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Where in the World Wednesday: Epcot!

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A poorly kept secret about me is that I love Disney to teeny little pieces. As you can also tell from looking at this set of photos on Flickr, I like to wear ridiculous hats and pose for pictures (this may or may not have to do with the “drinking around the world” game that some people play in Epcot’s World Showcase). Here’s a favorite:

My mom, who apparently knows me all too well, asked me this question upon seeing the above picture: “Exactly how many margaritas did you have before this picture?” I promise, the answer is only one! I was just swept away by the magic of the Mexico pavilion. Additional joys of this particular area include the popular game, Ball in a Cup, which GP made his bitch. See?

Of course, during the six or so days that we spent around the Walt Disney World complex, we too approximately eleventy billion pictures of The Ball. Behold…


The Grand Finale: Epcot!

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Now it’s time to say goodbye…to all our Disney World memories. D-i-s…n-e-y…W-o-r-l-d! Sorry, I had to do it, what with the letter amounts being the same and all. Also, if you don’t know the Mickey Mouse Club theme song, you need to take some “Keepin’ It Real” classes. (I am on glass number three of merlot for the evening, so shut it)

Epcot was my absolute favorite park of the vacation. It’s divided into basically two different sections– Future World and World Showcase, and each is just about what it sounds like. The important things to remember are these two: Future World is home of The Ball (the iconic ball, which houses the Spaceship Earth ride) and cool rides like Mission: Space and Soarin’ (which is called Soarin’ Over California at California Adventure, and is the exact same ride in Florida), and World Showcase is home to various and sundry international pavilions, which exhibits and rides from countries like Mexico, Norway, Canada, and Morocco. I apologize in advance for this completely photo-heavy entry, but I am in love with these oh-so-ridiculous pictures.

Let’s begin with Future World, shall we? We took dozens of pictures of Spaceship Earth, and this one is probably my favorite:

Front and center, from the entry plaza. It’s pretty imposing, right? Next, a look at the Nemo and Friends ride. It’s different from the one at Disneyland in that you’re seated in a clam-mobile rather than in a submarine, and the characters are projected into the Living Seas exhibit– personally, I prefer the Disneyland version of the ride, but I absolutely love the Living Seas… Luckily, I don’t have to choose. Yay for getting to visit both! Here I am with my undersea friends:

Unlike the dozens of children (and their parents, ahem) that viewed the landscaping as their personal playground, I managed not to climb up into the bushes. The best part of the ride– and I know this sounds weird– is the end, because it spits you out into a fun marine-life exhibit, with dolphins, manatees, and tons of fish and such. For instance, the clownfish:

Another feature of Future World is Innoventions, which is much cooler in Epcot than it is at Disneyland (where it is a weird wasteland full of Playstations). If you understand the Friends joke that we are trying to capture here, I will be your friend forever:

All right, now to the fun part: World Showcase! For the sake of my own memory, I’m going to take these in order. The first country that we happen upon is Mexico, our festive neighbor to the south. In advance, I apologize for any unintended racism– I promise that I love all people, and their alcohol and crazy hats that go along with their much-cooler-than-my-own culture. And now…margaritas!

Viva! Now, let me tell you my awesome plan for World Showcase, devised over the first of many margaritas: take as many pictures as possible in the hats of each country’s pavilion. The “drinking around the world” part of Epcot was a given (and we did, albeit over the course of several days), but I wanted to make it extra awesome. Hence, headwear. The one that started it all:

When I showed that to my mom, she asked just how many margaritas I had had. The answer? Only one. GP was being infuriating, and I was impatient about having my picture taken. Two more features of the Mexico pavilion were brightly painted ceramic skulls (with which I felt the need to enact a Hamlet scene) and ball-in-a-cup, GP’s favorite olde tyme game.

Somewhat incongruously (World Showcase does not present these countries in any sort of order, and the drinking just makes it more silly), Norway is next to Mexico. I enjoyed a Carlsberg and some well-placed antlers…

After a spin on the troll-filled (seriously) Maelstrom, a Viking boat ride followed by a Norway video, we happened upon a plethora of horned hats. Mischief ensued.

