Surreal. Unbelievable. Magical.
When my wife and I thought about a cool way to launch this summer’s epic family road trip from Miami to Alaska we didn’t dream of what Disney randomly selected us to do Friday: be THE official family guests opening the entire Magic Kingdom!
In the annals of our family’s legendary traveling history – and we’ve logged more than 14,000 miles in four years of combined trips – we’ve had some really cool experiences but nothing so far compares to opening the Magic Kingdom, a Disney tradition that one lucky family gets daily.
The park opening experience included:
– A ceremonial ride aboard an antique fire truck through all of Main Street U.S.A., in front of Cinderella’s Castle and back to the entrance. Countless celebrities, Superbowl MVPs, World Series champions, royal families and even the Chilean miners have ridden this same fire truck.
– An official handshake and welcome photo with Mainstreet U.S.A. Mayor Weaver. (He’s originally from Miami and has been in office for nearly 20 years).
– An elaborate park opening ceremony with Mickey and many of his friends atop the Main Street U.S.A. train station at the entrance of the Magic Kingdom. The ceremony features a song and dance by the Main Street U.S.A. dancers, a countdown with Mickey Mouse and a cool fireworks display.
As the park opening festivities took place my family and I could see a crowd of more than 1,000 people cheering below our platform. Some of our family and friends in the audience said they were asked if they knew whom the “celebrities” standing next to Mickey Mouse were.
Collecting Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Given our desire to spend time seeing EPCOT and our tight travel schedule we couldn’t stay long at the Magic Kingdom on this day so instead we decided to collect a few photo/video memories from the Magic Kingdom that went well with our trip’s theme of travel adventure: planes, trains, automobile – and cruises.
Our final Disney experience in Orlando was EPCOT, the largest Disney theme park in terms of land size and an attraction that is best described as a giant size version of “It’s a Small World” meets Tomorrowland.
EPCOT consists of two sections: World Showcase and Future World.
The World Showcase features 11 countries with cultural exhibitions, shows, cuisine and some rides that represent Mexico, China, Japan, Morocco, the United States, England, Italy, France, Germany, Canada and Norway. While in this part of the park we had a chance to have the VERY best road trip meal we’ve had in four years of family road trips at the Canada pavillion’s Le Cellier Steakhouse.
Disney travel experts rate this fine restaurant as the EPCOT equivalent to the uber hard to reserve Cinderella’s Table located at Cinderella’s Castle (Disney begins to take reservations for Cinderella’s Table 180 days in advance). Le Cellier’s offerings include seafood and steaks, along with popular Canadian wines and beer. My wife and I have never tasted a better-prepared, fresher salmon and filet mignon meal than what we ate at Le Cellier and the service was equally exceptional. All visitors are treated to a live rendition of “O’Canada” upon their arrival and given the quality of the food at this awesome steakhouse, we could sing “O Le Cellier”!
Exploring Future World
Even though EPCOT definitely skews to adults and older kids because it’s less ride centric than the other Big Three Disney parks, EPCOT packs a huge punch with the rides it has. EPCOT’s rides – and nighttime show – are easily at a par or better than the best rides in the rest of the parks.
In the battle for EPCOT ride favorites, it seems Soarin’ is not only very popular at this park but is actually rated the best theme park ride in the entire United States.
The genius behind this ride, which originated in Anaheim’s California Adventure, is that you ride a glider that flies through some of California’s most stunning landscape.
Your glide trip over California sweeps you over Yosemite National Park, an aircraft carrier, snow-capped ridges, desert canyons, rocky seashores and gorgeous beaches. The whole experience culminates with a gorgeous nighttime view of fireworks above Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland.
For those of you who may remember, this ride reminds me of a modern day version of my favorite discontinued ride of all time, the famous Eastern Airlines “If you had Wings.” What makes Soarin’ incredible is that your glider seats bank left, right, up and down to mimic the camera angles represented on the screen. This ride alone would make your EPCOT visit complete. (If you’re able to do so, sit in the first row of seats for optimal viewing).
General Motor’s “Test Track” ride is another top draw because frankly who doesn’t love a ride that is all about cool fast convertible cars.
Test Track starts by taking you on a simulated quality control driving course that includes passing through different types of road surfaces like cobblestones and Belgian blocks, several brake tests (with and without anti-lock brakes) and even an environmental chamber that simulates extreme heat and cold weather.
The line for Test Track can be long so be sure to get to this ride as early as possible and note that Disney strictly enforces the 40-inch height requirement because this ride is intense.
Following a series of short driving exercises, your ride culminates with your convertible bursting through a wall and unto a speed track. This is part of the ride is real thrill part of the ride as your car banks turns right and left hitting top speeds of up to 65 mph, faster than even Space Mountain.
During our ride we had the pleasure to be on the ride when it was dry and when it rained. Both are great but if you can be on the ride when it rains, we highly recommend it. The ride feels even faster and more thrilling in the rain.
At the conclusion of the ride we visited the Driver’s Technology Laboratories, which is a General Motors showroom and featured a white version of our PapiMobile, the 2011 Buick Enclave.
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The last ride we got on before departing EPCOT and Orlando in general was Mission Space. This incredible ride, created in consultation with former NASA engineers, simulates a space ship flight and comes in several varieties of intensity that you would be wise to heed. To my knowledge it’s also the first ride I’ve ever been on that includes real Motion Sickness bags. (My wife and I love thrill rides but felt it was prudent to do the less intense option because we had just eaten).
The Mission Space ride starts with an intense launch that truly feels like you’ve taken off from Cape Canaveral. That stage is followed by a sequence that mimics the state of weightlessness in space and then continues with your four-passenger space ship heading to Mars. The Mars part of the ride is one of the most intense ones as it features lots of spinning and turning, the main reason why those Motion Sickness bags exist.
Each member of the four people in the vehicle has a mission to accomplish during the simulated flight to Mars and each mission’s outcome depends on how well the team performs during the flight. We didn’t pay attention to who had to sit in each seat according to their roles so we didn’t do as well as we could have.
When you go, budget time for the post-ride part of Mission Space. The ride has an area that is stimulating for both kids and parents.
DISCLOSURE: Disney Destinations and Buick are proud sponsors of the PapiBlogger Making Memories Family Road Trip. This year’s PapiMobile is a 2011 Buick Enclave.
MIAMI TO ALASKA ROAD TRIP IN BRIEF
Miles Driven So Far
Disney Vacation Tip of the Day: Wear comfortable covered shoes or sandals