WRITERS' CORNER

2003 New Attractions
and a visit to
Nine Dragons in Epcot

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by Len Testa



Note that these are Len's opinions, not necessarily those of the Unofficial Guide. Read the Nine Dragons review below to understand why.

Mission:Space (4 out of 5 stars)

Disney's newest thrill ride is the best simulator-type attraction in central Florida. It's a better overall experience than Spiderman at Islands of Adventure. The initial launch sequence is done particularly well, including the graphics and physical sensation of liftoff. Although Mission:Space comes with no fewer than seven ride warnings, the ride itself is very smooth, light years (!) ahead of the jerky "shaking box" ride one gets in older simulators such as Body Wars or Back to the Future.

The building exterior is curvy and sleek - very nice. It would have been better to put the FASTPASS booths more towards the front of the attraction, similar to Test track, as guests now must hie themselves to the entrance to see both FASTPASS and standby times.

The interior queue is a little smaller than I thought it would be, but the rotating space station is an impressive visual. A tip of the hat to the Castmember who thought to put Gary Sinise in the role of CapCom.

Riding Tips

As mentioned above, Mission:Space is a much smoother simulator than Body Wars or Back to the Future. If you made it through those attractions, even with a little wooziness, consider giving Mission:Space a chance. A couple of tips below might help your experience.

I rode Mission:Space three times over two days. The first two visits came early on day one of the media event, when I'd awakened at 3 a.m. to head to the airport. I'd not eaten anything significant, either. Those first two rides produced a headache that lasted most of the day. My third ride came on day two of the media event, following two good meals and an afternoon nap. That third ride produced no ill effects whatsoever. Either my astronaut training was finally kicking in, or the meals and sleep made the experience much more pleasant. Try riding Mission:Space after a good night's sleep and breakfast.

One more thing: FASTPASS and single-rider lines are available for Mission:Space.

Mickey's PhilharMagic (4 out of 5 stars)

Although only a fraction of the budget, I wouldn't be surprised if PhilharMagic has more fans than Mission:Space. It may be the best 3-D film in any Walt Disney World park. Some of the animation sequences, particularly the Lion King segment, where the theater walls disappear behind the film, are very good. The bit with Donald and the brooms from Fantasia, and the all-too-short Peter Pan piece contain rich colors are also nicely done. Suitable for all ages, Mickey's PhilharMagic should be on everyone's Fantasyland touring plan.

A couple of minor quibbles: The Little Mermaid sequence was a disappointment, as the computer-generated Ariel doesn't look all that good on the big screen. In contrast with, say, Sully from Monsters Inc., whose hair flowed very naturally on film, Ariel's hair remains one red blob throughout the piece. Perhaps money or time prevented Disney from using the same technique here, but it's noticeable enough to throw the whole sequence off. Aladdin and Jasmine, too, didn't seem to be as clearly drawn as the other characters. None of this will matter one iota to your children, however, who'll be too busy singing along to the medley of Disney hits to care.

Mickey's PhilharMagic is the third FASTPASS attraction in Fantasyland. We don't have enough data collected yet to give any firm recommendations, but my hunch is that you'd be better off FASTPASSing Pooh or Pan.


Day Three: The Taste of Trees, or Why I Don't Do Restaurant Reviews

After checking with Bob Sehlinger, I decided to skip Friday's announcement of new attractions. I figured nothing was going to be announced that I didn't already know about.

Instead, it was off to the Animal Kingdom for Donald's Breakfastosaurus character breakfast, where we met intrepid Unofficial Guide researcher Kenny Cottrell for a long-overdue payback meal. The breakfast was just okay, not great. Eggs were cold and runny. Sadly, I didn't notice the omelet bar until after I'd loaded my plate. Service was mediocre. So was the coffee. If you really need to see Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Pluto in a character meal, I suppose this will do if nothing else is available.

