Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Troublemakers Go to Walt Disney World

            We took Lil’ Troublemaker to Walt Disney World a couple of weeks ago for his third birthday. I’ve been putting off writing about it for two reasons - 1) Not a lot of anecdotal stuff happened, and 2) The trip itself - for reasons that I’m not going to explain here – was not how I would have done it.
This is as much as I’m going to say about #2: Do not let somebody else plan your Disney trip. Ever. Especially not your son’s first one (I said 3 was too young and I was right). About a year ago a very different experience was proposed than the one that ultimately occurred, which is the only reason I agreed to it, and that’s as much as I can say without hurting anybody’s feelings. Just know that the three of us had as much fun as we could and none of the negative came from the missus or Lil’ Troublemaker. I got pretty pissy a couple of times, though. That’s just how I react to false advertising. Sue me.
Now a bit of time has passed and all of the things that pissed me off so much relating to the circumstances of the trip have paled in comparison to the good times we had.
So, despite me being a prick on a couple of mornings, we ended up doing all right. Lil’ Troublemaker got to meet Mickey and Minnie and Donald and Goofy. He got to pet Pluto and made a valiant attempt to get through an extremely long line to see Buzz Lightyear. We’ve got pictures of him hugging Mickey’s Gang that make me just a little misty every time I look at them. That little kid is so happy and full of love and we aim to keep him that way.

We left home early enough on Sunday that we could spend some time at Downtown Disney once we got to Orlando. That’s kind of my own personal tradition for Disney trips. If you don’t know, Downtown Disney is basically a Disney-owned strip-mall with family-oriented shops on one side and more adult stuff on the other. By adult I mean high-end merchandise and places that serve alcohol. Not like, a strip club with chicks in mouse ears. That would be incredibly wrong. The adult side is called Pleasure Island (after the place in Pinocchio [shut up, spellcheck – like I know how to spell “Pinocchio”]) and used to have a strip of themed night clubs. There was a comedy club, a hip-hop club, an eighties club. My favorite was the Adventurer’s Club, which was fashioned after one of those old-style places where gentlemen with mustaches wear fezzes and drink brandy out of snifters and talk about hunting pachyderms and go “Harrumph” a lot. The clubs are all closed now, but I think they’re remodeling them because they are physically still there. Disney is probably trying to find corporate sponsors for them to help with the operating costs. I just hope that one of them reopens with a Marvel Comics theme because that would be fucking dorky, and by fucking dorky I mean awesome.
So the point of this Downtown Disney trip is to sort of dip your toes in the Disney experience before actually hitting the parks. You get to ease into the magic before you actually have any kind of time frame or agenda. The other point of the visit is to eat at Earl of Sandwich, which serves the best sandwiches I have ever had in my life. We went straight there after picking up our park tickets and dropping by the toy store to get Lil’ Troublemaker this ridiculous Buzz Lightyear that spins and lights up. I mention it because it is the very first thing he ever got in Disney.
Earl of Sandwich is a strange place in that it has seemingly no Disney connection whatsoever but is clearly one of the main draws of Downtown Disney. Every time we’ve eaten there it has been packed and we always go in the off season. Their sandwiches are just so damned good. The last time we were there they had some kind of roast beef sandwich with a blue cheese dressing. I’m not normally a big fan of blue cheese (should I be spelling that differently? It doesn’t feel fancy enough) but this thing was great. It was on an extremely hearty all-grain bread and the roast beef (which there was a ton of) was sliced as thin as tissue paper. I’m sitting here salivating just thinking about it. We were disappointed to discover that they are no longer serving that particular sandwich, but since there isn’t anything on the menu that isn’t great we got over it. I ordered a different roast beef-based sandwich and Mrs. Troublemaker got a club. Lil’ Troublemaker had a kid’s pizza sandwich that might have actually been the best of what we got. Seriously, folks – these sandwiches are so good and so filling that we don’t even get potato chips with them. That’s a huge deal since I only eat junk food like that when we’re on vacation or having movie nights and I passed up an opportunity to do so.
After we finished eating we walked around the shops for a while. I had a few collecting goals for our visit, and I knocked them out that first night. That’s another reason Downtown Disney is pretty great – you can buy Park Exclusives and not have to lug them around the parks all day or wait the three hours for them to be sent to the front of the park. The main things I wanted were Star Tours merchandise. The ride closed at the beginning of October (naturally, right before our visit; so the last time I rode it was really the last time I rode it) to be updated and remodeled. Probably a good move since it was an old-school gimble ride that made you sick within a minute of starting. Not as bad as the Back to the Future ride or anything, but still pretty jerky.
Anyway, I was hoping to find a box set of Star Tours passengers and a Sneak Peek toy of the new Star Tours vehicle. We found the box set immediately, and on clearance! I was ready to hand over the original $40 price, but it had been marked down to $15.99! Dammit, why didn’t I buy two? I skipped on the vehicle. I thought it was going to be in-scale with the figures, but it is probably half their scale and retailing for $24.99. I would have gladly paid sixty for a 3 ¾” scale version. I also picked up the Mickey Mouse as Indiana Jones figure that came out a couple of years ago.
Downtown Disney also boasts the largest LEGO store I have ever seen:
While walking through the huge stores and looking for more neat-o Park stuff, we came across one of the coolest things I have ever seen: a Build-Your-Own lightsaber setup. I know Hasbro produced a set a couple of years ago that replicated this experience, but it was like forty bucks and it also wasn’t in frigging Walt Disney World. Much like the Build-Your-Own Potato Head that Disney offers, this display had a huge assortment of pieces that allowed you to construct your own Jedi (or Sith) tool of dismemberment. Lil’ Troublemaker immediately ran over to the buffet of nerdery and started inspecting parts. I asked him if he wanted to make his very own lightsaber and he nodded enthusiastically. We stopped at each station so that he could pick a part and I could add it to our emerging elegant weapon from a more civilized age. This is what we ended up with:
I’m so glad he didn’t go for the double-edged version. That is so played out. My kid is awesome. While I regret not buying a second Star Tours box set, I really hate that I skipped on building myself a lightsaber.
Thusly equipped with a lightsaber-swinging three-year-old (the sales clerk had wisely put a piece of tape over the blade so it couldn’t extend all the way) and a few bags of goodies, we headed to our lodgings.
Which were extra-fancy:
And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
We got up the next morning and went to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I didn’t bother visiting the Animal Kingdom the first time I went to Walt Disney World because I figured it was just a big, Disney zoo. While it totally is that, it really is one of the neatest zoos I’ve been to – when the animals are out. This wasn’t the case Monday morning, but it didn’t matter so much because Lil’ Troublemaker got to meet Donald and Goofy and Mickey. It was amazing.
Before the trip, I had prepared myself for every reaction I could think of to everything at the parks. I had been steadfastly opposed to taking our son to Walt Disney World before he was 5, but when you think your trip is going to be free, you kind of go along with it. I was ready for him to not care about the parks, to be scared of the characters, to just want to sit in the room; whatever. I knew 3 was probably too young to get the full-on awesomeness of the Disney Park experience, and I certainly knew that we weren’t going to be getting full days in. We just wanted to do whatever we could to make everything as fun for Lil’ Troublemaker (and ourselves) as it could be.
We had heard similar stories from two different sources about hotel pools. How the parents had made the mistake of taking the kids to the pool before visiting the parks and the kids threw a fucking fit about wanting to go to the pool every day and not wanting to go to the park and the damned pool spoiled the whole fucking trip. Seriously – almost identical stories from two completely separate parents. No way were we going anywhere near a pool.
So after about four hours at the Animal Kingdom, signs pointed to a certain little boy being about ready to leave. He had seen some animals (not many, really; but compared to his previous animal-watching experiences at the fun but modest Yellow river Game Ranch, pretty amazing) and met, hugged and got autographs from a few of his heroes. His first park visit was a success.

We went back to our lodgings to take advantage of our built-in babysitting service (my in-laws), rest a bit, and then head out for
Mrs. & Phantom Troublemaker’s Epic Epcot Pub Crawl 2010!
My absolute favorite thing about Walt Disney World is the Magic Kingdom.
But a very close second is the World Showcase at Epcot. Because they have beer. Lots of it. I’m pretty sure I’m not the first person to come up with this concept, but I did develop it on my own.
You see, Disney’s Epcot theme park consists of two sections: Future World (no relation to the awesome Yul Brenner movie, although somebody should get on that right now) and the World Showcase. Future World offers many neat-o attractions centered around the betterment of mankind and our life on and understanding of this planet. The World Showcase consists of a more immediate and practical examination of our world with eleven different pavilions that each serve beer from a different country.
Okay, the World Showcase is a little fancier than a giant international bar. Each pavilion has architecture, restaurants, attractions, shops and even employees representative of – clockwise around the central lagoon – Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, America, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom and Canada. The Epcot Pub Crawl goes like this:
Starting in Canada or Mexico, each crawler buys a beer in each country as you make your way around the Showcase. See how far you get.
Now, eleven beers may not seem like a big deal to someone like Mrs. Troublemaker, but there are things to consider – 1) We are talking about eleven (or more) beers of differing type, alcohol content and capacity. Your serving sizes in the UK’s Rose & Crown and in Germany’s Biergarten are a bit larger than the other countries. 2) Chances are you only have a few hours to spend on the Pub Crawl. Normally Crawlers would spend the first portion of the day in Future World riding the rides and looking for Figment (I wouldn’t recommend doing the Pub Crawl before you go on Mission: SPACE), only heading into the World Showcase after four or so (the attraction generally closes at nine). Either that or you have kids and have left them in the able hands of relatives after a morning of park visiting so you can get properly shitfaced. Either way, we’re talking about four or five hours of beer time.
You might have noticed I mentioned there being more than eleven beers. Not only do the pavilions offer beers from their host countries, there are also stands in between that offer beers from other countries. Normally, anyway. This year all of those stands were devoted to wines from around the world, which was severely fucking up our beer thing. I had sampled a Brazilian beer at one of those stands a few years ago and have been talking about it ever since. Unfortunately the stand that served it had only wine and foreign food this year. I tried to make up for it by trying a Czech beer from a different stand, but that stuff tasted like goat whizz.
Last time we had started in Canada, so this time we had planned to start in Mexico. Unfortunately, all the Food & Wine festival bullshit threw us off our game and we ended up in Germany first. I say “unfortunately”. That is very misleading because we ended up drinking an Oktoberfest brew that I can’t remember the name of (Altenmuenster, maybe?) and it was probably the best beer we had the whole time. Very rarely do the missus and I agree on beer, but we both loved this one. As a matter of fact, it was so good that Epcot ran out of it by Thursday.
So we hung out in Germany for a bit and checked out their tiny, German trains:
I don’t know what the deal is with those trains, but people sure do love ‘em.
Our next stop was America, which is an amazing mix of silly and boring if you are actually American. Unless, of course, Billy Ocean is rocking the house!
It was cool enough that Billy Ocean was right there playing live while we were drinking beer in Walt Disney World, but I have to confess he was a minor letdown considering that as we approached the amphitheater I was positive the band sounded like The Time. Still great and funky, though. And we got to hear Caribbean Queen.
We got to Japan next, where I got a Kirin Ichiban and did the most predictable and unoriginal thing I could come up with:
You can’t tell, but that’s in front of a coi pond.
I was hoping to maybe find some neat-o Christmas presents in the giant Japanese store that runs the depth (no, not length) of the pavilion, but they seem to have a lot more stuff that you can just go out and buy in normal America now. A bunch of Transformers and Power Rangers that you can buy from any old Walmart.
Next we visited majestic Morocco, where I bought my trusty fez many years ago. I finally got a non-blurry picture of the bell tower. I don’t know why I am so fascinated by Middle Eastern architecture. Mrs. Troublemaker and I actually had a discussion about this on our second visit to the World Showcase (facilitated by Lil’ Troublemaker’s brief but enjoyable trip to Disney Hollywood Studios on Thursday morning). My best guess is that it is a combination of the fact that Morocco is the country from the World Showcase that I am least likely to visit in my life (what with being an infidel and all) and a deep-seated childhood love of stuff that looks like the architecture from Tatooine in A New Hope and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
After failing to find any Moroccan beer (I think it must exist, but maybe only inside their restaurant) we ran over to France. They don’t have beer in France, either. I think this is mainly to avoid hampering their topiary designing:
Then we made our way to Jolly Old England, where we had a lot of fun and probably should have just stayed the rest of the night.
If you think I wasn’t pretending that was a blue call box, then you don’t know how many beers I’d had at that point. Now that I mention it, why the fuck isn’t that a blue call box?
That phone booth is located just outside the rear door of the Rose & Crown pub, the central fixture of Epcot England. Just like other situations, I am going to recommend you enter from the rear if possible. This will bring you in near the less busy side of the bar and, more importantly, next to the entertainment. If you are lucky, that entertainment will be The Piano Lady:
The Piano Lady is an incredibly enthusiastic and kind person that sits behind a keyboard and unites everybody in the Rose & Crown with goofy songs and fun. After we got our Bass ales from the bartender, The Piano Lady introduced us to another couple who were there on their honeymoon and sat us down with them. Normally I would be thoroughly opposed to the idea of a forced social interaction, but I was drunk. It seemed logical.
We sat and talked to the younger couple for a while. They were nice and relatable, though I suspect I would have that opinion of most folks when I’ve been drinking. I’m not so sure they would say the same of me. I can’t remember exactly why, but we had to get back to Mexico before the park closed, so we said our goodbyes and moved on. I said before that we might as well have stayed in the Rose & Crown the rest of the night, but then we wouldn’t have seen Off-Kilter perform whatever songs they were playing while we were standing there (I think it was Come On, Eileen and ooh! I just remembered! They definitely played that Slade song about the chameleon and running away! I’m so proud of myself right now!):
Also, we wouldn’t have gotten more great pictures like this one I got in Canada:
Or this one in front of some other thing:
I’d like to just take a minute here to point out how totally awesome my wife is. To me, it’s no big deal to put a wrestling mask on and get my picture taken in front of fake Aztec temples:
To the average person, though, it might seem a bit strange. While I am up in front of the totem poles or Viking houses or whatever, Mrs. Troublemaker is dealing with average people who may not necessarily get the humor inherent in a drunken idiot in a wreslting mask. She deals with these people with grace – even when she herself is mind-bendingly drunk – and for that I love her more than any other lady on the planet. She has to be truly special to love and understand somebody so… special. If you know what I mean.
Oh, and I remember why we had to get to Fake Mexico – to take a picture of the scariest fucking thing on the planet:
Seriously. Just imagine waking up in the middle of the night with that… thing standing beside your bed. Like, not even big, just that size. Makes me want to pee just thinking about it. In case you were wondering, that little abomination is the foyer of the Aztec temple (did Aztec temples have foyers? Is my terminology off?), in front of the entrance to an awesome little Fake Open Air Marketplace that is inside Fake Mexico’s Fake Aztec temple. Catch all that? We were in a real marketplace that was clearly not open-air since it was inside the temple, but Disney’ Imagineers created a beautiful (presumably) Mexican sky over the marketplace. It’s a neat little setup and I have no idea why I didn’t take any pictures of it. We were sure there would be some Day of the Dead merchandise (the festival, not the movie), but all they had were a couple of extremely Jersey-looking shirts.
Afterwards, I stopped by a large edifice to make my obligatory open challenge to any who would dare take it:
None dared.
Next we went to Norway. I wanted to ride the Maelstrom, but Mrs. Troublemaker claimed she was too drunk. I gave her a pass since she had been such a good little photographer. And so she wouldn’t throw up on me. Norway was fake in more ways than one it seems. The guy who poured our beers into the Norwegian stein claimed that the beer wasn’t actually Norwegian. Whatever. It was still pretty good.
Another funny difference between me and my lovely wife is how beer affects our perception of beer. The more I drink, the better any given beer seems. The more Mrs. Troublemaker drinks, however, the more likely she is to proclaim beer to be shit. She is also far more likely to drink beer that actually is shitty, which is kind of ironic. If an inebriated Mrs. Troublemaker is wandering around your house, you’d best hide the Schaeffer’s, is what I’m saying.
This is from Italy:
Even though my brain knows that’s Neptune, my heart says Poseidon.
And that’s pretty much where we finished. We sort of glanced at the fireworks on the way out, but honestly, once you’ve seen Fantasmic!, all other fireworks displays are kind of lame.
I’m not sure if I’ve got more to say about our Disney trip or not. I do know it’s 3:03 AM and my typing is growing even worse than it normally is.
Until next time, stay creepy,

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