MousePlanet Trip Report Editor
Wayne Stoler - WDW (10-22 Jun, 1995) - Contemporary Resort
- Time of Year: Holiday Season
- Travel Method: Personal Car, Autotrain
- Resort: Contemporary Resort
- Accommodations: Standard Room
- Ages Represented in Group: Elementary, Adult
- WDW Experience Represented in Group: Frequent
- Comments: Wayne and his family traveled to WDW via Amtrack's AutoTrain. If for no other reason, this report is interesting and fun because of the train ride. Wayne also describes the family's touring of WDW in great detail.
Below is an in-depth and, at times, light-hearted review of my family's most recent vacation to Walt Disney World in Orlando. Most people on this forum who will be reading this report have a good idea of what's inside the rides and what to expect. In light of that, you'll notice that I tend to gloss over the rides themselves, but write about what's happening around us in the parks and during our stay at the resort.
We're from Baltimore, Maryland, and we chose to take AMTRAK's AutoTrain from Lorton, Virginia to Sanford, Florida. I've covered the train ride and my kids' reactions to their first official rail trip.
We spent a good deal of this trip looking for Hidden Mickeys, and we noticed three (detailed below) that aren't written up i nthe forum's Hidden Mickey Report.
Cast of Characters
Peggy Stoler -- my wife. We've been married almost 15 years, and spent our honeymoon at the Polynesian back before EPCOT was in operation (it was being built then, and we could see the construction). Peggy is a Maryland Institute of Art graduate, and spent a few years working in a medical animation studio in Baltimore before she joined the Art as Applied to Medicine department at Johns Hopkins Hospital, mostly doing graphic work and poster exhibits (big ones) for the travelling Wilmer Eye Institute doctors. She now works as my bookkeeper (at home) and takes care of Aaron and Rudy, who you'll hear about in a couple of paragraphs.
Wayne Stoler -- me. Since I'm doing the writing here, I've presented this trip report as an observer of all that's around me, and my impressions of them. A little background -- I own a company called Letter Perfect Information Services. We sell mailing lists, handle mailings for people, and operate as a typing service (using computers) to key in and maintain mailing lists for people. I have a core staff of six people who handle the day to day work of the company, and they were pretty much ticked off that the boss was taking almost two weeks off to go to Disneyworld. I also type 160+ wpm which is one reason this report is so long (but hopefully worth it). My kids believe that I've never grown up, and they're probably right. They assume I'll enjoy myself more than they will at Disneyworld, and they're probably right again. I have a couple of pretty smart kids.
Aaron -- nine years old but will be ten at the end of the summer. Aaron worries a lot, and is always looking for something to make him happy. He's real cautious, and spends a lot of time trying to figure out the meaning of why things happen around him. He reads a lot of mystery novels. He's a pretty typical 9-year old. He's sure that his daddy is probably the weirdest daddy in his whole school since I'm always trying to make him smile by confusing anything and everything he says. I usually do this on the way to school, so he's heading off to class on an upbeat note (or maybe he's just glad to get away from me; I never can tell). He's also frustrated by my constant transposing (on purpose just to make him have a reason to groan at me) the first two letters of words, such as WisneyDorld and Dalt Wisney and Hanet Plollywood. He's considered trading me in for another dad, but he's not sure that a serious one is right for him. He's generally fun to be around, and a good conversationalist.
Rudy-He just turned six a week and a half before we left. Rudy never stops talking, and he's pretty darn funny with what he says. Not just little kid funny, but he comes up with some zingers that make you wonder if this kid is really only six. Rudy is almost the opposite of Aaron. Where Aaron is occasionally moody, Rudy is almost always laughing. If you give him a piece of string, he will find a way to occupy himself for hours. Rudy could usually care less why things are happening, as long as he's a part of the action. If Rudy can't make you smile, he figures that you're probably hopeless and goes on to the next person. I've never met a more upbeat person. Rudy will enjoy himself in just about any situation. He is, however, afraid of most thrill rides, and prefers to stay with the tamer attractions at WDW.
This is our third trip as a family. We stayed at the Port Orleans for eight days in March 1993. We bought annual passes in August 1994 to prepare for a two-week trip starting in the middle of September 1994. We also stayed at the Port Orleans. Both times we had an adjoining room for the kids.
This latest trip came about because I kept staring at those annual passes and figured that if I could manage to get the family down to Orlando, all I had to do was foot the bill for the room and we could walk into the parks for free. The idea for the AutoTrain came about because I wanted to see how the kids would react to a long train ride. Plus, it cost about the same as air flight (only about $50 more, but that included meals and sleeping berths).
DAY 1 OF TRIP (SATURDAY, JUNE 10)
We packed up the car with luggage, games and stuff, 6-year old Rudy, 9-year-old Aaron, Peggy (my wife) and Wayne (myself) for a quick 90-minute ride from Baltimore to Lorton, Virginia where we boarded Amtrak's AutoTrain for an overnight excursion to Sanford, Florida, just outside of Orlando. We opted for the train experience because we've flown the past two times and we're tired of the crampy sardine feeling. There's also the "get to your vacation spot too fast" syndrome, when we're running ourselves ragged to get everything finished and then Wham! Bang! two hours later we're "on vacation" in Walt Disney World. I end up wasting the first two days being a grouch and unable to rest and relax, which is what even a WDW vacation should be. So the train forces me to take a day to relax and unwind, sort of, before I actually hit the vacation spot.
We planned the train trip as a surprise for the kids. They assumed we were going to drive straight through for 18 hours and they were going to be stuck in the car fighting with each other the whole way down. My 6-year-old was so upset at this prospect that he asked to stay home. We convinced him to "want" to come along with the prospect of being allowed to torment his bigger brother the whole way down. I told him I'd even help him! He bought the idea.
As we neared Lorton and the exit, on the ruse that we were looking for a place to eat and to change drivers, I started complaining about how I did not want to drive, couldn't stand it any more, and in general was getting pretty grumpy. I threw up my arms, pulled into the train station, and said "Wow! Gee! How about taking the train, guys?" (the kids didn't realize you have to book the AutoTrain at least four months in advance). The kids, I think, went into shock. They realized we had planned this all along. Rudy, however, was now upset because he was going to miss out on the 18 hours of free not-being-yelled-at-for-tormenting his brother that I was supposed to help him with. Oh, well. I told him we could still do it on the train and he consented to the train ride.
Loading the Cars
If you've never ridden the AutoTrain, you've got to stop by one day and see how they pack this thing. Cars are loaded via ramps into Auto Carrier cars -- triple deckers for regular cars and double deckers for vans and sport vehicles. Car jockeys load the cars in one by one. We were told to get there no later than 2:30 in the afternoon, and we would probably be one of the last cars to be loaded, and therefore one of the first off. DON'T EVER BELIEVE WHAT THEY TELL YOU! First off, the cars can keep coming into the station as late as 3:30, but definitely no later. And they pull the cars in head first. But they don't back the cars off at Sanford. They turn the rail cars around so the first ones in are the first ones off! We had a LONG wait in Sanford until our car was "de-trained".
The AutoTrain Trip Itself
You can ride coach or you can ride first class. Coach is not bad if it's just you, or you and your spouse. The coach cars are spacious and recline all the way back for sleeping. It's a whole lot cheaper, too. But when you have kids who need quiet to go to sleep, you must use the sleepers, which means first class and, unfortunately, more expensive travel. We had two economy sleepers that sleep two each, somewhat comfortably. You're facing each other in a small enclosed room, and you can open up a retractable card table between you. I paired up with Rudy, and my wife opted for Aaron, our 10-year-old. Since we were right across from each other, it made for a family-like feeling and we were able to pass supplies back and forth just by reaching across the aisle/passageway. I even went so far as to reach across the aisle and inquire in my most sophisticated-sounding voice if they happened to have some "Grey Poupon".
Rudy, you must know, is a constant talker who never wants to stop talking. He's not hyperactive; he's just so interested in talking that he does it constantly. Plus, he LOVES to play games, so we played lots and lots during the trip.
Call to Dinner
We signed up for a 5:00 dinner since we wanted to get the kids to bed by 10 p.m. Also, the station ticket people told us there was going to be a family movie at 7 p.m. Round about 4:30 we heard a public address announcement that the movie was some non-family type drama with Paul Newman that was inappropriate for the kids. We figured we'd play some games in our room instead. At 5 p.m. we walked two cars to the dining car and enjoyed salad, chicken, potato, peas, and dessert. I opted for the salmon fettucine. Not going to win any awards, but the food was tasty and filling. Even Rudy enjoyed his chicken. On the way back we've scheduled low-fat dinners of pepper chicken for my wife and myself.
Service was efficient only. Hardly a smile at all. If I could have left and gone to another restaurant for better service, I would have bolted. No chance on a train. And no tip given, either. Plus, they have to rush us out for the 6:30 serving. Hard to rush a 6-year-old through dinner.
As we were finishing, this jovial fellow comes by and tells us they're now showing Aladdin at 7 p.m. in the lounge/bubble top car. Surprised us, and gave the kids something else to do. I had prepared for a nice evening of entertainment. My 10-year-old has been experimenting with balloon sculpture (making animals out of long balloons). He's gotten pretty good at it. So I figured we'd spend the evening in the lounge blowing up balloons for other kids who might be bored. Not necessary, and the balloon twisting proved to be too loud while watching the movie.
Aladdin, as expected, was excellent (since we have kids, we've probably watched the movie at home 20 times already, but we still enjoy it). It's a good thing we know the dialogue pretty much by heart; every time the public address system came on with an announcement (call to dinner, call to movie, possible sight to see on your left side, etc.) it overrode the movie sound.
Back to the room by 8:30 for a game of Monopoly for me and Rudy and to finish a Scrabble game between Peggy and Aaron. Our AMTRAK host, Matt, converted and turned down our beds at about 9:30 and it was soon bedtime. This was interesting, to say the least. I'm 6'2" and 225 lbs. on the top bunk with about 18 inches, maybe, of clearance and a bit of claustrophobia. I managed okay and could even turn around with only minor contortion exercises; it was quite comfy actually. Rudy, however, took about two hours to nod off and then some inconsiderate slobs had to scream their coffee orders from their room at one end of the car to their father/husband at our end of the car at 5:00 in the morning (the coffee pot was right next to our rooms). Even with our sliding door closed, they couldn't help but wake up Rudy and my wife. Aaron will sleep through anything. Rudy, however, feels that once he's up, the world (in this case me) must also be ready to shine. 5 AM! The sun was still sleeping, for crying out loud! I threatened to throw him off the train if he didn't go back to sleep. He knows me too well, so he didn't buy it. I threatened to call Mom in to tell him to go to sleep. That's worse than anything, so he tried his best, bless him, to keep quiet. That lasted until about 5:15. I finally gave up about 6 a.m. and conceded to open my eyes, grab some coffee and play another game of Junior Monopoly.
DAY 2 -- SUNDAY, JUNE 11
We scooted out for a 7 a.m. continental breakfast of cereal, bagels, juice, milk, fruit, and muffin assortments. There were some switching problems due to storms the previous few days, which explained a few delays I remember being woken up for during the night. Our train pulled into Sanford about 45 minutes late at 9:45. This was okay for us, because our first day was unplanned except for an early dinner at Planet Hollywood.
Getting the Car
While waiting for the car to "de-train" I called Amtrak's 800 number (800-USA-RAIL) and ordered the low fat dinners for our return trip June 21st. It took about 30 minutes for the car to emerge from the unloading ramps. We threw our overnight stuff in with the rest of our baggage in the trunk and we were off for a 45-minute ride to WDW and the Contemporary Hotel.
