Spending a Week in the “House of Mouse” Part Three: The Debriefing

WDW

After every major operation in the United States Marine Corps, the troops go through what is called a “debriefing.” The purpose of the exercise is to pass along as much information about what occurred during the operation in question to be able to make a future operation run smoother than the one just concluded. Although you may not think so, taking on the challenge of Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL, is very much like a military maneuver in that it takes an extreme amount of planning to have the best time possible.

What we’re going to cover in this last part of my family vacation to the “House of Mouse” (hereafter referred to as “WDW”) are various miscellaneous things that you might not have picked up in the first two parts. Trust me, I could probably go on for a few more installments about WDW to help your trip, but I have to leave something for you to have an adventure yourself!

Dining

Arguably the best thing about the WDW resort – if you’re not into the rides, the Disney characters or other items around the amusement parks – is the choices for dining on the properties. Each of the amusement parks are replete with dining options and some of them are quite outstanding. But you have to be able to schedule these well in advance – our family did it three MONTHS in advance of our trip – otherwise you might be sitting in line waiting for a meal that will never come.

The dining options can be as simple as cafeteria style dining at some of the Disney hotels on the property to buffet style options that feature Disney characters (Chef Mickey’s is a very popular option in this category) to scrumptious meals featuring cuisine from several foreign lands (perhaps the best example our family found of this was Sanaa at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, excellent Indian and African fare). You have to be careful, however, as the meals with the Disney characters can be quite pricey; for the buffet you’re having, you might be better off waiting until you’re inside one of the parks where you can meet the Disney characters and choose a less pricey option.

There is also the issue of traveling to some of restaurants at other Disney hotels or even in the theme parks themselves. Sometimes you can do as instructed by the Disney staff – take a Disney Transport to one of the parks and catch another bus to the resort you have reservations at – and it will take you at least an hour to travel to and from a meal alone. This is one instance where a rental car comes in handy – especially if you have reservations at something like Olivia’s Café or the Grand Floridian Café – as you can drive directly to the resort, have your meal, and drive back to your hotel without the hassle of having to take the Disney Transport.

If you are going to a theme park restaurant (usually you would do this for dinner) you have to be careful not to languish too long over those after-dinner drinks. Disney Transport runs from the theme parks up to an hour after they close (around 8PM this time of year). If you have a late dinner reservation and repose in satisfaction following the meal, you might find yourself having to take a cab because Disney Transport has shut down for the evening.

There is another thing that you won’t see much of at WDW. Alcohol wasn’t served at the Magic Kingdom and the other two parks (Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios) until 2012 and even then it was on a very limited basis (such as restaurants). EPCOT is the only theme park where there are several varieties of alcohol sold around the park, including craft beers, wines from different countries and other spirits. So if you want to get your drink on, EPCOT is the place to be.

Miscellaneous

If you’re going to WDW, do not expect the trip to be an easy one, especially on your feet. You are going to be walking anywhere between five and ten miles a day (depending on how long you spend at the theme parks), so comfortable, well broken in shoes are a necessity. If you are planning on wearing a new pair of sneakers or breaking in those darling ankle boots you just got at Macy’s, you are only setting yourself up for a world of hurt and blistered feet. Don’t forget about comfortable socks, either; thin socks will be chewed up by the end of the day at WDW.

If you have young kids with you, it is quite advisable to pack a bag, like a beach bag, with some snacks and water for them to partake of during the day’s adventure. WDW personnel (they like to call them “cast members” whether they are performing in the shows or letting people through the gates) are pretty good about not hassling people over bringing in food and water into the theme park. These items will come in handy for the kids to rejuvenate themselves and even the adults might like a bottle of water to stem their thirst.

Of course, do not bring weapons into WDW and its theme parks. Even though Florida is a concealed carry state where people can normally carry a concealed weapon such as a handgun, the grounds of WDW are strictly a no-concealed carry area. There are plenty of stories online about people who challenged this law – stating that the WDW ban doesn’t have “force of law” (validity) – but have ended up being banned from the park because they didn’t want to give up their weapon. In fact, if a guest is to bring one to a WDW resort or hotel, the resort requires that the weapon be locked up at the front desk in a safe deposit box. According to WDW representatives, only on-duty law enforcement officers who have jurisdiction at WDW may carry weapons around the property.

There was something else that was a bit of a surprise that cannot be brought into the WDW properties. Selfie sticks – those devices used by many to get a “hands free” look to their cellphone photographs – are also banned by WDW. I didn’t get the opportunity to ask why this was the case (I am figuring two reasons – they can be quite obnoxious if someone is trying to walk around you and you whip this out in their path and, hey, they can be used as a weapon), but my wife and I found out first-hand what happens when you try to get one through the entrance. If you want to retrieve your property, you have to take it to Guest Relations, where it is appropriately tagged and you are given a receipt to be able to retrieve it. You can also voluntarily give it up, but I didn’t notice anyone doing that.

A Final Remembrance

There are a litany of things that I would like to do in my meager existence on this mortal coil – run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain and experience New Year’s Eve in New York City’s Times Square are two such examples – but with my age, those things have long since passed me by. Going to one of the Walt Disney theme parks – be it Disney Land, WDW or one of the parks in Paris or Japan – may not seem like much, but it is a pretty special experience, especially when you share it through the eyes of a son and share it with your wife and mother-in-law. It was a special time and, even though there were some things that were on the schedule that had to be bypassed, it was still a great time.

