Walt Disney World: Epcot Top 5

Epcot, or Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow to give it’s full name, differs from the rest of WDW, and feels a bit more grown up. There are still rides and characters about, but it might be a bit dull for younger visitors, and there is an educational vibe to much of it.

There was also a food and wine festival going on and so there were more childless adults here.

Still, there was enough to keep older kids interested and the World Showcase with zones based on different countries is cool.

It’s also well worth staying for the closing firework show “Illuminations of Earth” as it is stunning. Anyway, here’s the top 5:

5. Spaceship Earth

Hosted in the park’s iconic globe this ride takes you back in time to see the development of civilisation. Narration from Judi Dench adds some class and the end part “imagine the future” is great fun, using photos from the ride to add you to cartoon visions of the future.

4. Short Film Festival

A trio of Disney and Pixar shorts presented in 3D. The Mickey Mouse story “Get a Horse” is the best, making great use of the technology to make a fourth wall shattering film loaded with sight gags. And it was cool to rewatch Feast and Piper.

3. Soarin

WoM wanted to ride this flight simulator, but was nervous due to her aversion of heights. Being a good husband I reassured her and did my best to keep her calm.

My confidence evaporated when we wound up higher than I had anticipated, and my own elevation anxieties kicked in. The ride is wonderful and incredibly immersive, the gigantic screen makes you feel as if you’re actually flying over the global landmarks you’re shown. Of course, my enjoyment was tempered when I made the rookie mistake of looking straight down.

Not wanting to panic WoM I had to play it cool until we were back on the ground. It was worth it however, as she loved it.

2. Frozen Ever After 

A newer ride with some cool animatronic effects featuring some of the movie’s best songs. This was lots of fun andba few quick drops and backward parts keep you on your toes.

1. The Finding Nemo stuff

There’s quite a big section devoted to Finding Nemo which is cool as I love that movie. There are three sections but I’m counting them as one. 

Part one is a fun ride which mixes screens, animatronics and projections on real tanks, as you help Marlin look for Nemo after he wanders off.

Then there’s the actual aquarium which features a wide range of sea creatures and is pretty cool. There’s also a dolphin show.

And finally “Turtle Talk” an interactive show featuring Crush the sea turtle as he answers audience questions. I always dug Crush due to his surfer drawl and laid back vibe. He works well as the host and it’s fun and educational, and there are some cameos thrown in as well.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 

Advertisements

Walt Disney World: Animal Kingdom Top 5

Much as we enjoyed Animal Kingdom, it was definitely my least favourite of the parks. Given how much I loved Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom this isn’t harsh criticism.

It’s just that I left both of those parks with a list of things I still wanted to do, whereas here it felt like I got everything out of it in one day.

I loved the wildlife aspect, but Pandora was a dud. Anyway, here’s the top five:

5. Feast of the Lion King

A fun show featuring animatronic characters alongside dancers, acrobats and Timon. The performers work the crowd well and it’s fun and vibrant.

4. Finding Nemo: The Musical 

A clever show which sees performers use large puppets of the characters to provide a condensed, musical version of the story. Fun but a little lightweight. Also don’t take little kids as the death of Nemo’s mother and siblings broke a few younger audience members.

3. Kali River Rapids

Fast paced river ride with fast turns and drops. You will get wet but this is very much part of the fun and it packs in plenty of thrills. Very entertaining.

2. Rivers of Light

Animal Kingdom’s nightly firework show this works off the theme of light, water and life. Using boats, lights and projections this was visually striking and the theme of how all life is connected is cool. The skill, artistry and technology on show are admirable and it’s wonderful.

1. Kilimanjaro Safari

As a nature lover the safari was a big draw for me and it didn’t disappoint. The reserve is set out in a clever way which provides the animals with plenty of space. The bumpy ride adds to the atmosphere and the guides provide interesting and entertaining commentary.

There are wonderful animals to see and for a Brit it’s nice to see the animals of Africa basking in the sun and not sulking in drizzle. The kids aboard were fascinated and anything that gets children into loving nature and conservation is a good thing.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Walt Disney World: Meeting Characters

I have a friend who went to Walt Disney World and refused to have pictures with the characters. I guess they saw it as childish or lame.

I think they were wrong. Meeting the characters is a lot of fun.

Sure, I felt a little odd and self conscious at first, but like the whole Disney experience it goes a lot better if you just throw yourself into it all. Don’t try and resist or act cool, just go with it and let the Disney atmosphere sweep you along. Trust me, it’s a lot more fun. 

For me the easiest moment to go with it came when my inner child came rushing to the surface. Why? Because I met the towering galactic hero that is Chewbacca.

We were waiting in line and next up when Chewie came around the corner to greet us. In that moment I didn’t think about the fact it was a staff member, I just was overjoyed to be face to face with a character from one of my favourite movies. Look at the photo below, look how childishly happy I am. 

There were other great moments in meeting the characters from Tigger jumping on me as I walked through Magic Kingdom to Peter Pan consoling me into having been tricked into marriage and growing up. Also there was the knowledge that our nephew back home had been amazed to see photos of his aunt and uncle with Mickey Mouse.

I really wanted to meet Stitch, one of my all time favourites, but was told he probably wasn’t going to be about. So, when we found him a few days later I was stoked to add him to my photo album.

I’ll admit that I found it easier with the masked characters than those without (e.g. the Princesses) but they were all magnificent and fun. I got really into meeting as many as possible, and seeing how great they were with guests was heartwarming.

So if you go to Disney do yourself a favour, get an autograph book and go meet these iconic characters.

Let out your inner child, your outer adult will enjoy it just as much. 

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom Top 5

WOM favours Hollywood Studios but for me this is the best of the parks. It’s got the iconic castle, a variety of different themed areas and more rides. It even has a section devoted to my favourite Disney movie Tangled.

With so much here narrowing down a top five was tough, so here are a few honourable mentions: The Muppets’ Great Moments From History show, Journey of the Little Mermaid and the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor.

And now the top 5:

5. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

Similar to the Toy Story games at Hollywood Studios this sees you riding an armed cart through various stages trying to hit targets. The difference here being that there are no 3D screens, just a laser pointer. It made it more challenging but I still managed to beat WOM twice and max out the scoreboard.

4. Pirates of the Caribbean

An old ride but with new updates and appearances from Jack Sparrow, means it continues to appeal. It’s surprisingly dark with scenes of pirate debauchery and one where they auction off female prisoners as “wives”. That’s probably part of the appeal and what sets it apart from most of the park which is bright and happy.

3. Jungle Cruise

A boat ride in a jungle setting with animatronic characters this was elevated by our guide, who delivered a stream of cheesy gags, puns and one liners, all delivered in wonderful deadpan. 

2. Festival of Fantasy parade

All the characters appear aboard some fantastic floats. The cheerful vibe is infectious and it’s hard not to become a big kid and return the waves of the characters. Simply joyous. 

1. Haunted Mansion

The best ghost train ride I’ve ever been on, thanks to some great effects and delightfully creepy design and flourishes. It’s also helped by a sense of humour and flair reminiscent of Vincent Price or old Hammer movies. Great macabre fun, but please, don’t take little kids on it.

Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.


Walt Disney World: Hollywood Studios Top 5

We started our honeymoon here, at WOM’s favourite of the four Disney parks. Boasting some traditional Disney stuff alongside Star Wars and Pixar things, this park seems geared at the middle range of pre-teens to adults. There’s plenty to do here and it was good first taste of what the parks are like.

Here’s my personal top 5 things to do:

5. Toy Story Midway Madness 

You hop aboard a ghost train style carriage with a buddy, armed with a string pulled cannon each. As it whips you around you fire at 3D screens, each themed around a different Toy Story character or setting. It’s hugely entertaining and it keeps score to add a competitive aspect. WOM bested me here, leaving me vowing revenge.

4. Muppetvision 3D.

I absolutely love the Muppets and this 3D extravaganza is loaded with their trademark silliness in charms. Light on plot it basically serves as a framework for daft gags and 3D trickery. It’s great fun and the fact that several characters appear in the theatre is a nice touch. 

3. Star Tours

This is what used to be called a 4D ride, which mixes a 3D screen with actually throwing the audience about.

You get on board with C-3PO and R2-D2 and take flight. You’re pitched about as the ship takes you through various settings. As a huge Star Wars fan I loved it especially making the jump to hyperspace. 

A cool touch is that there are several storylines for the ride meaning that the two times we rode it were different adventures, encouraging you to ride again. 

2. Indiana Jones’ Epic Stunt Spectacular

A live show filled with actions and explosions, its appealing cheesiness is carried off by the great cast, who play the crowd well and inject humour. Also the big stunts are genuinely impressive.

1. Fantasmic

WOM saw this on her previous visit to WDW in 2007 and still raves about it, so expectations were high. But boy did it deliver.

A journey into Mickey’s imagination this makes great use of fireworks, fountains, lights and projections cast onto the mist. The show is about the power of imagination and sees various Disney villains try to use it against him. This sequence might be too scary for some younger kids but good prevails.

The finale which features many Disney characters is a massive crowdpleaser and the whole show is guaranteed to charm and impress all ages.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Mad MWF: The Road Warrior

The M5 slowed to a crawl as the cars filtered into the inside lane to pass a lorry standing still in the middle lane. In the outside lane was a car facing the wrong way, the driver side of the bonnet mangled, showing the cause of the delay.

Truck vs car.

Luckily all seemed unhurt and two other cars had stopped to help set up those high viz emergency triangle things.

We drove by and moved back into the middle lane, overtaking a black car on the inside.

The driver, a young bloke in his early twenties was on his phone. Not talking but actually typing on his phone as his passenger dozed next to him.

“That guy’s on his phone.” I commented. 

“What?” Asked MWF.

“That guy is using his phone. And we’ve literally just passed an acc-”

The rest of the sentence was drowned out by a loud blaring horn. The texting driver looked up in shock, his passenger jolted awake, startled and confused.

“GET OFF YOUR PHONE! YOU IDIOT!” Roared MWF.

That should have been it. Admonished for his wrongdoing, the driver should have put down his phone and thanked his lucky stars that we weren’t cops who would have handed him 6 points and a £1000 fine. 

But it wasn’t. Using the phone might have been a one off but he was about to prove that he was a bad driver.

He gunned after us, tailgating before overtaking and cutting us up.

It was a pathetic display of the male ego hurt, with the moron unable to accept he had been called out for doing something criminal and possibly dangerous. He doubled down on the danger by putting others at risk in what was clearly intended as intimidation.

And he wasn’t done.

Coming up to a junction he moved into the inside lane and we were passing alongside to carry on. As we were passing he swerved towards us and then took his turning heading for Penshore.

It’s a shame none of us got his number plate, but one hopes karma finds him and next time he uses his phone a copper spots him. 

It seems like him losing his licence would be the best outcome, as he clearly lacks the patience and maturity to handle the responsibility of driving. His pride hurt his response was to become more reckless and stupid.

Don’t be a dick at the wheel, someone could get hurt.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


London Part 6: Trains > Buses

Loaded up with caffeine, MWF and I headed for the bus and joined a worryingly large queue. If all these folks are getting on our bus, I thought, it’s gonna be cramped as hell.

Thankfully, many were going to Bristol. These were the lucky ones. The rest of us poor souls are boarding the bus bound for Swansea, stopping at Newport and Cardiff. The ride up (see Part 1) had been easy and I could see the wisdom in getting a bus as it was so much cheaper. Score one for buses.

The first bad sign was that the traditional Megabus double decker was off the table and instead we had a coach. Like you used to have for school trips.

With half the queue gone it was still rather busy and the bus was full. MWF and I grabbed two seats near the back and waited, with everyone aboard the bus pulled out.

Forty minutes later we left London. Score one for trains, no traffic.

Now, I know I’m not the smallest bloke but there is no way in hell coach seats are designed so two adults can sit comfortably by each other. The seat itself was odd in that it didn’t support your behind right, meaning I got a numb bum before Reading.

MWF and I kept banging elbows and so I put my arm around her meaning I got a dead arm after a while.

It didn’t help that the bus was boiling. A hot, full bus is not a pleasant environment, especially as we had no stops to let air in. A tiny fan provided some assistance, sending a fifty pence piece sized area of cold onto my forehead. Trains score again.

I got increasingly fed up. The bus seemed to be getting warmer, and the smell of human bodies grew. My patience frayed and there was no Kindle to distract me as I’d given myself motion sickness. Five points to trains for letting me read.

The woman on the other side of the aisle fidgeted constantly, never working out what she wanted from her bag and moving around all the time.

It felt like I’d been on the bus for days.

image

Finally we entered Wales.

I apologise for all the complaining, but to get to Cardiff from the bridge shouldn’t take too long, right?

Wrong.

There was a bit of traffic and we pulled off. My confidence in our driver plummeted as he took an entire lap of a roundabout before taking the first option.

We were headed for Newport.

I intend no disrespect, but I’m sure even Newport natives will admit it’s not the kind of place an outsider would choose to visit without a reason. We had no reason, because not a soul boarded or disembarked. Heck, the bus didn’t even stop.

We essentially added to our journey to have a look around Newport.

I was incredibly cranky when we finally reached Cardiff and got off. Free of the bus I stretched my stiff limbs and then crammed into another bus seat to head for MWF’s mums house.

I was tired and crabby, but I’d enjoyed the trip.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


London Part 5: Chicken and Cats

Dan took us to a place called Ma’ Plucker a small place that did chicken. You picked a base, sauce and type of chicken and I went for maple waffle, fried chicken and gravy. It sounds weird but it really worked.

image

The atmosphere was laid back and food was a little slow but we didn’t mind as it gave us a chance to talk, mainly about travel and where we want to go. Dan has been to the States a few times and I was green with envy as he discussed his trips.

Food was lush, with the chicken being crispy, full of flavour and surprisingly grease free. As an apology for the delay we got a free sundae, which was gorgeous. The delay wasn’t a big deal but I think the whinging suits on the next table got to them.

I heartily recommend checking the place out.

We wandered to the bus stop where we said goodbye to Dan and headed back to the hotel.

Thursday, our last day, didn’t start brilliantly as tiredness led to bickering, leaving me a little crabby. We checked out and headed for the London Cat Village. You need an appointment, and we were ridiculously early so we looked for some breakfast.

One place looked promising but charged a tenner for a cooked brekkie so I got a bacon and egg roll elsewhere. Then we headed for the cat cafe.

MWF is obsessed with cats so cat cafes are already a holiday tradition for us. Unfortunately, the London Cat Village was a disappointment compared to what we’d had in Budapest. It didn’t help that the first thing you noticed on entering was the smell of cat pee. The staff were a bit aloof too, but the cats made up for it and I eagerly awaited my coffee.

image

The cats flitted about and the variety of kitties on show was impressive. They had a Scottish Fold who blanked everyone and wasn’t bothered. Like the hottest girl in a school she knew she didn’t have to try to be admired, and without doing anything would have people eager to win her favour.

image

The owners gave us some treats to encourage the cats to interact and we were swarmed. One large ginger Tom muscled his way to the front and got the lion’s share of my treats. Snacks exhausted he left, dunking his tail in my coffee so I couldn’t enjoy that.

While it was relaxing and the cats were lovely, it wasn’t the best value for money and unlike the ones in Hungary there was a sense of them doing it to follow a trend rather than from a love of cats. Still, it was a chilled hour and left both of us happy.

Leaving we headed in search of coffee and our bus home. I suspected I needed the caffeine to face the long journey home.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


London Part 4: Harry Potter Tour

After tea at Cafe Nero we headed to see my friend Dan and meet his boyfriend Adam. They’ve been together for years but I’ve never met Adam before,so it was kind of exciting and thankfully we all seemed to get along and had a great evening chatting and chilling.

MWF and I headed back to the hotel to crash and slept in before heading to Euston Station where we were meeting up with Dan in order to head for Watford where we were going to the Harry Potter tour.

This was one of my birthday presents to MWF this year as she’s been wanting to go for ages, getting increasingly annoyed as various friends have shared their visits on Facebook. Finally she was getting to go and she was as giddy as a child on Christmas Day.

We joined a tour and wandered around amongst a large crowd of Potterheads. It’s basically a behind the scenes look at the Harry Potter movies which was kinda cool, getting to see the costumes, sets and props used.

image

The problem is that while I enjoyed the books and have seen the movies, I wasn’t a big enough of a fan for it to really enthrall me. That and the fact I was desperate for a coffee halfway through.

MWF however was loving it, and getting me to pose for photos and snapping away. She wasn’t alone in this as you had to watch out or you’d inadvertently photobomb someone’s snaps.

image

Halfway through we got to the cafe where I grabbed a latte and bought a Butterbeer for MWF.

Butterbeer is a big deal at the tour, the website actually lets you book a drink in advance, which I think pubs should start doing. It’s based on a drink in the books, but the muggle version is slightly disappointing. It looks great, at first but as the head mixes becomes a murky colour.

image

As for the taste, well it’s very sweet and kinda like a mix of Cream Soda and Irn Bru. Not as bad as I feared but still not great.

The rest of the tour was alright, the creature workshop was cool but production art was a tad dull. Luckily they finish strong with a large model of Hogwarts which is pretty cool.

image

Then came the shop. I wanted to grab some gifts for family and a memento for myself but it was pricey as all hell. I get it’s a money making venture but it got a bit ridiculous, as even basics like a couple of small Hufflepuff notebooks was over a tenner. Also, they don’t sell Luna’s lion head which feels like a missed opportunity as they sold almost everything else.

image

Want

In the end I settled for a prefect’s badge (the only way I will ever get one) and some Bertie Botts’ Every Flavoured Beans.

These were a mistake as around half are utterly gross.

Dan and I had enjoyed, but the major thing was that MWF was buzzing and extremely happy. This made the queuing worth it and it’s hard to be negative when it’s made someone you love so happy.

I was starving by now, so we headed back to London and Dan promised to take us somewhere nice for some grub.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


London Part 3: Putting Off the Ritz

Needing a hot drink MWF pulled out her phone and a quick Google search later showed the nearest option was the Ritz.

Well, why not? The extra cost would be worth it just to say we’d been there and if I could swipe a branded saucer or something it would be cancelled out.

We walked along signs for the Ritz’s bar and jewellery store (who knew?) And asked a doorman where the cafe was, he guides us down to the far corner.

image

We were walking along and as we rounded the corner we saw the main entrance. In situations like this the best course of action is to just act as though you belong there. I’d just passed on this advice to MWF when she broke this and spoke to the doorman.

“Excuse me.”

He turned around with barely disguised distaste etched on his face.

“Yes, may I help you?” His voice was posh and professional.

“Umm, we were just wondering if there a tea room inside?” MWF asked.

“There is, yes.” He began. “But there is a slight problem with your clothing. We have a dress code and, well, you’re wearing sports shoes.”

This was true, we were both wearing trainers but I found it annoying. A dress code to buy a cuppa?

I know the Ritz has a rep for being upmarket and classy, but it’s all b*****ks, isn’t it? That reputation only exists because we go along with it and they artificially maintain it with daft dress codes. They make out that dining there is an event, and a special one, one that requires you to dress up nicely.

Imagine if your local cafe started doing that? Insisting that you dressed a certain way, you’d tell them to jog on, but because the Ritz has been around for a long time (110 years) we go along with it. I suppose that’s why people like going there because it has that “classy” appeal, and maybe even why MWF and I tried going in, but it’s silly.

If Prince Harry rocked up in trainers would they turn him away? It’s enough to make you want to get obscenely successful and wealthy just to turn up as slobby as you like, to see how dedicated to that dress code they are.

If I ever got wealthy I’d set up a five star restaurant with the best chefs, plush decor and the finest wines known to humanity. I’d have a dress code. Tracksuits only. For those unsure, think Goldie Lookin Chain.

image

“Is there anywhere else we could go around here?”

“There is a Cafe Nero just up the road, madam.” Again, all politeness but the meaning was clear “P**s off to the chain store with the rest of the plebs!”

Denied entry we wandered back and took our seats among the common people. And the tea in Cafe Nero was bloody lovely.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.