Sunday, September 21, 2008

Soarin' and Soarin' and Soarin' Some More

As the off-season continues, hubby and I continue to take advantage of it. After all, what's the good of living in Celebration if you can't make good use of your Disney World proximity?

We achieved the pinnacle yesterday when, through a judicious combination of Fastpasses and the standby line, we managed to ride Soarin' an amazing 13 times. We slipped in Spaceship Earth, Nemo, Turtle Talk, and two or three rounds on Test Track, but Soarin' was our main focus. The others were simply filler between Fastpass times when standby got too long.

We hadn't actually planned a marathon. Our original idea was to head out to Epcot just after rope drop, grab a few Soarin's till the line got too long and the Fastpasses got to far apart, then have a nice lunch and head home. What we didn't realize was that the line wasn't going to get unreasonable until the evening and that the Fastpass times would move slowly enough for us to use and abuse them for most of the day.

When we got there, the Soarin' line was an unheard of 15-20 minutes. I generally won't do it if it's any longer than that. It's not just the wait; I hate hate hate the interactive games on the wall screens. The line is already wide enough for an entire football team to pass through side-by-side, which is a major enabler for line jumpers. Add in the games and the jumping gets worse as people slip ahead under the guise of "playing" or "moving in front of the screen." Sprinkle a generous helping of people flailing madly (that's how you play...for example, one of the games is to pop ballons or blobs of some sort, and you have to act out the motions), and you've got a recipe for disaster. I don't like being bumped into by inattentive strangers who can't stand for more than 5 minutes without some sort of stimulation. Thankfully the screens are absent from the Fastpass line.

But on this day we were only subjected to the game two or three times out of all our standby rounds. We never waited longer than 35 minutes in standby, and of course Fastpass went much faster. What had started out as a few rides on Soarin' turned into a vendetta to beat our previous record of eight rides. Once we had reached that, with the line still reasonable and Fastpasses still in good supply, the object became cramming in as many rides as we could.

The other lines were minimal too. We didn't wait at all for Spaceship Earth and maybe only five minutes for Nemo. We did the single riders line at Test Track, which is usually short to non-existent anyway except for the busiest times. We had to wait 10 minutes for Turtle Talk, but that was because we got there just after a show had begun. I love Turtle Talk because you actually get to talk to Crush, and he answers and makes comments about the audience. It's a wonderful blend of on-the-fly animation and improv.

The kids sit on the floor in front, and Crush calls on them to ask him questions. Last time we were at Epcot, it was apparently field trip day from the School for Kids With Paralyzed Vocal Cords because every time a child was chosen, they immediately froze up. Mind you, they are supposed to raise their "flipper" if they have a question, but apparently they were mini sheeple in kid would raise theirs and the rest would spontaneously follow for no good reason.

On that day, we went to another show figuring it would have to be better...surely we'd just hit on a dud. But no, it was the same story the next time. I'd never seen it fall so flat. Poor Crush does the best he can, but he had to have something to work with. By the third or fourth kid going, "Uh.....uh...." it gets old to say, "Having a Dory moment?"

Fortunately this time both Crush and the kids were in good form. My favorite line came when a kid mentioned Nemo. Crush said, "Yeah, he got lost one time. It took an hour and 33 minutes to find him!"

Before we knew it, it was dinnertime. The Soarin' line had finally shot up to an hour, and although we hoped it might drop we weren't holding our breath. I think everyone who wasn't staying for Illuminations was grabbing a last hang glider trip. We hoped to get one more Fastpass, although we knew that was rather greedy. Since we wouldn't be able to get one till 6:40, we decided to see if Garden Grill could take us as a walk-up.

I thought I was probably crazy to hope, since GG is a character meal and I think the free dining promotion is going on. Lo and behold, they were able to take us! I think we should have bought a lottery ticket on the way home because it was definitely our lucky day. Actually, I think we lucked out because we were a party of two, and GG mostly gets bigger family groups. We were seated in the two chairs on the end of what appeared to be a long booth to accommodate large parties...there was a big family at one end and us at the other.

Even though we were just two adults, the characters spent plenty of good interaction time with us. I was wearing my monorail hat, and Pluto thought it was a riot. He stole it and donned it himself! We didn't have a camera so hubby snapped a quick photo with his cell phone. Here it's not too good, but it was one of those times when we just had to make do:

Sadly, by the time we were eligible for another Fastpass they had all run out. The line was an hour, and it was already 7:30, so we reluctantly decided to call it a night. I would have liked to reach 15, especially since it's almost the end of the dead season but oh well...lucky 13 sure isn't bad. Maybe it's even a good thing because that will give me something to aim for when dead season rolls around again next year.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wonderful Time, The Sequel

Given the lack of lines at Animal Kingdom on Saturday, I had a nagging feeling that I might be missing out on some quality Soarin' time. For a ride that is essentially nothing more than an Imax/motion simulator with piped in scents, it's amazing that Soarin's wait times soar to two hours or more in the peak season. At those times, the Fastpasses disappear by 11 a.m. Thus I pretty much have to get my rides in large doses in the off-season, sort of like a squirrel gathering a supply of nuts for the winter. I fill my "Soarin' tank" when waits are minimal so I won't go through withdrawal from June through August.

Hubby had to work on Sunday, but when he was done we headed to Chevy's for a late lunch, followed by an evening at Epcot. We didn't get there till after 3 p.m., but we figured we might be lucky enough to cram in lots of quality ride time before the park closed at 9.

We could see that the crowd was fairly light as soon as we entered the gates. We hustled over to the Tip Board to get a handle on the current ride times. Soarin' was posted at 15 minutes! No way! I truly wanted to believe, but I noticed that everything else was walk-on except for Test Track, which was posted at 40. I suspected that the two had somehow been mixed up, since 40 mins. in the dead season isn't the norm for the giant slot car ride.

Still, we had to see for ourselves so we headed off for the Land Pavillion. There were still plenty of Fastpasses left for Soarin', so we grabbed one and checked out the standby line, which was posted at 25 minutes. Okay, a little more realistic, but I still thought it was a trick when I saw how far back the line density extended. Still, ever the optimists, hubby and I joined it. We waited...and waited...and waited...sure enough, it was a good 45 minutes before we boarded. Oh well, by the time we got off, it was time to get another Fastpass.

Since all the other rides were walk-on, we spent the evening bopping between Soarin' to use our Fastpases and get new ones and other rides to kill time between the Fastpasses. By 9 p.m. we had ridden Soarin' a whopping eight times, plus three spins on Test Track, one on the Land boat ride, one on Nemo, and two showings of Turtle Talk With Crush.

Normally Turtle Talk is one of my favorite Disney attractions. You literally talk to Crush, and he answers in context and also calls directly on various audience members. The kids all sit in the front of the theater and ask him questions...or in theory, that's what's supposed to happen. Unfortunately, at that showing all of the children must have been bussed in from the Cat's Got Your Tongue Group Home, as every one of them froze when Crush called on them. Mind you, there were told to raise their hands if they had a question, but each child froze like a deer in headlights when the Cast Member brought his microphone over.

Crush is quite the master of improv, but the poor turtle can't show his wit when he has no lines to work with. "Are you having a Dory moment?" only works the first time, but this entire group of kidlets was non-verbal in the Great Green One's presence.

Since there was no line, we decided to see it again. Surely the next group would give Crush something to work with. Nope! Once again, all the tots were dumbstruck. I've seen that happen before occasionally, but usually at least a couple of them will actually stutter out a question. Oh well, it must have been something in the air so we gave up and headed off to the Nemo ride.

I was amazed at how quickly the time rushed by as we carried out our marathon. Surprisingly the Soarin' standby line stayed at 40 to 45 minutes up until the very end, when the park was about to close. By then we had used up our Fastpasses, so we were very grateful for the drop as we hopped in for the last ride of the day.

By the time we were done, most of the Illuminations crowd had already disappeared out the gates. I couldn't believe that it had been less than six hours and we'd gotten eight rides on my favorite, plus a generous helping of other rides and shows as well. I know this won't last too much longer...the later September gets, the more the crowds grow. But heck, I'm sure gonna enjoy it while it lasts.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

In the carols, the most wonderful time of the year is Christmas but all good Disney fanatics know that it's actually early September. Right after Labor Day it's the best time to visit the theme parks because the lines will be virtually non-existent.

