I recently stumbled upon the “journal entry” I made on my old website after I got back from my first-ever WDW vacation, in December 2004. This is the trip that my friends Kevin & Kelly took me on. Previous to this trip, I knew pretty much nothing about Walt Disney World. I didn’t even know there were multiple theme parks – I thought that “Epcot” was the big golfball thing and that the “countries” I’d heard about were somehow inside the ball. I was hooked more or less instantly during this quick trip. So just for the heck of it, here is what I would now call a Trip Report from that very first trip:
I’m home from Walt Disney World. I wanna go back!! Four days is simply not enough time to spend there. That was the most fun I’ve had and happiest I’ve been in a long, long time. Pictures from my trip can (for now) be found at http://www.cs.rpi.edu/~lallip/WDW/ I need to apply some Photoshop skills to a few of them, and a few are blurry beyond hope of repair, but there you have it.
I left for WDW Friday morning at 7am, after staying up all night playing video games with Josh, Charlene, and Kate. Josh drove me to the airport. I arrived in Orlando around 2:30pm, and met up with Kevin, Kelly, and Jasmine. We decided to use that afternoon and evening for rest and settling in. They had gotten a time share hotel for the week, just a few minutes from the parks. So we settled in, I went swimming with Jasmine while they grocery shopped, and we went out to a lobster & seafood buffet for dinner.
Saturday we went to the Disney/MGM Studios theme park. I was officially in Walt Disney World. 🙂 We hit pretty much every major attraction we wanted to, including: Beauty & The Beast stage show, Rockin Rollercoaster, Tower of Terror, Muppetvision 3D, Star Tours, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, and the Indiana Jones Stunt spectacular. At the end of the night, we saw Fantasmic. Oh. My. God. Absolutely, amazingly, fabulously spectacular. I’ve never seen anything quite like that. I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s part theatre, part stunt show, part laser/lights show, part cinema. The two bits I’ll take the most from that show are the motion picture being displayed on a vertical wall of water, and the ending, which featured a giant steamboat with all the characters, being pilotted by none other than Steamboat Willie himself, a black-and-white Mickey Mouse.
On Sunday, Kevin and Kelly went to visit her brother and nieces and nephews. They dropped me off at Epcot in the morning. I decided to only do Future World. The World Showcase just didn’t hold that much interest for me. I did just about everything in Future World, but didn’t get into the Innovations buildings before I left. I was rather pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed most of the attractions, given that I’d always been led to believe Epcot is more education than entertainment. I heartilly recommend the Living the Land tour, Honey I Shrunk the Audience, and Ellen’s Energy Adventure (if only because I’m a sucker for Bill Nye).
Around 4pm or so, I left Epcot and took the monorail over to the Magic Kingdom. Now, if you know me at all, you know how obsessed I am with all things Disney. And pretty much the world over, the iconic image that comes to mind when someone says “Disney World” is Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom. So you can imagine how I felt upon seeing that massive structure when I entered the park. Folks, I literally had tears in my eyes. In any case, I only hit a few things while I was there: Buzz Lightyear’s Spin, Stitch’s Great Escape, Splash Mountain, and Philharmagic. After that, and some shopping, I called K&K and had them pick me up.
Monday morning, all four of us went back to the Magic Kingdom. We started out in Tomorrowland – by which I mean Kevin and I went to Tomorrowland to get Fastpasses for Space Mountain while Kelly and Jasmine got their fill of character photos and autographs. Kevin and I went on Buzz Lightyear’s Spin and the Carrousell of Progress, and saw the TimeKeeper performance (Robin Williams never ceases to be funny!). After the girls joined us, we did Space Mountain and then headed towards Frontier Land. Splash Mountain was temporarily closed, so we got fastpasses for Big Thunder Mountain. We then took a raft over to Tom Sawyer’s Island. I left the other three there for a bit and went to get a FastPass for Haunted Mansion. When they returned to the mainland, we went on Big Thunder Mountain, and the recently re-opened Splash Mountain. By that point, it was time for our FastPass at Haunted Mansion. (In case you hadn’t noticed, we made extremely good use of the Fast Pass system). Later in the evening, we made it to Fantasy Land where we did Philharmagic, Peter Pan, and Winnie the Pooh. We also briefly went into Mickey’s Toontown Fair to get some character autographs and photos. We ended the day near the Main Street hub to watch the Christmas Parade and the Wishes fireworks show.
Tuesday was my final day at Florida. We started off by returning to the Magic Kingdom to hit what we missed – namely Adventure Land. We did Pirates of the Carribean, Jungle Cruise, and Swiss Family Treehouse before taking off back to Epcot. By this point, I was completely exhausted. So we did Spaceship Earth, Honey I Shrunk the Audience, and Journey into Imagination all again, and then just stopped and amused myself by watching the kiddies play in the random fountain while Kelly and Jas went on Mission: Space. When they were done, it was time to bring me to the airport.
I cannot express enough what a fantastic time I had, nor how thoroughly impressed I was with almost every aspect of the Disney World experience. But let me list first my very few complaints regarding the parks:
- Mission: Space was way overhyped. It’s really nothing more than another flight simulator (like Star Tours and Body Wars), but with more Gs
- Similarly, Stitch’s Great Escape was a large disappointment. I waited over half an hour, even with the Fast Pass. After the pre-show, they take you into a circular room and you put on the shoulder harness. Stitch appears in the center, then the lights go out. You hear his voice behind you, and the harness presses down, supposedly making you think Stitch is jumping on you. And that’s it. No where near worth the wait.
