Bigboote/Smallberries Visit Disney world
by Ray Levasseur June 1998

The last place I planned on going.

Up until May of this year, one of the last places I had ever planned on visiting was Disney world, or Florida in general. I had assumed the only thing Florida was known for was walking catfish, big bugs, swamps, Miami Vice, drugs, rednecks, along with similar attractions; OH and oranges. As fate would have it, John Smallberries was being sent to Disney world on business, and asked if I could get the time off, why not accompany him to Disney world. It could be a work/play trip for him, and strictly a "remove your brain" getaway for me. After some thought (not much really) I agreed to go along after my boss approved my vacation request. I had mixed emotions about going, right up until the night before we left. This feeling passed as soon as we boarded the early Saturday morning flight to Orlando.

Boston had been treated to 11-12 straight days of cold, rain, drizzle and gloom. Saturday morning was looking as if it would be a splendid day, which it was, and Spring might finally come to Boston. When we arrived in Orlando, the temperatures were already in the 90's and humid. The heat and humidity would remain throughout the whole week; thank (well not god) somebody for air conditioned hotels. The Buena Vista Palace is quite a splendid place to stay, and the A/C kept the room at a pleasant Autumn in New England temperature....ahhh! One thing I never realized was how absolutely "huge" Disney world is, a town unto itself, and we only explored a small portion of the magic realm. After unpacking, the first and closest place to explore was "Downtown Disney", which was conveniently located just across the road from Buena Vista Palace.

This marketplace is a sprawling complex of eateries, gift shops and everything "Disney". From the many miles we walked that week, downtown has an East Side, an adult nightlife section called "Pleasure Island" and a West Side. I can tell you a lot about East and West, but never really explored Pleasure Island after dark. After about 6pm, it costs about $20 to enter the Island, but from talking with fellow tourists and park employees, this gets you into most of the nightclubs and entertainment. Although I do not drink at all, it was tempting to make the rounds of the clubs, which offered lots of Jazz, Blues and dance. I get the feeling that Pleasure Island is a very festive and fun place to roam after the sun goes down; perhaps next time.

Day one was spent exploring Downtown, returning to the hotel complex to unwind, check out the very nice pool area (2 pools)...ahh cool off in the pool. We ate at one of the hotel's restaurants, "The Outback", which was very nice, although a bit pricey....hey what the heck, I'm on vacation and have a pile of traveler's checks....right! A nightly visit was made to "The Watercress Cafe" one of the hotel's restaurants, which had a 24 hour/day cafe, serving every manner of wonderful pastry, coffee, teas and ice cream. Chocolate, one of my only remaining vices got indulged at Watercress on a daily basis. As Homer Simpson would say, "Mmmmmm, c-h-o-c-o-l-a-t-e!"

Day 2 and Day 6 Epcot
Spent 2 days here and still didn't see it all.

I had heard many suggestions from other Disney visitors, "don't miss Epcot Center," and I'll pass this on to you, the reader. This place is enormous, takes a couple of full days to explore and is like a never-ending "World's Fair". What a splendid park this was. There are eateries, gift shops (of course) many, many scientific and nature exhibits/pavilions, beautiful gardens and pavilions from various countries that make up our shrinking planet. The national pavilions are a day trip in themselves and offer a taste of each country's architecture, crafts, food and culture; like being in a small part of one of their cities You must experience this for yourself to appreciate the work that they have put into Epcot's creation. My favorite pavilions were Canada, Japan, China and Mexico, but all were very nice indeed.

If you visit the Canadian area, do take in the "Oh Canada" a 360 wrap-around film which explores the beauty of the Canadian landscape and cities. In China, visit the shops, also take in their 360 theater in the round exploration of their vast country. In Japan, yeah the shops, plus just had to eat some tempura and sat for an hour listening to the drummers...very hypnotic. Mexico had a very beautiful pavilion, many shops, eateries, etc. The main building was set up like a marketplace, with splendid Mexican restaurant set against a night sky and temple motif. Do take the boat ride through Mexican culture, colorful and festive. I personally was quite impressed with the Mexico exhibit.

We also spent time in whatever other countries we could find in this whirlwind tour of the park or parks. Aside from globe trotting, certain exhibits caught our attention. If the lines are not too long, definitely ride the "Spaceship Earth" exhibit, sponsored by AT&T. This is located within the Epcot trademark silver dome. This exhibit is all about human communications throughout the ages; very nice, and ends in a large open area, where visitors can play with various communications devices and concepts. John Smallberries dragged me away from an area set up for visitors to get a taste of web browsing, "hey! don't you get enough of this at home? We're on vacation." So, I had a brief attack of web withdrawal that day :-)

Try to visit Exxon's Energy pavilion. At first I didn't think it would be that interesting but the show/ride lasts a good half hour and was very entertaining. Like all the other "surrounded by screens" presentations, there were a number of times I literally felt I was traveling at the speed of light, or at least flying, when we were actually motionless or moving very little. I just love "electronic slight of hand" sorts of attractions. I won't say any more about the Energy Pavilion as there are some surprises. I fess up, we visited this one twice, and I could have gone again....and again and again.

The Earth Sciences pavilion had a large food area with many vendors, plus exhibits in farming and food production. There is also an interesting boat ride through their hydroponics gardening area; check this one out. We explored many exhibits on science and technology. Many are in little cars that twist and weave through a maze of informative and entertaining animatronic and multi-media presentations. Again I just love the "electronic slight of hand" approach, surround the visitor in sights and sounds. Jerk the little car around a bit, and you'd swear you'd either made the jump to hyper-space or fallen into a bottomless abyss. Leave your brain behind, let yourself go and take a magic carpet ride.

Epcot also had many shows scattered around the park, with actors performing skits involving audience participation. There were street musicians and entertainment of all sorts. I wish I had stayed up long enough for the fireworks and light displays that I was told were quite spectacular..... but a long day, trekking miles in (what seemed to us) blistering heat, was enough to send me bussing back to the hotel for a swim in the pool before dinner each day.

While Smallberries was away, Bigboote explored,
and spent lots of money......

From Sunday evening through Wednesday, John Smallberries was involved in working seminars so yours truly went exploring, mostly at Downtown Disney. After an entire week of being bombarded with all the Disney characters, I could do without seeing Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and the rest of the crowd for another few years. There are a lot of interesting little shops to explore, one of which is a Giradelli chocolate store ...."Mmmmm, c-h-o-c-o-l-a-t-e", which I indulged in a few times. The West End has much more interesting shops dealing in various chatzkah, movie memorabilia, clothing and a splendid Virgin Mega-store, rivaling the Boston, Tower Records in size and selection. More travelers checks got used, like Kleenex on a high pollen count day.

One eatery you should not miss is the "Rain forest Cafe". It's a combination gift shop, new age shopping place, rain forest educational experience and restaurant. The place is alive with sights, sounds, animated wildlife; which includes a talking tree. The restaurant menu was eclectic and delicious. You can count on at least a 45-90 minute wait for seating during peak meal times, but it's worth it, for the food and experience of eating in a rain forest that has simulated thunder storms, plus other diversions. The food was well prepared and portions very generous; at least for what we ordered.

A number of checks got spent at the Rain forest, Virgin Mega-store, House Of Blues and the Disney Store. Change was spent at Giradellli Chocolate, various other nibbling and munchie emporiums within Downtown Disney.

The Magic Kingdom
For the child within I thought was dead.

There was only so much schlepping around Downtown Disney I could do, only so much sunning by the pool, only so much plain old vegging out. On Wednesday morning I caught an early hotel shuttle bus to the Magic Kingdom. We had opted not to rent a car, and since the hotel was within the Disney world Complex, there were frequent free hotel shuttles to the various parks and attractions. The shuttle dropped me off at a ticket and monorail terminal, not the Magic Kingdom itself. The monorail ride was pleasant and wound through some of the other hotel areas, edges of parks, dropping me off at the entry to the Florida version of what started it all in California, back when I was a lad, "Disneyland".

Entering the portal brought me to "Main Street, USA," a very nicely done copy of a turn of the century town center, Any town, USA. From there you move in to the realms; Fantasy land, Tomorrow land, Frontier land and Adventure land. Magic Kingdom is more geared toward families with kiddies, and not old farts like myself, but I still found the experience fun, charming and a great excuse to leave my brain at the hotel. Tomorrow land was the first place I hit (of course) and rode Space Mountain a number of times, which was sort of an indoor, in the dark, outer space roller fun fun!

The "Alien Encounter" ride was ok, but not quite what I had expected. I was under the impression it was a simulated alien abduction or something, but.... well I won't spoil it for you. It is one of those laugh/scream in the dark while things that go bump in the night breath on you, brush by, get shaken... in general, sneak up on the 4 year old in each of us and holler, "BOO!" While you are clamped into seats on a simulated alien craft of some sort. This ride is probably not a good idea for someone who has undergone "real" alien abductions. There were a couple of moments where I admit to getting the woollies, not knowing what to expect. Tomorrow land reminded me of a scene out of "The Jetsons."

I made a brief express run through Fantasy land, dodging baby strollers and getting run over by hyper kids. From here, spent a few hours in Adventure and Frontier Lands. After 4-5 fruit smoothies, a couple of frozen yogurt/orange juice swirls, an all American hot dog and gallons of water, it was time to catch the monorail back to the bus;  the hotel pool that beckoned.

The return of John Smallberries.

His business seminar coming to an end, John Smallberries and I regrouped at the hotel (yet another trip to the pool and 20-30 laps) then "where to eat dinner?" We decided to walk over to The West End of the marketplace and dine at Planet Hollywood. I had walked by here many times, always people waiting to get in. It's a pretty hard place to miss, huge blue globe with stars and a flying saucer crashed into the entrance, prominent revolving sign on high. So! was this place going to be all flash and pizzazz, with lousy food? If you plan to have dinner here, expect 30-45-60 or more minute wait. There were never-ending music videos, movie clips, which seemed to be all edited especially for/by Planet Hollywood, plus movie memorabilia everywhere you looked.

The menu here was also eclectic, with unique twists on what I thought was familiar food. I ordered something called "California Lasagna." Being part Italian, I have cooked and eaten countless variations of "lasagna." When our waitress delivered our meal, my first thought was "Huh!" To be honest, it looked like two deep fried toilet paper rolls, nicely arranged in a bed of sauce. But the taste.... was absolutely delicious! Both of us were too full after the meal to experiment with Planet Hollywood's desserts. The staff at Planet Hollywood were very friendly and fun, but then, the staff and casts of all Disney places we visited were very friendly...

Thursday/Friday Epcot again and MGM Studios

Yeah, we made another pass on Epcot, and to be honest I could have spent an entire week here; it's that big and there's that much to see. Since I already wrote at length on Epcot, we spent Friday at Disney/MGM Studio park. This was also LOTS of fun, with electronic slight of hand rides, plus many other attractions. The first ride we hit was "The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror." If you love chills and spills and getting dropped 13 stories in the dark. DO NOT MISS the Tower of Terror. Before the finale (elevator drop) there is a 20 minute or so build up show. This attraction was extremely well done, and you would swear you were in an abandoned, haunted hotel from the 20/30's era. I won't say any more, just get in line and ride; it's a real hoot and a trip. We boarded another ride in moving cars where we toured animatronic and human lead tour of the great movies.

In one area of MGM Park there's a mockup of Old New York, and you would almost swear you were in the New York City of an earlier generation. John Smallberries wanted to see the Muppet 3D show. At first I balked, but here again, If you're a Muppets fan, this is a must see show and lots of fun. The 3D effects were excellent and the show fast paced, with lots of typical Muppet caper comedy.

Next stop was Star Tours, a Star Wars ride. After waiting in yet another line, we were loaded into what looked like cars that didn't go anywhere. The lights went down, the screen filled and although the car's only motion was some hydraulic bumping and jarring, you were hurled into hyper-space, fought the final Death Star battle, while dodging and navigating around Imperial cruisers and fighters. As much as I enjoyed the movie, Star Wars, when it first came out (saw it 17 times) this ride added a new dimension to the action.

Next, a quick drink/snack break and queued up for the Indiana Jones live show in a sort of amphitheater. The stunt actors gave demos, then a live action show with fire, explosions, plus volunteers from the audience; fun and informative.

By now it's blazing hot, my feet are hurting and we're debating where to visit next. After a lengthy wait, we boarded the open bus/train for the back lot/Disaster Canyon tour. This was in interesting tour as the guide explained where some of the sets we passed were used, driving through the bone yard of alien and earthly vehicles used in many films. Of course we rode through Disaster Canyon, where an earthquake and explosions occurred, then a wall of water rushed down on us...all special effects.

We did attempt to queue up once more for the Tower Of Terror, but the sign now displayed a 45-50 minute wait. So with feet hurting and brains fully baked by the Florida sun; it was back to the bus and hotel. At 6pm the temperature was still reading 91-92 degrees, which called for a quick (about 90 minute) swim in the pool. Our Last Supper in Disney World would be at the Rainforest Cafe. Hey, what can I say, we both enjoyed the heck out of this place, both for food and ambiance. One last run through Disney Marketplace ended the evening.

I didn't realize how much I enjoyed Disney World until we arrived back in Boston, or is that back to reality? Some have asked if I plan to return to Florida again for vacation. Uhhh,, not really, but I am glad I had to opportunity too "finally" visit the land of dreams and fantasy. Where will I vacation next? Being a creature of habit, I'll most likely spend a few days in Cape Cod after Labor Day; when the crowds have thinned out. The Lower Cape, from Orleans to Provincetown, is a quiet peaceful place. Oh Darn! I gave the best kept secret away :-)

If you've wanted to visit Disney World and have never been, is is worth a visit. Bring comfortable shoes for the miles and miles of walking you'll be doing. Drink lots of water, especially if your visit is during the late Spring to Early Fall season. Also bring lots of "money" (plastique) since you'll need it, especially if you bring the kids. I found things fairly expensive wherever I went. This old fart never thought he'd enjoy Disney, but it is a wonderful place for kids of all ages; from 2 to 92.

Some Disney Info Links

Cheers, Ray