It's been thirty years since I went to the Magic Kingdom part of Disney. I call it the Children's Division. It's a "small world" and it didn't appeal to 6'1" and 215 pounds after a couple of visits. The stroller dodging and kids screaming made it a different kind of adventure.
I did however get to see the internal workings, (the underground) as a reporter during construction a millennium ago and that interested me.
My favorite part of the Kingdom was Tomorrow Land but with Cape Canaveral and The Kennedy Space Center an hour or so away, I went for the real thing.
So two months ago we went to Epcot, the more "adult" Disney and met with friends. Had a wonderful time even though the weather was cold and wet, warm friends made up for it. Epcot does two cathartic things for me, a sense of travel and seeing other cultures.
Even though they are Hollywood-ish, if only for a few hours of fantasy, its still a great distraction,. The food which is another interest, I have even though both are merely symbolic of the culture and taste of lands far and away.
THE ANIMAL KINGDOM
This time we tried the Animal Kingdom, one of the total four parts to Disney that is only a mere twelve years old. I took my cameras there to see what I had missed... basically nothing.
It hadn't changed much since April 1998 when Disney unleashed the Animal Kingdom. One writer mentioned don't call it a zoo, they get touchy about that word. When it opened, this newest venture met with good but still mixed reviews.
It was different from other Disney parks. Any park banking its success on "education alone" might as well have a trade show or expo. This had to be appealing to all ages and certainly the children's entertainment took the lead. Kids are the key to Disney profits. Disney learned that with Epcot. Epcot in some ways was too adult for many kids and they knew what that could do for business.
First, I had to get all caught up on work, even those orders that came in while I was away, had to be acknowledged or handled and after shipping everything and dropping it at Tampa International, I got itchy for scenery. With a dose of bravado, a tank of expensive gas and a lack of common sense due to the fact it was my birthday, I decided to overnight to Disney in Orlando. My companion liked the idea, she likes to travel and it was a short trip. I spent more time getting to Disney parking than driving over.
WHERE TO STAY IN ORLANDO
Some rooms in Orlando should have gone a long time ago. They are dilapidated. I found a room with good vibes because I stay there a lot and know the lay of the land. There are four classes of rooms in Orlando. Reminder: Aside from the fragrance in the supplied body lotions, most rooms have four walls and a bed of sorts.
• Un-refurbished low rent district, same since the great flood, 45-69 per night. Most near the Disney Gates.
• Mid-Line Refurbished up to par name brand chains 70-90 per night.
• The Peabody class which is high class, business class, and huge, starts at 130-250.00 at times.
• The Disney Hotels for the usual 150-250 a night with accomodations for four or better in the suites.
You will notice next to the address you will see the managers name and if it is not what I say the hotel or food is, let them know. Thats why the main kahunas name is there! If it's here on my blog I ate there, I slept there, I bought there, paid the asking price, with no special consideration other than the Orbitz deal. They were not aware I write a blog. If they were bad you would hear about it.
8900 Universal Blvd
Manager: Adriana Rosario-Londono
Through Orbitz booking, I took a room at the Hampton Inn. It was rated almost four out of five. In that price range there were no fives, In fact Disney doesn't have a five. It turned out surprisingly nice, I have stayed in Orlando many times and this 24 hours was really nice.
I chose this location because,... here is the first tip you write down. Do not stay on International drive. It's noisy, the traffic is like a NASCAR start because of the out of towner's, out of country-ers, and google popping eyeball tourists listening to their Tom-Toms and making a turn where they shouldn't.
The welcome wagon was out and the staff very nice and personable. Through my Orbitz booking I was in a room in five minutes. The usual small bottles everyone steals were there. The showers were like a water slide, tons of water and hotel hot, very refreshing. The usual Wi-Fi, communication and fax facilities were there, as were ample parking, but the best features were QUIET, CLEAN, ODORLESS. Not like on the strip ( International Drive) where the kids from "spring break" were partying and most rooms stunk from tobacco, funny tobacco and beer even though they were smokeless rooms and underage drinkers.
After a nice dinner, we walked, shopped for a few things and hit the sack. We got up expecting the usual sparse Continental Breakfast which was included, a juice, cup of coffee and toast.
What a surprise! It was the largest "free" spread I have seen in a chain. Three juices, bagels, turkey sausage links, corn flakes, milk danish, waffles you make yourself, bread, yogurt, eggs and sausage on bagels, three kinds of coffee, regular, decaf and robust. A breakfast like this for two in Orlando and you would have left a twenty plus on the table. A family of four would do well here, bring your own air mattress for the odd kid.
This is one of the few times I felt I got what I paid for... and enjoyed the stay. My companion maybe not as fussy or critical as me thought it was very nice too. She thinks I'm too fussy. I explained critic comes from the word critical, in fact divide it into Critic - AL. I won that battle of the words.
