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The Rao Family Adventure: WDW 2010!

Walt Disney World: Spend ten days in May with the Rao family as they re-visit Walt Disney World after an extended, three-year absence.

From James Rao
Posted May 1, 2010 at 10:04 AM
After three years of waiting, planning, and saving, the Rao family is finally headed back to Orlando for ten days of Disney Magic! Following the example of several other TPI Regulars, I am submitting this discussion thread as a placeholder for brief updates I will provide as time permits during our adventures.

The travelers are me (41), my wife (44), and my three kids (12, 10, and 6). The boys are tall enough to ride everything Disney has to offer, but the youngest (my daughter) will probably just miss the 48” rides (Rock n Roller Coaster, Sum of All Thrills, and Primeval Whirl). We are hitting all four Disney parks at least twice each, and do not plan on visiting any of the other Orlando area attractions except Downtown Disney (we’ll hit Universal and SeaWorld next year when all the Harry Potter stuff is fully operational, but this year I want to be exclusively surrounded in the Wonderful World of Disney).

We’re staying at the Port Orleans Riverside resort so it will be a bit tight. However, we won’t be in our room much, so I expect we’ll survive. We don’t have park hoppers or the water parks option, but we never visit more than one park a day and the swimming pools at the resort will be sufficient for us landlocked Missourians!

Our dining reservations (we do not have the dining plan) are as follows: Kona Café (breakfast), Plaza Restaurant, Tokyo Dining, Yak & Yeti, and 50’s Prime Time Café. We’ll also hit Beaches & Cream, Earl of Sandwich, ESPN Club, Raglan Road, and every snack shop we can find. And of course, we plan on trying out several of the delicacies mentioned in the recent WDW Favorite Foods threads.

On the drive down, we also plan on visiting Herschend’s Wild Adventures theme park. As you know from my Silver Dollar City discussions, I am a big fan of Herschend parks and while I know WA has a long way to go to measure up to SDC’s quality, I want to see how it is coming along under the new owners. Furthermore, I am anxious to ride the Viking Voyage (previously called Jack Rabbit) which was moved from the now defunct Celebration City (Branson, MO) in the off season. I miss that unique little wild mouse!

Anyway, look for my first update sometime during the latter part of the first week of May...


Comments in chronological order. Most recent at the bottom. This discussion has been archived, and is not accepting additional responses.

From Amanda Jenkins
Posted May 1, 2010 at 10:54 AM
Have a wonderful time!!! We've postponed our trip until September. We are going to take the boys to their first Not So Scary Halloween party. I can't wait to hear your impressions and trip report after such a long absence. Plus, I would like to hear what you think about your resort. We have stayed Deluxe and Value, Never the middle of the spectrum lol. I have always been curious about Port Orleans.

From Nick Markham
Posted May 1, 2010 at 11:05 AM
Have fun! Smart of you to seclude your trip to just Disney so as to fully live the Walt Disney World Experience!

From Anthony Murphy
Posted May 1, 2010 at 1:21 PM
Excellent!

Tell me how Tokyo Dining is. I am too chicken to go to it and opt for the Teppan Grill instead.

From James Rao
Posted May 1, 2010 at 1:33 PM
Thanks for the encouragement. I will definitely keep you in the loop as much as possible. We leave on Wednesday... 9 hours to Nashville... then on Thursday night we'll hit Valdosta, GA. Friday and Saturday morning will be Wild Adventures, then Saturday afternoon we'll head to Port Orleans - maybe go see Iron Man 2 at the DTD AMC 24? I think Sunday (Mother's Day) will be our first Disney park day. Leaning towards Hollywood Studios... been itching to ride Toy Story Midway Mania for a long time....

From Dan Babbitt
Posted May 1, 2010 at 5:55 PM
James when will you be down there? I will be there from the 4th to the 18th. I know I will be working so maybe I will see you!

From James Rao
Posted May 1, 2010 at 7:30 PM
I will be there from the 8th to the 18th... you work at the Tower of Terror, right? I will watch for you. You can watch for me as well: look for the guy dragging around a beleaguered wife and three very weary kids!

They seem to think this vacation is for them... Mwhahahaha! We all know it is for me! Me!! Me!!!!

From Dan Babbitt
Posted May 1, 2010 at 9:27 PM
"look for the guy dragging around a beleaguered wife and three very weary kids!"

I think you've described EVERY guest at WDW!

From James Rao
Posted May 1, 2010 at 10:58 PM
Except that while everyone else is whimpering I will be grinning from ear-to-ear in absolute joy!

From Bob Miller
Posted May 2, 2010 at 5:00 PM
Have fun with the family James, Zachary and I have to wait till next year to go back,(bummer). And we both love Toy Story Mania, and from the Orlando Sentinel's The Daily Disney, look for new cast members appearing from Toy Story 3 in the game.

From Mark Fairleigh
Posted May 2, 2010 at 7:13 PM
Have a great trip!

From TH Creative
Posted May 3, 2010 at 8:31 AM
JR,

I am assuming you are taking 75 south to the Florida Turnpike to I-4 West.

Once you exit on to I-4 and after you go over the Sand Lake Road overpass, keep an eye on the left (International Drive side). The new Peabody hotel (which I'm currently working on) will come into view just before you reach the convention center. It's the biggest thing in the area, I doubt you'll miss it.

Anyway, as you drive past in your late model Wagon Queen Family Truckster give us a wave. I will wave back.

Tim

P.S. Trip Tip: When at the Magic Kingdom, check out the world famous Jungle Cruise!

From Don Neal
Posted May 3, 2010 at 9:52 AM
Safe travels James! We'll be heading out on the 29th for our 10 day trip. Can't wait!

From James Rao
Posted May 3, 2010 at 4:25 PM
Thanks for the well-wishes everyone. I am very excited... and so very far behind in my packing...

TH, I will check out your hotel for sure! But first I have to somehow navigate around the ocean that was once Nashville. My trip plan is already in shambles...

As for the Jungle Snooze, I will definitely ride it (hopefully at night) as this is the first year my six-year old daughter will really experience Disney Magic and possibly even remember some of it! And, I promise not to ridicule the ride too much for her sake. However, I will be applying Jack Sparrow guy-liner while the Skipper is blathering on....

From TH Creative
Posted May 3, 2010 at 4:35 PM
Atta boy!

From Eric Malone
Posted May 3, 2010 at 6:50 PM
Looking forward to seeing your report! Have fun!

Also, I have to say that the Drive-In at DHS is my favorite restaurant. The normal food isn't that incredible, but the shakes are great.

From TH Creative
Posted May 4, 2010 at 1:40 AM
By the way JR, be forewarned it is HOT HOT HOT down here right now. As in 95+ degrees. Pack accordingly.

From James Rao
Posted May 4, 2010 at 3:48 AM
My normal attire of black, corduroy pants and long-sleeve flannel shirts is not going to work, is it? Hmmmm.... not too first I have several pairs of jorts and many (many) roller coaster t-shirts. But, thanks for the warning.

By the way, the kids cannot wait to go swimming in the resort pool - they may be more excited about that than the theme parks! Silly kids...

From Don Neal
Posted May 4, 2010 at 5:23 AM
I have Orlando's weather in my iGoogle page year round [yes I am a geek, but so are you ;) ] and have been watching the heat climb. Took a big jump a week or so ago it seems. Last year we were there in early June and it was 92-95 most days with one day getting up to 98 I believe. Looks like we're in for another scorcher! :D

Regarding Jungle Cruise, I was informed by my kids that we will NOT be riding that this year..."It was soooo boring and the wait was way too long. They should have real animals like Animal Kingdom daddy. I just don't get it!" LOL :D

From Bob Miller
Posted May 4, 2010 at 6:21 AM
You guys are bumming me out, 98 degrees, my kind of weather. Remember, us old folks like hot temps so it can fry what little brain cells we have left. lol(licking our lollipops)

From Dan Babbitt
Posted May 4, 2010 at 8:38 AM
James I will be definately be at the Tower on the 6th, 12th, and 13th. I have closing shofts so I will be there at least 6 hours before closing of the park. So if you want to see me just ask for Daniel Babbitt (there are a couple Daniels that work there).

Also look for my younger brother at DHS. He works in outdoor foods. So Damian will be at a cart around the park.

From James Rao
Posted May 4, 2010 at 5:48 PM
I should be there on the 13th, Dan. That's the second day we are looking to hit DHS.

Speaking of DHS, some questions for you:

RnRC is scheduled for a short maintenance beginning on the 14th. They won't close down any earlier, will they? My middle son finally gets to ride and I don't want him to be disappointed...

Do you think the refurbed Muppet attraction will be in soft openings the week I am there? If yes, do you think that if I wear my TPI badge they will let me in? =)

Also, there's word that TSMM is getting a new game... that won't impact the attraction during my stay will it?

Lastly... if you get a break sometime, you can come to 50's Prime Time with me and my lot and I will buy you a PB&J shake... YUM!

From Dan Babbitt
Posted May 4, 2010 at 6:36 PM
James

RnR: No they will stick to there schedule about closing down the ride. They have to or they will have a lot of poeple mad if they dont!

Muppets: They have it scheduled to be reopened on the 15th but soft openings are random and dont know about that. But if you just go up and ask the cast member there then maybe you will get lucky! And the badge I dont know? But will see ;)

TSMM: You are right they just annouced that there will be a replacement in the attraction. Rex and Trixie's Dino Darts, will replace Bo Peep's Baaa-loon Pop there will also be more surprises at the end of the game with the new Toy Story 3 characters. But I dont know when its coming in but its just a new video scene so they shoudnt bring the whole ride down. O. but the line will be long so get a fastpass early!

I only get 15 minute breaks every 2 hours so I really dont have time or am to tired to move but thanks for the offer for the shack!

Excited to meet you!

From James Rao
Posted May 4, 2010 at 8:10 PM
Thanks for the info - looking forward to meeting you as well. Post in this thread if your schedule changes.

Finishing packing now, and will set out around 7 AM. Should make it to Tupelo, Mississippi tomorrow. No Nashville on this trip. =(

Dinner at the Fairpark Grill? Maybe...

