Roller Coaster Prep: Tips to Better Enjoy Your Day of Thrill Riding

A friend recently asked me how he should prepare to spend a day riding roller coasters at a major amusement park. He asked this knowing that I’m an experienced roller coaster rider (I logged over 300 coasters before I stopped counting) and frequent visitor of theme parks all over North America (at least 70 in 25 states and 1 Canadian province). So even though my thrill ride days may be over on advice from my cardiologist, I thought it might be time to share some of my hard earned wisdom on how to prepare for a day of riding scream machines.

Tip #1: Pack as light as you can. You’ll be on your feet all day and most parks will not let you take anything on a coaster with you which isn’t strapped to your body. For this reason I’ve started wearing a small “fanny” pack with several pockets. These are good for keeping cell phones, portable chargers, glasses, credit/debit card, cash, keys and sunscreen on hand without weighing you down. An alternative to the small pack are cargo shorts with velcro or zippered pockets.

If you feel for some reason that you can’t pack light, many parks that specialize in thrill rides will have lockers located near the ride entrances. These are usually fee based. In the old days you could use a coin to rent a locker. Now days you will need a credit or debit card. Some parks, like Cedar Point, will also have “boxes” at the loading station that you can put your belongings in. You do use these boxes at your own risk, but I can tell you that I’ve never experienced a problem with someone taking my stuff from one of these boxes over the years. However, accidents do happen especially if you hat looks like another one in the same bin.

Walt Disney World parks are an exception to this tip. You can take a small back pack with you if you like as almost all of their rides have pockets or space for you to put the pack at your feet.

Tip #2: Only take your car keys into the park. There’s no need to risk losing anything more than that on a ride. Leave your house keys, etc. locked in your car and safely out of sight (glove compartment or under the seat). Likewise, I don’t take my wallet with me anymore either. Most parks now accept credit/debit cards at all their retail locations and if they don’t you can stuff a few bills into a pocket or the above mentioned fanny pack.

Tip 3#: Wear a hat. Especially for those of us who are “follicly-challenged.” However, don’t wear your favorite hat as you’ll want to sit on it when you are riding the rides (to prevent it from blowing off). I’ve lost a couple over the years because I’ve left them on the seat of the ride.

Tip #4: If you wear glasses pick up some sport straps to hold them onto your head while riding. The park may even sell them, but you can likely get them cheaper at a retailer near you. Be aware that some parks consider a few of the coasters to be so physical that you may not even wear glasses which are strapped on.

Tip #5: Follow the rules! They are there for your safety. Roller coasters on the whole are a safe form of amusement and you are more likely to have an accident driving to the park than on a ride. Generally when someone gets injured, or worse, it’s because they were not following the rules. For example: going beyond fences to retrieve a dropped item is an enormous risk and people have been killed doing this.

Tip #6: Check the park’s website before visiting. Most every park lists basic information regarding ride specifics (rider’s height and other physical limitations for example) and facilities (lockers). Taking a few minutes to “know before you go” will make your day more enjoyable.

Tip #7: Take breaks. Riding roller coasters can be physically demanding even though in most cases you are sitting down. Twisting and turning at high speeds can upset even the hardiest of us. Don’t be afraid to throw a dark ride or two into your day between thrills. This tip isn’t as crucial if you have to wait and hour or more between rides due to the length of the lines.

There you have them, my top tips to better enjoy your day of thrill seeking at your favorite amusement park. I’d love to hear yours – be sure to comment and share your top ideas.

Ride on!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Journeys with Dave Goes Hollywood…or YouTube to be More Specific

In lieu of a blog post this week I’m trying something different – a YouTube video! It’s on my new channel and is a pretty basic attempt to record a walk on a short hiking trail near my home. I’m hoping that they become more interesting as I become more proficient in editing and such with the goal of adding a new visual element to my Journeys as things open up once we are post-COVID.

The video is located here and last a little over 10 minutes. For those interested, it was filmed on a Galaxy S10 and edited with MS Photos. So nothing fancy. But hey, I’m just starting out.

I’ve learned a lot on this one video. For example: did you know it takes an incredible amount of time to load a video up to YouTube? Nearly 2 hours for a 10 minute adventure. I can’t imagine how long my video of my upcoming trip to Egypt will take.

Oh yeah, did I tell you I’m going to Egypt in the fall? Now that will be an adventure and a journey.

Onward!

This tree didn’t make the video – but it should have!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Grumpy Old Men on Tour: Walt Disney World – The End

The Seven Dwarfs' Cottage
Yes, you do get to see what’s inside the cottage during the ride.

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.

Our final day at the “most magical place on Earth” had arrived. Our bags were packed and stowed away waiting for the Magical Express. But as we had intentionally booked a late flight from Orlando to Detroit we still had all morning and part of the afternoon to finish up our visit. We boarded the bus one last time to head to the Magic Kingdom. We had only one goal for the day – a ride on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

As coasters go this one is actually fairly mild. But as the newest attraction in the Magic Kingdom Fast Passes were difficult to get. So we opted to go into the stand-by line. Which was nearly two hours long even on a relatively uncrowded day in Fantasyland. Part of the reason we chose this ride was because I enjoyed the theming and the “drive by” of the Seven Dwarfs Cottage at the end of the ride. I won’t spoil the tableau it presents for those who haven’t ridden it yet but it is that wonderful blend of humor, happiness, and tragedy all rolled into one that makes many a Disney movie great.

We joined the line which started well outside the queue. So far outside the queue that a cast member stood at the end of the it holding up a sign which read “line starts here” for all the good it did. We observed many people once again jumping the line to join friends and family who were further ahead. None as bad as the group who joined in the line for Pirates on Day 7, but enough to be annoying. Fortunately, a large heron also joined the line and, heedless of the throngs of humanity surrounding it, hunted for small lizards which were hiding amongst the plants. It “terns” out that this bird had an “eagle” eye as he caught lizards that we didn’t even see until their tails were sliding through his beak!

Some people cheered the canny hunter, some made sounds like they were going to throw up. It was a “True Life Adventure” right in front of us – and at no extra charge! The folks at Disney think of everything.

Further into the queue there are all sorts of activities for the children (and the very *ahem* mature children) to play with. Spin the jewels, play music with dripping water, etc. All designed to keep us distracted from the length of the line. We’ve noticed this in several queues and I think it’s a great idea. However, I do think that the Imagineers might need to spend a little more time thinking about typical family dynamics. Especially when there is only room from one sibling to “play” with a barrel and mom and dad are forced to referee.

Anyhow, to make a long story a little longer, eventually we did make our way to the front of the line and boarded our train for a well-themed trip through the seven dwarfs’ mine and a peek inside their happy home with Snow White. The line was probably the longest of our trip – except for the Peter Pan line – but because much of it was outside in a gardened/wooded area I thought it was a much more pleasant wait. At the very least it was less claustrophobic!

Heron at the Magic Kingdom.
The heron that kept us entertained in the queue line for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride. He’s stalking a little lizard.
Dave and Bob on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
One of us might be holding on for dear life. Hint: it’s not the guy in the front row.

The Trip Home

With our mission accomplished it was time for one last stroll through the Magic Kingdom and back to the hotel to catch our Magical Express to the Orlando airport for an uneventful trip home – which is the best kind of trip!

Summary and Lessons Learned

As I believe I stated at the beginning of this series of blogs, I considered this Bob’s trip as it was his first to WDW. Thanks to his meticulous research and enthusiasm I learned to experience the “world” in a way I hadn’t in a long time. Here are a few of my take-aways and tips. Some of them may work for you, some may not and your experience will vary. So in true grumpy old man fashion let me “illuminate you” (extra points if you can identify that quote):

Dining

  • For us the dining plan was a big plus. We ended up going to restaurants and having experiences I never would have done on my own. This plan did not save us money – as we would have had to eat anyway – but it did ensure that we got at least two decent meals each day (one quick service, one table service) and a couple snacks as well.
  • Our plan to prepare breakfast in the room ended up being nixed fairly early on, I think we only did this on the morning we went to Rise of the Resistance, mainly because I preferred a more substantial breakfast. The hotel breakfast was reasonably priced (by Disney standards) and I thought a good way to start each day. Next time, I might try having breakfast in the parks.
  • Go for the experience when dining in the parks. Our most memorable meals were the ones in themed restaurants!
  • Don’t forget to tip the wait staff just like you do in the “real” world.

