July 30, 2018

Disney World After A Decade Away: Day Five - Magic Kingdom, Polynesian and Disney Springs

Nearing the end of my trip report, but there's still so much to tell you. I was surprised by this day in several ways. It was much shorter (just like this post), but it was another great day.

What a way to start the day!

After a terrific but very long day at the Magic Kingdom, our second day at the original Florida Disney park started early, but it would end up being much shorter than our previous day. Surprisingly, we were all fine with that. 

Splash Mountain beckoned us with an early morning ride due to Fast Pass. We followed it up with another wild ride in the wilderness. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is just that good- and it remains my favorite ride in the Magic Kingdom. In fact, if I had to guess I'd say it was probably everyone's favorite. 

In short order we'd covered two repeat must-see attractions, and we had some time left before our next Fast Pass, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  I couldn't wait to ride the newest coaster on the property. From everything I could tell, I was going to love it.

An unexpected choice with great rewards for people
who dared to move beyond E Ticket attractions.

Corporately, I think we decided on a pretty bold choice: Tom Sawyer Island. My daughter and family had not been on the island last trip, and I hadn't been on it for years. And I mean years. What a delight it was! 

Just getting away from it all was smart. After the short raft ride over to the island, we hopped off and began exploring. The lush dense forest was the perfect setting for an adventure that seemed to last quite awhile but was in fact probably 45 minutes at most. From the lengthy suspended bridge to the caves, the kids loved the sense of total freedom, and we loved the diversity of experience... and the lack of crowds, which we could see forming on the mainland as more and more folks poured into the Kingdom.

Taken from one of the viewing spots in the fort.

Could it be that Walt Disney knew what people needed at the park? Perhaps he realized that not only would a visit to the island be a nice break from standing in line but that it would also be an opportunity for guests to create their own "free form" experience in opposition to the thoroughly thought out and well designed experiences the Imagineers would build. Disney dark rides and Jungle Cruises are manufactured to tell the specific story they want to tell. The Tom Sawyer Island experience is deliberately different.

From a flatly objective viewpoint, the island is nothing more than an elaborate playground- but it's one that appeals to children, teens, and adults of all ages because it's so well done! And don't you love the fact that, at least in Southern California, the island was personally designed by Walt himself? I do! It shows he was a kid at heart, a kid that loved to explore and discover. I'd say it also shows that Walt knew nothing was as refreshing and revitalizing as what God created when the earth was formed. Something about being among nature. Be it the forest, the ocean, or the desert, nothing is as majestic or can be duplicated at the hands of man. 

A real fort you can still enter- unlike the one at Disneyland!

   Yes, he is shooting a gun. 
Politically incorrect for some folks, 
but it was his favorite part of the island.

So, here it was, the beginning of the Summer season, and Aunt Polly's cafe was not open. That was really too bad. Oh, I remember the joy of sitting there on the porch drinking freshly squeezed lemonade and thinking about the next place I would go. Would it be the eerie Haunted Mansion across the river or maybe a stop into the solidly patriotic Hall of Presidents? Those were the days! You could get into the Mansion without an hour wait, and you could sit in the Hall of Presidents without having to worry if some jerk couldn't control himself by having to shout out something rude or crude to a group of robots. 

Long lines due to: 1- Summer, 2- Fast Pass, 
3- An under built park, and 4- Woefully under built secondary parks.

As we needed to leave the island and head toward Fantasyland for our next ride of the day, I took a quick glance over at Country Bear Jamboree. How I wanted to see it, but it wouldn't happen this trip. Count it as another casualty to having to plan ahead for nicer dining locations and Fast Pass reservations for attractions. We substituted it for a ride on the railroad from the Frontierland station to the very well done Fantasyland station.

One of two contenders for the best
part of the New Fantasyland.

I might have mentioned in the earlier trip report that I was surprised by the relative lack of big trees in what is supposed to be a very forested area of the New Fantasyland, the land surrounding the Mine Train attraction. There is much barren concrete, certainly a concession to having to accommodate large crowds and wide strollers. Imagining myself walking into a forest from the castle and seeing Maurice's cottage or that of Snow White, I wanted to be vowed by the "big reveal" as I walked from the older part of Fantasyland into the new one the first time. 

I wasn't. When a major land that defines the Magic Kingdom for so many guests gets revised in such a transformative way, I'd expect only Disney's best and brightest Imagineers to be in charge and to do much better with the project. All this made the new roller coaster a wonderful surprise! 

Riding in the last car, I felt the sway of the cars as I experienced one of the most lavishly themed family coasters. The views of the surrounding area were great- bet it's even better at night- but it was what I viewed inside the mountain that made the attraction as enjoyable as it was. Part coaster, part dark ride, all terrific. The diamond mine sparkled as it should, the dwarfs looked pretty good for projections, and the iconic music set the perfect flavor for it all. Yes, the ride was too short and the lines too long, but Disney has a winner on its hands. A great addition to an already strong coaster line-up.

We had our last Fast Pass for Peter Pan's Flight, and in less than three or four minutes, we took off for Neverland. Compared to what I'd seen at Disneyland and Disneyland Paris, it was very underwhelming- small, cramped rooms, and minimal upkeep. It's a signature park attraction that deserves better.

One last look at Liberty Square.

Our next and last stop in the Magic Kingdom would be Mickey's Philharmagic. The kids were a little skeptical with the 3D aspect as last trip they were scared by it all. Not this time. And they loved Donald Duck being the star of the show. 

Happy to see us- happy to be here!

At 2pm, it was time to leave the park. Yes, it really was that early, and I was sort of, kind of, almost ready. I mean, I could stay in the Magic Kingdom all day, especially after being gone from Walt Disney World for almost ten years. But our destination was the Polynesian Village Resort and a meal at the Kona Cafe. We'd get there by boat.

The short cruise to the Polynesian was sweet! We were the only ones on the boat, and just being that close to the water hearing the waves, well, it's something that Disneyland can never offer and thus makes Walt Disney World a very unique experience. This is when it truly feels like a resort and not just a collection of theme parks. I could tell the kids enjoyed it. Something I really appreciate about these two, each experience is unique and fun on its own, and it isn't necessary to entertain or pander to them. Made our trip really relaxing and special. Was it because they grew up not being catered to that they've learned to enjoy each discover and have hearts of appreciation? I think so.

Even from behind, it really isn't that bad!

Due the all the on line photographs and commentary, I was truly skeptical of what I would discover at the Polynesian Village lobby. Frankly, the is my favorite hotel in all the World, and the classic waterfall garden at the entrance is iconic. What I found in its place was bright, open, cheery, and much more generic than I thought it should be. Yet, after looking at it from various angles, it started to grow on me. Not my idea of a perfect change, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Gone was the resort's unique smell- but they have have just been the old carpeting.

A largely uninteresting photo- until you take a moment to look 
at all the textures and styles, patterns and finishes.

Disney fans rave about the breakfast offerings at Kona Cafe, but we found lunch to be pretty good! Each dish was varied and flavorful, the service excellent, and the ambiance refreshingly quiet and subdued. Perhaps leaving the parks for an afternoon break is worth what it is cracked up to be. We took the time to really relax, and it set the right tone for the next portion of the day.

Classy sign.

Something my wife and I have always enjoyed is taking a day off from the parks to visit the resorts. After a bit, we jumped on the Monorail for the short journey to the Grand Floridian. We weren't in there too long- just enough to check it out and let my daughter and her family see what all the high priced rooms were about. It wasn't their style (or ours), so we changed course and took the monorail back to the Magic Kingdom and a bus right to Saratoga Springs

Magnolias the size of dinner plates.

By the late afternoon, our resort pool was comfortably busy. The water was so warm that it didn't have that refreshing feel to it. It was just wet, if you know what I mean. Still, we enjoyed the down time and really needed it. The comparative calmness there in contrast to our swimming pool time at All Star Sports years back was noticeable. The difference between a more expensive place and one where high school teens go for cheerleading competitions. When you've gone from park to park all day for several days, the break makes a real difference. I may be spoiled going forward...

The springs of the Springs make for a great environment.

After a couple of hours at the pool, we cleaned up and took a boat to Disney Springs just across the lake. It was so convenient to do so from our resort, and as I mentioned, there's something so fun about all the various forms of transportation throughout the Disney World property.

Wow, just wow! We loved Disney Springs and the gorgeously done make over that the area really needed. Well done, suits and Imagineers! Please keep it up and finish the other side. In our minds, what once was a partial day or few hour dinner stop in the past has turned into a full day excursion. Apparently, many others feel this way as well. By early evening, the place was packed, and it was almost impossible to get a dinner reservation. We leisurely strolled the area, stopped in a few shops and stuck our heads into a few restaurants. 

Edison clock.
(Photo from the next day.)

I had really wanted to see the Edison. Just a bit disappointed overall, but I'm sure when its busy and entertainment is happening after dark, the place feels much more retro and steampunk than when seen in the brightness of the late afternoon sun.

Due to the difficulty of getting reservations in advance - I mean who wants to plan out their entire vacation- choices were limited, so we ended up choosing Paradiso 37 for dinner. This turned out very well for us! Delicious tacos and drinks in a fun and festive environment. Good kids menu, too. We would return for another meal another trip, aside from the fact there were so many other new and interesting places to dine. We had reservations for tomorrow at Morimotos (my daughter's pick), so we'd be back. We returned back to the resort by boat as we came, but it was now evening, and the lights shone on the lake in all their brilliance. It was a gorgeous Florida night: balmy breezes, palms swaying, and a star lit sky. A Disney vacation doesn't get any better than that!

Two days left! Next day would be our last time to Animal Kingdom and our first ride on Flight of Passage and finally that long awaited ride on Expedition: Everest. Then, it would be our last day- a half-day at Disney's Hollywood Studios and the flight home. How did it go so fast?

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

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