From Dan Babbitt
Posted May 5, 2010 at 3:51 PM
James some other news starting tomarrow may 6th DHS will sell Marvel merchandise. Its not going to be Disney related ie: marvel and Disney characters on the same product. But its a start!

From Joshua Counsil
Posted May 5, 2010 at 5:30 PM
Have fun, James.

I'm curious, though - do you have anything planned for just you and the wife?

Also, are you a gourmand at all? I'd just hate to see you wasting your time at places like ESPN Club, which is neither a good sports bar nor a good restaurant ($20 for a pitcher of Bud Light? Come on!), especially when there's good food to be had at the nearby resorts.

From Dan Babbitt
Posted May 5, 2010 at 5:45 PM
Joshua I have to disagree with you on the ESPN Club! They just enhanced the menu and even lowered some of the prices on the food. Compared with other restaurants on property I think its priced fair and the whole theme is great. Well I think Im a sports fan so I love watching tv with the any game or games being played!

From James Rao
Posted May 5, 2010 at 8:56 PM
Reporting from the Fairpark Grill in Tupelo, MS. One word: awesome. Will provide pics later...dessert incoming!

EDIT: Photo Links.

Fish Tacos
Sliders
Crabcake & Crawfish Sandwich
Wildberry Cobbler.

We also had a fresh Grouper Sandwich, but it was eaten so fast I did not have time to take a picture. All the food was amazing, and the Wilderberry Cobbler was just stupendous. Stop in when you pass through Tupelo...

EDIT: Reply to Josh - no, we'll be with the kids the whole time, unless they misbehave inwhich case they receive DDC (Disney Day Care) as punishment. However, my kids are wonderful at theme parks, so we should not have any problems. And, we like real good food, but not real expensive food. We'll pick and choose as best as we can, on a budget!

Nite Nite.

From Deidre Dennis
Posted May 5, 2010 at 6:49 PM
I'm SO jealous. We were planning to go back in August with about 8 of us family members traveling together but have since cancelled. Airline tickets are ridiculous traveling from Eastern Washington/Pacific NW to Orlando. Instead, we are staying close to home this Summer, perhaps doing Yellowstone and doing some other local things. I'm in a state of depression over it, too.

Enjoy yourselves and I'm very much looking forward to reading all about your trip reports.

From Bob Miller
Posted May 6, 2010 at 5:58 AM
James, you're my kind of theme park junkie, actually reporting to us TPI members while you're on vacation. I admit, if I had the means to do so, I would do the same thing. Drive carefully and you and the family enjoy the pool at the hotel when you get to Disney.

From Don Neal
Posted May 6, 2010 at 6:24 AM
I appreciate the updates. Its great to hear how things are going and what people are enjoying. Unfortunately when I go on vacation I unplug from about everything. So is it wrong for me to enjoy James' updates and not give my own? LOL :D

From James Rao
Posted May 6, 2010 at 5:01 PM
Once I hit WDW the updates may not be daily, but I usually have a few minutes to spare while the kids and wife are getting ready. Plus, I pay $30 a month for this fancy iPhone so I need to put it to good use!

Anyway, nothing to report today. Dinner was not a destination (Chick-fil-A), and we are all pretty bushed anyway. We should make Valdosta in about an hour and have some time to swim provided the outdoor pool is open. Otherwise we'll take a walk, play cards, and get to bed early.

Tomorrow: Wild Adventures!

From Don Neal
Posted May 7, 2010 at 8:02 AM
Valdosta FTW! :)

Have fun!

From Bob Miller
Posted May 7, 2010 at 9:46 AM
How far is your trip one way James? Zachary and I usually drove( me driving) the 1052 miles in one day, actually about 17 hours, but the last few trips we've stopped along the way in Georgia.

From James Rao
Posted May 7, 2010 at 8:48 PM
Quick report on Wild Adventures: Herschend has done a lot of work restoring this family park to something both fun and safe. The place is pretty clean (sadly the bathrooms still need a lot of love), the new landscaping is a huge plus (except for the animal exhibits which need to be completely overhauled), and the customer service is top notch (some of the friendliest teenagers I have ever met). Most of the rides are in good working order, though many of them could use some paint.

There are far too many carnival midway rides, but there are a few standout attractions as well. Cheetah is a fine woodie (although after its million dollar refurb it is more steel than wood), the newly added Viking Voyage is quite spirited (as it was when it was Jack Rabbit at the now defunct Celebration City), and the Tasmanian River raft ride has an excellent whirlpool element that should be duplicated in more rides of this type. The collection of youth coasters is admirable, but the park needs a real headliner to top things off (Hangman is a fun ride, but the "yay" / "ouch" pattern is a problem for my 42 year old body). Overall, we had a fun ten hours in the park, so I can't complain too much.

We only watched one animal show: Tigers of India, which was a standout. The proximity of the tigers, their interaction with the handlers, and the overwhelming good nature of the show made for a hand-clapping good time. Additionally, several of the animal exhibits showed a lot of promise, however with the exception of the Lorikeet Landing area they are so dilapidated that Herschend is going to have to spend some big bucks if they want the animal attractions to aspire to anything more than the level of a casual diversion.

As for food, several employees told us the BBQ joint was excellent, but we opted for the fresh corn dogs instead. Foot long, and hand dipped while you waited, these dogs were delicious. And the beer battered onion rings were excellent as well. If the rest of the park's food offerings are as good then it is not hard to determine a focal point of the new owners!

Anyway, I will edit in a few choice photos later when I get back to the hotel, but overall we had a fun day. WA is not up to the level of Silver Dollar City or Dollywood, but it is a decent place to take the family. More work is needed, and the addition of a real headliner coaster or two would be welcome, but we definitely got our money's worth today.

EDIT: Photo Links.
Viking Voyage
Cheetah
Tasmanian Raft Ride
Yummy, Hand-Dipped Corn Dogs Are Made Here
Here There Be Tigers
Major Splashdown
Swamp Thing.

EDIT: Reply to Bob.
I have no idea on the total miles, but I do know it took us about 17 hours over two days to get to Valdosta (going through Alabama and Mississippi because of the Nashville flooding). And it will probably take about 3.5 more hours to drive to WDW tomorrow...

From James Rao
Posted May 9, 2010 at 4:32 AM
We made it to Port Orleans - Riverside yesterday evening.

(Note: most of my postings will now be made on the iPhone to avoid the $9.95 internet charge, which is good for you as they will be shorter and more to the point!)

Port Orleans is a huge, sprawling complex, extremely well themed and full of life. We wandered throughout all the grounds, covering both Riverside and French Quarter. I am impressed. And the main pools are awesome, making it almost unnecessary to go to a water park unless you are a die hard slide enthusiast. For the casual swimmer, water parks are an extravagance!

We ate at the food court as it was pretty late, and while the food was good, it was expensive, and portions were huge. Thankfully we were prepared and we did a lot of sharing.

Cast members have been wonderful. Everyone we have met has been pleasant and engaging; with conversations ranging from the Fantasyland expansion to Iron Man II, which one cast member told us was the "best Disney movie" ever, since Disney now owns Marvel. =)

Some random musings:
- Just because you are at a Disney resort doesn't mean you should let your kids run wild...
- People who smoke in non-smoking areas at Disney resorts should be forced to watch Stitch's Great Escape in an endless loop for the remainder of their vacation...
- Disney Kid's Meals are a steal in value, quality, and quantity...
- Moderate resort rooms are small but amazingly functional...
- There may be nothing in the world better than a morning jog around Port Orleans...

We're off to Hollywood Studios, but first, a couple photo links:
Port Orleans Riverside Boat Dock.
Ol' Man Island - fountains, a slide, and tons of fun. Who needs a water park?
Everything Disney does is big - even this water wheel.

From Joshua Counsil
Posted May 9, 2010 at 11:39 AM
Thanks for the updates, James.

Wild Adventures looked very well kept. Fresh paint, clean walkways - impressive. However, I was disheartened to see the Indian tigers trapped in such a small, dank cage. Animal captivity is cruel enough without making their surroundings miserable. They should either lose the tigers, or give them a proper landscape. Until then, I won't pay to visit that park.

I'm glad the Cast Members were friendly. We encountered some jerk employees on our first night at our resort on our last trip. They actually yelled at us for not walking on the sidewalk, despite that there wasn't a sidewalk on our side of the road. As per the Iron Man comment, go figure for Disney to take credit for something they didn't do. If Disney inherits Lions Gate, are Cast Members going to walk around talking about how "Saw" is the best Disney horror movie ever?

Hope you enjoy the Studios. Skip Prince Caspian.

From Bob Miller
Posted May 9, 2010 at 4:48 PM
James, I had my vacation schedule out yesterday and made up two new vacations, because you're really depressing me. August 2011 can't come soon enough.

Glad to see you and the family made it safely there and are enjoying the resort. Zachary likes swimming and he'd sure love to swim in that pool.

Did you make it to Toy Story, if so how did you like it? Keep up the great reports, I took my meds and am now starting to cheer up some, only 15 months to go.

By the way, what days of the week are they showing Fantasmic now? I want to go see it next year, since we missed it last year, so I want to schedule the right day, thanks.

And if you read this in time, wish your wife a Happy Mother's Day from Zachary and me. And I sure hope you did something extra special for your wife for putting up with you and the kids for all these years. lol ;)

From James Rao
Posted May 9, 2010 at 9:00 PM
Waiting for the second showing of Fantasmic now and thought I could post a quick update.

The Toy Story ride exceeded all my expectations. From the brilliant queue to the ultra efficient loading procedures to the massively fun games themselves, I never imagined the attraction would be so addictive! We rode it first thing in the morning then later, around 4, with a Fastpass. Awesome attraction, can't wait until we ride it again later this week.

As for the rest of the park it was beautiful as always. I had almost forgotten just how much better Disney is at presentation than everyone else...

My middle child rode RnRC for the first time today. Cast members were awesome about it, put us in the front seat, and even gave us an extra set of Fastpasses so he could ride again (thanks, Fidel, you da man!). FWIW, my son said it was his new favorite coaster. It is easy to see what impressed him as that launch and first two loops are pretty amazing, especially in the dark.