It’s true, I will cut you. next comes China, where there is plum wine and another hat, as well as a very cool “Circlevision 360” movie about china (pictures, clearly, of the beverage and hat).

Next up was Germany, where there was not a hat (well, there might have been, but it was dinner time), but there were bratwursts, pretzels, and Becks! The picture is crazy-dark, sorry friends.

In Italy, I enjoyed a glass of prosecco and a blown-glass apple, Desperate Housewives-style. Apparently, the Italians are not hat people.

In the center of World Showcase is the “host country,” America! Along with a very cool animatronic show called The American Adventure (which we got to see the backstage area of, while on our tour!), I enjoyed a Budweiser seasonal brew (shockingly good), and a couple patriotic hats.

This headwear obviously makes me proud to be an American. I mean, come on, y’all. Clearly we have the best hats. Right next to America is Japan, where GP and I shared a Kirin and I attempted some Japanese glee. Thoughts?

One of our lunches was had in the next pavilion– Morocco! Some tasty shwarma, Moroccan wine, and a fez for dessert.

Our fanciest dinner was had in the France pavilion, where we dined at the Bistro de Paris. Need I remind you that we are the kind of people that get engaged in Paris? I know, I feel like I jerk whenever I bring it up. Speaking of jerks, how did I do with my arrogant-face in the beret picture?

Now, I may be a francophile, but in the name of keeping it real, I have to confess that I was an anglophile first. Which may be why I felt right at home drinking a Strongbow cider in the pub– alas, no hats! Way to miss an opportunity, United Kingdom. (Bobbies and beefeaters both have great headwear, don’t they?)

Rounding out the World Showcase, along with another Circlevision 360 film (narrated by Martin Short), is Canada! Witness the Labatt’s imbibing and final humiliating-hat-wearing…

Well…that’s it! I promise that the blog will now be going through a detox from all these pictures of me drinking and wearing crazy hats. I will not likely stop talking about myself (what is this, a blog or something?), and do have an “interview” by RA that’s been sitting in my inbox for awhile now…

Again with the Disney World– Animal Kingdom!

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You guys. The internet connection in Tahoe was really lousy, and I was too excited about drinking wine and hanging out with the dog (who, we learned, really enjoys the snow) to really think about fighting the interwebs. But…we’re back! And I have half a vacation still to recap, so…

Animal Kingdom was the park that I was least excited about seeing; not that I was not excited to see it, but in the hierarchy of all the parks, it was not near the top. However! I was very pleasantly surprised by everything that we saw, ate, and did throughout our time there. As the name suggests, there are actual animals at the park. This means that it closes a little earlier than the other parks (Mickey and Minnie have a later bedtime than the rhinos and tigers do), and that there is a bit more variety in the types of attractions that are present– there are rides, of course, but there are also a couple animal exhibit areas and several shows (Finding Nemo and Lion King, both really cool if you are a complete Disney nerd, which…yeah).

First, the animals…here is one of several jaywalking giraffes that we saw on our “jeep tour” that goes through several animal habitats, including swamp and savanna. Each tour is different, because the animals are just walking around out there. For instance, this guy:

Also–and completely awesomely– there is a Rafiki Conservation Area, complete with petting zoo! Not the most educational, it turned out, but for some reason I find sheep and goats completely adorable. Here I am with a new friend that GP wouldn’t let me bring home:

Isn’t he adorable? Fine, maybe I am inordinately excited about animals. Not to worry, we also went on some rides. They ranged from the pretty terrible Dinosaur– which is way too scary for children, like this guy right next to me with his head buried in his dad’s lap for the entire ride

…and I don’t blame him. That is real fear on my face, folks. Dinosaurs, were they alive today and not killed off by cave men (I know, shut up), would want to eat our faces right off. They are not cuddly, and I want nothing to do with them. By far, though, the best ride that we went on while on this trip was Expedition: Everest. The newest of the Disney mountains, it is the result of Imagineer research (there is a Yeti museum that surrounds the queue– it is pretty intense) and is basically a runaway train ride through a mock Himalayan mountain. You go up the first lift, around a bend, and then! The track has “been destroyed by an angered Yeti, guardian of the mountain!” So you go backwards, in the dark, and lifted into a cave, where you are shown a sequence of projected images, the main message of which is something like “Yeti smash!”

