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Thread: Rick Chase - WDW, Sea World, USF, KSC (16-23 Mar, 1996) - Wilderness Lodge Resort

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    Rick Chase - WDW, Sea World, USF, KSC (16-23 Mar, 1996) - Wilderness Lodge Resort

    • Time of Year: Spring
    • Travel Method: Plane, Rental Car
    • Resort: Wilderness Lodge Resort
    • Accommodations: Standard Room
    • Ages Represented in Group: Teen, Adult
    • WDW Experience Represented in Group: Rookie
    • Comments: This is a lengthy trip report written by Rick Chase. Rick is a professional photo journalist and has many years of experience in photography and videotaping. One of the features of Rick's report is the detailed photography and video hints and tips, this is very helpful information for the shutterbug. Another issue that Rick tackles in detail is the planning of the trip. Rick stayed at the Wilderness Lodge Resort.


    INTRODUCTION

    A big thank you to everybody who contributed trip reports, comments and general info to the Disney boards and web sites over the past year. Your information was greatly appreciated and practical in planning our March 16-23, 1996 trip to WDW and area attractions.

    All of us hope that the info included in our reports will help others to enjoy their trips to this magical place as much as we enjoyed our vacation. As with everything, there are as many opinions as there are people with an opinion. So, everything written in our reports are simply our impressions and experiences. Take whatever you need and add it to what you gather from other sources. Become as well briefed as possible before you go. It will definitely benefit you, and we can tell you that from experience.

    Since many vacationers visit other Central Florida attractions in addition to WDW , these posts will include info on those attractions as well. The comparisons between WDW and the others may be of interest to you. So, those who view these boards as strictly WDW, may have to suffer through a few notes on Universal Studios, Sea World and Kennedy Space Center. However, since the Unofficial Guide also has been adding other attractions, we feel that it's okay. Comments and questions are welcome at DRCCACHETS@aol.com.

    Things You Need To Know..... (Yes, you too will be able to recite from memory all of the instructions typical of a ride or attraction by the time you return from your visit).
    1. Stand in back of the yellow line. The doors open towards you.
    2. When you enter the theater, choose a row and walk all the way to the end. Do not stop and sit in the middle seats, as ALL seats in the theater are good ones.
    3. For your safety and those of others and the cast members, there will be no flash photography allowed (and sometimes no video taping). No smoking, drinking or eating is allowed.
    4. When you leave the theater, deposit the 3D glasses in the metal receptacles near the exit doors.
    5. This is a standing only attraction. Do not sit on the floor, and for your own safety do not sit on the rails, as they were not built to hold you or your child.
    6. The flash cube on your Pocket Instamatic Camera will not reach from the front gate of the Magic Kingdom to the Castle.

    Our family has recommended that the state motto of Florida be changed to the following... "Florida: Home of 10,000 long lines with a gift shop at the end of each and every one of them!"

    Our Favorite Quote is, "When we were in Florida, we met Goofy. Somebody said it was just a guy in a Goofy suit. But, we're sure it was the REAL Goofy!" (Paraphrased from a Jeff Foxworthy routine, but very appropriate).

    PREPARING FOR YOUR TRIP

    ... Or, you are spending more time planning for vacation that you did to get your Masters' Degree!

    A lot has been written about planning for a WDW vacation. Our feelings are (1) there will always be too much to do in the time you have available, (2) you need a plan to maximize the time you do have available, and (3) if you do not plan to a certain extent, you deserve to stand in line at Alien Encounter for two hours.

    We are not talking about planning your vacation minute-by-minute. We found that a lot or research, a daily planner and the tour plans were extremely valuable. We even flip-flopped two days when we found out a Shuttle launch was coming up and that the weather was changing back and forth. So, be prepared. But, also be flexible.

    All of you old WDW pros can probably get ready in your sleep. It's been 20 years since my wife and I honeymooned in Central Florida. All that was at WDW was the MK. So, for all practical purposes our family could be called "first timers."

    Our planning started over a 16 months ago with a copy of the "Unofficial Guide To WDW." It is a must read! We give it four thumbs up, five stars and the 1996 award for saving us the most time in lines. We also got a copy of the "Official Guide" which did contain valuable info. It is a little more "sugar coated," but we felt it was worth the price tag. Of the two, however, we relied on the Unofficial the most and carried it with us in the parks every day in my camera bag or a backpack!

    How many people on a given day use the Unofficial Guide's (and other published ) touring plans? You can't really tell. The book says one person in 500 in the parks will have the guidebook. We saw only 5 other people with the book in hand during our whole visit.

    By the way, there are now guidebooks for Lovers, Kids, Adults Without Kids and Aliens From Outer Space. There is also a planned guidebook for those who refuse to rely on guidebooks. Advice on these has been posted on the various Disney online boards.

    Speaking of the online boards, they are the other "biggie" when it comes to prime sources of info on WDW. The various web sites (Ed's Ultimate Disney Pages), newsgroups (like rec.arts.Disney) and boards on AOL (Destination Florida) and other online services offer a wealth of info from a faculty of Disney experts. Use them. Ask them questions. Log their posts and save them for reference.

    I would suggest getting on one of the boards and heading back as far as the posts go. Work forward. By the time you get to current posts, a lot of your questions may already be answered.

    I started to log about everything I could find online and then edited it all down to things that made sense for our trip. We also had a 15 quart Rubbermaid-type tub where we kept all of the books, paperwork, printouts and brochures. That worked out very well for us.

    Check with your travel agent and gather up their info. We used AAA, and Gail was super and very helpful in getting plane tickets and booking the WL room and package. The AAA Disney book is also a good source for price info on the WDW hotels and packages. I am sure that other agents offer similar literature.

    Call 1-407-WDISNEY and ask for the current video and other info. If you get the Disney Channel, you can catch "WDW Inside Out" every week. Although they get a little carried away with the weird camera work and non-vacation stuff, you can pull some tidbits out of the show. The two main hosts ,who were pretty bad at first, seem to be getting a little better. George Foreman's segments add a lot to the show.

    Call the Orlando and Kissimmee phone lines for info. There are discount coupons for a lot of stuff in those booklets. We used discount coupons for Sea World and our AAA cards for Universal Studios discounts. There are also some coupons in the back of some guidebooks.

    Now, I know that some people do not like to plan, and I know that others need to have everything planned with a stop watch. There is a happy medium somewhere between these two extremes. That "happy point" depends on you and your family.

    We found planning to be a very pleasant family adventure, and it paid off very well in time saved and the enjoyment in what we did at WDW and other attractions. Just be sure to explain to everybody that you are using a touring guide to save time. Tell the kids that you will be walking past a lot of things, but you'll get to most of them in due time.

    Also, check with everybody to see what they really want to ride. If nobody cares about a certain ride, then that will give you more time for other things. Also, there will probably be time to shop and look around later in the day if you follow your plan to get through the major roadblocks early.

    It is also a very good idea to plan some down time where you can go back to the hotels and rest or swim. Meals can also give you a break in the rush from ride to ride.

    From our experience most people at the parks go there with little or no advanced planning. They do not know the layouts of the parks in advance or the major bottlenecks that they can encounter. They do not even know which attractions are in which parks. They get sidetracked by the first character or shop they see when they enter the gates. Then, they stand in line all day wondering why they can't experience every attraction. Even with planning it is easy to get sidetracked (as you will see in some of our reports). Be smart. Be a good scout and be prepared!

    PACKING

    We were a little too optimistic in packing for the Florida March weather. After all, the long range forecast for Orlando was for higher than normal temperatures. We did not wear coats since they would be too bulky. We took along seven changes per person of warm weather clothes and only one change for cold weather. Boy, that one sweatshirt per person got a workout! Pat even bought an extra one at MGM one day.

    Actually, we had one cold and windy day with rain in the evening at Sea World. There were two other days where the temps were okay except for the wind (like at KSC). A couple of evenings were cool enough for sweatshirts. We only wore jeans on one full day other than traveling from home, and that was at KSC.

    Be sure to pack the sun screen. We carried it in a Ziploc bag in the backpack almost every day. Although we had plenty of ibu (or aspirin or Tylenol) with us, we did forget it one day. That was at Universal, and we had to buy an expensive little packet there. We took along a small blow dryer, and there was not one provided in the room.

    Sunglasses came in handy as did baseball caps. Of course, once we got to WDW, the "Goofy" hats became a regular part of both kids' wardrobes as did Robert's "Log" hat from Universal.

    Comfortable walking shoes are a must. We also added sandals for around the pool at the WL.

    We stuffed everything into three soft-sided bags and one hard suitcase.

    We carried on my camera bag as well as a L.L. Bean boat bag with zippered top. That carried the video camera bag inside as well as reading materials, etc.

    PHOTO/VIDEO

    A little bit of planning can make a big difference in your WDW (or any vacation) photos and videos. As a professional newspaper staff photographer with over 20 years of experience ( you can use the fancy term "photojournalist" if you want ), I probably over plan this part of the trip. But, here are a few tips that might be good to consider.

    Be sure you camera is in good working order before you go. If you have not removed the film from last Christmas yet, shoot it up and get it processed before you go. If it is empty, shoot a 12 exposure roll and get it processed. That way you know the camera is in good working order.

    Take along extra batteries for everything. This includes camera batteries, flash batteries or video batteries. Most battery styles are available in Florida, but some cameras require unusual sizes. Better to carry an extra one than to be running to every convenience shop looking for an odd-sized battery.

    If you need a recharger for anything, pack it. If you need cords for chargers, AC operation, flashes, etc., pack them, too. Don't forget plug adapters if you are coming in from overseas.

    Now all of this seems pretty basic, but stick a list on the refrigerator. Write down things and cross them off as you pack.

    Sure, they sell film in Florida. Most attractions sell only Kodak film in limited formats and sizes. Some video formats may not be easily found. If you have specific preferences, you should stock up before you leave. A general rule of thumb is to take twice as much film or videotape as you think you'll need. You can always use it later.

    If you are traveling by air, you will pass through airport security areas both heading to Florida and returning home. The signs say that any "lower speed" film will not be effected by the scanning devices. This may or may not be true. But, the effects on film are cumulative. One pass may not hurt, but 4-6 passes may effect it.

    If you are a foreign traveler, doses will be higher. A colleague who was on a trip to Japan had all of his film effected by the scans. He did not take any precautions or request hand checks.

    You are allowed to ask for hand searches at the checkpoints. Just to be safe, put all of your film in a Ziploc bag (take film out of boxes and keep in plastic cans to conserve space). You can hand the baggies to the agents while you pass your carry-ons through the machines.

    I take the extra precautions of putting the baggies of film into special "Film Shield" bags available at any full service camera store for around $13.95. They hold around 20 rolls of 35mm film or a combination of film and tapes. So, if you get an attendant who insists on a scan, the film inside will still be safe.

    Somebody on the r.a.d. boards recently noted that they always process their film before they return home. This is a good option. WDW offers 2-hour processing for color negative films. You can drop off film at the parks or send film from your WDW resort. As far as I know, they only handle color neg film.

    You will want to consider taking along some higher speed films for inside attractions and night shooting if your camera allows it. Remember that "flash photography" is not allowed on almost ALL inside attractions and rides. Be courteous and follow the rules, please. I repeat, please follow the rules. It's a common courtesy.

