Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Animal Days and Hollywood Nights (2011 Disney Part II)

Where we left off--we've made it to Disney after driving most of the night, only to find out the room isn't ready... finally, we get to our room, get settled and lay down for a little nap...  read Part I here.

My new Disney World tradition... I get into
the room and turn on Stacy.  Wait... that
didn't sound good...
Well, The Lovely Steph Leann is comfy, under the blanket and snoozing away.  I am laying next to her, relaxing, watching Stacy on "The Top Disney Must Do's!" on the Disney network.  If you ever turn on a television in any Disney Resort room, no matter what channel it was on when it turned off before, you'll be on Channel 18 (17?  19?  something like that), and you'll see Stacy Aswad, who is in a 20 minute special telling you about the Disney Must-Dos, and the show loops over and over... so over the course of the ten days we were there, I watched this 20 minute show at least a dozen times.   It got to the point where I was quoting the lines... "Pirates!  Aargh!" and "Scratchy scratchy!" and "Sorry Mickey!  Sorry Mickey!  Sorry Mickey!" and "Crocs!  Rawr rawr!"... what can I say?  I dig me some Stacy!

I did end up drifting off to sleep for a little while, but when my alarm beeped around 545, it was time to get up, and get her up.  Still a little tired, but more rested at least, we got ready and left our room, headed for dinner.  I would love to tell you that we went and ate at some fancy schmancy restaurant, but no, we just went back to the Sassagoula Food Court there at French Quarter... The Lovely Steph Leann ordered hers and got it pretty quickly, and I ordered the chicken alfredo and waited.  And waited.  And waited. 

I actually noticed there was some chicken alfredo in a big bowl on the counter, behind the glass, and thought to myself, "Well, if thats the alfredo, why don't they just dip me some out of that?"  And about ten minutes later, they did just that.  So, it was a little lukewarm, but it was fine.  Unless I'm at Flametree BBQ at Animal Kingdom, Pizza Planet at Hollywood Studios or Pecos Bill's at the Magic Kingdom, my bar for counter service food is not very high.

Fire engulfs the water and the Villains seek
to destroy Mickey's dreams.  But Mickey
isn't going to take it!
Our ultimate goal for the night is simply to see Fantasmic!, and not to do much else when we go to Hollywood Studios, because we had planned to hit the ground running the next day.  We decided on the 9pm show, which gave us time to walk around the park some, and mostly to trade pins and spend money.  We wanted to make the Finale Show of the American Idol Experience, but it was at 630 or 7, and Fantasmic! was at 8, so we'd never make it to both.

Fantasmic! is a water based show set in a huge amphitheater at Hollywood Studios.  The premise of the show is that Mickey Mouse's dreams come alive, first filled with magical images projected onto water that shoots high into the sky, with everyone from Jiminy Cricket to Simba making an appearance, with riverboats featuring princes and princesses like Belle and Beast floating around the mountain facade that is the setting.  Then, suddenly, the villians creep in--Jafar, Hades, The Queen, Ursula and more, led by the evil Maleficent, and try to overtake Mickey's dream.  We have a shoot-out between John Smith and the bad guy whatshisname (I've never been a fan of Pocahontas), then the villains come full force.

This is all well and good, but if you are looking to take small children, have them prepared.  At some point during the show, The Chernabog's image is seen, and he's a big, hulking, black demon, and then later, a large snake weaves its way around the mountain, then a huge, huge dragon comes out of the mountain, breathing fire and smoke, and taking on Mickey Mouse.  As an older child, this won't be that big of a deal, because the appearance of Mickey seems to be a calming effect... but we've been to this show where there are kids screaming, scared out of their minds because of this big dragon... so prepare your punkins for what is to come if you take them to Fantasmic!

The show was great as normal, though we did notice it was a different dragon.  Of course, we haven't been to the show in a year, so they might have changed Maleficent a while ago, but we noticed this night.  Normally, the later show is always the lesser attended show... and this might have been the case when we went, but that would have meant the early show was standing room only, because the later show we went to was jam packed. 

As the show ended, we made our way out of the park, walking slowly, taking in the sights and sounds, breathing in the Disney air, loving the fact we are here at last.  Back to French Quarter, we finally settled in for a good night's sleep.  Well deserved, I would say.  By the way, while it was something like 59 degrees and clear in Orlando, apparently it was an ice storm back in Birmingham, getting to about 17 or so.  We won.

Animal Kingdom awaited the next morning, and it is our typically Disney tradition for me to leave the room a bit early, grab some breakfast for me, and something to eat for The Lovely Steph Leann, and today was no different.  I dashed down to the Sassagoula Court, bought and wolfed down a cheese danish and a bowl of Rice Krispies and milk, then bought The Lovely Steph Leann a croissant... total cost?  $8.39.  Yay Disney!

We have discovered that driving to the parks is actually quicker and easier than taking the buses.  Don't get me wrong--the bus transportation system is great, and if you don't mind waiting sometimes 10 minutes for a bus in the morning, or up to 20 in the rest of the day, its relaxing to just park your car and leave it for a week, leave your keys in the room and not worry about it.  But, we have learned that its just quicker to drive, if you don't mind the drive, which is typically less than 20 minutes through traffic from any one point in The World to another.  Sometimes its about five.

We parked at Animal Kingdom in the misty rain and walked to get in line.  I am so used to going to the far right turnstile, the "Cast Member Entrance", it was difficult to restrain myself from going that way.  Around 845, we saw the usual pre-opening show, with Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and Goofy riding out on the other side of the rope in a big safari vehicle, doing a "checklist" for the day... "Camera?  Check!  Sunscreen?  Check!..."  I looked around behind us, to see the line to get stretching back 20, maybe 25 people.

If you have never been to Animal Kingdom, visualize this--as you walk up towards the gates of AK, you walk over a large open area, a gift shop on either side (natch), and you run into the baggage check.  as you approach the park, you'll see the ticket/will call booths.  Pass by those, and you'll see a smaller open area, partly shaded, with about ten or so turnstiles ahead of you.  AK, like the other three parks, open at either 8 or 9, typically the latter, but between 830 and 845, they will allow people to start entering the park, through the turnstiles, with your tickets.

Once you walk into Animal Kingdom, you pass through the land known as The Oasis, and you cross a bridge onto Discovery Island (its so huge, you barely notice its an island), where you can see The Tree of Life, this huge hand crafted, animal carved tree.  Once you walk down this little incline, you can veer left or right, entering the main part of the park--but before opening, they usually have a rope across the path.  This is to prevent backflow, especially on busy days, to allow the crowds to fill the paths, and on those busy days, they cram up to that rope, back through that path, out through the turnstiles, and into that main open area.

Today?  The line at the turnstiles were about 20 people deep, not even enough to pass the ticket booths.  This is a glorious, glorious day, as is any day where the park is practically empty.  The rope is actually just past the turnstiles, something I've never even seen, so when it drops at 9a, The Lovely Steph Leann and I are headed into Animal Kingdom with full run of the park.

Like most people, we head straight for Expedition Everest, we get Fast Passes for it, and jump in the line... the line that really isn't there.  We spend the next ten minutes walking slowly through the empty line, with The Lovely Steph Leann taking pics of the scenery, and myself taking pictures of Hidden Mickeys throughout, and there are lot.  We get straight on, sitting in the front after a long, long two minute wait, and we ride. 

After we get off the ride, which The Lovely Steph Leann claims as her very favorite roller coaster, we take some pictures around, and I get a great shot (right) of Expedition Everest in the fog, with barely a soul in the frame.  That's a rare, rare shot.

We headed over to the Finding Nemo show, which was the whole reason to come to Animal Kingdom... actually, in the interest of full disclosure, seeing the Finding Nemo show was the whole reason to come down on Thursday, instead of the original get-up-early-Friday-drive-arrive-mid-afternoon- plan.  See, we had so much planned for our week, for our vacation, so many dinners and trips and shows, we realized that we couldn't squeeze in Finding Nemo: The Musical.  What do we do?  Add a night, get there earlier.

Finding Nemo: The Musical was awesome, as usual, and we began our usual tour of the park, knocking out one attraction after another.   We had lunch at The Yak & Yeti, and began a walk to Africa.

Along the way, I noticed a sign on a wall that I'd seen before, but never paid much attention too:  Flights of Wonder.  Now, Walt Disney World is filled with dozens and dozens of attractions and shows, some being hugely popular, others that are often overlooked, and this one was one that we always walked by... but this time, we thought we'd try it out.  And we are glad we did.

In a small, covered amphitheater, the audience is facing a stage that has a small area of grass, with a large wall on the back, made to look like an old ruin, or something to that effect.  One by one, birds come out, do their fancy tricks and disappear into holes in this wall.  And like everything in Disney, they don't just say "Hey, look at these birds!", they tell you a story.  There are two hosts, one being the Bird Keeper, the other a loud and boisterous "tour guide" who gets lost, and ends up helping to showing off the birds.

The Bird Keeper tells the audience about the birds, and they follow his command, answering questions by moving or squawking or nipping or whatever--then he tells us the secret behind the training (visual clues).  And, I was able to go onstage once, as they asked for volunteers--of course, I raised my hand. 

This was me, looking through my lens, trying to see the big bird.

There was this huge condor/eagle/hawk/monster bird that had flown and was perched in the very back.  My instructions, and the instructions of the chick next to me, also called onstage, was to look through the lens of our respective cameras and, when the bird took flight towards the stage, try and get a photo of it.  And neither of us could, because that bird was extremely fast and was whizzing by my head in a second or two. 

Look in the middle, then to the slight right, and look for the guy in the
red.  The bird is right above his head.

Flights of Wonder was alot of fun, really funny and fascinating at the same time--I recommend taking 15 minutes out of your go-go-go and see the show.

The rest of the day was your typical Animal Kingdom day, with the crowds building over the course of the day, but never getting overly crowded.  We went to ride Dinosaur, then headed over to do Its Tough to Be A Bug, which is always fun (thought Hopper wasn't working--I feel bad for those who have never seen it, because Hopper is an incredible audio-animatronic figure).  We headed out, and ended up at Epcot a little later on that evening, finally ending up at The Rose & Crown restaurant in the Britain Pavilion of the Epcot World Showcase. 

Getting there a little early, we checked in, and then sat and relaxed in the Britain garden, watching a British Invasion tribute band aptly called The British Invasion.  Our meal was great, starting with a fruit/cheese plate, filled with craisins, grapes, apple slices and toast, along with mushroom brie, aged cheddar and Stilton cheeses.  Stilton is the absolute strongest cheese I've ever had in my life.

Except for the umbrella, located on a level below me
that I couldn't get to to move it, my view was pretty

The entree had me going for the standard fish and chips plate.  For whatever reason, our server brought another fish and chips plate, after I already had one.  So she left it, with me having about six or seven huge pieces of fish in front of me... this means I ate about a 1/4th of what was in front of me.  The Lovely Steph Leann loved her food as well, and it was time for IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, the water parade and fireworks show. 

Though we were sitting outside, our table was near the front of The Rose & Crown, and the prime place to be was near the back, by the waterside, for prime viewing.  I kept my eye on a table in the back corner, close to the water, and when it came free, I asked our server if we could have that table and eat our dessert--she said absolutely, so we moved down, and had a great spot.  Of course, I did have to reposition myself a little to see better around a column.
The fireworks show was great, as always, and we ended the night riding a few rides like Test Track, Mission: Space and Spaceship Earth, finally getting back to the room a little later.  Our vacation had begun with full force, and it Day Two had already gone by so fast.

Tomorrow, the pin event at Epcot, our first such event ever. Full coverage, pics and our review of the day in the next installment of The 2011 Disney Vacation. 

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