One other note: tried the Carrot Cake Cookie at the Writer's Stop and it was as wonderful as I had heard. And I don't even like carrot cake!

Anyway, two quick responses:

Josh, the Tigers are only in that little cage during the show. Their normal exhibit is bigger and they are largely separated. Also, they are part of a touring show and Wild Adventures is not their permanent residence. But, Herschend does need to upgrade their animal exhibits IMHO.

Bob, glad to hear I helped inspire you to plan a trip or two! I look forward to your reports! As for Fantasmic, it is showing today (Sunday) and Wednesday, two showings each night. And as for the wife, what could be more special than a half dozen rides on the Tower of Terror?! And you doubted my romantic sensibilities!

Fantasmic is starting to seat... Magic Kingdom tomorrow!

EDIT: What a great show! Truly deserving of its place in the pantheon of day-ending extravaganzas! And remember, if there are two showings of Fantasmic in the same night, go to the second one! And do NOT wait in line as there will be plenty of good seats right before the show starts. Grab a few more rides on ToT or RnRC instead of standing around with the sweaty masses!

From Anthony Murphy
Posted May 10, 2010 at 8:09 AM
I agree, go to the second one!

The other decient idea is the Fantasmic Dining Package which you can get a good meal and reserved seating. Not bad!

From James Rao
Posted May 11, 2010 at 7:24 PM
Just a quick update: the Magic Kingdom was such a huge success that we even had fun on the Jungle Snooze! Also, had a great cast member experience related to Dole Whips...more about that later. Now, it is bed time!

From Bob Miller
Posted May 11, 2010 at 5:20 AM
Thanks for the info on Fantasmic James, I looked at my schedule and I already have us going to Hollywood Studios on the Wednesday we'll be staying on Disney property.

Glad to see you all enjoyed Toy Story as much as Zachary and I do, can't wait to see the new part of the game.

Believe it or not, last year was the first time we had a cup of Dole Wipe, because of your bragging about it. It's great to have, especially on a hot summer day. How's the weather?

From James Rao
Posted May 11, 2010 at 6:20 PM
I have so many updates to give, but so little time! Four quick updates:

1) Weather is hot but manageable. Nights are very comfortable.
2) Downtown Disney has been insane with crowds. Anyone know why? I have never seen the place so crowded at this time of year.
3) Earl of Sandwich is decent, but not as good as my locally owned Planet Sub. If you are in Kansas City and you like toasted subs, stop in for a bite.
4) The Yeti is still in B-mode (or something even worse) and he is so lame the coaster should really be closed until he can be fixed. Man, he is barely even lit up. What a choke. We did get to take a survey before we left the park and I let them taste all my ire and disappointment. Pathetic. Dinosaur is currently the best ride at DAK (and it is truly wonderful - I had forgotten how good it is!).

More later.

From James Rao
Posted May 11, 2010 at 7:32 PM
Our Day At MK (Monday's Report)

Was a busy day in the park but we had a great time. Accomplished almost everything on the touring plan and still had time for an afternoon nap and swim.

Space Mt has been reinvigorated with the recent changes. While the modifications to the ride are minor (quieter, darker, smoother, crisper) the overall effect is astonishing. My daughter proclaimed it the best coaster she had ever ridden (she rode for the first time on this visit) and she kept asking to ride again all day long! The new queue is amazing, but because we worked it so we never had to wait in a long line, we did not get to play the new game. When we visit again this week we will play regardless.

The refurb walls are up in Fantasyland, big time. They stretch from Toontown Fair to where Ariel's Grotto used to be. But, the walls are covered with concept art so they don't look so bad. When you take the train around the park you can see where some ground clearing has started but that's about it.

Spent a lot of time in Toontown saying farewell although I have never been a huge fan of the place. Still there is a depth of theming at work that should be applauded. If you get a chance to visit before it is gone take a few minutes to appreciate the imaginative nature of the area. FWIW, we rode the Barnstomer about five times in a row an hour before park closing, and when we went to see Mickey, Minnie was there as well. What a coup for the kids. And it was not bad for Dad either as I received not one, but two kisses from Mickey's girl while his attention was otherwise diverted by my kids!

For TH: we had an excellent Jungle Cruise skipper and he made the tired attraction quite lively. He even let some little kid steer the boat which was really cool.

Finally, the cast members were just awesome during our visit which reminded me again of why Disney is just that much better than everyone else. One event in particular occurred when we stopped by the Aloha Isle to get our Dole Whip fix. Being as we had not visited for three years and were going through major withdrawal, I ordered five Dole Pineapple Floats, one for each member of the family. Seeing how much we loved the dessert, the cast member helping us gave us an extra Dole Whip soft serve to share and to refill our floats when they started to run low. It was an awfully nice gesture and was genuine, as far as I could tell. Anyway, while we were sitting and devouring our treasure, we saw a team of three cast members wheeling out the very essence of the Dole Whip to refill the stand. I quickly offered to buy the entire cart full of liquid soft serve announcing that no price was too high for what was, in all actuality, the very essence of Disney Magic! And while they wouldn't let us buy raw magic, they did let us take pictures with the source of our dessert joy, which created quite a spectacle for those gathered ‘round about! And suddenly the lines started to form as those not yet in-the-know wanted to try this refreshing dessert treat. The team had to get back to work but the manager chatted with us for a good ten minutes and had me send some photos to her email so she could post them for the rest of her team. It was an awesome event for me and my family and I am sure my description is lacking, but it was just one more example of what the Disney experience means to geeks like me, and one more memory I can put in my cap to pull out on rainy day.

That's all I have to say about that! Next up, I will tell you how our DAK visit went today.

From James Rao
Posted May 11, 2010 at 8:21 PM
Some overdue photo links from our Mother's Day visit to Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Tower of Terror
Toy Story Mania Fastpass Lines
Darth Maul may be tough but not as tough as this Padawan
Carrot Cake cookie from the Writer's Stop
Without Whom None Of This Would Be Possible

From Pyra Dong
Posted May 11, 2010 at 8:37 PM
How busy is it over there??

I'm planning on visiting again this Saturday-- I'm just a little worried becuase this time i'm dragging my entire family along-- which adds an additional 30 minutes to anything.

From James Rao
Posted May 11, 2010 at 9:03 PM
Just some quick notes on Animal Kingdom.

I love Animal Kingdom and think it is a near perfect mix of theme park and Zoo. Therefore, I am one of the few people who think it is a two-day park because there is a wealth of exploring to do and many hidden treasures. To that end, we accomplished the right half of the park today, completing our tour by about 4 PM, and then meandered in the Oasis area until park closing at 5:00.

As for the rides, we rode Everest and Dinosaur 4-5 times each, Primeval Whirl, Triceratop Spin, and Kali River Rapids once each. The Yeti, as I stated earlier, is still in Dance Club mode, but the strobe effect is very weak, and very lame. Dinosaur is the best ride in the park - for now, and it is a truly great Disney attraction. As for the others, I like Kali River, but we did not want to get soaked so once was enough. And that Dino-Rama crap is the worst part of WDW. Primeval Whirl may be the worst coaster I have ever ridden. Ugh! There are kiddie coasters like Goofy's Barnstormer that are more fun than the Whirl. I really wish Disney would redo that whole area of the park and make it something more Disney-fied.

For shows, we watched Flights of Wonder and Finding Nemo. Nemo was great as always, a must visit when you go to DAK, however I had not visited Flights of Wonder before, and it was really quite good. I recommend it, highly. We also spent about an hour on the Maharajah Jungle Trek, and another hour exploring the Oasis. I love all the zoo stuff at DAK and wish more people would take time to immerse themselves in the wonders of this park. Sadly, most people just ride rides and bolt, never really understanding that DAK is all about exploration. *Sigh* - the limited attention span of the public is always a problem.

Anyway we had a great day, and here are just a few photos of our adventures:

Dinosaur
If you don’t explore the Oasis, you will never find this hidden bridge...
...or this wonderful wildlife viewing area.

Got a full day of Epcot tomorrow (Test Track side of the park), but will provide an update when I can.

EDIT: Pyra, DHS, MK, and DTD were packed. DAK was full, but not overwhemlming. WDW is more crowded than I have seen it during any previous May visit. I am a little put off, but Disney is so efficient that waits have been minimal, for the most part.

From Dan Babbitt
Posted May 11, 2010 at 9:19 PM
Because Fantasmic plays on selected nights DHS is packed usually after 4pm during those times.

On a side note James I will be working tomarrow after 4:15 and all day thursday hope to see you! O, on Sunday (mothers day) did you by chance when you rode Tower of Terror see a guy either at unload or in the lobby wearing instead of the short sleeve shirt but a jacket? (not the trench coat) because if you did that was me! I will be wearing the jacket also propably the only one at that.

From James Rao
Posted May 11, 2010 at 9:31 PM
Dan, I should see you Thursday. We'll ride early (around 9:30) and late (6-ish), if waits aren't prohibitive.

On Sunday we rode around 9:30, then again around 7:00 PM. Think there was a lady that greeted us the second time. I did not see you if you look anything like your TPI photo....

From Michael Smith
Posted May 12, 2010 at 9:09 AM
I'm wondering if the $99 4day passes for Florida residents have anything to do with the increased crowds. They expire in a couple of weeks (28th I think), and many people are probably trying to use them at the last minute before expiration. I still have 2 days on mine that I will be using. The next 2 weekends will probably be packed.

From TH Creative
Posted May 12, 2010 at 4:19 PM
Wondering if you saw my building? I mean I an SURE you saw my hat.

From James Rao
Posted May 13, 2010 at 4:57 AM
Great day at Epcot! I am still in the afterglow of Illuminations so I will start there: for the first time ever I staked out a spot early enough to have an unobstructed view of the action. What an amazing show. Truly inspired. Were I a big sissy (which I usually am) I would have wept openly. Instead I held it back in true Clark Griswold fashion and only let a few tears dribble out.

