Arnold van Beverhoudt, Jr. -- April 2008 -- Saratoga Springs Resort
Travel Dates: April 20-27, 2008
Travel Method: Plane, Rental Car
Resort: Saratoga Springs Resort
Ages Represented: Older Adults
WDW Experience: Veteran (annual visits since 2003)
Comments: I couldnt pass up the chance to see my favorite rock & roll band perform at Disney World
Cast of Characters:
Arnold, 58 (trip reporter) -- 11 WDW trips since 1973 and 1 DLR trip in 1985
Helena, 58 (wife) -- 10 WDW trips since 1982 and 2 DLR trips in 1972 and 1985
Prior Trip Reports on Mouseplanet:
30 Years at Disney World: 1973 to 2003
It would not be an exaggeration to say that this trip was 44 years in the making. You see, in 1964, as a boy of 14 years old I heard an instrumental rock & roll song on the radio and I was hooked! That song had such an impact on me that, to this day, I can remember exactly where I was when I heard it for the first time. The song was Telstar and the version that I heard on the radio was by a four-piece guitar band out of Seattle called The Ventures.
During the 1960s, The Ventures were the absolute kings of instrumental rock & roll music. For that decade, they ranked 6th overall on the Billboard charts, behind the likes of The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Ray Conniff, and Ray Charles. In all, they placed 14 singles and 37 albums on the Billboard charts. One year, they had an amazing five albums on the Billboard charts at the same time! Theyre probably best known for their 1969 Top 5 hit, the theme song from the TV series Hawaii Five-0. But thats really the least original or spectacular of their thousands of recorded tracks. Although theyre now mostly forgotten in the United States, to this day, they continue to be idolized in Japan, where they outsold The Beatles 2-to-1 during the 1960s and have made annual concert tours of the country almost every year since 1962. Next year (2009), The Ventures will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of their formation as a band. Theyve recorded more than 250 original albums (excluding greatest hits collections and international reissues). I have almost all of those albums in CD format and about a half-dozen DVDs of live concerts theyve performed over the years. But, living in the islands, in all those years I never really had the opportunity to see The Ventures perform in person . . . until now.
In late September 2007, I saw a short notice in the All Ears Net newsletter listing some of the bands that had been signed to play during Epcots annual Flower and Garden Festival in 2008. Among them were The Ventures, who would be appearing on April 24, 25, and 26. This was an opportunity that I couldnt pass up. On October 9, 2007, after I had confirmed that the notice in the All Ears Net newsletter was correct, I contacted the DVC to make reservations for late April 2008. Helena and I had talked about this planned trip and decided to try out the Boardwalk Villas. This would give us easy access to Epcot and also give us a chance to try out one of the DVC resorts other than our home resort, Saratoga Springs Resort (SSR). Unfortunately, Boardwalk Villas was all booked up for the week that we were interested in, as was the nearby Beach Club Villas. So, we had to settle on a studio room at SSR.
With that minor disappointment behind us, that same day, I proceeded to make some advance dining reservations (ADRs). Since only Helena and I would be on this trip, we decided to try a few new places to eat, including Cinderellas Royal Table, the Coral Reef, the recently-opened Yak & Yeti, and the Kona Caf at the Polynesian Resort.
As for transportation reservations, on November 11, 2007, I found remarkably low roundtrip airfares from St. Thomas to Miami on American Airlines web site. They were offering tickets at $302 per person (including tax), whereas these same flights usually went for $500-$700 per person. We couldnt pass that up. The next thing was to reserve a mid-sized car with Hertz for pickup at Miami International Airport at $160 per week.
Helena wanted an opportunity to visit our daughter, Selene, and granddaughter, Jaidyn, while we were in Florida. So, we ended up exchanging a week at a non-Disney timeshare that we have in Aruba for a week in early May 2008 at a Vistana resort in Jensen Beach, which is only about half an hour from Selenes home in Port St. Lucie. The exchange was done through RCI, and we received our reservation confirmation from them on November 29, 2007.
Lastly, on January 29, 2008, I again called DVC member services to be put on the waiting list for a studio room at Boardwalk Villas, to sign up for the Disney Dining Plan (DDP), and to purchase 7-day Magic Your Way Tickets with parkhopper. The two tickets cost a total of $572, including tax and $10 express shipping, and I received them in the mail about a week later. As for the DDP, Helena and I had looked at the menus for the various restaurants where we had ADRs and priced out the most likely items wed select at each one. We also factored in eating breakfast at our resort to use the counter service credits and using the snack credits for munchies between breakfast and our big meal of the day. In the end, it looked like the DDP would be at least a break-even deal for us, so we decided to go ahead and sign up. This should give us a chance to find out whether the new DDP would be worthwhile on future family trips.
As for park touring, our last three visits to Disney World have been with other family members, during which we let our guests set the pace and decide where to go in the parks. As a result, there have been a number of attractions that we havent visited in several years. So, for this trip Helena and I decided to concentrate on some of those often-ignored or overlooked attractions - things like the Carousel of Progress, the Tomorrowland Transportation Authority, the Disney World Railroad, Ellens Energy Adventures, Maelstrom, the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, the Studios Backlot Tour, Wonders of Flight, and so on. Of course, well still try to enjoy as many of our favorites as possible, but well make an effort to also fit in these overlooked attractions. With that touring plan in mind, it was now just a matter of waiting for April to come around. As our travel date came closer, we learned that our wait list request for Boardwalk Villas didnt come through, therefore, well be staying at SSR after all.
In summary, our final itinerary looked like this:
- Sat 4/19: AA Flight from St. Thomas to Miami, Overnight with Selene and Family in Port St. Lucie
- Sun 4/20: Drive to Orlando, Check-in at SSR, Dinner at Downtown Disney
- Mon 4/21: Magic Kingdom, Dinner ADR at Cinderellas Royal Table
- Tue 4/22: Disneys Hollywood Studios, Dinner ADR at Hollywood & Vine
- Wed 4/23: Animal Kingdom, Lunch ADR at Yak & Yeti
- Thu 4/24: Epcot, Dinner ADR at Le Cellier, See The Ventures in Concert
- Fri 4/25: Magic Kingdom, Lunch ADR at Kona Caf, Epcot to See The Ventures in Concert
- Sat 4/26: Epcot, Lunch ADR at the Coral Reef, See The Ventures in Concert
- Sun 4/27: Check-out from SSR, Lunch at one of the Theme Parks, Drive to Port. St. Lucie
- Mon 4/28 - Sun 5/4: Visit with Selene and Family at Her Home
- Mon 5/5 - Sun 5/11: Relax at Vistanas Jensen Beach Resort
- Mon 5/12: Drive to Miami, AA Flight from Miami to St. Thomas
What Actually Happened:
Saturday, April 19:
The Plan: AA Flight from St. Thomas to Miami, Overnight with Selene and Family in Port St. Lucie
Those of you who have read some of my earlier trip reports will recognize our travel-day routine. We were up by 4:00a (less than 4 hours of sleep last night), got dressed, ate a light breakfast, loaded the luggage into my car, and drove to my brothers home. He kindly got up early on a Saturday morning to drive us to the St. Thomas airport for our flight. When we arrived at the airport at 6:00a, there was a crowd at the American Airlines check-in counter. Our direct flight from St. Thomas to Miami was originally scheduled to leave at 7:45a, but I knew (from an aa.com voicemail on my cell phone early this morning) that the flight had been rescheduled to 9:00a. Unfortunately, the people who were already at the airport didnt know this and got there extra early. Luckily, despite the crowd, Helena and I were able to check-in within 15 minutes using the self-service kiosks.
Next up was clearing U.S. Customs (a breeze) and the TSA security check (another matter all together). We didnt actually have any problem, in terms of having items confiscated, but Helena kept buzzing through the metal detector although she had removed everything metallic from her person. She was pulled aside to be hand-wanded, and the only thing we can figure out is that maybe there was some metal in her bra! :-) Anyway, when the TSA screener was satisfied that she wasnt a terrorist, we were allowed to get our stuff together and go to the gate to wait for the 9:00a departure time.
