Here it is. The long-awaited conclusion of my Disney trip report blog (you've been on pins and needles for the past month, right?).
Epcot is basically two different theme parks: Future World and the World Showcase. Since the World Showcase doesn't "open" until lunch time, we spent the morning in Future World.
There are two different versions of Mission Space: green and orange. Green is less-intense, so we rode this first. Basically, you are part of the first crew to travel to Mars, and the ride simulates the blast-off, flight through space, and the rocky "landing" on Mars. The blast-off is so intense -even on Green - that when you sit down and get strapped into the simulator, motion sickness bags are withing arm's reach. Its very, very cool, and I can't even begin to capture how much Alex loved this ride. He rode it 4 times this day, and would have gone more if possible.
There is also a playground when you exit the ride. ;)
The other very cool ride at Epcot is Test Track.
Other rides that we went on: Finding Nemo, which was okay, but not nearly as much fun as these animatronic pelicans outside the ride which every few minutes chirp, "Mine....Mine...Mine...Mine."
The other big attraction, with the long lines, is a ride called Soarin', which raises you off the ground and simulates a wind-surfing adventure over California. Its interesting, but we had done this at California Adventure back in 2009, and it fits in so much better there. I really don't get why Disney doesn't make a Florida version of this, or just do something to make it different. We went on several other rides, and they were all interesting and fun, but nothing that I really feel as if I need to do over again. The boys enjoyed playing in all the hand-on exhibition areas, called Innovations, but like I said before, it reminded me of a science museum for children, and frankly, we didn't come to Disney for things I could do at a lot of museums in Texas.
We ate lunch at a rather unspectacular hamburger spot, the Electric Umbrella. It was convenient at the time, but really, its a shame given the fact that Epcot has so many amazing restaurants in the World Showcase area. Ryan was getting tired and cranky around this time, and while we were waiting in line for the hurricane 5 simulator, I needed to remove him from the line. While we waited for Alex and Carl, he promptly fell asleep on the floor (it was carpeted). And he slept. Carl and Alex went to ride Mission Space two more times (we had picked up four fast passes earlier, but since Ryan wasn't going again, they went twice), and then they came back and Carl and I switched Ryan watching duty. I can't believe we didn't get a picture of Ryan sleeping on the floor. But we did get this one of him a short bit later, sleeping during the Lion King environmental movie we were watching.
Our trip to Disney coincided with our 14th wedding anniversary. We've always gone away for our anniversary as our present to each other, but this year was a bit different. So we found a way to go "away" from our kids for a bit: the Sandcastle Club in our resort. The boys weren't too happy with the idea of being dropped off, but once they were there and they saw the PS3, wii, play kitchen, and movies, all was forgiven. They ended up having s much fun they begged us to go back the other nights.Carl and I had reservations to eat at Bistro de Paris, over in France. Its one of the few restaurants that cater to adults exclusively, so it seemed like a good choice for our munchkin-free dinner. Plus, you can't go wrong with French food in my book.
Because of the Jedi Training disaster from a few days back, the next day involved a return to Hollywood Studios. This was supposed to be my pirate day, but it ended up being a Jedi and Pirate Day. See, I'm flexible and open to change.We let Carl sleep in a bit, and Alex, Ryan and I headed to Hollywood Studios for its rope drop on an Early Magic Hour. We ran right to Jedi Training sign-up, and even still, we didn't get a slot until 10:30 am. And I noted that NO ONE told me where to return, and that there were no signs telling me where to go, as well.
Since this was now our official Star Wars day, we went to ride Star Tours a few times. When you go on the ride, there are around 40 people per "ship." They somehow scan the passengers, and put the picture of one person up on the screen, and that person is the Rebel Spy that is trying to escape form the Dark Side. It only took five tries, but on the 5th ride, Alex was finally selected as the Rebel Spy. He was thrilled. (poor Ryan, he never seemed to mind that it was Alex getting picked for everything on this trip, but I felt for him).
Since we couldn't top Rebel Spy Alex that morning, after our 5th ride (love the early admission!), the boys were ready to part with more of their Disney Dollars, and build their own lightsaber. This was a Big Deal for Alex. When we had gone to Disneyland, I steadfastly refused to let him do this, citing high prices, and the fact that the lightsaber can bought anywhere back home. Turns out that was wrong, and all Alex has ever wanted since April 2009 is a full, two sided Darth Maul lightsaber. The ones they sell in stores and online might look two sided, but the second side is very small and only extends into a baby lightsaber. I did once find one on ebay for something like $200, but I don't love my son THAT much. Alex, of course, chose Darth Maul's lightsaber. Ryan chose Obi-Wan's, and they had so much fun building them. $24.99 and $21.99 well spent.
