It was, in my lifetime, the greatest Labor Day weekend I remember. This morning I sit here depressed that it’s over, and a bit gutted by another rejection letter (two in fact this morning). The return home after a weekend away is always hard. This one was made doubly hard by the long drive (almost 15 hours), and lack of sleep. So I’ve decided to reflect on the time spent away as a balm to my somewhat cracked soul.
The trip ostensibly was to attend Sydney and Ryan’s wedding. Sydney is one of the many great friends I made at Viable Paradise, and given the opportunity to go to Orlando for her wedding, I jumped at the chance. I’d never been there and was excited about the possibility of visiting one or more of the theme parks. So excited in fact that I couldn’t choose one, so I decided to go down a few days early and visit multiple parks. Initially the wife wasn’t going to come because it was her first week back at work at school, but then we realized she could fly down Saturday morning (like sooooo cheap, too!) and drive back with me on Monday. We made our plans and reservations and held the date.
I drive down last Wednesday. Driving alone can be a real pain in the ass, but I got the second of V.E. Schwab’s Darker Shade of Magic books on my phone and listened to that for fifteen hours. Everything went smoothly until I reached Orlando, which coincided with rush hour. The last ten miles took me well over an hour, and apparently Orlandans have come to love using their horns even though it accomplishes nothing in most cases. But I checked into the hotel at 5:45 PM (I left at 2:40 AM), and settled in for the night.
The next day, after deciding the shuttle schedule from the hotel was going to either force me to come back too early or stay WAY too late, I drove to Epcot center. I have to admit, I was pretty overly excited. Practically giddy in fact.
Epcot is a fun and wonky place. Definitely not one I think probably appeals to most hard core park enthusiastics who are used to the latest 3D rides and roller coasters. But I enjoyed walking through the features and going on some of the rides. The Sea ride (featuring Nemo characters) was okay, but I enjoyed the Land ride more with the trip through Disney’s agriculture research center. The Imagination area was fun, although the little purple dragon representing imagination was annoying more than cute (for me at least).
After waiting out a brief rain shower, I walked around the World Showcase highlighting different countries. Then back into the “Future World” areas. I skipped the Chevy test track, though it looked like a fun ride. I was excited by the Mission: Space! ride, but it turned out to be closed due to a power problem. I finished by returning to the Spaceship Earth globe and taking the ride inside it, which was nice enough. All in all I found Epcot to be a quiet, sedate, thoughtful place, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Then I hit the monorail and headed off to the Magic Kingdom itself for the afternoon. And wouldn’t you know it, I arrived at 2:00 as the parade was beginning. It’s like they were holding it for me!
I of course took a selfie – certainly destined to become a dust-cover photo on a future book – in front of the castle.
Then I was off and running around the park. First, let me state the obvious: Disney does a wonderful job of welcoming kids. The park is geared towards children and family, that’s absolutely the way it should be. But I never felt unwelcome or weird, and there was plenty for me to enjoy as well.
I’m pretty sure I missed a portion of Adventure Land, including the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, to my shame. I would have loved to have done that one. I did go all through Frontier Land and saw the Bear Jamboree. Then over to Liberty Square where I did sit in on the Hall of Presidents (fuck Trump!). Great animatronics here, by the way, they make them look fairly life-like. Most of the rest of the animatronics aren’t as good as these, so well worth the visit.
Fantasy Land wasn’t really my cup of tea, though I walked through it. Tomorrow Land was where my interests lay, and I rode Space Mountain, which is a fun roller coaster although a bit rough on the spine (jerky motion). It was soooo cool, though, to be entirely in the dark other than lights and nebulas and other effects. I also went to the Haunted Mansion, which was excellent by the way. Not scary at all, but the effects are really cool sometimes. And just to make sure I’d finally seen it, I took the Small World ride. Oh. My. God. That song plays for the entire ride, which is at least ten minutes long. And the animatronic dolls are… a little creepy actually, and some of it’s mildly racist.
Last, I stopped for dinner at one of the food places. Okay, so the food was pretty bad. I didn’t finish most of what I got, and it was a bit pricey. Disney can’t win at everything. After walking over seven miles that day, I drove back to the hotel and crashed hard.
Friday dawned, and this time I went straight to my car and hit Hollywood studios right as the gates were opening at 9:00. This, my friends, was my jam. Straight up, this was my favorite of all the parks I visited (of the Disney parks). I walked past a bunch of stuff and headed straight for… the AT-AT walker display in the Star Wars section they have currently.
I’m 51 years old, folks. I watched all the original films when they came out. I’m not ashamed to admit I had moments of feeling my childhood return when I was in this part of the park. I was giddy to the point of nearly tears with joy. It was like a piece of Star Wars was made real and I got to experience it. Nothing more than some magic Disney pixie dust, but this is what makes these places great.
Behind the AT-AT is the Star Tours ride. It was the first of the full-motion 3D immersive rides I went on during the weekend, and it was amazeballs. It really felt and looked like we were in a star ship being piloted by poor C3-P0, blasting out of a station into an emperial fleet, being attacked by Tie Fighters, and then zipping around the galaxy through hyperspace to a couple of more locations before crashing. I went on this three times, the only ride I bothered to go on multiple times.
Then I got to see a short film about the newer movies and the people making them, and I met… Chewie! Also Kylo Ren, but he’s a bit too emo for my tastes, and a jerk. He kept ordering me around.
Anywho, I loved the Star Wars stuff, obviously. The wife and I plan to come back for a quick weekend trip in 2020 to spend one whole day at this park when they finish the new Star Wars themed section, which should be amazing. It’ll even include a life-sized mock-up of the Millenium Falcon! I’m way stoked for this.
I watched little kids dueling with Darth Vader and Kylo Ren. I wish I could have done that. 🙂
I visited other parts of this park and took more rides. I also went to the Indiana Jones stunt show, which was really fantastic. Well done stunts, good actors, and they showed how some of the tricks from the movies are performed. Well worth the wait.
Let’s see… I also went to a 3D muppet show (funny), a 3D Mickey Cartoon (very funny), and just overall enjoyed this experience immensely. I did visit the Toy Story area, but that’s really for little kids, so I just passed through.
I had a pass for all the Disney properties, so I could have gone to the Animal Kingdom park later on Friday, but I opted to rest up for the Saturday main event with Jennifer: Universal Studios, two-parks with Harry Potter, riding the Hogswart Express, and ending with a Superhero dinner. More on that in the next post.
Last thoughts: Disney is expensive, but worth the money. The food is bad, though, and a lot of it is geared towards selling you shit you don’t need. Every ride ends in a store, and in between rides there are twenty more stores. This is merchandising to support the franchises, and the parks are geared towards that end. But as a once in a lifetime event, it’s worth it. More than once if one of the franchies (like Star Wars) has a deeper meaning for you and your childhood.