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Trip Reports
02-21-2007, 09:55 PM
WDW — October 2006 (PORR, BCVR) by Steve Russo

Though a big family trip is in the works for January, Steve's withdrawal symptoms got the best of him and an earlier trip was mandatory.


Steve Russo -- October 2006 - Walt Disney World (PORR, BCVR)

The Cast

teve & Barb – DVC Members and veterans of 19 trips since 1984.
Planning

Since returning from our last WDW trip in January 2006, we’ve been planning a longer and larger trip for January 2007 that would include all 3 of our adult children, our son-in-law and our new grandson. While that trip is something we were all looking forward to, somewhere in mid-2006 I began suffering withdrawal symptoms. I was lamenting the fact that it would be a full 12 months between WDW vacations… and it would be the first time we purchased Annual Passes (APs) and didn’t get 3 trips on them… and I really needed a vacation and... yeah, I know… I should have a little cheese with that whine.

Barb suggested the possibility of a shorter trip in the fall during the Food and Wine Festival (F&W). The Festival has almost become a tradition for us as we attended in 2002, 2004 and 2005 (actually, the fact that I’ve done something twice usually qualifies it as ‘tradition’). This would also give us 3 trips on the Annual Passes we purchased last January and keep that record intact. While it’s nice to be there during the Festival, and I certainly plan a few laps of eating and drinking around World Showcase Lagoon, it’s not the primary reason for this (or any other) trip.

Rooms - I called DVC Member Services in late-June and booked a studio for 4 nights (Sunday to Thursday) at Saratoga Springs Resort (SSR). My first choice was the Boardwalk Villas Resort (BWVR) followed by Old Key West (OKW) but, unfortunately, neither had the entire group of dates available. I did ask us to be ‘wait-listed’ for them. In early-July, about a week after receiving the confirmation for SSR, I received another confirmation indicating we had been switched to OKW.

After just a little thought, I realized we’d want to fly down Saturday (why would I want to spend a Saturday in late-October raking leaves when I could be cruisin’ the kiosks at the Food and Wine Festival?) and I needed to save some DVC points for a 2-BR villa in January, so I figured we’d wait for the Passholder rates to be announced and then book a cash reservation for the one (Saturday) night. When the rates were released in August I called and, while a $190 rate for a standard view at the Animal Kingdom Lodge was attractive, we opted for a rate of $89 (tax included) for the All Stars Music resort. It was hard to justify the Animal Kingdom Lodge’s additional $101 for just the one night since we didn’t think we’d be there enough to really enjoy the resort.

So we’re now about 6 weeks before the trip and the Boardwalk wait list had not yet come through. I thought it was time so I contacted DVC to arrange for Magical Express (ME). They could handle booking it for the return trip but couldn’t make the reservation for the trip in – even though our All Stars reservation was booked through them. I asked to be transferred to someone that could do it, and spoke to a very nice lady and, on nothing more than a whim, changed that first night’s reservation to Port Orleans Riverside (PO-R) at a rate of $129 including tax. I can’t say exactly why I did this except we have never stayed at Port Orleans and we have stayed at All Stars. Now you might say I should have gone the additional $61 and booked the Animal Kingdom Lodge but, unfortunately, that $190 rate was long gone. The best they could do was $253. Anyway, she also reserved Magical Express for us.

Now let me first say that I think Old Key West is a beautiful resort. We, however, have a strong preference for the Epcot area – specifically the Boardwalk area. For the last month, I was calling DVC every other day inquiring about availability at the Boardwalk or Beach Club Villas. I called right up until the day before we left – nothing.

Dining - I called in September and made several Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs). I booked two that we had done only once before and really liked – ‘Ohana and the California Grill. I also booked a dinner at Chefs de France, a place where we’ve only had lunch previously. And I booked a lunch at the Brown Derby – we had an ADR there last year but we canceled it in favor of a visit to Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Minor rant here… There’s been a lot of chatter about the popularity of the Magic Your Way Dining Plan and its affect on WDW table service restaurants. There are so many people taking advantage of the Plan that the restaurants are filling up and not allowing the ability for walk-ups or same day (or sometimes even same week) reservations. This has been noticeable, and a growing problem, over our last 2-3 trips. While I’m comfortable with the ADRs I have, I’m certain that we’re going to be in a park or resort at some point and will try to dine somewhere only to be turned away. I really think it’s impossible (and not really something I want to do) to plan EVERY meal for each day of a trip 90-180 days in advance. It’s not only impossible to plan the location and type of restaurant but also the time. We’ve always enjoyed the spontaneity of being able to say “We’re hungry. Let’s try this place”. No longer.

The worst part, in my opinion, is that your ADR will often dictate where you spend your time. It’s the 5th day of a 7-day trip and your family wants to visit Magic Kingdom tonight but… you have a 6:30 ADR at Le Cellier. Which do you give up?

Flights - When the Southwest window for October/November opened up in July, I booked 2 non-stop, round trips for $245.50 each – a bit higher than usual but most airlines were raising prices due to the energy price increases we had been seeing for some time.

In early September, I caught a Southwest ‘Ding!’ and re-booked our flights *to* Orlando for $49 each. The money we save will be kept as a credit which we’ll use when we book our flights for the January trip. Now, if Southwest will offer the same rate for the return flights… OK, they almost did. On September 19, I received a Southwest email (not a Ding! this time) and checked their site for new rates. The trip down was more expensive than the $49 flight I already had, but the return was now available for $69. Done. We originally paid $491 for 2 round trip fares and it was now at $271 or $135.50 each. Not bad and we had $220 to apply toward flights for our January trip.

Other – In September, I bought tickets for the Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba show. This is something we’ve talked about for several years but, for whatever reason, we just never pulled the trigger. We received an offer for Disney Visa cardholders for 20% off category 2 tickets so I booked 2 seats for $134. I’ve heard so many great things about this show but… I’m waiting to be convinced.

Here’s one more minor rant. Well… not really a rant but a whine. I’d probably never plan a trip based on the schedule of provided entertainment. I’ve always planned the trip on date preference and just accepted what was offered. This policy of mine has proven problematic on past trips to Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Disney World and other venues. If I’m visiting Las Vegas or Atlantic City, you can be assured that the shows offered last week and next week will read like a Who’s Who of entertainment giants. The week I’m there? Charo.

After I booked this trip, I went searching for who would be performing in the ‘Eat to the Beat’ concerts while we’re there. Here’s the complete list: Survivor, Family Stone Experience, Starship, Loverboy, David Sanborn, The Beach Boys, Little Richard, Three Dog Night, The Four Tops, Gloria Gaynor, The S.O.S. Band, The Contours, Chubby Checker, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, and Jon Secada.

I could handle most of this list and would actually make an effort to see The Beach Boys, David Sanborn, Southside Johnny, and (maybe) Three Dog Night… maybe a few others. What’s the only group that I have never heard of? You got it, the group that’s there for our dates - The S.O.S. Band.

Like most of our trips, I expect this will be somewhat relaxing. We’re not looking to ride everything but… we do want to hit our favorites (Soarin’ and Mickey’s Philharmagic) along with something new (for us) – Expedition Everest. We’ll tour at a leisurely pace and probably break up each day with some pool or relaxation time.

OK, that’s enough of the whining, ranting and planning - on with the trip.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Before leaving for work, I printed out our Southwest ‘A’ boarding passes. We packed up our two suitcases on Friday night. I used the smaller of the 2 while Barb had the larger one. Because we were spending one night at PO-R I set out one complete outfit (shirt, shorts, socks, etc.) for Sunday and explained to Barb that she should do the same and pack them with our toiletries in the larger suitcase. That way we could work out of only one suitcase for our first night.

Once we had everything packed, I locked the cases with our TSA-approved locks and loaded them into my car. Later, Barb asked why I had left out one outfit for her to pack. What? She did get it into her suitcase but not right on top as I asked. And they say men don’t listen…

We set up the coffee, set the alarms for 4:00 AM and hit the sheets.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

True to form, I’m awake at 3:41 AM. We let the dog out, get our coffee, shower, dress and drag our son, Stephen, out of bed at 5:15. We leave at 5:30 and make it to Albany International Airport (there IS that flight to Canada) by 5:50. We say goodbye to Stephen and wheel our bags inside. There’s no one at the kiosks so we check our 2 bags in less than 5 minutes.

Getting through Security is a bit of an adventure. First, Barb is stopped and informed that she’s going into the ‘puffer’. That’s not a big deal but, when they search her purse, they find 2 bottles of liquid makeup. Mind you, this is the same woman that sits across the breakfast table from me every morning reading the newspaper. How is it possible that she was unaware of the restrictions on liquids and gels? She’s informed that it would be OK if they were in a one-quart plastic bag and… she just happens to have one of those in her purse (I’m actually convinced that you could search her purse and find Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Hoffa – if you know what I mean). Disaster is averted and she is not about to be shipped to Guantanamo. I was already mentally deciding what side of the bed I would take. Or maybe I’d just sleep in the middle.

I was surprised when I was asked to remove my shoes, even though I was wearing sneakers. This is, apparently, another change since I’ve flown last. Now it’s not a big deal but I also beep going through the metal detector. I’m juggling my wallet, driver’s license and boarding pass. My carry-on, jacket and shoes have already gone through the x-ray machine. Now I’m placing my watch, belt, luggage lock keys and $0.11 in change into a plastic tub and trying to force my way back into the line. I certainly understand the need for security but, if the luggage lock keys and a belt buckle is enough to set off the detector, maybe the sensitivity is a bit too fine.

I now have to re-dress on the other side and we decide to split a coffee at the Coffee Beanery. It’s only 6:10 and the flight is departing at 7:20. We take our time with the coffee and get down to the gate at around 6:50. We begin the boarding process at 7:00 and, for some reason, we only have the front-loading chute rather than both front and back.

We board too late to snag the exit row but settle in and take off about 5 minutes late. Now, the non-stop flights from Albany to Orlando are all listed as 2:55 to 3:05 in elapsed time. In reality, the typical flight time is around 2:25 so we almost always land early. Not so today. We had a fairly turbulent flight with a sustained 150-knot headwind. (I’m always amused when we insist on measuring speed in knots when in the air or on the water. On land, however, miles seem to be just fine.) Anyway, the flight is bumpy and long and we land at 10:50 – 30 minutes late by the schedule but about one hour later than we should have landed by my reckoning, which is more important than any damned schedules.

