Thursday, January 23, 2014

Big Thunder Mountain ride review

"Hang onto your hats and glasses, folks, 'cause this here's the wildest ride in the wilderness!"

Big Thunder Mountain is a train-style roller coaster. It's fast, with some dark moments, some loud moments, and lots of twists and turns. The ride lasts 3 1/2 minutes and travels at speeds of 25-30 mph.

The queue for this ride is a short climb up the mountain and then a ramp down into the old mine where you board the train. The queue can be deceptively long, as little of it is visible from the outside. However, new interactive sections have been added to the queue, making it a lot of fun to wait. You can play with explosives, see mine canaries, and help the miners do their work. Even so, I would recommend a Fast pass if the posted wait time is more than 30 minutes.

Each train consists of a locomotive and 5 cars, and each has a unique name. The trains are U.B. Bold, U.R. Daring, U.R. Courageous, I.M. Brave, I.B. Hearty, and I.M. Fearless.

Each car has three seats, which are big enough for 2 average adults, although I have squished in 2 adults and 1 child when Bean wanted to ride together in the front. The restraint for each seat is a lap bar that goes across everyone in the seat. It locks into place and provides something to hold onto around tight turns as you will slide across the seat. It can be a little tricky if an adult and small child ride together, as the lap bar won't close down tightly across the child, but it's not really a problem if you know about it ahead of time.

The train travels in and out of the mine several times and goes up and down frequently. There are bats and rumbling rocks inside the mine as well as authentic antique mining equipment. The outside of the mountain is reminiscent of Utah and Arizona's Monument Valley.

As you travel around the mountain, you pass through Tumbleweed, an old mining town, where a party is going on in the Saloon, beneath the skeleton of a dinosaur, and partway over the Rivers of America. (If you go to Tom Sawyer's Island, head over to Fort Langhorn where you can "shoot" at the trains on Big Thunder Mountain as they pass by across the water.) For a wilder ride, request the last car on the train, and for a milder ride, request the front car. And don't forget to ride this at night, there are several unexpected sights that can really only be seen at night.

You must be 40" to ride Big Thunder Mountain, but if your kids like roller coasters, be sure to add this one to the list. It is also a great ride for  introducing younger kids to "real" roller coasters , especially if they have enjoyed Goofy's Barnstormer. Bean has been riding Big Thunder Mountain since she was 4 years old and it is still one of her favorites.

I love Big Thunder Mountain and make sure to ride it every time I go to the Magic Kingdom. This may not be the wildest roller coaster at Disney World, but it is definitely one not to miss.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom

In my opinion, one of the scariest rides at Disney World is Expedition Everest. I've always been afraid of roller coasters and yeti, and this ride combines the most thrilling of both! Expedition Everest is located in Asia in the Animal Kingdom.

As you enter the queue for Expedition Everest, you pass enter the office of the Himalayan Escapes, Tours and Expeditions. The attention to detail in the queue is amazing! The temple, which is surrounded by banners similar to those found in Tibet, is gorgeous. Exiting the temple, you find yourself in a bazaar filled with everything you'd need for a trip to Everest: sleeping bags, tents, cookware, tea, and much more. As you leave the bazaar, you reach the Yeti Museum. Both the fastpass and standby lines can view the artifacts, so don't be afraid you'll miss the displays if you get a fastpass. The museum is filled with castings of Yeti footprints, the remains of a base camp that has been destroyed, mysterious hairs, and even various scat. The museum is very detailed and interesting. As you eventually leave the museum, you pass into the railroad office of the village of Serka Zong. In the final room of the queue are photos of the teams who have journeyed over the mountain in an attempt to find a safe passage for the train. Many of the people in the photos are Disney Imagineers who traveled to Nepal to make the Expedition Everest experience feel truly authentic. Finally, you exit the queue to find a train from the Anandapur Rail Service waiting to take you over the forbidden mountain.

Even the ceilings in the queue are gorgeous!
There are a total of 6 "steam trains" that make up the Anandapur Rail Service and seat 34 riders per train. Once you board the train, stow your gear and pull down the restraint. Each row has two seats, which are fairly roomy and should easily accommodate anyone from the "Tigger" sized to the "Pooh" sized. Once your lap bar is secure, hang on for the ride of your life! Expedition Everest is a fast paced thrill ride full of high speed, sharp turns, and a large section where you travel in reverse in the dark. Toward the end of the ride, you will come across the Guardian of the Forbidden Mountain: the Yeti. Disney Imagineers worked with several primatologists to make him as realistic as possible, and in my opinion, he's spot on. It may be cowardly, but I can rarely bring myself to even look at the Yeti. After you see the Yeti comes the final drop. Just before the drop, your photo will be taken. My sister and I like to have fun with the photos, which resulted in this crazy picture. But at least I don't have to see the Yeti!

After speeding down the mountain, you disembark into the gift shop and can view your photo. When you purchase a photo, you also receive a digital download. They give you a photopass card just for that photo and you can download it to your computer to reprint or share. And be sure to check out some of the crazy yeti merchandise while you're there. Some of it is absolutely adorable, while some is rather terrifying.

You must be at least 44" tall (the size of one yeti foot) to ride Expedition Everest. It is a wild ride that is probably best for older children as it is somewhat scary and often dark. Even though I find it somewhat terrifying, I still love riding this roller coaster. Besides, if Bean was brave enough to ask to ride up front at age 6, how could I do any less?

Fun facts: the ride is so massive and the various parts so integrated that the track, mountain, and Yeti had to be constructed simultaneously. For a great  view of  the Animal Kingdom and Disney World in general, consider sitting in the front row. The view from the broken track at the top is incredible!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

50s Prime Time Cafe

The first time I went to the 50’s Prime Time Café at Hollywood Studios, I thought I’d just walked into my grandmother’s house. It really is like stepping back in time.  It's full of 50’s kitsch, with tchotchkes and knick-knacks at every turn.

The waiting area looks more like a living room in someone’s house than the entry way of a restaurant. It's full of couches, chairs and coffee tables that look like they were borrowed straight from a 1950's home. There are even antique style televisions that play old Disney shorts. After what is usually a brief wait, a cast member, who are called by family names in this restaurant, will take you to your table.

The tables are also themed. The areas look like the seating you’d find in a 50s kitchen, complete with windows, period wallpaper, and lots and lots of authentic decorations, such as cookie jars and built-in sideboards. Once, we were seated at a table with a tiny television that played shorts from the Mickey Mouse Club and Father Knows Best. We’ve eaten here three times and really loved it every time.

On our first visit, we were served by Cousin Diane, who was perfectly in character the entire meal. She took my friend to task repeatedly for having his elbows on the table, and kept calling him Scooter. She made him terribly nervous and he kept looking for her every time he put his arms down. The last time she caught him, she made him stand in the corner and hold a sugar packet to the wall with his nose. He fought it and even tried to buy his way free, but Cousin Diane stood firm. Then she announced to the entire restaurant how he’d been naughty and had everyone say “Shame, Shame, Shame.” My sister, Bean, and I were cracking up!

On our second visit, we were served by Uncle Mark. He was hilarious, teasing Bean with just the right amount of humor to keep her laughing. She ordered the Mickey's BeeBop Drink, which is like a Shirley Temple made with Sprite, and comes with a glowing ice cube. When the drink first arrived, she decided it wasn’t “pink enough”. Uncle Mark took her back by the kitchen and had her say “when” as he added extra cherry syrup. By the time she finally said “when”, the drink was bright red, but she loved it! I had ordered the Glowing Character Punch, which is Minutemaid Light Lemonade in a souvenir cup, with a light-up character clipped to the top (I got Buzz Lightyear!) I had asked to have Pomegranate syrup added to my lemonade, which Uncle Mark was happy to do. Later, when he brought me a refill, he also brought me a second glass with cherry lemonade, as red as the drink Bean had ordered. It was really funny.

During our third trip, my dad and I were celebrating our birthdays. Aunt Marnie was our server and she was absolutely hysterical! When we sat down, she took our drink order and gave us a homework assignment. We had to write down as many single word Disney movie titles as we could. We were supposed to get 20, but we could only come up with 18. After we finished our dinners, Aunt Marnie brought my dad and I  birthday cupcakes and sang the most loud and off-key rendition of Happy Birthday I have ever heard. We were all laughing until we cried. It was fantastic!

Bean is a bit of a picky eater, so the first time she ordered chicken nuggets, which originally came with mashed potatoes. The second time it was part of the Kids Picks, so she ordered the chicken noodle soup and fries instead. The meal also came with a kids' Build Your Own sundae. She liked everything, except the mashed potatoes, a lot.

They also have healthier options, such as Grilled Chicken Strips with Macaroni & Marinara, or Grilled Fish with Whole Grain Pilaf. My sister had Dad’s Traditional Meatloaf and said it was wonderful. I have had both Aunt Liz’s Golden Fried Chicken, and Cousin Eric's Char-grilled Chicken Sandwich. I loved the sandwich, but the fried chicken was just basic fried chicken, nothing special. Overall, the food is 50’s style family fair, with a large selection of specialty drinks, with and without alcohol. Prices range from $14 to $20 for adult entrees and $8 for kids meals. And don’t forget the dessert menu, which you will find on a Viewmaster. A truly decadent choice would be Dad's Brownie Sundae. It's a brownie covered in chocolate sauce, whipped cream, M&Ms, and caramel popcorn, with Mickey sprinkles and a cherry on top! 

If you don’t have a good sense of humor, this restaurant may not be for you. The cast members will pick on you to eat your veggies, keep your elbows off the table, and mind your manners, but it’s all in good fun. On occasion, you may be startled by the tricks the cast members play; I have had a 5 foot straw poked into my hair from around a corner on more than one occasion. At first, I was a little annoyed, until I realized that it wasn’t the kids at the next table, but an adult Cousin who worked at the restaurant, so definitely expect the unexpected.

If you do eat your entire meal, you can get a “Clean Plate Club” sticker. Bean loved this because she adores stickers and it may help you to convince your child to finish their meal. The best part of the 50’s Prime Time Café is the atmosphere, both the authentic decorations and the zany “Family Members”. So, if you want to take a quick trip back in time, make a reservation for the 50’s Prime Time Café.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mythbusters Star Wars Special

Image Credit: DCL
My family are huge fans of Mythbusters, which is now in it's 10th season on the Discovery Channel. In fact, it's one of Bean's favorite shows. She loves seeing them test new myths, especially when they are ones she is already fond of, such as the Pirates of the Caribbean myths. Last night, they decided to tackle a new film franchise: Star Wars. The crazy gang of busters decided to take on three iconic Star Wars myths. First up was a myth from Episode IV: A New Hope. Jamie and Adam tested the feasibility of Luke and Leia being able to swing from one platform to another, while being chased by Stormtroopers, with only a grappling hook attached to a utility belt to save them. The second myth was from Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi. Tori, Grant and Kari tested how successful the Ewok's log-swing mechanism would really be against an AT-ST. And the final myth was my favorite. This myth, from Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, tests whether Han Solo made the right choice when he slashed open the Tauntaun on Hoth and shoved Luke inside. Was this really the best way to save him? I love the Tauntaun that Adam created. It was hilarious!

This really was one of the best Mythbuster episodes to date. It mixed two of my favorite things: Star Wars and Mythbusting, to great effect. Mythbusters - Star Wars: Revenge of the Myth will replay on the Discovery Channel this coming Saturday 1/11 at 10 PM Eastern time. Be sure not to miss it! The video above is from the aftershow. If you'd like to see additional Behind the Scenes content, just follow the link to the Mythbusters Star Wars Special.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Prince Charming Regal Carrousel at the Magic Kingdom

One of the most classic rides at Disney World is the Prince Charming Regal Carrousel in Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom. This charming, old-fashioned carrousel features beautiful, hand-carved wooden horses from an antique carousel purchased from Olympic Park in Maplewood, New Jersey.

The carousel was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1917. Originally called the Liberty Carousel, it is one of the largest carousels of its type in the world. The 90 horses and one carved chariot have been lovingly restored by Disney Imagineers, one of whom still maintains and hand paints each one.

Gus and Jaques on the old Cinderella's Golden Carrousel sign
When it opened in Fantasyland in 1971, the carousel was called Cinderella's Golden Carrousel. The name was changed in 2010 to reflect the changes in Fantasyland. I must say that I think the new name is a better fit as many of the horses are war horses reminiscent of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. There's also one that seems to have been inspired by Native Americans, with feathers and war paint.

There are five horses in each row. The horses on the outside ring are the largest horses and get progressively smaller as you move toward the center. Many have said that Cinderella's horse can be found on the Carrousel, but this seems to be a Disney urban legend. However, it is fun to find the one with the golden bow on its tail (it's in the second row from the outside) and imagine yourself to be a princess. The horses have been beautifully hand-decorated with painted touches as well as gold and silver leaf. Eighteen hand-painted vignettes from the film Cinderella decorate the inner board. At night, the Carrousel is lit by 2300 lights and is quite beautiful. The Carrousel plays music from many Disney films including Cinderella, Mary Poppins, and the Lion King. I love to take photos from the Carrousel as they capture the motion and excitement of the ride.

My favorite princess riding Cinderella's horse
The Carrousel usually has a fairly short wait, even during the busy season. Its slow pace and gentle movements make it a favorite with little ones and their parents. There is no height restriction for this ride, however children must wear the safety belt. Adults may ride or stand next to the horse during this two minute ride. If you have difficulty moving, this may not be the best ride. You must step up onto the platform and the horses are very tall and can be difficult to mount when in the highest position.