Disney California Adventure Rankings

Arbitrary rankings have become a national pastime on par with baseball and eating way too much on holidays (and most other days of the year.) In fact, I wonder what the internet would look like without thousands of blog posts ranking this or that.  It’d probably be full of fake news, memes and dumb videos.  So, not much would be different… With that in mind, it’s time for me to earn a blogging badge and throw out a long ranking list.  Since this is a Disney blog, what better items to rank than attractions!

Cozy Cone Cars land night

Now this isn’t a typical top-10 list.  Wandering in Disney is nothing, if not thorough.  Instead I plan to give you a ranking of each attraction open at the six U.S. Disney Parks. I do need a few rules though:

  • No Meet & Greets.  These are impossible to rank and I don’t particularly like them in the first place.  Unless its King Louie, I love King Louie.
  • No Live Shows.  Nighttime shows are almost always better than rides, in my eyes.  Also, big stage shows are impressive and don’t fit the profile of a typical ride.  I will include 3D movies though.
  • These are all my opinion.  Lou Mongello constantly says that “every attraction is someones favorite.” While that is corny and seems a little silly, I do think it’s true.  I can’t account for other people’s memories in these rankings and will try (probably unsuccessfully) to take some of the nostalgia out of my views of these attractions.  You’ll likely disagree with these rankings.  Please let me know what you disagree with in the comments.

Carthay Circle

That seems good enough for now.  I’ll start with Disney California Adventure because it seems like I haven’t talked about the west coast in a while.  There’s a decent chance I forget about one here, if I do please let me know in the comments.  I’ll add in a sentence or two about each attraction and why I put it there.  Here we go, from worst to first:

24. Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggies – You remember going to the fair as a kid and riding the bumper cars?  Remember how they weren’t really that fun.  It’s still true even if they have a bug’s face painted on them.

23. Francis Ladybug Boogie – Spinning around in ladybugs is a weird concept.  Sadly, the actual ride isn’t weird and is pretty lame.

22. Heimlich’s Choo Choo Train – A slow train that goes in a short circle is not great.  I do like the looks of Heimlich though!

21. Jumpin’ Jellyfish – I guess the jellyfish theme on the pier sort of fits.  But I don’t like rides that just bounce up and down.

20. Turtle Talk With Crush – We’re getting into better attractions now.  At least Turtle Talk is unique and a pretty fun experience for kids.  With that being said, it’s forgettable.

19. Mickey’s Fun Wheel – This earns points for being a unique ferris wheel and decent eye candy for the pier.  It loses points for being an absolutely terrifying attraction that doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

Purple Fountains WOC

18. King Triton’s Carousel – Honestly, this isn’t that great but I do love carousels!

17. Flik’s Flyers – Probably the best of the attractions in A Bugs Land but, as you can see, that’s not saying much.  This goes up in the air and is somewhat pleasant as you are above the fatal dirt of A Bugs Land

16. Silly Symphony Swings – Yeah, this is another amusement park ride stuck in California Adventure.  But, I’ve always liked those swing rides.  I also like that this offers nice views along the pier.  This goes surprisingly high as well, adding a little thrill.

15. Golden Zephyr – The same thoughts here as the swings above it.  This has a more interesting ride vehicle, in my opinion, placing it slightly higher on this list.

14. Monster’s Inc. Mike & Sulley To The Rescue – We’re finally getting to attractions that have an actual plot.  Unfortunately, this isn’t a good plot and there is nothing visually that sets this apart.

13. The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure – I’ll be honest, I despise this attraction.  I think it looks bad and I’m not a fan of attractions that are just book reports of the movie.  Still, I know others who really like this attraction and this was as low as I could put Ariel’s Undersea Adventure which really isn’t that bad.

Little Mermaid Boat Scene

12. Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters – Okay, this should be below Ariel’s Undersea Adventure but I had to put my touch on this somehow.  The reason the newest DCA attraction is even halfway up the board is because it is trackless and surprisingly fun to whip around on with younger kids.  I like the looks of it at night too.

Luigi's in ride

11. Goofy’s Sky School – This roller coaster scares me to death but some think it’s fun and it is probably a better ride than anything else on this thus far.

10. It’s Tough To Be A Bug – Speaking of scaring me, this is the most terrifying 3D show of all time.  Still there is no doubt that this is quirky and immersive, even if I refuse to go on it.  I should mention that this theater is often used for movie previews.

9. Redwood Creek Challenge Trail – Maybe the most underrated spot in California Adventure.  I think this playground/trail is relaxing for parents and a wonderful spot to run around for little ones.  There is no doubt that the Redwood Creek is one of the most beautiful areas in DCA too.

8. Animation Academy – Speaking of hidden gems, this is a fun attraction for everyone. I’m the worst artist around and I even found this fun as a cast member teaches you how to draw a classic Disney character.

Animation Academy

7. Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree – While this looks like a basic spinner ride, Mater’s is a blast to go on.  This is surprisingly fun and impossible not to smile on.

Maters Jamboree

6. Toy Story Midway Mania – There’s quite a jump in quality from 7 to 6.  Toy Story Midway Mania is a blast and fun for the entire family.  It doesn’t crack the top-5 due to the lack of story and immersion.

5. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – This version of the tower isn’t as impressive as some others but it still is one of the better plots for a Disney ride.  This ranking could go way down or way up depending on the Guardians of the Galaxy layover that’s coming.  I’m guessing that it will go down because I’m cynical about the location and a ride being shoehorned in an already built attraction.

4. California Screamin’ – This is just a really fun roller coaster.  There isn’t much to the story other than being on the pier, but it is a blast to go on.

3. Soarin’ Around The World – I don’t love the new Soarin’ as I think it relies heavily on CGI and I don’t find it as stunning as the previous version.  With that being said, it’s become a Disney classic and is a unique experience.

Soarin light

2. Grizzly River Run – This attraction is under-appreciated and extremely beautiful.  The rapids ride showcases Grizzly Peak which is one of the icons of the park.  If that’s not enough, the ride is really fun and a great family attraction.  Getting soaked may scare some people off but grab a poncho and enjoy one of the best raft rides there is.

1. Radiator Springs Racers – This really isn’t close.  Radiator Springs Racers is the best attraction Disney has created in the last 15 years.  The ride offers beautiful scenery, a classic Disney dark ride with audio-animatronics, and a sense of thrill at the end.  There is nothing close RSR at California Adventure and it deserves the top spot without a doubt.

Cars Land night

Overview 

 

Doing this list confirms what I already thought of California Adventure – it needs a few more high-quality rides.  The quantity is pretty impressive but the bottom 10 on this list are all pretty bad attractions.  While it’s fine to have some attractions that don’t wow guests (in fact, those are needed) those rides can’t become the norm instead of the exception.  With that beings said, DCA has taken a huge step in the last decade and I think that will continue in the future.

What rankings did I get wrong?  Let me know in the comments!  If you’re looking for a way to ride all of these in a timely fashion, check our FastPass guide to California Adventure here.  Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney!

– Andrew

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Via Napoli Review

Via Napoli is an Italian restaurant in Epcot’s World Showcase.  The restaurants focus is on pizza but they also serve pasta dishes.  Via Napoli is a table-service restaurant that counts as one credit on the Disney Dining Plan.  They do accept Tables in Wonderland and have an Annual Pass discount.  We ate lunch at Via Napoli on our latest Walt Disney World trip and this review will cover that experience.

Via Napoli’s specialty is their wood-fired pizza and the restaurant was designed to showcase that.  The focal point of the open-kitchen that most tables can look into is the wood-fire ovens.  These three ovens are all faces that each have names – Etna, Vesuvius, and Stromboli.  All of those are names of volcanoes in Italy.  Pretty clever, huh?  The three ovens aren’t comically large but they do grab your attention.

Via Napoli inside

The rest of the restaurant is more subtle.  There are beautiful murals and pastel tones throughout the restaurant.  Via Napoli isn’t overly crowded even though the restaurant doesn’t seem very large.

Via Napoli mural

I think Via Napoli is very versatile, partially because of the environment.  There is space enough to have a fun date while surrounded by beautiful paintings and colors.  On the other hand, this is also a great place for a large family to share a couple of pizzas.  I was somewhat surprised at how much I liked the atmosphere.  Via Napoli isn’t inside of a castle and doesn’t have big windows that offer incredible views but the restaurant is beautiful nonetheless.  It’s the type of beautiful that doesn’t make a big deal out of itself.

Moving on to the food, Via Napoli offers a pretty large menu as far as Disney restaurants go.  You can see that here.  I guess that I should be surprised at the larger menu, as it’s not very hard to offer lots of varieties of pizza.  Most of the pizza options are more authentic than your typical American pizza joint.  Rightfully so, as this is supposed to replicate a pizzeria in Italy.  With that being said, it shouldn’t be hard to find something that you like assuming that you and yours are a fan of pizza.

We started off with some cheesy bread that we ordered for an appetizer.  This was a special at the time so I don’t know if it’s still there or how long it will be there.  If I remember right, the cost was around $5 for the bread and I thought the taste was largely forgettable.  There was nothing wrong with the taste or how it was cooked but nothing stood out about the flavor at all.  I wouldn’t recommend this (which would be hard to recommend since I don’t even know what it was called or if it’s still available) and would instead go for the regular listed appetizers on the menu.

My pizza Via Napoli

For my pizza I went with the Prosciutto e Melone.  This was a white sauce pizza with prosciutto, arugula, and cantaloupe.  I’m partial to white sauce pizzas and this was no exception.  The prosciutto was very thin and had a wonderful flavor that was definitely balanced by the arugula.  The cantaloupe was a bit of a shock at first (and will be for those who are used to standard American pizza choices) but with every bite of the melon I enjoyed it more and more.  After a while the cantaloupe became my favorite part of the pizza.  It made the dish feel refreshing instead of heavy.  All of these ingredients combined to give the pizza quite an array of complimentary flavors.  I would happily order this one again but it may be pretty adventurous for some.

Melissa pizza Via Napoli

Melissa’s pizza was good as well.  I didn’t like it as much as mine but she enjoyed it.  This was the Broccolini Pizza and I enjoyed the vegetables on top of it.

Darin's Pizza Via Napoli

Kenzie's pizza Via Napoli

These were the two pizzas that our friends got.  I didn’t love either of these but they both seemed to like them.  I wasn’t impressed by the meat on the top photo but that could have just been an aberration for the day.  Everything else we tasted was very fresh and delicious.

ice cream soda Via Napoli

For dessert I had the Ice Cream Soda which I thought was good, not great.  I’m by no means an ice cream soda expert but there wasn’t a big difference between this one and others I’d had before.  Still, I liked it well enough.

Ice cream Via Napoli

Melissa went with the gelato and this was a better choice.  I liked this but didn’t think it was any better than other gelato I’ve had.  In other words, the dessert here was good but nothing out of this world.  For the record, one of our friends had the tiramisu and really liked it.

Overall, I think Via Napoli is one of the better restaurants at Walt Disney World.  The place is versatile and has something for everyone.  I thought the environment was simple but beautiful.  The food was very good and if you love pizza this is probably the best choice of anywhere on property.  I also think the meals are a decent value if you are sharing a pizza.  It’s more expensive than your local pizza joint but compared to other Walt Disney World restaurants there is value to be had here.  The restaurant didn’t wow me in any one way, but I enjoyed every aspect of our lunch.

Overall Rating – 8.5/10

– Andrew

The Boathouse Review

The Boathouse is a table-service restaurant located in Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs.  This restaurant offers seafood, steak, and quite a few other options.  The Boathouse is a signature restaurant, meaning that it counts as 2 credits on the Disney Dining Plan.  We recently tried The Boathouse for lunch and this review will cover that meal.

Boathouse outside

To say that Disney Springs dining options have been overhauled in the last few years would be an extreme understatement.  Very few restaurants from earlier this decade remain and the culinary scene has vastly improved, if not gotten a little crowded.  Leading that charge is The Boathouse which opened a little over a year ago.  The restaurant seems to be universally adored and is now a staple of Walt Disney World dining.

The Boathouse feels like it’s in the center of the revamped Disney Springs.  Sitting in the Marketplace, along the water, this restaurant has perhaps the best location of any Disney Springs restaurant.  The Boathouse offers indoor and outdoor seating and on this particular day we decided to sit outside.  This proved to be a somewhat unwise choice as it was fairly windy.  Still, the views were very nice.

Dockside Bar Boathouse

The inside of the restaurant was very nice.  There is no out of the box theme or anything but the restaurant is warm and vibrant.  Walking in, there is a boat right in the middle of the main room.  There are nice wood floors and nautical decorations throughout the restaurant.  Outside dining offered views of the rest of Disney Springs, Saratoga Springs and many boats passing by.

Boathouse boat

If you’re looking for an upscale experience you can ride in these boat/cars called amphicars.  As you can imagine, the cost of this is over $100 for a short ride but it is fairly unique.  We got to see one launch and while it looked pretty goofy, I imagine it would be very fun.

Boathouse Amphicar

The Boathouse has no shortage of entrée options, most of them being american seafood or steaks.  While the prices are fairly high, there are several entrees below $20.  That’s a pretty good deal for what Disney terms a ‘signature restaurant’.  You can see a menu here.

Boathouse bread

We were served complimentary bread.  These rolls were warm and fresh.  They were also somewhat sweet.  We were all quite hungry which may have impacted my judgement but these rolls stand out to me as some of the best bread service that we had on our trip.

Boathouse salad

My wife and I shared a caesar salad to start and it was a pretty good salad.  Nothing out of this world but I did enjoy it.  As was the case with everything else here, the salad was very fresh.

Boathouse Lobster Bake

For our entrée, Melissa and I shared the Lobster Bake For Two.  This had over a pound of lobster, clams, andouille sausage, red potatoes, and corn on the cob all mixed in with a lobster broth.  The lobster was sweet and juicy, as lobster should be.  The clams were also good and came in the shell, as you can see above.  The sausage was somewhat forgettable.  It tasted good but didn’t have much spice and the taste blended in with everything else in the bake.  The corn on the cob and potatoes were decent additions to the dish but mainly because of the variety they added, otherwise there wasn’t anything great about them.

Overall, I thought the Lobster Bake was good and a pretty decent deal.  Coming in at $30 per person (there was more than enough for 2 people in this dish),  the Lobster Bake offers a more affordable way to enjoy lobster.  I thought the dish was delicious, although it’s not vaulting into my favorite dishes at Walt Disney World.

Boathouse sliders

My friend Darin ordered the Filet Mignon Sliders.  This is one of the cheaper options on the menu at $14, which is a pretty fair value in my estimation.  He said the sliders were good but he did like the rest of our entrees better.  The Boathouse fires were fantastic, I loved the seasoning on them and they were cooked to perfection.

Boathouse clam strips

Darin’s wife Mackenzie ordered the clam strips and they were the winner on the table.  The clams were all a pretty good size and the batter on top of them was outstanding, full of flavor and not overly greasy.  They didn’t short you on the amount of clams given either.  While I really enjoyed the lobster bake, this dish may have eclipsed it in my mind.  This is also a decent value at $16.  Again, compared to other Disney restaurants, that is extremely affordable.

Boathouse Mac n Cheese

We supplemented all of these entrees with the macaroni and cheese.  Not to be repetitive but this was delicious.  It was surprisingly light with just the right amount of cheese.  As you can see, this is a pretty large bowl and the dish was $9.  While this isn’t technically an entrée it could certainly take the place of one if you want to go a cheaper route.

Saratoga Boathouse

As a whole, I thought The Boathouse was a fantastic restaurant.  None of the entrées were my absolute favorite of the trip, but everything I tasted was excellent and fresh.  I was also impressed by the location and value relative to other Disney restaurants.  I look forward to trying different items at The Boathouse in the years to come, including dessert which we were just too full to try on this certain day.  I heartily recommend this place, as I think it has a dish for everyone as well as a price for everyone who isn’t on an extremely tight budget (a few entrees were just slightly higher priced than an average counter-service meal).  The Boathouse is a new staple of Walt Disney World dining.

– Andrew

October 2016 Walt Disney World Trip Report – Part 3

If you missed parts 1 or 2 of this trip report, click on the corresponding number and you’ll find them there!

MK MNSSHP sign

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this but I’d never been to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.  In fact, I’d never been to a Disney Halloween or Christmas Party.  Am I even qualified to run this blog?  Probably not, but I suckered you all in to reading this anyway so I must go on.  All this to say, I was very excited for a new experience while at Walt Disney World.  The night before I was able to stay in Animal Kingdom well past sunset and the next night I was attending an event I’d never been to.  Living the high life indeed!

Even before getting on the bus that took us from our hotel to the Magic Kingdom, we were feeling festive.  Most of the people on our bus were in costume (including us) and everyone seemed to have even more bounce in their step.  I had a nice discussion with Darth Vader, who appeared to be about 9 years old, and his mother before heading in the gates to Magic Kingdom.  Once inside we were ushered in the Main Street bypass to get our wristbands and candy.  There were a few statues and signs to celebrate the nights event but nothing that memorable.

MK Jester Goofy

I do wish that we had been able to go to the Halloween Party a little earlier in the year so that I could have written a guide/detailed review for those that would be going later in the year.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  So instead you get a trip report of what we did that night and a guide next August before the 2017 party’s start!

After getting our first bags of candy, which come with the price of admission to the party, we headed off to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train where we had a FastPass+ Reservation.  Pro tip: You can make FastPass reservations at Magic Kingdom even if you only have a party ticket.  Just make sure to not have the reservation before 4 PM because that’s the earliest you can enter the park.

MK Beast castle mine train

The Mine Train is always fun and has firmly settled itself in the 2nd tier of Disney World attractions.  You know, the ‘I want to go on this attraction but I won’t be devastated if I don’t’ tier.  Regarding the photo above, I actually think Beast’s Castle looks best from the top of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  I think the forced perspective from the view above works much better than when walking across the bridge into Be Our Guest.

MK Mine Train car going by

We wandered around New Fantasyland for a bit before it was time to get serious about our partying.  I was a little confused at this point in time on what to do.  I’d read a few guides on the Halloween Party’s beforehand and most seem to recommend going to see unique characters even before the party starts.  Unfortunately, the guides that cast members hand out don’t tell you which unique characters meet where.  They should change that.  Eventually we found where the seven dwarfs meet and greet was and then we got in line.  None of us cared much about meeting characters outside of these.  If we did, then our plan for the evening would have been drastically different.  As it was, we waited in line for about an hour to meet the seven dwarfs (thankfully they started meeting around 6) and got this beauty of a photo to prove it.

MK 7 Dwarfs us MNSSHP

Before you ask our costumes were as follows (from left to right): Mackenzie was Peter Pan, Darin was Wendy (or a number of other ideas we came up with), I was Fozzie Bear, and Melissa was Gonzo the Great.  I really enjoyed meeting the seven dwarfs, they were playful and funny.  This was the longest line we waited in all week but was somewhat worth it because of it being unique to the party.

After meeting Grumpy and the gang we made our way to Main Street, stopping for treats along the way.  The candy was needed as we all kind of forgot to eat dinner until about 10 PM that night.  Eat before the party people!  It appeared that our party night wasn’t extremely crowded, as we were running somewhat late to find a spot for the Boo To You Parade but  still found a great place on Main Street.  Many Halloween Parties were not very crowded this year.  It was crowded at times but we were able to get the spot we wanted for the shows without having to be there more than 20 minutes in advance.

Grandpa Marc Boo To You MNSSHP

I’d heard far better photographers than myself say that the Boo To You Parade is tough to photograph.  Boy, were they right.  This isn’t Paint the Night, where the floats exude light.  I was adjusting settings constantly and never had much luck.  We saw the first showing of the parade on Main Street and I had a little more luck there than later on.

Country Bear Boo To You MNSSHP

That’s not to say we didn’t like the parade, I thought it was fantastic.  I loved the soundtrack, rare characters, and atmosphere of the parade.  While none of the floats are show stoppers, the costumes and characters are where Boo To You exceeds expectations.  Who knew Big Al played an Epiphone Guitar?

After the parade we trekked down Main Street and laid claim to an excellent spot for viewing fireworks.  As most of you know, there are tunnels under Magic Kingdom called utilidors.  You can feel the slight incline while walking down Main Street and once that incline ends is where I prefer to view fireworks in Magic Kingdom.  We were able to grab this spot for the Celebrate the Magic and HalloWishes!

Pirate kid MNSSHP

Prior to the shows we had a little extra entertainment in the form of this dancing pirate.  Needless to say, Disney Parks are prime people-watching destinations.  This becomes even more so when you have everyone and their grandmother dressed in costume.  Captain Hook here had us entranced with his never-ending dance moves.  I choose to believe he hasn’t stopped dancing since that night.

MK Mickey projection

The projection show was cool, as usual, but I’m happy that they are moving on to a new one.  This had some neat visuals and fun moments but was nothing more.

Of all the Halloween Party offered, I was most excited to see HalloWishes!  I’m a sucker for fireworks shows anyway, but especially if they are on theme.  This certainly didn’t let me down.  I thought the soundtrack was wonderful, the plot was fun, and the actual pyrotechnics even surpassed expectations.

MK HalloWishes red

HalloWishes purple castle smoke

MK HalloWishes orange green pink

MK HalloWishes blue castle

All in all, this was probably my favorite fireworks spectacular that I’ve ever seen.  All the different villains who make (voice) appearances keep the show going at a quick pace.  The perimeter bursts are absolutely stunning.  I can’t wait to see the show again.

After HalloWishes! we stuck around Main Street to see Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular in front of the castle.  This show was almost as much fun as HalloWishes!  I know literally nothing about Hocus Pocus.  After seeing the show I know that the movie’s three main characters are sisters and… That’s it.  In other words, you don’t need to be familiar with Hocus Pocus to enjoy this show.

MK Hocus Pocus Hades

MK Hocus Pocus jack o lantern Oogie Maleficent

The show brings out a ton of classic Disney villains and does so in a fairly organic way.  The Sanderson Sisters are charming and funny.  They act as narrators in the show, keeping it going and advancing the plot.  The soundtrack is excellent (which was a theme for the entire Halloween Party) and mixes Disney classics with a few deep cuts.  Of all the castle shows I’ve seen, which granted isn’t very many, this was far and away the best.  I’d like Disney to do a show of nearly this quality during a regular park day.  I think something in front of the castle at night adds a whole new environment to the hub and Main Street.

Enough beating around the bush though.  Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular was good and all but it owes a decent amount of its success to Oogie Boogie.  Affectionately named The Oogie Boogie Man by yours truly, Oogie Boogie stole the show dancing around like his life depended on it.  Not to mention, he has the best song in the whole show.  Much like King Louie, Oogie Boogie is one of those characters I could watch dance around on a stage all day.  I took a lot of pictures of him.

MK Hocus Pocus Oogie Boogie blonde pot

MK Hocus Pocus Oogie Boogie plus 2

MK Hocus Pocus Oogie Boogie Dr

MK Hocus Pocus full stage

Here’s to you Oogie Boogie Man.  May your dance moves carry you to the great beyond!  (Although you seem pretty evil so whatever you perceive as the great beyond may not be entirely realistic.)

After Hocus Pocus wrapped up, we went and got some food.  I’m not going to write a review of this so I’ll just say, the chicken waffle sandwich at Sleepy Hollow is one of the best values and entrees of any counter-service restaurant in Walt Disney World.  Go eat it before they take it away again!

MK Boo To You preparade

We decided to watch the parade again, in a new area.  Main Street is definitely the preferred location.  I’ve already raved about the parade but I’ll add in one more thought.  The cast members were all fantastic and brought extra energy to the Boo To You parade, as opposed to a regular parade.  I really enjoyed interacting with them and they were very complimentary of all our costumes.

MK River + castle

We took a walk along the river back to the Haunted Mansion.  We missed out on the live characters in the queue but it was still fun to see the Mansion with extra fog and lighting around it.  Not to mention, there were candy stops along the way!

MK Haunted Mansion bench

We also rode Peter Pan’s Flight because how often do you get to ride that while with someone who is dressed as Peter Pan?  Not very often, I’d say!  I thought the new additions to the queue were nice but they didn’t leave much impact.  We went on this ride at the very end of the party and found this to be a pretty good time to go.

After we were done with those attractions, the clock had struck midnight and the party was over.  I split off to take a few photos while the others looked at the Halloween merchandise.  For the record, they weren’t very impressed with the merchandise.

MK Pumpkin Castle 2 MNSSHP

MK fountain castle

Group MNSSHP

MK Jack o lantern train

So, was Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party worth the cost?  I’ll give an extremely non-committal answer but it truly depends on who you are.  If you are a Disney nut, then yes.  If you enjoy the shows, unique meet and greets, and/or theming more than just about anything else, then yes.  If rides are by far the most important part of the parks to you then no the Halloween party is probably not worth the money.  For me, the party was absolutely worth it and I will likely do it again soon.

The next morning we slept in and enjoyed walking around Pop Century and Art of Animation.  We eventually went back to Magic Kingdom and enjoyed the great Muppets Present… Great Moments In American History.  I reviewed that here.  The real reason we went to Magic Kingdom that afternoon was to eat lunch at Be Our Guest.  This restaurant remains one of the better counter-service areas in Disney World.  Everything we’ve tried is delicious and the theming is top-notch.

BoG entrance

After lunch we headed to Epcot for the rest of the evening.  We went on Spaceship Earth first, which is sadly in need of a refurbishment.  The Seas was next on the list and while I don’t enjoy the attraction in there at all, I could spend a long time in the aquarium section watching the different fish swim by.

Lionfish closer Epcot seas

This is a lion fish.  I ate one at Skippers Canteen earlier in the trip and that’s why I took this photo.  I’ll let you be the judge of what that says about me.

Imagination monorail Epcot

After The Seas it was time for our Frozen Ever After FastPass.  We walked up to the Norway Pavilion in great anticipation (well, at least the ladies were excited) and found the ride to be down.  That was a let down and we moved on to the China Pavilion.  After shopping around a bit we went into Reflections of China (the movie in that pavilion).  Now, I consider myself a fairly kind person so the events that followed I hope are an anomaly.  The very friendly cast member was making announcements before the movie and I was casually checking my app to see if Frozen Ever After was back running.  To my surprise, it was.  Did I wait for the movie to end before rushing out of the theater?  No… Did I wait for the cast member to get down from her podium before I bolted out of the room?  Hardly.  So, I did my bad deed of the trip and before we knew it we were in Frozen Ever After.  You can read my review of that here.

That night we went to dinner at Teppan Edo in theJapan Pavilion.  I really enjoyed the food there and found it to have some of the better steak on property.  I didn’t the environment was anything to write home about but the food was plenty good.

Canadian Castle night

We didn’t get out of dinner in time for a good view of Illuminations but Epcot was open late that night and there was plenty of time for taking photos (and eating.)  It was somewhat rainy so I didn’t have a ton of luck getting pictures but there were a couple that I liked.  Actually most of the ones that I liked (that were edited) I just lost when my laptop crashed.  Thankfully I have them backed up but can’t get to them until my laptop is fixed.  All that to say, I wish I had better photos to show off!

Rose and Crown night

World Showcase night

For most, the night would have ended there.  We got on the bus to head back to the resort but I was really thirsty and wanted something other than water.  I was hoping to make it back before the food court closed at midnight.  When the bus pulled in, it was 12:03 and my hope was lost.  To my surprise, I saw people still walking into the food court.  I got off the bus and ran to the automatic doors.  People in front of me were getting in but by the time I was near the doors, they were closing and not automatically opening any more.  I kicked it into another gear and contemplated an action-hero type dive through the door.  Instead my instincts took over and I stuck my foot in between the doors hoping that they would work like an elevator.  I hopped around there for a second before realizing that those doors weren’t about to open.  I’m sure it was quite the sight for the workers inside.  Sure enough, the security guard saw my exhaustive effort and came and opened the door for me.  Once in, I enjoyed the laughs of many cast members who clearly had not seen this much effort in trying to get a refill.  We got that refill and the night ended with refreshing and satisfying stroll back to the room.

We’ll pick up the next morning in part 4 of this trip report.  Thank you for reading and leave us a comment if you have any questions or thoughts!

– Andrew

Disneyland Improvements

Welcome back guest contributor, Matthew Long, to Wandering in Disney!

Calling yourself “The Happiest Place on Earth” is a little cocky, but Disneyland lives up to it’s self-bestowed moniker. It’s a land of magic and excitement, where dreams really do come true. It’s full of fun, fun, fun, just like Tigger. I have no complaints about Disneyland. It’s great.

River night

Well, actually I have a few complaints. Suggestions, might be more accurate. As amazing as Disneyland is, no place is perfect. These are a few requests, complaints and dreams that came out of our family trip to Disneyland this summer, submitted by various members of the family. Some are practical, some are ridiculous, some are flat-out dumb. All are submitted with the idea of making one of our family’s favorite places even happier and dreamier. Here goes nothin’!

A Hotel in the Park

This idea comes courtesy of my sister Rachel. You’re probably thinking, “Doesn’t Disney have three hotels within walking distance from the two parks? Aren’t there a billion hotels just outside the gates?” Yes, they do, and yes, there are. What Rachel really wants is a place to go take a nap for an hour or two (or 5 or 6, knowing Rachel) without walking back to whatever hotel she’s staying at. This is never going to happen, but I can sympathize. A pay by the hour hotel, minus the more illicit associations those generally bring, would be really handy when you just need a quick nap or have a young child who does. Like I said, never going to happen, but tell me you wouldn’t think about using it occasionally if it existed.

Editor’s note –  Yes, the Grand Californian looks into California Adventure but I don’t think that’s what Matthew is going for here.  For a hotel in the park, we may have to go all the way to Tokyo and Hotel MiraCosta.  

Soarin light

Revamp Downtown Disney

I think pretty much everyone would agree with this. The idea of Downtown Disney is good, as essentially a third place outside of the parks for food and entertainment and general good times for all. Unfortunately, the execution of said idea is quite poor at this point. Downtown Disney currently has a few okay restaurants, a massive store in which to buy Disney gear, and  a bunch of shops and stuff that might distract you for an hour if you work at it. It needs something to bring excitement, and it needs stores and restaurants that are actually interesting and desirable. I don’t have any concrete ideas on how to accomplish this, other than to switch out half the restaurants and stores for something better. I’d put a bigger emphasis on live entertainment and random exciting things happening everywhere. Maybe have Disney movies playing continuously on an outdoor screen. Make it a place where people want to be and a place with room for them to just relax or be excited, depending on the moment. This shouldn’t be hard. Expensive probably, but not hard.

Astro Orbiter castle

Better, Cooler Food

Disney World, with Epcot and a smorgasbord of restaurant options (pun intended), is leaps and bounds ahead of Disneyland for food. Granted, Disneyland is smaller and has more options around it. There’s also the need for food to appeal to, or at least not turn off, the diverse array of people that visit the park. I understand all of that, but Disneyland’s options still lack in excitement and interest. They’re not terrible by any means, especially compared to non-Disney theme parks. They’re just not that great, either. The flavor and quality can be upped in many places, and I think there’s still room to bring in more experimentation and ambition than currently exists. Los Angeles is one of the great food cities in the country, with all the celebrity chefs, Mexican food, and the ocean miles away, but its influence is hardly felt. Disney’s food options just need a little vibrancy and a little bit of a cool factor to them. Right now it’s just too run of the mill, at least for my tastes.

Napa Rose steak

A Library

This is ridiculous, and my family let me know it. I’ll be honest: I just love libraries and books, and spent a good share of the trip on the verge of finishing a very good book. I’d get back to the hotel at night too tired to read, so I wanted a quiet place to sit for an hour. It doesn’t have to be a full-fledged library. Just a reading room, preferably in the castle or maybe upstairs in the Haunted Mansion, would be great. Any somewhat secluded place to explore is always a good thing at Disneyland, too. It could have Disney related books and stuff to peruse, maybe? Am I literally the only person who would be interested in this, besides maybe my Uncle Walt? (That’s my real Uncle Walt, who loves to read and doesn’t really like crowds, not some weird reference to Mr. Walt Disney.)

Haunted Mansion night

More Aladdin

I don’t remember who wanted this, but I have it in my notes. Aladdin’s pretty cool, I guess.

Genie Lumiere PTN

A Movie Store

I want a store that sells every Disney movie and cartoon and piece of media ever created. There’s probably no profit in this with the rise of streaming, but I would like it anyway. You can buy pretty much everything else Disney has to offer, so I want to walk into a store and be blown away by a wall of movies, books and… posters, maybe? I’ll have to think about this more, but it seems like there’s opportunity here.

Fantasyland Night

Mary Poppins Land

This wouldn’t have to be themed for Mary Poppins, but it would be dumb if it weren’t. What I’m wanting is more lands where we walk right into the world of the movie or story. Cars Land does this pretty well. I assume Star Wars Land will too, and there are lots of fun possibilities with that. I do wish they would push further back with some of the new development, instead of moving in the superhero direction. I also realize I’m getting old.

Mary Poppins is my personal favorite. I’d love to walk around the rooftops with the chimney sweeps, and go on a ride based on the animated segment in Bert’s street drawings. Just let me walk around in a world that I’ve previously only been able to visit on-screen. Regardless of which movie they base it on, Disney excels at bringing these fantasies to life, and I’d like to see them do it more often to create worlds for us to visit.

Cozy Cone Cars land night

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There are a billion other ideas, large and small. What would you like to see added to or changed at Disneyland or Disney World?

– Matthew

Frozen Ever After Review and Strategy

Frozen Ever After is a new dark ride in Epcot’s World Showcase.  Located in the Norway Pavilion, Frozen Ever After opened in Summer 2016 and immediately became Epcot’s most popular attraction.  The ride starring Anna and Elsa replaced a cult-favorite Maelstrom.

Frozen Ever After sign

Strategy

Just a quick bit of strategy about when to go on Frozen Ever After before we get to the review.  It’s a ‘quick bit’ because the strategy is simple – get a FastPass+ for this ride.  Frozen Ever After is easily the most popular attraction in Epcot right now and will be for the foreseeable future.  Getting a FastPass+ at the earliest you can (60 days if staying on-site) is vital.  If you are unsuccessful there, keep looking as your vacation draws closer.  Times tend to open up as people start to cancel some of their plans.

If FastPass+ is not an option then there are really only two good choices (possibly a third) if you don’t want to waste a couple of hours of park time in line.  The first option is getting to the park before opening (at least half an hour) and head straight to Frozen Ever After.  You can book a breakfast reservation for Akershus, which is a restaurant in Norway, before the park opens so that you’ll have a head start on all the rest of those folks.  I don’t really recommend this since I don’t think the breakfast offers a good value but it will help you avoid the lines.  Another option is getting in line for Frozen Ever After a few minutes before the park closes.  Cast members will make sure you get to ride as long as you’re in line before the park closes.  Now, this may cause you to miss Illuminations or it may be too late for kids to stay up but this is a decent option in my opinion.

Sven Frozen Ever After

The last option I’ll give is not one you should count on but something to keep your eyes open for.  Frozen Ever After has broken down a lot (more on this during the review) but is usually back up in running during the same day.  If the ride breaks down for long, the line usually clears out.  If this happens then keep an eye on the My Disney Experience app and stay somewhat near the Norway Pavilion.  As soon as you see the ride open up, hustle over to Frozen Ever After.  This is basically the park opening philosophy but you’re using the rides own flaws against it.  Again, I wouldn’t count on this but rather it’s a good way to ride Frozen Ever After for the 2nd time during your trip.  If you have more questions about strategy, let me know in the comments.

Review

My thoughts on Frozen Ever After are much more than just simply being about the actual attraction.  Anyone who knows the situation around where the ride is and what it replaced knows that this was much more complex than simply adding a ride.  So, I think it’s fair to break the review down into two sections, the first of which simply being is this a good ride?

Frozen Ever After Queue

The answer is yes, Frozen Ever After is a well done attraction.  Considering the small foot print of the ride, I thought the queue was well done.  With the Norway Pavilion looking like a small Norwegian village, the inside of the attraction continues that theme.  The rooftops of these little houses (or businesses) are dusted with snow.  There’s some fun lighting and a few little illusions that give the queue a little extra depth.  Now, this queue isn’t top-of-the-line or anywhere near it but they did well with what they had.  Frozen Ever After did fairly well on the details and that starts in the line.

(A few ride spoilers ahead, but not too many!)

Olaf stairs Frozen Ever After

One thing I appreciate about this attraction is that it’s not a book report version of the movie.  Frozen Ever After takes place after the events of the film (probably) and while the story isn’t particularly memorable, I prefer an attraction to be more than just a retelling of its source material.  What Frozen Ever After does with its plot is more that it simply drops guests in to check out Olaf, Sven and the gang.  They are singing the classic songs that we’ve all heard so many times but the music doesn’t seem overdone.  These quick scenes are classic Disney, reminding me of a standard Fantasyland dark ride like Peter Pan’s Flight and Snow White’s Scary Adventure.

The advanced audio-animatronics were a definite highlight of Frozen Ever After.  Olaf was skating around and had some great movements.  The human animatronics were also a bit more advanced than what most Disney fans are probably used to, using projections mapping for the faces of Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff.  These projections are sometimes noticeable but more often than not I thought they looked pretty lifelike.

Elsa Frozen Ever After

The climax of the attraction comes predictably when Elsa is singing ‘Let It Go’ in her ice castle.  Even though it’s predictable this sequence works fairly well.  There could be more to see visually but that’s a very small gripe.  When we rode this Elsa was unfortunately not moving like she usually would.  Still the scene was fun as the boat was moving at a pretty good speed.

Speaking of the boat, the attraction is largely the same layout as Maelstrom before it.  I do think that a boat ride is a fairly strange means of transportation through Arendelle (which is Frozen).  A bobsled seems like the obvious choice.  Or maybe the luge?  Still, that’s picking at nits.

Kristoff Anna Frozen Ever After

I think Disney has shown that they have a pretty good grasp on the balance between physical sets and screens/projections.  This is another feather in that particular hat.  I’ll always lean more towards the animatronics and physical sets which is precisely what this ride does.

One negative Frozen Ever After runs into is that Epcot has had a ton of trouble keeping it open.  This is fairly common for an attraction in its first year of action but it’s also something to keep an eye on going forward.  I do believe Frozen Ever After was opened up before it was ready and that has forced it into some downtime.  I expect the issues to be ironed out over the next few years.

Olaf Sven Frozen Ever After

So, I’ve come to the conclusion that Frozen Ever After is a good attraction that will succeed for a long time into the future.  Unfortunately, that only tells half of the story.  The other half is about an attraction that is shoehorned into an area that it doesn’t really fit.

When Epcot first opened the goal was to be entertaining and educational.  At this point, the latter is leaving the park.  There are still remnants of the original mission but many places have been dumbed down or shuttered.  This topic deserves its own blog post (and will get one soon) but, in short, Epcot is not what it used to be and Frozen Ever After certainly is part of that problem.

Epcot World Showcase light sunset

Frozen doesn’t take place in Norway, which is the pavilion where the attraction resides.  Yes, I know Arendelle draws inspiration from Norway but that’s not the same.  I also understand the arguments that World Showcase needed something more for kids but that doesn’t mean it needs to be a ride involving characters.  There are plenty of quality attractions throughout Walt Disney World without characters and they have some great success.

The biggest problem I have with Frozen Ever After in the Norway Pavilion is that it takes the attention off of Norway and instead focuses on the Disney brand.  The theming takes a backseat, giving way to more self promotion.  Some may say that’s not a big deal and that it’s just nice to have a new ride in Epcot.  I get that but I think fans need to draw a line somewhere.  What has set Disney theme parks apart for years is their ability to immerse you in details and, in Epcot’s case, culture.  Every time there is an attraction that is shoehorned into an area, a convoluted back story is made up and the lands become more confusing and less cohesive.  This is avoidable and something that I’m critical of.  Unfortunately, Disney didn’t avoid this problem here.

Final scene Frozen Ever After

All in all, Frozen Ever After is the best dark ride Disney has created in the U.S. in decades.  The state-of-the-art audio animatronics are incredibly done and they do a good job of incorporating characters without the ride feeling like a book report.  Unfortunately, Frozen Ever After is in the wrong spot and that holds the attraction and pavilion back.  What could have been a classic ride is something less than that due to it not fitting the Norway Pavilion.

– Andrew

Harambe Market Review

Harambe Market is a fairly new counter-service option at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  It is located in the Africa section of the park.  They serve African-inspired fare, in the form of spiced meats and somewhat authentic salads.  This area was built on a piece of land that was previously unused and opened in 2015.

Harambe Market AK

I’ve raved about Animal Kingdom’s details since this blog started and Harambe Market only improves upon that.  The aesthetics in this area closely match those of the Harambe that previously existed.  Harambe Market tries to replicate a street market in Africa, with a vibrant yet beaten-down look.

We Renew Broken Hearts AK

Some of my favorite parts of this area is the artwork around the seating area.  Despite the somewhat run-down look (which is completely intentional) this artwork and the messages bring hope and spirit to the area.

Mister Mouse AK

In the area directly outside of Harambe Market there is live entertainment, mostly in the evening.  I hope that this live entertainment persists, even though this isn’t a high traffic area.  It added to an already wonderful ambiance that this area has.  Once Rivers of Light and Pandora open, I imagine more people will be at the park in the evening.  Having live entertainment available in areas where there wouldn’t normally be crowds may help spread some people out.

Harambe Market Meat sign AK

The way Harambe Market is set up is with 4 counters.  Each says they sell something different, in reality most of them sell all of the items available.  The one exception is that the beverage counter is the only place to get select beverages.  Here is the menu for Harambe Market.  The ribs and sausages looked especially good but I eventually settled on the All-Beef Gyro Flatbread.

Harambe Market inside gyro AK

I’ll start with the main course, being the gyro.  The meat was delicious and had a great seasoning on it.  There’s no doubt that Disney can at times cut back on risks and avoid some of the more interesting seasonings.  That’s not the case here, the beef was cooked to perfection and was the main taste in the gyro.  If the beef was the main taste here the sauce was second in command.  The sauce was a nice compliment, being a little creamy with a small kick.  This is more of a traditional sauce that you’d have on most gyros.  Overall I thought this dish was one of the better main course counter-service options that I had all trip.

Bean salad Harambe Market AK

Moving on to the secondary options, the gyro came with a black-eyed pea salad and a green papaya slaw.  The salad (pictured above) was decent and different.  I don’t love beans so I can’t judge this all that fairly.  With that being said, I thought this blended a few nice flavors.  The dish was fairly sweet and was very fresh.  The slaw was delicious and also somewhat sweet.  It did have a bit of a spice to it, so if you’re not a fan of that then this might not be for you.  I, for one, loved the slaw.

Spice cake Harambe Market AK

This Malva Spice Cake was my dessert.  I thought it was good but not great.  The cake was moist and I liked the frosting on it.  This was a quality counter-service dessert but nothing that I’d go out of my way for.

Harambe Market lemonade AK

I also had the Watermelon Lemonade and that was a refreshing compliment to the meal.  Still, it didn’t have anything on the Mandarin Lemonade over at Flame Tree Barbecue.  Next time I try this place I’d much rather try a more unique drink (rhyme!) at the beverage section of Harambe Market.

Harambe dusk

All in all, I thought Harambe Market was a very welcome addition to Animal Kingdom’s already surprisingly good counter-service options.  Not only did the restaurant offer fairly unique food, but the seating area was beautiful and inviting.  I’m hoping that the area grows in popularity as Animal Kingdom becomes a more viable nighttime park.  I heartily recommend Harambe Market.

Restaurant Rating – 9/10

– Andrew

October 2016 Walt Disney World Trip Report – Part 2

If you missed part one of this trip report, you can read it here.

Sunday morning found us at Animal Kingdom.  I was excited to see the changes and construction progress that had been made since the last time I visited Walt Disney World.  To my delight, you can see that progress even before you enter the park.  At the Disney bus drop-off, you can peer over the fence to see the floating mountains of Pandora – World of Avatar (which will open sometime in 2017).  This isn’t the type of post to debate the merits of that land but I will say that the work so far looks exceptional.

Once inside the park, we headed straight for the back as we had a FastPass for a safari ride.  Before seeing hundreds of animals, we had to stop for one of these…

Mickey cinnamon roll AK

My wife is a cinnamon roll expert and she called this the best cinnamon roll on property.  I tried it and couldn’t disagree.  This not-so-little beauty is found at the Kusafiri Bakery in the Africa section of the park.  This was definitely sharable (unless you go with a cinnamon roll expert) and earned hidden gem status in my eyes.  Not only was in a gigantic cinnamon roll but there was caramel drizzled on top.  Delicious!

Ostrich

Lion Ak

I’ll never stop being blown away by Kilimanjaro Safaris.  The size of the ride, the details in the section, and the immersion all take a backseat to just how close you get to the animals.  There are many places to get a childlike sense of wonder at Disney Parks.  This is the place where I get it the most.  Knowing that I can walk 5 minutes between a gigantic roller coaster and a wide-open savannah filled with wild animals who can be 5 feet away from my eyes is amazing to me.

Mombasa AK

After our safari, we took a ride up, down and all around the forbidden mountain.  More on Expedition Everest later… At this point, it was pretty clear that Animal Kingdom was looking in tip-top shape.  The cleanliness of the park, along with the detail, reminded me of when I visited Disneyland shortly after the 60th anniversary celebration started.  Everything looked well taken care of, new and fresh (DinoLand notwithstanding).  Animal Kingdom is gearing up for a big year and while Rivers of Light has been delayed (it should open this month) the park is still on an upwards trajectory.

Row boat AK

After lunch at Flame Tree Barbecue (review coming!) we went on Kali River Rapids and explored Asia.  The new seating in this area looks great and doesn’t impose on the already beautiful area.  The seating, which is for Rivers of Light, is full of detail just like the rest of Animal Kingdom.

Tree of life AK

It was fun to go to Walt Disney World with people who had never been before for a number of reasons.  One of the highlights was seeing all of the park icons for the first time with them.  I don’t think we take these icons for granted, but more that we forget just how impressive they all are after we’ve seen them a few times.  With that being said, the Tree of Life is always incredible and I love the different angles that you can see it from around Animal Kingdom.

Bird talking FoW

That afternoon we went and saw Flights of Wonder, a live stage show featuring all sorts of different birds.  For one reason or another Melissa and I had never seen this show.  Flights of Wonder was more of your typical zoo show, featuring different animals.  There was a loose plot to it but they didn’t disguise it as anything more than a show featuring some awesome birds!

Bald Eagle FoW AK

I’ll likely review the show in the future but I would say that it’s the second best show at Animal Kingdom, after Festival of the Lion King.  The main actress/zoologist(?) was very charming and informative.  She kept the show going and we all enjoyed it.

Timon

After the show we walked around and went on the Gorilla Falls trail.  While I definitely like the Maharajah Jungle Trek more than this trail, I will never complain about getting to see some gorillas!  I think guests are missing out if they don’t try at least one of these trails.  They really tie the park together and add to the idea that this park should be explored and not rushed through.

ToL ram day

Back of ToL with waterfall

I split up from my group for a while in the early evening.  Why?  Because they were going to see It’s Tough To Be A Bug.  Also known as the most terrifying attraction in the world.  While they were there I wandered around the Tree of Life and took some photos.  I really like what Animal Kingdom has done with the space in Discovery Island right before the Tree of Life.  The animal carvings (on top of this pair of photos) add a nice touch and kind of extend the tree out to guests.

Entire show FotLK AK

Next on the docket was Festival of the Lion King.  This show is somewhat divisive and I’m not sure why.  Maybe people go in thinking that this will be a reenactment of the movie and are disappointed when it’s not?  This show is more a variety show but the pacing is great, the soundtrack is fun and the performances are phenomenal.

We Renew Broken Hearts AK

It was time for dinner and I was anxious to try out the new Harambe Market.  A review will be on the blog shortly but I thoroughly enjoyed my meal here.  I also love the looks of the area, as it fits in so well with the rest of the park.  These new additions to the park weren’t as exciting as a brand new attraction but they were smart and really well done.

Harambe dusk

I was extremely excited to see Animal Kingdom after dark, and it did not disappoint at all.  There was festive live entertainment throughout the park, and the beautiful colors that the park shows off during the day transcend into the night.  There was a great energy throughout the park at night and I could have just sat most of the night at several locations and enjoyed it.

We repeated two rides that night and they were significantly different from the day experiences.  The first of those was Kilimanjaro Safaris.  This was a pretty interesting attraction at night.  Naturally it’s hard to see animals because it was dark.  There’s some lighting throughout the attraction that helps your view.  Animals on the savannah were fairly easy to spot, and that area looked nice.  The hyenas and spotted dogs were fairly active which is good to see because that’s part of the reason they were added to the safari.  I enjoyed the experience, as it really makes you look for the animals and kind of appreciate when you can see them a little bit more.  While the overall experience isn’t as good as during the day I do think that the safari is worth your time during the night.  I would recommend going right at dusk though so you have just a little extra light.  I’ve also heard that the animals are more active at that point.

Expedition Everest at night was somewhat surprising in how different of an experience it was.  I think the darkness helps with the surprises that are part of the roller coaster and they also help you see inside of the mountain a little easier.  That experience was absolutely thrilling and one of my favorite moments of the trip.

ToL Awakenings AK

Our final moments of the night were spent watching the Tree of Life Awakenings.  These are short little projection shows that are on the Tree of Life.  While they aren’t anything like a nighttime spectacular, they will be a fantastic augmentation to a nighttime spectacular.  I compare them to the Kiss Goodnight at Magic Kingdom, but a little more modern and story driven.  There are about five different stories that cycle through on these projection shows and I enjoyed all of them.  They keep the spirit of the park and are a touching nightcap to a beautiful park.

We were going to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party the next night, so we planned for a morning at the water park.  We decided to go to Blizzard Beach, which I hadn’t been to in years.  We got there near opening and really enjoyed the park.  If there’s interest, I would write a guide for both water parks but I’m not sure how many people care about them.

Blizzard Beach wide

We did most of the slides that morning, as well as floated around the lazy river.  We were somewhat rushed because of our lunch reservation and I would recommend planning for about 4-5 hours at the water parks if you want to experience everything.  Still, we really enjoyed Blizzard Beach and I’m looking forward to going back to both water parks throughout this year.

Lunch that day was at the revamped Disney Springs.  We ate at The Boathouse which has drawn rave reviews.  I’ll add my own rave review in the coming weeks but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  We did sit out on the water which proved to be a bit of a mistake, as it was pretty windy.  Still it was a delicious meal!

Boathouse clam strips

We went back to the hotel not long after lunch to get ready for the Halloween Party.  How was the Halloween Party?  What did we dress up as?  Did we eat anything?  Did anyone recognize Darin’s costume?  You’ll have to read the next trip report to find out! How’s that for a teaser? (Yeah, I know… Not very good.)

Thank you for reading this post.  If there’s anything you’d like to see added to the trip reports, please let us know in the comments!

– Andrew

The Muppets Present… Great Moments In American History Review

Thanks to Darin for his posts over the last week! Those posts were fun, albeit somewhat bizarre, and I appreciate all of the writing!  Now I’m back like Brittney everybody, and am excited for the posts coming up.

Ever since Disney acquired the Muppets in 2004 it has seemed that the parent company is just not sure of how to use the legendary brand.  There were the ridiculous TV movies.  Then a well-done and well received movie that was fueled by nostalgia, followed by a decent and terribly received movie that was a bit more adventurous.  After that came a TV show that was okay but never really found its footing.  Now, the Muppets are in entertainment limbo after all of these (somewhat half-hearted) attempts ultimately failed.

Muppets Sam the Eagle

With Disney seemingly befuddled at how to use the Muppets, most Walt Disney World fans rolled their eyes at the news of a new Muppet show in Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square.  How do the Muppets, a franchise started in the late 1950’s, fit in with a colonial themed land?  It was a fair question and one that worried me.  To my delight, this was Disney’s best use of the Muppets since their acquisition.

Piggy screaming Kermit

The Muppets Present… Great Moments In American History is about a 15-minute show that takes place right outside of Hall of Presidents in Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square.  The show takes place throughout the day, check that weeks times guide to see when it starts.  If you’ve never been, Liberty Square is a beautifully themed land with incredible detail.  It’s themed to colonial days, around the American Revolution.  The show is what you could call streetmosphere entertainment, as there is no theater or venue to see the show.  Guests stand below on the street as the Muppets perform in windows above them.

Muppets Gonzo flag

The show starts off with a human, dressed in revolutionary garb, interacting with the crowd.  This man acts as the town crier.  This was a good move, as the Muppets are often at their best with a human to interact with.  In this case, the guy grounded the Muppets and made them feel more realistic.  Throughout the show, the revolutionary man held up signs that gave cues to the audience like ‘applause’.  He didn’t have a major part in the show but the little he did was great.

Fozzie smiling

The first person the crier interacted with was Sam the Eagle who popped out of a pretty surprising spot.  Sam, as usual, was trying to keep the rest of the Muppets to his gold standard of extreme patriotism.  Sam didn’t take part in acting out the show but was more of a director, keeping the pace of the show going and keeping Kermit and the gang on track.  Without Sam, this show likely wouldn’t have worked nearly as well in Liberty Square.

Muppets Gonzo chickens

The rest of the cast included Kermit, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Miss Piggy and a pair of chickens (Gonzo’s sidekicks).  These characters essentially do a muppet (puppet) show reenacting the writing the Declaration of Independence.  Other performances of the show include Sam the Eagle retelling the story of Paul Revere’s midnight ride.  I wasn’t able to see that one and am not sure of how often it takes place.

Miss Piggy King

At first we see Kermit and the gang in their usual outfits, putting the show in modern-day.  Once we find out what the show will be about, the Declaration of Independence in this case, the Muppets switch costumes to fit the late 1700’s era.  This alone is pretty funny and works well.  Add in some of the usual muppet zaniness and the show is humorous yet informative and keeps the spirit of Liberty Square.

Muppets group in window

Even if the concept was somewhat absurd, this show turned out to be a great idea.  Not only was it a fun way to tell stories about our forefathers, but it was a great utilization of a franchise that Disney has used questionably.  The crowd I saw the show with really enjoyed it and was laughing a lot.  Hopefully this becomes a Magic Kingdom mainstay as well as introduces the Muppets to those who are not familiar with them.

– Andrew