19 February 2018

Walt Disney World Like Everybody Else

Now that we're back in KC and the sweet, musical sound of children endlessly bickering with gratingly high treble tones in the other room is imparting the comforting reminder that we are truly home, I thought I'd write up some reminiscences of our quick vacation over the last few days. I do this because if I don't, we forget in a year or two everything we did and experienced while on vacation, and vacations are too expensive to allow that to happen (this one doubly so!). So yes, while usually we're doing something a bit crazier or off the beaten path, this time, it's straight family vacation cliche...flying to Disney World and letting the Mouse, heretofore content to only prise money out of me on the West Coast, open up a new front on my bank account.

And so on Wednesday, we cleaned the house, packed, and headed out to the airport. We don't fly a lot...I last flew in 2013, Debra and Gretchen (as an infant) in 2009, and Peter never. I lost a cheap mini-multitool (no big loss) and a branded Ken-A-Vision pocketknife (which hurt a bit more for sentimental reasons) going through security because I didn't dig through the pockets of my laptop bag (again, haven't flown in a while).

We went with a cheaper airline (Spirit) which is going for slightly "fun" marketing around the fact that it's a flying sardine tin, but on the whole it was perfectly fine for short flights. The kids loved it. Debra has some anxiety about flying (which has probably contributed to her otherwise surprising acquiescence to near-6000 mile roadtrips) but the flight out went OK.

We got in fairly late, and finally sorted our "Magical Express" transportation to the resort (Disney's way of making sure you don't rent a car and spend your money in Mouse-approved spots). The hotel was charming (the Port Orleans Riverside) but Debra and the kids were rather paranoid about alligators given all the water next to walking paths. Needless to say we made it safe and sound to our hotel room, then ventured back out again to head to the main building. We had wanted to check out the lounge which had a performer the kids would've liked, but the place was packed out and incredibly loud, and overall much too much of a extrovert experience for our travel-weary selves. The food court was fine, with a pizza and some steak and potatoes we all shared.

Next morning up and at 'em...to Epcot. I looked at my phone and saw it was 62 degrees. In both Kansas City and Florida, at the same time in February. Slightly annoying, but put it this way, one was on its way up and the other on its way down.

Nice fog in the mornings most days.

Kids loved the birds which were in large numbers down there (lots of seagulls and "miscellaneous" oddities I don't know, too).

Another busride (they were legion) and we were in Epcot. The "extra magic hour" for resort guests gets you in an hour early...although we passed the throng of regular guests who were massing near the rope and I nearly panicked and routed into flight because they looked like the impi ready to charge Michael Caine and the Welshmen in 1964's Zulu. But we had enough time to avoid the rush.

We skipped through Futureland (I guess a Tomorrowland reboot?) and headed towards the World Showcase. Mexico was first on the left, but not really open yet. Then to Norway, complete with tiny faux stave church:

First we hit up the Frozen ride since it was our only chance to do it where there isn't a 2+ hour wait. Obviously done with 4 year old girls in mind ("are you ready to SEE ELSA??!!") ("YES I AM!" I said, giddily clapping), but it felt nice to get in front of all those other 4 year old girls and only have a 30 minute wait in line.

Then to the bakery there, for a variety of baked goods...a chocolate pretzel, a viking themed mousse cake, a sweet roll of lefse, and I got a charcuterie platter just on account of its inclusion of gjetost (caramelized brown goat cheese). This is a theme, I should say...whereas some of our vacations we do things like eat plain tortillas and canned pasta to save money and time, this was more of a culinary trip.

I liked the Norway pavilion, quite charming overall.

Inside the stave church was a neglected little museum. A Hardanger fiddle was there, first I'd seen in person...essentially a violin equipped with sympathetic strings like such as are used in Indian music.

Then we went on "Spaceship Earth", in the giant golfball, because we have Fastpass, and WHAT THE FASTPASS DEMANDS, THE FASTPASS MUST HAVE. It was, like much in Futureland, quite dated, but this one was dated in a slightly more enjoyable way I suppose (at least the first half). The second half used the local video displays and pictures taken of the riders to superimpose faces onto the animations, and mine showed up with transparent holes for eyes, which was rather creepy.

