The Vacation of a Lifetime! January 2015 Trip Report

Thanks for the encouragement, y’all! This is such a fun way to keep the magic going long after the plane lands.

I had planned to spend a big chunk of today finishing up the next two installments but some friends surprised us with tickets to Disneyland! So we are off to the happiest place on earth for the day. I hope you understand. :wink:

@JustKeepSmiling, I’m thinking I’ll probably post the devotions as I shared them with the dam a little later. The verses I used for Epcot are below, but it probably takes some explanation to make them make sense in context.

I used the history of Epcot (Walt’s original plans vs. what actually was built) and Proverbs 19:21, Psalm 127:1-2, & John 3:16 to talk about how God asks us to submit to his plans for our lives and the joy and reward that comes when we do so.

@len, that made my day! I read the book cover to cover and kept thinking how cool it must be for those folks to see their quotes. To better vacations for all!!

@vpillers, I can’t imagine keeping the secret from my spouse. That’s truly a great feat. I hope your reveal breaks their surprise meter!


@thechindo - Yes, please do post your devotions that you shared with your family - I love that idea!!! Probably the best tip of all that I’ve gleaned from TP.

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Agree, would love to read the devotions, thanks!

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This is so awesome! Thanks for taking the time to share with us! Can’t wait for more… :smile:

Loving this! Can’t wait to read more. I am inspired to Disneybound Mary on my trip, now! Your DD’s outfit is great!

One Little Spark…
Friday, January 9, 2015 - 9:00AM Eastern Time
Crowd level: Predicted 4/Actual 3
Hours: 9am-9pm
Extra Magic Hours: 9pm-11pm

Let’s get on some rides, shall we? Uh, sorry. Attractions!

Before we do, however, there’s something you should know about our family’s attraction-riding mindset going into this vacation. Due to a variety of factors (geography, finances, kids’ ages, other travel priorities), we viewed this as a once-in-a-lifetime event. We’d never been to WDW before, and it’s likely we will never go again. So we had three types of attractions we NEEDED to see:

  • Unique Attractions – Those we don’t have in California.
  • Comparison Attractions – Those we do have in California, but we’re curious to
    see the differences (I’ll cover the wonderful phenomenon these create
    later in The Magic Kingdom).
  • Nostalgic Attractions – Those that used to be in California but are lost to antiquity.

In other words, we wanted to see it all.

In order to maximize the number of attractions we’d be able to experience and minimize the time we’d spend waiting in lines, I utilized a secret weapon for theme park efficiency called

For the uninitiated, TouringPlans uses mathematic and scientific formulas, employing research and data gathered from thousands of theme park visits, under any variety of real-time circumstances, to create the most efficient attraction/show/meal order possible.

Basically, I enter the attractions I want to experience on a particular day, and their computer culls the billions of possible touring order combinations (yes, billions.) to find the most efficient plan for me – so that I spend less time in queues (waiting lines) and more time enjoying the attractions.

If you’d like to learn more about their ninja voodoo sorcery, check it out HERE. It will blow your mind.

(Reader caution – The next 4 paragraphs will make most sense to fanatics of TouringPlans’ software. Feel free to jump down to “The Sum of All Thrills” to get on with the show.)

I’d decided to try an experiment that seemed to make sense to me. Epcot acts a lot like two parks, so I treated it a little like two parks to see if we could increase our touring efficiency in Future World, while maximizing the leisure in World Showcase.

I created a plan for 9am to noon, set to “Fast” walking speed, and focused only on the attractions with potentially heavy wait times; Spaceship Earth, Sum of All Thrills, Mission: Space, & Test Track. We have Soarin’ at Disney’s California Adventure, so we didn’t need to fit that extremely popular attraction in. We threw Ellen’s Energy Adventure and Innovations East into the fast-paced morning plan since we were already going to be over in Future World East.

EP AM (Bigs in AM).pdf (699.2 KB)

Then I made a separate plan for the rest of the day set to “Very Relaxed” walking speed and taking in The Seas, The Land, Imagination, Innovations West, and all of World Showcase.

EP PM (Bigs in AM).pdf (788.8 KB)

It worked perfectly… almost.

The Sum of All Thrills
Predicted Wait Time: 14 minutes
Actual Wait Time: 0 minutes

Our first ride at Epcot was the thrill ride simulator, The Sum of All Thrills. All advice suggested snagging FastPass+ for the big dogs, and catching SOAT first before the crowds catch on. So that’s just what we did.

DS was really looking forward to this one, I think more than most, because he likes to play Theme Park Studio at home. This ride gives him a chance to actually ride his creation. I can’t fault him for that. Many of my tween days were spent daydreaming with cousins about the amazing coasters we would create one day.

We weren’t the first ones there, but we were right behind them. We went straight to our giant touch-screen roller coaster creators and made the best rides we could imagine with the limited palette provided. I was paired with DW (my favorite), and the kids worked on theirs together.

After creating our coasters, the kids got into their simulator first - a ride pod on the end of a swiveling, swinging, swatting, swiping, swooping robotic arm. This put DW and I on the loading platform right in front of the control panel. From there we could watch the kids’ faces live via the puke cam as they were flipped around inside the ride.

The guy said it wasn’t a puke cam, but I could tell by his expression that the one thing he hates most in the world is to wipe up funnel cake chips from the 3D simulator screen. And I know he watches that thing like a hawk for the first sign of pre-barf glassy-eye.

When it came to our turn, the kids had to go down the stairs so they couldn’t watch our puke cam. Bummer. But I knew that some strangers would be up there watching us, so I took the opportunity to play for the camera. Screaming and shouting, I put on quite a show. It was most fun for me imagining what the next victims… riders were thinking.

One little problem was that the simulator seat didn’t seem to be made for human beings to actually sit in. I’m 6’2”, which isn’t giant, so I’m always surprised when something like this fits more like a sock full of rocks than a glove. I guess if a robotic arm is going to shake your body around like a martini, you don’t want to get too comfortable.

And finally, it’s super cool that you can take your creation home with you via the swipe card. Here are our creations for your enjoyment!

The Chindo’s and DW’s Ride Creation
(We chose roller coaster but it came out as a flying jet instead)

DD’s and DS’s Ride Creation
(DS said he didn’t have enough time to make his as good as he’d wanted)

Spaceship Earth
Predicted Wait Time: 1 minute with FastPass+
Actual Wait Time: Walk on with FastPass+

For me, Spaceship Earth is much more than the icon of the park. It’s the prelude, the overture of the whole EPCOT story. By exploring the history of human communication, it manages to reveal the unequaled beauty of mankind.

Take, for example, the scene representing the spread of printed news. An African American freedman, operating a whirring printing press, takes a moment to read the freshly printed headline; “Civil War Over.” In this brief glimpse, we experience a story of pain and indignity, courage and sacrifice, endurance and victory, faith and redemption, freedom and a future.

(Nevermind that he’s reading upside down)

That’s why it was imperative that I get my family on SE early in the day, because the whole narrative of Epcot flows out of it. Think about it. Walt’s unrealized vision for EPCOT and the Epcot that actually exists today are the continuation of the storyline in SE. A ‘future world’ that explores and advances the capabilities of man, and a ‘world showcase’ that brings distinct peoples and cultures together in one shared community.

It’s pretty strong stuff for an amusement park, but that’s what makes it so special.

One of the great benefits of visiting WDW as a newcomer is the ability to see the attractions as they are, not as they were. I listened to a lot of Lou Mongello before the trip and, while Lou can’t seem to utter a discouraging word about anything Disney does, he does spend a lot of time lamenting attractions and details that are lost to progress.

But for a newcomer, there’s no sense of loss when Dame Judi Dench says, “Thank the Phoenicians,” rather than Jeremy Irons or Walter Cronkite.

The kids loved SE, but not as much as Mom and Dad. We’re a homeschooling family, and while we don’t fly the freak flag too high, we do get pretty jazzed when we see the fruits of our (my wife’s) labor.

As we passed the Greek classroom where the man in red robes (one of my favorite animatronics, by the way) teaches his eager students, the kids spun around in their omnimover to tell us, “That’s Euclid!” I guess they immediately recognized that the tool he’s holding is a dead giveaway that he is the father of Geometry.

Who knew? My kids did. (grins)

After the ride, we spent a few minutes in Project Tomorrow. It’s nice that not all Disney attractions exit through a gift shop.

And yes, we pretty much just watched DS play the games. After all, he is the expert.

To be continued in Future World East…


I love Spaceship Earth.


Loved the SoAT videos. I’ve never been on it because I’m “too wide to ride”…


Another great installment! Thanks for sharing your great writing and pictures! :smile:


Thanks for the new installment.
This is going to be epic when it’s done.
Still looking forward to reading about the family devotions. :slight_smile:


Do you have a blog that you are also recording these in? I would love to add you to my subscriptions!

Going through old topics and stumbled upon this gem of a topic. What happened on the rest of the trip?

I love your first installment, especially your tips for future planners. I can’t wait to read your next day!

Oh no! I l jumped down the rabbit hole of your vacation on this thread since it was bumped to the top, but now I feel so let down not to get the rest of the trip! Hope it was awesome!!!i

Started reading today as it was on the top of the threads…love your writing style and hope the rest of your trip was magical!!

Hi Liners! It’s been a quick 10 months since I last posted to this thread. I had fully intended to finish this trip report, but life really got in the way. I lost a job and got a new one. DD studied abroad in Germany and came back. DW and DD went on another mission trip to Uganda. I got to go to the World Expo in Milan, and fulfilled a lifelong dream to “Imagineer” a Disney-level attraction for my favorite charity, which will open in early 2017.

This weekend marked the anniversary of our trip, so I pulled out this report to help us reminisce and relive some of the amazing memories. At the same time, facebook started reposting their ‘one year ago’ click baiting on all of our pages. Then, I started getting emails from this forum with some of you encouraging me to start up again and finish the report.

For better or for worse, that’s what I hope to do. Thanks to @bciranow, @BackIntoTheFray, @MiniRif, @Kyla307, and @MinnieWinnie for the kick in the butt.

So without further ado, I present to you the continuing saga of “The Vacation of a Lifetime!”

Dinosaur Soup
Friday, January 9, 2015 - 9:40AM Eastern Time
Wow! When the system works, it really works. We were already twenty-four minutes ahead of our next planned arrival time and I was certain we’d be able to keep that pace—IF we could maintain our energy and not run out of gas.

We ducked into Innoventions East to explore and catch a few exhibits before facing the giants of Future World East

Innoventions East – StormStruck
Apart from SOAT, StormStruck was one of the Innoventions exhibits most highly recommended by liners, and as we rounded the corner into the attraction, the throng of thirteen other guests testified to its popularity.

(youtube screenshot)

StormStruck is a fairly simple, 4-D theater attraction intended to bring awareness to disaster preparedness by simulating a Florida hurricane striking an underprepared home. Guests are given an opportunity to interact with the attraction by voting on the best ways to prepare for a hurricane and then observe the consequences of their collective choices.

It has all the expected 4-D effects that seem to be the standard these days. 3-D glasses, rumbly seats, bursts of air, squirts of water in the face, and push-button panels for audience voting. However, it lacks some of the magic of attractions that use the same gags. It’s probably due to tight budgeting for the sponsor’s sake. apparently wanted all the prestige and marketing benefits of sponsoring a Disney attraction, but approved a much smaller budget than necessary to truly make it memorable. The seats rumble like a phone on vibrate, the bursts of air sound like hydraulic brakes, and the water squirts are less like a simulated hurricane and more like a close talker reciting Peter Piper.

At the same time, I wouldn’t suggest that the attraction was unsuccessful in its mission. We definitely left knowing more about hurricane preparedness. While we may never use the specific tips for our house—not a lot of hurricanes blowing through Los Angeles these days—we were definitely reminded that preparing for a disaster is much better than reacting to one. Our earthquake kit has now been refreshed.

ANTHROPOLOGICAL DIGRESSION: It was in StormStruck that we clued into one of the significant cultural differences between Disneyland Resort and WDW. It appears that many more of the attractions hosts at WDW are of retirement age than at DLR. I speculate that this is due to a few factors.

First, Florida is a great place to retire, so it follows that there would be more retirees available to hire for unskilled labor. Comparatively, Anaheim’s high cost of living makes it a rotten place to spend one’s wintering years. Second, DLR is smack dab in the middle of a suburban sprawl. While WDW is so far from the nearest towns that it has its own time zone and weather system, neighborhoods in Anaheim literally back right up to Disneyland. I used to live in the apartment complex across the street and would wake in the morning to the sound of the Mark Twain’s whistle as it chuffed its morning crawl around the Rivers of America. DLR is surrounded by schools, churches, convenience stores, shopping malls, fast food restaurants, and freeways. So it follows that local teens would just as soon apply for a first job at Disney than at Chick-fil-A or The Gap. Therefore, DLR’s attractions host population appears to be largely made up of late teens and twenty-somethings.

Does it make any difference? Well, yes, but it’s not a bad thing—just different. The attractions host who ran StormStruck was a gentleman in his seventies whose flat delivery lacked the excitement or joy one comes to expect from Disney cast members. DS’s first comment coming out of the show was not, “Cool effects.” Instead, he kicked into a spot-on impression of the host, droning through his monotone monologue about tile roofing shingles in a Jersey accent.

It’s not that the host did it wrong. His spiel was by the book with no clear deviation from the SOP. He simply didn’t infuse it with any personality or spark.

I’m not suggesting that attractions hosting should be reserved for the young. In fact youthfulness often leads to trouble of it’s own. Energetic and fun-loving can quickly become obnoxious and self-serving, which distracts from the magic we’ve paid to experience. Not everybody is meant to be a Jungle Cruise skipper, so lets save the untested yuks to the green river.

Of course this is only an observation based on one visit during an off-peak season. The diversity and charm of the people we got to meet at WDW more than makes up for the occasional dud.

Digression over.

At StormStruck’s exit there’s a little hallway leading to the restrooms. Perfect. While the girls were doing whatever it takes girls 50% more time to do in there (I don’t want to know), DS and I wandered down the same hall which connects to the Electric Umbrella restaurant. It wasn’t open yet, but the soda fountain was right there in front of us. Per some liner’s advice, we had our resort mugs clipped onto our backpacks, so we went to the fountain for a water fill up.

Since nobody was around, the temptation to break the ‘refills only at the resorts’ rule was pretty strong, so I decided to test to see if the chips inside the mugs really do prevent you from getting free soda pop in the parks. Out flowed a burst of brown fizzy liquid.

I guess it’s like that thing parents told us about the chemical they put in pools that makes pee turn bright purple to identify the culprit. It’s a myth, but nobody’s brave enough to try to find out. Anyway, that would be stealing, so we filled everybody up with water and set out on our way back through Innoventions East.

Incidentally, we found out then that carrying around resort mugs filled with water isn’t such a good idea after all. Unless you’re happy walking around with your mug in your fist like a hobbit, you’re better off leaving it in the room and bringing along a Nalgene or something else you can fill, close, and stuff into your bag or backpack.

Innoventions East – Character Meet ‘N’ Greet
Deep inside Innoventions lies one of the fun benefits of holding a Disney Chase Visa. In the months leading up to the trip, we made all our purchases on the Disney card and racked up a lot of reward dollars. Ching ching! But because we chose a dining plan, none of the dining discounts applied to us. The only on-site perk we had coming was private time with the head mouse himself at the Character Meet ‘N’ Greet.

Either we were too early, or they don’t get many guests taking them up on this offer because the cast member seemed quite surprised that we showed up. We were their only guests so they led us directly into our private visit with Mickey and Goofy. They were surprised to see us too. They had to quickly put their cigarettes out and put their heads back on to take the picture (jk).

Something special happens when you meet these silent characters in person. Without the benefit of speech, they’re somehow able to communicate a range of ideas and emotions using simple hand gestures and body language alone. If you’re not careful, you might leave their presence believing that you had an actual adult conversation with a giant mouse and a dippy dawg.

