Florida 2011 – Trip Diary – Part 3

Posted in Travel on April 25th, 2011 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday January 18 – We began the day  at Sizzler’s breakfast buffet, again.  If you are noticing a pattern, you won’t be surprised to see this in the diary for pretty much every day of the week.  The prices there were great ($3.99 per adult and kids were free!), the food wasn’t bad, and it left our group full enough to sustain us until mid-afternoon, which saved us a lot of money.  Today was Epcot day, and it was a great day – the sun finally came out, and the temp was in the low 70s.  We rode the usual favorites, and we got to take our daughter Disney on my favorite Epcot ride Soarin’ for the first time because she was finally tall enough – and she liked it!  Epcot has a World Showcase which is an area set up like different countries, so we took the ferry to Germany and walked to Japan for their delicious snow cones.  We walked around the lake through Morocco and Italy, and stopped in Norway and Mexico for their boat rides which are very cool.  Someday I would like to visit the countries in Epcot, sampling the ethnic foods as I go – but that’s more of a retirement plan since the kids would never go for that now!  Oh, and we ran into Stitch in America!

After the day at Epcot, we sent the little ones home with Grandma, and Hubby, Jamy and I attempted to find a good place to eat dinner, but to our surprise, there weren’t many good dinner choices left at 10pm, even in Orlando.  We ended up at Perkins – famished – and they were out of most everything I asked for.  I stomached the sandwich I got, which wasn’t very good, and Hubby was not too happy with his salad.  We did end up with a box of Eclairs to go, and those were pretty good  – well, what little of them we had anyway once the kids got a hold of them.  Our friend Derek arrived that night while we were sleeping, so our next day would see one more joining our group…

Wednesday January 19 – Breakfast at Sizzler (did you think I was exaggerating about eating there every day?), then on to the Magic Kingdom where we spent a fun-filled day.  We learned that there is an expansion planned and under construction to double the size of Fantasyland, so we are looking forward to seeing that on a future visit.  Splashwater Falls was undergoing maintenance (usually does in January when we go, but this is a small price to pay for ideal weather and low crowds  – BEST time to visit Orlando!!), but we enjoyed the classics like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (and little Disney liked this one, even though it is a roller coaster!), Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Hubby’s and my personal favorite that many others find to be lame,  The Carousel of Progress.  We skipped out on Space Mountain this time, mainly because the kids wouldn’t have liked it, and we don’t find that its long wait it worth it for a herky-jerky outdated roller coaster.  If you are into indoor roller coasters in the dark, I’ve always liked the Aerosmith one at Disney’s MGM, er, Hollywood Studios, although  we never find that park worth the time for a visit since there isn’t much there.  And King’s Island in Mason Ohio outside of Cincinnati has a SUPER dark coaster called Flight of Fear.  But back in Orlando, the People Mover ride in the Magic Kingdom, an elevated train-type ride that goes all around Tomorrowland, treated us to a one-of-a-kind glimpse inside Space Mountain – with the lights on!!  The People Mover travels into the Space Mountain building, but usually you can only see the glowing streaks of the ride trains as they zip past.  Because of a ride malfunction, the lights in the building were on, so we got an insider’s view of all the tracks and trains which was pretty cool!!  After the Magic Kingdom, Derek, Chris and I took the two oldest kids to Fun Spot to try the extreme go-karts, but it didn’t go over so well.  The oldest hated them, and she made me go putt-putt-putt all the way up the spiral and around the track – that was not fun; I’m more pedal-to-the-metal!  But we all took a spin on the bumper cars, and that was some great old-fashioned family fun that everyone was able to enjoy.

Thursday January 20 – Breakfast at Sizzler (every day – told ya!), then on to our second day at Universal, this time with Derek, although we lost one because by now, Jamy’s back pain was so bad that he had to stay in the rental house and relax all day.   Thankfully it did not rain this time, and we had a wonderful day.  It was a bit chilly, but we couldn’t resist the urge to ride Bluto’s Barges 3 (or was it 4?  I can’t remember) times in a row –  we were drenched!  Smarter ones in our group (Derek and Grandma) opted to stay out and stay dry, but those of us who got off soaked (and shivered) had a blast.  It’s a large round boat that’s propelled down a raging river of rapids; every time it dips, the riders on that side get drenched by a wave that cascades over the wall of the boat.  Then there are waterfalls and waterspouts – it’s so much fun to bond with the strangers in your boat as you take turns laughing over who gets soaked and who dodges the torrents of water – whether everyone speaks English or not, there is bonding in the boat!  Next it was on to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I think I talked about this earlier in this diary – it’s amazing; that’s all I need to repeat.  We went on the Forbidden  Journey ride again, this time with Derek, and he really liked it.  Unfortunately, they decided that Sammie had shrunk an inch or two since Monday, and she no longer met the height requirement, so she had to wait in the child swap room – which is actually quite entertaining because they  have the old Harry Potter movies playing, and I had forgotten how young Harry Potter (actor Daniel Radcliffe) was when the movies began.
After Universal, we went to the McDonald’s largest Playplace where the kids had a blast.  Grandma stayed with them while Hubby, Derek and I went to the Titanic attraction I’ve always wanted to see.  Unfortunately, our adventure was a bit marred when Hubby was pulled over and ticketed for U-turn in a No U-turn intersection.  In our opinion, it should have been a warning  – clearly we were tourists, it was an honest mistake, he didn’t do  it when there was oncoming traffic present so no one was in direct danger, and of the 3 people in the car, not one of us saw the (supposed) no U-turn sign.  Personally, I think  Orlando should treat their tourists a little more like the guests that they are, especially considering how much money  the average tourist brings into their local economy.  Also, they seemed to milk us for every penny – the ticket itself was very expensive, and because we were from out of town, we couldn’t even show up to traffic court and contest the ticket, not to mention that when we returned home, we were bombarded with offers of traffic school via mail, which showed that they were looking for even more money by selling our info to these traffic schools so they could bombard us with ads.  A frustrating episode in our otherwise super vacation, but that’s enough – traffic ticket tangent over!
So back to the Titanic exhibit…  I’ve always wanted to see it, but it’s quite pricey, and we were always nervous about spending so much on trying something new that we didn’t even know would be worth the cost or not.  So enter Groupon – before we left, there was a Groupon for Titanic, and we got it.  It kind of obligated us to fitting this in since we already had tickets, but with the money we saved on Groupon, it was worth it.  And, we even made it on time, getting pulled over and all!  Upon entry, each visitor gets a little card with the name and info of a Titanic passenger, and one of the rooms at the end of the tour has a wall with all the names of the passengers on it.  The lights go down, and the names of the passengers who survived stay bold while the names of those who perished are hollow, so you can see if “your” passenger made it.  Mine survived, which I had guessed correctly because she had been a first class passenger.  Our tour guide (portraying the famous Titanic personality “Unsinkable” Molly Brown) was very knowledgeable about all things Titanic, but our friend Derek’s passenger card stumped her – the name on his card was half-solid, half-hollowed, so we don’t know if he made it through the ill-fated voyage or not.  But overall, it was a lot of fun, and a well spent hour or two.  I’ve always been  a Titanic buff (excluding the movie which I feel really commercialized, cheapened, and capitalized on the tragedy and the great loss of life involved – enough about that), so this museum was right up my alley.  There were re-creations to see and explore (a first class cabin, the deck, which they had even chilled to provide an example of the actual temperature that night, and the grand staircase, see picture below), as well as actual artifacts recovered from the bottom of the ocean, like dishes.  There was room after room of signs to read and pictures to look at, and as much as I don’t like the movie, they even had a few costumes and props from it which were interesting to see.  Among my favorite parts of the exhibit:  the hall of newspapers, which had newspaper editions reporting the disaster in 1912 from all over the country, complete with early 20th century advertisements and other news articles.
I also found this quite remarkable:  it was an ordinary cooler, and the exploration staff autographed it and put it down at the bottom of the ocean where the Titanic now lies.  I forgot how long it was there, but it’s not nearly as long as the remains of the ship have been there, and this is what the ocean pressure did to it:

Interesting as it may be, it is a sad representation of what will happen to the remains of the luxury liner itself.  Scientists estimate that it won’t last more than 50 additional years if people don’t find a way to salvage it and bring it up for study.

Hubby and I in front of the actual sized re-creation of the Titanic's Grand Staircase

After Titanic, we stopped at Dippin’ Dots, but it was our only taste of the delicious ice creamish treat for this trip, and I was SO disappointed to find out they discontinued my favorite flavor of Dippin’ Dots:  Root Beer Float.  🙁

Looking Forward To The Next One

Posted in Travel on March 26th, 2011 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Well, here we are only 2 months out from our last trip to Disney World, and I’m already wanting to go back.  That’s nothing new, it’s an awesome place, but I’m also reading about many changes taking place.  Ok, so I’m not exactly planning the next trip (step one would be how to fit our family of soon-to-be 7 into the minivan along with a week’s worth of luggage for a 20 hour drive), but articles like the following tempt me.  Especially  interesting: Disney’s $1 billion Next Generation project, which includes interactive line queues – they’re adding things like an interactive mystery experience to the line of the Haunted Mansion attraction.  And apparently they’ve already added interactive video games to Soarin’ and Space Mountain, none of which I had noticed on our last visit!  Maybe because we did the Fast Pass?  That reminds me, Disney is going to try a new concept as part of the Next Gen project: guests will be able to book their ride times for various attractions from their hotels or from home ahead of time, drastically reducing or even eliminating the need to wait in line (and to see all these brand spanking new queue attractions?).  Also something I missed this last time around: the new playground and interactive video games in the line for the Winnie the Pooh ride.  Now where would they have room for that, I wonder?  But no wonder that we didn’t notice these enhancements; that ride normally has an over 40 minute wait even in the down season, so we don’t usually indulge in it.

Lots of interesting changes and enhancements on the horizon, check them out for yourself.

VIPs For A Day (part two of even more parts)

Posted in Travel on July 12th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

So, where did I leave off when I blogged about our kid-less day trip to King’s Island amusement park?  I don’t remember; I got kind of side-tracked and have made a few unrelated blog posts since then…  But no matter, I’ll just begin by rating the rides at King’s Island; my scale is 1-5 ♦’s, 1 being not so good and 5 being a perfect ride experience.

The Beast – 4½♦.  I have an in-depth description of this one in my previous post, but I will recap again – very cool wooden roller coaster; built into the existing terrain of the Miami River valley in southern Ohio which means you can be speeding along not more than 3 feet above the ground, thinking you must travel a lift before you can drop, but that’s not the case!  This is the longest wooden roller coaster in the world with a 4 minute and 50 second ride time.  Like any wooden coaster, it can be rough and rickety (I was sure I threw out my bad back on one of the speeding curves, but thankfully, I did not.  Shhh, don’t tell anyone I ride coasters with a bad back, but it must not be that bad since my back was one of my least sore parts the day after King’s Island), but these sensations improve if you ride the front row – I HIGHLY recommend the front seats on this one!

Diamondback – 4½♦ – I also talked about the park’s newest addition in my previous post, so here is another recap.  Exceptionally smooth ride, with no upside-down air time.  Rather, the only air time is achieved when your butt lifts from your seat on the multiple drops.  The sensation of free-falling is achieved by the restraint system – one smallish plastic piece that sits between your legs – that’s it!  The picture I posted in my previous blog doesn’t do justice to the coaster, so here is another:

delete-diamondback1I know certain readers of mine will notice that this is indeed a computer-generated picture, so I might as well just say that outright.  The first time we went on Diamondback, I loved it, and it would have gotten an even higher rating from me if it were not for the time we rode it in the front row.  Unlike The Beast, the front row of the Diamondback adds an entire new dimension to the ride – one I was happy enough without!  I respect our tour guide’s opinion that riding front on Diamondback is a must-do experience, and even though it wasn’t for me, I’m glad I got to do it once.  But it was SOOOO scary!

Firehawk – Holy (excuse my language) crap.  This is one doozy of a coaster!!!  Wow, I forgot to rate it, hmmm let me think…  3¾♦.  First let me explain what this coaster is, and then I can explain what would have made it better.  The riders load into Firehawk, and then the seats recline until the rider is lying down.  Not for the faint of heart – you are strapped into flexible (not hard plastic like most) shoulder harnesses, and then you are tilted backward until you are lying on your back – and it even  feels like your head might just be lower than your feet.  So anyway, lying down, the rider leaves the station, and proceeds to go up a hill, head first, facing the sky.  So of course you can’t see when you’re going to reach the top.  And when you finally do reach the top of the lift, you flip until you’re flying Superman-style through the trek of the coaster.  Overall, it was awesome, and I have to say  that I truly misjudged how ultimately different the horizontal sensation would be – it was VERY different.  What kept me from giving this coaster a higher rating, however, was this (and a discussion on the long ride home found my husband thinking the same thing):  For a unique roller coaster where you were supposed to feel like you were flying, especially for one of the first and only of this type (this is the only one in Ohio, I believe), they really could and should have simplified the design.  Instead of all the inversions, corkscrews and loops, they should have actually slowed down the coaster and left the rider suspended belly-down for the majority of the ride.  After people experienced that, THEN they could have added the speed and all the inversion stuff in an update version of the ride, and it would have been like a 2-fer – 2 rides, one idea.  The way it was, the ride was so fast that you really didn’t have the time to pretend to be Superman, and that was a shame.  The woman in our row the second time we rode Firehawk was, and I quote, “terrified”.  My husband told her it wasn’t that bad, and when he told her that, I was thinking, “What are you thinking?  It IS terrifying!”.  I just did not think that being on our backs face up on our way up the lift was the right time to tell a stranger that my opinion differed from my husband’s – it’s not like she could check my face for my true feelings.  The woman found out for herself.  I think she liked it though, as did I in the end, despite the changes I would make.  Another fun thing about this coaster is that while waiting in line (or by-passing the line on your VIP tour, highly recommended please see my first King’s Island post ), you get to pass next to the part of the ride where it first slows down as the riders come back into the station.  You can hear the riders’ very first reactions to the crazy configuration of this coaster, and that is a really cool time-filler!

Flight of Fear – 3¾♦.  It does feel strange to rate this and the previous coaster the same since they are two very  different ride experiences, so I feel the need to disclaim that I’m rating my overall ride experience.  Keep in mind that I am no longer in my 20’s, so I’ve lost my reckless abandonment.  I really like roller coasters, but I do draw the line and find some things too scary – so my rating system might vary from that of a true coaster enthusiast.  But anyway, I liked Flight of Fear, largely because it is like a much better version of Disney’s Space Mountain.  My husband likened it to the Aerosmith Rock N Roller Coaster at Disney’s MGM Hollywood Studios – which I loved, but I  found it more like a much improved Space Mountain.  All 3 are dark indoor coasters.  Flight of Fear and Aerosmith have what they call linear induction launches, which is how smart people say “0-54mph in 4 seconds!”.  On the way home, I was browsing through (ahh, life without kids in the car!) the super-cool stat sheets our guide gave us as parting gifts, and I noted that Flight of Fear was the first ride in the world with the linear induction launch!  It was SO much cooler than Space Mountain; much more smooth and with inversions.  Space Mountain is herky-jerky, and there are no drops nor inversions – it’s almost kind of like, what’s the point?  THIS is Magic Kingdom’s thrill ride?  But then again, Magic Kingdom really isn’t like that – you visit with small children and/or for the small child inside yourself.  But my point is, Flight of Fear is SO much better than Space Mountain, but not quite as good as the Aerosmith coaster – perhaps something to do with Aerosmith’s black light flourescent graphics versus the plain darkness of Flight of Fear; I preferred the graphics.  For a tangent, here is an interesting story about Flight of Fear: as I mentioned, we had a guide for our trip to this park.  Other park visitors would see he was an employee and ask him questions throughout the day.  One of the questions was “Is Flight of Fear still open?”.  Our guide said yes, not really knowing what the guest was talking about until later during the behind-the-scenes tour of The Beast when the park’s PR Manager, Don Helbig (who has ridden The Racer, another wooden coaster, almost 12,000 times!  How does one even count that high, especially when being tossed around on a wooden coaster?) told us that one of his job’s challenges was to dispel the rumors about the park given life by the internet.  One of those rumors he talked about happened to be that Flight of Fear met its demise.  Not true – Flight of Fear is alive and well and also well worth riding, especially if you are a person who is used to Space Mountain.  I think I can pretty much guarantee you will like Flight of Fear better.

Well…  I have once again talked blogged your ear (?) off with my boring detailed account of an event.  I wanted to rate most of the enjoyable rides at King’s Island, but I must cut the post short for now – maybe I will be able to get the other cool rides in the next post if I cool it a little and shorten the detail…  Until then…