03
Jun

The Big Ball

By: muttler
that's a big golf ball

that’s a big golf ball

 

02/05/2017

Another day, another Disney park! Today was one I was really looking forward to, Epcot. Why was I looking forward to it? Well, I knew of Epcot and it’s big ball at the entrance, but didn’t know that much about it to be honest. All I knew was that it tried to capture Walt Disney’s view of the future to an extent. I was expecting it to be a little kitschy… and I wasn’t disappointed.

The whole park just felt really… 70’s. And not in a way where they tried to make it feel dated, but just that it had now become quite dated in places. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is about it, but the front half of the park certainly seems like a product of its time (the back half, the International Showcase, is a bit of a different story). But there was a charm and certainly lots of fun to be had. It was also their Flower Festival, so the entire park was adorned with flower representations of their characters which nice to see in the warm Florida sun.

 

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Epcot is especially encapsulated in the famous big ball at the park entrance. I was super keen to finally see it, and it still looks like a 70’s view of the future. Ask me why and I can’t tell you, but to me it is certainly quite iconic as a particular view of the future.

At park open, I raced for Soarin’, aplane ride simulator through different key locations around the world. This is an update of the one in California Adventures, and is a great ride… being suspended in a big glider with dozens of others, and zooming around in front of a big screen that consumes your whole field of view. It is definitely one of the best rides in the Disney parks, and the long queue as I got out was testament to that.

The other main rides in the front half of the park are really showing their age, but in a kinda interesting way. I went on to a ride called Mission: Space, another simulator ride, but this tie for space travel. I had the option to choose normal or intense, and of course chose intense. You take the role a member of a space travel crew and get into a small simulator with only 3 others and then take off. DAMN! The feeling of taking off is nothing like I have ever felt in a ride. It was intense! And awesome! There are also moments of slight free fall feeling, as well as zooming around planets. If only the whole preamble to the ride part didn’t take so long, this would be almost the best ride in Disney.

 

us in the future!

us in the future!

 

The other space themed ride was one inside the big Epcot ball, Spaceship Earth. Riding in small carriages, you move throughout the ball, glimpsing at what the future may look like. Not sure how accurate it is, but it is certainly fun to see how we may be zooming around with jetpacks in the near future.

Around this time, the wether decided to take a turn. And I mean a TURN. Our bright blue skies became torrential downpour. So much so that much of the park was under half a foot of water. Kate and I made a break for the Nemo ride, and by the end of the dash my shoes were absolutely full of water. Looked like Florida weather had caught us.

 

baymax!

baymax!

 

It was still raining when we emerged so took the opportunity to catch up with some more characters, two of my recent favourites, Joy and Sadness. Alas Anger wasn’t about for me to rage with. We also got to meet Baymax and he was indeed as squishy in real life as he seems in Big Hero 6.

 

weird drink!

weird drink!

 

In between bouts of rain, we also found our way into a weird pavilion that simply had a bunch of soda fountains with strange drinks from around the world. Yes! My kind of place! It was funny to watch that people just would not try certain flavours, in particular the Japanese carrot based drink. Of course we had them all and they were all fine. Sadly the Italian soda was not there, one it seemed was a chinotto type drink. Damn! I love me some bitter Italian beverage.

The weather proceeded to have moments of torrential rain until about lunchtime when the sun emerged and we were able to wander more freely around the park. This coincided with moving into the back half of the park, the International Showcase… or as I like to think of it, World Expo ’88. Epcot truly is a weird place. You have all this (now) retro-future vibe at the front half of the park, and in the back half around the lake, it is all about celebrating a random assortment of countries in different ways. All areas had their own architecture in the style of the country they were representing, and then there would be different things to do. Not rides as such, but often 360 degree films about the countries, or maybe a slow boat ride through the country. The there was the food and (quite amazing to me) the booze you could have at each stop. We started heading counter-clockwise, starting with Canada for some lunch.

 

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We planned to visit Canada for lunch, as apparently it was home of a quite fantastic poutine, a Canadian speciality. So in we went to Le Cellier and strapped in. Of course we wanted to eat everything, and even our choices of a cheese soup each and a poutine each ended up being way too much. But it was so delicious! The soup was great, but the poutine was awesome. I went with a bacon based poutine (of course) while Kate went for the Le Cellier Signature Poutine… the chips with Canadian cheddar cheese, black truffle and a red wine reduction. I have to say Kate’s was the winner. Super rich but super delicious. We had plans for dessert, however that didn’t eventuate when we were so full after that.

 

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So with full bellies, it was off to explore more countries. We went from Canada to the UK to France and to Japan, meeting characters and sampling food and drink on the way. Japan gets a special mention for actually feeling quite Japanese actually. Of course the main beverage oddity I would come across was there… a Kirin Beer Float. Yep. It was basically Kirin beer with frozen beer on top. While it sounded OK and looked great the frozen beer was not necessarily the greatest thing I have ever had, even on a warm day. Oh well, live and learn.

 

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We kept moving around the lake… Germany to Italy to a generic African country to Norway to China and to Mexico. While in Mexico we went on the 3 Caballeros ride, and met a Mexican themed Donald Duck as you do. And while in Mexico we took the opportunity to get stuck into some empanadas. Mmmm.

With that we had made our way around all the countries. We had plans to see the light show on the lake, so decided to fill in some time by visiting a ride dedicated to Figment, the Epcot imagination dragon. Kate seemed to have a fascination with Figment. Me… I just thought it was all a bit odd. But keeping with the spirit of Epcot I guess!

 

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The sun had gone down and it was time to head back to the lake to watch the Illuminations show. We sorted fast passes so went to our spot and had a great view of the show. This fast pass thing was working very well for us.

We still had an hour or two before park close, so we decided to head back to Norway and try and give the most popular things at Epcot a go, meeting Anna and Elsa, and jumping on the relatively new Frozen Ever After ride. We got to Norway and basically walked in to meet the two Frozen gals. Frozen Ever After was a different story. Only 30 mins the sign said. Yay! However when in line we realised that was not the case. Close to an hour later and we were not really getting anywhere. It seemed the ride was suffer a fair degree of technical difficulties. I guess we can say we went on “Frozen Ever After – The Line Ride”.

So we decided to cut our losses and legged it to the USA area to catch their “America, F’ Yeah” show. Well, it was a historical animatronics show but did end up being very “USA USA USA”. It was fine, and it was quite funny to be in an auditorium that probably could hold a thousand people with like 6 people in there. When we were done it was 11pm and time to make our way back to the front of the park and head back. Another midnight night, and another early morning coming.

02
Jun

STAR WARS!!!

By: muttler
watch out! it's an at-at!

watch out! it’s an at-at!

 

01/05/2017

After a brief sojourn, it was back to Disney! Today was Hollywood Studios, and what we were dubbing my official Star Wars birthday celebrations. At Disney you can just ask for a badge indicating it is your birthday, so I started the day with a birthday badge adorned, ready for a big day.

 

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This park is the “Hollywood” Disney park as the name suggests… focusing mostly on other side properties like Pixar and especially Star Wars. So I was going to be in my element! Rather than give you the blow by blow details of what did, I will just point out the highlights for you all…

 

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We obviously had a whole day of more rides and meeting characters. As I alluded to there was a distinct Star Wars flavour to much of it. I started with Star Tours, a ride that has been in Disneyland for quite a while, but it has had a recent revamp,with much of the content updated. A simulator type ride, its key aspect now is that you don’t know what experience you will get before riding. I have heard there is dozens of different experiences you can have, all about what content they choose and how they put it together. The basic idea is you are in a shuttle escaping the Empire, but how you do that changes. My first flight put me in the middle of a Pod Race (fun even though it was Phantom Menace related), but after that I had a Hoth experience which was what I was hoping for. So ace to be speeding through the snow and tripping up AT-ATs.

 

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We also took the opportunity to met the handful of Star Wars characters there, which was an interesting assortment. First Order Stormtroopers continually wander the park, and interact in hilarious ways. They won’t stop for photos, and any attempt to interact will be met in a variety of different ways, depending if they see you as a rebel or part of the First Order. A sneaky photobomb was all I could try and do which was fun.

 

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The characters that were formally there to meet were mostly Force Awakens ones, with BB-8, Kylo Ren, and Chewie there. BB-8 was a bit disappointing as he just sat there on a podium, but both Kylo and Chewie played their parts well. Kylo was a jerk, just like in the film 🙂

 

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Hollywood Studios is the park where I can get some of my more thrilling rides on, so I relished that opportunity. The Tower of Terror, a staple at a number of other Disney parks, got a couple of rides, as did a big fave of Kate and mine, Toy Story Mania. We first played that in California, and it was just the same here and super fun as always.

 

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We managed to fit in most the other attractions in the park too, like the Indiana Jones Stunt show, and the Great Movie Ride, all pretty fun.

 

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There were two other main super fun things we did during this visit. First up was lunch, booked into the Sci-Fi Diner. This was a kitschy experience of sitting in old cars while watching 50’s drive-in content. It was totally cheesy but super fun, sitting there eating burgers, drinking beers, and watching old cartoons. Everyone gets right into it, making it a great way to take a break for lunch.

The day ended with one of the main things Kate organised, which was another dessert party. More exciting for me with this one was that it was Star Wars themed, with not only desserts but endless cocktails too! After getting our fill of those, including the Vader Peanut Butter cupcakes, the dessert party also gave us a primo spot for the fireworks show, which was the Star Wars Galactic Spectacular. Woo!

 

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my kind of princess

my kind of princess

 

Of course this was my kind of fireworks show. With projections onto the main theatre at the centre of the park, this was a celebration of all things Star Wars, mostly the original trilogy. The projections were great and everybody was loving celebrating Star Wars? And who wouldn’t? Especially on my birthday celebration day.

02
Jun

Into The Disney Bubble

By: muttler
back at the magic kingdom

back at the magic kingdom

 

29/04/2017

A mere 26 hours of travel and we are officially into the first phase of our trip… into the Disney bubble!

Florida is indeed quite a ways from home. Melbourne to Sydney to San Fransisco to Orlando is no easy feat. But the travel gods smiled down on us, and we had a relatively smooth trip with no dramas, so while a little tired, we would take that.

We grabbed our rental car at the airport and headed to to our digs for the week, which was the Disney Pop Century Resort hotel. Kate and I debated a bit about where to stay near the Disney parks. I wasn’t that sold on staying at a Disney branded hotel, but Kate sold me and it indeed was the wise move for all the perks that it entails (which I will elaborate on later). Checking in at about 10pm, all we could think about was sleep.

Ah sleep. I had only once been to the east side of the States and the jetlag was a killer. With both Kate and I being wide awake at 4am, it looked at though we may be in for a similar experience. But that was cool… we were both just jazzed to be there and were ready for action. So nice and early we were on a complimentary bus to our first park, Magic Kingdom.

 

waiting to hit the park

waiting to hit the park

 

before the crowds arrive

before the crowds arrive

 

Magic Kingdom is your “typical” Disney park, looking and feeling like most others. There is a big castle in the middle, along with Tomorrowland, Frontierland, etc, and is what people usually think of as “Disneyland”. Being there nice and early was in our interest as we had an 8am breakfast scheduled for inside said Disney castle.

 

breakfast with a princess (aawww)

breakfast with a princess (aawww)

 

Kate wanted to celebrate her birthday by having breakfast there and being greeted by the array of princesses, of which we certainly met our share. Snow White, Aurora, Ariel, they all did the rounds. It was fun to watch everyone (especially the kids) losing their minds as they came to their table… a sweet way to start the whole Disney experience.

From here on in, and probably most of the Disney related blog posts, they will be pretty free form. There won’t be the blow by blow descriptions, as you don’t need to hear exactly what we did… rather I will try and give you the highlights!

Magic Kingdom is all about the traditional Disney rides, as are at most other Disney parks. So we enjoyed the relatively small number of people (for a Saturday at the very least) and made our way from ride to ride, with some character meetings in between.

Back to why you stay at a Disney hotel. Believe it or not, that allowed us to be able to book Fast Passes for rides a couple of months in advance, and while the crowds were not huge it still meant saving a lot of time. In fact, the system that looks after your whole Disney experience, the Magic Band, is pretty incredible. Our personalised bands were our hotel key, park tickets, parking passes, our pass to get onto rides more quickly, payment system, you name it. And for the most part it worked pretty flawlessly.

 

haunted mansion! different looking to its californian counterpart

haunted mansion! different looking to its californian counterpart

 

So we used our fast passes and smashed out as many of the big rides as we could. We went on our mutual favourite, Haunted Mansion nice and early, which was ace, as it had been quite a while since I had seen it in it’s proper state (my past visits to this ride had all been Christmas themed). But I wasn’t prepared for the nice Magic Band surprise at the end (spoiler coming!). Assuming the ride recognised us from our Magic Bands, the hitch hiking ghost in our carriage at the end was holding up a sign saying “Australia here we come!” which was a total awesome spinout. A rad touch.

We got on to another fave, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad not long after, as well as the seeming most popular ride, the Seven Dwarves Mine Cart. Not sure why, as while it was fun, Big Thunder is still the mine cart of choice in our opinion.

The day had an extra fun flavour as unbeknownst to us, it was an unofficial fan day called Dapper Day, in which the park was flooded with folks dressed up in their best “dapper” gear, meaning mostly your 50’s costumed, and in some cases heavily tattooed glamour look. The dudes had their beards and moustaches perfectly groomed and it made for a great day of people watching.

 

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But now it was mid afternoon and that meant it was time for the first parade of the day. We were at the centre of the park, so found a bit of pavement, and camped out for a wee bit for the parade to start. The Florida heat was not too bad, although we knew we should pack an umbrella for shade if nothing else. In no time the parade was underway. It was the usual array or floats and characters and dancers and shenanigans. Given it wasn’t too crowded in the park, we had a nice clear view of everything.

 

where to start?

where to start?

 

What other highlights did we have? Well, not waiting long for rides was awesome! But given the nice warm humid Florida weather, we also took a couple of hours off in the afternoon to sneak out of the park and head to nearby Trader Sams bar. We had visited one at California Disney Springs and it was great fun, so why not visit this one too? The idea is that it is Tiki themed and various shenanigans happen when certain drinks are ordered. Sadly, the main bar had a 2 hour wait, so we just took a seat outside and had a sneak mojito and margarita which was going to be some fuel to get us through the rest of the day.

 

mmm... dessert

mmm… dessert

 

We headed back into the park and continued smashing out rides until it was time for another preplanned activity, the Wishes Fireworks Dessert Party. This gave us not only a tasty array of desserts but also a prime position for the nightly fireworks show. So after getting sugared up, we were lead to our spot for a great view of the castle and the show. The Wishes show had only a couple of weeks left, so it seemed lots of people were turning up just for the fireworks. But then after that many seemed to depart leaving Kate and I to run amok in the park for a couple of hours getting on to any ride we liked. The nighttime Jungle Cruise was a highlight with a great boat driver, complete with her deadpan script delivery down pat.

We called it quits at park close, meaning we didn’t get back to our hotel until close to midnight. Yep, 8am – 11pm of Disney. And this was just the start.

02
May

Hello from Florida!

By: muttler
a run in with local law enforcement

a run in with local law enforcement

 

Hello everyone!

Yes, we are here in Florida and yes, I have been very unlike me in not having posted anything yet. I will get there, I promise! Days have been looooong so far but hopefully I will get to it soon. Basically it has been many hours of travel, many hours of Disney, and a days worth of Kennedy Space Centre. Given I have seen space shuttles, met an astronaut, had a run in with Stormtroopers and given Chewbacca a big hug, 8 year old Matt is currently losing his mind.

More to come soon!

22
Dec

Sailing The Disney Seas

By: muttler

Sunday December 11th

look out!

look out, it’s giant woody!

Our last main day in Tokyo was to knock off another Disney park for Mads, this time DisneySea. We had been fortunate to even be going, as it seemed with Christmas approaching the parks were jam packed and selling out on weekends. But we had tickets so a VERY early morning got us to the park by about 7:20, in line for more craziness. 

looking bright eyed and bushy tailed for 7am

looking bright eyed and bushy tailed for 7am

 

fuji!

fuji!

And craziness it was indeed. There was already a massive queue of people waiting to get in and Kate’s research had suggested there was no way we would be able to do all rides in the park. So we had to be even more strategic. So as the park opened I ditched the gals and ran for fast passes for the most popular ride, Toy Story Mania. It is the most recent ride built (a clone of the California Adventures one) and routinely has wait times of 3-4 hours which is just nuts. So everyone tries to get a fast pass which means a queue just to get those first thing. But about 45 minutes of waiting meant we would get to ride it so we were all sorted. 

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After that it was a matter of juggling the rides to maximise how many and minimise wait times. It seemed the combination of weekend, Christmas and smaller park meant we were going to be fighting crowds all day. Oh well. Over the course of the day we managed to knock off everything we wanted, with only one long wait, which was for the best ride, Indiana Jones. We managed to get on lots of the others as well, including the story themed ones like Sinbad, the most excellent Journey To The Centre Of The Earth and 20000 Leagues Under The Sea and even see a show or two. Toy Story Mania was just as fun as I remembered too, especially scoring a pretty high score too thanks to my sharp shooting. Sadly I missed out on the Tower of Terror, but I wasn’t prepared to (nor have the time) wait 2.5 hours. So we just ran around the park having fun, being befuddled for the insane lines for popcorn and turkey legs, being confused by Duffy the Disney Bear, and just soaking it up. 

Rather than have a typical parade, here at DisneySea it was all based on the lagoon in the middle of the park. The show here was Fantasmic, one I had seen in California many years ago, but one Kate had not seen. So on dark, we settled in in a good spot and kicked back.

 

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It was finally time for us to get on to Toy Story Mania, after the epic chase for fast passes at the start of the day. Kate and I had been on this in California Adventures and is definitely one of my favourite rides. Like Astro Blasters you get to compete and try and score points as you move through, this one decked out like a carnival with different games of skill. The 3D actually makes it pretty great. Worth the 4 hour waits many people are doing? Probably not. But it is still rad.

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all duffy'ed out

all duffy’ed out

Like Friday, next thing we knew it was approaching 10pm and park closing time, so we got a least couple of gifts and trained it back again. Another night getting home after 11pm having been up since 6. I don’t think I had managed more than about 6 hours sleep a night, combined with all the walking so I was exhausted. We all were, but it was just as we wanted it. 

22
Dec

Running Amok In Disneyland

By: muttler

Friday December 9th

the three stooges go to disneyland

the three stooges go to disneyland

I think this entry will be a little shorter than the last entry that seemed to pack in a lot. Not that we were not about to be busy, but that it was going to be focused on just one thing… Disneyland!

loon

loon

This was one significant reason for our trip and the primary reason for Mads to visit, so we left the hostel nice and early to make it out the in time for opening. Only having one day meant we needed to plan, and Kate had done a big job of scouting out popularity of rides to work out our plan of what to visit, when, what fast passes to get and the like. So as the gates opened, we sprung into action. I ran for fast passes for the newish Monsters Inc ride and secured those quite quickly. Then it was off to the second most popular ride in the park to do it nice and early

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Pooh’s Hunny Hunt was a bogie ride for Kate, not having been able to get on it when she had been here in the past. But with our planning paying off, we were on it in no time. And I still think it is one of the best rides at Disneyland, just the way the carts move around in the space, with us sitting in a hunny pot that moves on hidden magnetic tracks independently of the other cars in our group. The girls were very happy by the end of it. 

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is this why it's apparently the happiest place on earth?

is this why it’s apparently the happiest place on earth?

 

no dancing allowed sadly

no dancing allowed sadly

The rest of the day was about trying to visit as much as possible. We all had the benefit of having visited numerous Disneyland’s before so we knew the rides and park layout well. So we just kept scouting around for the shortest queues and what fast passes to get. Over the day we rode all the usual rides… Astro Blasters, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion (twice) and all the story rides. The girls were rocking their Disney head gear and loving it all. 

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Crowds were pretty manageable so we got to do everything we wanted, even getting a great spot for the electric parade in the early evening. Throwing in some shopping we managed to get to closing time at 10pm. A long day having gone in at park opening at 8:30am, but awesome to run around the park with Kate and Mads, both of whom were truly in their element all day.