What to Take Into the Parks:

  • At least one person in your party should have a backpack to carry stuff. Be nice and trade off carrying it (I wasn’t good about sharing the load – sorry Bob!).
  • Be sure to pack a cheap poncho as it will rain during your trip.
  • Don’t forget extra chargers for your phones as they will run out of juice during the day – the My Disney Experience app seems to be an energy hog and if you add the hundreds of pictures you will take, you get the idea. There are some places you can sit for a few minutes and plug your phone in – if you can find a free outlet – but a portable power supply will allow you to keep going with minimal interruption to your day. I used a Fuel Rod I had purchased on an earlier trip because they can be swapped out at kiosks in the park (for a fee).
  • Sunblock
  • A refillable water bottle of some kind.
  • An emergency credit/debit card in case your Magic Band or the mobile app fails.
  • Did I mention sunblock? Put it on your lower legs, too.

What to Wear

  • Hats! Especially if you happen to be follicly challenged as I am.
  • Comfortable walking shoes. Have a spare pair. One pair can rest and air out back at the hotel while you are wearing the other pair.
  • Be aware that some of the restaurants in the hotels have a dress code. It’s still resort causal for the most part (“dress” shorts and a collared shirt for men) but worth checking when you make your reservation.
  • Layers – a sweatshirt can be taken off if it gets hot. But it can’t be put on if you don’t have it.

Attitude and Mental Health

  • Remember – you are at WDW to have fun!
  • Don’t worry about trying to impress anyone or looking foolish. You are in a land of make believe where grown adults are wearing mouse ears.
  • Don’t be afraid to take breaks from the parks. Even staying for a week we didn’t see everything. I’m not sure that it’s even possible to see everything in two weeks. So don’t kill yourself trying to do it all. I didn’t mention it in the earlier blogs but we found time to spend a couple hours just relaxing poolside back at the hotel. Sometimes you need to remind yourself that you aren’t there to stress out but to relieve stress (I hope).
  • Go with the flow. Something will go wrong. A ride or attraction will break down or not be available. You won’t find the exact mouse ears that you’ve been dreaming of. Just take a deep breath and remember that you are in the most magical place on Earth. If you forget this don’t worry, a cast member will remind you.
  • Be willing to experience everything in a different way than you planned. I began this trip as the expert but I learned that there is no right way to enjoy all that Walt Disney World has to offer. Sure, I offered suggestions now and then (i.e. constantly) but over all I found that trying new things made my trip more enjoyable not less. If I had insisted that we had to “do this” or “do that” otherwise our trip was ruined both Bob and I would still not be speaking to each other. If you want to do everything exactly the way you want to do it then go solo!

Accommodations

  • I’ve always been a fan of staying on-property whenever possible. This isn’t because the Disney hotels are so great in fact, as I pointed out in an earlier post, there are areas that the Disney hotels can fall short. But you can’t beat the fact that they are close to the parks and are tied into the WDW transportation system.
  • I view the hotel as a home base and need plan spending a lot of time at the room or even in the hotel. So I go for the least expensive option which usually means an All-Star hotel. I have stayed in more “upscale” hotels but other than the room being decorated nicer the beds in the All-Star hotels are just as comfortable.

Transportation

  • We used pretty much every form of Disney Transport during our trip and our favorite was the Skyliner. Usually a short line, a smooth uncrowded ride, and a great view!
  • Busses were overall reliable but usually packed. We were careful to build plenty of time into our schedule to allow for at least an hour to get from place to place using the bus.
  • We only used Uber once because we needed to get to Hollywood Studios before the busses started running in the morning. The driver was familiar with driving around Disney and our experience was good.
  • Everyone needs to ride the monorail at least once just because!
  • A ferry ride from the Magic Kingdom to the Transportation Center is a nice relaxing cruise. It’s not crowded mid-day and we rode it just for fun.

Miscellaneous

  • For the curious among you a complete list of the attractions and shows we saw is located HERE.
  • A list of all the restaurants we ate at is HERE.
  • A list of the characters we encountered is HERE.
  • A post on where to go when you have to GO in WDW is HERE.

Parting Words

So there you have it. The entire adventure and proof that even a couple jaded grumpy old men can have a good time at the most magical place on Earth. Even when they know all the “behind the scenes” tricks. Now if I could just talk Bob into going to Disneyland…

Thanks for reading along. I’d love to learn more about your favorite tricks, tips, and things to do in the comments below.

As they say in my “real” world – have a magical day!

Bob, Mickey Mouse, and Dave in February 2020.
Bob, Mickey, and Me. The perfect way to end another magical day.

Grumpy Old Men on Tour: Walt Disney World Day 7

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.

An Unsettling Discovery

I had hoped for a restful night after another fairly long day in the Magic Kingdom. I was still feeling chilled from the earlier rain and took a hot shower to warm up before hitting the sack. As usual it wasn’t long after I had my CPAP (aka “life support”) attached to my fast and turned on that I was fast asleep.

At some point in the dead of the night I awoke – feeling like I was about to freeze to death. “Who turned down the air conditioning?” I thought. But when I got out of bed to check the temp the room seemed to be at a comfortable 70 degrees. I turned the temp up to 75 anyway hoping that Bob wouldn’t notice until morning. My bed was the closest to the air, I reasoned, which might be why I was so cold. But, I had been comfortable every other night so far. I went back to bed but couldn’t sleep because I was still cold.

I searched the drawers as best I could in the dark for any extra blankets. I found pillows but no more covers. “Floridians,” I thought to myself, “never ready for the cold.” I finally put on my sweat shirt and some sweat pants I brought – I had this idea that I might actually work out while here (ha!) – and finally was warm enough to get back to sleep.

Morning for me came a little to soon. But I was feeling better overall and presumed that my chill during the night was because of a little dehydration and/or my long dormant Crohn’s acting up. I thought nothing of it until I made a rather startling discovery in the shower. My lower leg was covered in a bright red rash. It looked as if someone had taken a grater to my leg during the night. I dried off, pulled on a pair of shorts and exited the bathroom.

“What do you think this is?” I asked Bob as I showed him my leg. Bob took a quick look and then recoiling back a little he replied, “uh, I don’t know. It’s some kind of rash. How long have you had it?”

“I just noticed it in the shower. I don’t think I had it last night. Maybe I brushed up against a plant or something on Tom Sawyer Island?”

“It looks pretty nasty. Does it hurt?”

“Not really. It doesn’t even itch. I’m not going to worry about it now,” I lied, “Let’s head out and I’ll stop at First Aid to have someone there take a look at it.”

The entire bus ride to the Magic Kingdom I wondered about this weird rash. Bedbugs? No, something like those would have started biting days ago. Poison Ivy? In the well manicured confines of the Magic Kingdom where nothing grows except what Disney wants to grow? Not likely but an allergic reaction seemed likely. What could it be? Is this why I had chills during the night? Was I going to end my Disney trip at the hospital? I tend to go to worse case scenario at times like this as you might have noticed.

First Aid

David's Golfer's Rash on his leg
The verdict? Golfer’s Rash.

“Golfer’s Rash,” the nurse at the First Aid Center tucked in neatly between Casey’s Corner and the Crystal Palace, “we see it all the time. The sun reflects off of the pavement and hits your calves. Most people forget to put enough sun screen on their legs.” she handed me some ointment to put on the rash if it started to itch and we were on our way to enjoy the rest of our last full day at Walt Disney World.

Attractions New and Repeats

We had Fast Passes for Space Mountain, one of my favorite coasters, so we headed off to Tomorrowland. Now as my friends know I am (was?) quite the coaster enthusiast so some of them might be surprised to learn that Space Mountain is one of my favorite coasters. Despite the theming it is essentially a “mad mouse” style coaster in a dark room. But, heaven help me, I still like it. I will admit that I like the Disneyland version slightly better because of the speakers built right into the seats. Though the Magic Kingdom’s version has a sound track there’s something about that music blasting right into your ears that gets all the senses engaged. The Rock ‘n Rollercoaster in Hollywood Studios does the same thing as does the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit over at Universal. IMHO all coasters should come with soundtracks.

A Quick Detour Down Memory Lane – Space Mountain 1975

Space Mountain in 1975

Another reason that this coaster is a favorite is because of the memories it evokes. On my family’s first trip to Space Mountain in 1975 the ride was new and mysterious. All of us decided to give it a try. Most of us (my mom, sister, brother, and myself) liked roller coasters. My dad, as a rule, did not. As we waited in the queue the tension mounted. Was the ride as intense as they said? Can we pick which track to ride? Did astronauts really say it was like going into space (they did at the time)?

When it was our turn to go on the cast member announced that each car only head four people. Who was going to ride alone? At the same time four heads turned, my sister’s, my brother’s, my mother’s, and mine, and looked at poor dad who was taken by surprise. “What? Why me? I don’t like roller coasters?” he protested. But like the good father he was he dutifully waited for the next car while the rest of us took off into the “booster” tubes for one of the most fun rides of our young lives.

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Post

Stollers in front of King Arthur's Carousel.
So many strollers. Everywhere.

