View From Table 9

January 26, 2008

Our Trip to the World of the Mouse Part III: MGM

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We were a little surprised given all the advance buzz about lines and crowds that the Magic Kingdom took us only 1 1/2 days to get through.   With the extra day in our schedule, we decided to head over to the newly re-named “Disney Hollywood Studios” formerly and still popularly called MGM.

The park itself is really neat looking,  as it closely resembles a movie set of very realistic street scenes from different eras – California in the 40’s, NYC in the 30’s, San Francisco same time period, and anywhere in the 50’s depending on which way you go.

From a ride perspective, MGM has hardly any, though the ones they have were really fun.  The Star Wars simulator ride was great, and outside they had a “Jedi School” program going where small kids selected from the crowd got to learn how to be Jedis and fight Darth Vader.  That was fun to watch, especially as clearly there were some ‘older’ kids (read: Kids with credit cards, driver’s licenses and full time jobs) who were dying to get up there themselves in the audience.  DS was thrilled to see the “real” Darth Vader and hear Yoda.  It was well done and fun.

Also went on the Tower of Terror, which 5 YO DS thought was fun.  He was more scared of the preview to the ride where ‘ghosts’ tried to get in his elevator than the actual ride. The picture they took of the riders mid-ride shows DS and DH looking at each other and laughing.  From DS: “Mom, it just goes up and down. What’s the big deal?”  Yep, I’ve got a roller coaster thrill ride kid.

The free play area they have is super neat – part of the set of “Honey I Shrunk the Kids”, lots of giant fake grass blades and things to climb on.

MGM is mostly shows and DS wasn’t in the  mood to sit through them. We heard the Thrill Show was fantastic, but the timing wasn’t good.  Wanted to see Muppets 3-D but somebody wouldn’t cooperate.

What MGM lacks in the ride arena it more than makes up in Character appearances. They’re all over the place, you have schedule & locations, and the PhotoPass photographers are all over the place.  DS was thrilled to meet the Power Rangers (who arrive in their Power Rangers car), Buzz & Woody, Frozone, Stitch, Mickey, Goofy, Donald, Mike & Sully, and Chip N Dale.  Add to this a Character Lunch at MGM with the Little Einsteins and Jo Jo’s Circus.  Yep, Character Bonanza.

The Character lunch was by the way really quite good, with fairly sophisticated buffet items like beef loin sauteed with onions in wine sauce.   I’d recommend that character event too, especially for kids who are still into Playhouse Disney.

MGM’s also good for shopping – lots of stores, better laid out than Magic Kingdom I think.   Oh, and my Mom & I took the Backstage Lot tour which is more fun than it sounds.  We saw the Cars & Stars parade which DS loved too.

Highlights:

Star Wars ride

Tower of Terror

Aerosmith Rock & Roller Coaster (DH went on, this has a 48″ height requirement)

Disappointments:

Not as many rides

It’s good for one day, maybe 2 if you’re really into seeing shows.

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January 21, 2008

Our Trip to the World of the Mouse Part II: The Magic Kingdom

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Our first park was of course the Granddaddy of them all – Magic Kingdom. Having done lots of reading before the trip, we had decided to spend three days at Magic Kingdom, one at EPCOT then have a ‘free day’ to do whatever.

We got to the park early on Monday. Seeing DS’ face when he saw the castle for the first time was outstanding – he was SO excited. Shortly after arriving we began to notice: Not a whole lot of people. No lines, even on the popular rides. We zipped through Pirates of the Caribbean (decent), Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse (nostalgia, but still cool), etc. Got one Fastpass for Jungle Cruise (again, nostalgia, but aging pretty well).

We ate lunch at Pecos Bill’s Cafe, which was notable only for the fact that it was the first time I’ve ever had a hamburger with absolutely no taste at all. Not even a bread taste or a bad taste. It was just, well, food-like matter. Now I understand the appeal of condiments.

DS and DH the Roller Coaster Junkies hit the Grand Thunder Railroad (loved it), then we headed over to the Haunted Mansion (also loved it). We had kind of figured that would be the day, but…it was only 1:30. So, we pressed on into Fantasyland. Went on It’s A Small World b/c secretly we’re into self-inflicted torture…I mean DS really liked it (and he did!). Got Fastpass for Peter Pan ride as this was the first really fierce line we’d seen, then moved on to Snow White (seriously lame nostalgia ride). By then DS was showing signs of fatigue. There was a kid’s play area over by Winnie the Pooh so we went there and he loved just playing for like an hour. Time to do Peter Pan, which was nostalgia but still a great ride.

Now here’s where we learned to avoid “just one more”. We had made reservations for Liberty Tree Tavern at 5:30, but it was 3:30 and DS was flagging. Do we find stuff to do, or just leave it? By now, lines were building on rides we had done already, so re-riding wasn’t an option. In the end, we decided to ditch the reservation and head back to our hotel, where we got the buffet dinner (decent) and headed to bed.

Second day started out early because we had reservations to Cinderella’s Royal Table for breakfast. This has an earned reputation of being the hardest reservation in Disney- must call 180 days in advance. Well, it was definitely worth it. We overestimated the time it would take to get to the park so we arrived really (like an hour) early, before the park was even open. They seated us, no problem, and we were in the nicest part of the room, by the windows. The food was surprisingly good and DS enjoyed meeting all the Princesses as long as they promised not to kiss him. Service was outstanding, and it turned out to be a nice opening to the day.

From there: Tomorrowland AKA Boy’s paradise. Roller Coaster Boy LOVED Space Mountain (5 min wait), Buzz Lightyear (5 min wait, we rode twice), Stitch’s Great Escape (10 minute wait just because it goes in groups), Space Orbiter (COLD as it was outside and the morning was chilly), and Mike’s Laught Floor (really clever, fun show). Because there were no lines, we were basically done Tomorrowland by 10:30 and headed back to FantasyLand and Mickey’s Toontown. Toontown is really for the preschool set, but he did get the first of some character shots in the fair and enjoyed himself. It was then we noticed he was starting to flag again. Having learned from day 1 above, we decided to exit shortly thereafter and head back to the hotel.

Highlights of the Magic Kingdom:

Cinderella’s Table

Tomorrowland

Nostalgia rides

Disappointments:

Pecos Bill’s cafe

Snow White Ride

No more 20,000 leagues ride 😦

January 20, 2008

Our Trip to the World of the Mouse Part I: Lodging

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After two years of planning and two postponements, we finally made our trip to the World of the Mouse (AKA DisneyWorld) in Orlando FL last week. Was it worth it? Overall, yes. 5 1/2 YO DS loved it, January is a great month to go as you avoid massive crowds, and the weather overall was decent.

We stayed at the Shades of Green military rec center. This was the former Disney Plantation hotel, a high-end hotel in the vicinity of the Magic Kingdom. It’s surrounded by the Disney golf courses, and is a short walk to the monorail at the Polynesian or you can take a bus from the hotel to the Travel & Ticket Center or directly to one of the outlying amusement areas (MGM, Animal Kingdom) that don’t have monorail.

Because it was built as a high-end resort, the rooms in the “original” section are large and comfortable, and the sound insulation means you don’t hear your neighbors flushing their commode. The lobby is beautiful, airy and comfortable and the food surprisingly good and reasonably priced. Highly recommend Mangino’s, an upscale, Italian country themed restaurant serving dinner nightly. Their Aglio Olio was outstanding, as was most everything on the menu.

Drawbacks: Well, DH got a reminder of “John Wayne” toilet paper (it’s rough, it’s tough, and it don’t take no crap) formerly found only on ships. The pillows were similarly reminiscent of sea times (aka, crappy). Lastly, we felt they did get a little nickel-and-dime focused – not only did we pay $6.95/day for broadband ethernet access (no broadband wireless), but they wanted to charge us $1 a page to print our boarding passes.

I wish we’d flown a major airline b/c they do bag check at the hotel for return flights. We flew Southwest, which did not participate in that program.

We loved that they had an AAFES PX “Convenience Store” onsite with Disney memorabilia, snacks, food products, health care items, etc.  Basically an onsite fully stocked convenience store with decent prices (especially on the Disney souveniers).

Despite the relatively minor drawbacks, I would highly recommend the hotel to anyone eligible (Military AD, Retirees, Civil Service, and even honorably discharged Veterans during the months of Jan & Sept) as it’s close to the action, beautifully appointed, comfortable and pleasant.

More later…

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