Thursday, April 29, 2010

Attractions That Need Just A Little TLC

Earlier this week we had an opportunity to head to the Magic Kingdom for a little while in the morning and early afternoon to let off some steam. It was an absolutely gorgeous day (even slightly on the hot side - mid-80's), so we decided it might be a good time to once again try Splash Mountain.

It had been months since we last rode Splash, and that's for several reasons: 1) It's been a cold winter, 2) It just hasn't worked out recently with our touring, and 3) Last several times we were on it, it REALLY showed its age. And while the main reason of not going on Splash was mostly due to a combination of 1 and 2, when an attraction gets to the point of where Splash had been the last few times we were on it, it bumps down the list of must do's. Especially when attractions like Space Mountain go through the kind of quality refurb it went through. If we were going to dedicate a lot of time to a "Mountain" it would be the newly polished Mountain.

Anyway, we decided to give Splash a try with a fastpass on this beautiful day. It's a miserable wait in that queue when the stand-by lines are long, so fastpass, as with most superheadliner rides, is always recommended for Splash. We got ours and had a return time of about 11:00 a.m. I was actually looking forward to this because I knew it underwent a recent refurbishment, but I didn't now the extent of the changes.

Now, there weren't many "changes", so don't worry - it's still good ol' Splash. But let me tell you - it LOOKS bright, shiny and NEW. It's apparent that they went through this attraction with a fine-tooth comb and took care of basically all the things that needed some TLC. The colors of the painted objects pop. The colors of the lights are bright and bold - which really contrasts well with the large areas of shadow. The dioramas stand out and look beautiful. All the characters are moving the way they're supposed to move now (a fully hopping b'rer rabbit is back!) and they went through and touched up some of the costumes that were really starting to come apart. In a word, the ride looks AWESOME.

Back on April 2nd, we compiled our official list of the of the Top Ten Can't Miss things at Magic Kingdom, and Splash did indeed make the cut. But this refurb kicks it back up the list of attractions at Magic Kingdom toward the very top of the best attractions in this original WDW park.

What they did to Splash got me to thinking about how they could improve certain attractions at The Mouse with just a little TLC and it would make them instantly better. Here are 5 that could benefit from that type of attention:

Norway pavilion, Epcot

Now, I don't want to change anything major on this attraction. I love the weirdness and uniqueness of the ride. It just exudes classic 80's EPCOT Center, and for that it's awesome. But it could use some touching up. Especially the large, flat gray walls that are just way too apparent in too many parts of the attraction. More trees, paint, bushes, drapery and other props need to be included to hide some of those walls - many of which have peeling or cracked paint, show bolts or nails, etc. A few of the animatronics need a little help, too (some are just too clunky at this point). Little improvements would REALLY help Maelstrom and these little things wouldn't ruin the original Spirit of this classic.

Great Movie Ride
Hollywood Studios

OK, some would say this needs MAJOR work. And it does. Some of the scenes could (should?) be replaced with newer movies that might mean a little something more to today's audience. But that doesn't necessarily need to happen with the type of refurb I'm talking about. With GMR, it would be very similar to my suggestions for Maelstrom: new coats of paint, a better job of hiding the walls, more dynamic lighting (like Splash - that would do wonders for GMR), etc. Little things to help sell the illusion of what's currently there just a little better. How about trying to make Tarzan's skin look a little less "plastic"? How about trying to get the Footlight Parade girls to move once again like they did way back when? How about a new face for Sigourney Weaver in the Aliens scene - or at least helping out with snapping, blinking eyes that makes me think of a ventriloquist dummy? They don't need to reinvent the whole attraction if they don't want to dedicate that time and money, but a Splash type refurb would do it a world of good.

Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin
Tomorrowland, Magic Kingdom

Buzz is still pretty good even though Toy Story Mania has really put it to shame as the next generation "shooter" attraction. It's still a lot of fun and has its place (especially with Toy Story 3 almost here), but it really needs some TLC too. I've noticed a lot of places where the neon/blacklight paint it employs needs a new coat. Paint is chipping and faded in certain spots and looks bad. And if it wants to stay competitive with Toy Story Mania at all, they need to address this. Even the guns on some of the cars don't work properly anymore and some are very dirty - a thorough cleaning and new paint jobs needs to happen here as well. Bright, clean colors and lights are probably more important in a ride like this than almost any other.