After Bob and I rode Space Mountain we felt we needed something a little slower for our next attraction. So naturally we meandered once again over to the other side of the park to find some lunch. We settled on Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Inn for some burritos, with a self-serve fixing’s bar, and then got back into line for our second ride on Pirates of the Caribbean. This time we did not have people talking behind us all the way through the attraction and it was a much more enjoyable experience.

We did have an experience in the queue line though. We were in the stand by line behind a couple of teen age girls who were just talking to each other when behind us there came a shout, “Oh look, it’s Jessica* – hi Jessica” and suddenly the two girls were joined by a third. No big deal right? Wrong. “Karen!” was the next shout. Then there were four, then five, then six, suddenly the two girls we were standing behind became an entire cheerleading (we presumed from our earlier experience) squad!

Now it might help to know that Bob and I used to work at another amusement park (Cedar Point) and in this park line jumping is cause for removal from the park. So the idea of a couple people being joined by an entire group ran against both our sensibilities. Bob, ever restrained as always, pointed out to a cast member what just happened. The cast member looked at the teens and said, “this man says that you all cut in front of him? Is that true?”

The teens sheepishly admitted that a “couple” of them did join the line late. The cast member then took Bob and I to the front of the group so are wait would be a few minutes shorter. It didn’t help all the other people behind us and I frankly might have just instructed the group of teens to go the back of the line. But what later became apparent, and I’m not sure why we hadn’t really noticed earlier, in other stand by lines that the idea of “line jumping” is a foreign concept to a lot of Walt Disney World guests. As from that point on we noticed at every other stand by line we were in that someone, usually several “someones,” was always being joined late by a family member or two (3 or 4 on occasion) who was going to the restroom, getting some food, or just waiting for the designated member of their party to get closer to the front of the line. I don’t know if this is just a Disney thing but it’s not the queue line etiquette I grew up with dagnabbit.

Space Mountain through the tracks of the future Tron coaster.
Space Mountain through the tracks of the future Tron coaster.

Pirates was followed by another look at the 3:00 parade, a trip on the iconic Jungle Cruise (soon to be a major motion picture), the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House, Goofy’s Barnstormer, and another ride through The Haunted Mansion. Another pretty full day! I also got in an afternoon “snack” of chicken and waffles from Sleepy Hollow which was pretty good. I even had a pleasant conversation with an Ohio State fan while standing in line. Since I’m an alumnus of the University of Michigan we would normally be mortal enemies, but there are only friends in the Magic Kingdom.

By the way, Goofy’s Barnstormer had a mercifully short line which was good as it’s a very short coaster. It is a favorite with the younger set however. The queue line there gave us an opportunity to see more of the construction progress of the new Tron coaster which at the time seemed to be coming along quickly (unfortunately, it’s been delayed due to the pandemic and is behind schedule now due to open in the first half of 2022).

Citrico’s

For our final night’s meal we decided to “splurge” and take in a Disney Signature dining experience – mainly because we had an extra dinner credit to still use because of our night at the Hoop Dee Doo Revue. We chose to go to the Citrico’s over at the Grand Floridian. I made sure to wear a collared shirt and khaki shorts to match the dress code. We rode the monorail to get over to the hotel but I should mention that since this trip Disney has built a new walkway so you can walk between the Grand Floridian and the Magic Kingdom along the shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon.

The Grand Floridian is arguably Walt Disney World’s most posh hotel. The surroundings are luxurious and are designed to recall the glory days of Florida’s tourism (if you were wealthy that is). The restaurants are top-notch and dining at Victoria and Albert’s is thought by many to be a once in a lifetime treat – especially if you can afford the chef’s table experience. Citrico’s, which promotes American food with a Mediterranean flair, is no slouch either. Rated 4.5 stars out of 5 on Trip Advisor it is a fine dining experience and worthy of the “signature dining” label.

But, here’s my problem. I agree that the surroundings of the restaurant were pleasant. The open kitchen layout is effective without being obtrusive to the dining. The service was top-notch even though we did have to wait a little to be seated. I can’t recall having a single issue with my meal and it was a pleasant way to essentially finish our vacation. However, for the life of me, I cannot recall what I had to eat that night. Not a single bite from appetizer to desert. I can recall pretty much every other meal we had except the one that was supposed to be the highlight of the trip.

Maybe it’s because I have had the good fortune to eat in several other fine dining establishments, maybe it’s because my palate is refined or geared towards haute cuisine, or maybe it’s because it was just another meal at another fancy restaurant. In other words, and experience I could get pretty much elsewhere in any city in the world. Again, it’s not that there was anything wrong with the meal – the restaurant is more than worthy of high ratings – it was just, unfortunately, forgettable. Lesson learned – next trip I’ll pick a themed restaurant to finish my trip.

After dinner it was back to the hotel to pack our bags and get in one last good night’s sleep before our final attraction and the trip back to reality, aka – home.

To be continued…

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Grumpy Old Men on Tour: Walt Disney World Day 6

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.

Just call me “your highness.”

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

The singing citizens of Main Street!

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.

Tomorrowland

Tron construction viewed from the WEDway People Mover

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!

Muppets appearing “live” in Liberty Square.

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.

Chicken Guy

Chicken Guy at Disney Springs.
Chicken Guy at Disney Springs.

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.

The Hotels

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.

Grand Canyon mural in the Contemporary Resort.
The beautiful Grand Canyon mural in the Contemporary Resort atrium.

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:

Note the poncho!
  • 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

Banana split at Plaza Restaurant on Main Street
Not a bad way to end the meal. My banana split (hold the chocolate please) at the Plaza Restaurant on Main Street.

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…

Bob, Mickey Mouse, and Dave in February 2020.
Bob, Mickey, and Me. The perfect way to end another magical day. Photo by Disney Cast member.

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Grumpy Old Men on Tour: Walt Disney World Day 5

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.

The wait for the bus to the Magic Kingdom was always the longest.
The wait for the bus to the Magic Kingdom was always the longest.

After spending so much time in the other parks we had almost forgotten how crowded and popular the Magic Kingdom is. Our first reminder was catching the bus this particular morning. The line for the Magic Kingdom bus was easily twice as long as any other queue. Fortunately, buses for the Magic Kingdom also come more often than the others do because we didn’t make the first or second bus if I recall correctly. We had seen the lines on other days though, so we were prepared for this possibility and waited patiently.

One of the benefits of staying on property is that you have ready access to the extensive Walt Disney World transportation system. However, one of the drawbacks of what is essentially free public transit is that it is very crowded. Standing up on a full bus for 20-30 minutes, depending on traffic, may not sound too bad to the seasoned commuter in the morning. But at night when your feet ache and your back is feeling the pain of standing all day…well, that’s another story. However for the impatient among us there is always the option of a Minnie Van or Uber or even bringing your own car with you (beware parking fees).

Character-palooza!

Traffic to the Magic Kingdom was a little backed up so it did seem that we were in for a crowded day. But we had a fast pass for Dumbo and by golly we were using it! Our next Fast Pass was for the Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh which is an enjoyable dark ride though I miss Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride which it replaced (there is still a version of Mr. Toad in Disneyland).

After Pooh we decided that since we were in Fantasyland we might as well continue our character quest and find as many characters as we could. We joined the line to meet Donald Duck and Goofy in the “sideshow” tent. As we drew closer to the famed duo I must have been spending more time on my phone than paying attention as Donald snuck up behind me to give me a quick “scare” to the delight and amusement of everyone else in line (I only jumped a little). We were off to a great start on our character hunt and I think this was our single biggest day meeting the Disney stars. At some point during the day we also sat under the sea with Ariel, traded workout tips with Gaston, and had some playful banter, in mime of course, with Stitch!

Columbia Harbor House

We had lunch at the Columbia Harbor House along with just about everyone else in Liberty Square! Even the upstairs seating was at a premium, but we finally found a seat at a round top which sat six and decided that we would be happy to share if anyone else needed a space. It was near a window and had a nice view of the midway below and the Haunted Mansion. A nice air-conditioned oasis to enjoy our counter service meal of the day.

Now I have an acquaintance in the dining service industry who loves the Lobster Roll here and it seems to be a favorite with other various blogs and food critics. So it may be my grumpiness coming out, but I had the Lobster Roll on a previous trip and I think the secret ingredient is mayonnaise. Lots and lots of it. However, I’m not a huge seafood fan so my review is suspect. I will mention that Bob gave it a try though and came to a similar conclusion. This trip I stuck with my old stand-by when it comes to seafood – fry it up! I got the Trio Platter which is essentially all your favorites (fried shrimp, chicken nuggets and battered fish) deep-fried to golden okay-ness. It was served with hushpuppies and French fries. If you prefer something lighter you can swap out the fries for green beans and carrots but at this point why kid yourself? You’re eating the fries. To be fair, Columbia Harbor House does have an extensive allergy sensitive menu and some healthier options. Check the full menu out for yourself.