The rest of the day was spent on the east side of the park. If you split Epcot down the middle from Spaceship Earth to The American Pavilion, we did the left half.

We started by getting fastpasses to Test Track then headed over to Innoventions and did Sum of All Thrills a half dozen times. I earned a rating of 1090-ish my first try using a Jet and going through six inversions. My oldest son rode about eight times and managed to get 1240-ish Which is just under the max of 1278. We had a blast. In fact all of innoventions east was a lot of fun, although Sum is the best attraction by far.

We then rode Mission: Space (orange) followed by Test Track, and then Ellen (sit towards the back on the right side for more time with the dinosaurs). We then started our Kim Possible adventures and headed back to the World Showcase. We returned in the evening and made the reengineered Spaceship Earth (wonderful!) our penultimate attraction before the aforementioned Illuminations viewing.

We accomplished four Kim Possible adventures (Mexico, Norway, China, and Germany) and had a ball. What a great way to get kids excited about the World Showcase! Awesome. The boat rides in Mexico and Norway are nice diversions as is the film in China. I still think the World Showcase could use one more headliner ride to put it over the top, but that is a minor quibble from the coaster junkie in me.

We ate lunch at the Norway bakery. We had the club and ham & apple sandwiches (both excellent), as well as Lefse and School Bread. Later, during Illuminations, we had an almond covered dessert pretzel and it was great as well. The bakery in Norway is amazing.

For dinner we had Chinese food at the Lotus Blossom Cafe. It was better than Panda Express, but not as good as some of the better Chinese restaurants I have visited. Shared Orange Chicken and Potstickers with the wife, while the kids had shrimp fried rice and eggrolls. For dessert we had Caramel Ginger ice cream, which took a bite or two to get used to but was ultimately very satisfying. Overall the food was the best we've had thusfar, but I am looking forward to several full service meals scheduled for the rest of the week.

We have now visited each park one time and clearly our Epcot visit stands out as our best day so far. The great weather, highly immersive attractions, fun cast member interactions (especially in the China Pavilion), and much better than average food truly marked our day as the pinnacle of what Disney Magic is all about. I fear we will have a hard time topping the day we had today!

And you know what I absolutely love most about Epcot? When the day turns to night and the World Showcase is lit up like a Christmas Tree, it does NOT look like a carnival as most theme parks do, it looks like a wonderfully magic place filled with endless possibilites for fun and adventure.

I guess I have always known this fact, but Epcot is quite simply the best, most unique theme park I have ever visited. I cannot wait to return and traverse the right half of it on Friday!

EDIT: For TH, sorry but I did not see your building personally, I was too busy navigating a maze of road construction. I did have the kids wave at every big resort building we passed, just in case. I will try harder on the return trip next week.

From Bob Miller
Posted May 13, 2010 at 6:37 AM
Keep up the great reports James, By the way, where did you stand for the show, or is that a family secret?

From James Rao
Posted May 13, 2010 at 8:46 PM
Front and center, Bob. It was a slow day at Epcot so we nailed a spot about 75 minutes before the show. It was awesome seeing things head on the way the Imagineers intended.

Anyway, went back to DHS today and met up with our very own Daniel Babbit. Sadly, Tower of Terror was busy all day so I never did get a chance for a return visit or a photo. Still I did get a chance to say "Hi" and shake a fellow TPI-ers hand which was pretty cool. Nice to meet you, Dan!

Couple other notes from this visit:
- Got my best score on TSMM today: 172,500. I know it is not great but I improved each time I played so I feel pretty good about that!
- The Backlot Tour needs to go away. I still kind of like Catastrophe Canyon, but the rest of the tour blows.
- On the other end of the spectrum I still love Lights! Motors! Action! and would like to see the show expanded. What those drivers do is amazing!
- Starring Rolles Cafe is the best counter service option in the park and here is a tip: get a turkey sandwich and a bagel. There is so much turkey on the sandwich that you can take half of it off and put it on your bagel. You now have two sandwiches and saved about $6 in the process.
- Prime Time Cafe is probably the best, most reasonable full service joint at DHS. And the food is very good. Fried chicken, meatloaf, and chicken noodle soup are all recomended. Also, the desserts are great, especially the PB&J shake which is worth every calorie.

That's about all I have for tonight. I have a long day at Epcot tomorrow as I will attempt to utilize evening magic hours. I should be riding Test Track at midnight if all goes well...

From TH Creative
Posted May 14, 2010 at 3:44 AM
Two sandwiches?! You're a madman!

From James Rao
Posted May 14, 2010 at 3:49 AM
Getting two sanwiches for about the price of one doesn't make me a madman, but dragging three kids around Epcot until midnight does! Hey breakfast at the Kona Cafe tomorrow should make up for it, right?!

From Bob Miller
Posted May 14, 2010 at 4:45 PM
James, did you and the family get to see the Space Shuttle Atlantis go up at 2:20 this afternoon?

Two years ago, Zachary and I were up at Universal Studios when one went up, but we were to busy going from ride to ride to remember. One of the people we knew at our motel at LBV said you could see the shuttle going up from there. He said you could see the flames and all. It bummed me out because I had planned that trip just to see the shuttle go up.

From James Rao
Posted May 14, 2010 at 9:40 PM
Sounds awesome, Bob, but we did not. I am completely out of touch with the real world this week. In fact, I just found out that LeBron and his Cavs got ousted from the playoffs which was a complete shocker!

We did go back to Epcot today and I have a few things to discuss, but it is so late and I so tired that I will update you tomorrow.

Nite nite!

From Dan Babbitt
Posted May 14, 2010 at 10:31 PM
James it was great seeing you! I wish we were'nt busy during that time so that we could actually talk! I had some fastpasses for you and the family.

Kind-of funny because you actually passed me at one point. I was standing in front of the Tower holding a suitcase. You were I think wearing a Lost t-shirt?

From James Rao
Posted May 15, 2010 at 8:21 AM
Yes sir, that was me in my LOST t-shirt that I bought in the Tower of Terror gift shop during my 2007 WDW visit! I am very sorry I missed you as I wanted to be able to post a picture for the rest of the TPI faithful to let them know some of us posters really do exist and are not just figments of Niles' imagination! Oh well, we may be returning to DHS on Tuesday (our last day) to catch the refurbed Muppet attraction, perhaps I will see you then?

Back to Epcot. Yesterday we returned to my favorite theme park to traverse the attractions on the right side (the Soarin' side). It was an evening Magic Hours day, so we knew the park would be busy, but we did not know it would be packed! Anyway, some notes...

- The crowd that moves through the Land Pavilion for most of the day to get to Soarin' is insane! Much like the insanity of TSMM at DHS, the Soarin' herd (of which I was part for the first 20 minutes of the day) is quite a phenomenon! It must be a significant challenge for cast members to manage things and prevent folks from being trampled. Wow! As for the attraction itself it is still breezy and entertaining but unless you are lucky enough to sit in row 1B (which I never get to do) you don't get to feel the full effect. Still, as this ride is accessible to almost all visitors, it remains a huge deal.

- My only issue with our visit today was with Turtle Talk (with Crush), previously one of my favorite attractions. Because of the generally obnoxious and rude behavior of kids these days and the general lack of parental leadership, both showings we visited were ruined by rotten, rude brats whose parents didn't have the decency to shut their monsters up so others could enjoy the interaction with the beloved star. Two things that need to be done to fix the problem:
1) Cast members need to recognize quickly when a conversation is going south and move the microphone. Both times we visited, problems could have been averted if cast members had moved on to some other child instead of letting one loud mouthed demon monopolize the show (like charming little Bennie who finally shouted at Crush, "I'm gonna cut your throat with a knife!" - are kids being raised by parents who read Charles Manson's Guide to Parenting, or what?).
2) Parents need to control their monsters. When your kid is yelling out, or making inappropriate comments, or talking incessantly, get him or her out of the theater. Fundemental rules of parenting and discipline still apply, even in theme parks. It is sad to see how the art of parenting has devolved. But I digress.

- With the exception of the Crush debacle, we had a blast at the Seas Pavilion. My kids visited every exhibit excitedly pointing out their favorite sea creatures and talking animately about what they saw. We spent over an hour just touring around, and could easily have spent an hour more. And after being around the brats in Turtle Talk I gained a new apreciation for my own kids and the way their mother has raised them. Kudos to her!

- We had dinner at Tokyo Dining in the Japan Pavilion. The service was amazing and the food top notch. Try the Green Tea Pudding for dessert, my wife and I thought it was delicious.

- Evening Magic Hours at Epcot are kind of a waste of time unless you like riding Mission: Space and Spaceship Earth repeatedly (which I do). Both Test Track and Soarin' stay completely swamped all three hours. However, we did ride Test Track in the dark at about 11:40. It was fun at night, but not really worth the added wait. It is probably better to just visit on a non-magic hours day when crowds are more manageable and fastpasses easier to obtain. I am hoping EMH at the Magic Kingdom are a bit more useful and the crowds more spread out...

Anyway, I've gone on long enough. We are going to the Kona Cafe for breakfast today, then will likely head back to Epcot tonight to finish a exploring the World Showcase and to get our Kaki Gori fix!

I will post some picture links next week when I have more time.

From Manny Barron
Posted May 15, 2010 at 1:03 PM
Wow did someone actually tell Crush they were going to cut his throat with a knife? what was crush's reaction. I'm surprised because I've seen turtle talk at DCA many times and it is always charming and the kids always behave.

From Dan Babbitt
Posted May 15, 2010 at 2:45 PM
James the next time I work is tomarrow from 7:30pm-1:30am. Its Extra Magic Hours. Im returning home for a couple weeks on tuesday. I can almost be certain that we wont be busy especially after 11:30!

From James Rao
Posted May 15, 2010 at 8:36 PM
Manny, sadly it is true. We were horrified as were most of the attendees. Even more horrifying was the kid's parents did not step forward and pull their demon spawn away but instead waited in the shadows to snatch up their Damien/Bennie, then lurked away never to be seen again.