We make the required restroom stop by the gate and make our way to the main terminal to find the ME desk. The ME operation has moved from Terminal A to B since we used it last January. Our monorail takes us to A so we follow the signs to B and head down to the first level. Here I see no signs and finally ask an airport employee who directs us to the far end. I did see the CMs with the white gloves upstairs – I guess I should have asked one of them. The ME check-in takes only a few minutes and we’re directed to a rather crowded corral. We’re there for 5-10 minutes and then directed to a waiting bus. We make one stop, at Port Orleans-French Quarter, before arriving at PO-R at 12:05. One hour and fifteen minutes is not bad from gate to resort but it doesn’t compare with the 50 minutes we experienced last January.

We enter a short line for check-in. Barb had been complaining of a headache and, unfortunately, the only medication was in our checked bags that were, presumably, somewhere at or en route from the airport. I did have a supply of Naprosyn (for a bad back) with me in my carry-on and offered her one. She took it and went in search of a bottle of water. As desk clerks free up, the guy at the front of the line is letting the next person go ahead. Apparently (and he announced it to everyone), he had checked in 2 ½ hours earlier, when the line was “out the door”. He was now holding a spot for some friends that had just arrived.

Within a few minutes, we were being helped by Jeanne from Peabody, Massachusetts (I’m glad they returned to the practice of CM name tags with their home cities). Jeanne was very friendly and helpful and remarked at the size of the check-in line behind us. She said she “thought everyone in Florida had checked in yesterday”. I asked why things were so busy and she indicated it was probably a combination of the Food and Wine Festival and Halloween. I never thought Halloween was that big a deal but Jeanne corrected me. She also told us the story of being home in Peabody, which is a neighboring town of Salem (yes, the infamous ‘Witch Trials’ town). Apparently, huge crowds would descend on Salem each Halloween and the overflow would wind up in Peabody. What I found most interesting was that she didn’t pronounce the town as PEE-body, but as pee-buh-DEE. I swear that people from Massachusetts do not abide by the normal rules of pronunciation. Case in point… Someone from Boston might say that ‘Bahbra used the cockeys and pahked the cah in Wuster’. Translation: Barbara used the car keys and parked the car in Worcester.

Jeanne found us a nice room that was ready and marked it on the map for us. She also told us we were in Magnolia Terrace (I had requested a Mansion room) and had a water view although she didn’t know if it was the pool or the river. We set off on our walk, map in hand. The resort reminded me a bit of the Caribbean Beach Resort because we needed to walk around and within a number of buildings following the signs to our room. We finally found room 8595 and it was a very nice corner room – windows on 2 sides. The room was very close to a bus stop (a good thing) but, the only water we would be viewing would be a rain puddle in the parking lot. We weren’t paying for a water view and were only going to be here one night so I didn’t consider this a big deal.

The room was typical of a moderate – 2 double beds, nightstand, TV armoire. It did offer some nice touches such as the twin sinks, refrigerator and coffee maker. The bathroom, however, was tiny but did feature those infamous turbo toilets (“Hold on to your wigs and keys, I’m flushing”).

We freshened up a bit and headed out to Epcot. As soon as we hit the parking lot, we could see an Epcot bus pulling away. We grabbed a bench and waited about 15 minutes for the next bus. We made it to Epcot, went through security and entered the park. There are new finger scanners at the turnstiles of each park. They require a single finger be placed atop a small glass area at the top of each turnstile. The glass emits a blue light but I have no idea if it’s scanning your fingerprint or just reading lengths, joint locations, etc. Anyway, they seemed to work fine and (mostly) were less of a problem than the two-finger units they replaced.

We strolled through Future World taking in the sights. By the way, the weather is sunny and mid to high 70s where it would be for most of the week. When we reached World Showcase (WS), we headed to the right and were immediately struck by the crowds and the size of the lines at the booths for Greece, Canada, Poland and Ireland. This was not surprising. From past trips to the F&W, I’m aware that weekends can bring a large local crowd that is usually gone by Sunday evening.

We decided to start this trip, as we have so many others, with a beer at the Rose and Crown – just to wash off the dust of the trip. We went inside and found the bar to be crowded. I waited behind a couple and, eventually, found my way to the bar and caught the eye of the bartender. We ordered a Stella Artois for Barb and a Bass Ale for me - $16 total which is up from the $14.91 it cost me in January. I hate to repeat myself (actually I do it quite often so I must not hate it all that much) but it’s fitting to repeat a line from the start of our last 2 or 3 trips: You know you’re at Disney when you cough up $16 for 2 draft beers and it doesn’t ruin your day.

We took our beers in plastic cups and made our way out into World Showcase again. We stopped at the Spain booth and got a Taste of Spain (Spanish olives, Marcone almonds and chorizo) and a Papas con Chorizo to share. Total cost was $6.25. As usual, I did a lousy job of tracking the prices but everything at the F&W was in the $2.50-$4.00 range. We found a nearby table and shared both dishes – both were very good. Another change that I think was at every booth – you ordered from one of two people and paid. They gave you cards that indicated what you had ordered. You then approached the booth and gave the cards to someone else that served your food and/or drink. It sounds a little cumbersome but it seemed to work well and better than past years.

We started walking again and stopped at the Japan booth. Surprisingly, Barb has never tried sushi and I thought this would be a great place to give it a shot. We ordered the Spicy Tuna Roll (3 pieces and a dollop of wasabi) and a Japanese Noodle Bowl with Shrimp – total $6.00. Both were very good and Barb did enjoy her one piece of sushi – even after mangling it with a plastic fork.

Barb still had ½ of her beer but my Bass was history. I decided to stop at the Hops and Barley Market, which offered a fair number of Sam Adams products. The guy in front of me was having a difficult time deciding and said he might just get one of each (there were 10 choices). His girlfriend/wife was less than amused. I ordered a Sam Adams Cherry Wheat, which was very good and quite a bit different than any beer I’ve tried before. I’m also pretty sure that one would be my limit. I’m not sure I would enjoy more than that. I also ordered an Onion and Bacon Tart (also very good). By the way, the Sam Adams Cherry Wheat was $4.75 for a 12-ounce glass – a veritable bargain at Disney World. With the food, it came to $7.00. I took it to a table Barb had secured in front of the American Adventure.

At this point, we decided to head back into Future World. There was a Friendship boat just boarding so, for some unknown reason, we got on. Between waiting for other boarders and making the trip to the area just left of Mexico, this boat trip probably took 3 times longer than the 5 minutes it would have taken to walk it. Never again.

When we reached the Tip Board we saw that Soarin’ had a 70-minute wait but the ‘new’ Seas with Nemo and Friends had a posted wait time of 10 minutes so we decided to ride. First, we stopped at the Land and picked up FastPasses (FPs) for Soarin’. I knew we couldn’t use them tonight but, I’ve read of some folks being able to use FPs the following day. We’ll see.

At The Seas, the outside display has been remodeled a bit for the name change. There are also 3 seagulls sitting atop the rock formation. As the waves crash into the rocks, the 3 gulls start the “Mine. Mine. Mine.” shtick from the movie – a scene that always cracks me up.

Inside the building, the ‘old’ queue is still there although there are some new items to view as you move through. I was particularly struck by the sign that read ‘Protect and respect fish. Fish are our friends.’ Because the Coral Reef is just next door, this is irony at its best. Anyway, after navigating through the old queue, you encounter the new queue which seems to stretch on a long, long way. It appears that they may be expecting some very large crowds here. As you move through the queues, you are taken through a beach area and, ultimately, under the water (simulated, of course). The effect is subtle and not exactly high-tech – more ‘cute’.

It took us about 15 minutes to reach the Clam Shell vehicles. These are continuously moving so, except for the occasional wheelchair loading, the line moves steadily. The ride through is nice. You’re taken through the gist of the Nemo movie – Nemo’s missing, there’s a search, you ride the Australian current and finally find him (and his friends) projected into the aquarium (a very nice effect). I believe all of the main movie characters appear at one time or another. I’ve long said that the Living Seas was a very nice exhibit that needed to become more of a ‘show’ to attract guests. This seems to qualify.

It was time to head back so we caught a bus to Port Orleans – Riverside and actually managed to get off at the right bus stop. I can see where it might be a bit confusing early in your stay. We found our room and discovered that Magical Express had delivered our luggage. We didn’t really need to unpack, just dig out the few things we’d need for tonight and tomorrow morning. Barb’s headache was still there so she downed a couple of Motrin from our bag. The plan here was to lie down and rest for a bit, maybe even nap, before getting ready for dinner at ‘Ohana.

I mentioned that I had been trying, unsuccessfully, for some time to get us moved from Old Key West to the Boardwalk or Beach Club Villas. As we were wandering around World Showcase, I called DVC a couple of times (they recently announced Saturday afternoon hours) but was always greeted with an ‘All operators are busy’ and ‘Your wait is… up to 15 minutes’ indicating many calls and few operators so I hung up. I decided to give it one last shot and called from the room. I got through immediately and learned they had a last minute cancellation at the Beach Club Villas (BCV). It’s a few more points and I needed to re-book our return on Magical Express and we were done. I certainly don’t want to offend the many fans of Old Key West. We’ve stayed there and it’s a lovely resort but we very much preferred the Boardwalk area. The fact that we’ve not yet stayed at the Beach Club made this even more exciting.

After a quick rest and freshen up, it was time to head to the Polynesian. We left the room at 5:00 and caught a Magic Kingdom (MK) bus and then a monorail and arrived at the Polynesian at 5:25 - just a few minutes early for our 5:40 reservation. We rode Monorail Blue which had some new decor for the "Year of a Million Dreams" promotion - musical notes and swirls painted on the front. At first glance, I thought it was graffiti.

Inside, I approached the podium to check us in and said “Russo. We have a 5:40 reservation.” The young girl checked her computer and asked “Beth or Steve?” I had so many clever things to say here that I just spit and stammered and finally just said “Steve”. She gave us a pager and we went to the Tambu lounge where we found no open seats. We were contemplating finding somewhere else to wait when 2 corner seats at the bar opened up.

I ordered a Sam Adams for me and a Diet Coke for Barb. Her headache was lingering and she thought it might have something to do with a lack of caffeine. We had de-caf at home and she drank only water on the plane and a beer at Epcot. We sat and chatted and, as we were finishing our drinks, the pager went off. Barb went to the podium while I settled the check then we were taken in and seated. Our waiter, Lotfi, greeted us and took our drink order - iced tea for me and another Diet Coke for Barb who reported that her headache had diminished and she was feeling much better. Maybe it *was* the caffeine withdrawal.

Before long, Lotfi started dropping food on our table. First he brought the fried wontons with 3 dipping sauces; then the salad; then the shrimp and chicken wings; then the potatoes and vegetables. If anything, the food was coming too fast. We found ourselves trying to keep up and decided to slow things down a bit and dictate the pace rather than having Lotfi do it for us. Eventually, they come around with the skewers of sausage, steak, pork and turkey. This is certainly a meat lover’s paradise. The cholesterol medication was complaining about being overworked.

We took our time and tried to at least sample everything but there’s really too much food. We watched some children, and a few adults, take part in the hula lesson. We also had several birthdays and anniversaries to celebrate. Lotfi then brought our dessert – bread pudding a la mode with Banana’s Foster sauce. I know a lot of folks lament the removal of the pineapple and caramel sauce but I never had it – so I can’t miss it. The bill came to $51.98 ($25.99 each) plus tax or $55 and change. After applying the DDE discount, we owed $44.

We had decided to head to the MK for a bit so we wandered out to the dock at the rear of the hotel. It was twilight and I amusing myself by taking several pictures of the Polynesian, Contemporary and Grand Floridian in the diminishing light. I should probably mention my new camera. I’ve long been a die-hard film guy using mostly Minolta SLRs. On our trip last January, our daughter Stephanie loaned me her new Canon ELPH digital camera. I used it over the week at WDW and found I liked a lot of things about digital photography so… I went out and bought a Sony DSC-W7 (7.2MP). I haven’t used it a lot but I love the convenience of having a very small case on my belt as opposed to a large camera bag on my shoulder.

Anyway… the boat showed in a few minutes and docked successfully on the second attempt. It seemed we had a new skipper that was in training. We boarded and I had the great pleasure to be seated in front of a group of 5 women that, for some reason, felt the only way to be heard above the roar of the surf was to speak at maximum volume – for the entire trip. I was sitting within 12 inches of Barb and still had to ask her to repeat something.

The MK was crowded as would be expected on a Saturday night. Barb visited the restrooms near Town Hall while I went out by the Roy and Minnie statues to take a few photos of the nicely lit Main Street. When Barb joined me, we took turns taking each others picture with the statues.

We hadn’t yet seen Pirates of the Caribbean (PotC) with the newest changes so we headed toward AdventureLand. Before getting to Pirates, we decided to check out the wait time at the Jungle Cruise. The sign said 20 minutes but, having been burned here before, I decided to ask a CM. She said it was more like 5 minutes so we entered and walked through until we were stopped at the loading dock. Our skipper was Randall and he was very, very good. He delivered the standard lines very well but threw in a number of adlibs. At the hippo pool he decided to scare them off with his pistol and then started waving his pistol at them (holding it between 2 fingers) while yelling “Shoo”. He also had some good lines when we were stopped in front of the ‘Chief’ saying that “Mary Poppins has sure let herself go” and “Based on the outfit, she must have a job at TGI Friday’s”.

On to PotC. There was a short (10-minute) wait before riding. I like the new ride a lot. The Davy Jones effect at the beginning is very cool and the audio throughout is a noticeable improvement over what was there. The Jack Sparrow animatronics are also very realistic. When we exited, we decided to take a shot at our MK favorite, Mickey’s Philharmagic. We walked through Liberty Square and into FantasyLand, around the several thousand strollers parked out front and into the theater’s waiting room. Within 5 minutes we were in the theater and enjoying what, I think, is the best 3D movie on property. We were, however, struck with a potential issue. I mentioned that we’re coming back in January with our (then) 15-month old grandson. As we view the rides, shows and movies we’re also doing a bit of scouting. Neither of us had realized how loud Mickey’s Philharmagic really is until viewing it with a 1-year old in mind. We’re not really sure how he’ll react to it so we’ll need to deal with that before January. Maybe a trial run on the Polynesian boat with 4 or 5 women (excuse me while I duck and run for cover)?

At the risk of catching a rolling pin upside the head when my lovely wife reads this, I feel I must point out what I think is a record she set this evening for Ladies Room visits. Now Lotfi, at ‘Ohana, was very good about bringing drink refills to the table. The cola and ice tea were served in a large glass, probably 16-20 ounces, and, if I remember correctly, he brought at least 2 refills – possibly 3. So SWHTBOAM (she who has the bladder of a microbe) visited the Ladies Room at ‘Ohana before leaving. She then visited the facilities in Town Square, AdventureLand and FantasyLand within 90 minutes. I thought I may need to hook up the Trainmen’s Friend.

It was about 8:45 and it had been a very long day so we decided to call it just that. We headed to the bus stops and back to Port Orleans. The bus was very crowded (standing room only) but 90% of the people got off at the 1st stop. I bought a bottled iced tea at the bus stop ($2.50 but the damned machine ate another quarter so it’s really $2.75) and we headed to our room for a little TV and bed.

Things I Think I Think – I think it’s been a long time since I’ve had a really smooth flight. I think Magical Express is running very efficiently. I think I really like Epcot during the Food and Wine Festival (or any other time for that matter). I think I like ‘Ohana but I may not need to eat meat again in this century (or at least until tomorrow night). I think I really like the Boardwalk area and am very pleased we were able to score a reservation at the Beach Club Villas. I think if peeing becomes an Olympic sport, Barb is a lock to medal. I think I forgot to try the Pralines and Beignets at PO-R. Damned senility!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

We make the switch from Daylight Savings Time this morning. I’m an early riser to begin with so this just means I will be even earlier for the next few days. I’m up at 5:30 (which is now 4:30, thank you) and put on a pot of coffee. I don’t know if it’s the water or the in-room coffee they supply but this coffee is not very good. Actually, it would have to improve a whole lot to be ‘not very good’.

We shower and re-pack the few things we took out. I call the front desk and let them know we’ll need transportation to the Beach Club. The girl on the phone tells me it’s her first day “working alone” but she’ll send someone right over to bring us to the main building where we can get a taxi. I ask how long and she says 5 minutes. I decide to wait outside the room so we drag our bags out there and wait. In 15 minutes I ask Barb to go inside inside to call again. This time, she talks to a man who tells her she’ll have to contact Bell Services directly. No thanks. The luggage is on wheels and it’s only a 5 minute walk so we head out.

Now the first part of this walk is through the walkways just outside of the rooms so, if you were awakened that morning by the rumbling of luggage wheels outside your room, I apologize. Bell Services does call us a taxi that shows in 5 minutes. After a $9.75 ride, we’re checking in at the Beach Club where I hear a ‘Welcome Home’ and a very unusual question: “Which view would you like?” The villas offer 3 different views and I was being offered my choice of an Epcot view, pool view or garden view. I know I’ve heard some folks complain about the Epcot view because it also looks out over a service road but we decided to go with that. The room wasn’t ready yet so we were given a number to call later and we checked our luggage with Bell Services.

We strolled around the Beach Club for a few minutes getting the lay of the land. We felt that breakfast was in order but neither of us wanted the buffet at the Cape May Café so we walked over to the Yacht Club Galley. We sat down and enjoyed eggs, bacon (more meat!), potatoes, muffin and lots of coffee. The bill, after DDE discount, was around $16.

We stepped outside and decided on a walk around Crescent Lake. It was a beautiful, sunny morning and the temperature was already in the low-70s. We stopped for a bit of window shopping at the Screen Door General Store, then continued on to Epcot via the International Gateway (IG). It was about 8:45 but we were allowed into the park and held at a rope near the bridge from the UK to France. Rather than wait by the rope we decide on a bit of window shopping at the World (?) Traveler shop right at the IG. We walk into an empty store and the CM greets us and tells us we just won the ‘First Family at Epcot’ prize. She fills out a card and gives it to us. It identifies the Russo Family as being the First Family at Epcot on October 29, 2006. She apologizes because there’s no further prize but… Hey, we’re easily pleased. I’ve already decided to have the card laminated and framed and have T-Shirts made up advertising ‘Epcot’s First Family’. I’m wondering if this is one of the Year of a Million Dreams prizes but there’s nothing on the card to indicate that.

We thank this nice lady and head up to the rope where there’re 50-60 people waiting. A group of 3 walked up the left side and spoke to the CM at the rope. He responded and withdrew the rope. I speculated they must have a breakfast reservation – probably the Princess breakfast at Norway. About 30 seconds later, a Dad leads his wife and 2 children through the waiting people up to the rope. I see him ask a question and get an answer. Then he stands there and gathers his family around him – a line cutting technique I hadn’t seen used before. He successfully placed himself and his family to be first in the park at rope drop, effectively cutting in front of at least 50 people. Brilliant!

They drop the rope and we start walking through WS. Our plan is to go to Test Track and pick up a FP, then continue on to ride Soarin’ standby. When we get to Test Track, there’s a very short line so we decide to go ahead and ride. We’re in the pre-show in just a couple of minutes when I realize something. Just last week, we watched the DVD of ‘The Breakup’ with Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston. As I’m watching the Test Track pre-show, it hits me that ‘Bill’ is the actor (John Michael Higgins) that plays Jennifer Aniston’s brother in the movie. The one who might or might not be gay and sings in a group called the Tone Rangers (chuckle). If I remember correctly, he’s been in a bunch of stuff including playing David Letterman in that made-for-TV Letterman/Leno show of a few years ago. Anyway, we enjoy the ride. It’s our first in several trips mainly to it being closed for rehab or breakdown.

We change our plan yet again and head toward Mission: Space where we pick up FPs (for 10:12. Then we head toward The Seas with Nemo again (I know, I know, bypassing Soarin’) – this time to see Turtle Talk with Crush. I ask the CM out front if we can enter the building for Crush without having to go through the ride. He, reluctantly, directs us to the exit doors. We start that way but change our minds when we realize there’s no line at all for Nemo. We enter and stroll through that long queue and take another ride. The exit for Nemo dumps you right at the queue for Crush so we joined a fairly good crown there for about a 10-minute wait.

We’ve seen this show twice before but, I have to say, it is very well done. Whoever is doing the voice for Crush has a lightening wit and a great sense of humor. We enjoyed it thoroughly.

Next up, our favorite ride at Epcot – Soarin’. We walk up to the CM in the FP lane and I whip out our FPs for last night and ask if we can use them and… he says ‘No’. Apparently, you can use them on the same day, even after the one-hour window has closed, but not on a subsequent day. OK, live and learn although I’m certain I’ve heard of people doing this successfully. So the wait time is listed at 30 minutes and we pick up FPs for 10:51. Now it’s on to Mission: Space (M:S).

