Friday, July 22, 2011

1st time at Star Wars Weekend: Trip Report pt. 5

After a wonderful first night at Animal Kingdom Lodge, we woke early to find several giraffes down below our balcony.  We didn't have a lot of time to just sit and watch them though, as we had to make our way to our first ever Star Wars Weekend!

We arrived before opening, but we did miss a little bit of the Storm Troopers opening comments.  What we did hear was so funny!  They got everyone so excited to head into the park.  Once they opened the gates and we made our way through the ticket booths, we headed toward Star Tours 2.0 aka Star Wars:  The Adventures Continue.  We split up and Payton & I got in line to sign him up for Jedi Training Academy while Kendall went on to Star Tours with our tickets to get Fast Passes.  While we were waiting, Kendall called & said he was going to go scouting for characters.  Shortly after he called again, saying he found Darth Vader's line.  Once we got Payton's training academy time, we raced over to the Studio Catering Company and found Kendall directly across holding our spot for Vader.  Once we were all in line, we only had to wait a few minutes until we heard his music & Darth Vader arrived.  After signing Payton's autograph book, Lord Vader granted us a family picture with him.  Our day was off to a great start!

Next, we headed back to the Star Tours area and found the line to Chewbacca.  When we discovered that it was going to be a long wait, Kendall volunteered to stay so Payton & I could go look for more characters.  We headed over to the Streets of America and behind Muppet Vision and found Commander Cody!  The line was short and we were able to get to him quickly.  Payton even offered him a salute after the photopass photographer took their picture.  As we left that area, we spotted Anakin Skywalker!  Payton was so excited that he ran across the street to get in line.  I haven't seen him move that fast in a long time!  While waiting our turn to meet Anakin, who should arrive but Mace Windu!  So Payton was able to meet both Jedi and get their autographs.  Afterward, we walked around a bit and found a standee where Payton put his head on the body of a Storm Trooper.

We met back up with Kendall in the Chewbacca line at this point and decided to just wait as he was getting very close to the front.  Thankfully it was in the shade!  Once we got up there, it was time for some big Wookie hugs!  It was unbelievable how tall he was.  Kendall is 6'4" and Chewie was still head and shoulders taller.

Up next, our first ride on Star Tours 2.0!  Thanks to our Fast Passes, we headed right in.  The que was definitely upgraded and it was so fun to look at all the details as we made our way to the ride.  The intro film has been redone to match the new story.  Once inside, we strapped in and prepared for our new 3D adventure.  It was so neat!  I loved how they incorporated someone on the ride to be the Rebel Spy.

After Star Tours it was time for lunch, so we stopped at Payton's favorite place in Disney's Hollywood Studios...Pizza Planet.  While there, we just had to try the very special Dark Side cupcake.  It was massive (big enough for all of us to share) and so yummy!

Kendall & Payton headed on to the meet up area for Jedi Training Academy while I finished up lunch, then I met them there.  Since finding out we were coming to Star Wars Weekend, all Payton has talked about was facing Darth Maul instead of Vader at JTA.  A parent had to walk with the kids from the meeting area at Sounds Dangerous over to the JTA stage.  Kendall went with him while I found another spot at the stage.  Once they were all set, I moved over to where Kendall was and started taking pictures.  Unfortunately, Payton was with the group that went on stage, which meant he fought Vader again.  He said he wasn't disappointed though, because he was the first kid to face Darth Vader this time.  He has such a good attitude, even in the heat!

I left JTA early to try and find us a spot for the parade.  Unfortunately that was nearly impossible.  I think everyone must have lined up 2 hours early to get their spots.  Kendall & Payton finally found me and we watched what little we could see for a few minutes before giving up and heading back toward Star Tours.  On the way, we found the meet & greet spot for Queen Amidala and waited for her.  Payton wasn't too sure about getting his picture with a girl, but finally relented and got her autograph as well.  By this time we were getting seriously drained, so I picked up another set of Fast Passes for us, then we headed to the front of the park via the air conditioned shops and then to the bus back to AKL.  It was time for a rest!

After chillin' in the room a while, we finally decided to head back to the park.  It was about time for some supper, so we ate at Studio Catering Company which was close to some more characters we wanted to see.  We made it there right before rain decided to pour down!  Lucky for us, Florida rain doesn't last long and by the time we were done eating it had stopped.  We headed on toward Pixar Place, stopping to meet Darth Maul & Jango Fett.  Payton & I were in line to meet Maul when Kendall spotted Bobba Fett and moved over to that line.  Probably one of the best character meetings Payton had that day was with Darth Maul.  He had watched Maul as he met with other families before us and learned quickly that you can't take your eyes off him.  Maul would sneak up behind guests then suddenly be right up next to their faces.  Everyone seemed nervous when it was their turn to meet him.  Two little girls in front of us told their mom that they were NOT going to go up there!  So when Payton had his turn, he kept eye contact with Maul the entire time.  They circled each other for a while before Maul finally gave up and took Payton's autograph book to sign it.  It was so funny!

We hurried over to Bobba Fett's line to wait but unfortunately, we missed him and saw Jango Fett instead.  Payton was happy about that though, because he says he likes Jango better anyway!  Several Star Wars characters were just roaming around that area in front of the Backlot Tour, including several bounty hunters, storm troopers and sand people.  They were all heading toward the main stage to get ready for the Hyperspace Hoopla.  Since it was time for the character meets to end for the day, we headed that way ourselves.  Payton & I found a place to sit and wait in front of the stage while Kendall sat in the shade a little ways away.  Unfortunately, once the show was about to start, everyone in front of us stood up and crowded in, and there was no way Payton could see.  So we backed out and moved to where Kendall was so we could stand on the concrete bench.  The show was so much fun!  Dancing with the Star Wars Stars was the main part of the show and this year the theme was rock...AC/DC, Guns n Roses, Metallica, it was awesome!  We laughed hard and rocked hard.

 Now my video of Hyperspace Hoopla didn't turn out so well, but I found one that I love from Jeff Lange DVD on YouTube to share with you.  Enjoy!

After the show, we made our way over to try and meet Princess Leia Minnie.  But a storm came up about that time and she had to be taken inside.  So we hurried over to take our second Fast Pass ride on Star Tours.  This trip had a lot more motion, and Darth Vader was in it!  When we came out, we found that the exit in Tatooine Traders was jammed packed because it was pouring down rain outside.  We decided to make a run for it and dashed over to the Writer's Stop.  It was much less crowded in there, but we were soaked!  We waited around for a while for the rain to slow down a bit, then gradually made our way over to the ABC Commissary.  We sat inside for a little while then when the rain had basically stopped, we headed to the buses and back to the lodge.  I can honestly say that I've never, ever been in Hollywood Studios when it has been this crowded.  We had an absolute blast, but all traditional touring has to be thrown out the window, and if you are spoiled, like I am, and tend to go at the least crowded times, we be prepared for wall to wall bodies!  But even with all those people, the greatest majority were in good spirits, happy to be there for Star Wars weekend, and smiling through their sweat!

Up next, Downtown Disney & the Magic Kingdom!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Back on Dry Land: Trip Report pt. 4

So the cruise on the Disney Dream was wonderful, but boy was I ready to be back on dry land.  Mainly because I knew I was headed "home" to Animal Kingdom Lodge!  My family has been privileged to stay at the Lodge several times now and I can say without a doubt that it is our favorite resort at Walt Disney World.  I fell in love with AKL from the first moment I stepped inside and now it really does feel like home.  The drive from Cape Canaveral was very easy and we even had time to stop and pick up some McDonald's for breakfast.  We checked in around 9:30 a.m. and since our room wasn't ready, we headed to the buses and on to Epcot.

