Friday, March 23, 2012

Magic Kingdom (Walt Disney World - Feb. 2012)

This latest visit was the first time I had been to Disney World since I was 12-years-old... and the moment I walked through the gates of the Magic Kingdom, I immediately reverted back to that childlike state.  All the great memories of visiting here throughout my childhood came rushing back to me.  Most of that is because, although they are constantly adding, updating and improving the attractions, the core of the parks remain frozen in time with pristine upkeep over the years.

What better way to start our trip, we walk on to Main Street USA and see Cinderella's Castle in the distance.  But what's coming at us was the afternoon parade! All the characters on floats, dancers, marching band, the works!  We couldn't have timed it any better.

I'll discuss each ride and/or attraction on their individual page...

According to a lot of employees (a.k.a. Cast Members) it wasn't too busy, "average" was the most common answer.  But that being said we didn't wait more then 5 minutes for ANYTHING! In ANY of the theme parks.

HELPFUL TIP:  We utilized two very helpful tools that cut every wait time to next to nothing.  First was the Official Disney Parks mobile app for Android, and the other was the Fast Pass service at select attractions throughout the parks.  The app gives very accurate wait times for each park activity, plus shows which rides have Fast Pass.  So what we would do is grab a Fast Pass, the average return time was 30-50 minutes (Toy Story at Hollywood Studios was the exception at 3-4 hours but I'll discuss that over on their page), then I'd pull out the app and find attractions relatively close to us with 5-10 minute waits.  We'd go knock them out, head back to the Fast Pass ride and breeze right through the line without even a hiccup of a wait.  It was a HUGE help in making our trip more enjoyable.  It also helped us cover every single ride, attraction, and show in the Magic Kingdom in under 8 hours... ALL OF THEM!

They're working on a "New Fantasyland" to be opened by Fall 2012.  I could see a lot of construction going on over the temporary walls on the border of the current Fantasyland.  Apparently the additions are suppose to be pretty impressive.  They're updating the Dumbo ride, along with The Great Goofini coaster (Goofy's Barnstormer).  However, they're building all new, grand scale attractions around Beauty & the Beast (including a upscale restaurant and a more kid friendly pub) and The Little Mermaid with a "under water adventure."

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was closed for repairs while we were there, but other then that we really didn't miss a single thing.

Walt Disney World (Feb. 2012)

What can I really say... Walt Disney World is truly the happiest place on earth.

You can completely disconnect from "real life" and revert back to your childhood.  There are quotes by Walt Disney posted in random places throughout the parks, the one that really stuck out to me and describes how I feel when in Disney World is the following one.

"I don't want the public to see the world they live in while they're in the Park. I want them to feel they're in another world." -- Walt Disney

That's exactly how you feel... from the moment the Disney bus picks you up at the airport, you never see the world outside of Disney until you arrive back at the airport.  For someone like me, that takes trips like this specifically to escape reality, that's HUGE!

The staff (or Cast Members as they're referred to) is always greeting you with big smiles and warm personalities.

Another nice thing they do throughout all the Disney Parks is, they have photographers all over the place so you can get well framed photos of you and your group without having to do the old "self-shot."  You get a card that they scan so you can find all your pics, from the trip, in one place.

One of the more nerve wracking parts of the trip was dealing with my ticket situation.  I had purchased a 3-Day Park Hopper for my girlfriend, through Expedia.  So I wasn't too worried about that one.  But I had three days left on a 5-Day Hopper Pass from the last time I was at Disney, which was 1993.  I was told that there was NO expiration date on it.  So I was hoping I'd be able to save some cash by just using it with no problem.  Walked up to the Will Call window at the Magic Kingdom and handed the guy my Expedia print out... he said, "No problem."  I then handed him my old 5-Day Super Duper Pass from 1993 and asked what I needed to do to use the remaining three days on it...  he said, "No problem, I'll just transfer this on to a new Park Hopper."  The sigh of relief I let out felt SO GOOD!  Everything worked out and once I stepped through the turnstile for the first time I was officially able to completely relax for the rest of the trip.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (Walt Disney World - Feb. 2012)

Our last stop in the Magic Kingdom was on the Space Ranger Spin...

It's a interactive game / ride for two people.  Once in the car you're moved along through, what I can only describe as a life sized, 360 degree, carnival target shooter...  You use the joystick in you car to rotate it a full 360 degrees and shoot out the various "Toy Story Inspired" targets.  Your car keeps both players' score separately to give you a little more of a challenge.

I was a lot of fun for us adults, and I could definitely see kids having a blast on this.  We didn't need a Fast Pass when we showed up, but if your kids are going to want to go multiple times (which I'm betting they will), you'll probably want to utilize the Passes.

Mickey's PhilharMagic (Walt Disney World - Feb. 2012)

We had some more time left on our Fast Pass for Winnie the Pooh, and this one had no wait at all, so why not check it out.  I'm really glad we did.

They really knocked the 3D effects out of the park, the surround sound hit the specific speakers with precision, and the "4D" gags were subtle at first and then became more obvious.  All very effective and humorous.

Plus, as a child of the Classic Disney days, who doesn't love seeing an attraction lead by Donald?

Mickey & Minnie at Town Square Theatre (Walt Disney World - Feb. 2012)

Here's another example of utilizing the Disney Parks app for Android...

The Town Square Theatre is the main location to have a meet & greet with Mickey and Minnie.  Usually the line is pretty lengthy (they do have a Fast Pass option here), but after we got off the Winnie the Pooh ride I took a look at the app and it said that there was only a 5 minute wait.  So we headed over...

Just like the app said, there was nobody there... we walked in and went right to the front of the line.  There was only two couples ahead of us.  There was a group of four Brazilian girls behind us, and by the way they were acting you'd think they were about to meet Elvis (or I guess Justin Bieber would fit their age better).  I mean they were crying, screaming, shaking... it was pretty wild to see this "person in a suit" being treated like a bonafide rock star.  That's the magic of Disney, I guess.

We got our pictures, gave Mickey & Minnie a hug and a high-five, and were on our way in a total of about ten minutes... all thanks to the Disney Parks app.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Quality Inn - Montreal (March 2012)

Over the past year they have been making a number of renovations to this location.  Most notably to the rooms themselves.

What used to look and feel like low rent budget hotel rooms, now have the appeal of their "upper class" counterparts in the downtown Montréal area.

They have new beds, new linens, newly upholstered furniture, and a remodeled bathroom...

I have to say... I stayed at the Residence Inn Montréal back in August, for double-plus the price of this hotel, and quite honestly the Quality Inn on Crescent is a much better value.  And now that they've made the renovations, the rooms are actually better in quality (not just price) then the Marriott in town.

The only reason I'm not throwing 5 Stars at this place, can't REALLY be blamed on them... but since they have their logo on it, it'll go against them.

The parking lot... Now I know full well that the parking situation is the same it's been since I started staying here a few years ago.  $20 per night in the lot next door (or if full up, across the street)... but that the lot wasn't "owned" by the the hotel, but it was endorsed by them.

So I pull in and the old man taking everyone's money is trying to skim an extra $5 out of everyone that pulls in.  His excuse, he said that he charged "larger cars like Cadillacs an extra $5, like an SUV."  Well first off, I've parked my SAME car here in this lot many times over the past few years, along with my buddy's SUV.  Never have I heard of this extra fee.  But what really made me fight him on it was that he was trying to charge the carload of girls ahead of me an extra $5 because they "were going to the Canadiens game."  Mind you they were driving a compact little car, and had said they were staying in the hotel and spending the night there.  Which should've got them the regular (as marked on the sign) $20 for 24 hours fee.  He was just straight up skimming and I wasn't about to let this guy rip me off.  So I argued with him for a bit until he agreed to take just my $20CAD for the 24 hours... I have to admit, I felt lucky to get my car back on all 4 wheels the next morning.  But my piece of mind was worth it.

Never the less... I will be absolutely staying at this Quality Inn in the future!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Test Track at EPCOT (Walt Disney World - Feb. 2012)

Test Track is about as exciting of a ride as you can find, especially in EPCOT.

This is another that had a Fast Pass option, but we didn't need to utilize it since there was no line when we arrived.  I attribute our luck with the lines at EPCOT to getting dinner in the 5-6pm hour, since most make their reservations around 7:00 and then the ones that can't get &pm reservations will usually settle around 8:00, leaving the majority of the attractions without lines during the dinner rush.

Anyway...

This is as close as you can get to being an actually Crash Test Dummy.  You strap in to a "test car" and are run through a course of various obstacles.  The car's suspension is tested over different road surfaces, including bricks and cobblestones.  Next, the car's anti-lock braking system is turned off and the car tries to navigate a course of cones, knocking many over in the process. The anti-lock brakes are then turned back on and a similar cone course is navigated a bit easier. Then comes the simulated inclement weather conditions.  The cars are brought through environmental chambers: a hot chamber of 110°F, a cold chamber of 10°F, and a corrosion chamber.  Then comes the speed and handling tests...  The car climbs a set of hills with blind turns while increasing its speed each time.  At the top the car almost crashes into an oncoming semi-truck before swerving out of the way.  The car is now on the final test shown in the briefing room, "The Barrier Test."  The car lines up across from a barrier and begins to accelerate towards it.  Just before hitting the barrier a series of flashes occur, where the always popular "screaming picture" is taken (it can be viewed and purchased, like most, in the gift shop entrance)... the barrier opens to a outside track.  The car takes a final lap around the building, reaching a max speed of 65MPH!

If you're a thrill seeker, this is an absolute MUST ride!

Mission: Space at EPCOT (Walt Disney World - Feb. 2012)

So after a hearty English dinner and few pints, what better way to let your stomach digest than on a g-force inducing space flight simulator...

Luckily I have an extremely strong stomach, because I can easily see why they would offer a "tamer" version of this for kids and the easily nauseated.

This ride has a Fast Pass option, but there was no line when we showed up so we got our boarding passes (for the more intense/extreme version of the ride) and headed on in.

You load into your flight cockpit in groups of four, and you're each given a specific instruction for when you're suppose to push your button or pull on the control stick.

I was slightly disappointed that the controls didn't "actually do anything."  Because anyone can follow the instructions and land a mission safely... I was trying to simulate a crash, just to see what it would be like.  No luck... oh well.

The g-force you experience is pretty extreme, and feels absolutely realistic, making for a very decent thrill ride in EPCOT.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Eating Around the World: Rose & Crown at United Kingdom Pavilion in EPCOT

So after being turned away from Le Cellier Steakhouse in Canada, we walked across the street to England and looked into the Rose & Crown English Pub...

They had a stand out front selling pints of beer, so I scooped one up quick while we waited.  But luckily it wasn't long.  They told us that, we couldn't put in a reservation for 7ish... but we could get a table NOW.  Obviously we took it.

We were sat overlooking the World Showcase Lagoon, which was absolutely beautiful... especially if your lucky enough to have a table during the IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth fireworks spectacular. PRIME SEATING!

I got a traditional English Bangers & Mash with, as recommended, a Black & Tan... and it was pretty damn delicious if I do say so myself!

The wait staff was terrific... they explained everything we needed and were more then friendly to do so.

EPCOT (Walt Disney World - Feb. 2012)

I really couldn't appreciate EPCOT as a kid... and going back as an adult, I know exactly why.  It's kind of limited as far as the rides go, and when I was a kid there was even less.

That being said, this time around I thoroughly enjoyed all that EPCOT had to offer.

The World Showcase is so much better 20 years after the last time I was here.  I can obviously appreciate the different cultures a lot more.  Especially since I've had the opportunity to actually visit some of these countries over the years.

My #1 suggestion if you're coming to EPCOT for dinner at one of the various countries... MAKE RESERVATIONS WELL IN ADVANCE!

Especially if it's Le Cellier Steakhouse, in Canada... 6 month waiting list, NO JOKE!

The nightly fireworks and laser show, "IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth" which takes place over the World Showcase Lagoon, is absolutely amazing!  It's a perfect way to end a evening, especially if you can time your meal to end just as it's starting... like I did our final night at Disney World.