Our first theme park day, January 8, 2013, and we started it out right at rope drop in the Magic Kingdom.
1. We got across the Lagoon from ‘Ohana via monorail in time to catch the Welcome Show – to me, that show is what says, “Welcome to Walt Disney World.” I love when I can catch one of the kids in a moment like this, when they don’t realize I’m taking a picture. Jon was reaching out and waving to Stitch in the Welcome Show. Our plan for the day called for us to knock out the slowest-loading attractions first. We started at the Tomorrowland Speedway (despite my best efforts, I still can’t convince the kids to skip it). It does crack me up, watching Jon peer over the steering wheel to drive. Next was Peter Pan’s Flight and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, followed by snagging Fastpasses for Journey of the Little Mermaid. We got in line for Enchanted Tales with Belle just in time. Even getting in line by 9:30 a.m., we had a good 40 minute wait. Had we waited until 10 a.m., the wait would have been well over an hour.
2. Even had the wait at Enchanted Tale with Belle been an hour, it would have been worth it. Yes, it’s a glorified meet and greet – but with extra glory! The queue itself is well-themed, even the outdoor part. And it gets better when you get to the covered area. The theming and details aren’t in-your-face, if you just relax and absorb it, you really do feel transported into the film. Once you enter the cottage, it’s full of terrific details – sketches of Maurice’s inventions and the like. But my favorite is Belle’s book on the table, complete with a bite taken out of a few pages by the goat in the movie.
The animatronics and theatrics in the next three areas are all fantastic. First, the magic mirror effect is done beautifully – even though I knew it was coming, I was still impressed. In the next room, the Wardrobe animatronic is excellent – she’s large and so lifelike when she speaks. She invites people to participate in the retelling of the show. Mikaela volunteered readily, but Jon decided to sit that part out. Mikaela was in a wheelchair, and she was assigned the role of Maurice. That was a perfect fit – she held up the cardboard bars in front of herself in her chair (and hammed it up, shivering and coughing just like Maurice did in the movie). The story part is narrated by yet another fantastic animatronic. The Lumiere animatronic looks amazingly delicate and moves so smoothly, it’s hard to believe that it’s a glorified robot. The PhotoPass photographer got pictures of all of the participants with Belle. In my opinion, they still need some work on this part – the room is not well-lit, and the photographer needs to do a better job of compensating for that. Most of the pictures we got are useless. But do be forewarned – this is not a meet & greet photo op for shy children. If you’re not in the show, you don’t meet Belle and you don’t get your picture taken with her (but they will find a part for anyone who wants one). Also, Belle does not sign autographs during the photo session – they have to keep it moving. That line is long enough as it is. If you want to ensure a picture and autograph from Belle, you’re better off meeting her at Princess Storybook Dining at Akershaus in Norway in Epcot.
3. Next, we used our FastPasses for Voyage of the Little Mermaid. I do think it’s a nice addition to Fantasyland. It appeals to all ages, and does a good job of retelling the story. It was nice to see Disney build a new audio-animatronic-laden attraction. But I have to admit while the scale of the attraction is impressive, I was disappointed in its scope. Too many of the AA figures were overly simplistic, with repetitive motions that were already old hat when Pirates of the Caribbean was being installed. And the Ursula AA wasn’t nearly as menacing as she should have been at the end. Next up was supposed to be Big Thunder Mountain, but we had to adjust our plan because the ride was down when we arrived. I felt bad for the cast member trying to explain to the Brazilian tour guide waving around a 2-inch-thick stack of Fastpasses that her group was just going to have to come back, because the ride wasn’t operating. Instead, we grabbed some lunch at Pecos Bill’s. We headed back to Big Thunder after lunch, and everything was back up and running as normal. Jon definitely enjoyed coasters more this trip. It was clear at that point that everyone was tired, so we hit Pirates of the Caribbean on the way out of the park for an afternoon break. Of course that meant walking right past Aloha Isle, so we made a Dole Whip pit stop too.
4. We got in a nice break back to Pop Century. Despite both kids fussing that they weren’t tired, they each zonked out for a good two hours. We returned to the Magic Kingdom for the evening at about 5 p.m. Our first stop was at the Firehouse to pick up Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards (destined to become the bane of our existence on this trip). We were hungry, so we headed first toward Columbia Harbor House. Sadly, CHH closed early (again), and we were left with picking from the available (lesser) options – but as long as we were on the edge of Liberty Square, we decided to go ahead and give Haunted Mansion a ride. Last September, we’d ridden Mansion multiple times and every single ride had featured a point at which we came to a complete stop. This time, we got our best ride since the refurb – no stops, Jon and Miriam got their heads swapped, and Mikaela and I got our heads blown up.
We decided to give Pinocchio Village Haus a try for dinner. I was pleasantly surprised by my Mediterranean salad, which had generous amounts of tasty fresh mozzarella. After dinner, we headed to Big Thunder Mountain to try it out again at night. It really is a fantastic ride when it’s dark out – that first tunnel alone is SO MUCH better when you can see the bats. This was about the time that I got a message from Nate, letting me know that he and Randall were at the Magic Kingdom. But the cell signal was awful, and the WiFi was giving me fits as well. (Frontierland appears to be the Magic Kingdom’s black hole). We never did manage to catch up with them. Next, it was time to head to Tomrrowland, where we got the highlight of the day. As we waited in the wheelchair access portion of the queue, we learned that the woman in front of us in a wheelchair waiting to board Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin was celebrating her 110th birthday! I’m calling it now – I’m planning on celebrating my 110th birthday by riding attractions at Walt Disney World!
5. Next up was our last mountain of the day (with Splash Mountain down for refurb), Space Mountain. We were getting hot and sweaty (it was unseasonably warm all day), and pushing a wheelchair through that Space Mountain queue was a bit of a workout. Just as we were next in line to board from the wheelchair boarding area, the ride went down. I asked the kids what they wanted to do, and they decided they wanted to wait it out, so we hung out waiting to see if the ride would come back up. After what seemed like forever (but was probably about 15 minutes) they got it up and running again, and we had a great ride. Next up would normally have been fireworks, but Mikaela was afraid that she wasn’t going to be able to see anything from her chair, so we opted to head back to the resort ahead of the post-fireworks crowd.