This trip we opted to take it easy on our WDW touring, since we've been so many times already, so the whole goal was to hit our absolute favorites and to try and do a few new things as well.  So of course, once inside Epcot, we headed over to the Land pavilion to pick up fast passes for Soarin' later that evening.  Then it was on to the Imagination pavilion, Payton's favorite.  A quick ride on Journey Into the Imagination with Figment, a stop in the gift shop and our traditional "imagination" green screen photo taken, then on to Captain EO.  Payton was determined to see this show again, as we've heard rumors that it won't be around much longer.  I have a feeling that he and I will both probably cry when the official news comes out that it's being replaced, especially if they put Honey I Shrunk the Audience back in!

Up next, time to travel around World Showcase.  We slowly made our way over to the Canada pavilion to enjoy the gardens and to see the Circle Vision showing of O' Canada (something we had never seen before, believe it or not).  The show and pavilion are beautiful.  We were early for our reservation, but decided to go ahead and check in at Le Cellier.  Again, this was our first time eating at this restaurant, and it was such an enjoyable experience.  Because we weren't on the dining plan this trip (I'll have more to say on this later), and we had just spent quite a bit on the cruise, we opted out of steaks and decided to try the Le Cellier House Burger.  I also tried a small bowl of the Cheddar Cheese soup, while Kendall ordered their onion rings.  It was honestly too hot for soup, but I am glad I tried it.  It is very good, not something I would order every time, but I enjoyed it.  The burger was the absolute best burger I have ever eaten.  If I wasn't getting steak, I'm glad I got this!  Another great part of lunch was the pretzel bread that was brought out as an appetizer.  Delicious!

Following our wonderful lunch, we lazily walked on into the France pavilion and decided to take in a showing of Impressions de France, which luckily for us, was air conditioned and had seats!  The film and the music were both beautiful, but it was hard to keep our eyes open!  Not only were we a little tired and very full, but I was still fighting off the motion sickness a bit, and this film didn't always help that.

Then it was on to Japan, Payton's favorite pavilion in World Showcase.  The whole reason for stopping in Japan?  Why to shop of course!  Believe it or not, my son found a Godzilla t-shirt in the shop and had to have it.  Thankfully we were able to slow him down after that, because he was drooling over all the Power Rangers toys!  By this time we were all getting very tired and very hot.  I had wanted to go on to the American pavilion to finally see The American Adventure, but I was out-voted, and so we caught the Friendship Boat at Moracco and headed back toward Future World.  Then it was on a bus back to AKL.

Thankfully our room was ready once we arrived back at the Lodge.  I had asked them to text me when it was ready, but had never received a message.  We were assigned room 5122 with an amazing view of the Sunset Savannah.  We hauled our luggage up from the van, with the help of bell services, then took a few hours to just rest and relax before heading back to Epcot for the evening.

Photos from AKL taken over course of stay.

Once we felt ready to go, it was back to the park and to the Land pavilion again for a ride on Soarin' and dinner at Sunshine Seasons.  This is one of our absolute favorite quick service options, as they have so many choices and everything is delicious.  The boys shared some chicken (well Payton got a kids meal, then ate some of his dad's too!) and I had a turkey sandwich.  They finished before I did, so they headed off to Mission Space while I finished up and then leisurely took photos of the pavilion and the park on my way to meet them.  Epcot is just as beautiful at night as it is during the day.  Once they finished riding Mission Space, we walked around a bit, enjoying the cool breeze, then found a spot for Illuminations.  That fireworks show is simply amazing and brings tears to my eyes every time.

Since we were in for a big day at Hollywood Studios the next morning, and we were close to Future World, we headed on to the buses right as Illuminations ended, and thankfully got back to the Lodge pretty quickly.  Then it was off to bed!

Up next, our first day at our first Star Wars Weekend!  If you have a favorite location in Epcot, share it with me!  Please leave comments or questions below.  I love to hear your thoughts on the best spots in the parks, or the best time of day to visit.