Friday, June 24, 2016

Walt Disney World Trip 2016 Day 4: Magic Kingdom and Be Our Guest

Read about Day 3 HERE.

You know you want some more music while you read this article, so click here to listen to the fantastic music from the parade we watched in the afternoon!

Our early morning was a little more relaxing, because we weren't invested in getting to the parks by rope drop. Instead, we had our only Disney breakfast on this morning!

I drove Mom and Dad to the front of Art of Animation, and we ate inside its food court, called Landscape of Flavors. While most people wanted Mickey waffles and chocolate chip pancakes (that was the longest line), Mom and I didn't have to wait at all for our omelettes! We both did make-your-own omelettes, and they were put together right in front of you. And they're HUGE!

When we finished, a double-sized bus was just pulling up, and we loaded ourselves on in no time. The park had opened by the time we arrived, but that was okay. I got through the bag check and we were on our way.

The same scenario from Day 2 continued here: we were going to cover Tomorrowland, Frontierland, and Liberty Square. The major attractions were already take care of with FastPass+, so we didn't need to run anywhere. And because the Main Street Vehicles were back, we wanted to try out another one!

We hopped in a car with a couple, and naturally, due to the small space, we got to talking. Turns out they had been in Animal Kingdom as well, but they had spent the evening at the California Grill and had gotten engaged! We were very happy for them. Our driver was great, too, telling us about all the little details of Main Street U.S.A. and some pointers about shows and attractions. When we arrived at the castle, he even volunteered to get a picture of all of us.

We veered to the right of Cinderella's Castle and toured around Tomorrowland. We did the Astro Orbiter first, and as we were waiting to take the elevator up to the ships, I got curious why Tomorrowland wasn't more crowded. So I checked the Lines app (the app made by my employer, TouringPlans.com), and it was reporting that Space Mountain was currently closed!

Fortunately for us, Space Mountain wasn't in our touring plan. However, I also saw that Splash Mountain was closed, and that was in our plan, but not till the afternoon. We'd have to keep an eye on that one.

After Astro Orbiter (which was kind of uncomfortable...), we did Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. I'm much more of a fan of its sister attraction, Toy Story Midway Mania, but Buzz is fun for what it is. I got a pretty good score, too!

This was our mistake of the day: Mom and Dad suggested Stitch's Great Escape. What we should have done was ride the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover. With Space Mountain closed, the TTA Peoplemover would have taken us right into the attraction, and it was more than likely that the lights would have been on!

But did I think that at the time? Noooooo. Instead, I decided to give Stitch a try. I had heard negative things, but had never actually done the attraction.

Well, that was stupid. The attraction was dumb, and not worth it at all. I should have just kept it in my "never-ride" list! And this decision kicked me in the butt later, when the TTA Peoplemover decided to go down for the rest of the afternoon and evening when I was ready to ride it! I didn't get to ride one of my favorite Magic Kingdom attractions. Bummer.

After grabbing some water from the Merchant of Venus (get it?), we walked through Fantasyland and into Liberty Square. It was time to check out the Hall of Presidents! The attraction is always impressive, because the Presidents are animated! They sit and stand, but they also move their heads and hands periodically. It's an impressive sight.

We used our FastPass+ for The Haunted Mansion next. I used to hate The Haunted Mansion, but I've grown to appreciate its fandom and the way the attraction is put together. Dad has always liked it - that's probably why I went on it as a kid, even though it terrified me!

It was lunchtime, so we walked over to the Columbia Harbor House for lunch. It was very crowded, but Disney knows how to keep lines moving: give everyone that comes in a menu, so hopefully everyone has decided what to order before they even make it up to the kiosk. Oh, and have ten different kiosks from which to order. I got the chicken pot pie, Mom got fried shrimp, and Dad had New England Clam Chowder.

Now the food was delicious; don't get me wrong. But the best part of Columbia Harbor House is its seating. At first blush it doesn't look like much. But there's a second floor that stretches along Liberty Square and Fantasyland! Mom got us a table that was right up against a window overlooking Liberty Square. We could watch the crazy-long Haunted Mansion FastPass+ line (that was strange!) and see the Liberty Belle Riverboat as it went around the Rivers of America.

Since we could see the Liberty Belle as it came back to dock, we decided to do that attraction before we went over to Splash Mountain. The Riverboat is a great relaxing ride, and it was perfect for this time of the day.

As we moseyed around, I checked Lines again, and saw that Splash Mountain had closed again! This was concerning, because our FastPass+ window was closing, and we wouldn't be able to get on! Disney, fortunately, has a plan for this. They sent me an e-mail that said we could get into the FastPass+ line for Splash Mountain at any time for the rest of the day, or we could choose a FastPass+ reservation for one of a select group of attractions.

When our Liberty Belle ride was done, Splash Mountain was back to running, and we decided to take advantage of the FastPass+ unlimited window. And man, did it feel good to get wet! Right before we got on, I instructed Dad to put his electronics in the Zip-lock bag I'd been carrying around all trip. He resisted at first, but I knew that they increase the water on Splash Mountain during the summer months, and we'd probably get wet. He did it, and I was glad I'd been so insistent! I was front row on the right, and that ended up being the wettest seat in the log!

The train stations itself right above the queue for Splash Mountain, so we saw it come in as we were exiting the ride. We decided it was a good idea to get on the train and go to the front of the park again for some confections from the Confectionery! I didn't think we would get on that train, since we were still exiting the Splash Mountain area, but to our delight, the train was still waiting for us after we climbed the stairs!

We enjoyed a leisurely trip to Main Street U.S.A., and then hit the Main Street Confectionery. This was a lot of fun for me, because I don't get to watch the cast members creating their delicious treats very often. But I got to see them dipping strawberries in chocolate as well as decorating caramel apples and making them into Mickeys!

Mom went here to purchase some fudge, I got chocolate covered marshmallows on a Mickey straw, and Dad actually went outside and got a chocolate covered banana. We were all pleased with our chocolate choices.

As we exited the Confectionery, we heard the dulcet tones of the Dapper Dans! We had missed them our first day in the Magic Kingdom, but caught the second half of their act this time around. They were fabulous, as usual.

Another show I wanted my parents to see was Captain Jack Sparrow's Pirate Tutorial in Adventureland. After a brief stop in the Hub to snap a cute picture of Mom and Dad in front of the castle, we arrived right at the beginning of the show!

I had seen it before, and they was in need of some water, so I left them and searched around for a table service restaurant. Rancho del Zoccolo is often not open, and even though it was very crowded, it wasn't open on this day. However, it shares table space with Pecos Bill's in Frontierland, so I managed to maneuver my way through a bunch of different rooms and to the counter at Pecos Bill's to get us some water and ice.

I got back for the second half of Captain Jack's show, and even gave him a high-five! (Not many people can say they've done that.) This was the heat of the day, and usually at this point we are heading back to the resort and taking a break for a few hours. However, our plans were a little different this day, because I really wanted to see the Festival of Fantasy parade at 3pm. (Plus, we were going to call it a night a little earlier than the first three nights.) We chilled out for a few minutes in the Rancho/Pecos Bill air conditioned seating, and then went looking for a spot to view the parade.

I could take full credit for this, or I could just admit that I lucked into the following scenario. The parades in the Magic Kingdom go one of two ways: from Frontierland through Liberty Square and into the Hub and Main Street U.S.A., or the reverse of that. On Day 2, the Main Street Electrical Parade was going from Main Street U.S.A. But on Day 4, the Festival of Fantasy parade was starting in Frontierland. And where was I leading my parents? Out of Pecos Bill's and right into Frontierland.

We ended up finding a fantastic parade viewing area just 15 minutes before the parade began, and it was in the shade! Most people choose parade viewing based on where they are at the time (and usually right when a parade begins) or they go to Main Street U.S.A. and park themselves for 45-60 minutes. For us, we found a great place with little problem. My parents praised me. I knew it was just dumb luck.

The Festival of Fantasy did not disappoint! It is far superior than its predecessors, and the tune is incredibly catchy. The floats are gorgeous, and it mostly covers movies that have been released within the last 20 years, like Beauty and the Beast, Tangled, The Little Mermaid, and Brave. The most impressive float, though, is the steampunk Maleficent dragon - and it breathes fire!

We needed to get back to Tomorrowland, and trying to dodge people after a parade can be difficult. So I implemented a strategy I learned in Disneyland when navigating the post-parade population: follow the parade! Right after Mickey and Minnie's float, there were cast members lined up, picking up rope and pillars that kept the crowds at bay. We just started walking right behind them and followed the parade all the way down into Liberty Square! (It wasn't as much fun as when I followed the Paint the Night parade in Disneyland, where we were dancing all the way to the back of the park, but it was still enjoyable!)

We searched out some air conditioned attractions in Tomorrowland for a bit. First we watched the Carousel of Progress. Unfortunately, Father's audio animatronic in the first scene wasn't working quite well. He was talking, but his lips weren't moving! But the rest of the attraction was fine. And who would have thought the Virtual Reality part of the last scene would actually become even more appropriate nowadays?

Next, we went to Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. This is very similar to Turtle Talk with Crush, where they characters can interact with people in the audience. Including That Guy! At the beginning they shined cameras on people and assigned them things. The guy right in front of us was "Going to buy the whole audience churros after the show." They also told the story of Monsters, Inc. using people from the audience, and the kid they chose to play Randall was spot-on! We were very impressed.

I had really wanted to ride the TTA Peoplemover as well, but like I mentioned before, it was closed for the rest of the day. Bummer. So we walked back to the Hub and grabbed more water instead. We were waiting for it's a small world to come back online. We had a FastPass+ reservation for it (Mom wanted to do it again), but it was closed as well! We were hoping it would open up soon, but while we waited, we watched the Country Bear Jamboree. I have no idea when the last time I saw it was, but it was not as short as the show we saw! They only did snippets of the songs instead of the whole thing. I guess it was okay - I'm not a country music fan at all. The only thing I wanted to see was "Blood in the Saddle," and Big Al sang it wonderfully!

As we passed by it's a small world, we noticed that it was back up and running! So we got to enjoy it a second time through. Something I had never noticed before was the people who were eating dinner at Pinocchio's Village Haus. There are some seats that overlook the it's a small world attraction, and at that time, cast members were handing guests signs to display to the people in the boats and in the queue. Some I can recall were "Give someone a high-five!" and "Cheer!" They were pretty fun!

The last thing for the day was probably the most special part: our dinner at Be Our Guest. This is a new restaurant that opened just a few years ago, and you dine in Beast's Castle. This has been a hard reservation to secure, and I was thankful we snagged one for 6:15 on a Saturday night!

We checked in outside the castle, and they asked if anything was being celebrated. I mentioned it was my parents' first time, and they were celebrating their anniversary! They weren't quite ready to seat us, so we were going to get a text notification when they were ready for us.

Instead of waiting in the heat, we walked over to Gaston's Tavern and found a table there at which to sit. We scrolled through pictures and even saw previews of some of our PhotoPass shots (which were too expensive to actually purchase)! A cast member at Gaston's was cleaning tables and we struck up a conversation with him. He was originally from Puerto Rico, and had moved to Orlando not knowing much English. But he had been working at Walt Disney World for a few years, and he spoke great English! I'm glad we got to talk to him.

I got the notification that our table was ready, and we crossed the bridge into Beast's Castle. It's supposed to look very small in the distance thanks to depth perception, but in reality it's very close by.

The cast members call each group one by one, and they fling the doors open before you. As your eyes adjust, you are ushered into the ballroom, which looks exactly like it did in the movie! Like, exactly. They even have magic windows, where it looks like it's snowing at night. You can dine there, or you can dine in the Rose Room and the West Wing. Mom was thrilled when we were seated in the ballroom.

The place setting was beautiful - our napkins were formed into roses that none of us wanted to take apart! I was tempted to take it home, but resisted the temptation. (I'll just figure out how to do it online.)

Our server was very nice, and gave us some good recommendations. I got the Lamb Chop, Dad got the Shrimp and Scallops, and Mom got the Braised Pork. We had delicious rolls first, and all the entrees, were very good, but mine was the best. The lamb was perfectly done - I was almost gnawing on the bones to get every bit of meat! (Scratch that, I did gnaw on the bone to get every last bit of meat.)

Mom and Dad ordered dessert - Mom's Triple Chocolate Cupcake was incredible, and Dad's Grey Stuff torte was good, too. But because it was their anniversary, they got more Grey Stuff shaped into a Mickey head! (It was delicious. Don't believe me? Ask the dishes!) And Dad thinks that they didn't put the desserts on our final bill - how cool is that?!

We ended our meal by paying the Beast a visit in the study. He enters the ballroom with music blaring and everyone applauds their host. We saw it twice, and it was very cool. There was a little girl dressed as Belle as the Beast entered, but she was not keen on meeting the Beast at all - she shrank away quickly!

After one last dance by Mom and Dad in the ballroom (awww...) we headed reluctantly out the door. It was time to say goodbye to the Magic Kingdom - something I always hate doing. I found myself throughout the day just looking at the castle from wherever I was and just smiling. I see it in pictures so many times, but for those two days I was actually there, seeing it with my own two eyes.

We went through the castle to exit the park, and there were already people sitting down and getting ready for the evening parade. But we just waltzed out of the park, and I made sure to stand on Main Street U.S.A. one final time, silently saying goodbye to Cinderella's castle before slowly turning to leave. Ugh. What a bummer.

There was an Art of Animation bus waiting, but we thought we were way too far away to catch it, so we didn't run to it. However, it just stayed there, and stayed there, and suddenly a little girl ran from behind us to catch it, her family running up behind us. Because of her, we knew we wouldn't have to wait for a bus! And by golly, we were right! What a pleasant way to end the day.

Dad's Magic Kingdom Top 3:
Bronze - Festival of Fantasy Parade (great location!)
Silver - Hall of Presidents
Gold - Dinner at Be Our Guest hosted by the Beast

See Day 5's post HERE!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Walt Disney World Trip 2016 Day 3: Animal Kingdom

Read about Day 2 HERE!

You can find your atmospheric music here to better enjoy your reading experience!

I had never done rope drop at Animal Kingdom until my trip a few weeks ago. Actually, I've barely been to Animal Kingdom at all. In 2000, it was our final day, and we pooped out around 2pm because it was way too hot. In 2010 my friend Michelle and I did all the things we wanted to do in the evening hours on our arrival day. And in 2014 I accidentally arrived on an Extra Magic Hours day...and I wasn't a resort guest and couldn't enjoy it!

My goal was to get as much out of the day as we could, and avoid the pitfalls of the Animal Kingdom; i.e. the heat and the long walks.

They opened up the Oasis area which leads to the Tree of Life about 15 minutes before the park opened. If you really wanted to explore, you could. However, most of the people were taking their places at the Hub area in front of the Tree of Life. One branch moved to the left and took people to Kilimanjaro Safaris (of which we had a FastPass+ reservation). The other branch moved to the right and took people to Expedition Everest.

Mom and I were ready and rarin' to hit Expedition Everest, the best attraction in Animal Kingdom. Dad was going to take his time getting there, since he wasn't going to ride it.

Our great driver on Kilimanjaro Safaris - her husband is
a Jungle Cruise skipper!
The "official" opening of the parks took place in a pretty cool way. Suddenly out of nowhere, a flock of macaws swoops by and lands on a circular platform in the middle of the path. They've been trained to fly to that platform for feeding time. The cast members were underneath feeding them as the opening welcome was piped over the audio. And when the cast members finished feeding, they stepped off the platform, and the macaws knew they could take off again! Their takeoff was the sign for the park to open, and they really fly close over people's heads!

Mom and I did a pretty fast walk to get to Expedition Everest, which is at the back corner of the park. But when we got there, it was closed! We were still waiting and wondering what to do when Dad sauntered up. There was no set time for opening the attraction, so we decided to walk over to Africa and use our FastPass+ reservation on Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Animal Kingdom is a very large park, and walking from one area to another takes time. I do enjoy the background music that you can find in these walkways, though.

Kilimanjaro Safaris produced a plethora of animals for our morning ride, thankfully. You can see some of our animal sightings below:








After the Safari, we settle down in Africa to wait for the second showing of Festival of the Lion King. The Tam Tam Drummers of Harambe were performing, and I enjoy watching them - they really get into the music and are very fun! We sat in the seating area of the Dawa Bar, scrolling though our
Kilimanjaro Safari pictures. I grabbed us some more water, and while I was looking around I stopped at Kusafiri Coffee Shop and Bakery and bought the three of us a Mickey cinnamon roll! It was huge and was slathered in icing, which made it even more delicious.

Once we finished, we got in the queue for Festival of the Lion King. Most people will tell you that doing the FastPass+ for a show isn't worth it. Well, if you want good seats near the front, doing FastPass+ is a good idea. We didn't use it, and were up in the second-to-last row of seats. There isn't a bad seat in the house if you're of average height, but it would have been nice to have been a teensy bit closer.

Regardless of our seating, the show was fabulous, as usual. It's a very well done show, and the performers all look like they're having a great time!

When I looked at my phone's clock, I realized that there was a chance that we could see the 12:00 show of Finding Nemo: The Musical. The catch was that, once again, the two shows were at opposite ends of the park. But we decided to give it a shot.

We didn't race to the theater or anything, but we didn't saunter, either. As we got into the queue area, some cast members were coming out of the theater, and we guess they were going to close the queue line because the theater was full. We snuck in right at the last minute!

Since we were in at the last minute, we didn't find 3 seats empty. Dad sat up in the upper section, Mom managed a seat in the front row of the back section, and I was up in the front.

(By the way, we had kept track of Expedition Everest, and by 11:00 it was finally up and running. It had been a good idea to not wait in line!)

Finding Nemo: The Musical is probably my favorite non-nighttime show in all of Walt Disney World. The music was done by the same couple that did the music for Frozen, and it works really well with the plot of Finding Nemo.

I immediately start crying when the overture kicks in, and then I can sit back and enjoy the rest of the show. I don't know what it is about that opening - I guess it's the combination of the waiting, the loudness, and the beautiful music that gets me.

Spot Mom! (Hint: she's right in front!)
The puppets and actors don't just stay on the stage - they also come out into a center stage and also go in the aisles! Mom lucked out with her seat - there were a few actors that were right in front of her!

After that stellar show, we all found each other and decided to head out of the park. Even with the unfortunate closing of Expedition Everest, we had accomplished the other three must-dos of the park, including two shows! So we decided to celebrate that with lunch at Downtown Disney.

Er, sorry. It's called Disney Springs now.

I had driven to Downtown Disney back in 2014 to meet my friend Rachel for dinner, and it was a mess. The road was torn up and both sides were down to one lane, and you had to park your own car way across the street. It was just bad.

This time, all of that construction was done, and it was gorgeous! Now Disney Springs has two huge parking garages, which have numbers on each level saying how many spots are available on that level, and then numbers saying how many spots are available in each row, plus there's a light above each space, and if it's occupied the light is red, and if it's not it's green! It makes parking there (and it's free!) easy to do.

Disney Springs is really beautiful, too. The week before they had opened up the Town Square area, which had formerly been where all the nightclubs were. Now there were upscale shops and some pretty snazzy new food kiosks. When I saw the word "poutine," I knew what I was going to eat for lunch that day. There was no wait, and the poutine was freshly made and delicious.

My parents decided to go to Earl of Sandwich, which was a great decision. I would have definitely eaten there if poutine hadn't been calling my name. Mom had tuna salad, and Dad took my recommendation of Italian. Neither was disappointed. (It's the bread.)

Mom and I did a little shopping in the area. Mom bought a few items for her granddaughters (my oldest niece got a Minnie Mouse doll, and I saw in pictures that she was thrilled to bits!) and I bought myself a new towel set. There is a store devoted to all things Disney kitchen, and I would buy the whole store, if I could.

We had some issues with our MagicBands at some of the stores. Dad was looking for a nice Disney pin to put on his hat, and he also offered to buy my 2016 trip pin for my collection. But when he tried to use the MagicBand, it didn't accept it! Mom also tried it in World of Disney, and it didn't work! Fortunately for us, this was the only time we had a major issue with the MagicBand not being accepted.

Although I wanted to explore the newer areas a little more, my parents were tired and were looking to get back to the hotel for a break. So I postponed my excursion for another trip.

Mom and I decided to hit up the Big Blue Pool instead of the normal Little Mermaid Pool. The Big Blue Pool was up by the main building at Art of Animation, and it was larger and had more entertainment. They even had a snack stand there!

It was incredibly crowded, but what would you expect from a pool in the summer? We enjoyed watching some of the kids dancing with a cast member and shooting hoops with her. We enjoyed even more the Mickey bars we purchased from the snack stand. I could say we purchased it to make sure our MagicBands were working. To our appetite's delight, the MagicBands worked!

View of Everest from Flame Tree BBQ Seating Area
At dinnertime, we took the rental car back to the Animal Kingdom. (I guess I didn't mention it earlier, but we drove to Animal Kingdom and Disney Springs that morning and afternoon.) We parked a bit further away, but the tram took us up to the front of the park.

We weren't quite hungry for dinner yet, so we did It's Tough To Be A Bug first, which is a 3-D show inside the Tree of Life. I don't think I'd seen it since 2000, and it wasn't great, but it was a good way to kill time.

I knew exactly where we would be eating dinner: the Flame Tree Barbecue. It was near It's Tough To Be A Bug, and served up some delicious barbecue. We split a Ribs, Chicken, and Pulled Pork Sampler, which included beans, coleslaw, and cornbread. Since we'd had such a big lunch, this meal was perfect to split between the three of us. And it saved us money!

The best part of Flame Tree Barbecue, however, is its seating area. If you aren't directed there by a cast member, or don't look hard enough, or don't know already, the seating area looks nonexistent! But when you look behind the restaurant, there are five or six different sections of seating, and a few of them go right up to the edge of the lake, with Expedition Everest clearly seen on the other side. It's shady with a great view. We even had some winged creature eat with us! (No, we didn't feed it.)

I was delighted to find that the queue for Expedition Everest was down to 25 minutes, so while Dad went to get a Mickey bar of his own, Mom and I went around the lagoon and got in the queue!

The queue for Expedition Everest is very immersive, so waiting in it isn't a huge deal. First you go into an equipment shop for your trip up Everest. Then you enter a museum that talks all about the Yeti that is said to dwell in the Forbidden Mountain. They even have the remains of a campsite that was seemingly attacked by the Yeti and left no survivors. (All fake, obviously.)

My mother enjoys roller coasters, but she'll still keep her hands firmly on the seat in front of her. But with my many trips to Cedar Point (thanks, Matt!) I have turned into a hands-in-the-air, eyes-open kind of enthusiast! Both of us enjoyed Expedition Everest, but in our own ways. (As we were going up the mountain, we both spotted Dad down below waiting for us to finish!)

Our final highlight of the night was going to be the new nighttime show called The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic. Back in January, we thought that we would be able to watch a show called Rivers of Light, but due to technical issues, the opening of that show was delayed, and a story based on the recent version of The Jungle Book was introduced instead.

While we waited for the show to start, we walked around Dinoland U.S.A., which looks incredibly tacky and unconnected to the rest of the park, but once you understand the backstory, the area takes on a whole new meaning! I explained it to Mom and Dad as we were walking around, and they appreciated it more, but they didn't appreciate that the area wasn't built in a way that they couldn't figure it out for themselves!

Our FastPass+ window opened for The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic, and we found some pretty good spots. The nighttime show takes place on the lagoon/lake that is between the front of the park and Expedition Everest. For a long time it was just a lake. Now it has purpose!

We sat around for about an hour, but I was able to leave the area and get us some ice water, so it wasn't like we were stuck or anything. Everyone was keeping an eye on some clouds to the east, where lightning was flashing. Fortunately, that storm stayed in its place and didn't disrupt the show. There was some wonderful Asian Indian music that was played, which I really enjoy, but Mom doesn't. (She thinks it's too repetitive.)

I would say that The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic is very similar to Festival of the Lion King, except the performers are all on barges that get moved into place at the beginning. Plus, if you don't know the story of The Jungle Book, or haven't seen the recent movie, you might be a little lost. My parents and I had all seen the newest movie before we went on this trip, and we agreed that seeing that helped us appreciate the show even more.

There were dancers positioned in front of each audience section, and there were three main singers on the main barge. Each soloist sang a different song, from "Trust In Me" to "The Bear Necessities" to "I Wanna Be Like You." There were also water screens at certain times that showed parts of the film.

I personally liked the show, and my parents did, too. Yes, it wasn't as spectacular as Fantasmic!, but it was entertaining.

Before we left the park, we witnessed another new feature that had just been introduced less than a week ago: the Tree of Life lighting. Every 15 minutes or so there are projections on the Tree of Life that tell a story. It's only a few minutes long, but it's fun to watch. We watched the story of fireflies falling in love! (Aww!) At the end, the Tree of Life is lit up in a variety of colors. I think I heard there are four or five different vignettes that are shown throughout the night.

We got onto a tram and made our way back to our rental car and back to Art of Animation. We needed to get our bodies ready for our first real challenge of the trip: spending the day at the Magic Kingdom without a break! Read about Day 4 HERE!

Dad's Animal Kingdom Top 3:
Bronze - Kilimanjaro Safaris
Silver - Festival of the Lion King
Gold - Finding Nemo: The Musical

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Walt Disney World Trip 2016 Day 2: Magic Kingdom

Read about Day 1 HERE!

Day 2 was no less exciting, because we would be going to one of my favorite Disney parks: the Magic Kingdom!

Need some audio to get you in the Magic Kingdom mood? Click here!

Even though we had determined that taking our rental car was the fastest (and least tiring) way to get from our resort to the parks, the Magic Kingdom park is a bit different. They have people park at the Ticket and Transportation Center, take a tram to either a monorail or ferry boat, and use that to get to the park entrance. So actually, the fastest mode of transportation is the bus.

We walked to the front, and my parents were now wearing their Anniversary buttons that I'd gotten for them the day before. Before the "permanent" marker wore off, it proudly displayed that they'd been married for 37 years. (Or they will be, in July.) My dad was also wearing his new hat, which looked very smart.

The bus wait didn't take long, and we were making our way into the Magic Kingdom! My first big surprise of the trip: the bag check was HUGE! I was nervous that I wouldn't make it through in time for the opening, but as long as Mom and Dad saw it, I guess that was okay. Fortunately, there were lots of security guys, so even though they were being very thorough (and with recent Orlando happenings, I can be very thankful for that), I got through with 5 minutes to spare.

We positioned ourselves right in front of the train station, instead of being right next to either of the tunnels. The reason for this was simple: we had two days at the Magic Kingdom, and our Fastpass+ reservations would easily help us cover the most popular attractions without having to speed off at rope drop. So our first attraction of the morning was actually to go right of Town Square and meet Mickey Mouse! My mother wasn't terribly thrilled with this idea, but little did she know that this Mickey was the talking Mickey, who would have conversations with you! (I decided not to tell her, so her skepticism lasted for a few hours. I just smiled and tolerated it.)

The opening show is glorious, and I love seeing it. If you go to Walt Disney World, make sure to be early at the Magic Kingdom so you can see it. It just puts you in the right mood, and (to be honest) the sight of Casey Jr. coming down the track and blowing its whistle brings happy tears to my eyes. (Want more examples of Disney bringing happy tears? Read this!)

Sure enough, Casey Jr. came down the track and brought with him many of our favorite Disney friends! We all counted down from ten and then made our way into the park. We didn't have to rush down Main Street U.S.A., so our first sight of Cinderella Castle would have to wait.

The queue for Mickey was nonexistent, though we had to wait in the warmup room for a minute or two before we were let into his "dressing room." Mom and Dad got to see a couple of people ahead of us interact with Mickey, and then it was their turn! They immediately got hugs, and Mickey noticed their anniversary pins and asked Dad what the secret was to a long marriage. He said, "Listening!" Mickey thought that was swell. Then they got a picture, and I got to be in one as well.

Mom was pleased with the encounter, and her trace of skepticism vanished.

Since the mad rush was over, Town Square and Main Street U.S.A. were down to moderate crowds, and the Main Street Vehicles were parked in Town Square. Apparently, my parents had thought for all these years that you had to pay to ride these vehicles, but you don't! I saw the firetruck and made a beeline for it. We sat in the back, and were able to enjoy a nice leisurely ride down Main Street U.S.A. Mom even figured out that the bell in the back worked!

I got some great shots of the two of them right in front of the castle, without a crowd of people around. Then we walked through the castle into Fantasyland!

We hung out for a little bit in some of the shops, and then our Fastpass+ reservation for Peter Pan was ready. I got a little mixed up with where the attraction was located; I was thinking of Disneyland's Fantasyland instead of the Magic Kingdom's!

We enjoyed the ride, and then went across the way to it's a small world, which I didn't realize was Mom's favorite attraction. She had ridden it way back in 1964 at the World's Fair, when her family went to New York! Color me jealous.

The ride was very pleasant, and imagine their surprise (not mine; I knew it was coming) when, at the very end, there were some screens in the final room, where there are usually signs in different languages telling people "Goodbye." Well, now the screens show people's names! They use the Magic Bands to read who is in the boat, and then they'll display those names! I hadn't seen it used, but it was neat to see.

We headed over to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh next, and waited for 15 minutes or so. However, the standby queue was interactive, and it had things to turn and move and pop so that kids could stay entertained. They also had big screens where honey was dripping down, and you could wipe it away to reveal a character! Out of all the attractions in the original Fantasyland area, Winnie the Pooh is my favorite, I think.

We walked right into the start of Mickey's Philharmagic next, which is a 3-D show next to Peter Pan. I love that show - it incorporates a lot of Disney Animation's second golden age movies, like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. It is different to see those animated characters in CG form, though.

Mom grabbed us some ice water for our waterbottle, and then we used our Fastpass+ for an attraction I was a little nervous doing: The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. I wasn't worried about Mom - she's done coasters before and loves them. However, Dad is not a roller coaster kind of guy, and I wasn't sure how well he'd take this one. I had done it before, and knew it was tamer than most of the other things in the Magic Kingdom, like Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

I sat with Dad, and Mom went by herself. Dad told me the attraction was pretty much his limit, so that was good. I love that one! It's a very smooth ride, but the mine carts actually sway a little bit - you only notice it if you pay attention! Mom really enjoyed it, too.

It was time for lunch, so we walked over to Adventureland by way of Liberty Square. We passed the new bathrooms that are based on Tangled, and Dad and I also tried out the stocks. (We voluntarily tried the stocks - it wasn't like they caught us climbing Rapunzel's tower to see if we could watch the Wishes fireworks from up there or anything...)

I wanted to treat Mom and Dad to a meal at the Jungle Cruise Skipper Canteen, which had only opened earlier this year. I love the Jungle Cruise and it's painfully punny jokes, so when there was a restaurant based on that attraction, I wanted to give it a try! It was indoors, cool, the theming was great, and our server was great. Mom got the "A lot at Steak" salad, Dad got the Skip's Mac and Cheese, and I decided on two appetizers: the Falls Family Falafel and the S.E.A. Shui Mai. In my opinion, the S.E.A. Shui Mai was the winner!


Our next attraction took us back to Fantasyland and Under The Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid. It's just a dark ride - nothing special - but it's well done. We also managed to catch the tail end of the Main Street Philharmonic as they finished their concert in the Storybook Circus area.

Since we were at Storybook Circus, and we were pretty tired, we decided to catch the Walt Disney Railroad back to the front of the park and do some monorail hopping! We exited the park and took the monorail (“¡Por favor manténgase alejado de las puertas!”) over to the Grand Floridian Resort. Mom has always mentioned staying there sometime, but she had never seen the inside! So we walked in and spent a few minutes enjoying the lobby and sitting area. Unfortunately there wasn't a band or piano player at the time, but it was nice to enjoy the solitude and quiet.

We got a bus back to the Art of Animation, and Mom and I did another swim while Dad napped. We were a little earlier than the previous day at Epcot, and got back to the Magic Kingdom right around 5:30. (Our wait for the bus was pretty bad, and there wasn't any shade! Next time we had to take the bus, we decided that I would drive us down to the main building and park there. It would save us some time.)

We walked down Main Street U.S.A. and entered Casey's Corner, which is famous for its hot dogs and corn dog nuggets. I knew Dad would like the hot dogs, so that's why we went there! I got my delicious BBQ Slaw Dog, which I get every time I'm at the Magic Kingdom. Dad and Mom each got the Chili Cheese Hot Dog, which I'm sure was tasty.

The trickiest part of Casey's Corner is the seating! We didn't want to eat outside, but all the tables were taken. But we got some nice Disney courtesy by two other sets of park guests, who said that we could join them at their tables! We sat with a couple who were from Philadelphia, and they were very nice. It was great to enjoy our meal in the air conditioning.

