disney recap : epcot.

Future World

I need to reemphasize how strange it is to not spend hours and hours and hours at a Disney park after exhaustion was a better part of childhood trips there. That being said, when naps all of a sudden become a vacation afternoon routine, it is a disaster to try to power through an entire day in one place.

We went to the first half of Epcot and hit all the “big” rides (I use quotation marks because there really are only two). We hustled to Soarin’ Over California, which is only referred to as “Soarin'” while at WDW instead of Disneyland, where we were given a fast pass by the line attendant because we didn’t look happy enough. It’s little things like that which help make guests really feel the extra Disney magic, and it always amazes me how much cast members care about making quality experiences.

We rode Soarin’ twice in a row, which was great because we didn’t have to stall to wait for our own fast pass to be ready. After that was finished, we walked over to a new/old attraction called Captain EO. My mom told me I was going to love it, but I didn’t really have much more information than that… until my dad ruined it and said “Oh, is Michael Jackson still in that?” Cue my excitement.


Maybe not quite that dramatic, but I was pretty psyched. Once we sat down and discovered that this Captain EO situation was the exact same as it was in 1986, we knew we were in for a treat. I say this because it was a 3D movie “experience.” Anyone ever seen 3D from the 80s? Holy smokes did it give me a headache. Let’s just say technology has made even more progress than I realized in the last 25 years.

I obviously appreciated a good MJ jam sesh, as bizarre as the movie was, and was dancing on the way out along with a number of moms and dads whose little kids really had no idea what just happened and were very unimpressed by the movie they just saw.

The exact center of WDW.

My brother and I made our way to Mission to Mars, where we got a fast pass for the “more intense training” and hopped right on to the “less intense training.” We figured it was a good way to compare the two and decide if there was really a difference, and also to attempt to get my dad to go on the ride he had such horrible memories of.

The less intense training was really fun, and we thought it was enough to simulate an actual trip to Mars. I know I went into the more intense training figuring there couldn’t be that much of a difference between the two if the easier one seemed so realistic. Oh my gosh I wanted to die about 3/4 of the way through the more intense training. The pressurizing of the little cabin space is on point, and the g-forces are unbelievable. I understood why my dad didn’t want to go back on it again this trip.

After these few ride stops, we made our way to the World Showcase.

World Showcase 

We ate lunch in Mexico because it was the first country we encountered and we were all starving. We then rode the little boat ride in this country because I still felt like death and wanted to be able to sit in the air conditioning for a while.

We continued to make our way to Norway, where we rode what my brother, dad, and I remembered as “the viking ship ride.” Of course, my mom kept saying “The Maelstrom” in response to try to help our terminology, but I just always responded with “yeah that.”

After hopping on our second little boat ride of the day, we continued walking (forever) to the area dedicated to colonial America. We watched some drummers perform on the street, and then made our way inside to watch show about how far America’s come in the last 200 years. I am more embarrassed than possibly ever to admit that I fell asleep during this. I love American history, and typically I would have been so into it. But remember how I said that skipping a nap when you’ve trained your body to only make it through half a vacation day is a horrible idea? I really realized this was true here.

We kept walking and taking pictures, until we stopped in Canada to watch a 360 degree film about the “real” Canada….. Can you tell that everyone got to pick what we were doing this day? Shout out to Dad for making us stand in a theater to watch a movie about snow and water after walking for a solid 9 hours.


Most of our focus was not on getting pictures with characters this time around, but because Epcot has a Character Greeting area where the Fab Five hang out, we knew we needed to stop there to get our staples. My mom and I were the only ones that motivated, so while we did this the boys went to find us a good spot for Epcot’s night show, Illuminations.

This wasn’t on the same day as the rest of our Epcot experience. It had rained for the rest of the night, so Illuminations was cancelled then. Instead we went back the next day (after I had found out I had a job!) and used the time between dinner and the show to get our character on.

After I asked if we could take a picture high-fiving because I just got
offered a job a few hours ago.

Additional Epcot Photos 


weekend wrap-up.

I didn’t sleep more than four hours consecutively between Thursday and Sunday, but I had a fun-filled weekend to make up for it. I went to Minneapolis Thursday afternoon to visit a friend who’s starting grad school there this fall, and after about five and a half hours in the car, was definitely ready to walk around and explore an area of the city I hadn’t ever been to. We spent most of our time seeing what Uptown has to offer, although we did check out a bit of the Downtown scene on Friday night. 
After sleeping for about four hours total (waking up pretty much every 45 minutes because I was afraid I wouldn’t hear my alarm), I hit the road again at 6:15am to get back home for a wedding. Let me just say… the drive across the state of Wisconsin causes one to become much more slaphappy on two days of very little sleep than it does when being well-rested is a factor. 
I somehow managed to power through the rest of the day/night with a 20-minute nap once I got home, and had lots of fun attending my first wedding/reception that wasn’t for a family member. Added bonus: it was the first time ever that Josh and I got dressed up for something, and I got to wear shoes that made us look like a much more proportionally sized couple! 