Around 8:20a, they began boarding the plane, some through the front cabin door and others (including us) through the rear door. But those of us directed to the rear door were held up by a ground attendant while maintenance employees took care of some problem at the rear of the cabin. Eventually, we were redirected to the front cabin door and finally allowed to board. Surprisingly, despite the hold-up, we actually took off pretty close to 9:00a. Fifteen minutes later, the pilot came on the public address system to inform us that we were going to have to land in San Juan (we were just approaching that Puerto Rican city at the time) to have the same maintenance problem looked at again.
After circling a bit to lose altitude, we landed and a squad of four or five maintenance men came onboard and headed to the back of the plane. Apparently, one of the lavatories was having some kind of technical problem (Im not sure what). Eventually, after a delay of about an hour, we took off from San Juan. Luckily, there werent any other problems, and we landed in Miami at 1:10p. Our two checked bags were coming off the luggage carousel just as we arrived at baggage claim, then we made our way outside to catch the Hertz shuttle to their nearby rental center.
We were met by a long line of other customers (15-20 people), but most were part of large family groups and we were being served in less than 15 minutes. I was upgraded to a Honda Accord with GPS, and we were soon on our way north on I-95. We made a lunch stop at a Boston Market in Deerfield Beach before continuing to Port St. Lucie, where we would be spending the night. Originally, we were going to spend the night with our daughter, Selene; but Helena and I were still recovering from a wicked respiratory virus that had us both coughing a lot. We didnt want to pass on our bug to Selene, John, and little Jaidyn, so we decided to instead spend the night at a local Hampton Inn. We did, however, stop by Selenes home for a few minutes to pick up a couple items (including a handy cane-chair) that Helena had left there after our December 2007 visit.
Keeping a discrete distance while at Selenes home, we were just overjoyed to see little Jaidyn, who was now 2 years 9 months old. Shes a petite little girl, but so precious and so-o-o much more mature than when we last saw her in December. She showed us some of her new toys and even sang us a few verses of Old MacDonald Had a Farm. Did you know that in addition to cows, dogs, pigs, and ducks, Farmer MacDonald has a camera that goes click click here, cheese cheese there? :-) Selene also gave me a big surprise by presenting me with a belated birthday gift (April 10th) of a brand new Tigger baseball cap to replace the two that I had lost on rides at Disney World in recent years. This one is a beige color with a large embroidered T and bright orange embroidered Tigger. She had found it on the internet, after my unsuccessful search for one at Disney World last year.
By the way, if any of you ever wondered whether a 2-year old would actually remember a visit to Disney World, when Helena picked up the cane-chair she uses while waiting in lines and for parade viewing in the parks, Jaidyn immediately made the association and called out Mickey Mouse! Rides! Teacups! We just couldnt hold in the laughter.
After a short visit of only 15 to 20 minutes, Helena and I said our goodbyes to Selene and Jaidyn (John was still at work). It just about broke our hearts that we couldnt give them some hugs and kisses for fear of spreading our germs to them. Little Jaidyn watched us from the window near the front door as we walked out to our rental car and drove away. Feeling a little down, we made the short drive to the Hampton Inn, where we checked in and settled in for the rest of the day. Tomorrow well make a quick grocery stop on the way to the Florida Turnpike, enroute to Walt Disney World. Lights were out for Helena and I by 9:00p
Sunday, April 20:
The Plan: Drive to Orlando, SSR Check-in, Downtown Disney, Dinner at Bongos Cuban Caf
A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to Orlando. We had a half-day detour to a walk-in medical clinic in Port St. Lucie. Helena woke up today with the white of her right eye all red and bloodshot. Fearing some kind of eye infection, we thought it best to have a doctor see her before we headed out to Orlando.
After breakfast and checking out of the Hampton Inn, we drove a couple miles to the Martin Memorial MediClinic. There were about a half-dozen other patients before us, most coughing their heads off. Helena and I both checked in to see the doctor since, in addition to Helenas eye, our own coughs werent getting any better. We were finally seen by the doctor, who diagnosed Helenas eye problem as pterygium, the rupture of small blood vessels in the eye caused by her heavy coughing. In my case, he detected some wheezing in my lungs from the persistent respiratory virus. He prescribed medications for both of us, and we left the clinic just around 1:00p. We headed to a nearby Walgreens to have the prescriptions filled and to pick up bottled water and some toiletries and other items we would be needing at Disney World. After that, we stopped at a Burger King across the street for a quick lunch and filled up the rental cars gas tank. We finally headed to the Florida Turnpike around 2:15p.
The drive on the Turnpike and the Osceola Parkway to Walt Disney World was completely uneventful, and we arrived at Saratoga Springs Resort around 4:15p. The security guard checked my drivers license against his guest list and gave us a big Welcome Home! greeting. We proceeded to the check-in parking, and I checked my watch as we walked through the doors into the Carriage House registration building at exactly 4:33p. There was no one else in line waiting to check-in, and we were promptly served by Kathleen (San Antonio College). Incredibly, we walked out of the Carriage House with registration completed at 4:40p. Kathleen had us registered and on our way to our room in the Springs (room 4336) in just 7 minutes! That has got to be some kind of record.
We drove literally right across the street to our building, parked right out front, and unloaded the car in two trips. Since it was already so late in the day, we decided to can any idea of going to Downtown Disney to spend some time. It had been a tiring day and we really could use the rest to have a successful day at the Magic Kingdom tomorrow. So, we went ahead and unpacked and stored everything wed be needing during the upcoming week and then walked over to the Artists Palette food court for a light dinner. This consisted of chicken nuggets with vegetable slaw for both of us with iced tea for Helena and lemonade for me (these would be our drinks all week). Since we were planning to use our Disney Dining Plan (DDP) counter service credits for breakfast during the rest of the week, we paid the $21 out of pocket for this meal. After that, we went back to our room, watched Big Brotherand Desperate Housewives and then crashed after that.
Monday, April 21:
The Plan: Magic Kingdom, Dinner ADR at Cinderellas Royal Table
The alarm on my watch rang at 6:00a and Helena started her routine of applying a couple medicinal eye drops. Meanwhile, I watched some of the early morning news and weather. At least it looked like the weather would be cooperating all week long, with little, if any, chance of rain and temps ranging from the mid-80s during the day to the mid-60s overnight.
After showering and getting dressed, we made our way to the Artists Palette for breakfast. Helena had a Mickey waffle with bacon and I had a Western omelette with hash brown potatoes, both with coffee and orange juice. This was on the DDP, but otherwise would have cost about $20. After finishing our breakfast, we went back to our room to grab our backpack (me) and purse (Helena), and headed to the nearby bus stop.
This was a very frustrating experience, waiting for the bus to the Magic Kingdom. We arrived at the bus stop at exactly 8:48a. Buses arrived in this order -- Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom (the driver said he was full and didnt pick anyone up, although it didnt look to me like all standing room was occupied), Animal Kingdom, Epcot, two Downtown Disney, Hollywood Studios, and finally Magic Kingdom. This last bus arrived a full 40 minutes after we had gotten to the bus stop and it really was almost full. The driver picked up only six of the dozen or more people who were waiting to go to the Magic Kingdom. Thankfully, Helena and I were among the six who were able to get on this bus. I dont know how long the others had to wait for the next Magic Kingdom bus to arrive.
At least, our bus driver was a jolly fellow, who had us singing Happy Birthday to those on the bus who were celebrating and other Disney songs, including Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Da. When we arrived at the Magic Kingdom, a ferry from the Transportation and Ticket Center was also just unloading, so there was quite a crowd going through security and the turnstiles at the same time. Even so, Helena and I made good time and were soon walking down Main Street USA. We stopped about halfway down for a Photopass picture and then proceeded to Tomorrowland.
As I mentioned in the Advanced Planning section above, our emphasis on this trip was going to be to take in some of the rides and attractions that we hadnt experienced in a few years, with some standard favorites also thrown in. With that plan, we started at Stitchs Great Escape. But first, I went ahead to get Fastpasses for Buzz Lightyears Space Ranger Spin. Back at Stitch, the sign said the standby wait would be about 20 minutes, but it was actually less than 10. The attraction itself was cute, but not something wed need to experience on every trip. Stitch actually burped in our faces twice. I only remember that happening once on previous visits, but I could be wrong.
After Stitch, we still werent in the Fastpass window for Buzz Lightyear, so we took a relaxing ride on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (TTA). I was actually able to pick out some of the ride vehicles while we were passing through the dark section of Space Mountain. That was a first. As we were getting off of the TTA, we noticed that people were entering the Carousel of Progress. We hadnt seen this classic attraction in about 5 years, so we rushed in just as the doors were about to close. We enjoyed the classic animatronic scenes, and noticed that there were some updates to the modern scene, with references to DVDs and high definition TVs.
