Friday, July 11, 2008

Meditating on Mysteries of the Mouse

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog posting about my favorite animated films…or rather, about my inability to pick any favorites for fear of offending the other films. (Ridiculous, I know, but such was my dilemma.) After the posting, I got a very nice e-mail from Ken of Ken Armstrong Writing Stuff, who asked me to tell him one thing he should see in Disney World that most people might miss. Never one to walk away from a challenge (Right Roxy?), I immediately sat down at my keyboard to pour out all my acquired knowledge about “the World” and all the special “secrets” that Ken might enjoy on his next visit.

And that’s when it hit me. What in the world was I going to say that hasn’t been said before? What fascinating revelation could I bestow on him that would make me seem like the Disney Connoisseur I proudly claim to be? Would I mention the talking water fountains in Epcot, where a tiny voice yells “Let me out of here,” or the magical experience you might enjoy while dining with royalty at the top of Cinderella’s Castle? Or what about all the fun events and seasonal celebrations that populate “the World” during the winter holidays? There were just too many things to include, and yet none of them seemed to hit me as that special tidbit that would make Ken think I knew what I was talking about.

Again, I had a dilemma. Because even if I could put together a list of all my amazing discoveries, how would I ever narrow it down to just one? The single most important piece of insight that would forever prove how much I know about “the happiest place on earth.” Needless to say, the assignment made me anything but happy. In fact, while I was searching my brain trying to think of anything that would stand out as super special, I realized that I never looked at the various parks in Disney World as individual pieces of a whole. To me, the experience of being in “the World” is like stepping onto another planet. There is so much to do and so many wonderfully imaginative rides and venues to explore, that to dissect it like a frog would take away some of the magic. At least for me. (Or am I really being overly analytical here? After all, Ken asked a rather simple question. It’s me that’s blowing it up into some kind of badge of honor competition.)

So to make a long post even longer, I have decided to include some highlights of my various trips to Disney World that might be helpful to future visitors. Not all of these are public knowledge, but they might prove useful to someone who knows even less than me.

1. If you want to ride all the rides in a particular park, go early. Go even before the park opens, because they sometimes open earlier for guests who stay on the property. So if it says it opens at 8:30, be sure to be there by 8. It will give you a head start on all the activities you’re going to want to do. Traditionally, the parks don’t get crowded until about 11 or 12, and if you plan your visit properly, you can do most of the major attractions before then. This way, you will avoid most of the families with thirty children, or the incessant use of strollers and wheelchairs. Wheelchairs I understand. Strollers, however, are a public nuisance and a health hazard (especially when people barge them into you at twenty miles an hour) and should be eradicated immediately.

2. The park hopper pass is your best value, because you can go to more than one park on any given day. (Depending on which Park Hopper you purchase.) This allows you to go to the Magic Kingdom in the morning (when it’s less crowded), a water park in the afternoon, take a nap at your hotel, and then swing by MGM or Epcot for the late night fireworks display. Plus, if one park seems more crowded than another, you can spend your time on the road less traveled.

3. If you want to see the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom at night, and you want to avoid the crowds in the parking lot, here’s a little trick I learned. (But don’t tell anyone else.) The Contemporary Hotel is right next to the park entrance, so if you go there right before the fireworks start, and tell the guard at the gate you have a dinner reservation at one of the restaurants, they will let you park there without a pass. So you can drive to the area of the parking lot that is closet to the Magic Kingdom entrance and then walk over using the sidewalk Contemporary Guests use. In this way, you don’t have to park in the Magic Kingdom parking lot, which requires you to take a boat or monorail to the actual entrance of the park. And once the fireworks are over, you can walk right out the front gate, down the sidewalk and to your car in the Contemporary parking lot while everyone else fights to get in one of the boats or monorails before they even get near their car. (A little dishonest yes, but a definite time-saver and stress-reliever.)

4. If you can afford one expensive meal at Disney World, be sure to get a reservation at Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian Hotel and Resort. It is a very private dining room, with two or three waiters assigned to your table, and the food is out of this world. When you arrive, you have a personalized menu waiting for you at the table, complete with your name and a welcome message. The meal will set you back $100-200 per person, but it is definitely worth it for a high end dining experience.

5. A fun and free thing to do while at Disney World is to take some time to explore the Pop Century Resort. There are five or six hotel areas that make up this complex, and each one is themed to a certain genre---music, movies, sports, etc. My favorite is the Movies complex, because it has all these building size statues of Mowgli and Baloo, or Lady and the Tramp, or dozens of other Disney characters. You can even get your picture taken with Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head near the manmade lake. As I am an avid fan of Pop Culture, these resorts have always been a great opportunity to get some fun shots of my favorite entertainment icons.

