Got back last night after spending a week in Florida at the "House the Mouse Built." This wasn't my first trip, which may have been just as well, given the difficulties encountered here and there, but in particular yesterday.
Got to see a good chunk of the new Fantasyland segment of Magic Kingdom, which was pretty neat, even if there wasn't a whole lot to do. I'd heard that Merida was officially represented as a Disney Princess at WDW, but was neat to see that she's got her own little meet'n'greet area in the park. Didn't go on all the rides there (as most of them were kiddy rides), but there was plenty to do, and caught the Wishes fireworks show/display, which was really cool, particularly with how they used Cinderella's castle as a projection screen. Only downside was a slight delay due to some bus issues with getting from the hotel we were staying at to Magic Kingdom, but it wasn't too horrible.
Day 2 was spent at Epcot, and that probably remains one of my favorite parks. There was quite a bit that I wasn't able to get to during my first trip, but I corrected that and managed to hit just about everything except a couple parts of World Showcase, and I stayed a bit later after dinner to catch the IllumiNations fireworks display.
Now part of the reason for taking this trip when we did was that this past week was my mother's birthday, and she did get a bit freaked out when Cast Members (aka park staff) kept saying Happy Birthday and calling her by name, but given that she was wearing a big ol' button that said she was celebrating her birthday... yeah, go figure. Well, the upside was that at each of the restaurants we ate at (mostly within the World Showcase), she got an extra little treat. Monday night we ate at Coral Reef (seafood), and she got a chocolate wafer that said "happy birthday" along with her dessert. BTW, if you do plan on going to Disney World for more than a couple days, the Dining Plan is so worth it, as it makes tracking your food bill a whole lot easier.
Day 3 was Hollywood Studios. We got to do the Backlot Tour as well as the Lights!Camera!Action! stunt show, both of which were very cool. Muppet*Vision 3D, Great Movie Ride and Indy Stunt Show were just as entertaining as it was the first time. Wasn't that impressed with the Toy Story Mania, mostly as I kept getting double images from the 3D, and while the Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow was moderately entertaining, it's not a "must do" by far. I of course did hit Star Tours, going on it about a half-dozen times, though I did get some repeated segments, which is bound to happen I guess. The big kicker for the night was the Fantasmic evening show, and though it didn't have as many fireworks as the prior two, it was still enjoyable, with the character barges and using water sprays as video screens.
Sadly, this was where the first big snag was hit. We had reservations to eat dinner at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant, which is done up in the style of a 50's drive-in, showing trailers from such movies as folks eat in tables that are designed similar to 50's caddys. Well, we show up 15 minutes early.... and wound up waiting nearly 30 minutes to be seated, during which time at least two (probably more) groups that didn't have reservations who showed up after we'd checked in for our reservation got seated. Yeah, let that sink in. A party of two, with a reservation, were made to wait while parties of similar size who'd just showed up got seated rather promptly. And even after we get seated, there's issues, as we got plopped down right in the center of a bunch of screaming kids. Tried to flag down a waiter to ask if we could be moved, and got ignored by them, and were left to sit without anyone even asking for our drink orders for close to 10 minutes. At that point, we both said "screw this crap!" and got up and left (later went to a Guest Relations to make sure that we weren't billed a dinner service that we never got), and I made it a point to say directly to the manager that "the service here sucks!" as we all but stormed out of the place. I sincerely hope that the wait staff got chewed out for the lack of service, but I doubt it. Needless to say, I'm never setting foot in that place ever again, and would advise others to do likewise. The service sucks, and the food is nothing to write home about. So our dinner that night consisted of quick service food (rather large chili dog for me, a huge turkey drumstick for mom), but at least we got to take it with us to go watch Fantasmic, which was quite awesome as noted above. We then opted to catch a bus over to Downtown Disney, mostly to get tickets in advance for Oz at the AMC theater, which we did (8:30 showing), but what was supposed to be "let's just check a couple shops" turned into "let's check a whole bunch of shops." I don't begrudge my mom this, as she's a shopper; she enjoys shopping, and hasn't had the opportunity to just "go shopping" in a long while. However, the fact that I'd been up early and that we didn't get back to our hotel until close to midnight wasn't exactly making me feel like I was at the "happiest place on Earth."
Day 4 was Animal Kingdom, which frankly we could have skipped as there really wasn't much beyond a few nature trail walks and a 'safari' tour. Said safari tour might have been better if the driver actually stopped to let folks take pictures, but he didn't. The only ride we went on was Dinosaur, which was neat. However, it was while splitting up to head to different parks that we ran into the second significant issue. You see, we'd thought that the 4-day pass package we'd bought had been for Parkhoppers, which let you jump from one park to the next (handy since we were eating at Epcot most nights). Well, they weren't. So we wound up, using the Parkhoppers we'd had from a charity raffle a day sooner than expected. I went back to Magic Kingdom while mom went to check out the Garden Show at Epcot, and we each had our respective bits of fun. Dinner that night was at the La Celliar in the Canada section, and while it's pricy (counted as two dinner meals each on the dining plan), the food was excellent, and I had what was probably one of the best best rib-eye steaks I've had in a very long time, and it was a large portion of meat as well, which made the price worth it. And after the debacle at Sci-Fi Dine-In, having a waitress that was cheerful and prompt was wonderful.
Day 5 was "finish up the parks," which we did, finishing up Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and then dinner at Nine Dragons Restaurant. And holy crap was the food awesome. Best Kung Po Chicken I've had anyplace by far, plus the waiter was prompt with drink refills and checking up on how we were doing, but not to the point that it felt like he was hovering over of us.
Now Day 6 was the day I was really looking forward to, as we went on the "Behind the Magic" tour, which gives folks an overview of how the parks operate. It really was quite amazing, and though I knew a fair piece of it already, it's still amazing at the general efficiency and care to detail given to the parks (sadly the same can't be said of all the hotels, but that's later). And our tour guides couldn't have had more different presentation styles if they'd tried, but they were both informative and entertaining in their own ways. I have to admit, watching the 3pm Magic Kingdom parade after seeing some of the behind-the-scenes stuff was quite different than watching it normally; still a pretty cool show, but perhaps even more impressive once you know what really goes into it. We also got a pretty good lunch, and the head waitress was a hoot. I believe it was the Pine Lodge Resort, and word of advice... don't ask for ketchup if you value your dignity or your hearing.