We waltzed over to Adventureland again, and I had gotten us a Fastpass+ reservation for the Jungle Cruise after we'd used our first three Fastpass+ reservations. Our skipper was named Anthony, and he had the driest dry humor ever, but he was also hilarious. I've had some average cruises, but this one was definitely above average.

We checked out the Enchanted Tiki Room next, and I hadn't seen it since it had been reverted back to it's shortened "original" form. The last time I'd seen it, Iago and Zazu were still "Under New Management," but a fire in 2011 allowed it to return to its original script, and I liked that version much more!

Our longest queue of the entire vacation came next, when we decided to do Pirates of the Caribbean. I'd say we waited 35-40 minutes, but that is a queue that is indoors, so the air conditioning was very welcome. The addition of Klaus Badelt's score from The Curse of the Black Pearl is amazing for the attraction. But there's always such a backlog of boats in the final two scenes - it kind of takes me out of it. And this has happened to me quite a few times. Is that just going to be the norm?

My favorite part of the evening came next. We walked over to Aloha Isle and got Dole Whips! Thanks to Aloha Isle switching places with Sunshine Tree Terrace, the line to get Dole Whips is now greatly reduced. (It's over behind the Tiki Room now.) Mom and Dad each got the regular Dole Whip, which they had actually eaten at the Dole Plantation in Hawai'i before this! (I'm jealous.) I upgraded to a Dole Whip Float, which not only has the pineapple ice cream, but also pineapple juice. Seriously guys, this is the only pineapple thing you'll ever get me to eat.

Our final Fantasyland attraction was Enchanted Tales with Belle, an attraction definitely intended for children. However, it's still pretty magical. You enter from Maurice's cottage, and you are shown a mirror that actually transports you to the day that Belle and Beast fell in love (I still can't quite figure out how they do the effect - you just have to see it for yourself!) Then you go through the mirror into a room featuring the wardrobe, and children are selected to play parts in Belle's story. Then you meet Belle in the library, and she helps you tell the story of how she and Beast fell in love. It's very cute.

It was getting close to the "witching hour," AKA that time when everyone starts parking to view the evening parade. I didn't want Mom and Dad to have to try and find a spot on Main Street U.S.A. because I knew that other areas in Liberty Square and Frontierland would be far less crowded. So I was walking down Liberty Square when I noticed a magical sight: behind the Hall of Presidents was a porch, with two empty rocking chairs!

I raced over to claim them as our own, and my parents were very happy to find a shaded, secluded area that would be nice for parade viewing. (It wasn't perfect, but the porch was up a few steps and allowed us to see the floats above everyone's heads.) So for the next hour, we chilled out. We had covered all the attractions in Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Main Street U.S.A. that we wanted to do, so we just people-watched!

There were quite a few people that pointed out our seats and said, "Best seat in the house!" We even had a seven- or eight-year-old boy come up to Mom and Dad and ask, "Do you guys live here?" Mom and Dad were polite and said no, but I snorted and had to look away. But there was a front door behind them and everything - it was an honest mistake!

The sky grew dark and the Main Street Electrical Parade introduction started. I have always loved that parade since 2000, and I even bought the soundtrack on that trip and play it frequently! They have upgraded the floats since then and have softened the music a bit, but it's still lovely. I especially love how Tinkerbell starts the parade, and from her float and onwards an occasional string of yellow "pixie dust" lights run through!

We abandoned our seats and headed back to Main Street U.S.A. in order to view the "Celebrate The Magic" show - it is video that is projected onto Cinderella's Castle, and the best place to view it is from the front of the park. We managed to squeeze our way into the middle area, and had a (relatively) unobstructed view. However, the show was great! The way they project stuff onto the castle is pretty incredible - it's not just a projector onto an uneven surface. Go on YouTube and search "Celebrate the Magic Disney World Magic Kingdom" and you'll see.

Instead of staying in those same places for the "Wishes" fireworks show and then dealing with the giant mob that was exiting the Magic Kingdom and waiting for buses all at the same time, I actually took my parents out of the park. We went all the way to where the ferryboats dock and turned around. The train station was off to our left, and you could see the top of Cinderella's Castle. This is the perfect spot to view Wishes. Almost all of the fireworks are visible from this point, and they pipe in the music so you can hear all the audio perfectly. (I kind of wish they would do this at Disneyland!)

And guess what happened when it was done? We just turned around and caught the next Art of Animation bus and didn't have to wait in a giant line. It was magnificent.

Dad's Magic Kingdom Top 3: 
Bronze - Having Mickey Mouse personally wish us a happy anniversary
Silver - Mickey's Philharmagic
Gold - Celebrate the Magic

Stay tuned for Day 3, where Animal Kingdom tries to redeem itself from being a below-average theme park in our eyes! Does it succeed? You'll just have to read to find out!