By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2018, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here.



yourfirstvisit.net—Disney World Instructions for the First-Time Visitor



Category — q. Reviews

The Transformation of Disney’s Animal Kingdom

I thought, as we come up on six months after Pandora: World of Avatar opened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, that it would be fun to take a step back and revisit the slew of changes at the Disney’s Animal Kingdom over the past few years.

 

The total transformation at the park has been remarkable. At the cost of the former Pocahontas meet and greet, we got among other things the best theme park fine dining restaurant in Orlando with Tiffins, the most completely-imagined themed area in the world in Pandora, and the best theme park ride in the U.S. in Flight of Passage.

Add to this Sunset Safaris in Africa, Tree of Life Awakenings, the evening show Rivers of Light, the single big miss of Na’vi River Journey, and the fact that broad swathes of the park can now be enjoyed after dark (most notably Expedition Everest, but don’t forget Chester and Hester’s Dinorama, which has always been its best after dark), and it’s hard not to be impressed.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened with a focus on animals. Most major additions after it opened did not—with the signature addition being the roller coaster Expedition Everest about a decade ago. While in its early years the park did have after-dark opportunities, in this decade they were narrowed to just evening Extra Magic Hours and late closes during the holiday season—and in the last few years the evening Extra Magic Hours went away, largely leaving Animal Kingdom at night only to those who visited in the holiday season.

The transformation was meant to broaden the appeal of the park, widen the parts of the day during which it could be enjoyed, anchor it in some well-known intellectual property (the worlds of James Cameron’s Pandora from Avatar, whose sequels are expected well before the Second Coming), and—frankly—to show Universal Orlando that Disney was willing to compete at the high level of theming and ride quality that it showed in its Harry Potter offerings.

The re-imagining began with the closure of the old Camp Minnie Mickey area, and the rebuilding of a new home for Festival of the Lion King in Africa, where it had always belonged anyway.

Next—and as significant to me personally as anything other than Flight of Passage—was the opening of Harambe Market, a new quick service venue in Africa, my go-to place for what I think of as an Indian-inspired corn dog but which Disney insists on calling a “beef and pork sausage” on its menu.

Then April 22, 2016 came and went, noted principally by those who booked vacations on Disney’s promise that this was the date that the new evening show River of Light would open. In the biggest schedule miss in recent memory, it didn’t open then, not debuting until almost a year later, but lovely wife Amy Girl and I still had fun during our visit that month, including walking behind Joe Rhode’s earring down one of the long hallways of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

In May 2016 the other parts of Disney’s evening program at Animal Kingdom opened, as did Tiffins—the best theme park fine dining restaurant in Orlando, accompanied by a great bar, and probably the most likely place after Raglan Road (and the drunk tank) to find Disney World bloggers and guidebook writers.

The new evening program included the short-lived and best-forgotten Jungle Book show in the Rivers of Light area, and the still-extant Tree of Life Awakenings—likely the most charming minor entertainment in any Disney Park, which I view as a don’t miss—and the Sunset Safari at Kilimanjaro Safaris.

It’s best to think of Sunset Safari as two additional offerings, on around sunset and one after dark. The one around sunset is a terrific supplement to or replacement of a daylight visit to Kilimanjaro Safaris, is certain animals–especially the cats—are much more active at this time of day. The after-dark version is different, worth doing, but much less compelling than a daytime or sunset visit, and should be viewed as an addition to one of those visits, and not be your sole visit to Kilimanjaro Safaris.

The sunset safaris also expended the vocabulary of most of us, adding “crepuscular,” “civil twilight,” “nautical twilight,” and “astronomical twilight” as we tried to advise people on what to see when, and why, while acting like we knew these words all along.

In February 2017 the evening show Rivers of Light finally opened. While diminished compared to its aspirations (this mismatch, and trying to resolve it, was the main reasons it took so long to go live), and the only evening show at Disney World that is hardly anyone’s favorite, it has great charm, musicality, and visual delight, and I view it as a four-star don’t miss.

Then in May 2017 Pandora: World of Avatar opened in the old Camp Minnie Mickey area, bringing two new rides, Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey, dining in Satu’li Canteen and shopping at the Windtraders gift shop.

Pandora is the most completely realized themed area ever built, with remnants of the Resources Development Administration base from the first Avatar movie underpinning a stunning depiction of the shapes, colors and life of the moon Pandora.

The land is set ~20 years after the first movie, which both frees it from that specific movie and any sequels that come out while taking advantage of the astonishing visually lush setting. James Cameron is at his best in visualizing worlds (and worst in creating plots).

You don’t need to have seen the movie to enjoy the land, but it helps—particularly helping with the lesser of the two rides here, Na’vi River Journey, a gentle homage to the animals and plants of Pandora, and the religion of the Na’vi, which frankly needs all the help it can get.

If you do watch Avatar again (or for the first time), be patient. The beginning is dull, the avatar science makes no sense, and the middle, with its long stretches of workout routines and self-regard, is hard to be captivated by. The story (whose borrowings are much debated—I see it as a mix of The Dragonriders of Pern, Pocahontas , Jurassic Park, and a Jane Fonda workout video) really works only from beginning to end (and, far, far better on a 3D big screen than at home), so you need to begin at the beginning on the biggest TV you own, and give it time to unfold. (As an aside, I’ve always thought it too bad that the two movies Cameron is most famous for—Titanic and Avatar—are among his worst. Much better are Terminator 2, Aliens, True Lies, and The Abyss, which is particularly under-appreciated.)

Flight of Passage (full name, that no one uses, is Avatar Flight of Passage) is the headliner, and the best theme park ride to come out in years—and the best at Disney World. You will see folk comparing it to Soarin’ Around the World at Epcot—a comparison that is not false, but adds as much value to understanding Flight of Passage as the claim that hamburger and Kobe beef are based on the same ride system adds to dining.

Flight of Passage simulates riding the back of a flying banshee through sublime, beautiful, gentle, and dramatic scenes from Pandora. It is the culmination of a lengthy queue that begins outdoors among the flying mountains of the Valley of Mo’ara (actually, all too commonly it begins way back on the bridge between Discovery Island and Pandora…) then makes its way inside through scenes from abandoned industrial facilities and an active scientific research lab, culminating in a couple of pre-shows.

You will see some advocate skipping even trying for FastPass+ in order to see all the details of the Flight of Passage queue. For big fans of abandoned industrial buildings and biology labs, good advice. Everyone else should try for a FastPass+, although the mismatch between ride capacity and demand for it means that FastPass+ for Flight of Passage is quite hard to get, even for those booking right at 60 days.

Na’vi River Journey is much the lesser ride and easier to get as a FastPass+. So if you can’t get a FastPass+ for Flight of Passage, get one for Na’vi and show up at Animal Kingdom at least 75 minutes prior to the official opening, and once you are in, heading straight for the Flight of Passage queue. After this morning visit, you should return to Pandora in one of the later sunset periods—perhaps at civil twilight?—to see the delicacy with which the bioluminescent plants in Pandora shift from day to night.

Speaking of queues, Flight of Passage has at least one too many pre-shows. Having gone through them multiple times since its May opening (although not remotely as many as Tom Corless has…) , I kinda miss the days when Disney would build rides like Space Mountain where you went straight form the line to deepest space without any intervening explanation whatsoever.

I’d noted earlier in this post that

The transformation was meant to broaden the appeal of the park, widen the parts of the day during which it could be enjoyed, anchor it in some well-known intellectual property (the worlds of James Cameron’s Pandora from Avatar, whose sequels are expected well before the Second Coming), and—frankly—to show Universal Orlando that Disney was willing to compete at the high level of theming and ride quality that it showed in its Harry Potter offerings.

In my judgement, even though Rivers of Light and Na’vi River Journey each could have been better, overall the transformation has spectacularly succeeded on all these fronts.

Think of what you can now do in an evening at Animal Kingdom

  • Ride late in the afternoon via FastPass+ the best ride at Disney World, Flight of Passage
  • Have dinner at Tiffin’s, the best theme park restaurant in Orlando, towards the end of daylight
  • Ride Kilimanjaro Safaris at the beginning of sunset
  • Return to Pandora to see Pandora shift to its night colors
  • See a scene or two from Tree of Life Awakenings on the way to Rivers of Light
  • See Rivers of Light
  • Ride Expedition Everest after dark
  • See more from Tree of Life Awakenings on your way out of the park

A transformation, indeed.

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November 6, 2017   3 Comments

Updated Review of the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World

THE FOUR SEASONS AT DISNEY WORLD

Over the past few days I’ve updated my review of Four Seasons Orlando, the only five star resort in Walt Disney World, based on my July stay here–my third stay at Four Seasons.

The  update includes additions and corrections for things that have changed since my last stays, more than 50 new pictures, and a reorganization of the material to match how I’ve been doing these reviews lately.

The first page of the review is the overview and summary, and that’s the place to start.  In total the review has six pages:

Have you stayed at Four Seasons? Let me know what you thought, using the comment form below!

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October 29, 2017   No Comments

Review: Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort

DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE RESORT

(Note 10/17: Port Orleans Riverside is now part of a dog-friendly pilot program.)

With more than 2000 rooms sprawling in two different sections around Disney’s (man-made) Sassagoula River, Port Orleans Riverside is probably Disney World’s best-loved moderate resort, and has inspired a great fan site.

I’ve stayed at Riverside ten times since I started this site, most recently in September 2017. These visits confirm that Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort remains the third best of the moderate resorts for first time family visitors.
Review - Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort from yourfirstvisit.net

(For what the moderates provide, and how they compare to the other Disney World resort classes, click here)

You can have a wonderful visit at any Walt Disney World resort.

However, this site recommends that first time visitors to Walt Disney World avoid the moderate resorts, while noting that these resorts are wonderful for visits after the first. (See this for why.)

That said, the moderates represent ~30% of the rooms of Walt Disney World, and will be sought by some because this site’s recommended resorts are sold out, because you are on return visits, or because–sensibly–you’re just not that into my rankings!

So I stay in them all the moderate resorts multiple times–in 35 different moderate rooms, ten of them at Port Orleans Riverside–and publish reviews of each.

This review has nine pages

Note that the long-time travel agent partner of this site, Kelly B., can help you book your Disney World vacation at Port Orleans Riverside or anywhere else–contact her at at KellyB@DestinationsInFlorida.com or 980-429-4499.

OVERVIEW: DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE RESORT

Resorts are ranked on this site for first time visitors based first on their kid appeal, and then on their convenience.

On this basis, Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside resort is the third best moderate resort for first time family visitors.

(Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is first, but see this before booking it; Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort second; and Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter is fourth; these results are very close.  The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort are ranked last, and this is not close.)

Themed to the riverine rural south, Port Orleans Riverside combines sweeping riverside vistas, manicured gardens, and accommodations themed as stately homes in its Magnolia Bend section (red oval on map)…

…with a more backwoods and wetland-themed area in Alligator Bayou (blue circle on map).

Joining the two, and containing most amenities, is the river-port themed area Sassagoula Steamship Company (gold circle on map).

ROOMS AT DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE RESORT

Much more so than Disney World’s other moderate resorts, Port Orleans Riverside has distinct areas and room types, with varied pros and cons.

There’s two areas–Alligator Bayou and Magnolia Bend–and three different room types.

STANDARD AND ROYAL ROOMS IN THE MAGNOLIA BEND SECTION OF PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE

The Magnolia Bend section of Port Orleans Riverside contains four large buildings themed as graceful southern plantation homes, with courtyards, porticoes, grand stairs, and fountains.

The northern-most of these buildings are Acadian House and Magnolia Terrace. These are the best-located of the Magnolia Bend options, being closer to the resort’s central amenities and more convenient to bus stops than the two more southern buildings.

Bed Side from Back Standard Magnolia Bend Room Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort from yourfirstvisit.net

Rooms here sleep four in two queens (and a few two person king bed rooms).

Floor Plan Standard Room Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort from yourfirstvisit.netTheir floor plans are typical of the moderates. For a full review of this room type, see this.

Royal Rooms at Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort from yourfirstvisit.net

The two southern Magnolia Bend buildings, Oak Manor and Parterre Place, are where you’ll find Riverside’s Royal Rooms.

Royal Rooms are distinctively decorated to a Disney Prince and Princess theme, and are higher cost than options at Port Orleans Riverside. Their floor plans are very similar to those in the two other Magnolia Bend buildings. They sleep four in two queens–no king bed rooms are in the Royal Room buildings.

Families who find the added theming worth the extra ~$50-$100 per night these rooms cost may find them quite pleasant. The buildings themselves, however, are distant from the main pool and from bus stops.

A detailed review of the Royal Rooms is here.

FIVE PERSON ROOMS IN THE ALLIGATOR BAYOU SECTION OF PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE

The Alligator Bayou section of Port Orleans Riverside is on the northern and western sides of the resort. The two-story, no-elevator buildings here are themed as backwoods cabins.

These rooms are among the few “traditional” moderate rooms at Walt Disney World that can sleep 5–the only other ones are at Caribbean Beach.

Murphy Bed Alligator Bayou Port Orleans Riverside from yourfirstvisit.net

The fifth sleeping spot is in a short (66″) Murphy Bed that drops down from the TV/dresser object. (There’s also a few king rooms, also with the Murphy Bed.)

Floor Plan Alligator Bayou 5 Person Room Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort from yourfirstvisit.net

The geometry of the object containing the Murphy Bed means that these rooms have both less drawer space to start with, and also that the drawers are inaccessible if the Murphy Bed is in use. So for families that don’t need the extra bed, a room in the Magnolia Bend section at either Acadian House or Magnolia Terrace is a better choice.

See a full review of these Alligator Bend rooms here.

A room refurb is expected to kick off at Port Orleans Riverside in later 2018. No confirmed details are available, but recent refurbs at other Disney World resorts have included a shift to wood floors, the replacement of the fabric curtain separating the bath from the living area with a sliding solid door, bigger TVs, more and better organized storage, and many, many more power points. This refurb will likely be done floor by floor in Magnolia Bend, and building by building in Alligator Bayou, and should have little impact on guests.

There’s much more on accommodations and theming at Port Orleans Riverside here.

AMENITIES AT DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE RESORT

Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside has as wide a range of amenities as you’ll find at any Disney World moderate resort, falling short compared to the rest only in dining compared to Coronado Springs and in its kids pool, where you’ll find much better ones at Port Orleans French Quarter and Caribbean Beach.

Distinctive amenities here–shared with sister resort Port Orleans French Quarter–include boat service to Disney Springs and horse-drawn carriage rides.

Details on the amenities at Port Orleans Riverside begin here.

DINING AT DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE RESORT

Port Orleans Riverside has an indoor bar with a limited menu, a poolside bar with chips and such, a table service restaurant, Boatwright’s, and a quick-service venue, the Riverside Mill.

Each has its fans–especially the indoor bar, River Roost, with its common live entertainment from Yehaa Bob— but collectively they are about average among the moderates, and are particularly bested by Coronado Springs with its “real” room service menu and “real” food at its main pool.

For more on dining at Port Orleans Riverside, see this.

THE POOLS AT DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE RESORT

Port Orleans Riverside has six pools–the main pool with a fun slide, pool games, and sawmill theming at Ol’ Man River, and five smaller, un-themed “leisure” pools scattered among the accommodations buildings.

Six pools is either a feature or a bug, depending on your perspective.  There are so many because the main pool is too small to serve all who might wish to use it, and is a hike from many outlying rooms. You’ll find the same feature/bug at Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs.

The main pool, though much loved, is uninteresting compared to those at Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs, and the kids pool next to it is quite weak compared to the alternatives at Caribbean Beach and French Quarter.

There have been no hints at this, but I do imagine that the kids pool at Riverside will be replaced one of these days with a much more fun splash play area. In the meantime, Riverside guests are welcome to use the one at French Quarter.

There’s more on the pools at Port Orleans Riverside here.

KID APPEAL AND CONVENIENCE AT DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE RESORT

Kid Appeal. The southern bayou and plantation theming of this resort, while charming to many adults (especially the Magnolia Bend section, whose Georgian architecture is quite lovely), will miss most kids entirely.

That said, its extra amenities bump it slightly ahead of its sister resort Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter. (French Quarter visitors are encouraged to use these amenities; the difference is that for Riverside guests, they are immediately present.)

Moreover, the Royal Rooms will have great appeal to some kids–though they are more expensive, and less convenient, than alternatives.

Main Pool Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort from yourfirstvisit.net

Now, I get comments all the time along the lines of “We stayed at Riverside and it had great appeal for my kids!” Of course it did. All the Disney resorts have great kid appeal. My point is that some have even more than others…

Convenience. Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside is in the middle of moderates IN convenience.

While often thought of as out of the way, it is in fact just across the street (or two) from Epcot, and along with Port Orleans French Quarter is the closest of the “traditional” moderates to Magic Kingdom. It also shares with French Quarter a slow boat to Downtown Disney.

The principal convenience frustration is that, since it commonly shares buses with Port Orleans French Quarter, it has in effect 5 bus stops. The Magic Kingdom bus is the exception–it has only four stops, as it skips Port Orleans French Quarter.

Buses sometimes fill before they get to their final stop (although this is much less common than it used to be), and the first day or two of a visit, it can be hard to identify from inside the bus whether one is at the West, North, or East Bus Stop.

Getting off at the wrong stop matters, because Port Orleans Riverside is pretty darn big, and can be a challenge to get around.

While at my pace no room is more than a ten minute walk from the central service area and pool, this is assuming you take the most direct path, and don’t get lost. Getting lost–especially at night–in the far reaches of the Alligator Bayou section is easy. Or at least it is for me…

It’s not widely noticed, but the texture of the concrete paths in the Alligator Bayou section is meant to help with wayfinding. Where there are groups of buildings, the main path through them is textured to look like a plank road.

The texturing is meant to indicate to you that you are on a main path, and keep you from wandering off accidentally onto a building-specific path.

The image on the right side shows the texture of such a plank road.

As a final convenience point, the two story buildings in the Alligator Bayou area have no elevators.

Other distinctive features. One of only  two traditional moderates that can sleep five, in the Alligator Bayou section. (Caribbean Beach is the other, and its five person rooms are slightly more livable.) These Alligator Bayou rooms provide two queen beds and a short Murphy bed. With Port Orleans French Quarter, the only moderate with no lake, and with the French Quarter the only moderate with boat transport to Downtown Disney.

BEST PLACES TO STAY AT DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE

This site suggests that first time visitors stay in standard rooms, not preferred rooms (because they won’t be spending much time in their rooms, or going to the main resort food area often; the single exception is visitors to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, who should always pay for savanna views.)

Unless you need the bed for the 5th person, stay in a top floor (quieter) standard room in building 85– “Magnolia Terrace” –in the Magnolia Bend section. This area is much lovelier than the other section, Alligator Bayou, and the storage is more convenient. And of the non-Royal options, Building 85 is the best choice–lovely, closer to the pool and central services, and with a nearby bus stop.

If you do need the fifth person bed in Alligator Bayou, shoot for a ground floor room (no elevators) in buildings 16, 17 (close to the amenities and bus stop at Sassagoula Steamship Company) or 38–better views, close to the main pool.

Room request forms for Riverside are particularly thin on options. If you booked a Royal Room you’ll automatically be put in Oak Manor or Parterre Place, the buildings that include them; if you booked five people three or older, you’ll automatically go into one of the Alligator Bayou rooms.  Beyond this, call to express your preferences.

The long-time travel agent partner of this site, Kelly B., can help you book your Disney World vacation at Port Orleans Riverside or anywhere else–contact her at at KellyB@DestinationsInFlorida.com or 980-429-4499.

THEMING AND ACCOMMODATIONS AT DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE RESORT

This review continues here.

TOPICS IN THIS REVIEW OF DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE RESORT

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October 18, 2017   No Comments

Dining at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort

For the first page of this review of Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort, see this.

DINING AT PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE

Dining at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside is located in the main Sassagoula Steamship Company building. Here you’ll find a fun little bar, the River Roost Lounge, the table service restaurant Boatwright’s, and the quick service venue the Riverside Mill.

Yehaa Bob Port Orleans Riverside from yourfirstvisit.net

The River Roost is a charming bar, home to “Yehaa Bob” Jackson’s singing and comedy show most Wednesdays through Saturday evenings.

Sometimes you’ll find other entertainers here. It has a pretty sound menu, of which the Mardi Gra fritters are kinda required eating.

Boatwright's Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort from yourfirstvisit.net (3)

Next is Boatwright’s, a table service restaurant open for dinner.

Boatwright's Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort from yourfirstvisit.net (2)

It’s OK–not worth a special trip, but fine if you are already staying here. The review of Boatwright’s from our book The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2018:

The menu for Boatwright’s is here.

During lunch and dinner, Boatwright’s also provides overflow seating for the next-door quick service, The Riverside Mill.

Food Court Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort from yourfirstvisit.net (3)

Food Court Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort from yourfirstvisit.net (2)

Food Court Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort from yourfirstvisit.net

Next to Boatwright’s is the Riverside Mill, which used to be one of the weaker food courts at the moderates, with both a dull menu and too little space…

Food Court Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort from yourfirstvisit.net (4)

…although some will be intrigued by the water wheel meant to drive the “mill.”

The menu has gotten much more interesting lately, with more southern and southern-inspired offerings.  You can find it here.

Note that as is becoming all too common at Disney World, the menu offers variants on standbys without offering the standby itself. So you’ll find on the posted menu here a Bayou Burger, a Baton Rouge Burger, a Swamp Burger, and a Surf and Turf Burger, but neither a simple cheeseburger nor a bacon cheeseburger. Never fear, though–just ask for the simpler standby made form a subset of the more complicated ingredients and almost all the time you’ll be able to get it.

On my last visit I have to admit I was impressed and surprised by the improvements in burger quality here–I eat a lot of Disney burgers, so should have a sound basis for judging them. The meat tasted handmade and robust, not flattened and formerly frozen.

The Baton Rouge Burger, with bacon and a fried green tomato on top, was my favorite…

…but chopped prime rib and especially the house-made pickles added a nice touch to the Bayou Burger.

Either is best with a side of fried green tomatoes.

The barbecued pork sandwich, in contrast, was a little dull, but tastes vary in barbecue so much that it might be right up your alley.

The proteins at the carving station are quite reliable, especially when it’s offering beef, although the side dishes are usually not hot enough–an endemic problem at such venues at Disney World

Breakfast offerings are typical–I quite enjoyed my omelet.

THE POOLS AT DISNEY’S PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE RESORT

This review continues here

 

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October 18, 2017   No Comments

Review– Mission: SPACE at Epcot

Mission: SPACE opened in Epcot’s Future World in 2003. Offering tight-fitting ride vehicles equipped with screens showing a film of a journey to Mars with systems that rotated them up and down and spun them in a centrifuge, it combined a breakthrough thrill ride into outer space with severe motion sickness potential and some really bad press.

The bad press came from a couple of deaths in the early days. Each was from a rider with pre-existing conditions, which, if known about, should have led the riders to exclude themselves from this ride.

As a result, Disney flooded the ride with warnings, and, in 2006, opened a version that left out the centrifuge. The original version was relabeled as the “Orange” side, and the new version the “Green” side. The Green side still has movement, but has next to no prospect of motion sickness, and without the centrifuge and the 2.5gs of acceleration that came from it, much less risk for those with pre-existing conditions.

The result was rides for almost everyone—the Orange version for thrill-seekers in good health with no propensity to motion sickness, and the Green side for nearly everyone else (there are still some health warnings even for the Green side).

In August of 2017 Disney added new films to both sides of Mission: SPACE. The Orange side still is the same mission to Mars, but with a better set of images—which may reduce the motion sickness potential. The Green Side got an entirely new film, of a mission around Earth.

The Earth mission takes off from Florida…

… flies around the world…

…and returns to Florida in a thunderstorm with some other complexities that I won’t give away.

The screen images in this post are all from the new Earth mission, which I had the chance to ride in late September.

Because of the different films, there are now in effect two different rides here using the same ride vehicles, but with much different degrees of motion sickness and other risks. This is great for those who want to do both rides, but the new Earth film is a bit of a letdown–the new visuals are just not that interesting. Soarin’ Around the World has a largely similar concept, to much better effect.

While my basic advice is that anyone with even the least concern about motion sickness or any health issues should ride the Green Earth version, and then do Orange Mars if they dare once they have a better sense of what they are getting into, they should do so knowing that the actual mission of the Mars side is more interesting.

Here’s the review of the new Mission: SPACE from The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2018 (yes, unlike some 800 page alternatives, our book is actually up-to-date enough to include it):

My co-author Josh also has a review of the Green Earth side here.

It’s also worth noting that while the Orange Mars side still has a minimum height of 44 inches, the Green Earth Side now has a minimum of 40 inches—although those between 40 inches and 44 inches will need to use a booster seat—and the ride might be little dull for them.

There are also fun and interesting games at the exit—which you can do without entering the ride system at all.

For those who can take it, the Orange Mars side is one of the best thrill rides at Disney World. The Green Earth side is more skippable. See it—but do so as a test of whether you think you can handle the Orange side…


Another option would be simply to buy a copy of Gray Malin’s Escape and hold the images in it really close to your eyes while putting a rocking chair through its paces…

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October 4, 2017   No Comments

Review: Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2017

Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2016 from yourfirstvisit.net (2)

MICKEY’S NOT-SO-SCARY HALLOWEEN PARTY 2017

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (“MNSSHP”) is a special, separately ticketed party that happens on certain nights every September, October and some years–like 2017– even early November at Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

At the party you will find un-crowded rides, a special parade (shown twice, at 8.30 and 11.15p), special fireworks at 10.15p, a Hocus Pocus show, trick-or-treating, a dance party…and a ton of guests in costumes!

I had a chance to see it again in late September 2017, and the scoop follows!

(See this for more on logistics–Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party dates, ticket prices, etc.)

NOT MUCH NEW FOR 2017 AT MICKEY’S NOT-SO-SCARY HALLOWEEN PARTY

The 2017 party pretty much follows the pattern set in 2015 and continued last year. The most important change from 2015 was that the parades and fireworks are more spread out, and later.

Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

This isn’t really thinning crowds in front of the Castle, mainly because the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular (photo above, and also at the top of the page), with its showtimes my date of 8.15p, 10.45p and midnight, is packing them in. (Later 2017 party dates have it at 7.40p, 8.35p, 10.45p, and midnight.) There’s more on this show later in this review.

The best approach to the Party remains the same–see rides until the fireworks and watch the second parade rather than the first.

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

But because of the crowds remaining after the 9.15 parade, it may be hard to get to the hub to see the fireworks from there. While HalloWishes, like all Magic Kingdom fireworks shows, is best seen from between the Castle and the Main Street railroad station, it does work really well from elsewhere in the park, because of things that happen in the finale that I’m not gonna spoil here.

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne (9)

So do rides until just before ten, find a good nearby fireworks spot, then see the characters and go trick or treating, see the 11.15p parade, and see the midnight Hocus Pocus show. A late night, but one that avoids the congestion around the Castle hub and Main Street.

COSTUMES AT MICKEY’S NOT-SO-SCARY HALLOWEEN PARTY

Costumes are not required, and not everyone wear them. But even after the increased security that began in December 2015, they are still allowed at the party.

Above is the official Disney lingo (click it to enlarge it). Note that these guidelines are solely for the Halloween Party.  “Regular” attendance is subject to different rules, basically ruling out costumes for those 14 and older.

Guest Costumes Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

The most common costumes continue to be princess costumes and pirate costumes, and after that Star Wars costumes. Lots of Princess Leia hair, and more Rey than last year.  I also saw more Wilderness Explorers in 2017 than I’d noticed before.

Guest Costumes Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net (2)

And this group in Tomorrowland proved a Disney princess theme was not required!

THE PARADE, FIREWORKS, DANCE PARTY, HOCUS POCUS SHOW AND TRICK-OR-TREATS AT MICKEY’S NOT-SO-SCARY HALLOWEEN PARTY

 

Besides most rides being open to short (or shorter) waits, MNSSHP has a special set of Halloween-themed activities (see above–click them to enlarge it).

Boo to You Parade at Mickey's Not-So-Scary-Halloween Party from yourfirstvisit.net (2) (800x525)

For example, the parade–Mickey’s Boo-to-You Parade–is seen only at MNSSHP.

It begins with a surprise–pay attention when the Cast members start to rope of the crosswalks (dampness on the streets may eliminate this first surprise).

Then a bunch of characters stroll by.

It then shifts to ducks and mice…

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne (8)

…then some pirates…

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne (7)

…more pirates…

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party from yourfirstvisit.net
…but then shortly shifts to my favorite part, Haunted-Mansion themed dancing gravediggers and ghouls.

Boo to You Parade at Mickey's Not-So-Scary-Halloween Party from yourfirstvisit.net (8) (450x800)

More ghouls.

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne (6)

The gravedigger dance.

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne (5)

Soon comes candy…

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne (4)

…then the parade goes back to scary, ending with Disney villains!

There’s two showings of the parade, at 8.15p and 11.15p, with spectacular Halloween-themed fireworks between at 10.15p.

HalloWishes Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net (2)

While the fireworks are best seen from in front of the Castle with the Main Street train station behind you, this will lead you into a wildly crowded section of the park.

Because of their spectacular finale the fireworks can be seen from elsewhere in the park–you’ll miss a little but gain a lot of comfort from avoiding the mobs in front of the Castle.

HalloWishes Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net (3)

 

Dance Party Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net (2)

Dance Party Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

The Liberty Square and Cosmic Rays dance parties left two years ago but there’s still an outdoor Monsters-themed dance party at the thingy between Astro-Orbiter and Space Mountain.

Something I had not paid enough attention to until 2017 was fun audience interaction with characters from the Haunted Mansion.

It’s just outside the exit, so see it after your required Halloween visit to the ride.

You’ll also find lots of Halloween-themed merchandise.  Some is specific to the party (and may be sold out–see your brochure for locations) and the rest is generally available–including, somewhat jarringly, in the Christmas shop.

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne (3)

The Hocus Pocus show is quite popular.  The three sisters from the movie return…

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne (2)

…and call on hordes of Disney villains to help them stay.

The show includes strong songs and dances, the fun characters, and some spectacular effects. Those familiar with the movie need not get close to the stage (thought it can’t hurt), but if you haven’t seen it, the characters of the three sisters are much more apparent if you are closer to the stage.  This is pretty easy at the midnight show, not so easy at the earlier shows.

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.ne

Character meet-n-greets are all over the place–with both common and unusual characters…

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) from yourfirstvisit.net

…and there’s also a ton of trick or treat locations, marked by lighted columns.

Get your trick-or-treat bag on the pathway that begins at the left of Town Square…

…and your first handful of candy, too.

But both the characters and trick-or-treating raise an issue.

STRATEGY AND RIDES AT MICKEY’S NOT-SO-SCARY HALLOWEEN PARTY

Wait Times Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

All the major rides are open, and many minor rides as well. Most have very short waits–e.g. 10 minutes for Space Mountain. Typically, only Peter Pan and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train had annoying waits.

Characters Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

The trick-or-treat spots and especially the character greetings, on the other hand, have pretty long lines, and the hub is packed all evening.

So the best approach is to skip the character greetings and trick-or-treats–or delay them until after the fireworks–and spend the first part of the evening on rides.

Do rides until just before the 10.15p fireworks show and watch it.

Now try trick-or-treating or character meets. Then see the second (11.15p) parade and the midnight Hocus Pocus show.

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I struggle with whether or not this party is worth the money for first-time family visitors who may never return.

It’s quite expensive–more than $200, and even over $300 on some dates for a family of four.  And it’s just a five hour show (7p to midnight)–though Disney unofficially lets you in starting at 4p.

Yet the fireworks are the best Disney World offers, the parade is a hoot, the rides have short lines…and the costumes are fun!

Magic Kingdom 2014 Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party from yourfirstvisit.net

My overall take is that for first-timers this time and money is better spent elsewhere, but that’s a really close call, and for sure I’d recommend it to returning visitors!

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September 28, 2017   6 Comments