    As a side note, you are allowed to videotape some attractions (no camera lights allowed), but please stay seated. Do not do a running narrative during a show or ride. You won't believe what some people do to annoy those sitting near them.

    Here is what I carried on our trip. (Note that this section may not be of interest to many of you, but if you have C41 chemicals running in your blood stream, it may be useful ).

    At work I travel around with enough equipment to overthrow a small country. This is compounded even further in that I shoot film part of the time and digitally (basically a computer camera) at other times. So, this sometimes involves two full sets of equipment So, when I travel on vacation, I want to travel light enough that I don't have to hire somebody to carry around the cameras. We also borrowed a video camera for the trip.

    I used a small Domke bag and took along two camera bodies (one for a backup or faster film). I'd stick with something small like a Nikon N90 or 8008 or a smaller Canon EOS body (or similar size in another brand) since they are smaller than a F4S or an EOS1N.

    I really don't think you need a lot of longer lenses for most WDW and Universal Studios pictures, although the longer ones came in handy at Sea World and Kennedy Space Center. I crammed a 24mm F/2.8; a 35-70mm zoom F/2.8; a 80-200mm F/2.8 and a 300mm F/4 lens into the bag. Most days I left the 2 longer lenses back at the hotel or in the trunk.

    I took along one strobe that was used mostly for outdoor fill flash. It also came in handy at the character meals for the shots of the family with the characters. Do not use flash during rides or shows.

    One accessory most people don't consider is a tripod. I have a small, 25-year old Leitz tabletop tripod with large ball head that breaks down into two pieces for easy storage. This allows you to use a table, fence, trash bin or even a wall as a solid base for night shots or some inside shooting as well as video. While this is a little expensive, I have seen models that are both small and economical. It came in handy for Illuminations, Spectromagic and some night time exposures.

    I also recommend a polarizing filter if your camera can handle one. If you have lenses with different sized filter requirements, get a polarizer to fit the largest lens and adapter rings for the other lenses. That saves a lot of bucks and allows you to use one filter on all lenses.

    I also took extra 4-packs of "AA" batteries with me as all cameras and the flash took them. I also tossed in an off-camera cord for the flash and carried a notebook and a couple of pens so I could jot down wait times and meal notes. Even if you do not plan on writing an article, your notes come in handy as "memory joggers."

    The video camera was a Sony 8mm. It was a little larger than the true "palm-sized" units, but it was really compact and easy to use. My wife normally carried that in a school backpack along with an extra battery, an extra tape and the sweatshirts..

    This Sony handled all of the lighting situations pretty well, including some demanding nighttime shots like the Spectromagic Parade. I did wish the camera had a manual focus option since the autofocus tended to drift on nighttime shots with a lot of spectral highlights (like Spectromagic and Illuminations).

    I almost forgot..... I took along all color negative film. We use Fuji at work. Since we computer scan the color negs for the newspaper, the experts in that area of the operation feel that the Fuji films scan better for our setup.

    So, I took along Fuji 100, 400 and 800 color films and also shot some Kodak. I have nothing against any particular brands and have used them all. However, I'd stick to the big names like Kodak, Fuji and Agfa, etc. For the video camera I had both Sony and some Fuji videotapes.

    I found that the setup with the two cameras, two shorter lenses, strobe, polarizer and a few rolls of film worked very well. The bag was pretty light and allowed room for my notebook and the Unofficial WDW Guidebook. I had no problems getting on and off rides with the bag. It either rode on my lap or on the floor under my legs.

    When we went to Sea World, I added the 80-200 zoom. The bag was a little heavier, but I did use the lens. At KSC, I took the 300mm on the bus tour, and it was needed for launch site shots. But, then I left a couple things in the car trunk to conserve weight.

    Speaking of cars, please do not leave your cameras and film inside on the dash in the sun for six or eight hours. The heat will really effect your film and may even turn your stuff into shimmering masses of molten plastic. If you have to leave things in the car, park in a shaded spot and leave in trunk or under a seat so it will be out of the direct sun and maybe even crack a window. Some people even carry a small cooler that will hold these supplies in the car.

    For more photo tips, you might check out a few booklets published by Kodak and others that deal with people photos, vacations pics and available light photography. They used to cost around $4-6.00 and are available at a full service camera stores. They also make good reading for airplane rides.

    FOOD PLANS

    The best advice we can pass along to you (especially first-timers) is to know your family's eating habits. There is no point in booking an expensive seafood spot like the Coral Reef if you family does not enjoy seafood. If your children do not like to experiment , you might want pass on some of the World Showcase eateries.

    Budget is another factor. Yes, eating at WDW can be expensive. But, there are options that really are not much more costly than your local burger barn. There are off site fast food spots within easy drives of the parks. Some of the WDW hotels offer refrigerators for your rooms (around $5.00 per day). It does not take too long to hit a grocery store and stock up with things to keep in the room if you have a car.

    We also found that the Roaring Forks 24-hour snack bar at the Wilderness Lodge did not cost much more than the local fast food outlets at home when you consider that your beverages are free with the refillable mugs available at the hotel.

    Our food plan evolved into the following by the time we left for WDW.

    First, we decided that our main goal was to see and experience the attractions. Sit down, full service meals tend to eat up time that could be used for touring. We decided to lean for the most part towards seeing everything instead of eating a lot of time consuming meals. We thought that the budget would allow a couple of nice meals, though.

    We planned to rely on a few packed foods brought from home (like Nutri-Grain bars for a quick breakfast) as well as the food court at the WL for something fast and fairly inexpensive. We are not big breakfast eaters here at home. So, most morning meals would just be a quick roll or something light. If we did eat a big breakfast (like the two Character Breakfasts we planned), then we would not eat lunch.

    We considered the food the kids (13 and almost 16) normally order when we go out to eat at home. Those major food groups are cheeseburgers and pizza. Most likely, they would be happy with that for lunches in the parks.

    We planned to get by during the day on snacks like popcorn, ice cream bars or some of the World Showcase spots like the bakeries (but remember that these can get pretty expensive, as well).

    On off site days we thought we could eat dinner on the way back into the hotel or at the WL. Those were our plans, and you can see in the trip reports how it actually worked out.

    Let me finish this section by saying that there are a large number of places to eat at WDW and the on site hotels. The Unofficial Guide rates most eating spots and provides general pricing information. The info on the Disney boards is excellent. You get opinions on almost every eatery in the WDW complex. Ask questions if you do not see info on a certain spot.

    I realize that some travelers plan their days around the meals, and that's great. Given more time at WDW we may have considered more sit down meals. As it was, we thought we did pretty well with two Character Breakfast s (CB) and two sit down dinners (All you Care to Eat) for the eight days we were in Florida.

    I kept notes and most food receipts. We averaged around $65.00 per day for food during the trip. That's the total for two adults and two teenagers. It includes all meals, snacks in the park, etc. The biggest expenses were the two character breakfasts, the dinner at Whispering Canyons at WL and dinner at the Liberty Tree Tavern. The thing that saved us the most money were the refillable mugs at the WL. We drank coffee and sodas all week for the cost of the mugs, which with tax totaled around $30.00. Now, if you figure per person and per day, it cost us less than one dollar per day per person to buy the mugs. They paid for themselves with one refill per day.

    On the average day I filled up my mug with either soda or coffee from four to six times. I know that the kids had at least two refills per day, and my wife refilled hers an average of 2-3 times per day. Not bad at all!

    Actually, we could have spent less without attending the two CB's and two dinners. But hey, it's Disney and vacation. You have to splurge a little bit.

    DAY ONE--Traveling, WL and WDW

    The message board on the refrigerator door had a drawing of Mickey Mouse on it. The only change was the "Days To Go" line where the number started at around 60 and slowly counted down. Finally, on March 16, I got up and changed it to "Florida Today!"

    We had actually started to pack a week before we left for WDW. Everybody had a pile of clean clothes, and the rule was "Do Not Wear This Stuff" this week. The group of messages and "To Do Lists" (usually taped up by the phone or scribbled on the calender pages) had been edited down to one sheet and printed out. Little by little the lines were crossed off as things were gathered to be packed.

    The four of us-Rick and Patricia (ages are classified info) and our two children Marie (almost 16) and Robert (13)-- got up and ready. (As a note, the "I" in these reports will refer to Rick.) The 4 suitcases, camera bag, boat bag and backpack were sitting on the floor. Pat's parents came by to give us a ride to the airport for the 8:00 a.m. flight out of town. It was 27 degrees when we left Iowa.

    It was only an hour to Chicago with almost a two hour layover in Chicago. We flew out to Orlando and landed around 2:15. The first impression was that " it's green down here and warm."

    The United baggage claim area was just one flight above the National car rental counter. It took 10 minutes to get the car (a green Corsica), which was parked in the garage just behind the counter. The National employee gave us a sheet with a route to WDW and the Wilderness Lodge. By the way, be sure to have your license and proof of insurance available in case you need them.

    The drive to WDW via The Greenway (Hwy 417) was a very fast 15 minutes with two toll booths. We pulled into WDW and gawked at what we could see of EPCOT and MGM on the way to the WL, still not believing that we were actually there. WDW has its own 4-lane highway system, and the directional signs were easy to follow.

    We pulled into the WL and were greeted by Roy (or Ray), dressed in the official WL CM outfit of green shorts and scout-like tan shirt. He welcomed us, gave the kids each a little bag of goodies and filled us in on the WL events, transportation and how to check in. By the way, we splurged and used the valet parking all week. Okay, so we only used the car on the three off site days. But, it sure was convenient.

    Check-in was a breeze even though there was a line. The lobby at the WL is breath taking. The pictures you see do not do it justice. We must have looked like tourists from Iowa (oh, we were tourists from Iowa!). We had reserved a bunk bed room and called several days before arrival to confirm it.

    We left a credit card number for charge backs to the room (the package deal was prepaid before we left) and received our yellow ID cards which were combination room keys, park admission cards and charge cards. Be sure to have everybody in your party sign the back of their cards. They need to be signed to be used.

    The CM at the desk was from Wisconsin and mentioned that they had just started to use them (we had LOS passes). We also received a WL newspaper with all of the WL info as well as full color sheets with all park hours and special events noted.The whole process only took 10 minutes or so.

    We only waited a few minutes for the luggage to arrive in the room, which gave us time to check out the woods view (very secluded and peaceful) and the Disney info channels on the TV. After the suitcases arrived, we got everything together to head over to the MK. We did a quick tour of the building and walked down to the dock to catch the boat to the MK.

    The boat runs every 20 minutes, and you can almost set your watch to it. It was beautiful outside, and there was a Snowy Egret fishing the shoreline near the dock. They are no strangers to Iowa, but this one was 2 feet away and paid no attention to anybody. We thought it was an Animatronic figure at first!

    The boat ride to the MK is very quick and relaxing. It passes the Contemporary, and you can see across to the Poly and GF. The boat pulled into dock, we walked a few feet to the turnstiles and passed our cards through. No sweat!

    Main Street was crowded at around 5:30. We had decided to use the Unofficial Guides Two-Day Plan For When Parks Are Open Late (Day Two, which was supposed to start around 4:30 p.m. if you do not attend the afternoon parade). Well, we were a little late, but headed through the castle to Small World. The line was long, but it was only a 10 minute wait. It was a good attraction to start on, as it featured some of the early animatronics. That way the kids could compare "classic" Disney rides to the more "state of the art" attractions.

