Disney World 2013: The Best and the Non-Best

Yesterday we discussed logistics and rationale behind Disney World 2013. Today let’s talk specifics.

Best Meal – Overall: The hardest reservation for me to get (where I was actually successful) was at ‘Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian resort, a full-service restaurant where meals are served family style and consist of Brazilian steakhouse-style meat on skewers plus sides. Was it the best piece of steak I’ve ever had? No. But the food was solidly good, the theme was fun, and we got to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks.

Best Meal – Theming: Sci Fi Dine In at Disney Hollywood Studios is probably a contender for second-worst food on our trip, but there’s amazing theming involving sitting in cars watching a drive in movie. Even if it is slightly awkward that if there is an odd number of people in your group someone will end up in a row by herself.

Best Snack: Dole Whip near Jungle Cruise at Magic Kingdom. Pineapple soft serve over pineapple juice; a cult favorite for a reason.

Worst Meal – Food: Pizzafari at Animal Kingdom was not the worst pizza I’ve ever had, by a long shot (thank China for that one), but it wasn’t too inspired. Going here instead of Tusker House BBQ is one of my sole regrets from the trip, if you can call it that. Though, now that I think about it, that meal was definitely still superior to lunch at Mel’s Diner in Universal Studios.

Mmm

Mmm

Best waffles: Mini-Mickey waffles at the food court at our hotel (Pop Century). As a sidenote, although these are the kids’ waffles meant for the under-9 set, I didn’t have an issue ordering a kids meal here or at Be Our Guest. The anonymity of counter service probably helped with that.

Worst waffles: We enjoyed our first-ever trip to a Waffle House on our first night in Orlando, as one was walking distance to our Universal hotel. Pros: so cheap! And, pretty good hash browns. Cons: why was your signature food the lowlight of the meal?

Longest wait: For Be Our Guest, the new restaurant inside the Beast’s castle at the Magic Kingdom. The food was solid and even bordered on fancy (Matthew got the quinoa salad, e.g.) and the theming was delightful (we sat right by the enchanted rose). It took about 30 minutes to go from getting in line to sitting at a table awaiting our order; the majority of our waits for rides and experiences throughout the trip, though, rarely exceeded 10 minutes and often were 5 minutes or less.

Best ride/attraction, by park:

Magic Kingdom: Usually it would be Splash Mountain, but that’s undergoing repairs this winter. The winner might be Haunted Mansion for the time being, therefore. Enchanted Tales with Belle was the only attraction that was wholly new to us on this visit. It was amusing to watch as an adult, but would be fabulous if you had a grade-school age child who got to interact with Belle and help act out her story.

Extremely close to this real-life giraffe on safari

Extremely close to this real-life giraffe on safari

Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest is an extremely well done ride, with beautiful theming in the surrounding area (so says Ro after visiting Everest base camp in 2011). But let’s not forget how fabulous the Kilimanjaro Safari experience is, especially since they got rid of the dumb storyline about poachers. I don’t know how Disney does it, but I think you’d be hard pressed to see this many animals this close up on a real African safari. Many close-up pictures of animals to be had.

Disney Hollywood Studios: Tower of Terror is always the classic here. Better than its CA cousin, we can all agree.

EPCOT: Test Track recently underwent a small renovation primarily inspired by its sponsorship transferring from GM to Chevrolet specifically. We actually found that the renovation dis-improved the ride, since the option to “customize” the mechanics of your car didn’t add much (and didn’t work properly either time we rode), and since the black-lit test area had less character than the previously white-washed test site. In terms of technology and thrills, Mission: Space is definitely the best ride at the park, but Spaceship Earth, riding past scenes of human communications progress plus a slow descent where you customize your vision of the future, was perhaps the ride I most enjoyed this time around. Love those Renaissance animatronics.

Universal Studios: The big coaster here, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, is a winner. This park’s attractions were enjoyable in general, but we felt a bit of 3D/simulated motion overload by the end of the day, since the park clocks in with four attractions that are either 3D or motion simulators.

Universal Islands of Adventure: The Incredible Hulk coaster and the newly-redone Spiderman 3-D simulator ride remains excellent, but obviously the big attraction here is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, featuring one new ride and two repurposed rides we’d experienced in different forms in visits in years past. The headliner ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is fun, and the well-themed line takes you through Hogwarts castle and is an attraction in and of itself. However, this ride also wins the award for Most Nauseating. Be forewarned not to get your Butterbeer before riding, as we did.

Biggest surprise compared with Universal Studios Singapore: Remember that I spent a magical Singapore day at Universal Studios last February? Seeing that the FL park had a Mummy ride, I expected the same entertaining high-speed dark ride, but instead got a weirder indoor roller coaster experience with a totally different plotline. And a lot of temperature changes. The one thing both rides shared, however, was a fairly incomprehensible story.

Least surprising compared with Universal Studios Singapore: That BeetleJuice’s Rock and Roll Graveyard Review (“Moster Rock!” in Singapore) did not feature the hit Chinese ballad, “Wo Ai Ni.”

Least China-flashback inducing moment: The China pavilion at Epcot. Yes, some of the merchandise is pretty similar to what you’d find in a Chinese tourist market, though at a much higher markup, but the China pavilion didn’t actually make me very China nostalgic. The Circlevision movie doesn’t have a lot to do with modern China either, since we’re simply shepherded around the classic sites by a man in Confucian gear. I do think we got a moment of seeing the pre-dam Three Gorges area, though, so that’s charming.

Ro with her winnings

Ro with her winnings

Best place to have a drink: This was our first WDW trip where all members of our party had reached the age of majority. As such, we enjoyed the occasional drink at WDW, which feels novel and amusing. The most memorable was sitting by the pool bar at the Polynesian Resort around sunset. Bonus is the nightly resort marshmallow roasting that happens on the beach nearby and where we were welcomed, despite being adults not actually staying at the hotel.

Best souvenir: This was perhaps our lightest souvenir trip ever, since we bought exactly nothing. Ro, however, won a stuffed animal at a carnival game in Animal Kingdom. His name is Dinosaur after the theming of the area in which he was won.

So, in conclusion: everyone should plan a trip to Disney World.

By the way, have I ever mentioned that it’s one of my life goals to visit every Disney theme park? I’m hoping Disneyland Paris will be next. And the opening of Disneyland Shanghai in 2015 or so is one of the best (only?) inducements for a return trip to China that I can think of.

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