“Why do we have to grow up? I know more adults who have the children’s approach to life. They’re people who don’t give a hang what the Joneses do. You see them at Disneyland every time you go there. They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought – sometimes it isn’t much, either.
– Walt Disney
I was awake long before the first rays of dawn peeked through the curtains of our room, beating the shrill report of the alarm by at least an hour. For a while I tossed and turned in the bed, putting on a show of trying to squeeze in a little more sleep. I finally settled on lying in the bed and thinking over the last few days, and how today’s trip back to the Magic Kingdom would be marked by the bittersweet reality that the Disney leg of our trip was coming to a close. While we had two days at the Universal Studios parks and a trip to the Kennedy Space Center ahead of us, I questioned if they could match what we experienced in Walt Disney World.
The whole trip had been special in innumerable ways, from the big moments like meeting Anna and Elsa or the three trips on Star Tours, to little things like only once waiting more than a few minutes for a bus or that amazing end to our night in Epcot at the Katsura Grill. Along the way numerous cast members and even other guests congratulated us on our wedding and we’d been able to forget about the stress of our lives back home for a little while. We weren’t sure how much we’d enjoy Universal, or even what we might do on our last day in Orlando before we ventured back to the airport and returned home. But at least we’d have one more day in the Magic Kingdom before any of that happened.
Our last day included a trip to the Kona Cafe for breakfast, then we’d continue to the Magic Kingdom, with Fast Passes that included a second trip on The Haunted Mansion, Mickey’s PhilharMagic Concert and, in a decision that still surprised me, Splash Mountain. We’d end the day with lunch at the popular Be Our Guest restaurant, and depending on our mood either use our Park Hoppers to head back to Epcot, or just return to our resort1.
We’d spent very little time in All Star Movies, though we’d settled into our room in the 101 Dalmatians building comfortably. It’s a really fun little resort, with a nice pool and an expansive food court. It’s only fault was that it wasn’t French Quarter, which we both already missed. For all the Disney whimsey to be found there, All Star Movies felt like a hotel, while French Quarter felt like stepping into another world.
Of course, we’d be starting our last day in Walt Disney World in the same place our first day ended, with breakfast at the Kona Cafe in the Polynesian Village Resort, and getting there would also be our first ride on the legendary monorails.
The Monorails and Kona Cafe
Transportation was one of the major concerns that influenced Walt Disney’s original concept for Progress City, which would later become Epcot. The increasingly cluttered freeways were within the view of his office, and he pondered different types of transportation that might alleviate the gridlock. The beloved Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover wasn’t originally just conceived as a ride, but a viable way to transport people from place to place.
The Monorail also wasn’t originally intended to be an attraction, but the public transit system of the future. While it never quite caught on, the vehicles have become synonymous with Disney parks, and in Walt Disney World they come the closest to serving their original purpose. Monorails connect Walt Disney World and Epcot, as well as the Ticket and Transporation Center(TTC), and the Grand Floridian, Contemporary and Polynesian Village Resorts, which have come to be known in the Disney fan community as the Monorail Resorts.
When we made our way to the bus stop, we decided to take the first bus that could get us to a monorail stop, As fate would have it, the bus to Epcot would arrive first, and we were able to see Spaceship Earth one more time before we boarded the monorail to the TTC and onward to our breakfast reservation.
Naturally, our Disney luck finally ran out on us.
We hopped monorails from Epcot to the resort loop, and we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Sadly, the monorails have their share of technical issues, and one such problem had struck our train. In short order, we were taken off the train and were forced to wait for the next one. We were already cutting it close with our reservation time, and the minutes flew by as we waited for our replacement. By the time the next train came, we were already late for the reservation, and I wasn’t entirely sure we’d still be able to eat there2.
We weren’t the only people on the monorail headed to Kona Cafe, and thankfully the wonderful cast members there put us at ease and found us a table quickly. Any frustration we felt over the monorail incident(and there wasn’t a lot, to be honest) faded when we had one of the best meals we’d experienced on Disney property.
The Kona Cafe was the subject of almost too many raves to count, particularly when it came to breakfast. I distinctly remember listening to an episode of WDW Radio with Lou Mongello at work where he talked about the Tonga Toast and Macadamia-Pineapple Pancakes3. I told Christie about them on break, and I think we made reservations just a few minutes later.
The restaurant itself is open to the rest of the resort, but that’s not a problem when you’re talking about a resort as beautiful as the Polynesian Village. From my seat I could see the monorails zoom past, and turning to the side gave a wonderful view of the center of the Great Ceremonial House. It’s simple, but a wonderful atmosphere.
The meal started with a cup of coffee for me and a glass of pineapple juice for Christie. The coffee at the Kona Cafe might be some of the best on property, something I discovered from the first hint of the aroma. But the stars of the show were the two entrees we’d decided on before we even first set foot in Florida.
The Tonga Toast is a banana stuffed sourdough French toast rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with a strawberry compote and a side of ham, bacon or sausage. The Macadamia-Pineapple Pancakes, as you might suspect, were pancakes served with macadamia nut butter, pineapple sauce and the same choice of meats. We both opted for ham, and tried not to drool when the food was brought to our table.
You have to start by talking about the ham. It was perfect, especially with just a little bit of the pineapple sauce to compliment it. But the two entrees were amazing, far exceeding our already lofty expectations. The pancakes were light, fluffy and not too sweet. Strawberries and bananas are already the perfect compliment, and they were only enhanced by the amazing French Toast. We shared a little of each, and agreed it was the best breakfast we’d had.
We spared a few minutes to wander around the Great Ceremonial House after we finished, and I decided to get a Stitch clinger to compliment the Figment already on my camera. Thankfully the monorails cooperated, and we made our way back to the Magic Kingdom.
And wouldn’t you know it, the first thing we saw involved my arch nemesis from Epcot, Donald Duck.
The End of the Donald Duck Feud
While Cinderella’s Castle is the unquestioned icon of the park, there’s more to it than just being the symbol of the Magic Kingdom and a perfect photo backdrop. It’s the centerpiece of the fireworks show, as well as the canvas for the amazing Celebrate the Magic show at night. And throughout the day, there are live castle shows that guests can gather to watch.
Dream Along with Mickey was the current one, with Mickey and friends celebrating the magic of dreams, though they have to contend with trouble in the form of Captain Hook, Smee and Maleficent. We’d originally planned to wander around Tomrrowland, where we’d spent the least time on our first day, but we decided to stop and watch the castle show. Even if it did involve Donald Duck.
It’s actually a fun show, with Mickey and friends talking, singing and, in a new twist, blinking so even Disney characters can ruin an otherwise perfect photo by having their eyes closed. Imagine my surprise when the plan to stop Maleficent came from the home wrecking mallard himself, and no less than Mickey Mouse proclaimed him a hero.
I figured at that point I needed to drop my beef with Donald. Sure, he was a shameless flirt, but he saved the magic of dreams, and that should count for something.
In fact, we decided to skip Tomorrowland entirely and instead made our way to Storybook Circus, where we decided to get our last character photo. We debated between getting in line for Goofy and Donald or Minnie and Daisy. I admit a small part of me wanted to tell Daisy what Donald had been up to in Epcot, but our love for A Goofy Movie won out, and we had our pictures taken with Goofy as well as Donald, in a stunning display of forgiveness on my part.
Liberty Square and Fantasyland Redux
From there, we started to weave our way back to Liberty Square, for our FastPass to the Haunted Mansion. We’d actually had the presence of mind to rent lockers at the front of the park, so I could stow my camera before we went on Splash Mountain, and I wanted to get in as much as we could before then. As we walked past It’s a Small World, we saw an almost non-existent line and a wait time of ten minutes. We decided to go ahead and ride on one of Disney’s most iconic attractions.
It’s a Small World was originally created for the 1964 World’s Fair, and it proved so successful it has become a staple at Disney parks around the world. Disney legend Mary Blair’s designed the attraction’s unique aesthetic, and the Imagineers involved with its creation read like a who’s who of Disney talent, including Disney Legends Marc Davis, Alice Davis, Rolly Crump and Robert and Richard Sherman, who created the unmistakable song that might be the most translated and most performed song on the planet.
While there are no end of jokes about the attraction, it remains one of the most charming and sweet in the Magic Kingdom. With as crazy as things can get in the park, it’s a great little diversion, and you can’t argue the message is anything but positive. Of course, the song does get stuck in your head, and there’s not a lot that you can do about that.
From there, we took our second trip on the Haunted Mansion, which was just as much fun the second time. I took the opportunity to take in a few more of the details, including some of the in jokes. On our way out, we were able to find the homage in the pet cemetery to Mr. Toad. The Liberty Square Riverboat is just a short distance away, so we jumped on it for some great views of Tom Sawyer Island, the exterior of the Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder Mountain, as well as one of our next destinations, Splash Mountain.
But first we made our way back to Fantasyland to watch Mickey’s PhilharMagic. It’s a “4-D Experience”, which I was coming to learn meant you’d probably have a few smells as part of the show, and at some point you were going to have water sprayed at you. You also pick up “opera glasses” as you enter, since after all this is a 3-D show. The interior theater is well designed, with posters from past productions that reference a range of Disney films and characters.
The show itself is based around the idea that Mickey is about to conduct the PhilharMagic, but he’s made the crucial error or letting Donald unpack the instruments(I just couldn’t get away from the duck). And since Mickey can’t learn from his own past mistakes, he leaves his hat within easy reach of Donald. In short order Donald repeats his buddy’s mistake from Fantasia, but this time he finds himself thrown through a portal that takes him through a wide range of classic Disney films and musical numbers4. It’s incredibly well done and a simple but fun diversion at the Magic Kingdom.
In fact, most of the attractions we’d gone on that day were light hearted and laid back, but that all set up for our last FastPass of the day, on Splash Mountain.
You might have noticed, if you’ve stuck with me through all of these Disneymoon posts, that we haven’t been on too many thrill rides. We took the less intense training on Mission: SPACE, and we didn’t venture near the Rock and Roller Coaster, Expedition Everest or Space Mountain. The truth is, I’ve never been a big fan of those rides. I can remember a childhood trip to Frontier City where my dad agreed to go with me on one of the roller coasters. We waited in line a little while, but as I heard the screams of terror echoing from above, I chickened out and opted for more of the kiddie rides.
The most intense ride I’d been on to that point was Journey to Atlantis in SeaWorld San Diego, and I credit that to a good portion of the attraction’s twists and turns being obscured behind the big drop that’s front and center. To my surprise, though, I really enjoyed that trip, as did Christie(though she lost her Chronicles of Riddick hat as a result).
Splash Mountain was one of the few attractions we watched a ride video of prior to our trip, and we decided to go ahead and take the plunge, literally. As soon as we got off the Liberty Square Riverboat, we headed back to the front of the park, loaded most of our things into a locker there, then went back to Frontierland.
What really makes Splash Mountain stand out from other flume rides is the theming. Other attractions might be content to have just a good drop, but Splash Mountain combines the flume ride with the story of Br’er Rabbit, from the Disney movie Song of the South(which they usually pretend doesn’t exist for a variety of reasons). Even the big drop is meant to recreate Br’er Rabbit being thrown into the briar patch, complete with pieces of the patch appearing overhead just as you drop.
During our Disneyland trip with my brother years earlier, he explained the drop to Christie with the comment “It’s not too bad, as long as you’re not in the front.” Naturally, you can guess where our seats were. I actually recounted this story as we waited in line, because clearly I don’t know how jinxes work. Sure enough, as they called us forward, we found ourselves at the front of the boat.
Here’s the funny thing about Splash Mountain. There are a few smaller drops while you’re in the dark ride portion, and those are actually a little more disconcerting than the big drop at the end, mainly because you don’t see them coming. The dark ride portions are utterly charming and really augment the ride experience.
And then you reach the big drop. Any time there’s a drop like that, adrenaline usually kicks in and it feels like the ride vehicle hovers as time slows down and, if it’s your first time, gives you what feels like an eternity to regret your decision. Then you scream down the fifty foot drop, water cascading everywhere around you, and in most cases giving you a pretty good soak. Christie and I laughed in joy as we reached the bottom, absolutely in love with the attraction.
I even enjoyed the epilogue with Br’er Rabbit and the other characters, though it was tempered by the fact my wedding ring had slipped off my wet finger, and I was trying hard not to move so I didn’t lose it.
In the end, Splash Mountain would end up being one of my favorite attractions in Walt Disney World, and a must ride every time we visit in the future. And, unless you want to count the Walt Disney World railroad we boarded to return to the front of the park to pick up our gear before lunch, it would be the last attraction we’d ride in Walt Disney World as well. It was a fine way to go out.
Be Our Guest
There’s a part of me that wished the Magic Kingdom story ended there, but I feel I need to be honest. To that point, everything about Walt Disney World had been amazing, with wonderful cast members, excellent food and great memories. There should have been a wonderful fairy tale ending to our time in the Magic Kingdom, but sadly, that wasn’t quite the case.
It started well, as even though the train was delayed due to the Festival of Fantasy parade, it arrived at the station with plenty of time for us to get our things from the locker and get a few more pictures as it went past. It was just as impressive the second time through, and once it finished, we went back to Fantasyland and made our way to Be Our Guest. Just outside we found a great PhotoPass photographer who snapped off some wonderful shots of us as rain began to fall yet again.
Things turned as we started to make our way into the restaurant, and a cast member working an unmarked booth at the front rudely asked what we were doing. We explained we had reservations, at which point they told us this booth was the check in. Maybe we missed the signage, but the attitude was palpable as they found our names and finally gave us the okay to enter.
The interior of Be Our Guest is stunning, and it feels as though you’ve walked into the movie. Sadly, that’s the nicest thing I can say about our experience.
At lunch time, it’s technically counter service, though the ordering system was terribly confusing and we weren’t the only guests who got lost as to whose turn it was to order. We opted for the turkey and roast beef sandwiches, and were given drink cups and quickly led to our table. The drink machines were out of ice, and half way through our meal the cast members there started pulling curtains around them. Our reservations were right at the end of the lunch period, at which point it transitions to table service, so maybe that’s why things were so harried. Still, it gave off the vibe that the staff wanted us out as quickly as possible.
The food didn’t improve matters. The $17 we paid each got us sandwiches that generously felt maybe a step above the average deli, and the “pommes frites” sure looked like your average fast food french fries. For all the hype and difficulty of getting a reservation, Be Our Guest might have been the worst meal we had on property, and easily gave the worst service we’d encountered. If we decided to go back, we’d probably either try for dinner, or opt for an earlier time during the lunch period.
With our meals done, the rain started to come down and guests were now being admitted for the ticketed event that evening. With average wait times climbing at the first few attractions we went past, we decided to head for the exit. As we made our way there, we briefly debated a return to Epcot, but between the five days of theme parks, an early pick up to take us to our Universal resort and, being completely honest, the sour taste Be Our Guest left with us, we decided to call it a day and head back to the resort.
See Ya Real Soon
We’d ultimately just get a few things to snack on for “dinner” and we’d both call our parents. That night pictures came in of our three pets back home. My dad and stepmom were keeping an eye on Sapphire, and she looked utterly content there. The boarding “hotel” our two cats were staying at told us they were having a great time, even if the sour look on Celeste’s face suggested otherwise. We planned a little for our first day in Universal and reflected on our last day in the park.
But as we neared the exit to the Magic Kingdom, I stopped and looked around the park entrance at Main Street, glanced back at the castle and up to the Main Street Station for the railroad. I’d walked this same way thirty plus years earlier and shared in so many wonderful memories with my whole family. Walt Disney World would always be associated with happy memories of our family, and as I stood at the exit, I could almost feel them there.
And now, Christie and I would always associate it with our marriage. We’d met face to face in California, got engaged in Arizona, married in Oklahoma and now celebrated that marriage in Florida. No matter what happened on the rest of our trip, even with some of the less than stellar moments, Walt Disney World had created memories we would cherish and share forever. I didn’t know that I’d one day spend a good portion of my week writing about Disney, but I knew it was going to be a big part of my life going forward.
On the archway over the exist, pumpkins had been lined up for the Not So Scary Halloween Party, and they spelled out a simple message. “See ya real soon!” I took my wife’s hand, pointed at it, then looked back at her, and said what we both already knew.
“It won’t be another thirty years.”
Not So Hidden Mickeys(AKA Footnotes)
2 – On the up side, it could have been a lot worse. About a month after we got home, a monorail broke down in the middle of the track, with guests trapped for several hours and ultimately evacuated by Reedy Creek Fire and Rescue. Sure enough, when I looked at the story, it was the same monorail we were on first that day.
3 – WDW Radio is a fantastic podcast, and Lou Mongello is one of the gold standards anyone who talks about Disney in print or on podcasts strives to live up to. But I really need to stop making the mistake of listening to the show at work, because you’re going to get really hungry really fast.