Walt Disney World Christmas Report – Part 2
While I felt invincible until hitting a wall shortly after 2 a.m. on the first day of our Christmas 2015 Walt Disney World vacation, the next morning was not so kind to me. I set my alarm so I could wake up for the sunrise, thinking I could get by with 4 or so hours of sleep.
In my glory days, I could have. Perhaps I’m losing my edge as I’m getting older, or perhaps the allure of photographing the sunrise over the mesmerizing icons of All Star Sports was not all that intense.
Then there’s those pesky time zones rearing their ugly heads again, which were a contributing factor. Regardless, I didn’t wake until around 9 a.m., and then worked on my laptop for an hour or so while waiting for everyone else to wake up.
We had planned on going to Epcot first thing that morning because, well, do you ever need a reason to go to Epcot? That was still the plan but as we all started to get ready, we saw reports on social media that Gran Fiesta Tour had been upgraded overnight, and D23 had done an impromptu meet-up. That would have been us! Once again, foiled by time zones.
After everyone got ready, we were finally out the door, headed for the Yacht & Beach Club…
After arriving there, we started discussing our lunch plans. At my and Sarah’s behest, we did Crew’s Cup Lounge, which is quickly becoming another favorite of ours. The Selgas agreed: for $14, the burger with truffle fries is one of the best dining values at Walt Disney World.
Since it was still relatively early by lounge standards, we were literally the only guests here. So, word to the wise: if you ever want to be able to watch the Steve Harvey Show (???) in peace at Walt Disney World, this is your spot.
From there, it was off to Epcot. First stop, obviously, would be the Gran Fiesta Tour. Second stop, obviously, would be the Gran Fiesta Tour. Ditto third stop. We only did it three times, but I could’ve gone more.
Since El Rio del Tiempo was replaced by Gran Fiesta Tour, it has been met with a mixed response by fans. Initially, there was minor outrage over the introduction of characters to the attraction, albeit not to the extent of Finding Nemo characters in The Living Seas. As Gran Fiesta Tour is a minor attraction tucked away into the Mexico pavilion, this died down pretty quickly.
However, when the Three Caballeros Audio-Animatronics were added to Gran Fiesta Tour, the reaction from fans–including those who originally criticized Gran Fiesta Tour and remain upset with The Seas–was unanimously positive. This led to some fans questioning such an inconsistent response. (Oh, the drama! 😉 )
I’ve always been fine with Gran Fiesta Tour (although I really miss the music from El Rio del Tiempo) and that’s because it utilizes characters who are from an obscure film that heavily focuses on the culture and scenery of Mexico. This wasn’t simply a matter of Disney wanting to capitalize on the popularity of Three Caballeros (which has never been released on Blu-ray and is out of print on DVD) as was the case with Nemo.
Rather, the characters were introduced to the attraction in a way that combats the tired refrain that “Epcot is boring” while still being respectful of the “edutainment” mission of Epcot.
You could argue that the same has been done with Nemo and The Seas, and to an extent I would agree, but the point is that it’s a nuanced matter of execution, rather than a black and white “all characters in Epcot equal bad or good” issue.
I can recognize that there are/were changes EPCOT Center had to make from its original (and in some cases, current) incarnation to appeal to contemporary guests. I strongly believe this can be done without dumbing things down, using the crutch of popular characters, or going for cheap thrills. A balance can be struck between education and entertainment in a way that is respectful to the heart and soul of EPCOT Center while managing to captivate guests–even the dense ones who are averse to learning on vacation (or in general).
With that said, I’m always a fan of more Audio-Animatronics. If tomorrow Disney announced that new AAs had been added to Primeval Whirl, I’d be pleased. Well, partly sad because that means Dino-rama probably isn’t going to be razed anytime soon (my sweetest recurring dream), but pleased that someone, somewhere is trying to make it suck a little less.
In this case, the reprogrammed AAs from Tokyo Disneyland’s Mickey Mouse Revue are a great addition to Gran Fiesta Tour. Despite their age, they look fantastic, and do a great job of balancing out the screen-heavy nature of the other additions that were made to Gran Fiesta Tour several years ago.
Gran Fiesta Tour now has an appropriate grand finale, instead of simply (spoiler alert) finding Donald and having the audio reach its crescendo before the ride comes to an end. While I think it would take a little more to make this finale a true “wow” scene (perhaps upgraded audio and fireworks on the ceiling, both of which could probably be accomplished for a nominal cost), this is now the real climax of the attraction.
The attraction is unquestionably better now, and this is one type of improvement I love seeing Disney deliver: something small that won’t be heavily marketable or cause “normal” people to book trips, but that does improve the attraction by degrees. This is the Disney with which I fell in love, and in a way it’s reaffirming to see plussings like this.
I only hope that the upgrades pay dividends in terms of ridership and guest satisfaction, as I know those are the metrics Disney uses to justify upgrades of this nature, and that’s the ammunition, so to speak, that the Imagineers need for future projects like this.
So, if you’re in Epcot, make sure to ride Gran Fiesta Tour like 6 times, and gush about it on any guest satisfaction survey you might take. Words like “HIGHLIGHT OF MY VACATION,” “MIND-BLOWING,” and (especially) “SO GOOD IT MADE ME WANT TO BUY THE DISNEY DINING PLAN AND ALSO LOTS OF ADDITIONAL SOUVENIRS” are great ones to use when sharing your thoughts about the upgrades to Gran Fiesta Tour.
