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The Munificent Musings Of A Maniacal Mammal

NOTE: This ended up longer than intended. It’s cobbled together notes I made while standing in lines and queues, plus lots of stuff I added to the post or expanded upon pretty heavily. Sorry it’s so long. πŸ™‚

Here’s a compilation video of stuff I shot on the trip (all shot on my DJI Pocket 2):

So, I had a week of vacation planned and found out the night before it started that the plans for the first half of it had fallen through due to somebody else coming down with covid. So, late the next morning, I’m casually bouncing around the web when I see a mention of Disney World. I think to myself, “hmmmm, I’ve been needing to get down to Disney World to check out the new Tron Lightcycle Run attraction, which I’ve needed to do since it opened almost a year ago. I check out some flight/hotel/rental car packages on the usual sites and stumble upon one that works pretty much perfectly for the window of time I have to fit it in. The outbound flight with Frontier Airlines left that same Wednesday the 7th around 6:30 PM and the returning flight with American Airlines left 4 days later on Sunday the 11th around 2:00 PM. That’d give me 3 full days in the middle to check stuff out.

I had last been in Orlando back in June, 2020, during peak covid era. At the time, Disney World parks weren’t yet re-opened (they would re-open a couple weeks after I was there), so I went to Universal Studios and drove out to the Kennedy Space Center (from here out, “KSC”)., and did a few other things like visited Icon Park. Universal was pretty much fully operational, but KSC was barely half operational, with all the bus tour (and the Apollo museum) shut down as well as a number of other visitor center stuff shut down as well (mostly for refurbishments and changes, which made sense to do during that time). So I decided that on this new trip, I would revisit KSC so I could check all the rest of the stuff out. I blocked out Saturday for doing that. That would give me 2 days, Thursday and Friday, to bounce around the 4 Disney parks, which is definitely a tight timeline for that.

I booked the trip around noon and started packing and arranging for my brother to drop by Friday night to look in on and feed the hamster and cats. I did a quick comparison between long term parking costs at O’Hare and Uber rides to and from the airport, and they’d be roughly the same, so I hopped an Uber to the airport and had an uneventful flight to Orlando. My cheap rental car was with a company called Advantage (who apparently just operate in Orlando and Vegas). Hopped a shuttle bus to their location and got there around 11:00 and had a fairly long wait in line (about almost 45 minutes). Not the longest wait in a line for a rental car I’ve had (which would be in LA a couple years back with was at least a couple hours for Hertz/Budget). At any rate, other than the wait, the rental was fine (a Hyundai Kona), and it was $60 total cost for the whole time there. I drove to the hotel and flaked out as soon as I got there in preparation for a chaotic few days coming up.

Some Initial General Disney Thoughts

Before I go digging into details, there are a few observations I’d like to make in retrospect. Disney has a few systems in place for dealing with lines: Virtual Queues, Lightning Lanes and Individual Lightning Lanes. The latter two are similar things. Regular lightning lanes (as well as the virtual queues) are part of their Genie+ service, which is a thing you can buy each day on that same day (in other words, starting at midnight). Genie+ allows you to make lightning lane reservations one at a time for a window of time (usual around an hour) to get to that attraction and use the lightning lane entrance, which typically gets you directly into the attraction to the final stage of queuing. Most of the time, it does skip quite a lot of standard queuing. You can only have one of those at a time and then are able to make the next LL reservation once you check in with the current one. The Genie+ daily cost is demand based and usually $15 to $35 in cost. Both days I got it, the cost was $27. “Individual Lightning Lane” reservations are ones you can make at the start of the day, but they have a cost (typically of $20+, nearly the cost of a day’s Genie+ all by itself). You can do up to 2 Individual Lightning Lane purchases in a day, and they go fast, so you’ve gotta lock them in first thing in the morning.

Now, to swing back to Virtual Queues, which is the dumbest thing I have experience in a very long while. Lightning Lanes, in both forms, aren’t perfect, but generally work and functionally accomplish something useful. The debate of milking MORE money out of people for the privilege is a whole different thing, which I’ll just say makes me happy it was just me, cause the cost of all this must be insane for full families, which as we know is the vast majority Disney’s visitor base. Unlike Lightning Lanes, which are actually useful and accomplish something, virtual queues are like some kind of stupid joke come up with in a meeting by the dumbest trained monkeys Disney pulled from some exhibit to devise a pathetic excuse for tricking visitors into thinking they’re accomplishing something in using it. On one hand, you have to be impressed by Disney’s use of NFC in phones and wristbands and the ability to easily check in and be notified of things throughout the day, and then you have the same people devise a system where everybody rushes to check in first thing in the morning, clawing over each other for a position in this virtual queue, then once you have, it accomplishes nothing. You spend the day slowly seeing a wide range of “groups” being allowed to show up, unsure of when your group will end up on the list. So, if you’re park hopping like I was trying to, all it accomplishes is to make you wanna stay in that park and not realize that it’s going to be 4 hours by the time it gets to your group. Then, once it has, you discover how incredibly useless that virtual queue was, because you show up to wait in a 2 hour and 15 minute line anyway. How in the world do they design a technology-driven queue system and put those people into a 2+ hour queue? It’s so bad, it’s like it was designed to trap people into somewhere they couldn’t be spending more money at your park. It’s designed so bad, it’s gotta be worse than not having it at all and just letting people randomly show up to queue on their own timetable. All the attractions have an estimated wait time. You decide if you wanna wait that long or not. But not the virtual queues. I already had an individual lightning lane ticket for the evening for the Tron attraction. Had I known how stupid and useless the virtual queue was, I would have skipped the entire process and just done the single ride in the evening. And that’s even more ironic due to what I’ll detail when I get to it in a bit…

