Saturday, 21 October 2017

A quick break in Florida - Part 2

One thing I haven't mentioned yet is accommodation. We have stayed at Disney's All Stars a few  times before; it does what it says on the tin - comfortable accommodation, no frills and the air con works. No matter where we stay on Disney we ask for a quite zone away from the main pool and footfall area.

One great advantage  of the "All Star" resorts is the choice of buses you can use for that return from the parks each evening. If your room is in the right spot, its the same walk back using the Sports bus or the Music bus. We never had to wait for a bus as you're doubling your chance of a bus being available.

We chose Block 4 (Rock Inn) Music which happens to back on via a short path from the end staircase to the main car park at the rear - cross the car park at night and its the same length walk from Sports Transport Hub as it is from Musics back to your comfortable bed. We had breakfast at Intermission Food Court most mornings. Bizarrely if you're heading to an early entry (7am at MK today) the food hall does not open on time. Ah well, its not all bad - Cinnamon rolls on Main street it will have to be!

The plan today is to take advantage of Magic Kingdoms EE in the morning then head over to Studios for the afternoon where we already have all our Fast Passes in place. The gates are just opening as we arrive so heading straight for Fantasyland we walk on to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train  - its pretty much the big queue generator here now (along with that old classic Peter Pan) so my advice would be to have a FP in place if you're staying in this park - or just get here early on an EE and do them back to back. I do like the ride - it's nicely themed and has some great animatronic pieces but a bit more BTM please. Unfortunately a couple of the set pieces are invisible - it was so humid and warm overnight, that at this time in the morning everything is dripping with condensation on the outside of the buildings so you cant see inside the glassed off areas.

After Fantasyland we head over to Tomorrowland- there's still just a little time left before official opening time so that old classic Space Mountain is still a walk on. I cant wait though until DL Shanghai 'Tron' arrives - now that will be awesome and combined with Star Wars new land in the Studios should finally ease some of the pressure off Pandora (and no doubt apply it all somewhere else) - but just please give it a single rider option from day one. 

Time for a cinnamon Mickey Swirl (I remember when it was more a loaf  that combined with a couple of fish and a glass of wine would have been a biblical miracle) along with a side of egg and bacon croissants from the Main Street Bakery.  As it's Halloween season they seem to have decorated this classic with a rather  hallucinogenic looking orange icing and a (using the term loosely) 'chocolate' web.  But it still hits the spot washed down with coffee.  Thanks to Tom Bricker for the photo.

Two absolute must do classics for both of us has to be Haunted Mansion and  The Jungle Cruise. I think  Anaheim's H.M. with its bigger lobby area and that extra space and theming inside still has the edge on Florida. And Hong Kong still has the best J.C. - but they are still absolute must do attractions wherever in the 'World' you are. We have a great Floridian Captain on the JC today with a great dry (almost English) sense of humour - sure the jokes are the same (with a couple of fresh ones) but its all in the delivery - this girl nails it.

Pineapple/ Vanilla whirl dole whip, woof!
One thing we always forget to do whilst in Adventure land is partake in the worship of Dole - We keep reading how people  rave about this so off we go to try it. Its hot this morning - seriously hot, so it sounds just the thing. The Dole whip hits the spot. And no Jack didn't wear the t shirt to match.

No visit is complete in the Magic Kingdom without a ride on BTM.  There's really no better experience after a dole whip than riding with your hands in the air whilst sliding across the carriage and crushing your loved ones. We recover with a nice sit down in the cool seats of Mickey's Philharmagic Theatre. This show is still one of my favourites - I am always fascinated how they slowly and seamlessly  increase the screen size till its almost wrap around and remove the entire proscenium - hiding it all again before the house lights come back on - simple Disney Magic.

We had a lovely morning in the MK; we left around noon and the park was getting noticeably busier. We had decided to spend the afternoon in Studios and all ready have fast passes lined up for Tower of Terror, Midway Mania and Star Tours. Its a bit annoying that you cant add certain rides to your app if you already have one ride in that otherwise it would have been Aerosmith rather than Star Tours (which hardly ever has a line worth worrying about). In the end we chose ToT instead of the RnR coaster because the latter has a single rider option.

For Lunch we eat in the ABC Commissary where it has to be said the choices seem to have gone a little downhill. There always used to be a fish option here but (as in many QS restaurants) it seems to have disappeared - the Angus and the Chicken Club will have to do.  Never mind we'll just have to make up for it tonight as we are eating in the Swan and Dolphins Garden Grove as Friday night is Seafood night ( "Fish are friends not food" -  is not an option tonight)

I forgot to mention that since our last visit the Mickey Hat has now gone from the central area (Hurray). What a difference it makes having the sight lines back to Grauman's  Chinese. 
There is a lot of construction here at the moment (even the lake has been drained) as the park prepares the way for Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land. This also means quite a few things are out of action though - some I won't really miss - The Studio Tour Tram was always a bit short, fake and pointless and though I did enjoy the Car Stunt Show, there's only so many times you could put up with the cheesy scripted padding in between the routines.

