Day 1: Fly In, Check In, Epcot
We arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport around 2 hours before our flight was scheduled to leave at 10. Security was a breeze, and McDonald’s was enjoyed before getting in line for our seating group on the Southwest flight. Because we got a good package through a travel agency, we had paper tickets, and thus ended up in boarding group C. I do not understand why Southwest insists on doing things this way—people start standing in line for their section more than an hour before takeoff, and people who can’t buy their tickets online get last seats regardless of how early they arrive at the airport.
Aside from the unusual seating, the flight was uneventful. The flight attendants were friendly and courteous, and the employee on the microphone was quite the comedian. It’s refreshing to have air staff who actually seem to enjoy (or at least tolerate) their jobs. The flight landed on time two hours later at the beautiful (newly renovated?) Orlando International Airport. Since we were staying at a Disney hotel, they took care of our bags for us, so we simply ate at the food court and went on our way. Things were running smoothly until it came time to pick up our car from Budget. The queue was full, yet the company only had 2 people working the computers… it took almost an hour to get through the line. We ended up with a white PT cruiser and started down on the ridiculous toll road down to Disney.
After a quick stop at a Publix along the highway to pick up some toiletries and snacks for the hotel room, we drove the rest of the way to the WDW complex. Around 3:00 we arrived at our hotel for the week, the All Star Music resort. Even though we were the only ones in the queue waiting to check in, a lady from the concierge desk came over and invited us to check in on her computer. This was a very nice gesture, though I shouldn’t have been surprised—Disney employees never failed to impress us the entire week. She was friendly throughout the entire process, and kindly explained to us how “fun visits” work, which seem to have been implemented since our last time at Disney (3 years ago). (For those who haven’t visited the parks recently, you get X number of fun visits on your Water Parks and More pass, each of which counts for admission at a water park, DisneyQuest, or Pleasure Island.) They ended up placing us in Country Fair, in a room that was perhaps the furthest possible from the main building. Facing the woods gave us plenty of encounters with wildlife, including two overly friendly raccoons. At our room we were greeted by towels rolled up in the shape of the mouse ear logo on the bed, and towel animals placed in the window. I couldn’t help grinning—it’s these little touches that make Disney so special, even at the budget resorts. After putting things away, we ran off to our first park of the week, Epcot.
Arriving in the parking lot around 5:30, we were greeted by something that we’ve never experienced before in Orlando: nice weather! The temperature was in the low 80’s, and the humidity was barely noticeable. This wonderful weather followed us around the entire week, with the only uncomfortable days being Monday at Busch Gardens (perhaps this was from the lack of shade and water fountains), and the last day, which was exceptionally humid as a result of the tropical storm going through.
Following tradition, we made our first ride of our Disney trip Spaceship Earth. There really isn’t much to say about the ride except that it’s very efficient, and the special touches such as the smell of burning wood make it an enjoyable trip every time. Opting to skip the interactive exhibit area after the ride, we decided to go around the park in a counter-clockwise motion, placing us at the aquarium.
The Seas with Nemo and Friends
Disney has replaced the original sea elevator thingamagigs (excuse the lack of proper terminology) and optional film for a people mover-based ride featuring the cast of Finding Nemo. The queue has been designed to look like you are walking under water—the rails look like coral, while there are boats and piers above you with fiber-optics to look as if they were creating disturbances in the water’s surface. Despite a full queue and a posted 20-minute wait, the line never slowed below a quick walking pace, and we boarded the clamshell-shaped vehicles in about 15 minutes. Even by Disney standards, I found the ride to be extremely juvenile. The first half of the ride consists of video screens in rock formations showing video of different fish trying to find Nemo. This is followed by the only impressive part of the ride, a large fish (pardon my generic description, but I never saw Finding Nemo) on a robotic arm chasing around a smaller fish. This was followed by a long tunnel covered in another video screen, followed by the characters being projected onto the windows of the aquarium, making it look as if they were actually in the water. I’m not sure if it was the lack of space or what, but this evidently low-budget ride was the only disappointing new attraction in WDW. I think the queue was more entertaining than the ride itself. Given that we only had 4 or 5 hours until close, we quickly checked out the exhibits and left the Seas.
