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.


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 in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

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.


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 in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr