A splendid time was had by all! And by “all,” I mean my son The Wachamacallit, my BFF Lisa, and myself. (I sure hope the folks we met up with there had a good time too! Shout-outs to Hayden, Matt, and Glenn!) As usual, there were high and low points to the trip. Here are my picks for the best and worst parts of our trip June 19-24, 2008.
Best new or updated attraction: Haunted Mansion. Yes indeed, as much as I loved Toy Story Midway Mania, and the updated Spaceship Earth, the improved audio and new features of the Haunted Mansion win this prize. I love the way the Escher room came out, and the graveyard’s a much more satisfying ride-through now that they’ve fixed the audio system and enhanced the visuals.
Worst hotel check-in line: Nickelodeon Family Suites. I’d booked this trip primarily with hotel points and frequent flier miles, so we had the distinct pleasure of checking out/in to hotels almost every day. For the most part, things went quite smoothly, and I have to give special props to Hampton Inn Lake Buena Vista for its comfortable rooms and complementary breakfast buffet, and to Pop Century for its always-boffo theming (and their quick attention to a problem with our room on arrival). We enjoyed our Sunday night stay at the Nick as well, especially for its fabulously-themed two-bedroom suites, and its Sony Playstations. But the registration line? We waited for about 45 minutes, by far the longest I’ve ever waited to check in at a hotel before.
Best trade: Silver-toned beads from a Jawa. This one was a tough call! I’m a pin-trader, and certainly I came home with a few fabulous finds. My collection of Figment “mood” pins is now complete! But I’ve gotta say that none of this can compare with having traded a tarnished old penny for a shiny new necklace from a Jawa we encountered on Commissary Lane. Uttini!!
Worst character meet-and-greet opportunities: Jedi Mickey, Stormtrooper Donald, Leia Minnie, and Darth Goofy. Disney surely knows that meeting any one of these characters is a must-have photo op for the Disney and Star Wars enthusiast. And there’s plenty of space in the Studios to set such things up. So why on earth do these four characters all share one location, and rotate who’s up for pictures? Why not give each a location of their own? The queue was usually 20-50 people deep, so only the most committed fan (or the parent with the most desperately-begging children) was likely to get a picture. Perhaps Disney could have made some money off this artificially-created scarcity, and had a $40/person character meal specifically for the Star Wars/Disney mash-up characters.
Most liberating fashion moment: Leaving the lumbar pack behind. It is a well-known fact that the amount of crap parents have to lug around is inversely proportional to the age of their child. And yes indeed, my child has gotten to the age where not only can he go more than 120 seconds without eating, in fact he is quite happy to carry his own snacks, water bottles, and other assorted paraphernalia. So, my days as a sherpa are over! But it’s not like I’m donating my massive lumbar pack to the Expedition Everest queue (hat tip to Hochberg)…I’m hanging onto it for now. You never know, I might be toting around stuff for grandkids someday.
Best non-traditional view of Wishes: From Ariel’s Grotto. This was a tough call too…I truly enjoyed watching Wishes from the ferry, while leaving the Magic Kingdom Saturday night (to go meet Lisa, who’d just arrived in Orlando, yay!). But better yet was being in line at Mrs. Pott’s Cupboard for ice cream when we realized Wishes was about to start, and scurrying over to the area right in front of Ariel’s Grotto to watch. I did get a good bit of whiplash from craning my neck back and forth to catch the fireworks in both directions, and the coordination of pyrotechnics didn’t work so well that way, but the sheer joy of being right in the middle of it all made me laugh out loud.
Most exciting competition: Padawan Footrace Challenge. I knew we needed to get to the park well before rope drop Saturday to sign up my son The Wachamacallit for the Padawan Mind Challenge, but I had no idea that, despite Cast Member instructions to the contrary, there would be an all-out dash to the sign-up table. I was trying to keep it to a fast walk myself…but somehow couldn’t bring myself to tell my kid to stop running when the other kids sprinted ahead of him. True to the competitive family spirit, my kid did in fact get to the table first, which he now speaks of with the same amount of pride as he does the fact that he tied for first place in the Mind Challenge a few hours later.
Least successful theming: Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station’s Monsters Inc decor. I asked a Cast Member what the wooden cut-outs of Monsters Inc characters were for, and she explained to me that this was now a themed restaurant, that it is a station where the children of the world can eat noodles. She was so thoroughly committed to the bit that I didn’t even consider the fact that this was absurd, and in fact not “theming” at all, but rather a haphazard attempt at decor. Hilarity ensued. If you want to know what I sound like when I’m laughing so hard that I can hardly breathe, and tears are running down my cheeks, just listen to Those Darn Cats podcast #7 (recorded live in and around the Noodle Station, and a good bit more random than TDC on an average day).
