Before continuing on with the 45 best things about my recent Disney World vacation, I have to run a correction on something I wrote in Part 1:
I said that the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is the tallest structure in all of Disney World. It isn't.
It's tough to admit it when you're wrong, but if you're ever going to, it might as well be about something stupid like how tall theme park attractions are. I'm feeling pretty great about myself, and I hope those fumes of greatness can pull me through what's surely going to be a 55,000 word article, as we cover my top Hot Disney Things, #16-30! The prevalent theme in this batch seems to be alcohol, so if you've been wondering about your chances of getting loaded in a place like Disney World, by all means, let me be your slurry guide. Splash Mountain is somewhere in here too, and while it doesn't fall under the recurrent "alcohol umbrella," it'd be interesting if it did.
HOT DISNEY THING #16: Stacy
I don't have many convictions in what I suggest doing and what I suggest not doing, because I'm special and nobody else gets their rocks off on the same stuff as me. Still, I must implore any would be Disney-vacationers to stay at a Disney hotel, god dammit. Aside from the general thematics that make every second of your trip otherworldly, staying at a Disney hotel means never having to worry about transportation, whether it be from the airport to the hotel, from the hotel to the parks, or from one park to another. By boat or train or bus or plane, they've got it all covered. Except that "plane" part; that's just there for the sake of rhyming.
A less advertised benefit of staying at a Disney hotel is the resort's hostile takeover of the television airwaves. They determine which channels are appropriate for you to watch on your hotel room's junky television, and with this power, they've added several Disney-specific channels. One plays a bad infomercial for the "Disney Vacation Club" on loop, one plays old Disney cartoons (and God, that animated short where the young Indian can't bring himself to arrow the ass off of a cute little rabbit is really something), while the third is reserved exclusively for...Stacy. Sexy, saccharine Stacy, hostess of a "Top 7 Attractions" feature that plays over and over again for all of time.
Disregarding the show's vaguely executed premise of "rating the attractions" because I can relate to vaguely executing such things, Stacy is mostly there to walk you through every cool piece of shit on every inch of Disney's property. Of course, Stacy is charged with acting freakishly over-the-top ballistic over everything at Disney World, and I do mean everything: From the flowers at Epcot to a bongo drum set in Animal Kingdom, Stacy tramples through the property, hepped up on goofballs, losing her mind like a royal fucktard over every sight and sound. Making matters worse is Disney's attempt to kowtow to every demo: Much of the stuff Stacy covers is clearly meant for small children, but she interjects a book's worth of hip teen lingo that makes her sound like the love child of a Surf Ninja and Jamie Foxx.
With seven days to spend in and out of the hotel room, I saw a lot of Stacy. I saw enough of Stacy to completely memorize every stupid thing she said, with the worst quotes repeating themselves perpetually in my head, when I'm home, when I'm work, a little while ago and right now as I write this. I hate Stacy and her gibberish for that, but as our week stay in Disney progressed, I couldn't help growing an appreciation for her ability to make even the worst rides and attractions sound awesome.
More so, Stacy becomes your friend. You might not trust her judgment, but you think it's pretty cute when she flirts with the gelato guy at the Italy pavilion in Epcot. Or, when asked how she feels about Mickey Mouse, she gets flustered and can barely muster a "Mickey....Mickey's my boy." I AM SERIOUS. She SAID THAT. And, if you're lucky enough to get mandatory, can't-ever-turn-it-off closed captioning like I did, you might even be able to figure out what the fuck she's talking about. "Nonstop, don't-wanna-miss action blowout?" That's not a statement! It's just adjectives! Staccccy!!!
HOT DISNEY THING #17: Star Tours
Okay, so by today's standards, Star Tours is not a tremendously awesome ride. It's still good, but as I was lucky enough to hit Disneyland in California just months after the attraction debuted in the late '80s, I can attest to the "end all, be all" reputation it once enjoyed. Being completely uninterested in Disney World trivia until I decided that I was going to vacation there, I had no idea that the ride -- with full theatrics and decor -- had been duplicated at the MGM park. I can't promise any great payoffs if you're silly enough to wait through the scorching, longest lines in the dead of daytime, but with a bit of planning, you can be in and off of this thing in ten minutes. It is definitely worth ten minutes.
