MousePlanet Trip Report Editor
Bob Smyk - WDW (19-27 June, 1994) - Wilderness Lodge
- Time of Year: Summer
- Travel Method: Plane, Rental Car
- Resort: WL
- Accommodations: Standard Room
- Ages Represented in Group: Adult
- WDW Experience Represented in Group: Infrequent
- Comments: Bob's report covers a honeymoon stay at Wilderness Lodge. The resort was brand-new during the trip, and some bugs were still being worked out by the cast members, but an excellent report of a wonderful trip.
This document is a detailed description of our week at Walt Disney World in Florida. It will get as detailed as I can get remember so that I do not feel that I left some information out. I hope you find the information presented useful. Please feel free to e-mail me with any questions.
This trip was our honeymoon so it meant we splurged a little more than we normally would, but that allowed us to experience a lot more, which should hopefully provide you with that much more information.
Sunday, June 19
We were married the day before and as usual we stayed up late into the previous night celebrating. This caused us to somehow forget to slide the alarm button to on when we finally went to sleep at 3 AM. We woke up at 6:15 with a 7:00 am flight leaving from Milwaukee which was about 40 miles away. Needless to say, we missed our flight. Not allowing this minor setback dampen our spirits, since we are both true Disney fans and we know everything has a happy ending, we set off to make the best of it. After a few escapades to deposit our wedding gifts so that we would be able to eat on the honeymoon we attempted to get another flight to Florida. If you are familiar with Milwaukee, you are aware that the airport there is not the busiest in the world. We finally managed to get a flight to St. Pete leaving at 2:30 and arriving at 6:30 EST.
Now the wheels were set in motion to get us to Florida. We simply had to deal with what we would do when we got there. Our original flight would have landed us in Orlando at 10:30 am. With the check in time at Disney's Wilderness Lodge, their newest hotel, where we were staying at 3 PM we thought we were safe. Then we missed the flight. Specific rooms could not be reserved in advance. Rooms were assigned at check-in. From the messages I read and received on AOL I knew that we really wanted a room of the 5th, 6th or 7th floor of the Wilderness Lodge and I thought all hopes were now dashed for even getting a room with a view since we would be arriving at about 8PM. I decided to see if something could be done, but was pretty sure that we were sunk. This is where the Disney magic started to flow. I called the Wilderness Lodge from the airport at about 9:30 AM EST and explained our situation. The staff was very understanding and I was only transferred to two people which as anyone who has traveled a lot knows is not a lot for a strange problem like ours. Anyway, I was told that this would be no problem, and then returned to the gate and slept on the floor until about 2 PM (Again, Milwaukee's airport is DEAD. There was no problem sleeping as we were the only ones in the terminal, not only the gate, until about 1 PM). Our flight went without a hitch, and I had also changed the rental car pickup before we left, so we had a normal arrival into the Walt Disney Resort.
Here I unfortunately have a complaint. Being a frequent Disney traveler in years past I was aware that hotels were not referred to directly on Disney road signs until you were in the proper resort area, but as we neared the Magic Kingdom I saw all kinds of signs about Fort Wilderness, but nothing about the Wilderness Lodge. Hopefully they will change this in the future. We did have no problem getting there, we simply asked the gate attendant, who told us to follow the blue line to the right. Once we were on the side road where the blue line led us, signs appeared directing us to the lodge, which by the way is across the waterway from the Contemporary for those of you who are unaware of its location. The drive up to the lodge was impressive with what seemed like thousands of stately pines lining the road. An impressive arch is over the road about a 1/4 mile up the road the welcomes you to the lodge. The road sweeps around in a slight S curve and then the lodge is visible. It is a sight that will take your breath away. We had seen pictures of it but nothing could truly prepare us for the sheer size and beauty of this building in real life. This was only the second week of operation, the bellman told us, so it was understandably busy. They also had several bugs to work out, but I'll cover those later as they come up. Valet parking was free and both the valet and the bellman who took our bags into the lodge were extremely courteous, almost more friendly than the cast members in other locations.
Walking into the hotel was another experience. If driving up to the hotel had taken our breath away, entering the lobby made us stop and gasp for air. Again, appreciation is heightened if you have traveled, especially on business. When you enter this hotel you know it is something out of the ordinary in this day and age. The ceiling is eight stories above you with the Great Fireplace in the far left hand corner as you enter the lobby. The fireplace extends all the way out through the roof and is done in the layers of the Grand Canyon, complete with fossils. There is a display case on each level of the hotel near the fireplace that explains what time period that particular area of the fireplace represents and what the fossils, if any, are on that level. The floor is done with a very appropriate pattern of light colored marble. The two totem poles are on the left and right center sides of the lobby and also extend nearly to the roof. The roof is a cathedral ceiling type of structure and is held up by huge bundled columns of logs that are carved at various levels to end in heads of different animals, with only one or two logs reaching to ceiling of the lodge. The front desk is located immediately off to the right and has many Indian artifacts in display cases along the back wall. Off to the left side of the lobby is one on the restaurants, the Whispering Canyon Cafe, more on that later. Out the back wall of the lobby, which is all windows you could see into the "national park".