Best attraction queue: Toy Story Midway Mania. The queue is designed to feel like you’re walking through Andy’s room, and you’re the size of a toy. All sorts of fabulous things are there…Chutes and Ladders on the ceiling, Viewmaster wheels from Peter Pan and Disneyland, Candyland pathways under your feet. But for me the best part of all was actually in the exit queue: A super-size Golden Book of Tin Toy, sure to catch the eye of any Pixar fan. I threw a few pictures onto Flickr of a couple pages (this and this), plus Pinocchio and Mickey Mouse from the back cover (Donald was there too, but I didn’t get the shot). Oh, and I trust that word has spread about the hidden Mickey near the place where you pick up your 3D glasses? Hayden found it, and told us where to look. Check out the Andy-drawn Nemo on the wall, and look down.
Worst traffic management: Toy Story Midway Mania. It’s clear they’re trying…Cast Members escorted the crowds from the rope to the FastPass machines at park opening Sunday, which perhaps averted a potential re-enactment of the 1979 Who concert in Cincinnati. But as my BFF Lisa has observed, the walkway in front of the attraction is just plain too narrow, even without the construction barricades for the building across the way. Sure, the crowds will diminish in time, so I trust that the wait-time won’t always surge close to an hour within 20 minutes of park opening. But I do believe this attraction’s popularity will last, and the area will stay congested. Perhaps they need to move the FastPass machines farther from the attraction, a la Dinosaur or Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin?
Best Easter Egg: Rainbow balloons. Toy Story Midway Mania has a whole bunch of special features and views that you can unlock by hitting the proper combination of targets. My favorite by far? The rainbow balloons which cascade down in the Bo Peep room, if you and your partner shoot down the final balloons on the corner clouds at the same time. I saw it just once, with the help of some guy I happened to be sharing a car with (he’d come through the single rider line, and was thrilled to find out that these Easter Eggs might give him an edge in an ongoing competition with his wife).
Most delicious meal: Le Cellier. bien sur! I was sure I’d be ordering the strip steak, but Cast Member Sarah (whose nametag inexplicably said “Ashley”) made the mushroom filet sound so appealing! I substituted cream cheese potatoes for the mushroom risotto, and it was fabulous. For dessert? A maple crème brûlée the size of my head. Good thing Pal Mickey was hungry too. Runner up: A pineapple Dole Whip, which technically does not constitute a meal but was nonetheless quite tasty.
Worst customer experience: United Airlines. It’s not the fact that our flight was delayed by weather, or that mechanical problems and crew-availability problems further delayed us. It’s not even the fact that we missed our connection in Dulles, and got stuck there overnight. It’s the fact that their recent schedule reductions and equipment downsizing meant that very few options were available for re-booking, and that about an hour after we’d re-booked, I got a text message telling me that flight was canceled (despite the fact that it was fully booked). It’s also about their customer service representative suggesting that my child’s health needs were inflexible, and that we should just sleep in the airport. I hope the airline’s just going through transitional pains, along with the rest of the industry, but after several years of elite frequent flier status, I’m seriously considering switching my loyalty to another carrier.
Best addition to my plushie menagerie: Towel animal! This little guy was waiting in the window for us in our room at Pop Century Monday night. I wasn’t sure if I could take him home…so I called the front desk, feeling rather sheepish, and the Cast Member reassured me quite kindly that my new terrycloth friend was mine to keep. I forgot to ask about care and feeding, but he does seem to be thriving in his new environment.
Most bittersweet moment: Knowing I’ll be making my next Disney trip solo. Well, not quite solo exactly…my next Disney trip will be to MouseFest 2008, so it’s not like I’m going to lack for companionship! But again, my child is growing up, and old enough now to understand that Mom’s going to Disney World on her own this December. Not only that, but he probably wouldn’t want me to pull him out of school for a trip, even if I were willing to do that, and after moping around when so many of my friends were there last December I promised myself I wouldn’t miss 2008. For me, the essential challenge of parenting is the gradual separation, knowing when to pull him close and when to let him fly. As he learns to fly higher and farther on his own, I may miss him, but I also can continue to enjoy the way my own freedom grows.
I trust that my friends who read this blog will remember I’ve said this, and bring my own words back to me when they find me weeping on Main Street come December!