Search This Blog

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Haunted Mansion: Past, Present, Burton and Future

The Haunted Mansion opened in Disneyland on August 9th, 1969, fourteen years after the opening of the Park itself.  While Walt supervised the attraction through various incarnations, he never saw it opened to the public as he died December 15th, 1966.

THE PAST
As a child, before I made my first trip to Disneyland at eight years old, I heard stories of the Haunted Mansion.  The kids on the playground would talk about the things they heard.  Of course these were things gleaned from reliable sources like someone's cousin's brother and being kids we KNEW they were true.  We heard the Haunted Mansion glowed green in the dark.  That it was so scary a man had a heart attack on the ride and died.  We heard that Walt Disney was one of the ghosts in the graveyard, the one pedestal statue that was broken and there was a detailed story line about Master Gracey and his bride.

Well, one of the things you learn when you grow up is not to believe everything you hear.

Due to all the stories of dead people and glowing houses I was too damned scared to go inside the Haunted Mansion when I was eight.  That had to wait for my next trip a few years later.  Even on that later trip, I was TERRIFIED of the bride in the attic.  She creeped me out even as a teen and I didn't want to look at her.

I also learned that:
- the Mansion never has glowed in the dark, green or any other color.  This fable may have originated from an album that we had:



The album not only depicts the Mansion as having a green cast to it but has the story of Master Gracey (which we will talk about later).

- no one died in the Mansion of a heart attack from fright
- the broken bust in the graveyard is Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice of many Disney attractions and the voice of Tony the Tiger.  He died in 2005 at the age of 91 so in a way that is his ghost singing to you.
- there was NEVER a specific story line fleshed out for the ride when it was developed.  Yale Gracey was one of the two Imagineers that worked on the ghost effects for the mansion and the ensuing story appears to be an homage to him.  A myriad of stories have sprung up in the ensuing years around the mansion as far as story lines go, including one with a sea captain and the brief book (a dozen pages) that were included with the above record album.  In the words of animator Marc Davis "We really don't have a story, with a beginning, an end, or a plot. It's more a series of experiences building up to a climax. I call them experience rides."

THE PRESENT
As the years moved on, the Haunted Mansion has captured a special place in my heart.  I love the ride with all of its details.  The decor, the sounds, the cast member costumes, the WALL PAPER!!  Gods I would love a house like that especially with that wallpaper.

After being so comfortable with the original antebellum Mansion in my home park:


I made a trip to Walt Disney World (the World) in 1998 and had my view of the Mansion challenged by the Florida version in the Magic Kingdom.  There is no New Orleans Square.  They have Liberty Square and that is where you will find their Mansion.  It is styled after the Dutch/colonial houses of the upper New York area.  To me, while pretty, it isn't as creepy.  Judge for yourself:


Aside from small differences inside the ride (you are actually inside the Doombuggies when you travel down the entrance halls with the changing portraits) and the expansion of a few scenes.  It is basically the same ride.

One change is the cemetery.  Just like Disneyland it is on the outside before you enter the building.  While both have humorous stones and both (such a sad addition) have tombstones of Marc Davis, beloved animator and one of the original "Nine Old Men".  He animated such characters as Alice, Cinderella, Aurora and Maleficent.

What this cemetery does have is an animated Madame Leota tombstone.

If you watch, her eyes will open, then close again and they are yellow!  It is kinda creepy.  This is why it always pays to pay attention to the Disney detail.

Another part of the Florida Haunted Mansion lore was "The Infamous Ring".  Many stories sprung up about a wedding ring hurled from the mansion by Gracey when he caught his wife with another man or the Bride hurling her ring out of the window before killing herself, the list goes on and on.  Guests hear through the grapevine that the ring is embedded in the cement at the exit of the ride and HERE IT IS!!!  

Actually it isn't a ring.  What guests have been looking for, talking about and holding up exiting guests with their hunting and picture taking is... a stanchion.  A small pole if you will that was sawed off and left what looked like a ring.  Guests have tried to dig it out (to no avail).  Disney finally got sick and tired of explaining this was NOT a ring, the story was BS, it was a pole, having people block the exit with their HUGE ... cameras so a few years ago... they poured cement over it.  There ya go, no more ring.

The other difference between the two parks is the level of guest interaction.  In California we tend to have more creative, play along audiences.  Also a great many locals who are involved in the entertainment industry and have Annual Passes.  It is a tradition with TONS of people to recite the Ghost Hosts lines when you are in the stretching room elevator and when the lightening strikes and the hanging body is reveled to scream like mad in the dark!  It's fun!  We LOVE it!

Guess what?  The Florida people are NOT amused.  They like their ride, staid, traditional and no screaming please.  They get really pissy if you do it.  I think they are thinking "Look at those California wackos with their sense of Park entitlement, trying to spoil all our fun with their screaming."  Florida people, honestly we are not trying to piss in your Cheerios.  This is how we role in Cali and if you come to Disneyland, you will see what I mean.  About the park entitlement, that is true.  Our park is better, Walt walked there, be jealous and deal.

THE BURTON
Another thing to be jealous about is Christmas in Disneyland at the Haunted Mansion.  Each year since October 3, 2001, the mansion gets a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay.  Florida doesn't get this.  Sorry.  If you don't want to go to LA, you can go to Tokyo.  They are the only two parks that have this holiday change over.




Now I will say right up front I HATE The Nightmare Before Christmas movie.  So many of my friends like it and I have tried.  I watch it, try to get through it, try to like it and... I don't.  It is creepy, disturbing and I wouldn't let little kids watch this on a bet.  Tim Burton is pretty predictable in his style and that style has many disturbing elements.  I could go on and on but this isn't about his weird ass movie.  That being said, I LOVE the re-do of the Mansion.  It brings all the best parts of the movie to the fore without the disturbing bits.  The characters are more fun and "lovable".  

In March I will get to see the Classic Mansion for the first time in years.  Why?  The overlay is active from September through January and as a result I have not seen the Disneyland mansion in its regular guise for over 5 years, maybe longer.  I tend to visit the park around my birthday (which is in October) so the only "classic mansion" I've been able to see is at WDW.  The irony.

THE FUTURE
I have heard that in my absence of Classic Mansion, some changes have been made.  They have re-tooled the attic scene and the Bride that use to scare the pants off of me.  They have re-imagined her as a black widow, marrying rich men and then killing them for their dough.  I can't wait to see it.  What so many of us appreciate about all the attractions that Disney makes is their ability (for good or bad) to re-invision them, keep them new, fresh, relevant and timeless as well.

You know, once you have gone to your "Great Reward" after this life, it might not be so bad to hang out at the Haunted Mansion.  As the Ghost Host says "There's always room for one more."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tangierine Cafe - Morocco/Epcot

Today I decided to try some counter food in Morocco. I decided to get the lamb platter with an ice tea and baklava. If you are on the dining plan like I was, they don't let you pick your dessert.  You get their pick of baklava and I have to say the lamb scared me. 

Don't get me wrong, I love lamb but there were these big cylindrical things that were turning around and people were cutting slices off them. It reminded me of Soylent Green (points if you saw that movie when it first came out!) only it was in strip form and not cracker form.

I ADORE lamb - this was a spam like lamb product. I'm sure it was lamb or mostly lamb but had the look and pressed consistency of spam so I am now scared but I soldiered on. It came with hummus (the ONLY way i will EVER eat garbanzo beans, usually I just flick them at people), tabuli and cous cous. There was also a light yogurt sauce on the lamb.
All that being said, while I would have liked real, non spam pressed lamb MUCH better, this was not bad. I especially liked all the sides. GRADE: B

Word to the wise, do NOT do what this weenie in front of me did. What did he do, you ask?  He looked at the menu, saw all the "ethnic" food, got in line and ... ordered a HOT DOG! What is WRONG with you?  Why do I care? Because you are in Morocco and if you want nitrate infused beef/pork left over parts go to AMERICA! It's NEXT DOOR! It's like ordering a hot dog in Akershus. Why? It's a waste to eat at a place when you don't like the food.

I'm glad I tried this lamb dish but next time I will try the fish & chips next time for counter service just because the pressed lamb/chicken scared me.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Raglan Road - Downtown Disney

First the restaurant is BEAUTIFUL, just gorgeous. All dark wood and cool hanging light fixtures and a wonderful bar. Now here was the main downside. As lovely as this place is, it was VERY crowded, packed with kids and they were LOUD! This was the ONLY bad kid experience we had this trip. There was one table that gave a BABY metal utensils (KNIVES) to bang together, flail around and I could hardly hear myself think. The "parents" just ignored this. In addition to annoying everyone around them, the baby could have severely injured himself but do the parents care? Nope. Not at all. Maybe they figured that they had so many kids that if they lost one, oh well. Bad parenting really gets me.


Down the Middle - a hearty Irish tomato and vegetable broth $5.50
It was really nice. Light but flavorful. Translucent onions, small bits of veggies, not too overpowering.

Goats Town - Herb-crusted grilled Irish goat's cheese salad served with fruit compote $12.00
This was a really nice salad but the berry compote was a bit sweet.

Beef Stew
The word on this dish is the beef was tender and the gravy was really good. However what was missing with this and with my soup was bread. They don't bring you any and that is a real minus. GRADE: B

Celtic Chique - baby chicken finished with a light apple cider glaze. $15.95
Sorry the picture is blurry but the camera refused to focus. The chicken was good, especially the glaze but the meat wasn't as flavorful as the chicken I make. The potatoes were OK but nothing special, nothing added. Just a nice dish, nothing to make it a standout. GRADE: B

Herb/Leek/Mushroom Risotto
I think that I should have gone with my first impulse and had the Baby Back Ribs in Guinness and honey glaze for an entree even though it is a starter for two but I went against my first impulse. Never do that.  This risotto dish was a total train wreck.  It had some kind of lawn clippings on it and shavings of cheese. It was disappointed. WHY is it that every time I'm at the World, my last meal is bad or not as good as X. The green beans on the side I ate which is a bad sign because I usually hate green beans. It's not that they were amazing but that they were better than my entree The leeks were not properly sautéed and they used too much of the green of the shaft.

Leek Anatomy 101: When cooking with leeks, you want to use the white part on the very bottom by the roots and a bit of the light green section but not too much. As the leek gets greener, it becomes more bitter.

Well this was the problem with my dish. It was too bitter and too overpowered by the leek. I could hardly eat it (even afterwards and that is UNHEARD OF). GRADE: C-

Well due to my lack of food intake while drinking my cider I am getting a little buzzed. I get up to use the ladies room, got really confused by the Gaelic names on the doors and walk into the men’s room. "hmmmmm, a line of drinking fountains - guess I am in the wrong place". Fortunately there were no occupants at the time BUT when I opened the door the urinals were right there directly in front of me so if anyone opened the door to enter the bathroom, people in the hall could see men standing there peeing - just saying.

I will add that the presentation of the fish and chips is awesome. It is in a paper cone and the cone is inserted in a metal spiral thing. At first I thought they were the missing breadsticks. They remove the paper cone and then dump the fish and chips on your plate. They looked good....

OVERALL I would give this place a B. I feel that I didn't make the best food choices and as a result would give it another chance. Maybe if I sat somewhere else or came a little earlier. I will save it for my solo return trip as my next trip is shorter and pretty much booked. We'll see.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Citricos - The Grand Floridian

Off to one of my favorite places, CITRICOS!!! We were seated promptly and our server Danny greeted us, got our drinks and gave us menus.

Now things started to take a bad turn. My fav items were gone. No Fois Gras Ravioli, no Duck Breast and no Rack of Lamb. I asked Danny about the items. He gave a good dance about keeping things fresh and animal rights activists and the price of lamb and stuff. Well I told him to see if Chef Gray could make the Raviolis for me anyway since I knew they had Fois Gras at V&A and they share a kitchen.

Then the bomb hit.. Chef Gray was gone! I can't believe it.  It seems that he is going to Narcooses in two weeks and the Narcooses chef is now at Citricos!!!!!!!

OK, I am thinking - the reason I have not gone to Narcooses before was the total lack of enthusiasm by foodies that I trust and now their Chef is at my Fav place??!!!!!!

God this can't be happening. I went on and on to Danny about how Chef Gray is a God (which he agreed with) and got the distinct feeling that some of the menu changes were due to new chef issues.

We ordered. The Manager came over to try to talk me out of going to Narcooses on my next trip. I told him that I am following Chef Gray. No offense but he turned this place around and I am following the food. He said to give them a try. Ok, here is for trying.

APPETIZERS

Warm Goat Cheese Salad: Arugula, Frisee, Lardons, and Marinated Tomatoes - $9
The presentation makes it a bit difficult to get some cheese in every bite. The filo is crispy and the cheese marries well with the bacon and the grilled tomatoes. GRADE: A-


Gateau of Crab: Jumbo Lump Crab and Orange Fennel Coulis - $12
This is very creamy and altogether a plate of yum. The crab was large, flavorful and the orange sauce was a lovely compliment. GRADE: A

At this point, Chef Anthony came by to try to convert me to his fan club. I am sure he is a nice person. Younger, tall, dark hair, I'm sure he is talented but had the tude of "I know this chick really wants Chef Gray cooking so I'm going to try to be nice but not try that hard." Try away. The winning is in the cooking so get back in the kitchen and cook! Cook like the wind. I am so not being moved. Chef Gray is nice and tells stories and ...damn.

ENTREES:

Grilled Swordfish with Vegetable Pearl Pasta and Red Pepper Coulis - $32
Very nice. Fish is perfectly cooked and the red pepper gives a nice accent to the firm fish. GRADE: A-


Pan Roasted Orange Tilefish with yellow tomato-pepper compote and spinach risotto - $31
Very nice. Fish is perfectly cooked and the red pepper gives a nice accent to the firm fish. GRADE: A-
This was very light and lovely. Fish can be hit or miss for me and this I completely finished. There was one flavor that was missing that would push it over the edge into the "I'm crying it is so good" territory and that is the yardstick that I am using. GRADE: A-

DESSERT:


Citricos Cinderellabration, Bittersweet chocolate mousse tart with orange sauce - $8
This most unfortunately named dessert was very nice and creamy. The Chocolate crown was edible. The tart had chocolate wings with oranges on them. I asked Danny if this presentation was an homage to "Soarin" since its original name at DL is Soarin over California and we grow oranges here and there is an orange grove in the ride and there is orange sauce, etc. Danny thought that was a neat idea but didn't know. WHY didn't he know or someone figure that out? GRADE: A-


Lemon Cheese Cake with raspberry sauce:  $8
This was nice and light . Not really heavy and overpowering in the lemon flavor. GRADE: A-

Danny also brought us a bottle of Evian and 3 paper cups to go (we were heading over to MK to watch Wishes) and I thought that was really nice.

Overall, the food is still very good. It was the best place we ate at this trip with Jiko and Akershus and Artist Point very close behind. However none of these items made me cry. When I return for a shorter trip next year, I will try Narcooses now that Chef Gray is there though would not eliminate this from rotation in the future. Only time will tell if their new Chef will step things up. Currently Citricos has fallen to #2 behind Napa Rose at the Grand Californian for the first time. (I don't include V&A since it is in a category all of its own).

O'hana Character Breakfast - Polynesian

Well after the bland fest in France, the next morning we headed to the Poly for luau Lilo & Stitch Breakfast fun. I have never done a character breakfast and didn't know what to expect.

We were seated pretty promptly though I thought the picture spot was LAME! They give you a ticket for your family to get a picture in front of...... tikis. Yup, tikis.   Whee.  At Akershus, they at least had pictures with Ariel. No character, just tikis. Lame. We passed

Now let me say that I have never been addicted to coffee. I will drink it on occasion but do not turn into a grumpy, sludge monster if I don't get coffee. Guess who needs coffee in our party?  Yup, cousin George.  Let's call him Grumpy.

The server didn't get to our table fast enough. OK she was a little slow and is it just me but I really think most of these servers are the oldest servers in The World. Just an observation.

So we are finally greeted, drink orders taken and then the coffee wait begins. O God, will it never end! PLEASE bring us coffee as I am dying here. Grumpy with no coffee is scary.

The characters were Stitch, Lilo, Pluto and The Mouse himself! As I am writing in my trip report book, Stitch snuck up behind me and scared me. Bad Stitch! I thought that the whole Stitch thing would annoy me but he was really fun to watch and play with. Grumpy didn't play much since he still needed coffee.

Now came the food (sorry, no pictures, we were too busy eating). They bring you a big wok with the regulars - scrambled eggs (good but a little loose/wet if you don’t like that, they may need to cook them more), bacon (very good), sausage (didn't try but heard from they were a little spicy but good), Home fried Potatoes (didn't try but heard they were good), Mickey Waffles (not as warm as I would like but fun), bread basket with biscuits, cinnamon roll and PINEAPPLE BREAD! OH MY GOD! This stuff was sooooooooooooo good. I had them bring more and then I took it with me. I snacked on this all day. It is a soft yeasty roll type bread with crushed pineapple on the bottom. It's really good warm but just as yummy cold. A little sticky but I can deal.



Pluto was very funny and then I got to see the MOUSE! He was wearing his Hawaiian shirt with a lei. I told him that he is my fav and that I love him. He got all embarrassed. I swear I will mud wrestle Minnie for The Mouse. OK, I'm getting a little carried away and weird but it is early in the morning on the west coast. Mickey signed my book and that made my morning. Lilo never came by which was fine with me since I really don't care about her. It’s all about the Mouse.

Grade: Overall Food = B-, Pineapple Bread = A-, Characters = A, Noise Level = B (Actually pretty good table spacing and not a lot of screaming), Kid Activities = B (They had a parade with noise makers)

Bistro de Paris - Epcot/France

We are off to France. I had eaten lunch at Chefs de France (downstairs) a few years back and found it mediocre.  So I decided on Bistro de Paris for this trip. It was more upscale and I liked the menu better. However it is NOT on the dining plan. So I used my Disney card points to pay for 2/3 of the meal. I should have told my table mates that France was full, gone to watch belly dancing and saved my points to buy stylish designer sunglasses.

The atmosphere was lovely. We were seated at a window with a decent view of Illuminations. They had tablecloths and silverware and cute napkins folded like dinner jackets.


Things were looking promising. The Amuse Bouche (no picture) was a piece of smoked salmon wrapped around a bit of mashed potatoes with chive. Akershus' salmon was MUCH better in texture and flavor. Grade: B+

We decided to get the Chefs Tasting Menu. It sounded good and was reasonably priced. $65 without wine pairings (which is what we had), $100 with wine pairings.

APPETIZERS:

Rare seared tuna with Jamaican Pepper, sauce of lemon comfit and banyuls vinegar, arugula coulis and a crunchy vegetable salad.
The presentation was pretty but the dish itself was a bit bland. It seemed to be missing a flavor or two. Grade: B


Grilled quail with baby frisee salad and poached egg, creamy green lentil vinaigrette and cheese chips
Bland. The egg was lukewarm, the quail was difficult to eat and the flavors were not there. I was trying to get a bit of everything on the fork to blend the flavors and had to add salt and pepper to try to give it some flavor. Beautiful presentation but little wow factor. Grade: B

FISH COURSE


Provencal bouillabaisse, scallops, shrimps, stripped bass, mussels and codfish served with aioli and toasted bread
Pretty but bland and lacking any bite or kick. The fish all took on the flavor of the tomato base with no flavors of their own coming through. Grade: B-


Seared scallops with a fleur de sel on a goat & sun dried tomato ravioli with creamy lettuce sauce
Pretty but bland. Are you seeing a pattern here? The scallops were cooked perfectly but the lack of any dynamic flavors continued this pretty but bland parade. Grade: B

SORBET


Apple sorbet with apple liquor and dried apple slice
 Say it with me now! B - L - A    N - D - Y It was palate cleansing but pedestrian. Grade: B-

Here is where I got a glass of red that had been paired with my meat. I live by Napa. I know wines. I love wines. This wine sucked. It was soooo tannic that I could clean rust off chrome with it. French wine is really over rated.

MEAT COURSE


Roasted beef tenderloin with marrow, potato boulangere with comte cheese, green asparagus, red wine and juniper berry sauce.
 This steak doesn't hold a candle to Jiko. It was very tender but bland. No real flavor. The potato gratin in the ramekin was better. A bit of flavor starting to poke its head through the snow. Grade: Meat - B, Potatoes - B+

CHEESE COURSE

This was $5 extra per person. I am allergic to blue cheese so they served all goat cheese. Wow. The 3 French goat cheeses were mild to nutty to slightly pungent. These cheeses were fair but it wasn't Red Hawk but then what is. Check out cowgirl creamery in Point Reyes. AWESOME! This cheese - ho hum. Grade: B+

DESSERT

Well only dessert left and I have not shed one tear of food joy on this whole pricey menu. I am hoping for one standout.


This assortment includes creme brulee (decent but not great - B+), Banana Tart Meringue (I don't like banana cream pie so this did nothing for me. One diner thought it was the best of the lot and gave it a B+, Warm chocolate lava cake with 70% dark chocolate (a bit dry. I ate the remainder of it for breakfast the next day. - B), Gingerbread ice cream (really good. This is a standout - FINALLY and I gave it an A-) and caramelized rice pudding (while not a rice cream, it was REALLY good. It was creamy, slightly warm with a nutmegy taste that went really well with the ice cream. ONE THING that I really liked though there was hardly any of it (Grade: A-)

Overall, our meal was bland and pedestrian. While the price for the offerings is good, the chef missed the boat. They could have been standout or even noteworthy but are just fine. What is wrong with FRANCE?! I am placing this in 10th place overall behind even Fulton’s. The chef needs to follow Chef Gray or Chef Scott around for a month or so. This place really needs some help to make it great.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Most Horrific Ride Ever to Appear in the Magic Kingdom (and I loved it)

ALIEN ENCOUNTER: 
MAGIC KINGDOM/TOMORROWLAND


This was my favorite attraction at Magic Kingdom. Around 2002, it traumatized so many children that they re-vamped it into the idiotic "Stitch Encounter".  This is the story of one of the coolest rides that Disney ever thought of, it was just in the wrong park.  In my opinion, it should have been in "teen/tween park" Disney Studios.


I first rode this in 1998 and for the last time in 2001.  The mistake people made was to think a scary ride called Alien Encounter really wasn't that scary.  They thought it was Haunted Mansion scary.  They were soooo wrong. They thought Michael Eisner would NEVER put a truly terrifying ride in the Magic Kingdom of all places!  Evidently they didn't get the memo telling them that Eiser is the Devil. So let's go back in time to a day when the Happiest Place on Earth turned evil.


There are warning signs posted for this ride.  In my opinion, they are not large enough. This is a VERY mentally scary and intense ride. Grown-ups will have fun and find themselves a bit scared or freaked but if you take your child on this ride, you WILL be paying for therapy for the next 10 years. I am NOT kidding! Little kids have NO business on this ride.  Now I did my good deed by warning parents with small children that I saw on the buses about this ride.  I told them that perhaps one of them might want to screen it first.  It seems that I didn't talk to some of the people in line.  I like this ride for adults if you can deal with mind game scares.  It is less scary the second time around.


It is based (very loosely) on the Alien of Ridley Scott fame. You enter a very entertaining queue where you get a lesson in teleportation from an evil robot and his unwilling volunteer “Skippy”. Just seeing cute little Skippy get crispy in a teleporter “accident” and then have the slightly malevolent robot trap him in the transporter interface while in transit, perhaps permanently, can be a bit disturbing to kids.


You next enter a circular room where you sit around a giant tube. There is a large shoulder harness that comes down over you. While it is used for an effect later on, its main purpose is to keep people in their seats so they are not running around in terror in the dark and break their necks.  They start the show and someone starts talking on a screen about this new teleporter technology and how they are going to teleport something harmless to you in the theatre.  Yeah.. right.  Like that turned out real well for Skippy.


The teleporter is accidentally rerouted and instead of the chairman of the teleportation company coming to talk to you, an Alien is transported in his place.  The Alien busts out of the tube, total darkness descends and the fun begins. This is a total mind trip. Nothing in the room moves. You hear the Alien running on the catwalk, breathing hot breath on your neck, it kills a few people, you hear chewing sounds, you feel warm “blood” dripping on you from the guy he ate on the catwalk, etc. As you can tell, this is intense.


There was a kid sitting next to me that looked like Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”. He was about 9 years old and was screaming and hysterical with terror. His Dad was trying to calm him down, tell him it’s just a ride, that it’s not real but the kid was terrorized. I'm going to Hell because while I feel sorry for the kid, his genuine screams of abject terror really added to the experience of the ride. 


Please parents, don’t be selfish and drag your small children on this ride just because you want to see it. Do the child swap, preview the ride first, judge your childs ability to handle this before you damage them. I give this ride an A- for adults, and A for teens, a D for average kids and an F for small children. I think this would have been better at MGM/Disney Studios and put Star Tours here (like they have in Disneyland).

Epcot: World Showcase (WDW)

MAELSTROM: Norway/Epcot

ADULT THRILL LEVEL – Low
WAIT TIME – Low to Moderate
KID GRADE(G) This ride is suitable for all ages. The ride is not too scary.  It is dark and there are some loud noises.  The drops are not too fast or steep.  Should be OK with Mom or Dad there for comfort.
ADULT RATING - I give this ride a respectable B.
This Viking ship o' yore ride in Norway is one of the better rides in World Showcase (considering that EPCOT is not really a "ride" kinda park). This ship takes you through Norway Past, Present and Future as well as touching on their rich Troll mythology.  There was also a "switch", one place in the ride where your boat turns and you go backwards.  They also have a few small drops like Pirates of the Caribbean.  They fit right in with the ride but are not steep enough to be scary or to get you really wet.


The only thing that you can skip is the tourist film that comes after the ride. I saw it once, and it's really pretty but I've had my fill of fjords. No offense.  I would suggest see it once and then skip it for future rides.  You can just walk straight through the theatre without stopping and exit into the gift shop.




El Rio del Tiempo (RIVER OF TIME): Mexico/Epcot

ADULT THRILL LEVEL – Low
WAIT TIME – Low to None
KID GRADE(G) Small children will like this ride a great deal.  It is soothing and does not move fast.  There are no scares or dark places. 
ADULT RATING - I give this ride a C if you are hot, tired, drunk or with very small children that won't realize that it is dumb or a D if you are normal and sober.

I have been on this attraction three times in the past four years and my opinion of this ride has not really changed at all since the last time.  I continue to add my friends as converts to the "Small World on Drugs" concept of a Disney ride obviously put together in the 70's and not refurbished since. 


This ride is lame but it's great if you are hot, tired, drunk or just plain cranky. You can relax, there has never been a line when I've been there and they did lower the volume so you can actually hear yourself think. You float by a restaurant (WDW's version of the Blue Bayou & Pirates of the Caribbean) with a dark, romantic atmosphere and a smoking volcano in the background. I think that having human sacrifice on the Aztec pyramid with a head rolling down it would add to the ride atmosphere, however, it may scare the children. Hmmmmm..... anyway….. 


The boat ride is ala Small World. The first part is the most promising. A large Aztec warrior, standing Godlike in his feathers and gold and tiny little loin cloth talking (I think) about the great scientists, mathematicians and poodle breeders (hey, I don't know, the sound was bad) that their civilization had. However, it started to go downhill with the next section, "Aztec Interpretive Dance". I had no idea what the point was since you couldn't hear the narration. There was no human sacrifice. I was bummed. 


Next you enter the room of "It's A Small World" rejects. It's not nearly as scary as the actual Small World but it's getting there. THEN you get to see bad film clips from the 70's of girls water skiing, people getting drunk and a Mexican couple trying to sell you stuff. This moves on to a large room where a festival is going on. What are they celebrating? I have no clue. There is a carousel of marionette people in the center of a modern town with fireworks overhead. Maybe they are celebrating that we left the peddlers in the next room.


(Editorial non-PC rant: I am assuming that these rides in Epcot are to, in part, educate guests about the glorious history of the country represented and give a sense of why this is a neat place to visit. To me, it cheapens the history of Mexico and its people to portray them as annoying peddlers that are always trying to sell you stuff. Sure I go to Mexico and have to beat off the herds of youngsters that are trying to sell me Chiclets or a paper mache donkey but this is suppose to be an INCENTIVE to go to Mexico. Mexico has a rich history and I DIDN'T SEE ANY OF IT!  I saw "interpretive dance" and that's it. How about the art of Mesoamerica or festivals specific to the Country? NO! I get water skiing bikini babes and people "running" next to your boat tying to sell you junk! That is really insulting to the people of Mexico. End rant

Epcot: Future World (WDW)

FOOD ROCKS: Future World/Epcot

ADULT THRILL LEVEL – None.  At least you are not standing in a line.  Take a load off.
WAIT TIME – Low even during peak times.
KID GRADE(G) This is fine for small children.  It may bore older kids.
ADULT RATING(C-) Dancing pineapples aren’t my thing.

Are you into dancing food and being lectured, in a fun Disney way, about the food groups?  Well then this is for you!  Dancing animatronic figures of food and utensils “rock out” to teach you about eating healthy.  I am all for healthy eating but this is not for me.  If you have a small child this could be a good thing or it could scare them back into the arms of the fast food giants.




MAKING OF ME: Future World/Epcot

ADULT THRILL LEVEL – None
WAIT TIME – Low to Moderate
KID GRADE(PG) The suitability for this ride depends solely on how much of an advanced education you are comfortable with your child getting
ADULT RATING(C+) A good place to take a load off but not stellar. 

This is one of the most disturbing rides I’ve ever been on.  OK, it wasn’t as disturbing as my ex who goes by the nickname of “Satan” but close.  This educational ride gives your kids a birds-eye view of reproduction Disney-style.  While you will never actually see a penis, you will get a humorous overview of dating, falling in love, inutero fetuses, birthin babies and mucus and all kinds of ick…. I mean, the wonderful miracle of life.  I soooo didn’t pay all this money to watch a nookie movie with no nookie.

If you are not in a place where you want to fill in the blanks for Junior (like the body parts and the “wilderness watoosie”) I would skip this.  If you are an adult, you should know what goes where and why so why are you wasting valuable ride time with this?  Go on Mission:Space again!

If you have advanced home-schooled children that know all about reproduction and regularly say things like “Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina” in the grocery store line then this is a feel good refresher course.  Have fun; I’ll be at the Rose & Crown pub having a cold one.  After all, alcohol is one of the precursors for the “wilderness watoosie”.


MISSION SPACE: Future World/Epcot

ADULT THRILL LEVEL – Extreme
WAIT TIME – High – FASTPASS Alert!
KID GRADE(R) This ride has height requirements and is very intense.  If children cannot follow the rules to the letter, they will vomit.  Assess your own childs tolerance.  Close spaces, extreme G-forces, NOT for small children.
ADULT RATING – This is one of the most amazing rides I have ever been on.  While a bit extreme, you can survive if you stick to the rules.  A+


Now I admit that I was a little nervous about this ride. I hear some people hurl, some are fine, and some feel a little off for a while then are fine. For anyone that has ridden Rock ‘n Roller Coaster at Disney Studios, the G forces are less on Mission Space but last longer.

There are a TON of signs that tell you that the ride spins and that you can get sick. You are also reminded many times not to close your eyes or to ever turn your head. You must always look straight ahead. There is a very good reason for this.  The ride is a centrifuge.  Watch “The Right Stuff” for an idea of what this is.  Basically it is a sphere that spins very fast. 

Now you may say, “I hate spinning rides”.  I agree with you but this is different.  If you think about it, you spin every second of your life.  The Earth spins.  It is all in your perception of your environment.

If you keep watching the screen you can trick your brain into believing what it sees is “real”.  If you turn your head to the side, your body will notice the spinning and you will vomit.  DO NOT TURN YOUR HEAD.  Honestly if your kid won't listen to you and fidgets don't take them on this ride or you could get hit when they hurl.  In fact they had to put us in another car on our first trip because they had to hose the last one down due to some crazy kid didn't listen to or believe the directions.  Believe them.  The cast members don't call it Mission Hurl for nothing.


That being said I love this ride.  I personally am the biggest spinning weenie on the planet and I did OK on this ride.  It was amazing, I just laughed with sheer joy through the lift-off. It was fun and amazing. All I can do is say “COOL! THIS IS SOOOOOO NEAT! WOW!”

Afterward I left the ride, I got a tiny bit dizzy. My body is now mad at me because it has figured out that it was tricked. “HEY! I WAS SPINNING! DAMN YOU, YOU CRAZY MONKEY!!!” It’s trying to get its equilibrium without the spinning. A sit down for 5 minutes or so and taking it slow for another 20 and I was fit as a fiddle.



UPDATE:  There are now two versions of this ride.  The original in the centrifuge and another with the same elements but you won't be spinning.  I haven't experienced the Lite version yet so I can't compare.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ice Station Cool: Innovations/Epcot (WDW)

ICE STATION COOL – Innoventions
Overall Rating = A-

Ice Station Cool is my favorite hidden secret.  On the right side of Innovations before you enter the walkway towards Canada you will see an iceberg set into a rock wall.  Enter this iceberg, walk through its freezer section and enter a cool room populated with FREE soda.  Before you get all excited, these are sodas that Coke sells in different countries that have WAY different tastes than most Americans are use to.  You can take a Dixie cup and try samples for yourself. Here are the selections and my observations:

Smart Watermelon - China
Tasty! Very light and refreshing, not too sweet  (A)

Vegibeta - Japan
It's OK, I expected it to be nastier like that Vegemite doody the Aussies eat (B+)

Mezzo Mix - Germany
Weak ginger beer taste, reminiscent of gummi coke bottles  (B+)

Kinley Lemon - Israel
Nice.  This is what Sprite aspires to be!  (A-)

Diet Tai Guarana - Brazil
Slightly nasty with that "soft" diet taste - just OK (C)

Lift Apple - Mexico
Nice and tart (B+)

Krest Ginger Ale - Mozambique
Not as sharp as USA Ginger Ale, a bit watery  (B-)

Beverly - Italy
God, this is awful! I don't know what's wrong with the Italians and I am one!  This tastes like a combination of Children's Tylenol and spit (F-)

Disney Studios: Sunset Blvd. (WDW)

Rock N’ Roller Coaster

ADULT THRILL LEVEL – High.  Two inversions, one corkscrew and a rocket launch start that pulls 5 G’s.  The first “non-Disney” coaster.  This is a coaster to compete with Six Flags.  It is also the inspiration of the VERY PALE imitation at Disney's California Adventure (DCA) called "California Screamin'".

WAIT TIME – Moderate – High  Get FastPass to by-pass long lines.

KID GRADE(PG-13) This ride has a height limit.  Do NOT fudge on this and put your kids in platform shoes.  It is for their safety!  Be a parent, not a jellyfish.  If your child has issues with fast, scary roller coasters, you might want to skip this.  If they can't handle Splash Mountain, they can't handle this.  8+ should be fine.


ADULT RATING(A) Tops in thrills and chills.  Teens will adore this ride. A definite winner.
Rock N Roller coaster is sponsored by Aerosmith and it is one of the best all around rides in "The World".  OK, Aerosmith are not actors but they are great rock musicians and the music (combined with the ride) is the big draw.  The pre-show is a bit cheesy but the line is entertaining.


The premise is you are in a limo, racing through the streets of LA to meet Aerosmith at their concert.  As you wait to board the ride you see others being launched, yes - launched into the ride.  Watching the cars rocket into the darkness just adds to the thrill while you wait your turn.  This ride does have inversions (a first for Disney).  After you are strapped in, your car is pretty much rocket launched forward going from 0-60 in 2.5 seconds.  According to cast member information, when you enter the first turns you are pulling 5 g's.  This is 3 g's more than the shuttle astronauts experience being blasted into space.   Fun, huh?


The ride seats are molded and comfortable so you are not shaken and jolted around.  No stomach dropping lurches either.  I know some of you sickos like those but you’ll just have to content yourself with the speed, corkscrews and the loop.  A really fun ride.  Just don't eat too much before going on it.  This ride is Fast.  Very Fast.  But also VERY fun!  It's dark but not too dark.  You have great Aerosmith music blaring in your ears and hurdle past oversize freeway signs, through giant donuts and finally up to the concert to disembark.  This is not to be missed.

Tower of Terror

ADULT THRILL LEVEL – High.  The best ride in the World to date.  Avoid if you have height or dropping issues.

WAIT TIME – Moderate – High.  Get FastPass to by-pass long lines.

KID GRADE(PG-13) This ride can be very scary.  Some kids love the sensation of falling, others need therapy.  Assess your kids tolerance for this.


ADULT RATING(A) This ride is first rate.  The line is gorgeous in presentation and scope. 


You are taken through an elegant but decaying hotel from the height of Hollywood’s heyday.  The premise is the fictitious Hollywood Towers Hotel, which catered to the most glamorous of the Silver Screens icons of its time, was struck by lightning one fateful night and some guests disappeared in the elevator.  We are now the first guests to this hotel and are taken through the lobby, past the inoperative elevators, through the basement and loaded into the service elevator.  We have entered ... The Twilight Zone.

While you are waiting in line, you can take in many original props from the old TWILIGHT Zone television show as well as clips of Rod Serling narrating.  Disney has digitally remastered the deceased Rod Serling to remove his infamous and ever present tobacco products but other than that small omission, the Twilight Zone focus is incredible.

The car consists of benches with lap belts in four rows, 2 columns per car with a center aisle.   There is one single seat in the last row right in the middle.  It has no seats in front of it and an “old-fashioned” car lap belt (seat belt).


The elevator then "leaves" the shaft and travels around the hotel where you see the spirits of the missing people from the elevator accident of long ago and the weird Twilight Zone effects.  Are you doomed for their fate?


The ride car actually does move across the floor from point A to point B.  When the car starts to move forward after the "space scene", you are almost there…..  Your car is being moved over the elevator shaft.  The doors in front of you open and in a split second you see the Park and the Everglades and Jesus and Elvis and then you drop.

The distance of the drops (4-8 of them) seem to be random and while VERY scary are not jerky.  This is because you are not actually dropping.  The hydrolics pull you down faster than gravity and then push you back up.  It is all controlled.  You drop, bounce back, doors open, see Elvis, drop, scream, bounce, repeat.  Remember that single seat in the back?  Either pity or envy this person.  Remember I said an unobstructed view and what appears to be an old fashioned car seat belt (lap variety) as opposed to you, all secure wedged in with your compatriots.  THAT is scary, the clear view of your doom right before you drop.


They use to have metal lap bars but if you get a very large person sitting with a small person, the small person wasn't as "secure" so they were changed. There were people that LOVED the "air time" and wanted to sit next to a very large person so the bar would not go all the way down on the small persons lap.  Why?  They are strange, that's why!  


Actually when you are pulled down faster than gravity, you "float".  It's a bit of a hang time delay.  Like when you jump right before your elevator stops on the bottom floor and you have farther to fall on the way down.  You can try this out with a quarter and a piece of string.  Glue a piece of string on the back of a quarter.  Right before you drop, put the quarter in your palm.  If you can actually watch the money and not have your eyes closed, screaming your fool head off, you will see the quarter "float" above your palm.  That is what your body is doing.


It is a very fun ride but one that you have to determine if you (or your kids) can handle.  I got through it saying "Mickey wouldn't kill me" over and over.  I enjoyed it and was glad I went.  I also shamed myself by looking around and figuring if little old ladies and 7 year olds could go, so could I.  Try it, really.  If you want to see the cool lobby stuff, get in line and then you can bail out at the "chicken exit" right before they load the car.  Just tell a cast member.

Welcome To DISNEY STUDIO (WDW)

This park started out as the MGM Studios and then was annexed as Disney’s MGM Studios.  A little bird told me that the deal with MGM is not being renewed and the name changed yet again to Disney Studios.  Whatever.


To be honest, this is my least favorite park. I lived in Los Angeles for 12 years.  I’ve been to Universal Studios and it’s better.  The vast majority of the attractions in this park are shows and exhibits.  The only up side are 3 major thrill rides and an after dark visual extravaganza.  Teens will defiantly like the thrill rides and find some fun shopping.  Kids will like the Muppets, Dave and other Disney TV tie-in exhibits.  This is another ½ day park unless stunt shows start your motor.

ALTERNATATE TRANSPERTATION

If you are staying at an Epcot resort (including the Swan or Dolphin) you can ride the Friendship boat to the park.  This is a nice, relaxing alternative to cars or buses.

THE MYSTERY OF THE ICON CONFUSION

All Disney Parks have a central icon in their design.  The Magic Kingdom has Cinderella’s castle, Animal Kingdom has the Tree of Life and Epcot has Spaceship Earth.  The Studios has Graummans Chinese Theatre.  Problem is it is covered from view by a gigantic Mickey’s sorcerers apprentice hat.  This was added as a yearly promotional gimmick similar in nature to the Mickey hand and wand on the side of Spaceship Earth that ended up staying.  I hate this hat.  Not because I hate Mickey because I LOVE Mickey but the hat has got to go.  Graumanns Chinese should be seen.  Its bad enough that in real life, its name is now Mann’s Chinese.  Disney should not mess with perfection.  Let us see Graumanns as the icon it was meant to be.