Attractions

Despite the crowds we got in several attractions as well including: Mickey’s Philharmagic, which is still one of my favorites, Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, spoiler: if you’ve seen the movie you’ve seen the attraction but I’m betting you may have a little princess who will insist on riding, and, of course, It’s a Small World.

The Pan Incident: In Which I Exhibit Poor Judgement and Choose Poorly

It was after exiting It’s a Small World that I made the most memorable mistake of the entire trip. One that would cost us two hours of our lives that we’ll never get back. After making a quick pit-stop at the Tangled Rest Area, which has some of the best toilets in the entire resort IMHO (see my blog entry on where to go in Disney World for more info), I noticed that the line for Peter Pan’s Flight seemed unusually short. As in there wasn’t one. And the sign outside said, and I’m not making this up, “Stand by Time 10 Minutes!”

“Bob, we should get into the line for Peter Pan’s Flight now. Look it’s super short!” I said.

“But we have fast passes for it tomorrow,” he replied, “and there’s no way it’s only a 10 minute wait.”

“10 minutes Bob – even if the sign is wrong it’s still got to be shorter than any line we’ll find later for it even with our Fast Passes,” I explained in my oh-so-wise I’ve been here a hundred times and know what I’m talking about voice.

“Well, I don’t know,” Bob paused for a moment, “okay, what the heck. All the other signs have been pretty accurate.”

So, like lemmings to the cliff, we got in what promised to be an amazingly short line for a unique “legacy” ride that opened with the Magic Kingdom in 1971. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been on this ride since 1975 and somewhere between then and now the ride queue had been updated so that most of it was hidden behind the wall of the attraction. Based on the twists and turns and the length of the queue it may even now extend into the utilidor which runs beneath the Magic Kingdom. The Imagineers have done a nice job of theming the queue so it’s as if you are entering into the Darling family’s garden, complete with street noise over the wall, and then through their 100 room (or so it seemed) house including the children’s room. Here, where we made our base camp and prepared to stay a day or two, Tinkerbell flits around playing tricks and moving items – Peter Pan’s shadow even makes an appearance. It was all, I’m sure, delightful if you were walking through at a reasonable pace and was enough to keep anyone amused for a short time.

But, it became quickly apparent that our 10 minute wait would be a little longer than advertised as the line inched forward. Ten minutes became 2o minutes, then 30 minutes…then people started going by us back towards the exit.

“Do you think the ride’s down?” Bob asked.

“I don’t know, I haven’t heard any announcement and we are moving…slowly” I replied. While in the back of my head I recalled a previous trip when my sister and I were in line for Toy Story Mania and they kept announcing that some of Andy’s friends had come over to play so there would be a delay. Never actually letting us know that the line behind us was closed…but that’s a tale for another blog.

Thirty minutes became 40…50…and hour.

“Maybe we should get out of line. Any idea how far it is to the loading platform?” Bob asked.

“No…this is different than I remember. But we’ve waited this long” and at this point my inherent stubbornness had kicked in and overrode my common sense and weariness. We had come this far and, dagnabbit, we were getting on that flying boat and we were going to have a magical time!

We were in that line for two hours. Let me repeat: two hours. For a dark ride that recreates the events of a movie we’ve already seen. Rumors were running rampent among the guests in the queue. Whispers that someone had vomited in one of the boats. Murmurs that someone fell out and they had stop the ride to clean up the mess. Tales that the world had ended and we were all stuck in some sort of Imagineering purgatory for all eternity.

I started to doubt our purpose. Granted the ride vehicle is unique as the boat does “fly.” Granted that it’s a “legacy” ride. Granted that every true Disney buff should experience it at least once. We may never get another chance to do this again. But, two hours! And there wasn’t a coaster at the end? Who had I become? Why was I doing this? I began to lose myself completely in the futile quest to get on this ride. All while Tinkerbell flitted about the room – taunting me with her horrid, evil shenanigans. Why had I been foolish enough to believe that sign? Suddenly, unexpectedly there was movement! We were moving, it wasn’t an illusion after all.

“Please watch your step as you board the boat,” the cheerful cast member instructed as our eyes adjusted once again to the sunlight before being plunged back into darkness.

Our quest was over. We did get on that flying boat and we did have a magical time just as I knew we would all along!

‘Nuff said.

Hoop De Doo Revue

The good news is that despite my blundering advice the day was not a wash by any means and the best part of it was still to come. We had reservations for the Hoop De Doo Revue over in Fort Wilderness!

This revue is one of the oldest running shows anywhere and, in fact, celebrated it’s 45th anniversary in June of 2019. It’s something that I had long wanted to see and now I was finally getting the chance. We took one of the smaller resort launches to make the journey from Seven Seas Lagoon over to the shores of Bay Lake and the Fort Wilderness campground.

We arrived in plenty of time for our reservations and had a little time to kill so we took a quick stroll around the grounds. I hadn’t been in the campground since a trip I took with my cousin Larry the summer after I graduated high school and I’m happy to say that it hasn’t changed too much. From the little part we visited it still had the same rustic flavor and “great outdoors” feel that you would expect. The lots are well spaced, plenty of trees and it felt like almost another world as compared to the rest of the WDW resort. The Settlement Trading Post (campground store) was well stocked with basic food items and the requisite Disney souvenirs. There are also a couple of dining locations on site, including Crockett’s Tavern where I could refill my Disney Parks tumbler (score!), Trail’s End Restaurant, and Mickey’s BBQ. To help pass the time I regaled Bob with tales of that graduation summer’s trip with my cousin and the memories of the now defunct River Country waterpark which used to be adjacent to the campground. I could tell from the glazed over, far away look in his eyes that Bob was hanging on my every word.

Soon the dinner bell rang and it was time to go in to take our seats. The energy of the audience was palpable and it was clear that everyone was expecting to have a good time – and I don’t think anyone was disappointed! Our table was near the stage and in the center of the hall so we had excellent seats to join in the fun. Before, during, and after the show the meal was served – and what a meal it was. Basic down home style, served in buckets, and plenty of it. Salad, potatoes, corn, beans fried chicken, BBQ ribs, and for dessert strawberry short cake. My tastes are simple it turns out when it comes to food, or perhaps it’s because my eyes are rarely bigger than my stomach, but this was probably my favorite meal of the trip. I should mention that the Revue is a separately ticketed show – be sure to book it when you make your hotel reservations. Because of this our dining plan couldn’t be used for the any part of it. This gave us an “extra” dinner to use later in the trip at a “Signature” dining restaurant. More on this in the day 7 entry.

To put it simply the show itself was what we in the theater would call a “hoot.” Okay, a hoot and half with a little holler thrown in. No description I can do would do it justice so go read the official Disney Parks blog article on the 45th anniversary here.

Afterwards, stuffed with food and a couple old songs in our heads, we exited Wilderness Hall and made our journey back to our hotel by boat and another very crowded bus. One good thing about standing on the bus and hanging onto the support bar – I was getting my arm workouts in while learning great balance control!

To be continued…

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Grumpy Old Men on Tour: Walt Disney World Day 4

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.

Epcot Revisited

A diver in the Living Seas aquarium.
There are all sorts of strange creatures of the deep in the Living Seas aquariums!

By this time we were getting more in tune with how to pace ourselves through the day and how much we wanted to push to get things on our checklist done. Having already experienced most of our “must do” attractions and flexibility being key to any vacation, but especially at Disney, we decided to spend the day exploring Epcot. Having done his research ahead of time, Bob knew that this was the day and location we were most likely to see characters from plays we had both been in with our local community theatre group (the Monroe Community Players) most notably Mary Poppins (which I directed and Bob had a feature role in). So he put on his t-shirt from the show and off we went to enjoy another leisurely breakfast at the hotel – I was in the mood for some Mickey Waffles and would not be denied (why did we pack all that instant oatmeal again?)!

It was a little overcast and cooler today and that seemed to keep the crowds down a bit. We took the bus directly to Epcot and started our day with a visit to The Living Seas pavilion in Future World. I should note that getting around Epcot’s Future World section was a lot more difficult than usual, because even back in February of 2020 construction was well underway for the re-design of the park which I believe is scheduled to be complete, or at least as complete as anything ever is at Walt Disney World, for Epcot’s 30th anniversary in 2022.

Peter Pan on the wall of a United Kingdom pavilion building.
Peter Pan is also a Peeping Tom!

We did not spend a lot of time at the Living Seas as we didn’t have a Fast Pass for the Finding Nemo attraction there and the line was quite long. So we went in through the gift shop and wander around the giant aquarium tanks for a bit. I remember my first visit to the Living Seas some time ago and was struck by the sheer size of the water tanks and the exhibits. However, since Epcot has opened there have been a couple other high quality aquariums that have opened in the United States – such as the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta – and though the Living Seas is still an impressive exhibit it doesn’t hold that “wow” factor for me that it once did. One attraction though, Turtle Talk with Crush, still blows my mind a little. Since the animated version of Crush from Little Nemo appears on a big screen in front of a live audience and interacts with the children – and sometimes the adults. It’s a pretty impressive attraction because it all seems so natural.

