Monday, September 1, 2014

Walt Disney World 2013: Day 1 - Thundershower in the Tower

As per usual for our vacations, we arose the first day at Stupid O’clock in the morning.  Due to the sheer amount of amazing opportunities provided by Disney World, we would sleep only slightly later for the duration of the trip, getting up between Silly O’clock and Ridiculous O’clock.

Once mostly awake and moderately fed, we commenced rushing about the house in a flurry of last minute worries, assuring everything was where it needed to be, both at home and in our various bags.

I had both possible baseball hats that I could use to protect my shiny head from the Florida sun sitting on the table.  I normally wore my DOG FOOD FOR CHAIRS hat most days.  However, I had never worn the much older (predating the blog) t-shirt adorned the same way to Disney World, as I always felt it was their show not mine.

Why I was willing to wear it absolutely everywhere else, particularly aquariums, is a psychological issue I am not prepared to discuss at the moment.

Therefore I felt placing it next to my Pirates of the Caribbean hat on the table would somehow lead to a Schrödinger’s Cap phenomenon, where only one would exist when it was time to go.  Surprisingly, my experiment in the quantum nature of headgear failed and I was forced to make a decision.

My strong Disney genes prevailed, and I grabbed the hat which matched my Pirate belt buckle as we ran out the door.

We had arranged for a very early limo pick up, partially to insure Anabelle’s scheduled solo seat on the plane would be cleared up, but also because I was concerned about Labor Day traffic heading the same direction we were.  We learned that Labor Day traffic does not awaken at Stupid O’clock in the morning, granting us a large amount of extra time in the nearly empty airport.

Pushing and poking ourselves with our collection of stuff through security, we arrived at the gate far before boarding time to explain the separate seating situation that several Awesome Happy Disney people, and some significantly less happy, but more knowledgeable, United people said would be easy to fix.

The flight was overbooked, as were all flights in the universe that week, and nothing could be done.  We did have time for a more leisurely and less “shove this in your face” breakfast than what we attempted at home before boarding.

As always, Anabelle was staring out the window thrilled with the prospect of the airplane ride. The unknown woman on the other side of me was not.  Therefore, she needed to stay directly across the aisle form her family, instead of sitting behind them, and wouldn’t switch with Rosa.  Telling her Steven King believed that it was mental energy of the scared people that kept the plane in the air helped somewhat, but she still wasn’t moving.

Rosa read across the way from us, which Anabelle and I also did once she got tired of looking out the window and not being able to see Disney World.

There may have been some napping across the aisle as well. I did manage to greatly impress my daughter when I walked her to the tiny restroom.  She could see my shoulders didn’t fit through the door, and gaped in awe when I described changing her on the flight home from her two year old birthday trip.

The advantages of the early flight cascaded.  Not only was there a nearly empty airport and no trouble with take off, but we also landed early, since there were no previous plane problems to get in our way.  We grabbed our carry ons and headed over to the equally empty Magical Express Bus station.

Once in Orlando Airport, we put on our Magic Bands, since that’s what we were told to do.  The Awesome Happy Disney People are so good at moving people around; we thought it best to follow their advice.

We took turns lighting up the green Mickey circles with our Magic Bands as we passed through the Magical Express entry points.  The Awesome Happy Disney People were made extra happy at the use of the bands.  They must have still been relatively new considering how many of them started looking us up on the computer before we showed them our brightly colored accessories. Then they would get all excited about us trying them out.  I learned very quickly to put mine on so that Mickey was upside down when I looked at it.  This prevented some painful contortions when told to “line up the Mickeys.”

Our next Awesome Happy Disney person was the Magic Express Bus driver.  We knew all of his trivia questions except one:

“What item isn’t sold anywhere on Disney property?”
The answer: “gum.” 

He said they had a proprietary spray that Cast Members used before the parks opened to dissolve any on the ground. 

That’s kind of terrifying upon reflection. 

Along with Vacation Club videos, which we would likely be a member of if we didn’t get screwed in the housing crash, the bus welcomed us by playing “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” from Carousel of Progress, Walt’s favorite attraction, and my main ringtone. 

Now that Art of Animation was open, the Pop Century shared a Magic Express bus with it and other Animal Kingdom resorts. This made our trip significantly shorter than when we were sharing with The Grand Floridian and other Magic Kingdom locations. Pop Century still kept its own buses for the parks though.  Yay Disney growth!
Following a brief, failed photo attempt filled, stop at the Art of Animation, we arrived at our Disney home.  The Awesome Happy Disneyness kicked into overdrive as we were met with friendly greetings, a red carpet and bubbles.

We checked in on-line, allowing us to pick the short queue to announce our presence.  The woman was above average in the normally excellent Awesome and Happy categories.  She gave us the intro speech about the parks and the resort, and threw in some tips about the dining plan that even I hadn’t thought of.  I noticed her nametag said she was from Brockton, Massachusetts and mentioned it being the home of Rocky Marciano.  Based on her reaction, she had heard that a lot, but added that most people forget Marvin Hagler also hailed from that town.  As I was trying to work out an apology to this obvious fan of “the Marvelous One” she added, “the coke head,” indicating I probably didn’t need to apologize. 

Being overwhelmed with excitement and exhaustion I lost much of my vocabulary. I wanted to request key to the world cards in case the Magic Bands didn’t work somewhere.   However, all I could manage to express was pointing at my wrist and saying, “Um, could we have back up things?”

Her answer, “Back up things?  Disney always has back up things,” and handed us an envelope with already prepared Key to the World cards.  I answered, “Thank you, that’s why we love Disney.”

Though our room was ready for us, with an early landing of our plane, and an early dinner scheduled, we took time to have lunch in the redone Everything POP food court.  We also picked up our Disney mugs, and were told that they’d added RF transmitters (like those in the Magic Bands) to them as well.  Half way through our stay they would become active, allowing them to only be refilled in the resort they were purchased in, for the duration of the buyer’s stay.  Pretty soon we’ll just jack into Disney World like the Matrix. YAY!

They no longer had the tilapia sandwich I was forced to wait seven minutes for every time on our previous trip. (As opposed to the other burgers and chicken that were premade.)  Therefore I selected a black bean burger…and was told I had to wait five minutes for them to make it.  Oh well, I saved two minutes.

We eased ourselves back into the entrée-beverage-dessert world of the Disney Dining Plan, and started off with a very relaxing and fun first meal in Disney World.  This was followed by a period of intense panic and garbage pail diving after I accidentally threw Anabelle’s mug lid away with the trash.   Having established set points for the high and low emotional ebb and flow for the vacation, we went to see our room.

Our request to be close to the Classic Hall was met, providing easy access to busses, food and, well…everything else in Classic Hall.  Therefore we didn’t care when we found out our view from our second floor room behind the Giant Play Doh Can was neither the lake, nor the pool, but a clump of trees.  The Sixties themed collage on the wall had many “it’s a small world” images,

and the recycling can had Jiminy Cricket.
 As a fan of both that ride, and (recently out of nowhere) Pinocchio, Anabelle was in full super happy dance mode.  This increased exponentially when she got the birthday phone message from Mickey, and saw the Mickey ears on the shampoo bottles.  Even the washcloths were left on the bed in a “not so hidden” Mickey.

We switched items needed for the parks into our backpacks, and Anabelle set up a mini-backpack with her pink fluffy princess autograph book, giant pen and other supplies.  Her bag featured a Nets logo prominently on it, which probably would have made Grandma and Auntie Kim much prouder a few years before. 

As we were about to leave, the bell hop knocked on the door to deliver our luggage from the Magic Express.  There was a minor bit of panic as it was only one of the two suitcases we brought, but an awesomely powered Disney walkie talkie call confirmed that the other one was with the next delivery due in a half hour. Even with this delay, it is the fastest our bags showed up in the room since Magical Express started. (See kids? Take the early flight to Disney.)

With parks to visit, unpacking wasn’t going to happen anyway, and we set out for our first Disney bus ride to MGM.

Yes, I know tradition and my own insane Disney World rules dictates starting at the Magic Kingdom, but it was not only Monday (when the original Disney World Park gets as crowded as Saturday), but also a holiday. Due to the length of our stay, we had three full days in the Kingdom scheduled.  Therefore we dodged the mob and went to the closest park to kick off the trip.

Our first Disney Bus clearly anticipated our arrival, playing score selections from Star Wars followed by Star Trek, Superman and Batman.  We heard the Superman theme again in the entry area for MGM to continue Disney’s musical welcome to the McGinley family.

We entered the park, and breathed the collective “we’re here” sigh, usually performed on Main Street but nearly as effective on Hollywood Boulevard (or Discovery Island, or the Leave a Legacy plaza for that matter).  Our first stop was the camera store containing the PhotoPass center, which due to Disney Awesomeness is always, “The last store on the left as you leave the park.” Here we picked up our pre ordered PhotoPass Plus card, and the instructions on how to use it to insure all the Disney taken pictures end up in the account.  We also got some extra instructions from the Awesome Happy Disney person on what to do to insure that the pictures that should have been there but still didn’t make it on to the account could be found and added later.

