NOTE: The events in this post and the following series all took place pre-COVID. Many of the rules and planning for a trip to Walt Disney World (WDW)have changed since my last trip. Be sure to do your own research as things change frequently right now at WDW and any destination in general.
By this time in our trip we had our morning routine down pat and we were on our way to catch one of the first crowded busses of the morning to the Magic Kingdom. For reasons that I can’t recall Bob had to check on something with the desk and left me for a few minutes in the lobby area. That’s when a sign in front of the hotel gift shop caught my eye. It seemed that the store had posted a trivia quiz on their whiteboard. I love trivia and given that this trivia was all Disney related, naturally, I had to give it a shot. Also, naturally, I got the questions correct and earned a button to wear the rest of the trip (how exciting). When Bob returned he also answered the questions correctly and now had another “celebration” button to go along with his “first timer” button. Properly adorned with our new jewelry we made our way to the bus to see what other fun the day had in store for us.
Main Street USA
It was a great day weather-wise, not too hot and just a few clouds in the sky. When we arrived Main Street USA was bustling with activity. Characters greeted guests as they entered and we were lucky enough to find the Dapper Dans and several of the singing citizens! The Dapper Dans get a lot of the press when it comes to harmonizing groups at the Disney Parks but the other denizens of Main Street more than hold their own. I thought that when joined by this eclectic group of various “citizens” the harmonies were still true and the songs were that much merrier. I especially liked their rendition of “Turkey in the Straw.”
Today was pretty much an unplanned morning as we didn’t have any Fast Passes that we needed to use (Peter Pan was originally planned for today but as told in my last post – Walt Disney World Day 5 – we already took care of that attraction) so all in all we were pretty “chill” as the cool kids say (What? They don’t – whatever). We had for some reason been in the habit of turning left from Main Street on earlier visits so we turned right this time and headed into Tomorrowland.
Before I being let me just say that I enjoy most of the attractions in Tomorrowland, Tomorrowland Speedway probably being the only exception. But it’s no secret that Tomorrowland has been a difficult land for the Imagineers to work with. The basic problem being that it’s difficult to create a land of the future when the present keeps catching up. So Tomorrowland has become an eclectic mix of space themed attractions with heavy emphasis on Star Wars and Pixar movies (Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. in particular. Both of which take place in the present by the way). If they asked me, and no one has, I’d stick with “the tomorrow that never was” idea and lean into the type of now retro-future envisioned in the fifties and sixties. I think renaming the land something like “Spaceport 1971” or something could be cool. Maybe that’s just me though.
Anyway, we rode the People Mover first to get a nice overview of the land and a closer look at the Tron construction as we exited the Space Mountain loop. Then it was off to one of my sentimental favorites, The Carousel of Progress. Despite being one of the opening day attractions (making this version 50 years old) the show is still enjoyable. My only concern is that the final scene – which takes place, you guessed it, in the present – is a big jump from the previous scene. I wonder if they should perhaps present the carousel as Walt first envisioned it and put the final scene back into our “past” for that retro-future feel.
We took a pass on the Astro Orbiter and the Tomorrowland Speedway (another suspiciously “present” attraction) and had Fast Passes for Space Mountain tomorrow. So it was back to the other side of the park!
Before our planned late lunch we got in several more attractions including:
- The Enchanted Tiki Room – an oldy but fun.
- Tom Sawyer’s Island – a cool break from the crowds. Plus the best caves in Florida!
- The Muppets American History Show – never pass up a chance to see the Muppets live.
- A cruise on the Liberty Belle – I used to pilot a paddleboat in another life during my brief time at Cedar Point during college. This one is much bigger and on a track. It’s about a half hour ride around the Rivers of America and some of the best views of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Haunted Mansion.
By this time it was well afternoon and we had decided to take a mid-day break from the parks to head back into Disney Springs and try out one of Guy Fieri’s restaurants for lunch: Chicken Guy.
If you don’t know who Guy Fieri is, take a few minutes to turn on the Food Channel and you’ll find out fairly quickly. I’ve been to one of his restaurants in Las Vegas and liked it and Bob had learned that in 2018, Fieri collaborated with Planet Hollywood founder Robert Earl to open fast-food chicken sandwich shop, Chicken Guy! and we thought it would be a unique “celebrity” restaurant experience and they took our Disney Dining Plan (like many of the restaurants at Disney Springs). It turned out that even without the dining plan the prices are very reasonable for resort area fare.
This afternoon would turn out to be a day that we needed to leave plenty of time for transportation but we were not in any particular hurry. Time for transportation we expected, what we didn’t expect was a line to get into the restaurant. There are no reservations as it’s counter service – the term quick or fast service isn’t really in the Disney vocabulary primarily because of the crowds. Although once you get to place your order it usually doesn’t take long to get your food. But our strategy of using the mobile ordering system whenever possible certainly had it’s advantages. In hindsight, we shouldn’t have been surprised at the wait. Guy Fieri is popular and the restaurant was relatively new.
You may not be surprised to find out that the menu essentially consists of fried chicken. You can get grilled, too, but the real stars of the restaurant are the variety of sauces available to dip your tenders into. Bob and I each tried a couple different sauces and gave our meals a “thumbs up.” Because of the crowd we did rush our meal a little since we knew that people were waiting for our stools at the window side counter. A quick walk around the Springs and we were headed back to the busses to continue our day at the Magic Kingdom.