    The Skyway was packed. So, we walked to Tomorrowland, which looked very different from what I remembered. The redesign sure ate up space and changed the looks of it.

    We hit several Tomorrowland attractions with very little waiting. They included Transit Authority, Carousel of Progress, Dreamflight and Transportarium.

    I remember liking Carousel quite a bit 20 years ago, and it still was entertaining for us two oldsters. The kids were not as taken with it and kidded about the theme song (It's the Carousel of Progress after all.....). The new scene at the end of the presentation was a fitting addition to the program. I still liked it!

    Alien had a 30 minute wait, but we figured we'd go for it, as a 30 minute wait is probably still doing pretty well. The posted time was about right, but there could be a little more to do in the lines. The attraction, however, deserves all of its accolades. The kids loved it, and the special sensory effects were great! The animatronic robot in the preshow area was sure a long technological journey from the little kids in Small World!

    We hit Timekeeper and headed back to the central hub. But, the early Spectromagic crowds had us cut off. We then decided to take the Skyway with a 20 minute wait back to the area of Small World.

    There the lack of food got to us. About all we had to eat (or did not eat) all day was the airline lunch.

    The menu outside of Pinocchio's caught the kids' eyes. I grabbed for the guidebook to look it up, but everybody else was in line by then. The double burger basket (with fries and soda) totaled around $25.00 for the four of us. They had a very good "fixings" bar that included sauteed onions and mushrooms. I'd recommend this spot . Service was fast at the walk up counter. There is seating both inside and outside.

    The burgers were huge, but eaten in just a few minutes. The fireworks started. Actually, this is not a bad spot for fireworks if you walk out into the area between the rides. Sure, there is no castle in the foreground, but it was a pretty good show.

    By then we were getting tired and decided to forego any more rides for the evening and walk down Liberty Square in search of a spot for the late edition of Spectromagic (rumored to be less crowded than the first parade).

    Around 45 minutes before the show, people were filling in the viewing areas in Liberty Square that were blocked off with masking tape on the streets. This, I thought, was a good way to denote the viewing areas and also easily removed after the shows.

    By the bridge in front of the Christmas Shoppe was clear, and the castle was the backdrop. We would have a clean view there of the parade coming across the bridge. It did fill in quite fast, and the two CM's who roped off the bridge had quite a time getting the throngs rerouted once the bridge was cut off.

    One of the CM's was a Jim Carry-type character who entertained the youngsters in the crowd. Once when he slipped under the rope on the bridge, I yelled, "Limbo Lower!" So, he did! I wish I had his name, because he and the other CM there were quite interesting to watch and talked to the waiting crowd as they rerouted traffic.

    Spectromagic is great! I know that several WDW vets have said they liked the previous night parade better. But, the only thing we have to compare to Spectro is the Bicentennial Parade held 20 years ago.

    The little Spectro-dudes grow on you, and I really did get to like their body movements as they came across on those lighted balls. The parade got raves from all of us, and it was a good spot for viewing. By the way, the sound track for the parade is spectacular, and is still running through my head today! There are a lot of Disney characters featured on the floats.

    After the parade, the great sea of humanity headed toward the front gate. We paused as we hit Main Street for ice cream and sodas and then took our time heading down the street. CM's were already out cleaning up the streets.

    We stopped by the Emporium to look around. It was crowded, but both kids wanted Goofy hats (the ones with the nose and ears). Hey, it's WDW! So, go ahead and suspend reality.. Be a kid again!

    The WL boat was at dock as we walked up. Back at the WL we checked out the pool area and got ready for bed. I did go down to Roaring Forks (the 24-hour snack shop) and picked up our 4 refillable mugs (around $30.00 total) at midnight. It was one of the best deals of the week. We paid for the mugs after the second or third day!

    A few general comments are that the crowds seemed to be very heavy, although we did not wait in line very long except for Alien. Many of people may have already lined up for the early parade. I know it was Saturday and a late night with two parades. It also had been an early entry day. The MK is beautiful at night. You owe it to yourself to venture over there in the evening at least once. We loved the parade, also!

    At that point we still could not believe that we were really at WDW. Day Two will be EPCOT!

    DAY TWO--EPCOT

    We had wanted to get up earlier, but we were very tired after traveling. Pat and I got up at 6:00 and got ready, and went for coffee with our mugs. It was 8:30 before he hit the bus stop with an EPCOT bus waiting for us. The kids were tired, but eager, decked out in their Goofy hats.

    Getting into EPCOT after the short bus ride was quick. It was a 9:00 entry day. So, the park had opened at 8:30. We were running a few minutes late, but the line for Spaceship Earth was short. It took only 7 minutes to get on the ride. We all enjoyed it.

    We walked to Body Wars and waited only 3 minutes to ride. Everybody thought it was pretty good (our first simulator type ride) with two rating it just behind Alien and two ranking it number one so far.

    We walked onto the Land ride. It was interesting to see the high-tech growing systems and to find out that so much of what is grown there is actually used in various dining spots.

    We went to check out Honey, I Shrunk The Audience. The line was long outside, but the wait was only 8 minutes. The theater will handle a pretty good crowd. Here's where we first heard, "Move all the way to the other side and don't' sit in the middle. Every seat in the house is a good one."

    Shrunk was great!!!!! We loved it and would have ridden again right away. The 3D effects had everything sitting right in front of your nose. There are other effects that add a lot to the enjoyment of the attraction. But, while we were in the theater, the line had tripled in size. So, we went into Journey Into Imagination, which was a walk-on.

    It was time for a soda by then at $2.00 per 20 ounce screw cap bottle.

    They also had bottled water available. Ice cream bars were $1.75 each. You can count on most parks having the soda bottles at around $2.00 each. Bottled water ranged from $1.50 up to two bucks per bottle. A lot of people were carrying their own water bottles and refilling them at drinking fountains. By the way, it seemed that most fountain style soft drinks ranged from $1.40-1.75 at the walkup stands at most parks.

    We grabbed a few pictures since the light was nice as we watched the fountain show. Since Motion was closed, we hit Mexico with no wait for the ride. Then, we headed to Norway with a 15 minute wait. Both rides were nice and relaxing.

    The bakery in Norway was too much to pass up, and we got a treat. Four pastries and two bottled waters totaled $15.00. They also had some small sandwiches and other foods there. The Norway boat ride line was really long as we walked out of the bakery.

    We did a little taping and picture taking and watched part of the acrobatic show at China. It seemed like the crowds had spread out into the World Showcase area.

    We headed to America and caught the Liberty Singers before the theater show. They were very good. The show was very moving and the animatronics were excellent. As we left, the characters were performing outside. So, we watched. The kids went up and got pictures taken with them. They were loving it. Goofy had a great time playing up to their Goofy hats.

    We did not stop long at any other countries. In England Tigger and Eyeore were out walking the streets. We paused to watch them for a minute and got sodas (or pop as we say in Iowa) as we looked out over the lake.

    We walked to Canada and saw the film. It was good, but I think the effect of the circular screen was not as good as I have seen done before. The scenery was beautiful, though.

    It was back over to Horizons, and we really enjoyed it. Robert asked if we could do it again. Both waits were only a couple of minutes. Thank you to the Unofficial Guidebook!

    Cranium Command was a riot and very well done. Robert loved that the whole thing was based on a teenage boy. We thought about Body Wars again, but the line was very long. Universe of Energy was closed.

    It was back across the park to Living Seas with no wait. We were positioned so we got onto the first elevator down to the viewing area after the show.

    We enjoyed looking around. It was food time by then. We wanted something quick , and pizza sounded good. Well, the pizza spot near Innoventions was a bad choice. The pizza was burnt, extremely greasy and just plain old bad! The total was around $25.00 for a whole pizza, breadsticks and sodas. Getting a whole one was less expensive than individual pieces. We should have opted for one of the pasta dishes or gone back to World Showcase. Next time we will make reservations for dinner someplace.

    With that over we watched the fountain light show at night as Robert checked out the Innoventions Sega games on display. Some of the fancier games are "pay" to play. So, he just played the free ones. Yes, I know that playing video games at WDW is pretty weird. But, we had wanted to rest for a few minutes anyway. Check out the sidewalk light designs outside West Innoventions. You can't explain it. You have to see it.

    The crowds on the Futureworld side of the lagoon had started to build for Illuminations 90 minutes early, and we headed around towards Germany As we went around the lake, the crowds got smaller. We finally decided on a spot at Germany where are are several small lookout points. Nobody was waiting, and I grabbed a spot by the wall so I could sit my mini-tripod on it.

    It was an hour until show time, and the crowd started to work its way around to our spots. I had a very nice chat with a gentleman from New York who was experienced at EPCOT. He had picked the same spot for videotaping the show. He and his wife, by the way, recommended a WDW trip in early December for the decorations and small crowds.

    So, what's Germany without a Becks beer. It made the wait shorter. The evening was beautiful, and Illuminations was wonderful. The throngs headed to the exits after the show. We moved slowly and enjoyed the lighted buildings until we hit a couple gift shops near the gates. Most of the non-Disney teacher stuff at the one shop is easily available at home, Pat mentioned.

    The wait for the WL bus was only around 10 minutes, and we were back at the hotel shortly. While the kids got ready for bed, Pat and I hit Roaring Forks for a mug refill and walked around the lobby area and patio.

    Our general impressions of EPCOT varied. Body Wars and Shrunk along with Cranium Command headed the list of favorites along with Horizons . Pat really was moved with the show at America (and I have to admit a few goose bumps, also). Robert seemed bored with World Showcase, though, except for the characters at America. Everybody enjoyed Illuminations even though it was a long wait. Crowd levels were most apparent around 11-1:00 in Future World with Shrunk and Body Wars having the longest lines. Norway and America seemed to draw the largest crowds for their World Showcase shows.

    We really should have made reservations for a World Showcase meal and will be sure to do at least a sit down lunch there next time. Arriving at opening and staying until after Illuminations makes for a long day. We could tell we were getting tired towards evening. Next time a short early afternoon break at WL for swimming and rest before Illuminations would be a good idea.

    EPCOT requires a lot of walking once you get to World Showcase. We also did crisscross Futureworld quite a bit following the Unofficial touring plans. However, that saved a lot of time waiting in lines.

    DAY THREE--Sea World

    After a long day at EPCOT, we had planned to go off site to Kennedy Space Center on Monday and take a walk along a beach. The weather looked a little chilly. So, we flip-flopped Monday with Wednesday and took off for Sea World. Marie wants to be a marine biologist, and this was a biggie for her.

    We arrived a little past opening time after the short drive from WDW. I had neglected to purchase the tickets early, but had no trouble getting through in less than 10 minutes. We used a discount coupon from the Kissimee/St. Cloud travel mailings to save ourselves a total of $12.00 on admissions.

    Almost immediately after we entered, though, the lines got very long.

    One tip is to use the ATM at the main gate before you enter the park. If you need it later, you have to get a hand stamp and go outside the gate. Getting back in through the lines (even using the pass gate) can take a while during the morning rush.

    We wanted to take a behind the scenes training tour. But, only the Arctic tour was scheduled. With the recent arrival of the two polar bear cubs, this looked interesting. It was $5.00 each, and we got stickers for the 11:00 tour.

