But first, and I again apologize in advance, mom, HOLY SH*T YUTYRANNUS YUTYRANNUS YUTYRANNUS EFF YEEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!
Right, now that we have calmed down, back to the topic.
It started out innocently enough. I was contacted by a friend on Facebook who is going to visit Walt Disney World for the very first time ever, and she asked me what my three favorite things she shouldn't miss are.
Since I cannot possibly limit myself to only three things, I wrote up this blog post. It probably will not help my friend as much as originally intended, since she is staying offsite and only has five days down there (to which I tell her, since this is her first visit, good effing luck). But it seemed like a fun subject to approach. And so, in no particular order at all, my favorite things in Walt Disney World:
* - The International Gateway of EPCOT. This has been my family's worst-kept secret for years now, since I am pretty sure everyone aside from WDW Newbies already knows about it. If you stay in a Crescent Lake resort (Yacht and Beach Club, Boardwalk, or Swan and Dolphin), or if you -ahem- decide to explore the Boardwalk for your own reasons, you have your own entrance to EPCOT. You can either walk or take a brief and always scenic, oftentimes entertaining FriendShip ride. You arrive in one of the prettiest parts of World Showcase, in-between the United Kingdom and France. Have lunch at the lovely Chefs de France or grab a pint at the Rose and Crown to start your adventure and avoid the crowds pouring in from the main entrance. Best of all, the Gateway is right near a nice bridge which is one of the best places to view Illuminations, and you won't have to fight crowds after the show! And as for Illuminations...
* - Fireworks and Nighttime Shows. Illuminations in EPCOT is, by far, the best of these. Disney's pyro team setting a lake on fire and chucking every explosive they have in the sky to promote world peace for a show that makes me tear up at the end every time without fail? Eff yeah. Wishes in Magic Kingdom isn't nearly as spectacular but is gradually growing on me because, let's face it, I'm a sucker for Disney movies and nostalgia. The preshow for Wishes, "The Magic, The Memories, And You" is a really cool concept with amazing special effects - that are largely used to let you look at somebody else's vacation photos. The same can be said for "Fantasmic" at the Hollywood Studios. The effects are incredible but the story they are used to tell is... just what? And let us not forget the classic Electric Light Parade and Electrical Water Pageant, both utterly charming and trippy as all get out.
ProTip: If you do want to see Fantasmic and want to have a far, far more enjoyable viewing experience, spring for the Brown Derby dinner package. It's worth every penny to not have to deal with the sea of people pouring into and out of the stadium, and you'll be eating in one of the World's best dining places.
If you want to see Wishes without having to deal with the truly terrifying crowds exiting the park afterwards, the solution is much more simple: watch them from outside the park. Bay Lake Tower's Top of the World Bar is best for this but you have to be a Vacation Club member (and depending on how chill the security guard is that night, you may even have to be staying in the Tower). Try the beach outside Polynesian, the little outdoor area near the monorails at Contemporary, or even the Transportation and Ticket Center.
* - All of the Boats. Walt Disney apparently liked boats a lot (he decided where WDW should be located because he spotted a beautiful island-dotted lake during a scouting trip and said, "this is it.") If you park at the Transportation and Ticket Center, you can take a ride in a gigantic boat over to the Magic Kingdom. You can take free boat rides all over the Bay Lake/Seven Seas Lagoon waterways, all around the aforementioned Crescent Lake, and down the Sassagoula River from Downtown Disney. They're an excellent opportunity to get the layout of the land and maybe see some exotic (to us) Florida wildlife. And speaking of Disney World travel...
* - All of the Trains. If Walt Disney liked boats, he LOVED trains. His beloved model train hobby was the germ that eventually became the Disney theme parks. The iconic steam train in Magic Kingdom is a must-ride, especially for a first-timer. But the very best train in all the World is the Monorail. I love the swooping ride through EPCOT (although I can never remember if it's on the inbound or outbound ride) and I love, love, love resort-hopping. One of our favorite memories from when we stayed at Bay Lake Tower on a recent trip was just riding the Resort Monorail and bar-hopping at each resort stop. And for that matter...
* - Resort-Hopping! Many of the Walt Disney World resorts are worth exploring in their own right. Take the Magic Kingdom Resort Monorail to see the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian, then take the boat over to beautiful Wilderness Lodge. Take the boat to Fort Wilderness to get a taste of 70's Disney. Take the boat around the Crescent Lake resorts (I haven't mentioned them enough, have I?) And it is well worth the drive to see the spectacular Animal Kingdom Lodge and Kidani Village.
* - The Landscaping and Gardens. It's no coincidence that my family likes to head down to Disney in winter, and usually in time to see the beginning of the Flower and Garden Festival. Just seeing the color green is like an antidepressant. But Disney has a "go big or go home" attitude towards every thing they do, and that goes for their landscaping as well. The gardens in Animal Kingdom are especially beautiful and -this was confirmed by our wonderful Keys to the Kingdom guide, though sadly he could not elaborate- are made up of plants from every continent. Yes, even Antarctica. Disney is that crazy-awesome. Crawesome.
* - The Non-Disneyish Portions of Animal Kingdom. Animal Kingdom is a strange park coming from Disney. Nearly every WDW park up until this one has funneled you through a main path to go on ride after ride and see show after show (and stand in line after line). And every guest is pretty much going to have the same experience every time.
Animal Kingdom is not like that at all. You enter and are greeted by families of decidedly not-animatronic Spoonbills and several paths to take into the park. The message, lost on a depressing number of guests, is to explore nature on your own terms and take your time to look and appreciate creatures you may never have heard of as they go about their business. The entrance pathways, the trails that take you around the spectacular Tree of Life, the Pangani Forest and the Maharaja's Jungle are the reasons I go to Animal Kingdom, and I always see something new. After all, the name of the park isn't Disney's Thrill Ride Kingdom.
ProTip: Which isn't to say that the rides, shows, and other more typically Disney things in AK are totally worthless. The safari is amazing, Expedition Everest is very good even if you aren't into thrill rides (though avoid Dinosaur; it's rubbish), the Lion King and Finding Nemo musicals are excellent, and we just discovered the very well-done Conservation Station area of the park this last visit.
* - The Northwest Portions of Future World and World Showcase in EPCOT. When I was a nerdy little girl, I loved EPCOT more than Magic Kingdom. Yes, I was that kid.
I had a dream recently that I brought my seven-year-old cousin to WDW for her first time ever. We stayed in Bay Lake Tower and watched Wishes from the Top of the World on our arrival night, then we went to visit EPCOT on our first full day. We walked around World Showcase and enjoyed the live shows, great foods, and beautiful flowers.
And then, in my dream, we visited Future World... circa 1990-ish. We rode Horizons and World of Motion, the original Universe of Energy and Journey Into Imagination, watched Cranium Command at Wonders of Life and Symbiosis in The Land, and toured through the two Communicores. Yeah... (Well, of course, we headed back over to WS and watched "Illuminations: Reflections of Earth" so it wasn't utterly heartbreaking.)
So the EPCOT I fell in love with is largely gone or altered beyond recognition. However, World Showcase is still essentially intact, as are the Land and Seas pavilions. The Land and Seas contain two of the very best attractions in Future World: Turtle Talk and Soarin'. For first-timers, I would not dare ruin the fun by describing them here. Just go, you will love them.
ProTip: And of course, "Captain EO" is, by all evidence, sticking around in the Imagination pavilion...
* - The Remaining Edutainment in Hollywood Studios. During much of the 1990's and up until very recently, Disney's Hollywood Studio was exactly that: an actual studio. They mostly filmed television series and specials there as well as a few full-length films (notably "Newsies" and "Earnest Saves Christmas"). And they had a working animation studio. The animation building is that former studio, so while you're waiting in line for your picture with Sorcerer's Apprentice!Mickey, you're standing right where Disney animators used to work. You're invited to watch a film with Mushu the dragon interacting with a live actor, which is just like a not-satirical real-life version of the "Mr. DNA" scene in "Jurassic Park" except you know less about the subject at hand than you did before the show started.
But let's stop talking about how the animation building used to be cool, since there are still some pretty awesome things to see in there. There's a huge outdoor gallery of concept art along a path that snakes around outside the building and rather suspiciously resembles a queue line. You'll see art from almost every Disney film that has animation in it, including the unpopular ones, which I find awesome. There's another, much smaller gallery of art in the area you are herded into after the Mushu Mr. DNA show. This has things like model sheets, three-dimensional figurines, life studies and other drawings done for research, all from whatever animated feature Disney plans on releasing next. Currently, the exhibits are full of art from "Brave", and I think they might still have the initial posters for "Tangled" back when it was still titled "Rapunzel". And running along the inside walls of the building is a huge mural made up of animation art mostly of all the characters from all the films the Florida studio had a hand in.
The wonderful small museum/film presentation "Walt Disney: One Man's Dream" is tucked away near the square where the animation building is situated. It's one of my favorite things in the whole park, and you can spend as long as you like marveling at Disney's inventions.
* - The Classics at Magic Kingdom. Obviously. Going clockwise around the park, the Steam Train, Tiki Room, Pirates, Country Bears, Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Small World, Peter Pan, Philharmagic, Dumbo, Buzz Lightyear, and -of course- the WEDway Peoplemover!
* - The Little Fun Things. And by that, I mean things like Dole Whips in Aloha Isle in Adventureland, Mickey Waffles at the breakfast buffets, Glowtinis, Pin Trading, the live acts throughout the park, peoplewatching, asking non-character Cast Members for their autographs, watching the hilarious Stacy Show on the resort televisions, and just, like, being there, man.
Sketch of the Day! How about some subtle Donald Duck fanart?