This cave is where the ride photos are taken, and where GP and I got to enact a series of completely awesome ride poses. Here’s one that says, “Who has two thumbs and likes this ride? This girl!”

Scary, yes, but it is a much more satisfying ride than Dinosaur (to say the least). The climax of the ride is when the train hurtles past a gigantic, Animatronic Yeti, who takes a swipe at you as you whiz by.

Because there were Extra Magic Hours on the evening that we spent at Animal Kingdom, we got to ride Everest over and over and over and over…I was sad to leave! The bonus, however, of getting to spend some extra magic time at AK in Walt Disney World’s low season, is getting to take awesome pictures of (gasp!) empty park areas at night. How in love am I with these lights?

Quite. Tomorrow is the last segment of the WDW reminiscing– Epcot, my favorite! Get ready for an international booze-and-hat tour, as well as some crap from the future…

Walt Disney World Recap Part 3, Hollywood Studios

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The next stop on our many-destination recounting of the recent trip to Disney World (are you sick of it yet?) is Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Originally called Disney’s MGM Studios or somesuch, it was not a park that I had visited before, and is definitely not one of the “A” parks at Disney World, so going into it, my expectations were…well, not low, but not as high as they were for Magic Kingdom or Epcot. I was pleasantly surprised, however, at how much I really did enjoy what HS had to offer: a really good rendering and expanded version of what some of California Adventure is like, with fun Hollywood stuff all over the place. Various sections were more “California beach” than others, but this park sort of made me feel like I was at home…you know, because San Jose is pretty magical and all. While we enjoyed an original version of one of my favorite CA rides, Tower of Terror…

…as well as Toy Story Mania, which was enhanced by its location in the completely-fun-for-a-Pixar-addict-like-me “Pixar Alley” (I might just be making up that name, but it was a fairly alley-like setup)…
…we also got to see some cool, new (to me) stuff, like a couple stunt shows (Indiana Jones and another one with some insane car-driving and explosions that brought welcome warmth on a couple freezing Florida days) and a movie/museum combo about the Walt Disney “story” that was so perfect for someone who loves both learning and Disney, just like I do! There was a chronologically-arranged collection of artifacts from the days when the Disney brothers were not so successful, right up to the original idea and concepts for Disneyland, television, and merchandising. There were also several models of rides and attractions from the different parks around the world, my favorite, of course, was this one:

That’s right, Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland! Did you know that the “front” of the castle is the side that faces into Fantasyland, on the opposite side from that which faces the hub and Main Street? Yeah, stick around…I know all the secrets.

Finally, I have to complain like a Californian about the weather. I am weak for having grown up here, where the average winter lows might dip into the 40s every now and again, but there is rarely talk of wind chill and hard frosts– at least in the Bay Area. Going to Florida, I assumed that I could count on much of the same…and I was wrong. The first day was lovely, with shorts and t-shirts, but by the last night, I was pulling up and tying (yes, even tying) the hood of my poor, inadequate UCLA sweatshirt in an attempt to maintain sufficient core temperature. Not fun, Florida. But! It did give me the opportunity to pose next to this snowman in the “Streets of America” section of the park…
The Disney saga continues tomorrow, when I will recount another pleasant Disney Park surprise– Animal Kingdom! I promise that someday I’ll write about something other than this vacation (I have some “interview” questions to answer, I believe), but I like to keep reliving it!

Walt Disney World Recap: Part 2, Magic Kingdom

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Although we visited the Magic Kingdom multiple times over the course of this trip, it seems easier and more logical to take y’all through this park-by-park, rather than day-by-day (not to mention that GP and I can’t remember exactly everything that we did, despite our notes).