Still, we were blown away when Mickey was able to clearly communicate with us that he recognized and appreciated DD’s outfit as a tribute to Mary Poppins without using a word.

If you’re wondering how he did it, take a look at this group picture. There’s a clever clue hidden in the backdrop that helped Mickey convey his precise meaning. While you’re at it, how many hidden Mickeys can you find?

We swiped our Magic Bands, to save this awesome moment in our Memory Maker memory bank for later and burst into the light of uncertain skies over Future World East.

Ellen’s Energy Adventure
It was 10:10AM when we stood under the Monorail tracks with Ellen’s Energy Adventure to our left, Test Track to our right, and Mission: SPACE dead ahead. But thanks to the speed with which we moved through our plans during the first hour, we were nearly 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

Our touring plan had us at TT at 10:38, then EEA at 10:54, and finally MS at 11:43. We had back-to-back FPPs on TT and MS, but we still had 10 minutes before we could use the first one. Now, we faced a decision. We could stand still for 10 minutes and stick with the plan, or we could redeem the 10 minutes by flipping the order and going straight to EEA before TT. It seemed like a solid plan. The only risk being that most of our FPP window would be used up, so any breakdowns or long queue waits might forfeit our TT line cut.

We decided to risk it and broke left to see what Ellen and Bill Nye were up to behind that glimmering reflecting pool.

It’s funny how the passage of time breaks things down. I understand that this version of the attraction has been in operation since 1996. That means that the stars of the attraction filmed this almost 20 years ago. While Ellen has aged well, you can easily tell that you’re not looking at the same celebrities you’re used to watching on YouTube every day. Alex Trebek still had his mustache, for crying out loud!

And unlike other classic Disney attractions, the celebrity factor definitely locks EEA in a specific time frame. Do kids know who Bill Nye is anymore? I guess there was once an attraction in Epcot that featured Hans and Franz from Saturday Night Live. It’s no wonder celebrity driven attractions fade quicker than the rest.

Also, I’m surprised that environmental groups don’t boycott EEA regularly. Of course, there is plenty of talk about green energy, but 1996 Bill Nye also shares enthusiastically about the wonders of hydro-electric (salmon and trout killing) power, deep-sea (BP disaster) drilling, and nuclear (mutant mice and dawgs) fusion. For the record, I’m not against any of those energy sources, but I’m guessing 2015 Bill Nye would consider these some of mankind’s greatest sins.

The attraction geek in me was pretty impressed with the ride vehicles. To see the whole theater break up into remote controlled pods was pretty spectacular. It’s also fun to consider how the technology in an attraction like this evolves into some of the modern marvels we love today. You can see in EEA the genetics of projection based rides like Soarin’.

(youtube screengrab)

It was also pretty exciting to see the animatronic dinosaurs from the 1964 World’s Fair used in a different context. Those unfamiliar with Disneyland might not know that the Dinosaurs in EEA are copies of those created for the Ford Pavilion and now reside in the park’s Primeval World diorama. You get to see them when you travel on the Disneyland Railroad from Tomorrowland to Main Street USA. DS said that it was great to see the dinosaurs up close and all around us rather than behind glass. We also thought the tyrannosaurus rex seemed a little silly being painted to look like a Fisher-Price version of a scary dinosaur.

(youtube screengrab)

One cast member seemed to miss the point of the dark theater in EEA. She chose the darkest moment, just before the Big Bang was about to go off, to open a door to a brightly lit hall and have a loud conversation with someone inside. It totally broke up the magic and distracted our attention from the wacky science propaganda. Come to think of it, it was probably a good thing.

To be continued on Test Track…


I’m so glad you’re continuing your report!!!

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It was the carpetbag!

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Waking up to this made my day! Thank you for sharing more of your wonderful family trip with us

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welcome back! sounds like you have had a whirlwind of a year! Was so happy to see a post this morning with the continuing story! Truly a great read with some laughs while I sat with my coffee this morning. Your family photos are fantastic and your writing truly does capture the magic you all experienced!

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