I loved working at Disney. Cast Members, as Disney calls its employees, are allowed admission to all four Walt Disney World theme parks and get discounts on restaurants and merchandise, among other perks. During my tenure there I road every ride and visited almost every special event. I was your classic brainwashed Disneyphile...and I loved it!
My last visit was nearly five years ago and that drought ended yesterday when Jim took the family to Epcot for a day of family bonding.
The park was not crowded at all and we were able to park right near the entrance to the park. We were so close that we didn't have to go on the parking lot tram ride, which I have to admit was disappointing. Did I mention that the price for parking is now $14?
The weather yesterday was great. While the Mid-Atlantic dug themselves out from under two feet of snow, Central Florida was enjoying clear skies and a cool, crisp 50 degrees fahrenheit.
When I moved to Florida in the early 1990's I think the price of a day at Disney was in the high $30 range. It is now up to $79 for a single day, single park ticket. It is a little more if you want to visit more than one park in one day. Disney almost always has Florida resident discounts, though. The special they have right now is the Disney 4 Day Dream Pass, which gets you four days at any of the Disney parks before May 25 for $99. Jim bought us those tickets, which means that I should be visiting the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, or Disney Hollywood Studios three more times before in the next few months.
I remember Epcot being my favorite Orlando theme park when we visited in 1987. It must have been the combination of science, imagination, and travel that intrigued me then, as it continues to intrigue me today.
After we bought our tickets and made our way through the front gates, our first stop was not Spaceship Earth, Soarin', or Mission: Space; our first stop was Club Cool so that Catie could sample some Coca Cola products from across the globe.
Coca Cola claims that people in other countries drink other Coca Cola products and Club Cool offers up free samples of those products from Costa Rica, China, Germany, Japan and a few other countries. While Kevin says he's seen the Fanta Kolita in Costa Rica (most people I saw drinking in Costa Rica were drinking Imperial beer), I've never seen anyone drinking the Japanese Vegita Beta in Japan. Everyone I saw in Japan was drinking Coke...or iced coffee. I call shenanigans on Club Cool.
From Club Cool we went to Mission: Space, stopping only to get our FASTPASSes for Test Track. We did not stop to trade pins.
Mission: Space is one of the newer rides at Epcot (I stopped working at Disney in 2003, so anything opened since 2003 I consider new). Mission: Space is in the old Horizon pavilion (the ride that predicted Edz and I would video chat with Skype) and takes space travelers from the tourist mecca of Lake Buena Vista to the rugged terrain of Mars, all in under two minutes and with vomit bags comfortably within reach.
The ride has changed slightly since I first went on it in 2005. Instead of warning everybody that the ride can be rough, they ask you if you want to go on the manly ride or sissy ride, and issue you a color coded ticket corresponding with your level of adventure. You have to hold onto the ticket while you're standing in line and printed on it are things that say you probably shouldn't go on the ride if you're pregnant, have back pain, or are a wuss.
After Mission: Space we all went to the Living Seas, which is now called The Seas with Nemo and Friends.
When you first enter the pavilion you wind through a queue that has been designed to look like a beach boardwalk of sorts, complete with sand dunes, a lifeguard station, and signs you'd expect to see along the beach, like "Protect Our Coral Reefs." Then you walk through a door and your are immersed head first into the underwater world. As you wind through the rest of the queue you look up at the bottom of boats and the support beams of a pier. At the front of the queue you board a seashell which moves through an animatronics and video show with the Finding Nemo cast of characters. Towards the end of the ride the animatronic fish are replaced with the real fish inside the giant aquarium into which the Disney Imagineers have somehow projected 3D images of the Finding Nemo characters. It is very cool.
I may have missed it, but I think all references to Sea Base Alpha have been removed. I really liked how they've updated the pavilion, but I think some of the magic may have been lost. The old ride used to make you stand in a fake elevator while you "descended" to Sea Base Alpha and when you "ascended" back up to the surface. I remember when I was 8 years old thinking that we really had taken an elevator to the bottom of the ocean. Now it feels like the focus is on Finding Nemo (and selling merchandise), when it used to be about traveling to the superultramegacool underwater base.
Are you reading this Michael Eisner? Al Weiss?
It was time to use our FASTPASS tickets for Test Track about the time we finished the Living Seas. Like hundreds of people before me, I recorded the outdoor portion of the ride and uploaded it to Youtube:
Then Jim got a rumbly in his tumbly and announced it was time to eat. Mom said she wanted to go to Mexico. Everyone agreed.
I took this photo on the concourse between Future World and the World Showcase. This is the photo that helped us find the black squirrel scarf wrapped around Catie's neck when she loses it later in the day. I'll explain how later in this post.
Mexico is one of my favorite pavilions at Epcot. The pavilion is indoors, but made to look outdoors. There is a river boat ride inside that used to take you on a journey through Mexican culture and tradition. I'm not sure when they did it, but all that Mayan culture crap has been scrapped in favor of Donald Duck. The old version was better.
The restaurant inside Mexico, San Angel Inn, is one of the best dining experiences in all of Walt Disney World. The food is, you guessed it, expensive Mexican fare.
Sure, the tacos are made with ribeye steak instead of ground beef, but you're really paying for the ambience. Where else can you dine under the shadow of a Mayan pyramid without traveling to dine under the shadow of an actual Mayan pyramid? And on top of that, it never rains here!
I had the chicken enchiladas and a coke. Outstanding!
After we finished lunch (Thanks, Jim!) we started on our clockwise trek around the World Showcase, which was right about the time Catie realized she'd lost her black scarf made from squirrel.
Catie, Mom, and Jim beelined it back to Future World and Test Track to look for the scarf while Kevin and I sat on a bench.
We waited and waited. We sat. Seconds turned into minutes.
We sat some more. Minutes turned into hours and we continued waiting.
We waited and waited and waited. People passing us must have thought we were homeless we sat there for so long.
Alright, I'm joking. We didn't wait more than 10 minutes for them to walk over to Test Track and come back. Meanwhile, Kevin and I had the chance to talk. We looked at some birds and I told him about bird banding and how you can report band numbers so scientists can track migratory birds.
While we were talking Kevin wondered aloud if the video I shot at Test Track showed Catie's scarf. The video didn't show it, but if you refer to the photo of all of us above you can see the scarf around Catie's neck. That meant the scarf wasn't in Future World, it was somewhere between that bench and Mexico.
The scarf wasn't on the ground outside on the way to Mexico, wasn't on the ground inside the pavilion, and wasn't at the restaurant, either.
It was, however, still at the boat ride. The Cast Members had found it on our boat after we got off and nicknamed it "El Chihauhau."
Now no visit to Epcot would be complete without taking pictures of yourselves wearing funny hats.
As someone who has been to Mexico, I can attest that 2 in 3 Mexicans wears a hat like this to church every Sunday.
It is a well known fact that the King of Norway has worn a Viking helmet on the day his inauguration ever since Hagar the Horrible did so in 1034.
I can't say anything funny about this hat without being racist, so I won't say anything.
We skipped Norway, but stopped in China to watch video of China. We also took some time to check out the terra cotta warrior reproductions and took this photo with a lion. This lion is a male. Do you know how to tell if the lion is male or female?
We got our photo taken with Snow White in Germany. I didn't think of it until later, but I should have told Snow White that my girlfriend named her dog after her. Snow White probably would have liked that.
We breezed through Italy and stopped in American to watch the show. Kevin agreed that they should have used the song from Team America for the theme song of the show. Then it was on to Japan, another one of my favorite Epcot countries. There is no ride there, just a few restaurants, a store, and an art gallery. The art gallery this time had photos of Japan's World Heritage Sites, including the only one I've visited, Gokayama.
The Japanese pavilion rakes in money selling oysters - oysters with pearls inside. I bought one for Eden and asked Catie to select and open a pearl for her.
The pearl was pink, which I'm sure Edz will appreciate. I had it mounted on cellphone charm and it will be in a box on its way to Saipan tomorrow.
I had to wait around in Japan a while for them to mount the pearl and ended up getting separated from the rest of the family. They had given me Kevin's phone and called me about 10 times to see where I was, but I never heard it ringing. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Oops, I mean. Sorry.
We eventually met up in England and by then everyone was getting tired, so we made to head home. On our way to the front gate we stopped in at Soarin', which is the most amazing theme park ride ever made, and Spaceship Earth, which may the single Walt Disney World ride I've ridden more times than any other.
What a great day! I was exhausted when we got home and slept really well...and there are three more days left on our 4 day pass, so stay tuned for more!