FOOD IN ORLANDO - UNO CHICAGO GRILL
• 8250 International Drive • Orlando, FL 32819 • General Managers: Phillip Jones, Josh Duke
How many times have you been with a companion and asked, "What would you like for dinner". And the reply is, "I don't know, what would you like for dinner". Back to square one.
In Orlando, go to Uno's Chicago Grill for three reasons, nothing is reasonable in high traffic tourist areas so you want to get value and value is nothing without quality and consistency. Good places as I have said require a good location, good help, good food and consistency. Any low ratings of these three tenets of the business will eventually kill you. They have the biggest menu in town, period, just about anything and it was pretty good. Our last convention trip, the PMA trade show, not a Disney adventure, saw us go back to UNO's three nights in a row.
ALL IN ORLANDO IS NOT GOOD
Thats because we got screwed at a big chain medium level place down the block, we had twenty people in our group with reservations and told they had it handled. They padded the bills and drinks, the food was mediocre, service was horrid and confused. I made it a point during the following seasons trade shows to let every booth and vendor know to avoid that location of a national chain.
UNO's WAS ON TOP OF EVERYTHING
Our waiter was great, explained and got the order right, the food was fresh, management was circling the wagons, a phrase I use on my culinary blog, "Meaning: going from table to table to see that things were done right". Food was within the price range, it served hot and fresh tasting and we had wings three ways, buffalo, house and honey, a nice sirloin steak, talapia fish and skewered shrimp between us. No room for desert.
Going back to the question I opened with. The reason I went there is because I have eaten there before and knew they do a good job. All in all the three tenets were done well and expected and I will recommend the place.
THE MOUSE AND I
I have a special affinity with the mouse, in many ways, in fact in my kitchen you will see plenty of mice, the stuffed kind. My favorite is Ratatouille, that featured movie star mouse is my best pal in the Kitchen. He and his friends are the group I call the Rat Race because when things get bent out of shape, some good food and good friends can break the ice and make you forget the Rat Race.
Another mouse made of 14K gold sits on my lapel when I do a gig or seminar. It is in the shape of Mickey. Now imagine walking into a large corporation wearing the insignia of Mickey Mouse.
Sooner or later, one of the students or attendees pops the question, what is the mouse for? I explain with a story...
"THE A-MAZING MICE"
For years scientists wanted to learn how smart mice were. So they devised these wooden mazes for the mice to travel through and finally the he or she mouse would find the two pieces of corn at the end of the maze.
The mice were smart. The first time it took 50 seconds to negotiate the maze, the second time it took 30 seconds, and on the third try the mouse screamed through at less than 10 seconds.
For years and years and lots of mazes, these mice got smarter and smarter and one in particular Mickey befriended a human named Walter and explained an idea he had. The pair formed a partnership, found some land in the middle of Florida and the world suddenly found the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida.
Thus a popular resort was created where for the love of a mouse, and from what Mickey had learned, humans will stand on line for hours, going through the mazes of ropes and pipes, seeking at the end of the journey about the same amount of corn Mickey got. And they are willing to pay big bucks to do it. The moral of my story is, "What goes around comes around". The rest of it is history…
"The RAT RACE"
Thats Disney, when busy long lines, long waits, await you. On day one we visited the Animal Kingdom which opens at 9:AM and closes 6-8 or 9 depending on whats the agenda for the day and peak periods.
So, we get there a little after nine and after a safari length car ride thru the maze of turns and parking lots, we found and were directed to a parking spot by Burt who has the most dangerous job in Disney.
He stands in front of your car while you are pulling in. From "Welcome to Disney" to the Kingdom parking is about four miles of people who share one thing with you. They don't know where to go either. Just call this, "the bumper car highway ride complete with switches and exits and at the end you get a shot at Burt".
We parked in "Dinosaur"and then hiked to the tram stop which was a short distance away. About two trams later, amidst flying strollers including the latest Huey Tandem Two Seater complete with gun ports (cute) we got on one and then made it to the tram home port after a brief delay when one tram stalled. It was early and already 90 degrees and no breeze.
We disembarked, and then hiked to a place where they check your bag and I was questioned about a 2 inch handy tool like a Leather-man by no less than one cop (retired NYC) and his supervisor as to it's intent, like I was going to take a ride apart. (They could have totally missed the .380 in my back pocket. I had the wallet holster there, I did however have an 4.5 inch Emerson CQ in my front pocket). All these false searches are ridiculous. They do nothing and prove nothing. I could have brought a Laws or Scorpion in had I wanted too.
After that debacle, you get to walk another distance to get to what I call the "Intersection of Oblivion". Many lost people conjugate here because once again they are lost, same ones that had no clue driving in, and already tired from walking off breakfast on their 1/2 mile journey to the front gate of the Kingdom and the first glimpse of the big concrete tree. Wow, the tree of life! Nope, more like a building in the shape of a tree with animals of concrete carved or molded in. Thats allowed in Mickey Mouse operations.
