Magic Kingdom- Fireworks and 2 Mountains
While most of my time was spent at the SeaWorld and Fun Spot parks following the conference, I was able to sneak to join my buddy for a few hours at Disney World. I had two evenings and my choice of three of the four parks (Animal Kingdom was blacked out). The first choice was a no-brainer for me, Magic Kingdom.
We arrived just as the fireworks show began. Having been to my fair share of Disney parks, I know it's a challenge to fight through the crowds during any fireworks show or parade. That fact combined with the quality show Disney usually provides made it an easy decision to watch the show. I can never keep track of what Disney calls their fireworks show at any given point, but I believe this was the Happily Ever After version.
The show was enjoyable. Fireworks alone aren't something I'm too interested in. But when you add in impressive castle projections, different (but wonderful) renditions of Disney classics, and the obligatory Tinkerbell soaring across the sky, it elevates the fireworks into a truly special experience.
Once the show concluded, we battled through the asphalt jungle. We went upstream against baby strollers, children on leashes, families linking hands, and hordes of teenagers looking for that one last selfie, but eventually we reached a much more appealing jungle and we had reservations for a night cruise. We were at none other than the Jungle Cruise.
The Jungle Cruise is an infinitely better experience at night. For one, the cave/ruins scene is pitch black and pretty ominous in the dark of night. More importantly, our tour guide was able to add some more adult jokes to the experience. Before you think Disney has turned into Comedy Central, control yourselves. They kept it PG. However, there were some clever drinking jokes woven in that I've never noticed in past years...unless I was too oblivious
. Those jokes combined with the expected dry humor makes this a staple in my visits to the park. 10 out of 10
We still had some time before our Splash Mountain Fastpass was ready, so we decided to visit 999 happy haunting ghosts on another classic, the Haunted Mansion. We arrived to find the longest queue I've ever seen for the Haunted Mansion at 30 minutes. Prior to Fastpass Plus, I can't recall ever seeing any noticeable wait for this attraction, but I'll take it over being guaranteed shorter waits for rides on the mountains.
It was interesting reriding the Haunted Mansion again after riding the well-done ripoff at Europa Park last fall. Honestly I hesitate to even call that one a ripoff since it was almost equal in quality. Almost. The original is still a better all-around attraction. The Pepper's Ghost effect (only remember that since we had a tour guide ahead of us and overheard as we walked down the exit) is still impressive ever. The ride slowly builds up to the impressive climax in the graveyard. It's quite the site seeing ghosts everywhere while hearing a Disney tune that manages to be both cheerful and ominous at the same time. 10 out of 10
Splash Mountain is my favorite ride at the entire resort. The recipe of large drops and classic animatronics is pretty hard to top in my opinion. It's also one of the longest rides in the world, usually clocking in around 10-11 minutes. I say usually since my buddy and I were treated to a 25 minute experience on Splash Mountain.
Our Fastpass was completely unnecessary since the queue was completely empty, a stark contrast to the 100 minutes we waited last month for the attraction. I guess 10 pm and 60 degrees has that effect on a water ride in Florida. We were optimistic we could get a double ride and still have time to make it over to Space Mountain for our final ride.
We climbed up the first lift, rounded the corner, got sprayed by the geyser adjacent to the drop, and crept up to the second lift. Business as usual. But then the lights came on and the dreaded announcement could be heard.
"Brer Fox and Brer Bear are causing some kind of commotion down stream."
A few years ago I was stopped on Dinosaur and that was quite the experience, as I was able to witness what really is in that ride building when the lights went on. Splash Mountain wasn't quite as noteworthy, but I did notice some new theming along the lift I've never noticed on my previous rides. Soon enough I heard:
"Please remain seated, motion will begin momentarily."
I turned my attention back to the lift which still didn't start. Turns out Disney has a different meaning of momentarily than me. You see, my buddy helped write the technical manual for Splash Mountain. As a result, he knew just what all the announcements during the attraction meant from an operations standpoint. He told me the key word was "immediately." Five minutes of moments later, we heard the "motion will begin immediately" and were back on our journey.
We had another 5 minute stop before Slippin' Falls, which was actually somewhat suspenseful since motion began this time after "momentarily" much to my buddy's shock. The rest of the ride was its usual goodness, punctuated by the climatic plunge. The drop is spectacular anytime of day, but I especially like it at night for the view of the castle before descending into the briar patch. 10 out of 10
It was now 10:30, so we began the journey across the park to Space Mountain. We had a little extra time, so we decided to squeeze in one extra dark ride along the way. We needed one with no queue, so that ruled Peter Pan out. We needed one that doesn't drive me insane, so that ruled It's a Small World Out. So the one we passed that fit the bill was the Little Mermaid's Under the Sea.
The ride is identical (as far as I can tell) between California and Florida, but the exterior is much more impressive at Magic Kingdom. I actually haven't seen the Little Mermaid from start to finish, but this attraction includes all the key songs and seems to tell the narrative quite well. 9 out of 10
It was now 10:50, so we had just enough time to enter Space Mountain's queue. Knowing Disney, I was expecting to see a posted 90 minute wait that was actually only 20-30 minutes. The wait time was actually almost correct this night. It said 40 minutes and we waited 30 minutes.
Space Mountain is another great example why bigger and faster isn't always better. The fact that a coaster with a top speed of only 27 MPH includes 4-5 solid drops, each with some great airtime in the back, really says it all. And that's combined with almost total darkness. The only things that become visible (and this actually adds to the ride's thrill) are the supports that seem dangerously close above our heads. As great as the headchopper on Phantom's Revenge is, Space Mountain is so much scarier in that regard. 9 out of 10
In just under 2.5 hours, we hit my two favorite mountains and three dark rides I missed in my February visit. Not too bad considering the queues were posted at 45-90 minutes for most attractions around midday.