Aug 21, 2012

A Disney Dissertation v1.0

Florida was a 10-day triple dipper, flavored with Disney, St. Augustine and Sarasota.  We'll start with the flight, food and lodging, Downtown Disney and Epcot today.

The recap's written in the order we partook in various shenanigans.  I rate our events on a 5-point scale: 1 means it smelled to high heaven, 5 is flawless and difficult to achieve for this picky writer.

Time to fly to the Sunshine/Deadly Alligator State.

Fly, Barney's Waving His Lightsaber Again

Allegiant Air enticed with the best rate flying into Orlando, $140 a person each way.   However, they land at Sanford rather than Orlando International.  Disney's free shuttles to their hotels only serve the latter airport. We didn't want to rent a ride or fork out $125 for a 40-mile cab from Sanford to our Disney digs, so we paid a little extra to fly with American to Orlando International.

Airlines nickle-and-dime you hard with bags now, some charge for both carry-on and checked bags.  We studied up on dimension limits and worked the tape measure to carefully select luggage that minimized fees.  Airlines categorize your goods something like this:

  • Checked - American charges $25 for the first checked item, $35 for the second, with a 50 lb weight limit and max size of 62 inches (length + width + height).
  • Carry-on - Medium bag or suitcase with an overall size not to exceed 45 inches.  Free for American, Allegiant charges for carry-ons.  We rode Allegiant on the return.
  • Personal item - Small bag or tote not to exceed 36", must fit beneath the seat in front of you.  No charge.

We determined our best bang was to check one large suitcase, then each of us lug a big backpack that barely fits within the personal item size limit.  To shave space, we packed half our needed clothes, with a mid-week laundry planned to freshen our Fruit o' Looms.  I stashed swimmers, 2 shorts and 5 each of tees, undies and socks, it all fit in my backpack.  Pigtails and Curls did the same, we planted liquids like soap and shampoo into the checked bag.  Nothing will make the TSA go more berserk than trying to smuggle a 6 oz. flask of Head and Shoulders in your carry-on.  You'll get through security faster and with less frisking if you put any questionable items (liquids, aerosols and nun-chucks) in your checked bag.

Our bird launched from Des Moines at 6:10 am, which means we needed to be at the airport by 5:00 am, which means I punched the snoozer at 3:45 am.  My bad for booking an early departure, wasn't really paying attention to fly-time when I clicked the big "BOOK IT" button online.

Our little airport was bustling at 5:00 am, nearly all of our 60-minute buffer eaten by lines at check-in, luggage drop and a crotch grab through security.  The security area was comical a flurry, passengers jittering around nervously as folk removed shoes, belts and any sense of dignity.  TSA official Barney waved his black security wand around like Darth Vader prepping to electro-zap a lightsaber into Skywalker's gut.

Empty all pockets.  Remove anything strapped to you.  Bend over.  It was Pigtails' first time flying, she thought all of this was great.

We walked on the plane at 5:55 am, it taxied on time at 6:10.  Two hours to Dallas, 1 hour break, then 2.5 to Orlando.  The kid opened wide and scratched her claws down the armrests as the jets spooled for takeoff.  Smooth flying, the attendants fit and friendly, with complimentary water, coffee, cola or tomato juice. 

Drew the short stick and was stuck in the back of the plane out of Dallas, inches from the pooper and engine.  That big beast spinning 15K outside the window was numbing, enough to cause hearing damage me thinks.  The view from 35,000 was lacking.

American Airlines QuickReview: 
+ Competitive rates and generous luggage allowances
+ Plane left and landed on time
+ Stewardesses were friendly and served liquids
- The online booking site could use a freshening
- Turbines buzzing inches from my face made the Dallas leg unbearably loud...a toilet belongs in this spot, not a human
Score:  3.0

Disney's Pop Century Resort

Lost an hour with the timezone slide, arriving in Orlando ahead of schedule at 12:45 pm.  Nabbed our suitcase off the belt and checked in at the Disney desk on the lower level of the airport.  In 15 minutes, we were on an air-conditioned D-coach watching a cheesy mouse promotional video.  It was easy.

The bus unloaded cattle at the Pop Century Resort inside the gates of Disney's jumbo 50-square-mile compound.  A "budget" motel, you fork out $120 a night for accommodations matched by La Quinta Inn.  We shopped around for cheaper stays, hotels outside of Disney properly were slightly cheaper, but not enough to ween us off the teat.

The grounds of Pop were immaculate, lizards zagged from groomed shrubs.  The 3 pools heated just right, (the main pool's a quarter of a million gallons, a big boy) and sidewalks power washed clean.

We unpacked a little, the room was just meh, the kid broke in the beds.  

Let's get outta here, we hopped a shuttle to Downtown Disney to gaze and graze.

Pop Century QuickReview: 
+ Outside landscaping is immaculate
+ Nice pools, nightime movies by the water were a nice bonus
+ Probably the most compelling reason to stay are the EZ shuttles to all the parks
- Simpleton rooms not worth $120 a night; $90 more like it
- For the cost of the stay, how about offering a brother a free breakfast
Score:  3.0

Downtown Disney

We didn't have anything planned this first day, other than to fly in and kick back.  Name of the game was slow and easy, with plenty of rest built in so we didn't burn out.  A stroll 'round Dowtown Disney would fit the bill.

We like free things, Downtown Disney is free, we liked Downtown Disney.  A lake ensconced by a horseshoe hook of souvenir/junk joints, sit-down eats, bars and a white Cirque du Soleil tent.  I'd say it's time for Dippin' Dots to retire the "Ice Cream of the Future" slogan, they were spouting that phrase 25 years ago when I was in 5th grade. 

Mid-afternoon and starving, a lunch/supper lupper should shut my kid up, her low blood sugar transformed her into a crabby ogre.  TripAdvisor promised Earl of Sandwich doled the best buns for the buck.  The bread was similar to pizza crust, a crunch layer coating steamy dough inside.  We shared an Asian wrap, marinara meatball sandwich, small side and drink for under $18.  Large portions, freshly made and we could have skipped the side since the 'wiches were filling. 

We walked Downtown Disney to melt meatballs.  Didn't purchase a thing, but potentially contracted free head lice playing scrawny pirates.

Tinker sneezed on her

No you can't have it.  No, no, no....

The breathing statue was A-OK.

Overcast and spitting rain, it was a comfortable 90 degrees.  We strolled Downtown a few hours, then shuttled back to our hotel to swim.  Never waited more than 10 minutes for a ride.

The girls lapped the pool and watched movies on the inflatable screen next to the water as I leaned into a 7 mile night run to the Boardwalk, Hollywood Studios and Epcot.  One of the few places I can trot where drivers are not giving me a single-digit solute and shouting unholiness.

Everybody's in a happy mood at Disney. 

To bed early so we could recharge for 13 hours of Epcot tomorrow.

Downtown Disney QuickReview: 
+ Earl of Sandwich is one of the better food deals at Disney
+ Plenty of shops and sites to fill a few hours
+ Costless
- After awhile, you've seen one shop, you've seen 'em all
- The NO! button will burn out with your kid begging you for the 50th time to buy junk
Score:  3.0


Disney doesn't do a complimentary breakfast, so we downed Nature Valley dark chocolate, peanut & almond bars.  I love those things, enough sweet-and-honey in them that it's like eating dessert for breakfast.

Erica at the front desk promised Epcot opened an hour early, at 8:00 am, so we bussed there by 8:15, stepped off and not a soul in sight.  Learned that Erica was wrong, gates raise at the usual 9:00 am, so we rode the monorail to Magic Kingdom and back to blow time.  They either need to squirt some WD-40 on the track or replace the wood wheels with steel, definitely not a floating maglev bullet train.

15 minute loop on the rails to Magic and back to Epcot, the big silver ball would soon be ours.  A crowd was waiting for the gates to drop, 30 people in each line, with maybe 10 lines total.  You're allowed to bring in a backpack with food, drinks, sunscreen and barf bags, just no glass containers or C9 explosives.  Inspectors dig through your bag at the entrance, so bury your lady products down deep.  Note that ice water is free on campus, not advertised but they'll reluctantly serve it.

Song and paper streamers welcomed us, the turnstiles spun at 8:45 am.  Your hotel key card serves as the park pass; inject it into the machine, let it scan your index finger and you're off to the races.



We monitored ride wait times before the trip, using an iApp.  Soarin' scored high and usually has a 70 minute line.  Reviews recommended hitting it early, so we hung a right inside the entrance and beelined it there, nearly pulling Pigtails' arm from socket as I yelled to hurry up and have fun.

Everyone else had the same idea

Not since Pharaoh's chariots dropped the hammer on the Israelites for the Exodus has a mob moved out like that.  Normally sedentary folk and grandmas honking their 14-volt Rascals were laying rubber to mount the popular attraction.  We arrived to a stubby 10 minute queue, it moved quickly as a high school kid beat-boxed in line behind us.  We strapped into the hang-glider seats and prepped to soar.

Picture three short rows of chairs, each attached large hydraulic arms that scoot you up high and tilt with an IMAX flick playing 360.  The short movie does flybys on the Golden Gate, a river canyon and citrus fields.  Fans blow a breeze as various scents waft to make it kinda feel like you are gliding.

It was an okay ride, the rabbit-ears reception film quality and tiny seat movements would impress a 4 year-old. 

Soarin' QuickReview: 
+ Worth the wait if the line is < 20 minutes
+ Seats suspended on hydraulics and IMAX, add Chuck Norris on the big screen beating up bad guys and life would be complete
- Failed to live up to the hype
- Grainy film quality and baby-bantam seat motions castrated what could have been a solid winner
Score:  2.5

Living with the Land

Call me a dork, but the sluggish 14-minute boat ride through acres of produce was one of my favorites at Epcot.  The masses apparently shun this sleeper, no line as we floated into some of the best looking fruits and vegetables I've ever seen, grown on recycled water (pee?) and natural fertilizer (poo?).  The produce and fish raised here is sold at Epcot restaurants.  The research lab and horti' playground look for ways to grow more with less.  Banana trees rose from sand dunes, 9 pound lemons drooped beside 50 lb watermelons growing from ceiling steel cables.  Mickey-shaped cucumbers and a single tomato plant trained into a tree, producing more than 20,000 'matoes.

The ride guilted us into wanting a green leafy lunch to taste the bounty.


Living with the Land QuickReview: 
+ Hydroponic heaven, now we know how the fruit of Eden enticed A&E
+ A quiet, air-conditioned float through sugar cane and clear tubs of sunshine bass is a relaxing diversion from the outside heat and hustle
- May put you to sleep
- Made my sad backyard garden look like Ryan's Steakhouse day-old lettuce
Score:  4.00  *Recommended*

Mission:  Space

A quasi flight simulator, this one tried to bring back the Nature Valley bars we ate for breakfast.  Pigtails thought we really flew to space and back.

After the timid Soarin' ride, I was skeptical attractions at Epcot put out any juice.  The barf bags tucked inside the cabin were a clue this one could be fun.  On the simulated liftoff to Mars, the centrifuge spins around at 35 MPH and shoved us back with 3Gs while high definition screens played solid rocket boosters lighting for liftoff.   The ride spun at different speeds, tipped and changed directions to match motion to the pretend flight playing out on the screen.  This is the most action you'll get at Epcot.

Mission:  Space QuickReview: 
+ A ride that can put the hurt on both kids and adults 
+ G-force and HD screens teamed up for an stiff launch to the red planet
- The hour after the ride, Curls and I thought we'd lose our lunch, and we hadn't eaten lunch yet
- Line gets long quickly, use the FastPass so you can ralph sooner
Score:  3.0

Sunshine Seasons Food Court

Our daily grazing goal was grab-and-go breakfast, healthy light lunches, water during the day to top off sweat, a small afternoon snack (if you consider giant waffles cones "light and snacky") and a cholesterol-laden sit-down supper.  The plan worked well, kept calories in check and didn't whip the wallet.

In the mood for lettuce after floating through acres of healthiness on Living with the Land, we parked at the Sunshine Seasons food court.  The vegetables hocked here are grown next door in the gardens, couldn't pass this one up.  We split 2 salads, turkey on focaccia and side of vinegared red potatoes for under 18 bucks.  The food was spot on, delicious and a good value.  The unassuming food court delivered.

A legume grenade went off at the table beside us, a toddler was throwing crap to kingdom come.

SS Food QuickReview: 
+ Healthiness available, fried chicken's there too, if you want it
+ Vegetables and fish are raised at Epcot
+ A good value
- Food court was crowded and noisy
- Take cover for legume grenades
Score:  3.5  *Recommended*

Living Seas

After lunch, we rode the Seas with Nemo and Friends (boring).  A nice surprise at the end of the annoyingly loud Nemo was a stroll through the 6-million gallon saltwater aquarium buried in the basement.  Second largest aquarium in the world and hardly anyone around, we gazed from a bench for 30 minutes, watching weightless scuba divers feeding 300 pound sea turtles and table-sized stingrays.  There was a good selection of coral, crustaceans, tropical fish and sharks.  A pair of matinees rolled to their backs begging for cabbages.

I don't understand the thinking process of the masses.  Scores of reviews praised the disappointing Soarin' ride, yet hardly anyone mentioned this treasure of an aquarium.  We had the place alone.

Beside the aquarium was Turtle Talk with Crush, a computerized interactive Q&A with the sea turtle dude from Nemo.  Kids asked turtle questions and the CGI reptile responded in realtime on the big screen.  You'll see what I mean in the video coming in a few days.


Living Seas QuickReview: 
+ The aquarium was a stealthy gem hidden from the crowds
+ Everyone laughed at Talk with Crush  
+ The most underrated spot at Epcot
- Skip the Nemo ride...imagine It's a Small World from Magic Kingdom, but more grating
- Epcot needs to do a better job promoting the aquarium
Score:  4.0 *Recommended*


Crud, the Test Track ride was busted.  It's been defunct my last two visits to the 'cot, boo.

Spaceship Earth and Ellen's Energy Adventure aren't worth the keystrokes.

MJ as Captain EO was revived from the 80s as a 3D tribute to the deceased white glove.  Produced by Lucas, the finishing We are Here to Change the World is a classic.  My daughter asked who this Michael guy is.

Score, we stumbled on a free soda fountain hiding in a non-nondescript building close to the ball.  Special tiny tasting cups didn't prevent us from gargling buckets of carbonation from around the world.  Thirsty, MORE! I told her as we downed $5 of liquids for $0.00.  Flavors ranged from bitter ginger to sweet melon and fizzy foamed donkey pee.

Epcot's World Showcase

The bulk of Epcot's 300 acres houses the World Showcase, an 11-country Fair representing Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, US, Japan, Morocco, France, UK and Canada.  The employees at each stop are from the country they represent, living here for a year or so on exchange.  We talked to several of them, it was interesting to get their take on working at Disney and their view of life in America.

The characters are sprinkled on the loop roughly where they were born.  So Pooh in the UK, Snow White in Germany and Mulan in China. 

You don't want to be the second employee of the day to don the Tigger costume

Disney keeps a clean park.

I wanted to do Morocco for dinner, lamb over couscous and mint tea.  The girls overruled, Japan won.



 Japan Pavilion

We shot 2.5 hours in Japan.  Now I want to do the real deal.

In the pavilion were deep-roofed pagodas, budding cherry trees and squatty shrub gardens.


A fully stocked 10,000 sq. foot Mitsukoshi department store (founded in 1673)  kept us busy for an hour.

The runt drooled over Hello Kitty school supplies and anime coin purses.
Curls handled the woven bags and tiny candies.

I checked the tea, swords and saki samples.
Without a doubt, one of the best stops at Epcot
Daughter went kimono krazo.  


 We bought sleeves of candy, they had racks of sweets we'd never seen before.


It was a good place to be stuck during the daily three o'clock downpour.

I know tea, the slightly bitter, unsweetened iced green was the real deal.

4:45 pm and our stomachs talking, we stepped inside Japan's Teppan Edo to check the menu on hibachi-style vittles.  The place packs early, a reservation a day or two in advance is recommended.  The hostess said she could fit us in now if we didn't mind eating early.  Post-rain humidity outside, stomachs rumbling inside, let's do this.  Tabled with a miscellaneous family of 4.

We split well-seasoned sirloin, breast of chicken and vegetables, with a quartet of dunking sauces for 50 bones.  Our chef was from Tokyo, we'll call him "Kevin".  He threw blades and played with the food.  Kevin didn't speak a lot of English, I cracked up when he yelled PENNZOIL! while squirting sesame oil on the hibachi.




Back home, daughter now pretends to be Kevin and throws her bread squares in the air when making P&B for her school lunch.
Japan Pavilion QuickReview: 
+ Our top park pick
+ Blossoming cherry trees and babbling water gardens are the bomb
+ Food being played with at Teppan Edo
- The anti-Wal*Mart, be ready to fork more for quality at Mitsukoshi 
- May be tempted to sell a child for a flight to the island
Score:  4.5 *Top Pick*

We finished the remaining countries, chugging a German Weizenbie and stealing signatures.  

 Pigtails claims "Snow White had the sweetest voice you've ever heard, so friendly."


Chinese goods are exotic and you can't buy them anywhere.*


 Boated through Mex'.


A final visit with the rodents, sundown waffle cones and fireworks closed it down.


I was concerned Pigtails would be too young to enjoy Epcot, but that wasn't the case.  Crowds were compact, the heat and steam weren't scathing and the World Showcase was as good as I remember it as a boy.

Epcot Overall QuickReview: 
+ Kids age 8 to adult will smile here
+ Crowds are half as thick as Magic Kingdom
+ Japan and the aquarium are underrated and excellent
- Once you start on the big loop o' World Showcase, you're committed to a long haul around the lake
- What's the deal with the Test Track being busted again?
- Some of the rides have that not-so-fresh feeling and need remixed:  Spaceship Earth and the Energy Adventure, and how about touching the HD wand to the Soarin' film?
Epcot Final Score:  3.5



  1. Karin K8/21/2012

    Outstanding reviews...waiting for more! I give your review, so far, a 5.0.

    1. Thanks, I'll update the post later tonight with the rest of the Tour de Epcot.

  2. Really interesting to me. Living in Australia, Disney is a magical fairytale land of the unknown. Your tour breakdown, now has me considering this as a must-do, on a trip to that part of the U.S. Now I just need to add, "trip to the U.S" to my list. HeHe

    1. Australia will work, let's do a swap.

    2. Hey Beard, you are a thinking man! That might actually work..

  3. So far, so good.
    Lots of smiles from Pigtails.

  4. Loved your review, seriously. Very informative..and kudos for total of 18 bux meals!

    1. These travel posts may needle towards boring rather than entertaining, hoping they can provide some detail and help to those looking to travel to Disney or the beaches. My take on what we saw is quite a bit different than the reviews on TripAdvisor, I'll share why.


Thanks for the note, check back for my response!