Musings and Observations for 2013by Steve Russo, staff writer
Another year has come and gone and I find myself between trips and trying to survive another Northeast winter. Naturally, my thoughts turn to Walt Disney World and I thought it might be appropriate for an end-of-year stream of consciousness.
- I never tire of hearing a cast member say, "Welcome home." It's such a simple thing but it always makes me smile.
- Speaking of being welcomed home… I know this isn't done at every resort and it's not a 24/7 type of thing but on several recent trips I've been greeted by a cast member as I exit the Magical Express bus. The cast member ushers me into the resort lobby and has me take a seat and wait while s/he heads to the front desk and secures my Welcome package, Key to the World cards, etc. Advance online check-in is required for this but, in my opinion, it's customer service at its absolute best.
- While I love hearing that "Welcome Home," I still get a little warm and fuzzy when I spy the first purple road sign (those who know understand this) and pass under that magnificent arch that welcomes you to Disney World.
- I wish there was a bit more stability in rental car prices. I always check as a trip nears and they seem to ride a roller coaster from day to day.
- Do you know anyone that's been to Le Cellier Steakhouse since the menu changed… and liked it?
- I really enjoy having a beer at the Rose & Crown Pub. We typically stay at the Boardwalk and most trips begin with a check-in followed by a walk into Epcot's World Showcase. As we walk down that hill, the first thing we see is the Rose & Crown. Natives of the United Kingdom might tell me this bears no resemblance to any pub back home but I don't care. To me, this is a British pub in every way.
- While mine is a Black & Tan at the Rose & Crown, your particular "I'm at Disney" moment might come with a Dole Whip in Adventureland, a hot dog at Casey's, a turkey leg, a Mickey ice cream bar, or some fudge from the Confectioner's. It doesn't matter as long as it's something you relish while at the World.
- Big River Grille and Brewing Works has the best burger on property. Period.
- I haven't sampled the burger at Beaches and Cream in a few years and I need to refresh my memory but my vote still goes to Big River.
- Did you know there's an anteater living in the brush on the left side (as you enter) of Animal Kingdom's Oasis? He (or she?) is difficult to spot and even harder to photograph. You need to be lucky and fast.
- There are a number of favored locations to view Illuminations: Reflections of Earth but the only good spot for Wishes is the center of Main Street.
- Does anyone else remember when the scene at the top of Spaceship Earth included an astronaut out for a spacewalk? Or did I dream that?
- The secret to taking great photos while on Kilimanjaro Safari is… take dozens. I'm not kidding—snap away. There's a 50/50 chance the truck will lurch just as you're taking the once in a lifetime shot of a cheetah actually moving. I probably delete three quarters of the photos I take.
- It's also a good idea to use a fast shutter speed to capture photos there. If your camera allows a Shutter Priority mode, use it. It might be available as a pre-determined setting titled "Sports" or "Children and Animals."
- The "take lots of photos" advice also holds true for fireworks.
- I know a lot of folks are down on the new FastPass+ system but I'll tell you… it's really nice to stroll into a park at 9:00 or 9:15 (or later) and know you don't have to power walk to Toy Story Mania (or Soarin' or Space Mountain or…) because you have that FastPass already on your wrist.
- I know some won't like this but I think it's time to close Expedition Everest for an extended period and fix the Yeti already.
- Back to Fastpass+… here's another great use. We often visit one park in the morning and spend our evening at Epcot. You probably know that the chances of being able to ride Soarin' or Test Track in the evening are slim and none. Now it's possible to set them up in advance (and yes, I know that restricts you from getting FastPasses at the morning park but it's much easier to ride the E-ticket attractions at park opening.)
- Expedition Everest is a great ride with a wonderful queue but there's something about the backwards part that prevents me from really liking it.
- On any trip, during my first walk around World Showcase, I've been known to exhale and say, "Aaahhhh." I truly think World Showcase is beautiful—especially in the evening. Don't get me wrong, it's pretty spectacular by day. The beauty of the architecture within each country is matched by the restaurants, shops and the cast members that are only too happy to share information about their homeland...
- At night… the place takes on an entirely different personality with the way each pavilion is lit. The combination of the music and the lighted torches around the promenade make walking around World Showcase Lagoon very special.
- I love the bagpipe music they play prior to Illuminations.
- Yes, I am a Crescent Lake Snob. I love staying there for the beauty of the resorts as well as the proximity to Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's also very pleasant to simply sit by the water and watch the gulls come and go as you listen to the horns from the Friendship boats as they shuttle people back and forth to the parks. But in the evening…
- The boardwalk is beautifully lit at night and seems to come alive. There's typically more people about as the restaurants start bustling and the carnival games open. There's also the steady stream of magicians, jugglers and comedians performing. Sometimes, it's nice to grab an ice cream from Seashore Sweets and sit out on the boardwalk to be entertained.
- If you held a gun to my head and forced me to choose, I'd tell you that Illuminations: Reflections of Earth is my favorite fireworks show in the world (not just the World). I'd also tell you Wishes is a close second. I would have no problem ending each and every day viewing one or the other.
- I'm not a parade person. Really, I'm not. But even I enjoy the toe-tapping beat of the Baroque Hoedown that accompanies the Main Street Electrical Parade at Magic Kingdom.
- The Animal Kingdom boasts two of the finest live shows on property with Finding Nemo: the Musical and the Festival of the Lion King. I enjoy both... but while Nemo has become an attraction I will visit every few trips, I will make it a point to see Lion King on each visit. The show has such high energy it's tough for me to skip it.
- Flights of Wonder is underrated.
- The Beauty and the Beast stage show in Disney's Hollywood Studios is also worth mentioning but it has been there for quite some time and, at least in my opinion, doesn't have the repeatability of the Lion King show.
- I've become bored with the Great Movie Ride. It's been too long without an update.
- Yet I'll ride the Wedway / Tomorrowland Transit PeopleMover on every trip and that hasn't changed in forever.
- There's a fun little game where people are asked to choose one superpower they wish they could have. For me, and a lot of others, it's always been flight. Yeah, I know that I fly round trip whenever I visit Florida but I'm not talking about hurtling through the sky belted into a 15" foam wafer inside a metal tube while swapping DNA with 145 of my closest friends. I'm talking about bird's eye-view, hang glider type flight and, given my age and fear of heights, the only way I'm getting that is through simulation and… Soarin' does that for me—very nicely I might add.
- I fell in love with Disney World during my first trip in 1984 and one of the things that drew me in was simulated flight in attractions like If You Had Wings and Horizons. I wish there were more.
- I know it's not everyone's favorite, but Mickey's Philharmagic delivers the best combination of films, characters and, most importantly, the music I've come to enjoy. Yes, I'm a sucker for the music from the late, great Jerry Orbach singing, "Be Our Guest" to what is probably the 3,000th time I've heard Jodi Benson sing "Part of Your World." And I keep going back.
- I think the TV in the bathroom mirror feature in the new Grand Floridian DVC rooms is the coolest thing ever… even if I watch very little TV while at Disney World.
- I have a little less than a month to go before our next visit and… I'm anxious.
As always, thanks for reading. I wish a happy and safe Holiday Season to you all. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!