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Pal Val’s #6 – Flights of Passage

Getting higher in the list, another obvious pick, this being the newest ride at Animal Kingdom- big surprise. But I am going to be brutally honest on this one – after I rode this attraction for the first time I did not know if I was ever going to go on it again. (And for once, this had nothing to do with my vertigo…)

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Flights of Passage is a 3-D flight simulator in the new Pandora area of Animal Kingdom. It has been loosely compared to Soarin’ Around the World in its design. The flight simulates riding on a banshee over the Valley of Mo’ara in Pandora. The ride vehicle is similar to a motorcycle in design and there are seating restraints that come up against your back to secure you onto the “Banshee”. You are wearing glasses and the vehicle is lifted as you are lowered to an angle so that you can fully see the screen in front of you. If you don’t look to your left or right, you are totally immersed (look left or right and you can see several stories of people wearing goofy glasses)! The visuals are amazing, and the effects make you feel like you are really riding an animal – you can even feel the ‘Banshee’ breathing on your legs, in the way you might if riding a horse.

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I was really nervous going in for the first time. I had heard that many people were getting sick on this one and I did not relish the thought of being dizzy for the rest of the day. I did not have a fast pass – my first mistake – and there was about a two and a half hour wait. Yes, I said over two hours, and this can be a short wait for this ride. I was just not going to do it.  My husband, (who was unable to ride due to size restrictions that he has since conquered), made the point that it was a new ride, I would want to see the queue, I would be hanging around for that long somewhere, I have video on my phone to watch. And so, I caved to the pressure – my second mistake – and jumped into the line.

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The queue is remarkable, beautiful landscape outside, incredible detail throughout, leading to total immersion. But as I moved through, I started to think that this must be the absolute longest queue in the history of the world. I really never thought it was going to end. You start out in some amazing caves, wander through until you reach a military style bunker, then you are kind of going in and out of Pandora at night, and then through a laboratory with a super cool animatronic of an Avatar in suspension. But did I mention that I thought it was never going to end. The majority of the queue is in caves and a bunker, so you have the feeling of being far underground. Even though I am not claustrophobic, I was getting that way by the time I reached the end of the queue. Every time we went around a corner I thought we were going to be at the end of the line…but it just kept going.

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When I did finally reach the boarding area, I was very tired and ready to be done. The linking up to an avatar was really cool, lots of interaction with the video screen. But when I experienced the ride, quite honestly, I was not incredibly impressed. The visuals were beautiful, but I didn’t understand why everyone thought the ride was so amazing. I met up with my husband and said I didn’t really care if I ever ventured to the Valley of Mo’ara ever again.

Flights of Passage 3

After we arrived home, I was reading some things about the attraction (I did not want spoilers and had not seen too much ahead of our trip) and started thinking – I wonder if something could have been wrong with my ride vehicle. I didn’t feel the affects as much as people were describing in the reviews.

This past July we were at Animal Kingdom with the kids and we did have Fast Passes for the ride. I had promised our girls that I would be riding. It was a completely different experience. Not only was it more fun to experience with other people – but the ride seemed so much better. We were able to pretty much walk straight on to the boarding area. This time, I could experience all the effects – and when your ride vehicle is moving in the way it is designed – it changes the ride tremendously!! It was incredibly fun and although I won’t be able to ride multiple times in a row (this last time, it did make me just the slightest bit dizzy after one ride) I will be riding it every trip from now on (when we have acquired Fast Passes, of course.)

 

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Pal Val’s #7 – Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Often people ask why we like going to Walt Disney World so much (I have noted this to be a common gripe amongst Distwitterers https://twitter.com/hashtag/distwitter). There are several reasons why it is our favorite place – and sometimes those reasons change in level of importance from visit to visit. But, most often the answer is pretty simple…it’s all about the rides. We are thrilled to make it to the park at rope drop and stay until the ‘goodnight kiss’ and just ride attractions the entire day. And we don’t mean just ride everything one time – our goal is to get as many rides on as many attractions as possible. Because of my vertigo – that makes some rides a challenge for me – but as long as it is not an inversion coaster like Rock ‘N Roller Coaster or spin in complete circles like Primeval Whirl – I am all about the ride!

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This brings us to #7 on my list – the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – a family style rocking roller coaster in the Magic Kingdom (rocking, like back and forth, not rockin’, like Aerosmith!) I especially enjoy this coaster because it is a wonderful example of the type of Disney Parks detail we love so much. The Imagineers did an amazing job – once again giving guests the feeling they are stepping into a story – not just experiencing a coaster. From the moment you step into the queue you feel you are walking deep into the woods, heading into an actual diamond mine. Because this ride is in the new area of Fantasyland, it has something the other areas above the Utilidors cannot enjoy – trees that are planted in the ground. The details are enchanting and there is always something new to see.

The following picture was taken from the queue, where you feel as if you are delving deeper into the forest.

From The Queue

We don’t often take the time to go through the queue (we try to have Fast Passes for this one as it can be a very long wait) – but this is a queue that you must experience at least one time. There are several fun interactive stations throughout with games to pass the time. One of those stations are a group of barrels that spin – as they spin you see images of gems on the ceiling above the barrels. Be sure to get several people in the queue to help – if you get all the barrels spinning at once it produces a special image on the ceiling for you!

I believe Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is an excellent first coaster for a child (or an adult). It has theming that is interactive and fun. Because you are in a mine car, it sets down a little lower into the cave setting around it, so it doesn’t have that tall hill view like a coaster that is just a seat up on plain metal bars. Also, there is a little break in the middle where the ride slows down and you can see, up close, the amazing new animatronics of the dwarfs working in the diamond mine. It was our youngest granddaughters first coaster – and even though in the picture she looks terrified – she came off wanting to immediately ride it again.

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This is a coaster that does not set off my vertigo…the first few times I ride it. One visit we decided to try the Early Morning Magic at Magic Kingdom. This special, extra ticket purchase required, event gives you over one hour in the parks before the park officially opens – as well as a yummy breakfast! I learned that riding Seven Dwarfs four times in a row is my maximum before the world begins to spin! My husband made it ten times before the gates opened and the lines started to form (which after ten times makes waiting in line a downer!)

If you are not able to get Fast Passes for this one (they are often hard to come by, we were not able to get them on our trip next week, even though we did get Slinky Dog Dash and Flight of Passage) then try to make it to the park for rope drop and head to this ride first. The line may initially look long, but if you can get in before the Fast Passes are in full use – it moves very quickly. The wait will only get longer from there – it often has the longest wait time at the park.

Don’t forget to look at the door of Snow White’s cottage (you may have to look back because you go by pretty quickly) – you don’t want to miss seeing who is knocking at her door!!

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Pal Val’s #8 – Happily Ever After Fireworks

Shows with fireworks are a staple event at most Walt Disney World Parks. Their bright lights and loud noises will always draw a crowd of amazed people. If you are anywhere close to the hub during the stage show, as you hear the obligatory one quick firework blast at the end, you also hear the gasp of delight from the crowd. I enjoy the fireworks as much as the next gal and the Star Wars Fireworks have already made my list – so you know that I enjoy them. But as a rule, they are not my favorite part of a day at the park. ‘Happily Ever After’ has become the exception – I absolutely love this show.

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‘Happily Ever After’ delivers it all – there are pyrotechnics, projections on Cinderella’s Castle, lasers, lighting effects, Tinkerbell, and my favorite part – it is all timed perfectly to an amazing sound track. The fireworks for this show are exceptional. There are more than most any other show I remember seeing and they have new colors and shapes – there is enough variety to keep you watching for what is coming next.

I greatly enjoy the projections on Cinderella Castle – I think more so than any other projection show I have seen (and that includes Star Wars – A Galactic Spectacular that was #12 on my list). Its amazing the way they have the characters fit perfectly onto the distinct facade of the castle – it is especially cool when things like a rocket or the ‘Up’ balloons go up the turrets and they time the fireworks to make you feel they go right into the sky! The lasers and lighting effects just go hand in hand with the projections to make you feel like you are in the middle of the show – not just watching it.

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Then there is Tinkerbell…she was always my favorite part of ‘Wishes’ but I think her appearance is better and more perfectly timed in the new show. I am always excited to see her fly from the castle – and I appreciate it so much when the weather allows it. But not having her at the very beginning allows the expectation for her arrival to build and I feel like it just makes it so much more exciting when she flies in this one.

As if all that I have mentioned so far isn’t enough to make a great show – my favorite part about ‘Happily Ever After’ is the sound track. They use so many songs that are popular, but they have also added some surprises that I was not expecting. Music from ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, ‘Hercules’, and ‘Pinocchio’ were wonderful additions and some of my favorite songs that you do not hear very often. But even some of the classic songs – like one from ‘Frozen’– are new arrangements. (And if you are not a fan of that oft played ditty: ‘Let It Go’, no worries, it is not in there!) I cannot wait for a sound track to be released – even though I made a playlist of the general songs – it is not the same!!

A few quick tips, as it can feel daunting finding a place to see this show…

  • Arrive early for a good spot. It is worth it for this show. To be able to feel the full effects, you need to have a clear view of the castle. If you are on Main Street you will be able to see the castle, but I think you feel more like part of the show if you are standing in the hub.
  • Know that much of the crowd will be heading out of the park after the show. Even if the park is closing, just take some time to enjoy the atmosphere of the park at night. There is something special about staying to see the ‘Goodnight Kiss’ and walking Main Street when the park is almost empty.
  • Don’t let rain deter you from this show. We were surprised after a full day of pouring rain (which is rare – usually the rain comes and goes quickly) we assumed that the fireworks show would be canceled and had not even intended on going to the front of the park. We just happened to be leaving Space Mountain and heading for Liberty Square and cut through the hub at the right time. There were some people standing in front of the castle – but honestly the park was pretty empty. We looked at a cast member and said that surely there would not be a show in this pouring rain. He said there would be – so we got a prime spot and enjoyed the show. It was incredibly cool – the lasers and lighting effects looked amazing in the rain. SundayTip - Rain
  • Consider the ‘Happily Ever After’ Dessert Party – especially if you are visiting with children. We decided to make it our surprise event for the kids on our vacation this past July. We had a fun day, enjoyed some great appetizers and desserts, and then just walked up to a prime viewing location a few minutes before the show began. Our kids say it was one of their favorite parts of our vacation.
  • If you can’t get a primo location for the fireworks, don’t give up. On a trip last year in September, my husband took this picture from the backstage walking path they open during the fireworks on a very crowded night. The view wasn’t as good as it could have been, but it was still a great show!Happily Ever After5

Even though we won’t be enjoying the Dessert Party on our upcoming visit – I can’t wait to experience ‘Happily Ever After’ again!! It is well worth the time and effort!

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Pal Val’s #9 – Toy Story Mania

Down to single digit day!

Toy Story Mania (yes, the name has changed at Hollywood Studios – the Midway Mania name is no more) may seem like a very boring pick because it is obviously an incredibly popular ride. But there are many reasons why we love this ride so much and why we will spend most of our day at the park riding it repeatedly – and wait in long lines just to ride it again (waiting in long lines is something we work hard to avoid, but this one can be worth it.)

Toy Story Mania Entrance

If you are wondering what in the world I am talking about…Toy Story Mania is a 4-D attraction located in the new Toy Story Land. As you enter, you pick up 3-D glasses and board vehicles that will kind of spin around while moving through scenes that showcase carnival games. Attached to your vehicle are toy cannons with pull strings that allow you to play the games as you move through the ride. Stopping at each game, you fire simulated pies, darts, eggs, baseballs, etc. at the screen and accumulate points. What makes the attraction 4-D is that occasionally you will feel a blast of air and vibrations that make the game even more realistic. There are Toy Story characters in each scene to cheer you on. At the end of the game your score is revealed, and you can see how you measure up to the others in your car (as well as other players that have ridden throughout the day).

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Fast passes can be difficult to come by for this one and the wait times often average well more than an hour, sometimes two or more. (Although, we have only been to the park once since Toy Story Land has opened and the wait times during that week were considerably lower.)

I believe it is so popular because guests (including my husband and myself) automatically want to ride again because they desire that higher score. We are constantly working on how we can achieve a higher score. Most of the monthly records set on Toy Story Mania (and we assume these are cast members’ scores) are over 500,000. Scoring over 300,000 is the highest we have reached and that has been accomplished by working together to uncover some of the hidden triggers. If you don’t want to know, don’t click this link, but tricks are actually a part of the game. Warning: It takes some real straight shootin’.

Even if you take the addicting game out of the attraction, the Imagineers went above and beyond for this ride. The theming is spot on – you feel like a toy that has found Andy’s room for a day of fun. Looking around at the size of the doors, windows, string lights, and games – you will always find something new. It also gives me a sense of nostalgia because so many of the games in Andy’s room could have been found in my own childhood bedroom (who didn’t have Tinkertoys and an Etch-a-Sketch back 30 years ago, well, 30ish years ago). It is fun walking through the queue and remembering some of the toys and games with fondness. There are also hilarious details you notice when you really immerse yourself in the surroundings and see it through Andy’s eyes.

Toy Story Land

Toy Story Mania is definitely a must-do attraction you and your family will love. Even if you have small children who may not be able to completely understand how to play the game, they will love the interaction with the characters and the spinning ride through the attraction.

Plus, Mr. Potato Head is awesome!

GB1-HS - Toy Story Midway Mania Potatohead

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Pal Val’s #10 – Spaceship Earth

When I started thinking of the top #20 things I was most looking forward to on our upcoming Disney vacation – I began by listing all my favorite rides. I was trying to choose those special attractions – ones if we didn’t get to experience on a visit – it made me sad. For EPCOT, Spaceship Earth is at the top of that list. It is definitely not because it is a thrill ride or has the latest technology.

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Spaceship Earth (if you are not aware) is a slow-moving attraction, where you ride in a vehicle that takes you back in time. As you travel, you see vignettes of some crucial moments in history – all having to do with the way humans communicate. Everything from writing on cave walls and the first printing press, to the creation of personal computers are depicted in scenes filled with animatronics in era specific clothing.

One of the reasons I love this ride so very much is the detail. It is a perfect example of how Disney can create an attraction with so many specific elements that every time you ride it you notice something new. Near the end of the ride there is an opportunity for you to answer some questions – they use that information to create a video for you based on your answers . We have ridden many times and still often see a new portion of future video that we have never seen before – it is just silly fun!

If you are new to Spaceship Earth, here’s a few helpful hints…

  • Don’t ride Spaceship Earth first thing in the morning if there is a long line. Because it is in the front of the park (and is the park’s icon), people often stop here first. Move along!! Come back later in the afternoon or the evening. If we are not staying to watch Illuminations, Spaceship Earth is our last ride of the night – it is rarely more than a 5-minute wait by the end of the evening.
  • Watch for hidden Mickey’s – there are a couple of great ones on this ride. (Hint…pay attention to the artist’s table in the Renaissance scene.)
  • Do you recognize any of the animatronics from other attractions? They reused some from the Hall of Presidents and the Carousel of Progress.
  • Watch for you picture on the big screens as you exit the attraction. You can have your video emailed to you from one of the stations in front of the screens. Also, take some time to play the games in that area – they are a lot of fun!
  • It is not cool to call it a golf ball, though hard not to at times 🙂
  • Be careful when selecting your language on the screens when the ride starts. Last trip my daughter and husband slipped up and hit French… From there on, they could not understand a word of the narration or activity at the end (Other than things like the kid shouting “Extra, Extra, read all about it!”)

Beyond being a great ride, it is also really cool to see this huge white sphere in the distance.

Epcot Tree Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth may not be the newest or flashy attraction at EPCOT, but it is an amazing classic that I never want to miss when at Walt Disney World, much less when we are in EPCOT!!