Living With The Land
The Land, Epcot

I know this just went through a short refurb not that long ago, but it still needs help. Help as in the GMR-type help. A lot of the animatronics are VERY much showing their age - clunky movements, fur that is coming part, etc. Also more dynamic lighting (like Splash) would help the first half of the ride not be so dull and tired in appearance. I know the darker atmosphere is there to help hide some of the structural elements, but like with Maelstrom, there's ways of helping that. Living With The Land needs that help and it'll be just fine.

Primeval Whirl
Dino-Land, USA, Animal Kingdom

OK, we all know that the vast majority of people out there don't like the "theme" of Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama, and in particular, the theme of Primeval Whirl. I'm one of those people. Dino-Rama is the one place in Disney World that I'm ashamed of when it walk by it or through it. I do understand what they were doing when coming up with this theme, but I don't like it. So, with the understanding that the theme is not going away any time soon, at least they could hit a home run WITH this theme. Going on Primeval Whirl not too long ago for Chance's first ride ever on it (we'll post about that soon), gave me the opportunity to once again check it out. They've let it go. So much of it has been damaged by the outdoor elements and time - paint is faded, chipped, cracked. Perhaps new illustrations covering up existing paintings would add new life into this attraction. Let's face it: they could re-paint the whole attraction with all new illustrations and it would be relatively cheap and not all that time-consuming...and might make the thing actually look good. But until then, at least brighten and tighten it up!

All in all, WDW does a great job in keeping up with paint touch-up and the little things that keep the illusion real. They are the masters of attention to detail. But a few of the attractions could benefit from that much-needed TLC.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Yin Yang Of WDW In The Summer

Ahhh, summertime in Walt Disney World is fast approaching. There are definitely things to love (and not love as much) about being in The Mouse during the heat-and-humidity-infused months ahead. For example, there are far more activities that can be done in WDW during the scorching upcoming months, but that's balanced out by the massive crowds and long lines.

So to look more closely at this yin yang experience that is The Mouse in The Summer, we'll break it down into what we love about WDW in the summer versus what we might not love so much...

What We Love About Summer In The Mouse

The Pools

It's no fun staying at the Caribbean Beach Resort in January when it's 30 degrees and you can't even go swimming - trust us. Come summer, you CAN'T WAIT to dive in.

Paddle Boats & Other Recreational Water Activities

Who wants to head out into the middle of Seven Seas Lagoon on a Water Mouse when it's 45 degrees out? Sounds a little more appealing in that fantastic Florida sunshine in June.

The Dole Whip
Now, this treat from Adventureland (and Captain Cook's in the Poly) can be enjoyed any time of year...but it just seems so much better when it's 93 degrees out!

Kali River Rapids, Animal Kingdom
Any other time of year, Kali is basically not worth the effort (outside of seeing the queue area - which is phenomenal). Unless it's an unseasonably hot day, you don't want to get soaked only to walk around shivering afterward. And I also never understood the point of wearing the rain ponchos on the ride - aren't we riding it to get wet??? So with that said, when the heat is cranked up, there is almost no better feeling than hitting Kali and getting DRENCHED. But get that fastpass, because the lines are LONG in the summer.

Splash Mountain, Frontierland

This classic is slightly different than Kali in that during the non-summer months, they usually turn down the big sprinklers that really get you wet - although that doesn't save you from the splash other logs make at the bottom of the big drop after you've already done it. But during the summer, you WANT to get soaked here, for many of the same reasons why we love Kali during this season.

Summer Nightastic

This gives us an opportunity to see some new things at WDW this summer: new effects at Tower of Terror, extended hours at Animal Kingdom, Summer Concert Series at Epcot, new fireworks at Magic Kingdom, and of course, the return of the Main Street Electrical Parade.

Water Misters
Who doesn't love to put their face into the water mister spots you can find at Epcot? There's 3 places I can think of off the top of my head - the area over by Test Track, the misters outside of Universe of Energy, and the misters by the fountains before you reach the World Showcase breezeway. There's also one opposite the bongo drums in Africa at Animal Kingdom, one over in Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom and a few others hidden throughout the parks. These are a prize when it's 95 degrees and you're sweating like there's no tomorrow.

