Thursday, April 9, 2009

Vacation the third part: To infinity...and beyond!

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Alas, our time on the Disney Wonder had come to an end. After an early breakfast (though not as early as the suckers who had the early dinner seating...this was the only time I was glad we had the late seating for dinner), we disembarked with so little fanfare it was amazing. The other cruises I've been on, everyone was stuck on the ship until they called your deck, milling about and crowding into the "lobby", then a big herd of people would run to the gangplank. Pandemonium. Not on the Disney can leave whenever you want. (Well, outside of "never", which is what I would have chosen.) It works shockingly well. Take note, other cruise lines! Or, you know...don't bother. I'm not going to be cruising with anyone but Disney ever again.... (I kid. Or do I?)

Next stop: KSC! The whole day, I couldn't get my brain to stop thinking of chicken every time I saw that written down. Anyway. We started with the bus tour, which the guide brochure said would take "2.5 to 3 hours".


We decided the only way you could do that tour in 2.5 hours was if you didn't like science even remotely. There are two or three stops on the tour. The first stop, after driving by the VAB (vehicle assembly building) and launch control, is at a small exhibit and the Launch Complex 39 Observation Gantry (a tower where you can view the launching platforms). The shuttle was on one of the platforms, but was completely obscurred by the servicing rig (so, the picture just looks like a bunch of I didn't bother to post it here). Second stop is the Apollo center. WOW. They have an entire Apollo rocket (would have been Apollo 18) in there, split out by stages, with a great small model with transparent sides that explains what everything is. And LOTS to read. Some good "shows", too, including a simulation of a launch while you stand in front of the old school computer equipment they used to use. The final stop of the tour is the International Space Station center, where you can actually look into the clean room at equipment that will be going up.

Post-bus tour, we walked through a shuttle replica (Explorer), more exhibits, and saw an IMAX movie. We would have liked to go to the Astronaut Hall of Fame (which, though it sounds cheesy, is supposed to be really good), but there just wasn't time. We drove over to Orlando and checked in to our hotel, the Gaylord Palms.

Once again, I had a major picture-taking FAIL. This hotel is sister to the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. It has an enormous atrium. "Atrium" isn't even the right word! There are waterfalls, streams, trees, even alligators!! We avoided those!

The next morning, we got up and headed to Disney's Hollywood Studios (still have to pause to remember not to say "Disney-MGM Studios"!) This day was my actual birthday, where I could get in any park free! Well, since we always buy 10 day Parkhopper passes (which take us about 5 years to use), I opted for option #2: A Birthday Fun Card! What is that, you may ask? Well, it's the price of a one-day, one-park ticket on a debit card that can be used for Disney merchandise! Um, yeah, twist my arm to shop, LOL!! I also got to wear a button that said it was my birthday, with my first name printed on it. This turned out to provide the most entertainment of the day. Not only did cast members constantly call out "Happy Birthday!" to me, but other guests would as well...especially other guests who had the same button on! I started scanning for buttons as well.

The first order of the day was to procure caffeine, since we had not had a chance to get any at the hotel. With my tea, I was given a free Mickey-shaped sugar cookie dipped in chocolate! Maria took a picture on her camera, but let me tell you, that sucker was BIG!

One of the new attractions at Hollywood Studios is "The American Idol Experience". We had briefly looked at information about it before going; I toyed with the idea of auditioning, but decided that was too much stress. Plus, I was unlikely to make it, which would be a big downer. If I *did* happen to make it, it would have messed up our schedule a bit, since I would have had to show up at an appointed time for pre-show prep. I had actually decided I didn't even want to go to the show; I figured that we might have to sit through eight crappy contestants to see a couple good ones, and even then they probably wouldn't be very good! Well, Michael really wanted to go, so I recanted. When we went in, this is what we saw: AI experience A (very entertaining) pre-show guy was working the crowd and explaining the voting system (there're numbered buttons on your armrest; you can change your vote until they call time). I have to give props to the cast members in the show and the contestants: I enjoyed every moment! There were only three contestants. One had a very "nice" voice, one would not have met the age requirements of AI, and the one that we voted through to the nightly final show was awesome! The judges are apparently former Adventurers' Club cast members (and if you never got a chance to go to AC, you missed a great "show"...Kungaloosh!!) Here are some highlights:
  • The fortysomething balding dad absolutely killing "Superstitious"
  • The "Paula" judge dancing from her seat with her arms over her head (though she did give actual constructive comments as well)
  • The "Simon" judge saying, "Your performance was like an elephant with diarrhea--" [lots of booing] "Wait! ...very hard to follow."
  • The female host doing a very Ryan-worthy pause before announcing the results.
At the final show, the winner actually gets a golden "front of the line" pass to be used in any real AI audition city!

After visiting a few favorites--Voyage of the Little Mermaid (I agree with Erin that it's lame after "Under the Sea"...especially since our Ariel had the wimpiest voice ever!) and Muppet*Vision 4D--we headed to my request for lunch, 50's Prime Time Cafe. We probably won't ever equal the experience we had the very first time we went there, but it's always fun, and I love their pot roast very much!! My tip: Get a female server if you can. The Aunts seem to be a lot "bossier" than the Uncles...and that's the fun. I don't have a good picture of the four of us (it seems Uncle Tim doesn't know how to focus very well), but here's a picture of the ice cream fudge brownie we got for dessert: Yes, it is topped with
  • hot fudge
  • whipped cream
  • a maraschino cherry
  • Mickey-shaped sprinkles
  • M&Ms
Caramel popcorn. I thought I'd seen everything. We ordered this before we realized I'd be getting a free GIANT birthday cupcake before that. was the biggest cupcake I've ever seen! (I think Maria has a picture of that, too!)

After lunch, we waddled off to use our FastPasses on the other big new attraction at Hollywood Studios: Toy Story Midway Mania! mania entrance We are HUGE Pixar fans, and HUGE fans of Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin in the Magic Kingdom, which is a somewhat similar ride. (You may recall how I continually beat Michael.) On Buzz, you are two-to-a-car with a trigger "laser" gun each, the ability to control which way the car is pointing, and are aiming at basically cardboard cutouts with targets on them. On Midway Mania, you are still two-to-a-car, and shooting at things for score, but there is where the similarity ends! You wear 3D glasses and are pointed at a screen, with a string-pull gun in front of you. There are about 6 screens through the ride, and each one is themed differently. And your gun shoots different things on each screen! The practice screen has you shooting paint balls (in the color of your gun) at targets each time you pull the string. Then, you might be shooting plunger arrows at duck targets that are swimming across the screen. On one, we were shooting rings at squeaky aliens!! You had to get a ring around an alien to score!

Anyway, the queue was awesome..."unfortunately" we had fast passes, so we didn't get to see most of the cool talking Mr. Potato Head. But what we did see was so fun. As Alpha Gams, we had to get the bushy-tailed squirrel shot! It was like a carnival exploded in a toy box! Loading zone! Sadly, my skillz needed another ride to develop. Pulling that string fast enough is tough work! I think I didn't "get" it until the third or fourth screen. I instantly wanted to ride again, but there were no more FastPasses, the standby line was about 90 minutes, and we were trying to make it to Epcot in time to see the Voices of Liberty, so there was no more time to dilly-dally.
I think they were already prepping for the annual Flower and Garden Show. Gorgeous!

The other main goal at Epcot was to check out the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. All the KP villians have started plots at once, so Kim needs your help!! You get a cell phone (only works with the game) which Wade uses to communicate your missions to you. Each mission takes place in one country's pavilion. You have to find different spots in the country, answer some multiple choice questions, and then use the phone to interact with the environment. For instance, in Japan, we triggered a fiber-optic kanji character on a rock in the Zen garden... This one fit into the environment quite well. I don't want to post any spoilers on the game, so I don't want to share any other pictures, but there were definitely some things we triggered that had me wondering what other park guests might be thinking!

This squirrel, though not part of the game, was bowing almost as politely as the deer at Nara do. Alas, we had no snacks to give him!

Among the three missions we did (in Germany, Japan and Mexico), we managed to catch the Voices of Liberty twice. If you've never heard them, PLEASE do yourself a favor next time you're at Epcot and catch a show. And make sure to park yourself in the middle of the floor in the American pavilion, right at the edge of the red circle. Or at least get yourself under the dome. The acoustics are a-maz-ing!

Due to time constraints and the vast quantity of free birthday desserts, we had to miss some of my favorite Epcot activities snacks like schoolbread from Norway, bubble tea from China and Napoleons from France (trust me, if you've had Napoleans before, they're nothing like the "real thing"!) We did manage to cart back a nice supply of Pocky from Japan, though. =) We also found another alebrije... ...well. We found quite a few, as usual. I think we only took a half hour to decide on this one, though...vast improvement from last time!!

We did get to spend a little time in Future World, and due to teensy lines, managed to ride Spaceship Earth (a most EXCELLENT refurbishment!) and the Finding Nemo ride. The Soarin' line was too long to consider, and there wasn't enough time for the World of Energy (sorry, Dad!), so we headed back to the World Showcase to hunt down some dinner. First choice was Japan, but both restaurants were slammed--and with the wait, there would not have been enough time to catch the bus back to our hotel. So we opted for the most-overlooked restaurant in Epcot: Restaurant Marrakesh in Morocco! I say "most-overlooked" because, no matter how slammed the park is, we have never, ever encountered a wait there before. And the food is EXCELLENT. Check out the goat cheese appetizer: Their Roasted Lamb Meshoui is to die for, but we weren't that hungry, so we just got appetizers...if you go, you MUST try either the Beef Brewat or my all-time favorite: Chicken Bastilla (in the background above). That is, hands down, one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth. There were a LOT of birthday people there, but I didn't get the free birthday had to purchase an entree. No worries, I was stuffed as it was!

It turned out that we missed the bus anyway, so we took a cab back to the hotel. Since we were staying at such a "fancy" hotel (another Priceline triumph for Michael...only $85 a night!), that was probably the only cab that had ever set tire on the property...the only vehicles waiting at the hotel were Lincoln Town Cars, LOL!

The next morning we got up an headed to Downtown Disney for a while so I could finish off my Birthday Fun Card. I got a pin holder, a couple hats and a beach bag. Pretty good haul due to some sales. Then, with a sniff and a wave, it was time to head home. Where it snowed the next day!
Until the next sunny day in Orlando...

Post cruise space center visit was out of this world; free birthday stuff at Disney abounded. And even off the ship, we managed to keep ourselves well-fed, thankyouverymuch.


Annie said...

I'm just loving the vicarious thrills I'm getting from this vacation journal. Especially like the AI description...I've become and AI addict!

Anonymous said...

Wait wait wait wait more Adventurers' Club?? Whaaaaat?? Okay, been WAY too long since I did Pleasure Island, I guess. That was one of TWO great places for the non-dancing crowd.

Le Sigh. I lift my glass in memory. Kungaloosh!

(Now I need to read the rest of the post...)

Susan @ Real Girl Designs said...

Happy belated birthday, Heather!

It sounds like you had a fantastic birthday!

Karin said...

Sounds like a busy vacation! Happy Birthday.

Glenda said...

Fantastic trip!

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