We met up with Carl at this point, and celebrated with a late breakfast. Soon, the time had finally arrived. The boys were about to join forces with the Jedi and defeat the Dark Side. Suffice it to say, we were the first ones to show up for our Jedi Training time slot.
We had 12:50 reservations in the Magic Kingdom for the Pirates League, so once the boys were officially Padawans, we made our way out of Hollywood Studios and took the bus to the Magic Kingdom.
We had lunch at Casey's Corner, an old-fashioned hot dog restaurant, which meant eating outdoors. Fortunately, there was shade, and we had a prime view of 'Dream Along with Mickey,' a show that occurs in front of Cinderella's Castle several times a day, featuring lots of princesses and princes and Peter Pan, Hook, Smee, and Mickey and friends. Then we made our way to Adventureland.
When I first planned our Pirates Day, I made reservations for the Pirates League. The boys can pick from one of eight different 'Pirates of the Caribbean' makeovers, and for $29.95, you get the makeover, a sword, and a lot of bling (sash, eyepatch, scarf, gold medallion, fake teeth, earring, etc). You can also spend more on a costume, but we thought it was too hot for costumes. So we settled for a quick change from the Star Wars shirts they put on in the morning into our Pirates of the Caribbean LEGO shirts. Mind you, this didn't stop Alex and Ryan from wanting one of the $69.95 costumes.
As soon as entered Adventureland, we ran into Alex's #1 Disney Desirable, Peter Pan. And on Pirate Day, nonetheless. How excited were we?! Peter was especially cool, because he was the first "live" character we actually met, and only the live ones can talk with you. They spent about five minutes with Peter, which is a lot for a theme park character interaction. Peter didn't seem to appreciate their love of pirates.
We pulled a Fast Pass for the Jungle Cruise, and then made our way to the Pirates League. Alex and Ryan debated for a good ten minutes which makeover to do, before finally selecting the exact same Captain Jack makeover.
Except... Ryan didn't want his eyes done. And Alex didn't want a beard. I joked with Carl that together they equaled one Captain Jack. I'm not complaining, though. I still think it was a great experience, and money well spent. Considering they spent over an hour with the boys, between the makeup, taking Pirates Oaths, finding their Pirate Names, and the presentation of all the bling, this was a good Disney Value.
What else was there to do at this point but go on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride a few more times? We love playing "Spot Captain Jack," as he's always hiding during the ride. Plus, its cool, relaxing, and you get to sing the "Yo, Ho, Ho" song a dozen times. We then went to ride the Jungle Cruise and Aladdin's Magic Carpets, before making our way towards Tomorrowland, our favorite place in the Magic Kingdom.
It was time for more Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spins, more Space Mountain, and this time we also tried the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor and Stitch's Great Escape. Pirate Mommy (as I am known on Pirate Day) even waited 30 minutes in line so the boys could get this picture with #2 Disney Desirable, Buzz Lightyear.
Pirate Mommy also waited an awfully long time for the boys to meet both Mickey and Minnie. We'd already met Mickey at his restaurant a few days back, but Mickey is so important to Ryan that we stood in line again. Plus, he is dressed differently, and that makes ALL the difference.
Dinner that night was at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe, an okay counter service restaurant in Tomorrowland, and then we made our way out of the Magic Kingdom to the Contemporary Resort. To complete Pirates Day, we had reservations for the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage. This was my birthday present to Carl, and yes, once again I managed to give him a gift that he claims is more of a gift for myself than for him. How *does* this keep happening?
The Pirates and Pals cruise was great. We got some more pirate bling, and we got a chance to meet Captain Hook and Smee.
Then we walked down to the docks, and boarded our 'pirate ship,' which was just a barge. After the South Padre Pirates cruise in June, this was a bit of a letdown. Its hard to believe Texas can out-Disney Disney, but its true. The cruise was a lot of fun, with a sarcastic jokester "pirate" emcee, and of course, more bling awaited the children. The boat made its way to the Magic Kingom, past the Electrical Water Pageant, and we waited for "Wishes," the fireworks program to begin at 10:00 p.m. on the dot.
They were spectacular.
Alex was in awe.
Ryan was sound asleep.
Yes, that's right. The lull of the barge's motors put this five year old right to sleep, and he missed every single firework.