After breakfast we headed to Epcot, my favorite park. I'd already dined at Chefs de France on Wednesday. [I had the cod, which was crispy and delicious. The accompanying sauce (shallots, if I recall correctly) was the key to the dish, and it was wonderful. My sisters both had the beef tenderloin. Every time I see beef tenderloin on a menu in Epcot, I think it's there as the "safe choice" for picky eaters. This was no exception. While the tenderloin and its black pepper-based sauce were both tasty, I didn't see anything in this dish that would differentiate it from the tenderloin in, say, any of Disney's deluxe resort restaurants. Maybe it's my unsophisticated palate, though. Service was friendly and efficient. Dinner for three was about $105 before tip, including two shared appetizers, two beers, three entrees and no dessert.]

We started a counter-clockwise trip through World Showcase, and picked up some rice candy in the refurbished Mitsukoshi department store in Japan (nice layout). It's at this point that I should mention that my basic dining philosophy when traveling is that I'll eat just about anything. Still-squirming sushi? Bring it on. Steak Tartare? Groovy. Some pork dish of questionable origin? What's a little trichinosis amongst friends? To me, the occasional night spent doubled up on a bathroom floor is worth the joy of experiencing new, exotic cuisine.

So anyway, we're trying to open this rice candy, and there's this clear interior wrap around the candy, and none of us can get it off because the stuff is so sticky. The four of us fiddle with it all the way to the American Adventure, when I get tired of the darn thing and pop it in my mouth. I can't be the first person to get frustrated enough to eat the wrapper, I thought, so my chances of dying of some unspeakably painful gastrointestinal blockage were pretty low. This horrified my sisters until one of them read the box and discovered that the interior lining was, in fact, edible. Fortunately, there were fewer than fifty other people in World Showcase to see me say "I told you so!"

My smug satisfaction had less than an hour to live. The only restaurant in World Showcase I'd not dined in was the Nine Dragons at China. As they'd recently introduced a dim sum menu, I thought this would be a perfect time to visit. The restaurant wasn't too crowded, and we were seated immediately. My younger sister (Christina) and I ordered about eight of the dim sum dishes, and my twin sister (Linda) and Kenny ordered regular lunch dishes.

The first batch of dim sum came, including Sweet and Spicy Cucumber Salad, Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce, Chicken and Shrimp Shao Mai and Flaming Szechuan Pickle. We sampled each, and really liked the cucumber salad. The Chicken and Shrimp Shao Mai look like finely ground chicken and shrimp stuffed in a ball-shaped pastry. It tasted exactly like you think chicken and shrimp would together. I liked the broccoli, especially with a little hot mustard sauce.

The next set of dim sum included Green Peppers Stuffed with Pork (really good), BBQ Pork Buns (okay), and something called "Glutinous Rice Pockets Wrapped in Lotus Leaves." This is where things get interesting. We sampled (and liked) the green pepper with pork and the pork buns. No one could figure out what to do with the rice pockets, though. They were about three inches square, steam-cooked, and looked to contain a healthy amount of sticky rice wrapped tightly inside a couple of lotus leaves. We weren't sure whether we should eat the lotus leaves, though, and our server wasn't immediately at hand. So I said, "They must be edible" and took a big bite.

For those of you wondering, lotus leaves taste exactly as regular leaves smell. If it's autumn where you live, go outside and stick your nose close to a pile of freshly raked leaves. That's what they taste like when steamed. A little chewier, probably. After one bite, I decided this must be an acquired taste, so I unwrapped the packet and ate the rest. My sisters and Kenny got a good chuckle out of this, as none of them thought the leaves were edible. So when our server stopped to ask how our meal was, I asked her.

From her facial expression, you'd have though I asked whether Chairman Mao ever played footsies with Nixon. Her horrified look caused my dining partners to laugh uncontrollably even before she said "Oh no! Oh no no no!" I think Linda laughed so hard she snorted rice out of her nose. We didn't stop laughing until we hit the lockers in Future World twenty minutes later. Somewhere in the Nine Dragons kitchen, a tattered, slightly green lotus leaf is nailed to the wall, a silent reminder of why I don't do restaurant reviews.

Questions and comments: len@touringplans.com