Getting in early to the Contemporary allowed us to choose the room we wanted, and based on Forum members' suggestions, we got Room 8110 in the North Garden Wing, with a first floor patio right on Bay Lake (where I'm sitting writing this up now). Beautiful view of Discovery Island, the Wilderness Lodge, River Country (I think), the Electrical Water Pageant (stops right in front of our patio, so I'm told), and the wonderful Disneysponsored lightning bolts that appear nightly from the sky <g>. Looking up from my writing I can count over 20 water vessels -ferries, water sprites, speedboats, and I think a pontoon or two.
We got extremely lucky on the room rate, too. After Magic Kingdom Club discounts, the Contemporary's Garden Wing was supposed to be $209 with tax per night. The Annual Pass discount and MKC discount are the same after June 4th. Someone must have mis-keyed in the numbers, somewhere, and our reservation form (received three months ago) said $149/night including tax. Rather than sending in only the standard one night deposit, which they always request, I wrote a check for $1490 for all ten nights. I figured that the worse that could happen is they would call about their mistake. No call. And if someone at the checkin desk questioned the low rate, I would claim that's what we were quoted and I've already budgeted that amount, and see how far I could get. No one blinked, and the computer had us logged in at $135/night plus tax. They'll get the $600 diference and then some at the shops, so everyone's a winner, sort of. I've known about this all along but didn't mention it in any of my earlier messages. I was afraid some WDW employees may have been reading the messages and corrected the mistake. By the time they read this, we'll have been back a long time and Disney won't be able to chase after us and correct their error.
Our rooms woulnd't be ready until 5 p.m. so we grabbed a bite and some heartburn at the Food and Fun Center, then hopped the bus to the TTC and then on to the Village Marketplace. We could have taken the monorail to the TTC, but the Food and Fun Center is right next to the bus stop so we just walked outside and hopped on the next one out. Here's one instance where a car makes more sense. Buses direct to the Village Market don't start until 4 p.m. And you have up to a 20 minute wait for a bus from the Contemporary to the TTC, then a 20-minute wait for a bus from the TTC to the Village Marketplace. It's a 10-minute ride, at most. And there's PLENTY of parking. Plus, it was 98 degrees outside. Next time we'll be smart.
At the Village Marketplace we watched the walk-through snapjet fountains and stopped to buy some magnets and a couple of pins at the new Pocohontas outdoor shop (is Disney timely or what!?!) Then off to the Character Shop for more magnets (the kids' collecting is gonna bust me <g>) and a couple of Pooh clocks for my office (he's my weakness). Also a new Pooh wristwatch for Rudy (nicknamed Roo after guess who in the Pooh stories).
Then off to Planet Hollywood for a 4 p.m. dinner (called ahead and they say 3-5 p.m. should only be a 30-minute wait, and they were right). For anybody walking from the Village Marketplace to Planet Hollywood, DO NOT go through Pleasure Island. It's faster to just walk across the street. There's lots of stairs and walkways if you travel through Pleasure Island. Of course, there are shopping opportunities, so maybe that's why my wife insisted we go through PI <g>.
Planet Hollywood was a blast. But it was also a bit loud. Then again, I'm now 37 and my wife's 41 so maybe we're old fogies. My kids were enthralled. We all waited in the bar. One thing I definitely did not like: there was this overly helpful guy in the bathroom who would pour soap onto your hands, turn on the water, hand you a towel, sell you cigarettes, cigars, after shaves ... you name it. And he wasn't like an old-money servant; he was moving real fast, almost like a whirling dervish, to hit the water faucets and grab a towel and hand it to you. I felt like I couldn't trust the guy, even though that was his job. Come on, we're not in the 1940s any more. I've been in bathrooms where there was a servant offering assistance, but this guy was just moving too fast to make me feel comfortable, like I should give him money because he's putting on a show in the bathroom. I don't mind tipping for service, but only when I want it. I may be in the minority, because my buck went into a huge basket of ones, fives and tens. Reminds me of the times we used to pay 10 cents to open the urinals at the Hecht company (big department store chain) in Baltimore.
(This is definitely Florida. I know it because it's rained twice in the 20 minutes I've been sitting on the patio writing this report, the sun is still shining, and I think it's going to rain again soon.)
We sat down to a delicious dinner of Cap'n Crunch chicken tenders for Rudy, vegetable burger for Peggy, and ribs for Aaron and myself. Service was excellent, food was tasty, and coke refills appeared before we were finished our last sip of the first one. I like attentive servers (but not necessarily pushy ones in the bathrooms).
For anyone who never set foot in Planet Holywood. it's a trip in itself. There's movie props/memorabilia from just about everything. The walls are covered with stuff to drop your jaw at. The movie clip and montage playing on about 700 kazillion screens are a good diversion, and there must be a million lifesize and bigger cutouts of every popular movie figure. You could take a date to Planet Hollywood and never say a word to each other and walk out believing you both had a great time. Almost like a dinner theater.
We left Planet Hollywood and bussed back to the Contemporary to move our bags to the room in yet another spontaneous Florida monsoon. I took care of the bag shlepping (with bell service help) while Peggy took the kids to the Fantasia shop on the third floor of the Contemporary. I came back drenched and we stopped to get a Mickey bar for Rudy (his promised dessert). Aaron got some ice cream too.
At 9:15 we caught the beginning of the Electrical Water Pageant, but not enough to write about here. Actually, viewing the Water Pageant and getting it on tape turned out to be a major challenge this trip, as you'll learn about on our future days. It stopped back again at 10:10 but we were too busy getting ready for bed to watch it. Right after the 9:15 EWP viewing, we headed back to our room where we got ready for bed and let the kids fight over who gets the queen and who gets the day bed. Rudy got the day bed and Aaron the queen, but they agreed to switch off each night. Peggy and I conked out at 11 p.m.
DAY 3 -- MONDAY, JUNE 12
I got up at 6:45 a.m. and ordered what my wife and kids call "Daddy Service". This is where I walk over to the Food and Fun Court and pick up enough breakfast and, hopefully but never actually achieved, the right things that everyone who is still asleep will want for breakfast when they wake up. It's a tough job; I've never gotten everything exactly right, and it gives everyone something to complain about. But it is a tradition that started with our first family trip to the Port Orleans in 1993 and continues on our third one, now at the Contemporary. Here's an example of how I come close, but never exactly right. Today I saw a nice juicy grapefruit, something I've seen my wife enjoy time and again. She informed me this morning that she doesn't want anything that acidy first thing in the morning. And I poured Rudy's frosted flakes into a bowl for him. He informed me he would rather eat them out of the box this morning. I can't win.
We Make a Mistake Monday is an early day at the Magic Kingdom, so we set out at 8 a.m. for the Kingdom. It's a 10-minute walk, but my wife wouldn't trust my judgment (something about making a wrong decision 15 years ago and walking 10 blocks with suitcases in New York City that she won't let me forget). So we used the monorail. BIG MISTAKE. They're in no rush to get you to the Magic Kingdom, so we stopped and waited at the TTC, the Polynesian, and the Grand Floridian before we got to the Magic Kingdom by 8:50 and a 10-minute wait in line. So we got to the park at the regular opening time instead of an hour early.
We opted for Fantasyland first. It's amazing. Walking down Main Street was crowded until the Terrace Restaurant (first turn into Tomorrowland). Then it thinned out so much it felt like a slow park day in October. By 9:45 we had ridden Snow White's Adventures (liked the new sets inside), Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (I scream at the top of my lungs and complain the whole way about Rudy's driving, which is probably why he likes the ride so much), Peter Pan's Flight (still enjoyable) and It's a Small World (we see something new in there every time).
Then we went on the one ride I hate more than any other -The Skyway to Tomorrowland. It's not that I have a fear of heights. I don't. I have a fear of being near an edge and the chance of someone causing me to fall off. There's a picture of me in our scrapbook looking over the edge of the Grand Canyon, and I'm on all fours and nervous as can be ... I had to be sure that no one could sneak up behind me and scare me off the edge! Anyway, back to the ride. My kids and wife love this ride. I told them I'd meet them in Tomorrowland, but they wouldn't let me off the hook. So I got on. And we're just out of the station, swinging back and forth somewhere over the It's a Small World building, when THE RIDE STOPS. I think someone in a wheelchair needed to get out, so they generally halt the ride for a couple minutes. Whatever the reason, there are now permanent finger grooves on the railing of a certain red car on the Skyway ride. We started back up (after what seemed like days but was probably only 3-5 minutes) and then promptly shut down again. It's a good think I only had cantaloupe for breakfast that morning. My kids were waiting to see what it looked like on the way back up. Fortunately the ride re-started and so did my stomach, so my kids were disappointed I didn't toss my cookies (cool! and gross!). My wife was enjoying my misery, but she at least understands how the Skyway gets to me, so she decided it was probably best if she went with Aaron on Space Mountain this time and I took Rudy on the Grand Prix Raceway. Bless her heart. I like Space Mountain, but not after the Skyway, please.
Even at 10:10 in the morning, Space Mountain had a 40-minute wait and the Raceway, surprisingly, only took about 20 minutes. I spent the whole ride screaming about how he was such a horrible driver and I would never get behind the wheel with him, going on and on for the whole ride. Rudy seems to enjoy my antics, or at least he puts up with me. He must figure I'm having fun too, which I am. I think he knows that I get as much fun out of making him and Aaron laugh as I do out of the whole park itself. Plus I get a personal kick when other kids look at the four of us and seem to wish that their parents were just like Peggy and me.
We went to Mickey Star Trader shop and Auntie Gravity to pass the time and wait for Peggy and Aaron. I bought a large coke for Rudy and myself. Outside, Rudy managed to spill the entire contents of the cup. I made a bee-line back to the Auntie Gravity food stand and asked how much a refill would cost, explaining about the dropped cup, and they just smiled and refilled it for free. I've always been impressed with the level of service, training, and on-site decision-making and leeway the WDW cast members have. You may pay a little bit extra, but it goes a long way.
Next stop was the new 9-Eyes Attraction, a Circle Vision 360 show with the camera robot (9-Eyes) and Robin Williams as the mad inventor robot as your guest. The pre-show is boring until the last few minutes when 9-Eyes comes on and begins his monologue while packing for his trip. At first it scared Rudy, but once he got in and saw it was a theater, he relaxed. Try to get a standing position close to the robot in the front rows. Most of the movie takes place to the front and, especially if your kids are only 4' and 5' tall, they might miss some of the effects. I'd rate this show as a don't miss attraction.
Leaving 9-Eyes, we stopped by the Extra Terrorestrial attraction where a cast member was answering questions. They're still planning a grand re-opening June 20th. They were open a day or two ago for the whole day, and she said they may open any time for "soft" openings, but she couldn't predict when. She also mentioned that a couple of sets weren't quite complete yet. It's funny, though. As soon as I mentioned that I heard they were planning "soft" openings around June 15th, she started using acronyms like WDI (for Walt Disney Imagineering) that I know, but I imagine most people don't. Apparently the term "soft" opening, which is used quite often in the Disneymania section, is considered an insider term. She must have thought I was an offduty cast member checking on another ride's status. Gave me a chuckle.
Our next stop was the Tomorrowland Transportation Authority, or the WEDway People Mover. I always like the ride, and I prefer the older name, but as I mentioned before I'm 37 now and may be considered an old fogey.
My wife took the kids to a couple of shops and packed me off to Tony's to make reservations for a 7 p.m. dinner. I was to meet her in a half hour at Pinocchio's House for lunch. I also stopped to see the Penny Arcade stuff that's been moved under the Main Street Train Station, and picked up a schedule of events at City Hall. Then it was off to Pinocchio's for smoked turkey sandwiches for three of us and a burger for Rudy.