After that trip down memory lane, we returned to Buzz Lightyear and walked right through the Fastpass queue, bypassing hundreds of people waiting in the standby line. I still dont understand the reluctance of people to make more use of Fastpass; but then again, thats a good thing for those of us who know how to use the system. Helena and I had a heated battle on the ride, but she still wiped me out with 149,000 points to my 43,200. I still say that Im being distracted by having to steer the ride vehicle and shoot at the same time, while she can concentrate on hitting the targets. It was beginning to get a bit warm by now, so we stopped at an ice cream cart for a couple of Haagen Dazs ice cream bars. We used DDP snack credits, but the ice cream would have cost about $6.
We bypassed Mickeys Toontown Fair and most of Fantasyland, stopping only at Mickeys PhilharMagic to see this wonderful 3D film. We had absolutely no wait, and walked right into center-of-the-row seats. We bypassed the other Fantasyland rides because they all had very long lines, even its a small world.
Next up was the Haunted Mansion, where we thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the recent renovations and upgrades to that classic ride. I think we both had a greater appreciation for those upgrades this time around. While we were exiting the Mansion, we noted that the standby line was at least twice as long as it had been when we joined it. Talk about good timing.
As we proceeded through Liberty Square, we noticed that the Liberty Belle river boat was getting ready to set sail, so we climbed aboard for another relaxing ride. After that, we lucked into last-minute seating for the Country Bear Jamboree. Literally, we were in the last two seats available on the left side of the theater. Even so, we had a good view of the bear performers and enjoyed the show. After the bears, we went to hunt down some Dole Whips. Weve heard about these dessert snacks for years, but had never tried one. Quite frankly, although they were delicious, we dont think they live up to the hype weve heard about them. Next time we visit the Magic Kingdom, Helena wants to try an orange slushie from the Sunshine Tree Terrace. We remember that we just loved Orange Julius drinks when that fast food chain was popular, so we wonder whether these orange slushies would be as good. We used DDP snack credits for the Dole Whips, but they would have cost about $9.
By now, it was just about 2:00p, so we thought it best to start looking for a place to see the Disney Dreams Come True Parade. We found a great spot on the western side of Main Street, with the sun at our backs. But, predictably, a family group moved in at the last minute and practically pushed us out of the way to plant themselves where they blocked our previously-unobstructed view of the parade. That really ruined my enjoyment of the parade, but we werent going to make a big ruckus over the issue. Weve seen this particular parade at least three previous times.
After the parade was over, we entered one of the stores on Main Street and slowly made our way towards the Railroad Station, checking out the merchandise along the way. In particular, I was looking for a copy of the 2-disc 2008 Walt Disney World park music CD. (I think its subtitled Four Parks, One World.) I saw it advertised in a Laughing Place newsletter, but it was nowhere to be found in the Magic Kingdom. Has it sold out already? At least I did pick up a copy of the Magic Kingdom Events Party Music CD. After browsing through the shops, we decided to take a circle tour on the Disney World Railroad, another ride we hadnt done in a long time. That was a relaxing 20 minutes.
By now, it was getting close to time for our 5:15p ADR at Cinderellas Royal Table. We checked in at 4:55p and were seated immediately. This dinner package included a photo session with the Royal Princess herself, and we got a nice (but not great) picture of the two of us with Cinderella. Then taking the elevator up to the second floor of the Castle, we were promptly seated at a window table overlooking Fantasyland. Our server, CJ (Orlando) was right on the ball, although it was a little strange to have him continuously referring to us (and other guests) as mlady and mlord. But I guess thats just part of the atmosphere in the presence of royalty. Helena and I both had the BLT salad, prime rib with potatoes and asparagus, and chocolate cake (Helena) and poached peach (myself) for dessert. The food was tasty, but we werent too impressed with the large amount of fat in the prime rib. I guess we have just been spoiled by fantastic, fat-less prime rib cuts we have had at the Caribbean Beach Resort in years past (both at the original Captains Table and the current Shutters). On the DDP, this meal counted for 2 table service credits for each of us, but at least 18% gratuity WAS included, so there was no additional out-of-pocket cost. Without the DDP, the meal would have cost about $102, including gratuity.
It was now approaching 6:00p, and Helena and I were getting tired. So, we decided to head back to SSR and call it a night. I really had my heart set on seeing SpectroMagic and Wishes tonight, but since we were both still fighting the remnants of the flu, we thought it best not to push too much on our first day at the theme parks. Hopefully, Ill be able to return to the Magic Kingdom on Wednesday, April 23 (our planned Animal Kingdom day) to see the parade and fireworks. We exited the park and arrived at the bus stop to find a SSR bus just waiting there. It was a short, uncrowded ride back to the resort. Back in our room, we settled in for a night of Dancing with the Stars and Two and a Half Men. Helena was asleep by 10:00p, and I completed the trip report notes before turning in around 11:30p
Tuesday, April 22:
The Plan: Disneys Hollywood Studios, Dinner ADR at Hollywood & Vine
We awoke at 6:00a again, took care of our morning routine, then headed over to the Artists Palette for breakfast. Today, Helena and I both had Mickey waffles with coffee and orange juice. Without the DDP, breakfast would have cost about $20. Coincidentally, we arrived at the bus stop at exactly the same time as yesterday 8:48a. But unlike yesterday, a Hollywood Studios bus pulled up just as we got there, and it was only about half full. We arrived at the Studios parking lot right at 9:00a. Security check and the turnstiles were a breeze, and we were inside the park just a few minutes after 9:00a.
We stopped on Hollywood Boulevard to have a couple Photopass pics taken, then we proceeded over to the Animation Courtyard and walked right into the Voyage of the Little Mermaid. I noticed that some of the laser effects that had been missing in our visits a few years ago were back now. I was glad to see the laser effects return. We next headed over to the Magic of Disney Animation and, as in the past, I was extremely saddened to see all of the shuttered buildings that in past years were abuzz with animators creating the next Disney Studios animated classic. Visitors to Disney World who never experienced the original animation studio tour just cant understand what a disappointment the current tour is.
After Helena and I sat through the short Mushu presentation and basically just walked through the rest of the tour, we headed over to Sunset Boulevard for our first viewing of the Beauty and the Beast stage show in several years. The acapella group Four for a Dollar entertained the enthusiastic crowds for a few minutes before the main show began. Helena and I believe that the show has had a few small changes since the last time we saw it. For example, we dont remember a choreographed appearance by dancers with large golden spoons during the Be Our Guest number. Regardless, the show was as entertaining as ever.
On our way back out of Sunset Boulevard (we werent going near Tower of Terror or Rock n Roller Coaster), we stopped at a cart to buy a couple bottles of water because we had forgotten our own water bottles back at SSR. The water would have cost about $4, but we instead used two DDP snack credits.
We then went to the Streets of America section to take in the Studios Backlot Tour. It was nice experiencing Catastrophe Canyon after an absence of several years. But again it was a bittersweet experience, because we remember how extensive the original Backlot Tour was. The original version included, not only the water tank demos, but an indoor demo of digital special effects that included children from the audience being set on top of a large mechanical bee and filmed against a green screen. When the final product was shown, background special effects were added to recreate a scene from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. There was also a demonstration of how mechanical effects were created for a short film starring Bette Midler. Then there was the opportunity to take a walking tour through active production studios where various television shows were actually being filmed. None of that exists any longer, nor does the Residential Street section that gave way to Lights, Motors, Action.
After the Backlot Tour, Helena and I walked back up the Streets of America, stopping for a few minutes to take in Mulch, Sweat, and Shears. I enjoyed the rock music, but it was quite too loud for us. We also noticed that Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable were out for meet and greet, with a small line waiting to meet the popular Disney Channel pair. Next, we took in Muppet*Vision 3D. We see this show almost every trip, but we love the Muppets. That being said, wed love to see a new Muppet 3D movie. Is anyone at Disney Imagineering listening (or reading)?