Then FASTPASS demanded we go across to visit Turtle Talk, whatever that turned out to be. While waiting in line Gretchen loved the rays in the aquarium.

Turtle Talk turned out to be an interactive cartoon of a "Finding Nemo" turtle "dude" (ironic that turtles somehow retain this reputation of being stoner surfer bros even after the 1980s TMNT phase...I wonder if it annoys them, like when Jamie Farr of M*A*S*H fame arrived to audition for King Lear and the director expresses playful disappointment that he didn't do so in a dress and Carmen Miranda hat) operated by a dude backstage who did well with the witty banter (occasionally flirting close to the too-adult-for-this-crowd but never getting over the line). After that, we explored the aquarium. Manatee, or if you prefer, Personatee:

Giant fake shark for which there is (naturally) a line to pose within:

Thence back to the World Showcase. By this time the Mexico pavilion is open, so we head into the giant Aztec/Mayan (sue me, one of 'em) pyramid and when you get in there, it's....an upscale Casa Bonita!!!

We rode the little water ride there that has Donald Duck and two other less famous "amigos" (a parrot and road runner maybe?). It was basically all about Donald exploring the delights and sights of Mexico. This scene was disturbing, obviously some local denizens had performed a birthday themed lynching of Donald. Not sure why you would have that on a ride for kids!!

Then to the China pavilion which was thoroughly beautiful:

We wandered (too) briefly through the gardens, and watched the Circlevision presentation on China. A serial theme we found with many of the showcase elements, which are provided by their countries, is a certain sense of insecurity. China glossed over much of its natural beauty and really tried to emphasize its growing economy and huge, expanding cities. Granted, everyone favors different things, but it was less of my thing...oh great, you have huge skyscrapers and wedge people into the least amount of square mileage possible! OK, part of my negative reaction may have been the fact that Disney parks generally activate every "too much people in too little space" alert within my being, so I was predisposed to dislike that angle... But anyway, after a retreat to Norway to wash hands (another common ritual) we returned to get a small sampling of potstickers for a snack.

Then to Germany, which was one of the least notable spots...the location was beautiful, but basically a facsimile of the Fantasyland architecture, and not a lot of exhibits...just sausage and beer, and with the heat, I wasn't ready to start cranking down Oktoberfest at midday (for larcenous prices). But I did capture another common theme...the ritual re-attaching of the Magicband:

Italy had a beautiful pavilion, but the food options were more serious, we're-going-to-fill-your-gullet type things and that sounded less than ideal at the time. So we just said hello and continued on. It was early in the day but the vino was flowing here like crazy. I can't imagine enjoying that in the sun and humidity, but I suppose, dammit, these people are here on vacation and they're going to ENJOY THEMSELVES one way or another...

Then the American pavilion! Debra gave me this face as if to say..."ehhhh" and we passed on. It's here for the international tourists. We know 'merica pretty well.

Japan! One of the more expansive and impressive pavilions and one of my favorites, with Norway.

We spent some time here. I got a shaved ice (kakigori) as well as sushi and nigorizake (latter two for me as I could enlist no other interested parties), and we ate under the imposing shadow of the mountain castle [facsimile]. Then, with that stirring spectacle of martial pride and history, we headed into the shops and found the modern culture of silly, cute-obsessed Japan on full display. The kids liked the Pokemon crap...err..stuff.

Then to Morocco. It was a pretty pavilion with a nice Arabian Nights feel (the kids completely failed to recognize when Jasmine walked out right by them, but a crowd of teenagers lost their ever-loving minds about it, too close to my vicinity). The country is Islamic and (I assume...no, I haven't googled it) probably dry, but THAT DOESN'T FLY IN DISNEY WORLD, so they had amusingly, sangria and margaritas on sale. Sangria assumedly because the neighbors just north past the Strait of Gibraltar were once part of the Caliphate, before the Reconquista, and the margaritas out of a stretched transitive property...Morocco is near Spain, which colonized Mexico...alright, fine. Debra wanted to get some food so we all shared a plate of lamb shawarma.