Leave your credit cards home. You can't buy ridiculous things if you don't carry the leverage. But the path of righteousness, most people in parks and supermarkets go to the right upon entry is besieged with drinks, ice cream, and kids toys and more food, drinks and toys, over and over again.
En masse, every ten feet, and the Magic Kingdoms magic word is "Toys". Thats the third word a kid learns soon after "Mommy" and "Daddy". Plastic is probably the fourth word he hears. You are in Toy-land!, Just the music of that wonderful song will tug at the strings of your heart, the seam of your pants and the plastic in your wallet.
A friend of mine in assignment in Orlando said when he left Orlando to return to NY, the flights were jammed with families and lots of kids all carrying stuffed animals, one or two per child. In two weeks they will be splayed and displayed all over the floors of your home so parents can get good exercise bending and picking up after their kids.
Quit bribing these kids when they whine, just tell them they can go home on the plane in a seat or sent home earlier as baggage. Pacification has limitations, the word "NO" even if it means a tantrum is a process well learned early on. The Winnie the Poo special shown below is 99.00 dollars and might require a plane ticket seat of its own or dumped in baggage for the ride.
The other passengers will love you as the bins get stuffed with all these toys. negating the room for their carry-ons. Every major city has a Disney Store and buy it when you get home if your kid threatens to join a gang if you don't.
A friend once told me, Disney is likened to a heart attack, sooner or later you have one and never want to go back. Now I remember why. The same cutesy jokes, the same animals when you can see them, the same crowds and meltdowns!
Whats a meltdown? Thats when you stuffed the kid with a 1/2 pound of sugar in his cereal this morning, plus some candy and about noon he's done for the day. He's, frankly speaking, very bored, overstimulated and out of sugar, thats why every thing to eat in that joint is sugar laden. He's melting down. Even the Mouse in Ratatouille knew better.
Bored? Thats because ninety percent of the Animal Kingdom is nothing more than walking and looking at clothing, toy, candy, churro's, and other food rich with sugar.
When you can get to a ride, he's engrossed and involved but thats only 10% of the time, because you wait on line the other 90% and the kid doesn't understand waiting an hour or two on line.
Some of the boat rides are gone, nothing really new in the whole place, a smaller selection of visible animals and the word patience is keynoted. Two hours to get to go on the truck ride to see the wild animals sleeping the day off. It would take Augustus Caesar and the Roman Coliseum to get some excitement going here with the animals.
Melt-down – "Usually refers to the overheating of a nuclear reactor core, resulting in melting of the core and escape of radiation.” A Disney meltdown comes both to adults and children from being tired, hot, hungry, with small feet and long distances, stroller failures, overstimulation, nagging, and going through money like the Roman Legions and you are Spartacus. You know eventually you will lose but it will cost them.
The melt-downs occur usually at nappy time. And they will occur, trust me. Find a secluded spot, put the kid in the
stroller and tell him its nappy time. Send husband or wife for food and
rehydration. There is no alcohol in Disney so bring a small flask. Vodka and peach juice is great, the Coke has too much sugar.
Are you drinking enough water? Are you ruining your system with burgers/ French fries, churros, ice cream, and sugar-laden soft drinks. You are building an intestinal bomb and the bathrooms are clean but well hidden. There are alternatives, like fruit stands, etc. Smuggle your own food in. I tell them I have strict dietary rules I live by, in my backpack, if they don’t like it, I’ll call Moses on the Burning Bush line.
Get out of the parks during
the heat of the day. You can’t
beat the heat, it will win. Come
back at night, less crowds, different perspective. Hint: Research FAST PASS and see how to cut down line time.
SMALL RIDES AND SHOWS
On the plus side the Flying Birds and their tricks were fun to see, not that a two-three year old would understand it. The trainers do a funny, refined, and fantastic job just like the bird trainers in all the other parks.
There was one other thing we dropped into and that was the Tough to be a Bug. It was in three-D with the usual squirting water, rocking seats and screaming the minute the kids got scared. And did they scream. One sets off a chorus and a few of the clips on the screen were too much for the little tykes.
I mentally reminded my self I had forgotten my ear protectors. Being on the line at Nascar was quieter. Years of flying (I was a pilot) with helmets and headsets had protected my sensitive ears. somewhat.
Whats left, two roller-coasters, one is Everest and the other is Primeval Whirl. In addition, there are the Kali River rapids, identical to the one at Busch Gardens, and many nature trails with different themes you walk to, walk around, and watch sleeping Tigers do what they do best, sleep. Tigers don't snore, they purr loud.
That's what I did when I got back to my room... I felt like the tiger I am.....snore.... I'm sure there are a few families that go through this year after year, but many do not return. It's too Mickey Mouse.
THE OTHER SIDE OF DISNEY
This is Kodak country for sure, lots of things to take great pictures of, concessions, concession buildings, food courts, and stroller wars. For you, mainly your kids. The place is really Mickey Mouse. And Mickey Mouse size photo gear is right.
You are not their commercial photographer. Unless you are writing an epic story for the 2000 paid subscribers for you home-town paper, there is virtually nothing that someone hasn't captured or shot before. Including their own staff. A good point and shoot is all you need. Leave the Cecil B. DeMille epic to the pros.
HINT: In fact if you have the right credit card, a Disney Brand Visa credit card, they will take the family shots for you. There is a photographer about every hundred feet and deliver prints for a fee of course. After all they want your money and don't need you to supply them with shots. And they are all stationed at the best spots to shoot from.
The exception is if some moron climbs into the tiger exhibit, and G-d forbid they wake up or move, and he or she gets mauled beyond repair. You might get a few bucks for the shots, or not as they have surveillance all over the place. Possibly a ride collapses and wounded all over the place, you might collect for not being callous enough for distributing the shots, otherwise follow the hints below and have a nice day.
CHILD EATING CONCESSIONS THAT EAT MONEY
How can they fit so many concessions in one place? And heres a few tricks and rules you might want to incorporate into your itinerary so as to enjoy your trip and maybe not waste so many dollars. Amazing how so many people leave tons of money here.
• DO NOT BRING YOUR HOME WITH YOU - Remember, even though you are in Disney, with all that pixel dust, that twenty pound pack will weigh sixty at the end of the day. Like I just explained, one of the biggest problems is the bigger the bag you buy, the more you have a psychological need to stuff it. Direct violation of the Gremkin-Flugals laws of Physics which states: “The more you pile on an ass to carry, increases in weight and when the ass dies, your ass is next in line to haul it”. I totally agree with that hypothesis.
• STROLLER WARS - BUT this is Disney. Yes, this is Disney and you will with small children be introduced to "Stroller Wars". You will find out most of the rides and features require that you leave your expensive camera home because it can; Get wet; Get thrown as you grasp the bar on the roller coaster; Get knocked over; Stolen and eaten by a goat at the petting Zoo; Many more things can happen.
So you want to go on a ride with your little one and you are carrying all this junk that you can't take with you. So you tuck it in the stroller which you leave outside with 100 other identical strollers which all are parked in one place with 100 other tired and frustrated parents.
They look the same except for a name (yours) on the rental card pocket on the back. If you bring your own stroller, you are in for a day of sheer agony and pain. Most of the pain will be in the last reaches of the alimentary canal. Well, for one thing you can share your exhaustion with the 100 other folks who dragged their two and three year olds to the Mecca of Financial Disaster. MFD's not to be confused with WMD's which King George Bush is still looking for, cause great financial disaster as their name implies.
• HYDRATE - The average drink at Disney is three to four dollars and it's not beer. Its sugar laden something. I wear a Camelback with three litre's of my own Gatorade mixed strong and added to lots of Ice in the pack. Stays cold all day and contains better stuff than Coke or any of those buzz drinks. Get your caffeine from your coffee in the AM. The camelback also keeps your spine cool on a hot day because of it's clever design.
• SMART MONEY - Even JC couldn't stand the money changers so make things simple for your day at the park. Bring only one card buried deep in your pocket. I have a thin Ipod case with a silicon rubberized outside so that it will not come out of my pocket easily, it drags, not lifted easily. A credit card, my drivers license, Medicare and Supplement cards are photocopies. Thats it folks, the rest is cash.
• BIG TIP - Cash? Carry the same bills. Here's the tip, if there are two of you traveling together, change those hundreds into tens. Only take what you intend to spend. You can't get nothing there for two, thats under eight or so dollars so you get less change.
For a family of four make it twenties. Two ice-creams @ 4.25 and two sodas @ 3.35 = 15.20 and that Churro will run 3.75 which leaves you 1.05 left of a twenty. By limiting the denomination of the bills, several smart things take place.
You know what you started with; you know each bill when you pull it out is the same and you don't have to fish your wallet for that five while someone is watching what you are carrying. Pickpockets love Disney, it's a natural.
Tourists, detracted, oblivious, tired, getting bumped, lost kids, spilled drinks, screaming meltdowns, basically overwhelmed conditions all make good turf for bad guys. With a yearly ticket price, a picker can work the parks indefinitely.
I love Disney, it's a place of imagination, but there is also reality and at my age reality is real. You have to plan smart, get the maps ahead of time, define rules for the kids , define schedules as best you can. Have a support team, assign the older kids responsibilities, set limits, stick to your guns, allow free time and remember the hotel usually has a bar and that Martini is sure nice at 7PM. Stirred not shaken, you will be shaken enough.