While passing by Star Tours (the standby line was just too long for us), we also noted that the Jedi Training Academy was in progress. Darth Vader and Obiwan Kenobi were giving young Jedis instruction in the fighting arts. We headed over to Gerti the Dinosaur for waffle cone soft serve ice cream (DDP snacks that otherwise would have cost about $10). While enjoying the ice cream, we just relaxed in a shaded spot then, while Helena made a pit stop, I caught the ending of one of the High School Musical 2 shows in front of the Sorcerers Hat.
Since we were right there and the line was short, we next headed into the Great Movie Ride. As we entered, one of the CMs told Helena and I to bypass the queue line and go to the front of the line. At first we didnt understand what was going one, but when they put us to sit in the front row of the ride vehicle, we figured out that they thought Helena was partially handicapped because she was walking with her cane-chair. Weve never used the cane-chair as a way to avoid waiting in line although, in fact, Helena does have bad knees. But this was the second time weve been put to the front of a queue line without feeling that it was necessary. The first time was at Finding Nemo: The Musical at Animal Kingdom a couple Christmases ago.
After the Great Movie Ride, we headed down to Hollywood Boulevard to find a spot to view the new Block Party Bash, which was only half an hour away. Helena and I both enjoyed the high energy dancers, but felt that Hollywood Boulevard was somewhat of a restricted area from which to view much of the action except what was happening directly in front of us. I think the show would be more visible and better appreciated in an open area, such as in front of the Sorcerers Hat.
From Hollywood Boulevard, we went to experience the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular for the first time in about 5 years. As with the Beauty and the Beast show, Helena and I thought that some of the script for the show producers was a bit changed from the last time we saw it, although the actions scenes themselves were all the same as before. After this explosive show, we headed over to Hollywood & Vine, although it was only 5:00p and our dinner ADR was for 5:30p. We were called for seating after waiting about 10 minutes. Joan (Racine, WI) was our server, getting our drinks, clearing used dishes, and stopping by frequently to see if we needed anything. As we had experienced last December, the buffet items at Hollywood & Vine were many, varied, and quite tasty. Without the DDP, this buffet dinner would have cost us about $53 (excluding gratuity, which we paid out-of-pocket).
Although I really wanted to catch Fantasmic tonight, I decided to join Helena in returning to SSR after dinner because we both still werent quite up to par physically. The real point of this trip was to see The Ventures in concert on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, and we didnt want to wear ourselves out before then. On the way out of the park, a CM asked us if we would like to fill out a survey on our dining experience at Hollywood Studios, and we agreed to do the survey, which took about 10 minutes. On finally exiting the park, we caught an almost-empty SSR bus just as it was about to leave the station.
Back at SSR, Helena showered, caught Y&R on SoapNet and then American Idol and Big Brother, while I caught up on emails and updated the trip report, with an ear tuned to the TV. Helena went to bed around 10:00p, and I followed by 11:00p after finishing the trip report.
Wednesday, April 23:
The Plan: Animal Kingdom, Lunch ADR at Yak & Yeti
We were again up at 6:00a and took care of our morning routine. For breakfast at the Artists Palette, I had another Western omelette and Helena had scrambled eggs with a biscuit. We both also had coffee and orange juice. Breakfast was again covered by the DDP, but otherwise would have cost about $22.
We got to the bus stop at 8:41a (a few minutes earlier than Monday and Tuesday) and had about a 5 minute wait for the Animal Kingdom bus to arrive. Todays ride was a bit longer than the trips to the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, and we arrived at Animal Kingdom a bit after 9:00a. I was really surprised by the mass of people at the security check and the turnstiles. The park was going to be a madhouse today!
We stopped for Photopass pictures on the bridge that overlooks the Tree of Life and then made our way, as quickly as the crowds would allow, to Africa to try to get Fastpasses for the Kilimanjaro Safari. However, when we got there, there was a mass of people jammed up in front of the Safari standby and Fastpass areas. I would conservatively guess that there were at least 1,000 people there no exaggeration! I have never seen so many people jammed together at Animal Kingdom. We had no intention of getting ourselves into that mess, so we detoured to Asia and the Maharajah Jungle Trek, where we saw the Komodo dragon, the tapir, various deer and antelopes, a couple tigers, and those huge fruit bats. The bats were having lettuce for breakfast, and most were very active and spreading their huge wings as they ate. Usually theyre just hanging there all curled up and asleep.
We then made our way back across the park to Camp Minnie-Mickey for the first showing of the Festival of the Lion King. (To Mike of the MouseStation podcast: I agree that Festival of the Lion King is the best non-ride attraction at Animal Kingdom.) Helena and I enjoyed another rousing performance, this time seated in the giraffe section for the first time. On the way out of Camp Minnie-Mickey, we noticed that the Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends show was just about to begin, so we stopped in to see this low-key but entertaining show for the first time in several years. I must comment that the young lady who played Pocahontas today was physically perhaps the best suited actress for the part. At least to me, she most resembled the look and physique of the animated Pocahontas of any of the three actresses weve seen performing in this show.
Although the sky was completely cloudless when we left SSR earlier in the morning, it was beginning to get very cloudy by the time Pocahontas show was over. We kept our fingers crossed that we wouldnt have any rain today, because we were still getting over the flu and didnt need to get wet. Luckily, it never did rain.
As we crossed over the bridge from Camp Minnie-Mickey to Discovery Island, I stopped to get a picture of the rock formation near the river bank that resembles the head of a large alligator/crocodile or perhaps a dragon. Ive heard that this artifact was intended for the never-built section of the park focusing on mythical animals (like dragons and unicorns). Will that Beastly Kingdom ever become reality?
We had decided to give up on the idea of riding the Kilimanjaro Safari today, and were set to see Finding Nemo: The Musical. So, we started in the direction of Dinoland, stopping by Dino-Rama to look around a little bit more than weve ever done in the past. Primaeval Whirl looks like a fun ride, but Im afraid of trying it because of my tendency to suffer from vertigo. I read in a Disney World guide book recently (I dont remember which one), that the concept of the much-maligned Dino-Rama was that it represented a small-town type carnival amusement park that sprang up near the location of a real-life dinosaur dig. The builders/owners of this carnival amusement park were Chester and Hester. Although this concept explains the thinking of the Imagineers in designing and building Dino-Rama, I still believe that its a jarring departure from the realistic look and feel of the rest of Animal Kingdom. I wouldnt mind seeing it being replaced with something more realistic that still would fall into the theme of Dinoland.
After our little tour of Dino-Rama, Helena and I headed over to the Finding Nemo theater, where the line was building quickly. Once the doors to the theater were opened, we scored seats in the front right section, up near the stage. The show was another great performance -- enough to give the Lion King a run for its money. This one grows on me each time I experience it. One pre-show oddity I noticed was that a public announcement (mans voice) said that flash photography and video lighting were not allowed. But later on, another announcement (womans voice) said that absolutely no photography was allowed. I believe this second announcement is a left-over from the early days of the show, when all photography was, in fact, prohibited. But this situation is confusing for viewers of the show. I know that several people seated near me had cameras but didnt use them after that second announcement. However, I took the opportunity to get a few photos without flash. I also saw other audience members using camcorders without lights.
When Finding Nemo was finished, the audience members leaving the theater met a human traffic jam in the walkways of Asia. The going was very tough and very slow, with more strollers than Ive ever seen at the same time in a Disney theme park -- even at Fantasyland. Unfortunately, we were trying to get to the Yak & Yeti for a 2:00p ADR that was only 15 minutes away. We finally made it, and were seated right away. This was our first time at this Asian-style restaurant, and we were very pleased with the ambiance and the food. Our server, Doug (Portland, MI - I think), was very helpful with info on the menu and very attentive to our needs. Helena and I both had the tempura honey chicken with rice, broccoli, and carrots and chocolate brownie sundaes for dessert. This DDP table service meal would have cost $51 (excluding gratuity, which we paid out of pocket).
Determining the appropriate gratuity was a bit embarrassing at the Yak & Yeti, pointing out a problem I see with the new DDP procedure. The DDP receipt did not include any indication of the cost of the meal, and Doug said that the cash register does not show cost for DDP meals either. Therefore, we had to ask Doug to see a menu so that we could figure out the total meal cost and the appropriate gratuity. In contrast, yesterday at Hollywood & Vine and at later meals in other theme parks, the servers provided an interim DDP receipt that included the meal cost and suggested gratuities of 18% and 20%. I dont know if the different procedure is because Yak & Yeti is not a Disney owned and operated restaurant.
