Saturday, October 23, 2010

Disney, part the third

The baobab at Animal Kingdom

As previously stated, we really weren't of much of a mind to explore Disney's Animal Kingdom. We had to get up well before dawn's crack to make our 8:30 breakfast reservation (one of the perils of bus travel, not to mention Ken's forgetting that Boma, the restaurant, is not at Animal Kingdom but at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Travelling resort to park or park to resort at Disney is trivially simple; resort to resort involves an extra step and will definitely take longer).

Boma was worth of the top three meals we had. The breakfast buffet has, I'm told, been considerably Americanized, but it retains an African flair: the dishes are just exotic enough to be interesting without being disturbing to unadventurous eaters like us. Absolutely delicious.

If your children love animals, they will of course love this place. Disney's enlisted biology students to act as animal ambassadors, the same way they have just plain folks from all over the world to act as cultural ambassadors in EPCOT World Showcase. Just be sure your kids are willing to walk. A lot.

We did go on an exceptionally well done dark ride called Dinosaur! The YouTube video for this, despite being filmed in night vision, doesn't even come close to doing the ride justice. It's bumpy enough to throw you around pretty good and the dinos would be terrifying to young kids.

After that, I hit Expedition Everest...three times. (I waited half an hour for my first ride, and by the time I had disembarked, a "single rider" line had opened: my second ride was a literal walk-on and my third almost as good.)

I am something of a roller coaster junkie. It is pretty hard to wow me on a coaster. And truth be told, if I was evaluating just the coaster aspect of this ride, it'd get a C, maybe a C+. What elevates its marks is that legendary Disney attention to detail. For a really good idea of what I mean, take a look at this. The line for this attraction snakes through a Himalayan village, an outfitting store and a Yeti museum, all of which practically demand you stop and appreciate them. Once again I found myself wishing the line wasn't moving quite so fast. Then, the ride, which was just as creative (the ripped up track is a nice touch). Top speed is a shade over 50 miles an hour, which is pretty tame, but 50 mph backwards into an overbanked turn in the dark is nothing to be sneezed at.
Climbing the lift hill, I called out "are we there, yeti?" which earned me quite a few laughs and groans.

Following our afternoon siesta we lit out again for EPCOT and Disney's first ever "3D Dessert Discovery". This was a highlight of our trip and, at $45 a person, an excellent value. We bought this primarily for the VIP seating to Epcot's IllumiNations, and we ended up getting much more than we bargained for. I can assure you the price for this event will rise in the future.

It's all-you-can-eat desserts and all-you-can-drink cordials and other liquor (some of which your teetotalling host even tried, discovering an unsuspected appreciation for Red Stag bourbon). The desserts are high-end and delicious. Doughnuts are made right in front of you and you get to eat them seconds out of the pan--it puts Krispy Kreme to shame. The ganaches, cobblers and biscotti were available in seemingly limitless supply; after the first half hour the lines were bearable to nonexistent. Had I stayed there any longer I think I would have gone into sugar shock.

The VIP "seating"...wasn't. We had to stand, same as everyone else. But I imagine the only way to get a better view of IllumiNations would be to sail into the middle of World Showcase Lagoon.

This video is shot from a couple of perspectives almost as good as ours:

Simply put, this dwarfed any fireworks display I've ever seen. The word "spectacular" seems pitiful to describe this.


The two most thrilling rides in all of Disney, for my money at least, stand side-by-side in this small, relatively unassuming theme park. Rock'n'Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith is a delight for rock fans and coaster fans alike: an intense, linear synchronous motor-launched blast that takes you from zero to sixty mph in less than three seconds. Again, the pre-show is almost worth a line in itself: you walk past a recording studio, then get a little chat from Aerosmith's "manager", inviting you to take a super-stretch limo to the concert, after which point you're in a simulated L.A. parking garage awaiting takeoff. The DJ on your 'car' radio and the information signs ahead are both saying the same thing: traffic's jammed out there. The freeway sign says "USE ALT. ROUTE..TRAFFIC JAMMED...NOT!...PREPARE TO SHAKE RATTLE AND ROLL" and then the countdown starts. The ride catapults into a loop almost immediately, and what ensues is a high-speed game of chicken set to snippets of Aerosmith's catalogue. My second time through, "Love In An Elevator" changed into "Love In A Roller Coaster".

The other ride, the one I'd love to get my dad on, is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The ride itself is a ten-beller that will loosen your bowels; the detailing is again beyond belief. Check these two blogs by Jack Spence for some small idea of the verisimilitude and intricacy of this attraction. And here's the ride--so intense I declined to do it twice. Even watching it on YouTube gives me the creeps.

