Seeing things for the first time: Disney World as an (childless) adult

I finally convinced my lovely fiancée to accompany me to Walt Disney World in sunny and nearly tropical-in-September Orlando, Florida. I blame JetBlue and their $99-each-way fare to Orlando.

Our Disney history

Copyright © Ed Marsh, 2011
Spaceship Earth. The most well-known thing in Epcot. Also one of the crappiest rides.

My family went a few times when I was growing up. Now that I’m an adult and actually had to pay for it (good thing the airfare was cheap), I am thankful we went even once. My parents also managed to take us to Disney World in the fall, during the school year. Nicely done, Mom and Dad.

The trip I remember most was 1982, a month after EPCOT Center (sorry, I think it’s just Epcot now) opened. Due to teething problems we were stuck in Spaceship Earth and Universe of Energy, which was actually less fun than it sounds.

My last visit to Disney was in 2001, chaperoning the middle- and high-school marching band I taught. It was a lot of fun, but not much of a vacation.

The woman know as S’s entire experience with Disney was a few hours in California’s Disneyland when she was six. Disneyland?! That doesn’t count. Clearly, she needed to experience the Happiest Place on Earth™.

Staying in the resorts

Sure, you can save money by staying outside the park. Your savings then goes toward renting a car, fuel, and $14 a day in parking (which is still cheaper than parking at Giants, er, MetLife Stadium). You also skip the free ride to and from the airport, deal with traffic, and miss out on the Extra Magic Hours that are a benefit to those staying on the property.

Coronado Springs Resort. Copyright © Ed Marsh, 2011
Coronado Springs resort, convention center, and during the busy season, small metropolis.

If you’re lazy, drink heavily, or even want to be green-ish, stay in the resorts and ride the buses that run until 2 a.m. They’re arctic-cold, and a fantastic sociology lesson.

We stayed in the utterly massive Coronado Springs resort and convention center. It is Mexican themed. It has four bus stops. Their on-site restaurant didn’t get great reviews. Like a cheap hotel, each room contains an Ethernet cable, and charges you $10 for 24 hours of Internet service. And no wi-fi (barbarians!).

DisneyTech

The Card. Don't leave your hotel room without it. © Ed Marsh 2011
The Card. Don't leave your hotel room without it.

The Card – When you check in, you get a card that’s valid as your room key, park admission, Fastpass (see below) credentials, and charge card everywhere in Disney. That’s right, charge card. On your day of departure, you don’t check out; they place the bill on your doorknob, and you wake up on your last day in The Happiest Freakin’ Place on Earth with sticker shock from a few pages of charges.

Fastpass – Holy crap is this genius. Instead of shuffling forward in lines for the most popular rides inch by maddening inch, you get a ticket (using The Card), go do something else, and come back at the time specified. This is even more easily organized with…

The App! If you ever needed to justify the purchase of a smartphone, this app is the reason you need one. It uses GPS to find where you are in each park, and lets you know the wait time and Fastpass return time for each ride. It also has dining and show schedule information. Like the rest of Disney, the attention to detail (even on Android) is fantastic. Technology is wonderful.

The Magic Kingdom

Cinderella's Castle, Magic Kingdom. Copyright © Ed Marsh, 2011
I once wanted to be married here. Then I heard how much it costs.

This park felt smaller than I remember. Fantasyland is tiny, and had exactly zero interesting rides. Since I can drive (and crash) a race car at high speeds on my computer, we also avoided the “freedom” of driving the “race cars” on rails in Tomorrowland.

But Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad are still incredibly awesome. S. screamed and laughed hysterically on each ride, which just made it even more fun.

The Hall of Presidents is actually enjoyable as an adult, not a 20-minute nap between rides, and boy do you feel Proud to Be an American afterwards. The truly exceptional Americans applaud their favorite Animatronic president when they are introduced.

One of the best things about being without child, besides staying out past midnight and leaving the hotel room after noon, is that you can breeze past the things you don’t want to see. “It’s a Small World”, with its brain-numbing theme song and 65-minute wait(!), was optional.

The EPCOT World Showcase

Dramatic, no?

I was looking most forward to the Epcot World Showcase. I was curious to see just how ‘authentic’ the Germany pavilion would be since we went to Germany almost exactly two years ago. In 2001 as a chaperone of a horde of middle-school kids, this part of the park was just not an option.

I was rather disappointed that each pavilion was little more than food opportunities and shopping, but at least it was consistent with the rest of our experience. I was happy that each country served beer.

Of course, the folks working each country, who are all from each respective country, were very nice and probably a bit naïve in thinking their Disney experience is indicative of the rest of the US. A wonderful young girl from northern Germany was only in the US for four weeks, but noted that she would never have a random conversation like we had back at home, as most people walk with their eyes turned down. Afterwards, I considered goingback and telling her that’s not too much different than it is in New York City.

Overall, the part of the trip I was most anticipating just made me want to travel to the actual countries the represented.

The Food

I ordered a goat cheese terrine salad, laden with fresh raspberries, toasted walnuts, and a cranberry compote at the Raglan Road Irish Pub in Downtown Disney’s Pleasure Island. The terrine was a warm disc of gooey goat cheese, coated with breadcrumbs and fried. It may not have been as healthy as I’d like. But it was salad!

“This is one of the best things I’ve had since I’ve been here”, I told the waiter. “That’s because we’re not a Disney property”, was his snarky retort. “Disney uses Sysco”.

This conversation really summed up how we felt about the food choices. A lot of the food in Planet Disney is simply good, not oh wow fantastic as we expected, especially at the prices we paid.

Camera 360
The infamous Scotch Egg at Epcot's UK pavilion. Yes, it's sausage-wrapped.

That said, the Scotch egg in the“UK” (note ironic quotation marks) was nothing short of a miraculous guilty pleasure; a hard-boiled egg encased in sausage, enhanced mightily by grainy mustard. As a child, I remember my parents raving about Scotch eggs in the pub. They got this one right, too.

Most of the places in Downtown Disney are good to very good, with Raglan Road the best in that area. We also our fair share of vegan goodies at Babycakes NYC.

For many, I’m sure this is a lot of fantastic food outside of their comfort zone, but like the World Showcase, it left us wanting more.

The Booze

The best part about being over the legal drinking age and not toting around children of all ages, is being able to drink where you want, when you want.

Except in the Magic Kingdom.

I suppose you don’t want throngs of the Happiest People on Earth riding Space Mountain with a few drinks in them.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to see adults walking through Epcot Center with drinks in their hands. And since the last time I was there, they installed a Tequila bar in Mexico:

Copyright © Ed Marsh, 2011
Mexico pavilion's Tequila bar. In order to complete my Beer around the World mission, I only had one shot. And it was mezcal. And it was good!

It took two trips to Epcot, but I completed “Beers around the World”, having a beer in each country. This is why we spent very little time in Hollywood Studios on our final day.

The happiest place on earth?

I can’t deny we had a terrific time (great company had at least something to do with it…). The attention to detail is outrageous, and one of the things I appreciated most as an adult (did I mention the booze?). There is definitely a Magic of Disney. People are drawn to this place like a drunk to a case of Piels. Even the employees hailing from Brooklyn and Queens are nice.

But for us, it was a little too sanitized, and entirely too commercial. There’s a gift shop literally at the end of every ride. The food, while good, was not worth the price we paid.

For those not obligated by offspring, it is definitely worth going once, especially during the off-season, when the prices are cheaper, and lines and children are much fewer.

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