Friday, September 07, 2007

Spoiled Rotten Local

My trip to Epcot tonight really underscored just how spoiled I've gotten as a local. Living in Celebration, less than 15 minutes from the park and able to visit at virtually any time of the year, I rarely will join a ride line that is over 20 minutes long. Summertime typically brings hour to two hour wait times on the most popular attractions, but I simply avoid that whole mess. I either go very early in the morning or wait a couple of months till the off season.

Labor Day week is typically one of the slowest times at Disney World. I had to work last night, but my hubby buzzed over to Epcot to see Illuminations. Amazingly, he discovered that the Soarin' line was only 20 minutes, so he slipped in a trio of rides before the fireworks.

I hadn't ridden Soarin' for months, since in the summer a two hour wait is the norm. In a way that's ironic since it's actually a rather simple ride. At its core, it's an Imax movie combined with motion seating. You sit in one of three sections which are then elevated to form three tiers. As you watch the movie, the seats move in synch with the on-screen motion and you're surrounded with appropriate smells, like oranges when you're over the groves and pine trees as you buzz the forest. You really lose yourself in the experience, although if you are in rows two or three the feet of your fellow riders above you will distract you a bit.

The movie has various scene of California, including the Golden Gate Bridge, snow skiing, rafting, golfing, hang gliding, horseback riding, rock climbing, hot air balloons, orange groves, surfing in the ocean, and landing on an air craft carrier. It's all set to a powerful musical score. I love it so much that I bought a 2-CD collection just to get that one song. It's one of the few rides where people often break into spontaneous applause at the end.

As far as amusement park attractions go, it's really a simple concept. It has no thrills or chills unless you happen to be deathy afraid of heights, and even then you don't really see just how high you are (also, you could also request row three, which doesn't go nearly as high). Yet for all its simplicity, people love it. As I mentioned earlier, in the peak season its lines are downright ridiculous.

Hubby's description of his rides on the previous night, coupled with a Soarin' t-shirt that he'd bought me, whet my appetite to ride my favorite Epcot attraction very soon. I thought perhaps on Friday the park would still be relatively uncrowded, so after dinner I donned my new t-shirt in honor of our intent and we headed over.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be Extra Magic Hours at Epcot, meaning that it was open later exclusively for Disney resort guests. Since Magic Kingdom closed early due to Night of Joy (a Christian music event), virtually every person on Disney property seemed to be heading to Epcot instead. When we arrived, the line for Soarin' was 55 minutes. As a local, I just couldn't bring myself to wait that long.

Feeling rather disgruntled, I suggested that we ride Test Track via the singles line. It's a lot shorter than standby, but your group is split up and rides in different vehicles that need a "filler person." After that, we checked the ride times, and Soarin' had dropped to 45 minutes, but that was still above my comfort zone. I was hoping that the time would plummet as people headed to World Showcase to see Illuminations, but I wasn't placing any bets on it.

We happened to be near the fountain, which performs a water show choreographed to music every 15 minutes. They use a variety of songs, which are rotated at random, but my all-time favorite is "Standing in Motion" by Yanni. Amazingly, I lucked out as that was the selection of this quarter-hour. I stood transfixed as the water "danced" to the strains of my favorite Yanni song. Sadly, none of the people walking by even noticed what was going on. There was a thing of beauty right in front of them, but they were more worried about getting to their next destination than pausing for a moment, catching their breath, and admiring a thing of quiet and peaceful beauty.

After the fountain show we hiked over to "Turtle Talk With Crush," my second favorite Epcot attraction. It had been moved to a larger theater since the last time we'd seen it. I love it because it is very innovative. Crush actually talks to the audience in real-time, picking up specific people in the audience and answering specific questions. He tends to be quick witted, too, so depending on the audience, sometimes it is hilarious. Tonight the audience was rather dead; kids kept raising their hands to ask questions, but then they would suddenly clam up when presented with the microphone. Oh well, I still enjoyed it.

Next up, we headed to the Land pavillion, home of the ever-popular Soarin', to see if the wait times were still ugly. Supposedly the wait had dropped to 35 minutes. As a spoiled rotten local, it pained me to wait for over half an hour. Still, it was either that or miss my favorite ride entirely. Reluctantly I joined the line.

A few months back, some Disney rocket scientist had the "brilliant" idea to add interactive games to the Soarin' queue. You stand in front of the screens and control them with your body motion. Unfortunately that means that even though the rest of the people ahead of you have gone on, you block everyone else as you sway or swat or whatever the game requires. I would think Disney would want to find ways to move the line faster, not to gum it up even more.

A sheep herd of people was engrossed in playing, but others were just blowing past them and hubby and I joined the passers, which probably cut 5 to 10 minutes off our wait. The players were so hypnotized that I doubt they even noticed.

It took less than half an hour in total from the time we entered the line till the time our ride vehicle rose into the air. Soon I was engrossed in the smell of oranges, which always flashes me back to my defunct favorite, Horizons. I love the part of the sountrack best when you're gliding over the orange groves and then over a mountain where a group of horseback riders gallops down the train and the you pass over a group of rock climbers.

The park was open till 9 for non-Extra Magic guests. When we climbed off the ride, it was 8:57 so we sprinted like Olympic track starts to be first out of the theater and to cover the long hallway it record time to get just one more ride. We made it by the skin of our teeth, and this time around the line was almost non-existent. How wonderful to finish off the day with an encore Soarin' performance.

I was surprised that several people noticed my Soarin' t-shirt. Two were Cast Members, and the rest were fellow guests waiting in line with us. I'm so glad hubby found it; I just love how it incorporates all of the movie scenes.

As we headed out of the pavillion after our bonus ride, we saw that nearly every person in the park was heading to the Land. I wouldn't be surprised if Soarin's wait didn't boost up to near an hour again. We had probably managed our second ride with such a short line because Illuminations was just starting at nine. As we left, it was no doubt the post-Illuminations crowd all pouring in.

On our way to the car, I pondered just what a spoiled little local I have become. Once upon a time, I would have been estatic to see a 35 minute wait on a ride as popular as Soarin'. Now, I could barely convince myself to wait that long; after all, I could return to Epcot pretty much whenever I wanted to, choosing a day in the dead season or perhaps an evening when a thunderstorm had driven everybody back to their hotels before blowing out and leaving Disney World ripe for a local take-over.

When I go to bed tonight, I'll have to be sure to say a prayer of thanks. It's truly a privilege to live in Celebration; what is only a yearly vacation for most people, or maybe just a once in a lifetime experience, is an anytime adventure for me. Here I was miffed about the long waiting time for Soarin', but I'm sure there were many people who had to choice but to wait as they won't be returning anytime soon. Living next door to Disney World is a blessing that I have to learn not to take for granted. It's the most wonderful feeling in the world to live in a town where you can pretend that you are on vacation all year 'round.

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