We chose the Great Movie Ride as our starting point.  Thanks to the extra earliness of the early flight, we not only had plenty of time before dinner, but also had plenty of time before the FastPass Plus before dinner. (Again, see kids? Take the early flight to Disney.)

The Great Movie Ride was an appropriate reintroduction to the Wonderful World of Disney, with its high end animatronics, and cool storyline.  We ended up with a disappointingly uninspired Tour Guide, who didn’t even say, “Ta Da!” on her triumphant return.
 This was offset by getting the cowboy bandit, however.  That option has much cooler effects (fire and explosions) than the gangster one.

Exiting the ride, we got to see our first “new” characters, from afar anyway.  Minnie in her pink Clubhouse dress was just outside the Chinese Theater, but her line was closed.

(Note: I am informed by my daughter that it was not her Clubhouse dress.  It had stars instead of polka dots, was more see through and the coloring was off.  We’ve raised an obsessively focused Disney geek. I’m so proud.)

We waved as we passed, crossing in front of the animation courtyard.  There we spotted the newly installed Princess Sofia, and her insanely long line.  Planning to try for her highness on one of our non-Labor Day returns, we headed to the edge of the park, and our first pre-selected FastPass Plus, the Tower of Terror.

Disney atmosphere is truly amazing and they pull out all the stops.  A full bore Florida thunderstorm kicked into high gear as we approached the Hollywood Tower Hotel, perfectly capturing the mood, and giving Anabelle the heebie jeebies.

Rosa came with us to see the cool preshow interiors of the hotel. She, along with two women in front of us on line, was excessively focused on making sure they got out the “chicken exit” instead of going on the ride.  My explanations that they would be led to an express elevator that looked like the ride but really wasn’t did not calm them down.  At least they got some of the thrill experience.  From the first siting of lightning bolts over the tower, right up until the first drop, Anabelle kept repeating quietly, “I’m scared.  REALLY, I’m scared.”

Her tone shifted slightly when the downs and ups of the elevator kicked in. She then kept repeating, at the top of her lungs, “AWESOME!!!!!”

We logged our first of many PhotoPass ride pictures, and exited the gift shop into the rain.  There was a bit of fiddling with umbrellas and ponchos to make sure we kept the back packs dry.  And, y’know, if we could cover ourselves too, that was nice.

I made my first and final attempt to use the SmartPhone’s GPS in conjunction with the MyDisneyExperience app to navigate through the park.  There was solid Wi-Fi throughout Disney World. The signal strength was good, and nearly every spot check we tried worked fine.  Real time map updating however, was substantially slower than my family moved through a Disney Park in the rain.  After that we stuck with the paper maps.

We made it to the dinner reservation at the Sci-Fi Dine in Theater in plenty of time and were escorted to our car after dripping in their lobby for a short while.  It was a great deal of fun to reintroduce my daughter to the existence of (and hear her reactions to) the films,
It Conquered the World (“It’s a carrot.”),
Robot Monster (“A gorilla in a space helmet? Where does the robot part come in?”)
Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman (“Wait, WHAT?”)
and Plan 9 From Outer Space (“His chiropractor?!”)

Anabelle got her first of many birthday cupcakes, and a driver’s license for sitting in the front seat. I had planned to celebrate with one of the entertainingly named and multi flavored alcoholic shakes to mark the start of the vacation after my cardiac summer.  However, the menu changed right before we got there, removing almost all of them.  I stuck with a plain one as one of my “allowed unhealthy desserts.” Hey, I was recovering from the stress of realizing my daughter would be getting a real drivers license someday, and it was a beverage in the dining plan!

This was one of the few places that the Magic Bands didn’t work. Our waiter explained (quite awesomely, may I add) the reason for this was RF technology didn’t exist in the Fifties.  As we left, Anabelle wondered why she had her Tower of Terror shirt on again. I explained that it was still only Day One, and the existence of the Disney Time Dilation Effect.

We passed the shorter but closed Sofia line on our way to the Magic of Disney Animation.  The show had just started, prompting our entry into the character area.  As we approached the line, Mr. Incredible and Frozone went on a super-coffee break, and Anabelle ran into Jake (of Neverland Pirates fame) wandering about on his own.

Next we went over to the meet and greet line for Wreck-it-Ralph and Vanellope.  The queue for them was made to look like Game Station Central, with an incredibly funny message board.
(For old geeks like me who get eighties video game and Tron jokes anyway.)  On line they handed out some pre-signed cards since Ralph’s freakishly large hands couldn’t hold any pen, including the giant one Anabelle was carrying.

Ralph’s overall freakish largeness meant there wasn’t that much he could do during the meeting, but Anabelle was still excited to see them, and I was glad to get a picture with Vanellope, the only Disney Princess who has ordered an execution.  Even in jest, that’s a fantastic accomplishment.  It still doesn’t hold a candle to Mulan wiping out an entire horde of Huns with a single shot.

