Walt Disney World: Day Three

It was Mickey again for the wake-up call, and again Mike missed it, but I relayed the Mouse’s assurances that there were doings going on today, so we ought to go out and not just lie abed and stare at the ceiling.

I went with the street-soled slippers again, aligning both pairs of Birkenstocks carefully along the bottom of the trunk and behind the wastebasket where they couldn’t taunt me. We’d chosen MGM for today’s park solely based on the “Day after Early Entry” theory, which says that the majority of resort guests went to that park the day before so crowds will be at their most minimal. I still hold to the notion that going to the park that doesn’t have Early Entry that day nor the day before would surely be even better, since there aren’t guidebooks devoted to promoting this plan, but MGM seemed as good as anything, and it’s not like crowds had been an issue so far.

We were the only ones on the bus to Disney-MGM Studios and we arrived before the front gates opened, joining the short queues forming to the turnstiles. Since it was nearly 8:30 a.m., apparently MGM wasn’t as big as the Magic Kingdom on letting people roam the premises for long before the attractions opened. It made sense, since it’s not as easily blocked off as Magic Kingdom.

When the park did open we experienced our first trouble of the day. Try as I might, I couldn’t get my pass to work. I kept sliding it in then putting my fingers on the reader, and it kept burping my ticket out as invalid or somesuch and the attendant would hand it back to me. Over and over and over this happened, while I dutifully squeezed my fingers as I was told, squeezed them like my life depended on it, and after another half dozen rounds squeezed like I would squeeze if I could get my hands on the people behind us, who had become increasingly crabby about the hold-up and vocally so.

Meanwhile, despite having originally been one of the first ten or so guests in line, the turnstiles around us had cleared out. But the people behind us wouldn’t defect from their position, perhaps having consulted the Tonga Toast innards that morning and been told their success as an Indiana Jones stunt show volunteer rested on entering through one particular lucky turnstile.

While this was happening, I was smiling, a little more brightly with each round, making the usual self-deprecating comments about how I’d only just got the pass so I’m sure I was doing something wrong, but golly, I sure was squeezing hard, hmmm, what could it be. I could have been fine, my smile might not have become so tense and eventually extremely insincere, except the cast member manning the turnstile wasn’t terribly interested in solving the problem, like maybe checking my ID for now and letting me in, just into suffering my ineptitude instead, and the people behind us weren’t terribly interested in solving their problem either, also preferring to suffer, and I could have handled being a clumsy bumpkin with my pass, but I simply cannot abide people who suck.

See, what you should know about me is that I am, apparently, too sensitive to “people who suck.” Not in general, but in preventable circumstances. It gets me down. I can’t help it. Growing up, I was always fussed at for being too sensitive. Throw on top of that the matter of people not handling someone else being gracious and apologetic (especially when said person isn't really doing anything wrong). Ugh, don’t get me started there. I was being, as I said, self-deprecating and apologetic about the hold-up (until the end, when I became sort of pasty-smiled and deliberately speechless), but no one was responding in kind — telling me it was okay, we’d get it worked out, happens all the time. If the people behind us would have just moved to an empty turnstile. If the cast member would have just looked at my hand.

Which is how it was eventually worked out. The cast member looked at my hand and saw it was positioned fine and I was squeezing fine, but I had another finger resting on the scanner, something I didn’t notice, still being a bit new at it since the last two times we’d just breezed through. Like I said, if maybe they had just looked at my hand the first few times, or even taken me up on my offer to show photo identification...

So my first steps into Disney-MGM Studios were with a black cloud over my head. A woman immediately stepped forward and started asking me to take a survey. I gave her a “it’s not your fault but even though it’s just started I’m having a really bad day” smile and cut her short with a “No. No thank you.” Mentally followed with a “I’m not really a bitch, but if I don’t get away from you I’ll start screaming or crying, maybe both.”

So I had trouble getting my pass in. So people are thoughtless. Big deal. But like I said, I’m sensitive to it. Considering all the stuff I can let roll off my back that supposedly wigs out other people, I don’t consider it to be anything more than my particular button to push, my particular goat to get. In fact, I’d be a little worried if people acting like inconsiderate louts didn’t get me down.

Luckily, Mike has been dealing with this aspect of my character for years, and so he took it in stride. But I was distracted with the injustice of it all, the frustration of being around sullen people, and I couldn’t enjoy anything at MGM in my current condition.

“I want to leave. I don’t want to be here when I’m in a bad mood. I’ll just be walking past everything.”

Mike sighed. He knew this was true. But he also knew that I am lucky in that I have the ability of getting out of a bad mood in under thirty seconds, given the chance. He knew I didn’t want to be in a bad mood, and he understood that as silly as it would be to a lot of people to react so strongly to what had just happened, that’s how I am, and I might change someday, but not today.

We didn’t leave. We found a bench on the main avenue, Hollywood Boulevard, the first bench to the right, and plopped down on it as other guests streamed past, intent on being in their places when the park officially opened.

As we sat, the sparrows hopped off the curb to hop inquisitively near our feet, looking at all the guests with eyes that were practiced yet eager all at once. (You know sparrows.) Oh look, who are these people? Isn’t this exciting? I wonder what will happen!

Mike and I enjoyed the sparrows, and within a minute I had reset my levers, moving on from being upset at the people in the world to being cynically experienced in just how much people do indeed suck.

It was 8:45 a.m. now, and Mike was hungry. He was again perplexed by the lack of bacon and egg sandwiches available from counter service, with everything being sweet stuff, but at least believed me more quickly this time. Since I still wasn’t carrying the Palm with all the menus on it there might have been some option out there, but there wasn’t one near where we wanted to be when the park opened, which was on Sunset Boulevard.

In fact, I was a little skeptical of the wisdom of getting to the park when it opened then making our first task procuring a breakfast that was just going to be sugary stuff. But having just had my own erratic needs addressed, I wasn’t about to question Mike’s, at least not at any length. No commando-mode for us, but it’s true I was itching to see the sights.