FWIW, Crush did a good job, pausing increduously then said something like, "Now isn't this an awkward moment?" However for the rest of the show little Satan-want-to-be Bennie kept shouting and talking despite the rest of the parents (and kids) telling him to "be quiet." I don't know what cast members are allowed to do, but I expected a lot more than what happened, which was nothing. The child should have been escorted out of the theater, end of story.

From Manny Barron
Posted May 15, 2010 at 9:38 PM
Thats horrible man, your right Disney has to find a way to do something but it's a tough situation. Anyway enjoy the rest of your vacation, it's fun reading your posts.

From Nick Markham
Posted May 15, 2010 at 10:00 PM
Hey Dan, it is weird. I saw your photo on your page on the site, and I swear when I went to Disney World I while back, I saw you at Tower of Terror! Spooky.... :D

From Dan Babbitt
Posted May 15, 2010 at 11:28 PM
I love getting my picture taking with guests! So Nick anyone else my nametag has DANIEL on it because from my mom I quote "I didnt name you Dan, Danny or any other nickname. I named you Daniel and thats what I call you!" So I had to put Daniel on my nametag.

All you have to do is ask if its me if the you have a question its me my nametag also has Connecticut on it and I will always wear the jacket no matter what the weather is hot cold rainy or what ever the weather is!

From Sara M
Posted May 16, 2010 at 6:23 AM
James,

I must say that this entire posting has made me truly miss WDW. I try to make it down to Orlando to visit the parks at least once a year alternating between WDW and the US/IOA/SW combo. I'm heading to US and IOA on June 9th for Harry Potter but hearing you talk about WDW is prompting me to start planing an Oct trip to Disney! What a great guide you are putting together here! I'm inspired to do one for my trip as well! Keep enjoying your vacation with the family!

From Anthony Murphy
Posted May 16, 2010 at 9:30 AM
I agree with Sara, you are the kind of guy that would be a perfect Theme Park Buddy to me. I am such a dork when it comes to EPCOT especially spending extra time with the dinosaurs at the Universe of Energy.

As for your Crush debacle, at least it was nothing that Disney couldn't exactly control. I seriously have met extremly rude people at Walt Disney World.

As for Dining at EPCOT, I am glad you liked China and Norway which are underrated in my opinion. One of the better food finds that I have at EPCOT is lunch at the Nine Dragons which has an excellent General Tso's dish that is both filling, and cheaper than dinner (still more expensive than counter service of course). The joy of it is pretty empty for dinner.

BTW, how is the new Pizza Place at Italy. Where is it exactly? What did it replace? I know its counter service or something so its just a swing by place.

Are you going to reveal your super secret Illuminations spot? I will reveal mine... Its the second level of the Japan Pavillion right outside of Tokyo Dining. Of course I have others!!

From Bob Miller
Posted May 16, 2010 at 10:56 AM
Anthony, my one advice to people going to Epcot, is to make sure the wind is at your back when watching Illuminations. The first year I went to see it, the wind was in my face and all the smoke of the fireworks blocked the view.

James, what's your favorite restaurant this trip?

From Dan Babbitt
Posted May 16, 2010 at 11:07 AM
Anthony I still think Robert should plan a TPI vacation/get together. I know Disney has group deals and if we plan a small maybe 2-3 day weekend thing it wouldnt get to to expensive. I know I would go.

From Eric Malone
Posted May 16, 2010 at 5:28 PM
I'd probably go, too, if I had a chance.

From James Rao
Posted May 16, 2010 at 8:22 PM
It is nice to hear some of you are having as much fun reading this thread as I am writing it! I have enjoyed reading other such reports by other TPI posters so I figured these "dear diary" type threads might have some merit. And it looks like they do! I hope to see more of them in the future.

Sara, with all the Harry Potter stuff at Universal, I would stick to your original plans. Sure, Disney is an awesome place, but since it is probably fairly unchanged since your last visit, heading over to USO this year sounds like a great idea!

Anthony, I don't have a secret special spot for Illuminations. I honestly believe the best place to view the show is from the front of the World Showcase as the Imagineers intended it to be viewed. So, just find an unobstructed view as close as possible to the center front, about 60 to 90 minutes before the show and start writing your daily trip report while you wait! As for your other question, the new pizza place is still under construction, so I did not get to sample their wares.

A couple notes from Saturday night at Epcot (our third visit this trip!):

- The pretzels from the little beer stand as you enter Germany are wonderful! Buttery, huge, and with a packet of Gulden's spicy mustard they are a meal unto themselves.

- Kaki Gori is to Epcot as Dole Whips are to the Magic Kingdom. And now that they have a cherry flavored version, my life is complete.

- Do not skip out on Innoventions. There are a lot of great things to do especially if you have kids age 14 and under. Furthermore, don't shortchange the exhibits at exits to attractions like Mission: Space and Spaceship Earth. These little gems can offer hours of great, air conditioned entertainment during some of the hottest and busiest times of day.

- Club Cool should be considered a must-do attraction by all visitors. We had a great time sampling its free wares on two separate visits.

- If you have not tried the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventures, make them a priority on your next visit. They are a ton of fun and will enhance (not detract from) your pavilion explorations.

- Do take time to visit with the people who work in the World Showcase. One of the best aspects of Epcot is your ability to immerse yourself in a different culture. There is no better way to do that at Epcot than by talking to people from their representative countries. Don't be shy!

- Lastly, I re-watched the Impressions de France movie really trying to see why others on this site love it so much. And I still don't get it. Yeah, the music is nice, and some of the camera work is kind of cool, but the show is still a complete snoozer. My entire family fell asleep, and I had to fight hard not to follow suit. Sorry, gang, but I guess I am just not cultured enough. To me Impressions is just a really bad poem put to really good music. And it makes me sleepy just thinking about it.....

Zzzzzzzz....

From James Rao
Posted May 16, 2010 at 8:24 PM
Visited Animal Kingdom today and will post some notes later, but after writing about Impressions de France I am exhausted. One thing I will write is that the cast member working the egg roll stand between Asia and Africa is wonderful. I don't want to get her in trouble with specifics, but at the end of the day, when she was closing down her stand, she performed an amazing customer service for a family of weary egg roll fans!

More about DAK later...and Bob, I will get back to your question about my favorite dining spot later as well. I still have one full day left at Magic Kingdom and we are visiting the Plaza Restaurant, so I better wait to make my choice!

From Jake Jones
Posted May 16, 2010 at 6:15 PM
This TR is incredibly entertaining and informational James, I wish I could make my trip reports this interesting, but my writing is just boring. Thank you James.

And that thing with "Crush" is horrendous, I guess its bound to happen that a kid says something stupid, but I would think something like "This is a stupid show", not "I will slash your throat."

From James Rao
Posted May 16, 2010 at 8:18 PM
Thanks for the kind words, Jake. As for the Crush thing, there's just no rational explanation for a kid saying what this kid said. You've gotta question how he is being raised, and just hope this episode serves as a wake up call to the parents.

Honestly, every kid says and does inappropriate things but it is what we do to correct them that sets the good parents apart from the bad. Who knows, maybe Bennie spent the rest of the day lamenting his awful words after he was disciplined by his folks?

One never knows...

One thing I do know is that even Disney parks cannot escape inconsiderate people. I've seen a lot of acts this past week and a half that seem so out of place in the picturesque landscape painted by Walt's Main Street, USA. But, I believe our society has been morally, socially, and fiscally bankrupt for quite some time. Which may be why I like the simple, wholesome world portrayed by the Walt Disney Company - a world in which I would love to live.

Then again, who am I to judge?

From Anthony Murphy
Posted May 16, 2010 at 8:34 PM
James Rao....are you related to me?

We literally agree with EVERYTHING at EPCOT. Now if we can figure out the Jungle Cruise attraction....

From James Rao
Posted May 17, 2010 at 3:13 AM
Anthony, we are all brothers in the great big Double Helix of Life!

Going to brave the Magic Kingdom which should be packed today (due to Evening Magic Hours). Wonder if the kids can make it until 2 AM...

From TH Creative
Posted May 17, 2010 at 5:52 AM
"If only ..."

From Joshua Counsil
Posted May 17, 2010 at 7:36 PM
Before turning your attention to the Jungle Cruise, please do something about that awful Test Track attraction.

From Derek Potter
Posted May 18, 2010 at 5:56 AM
I know James is in his version of heaven...because he posted at 3:13 AM in the morning.

"Wonder if the kids can make it until 2 AM".... Be careful Clark...er... James. If you aren't careful your car might turn into the Wagon Queen Family Truckster.

From Bob Miller
Posted May 18, 2010 at 9:40 AM
Derek, I believe the post times are listed for Pacific Time Zone. That would make James' posting 6:13 AM Eastern Time Zone.

And to help bum your day out James, are you thinking about that long drive back home and going back to work? I know, for that wise crack, your going to make Captain Jack Sparrow give me 100 lashes with a wet noodle and make me ride the Jungle Snooze 50 times next year when Zachary and I get down there again. lol

Also, did you ever figure out how far the trip was one way? And just think James, only 20 more post and you can archive this thread.

From Derek Potter
Posted May 18, 2010 at 11:13 AM
Oh yeah I forgot...and a joke goes out the window.

The drive home from vacation sucks, especially when you leave a place that you love. Just don't take the wrong exit in St. Louis, pay a guy 10 dollars for directions, get your hubcaps stolen, and your car spray painted.

From Bob Miller
Posted May 18, 2010 at 1:02 PM
Boy Derek, do I ever hate the drive back to this coal hole of a little town. Man, talk about getting bummed out after having a fantastic vacation in beautiful sunny Florida. There's nothing but coal dust all over the place, with some doom and gloom thrown in. Why do I stay in this dreary rotten place, simple, one bright, handsome 11 year old grandson and my only child, his mother.

But come the summer of his graduation, and I'm out of this place, and headed to Florida. You know Derek, I tell people down there, that every time I make that turn from I-95 onto I-4 headed to Lake Buena Vista, it's like coming home I love it down there so much. Sorry about your joke.

James, hope you and the family enjoyed the day and vacation, 18 to go.

