If you’ve ever been to the Walt Disney World complex, you’ll understand when I tell you that the whole place exists in this weird vortex that does freaky things with time and space. You’re there with literally tens of thousands of other people (the statistics I found say that visitation averages about 50-60 thousand people visiting a day), yet with a few exceptions, I never felt that there wasn’t enough room for everyone. The place my husband chose for us to stay (Old Key West resort; it’s GORGEOUS) was spacious and quiet; there are 761 guest rooms at the resort, and while a block of them was closed for refurbishing and I suspect that the place wasn’t at full occupancy, we never once felt like we were jammed in with too much humanity. We went during a relatively low concentration period, and while there were a few places where it was clear that we weren’t the only people on vacation that week, we were never overwhelmed by traffic, lines, or crushes of people.
The other weird thing about the WDW complex is that it’s situated in a relatively small area of land. It’s only 43 square miles (for contrast’s sake, my little town is 384 square miles) but it houses four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios), two water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon), the Downtown Disney shopping/dining/entertainment complex and a shit-ton of resorts and hotels. Despite all this stuff on the property, the feel of the place isn’t that everything is piled on top of everything else. It only takes a few minutes to drive from Old Key West to Epcot – we could see some of the Epcot fireworks from one of the bridges on the resort – but there is no other indication that everything is close together. The layout and design – along with some very skillful landscaping – mean that everything feels spacious and open.
Our fourth day was planned as an open-to-close at Epcot. We got up, showered, doused ourselves in sunscreen, piled in the rental car, and headed over (the trip took us exactly six minutes from parking lot to parking lot; I timed it). We were guided to a parking spot (the location of which we all noted but failed to mark down in any kind of meaningful way; this will be an important detail later in my narrative), and walked to the front gate.
Our magic bands granted us entrance to the park, and the first thing we did was seek out the picture of Mr. Chili’s work husband’s kids on the legacy wall so that we could take a picture of us pointing at it and text it to him (he was living vicariously through us during our vacation week; he and his wife have a timeshare in Orlando and absolutely LOVE it there, but he wasn’t able to get away for this week). That done, we stopped to admire some of the topiary (the International Flower and Garden Festival was still going on, much to my unmitigated delight), then we made our way to the big silver ball at the beginning of the park (see the picture above) to go on the Spaceship Earth ride.
Because it was still early, we were able to pretty much walk right on. We settled into our little pod (I rode with Bean; Punk and Dad were in the row ahead of us) and were welcomed by Dame Judi Dench, who is the narrator for this iteration of the ride. We were treated to a slow-moving journey through the history of human communication from paintings on cave walls to the invention of papyrus and all the way through to computers and (mostly) modern communication (there was no mention of things like Facebook, Twitter, or text messaging; I think maybe the technology is advancing faster than the animatronics people at Disney can keep up).
I’d like to pause here to appreciate how awesome my daughters are. As we were walking off the ride, the FIRST thing that BOTH of my girls commented about was the representation of a black woman in the computer section of the narrative.
“Mummy! There was a BLACK woman with NATURAL hair who WASN’T a secretary! It was AWESOME!”
Seriously; that’s what they remember (well, that, and Bean noticed that the Romans were speaking bits of Latin that she could understand and translate, and that geeked her out).
We were still talking about the Spaceship Earth ride when we arrived at the Test Track. Again, Bean and I were paired up and Punk and Dad went in together. The idea here is that you “design” a car on a console and the details of your creation are loaded into a computer to be tested on the track. Our car was a freaky looking thing – we didn’t know how much time we were allotted, and we may or may not have spent too much time fussing about color and wheel options. Punk and Dad’s car looked better (“of course it does, Mom; Dad used to do this actual thing for a living!”), but at the end of the test, our vehicles came out about even.
Anyway, after you are shuffled out of the design studio, you’re loaded into a cart for the testing. Another touch of the Magic Band loaded our design into our seats, and the car took us through a series of “tests” that measured things like performance, economy, aerodynamics, and such.
About 3/4 of the way through the ride, though, everything came to a sudden and unexpected stop (not a jarring stop, though; we were in a slow part of the ride). An automated voice came over the speakers telling us that our “test trial has been temporarily suspended” and that we were to “please remain in your vehicle as it will begin moving momentarily.” About ten minutes later, though, we were starting to get a little antsy and, just before I was about to give up and make a phone call, the ride started up again.
The fun part of this ride is when they take you outside and whiz you around the building. Our little car got up to about 60 miles an hour on the straight away, and then we were pushed through a bunch of good, hard, positive G banking turns. That part was a hoot, and I got off with a big grin on my face despite the long wait.
From there, we wandered about enjoying the flowers and the topiary and the butterfly exhibit. We spent a fair bit of time oooh-ing and ahhh-ing at butterflies in the enclosure behind the Tinkerbell topiary pictured above. I even managed to find a couple of dragonflies in the process.
From there, we stopped for a few photo opportunities, then decided to make our way to the World Showcase.
I think that Epcot is my favorite WDW park. Granted, there aren’t a ton of rides, but there’s a zillion things to look at, and that is often more entertaining for me than roller coasters or swirling teacups. We decided to “do” the World Showcase counter-clockwise, so we began our journey in Canada on the right end of the horseshoe that is that part of the park.
We wandered around the Canada exhibit, then made our way to England where we bought a snack (a couple of packets of British cookies) and took a little break. There was some window shopping and some flower and topiary viewing and some general oooh-ing and aaah-ing at the spectacle of it. We meandered over the bridge to France where we bought a (mediocre) crepe and found the Beauty and the Beast topiary and did some more window shopping (I got spritzed by some expensive French perfume in the process, which could have been much worse than it was; I saw her moving in and held out my left wrist for her prey. The perfume wasn’t offensive, but I did end up washing most of it off in my next restroom trip).
Next comes Morocco, which turned out to be my least favorite exhibit; I was fascinated by the languages I heard being spoken in the shops, but the middle eastern aesthetic just doesn’t appeal to me, though the fountain and a lot of the tile work was exquisite;
Observe the Bean, all grown up!
Next is my favorite part of the World Showcase; Japan. I LOVE this exhibit. Almost everything I’ve experienced about Japan and Japanese art and culture delights me; I think it’s all beautiful. We arrived at the showcase in time to watch a taiko (drum) performance
and then the girls and I spent the better part of an hour in the enormous, interconnected shops in the ground floor of the great hall. I came this close to buying a lovely set of four rice bowls, each delicately painted with differently colored dragonflies, but decided against it; I’m trying very hard to simplify, and bringing more clutter into my life, regardless of how pretty that clutter may be, was counter to my purposes. Bean got herself a little figurine of her Japanese horoscope animal (a little bunny with a teeny-tiny fortune tucked inside) and we delighted in looking at the art, sampling the incense, and admiring the kimonos and parasols and fans.
After roaming a bit, we decided that we were starting to get a little hungry (and a tiny bit cranky). We’d built into our schedule for the day that we would go home for lunch (remember, we’re only about six minutes away). so we did a quick wander through the Germany exhibit (mostly to look at the model train set up), and then made our way out of the park.
Remember when I said we’d noticed – but not noted – our parking space? Yeah; it took us a good ten minutes to find the damned car. By the time we did, we were hungrier, hotter, and crankier than we were when we started, so the trip home was a good plan. We enjoyed some sandwiches on the cool breeze of our riverside patio and I read portions of this website that Dingo sent me out loud to my family. Mr. Chili was stressing a bit about our reservations in the China exhibit later that night, and this didn’t help to ease his concerns at all (though the bit about the Norway pastry shop and the tea stand in China had us laughing practically out of our seats… more on that later). We made some plans for the rest of the afternoon, relaxed, and felt much better by the time we decided to return.
THIS time, we made a point of marking where we’d left the car (I love cell phone cameras; I just snapped a picture of the lane name and number) and then stopped in some of the shops that we’d buzzed by on our way out of the park a few hours earlier. The girls were engaged in some low-level pin-trading (do you all know about this? The idea is that you buy a lanyard or other pin-carrying device and any number of pins. Then, you encounter cast members or other guests who are also displaying pins and, if both parties are willing, you trade. The cast members are pretty good about it – they’re willing to give you anything they have – but you might run into resistance from non cast members (though the girls and I wondered why, if you’ve got a pin from which you’re not willing to part, you don’t just leave it at home; that’s what they did when they scored one they had no intention of trading away…) so we bought a couple of pins. We found a GREAT one for Mr. Chili, who decided that he was going to have a Mickey silhouette theme going on his baseball cap; it was the Epcot ball with Mickey ears to go with his Great Britain and globe Mickeys, and it was perfect.
The rest of the afternoon was spent just wandering about the World Showcase. We didn’t spend much time in the American exhibit (Bean wins the quote of the day with, “I think we’ve had quite enough of the “American Experience,” thankyouverymuch”), and we gave China only a cursory run-through (stopping, of course, to have a look at The Joy of Tea). The girls and I sought out the “wyking mousse…with the horns” and I made sure to get a picture:
We doodled around for the rest of the evening, had a smattering of dinner at the Nine Dragons restaurant in China (it was okay; I like our local Chinese food better), and then I found some ice cream while Mr. Chili staked us a good spot in the Japan showcase from which to watch the park-closing fireworks.
It was SPECTACULAR.
We literally danced our way out of the park (I’ll figure out how to upload the video I took of Punk and Mr. Chili), found our car with no trouble (this time!), drove the six minutes home, and fell – exhausted but entirely satisfied – into bed.