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01-07-2007, 08:44 PM
Kevin Mathews -- May 2000 -- Offsite

5/13/00 - 5/20/00

These are notes on my family's trip to Walt Disney World, May 13th - May 20th, 2000. These notes are aimed primarily at those who either haven't been to WDW or haven't been in a long time. They are also aimed at those with kids. I am by no means an expert on Disney, this being my first trip there in over 20 years. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to email me at kmathews@solnow.com

A little background on my family. I'm 34 and my wife is 36. We have three kids: two daughters, ages 4 (Sierra) and 6 (Alyssa) and a son age 2 1/2 (Alexander). The trip was primarily to celebrate my oldest daughter's birthday (she turned 6 on May 14th). Alyssa is very adventurous - she'll ride anything. I think my son will eventually be the same way, but he's too short now to meet the height requirements of the "older" rides. Sierra will probably be riding the carousel when she's 40.

We went to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, MGM, Animal Kingdom and Downtown Disney. We got a 5 day park hopper. We rented a car ($215 for the week, including tax, etc., and two car seats). A more detailed itinerary is below. It will also list who we purchased things through if you want to try and get the same deals. The entire trip cost us $3100.

I want to first say that I was extremely impressed with Disney. I've always been a Disney fan - I see all of the movies, and grew up on the "classic" ones (animated and non-animated), shop a lot (maybe too much) at the Disney store, and some of my favorite shows are on ABC! However, Disney really puts on a class act at the parks. To start with, they don't gouge you on parking. Parking is $6 and you can come and go as you please to any of the parks. Parking at downtown Disney is free. I think this is a real bonus because most people have just paid a lot of money for hotel and airfare to get to Orlando. Being nickled and dimed to death under the Orlando sun would probably set some people off (anyone remember Wally World in Vacation?) Disney could probably charge whatever they want for parking and people would pay it. They could also charge separately for each park. It's a small thing, but when you are on vacation it's the small things that often make all the difference.

They also did their best to keep you cool. Waiting in lines is mostly done in the shade and often times in air-conditioned or fan cooled areas. Virtually every indoor area is air-conditioned. There is nothing nicer than walking into an air-conditioned rest room. And speaking of the restrooms, auto flush urinals (the men know what those are) and auto water faucets. They even have small sinks for the kids to wash their hands in.

Everyone is nice. Those who know me know that I hate people. And I hate people who act nice the most, except for people who are paid to act nice. Those I really hate the most. Well, I liked the Disney park employees. They seemed to truly enjoy their work rather than some 16yr. old kid who's doing a summer job that he hates. All the employees wear nametags with the city they are from on it. When you get to Animal Kingdom, this is pretty cool because you see people from some pretty exotic places.

OK, enough a** kissing for Disney. Here are some things that I found out when I was there that I didn't find on any of the numerous web sites and message boards dedicated to Disney. First, getting into the Magic Kingdom is a pain in the a**. You have to park and then take the tram to the "transportation area" and then take either a monorail or boat to the park. From the time you park your car it can take 15min. to get into the park. I'm guessing that during the crowded times it can take 1/2 hour or longer. And the heat (and just being so close to Mickey) drives people crazy, so there's sometimes pushing and shoving. We had two men (men!!!!) run in front of my 6yr. old to steal a tram seat from us (we were next in line). However, I should point out that for every a**hole like that, there were two people who went out of their way to be helpful and courteous.

Getting into the other parks was pretty easy. We even skipped the trams and walked from the parking lot to the parks.

Another thing I found out about was "Test Flights" There are a few simulator rides at Disney (Star Tours, Body Wars, etc.). Well, if you are handicapped, otherwise impaired (pregnant, injured, etc.), or just too short, they'll run a test flight for you. The simulators are just what they sound like: you sit in a seat that moves in three dimensions while a movie is projected on the screen and it feels like you are flying or whatever it is you are supposed to be doing. In my opinion, these are the best rides. I was going on Star Tours (a Star Wars simulator) when I said that I wished Alexander was taller so he could ride this. No sooner had I spoken than the Disney employee standing next to me said to bring him in for a test flight. This basically involves everything that the actual ride has minus the motion. So, while not as cool, still pretty cool. I 100% recommend this for those with small children, or children who are easily frightened.

Disney Parades. The best has got to the Magical Moments Parade (although the Mulan parade is a close second). It has all the cool characters and, best of all, the kids get to participate! There are special places where the parade stops and the kids there get to run out and interact with the characters and objects on the floats. Be sure to ask an employee about this.

Fast Passes. There is a plethora of information about these on the web. I have two comments. First, use them, they are great. Second, when you go to purchase them, there is a big clock that tells you what time you'll have to return by, so if that time isn't convenient for you, you can get different FP tickets or just wait a little bit. It wasn't clear to me from reading everything that you knew the return time before you purchased the passes.

Directions. We stayed off property (more on that later). All roads in Orlando lead to Disney, but not necessarily the park you want. Pay close attention to the signs which are on the side of the road and in small letters. One note however, if you do end up in the wrong park, they are good about giving you directions and letting you turn around w/o paying.

Inexpensive airfare to Orlando. I live in Cleveland. Airfare from Hopkins International Airport to Orlando was close to $250/pp. (including tax). Not cheap for a family of five. Instead I flew out of Akron and paid $179/pp. It took about an extra 20-25min. to drive to the airport, but I saved $350. Basically, you can often get good airfare from leaving from smaller airports. We also got the same price from Santos Tours, but the flight times were not as good.