Living with the Land
Next we headed over to The Land to see what the situation was with Soarin’. Upon arriving in the bottom level of the pavilion, we were greeted by a 120 minute wait and sold out Fast Passes. Opting to skip the ride for the day, we decided to ride on Living with the Land, which had a 5 minute wait. For those unfamiliar with this, uh, timeless classic, it’s basically a narrated boat ride which first takes you through three natural simulated ecosystems before taking you through the Epcot greenhouses to see what new growing techniques are being worked on. The ride is somewhat interesting, but nothing I’d wait more than 10 minutes for. As with most other Disney rides, it’s very efficient, so that’s normally not a problem. However, I noticed that overflow from Soarin’ seemed to perk up business at both Living with the Land and the food court.
I should mention that our visit was on the last week of the Flower and Garden Show at Epcot. The show appears to be coordinated with the park’s flowers being in full bloom, and includes exhibits as well as several Disney characters created from plants. In conjunction with the show, the park had popular bands from the 60’s and 70’s playing free concerts every afternoon and evening at the American Adventure amphitheater for the duration of the flower show.
Again, given the lack of time, we rushed past most of the pavilions, stopping at the American Adventure for a quick bite to eat. My parents split a burger, while I opted for a frozen Coke. After this short pit stop, we took off again, working our way along the World Showcase.
Continuing our tour of the major attractions at Epcot, we journeyed over to the Norway pavilion, home of Maelstrom, a reversing indoor flume ride. The wait was advertised as 40 minutes, and the line was backed up to the beginning of the queue inside the building. After slowly creeping up the queue, we came to a dead stop—evidently the ride was having issues. A ten-minute wait followed, after which the ride began running again at full pace. Even with the breakdown, we got to the front of the line in exactly 45 minutes; we were assigned to the front seat (score!) and went along our way.
Unlike Maelstrom’s newer cousin, Splash Mountain, this is a terribly brief ride. After a short lift in which you are warned about curses or something of that matter, the boat takes a short journey through a forest before stopping in front of a troll, who curses you and sends the boat backwards down a short chute and through a couple scenes including polar bears and other generic natural areas. The boat makes a startling stop at the cave that overlooks the Norway pavilion, and is then sent forwards down another small chute before landing in the sea beside a projected oil rig.
Despite the short ride, I’ve always enjoyed Maelstrom. Even though the employees manage to sent boats out pretty quickly, the queue always seems to crawl along, as its width permits many people to cram into the space instead of standing single file.
The final ride of the night was reserved for my all-time favorite attraction anywhere, Test Track. As usual, the ride was cranking out 6-person cars like nobody’s business, but the ride still attracted an hour wait. Luckily, there is a single rider line here which moves quite efficiently given the odd seating configuration of the cars. After a non-existent wait, we were ushered into the single riders briefing room, and then dumped out into the queue for the ride.
I lucked out and managed to snag the front seat, riding on the right alongside a father and his son. The ride is too long to explain, but never ceases to be an adrenaline rush. I’ve gotten to the point where even the biggest coasters in the world can’t phase me, but Test Track is always fun. The entire ride is neat, but the several portions with quick acceleration are outstanding. I especially enjoy the anti-lock brake demonstrations, as flying towards a wall and sharp turn is quite thrilling, though the flyby around the building is always excellent. The efficiency, novel ride system, and narrative make this ride the epitome of Disney attractions.
Given that my family and I waited an hour for a front-row spot at the fireworks show three years ago, we didn’t find it necessary to repeat the experience. However, there were still a couple open spots a half hour before showtime; we snagged a spot in front of a trash can between the Mexican restaurant on the water and a boat dock. Despite this being the third time seeing the show, it was just as wonderful as the first. The score is beautiful, the fireworks are impressive, the fire effects are intense, and the moments with the rotating earth barge are simply beautiful. From a technical standpoint, the show is just as impressive—it must’ve been quite a feat to wire the barges, lighting for the entire park, and speakers for the entire park together to one control unit.
Although fighting the mass of humanity back to the parking lot isn’t a particularly enjoyable experience, the appearance of dozens of Disney employees along the way waving with Mickey gloves added a great touch to an already spectacular day. Even though Epcot doesn’t have the strongest collection of rides in WDW, it’s one of my favorite parks. We made numerous trips to the park over the remainder of the week to re-ride our favorite attractions as well as experience the rest of what the park has to offer.
Arriving back at the hotel, we were greeted by throngs of high school students. We were lucky to avoid getting a room next to the pools, which were open ‘til midnight, but it only took a couple of noisy girls next door to lead to several less-than-desirable nights. (Thankfully, they left on Tuesday.)
Coming Up: Sunday at Typhoon Lagoon and Animal Kingdom
edited for formatting *** Edited 6/3/2007 11:57:11 PM UTC by PhantomTails***
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