    With around an hour before the tour, we went to the dolphin tanks, where both kids camped out petting the dolphins as they swam by. One had a pair of sunglasses in its mouth and came around to show everybody the big prize.

    When the "feed the dolphins" stand opened at 10:30, we got two orders of fish. Both kids enjoyed the opportunity to feed them (we had done the same at Sea World in Ohio several years before and even on our honeymoon at the same pool in Florida two decades ago).

    Tour time arrived, and we took off via bus to the polar bear area. The small room we entered had a window view of the inside area. But, there were no bears in attendance. The short lecture was interesting, but with no bears a little disappointing.

    Off we rode to the penguin area via bus. A couple of penguins were inside, and they were painting the viewing room. Great! Paint fumes! The young employee did not even stop rolling paint on the wall when we were in there. I thought that somebody was going to end up leaning up against the wet paint.

    We did go inside the "cooler" after stepping into two disinfectant solutions to keep germs out of the room, but most of the tour went back outside due to the cold temps (actually quite mild for us Iowans).

    The tour was not worth $5.00 each and disappointed all of us. There was really not much that we could not have gotten with a few well placed questions in the actual exhibit areas. It was not the fault of the guide. There was just not anything different there to observe.

    Since we were close to the Shamu Stadium, we caught the 12:30 show. The half hour wait inside was made more interesting with a live TV camera trained on the crowd during a quiz show projected on the large screen across the pool. The actual show was well done with the traditional "splash the crowd" sections and leaping orcas.

    We exited the arena after the show. In a back tank, two trainers worked with an orca and explained training to the crowd. This was very informative, and we got a good close look at an orca at work. One trainer noted that a lot of this demonstration was part of the former "training" tour. They just moved the training sessions to after the shows out in the open for the public.

    The Manatee exhibit area is continuous viewing and was very interesting.

    The wide screen theater presentation was well done. The fun part was viewing in the underwater area.

    An employee answered a lot of questions about the various individuals in the tank. All on view were either orphaned or rescued animals, and many had scars or missing flippers to graphically show their injuries. We stayed to watch for a half hour.

    The Hotel Clyde and Seamore Show was pretty funny, and it helped to have some very expressive trainers performing along with the sea lions, otter and walrus.

    The food lines were very long. So, we walked to the Whale and Dolphin Show. The pre-show was a singer/musician who lead the crowds in song. The show was very well done with dolphins and false killer whales.

    Everybody was hungry, and the meal choices are more limited at Sea World than WDW. The lines were fairly long. We ducked inside Mama Stella's Italian Kitchen to find a fairly short wait.

    The total was around $25.00 for two chicken/pasta dishes and two individual pizzas with four large sodas. Quality was pretty good for theme park food. Pizzas were a whole lot better than EPCOT the day before.

    Arctic Adventure was the next. The line was huge, but we noticed two waiting areas. The long one was for the "simulator" ride, while the shorter one was for just the movie without the bumps. Since we wanted to get to the late Shamu show , we did the "movie only" and the viewing areas. Only one polar bear was out pacing back and forth. So, we figured that probably was one of the adults because of the repetitive behavior (as was noted to us in the tour earlier in the day).

    We enjoyed watching the walrus who was right up to the glass and floating up and down. We also had fun watching the belugas.

    We walked into Shamu Stadium 45 minutes before the late show, and it was half full already. It started to sprinkle and then downpour as we watched the preshow.

    The night time show had an Olympic theme. It was pretty good, but mostly a repeat of the afternoon show. We had expected something more choreographed to music and lights as we had seen in Ohio several years ago.

    We pulled the 99-cent rain ponchos (Target specials brought along from home) out of the backpack. There was a sea of blue Shamu ponchos everywhere. I believe they were selling for $3.50 each in shops and by vendors walking around the stadium.

    It was raining hard as we walked briskly to the nearby Atlantis Water Ski Stadium for Mermaids, Myths and Magic. There were only a few minutes between the Shamu Show and the light show. So, the whole Shamu crowd was heading in the same direction.

    The film sections were all rear projection on a screen of water that rose from the lake. Very impressive. The lasers on the backdrop were pretty typical, but well done. The sky lasers and fireworks were very good. Overall, the show was pretty impressive.

    On the way back to the main gate, it started to pour again with a steady wind. The ponchos were hard to control when carrying a camera bag or backpack under them. We went inside a gift shop for a few postcards and got soaked walking across the parking lot even though we had parked fairly close to the main entrance.

    As a side note, Sea World was offering a second day free admission with your receipt before you left the park. You had to sign the pass as you received it.

    General impressions were that the combination of show locations and tightly scheduled show times made it very hard to get from one show to another. For example, if you watch the 12:30 Shamu show which runs 25 minutes, you will likely miss all of the 1:00 shows across the park. Exiting the larger show areas was a mob scene.

    So, while you could cut out early and really haul it to the next show, the more likely solution would be to get the show schedule printout when you arrive and to plan your show times and locations in advance. You can fill in with the continuous viewing exhibits between shows.

    On the day we attended, the show areas started to fill up at least 30 minutes before the show. The bulk of the crowds arrived 5-10 minutes beforehand. If you are picky about seating locations, get there early.

    We did not see the Baywatch show due to time factors. Also, it only ran at 11:45, 1:00 and 4:15. Most shows are 20-25 minutes long with Baywatch running 30 minutes.

    We missed several exhibits even though we were at the park from shortly after 9:00 a.m. until the 8:00 closing. We would suggest that you look at the map and schedules while you wait for your first show and decide what you really want to see. Then, go from there.

    A new "Key West At Sea World" area is scheduled to open this summer, and that may also effect crowds later in the year.

    It was nice to get back to the WL and into dry clothes, and the mugs came in handy for coffee. The lobby was fairly crowded that evening due to the bad weather. I also had the feeling the the crowd levels in general were starting to build a little bit.

    DAY FOUR--Universal Studios

    Tuesday was scheduled as another off site day. After around 6 hours of sleep, Pat and I got up. I grabbed the mugs and headed for coffee in the Roaring Forks. One CM there joked that it never rained at WDW, because Walt had made a deal with God. After the rain at Sea World, we believed him as it never did rain while we were on site.

    Before Universal Studios we had 7:30 a.m. seatings for the Character Breakfast at the Grand Floridian. We took the car over, used the valet parking and got in line at 7:15. We were behind around a dozen other people when the doors opened. We gave our name and were taken inside immediately. I had our reservation number ready, but it was not requested. By the way, we made this reservation and one for the WL CB around 3 weeks before our visit. We had no problem getting the early seatings for either one.

    We walked to our table only to find Goofy sitting there. Well, he took off right away on the kids' Goofy hats. Both Marie and Robert loved it!

    Michael was our server and had orange juice and coffee poured before we were all seated. He told us that the rules were simple. First, the characters will come to the tables. So, there's no need to follow them around. Second, if the juice glasses were empty, it was his fault. Third, if we did not eat enough at the buffet, it was our fault.

    So, off went went into the line. Breakfast was excellent!!!!! It would take a page to list everything they had available. There were muffins, bagels, coffee cakes, fresh fruit, bacon, sausages, pancakes, Mickey waffles, eggs, omelets, cheese blintzes, potatoes, etc. The service was great. Michael was there with juice every few minutes, and he refilled milk glasses. Our dirty plates were always removed while we were back at the buffet.

    By the time we were seated with our first plate of food, the line outside was really huge. I'm glad we got there early. Mary Poppins was in the hallway signing autographs. Inside we were visited by Goofy, Pluto, Dale and Minnie. They posed for pictures, played up to our jokes and had a great time with the kids' Goofy hats.

    Marie had wanted an autograph book, and we bought one at the WL gift shop before we left. Robert did not want one, but at the breakfast decided it was needed. He later got one at Universal. Yes, even teenagers can be kids at WDW.

    Once Pluto came up, and we asked him to sit down. He did, and we almost had him agree to come back to Iowa with us. But, using hand gestures, he did steering wheel movement as if he wanted a car to close the deal. Goofy was all set to go with us until we told him we were from Iowa.

    I'd highly recommend the GF's CB for the food, service and character attention.

    On the way out, we walked around the lobby and were very impressed with the decor and CM uniforms. It was like we had transported to another era. However, we decided that the GF was a little too fancy for us. We felt more at home in the rustic atmosphere at the WL. The monorail stop would have been nice, though.

    Universal Studios is a little longer drive than Sea World, but it is easy to find. Due to the breakfast, we were running a little late. The line at the parking toll booth was long, and it took 20 minutes to get parked. The sea of humanity that headed for the gates made me think of the warning in the Unofficial guidebook about the small number of open admission gates early in the day.

    Of course, I had not purchased ticket beforehand. But, we had only a 5 minute wait in line to pay as all gates were open. I forgot the discount coupons at the hotel, but we still got the discount when I pulled out my AAA card.

    Marie had a headache, and we had no ibu with us. The only place to get drugs, we were told, was the main Universal gift shop to the left as you head down the main drag. We got her a packet of overpriced pills and walked down to find a drinking fountain.

    After a bathroom break and autograph session, we decided that the Unofficial touring plan would still work if we just skipped the first couple of attractions. Speaking of autographs, signing were George Jetson, Fred Flintstone, Scooby-Doo and a couple others. Yes, this is one time we got sidetracked a little bit. But, the kids just loved getting their pictures taken with all of the characters.

    On the way to Jaws, I spotted some neighbors from back home. Their son is in school and scouts with Robert. We teamed up, explained the touring plans and took off for Jaws.

    It was 10:00 by then, and I was sure that we could still use the touring plan. The wait for Jaws was only 10 minutes. The ride was short, but seeing Robert when the shark came up next to him was worth it. The tour guide was good, too.

    Kong was only a 15 minute wait with a huge winding line area inside the building. It was okay, but Kong just did not have that realistic look to him. Our tour guide was a little too canned in his banter.

    Earthquake was almost empty when we lined up. In less than 5 minutes were inside the attraction. The ride got the thumbs up from all of us. I enjoyed the educational part of the attraction as much as the actual ride.

    It depends on where you sit as to how much of the underground earthquake special effects you see. All of us seemed to see parts of different effects. Pat especially liked this attraction.

    Hanna Barbara's sign said 30 minutes, which was about right both in actual time and the time the Unofficial said we would be waiting at that time in the morning. It was a lot better ride than Body Wars at EPCOT in our opinions. The animation was excellent, and the simulation had a lot more movement to it. At this point we rated HB equal Alien Encounter at the MK.

    The line was just going into Ghostbusters as we walked up, but we were left outside for a few minutes before we could get into the preshow area. The actor was a dead ringer for Rick Moranis, and the preshow was enjoyable as he took three people from the crowd as trainees.

    The actual theater held a lot of people. The special effects were very well done. The show was funny, and, of course, there was the theme music. Most of the action takes place at the left side of the stage as you view it and the center. As we exited, the cast came outside for just a couple minutes to pose and joke with the audience.

    By then it was 1:20. We decided to skip lunch for now and try to pick up Back To The Future and ET. Well, here is where the lines caught up to us (or visa versa).

    The wait for ET said 30 minutes, but there was hardly anybody outside.

    We got inside in under 10 minutes, and I got out the guidebook to read the description of the ride to the kids. That's when we were let into the forest area that wound around and around (this line had been mentioned in the Unofficial).

