Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Segway Kind of Day

The Segway was the "personal transporter" that was supposed to revolutionize the world and have entire cities designed around it. I don't know what drugs its inventors were taking to come up with that fantasy, but of course it never happened. Who wants to tool around on a two-wheeled device in the winter or in a rainy climate like Florida? If you're a city dweller in a place like Chicago or New York, do you really think anyone will get out of your way so you can crank your Segway up to its 12 mph top speed? Can you realistically carry a heck of a lot while riding one?

Just as I suspected when I first heard about it, it's been relegated to the status of a novelty item. That's not to say they're not run to ride. I rode the old style several times on Disney's cruise ships and their island, Castaway Cay, when they used to offer it. Hubby and I also tried to take the World Showcase tour at Epcot (also on the old style), but it rained out so we only got an abbreviated version.

Now Segways have been upgraded to a more intuitive, easier to turn model. Better yet, they have one with rough-terrain tires that is used on tours of Disney's Fort Wilderness. Hubby and I have been planned to go on that tour ever since it was announced last year, and we finally got around to it this morning. I think what whet our appetite and finally pushed us into doing it was doing the free "sample" ride in Innoventions at Epcot. It had been a while since we'd been on a Segway, and it left us wanting more.

There are two departures on the day it's offered, but we chose the early one (8:30 a.m.) hoping to beat any afternoon rain. That meant waking up at a bleary-eyed 7 a.m., parking at the front of the campground, and taking an internal bus back to the Mickey's Backyard Barbeque Pavillion, which also happens to be the meeting point.

We made good time and were the first arrivals. We signed releases, chose helmets and stashed out stuff into the carrying pack and our Segways. Our fellow tour guests trickled in; the tour can accommodate 10, and we happened to have eight on this fine (but humid) morning.

Below is the logo on the Segways and a picture of the Segways themselves:

Before you head off onto the roads and back trails of Fort Wilderness, you watch a safety video and go through some practice like veering around cones and heading up and down inclines. Our two guides, Ron and Robert, made sure that everyone felt comfortable before we headed out. They also passed out bottles of water, which were quite welcome once we got out into the heat. While much of the area you ride in is shaded, the July humidity will still sweat you into dehydration.
There were some photo stops along the way. Here are hubby and I, with Space Moutain and the Contemporary in the far background.

Below are our guides, Robert and Ron.

We also went through a camp loop and stopped at the Tri Circle D Ranch to see the horses and some equine memorabilia, as seen below:

The white ponies in the distance below pull Cinderella's Coach when they are not relaxing. We saw them at the Grand Floridian the other day, harnessed to the coach, for a wedding.

Here was another scenic point at the edge of Bay Lake:

Below is some of the forest overhang. While some of the roads were paved, we also took dirt trails between the marsh areas and did a bit of optional off-roading (I think everyone took that option!). The Segways are governed at 6 mph so you can't do anything too crazy, but those thick tires certainly handle tree roots, pine cones, dirt ruts, and sand without any problems.

We also visited the Wilderness Lodge, where it was quite amusing to see the surprised looks on guests' faces as we headed around the exterior areas of the hotel. In addition to riding and sightseeing, Ron and Robert hit us up with lots of Disney trivia questions. They had plenty of silly jokes, too, reminiscent of the Jungle Cruise. It was most definitely a Disney experience!
The tour is billed as lasting two hours, and it does indeed go the whole time. Of course, some time in the beginning is devoted to the training, but you're out on the trails by 9. There are restroom facilities at the start of the tour and also a stop near the facilities outside of Hoop De Doo, although no one needed to go at that point. Other than that, you won't hit anymore restrooms till the end of the tour, but no one seemed to be too desperate.
Both hubby and I had a blast. While you don't ride full tilt or do anything crazy, you do zip along at a good pace and have a couple of opportunities to off-road for brief periods. You see some lovely trails that most people who visit Fort Wilderness miss, and the guides will explain the various flora and fauna along the way.
No one in our group seemed to have much trouble mastering the Segways. One couple seemed a little unsteady early on, but by the time it was over they appeared to have built up their comfort level. Both hubby and I had no problems at all, since we've had previous experience. The only thing we had to get used to was turning bike-style vs. using the knob on one handle on the older models. The new Segways are a huge improvement, and the off-road tires feel very steady even on bumpy terrain.
At the end of the tour, we all received pins to commemorate our experience. I couldn't believe how quickly it had flown by! I want to do the whole World Showcase tour sans rain, but it will probably seem relatively tame compared to a Fort Wilderness jaunt.
We had made 11:30 reservations for lunch at Garden Grill in Epcot's Land Pavillion. We knew the park would be insanely busy, so we harbored no illusions about getting a Soarin' Fastpass for any decent return time. But amazingly, even tho' we arrived at a little after 11, we got a 1:15 return time! That is almost unheard of in July. Indeed, the standby line was "only" 50-60 minutes. That might sound like a lot until you compared it with the usual 120-180. I was quite surprised that Test Track's standy was longer (70 mins.).
The Garden Grill lunch is a character meal, and it's being discontinued soon. I wanted to do it one last time, since hubby and I used to do it fairly frequently when we lived in Chicago and came to WDW as tourists. It's a plated meal; you get catfish, chicken and beef, plus scalloped potatoes, green beans and rolls. You can eat as much as you want, and you also get a custard pastry with strawberries for dessert.
When we got there, the place was nearly deserted so we got some great character photos as you can see below:

After our meal, we killed time on the Living With The Land boat ride, in the single rider line of Test Track and browsing at the Epcot 25th Anniversary display. I especially enjoyed the Figment and Horizons memorabilia.

When we returned to the Land, we got new Fastpasses even tho' the return time was late and we knew we had to get home to work. I figured that we could just give them away. We had a lovely Soarin' ride, and on the way out we were discussing our Fastpasses. A man and his daughter overheard us; he had four FPs with an immediately return time and offered to swap two of his to us since he was staying late. What a lucky break! I wished I had some of my trader pins to give his daughter or something, but alas I was barehanded. Hopefully the good karma will come back around to him.

We grabbed our bonus Soarin' ride, then managed to slip in Spaceship Earth on the way out because the line had cut down to almost nil. We made it to the car just in the nick of time, as the afternoon showers started spitting on the windshield just as we pulled out of the parking lot.

All in all, it had been a great day, especially for July. We had an enjoyable Segway tour, a yummy lunch, and two bonus rides on Soarin' (we'd been expecting none), plus a few other rides just for the heck of it. I'm looking forward to doing the World Showcase tour in the near future, but it's going to have a hard time holding up.

1 comment:

kkar said...

We've done both the Epcot and Fort Wilderness tours and really enjoyed both of them. Our FW tour was August '08 and we also had Robert and Ron as guides.
Hopefully, you'll be able to try the Epcot tour again. Riding through World Showcase before it opens was a highlight!