We checked in at the desk and were given small white plastic cards, the size of credit cards. These are room keys, charge cards, and admission tickets if you purchase the Be Our Guest Pass. We did realize that this option was more expensive, but once again, being our honeymoon we wanted to take the easy route this time as opposed to carrying around a separate passport. The front desk personnel were extremely helpful and pleasant. We were then met by another bellman. At this point he gave us a ten minute explanation of the layout of the hotel and the modes of transportation available to us to get to the parks. The level of detail was amazing and at the end we could think of no questions because the initial presentation had been so thorough. If only all hotels did that, but then this is Disney! We proceeded to the far right side of the lobby where the elevators are and went up to the rooms on the fifth floor where we stayed. The elevators in the hotel are super fast and this is good because when we left at the end of the week the hotel was getting packed which made the elevators stop on every floor. Even so the trip was very speedy. Thumbs up to Disney on good planning there.
It was at this point that we learned what kind of Disney magic had really been working in the background while we sat at Milwaukee. We had been given what I would have to say is on of THE prime rooms in the hotel. It was room 5073 if you would like to request it. It was right off the lobby smack dab in the center of the hotel. The balcony overlooked the entire rear section of the hotel and then Bay Lake. A more romantic view could not be had anywhere else in the hotel except for the room next to ours. A bottle of champagne was waiting for us from the hotel for our honeymoon (we did not have a honeymoon package by the way, so this was truly on the hotel's own discretion). The room was larger than most I've been in with a large chest that housed the TV and had three large drawers under that. The chest had inlaid wood decoration of a bear family marching through the woods. Very nice. The bed had the firmest and most comfortable mattress and pillows of any hotel I have ever been in. There was a small dark wood table and chairs and a plush chair with ottoman as well as the two night stands. As you walk in the room the bathroom is on the right with a double bowl sink with absolutely exquisite pewter fixtures. The sink is black with flecks of white. There is a door to the toilet and bathtub area. On the left as you enter in a small cabinet set into the wall with three drawers. The closet is also on this wall and it had a in-wall safe right in the room to secure any valuables. I was able to fit a zoom lens and another camera lens in the safe as well as a large ring of keys and several papers into the safe with no problem. The room service menu is printed on a brown paper lunch bag, which I thought was nice and there is a fake newspaper with stories about the hotel and its founding in it. All very amusing as well to get you in the mood. The phone had push buttons for anything you would need to call at the hotel like guest services, room service, housekeeping, etc. Being off the lobby we thought we would have a noise problem, but the doors are so solid when it was shut we could not hear a thing. There was a ceiling fan in the room and the air conditioning worked wonderfully. We also never experienced any problems with changing water temperatures while taking a shower which is usually all to common at many hotels. Even the maids had the Disney touch asking us if we were pleased with the way they had cleaned our room whenever we ran into them in the halls. We had brought a lot of toiletries with us (like 15 bottles) and everyday they were neatly arranged as well as if they were part of the standard hotel items, another extra I have never seen.
Anyway, we had checked into the room by about 8:15 and decided to head over to the Magic Kingdom for an hour since it closed at 10PM all week. We exited the elevator and walked into the lobby. Here there is a little wooden arch bridge over a hot spring that bubbles up through the floor and then runs out the building to form Silver Creek. We walked across the lobby into a hall behind the Great Fireplace. At this point the hall breaks off to the right or toward the back of the building. It then runs about 300 ft sloping down to get you to the first floor of the hotel (The lobby is actually on the second floor, which is ground level from the front of the lodge). At the bend in the hall and up a small flight of stairs is another of the hotel restaurants, Artist's Point, which we did not eat in. It is casual, but with a very nice menu of seafood and such with dinners in the $18 range. At the end of the sloped hall you can exit into the courtyard or turn to the left to get to the last of the eateries in the hotel, the Roaring Forks. There is also a game room here if you have any interest. Back by the elevators you could also go right out the back of the hotel into the courtyard. Here you meander along Silver Creek as it heads to Silver Creek Falls, a waterfall that is about 15 feet tall. There is a Lookout Point here to look over the falls. The walkway goes down some steps through a cavern to get you down to the level where we had exited. Any handicapped visitors in wheel chairs would need to use the sloped hall that we had to avoid the stairs. We exited and entered the hotel through this hall normally mainly to get into the air conditioning faster than for any other reason. Outside in the courtyard at the base of the falls where we exited the hotel flares off on both sides to allow the courtyard more room. Here they have a small outside dining area with about 5 tables with umbrellas for eating those things you purchase at the Roaring Forks. The path then continues down through the courtyard along Silver Creek or over it. Silver Creek then empties into the pool. The pool is boomerang shaped with a large rock hill in the inside curve that houses a waterslide. The pool seems rather small for a hotel this size, but it was never too crowded to swim in whenever we went. There is a pool snack bar here as well called the Trout Pass which we did not sample.
As you leave the courtyard you enter a path through the woods to get to the boat dock. To the right side is the Old Faithful geyser which erupts every hour. This right next to the whirlpools which are next to the main pool. There is also a kiddies pool here. Also the main pool is only 5 ft deep at its deepest, so no diving. Themed lights line the walkways and garbage cans made of the same dark wood as the tables in the rooms and carved with the Wilderness Lodge bear family logo are everywhere. Nothing takes away from the feeling or seems out of place. In fact, the hotel wraps around the courtyard like a U so that no roads, parking lots or examples of civilization as seen or heard. You can easily forget where you are. The boat service runs to the Magic Kingdom every 15 minutes or so and we were on the Fort Wilderness loop so we went there first before docking at the Magic Kingdom.