We did notice, however, that all of the final table service receipts and the counter service and snack receipts did not show any cost information, only a list of the food items purchased and the number of DDP credits used. Therefore, for this trip report and my own information, I had to keep track of the item costs and add them up on a daily basis (using an electronic spreadsheet to compute the item costs and appropriate sales tax). Under the old DDP system, meal and other food item costs were always shown on the receipts so that you could easily see how much your food purchases would have cost without the DDP. This is obviously a Disney change to make it more difficult for customers to compute the savings (or not) by using the DDP. Frankly, I dont like this change and will have to seriously reconsider whether I really want to use the DDP again in the future. Ill tally all the appropriate cost info at the end of the trip report and let you know whether or not it was cost-effective for us.
After our late lunch, we headed to the nearby Wonders of Flight to see this simple, but entertaining show. (The last time we saw it, in December 2003, Paige Davis of TLCs Trading Spaces was in the audience and I caught her at the bottom of a photo of a hawk flying over the heads of the audience. Helena and I found Paiges contact information on the internet and sent her a copy of the photo, and she responded to us, thanking us for our thoughtfulness. Were very glad to see that Paige has returned to Trading Spaces.) For todays show, there were a lot of different bird actors from what we remembered from 2003. One of the most impressive holdovers was the American bald eagle.
It was now almost time for Mickeys Jammin Jungle Parade, so we staked out spots directly opposite the Wonders of Flight theater. It wasnt an ideal spot because we didnt have a view of the parade elements until they were almost directly in front of us and there were a lot of shadows from nearby trees; but we really didnt want to battle the crowds to find another viewing spot. After the parade was over, we made our way to Discovery Island to take in the Its Tough to Be a Bug 3D movie. It was essentially a walk-on. A little girl (about 2 to 3 years old) sitting next to Helena was absolutely freaked out by the bugs. Im sure the poor child had nightmares that night.
After the movie, we stopped by one of the shops near the park exit to buy a little souvenir for Jaidyn, then we headed to the exit. As had happened yesterday at Hollywood Studios, we arrived just in time to catch a bus to SSR that was just getting ready to leave. Back at the hotel, we stopped at the Artists Palette to get a couple of afternoon snacks (fruit cup for Helena and a chocolate chip cookie for me) using DDP snack credits. The cost would have been about $6. We then went to our room and settled in for the night, watching Big Brother and American Idol. I completed todays trip report notes, and lights were out by 11:00p. Tomorrow is what this trip is really all about -- my first ever opportunity to see The Ventures live on stage at the Epcot Flower Power concert series.
Thursday, April 24:
The Plan: Epcot, Dinner ADR at Le Cellier, See The Ventures in Concert
We got up at 6:00a and went through our normal morning routine. Breakfast at the Artists Palette consisted of a scrambled egg platter for Helena and a croissant egg sandwich for me, both with the usual coffee and orange juice. This was another DDP counter service meal, which otherwise would have cost $21. We were to the bus stop by 8:41a and the Epcot bus pulled up about 10 minutes later.
Security check went quickly, but for some reason the Epcot turnstiles seemed to be slower to respond to the ticket/fingerprint routine than at the other parks. I thought the people in front of us were messing around, but it took a while for the machines to respond for Helena and I also. Anyway, once inside the park, we got a Photopass photo taken with Spaceship Earth in the background and then took a few minutes to admire the topiaries that were all over the place.
We then headed directly over to the Land pavilion to collect Fastpasses for Soarin. The wait line was already up to 30 minutes and it wasnt even 10:00a yet. The Fastpass return time was for 10:42a. Since our plan for this trip was to visit some of the forgotten attractions, we first went to view the environmental Circle of Life film. Realizing whats going on now with more awareness of global warming and other environmental issues, this film takes on new significance. We then hopped a ride on Living with the Land. Im even more convinced, after this ride, that the new automated narrative is a good thing. Now the quality of the narration is consistent, easily heard, and timed to what you are actually seeing.
We were still early for Soarin, so we headed over to the Seas pavilion to take in the Seas with Nemo and Friends ride. After the short but pleasant ride, we looked at some of the exhibits then headed over to Turtle Talk with Crush. This was a full house, but at least we didnt have a long wait to get into the theater. The cast member voicing Crush had a slightly different routine than the one weve seen before, but we still enjoyed the short presentation. We were now inside the Fastpass window for Soarin, so we headed back over to the Land to take in what is probably our favorite Disney World ride. I tried to sneak a few still photos on the ride (without flash), but they came out blurred because of the fast motion. (Well, I at least had to try. Nothing lost with an electronic camera.)
Next, we went to take a Journey into Imagination with Figment. A cute ride, but still not up to par with the original. We noticed that there have been some changes and rearrangement of exhibits in ImageWorks, but we didnt stop to experience any of the exhibits because they were all being used.
We then headed over to the other side of Future World but, as you might imagine, the standby and Fastpass times were unbelievable. Test Track had a 150 minute standby wait, with Fastpass return times after 4:00p. As weve experienced all week, there has been very heavy attendance at all of the theme parks, much of that being families with toddlers and lower-school children in tow. As I mentioned earlier, I was very surprised by this. I just wasnt expecting that spring break would still be in progress this late in April and after Easter. It seemed like every other family group had a stroller ... or two.
We finally made our way over to Ellens Energy Adventure to see Ellen again challenge Dumb Judy at Jeopardy, energy edition. When we were headed over to the Energy pavilion, we noticed that the old Wonders of Life pavilion was being used as a sort of headquarters for the Flower and Garden Festival. We didnt have time to go over there to take a look today; but we plan to do that later in the week.
By now it was around 1:00p, so we stopped at the Electric Umbrella for a quick lunch. This consisted of chicken nuggets and fries for both of us. Wanting to save our DDP counter service credits for breakfast, we paid $19 for this meal, including two soft drinks. After lunch we started our way across to World Showcase, starting at Mexico. We took a slow, leisurely stroll, stopping along the way to admire the topiaries and other floral arrangements along the way. This was a very refreshing change of pace from the Christmas plants and decorations that weve become accustomed to with our almost-annual Christmas-time visits to Disney World.
When we finally arrived at the American Adventure pavilion, we were surprised to find that people were already lining up, at 2:15p, for the 5:45p Flower Power concert by The Ventures. Well, we had made this trip specifically to see The Ventures, so what could we do but also get in line. Surprisingly, the time seemed to go by fairly quickly, as we people-watched, talked with some of the other people in line (including a Disney Dream Team cast member who had the day off), and shaded ourselves from the sun. Actually, it wasnt as hot as you might think, because there were many full clouds providing some cover and we were also getting some shade from the trees lining the queue area.
After a while, Nokie Edwards (The Ventures lead guitarist) and his wife Judy passed by on the way to the theater. I recognized him immediately and called out Hi, Nokie! like a star-struck teenager. He responded with a big smile and a wave. Not long after, Don Wilson (The Ventures co-founder and rhythm guitarist) came by with Leon Taylor (The Ventures current drummer and son of Mel Taylor, the bands now-deceased original drummer). I again called out Hi, Don! and he came over to shake hands and handed out souvenir guitar picks to myself and a few of the other fans waiting in line. Not long after that, Mel Taylors widow, Fiona, who is also the bands business manager, came by and I went up to her and introduced myself. Ive corresponded with Fiona on many occasions over the past 10 years because, through my personal website (http://www.sandcastlevi.com/ventures/f_ventures.html), I spearheaded a petition drive to have The Ventures inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I certainly cant claim that they were inducted on March 10, 2008 because of my efforts, but Im sure that my efforts played at least a supporting role in convincing the Hall of Fame to induct the band. If you want to know more about The Ventures and the petition campaign, just go to the website address cited above and click on Hall of Fame Campaign near the upper right of The Ventures page heading.
Eventually, 5:00p rolled around and we were let into the American Gardens Theater. What can I say about experiencing my rock and roll idols for the first time live and in person. It was just an amazing experience that had me all choked up for a long time. The music of The Ventures is based on pulsing guitars and drums, and is very high energy. They had the packed crowd at the American Gardens Theater tapping their feet and clapping their hands to the music. Each song in the 30-plus minute set was greeted by wild applause, plus a hearty standing ovation at the end. It was really heartening to see this band, which was at the height of its popularity in the 1960s and is virtually unknown today in America, get this kind of reception. Ironically, The Ventures are virtual musical gods in Japan, where they continue to tour for three months every summer to sold out audiences across that country. Many of Japans youth idolize The Ventures and have learned to play guitar and drums almost as well as their heroes do. After this first of three concerts for today, I was on cloud nine as Helena and I exited the theater.
