Last weekend, I took a lightening-quick trip to Walt Disney World. Less than 3 full days, only 4 attractions total, only two parks, but still an incredible time…
On Friday, I left work about 2 hours early and flew down from Albany to Orlando. I got on the Magical Express bus over to All Star Sports, checked in, and deposited my luggage in my room (in the Football section of the resort). I then got in line for the Epcot bus, and headed over to that park. The original main point of this trip was an IllumiNations Dessert Party hosted by Bryan Ripper and Jonathan Dichter, late of the All About The Mouse podcast. By the time I arrived in Epcot, however, the group had already started walking over to the viewing location. Bryan was awesome enough to give me his cellphone number beforehand, so I was able to call him when I arrived in Epcot and find out where they all were. I met up with Bryan and got my admission to the party. It was the viewing area just past the bridge from the UK to France. Truly an awesome place to watch the show.
During the dessert party, I met not only Bryan, but also Jonathan (and Jonathan’s infant daughter, Elizabeth), and also Mike Scopa. I thanked them all profusely for all they’ve done for the Disney Fan community, especially inspiring me to run the various Disney races. IllumiNations itself was as incredible as ever, of course. Before the party dispersed, Jonathan and Bryan gave away two pairs of tickets for the Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party on 12/2. Only myself and one other party attendant were planning on going to the party that day, so we were the two recipients. Awesome.
Leaving Epcot after the party, I went back to All Star Sports, got some fruit from the food court, and headed back to my room. I had to go to sleep early and set my alarm for 4:30am. The next morning, you see, I was running in Mickey’s Halloween 5K Family Fun Race. I woke up bright and early, ate the fruit I bought the previous night, and got into my race gear. Then over to the buses (for which they had the signs incorrectly marked, but eventually told me where go, so that was fine). The race start was at the Transportation and Ticket Center. They had a “late” packet-pickup there, for those of us who weren’t able to get to the Wide World of Sports the previous day. So I got my bib, shirt, and pin, and then immediately checked the bag again. Then it was a good 90 minutes of standing around waiting for the race to start. A whole bunch of people were in costumes, which was very cool to see.
At 7am, the race began, and we all took off (there are no corrals in the 5k, just signs marking where people with different expected paces should stand). for the first half-mile or so, it really wasn’t even possible to run, because it was just so crowded. We ran from the TTC, under the water bridge, and then over to the Magic Kingdom. The MK portion of this 5k was nothing like the MK portion of the half-marathon. We actually ran in the front entrance, just past the turnstiles and underneath the train station. All the way down Main St, and then a left into Adventureland. Past Pirates of the Carribean, into Frontierland. Past Big Thunder and Splash Mountains, then back up the main corridor of Frontierland. Into Liberty Square, and back to the hub we went. Throughout this entire race there have been various Disney characters in their Halloween costumes. Mickey as a farmer, Minnie as a which, Chip & Dale as a cop & robber, etc. And now here in front of the castle are all the villains. I wish my pace was faster so that I could afford the time to stop for pictures with them.
From the hub, we go into Fantasyland (which, by the way, is pretty much a mess right now), and then into Tomorrowland. We exit the Magic Kingdom through what used to be the Galaxy Palace Theater (ie, between Buzz Lightyear and the Carousel of Progress). Outside the park, we ran back down the same path that we took going toward the Magic Kingdom, which meant back down beneath the water bridge again. I could have done without that hill, frankly. And then… done. After just running a half-marathon the month before, this little 5k seemed incredibly short to me. But I was glad I did it, of course. I got my little 5k (rubber) medal and a goodie bag that included both real food & drink (banana, muffin, powerade, etc) and – because it was a Halloween-themed 5k – candy. Hah. I got back on the bus to All Star Sports, showered, and got into more normal park clothes. Time to hit the parks!
I took the bus back to Epcot and walked from the front entrance all the way to the back entrance, and out of the park, over to the Boardwalk. Lou Mongello of the WDW Radio Show podcast, was having his meet of the month outside the Boardwalk Bakery this morning. So I stopped over there for a bit to chat with Lou for a few minutes. He gave me his recommendations for the Food & Wine Festival Booths, and I told him how much I was looking forward to the cruise next year. I also met Beci Mehnken for the first time, and told her how awesome my travel agent, Stephanie Hudson, is. She said she was always glad to hear that and would make sure to relay the kudos to Stephanie.