Then to France, the land of OUTRAGEOUS ACCENTS. Honestly, I don't remember anything other than us just milling about here briefly, and wondering what these weird pruned trees look like normally.

We had dinner reservations at 8PM, but quickly realized we weren't gonna make it, and moved them up...then up again. Finally, we arrived in the UK, our dinner destination:

I adopted a nice British accent (no, not the typical over the top Austin Powers rubbish most Americans do!) for most of the visit much to the annoyance of Gretchen. We had dinner at the pub where I had a pastie and a Bass ale, Debra had leek soup and a cider and black, Gretchen had fish and chips, and Peter had the most stunningly bland mac and cheese ever discovered, completely unsalted. I'm usually a British cuisine apologist, but really...when the Boy who is a bland food Nazi says, too boring, it's a bridge too far.

Next day! Up and walking through the lovely "Alligator Bayou" to the bus stop. Keeping an eye on the underbrush. On to the Magic Kingdom, basically, False Disneyland.

First up, the Seven Dwarves Mine Train. Kids acted super scared (we broke their brains when taking them on Spinning Dragons at Worlds of Fun, they don't trust us now) but they liked it.

Then, we did the Little Mermaid ride which is much the same as in California Adventure. From there we went to Gaston's Tavern. I was hoping Gaston was there so I could defeat him in a pushups contest but no such luck. As it happened we just spent a ton of money on a tiny Hot Pocket of fancy ham and cheese. Wasn't bad, just, as expected, kind of silly.

We did the Barnstormer, which is a low-grade coaster good for kids. Then the Dumbo ride, much the same as in Disneyland. After that we headed through Frontierland towards Adventureland, and stopped for the Country Bear Jamboree which has been I think removed from Disneyland. I'm not sure I ever saw it but Debra and I were both surprised by the occasional bawdy and adult themes that snuck in to the bear/bluegrass theme. Venison/bison backup group on the wall to starboard:

Then...Tiki Room!

This is the waiting room...the show was near identical to DL though.

From there to the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse. I insisted on this one because in Anaheim they've bastardised the original into the "Tarzan Treehouse" to promote the Phil Collins monstrosity they produced. I for one love the original 1960s film, coconut bombs and tiger traps and all.

Due to various huge throngs and musical acts, the best we got was a side shot of the giant castle:

From there to Tomorrowland, which is always amusingly dated. The Peoplemover in Disneyland was nuked years ago, so Debra was particularly chuffed to showcase this especially bland ride to us:

The kids do like bland rides so it was a nice break:

Then we did the Carousel of Progress, a weird rotating animatronic stage show, that didn't get really funny until it hit the fourth "present" stage that was obviously done decades ago, and updated half-heartedly. Still, these aren't harsh criticisms, a lot of creativity went into the design.

Then FASTPASS makes its call and we head north to do the Autopia facsimile:

Then we head out through the sweaty throng that only seemed to thicken through the day, and hitch a lift on a boat.

And we approach the Polynesian Resort...

Walking up to this place was a tonic to my battered-by-the-throngs soul...as we approached the building I heard a steel guitar start in on "Blue Hawaii" and I just about stood transfixed. Subsequently inside the resort I heard Sweet Leilani and Beautiful Kahana and realized....I need a gig here, or at least a vacation!

We had intended to go to the Trader Sam's tiki joint here but we were here much too early. So we got pineapple ice cream instead:

After exploring, we headed back onto the Monorail and eventually hitched a bus lift back to our resort. As I recall we swam, and ended up getting very nearly the same meal from the food court that night as from our first night (when you've got hold of a good thing, I suppose). But the Polynesian definitely bewitched me a bit.

