Friday, November 1, 2013

Disney: Day 1

Travel, Turbulence and Tears

I should perhaps give some background here, so you understand what a big deal this was for me. I am a Disney kid, through and through. Growing up overseas, we couldn't always count on English television, so we were set in the VHS department - and nearly all of it was Disney. The animated classics, of course, but also Flubber and The Shaggy Dog and Candleshoe and The Parent Trap (well, all the Jodie Foster and Hayley Mills movies) and the all Sing-A-Longs and the Ducktales videos and Classic Donald/Chip and Dale/Mickey/Pluto/Goofy/Daisy Volumes 1-5000...I might exaggerate with the last one, but my point is that I lived and breathed Disney. My first conscious career goal was to be a voice actor - and to this day my favorite daydream is getting to voice a Disney villain. I remember when my aunt Alice sent me a subscription one year for the Disney Adventures magazine - it was a whole other world...and then the Disney channel?! Forget about it. I was bought and paid for. But through all this, I'd never been to Disney - World, Land, Euro, none of it. It was literally the castle on the horizon - seen but never reached.

So here I am, 31 years old, tossing and turning like a four year old on Christmas Eve - I could not sleep to save my life. I had been packed for a week and a half, travel day clothes laid out on the back of my chair for at least three days, and hat with my precious Pinocchio bow afixed sitting on top of the pile. I was GOING TO DISNEY WORLD! Alarm went off at 4:30 (though I honestly didn't need it - was waking up every half hour or so, terrified that I was oversleeping) and I got ready in twenty minutes flat. My wonderful daddy left the house at 5:00 to drop me off at Kate's wonderful dad's house (who is always, always so kind to drop us off at the airport even at the most unholy of departure hours). M'dear Kate showed up in Minnie shirt and silver sequined mouse ears - her "fairy godmother" came to her house with a metric ton of Disney swag, so she was pretty much set. We chattered like squirrels the whole way down to Birmingham - the glee could not be contained.

And this was at 6:45 in the AM.

The flight was lovely - Southwest as always, and the head flight attendant was a wonderful, wonderful person. She (along with the other wits at the airport) rightly guessed from the mouse ears that we were headed to Disney, and Kate informed her that it was my first time. She was shocked and genuinely excited for me - a reaction I got from lots of people, here at home and once we arrived. She was very generous when it came snack time; please note...

Southwest is THE BEST.
And when she made the landing announcement, she closed with, "And welcome to Orlando, Heather!" I felt like a rock star, I'm not going to lie. Kate could tell you how much I was glowing, but I felt my face light takes so little to make me happy...

After some wandering around the airport, trying to figure out where the Magical Express buses were, we made it to the beginning of the rope maze - goodness, they're ready for the onslaught there. We had been invited to participate in the pre-rollout of the magic bands program, so we were wearing them and got scanned through and put on our bus and were whisked away to the hotel without so much as a hiccup.

We were some of the only ones staying at Art of Animation, and were the first ones off the bus (at the first stop, no less) and the only ones that didn't have luggage to wait on under the bus, so the smiling cast member standing outside with her armored iPad breezed us inside, handed us off to someone else, who then handed us off to sweet Caitlyn behind the desk. She got us settled - though we had checked in online, so there wasn't a ton to do other than get our paperwork and have a few questions answered. She gave us little 2013 glow in the dark tabs for our magic bands (which were hokey but came in handy on the dark rides - nice to know where your body is) and the envelope of information and maps and, most importantly, my My First Visit pin. I wore that thing EVERYWHERE and EVERYONE commented on it.
Don't I look like I'm on vacation? Like a clown on vacation?

That's aboard the Disney buses, by the way. I can't imagine driving down there. Particularly not driving home after those long hot days in the each their own, I suppose, but I think driving's for the birds! We met some fun people on the buses, and the drivers were so nice (and we found, are wonderful to stop and wait for two sprinting latecomers).

And then we were there - we were at the Magic Kingdom. I knew I'd be emotional, but I was so not prepared for the depth of what I felt...there's a lot of talk out there about the manipulation of Disney, about the pixie dust in the Kool-Aid or whatever - I care not. I fell firmly, madly, deeply in love at very first sight. Before I even got to Main Street. The back? front? I'm still not sure, but the rail station was all done up for fall, and it was so cheerful and welcoming and wonderful, I could barely stand it.

I'll go ahead and complain that it was hot while we were there, but we had gorgeous skies in our pictures.
Now, while I was a newbie, Kate had been before (a long time ago, and not for very long, but still) she had a surprise or two up her sleeve. As soon as we got on Main Street, she said, "There's one place we need to go first," and up the steps of the first building on the right we did go. I was so overwhelmed by all the pretty, by all the feels I was feeling, I really couldn't process anything at this point. My server was down, so to speak. I did notice the miles of red velvet rope, but there was no one standing there, so it didn't click. We walked through hallways, got waved through bland, backstage looking doors, then through the last one...and there was Mickey. Cue meltdown. Couldn't talk, because I'd cry. Couldn't stop smiling, because that insane grin was what was holding the tears in. It was so much. A phrase I would continue to use throughout the week. (My other go-to was "I just can't...", the variant "I just can't even with all this..." or, if something was particularly un-process-able, "It's just so much I can't even with all this...") It was amazing. It was full-on, real-deal Disney magic.

Barely holding back the tears. The happy, happy tears.

I was completely dazed, and likely would have stayed that way the rest of the day. When we left the Room of Magic, we wound around to the Photo Pass station - Kate had gotten all of that set up because she is amazing and wonderful and a thinker, and we needed to get a card and see about linking it to our magic bands. While we were waiting for all of those things to be done, Kate realized her phone was missing. Her brand new, barely-a-week-old iPhone that was also going to serve as her camera for the week. This is the turbulence I mentioned. Kate went back to see if she could get in the room to look for it, but of course that couldn't happen, so we walked across to the City Hall, where guest services were located, and talked to Andy, from New York, who was wonderful. All caps, WONDERFUL. He walked us back across and went to the room to look, where of course (wouldn't tell it if it didn't have a happy ending) they found it, slipped off of the top of her purse as we were leaving and under the "trunk" where Mickey's costume was displayed. Now it was Kate's turn for the happy, happy tears, as Andy told us that Mickey himself got down on his hands and knees to search for it. (For the record, all of the cast members that we interacted with for any length of time had a touch of the Blarney about them - and I love them for it.)

If you look close, you can almost see the tracks of her tears...(now, sing that song the rest of the day. You're welcome.)
Andy wanted to make sure the rest of our trip was magical, so he went to a mystery counter, pressed a panel and out came a voucher book. He asked if there was anything in particular that we had been wanting to try - a snack or something he says. After staring blankly at him for a little while, I managed to squeak out "Dole Whip," and then it was good as done. Two free Dole Whips, please!! But that comes later. Can't get ahead of myself here.

I wandered around Main Street while Kate called Jonathan to share the story of What Just Happened, taking a billion and one pictures of the beautiful buildings, and then I got smacked in the face by the clear view of The Castle down the street. I just can't even, people. It was so much...

There was a threat of rain the whole time we were there, but we didn't see one drop. Not one drop!
So on we walked, to the hub, as it's known, where we caught the end of one of the stage shows going on - hydraulic stage, people! I wasn't surprised, but it was the quietest and smoothest I'd seen. (Side note for those who know me: I was exceptionally proud of myself for this week. I kept my peering backward and looking behind to a minimum and just enjoyed the effects. As much as is possible for me.) We walked through Liberty Square and found Columbia Harbor House for lunch - so impressed. I'll maybe come back and do some foodie critiques of the wonderful places we ate, but for now I'll just say how impressed I was. We gave our order to the lady working the kiosk/island, then three steps forward and they were handing me my tray. MAGIC. We ate on the second floor, and could see Small World from our table!

Before we arrived, the plan had been to restrict ourselves to Liberty Square, Adventureland and Frontierland, but that was before I realized how contained the park was. So - It's a Small World. We were able to walk right on, walking slowly, of course, for the billion pictures I was taking. Got in our boat and off we went, and off I WENT. Oh, the tears. It was waterworks central. Going on that silly little ride meant the world to me (no pun intended), and, though it was unintentional and outside of The Plan, it was the perfect start to this oh-so-special trip.

We had a FastPass+ (which I LOVED, by the way - obviously I've nothing to compare it to, but as a planner and as a first time visitor, I love-love-loved getting to reserve my rides and being able to structure my day) for The Haunted Mansion at four, and a little time to kill (heh) before then, so we strolled over to the Carousel, which was lovely, of course, and where I had a surprise of my own waiting for Kate! One of the best parts of preparing for this trip was getting to "educate" Kate in the Disney classics - she was a far more well-adjusted, less television-dependent child than I was, and hadn't seen a lot of these movies that are so dear to my heart. I didn't strap her down and prop her eyelids open, but she did get to see several new-to-her movies, including The Sword and the Stone, which she loved, and which just happened to be a Photo Pass station right behind the Carousel! It was a good surprise, I think.

Try though we might, it just would not budge.

After that, it was time to head back toward The Haunted Mansion. So much fun! Good, campy, wonderfully hokey fun. And it was so dark and cool...the dark rides would quickly become my favorite general category. We saw the beautiful Liberty Belle docked when we got out, so we decided to jump aboard and take a spin around Tom Sawyer Island - I know it doesn't sound like too much has happened at this point, but we were already starting to wear down a little bit! It was so nice to stand at the bow and soak up that breeze and the quiet...

Isn't she lovely?
Then - hitting the ground again! We went back to the hub and diverted through Adventureland, and when I saw Aloha Isle, I about came out of my skin. I was SO READY for those (free!) Dole Whips. (Another observation - this one's going to sound like a complaint, but it's nobody's fault but mine. Could NOT stop being thirsty. At any point. I am a double fisted drinker - have a full pitcher of ice water on my desk now that I'll have to refill before the day's over - so I knew I'd be thirsty, but I am fairly certain I got myself dehydrated. Carried a water bottle with me, but couldn't find enough places to fill it up! Observation over.) Mmmm, Dole Whip. Didn't get the float (gotta have something for the Next Time list), but it was delicious - so tangy and refreshing!

Isn't that amazing? Don't you want one right now? So, so good.
We realized we were seated at the base of the Swiss Family Treehouse - one of the movies near and dear to both our hearts, so we were thrilled to no end to climb up and investigate the house. From there, we stopped to ride the Magic Carpets of Aladdin - I'm no fan of heights, but thought, eh, it's not so high. Wrong. It's high. And not fast-high like a roller coaster. It's hang-out-high. But fears aside, it was fun, and I loved the spitting camels (Kate, not so much. But she's not as hot natured or as well insulated as I am.) Then we went to the tiki-tiki-tiki-tik-Tiki Room! I knew that I knew the main song from one of my Disney cds (I'm telling you, guys - bought and paid for), but I knew all of them! Just didn't put it all together in my mind. It was a nice little surprise I gave myself.

Aladdin and Jasmine were meeting people in the marketplace, and the Aladdin we met was wonderful - five stars. He was great with the little kids, and clearly enjoying himself with the older ones, and was characteristically charming with the two of us. Not to be unkind, but his Jasmine was not so much. She looked great, though!

We pushed on toward Frontierland for our 7:00 appointment with Splash Mountain. People. This is my favorite ride. Of all time. I am a Splash Mountain fanatic. We rode our FastPass+, then decided we'd ride it again, provided there wasn't a long wait. Well, there wasn't, so we rode it again. And loved it just as much. So we asked the CM if we could just stay on, and she let us (our whole flume! We had fun.) We were soaked - I was on the right for those last two rides, and was wringing water out of my sleeve (and seat) for the next hour. So worth it. Favorite ride. It was amazing, and I love it, and it will, from now on, be the first thing I do when I get to the park.

Just my favorite thing in the whole wide world.
After riding Splash Mountain three times, we had just enough time to round the corner to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for our 8:00 FP+. Even with it, though, we still waited forever to get on. I guess it's busier at night? I feel like I didn't give this one the chance it deserved - we were so hyped up from Splash Mountain, BTMRR was kind of a letdown. It was good and fast, but we felt really jerked around and...I don't know. It just wasn't Splash Mountain. Will have to give it another try - maybe in the daylight!

We took some pictures of the mountain (Big Thunder Mountain, I presume?) and decided we were starving. I had hoped to hit Pecos Bill's - I heard the burger topping bar is quite impressive - but they closed before we could get down to them. And the concession stands were closing down. So: stay for fireworks or go get some food at the resort? We opted for food - we knew we'd have explosions at Epcot and Hallowishes, so, back to AoA! It was delicious - I had some tandoori goodness and Kate had a pizza and we were both thrilled to our toes...could barely chew because we were so tired, but thrilled! A grand start to the week...

Next up - Epcot: food, motion sickness and crowd anxiety! You know you're thrilled!