Cinderella's castle. Be careful eating here. You will be offered a child's drink in a glass sipper. Because you are in Cinderella's castle, you'll probably think you're being offered a slipper, but you're not! And I'm sure it's just coincidence that they call it that. (Go back and read this slowly if it doesn't make sense to you).

Bathing Suits. There are lots of places where kids can get wet in the parks. If it bothers you to have them walking around in wet clothes, bring bathing suits to the park (note, we didn't, nor would we. The kids dry off in a few minutes under the sun anyway).

That's about it for what I couldn't find on the Internet. Here are the sites I used: http://www.wdwig.com/ (will tell you which days and times are best to see which parks), http://www.wdwinfo.com/ (excellent site, ticket and resort prices and good message boards) and http://pages.prodigy.net/stevesoares/ (show and parade times as well as other good info). Of course I used the Disney newsgroups (I used http://www.deja.com/usenet/ to search them). There were some other good sites too (like some written by children), that are all linked to by the above sites. And, of course, I used the Disney site itself (www.disney.com). One of the sites above (can't remember which one) has menus with prices for all of the Disney restaurants. With these I was able to plan out which days to see which parks, and what to see when. We were prepared!

Other Disney impressions:

Crowds. Virtually none. Can't wait to see what it looks like in the winter. The "older" rides (Space Mountain, Haunted House, Splash Mountain) had no lines and we were able to ride them and get right back on (see below about why I'll never go through the Haunted House again). The newer rides had 10min or less waits. Very few had 15min. waits. The only rides with waits longer than 15min. were: Dumbo (30min.), Test Track (75min! Couldn't even FP that one, the return times were too late), Kilimajaro Safaris (30-45min.), Jungle Cruise (30-45min.) and Voyage of the Little Mermaid (30-45min.). All of these (except for Dumbo which has no FP and TT which the return time was too late) we Fast Passed and walked right on.

Heat. Pretty good. High 80's every day. Cloudy occasionally. Cool in the evenings. Bring water bottles. What we did was pack them with ice from the hotel each morning. When the ice had melted we just popped into a Disney eatery and got some more. Also, bring a fan/mister, unless you want to pay $15 for a Disney one.

Transportation within Disney. Excellent. Amazing. Incredible. They kept things moving quickly and smoothly. Getting around was no problem at all. And the kids loved that we took a tram and then a train or boat. This might sound contradictory to my above statement about getting into MK, but it's really not. It is a pain in the a** to get into the MK and people do get pissed off. That being said, I don't think Disney could do anything different to improve moving people around.

Rides. The thing I like about Disney is the way they do their rides. Two things stand out. First, many rides are "continuous". Roller Coasters like Space Mountain have a bunch of cars going at once, and others like the Haunted House have a steady stream of cars. This makes lines move quickly. Only a few of the rides are the more "traditional" amusement park rides where there are two or three cars. Second, they stagger you in. For instance, in Tower of Terror, you watch a TV clip before moving into the "inside" line for the ride. Once in that line, the interior design is such that you spend time looking around and before you know it it's time for your ride. Star Tours is another perfect example of this.

Which rides were my favorites? Well, hands down I have to say the Star Tours ride. Attacking the Death Star was cooler than I can describe. Runner up would have to be a tie between Voyage of the Little Mermaid, which was simply breathtaking to watch and It's Tough to be a Bug which was extremely creative. Honorable mention to Muppet 3D and Honey I Shrunk the Audience. The most incredible thing at Disney, though, is the Tree of Life in the Animal Kingdom. Pictures do not do it justice. I've traveled to a lot of places around the world and I'm telling you the Tree of Life is simply jaw dropping. You'll stare at it and stare at it. You'll walk to another section of the park and stare some more (it's huge). You'll wonder how they built it. Words cannot describe this; you'll just have to see it for yourself.

My oldest daughter loved Space Mountain. Between riding with my wife and me I think she rode it 4 times. She also liked Kali River Rapids (you WILL get wet!) which she also rode 4 times. My youngest daughter loved the Haunted House and the carousel. I am so sick of the Haunted House. This was my favorite Disney ride and the only one I truly remembered from my so long ago Disney trip. Well, I lost count of how many times we rode it on this trip. I do know that at one point we went on it three times in a row and everything is pretty fuzzy after that. BTW, to give you an idea of my youngest daughter's personality, she loved (as I just mentioned) the Haunted House, but Muppet Vision 3D scared her. Go figure. Her next favorite was the carousel which I rode so many times I think my inner ears are permanently damaged. My son liked the Haunted House too (was on every ride with my youngest daughter), carousel, Snow White, and Winnie the Pooh. All of the kids loved the many playgrounds, especially the ones with water.

Last but not least I want to mention Holiday Inn Family Suites (http://www.hifamilysuites.com/). Staying here was probably the best decision we made on the entire trip. We paid $89/night ($98 with the tax) and got a two-bedroom suite. A Queen sized bed in our room, bunk beds in the kids' room, and a sleeper couch in the living room. Standard suite stuff like microwave and refrigerator (no stove or dishwasher, though). Only one bathroom, but the master bedroom has a very nice vanity area and there is a sink in the "living room". The kids' room is decorated with a theme (we were in the jungle room). They have zero-depth kids' pool with is the best I've ever seen. With the exception of slides, it's like a water park, and all in the (which is about 1/2 of the pool). There is also a smaller kids' pool with a uniform 1ft (or so) depth and an "adult" pool with lanes for laps. When you check in, kids have a special desk they go to to check in. There they receive a "goody" bag with tokens for the arcade, a stuffed animal and some other stuff. Every morning there is a buffet breakfast (eggs, pancakes or French toast, sausage or bacon, tater tots or home fries, omelet fixings, donuts or muffins or danish, fruits, cereal, bagels, milk, juice, soda). This is FREE for you and your family and goes from 7am - 10am. Then, between 11am and 5pm, kids can eat free (hamburger, chicken fingers or Pizza Hut pizza). After 6pm, kids still eat free (I know, this is standard Holiday Inn fare) at the main restaurant. There is an ice cream parlor with Edy's ice cream and a "convienent store", also an arcade. There is a special train that takes the kids on a tour of the hotel, miniature golf (although this wasn't open yet when we were there), kareoke and bingo for the kids (and adults) and a playground. They have $14 buffer dinners for the adults (menu changes, but always has pasta, meat sauce, meatballs, fettuccini sauce and chicken nuggets for the kids), which when coupled with the fact that kids eat free, makes for a pretty inexpensive meal. If you were on a budget, you could easily feed a family of five three meals/day for less than $50/day. The hotel also has washers and dryers you can use ($1 to dry, not sure how much to wash).

Okay, here is where we purchased everything and the cost:

Airfare via Airtran, Akron,Ohio - Orlando. Left from smaller airport. $179/pp RT (including tax, departure fees, and other bogus add-ons). Purchased through Travelocity.com.

Double Seat stroller. ABC Stroller, $40/wk (plus tax).

Holiday Inn Family Suites. Booked through Value Trips (www.valuetrips.com) $89/night ($98.79 including tax).

InterAmerica rental Car. 4D Chevy Malibu. $20/wk for each car seat (so $40 for two). Total with tax and car seats was $218. We booked through AAA.

Here is our itenerary:

May 13th - Arrive Orlando 1:15pm, pick up rental car, go to Hotel. Spent day in pool. That night we had the hotel give a Birthday party for my daughter. Excellent value. It was $25 and for that we got a cake, ice cream, a cowboy hat filled with candy, a Clue board game, ballons, and $5 in tokens. Of course there was the requisite singing.

May 14th - Get up early, eat at the breakfast buffet and get to MK by 9am. Bring on the heat! Our first day in the park was pretty brutal since we were use to Cleveland weather. We learned and the next days my wife brought "frozen" washcloths and hand towels in addition to the water bottles. We saw Ariel (character greeting) first. This was pretty cool because as you were waiting, the kids could play in the "grotto", basically a mini-water park. So, you bake while they play and stay cool. We then did the carousel, Snow White, Winnie the Pooh, the Mad Hatter's Tea Cup ride, and then saw Lion King. Liked them all except the Lion King show. I thought this was pretty lame compared to the rides and after I saw some of the other Disney shows I knew it was pretty lame. The kids enjoyed it though. We then split up and I took my oldest daughter to ride Space Mountain (2x), Alien Encounter, Buzz Lightyear, Astro Orbiter, Big Thunder Mountain, and Splash Mountain. It was great, none of these rides had more than a 5min. wait. Only Alien Encounter scared her and then only once it was all over. Buzz Lightyear is a very cool and different ride. Nothing scary about it. If you meet the height requirement, go on this ride. It's like a moving Nintendo game. Splash Mountain was cool too in that it was much longer than most "log rides". We then met up with my wife and other two kids who had staked out an area for the Magical Moments parade. Wow. Cool as F***. Some people told us where to stand and when the parade stopped our kids got to run out and be in it for a few minutes. The first time they played with mermaids from Little Mermaid and the second time they played drums and interacted with characters from Lion King. The costumes and the actors were incredible. I felt their pain as I sweltered in the heat. After the parade we were going to try and get to MGM to see the Star Wars characters (they were only there on the weekends), but had 5:45 reservations at Cinderella's palace and didn't think we could get back in time. After being there for a week I now think we could have done it, but at the time the travel options and modes were too overwhelming, so we split up again. Alyssa and I did some of the rides we did earlier and Veda and my other kids did some of the Fantasyland rides. Cinderella's palace was a huge letdown. The food was mediocre at best and I was pissed about the glass slipper/sipper thing. And it was expensive (our bill was $85 with tip and tax and we had our two youngest split a meal). I must say, however, that my youngest daughter absolutely loved it. We got pictures with Cinderella after dinner and went on the Haunted House ride (2x). After that we split up yet again. Veda took the little ones to Mickey's house and got pictures with him while Alyssa and I went and re-did earlier rides. We rejoined at 8:30 and went to see Fantasy in the Sky. Pretty cool. The best part is the beginning where Tinker Bell flies out of Cinderella's palace. We all went home sleepy and sweaty.

May 15th - Slept in a little. Ate at the breakfast buffet and got to MGM by 10am. Wow, still not used to the heat. Really thought I would die that day. Got a FP for Voyage of the Little Mermaid and went to ride Star Tours. I've already talked about these rides above, so will not do so again. In between them we went to see Muppet Vision 3D. Very cool. The pre-show is excellent. Top notch 3D effects. Note that all of the 3D shows are actually 4D, meaning that there is stuff that interacts with you. For instance, say a character shoots a water gun at you. You'll not only see the stream of water in 3D racing towards you, but you feel it too because the seats will shoot a stream of water at you. We also saw Beauty and The Beast (love those songs!) and went on Tower of Terror (2x). Very cool ride. We then went to wait for the Mulan parade. At this point, I was certain I was going to die and couldn't stand up anymore. And then, low and behold, a huge cloud covered the sun and the wind started to blow. This lasted throughout the parade. I was saved. The Mulan parade was excellent. The things the characters did was simply amazing, especially the lady with the Chinese yo-yo. It was like being in the circus. Anyway, after that we went back to the hotel and did some swimming and then ate at the buffet. We then went back to MGM for Fantasmic. Wow again. We didn't get to see Illumination, and I've heard that it is something to see, but Fantasmic was incredible. And best of all we got to see the Fantasy in the Sky fireworks while waiting for Fantasmic to start (which it does 1/2 hour later than Fantasy in the Sky). The only lame part was the pre-show. Two guys doing a poor vaudeville routine. However, again, my kids seemed to like it. We all went home sleepy and sweaty.

May 16th - Normal morning routine. Got to MGM by 9:15. Saw Disney Doug Live. Excellent. I know about Doug but had never seen it before. Very good acting and, if you are a comic book superhero fan you will LOVE the spoofs. Saw Bear in the Big Blue House. Very upsetting. The show was excellent, but a) the kids were in a "mood" then so they basically ignored it and b) you sit on a hard floor throughout the show. I didn't think I would be able to walk again. The good news was, however, that I was finally use to the heat. Tried to see Hunchback but could only stomach the first minute or so of the show. I never liked the movie either. We then let the kids play in the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground which they loved. After that we headed over to Epcot. We were going here for two things: Honey I Shrunk the Audience and the Living Seas. We saw the latter first and it was very cool. I tried to teach the kids a thing or two about fish, but they weren't having any of that (although I think SCUBA, what coral is, and school - as in fish - might have sunk in). The Living Seas was really amazing - people of all ages can learn a lot there. Honey I Shrunk the Audience was one of the most creative of the 3D shows, losing only to It's Tough to Be a Bug. There are some scary parts, though, so parents with squeamish children shouldn't go. I also took Alyssa on Body Wars which, while cool, was a let down after being on Star Tours. We also ate a late lunch at Epcot (Mickey shaped pizzas!) That night we ate at the Hotel and went swimming. We were not sleepy or sweaty!

May 17th - Get up very early. Pile buffet breakfast food into Styrofoam containers and get to Animal Kingdom by 8:00. We had planned to do MK today and Animal Kingdom the next day. Luckily, we changed that and decided to do AK both mornings and MK both afternoons. AK is...I can't describe it. It's beautiful. When you first approach this park, you know that this is not your father's Disney. And everything from the "tree lady" to the "bird men" in the entrance reinforce that fact. The park is the easiest to navigate; everything spokes out from the Tree of Life. The attractions are all in different lands, which are simply amazing. Disney actually captures the feel of being in Africa or Asia, but somehow Disney-fies it so it seems incredibly safe and sanitary (no insult meant to either continent). We arrived when it opened and by the time we got to the Safari ride, there was a 30min. wait! Well, we simply got a FP and went to see It's Tough to be a Bug. That took a while because we were mesmerized by the Tree (and also spent some time with some talking Macaws). When we were done we went of the Safari. Excellent. I understand the long lines. The animals appeared healthy and happy (unlike in zoos). Alyssa and I then went on the River Rapids (2x) and Countdown to Extinction. CtoE was cool, but not great. Don't get me wrong, it would be an 8 or 9 on a scale of 1 to 10 in any place other than Disney. But here, in the Animal Kingdom, I would only rate it a 6 or 7. We then went home to swim and then ate at Crystal Palace at MK. We had 4:20 reservations. The kids loved it and the characters (Pooh, Eyeore, Tigger, Piglet) were great. The food was lousy (although there was pizza and the deserts were good) and it was expensive. This, unlike Cinderella's castle, is a buffet. The service was also much better than in Cinderella's castle, which I found to be average. After that we did more rides. I rode Haunted House a bunch of times including a 3 times in a row stretch. See, I had the youngest kids now while Alyssa and my wife were off riding the "cool" rides. We did make her ride Alien Encounter again so my wife could experience it. She wasn't scared that time. She also did Space Mountain (2x), and Buzz Lightyear. We left around 8:00pm, cool and not tired.

May 18th - Last day! Hurray! Same routine as the 17th. Saw Pocahontas (lame, but kids liked it), and It's Tough to Be a Bug again. We were going to see Lion King there (which we heard was good), but still had a lot to do at MK so we skipped it. Alyssa and my wife did go on the River Rapids (2x) while I took Sierra and Alexander to the water fountains (very, very, cool) near the exit. We bought gifts for the kids (my son got an incredible dinosaur that everyone for the rest of the trip commented on, even the pilot on the way home - and it was only $12!) We then departed for MK. At MK we did Adventure Land rides (Jungle Cruise, Tiki Room and Treehouse - Pirates was broken) and character greets (Jungle Book and Duck Tails). We also did Mickey's Toontown Fair stuff (lots of time in Donald's Boat). Of course no trip to MK would be complete without another Haunted House ride. Alyssa wanted to do Space Mountain but it was broken, so she and Veda did Buzz Lightyear and Astro Orbiter. We also did the train that circles the park.

May 19th - Relax in the pool. That night we went to Downtown Disney and ate at the House of Blues. Good food and excellent music. Sierra danced the night away. We ate outdoors and on the water. Very pretty.

May 20th - Come on home.

Kevin Mathews

kmathews@solnow.com

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Kevin Mathews -- May 2000 -- Walt Disney World (Offsite)

5/13/00 - 5/20/00

These are notes on my family's trip to Walt Disney World, May 13th - May 20th, 2000. These notes are aimed primarily at those who either haven't been to WDW or haven't been in a long time. They are also aimed at those with kids. I am by no means an expert on Disney, this being my first trip there in over 20 years. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to email me at kmathews@solnow.com

A little background on my family. I'm 34 and my wife is 36. We have three kids: two daughters, ages 4 (Sierra) and 6 (Alyssa) and a son age 2 1/2 (Alexander). The trip was primarily to celebrate my oldest daughter's birthday (she turned 6 on May 14th). Alyssa is very adventurous - she'll ride anything. I think my son will eventually be the same way, but he's too short now to meet the height requirements of the "older" rides. Sierra will probably be riding the carousel when she's 40.

We went to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, MGM, Animal Kingdom and Downtown Disney. We got a 5 day park hopper. We rented a car ($215 for the week, including tax, etc., and two car seats). A more detailed itinerary is below. It will also list who we purchased things through if you want to try and get the same deals. The entire trip cost us $3100.

I want to first say that I was extremely impressed with Disney. I've always been a Disney fan - I see all of the movies, and grew up on the "classic" ones (animated and non-animated), shop a lot (maybe too much) at the Disney store, and some of my favorite shows are on ABC! However, Disney really puts on a class act at the parks. To start with, they don't gouge you on parking. Parking is $6 and you can come and go as you please to any of the parks. Parking at downtown Disney is free. I think this is a real bonus because most people have just paid a lot of money for hotel and airfare to get to Orlando. Being nickled and dimed to death under the Orlando sun would probably set some people off (anyone remember Wally World in Vacation?) Disney could probably charge whatever they want for parking and people would pay it. They could also charge separately for each park. It's a small thing, but when you are on vacation it's the small things that often make all the difference.

They also did their best to keep you cool. Waiting in lines is mostly done in the shade and often times in air-conditioned or fan cooled areas. Virtually every indoor area is air-conditioned. There is nothing nicer than walking into an air-conditioned rest room. And speaking of the restrooms, auto flush urinals (the men know what those are) and auto water faucets. They even have small sinks for the kids to wash their hands in.

Everyone is nice. Those who know me know that I hate people. And I hate people who act nice the most, except for people who are paid to act nice. Those I really hate the most. Well, I liked the Disney park employees. They seemed to truly enjoy their work rather than some 16yr. old kid who's doing a summer job that he hates. All the employees wear nametags with the city they are from on it. When you get to Animal Kingdom, this is pretty cool because you see people from some pretty exotic places.

OK, enough a** kissing for Disney. Here are some things that I found out when I was there that I didn't find on any of the numerous web sites and message boards dedicated to Disney. First, getting into the Magic Kingdom is a pain in the a**. You have to park and then take the tram to the "transportation area" and then take either a monorail or boat to the park. From the time you park your car it can take 15min. to get into the park. I'm guessing that during the crowded times it can take 1/2 hour or longer. And the heat (and just being so close to Mickey) drives people crazy, so there's sometimes pushing and shoving. We had two men (men!!!!) run in front of my 6yr. old to steal a tram seat from us (we were next in line). However, I should point out that for every a**hole like that, there were two people who went out of their way to be helpful and courteous.

Getting into the other parks was pretty easy. We even skipped the trams and walked from the parking lot to the parks.

Another thing I found out about was "Test Flights" There are a few simulator rides at Disney (Star Tours, Body Wars, etc.). Well, if you are handicapped, otherwise impaired (pregnant, injured, etc.), or just too short, they'll run a test flight for you. The simulators are just what they sound like: you sit in a seat that moves in three dimensions while a movie is projected on the screen and it feels like you are flying or whatever it is you are supposed to be doing. In my opinion, these are the best rides. I was going on Star Tours (a Star Wars simulator) when I said that I wished Alexander was taller so he could ride this. No sooner had I spoken than the Disney employee standing next to me said to bring him in for a test flight. This basically involves everything that the actual ride has minus the motion. So, while not as cool, still pretty cool. I 100% recommend this for those with small children, or children who are easily frightened.

Disney Parades. The best has got to the Magical Moments Parade (although the Mulan parade is a close second). It has all the cool characters and, best of all, the kids get to participate! There are special places where the parade stops and the kids there get to run out and interact with the characters and objects on the floats. Be sure to ask an employee about this.

Fast Passes. There is a plethora of information about these on the web. I have two comments. First, use them, they are great. Second, when you go to purchase them, there is a big clock that tells you what time you'll have to return by, so if that time isn't convenient for you, you can get different FP tickets or just wait a little bit. It wasn't clear to me from reading everything that you knew the return time before you purchased the passes.

Directions. We stayed off property (more on that later). All roads in Orlando lead to Disney, but not necessarily the park you want. Pay close attention to the signs which are on the side of the road and in small letters. One note however, if you do end up in the wrong park, they are good about giving you directions and letting you turn around w/o paying.

Inexpensive airfare to Orlando. I live in Cleveland. Airfare from Hopkins International Airport to Orlando was close to $250/pp. (including tax). Not cheap for a family of five. Instead I flew out of Akron and paid $179/pp. It took about an extra 20-25min. to drive to the airport, but I saved $350. Basically, you can often get good airfare from leaving from smaller airports. We also got the same price from Santos Tours, but the flight times were not as good.

Cinderella's castle. Be careful eating here. You will be offered a child's drink in a glass sipper. Because you are in Cinderella's castle, you'll probably think you're being offered a slipper, but you're not! And I'm sure it's just coincidence that they call it that. (Go back and read this slowly if it doesn't make sense to you).

Bathing Suits. There are lots of places where kids can get wet in the parks. If it bothers you to have them walking around in wet clothes, bring bathing suits to the park (note, we didn't, nor would we. The kids dry off in a few minutes under the sun anyway).

That's about it for what I couldn't find on the Internet. Here are the sites I used: http://www.wdwig.com/ (will tell you which days and times are best to see which parks), http://www.wdwinfo.com/ (excellent site, ticket and resort prices and good message boards) and http://pages.prodigy.net/stevesoares/ (show and parade times as well as other good info). Of course I used the Disney newsgroups (I used http://www.deja.com/usenet/ to search them). There were some other good sites too (like some written by children), that are all linked to by the above sites. And, of course, I used the Disney site itself (www.disney.com). One of the sites above (can't remember which one) has menus with prices for all of the Disney restaurants. With these I was able to plan out which days to see which parks, and what to see when. We were prepared!

Other Disney impressions:

Crowds. Virtually none. Can't wait to see what it looks like in the winter. The "older" rides (Space Mountain, Haunted House, Splash Mountain) had no lines and we were able to ride them and get right back on (see below about why I'll never go through the Haunted House again). The newer rides had 10min or less waits. Very few had 15min. waits. The only rides with waits longer than 15min. were: Dumbo (30min.), Test Track (75min! Couldn't even FP that one, the return times were too late), Kilimajaro Safaris (30-45min.), Jungle Cruise (30-45min.) and Voyage of the Little Mermaid (30-45min.). All of these (except for Dumbo which has no FP and TT which the return time was too late) we Fast Passed and walked right on.

Heat. Pretty good. High 80's every day. Cloudy occasionally. Cool in the evenings. Bring water bottles. What we did was pack them with ice from the hotel each morning. When the ice had melted we just popped into a Disney eatery and got some more. Also, bring a fan/mister, unless you want to pay $15 for a Disney one.

Transportation within Disney. Excellent. Amazing. Incredible. They kept things moving quickly and smoothly. Getting around was no problem at all. And the kids loved that we took a tram and then a train or boat. This might sound contradictory to my above statement about getting into MK, but it's really not. It is a pain in the a** to get into the MK and people do get pissed off. That being said, I don't think Disney could do anything different to improve moving people around.

Rides. The thing I like about Disney is the way they do their rides. Two things stand out. First, many rides are "continuous". Roller Coasters like Space Mountain have a bunch of cars going at once, and others like the Haunted House have a steady stream of cars. This makes lines move quickly. Only a few of the rides are the more "traditional" amusement park rides where there are two or three cars. Second, they stagger you in. For instance, in Tower of Terror, you watch a TV clip before moving into the "inside" line for the ride. Once in that line, the interior design is such that you spend time looking around and before you know it it's time for your ride. Star Tours is another perfect example of this.

Which rides were my favorites? Well, hands down I have to say the Star Tours ride. Attacking the Death Star was cooler than I can describe. Runner up would have to be a tie between Voyage of the Little Mermaid, which was simply breathtaking to watch and It's Tough to be a Bug which was extremely creative. Honorable mention to Muppet 3D and Honey I Shrunk the Audience. The most incredible thing at Disney, though, is the Tree of Life in the Animal Kingdom. Pictures do not do it justice. I've traveled to a lot of places around the world and I'm telling you the Tree of Life is simply jaw dropping. You'll stare at it and stare at it. You'll walk to another section of the park and stare some more (it's huge). You'll wonder how they built it. Words cannot describe this; you'll just have to see it for yourself.

My oldest daughter loved Space Mountain. Between riding with my wife and me I think she rode it 4 times. She also liked Kali River Rapids (you WILL get wet!) which she also rode 4 times. My youngest daughter loved the Haunted House and the carousel. I am so sick of the Haunted House. This was my favorite Disney ride and the only one I truly remembered from my so long ago Disney trip. Well, I lost count of how many times we rode it on this trip. I do know that at one point we went on it three times in a row and everything is pretty fuzzy after that. BTW, to give you an idea of my youngest daughter's personality, she loved (as I just mentioned) the Haunted House, but Muppet Vision 3D scared her. Go figure. Her next favorite was the carousel which I rode so many times I think my inner ears are permanently damaged. My son liked the Haunted House too (was on every ride with my youngest daughter), carousel, Snow White, and Winnie the Pooh. All of the kids loved the many playgrounds, especially the ones with water.

Last but not least I want to mention Holiday Inn Family Suites (http://www.hifamilysuites.com/). Staying here was probably the best decision we made on the entire trip. We paid $89/night ($98 with the tax) and got a two-bedroom suite. A Queen sized bed in our room, bunk beds in the kids' room, and a sleeper couch in the living room. Standard suite stuff like microwave and refrigerator (no stove or dishwasher, though). Only one bathroom, but the master bedroom has a very nice vanity area and there is a sink in the "living room". The kids' room is decorated with a theme (we were in the jungle room). They have zero-depth kids' pool with is the best I've ever seen. With the exception of slides, it's like a water park, and all in the (which is about 1/2 of the pool). There is also a smaller kids' pool with a uniform 1ft (or so) depth and an "adult" pool with lanes for laps. When you check in, kids have a special desk they go to to check in. There they receive a "goody" bag with tokens for the arcade, a stuffed animal and some other stuff. Every morning there is a buffet breakfast (eggs, pancakes or French toast, sausage or bacon, tater tots or home fries, omelet fixings, donuts or muffins or danish, fruits, cereal, bagels, milk, juice, soda). This is FREE for you and your family and goes from 7am - 10am. Then, between 11am and 5pm, kids can eat free (hamburger, chicken fingers or Pizza Hut pizza). After 6pm, kids still eat free (I know, this is standard Holiday Inn fare) at the main restaurant. There is an ice cream parlor with Edy's ice cream and a "convienent store", also an arcade. There is a special train that takes the kids on a tour of the hotel, miniature golf (although this wasn't open yet when we were there), kareoke and bingo for the kids (and adults) and a playground. They have $14 buffer dinners for the adults (menu changes, but always has pasta, meat sauce, meatballs, fettuccini sauce and chicken nuggets for the kids), which when coupled with the fact that kids eat free, makes for a pretty inexpensive meal. If you were on a budget, you could easily feed a family of five three meals/day for less than $50/day. The hotel also has washers and dryers you can use ($1 to dry, not sure how much to wash).

Okay, here is where we purchased everything and the cost:

Airfare via Airtran, Akron,Ohio - Orlando. Left from smaller airport. $179/pp RT (including tax, departure fees, and other bogus add-ons). Purchased through Travelocity.com.

Double Seat stroller. ABC Stroller, $40/wk (plus tax).

Holiday Inn Family Suites. Booked through Value Trips (www.valuetrips.com) $89/night ($98.79 including tax).

InterAmerica rental Car. 4D Chevy Malibu. $20/wk for each car seat (so $40 for two). Total with tax and car seats was $218. We booked through AAA.

Here is our itenerary:

May 13th - Arrive Orlando 1:15pm, pick up rental car, go to Hotel. Spent day in pool. That night we had the hotel give a Birthday party for my daughter. Excellent value. It was $25 and for that we got a cake, ice cream, a cowboy hat filled with candy, a Clue board game, ballons, and $5 in tokens. Of course there was the requisite singing.

May 14th - Get up early, eat at the breakfast buffet and get to MK by 9am. Bring on the heat! Our first day in the park was pretty brutal since we were use to Cleveland weather. We learned and the next days my wife brought "frozen" washcloths and hand towels in addition to the water bottles. We saw Ariel (character greeting) first. This was pretty cool because as you were waiting, the kids could play in the "grotto", basically a mini-water park. So, you bake while they play and stay cool. We then did the carousel, Snow White, Winnie the Pooh, the Mad Hatter's Tea Cup ride, and then saw Lion King. Liked them all except the Lion King show. I thought this was pretty lame compared to the rides and after I saw some of the other Disney shows I knew it was pretty lame. The kids enjoyed it though. We then split up and I took my oldest daughter to ride Space Mountain (2x), Alien Encounter, Buzz Lightyear, Astro Orbiter, Big Thunder Mountain, and Splash Mountain. It was great, none of these rides had more than a 5min. wait. Only Alien Encounter scared her and then only once it was all over. Buzz Lightyear is a very cool and different ride. Nothing scary about it. If you meet the height requirement, go on this ride. It's like a moving Nintendo game. Splash Mountain was cool too in that it was much longer than most "log rides". We then met up with my wife and other two kids who had staked out an area for the Magical Moments parade. Wow. Cool as F***. Some people told us where to stand and when the parade stopped our kids got to run out and be in it for a few minutes. The first time they played with mermaids from Little Mermaid and the second time they played drums and interacted with characters from Lion King. The costumes and the actors were incredible. I felt their pain as I sweltered in the heat. After the parade we were going to try and get to MGM to see the Star Wars characters (they were only there on the weekends), but had 5:45 reservations at Cinderella's palace and didn't think we could get back in time. After being there for a week I now think we could have done it, but at the time the travel options and modes were too overwhelming, so we split up again. Alyssa and I did some of the rides we did earlier and Veda and my other kids did some of the Fantasyland rides. Cinderella's palace was a huge letdown. The food was mediocre at best and I was pissed about the glass slipper/sipper thing. And it was expensive (our bill was $85 with tip and tax and we had our two youngest split a meal). I must say, however, that my youngest daughter absolutely loved it. We got pictures with Cinderella after dinner and went on the Haunted House ride (2x). After that we split up yet again. Veda took the little ones to Mickey's house and got pictures with him while Alyssa and I went and re-did earlier rides. We rejoined at 8:30 and went to see Fantasy in the Sky. Pretty cool. The best part is the beginning where Tinker Bell flies out of Cinderella's palace. We all went home sleepy and sweaty.

May 15th - Slept in a little. Ate at the breakfast buffet and got to MGM by 10am. Wow, still not used to the heat. Really thought I would die that day. Got a FP for Voyage of the Little Mermaid and went to ride Star Tours. I've already talked about these rides above, so will not do so again. In between them we went to see Muppet Vision 3D. Very cool. The pre-show is excellent. Top notch 3D effects. Note that all of the 3D shows are actually 4D, meaning that there is stuff that interacts with you. For instance, say a character shoots a water gun at you. You'll not only see the stream of water in 3D racing towards you, but you feel it too because the seats will shoot a stream of water at you. We also saw Beauty and The Beast (love those songs!) and went on Tower of Terror (2x). Very cool ride. We then went to wait for the Mulan parade. At this point, I was certain I was going to die and couldn't stand up anymore. And then, low and behold, a huge cloud covered the sun and the wind started to blow. This lasted throughout the parade. I was saved. The Mulan parade was excellent. The things the characters did was simply amazing, especially the lady with the Chinese yo-yo. It was like being in the circus. Anyway, after that we went back to the hotel and did some swimming and then ate at the buffet. We then went back to MGM for Fantasmic. Wow again. We didn't get to see Illumination, and I've heard that it is something to see, but Fantasmic was incredible. And best of all we got to see the Fantasy in the Sky fireworks while waiting for Fantasmic to start (which it does 1/2 hour later than Fantasy in the Sky). The only lame part was the pre-show. Two guys doing a poor vaudeville routine. However, again, my kids seemed to like it. We all went home sleepy and sweaty.

May 16th - Normal morning routine. Got to MGM by 9:15. Saw Disney Doug Live. Excellent. I know about Doug but had never seen it before. Very good acting and, if you are a comic book superhero fan you will LOVE the spoofs. Saw Bear in the Big Blue House. Very upsetting. The show was excellent, but a) the kids were in a "mood" then so they basically ignored it and b) you sit on a hard floor throughout the show. I didn't think I would be able to walk again. The good news was, however, that I was finally use to the heat. Tried to see Hunchback but could only stomach the first minute or so of the show. I never liked the movie either. We then let the kids play in the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground which they loved. After that we headed over to Epcot. We were going here for two things: Honey I Shrunk the Audience and the Living Seas. We saw the latter first and it was very cool. I tried to teach the kids a thing or two about fish, but they weren't having any of that (although I think SCUBA, what coral is, and school - as in fish - might have sunk in). The Living Seas was really amazing - people of all ages can learn a lot there. Honey I Shrunk the Audience was one of the most creative of the 3D shows, losing only to It's Tough to Be a Bug. There are some scary parts, though, so parents with squeamish children shouldn't go. I also took Alyssa on Body Wars which, while cool, was a let down after being on Star Tours. We also ate a late lunch at Epcot (Mickey shaped pizzas!) That night we ate at the Hotel and went swimming. We were not sleepy or sweaty!

May 17th - Get up very early. Pile buffet breakfast food into Styrofoam containers and get to Animal Kingdom by 8:00. We had planned to do MK today and Animal Kingdom the next day. Luckily, we changed that and decided to do AK both mornings and MK both afternoons. AK is...I can't describe it. It's beautiful. When you first approach this park, you know that this is not your father's Disney. And everything from the "tree lady" to the "bird men" in the entrance reinforce that fact. The park is the easiest to navigate; everything spokes out from the Tree of Life. The attractions are all in different lands, which are simply amazing. Disney actually captures the feel of being in Africa or Asia, but somehow Disney-fies it so it seems incredibly safe and sanitary (no insult meant to either continent). We arrived when it opened and by the time we got to the Safari ride, there was a 30min. wait! Well, we simply got a FP and went to see It's Tough to be a Bug. That took a while because we were mesmerized by the Tree (and also spent some time with some talking Macaws). When we were done we went of the Safari. Excellent. I understand the long lines. The animals appeared healthy and happy (unlike in zoos). Alyssa and I then went on the River Rapids (2x) and Countdown to Extinction. CtoE was cool, but not great. Don't get me wrong, it would be an 8 or 9 on a scale of 1 to 10 in any place other than Disney. But here, in the Animal Kingdom, I would only rate it a 6 or 7. We then went home to swim and then ate at Crystal Palace at MK. We had 4:20 reservations. The kids loved it and the characters (Pooh, Eyeore, Tigger, Piglet) were great. The food was lousy (although there was pizza and the deserts were good) and it was expensive. This, unlike Cinderella's castle, is a buffet. The service was also much better than in Cinderella's castle, which I found to be average. After that we did more rides. I rode Haunted House a bunch of times including a 3 times in a row stretch. See, I had the youngest kids now while Alyssa and my wife were off riding the "cool" rides. We did make her ride Alien Encounter again so my wife could experience it. She wasn't scared that time. She also did Space Mountain (2x), and Buzz Lightyear. We left around 8:00pm, cool and not tired.

May 18th - Last day! Hurray! Same routine as the 17th. Saw Pocahontas (lame, but kids liked it), and It's Tough to Be a Bug again. We were going to see Lion King there (which we heard was good), but still had a lot to do at MK so we skipped it. Alyssa and my wife did go on the River Rapids (2x) while I took Sierra and Alexander to the water fountains (very, very, cool) near the exit. We bought gifts for the kids (my son got an incredible dinosaur that everyone for the rest of the trip commented on, even the pilot on the way home - and it was only $12!) We then departed for MK. At MK we did Adventure Land rides (Jungle Cruise, Tiki Room and Treehouse - Pirates was broken) and character greets (Jungle Book and Duck Tails). We also did Mickey's Toontown Fair stuff (lots of time in Donald's Boat). Of course no trip to MK would be complete without another Haunted House ride. Alyssa wanted to do Space Mountain but it was broken, so she and Veda did Buzz Lightyear and Astro Orbiter. We also did the train that circles the park.

May 19th - Relax in the pool. That night we went to Downtown Disney and ate at the House of Blues. Good food and excellent music. Sierra danced the night away. We ate outdoors and on the water. Very pretty.

May 20th - Come on home.

Kevin Mathews