Singing In The Rain, Hollywood Studios

This is actually unknown to a lot of people. At the Lights, Cameras, Action end of the Streets of America, you can find an umbrella attached to a light pole. Stand in the right spot and water spritzes out all over. This is just another clever way of getting you wet - which, of course, is a blessing this time of year.

Tiki Totem Poles, Adventureland
They look cool, and during the summer they play a valuable role in cooling you off. The kids die for these guys.

Premium Mickey Ice Cream Bar
For much of the same reason why we love the Dole Whip, the Mickey Bar comes to the rescue on occasion.

Ellen's Universe Of Energy, Epcot
OK, this isn't the greatest attraction ever, but 45 minutes inside of cool AC is a savior in the middle of July. American Adventure in World Showcase does the same thing, but it's a far superior attraction, although not quite as long.

Club Cool, Epcot

Of course, we can never sing the praises of this little outpost enough. AC and free coca-cola products from around the world. How can you beat that when you're burning up?

The Water Parks
Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach really are a great way to spend a day at The Mouse when it's ridiculously hot outside. Whether it's the lazy rivers, the wave pools or slides/rides, you can't go wrong at either water park. We especially love Typhoon because of the awesome theming.

Ice Water Dumped On Your Head
OK, maybe this is just me. But wow, does it work.

What We DON'T Love About Summer In The Mouse

It's Busy Season

School is out all across the country. This is THE time most families around the country (and most of the world in general) come to The Mouse since they don't have to rip their kids out of school and miss time. So it all converges here at once, for 3 straight months. This means big crowds.

Long Lines Everywhere
When it's busy season and there are big crowds, that means long lines. REALLY long lines. So not only do you have to wait in a ridiculous line for a ride/attraction that probably lasts all of 3 minutes, but for some of these rides the wait (or part if the wait) is outside in the ridiculous heat. Patience wears thin.

Shoulder To Shoulder Crowds During Parades, Fireworks
This comes hand-in-hand with "It's Busy Season" (as do long lines). But it's particularly bad because it's really hot outside -which very much adds to the frustration factor which is already present because you're shoulder-to-shoulder with countless thousands of people, every where you turn.

It's Tougher To Tour "Commando" Style
Some people love to blitz around the parks, taking in as much as possible as quickly as possible. While I don't really prescribe to that idea as much (anymore), I can understand the motive of those who do. But this time of year, not only can long lines sabotage your efforts, but it can drain you - quickly. If you're trying to really get your money's worth and see as much as you can, this is a difficult time to go that route, for all those reasons.

Getting An ADR Is Almost Impossible
At least it used to be during the summer. With the state of the economy, it might be slightly easier these days heading into summer to get a dining reservation with shorter notice (although with the number of travelers getting the Dining Plan, it is still going to be difficult no matter what). Be prepared to eat Counter Service, at a Table Service that isn't your first choice, or bring your own food (which we always encourage).

It's Uncomfortable Outside Even During The Evening
In central Florida, it's not just the sun and pure temperature that makes the summer heat awful - it's the humidity as well. It's a "wet" heat, and that's what makes you sweat the most. And even when the sun goes down in the evening, much of the humidity stays put. So you continue to sweat, even standing there on Main Street, USA at 10 p.m., watching The Main Street Electrical Parade and Summer Nighttastic Fireworks show.

Now, even though that's a rather daunting list of things to dislike about The Mouse during the summer, to me the good outweighs the bad. There's still more things to love than there is to not love. And when it's all said and done, whether it's 25 degrees or 95 degrees, there's still no place I'd rather be than The Happiest Place On Earth.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Top Ten Can't Miss In The Mouse: Animal Kingdom

In the fourth and final installment of the Can't Miss series, we take a look at WDW's youngest of the four main theme parks, Animal Kingdom. We've made no secret here at Around The Mouse that we love this place, even though it gets a bad rap sometimes from some sectors of the Disney World fan community.

We talked quite a bit about this way back in October (Defending Disney's Animal Kingdom!, Oct. 23, 2009) as we tried to explain why Animal Kingdom isn't that far behind (if at all) the other three older parks in The Mouse. It's beautiful, it's masterfully themed, and it does have an abundance of worthy attractions if you take advantage of what it actually has to offer. It also has some phenomenal dining - in both table service and counter service.