Yeeesh. The Unauthorized Guide to Walt Disney World referred to this ride as "The Shining on speed." No kidding. Eva took the chicken's exit after the pre-show (all the thrill rides have one, probably because Disney recognizes the setup is an attraction in itself. So what happens? They put her on a $%^&ing ELEVATOR.
"That's diabolical," she said. "That's just evil."
"Now you can say you rode the elevator on Tower of Terror. Just don't tell which one."

The ride is randomized. Every time through is different, and that's the real killer. You have no idea when your throat and big toe are going to switch places, or even how many times it's going to happen.

The other neat thing in Hollywood Studios: Mulch, Sweat and Shears, known outside the World as Los Lawn Boys. They're a first class cover band that performs a set in the center of the park. The drummer is really good. (And hot, says Eva. I can't corroborate her on this: the angle of my dangle's all wrong.)

(She made me add this: so is the bassist.)



World Showcase is kind of a world unto itself inside Walt Disney World.

Eleven country 'pavilions' circle World Showcase Lagoon. Going clockwise from the six o'clock position, we have Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the "American Adventure", Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Each pavilion contains at least one table service restaurant and one counter service restaurant, various representative landmarks are scale-modelled so that you actually feel like you're in whatever country you're in. Everyone working in a given pavilion is there on a work visa from their home country. There's shopping galore, street exhibits, and in several pavilions, films and/or rides showing off the country and culture. It's just like going around the world. (Though several countries are conspicuous by their absence....where's Russia? Or India?)

You could spend a week and still miss stuff. As with the rest of the World, the attention to detail is at times almost frightening. The King of Morocco took a personal interest in his country's pavilion. I've never been to Morocco, but I have to think it shows.

The grandfather of all model railroads sits in Germany:

Oh, hell, I could just keep linking YouTube videos from every pavilion. World Showcase is impressive, let's just leave it at that.

And the best meal of my stay (one of the best meals of my life, in fact) came from Le Cellier in the Canada pavilion. I'm not just saying this because I'm Canadian. In fact, both Eva and I had filet mignon, which last I looked isn't Canadian at all. It was, however, mouthwatering.
We both had cheddar cheese soup as an appetizer, which we paid out of pocket for and which I don't regret one bit. I actually toyed with the idea of ordering another bowl of the stuff, it was that good. Here's the recipe, which they gave out free of charge:

Yield: 6 servings


1/4 lb. smoked bacon finely chopped
1 medium red onion cut into 1/4 in. pieces
1/2 cup finely sliced celery
1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
3 TB all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
2 cups chicken stock
12 oz. grated white cheddar, Canadian Black Diamond
3 dashes Tabasco
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup Moosehead Canadian Ale, room temperature
salt and pepper to taste
1 TB thinly sliced chives


1. Cook the bacon in a large heavy-bottomed, non-reactive soup pot over medium heat until wilted but not browned.

2. Add onions, celery and carrots and cook until the onion is translucent and bacon has crisped.

3. Sprinkle in flour and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Stir in milk and stock, a little at a time, blending well to ensure there are no lumps. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

4. Remove from heat and whisk in cheese, Tabasco, Worcestershire and ale. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with your favorite bread and top with chopped chives.

Dessert was maple creme brulee for me and campfire S'mores for Eva. Mine was very good: Eva pronounced hers "lethal".

And the service was absolutely excellent. You know the old joke, 'what's the difference between a Canadian and a canoe? Canoes can tip'? Chelsea got a 25% tip out of us and she earned it.

One more thing I need to mention: one afternoon as were were touring World Showcase, we heard a plane, looked up, and saw it was skywriting. The message came clear over a period of about fifteen minutes:

U + God = (smiley) JESUS LOVES YOU

Hmmm. You plus God = happiness. Skywritten over "the happiest place on earth. I can only conclude that Walter Elias Disney was/is God.



Rocketstar said...

Or maybe money is God and Disney knnows exactly how to garner that. ;o)

Rocketstar said...

It appears that the # of activities is totally overwhelming. My better half is going to have to some serious pre-planning ass if you don't you'd go batty just trying to decide what to do.

Ken Breadner said...

"Money is God"...I think you've got something there.
Rocket, seriously, you don't know the half of it. There are two waterparks we didn't bother with and about half a million attractions for the kiddies we didn't see at all. If I had a couple of kids, I'd probably dispense with the idea of hitting all four main parks in one trip. I'd stay offsite (renting a house for the space) and cut costs wherever possible: have one meal, probably lunch, in the park and cook the other two at "home". You do it that way, your kids never even need to know there are other parks they're not seeing.
GO IN LOW SEASON--January's the best time, between Columbus Day and Thanksgiving if you can't manage January.
Magic Kingdom, with kids, will take minimum a day to do. EPCOT will appeal to older or worldly kids--you could kill two days here, easy.days. Hollywood Studios is a day or possibly less, and Animal Kingdom is a full day's trip. The park tickets are all the same price, based on how many days you buy them for. They're actually not hellaciously expensive if you're there for several days.