Disney-World-header

Dazzling Disney World, Orlando 🏰

I don’t know where I got the idea that Disney World is for children, because that is completely misleading. Yes it’s a dream come true for kids, but it is an adventure for adults as well. Proving this point, we met a couple on the shuttle bus from our resort who said: “Oh we came in March with our kids…now its our turn!” LOL.

The Walt Disney World Resort, known as Walt Disney World or Disney World, is an entertainment complex in Bay Lake, Florida, near Orlando, and is the flagship of Disney’s worldwide corporate empire. The resort opened on October 1, 1971, and is the most visited vacation resort in the world, with an average annual attendance of over 58 million visitors. (Magicguides.com)

The property covers 27,258 acres (11,031 ha; 43 sq mi), housing resort hotels, four theme parks, golf courses, as well as shopping districts, and other entertainment venues. The Magic Kingdom was the first and original theme park to open in the complex followed by Epcot, MGM (Hollywood) Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which opened later throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

We stayed within the Disney complex at Alligator Bayou which is part of Disney’s Port Orleans Resort, Riverside. It was designed to reflect the historic pre-civil war South along the Mississippi River. Alligator Bayou is styled as rustic, weathered lodges, with dense wooded areas and shaded walking paths. Although we only ate in the dining hall once, the fare is inspired by rural Louisiana and is known for Southern specialties like gumbo, jambalaya and beignets.  Our room was fresh and comfortable and we had a little fridge which turned out to be ideal for storing the enormous left-over portions that we kept collecting from our dinners.

September is a great month to be in Florida. We had lovely warm and sunny days without it being too unbearably hot.

On Day One we were up bright and early and took the shuttle bus to Epcot centre. Coincidentally, it was the 25th anniversary of Disney World. We were delighted to be selected as the guests of the day to “officially Open” Epcot Centre on 17 September 1997. We were photographed and presented with a certificate. The staff were impressed that we had come all the way from Africa. LOL!

Epcot Centre opened on October 1, 1982, eleven years after the opening of the Magic Kingdom.  Covering a massive three hundred acres, Epcot is twice the size of the Magic Kingdom.  Their pay-off line is “Where the impossible becomes possible”.

Epcot has two distinct areas in its layout.  The first section, “Future World”, contains a series of attractions and shows, with the emphasis on energy, the environment, the land, the ocean, communication, imagination, transportation, and space exploration.  

The distinctive and world famous geodesic sphere at the park’s entrance, Spaceship Earth weighs 15,520 pounds.  Spaceship Earth has 11,234 silver facets – creating 11,520 total isosceles triangles and 3,840 points.  It is the third most-visited theme park in North America, and the sixth most-visited theme park in the world. The sphere of “Epcot Ball” is one of the main symbols of the park. (Mouseplanet.com)

Disney World is famous for its “dark rides”. Dark rides are typically slower-moving rides that take guests through a themed environment, usually built entirely indoors. They come in all forms. There are small tracked vehicles, modern trackless vehicles, individual cars or an omnimover chain, dry rides, water rides and roller coaster styles.

Spaceship Earth is a dark ride attraction. The 15-minute ride takes guests on a time machine experience back to the dawn of humanity, demonstrating how advancements in human communications have helped to create the future one step at a time. Riding in continuously moving vehicles that swivel along a track that spirals up and down the sphere, we were taken through scenes depicting important breakthroughs in communication throughout history—from the development of early language through cave art to the use of hieroglyphics, to the invention of the alphabet, to the creation of the printing press, and right through to today’s modern communication advancements, including telecommunications.

We also enjoyed the musical ride “Journey into Imagination” featuring colourful lights and interesting characters such as “Figment”, featured above right, teaching you about your 5 senses.

The Universe of Energy was a fun experience, also known as “Ellen’s Energy Adventure.” It was an engaging look back at the prehistoric origins of today’s energy sources.

(The lobby show was 8 minutes long followed by 37 minutes in traveling theatre cars.) This wasn’t the type of attraction that you could leave mid-stream. Once you’re in those cars, there was no easy way out.

The show starred Ellen DeGeneres, capitalising on the success of her TV sitcom. The ‘Adventure’ began with Ellen falling asleep while watching Jeopardy. She finds herself in a nightmare where she’s pitted against her college rival “Smart Judy”, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. All of the Jeopardy categories are energy-related, something Ellen knew very little about.

Her neighbour just happened to be Bill Nye the Science Guy. He took Ellen under his wing and they embarked on a trip back to prehistoric times. At this point, the 600-seat theatre rotated and broke up into 6 enormous “cars” that accompany Ellen and Bill as they traveled in pursuit of the origin of energy.

Amazing Audio-animatronic dinosaurs were part of Ellen’s adventure.

This was a real sensory experience. The dark lighting set the stage. We could hear the roars of the dinosaurs and there was a distinct damp and earthy odour in the air.

After all the adventuring on rides, it was time to explore the rest of the Epcot grounds and a quick trip around the world!

Centered around a beautiful, reflective lagoon, the World Showcase section of Epcot offers miniature versions of different countries around the world.  Each country features entertainment, dining, and shopping unique to their culture.  There were eleven countries represented in the World Showcase.  The countries Epcot chose to highlight were Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the United States, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada.  

This experience, unique to this park, gives the visitor a realistic glimpse into life into those countries. We put all of them on our bucket list!

Fontana Di Nettuno – Italian for “The Fountain of Neptune.” Neptune was the Roman god of fresh water, streams, lakes and rivers. Inspired by Rome’s Trevi fountain, this sculpture is featured at the Italian Pavilion.

The Moroccan Pavilion at Epcot is the only one at Epcot that was fully sponsored by a government and not by a corporation. The king of Morocco sent his royal craftsman to design and lay all of the authentic “zellige” mosaic tiles in the pavilion and he sent more workers to design the carvings and paintings too.

We could see MGM’s Hollywood Tower of Terror in the distance behind the Morocco Pavilion. We could also hear the regular screams coming from the building. Victims enter the rickety, elevator-style lift, are strapped in and then shriek in terror as they’re suddenly propelled up and down the shaft—unexpectedly dropping and rising—accompanied by the terrifying sound of cables snapping and metal clanging overhead. Definitely one to miss

One of the amazing things that sets Disney apart is their queue management. From the moment you step into a Disney Park, everything you see, hear, and feel, is carefully considered and curated by the “Imagineers”. They dream up and design everything from the rides to the architecture to the food to the shows—and especially the queues.

The queues at Disney are more like a warm-up act for the main show. They’re designed to get people in the mood. We loved the pre-ride experiences. They cleverly immersed us in the world we were about to visit and built our excitement and anticipation for the ride. The psychology in action is that if you have something to do while you wait, you don’t feel like you’re waiting. And if you don’t feel like you’re waiting, the wait passes quickly! The end of the ride also leads you through merchandise and gifting related to the experience, such as branded t-shirts, stationary, videos, sweets and soft toys. A fascinating experience for me as a merchandiser!

The first park that was opened in Walt Disney World Florida was the Magic Kingdom, which opened on October 1, 1971.  It is all about old-school Disney adventures, and it has many classic rides all clustered together. It is probably the first prize for little kids. Having said that, it has been constantly evolving with the times and we found it enchanting to step inside the beautiful settings of famous stories. Thus began our Day Two at Disney World.

Cinderella’s Castle is the enchanting symbol of the Magic Kingdom. For the year of its 25th celebration, the castle was transformed into an iconic pink birthday cake. Disney estimates that the castle’s 25th birthday decor made the “cake” weigh in at 40 million pounds, through the use of 55,040 tablespoons of paint in three different shades of pink, 50 oversized gumballs, 30 lollipops, 4 Life Savers, 12 gumdrops, 16 red candy hearts and 16 green candy stars.

Adventureland is hard to describe. It’s part jungle, part tropical island and there’s a desert oasis thrown in as well. It is an exotic, fanciful land which combines many foreign locales into one: Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Polynesia and the Caribbean. We entered Adventureland by crossing a wooden planked bridge.  We admired the Polynesian Tiki cultural elements and listened to the call of wild birds. We marvelled at the architectural details, the lush landscaping and water features and the realistic animatronic wild animals.

Big Thunder Mountain railroad was an awesome experience in Frontier Land.

We boarded a train in an enclosed loading station on a hillside. Leaving the station, the train made a turn into a bat-infested tunnel, before climbing a steep hill. At the top of the hill, we passed beneath a waterfall (we could feel the spray) followed by swift switches and crossings and dark tunnels. We passed through the flooded town of Tumbleweed, and over a decaying trestle (where the track is slightly banked from side to side), before entering Davy Jones Mine.

As we were shooting along, an earthquake hit making the train cars sway from side to side. We even passed through the ribcage of a T-Rex skeleton through some geysers and hot springs. Such a fabulous experience

Splash Mountain is a log flume ride based on the animated sequences of Disney’s 1946 film “Song of the South”. The ride experience begins with a peaceful outdoor drift, that eventually leads to indoor dark segments, with a climactic steep drop down a waterfall into a “briar patch”. The attraction tells the story of Br’er Rabbit, a mischievous character who leaves his home in search of adventure. The final drop is 52.5 feet (16.0 meters) and you get soaked! 🎢

(Update: the ride was permanently closed in Jan 2023 because the characters recall the film “Song of the South,” which has been heavily criticized for its racist stereotypes and idealized portrayal of Georgian plantation life after the Civil War. Thousands of Disney fans online protested that the move was an example of the arbitrariness of cancel culture and were in turn called racists.)

 

The Pirates of the Caribbean ride tells the story of a band of pirates in the West Indies around the 17th and 18th centuries with the saga of their voyages, troubles, and dangerous exploits. The ride, is housed in a golden Spanish fort called Castillo Del Morro. The queue winds through the fort, passing supplies and cannons, and a pair of pirate skeletons sit at a chessboard. Humming, “Yo Ho, a pirate’s life for me”, we bought a ridiculous amount of paraphernalia at the Pirates’ Bazaar, including the Skull ‘n Crossbones 🏴‍☠️ hats and a shoulder sitting parrot. Har…har…har….

 (Update: The ride became the basis for the successful Pirates of the Caribbean movie series, which debuted in 2003.)

Everywhere you go, you ‘bump’ into colourful Disney characters. A delight for the children and a photo opportunity. We saw Pluto, Donald and Goofy playing in a band. We saw Beauty and The Beast, Winnie the Pooh, Pocahontas and many others.

Some of our most enjoyable rides were when we were fitted with 3D helmets and glasses. All your senses are engaged. The seats that you are in, move independently to simulate certain experiences. The ‘room’ you are in also tilts and creates the sensation of movement or flying. The visuals are dramatic 360 degree colourful panoramas. When an “alien” escapes, you hear it’s claws scratch and pass beneath the seats. You feel it’s breath on your face and the skin of your arms. You can smell the rankness of its ‘otherness’. It’s easy to get yourself into quite a state! 😆

Day 3 and we were still not all “disneyed” out. We headed for the third theme park on our list, MGM Studios.

The park opened in 1989 as the Disney-MGM Studios Park. Spanning 135 acres, the park is dedicated to the imagined worlds from film, television, music, and theatre, drawing inspiration from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

The Muppets Fountain

The Disney-MGM Studios Backlot Tour is a shuttle ride through a “working” motion picture. You feel as though you are behind the scenes of a Hollywood set.

Indiana Jones was an epic stunt spectacular where the team dodged deadly traps, battled bad guys, leaped from tall buildings and made thrilling escapes straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The edge-of-your-seat suspense ended with a dynamite finale! Special effects featuring floods and fire were executed with loads of drama.

We got an inside look at how stunts are done amidst complex action sequences.

The Liberty Belle is an authentic replica of an old paddle wheel riverboat. It travels down the Rivers of America and circles Tom Sawyer Island several times a day. This scenic tour offers a view of props along the riverbank to simulate a wild west effect.

Pleasure Island is the place to go for dinner and after dark entertainment. Every night at midnight, “New Year’s Eve” was celebrated at Pleasure Island with a fireworks show.

We chose the Rainforest Café, billed as “a wild place to eat”. The environment feels like a real rainforest complete with things like a waterfall, animatronic animals and the waiter is a tour guide. We had to put our names down on a waiting list, impressed with their efficient touchpad digital system. They gave us a specific time when we needed to be back (an hour away). Mistrustful, we lurked nearby, but it turned out to be super accurate when it was finally announced : “Twomey. Party of 2. Your safari adventure is departing now.” Lol. 

And what an adventure it was! We were seated in the midst of a jungle ‘set’. In the trees above, there were mechanical apes and toucans and a jaguar nestled peacefully on a branch twitching his tail. Periodically a storm would begin, accompanied by a loud burst of thunder. The lights flickered on and off, mimicking lightning. Rain bucketed down without wetting any of the seated patrons. An animatronic gorilla beat its chest and the sounds of elephants trumpeting, parrots calling and even the erupting of a volcano, all added to the atmosphere. The food was delicious but the portions were insane. For a starter I expected a small cheese and tomato bruschetta type thing and received an enormous pizza. I ordered the signature Rainforest-themed “Rasta Pasta” (sautéed chicken, cavatappi pasta, walnut pesto, broccoli, red peppers, spinach, garlic Alfredo sauce) and the portion could easily serve a family of four. Even if we’d thought to share, it would’ve been too much food! It literally bordered on offensive. We took loads home to our room fridge.

By 1999, each location was making over $8 million a year, purportedly the most revenue of any restaurant in the country.

The merchandise was also spectacular. “The Wild Bunch”, Rainforest-themed mascots were so cute, including Cha! Cha! the red eye tree frog and Bamba, the Gorilla were our favourites. Geoff bought a gorgeous olive green polo featuring Cha Cha. 🐸 

Disney World, we hope to be back really soon. You really lived up to your reputation as “the most magical place on earth.”

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