Thursday, April 10, 2014

EPIC FLORIDA/DISNEY VACATION 2014

Last Updated: 4/15/14


CLICK HERE for photos from days 1-3 (Arrival in Orlando, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom).

CLICK HERE for photos from days 4-5 (Hollywood Studios, Universal Studios/Island of Adventure, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter).

CLICK HERE for photos from days 6-8 (Magic Kingdom, Old Town of Kissimmee, and flight home).

And CLICK HERE for a 15-video Youtube playlist of videos taken from the trip.


DAY 1 (Saturday, March 15th): Arrival in Orlando


 

My parents and sister and I drove down to Ardmore on Friday night, and flew out of Dallas around noon on Saturday (albeit with a 1.5 hour delay due to a stupid screen in the cabin not wanting to retract, lolz). But we eventually arrived in Orlando, and took our arranged ride to our hotel just outside of Orlando. Our room was really nice, and pretty big!




After checking in, we had to decide where to eat dinner. We passed a local Cuban restaurant just outside the hotel, and I KNEW we had to go there - because come on, REAL CUBAN FOOD IN FLORIDA!! It was delicious (especially the elaborate ham sandwich, and the plantain chips with garlic sauce):

 



DAY 2 (Sunday, March 16th): Disney's Epcot

The hotel we stayed at offered a free breakfast buffet every morning, including Mickey Mouse -shaped waffles:



After breakfast, we took the hotel's shuttle to Epcot. Now, my family and I have been to Disney once before, back in 2002 - but holy freaking crap, I had fogotten how massive the geodesic dome is...



Our first stop in Epcot was the "Soarin' " attraction, which immediately became my mom's favorite ride.



Soarin' was the first of many motion-simulator rides - we were all buckled into seats on a hydraulic platform, with a huge, curved screen in front of all of us. The hydraulics and screen worked together to make it seem like were physically flying over several scenic areas, such as the Golden Gate bridge, the ocean, an orange grove (at which point they made the whole room the ride was in smell like oranges!), and an aircraft carrier. It wasn't a hardcore rollercoaster-type motion simulation, more like a gentle glide. It was a blast!

After Soarin' was "The Seas, with Nemo and Friends" - a huge aquarium-style exhibit, with sharks, manatees, mantas, sea turtles, and tons of exotic fish.





Next was "Innoventions"; my favorite part of this exhibit was the live "distributed computing" demonstration:




Here's how it works: you sign up through the given website, and you can "donate" some of your home computer's processing power to this mainframe-style machine, which then uses all the combined processing power from millions of donating computers to solve complex math problems related to genetics research for cancer and predictive model creation for global warming.

And you can actually watch the progress bar tick up toward completion on those problems in real time!

After Innoventions was the "Living with the Land" ride - not a thrill ride by any means, this was a slow boat ride that showed people demonstrations of modern agricultural techniques, like advanced hydroponics. A portion of the tour included showing off some of the on-site, environmentally-friendly farming areas where Disney grows the food served at their restaurants. Trust me, it's not as dull as it sounds : p

After that was "Spaceship Earth", which is the ride inside the geodesic dome itself. This ride was an interesting tour through human history, and it ended by taking photos of the people in the rides and pasting their pictures onto an animation that showed what it might be like to live with high-tech advances in the future - it was a neat effect! Here's what it looked like for my sister and mom:




Next was my second-favorite ride of the entire vacation, the "Sum of All Thrills" attraction:




Here's how it works: you split into teams of two, and then you use a simple computer program to design a complete virtual rollercoaster with whatever loops, twists, spins, and drops you want.

Then you and your partner are hooked into a machine with a screen that drops down around you, and your created rollercoaster is plugged into the machine - and the machine's hydraulics and actuators will realistically recreate the rollercoaster you just designed.

It was AWESOME!!!

After that came "Mission: SPACE".



This ride simulated (loosely : p ) what a trip to mars might be like in the future. You and your three team members get into a space-capsule-type-thing, and are each assigned a role like "navigator", "engineer", "commander", etc. And the ride's screen makes you feel like you're flying through outer space and toward Mars. It was pretty neat.

