus is arriving in a Mazda CX-9”, “Jesus is here”, and “Thanks for riding with Jesus”…we had a great laugh over that.

Bed.

Day 12: Animal Kingdom and New Sneakers (updated)

Lizzy told me we needed to be on a 6AM bus today. I asked her if she was kidding. She wasn’t kidding, but she also compromised a bit – we were on line to hop a bus by 6:40…infuriatingly, earlier than the drink station was available to get coffee for my coffee mug.

We also stopped at the front desk to pick up a new pair of sneakers I had delivered by Amazon. I didn’t want to spend a fortune on sneakers at Disney, but mine had clearly seen better days; it was time for a new set anyway.

Got to the park, and there was a bit of a kerfuffle with my bio opt-out. Lady said I had to go to Guest Services before I left, but let me in the park.

First stop? Pandora, the world of Avatar. There were two rides in this section. One was a simulated banshee ride, which was a solid ride. Like Avatar itself, the story required you to not-think about it too much. “We want to observe banshees in their native habitat! And we need riders to do it! Also, we know exactly where they’re going and how to ride them on autopilot! Seems…conflicting to me. But it’s a theme park ride, why am I getting hung up on this? Anyway, the 3D effect solved one issue, but exacerbated another. The fact that there is simulated motion that coincides with what you’re seeing means that there wasn’t that carsick feeling that’s common, but on the other hand, it was annoying that the depth-of-field functions made it impractical for me to look around beyond the thing I was “supposed to”. Other than that, it was a really well done attraction, as Beatrice said, “It’s worth the actual wait time”.

The second ride in the section we went on was the Na’vi River Journey. This ride was, in my opinion, the summary of Avatar and its Pandora world: on the one hand, it’s quite possibly the most beautiful boat-ride attraction we’ve been on yet. The lighting is immaculate, the sound design doesn’t have collision issues, it doesn’t rely on screens or video, colors are bright but not gaudy, and its one animatronic has some of the most fluid motion I’ve ever seen in an animatronic. What the Tiki Room was when it was first opened had to be the same feeling going through this thing; it was both stunning and impressive to look at. On the other hand…that’s all it was. “Pirates of the Caribbean” tells a story. “It’s a Small World” intends to give the rider the sense of some of the other cultures of the world. Nemo and Friends has the nostalgia element, as the rider sees all the characters from the movie. Na’vi river journey…has none of these things. We don’t see the main characters of the movie, there are no set pieces from where the movie took place, there’s none of the Na’vi civilization shown except the one animatronic who is doing some sort of ceremonial ritual that’s never explained. Like the movie itself, it’s a visual marvel, and little else. For a theme park ride, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’ll again defer to Beatrice, who put it well: “I’d wait on line for Flight of Passage. I wouldn’t wait more than 20 minutes for this one.”

From there, we got breakfast, which was amusing in that the place we went to had coffee, a signature rum-based beverage, and three different food-things…and I got all of the things on the menu and I ate all of them. Some honeybees were enjoying the syrup, so I let them…sadly, it appeared that a few of them drowned in the container; I like to think that they were able to break free once the container landed in the trash can…but they were honeybees, so they needed the sugar more than I did. Beatrice was funny when she saw that I ate all the things; she was like: “…where do you put it all?”

Next up was Rafiki’s railway, which brought us to the Kilimanjaro safari. One of the handful of attractions that isn’t at all automated, this drive through the preserve enabled us to see lots of interesting animals. Yes, I wanted to pet them all, and no, I didn’t get to, but it was  nice to be able to see the giraffes and the elephants and the rhinos, and so on.

After that, there was an indoor section where they had some reptiles and bugs in glass tanks. Notably, a Cast Member was there, talking to another tourist about what it’s like to feed the animals and how they’re trained and such. Like many things in Disney, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work involved in working with the animals effectively. It was interesting to hear how they figured out what to feed the animals and how to handle emergency situations and so forth.

Next up, the petting zoo! There’s a small petting zoo with animals to pet. Yay! I mean, I’m sure they weren’t going to let me pet the cheetahs or the wildebeests, but even if it’s just sheep and cows and goats, there are things to pet and I wanted to pet them.

Now, the animals didn’t seem terribly thrilled about getting pet. I mean, it would have been nice to have the interaction be mutual, but I can also understand the sheep having a “this is my life now” look after spending all morning being pet by hyperactive six year olds. On the flip side, there was a goat who liked to nibble on my pants…then tried to eat my mask.

But the story came from Lizzy; I will do my best to recount: “so, I was totally a parent. We went to a petting zoo and I was walking around with Joey, taking pictures of him petting the sheep. then I turned my back for one second to talk to a Cast Member, and I lost him!”

After that, there was a show where some kites were being flown from jetskis. It wasn’t a terribly long show, but it was amusing to see, particularly because one of the kites went off course and ended up on an empty section of the bleachers. 

Food was an indoor restaurant. I will say that if I’m going to get a $20 burger, this was one that was worth it: huge and delicious. 

Day 11: It’ll always be MGM to me (COMPLETED)

Let’s try this live(ish) blogging thing, now that it works!