Moving on we headed over to The Land as it was time for our Fast Pass onto Soarin’ Around the World. If you’ve never been on this one it is just pure fun. The sensation that you are hang gliding over some of the world’s most impressive natural wonders – complete with breeze, spray from the waves, and smells – is amazing. If you are afraid of heights you might not want the front row as that one does lift you the highest from the floor. I won’t spoil the whole ride for you, but you start out soaring over the peak of Mount Everest and it only gets better from there.

We went to Living with the Land which is a gentle boat ride through the pavilion’s various gardens and green houses. It’s an interesting journey even if it’s showing its age a little bit.

After The Land we made our way through the maze of strollers outside the entrance and headed towards the World Showcase.

Bob with a fried turkey leg from the America pavilion at Epcot.
Bob loves a fried turkey leg! At the America pavilion in Epcot.
Bread and melted Brie from a food booth in Epcot.
Bread and melted Brie from The Art of French Food booth near France in Epcot.

By the way, speaking for strollers, I don’t know how it is now but I think one of Walt Disney World’s most often flouted rules must be regarding stroller dimensions and design. I can’t tell you how many strollers we saw which exceeded the size “restrictions” that Disney supposedly was enforcing. Also, I was amazed at the number of children I saw outside the strollers because there was so much stuff that there was no room for the child! Now, I cannot fully relate to what it takes to be able to enjoy a day at Walt Disney World with a small child. And my friends know that I have openly questioned the wisdom of taking a child who is 1) unable to walk or 2) won’t remember a thing about the trip when she/he gets older (yes, I know you’ll have the pictures) but that’s not my decision. However, for the comfort of your fellow guests, please read and try to abide by the stroller size restrictions before arriving.

Bob with Mary Poppins standing together in a practically perfect way!
Bob with Mary Poppins standing together in a practically perfect way!

Anyway, we spent the rest of the day leisurely exploring each “country” of the World Showcase starting with Canada and working our way counter-clockwise to Mexico. The International Fine Arts Festival was underway so there were food booths set up along the way in addition to the regular restaurants – I enjoyed the deconstructed Reuben near the World Showcase Gateway and some melted brie in a bread bowl near France. In addition we used our Dining Plan to enjoy some excellent fish and chips at the Yorkshire County Fish Shop in the United Kingdom. I’m pretty sure that I had some sausages in Germany and Bob got a fried turkey leg at the American Adventure. The crowds were relatively light on this day so we were able to get to all the attractions we wanted to do.

Along the way we saw plenty of characters including:

  • Mary Poppins (Bob had a long chat with her about the musical)
  • Winnie-the-Pooh
  • Alice (from Wonderland)
  • Donald in his Latin American outfit near Mexico
  • Goofy hanging out by the International Entrance


We also saw the following attractions and shows:

Astro Boy Action Figure in the Japanese Culture exhibit at Epcot.
Astro Boy Action Figure in the Japanese Culture exhibit at Epcot.
  • Canada Far and Wide
  • The American Adventure
  • Voices of Liberty
  • Reflections of China
  • Le Serveur Amusant (street mimes and acrobats)
  • The Japan Culture Exhibit

I also enjoyed the shops and paid close attention to the candies and treats from around the world. I only ended up buying some of those maple sugar leaves in Canada though. At some point, either on this day or the first day we arrived, I did get a blueberry coffee from Joffrey’s Coffee and Tea Company. It came with a blueberry doughnut on top!

We finished our afternoon at Epcot with a walk through the Epcot Experience which highlighted all the changes that will be coming to the park in the next two years or so.

Then it was back to the Skyliner – which had become our favorite form of transportation in the park – to head one last time to Hollywood Studios were we had reservations for dinner at the 50’s Prime-Time Cafe!

Prime Time Cafe

I have wanted to eat at the Prime Time Cafe ever since I first heard about it when the studios opened. The idea of a dining in a fifties style kitchen while a TV mom fussed over you and urged you to “eat your vegetables or no dessert” sounded like fun to me. I have to say that the restaurant is very well themed. All the furniture appears to be appropriate to the era and I have no idea where they found some of the lamps and knick-knacks that adorned the walls, tables, and every flat surface. The energy in the dining room is very much like a diner while the seats and tables look very much like an outdated kitchen. The cast members include cousins now instead of just mom, who is presumably in the kitchen making everything. We were seated without too much of a wait and greeted by a friendly “cousin” who treated us like he had known us for years. I ordered A Sampling of Mom’s Favorite Recipes which included golden-fried chicken, fork tender pot roast, and traditional meatloaf with all the fixin’s (mashed potatoes and green beans). We discovered here that milkshakes counted as one of the beverages with our dining plan so you can guess what we washed our meal down with.

The food was basic and filling, though mom may have been having an off night as my chicken was a tad too golden-fried and the meatloaf was a little bland for my tastes (maybe that’s how Donna Stone made it though – look her up under Donna Reed, kids and she’s not the poet). For dessert we had the traditional apple crisp a la mode and that certainly hit the spot.

With our meal finished so was our day. We were now past the half-way point of our trip and tomorrow it was back to the Magic Kingdom!

To be continued…

Stave church replica at the Norway pavilion in Epcot.
Did you know that there is a replica of a Stave church in Moorhead, Minnesota, too? I’ve been to both!




Grumpy Old Men on Tour: Walt Disney World Day 3

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.

The Animal Kingdom

After the long day at Hollywood Studios and the Magic Kingdom we took a more leisurely approach to this morning by sleeping in until almost 8:00 AM. After a shower and a quick guzzle of the Diet Coke left over from last night in my refillable insulated Star Wars souvenir tumbler (still cold!) we headed over to the food court to grab breakfast. We made sure to take our tumblers with us, of course.

I neglected to mention earlier that one of the first things we did after returning to the hotel after our first day was to purchase a refillable souvenir tumbler from the food court. We could choose the less expensive generic one of course, but we opted for the somewhat costlier (I can’t remember how much) Star Wars tumbler. These tumblers were good for unlimited refills at the Disney hotels – but not in the parks. However, it was worth taking them along in Bob’s back pack as we could refill them in the parks with water if needed. And they did do a good job of keeping the beverages hot or cold.

Today was planned to be a relatively slow day and our only fast passes were for the Animal Kingdom. High on our list was getting onto Flight of Passage in Pandora (the world of Avatar), the Kilimanjaro Safari, and one of my favorite coasters in the country – because of its theming – Expedition Everest! Little did I know as we boarded the bus to begin our ride to Animal Kingdom that Bob had a secret mission of his own in the works…(insert ominous music here).

For those who don’t know, Animal Kingdom is by area the largest park at Walt Disney World but it never feels that large to me. I think this is because much of the land is taken up by the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction and the other animal enclosures. It would be easy to say that this park was *ahem* inspired by Busch Gardens in Tampa. However, whereas Busch Gardens seems to have embraced its thrill ride side over the past several decades (do they still have the brewery in the middle of the park with free samples? That should tell you how long it’s been since I’ve visited Tampa) Animal Kingdom very much a zoo that happens to have some other attractions and shows inside it. Like Epcot, it is unlike any other Disney Park in the world. Some people claim it is a “half-day” park and I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever spent an entire day there before this trip. But if you like zoos you can certainly do it.

Expedition Everest and Bob’s Secret Mission Revealed

A shrine at Animal Kingdom which resembles the mountain of Expedition Everest
I love the detail in the parks at Walt Disney World. Notice how the peaks of the shrine match the peaks of the mountain.

Our first stop was Expedition Everest. As I said earlier this is one of my favorite rides because I’ve been fascinated since I was a kid with the idea of climbing Mount Everest (not going to happen – I’d probably die on the climb to base camp) and with the infamous Abominable Snowman, aka the Yeti, of the Himalayas. The queue line for the attraction does, in fact, take you through a museum of sorts dedicated to the history of the world’s most famous Cryptid. Well, top three at least. The ride itself is also well themed and though tame by most standards has enough twists, turns, and surprises to keep everyone on their toes. The only issue I had with the ride on this day is that somehow we were not in our ride picture. I’m not sure who the people are in our Memory Keeper photo but at least they seem to be having a good time.

“Okay,” Bob said as we got off the ride, “that’s over with. Which way to Dino-land?”

“Don’t you want to wander around Asia for a bit? We’ve got time until our next Fast Past and there’s several…”

“No,” Bob interrupted me, “we need to go find Donald’s Dino-Bash.”

Somehow other people got in our ride photo on Expedition Everest
I have no idea who these folks are but they sure are having a good time. I suspect Bob and I are in the back row.