From James Rao
Posted May 18, 2010 at 1:45 PM
Letting my wife drive for a bit... I was having trouble seeing through my tears. The drive home blows, but if we can get north of Atlanta today then we should make it home late tomorrow evening. Speaking of St Louis, I need to stop at SFStL and process my $49 season passport. Maybe a quick jaunt on Evel Kinevel will cheer me up? Doubt it.

Anyway, I need to post a few overdue musings on DAK before I forget.

Our second day at the park was focused on Africa, Camp Minnie Mickey, and the exhibits around the Tree of Life. We started off the day by getting fastpasses for Kilimanjaro Safaris. These in hand, we explored the Pangani Trail with no other visitors around, just us, some awesome cast members, and the animals. It was amazing. By the time we were done, the masses were starting to arrive, but it was a great start to the day.

At about 9:45 we used our Safari fastpasses and had a great tour, seeing everything but the Cheetahs. My memory may be faulty, but it seems as though the poacher storyline has been minimized to the point that it is just a minor distraction as opposed to the royal choke it once was - anyone know for sure? As an aside, I do love watching folks vainly try to take photos while the ride vehicle lurches and bounces along. Too funny!

We hit Rafiki's Watch next which is fine for your local zoo, but underwhelming for Disney. While there are one or two interesting things to do at the Conservation Station (I especially liked the sounds of the rainforest listening stations), there is just not enough "stuff" to justify the round trip time expense in a park with short hours and better things to do. WDI needs to upgrade this area if they expect me to revisit when I return in 2013.

From the Rafiki area we headed to Pizzafari for lunch, just slightly ahead of the normal lunch rush. The pizza is not great, but the hot Italian sandwich is well above average. And the A/C is a Godsend.

After lunch we watched the Lion King show which is still one of the best theme park shows around. It is certainly the most energetic! From there we headed to the Tough To Be A Bug show, which is truly underrated and underappreciated. This show illicits more audience responses than any other I have seen. I especially love the way unsuspecting and unprepared parents are left struggling to curtail the terrified screams of their younglings! Why do parents just assume because something is Disney it is suitable for all ages? Real parents do their research first, not in the field!

From there we hit Everest and Dinosaur. The Yeti was still in Suck-Mode, but Dinosaur rocked as usual. I love that attraction!

Then we spent the remainder of the day shopping, exploring nature trails, eating snacks (I already posted my egg roll story), and visiting characters. We left at about 5 pm so the kids could swim while we started packing.

Overall, I love Animal Kingdom, but the park could definitely use a little expansion and refurb love. The park's feature attractions (when fully operational) are top notch, but then there's Rafki's Planet Watch and Dino-Rama, easily two of the lamest areas in all of WDW. I would love to see this park receive some DCA type expansion and retheming but for now I would just settle for a working Yeti.

So, while I still harbor a lot of love and respect for the park Joe Rohde imagined, the reality has some serious warts. In the future I can see DAK being a one day touring event for me and mine, especially if the Yeti remains in Choke-mode.

Ahh, we're nearing a rest stop. Time for me to drive again...

1) Josh, I like Test Track, but the upgrade is on the way. Sadly, it is headed to the other coast and DCA. But, rumor has it the new ride system will be tested on Test Track prior to its Radiator Springs implementation.

2) Bob, when I left Port Orleans Riverside (a real fine resort), I had 1400 miles on the trip. I guess it is about 1200+ from my house to WDW.

From James Rao
Posted May 19, 2010 at 3:41 AM
Quick note: during our stop over in Marietta, Georgia, we ate at the Marietta Diner, which was featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins', and Dives. Anyway, it was excellent. Huge portions, good comfort food, great service. I'll upload a few pictures and provide links once I am back home later tonight.

From Bob Miller
Posted May 19, 2010 at 5:58 AM
James, with your fantastic reports,it was just about like being on vacation with you and the family and gave me great comfort here in this coal hole.

Drive carefully and when you get home and have the time to settle down, I have an interesting question for you. What one great moment will you remember with each of your children and wife? Think of something positive, not like that nightmare with Crush.

Also, have you decided about a restaurant yet? I use to do the same thing about going down to Florida ever other year. But then I went down five years straight with Zachary. We'll be going back next year but not to Universal, just Disney stuff. Maybe 2013 if things work out right.

From James Rao
Posted May 19, 2010 at 9:09 PM
Thanks, Bob for following along and providing encouragement. I owe you one more park post then I will finalize everything and give you our family picks for favorite moments during the trip.

On Monday we headed to the Magic Kingdom for one big last push to close out the vacation. The park opened at 9 AM and we had pole position at the right entrance. My kids had a ball joking around with the cast members at the rope and even got to toss out some "pixie dust" when the opening countdown was complete. Then we were off to the races, fast walking down Main Street, giving high/low-fives to Mickey gloved cast members as we past by. It was an exuberant race all the way to our first attraction of the day: Space Mountain. We blasted through the queue and onto the ride, laughing and cheering the whole time. Even after eight straight days of touring we were just as excited as we were on our first day. Man, I love Disney!

After Space Mountain (BTW, the scenes you pass on the conveyor belt that escorts you out of the attraction are some of the highlights of the recent refurb - do take some time to appreciate WDI excellence when you get a chance) we headed to Buzz Lightyear, still a very fun ride. On the way to the shooter we chanced upon Stitch as he was setting up a greet, and my kids all got big hugs and a few minutes of one-on-one before the masses arrived. Anyway, back to Buzz, my daughter somehow bested the whole lot of us, which pleased her to no end. Not sure what she hit, but she was at 100k in the blink of an eye! Good for her I say!

We hung out in Tomorrowland to catch Astro Orbiters. I am not a huge fan of midway spinners, but at least this one has a nice view for the 30 seconds you are on the go. After the ride, I grabbed a Sweet Cream Cheese pretzel from the Lunching Pad per Tim W's recommendation. Nice, but not as good as the pretzel we grabbed in Germany a few days earlier.

After Tomorrowland we rode the Tea Cups just because we were waiting for Toontown to open. Since we were going to be in the park until 2 AM (evening magic hours) I wanted to make sure my kids were able to hit a few meet and greets before the lines became insurmountable. We visited Tinkerbell in Pixie Hollow as well as a few of her friends. The cast members portraying these characters did a great job, and even the boys had a good time (my 12 year old son has no issue with getting to hug pretty young ladies!).

From Toontown we headed all the way across the park to ride Splash and Thunder Mt, and Pirates. I officially proclaim the best touring strategy for these rides is to get a fastpass for Splash, ride Thunder, then ride Pirates. By the time you are done with the first two rides, your fastpasses are ready. Works every time! Once we completed this trifecta of greatness, we hitched a ride on the train, back to the entrance of the park and went to get some lunch at the Contemporary.

After reading TPI regular Amanda's highly favorable reviews of the Contempo Cafe we decided it would be our destination. We arrived at about noon, and despite it being the traditional peak of lunch time there were just a few visitors present (as expected - it is almost always easier to get lunch outside of the theme parks). We ordered our food at self service kiosks, paid, then sat down waiting for our order to be filled. The food was fresh and delicious, definitely a cut above what I was expecting. And the coup de grace was a dulce de leche cupcake that was out of this world good! I second Amanda's recommendation of the Contempo Cafe.

We walked around the resort for a bit, digesting our food, then took the monorail back to the park (we wanted the extra time to power nap before setting out again).

Long story short, we made it until 2 AM and between our two days of visiting the Magic Kingdom we hit most every attraction in the park. It was a great adventure, worthy of the most stalwart of theme park junkies. I was proud of the kids for making it through and proud of myself for keeping it all together. We may have all been a bit hung over the next day, but it was a good hangover, the aftermath of a day well spent. It was probably the best time I have had at the Magic Kingdom since I first visited with my two boys in 2005. And I consider it quite an accomplishment to have spent almost 17 hours in one theme park in one visit!

Some notes...

- The Plaza Restaurant is an excellent hidden treasure. The prices are decent, the food very good (Plaza Club stands out if you ask me, but my wife's chicken salad with fresh strawberries was a welcomed surprise), the service top notch, and the desserts (made in the Main Street ice cream parlor) wonderful. Fed the whole family (including dessert) for $65. Thought it was a steal, to be honest. Best full service option in the Magic Kingdom, if you ask me.

- After visiting the Stitch attraction a couple times I think it has some promise. Don't get me wrong, it still sucks, but there are moments when I think I can see what the Imagineers were trying to do, and if they could somehow harness and enhance those moments this attraction could be a lot of fun. My kids love Stitch so I would sure like the attraction to be improved, but I doubt it is a high priority for WDI right now.

- One last thing: during Magic Hours almost every ride was a walk on during the last hour except Peter Pan. Now, I love this attraction, but what gives? A thirty minute wait at 1:30 in the morning? Puh-lease!

Okay, nearing Eureka. Have to go get my Six Flags season pass, steal a ride on EK, then drive the rest of the way home. Will finish things up tomorrow and post some photo links as well.

TTFN!

EDIT: SFStL Update.
I picked up my Six Flags St Louis season pass on the drive home and made a quick sweep of the park in the process. I did notice that some of the parking lot area had finally been repaved, which is nice. I also noticed that the entry plaza looked fairly presentable with some nice landscaping and clean walkways. In fact most all of the walkways were tidy, which was a pleasant surprise. However, my hopes were dashed when I realized the rest of the part looks to be the same pit it was when I visited in 2008. I only took time to visit two attractions: Mr. Freeze and Evel Knievel. Despite rumors to the contrary, Freeze still looks like sh*t. Yes, the track itself looks a little better thanks to some off season repainting, but the queue and grounds are still dilapidated and weed infested. They may have cut the weeds down a bit, but they are still there, and starting to grow wild once again. EK looks old before its time with faded wood and unkempt grounds (weeds again). Interestingly enough one of the ride ops at EK asked me to spit out my gum, which I did (in the trash can, of course). I then mentioned to the ride op that I thought it was funny how Six Flags will try to put a stop to gum graffiti but they won't do anything about weeds. She looked at me like I was insane. Oh well, maybe I am... Anyway, more on Six Flags later once I visit for "real" in late June. But for now, my first impression of 2010 was not a good one.