The Ride Back
Neither Bob or I can recall what happened, but on the ride back the bus driver seemed to get lost! Which is something that I have never experienced before. Our theory is that she wasn’t able to get into the lane she needed because of the heavy traffic out of Disney Springs and towards the Magic Kingdom. I won’t go into details of this rare event but only bring it up to point out how quickly a group of people can turn on a cast member. Having had past experience working at an amusement park, and even more working with the public, I empathized with the driver. Folks, please remember that the cast members are human, too and I suspect that our driver may even have been new to the job. Yes, it’s upsetting when the trip that you may have spent months planning and literally thousands of dollars on goes slightly off the rails (more on this later), but it wasn’t the end of the world. We lost maybe a half-hour of our day but we got a little side tour and any time you arrive safely anywhere is a good time. Though knowing how complicated the Disney World road system is I’m a little surprised that the buses didn’t seem to be using a GPS or another tracking system so that a dispatcher might be able to help out a driver who has gone off route. End of the PSA.
Since Bob had only seen the Contemporary Hotel on television over the decades he wanted to take a look inside. I have to admit that if I ever hit it big in the lottery you’ll probably find me in the Contemporary A-Frame with a Magic Kingdom view more than a few times a year! Opened with the park in 1971 the construction of the hotel was groundbreaking back in the day as each room was actually built off-site and “slid” into its slot. Plus it is the only hotel where the monorail actually goes through the building. The interior atrium is still as breathtaking as ever and the 90 foot high (27 meters) Grand Canyon mural is still a site to behold.
Back in the Kingdom
We were back in the Magic Kingdom by 6:00 PM and had time to catch a few more attractions before the fireworks show:
- Country Bear Jamboree: always fun. Though I hope that since we visited that Melvin, Buff, and Max have gotten a good “oiling.” It may have just been where we were seated but it takes you out of the moment when you can hear a buffalo blinking.
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin: who can resist helping Buzz work out some deep seated issues with his father? I do wonder why the nearly identical attraction in Disneyland has a different name (Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters).
- Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor: interacting directly with the gang from Monsters, Inc. is always fun.
At some point in the early evening it began to rain on us. Fortunately, we were well prepared and pulled out our ponchos. Even so I started to feel chilled after being in the air-conditioned space of Monsters, Inc. Still slightly dripping we made our way back to Main Street to find a space to watch the fireworks display.
Fireworks and a Lecture from the Author
I do not think it is an overstatement to say that the Magic Kingdom fireworks displays are among the best in the world. These have been made even more spectacular since the Imagineers (or whoever) discovered that Cinderella’s Castle could be used as a giant screen to project images upon. Combine with narration, music, and Tinkerbell swooping in to touch the whole thing off with her magic wand and you have pure Disney magic. It would be hard to find a way to witness this spectacle and come away unhappy. Yet, the woman behind us in the crowd assembled that night managed to find a way.
Now I don’t want to come off too harshly in what I’m about to say. I get it. When you consider the months of planning and the sheer cost that goes into a family trip to Walt Disney World it is a huge undertaking. For many families it may literally be the trip of a lifetime and expectations for the perfect vacation are high. No, more than high, they are supernaturally high. But we spent the whole show listening to this poor, frazzled mother who’s day probably didn’t go as perfectly as she hoped complaining loudly that her daughter couldn’t see the show (young daughter in a stroller by the way). The obvious hint being that everyone in front of her should move out of the way or kneel down or I don’t know what. There is no seating during the fireworks show and everyone stands just like during a parade. Any crowd is filled with adults who will inevitably be taller than the children just like any parade or outdoor event in the “outside” world. We tried our best to scoot around a little so that her daughter could better see what was happening on the castle, but the reality is that from her stroller the young girl wasn’t going to see it all. Disappointing? Certainly. But was the best solution to try and get the rest of the enormous crowd to bend to her family’s individual desires? What about the literally hundreds of other children in the crowd having the same problem? Even if we moved or sat down on the wet ground there were just more people in the way.
I think that this was a good example of a situation where expectations needed to be adjusted. The focus needed to be placed on what could be seen and experienced, not on what was being missed. This was not the time to ruin everyone else’s experience because something wasn’t going your way.
As magical as the Magic Kingdom can be it’s still just a human construct. You need to come into the parks understanding that some things will go wrong – as with the earlier mentioned bus ride – and you can only do what you can do. The real magic is how much goes right on any given day at Walt Disney World. The entire property isn’t just twice the square mileage of Manhattan, on any given day there are as many people as found in a medium sized city like Rochester, NY (guests and cast members combined) more than 60,000 of them in the Magic Kingdom alone. It’s magic that so many people can come together peacefully to enjoy the same shared experience. So enjoy the music, the sights you can see, focus on the positive. It may not be the perfect experience but it can still be fun and your child will remember that long after the memories of castle covered in cartoons has faded. End of PSA #2.
The Plaza Restaurant
Tucked away at the end of Main Street just steps from the central hub of the Magic Kingdom The Plaza Restaurant may often be overlooked and one of the best kept “secrets” for after fireworks dining. Frankly, I was surprised that we could snag a last minute reservation but I think that this was a case that a party of two is easier to seat than a party of 5 or 6. Another example of a basic menu with burgers, cheese-steak, bangers and mash, club sandwich and home-style meat loaf, which I had. My meal also came with mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables (green beans in my case). It was very filling after a fairly long day and comforting after standing out in the light drizzle. This was virtually the same meal I had earlier in the week at the Prime-time Cafe, but to me it tasted much better. I’m guessing that the recipes are not standardized across the resort which is a good thing to me. If you’re going to be restaurant hopping like we did you do want some variety in foods after all. Best of all, they had ice cream for dessert.
Saying Good bye to Mickey Mouse
Though we had one more full day to go we noticed on the way out that there was almost no line to see Mickey Mouse at the Main Street Opera House – so we went in to make our good-byes. As always, Mickey was thrilled that we stopped by and took a moment to pose for a few pictures.
Good-byes said it was time to head back to the hotel for a good night’s rest or so I thought (insert ominous music here).
To be continued…
All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr