for fellow travellers

Friday, September 7, 2007

Epcot - the Future World

Map of Epcot
We were late reaching the park, as today also we lost our way somewhat and started late as well. Epcot, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, opened in 1982. It was conceived by Walt Disney to "take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry." This concept is best exemplified by Spaceship Earth, the glistening geosphere that has become Epcot's icon.
Epcot consists of two themed areas, Future World and World Showcase. Future World features attractions that focus on energy, communication, health, the land and our environment, the ocean, imagination, transportation and space exploration.
As the Future world rides were available till later in the evening we first went to mission space did the less intense training. Then we went for the world showcase. We were enamoured by Mexico. Next in China we saw the 360 degrees cinema, which I thought was really mind blowing and some acrobats by chinese artists. Most of our time was spent meeting the characters in Epcot.
In between we managed to squeeze in Honey I shrunk the audience which we had seen in Paris and loved greatly. The Test track sponsored by Ge is a good experience. Later In Morocco we met Aladdin. In the end we did Soarin' an absolutely great ride. Living with the land was another great ride and Circle of life was a good movie. We managed this between countless visits to the restrooms thanks to Soumya.
I think the future world is much more interesting than the World Showcase. Our planning went haywire because of all the character meetings which the children wanted to do more than anything else.

A suggested plan would be:

Plan to arrive in the parking lot 30 minutes before the official park opening. Decide ahead of time whether you want to begin with the high-octane thrills of Mission: SPACE or with the remarkable but not stomach-churning high of Soarin'. As soon as you pass through the turnstile race over to either Mission: SPACE or Soarin' and wait in line to ride or get a Fastpass appointment. Afterward, choose either the East or West Future World track to continue.

East Track: After Mission: SPACE, pick up a Fastpass for Test Track. Then backtrack to Spaceship Earth. Upon leaving Spaceship Earth, head to Soarin'.

West Track: After Soarin' at the Land pavilion, take the Circle of Life boat ride, then proceed to the Imagination! pavilion and get another Fastpass ticket for Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. Visit Journey into Imagination with Figment, and if you have time left, meander through Image Works before returning to Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. By this time there may be a line at The Seas with Nemo & Friends, but if there isn't, go on in and stay as long as you like.

Head counterclockwise into the World Showcase, toward Canada, while everyone else is hoofing it toward Mexico. If it's lunchtime, you may be able to get a table right away at Le Cellier, one of Epcot's lesser-known dining gems. Then try to catch a performance of the British Invasion in the United Kingdom before crossing the bridge into France, where you can snap up an √©clair or napoleon at Boulangerie P√Ętisserie. Shop in Morocco and Japan; then see the American Adventure Show, timing it to a Voices of Liberty performance. If there are lines at Norway by the time you get there, grab a Fastpass for the Maelstrom ride, then head for Innoventions or Ellen's Energy Adventure at the Universe of Energy.

Now's the time to head back to Norway and Maelstrom, followed by an early dinner at France, Italy, Mexico, or another inviting spot. See any attractions or shows that you missed, remembering that parts of Future World sometimes close ahead of the rest of the park. Stick around for IllumiNations, and stake out a spot early by the lagoon wall at Italy, on the International Gateway Bridge between France and the United Kingdom, or at an outdoor U.K. table. Make sure the wind is to your back so fireworks and special-effects smoke don't waft your way and obscure the scene. Take your time on the way out -- the park seems especially magical after dark.

The Carousel of Progress - my favourite ride

My favourite ride was The carousel of progress.This attraction debuted in New York at the 1964 World's Fair. Walt Disney developed this attraction to be part of GE's "Progressland" exhibit. The "Carousel of Progress" quickly became one of the most popular attractions at the World's Fair. (I remember it well.)
The story is told via an Audio-Animatronic family as seen at the turn of the Twentieth century, in the 1920's, the 1940's and present day. Not only were animatronics amazing back in '64, the theater seats revolved around the stage. (If you think Disney has some long lines, you should have seen what it was like back in the stone age at the Fair.)

After the World's Fair came to a close, this attraction was moved to Disneyland in Anaheim where it remained through 1973. After the main show guests would step on a moving ramp that brought them to the second floor. A model of "Progress City" was on display which was the inspiration for Epcot.

In 1973 "Carousel of Progress" was closed and moved to Orlando where it reopened in January of 1975 as "Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress." Unfortunately, they committed a blasphemy by changing the theme song from "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" to "The Best Time of Your Life." It wasn't until 1994 that the original song was brought back after alenghty refurbishment.

One interesting fact is that the voice talents of Mel Blanc and his son Noel have been featured in this attraction, as well as Jean Shepherd best known for writing and narrating "A Christmas Story."

What some see as "Walt's legacy" others see as a dated attraction. This is one of the very few rides that 'operates seasonally' which means that its only open during the busier times of year. Still, if you hint at it being closed and/or changed to something more current, you'll hear protests from around the globe.

If you're in Tomorrowland and "Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress" is open, you can be assured of two things: the park is probably busy and there's very little wait for this attraction. It can be a very pleasant way to pass 20+ minutes. You're comfortably seated in a theater, you're away from the crowds, you're out of the heat and best of all, you're watching a show that Walt himself designed.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Magic Kingdom, the doors open automagically

Map of Magic Kingdom
It has often been said that the true essence of Disney magic can be experienced simply by stepping foot inside the Magic Kingdom. Opened in 1971, the venerable theme park has withstood more than three decades of changing cultures, a constantly shifting social climate, and an explosion of technology that has left lesser places outdated and obsolete. Yet, somehow, the Magic Kingdom continues to remain the undisputed king of Theme Parks, drawing more yearly visitors than any other.

How the Magic Kingdom has managed to maintain its charm and appeal over the years is a lesson in simplicity. It has stayed true to its original vision, a place where families could gather in a clean and safe environment to enjoy the time they spend together. No trip to Disney World is complete without visiting the Magic Kingdom.
The Magic Kingdom is divided into five distinct areas (lands), arranged in a spoke-like formation, all meeting at the top of Main Street USA right in front of Cinderella Castle. The five lands consist of Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Liberty Square and Adventureland. Each land is themed to its appropriate title.
My daughter did not believe that she was in Disneyland till we came in full view of Cinderella's castle.

On the net there are several guides which can help you plan your day in this theme park and others for e.g.
TourGuideMike's online itinerary planner, Fodor's guide

An example would be:

Arrive at the parking lot 45 minutes before scheduled opening, and once in the park, dash left, or hop the Walt Disney World Railroad, to Frontierland, where you can claim an early Fastpass time for Splash Mountain. After you've received your ticket, head over for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, then ride Pirates of the Caribbean. By now, your Fastpass ticket should be valid to ride Splash Mountain. Next head over to Liberty Square and get a Fastpass for the Haunted Mansion. See the Country Bear Jamboree show or ride it's a small world until your time to visit the mansion is up. When you're finished, sprint over to Tomorrowland and pick up your next Fastpass, this time for Space Mountain or Stitch's Great Escape. Try to time this so that you can have some lunch and then see Cinderellabration at the castle. If you have longer to wait, head to the Timekeeper or the Carousel of Progress if they're operating. By now, it'll be time for you to experience Space Mountain or Stitch. Afterward, pick up a Fastpass for Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. Then ride the Tomorrowland Transit Authority or squeeze in any attractions above that you may have missed.

If you haven't seen the 3 PM parade on previous visits, start looking for a viewing spot at 2:30 (many begin even earlier). Once you settle on a curb, send a member of your group to pick up the next set of Fastpass tickets for the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. If the crowds aren't too thick, the second floor of the train station makes a really nice parade viewing spot. After the parade, hop the train to Mickey's Toontown Fair and pose by the colorful house fronts for some fun photos. From there, stroll into Fantasyland for your Fastpass appointment with Pooh. Afterward, get your Fastpass appointment for Mickey's PhilharMagic or Peter Pan's Flight. While you wait, take a spin on Cinderella's Golden Carrousel and check out the Cinderella Castle mosaics.

You probably have time to get dinner and return to your hotel for a couple hours' rest before the SpectroMagic parade and Wishes fireworks show. If you watch the fireworks from Town Square, you can be ready to grab a monorail seat back to the parking lot as soon as it ends. On the other hand, if you want to ride Splash Mountain or Space Mountain again, lines will be short now, and you can see the fireworks from pretty much anywhere in the park.

Most spectacular of all Disney's parks are the parades and fireworks displayed at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando. Most notably, the current combo of the "Wishes" fireworks show, and the perennial nighttime favorite, Spectromagic.
(For this post I have borrowed heavily from DIS)

Orlando, the mecca of theme parks

While planning our trip we were contemplating as to how to reach Orlando from Washington DC. I think its best to fly if you want to utilize your time to the fullest, other options would be drive down or go by train.
We reached Orlando and took the bus to Hertz Rental from the Airport. There we rented a car for a day and drove down to Orange country resort, which is quite well located and we found it easily. Both of us had been feeling apprehensive after reading the reviews in Tripadvisor regarding our stay in Orange country west village. Either we were not fussy guests or the condo was great either way, we were happy we had booked this stay with RCI. That day we settled down drove to the clubhouse and later we went to Walmart and did some shopping.
Day2 We had decided to buy our tickets from Maple Leaf which was giving the cheapest tickets and mind you tickets for the theme parks are costly around $70 per person!. So we bought three Disney theme park tickets. As we intended to go to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Epcot. We had decided to go to Magic Kingdom, the first day, it was a world of dreams, a superb place for children. It was much bigger than the one we had been to in Paris and there was no feeling of Deja vu. This was an experience in itself, with my children with me and the magnanimity of the place. One can reach Magic Kingdom by land, water or through the skytrain from the parking place.

New Jersey and Washington DC

We reached New Jersey and it was a better place to live away from the hustle and bustle. It was very crowded on the roads and it took us quite a while because of so much traffic.
Here was our first encounter with Walmart, a huge store and very interesting. We had a nice stay with Aseem Bhaiya and lots of good advice which stood us in good stead on our journey.
We reached Washington DC and stayed at ISKCON guest house which was located at a posh area in Washington DC but away from the tourist attractions. The food at ISKCON was excellent and we never missed Indian cuisine the two nights we stayed there. One day we had dinner with Dr. Maheshwari and the next night we stayed with Himanshu and Ritu and their little one.
Day 2 in WDC we went to the National Air and Space Museum which I feel needs a full day to see properly. We spent most of our time there. There was again along queue to get in. And they were doing security check also. Many groups of school children were there. I esp. liked the section on Wright Brothers. Quite a few exhibits of space were also there which we later repeated at the Kennedy Space centre in Orlando. We went to an Art museum after that that too was interesting. We saw the White House from outside and realized that we used to confuse it with The Capitol. We took the metro and then boarded a bus to reach back to the ISKCON Temple.
Day 3 Himanshu came to pick us and we went to Baltimore.We participated in the Rath Yatra organized by ISKCON in Baltimore that day and we spent time at inner harbour Baltimore a picturesque place. There is a great Aquarium in Baltimore which we saw. Later that day we went to the Lincoln Memorial. We went to the temple guest house and took our luggage and stayed with Ritu and Himanshu that night.
Himanshu dropped us to the Airport the next day with packed lunch. That was the first of several domestic flights which we took in America.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

I love New York

We stayed for only 2 days in New York, which were less considering, all that is there to see over there. On our first day, when we reached the Times Square we booked tickets from a vendor for a Hop on and Hop off Bus sightseeing tour, covering Downtown, Uptown, and Brooklyn.

We took the Uptown Loop.I had a long list of places to see, but it was not possible to see everything. We went to the American Museum of Natural History. Its last one hour is free and we reached 15 mnt before the last hour so we did not need to buy tickets, which were quite expensive and probably we would not have bought them. We hopped off from our bus over here. Then we walked down to the Central park, which acts as the lungs of New York, an interesting place in the middle of this concrete jungle, with everybody doing there own thing.
From New York

From New York

From here we took a cab to Times square. It is interesting the way you can hail a cab anywhere in New York. At Times square we visited the famous Toys R US shop and few others and then we took the night loop bus.
From New York

That night loop was a mistake because the air was very chilly in the open bus and 3/4th of my family was sleeping. We got off from the bus after more than half the tour was over and headed to our hotel in a cab. It was around 11pm when we reached back.
The next day we again headed towards the Times Square. This time we took the Downtown loop.

We went through Little Italy, Chinatown and went to see the Statue of Liberty. We took a ferry from the Battery Park. Our ticket for the ferry, was included in the hop on and hop off tour which we had taken. The Statue was not as magnificent as we thought it would be.
From New York

From New York

At the Statue of Liberty there were a lot of Indian tourists. We bought a few souvenirs at the shop over there. There is a museum there but you have to arrange from before. The ticket to Ellis' Island was included in our ticket but because we caught the last ferry we had to choose between stopping at statue of Liberty or Ellis' Island we obviously chose the former.
From New York

On returning back we again caught our hop on hop off bus and contd with loop. We left the bus at Rockefeller centre. We went to Top of the Rock, which was a great experience. There was a long queue for the American Girl Place where we had thought of taking our daughter, so we had to give up the idea. And in the end we headed for The Empire state building which was the worst experience of all, because of the long queues even late at night. On way to Empire state building we came across Best buy Store where we almost went berserk, a whole store of electronic goods!!
Day 3 we lost time packing but then as usual headed for Times Square. We visited the stores there Hershey's was great, the children esp loved making chocolate there. We went to the MTV store, Planet Hollywood etc.
From New York

From New York

From New York

Then we took a cab back to Comfort Inn, picked up our luggage and took the same cab to New Jersey.


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