Shirts from yesterday and today:

  • An exhausted Ariel saying “I wanna be where the people aren’t”
  • A man wearing a shirt that said “real men wear mouse ears”. The humor stemmed from the fact that he wasn’t actually wearing mouse ears.
  • A Disney-stylized, rainbow castle, but not the iconic Cinderella one. Caption: “I’d rather be at Hogwarts”.
  • A T-Rex, holding a Mickey-shaped balloon and a pretzel. Caption: “Wrong Park”.
  • A variant on an earlier shirt: “My favorite Disney Princess is my spoiled wife”, combined with presumably-his-wife wearing an “I’m a Disney Princess” shirt.
  • “I work so I can afford my wife’s Disney habit”.

This park is definitely different than the others, which I realize is kinda the point, but the different sections are impressively themed. Oversized toys adorn the Toy Story section. Galaxy’s Edge is as much about the decorations and atmosphere as it is the rides. If you’re not getting a Blue Milk to drink, you’re getting a Coke in a bottle shaped like a thermal detonator.

Smuggler’s run was a great teamwork ride. We didn’t do so well the first go-round, so we tried again due to the short wait. We did a bit better, but it made me wish I could ride it with some friends who played Star Wars  video games that required the sort of skills which would improve how far we got. Sadly, there’s been a falling out, so I’ll have to imagine that this had happened somewhere in a parallel universe. We’ll be back to galaxy’s edge later.

Keeping in theme with interactive rides that are assisted by my decades of video game preparation, Toy Story Mania was our next stop. A 3D gallery shooter, this game was well done; one of the few times 3d wasn’t annoying and genuinely added to the experience. That my score was triple the next highest person on our group was impressive, but the fact that it was only half the highest score on the ride for the past hour? I had feelings…

Next up was Mickey’s Runaway Railway. Now, call me crazy, but naming your train company “Runamok Railroad” is the kind of ridiculousness that would make me wary of insuring it. Goofy didn’t seem like the sort of individual who would have passed his train conductor certification, either. Mickey and Minnie, knowing all this, why would you ever sing a song declaring that nothing could go wrong? While on the hour-long line for this ride, the family behind us had the child trifecta – one walking by herself, one being carried but slightly agitated by the heat, and the last one was asleep, waking up just as the family got to the ride queue. We agreed that it should be possible for the rest of us to nap while waiting on line. Anyway, this trackless ride moved between set pieces that I would definitely consider to be well done.

We had a bathroom break, during which I paid my cable bill. then, off to Tower of Terror.

Another hour wait. I wonder if anyone else did what my sister did and offer to clean it. There were plenty of cobwebs and accumulated dust. One person behind us on line indicated that the cobwebs and dust are real, and that the area is cleaned in a way to enable the dust and cobwebs to accumulate naturally. The ride itself felt a lot more tame than I remembered. The Twilight Zone branding seemed more muted than I remembered; this was unsurprising since Disney made their own movie for the ride, and The Twilight Zone is owned by rival Paramount. I can sum it up by saying that there were zero Twilight Zone themed items in the gift shop; I looked and asked, but not a logo in sight.

Next up, we were back to Galaxy’s Edge for the most expensive souvenir I’ve ever purchased: a build-your-own lightsaber. The idea is that it’s more of an interactive experience, not just a diy kit, and on that, they largely deliver. A set of Cast Members took their roles seriously. The main individual (in full costume) gave the “You are Jedi, the galaxy needs you, this is the first step in your journey…” deal. I wish I’d taken a photo of the apparatus they used to pass around the different colored crystals; it was memorable in its appearance. After that, a few other Cast members (about a 1:3 ratio to builders) took out trays which contained all the build components reflecting the chosen style (there were four to choose from and were decided upon beforehand). From there, it was a reasonably-simple twist-and-snap style of assembly. Ambient audio and a bit of fog from the walls assisted with the immersion of the experience, which took another ten minutes or so from this point. Lizzy and I were done before most other builders, an unsurprising result considering we were the most ‘seasoned’ builders I recall seeing. At the end, the Cast Members took our completed hilts and did a QA check to make sure everything fit together properly. Once done, they inserted the tested units into a fitted slot. Some more “and now, you are ready…” from our main performer, and when the lightsabers came out, the blade appeared. A bit more “go in peace, builders”, and on the way out, a padded carry case was provided.

Lunch for the day was courtesy of the 50’s Primetime Cafe. The diner holds to its theme, with black-and-white TVs in the corners playing TV episodes of the era, complete with some TV static. Tables have the silver edges, era-accurate posters adorn the walls, and the wait staff  gacts the way you think they would – the waitress from another table, seemingly in her early sixties if I had to guess, took exception to any and all elbows on the table. I am glad that most restuarants have a sampler; they are excellent for people like me who want to eat all the things.

I’ve achieved a bit of a reputation for eating more than most other people on the trip with me, but it was most poignant at the diner, as both Lizzy and Beatrice had extra fried chicken that I had no problem finishing for them.

Star Tours was also visited and enjoyed;  I hadn’t seen it since the 2011 refresh. It was definitely a “grass is always greener” sort of a situation, though; I remember the OG Star Tours having that “We have Star Wars at home!” vibe, since Rex didn’t appear in any of the movies while flying us through non-canonical set pieces, but now that the ride involves C-3PO and events from around the events of “Rogue One”, the difference was definitely an improvement, but strangely palpable.

Next up: Muppetvision! So, I remember doing both this one and “Honey, I Shrunk The Audience” back in ’95, and I remember being terrified by “Honey”, but loving “Muppetvision”. I stand by Muppetvision being awesome, more so now that I am older and I got a chance to watch the 2015 series “The Muppets”.

We did a bit more shopping, when I bought my other souvenirs: additional color crystals for the lightsaber. While Lizzy got a complete set of all available colors, I stuck to the two colors not available in base builds. While green, red, and purple were all options for builds, orange and white (and black, if you happened to get one in a red container as they’re distributed randomly) were only options for purchase after the build, so I got those. Lizzy and I decided that we wanted to take a few photos with our lightsabers, but neither of us could recall a one-on-one lightsaber battle where there was a green and a blue fighting against each other. So, I put the red crystal in mine, and was glad I did…because it didn’t work. This was the first time I could recall a souvenir requiring tech support, so I headed into the store where Lizzy bought it, receipts in hand, and spoke to the Cast Member manning the wall where the crystals were being sold and asked what I should do. I demonstrated the issue, and she concurred. She took the crystal and my lightsaber “backstage”, about six minutes later she came back out with my red-glowing lightsaber in hand. She indicated that she too verified that there was an issue with the crystal and just swapped it out for me, which I super appreciated.

Lizzy did a bit more shopping, and was kind enough to get me a Sprite…more specifically, a Sprite that came in a Star Wars themed container. Once she came back, we headed over to Rise of the Resistance. This ride is notable because of how relatively complex it is. The queue line is a part of it, the elevator is a part of it, the small theater is a part of it, even the Cast Members who are a part of crowd control and guidance are in full costume and character. It’s a very well done experience, and is of little question why, two years later, the attraction is still causing issues with queuing and wait times (regular line waits were in excess of three hours throughout most of the day). It was definitely memorable and enjoyable, and in another three years once wait times go down to a sane level, I’d definitely recommend giving it a go.

Lizzy and I headed back to Tower of Terror as she wanted to look for a particular article of clothing, and I wanted to look for some Twilight Zone paraphernalia for dad as earlier discussed. We wanted to be on that side of the park anyway for the closing show. There was an interesting projection mapping effect on the Hollywood Tower Hotel, but that was a side thing, as it turned out. The main area where we went did multi-building projection mapping, which I thought was a bit of a mixed bag. It was well done from a technical perspective, but it felt like it was essentially a sequence of movie trailers more than anything else. I wish I could better explain why this one seemed different than the Magic Kingdom show, which also showed movie clips but somehow felt less forced…but I can’t, so I’ll just say that it was good, but needs tweaking. That being said, I did appreciate them using the hysterical “Pull the Lever, Kronk” scene from “The Emperor’s New Groove”.

We left via the Skyway; I went right to bed. We were going to be up early tomorrow.

Day 10: Epcot

Last night ended with a hair dryer. This morning began with a hair dryer.

It rained a lot yesterday. My shoes spent all day being utterly soaked. I let ’em sit for half an hour under a hair dryer last night; it only sorta made a dent. This morning, I got them dry enough to be worth wearing. It was also nice that Epcot opens later, and we didn’t have any fast passes for the morning, so it was a much more leisurely start to the day than normal…and like a proper day, it started with coffee.

Once that was worked out, we took the Skyway to Epcot. We shared our skyway car with a family who had a daughter who was probably four, and was quite scared of being up in the air on the Skyway. She was worried about it falling, and her mom tried to reassure her. It didn’t seem to help this small human with her big feelings. Her older sister (9 or 10, I’d say) tried to help by telling her that the alternative was swimming to the park…with alligators…it didn’t help. I tried to help her by reassuring her that she was a unicorn (she was wearing Minnie Mouse ears with a unicorn horn), and as a unicorn, she would have to be okay with flying. Her response, “But I don’t have my wings yet!” …the level of adorable here was palpable, but I was extremely conflicted about my “awwww” reaction since she was still quite agitated. I let mom take the lead at this point; she held her child’s hand and tried to keep her calm as best she could. When we got to our first stop, our young traveler was very happy to be on the ground…but that was short lived because the stop was actually a transfer point to a different Skyway line that would go to Epcot. So, small human was required to go on another Skyway car, and though she was surprisingly well behaved enough to avoid throwing a tantrum, it clearly wasn’t her favorite part of the day. “I wanna go back to the hotel” she said. Mom said, “Well, we’ll still have to go back on the Skyway to go back to the hotel, so can we at least go to the park?” She begrudgingly agreed, and got into the Skyway car, though not the same one with Lizzy and I.