For one, the outdoor and waiting areas are a full replication of the Disneyland original, which is to say, there's an almost life-sized AT-AT and Ewok Village right in the middle of MGM. TREMENDOUS. As Star Wars music blares through the speakers, you're free to roam about under the Ewok Village, which is themed to appear like the place's ground floor, even though it didn't seem to have a ground floor in the movie. I forgive the faux pas, because I'd prefer to half-believe that I walked upon the real Ewok Village than not believe it at all.
MGM is a small park, and in some ways a disappointing park. There's really only enough here to spend an entire day if you're somehow able to expel the notion that there's more to do somewhere else in Disney World. But things like this help. You can't see giant AT-ATs in Animal Kingdom.
Though the outdoor pictures were obviously taken in the daytime, we rode Star Tours at night. Here's a tip: If you're not seeing Fantasmic! -- MGM's arena-packing nighttime show -- run to Star Tours as soon as it starts. The park is a lot less crowded during Fantasmic!, and while it's not "less crowded enough" to make the park's biggest attractions a virtual walk-on, it's enough to make older, comparatively shittier rides like Star Tours a complete walk-on. Star Tours doesn't suck by any means, but it wouldn't matter if it did. When you get to walk right on a ride, any ride, you feel proud and satiated and zippidy do-daaaaa.
The walkway leading up to the ride is huge, very very huge, thanks to the fact that during peak hours, there are a lot of people waiting on the line. To compensate (and this is what I remember most about the Disneyland version), there's all sorts of entertainment going on. The chief attention grabber is a life-sized, properly voiced, 100% official C-3P0, conversing with an equally impressive R2-D2, the latter which Droid having its metal ass shoved in a complete and total space fighter. This paves way for smaller but equally movie-level thingies, including a control room high up with a view window full of animatronic Mon Calamari, not to mention other "Droid workshops" filled with robots from the movie and robots not from the movie. If you're a Star Wars fan, all this crap transforms Star Tours from a ride based on a franchise you like to something you cannot afford to miss in good conscience.
My favorite part of the entire ride occurs just before you actually get on, as you're waiting for the doors to open, watching travel tips and regulations from the "Endor Express" play over a series of television monitors. A flight attendant-esque chick lays down the law about how you need to behave once inside, and to illustrate, they cut to a bunch of scenes of actual Star Wars characters riding their own attraction. And it...is fucking awesome. They brought in a motley crew of genuine movie costumes, and I know they're genuine because there's no way they would've picked these characters to feature if they were going to pay for new costumes. See that furry dude up there? That Teek, from the second made-for-television Ewok movie, The Battle For Endor. It's like the ride's engineers approached George Lucas and had to write on all of their legal pads that he was "going for obscurity points." Teek?! Teek?!! (This also confirms that for the most part, Star Tours' preliminary videos haven't changed since the ride's debut in 1987.)
I wasn't allowed to take pictures on the ride, as instructed to me by the video. To punctuate, they cut to a scene of someone taking a picture inside, leading Chewbacca to go bananas and growl with his hands over his eyes. If I wasn't such an inward person, I would've been cheering aloud.
The actual ride is, in effect, a spaceship-shaped simulator. You're part of some mission to destroy the Death Star, and the construction you're sitting in shivers and shakes with every twist, turn, explosion and missile-fire shown on the first-person video screen. Your host and shipmate is "Rex," a fully-functional Droid riding right there with you, voiced by Paul Reubens. Since the audio was recorded in the '80s, he even busts out the Pee-wee laugh.
Nostalgia is the best merit of Star Tours, but it's still a pretty great ride. To compare, I felt more like I was actually flying during this ride than during Soarin', a much bigger and newer production in Epcot that lets you fake-hang glide all over California. And I had to wait 70 minutes to ride Soarin'. When people get to the point where they're doing the wave across the mass of the line, you know you've been waiting too goddamned long.
As is the case with many of the rides and attractions, the exit path leads you straight into a gift shop. Star Tours is attached to "Tatooine Traders," an all-Star Wars gift shop full of exclusive collectibles starring Yoda's head. Because of its size and the fact that they sell Jedi Mickey dolls, it's one of the busiest gift shops in all of Disney World.