So while we're not here to try and convince you to love Animal Kingdom like we do, we do want to give you our thoughts on the Top Ten of what Animal Kingdom has to offer the Disney World guest.

Expedition Everest
Location: Asia

One word sums up Everest: AWESOME. Awesome theming. Awesome thrill. This is what Disney Imagineering can come up with when they're REALLY on their game. What's the best part of this attraction? The big forward drop? The fast, backward, twisting drop in the dark? The harsh G's you feel when flying around the outer edges? The Yeti swiping at you (even though he's usually a statue these days)? The theming of the Yeti museum? The theming of the shrines? The surrounding area of Anandapur? The answer to all is "yes."

Location: Dino-Land, U.S.A.

This ride is legitimately scary to a lot of, adults, everyone. We've always loved it though, as that scary thrill is the reason it endeared itself to us. There may be no more effective audio-animatronic in WDW than the Carnotaurus that actually chases after your Time Rover. The glowing eyes, the realistic running movement, the roar, the's incredible. And then there's the Carnotaur at the picture spot - that guy is LOUD and SCARY. And because of that, looking at the photos post-ride can be hilarious. If you can keep your wits about you (and don't have a bad back - this ride can be VERY bumpy), this is a definite can't miss in Animal Kingdom.

Kilimanjaro Safari
Location: Africa

The most immersive attraction in Walt Disney World, in my personal opinion. The theming here is so killer that even though you know you're not really in Africa, you could swear that you might actually be in Africa. As big as Everest has gotten, the Safari is still the backbone of entertainment in Animal Kingdom - something that everyone can ride and enjoy.

Maharajah Jungle Trek
Location: Asia

Never mind the Tigers or giant Bats - which are very cool. The most impressive thing about the Jungle Trek is the theming. It really is THAT good. It does rival the Kilimanjaro Safari as the most immersively-themed part of Walt Disney World in general. No detail was spared here as you feel as though you are walking through a very historically old country filled with lush greenery, wildlife and crumbling temples. Amazing.

Pangani Forest Trail
Location: Africa

While maybe not quite as impressive as the Jungle Trek, the Forest Trail is great in its own right. The Gorilla compound is particularly cool as you really do get a glimpse of these awesome animals as though they are living in a huge and expansive natural environment. Plus, the meerkats are always a lot fun to watch.

Festival Of The Lion King
Location: Camp Minnie & Mickey

In sum, Festival is one of, if not THE best live stage shows in The Mouse, hands-down. Insanely talented dancers, singers and acrobats elevate this show to incredible heights. Meanwhile the huge animal props and costumes sell the rest of it. This show has been around a while and Disney still hasn't topped it with any other live stage show since. Check the time schedules, get fastpasses for other attractions and make sure not to miss this.

Jammin' Jungle Parade
Location: Africa, Asia, Discovery Island

When it comes to parades, Disney usually hits the nail on the head. Jammin' Jungle Parade is no exception. It reminds me of the old Tapestry of Nations/Dreams parades that Epcot used to send around the Showcase. Huge stylized puppets and floats along with unique music make this unlike any other Disney parade. If you want a little something different, check it out.

Tusker House
Location: Africa

I tried not to include any restaurants in this list, but if one deserves mention, it's Tusker House. It's that good. For a full write-up on Tusker, check out our Tail Of The Tape article from back in March.

Tough To Be A Bug
Location: Discovery Island

WDW has a couple of excellent 3D shows: Mickey's Philmarmagic in Magic Kingdom and Muppet Vision 3D in The Studios. Tough To Be A Bug rounds out a threesome of 3D attractions that are all very much worth seeing. Entertaining and funny - and at times scary for little ones - it doesn't pull punches. The Hopper A.A. is one of the best in The Mouse - and can also be rather scary. The spiders that come down from the ceiling have been known to freak some people out. But don't let that put you off - Tough To Be A Bug is a great way to spend 20 minutes. Especially when it's 95 degrees out and you get to find the AC under the Tree Of Life. Speaking of...