Thursday, February 8th: Disney Day 1

Tron Lightcycle/Run

My first day at Disney was hit-or-miss. I already detailed how the idiotic virtual queue system messed up the first half of the day by trapping me at Magic Kingdom, waiting for it to eventually get to my group. But the kick in the head was how the line wait just never ended for it. It was 3:00 by the time I made it onto the ride. I’m gonna do bullet points with brief thoughts about various attractions below, but since Tron Lightcycle Run was a primary reason for me to make it down to Disney, I’m gonna dig into it a bit more first, then get to the rest of the stuff.

So, having FINALLY made it into it, what are my thoughts? I’ll do the good before the bad. Inside and out, this attraction looks amazing. 10 out of 10 for design. It’s impressive in daytime, but it looks incredible at night. Stylistically, it’s the ultimate anchor for Tomorrowland. Even the ride cycles themselves look impressive and unique as they go around. Nothing about this ride looks less than a 10 out of 10. From the outer sign to the abstract enclosure to the inner queue area to all the lighting everywhere, it all looks fantastic. It’s enhanced by some nice use of Daft Punk music around the attraction (though they could mix it up with more variety from it).

Now, before I get to the bad, there’s something to understand about me. I don’t enjoy roller coasters. While I’m not a big fan of heights, that’s not my big problem with them, as I figure it is for most people who don’t like them. I just don’t get the same thing out of them as other people who like them do. To me, it’s just me getting thrown around and shaken and kinda getting annoyed by it. Like somebody threw me in a paint can mixer and I have to sit there and be annoyed and deal with it. It shouldn’t be a big surprise that I wouldn’t particularly love the actual coaster part of it, which I did anticipate. Having said that, I liked it less than I anticipated. Honestly, while I ride very few roller coasters, I might actually say this was the least favorite one I’ve been on (up there with The Mummy at Universal). This one is a very fast moving one, which is why I figure most people seem to love it (all I heard from everybody getting off it as I was exiting was how much they loved it). Well, I don’t give a crap about that part of it. The problem with that is that it’s so fast moving, with you pinned forward and locked in more than usual, and most parts of the ride are so dark and small and self-contained, that all the work they put into the style of everything is pointless once you’re on the ride itself. It’s all a blur. Then, it’s over in a minute anyway. By the time you have a chance to try and adapt and figure out what you’re looking at, it’s done. The outside bit, too, is so brief at that speed, that the transition seems to only exist to just keep everything as a jumbled up mess. They could probably solve a good portion of this ride, at least for somebody like me, who isn’t interested in just being thrown around at high speed, by making it at least twice as long, making it more consistently visible, and making it less totally black and stark while in the inside environment. And, while I like the look of the cycles as an observer, they made it worse as a rider, for me anyway.

I did visit the ride again at night later that first day, but I blew off my paid-for individual lightning lane ticket, even though I was actually near the ride at the time I could have used it. The ride had already been such a huge time suck of my day, it genuinely wasn’t worth it to me to give the ride itself any more of my time. While I could have been riding it, I actually spent a decent amount of time just strolling around the outside of the attraction on the ground, appreciating the look and design of it. I enjoyed that aspect FAR more than riding it, ironically enough. Had I gone in, even with the lightning lane, there still would have been the inner queue waste of time. Had I known what I discovered throughout the day before starting the day, I would have ignored the entire virtual queue garbage, bought the individual lightning lane ticket and started my day at the Hollywood Studios park. Then I would have park hopped to Magic Kingdom mid-afternoon, checked out how Tron looked during the day and just done my one ride at night with the lightning lane ticket, where the wait would have been much, MUCH shorter and would have allowed me to be much more efficient with park hopping and not wasting hours of my day.

Before I get to my bullet points about everything else, I do wanna comment about how surreal it was being a lifelong Tron fan and being around not just that attraction, but the gift shop out in front of it. With the 1982 original (my all-time favorite film) being viewed as a technological breakthrough, but it not being much of a financial success, never mind it being such a difficult and unique production, to the point of nobody wanting to attempt anything like it again, I spent decades in the minority as a huge fan. For years, there were rumors of a remake or sequel. I had mixed feelings of it ever happening, as I figured it would be a disappointment. When the sequel finally, actually happened in 2010, I was shocked to love it. They retained enough of the plot and look of the original while making it uniquely its own. Yet again, the movie was known for it’s music and style, but it wasn’t a big success. This new ride is obviously designed and based fully around the sequel, which is fine. But anyway, as I stood in the gift shop full of Tron stuff and under a massive ride attraction, I just couldn’t believe any of it existed. Like, how has this thing I’ve been a huge fan of, but rarely ever met anybody who talked about it or mentioned being a fan, resulted in all of this. With a third film in the works right now, Tron is a franchise that has the slowest build and somehow defying the odds and refusing to give up. I just couldn’t believe I was standing in a full gift shop in the middle of Disney World full of Tron merchandise. It was just weird and surreal and hard to believe.

