Saturday, July 12, 2008

Early and Late

It might sound like the name of a convenience store, but Early and Late is actually my theme park survivial strategy now that we're in the middle of the peak season. Going at any other time is asking to be caught in the midst of crowds that rival a Japanese commuter train. Fastpasses for the popular rides disappear by noon, and wait times soar higher than a loose Mickey balloon.

If you get to a park first thing in the morning, you can grab a Fastpass for one of the must-sees, like Soarin' at Epcot or Toy Story Mania at Disney Hollywood Studio. My personal mission is usually to get to Epcot for rope drop, position myself to head directly to Soarin', and to catch a quick ride before grabbing that precious Fastpass. A lot of people go for the FP first, but in the time that they are getting it the line swells from 0 to 30 minutes or more. If you ride first, you can usually still get a decent return time, meaning that you've worked in two rides instead of just one.

On a morning not too long ago, I lucked out and managed three rides. I was there right at rope drop, in a prime position right at the front. I joined the massive pack of humanity in following the phlanx of Cast Members over to the Land pavillion, down the stairs, and to the Soarin' queue. So many people bailed to the Fastpass machines that I was literally the second person in line, with a kid in front of me (not sure where his parents were...maybe sleeping back at the hotel after a night of partying at Pleasure Island?).

As we marched down to the farthest loading area, I noticed a group of smiling Dream Team members waiting for us. Mind you, I've seen them many, many times before but it's always been when they were giving away something to the car in front of me or behind me on whatever ride I happened to be on. This time, they said, "Lucky! First ones to ride. And you're even more lucky because you win a prize."

My brain, which never fires on all its cylinders early in the morning anyway, was having a hard time comprehending this turn of events. They handed out Dream Fastpasses to everyone in our loading area. I accepted mine speechlessly...I'm not even sure I was able to mumble out a "thank you." I had seen so many guests wearing this coveted prize around their necks over the last year and a half. Now, finally, I had joined their ranks.

After my ride, I rushed over to the Fastpass machines and got one for a doable return time. Then I checked out the standby line, but it had already surpasses any semblence of reason. Oh well, no matter...I just snapped off my Dream Fastpass time and took another quick spin. Pure Heaven! Then I killed time on Test Track and a couple of the other rides till it was time for my regular Fastpass and headed home in great contentment, having had a surprise bonus ride.

Since I'm not much of an early bird, another trick I've learned is to head to Epcot at closing time, particularly on the days when the temperatures rival a furnace and the humidity requires you to dog paddle rathter than walk. All but the most hardy souls usually drop out, and most of those who remain are at World Showcase for Illuminations. Thus you might find a 30 minute line for Soarin' as opposed to an hour and a half earlier on a peak season day.

It's nice to be local because I can just pop in the car and head over at closing time. If I go a little earlier, I can fit in Spaceship Earth and a single rider spin on Test Track. Sadly, SSE has lost quite a bit of its appeal for me since they dumbed down the narration. Instead of Jeremy Irons' deep voice intoning an intelligent script, Judy Dench yammers lines like, "Wasn't it easy to learn your ABCs? Thank the Phonecians" or "Wouldn't it be nice to have a computer in your house? Problem is, they're as big as your house!" (Referring to the old models.) While I'm paraphrasing, the actual lines are just as lame.

But hey, you get a personalized Esurance-style commercial at the end, so I guess that's a bonus. I'll have to ride it at least a few more times so I can run through all the different selection options and see the different versions.

I thought that rainy days might make my end-of-day plan even more successful, but unfortunately it's just the opposite. If it's been raining for most of the day, apparently all the crowds that were holed up in their hotel rooms will flock to the parks as soon as it stops, no matter how late that might be. At Epcot, they realize they'd have to really hustle to make it to the back of the park for Illuminations so instead they flock in an endless herd of sheeple to Soarin'. After trying this strategy once, I quickly learned that it's pointless...better to stick to the hot, sunny days where the crowd is apparently thinned out by heat stroke by day's end.

Soon enough summer will be a fleeting memory, and the September lull will be here. In the meantime, I'll stick to my early and late policy; while it's not as much fun as marathon riding, at least it's enough of my "fix" to keep me from going into withdrawal symptoms.

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