If I were to rank the four theme parks in order, it would go something like this:

EPCOT
Magic Kingdom
Animal Kingdom
Hollywood Studios

While they were all outstanding attractions, I was particularly drawn to EPCOT and would have loved to have had a chance to take a more in-depth look at some of the non-ride attractions around the park. The Magic Kingdom is what you would expect – a non-stop day of rides for all ages – and the Animal Kingdom was enjoyable for the most part. The only thing that seemed out of place in the mix was Hollywood Studios (and I thought I would really like it, to be honest); it seemed there was a purpose for all the other theme parks but Hollywood Studios seemed to be forced just a bit. Still, given a day to thoroughly look over Hollywood Studios, that opinion may have been changed.

If you’re planning on going to WDW anytime soon, you are in for the trip of a lifetime. If you haven’t been for several years, it might be time to take another look. As for me and my family, it could be something we plan on doing more frequently before our son gets to be “too cool” (read:  too old) to go to a “kiddie park.” Then again, the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL is, as its creator wanted, a place where kids and adults can equally have fun.

Top Five or Six Songs You DON’T Want To Hear While Driving

If you’re anything like me, you do like to hit the road for a good drive. I don’t mean the little trip to the grocery store or Macy’s (although those are fun too), I mean the good old fashioned “road trip” where you throw caution to the wind and see how far the gas takes you…or, OK, a good long trip to visit family, friends, go to a concert or a sporting event, etc. The thing that makes any road trip easier to traverse is when you have good music to go along with the journey.

Good music makes the trip easier to bear, especially when you have friends and/or children in the car. There does come a problem, however: the songs that, once they begin to play on the radio, immediately cause your right foot to get about a ton heavier and causes the needle on the speedometer to reach levels that are highly unsafe. These are the songs that, when they come on either the radio, a CD or off of our iPod, we certainly hope that A) we are alone in the vehicle and B) hope that there aren’t any sheriffs, deputies or other law enforcement officials in the near vicinity as they would surely stop us for our upcoming display of speed.

The Outlaws – “Ghost Riders in the Sky”

The Outlaws were never one of the big “stars” of the music industry. They barely were able to catch on in the heyday of Southern rock in the mid-70s with a couple of hits, “There Goes Another Love Song” and “Green Grass and High Tides.” It was their 1980 remake of a tune from the 1940s, however, that would put them in this list:

One of the big things that a great “don’t drive while listening” song has is guitars that seem to ascend to Heaven or drive straight to Hell, there is no in between. In this particular song, it seems that the guitars take the listener both ways. The original lyrics paint the picture of either salvation or damnation and, as the tempo increases towards the end of the song, there is an immediacy brought about to make the listener try to decide which side to ride with. It also causes the scenery to rip by if you’re driving in a car and get into the music.

KISS – “Detroit Rock City”

Many people have a love/hate relationship with the band KISS. One of the longest lived bands of the rock era (founded in 1973 and continually recording and touring since that time), they have cranked out their brand of music for almost four decades. While long reviled for their “amateurish” music and “cartoonish” stage shows and makeup, KISS actually proved over the long run that they were consummate musicians who knew how to work the stage, beguile the audience and make a mint while doing it! As far as their contribution to the “unsafe at any speed” list, here you go:

The song itself is about a maniacal drive (which alone should get it in the pantheon) but it also was called by VH1 the #6 Greatest Metal Song in history. The song (and KISS themselves) inspired a movie of the same name and the tune has been used to promote both the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings. On the other hand, if you’ve got a copy of the original single, you always had something to play for a girlfriend or significant other – the “B-side” (normally not the more popular song) was a little ditty called “Beth.”

Ted Nugent – Wango Tango

Whether you like his take on politics or not, the one thing that Ted Nugent can never be denied is his borderline insane work in rock music. Nugent has a list of songs that could contend for this list – “Piledriver” from his days with the Damn Yankees, “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” and “Motor City Madhouse” just to name a few – but this one captures the increase in speed as the potency of the song itself goes up:

Although the entire song is blasting from the start, it is that center segment when you’re taken down to just the base line and the drums that the true intensity begins. As Nugent gets deeper into the lyrics (the “pretend your waist is a Maserati” line is priceless) and builds to the climax, you can only hope that your foot isn’t on a gas pedal. If it is, you better hope it is a stretch of open road!

Metallica – “Fuel”

They will probably go down as one of – if not the – greatest band in hard rock/metal history. Along the way, Metallica has given some gems to the “Lead Foot Legion” – “Master of Puppets” comes to mind immediately. This one, however, was done with the automobile in mind:

One of the things with Metallica, however, is that their songs could be viewed from several different aspects. The chorus of the song – “Give me fuel, give me fire, give me that which I desire” – could be applied to any addiction that a person has. That they hide some depth in writing a great driving song is intriguing to me.

Tie:  Megadeth – “Symphony For Destruction” and P.O.D. – “Boom”

Former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine was tossed out of the group (supposedly over his own addictions) and, as the ultimate “Fuck You,” went on to form his own syndicate that matched his former band nearly note for note. This tune in particular is never a good one to hear if you are behind the steering wheel:

The band P.O.D. never has gotten the recognition that they should have received in their career. Helping to drive the rock/rap genre in the early 2000s, this particular song was the theme to my radio show for several years:

Even today, it still gets the pulse racing as well as the RPMs when I am behind the wheel.

There are a host of songs that didn’t make my final cut (that’s why you may see a Part II, Part III, etc.), but there is one band that may punch a hole in this roster at some point. While some may think that Southern rock is dead, the band Blackberry Smoke stokes the fires of that Southern moonshine still even today, cranking out some powerful songs. Blackberry Smoke, keep it up and perhaps one day “Leave A Scar” will make this list:

Another line for the ages:  “I may not change the world but I’m gonna leave a scar…”

Music is one of mankind’s greatest creations. Whether it is used as a salve, as a confession, as a testament, as a declaration or as a way to inspire or psyche up oneself, there is something out there for everyone. When it comes to songs you don’t want to hear when you’re behind the wheel, what are your choices?