Mike went into Starring Rolls to grab something to tide him over and I asked him to pick me up a chocolate chip cookie, feeling I could dab out any leftover bad feelings with some sulk food, and we’d be ready to enjoy the park although I was already enjoying just looking around.

I sat at the table and got to watch the sparrows hop around in crumb-catching gangs. Mike appeared with two croissants, some sort of filled chocolate cookie, my cookie, and some orange soda. (Even though we were on vacation and supposed to be indulgent, Mike did often bow to my dislike of caffeine and sought out caffeine-free beverages.)

One thing I noticed about MGM Studios right away was that, of course, the themeing was excellent. I know it’s technically a working studio like Universal Studios, but unlike that park (drawing upon my one meager visit to the California version in 1985), it didn’t have any kind of studio atmosphere, at least not in the areas we covered. This was 100% theme park all the way to me, which I liked. I’d much rather see old Hollywood created around me as Disney had done here than a working studio slash thrill spot.

On the other hand, being in a park that is strongly one specific theme didn’t work as well for my tastes. Epcot has the two different sections, each diverse within themselves. Magic Kingdom has the ‘lands and Main Street. Animal Kingdom (although we didn’t know it yet) has two countries, the Dinosaur area, the Camp, and the Tree of Life. MGM Studios stayed mostly the same to us, just one big celebration of movies with backdrops all around.

It was barely nine a.m. when we finished our food, except I had put my cookie in the fanny pack for emergency nibbling, having pronounced it one of the worst chocolate chip cookies I’d ever had. (“Ugh, it’s so flat and greasy!”) Keep in mind that a bad chocolate chip cookie is still a treasure to the mouth, and I had no doubt I’d have the thing scarfed before lunchtime. I’d just been hoping for something that didn’t have to be wrapped in four napkins to keep from getting oil on everything. No, really, I wasn’t in a bad mood again — I swear! We were ready for fun!

Fun we got, bouncing down Sunset pointing at the scenery (noting that Beauty and the Beast was indeed closed for Rosie O’Donnell preparations) and making our first stop the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (Starring Aerosmith). Which we have since pronounced our favourite roller coaster on the planet. The queue was empty so we walked through, taking in that the whole thing was themed to be a recording studio. (Mutual quote: “Who is Jessica Riddle?”)

Although we weren’t Aerosmith fans (nor did we dislike them), we enjoyed the segment with the band in the recording studio. Then Tyler loyally declared they couldn’t leave their fans behind, and asked their manager (aka Ileana Douglas) to order us a stretch, no, better make that a super-stretch, limo.

Walking out of the studio, you’d really believe you were in a back alley in Los Angeles. We smiled at the neon sign for the “Down Under” club, and paused at the chain link fence to watch a string of limousines take off. So that was to be us in a moment, huh? Looks fast.

We walked under the scaffolding, past the handbills, and into the front seat of our four-seated car where we would be riding alone. Passing the parking attendant booth, the convoy of limos stopped before a tunnel and prepared to take off. Er, I mean drive really fast to the other side of Los Angeles so we could go to the Aerosmith concert that was about to start.

Steven Tyler counted down... three... two... one...

... and in a burst of white light we were out of the garage and making our first loop almost before we knew it. Completely in the dark, the blackness was soon broken by billboards and oversized neon signs on each side, and a grid of the city below. Smooth is too rough a word; we glided at great speed towards the concert hall, and this being a roller coaster we did it with all the turns and drops you’d expect, passing my favourite, passage through the giant doughnut.

Into another tunnel, and we’d arrived at the red carpet and velvet-roped arena entrance with deferential valets bowing to help us out of our limousines. Where we’d actually landed was the gift shop, where we stopped to admire ourselves in our first on-ride photo. Of course we had to get it.

The woman at the photo counter commented on how nice it was for us to have a photo with just the two of us in it. The crowds had been so sparse so far that I hadn’t really thought about it: I was used to us getting cars to ourselves. This was our first experience with taking advantage of room delivery and we were both quite pleased as we walked out of the shop with our hands empty, knowing we could buy whatever we wanted and not have to give a thought to carrying it around the parks all day.

As soon as we were out we were going right back in for our second ride. It was just as fantastic, but I felt it was significantly rougher and it took me a moment to shake out my head afterwards. Remembering discussions on rec.arts.disney.parks, I knew there were theories regarding height and where you sat, so I was glad the first time was so good.

This is when we started our debate over the music. When the ride takes off, an Aerosmith song starts playing. Like I said, Mike and I weren’t interested in Aerosmith before Walt Disney World, but by the time we came home it was on our mp3 list. (We still aren’t really “fans,” but the songs do bring back good memories.)

Mike insisted that there was just one track and it blended into another song. I insisted that there were five different tracks, and we’d just had the same one twice. Mike held his ground. I admitted I knew the truth from park veterans online. Mike was comically disgusted, saying I knew too many of these nuances before we came. I defended myself, saying I’d deliberately stayed away from any spoilers, but a few bits of trivia did dribble through. He was quickly placated, although still obviously convinced that it was one track, and we headed out and to the left towards that big, eerie looking hotel.

Through the leaf-shadowed gates and up we walked, curving to the right, strolling past decaying marble statues and a rotting fountain. We reached the tall decrepit building and slowly walked around the corner where a small plaque read the date of its erection: 1917 A.D.

Because we were almost alone, there was little time to pause in the lobby, its contents dusty and stately all at once, neglected yet grand. We were ushered into a small library by a courteous bellhop, joining a handful of others.

Already we were slack-jawed at the detail. Somewhere in the world there was a marvelous hotel of another age, abandoned yet preserved, and the Disney imagineers had found it and somehow managed to transport it to sunny Florida. That was the only possible explanation for our intricate surroundings. Mike and I pointed out books to one another, and knick knacks set on top of the high bookcases, and were surprised when the lights dimmed to full darkness and a television mounted high in the opposite corner came on.

Ah, an episode of the Twilight Zone, complete with familiar intro. A dimension of sound, a dimension of sight. A dimension of mind... And there was the late Rod Serling, telling us the story of this very building.

Hollywood, 1939. Amid the glitz and the glitter of a bustling young movie town at the height of its Golden Age, the Hollywood Tower Hotel is a star in its own right. A beacon for the show business elite.

Now something is about to happen that will change all that.

The television shows us the hotel in its heyday, panning to focus on five well-turned individuals in all the glamour of the era stepping into an elevator. A pause, and something sharp and bright, like lightning, strikes them from nowhere.

And then they were gone.

The time is now, on an evening very like the one we just witnessed. Tonight’s story in the Twilight Zone is somewhat unique; it calls for a different kind of introduction. This as you may recognize is a maintenance service elevator, still in operation, waiting for you.

We invite you if you dare to step aboard, because in tonight’s episode you are the star. And this elevator travels directly to...

The Twilight Zone.

Another door in the library’s paneling opens, and we are ushered into the bowels of the building. Concrete, gauges, and menacing steam-emitting devices have filled this basement, and on the long far wall lie the bank of service elevators, as promised.

We walk to the far set of doors and step to the side as directed. Then, as the elevator doors open, the bellhop allows us to board row by row to our seats, ending with the front row right side, which is Mike and myself.

This is not just any elevator. If it weren’t so creaky and wooden I’d say it’s a relative of Wonka’s great glass elevator. It goes not only up and down, but forwards and sideways and back. I wouldn’t be surprised if it shot right out of the building. (Wait a moment, what were those gaping burnt-out holes we saw outside all about...)

In the darkness we traveled the corridors of the hotel, its hush broken from time to time by the singsong calling of a small girl, no doubt the same young lady who disappeared from the elevator that night, the whole group of which was now seen at the end of the hall, flickering in their translucence.

Past crashing windows and starry blackness, we realize we’ve reached one of the highest floors and are moving towards the front of the building.

You are about to discover what lies beyond the fifth dimension, beyond the deepest, darkest corner of the imagination, in the Tower of Terror...

Doors stretch open and we are there, staring out of the massive hole in the hotel’s facade at the view beyond, and we

Plunge!
And rise!
Higher!
And plunge!

Over and over, barely catching our breath only to be sent plummeting again, until our elevator is lowering us with suspiciously slowness.

And we’ve stopped.

A warm welcome back to those of you who made it. And a friendly word of warning — something you won’t find in any guidebook. The next time you check into a hotel on the dark side of Hollywood, make sure you know just what kind of vacancy you’re filling. Or you might find yourself a permanent resident... of the Twilight Zone.

Whew, we made it! The bellhop is visibly relieved, and we file past him to see our photos.

One man who had been sitting behind us saw the photos first then turned to me and said, “Too bad, I was hoping we’d get one with your hair straight up in the air.”

“Did my hair go up?”

Many times!”

He seemed amused, although I felt a little guilty about possibly blocking his view. We wandered into a refurbished part of the hotel where “Picture if you will...” was artfully scribbled across the top of the wall behind the photo processors. We decided against getting a photo this time, although we had the coupon from Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. We felt we could take a better one.

Some time was spent poking around the gift shop. Mike wanted a t-shirt and I wanted a Bellhop Mickey, but they only had Bellhop Goofy, so I entered serious contemplation of the Hollywood Tower Hotel towels with the gold and scarlet threaded logo. Very posh.

An older cast member came up to help us. She encouraged Mike to try on the t-shirts over his shirt if he liked. This was very nice of her and Mike took her up on it, having already discovered that not all shirt sizes are created equal. I found several where I liked the colour, but not the design, or the design but not the size, or the size but not the... well, I didn’t find one I liked. Mike got a white “I Survived...” t-shirt and I played at being aghast, me having no love of white t-shirts with my complexion. (Mike insists that when I wear his white t-shirts they really suit me, in which case my next excuse is that they’re not suitable for the perpetually braless unless you’re very certain it won’t rain.)

We walked back down Sunset Boulevard onto Hollywood, trying to decide which was more amazing: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster or Tower of Terror. Mike was leaning towards the coaster for sheer thrills, whereas I was favouring the tower, given that I wouldn’t spend the night there on a bet, that’s how convincing it was.

I warned Mike that these were the two thrill rides in this park, so everything else would need to be appreciated on a different level. We weren’t worried; we’d already found ourselves content to watch birds and stand to the side in queues so we could take longer to soak up the themeing. We picked the Great Movie Ride because it was dead ahead, and I knew we’d be able to sit down for a long stretch. My recovering trotters wiggled happily at the thought.

Walking up we passed some of the street people in a car, fully in their character and obviously part of the busy day to day working life of this studio of the past. I pointed out to Mike (not that he could miss it) where they were beginning to build the big sorcerer’s hat in front of the replica of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where the Great Movie Ride takes place. We both took the path of conventional wisdom and shook our heads at having the long view of the great landmark obscured.

(Speaking of landmarks, I scanned the sky for the Earful Tower — the water tower with the Mickey ears — but didn’t see it.)

Not that Mike in all his Australianess (that’s his excuse) knew about the real theatre, so I explained it as the place where celebrities are always putting their hands in the cement. When we arrived at the Disney version we saw they’d done the same here. We set about reading them, me deducing that Robin Williams is a bit of a romantic to let his wife join him. But we were interrupted by an usher who was trying to shoo people in to the theatre to get them in on the next show.

Which had to be wishful thinking on his part, because we ended up standing in line for some time. Our first real line. I’m not sure how long, but long enough for Mike to start asking me in a wary voice if this was supposed to be good (e.g. “This isn’t going to be like the Home of Tomorrow, is it?”) and long enough for John Wayne, who had been on the screen when we entered, to return as the collection of movie clips cycled.

Finally, after some odd delays which looked as though the cast members might have made a loading booboo with a wheelchair-bound person and were trying to recover, but what did we know, we were allowed to get on our barge. Unfortunately, we were the last people to get on our assigned row, and the group of rather slender folks who had preceded us had spread out to take up the entire row. The young lady in her late teens or early twenties seemed to almost snarl as she stuck out her bottom lip and moved over enough to allow me to sit. The rest taking on a similar attitude when they all had to move a little closer to accommodate Mike.

I looked around and saw they were still sitting much further apart than anyone in the other rows while Mike and I were mashed together, and the girl next to me still had room for a small child on her left, but as if to make a point of her miserable life and the suffering she must endure, chose to sit as close to me as possible without the risk of actually touching my flesh. She stared straight ahead, face now stony, and I could almost hear the voiceover “Dear Lord, help me endure the presence of these fat people, I’ll do anything you want, just don’t let me catch their fat people cooties!”

Perhaps the theatrical atmosphere was getting to me. At least Mike and I didn’t mind scrunching together, and I surreptitiously moved a little to my left so he would have more room on his right, counting on Sorority Girl to keep inching away from my looming bottom.

The cast member in charge of our massive boat was cheery and enthusiastic, even when she was abducted by gangsters. After which we were hijacked by one of that gang, and he did well enough as the tour guide, showing us scenes from movies as we slowly, slowly, floated along. Like scenes from Alien, where some modified rubber chickens dangled, daring to scare us. Boo. Okay.

Eventually we got our tour guide back. She was a clever one, to get away and hide in the Indiana Jones tableau. (Mike and I couldn’t resist a nudge at this point: we’re both Indy fans and had shared another nudge when a Raiders of the Lost Ark clip was shown while waiting earlier.)

Then there was the weirdness of The Wizard of Oz scene, where our guide and the guide in the barge ahead of us were both replying, in perfect unison, to what the Wicked Witch of the West said.

Okay, I’ll cut to the chase: we weren’t big on this attraction. As much as we wanted to sit down when we arrived, before the halfway point we wondered how much longer until we could get off. We both love movies, we both enjoy audio-animatronics, we don’t mind cheesy humour — what was the problem?

My theory is that the barges move too slowly. None of the dioramas could stand up to that much scrutiny. The human actors were a little awkward, and the Oz scene was the worst for taking you out of the Magictm (which you were never really in, alas). And yes, the way the aliens just sort of hung there, fully visible, then jiggled out a bit. Top that all off with a final round of movie clips that are apparently meant to be stirring, but look like some low-tier cable movie weekend promo from the late 1980s.

I didn’t hate it. I just wouldn’t ride it again unless I was killing time. I’m telling you: faster boats, take out anything that is supposed to be scary but isn’t, and update the montage.

Upon exiting we turned right to walk down Commissary Lane, passing the ABC Commissary after a brief look and thumbs down at the menu. We’d reached that point where we weren’t starving, but we’d stop to eat when we found something appealing. We also stopped at the Sci-Fi Dine-In and looked at their menu. It didn’t grab us, either. We had Priority Seating here for 11:30 a.m., but it looked like we’d be giving it a miss. Mike made the mistake of saying he wanted “something other than hamburgers,” but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I took a photo as we rounded a corner to New York Street and started downhill. With no one around and Mike standing there looking, you could almost see the scene shift and shimmer and for a second we were in the glory days of Hollywood. I took the photo with my little point and shoot, visions of digital sepia manipulating, but it ended up looking like we were on a set. Oh well, we still had the moment.

We walked around and briefly considered Pizza Planet, but we were both in the mood for something other than fast food. The problem was, every place we’d seen and every place whose menu I could remember either didn’t suit Mike (Mama Melrose), didn’t suit me (Sci-Fi, Hollywood and Vine), or didn’t suit either of us (Brown Derby, 50's Prime Time). And although some of the counter services had more than hamburgers, we were beginning to need to eat at a full-service restaurant instead of counter service, if you know what I mean. But again, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before things had become quite so tense, we wandered amiably into Jim Henson’s Muppet*Vision 3D. We both liked Muppets, and both thought “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” was excellent; what could go wrong?

Nothing. It was... okay. The effects were minimal. Mike charitably pondered that it might be because we were in the back row, but then we decided surely that wasn’t a factor with 3D. It was nice enough, pretty much like watching an episode of the old TV show. The best parts for me were the pre-show waiting area (where we laughed out loud, not being the total sourpusses this report is starting to read like) and of course the old guys in the balcony. (All right, all right, Waldorf and Statler. Muppet purists get so crotchety when you call them “the old guys.”) Like I said, we liked it, would watch it again, we were just spoiled after “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.” Maybe I’m being too inclusive, for Mike seemed to like this one more than I did.

By now we were laughing at ourselves and our bad luck and decided to take a closer look at Pizza Planet, since food was becoming a more important issue, especially for me who’d only been nibbling on the grim cookie.

Pizza Planet still did not appeal, but the arcade did, and it’s sad to say it entertained us more than the last two attractions. We were especially entertained by the drum simulator, where for a dollar it would play a song from a very limited selection list while you banged on the drums, realizing that banging on the drums is not as easy as it looks, but still very fun.

I went first, choosing Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice,” a little slow but something I knew and with a steady beat. Mike hung out in the doorway and took my picture and bobbed his head with me to the obvious thunk-thunks. I lasted about half the song before I started improvising and hitting whatever was fun to hit.

Then we switched sides. Mike picked Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” having accidentally found himself in the Heavy Metal category with no means of backing out, much to his disappointment, and this was the only song of this type that he knew. I took his photo and encouraged him, although it was hard to get going as the beat was iffy and you sort of needed to be in a stadium of forgiving fans, not a small booth to the side of a pizza parlour, and halfway through we gave up and wandered on to the skeeball.

Skeeball was great, as always. Can’t remember how well we did, but you can never go wrong with skeeball. Mike proved himself to be a mighty player several times, where I ranged all over the board, on one grand occasion getting 3 or 4 sidepockets in a row.

Before leaving Mike decided to try the skateboarding simulator, something he enjoyed and I enjoyed watching. He did fairly well, especially considering he’s never been on a skateboard in his life and had only Tony Hawk’s computer game to go by. I took a picture, of course.

We left smiling, now being accomplished percussionists and skateboarders and having played our ever-rousing sport of skeeball. I pointed out that Star Tours was next, and both being Star Wars fans no way could we miss that. (Even though in my opinion Jar-Jar Binks was a distraction and cheap gimmick to the otherwise nicely done The Phantom Menace. Does Ewan McGregor have the voice for a young Obi-Wan Kenobi, or what? Of course, as I update this report much later, I have to say that Attack of the Clones was ruined by having a boy-band brat play Anakin. This is not my Darth Vader!)

Mike was hesitant, mainly due to his headache from Body Wars. I told him that more people online seemed to have trouble with Body Wars than Star Tours, although their problem was motion sickness/nausea, not necessarily headaches. He decided to give it a go. I admit I was happy, and especially looking forward to seeing what kind of queue and pre-show those clever imagineers had devised.

At the time I forgave Star Tours, saying my expectations must have been too high, or the little disappointments of the day had added up, or that it was the first time we had to stand in a queue, really stand in it without moving, and wait. Even the Great Movie Ride only looped once whereas we heard the droid spiels over and over. Outside it had been warm, and there were strollers everywhere. I had already criticized the layout of the park; it felt more congested than the others with less opportunity to take alternate routes.

I’ll admit that I may not have been in the best condition to see Star Tours. The plot, what I remember of it, was minimal, just an excuse to bang us around. The themeing was minimal. It looked like the Fisher Price Star Wars playset. Mike emerged with another headache. But after we visited the IMAX rides in Vegas, with the knockout themeing, I don’t know why Disney doesn’t die of embarrassment. Because it’s really astonishing: the ones in Las Vegas are of the atmospheric calibre you’d expect from Disney World. Again, more on that when we get to it.

Out of the gift shop, and past the Backlot Express counter service, where by now Mike was saying he would be perfectly happy with hamburgers, although nothing at Backlot Express really appealed, he just wanted to be sure I had something I liked, and how could there be nothing in this one park suitable for us — we weren’t that fussy.

But we were. We were also done for. This was no Magic Kingdom. This was no Epcot. We looked at the map to see what was left that we really wanted to see.

“Show... show... show... show... I’m not up for a show.” (Other person shakes head in agreement.)

“Animation Tour? Backstage Pass? That’s walking.” (Other person shakes head in agreement.)

“Backlot Tour — you sit in trams and look at the ‘Golden Girls’ house and movie special effects.” (Shared shrugging.)

Fantasmic!... well, that’s not for six hours, we can come back during the next couple of weeks and catch it.” (Other person quickly nods head in agreement, relieved that the idea of hanging around for six hours was not proposed)

“We don’t care about parades.” (Other person nods head in agreement.)

“Indiana Jones is a show, but, well, it is Indiana Jones, I guess we should give it a try.”

But when we walked past the show in progress, we realized we were slumping. This would be a duty thing, if we did it. That’s no good. What was wrong with us and this park? Were we just hungry? I valiantly tried to talk Mike into the Hollywood and Vine lunch buffet. He saw a couple of things with which he could put up. But he caught me out, asking point blank what I saw there that I would like. Which was nothing. So he refused, despite my new plan that we’d each grab something somewhere as soon as we saw something appealing, and hope we did better at dinner. Mike was still keen on a nice, relaxing lunch together somewhere, and so was I, but it was looking extremely unlikely.

When we walked out of the park, still in the noon hour, we decided to take the ferry from MGM to the Boardwalk. I was sure we could find something good at the Boardwalk, and after we regrouped and shook off our morning at MGM, we could walk over to the World Showcase at Epcot and amble around there.

Oh, such optimism.

The ride over was nice. We saw the Swan and the Dolphin, giving us a chance to gush together about the beauty of Dixie Landings and again be grateful for having eventually ended up staying there. We saw the Yacht and Beach Club and admired them, then went back to commenting on the wonders of Dixie. (The mallards, the water wheel, the ferry to Downtown, the Sassagoula, the plantation theme, the mallards again...) The others on the ferry weren’t dressed like Joe Tourist. In their linens and starched cottons, they got off at the posh deluxe resorts.

We disembarked at the Boardwalk and looked around. Hmm, no, not pizza. Spoodles? Well, there was one thing Mike could stand and I was apparently going to be saddled with a mushroom sandwich or pizza, and I didn’t want to give up so easily and choose pizza. (Much as I love it, variety is nice.) We decided to keep looking. I knew the ESPN Club had nachos and lots of Chili’s/Bennigan’s type things we might like. We peeked in there. Ugh, sports, televisions, noise.

Okay, this wasn’t going well, but that’s alright (we said, not wholly meaning it). By now we were famished, though, and I don’t hold myself responsible for my actions if I go six hours without eating after waking, oily cookies aside. I’m not hypoglycemic as far as I know, and I assume I would know. Dad is hypoglycemic — had the tests and everything. As opposed to the scads of people who seem to visit the doctor for ten minutes and get pronounced hypoglycemic. They should count their blessings: if they were a few decades younger the same doc would probably send them home on Ritalin. (But that’s a rant for another time.)

Yet everyone can be susceptible to bad blood sugar moments, and I’ve noticed that if I eat poorly or go too long without the first meal of the day I get shaky and have a hard time expressing myself and nothing can go right, and ironically I find myself unable to make any kind of decision that might lead to the simple act of getting fed, and pretty much have to have someone put the food in front of me or it just gets worse. So this is about where things were standing as we entered Epcot.

The walk over was beautiful. We’d stopped by the bridge and I took photos of Mike with the Eiffel Tower in the background. I pointed out the purple flowers. The International Gateway was so calm, with the water lapping beside it, and there were hardly any people anywhere, a big difference from MGM. Captain Hook frolicked near the grass with Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.

As we entered the United Kingdom, I had a lucid moment and realized we were in trouble. I couldn’t walk through the UK and find food. There was no more time for that kind of vagueness. Also, I was in the worst state to be getting my first impressions of the UK pavilion, and I didn’t want to miss that experience. There needed to be a food plan now. It wasn’t the laid-back style we preferred, but it had become the physical reality. Mike, ever agreeable, was fine with not looking any further.

We had two options without going deep into World Showcase: the Rose and Crown Pub, or the fish and chips stand. Uh oh. The pub was out. Mike is very uncomfortable in the bar setting, especially the smell of beer, and I wouldn’t do that to him when I knew that at this point he would eat anywhere, so long as he was assured I was happy and would eat too. No big sacrifice, really, there was little to appeal to me on their menu.

That left the fish and chips stand. What a let down, after all that walking around MGM, trying to do better than a burger. But Mike was 100% okay with getting a chili dog from there and some fries. (Alas, he hates fish.)

But what about me. “Well, hmmm, I guess... I guess I’ll have an order of fries.” Mike, believing me when I said we had to have food now, stopped his automatic protest and we bravely marched up to the counter. I stopped.

“I can’t do this. I can’t just have an order of french fries.”

“What do you want?”

And that’s how we came to leave Epcot, board the ferry, and ride back to the Boardwalk, where Mike got a whole pizza of mixed items, and I got a slice of cheese pizza which was almost half the size of his but only a quarter of the cost. He shook his head ruefully at me, “why do I always end up wanting what you get?”

Things were getting better. Mike had Coke, I had a pink lemonade, and we both were treated abruptly by the matron at the pizza window who seemed to resent the interruption that our desire to buy food necessitated. We sat by the water, gulls swooping, only a few people nearby. It was our first time to make good use of the travel-size hand sanitizer, and it was almost always used before meals after this. Construction was going on by the Bakery and we watched that for a bit. My pizza was good. Ordinary, and very welcome, but nothing to write a review about. Mike ended up throwing some of his away. I’d caution anyone to buy their pizza by the slice at the Boardwalk: you can get three pieces for $9 and it ends up being more food than a whole pizza for $12.

Now we were in a position to be human again, to wash away the “learning experience” of MGM, and to ferry back over to Epcot.

And to get stopped at the gate because too little time had passed since we’d entered using our annual passes, a suspicious matter, but the attendant recognized us from before and was happy to allow us through without an ID check. Once more we were back in the tranquility of the World Showcase. I suggested we turn towards France for a fresh start, and sort of meander our way towards Future World, with no big plans to see anything, but another go on Spaceship Earth wouldn’t be totally unwelcome.

(This is where I forgot that the International Gateway is not in the middle of the World Showcase, and we’d have reached Future World a great deal faster by turning back towards the UK, but I was still glad we got a look around.)

France was nice. We didn’t feel like waiting until the next show time to watch a movie promoting France, even if it did mean alleged comfy chairs and a 180 degree screen. We’d just eaten, so we didn’t join the throng at the bakery, but we did share a grin over how unappealing the French restaurant looked and we were glad we were fed now and not still searching for food. Oh, Mike could have had the ham and cheese sandwich, and I could have had the legumes grillés à l'huile d'olive sur un pain mediterraneen with French fries, but as bourgeois as it sounds, and I suppose is, it’s too depressing to go into a restaurant knowing there is exactly one thing you’ll eat. And least with pizza one’s expectations stay low.

And poor Mike, every time he saw something good in these circumstances, it would invariably be smothered with mushrooms. Ask for it without mushrooms, and it would just be a plain piece of chicken. Too depressing for him.

None of this is being critical of Disney dining. Mike is just someone who often wants something fresher and more interesting than a burger, yet somehow not containing mushrooms, lamb, fish, seafood, steak, most sauces, dark meat, too many eggs (quiche, omelets), beef ribs, any meat not cooked well done, veal, lasagna... Like I said, I don’t blame Disney. Meanwhile I only want something vegetarian but with lots of carbohydrates and dairy that isn’t pizza. Good luck.

Next we went to Morocco, where I made a very necessary trip to the restroom which actually has sort of a funny story attached, but I’ve decided that I don’t need to share every single detail in this trip report (much as it might appear otherwise) so you’ll have to ask me about it in person. I may or may not tell.

I left the restroom to find Mike lounging like a bathing beauty across a stone bench. He quickly got up, but I pleaded for a re-pose so I could snap a photo, and he obliged, both of us now in our happy places. We passed the rest of Morocco, stopping briefly to look at a few crafts in a shop on the lake-side of the area.

Next was Japan. (“What is that — is it China or Japan?” “Hmm..”) Passing the kaka gori stand (“Those are supposed to be good,” I dutifully reported.), we glimpsed a fuzzy white tush just past the trees.

“Is that... That’s Daisy Duck!”

“Oh? So it is.”

“But... but... she’s very rare!” I was saying this with all the solitary conviction of one trying to impress upon someone else the importance of something which isn’t very important.

“Why’s she so rare?”

The answer to that is because it’s hard for Daisy to find friends who are so small. Daisy had a small group around her, but I still wasn’t up for standing in a line of small people and making a production out of meeting a character. However, there was no one behind Daisy on the short path to the side of the Japanese department store where we were standing, so we took pictures with her there, or rather I took a photo of Mike and you can see the back of Daisy some ten feet away.

As content as I was to wander casually, I decided we ought to go into Mitsukoshi, the Japanese department store where we could see robes hanging in the windows. Ooo, surely these were silken delights of exotica that even a grubby dresser such as myself could appreciate. This would be better than Pier One!

Unfortunately, they were creations of rayon, but the rest was moderately interesting. Especially when I kept telling myself that this was a branch of the oldest department store in the world (“since 1673"). Mike was less interested, his nose being bothered by the perfumed incense, but we did linger long enough for me to consider the fans, the only thing I saw that I might like to take home.

I’m not sure if this is where I started developing my theory called “My Whole Problem with World Showcase,” but I’ll go ahead and explain.

First, the usual tiresome disclaimers. I love Epcot’s World Showcase. It’s one of my favourite places on the planet. I know I could easily visit fifty more times and still feel like there were new things to see. Now on to the theory.

What floats my boat about World Showcase is looking around at things as they come upon me or vice versa. I know I’d find some of the live performances interesting, but unless I’m already hanging around one place for other reasons, I’d rather wander. Not because I’m a commando (with these feet?!), but because there is so much to see and I enjoy looking at it. I really wanted to see Miyuki the candy artist in Japan, but not enough to stop everything and plan around it.

Another attraction of World Showcase is the variety of food, especially items I’m not likely to get to try elsewhere.

However, you can only eat so many times. And it’s quite possible to walk around World Showcase without bumping into any live entertainment that suits your style. This leaves looking at the architecture and checking out the merchandise.

Alright, here’s “My Whole Problem with World Showcase.” Take those Japanese fans. They’re neat because they are items you could buy in this department store in Japan. If you’re a collector of fans, they’re an especially good souvenir.

But, like all of the other authentic items for sale in World Showcase, thanks to the Internet we can buy them at any time. Oh, I know it isn’t the same as buying it as a souvenir for a special trip, but when I see a rather ordinary fan for $25 at what is basically a nailed down World Fair pavilion, I can’t help but think that for half that I could go to eBay and buy a more unique fan from a seller actually in Japan, and for the Disney price I could probably get something antique and with a history.

Just an example. (Researching it caused me to find a very tempting $7 fan, for what it’s worth.) Possibly not a good example; it’s kind of hard to make this point when I’m certainly guilty of paying too much for souvenirs that are thoroughly useless and only serve as symbols of some great time.

I guess I just couldn’t see anything in the shops that interested me. It’s just too easy now to shop online for items from other countries, and nothing grabbed me purely on the souvenir level.

So, it’s not a very articulate theory, but my point was that when you took away the shopping, and the food (because we weren’t hungry), and the live entertainment (which wasn’t around when we were or didn’t interest us), then you’re usually down to looking at architecture and soaking in the culture.

Which was great and I had a wonderful time on every visit to World Showcase. And, like I said, I could easily go again and again with great pleasure. But for us it was an extremely passive experience, so if I don’t fawn over it as much here as I do other things, that’s why.

Leaving Japan, we were now in the realm of the American Adventure. Mike argued that it seemed silly to have a pavilion for America when we were right there in America so why not use the space for some other country? I explained about how this was more historical, plus Epcot has room for more pavilions if any countries want to cough up their share of the cost of participating, so the American Adventure doesn’t take away from anything.

There was a half hour wait for the American Adventure presentation, so we settled for photo opportunities and moving along. I feel so guilty when I write this. In other people’s trip reports you hear about how they dash around and do this and that while waiting for a show to begin. Maybe it was because we were seeing it all for the first time, but we felt like it was a choice between walking around and seeing stuff versus sitting around waiting to see a movie, and the former suited us more.

We also neglected Italy. This was partly because we encountered some live entertainment out front which created a crowd that somehow perfectly blocked off the entrance to the shops in the pavilion. But again, we weren’t hungry, we weren’t interested in shopping, might as well admire the buildings then move on.

I can’t remember what said live entertainment was. According to my notes it must have been the juggler because I know it wasn’t the character masquerade. I remember you couldn’t see much because of the people, and because of the way they blocked off the pavilion it seemed like a really bad place to hold a show.

Next was Germany. We both liked the little train display and marveled over it for a bit. I liked the handcar. Like most people probably do, we discussed what it would be like to suddenly hop the fence and start rearranging things. You know people must have done it before.

We ducked inside the Christmas shop for just a moment, me usually being a big fan of Christmas and its trappings. (Although I suppose that for religious and decorative reasons it’s really more of a Festivus thing with me.) However, this being the end of January, the Christmas spirit was at its most dormant, so we ducked right back out again.

This is when we realized that we’d had a very long day for us already, what with MGM, the back and forth and back again of procuring lunch, and then the slow amble through six countries of the World Showcase. Plus my blisters were staging a protest complete with little Magic Markers and posterboard signs. We decided to hoof it out of the World Showcase and save the rest for when it could be better appreciated.

My feet were wary of this negotiation but grimly concentrated on putting one wobbly toe in front of the other, while my eyes began to look upon the remainder of the circle as some dream-like corridor that never ends, stretching... stretching... until finally I had to flop on a bench next to a stand of Chinese parasols. I enjoyed looking at them, having always wanted a parasol ever since I let a silk one in the corner of an antique shop marked down to half price get away from me. Plus these were cheap, around $7 as I recall, which trumps my whole problem with World Showcase as previously discussed, if the item is interesting enough to me outside of Disney World and cheap and capable of presenting some souvenir value. (Because, really, when would I ever need a parasol however much I want one?)

While resting I took a photo of two young Asian ladies with little English. That made me happy. One is pleased to be of service. We got back up and didn’t look at Norway or Mexico, firmly setting them aside for later, although I did trail my hand over one of the Mexican blankets stacked up at the outside stand. I’d heard so much about them on the newsgroup and had envisioned thick, soft, wonders of colour. Instead they looked more like black and white plaid and felt mildly acrylic. Oh well. I would just have to content myself with the hundreds of unexpected wonders Disney was laying at our feet every other minute.

Passing Mexico, about to cross the bridge, we stopped to admire the very orange-y flamingos standing by the fence, and looked across the water to enjoy the other birds swimming along. Mike thought he saw a black swan.

When we crossed to the Future World side of things, we saw he was right. Not just one black swan, but two, with the second on her nest. We were both very impressed and spent a good amount of time then and on future visits admiring these swans which are native to Australia. We never did find out how they came to be there, despite asking around. Note to self: write to Epcot and ask.

Here is another place where I will skip over one of those stories where it’s best not to commit the details to print. Suffice to stay that when walking closely behind someone on the Alligator Bayou steps, keep your mouth closed because you never know what might fly in.

Mike was pooped out when we got back to the room, so I went on my own to Fulton’s to see if our photos were ready. I took them back to the room and we had a look, pronouncing them to all be well and fine and again agreeing that it was best to get the processing done while on vacation, while we could remedy any mistakes.

I wasn’t content with the one jaunt, and decided I would go over to Port Orleans for some beignets and bring them back. I went to the Mason Dixon stop to wait for the bus that ran between Dixie and PO.

It was a longer wait than I expected, and I took notes on all the unwanted buses coming by. Magic Kingdom. Downtown Disney. Epcot. Magic Kingdom again. Epcot again. Something called Special. Until finally the bus with the sign reading nothing but “Port Orleans and Dixie Landings” arrived. Must be it. I hopped on to the empty bus, alone.

As soon as we were going the bus driver asked me what my destination was. Huh? I said Port Orleans. He told me that bus didn’t go to Port Orleans, that he was just back from mumble-mumble, but he would drop me off at Port Orleans anyway. I couldn’t hear him very well and the tiredness was sinking in, so I boggled to myself and thanked him politely, as he went on to tell me that there was a bus that operated between the resorts, but he didn’t know anything about that. Okay.

He dropped me off in front and not at the bus stop, so no one would make the mistake of getting on. I was still thoroughly curious about what kind of bus this was supposed to be, with the sign flashing only Port Orleans and Dixie Landings, but he had already mumbled the explanation so to this day I remain in the dark. My guess is that maybe his was the Hoop-de-Doo bus for the resorts. I guess I’ll never know. (Until someone reads this and writes in to tell me.)

Port Orleans was quiet. I took a left into the food court, where the cast members and few milling guests apparently just got the news about their puppy being shot. Or so it seemed, the air of glumness was so thick. Okay, so they lost their restaurant, and their marina, and their pool was under rehab, but Dixie is the one having to give up its name, people!

I actually don’t know why the cast members seemed to have had their souls sucked out, but in addition to being palpably miserable they were disorganized and despite there only being a few people at the counter they must have given each one of us the wrong order four times before they figured out what went to whom.

This astonishing unhappiness had a top note of defeat more than anything, I suppose. They did mean well. One woman gave me stickers for each of the Port Orleans mugs I’d carried over so I could tell them apart. (Actually, she said “do you have your stickers yet?” and me being totally lost I cautiously said, “no,” then she swooped down and stuck an orange dot on one and a black dot on the other. Oh. Okay. Great. Cootie guards.)

I watched a blonde ponytailed woman make the beignets fresh, then I sloppily gobbled one of the half dozen while walking to the bus stop, knowing they’d be at their best while hot. Not bad. About the same as the ones Mom has made using Café du Monde’s mix sold in New Orleans. I could do with a little less powdered sugar, but that’s part and parcel with beignets. I think whenever I get near fried dough I secretly hope for sopapillas like they make at the Pancho's restaurant chain. (Say what you will about this inexpensive buffet whose prime time has long past, but their hot sopapillas brought to the table in a basket with honey drizzled inside cannot be beat.) Take off the powdered sugar and I almost had a Pancho's sopapilla, so I was pretty satisfied, even if I was covered in bits of white as I boarded the Epcot bus from the Port Orleans stop to hitch a ride back to Dixie.

I walked into the room to find Mike gushing about the day to his grandparents, this earning him a scolding look since I liked to be around for these conversations to relive the day with him. I did get to hear him call into work and boast to them about all the fun.

Mike ended up not being a beignet man, so he had the excellent chocolate cake I’d also brought back. The powdered sugar must have put ants in my pants (no matter what the medical studies say), for I left Mike in the room once again so I could go back down to Fulton’s for an assortment of postcards and a Dixie Landings t-shirt. (Before the horrid name change banished such merchandise forever.) I found a gem of a green t-shirt with a nicely embossed Mickey fishing, but it was difficult to find enough postcards that adequately showed the wonder of the World, and didn’t look like the  kiddie paradise people perceive.


Expenses

$ 11.??      Starring Rolls
                     2 croissants, filled cookie, chocolate chip cookie, orange drink, and a lost receipt
$ 17.97    on-ride photo: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
$ 20.14    Twilight Zone Tower of Terror t-shirt
$   4.00    Pizza Planet arcade
$ 24.88    Boardwalk Pizza
                     pizza slice ($3.18)
                     pink lemonade ($2.19)
                     Coke ($2.07)
                     12" pizza with three toppings ($17.44)
$ 33.77    Fulton’s
                     film developing (two rolls - $28.78)
                     Three Musketeers candy bar ($0.99)
                     sundries ($4.00)
$   7.72    Colonel’s Cotton Mill
                     garlic knots ($1.90)
                     grilled chicken sandwich ($5.82)
$   7.19    Port Orleans
                     half-dozen beignets ($4.02)
                     chocolate cake ($3.17)
$ 27.35    Fulton’s
                     Dixie Landings t-shirt ($20.14)
                     17 postcards ($7.21)

$154.02  TOTAL

 


The above comes from the done-for-fun book version of our trip report, Pixie Dust in Your Eye. (Sorry about the pricetag -- that's the publisher's call. Even we can't afford copies...)

The book, weighing it an nearly 500 pages, has the full diaries of our trip to Walt Disney World and Las Vegas, my solo trip to WDW, the year-long "pre-trip" report (complete with numerous vacation planning anxiety attacks), several related Epinion reviews, and all of the original wording.

(For various reasons -- some grammatical, some rhetorical, some factual, and some litigational, which is not a word but should be -- the text of the Web version is slightly changed.)

You're welcome to support our hamster's sunflower seed habit by purchasing a copy somewhere, or -- if you're the patient sort -- I'll continue to put the two main trip report portions online (with hindsight modifications) as time permits.

--3 September 2005

30 January 2001 |



Hamsters

 WE BUILT A HOUSE 

 RABBITS TOLERATE US 

 RECENTLY PLAYED 
 BOARD GAMES: 



 CRUISE REPORTS: 

Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)