By Alan Solomon
RISMEDIA, April 18, 2008-OK, boys and girls, including all you chiffon-wearing princesses-it’s time to go to your rooms and close your eyes and dream of whatever it is little darlings dream about these days.
They gone? Good.
Fellow adults, we’re going to talk about Walt Disney World for grown-ups.
There are people, and you know who you are, who only come to Disney World hauling kids with them. Nothing wrong with that. I’ve done Disney with kids and lived. So has Larry Mayer.
Mayer is a Chicago businessman with the look of a guy who might remember the words to “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” He was here a few weeks ago enjoying Disney’s Animal Kingdom with a lady of his generation-and without a tyke in tow.
“The first time I went to Disneyland,” Mayer said, “I told people it’s better for grown-ups than it is for kids. Disneyland and, more, Disney World are just wonderful. We marvel at what went into this …”
Then he and his companion, Donna Broder, watched a magnificent tiger splash playfully in the moat of an absolutely convincing but totally fake Indian temple ruin. They were entranced, and they were right to be. Now, kids might recognize the tiger as “a tiger,” even if it didn’t bounce like Tigger. The temple part and its astonishing degree of spot-on detail-that, folks, is for us.
So are the margaritas at Epcot’s Mexican pavilion, the songs at Pleasure Island’s Irish pub and Rod Serling’s remarkable (especially for a dead guy) guest shot at Disney Hollywood’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
And so is the pan-roasted foie gras with mostarda di Cremona at Victoria & Albert’s-a restaurant where small children, who wouldn’t know foie gras from mashed bananas, are no longer allowed, period. Before we begin, though, we must address an obvious problem: What, for the purposes of this article, is a grown-up? For that definition, we quote Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who was of course referring to something else: “I know it when I see it.”
Here we go.
Everyone knows about the country pavilions. If you squint a little, you can almost talk yourself into thinking you actually are in Marrakech-unless of course you’ve actually been there, in which case you know it’s way too orderly. And so it is with almost all the international stops in Epcot.
Exceptions to the unrealism: The market space that’s part of the China Pavilion is an absolute ringer for some of the country’s traditional tourist-centric “friendship” stores; the same pavilion’s exhibit of the Terra Cotta Army, though scaled down, is astonishingly accurate; the same pavilion’s acrobats are just like (and, of course, probably are) Shanghai’s; and the pub part of the Rose & Crown in the United Kingdom Pavilion is perfect. All of which, except maybe the acrobats, will bore children, also perfect.
And the Paris and Venice mock-ups aren’t bad. If you squint.
Back to our theme. Kids won’t go for this-too many strange foods-but it’s possible for grown-ups to eat and/or drink their way around the world without leaving the World Showcase or waiting for a table. (This probably qualifies, by the way, as a Stupid Grown-Up Trick.)
Within a couple of hours, I sampled and mostly enjoyed, in order: guacamole (Mexico; $2.95), lefse (Norway; $1.99), pot stickers (China; $4.99), a fat pretzel ($3.29) and a Beck’s beer ($7; both at Germany), a cannoli (Italy; $3.99), miso soup (Japan; $2.29), mint tea (Morocco, $2) and a Boddington ale (England; $3.95). Skipped noshing in France (the lines for wine and crepes were too long) and Canada (there are limits).
All the above, by the way, kept me from sampling the full-service, probably too-cher-for-kids Bistro de Paris in the France Pavilion. C’est la . . . something.
A couple of good rides (and yes, there are rides at Epcot), including one adults absolutely should not miss:
Mission: SPACE puts you at the controls, sort of, of a space vehicle under the leadership of Highland Park High School’s very intense, very own Gary Sinise. It’s a decent experience that kids won’t understand and, unlike others of the genre, it won’t make you puke-but that’s not the great one.
Soarin’-the unmissable-is absolutely wonderful. It’s all euphoria. It’s also low-impact, for the ride-wary and bad-of-back. People who have problems with heights might hesitate to do this, but they should just grab somebody’s hand and hang on. That’s all I’m going to tell you. Trust me.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
This was formerly Disney-MGM Studios, which in fact looked (and looks) like a Mickey Mouse version of Universal Orlando’s Hollywood layout. (Both, for example, have a Brown Derby topped by a giant brown derby-or did until Universal’s Brown Derby Hat Shop was shut down. This Disney one is a slightly upscale restaurant.)
Grown-ups will be attracted to the mock Grauman’s/Mann’s Chinese Theatre, where they can walk in the real footsteps of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke and hop on The Great Movie Ride. Do the footsteps and skip the ride, essentially a tram ride through a wax museum. (The film montage at the end is pretty good. But.)