The boat ride took about 15 minutes and we arrived at the Magic Kingdom a few minutes before 9. We entered and decided to skip the Spectromagic parade tonight and use the time to hit some of the popular rides. We headed off to Adventureland and rode the Jungle Cruise. Coming at this time of year, and with World Cup soccer in Orlando we had been expecting the crowds to be atrocious. As I said we arrived at 9, which is when Spectromagic starts. If we had wanted we could have lined up anywhere along main street and been in the second or third row of people. In many places there were only those sitting on the curb. The cast members at Jungle Cruise were practically begging people to ride. We ended up with six other people on our boat after waiting at the dock for five minutes. After that we hit Pirates of the Caribbean, which we again just walked on, and Splash Mountain where we had a five minute wait. When we exited Splash Mountain the fireworks were beginning so we began to make our way back out. The boat dock was packed and they ended up using one of the parking lot ferries to get us home. It took about thirty minutes to load the boat and only about thirty people were from the Lodge, the rest being from the campground. We were back at the lodge at 11. From that small excursion, it became painfully obvious that Disney needed to do a lot of rethinking of its transportation system from the Lodge. They did make many changes even in that week we were there, so I think that eventually they will have a smooth flowing system.
When we returned to the hotel, we stopped in at the Roaring Forks which is open 24 hrs. The sign said that they stopped serving cooked food at 11, but being Disney they kept right on going through about midnight when the last boat loads were arriving. This restaurant is the standard cafeteria food with a tray line that you make your selections from. They serve burgers and hot dogs along with cold sandwiches and the like. We ate there often when leaving or returning to the hotel and even when we loaded up our tray for the two of us the largest bill was $13. They food was very good. If you eat there, try the pie and the krispie treats (heavenly! We took four treats with us when we left the hotel to go to Tampa for the second week).
Monday, June 20
We awoke early. It was early admission day at the Magic Kingdom, so we headed over there on the boat again. By this morning a change had already been made. Instead of leaving us on the Fort Wilderness loop, they simply picked us up with the smaller boats used for River Country and Discovery Island and we went directly to the Magic Kingdom. The trip took about five minutes. The weather was beautiful, but we knew about the timed Florida rains so we bought ponchos at a store right inside the gate and put them in our camera bags for later. We ate breakfast at the Crystal Palace a restaurant just to the left off Main Street but before you enter Adventureland. This was another cafeteria style place and the food was good, with the selection being larger than Roaring Forks. It was a nice way to get ready for our day at the park and we even got to feed a few birds while we ate since they fly around inside the building. We then went through the early admission area and headed to Tommorowland to do Space Mountain. The line did not form until we were in the weaving section in the boarding area. The wait was about fifteen minutes. By the time we exited it was 9 and the park had been opened to the general public. Again we had expected mobbing crowds, but were pleased to find otherwise. We took a ride on the Tommorowland Transit system (Wedway Peoplemovers new name) and passed through the construction area of Alien Encounter a new attraction being designed by George Lucas of Star Wars fame and slated to open in 1995. They have a lot complete already on the exterior of the building and it looks awesome! We went on a new attraction called Dreamflight that was interesting and also took in the Carousel of Progress. The new updated scene works very well and the show is still as enjoyable as I remember it when I was a boy.
We then decided to move on around back past the castle and hit the Main Street shops. They were also not crowded and by 11 we were moving on the Adventureland. We went through the Tree House after a five minute wait to enter it and then decided to skip over Jungle and Pirates since we had done them the day before and there were lines now. My wife had not been to Disney since she was two and did want to take the Cruise during the day, so we made sure to remember that for later. We now headed off into Frontierland. We got on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, with, get this, a half hour wait in June! The crowds we had worried about seemed to be non-existent. We then went over to the Mile Long Saloon, whose exterior they are redoing and had lunch. Standard cafeteria fare at best. We arrived at the Country Bear Jamboree and went right in without a wait. The show was packed, but no one was left outside when the doors closed. We moved over to Liberty Square and headed over to the Haunted Mansion where again we waited for a mere twenty minutes. Next stop was the Hall of Presidents. This is one of my favorite attractions at the Magic Kingdom and it still is with the new show which adds Bill Clinton. I still marvel at how fluid all the motions are and how Lincoln and Washington stand up. Clinton gives a good speech, basically regurgitating his campaign speech "there is nothing wrong with America that can not be fixed by what is right with America". The narration by Maya Angelou of the preceding film is terrific as well. Fantasyland was next on our list and we hit all the attractions except Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Dumbo, and the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. Dumbo and the Tea Party we skipped for obvious reasons, but Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was merely running out of time. Again we did use the Spectromagic parade to get on 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. The line for It's A Small World was rather peculiar. This attraction is across the street from Peter Pan's Flight. Normally these two rides have similar lines, but while Peter Pan's wait was about 45 minutes, the wait for Small World was under ten minutes, this being at about 2 PM. Peter Pan was the longest line of the day at 45 minutes. They were also opening the Fantasyland Theater with a new live show based on the Lion King, but this was scheduled to open on July 8.
For dinner we had 6:30 reservation's at King Stefan's in Cinderella's Castle. It's at this point that I want to cover two points. The first being reservation booking. We had made all dinner reservations for the week at least 6 days in advance and had no problem. One word of warning however, Disney had just started a new centralized dining reservation system at the start of June and many restaurants were complaining of being under booked. The system said they were full and they would have many empty tables. Once the glitches are fixed it may not be this easy to get reservations at peak times of the year. Also, we found the food at King Stefan's to be first rate and as you will see in the other reviews of restaurants it was similar. The reason I bring this up is that many of the places we ate dinner at had received some rather adamant negative reviews in AOL. We went into these places expecting nothing. In almost all of them we were very pleasantly surprised. I think this helped us enjoy our dining experiences much more. We were not expecting Disney restaurants to somehow create magical Disney food that tasted ten times better than anything we had ever had. In some cases this did happen, but in most the food was of a quality commensurate with what you paid. But enough of my long winded tirade, back to business.
I did have one complaint about the restaurants at Disney and when you read this you will probably fall to the floor at your PC and laugh hysterically. It's nothing terrible like dirty silverware or anything, but it was something we first experienced at King Stefan's and then had happen at about two other restaurants. They serve Mickey margarine. Now I don't know about you, but being a true Disney fanatic, there is just something that sort of turns my stomach when I think of taking a knife to Mickey. Anyhow, I think this practice led to be enjoying my bread course a lot less since I could only bring myself to cut of Mickey's feet. Never under any circumstances would my wife or I cut into the body or head, or even but a scratch in it with the knife. We would rather eat our bread dry than do that. I think the restaurants should give you a choice or getting regular butter pats instead. It would let me sleep a whole lot easier.
On the way back to the hotel, Disney had already made a change to our transportation option. Instead of crowding us on the Fort Wilderness ferry they moved the Lodge guests over to the right and we took the River Country boats. The wait here was shorter than the night before, but there was a lot of confusion because the signs were not really clear. Like I said, they had a few bugs to work out.
Tuesday, June 21
We started this day with early admission to EPCOT Center. We had breakfast at the Roaring Forks Cafe back at the hotel and arrived at EPCOT about fifteen minutes after 8. The crowds were not very large, and since we had seen basically all of the Magic Kingdom yesterday we decided to slow the pace a little today. We went over to the Universe of Energy, which has the longest show in the entire park and did that before the normal crowds could enter. Even though this was the busy season they still sat us in the front three cars only, as the crowds were still small. We then continued on through the left side of the park, going through Wonders of Life, and Horizons. My wife got a little sick from Body Wars so we had to take a half hour break to just sit and let her regain her sense of balance. I had planned to go through Future World today and then move on to World Showcase, but my wife just could not wait to do the shopping thing, so just after noon we headed over and proceeded to cover Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, the US, Italy, Japan, Morocco, France and the UK. We did not make it to Canada before we ran out of time.
Let me start at the beginning for a brief recap of the goings on. The River of Time in Mexico was a walk-on, again no crowds. We decided to have lunch at the San Angel restaurant and at 2:30 had about a fifteen minute wait. The food was typical Mexican fare, but again the prices were for that as well. You get what you pay for. The Maelstorm at Norway was a brilliant ride and it caught me off guard several times. Being just after the Olympics with memories of Lillehammer still in mind it was especially enjoyable. The wait here was about half an hour, but this line was lengthened by the fact that it started to rain just before we got in line and the waiting area is entirely in a building. We waited out the storm in the tourist office at Norway and then were on our way. We breezed through China and Germany, seeing the Circle Vision movie in China which was fabulous as always. I really enjoyed hearing my wife's reaction to it, since this was her first experience with this type of film, and also since she had such a problem with the motion in Body Wars. The movie did not affect her, however, and she had a splendid time. The American Adventure was wonderful, but I have to admit that history is a passion of mine, so I may exaggerate the quality a bit. The one thing that did disappoint me however was the Voices of Liberty. In my previous trips to EPCOT I always looked forward to their rousing renditions of patriotic tunes in the rotunda. During our visit this time EPCOT was having a special Duke Ellington exhibit which at in the rotunda. The Voices now had to sing in the Rose Garden, but they now sang Duke Ellington hits. I missed the patriotic songs, which I believe set the true mood of the pavilion. Honoring a great American musician is fine, but cutting out the traditional songs almost completely was a travesty in my eyes.
In Italy we enjoyed the street musicians and then quickly moved through the other countries, determined to catch a better look at them another day. We had dinner reservations and the Garden Grille, which used to be the Land Room before it was redone. This restaurant is rather unique because it is a large platform that rotates in the pavilion allowing you a glimpse of the boat ride below as you dine. The food is also special because it includes a lot of the items that are grown right there at The Land. The food was delicious, if not a little bland because they did try to use a lot of fresh vegetables since that is really what they grow there. The cost of dinner was about $35.
By the time we exited the restaurant it was already after 8 PM so we decided to head to the hotel and save Illuminations for another night when we could get a better seat.
Wednesday, June 22
Today was early admission at MGM so we decided to head over there. We left later than usually after having a late night. (It was our honeymoon! ) We arrived at MGM a short time after opening and proceeded through the gates. This was the only park that neither one of us had been in so we were truly prepared to be surprised. Sid Cahuga's shop is right next to the gate on the left. We were really intrigued by the things here. If you are at all a movie buff, either classic or contemporary, this is a not to be missed area. Autographed pictures of your favorite stars, original movie posters and even some articles of clothing from the actors themselves!
We continued on down the main road (Hollywood Boulevard I think) just to try and get a feel for the place. By now it was about 10-10:30. We decided to head over toward the Indiana Jones stunt show but realized that we had just missed it, so instead I decided to head over to Star Tours, which was right next to it. There was no line at all. I walked right in and on. My wife waited outside after her episode with Body Wars, but after I was done I talked her into going on it with me. She is as much of a Star Wars fan as me, so it did not take a lot of coaxing. She did enjoy this immensely, only getting slightly queasy for a second. According to her this was a lot tamer than body wars, with less jerking and bouncing. I tend to agree, but also say that this is because they need to simulate flight here, which we are all slightly familiar with, whereas Body Wars deals in sensations none of us have experienced. (At least no ones talking ).
MuppetVision3D was shut down in the morning and we were told it might reopen later in the day. We spent a few minutes in the arcade across the street and then moved on. I had never been in a working movie studio before so this was all a real treat for me. Hulk Hogan was in the park as they were shooting a new television series called Thunder In Paradise. We saw him during the Sound Tour. Anyway, we decided to take a look at the Honey I Shrunk the Kids set, since we were both very interested in "movie magic". One note here too. We did get some strange looks from people as we walked around and basically enjoyed the exhibit as much as the children did, minus the actual slipping, sliding and climbing. Why is it that as adults we all think we have to be so serious? The best times we had anywhere were when we allowed ourselves to express how we felt in the moment. This was one of them. You could simply imagine what I would be like to be shrunk to the size of a speck of dust. A huge Cheerio appeared around a corner and an unwound roll of film made for an interesting backdrop. The other adults thought us a bit odd. I say to you, let them think you're odd, but above all have fun. That's the way Walt would have wanted it.
We ate lunch at the Studio Catering Co. which is at the exit to the set. This is a simple outdoor cafeteria serving that type of food. Nothing exceptional, but good when you're on the run. We then went ahead and saw the special effects tour. Everything here is first rate. I am a true fan of those old W.W.II movies, since I am a history buff and you finally get to see how they make all those sea scenes look so real. (One clue, volunteer for this part of the show. It's an experience you will never forget!) The prop room is great and then you move on to the Honey I Shrunk the Kids bee. This is one of those experiences where the volunteers set the mood. Unfortunately we got some kids who thought they were adults. The smiles just wouldn't come and they looked as if they were trying to impress the boss. They didn't get into their roles and the entire blue screen example kind of flopped. If your kids are picked, encourage them to act like kids. It really helps liven up the crowd when the kids don't look like their going to a funeral on a bee. The Bette Midler short and the explanation that follows are superb.
We spent some time browsing among the shops and in the late afternoon made our way over to the Backstage Studio Tour. This ride was also very interesting. You passed through a lot of large sets mainly streets and such. The culmination is Catastrophe Canyon. Here you experience an earthquake that sends a torrent of water down upon you. It is pretty realistic, but if you want a "real" earthquake, I think the one at Universal Studios wins hands down. That experience may be a little too intense for children, however, so Catastrophe Canyon is a good alternative. We took a quick run through the Animation shop and then drove over to EPCOT for dinner.
By the way, it is much easier to drive to MGM and EPCOT than it is to take the bus from the Wilderness Lodge. They were having many travel problems, as we said, and with what we had experienced thus far we weren't taking any chances. We had dinner at L'Originale Alfredo di Roma Ristorante. Let no one tell you otherwise, this place was fabulous. They had a roving band for dinner that played various tunes. Our reservations were for 6:15. We found a lot of restaurants do this for early reservations because most of the run specials until 6 PM. Our waitress actually gave us a discount menu first and then quickly came back and took it away, apologizing profusely. My wife ordered the Fettucine Alfredo and I had the Chicken Parmigana. My chicken was great, but oy! I have never tasted anything like the Fettucine here. I can still feel the sauce sticking to my ribs when I think about it. We both had some and we still could not finish. If you go here make sure one of your party orders this so that you can try a truly well done dish. If I could only find someplace here that does it half as well. The tab was a bit on the high side, around $55, but we definitely agreed that it was worth it. (This did include a glass of wine and dessert).
We drove back to the hotel to get an early rest, since all this running around was starting to get to us and we wanted to start up fresh in the morning.
Thursday, June 23
We decided to head on over to Sea World this morning for a change of pace. We weren't in a real rush since we thought the park did not open until about 9 anyway. With this in mind we decided to try out one of the other restaurants at the Lodge for breakfast, the Whispering Canyon Cafe. This eatery is rather unique in that you really do not order anything. You show up and say you want breakfast. The waitress brings you your orange juice and then explains the whole eating process to you in a really neat story. The atmosphere here is meant to resemble the eating experience out on the trail, where the camp cookie made a skillet of food and everybody dug in. You get eggs, biscuits, bacon, flap jacks, and sausage plus a few more things I can't remember. This is all you can eat and it costs about $8 a person for adults, half for kids. The food is great and the wait staff really helps you enjoy the experience. Each server has a "job". Ours was a school marm, and as such she had the trusty old ruler to rap on your knuckles if you didn't eat enough. She also kept you on your toes, always checking up on you and making sure that you weren't misbehaving. A truly wonderful experience that you will really enjoy if you have children too.
We spent the morning at Sea World after deciding to spend the whole day there. Since this is a story about Disney I won't go into a lot of detail about Sea World. The only thing I can say is there's not as much there as one might think. We love animals and we arrived at 9:30 and were gone by 1 PM. We hand seen four shows and looked in all the tanks by this time. We wanted to spend more time there, but there simply was not enough to fill the day.
We headed back to the hotel for a rest. After sitting there for about ten minutes we realized we were really tired. We had dinner reservations that evening, but we canceled them and changed them to Sunday evening. We spent the rest of the evening in the hotel until about 7, taking a nap. After this we decided to go to the Disney Marketplace. We had heard that for souvenir shopping this was the place to go. Look for everything in the parks and then go to the Marketplace and buy it! It's all in one place and it's cheaper! That's what we were told. Now here's what I tell you. This could not be further from the truth! If you want to buy all the typical touristy things this is the place for you. The only thing we picked up here was a computer airbrushed shirt with Mickey and Minnie's picture on it announcing our Disney honeymoon. We saw many interesting things at the parks that we simply could not find here. As a result of this misinformation, we had to go back to the parks the last few days and get the things we didn't get because we thought we could get them at the Marketplace. We spent about 45 minutes here and then headed back to the hotel, frustrated.
Friday, June 24
Friday we decided to take it easy so we headed back over to MGM Studios. They had a special event at the Animation Shop since it was the opening of The Lion King. Some of the animators were actually going to be present in the shop from 10AM to noon that day. We arrived at MGM about 8:30 and were trying to decide what to do, since the park did not open that day until 9. We noticed the Aladdin character breakfast was taking place and since a free character breakfast was part of our package, we thought, why not. The studio was redone in a very convincing replica of the palace at Agrabah, even for adults. I was truly upset however, when I realized, after we were already inside that this was the one day we had decided not to drag our camera along. Because of this we were not able to get any pictures of the roving characters, Genie, Jafar or Abu. And we missed a great photo opportunity with Jasmine and Aladdin at the end. This was the only part of our trip that went bad, though it was through our own fault. The food was delicious with plenty to choose from for even the most finicky eater. We dawdled a little bit, since we knew we could not take in any attractions before 10 if we wanted to be at the shop then. Allow yourself about an hour here, especially if you have small children who will be completely enthralled with the entire production. This was our first character breakfast, so I can not really compare to any others. All I can say is, that if the detail they but into this setting is evident in their other breakfasts, then you can't go wrong. The food is served buffet style and is all you can eat. We did not experience any problems with characters not getting to us like I had read in several posts here and on the Net. In fact, since we were a couple without children we were placed in a rather out of the way table so as to leave the better seats for those families with little ones. Even this did not stop all the characters from making the rounds. Again, let the kid in you come out when you visit a character breakfast. We got into the role playing a little when the characters came around, explaining that the Princess had left the camera back at the palace. The characters seemed to enjoy this immensely and really played it up, even though they could not say anything.
When we were done with our meal or server gave us a button that let us enter the palace and go upstairs to meet Aladdin and Jasmine. My wife and I would like to know where they find these people. They were dead ringers for the characters from the movie. I realize wings and costuming do a lot, but their eyes and other facial features matched the characters to precision. As I told my wife when we were leaving, I fell in love with Jasmine all over again .
We then proceeded to the Animation Studio which was right next to the sound stage where the character breakfast was. They had two animators from the Ink & Paint department in the store hand painting the cells. We discussed animation with them briefly and learned some really interesting things. Did you know it takes them a week to paint just one cel! They did admit that they alternate between several cels throughout the day, but the entire process from start to finish, of painting a cel takes a whole week. Their hands are so steady it was unbelievable. They could paint lines as thin as a hair without even a shiver. Before we left we had convinced ourselves to purchase one of the hand painted cels with background, "Circle of Life". The sericels are more in our current budget, but for our honeymoon we thought we should get something special. It truly is beautiful and really makes you appreciate the work that goes into creating those wonderful features.
The cel was to be shipped home after several days so we did not have to worry about returning to the hotel. We made our way over to the Disney Marketplace to see The Lion King. It was spectacular! If any one reading this has not seen it, go! I have seen it three more times since then and have loved it more each time. We were a little disappointed to see that they had had a showing right after midnight. We had wanted to say that we had seen the Lion King first and at Disney World and we missed it by one show. Oh well.
After this we headed over to Typhoon Lagoon to see what Disney had to offer in the way of water entertainment. This was truly an exciting place. I had always been disappointed with the water parks back home and was expecting the same thing here. They are always hyped as having the biggest this and the fastest that. Typhoon Lagoon was definitely the best water park I have visited. The slow moving river was very relaxing and the giant wave pool was terrific. One we figured out the wave schedule we almost never go out of the pool. The only complaint I have with the park is that tube rental places are not conveniently located. You need to walk a good ways to get one and then walk all the way back to the pool. The water slides were great although we did not try all of them. They were really busy since this was a hot day. The wait was about thirty minutes to slide so we only went on a couple times. They also have a tank where you can snorkel with sharks. My wife almost went, but decided against it at the last minute.
While we were at Typhoon Lagoon we had the worst Disney experience of our trip but it had nothing to do with Typhoon Lagoon. We had made dinner reservations for Victoria & Albert's before we left our house, just as we had made reservations for the other evenings of our stay at Disney. The difference here was the V&A called our hotel the night before and said that we needed to call and confirm our reservation. The phone number we were given was not answered when we tried it at 10:30 from MGM, 12:00 from the market place and about three times after from Typhoon Lagoon. The Guest Services area at Typhoon Lagoon was not able to help us. Central Reservations was clueless and the Grand Floridian hotel, where V&A is located transferred me to yet another number that rang itself into the ground. We spent between 2:00 and 3:30 on the phone trying to confirm a reservation that we thought we had made weeks before. Finally I tried CRO (Central Reservations Office) again and got someone who knew what needed to be done. As it turned out she simply had to make an entry that we had called. If the first person we had called had known this we could have saved ourselves two hours from our day. This entire fiasco tainted our Typhoon Lagoon experience and we nearly decided not to go to V&A just because of the huge pain it had been. As my wife said, "If they are so snobby as to not believe our first reservation then I don't want to go. This has ruined our whole day just to confirm reservations for a restaurant we might not even like." We almost did call it off. Thank goodness we didn't.
We had booked ourselves for the later 9:15 seating since we were on our honeymoon and wanted this to be our true "night out". Luckily the restaurant was easier to find on foot than it was by phone since we were still in a slightly foul mood from our earlier escapade with the reservations. The restaurant was rather empty, in fact only five other tables were filled. As it turned out this was due to a computer snafu. Disney had just but in a new dining reservations system and it seemed to be telling reservationists that restaurants were full when they in fact were no where near capacity. Our meal started our pleasantly and as we were introduced to our server, Victoria and our butler, Albert. After a brief discussion we decided to go with the wine pairing which is a glass of wine matched by the chef with whatever you order. This included four glasses of wine through the entire meal. This choice raised the price of the meal from $80 each to $105 each, but we thought we would try this at least one time in our life. We were given what we called a pre-appetizer of three small slices of salmon is a light cream sauce. At first we weren't too excited since neither of us liked raw fish and my wife did not like fish at all, no matter how it was done. But we decided we only live once so let's try it and then if it is bad, OK. It turned out to be very good. Don't sell yourself short without trying something at least once. There were several other dishes that sounded strange such as Consomm of Elk which is a soup, but we decided to try them and they were very good. The main courses we had were a filet mignon with a special sauce and a chicken dish with vegetables done in some exotic way. We also had a pear slices that had been soaked in liquor overnight and were then coated in a chocolate sauce. Dessert was a light white cake and a cheesecake. Wine was served with the appetizer, main course, dessert and soup. Between each course our places were completely reset, including all silverware and glasses. The wine glasses were a different size and shape for each of the four wine courses. Overall, this experience was one that we are glad we did not miss. I don't think we would like to do this every night, since the meal took three hours and fifteen minutes and we very filling, but it was a real treat on our honeymoon. Personalized menus are printed up and sealed with a wax seal. They have your names and the date of your experience on them.. For a special occasion, this is a real treat.
Saturday, June 25
We decided to spend some more time at the Magic Kingdom today. We went over at about 9 AM and decided to hit the few rides we had missed in the previous two visits, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. We went on a few of our favorite rides again, like It's A Small World.. In the afternoon we went on over to EPCOT Center to spend a little more time in World Showcase. We saw the American Adventure again so that I could tape it on our camcorder (I told you I was a history nut!). We then needed to find a teacup set that we had seen several days before for my mother-in-law. I insisted that the cups was in the United Kingdom (Tea, teacups, who would think!) But my wife insisted it was Norway, so we started over on that end of the World Showcase. Sure enough, after a walk through all the countries, there was our teacup, in England.
We had a 7:45 reservation as the Coral Reef Restaurant. The lobby here is a nice treat with a brief view of some fish in a small aquarium, but it is the view in the main dining room that really is amazing. The entire wall is a glass window that looks into the Living Seas aquarium. We were sat at a table in the second row from the glass. The entire seating area is built on tiers, much like a stadium of arena, so any seat allows you a splendid view of the aquarium. The menu had a interesting story about all the wonderful facts about the Living Seas on the back, like how big it was and how many fish it holds. It's a great way to pass the time while waiting for your food. The food was good, though not the best seafood I have tasted. It was slightly above the caliber of a Red Lobster restaurant. This experience was one of our more memorable, made so by the supporting cast. A huge grouper, at least three feet long, took an interest in my wife. He swam up to our table and turned himself so that he was facing us and looking directly at us through the glass. He sat there for about 10 minutes, until my wife decided to visit the restroom. To do this she had to walk the length of the dining room and then go back the way we had entered. The grouper swam along with her down the length of the dining room and then swam away as she walked to the bathroom. She returned and our meals arrived shortly after. Just as we were starting to eat, the grouper returned and assumed the same pose. My wife being the ever present joker, implored, "I didn't order grouper! Don't worry!" The fish watched us, and we watched it for another five minutes and then he swam away. This was a truly unique experience, but the picture I took did not come out because of the glare off the glass. My wife had tuna and I have a stuffed flounder fillet with some fried shrimp. Both were very good. The entire meal cost about $45 with gratuity.
We left the restaurant right as Illuminations was letting out, about 9:15 and just beat the crowds out the gate. We then headed over to the Magic Kingdom on the monorail to try to get a better view of the SpectroMagic parade. We walked into the MK with about fifteen minutes until parade kickoff and were able to get a seat right on the curb near the gate. Since this was the tail end of the parade, it was about a half hour until we saw anything. It was a really neat experience, but if you try to capture it with a camcorder it helps if you can manually focus it like mine. Even though all the floats are covered with light, there is still not enough for the camera to focus on and it takes at least ten seconds to auto focus on a float, by which time it has passed you by. With manual focus you can lock on right away and not miss a beat. We headed back to the Lodge, exhausted and prepared ourselves for our last day at Disney.