We headed over to the Canada pavilion, where we had a 7:50p ADR at Le Cellier. It was now only about 6:30p, but we took the chance that they might be able to take us in early so that we would be able to see the 8:15p concert of the day. (We knew we were going to miss the 7:00p show no matter what.) Luckily, they were able to seat us immediately. Helena and I both had the mushroom filet mignon, with garlic mashed potatoes substituted for the usual mushroom risotto. We also ordered mixed field green salads. (We had to pay for these, since appetizers are no longer included in the dining plan.) For dessert, we had the maple creme brulee. This was a DDP table service meal that otherwise would have cost $95. We paid $14 dollars for the two salads. Our server was Mo (Winnipeg, Canada but originally from British Guyana), and he was very attentive to our needs during the meal.
After a very pleasant and relaxing dinner, we headed back to the American Gardens Theater to catch the last show of the night. The Ventures changed up some of the songs on their play list and brought in two guest guitarists (Jeff Cook of the band Alabama and George Terry of Eric Claptons original band) to play along on Wipe Out, the closing number. It was another high energy concert that left everyone feeling in a good mood. Almost immediately after the theater was cleared, Illuminations began, and we watched it from right next to the theater. It wasnt an ideal spot, but it was the first nighttime spectacular weve been able to experience so far this trip.
We got to the bus stop for SSR in pretty good time, considering the large crowd that was exiting the park at the same time. One bus pulled away just as we were arriving, but another came along within a few minutes. Although it was standing room only, the bus ride was uneventful. Back at SSR, Helena got ready for bed while I downloaded the days photos from two cameras and wrote up a short concert report for a Ventures online fan club of which Im a member. (Search for undergroundfire2" on Yahoo Groups if you have any interest in this fan club.) I actually didnt turn off the laptop computer and go to bed until almost 2:00a.
Friday, April 25:
The Plan: Magic Kingdom, Lunch ADR at Kona Caf, Epcot to See The Ventures in Concert
Another 6:00a wake up call, with only 4 hours of sleep for me. After our morning routine, we made our way over to the Artists Palette for breakfast, which consisted of Mickey waffles and bacon, plus coffee and orange juice for both of us. This would have cost $20 without the DDP. We got to the bus stop a little later today -- closer to 9:00a. Then we had about a 20 minute wait for the Magic Kingdom bus to arrive. Once we arrived at the park, Main Street was mobbed. Today was going to be another crowded day, but this time with more teenagers because of Grad Night at the Magic Kingdom tonight.
Helena and I stopped by the Roy and Minnie statue to take a couple pictures and then proceeded straight to Adventureland to finish off a few attractions that we wanted to cover on this trip. First up was a walk-on visit to the Jungle Cruise, where we had a wonderful British-accented cruise skipper. Although he covered all of the standard jokes, he put his own personal spin on them, which really made a big difference. He wasnt just reciting memorized lines, but acting the part and improvising as he went. That was a fun ride. We then continued along the way to Pirates of the Caribbean, which was just a 5 minute wait. We can confirm that Captain Jack Sparrow is still there hiding out.
We then made our way up to Fantasyland to get a ride on its a small world, which we had missed earlier in the week. We next considered visiting the Haunted Mansion, but we were almost to the window for the next show at the Hall of Presidents. So, we didnt visit the 999 happy haunts. Over at the Hall of Presidents, the CM who was staffing the place proved himself to be a wealth of information about American government, giving the growing group of visitors interesting bits of information while we waited for the theater to open. For example, did you know that Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is technically being rented by the United States from Cuba? According to the CM, Uncle Sam sends a rent check to the Cuban government every year, but in protest, Castro has steadfastly refused to cash any of those checks. After our visit with the Commanders-in-Chief, we headed out of the Magic Kingdom and made our way over to the monorail station for a short trip to the Polynesian Resort.
We had a 2:00p ADR at the Kona Caf, but we went an hour early and were seated almost immediately. (See a pattern here? We have often found that the Disney restaurants can be somewhat flexible in letting us dine earlier than our ADR reservation times. We suppose this is because were just a party of two, which is easier to accommodate than a larger group.) For lunch, Helena and I had the stir-fry Asian noodle dish, which included sliced chicken, pineapple chunks, and the usual stir-fry veggies served over Asian noodles. It was a very tasty dish that wed certainly recommend. For dessert, Helena had an apple wonton delicacy, and I had a chocolate-macadamia nut tart. The meal cost would have been $47 if not on the DDP. Of course, we added an appropriate gratuity. By the way, Maria (Danville, PA) was a most pleasant and efficient server.
After lunch, we took the monorail over to the Transportation and Ticket Center and switched to the Epcot monorail. Its been several years since weve ridden on the monorail, so three rides today was a special treat. I just love the loop around Future World on the monorail.
We (well, at least I) had just one objective at Epcot today, to see all three shows by The Ventures. We went straight over to World Showcase, finding it again very, very crowded, to the extent that sometimes we had to just stop on the side and let some of the crowd get out of the way before we could continue to the American Gardens Theater. Unbelievably, as yesterday, at 2:15p there was already someone lined up to wait for the 5:45p concert. Wanting to ensure a good seat near the front, we had little choice but to join the wait. The time we spent waiting was a mixed bag. On the positive side, we met a couple ladies in line behind us who live in Florida and are regular attendees at the Flower Power concerts. We talked about their experiences with some acts (they werent too big on BJ Thomas and especially not Gary Puckett) and I told them a little about The Ventures. However, we also met some of the most brazen line cutters we have ever seen in my life! (Steve Russo, check this out....)
When Helena and I entered the queue line, there was just one person in front of us, an elderly gentleman in a motorized scooter. We got behind him and sat on the metal railing. Soon after, a lady came up to the gentleman and started a conversation. It was obvious that they knew each other on a personal (family) level, but were not related. Well, conversation completed, she didnt step back behind Helena and I and the other ladies who were in line behind us. Instead, she planted herself right next to the gentleman at the front of the line. Sometime later (in fact, a long time later -- like 15 minutes before we were let into the theater) another lady stepped into the front of the queue next to the other lady, and pretty soon another two ladies joined them. No excuse me, no explanation. From the conversation, it soon became obvious that these ladies are part of a little clique that frequents these types of concerts at Epcot and, for some unknown reason, feel that they are entitled to come at the last minute and go directly to the front of the line. I was fuming inside, but held my tongue so as not to cause a big commotion and be later accused of harassing these poor, defenseless ladies. To make matters even worse, when we were allowed to enter the theater, one of the ladies hurried down to the prime seating area where I was planning to go and immediately put out bags to hold additional spaces for other people who werent even there yet. This group of frequent visitors (Florida passholders) are the most blatant example I have ever seen of this type of unacceptable behavior and (as Steve refers to it) the me first, and to hell with you attitude that is too prevalent in society today.
Getting past that bad experience, The Ventures were even better today than they were yesterday. It was obvious that they were more comfortable, more relaxed, and just enjoying themselves and the enthusiastic response of the audience to their music. Helena and I returned to the queue after each concert to get right back in for the next one. The Ventures again changed up some of the songs in their play list, to make the shows more interesting. For each show, Helena and I sat in different areas so that I could get a different perspective of the stage for photos I was taking to be posted on the internet-based Ventures fan club I mentioned earlier. A special treat that I really appreciated was that for the second show of the day, Fiona Taylor, the bands business manager, had Helena and I added to the bands VIP seating list. That meant we got to sit up front with friends and family of the band members. It was really nice of Fiona to make that little token of appreciation for my efforts as part of the internet-based fan club.
After the third and final concert was over, Helena and I made our way out of the park -- very slowly because of the huge crowds flocking into Epcot for Extra Magic Hours. Once at the bus stop, we had a full half-hour wait before an SSR bus finally arrived. Once back at SSR, we stopped by the Artists Palette to pick up a couple snacks that would serve us as dinner. We used DDP snack credits, but the items would have cost $10. Finally back in our room, Helena was completely bushed from the long wait for the concerts and was in bed and asleep by 10:00a. Im just finishing two days worth of trip report notes and, as I look at the clock on the laptop screen, I see that its now 3:07a. I think its time for me to sign out for today (or should that be yesterday). Tomorrow is going to be another long day of Ventures happenings, including a very special fan event.