Next we began walking through the different pavilions at Epcot, representing different cultures around the world. We started with Mexico, and then moved on to Norway - which showed the influence of Norwegian culture on the movie Frozen:



The main characters from Frozen were there for pictures, which my sister was hoping for, but the lines were hours long, so instead we rode the "Maelstrom" ride (which was a neat little boat tour of Norwegian culture and mythology), and then took a few pictures of the Frozen characters on the way out (which made my sister happy):



Next was the Chinese pavilion:




And then the German pavilion, where we stopped for bratwursts, German potato salad, and chocolates which had brandy the center (although we didn't know that until dad ate his and the alcohol caught him off guard : p )





One of the jewelry stores in the German pavilion had a miniature Disney castle you could buy, loaded with diamonds, rubies, and gold.......FOR A MERE $37.5 GRAND.




We stopped to take a picture of all of us with the Epcot dome in the background:



and then moved on to the American, Japanese, Moroccan, and French pavilions:






(I was hoping to find some Hunchback of Notre Dame souvenirs in the French pavilion, but no luck.)

And then the British and Canadian pavilions:




The British pavilion was home to "The British Revolution", a rock band that played covers of songs by famous British bands - my personal favorite was when they covered "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin:




After finishing the world tour, we went on what turned out to be MY FAVORITE RIDE OF THE ENTIRE VACATION:  "Test Track"



Here's how this one works: you split up into teams of two, and you start by using a simple computer program to design a car. You can change the body style, engine style, wheels, color, etc etc. Then you get into the ride itself, with two other teams of two who designed their own cars. As you go through the not-quite-but-almost-rollercoaster-like ride itself, the "car" you're all sitting in is subjected to four different "tests", for things like efficiency, handling, and power/speed. For each of the four rollercoasterish tests, the digital car you designed with the computer is graded on how it handled the four tests, and each of the three designed cars for the three teams of two is ranked by whose car did the best on that test.

Here is the car my dad and I designed:



And here is the car my mom and sister designed:



And here is the actual "car" everyone rides in:



(Their car won two of the four tests, and ours won two of the four tests : p )

At the end of Test Track, you can walk through a display of Chevy cars. My dad and I had never been that close to a C7 Corvette before!




After Test Track, we had a short wait before Epcot's nightly closing show: "IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth".

This was an extremely impressive, fairly moving show: most of the patrons in Epcot at the time, thousands of people from countless different cultures across the world, gathered in the same spot, surrounding the lake in the middle of Epcot - to watch a display that included a giant, illuminated, floating globe of the earth, and a TON of fireworks.



 


The way that so many people from so many backgrounds was brought together like that, to watch a display about humanity.....is really impressive no matter which way you look at it.

After the show, we bought a few souvenirs and headed back to the hotel.

 

By the way, this is the shirt my dad was wearing all day:




DAY 3 (Monday, March 17th): Disney's Animal Kingdom

The next morning, we ate breakfast and took the shuttles to Animal Kingdom.





The first ride was Expedition Everest, which I skipped, as I'm not a huge fan of rollercoasters, per se. But after they got back, they told me it wasn't too terribly extreme - which means that the next time we come here, I'll probably take a crack at it.

Next was the Kali River Rapids, a fun water rafting ride where we all wound up soaked; after that, we went on the Kilimanjaro Safari and the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, which both offered a ton of opportunities to take photos of the wildlife in the zoo part of the park:







At that point we were hungry, so we found a place to eat - my parents and sister had never tried chicken curry before:



Next was the "It's Tough To Be A Bug" - a funny little 3D show that included lots of goofy effects to make it seem like the characters from Pixar's "A Bug's Life" were in the room with you. And after that was "DINOSAUR", a pretty cool animatronics ride that made it seem like you went back in time to see the dinosaurs, just as the meteor that killed them is starting to hit the earth.





Then came the "Flights of Wonder" show, which was a combination of funny skits, exotic bird displays, bird tricks, and information about conservation efforts:





And finally, was saw "Finding Nemo: The Musical". Nemo is far from my favorite Pixar film - though I appreciate that they portayed a father character as selflessly loving and courageous, rather than the lazy and befuddled stereotype - but even though the musical had its share of cheesiness, it was also very technically impressive. The actors that did the talking and singing on-stage also controlled high-tech puppets of all the characters, which were VERY effective at making it look like they were actually swimming around on-stage, as well.



We were hoping to catch the daily parade that goes through the Animal Kingdom, but it was canceled due to rain. C'est la vie.


DAY 4 (Tuesday, March 18th): Disney's Hollywood Studios

On day 4, we went to Hollywood Studios, which turned out to be my sister's favorite Disney park, largely because of its 1950's aesthetic:





First up was the Toy Story Midway Mania ride, which wound up being my dad's favorite ride of the trip (and for good reason!). Everyone is given a pair of 3D glasses, grouped into pairs, and put on a moving cart that had toy guns attached. As the cart moves through the ride, you pull a string on the gun to launch simulated toy balls at 3D targets that pop-up throughout the entire course of the ride - the whole thing being Toy Story -themed, obviously. It was a CRAPLOAD OF FUN!






Next was the Hollywood Tower of Terror. I skipped this one; the reason I'm not a huge fan of rollercoasters is that I don't like the sensation of falling, at all, and the main part of this ride is designed to simulate a broken and falling elevator. Pass.



But ironically enough, I rode the "Rock & Rollercoaster, starring Aerosmith" instead. Despite not being a fan of rollercoasters, missing out on Expedition Everest made me more reluctant to skip them - on top of the fact that I skipped this one when we went back in 2002, too. So I said screw it, and rode this one. And I'm GLAD I did, because it may be my current favorite rollercoaster of all time (though admittedly, the number of coasters I've ridden really isn't all that huge).

The Rock & Rollercoaster is an indoor coaster, in total darkness, except for a few displays of light here and there - with Aerosmith music blaring in the background the entire time. AND it really didn't have any of the huge, 'falling-sensation' drops that I'm not a fan of. I LOVED this ride.





En route to the next show, we passed a certain spot we had been keeping an eye out for. In one part of Hollywood Studios, an umbrella is permanently attached to a lamp post - and if you stand on the panel below it, rain falls on the umbrella, letting you simulate the most famous scene from the movie "Singin' in the Rain" (which happens to be my sister's all-time favorite movie):



The next show was the "Lights, Motors, Action: Extreme Stunt Show". It was an automobile-centric demonstration of how many different special effects and stunts are coordinated and performed in action movies. The stunt cars they used were stripped-down, custom-rebuilt Opels (I can't recall the exact model, but Opels aren't sold in the U.S.). It was a pretty epic show - and I have no doubts that the stunt drivers had a blast doing it (no pun intended). Lightning McQueen made a guest appearance, too:








After that was the Studio Backlot Tour - this had a few parts to it. It starts by showing the crowd how some special effects are done, by putting two willing-to-get-soaked audience volunteers into a recreation of a Pearl Harbor naval combat scene. Next is a walk-through tour of a prop warehouse, and finally a shuttle ride that started with another special effects demo - an earthquake wreaking havoc on an oil tanker, and a deluge of water to put out the resulting fire - and ended with a tour of different Disney backlots that hold various cars and ships used in different films, and a peek at the manufacturing area where they make the costumes worn by all the various Disney characters throughout the four parks. The tour ended with a stop in a shop that sold autographed photos from famous actors - the ACTUAL autographs, not reproductions. I was really, really REALLY tempted to drop $350 on the Don Knotts/Barney Fife autograph.









 



Next was The Great Movie Ride - a slow-moving tour of animatronically-recreated famous scenes from classic films. A tour guide rides with the groups to explain the scenes.....but ours really wasn't very good (maybe she was new?). They recreated Singin' in the Rain (sister's favorite film) and Casablanca (mom's favorite film) and The Wizard of Oz (and if you seen or read Wicked, you know that Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, was really the good guy):


 

 

After that was Disney's Animation Academy - everyone files into the classroom and sits at desks, with paper and pencil in front of you, and an instructor at the head of the room teaches everyone how to do a step-by-step drawing of a voted-on Disney character. In our case it was Stitch (from Lilo & Stitch). And my Stitch came out stoned. Seriously. Hiiiiiiiigh as a kite. My Stitch was from a deleted scene in Pineapple Express. I still have the drawing, but I didn't scan it or take any pictures of it : p

 


At this point, we temporarily split up - my sister went to "The Magic of Disney Animation" exhibit, and my parents and I went to the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. She got some really neat pictures of street and city designs from Disney movies (including Hunchback!), and we saw some awesome (and funny) live demonstrations of action stunt work, recreating different scenes from the Indiana Jones series:

 






We had to rush out of the stunt show, because we had a reservation at the 50's Prime Time Café. We'd actually had this reservation for months, because the restaurant itself is pretty trippy: all of the decor is themed like a house from the 1950's. Each table has a small TV that plays different classic, black-and-white TV shows, like Dick Van Dyke. And the waitresses all wear 50's style clothes, and adopt mannerisms from that era (like telling you to get your elbows off the table, and declaring you a member of the "Clean Plate Club" if you eat all your food). And the food itself was RIDICULOUSLY good - I had a vegetarian lasagna, my sister had meatloaf, my mom had a caesar salad, and my dad had a fried chicken/pot roast/meatloaf combo; we also had milkshakes (chocolate, mint chocolate chip, and PB&J) and a Boston cream pie parfait for dessert:

  


 
 
 

After stuffing ourselves to the gills, we all waddled over to the Muppet-Vision 3D show. This was really cool (though I really don't tend to think of the Muppets as Disney characters, but whatev) - complete with commentary from an animatronic Statler and Waldorf actually sitting in the balcony above us.





Then was the Star Wars -themed "Star Tours" motion-simulation ride. This was one of the few things I remember from our first trip to Disney in 2002, because it was one of my favorites (especially the life-sized AT-AT outside the building). This ride makes riders feel like they're in a shuttle flying through the Star Wars universe, complete with encounters with Darth Vader and the Death Star. It's still one of my favorite rides at Hollywood Studios.




We stopped for a group photo before heading on to the big "Fantasmic" show that they close the park with each night:



Fantasmic is something else I remember from our 2002 trip, and I'll preface this by saying that none of these pictures do it justice. The show is all over the place, essentially based on the idea of Mickey Mouse having a dream that turns into a nightmare, and then fighting off Disney villains with 'the power of imagination' or some crap like that. As with a lot of Disney things, it includes the cheesiness to impress little kids and sentimental adults while being technically impressive enough to impress people like me.

The special effects included projecting video onto a screen made entirely of water, a giant snake with glowing eyes that slithered around on stage, a tribute to the original "Steamboat Mickey" cartoon (using a real boat) that included dozens of classic Disney characters, and, of course, a ton of fire and fireworks. It's a hell of a show.









After that, we all bought a few more souvenirs and went back to the hotel.




DAY 5 (Wednesday, March 19th): Universal Studios: Island of Adventure

On day 5, we had to wake up at stupid o'clock to take the only shuttle to Universal Studios (specifically, the Island of Adventure part of it).





When we first got to the park, it was great, because there were ZERO lines. The first 3-4 rides had a wait time of nothing. We started with the Incredible Hulk Rollercoaster:




Then my parents and sister went on Dr. Doom's Fear Fall (since I hate 'drop' rides like that, I went to the nearby arcade instead). Then we all met back up, and went on the Amazing Spider-man Ride, a 3D motion-simulator. The Spider-man ride has a reputation for being one of the best motion-simulator rides in existence - for good reason, because it was nuts. It uses a combination of 3D screens, hydraulics on the car itself, and other special effects to make it seem like you're following Spider-man around New York City, coming face-to-face with villains, being flung high into the air only to have him catch you in his web - things like that.



After that was the Ripsaw Falls log flume water ride. I really wasn't wanting to get soaked at this point, so I passed on that one and (almost) caught a picture of their giant splash at the end of the ride.



Then we tried to ride the Jurassic Park River Adventure, another water raft ride, but it was closed. So we went on Popeye's Bilge-rat Barge, which was a different water raft ride. At this point I just said 'screw it' and rode it even knowing I'd get soaked (which we all did). After that ride was finished, the Jurassic Park ride was working again, so we rode it. That one was cool - it was a water rafting ride through a park full of animatronic dinosaurs, and by the end of it the dinosaurs were 'breaking out of their cages', destroying park equipment, etc - the ride ends by making it seem like you're face-to-face with a giant T-rex, just before plunging you down a slide into a pool of water. Since this was the last water ride of the day, we hopped into the nearby "people-dryer" for $5.


 

Next was the Jurassic Park "Discovery Center" - by far, the coolest thing about this exhibit is that there's a glass-walled room full of "scientists" (like in the movie), and every half-hour or so, an animatronic baby velociraptor "hatches" out of an egg, and one of the "scientists" comes over to care for the "newborn", show him off to the people watching through the glass, etc. It was a pretty impressively realistic display:






After that, we came to "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" (BUM BUM BUMMMMM) which is a full-fledged recreation of several parts of the Harry Potter series - Hogwarts castle (scaled down a bit, obviously), Diagon Alley (which was REALLY immersive), Platform 9 3/4 (which will actually include a working train in the next few months). It was pretty mind-blowing. And for the record, both butterbeer and pumpkin juice are REALLY tasty.






 
 

The ride we rode on our first pass-through of TWWoHP was "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" - another 3D motion-simulator ride (I love these, btw), that may actually have been even MORE intense than the Spider-man ride. You walk through part of "Hogwarts" to get there, which was cool in and of itself, with the talking Sorting Hat and paintings on the wall that looked like honest-to-god paintings until they suddenly sprang to life and started talking to each other. But then the ride itself involved enough hydraulics and special effects to make it seem like you're flying all around Hogwarts, through the middle of a game of Quidditch, etc etc - at the end, you're greeted by a group of cheering Hogwarts students, and Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) thanked the riders for their courage in recovering some sort of macguffin. The whole experience was insanely epic!

We stopped to get something to eat (kebabs FTW, but somehow a small meal wound up being $37 >_< ), and then moved on to the "Eigth Voyage of Sinbad" stunt show. This one was kind of goofy and cheesy, but not bad. Somehow I wound up with several pictures of the princess in the bikini. No idea how that happened....







After that came the "Poseidon's Fury" show - a walk-through show that immerses the audience in an 'ancient temple' with a 'hapless tour guide', includes some REALLY high-end water effects, and ends with a climactic battle between Poseidon and 'Lord Darkenon'.




At this point, the only thing left on our list was the "Dragon Challenge" rollercoaster, back in the Harry Potter world. It was pretty good (I probably would have LOVED it if I were more of a thrill-rides-guy). And after that, we had lots of free time to wander around TWWoHP buying souvenirs and taking in all the scenery:

  





   


After exhausting that area (almost everything, except for the Three Broomsticks restaurant), we bought giant churros, stopped for my mom and sister to get pics of the "Seuss Landing" area, and rode the shuttle back to the hotel.

 



DAY 6 (Thursday, March 20th): Disney's Magic Kingdom

On day 6, we took the hotel shuttle to Epcot, and then the Disney monorail to the Magic Kingdom.






The first thing we did after getting to the MK was to recreate a group photo that we had taken way back on our first trip in 2002:



That first trip was pretty good, but it also had several problems - and by this point, our 2014 trip was already blowing every other vacation any of us had ever taken completely out of the water.

Our first ride in MK was the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad rollercoaster. I actually loved the crap out of this one, because it had all of the high speed curves I love, without any of the gut-wrenching drops that I hate.



After that was the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. We rode this one back in 2002, before any of the movies came out, and it was pretty cool back then. But they refurbished the ride to make it more sophisticated and to include more aspects from the movies (like animatronic Jack Sparrows hiding all over the place). It was really cool.



Next we walked all the way across the park to the Space Mountain rollercoaster - but just as we were strapped into the cart for it, they halted the ride and closed it, to check out some sort of problem. Which means that we were either extremely lucky, or extremely unlucky....

Anyway, dad got a Mickey Mouse pretzel and I snapped some pictures of the Stitch character for Steph, and then we went on the "Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin" ride instead. If memory serves, this was my second-favorite ride back in 2002 (next to Star Tours). It's another slow moving ride that lets you shoot lasers at Toy Story -themed targets alongside the track. The only problem with this ride is that Hollywood Studios' 'Midway Mania' ride blows it COMPLETELY out of the water. So much so that I'd be okay with skipping this one on our next trip. But it was still pretty fun.

  




Next was the Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor, where CGI monster characters come on stage and interact with the audience (via unseen human controllers) to tell jokes. As you laugh, a meter on the "laughter canister" fills up (since "laughter" was turned into a source of energy in the story of the first Monsters, Inc. movie).



After that was the Festival of Fantasy Parade, which marches through the entire middle area of MK.














And after that, Space Mountain was up and running again. Honestly, this was one of my least-favorite rollercoasters of this trip. I loved the laser-like effects, and the indoor darkness, and the fact that it didn't include any severe drops - but holy crap, it's NOT a smooth rollercoaster, by any means (probably because it's also one of their oldest).

After that, we got a couple Mickey Mouse -shaped ice cream bars....



....and moved on to the Hall of Presidents show. This theater-based show started off dull (even if it was narrated by Morgan Freeman), but the really cool part came at the end: extremely realistic animatronic versions of every American president, Washington through Obama, appeared onstage. What's more, each of the presidents would actually react to each other when they were being introduced - as in, when they announced FDR for example, all of the other presidents would turn to look at FDR. It was a REALLY cool effect.

We were a little worried that some Republican idiot would boo when they announced Obama, whose animatronic character gave a short speech to close the show - but thankfully, no one did.




After that, we ran through the Christmas-themed Disney store, and then saw the "Mickey's Philharmagic" 3D show. That was pretty neat, a combination of 3D effects an musically-themed animation.



After this was the Haunted Mansion. I remember this being pretty cool, but it had definitely been upgraded since our last visit in 2002 - the "ghost" special effects were pretty impressive. But my favorite part of the ride was at the end: they use a mirror and a projector effect to make it look like a ghost is in the cart with you at one point, and with photographic and computer tricks, they made it look like the ghost took my sister's head off her body, and my head off my body, and put my sister's head on my body and my head on her's. It was hilarious, and really well done!




The last ride was Peter Pan's Flight, a slow-moving animatronics ride where the cart is suspended and your legs dangle, making it seem like you're flying above different scenes from Peter Pan. The ride started off with flying over a tiny scale model of London, which was pretty cool - but the rest of it was actually pretty lame. Definitely on the 'skip it next time' list. After that, my sister and I stood in line for FORTY-FIVE BLOODY MINUTES to try a "Dole Whip", which she had heard was a "can't miss" thing. Don't get me wrong, it WAS really good - but it was also basically just pineapple frozen yogurt, and 45 minutes is longer than we stood in line for pretty much any ride >_<



We still needed *real* food after that, so we ate at Casey's Corner - a diner on Main Street that serves fancy (AND DELICIOUS) hot dogs. We had a polish sausage, and pulled-pork coleslaw dog, and a chili-cheese dog - all of which were amazing.

 


After that, it was time for the Main Street Electrical Parade. I think the pictures speak for themselves:







This almost immediately led into the "Celebrate the Magic" show. THIS.....was an epic part of the night. When it gets late in the Magic Kingdom, they dim most of the lights and turn the ENTIRE CASTLE into a giant projector screen, and put on an extremely elaborate show that makes the castle appear to go through several different colorful, Disney-themed transformation. It was insane!



 
 




Celebrate the Magic, in turn, led right into the "Wishes Nighttime Spectacular" - which is one of the most EPIC fireworks displays you will EVER see, right behind the giant castle:












After this, we stopped to buy the last of our Disney souvenirs. Dad had been looking for a Disney-themed baseball jersey to replace the old one he bought in 2002, but we couldn't find them anywhere. We almost couldn't find any hoodies for him either (as the only ones out in the entire store at that point were XXXL-sized), but luckily, they had some normal-sized hoodies in their back room.

We took the monorail back to Epcot, and then the shuttle back to the hotel.


DAY 7 (Friday, March 21st): Kissimmee and Old Town

HOLY FREAKING CRAP, WE GOT TO SLEEP IN TODAY.

The first thing we did after waking up around noon was go into Old Town - the carnival/shopping area near our hotel - to get root beer floats at the A&W nearby.



After that, we stopped at an arcade across the street, and they had THE GREATEST ARCADE DRIVING GAME EVER:

 

It was a blast - it even let you choose which era of Batmobile you wanted to drive, everything from Adam West's black-and-red affair, to the Tim Burton animated and elongated style, to Christian Bale's "Tumbler" version (which, duh, is the one I picked).

After that, we played at the pirate-themed mini-golf course nearby. It was pretty cool, and they played unnecessarily epic music over the entire course. (Dad won.)

 



We went back to the hotel, and I was able to squeeze in a workout at the small gym there. Shortly after that, it was time for dinner - we ate at an Italian restaurant called Pachino's, which was fantastic:


 
 

Back at the hotel, we ended the day by sitting in the hot tub, drinking awesome tropical cocktails.




DAY 8 (Saturday, March 22ndth): Flying Back Home

After checking out of the hotel, we went back into Old Town. We stopped at another arcade (the Terminator game was pretty cool), and stopped in various shops along the street to buy our last souvenirs of the trip. Ironically enough, even though Disney had almost NO Hunchback of Notre Dame merchandise, a couple of the stores in Old Town did (hooray!). We also tried fried alligator for the first time (it tastes like really chewy chicken), and checked out a classic car show going on (I LOVED the blue fastback Mustang).


 
 






Then we caught our pre-arranged ride back to the airport, and flew back to Dallas, to drive back to Oklahoma.

 

</vacation>


EPILOGUE

 

This was by far the best vacation I've ever taken - probably even better than my trip to Italy last year. I think everyone else agreed, because the first thing we did after getting back to my apartment was toss around the idea of going to Disney Land, in California, sometime in the next couple years.

I bought a souvenir or two:



( ^ this doesn't even include the ones I bought in Old Town - my Quasimodo statue, my HoND poster-magnet, and my picture of Don Knotts in his later years, dressed up as Barney Fife again.)

I get the impression that at least some of the people running Disney World are aware of the cynicism that some their guests may have toward it - people like me, who have, in the back of their minds, the fact that they're overcharging everything for capitalistic purposes, the fact that Walt Disney himself was a bit of an anti-semite, the nauseating nature of the "DREAMS!! IMAGINATION!! MAGIC!!!!" drumbeat over time - and I'm sure that the people running the corporate side of the park don't give half a crap about any of it, as long as I'm giving them money. But the other side of the workers at Disney seem to kind of want to fight against that cynicism, to make the spectacle of everything sincere enough (and technically overwhelming enough) to win people like me over.

Ironically, Cracked.com kind of confirmed this in their "6 Things Nobody Tells You About Working at Disney" article, which mentions near the end that many of the performers and workers there are "true believers" - they're not just asking themselves "How can we get people to give us more money here?" like the corporate douchebags are, they're asking "How can we make this make a six-year-old's brain explode?" followed by "How can we turn full-grown adults into six-year-olds again?" - or as Cracked phrases it, "How would Walt do this?"

So congrats to those true believers - it worked. I can't WAIT to design more Test Track cars....