Several factors go into creating this welcome lull from the crowds. First, Mom and Dad don't want to pull Junior out of school so soon after the start. He's just getting settled in; he can always get yanked for a visit to the Mouse a few months down the road. Second, the Brazilian tour groups have all but disappeared since their holiday time is over. Third, this is prime time for a hurricane and tropical disturbances in the news tend to scare off some of the tourists.

Today hubby and I enjoyed this wonderful time of year with a jaunt to the Animal Kingdom. Hubby was lobbying to go to Universal, but I couldn't see the point. With our Premier Passes, we get to use the Express Lines no matter what time of year it is. Who wants to use 'em when the standby line is only 5 minutes anyway? At Disney, we're relegated to the regular Fastpass system with the rest of the hoi polloi, so we have to make the best of those few precious weeks when Fastpasses aren't even needed.

We made dinner reservations at Jiko and headed off to AK a couple of hours before closing. We figured we could to the safari, Dinosaur, and maybe one or two on Expedition Everest before park closing. Little did we know that we were vastly underestimating what we would be able to accomplish.

On the way into the park, I stopped at the little coffee kiosk to get a frozen mocha. I had skipped breakfast and lunch in anticipatipon of our Jiko meal, so I knew I had to get some concentrated sugar into my bloodstream. Otherwise I'd end up with a whanging headache from the backwards part of Expedition Everest. Usually I'm immune to any ill effects from roller coasters, but going in reverse in the dark seems to give me vertigo if I'm not all sugared up.

I felt a bit like an ad for Disney; the sight of my yummy, whipped cream-crested drink attracted another family to the stand, and as I was walking away, yet another person asked me where I had bought it. They should hire someone to stand in front of the kiosk brandished a cold and yummy looking beverage...I'll bet sales would triple.

We trooped into the park to decide on our ride strategy. Last time we did the safari right before closing and saw almost no animals. I'm sure they were off by the doors or gates of their enclosures, clamoring to escape the tourists and to go in for the night. Thus hubby suggested that we right the safari first, and it turned out to be an excellent idea.

There was no line, so we were on within minutes. I was utterly amazed, as we saw every animal from the hippos and elephants to the rhinos and warthog to the lion and even the elusive cheetah. There were crocs and cattle, giraffes and gazelles, and even an ostrich that appeared to want to climb into the truck with us.

Next up we headed to Dinoland, where I had to waste a few bucks on one of the games before riding Dinosaur. Of course I lost and hubby cleaned up, so I was stuck carrying around a couple of stuffed toys for the rest of the day. We did Tricerotops spin before heading to Dinosaur, and both of those were walk on just like the safari.

We hustled off the Asia, where Expedition Everest was also amazingly line-free. We did a couple of regular rides, then realized that the wait for the front seat was minimal. We ended up riding in the front repetitively until the park finally closed. I still couldn't believe the absence of people as memories of the July peak season were still firmly entrenched in my mind. I made a mental note to get to Epcot soon so I could rack up some quality Soarin' time.

As we joined the herd of sheeple and headed out of the park, I reminded myself that this was one of the reasons we moved to Florida. Every year we would come down for a week in December, but then we had to reluctantly return home. Now, we can come every day of the off-season that we want to, slacking off only when the crowds start to rise again. In the meantime, we can take full advantage of the most wonderful time of the year.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Ads That Upset Me

As much as I love living in Celebration, there are times when I cringe at the prospect of being known as a Central Floridian. It isn't bad enough that the Casey/Caylee Anthony fiasco has put us in a negative and neverending national spotlight, making the rest of America just as sick of the whole mess as we are. Now we've got a group going by the name of "Metro Orlando Mommies" that's protesting Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights billboard ads.

First, how the hell can I take a group seriously when it has such an eye-roll-inducing name? It conjures up visions of bored, overprotective soccer mommies whizzing around in their SUVs and trying to figure out what to get offended about next.

Second, it's Halloween Horror Nights, people. Yes, horror, as in blood, guts and gore. The ads in question show this year's icon, Bloody Mary of urban legend fame, with freaky white eyes and dripping blood and of course a broken mirror. Not much worse than what you can find at any given moment if you have cable TV.

Supposedly this horrific imagine is terrorizing little Britt and Kyle and Dillon as they whiz down I-4. Come on, how many Soccer Mom Spawn to you know that even pay attention to billboards? They're all too busy keeping their precious little noses stuck in the SUV's built in entertainment system. After all, God forbid they be expected to amuse themselves for more than a minute or two without artificial help.

I'm glad I grew up in tougher times. My mother didn't believe in babysitters, so she dragged me to horror movies from toddlerhood on. I saw "Night of the Living Dead" at the age of three and virtually every other blood-and-gore movie you can imagine. Dracula, Blackula and Count Yorga...yep, saw every single version of a blood sucker that Hollywood ever put out. Infamous grade B romps like "The Corpse Grinders"...yep, saw those too. Eco-disasters like "Frogs?" Oh yeah, we were front and center for those. Nearly from the time I cleared the womb entrance, I was exposed to every kind of cinematic gore possible.

Did this turn me into a cringing blob of jelly? Hello, no, I love Halloween and haunted houses. If someone's kiddo is terrified by a billboard, it's time for a little toughening. Of course, these are the same Mommies who insist that everyone get a trophy and that the whole class be put on the honor roll so that Buffy's delicate feelings won't be hurt. Then their kids grow up with absolutely no coping skills, and they bob their bubbly heads and try to figure out what went wrong...duh!

I'm shocked that the newspaper and TV stations are even giving this ridiculous story any attention. I suppose there are two reasons: one, the hurricane is a spectacular un-event; and two, it gives them something else to focus on other than Caylee ad naseum.

If they really want to focus on a scary and disturbing ad, I suggest that they turn to the latest offering from Charmin toilet paper. I stopped using Charmin several years ago, when they decided to illustrate the principle of "does a bear shit in the woods?" with frolicking, butt-wiping cartoon bears relieving their bowels and wiping their butts in disturbing family-gathering situations. I'll take Bloody Mary over happy, poop-wiping bruins dancing as they polish their posteriors any day.

Now Charmin has really crossed the line. Their cartoon bears have developed dingleberries! I kid you not...they now have a bear running amock with a crop of nasty white klingons while Mother Bear (probably a member of the Central Forest Mommies) chases him with a dustpan and broom. Ugh! That's just so wrong.

Are dingleberries really such a issue that we have to be subjected to such a graphic demonstration? Should watching a sticky-butted bear really make me want to turn to Charmin to protect me from the problem?

Bloody Mary may be scary to Orlando's overprotected junior set and their air-headed, offense-seeking Mommies, but I'll take her any day over Charmin's "Attack of the Klingons." Yes, bears do shit in the woods, but some things are meant to be done in privacy rather than be splashed all over my TV screen.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

You Know You're Back in Orlando When...

...the Fox Orlando television programming is continually interrupted with non-news about Caylee and Casey Anthony. My blog has been idle for a while as I was on a 15-day Disney Cruise through the Panama Canal. Even in Mexico and Columbia I was subjected to pointless blathering about the Anthony case on CNN, but at least they didn't continually interrupt programming.

We arrived home on Monday, but I didn't feel like I was really home until today, when my court shows were interrupted for the world's most boring press conference. Seriously, if they gave out Emmy awards for Most Dull and Pointless Press Conference and Worst Public Speaker, today's travesty would win hands down. Some dude from the search group that has been fruitlessly combing the area for poor little Caylee's body is currently reveling Fox Orlando viewers with such exciting phrases as, "An airplane is going over. Let's wait until it goes over. I wish I were on that plane," and "If we have more people, we can cover more ground." Oooo, really? Wow, that's so insightful!

On the lefthand side of the screen, Fox is running a loop of Caylee photos and video that I've seen so often that I'm surprised I don't have nightmares about them. Unfortunately, the press conference itself is so dull that the seen-'em-a-million-times photos are actually scintillating by comparison.

Even though it's been three days since I stepped off the Disney Magic, I didn't really feel like I was back in the real world yet. With the resumption of the who-the-hell-cares Caylee coverage, I know for sure that I am home.