We didn’t have much time before needing to leave for the wedding, so we decided to head over to the new Kawaii: Japan’s Cute Culture Gallery in the Japan pavilion to check that out. As we appreciate kawaii culture, this was right up our alley. It featured a lot of the characters we’ve seen at Character Street, Nakano Broadway, and various other locations in Tokyo.
Being big fans of Tokyo Disney Resort, we also enjoyed the little Easter Eggs the Imagineers snuck in that reference the parks in Japan, including Duffy’s friend, Tippy Blue. More importantly, it seemed to cover the role that kawaii plays in Japanese culture, and how it cuts across a multitude of social identities in Japanese life, and is not just the fodder of school children.
All in all, we found the exhibit to be very well done, and a great example of Epcot “edutainment” done right. The subject matter was an excellent choice. Museum exhibits like this typically are not going to appeal to kids–but that’s presumably not true in this specific case, as kids love cute characters, and this exhibit is full of them! Not only does it manage to take a gallery present a subject that kids might enjoy, but it does so without the crutch of using Disney characters.
We didn’t have time for much else, so we headed back to All Star Sports to get ready for the wedding.
I thought you might want to know….your “new Kawaii: Japan’s Cute Culture Gallery” links to youtube music from Mexico. (?)
We are taking several adult relatives for their first visit ever to WDW this spring, so both sound like great spots for them. I wouldn’t have gone back to Rio without this update, so thanks!
Thanks for the trip report Tom! I don’t usually reply, but I love reading your posts — I live vicariously thru your trips while I don’t know when my next Disney trip will be. I really like your humor and perspectives on all things Disney.
Those Christmas light strands are hot commodities outside of Disney. We had our kids in a pair for a tree lighting in upstate NY and we got asked 20x where we got then or if we made them ourselves. I guess they don’t get out much :p
Ha, that’s pretty funny. As with all things, you can get them on Amazon. That’s where I got mine…only $8! http://amzn.to/1RKG94p
I absolutely love reading and gaining your perspective on the parks/food/attractions/fans. While you are opinionated I believe it is education purposes and I am very grateful to read your insights.
And as always, to me, your photos are ANAZING! I have contacted you once before about purchasing them. I am not quite sure why Disney hasn’t snatched you up to be an official parks photographer!
Haha, ‘educational purposes’ I like that positive spin on my rants! 😉
We love the Grand Fiesta Tour, and I totally agree with you about the addition of the AA. I actually like the Nemo ride. I think it is cute and it a way for the pavilion to draw more people into what I consider a fabulous educational experience once the ride is finished.
The test will be to see what the educational experience is in Norway once the ride is completed.
We did the Agent P’s Adventure for the first time a couple weeks ago. It was a great way to get our 6 year old looking at the countries differently and more in depth. Have you ever tried?
With Norway, I think what you’re going to see is an expansion of “other stuff” to offset an attraction that has absolutely nothing to do with Norway. I know great attention is going into the architecture and other little areas in the expansion on the Mexico side of the pavilion (where the meet & greet will be), so I’d expect to see new areas of “real” Norway represented.
I really don’t think there’s any good way to add ‘Frozen’ to World Showcase, but it seems the Imagineers are again trying to make lemonade out of lemons.
So much to like in this installment. Just got back from DL and my first meet with an online community member in the Disney Parks fan community. Loved your sappy/preachy interlude about the benefits of online communities. Thanks!
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it!
Great report as always and I couldn’t agree more on LED christmas lights. For the most part, they just don’t have the warm glow that traditional lights have.
I bought a set that are red, green, and ‘warm white’ and they are about as close as you can get. There are certainly strands where the white looks close to as warm as it does in traditional lights, but I have yet to see a single strand that gets blue “right.” I’d love multi-colored blue-less strands, but they don’t seem to exist. If I were making LED Christmas lights, I’d just drop blue altogether.
I’m loving the trip report! I have a question that may seem silly. You discussed forming friendships in the Disney fan community. I want to make friends with a lot of awesome Disney fans too! As an introvert, striking up conversations with strangers in the parks is daunting for me. What specific communities are you referring to, and what suggestions do you have for those of us who may not know exactly how to form real friendships with others online? My husband and I are a childless couple as well, and we are moving to the Orlando area in March, so I would love to be able to hang out with fun, interesting people who love Disney as much as I do. It seems ridiculous to ask how to make friends–I feel like this should be obvious, but I would love to have any tips you could give the introverts among us, as well as specific communities to join. Thanks!
I’m not exactly the most social person, so take my tips with a grain of salt, but I wouldn’t try striking up conversations with random people in the parks in the hope of making friends. The chances of success are likely low, as the vast majority are tourists who don’t really care.
Instead, try the various Disney forums, Twitter, Facebook–that sort of thing. I formed most of my friendships via Twitter, with forums a close second. I’m not a huge fan of Facebook, personally.
Your trip reports are always a fun read. I’ve got a question though for you. Do you ever get Disney’ed out? I’m personally there right now. Maybe I will change my mind when the new things get added to WDW or Star Wars Land is official at DL but I’m ready for a break.
Yes and no. When I started to feel that way, I made an effort to diversify my travel to venture to new places–and different types of places. In terms of Disney itself, we try to experience new things as much as possible, too.
There’s also the element of having a blog that makes me approach the parks differently. Sometimes I’ll see something relatively insignificant or random in the parks, and it will spark an idea for a blog post, and I’ll actually get excited for that as the wheels spin.