Tuesday, September 25, 2007

YES, BUT WHERE WAS OSWALD THE LUCKY RABBIT? We not only have an extraordinary figure skating correspondent in our friend Gretchen; she also files travel reports on occasion:

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I'm just back from a quick trip to Orlando, where eight college friends met up with us for a four-day marathon through all four theme parks and the Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Since this is the blog of choice not only for parents of four year olds planning Disney trips but also for overeducated urban professionals planning Disney trips, here are a few highlights from our trip.

First, the bad: namely, Disney-MGM Studios. (Or, as it will soon be renamed, Disney's Hollywood Studios.) Rock-n-Roller Coaster was closed, and let me tell you that without that ride, the whole park is sorely lacking in headliner attractions. We rode Tower of Terror a few times, but found ourselves scrounging for stuff to do. We also got rained out of the Indiana Jones stunt show (lightning). The unexpected highlight for me was the art class with a "Disney animator," which was really fun and very non-Disney. I drew a killer version of Pluto. I also really loved the Lights-Motors-Action stunt show, which was fast-paced and intense. We just missed the opening of the High School Musical 2 show, called "School's Out!"

Also, have any of you experienced the "Narnia" attraction? It's unbelievably lame. You watch the DVD extras while you stand in line, then go into a big room with a lamppost and fake snow. An actress dressed like the White Witch gives this short speech, you watch 10 minutes of movie highlights and a preview of Prince Caspian, and then you leave. It really doesn't even deserve the Disney name. Given the amazing things you could do with a Narnia-themed ride, this just seems tragic. And I like Beauty and the Beast just as much as the next bookish girl, but I'd love to see a new and spruced up stage show in the theater, especially if it featured performers who could either sing live or lip-sync more plausibly.

Luckily, thanks to the aforementioned rain, we had no waits for anything, which made even the bad attractions palatable (although there's no excuse for the Drew Carey "sounds" attraction, which is terrible). And the rain gave us some extended time in the video arcades, where my friend managed to win the entire cast of Finding Nemo out of those grab machines, much to the amazement of friends and small children everywhere.

I love the theming of this park as you walk down Sunset Boulevard, but I think the whole place is experiencing an identity crisis. There are so many missed opportunities. I hope that with the new Toy Story attraction (modeled after Buzz Lightyear) and with the name change, the park will move forward and develop content that lives up to its promise.

Now for the best: On Friday night, we went to the Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom. I wasn't sure that it would be worth the $50 price of admission (that's $10 per hour!) but it was fabulous. The big rides, as well as the good Fantasyland rides, were all open, and lines were very short (posted at ten minutes, we basically just walked on to everything.) The Haunted Mansion is decked out with a live actress in front playing a ghost and the cast members in full ghoul makeup. Cast members and characters have trick-or-treat stations scattered throughout the park. But the core message of the Halloween party is this: Villains Love Techno. The themed Halloween fireworks are set to techno versions of Disney classics (which is scary all by itself!). The Villains float thumps to the beat of some random guy playing a fake guitar. And the Villains show on the steps of the Castle is totally priceless. Imagine, if you will, Cruella DeVille vamping with Jafar, while dancers in Sydney Bristow bright red wigs, pleather corsets, and fishnets do kicks in the background. Men in muscle shirts and leather pants thrust and pump around Maleficent. I've never seen anything quite like it at Disney.

Onto Animal Kingdom! Expedition Everest is amazing. The park was quiet enough that we had lots of time to watch the animals (I love the big bats on the Jungle Trail). And I just thoroughly love the theming in this park. The entire park really screams Julie Taymor to me---everything, from the parade to the costuming to the attractions, feels like it was inspired by her direction of the Lion King for Broadway. There's also a new Finding Nemo musical, with music apparently done by the Avenue Q guys. It's air conditioned (always a plus) and uses great puppetry, black light effects, bubbles, and other traditional stagecraft devices to really create something special. I think it's a must-see at Disney.

And that leaves Epcot. Best ride: Test Track. Worst ride: Journey Into Imagination. Also awesome: Soarin' Over My Home State of California and the pavilion where you can drink exotic Coke products from around the world. (Clearly, they save money by only letting you sample virtually unpalatable drinks. If someone tells you to try Beverly, just say no.)

World Showcase was totally fun. After watching both the American movie/show and the new, Martin-Short-narrated Canadian movie, we all decided that Canada looked pretty darn good. It combines the "beauty and grandeur of Canada" with actual humor, which we really appreciated. (Disney's Americana is all so SERIOUS! At one point in the Hall of Presidents, I laughed at a line that I'm pretty sure was intended to be funny, and this ten-year-old boy sitting in front of me turned around and glared. Apparently, I wasn't being sufficiently reverent.) The Norwegian cast members were hot as usual. We loved the very cold beer in the Germany pavilion, and had a pretty good Moroccan dinner. I decided that between the focus on world peace through dining on world cuisine and the optimistic look at a future governed by the triumph of science and genetically modified crops, EPCOT is the Park of the Enlightenment. (I think Magic Kingdom is medieval and MGM is twentieth century, but I'm still working on this theory.)

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