Okay, now I went back into Epcot. It was a light-crowd day so I went and waited in the Soarin’ stand-by queue even though we were about an hour past the park-opening time. It was about a 35 minute wait. Of course I waited for B1. While I was waiting, another family came down to wait with me. They were all happy and proud of themselves that they’d managed to “manipulate” themselves into the best seats by coercing the Cast Member and begging for the highest/most-central seats. I burst their bubble slightly by saying “All you have to do is ask for B1. I do, every time.”
After Soarin’, World Showcase was now open, so I started my snacking-around-the-world, which would take the place of lunch today. I had a lot of great food. Lamb Sliders, Cheddar Cheese soup, Fisherman’s Pie, and Escargo, to name a few. By now, it was about 12:15 or so, and I headed over to the old Wonders of Life pavilion, which now serves as the Festival Welcome Center. I had bought tickets to two culinary demonstrations and one beverage seminar, all happening one after another, starting at 1pm. So I wandered around the center for a while, saw a short film (in the old Making of Me theater) about the process vineyards go through year-round, and browsed the shops. The first demonstration was by “Chef Bob”, who apparently has recently gotten his own show on PBS called “UCook with Chef Bob”. He demonstrated making a (very large) seared scallop with fennel and a basil & caper butter sauce. As the demonstration neared completion, servers brought out samples of the dish for each of us. It was beyond delicious. Ohhhh if only I could cook, like, at all. 🙁
Next up, at 2pm, was a presentation by a winemaker from Chile. It started with a video, and then moved into a Powerpoint Presentation, and finally ended with us sampling three of his wines. Here’s where I hit the wall. It was a combination of a) waking up at 4:30am, b) running the 5k, c) walking all over Epcot and the Boardwalk earlier, d) sitting down now, e) not really being able to understand the presenter through his heavy Chilean accent, and f) not really caring about wine. All that added up to me nodding off a couple times during the presentation. I felt bad about it, of course, but not really a whole lot I could do. I’m glad I did the beverage seminar, just so I had the experience and knew what it was. But it’s not something I’ll do again if I go back during the Food & Wine Festival.
At 3pm was my final culinary demonstration. This one was Roquefort Cheesecake, presented by a female chef who was also, coincidentally, from Chile. This is not what you think of a cheesecake at all. It was very different, being based on blue cheese. It also contained walnuts and dried cranberries, and was on a base of a thick bread. It was wonderful. This is the third or fourth time I’ve been at WDW during the F&WF, and the first time I’d even walked into the Festival Center. Very very cool. I’m sure I’ll make the culinary demonstrations a regular part of future F&WF visits.
Around 4pm now. I went over to Test Track and got into the Single Rider line. No more than a 10 minute wait, which is great. Just before my vehicle appeared, two other people from the Single Rider queue tried to cheat the system, by getting out of the lines they’d been assigned and into the same one together, while the CM’s back was turned. He caught them and forced them to separate. Good for him. I hate jerks who try to “cheat” like that.
After Test Track, I went back into World Showcase, and made my way over to Germany. Bryan Ripper was hosting a small meet at Biergarten, at about 6pm. I was early , of course, but I spent my time wandering around the shops in Germany (and also fighting a losing battle with my iPhone, trying to convince it that it had service so I could check-in to my flight tomorrow). The dinner ended up being about 30 minutes later than planned, so we were all just standing there in the Germany Pavilion courtyard talking for a good 30-45 minutes, which was actually kinda cool. I don’t often meet new people, so when I do, having those people be fellow Disney-obsessed nutcases is a good thing. This was my first time eating at Biergarten. I thought the food was very good. The buffet is heavily meat-centric, which is just fine by me. We were on one of the far edges of the second level, so it was hard to accurately hear the performers on the stage below, but it was fun nonetheless.
When dinner was complete, I went over to the Magic Kingdom to watch Wishes. Haven’t seen the show since January, since there was a summer-nighttastic fireworks show when I was here with Amanda in July. I *love* this show. And I don’t know if it was just how long since I’ve seen it, or if they actually made changes during its brief respite, but many parts felt either new or refreshed to me. It’s just spectacularly well done, regardless. I also went into full Disney-geek mode and inserted myself into the conversation of the family waiting to watch it next to me, answering questions they were wondering about amongst themselves. They didn’t seem to mind, fortunately. And it led to having someone to talk to for the 25 minutes or so before the show began. So all good.