    It was another 25 minutes inside before we got on the actual ride. The ride was pretty good with several very visually interesting scenes. The wait was deceptive, though, and the inside forest area could have had a little more activity in it.

    Well, the Fievel's Playland caught the eyes of some of the kids (both ours and our friends) after ET. We thought we'd let them go on it after the long wait for ET. Marie wanted to get a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt (a tradition whenever we or her grandparents travel. She has them from as far away as Athens, Greece).

    Everybody walked over to Hard Rock to find that we had to get a handstamp and actually exit the park to get to the gift shop. There we found (you guessed it) a line! If you only wanted to buy stuff and not eat, they passed out a merchandise card and let only so many people inside at a time. Then you stood in another short line until a clerk was available. Be sure to go to the right clerk (cash or charge).

    Now, the Hard Rock really gives you the "bum's rush" here! What do you want! Where's the money! Here's your stuff and now get out of here!

    You better know what you want and in what size. Forget about looking closely at anything other than what's displayed on a mannequin. The clerk we had acted as if he was just passing time until something better came along.

    Here's a hint for you. Not all of the shirts say "Orlando" on them. If that's important, you better check it out before you pay. On the positive side, regular shirts range from only $15-20 for adults. I wonder how many of the $335.00 jackets they sell.

    Well,we went back into the actual park, looked up on the hill at the Psycho house and went over toward BTTF, expecting a long line. Yes, there was a long line.

    The BTTF sign said 30 minutes, but it was an actual 55 minute wait. This line is very, very, very deceiving, and we decided that Universal has mastered the art of the deceptive line. At least there were TV monitors showing all sorts of videos about Doc Brown.

    This ride loads very slowly in our opinion. Only around 8 people fit into each car. This means longer waits, but it is also a little more personal than Body Wars, for example.

    If you are in back, you can expect to bump your head a few times. If you are in front, you can see the cars next to you. But, you also get the full effect of the super-wide screen. I was in front and had a hard time focusing my eyes on some of the scenes , but the scope was impressive.

    This is "THE" biggie at Universal. Our parties were split on its ranking. Some put it at number one over all other rides to that point. Others liked Alien Encounter better. Still others liked Hanna Barbara better. Even with the long wait, it is a "must" at Universal. Better hit this first thing in the morning. If not, bite the bullet and stand in line.

    We were hungry (only sodas since breakfast), and walked into Mel's Diner, but all inside seating was taken. It was too chilly to sit outside. We finally grabbed a table, but decided against the $6.00 prepackaged burgers, as they only came with one topping combination. They looked like they came off a Burger King production line and were foiled wrapped. We ordered a couple of large fries to hold us over.

    Robert really wanted to go to Nick Studios. We did the walking tour, and it was interesting to see the stage areas. They were taping Allegra's Castle, but we got in during a break. They had the set there from "All That," and you can actually touch the Orange Couch!

    They recreate a game show with one lucky kid getting slimed. Adults have to sit off to the side. Outside there are some sets to use as photo settings with Doug and Patty and Ren and Stimpy, etc.

    It had been a long day by the time we hit the line at Hitchcock at 6:00 for the last show scheduled for 6:30. The film clips were good, and you get to see some never released 3-D clips. The stage show was entertaining, but the third area where special effects are recreated got a little long. It may have been the fatigue, though. I think the adults would enjoy this attraction more than teenagers, although Robert remembered some film clips from movies we have watched on TV.

    Park hours were listed as 9-9, but the rides closed down mostly at 7:00 with the Mardis Gras parade running until 9:00.

    We were tired! Marie wanted a Scooby Doo t-shirt, and Robert wanted a Rug Rats one as well as a "Log" cap. We got those and a few postcards and skipped the parade. We even passed on the Lucy tribute (which we had wanted to see earlier) since we were just plain old pooped!

    They were offering a second day free, but we passed due to our schedules for the week. We did not see everything, although I think we hit all of the major attractions.

    Our general impressions about Universal are that the street settings are very well done. It is a very nice looking park. The size is manageable, and major attractions are fairly well spaced out. The lines are very, very deceiving in their length. A second day is a definite option here especially due to the lines at a couple of the major attractions. However, if you do not mind missing a few things, one day should do it.

    The highlights of the day were BTTF, Earthquake and Hanna Barbara.

    Universal Studios is not WDW. It's hard to explain, but the feeling is not there. It may be that there is more attention to detail at WDW, or maybe it's the CM's at WDW. It's hard to put a finger on it, but there is just that little extra that is missing at Universal Studios. It just seems like "another" theme park.

    Back at the WL the kids took in the 8:30 wildlife demo with one of the handlers from Discovery Island. We all were hungry.

    Roaring Forks is a good spot to get almost anything quickly, but we checked the wait at Whispering Canyons for the Family Style dinner. We got a pager and waited in the lobby with a glass of wine from the drinks bar in the lobby (not the actual bar). The drinks bar serves coffee and juice and breakfast rolls, etc. in the morning. At night they add mixed drinks, beer and wine. At $4.00 per small glass of wine, we decided that next time we would go into the gift shop and get a bottle from the cooler and pour our own.

    After a 45 minute wait the pager went off. We gathered up Robert from the arcade and Marie from a couch. They handed us a personalized menu on our way in.

    Our server was "Pony Boy," a very friendly guy. Robert took to bugging him about his lack of a gun, and Pony Boy returned with a gun and another server to help him out. They do a great job at Disney (CM's and the characters) of picking up on something like a shirt or cap and running with it. Robert had on his "Log" cap from Nick Studios, and they took off on that as well as WDW guests going off site to Universal Studios. It was all good natured fun, though.

    The menu started off with a salad selection. The greens could be topped with an excellent apple vinaigrette. Three different varieties of pull-apart rolls were baked together and served with a garlic whipped butter. Also, they served homemade applesauce, garlic mushrooms and some marinated tomatoes.

    The main course included apple-rosemary chicken plus a choice of two smoked meats for the party. They had maple-garlic pork spareribs, grilled "trail" sausage, braised lamb shank, smoked BBQ beef brisket and smoked BBQ veal ribs. The menu also mentioned a fish and veggie selection for non-meat eaters.

    Corn on the cob, squash and canyon herb potatoes as well as non-alcoholic drinks were also included in the $16.95 per person adult price. It was "All You Care To Eat" so seconds were available. Pony Boy and the other servers would not let you get up until you were full.

    The serving skillet was really full when it was delivered. As hungry as we were, it was a task to finish everything they served us. I thought the meats were excellent. They also served two BBQ sauces in WL bottles. They are available for purchase at the gift shop.

    As a side note, one CM told us that all of the leftover food was collected, ground up and used as nutrients on the gardens at the Land for food production. He mentioned that the plants grow like crazy on this stuff.

    The much noted activities of the WC were quite evident even at this late hour, as a pony race was organized for the youngsters. Diners were advised to wave napkins above our heads during the race and yell lest we be drafted for the next round.

    The servers also did a little pistol work among themselves. One table was singled out several times as having broken the record for the largest number of soft drink refills as well as additional orders of food from the kitchen.

    We decided not to go with the fruit cobbler or mudslide sundae after the meal, but Pony Boy talked us into the mudslide ($5.00 extra, and it easily served four people). It was three huge brownies covered in vanilla soft serve and chocolate sauce. Well, it was great, and we somehow found room for it.

    Here is where the room cards came in handy, as we just signed for the meal. By the way, tipping is okay! They will add 15% if your party is over eight people. I noticed most individual tables hitting the 15% area in tips throughout our stay.

    Well, it's off to bed. We were really exhausted tonight and decided to let the kids sleep in Wednesday morning. After all, they are teenagers and had not been getting their 12 hours of beauty sleep per night.

    DAY FIVE--KSC

    As noted, we let the kids sleep in on Wednesday. Pat and I filled our coffee mugs and took the video camera on a tour of the hotel and grounds. It was a beautiful and clear morning at the WL. We found a spot on the top floor where you can see Space Mountain and the Contemporary in the foreground with the Castle at MK in back. Fireworks may be a possibility from there even if they would appear quite small.

    The lobby from above is stunning, and there are quite a few little sitting areas sprinkled around the hotel. We watched the geyser erupt from up on the top floor, too. We walked down by the beach and also watched the waterfall.

    When the kids finally woke up (with a little prodding), we hit Roaring Forks for breakfast. For early birds there is a wide selection, including fresh fruit, cereal, oatmeal, bagels, low fat muffins, sticky rolls, croissants, juice, milk and coffee refills. The giant Rice Krispee/Cocoa Puffs treats that are there at night are not available during the breakfast rush (so buy a couple the night before and keep them in your room).

    I was excited about Kennedy Space Center as it had been 20 years since we visited there on our honeymoon. I have always been a big fan of the space program and grew up in the infancy of the program.

    I was anxious to get a view of the Shuttle on the launch pad only a dozen hours before the expected launch at 3:35 the next morning. The drive over was pleasant, although even after rush hour we hit two slow spots on the Bee-Line that delayed us 20 minutes or so.

    The KSC parking lots were very full. So, we wanted to hit the ticket booths for bus tours and IMAX tickets right away. Well, there was a mob scene in the courtyard and a one and a half hour wait for tickets.

    They were selling 3:30 bus tickets by the time we got to the front of the line. Actually, Pat stood in line most of the time so I could show the kids the rocket courtyard. I was still impressed with it,and they were not that interested. Marie hit the "Space Balls" ice cream stand, and Robert went inside to look at the space Legos displays.

    We finally got our tickets and wanted lunch. You can pass on meals at KSC. The inside cafe was packed with a snaking line outside. One lady in the ticket line said she waited a half hour for a hot dog at the stand outside.

    We finally got hot dog and burger baskets after 20 minutes in line. It was so windy outside at the tables that you had to hold everything down. Both kids were chilly and had ordered hot chocolate, too. Well, it came as a cup of warm water and a packet of instant mix powder. In the wind the powder blew all over the place as they tried to mix the drinks. I would have taken it back if the lines had not been so long. Hey, KSC! You can feed astronauts in space. So, please figure out a way to mix up the hot chocolate!

    Also, the gulls and other birds were dive bombing the tables for food.

    The "trays" were a foil wrapped burger or hot dog and a school lunch sized bag of chips. The "Golden Arches Super Club " at home is gourmet cooking compared to this!

    The display building was somewhat of a disappointment to me, mostly because the crowds made viewing very difficult. It is very impressive to see the artifacts. They have the space capsules all encased in clear form fitting plastic now. There was not as much on display as I would have liked to have seen.

    It was time to (and let's say it in unison) "stand in line" for the bus tour. They left a few minutes late. Our guide (Betty or Bev or something similar) was very good. She paused the prerecorded tapes to point out wildlife, toss in a few points of trivia and talk about the upcoming launch. She showed us the astronaut quarters, their cars parked next to the building and noted that they were asleep at that time.

    As the Shuttle fueling was in progress, we could not get close to the launch pad. However, NASA had given permission for the first time (as we were told) for the tours to stop at the viewing area from where the astronauts' families watch the launch. This was an excellent opportunity to get a few shots of the shuttle on the pad. I'm glad I brought along a little longer lens on the bus tour.

    Robert was impressed as he remembered the spot from seeing the movie Apollo 13. It is also emotional to think about all of the flights that have been viewed from here, including the Challenger.

    There is a new Apollo display building being built there that will be included on tours soon, and the guide said that you will be able to take the tour to the family viewing site, visit the building at leisure and then take any tour bus back to the main area.

    We stopped at the VAB. I was hoping to get inside as we did in 1975, but no tours have been allowed inside since 1979 except for family tours and specials. We did get out to see the crawler and out front to see the media area and front of the VAB.

    After returning, we quickly beat the crowds to the IMAX line. The newest film, "Destiny In Space," is very well done and includes the Hubble Space Telescope repair sequences. As always, IMAX is a great experience.

    The full-sized Shuttle walk through was mobbed. So, we just visited the astronaut memorial (very impressive) and looked through the gift shop before returning to WDW.

    We thought about the launch, but it was moved to the next night. We thought about it again, but we stuck with our plans. A Shuttle launch at night would be great (we later talked to the friends we saw at Universal the day before. They went to Titusville for the launch and stood in a roped off parking lot with only around 50 other people to see it. They said it was unbelievable).

    If we would have headed over for the launch it would have disrupted our visits to MGM Studios on Thursday and MK on Friday. As it turned out, these days were two of our favorites.

    My general impressions of KSC were not that positive. The bus tour and IMAX were very good. The ticket lines were terrible. The crowds were worst than most of the theme parks. The memorabilia displays were a little less than what I had hoped for.

    Getting to KSC very early and being in line as tickets go on sale may be the only way to keep your sanity there. If you can hit the first tour and early theaters, you can be out of there by noon or so. But, as I heard, even right after opening, the lines were very bad.

    Maybe I expected too much. Twenty years ago the crowds were minimal, and we could dwell on each exhibit without having somebody muscle in front of us.

    On our return to WL, we ate at Roaring Forks. I personally was always attracted to the BBQ beef sandwich, which I would guess is the same meat as served in WC dinners. Most sandwiches (burgers, marinated chicken, brats hot dogs, etc) at RF are in the $4.00 range and include fries. Considering that the fountain drinks are free, you are not spending any more than your local burger barn for a good quick meal. Quality was always very good there. Oh, they also offered a PBJ sandwich for the little kids. The big Krispee treats always seemed to be very popular.

    DAY SIX--MGM Studios

    Thursday morning was our MGM Studios day. Now that we were back on site for the rest of the visit, we were sure the weather would cooperate. We were out at the bus stop by 7:30 and had a 15 minute wait for the MGM bus. Several other buses (Crockett and Boone) pulled in while we were waiting.

    One good example of WDW service was seen on this bus ride. The only other family on the bus forgot to tell the driver that they had CB reservations at the GF. The driver turned the bus around after asking if we minded (we were in no rush), and he took the family over to the GF. It only delayed us around 3 minutes, but it saved them quite a wait in getting to their CB.

    We were in line a good 20 minutes before the gates opened at 8:30. This was a scheduled 9:00 opening, but remember that most parks open the gates half hour before the posted times even on regular days.

    The CM at our turnstile was also from Iowa. So, we chatted as we were waiting. Here I saw only the second person (other than ourselves) so far with a copy of the Unofficial guide in hand.

    The ropes dropped, and we jogged down the street (yes, jogged!) and made the right towards the Tower of Terror. It is always surprising to me how many people get into the gate and just stand there wondering what to do next.

    Well, we were around 15th in line at the TOT gates. A CM came out and said they were not taking reservations at this time and did not know when the ride would be up. Someone in line noted that the same thing happened to them at Space Mountain earlier in the week, and that magically at 9:00 SM had been fixed and opened.

    Several people left line, but we figured it would be running right at 9:00, and it was. We were in the first elevator load to hit the ride. It was great! The special effects in the hallways are terrific, and all the time you are expecting the drops. I won't list the effects leading up to the drops, as they are listed in great detail here on the r.a.d. boards. You just have to experience it yourselves.

    Well, the TOT jumped towards the top of the list for us. We walked out and saw a long line, and that held back the urge to go again right away. We figured that we'd come back near closing and do the gift shop then, also.

    We skipped the Mermaid Show for the time being and rode The Great Movie Ride with no wait. It was enjoyable, and we especially liked the Oz scenes.

    The line for Star Tours was reasonable, and the waiting areas had some animatronic scenes and TV monitors. It took only 20 minutes to get into the actual ride. We rode in front, and Robert sat on the far right. He later complained about not being able to see the screen well enough.

    The ride itself was excellent. We would rank its movements above Body Wars, a little less than Hanna Barbara at US and not nearly as violent as BTTF at Universal. The entry area, TV monitors and addition of the droid driving the spacecraft inside the simulator added to the experience. It definitely is a "gotta do it" at MGM.

    Muppet Vision is another "must see," and the line was very short when we arrived. We entered the preshow area for around 9 minutes to watch a delightful Muppet comedy production across a series of three TV monitors. It was fun!.

    The theater was very large with the added dimension of both live character and Muppet action inside the theater as well as on the screen. The 3D effects may not be quite as graphic as Shrunk in EPCOT, but it was every enjoyable and funny. It's another one you just can't miss. It surprised me to see as much action and effects inside the theater as well as on the screen. I can really see why they call it 4D.

    The Indiana Jones line was huge (as it was all day). One show was just starting. So, the people in line had quite a wait in store for themselves.

    We thought that the jockeying for position for the Toy Story Parade was starting a little early. So, we checked out the route and decided that a spot near the start of the parade would get us quickly to the adjacent Indy Show. That area was full. So, we took up a spot with a good view near Super Star TV. We waited over 45 minutes for the parade there.

    The glut of the parade crowd gathered when the Indy theater belched out a horde of people who immediately looked for parade spots. The CM's had to keep telling people to stay behind the masking tape crowd areas . In our experience at MGM and at the MK, the CM's start to put down the tape at least 45-60 minutes before a parade.

    The parade was very short. The people behind us had no control over their children, and they continually climbed over everybody in front of them. However, all of the kids in the crowd seemed to love seeing the characters. This is really a kids' parade. The adults can just take a back seat here. I do have to admit that Pat and I have not seen the movie yet, although both Robert and Marie saw it.

    Well, everybody along the parade route seemed to head to Indy afterwards. The next show was full with a wait of over 2 hours until the 3:45 show. It was time to be flexible again!

    We walked by the Prime Time Cafe. They were taking seatings for an hour and a half later. So, we walked up to Hollywood and Vine and stepped inside. The food line was long, but there was nobody at the separate ice cream bar. So, we all got sundaes or shakes (no "malts"), and found a table by the window.

    We planned out the rest of the day around the Indy and little Mermaid show times. Here is one of those times you might have to modify your touring plans a little bit.

    The Disney Animation Tour was very informative. The walking part allows you to stand at leisure and watch the work. There were several animators working on computers and doing rough drawings. The Walter Cronkite/Robin Williams preshow and TV monitor scenes were well done. The CM inside the walking tour answered a lot of questions about what films were in production and also about expansion of the Florida animation studios.

    There was a lot of animation related "stuff" sitting on desks and files.

    It seemed to me that either the animators were very good at decorating, or maybe the work areas were considered sets and decorated for them. It was fun just to see what was sitting around the office area.

    A couple of people were painting cels (the ones that they sell in the gift shops), and a sign near a window noted that they were on sale.

    The movie clips in the third area made you want to go home and get out the videos of all of the Disney animated movies. We really enjoyed this attraction and its slower pace.

    With Little Mermaid close by, we got in the short line just before it got really crowded. This is an attractions where you really notice the presence of younger children and the accompanying distractions, crying and tantrums. But, hey! We adults have the TOT, and the little ones have Aerial!

    LM is just what you would expect from Disney. The characters are there with the songs you want to hear. There are some special effects, too. We were right at the door when the CM gave her little talk about (repeat here in unison) flashes, eating, going all the way to the end of the rows, etc. She joked with us a little bit, because we told her she should have included the phrase, "every seat in the house is a good one."

    We finally got into Indy next and waited 45 minutes in a very chilly and windy outdoor theater. The preshow was very funny, and then they picked the audience extras. Okay, listen up here! You have to be acting nuts to be picked as an extra! Enough said.

    The show itself is super. They do several scenes with explanations before and after each one. The special effects are excellent. You have to see this show, but better check times so you can fit it into your plans. It's packed all day.

    When this show ends, the crowd comes out in a wave. So, head out quick or hold back a little bit to avoid being trampled.

    By then it was around 4:40, and we knew the park was closing at 7:00 with no night shows scheduled. So, we looked over the guidebook and map to see what we felt we could skip.

    We walked to the tram tour to see Catastrophe Canyon. We had a 30 minute wait in line, but it moved well. The posters and TV monitors kept us busy in line. The ride itself is very informative, and the flash flood in the canyon was "cool." We enjoyed it very much. They had several street scenes on the tour as well as a lot of movie props sitting alongside the road.

    Well, every ride in Florida exits into a gift shop! So, we browsed the one at the end of the tram ride as well as the nearby one with a Roger Rabbit theme. I got my picture taken with Al from Home Improvement in the first shop (a cardboard cutout). Robert headed towards Jessica Rabbit's life sized cutout while Marie stuck herself through the Roger Rabbit shaped hole in the wall. Pat bought an MGM sweatshirt.

    Outside on Mickey Ave. a large number of characters were signing autographs and posing for pictures. The kids grabbed their books and spent 20 minutes going to each one. The selection was very good here, and the street was almost empty except for the kids in line. They had Aladdin, Belle, Eyeore, Tigger, the Fairy Godmother, Mary Poppins in her umbrella flying outfit, and several others. It was a good spot for characters. So, keep it in mind.

    We had promised a trip back to both the Star Tours and TOT gift shops. As we walked along, we noticed that Star Tours only had a 10 minute wait. We hopped in line and rode in the back seat this time.

    The effects for all of us was much better than in front. I had the one seat that is on the end in back and does not have another seat in front of it. So, I felt that I was just hanging out there for most of the ride. We enjoyed it and almost rode again except that we wanted to hit the TOT gift shop before the park closed.

    The line for TOT was 20 minutes. Marie opted out this time, and the other three of us took on the TOT again. Since the line was longer, we got to look around at the grounds and lobby. The attention to detail is excellent. The line winds through the bowels of the building, and we saw a lot more than we had in the morning. We really like this ride!

    We did the gift shop and walked through the almost deserted streets at a round 7:30. We had wanted to at least do desert at Prime Time or Sci-Fi, but they were all closed. The menu at Brown Derby looked a little to expensive for our tastes.

    We grabbed the bus with only a 10 minute wait and got back to the WL in time for the nature presentation again. We all gravitated to the Roaring Forks for a sandwich and got into bed fairly early for once.

    MGM is quite manageable for a one-day visit. There were long lines most of the day for several attractions like TOT, Little Mermaid, Indy, the backstage tram tour and Star Tours. It just did not require as much walking as EPCOT. Pat said that it was her favorite day to that point of the trip.

    DAY SEVEN--MK

    Friday was a regular entry day at MK, and we planned for the whole day there. While we got ready, we decided that a dinner at the MK would be nice that evening. We had seen the ad for the Liberty Tree Tavern's Character Dinner on the bus. So, I gave reservations a call. We had no problem at all getting a 6:20 preferred seating for that evening.

    Our CB at the WL's Artiste Pointe was scheduled for 7:30, and we headed downstairs to get in line at 7:15. We were seated to wait in the lounge and called right at 7:30.

    The menu was either pancakes, an egg platter with biscuit or the French Toast (stuffed with blueberries or plain). All were served with bacon and sausages with beverage. Also served was maple syrup, a wonderful caramel/nut topping as well as a blueberry/apple relish.

    You can ask for more of anything you want. The kids took pancakes, and Pat and I had the blueberry stuffed FT. It was wonderful, and I had seconds when Marie discovered she liked it, too. Pat asked for an egg platter for seconds and shared with the kids. Our server John was very friendly and prompt.

    The characters present were our old pal Goofy with Pluto and Chip and Dale. They all came around, and we had the video camera with us this time. Marie had worn her Goofy hat and t-shirt, and Goofy thought that was great.

    Both kids got more autographs. Robert joked with Pluto that he thought the Pluto at the GF was the real one. Well, old Pluto scolded Robert, and every time he walked by our table he would cover his face and ignore Robert . So, Robert finally apologized , and Pluto was his friend again. It's simply amazing how you can carry on a conversation with the characters with them not saying anything. They do a great job!

    We got to the boat dock around 9:00 and waited 10 minutes. The lines at the MK turnstiles were not too bad, and the cards made it easy to get in, as always.

    Since we were a few minutes late, we decided to forego Space Mountain. We had seen Alien already. We headed towards the Jungle Cruise, and picked up the touring plans there.

    Gretchen was our Jungle Cruise guide and played the part very well. All of her corny jokes were followed by groans and applauds from the riders. It was only a 5 minute wait.

    We also only had 5 minutes in line for Peter Pan and walked into the Lion King. Pan was very pleasant, and we wanted to get out the tape and watch the movie again.

    Lion King's preshow area was full of crying little ones, including one who laid on the floor and threw an outright kicking tantrum during the preshow. We allowed those parties to get in the theater first and picked a spot. Luckily the music was loud so the family next to me who talked through the whole show was less annoying than they could have been. The presentation was especially well performed with many special effects and great puppet work. It basically told the story of the movie in 15 minutes with all of the songs you expected to be preformed.

    The Haunted Mansion had a short 15 minute line. The wait is amusing in that the tombstones are funny. We had really enjoyed this attraction 20 years ago, and it pleased us again. The special effects are Disney classics, and there is a lot of humor involved. I especially like the ballroom scene, and the ghost trying to hitch ride out with you is great. We would have ridden again right away, but the line had grown quite a bit.

    Robert was really looking forward to Pirates. The wait was 25 minutes, and the line does snake around quite a bit (but not as bad as a Universal Studios line). It was delightful, and I really did notice a couple of instances where it had been modified.

    This ride is a classic! Robert was a little disappointed in that some battle scenes he had seen on TV were not in the ride.

    Marie wanted to do the Tiki Birds, and then afterwards she apologized for making us sit through it. I think that you either love this one or can skip it. It did not help that a trio in front of us kept hitting the flash pictures and videotaping everything while standing up. The family in back of us recited the script out loud and sang along throughout the whole show. Oh, well!

    We decided that we should take advantage of reentry and headed back to the WL to swim. As we walked back down Main Street, we could tell that the number of people coming into the park was quite large. We were very pleased with the number of attractions we were able to see in around 3 hours.

    It really was relaxing to get back to the hotel dock and let the kids hit the pool. Pat walked down to the beach, and I joined her after getting my mug filled up. We spent an hour in the sun (as later witnessed by a little sunburn or, as we say in Iowa, that healthy glow that makes the co-worker back home jealous).

    We were back in the boat and to the MK gates around 5:00. Quite a few characters were out in front by the entrance. We were in no rush for once, and the kids got a few more signatures. The train ride looked like fun, and we rode the circuit once. You don't see a lot from the train, but the lines at Splash Mountain and Big Thunder were huge. The train did not stop at Mickey's Starland as it is being reworked.

    The narrator did note that Mickey was, upon good sources, signing near the Disneyana store. So, we walked down the stairs and saw a Cox Cable studio set up on the top floor of the train station in the "prime" spot looking right down Main Street.

    Pooh was out with a fenced off line area. Marie jumped in line, but Pooh had to leave for a honey break.

    It would be good to mention here that the characters are outside for only a certain amount of time each session. There are laws, I believe, that require it. So, there will always be disappointed kids when Pooh or another character has to go inside. However, most characters are available quite often.

    We went inside where Mickey was to be signing, and found, you guessed it.....a line!

    Small groups were being escorted down the hall and into a private area in a theater where Mickey was camped out on stage. Don't tell the kids, but they had two Mickeys set up in different theaters at the same time.

    This setup worked out very well. They was no pushing, and Mickey signed both books, posed with both Marie and Robert and even did a little dance with Marie. I talked to a CM named Michelle while in line, and she said that Mickey just gets mobbed if he goes outside. The total wait was 15 minutes, and we thought this was a very nice setup.

    At first I thought that our kids would not be interested in the characters, pictures with them or getting autographs. But, we soon found that the magnetism is still there. Sure, it takes up a little time. We skipped some characters when we were "on a mission" to keep on the touring plan. But, we also took the time to let them visit the characters whenever we thought we could spare a few minutes.

    The Disneyana store was inviting, and we glanced at cels as we walked by. As we hit Main Street, it looked like about half of the curb space was already staked out at 6:00 for the parades. That's two hours before the early parade.

    We walked into the Liberty Tree Tavern a few minutes after 6:00, gave our names and went to take a seat. The hostess said they were running on time, and we were called in under 5 minutes (that would be 15 minutes before our preferred seating time).

    The place was fairly crowded, and our server Tammy was very prompt and provided very good service.

    The menu for the Character Dinner ($19.95 each for adults) was fixed. It included salad with a special strawberry vinaigrette. When we commented on the dressing, Tammy brought us a printed copy of the recipe.

    The family-style dinner included roast turkey breast, honey mustard ham, flank streak, homemade mashed potatoes, apple stuffing, cranberry relish, biscuits and garden veggies. Drinks (nonalcoholic) were also included.

    The kids made short work of the potatoes, and we got another bowl. The gravies were turkey and beef with mushrooms.

    Pat declared this her favorite meal for the week, and we all really enjoyed it. We passed on the apple crisp ($4.95 extra) as that second serving of meat and stuffing did its job at stuffing us!

    The characters all came around once or twice. They included Mickey, Pluto, Goofy and Chip and Dale. All of us were old pros by then at chatting with the characters. They all stayed with us long enough to tape and shoot pictures. I think each of the kids will have enough pictures of themselves and characters to fill an entire album. Robert said he had met all 27 Goofys by the time we left.

    After dinner, we walked over to Hall of the Presidents for the show. It was very well done. Applause greeted some of the presidents, and there were a couple of comments to the opposite for one or two of the leaders.

    The parade crowd had gathered by the time we left the theater. Since we enjoyed Spectromagic so much the previous Saturday, we got "our" spot again instead of going to a ride. I tried to hold our turf as the rest of the family visited the Christmas Shoppe, where one CM told everybody that the Liberty Square bridge was a great spot for fireworks.

    The CM directing the crowds around the closed bridge was a little more military in his manner than the two comedians we had before. Also, I noticed that the masking tape crowd lines were placed slightly different that evening. I think it depends on who is doing it. But, one area I saw was about half the size it had been the other evening.

    Spectromagic was again very enjoyable. We loved it! As soon as the parade passed, the crowd poured onto the bridge for fireworks spots. We stayed put, thinking we'd have a good spot looking right at the castle from the edge of the bridge. I was ready to shoot a few time exposures until the fireworks started up behind the trees! Oh, well! The bridge view would be okay in a small central area of the bridge, as there are trees to contend with there. Also, the show is quite a way off to the left of the castle.

    After the fireworks, it seemed like the main crowd surge was heading back to Main Street and away from Liberty Square. We went across the street and parked ourselves next to the bridge in front of the Sleepy Hollow Sandwich Shoppe. We had been just across the street in front of the Christmas Shoppe and right next to the bridge. We did not have the castle as the backdrop here like across the street, but I had a trash bin to use as a tripod base for shooting video.

    Most people choosing this spot try to score the chairs and benches from the shop, but a very strict CM comes out often and retrieves the stools and puts them where they are less accessible. You really can't sit there on the patio and eat either during the parade unless the crowd in front of you is sitting or kneeling. Your line of vision from the eating area is partly blocked.

    We waited another 45 minutes with coffee and hot chocolate and put on our sweatshirts. It was getting pretty chilly even for us Iowans.

    Again the parade was great. As you may know, the musical track is keyed into where a float is stationed at a certain time. At Liberty Square bridge you can hear the soundtrack as the parade comes up Main Street. When it starts to cross the bridge, you can sometimes hear two sections of the soundtrack at once.

    Pat had noticed during a visit to a bathroom during the first parade that father along Liberty Square the music track was only audible for the section that was passing you at that time. So, it's a little less confusing. Also, the evil spirit from Fantasia opened his wings there where he had kept them closed while coming over the bridge.

    The crowd on Main Street after the parade filled the road from the front gate to the hub and on to the castle. We did not pause for ice cream this time, but we did stop at the head of the street to look back at the crowd and castle before we went to the boat, which was sitting on the dock waiting for us again.

    This was our last night at the WL, and we got to bed right away. We wanted to pack early in the morning and get checked out so we could take advantage of early entry at the MK on Saturday.

    DAY EIGHT--MK AND HOME

    It's one of those rules of life! You just can't cram everything back into the suitcases for the return trip home. Well, we had purchased a few shirts, hats and two bottles of WL BBQ Sauce. We had all of our brochures and paper stuff from the trip, postcards, etc. Okay, I'll admit it! We took a roll of Mickey TP from the bathroom, also.

    Well, I don't know how we got the suitcases zipped up, but we did. I think it was partly that we filled our WL mugs with dirty clothes that cinched the packing job.

    We called for a bellhop, and he came in 10 minutes with apologies for taking so long. They had around 275 rooms leaving that morning. He also said the WL was full for the next week. Some guests could only get 2 nights in a row there and then had to hotel hop.

    One advantage of the on site hotels is that they will hold your luggage at checkout so you can hit a park before you have to leave for the airport. Also, our chargebacks to the room were all tallied and slipped under our door before we left. So, we did not have to go to the main desk at all upon checkout.

    We headed down to the Roaring Forks for a little snack and hit the boat.

    Well, we did not make the early entry. It was more like 8:30 when we walked in. We had decided to take it easy and enjoy our last few hours in the park. So, we did a short autograph session at the gates and headed in for Space Mountain.

    The chalk board up on Main Street was listing only a 10 minute wait for SM. We headed on over and found a CM changing the time at the ride to 20 minutes. Hey, that's not bad. We got line. Both kids decided it was a little early for a roller coaster, and they opted out before boarding.

    Pat and I enjoyed the ride, but we decided it was a little more tame than we remembered. It may have been the increased light level in the ride. You could see almost all of the turns and dips coming, and that lowered the surprise factor.

    The kids had decided that they wanted to ride the teacups. So, we walked on over. The line was short, and they got on the next group. They really enjoyed that ride. I think in this age of high tech rides that a good old amusement park ride really hits the spot sometimes.