Though there was a bit of a line, we went for our initial greeting with the Mouse in charge.  It’s a pretty good indication what a great time of year we picked to go that I’m moaning about the length of a twenty minute line.  Meeting Sorcerer Mickey was everything that could be expected, and we felt even more welcome to The World than the superhero music had made us feel

We changed tactics while waiting, planning a return to the show another day.  This proved that, despite the insane amount of planning I put into these trips, a great deal of choices remain spontaneous.  Instead we let Mr. Incredible and Frozone trade manly muscle motions with Anabelle’s giant pen.  Mr. Incredible must have been doing yoga to increase his flexibility since our last trip. He was able to sign an autograph instead of using a preprinted stamp.

Our second FastPass Plus was due, and we crossed Pixar Place, waved to Buzz and Woody through the window as we didn’t feel like waiting an hour in the holiday throng to see them, and entered Toy Story Mania, AKA “Uncle Jesse’s Ride”. 
I got the high score for the hour, indicating (based on scores seen on later trips) a high quotient of spastic people visiting MGM that day.  Anabelle, after no ill effects on the Tower of Terror and before no ill effects on over twenty roller coaster and other Disney Mountain and tower rides, ended up with motion sickness and a wicked headache.

We made use of the Dramamine still in our pack from the flight, and spent a bit of recovery time on a bench in front of the giant mist spraying coke bottle that is near the fountain from Splash. 

I’m not sure why I needed to specify that. Even in Disney World, it isn’t like there’s a whole bunch of giant mist spraying Coke bottles.

The break turned out to be extremely fortuitous.  We took the time to check messages and learned:
(A) Titi Luzma got the new job she wanted (YAY!!!)
(B) Testing the Disney Magic Bands and preprogramming a plethora of experiences ahead of time earned us an e-mail invitation to test out “FastPass Dining” at the Be Our Guest restaurant. (YAY!!! Again.)

A quick check of the Grid identified an hour we could squeeze into the otherwise “nigh impossible to get fed in” new restaurant on one of our Magic Kingdom days.  We perused the digital menu; each ordered meals…and hoped that the system would actually work.

The sun began to set as we finished resting and wandered over to our next scheduled FastPass Plus, Star Tours the Adventure Continues.  Anabelle looked OK, but we decided to watch the Jedi Academy show to make sure she was settled.

Those Jedi Masters were younger than I was, but still definitely first generation Star Wars geeks. And they were living the dream, man!  Disney provided the gags, corny jokes and special effects and the kids were a natural source of comedy, but that spark of geekdom fueled the believability of the Star Wars Universe on that stage.  (And perhaps an older, but just as excited, geek in the crowd wearing his Darth Vader shirt while cheering on the Sith Lord added a bit too.)

Anabelle’s ever shifting desires of audience participation swung to the positive side for this show.
That’s my girl.

This led us to make sure we noted where the sign up location was before we left the park. 

New Star Tours was even more awesome than original Star Tours, but still too shaky for Rosa.  After our trip through Kashyyk and Coruscant, Anabelle and I went back alone to experience Hoth and the Death Star.  The intro and the rebel message were the same both times, giving us a completely flawed idea of what was variable, and how many scenes were in the ride.

Due to the draining nature of waking up at Stupid O’clock and air travel in general, we opted to deviate from what would be a pattern the rest of the vacation, and leave before the Awesome Happy Disney people threatened to throw us out. 

We noticed something musical going on under the big sorcerer hat, but ignored it on this day. How good could it be?  (Ooh, foreshadowing!  Come back on Day 8 to learn the answer!)

In a nice change from our last visit, it wasn’t forty degrees out and we were able to have several nights unwinding and soaking our soreness in the pool. I tried a few power laps the first night, but was too spent to think about overhand other evenings.  Rosa had enough strength to take less psychotic swims most days.  Anabelle, filled with the energy of a child in Disney World, was a never-ending ball of motion in the pool any night she entered it.

The nightly mug ritual began this day, where I would have to remember the proper hot chocolate formulations for everyone.
Rosa: Full Mug
Anabelle: Half Mug with cream
Jeff:  Quarter mug with less cream than Anabelle and decaf coffee.

Add in the late hour we returned, there was usually only one working hot chocolate machine, with at least one of the three nozzles empty, and it became quite a game.

The other ritual that started was I would fall asleep as soon as I stopped moving while Rosa got the packs ready for the next day, then I would wake up when she fell asleep and attempt to remember what we needed well enough to double check. 

Yeah, that would work out great.
Click for the next day:

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