“Why?” I asked.

“You’ll see,” he said.

So we headed off to Dinoland. Once there Bob started looking anxious. “Do you see Donald’s Dino-Bash?” he asked.

“No, but why are you so anxious to get there?” I replied.

“Because, he might be there.”

“He? You don’t mean?”

“Yes, him. Look there’s Launchpad!”

Sure enough in a little shelter stood Launchpad McQuack from Disney’s Duck Tales. And where there’s Launchpad…

“I see him! I see him!” and I swear Bob took off in a sprint. Sure enough just ahead of us was the Holy Grail of characters – at least for Bob – the richest duck in the world: Uncle Scrooge McDuck in his full adventuring attire. Bob was ecstatic and, as you can tell by the accompanying photo, I may have been less ecstatic at least on the outside. On the inside I was just a little shocked. Bob had done what I thought was impossible – he found Uncle Scrooge. Our day was made right there. But there was much more to do.

We were off to Pandora to scope it out before our fast passes to Avatar: Flight of Passage later in the day. Passage in my opinion is the single best attraction of any park anywhere. Along the way we bumped into another character, Kevin from Pixar’s Up! and even saw a trained bird demonstration. Once in Pandora I immediately got lost – as usual. The land isn’t that big, but the lushness of the foliage and the layout of the trails make it easy to get turned around. Especially when there’s a crowd. We eventually found the entrance to Flight of Passage.

After finding the entrance and memorizing how we got there, it was off to the other side of the park to take in the Kilimanjaro Safari. The queue line here, though fitting for the attraction, isn’t very entertaining despite TV monitors that give you an introduction to the wildlife you may see on your “safari.” But the ride through animal exhibit went well and our guide was knowledgeable and I think we saw all the animals we were supposed to see. Afterwards we walked the Gorilla Falls trail and saw more, you guessed it, animals.

We had lunch at Flame Tree BBQ. I’m sorry to say that this meal wasn’t up to the standards we had come to expect and I didn’t even take a picture of it (I at it all though). The view from our table looking over Discovery River was nice and relaxing. There was an odd “whooping” noise that I had trouble identifying which was very loud – then it occurred to me. We were hearing the Howler Monkeys doing their thing, no not that thing – the howling thing, from across the river. They sounded like they were at the table next to us they were so loud.

After lunch and looking at a few more animal exhibits we ran into Kevin again – man that bird gets around – and then made our way back to Pandora for our Fast Pass time.

Flight of Passage and Dinosaur

Floating mountains of Pandora
I didn’t care for the movie Avatar, but I have to admit that Disney did a great job creating Pandora in real life.

Even with the opening of Rise of the Resistance over in Hollywood Studios, the line for Flight of Passage is always long. Even with a Fast Pass you can expect to wait an hour or so. This line seemed even longer than usual but not because of the number of people in the line, it was because of the type of people in the line. Here’s where some of my grumpiness started to manifest itself. It seems that while we were at Walt Disney World there was some kind of international cheer squad competition or festival going on. So the parks were filled with lots and lots of cheerleaders. Now, I have nothing against cheerleaders in particular. I have many friends who were cheerleaders in the past, I enjoy joining in a rousing cheer at a football game, and so on. But one thing about groups of them that you can’t fail to notice is that they like to, well, cheer. A lot. Like for an hour and a half non-stop while standing in a well themed but enclosed space that really, really echoes. If you can’t imagine what that’s like then you have indeed lived a charmed life and should count your blessings.

Despite the wait, which was made easier because the good folks at Imagineering, bless them all, realized that they should put restrooms about half way through the queue. Every ride, every where with a line longer than an hour should have these. I still thoroughly enjoyed this attraction. It is a combination of Soarin’ and a ride simulator. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone but the immersion in the world of Avatar on the back of a Banshee is so real that you feel the beast breathing as you ride!

Bob and I with the other guests on Dinosaur!
I don’t know why we all look like we are posing for the picture. I think the surprise may have been real.

Though it was getting late in the afternoon, and we had dinner reservations at Sanaa over in the Animal Kingdom Lodge, we had time for one more attraction – Dinosaur. Now when it first opened I liked this ride a lot, but unfortunately, I think it’s showing its age. Either that or my eyes are. Everything seemed dim or dark to me. To the point that there was a section of the ride that was just pitch black when the narration said we were supposed to be seeing meteors falling to earth. The ride still has a couple good frights though and the cars are the same kind as used over in Disneyland for the Indiana Jones Adventure – so you feel like you’re in a real off-road vehicle. And the ride picture actually had us both in it this time!

After the ride we had about two hours left to make our reservations. Just enough time to go back to the hotel to drop off our bags, freshen up and get to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for Dinner.

Sanaa

It is worth noting that Animal Kingdom Lodge is the most remote of the Disney property resorts and even from our hotel it was probably about a 20 minute bus ride – at least if felt that way. We arrived at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and found our way to the restaurant, with only a brief pause to apologize to a cast member who I accidentally closed the elevator door on before she could board (the elevator could only go down one floor so we waited a minute for her to arrive). She, of course, said that no apology was necessary. But having worked in the service industry myself I have to think that she appreciated the small gesture.

We arrived a little early for our reservations and were invited to wait outside on the patio if we liked to look at the animals outside. Though it was night the Lodge had heat-sensitive binoculars we could use to spot the animals out in the mini-Savannah which makes up the “backyard” of the hotel complex. Soon we were informed our table was ready and we made our way inside.

I had heard good things about Sanaa from a friend and was looking forward to an African/Asian/Equatorial region inspired meal. The decor of the restaurant is probably best described as African chic with plenty of earth tones, ample foliage, and very few straight lines.

We started our meal with what the server described as a “bread flight” (btw, appetizers are extra and not included in the dining plan) which Bob and I both thought was very good. It was simply a variety of pita style breads and a generous assortment of Indian-style sauces ranging from mildly sweet to extremely spicy. We both chose beef entrees. Mine was “potjie” inspired braised beef. Potjie is a South African dish which is traditionally prepared in one pot and not stirred. My entire main course consisted of Braised Beef, Cilantro-Coconut Vegetables, scented Basmati Rice and I recall some sort of small sausage. I thought my meal was pretty good but somehow I expected it to be more exotic in the sense that there was nothing on my plate that I could not have prepared at home.

The best part of the meal was definitely the desert. I had Serradura is a Portuguese dish which is also known as sawdust pudding or Macau pudding. It taste much better than its name might imply. Sanaa’s version is a butterscotch pudding topped with almond coffee streusel, pineapple, mango, and Breton Shortbread. I know that I finished all of this! Bob had an African Triple Chocolate Mousse that was both pleasing to the eye and the palate (or so I was told – I don’t really do chocolate and did not taste it myself).

All in all, I was glad for the meal and the dining experience.

Disney Springs

It was still relatively early when we finished our meal so instead of going back to the hotel we decided to make our first foray to Downtown Disney – oops, sorry – I meant Disney Springs. Despite the re-branding I think Disney Springs can best be described as an upscale shopping mall. It does have several restaurants you may not find elsewhere and the world’s largest World of Disney store as well as several other decidedly Disney themed shops you won’t find elsewhere except maybe at Downtown Disney in California. If you were to compare it to Universal’s City Walk, Disney Springs is the clear winner as it’s more expansive and has a greater diversity of shopping. But, if you’re not really into shopping as entertainment I wouldn’t budget a lot of time to spend here. An evening or afternoon is plenty to see what’s what. Bob was, of course, just thrilled to be there as the accompanying picture of him at the World of Disney suggests.

Another bus trip to the hotel, a quick refill for my Diet Coke nightcap and it was off to dreamland to recover from our “lazy” day at Disney.

To be continued…

Bob in Mouse Ears being grumpy
Have you ever seen a man this happy to be at Walt Disney World?

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Grumpy Old Men On Tour: Walt Disney World Day 2

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.

Star Wars: Rise of the Resitance

Crowd at the Hollywood Studios gate waiting for rope drop
The crowds waiting before “rope drop” were pretty large and I think all were there for one reason – a boarding pass.

The alarm went off at 6:00 AM. Maybe a little earlier or a little later. I hadn’t slept that much because I was more excited that I should be for the day ahead. We needed to move quickly if we wanted to get to Hollywood Studios before “rope drop” – that magic moment that we would be allowed into the park so we could use our Disney Experience apps to try and snag a boarding pass for the hottest ticket in town: Rise of the Resistance!

We used the portable coffee pot to heat water for the instant oatmeal we had brought, checked to make sure that we had everything we would need for the day, called for an Uber and by 7:00 AM we were on our way.

A crowd of eager Star Wars fans were already there to greet us and jostling for their position in line. Because we had packed wisely, security was not an issue for us (“bags open and ready please, all electronics out of your pockets, remove your hats, etc.”). The excitement in the air reminded me of the eager anticipation at the movie theaters when a new episode of Star Wars came out.

