I've been writing about my Disney World vacation on and off for about a month now, and frankly, I'm sick of it. I'll try not to let that sour my tongue, because it's not the final fifteen Hot Disney Things' fault that I took too long and can barely remember that I went to Disney, let alone what I did there. I exaggerate. The pictures remind me.
It's also time for full disclosure: This "Top 45" in no way, shape or form indicates what I truly believe to be the 45 best things in all of Disney World. Not by a long shot. It just wasn't as marketingiggly effective to call this a "sampler" feature, or a "ratings list based on things I had the foresight to take pictures of" feature. I say this not as the result of a heavy conscience, but rather to inform the uninformed that there's much cooler things in Disney world than cocktails-in-pineapples and penny pressing machines. Hell, I'm not even covering Epcot's "Spaceship Earth" anywhere in all three parts of this feature, and you'd be out of your freakin' mind to go all the way to Disney and not ride one of its few true landmarks. Point is, if you're thinking about going to Disney World, don't forget to do your own research. I hope I've helped you gage and gorge on some of the less-mentioned cool stuff at the resort, but if you think I've even made a dent in the overall Disney World cake, you are GUILTY. Of underestimating Disney CAKE!
If you're new to this feature, it's important to not be stupid. Before you read the rest of this, check Part 1 and Part 2. Especially since I went through all the trouble to give each part its own color scheme and header logo. Minutiaes make me merengue.
HOT DISNEY THING #31: Disney's Magical Express
Disney's Magical Express refers to the Disney-owned bus service that shuttles all Disney resort guests from the airport to the hotel and back. They even handle all of your luggage. This is a tremendous feature. You spend enough time getting lost and pissed off in the parks; there's no way Walt would've wanted you to have to deal with that kind of stress just navigating to Disney World from the airport. Still, these conveniences are not what makes Disney's Magical Express a Hot Disney Thing.
Not long after your bus driver tells you that tips are welcome over the loudspeaker (really), a bunch of small televisions come to life with a totally awesome video telling you all about the bus service, hotel check-in regulations and other resort-related travel points. It's basic stuff, but when you first get to Orlando, you're totally not sick of Disney yet, and you're totally under its spell. These brief glimpses of Cinderella Castle and Space Mountain on video thrill more than just the many crying four-year-old passengers. Oh, and did I mention that the film stars like, 45,000 costumed Disney characters?
It does. And they're so wonderfully eclectic. While current Disney World golden boy "Stitch" is seen many times throughout the video, there also seems to be a kickass but admittedly outdated level of prominence given to the stars of Disney's DuckTales. Maybe parts of the video are older than other parts; I don't know and I don't care, so long as I get to watch a guy in a Scrooge McDuck costume say something akin to "me money" less than 20 minutes after my flight lands. The characters aren't just there for noise's sake, either. If the narrator suggests that you kill time before your room is ready by browsing your hotel's gift shops, you'll see Daisy breaking Donald's wallet with a stack of unnecessary souvenir T-shirts. When they tell you of the staffed information desks located at every hotel, we see Captain Hook screwing around with a four-eyed suit behind a green glass bank lamp. By the end of the video, in a climax rivaling that of the one in Braveheart, two dozen costumed Disney characters are seen hopping aboard a bus just like the one you're on. Picture watching a live action version of TaleSpin using your unaltered local dive bar as the set for any scenes involving that no-good skunk ape Louie. This video was a lot like that, and my funny feelings of love for it make Disney's Magical Express our Hot Disney Thing #31.
HOT DISNEY THING #32: Main Street, U.S.A.
For many of us, Main Street, U.S.A. is Disney World. If we can all agree that the Magic Kingdom is the heart of the entire resort, Main Street is the first thing you see, the last thing you see, and despite its lack of rides and the criminal amount of money needed to have fun there if you want to do more than just window shop, it's just unbelievably capable of making you okay with the world. Architecturally based on Walt Disney's hometown in the early 1900's, it's a loooong road leading up to Cinderella Castle, filled with old fashioned buildings, stores and establishments that are almost all in complete, working order with real building stuff, real store stuff and real establishment stuff inside. Gift shops, ice cream parlors and more tempt you at every turn, but if they fail, a number of street vendors will have you buying everything from popcorn to balloons. It's one of the most important areas in all of Disney World; Main Street, U.S.A. is the chief component in filling your dirty head with Disney magic, so it's meticulously themed, meticulously cleaned and meticulously catering.