From James Rao
Posted May 20, 2010 at 5:43 AM
Okay, made it home. Sad to be back, but already thinking about my next WDW trip (potentially 2013) and all the new stuff that will be in place. I can't wait! =)

Some final notes, and then later on I will give a final wrap up and see if I can post a few picture links as I have been promising.

On our final day in Orlando, after we had checked out of the resort, we headed to Hollywood Studios to catch the newly refurbished Muppet 3D show. Honestly, I am not familiar enough with the show (in truth, I kind of hate Muppets) to be a reliable source, but it seemed to be pretty much the same show as I remembered seeing in 2007. The film was very crisp, so maybe they got a new print or something, and the whole theater looked brand new, but otherwise, I noticed nothing different about the show itself. I think the preshow was totally redone, but I didn't find it to be terribly engrossing. Perhaps a Muppets fan would be better to comment?

We also grabbed a final ride on Star Tours (farewell, old friend) and ended our vacation with a trip on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (simply one of the best attractions at any theme park). We then headed out and started the drive home.

As we were leaving, we picked up a few snacks. I bought another Carrot Cake Cookie from the Writer's Stop (awesome), and the kids got some popcorn from a stand near TH Creative's Giant Hat. We went ahead and bought the souvenir bucket because it had a lid which would be helpful in the car. As I finished paying, my oldest was swinging around his popcorn and he dropped it - totally his fault. A small amount of popcorn spilled out. The cast member in the stand, seeing the accident, called me back and FILLED up another regular popcorn box and GAVE it to us. Now, I know the popcorn is tremendously overcharged and that financially Disney still made money off me, but this gesture was one more reminder of the level of dedication most Disney cast members seem to have to making your day at the parks a real winner. It wasn't a huge deal, but it was enough to send me on my way smiling....

From Don Neal
Posted May 20, 2010 at 7:36 AM
Hey James,

We are all big muppet fans and are looking forward to the refurb to whatever degree it updated it. I'll try not to let your poor taste in puppets taint my opinion of you. ;)

Thanks for all the great updates and 5/29 can't get here fast enough! :P

From Dan Babbitt
Posted May 20, 2010 at 10:08 PM
At muppets they replaced the old projector with a new digital projector so I've been hearing and you have confirmed it that the show now looks crisp and "new".

Some new things I've been hearing too is that Disney has ok'ed the Monster Inc. Roller Coaster. But they dont when it will start but they want it up by 2014. But again a rumor among cast members and friends in maintance and noticing all the enigineers and Imagineers walking around DHS.

Star Tours will be down for its major retheming and refurb on September 8th and will go to next years Star Wars the weekend so next june!

Power Rangers will be leaving sadly on August 7th due to the recen sale of the franchise can this mean Marvel characters taking over the spot? Lotso from Toy Story 3 has replaced UP characters in the Magic of Disney Animation.

Captain EO starts July 2 at EPCOT.

From James Rao
Posted May 20, 2010 at 6:48 PM
Great updates, Dan.

I too have an update: after going through all my snail mail, home email, and work email, I won't have enough time to finalize this thread tonight as I planned (I have to watch two episodes of LOST before the finale this weekend!). So, leave me at least one post in which to comment (don't get to 100 posts without me!) and I will finish up this weekend.

Thanks!

From Robert Niles
Posted May 20, 2010 at 10:50 PM
I'll save a post here for James, if needed.

From James Rao
Posted May 21, 2010 at 10:07 PM
Okay, gang, time to wrap up this thread. I appreciate all the encouragement and comments. Thanks for following along on our travels. It was nice having you around!

Bob Miller asked a couple of good questions: 1) what was our favorite dining experience on this trip, and 2) what were our favorite moments, you know, the times we will remember for years and years. Good questions, and I will try to answer both in my typical long-winded fashion!

Honestly, our favorite dining experience during the whole trip was at the Fairpark Grill in Tupelo, Mississippi, on the drive down to Florida. The food, service, and atmosphere were amazing. I highly recommend this restaurant to all travelers.

However, I am pretty sure Bob was inquiring about our favorite dining spot at WDW. Well, everyone in the family had something different for an answer, so I have decided to go park by park and summarize all the good things about each visit.

We'll start with Wild Adventures, a Herschend park in Valdosta, Georgia. While this park is not up to the level of Herschend's top dogs (Dollywood & Silver Dollar City), it did sport a few surprises, not the least of which was a wooden coaster called Cheetah, one of the smoothest wooden coasters I have ever ridden. Wild Adventures also featured the best corn dogs I have ever tasted. Hand-dipped and fried while you wait, these foot-long beauties set a new standard for greasy goodness. This park is also home to a variety of animal exhibits most of which are out dated and in dire need of refurbishment. However, the Lorikeet Aviary was a welcome surprise, one of the best Lorikeet feeding areas I have visited. Lastly, Wild Adventures' shoot-the-chutes ride sports the biggest splashdown I have witnessed on this type of ride. Honestly, after one circuit everyone on the boat was completely drenched. Sure, shoot-the-chutes kind of suck, but at least this one delivers when it comes to getting riders soaked.

Now, for the Disney parks...

Animal Kingdom used to be my favorite Disney park. However, with a broken Yeti and two areas that are far below Disney standards (Rafiki's Planet Watch & Dinoland, U.S.A.), DAK has dropped down my list a bit. Still, I am one of the few people who think DAK, because it has comparatively short hours and conflicting show schedules, is a two-day park despite its fairly limited attraction slate. Additionally, there is a wealth of enjoyment to be had if you like zoos and you like to explore. Sure there are the headliners like Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, and Kilmanjaro Safaris, but there are also some great shows and animal exhibits for those willing to venture off the beaten path. Festival of the Lion King was the consensus favorite of my family. Easily one of the most energetic and acrobatic shows at any theme park, FotLK never fails to bring a smile to my face. We also enjoyed leisurely strolls down both the Pangani Forest Trail and the Maharajah Jungle Trek where we saw a variety of animals including a baby gorilla and some very cool bats. And the area around the Tree of Life features a wealth of cool animal exhibits and decorative touches worth a good 20 - 30 minutes of your time. As for the park's food options, Pizzafari is a good value, and the Yak & Yeti counter service stand has a few decent items for a slightly higher budget. But our favorite food was the jalapeno cheese stuffed pretzel from the Safari Pretzel stand on Discovery Island (as well as the Harambe fruit stand). Yummy!

Moving on to DHS... now, here is a park I think can be accomplished in a half day, especially if you have already seen most of the unchanging shows. However, my kids liked DHS the best, probably because it sports the finest collection of headliner rides and features Star Wars, which is just as popular with my kids today as it was with me back in 1977. Of course, there are the big dogs, Tower of Terror and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, but the addition of Toy Story Midway Mania has pushed DHS over the top. From its highly immersive queue to its unexpectedly addicting game play, this attraction exceeded all expectations to become my favorite shooting gallery ride. I guess it proves that you can never judge a Disney attraction until you have experienced it, because I sure thought TSMM was gonna be a real yawner. Boy was I wrong! We also enjoyed the Jedi Training Academy as well as our final rides on the current version of the Star Tours attraction (which may be dated looking, but is still a fun experience). Of course some of the shows like Lights! Motors! Action! and Fantasmic! are brilliant every time, but a few others (Indiana Jones, Little Mermaid, and Beauty & the Beast) are getting a bit long in the tooth. As for the food, Starring Rolls Cafe is the best counter service option, but for just a few bucks more, why not have lunch at the Prime Time Cafe? The service and atmosphere are a lot of fun, and the food is actually quite good. But most of all, the Peanut Butter & Jelly milkshake is worth every calorie. However, the best dessert at DHS is the Carrot Cake Cookie sold at the Writer's Stop. Even if you don't like carrot cake, you have to try this cookie - it is wonderful! And to top it all off (pun intended), there is always TH Creative's Huge Hat... man, it sure looks pretty at night. =)

As usual, I am going on quite a bit, so I will finish up with Epcot and the Magic Kingdom in the morning. Gotta hit the sack. Getting back to work today was a real pain in the you-know-what. The first day back after a Disney trip is NEVER fun. So goodnight for now. I will finish up tomorrow!

From James Rao
Posted May 22, 2010 at 8:17 AM
It is a beautiful morning here in Missouri, so rather than go outside and work in the yard which I should do, I will continue this diary and work toward closing out my wonderful WDW vacation once and for all!

Now where was I? Oh, yeah, the Magic Kingdom, the most popular theme park in the world. We had quite a bit of fun at this park even going so far as to stay for Evening Magic Hours (until 2 AM) on our final night in Florida. Wow, I still have a hard time believing we made it until 2 AM!

Anyway, both times we visited MK, the tour started with Space Mountain, an attraction reinvigorated by its recent $12 million refurb. Not only are the entry and exit queues attractions unto themselves, but the coaster itself is much darker, crisper, smoother, and more thrilling. The updates may not have been what everyone expected or hoped for, but the Imagineers did a good job with the time and budget they had at their disposal. We probably rode Space Mountain ten times during our two visits to the Magic Kingdom. It was definitely my kids' favorite at the park.

My favorite attraction, of course, is Splash Mountain. With its multiple, fun drops, entertaining animatronics, and great music, I happen to believe this flume ride is the best in the world (at least it is the best in my little world). It may not be the most thrilling (Rip Saw Falls probably wins that honor), but it is the most complete. I never tire of riding it.

I also never tire of updates and upgrades to Disney parks, as it seems there is almost always some "new" adventure being created. To my point, the Fantasyland expansion was showing real signs of life during our visit as refurb walls displaying concept art of the expansion stretched across the expanse of Fantasyland. Despite the breadth of work being accomplished, the construction never interfered with our dose of Disney Magic, but instead enhanced it with posters featuring details of upcoming A-list attractions, like the Little Mermaid ride. I am definitely looking forward to the changes and can't wait for the eventual upgrades to Adventureland and Tomorrowland. They may be years, even decades away, but in my lifetime I do hope to see something better than the out dated adventures offered by the Jungle Cruise (Don't worry kids! That zebra is just sleeping. Those lions are his friends!) and the lame midway amusements of the Tomorrowland Speedway.

Something else that was refurbished since our last visit in 2007 was the Hall of Presidents. While this show is still the best place in the park to take an afternoon break from the heat, it is also a much improved attraction. The recent updates are welcome, especially Morgan Freeman's voice over. I also appreciate the fact that the new "Obama Speech" is generic enough that it can be easily adapted to the next President in the club, which should limit the attraction's downtime after the next Presidential election. ;) Most importantly, I am happy to report that there was neither booing nor cheering (nor snoring) during the showing I visited. Maybe the public is finally learning that manners are important?

The nice thing about spending so much time in the Magic Kingdom is that we even had time for the secondary diversions like visiting the under-appreciated Tom Sawyer Island, touring on the riverboat, spending a few bucks at the Frontierland Shooting Gallery, and visiting character meet and greets. A real highlight during our adventures was getting to see both Mickey and Minnie as we explored ToonTown Fair one last time before it is swept away forever. The best part? Minnie gave me not one, but TWO big kisses during the meet! Sure its silly, but I was beaming like a school boy about to embark on summer vacation.

As for foodstuffs, we definitely took time out to enjoy the sublime tastes of the amazing Dole Pineapple Float from the Aloha Isle Snack Shop, which is perhaps the greatest dessert invention known to man. However, our most surprising dining experience was at the Plaza Restaurant on our final night in the park. The prices are decent, the food very good, the service top notch, and the desserts (made in the Main Street ice cream parlor) are wonderful. I recommend it highly to all my TPI friends. The biggest food disappointment? Casey's hot dogs. The new chicken and beef dogs just taste funky. Bring back my all beef dawgs, Disney, please!

Ultimately, though, the finest moment of our adventures at the Magic Kingdom was the unexplainable feeling that "we were home." That odd sense of belonging that comes with the nostalgia of Walt Disney's fictional Main Street, USA. Furthermore, no matter how many times I visit this park, my first view of the castle at the end of Main Street never ceases to bring tears to my eyes and send my heart all a-fluttering. And that final view of the castle as you depart...just breathtaking.

Yikes! Too long again! I'll finish up with Epcot (my favorite park) later on today after I do a little work in the yard. See you in a bit!

From Nick Markham
Posted May 22, 2010 at 10:16 AM
Hey James, did Mickey Mouse actually talk when he greeted you guys? I know a talking one has been placed in ToonTown in Disneyland but I have not heard if one is in WDW.

From James Rao
Posted May 22, 2010 at 10:46 PM
No, Nick, Mickey was, uh, quiet as a mouse. However, if he could talk he probably would have told me to keep my hands off his lady! ;)

On to EPCOT, the best theme park in the universe!

I've written so much about Epcot already in this thread that there is not much else to say. Look, it is impossible to accomplish the whole park in a day. Even two days. There is just a wealth of things to do, see, taste, and enjoy. Sure, I would love to see a few more World Showcase attractions, a new Imagination Pavilion, and a resurrection of Wonders of Life, but even with those warts, Epcot stands tall as the best, most unique theme park I have experienced.

Probably the most surprising aspect of Epcot for us was just how much fun we had at each of the Innoventions pavilions. Whether we were designing a thrill ride at the Sum of All Thrills, learning how to save money at the Great Piggy Bank Adventure, pushing around a garbage truck at the Don't Waste It exhibit, or chasing criminals around the World Showcase in the Kim Possible adventures, we had a blast. Do not underestimate these exhibits especially if you have 5 to 14 year-olds in your party. Also, do not underestimate how entertaining and immersive the Seas Pavilion can be for your family. Other than the previously discussed "Crush Debacle" we had a blast touring all the exhibits in the Seas. We even found a not so hidden Mickey....

One other point about Epcot that cannot be stressed enough: talk to the cast members in the World Showcase. We had such a great time learning about other countries just by initiating conversations. And, incidentally, most of the cast members we spoke with were brimming with questions for us about where we live, so there was a nice quid pro quo at work. You never know, someone may even take the time to teach you a new skill, like how to use chopsticks!

I also like to see that there is quite a bit of change going on in the World Showcase. Work is ongoing to expand and improve the counter service restaurant in Mexico, and construction walls are up in Italy where the new pizza joint is being built. They say good pizza is all about the water, well then, this new pizza place should be wonderful since they are importing the water straight from Italy!

And you may or may not know it, but Epcot has some excellent rides. Test Track and Soarin' are probably the best known and are therefore always packed with people. Sure, they are both fun and accessible, however I'll take Mission: Space (Orange) and Spaceship Earth over those two headliners any day. Regardless of your favorites you have to give WDI a lot of credit for designing such a great theme park and yet not including even one roller coaster. Maybe Six Flags and Cedar Fair should take note? Epcot debunks the myth that a theme park needs uber coasters to have uber attendance.

Then there is the food. Wow. I once read in the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World that going to Epcot without a dinner reservation is like going to prom without a date. How apropos! I love the food at Epcot, and without fail everything we tried was several levels above traditional theme park food. Even the candy bars sold in the various World Showcase pavilions are delicious! There are several bakeries to choose from and all of them serve wonderful food too, like this platter from the Norway bakery featuring a Ham & Apple sandwich, Lefse, and School Bread. And as I mentioned in a previous post, the pretzels in Germany are to die for! However, the finest dining experience we had during our WDW vacation was in the Japan Pavilion at Tokyo Dining. The service and setting were amazing and the tempura platter was just as good as any tempura restaurant I have ever visited. Not to mention the Green Tea Pudding we had for dessert. Yum! The picture just does not do it justice. Oh, and I almost forgot: Kaki Gori is to Epcot what the Dole Whip is to the Magic Kingdom: the perfect dessert to savor while waiting for the fireworks to begin!

Now, for all you TPI regulars, here's a tip from me to you. For an afternoon snack, leave Epcot through the International Gateway and head over to the Beach Club resort. Stop by a little ice cream parlor called Beaches & Cream. Get a No Way Jose or a Milky Way sundae and thank me later for the advice. You won't regret it. I know we didn't!

And who can beat the Illuminations night time spectacular that ends one's day at Epcot? Honestly, stake out an unobstructed view at the front of the World Showcase about an hour before the show starts and wait patiently. If you like fireworks shows, you will love Illuminations. It is about as good as it gets, IMHO.

While I don't think Epcot is a perfect theme park (there's too much drinking, too many attractions that require updates or replacement, and too much unrealized potential), but I do think it comes as close to perfection as any park can in this day and age of greed and the iron-fisted rule of the almighty dollar.

I love Epcot!

From James Rao
Posted May 22, 2010 at 11:19 PM
Well that about does it for me.

I want to thank all of you who followed along on this adventure for your thoughtful commentary and encouragement. And for your patience - I do tend to go on a bit! Sorry about that!

I also want to thank Stephanie Hudson at MEI-Mouse Fan travel for booking our trip, and Len Testa and his Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World for all his touring plan advice. Additionally, I need to extend my gratitude to the hosts of the WDW Today podcast (Matt, Mike, Mike, the aforementioned Len, and Annette) as well as Lou Mongello of WDW Radio Show podcast - you all keep me going in the long years between WDW visits!

Incidentally, if you are interested in the touring plans I used for my trip, you should be able to view them at the links provided (just input the date you will be attending a given park and the plan will be built for you):
Animal Kingdom Day One
Animal Kingdom Day Two
Epcot Day One
Epcot Day Two
Hollywood Studios Day One
Hollywood Studios Day Two
Magic Kingdom Day One
Magic Kingdom Day Two

I also want to single out and thank Robert Niles for providing such a great venue for my theme park hobby, and for allowing me the freedom to post my reviews and opinions in such a fashion.

Thanks must go to the man himself, Walt Disney, without whom none of this would be possible!

And finally, here are a few more miscellaneous photos for your enjoyment (I hope):

Our meal at the Contempo Cafe - yummy and reasonably priced.
Our dessert at the Contempo Cafe - even yummier (Dulce de Leche cupcakes).
We tried a variety of sandwiches from the Earl himself.
Kona Cafe's Tonga Toast.
Kona Cafe's Macadamia Pineapple Pancakes.
A surprise left in our resort room by housekeeping.
On our return home, we stopped at the Marietta Diner near Atlanta, Georgia, and it was wonderful.

One last note: if I had to pick an absolute favorite moment - just one - from my whole trip, I think it would be the very first day we attended a Disney theme park. We were standing in line waiting to get into the park when my 12-year old pulled me aside and said: "It is hard not to cry. I just can't believe we are finally here. Thanks, Dad." It was probably the single greatest moment of my ten day visit.

Regards!

From Bob Miller
Posted May 23, 2010 at 1:26 PM
Well James, this fantastic thread is coming to an end, I enjoyed it very much. And what a great ending with the story about your son.

It's what I've always said about Disney World, it must be seen through the eyes of a child. And may we as grown-ups never lose that sight. Tell your son that even a old man like me gets tears in his eyes every time I look down Main Street and see the Castle and realize, "I'm Home".

From Dan Babbitt
Posted May 27, 2010 at 12:01 PM
James great trip reports! I couldnt wait to get on everyday and see what you did during your trip!

Also it was great to meet you!

From Bob Miller
Posted May 30, 2010 at 3:26 PM
James, I've been waiting for you to finish off the thread, but since you haven't, I'll ask one last question. But before I do, I bet your glad this long week was over and your enjoying the holiday weekend.

Now for the question. In retrospect, what one thing would you have changed in your vacation and don't say make it longer. Zachary and I are still fine tuning our trip for next year and we may add Harry Potter if the reviews stay good.

From James Rao
Posted May 31, 2010 at 5:52 AM
I did everything I wanted, no regrets, no revisions. I honestly think it was the perfect vacation. ;)

However, if I had to choose one thing to change, I would not have stopped at SFStL on the way home to get my season pass. After the beauty and glory of Disney, Six Flags is just too much of a let down.

And with that comment, we are done. Happy travels to all!

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