March 13th, 2008


Let's all get up and dance to a song that was a hit before your mother was born

I haven't been saying much about American Idol this season, and it'll probably stay that way, since I know not too many of you are interested. I did want to make a few comments, though. This week was Beatles Week. Oh, sorry, I mean Lennon/McCartney Week. (Anyone trying to sing "Here Comes The Sun" or "Savoy Truffle" was to be shot on sight.) I consider myself pretty familiar with the Beatles' catalog, yet a few of the contestants sang songs I can't recall having heard. And on the other hand, some of them were also taking about how they hadn't heard the songs they were singing until really recently. It reminds me of how, when they did British Invasion Week last year, Ryan Seacrest made a big deal out of how the songs were from before the contestants were even born. And here I forgot that there was no way to hear music from that long ago! :P But anyway, I think a large part of the British Invasion sound was simple melodies, which means they aren't really good for showing off a person's range. Oh, well. The judges only seem to want the contestants to do that about half the time, anyway. Other important things I learned from the judges about how to succeed on the show include:

  • You have to show you're a versatile singer who can handle a variety of stuff. If you're primarily a country singer, though, you should only sing country.
  • Being old-timey is good, but being old-fashioned is bad.
  • It's a singing competition, not a popularity contest, yet the results are based on a popular vote.

To me, though, the most interesting thing is that, until last week, the show had contestants named both Castro and Noriega. Was there also a Pinochet who got voted off when I wasn't paying attention?

Oh, that Magic Kingdom in the sky

bethje's comments and additions are in green.  If you can't read them properly, let me know, and I'll put the whole thing under a cut.  It shows up fine on my own journal, though, so I'm not going to cut it unless somebody needs me to.

Beth and I flew from Philadelphia to Orlando on AirTran (not Aer Lingus (haha, "lingus"), although that is an actual airline that flies to Orlando, apparently out of Ireland) on Monday. Even though it was really early and we were running on very little sleep, it went off without a hitch. I really appreciate that AirTran has satellite radio that's free. I wish I could say the same about the flight back, but I'm getting ahead of myself. We took Disney's Magical Express to our hotel, and while it didn't actually seem particularly magical, it did have a video featuring cartoon characters checking in at Walt Disney World. One of them was Scrooge McDuck, and I can't say I've ever seen a costumed Scrooge in other footage of any Disney park. Also, Captain Hook and Smee were going on a Disney cruise. We stayed at the All-Star Music Resort, which is considered one of the value resorts. It has two pools, one shaped like a guitar (which we swam in on Thursday) and one shaped like a piano. It's not technically a "hotel," in that it's a nunch of different buildings. The main building has the front desk, a cafeteria, an arcade, and a gift shop. It was pretty nice, but our bus stops were some of the farthest from the parks. There was a pool at our resort, which we used once. The TV channels included several pertaining to Disney World. I spent a lot of time watching those. There was one hosted by some girl named Stacy about the top seven attractions in Disney World, which cheated, because it counted Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad all as one. I take issue with that. There were also channels about the Vacation Club and the Disney Cruise Line, which played the same 15 minute thing on a loop, which I watched many, many times. You could also get Radio Disney on the TV, a channel; that has park hours, and Disney and Toon Disney. It's kind of cool that it's almost a city in and of itself. I noticed that the TV didn't get Fox News, though. It did have MSNBC, though. I liked to leave it on overnight and wake up to Morning Joe (and go back to sleep again). I sound like I watched TV the whole time.

The first park we visited was the Magic Kingdom. I couldn't say whether it's an absolute or a constitutional monarchy, but it seemed to be running pretty smoothly. I have some specific things to say about particular attractions, but first a few general thoughts:

One of the first things we did, after getting our pictures taken in fron of a statue was to touch the slipper, as therealtavie said we should. I wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't looked at some pictures on her flickr before we left home.

  • The rides all had the opening announcements about keeping your arms and legs inside in both English and Spanish. It's Florida, so that makes sense. While the English announcements were often done in character (although the Alice at the Mad Tea Party ride sounded totally wrong), the Spanish ones were pretty much all by the same guy. For example, on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the spiel is first given by an old prospector-sounding guy, and then the "Para sus seguridad..." part comes in sounding like a Learn to Speak Spanish tape.
  • The FastPass thing is pretty cool. You can't get one for more than one ride at a time, which we found out when trying to obtain passes for both Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, but
    they do save a lot of time. There are passes sort of like that at Great Adventure, but you have to pay separately for them.
  • Speaking of which, having most things pre-paid worked out quite well. When you have a meal plan (which we did), there's no need to debate about whether it would make sense to buy a $3 soda, like there is at other amusement parks. In fact, we had to hurry to use up our last few snacks. I definitely approve of the plan, but I really think they should clearly label what on the menu counts as a snack. Some places didn't accept the snack plan at all, while the bakery in Norway at EPCOT considered a fairly big pastry to be a snack, even though the same thing was only good for a drink at other places. We had the basic meal plan and struggled to use all of that. The deluxe would have been impossible.
  • I was really impressed how multifunctional the credit card-thing they gave us was. It was a room key, it got us into the parks, and it got our FastPasses. It was also tied to our credit card, so that stuff we bought in the parks would be charged to our room, so we didn't need to worry about cash. It also kept track of how many meals and snacks we had left.
  • For most of the rides, the attendants asked how many people were in each party, and chose your rows for you. This meant there was less of a choice as to where you could sit, but it made the whole thing run a lot more efficiency. Sort of like Mussolini's Italy, I guess. {g} I would have to say that I like the way Disney runs it, although the people who wait in long lines for the first seat on the Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens might not agree.
  • While I'm comparing Disney World to other parks, I might as well mention that Disney's rides are usually pretty long, which is a refreshing change from places where you wait in line for two hours to
    go on a one-minute ride.