Main Street was next. I took the kids to see the new movie in the Main Street Cinema. Don't miss this movie ... it's worth it just to see Mickey Mouse pick up the Michael Eisner phone on his desk.
We bought some cookies for dessert at the bake shop. This place always smells better outside the door than inside. I guess that's part of the Disney marketing expertise. We used to have a popcorn seller on the ground floor of a high rise building in Baltimore who would blow a fan from the popcorn machine straight towards the elevators. That irresistible smell went all through the building and he sold a fortune in popcorn. Same holds true for the bake shop on Main Street. They must have blowers from the oven forcing the aroma outside rather than in.
After two viewings of the new Mickey Mouse movie and Steamboat Willy, we found my wife in the Jewelry Shop where I saved a bunch of money using the 10% Annual Passport discount. Now all I have to do is figure out how to pay the other 90% of the bill. But my wife convined me to get something I've admired since two visits ago in 1993 -- a music box in the shape of a typewriter, with two working strike bars and lots of moving keys and parts for $175. I always felt uncomfortable spending that much on myself, and it has little to do with Disney except the song "Whistle While You Work". But I've won some major contests with my typing speed (140+ for contests and 170+ under pressure) and I've built a small collection of inexpensive typewriter figures -- this will make a nice conversation piece to sit next to the largest trophy.
It's now 3 p.m. and time for our least favorite part of the day -- the Mickey Mania Parade. So we scooted out and back to our room for some naps from 4-6 p.m. That's where I spent about an hour watching two storms and a bunch of lightning while writing this report and sitting on our outside (mostly) covered patio. I feel like I've rented beachfront property in Maine, except for the heat and the rain.
At 6:40 we walked to the Magic Kingdom along the monorail footpath. One day I'd like to be there at 6:30 a.m. or so when they use the monorail switch and move the trains to or from the spur line that runs around and behind Space Mountain. I think I have better things to do at 6:30 a.m., though, and this is not a high priority for me.
Tony's was delicious. My wife and I had spaghetti and meatballs and the kids had pizza. Skip the meatballs -- they're too soft and don't taste all that great, but the spaghetti and meat sauce more than make up for it. My son pointed out a Hidden Mickey I've never seen mentioned before (maybe we'll get it written up, who knows). If you're in the white room at Tony's (the one you can see from outside) and look at the stained glass windows along the archway leading to the main dining hall, you'll see a complete semicircle around the stained glass. And in both corners there are two smaller circles, making a perfect Mickey Mouse hat. This motif is repeated a couple of times throughout the restaurant. I also saw Hidden Mickeys in the wrought iron railings above the train station, which can be seen if you're standing just about anyplace in the circular area near the station.
After Tony's we headed back to Snow White's Adventures, then to the Pirates of the Caribbean and off to Splash Mountain and my favorite shop in the whole park -- the Briar Patch -- because they stock a huge collection of Winnie the Pooh stuff there. My six-year-old has been on Splash Mountain twice before, but he panicked this time and it took us a half hour to convince him he'd survive the ride. We all rode it, but this was one time I had to spend the $10 to get a picture of the kid going down the
big hill. Aaron looked like he was bracing for the worst experience of his life. Rudy had a grip on the front handle like he was about to be tossed out and there was no way he was going against his will. I always thought $10 pics were a waste, but this is a family memory I'm glad to have.
Dad Sort of Makes a Mistake And Takes Up Residence in the Dog House
We got off Splash Mountain at 10:15 and spent some time on Main Street filling the Disney coffers. We searched and searched but could not locate the Hidden Mickey above the Jewelry Store. Guess it either needs to be bright outside or we weren't free associating enough at 11:00 at night.
Exiting Main Street my wife headed for the Monorail but I recommended the Contemporary boat launch. She pointed to the launch and said we might as well since it's just about to leave. We hurried up and made it on just before it left. I struck up some conversations with the passengers while wondering why the launch headed for Seven Seas Lagoon rather than Bay Lake. I figured it was a late night economical direction and didn't pay it much mind until we reached Fort Wilderness and they announced it was the last stop. I asked (while my wife and both kids were snarling at me) if the boat to the Contemporary would be stopping by soon. The answer was no. My wife and kids began gnashing their teeth and all three disavowed any association with someone as stupid as that tall guy with the knapsack. Rudy announced to anyone who would listen how his Daddy has no brain, Aaron set about on a marathon kvetching session, and my wife added another item to the long list of stuff to hold over my head for our next argument. On the bright side, they refused to walk to the bus stop with me, preferring to stay in their Gang of Three and throw verbal insults at my stupidity, so I got to meet some nice Fort Wilderness residents who took pity on me, gave me directions on how to possibly get back to the Contemporary by bus, and even offered a place to stay if the Gang barricaded the hotel room and refused to let me in once we eventually got back.
Here's where the WDW bus transportation system falls flat on its face. There's no bus to take you from Fort Wilderness to the Contemporary, so you have to take a "Crocket" bus to the TTC. But after 11 p.m. (at least on June 12th, 1995) there was no guaranteed bus scheduled to go from the TTC to the Contemporary. After a 10 minute wait while everyone else found an "Internal" or "Boone" bus at the Meadows bus stop to take them everywhere within Fort Wilderness, a "Crocket" bus arrived to dump us ... and I mean dump us ... at the TTC.
We just missed the last monorail, so the easiest route wasn't available to us. We watched bus after bus leave for all other destinations, and none headed for the Contemporary. The Pleasure Island bus driver offered to come back for us after he unloaded, but that would be 30-40 minutes, with no guarantee of another bus to the Contemporary. We were stuck. Then an unusual sight appeared. For some reason a STUDIOS bus showed up at the MGM Studios bus stop. The studios closed 1-1/2 hours ago, and this bus was empty coming in with no one waiting to head over there. My wife and I aren't shy, so she packed me off to talk to the bus driver, who agreed without hesitating to take the 20 or so people, including a bunch of tired kids, straight to the Contemporary. We were most appreciative, especially since Monsoon #4 of the day had just started up. We headed back to the room where I shot off to WDW Guest Relations a 2-page thank you letter and commendation for this particular bus driver (they responded back about a month and a half later saying that they were putting the note in his file and would mention to him that his good deed was most appreciated by the guests he helped).
DAY 4 -- TUESDAY MORNING AND EPCOT, JUNE 13
No matter how hard you plan, there's always some detail that slows you down. We headed out of our room at 7:30 for an 8:20 character breakfast at the Coral Reef restaurant at the Living Seas Pavilion in EPCOT. We needed to be there by 8:10 to confirm the reservation. We got to the front gate at 8:05 and faced a ten to fifteen minute wait to filter through the wall of people who were taking advantage of early opening day at EPCOT. Fortunately a lot of other people with reservations for the Coral Reef faced the same problem, so getting to the Coral Reef by 8:25 still got us seated right away (after greeting Chip, of course). Food was filling but nothing exceptional. Got slobbered by Pluto and the kids loved Minnie, Goofy and Pluto. And of course Mickey was in the tank. This guy (or girl) has the best character job around. When it's 100+ degrees and humid outside, Scuba Mickey is cool as a cucumber swimming in the tank, and it's real hard for the kids to grab him and hang on him through plate glass windows. And when he's finished, he waves goodbye and leaves; he doesn't even need a cast member escort like all the other critters.
Next we set off for Honey I Shrank the Audience. Long line, but only a 30-minute or so wait. I really appreciate all the free reading material that everyone plasters on their t-shirts; it makes the line waits all the more interesting. The HISTA theater must hold a lot of people. We were about 300 feet from the front door, and still got inside the building on the next showing (then of course we held up in the building, but at least it's air conditioned inside). My wife and I made a mistake after we sat down for the show. We placed our large knapsacks on the floor in front of our seats. This spoiled the loose mice effect, and we had no idea why everyone was screaming until later. The air moved a little around my knapsack, so I had an inkling of what had happened, but my wife's vents must have been completely covered over. Oh well.
After HISTA we backtracked to The Land for the new Circle of Life show. Amazing what wedding popular animation characters to a dry topic will do. Last September you practically had to pay pepole to see the old Symbiosis movie. Today the line wraps completely around the upper level of the pavilion. Timon and Pumba are super-popular and draw people in for an excellent and not-overbearing show. I wouldn't mind seeing it again myself. Now if they would just get Timon and Pumba to emcee the Energy Pre- and Post-show I'll stop falling asleep during that ride.
Next it was off to Cranium Command. This remains one of my favorite shows, even after four viewings (just once today).
Spaceship Earth was our next stop, and the line seemed short but was deceivingly long. While it wrapped all the way around to the area near the EPCOT Discovery Center and back to the other side of the ball, the ride's constant loading gets everyone on fast enough. I hardly ever mind a long line as long as it keeps moving. Spaceship Earth keeps you moving all the time. They could bill this as: "EPCOT Fitness: Walk and Exercise Around the Earth ... How to Walk 2 Miles Non-Stop in 20 Minutes in Only 100 Square Yards of Space."
After the ride we stepped into AT&T's promotional area and played in the voice sensitive booth, where the actors ask you questions and, if you respond properly, they perform the next action.
Our next stop was the Electric Umbrella for a blase' fast food lunch. My wife tells me the Vegetable Burger is too dry. While eating our lunch we discovered a new, we think, Hidden Mickey. If you're sitting to the right of the Electric Umbrella concession and looking out the windows, look at the automatic doors for the Centurion shop. Every time they open up you'll see a 3-D Mickey, with one circle in front and two behind it in back. I have to give Aaron, my 10-year-old, credit for this one. I'm surprised no one's ever noticed it before.
Next stop was Centurion for more wallet-thinning. My wife and kids have been collecting Disney POGs for the past six months, and we had checked earlier to learn that on property they were selling a series of seven POGs with Disney animation. My wife bought four sets (only 25 cents per POG, which is about three times higher than for other designs, but I guess we're talking some hefty licensing fees here).
We wanted to hit the World of Motion once before it closes for the scheduled re-hab. Still an enjoyable show, and we had fun looking for Hiddey Mickeys. My wife and kids watched the Water Motion show while I gave one last look at the exhibits.
Then we were off to see Spaceship Earth once more. But not before stopping at a water fountain in front of the Centurion Gift Shop. This was a shocker to me -- a TALKING WATER FOUNTAIN. My 6-year-old came over with the most outlandish story I've ever heard him come up with. "Daddy! Mommy! There's someone in the water fountain!" We played along to humor him and, sure enough, both the adult and child's water fountains came alive. Press the knob and if you look at the water spout you'll see some colored lights. As the water flows down, though, we heard "Glub Glub Glub. Ah! Thanks, I needed that", and "I know I should have taken swimming lessons", and "I'll have to find another place to live."
Now to hear this you have to almost have your ear in the water fountain, so people around you, unless they've experienced this before, have no idea why, after you've taken your drink of water, you look like you're trying to wash out your ear. We must have spent 15 minutes at those fountains while several hundred EPCOT visitors gave us a VERY WIDE BERTH and muttered something about how they should really start screening out some of the nutcases who come through the front gates.
Below is a list of some of the sayings:
- "Don't you know, we have a plumbing convention going on down here!"
- "Thanks, I was getting a little dry."
- "Ah, I needed that!"
- "Ah, that was great. But next time could you maybe add a spritz of lime."
- "What the matter, you never seen a talking water fountain before?"
- "Sheesh, I've gotta find a new place to live. I'm drowning down here!"
- "No doubt about it, I've gotta take swimming lessons."
- "Ah, just what I needed to whet my whistle."
- "Hey, what are you trying to do, drown me?"
- "Dive! Dive! Dive!"
- "Hey, what do I look like, a drinking fountain or something?"
- "Thanks, I needed a little thirst-aid."
Spaceship Earth at about 5:00 and only a 5-minute wait ... not a wait, because you're not waiting in any one spot, but a brisk non-stop walk ... to the ride entrance. This time we tried the mini-ride simulators in the AT&T exhibit at the end. No great thrills, but probably fun for the young kids. They also have at least one wheelchair-accessible ride simulator that seemed to move as much as the other stations.
We had 6:00 reservations at The San Angel Inn, and we got there with enough time for the boat ride (always relaxing, and we enjoy the fiber optic fireworks near the end) before dinner. Dinner was delicious for all except Rudy, who was uncomfortable with the lack of lighting and available food choices.
The Maelstrom was next (today was EPCOT ride day for the kids). We saw the mouse ears Viking, the oranges Mickey, and watch ghost Mickey on the mural, but couldn't locate any others.
After staking out several spots for Illuminations, we settled on sit-down spots in front of the boat dock near Mexico. Here's where a little cast help should go a long way. There must have been 50 or so young, short children in this area, all looking forward to sitting and viewing a great laser, music, and fireworks show. And there were about 150 inconsiderate adult lunkheads with nary a bit of common decency among them. Here's where the cast member help would come in handy. If someone would approach this area about 10 minutes before showtime and instruct everyone to remain seated on the ground throughout the show, everyone would be able to seee. But as soon as the first effects start, about 50 no-brain jerks up front have to stand up to get what they feel may be a better view. That causes everyone else to stand, and all the little kids are left to fend for themselves. It's indecent to the kids. I was brought up to always try to be considerate, so I'll always check behind me during one of these shows. Since I'm 6'2", I can usually stand way in the back behind everyone else and still get a good view. My wife and kids always look for a close-up sitting position. The crowd at EPCOT infuriated me for a gross lack of etiquette. But I believe that if the EPCOT Illuminations announcer or a cast member would remind these people of good manners, they would probably act more civil and keep their rear ends seated.
And of course afterwards we all re-created a New York City mass evacuation scene heading back to buses and monorails. I suggested to my kids that we should try another ferry boat, at which point they picked me up and bodily threw me inside the monorail car.
DAY 5 -- HANG AROUND THE ROOM DAY, JUNE 14
Rudy's food from last night didn't agree with him, so we got to see it again on the return trip in the middle of the night. So today's schedule of lying around made a lot of sense. He recuperated by early afternoon, and it gave both kids a chance to catch up on Disney Channel shows (we don't have cable at home). I enjoy Disney cartoons as well, so we all had fun. My wife spent some time riding the monorail and visiting the resort gift shops. She even stopped off at the Magic Kingdom for some popcorn and to check the Pooh cart near City Hall. I treated the kids to games in the Food and Fun Court, and Peggy met us back there. We grabbed some food and went back to the room for a lazy lunch by the patio and in front of the TV. (When we take a day off, we really take a day off). Our housekeeper, Glenda, brought Rudy a Goofy stuffed doll to make him feel better. I know this is a standard procedure with the housekeeping staff, but it's still nice to know that they go out of their way to make the little ones feel good. (She mentioned to me that they keep a bunch of the dolls around just for occasions like this; the dolls are good quality seconds that they can't sell in the stores but do just fine to spread goodwill and make a young one smile.)
Rudy and I stayed in the room while Peggy and Aaron drove over to Shades of Green where they don't charge sales tax but they won't sell anything to you without a valid military personnel card. They left the stuff they were going to buy on the counter. Aaron also left his three-year-old autograph book with everything else on the counter. Fortunately, my wife and son were able to retrieve it about an hour later.
Rudy was felling good enough for 6 p.m. reservations at the California Grill. The view of the entire Walt Disney World area is fantastic. Aaron and I even went out on the Observation decks to take in the view (although I stayed far from the railings). Dinner for Aaron and Peggy consisted of delicious chicken. Rudy had the children's pasta, and I opted for a chicken and sun-dried tomato with light cheese pizza. It was great! I can't say much about their desserts since my wife didn't think too much of her berries angel food (it was acceptable) with one of the worsttasting sorbets she's ever tasted (it was green and unusual tasting). Their peach cobbler with ice cream was good, but I wouldn't order it again. But then the real show here is not the food, but the kitchen, the service, and the view. They'll invite you to come back and watch your food being prepared, especially if you're a child. And they'll even allow you to assist, if you're so inclined.
We all went back to the room where the kids spent time on the patio playing cards while I worked on this report. About 8:30 my wife left for the Village Market and I got the kids ready for bed. They woke up for part of the Electrical Water Pageant about 9:45 and they both went back to sleep quick as a wink.
Peggy came back about 10:30 to find me sitting on the patio enjoying the moonlight and watching the ferries (I really like this room). She had a fantastic experience -- impromptu and not cast member controlled -- on her bus trip back from the Village Marketplace. The way she tells it, about a hundred and fifty people crammed onto this one bus with a slightly drunk budding comedian in the very back of the bus. As soon as everyone got on and the bus started moving, the guy in back went into his monologue, which had many of the people riding the bus in tears and, if they had had room to do so, would have been rolling in the aisles laughing.
His monologue went something like this: "Ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to welcome you aboard Delta Airlines. Please note the emergency exit doors to your right and left. There will be no eating or drinking or smoking on the flight today. Please note that there is no oxygen on the aircraft today. I know becuase I'm back here and there is none. There will be no food served on the plane today. Look to your right. Get to know the people next to you. You will be pressed up against them for the next 40 minutes. And no, I am not your pilot. I can't even see if we have a pilot." Peggy says the best part was that whenever the bus made a turn, he said "WHOAAAAAAAA ... here comes everyone." I imagine in the retelling of this you may be thinking that it's not all that funny, but when my wife was relating this story we couldn't stop laughing for about 10 minutes.
DAY 6 -- MGM AT OPENING TIME, JUNE 15
Daddy Service brought breakfast back to the room in the morning. We caught the bus to get us to MGM right at opening time. We checked the tip board and took a leisurely walk to the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular for center seats.
After the show we strolled into the Great Movie Ride with about no wait to get into the movie trailer clip holding area. I don't know if this qualifies as a hidden Mickey or not, but the mural when you first enter the Great Movie Ride has hundreds of birds all in the Mickey hat shape. Somebody will need to check this one out because I walked by it too fast, and Aaron pointed it out to me. I glanced at it only briefly because my wife and Rudy were already far ahead and I wanted to keep close. We also saw the Mickey window silhouette and the poster Mickey feet, but I couldn't figure out where the wishing well was.
Next was the Backlot Tour, and Aaron insisted on sitting on the far left so he could get wet. Didn't have time to check the Hidden Mickey in the poster because we had less than a two-minute wait for the next tram. Everyone else must stay out of MGM until
10:30 or so because the park was easy to get through before then. Of course the next place was the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground, but by then it was too crowded for my wife and I to find comfortable spots and still keep an eagle eye on the kids.
Muppet 3D was down temporarily for technical problems. Since it was 11:40, Aaron and I entered the 40-minute wait for Star Tours, which Rudy and Peggy skipped. Leaving Endor and Star Tours, we trotted over to Mama Melrose's place for our 12:30 reservations. Food was acceptable but nothing outstanding. My wife, however, enjoyed herself. She eats pasta whenever possible because it's low in fat and usually pretty tasty.
About 2 p.m. we headed to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid and then for one of my favorites and one I was pretty sure my wife, who graduated from a four-year art college and spent two years working in a medical animation studio, would like to see -the Animation Tour. We got there before the animators quit for the day, so we got a chance to see some of them working.
It was now 5:15 and time for Aaron and me to ride the Tower of Terror while Rudy and Peggy hit more shops. This was Rudy's choice; he didn't want to go on, and he prefers to do shopping with his mother rather than me.
We enjoyed a nice leisurely dinner at the 50's Prime Time Cafe. Our sister server made sure our hats were off, our hands were washed, and our napkins were on our laps. We struck up a conversation with the family of six at the next table, who were seasonal passholders. They had reservatinos at the Howard Johnson's at Lake Buena Vista but hated the rooms, so they walked next door to the time share condos/villas and got a condo big enough to sleep six comfortably -- without reservations -- for $86/night. And I thought $139/night for the Contemporary was a fantastic price. Now this area would not have been acceptable to us, becuase we are willing to pay extra for Disney service and the extras that go along with staying at Disney on-property. But this was $86/night in prime season for a time-share condo right at the WDW property entrance that must usually rent for $200+ per night. And with no reservations. That's phenomenal!
After rich rich rich rich desserts for everyone and a Happy Birthday song for Rudy (he was six on May 31st), we hopped a bus for EPCOT. Our sister/server must not have been working there too long, or else she has a very poor sense of timing. She told us we'd have to take a bus from Disney MGM to the TTC and then the Monorail to EPCOT to catch Illuminations again. That sounded like a whacko way to go next door, so I checked with the tram operators and they pointed to the bus that had just pulled in that would take us right to EPCOT. Ten minutes later we walked into the main gates and hot-footed it to World Showcase. Today our prime spot was standing by the railing next to the Traveler's Shop as you first enter World Showcase, about 20 feet in front of the hot cashew vendor. You miss Canada and most of Germany from this spot (building in the way of Canada and too many trees to see Germany), but there was no chance of some 500 or so inconsiderate slobs standing up to block Aaron's and Rudy's views. Back to the room afterwards. Next time we'll wait for the crowds to empty out so we can watch the fountains and let Aaron and Rudy play on the fiber optic sidewalks.
DAY 7 -- FRIDAY, JUNE 16
Friday was a special treat for us. We slept late and, after Daddy Service breakfast, drove over to the Port Orleans to sneak into their pool. As soon as we entered the gardens it felt like we were back home. After all, we had spent 22 days there over the last two years. My kids got excited as they found the street names they remembered from last time. We found our rooms from September and told the kids to find the pool by themselves. Thirty seconds later they were standing by the alligator musicians waiting for us. They got right into the pool and down the slide. It was nice to be back home.
My wife wasn't up to swimming just yet so she did some laundry (her choice, not mine) and sat by the pool doing some figgerin' and plannin'. We broke for lunch at the Sassagoula Floatworks, even using our Port Orleans mugs from two trips ago to get refills for only 59 cents each (the Contemporary's refills are 75 cents each). I saw at least three people in foodservice who were there last September. For a late snack I tortured my heartburn with Cajun Popcorn.
Sometime in the middle of the afternoon I had to call my office to straighten out a problem that had developed over the last couple of days, and I ran into a guest check-in clerk named Matt who had been extremely helpful in September. Back then we were on three different reservations to get the best room rates, and to make matters easy and avoid long lines to check out and check in each time, I would wake up at 4 a.m. on the days we needed to start our new reservation (the computer ran a posting or something between 3 and 4 a.m. so we couldn't check out before 4 a.m.). Matt was the only person working those nights, and I was the only nut up at 4 a.m., so we had time to chat for quite some time. He remembered me and welcomed us back. When he found out we were staying at the Contemporary, he immediately recommended that we enjoy a dip in the Port Orleans pool while we were visiting. I thanked him and said we'd take him up on it (didn't want to tell him we'd been in the pool for three hours already, but I don't think he would have minded). He must be moving up in the chain of command because he looked like he was now in management, and has moved to days instead of the graveyard shift.
We left around 6:30 and headed to the Caribbean Beach to look at their dinner options. My wife didn't think it was anything special, so I used a house phone to make 8:00 reservations at the Contemporary Cafe.
