Sunday, January 19, 2014

Walt Disney World...and thoughts about Disneyland

Let me first say that I was initially introduced to Disney's theme parks back in 1995 with a volleyball trip to WDW for the Junior Nationals when I was between high school and college.  We were there over 4th of July weekend all I remember are the insane crowds, eating at a steak house in the Contemporary and the Port Orleans forward to my early 20s where I went some 4 times the span of about 4 years.  Two times as one day trips when I was in the area for work and then two vacations with Joe.  I became a huge disney fan at that time.

But, I hadn't been to WDW since 2004.  A lot has changed and I now consider Disneyland "my" resort.  It's a lot easier to see in a shorter time, the low seasons are REALLY low (even on weekends), the lines for character photos isn't bad at all and now, important things like walking distance to reasonably priced hotels means a lot.  WDW has the advantage of space...and they utilize that to the fullest when putting rides and areas together!

I was so excited to see WDW again...both from a touring perspective and running.  The parks are in the middle of a huge expansion (recent Fantasyland opening in MK and then Avatar "land" under construction in Animal Kingdom.  FastPass+ is replacing the old fastpass system and the Magic Bands are now an all-in-one room key, photo pass, credit card for meals and souvenirs, park ticket and fast pass ticket.  We didn't get to use the Magic Bands because we were staying at Shades of Green (on-property but not part of the Disney hotel system).

We hit Magic Kingdom the first day...there were favorites like Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters, Tiki Room, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and a few others that were must-dos.  By and large, I have to say that I LOVE the DL versions of many of the rides MUCH more than the MK versions...Space Mountain and Buzz are at the top of that list.

That's not to say that we didn't have fun at MK!  On my last night there, we went to Be Our Guest in the new Fantasyland and I was BLOWN AWAY.  Wow - just the details that Disney is so amazing at were stellar.  We were in the much desired West Room with the rose and some magic details that happen every so often.  Our host, the Beast, came to visit us every now and then to welcome up...and, a first for Magic Kingdom, the restaurant serves wine.  This was a huge controversy when the restaurant opened last year...but Disney defended it saying that it very much went with the theme of France and it added greatly to the quality of the meal.  I couldn't agree more!

So, this is a popular restaurant.  WDW dining reservations are available 180 days from the day you want to dine and the reservations open at 6am Eastern time.  This restaurant is so popular that the ADRs typically fill up (still) within minutes...and at the very most, hours for a given day. Not wanting to leave things to chance and because I'm a huge planner when it comes to Disney (SHOCKING!), I woke up at 3am to make the reservation.

And I was so glad I did.  This restaurant exceeded all expectations....I hadn't read too many reviews so that I would have some element of surprise and I was so happy with that decision!

The Rose Room

The Magical Rose...petals drop during the dinner service

The Music Box with Belle and Beast

Beasts Chair

The Fireplace in the main greeting room

As everyone leaves, they get a chance to take a photo with their host, Beast

Beast's Castle

 Back when Joe and I had visited, Hollywood Studios was known as the MGM or something like that.  At the time, they had the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" show that occupied a lot of our time there.  The only new thing for me was Toy Story's ride...I've ridden the DL version but all the comparisons I read indicated that the WDW version was far superior...unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be.  The ride was down the whole time we were there.

And, the crowds were there that day in force.  It was an Extra Magic Hour and with so few actual "rides" - most of the things in HS are "experiences" and shows, the rides were especially crowded.  This was complicated by the fact that the folks I was with violated the #1 rule of touring Disney Parks on EMH days...we arrived 45 minutes AFTER park opening - not 40 minutes before.  The planner in me was dying as we were dinking around in the room, but considering that we were there to run and not to see the parks like crazy tourists...I went with it.

We did get to go on Tower of Terror and Rock n Roller coaster pretty easily...what an awesome time.  I still, after all kinds of times riding these two rides, adore the theming, music and total experience that Disney is so great at putting together.

In addition to running through Epcot twice, we went there a few times for rides, Illuminations and then a relaxing dinner at the Rose and Crown pub post-marathon.  I hadn't been on the new test track since it had been refurbished.  I kind of miss the old "test" theme, but the new ride is certainly fun!

And no trip to Disney would be complete without a Mickey Bar!

The surprise of the trip for me, in terms of rides and experiences in the parks, was Expedition Everest.  I had read NOTHING about this roller coaster other than it was awesome. EE was added to Animal Kingdom in 2006...and was a much needed thrill ride in the park...

Without spoiling anything, this was amazing.  Disney had the theme of an Everest expedition down pat with climbing gear, Tibetian prayer flags and beautiful details everywhere.  I was SO surprised at some of the elements that this roller coaster had as part of it...for a first time ride, I was thrilled and so happy with the experience.  This is true joy for me!

We also did the Kilimanjaro Safari...they changed the story from last time (used to be poacher based) to much more conservationist based.  I love how disney has the habitats and the food sources...there are no obvious boundaries between the various areas. 

While in AK, we did some great photos with Winnie the Pooh and Tigger.  Let me just say that if you bounce while approaching Tigger, he'll get in some pretty good hops!

Finally...a glimpse of the celebration drink that my friends and I had at the Polynesian the evening of our marathon.  It was a well earned drink and thoroughly enjoyed.

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