- More than a couple times I was annoyed that there was no where to put my belongings before getting on a ride. Even Six Flags generally has little bins you can put your stuff into before getting on. This was especially lacking at Splash mountain, where I had to take great care – and still wasn’t 100% successful – to avoid getting a book and my camera wet.
Other than that, however, the trip was simply wonderful. If I were to list my own personal Can’t Miss attractions from the three parks I visited, they would include:
- Fantasmic. Words cannot describe how good this show is. You really just have to see it to understand.
- MuppetVision 3D. This was the first of the 3D movies I saw while there. Almost non-stop laughs. Whatever you do, make sure you arrive early enough for the pre-show.
- Philharmagic. A simply incredible 3D movie. The 3D effects are used absolutely perfectly. The integrations with the famous Disney musical numbers are nonstop.
- Tower of Terror. From what I understand, the floor you’re taken to before the final drop is random, so every ride is different. I wish I’d taken more than one, just to see.
- Space Mountain. Not as fast and certainly not as steep or as tall as some coasters I’ve been on, but the concept of the dark ride makes up for it in spades
- Spash Mountain. When I think about the Flume at Six Flags, all I can do now is just laugh. The sights and sounds in Spash Mountain make 6F’s flume look like a elementary school art project. And the Brer Rabbit storyline keeps you entertained throughout the entire ride.
- Living The Land. I was thoroughly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. The description (“A boat ride showcasing innoventions in farming”) is incredibly deceptive. It is truly very interesting stuff.
- Ellen’s Energy Adventure – the ‘ride’ itself is nothing special, but if you’re a fan or either Ellen Degeneris or Bill Nye the Science Guy, you have to see this one. Again, make sure you see the pre-show.
- The Timekeeper. Robin Williams never disappoints, and the concept of 360 degree vision is pretty damned cool.
What makes the overall experience truly enjoyable, however, are the little things. First and foremost is the biggest little thing: Fast Pass. This concept is just so well done. For the unaware: the vast majority of big attractions have what they call “Fast Pass”. Near the entrance to each is a little kiosk with five or six machines. You stick your admission ticket into the machine and it gives you a piece of paper that lists the attraction as well as a time window during which you can come back to the ride. At any point during that window, return to the attraction. Rather than getting in line, you head to what they call “Fast Pass Return”. You skip the entire line (often composed of several hundred people), and go right to the front. We were able to hit about twice as many things with Fast Pass as we would have been able to without it.
Next little thing: The storylines that accompany most of the rides. The most notable one is Brer Rabbit in Splash mountain, but every attraction does tell a story in its own way.
The pre-show entertainment. Rather than make you wait in line the entire time before the attraction starts or the ride is ready, when you near the front of the line, you’re herded to a pre-show area. This will sometimes show you a video, or sometimes be a animatronic performance. It generally serves to prepare you for the storyline the ride is about to present to you. It’s a very nice little addition that people probably wouldn’t be pining for if it had never existed, but that is very much appreciated now that it does.
Non-stop loading. At several rides, the cars continuously load and unload, rather than arriving at the unloading area, unloading, proceding to the loading area, and loading. This is accomplished through the use of moving walkways at the start and end of the ride. The walkways move at the same speed as the ride, completely eliminating the time needed to load or unload.
Package pickup. At any of the parks, when you buy merchandise, you can have the cashier send it to the main gate for you. Rather than carry bags with you all day long, you simply go to the Package pickup area when you’re ready to leave, and they give you all your purchases. I understand that if you’re staying at a Disney hotel, they’ll even send your purchases directly to your hotel room.
The character meet and greets. Why Six Flags – with their boat load of Warner Bros characters – hasn’t done this, I don’t understand. Your little munchkin can buy an autograph book from pretty much any shop at the parks. Then throughout their trip, characters are located throughout all the parks (although I’m not sure I saw any at Epcot). Some of the characters appear randomly on the streets for random periods of time, and some are at specific locations for specific times. The characters sign the autograph books, and pose for pictures. The Disney cast member in attendence with the characters will take your picture and give you a card (a “Photo pass”) that directs you to a website to see all your pictures. One of the cutest things (in my mind) about this is that all of the characters who happen to be title characters have autographs that look remarkably like their movie’s logo. I have to wonder how long each character actor has to practice to get his/her signature correct.
The overall attention to detail throughout Walt Disney World is outstanding. There is nothing that looks half-done. More correctly, there is nothing that looks even 99% done. Everywhere you go, you get the impression that everything is *exactly* the way it is ‘supposed’ to look, exactly the way it looked in the designers’ minds. Every leaf, every scale model, every blinking light, every stroke of paint. They all contribute to the complete picture.
I cannot wait to go back. Even after the first day, I knew I would never be able to go back to Six Flags and enjoy it like I have before. Walt Disney World just blows Six Flags away in every conceivable category. I don’t know when I’ll return, of course. My hope is to help organize a group vacation amongst my friends. Finances and schedules would need to be worked out of course. But really, no matter what, I will be back there, sooner rather than later. Both to revisit everything, and because I know there’s so much more that I didn’t get to this time around.
Obviously, I have an overwhelming amount of gratitude towards Kevin and Kelly for this vacation. I cannot thank them enough for this trip. It meant so much to me. Kevin, Kelly – from the absolute bottom of my heart – thank you so very, very much.