We enjoyed the buffet at the Contemporary Cafe (priced right at $14.95 for adults, $7.95 for Aaron and $4.95 for Rudy). We finished by 9:15. Peggy ran upstairs at 9:05 to catch the ending of Illuminations from the California Grill. She said it was worth running upstairs to see. She also caught the first showing of the Electrical Water Pageant. We paid the bill and left for our rooms to see the Water Pageant up close. We moved our chairs right up to the jogging track. We even stole our neighbors' chairs. The pageant was due between (9:55 and 10:05. We were prepared to wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. At 10:15 I called down to the front desk to find out the show was cancelled due to bad weather conditions. Huh? Unless 10 mph winds are poor conditions, we can't figure out why they were cancelled. Oh well! Another show we've missed getting on videotape. We'll have to try another night.
We came in and got the kids ready for bed and then checked our phone messages. Larry Campbell and Bob Redmond were over at the Wilderness Lodge and wanted to know if we wanted to get together tomorrow sometime. I'll need to call them tomorrow (it's too late tonight) and try to schedule something for next week. Tomorrow is Kids Day in EPCOT and my wife and I plan on spending the day letting them enjoy the special events throughout the park. I hope we can make it next week; I've been looking forward to meeting these folks, or at least talking with them on the phone.
DAY 8 -- SATURDAY, JUNE 17
As I expected, Saturday was a slower day at EPCOT. I figure a lot of families plan for an early departure on Sunday, so Saturday is a must to please the kids at the Magic Kingdom or one of the three water parks. Sunday is arrival/departure day, so the Magic Kingdom is hit pretty hard for last minute rides or first rides upon arrival to get out that pent-up frustration. Then again, EPCOT is pretty slow any day compared to the other parks. About the only time I noticed unbearable crowds was on the early opening days, and even then it doesn't come close to the Magic Kingdom in comparison.
Whatever the reason, we arrived around 9:30 a.m. and went through Rudy's favorite ride, or at least the ride he was looking forward to today. I was also looking forward to this ride. Journey Into Imagination is a pure "absorb the images" ride where you ride through and say "ooh" and "ahh" and "wow" at all the displays and word images. I also like this ride because there's usually no more than a ten-minute wait on the busiest days -love those continuous loaders!
We bypassed the hands-on room after the ride since we've spent a couple hours there on previous trips. Honey I Shrunk the Audience, the show right next door, was showing virtually no lines, so we scooted over for the show. My wife managed to sit in a seat that wasn't working properly -- the air hoses had been pulled out. We brought this to the attention of one of the attendants, and he told us that guests have been pulling out the gadgets -- probably as sourvenirs, but maybe out of a fear of mice -- faster than they can re-install them. The problem is apparently so bad that he didn't even want the seat location where we noticed the problem -- they just go through the entire theater on a periodic basis and replace all the defective ones. I got the impression this was done more than once a week. Anyway, the second showing was much better and, except for the fact that we sat in row 2 all the way to the left, we were able to "get" all the effects. Note to anyone who hasn't seen this yet -- sit as close to the middle as possible. They'll tell you that all seats are the same, but the ones on the edges don't give as strong a 3-D effect as the middle seats. We kept seeing double images no matter how hard we tried to focus (or un-focus, I guess, in this case).
After the second show we took a left to The Land for the Listen to the Land Boat Ride. I don't know if the kids enjoyed it, but Rudy requested "the boat ride that we saw from that restaurant we ate in last time", so we went on it again. It's still fascinating to see the unique growign methods. I think the kids absorbed some of the technical stuff, and I'm sure they liked the audio-animatronic stuff.
After the Future World attractions we headed over to Kids Day at the World Showcase. The Canada Pavilion was stop #1, with a table set up near the shops. Rudy colored in a maple leaf and Aaron spent some time creating a Dreamcatcher, which consisted of a pipe cleaner in a circle shape and a string tied in squares around the ends, then in a square around the square, and another square around that smaller square, and a bead or two tied in the center. The way I understand it, and I'm probably wrong, you hang the dreamcatcher above your bed and it catches all the bad dreams and lets all the good dreams through.
While we were sitting and standing around the table, a storyteller -- I think his name was "Jack" -- came around to kid with the crowd and keep everyone interested and drum up attendance for the next storytime. His jokes were good and nonoffensive.
I talked with one of the Canadian cast members who was at the kids' tables and asked if Le Celier Cafeteria was open yet. She said yes, so I went down to check the menu. Surprise! It was still closed with no sign of re-opening yet. I was pretty sure it was supposed to be opening that day, but I guess I was wrong. Oh well; we were planning to eat elsewhere anyway.
Our next stop was the United Kingdom for autograph sessions with Mary Poppins. She must have been running late because she wasn't there at the listed time. She also wasn't very high on my kids' autograph wish list, so we headed off to lunch at my wife's "get off the fat free regimen and just enjoy myself" special place to eat -- the restaurant in France.
We don't particularly like the shops in France, so we were fortunate they could seat us even though we had no reservations. The food was delicious. Rudy had fish, Aaron had a chicken pot pie-like dish, I can't remember what Peggy had (but she really enjoyed it) and I had the assorted cheese board. I'm used to the American way of sampling cheese -- with bread, crackers, or an apple -- so I asked for a couple of rolls and dug in. This is always a fun meal for me. After the meal, Aaron and Rudy spent some time as "street artists" and painted (on paper) along with the 30-or-so other kids enjoying Kids Day. I grabbed some chalk and this big kid created a maze along part of the sidewalk (a hobby I picked up 15 years ago to stave off a bout of boredom waiting for my food to arrive at a real fancy restaurant with service that was only slightly slower delivery than the US Postal Service).
While we guys were having fun, my wife was filming the area and making her way to the International Gateway and a shop she somehow missed on our last six passes by the area.
Morocco had some musicians and not much to interest the kids except the Aladdin and Return of Jafar merchandise in the outside shop. Isn't there something politically incorrect about the Morocco shops promoting something that stereotypes the Arab world? Not when a Disney buck is to be made, I guess.
Japan was fun. I hate the department store because of the inflated prices. The merchandise is always interesting, but $30 for a Pooh puzzle that would sell comparably elsewhere in WDW for $15 to $20? And Pooh stuffed animals 50-75% more expensive than anywhere else in the area. Yes, they are made in Japan. Yes, they probably are good quality. Yes, there is an exchange value and the dollar is devalued right now. But these were the same prices back in September! My wife bought a deck of Pooh playing cards (regular 52-card deck with Pooh on the decoration side) for $11.50. Disney playing cards sell for $1.90! Other specialty cards sell for $7 at WDW! $11.50 seemed way out of line. But then again, we bought them. If the prices were more in line with reality, though, we would have bought a whole lot more. An example of price differences here -- a large Pooh costs $83 at the Japan store; the same size Pooh sells for $35 at the Briar Patch in the Magic Kingdom (the shop below Splash Mountain).
Outside the department store a street magician entertained the crowd, and we were absorbed with his act for 45 minutes in the hot sun. This guy was good! He playfully insulted individuals in the crowd, brought as many kids into his act as possible, teased and cajoled his audience while performing magic and stunts that amazed us. This is the type of street performer for whom I would readily drop a few bucks into a hat if he were passing it around to the crowd.
His show finally ended (we were getting sunburned by now) so we moved on to the American Adventure Pavilion. Peggy bought a sourvenir for her stamp-collecting father (pewter replica of a 1976 eight-cent stamp). There wasn't much else to interest us here except soccer for the kids (but our kids weren't interested in joining in, so we moved on).
Next stop was Italy where Rudy and Aaron made macaroni bead necklaces. I got the impression the young Italian cast members were more interested in talking to each other and, I think, complaining about something (in Italian, so I wasn't sure) than devoting time to helping the kids. They were cordial, but I didn't see the Disney magic here. After about 10 minutes of necklace making, Pinocchio showed up with Gepetto and Gideon, so we spent some time collecting pictures and autographs.
We were off to Germany next, and a musical show outside (we didn't stay too long) and a sign saying Snow White and Dopey (two of my kids' and my wife's favorites) would be by in 25 minutes so we headed to the non-existent African Pavilion and had some fat-free soft yogurt. We made it back in time for Snow White and Dopey, and then it was back around to Future World (we bypassed China and Mexico this time around).
On the way back to the Monorail we went through Spaceship Earth again (only a three- to four-minute wait this time). Then it was off to the Contemporary for a short rest before hitting the Magic Kingdom at 9 p.m.
After the large lunch at France and ice cream at about 5:30, we figured we'd grab some fast food at the Magic Kingdom at about 8:30 p.m. We were planning on seeing the 11 p.m. Spectromagic show and wanted to beat the crowds for the rides during the 9 p.m. parade and 10 p.m. Fantasy in the Sky fireworks.
We forgot that at 8:40 there's a mad rush of people lining up for the 9 p.m. parade. We should have taken the railroad over to Frontierland to see the Country Bear Jamboree, but instead we wasted 20 minutes breaking through the crowd to walk that way. Next time we'll know. There were only about 30 to 40 people watching the Country Bear Jamboree at 9 p.m. Our next stops were Splash Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, and then over to Main Street and a spot facing the entrance to Tomorrowland (sort of facing Cosmic Ray's place) for the 11 p.m. Spectromagic parade.
I left to get some cookies and milk (we sort of skipped dinner this night) for everyone. I had 20 minutes. Some inconsiderate boob at the bake shop took this time to place a large order for cookies that was difficult to fill. This was the longest line in all of WDW that night. She took so long I wasn't able to get back to the family (parade lines couldn't be crossed by then) and this was probably the saddest parade I've ever watched. I get little enjoyment from the parade myself; it's a lot more fun for dad to point out stuff to the kids and enjoy their reactions.
After the parade was over I met up with Peggy and the kids, and we really missed each other. It turned out they were having problems of their own that if their 6'2", 225 lb. Daddy would have been there would probably never have happened. My kids were sitting peaceably on the sidewalk curb waiting for the parade. My wife made the unpardonable sin of (ten minutes before any parade was near them) of standing up to see how far away the parade was. Well!! Some red-necked arrogant SOB father who was sitting on the bench with his wife while his two kids were sitting on the cold, hard pavement in front of them took exception to my wife standing up and potentially blocking his future view. He started cursing every word imaginable at her, even stringing some words together in creative ways that she'd never even thought of before. And he was LOUD. Walt would have had his guy ejected from his "family" park. He kept going on, even threatening to come over and beat my wife to a pulp! My wife sat down well before the parade come through (as she was planning to do all the time). She is convinced that had I been there and simply turned around and stared at him that this neanderthal jerk would have piped down. I guess that sounds like a compliment, but when she told me the story I wanted to be there to protect my family. Fortunately, this slob was all talk and nothing erupted. You may think I'm being hypocritcal because of my earlier comments about the incosiderate people at the Illuminations show. Those people all stood up during the show; my wife got up about 10 minutes before the parade arrived just to see how far away the floats were, and she was immediately verbally assaulted.
Another sad comment -- there are trash cans in Walt Disney World every ten feet or so (or at least it seems sometimes). This place was a mess with discarded and dropped wrappers, cups, and other debris right after the parade. Downtown Baltimore would have looked spotless in comparison. I guess letting others clean up your mess is a sign of the times, but it's still sad. We had our milk and cookies (it was now 11:30 p.m.) and headed back to the Contemporary.
DAY 9 -- SUNDAY, JUNE 18
From past experiences we've learned that the only way to get to Olivia's at the Disney Vacation Club is by taxi or car. Forget the buses ... they'll take over an hour from just about anywhere. Even when we stayed at the Port Orleans in Septmeber, the bus took us from the Port Orlenas to the TTC where we had to wait for another bus to the DVC. All this to get to a resort that's right next to the Port Orleans. It's just that it's not easily walkable for Mom and Dad and a 5- and 9-year-old (at the time). So this time we left the Contemporary at 8:10 a.m., hopped in our car and got to Olivia's by 8:20, or ten minutes early for our 8:30 breakfast reservation with Winnie the Pooh and Tigger.