Next day, time for Animal Kingdom. First up, the Avatar/Pandora land. Never seen the move, but the place is weird and interesting.

Floating islands are neat:

We intended to ride, with the help of our "extra magic hour" the Navi Flight ride, but it was flirting with 3 hour wait times at opening! So we skipped that and got away with a river boat ride there that normally has similarly high wait times, only 30 minutes at this point.

From there over to Dinosaur World, to ride the Dinosaur ride that was basically Indiana Jones rebranded. Pete was a bit scared but Gretchen loved it.

Then me and Pete rode the Triceratops version of Dumbo. I noted these panels...bomb bay doors? For dumping unruly riders?

Pete always prefers to control altitude on these types of rides.

From there to Asia, Everest in the background. I had four FASTPASSES, three wasted, but alas, such is life.

First up we did the Maharajah Jungle Trek which Gretchen loved. Komodo Dragon:

Flying foxes:

Tigress and cubs:

In the aviary, she was borderline obsessed with identifying EVERYTHING

We finally convinced Debra to venture onto the short-line-at-this-point Kali River Rapids ride which threatened getting soaked while it was still chilly. The kids loved it...think Fury of the Nile with slightly better production value, and a ludicrously better themed line.

Then we had breakfast tacos and donuts, and absurdly headed back onto the same ride, the kids loved it so much. We had time to burn before the EXPEDITION EVEREST FASTPASS, so we shopped and a lion and snow leopard resulted:

We ate lunch with some chicken fried rice and Korean pork ribs. Then, I rode Expedition Everest alone because I couldn't convince the others. Quite fun.

But from there to Africa...you take a train to the "Affection Section".

Gretchen has mourned the nixing of the petting zoo in Disneyland, so this is a good thing for her.

Handwashing of course followed.

We did a short trail that I didn't take a lot of pictures on but we got the hippo underwater, at least:

Then onto the FASTPASS (yes I prefer to capitalize it, for emphasis) Kilimanjaro Safari. Vultures and hippos:

These are crocodiles, very similar to the alligators I keep trying to convince the kids are lurking waiting to eat them at the hotel.

We had giraffes on both sides...I have some video with Gretchen's side as well, but they were quite close.

White rhinos taking it easy...

A fun day...a nice blend of zoo and theme park.

That night we heard from one of Debra's longtime friends who lived in the area, and lacking a car, we went to visit them in "Disney Springs", the equivalent of "Downtown Disney" in Disneyland. Sort of a rubbish place to me otherwise but it was nice for everyone to meet up again and it was the only place we could get to with the shuttle (and very nice of them to drive up from the coast). But we were completely sacked out by the end of the night. No worries, one easy day left.

Final park day, back to Epcot, where we bowed before the Giant Golfball with the chanting throng:

We intended to rush in and do the Test Track ride first, but the line had crested 100 minutes wait by the time we got there and that was....not happening. Line fatigue. So we headed into the empty "Innoventions" edutainment building for a brief bit:

We headed over to the other side of Futureland and had a quick breakfast. Gretchen was sad for reasons which I now completely forget (she probably does too, but I'm going to wager it had more to do with exhaustion and insufficient sleep) when we got breakfast. We did a slightly lame "Nemo" themed ride that basically just had LCD TVs showing the characters in a video loop with shell decor everywhere. Bit phoned in, and it ended with difficult to see windows into the aquarium that are easier to see from the main (non-ticketed) viewing area outside the ride. Ah well. Not complaining, it was fine.

Then FASTPASS demanded we visit Soarin', and while Gretchen was nervous, she was utterly elated. So glad I was the one to get to sit with her, after her rough morning she lit up like a Roman candle. Probably one of her favorite rides (this is her immediately afterward).

Then we rode the 1990s ecology movement pablum ride Living with the Land, which started out full of the expected cliches (I grew up then, I was shocked not to hear them talk about acid rain), but had its interesting moments, particularly seeing the plants in the (cliche alert) biosphere. White ginger blossoms though! The so-named song stirred in my ears.

We headed back to Innoventions to while away some more time, and then FASTPASS had us do Mission Space. Gretchen and Debra went on the Green easy version and me and Pete went on the Orange "you don't get motion-sick" version. Peter loved it with a fervency that made me a bit sad as he was pointedly asking me about the next time we come back, can we do it again (kind of think of this as a possible one-time trip).

Then we headed back to the World Showcase. This time we hit up Canada first:

Martin Short did the Circlevision show, which as I've mentioned, highlights national insecurities ("no, we're not just backwater woods and mountains and small towns, we have smog and traffic and skyscrapers TOO!").

Then to Britain where we all shared a single order of fish and chips which was delightful. I think they gave us an extra fish filet cause the waitress from Blackpool recognized my *very authentic* British accent while ordering so we were all very well fed.

France again, and this time I went and fetched a strawberry crepe the family shared for dessert. I kept the Clouseau accent going through Morocco because of French colonial history, much to the chagrin of Gretchen. We had (much later) reservations for dinner in France but we had already cancelled them...we were tiring of the packed parks too early in the day for that.

Back to Norway for Gretchen to buy her stuffed puffin (though they are eaten in Iceland, I mean stuffed as in plush toy, not like stuffed with cheese and crouton then baked). We got a couple mousse cake things for the kids and Debra and I shared another charcuterie tray with a makeshift table (it was packed). I had the Linie Akevitt, which is like a burst of caraway rye in a glass.

On our way back out...we hopped on the Monorail.

Back to the Polynesian, getting our fill of the ambience without actually paying for it. We were all tired...sat in the lobby for a bit just drinking it in and listening to the music.

After a bit, we left Debra there to take a quick catnap and me and the kids headed out to explore. While walking, the songs on the various PAs called out to me...Beautiful Kahana again, a song I know as "Ne'i Ne'i Mai" (although multiple songs go under that title I believe), Ua Like No A Like (I Will Remember You), and On The Beach at Waikiki. We found lots of lizards over here where the lu'au happens.

Odd looking Brazilian tree, with one flower in the upper left.

Then we headed to Trader Sam's again, and this time had a nice afternoon dinner on the terrace. We shared potstickers and a Hawaiian flatbread pizza, and Debra and I had the infamous Nautilus, with souvenir glass fashioned after the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea vessel. It made it home in one piece, I'm happy to say, and will be my rather expensive souvenir to decorate my somewhat island-y music room.

There was a talented ukulele player and singer starting his set there. I was hopeful, but he seemed to suffer a usual malady...probably born and raised in Hawaii, but very influenced by the folk overthrow of Hawaiian music (see Iz, etc.). So we got to hear: a few Disney songs, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, What a Wonderful World, other completely non-Hawaiian tunes, and to add insult to injury, James Taylor's Fire and Rain. YOU ARE NOT A 20 YEAR OLD GIRL IN COFFEEHOUSE MAN. He was taking requests and I was briefly tempted to throw him a curveball of Kamalani O Keaukaha, or Maile Lau Li'i Li'i, and maybe he would have taken those and run with them, perhaps pleased by the opportunity not to dwell in the dredge of Haole folkpop, but hey, he's playing to his audience so I respect that.

Then we headed back to the docks and said our goodbyes to the place...

Approaching Magic Kingdom where we would meet our bus.

Then back to the hotel for a dessert for the kids, and an early night of it.

Up early in the morning and off to the airport. We had a Cuban sandwich at a deli in the airport which Debra and I thought very highly of (skipping breakfast helps sharpen the appetite, admittedly). The kids had a cheese toast / buttered toast on Cuban bread, and we then boarded. Rough-ish flight in parts, but a smooth enough landing Debra looked at me in anxious anticipation several seconds after we alighted, not realizing we had touched down (kudos to the pilot). And now we're back. Another day of work tomorrow...gotta pay for this extravaganza. All in all, a good time, and an interesting first glimpse of Florida for me...but getting back to the normal grind is always appreciated after these things!

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