Sunday, June 26
We decided to finish up MGM Studios today. Secretly, I was also hoping that the Tower of Terror might open, since Disney did not yet have an official opening date. All the signs still said opening this summer, and it sure did look ready. We went to the Little Mermaid show, which was a truly wonderful experience. The theater is a total experience, much like the Muppets 4D theater. They have bubble machines and lasers that give you the effect of being "under de sea" and they even complete it with a little spritzing of water. The show it great, definitely a not to be missed. The Great Movie Ride wasn't as great as its title, but it was a fun experience nonetheless. The effects were good and the role playing of the ride narrators was excellent. I just expected a little more. We spent the rest of the day finishing up the park, but nothing else really sticks out as truly unique. We headed back over to EPCOT for a dinner at the Biergarten. The last time I had been here, I was about ten and EPCOT Center had just opened. It was still as festive as I remember, although our server was a little stone faced. As the evening wore on she did loosen up a little and the experience overall was terrific. At first my wife was a little upset about the biergarten atmosphere of sitting at a large table with people you didn't know. It took about fifteen minutes before we became comfortable enough to really say anything, but after that we were off and running. In case you are not sure how this whole thing works, you are seated a long wooden tables, eight to a table. Their is a stage on the main floor and the restaurant is tiered, much as Coral Reef had been, so that all get a view of the festivities. We got a table right next to the performance area, which proved to be a little embarrassing later. The fare is typical German, with lots of brats and sauerkraut. My wife ordered a beef dish and I went with the brats. The food was great and the entertainment was exceptional. They had three guys that could play the alpenhorn like you wouldn't believe! They had some female dancers, direct from Munich and this is where the embarrassment began. One of the other men at our table had been selected to conduct the orchestra earlier in the show. The frauleins had dressed him up in leiderhosen and other tradition German garb so that he looked truly amusing. He got to keep his baton as a momento. Later on the dancers needed partners for a dance and yours truly got selected as one of them. Keep in mind, this is a German festival so this is not a volunteer thing. They come and pull you out of your seats. As I found out later from the people around the table they had a feeling she was going to pick me, because she had been glancing my way throughout the show. Being of Polish decent with blond hair, I might look a little too German, so that may have helped a little. The dance was great as was the dancer. We finally decided to order some beers and the party really started. At the end we had some Black Forest cake that was divine. This is a really fun place to go for dinner, with or without children. There was a small girl at our table and she had a great time. As the evening wore on we got more and more into the atmosphere and it made for a great time. The only thing I think was wrong was that we did not get with the spirit earlier on. If you go, prepare to cheer and have a great time.
We left the restaurant at about 8 and made our way around the lagoon and found a decent seat for Illuminations, which we had not seen yet. For my wife this was her first time and I had wanted to save this experience since I look at it as one of the most unique, and what better was to cap off a week at Disney.
We returned to our hotel and packed everything up so that we could check out in the morning without much trouble.
Monday, June 27
On Monday morning we checked out of the Wilderness Lodge quite early, since we planned to head over to Universal Studios for the day to see how it compared. In brief, I think adults will enjoy Universal Studios more because it has a sense of realism. This realism may be to intense for some children, in fact some of it was almost to intense for me as I will discuss later.
When we arrived we had to wait in line for about 45 minutes to get tickets. Try to purchase tickets early if you can. We were spoiled from our week at Disney where all we had to do was show our resort ID. We almost gave up. Neither one of us had been here and we wondered if we would pay the $38 per person admission and be disappointed. The park opened at 9 and it was close to 10 by the time we entered. I will not go on about the detail, since this is a description of a Disney vacation, but the high points follow.
Earthquake puts Catastrophe Canyon to shame. You are in an underground subway here and the entire "station" is part of the set. The roof collapses and a truck falls in from the street, the tracks buckle and the car is thrown everywhere, water rushes in from all angles. It is as realistic an experience as I have ever had, but I also must admit I have never been in an earthquake so I can't say how it compares to the real thing. Also, in fairness, Catastrophe Canyon never claims to be as elaborate a setup as Earthquake.
Back to the Future was OK, but the 75 minute wait was not worth the payoff. Your better off on Body Wars or Star Tours where the story is a little better. The Animal Actors show was good and there are also two or three trick photo areas where you can take a picture that looks like you are on Hollywood Boulevard, complete with Hollywood sign on a hill and look as if you are standing at Kennedy Space Center with the shuttle on the pad.
The Dynamite Stunt Show at the end of the day was great, although I suggest you reserve a spot early. There are very few good viewing areas, and we missed a good portion of the show because we only arrived 45 minutes before show time.
The intense attraction I spoke of was Jaws. We almost missed this ride because it was closed for repairs most of the day, but we were determined to visit it because it had gotten such rave reviews. The intensity I speak of is not the encounters with the shark, which are very good, but the explosions. There is one point where you are trapped in a gas supply area and the water is in flames all around you. The flames are uncomfortably close and the heat is almost unbearable. This whole sequence last a few seconds, so it is not an in and out type of thing. I sat baking for at least ten seconds and felt the effects for the next hour at least. Some of the thrill rides at MGM had flame to, but nothing made you feel uncomfortable. I realize that this all adds to the realism, but I can only imagine if some poor woman had just applied some hair spray before this ride to keep her hair from moving when it got wet. I may be too worked up over this, but there is no warning of this anywhere in the queue that I could see. Back the flames up about five feet and you could still get a thrilling experience without feeling as if you are about to ignite.
ET was a nice ride and the bicycle vehicles were a unique touch. The rest of the park was excellent as well. I would definitely suggest a visit, but keep in mind that your children may not have as much fun here as a Disney.
June 28-July 4
The remainder of our trip was spent on the Gulf coast at Tampa. I returned home to a lot of work and many post marriage dealing and am sorry if this account has been too long in coming. I realize many people have E-mailed me requesting it and because of their pleas I have worked on it diligently for the last week. Someone said they were going in October and I hope this reaches you in time.
You just read a trip report that was originally published in our MousePlanet Trip Reports column.
Reader-submitted trip reports have always been an extremely popular feature here at MousePlanet. In order to improve the search functionality and shorten the time from when you submit a trip report and the report gets published, you can now post your trip reports directly to our Trip Report forums. The forums are moderated, but reports should become available for reading very quickly.
02-07-2006 07:34 AM