This is an example of why we keep coming back. We love the Disney experience, and even though we ate breakfast with these folks twice in September, we felt compelled to return this time. And we had just as much fun this go-round. The cast member "handler" gets into the act, too. We asked him why we don't see a Piglet character around the park, and he explained that "Piglet is basically a very shy fellow and doesn't feel too comfortable around crowds." Right in character as a pal of Pooh, this cast member made you feel that he truly enjoyed his job. Breakfast is standard fare for the Disney character breakfasts: expensive because you're paying to hobnob with the furry ones. I always grab a bowlful of grapes and much on them for an hour or so after the meal; that way I feel I'm sort of getting more for my money. After a few visits and lots of pictures with Pooh and Tigger, we packed up and headed for MGM. At 10:30 the parking lot was pretty much empty. Matter of fact, the lot never did look full all day Sunday.
Nothing much was going on throughout the main street, so we stopped in and bought a $15.95 tin of about $4.00 worth of 2 lbs. of taffy for my office staff. They get the taffy but I want the tin back -- it's got drawings of Disney characters at various sites in the Magic Kingdom.
Next stop was a long 1/2 mile walk (or so it seemed) around the queue to get into Muppet Vision 3-D. I still think the queue posters and the pre-show is worth seeing as much as the show itself. So while my wife and kids were complaining about the shlep, I was having a ball reading the posters and trying to get them interested. My family is convinced that I'm easily the youngest one in the family because I seem to enjoy myself the most. The movie was good, as usual. I couldn't find anything legitimate to complain about, like in the Honey I Shrunk the Audience show where they let us sit through it again, so we only saw this show once today.
Rudy decided he would like Star Tours, so we joined about a thousand other people in a long line. The group of four older adults ahead of us were complaining of (a) the heat, (b) the crowd, (c) how they weren't having all that much fun, (d) etc. These were two businessmen with their wives who were all dressed up too much to be comfy in 90+ humid weather. One of the husbands was commenting that the park needed a really good rainstorm to clear out most of the people.
I consider these types of people a challenge, so I struck up a conversation with one of the men. It's amazing how much more friendly some people will become when they feel they're talking with someone at their own social level. At first they pretty much disregarded me until I dropped some comment about how it's good to get away from my staff for a while. Right away they felt more comfortable talking with this younger guy. All the time I'm talking with them I'm cracking up inside at how economically conscious these people were. A bit on the uppity side, and the wives never condescended to enter the conversation (then again, maybe I'm not a good conversationalist, either). I'd expect these women to wear their mink stoles to sit around the hotel pool.
The ride was nerve-wracking as usual. My wife pointed out to me after we left the ride that Mrs. Uppity was standing, sort of, with her husband and friends. She wasn't really standing; she was being supported by her clan. This better than thou person had turned ghost-white and had to sit down before her lunch came back to greet everybody. We contacted a cast member on our way out to alert them to a potential problem by the benches. I feel sorry for this lady, not so much because she got ill on the ride, but because she was probably happier getting the attention of being ill and having everyone attend to her; she has probably forgotten what it's like to feel like a kid again and just enjoy herself in the Disney experience. (I also feel sorry for her being ill on the ride because I've felt the same way myself after this ride and Body Wars). I hope as I get older that I remember what it feels like to have fun.
After Star Tours we split up. Peggy and Aaron got in line for the Tower of Terror, and Rudy and I had fun meeting people in a long line for the Great Movie Ride. This time we saw the gangster routine instead of the Western ambush. Rudy and I bought some popcorn after the ride and met Peggy and Aaron. Turns out they got fed up and got out of line. The Tower of Terror was having technical problems and they faced an hour and forty minutes wait.
So we all left and went Resort Touring. The Swan and Dolphin look impressive from the street, and that was about as close as we bothered getting. We stopped at the Yacht and Beach Club complex and viewed the pool (impressive, but my wife hates sand) and tried to get a seat at Beaches and Cream. There was too long of a wait, and the other restaurants were either too expensive for lunch or not the type of food we felt like eating. So we headed out.
It was about then that I realized I'd forgotten to pick up the overpriced taffy tin on the main street in MGM. So my wife dropped me off and I ran in to get it. Having a car made everything much easier -- she dropped me off up front and picked me up at about the same spot. I was in and out of the park in fifteen minutes or less.
Afterwards we headed back to our room for a short crash before taking the monorails to the TTC and EPCOT. Rudy wanted to go through Spaceship Earth one more time, and then we let the kids get the computer game bug out of their systems by spending the next couple of hours at Segaland in Innoventions. Peggy and I took turns seeing the exhibits at non-Sega Innoventions, and neither of us noticed much change since our last visit in September. Peggy stopped in the pastry shop across from Innoventions. Their stuff was so good I offered to get her another cup of coffee (as long as I could sit down alone there for a few minuts of quiet and enjoy some pastry myself while she watched the kids).
About 7:30 Rudy and Peggy wandered off to the Lego exhibit where we were saddened to hear that Lego was planning to pull out of Innoventions (but not out of their other locations at WDW). The cast members manning the area told us the shut-down date is scheduled for sometime in September 1995. Oh well. Rudy liked it, but I imagine that Lego didn't see enough return of goodwill coming from the exhibit.
We exited Innoventions at 8 p.m., just in time to see the fountains go off. Rudy, Aaron and I left Peggy to film them. We headed back to the Contemporary for cookies and milk and, finally, to catch the Electrical Water Pageant at the right time, sitting on comfortable chairs on our own patio. This was a race to get in position in time. We saw the show setting up in front of the Magic Kingdom as we passed on the monorail, so we raced off the monorail, down two escalators to the Food and Fun Center to buy our milk and cookies, and then out and down to our room by Bay Lake. We didn't need to hurry. We had about a half-hour wait until the parade got to us. After borrowing some chairs again from our next-door neighbors (they weren't in), we sat down to watch the show over at Fort Wilderness and then circle around to the Contemporary for the final show. All that racing, and I forgot that the parade's path makes a figure eight (sort of) and hits Fort wilderness BEFORE the Contemporary. So we got two showings instead of just one. And then we had an unexpected surprise -- just before heading into its lagoon for the night, the parade made one last showing. I assume it was for the people who paid $29.50 or so per person for a champagne cruise to see the fireworks and the parade from their ship. And Peggy, we found out later, was able to get the parade on tape; since she left EPCOT about 25 minutes after we did she caught the last show as she was walking back to our room from the Contemporary's Tower building.
DAY 10 -- MONDAY, JUNE 19
Monday morning was a sleep late day and head back to the Port Orleans for a lazy day at the pool instead of a hectic day at Blizzard Beach. Originally we felt we had to make it to Blizzard Beach because that was the new place and we're Disney fans, so that's the thing to do. But as this vacation has continued on we've been feeling more and more comfortable going back to the old haunts. So far we've bypassed Alien Encounters and the new arcade in Tomorrowland. We have yet to see the All Star Resorts hotels. Sure, we'd like to see everything, but it's becoming less and less important.
So Monday finds ourselves opting out of paying $70 or so for admission at the crowded Blizzard Beach and choosing instead the Port Orleans Doubloon Lagoon and a smaller water slide that has only a 30-second wait instead of the traditional half hour wait at the parks. And we spent four hours in the water instead of four hours in lines.
We left the Port Orleans about 5 p.m. and headed to the Port Royale Building at the Caribbean Beach Resort to see their pool. It's nice, but I'll take Doubloon Lagoon and be happy there just as well, especially since the pool is within easy walking distance of all the rooms at the Port Orleans and the Port Royale pool seems to be quite a hike from just about anywhere at the Caribbean Beach Resort.
Outside the Port Royale building we saw some cast members braiding hair for guests (pre-Pocahontas, maybe). The place seemed too noisy, and we didn't find much there for dinner that met what our taste buds were ready for. So we drove back to the Contemporary, rested for a while, and walked over to the Magic Kingdom for an enjoyable evening in the park.
We ate dinner first at Pecos Bill Cafe, sitting near the talking moose/bear heads where the Country Bear Jamboree lets out. People are desperate for large tables. As soon as we got up to leave, two families dove for our table. We left them to slug it out themselves.
Our next stop was to the Briar Patch, where they primarily stock Brer Rabbit and Winnie The Pooh stuff. We were looking for a particular poster, which unfortunately they were still out of stock on. From the Briar Patch we cut across the bridge to the Country Bear Jamboree for a much more crowded showing than our last time (several hundred vs. 30 people). Rudy made sure to visit his favorite stand-up, er ... hung-up (on the wall) comics after the show -- the three talking trophy heads we had been sitting near in Pecos Bill -- that entertain the crowd as they leave through the Pecos Bill Cafe.
Our next stop was the Thunder Mountain Railroad, which Rudy was afraid to go on. We convinced him that we would go on the left side track, which we told him was the tamer one (there's only one track, but he never figured that one out since the boarding area has a left and right side). He didn't trust us and chose to ask the loading cast member if the left side was really the slower one. By winks and head shaking, she got the message and agreed with us. Great ride, and Rudy still tells everyone that they have to try the left side of the train ride.
The Haunted Mansion had about a 15-minute wait so we got in line. Rudy made friends right away with a group of kids his age. He asked me if it was a safe ride, so I answered that, "Of course it's safe, except for those who don't make it out." He got the joke and knew I was kidding, but I overheard one of the girls in the group ask Rudy "Just what did your father mean about 'the ones who don't make it out'?" My wife stepped in to reassure the girl that I was just kidding, but not before Rudy said, "Oh, that's just my father ... you have to excuse him because he has no brain!" Oh well ... you bring the kids up as best you can and then they tease you as much as you tease them!
It's was now almost 10 p.m. and fireworks time, so we headed for Fantasyland and, we hoped, some shorter lines. Maybe they were a bit shorter, but with all the signs saying Fantasyland and Mickey's Starland are the best place to view the fireworks, we were second-guessed by the crowds who figured they also could wait in lines while watching the fireworks.
But we still had time to ride Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (with me still screaming abuot how rotten a driver Rudy is), Dumbo's Flight, and Peter Pan's Flight. I even did one of the stupidest things that I should have never done -- I went with the kids on the Mad Tea Cup Ride. Parents, especially daddies with no brains, should be barred from this ride.
My wife and I last went on this ride together on our honeymoon in 1981. She had just eaten one of the chocolate covered bananas that some cruel person used to sell near that ride. Peggy told me that a chocolate-covered banana tastes about the same going in both directions, which she unfortunately got a chance to experience that day. Both of us were nauseous for the rest of our honeymoon trip, which, fortunately, was ending the very next morning anyway (the trip, not the marriage, thank you).
So this no-brain Daddy went on it again, but this time with my eyes closed to limit the dizziness effect. Didn't work. My kids were laughing all during the ride, and I think some of their gleefulness came from watching me change colors during and after the ride. I walked (more like staggered) off, sort of, and kept my Pecos Bill salad down, but I don't know how. Rudy and Aaron wanted to take me on it again! I backed off and sat down to wait for them. My wife looked at me and said "Don't expect any sympathy from me, Daddy-with-no-brain!"
While the kids were on the ride I spent some time watching another father showing his son how to get a butterfly (one had settled nearby) to perch on his fingertip. He would dip his finger in a puddle of water (this is Florida so you can be sure it rained sometime in the last hour) and let the butterfly feel safe and comfortable drinking the water. After about ten minutes he got the butterfly to perch on his finger, which unfortunately excited his son, who then scared the butterfly away by trying to grab for it.
Peggy wanted to see what Alien Encounters had to offer, so she left us three at the Starlight Cafe to rest and watch the show while she talked to the cast members giving out info about AE. She learned enough to know the ride was definitely not for our kids, and probably not for us, either.
The Audio Animatronic show at the Starlight Cafe is worth a half hour. Sonny Eclipse, an AA deejay, plays his musical space organ, tells jokes (good ones, from a lounge musician standard), and sings some decent extra-terrestrial type spoofs of popular songs. His routine seems to take about a half hour before it repeats itself.
I began a collection of six souvenir cups from the park that night, and was able to finish the collection the next day. You buy a $1.95 soda and they give it to you in a commemorative plastic cup. There's one for Main Street, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Adventureland, but none for Mickey's Starland. These cups look kind of dated (not faded, just older style), so maybe they were originally introduced before Mickey's Starland was built). If you're looking to collect these for free, just check near attraction entrances where people discard their drinks before entering the rides, or check the trash cans at night -- you'll find plenty, since I believe most of the cups are tossed rather than saved.
So now it was 11:30 and time for a sleepy monorail ride back to the Contemporary.
DAY 11 -- TUESDAY, JUNE 20
It's back to the Magic Kingdom early (about 9:30) and straight to Fantasyland to catch The Many Adventures of Snow White for Rudy. Hardly any wait time. Same was true for Cincerella's Carousel -- we were the next ones on. We also had a chance to ride Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and Peter's Pan Flight, and the Mad Tea Cups (the kids this time, not no-brain-but-learningDaddy) again.
Just out of curiosity I stopped by Alien Encounters and saw at least a half hour wait already. I didn't check it out, but I bet Space Mountain's lines are now getting shorter. Let's face it -- Tomorrowland's only major draw attraction for the last 20 years has been Space Mountain. Everything else has been "an attration we'll see before or after the 'pitch-black' roller coaster". So now with a second major draw right across the way, Space Mountain should be a little easier to get on during the day.
While I stopped by Alien Encounters to check out the queue area and get a Tomrrowland souvenir cup, Peggy and the kids headed off to Mickey's Starland, where I met them near the miniature stores in Duckburg (shouldn't that be Mousetown?). We stopped for a while to let Rudy crawl through the multi-level maze near the Petting Zoo. Aaron and I walked through the garden and played with the mist fountains to cool off. When we were finished we sat down and waited for Rudy to eventually tire of the 3-D maze.
This was a 95+ degree day, and we met a lady who was 7 months pregnant and looked like she was exhausted by the heat. I asked her if she could have possibly waited for a hotter day. She told us that when she planned this trip last year she wasn't pregnant, but she wasn't about to ruin the trip for her other kids, so she's putting up with the heat. But she said she had every bench and bathroom throughout the park very clearly marked off on her map.
From Mickey's Starland we walked back to Fantasyland and through the castle heading on the left to Tomorrowland to eat lunch at the Starlight Cafe. By the moat underneath the Cafe, I saw a boat-like lecture area I'd never seen before. On the pathway there's some topiaries, and about halfway around (each way) there's a path that leads down to this lecture area with seating (and a few high-powered fans to keep us cool). We stopped in to find out that several times daily they have talks about how the topiaries are created and how WDW keeps their hanging plants healthy. Since we were the only ones there, the cast member/horticulturist spent some time answering our questions. It seems many of the topiaries are faked, and instead of having one bush that is trimmed over several years to maintain its form, they'll sometimes create a wire mold and fit two or three plants together to create the design. This method takes only a few weeks. The cast member did assure us, however, that when a topiary is slated for long-term display and they are not on a time crunch, they will take the time needed (sometimes several years) to grow the form from scratch.
Lunch was fast food fare at the Starlight Cafe, with a chance to see Sonny Eclipse again. Still entertaining. And we found another hidden treat -- a talking trash can. This time it was more obvious than the talking water fountain at EPCOT. You dump your trash in and you get one of our responses:
- A bunch of little voices say "It's mine ... it's mine ... mine... mine ... mine ..." and then this mean-sounding voice says much louder and deeper "IT'S MINE!"
- A cool-sounding dude says "Hey, watch it, man, your trash just knocked off my shades."
- A girl's voice (I think) says, "Cooooool. Thank you." and then giggles.
- A French-sounding voice says, "Oo-la-la ... zis is my lucky day ... French Fries!
This is another one of those little added extras that make up a magical Disney experience.
After lunch, we headed around Alien Encounters to Main Street and the Emporium, where we spent some time adding to the Disney coffers. We caught the 4 p.m. election rally for Main Street Mascot -- Winnie the Pooh (the good guys) vs. Captain Hook (the bad guys). The election parade is a short one; it starts at the Emporium and walks slowly clockwise around the Main Street hub, and then stops with Hook and Company on the left (as you face it) in front of the train station and Pooh and Pals on the right. The progression is important because the Emporium is the supposed Winnie the Pooh headquarters (banners overhead) and the Camera Center, right across the way, is where Hook stages his campaign (Hook banners overhead). This parade is much more intimate than any of the full park ones. Only those people at the Hub at each election parade time actually get to see the festivities (held several times daily before 5 p.m.).
At this character appearance, the characters actually talk, albeit pre-recorded. But that's something that's practically unheard of with any Disney character, except the ones that are actually portraying real non-furry people, such as Snow White, Peter Pan, and Mary Poppins. At the election rally we watched (right up front), Hook threatneed everyone saying something like "you better vote for me or I'll make you walk the plank." It was something like that. Tigger got a speaking part, but I can't remember what it was. Winnie the Pooh said everyone deserved to have honey in their pot, or something to that effect. I think Captain Smee had a speaking part for the opposition party. All in all, with the Mayor of Main Street, a human emcee, coordianting everything, I felt like it was an old-time political rally, complete with un-keepable promises and candidates getting out to shake hands. We all made sure to boo at Hook, which drew a nasty snarl from his camp directed at the three of us, and to cheer Pooh as loud as we could. As of 4:30 this day, Winnie the Pooh was ahead by about 700 or so votes.
Right after the rally at 5 p.m. the Magic Kingdom has their daily flag lowering procession along with marching band and somber flag folders. At the completion of the ceremony about a million birds (probably closer to 20 or 30 total) are let loose and fly in formation to wherever it is they live. It's a beautiful sight to see.
We had one last stop at Frontierland. Rudy's Pooh Bear hat that we had just bought was damaged, so we took the train to the Briar Patch Kiosk under the Frontierland Railroad Station where they were happy to replace it. My wife insisted I buy a commemorative popcorn tub so I'd have something to dump my microwave masterpieces in at home instead of using her good Tupperware containers. By now my souvenir cup collection was complete. We took the train back around again to the Main Street Railroad Station and our return to the Contemporary.
On our walk over to the park this morning we noticed security guards checking traffic and passes to make sure we were okay-looking people. We couldn't understand why, all of a sudden, Disney security kicked into place. We got our answer later that day when we learned that Michael Eisner was in the Kingdom for the official grand re-opening of the Alien Encounters ride and to announce Disney's plans for the new Zoo/Safari-like attraction.
Attendance seemed low for a Tuesday; there just wasn't as long of a wait to get into the rides than I expected. I have a theory about this which I don't think is probable, but it makes sense. This was a major press day with hundreds of reporters around the park. Disney controls attendance by closing the gates early. They don't rightly lose much in gates fees because most people will divert to Disney-MGM or to EPCOT for the day. But if the press sees short lines and not-too-crowded conditions, they'll report this on the news and in the papers. People all over Florida and across the country will note that Disney isn't tremendously crowded, like they've heard from everyone else, and maybe they should plan to visit the park in the near future. Voila! Disney gets great press on a major announcement day and more people book rooms at WDW and come into the parks. Just a theory, but it makes sense.
We were lucky enough to relax for about an hour and monorail over to the Poly and walk in for no-reservation seating at the Coral Island Cafe. Service was fast, the food was excellent, and the kids had a ball coloring a 3-foot fold-out of Kaa, the snake from The Jungle Book, which was what the children's menu was printed on. We opted to bypass dessert here and head down to Captain Cook's on the first level for some fat-free yogurt.
We headed outside to walk around the grounds while eating, and we got another surprise. Now, you have to realize that Peggy and I spent our honeymoon at the Poly. We went swimming in the round pool near the Neverland Club. We assumed that was the only pool. When we exited Captain Cook's we took a path to the beach and found their main pool (14 years after our honeymoon). We were flabberghasted. The Poly main pool has a waterfall and a slide leading into the shallow water. This pool pales in comparison to Doubloon Lagoon at the Port Orleans, but fewer kids stay at the Poly so the pool doesn't need to be all that fancy. Rudy wanted to try the slide and pool, but it was 9:45 at night and we didn't have our suits on, plus we were checking out the next day. So Rudy and I made plans to sneak over here tomorrow morning (Wednesday) and swim/slide for an hour or so. Peggy and Aaron didn't have any problem with this because they wanted to head back to the Tower of Terror to get a chance to ride it before we all left.
Our next surprise was something we forgot all about, but we were soon to be reminded: the Poly beach is about the best place -- outside the Kingdom -- to view the Fantasy in the Sky fireworks display. We sat down at one of the tables by the pool and watched as a sound barge (to play the music for us) positioned itself about 100 yards away from our beach. The fireworks went off and we had a perfect, unobstructed, view of just about everything except Tinkerbell's flight. The sound from the barge was delayed so the timing was perfect. And there were
NO CROWDS and an easy monorail ride back to our hotel afterwards. I was impressed and happy, and the kids and Peggy were tickled pink at not having to fight crowds for a change.
I got a copy of our bill at 11:45 p.m. and took it back to check it over. There were some mistakes, so at about 1 a.m. I walked back over to the Main Tower to straighten it out with the desk (I like clearing up the bill the night before so I have less to worry about on checkout day). Plus, I wanted to clear the way for a 1 p.m. checkout instead of the usual 11 a.m. routine. The desk had no problem with late checkout (after all, we had been there for 10 days and were leaving on a light checkout/checkin day). But they couldn't do anything about the problems with the bill because, belive it or not, the WDW property's computers are all shut down for central processing beetween midnight adn 4:30 a.m. or so. Amazing, but I guess there must be a million or so transactions that have to be posted and cleared at some time during the day, and midnight to 4:30 is probably the slowest time for everywhere except Pleasure Island. You would think, though, that the central computer would receive data all day long and handle its processing continuously rather than wait until the end of the day.
Since this was our last night, Peggy and I stayed up until 2 a.m. packing everything up and double-checking the bill against receipts. We expected to sleep well on the train tomorrow.
DAY 12 -- WEDNESDAY, JUNE 21
The last day of our stay at WDW was an early-rising one (especially difficult after getting to bed at 2 a.m.) Peggy and Aaron took the car over to MGM to ride the Tower of Terror. And Rudy and I packed some swim stuff and monorailed over to the Poly. We had a ball for about an hour in the pool and going down the slide.
We met Peggy and Aaron back at the Contemporary around 11:30 (they really enjoyed the new drop sequence on the Tower of Terror). The three of them headed over to Main Street USA in the Kingdom for a last look-around in the shops and to leave the property with the Magic Kingdom on their minds. My job was to finish any last-minute toss-something-in-the-suitcase-packing and call bell service to help get this stuff loaded in the car. I also spent some time chatting with our housekeeper and thanking her for helping out when Rudy was sick. She informed me that, compared to the way some people ransacked a room, we were a pleasure to clean up for because we were relatively neat. I shouldn't have been, but I was surprised to learn that some people have so little respect for others' property. Heck, I just want Disney to keep making money so they'll still be around for the next time I want to visit. I also wanted to make sure that she (her name is Glenda) got the gratuity we were leaving rather than another housekeeper. She thanked me and also handed me a comment form, asking if I had the time to please put it in writing. Even the comment forms are done right -- it was folded in thirds and wrapped with a piece of paper that was secured with glue and had a shiny penny attached with the saying "a penny for your thoughts" written on the form.
While we were talking the bell hop had driven up to my room and was just about to go looking for me as I headed back into the room. We managed to load his cart and then everything into my car. He even gave me a lift back to the front desk, where I settled some last minute arrangements with the bill. I had just enough time to get a bit at the Food and Fun Center, then bring the car around and wait for Peggy and the kids. They showed up around 1:30 and we headed out to Sanford to pick up the AutoTrain by no later than 3:30. It's a good thing we left at 1:30 because I managed to get lost (and snarled at a few times by the Gang of Three) and didn't get to the station until 3:10.
They loaded the car right away and we got our sleeping berth (a family room this time) and 4:30 reservations for dinner. The family car is a deluxe accommodation located on the lower level of AMTRAK's Superliner fleet of cars. It's at the end of the car and consists esentially of one long bench across the width of the entire car and one small facing seat/bench against one of the windows. I'm not sure of the exact dimensions, but I imagine it's about 5-1/2 feet wide by 8 feet long, with a small narrow closet to hang a garment bag. There's a top level bunk that folds down for sleeping. From a sitting arrangement, I would have preferred the economy berths we had on the way down, even though the family berths have more room. This is for two reasons. Number one, the economy berths allow for two seats facing each other with some leg room to stretch out. It's better for playing games and just relaxing and talking. The second reason is, let's face it, we'd just spent 11 days together and we were exhausted. We wanted to spread out. To accommodate everyone's wishes, I found it more comfortable to sit/lay on the floor in front of the bench and give Peggy and the kids more sitting room to spread out. I spent more time on the return trip outside the room than I did on the trip down. On the bright side, I met people by the coffee pot and spent some time in the lounge car listening to the train workers talking.
The train started hooking up at 3:30 and got fully underway by 4 p.m. The reason for the half hour coupling operation is to hook the car carriers to the coach, then hook the coach up to the first class sleeping and dining cars, and then finally hook up an engine or two. That takes about a half hour or so.
Dinner was called promptly at 4:30. Rudy and Aaron muddled through a boring lasagna type kids meal while Peggy and I labored through a so-so low-fat chicken dish. Maybe first class, but BORING! We opted for ice creams and pies for dessert, then headed back to the room to play some games and relax a bit before
heading to the lounge to see Walter Matthau and Meg Ryan in "IQ". Round about 7:30 or so we went to the lounge, found a spot, and immediately realized "IQ" was a bit too "lovey" for the kids to enjoy (not because of sex scenes or anything, but because kids don't like mushy stuff).
Aaron went back to the room by himself to relax and read. Rudy and Peggy stayed until the end of the movie (Rudy was working on a new Disney sticker book), and about 8:00 or so Peggy headed back.
Rudy decided it was time to explore the train. Our travel told us a lot. At first we went back to the north part of the train (whichever way the train is heading determines which is north and south, or east and west if you're going cross-country). In this case the northbound part was the engine. So we walked back from the lounge, through the dining car and the Superliner sleeping cars, and to the door that looks out on the engine or engines, which we can't get to since there's no access past the sleeping cars. So we were back at square one and ready to start our explore.
The first three cars are the double decker Superliner sleeping cars. You can't pass through from car to car on the lower level; you must be upstairs. This allows for the one deluxe family room and another large-sized handicapped accommodation at either end of the lower levels. The next car is the deluxe dining car, which consists of the upper level dining car with a serving station in the middle of the car and about a dozen tables on either side of the serving stations. The cooking level is inaccessible to the public below the dining area. This is a poorly planned design because you must pass through the narrow aisle between the dining tables and a really cramped serving station and then more tables to get to the lounge car. The servers don't like this, the diners aren't all that happy, and it's a real pain to try to pass through for the walker.
The next car is the lounge car, which consists of a few VCRs, lots of relatively uncomfortable seats that can swivel, and a whole wall of windows for sightseeing. There is not much to see on the north/south, or south/north route, especially since this train travels mostly at dusk and nighttime. The lower level has some tables for playing cards, more VCRs to watch the movie, and a bar-like area to buy stuff. One nice note -- the same jovial fellow from the trip down was manning the bar on the way back. The prices here are quite reasonable.
The water on the train is something called "potable" water, or treated. It must be treated with raw sewage -- the stuff tastes lousy! I'm used to delicious-tasting Baltimore tap water. I plunked down what I consider an outrageous $1.25 a pint for clear bottled water. After two weeks of Florida yucky water and suffering with the dreck they provide on the train, this stuff tasted great. I kept half the bottle to share with Peggy later, and she liked it too, so I ran back to the lounge at night and bought a couple more bottles to give us something worthwhile to drink. I now understand how Disneyworld can get away charging $2.00 for their bottled water (people are desperate), but someone at Disney must be laughing all the way to the bank with the profits at that price. Then again, I can't see people spending $1.50 for an ounce of capuccino espresso on a swelteringly hot day at the Dole concession stand in the Magic Kingdom's Adventureland. Maybe I'm just an uncultured slob.
Our next stop on the train was to pass through the next three sleeping cars. Boring. No excitement here at all. Everyone stays in their rooms and keep to themselves. We entered coach next and a whole new world. Coach doesn't have any rooms in which to seek solitude. Instead, you have people all around you to meet, to overhear their conversations, to join in conversations and learn about their lives. Coach is a fun place to be if you're an extrovert. If you like to keep to yourself, get a sleeping berth. If you want to meet pepole, save several hundred dollars and stay in coach. As far as I could see, the seats recline almost all the way so you can go to sleep comfortably. It's the difference between sleeping at Motel 6 (the cramped sleeping berth) and going on a camping trip with about a hundred other people.
It was only about 8 p.m. when we passed through the first three coach cars, and there were a million conversations gonig, card games everywhere, parents reading to their kids, and kids in general meeting other kids and having a great time on their trip.
Our next car was not a dining bar, but a Table Car, where you can bring your foom from the Buffet Car and sit down and eat. No rushed waiter service, but cafeteria style. The car order was a Table Car, one Buffet Car, another Table Car, one Lounge Car, and then three more coaches.
On our way past the Buffet Car, which is laid out with the serving area against the lengthwise side of the train, one aisle for picking up your food and one passing lane to just walk through, we stopped to stare at the most perfect short ribs of beef I've ever seen. They were just closing the serving area down, and the cook offered us the ribs. We took a couple and sat down at one of the tables. Rudy, who is one of the pickiest eaters around, took one look at the ribs and ate half of what was on our plate. He loved them. So did I. We complimented the cook, and Rudy wanted me to pay for them since they were so good. If they would have accepted money for them, I would have gladly paid because they were ten times better than any food we had seen in first class dining. Fortunately, the ribs were free and the cooks don't expect tips, just the servers. So the big news -the surprising news as far as train travel -- is coach class food is better and people have more fun in coach. If I was by myself,
I'd go coach. However, my wife likes her privacy, and Aaron usually likes to be left alone. Rudy wouldn't sleep in coach because he needs all the lights out and to be left alone if he's going to fall asleep, but he and I would have a ball meeting people in coach.
Another contrast: the coach lounge car was full of people playing cards, dominoes, mah jongg, gin, and generally having a ball. The first class lounge car was about as lively as a mortuary on a slow night. These people were having fun in coach! Then again, the first class people could look forward to getting a good night's sleep in their private berths. The coach people may have been finding things to do because they feel that getting a good night's sleep was going to be a lot harder than staying up all night having fun. Who knows? Anyway, we reached the end of the coach and could only see the 20 or so car carriers attached onto the end of the train.
By the time we got back, the car's attendant was ready to turn our berth down for sleeping. Aaron was uncomfortable on top this time, so I slept up top by myself and Aaron slept in the side bed, with Rudy and Peggy snuggled together in the long bottom bed.
On the ride up I didn't have much of a problem sleeping, except for the jerks who were taking their family's coffee orders at 6 a.m. by yelling to each other in front of our berths. On the ride back I had a little more room lengthwise, but I had some claustrophobic anxiety attacks in the middle of the night. One time I forgot I had only 18 inches or so of room and tried to sit up real fast. Owww! But we all got a good solid night's sleep otherwise.
DAY 13 -- THURSDAY, JUNE 22
We all woke up late at about 7:30. A short time to dress and we headed for a continental breakfast in the dining car. Nothing special here, and as usual we got a rushed feeling eating in this car. The train pulled in early at 8:30 and we de-trained, got our car by 9:00, and headed home to Baltimore, arriving around 11 a.m.
Looking through our mail (two shopping bags full) I noticed a Disney envelope. Inside was a special offer for Annual Passport holders only. From August 18 through October 1, room rates dropped to half price at most of the high priced hotels (25% at the Grand Floridian) and reduced rates at the mid-priced ones and the All-Stars. Peggy and I looked at each other, then the calendar, then the kids, then the phone. She and I are returning by ourselves (the kids are staying with Bubbie and Pop) Tuesday through Friday, August 22-25. Camp ends a couple of weeks earlier, and we'll be back on August 26th for Aaron's 10th Birthday, and a week later school starts. We both feel guilty leaving the kids, and they've learned fom us -- they're making us feel guilty with long faces. But we explained to them that we won't go on their favorite rides without them. We also explained that some of the tours that we were going to go on, like the Keys to the Kingdom Tour, they would not be able to go on anyway because you must be at least ten years old (both of them) to take the tour. And they wouldn't enjoy the Comedy Club and Adventurer's Club at Pleasure Island yet. Plus, they know we're bound to bring them back something special, so they'll put up with staying behind.
Haven't you read enough already? If not, here goes. This vacation was our third at Disneyworld in two years. Our first was March 1993 at the Port Orleans and a time of eye-opening wonder as the kids saw WDW for the first time. The parks close early then, but there's a lot less people and fewer lines, so we still got a lot done.
Our second trip was for 14 days in September 1994. It was still appreciably hot during the day, but the nights were comfortable. Not too humid. The kids were more familiar with things and liked being back at the Port Orleans, a place they could call home. We were uncomfortable, though, with a large amount of Spanish-speaking people at the parks who didn't seem to follow the same etiquette we follow in the United States. Plus, the unions were negotiating their contracts, so cast members seemed a bit less relaxed than usual. If approached on the subject, they would actually voice their opinions on how the parks should be run. The place didn't seem as magical because of the real world threat of employee problems.
This trip was a more laid-back one for us. We accomplished a lot. But we had also done much on our last two trips, and we're pretty sure we'll be back within a couple of years. So we didn't mind passing up an opportunity here and there. If we go back again in the early spring or September/October we'll probably take in Blizzard Beach. Next time Aaron may want to try one of the Disney Adventure courses, or even try the new Disney University complex opening up next year.
We go back to WDW not for the thrill rides or the excellent food (is there any there?), but for the consistent level of service. We're pretty sure we're going to be treated well, get a reasonable value for our vacation dollars, and have 35,000+ people work toward making our next trip as special as the last.
As you can see from the topics I've covered, this report deals more with an overall impression of WDW and the people there rather than a description of the rides. A WDW vacation is an experience for us -- the rides and attractions are all mixed together with the cast members and the Disney philosophy to make our vacations there special.
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02-07-2006 11:52 AM