|DOING DISNEY WITH TEENAGERS
Alese & Morton Pechter
Was Mickey ever a teenager? We can't be sure but we do know that he (or someone) had the foresight to plan his Orlando parks so that teenagers as well as young aficionados of Mickey would love some of the various activities. We have just returned from a fabulous 6 day trip with 3 bona fide teenagers ... Patricia, 16 yrs; Joseph & William, twin boys, 17 yrs. ... along with their parents who were only able to join us for several days. We have to say we were somewhat surprised as to their likes and dislikes but we did discover that you can "do" Disney with young adults and have a fun family time, give the older ones some freedom to explore on their own ... and, for the most part, avoid those long lines.
THE ANIMAL KINGDOM....
First on our list was a trip to this newest park ... The Animal Kingdom. One thing we knew from the start was that our teenagers did not want to rise at the crack of dawn to be at the parks when the doors opened. We made it a habit to rise leisurely ... about 8:30AM ... have a nice breakfast.. get ourselves set for whatever outing ... and then take off for the day. Getting ready included proper clothing ... our teens wore shorts, T-shirts and sneakers the whole trip. We always wear long sleeves, long slacks and hats. We would have loved them to wear hats also. Sometimes we convinced them; sometimes we did not. All were covered with sun-block protection. Also on our list of preparations was for each to carry a bottle of water along.
All set ... we were off to the park. We drove to The Animal Kingdom. The bus leaves every 20 minutes, but we had just missed it. There is no charge for parking when you are staying at one of the Disney Hotels and there were ample spaces when we arrived. From the parking lot there are trams to take you to the entrance of the park. We could not believe the hoards of people filing through the gate. We joined them believing we would be waiting on very long lines for everything we wanted to do.
Patricia became our guide ... with map in hand we set out for specific areas we thought our teenagers would enjoy. While walking we took in the beauty of The Oasis area with the colorful parrots in the trees and lush shrubbery .... and no vendors! We walked quickly around The Tree of Life ... we were heading for the Kilimanjaro Safari. The crowds were so thick it was hard to move through. We envisioned an hour's wait at least for the safari but to our surprise, the line was short and the wait was no more than five minutes.
All of us enjoyed this encounter with the wild-life. Driving through the man-created savanna we saw elephants, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, ostrich, zebra, wildebeests, deer, antelope, many species of birds and so much more. They were all just roaming, some eating the leaves of the trees. There were no fences separating them from our vehicle. There were hundreds of African animals roaming freely through the 100 acres of savanna, rivers and rocky hills. It felt as if we were on a safari in Africa. Of course, there was a conservation story and the boys liked it best when our vehicle raced in hot and bumpy pursuit of "poachers" trying to kidnap a baby elephant. The good guys prevailed and there at the end of the journey we could see the baby elephant safely enclosed in a truck, ready to be taken back to his mother in the wild. Our teens would not buy into that one. The adorable baby elephant in the truck was obviously a mechanical marvel of the Disney Imagineers....but the story was told that poachers do present a problem to the existence of these pachyderms.
Right from the safari ride we went to Pangani Forest Exploration Trail where we could walk at our own pace to see meerkats, African birds, hippos and antelope. Our eyes searched for the troop of gorillas but they were probably hiding out in the trees where it was a little cooler and we missed them completely.
Not to be missed was a trip out to Conservation Station. We boarded the train to see a behind the scenes area where we saw animals, veterinarians and the people who care for the animals. While there we watched as a parrot was being examined. There is also an area where you can pet some of the domesticated animals but this was not for our teens. We went through quickly and caught the next train back.
Patricia kept watch of the schedule so that we arrived at The Lion King show just a few minutes before the next performance. We walked in with the crowd as we arrived and only waited for the show to begin when we were inside the theater. It is a beautifully done Disney extravaganza ...costuming is spectacular, songs that are new, yet familiar and the performance exciting. We all enjoyed that one.
It was a very, very hot day. The water we had taken was used up quickly and we needed more liquid and a cool place to sit and have something to eat. From the show we went back to the Harambe village and went to The Tusker House where we found fast service, an empty table and air-conditioning. It was a good chance to relax a little and catch our breath.
Our next stop was strictly for the boys. They could not wait to get to the one thrill ride in the park .. Countdown to Extinction. There you journey back 65 million years to save the last dinosaur. Wow! We just could not wait for that one! Joseph & William ran to get on the line but there was no line. They simply walked through the ropes set up in case there are lines .. and got right onto this one. The rest of us waited for them outside. It was so hot that the lovely display pool at the entrance was filled with little ones and big ones .. feet in the water and whole bodies immersed. They were all having fun.
Joseph & William's reaction to the ride was that it was good but not as rough as they might have liked it to be.
