Vacationing from Vacation

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I'm back from a week at Walt Disney World with my sister, brother-in-law, and nieces. And first, let me say that I made the right choice. I didn't mind using the Disney bus system to get from place to place; a pair of Motorola Talkabouts made it easy for me to meet up with my family; and it only created an inconvenience once, on the final day. Otherwise, I was always out and about in the parks and only used my hotel as a place to sleep and shower. The air wasn't filled with pixie dust at the Polynesian, either. Sure, the surroundings convey an island feel, but what you're really paying for at the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and Contemporary Resort is convenience-- easy access to the parks through monorail and ferry. That convenience was worth it for my family. Without any kids to usher or other encumberances, it wasn't a big selling point for me.

The Magic Kingdom and Epcot were much as I remembered them, although with various new attractions. Animal Kingdom, Disney-MGM, Typhoon Lagoon, Downtown Disney, DisneyQuest, and Pleasure Island were new to me. I don't know what I expected exactly, but I can only say that I didn't come away as enchanted as I thought I would. Peter Pan complexes aside, I suppose we all grow up. There was much about Disney World I appreciated, but I wasn't swept away by the magic.

Part of that may be because of how the vacation was structured. My sister did a great job scheduling us for character breakfasts and events like the luau and Hoop-Dee-Do Revue, most of which were fun and worthwhile. But keeping to that schedule meant a lack of flexibility and spontaneity. I'm a big fan of structure, but I discovered that what I want in a vacation is a lot less of it. I want the freedom to find hidden delights and unexpected opportunities. I want to spend one day exploring a new environment, the next relaxing in a chaise lounge with a good book, and the third visiting a spot recommended to me by the guy one chaise down. I didn't know this about myself before-- or at least, not in so many words. I'll keep it in mind when I plan future vacations.

I never got out to Universal Studios for Spiderman-- there was too much to do at Disney, and it got jettisoned from the agenda. We never left the Disney property. Another trip. I think the coolest thing at Disney was the Adventurer's Club on Pleasure Island. I only spent about an hour there, but it was a blast. The space itself is terrific and the performers seemed to be having so much fun it was infectuous. Any return trip to Disney will definitely have an entire evening at this place pencilled in.

DisneyQuest, on the other hand, was an enormous disappointment. Aladdin's Magic Carpet Ride was a bore (and I thought players would be prone, as if on a carpet, instead of sitting normally). The Mighty Ducks Pinball Slam was terrible-- I don't know what model of physics it tries to simulate, but it's not from our universe and just doesn't work. A number of the stations at Treasure of the Maya weren't operating properly. The Pirates of the Caribbean game was fun, and the Jungle Cruise looked good too. Astroblasters is small and slow, Invasion is lame, yada yada yada. I spent most of my time playing free arcade games, including about 45 minutes of shooting hoops. Kids might find more to enjoy here, but I was disappointed at how often the activities failed to live up to their promise.

At the major parks, we loved the Fastpass system which lets you get a reservation for a ride, then return at your assigned time and just hop in front of everyone and get right on. Without this, we likely would have simply passed on a number of major attractions, like Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (a lot of fun). But it did bring up the question of whether the system solves or aggravates the congestion problem. I'm sure Disney's analyzed the issue to death, but on the surface it seems like the system actually creates longer "standby" lines because it allows Fastpass users to just cut in front, thereby forcing those without a Fastpass to wait longer. It's great when you're the guy with the Fastpass, but you can only have one Fastpass at a time. While you wait for your appointment to roll around, you're back to waiting with all the little people on standby.

Other random thoughts:

  • It's A Small World is the most pernicious song on the planet. There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow runs a close second.
  • You can tell how old an attraction is by whether or not it exits through a gift shop.
  • Pocahantas and Tarzan's presence are limited to shows at Animal Kingdom, but Hercules, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and Treasure Planet seem to have been erased from existence. Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo haven't made their way into attractions yet, either.
  • The characters sign autographs throughout the parks, and each character signs its name identically no matter who's inside the costume.
  • Gazillions of pins are sold everywhere, with lanyards on which to wear them. Many Disney cast members wear lanyards, and will trade any pin they have for whatever Disney pin your child wants to give them. But of course, you need to have pins in order to play the trading game, and they'll set you back $6.50 a pop. Genius!
  • Don't like pins? How about charms and charm bracelets? Disney's got 'em.
  • Epcot needs to decide if it's a theme park or a science museum. Attention, Living Seas designers: nobody wants to read panel after panel of facts about robotic diving equipment on their Disney vacation.
  • Do no vegetables grow in Florida? Because if it's not a processed potato or a leafy green, it's impossible to get at Disney.
  • The Haunted Mansion was a whole lot cooler twenty years ago. Whether that's because I was younger or the state of the art in special effects has advanced so far is left as an exercise to the reader.
  • The monorail was a whole lot cooler before I moved to Seattle.
  • George W. Bush has more speaking time in the Hall of Presidents than George Washington. It's a great big beautiful tomorrow...

  • 2 Comments

    FastPass isn't so great for families with kids who want to do something every minute of the day. But my mother and I spent a relaxing two days in the park last winter and the FastPass was a big help. We were already inclined to shop (or to sit and talk) between each ride anyway, so it was no problem to wait. We also took in the Hall of Presidents while waiting for our Haunted Mansion FastPass, and were similarly underwhelmed. I keep hoping a prankster will sneak in overnight and hang a "Mission Accomplished" banner on the stage.

    Remember, I was there with 2 kids, ages 6 and 10. So we were in the situation you describe, of wanting to be doing stuff all the time, and FastPass was fantastic. We'd typically get a FastPass for something, then move on to other attractions and return when our FastPass rolled around. The parks were not crowded at all for most of the trip (the final Saturday being a dramatic exception-- I can't imagine going to Disney during the summer!), and waits of 15 minutes were the longest we generally saw. We zipped into Pirates of the Caribbean and It's a Small World in 5 minutes, Haunted Mansion in 10, Space Mountain in 15 or less.

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