Thursday, January 03, 2008

WDW Trip Report - Day 3 (EPCOT, Magic Kingdom)

Got a slightly later start on Monday as we were planning to spend the bulk of the day at Magic Kingdom and with a regular park closing time of 10pm, we had the option of staying there until 1am with the Extra Magic Hours. We could have taken a bus over from the hotel, but one of the beauties of staying at an EPCOT resort and having a length-of-stay pass is the ability to use EPCOT as a staging ground. We walked over through the International Gateway and made our way through France and Morocco and to Japan for some sushi for lunch (our earliest dinner was scheduled for this day so we didn't want to eat too much). After a bit of shopping, we ambled on over past Italy and Germany to China and then on out through Futureworld to the monorail stop. The monorail gives you a nice ride over to the transportation hub, where we picked up a second monorail to Magic Kingdom (the route goes literally through the Contemporary resort, where we'd initially planned to try the California Grill - ah, well, maybe next time). As usual, we arrived in the park just as a parade was heading down Main Street, meaning we were not going anywhere for a few minutes. As the crowd cleared out afterwards, we were able to enjoy the Christmas decorations on Main street and the view of Cinderella's Castle, one of the iconic views of the Disney parks. I should point out that while it had gotten pretty cool the night before after the sun went down, it started out cool on Monday and threatened to get much colder after dark. I had jeans and a sweatshirt but it was definitely too cold to be hitting Splash Mountain!

We headed off to the Haunted Mansion first - again, the Standby line warned of a 40 minute wait but it didn't take us longer than 20 minutes to get through to the pre-show. (That was pretty much the pattern for the week - I didn't get a single FastPass, but the Standby lines were always half the wait that was advertised). They've done a really nice job of updating the Haunted Mansion - no major changes that I noticed but it's darker, the soundtrack is much better and much more in synch and the visuals are definitely spruced up. Next it was off to Pirates of the Caribbean, which has also undergone a makeover since the series of movies came out. The projection of Davy Jones onto mist warning us away to start was very well done, as was the additional of Captain Barbossa to the ship attacking the fort at the beginning of the ride. Even the insertion of Captain Jack Sparrow into about four different scenes was fun rather than annoying (the kid behind us was beside himself!). The biggest disappointment for me (not just on the ride but with all of the Pirates stuff) was the lack of Elizabeth Swann swag - if the ladies get their fill of Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom, why don't I get any Kiera Knightley, hmmm??

After Pirates it was already late enough for us to get our wristbands and then queue up for the Jungle Cruise. I was a little worried that we hadn't left ourselves enough time to get through the ride and over to the Crystal Palace for dinner, but once again the line moved faster than was obvious. The quality of one's experience on the Jungle Cruise is almost directly related to how good the captain/tour guide is and the kid we had was very, very good - we had a great time! So as the sun went down it was off to dinner.

This was our first time at the Crystal Palace and I was a bit apprehensive, particularly after we looked in through the windows while waiting for a table. The combination of buffet (usually not a harbinger of great food) and character dining (usually the harbinger of floors covered in sticky kids) didn't exactly fill me with anticipation. While we were waiting, they turned the spots off on Cindy's castle and turned on the lights that draped it, making it look like a huge ice sculpture - a MUCH better effect than when they turned it into a big damn birthday cake when we were there years ago. When we were finally seated, we found to our surprise that the food was actually some of the best we had on the whole trip and the enthusiasm of the little girl sitting at the next table (and that of her mom) for getting hugs from Pooh and Piglet and company was catching. It turned out to be quite an enjoyable dinner and I wouldn't hesitate to eat there again on a future trip. And I got a hug from my buddy Tigger!

After dinner we walked into Frontierland and found that folks were already lining up for SpectroMagic, so we found a spot near Splash Mountain, thinking that we were at the beginning of the parade. In fact we were at the end, so we had a long cold wait until the parade came by, but it was well worth it - I only recall seeing it once before and from a much longer distance away - we were up close and personal and it was very cool. As soon as the parade was over it was time for the nightly fireworks (over a very welcome cup of hot chocolate!), which we also watched from Frontierland rather than running over to Main Street and fighting the crowds. Before leaving Frontierland, I headed over to Big Thunder Railroad for a wild, cold ride - it's always fun after dark and tonight was no exception.

Phew - more rides to do!! I took J over to Peter Pan as we'd ridden it once before but she had absolutely no recollection of it at all. It's a little kid ride but it's kind of cute - she still didn't remember having ridden it before. Then it was back to Haunted Mansion for a second ride through before heading over to Tomorrowland to finish up the night. Oh, did I mention that by this time I was freezing my buns off? J had had the good sense to wear a jacket and bring gloves, but I was convinced that it wouldn't get that cold. Brrr!

First stop was the Buzz Lightyear ride, which is basically a moving shooting arcade. While JennySlash seems convinced that I "let her win", she kicks my butt every single time, usually doubling my score. This night was no exception. But it's a fun ride, the lines were short and we got a great picture at the end with J looking determined to knock off as many space baddies as possible. Then there was Space Mountain - I have a love/hate relationship with Space Mountain that lately has been leaning much more towards hate. This might have been my last ride. The queue area is wonderfully dated and goofy but the cars are too damn small and the ride has gotten so jerky that I invariably end up with a headache, as I did again on this night. While J was picking me out a hat to warm me up a bit, I tried Stitch's Great Adventure, which used to be the quite scary Extra-terrorestrial (which ripped off the alien from, well, "Alien" and turned it loose in the dark to feed on the audience - J would never do it with me). The pre-show is similar and the set-up inside is similar but now instead of a huge, black, slick-skinned monstrosity breaking out of containment and eating crew members in the dark, you had cute, cuddly, fuzzy Stitch breaking out of containment and eating crew members' chilidogs in the dark. The scariest part was the chili-dog belch coming at you from behind - I don't know how they synthesized chili-dog breath but it was damned accurate and stuck with me for the rest of the night. I did convince J to go do it with me as I did think it was cute (although I miss the scary) and I wanted her to get an idea of what the old ride was like.

By this time it was well after midnight so we headed back for the Disney buses to get back to the resort (which seemed to take a most circuitous route). I realized that due to the way the Extra Magic days had fallen, we'd done my two favorite parks first and J was pretty worn out before we even got to her faves. This was not a good thing and something we will not repeat on subsequent trips. Other than being (very) cold, I was in pretty good shape fatigue-wise, but the last few weeks of the semester had been rough on JennySlash and she was pooped!

Christmas decorations on Main Street

My princess!


There are more pics from Day Three in the gallery here.

Next: A rocky day at EPCOT

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