I'd decided to splurge on this cruise after talking with Alison, the mom of one of our Scouts. She described the cruise to me as a "Magical Family Moment," that one couldn't really put a price tag on, and that it was worth every penny. I'm not sure I would go that far. It was wonderful, and maybe if Ryan hadn't been asleep, I might feel the same. When the fireworks ended, a special guest was waiting for us on the docks: Peter Pan.
But since we were the last to disembark so Carl could carry the sleeping Ryan, there was a long line to see Peter. And we'd already spent good time with him earlier in the day, so we headed home. We splurged on a taxi ride rather than trying to handle the monorail/bus combo to get back to our hotel, and it worked great. Alex was especially thrilled, because he said this was his first taxi ride ever (who knew my son was so deprived??). He LOVED watching the meter rise. I think he was almost more thrilled with my $14 taxi ride than he was with the expensive fireworks cruise. Yet another reason why I hesitate to call the cruise a Magical Family Moment.
The next morning, we slept in. We were scheduled to change resorts this day, and we were downgrading to the All Star Movies Resort. Basically, the sale price on the Beach Club ended that day, and the sale price at All Stars began, so there was a $300 price difference between the two hotels for the last two nights of our trip. I thought we could tolerate the value hotel for two nights and save the $600, plus it was the resort the boys most wanted to stay in when I involved them in Disney planning. So we said goodbye to my beloved Beach Club. One nice thing about staying onsite at Disney, though: they move your luggage for you.
We went back to the Magic Kingdom to have an early lunch at the Crystal Palace. Its a Victorian style buffet restaurant that is home to Winnie the Pooh and friends. As a lifelong Pooh fan, this was the meal I was most looking forward to during the trip. The food was pretty good, and Eeyore was not his usual gloomy self when he saw I was wearing my Eeyore shirt. And Tigger seemed especially touched when I shared my childhood knick-name was Tigger, given to me by myself. Dad was Pooh Bear, Boo was Roo, and Mom was Kanga).
We then went to do some of the rides we hadn't done yet, like the Haunted Mansion (not a favorite with Team Danger) and Winnie the Pooh's ride (always a favorite with Mommy Tigger). And of course we returned for more Buzz Lightyear spinning rides. We didn't do Space Mountain this day - a consequence for some bad behavior by our eldest, but I did have several close encounters with princesses. I was excited to find short lines for Cinderella's Fairy Godmother and her step-sisters and step-mother. Of course, the reason for those short lines is that they had stopped the line a while back. So I snapped a few photos of them while I stared longingly. I also walked pass Princess Tiana (form Princess and the Frog). She was on her way to her official greeting spot - where the lines were out of control crazy - but she stopped and smiled at me and I took her picture. And that, my friends, is as close to a Disney Princess as this mother of two boys got on the trip
Next on our agenda was a split day with Epcot, so we left the Magic Kingdom around 2pm and took the monorail. We did a few of the rides we hadn't been on yet in Future World - like designing our own roller coasters and then going in this freakish simulator that inputs it and swings you all around. And Alex and I decided to brave the Orange Level of Mission Space. How bad could it be, I thought? Turns out, its pretty freaking bad. I can handle a lot of roller coaster action. But orange had me beyond ill. The simulated blast-off was horrific - the fact that the ride comes with an emergency stop button AND motion sickness bags is a pretty good indicator of how awful it is. Never, ever again will I ride Orange Mission Space.
We rode Spaceship Earth again - to help calm our stomachs - and spent a lot of time playing some of their future games (like a computerized touch screen shuffleboard, where you shuffle electricity chips into their sockets).
Kim Possible Adventure. You get these "Kimmunicators" (basically a cell phone) and ti sends you on a mission to one of the countries. We'd rented a Kim Possible movie before heading to Disney so the boys would better understand this, and while the animated Kim is a bit too sexy for a Disney child character in my book, the idea of a teenage girl spy with ninja kicks is pretty cool (there is a definite dearth of powerful girl lead characters in children's tv and movies - a big pet peeve of mine, but that's another blog post to make).
Our first mission took us to Germany. It takes you to all of the sights, and into stores, where some beer steins on display happen to start singing and dancing when you answer something right. Its like a scavenger hunt, but way, way cooler, and it was a tremendous amount of fun to see things that other people don't see. This was so much fun, and its a great way to get the kids involved in the different countries, and to teach them things about them. At the end, when you solve your mission, there is a giant wooden Glockenspiel in the center of the country, and you hit a button on your Kimmunicator, and it starts to open up and do its magic. Its uber cool, and everyone around starts clapping. Alex was super proud of himself for this one.