There are even a few small side streets filled with even more shops (including weirder ones, like this one place that sells Disneyfied Christmas decorations and nothing but), letting the completist explorer feel that he/she is finding places Average Joe probably skipped. Vibrant and pretty by day, Main Street literally lights up at night, with every store and every shop nearly blinding you with endless white lights that set the mood for smiling and mass spending. Doubling as a hub leading to every other portion of the Magic Kingdom, Main Street, U.S.A. is one of the most "constantly alive" places in all of Disney World. This wouldn't always be a good thing, but here, it is. From the stench of waffle cones to the sight of guys in styrofoam party hats and pinstripe suits, you could spend a solid two hours here before realizing that all the cool stuff is actually somewhere else.
HOT DISNEY THING #33: SpectroMagic!
As mentioned in Part 1, I've been to Disney World before. I was no more than five-years-old when I first went, but I definitely remember it. Nothing too specific: Portions of events, images, Pluto. One memory that's always stuck with me is that unmistakable sense of everything from wonder to dread I wore when clutched by the hands of a nighttime Magic Kingdom. When you're that young, it's a safe bet that you've never seen anything like Disney World before visiting it. We live in houses and apartments, not candy trees and space freighters, and what feels more like just a big giant playground by day can be pretty overwhelming at night. It's dark, it's crowded, there's loud fireworks going off, and every kid besides you seems to have some variation of a cool ass glowstick. Why did your parents suck, and can fireworks kill a person just by being loud? I remember this as a confusing experience, which is to say, I remember crying my head off for whatever reason. Don't recall the catalyst, but it definitely wasn't SpectroMagic. No, I was perfectly fine with Disney-at-night during SpectroMagic.
Granted, I don't know for sure that Disney called it SpectroMagic back then, but I totally saw a magic car drive a Mickey Mouse covered in Christmas lights all around Cinderella Castle as a puppy, and it's still great now. SpectroMagic consists of a seemingly endless array of floats, cars and contraptions all lit up in crazy ways, carrying oodles of costumed Disney characters, steering on a curved path all up in Cinderella Castle's grill. Crowds for SpectroMagic arrange with only vaguely defined parameters. Basically, it's a free-for-all up until the point where a gruff Disney security guard tells you to step back before handing you a chocolate rose and asking if you're okay with that.
It's not so much an amazing show as it is an assaulting one, with just way too many lights, faces, floats and music for anyone to avoid being impressed. I tried really hard to be all apathetic and snarly, but by the time the kids next to us made a game of booing all of the villainous costumed characters and cheering their "friends," I was ready to saw half of my legs off and ask them to let me in their club. We hit SpectroMagic on the first night of our vacation, which is something I'd recommend for everyone. Your reactionary level to the beautifully surreal decreases with every minute spent in Disney, just because there's so damn much of it. It's good to let SpectroMagic nail you as hard as it possibly can, because if they're going to go through all the trouble of lining Mickey's jumpsuit with 14,000 white lights, it wouldn't be right to cheat them with halfhearted applause.
HOT DISNEY THING #34: DINOSAUR
Originally called "Countdown To Extinction" and later revamped to reflect the movie of the same name, "Dinosaur" (more correctly, "DINOSAUR") no longer enjoys the same level of visitor intrigue it once did. Though nowhere near an old ride especially by Disney World standards (even the original version opened just eight years ago), I was surprised to read that this is now only considered to be a "second tier attraction." Okay, so it's no Expedition Everest, and it's no Mission: Space, and it's no Aerosmith-branded roller coaster either. But it's got dinosaurs! Real ones!