I’m getting a tour of my school and all of my books/curriculum this morning! So excited to start doing some work for my own kids instead of ones I’m just adopting for the time being (something I’m sure I’ll regret saying once I’m up to my nose in papers and books, just longing for a day to do nothing except hang out with Sam).


One of Sam’s many positive qualities is that he’s not afraid of storms. I’m not sure how I’d handle that anxiety seeing how antsy he gets when it’s a half hour before his dinner time… For the record, he makes a noise that sounds like a mix between a whine and what I imagine a beluga whale to sound like. 
However, in the few heavy rains we’ve had this summer, he has been very confused. He paces between the front window and the back patio door, only staying in each spot for about 15-20 seconds. He looks back at about the halfway point of each of those as if to say, “Seriously, what is happening and am I supposed to be protecting us from it?” 
This morning was the ultimate, though, with his first experience with hail. He stayed by the back where he could see it and hear it much more loudly up against the glass and on the deck, and for the majority of the time had his nose plastered to the window. He only moved for me to sneak a picture of the hail itself since I was the only one awake at the time. 
No fauxhawk though! Just one totally inquisitive little dude. 
Also, I’m taking a quick break from Disney recapping because I’m going to Minneapolis until Saturday. My plan was to spend this morning writing posts for those few days and having them scheduled to post, but since it’s raining and Josh has a scrimmage tonight instead of football practice this morning, we’re watching a few episodes of Breaking Bad instead. We started it on Netflix last night because there was nothing on tv, and holy smokes we’re hooked. 

disney recap : hollywood studios.

(aka the place I kept calling MGM even though it hasn’t been that in forever)

I don’t have a lot of super spectacular info to share about our day at Hollywood Studios. This is where it was helpful that we knew what we wanted to do, did it, and went home to relax like normal people do on a vacation.

We did a few laps on Roc ‘n’ Roller Coaster, where we began our contest of who could make the best “roller coaster face” that was continued on each ride with a camera throughout the week.

We took a spin on The Great Movie Ride, where I was honestly a little disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm of our tour guide, and rode the new and improved Star Tours, where my picture came up on screen as a spy that Darth Vader wanted to steal (scary!). 
I think the greatest part of this park was my love for the new Toy Story ride. 

Toy Story Midway Mania

This ride was nothing short of spectacular. It was a 3D carnival themed game where guests compete against everyone else in your car to have the highest score. The car whipped us around at each turn, while air and water bursts squirted us at appropriate times. I also discovered after the first ride that the trick was not to aim or try to win at all. The trick was to throw as many darts and toss as many rings as possible. This discovery made my arm hurt by the end… and I never won! 
There was a whole new area at Hollywood Studios to make guests feel as though they were in the Toy Story movie itself…

Additional Hollywood Studios Photos

disney recap : magic kingdom


Keys to the Kingdom Tour

I saw a whole new side to the most iconic part of the Disney franchise this time around. We took a backstage tour called Keys to the Kingdom. I learned so much! There are four keys to operations at the Magic Kingdom (and I’m assuming Disney Parks as a whole): Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency. They are prioritized in this order, and everything that happens at the park is only done because it falls into at least one of these categories.

One of the greatest moments was toward the beginning. Our tour began before the park opened, so we were able to see what happens when everyone experiences the Disney Magic in the morning. There’s a countdown from 10-1, with exciting music playing very loudly, followed by fireworks. Seriously, this is to welcome people every day. As a side note, I’d like to see the bill for pyrotechnics weekly in the Magic Kingdom. 
Anyway, it looked like this at 8:59: 
And then like this at 9:01: 
They call it the “Running of the Tourists.” Maybe the funniest part is that nobody can get past the castle until 9:30. All these silly runners won’t even get to their favorite rides ahead of everyone!

We went to Adventureland, where we got a “special” Jungle Cruise with the details of how the ride works and how it originated, rather than listening to the jokes that the Jungle Cruise operators tell throughout a typical ride. 
We continued to the backstage area of Fronteirland, where we saw the Behind the Scenes of Splash Mountain as well as where they store the parade floats and where all the garbage from the Magic Kingdom goes (so, so stinky). Obviously I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures of this part – that would ruin the magic! 
We ate in Liberty Square with our meals that we ordered upon arrival already waiting for us, along with a “key to the kingdom.” We then went on the Haunted Mansion after getting a few secrets before boarding, and then went back toward Main Street USA. 
One of the chief Imagineers was a chess fan, so the top of Haunted Mansion
is decorated with pieces from a chess set.
When backstage here, we went downstairs to the “Utilidore” (utility + corridor – so ahead of their time with the abbreviations!). The Magic Kingdom is actually on the second floor, not ground level. When they built the park, they couldn’t dig basements because of the swampy land in Central Florida, so they dug a lagoon in the front of the park and moved all of the soil to the land of the park itself. There’s an entire corridor system on the real ground level, making it possible for cast members to travel to opposite ends of the park without ruining the “show” element of each individual land of the Magic Kingdom. 
We came up on the other side of Main Street, where we saw where Tinkerbell lands at the end of her flight during the fireworks and also saw a few “friends of characters” go on stage. There is a sight line at every entrance so the cast members know when they can be seen by the public. It was hilarious watching certain individuals as they crossed over this line and completely transformed. 
The tour was five hours long, and was completely exhausting. Even though it showed me the reality of what happens backstage at one of my favorite places, I learned enough to make it worth it. 
Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom 

One of the newest additions to the Magic Kingdom is an interactive game where guests are asked to help Merlin battle the Disney villains who are trying to steal the crystal of the Magic Kingdom. I saw a lot of families doing this, and on our extra day to visit a park, my mom and I went here for a couple hours in the morning to see what the whole thing was. It’s something that can be spread out over the course of a few days (or trips to WDW), and definitely not something I’d recommend for first-timers. It was nice for us, because rather than just wander around people watching, we had a task to go through a few of the lands a second time. 
Upon arriving at the Sorcerer Volunteer Station, guests are given a key to unlock portals and a pack of spell cards. The cast members show guests what to do in a sample portal in the station, and Merlin sends them to a portal somewhere in the park. Once there, a guest swipes his/her key in front of the lock, and watches a short video. Each villain is fought in about five videos, all in the same land to avoid doing too much walking between. This allows guests to take breaks in between (which I’m sure parents are thankful for) or stop altogether if they want to. 
Guests are also able to continue in another land to fight another villain. I was told that it takes 6 hours to go through all of the rotations completely, at which point guests then bring their cards back to the Volunteer Station to be scanned by the cast member there. 
The emblem guests stand on at each portal
This isn’t advertised completely; I’m not sure if it’s because it’s new to the park this year, or to make sure that there aren’t ever lines for sorcerers to stand in. Either way, it’s definitely something that seems to be discovered by word of mouth, or by inquiring minds asking someone who’s already participating what the heck they’re doing. 
Here’s how cool/silly it looks in action: 

Additional Magic Kingdom Photos 

Here are some pictures I took while we walked around (before my camera died…bummer). 

disney recap : art of animation.

My plan was to post every day this week about my vacation to Disney World, recapping in a really simple way so I didn’t feel obligated and the whole “blog” thing was still fun.

Now it’s Tuesday afternoon and I haven’t posted yet. Oops.

Part of this is because Sam has been pretty attention-hungry the last two days (maybe he missed our mornings together while I was gone?). Another major part though is the fact that I took 700 photos. I’m not sure what the heck I was thinking. But that’s a lot of editing time, and I was more overwhelmed than anything else.

The good news currently: Sam is exhausted from running around all morning instead of napping, and has now collapsed on the couch next to me. I’m also slowly working through all of my photos and I’ve come up with a more organized way to get through them all without editing taking over my life for a week.

The (Potentially) Final “Swanson Family Trip” Consisting of Four People

I’ve practically begged my mom for years to plan another trip to Disney World. I’m not sure why I wanted to go so desperately, apart from the fact that it’s my favorite vacation place in the universe. But I finally had my prayers answered after five years of crossed fingers and toes.

She scored a deal on airfare and on a resort that is still under construction, which was obviously a plus. It was interesting to take a full family trip as adults, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much more civil we (mostly me) all were now that nobody’s a teenager who’s constantly annoyed. It also helped that we were in a place of familiarity, so we didn’t need to run around doing everything. We all knew what our favorite places/attractions were, and we were able to prioritize and compromise based on that.

There’s hope for our future with a larger group and smaller people!

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort 

The newest addition to Disney World Resorts is the Art of Animation. I loved it! There are four “sections” of the resort, each dedicated to a different Disney movie. Unfortunately the two that were completely relevant to my childhood weren’t finished yet, but we did get to explore one of them so that made me feel a little better.

The featured movies are shown on the front entrance.

So new that there were zero free-standing trees!

The lobby included lots of bright colors and many sketches from different stages of production. It was interesting to see how animation progresses, especially with characters that are so well known. My favorite was what looked to be an early version of Ursula from The Little Mermaid as an evil mermaid herself instead of an octopus! The sketches move from clearly early versions to final drawings seen in the movies themselves.

The photo doesn’t do the brightness of this wall justice; almost blinding!

Placing Guests “In” The Movies

One of the main goals of each of the buildings where guests actually stay is to make them feel like they are in the movie itself. Larger than life sculptures of characters and themed walls of buildings did the trick!

The section of the resort dedicated to The Little Mermaid wasn’t open for guests to walk through, but the other three were. Here are some pictures from The Lion King, Finding Nemo, and Cars (where my family stayed).

My “Home Away From Home”

Three of the four sections of the resort have suites instead of open rooms for guests to stay in. This was SO helpful for four adults staying together! I think the trip may have gone completely differently if we didn’t have this arrangement…

This couch was one of the two fold-out beds in the room.

This table added a second fold-out bed.
The amount of detail Disney puts into everything never ceases to amaze me. Just look at the little traffic cones on the carpet and curtains! Even though I have never seen Cars (oops!), I still appreciated everything that was in this room to make us feel as though we were part of the cast for a week. 
More to come this week about everything we did during this fun-filled, but relaxing, vacation!