At about 7:30 AM were were let through the gates and moved to various sections of the park. Bob and I found a spot in Municiberg (by the way, the only “berg” I know of that ends in “berg” is an iceberg. The rest, including the town I live in end in “burg.” Okay, I guess Pittsburgh ends with an “h.”) and we waited. I grabbed a roll and Diet Coke at a stand simply called “Market” (hey, we were going to burn a lot of calories – I needed to keep my strength up) and as 8:00 AM approached I readied my app.

Storm Troopers walking through Galaxy's Edge
Storm Troopers on crowd control duty.

Minutes dragged on like days, seconds like hours, but eventually my phone indicated 8:00 AM. Furiously I pressed the button on the app to get our boarding pass, I heard cheers go up all around us and the loudest may have been mine – we did it! We had a boarding pass and for a low number. We were likely to get to experience Rise of the Resistance before noon!

Now, in theory, once the app notified us that our party was boarding we had an hour to get into the queue line – not unlike a Fast Pass. So we could have enjoyed another attraction or two while we waited or even gone over to Epcot and made it back in time to get on the attraction. The operative words being “in theory.” We choose to stay close by however and enjoyed the sites and sounds of the entire land. At first we tried to enter the Galaxy’s Edge from Toy Story Land but found that the route was currently blocked off. Not because of a problem, but because the line to the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run attraction was already so long there wasn’t room for anyone to enter from that side. So we walked around and entered by the tunnel on the other side.

I have to say, even though I had experienced the Disneyland version of Galaxy’s Edge in 2019 I was still impressed with the level of detail Disney has put into the surroundings. From the mountain peaks to the theming of the restrooms. And there were little surprises through the day. Storm Troopers are a regular site on patrol of Black Spire Outpost (as denizens of Galaxy’s Edge call their community). They seem to be constantly working crowd control and telling citizens to keep moving along. Other characters from Star Wars appear as well, including Wookies and random droids, but don’t hold your breath for any of the classic characters like Luke or Leia – they are now legends.

I did not try any of the food in this land not even the fabled blue milk nor did I get in line to purchase a custom made light saber. I guess my geekness is waning in my old age.

The attraction must have been operating pretty well the day were were there because our party boarded at around 10:00 AM. I won’t spoil things for any of you, but I was blown away by the experience. I loved the level of detail and they pulled a trick or two I hadn’t seen before. I swear that at times you could feel the ship “rumble” under foot while moving through the corridors. This attraction, IMHO, is just about as immersive as you can get while still dealing with a large crowd of people. It’s really like stepping into the movie.

Bob and I disagree on this attraction, by the way, though he was impressed I think he would have much preferred if the original legendary characters were used instead of those from the current Star Wars canon. I can’t really say I disagree with him on this point, but I also realize that I’m not the primary target audience for Disney in this case. They want the new generation of fans not those of us who won’t stand in line for a $200 display light saber or toy droid. Consarn it all!

Having accomplished our mission for the day it was time to move onto the main event: the Magic Kingdom!

The Magic Kingdom

We could have hopped a bus and gone directly to the Magic Kingdom from Hollywood Studios, but I thought that Bob might enjoy the scenic route so he could get a better feel for the scope and size of the World. We once again took the Skyliner, I think our favorite form of transportation for this trip, over to Epcot. Crossing through the World Showcase and past the construction fences we went under Spaceship Earth, pausing only for a few minutes while Bob marveled at the sheer size of this fully realized geodesic sphere, and caught the monorail.

Now maybe it’s because I grew up watching the Wonderful World of Disney as a kid and watched the sleek futuristic train zoom by on my television screen (in living color no less) or because I memorized the catchy tune from The Simpsons (monorail, monorail…hey, it put North Haverbrock on the map) but I enjoy riding the monorail. Gliding along above the Florida wetlands which make up the majority of the World’s landscape. The trip from Epcot to the Transportation Center always takes a little longer than I think it does but it is a nearly 8 mile trip and we cover it in about 14 minutes not counting the transfer to the Seven Seas Lagoon loop.

I think it was during this ride that Bob was finally able to grasp the scope and size of Walt Disney World. I tried to tell him before the trip, other friends tried to tell him, heck, even my sister told him (“start walking now Bob and wear comfortable shoes” was her advice to him when she learned of the upcoming trip)! But realizing the distances between parks really hits home when you can’t even see the spires of Cinderella’s Castle from Epcot. Epcot and Hollywood Studios are within walking distance of each other – the Magic Kingdom is almost a (Walt Disney) World away.

Macaroni and Cheese Footlong Hot Dog, Fries, and a Diet Coke
Macaroni and Cheese Footlong from Casey’s Corner on Mainstreet USA.

Upon entering the Magic Kingdom we took the usual pictures in front of the castle, I pointed out the names above the shops along Mainstreet USA, and we just in general just soaked in the atmosphere. Then, since it was well past our usual lunch times we sought out food!

Casey’s Corner was our choice for lunch. I had a Bacon Macaroni and Cheese All-Beef Footlong (a foot-long hot dog topped with macaroni & cheese and bacon served with French Fries) with a Diet Coke to drink. I’m not sure what Bob chose, but I think it was a more traditional hot dog or chili dog. However, just recently he mentioned to me that it was the best hot dog he’s ever had. The snap, the seasoning, everything just worked. The french fries in my opinion are fairly standard amusement park fare, but they hit the spot and were well prepared. Not McDonald’s, but a satisfying side.

We spent the rest of the afternoon hitting a few of the Magic Kingdom favorites including:

  • The Enchanted Tiki Room
  • The Haunted Mansion
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • The Hall of Presidents

I’m sad to report that our experience in Pirates was less than ideal. The people in the row behind us on the boat talked through the entire attraction – at full volume. I’ve never understood why people would pay good money – and a lot of it – to go someplace like WDW and then not pay attention to the show that’s being presented around them. They probably talk at movie theaters, too.

Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow walking through Frontierland
Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle the Cow casually out for a stroll in Frontierland.

To make matters worse we had almost the same thing happen to us in the Haunted Mansion. In this case it seemed to be a group of teens or young adults who were fans of the ride and seemed to think that we would enjoy their narration more than the attraction’s. Given that the closest group to us was in another car they had to be be working at talking louder than the dialogue being given over the “Doom Buggy’s” internal speakers. Oh well.

It had been a long time since I had visited the Hall of Presidents and I’m glad that we did this one. The show has probably seen larger crowds, but who doesn’t feel a stirring of patriotic pride when each president is introduced?

Dinner was at the Liberty Tree Tavern. A restaurant right in the middle of Liberty Square which I had never eaten at before – what a meal I had been missing on earlier trips. We were seated in the Ben Franklin room, which was decorated with replicas of mementos from Franklin’s life. The meal was a Thanksgiving feast (all you care to eat and brought to your table) which had just about every home style comfort food you could want: a salad starter, rolls, roasted turkey breast, pot roast, and oven-roasted Pork with mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables, herb stuffing, and house-made macaroni and cheese. For desert Bob had their famous Oooey Gooey Toffee Cake which is vanilla toffee cake, chocolate sauce, and vanilla ice cream. I don’t do chocolate so the waiter brought me a dish of vanilla ice cream to finish my meal. We must have put away quite a few carbs though when at the end of the meal the waiter approached Bob with a dish in hand “here sir,” he said, “this is something you might like – it’s fruit.” We’re sure he meant nothing by it but somehow it seemed to us that he was politely offering Bob something he had never seen before, a healthy alternative to what we had just enjoyed. Maybe the third helping of stuffing put us over the edge.

We had just missed the fireworks and were both exhausted from the long day so we took a few evening photos of Cinderella’s Castle and headed out to catch the bus back to the hotel.

As always, to be continued…

Cinderella's Castle at night with the Partners statue in the foreground
Is there a more picturesque site in all of Walt Disney World? I don’t think so.

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Grumpy Old Men on Tour: Walt Disney World Day 1

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.

Day 1: Hollywood Studios and Epcot

The Flight and Arrival

We got up early to catch our flight from Detroit Metro Airport (DTW). I’m always nervous about not leaving enough time and take the recommendation of arriving at least an hour and a half for domestic flights seriously. In fact, I usually try to be at the airport two hours early. By the time you park off site (the least expensive option at DTW), get your shuttle bus, check your bags (1 bag under 50 pounds to avoid fees, plus the trusty CPAP which does not count as luggage by the way), go through security (almost always quick at DTW – unlike other airports I’ve been at), and find the gate (why is it always the furthest gate from the security checkpoint?), make one last trip to the restroom, etc. and you can use up most of the two hours easily.