Dinosaur is, in many ways, the ultimate dark ride. I've spoken of my dark ride passion before, but such rides are usually done on the cheap, comparatively speaking, with lower-end animatronics and much reliance on static props, eerie music and all kinds of other stuff that would be exposed as crap by sunlight. That's part of their charm, but it's nice to see the idea taken to the extreme like so many sports energy drinks. Maybe it's Dinosaur's reputation of being a "family ride" that knocks it down a few pegs. To that I'd say, it's only a family ride if you know little kids or old people willing to have a life-sized carnotaurus boo'ing at them from three feet away.
Skipping past the preliminary videos and brouhaha that give the ride some semblance of a storyline, you and a bunch of other riders are herded onto fake safari cars that land in prehistoric times. As you stroll through the loud, bumpy and dark crazyland, you'll see dinosaurs eating other dinosaurs, dinosaurs holding up rocks so they won't fall on you, and glowing red dinosaurs that stick their heads next to yours and shout "oooga booga." Really awesome. Its lines aren't what they used to be, so you'd be crazy to get the stink of Animal Kingdom all over your skin and not get a trip to prehistoric Earth out of it.
HOT DISNEY THING #35: Expedition Everest
Is it okay to name a ride I've never been on one of my Hot Disney Things? Only in America. For me, Expedition Everest is the one that got away. It was easily the ride I most wanted to go on prior to arriving, because it's a "real" roller coaster in a resort that has so few of them, and because it's the only roller coaster starring a giant fucking audio-animatronic yeti. By far the biggest thing Animal Kingdom has going, Expedition Everest is a huge spectacle with theatrics that begin when you're still a good ten minute walk from the entry gate. All around the sidewalks anywhere near this thing, you'll see everything from creepy, luring signs to veritable yeti shrines like the one shown above. If we capitalize the word, "Yeti" becomes a new Disney character; a one-of-a-kind creature who thrills and chills from a secret spot within a mountain that can only by viewed by those willing to go on the ride.
I couldn't do it. I'd gotten used to my lucky streak with avoiding long lines in Disney World, and I just couldn't deal with the wait for Expedition Everest, which undoubtedly had the longest line I saw during our entire vacation. Though the ride offered Fastpass tickets, they were backed up to where we would've had to return six hours later to meet our time window. I really, really, really wanted to go on Expedition Everest. It's big. It's awesome. I've heard nothing but great things about it. It has a yeti inside. I'm so pissed that I didn't just eat shit and wait on the line, but if nothing else, at least there's some justification in going back to Disney World for me. Not now. Not within the next five years. But someday.
Check that shit out, and note the gawkers on ground level for scale. The giant, snowcapped mountain is made even more impressive by its location; Animal Kingdom is only a theme park by a few technicalities, and there's few other things in the place that even remotely approach Expedition Everest's level of gigantimundo. Passengers daring enough to board the roller coast trains will find themselves against one of the most grueling preliminary climbs in the history of roller coaster theatrics, along with everything from pitch black tunnel twists to an 80 foot drop. And yeah, a yeti.
There are no loops to speak of, nor any of the truly face-ripping features most new "big" coasters are built with today. What separates Expedition Everest from its competition, besides the yeti I mean, are the facts that it's so huge and that it's made to look totally organic and non-ride like. It's a breathtaking sight and probably the only ride in Animal Kingdom that'd get people not at all into zoos to visit it. So pissed that I missed my chance, but like I said, now there's a reason to go back.
Oh, and remember Stacy? Hostess of the "7 Top Attractions" show that plays on every television set in every hotel room at every Disney resort, 24 hours a day? The girl I was cursing about in Part 2? Well, according to Stacy, Expedition Everest is the #1 (!!!!!) must-see attraction in all of Disney World.
Regarding your fateful meeting with the yeti, I think Stacy puts it best: "He's not happy to see you, so he FREAKS OUT! Then, YOU FREAK OUT because he looks hungry! And then the TRAIN FREAKS OUT!"
The train does freak out. After the yeti fucks your shit up, the train starts moving backwards, ultimately at full speed. Even considering Expedition Everest's size, you can still hear the riders' screams before actually being able to see the mountain. Why didn't I go on it? Why did I have to convince myself that making a custom Disney-themed Mr. Potato Head would be just as good?
On the next page: Drinks that blink, giant bees and love in an elevataaaa.