Tree Of Life
Location: Discovery Island

This is a jaw-dropper. Especially if you take the time to explore the trails that surround the tree itself. The artistry that went into carving the animals into the tree and all the roots around the base is nothing short of genius. The Tree Of Life is the epitome of what Animal Kingdom is all about - if you take your time to appreciate the little things, to smell the roses, you will come away from it all blown away.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

WDW's Most Underrated Park: Typhoon Lagoon

Our family loves the water parks at The Mouse. Typhoon Lagoon just has something Blizzard Beach doesn't (Charm? Great theming?). I'm not sure what it is, really. But this isn't necessarily an article that's meant to compare the two, it's more a love letter to Typhoon Lagoon - a truly underrated Disney Park, in my opinion.

It's Katie and Chance's spring break this week, so we decided to use one of the days at Typhoon since the weather is absolutely gorgeous and is just hot enough to justify a day at the water parks. They both now openly admit the water parks are their favorite parks in Walt Disney World - they love them that much. Hope and I? Like them better than Magic Kingdom, Epcot, The Studios or Animal Kingdom? We won't go that far. Not even close.

Beautiful theming is a hallmark of Typhoon Lagoon, as this
line for one of the downhill raft rides illustrates.

That being said though, Typhoon Lagoon is indeed wonderful. It truly is a worthy Disney theme park. The fact that it's a "water park" is almost a footnote - the theming is that good here. You can tell that when it opened in 1989, WDI was aiming VERY high with this project. It has the spirit of imagination that the other four main theme parks have, and the attention to detail is amazing. It very much reminds me of Animal Kingdom in how far they went to make sure every single corner was attended to when it came to design and theme. Contrast this with Blizzard Beach's theming (OK, so maybe we compare them a little bit) - seemingly thrown together at the last minute in order to help alleviate the crowds at Typhoon Lagoon due to its popularity. I've always thought Blizzard Beach reminded me of Dino-Rama over at Animal Kingdom. It looks as if WDI rented some outside cookie-cutter amusement park comparny to take care of most of the design and theme work. This is no offense to anyone at Disney who might have helped design this park - it isn't bad, by any means. But compared to Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard falls far short when it comes to selling the idea of a great theme for guests to become totally immersed within.

Katie in awe of the wave pool from a distance.

Nothing gives you a sense of what Typhoon Lagoon is more than the elevated telescope area at the front of the park that overlooks the wave pool. Talk about a sense of awe. If you're standing out there looking at the pool when one of its massive waves start, your jaw drops. I love the guaranteed mass scream that takes place as soon as that wave snaps into motion. It happens every single time, without fail. And to see and hear that from the platform can be an intimidating thing for people who've never been to the park before - especially for kids - just ask ours!

An underrated "weenie."

Typhoon Lagoon also has a "weenie" - just like Walt wanted all his parks to have. That weenie is the Miss Tilly...the boat that sits atop Mt. May Day behind and above the wave pool. Combined with the wave pool itself, these give Typhoon a central focal point for everyone to fixate upon. Once again, the theming of this mountain and boat is second to none.

Chance overlooking the wave pool at our campsite for the day.

One of the things that I come away from Typhoon Lagoon is that it's like spending a day at the beach, but within a much more controlled environment. You can find a spot, camp there for the day, bring your own cooler with food/snacks, and wander a little enjoying the sites and swimming. Except there's no sharks or jellyfish.

Typhoon combines the amenities of the best water park in the world
with the perks of the beach.

One this day, we got there fairly early (10:15 a.m. - park opening was 10:00 p.m.) and we got a GREAT spot: a series of 4 chairs sitting up above and along side the wave pool. Great view. And when the big waves went crashing, a light spritz of water hit us as we lay on the beach chairs - it actually felt really, really good considering it was in the low-mid 80's that day with the sun beating down. It was also right around the corner from a restroom, picnic tables, the raft rides, and not far from anything. Having a great camp site like this is invaluable for a place like Typhoon Lagoon. This goes to show that getting there early can really benefit you, no matter which park you go to.

The intimidating, but incredibly fun wave pool in action.

Of course, the wave pool was a huge hit. The giant 6-foot wave is an event every time it occurs. The kids live for it - and it is really, really thrilling. Just as thrilling as any roller coaster, in my opinion, and it happens every 90 seconds. It's awesome.