Before I talk about the centerpiece park of the whole WDW complex, I feel like I have to mention my perception of the differences between my “home park” of Disneyland and the immense Walt Disney World (and not just because I got a mean Flickr comment this morning, basically saying that I am mean and hateful and unappreciative of all the work that goes into designing guest experiences at WDW…just partially because of that). Anyway. I grew up going to Disneyland, and it is probably the reason that I am still so infatuated with the whole Disney experience. Going there as an adult, I am in awe for different reasons: the sense of history, the fact that it is such an intense experience despite being situated in what has become a relatively good-sized Orange County city, and knowing that it is the only park that Walt stepped foot into (in its finished state– he passed away before WDW opened). Asking me to pick a favorite park, however, would be silly: at the very best, it is an apples-and-oranges scenario. I appreciate that WDW is so much larger, that it is more immersive because the Disney folks own so much land in central Florida, and that it is the realization of many of Walt’s ideas that were not executed in his original park. Of course, I have certain preferences for various rides or attractions that exist in the respective parks, but in the end…don’t make me choose. I don’t have to, and you can’t make me! [end pout]

Of course, our first day in the parks began with an opening at the Magic Kingdom– on every day that we spent in the parks (except our Backstage Magic tour day), we got to whatever park we were visiting in time for opening. Especially in the case of Magic Kingdom, I think this really pays off: we can get through Fantasyland in under an hour (certainly at WDW, where Fantasyland has fewer rides), and grab a couple FastPasses. In case there was any doubt…we heart Disney. Look how excited GP is for the opening!

Because Disney likes to get people super amped-up, there was a song-and-dance before people were allowed to “walk slowly” (riiiight) into Main Street and to the MK destination of their choosing. The first day of our vacation was so warm that we were able to get away with shorts and t-shirts (note to self: capris and Chuck Taylors? Not a good look…but at least it wasn’t a fanny pack). Here’s the obligatory castle shot:

(Yes, I am looking directly into the sun– hence the extra-squinty eyes.)

Our only character picture, Frontier Donald!

Frontierland was so empty at this early hour that Donald came over and recruited us for this picture, and I realized that this would be my first character picture in a long time. It was a little weird, because Donald is not a “face” character and can’t speak, so he just had to pantomime that he wanted me to link arms with him. Probably our most-visited ride in the Magic Kingdom was Thunder Mountain, “the wildest ride in the wilderness!” (inside joke, but trust me, it is completely hilarious)
GP was bummed that his favorite (and my least-favorite) MK ride, Splash Mountain, was down for annual rehab.
Something that I love about Disney is that it is able to evoke a feeling in me that I remember from when I was a kid– and can’t wait to see in the faces of my kids. Imagine all the words we use to describe trite things like “magic” and “dreams,” and that is basically the sum of my feelings toward Disney. GP and I usually engage in a similar exercise whenever we are at a Disney park: is Disney an “evil” company? (Short answer: no, not really.) Is it fair to say that Disney is an artificial, cheesy experience? (Short answer: it’s all about suspension of disbelief, friends!) Besides, what’s not to love about a fireworks spectacular called WISHES!!!!1!, right?

Sigh. Can’t we just live at Disney? I wouldn’t be picky– I’d even agree to live somewhere lame, like the bastardized WDW Tiki Room! Tomorrow: a bit of Hollywood Studios, why not?

Disney Debrief, Part One

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We’re back! Home is just not as magical as the World, but I suppose a week is a good amount of time to spend enjoying the over-the-top-in-every-way charms of Disney World. All the pictures are up in Flickr– there are five sets in all, with one dedicated to each park and a final one with all of the “other” pictures in it. Since we took over 1100 pictures and finally managed to edit it down to about 500, I had to edit further so that anyone would be willing to sit through our vacation photos. Also, because there are so many pictures, I can’t possibly post them all here– I would like to keep the dozen readers that I have, thanks.

First, some background: GP and I are crazy Disney enthusiasts. Not so much as in, “I love to collect Disney crap, and would love to have a Cinderella wedding dress!” as “I am amazed at the sheer magnitude of this company, and the lengths they go to in order to maintain and build their empire.” We both grew up going to Disneyland (me) and Disney World (him), and made our first trip to Disneyland in January of 2007, deciding that we would make an annual tradition out of it– the crowds are pretty light by Disney standards, so we can go all-out and really get to experience Disneyland in two to three days. Last year, as we drove back from Disneyland, we decided that a trip to the World was in order…and that it had to be longer than a couple days. And thus, after about a year of research and planning (98% done by GP), we set off on our journey to the largest, most immersive Disney park that I’ve been to (true, Disneyland and Disneyland Paris are the only others on that list, but still).

After a day of travel (San Jose to Houston to Orlando), we hopped onto the Magical Express (yes, Disney has a bus system, and if you stay in one of their hotels, they will pick you up your luggage and deliver it to your room, as well as providing all transportation you’ll need on your vacation– so awesome) and were delivered to our hotel, the Pop Century. GP was excited to finally be there.
Our first dinner was at Citricos, which is in the Grand Floridian– the nicest Disney World hotel, but since we are both early risers and night owls on our Disney trips, not the best investment. Also, we are poor. The dinner was amazing– and so was the wine! Our server was one of the sommeliers, and the true highlight of the meal was getting to try a limoncello made with Buddha hands (a citrus) that one of the sous ches had made. He brought it to our table and everything! We felt so fancy, and only a little bit like complete California wine snobs… Oh, and let’s not forget the dessert, a warm banana-chocolate torte. Even GP loved it, and he is not a dessert person.

We managed to get a photo of the Grand Floridian’s gorgeous interior before we made the monorail/bus trip back to our less-luxurious-but-perfectly-nice hotel.

Not to be outdone, the Pop Century greeted us with a room that now had our bags in it (just the beginning of Disney magic!), as well as a dog-shaped washcloth. And so, excited to begin our first day in the parks, but completely wiped out from the day of traveling (and the bootleg limoncello), we passed out in our 50’s-themed room.

Next stop: Hollywood Studios! We did multiple parks on every day (two is the highest reasonable number if one expects to be able to do/see anything), but I think it makes more sense to share stories and pictures that are park specific. That…and I don’t really want to have to share exactly how many enormous buckets of popcorn were consumed on this trip.

Fiiiinal countdown!!!

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Or something like that. GP and I have been trying to get ourselves over to Eastern time, because we are waking up tomorrow morning at something like 4:30 in order to begin our journey to…Disney World! The computer will be making the trip with me, but who can say whether I will have it in me to be a good blogger after traipsing around in the swampy magic all day. With this in mind, I just have to do at least one Disney-themed post. So, here it goes…a Friday fill-in (semi-related: my “f” key is being sticky, so that originally said “riday inn-in.” Awesome.)

1. It’s January; this means that GP and I are making our annual pilgrimage to a Disney park. Here’s the thing: he is a big theme park guy and I enjoy magic and turkey legs. As we live in California, it is just a short trip (read: five-plus hour trek) down (terminally ugly) Interstate 5 to Anaheim, home of the original Disney mecca. So, for our first two Januaries together, we went to Disneyland/CA Adventure. When we went to Paris over the summer…we went out to Marne-la-Vallee to Disneyland Paris. And then, just for kicks, we went to Disneyland again in November. And this year, in a high point for our Disney sparkle dependency, we will be spending six days in Orlando, all Disney, all the time. Yes, we are nuts. And you can just shut up about it.

2. Six days of wandering through various worlds full of artifice, nostalgia, and just plain fun is (are?) what I crave most right now. Say what you will about the evils of the Disney company (yes, they are evil, let’s move on), they put on a hell of a good show.

3. Cork and wine go together like fireworks and hastily-purchased sweatshirts. However, I hear that Florida has a weird 78-degrees-and-rainy weather thing going on…so who knows about this sweatshirt business. Also, I have to note that “cork and wine” are not a good combo. Corked wine sucks, folks.

4. A vacation of any duration is so nourishing. While it is lame that I work two part-time jobs and don’t get any sort of paid vacation time (yes, I’m a little bitter), I am always happy to have some time away.

5. Let us dare to embrace our inner cheeseballs. Mine is not so far beneath the surface, hence all the Disney enjoyment, but I generally feel like life is best enjoyed when we aren’t trying so hard. That’s what being a teenager is for, y’all.

6. I have a feeling that California will always be my home. Because I am a snob, because I am a wimp about most weather patterns, and because I will always believe in the superiority of Disneyland. Had to shoehorn that one in there… 🙂

Have a good weekend, internets! Leave your favorite Disney memories in the comments.