Anyway, after one last check to make sure that we were properly packed, that our Magic Bands were on, and a quick trip through the McDonald’s drive-through for breakfast, like Crosby and Hope we were on the road (you youngsters will have to look up this reference. Trust me, it’s funny)!

Oh those Marketing folks at Disney. They take advantage of every opportunity. Too bad they couldn’t cover the mirrors though.

A quick note on airport security and one I think that TSA would appreciate me bringing up. Even if you are a seasoned flyer and think you know all the rules take a few minutes before you pack your carry-on and look at them again (check the TSA website for the current list). In these security conscious times they do occasionally change and I’ve been in too many lines where too many people seem to be caught unaware. For those of us traveling with medications be prepared, don’t have them buried in a hard to get to spot keep them readily available. More info directly from TSA is here. Likewise with medical devices – for example, you will have to take your CPAP machine out of it’s bag.

Back to our story…

I had one primary goal for this trip and that was to get a “boarding pass” to experience the brand new Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance attraction at Hollywood Studios. Beyond this as I mentioned in my previous post (which is here and details our preparation for the trip if you haven’t read it yet) I considered this to be Bob’s trip since it was his first time. However, since he is a more avid Star Wars fan that I am, Rise of the Resistance and all of Galaxy’s Edge was high on his list too.

Our game plan for today was simple. Get to our hotel, stow our gear, get on a bus and head to Hollywood Studios to scope out the situation. Making use of our previously reserved fast passes we should be able to get onto Toy Story Mania, Smuggler’s Run, and see the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular.

The flight was without incident and we arrived in sunny Orlando a little ahead of schedule. I don’t know why I was surprised to see that the marketers at Disney had already figured out how to promote the new Stars Wars attraction by decorating the airport’s monorail station to look like a transport station in a galaxy far away. If there’s one thing the folks at Disney know, it’s how to market!

We collected our bags and made our way to the Disney Magical Express bus (this service is being discontinued soon by WDW, by the way which is a shame as it was a nearly magical start to our vacation) and soon arrived at the All-Star Music Resort before noon. Using the Disney app to check in we learned that our rooms wouldn’t be available until 3:00 PM (we anticipated this) so we checked our bags at the bell station made sure our Magic Bands were securely attached to our wrists and headed to the bus to get to our first park – Hollywood Studios. All this without realizing we had made a mistake that would impact the rest of our afternoon (insert ominous music here).

Hollywood Studios

My first meal of the trip.

We arrived at the gates of Hollywood Studios before noon ready to scope out the new Galaxy’s Edge and the other attractions in the park. After a few pictures on Hollywood Boulevard, we had purchased the Memory Maker photo package after all, our first order of business was to try out our dining plan and have some lunch – it had been a long time since breakfast back in Detroit! We were moving around the park counter clockwise so we stopped in Toy Story Land at Woody’s Lunch Box. I ended up ordering the BBQ Brisket Melt (Shredded Smoked Brisket, Pickles, and Tangy Barbecue Sauce between Melted Cheddar and Monterey Jack on Grilled Sourdough Bread), potato tots, and a Diet Coke. Seating was at a premium in the lunch box’s courtyard but we finally found a spot to squeeze in. I found my meal to be very satisfying if somewhat pedestrian tasting – tangy might not be the best way to describe the barbecue sauce – but I didn’t expect an adventurous menu in Toy Story Land.

We were able to fit quite a bit into this first afternoon and experienced the following attractions:

  • Muppet Vision 3-D
  • Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular
  • Star Tours: The Adventure Continues
  • Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run
  • Toy Story Mania
Bob (right), Edna Mode (center), and myself (left).
Photo taken by a WDW photographer.

Of this group Toy Story Mania is still my favorite attraction. I have to say though that I hadn’t been on Star Tours in decades and the relatively new, at least to me, upgrades to this attraction are great! Smuggler’s Run is fun but for me the real thrill is having the experience of actually stepping onto the deck of the fabled spaceship. The detail is just that good inside. The Indiana Jones show was fun as usual, but there was an issue with one of the major effects on the day we were there and a certain boulder failed to roll. Though, the show was so well done I’m not sure if the malfunction wasn’t part of it. Perhaps someone else can enlighten me. Sadly, Muppet Vision 3D is in need of a make over. It’s still fun but given how the technology has improved over the years with 3D movies in theatres the novelty isn’t quite the same. It’s always a delight though to see Waldorf and Statler in person even if they do remind me of a couple of other grumpy old men I know.

As evening approached we decided that we better move on to Epcot where we had dinner reservations. We’d be back in the morning after all to try and get our boarding pass for Rise of the Resistance and we were both eager to see how the new Skyliner worked.

Epcot

By the way, does it bother anyone else that Disney no longer capitalizes all the letters in “Epcot?” It does me. I guess I’m a purist or just old enough to remember that EPCOT is an acronym for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

There was a lot of concern regarding the Skyliner when it first opened. It seems that it had a habit of breaking down and stranding guests for hours with no way to get down. I’m happy to report that this did not happen to us and the system seemed to work exactly as intended. We both did notice the emergency pack stowed in the cabin though.

It was a fairly hot and humid day, but we found the breeze created by the motion of the cabin along the cable to be sufficient. By this time though we were happy to be off of our feet for a little bit. You may remember I mentioned a mistake back at the hotel. It was a rookie one I’m sorry to say. We had dressed for the Michigan winter when we left Detroit that morning. The Florida weather we experienced in early February of 2020 was the opposite of that. We really should have changed from our jeans to our shorts before heading out for the day. Bob regretted not switching to his walking shoes especially! I won’t ever make that goof again.

Mickey and Bob share a laugh at Epcot.
Photo taken by a WDW photographer.

Arriving at Epcot we encountered and unexpected surprise – we were greeted by Mickey Mouse himself! No line, no fast pass needed. There he was seemingly just waiting for us to come through the gate and say hello. Now, I don’t care how old or grumpy you may think you are – there is something about seeing the Big Cheese in the flesh (so to speak) that just brings out the child in all of us. I didn’t get to take a picture with him on my first trip way back in 1975 – but I’ve been getting a photo ever since! I will also say that this first character greeting seemed to whet Bob’s appetite for them and he became a man on a mission from this point on to find as many favorites as he could, including the elusive Scrooge McDuck (more on this in a future installment)!

Nightly entertainment at the Biergarten in Epcot’s Germany pavilion.

We did not do a lot this particular evening in Epcot as our main reason to be here was for our dinner reservations at the Biergarten in Germany. I had fond memories of this restaurant from a family trip in 2000 and I’m happy to say this evening did not disappoint in any way. The German buffet was bountiful and everything was fresh and delicious. Well, as fresh as a selection of sausages and sauerkraut can be that is. Seating at the Biergarten is communal so you are often paired with another group in true Oktoberfest fashion. We lucked out and were seated with a pleasant world traveling middle-aged couple and had great conversation through our meal. They had been to Greece recently which was were I was scheduled to go in just a few weeks, unfortunately COVID has postponed that trip indefinitely, so I’m glad to have had a chance to talk to some people who had been there at least. I felt adventurous and even had a beer with my meal – a grapefruit ale of all things (Schöfferhofer Pink Grapefruit Hefeweizen). According to the menu description it was a “unique combination of sparkling smooth hefeweizen with grapefruit juice. Refreshing well-rounded taste with tangy character and hints of sweetness that is pleasing to the palate. The world’s first unfiltered grapefruit hefeweizen-mix.” I don’t normally drink and, frankly, have never learned to like beer but I found this one to be pretty tasty.

For entertainment there was a German polka band who played a variety of instruments and even dancing for those who wanted to do so. To finish the evening we continued our walk around the World Showcase and watched the Epcot Forever fireworks show. Then it was back to finally see what our room was like at the hotel.

All-Star Music Resort

As I said in my previous post – I’m not a believer in spending more on a hotel room at WDW than you have to because you are not going to spend a lot of time in the room. Our room was typical of all the All-Star Resorts, clean and comfortable. An interesting feature of the All-Star room is that one of the beds is a Murphy bed which folds up into a cabinet while a table folds out. Perfect for laying out maps or what not during the day or if you bring food from the food court back to the room. The rooms also come with a flat screen television, which we kept mostly to the WDW information channels, but no microwave or refrigerator (they want you to buy food remember). The bathroom is spacious by budget hotel standards and there seemed to be enough storage space for our clothes and luggage.

This first night we didn’t spend a lot of time talking or rehashing the day. We were both exhausted and we also had to get up early tomorrow to be at Hollywood Studios as soon as the gates opened. Our goal – Star Wars: Rise of the Resitance.

I pulled down my bed, plugged in my life support (the CPAP), and quickly fell fast asleep dreaming of things from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

To be continued…

Me in front of the Falcon (as I call her). Note the jeans.
Photo taken by Robert J. Yoman.

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr