Florida 03/22 – Animal Kingdom + Epcot

Next up on the agenda were the ‘credless’ Disney parks. With the desire to park hop and with Animal Kingdom being a particularly early opener, we decided to forego the lazy shuttle bus on this occasion in an attempt to justify having the hire car again. The one benefit to the parking tickets with their rather hefty price tags is that you are free to use it at any of the establishments within a given day.

Day 3 – Animal Kingdom

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And here it is.

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Once again the day began with a 3D cinema, It’s Tough to be a Bug!, because it’s likely the first thing you stumble across. Some of the effects were pretty scary in this one, to the point of making several children cry and their families leaving early. Dropping massive spiders from the ceiling will admittedly cause that, but I admire what they were going for. For me the biggest scare was at the very end when the insects leave the theatre before the guests, in a rather violating fashion.

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The imaginatively named Dinosaur was a lot of fun, I find you can’t really go wrong with the ride system that Indiana Jones made famous. It has more back story, in that we’re time travellers trying to save an Iguanadon, along with a more claustrophobic feel to the layout. Associating the attraction with that film I had forgotten existed makes no impact on the proceedings, beyond this statue, which is probably a good thing.

It was rather upsetting to walk past Ex-spite-ition Everest while it undergoes the first proper maintenance in 16 years. How I long to ride that coaster. Hopefully it will be restored to it’s former glory when that time comes at least.

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Instead we had to settle for views from the Kali River Rapids. Not the most impressive of these rides that Disney has put out, but solid fun with a light soaking. Having free-to-use ‘get other guests wet’ buttons is also a plus.

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Time to enter Avatar land. This was the total opposite to Star Wars for me, I knew nothing about the franchise, hadn’t seen the film and was completely uninvested in what was going on. Would it win me over in a casual encounter?

To start, it was another of those epic moments of laying eyes on the scenery for the first time, there are few parks in the world that can make that type of impact. As we slowly wound our way up the multiple hour queue for Flight of Passage it maintained a steady impression of ‘this could be good’. The indoor parts got a bit rocky and plain, though there were also rooms full of stuff to look at, like one of those blue blokes in a jar.

The preshow felt a bit condescending to be honest. It’s like they anticipated me coming in with no prior knowledge and they try to cram a lot of terms into the dialogue that didn’t really need to be there like fictional language lessons. What makes this worse is that after a lot of faff, you move into another room for some safety instructions and a different scientist character starts covering some of the same ground again. We’re blue, we’re flying on creatures, that’s all I need to know.

Eventually we entered our ride area and strapped in to the motocoaster style seats, complete with that brutal anticipation of a restraint punching you squarely in the lower back. The system kicks into life and off you go, moto-flying theatre.

Credit where it’s due, this is by far my favourite flying theatre experience on record. It had subtle details that added some flair, such as the seat moving between your legs to simulate the breathing of the creature and some pretty killer scent and mist packages.

Most importantly for me though, the film managed to create that sense of wonder that I believe all of these types of attractions are, or should be, ultimately going for. Usually it’s flying around the world in some pretentious manner, or occasionally you get something in adventure mode instead and it’s a bit of a laugh. But this. This is all focused on actually living and feeling those moments you’re being presented with, being the Avatar and not just a tourist. They present it as a ritual, an experience of great significance, a flight of passage. I can’t really describe how, but it works. For me at least.

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So does this.

The other ride in the area is the Na’vi River Journey, which was alright at best. I proclaimed as we boarded, after another rather extortionate wait, that all I wanted was a sit down and some blue. We got just that. There’s some visual effects in there that I can appreciate, but not all of it feels up to par. It’s another rehash of ‘breathe in your surroundings’ but far less impactful as you slowly sail past trees and wolves. The highlight is probably the big animatronic shaman character who sings various soothing syllables. “Na’vi waaa… wakalaaataka wakaaaa…”

This endured as a staple of the trip, whenever we got tired and needed to spout some nonsense, so at least the attraction made a lasting impression.

With that, Animal Kingdom was done as far as I was concerned. Time to hop in a car and grab a sandwich.


One thing about the Florida resort that didn’t gel with me was the lack of convenience exterior to the parks. We’ve already established they’re faffy to get between, but with that there’s also no Disney Village or City Walk experience to give that easy escape from a theme park for a quick bite to eat.

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They do have Disney Springs, but it’s not designed for that. It’s entirely self-contained and is a bit of a mission to include in any Disney experience rather than just being a casual day out and shopping trip. We drove for a good while and ‘popped in’ to the free multi-storey car park in order to get reacquainted with the Earl of Sandwich, a Paris favourite. As a detour it was in excess of an hour and based on public transport on other days it could easily be two. Worth it? Yes.


Epcot

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And here it is.

This was another wide-eyed novice experience for me, it’s nice to go to some of the most famous parks ever and not really have a clue what’s going on. First up was Spaceship Earth, located within the iconic building itself.

Rather than my expectations of it being about space, I instead found a slow and steep omnimover narrated by Judi Dench that concisely describes the history of humanity and the development of communication. Upon reaching the summit, the story ends, the cars turn backwards and you begin to descend. Now the story is about you. Built in touch screens allow you to answer a number of questions about your hopes for the future and then, by means of an on-ride photo and some cartoons, these dreams are realised. Funnily enough, my photo didn’t work, which only added to the comedy that ensued amongst us (and my personal relief).

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Never mind that though, Mission: SPACE, specifically the Mars mission, kicked ass.
It’s quite an intimidating build up, what with the number of times they tell you you’re on the ‘intense’ version as you go through the various videos of what it takes to be an astronaut. It’s only Disney.

The safety instructions get rather more worryingly specific when they tell you to face forward and breathe normally and try not to pass out. Like when Derren Brown tells you to calm down, only this actually means something. Then you board the extremely cramped little 4-person simulator pod, lower the over the shoulder restraints, see the complementary sick bags poking out at you and suddenly the realisation hits. This ain’t Disney.

Similar to Smuggler’s Run, we’d each been given a role that involved pushing buttons at certain points and whether or not they did anything remained dubious. They are a bit of a welcome distraction from the ride cycle which is, well, I loved it.

It’s so genius, what you see with your eyes not matching up with what’s actually happening to your body. Yet it’s believable, and a little bit terrifying. The sequence goes on through the various motions and I found it quite the physical endurance, but in a way I could appreciate for how unique and inventive the experience is. Better than Lech.

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Journey into Imagination was more how I imagined Epcot to be. Dark rides about stuff I don’t really care about. It was filled with cool effects at least, the cage and a mirror and one of those lightning fast backdrop changes. Figment though, I didn’t get on with him at all. I hear they butchered the original ride for this, then brought him back in to try and save it. It’s gone.

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Living with the Land was above and beyond how I imagined Epcot to be. Dark rides about growing plants. It was fine, I guess.

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The Seas with Nemo & Friends wasn’t the first time that forcing Nemo onto a ride with fish as an afterthought has left it feeling flat. It was fine, I guess
Never mind that though, dog on a dark ride!

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Ugh, Coco. He’s even managed to take over the inside of this building, with all the shops and restaurants latching onto his theme. Thankfully he isn’t on the El Rio del Tiempo boat ride, though it does involve Donald Duck trying to be a Mariachi, which is grating enough in of itself.

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We were just about ready to clean up, when Frozen Ever After broke down on us and had been evacuated. It had been holding the second biggest queue on park all day, so the dilemma was whether to camp it out in the hopes of a swift return and a guaranteed walk-on ride, or go and queue an hour for the one other thing we wanted, possibly then spiting us the evening show. The staff seemed reasonably optimistic and so we opted for the former. Sure enough, a reasonable amount of time later we were amongst one of the first boats to depart, the moment it was fixed.

You can tell this one is clearly shoehorned too, though it probably managed to satisfy any of the millions of guests that came here just to hear a bit of Let It Go in it’s prime. The story doesn’t make sense, it’s just a highlight reel of songs in poor chronological order, with some slightly off-looking face projections. The Marshmallow bit was solid though, with a decent enough drop. Glad we didn’t queue.

Last but not least was Test Track and we were in two minds as to whether to test it out, as it clearly can’t be better than Radiator Springs. I’d call it a winner, in the right company, though, once the nasty corporate sponsor queue was out of the way – it started to feel a bit like Ferrari Land for a minute.

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The biggest surprise was entering this room in which you get to customise a car, one that seemingly comes out rather ridiculous looking no matter what you do to it. The initial intention was to recreate Homer’s bubble car, though it soon became clear that that sadly wasn’t possible. Deploy the cow catcher.
This final product gets downloaded to your ticket which you then scan again upon boarding the ride.

The indoor section of the ride contained far more than I anticipated, with the various road tests being performed on your crude uploaded car, including some good acceleration and fun swerving going on, alongside the added jeopardy of regular scoreboards showing how you stack up against the other group sharing your ride vehicle.

Finally you head outside for the speed test and though it feels a bit of a non-event, topping 60Mph on a dark ride is rather impressive when you pause to think about it. As for the scores, we started out so well but lost 3 out of the 4 tests by the end. Needed more cup holders.

Time had run on a little and we just caught the lake show after the initial moments, from afar. It wasn’t anywhere as impressive as Magic Kingdom, with the water projection being the main focal point and yet far less clear than the two accompanying screens of visual filler. It did at least spend more time on each song, of which the selection felt pretty poor. Also Coco again. Bah.

That’s it then. Disney World complete in 3 days, bar one ride. What else have they got around here?

Day 4

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