There are two major thrill rides: the Rockin’ Roller Coaster and, at the end of mock Sunset Boulevard, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Didn’t ride this roller coaster, but Jeff Hoover, 46, a coaster buff from Minneapolis, did. “Once is enough,” he said as, wobbly of leg, he exited the area. “It’s harder and harder …” Your call.
But don’t miss the Tower of Terror. If you’ve ever wondered how it would feel to be the ice in a martini shaker (and who hasn’t?), you’ll get your answer here.
“Indiana Jones’ Epic Stunt Spectacular” isn’t quite epic but is a fun little show and a good excuse to get off your feet for a bit and watch things explode. If you have any problems at all with motion sickness, avoid the Star Wars flight simulator.
But here’s the sleeper: The Magic of Disney Animation. It begins with a little mini-presentation featuring a congenial live animator and the cartoon dragon from “Mulan” (voiced by Eddie Murphy) that isn’t as funny as it thinks it is.
The cool thing, though, is in the interactive area, where you-yes, you-can lend your voice to some of your favorite cartoon moments. Suddenly, instead of Jerry Colonna (as the March Hare) singing “A Very, Merry Un-Birthday” to Alice, of Wonderland, it’s you! Strangers will stare and children will run for their parents, but that’s their problem.
Downtown Disney & Boardwalk
Boardwalk, a Disney resort complex, is linked with Downtown Disney here because 1) it has a couple of grown-up magnets: an ESPN Club sports bar (what you’d expect) and the recommendable Flying Fish Cafe (mostly seafood, as you’d expect); 2) it has the Atlantic Dance Hall, if you like to shake your whatevers; and 3) I don’t know where else to put it.
Downtown Disney opened late 1997, created just for us adults as an opportunity to get a rest from both Disney-ness and from all those baby strollers, and as a place to drop yet more cash. It has, among other stuff, a House of Blues, a Planet Hollywood, Cuban, Italian and seafood restaurants (try the too-good and too-expensive-for-kiddies $15 crab cake starter at Fulton’s Crab House), a Wolfgang Puck all-purpose food court and-as adult as you can get at a Disney property-a cigar store.
And there’s “La Nouba,” a Cirque du Soleil production that celebrates its 10th birthday in December. Kids may sleep through it, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing except that tickets start at $55; grown-ups will pay more and be enthralled. This is a good one.
Finally, linked to Downtown Disney by bridges, there’s Pleasure Island, named for the island in “Pinocchio” where bad little boys who overindulged turned themselves into jackasses. It isn’t that-but it also isn’t what it used to be.
“This place used to have an ambience,” said Brian, 42, a veteran Pleasure Islander at the next stool. “People would just walk through and it was a party. It’s not even close to that anymore.”
The Rock `n’ Roll Beach Club, a live-music hall in its most recent form (it opened in 1989 as a “rollerdrome”), shut down in February.
The dance clubs, some that have set the beat for nearly 20 years, may be shaky as well, affected by competition from Universal’s CityWalk a few miles north and Disney’s proclivity for tinkering.
For now, still in full boogie mode (and restricted to age 21-over): 8Trax, Mannequin Dance Palace, BET Soundstage Club and Motion. Plus, less restrictive, a Comedy Warehouse and the whimsical Adventurers Club, an interactive experience of sorts.
New on Pleasure Island and possibly an indicator of things to come: Raglan Road, an Irish-theme pub with the appropriate beers, grub and entertainment. Children are admitted. Don’t bring them.
Except for noting the Children’s Miracle Network Classic, a PGA tournament, is played here, there will be no further mention of “children” in this category.
Of the 6 zillion courses in Central Florida, four are on Disney property: Osprey Ridge, Lake Buena Vista, Palm and Magnolia. Most popular: the last two, where the tournament is played-particularly Magnolia, home of the final rounds.
“It’s the fan favorite,” says Rodney Green, the two courses’ manager and director of instruction, “for the simple reason it’s the course that Tiger Woods plays.”
His own favorite: Osprey Ridge, a Tom Fazio-designed course. “It’s a great design. It’s quiet there _ there’s no houses, no Magic Kingdom in the background.”
Any signs of Disney? There are the tee markers, with a familiar shape. And the Mickey Hole, No. 6 on Magnolia, is a par 3 with a sand bunker shaped like those ears guarding the green.
“That,” says Green, “makes it about as Disney as you can get.”
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Describe its basics and it sounds like a glorified zoo-but it’s not. It’s actually something more ingenious: full-scale reproductions of the most wildlife-rich regions of Africa and central Asia, side-by-side, with acknowledgment of the presence of humans as well.