Saturday, April 26:
The Plan: Epcot, Lunch ADR at the Coral Reef, See The Ventures in Concert
We werent planning to visit any theme parks this morning, because The Ventures had organized a meet and greet opportunity for their fans. Therefore, we slept in until 8:00p and then went to the Artists Palette for breakfast. The line of people at the counter service area was tremendous, so we decided to just have a continental breakfast of pastries, fruit, coffee, and orange juice. We went ahead and used the DDP although the items only would have cost us $13. After finishing breakfast, we headed back to the room to just relax until 11:00a, when we would drive over for the meet and greet.
This event was organized by The Ventures, at their own expense and on their own time, in appreciation for the fans support over the years. It was held at the Residence Inn that is located a short distance from Downtown Disney. When we arrived, a small group of fans had already gathered on the patio next to the hotels pool, listening to lead guitarist Nokie Edwards play some mellow tunes, like Misty and Yesterday, on an acoustic guitar. After a while, we were directed to the hotels conference room, where a table had been set up for fans to meet the four members of the band and get autographs. Unfortunately, the turnout (close to 100) was too big for the small room, and things were a bit chaotic for a short time. But Jack deFranco, the bands road manager, got the hotel to open up a set of movable partitions to double the available space. Things went more smoothly from that point on. A small table was set up where Fiona, the bands business manager, had a few souvenir items available for sale. In my case, I hadnt brought anything to be autographed, so I bought a copy of a 385-page book that was published in March detailing the bands 50-year history. (Im happy to note that Im mentioned twice towards the end of the book acknowledging my extensive Ventures-related web site and my role in starting the online campaign to have the band inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)
When it was finally my turn to meet the band members, bass guitarist Bob Spalding commented that he had met Helena and I before; but he was mistaken because this was the very first time we had ever had the pleasure to personally meet any of the band members. I think what happened was that our faces were familiar to him because we were seated in the front row, directly in front of him, during several of the Epcot shows we had attended. Jack, the bands road manager, was standing near the end of the autograph line, and I introduced myself to him. He was elated to have the opportunity to meet me in person (we had communicated on a couple occasions regarding the Hall of Fame campaign) and he thanked me for all of the effort I had put into my Ventures-related web site. He said that my site was a great resource for the band.
After the meet and greet, Helena and I headed back to SSR, where we dropped off our rental car and took the bus over to Epcot for the rest of the afternoon. Unfortunately, it was another 20-minute wait. As soon as we arrived at Epcot, we made our way directly to the Coral Reef restaurant, where we had a 2:50p ADR. We were actually an hour early for the ADR, but we were still seated after about a 15-minute wait. Our server was Tania (I didnt catch her hometown). Although we had decided to eat at this seafood restaurant, Helena and I are not big seafood fans. We selected this location mainly for the theming and the great views of the Seas pavilions aquarium. We both had the New York strip steak, with dessert being a chocolate cake for Helena and a key lime tart for me. This was another DDP table service meal, and otherwise would have cost $81.
After this late lunch, Helena and I took a leisurely stroll around World Showcase, via the Canada side, to the American Adventure pavilion. As expected, people were already lined up near the American Gardens Theater for the days first show by The Ventures. After about an hour and a half, we were let into the theater, where Helena and I got front row seats on the left side. The concert was another very high energy performance by The Ventures. The theater was completely full for this one, and the crowd again gave them a standing ovation. When the show was over and we exited the theater, Helena and I went right back into the queue for the 7:00p show. While she held our spot, I went over to a kiosk to get two soft serve ice cream cones. One was on the DDP (our last available snack credit) and I paid $4 for the second one. For the second show of the night, we were only able to get fourth row seats on the far right side. This wasnt a good location, because the setting sunlight was entering the theater from the left side and obscuring our vision. Regardless of this problem, the music was again fantastic, and again The Ventures earned a standing ovation from the capacity crowd. After the show ... yes ... Helena and I got in line once again for the final 8:15p show. We again sat on the right side, but this time closer to the center and in the front row. Also, because the sun had already set, lighting wasnt a problem.
As The Ventures closed out their ninth show in 3 days, they expressed their appreciation for the very positive response they had received from the Epcot guests and said that they really hoped they will be asked by Disney to perform again at next years Flower Power Concert series. If they are booked for a return engagement, and God willing, Helena and I will try to again make a special trip to Walt Disney World to see them perform. For fans of The Ventures who might be reading this, heres a list of the songs they performed over the nine concerts. Although each 30-minute show included the same core of top hits, other songs were interchanged so that all of the shows werent identical. Note that the fifth song listed is Telstar, the song that started my obsession with The Ventures and their music.
Medley: Walk Dont Run / Perfidia / Lullaby of the Leaves
Ghost Riders in the Sky
Secret Agent Man
Slaughter on 10th Avenue
House of the Rising Sun
In addition to fulfilling my lifelong dream of seeing The Ventures perform live and in person, this trip also gave me the opportunity to meet several Ventures fans who, like me, are members of the online fan club called Underground Fire. Helena and I left Epcot as Illuminations was being performed in the background. At the bus stop, we had yet another 20-minute wait while other nearby bus stops were visited by one or two buses. Back at SSR, I was just too tired to even attempt to write up my trip report notes. We crashed by 11:00p after taking showers to freshen up.
Sunday, April 27:
The Plan: Check-out from SSR, Lunch at a Theme Park, Drive to Port St. Lucie
We got up at 6:00a again today, took care of our morning routines, and headed over to the Artists Palette for breakfast. We both had Mickey waffles today, with coffee and orange juice. This used up the last of our counter service credits. When we returned to our room, we took about a half-hour to pack up our suitcases and load everything into the rental car, since today was check-out day. We then took the bus back to Epcot to visit a few attractions we had missed earlier in the week because of the concerts.
First up was Spaceship Earth. This was the first time that either Helena or I had seen the final version of the ride. (I saw a preview version back in December 2007, which didnt include the final version of the computerized ride end with the faces of vehicle riders inserted on cartoon bodies.) We were impressed by the enhancements to the animatronic figures in the first half of the ride and mildly amused with the personalized cartoon future in the second half; but Im still not sure that this new ending is as good as the original. It was, however, nice seeing our faces on the giant globe at the end and seeing the faces moved to the location on the map where we live. (Actually, our hometown isnt included as an option. Were from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; but the closest available location was San Juan, Puerto Rico, about 50 miles away on another Caribbean island.)
We next headed over to the Garden Town exhibits, located in the old Wonders of Life pavilion. Helena and I really arent green thumbs, but the exhibits and the selection of items for sale were interesting to look through. As we were passing by the Mission: Space pavilion, I noticed that the green ride had only a 10-minute standby line. So, I got right in line while Helena went to wait for me by the exit. I rode with a family from Germany, and we all successfully completed our mission to Mars. Next up was the Butterfly Garden near the old Odyssey Center. We spent a while in there admiring the many different species of butterflies.
After that, we stopped in at Innoventions West and looked around the different exhibits, but we didnt get to actually interact with any of them because they were all occupied and we didnt feel like waiting around. Our final stop in Epcot was at Mouse Gear, where we helped Disneys bottom line by spending almost $250 on a variety of souvenirs for family members. We had about a 10-minute wait for the bus back to SSR, where we got in the rental car and headed out of Walt Disney World property.
The drive started out uneventfully across Osceola Parkway to the Florida Turnpike exit. However, the drive down the Turnpike to Port St. Lucie was an absolute ordeal -- and a dangerous one to boot. The lack of enough sleep the few nights before was really taking a toll on my alertness, and we had to stop at every rest stop so that I could get out of the car to stretch my legs, clear the cobwebs out of my head, and get a caffeinated drink to help wake me up. Thank God, I stayed awake and we safely arrived at Selenes home in Port St. Lucie shortly after 4:00p. The Disney portion of our trip was now ended.