The outside is made to look like a crude shop in Mos Eisley, and to punctuate the crudeness factor, there's a smoking section on the side of it. If you're gunning for lung cancer like me, all these traits conspire to make Star Tours at large one of the very best Hot Things in Disney.
HOT DISNEY THING #18: Drinking In Epcot
I didn't take many pictures of the World Showcase in Epcot because I was just having too good a time to be bothered. This presents the unfortunate need to have to explain such an immense and complex land without the aid of pictures, so I point you to the World Showcase's Wikipedia entry for the full scoop. Basically, they've set up buildings/restaurants/entertainment from a dozen countries and plopped them along a circular path surrounding a big ass lagoon. The theming is unreal; you can eat sushi from a tall pagoda in Japan before visiting Germany for pretzels and beer, and by the time you're through eating all the weird food and drinking every country's alcohol, you're not going to care what country you're in because...well, you're going to be hammered.
I don't really know what the climate is like during the daytime, but at night, a lot of people are pretty righteously lit. Starting with yard-high containers of beer in the United Kingdom, you'll be absolutely toasted by the time you make it to Norway and Mexico at the other end -- which is just perfect, because that's where all the sights and attractions get mindblowingly fucked up. If you're going to hear about the dangers of trolls from Norwegians, you might as well be absolutely freakin' plowed.
Once you settle in, the World Showcase has an almost carnival atmosphere, with street vendors of all types selling foods, drinks and souvenirs of all types. And lest anyone envision this under the worst circumstances, I'll confirm that you can indeed buy your beer right out in the open and stroll through the park with it. People always talk about the basic theory of getting drunk in "happy drunk" places, and folks, this is Disney World. What makes due for a boring Saturday night at home turns Epcot into heaven, assuming heaven charges 45 dollars for a churro.
Near the end of park hours, there's a gigantic lights-and-fireworks show that plays right on and over Epcot's lagoon, meaning that you're more or less perfectly situated to watch it no matter what part of the World Showcase you're in. It's a really amazing show. Though other countries have a far better view, I suggest watching it from within close proximity to the United Kingdom pavilion. Because of the aforementioned yard-length glasses of beer for sale.
HOT DISNEY THING #19: Picking A Pearl
Japan's pavilion is arguably the best the World Showcase has to offer, emphasis on the "arguably" because it's entirely possible that I'm the only one who thinks so. Maybe it's because I remember how impressed I was with it during the Disney vacations of my youth, or maybe it's just because the place is flanked by the coolest shitcrapjunk shop in all the land. Serving as a sort of mini mall brim-packed with touristy Japanese stuff ranging from potted bamboo plants to pop culture items (there was even a section for the resurgent Monchichis), the best part of the store lets you pick an oyster to steal pearls from.
Yes, for just under fourteen bucks, you're free to pick any live oyster from two beautiful open-top tanks, at which point a lovely Japanese lady will rip it from its happy ocean salts, slice the fucker open and present to you...your very own pearl. If you're wondering how they're so sure that each and every oyster in the tank has a pearl in its shell, it's simple: They make 'em that way. By placing a grain of sand within the oyster's shell, they force on the animal's natural process of coating it with its own mother-of-pearl substance. The end result is eye-pleasing and in almost every way a real pearl, but it's not worth as much as a pearl created without man's sick and twisted intrusion. At least, this is what I remember from an article read years ago. I should probably confirm this before publishing, but eh screw it.
I carefully studied the tanks, looking for that one special oyster guaranteed to deliver a pearl the size of a Corn Nut. I finally spotted her, in the second tank, resting near a rock that was shaped remarkably like the letter "G." The oyster was pretty excited to be chosen until it realized what it meant: No sooner did I say "that one" did the lovely Japanese lady embark on a wild, highly practiced performance as she grabbed and knife and gloated over being the only person in Disney World allowed to hold one. Then I asked about the many dozen chefs, and she got all pissed off.
A couple of Japanese friends of mine swear that when it comes to Japanese restaurants or any establishments intended to capitalize on America's view of Japanese culture, the owners and hired hands always force a more pronounced accent than they actually have. Kind of like, if you expect them to sound like Joe Jitsu from the old Dick Tracy cartoons, they realize that that's half the reason you're there, and oblige, however much of a forgery it is. I only bring this up because there is no way the lovely Japanese lady actually spoke the way she did. She actually called them "roysters."
I recorded a video of the pearl-getting process, but as I was wasted and you can totally hear me being a belligerent prick in the background, I'm employing good editorial sense and not including it with this feature. Still, what the lovely Japanese lady pulled off was am absolute work of art, running through the surprising amount of steps needed to snatch a pearl out of an oyster's ass with enough finesse and grace for me to overhear one customer remarking, "this is like ballet!" First she grabs the oyster, then she slices it open, then she sneaks the pearl out and drops it in a bowl of sand or salt or some shit, then she washes it off, and then she measures it using what's either a pearl measuring device or a converted architect's stencil. My pearl was a full size larger than the guy who got one before me, but I didn't feel too great about that since the guy who got one before the guy who got one before me got two pearls in his. Best sentence ever.
HOT DISNEY THING #20: Epcot Is Fucked Up
In its combination of content and the fact that much of it is comparatively ancient, Epcot boasts some seriously weird stuff -- but nothing weirder than the "rides" in the World Showcase. Two of the pavilions -- Mexico and Norway -- feature dark rides that are completely and totally insane if you're not expecting them. And us...well, we were drunk as skunks and the rides were the last things we stumbled upon. To give you an assessment of their emotional weight, let's talk about the Mexico pavilion's "El Rio del Tiempo." Oh boy.
First off, the brunt of the Mexico pavilion hides inside a gigantic structure made to look like a pyramid, and much of it consists of an indoor street fair, which I guess is an oxymoron if you want to get technical. That's what drew us in, because the chance to get Day of the Dead skeleton figurines playing banjos inside solid hunks of Lucite was too much to pass up on. So, we're wandering through, toasted, and I finally spot what appears to be a ride at the back of the street fair. Why...why yes, it was a ride! It was El Rio del Tiempo! Since there was no line and since alcohol was making everything so much more interesting, we sat in the water boats and had no idea what to expect. To avoid anyone else's reality-altering shock, I'll tell you what to expect: Mexican madness.
The ride opened in 1982, and it shows. Ostensibly offering views of Mexico throughout its history, it plays out more like an unrelated cornucopia of random Mexican things. Almost all the way through, you're treated to a looping song that probably has real lyrics, but all you'll be able to make out is "la...la LA la la la la," which will infest your mind and cause random bouts of embarrassing humming for weeks.
Dimly lit, the ride employs everything from animatronics to videos projected right onto the walls, a smoking volcano, a carousel of human-sized marionettes, artificial fireworks and -- you best believe -- maracas. If that makes it all sound really cool and worth experiencing...it is, but not in the way you're thinking. The stuff inside El Tiempo Blah Blah is some of the oldest junk in the park -- the kind of stuff that by all rights should be crumbling into dust by now, but isn't, because it's charmed with Mexican voodoo.
Aside from the song, two portions of the ride really stuck out for me. The first is a Day of the Dead celebration starring animated figurines (think It's A Small World), with some scenes showing skeletons and people basically playing chess, and another scene featuring a small boy standing upright and shaking his head back and forth like one of the demons from Jacob's Ladder. The second is a creepy, dark tunnel filled with poorly lit projected-on-wall videos showing everything from Mexican resort swim-up bars to the one random dude jumping off a cliff over and over again for no reason. I'm glad Epcot isn't a dry park, but after seeing this, I think they should start offering pot, too.
An even stranger ride rests at the Norway pavilion. Called "Maelstrom," it's another boat ride -- but more like a flume ride, with slow ups and fast downs and a few splashes -- that threatens the brain with everything from giant trolls that pop up from underwater to a bunch of polar bears walking around on two legs. They don't let people take pictures on the ride, I guess because such pictures were formerly known to frighten children to death.
While both Mexico and Norway's ride offerings are criticized by many for being old, boring and useless, I contend that we were lucky to get any rides in the World Showcase. It's not really that kind of park, y'know? Plus, dark rides (indoor rides, generally going through dark tunnels and often using water boats) are becoming a dying breed, and despite their lack of high-tech turns, mega speed or thrill aspects, they're still really affecting. When you get off a dark ride -- particularly one like either of these -- you feel like you just flew in from another planet. And boy will your arms be Mexican and Norwegian.
On the next page: Turkey legs and surprising Brer Rabbit appearances.