On we went ... past The Boneyard, a playground for the little ones ... got caught up in the March of the ARTimals ... which they could have easily done without, several other shows that did not seem to interest our gang and to the center point of this park ... The Tree of Life. We walked around it several times to examine the carvings and had fun finding the parts and pieces of each to make it a whole animal. It is really a marvel of construction. Disney had artisans from Africa actually do the carvings. We went to find the entrance for the show, It's Tough to be a Bug ... and, again walked right along the long, winding path with animal carvings along both sides ... right into the area where you gather before going in to the theater. We managed to get a few photos and then went in to sit with the special 3-D eye glasses provided and enjoyed this exciting show. This was one our teens really enjoyed.
At that point it was late afternoon and everyone had had enough of touring the park, even though we had not seen everything. We headed back to the hotel thinking we might go to one of the water parks. It must be noted that before we began this week long excursion, the one thing that Joseph and William wanted to do was go to the water parks. As long as they could get there, they believed they would have a great time. It was our intention to "see the sights" and then in late afternoon each day take off for one of the water parks. It was the end of August and very hot. We thought that would be a fun activity for everyone to cool down before the evening activities.
Back in the hotel after the day at The Animal Kingdom, it was cool, comfortable and they were all tired out. A swim in the hotel pool sounded much more inviting, so that was the decision.
By the time they returned, showered and dressed, their parents arrived at the hotel and were able to join us for dinner. We had a relaxed meal at The Flying Fish, which was excellent, and just enjoyed ... talking about the day with Mom & Dad ... and each other's company. A walk after dinner and all were ready to sleep ... tomorrow was another day with a big schedule.
THE LIVING SEAS ..... DOLPHINS IN DEPTH
This was to be one of the highlights of our adventure. At The Living Seas there is a special program Dolphins in Depth. We had scheduled this weeks before as we knew our young adults would love the chance to learn about and possibly have a close encounter with the dolphins. Unfortunately for us, the program was not in operation at the time of our visit as the huge aquarium tank in The Living Seas was being refurbished. The animals were disturbed by the disruption to their home and the trainers did not want to stress the animals further by having visitors. Knowing of our disappointment, Dara Carpenter, who heads this program, and Christina Calardo who works with the program also, said they would give us a backstage tour so we would have some understanding of what the program offers.
Dara and Chris met us at the entrance to EPCOT and escorted us to the cast entrance of The Living Seas. That, in itself was an interesting experience. We were taken to see the dolphins private quarters. A large room separated by a catwalk holds two large tanks where the dolphins are trained. They circled in their tanks and came to the surface to check us out. We heard about several of the programs that are being carried out and had the privilege of watching a training session. It was easy to see how clever the dolphins are ... always coming back to the surface and the trainer with those beautiful smiling faces. The research we watched involved signature whistles, using hydrophones, and echolocation.
We moved on to see the manatees ... as they were being fed in the main tank area. One would go out to the main tank .. get his batch of lettuce leaves and then bring them back in his mouth to the quiet of backstage to eat. Smart manatee! From there we moved along the catwalks over The Living Seas aquarium to see where those in the Dive Quest SCUBA program and the Disney cast members enter the water. There were lines of SCUBA tanks, regulators and other gear ready and waiting. For the present only the cast members are entering the water ... the Dive Quest program has also been stopped till the tank refurbishing is finished.
Dara explained everything as we walked along and we made a few stops to look and listen. We got to see the labs where the scientists are working and the large refrigerator and working area where the fresh food for the animals is kept and prepared. After the cursory tour, we ended up back in the classroom where we were delighted to hear more about the dolphins and their lifestyle ... here at Disney and in the wild. While sodas were consumed, Dara & Chris told us about the dolphin physiology and information on other research projects underway at The Living Seas. This is one of only a handful of facilities in the world that devote their dolphins to behavioral studies.
When you are part of the actual program you become a Guest Researcher, white lab coat and all. We were given a copy of the Guest Researcher Handbook which includes information about the dolphins, the various research projects being conducted, and illustrations of the tank locations and keyboard. A plea for conservation concern and just how we can help make a difference is also included. This is a great reference for school reports and we could see our teens thinking of the next paper they would be writing for one of their science classes.
To everyone's delight, Dara handed out Dolphins in Depth T-shirts to all of us and what we thought would be a disappointment, Dara and Chris were able to change into a big plus. We do appreciate the time they gave to give us this shortened version of the real program.
It is expected that the Dolphins in Depth and the Dive Quest programs will be back in operation sometime in October. If you plan to go, better check it out first. The actual program is 3˝ hours and is an in-depth, behind-the-scenes experience to learn more about the dolphins and research at The Living Seas. You will probably be in the water for about 30 minutes of this time.We can assure you they will increase your awareness and appreciation for these marvelous creatures.
The program is open to guests 16 yrs and older. It is offered Monday through Friday and begins at 8:45am. The cost is $140 and includes a video tape of your experience, refreshments and a T-shirt. The proceeds from Disney's Dolphins in Depth go directly into Disney's Wildlife Conservation Fund and are earmarked for marine conservation programs around the world. The cost of the program, however, does not include admission to EPCOT.