Monday, April 28 to Sunday, May 4:
The Plan: Visit with Selene and Family at Her Home
I wont go into much detail on this part of our trip to Florida, but we spent two weeks in the Port St. Lucie area. The first week, we stayed with our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. Most of the time we just relaxed at home and enjoyed playing with little Jaidyn. We babysat with her on a couple evenings so that Selene and John could have some grownup time alone, once to dinner and the second evening to see Iron Man at the local movie theater. On Sunday afternoon, Helena and I packed up some of our essentials and drove over to the Vistana Beach Club at Jensen Beach, where we would be spending some quiet time.
Monday, May 5 to Sunday, May 11:
The Plan: Relax at Vistanas Jensen Beach Resort
The week at Jensen Beach (actually Hutchinson Island) was very relaxing. The resort is located right on a beautiful stretch of sandy beach on Floridas Treasure Coast and the 2-bedroom/2 bathroom suite was extremely roomy and comfortable, even including a Sony widescreen TV and Bose stereo system. I think we got an excellent trade through RCI for our studio suite in Aruba.
Although we didnt go swimming on the beach (the ocean was a little too rough for our taste), we did use the resorts swimming pool. In fact Selene, John, and Jaidyn came over one afternoon after work and Selene and Jaidyn joined us again on Saturday. On both occasions, we had dinner at the Surfside Grill, a small local eatery that has an amazing selection of options on its menu. But they specialize in Italian cuisine and pizzas, and thats what we ordered. Everything was delicious.
During the week, Helena and I also had a chance to visit the nearby Treasure Coast Mall for a little bit of shopping, and we also got to see Iron Man and Made of Honor at the malls cineplex. Helena and I had to checkout of the Vistana resort on Sunday morning, but our return flight home wasnt until Monday. So, we moved back in at Selenes home for the night. Unfortunately, tomorrow our Florida vacation comes to an end.
Monday, May 12:
The Plan: Drive to Miami, AA Flight from Miami to St. Thomas
Travel day went pretty much without a hitch. We got up around 8:00a, had a light breakfast at Selene's home, packed the last of our personal items, and then -- the hardest part -- said our "goodbyes" to Selene and Jaidyn. (John had already left for work and we had said our "goobyes" to him the night before.) Selene and Jaidyn both watched from the front window as we backed out of the driveway and drove away towards I-95 shortly after 10:30a.
Traffic was a bit heavier than expected, but it was a Monday morning, after all. We arrived in the Deerfield Beach area shortly before noon and, on the spur of the moment, decided to stop at the local Olive Garden restaurant for lunch. That was a nice little break from the tiring drive.
We then got back on I-95 and continued on our way down to Miami. That stretch of highway from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami is very unnerving, because it's usually quite busy and everyone seems to have no concept of what a "speed limit" is. We were going 5-10 mph over the posted speed and still it seemed like every other vehicle was going at least 10 mph faster than us. Very unsettling for people who live on a little island where the fastest speed limit is only 35 mph!
We arrived safely at the Hertz facility near the Miami airport and took the shuttle over to the American Airlines terminal. As is our custom, we used curb-side check-in to avoid the long lines inside. They charge $2 per bag, plus tip, for the use of curb-side; but it's totally worth it for us. The security line inside was unusually short, and we breezed through the check without any problems except for the hassle of having to remove shoes, buckled belts, keys, etc. to go through the metal detector.
After a fairly long walk through the "D" concourse, we finally arrived at D46, our departure gate. We were a couple hours early, but that's no problem for us. We people watched and relaxed by reading (Helena) and listening to music on the ipod (me) -- The Ventures, of course! Our plane left the gate 5 minutes late, but we actually arrived in St. Thomas a few minutes early at 7:42p. The flight was completely smooth, with hardly any clouds in the sky and a beautiful sunset that reflected off the wings of the plane as we traveled towards the night sky of St. Thomas.
My brother, Steven, was waiting for us near the baggage claim area, where our two bags soon showed up on the carousel. During the drive home, Steven filled us in on the local happenings while we were away (including the local "carnival" celebrations during the last week of April), and we were soon at home and opening up the windows, which had been all locked down during our absence. Another wonderful Walt Disney World vacation had come to an end.
As I noted in opening this trip report, the only reason the trip even came about was because my all-time favorite rock and roll band, The Ventures, were performing at Epcot. Having the opportunity to, not only see the band perform eight (out of nine) shows in a 3-day period, but also getting the chance to actually meet the band members personally, was a life-long dream come true. Because The Ventures are no longer a musical household name in the United States, it was especially gratifying for me to see that the American Gardens Theater was filled for every performance and that the audience was impressed enough by their music to give them rousing standing ovations after every show. Hopefully they gained some new fans out of this engagement and will be asked to return to Epcot for the 2009 Flower Power concert series.
Aside from the time spent with The Ventures, Helena and I had a great time at the four theme parks. I must admit that the parks were a lot more crowded throughout the week than I was expecting at this time of year, especially the large number of families with smaller children and groups of teenagers. I suppose that many schools were still on Spring Break and that many high school groups were making special trips to Disney World in association with Grad Nights. Even so, Helena and I were able to accomplish our goal of visiting many of the older and often overlooked attractions at the parks. We also had the opportunity to experience some of our favorites, like Soarin and Mission: Space. The one real negative was that Helena and I were still feeling the effects of having had the flu during the weeks before we left home and, as a result, physically werent up to staying for some of the night time spectaculars, including SpectroMagic, Wishes, and Fantasmic. At least we did get to see Illuminations once, even if not from an ideal viewing location.
In terms of the Disney Dining Plan, it worked out pretty much as we had expected, in the sense that it was close to a break-even situation. Using an Excel spreadsheet, I kept detailed records of what our DDP meals would have cost without the plan. Heres how it went:
Disney Dining Plan Cost .................. $531.86
Price of 14 Table Service Meals ....... $429.11
Price of 14 Counter Service Meals .... $137.82
Price of 14 Snacks ........................ $ 48.62
Total Price Including Tax ................ $615.55
Total Savings with DDP .................. $ 83.69
In summary, we saved almost $84 by using the Disney Dining Plan. Not a bad savings, but we also paid a total of $92 in gratuities (about 21.4%). In previous years, $77 (18%) of that $92 in tips would have been included under the DDP. So, our savings of $84 was more than used up by the $92 we paid in gratuities. Under the old DDP, our savings would have been $161 ($84 plus $77), not even considering the appetizers that were included under the old DDP. Id have to say it looks like the new DDP is less than half as cost-effective as the old DDP, but you can still save a little bit of money on meals by making sure that you make the best use of all of your DDP credits.
o Seeing The Ventures perform live and in person and getting the opportunity to meet them personally.
o Meeting our goal of experiencing many of the less popular forgotten attractions at the theme parks.
o Having the opportunity to revisit some of our favorites, like Soarin, Mission: Space, Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
o For Helena, beating me once again at Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin 149,000 to 43,200.
o Spending time with Selene, John, and Jaidyn during the two weeks after the Disney World portion of the trip.
o The absolute bad manners and inconsiderateness of the Flower Power clique who thought absolutely nothing of showing up 15 minutes before the shows were to begin and going to the front of the line ahead of people who had been waiting in line for hours.
o Beginning this trip recovering from the flu, which affected our physical stamina while touring the parks.
o Not being able to see SpectroMagic, Wishes, and Fantasmic
o The larger than expected crowds at the theme parks and, especially, the overwhelming number of strollers in the parks.
Between our December 2007 visit to Walt Disney World with Selene and family and this April 2008 trip to see The Ventures, weve borrowed and used all of the DVC points for our 2008-2009 use year. Also, these two trips really put a dent in our personal finances. So, there wont be any more Disney vacations for us for at least a year and a half. If things work out right, Helena and I would really like to make a Fall 2009 trip to California to visit her brother and sister who live in San Diego and also take the opportunity to spend a few days at Disneyland Resort. If that trip doesnt happen for one reason or another, then our next Disney vacation most likely will be another joint Disney World vacation with Selene and family in December 2009. Of course, if The Ventures do, in fact, return to Epcot in the Spring of 2009 for the Flower Power concerts, Helena and I will have to re-evaluate our finances and try to make the trip, even if just for the days of The Ventures concerts. Until then, we hope you all have a magical year! In the meantime, Ill be reading and enjoying your trip reports.
You can view most of our pictures from this Disney World trip in a photo diary that begins on the following page:
For more information about The Ventures, visit my online tribute to the band at:
Lastly, Helena and I welcome your comments on this trip report and our online photo tour. Our email address is: