Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Florida Trip: Walt Disney World (Part 2)

[ Part 1 can be found here ]

On Tuesday during our trip to Orlando we spent the entire day at Epcot Center, my favorite of the Disney parks. The park was definitely the most crowded we were at all week, but we were still able to see most everything by taking careful advantage of FastPass tickets and knowing which rides were unlikely to be crowded.

At Epcot we went on the Test Track, Mission to Mars, and World of Energy rides, saw the O Canada and Impressions de France movies and the American history show. We also ate dinner at the mediocre Italian restaurant and wasted several hours in the morning waiting in line for Test Track only to have it break down over and over, making us eventually get out of line in disgust.

Mission to Mars was a new ride, and quite cool. It featured a crazy space simulator ride where you felt the G-forces of a takeoff and landing (well, likely reduced G-forces compared to the real thing) and get a thrown all over the place during the course of the rest of the ride. Anything that warns you about 5 or 6 times that if you suffer from motion sickness you should opt out of the ride is going to be cool, in my book.

The World of Energy ride is definitely showing its age. The various movie parts recorded with Ellen and Bill Nye the Science Guy are funny, but the animatronic dinosaurs are looking pretty bad. Still, it was my favorite ride when I was a kid (I loved dinosaurs), so it has a soft spot in my heart.

What is amazing about the fairly bad animatronics of the World of Energy ride is that the American History show (which was built approximately at the same time as far as I am aware) has such amazing animatronics. The historical figures look and move pretty realistically, but yet the best they could manage for most of the dinosaurs was to wiggle the head around a bit, letting the rubber skin bunch up and look silly on the neck.

Still, the Test Track ride won out for 'worst ride of the day' honors, mostly due to its completely unreliable operation and the resultant stupid-long lines. When we got in line in the morning, they were claiming a 35 minute wait in the regular (non-FastPass) line. That seemed very reasonable, and the FastPasses were for several hours later so we just got right in line. An hour and a half of wait in the extremely annoyingly loud queue line later, and we gave up hope. The worst part was that each time the ride would break down and they would announce "..your wait may have increased slightly", the FastPass line would get all backed up. Then to try to make up for it, they would take only from the FastPass line, leaving the rest of us schmucks to stand there and watch people stream through as our line stayed in the same place. By the time we left in disgust and got FastPass tickets, they were for many hours later (4:10pm I think). By the time we actually got on the ride, it seemed pretty mediocre, at least considering all the hassle we went through to get on it.

The sad thing was that while we were waiting for the first breakdown, we all recalled waiting in line 4 years ago, when the ride was nearly brand new and having it break down twice while waiting in line. I can't believe Disney spent all the millions on a fancy new ride like that, only to have it break down 40 times a day. I suppose they are stuck with it now, but the moral of the story is don't ever get in the regular line, always get FastPasses for Test Track.

In a somewhat unrelated, but interesting Disney side-note, on Wednesday night, we went to Downtown Disney (their shopping and nightclub area) to find some gift souvenir for various people. They have what they call the world's largest character store there, which is basically a ridiculously large Disney store filled with everything you could imagine emblazoned with Disney characters. Want a coffee pitcher and eight coffee cups shaped together like a castle with Mickey's likeness on each piece? They have it. Want a thousand dollar necklace encrusted with gems and silhouettes of Disney characters? They have it. Want to choose from a literal wall of Disney "Trade 'Em" pins at $7.00 a piece? They've got them. They also have more mundane stuff like all the varieties of Disney souvenirs from all of the parks.

This place was the size of a mall. It was crazy, so big and confusingly laid-out that you couldn't even see all the rooms. At one point I thought I had seen it all, only to get directions to the bathroom taking me through no less then three rooms I didn't even know existed (including the 'princess room', a huge room containing only stuff for little girls). The scary thing was that as huge as the place was, it still didn't hold everything, they had separate stores specializing in baby stuff, Pooh character stuff, and even a whole store devoted to Disney stuff for your pets. All containing items not in the biggest store (AFAICT).

Amazingly the biggest store was completely and utterly packed. As in, you were surprised they were still letting people in because of fire codes. I've never seen so many people mobbing a place and carrying armfuls of stuff around, even at Christmas time. I talked with one of the cashiers about it, and she said the crowd was pretty typical of spring break time, but even during 'dead' weeks anyone except an employee would consider the store very crowded. Disney certainly knows how to market their characters and character related products.

Overall, the two days we spent at Disney were extremely fun, and the rides were generally well worth any hassle we went through to get on them. The Disney World parks are clearly the top-tier of Orlando theme parks.

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