In a very true-life way, it’s almost the anti-Epcot. Animal Kingdom’s mini-Mombasa isn’t sanitized (like Epcot’s Marrakech) but appears age- and weather-worn, exactly like the colonial-era remnant towns that dot East Africa. Visitors who deal with the inevitable lines for two very fine thrill experiences-Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safari- and have trekked Nepal or safaried Kenya-Tanzania will snake past stuff whose symbols and authentic scruffiness they will recognize immediately.
Grown-ups who have done the real thing, and those who haven’t but are curious about the real thing, should not miss Kilimanjaro Safari. No, you won’t see thousands of zebras and wildebeests in dusty migration, or cheetahs bringing down gazelles, but the way the open-sided trucks bounce along the dirt roads, and the sense of excitement in rounding a bend and seeing zebras and wildebeests, and cheetahs and gazelles, and elephants, sure gives you a strong hint of what it’s like.
As for Expedition Everest-it’s a marvelously entertaining roller coaster that’s set up by a marvelously entertaining series of Yeti-themed bits.
Asked one Brazilian lad, in line: “Is that for real?”
World-wise travel writer: “Could be …”
And as for the “zoo”: Tigers roam that Indian ruin; apes rule forgotten temples; gorillas hang out by a jungle waterfall right out of Uganda. And so on.
In sum: Better for grown-ups than it is for kids, who will nonetheless have a non-whining good time if you keep them watered.
And a final thought, on the resident live show, “Finding Nemo-The Musical.” It’s a nice try, but little ones, unless they memorized the movie, won’t get it; big people, especially if they loved the movie, will hate it.
The Magic Kingdom
This is a magical land (hence the name) of strollers. Baby strollers, toddler strollers, singles, doubles, triples. Some with Mylar balloons attached. All, most of the time, with children in them. The Magic Kingdom is crawling with strollers. Just so you know that going in.
(If grown-ups weary of Stroller Jams want to play a little fun-game, see how many crying urchins you can photograph in an hour. Anything less than 20 and you aren’t taking this seriously …)
Skip the flying Dumbos and the spinning tea cups. They’ll just get you dizzy. Ride Space Mountain, unless you have a bad back. It’s a pretty good roller coaster, mostly in the dark, with dips and tight turns and sudden jolts. Mickey’s PhilharMagic is a 3-D movie (plus other surprise effects) mainly starring Donald Duck at his most manic, and it’s very funny-like a great Warner Bros. cartoon (sorry, Walt) and far too good for children.
I never miss going on Peter Pan’s Flight. Personal fetish. You don’t have to. If you luck out, you’ll hear and want to march along with the marching band that every so often marches down Main Street playing ditties like “Seventy-Six Trombones,” a joyous song full of obscure musical references (e.g., “double bell euphoniums”) that, if you sing along, will drive children batty.
A dining note: First hotel on the monorail from the Magic Kingdom is Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, which is very expensive (from $385) primarily because it’s the first hotel on the monorail from the Magic Kingdom. It’s home to Victoria & Albert’s, the hotel’s gourmet experience mentioned before that, as of this year (and at long last), bans children younger than 10.
Incredibly, until the ban there were people who would bring 4-year-olds here and pay the required $125 prix fixe for the little dickenses. (“Now, Cornelius, eat your chanterelles or no crème brulee! Cornelius, stop playing with your chard this minute!”)
Not anymore-and everybody wins. “No kid,” said a server, “wants to sit for three hours.” It’s a great restaurant, by the way, and worth the splurge.
Also on the monorail (in fact, first in the other direction) is the Contemporary Resort, and the very good and very grown-up California Grill. Sit at the large bar, enjoy the convivial bartenders, sip their martinis, trust their dinner recommendations and smile as other staff sweeps up under tables where kids (up way too late) left a mess.
If You Go:
Walt Disney World tickets are available in a mind-numbing variety of options and packages, including dining plans. The four theme parks-the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Disney Hollywood Studios-each require separate admission. So do water parks. “Park Hopper” tickets, allowing visits to more than one theme park per day at reduced total cost, are available; per-day costs drop somewhat with multiple-day tickets.
BASE PRICES: Adult one-day, one-park ticket: $71; kids 3-9: $60.
GOLF (18 HOLES): $149 (Palm and Buena Vista), $169 (Osprey Ridge, Magnolia). Guests at Disney resorts pay $10 less. Twilight rates for all guests, $79 and $89.
KID-FREE LODGINGS: None. This is a family kind of place. Best chance for quiet might be at the Disney Vacation Club time-share properties, but don’t count on it.
INFORMATION: 407-824-4321; www.waltdisneyworld.com.
© 2008, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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