I’ve ridden M:S twice before: the first time with no problem, the second with some mild disorientation. I had decided that it would be the Wuss… er, Green side for me. The CM at the entrance gives you the green card (OK, the ‘green card’. There’s a joke here somewhere.) and you enter the main FP queue. A bit further down, they’ll split the line into green and orange. I thought the ride was very good. The only thing missing is the G-forces that you feel – particularly during lift-off and the slingshot around the moon. The ride still imparts the perception of speed. During lift-off the entire pod rumbles and vibrates, the pod is reclined you’re pressed back into the seat, and the visuals still give the impression you’re gathering speed as you move through the clouds. All the other effects (meteor shower, rough landing, etc.) come through without any noticeable (to me) difference. My advice? I think everyone should ride the original ride at least once, just to see if they like it. If you’re at all put off by it, I think the non-spinning version provides a great ride – minus the G-forces.

We walked back to the Land, knowing it was a bit early for our Soarin’ FP but we figured a cup of coffee would be a good idea. We found a table, sipped, called home and then called the BCV to check on the room. The CM I talked with asked for the identifying number I was given at check-in. I explained that I never received one and she agreed to take my home phone number instead. Our room was 544 and it was ready.

We rode Soarin’ – always a great ride and began making our way to and through WS. In WS, I noticed the same long lines at the F&W kiosks – Poland must have had 50 people. Still the weekend crowds?

On the way out we discussed some time-savers. Barb would head to Bell Services and give them the luggage card and have them meet her in the room. I would head to the Marketplace to pick up the few items we would need that required the refrigerator, then head up to the room. I asked Barb if she had the room key I gave her this morning at check-in. That’s when it started. Over the next 10-15 minutes, I was treated to a walking tour of the contents of her pocketbook. I won’t bore you with the gruesome details of expired credit cards, wallets that could choke George Costanza, a 1957 DeSoto, etc. After this tour, I am amazed that she could ever find anything in there without the benefit of a miner’s helmet and a GPS device. However, after several minutes of methodically scanning every compartment (and there are many), she was able to produce the card and we were on our way.

We walked to the BCV and Barb headed to Bell Services while I visited the Marketplace. I purchased a 6-pack of Michelob Light, a small package of butter, a container of Half & Half coffee creamer and a roast beef sandwich. The bill was $28.50. The interesting part was the beer. In the past, I’ve purchased 6-packs at the Boardwalk’s Screen Door. They would charge $1.50 per can ($9) and then discount it to $6 for buying the entire 6-pack (or maybe it was $12 and $9?). This time they charged $4.75 per can ($28.50) and discounted it to $13.50 for buying the entire thing.

I headed out the door and toward the Villas building and noticed, coming from the front of the hotel, a Bell Services CM with a cart loaded with our luggage. I followed him up to the 5th (top) floor and down the hallway where he missed the turn to our room. Sheesh, if he gets lost what chance do I have? He backtracked, found the turn he missed and delivered the bags.

We unpacked, shared the sandwich (in fairness, I had 80% of it) and checked out our new digs. We had 2 knocks on our door. One guy wanted our Room Service tray, which we obviously didn’t have, and the other needed to come in and enter a code into the phone – presumably to refresh it for a new guest. The BCV studio is very similar to the Boardwalk’s (BW) studio. Queen bed, nightstand, pull-out sofa, table & chairs and a small kitchenette with refrigerator, toaster, microwave and coffee maker. The décor is slightly different but, again, similar in the use of pastels. The balcony seemed just a tad larger than the BW’s but contained the same 2 chairs and small table. We could see Spaceship Earth almost dead ahead. We could also see the top of The Land building and the domed greenhouse in the back, the back of the Soarin’ building (which is very warehouse-like) and some of the Imagination building. Because we were on the 5th floor, it looked like we’d be able to see most of the fireworks from Illuminations – Reflections of Earth (IROE). I did a quick scan and determined we’d have to look at about right-center field for World Showcase and the fireworks (boy, was I wrong). We could also see a small courtyard below us and the service road beyond that. The road was well hidden by some tall pine trees so I didn’t think it presented any real problem – beyond the noise from the occasional truck.

We spent some time in the room resting and watching some of the football games. At 3:30, we decided to head out. I was looking to catch some of the Jets game at the ESPN club accompanied by an early dinner. We also figured it was an appropriate time to check out some of the other building exits, looking for the shortcuts. We did find the exit and paths that would take us from our room to a gate on the far left side of the Beach Club – roughly ½ way up the hill toward the IG. We walked up and around and joined a line at the entrance to the ESPN club. Barb took a look inside but there were no available tables in the bar area so we waited.

As we got closer to 4:00, those watching the earlier games began to leave and our line started to move. We were seated and settled in to watch the Jet-Browns game. We ordered 2 Stella Artois and an order of Dingers (boneless chicken wings) to share. We were trying to make this meal take as long as possible so I could watch most of the game. The Dingers are available in mild or hot and I tried, unsuccessfully, to get Barb to agree to ‘hot’. We ordered them split 50/50 between hot and mild. Eventually, I had an Upper Deck sandwich while Barb had a hot dog (it also had a baseball inspired name but I’ve forgotten it). The cholesterol medication had now gone into full revolt. I told it to shut up and earn its pay. We left at halftime with the Browns up 10-3. The Jets played poorly and wound up losing (although they should have tied it at the end but for a horrible call by the referee).

We walked to Epcot and made a beeline for Soarin’, entering by using the FPs (4:51 – 5:51 and it was now about 6:30) we had picked up earlier. When we exited Soarin’ we decided to ride Living with the Land. The boat ride had recently changed to an automated recording rather than a human delivering the spiel. There was another recent change that removed FP from this ride and substantiated something I had long felt – the introduction of FP to this attraction extended the standby waits significantly. Over the past 3 or 4 trips, I’ve seen Standby times here in the 30-60 minutes range – sometimes higher. During this week, I never saw a wait higher than 10-minutes. Anyway, it was our first time on this ride since 2001 and we did enjoy it. I thought the recording was fine although I never had a problem with the CM delivery either.

After the Land, we decided to ride Spaceship Earth (SE). As we walked down the left (west) side toward SE, a CM with a flashlight directed us to detour around the sidewalk – walking toward the restrooms on the left, through that area and out to the sidewalk at the bottom. There was another CM there, directing guests coming from the opposite direction to take the same detour. Now we bypassed about 50 feet of sidewalk (alongside the SE queue) and, I could clearly see that entire sidewalk area and saw nothing at all that would warrant the detour. I never did figure this out and should have asked the CM because it’s still bugging me.

SE was a walk-on and we enjoyed it as we always do. In that room after the ride there are now some ‘Coming Soon from Siemens’ signs so, hopefully, they will finally put some attractions in there.

We exited SE and walked back toward M:S. It was a walk on so we rode again (also the green side). This time there were only 3 of us in our pod and, it appeared they were only loading about ½ the pods. It appears the weekend crowds are officially gone. Even Soarin’ had a posted 40-minute wait on the Tip Board – the lowest I’ve seen it for this late in the day. There was no wait to try the video game at the end so I jumped in as part of a team. I lasted a few minutes but I never quite ‘got’ what it was we were doing. My job seemed to be rather repetitive – hitting buttons that correspond to trouble spots. It didn’t seem like a great deal of fun but I did miss the introduction. We also found an opening that allowed us to send a video email. We chose the “Houston, we have a problem” scene and it turned out pretty funny – even though, while doing it, we had no idea what the final product looked like.

With the crowds gone we decided to give Test Track a try but it had a wait of 20-minutes and looked to be all of that. We started heading back toward WS and called Stephen. He’s the one that gave me the complete description of the ‘we wuz robbed’ ending to the Jets game. We took the path to WS that goes through the old Odyssey restaurant area and stopped there to use the restrooms. This was the second time today that I entered an empty restroom and was followed in by some guy that violated ‘urinal etiquette’. I walk up to urinal #2. Some guy walks in and has his pick of urinal #4-7 but takes up residency at #3. Don’t they teach this stuff in school anymore? Anyway, as I left the restroom I was amused by the dad dragging his 3-year old son in while asking “How did you get ketchup on your socks?”

When we got to WS, it looked like there was still a fair crowd but there were no real lines at the kiosks. Unfortunately, neither of us was very hungry. Barb said she was thirsty but turned down my offer of wine or a margarita. We did stop at the Sam Adams stand (Barley and Hops Market) and got a Cherry Wheat for Barb (which she liked) and a Black Lager for me (which I also liked but I’ve had before).

We took our beers to the America Garden Theater where the S.O.S. band was in to the middle of their 8:15 show playing to a ½ capacity crowd. When I Googled this band, I learned that one of them is the son or grandson of someone famous (James Earl Jones? I’ve forgotten) . To be fair, their music was fine. Several people were dancing in the aisles and clapping along. They are, however, not my cup of tea and I can’t recall ever hearing any of their songs. At one point, one of the female singers said she was going to take us back to 1980 and they launched into a song. I must have spent that year in a drunken stupor because I did not recall it at all.

We stuck around for a couple of songs and then left and made our way to Morocco. The wall along the lagoon in Morocco has become one of our favorite spots for Illuminations. At about 8:55, some guy shows up and takes up a spot about 6 feet to our left. He shows up with a cigarette dangling from his lips and, sure enough, he lights it. What is it about World Showcase that causes people to completely disregard the smoking policy? I will, on occasion, see someone walking in another park with a lit cigarette. In WS, it seems like it’s the norm. We enjoyed IROE (we always do). On our last couple of visits, the propane barge was out of commission. It was back full force this time.

After the show, we casually strolled out of Epcot taking our time. Back at the BCV, it was off to the room to catch up on some NFL stuff, watch some of the late game, and then off to bed.

Thinks I Think I Think – I think I liked PO-R and wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again. I think I also like the Beach Club. It’s very similar to the Boardwalk but with enough subtle differences to present a nice alternative. I think I witnessed someone’s new way of line-cutting. I think the new M:S ‘green’ ride is close enough to the complete experience to be worthwhile. I think removing FP from Living with the Land is a great idea that has been a long time coming (why was it ever made a FP attraction to begin with?).

Monday, October 30, 2006

We’re up early and have coffee in the room. We’re at the bus stop by 7:15 heading to Animal Kingdom (AK) for Extra Magic Hour (formerly Early Entry, Surprise Mornings, etc.). We’re alone at the bus stop for 5-minutes and then are joined by a large family that includes Mom, Dad, Grandma (in a motorized scooter), 13 year old daughter, 10 year old son, and two boys in a side by side stroller. I’m guessing at the ages but let’s say it was Austin (3) and Archie (2). Austin was in and out of the stroller multiple times but seemed to delight in antagonizing Archie. He would hit him, pinch his face, poke him, etc. Each time this happened, Archie would let out one of those high-pitched, high-decibel, blood curdling screams that would make blood run from my ears. I would say it was so high-pitched that only dogs could hear it but I heard it quite well. This went on for about 10 minutes and Mom and Dad were, apparently, too preoccupied to deal with it. Mom was rummaging through a bag and Dad took a clear plastic bag over to a bench to do something with it. Grandma tried once or twice to tell Austin to knock it off, but he ignored her. Thankfully, the bus finally arrived and they sat in the back while we stayed up front. On the bus Barb said that if we see Austin in the park, we’re running the other way.

We got to AK, went through the turnstiles and were held at the rope at the Oasis. When the rope dropped, we made a beeline for Expedition Everest (ExE). I had heard how nice the queue here was and I agree that it compares very favorably to the queues at Kilimanjaro Safari and Kali River Rapids. Unfortunately, the line was moving so quickly we didn’t really have time to read or spend time with anything in the queue. Now this would be an opportune time to fill you in on our roller coaster backgrounds. I have never been a roller coaster guy. This is due mainly to an aversion to heights. I never enjoyed that long climb up the hill that begins most outdoor coasters. This is mitigated a bit at Disney World because many of the coasters climb indoors so I’ve been able to ride Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and even Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster without much of a problem. Barb, on the other hand, likes the whole height thing but can’t handle inversions so she’ll ride everything except Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Got all that? So the only part of ExE that has me concerned is that long climb between the building and the mountain that begins the ride. So… we ride.

I find that the first climb is not that bad – mainly because I’m absolutely thrilled with the view. I’m picking out the Swan, Dolphin, etc. as we’re climbing. The ride itself is very cool with extremely good effects. The broken tracks, the Yeti animatronics, etc. are all very well done. Barb liked it a lot. So did I although I have to admit to becoming a little disoriented on the backwards part. Part of it is in pitch darkness and it feels as though you climb a steep hill backwards. I had the sensation of almost tipping over forward and it was a bit disconcerting. It didn’t last long however, and I will ride it again. It was amazing to me to see the one drop out of the mountain from outside the ride. It looks to be almost vertical and I couldn’t recall being on a drop that steep. I also know a lot of people have likened this ride to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (BTMRR). Sorry, but you’re all mistaken. It’s BTMRR on steroids maybe - lots of steroids.

We exited the area and made the walk through Asia to Harambe for a trip on Kilimanjaro Safaris. There was very little wait – really just a walk through the queue to the boarding dock. It was a very good safari with lots of animals out and about. The highlight was Pride Rock. On past trips, it’s been a treat for me to see one or both lions awake. This time, the female was awake and sitting up on the lower rock. At the top, the male was awake and pacing quickly back and forth. He did NOT look happy and all I could think off was his breakfast was late. Barb said it was “kind of scary” and I have to agree. The way he was looking at us and pacing made me very happy there was a large pit between us.

It was time for a late breakfast so we hit the Tusker House. Barb went to the side counter for a coffee and bagel. I went to the main counter for the scrambled egg breakfast and an orange juice. The breakfast came with a choice of bacon or sausage. I don’t recall which one I chose but I do know that the cholesterol medication threw up its hands and quit at this point.

After breakfast we hustled down to Camp Minnie-Mickey for the 9:40 Festival of the Lion King (FotLK). We were seated in the Wart Hog section – a first but still not the elephant section that I crave. The show was, as always, very good.

It’s Tough to be a Bug (ITTBAB) was next and we spent only a few minutes waiting in the lobby. We had pretty much assumed that this show would be too intense for our grandson and this viewing confirmed it. It’s loud and a bit scary in parts. There had to be 15-20 children screaming and crying during the show. There were two children just to my right that didn’t care for it one bit. The weird thing was when Mom handed them across the back of the seat to Grandma (I think) to exit the theater - this was done as Flik addresses the audience at the very end, after all the mayhem has concluded.

We exited ITTBAB and headed toward Dinosaur. There was a posted 10-minute wait but we were in the pre-show in less than 5. As we exited the pre-show and walked down the hallway, the line stopped. We were right at the turn from the first hallway looking into the large room with the stairs and the loading platforms. I couldn’t see through the people well enough to determine what the problem was. After 2 or 3 minutes, 2 kids from about 8 people back work their way through the crowd, around us and out to the railings to look below. A few minutes later, Dad joins them. Presumably, they’re trying to determine the cause of the hold-up. In another 3-4 minutes, the line starts moving. Do this guy and his kids wait for their spot in line to reach them before jumping in? Of course not, they cut right in at the top of the stairs effectively cutting in front of 20 people - another new and innovative form of line cutting.

Dinosaur was good and as bumpy and jostling as always. Now it’s time for Kali River Rapids (KRR). I wasn’t sure I wanted to get wet but Barb really likes this ride so off we went. Although the posted wait was 10-minutes, it was really just a walk through and on to the raft. There was a guy and his son on my right and as we were making the climb we were joking about which riders would be the first over the drop and get the wettest. I pointed to Barb and said “She’s the albatross. She always gets soaked.” Well we bounced around and through the burning rainforest and as we came to the top of the drop, the raft was spinning continuously. For a split second it actually looked like we would spin through and not be at the bottom. Wishful thinking. We hit the bottom and a large plume of water went straight up in the air. When it dropped on us, I had reflexively pulled forward and hunched over – trying to escape. All that did was ensure that I was soaked from the back of my shirt collar to the bottom of my shorts. Barb stayed back and received the same treatment, only on the front side. Everyone’s laughing and the guy on my right looks at me and says “I see what you mean.”

It was time to head out of AK and we certainly turned a few of the heads that were entering the park – wondering why those people stepped in front of a fire hose. It was sunny and low-80s today and I can’t describe the feeling of getting on the air conditioned bus and sitting on that cold plastic seat with a wet shirt and shorts. Exhilarating doesn’t quite do it..

The first stop was the Swan and we exited there, figuring a walk in the sun would be better than continuing on the bus. We walked around the Yacht Club side and into the Beach Club. We stopped at the Marketplace to pick up a few things and headed up to the room. We changed into swimsuits and laid all the wet stuff out on the balcony chairs to dry. I could still have wrung water out of my shirt.

We considered heading to Stormalong Bay but opted instead for the quiet pool which is adjacent to the Villas. It lived up to its name as there were only 6-8 others out there. We tossed our things on a couple of lounge chairs and took a dip. I noticed music playing out here, as I had outside the hotel on the Crescent Lake side. There are a bunch of speakers hidden in the landscaping. I could not remember having music playing at the Boardwalk or its quiet pool (we checked later and there is music).

So we’re swimming and chatting in the pool. There’s probably 50-75 chairs spread around the pool. I watch a family of 4 come out and watched Dad go right over and plop his stuff on the lounge chair right next to mine. There is clearly someone there – I left a T-shirt and towel on the chair and a pair of Tevas on the ground at the foot end. This is a clear violation of the pool version of urinal etiquette and I’m about to throw a yellow flag and penalize this guy. At this point, either he or his wife noticed our stuff and they moved down to a safe distance of 3 chairs away. I also noticed that, before dumping his stuff on the chairs, he carefully pulled each one out about 4” and angled them approximately 6 degrees to the right. Barb and I spent a few minutes guessing at the rationale for that.

After some R&R at the pool, we headed upstairs for showers and then walked back to Epcot – through the IG. We started just walking around WS clockwise, stopping and looking around in the shops. We noticed a deal being offered for a Disney ‘throw’. It had Mickey and all 4 park icons (Weenies?) on it and, if you spent $60, you could have the throw for $15. We had planned on some shopping at Downtown Disney so we figured the same deal would be offered there.

I busied myself taking some photos of WS at twilight as we walked around. There were a fair number of ‘Deadstoppers’ out tonight – those folks that slam on the brakes in the middle of the walkway for no apparent reason. Eventually, we made our way to France for our 6:00 reservation at Chefs de France. We spent a few minutes outside watching the guy balancing on the stack of chairs and then checked in and were seated almost immediately. Our waiter was Cedric from Reims in the Champagne province. He has been here for 9 months and will return to France in February. He’s also doing something for 4 years in New York City but his accent prevented me from understanding that fully.

We were perusing the (somewhat surprisingly limited) menu when Cedric asked about a cocktail. We were probably going to have a glass of wine with dinner so we decided on getting a bottle now. I looked at the wine list and ordered a LaFitte Cabernet. Cedric scurried away and came back and presented me a label – a LaFitte Rothschild Bordeaux although it was the same vintage. I told him I had ordered a Cabernet and he scurried off again in search of the wine menu. He brought it back and (I think) explained that they were out of the Cabernet and the Bordeaux was a substitution. I agreed, the wine was fine and they had the same price.

We each ordered the French Menu which appeared to be the best value on the menu. It consisted of French (is that redundant here?) onion soup, half of a farm raised rotisserie chicken, basil-flavored mashed potatoes and braised tomato, followed by creme brulee in a red fruit gelee. And all that for $29.95. I also ordered an appetizer to share – a tomato and goat cheese flatbread. That turned out to be a mistake. It was pretty good but there was just too much food. We could have lived without it.

Cedric was a very nice young man and very eager to please – almost too eager. He needed more tables to wait on because, I swear, if either of us took a sip of wine, he was there in 30 seconds to refresh the glass. Towards the end of our meal, Cedric sat another couple (30-ish) at the table next to us. She was a dead wringer for Olive Oyl - more specifically, Shelly Duval as Olive Oyl. And no, she wasn’t in costume and it wasn’t Halloween yet. He was dressed in black. He had black shoes, pants and a black shirt with ruffles (think Jerry’s puffy shirt on Seinfeld). He had a modified and long black goatee and long black hair peeking out from under a black bowler. I really had no idea what to make of them. There are 6 items on the menu here and none of them are duck. After perusing the menu for 10 minutes, this guy’s question to Cedric is “Do you have duck?” Olive orders a glass of white wine. Cedric delivers it and leaves. She goes through a wine tasting routine so elaborate that, after taking a sip, she snaps her head back so violently I thought her neck might separate like a Pez dispenser. I’ve never been so thoroughly entertained at dinner. I wished they had gotten there earlier or me later.

Our bill, after adding 2 coffees and subtracting the 20% DDE discount, was $125. The meal was OK but I didn’t consider this to be a particularly good value. We’ve had lunch here before and enjoyed it. I’d be more apt to have lunch here again than dinner. I do think it’s a very pretty restaurant, particularly from outside and at night when it’s all lit up. Be aware though, if you have a window seat, as we did, you may find various people just kind of standing outside and staring in at you.

We left France, took a leisurely walk around WS lagoon and then left through the IG. We then took another lap, this time around Crescent Lake stopping by the Yacht Club to call Stephen. One of the many reasons I really like the Boardwalk area resorts is the way everything looks at night. Everything is lit up, boats cruising across the lake, families circling in the surrey bikes... Whether you’re looking across at the Y&B Clubs or at the Boardwalk, it’s just a very pretty setting. I could sit on a bench and just chill for quite a while.

We found our way back to the room and on to the balcony for IROE. I was surprised by 2 things: First, I thought I’d see the fireworks in right center field (from our balcony). They were actually in the seats down the right field line, in foul territory. I was way off; Second, we could see the fireworks and hear the audio quite well. We could even see a lot of the lower fireworks and most of the flames from the barge (being on the 5th floor probably helped).

After the fireworks, we watched a little football and turned in.

Things I Think I Think – I think Austin’s parents better get a grip on this young man – and soon. I think ExE is a pretty cool ride and I need to ride it again, now knowing what that backwards part will do. I think Barb will always get us wet on KRR. I think I saw a guy wearing a bowler hat! And it’s 2006! I think the Chefs de France is not someplace I’ll want to have dinner again – at least not real soon. I think watching IROE from your balcony is very, very nice. I think I’m ranking the BCV up there with the Boardwalk as my favorite resort.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006 Happy Halloween

Up early and having coffee while watching the local news. There was an enlightening story on how the Orlando area has become #1 in Florida for crime – and #25 in the country. They went on to say that there had been a significant increase in car break-ins along I-Drive.

After showers and getting dressed, we decided to walk across to the Boardwalk Bakery for breakfast. We grabbed a blueberry muffin (me), a cinnamon roll (Barb) and 2 coffees and took them out to a table on the Boardwalk. I noticed they had changed the signs from ‘Birds in this area may be aggressive’ to a softer one advising guests not to fee the birds for their own good – it may change their habits and be harmful to their health. Nevertheless, the birds here are fairly brazen. They have absolutely no fear of humans.

We planned on heading to MGM this morning but it was still fairly early so we decided to walk there by heading back to the Beach Club and walking all the way around. When we got to the Dolphin, we stopped inside to check out the new incarnation of Tubbi’s Buffeteria, now called Picabu’s. The décor was considerably different but it appeared to be the same type of place – although we really didn’t look closely at the menu.

We continued our walk to MGM and entered the park early. While waiting for rope drop, we spent some time browsing in the shops. The little rope drop ceremony was conducted by a couple of the Streetmosphere players – an actress and her director, although I can’t recall their names. They were both very entertaining.

At rope drop, we headed down to the Twilight Zone – Tower of Terror (ToT). The wait was listed at 13 minutes (isn’t it always?) but we walked through and weren’t really stopped until we passed the Bellhop and were waiting outside the library. There was another CM in a (mostly) white uniform. She walked by me and said something to the Bellhop. She walked by again and I could see that she was counting the people with a clicker in her hand. Apparently, the Bellhop had let 39 people through and it seemed like she was only expecting 38.

The doors to the library opened and we were let in. I noticed a second CM, dressed similarly, already in the library. After the Rod Serling bit, and after the doors opened, the CM announced that we were all recipients of a Year of a Million Dreams prize – our very own ‘Where Dreams Come True’ mouse ears. Yahoo! Just about everyone in our car, including Barb and me, wore the ears on the ride. It was a pretty interesting picture.

We left ToT and began walking toward The Great Movie Ride (GMR). We had already decided we weren’t going to use our lunch ADR today at the Brown Derby. We stopped at the Reservations Windows by the Tip Board to cancel it but… all windows were closed. Wouldn’t it make sense to have these open at park opening time to let people make their lunch and dinner reservations?

We rode the GMR with almost no wait. No changes here that I could detect. They had upgraded the film clips before our last trip and I didn’t notice any new ones this time.

On to Star Tours. No wait. Great ride. Needs a new film.

Next we hit Muppetvision 3D (or is it 4D?). I can complain about needing new film clips at the GMR or a new film in Star Tours but, the Muppets? It still cracks me up. Especially the pre-show. I have a new favorite spot… it used to be the Ratso as Mickey Mouse bit. Now it’s the 3 Ds. “I’m Doris. I’m Diane... I’m Max. Debbie was sick so the union sent me.” In the theater, I noticed that the man in the next row up had a tabbed FastPass on a lanyard. This is one of the Year of a Million Dreams prizes that offers a FP for each ride within a park. It’s a nice prize but, the parks are so un-crowded that it really isn’t necessary.

We took a look at the Osborne Lights – all up but not yet working. We have taken one trip during the holiday season, in December 2003, and had hoped to view the Osborne Lights. That was the one year they went on hiatus while they made the changes in the back-lot area to accommodate Lights, Motors, Action – Extreme Stunt Show (the infamous Russo luck). They’re supposed to be up this season until January 7, and we arrive on January 4 so… we SHOULD be able to see them then - unless something else goes wrong. (NOTE – I write this after having retuned home to find that, beginning the Saturday after we left, the Osborne Lights were running each night as a ‘sneak preview’. I think I’m not destined to see them.)

We wandered around and, because we had recently seen the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ film, we attempted to visit the attraction. Unfortunately, it was closed for a rehab except for the photo set out front. There was nothing else here we needed to do so it was time to head to Downtown Disney (DD) for some shopping. Now how best to get there? There’s no direct bus from MGM so we decided on a bus to Saratoga Springs Resort (SSR) and then a walk to DD. On the way out we did stop at the Reservations window and cancel our Brown Derby lunch.

At the SSR bus stop, there was a Dad and young son and the Dad said he had been there for 15 minutes. Sure enough, in 2 or 3 minutes a bus came along.

We weren’t exactly sure where to exit the bus at SSR for the walk to DD so… we guessed. And guessed right, I think. It was only a 5-minute walk from Congress Park to DD.

We first hit the Days of Christmas store. Last year, we had purchased a Baby’s First Christmas (2005) ornament for our Grandson. Our daughter, Michelle, is now looking to start a collection by year. I think she figures by the time William is 50, she’ll have the entire tree decorated with Disney ornaments. We found a nice 2006 ornament for her and a few things for us. Next stop was the World of Disney. Here we splurged on some coffee mugs, a nightshirt for Barb and a Mickey bobble-head for the Grandson. We had exceeded the necessary amount so we also got the 4-park throw for $15 – and we did use our AP for a 10% discount.

I was looking for a sweatshirt or golf shirt but could find nothing I liked or didn’t already have. Bummer! At Team Mickey, I did buy a Mickey golf towel to replace one that Stephen had bought for me – and I lost over the summer.

It was time for some lunch so we made our way to the Earl of Sandwich. There was a considerable line inside but it moved quickly. Barb told me she’d like a Cobb Salad and went off to claim a table for us. I’ve only been here once before but it seems that the ‘system’ has changed. When I got to the front of the line, I gave my order to a guy at the register. I ordered the Cobb Salad, a BLT sandwich, small diet cola and a small iced tea. He rang me up, took my money and sent me on my way with a receipt. The salad guy is next but… what I discovered you’re supposed to do is grab a plastic lettuce container and give it to the guy with your order. He adds the ingredients and dressings to turn your plastic bowl of lettuce into any number of specialty salads. Further down, they handed me a wrapped sandwich and a single empty cup. I indicated I had ordered 2 drinks and was told to be patient – then they handed me the iced tea. Apparently, colas are fountain drinks but not iced tea.

I found Barb and we ate. The BLT was on foccacio bread and was very good - a bargain at $4.95. Barb liked her salad but, surprisingly, there was no egg – which I thought was a staple of a Cobb salad, although this is the ‘Earl’s’ Cobb salad. The whole thing came to $15 and, I think, the Earl is a great shop and one of the best values at Disney.

We walked out to the bus stop and waited just a short time for a BW, YC and BC bus. Is anyone else confused by the layout of the stops here? I always seem to go to the wrong stop for the bus I need. No one? OK, it’s just me then.

We exited the bus at the Boardwalk, the first stop, and walked over to the BCV. Barb stopped at the front desk to check and ensure that Magical Express had us at the BCV instead of Old Key West. They did but asked us to call if we don’t receive the proper confirmation on our door Wednesday morning. We relaxed and freshened up in the room for a bit, leaving at 3:55. Tonight we had tickets to the 6:00 showing of La Nouba. We wanted to allow plenty of time to get to DD – just in case. It seemed that the DD buses were the least frequent at the BC stop.

Now it’s Halloween and lots of folks are dressed in costumes and, presumably, heading to the MK for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP). There are a number of these folks at the bus stop – one guy in particular looks pretty snazzy in his Goofy attire (hat with ears, gloves, shirt, vest and shoes). Now there’s a guy in a costume… and it’s the second time I’ve seen this costume today. He’s wearing a white cassock with a red sash over one shoulder and around his waist. He’s also wearing sandals but I have no idea if they’re part of the outfit. Who is he supposed to be? Ghandi? Most people are in Disney-related costumes. Any ideas? If it’s any help, his wife was in a leopard-skin sarong , knee length with those fringe ‘balls’ at the bottom. Kind of a cross between Wilma Flintstone and Jane from Tarzan. I also said ‘sarong’ but, if I’m not mistaken, a sarong has one strap – this had two.

The bus shows at 4:25, makes a stop at the BW, the Marketplace and then we exit at the Pleasure Island stop. We’re a bit early (what else is new?) so we browse a few shops and walk through PI to check on the construction. Wow! What a mess. There’s a continuous construction barrier that restricts you to the left side (when coming from the West End). I also noticed the West End Stage is gone. That whole area looks a lot different but I really can’t tell exactly what was done. We walked down and checked out Raglan Road, and their menu. I took a few photos of the construction and then we headed back through the West End to the Cirque du Soleil building.

They opened the doors right around 5:30 and we entered and found our seats. We were in the second tier, just above the floor level and slightly left of center. They appeared to be pretty good seats but I wouldn’t know until the show started. We were entertained by 2 mimes that performed and interacted with the audience (they were also in the show later). They were very funny but… there was a woman behind me that, for some unknown reason, felt the overwhelming need to narrate to one of her children. A large phone would ring, the mime would pick it up and react physically and the woman would say aloud, “Hello?” Then it was stuff like “See? He wants the other man to pick up the box but he won’t do it.” I could understand if her child was 3 but she appeared to be 9 or 10. She kept this up the entire time but, thankfully, it was greatly reduced during the actual performance.

I told Barb during the show that there’s no way to describe it to someone – so I won’t try. We both liked it a lot. I wouldn’t feel the need to see it again soon – maybe in a few years – but I do think I’d like to try another Cirque show. My favorite performers were the four little Asian girls with the sticks, strings and yo-yo like things. That’s a lousy description but they were truly unbelievable. One interesting point – the theater was only about ½ full which kind of surprised me.

We exited the show at 7:45 and made our way to the PI bus stops. In a few minutes, we boarded a bus with one guy already on it. This guy is sitting facing and directly across from the driver. He’s 4’ away. We sit 2 rows back facing forward. We’re maybe 8’ from the driver. There’s no one else on the bus. As we pull away, the driver pulls out his PA microphone and begins his spiel: “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard. We’ll be making 3 stops this evening – the first will be the Yacht Club, followed by…” The 3 passengers just look at each other. The driver could have spoken in a normal conversational tone and we’d have heard him just fine.

As we approach the Yacht Club, he’s back on the PA. “Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of Walt Disney World, I’d like to thank you for visiting Downtown Disney this evening and hope your time there was enjoyable. As we come to a stop, please take your children by the hand and take all your belongings before exiting the bus…” I was rolling on the floor.

We hadn’t eaten since the Earl of Sandwich but neither of us was looking for a big dinner tonight so… what to do? We succumbed to another Russo tradition that says that during every Disney trip, at least one dinner will be ice cream. We headed to Beaches and Cream (B&C) and managed to get a table inside. Barb ordered a Hot Fudge Sundae with vanilla ice cream. She also had them hold the nuts and cherries. I went with chocolate as in Chocolate Sundae with chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce and give me the full shot of whipped cream, nuts and cherries - and a glass of water. The cholesterol medication keeled over, dead.

There were 5 kids at the counter (ages 7-15?) that were sharing a Kitchen Sink. I also saw a Dad come over and fill up a bowl. This is my goal for January – when son Stephen and son-in-law Will are along. I’m convinced the 3 of us can polish off one of these bad boys. Our Sundaes came and were dutifully devoured (I’m becoming a big fan of alliteration). We were also able to save 20% here with the DDE card. We left B&C at 8:35 and decided we had enough time to make it into Epcot for IROE so off we went and through the IG. On the way, we tried to call Stephen at home (on his cell) but only got his voicemail.

In Epcot, we made our way back to Morocco and our wall. A few more people were there tonight. As it got a bit crowded, people started moving planters away from the wall so they could stand closer – something I really didn’t think was necessary. IROE was great (again) and we made that slow walk back out through the IG. By the way, I think most folks who stay at the Yacht or Beach Clubs would know this but… As you’re walking up the hill to the bridge, coming from the IG, there’s a small path on your left that runs along the water. The sign next to it, for some reason, points you away from the path for the Swan, Dolphin, BW, YC and BC. However, if you’re staying at the YC or BC, this path is shorter, quicker and avoids the hill.

Back at the BC, we decided to try Martha’s Vineyard for a nightcap. It’s a nice little lounge with a small bar and some tables spread around the room. Barb went to a table and I went to the bar and secured a couple of drinks. We sipped and chatted and tried Stephen again. Still voicemail. We were becoming a little worried. He lives and dies with his cell phone so it’s unusual for him to not have heard our message yet – unless he’s playing basketball (not likely on a Tuesday night) or he’s in a movie theater (possible). We sat, sipped and chatted – and watched the bartender perform some magic tricks (mostly sleight of hand) for the patrons. After one drink we decided to call it a night. Back in the room, we call Stephen’s cell and get voicemail again. We call the house and get the answering machine where Barb leaves a more urgent message asking Stephen to call “as soon as he gets this message”. We’ve left 3 messages over 2 hours apart and it’s very unusual for him to not have called back. Barb calls Michelle and probably wakes her up and asks if she’s heard from Stephen. She hasn’t. He’s 21 years old now but we’re his parents. Do you ever stop worrying? In 2 minutes, my cell phone rings. It’s Stephen. He had a long day at work and school and didn’t feel well when he got home – stuffy, sore throat – so he went right to bed at 8:00 and had been sleeping until he heard Barb’s voice on the answering machine.

Our minds at rest, we watched a little news and turned in.

Things I Think I Think - I think I was really hoping to win the DVC membership for the Year of a Million Dreams prize but I’ll have to be satisfied with my mouse ears. I think the Muppets never stop being funny. I think the Earl of Sandwich is very good. I think I could spend an awful lot of money at the Marketplace. I think La Nouba is a great show and everyone should see it at least once. I think some (a lot of) people will do things by the book – even if it makes no sense (the bus driver on the PA). I think a Beaches and Cream Sundae makes an excellent dinner. I think no matter how old your children get; you never stop worrying about them.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

We’re up early and it’s dark and raining. So far, each day has been sunny and high-70s to low-80s. Not so today. We flick on the TV and discover there are major storms in Brevard County, 40 mph winds and the chance of a funnel cloud. Great. What to do? I know, let’s go to the MK. My strategy is this: Lots of folks were at the MK last night for Halloween and MNSSHP. It’s raining so lots of folks will sleep in and stay away from the parks. There should be no one at the MK today, right?

We started by walking to the Yacht Club Galley for breakfast and yes, you can walk the entire way from the BC under cover. Our waiter was Troy even though his nametag said ‘Bill’. After breakfast we headed outside to the YC bus stops and caught a bus to the MK arriving right at park opening. There were very few people there and the opening at the train station was being performed by Disney characters only – not the typical singers and dancers.

We headed directly for FantasyLand and the Peter Pan ride. I hadn’t done this in years and every time I think I’d like to try it has a 60-minute wait. We were going to cut through the Castle but it was blocked while there was some cleaning going on. We took the side path around it. About 30’ behind us was a Mom, Dad and little girl. She was maybe 7 or 8 and dressed in a princess costume. On this walk I heard the Dad raise his voice. I turned around as he grabbed her arm and uttered a phrase I will always remember: “We’re doing this sh*t for you.” Ah, memories.

We walked up to Peter Pan and through the queue without stopping. The ride is fun but a lot shorter than I remember. When we exited, I looked back toward the Carousel. We were standing in the center of the walkway between Peter Pan and It’s a Small World. I had to take a photo. In all of FantasyLand, there are only 9 people visible in the photo – and they’re very spread out. I have *never* seen the MK this empty and we’ve attended during some pretty light days in January.

On to the Haunted Mansion (HM). We said “Good morning” to two CMs at the entrance and joined the queue. There was a family of 5 in front of us and no one behind us. I used this opportunity, and the digital camera, to do something I’ve always wanted to do – take a photo of each of the tombstones. Soon the doors opened and all 7 of us were ushered inside. The Mansion is another ride that I never seem to tire of. On the way out, I looked yet again for the ring in the pavement. I’m beginning to doubt it exists.

We walked through FrontierLand and onto Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (BTMRR) – and I do mean walked on. There was not a soul in the queue. The CM at the entrance had given me one of those ‘timing’ cards on a lanyard. When I gave it to the CM at the boarding platform I told him “I ran as fast as I could”. He said sit wherever you’d like so we walked all the way down to the end, the rear-most car. A train pulled up and we boarded. After about 10-seconds, 6 people came down the ramp and boarded, taking the 3 rows all the way to the front of the train. I took another picture showing the 10-12 empty rows between us. After we exited, I took another shot looking down the street in FrontierLand. It’s almost eerie how empty it is with only a family of 3 in this shot.

Next was another ride on PotC. The CM there was loading every other row, maybe just trying to slow things up a tad. After Pirates, we hoofed it back to FantasyLand for another viewing of Mickey’s Philharmagic. Again, the theater was probably only ¼ full. We headed to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin – also a walk-on. I kicked Barb’s butt with 229,000 points to her feeble 26,000. However, most of mine did come during a lengthy stop. I can’t seem to recapture the glory of a trip in 2004(?) when I maxed out at 999,999. I’m destined to be a retired Interplanetary Space Stud.

We walked over to Space Mountain, which had a listed 10-minute wait. I wasn’t buying it. We walked through a completely empty queue and to a loading platform with 5 people in front of us. We rode the left side, which I haven’t ridden in a few years. Someone help me here because I’ve apparently killed more brain cells than I wanted to. The ride included only one ‘lift’ – the slow climb up the incline before your capsule is released down and around and around, etc. I could swear there were two. Am I thinking of the right side? Or have I gotten completely mixed up and am thinking of BTMRR?

We walked up to Toon Town – We haven’t been in Toon Town since Stephen was 6, 15 years ago. Back then it was still, I believe, Mickey’s Starland. We were really just looking to get the lay of the land for our Grandson in January – attempting to determine what, if anything might be attractive to him there. We did a little shopping here and Barb purchased an autograph book and pen that we’ll give him before the trip.

We had planned on taking the train back to Main Street but, as we approached the Toon Town station, a train slowly crept through without stopping. Are they allowed to do that? We just continued walking and left the emptiest MK I have ever encountered.

We took the Express monorail to the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) and then switched to a waiting Epcot monorail. We entered the park and went immediately to the Land and directly to Soarin’. The Standby wait time was listed at 20-minutes so we entered the queue. Based on where we stopped, however, I thought it would be much longer so we walked back out and grabbed FPs for 12:54 (it’s now 12:20). A second look at the Standby sign and it now said 40-minutes.

We decided to wait, and have lunch, in the Sunshine Food Fair in the Land. I went to the Noodle Station and settled on the Spicy Chicken, noodles and rice. It took quite a while as the woman in front of me had a terrible time trying to comprehend the one entrée/two sides deal. Like so many at WDW, she was a bit ‘overwhelmed’ (that’s my new expression for those that have their heads firmly embedded in a body orifice.). Barb visited the Sandwich counter and came back with a Turkey on foccacio. We met up and checked out together and found a table.

When we finished, we still had some time to kill so we thought we’d take a shot at Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. Unfortunately, the next show was 20 minutes away so we just went inside, looked around and sent an electronic postcard home. By this time, our Soarin’ FP was good so we headed back to the Land and rode with about a 5-10 minute wait.

After Soarin’, we headed into Mouse Gear but just looked around buying nothing. I still couldn’t find a shirt or sweatshirt that I liked. We headed back through WS. Again, there were no line at any of the F&W kiosks but we had just had our lunch. On through the IG and back to the room. We grabbed showers and changed for dinner at the California Grill (CG). I left at 3:45 to attend the Welcome Home Wednesday festivities at the Atlantic Dance Hall. This is a new, weekly event for DVC members and I wanted to check it out. Barb was going to hang back until 4:05 and attempt to get Lobby Concierge to print our boarding passes (24 hours before flight time with Southwest). She would then join me at the Dance Hall.

I’m not really sure why but I was expecting 25-30 people to attend this thing. I was surprised when I arrived 5-minutes early and the line was out the door. There was probably 150 – 200 people there by show time. They gave each of us a cool, blinking blue lighted, DVC Members pin and asked us to fill out a registration card and put it in a box. We went into the Dance Hall (first time in here and it’s a very nice place) where there was complimentary lemonade. I grabbed a table near the door to keep an eye out for Barb – then gave away all the chairs except the one I saved for her.

There was some introductory stuff and then they drew 4 cards out of the box for a Jeopardy-like game of Disney and DVC trivia. It was nicely done with a large screen behind the contestants listing the categories and point totals (I’ll take DVC resorts for 40, Alex). The contestants are at podiums with digital displays and a buzzer to use. The game was fun and competitive. If the contestants didn’t know an answer, the hosts ventured out into the audience and gave out small prizes. I pride myself on being pretty good with Disney trivia but I was only able to answer about 2/3 of the questions. The one that got me was: The train station at the end of Main Street in the Magic Kingdom is modeled after the train station in what North American town? Guesses, anyone? I’ll wait….

It went to the audience and the guesses were:

Chicago… nope.

New York (Grand Central Station)… Not even close.

Marceline, Missouri… I was certain this was it but… nope.

The answer came from someone (I couldn’t see behind a pillar) from Averill Park, NY, which happens to be one town over from mine. The answer is… Saratoga Springs – which is 25 miles from my house. I have been to Saratoga many times and have never seen a train station there but, I suppose, there probably was in 1930 or 1940 or… and that was the one they chose to use. The 4 contestants received some nice prizes and the whole thing took about 40 minutes. Barb had come in, with our boarding passes, at about 4:20.

We left the Dance Hall and walked through the BW lobby and out to the bus stops. An MK bus came along fairly quickly and we switched to a waiting Monorail and made it to the Contemporary at 5:10. About 25 minutes from the BW, using a bus and a monorail. Don’t you know if we were running late it would’ve taken 90 minutes?

We chilled in the Contemporary for a few minutes and looked around the BVG store. Saw a great sweatshirt but it was one I already have. We went to the CG desk and checked in at 5:40. Like last year, I told them we were a bit early but would be happy to wait for a window table. And like last year, she called upstairs and found that a window table is available now. I’m beginning to think this is easy.

We were escorted upstairs in the elevator with 2 other couples and shown to a table that was, I believe, two tables left of where we were last year. Almost the same view of the Poly to the left, Grand Floridian, in the center, and the Castle and MK to the right. It was also a very clear night and we had the makings of another glorious sunset (we did and I got some photos). Our waitress, Beckey from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, came around and dropped off the many menus. We ordered cocktails and set out reading.

Our experience here last year left us with some real goals. I was going to have the Filet Mignon that Barb had last year. She had offered me a sampling and it was very, very good. We would probably go with a glass of wine each rather than share a bottle (yeah, right), we really didn’t need to order a 1st Course (we ordered a flatbread last year and really didn’t need the extra food) and we’d stay at our table for Wishes (assuming we were still there). Beckey did tell us that if we finished early, we could leave and come back for Wishes.

OK, here we go. Barb had her usual Tangueray and Tonic and I had a Makers’ Mark Manhattan. Interesting to note is that the Manhattan is less expensive here at $7.75 than it is in the Martini bars back in Albany (and certainly less expensive than the $13 I paid in NYC). We sipped our drinks, watched the sun set, and perused the menu, dessert menu, wine menu and reserve wine menu. Eventually, we ordered. Barb went with the Hearts of Romaine Salad with Green Goddess Dressing, aged parmesan, and sourdough croutons and the Oak-fired Beef Filet with Boniato Mashed Potatoes, Blue Lake beans, and Teriyaki Barbecue Sauce. I had the Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Pesto, Shiitake Mushrooms and Basil and the filet. I was not able to get the Heirloom Tomato Extravaganze I had last year because it was no longer on the menu. Once again, thank you to www.allearsnet.com for the descriptions – I could not remember all that. Oh yeah, I also ordered a bottle of Benziger’s Cabernet Sauvignon. A minor aside here – last year, I also ordered a bottle of Benziger’s Cabernet but became confused when someone corrected it to ‘Benzinger’. I paid particular attention here and it was spelled Benziger’s on the bottle but listed as Benzinger’s on the receipt. File this under a fact that probably interests only me.

The food was great, especially the ravioli appetizer. I had one minor complaint. Last year, the filet came with a Tamarind Barbecue Sauce that was maybe the best I’ve tasted (and I only had one bite from Barb’s plate). This year, it was a Teriyaki sauce but it seemed, at least on mine, to be a bit too liberally applied. It came close to overpowering the taste of the beef. Barb’s looked to be applied more sparingly. That is a minor complaint because all the food, and the service, was outstanding.

Beckey had asked us about dessert and told us that if we wanted to order the Valhrona Lava Cake with Raspberry Ice Cream and Raspberry Syrup that it would take a while. We told her we’d probably skip dessert. Can you see it coming? We were really being PITA customers tonight. She was very understanding and brought us 2 cups of real coffee (not the Nescafe they served last year) and, eventually, our Valhrona. Yes, it was very good. We were still about 10-minutes away from Wishes so we decided to cap off the meal with a couple of MacCallan’s single malt scotches over ice. We sat and sipped during the fireworks.

Wishes is really great with this view. One thing I noticed is that the smaller (Roman candle like) fireworks seem to fire from somewhere close to the Castle. The larger, explosion-types seem to fire from quite a distance behind the Castle. They also don’t dim the lights in the CG, which they should – although the audio is piped in and is crystal clear. After we returned, I caught part of a Disney-related show on the Travel Channel and they showed the fireworks from the CG after they dimmed the lights. Must have been an older show.

After Wishes, we got our check and settled up. With this meal, our savings from the DDE card is around $95 from this trip alone - which tells me the DDE card is a very good thing and/or we’re spending entirely too much money on food and drink.

We stepped outside to the Observation Deck and I snapped off a few pictures of the MK. Then it was down the elevators and a walk to the MK bus stops. There’s a construction wall at the bus stops that forced us to cut across but, fortunately, it put us right at the BC bus stop. There were only 8 or 10 people waiting and a bus showed almost immediately.

We were back at the BC quickly and could see some of IROE as we were pulling in. Barb headed for a restroom and I headed outside to watch the rest of the fireworks. The fireworks ended and no Barb so I head back inside and walk down to the restrooms and set up camp, waiting. In 5-minutes, I still don’t see her so I re-trace my steps and find her outside. I walked from outside to the restrooms inside the hotel, she walked from the restrooms to where I was outside the hotel. Sounds like a Marx Brothers movie.

We decided to close the night with another drink (like we needed one more) at Martha’s Vineyard (although I did discover that I could use the DDE card here for 20% off drinks). Jennifer waited on us at the bar and we called it a night after the one drink.

Things I Think I Think – I think I have never seen the MK as empty as it was today. I think I learned something new today when I discovered the MK train station was modeled after one in Saratoga. I think I like the California Grill. I think the DDE card was a sound investment. I think we’re heading home tomorrow.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

We were up at 7:00 and put some coffee on. There was no need to rush anywhere today. At 7:30, we decided that a brisk walk was in order so we went outside and walked a couple of laps around Crescent Lake. Barb was still looking to pick something up for her co-workers so we headed over to the Screen Door General Store where she bought some Boardwalk Salt Water Taffy and a box of chocolates. We also stopped at the Boardwalk bakery and Barb bought a coffee and bagel to bring back to the room.

Showers and packing followed. We had Mousekeeping and someone else knock on the door to see if we were gone yet. We finally headed downstairs at around 10:30 and checked our bags with Bell Services. We thought about heading to a park but there really wasn’t much we needed to do, nor a lot of time to do it in. We took up a couple of chairs in the Solarium and read the newspapers – I also worked on the Sunday New York Times crossword that I had saved from the weekend.

At one point, Art (the Greeter) and an entourage of cameraman, soundman, director and several guests (?) came back and were filming some type of advertisement. I couldn’t tell exactly what it was but the guests were saying what a treat it was to see Art and Art was saying how he loves to see the smiles on the guests. Maybe a piece of the next planning video? Anyway, try as I might, I couldn’t wedge myself behind them for my ‘Hi, Mom’ moment.

At 11:30, we decided to head to the Yacht Club Galley for lunch. The camera crew was now in the main lobby where Art was helping a little guy (maybe 7 or 8) don a matching outfit. Once dressed in his ‘Art uniform’ the little guy reminded me so much of a Mini-Me for Thurston Howell III… white pants, blue blazer with appropriate nautical striping, white yachting cap.

We just had soup and sandwiches in the Galley. There were a ton of folks there from Deloitte, on a break from their meetings. We made lunch last until 12:30 and then went back to the BC, retrieved our luggage and took up a spot outside – waiting for our ME bus.

We saw two ME buses dropping off, and a Cruise Line bus, before ours showed. We boarded with another family and quickly learned our driver was in training. He had a more experienced ‘assistant’ helping and advising him. We sat up front and had some interesting conversations with them both. I learned that when Disney entered into the ME contract with Mears, they threw in additional money with the understanding that all the ME buses would be new. Disney also specifically detailed the design for the buses, seat fabric, etc. The movies that play on the buses are contained on a chip somewhere in the bus and are activated when the bus reaches a specific GPS coordinate (this part was a little sketchy but neither of our drivers was fluent in Techno-Speak. For a while, they were telling us that the video was streamed in from Pluto (the ex-planet, not the dog)). Each driver makes 2-5 trips per day depending on volume and the resort route driven. We made one stop at the CBR and were at Terminal A at 2:10. No Skycaps around so we schlepped our bags inside and checked them in.

We bought some newspapers and coffee and waited. Our flight was delayed coming in from Fort Lauderdale and we left about 35 minutes late but, because of our 2:05 flying time (didn’t I tell you?) we landed in Albany just about on time at 6:40. Stephen was there to give us a lift home.

Things I Think I Think – I think these trips are never long enough, I think I enjoyed the Beach Club Villas, PO-R, Expedition Everest, the California Grill, the Seas with Nemo, Crush, etc. etc. I think we’ll be heading back again on January 3, 2007. I think I can’t wait.

Thanks for reading.

If you have a comment or question, feel free to email me. Please put 'Trip Report' in the subject line or risk being washed away with the spam.

Steve Russo
srusso@nycap.rr.com