We had so much fun in Germany, we accepted our second mission. This took us back to Norway, and we learned all about fjords and vikings and Thor and woolen sweaters and trolls and fish. This wasn't quite as cool as the Germany mission, but we still had a blast. And Ryan was out of his funk by this time, which helped improve my enjoyment tremendously (despite having slept in, this was another full, long day for us. Ryan had a hard time with these long days, and it would show around 3-4 pm if he hadn't rested. My own fault for not sticking to my plans for rest breaks, which makes his crankiness all the more hard to take - since he wouldn't be like this if I had some better parental judgment. Its hard to remember on vacation, though, and its my greatest regret from the trip, because I KNEW this going in.).
Biergarten. I was excited about this restaurant. We love German food, I love German beer, the kids love buffets, and who doesn't love a German musical show? Especially one that involves glockenspiels and Edelweiss being played with cowbells? Which brought back lovely memories of my trip to Switzerland last year, although I still wonder why a song which symbolizes Austrian defiance of Nazi Germany taking over Austria in the Sound of Music was given such prominence in the Germany Pavilion. Does Disney think most folks are not smart enough to distinguish between the Alpen countries?
The fireworks were beyond spectacular, not as much color differentiation as the Magic Kingdom's, but they were in such unusual arrangements as to make up for it. Plus you get to look all over the World, and see the fireworks against all the other countries... just beautiful.We all loved it. The boys, especially. Carl and I were happy. The boys were happy. We finally found our Magical Disney Family Moment.
This would have been a perfect night to stroll back to our room at the Beach Club, a mere 3 minute walk from the gates. But due to poor planning, we instead strolled back to our rental car at the Beach Club, and drove to the All Stars.
All-Star Movies is one of three All-Star budget resorts, where everything is larger than life. They have a Toy Story wing, so we requested a Buzz Lightyear room. The kids had fun outside the hotel, and in the Fantasia pool, but this was a small, run-down room on the inside. I won't be going back there, and I only survived by reminding myself that its about what one can expect for $68/night.
One of the main attractions here is the Kilimanjaro Safaris. I don't know. Maybe I'm prejudiced because this was our longest wait of the whole trip - 45 minutes - and the sign out front of the ride said it was only 15 minutes - and I'm likely being unreasonable to still be bitter that Disney got the wait time wrong once on our whole trip, but still.... We never would have stood in line for 45 minutes had we known, and picked up a Fast Pass instead. But at 15, we decided to wait it out. Other than some lions that were lying down and hard to see, and a bunch of elephants, a lot of these animals can be seen down in New Braunfels at the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch. or at the zoos in San Antonio and Houston. They tried to Disney it up, but at the end of the day, I felt we'd wasted a lot of good early morning ride time on something I could do back in Texas.
There were three other main rides at Animal Kingdom: Primeval Whirl, which was closed for renovation, Dinosaur, a ride in a "jeep" back through dinosaur time that moved so fast and jostled you so much that all four of us were scared and unhappy (me because I was afraid any one of us would fly out of our seat belts at any time and get killed by the next fast moving jeep - seriously - my bottom was off the seat more than it was on - they need WAY more safety restraints on that sucker). The other ride was Kali's River Rapids, which is just what you think it is. We didn't go on it, though, because we couldn't get Fast Passes for it and the wait was over 1.5 hours. Which is ridiculous, but I think its mainly because there are so few rides at AK (compared to the other parks).
We called it quits at Animal Kingdom around 4pm, and headed back to the hotel to relax. We had dinner reservations that night at T-REX, in Downtown Disney. I could have spent an entire day alone at Downtown Disney shopping, let alone all the other activities they had there. T-REX is the dinosaur equivalent of Rainforest Cafe, and it is very, very cool. Unfortunately, the food was pretty rotten. And the drinks were expensive - $15 each! We drank sodas that night.
We also spent some good time at the LEGO Imagination Center, which is big, but in the end, a LEGO store. I bought the only slightly unique things there, personalized LEGO mugs for ALEX and "That's not my name" RYAN because his name was in all capital letters on the mug.
The boys were in heaven, and I left them and Carl to go do souvenir shopping at the World of Disney next door. I got all sorts of goodies for family back home, and fun things for myself, including a Christmas ornament, picture frames, a charm bracelet for myself, and a Disney Dooney and Bourke. :)
The next day was our last at Disney. We checked out of the hotel in the morning, and because Disney is connected with the airlines, we checked in for our flight at the hotel, gave them our bags, and got our boarding passes. What a luxury to not have to lug the bags around! We spent the morning at the Magic Kingdom, and got some last minute Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear spins under our belts.