The Magic Kingdom was open until midnight tonight, so after the fireworks I went over to the Haunted Mansion and then to the Jungle Cruise. This is the first time I’ve ever been on the Jungle Cruise at night, and that was very cool. A lot of different jokes were told. Coming out of Shirley’s Temple, the skipper actually launched into a parody of the Spiderman theme song. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but he ended with something like “And I can sing this because now we own the song!” Hahahah. It had been a long day, and I’d been awake for about 18 or 19 hours now, so it was time to head back to the hotel. Fortunately, nearly no wait for a bus back to All Stars. I got back to my room, and pretty much collapsed instantly.
The next morning, I woke up around 7:30am, and packed up my luggage. I had the banana from the 5k goodie bag for breakfast, then took my bags down to luggage services to be stored. It took me a couple tries to make the CM understand that I knew all about Resort Airline Check In, but didn’t want to check my bags into the airline, because I didn’t want to deal with baggage claim at my home airport. I *wanted* to take my bags on the plane with me. This seemed incomprehensible to the guy for some reason.
Anyway, I went back to the Magic Kingdom. The plan for today was to listen to all five of Lou Mongello’s Audio Guides to Walt Disney World while actually walking around the park, seeing what Lou was describing. I started with Main St USA. He covered a LOT of details that I never noticed before, including things on both levels of the train station, the fire station, the car barn, and a LOT of windows on Main St. Unfortunately I really didn’t take into account the time it would take to walk from one part of the street to the others, so after all the pausing and resuming, the 1:20:00 audio guide took closer to 2 full hours. It also didn’t help my time that I met Scoop Sanderson for the first time, and did some pin trading with him. He wears a whole bunch of lanyards, including one that basically goes down to his feet.
So by the time I finished Main St, I was hungry for lunch. Remembering how awesome Trail’s End was from when I was there with Amanda in July, I took out my iPhone and made a reservation on Disney’s mobile dining reservation website (which worked pretty much perfectly, fwiw). So I took a boat over to Fort Wilderness, having JUST missed the previous boat, so I had a bit of a wait. When I got over to Fort Wilderness and checked in at the restaurant, the server told me as she was seating me that it’s no longer a buffet. Say WHAT?! Dang it! That buffet was the reason I came over here. I looked at the menu and really nothing appealed to me at all. No pulled pork, no corn on the cob, the fried chicken only available in a “fried chicken and waffles” dish. What the heck? Ugh. But whatever I was far too hungry to take a boat or bus somewhere else for food at this point. So I sat down and ordered the chicken & waffles. Don’t get me wrong, both the chicken and waffles were very good – it just wasn’t what I wanted. In fact, I can’t imagine EVER wanting waffles for lunch. I was told this non-buffet menu was a “test” expected to last until January. The first thing I did when I got back was send an email to Disney guest relations telling them that in my mind, the test failed.
Back over to the Magic Kingdom (again being my Disney-geek self and striking up conversation with another couple, this time from Hawaii) I went. By now I realized I wasn’t going to have time to listen to all five audio guides. So I decided to do Toontown Fair, since this is quite likely the last chance I’ll have to see it. Holy crap. There is so much more detail and storyline in that land than I ever guessed or noticed. The number of times I’d been through Mickey’s and Minnie’s houses (correction – Mickey and Minnie’s COUNTRY houses. As the AG explained, the storyline is that the Toons *live* in Toon Town in Disneyland, and they VACATION here, for the country fair that’s going on. That’s why the houses are listed like that on the guide maps. They’re the mouses’ vacation homes.) without seeing all the details and connections to the Country Fair theme…. it’s just incredible. I so very much wish I was able to take more new people to the park now that I have all this new knowledge and show it off to them, but alas, Toontown Fair’s days are numbered.
I took a quick walk through Fantasyland to see how it’s doing, before leaving the park. To be charitable, it’s a mess. There is one gigantic construction wall stretching all the way from Toontown over to Pinocchio’s Village House. There is another surrounding the Mad Tea Party, and it looks like the roof was being taken off of that attraction. Is it being moved? Or just refurbed? No idea. And there is another wall in front of the tree which is now in front of the queue of Winnie the Pooh. The whole thing is just really really ugly. I feel sorry and (bizarrely, I know) ashamed for anyone visiting for the first time during all this. This is NOT how Fantasyland should be presented to people seeing it for the first time.
I did some quick shopping on Main St on the way out, and made my way back to All Star Sports, where I caught a Magical Express bus back to the airport, and then flew home.
The good: the culinary demonstrations
The bad: Trail’s End menu
The magical: IllumiNations dessert party, meeting all these uber-Disney-fans I’ve been listening to for years.