From the dolphins we had some lunch ... seeing the manatees eat all that food made us hungry! ...and then moved on to the Innoventions area. There, a young man from the Family PC area, Chris de Felice, took us under his wing and showed us around. In past visits we have chatted with several of the other cast members in this area. They are all extremely helpful and more than anxious to explain the workings of the various computers and virtual reality exhibits.
Chris began by demonstrating the capabilities of a Kodak digital camera and printed out a photo of the whole family from the computer, complete with Mickey. We were delighted with the souvenir and so impressed with what technology can do. William had his head morphed at another exhibit and both Joseph & William got a chance to test-drive a new electric car that was part of another exhibit. That they loved and decided that that was the kind of car they would buy when it is available to the public ... and they are able to purchase it! This area is filled with computers to be used by the public and has programs of interest to all age groups.
After the Kodak demonstration, Mom & Dad moved off to do their own thing. They were most anxious to see some of the countries in the World Showcase. Our teens had been there, done that.. on a previous trip and had no desire to visit England, China, etc. again.
Chris moved us outside to show us the huge iceberg structure that had been created. The children went through it ... a great place to cool off .. but we had our cameras and had never ventured into this area as the extreme watery mist might damage our equipment. Luckily we had Chris .. he showed us a back way into the building and were we all delighted! There was a special exhibit put up by Coca-Cola ... with FREE soda ... and as much as you want! There are several soda dispensers around the room dispensing taste samples of the various kinds of sodas that Coke owns and distributes around the world. The idea was to taste all of them and decide which ones you liked best. A couple we did not like at all but the winner seemed to be a lemon-lime flavored soda that is sold in Israel. This was a terrific stop for everyone. We bloated ourselves up with soda, said our goodbyes to Chris and moved on.
Our last stop at EPCOT was to see Honey I Shrunk the Audience. Best part .. no line ... the show was fun but the consensus of our teenagers was that it was not up to the 3D at Animal Kingdom's.. It's Tough to Be a Bug. That is the newer show and has more sophisticated technology.
Though we had not seen half of what EPCOT has to offer, it was enough for our teens. They were headed for one of those water parks.
Finally, a water park! Joseph and William were ecstatic. The crowds were huge. We found a place, under cover, to sit ... and sent them off to explore the area on their own. The boys had their freedom to roam. Patricia went along with them for the slides, then returned to us to spend some time in the wave or surf pool. Typhoon Lagoon is created to appear as a tropical environment. The temperature of the waters is controlled all year-round and their surf pool is one of the world's largest inland surfing pools. They have three different body slides, two speed slides that take you down at 30 mph, a snorkel coral reef, a raft ride and special kiddie area.
A thunderstorm rolled in, the mobs left and so did we. We had been there a little over an hour and it was plenty for us. Joseph & William had covered all the main slides and seemed satisfied that they, too, had "done" that park. The crowds did not seem to bother them at all, they enjoyed the wet activity and were ready to leave.
Later that evening, after dinner, Dad surprised all of us by winning the Trivia Quiz in the nightly contest held at the ESPN Club. The questions were all about sporting events and names in sports. We never heard of many of the players but Dad managed to come up with all the right answers and triumphed over about 30 others who had entered the contest. Triumphantly we all returned to EPCOT to watch the evening display ... IllumiNations ...a spectacular show that lights up the sky with a breathtaking medley of music, dancing waters, lasers and fireworks. It all takes place in the middle of the World Showcase Lagoon. Once inside EPCOT, Joseph & William went their own way ... they did like to have their freedom ... or at least feel some freedom. After the fireworks we walked back to the hotel and both William and Joseph had returned before us. So much for freedom.
DISNEY'S WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS COMPLEX ....
Next morning began comfortably .. but again very hot. We arrived at the Wide World of Sports.. one of our favorite Disney places ... and waited for our tour to begin. This complex hosted over 100 sporting events at the 200-acre campus in its first year. It is the home for spring training for the Atlanta Braves; US. Men's Clay Court tennis championships; the Harlem Globetrotters; USA Wrestling National Championships; high school, college, professional and amateur athletics of all kinds. There is always something exciting going on. Also on the grounds is a new All Star Café restaurant. Just to see this Sports Complex is worth the trip. It is mind-boggling what Disney is able to create from nothing.
On our tour we got to see the 7,500-seat baseball stadium, the tennis complex with a tennis stadium court that seats 5,000, a magnificent field house that can accommodate up to six full-size basketball courts, a track and field complex, four multi-purpose fields sized for international soccer, a baseball quadraplex, a softball quadraplex, two youth baseball fields, sand beach volleyball courts, a special event area and vast locker rooms, press and training facilities.
The big treat for Joseph, William, Patricia ... and Dad .. (Mom had taken the morning off ...preferring to take a relaxed massage at the hotel) ... was the permanent NFL Experience. Normally reserved for the Super Bowl host city, this area gave our armchair quarterbacks the opportunity to test their skills .. running .. catching ... kicking ... receiving. Lots of energy was expanded with this one and we were ready for that relaxed lunch at the All Star Café. | continued on Page 2