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Walt Disney World: First Time, Last Time, First Time in a Long Time (2014)

 

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Every time I get home from a visit to Walt Disney World in Florida I take some time to look back at some of the great things I got to do. Usually these are well-worn favorite experiences and sometimes they are wonderful new things I had never gotten around to in the past. But I also am constantly amazed by how much stuff I still haven’t done, or by that long neglected attraction that got past me again. As I prepare for another foray into the World of Walt, I intend to right some of these past wrongs.

Less than 2 hours after I land at MCO, I plan to be in the ideal half-day evening park for a short visit, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or as some stubborn souls still call it, “MGM.” A little secret about DHS’s reputation as a half day park: it isn’t wholly deserved. If it were, how could I possibly have so much stuff here I still have to check off after my previous trips? Yes, if all you’re interested in are rides, or if you’ve got little kids you have to keep entertained, you may find the offerings a little light, but for a single completist adult, there’s actually no way you could see the whole thing in one day. The show schedules see to that.

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I’m making sure to check out a few new places to eat on this visit, and since Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano was the one eatery connected to the Fantasmic dinner package that I hadn’t heard universally average reports on, I chose to grab a seat here as my first in-park meal this time. A former cast member friend of mine actually claims Mama Melrose as one of her favorite spots on property, so despite some reports of dawdling service, my expectations are for a decent experience.

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For some reason, I’ve always wandered blithely in and out of the Animation building without taking advantage of the chance to set pencil to paper in the Animation Academy. As a youngster, I spent quite a lot of time sketching cartoon books both on my own and with a good friend. My style was always pretty two-dimensional and more suited for comic strip art than animation, so I don’t imagine I’ll come out with something fantastic here, but I just have to give it a try.

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I’m pretty sure I sat through the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular five or six years ago, but for the life of me, I’ve got no memory of it. With that in mind, along with persistent rumors of its eventual demise as a part of a coming Star Wars land, I’m going to make an effort to say hello to everybody’s favorite adventuresome archaeologist and see if the show is as long in the tooth as some say.

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While I’m not as big a fan of Frozen as about half of the rest of the planet’s populace, I have to admit that some of the songs really stick to you, so I won’t be all that surprised if I find myself wandering in to see the Frozen Sing Along. If nothing else, the experience of seeing a horde of crazed eight year old girls singing every word like they were me at an Elvis Costello concert could prove entertaining or instructive (or both).

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General consensus has it that the Fantasmic! show at Disneyland in Anaheim is far superior to the offering at DHS, and I have to admit that this has been a factor in my not making an effort to see the show the last couple of times I darkened these particular doorsteps. Well, any talk of a trip to the first Disney park out west any time soon would be seriously jumping the gun, so I’m going to go ahead and give this version a whirl.

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It may say something about my enthusiasm and time spent in Epcot that there is not much there of interest that I haven’t done and recently. This week’s announcement that Maelstrom will soon be closed and replaced by a Frozen attraction will leave this trip as my last opportunity to experience this kooky voyage through Norway. There has been quite a lot of online conflict and gnashing of teeth over the coming loss of Maelstrom, which I’m betting Lebeau will cover soon. I will definitely miss the ride, but I can’t bring myself to be too upset over its impending disappearance. Maybe I’m being naive, but it seems to me that if you’ve got a cash cow like Frozen, you’d be nuts to represent it with anything lackluster. I’ll wait and see what Disney does and form my opinions then.

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Not long after my brother’s family bids me adieu and heads back home, I’ll be making my first hike through Epcot’s International Gateway, and over to Kouzzina on the Boardwalk for supper. This is kind of an odd entry here, because this will definitely be both my first and last visit to Kouzzina, since it will be closed to make way for a new restaurant just a little more than a week after I eat there this coming Sunday night. That, and reports that it is a great value on Disney’s Dining plan motivated my decision to make a reservation there.

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That, and the fact that it is a good excuse to meander over to Disney’s Boardwalk resort and entertainment complex. I’ll be conflicted when I walk out of Kouzzina after finishing my meal. Epcot will still be open, with Illuminations ready to go in less than 2 hours, but there is also plenty to see on the Boardwalk. Do I take in dueling pianos and drinks over at Jelly Rolls? Do I just walk the Boardwalk and enjoy the environment? It’ll be Sunday night, so I could easily plop down over at ESPN Club and check out what’s happening in the NFL. Do you think they’d let me hang out in a corner and watch Boardwalk Empire at nine while the fireworks go off next door? Will I be able to resist a couple more hours of already paid for time in Epcot? How the heck would I get back to Pop Century from the Boardwalk after the park closes? I’ve looked most of this stuff up, but I still haven’t made a definite decision.

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Whatever happens Sunday night, I will be at rope drop the next morning at the Magic Kingdom. I will once again be resisting temptation through my first few hours there so I don’t rush past some of the longstanding entertainments and icons of the parks. My first intention is to slide over to Town Square Theater and see the main mouse himself because I hear the fellow can actually talk now. It has been since sometime in the mid 80s that I made some time for those old softies The Dapper Dans. I hear they sometimes cover boy band tunes nowadays. None of that will be happening in my presence. I will be loudly requesting only the classics. You know, stuff like Lida Rose, Main Street, and Blinded by the Light.

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Believe it or not, I fully intend to follow up the rope drop ceremony, talking Mickey and the Dapper Dans, with the overwhelmingly cheesy Trolley Show. Yeah, that’s right. I’m doing the Whoooooole Main Street U.S.A. thing. I’ll be walking right down the middle of it and everything.

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I took a little bit of abuse when I revealed my impatience with the Swiss Family Treehouse here at the blog back in 2012. Just like the Dapper Dans, it’s been something like thirty years since I gave this relic of Disney’s early forays into live action filmmaking a chance. Just the fact that it’s standing earns it another opportunity at my affections. It had better bring its “A” game.

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Surely I took a swing at the Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade back when I was a kid. Even at Disneyland as a true tot, maybe? Hmmmm…maybe not. This will require that I prepare for the day by placing 4 shiny quarters in my pocket at some point. I think that’s a bit of pre-planning I can handle. This attraction used to have rifles that shot real pellets, but it now employs the much safer and more historically accurate “red laser.” Can you tell I’m not a guns guy?

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Here’s another classic attraction that I haven’t given the time of day since the Reagan era. Dumbo the Flying Elephant is the granddaddy of all spinner rides, and its mild thrills and iconic status used to make it one of those attractions with inexplicably arduous lines. Disney even left those lines mostly exposed to the elements. I had no time for that, but now that these issues have been resolved and improved aesthetics have been paired with a short wait in a covered queue, hey, why not? I’m kind of curious what the view up there is like now.

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Considering that I have clear memories of applying crayon to the Contemporary Resort in a coloring book when I was about seven years old, it is a bit confusing that I’ve never actually set foot inside it when I wasn’t on the monorail. Part of this is, no doubt, because I’m not absolutely rolling in the kind of cash that lets a person actually stay in a deluxe resort. I’ll be fixing this particular issue of omission by having a fine steak dinner at The Wave, where Disney chefs create dishes using many locally sourced ingredients. I’m not sure why that matters to me other than the fact that maybe they’ve never been frozen. Elsa needs to stay away from my steak.

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The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train opened just earlier this year, so this will be my first chance to try it out. When I was in the Magic Kingdom last October, this part of the park was still just a big hole full of mud. I understand they’ve made some progress in the interim. Lebeau was underwhelmed when his family rode it earlier this summer, but I can’t resist what look like great animatronics, so I may cash in both of my FastPasses for Doc and the gang, one during daytime hours, and another at night after returning from supper at the Contemporary.

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While I’ve always had to spend small on my overnight accommodations, I’ve never shied away from spending a little extra green on table service meals. I kind of balk at spending much time during a vacation carrying a tray. That will change a couple of times this trip, as I anticipate lunching at Sunshine Seasons in Epcot and maybe at Columbia Harbor House on my last park day before catching the Magical Express back to the airport.

I’ll be reporting on some of this on my return a week from now. Keep building stuff, Disney, and I’ll find excuses to check in with you.

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Posted on September 16, 2014, in Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, Star Wars, theme parks, travel, Walt Disney World. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Daffy,

    I visited Disney World in Florida back when hurricane Charlie came through. I was doing disaster inspections for FEMA. The hours were brutal but I did have a break long enough to go there. But I was so tired I cannot remember anything. I know I was there because I bought souvenirs for my kids. All I can remember was that the place was empty, and the driveway leading up to the park was very long….

    It was kinda like an episode in the Twilight Zone. I was the only person there in this huge park, all alone….and then, Daffy Duck came up behind me and…….

    I wish I could have taken my family.

    Brad Deal

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    • That does sound like a surreal experience. Especially if that little black duck Daffy was there. He would have been a long way from his home at Six Flags.

      One of these days I’ll schedule myself an early morning character meal in the Magic Kingdom so I can see what a mostly empty Main Street looks like in person. But since I’m not big on character interactions and the food at those things is average at best, and the cost is pretty high, well, I’ve been able to resist the temptation thus far.

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  2. Much fun to read as always… looking forward to your TR upon return. (Says someone who failed to turn in her own TR after Miami this year.. well, I’d rather read yours and Lebeau’s).. The animation studio sounds particularly intriguing. And I must thank you for momentarily getting my mind off football. RB tends to be a little one dimensional in the fall. Have a great time Daffy, your fans will be here when you get back!

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    • The animation studio was so much cooler back in the day when it was a real animation studio. We visited while they were working on Brother Bear. It was cool to see animators at work.

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  3. None of the parks, not even Animal Kingdom are half-day parks if its your first time. And certainly not if you’re a completist. Hollywood Studios suffers because they have so few rides and so many shows. The repeatability of shows is relatively low compared to other attractions. And the shows at Hollywood Studios are ancient. So that’s the main reason why it has a reputation as a half-day park among fans who visit frequently.

    That problem is compounded by having kids. Height restrictions will cause complications on the majority of the few rides in the park. The only two rides with no height restrictions are Toy Story Mania and the Great Movie Ride. And GMR will scare the pants off most small kids. Which is why lines for TRM are insane. Leaving families with small kids little to do in the park. Fortunately, that’s not your concern.

    The Indy show is good. But man, is it long in the tooth. Let me know if they are still pretending that the guy in his 30s was actually a stunt double for the 72 year old Harrison Ford. That line always cracks me up. Most of the guys in the show weren’t old enough to see Raiders in the theater and they act like they had a hand in making it. You should try to get there early and make a lot of noise so you can be in the show!

    I have heard good things about the food at Mama Melrose. The atmosphere seems nice. It’s just less exotic than 50’s Prime Time or Sci Fi Dine Inn. Some people complain that it’s too ordinary as just another Italian restaurant which could be anywhere. The service is supposed to be very slow. Not a problem if you are looking for a meal at a relaxed pace. Like any other restaurant at Disney, I have heard raves and I have heard nightmare stories. I think you’ll enjoy your meal.

    The Fantasmic package is actually a really good deal on the dining plan. Last I heard, Mama Melrose brings out a dessert sampler instead of letting you choose your dessert for the Fantasmic package. That has the advantage of letting you sample 3 desserts and the drawback of taking choice out of your hands if there is something you really wanted.

    I have eaten and Hollywood and Vine more than once. I wouldn’t say it was average. For a buffet, there were a few options that were surprisingly good. Once I identified them, I loaded up on those items and ignored the others. But of the three restaurants on the Fantasmic package, MM is the clear winner for the dollar.

    Hopefully the Frozen Singalong will melt your cold, frozen heart and make you realize what a timeless classic it is. But I’m not counting on it. Enjoy the karaoke.

    I have only seen Fantasmic once! And that was enough to tide me over. The show was okay, but not worth the hassle of dealing with those crowds. I might feel differently without kids in tow. The show definitely needs an update or an outright replacement. The lengthy Pocahontas commercial could not be more out of place.

    You’ve been peeking! I started an article about Maelstrom and Frozen. I’m not sure if I will actually finish it or not. I think you and I are probably the only two people here that really care.

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Kouzzina before its demise. It doesn’t sound like it will be missed by fans. 2 hours in Epcot vs. time on the Boardwalk is a tough call. It’s nice to have options.

    That’s a lot of time spent on Main Street USA. We saw the Trolley Show several times last trip. Always while walking past it. It does set the mood.

    The only thing more funny than the idea of you at the Frozen sing-along is you at Dumbo. The views aren’t worth it! But I guess being a completist, you may as well check out the new air conditioned tent.

    I have heard pretty good things about The Wave. But I think the headline is getting to set food inside the Contemporary for the first time. That’s pretty cool. We’ve spent a fair amount of time in the resort but always as a result of visiting Chef Mickey’s.

    Keep your expectations for 7 Dwarfs low. The projected faces on the animatronics in the mine scene are cool and all. But frankly, Lumiere is more impressive with his fluid motion. The ride itself is tame and extremely short.

    I am actually a fan of a lot of Disney’s quick service offerings. Yes, they can be hectic with the tray carrying and what have you. But the food can be equal to a lot of what you get at table service restaurants for a fraction of the price. Sunshine Seasons is a safe bet for lunch at Epcot. And I was very impressed with Columbia Harbor House for lunch at Magic Kingdom. Eat upstairs for some peace and quiet.

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    • Hey, if I posted based solely on who responds in the comments section, I would have stopped writing about Boardwalk Empire long ago. But when I look at our site stats, I find that those articles get visited somewhere between 30 and 40 times by the end of the week they are posted, sometimes more. I wish people would engage more sometimes, but if they like to just read and move on, I understand that.

      I totally get why consistent visitors and people with kids would find DHS lacking. Hopefully rumored additions to the park will help out in the future.

      I guess carrying a tray just reminds me too much of my grade school days. It makes my day less magical and reminds me that I’m just another brick in the wall, to borrow from Roger Waters. I usually ditch trays as quickly as I can, sometimes going as far as to put them on neighboring tables if the place is pretty empty.

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      • Your article on Angela Darmondy still gets traffic. If you Google the characters name, your article is the second result after Wikipedia! It’s ahead of IMDB. Crazy. If it makes you feel better, I read them all at once one year later when the new season starts.

        We always end up at DHS and we never take in any of the shows. Mindy has to ride Tower of Terror which we have bribed the kids to ride with us or done a child swap of some kind. We see the Muppets every time. Get in at least one maybe two rides on TSM. Because what else are we going to do. We have to eat at 50s Prime Time Cafe although I’m more than ready to give Mama Melrose a try. We’ll typically meet a few characters. Maybe kill some time at the animation building or the playground. They close that playground super early. We always seem to arrive as they are closing it down. We ride GMR even though Kara doesn’t like it. Since we take a break in the afternoon and have a sit-down meal, our days are practically half days anyway.

        I figure sometime around 2020, there will be some new things to do at DHS that will make it worth revisiting. 😉

        I definitely get what you mean about trays. It’s far, far worse with kids. We usually have to split up to hit different stations. We’re juggling trays of food, drinks, etc while trying to keep track of kids and find a table. If you eat at a normal lunch time, the seating situation is pure chaos at some places. We have banned Cosmic Rays after two nightmare experiences two trips in a row.

        A lot of people don’t know about the upstairs seating at Columbia Harbor House. So finding a seat there was much easier than at a lot of other places in spite of the fact the place was mobbed. However, someone had dropped a troublesome tray on their way up the stairs. And Disney was not quick about cleaning the spill up because this is not longer Walt’s Disney World. So you had to navigate a slick staircase carrying a loaded tray with kids in tow. Vacations are hard work, I tell ya.

        That’s why I have sworn of Disney World for a little while. We’re going to try out the Cruise Line and see how that suits us. No lines. No FastPasses. No rides that scare the kids. No buses. No rope drop. None of the things that make me sore for a week after we get back.

        But back to quick service. I find that once you ditch the trays and sit down to eat, there are some good meals to be had. There’s also some serious misfires. The counter service breakfasts are frequently inedible. Biscuits that are hard as rocks. We have thrown out a lot of breakfast items. Lunches usually go down better although we’ve had a few misses there as well.

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        • I may have a vacation announcement of my own coming soon. 🙂

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        • I hope you love the Disney cruise line! We went on our first one last March and re-booked for this March because we loved it so much. Be warned though…if you are a family that likes to cruise, it may spoil you. We’ve agreed that if possible, we are only cruising Disney from now on. 🙂

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        • This will be our first cruise of any type. My wife is pretty severely claustrophobic. She can’t ride Spaceship Earth or the Peoplemover. The idea idea of being trapped at sea scares her. So the plan is to do it up right and hope for the best. We are booked at the conceirge level which is extremely expensive but I hope will help with any claustrophobia issues. Everything I have read suggests that the Disney Cruise Line still does it right even if Disney World has lost its way a bit.

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  4. Ah, the food service trays. i’ve gone 360. Trays, in university, represented fun meal times and camaraderie. In grade school they were heavy, awkward and represented bad food, but the experience changes completely in college life. Plus, we were able to utilize our trays in lieu of sleds in the winter. (Actually called “traying”) Fast forward into adulthood, and trays became a relic of one’s younger and stupider self. Bad trays. Fast forward again. Have kids, and trays are once again more of a positive, primarily because they seem more sanitary than the tables in some places. So that’s 2 360s…
    Well, my lunch break is over now 🙂

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    • Here’s where the trays get crazy at Disney World. All the fast food is set up differently. But at many of the food court style locations, there are multiple lines depending on what you want to order. See this example from the aforementioned Cosmic Rays in Tomorrowland:

      Not a big deal if everyone wants burgers. But if you have a kid who wants chicken nuggets, you may end up waiting in more than one line or splitting up. After getting everyone’s food, you then wait in another line to pay.

      After that, you have to find a table while balancing trays of food and keeping track of your kids. That can be easier said than done. At lunch time, the dining room can look like this:

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      • wow, I’ve never seen anything like that bottom photo, but it is another point in favor of table service. No matter how busy the park or restaurant, when your party is called, you will be shown to a table which will have enough chairs so you can sit and have the waitstaff take your order, answer questions, and bring your food to you. I really value all of these services. While I hope I’ll enjoy the quick service meals I experience this trip, I just can’t see my priority ever changing away from the more relaxing and service-oriented nature of table service meals.

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        • That picture is from the 4th, so it’s pretty much a worst case scenario. But I recall being at Cosmic Rays during spring break in 2010. We had two young kids and a double stroller. We had to stop at two of the three stations and then get our napkins, etc. Finally through the register and there was no place to sit. There were cast members guarding the dining area, but they were there to keep out people who didn’t have trays of food. They made no effort to help you find a seat and in fact would not make eye contact with us. Loaded with food, the kids and the stroller, we were not nimble. So when a table did open, other groups would swoop in and take it. We probably carried those trays for around 5 minutes, but it felt much much longer.

          I like a mix of counter service and table service. Although I have to say we found the service really wanting on our last trip. 3 out of 6 meals, the server had problems with the dining plan using magic bands. Hopefully they have worked some of the bugs out over the last few months. But even aside from that, we had the slowest service we have ever had at Disney and some generally off putting behavior from at least one waitress.

          Some other cons:

          Table service meals take longer. You should set aside an hour of your day minimum. You get slow service and it can take a huge bite out of your day. Between afternoon breaks and table service meals (not to mention bus rides) we have only a few hours to actually tour the parks on any given day.

          Table service meals are expensive. Sometimes, really expensive even by Disney standards. Disney has been jacking up food prices across the board. But with the success of the dining plan, table service prices have risen at an alarming rate. In theory, you get what you pay for but…

          Table service food isn’t always significantly better than counter service food. It’s better, no doubt. But not always good enough to justify the additional cost. A lot of times, I enjoy my counter service food as much or more than what I get at a table service restaurant. And at half the price.

          Table service meals are not spontaneous. With ADRs booked 180 days in advance for some places, you need to know where you will want to eat and when months in advance. Although they can be hectic, there is something to be said for being able to grab a counter service meal on the fly. Picking where you want to eat when you are actually hungry and eating when it is convenient for you instead of when you could get a table. You don’t have to plan your day and your trip around counter service meals like you do table service meals.

          I like table service meals a lot. Many Disney restaurants are practically attractions in and of themselves. But if it were just me, I would be perfectly happy getting by on snacks and counter service meals. I don’t consider sit-down dining to be essential. At least not every trip. But sit down meals like 50s PTC are one of Mindy’s favorite things about Disney World. So, we’ve been ending up the dining plan the last several trips like everyone else.

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