Walt Disney World
February 19-26, 2011
A trip report and new photo highlight of Walt Disney World from February 19-26, 2011.
Two weeks ago I had an opportunity to return to my favorite vacation destination. This trip was originally planned to take place this past September, but an unseen event took priority and this trip was postponed. We finally got a much needed break in the calendar last month, and it was great to finally set foot inside of a Disney theme park once again. This was my first Disney theme park visit since December of 2009, and the first trip back to the theme parks since my brother's passing. Needless to say, it was still a little bit weird being there without him.
Our week in Florida had ample amounts of warm temperatures and that famous Florida sunshine that helps make the state so appealing. Each day was over 80 degrees, and plenty of sunshine prevailed during the first half of the trip. As expected, it was mostly cloudy when Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center. The cloud cover prevented us from being able to watch the launch from Epcot. There was a small window of blue sky, but the shuttle quickly passed and only an exhaust plume was visible for a few minutes. Oh well.
The crowds in late February were heavier than expected. For starters, the Daytona 500 took place at the start of our trip, and that was followed by President's Day the next day. Throw in additional people being in town for the shuttle launch at the end of the week, and this apparently being a week off of school for students in Atlanta, Detroit, and also the New England area (just to name a few locations), and as a whole, the parks were crowded. Some of the days seemed to be as busy as vacationing there during Christmas or the Fourth of July.
Surprisingly, the Magic Kingdom ranked at the bottom for parks to visit this time around. Well, next to last. Animal Kingdom still needs more attractions and it didn't help that Primeval Whirl was closed for refurbishment. But with all of the construction taking place throughout the Magic Kingdom (not just Fantasyland and the former Mickey's ToonTown Fair, but also Main Street and Adventureland), it just didn't feel magical in the flagship of the Florida theme parks. Epcot was the best with Disney's Hollywood Studios in second place.
On to the photos! (165 of them to be exact.)
Disney's Pop Century Resort was our choice in lodging for this visit. It was fine for the most part, but some of the waits for the buses were a bit extreme at times. I know that budgets are tight all the way around the resort, but nothing is worse than delaying people from trying to get to the theme parks.
It's still a little bit weird seeing Monorail Teal and not Monorail Pink or Monorail Purple.
Space Shuttle Discovery rocketed into the mostly cloudy sky on STS-133, leaving behind a white plume of exhaust.
I've never noticed this TIM sticker before in the loading station for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster (look to the top right) but it seemed appropriate considering this was probably my brother's favorite ride in the park. NOTE - The TIM sticker is actually in memory of a different Tim, and not my brother. It's just a coincidence that I've never noticed it in all of my trips on the ride. Perhaps it's because everybody (myself included) is looking the other way as the coaster trains are launched from 0-60 in just a couple of seconds.
As it was previously mentioned, the Magic Kingdom was a mess of construction walls throughout many areas of the park. Throw in the fact that Mickey's ToonTown Fair was recently closed to make way for the new version of Fantasyland, and the amount of walking room alone in the park has substantially decreased. This park is not going to be very fun when it gets packed during the summer and holidays.
The new Let the Memories Begin! decorations were on display, and it looked fairly nice. The slogan does seem a little bit cheesy though. Perhaps Disney will do a better job with the next celebration when the new Fantasyland begins to open in later 2012.
A new attraction poster for Space Mountain was on display under the Main Street railroad station. Yes, the Florida version of the roller coaster finally has music during ride, and, yes, it's pretty good. It's not as great as the other versions of the coaster, but it's not bad. Hopefully a future upgrade will finally have on-board audio and not just a bunch of speakers scattered along the track.
Construction, construction, and more construction in the Magic Kingdom! Grrrr. Hopefully the walls will be down before the Easter crowds start arriving near the end of April. The bridge (not pictured) from Main Street USA to Adventureland was also closed for refurbishment.
The Haunted Mansion was still in the process of being updated. On Saturday, the ending with the hitchhiking ghosts (audio animatronics and mirror effect) was working as it always did. On the following Wednesday the scene with the animatronics was covered and instead had animation of the ghosts seeking a ride, and the mirror section was covered and had animations of the ghosts flying up and down the hallway. I can't wait to see how Disney is enhancing the ending of the ride!
Tomorrowland Speedway was seeing longer than normal wait times during the day. The reasoning was simple. Two of the four tracks were closed in preparation of editing part of the layout and making a little more room for the expansion of Fantasyland.
"it's a small world" has changed its loading station, now having guests stay in line down the old exit ramp. Exciting.
A popcorn cart resembling something out of Beauty and the Beast was spotted along a construction wall in Fantasyland.
And speaking of Fantasyland construction walls . . .
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
For those of us who haven't visited the Magic Kingdom in a while, it's quite obvious that the Winnie the Pooh ride finally has a themed entrance. In addition to moving the tree across the street from the old Pooh's Playful Spot, the line also has a new playground themed to the Hundred Acre Woods home to Pooh and his friends.
Most of the playground was open, but not Tigger's part. Rabbit's garden has a few fun activities for the kiddies (and lots of gophers), and Eeyore's Gloomy Place looks sadder than ever. Don't be mislead by the tug-of-war with a gopher! The critter is MUCH stronger than it looks! Pull hard and don't give up on the varmint!
It appears that the new outer line queue and playground is actually the first part of the new Fantasyland to be complete and open to the public. It looks significantly better than before and fits in with the new theming coming to that part of the land. I can't wait to see what opens next!
Visiting Epcot for a few days was nothing but outstanding. The weather was great, the crowds were tolerable, and the flower displays and blooming trees looked outstanding. We were there a few days before this year's International Flower & Garden Festival officially began, but most of the topiary displays were already in the park.
I like the diamond Spaceship Earth pattern on the new banners. Does anybody know where I can get one of these Epcot banners once the celebration is finished?
I have no idea why in the world Mickey looks so bad, but it's a little bit frightening.
But in a good marketing move, the Orange Bird is back! Hooray!
I don't recall seeing these signs last time, but they're a nice touch to Showcase Plaza. The only problem is that based on the small size I doubt they'll do much good.
Believe it or not, but Captain E.O. is back! Do take note that the preshow is not the original Kodak video that used to play here at Epcot, but rather a making of Captain E.O. video that briefly takes guests behind the scenes of the sci-fi adventure.
On a side note, I don't ever remember the seats moving during the show or the water or other special effects. At the start of the show they make a point of saying that this version is exactly as the movie was when it premiered, but I honestly don't remember those effects here in Epcot. Definitely not the moving seats or water effects, and probably not for the light effects. I was a bit young when it first started playing in Epcot, but I sat in the theater and watched the show many times. I'll have to dig through the home videos and try to find my family's recording of the show those many years ago.
This current version of Captain E.O. is awesome! I can't wait to see it again!
On the other side of Future World, the much-hyped Chevy Volt is part of the post-show area at Test Track. No word yet if it'll be more reliable than the test cars on the ride with frequently breaking video screens and audio systems.
Showcase Plaza is home to the newest Disney character --- Duffy. I'm not sure why Disney felt the need to throw an almost random character (no TV show or movie association) in the theme parks, especially a teddy bear of all creatures. Maybe if it's ignored long enough it'll quietly go away.
Spring in Epcot! Beautiful!
The new La Cantina Restaurant in Mexico on World Showcase Lagoon.
I don't know if these small animal Chinese New Year displays in China are part of the International Flower & Garden Festival, or more of a permanent part of the pavilion. Either way they look pretty neat.
Rapunzel's tower is now part of the elaborate train set in Germany.
The new, high-end Via Napoli Ristorante E Pizzeria in Italy.
2011 International Flower & Garden Festival at Epcot
As it was stated earlier, this year's running of the International Flower & Garden Festival in Epcot didn't officially begin until a few days after our departure. None of the exhibits were open yet, but the flower displays and a vast majority of the topiaries were in place. As usual, the displays looked outstanding!
Disney's Hollywood Studios
Visits to Disney's Hollywood Studios were fairly pleasant on this trip. The park wasn't too crowded (busiest of days had two showings of Fantasmic!, while quietest of days had only two showings of Lights, Motors, Action!) and long lines weren't a problem, except of course for Toy Story Midway Mania and the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. The only disappointment was that Star Tours was still closed for its refurbishment, but this was known in advance of the trip.
A new Disney's Hollywood Studios display for the park was unveiled on Hollywood Boulevard during our visit.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was just as awesome as ever despite the scaffolding around the building.
Playhouse Disney --- Live on Stage! was closed to make way for the new Disney Junior --- Live on Stage! show in the Animation Courtyard.
Displays from the recent smash-hit Disney animated film, Tangled, were still on display at The Magic of Disney Animation. I had an opportunity to see the film recently, and the animation and attention to detail in the film were simply amazing.
Oh, how I wish that it was May! Sadly, it was only February and Star Tours was still closed for its much needed refurbishment and upgrade. This ride is going to be a blast when the new version opens in a few months.
Some interesting Star Wars merchandise was available in the parks, including some really fancy Yoda & Chewbacca backpacks, and an awesome Stormtrooper t-shirt.
Was the stand-by line for Toy Story Midway Mania really three hours long? Not really. The line wasn't even snaking outside of the building. Occasionally the signs will display much longer wait times than in reality, and it's entertaining watching people's reactions whenever they see the sign. "Three hours?!? OMG! That's insane!!! Ahhhhh!"
A few new exhibits were spotted in the museum part of the Walt Disney: One Man's Dream attraction. I'll admit that I nearly collapsed when I saw the props from EPCOT Center on display, especially the robot butler from Horizons. I really wish that each park had its own museum dedicated to past attractions including ride vehicles, props, models, and even first person POV or making-of videos. If Dollywood (Pigeon Forge, TN) can have a small museum dedicated to the park's history and past attractions, why can't Disney? This is a nice start in Walt Disney: One Man's Dream, but Disney can do so much better in each park.
Pixar Pals Countdown To Fun! Parade
The new daytime parade in the Studios was running during our visit. The music was pretty catchy, and the floats and characters for the Pixar movies were pretty neat. It's a little bit odd though that Cars, Finding Nemo, and WALL-E were not included.
Disney's Animal Kingdom
Alas, the animal kingdom. We spent one day at Disney's Animal Kingdom on this trip (more like half a day really). The bottom line is that the park needs more rides for the entire family, and not just thrill rides. The animal trails are nice when the animals are actually out and not just hiding under cover, and the shows are okay if you're into that sort of thing. But the park still needs more rides.
The busiest part of the park was Harambe in Africa. This area can get packed in the mid-afternoon especially when it's time for the daytime parade. Asia wasn't as busy this time as the slightly cooler weather (only the low 80s and not 90s like in the summer) didn't have as many people flocking to Kali River Rapids. Everest has reasonable wait times (pretty short waits for the single-rider line), and Dinosaur maintained a 10-15 minute wait. The only disappointment was that Primeval Whirl was closed for refurbishment.
Boo! I know that attractions have to close every once in a while for regular maintenance, but I think I hit an all-time high for the overall number of rides and areas of parks closed during one visit to Florida.
It looks like there's a new little animal house in a small area in front of the Tree of Life. Is somebody new going to be moving into Disney's Animal Kingdom soon?
The Tusker House Restaurant in Africa has moved to a new location and also become a buffet-style restaurant instead of being counter service. I wasn't a huge fan of Tusker House, but I certainly don't like this trend of converting counter service places into buffets.
A male gorilla was pretty active on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, and off to the side was a female gorilla with a tiny baby.
The newest attraction is the Wild Africa Trek in the Africa section of Disney's Animal Kingdom. This is a more adventurous tour through and above the animal exhibits in Kilimanjaro Safaris and the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. Next time on the safari, look above the hippo and crocodile exhibit and see the new bridges, and also keep your eyes open for the new safari vehicles. That's just part of the adventure that awaits you in this special up-charge tour.
The only time spent in Downtown Disney was an evening after visiting Disney's Animal Kingdom. The Marketplace side was extremely busy, and it didn't help squeezing around the construction walls surrounding the LEGO Imagination Center. A temporary LEGO store is already up and running next to Earl of Sandwich and Once Upon a Toy, so don't worry, LEGO toys can still be purchased at Downtown Disney. Hopefully the new version of the main LEGO store will be ready again in the near future.
Pleasure Island was fairly quiet except for the people passing back and forth between the Marketplace and West Side. The West Side was busy, but nothing extreme like during the Christmas and New Year holidays. High winds prevented anybody from riding the Characters In Flight balloon.
We were greeted by this sight when arriving at Downtown Disney. Apparently some people decided to use a bus parking lane as their own personal pick-up spot. Surprisingly, no Disney worker or police officer approached the car. Security insists on checking the smallest of pockets in my camera bag, but apparently unknown cars are allowed to park wherever they want. Great.
The temporary LEGO Store wasn't anything special, but the air conditioning was working really well. Hopefully it'll be just as cold in there this summer.
So long, McDonald's. Hello, Pollo Campero.
And one of the latest additions to vinylmation is the classic Orange Bird. Vinylmation is still weird, but I like the Orange Bird.
The misfortune of standing at the very busy end of the West Side just after another showing of La Nouba at Cirque du Soleil. People love the show, and seeing La Nouba is part of many families' vacations these days.
In the end, it was great to set foot back inside of the Disney theme parks. It's great making the long drive down to central Florida, and it's always fun exploring the parks and seeing the new sights and riding the classic attractions. And as always, I can't wait for the next visit!