What is a shame is the "Great Movie Ride" is now gone for ever. Yes it was also quaintly old and tired but it was always an original classic with its Animatronic sets and quite sophisticated (for the late  80s)  transport system. Disney Should set up a new site called the retro park and bring back all the lost classics - I'd buy a ticket; at least these old classics gave you a decent amount of ride time after standing in line :)

A downpour and lightning storm gives us a rather cut short version of Indiana Jones as they can't use any of their outdoor sets. I'm starting to suspect that  this year we are cursing the shows as the Lion King had an issue where the tumble monkeys couldn't continue with their segment due to technical issues (note - no tumble monkeys were harmed in this performance). Afterwards, the light is fantastic - a yellow post-storm light coats everything in a mysterious glow.

We take the Friendship boat to the Swan - we're a little early for dinner so stroll along the Boardwalk with a glass of wine and a craft beer. The storm has passed and it is (to put it politely)  sticky as hell - a great excuse for a cold beer - the light though is still ethereal, the buildings naturally illuminated.

Friday night at the Garden Grove has become a tradition with us. A seafood buffet heaven of Alaskan Crab Legs, Lobster and perfect roast beef (PS dont forget your wallet as your mickey band won't pay here!). When we first started eating here we didn't actually realise it's a character dining experience - it does seem an odd place to have one as your buried deep up to your elbows ripping Alaskan crab legs and Lobster claws to pieces. How do Chip n Dale stay so clean!? With so many sticky kids. The beef carvery is also superb here - today its a melt in the mouth joint of slow cooked lower Sirloin  - this in my opinion is actually better than the (more expensive) prime rib cut that used to be the option, as its pretty much fat free cooked this way.

OK this one doesn't have a red nose so thats ??????? - Arrgghh
 Quote of the day - On entering the seafood buffet a lady asks for the menu from the host  ' Wait, this is no good honey  ... I seriously do not  like seafood ! - I hate it ' 

Monday, 16 October 2017

A quick break in Florida - Part 1

The nights are getting darker, grey and colder. So last week we took a break in the world of  Disney and Universal Studios Florida. We have always been fans - holidays lying around a pool or on a beach no longer call our name - we have to be doing something which is probably why we have recently turned to cruising.

The Disney Bus Hub at All Star Music

Its been a couple of years now since the last trip out here - our last visit to a Disney park was actually in California last year - we couldn't resist adding it on to the end of our Amtrak Sleeper Train Trip which you can read about here.

Floating Mountains at Pandora AK
Sometimes its actually good to leave a little gap in your visits (if you can just resist)  so you can allow time for new attractions to be completed (and quieten down a little) such as the expansion of Animal Kingdom. It's also why this time we have also decided to visit Universal to see London, Hogwarts and Hogsmeade (whilst these have indeed been open a few years now, this year is the first time as an on site hotel guest you can use "Front of the Line" privileges which can make a huge difference in the land of Harry Potter and Universal in general)

Gringotts Bank - HP's Wizarding World, Universal Studios.
We flew out from Manchester by Virgin Atlantic via Atlanta where a 2 hour layover was not quite enough to pass through Atlanta's disastrous international immigration setup. Speaking to the agents the problem seems to be that they have now installed a multitude of electronic screening booths but have cut down on the front of line staff at the same time - cancelling out any advantage the automated system should be giving. We were put on Standby for the next available flight and after a great pizza find ourselves on the short 1 hour hop down to Orlando. Fortunately the flight back is direct.

Our luggage is here waiting for us at MCO as soon as we disembark. It curiously was sent down on the flight we missed which I thought was not suppose to happen anymore - but it saves us time hanging around the carousel and soon we are on the Magical Express and checking in to All Star Music where we are given our Mickey Bands  (no wallet or door keys needed now for a week). Tomorrow its off to Pandora in AK to see just what they have been up too and if it lives up to the hype.

AK gates at 7.15am for an 8.00am opening
Animal Kingdom this morning has an official opening time of 8.00am (with no Early Entry for guests today) - Hotel to AK is a short 10 minute hop on the Disney Transport Buses and we are here by 7.15am  having noted that since Pandora opened they have been opening the park 30 minutes early and lining people up to enter the new land. Right on schedule at 7.30am we are allowed to pass through the now busy gates (behind us lines were reaching back to the ticket booths) and find ourselves at the rope drop for Pandora, as we have no Fast Pass for Flight of Passage.

Jack charging up the empty Flight of the Banshee Lines

I cant say I was a fan of James Cameron's 'Avatar' film - I wish he would just direct and let someone else do the writing. I can however see now how the land fits into the eco theming of Animal Kingdom very well. And as for Avatar Flight of Passage-- I have  to say it's the best thing I have ever ridden using this type of technology. Beautiful bright Images - superb immersiveness with thrilling moments balanced beautifully with seconds of rest and peace as you feel the Banshee's body breathing and catching its breath back against your legs. PS. If you want to see Cameron's hand print you need to ride the 2nd level set - its by the ride rooms exit to your right. We rode it twice more on fast passes over the week. If you haven't managed to get these on your 60 days out window then you will have to get up early or be prepared to stand in line for over 3 hours. We were up at 5.30am!

Hey - Jack and James share the same initials and almost the same handsize!

Pandora itself is a beautiful if quite small land - it fits perfectly into AKs lush tropical greenery yet is different enough from the more natural jungles to make it quite unique - helped by the superb sounds and effects flowing from the jungles.

The mix of sculptured and real vegetation really does give this area a unique look
Camerons obsession with technology icons is well catered for
The theming - tech meets natural - seems to have gone down well with the natives
At night though it's truly worth another visit (after you have done the new lake show) when the paths and vegetation glow in a blue light symphony of colours. 

On exiting the line has now extended all the way back to Africa & back to Pandora. We have a fastpass for the 'Na'vi river ride' (Pandora's only other ride at the moment)  after lunch so we now move on to the rest of the park. I think last time we were here they had already moved the Lion King show to its new home but now the new back water walk that links Africa to Pandora has been  themed and looks superb as well as being very handy.

The Lion Kings snazzy new home
The Lion King.
Next its on to a relaxing and  bouncy trip through the Savannah on safari. Always a favourite - a couple of new locations seem to have been added included an African wild dog section - though this is rather badly placed for anybody sat on the right hand side of the bus - strange creatures - ugly and evil looking at the same time.

Wow, fab to see the lions & they're so close!

We are spending the full day in AK today,  now a great and viable option made  possible thanks to the new night show. The side effect of Pandora is that most other rides/shows hardly generate much of a line. For lunch - after riding the highly comfortable and smooth (not) Dinosaur USA (other wise known as the spine smash jeep) we hit an old favourite: Restaurantosaurus for juicy burgers, fries and beer - mmmmmm Safari Amber Ale.

A short walk from here brings us to the Nemo show, I do love the show with its wonderful staging and puppetry; however, we find the songs rather weak but this is more than made up for by the fantastic performers.

Fish tank scene is amazing, so pretty, I want!

'We're having fish tonight!'
We pass the rest of the time riding old favourites - Everest is still a must do (multiple times) and we have a FP already booked for this. The new Disney App seems to be working much better than it did last time we used it (in its first cpl of weeks) though personally I find the new Fast Pass system is really restrictive. Single rider still works well though (I note that they seem to have permanently attached a 45 minute wait time to the wall by the single rider queue on Everest - even with the SR line quite full it was never no more than 15 mins in reality)

The lake sparkles in readiness for the Rivers of Light show.

And lets not forget 'Its a Bugs Life' . Its still funny and more importantly - great air con, a quick shower plus you get to sit down and have a free body massage (win win in this heat). Remember, magnifying glasses are for looking at little things, not for burning little things.

One show we always enjoy - even though we know the script practically by heart now is Flights of Wonder. Its always good to get some time sitting down to rest your feet whilst still being entertained and this show is one of our absolute favourites - and quite thrilling when they choose somebody one row behind you for the dollar joke - just make sure you turn your camera shutter speed right up.

I'm having a Tippi Hedren moment
Just a little time to kill before dinner at the Yak and Yeti tonight so we head off on the Harambe Express for a round trip (We dont actually get off  - just pass the time swaying about on the train and resting our feet again). When we arrive back we take in the jungle walks -  Gorilla Falls exploration Trail; The Gorillas seem to be in a bad mood with arms folded & backs to us! Hilarious & Maharajah Jungle Trek for the tigers.

Then its a stroll back into Asia for dinner at the Yak and Yeti. After a shared starter of tuna and crab Dragon Rolls ( bit short on tuna incidentally) I opted for the lobster with scallops on noodles and Jack chose the halibut; both delicious and our server placed everything family style with extra plates so we could share it all.  Ooooh and more great wine and beer.

Yak and Yeti

We had a little time to pass before the night show so after a dusk walk along the Tiger Trail we watch some of the street entertainment around the Africa Hub. I must mention a highlight is the myriad of live entertainment doing their thing. We were both mightily impressed especially with these guys who had everyone dancing in the streets by the end of the show, the drummers in Pandora are awesome too, especially as we went back after the late show to see the land come to life in its luminescence, wow!

And finally we are taking our seats in the lakeside ampitheatre for 'Rivers of Light'. Our first night is drawing to a close and to be honest we have no idea what to expect. As its now been a couple of years since our last visit we have deliberately tried not to read or watch anything that would have too many spoilers (I do recommend you try to do this (slightly ironic if you're reading this  I know)  - it is just so hard now - so many temptations). Pandora for example has seriously exceeded my expectations in its theming and the pure immersive/thrill of its main ride.

Rivers of Light suits AK very well. The music is great (it sort of reminds me of 'Dolphin Show' music from Sea World) - very orchestral, uplifting and thematic; at the same time its quite genteel and calming - no big bangs and fireworks (the animals are trying to sleep - although the chimps seem to be sat in the pitch black at the highest point possible to get the best view) - as we leave the moon is setting above Everest.

My overheard quote of the day as we exited Flights of Passage this morning

"Three hour line - jeez thats longer than the film - hopefully not as ******* dull"

Click for part 2 right here