6. The Tower of Terror ride at MGM is not to be missed. Scary, yes. But one of the best themed rides at any of the parks. From the very beginning to the very end, you are “trapped” in a tantalizing mix of horror and magic. And the elevator falls more than once…several times in fact…and not necessarily in the same sequence every time. Try this ride first thing in the morning, and you won’t need any morning coffee that day. It is an instant eye opener.

7. Christmas is the best time to be in the “World.” If you go in early December, you can avoid some of the crowds, which are at their heaviest during the week between Christmas and New Years. But the Osborne Family Festival of Lights at MGM, or the Candlelight Procession at Epcot, or the Giant Gingerbread House at the Grand Floridian, or any of a dozen other special events during this season make it a definite must at some point for any true Disney fanatic.

Now I could go on and on, but I think seven is enough. (Ken, your assignment is to figure out which tip/site above correlates with each of the seven dwarves.) Hopefully I’ve given a few helpful tips and some interesting sights to see. Maybe this isn’t exactly what Ken had in mind, but any time I am asked to pick just one thing, I immediately want the whole candy box.

But that’s just me. What is the “ONE THING” you’d like to share about your Disney World adventures?


Debbie said...

Most importantly, Disney World is a mere 2 hour ride to my office!

feefifoto said...

If you're toting kids, little surprises are the best, like finagling a ride in the nose of the monorail. It takes a little patience but it will make a five year old feel pretty darn special.

The Success said...

Nice post
I wrote about Mr Disney before :)

Success For You

Roxiticus Desperate Housewives said...

Great post, Henson...
Rex and the girls and I haven't been to DisneyWorld in Florida, but we have travelled to Southern California (Laguna Beach, Santa Monica, and DisneyLand) for the last four February school breaks. One year we got a free upgrade at the Grand Californian to a room that had an amazing view of the fireworks from the balcony, but since the whole family was still on East Coast time, my girls refused to wake up to see the spectacular show!

Jerry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ken Armstrong said...

Wow! What a great (and timely) post.

I shall print this and put it in my back pocket for use this week.

BTW the new Simpsons ride at universal is quite astonishing.

ken (dizzy)


AmyOops said...

Great tips, I use to go to disney every weekend and my hubby worked there part time. Things I learned. Tell them its your b-day at the gate you get a special birthday pin and you get treated extra special.

at disney world cut thru the castle and hit fantasy world first most other people go right or left and walk in a circle..

take advantage of the free kids activties at epcot, they can make so many things.. and its FREE

Christmas is great there, But I like the eat your way around epcot best! (the international food and wine festival)

Roxiticus Desperate Housewives said...

Some underworld spy or the wife of a close friend...thanks for dropping by today.


Henson Ray said...

Debbie, Wow, so close. Do you go very often?

feefifoto, Great suggestion.

the success, thanks for stopping by. I'll have to check out your Disney post.

Roxy, As someone from the East Coast, I'm shocked you haven't ventured down to Disney World, which is much bigger and far superior to its antique cousin in CA. You are missing out on a really great family adventure. I'm sure you and your girls (and Rex too) would have a great time there.

Ken, you'll have to let me know if you tried any of my suggestions. And whether they were worth the effort. Glad the post was so timely. Hope you had an amazing trip. I will check out the Simpsons ride when I'm down there over Christmas.

amyoops, I would imagine going to WDW every weekend would take some of the magic out of the experience. Even for me, once a year can be too much too soon. It's better if you yearn a little before you go. It makes the payoff so much sweeter.

TheSnackHound said...

I went to Disney when I was in first grade. I went once as an adult. The thing that I immediately noticed was that there were no bugs! Okay - no mosquitos, I will give them that, but no other insects flitting about immediately outside the park in the shubbery, not throughout the park. You would think, that Florida being the land of the insects you can ride to work, that I would see SOMETHING.

I know for a fact its not just the "weather" or "time of year" because I have been out of the car a mile from Disney and there are bugs galore, and a dozen lovebugs met their death on the windshield on the way in.

For Central Floridians, particularly on the west coast, you will surmise by my lovebug reference that I either went in May or November - when the little acidic paint ruining creatures come out.

I consider that not "Disney Magic" but something even more sinister.