High above the very relaxing lazy river.

Everyone loved the nearby downhill tube rides (Gangplank Falls, Keel Haul Falls, Mayday Falls), and it was worth being right around the corner from those as well. Katie and I tried Humunga Kowabunga - the 214-foot long triple water slide. Let me tell you, you go 30 MPH down those slides, and feels a HECK of a lot faster than that. But it was FUN. We also went on Crush N Gusher, the tube water slide on the other side of the park that goes much faster than any of the Falls rides mentioned above. Because of height restrictions, Chance couldn't ride either Kowabunga or Gusher, so he and Hope went off and enjoyed the lazy river while Katie and I took care of our thrill fixes.

Mmmm...tuna sandwiches! Actually, they were pretty good.

We did bring our own cooler with lunch, snacks and water. Tuna and whole wheat sandwiches, grapes, bananas and a few other light options were the order of the day. At the front gate, they were very good about letting us through without any hassle. And we did rent a locker for $6; I didn't want to worry about my wallet, cell phone or keys all day, so that was worth it. Upon return of the locker key, you get $5 of the $6 back, so little harm done there.

One lesson we did learn was to keep re-applying the sun block lotion - but after the fact, and after the sun burns were already present. So make sure you remember to keep slathering it on!

As the warm months approach (and won't leave for a LONG time), the water parks become a very attractive option at The Mouse. And no matter what we said about Blizzard Beach above, it's still a great park - just not at the level of Typhoon Lagoon. So when you're at The Mouse and want to spend the day getting wet and relaxing in the lazy river, I'd pick Typhoon first. It's a worthy and important part of the most popular vacation kingdom on the planet. Give it a try.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Top Ten Can't Miss In The Mouse: Hollywood Studios

Our next stop in the Can't Miss series is Walt Disney World's third oldest park, Hollywood Studios. This park is interesting in that it has some of the absolute best attractions in The Mouse. And some of the worst. That is part of the reason why I felt it's even more important to create this list for make sure if you have one day in the park on your trip (and especially if you've never been there before), that you don't waste your time.

A few items were left off the list that just missed. The Beauty & The Beast stage show is a quality performance that is very entertaining (even though they had to hack up the story big time in order to fit it in about a 15 minute slot). Mulch, Sweat & Shears could have made it - they are a blast during their live performances. Starring Rolls Cafe and The Writer's Stop are two quick eateries worth checking out that offer some very different options from the normal fare (in particular, the delicious but calorific Carrot Cake Cookie from Writer's - Lou Mongello did a video piece on this not long ago for the WDW Radio Show). Block Party Bash is also a decent parade that even shoots golf ball-sized nerf balls out into the crowd for you to keep - the kids love this.

There are also a few attractions that I'd say are worth seeing once if you've never seen them before and if you've already seen the Top Ten attractions: the finale of the American Idol Experience, The Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, the Backlot Tour and the Lights, Cameras, Action! stunt show. But remember, these are long and time-consuming (at best) and at least a few of them have seen much, much better days (Indy, Backlot). Some shouldn't be in existence (Lights) and one already is seeing a big loss in popularity and will fade quickly once its TV show inspiration jumps the shark - if it hasn't already (Idol).

With that said, DHS does have some of the best offerings in WDW. Their high-end attractions are TRULY high-end. And without further ado, here are the Top Ten Can't Miss attractions in The Studios:

Tower of Terror

One of the greatest themed thrill rides of all time, anywhere. The randomized drop sequence from 13 stories up never, ever gets old or boring. The attention to detail is amazing from the beginning of the queue through the exit. If your stomach can handle a pure drop like this, it becomes almost euphoric.

Rock N Roller Coaster

One of the best coasters in Florida, and right there with Everest as the best coaster in Disney World. The slingshot take-off is awesome, as is the loop it directly leads into. The theming is indeed really great - great enough to make it a top-notch Imagineering attraction rather than just a roller coaster. If you're tall enough, and not deathly afraid of coasters, you'd be doing yourself a disservice by missing it.

Toy Story Mania

This attraction truly is a phenomenon. Even though it's been open for more than a year it's still arguably the most popular attraction in all of The Mouse. The race for it at park opening is like a stampede. I'm not sure its popularity will ever die out, and rightfully so - it is pure, unbridled fun, and just about anyone can play it. It also appeals to your competitive nature, which definitely adds to the whole thing. Awesome attraction.


This show blew my mind the first few times I saw it, and it's still a true spectacle. It deservedly sits with Illuminations and Wishes as the trio of awesome end-of-night spectaculars. The only problem is that it's been cut down to just a couple nights a week. So that means less opportunities to see something this good, and when it is running, the crowd situation is insane. When there's two shows, always go to the second one when possible. Trust me. But even with the hassle, it's worth it. It's that good.

Star Tours

I love Disney World and I love Star Wars, so it doesn't get much better than the two of them together! Yeah, it's showing its age, but a huge refurb is coming within the next 2 years and it's going to be incredible. Later this year, it's going down for about a year, so enjoy the classic version while its still around. Bad hairdos, video quality and all.

Muppetvision 3D

Like Star Tours, Muppetvision 3D is showing its age too. But it is also due for a refurb (not as extensive as Star Tours, but a cleanup to the movie and possibly to the pre-show video, as rumors have it). Even with the wear and tear, it's still a riot and still a classic MGM fixture. And the muppets are enjoying a big resurgence in popularity lately...and deservedly so.

Animation Academy

This is a hidden gem. We've raved about it before, and for good reason. You sit down at an actual drawing desk and sketch a classic Disney cartoon character, following the cues from a Disney CM artist. Not only is it fun, but it's FREE and you get to take your creation home with you. Even though the Magic of Animation attraction isn't what it used to be on the whole, this part of it all is still great fun.

Citizens Of Hollywood

Live entertainment is a huge reason why Disney World is Disney World, and how you get so totally sucked into the atmosphere. That's why they call these people "streetmosphere" characters - they bring the place to life. And it's hilarious. Ultra talented and witty, they add the little things into the day that bring the whole park to life, and to a whole different level of entertainment. Stop and enjoy.

Great Movie Ride

Yeah, it needs work and is showing its age. Yeah, some of the audio-animatronics are in desperate need of facelifts and other cosmetic surgery. But the GMR, like Star Tours and Muppets, exudes the spirit of old MGM Studios. A little TLC (and maybe some different movie scenes) and it will once again be a headliner. But even if they never change it, it's still worth the long, air-conditioned ride through the history of movies.

One Man's Dream

We've raved about this before too. One of my absolute favorite WDW attractions, this walk through Walt's life and accomplishments is fascinating. I believe it to be required viewing for everyone who enters Walt Disney World so they can have a true appreciation for the genius and inspiration that was behind it all.

Next up, the youngest of the four main WDW theme parks, the under-appreciated and stunningly beautiful Animal Kingdom.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Top Ten Can't Miss In The Mouse: Epcot

In this edition of the Can't Miss series, we bring our attention to the second original Walt Disney World theme park, Epcot. The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow is interesting when it comes to can't miss items...there's a LOT to see here and many things could and should make an appearance on this list. But, as with the Magic Kingdom, we will narrow it down to a top 10, assuming most people only have one day to explore each park on their vacation.

So with that said, not every deserving attraction made the list. Casualties include the three pavilion movies (Impression de France, Reflections of China and Oh, Canada!), The British Invasion, Off Kilter, Mo Rockin', The Dragon Acrobats, Biergarten with their Oktoberfest Musikanten, Les Chefs de France (with Remy), Matsuriza, Living With The Land, The Seas aquarium tanks, Turtle Talk With Crush, Universe Of Energy, Club Cool, The Fife and Drum Corp., Boulangerie Patisserie, Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure and The Jammitors. That's quite the list. And if you have two days at Epcot, you can see them all. But, if you only have one day to experience this unique park, these are our Top 10 Can't Miss In The Mouse at Epcot:

Location: The Land, Future World

Incredible ride that takes everyone's breath away, especially the first time. The look and reaction is almost always the same after their first time on Soarin (wide open eyes and "wow" almost always comes out of their mouth). It's not a thrill ride by any means, but it's absolutely exhilarating. Come early in the morning, head directly to The Land and pick up fastpasses. And if you're quick enough, you can ride it first thing, get your fastpasses afterward and then ride it again later. It's worth the effort at rope drop, trust me.

Test Track
Location: Future World

Test Track is a lot of fun. The payoff is the last portion of the ride when you're on the outside high-speed loops heading around the building on steep banks going 65 MPH. That may not sound like much (we go 65 every day on the highway), but it's much different in a convertible while on a 45 degree angle without hitting the brakes. It's a fun and interesting ride with some nice thrill on the back end.

Spaceship Earth
Location: Future World

Absolute classic in every sense of the word. Wonderful attraction that is the living essence of everything "Epcot" and old Walt Disney World. The new refurbed historical scenes are incredible as some of the best audio animatronics in The Mouse reside in Spaceship Earth. I've heard a lot of complaints about some of the changes, in particular the computer "game" you play on your way down...but I'll tell you, I get a big kick out of it. It's not bad and in some ways an improvement. The kids absolutely LOVE IT, too.

Mission: Space
Location: Future World

No attraction is more of a Jekyll and Hyde than is Mission: Space. On one hand, you have the Orange "more intense" version and on the other, the Green "less intense" version. I can say that while the Orange Team had some well-publicized issues early on in its day and because of that they did calm it down some, it's still very intense. But if you like that sort of thrill, get in line! Now, the Green training in my opinion is not worth the time. It's basically just watching a video game while sitting on a chair that moves and tilts a little with the corresponding action on the screen. I found it so tame it was boring. But the orange option is a completely different story.

Sum Of All Thrills
Location: Innoventions, Future World

This is a great new addition to Epcot. It can be a little intimidating to some looking at it from the outside (the KUKA robot arms look like massive monsters that are eating poor unfortunate souls with their legs hanging out of their mouths), but the ride itself is so smooth it's almost hard to believe you're being thrown around like you are. With Sum, you can custom build a roller coaster, jet or bobsled then actually ride your creation. It's a good learning experience as you build your ride, then a fun time actually riding it. Future World needed something like this.

American Adventure
Location: U.S. Pavilion, World Showcase

The American Adventure show, like Spaceship Earth, is an Epcot original and is still AWESOME. And like Spaceship Earth, A.A. has some of the best Audio-animatronic figures in WDW...but unlike Spaceship Earth, these are the originals from 1982. Considering that, they're even more impressive. It's a very long show (about 30 minutes), and in the middle of the summer it can be a NICE break from the heat. And for some kids, a nice opportunity for a refreshing nap...

Voices of Liberty
Location: American Adventure pre-show, World Showcase

Arguably the best live-performance act in Walt Disney World, the Voices are incredible. They could technically be considered part of the American Adventure show, as they perform 15 minutes before each showing throughout the day (but you can see the Voices and leave if you don't want to sit through the following 30 minute show). Their talent is top notch and it can be a very moving experience to hear them sing their patriotic and historic songs.

Location: Norway pavilion, World Showcase

Even though we have Spaceship Earth and American Adventure on this list, perhaps no attraction exudes the feeling of classic Epcot Center more than the Maelstrom. For that reason alone, it's worth the ride - never mind the charming little things like the hidden Mickey in the huge wall mural in the queue area and the 3-headed troll that sends you back, back down the falls!

Stroll World Showcase At Night
Location: World Showcase (of course!)

This isn't any particular attraction, show or movie. But it's one of the most beautiful things The Mouse has to offer. It's a romantic, fun and unique experience, and it's one of the great "adult" things you can do in WDW. One suggestion: try the orange slush from France as you swing by and take in a performance from Off Kilter or Mo Rockin.

Illuminations: Reflections Of Earth
Location: World Showcase

Strolling along the Showcase at night leads directly into this last Can't Miss: Illuminations. In my personal opinion, it's the best end-of-night spectacular WDW offers (no offense to Fantasmic or Wishes). The music for Illuminations is powerful and emotional, the story is fascinating and the fireworks and effects phenomenal. Just remember to stand upwind to avoid the smoke on a breezy evening, and try to see it from front-and-center across from the American pavilion, the outcropping at Italy, or standing atop the International Bridge for some of the best viewing opportunities.

Well, that does it for Epcot. Really, this park is a two-day adventure considering all the incredible things it offers. But if you're there for only one day, make sure to hit the above - especially if you've never been there before.

Next up, Disney's Hollywood Studios!