And now, a few notes on specific attractions:
Space Mountain: I remember my dad telling me about this when I was a kid, and I thought it sounded really cool. I got the impression from his description that it was totally in the dark, though, but it actually has a lot of flashing lights and other images. Sort of like Skull Mountain at Great Adventure, only longer (not that that
comparison is likely to mean much to anyone, since I would imagine more people reading this have gone on Space Mountain than Skull Mountain). It wasn't as much of a thrill ride as I had kind of expected, but really, nothing at Disney World is. They're more about a prolonged experience than a quick thrill, which is fine with me, but I might have been a little disappointed by that back in my teenage years. I waited my whole life to ride this. My favorite was the parts with the tunnels and lights. 

The Haunted Mansion: I thought the effects on this were really quite impressive. Dancing ghosts!

The Enchanted Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room: This was apparently recently revamped to include Iago and Zazu. Beth expressed curiosity as to what it had been like before that, and I do kind of share that curiosity.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Also semi-recently revamped to include Jack Sparrow. That song they play has a tendency to get lodged in my head, even though I don't know all of the words, so it basically comes out like, "Blah blah blah blah, something something, drink up, me hearties, yo-ho!" I don't even remember that there was a song.

Splash Mountain: I enjoyed this, even though I didn't get to see any pictures of anyone flashing the camera. :P It's interesting to me that the ride is based on Song of the South, a movie that Disney has made a concerted effort to sweep under Aladdin's magic carpet. I actually saw it when I was a kid, at a theater in Virginia that showed a lot of old Disney films. I don't remember much about it, though, and I was too young to catch the racial controversy. I kept thinking of that special about Ernest riding Splash Mountain. Does anybody else remember that? I got more wet from splash-off from another boat than from the big drop, but I somehow managed to keep our bag of stuff quite dry.

Country Bear Jamboree: I was somewhat surprised by two things on this: 1. how the bears didn't look overly cutesy, but instead had an appropriate hillbilly appearance; and 2. that one of the songs had lyrics along the lines of "blood on the saddle, and blood on the ground," which I found a bit unusual for a family-oriented attraction. This is really what I expect hillbillies to be like.

Jungle Cruise: I wasn't expecting the total facetiousness of the live narration, with the guide pointing out that the animals were made of plastic, providing inaccurate information, and mocking the fact that pretty much every ride ends up at a gift shop. I liked the baby elephant

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: This was the last thing we rode, and even though we didn't get FastPasses for it, there was hardly any wait. In fact, they let us ride it twice in a row. We could have stayed on for a least a third time. I first heard of this ride years and years ago, when the Disney Channel had a filler segment about the fastest ride in Disney World.

Also ridden/seen: Dumbo the Flying Elephant (the first thing we rode and possibly the longest wait of the day), Mad Tea Party, Astro Orbiter, Tomorrowland Transit Authority one of my favorites,  Tomorrowland Indy Speedway I drove. I was also surprised that the gas pedal did something. I was curious about if it would stop totally, if I took my foot off, but I was too afraid to try, hehe, and It's a Small World (another of my favorites of the day). We went back to see the Hall of Presidents on Friday, so I'll say something about it in a later entry. We didn't get a chance to ride the carousel or the train. Beth did try one of the turkey legs that they sell all over Disney World, and she liked it, but found it difficult to eat. I don't think I'll ever do it again. It was good, but not a mobile snack. Lot of little bones.

Before leaving for the night, we watched the fireworks show. Then we took the crowded monorail over to the Contemporary Resort for dinner at the California Grill. I was jealous of the hotels that the monorail goes directly to. That cost two of our dinners, and even though I liked it, I wouldn't say it was really worth that much. Still, without the meal plan, we probably never would have eaten anywhere that ritzy at all. I had the pork tenderloin, and Beth had the veal. I'm really more into restaurants where you can have it your way than ones where the chef makes all the decisions (a recommendation is not a decision, says I), but it's not like I can generally afford the latter anyway.

Even though the hostess at the restaurant assured us that we could take the monorail back to the Magic Kingdom and get a bus to our hotel from there, the monorail actually stopped running right around when we finished. As it turned out, we had to sit around and wait for a bus to Downtown Disney, which the driver apparently reached by way of a route through some other state, considering how long it took to get
there. Then we waited for another bus back to the resort. So that was annoying, and I would recommend to anyone eating at a Disney resort other than the one where they're actually staying to do so earlier in the day. Sometime i would like to try the restuarants at the other hotels. 

Okay, in my next entry, it's on to EPCOT!