When we got to the park, Lizzy and I waited for them to get out as well. When she came out, we were all “yessss!!! you made it! Look at you, being all brave!”, and she gave us both a high five. We walked with her down the ramp, and she continued talking to me. She was all, “that was really scary” and “my heart is beating really fast”, but my favorite line was “if my heart is beating really fast like this for too long, I’m worried I’ll have a heart attack!” …I kid you not, this four year old was genuinely scared of having a heart attack. I told her, “You’ve got a couple more years before you have to worry about a heart attack. But today, have a good time in the park, can you do that?” She agreed, the parents waved to us, and we parted ways. This was undoubtedly the most memorable encounter of our day.

Some amusing T-shirts seen while walking:

  • A number of his-and-her shirts where the woman’s said “I wear the ears”, and the man’s said “I drink the beers”.
  • Two or three Star Wars themed his-and-hers shirts where the woman’s had a picture of Leia saying “I love you”, and Han Solo’s, saying “I know.”
  • “Hakuna Moscato”
  • “These calories don’t count”
  • Disney Vacation 2020 2021
  • “Here in Spirit” – a group shirt had several names of people on the back; each of them  had died in 2020 or 2021.
  • His-and-hers shirts where the man had a rear profile view of Mickey on the back of his, the woman had a rear profile of Minnie, and they were holding hands…but they were standing on the wrong side of each other, so they were holding on to nothing.
  • A young Indian (from India) girl , 3 or 4, wore a “Minnie Mouse” shirt to match her mother’s “Mommy Mouse” shirt. The outfit itself wasn’t special, but this girl had sass for days.

Today was primarily about the snacking and things of that nature. Our day started in Canada, which had apple themed things – more specifically, hard ciders and an apple tart. It being only 10:30 or so, I asked Lizzy “Isn’t it a bit early to start drinking?” Her response: “It’s Epcot. The park’s open. We’re fine.” I enjoyed getting to try the different varieties, but my palette isn’t terribly complex, so aside from the grape one (i.e. someone clearly dropped a packet of grape Kool-Aid mix into a vat of Angry Orchard at a level I’d have been able to taste while I had Covid), they had “notes of”…something. Whatever, it was roughly six ounces of cider and I drank ’em all. Done. The apple tart was good, but I know I’m getting old when things are starting to get “too sweet” for me…and this thing definitely straddled the line. Still, it was good, we hung out in Canada for a bit, and then we moved on.

 We then moved to Spaceship Earth to meet with the rest of Lizzy’s family, but we weren’t waiting two hours to go on the golf ball…so our togetherness was short-lived as we split up not long after to resume snacking. “Journey into Imagination with Figment” was a stop on the way back.

Epcot has a few countries that don’t have official entries in the World Showcase, but for the 50th Anniversary been given some small sections. These typically consist of to-go restaurants with less than a dozen menu items, along with a small gift shop. Brazil, Spain, and Greece were on this list off the top of my head; over the course of the day we went to each of them. I was feeling a bit sleepy, so I got a nifty drink that was a combination of chai tea, espresso, cinnamon and some whipped cream on top. I was pleasantly surprised that it was just the right amount of sweetness!

Mexico is officially the country where stories are made. Lizzy and I went there because she wanted to try one of the tequila drinks. I like tequila as much as the next guy, but I wasn’t in the mood for hard liquor today. We wait on line to get into this place; took about 20 minutes to get in. Once we get in, Lizzy was talking to the bartender for several minutes, realized there were no strawberry drinks available, and motioned me to leave, empty handed. It was the most pointless line we’ve stood on thus far, but I’m okay laughing about it. We rode the boat ride in Mexico; the second time I’ve done so this trip.

Though we didn’t do much in Italy, a street performer did a mime/juggling/”dad magic” show that was a definite crowd pleaser.

I got a snack in Germany, but was a bit underwhelmed. “Hey US, can I copy your hot dog homework?” “Yeah, but change it a little so the teacher won’t think you copied.” “Ladies and gentlemen, bratwurst in a pretzel bun!” …it was a hot dog in a more dense bun. No sooner do I finish eating it, but out come the ponchos. Lizzy joined me shortly thereafter, having gotten a wine flight. It turned out to be a running thing that I would drink the wines she didn’t like, most commonly the reds since I have the world’s least discerning palette, causing red wines to taste basically the same to me. All of today’s subsequent ethanol consumption was performed in this way.

Today was Veteran’s Day; many veterans were wearing their veteran hats. I make it a point to thank them all for their service, particularly to tell the Vietnam vets “welcome home”.

I saw someone wearing one of yesterday’s favorite shirts: “I don’t do group t-shirts”, and this one had Donald. So, I asked where it came from, and he said it was special ordered. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, he offered to sell me the one he was wearing, but I’d also have to trade him the Mass Effect shirt I was wearing, but it wouldn’t fit him (a self-depreciating joke referring to several extra pounds he had that I didn’t), so the deal was off. We talked for a few more minutes and compared notes. It was nice to chat with him for several minutes on the topic.

The American Adventure was a combination movie/animatronic show in one of the larger theaters we’ve been in thus far, which was well done overall. A BBQ place next door provided lunch/dinner for us. I enjoyed talking to Lizzy for a bit as we did.

A quick lap through Morocco later, we went to France for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. This ride was unique in that it was the first 3D ride we’ve been on this trip, and the first one I’ve been on that’s been totally trackless – some sort of magnetic track guides the different ride cars around through the ride. Personally, I hate 3D things; Muppetvision is the only one I’ll tolerate…but even with the glasses off, it was a lot of fun and easily a highlight.

We went to Japan as the final stop of the day. In addition to the lovely pagoda, Japan sports the largest gift shop I’ve been in on this trip so far. Now, I took a lap through it in a few minutes, taking a look at a few exhibits in the process.

I waited a bit for Lizzy to finish up, when I found myself taking a swan dive into one of those rabbit holes that I’m starting to get sick of. One of Lizzy’s pastimes she does here is to shop. Rock on! She works hard for her money and it genuinely makes her happy to have a bunch of things she bought at Disney. I’m not judging her for this, I’m judging myself. I haven’t bought a single souvenir yet. Not one. Now, over my life, I’ve become a bit more of a fan of “incidental souvenirs” – my collection of room keys over this trip would be such an example. Growing up, we bought one or two, tops, when we went on trips, and yes, I’m thankful for my parents instilling wisdom in this regard. Like any child, I’d invariably want half the gift shop, play with it once, and never enjoy it after. On the other extreme, at what point did I go to the other direction and summarily avoid gift shops because “I never buy anything in there anyway”, or embrace my inner fox, looking at all the “grapes” and calling them sour and basically avoid shopping entirely? I won’t go broke if I buy a T-Shirt or a coffee mug, will I? …I have eight days to figure this out.

Lizzy stayed behind, while I went back to the hotel. The Cast Member at the Skyway recognized my N7 shirt, the first one today who audibly did so.

When I got back to the hotel, a friend helped me fix a technical issue with my blog, finally.

Blogging. Bed.

Photo Round-Up #2

So many photos…

Bob picked me up from my hotel Monday night.

 

Myself, Eileen, and one of the grandkids at Cracker Barrel.

 

Shae and I in the gift shop.

 

Myself and Eileen, shortly before she left for work Monday morning.

 

Shae’s son and I outside Bob’s truck, in the parking lot of Epcot on Tuesday.

 

In the second Mass Effect game, one mission involves telling two Krogan that there are no fish in the presidium fountain. There were no fish in this pond at Epcot, either.

 

Tacos, guacamole, and a margarita in Mexico. First item on the agenda, first taken care of.

 

Bottom’s up! Not gonna lie though, bartenders are stingy and you pay theme park prices for drinks.

 

Within the Mexico attraction, there are many of these ceramic skulls, inspired by the movie “Coco”.

 

Donald is Beatrice’s favorite character. Viva Donald!

 

The monorails in the park look more dated than I remember – they have that “old futurisic” vibe that didn’t seem to age well.

 

Lizzy and I first being reunited after her plane landed.

 

A nighttime view on the smoking bench in the resort area where I blogged.

 

Despite multiple signs warning me about snakes and alligators, this rabbit is about the most unique animal I’ve seen on property so far.

 

Some of the buildings at the hotel are getting a facelift. I was rather disappointed that these things (of which there are many) don’t have googley eyes on them.

 

Christmas has started at Disney Springs.

 

Ariel outside the hotel.

 

Sunrise from my window.

 

A candid of myself, Beatrice, Dave, and Lizzy while waiting for the bus.

 

Christmas tree at the entrance of the Magic Kingdom.

Obligatory photo of Cinderella’s castle after walking in.

 

The clock at “It’s A Small World” was accurate – it was our third ride by 9AM.

 

The chandelier in the Haunted Mansion has lots of cobwebs. Someone needs a Swiffer.

 

A Mickey Waffle. One ear was already eaten.

 

Tinkerbell on her single-float parade; this was the first character making a lap around the park, at least that I saw.

 

Why is the rum gone? It’s not because I drank it! That’s coffee!!

 

These birds were around. It’s pretty clear they were looking for french fries.

 

Parade dancers down Main Street in Liberty Square. They definitely have the energy to smile a whole lot.

 

Donald and Daisy on a short parade float.

 

This house on Tom Sawyer Island: Tourist attraction.
This house on Long Island: $699,000.

 

A candid on the riverboat. I didn’t realize Beatrice photobombed until I reviewed the photos for upload.

 

A photo in a cave on Tom Sawyer Island.

 

The running water was lovely.

 

I’m not the only one! This guy was getting some work done on Tom Sawyer Island.

 

Teacup ride. Neither Lizzy nor I felt like spinning the middle thingy.

 

The Tron roller coaster, due to open next year. I’m glad they’re doing it, but Tron was from 1982, Tron: Legacy was from 2010…seems like quite a long time?

 

The Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor!

 

Stroller parking. So. Many. Strollers.

 

Cinderella’s Castle, evening lights.

 

Fireworks. Intelligent lights. Projection mapping. It was super impressive.

 

A SpaceX launch in the distance.

Day 9: Magic Kingdom

I’m long overdue for a photo dump…and if today is any indication, most of the rest of this blog is going to end up being done in photo form. I’m working on figuring out why I can’t get the WordPress mobile app to work; it’d let me better utilize my line time if I could…one day, but not today, because wow I’m tired.

Let’s see…

Lizzy and I were out the door a few minutes after 7. Yes, me, yes, 7. I’m chalking it up to “Disney Magic”. Here’s some highlights:

Maybe I simply don’t remember because of my age and the elapsed time since the last time I was here, but Lizzy is far from the only one focused on wearing Disney shirts. Here were some more memorable T-shirts I saw:

  • Countless “Mommy Mouse / Daddy Mouse / Auntie/Uncle Mouse / Brother/Sister Mouse” coordinated shirts. Some were customized and had the wearer’s name on it.
  • A blonde woman around my age with her daughter, maybe Kindergarten age. The woman was wearing an Elsa skirt and a tiara. Her top said “never grow up”.
  • One woman had her Minnie Mouse cosplay on point – the ears, the makeup, the black top and polka dot skirt, even yellow Nikes. Easily the best Minnie I saw.
  • Twin siblings, maybe 7 or 8, wearing matching Ariel shirts with their fire engine red hair in the exact same pony tail.
  • An obviously-pregnant woman with a shirt saying “Beauty and the Bump”. Her significant other was wearing a shirt that said “I’m her Beast”.
  • A family wearing Disney-stylized “Best Day Ever” shirts…except the dad, wearing a Disney-stylized “Most Expensive Day Ever” shirt.
  • A man wearing a shirt saying “My favorite Disney Princess is my wife”. Similarly, another man I saw wore a shirt saying “My favorite Disney Villain is my wife”. Rounding it out were two sisters with shirts saying “My favorite Disney villain is my (older/younger) sister”.
  • I really liked the fact that I got this reference because it’s one of the more obscure ones: a young girl dressed as a generic princess (seemed like some Cinderella / Elsa sort of thing; wasn’t particularly descript). The dad was wearing a shirt that had the “Princess Protection Program” logo, a nod to a Disney Channel TV-movie from the late 2000s.
  • But the one that had me laughing out loud was a man with a clearly-miffed Mickey Mouse on it, saying “I don’t do coordinated T-Shirts”. Lizzy informed me that this shirt is very unlikely for sale in the park; I would most definitely buy it if it were.

Okay, enough with the fashion show.

The bus on the way to the park definitely reminded me of home; every seat was filled and there were easily 20 straphangers. I was proud; it was a New York City Subway car. It was nice to have that experience here in vacationland.

 

We arrived in time for rope drop, and let me tell you, I might tease Lizzy for her extensive time spent planning, but I can’t argue with her results. “It’s a Small World” was the third ride we went on by 9AM. My feet hurt by the end of the day, but when you get half of Magic Kingdom done by dinner time, you learn quickly to pop Motrin by the bottle and soldier through.

I feel like I went to the Haunted Mansion when we went to Disney in 2005 or 2006, but I more remember it for the 1995 visit when my mom protested us going on it; consequently I was too scared to do so. As a result of dad’s insistence, I joined him, but I had my eyes closed literally the whole time…it wasn’t the best way to do such a ride. Going through it as an adult, it almost seems like a satire of haunted houses. It’s Lizzy’s favorite ride, and while I don’t know that I share all of her affinity, I do have a modicum of appreciation for how well done the ride is, with its visual effects and complete avoidance of jump scares and shock value in the process.

After Haunted Mansion, it was time for breakfast. I got a waffle and coffee…and the place we went to had a drink that came with a 50th anniversary commemorative straw. So I got the drink I didn’t particularly want just to get the straw for Lizzy…only to be disappointed that it’s one of those stupid paper straws. Shoot me now.

Tiki Room, Pirates of the Caribbean, and a few others.

Lizzy and family went to the Hall of Presidents; I ended up with a quick work call I took and stayed outside. I ended up catching a short parade, which was a nice silver lining. Some long-beaked birds were hanging out clearly waiting for tourists to drop their fries.

Steamboat, Tom Sawyer Island, Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, lots of walking around.

Just before lunch, it started to rain. A gentle drizzle that didn’t warrant anything at the beginning, and though it didn’t turn into a straight-up downpour, it was raining for most of the day.It’s an occupational hazard at Disney (though I don’t expressly remember rainy days either of the last times we went), but the bigger issue was that it was a bit cold throughout the day. Being that it was about 73 when we left the hotel and forecast to hit 80, no, I didn’t bring my jacket – ironically, I brought sunscreen.

Lunch at a restaurant with a Jungle Cruise theme, though we didn’t get on that particular ride today.

After lunch, Lizzy and I did our own set of rides as everyone else paired off in different directions.

Carousel, Teacups, People Mover, Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, Carousel of Progress, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger. Buzz was particularly amusing because the ride stopped a few times, giving me extra time to hit more targets. It seemed cheap, but I got about 295,000 points, several factors higher than anyone else whose score I saw.

Dinner was a quick service pizza from Pinnochio’s tavern; I was upset that of all places, there was no rum in Tortuga. Why is the rum gone? Anyway, separate topic. Annoyingly, they didn’t give me a lid for Lizzy’s drink, even when I asked for one…but my coffee cup lid fit properly, so why didn’t they give me one of those? That was an annoying game of don’t spill (spoiler: I did, slightly, when trying to open a particularly petulant door with my butt while carrying the tray and wearing my backpack).

Now, I was legitimately impressed by the evening fireworks show. Really, it wasn’t the fireworks that did it. See, for the 50th anniversary, they repainted Cinderella’s castle. For the fireworks show, they turned the whole thing into a projection screen. Light shows? Seen ’em. Fireworks? Raised on Grucci. Oddly shaped projection screens? owned one. Projecting a video clip of Elsa from Frozen raising her hand in the “magic pose” and then having fireworks launch as if she did it herself? Show the “fly outside the Axiom scene between Wall-E and Eva” and have them fly out out frame in perfect sync with two fireworks on spiral paths? Do all of this on a castle that is colored and looks nothing like a projection screen at all during the daylight? Yeah. THAT is impressive.

To top it all off, as I sat here blogging, I got to see a SpaceX shuttle launch in the distance.

7 miles and a shade under 20,000 steps today. Let’s see if I have enough energy tonight to get a photo dump out there for you.

Day 8: Taco Tuesday

I was super appreciative that Bob and Eileen let me use their washer and dryer while I stayed over. I didn’t have a lot of laundry, but it’s amazing how much even 14 days of clothing starts to get heavy when packing. Being able to avoid carrying 21 pairs of socks was as wonderful as not having to deal with the Disney Laundromat. I put a load in the night before, but I folded and repacked in the morning. It was a generally low key morning; Bob made breakfast and Eileen left shortly after it. She wouldn’t be home until after I’d left; while I assume I will be seeing her again at some point before I leave, I wasn’t anticipating seeing her today. One of the grandchildren was ‘home sick’ today…this claim was contested as the day progressed.

Bob drove me to the hotel so I could get my park pass and room key. According to Lizzy, there was at least some potential that the room would be ready beforehand as well. When we got to the gate, it was a bit awkward. I handed them my ID, but the reservation was, apparently, under Lizzy’s name. This would have been a problem if they required her ID, which was approximately 36,000 feet in the air at the time. Fortunately, my ID + her name + reservation number from the e-mail was enough to convince the guard that I was okay to stay.

The Art of Animation hotel is one of the ‘value resorts’, the on-premise property is clearly oriented for those with young children. Still, it’s clear that even the entry level locations are built to impress upon entrance. I spoke with an individual to get the park pass and ask if the room was ready; one out of two isn’t bad. After getting all my paperwork together, Bob, his grandson, and I went to Epcot to have lunch and kill some time.

When I was nine, my family took our first vacation to Disney. In retrospect, I’m particularly impressed with how my parents managed to make that happen at the time. With a week’s notice, dad booked a rental car, off-property hotel, Disney park passes, and airfare for four. This might not seem like a major thing now, but go ahead and try it! However, do what he did, and do it without the internet, without a cell phone, and without a credit card. How’d you do? …that’s what I thought.
This trip included the oft-recounted tale of having tacos in Mexico. When we did the World Showcase, we started on the opposite end of the showcase with the intent of ending up in Mexico. Seems logical, but as the day progressed, the time got away from us. We got to Mexico just as it closed, but an empathetic Cast Member conjured up tacos, nachos, and cinnamon twists, informing my dad that the stand was closed and that he couldn’t take his money. Well, to right this injustice, I got tacos, chips, guac, and a margarita before doing literally anything else. Then, the photos were taken and sent to my mom, my dad, and my sister, with the caption “First. [expletive]. Thing.” It was a good first stop at the park.

Lizzy enjoys wearing Disney-themed clothing as a matter of course. I, on the other hand, am ambivalent and would happily wear a black T-Shirt and jeans every day for the rest of my natural life, given the option. While unsurprising, it is clear that I am in the minority with respect to my feelings in this regard. Somewhere between one-third and one-half of the people here are wearing Mickey/Minnie ears. Ride and other souvenir shirts are common sights, but some people have particularly amusing things they’re wearing. One clearly-preganant woman was wearing a shirt that said “snacking for two”. I can’t remember the other one right now, but there were more than a few maternity themed tops I saw. One couple had a his-and-her set of tops where the man’s said “We’ll always be friends forever, won’t we?”, and hers said, “Yeah, forever”, quoting the Fox and the Hound. Another couple had his-and-hers shirts where one said “Ooglybear” and the other said “Schmootziepoo” from Monsters, Inc. A third had his-and-hers Mickey and Minnie ears; ‘Minnie’ had one of those lace veils coming from the back. On the flip side, one guy who was by himself had a shirt that said “single rider”. I’m sure it’s far from the last of the amusing Disney tie-ins I’ll see here, but while I wouldn’t exactly consider myself persuaded, I am glad that so many people are enjoying expressing themselves via their outerwear.

Shae came to pick her son up after we ate. Bob stayed with me a bit longer to help me address something else that happened: they wanted my fingerprint at the gate when I presented my ticket. And admittedly, I did it when we went in the park the first time, but I was really perplexed about that….and, not the biggest fan of biometric data being collected. I did a bit of reading about it over lunch, and like everyone else whose databases have leaked on to the dark web, those databases “weren’t collecting PII”…so, they do offer an opt-out, which they don’t tell you about (it’d have been nice to know that it was going to be necessary in the first place; not even the guy giving me my ticket told me), but you have to sign up for it and then they need to take your photo, and I’m okay with that, but I wish I didn’t have to Google for it after I did the fingerprint thing the first time. It wasn’t a huge deal, and at some level I do understand it (the concern is for people buying 10-day passes when they intend to stay for 5, then sell the other 5 days to someone else)…but it definitely was a turnoff and I was glad that Bob was willing to be patient as I dealt with that matter.

Bob and I hung out for a little bit longer, then we went to the hotel. Shortly after arrival, I finally met up with Lizzy, her sister, and her parents. We compared notes regarding flights and things, and I got one of those refillable mugs for the trip. Her plan was to go to Disney Springs and do some shopping. Personally, I’m not much of a souvenir guy, but I wanted to shuffle things around in the room as to ensure Lizzy had enough space to put her her things as well. The room is very well decorated and coordinated, but it’s easily the smallest I’ve been in so far on this trip, and yes, that includes the first night hotel. Space is at a premium everywhere; there are no closets, and the only additional furniture besides the beds are the table and chairs, and the TV stand that has three drawers in total. As a single traveler I could make do by using the second bed as a shelf, but I do anticipate Lizzy and I wanting for elbow room over the course of this trip. The room is also in the most distant building from the pool and the front desk; I’m glad Lizzy didn’t book the “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” rooms, but apparently there’s ‘tiering’ even at the value resorts.

I went outside to blog; three days to catch up on was going to take a while and I wanted to make sure I got it all in. I sat outside to do so; the bench I sat at was a smoking section. I sat next to a guy who is here with his fiancee from Knoxville, TN. We had a good discussion about life and relationships and things of that nature. Apparently, I not only look like an IT guy be having an IT guy’s laptop, I sound like an IT guy “because of how I communicate”. I…I choose to believe that was a compliment? Anyway, my shirt smells a bit like cigarette smoke (he smoked three while we talked), but I think I may spend a bit more time blogging on smoker benches just as a way of meeting other vacationers here.

I got on a bus and headed to Disney Springs, where Lizzy spent some time doing a bit of shopping. There was already Christmas music playing. I wasn’t interested in doing much shopping, but it was as good a place as any to get dinner. We did so, during which I caught her up on my Florida trip so far, the hotel drama, and so on. We did a bit more walking, and headed back to the hotel.

I put in 5.5 miles and nearly 17,000 steps today…and it’s not even a “real” park day.

Day 7: Boringsauce and Cracker Barrel

My phone call yesterday was to my boss to determine whether it would be beneficial for me to plan to get work done on Monday. It would be another day before Disney would start, and while I could certainly spend some time getting some more assorted projects done (what, you think I ran out of them?), I also knew it would be helpful to my coworkers to have someone able to answer the phones and e-mails and things as they did a few on-site visits that I’d ordinarily do personally, but, y’know…thousand mile distance and all that. I had my last morning breakfast, and they sold some ramen noodle bowls in a small area of the hotel, so that was lunch.

Dinner, on the other hand, was an enjoyable reunion with my friends Bob and Eileen. I’ve known them for nearly 30 years; Eileen was the cheerleading coach at my old high school; I DJ’d for the annual elementary school cheer camp for nearly 20 years before Covid put the kibosh on that; it’s unclear whether it’ll return. Bob is a general contractor who does a fantastic job; you can tell he loves his family because of how he takes care of them. Their daughter Shae and her two children joined us at Cracker Barrel.

I have this theory that the food at Cracker Barrel is only there to drive traffic to their gift shop, where all the children bug their parents for this random toy they’ll play with twice. As Yogurt once said, “Moichindizing…where the REAL money from the movie is made!”. Fine, there’s no movie…but the meat loaf dinner was on point and once ground beef comes down to a sane price again, I’ll give it a go myself. The six of us caught up on the last several years; all of them asked me to move down there. I’ll make sure my family knows that there’s competition for my destination.

When I got home, Bob, Eileen, and I talked over a Hallmark Christmas movie…but, less so, to the point where I was able to follow the general plot points in this one. A generally-pretty, mid-30’s, NYC Martha Stewart type with no time for a family gets in a car accident and loses her memory. She is rescued by a predictably-handsome widower with three perfectly-behaved children who miss their mom. Romance ensues until the publicist and boyfriend show up to take her home, and once she gets there, she realizes what she’s been missing and goes back to tall-dark-and-handsome’s arms to raise the children and starts to film her cooking show from the middle of Colorado instead, having kissed, married, and everyone having the “best Christmas ever”. See, I paid attention!

Blog. Sleep.