On the note of Tron merchandise, I did do this Tron Identity action figure thing and got my own customized action figure. It’s gimmicky, the results aren’t particularly great, and it’s overly expensive. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody other than die-hard Tron nerds like myself. I might add some pics and vid of it soon. I also got the remote control Lightcycle that you can swap your custom figure for the one it comes with. And I got a handful of other small Tron things (picture frame, magnets, Flynn’s Arcade tokens, etc).

The Non-Tron Stuff Of Day 1

OK, that’s enough about the Tron stuff. Now, for the rest of day one…

Magic Kingdom

  • Peoplemover
    One of the classic elements of Disney World, and one that should always be there. It’s such a nice and simple way of taking in the Tomorrowland area of the park and relaxing as you observe things.
  • Astro Orbiter
    A simple “spin ride” with a good view. Not bad.
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
    One of 3 roller coaster style attractions I rode on the trip. I mainly went on it because the wait time was only 20 minute at the time I was walking by it, which I knew was quite low for it, and it had been mentioned on a fair number of the list of best stuff to do at the park that I’d thumbed through. Again, not a huge fan of coasters, but this one was OK. Better than the Tron one, but a bit lower than the other one I did, which I’ll get to the next day.
  • The Carousel Of Progress
    While still waiting for my virtual queue group to be called for Tron, I dropped into this classic attraction for the heck of it, as it was just about to start as I was walking by and there was zero line. In fact, the seating was maybe 20% full, at most. They did an update to it for the last segment, which kinda takes away from the quaintness of the attractions super retro feel. Still, an amusing bit of stepping into a time machine that was designed to step you into a time machine.
  • Liberty Square Riverboat
    Honestly, for its simplicity, this was kinda a highlight of my first part at Magic Kingdom this day. The boat was just coming into doc as I walked by, and there were only a dozen or so people waiting to get on, so I hopped on as well. It’s a lazy ride on a big paddlewheel boat around the “Rivers Of America” that goes around for a nice, leisurely ride for a while.
  • The Hall Of Presidents
    Another classic that I killed a bit of time on due to being able to get into it with no wait. Has that retro charm, and the updates to it are at least better justified. After this, my group for Tron was FINALLY up, so I went over to that and spent over 2 hours needlessly waiting in a frickin’ queue.

Hollywood Studios

  • Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run
    So that I don’t keep you in suspense, I never made it into Rise Of The Resistance, but I did explore the Galaxy’s Edge on both days. It’s… OK. A few good photo ops. While I admire their attempt to make a small Mos Eisley style shop area, the problem is that it’s about as interesting as a bunch of sand and stone shops would be. One of the 2 Star Wars attractions i did get into was so-so. It’s one of those that tries to pretend that you have a certain amount of control, but is so chaotic that it doesn’t matter, as it’s gonna just guide you through anyway. It’s a common, silly thing that I think is kinda pointless at theme parks. Not bad, but not particularly great.
  • MuppetVision 3D
    How can you possibly go wrong with Muppet jokes and puns tied to some silly and fun 3D. While not as immersive or impressive as the other 3D theater experience I did the next day, It’s Tough To Be A Bug!, it was fun. As a lifelong Muppets fan, this one doesn’t have to do a heck of a lot for me to have enjoyed it. Add to that the kid right behind me that was the perfect age to be a little kid but just old enough to keep up with the silly jokes and puns, who was cracking up through much of it.

Magic Kingdom (Part Deux)

  • Happily Ever After
    One of the reasons for how I’d planned out my 2 days at the Disney parks is that I’m a fan of fireworks shows. I try to cram in as many town ones around July 4th as I can each year, and hit a few others throughout each year. The fact that Disney does more than one big fireworks show pretty much every night is wild. This show at the Magic Kingdom is the one that’s most talked about. While it is an impressive show, it’s ridiculous how insanely crowded the area out in front of the castle gets for it. It’s literally thousands of people crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in every square inch in front of the castle that has a prayer of viewing the show. If you’re claustrophobic, this is NOT the place to be. It’s the single most crowded in I’ve been in a very long time. As a result, with a number of tall dudes in the immediate area in front of me, I didn’t have the greatest view. Overall, a good show, but a bit too reliant on the projections on the castle and music numbers, most of which weren’t gonna be favorites of mine, anyway. It’s a good show, but… I’ll touch on it a bit more at the end of my next day.
  • Peoplemover
    But at night… πŸ™‚
  • Enchanted Tiki Room
    On my way out, I couldn’t help dropping by one of the last times for this true classic. It was maybe 20% full at most, and is still a fun and simple show. It’s one they should never get rid of. It did, amusingly, break down near the beginning of the show, with the sound cutting out (but the animatronics still going along). After a minute or so of no sound, they reset the show and started it over. So, I got the “look at all the people” part a couple times.

Friday, February 9th: Disney Day 2

OK, after the chaotic mess that was the previous day, I made a few key decisions as to how this second day would be, as it was my only other day at the Disney parks. One of the first decisions I made was that virtual queues were utterly useless and I avoided them completely. The second choice I made was to buy individual lightning lanes for the couple high profile attractions I wanted to try and do. The fact that I wasn’t staying at a park affiliated hotel meant that I couldn’t do individual lightning lanes at 7AM, like those who were staying at a park hotel. So, I had to wait until each park’s opening time to try and snag individual lightning lane tickets. I arranged my schedule for the day based on the fact that Animal Kingdom opened an hour earlier than the other parks, at 8AM. The way I would play out the day would be to start there, hop back to Hollywood Studios and hit a couple things I hadn’t gotten to the day before (primarily the Indiana Jones Stunt Show), then hop from there to EPCOT.

My BIG rule for myself was that I would let my position and available lightning lane reservations dictate my day, with the only exception to that rule being what I would manage to snag individual lightning lane tickets for (which has a limit of 2, and only a handful of high profile attractions have). What commenced was an INSANE day of cramming in non-stop activity. The longest I spent in a line this day was either the Festival Of The Lion King or the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, only because I made it to those in good time and they have specific showtimes. I wasn’t in line for either for more than 25 minutes. For the rest, it was impressively hit and run. My plan to just take lightning lanes as I could get them worked so great. As it turned out, I got an individual lightning lane ticket for the Guardians Of The Galaxy ride, allowing for ample time to get to the Luminous fireworks show. I tried to get individual lightning lane tickets for Rise Of The Resistance and Avatar: Flight Of Passage, but by the time us non-park hotel people could get them, I could only get evening time slots, when I knew I would be at EPCOT, so I had to pass on doing those. Anyway, on to the fun that was my triple-park day of craziness.

Animal Kingdom

  • Na’vi River Journey
    The big, high profile ride at Animal Kingdom is the Avatar: Flight Of Passage ride. I wasn’t going to make the whole virtual queue mistake for this one and I wasn’t able to get an Individual Lightning Lane ticket for the morning, so I had to pass. The main wait queue was another stupid 2 hour one. So, as a fallback, I just wandered around the nice Pandora area of the park a bit and used my first lightning lane reservation to ride this simple and so-so Na’vi River Journey ride. It’s nice, but nothing particularly notable. It wasn’t as good as the other things I did at Animal Kingdom. The parks all have a very different feel from each other, which is something I rather enjoy about the Disney parks in general. Animal Kingdom feels very different from the others, surrounded by trees and such.
  • Festival of the Lion King
    I honestly had no idea what to expect from this one. I ended up getting to it faster than expected. As I would do all of this second day, I snagged the lightning lane reservation for it as I was walking into the previous attraction after checking in that LL reservation. It was a bit of a wait as the previous show cleared out, but I was then one of the first people in with other LL folks and seated in the front of a section. The entire theater filled in completely, and it holds a surprising number of people in bleachers on all four sides of the big show area in the center. Honestly, this was one of the pleasant surprises. I quite enjoyed this show, which was well produced. It’s one of those shows with a couple dozen performers who really are giving it their all, despite the fact that you know that they do it time after time after time all day, every day. For something I kinda picked based on being able to snag the lightning lane reservation and get to easily as the next thing, I quite liked it.
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug!
    If the Lion King show was a pleasant surprise for something that was an easy LL reservation timed just after getting out of the previous show and on my way, this one was an even better surprise. This was a lot of fun. More than any other thing I did at Disney, this one was the most enhanced because it was a fully filled theater that was a majority kids. It was extra fun because of how many of the kids (and a surprising number of adults) were freaked out and reacting to everything in the show. A Bugs Life may not be one of Disney’s biggest PIXAR properties, but they engineered this one so that it’s good enough to outlast the popularity of the source film (that I quite like, fwiw) and just be a fun attraction all on its own.
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris
    I honestly thought I wasn’t going to be able to do this one, which was one thing at Animal Kingdom I quite wanted to do. However, just after I checked in for my lightning lane pass to the Bug show, I pulled up the list of lightning lanes and managed to snag one that would let me go straight from the Bug show to it. I stopped for a really quick bite at a food stand across from this attraction and finished my food the exact minute my LL time window started for it. I went in and pretty quickly got onto one of the trucks. If Jungle Cruise is the silly, artificial experience of the wild, then this safaris is the much more impressive counterpoint (btw, it’s weird that Jungle Cruise has such a huge wait compared to other old, vintage stuff around the parks that have very few people). The absolutely perfect 74 degree weather probably helped make this a kinda perfect experience of the ride, and the driver/narrator was really good at her job. This is probably just about as perfect as a simple safari ride around a good amount of land with real and exotic animals could be. It was quite good and efficiently run.

Hollywood Studios

  • Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
    After my safari ride at Animal Kingdom, I hopped a bus from there back to Hollywood Studios. And, I kid you not, I walked up a matter of seconds before they started letting lightning lane people in (I had snagged that LL reservation just after checking in for the safari ride). I got what is essentially the front and center seat of the theater, right behind the control stations, which made it extra fun to watch. This was my favorite part of the park back when it was still Disney-MGM Studios when I was last at Disney World back in February of 2001, nearly exactly 23 years earlier. It’s a good show, with impressive set changes and some silly humor and a handful of actually fun stunts. It’s one of the only things from the old Disney-MGM approach of a more “behind the scenes” style of a park that still remains. And it’s one that they should keep going as long as they can.
  • Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
    Another park classic that has been slightly updated in recent years, but is still essentially the classic that it was. It’s a fun enough group-basic virtual ride, with a bit of decent 3D thrown in for good measure. Generally still pretty good. And again, zipped right into with a LL reservation, even though the ride cars were only about 2/3 full.
  • 50’s Prime Time Cafe
    The one and only time at the parks that I sat down for a proper meal. its’ actually a pretty cool, retro 50s decor diner, with clips of old 50s shows playing on TVs all around the restaurant (LCD displays inside faux vintage TV housings that look like Motorola TVs from the 50s with “Disney” in place of the Motorola logo, and in black & white (of course). The decor is fun, the food is actually quite good, and the staff is efficient and plays into the whole retro theme of it. And I was able to make a reservation while walking to it and check in when I got there and only have to wait 5-10 minutes for my table. Thumbs up. I then hopped a skyline tram ride from Hollywood Studios to EPCOT…


  • Soarin’ Over California
    When it comes to wonderful surprises on this trip, I think this one tops my list. See, I’m a HUGE film score nerd, and my all-time favorite composer is the late, great Jerry Goldsmith. For years, I’d always wanted to make a project of working my way through watching all of the movies and TV episodes he had scored over the decades of his career (well, the stuff that has survived, anyway – a fair number of old TV from the 50s and most of his work for radio before that didn’t survive). Then, along came a podcast called The Goldsmith Odyssey, which is slowly working its way through everything he did music for that has survived, and I’ve been watching along with each episode. For a long time, I thought that the one surviving project that he did the music for that I would never see was “Soarin’ Over California”, which he did the great music for when it debuted at Disney’s California Adventure park in California when it opened in 2001 (just a few years before Goldsmith died in 2004). The “Soarin'” rides have also been added to Disney World, Disney Japan and such, but with different “Soarin'” films to go with them (such as Soarin’ Around The World at Disney World). I never thought I’d see this film, because it was just at Disneyland in California, and I haven’t been there since I was a kid in 1986. And, as big a Goldsmith fanatic as I am, I was unlikely to make a trip to Disneyland just to see that and finish my project of seeing his entire filmography. When I made this trip, I assumed that it was the standard Soarin’ Around The World that was at EPCOT’s Soarin’ attraction. Not until I got to the ride and saw the posters and overheard a Disney theme park fanatic behind me explaining to the people he was with that they’ve been showing Soarin’ Over California since the big Disney World 50th anniversary thing last year and still had that film playing in it. And, sure enough, it actually WAS Soarin’ Over California! So, on a total lark, I actually managed to see it! And it was wonderful. To get to experience peak Goldsmith (here’s a link to just the music) in a huge, surrounded environment, was a real treat for me. For those unfamiliar with how the Soarin’ rides work, here’s a good video. And here’s a first person perspective of the actual film. As far as the whole “virtual ride” type experiences go, I think this is my favorite. It’s not super intense or annoying, and it works pretty well. This was a trip highlight for me. I nearly went back for a second run of this one later, but it was just too far away from where I was, and I did an INSANE amount of walking this day.
  • Living with the Land
    For what this ride is, it’s kinda interesting. Plus, it was at a good point in the day where my feet and ankles were begging for mercy. So, a slow and relaxing little boat ride around a bunch of plant research facilities was mildly interesting and a comfortable break at just the right point. Nothing particularly incredible, but pleasant and mildly interesting.
  • Spaceship Earth
    Ah, another classic. And one that I was thankful to use yet another lightning lane reservation on. I got in and out of this one pretty quickly. Not much to say about this vintage EPCOT ride, other than it’s much more impressive on the outside than the inside. πŸ™‚
  • Mission: SPACE (Mars)
    When it comes to virtual ride simulators, with smaller vehicles that a half dozen people are in that gimbals you around, this might be the most physically impressive one I’ve ever been on. I’m not entirely sure how they push you into so many Gs of force, but it definitely pushes your chest back impressively HARD (maybe it spins around the building somehow for centrifugal force? No idea…). I did the Mars version rather than the moon one. The Mars side is supposedly more intense, and I believe it. Their attempt to build ‘plot” around it is silly, and their attempts for you to have any actual control of what’s going on is even more silly, but’s surprisingly intense.
  • The American Adventure
    Another vintage classic, but was a nice bit of nostalgia, viewing history through Disney’s rose-colored glasses. What’s more impressive is that at the end of such a busy day of tons of walking, I insanely managed to go all the way around EPCOT’s World Showcase (IOW, all the way around the lake), finishing before the sun even managed to set. I only made a few stops along the way as I did, and this was one of them.
  • Canada Far & Wide in Circle-Vision 360
    A classic that’s been updated, with some fun new narration from the fun, Canadian duo of Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy. It’s an early method of doing VR type “surround video”, just using a large space and screens that surround you. It’s a pleasant and enjoyable 12-minute show (and my feet got another break as I sat and waited 10 minutes for the next showtime). And yes, they kept the well-known song at the end.
  • Guardians Of The Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
    My one individual lightning lane purchase that let me ride one of the big, notable attractions. As somebody who doesn’t like roller coasters, particularly ones like Tron that are too fast in dark environments for any of it to not be just straight-up annoying to me, I have to admit that this one somehow kinda works. It’s a wild coaster for being contained indoors. And for being so wild, spinning and pivoting in so many directions, you can actually still manage to take in enough of the visuals for it to work. Would I ride it again? No. It was still annoying to be thrown all over the place. But on the flip side, I don’t regret having done this one once. It might just be the only one of its kind that I’ve been on that I didn’t dislike. Also, this one didn’t feel so ridiculously short as all the others of its kind tend to feel (Tron Lightcycle Run and stuff like The Mummy at Universal, are ridiculously short and it’s over sooner than you get used to even being on it). I’m not sure how long this one actually is as a ride, but if it’s anywhere near as shorts as others like it, then it somehow managed to feel longer. And, as usual, they try to set it up with a stupid attempt at plot in the entry areas, which is just silly.
  • Luminous: The Symphony of Us
    I’m sure people argue about which is the better closing fireworks show at the parks, be it Magic Kingdom’s Happily Ever After or this show at EPCOT. Having done both in consecutive days, for me, the choice isn’t even close. This show at EPCOT is multiple times better, easily, in multiple ways. The fireworks show itself is much more impressive. The sync to music is more impressive. It has a ton of space to work with and is over water, so they can do a lot more ground effects and be more ambitious with the fireworks. The light show is cooler. And the viewing experience is SO much better, because it can genuinely be spread all the way around the World Showcase’s lake, with fantastic viewing spots from tons of spots, so that everybody isn’t crammed into a tight space. Honestly, this is one of the best fireworks shows I’ve seen, of any kind, anywhere. For my 2 cents, Luminous is WAY better than Happily Ever After.

It’s worth noting my one big mistake of this second day at the Disney parks, which thankfully didn’t turn into too big a problem. I started at Animal Kingdom in the morning because it opened earlier at 8AM (as opposed to the 9AM that I believed all 3 of the other parks opened). Well, the Luminous fireworks show starts at the closing of EPCOT at 9PM. That’s unlike the 8PM start of Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom, which starts an hour before park closes at 9PM. As such, by the time I got to the busses at EPCOT after the fireworks show, around 9:35 or so, Animal Kingdom had actually been closed for more than an hour and a half, as they also close an hour earlier at 8PM (I didn’t realize that). So, there weren’t any direct busses to Animal Kingdom at that point, and Animal Kingdom is a good distance from EPCOT. I talked to the driver of a bus that was going to Animal Kingdom Lodge and told him my car was still in the lot there. Thankfully, he said he’d run me over there after dropping people off at the couple Animal Kingdom hotels that his bus went to. It took a good bit for the drive, and for the couple stops, so by the time he took me over to the Animal Kingdom park, all the lights were off and only a couple busses were sitting idle. I got off and found my way to the parking lot, where there were maybe 4 cars in the entire huge lot left parked there. Walked on my poor little exhausted feet all the way across the lots to the car and headed out. Thankfully, the weather was still pretty much perfect at that point. Once I got back to the hotel, kicked my shoes and socks off and sat on the bed, my poor little feet finally got to relax.

Saturday, February 10th: Kennedy Space Center

Having been down in Orlando back in June of 2020, during peak covid shutdown times, I had gone to Universal Studios literally 2 days after it re-opened (a couple weeks before Disney World would re-open), and I drove out to the Kennedy Space Center, which I had also not been to since February of 2001. I had gotten to see the shuttle Atlantis launch, carrying the main Destiny module for the very early days of building the ISS. Given that we didn’t realize there was a shuttle launch until we were down in Orlando, and that they shut down the visitor center on launch days (or at least they did at the time), my dad and I just hung around Cocoa Beach for the day and watched Atlantis launch from across the bay in the late afternoon (or something like that. When I was at KSC in 2020, much of the facility was still shut down. Their busses weren’t running, which meant you couldn’t go to the Apollo/Saturn V center, plus a number of things in the main visitor complex were shut down for renovictions. I had a great tour guide at the time who took a group of us around to the parts that were open. They only allowed a small number of folks in per day who got tickets online in advance, of which I was one. So, it was a VERY different experience from this one.

My goal on this visit was to hit the stuff I didn’t do in 2020. I figured that after having to start my days before 7AM on the previous two Disney park days, I would let myself sleep in a bit, relatively speaking, and would leave in time to do the hour drive from Orlando to the KSC and get there by 10:00 or so, which would give me a comfortable hour of time to park and find the 11:00 Explore bus tour I had tickets for. Boy, was that a stupid assumption. One of the two things on this day that went very wrong was my arrival, where I got in a line of cars at the gates to get into the parking area, which took MORE THAN 45 MINUTES. Once I FINALLY got into the parking lot, I ran from my car across the parking lot and got in through the gates. I then…

  • Explore Bus Tour
    …ran to the bus tour gate area and ended up in confusion with terrible marking for the fancier “Explore” tour, as opposed to the standard bus tour. I ended up in a line of people, which were the only people around there, which ended up being the standard tour. Finally found somebody who knew what was going on who pointed me across the area to a lady that was standing there at a stand for the Explore tours, and mine had already left, of course. Thankfully, she got me on the 12:00 one, so I sat around for a half hour and relaxed while I waited. The tour was good. It’s about 2 hours long and takes you around near the launch pads and to a few photo op spots near the gigantic VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) and the couple main pads (39A, currently used by SpaceX, and 39B, used by NASA). After the couple hours, it drops you at the…
  • Apollo/Saturn V Center
    …same spot that the other standard busses end, which is the Apollo/Saturn V Center, which has a huge Saturn V rocket suspended in the huge complex, and has a few other museum things to do. It’s a great museum for the Apollo program. I did the Lunar Theater show and Apollo 8 thing and got a bite to eat at the small eatery and such. I also picked out a fun Apollo 11 “Eagle” t-shirt and spent a little while debating if I wanted to get a nifty thermos with glittery Apollo stuff on it. I ultimately talked myself into getting it, too. More on that later. From there, I hopped a bus back to the main visitor complex, with less than 2 hours before closing at 5:00.
  • Rocket Garden
    I did a bit of time getting some pics and video around the cool rocket garden area, which is the only thing I spent any time on in both 2020 and this visit. Then I went over to…
  • Gateway
    A nice display of modern a future vehicles (from the likes of SpaceX, Boeing, etc). The launch experience stuff was also pretty good. I had very little time left at this point, and I was nice and tired, so I went to…
  • IMAX: Deep Sky
    …the IMAX theater for a viewing of the new Deep Sky IMAX film (Trailer), which is about the construction of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and goes through a number of its initial, awesome photos. It was a pretty crowded screening, and I was off to the side, a couple seats from the end, about halfway up the rows. I saw all that because after the movie got out, I walked with everybody towards the front gate, as it was about 10 minutes after closing and everybody was leaving. As I got to the gate, I suddenly realized that I had left the bag with my stuff from the gift shop between the seats in the IMAX theater. I sprinted back and got in a door and talked a custodian into letting me back into the theater. I went up to where I had been sitting and the bag wasn’t there. I slowly walked up to the gate to the front information building to the lost & found dude, and of course it hadn’t been dropped there. I waited a dozen minutes until that closed, a half hour after the main closing time. So, my gift shop stuff from KSC was lost, which was my other screw-up of the day. Since the KSC closes early-ish at 5PM, I had thought about going to the Ripley’s Museum thing in Orlando that evening,, which I had also almost gone to back in 2020, but I was just too exhausted. I just went back to the hotel and relaxed.

Flying Back

On the next day, Sunday, I had a return flight on American Airlines that left Orlando airport at 2:07 PM. With that departure time, I thought I had enough time to sleep in a bit (compared to the last few days) and woke up at 9:15 and casually showered and got dressed and packed up. Well, freaking EVERYTHING took forever this morning.

I stopped for a couple sausage biscuits and coffee at McDonald’s and got trapped in the world’s slowest drive-thru. Finally got out of there and drove to the car rental place and got caught in a moderate wait for that to return the car. Then just as that finished, the shuttle to the airport had just left, so I waited for about 15 minutes for another shuttle to show up. Really nice and helpful driver, but the 7 of us in the shuttle were all going to different airlines at different terminals, so he stopped at 7 different spots and got luggage out and continued on, and I was the last one in drop-off order, of course.

Then I get to the airport and discovered that the estimated TSA wait is 60-70 minutes on the big sign over the massive line. Gonna have to get around to doing Pre one of these days. The line took the estimated 70 minutes (give or take a minute). Only about a third of their check lanes were staffed and being used with absolutely huge lines. My last time here at Orlando Airport in June of 2020 was peak COVID era, so it was a ghost town. VERY different from this day. Don’t know if O’Hare is really that much better than other airports, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been stuck in a TSA line & check process there for more than 15 minutes.

Then, once getting through the line, the stuff at the actual scanners was a confused mess. By that point, my flight had already started boarding 10 minutes earlier. Kids were running wild, TSA staff (and others) were paying no attention to what was going on. Then TSA staff having to have people keep going through the scanner multiple times. Not surprising, as there were almost no signs or people telling anybody what they should be doing. A complete and total clown show.

Then, to make things even dumber, while one clueless TSA dude was having a lady keep getting scanned over and over, another one just waved me around everything, through one of their TSA gates. After all that waiting, I wasn’t even scanned at all (presumably, at least my bags were). Just grabbed my stuff after going around the scanner stuff. Again, O’Hare somehow seems like a utopian dream in comparison. They were structured, orderly and kept things moving.

After FINALLY getting through all that, I ran towards the “Gates 30-59” sign, to discover that it led to a train. I did a face palm and waited a couple minutes for that to show up. Once it got to the proper terminal building and the train doors opened, I ran for the “Gates 30-39” hall. And of COURSE my gate was at the very end.

I slowed down once I got close enough to see the doors closed and just the gate attendant there, with the plane there at the window. Walked up to the gate panting, with burning ankles from my already worn out feet and legs from the previous few days. The gate attendant confirmed they had just closed it up a minute earlier. I sat down next to the gate counter to catch my breath and let my feet rest. On the plus side, the gate attendant was SUPER nice and friendly. She confirmed my info, then as I was still catching my breath, she handed me a new boarding pass for a flight 3 hours later, leaving at 4:57, with a seat assigned and everything. Thank goodness it’s not just on standby.

This whole trip was super spontaneous and planned in a hurry. The two flights ended up randomly with different airlines. That fact, and the order in which they ended up, actually wound up being really lucky in 2 different ways. The first is that budget airlines like Frontier charge you through the nose for absolutely everything other than the ticket. Checked bags are typically more than at other airlines. But where they really get people is the $50-$60 they charge for a carry on. I’ve flown budget carriers like Spirit and Frontier plenty, and it works well for me as I can travel with just my backpack under the seat in front of me, which is the only free thing you can bring with you on budget carriers. Well, as it turns out, Frontier randomly ended up being my outbound flight and American for my return. Since I got some large-ish souvenirs, it was lucky that my return was with American, because the one thing they do in their budget tickets that the budget carriers don’t is allow for a free carry-on. So, I got a cheap $40 rolling bag at Walmart last night and packed the souvenirs and dirty clothes in that. Slightly cheaper than a carry-on with Frontier would have been if I had brought one with, plus I get an extra new carry-on bag out of it.

But the REAL advantage to American being my return airline is how painless this was having missed my flight. That can be a nightmare with the budget carriers that I thankfully have been fortunate enough to not have to deal with. It’s much harder for a budget carriers, not just in having another flight to put you on in 3 hours, but in having any chance of an open seat in it to put you in. I thanked the kind & quickly-helpful gate attendant and rested there for 10 minutes, then got up and slowly walked back down to the center area of the terminal (the alternate flight was at the opposite end, naturally). I got a quick table and quick service (because, of course, I was now in no hurry) at the Ruby Tuesdays. I got on the packed second plane after waiting in the VERY packed gate area outside it, and after a 20 minute delay, they made it up in the air, and I got an Uber home and the crazy trip was over.


So, after all this spontaneous insanity, to I have any main takeaways? Yes. I’ll keep them brief. First, Disney was super crowded and a heck of a slog to get around, cramming in as much as I did in two days. I have no ideas how families don’t go broke visiting Disney. I did a number of things on the cheap, but I can guaranteed that I spent more on the Disney parks than all the rest put together (including flights, hotel and rental car, and even KSC). Do I regret doing the trip? No, not really. I would have done some stuff differently in retrospect, for sure. At the top of that list would be handling the Disney pass stuff better. For all the tech that Disney uses for all that (phone apps, NFC, wristbands, etc, etc, etc), their systems suck on various levels. I could go into deep dives on all that, and if you want my advice for an upcoming trip, feel free to ask. But in short, virtual queues couldn’t possibly be dumber. One of my best decisions was bailing on those after the AWFUL first experience with one for Tron that first day.

I already talked about the other lightning lane stuff. But overall, Disney, your Genie+ stuff is overly complicated, and for the tech you have involved, you could do this SO MUCH better. Whoever is in charge of that stuff should be fired. On the flipside, one of the things that impressed me most about the Disney parks is their transportation network. From the massive number of busses going in every which direction to the skyline trams to the monorail to the ferries and boats, it’s all just wildly impressive in scale and efficiency. It puts other cities and states to shame. I didn’t put much effort into doing so, but I did manage to try out the various methods of transport, having done the ferry into Magic Kindom the first morning, the monorail out of it that evening, and busses to various parks as I hopped around. Whoever is in charge of the transportation network should be given the chance to overhaul all the Genie+ and lightning lane crap. Or just scrap all that stuff and do something intelligent instead.

I do enjoy how each Disney park looks and feels different. If I were to rank them…

  • EPCOT (nothing comes close – EPCOT just looks so much better than the other 3)
  • Magic Kingdom
  • Animal Kindom (for it’s uniqueness)
  • Hollywood Studio (which kinda looks a lot like Universal in many ways, but still is a nice looking park)

My day at KSC was flawed, and I was already pretty exhausted from the crammed 2 days at Disney before, but it was great to get over there and check out the main stuff I missed in 2020. My second day at Disney, on Friday, was the day where everything fell into place and I got my money’s worth out of my time, for sure.

Having taken off in a plane a mere 5.5 hours after having the initial idea of even doing the trip, would I recommend such a last minute trip to Disney World? Not if it’s more than one or two of you, and not if you were trying to cram in a bunch of stuff, having not been to a Disney Park in more than 20 years. If you’re a Disney park regular and not trying to cram in a bunch of stuff, and don’t mind dropping money for less value, then yeah, sure.

Also, side note. There was some big, national cheerleader competition going on there the weekend following the days I was there. There were thousands and thousands and thousands of cheerleaders there. Everywhere I turned at every park there would be another team of cheerleaders in matching team/school name t-shirts. I saw more cheerleaders in 2 days than I’ve ever seen in my entire life combined. I’m not kidding. That’s literally true. If not by a good number of times more. I cannot properly convey how many high school cheerleaders were EVERYWHERE at the parks. I didn’t know there were this many high school cheerleaders in the world. The article I linked to earlier in the paragraph says it was more than 1,000 teams, and I totally believe that number. And I think every single one went to Disney World in the days leading up to it.

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