    We saw Snow White with almost no wait. Marie wanted to go on the carousel. She has always been a big, big carousel rider from the time she was old enough to hold on and stay on the horse. She grinned as she went around, and it was good to see a 16 year old having fun on something as simple as a carousel.

    We grabbed a Coke and sat down to watch the time-consuming process of loading and unloading Dumbo. The wait was listed as 45 minutes, and it took ages to get a group on and off that ride. I was glad that our kids did not want to ride Dumbo! By then Snow White's line was huge, too.

    We walked over past Haunted Mansion to find a good sized line. Splash Mountain and Big Thunder were packed. Well, you can't do everything! So, we went down the street to the Christmas Shoppe to buy a couple of small ornaments that we could stow in our carry on luggage.

    We took a leisurely walk around the park and ended up in Disneyana to look at the cels. I went over to Emporium for some postcards. We thought it would be fun just to sit there and watch the activities as some of the street musicians were playing and the band was starting to march.

    We walked out after one more glance down Main Street towards the castle, looked for characters and decided to take the monorail for a spin before we left. The ride was nice, and we did the resort circuit with a thought of getting on the other loop for EPCOT. But we decided to head back onto the boat once more to WL and a lunch at Roaring Forks.

    The weather was so nice that we sat outside and then walked around the pool and waterfall before we called for the car. I tell you that it was really, really hard to leave. All of you who talk about post-Disney syndrome are right on target.

    The ride back to the airport on 417 was quick. National's car check in is by hand-held computer. We took the airport version of the monorail out to the gates for the plane. The flight home was a little sad, although we managed a birdseye view of WDW and the WL on takeoff. I wanted to have the pilot circle a couple more times.

    We took off at 4:29, had a short layover in Chicago (Boy, are those gates at O'Hara a long walk) and were home a little after 9:00 to a cold and wet welcome. Pat's parents brought our van out to pick us up. As soon as we got home, we plugged in the video camera and started to watch the tapes!

    Now, it's back to reality until we can manage another trip. The next day it snowed with wind chills that you don't want to hear about at all. Well, it's supposed to get to 50 degrees by the weekend.

    We had a wonderful visit and saw just about everything we wanted to see at WDW and the other attractions.

    The atmosphere, great service and friendly CM's at all of the WDW parks and especially the WL were great appreciated. There certainly is a "Disney touch."

    SUMMARY--WHAT WE LEARNED

    • Mid-March is not the least crowded time of the year to visit Central Florida. I felt that the crowds started to build during the week, but they never were to the point where I thought they were oppressive. Of all of the parks, it seemed that the MK was most crowded on all three visits there. In EPCOT the Futureworld section was more crowded than the World Showcase most of the day. However, you have to admit that World Showcase does spread out the crowds pretty well due to its area. MGM is smaller and tends to show the crowds more, but I never felt fenced in there except during the parade and around the Indy lines. I think that Universal is really spread out and that helps, too. But, then all of the people in the park are standing in the BTTF ride line! Sea World was crowded around the stadium show areas more than anywhere else (except maybe the food lines). Getting out of stadium shows was a chore. KSC was just a zoo, and NASA needs to get those ticket lines in order.
    • All of the research and planning really did pay off. The Unofficial Guide touring plans (even with a few of our own adaptations) did work. We avoided most of the biggest bottlenecks even at the major attractions. The only monster rides we did not go on, as far as I can remember, were Splash Mountain and Big Thunder. They were just swamped, and the kids did not seem that interested in them at the times we were in their areas of the park.
    • Another tip for the touring plans is to be flexible. If you get to a park a little late, skip a couple of attractions and pick up the plan. Also, if you walk past an attraction you want to visit,and the line is especially short, jump in! You will save yourself time later. We did that a couple of times. If you want a second ride, and the line is short when you exit, then consider a second ride right away if you think it will not effect your plans.
    • Now that we have seen Universal, KSC and this Sea World, I think that we would probably skip those again in favor of more time at WDW 's three major parks as well as the WDW water parks, Pleasure Island and Disney Village.
    • Off site we would certainly take a drive to the ocean and spend part of a day on the beach there. We might add other area attractions, but I think that we could easily stay on site at the WL for a whole week and be very happy!
    • The Wilderness Lodge is excellent. I have to compliment the Disney organization on this facility. We really could have spent more time at the WL just enjoying the pool and beach, too. It is a very relaxing atmosphere, and our woods view was peaceful and quite. A little extra thing like the newspaper at our door every morning was a nice touch. The valet parking was very convenient as was the speedy checkout.
    • The CM's there were great! The attention to detail was impressive. One morning at 6:00 I headed to the RF for coffee, and a CM was down on his knees polishing the brass at the bottom of one of the door entryways. Even when they were busy (and they were really busy quite a few times), the CM's at the RF were very pleasant and helpful. If anybody at the WDW front office is reading this, you have really done it right with the WL! Now, just be sure our room is available any time we want to visit!!!!! Robert even asked if we could just buy our room so it would always be there for us.
    • The WDW transportation was also excellent. We used the direct buses to MGM and EPCOT and the direct boat to MK. All ran on a 20-minute schedule. Several times we hit the boat or bus while it was loading at the WL or MK with no wait at all.
    • We did not try to take the buses to any of the water parks, Pleasure Island or Village or any other resort. However, there was a large chart at the bus stop that listed the transportation methods to any of the on site destinations. Yes, some did involve going to the TTC and changing buses or stopping a couple of times, as far as I could tell. I bet you could request a copy of this chart if you have any specific questions. The thing to do is to check this out when you arrive (at any on site hotel) and then plan to take buses or drive depending on availability.
    • Here is a short description of what the bus stop signs at the WL listed during our stay:
    • Bus Stop One was Crockett (to the TTC and then to Disney Village, Pleasure Island and Typhoon Lagoon). At the same stop was Boone (Fort Wilderness, Discovery Island and River Country).
    • Bus Stop Two was direct to EPCOT and also on to Blizzard Beach. Bus Stop Three was direct to MGM Studios. After 4:00 you could go to Disney Village and Pleasure Island.
    • Via car the 4-lane roads in WDW were easy to navigate with all of the road signs. I got turned around once at night but easily got back on track as soon as I saw the next sign.
    • I would recommend taking the bus or boat to the three main parks. If you have to wait a couple of minutes at the bus stop, it is probably less time than you'll spend getting parked, taking a tram to the front gates and returning to the car later. You also do not have to wait in the traffic as the buses get passed through the park gates with no waiting. It's vacation, enjoy yourselves!
    • The LOS passes (yellow credit cards) acted as room keys, passes and charge cards. All we ever did was pass them through the slot at gates when we arrived. Those lines seemed to move very fast. If we left a park, we got a hand stamp. They were not supposed to wash off, but after swimming one day, it was not readable at MK gate. So, my son just passed his card through again. No problem!
    • Be sure to sign your card! Pat saw one person be refused use of an unsigned card in a shop at MGM one day. So, they may be very strict about that point.
    • We did not see any of the biometrics devices at the AP gates. They were off to the side of the other gates.
    • Chargebacks to the room with the yellow cards were convenient. We received a printout of all charges in an envelope at "accelerated checkout."
    • You can have purchases sent back to your on site rooms. We were going to do this on the last night at MK. But, they had made pickup for the day. So, items would not have been back to WL before we checked out the next morning. But, why carry around a lot of stuff all day if you can have it delivered to your hotel? You can also shop at less crowded times of the day this way. The shops got very crowded around closing time.
    • One thing we will do for sure next time is to take a break in the middle of the day. Touring tires you out as do the increased crowds at mid day. We only took a rest once, and it sure made the evening more enjoyable. I guess we wanted to get to as much as possible. Now that we have seen most of the main attractions, we can pick and choose and include a rest in the daily plans. If two adults and two teenagers got tired, I can only imagine what a family with little ones would go through during a 12 hour day in the parks.
    • Even though it would be a little more expensive, we would make reservations for a couple more sit down mid day meals on a return trip. We pushed on through this time to get to everything. Next time we will have a better idea where meal breaks would fit into plans as well as a few good spots to dine that would be both fairly quick, relatively inexpensive and offer good food.
    • Of course, some of these places would require reservations. We had very good luck with the meal reservations phone lines and always arrived early for the preferred seating times. This is probably a good tip at any WDW eatery.
    • Viewing spots for parades and other shows such as Illuminations require a little planning. At the time of year we visited, prime spots along Main Street were getting snatched up as much as two hours before Spectromagic or fireworks in MK and an hour before Illuminations in EPCOT or the Toy Story Parade in MGM. We always planned to grab a spot around 45 minutes early for these activities.
    • Parade routes were blocked off with masking tape beforehand by CM's. As soon as the tape went down, more people started to gather.
    • The Unofficial guide has good info on viewing these attractions. We would add that near Germany or America are good areas for Illuminations in EPCOT. The Futureworld side seems to fill up first. It also seemed that the area around the International Gateway was very popular. We did not check out the "secret park" as we came along the other side of WS. Still an hour was not too soon to get a spot on the evening we visited.
    • At the other parks check out the parade routes and which direction they will be coming from so you can avoid things like trees getting in your way. You do not want a spot where you will be looking directly into the sun. You might also think about what attraction you want to hit after the parade so you will be close to it.
    • Please note that a parade can be a good time to hit some attractions, but a lot of others are thinking the same thing. Parades can also cut a park in half, making it impossible to cross the route to get to the other side of the park.
    • Some restaurants offer seating with a good view of parades or fireworks. But, remember that people may be standing along the street between you and the parade. Also, some spots know that they are popular before the parades and reserve prime spots for those eating full meals ( read that as "expensive") there and not just a snack. Still other places with outside seating really watch who is sitting in their areas and especially watch people who move chairs and benches out to the parade routes. We saw CM's retrieve chairs several times.
    • Early entry days for WDW resort guests seem to draw both positive and negative responses on the Disney boards. We did not take advantage of the early entry options, and I'll explain as I go along here.
    • As it was, we only got 5 hours of sleep most nights and even let the kids sleep in one morning. We did take advantage of what the Unofficial said were the "best" days of the week to visit certain parks. You'll have to read about both early entry and the best days concept and make your own decision.
    • We did find that on regular entry days you should be at the gates and ready to go around 45-60 minutes before the posted opening time. Remember that the parks will normally open 30 minutes before the posted time anyway. So, you will only be in line 15-30 minutes. We found that the lines did grow quite a bit around the actual gate opening time (8:30 on the posted 9:00 days) on the day we visited MGM. Confused?
    • Several days we hit the parks within 30-60 minutes after the gates actually opened. If we decided that the first attraction or two in the touring plans were too crowded, we just skipped them and picked up the tour at the third step. This worked out well.
    • Would we do early entry if we could get up and out of the hotel early enough? Yes, knowing what we know now, we would take the early entry for the morning and head back to the WL for a little rest before returning to that or another park. This all depends on what attractions were open early.
    • Looking at the lines early in the morning, I do think that early entry would work if you use a touring plan. But, you have to factor in early entry with what attractions are open. If you are not interested in Fantasyland at MK, then early entry will not benefit you as much. Also, from what we could gather, some of the early entry attractions may not actually open right away at early entry opening time. They will, however,open sometime during the early entry period. Even on the regular entry days when you get in gate 30 minutes early, it seems that TOT and Space Mountain (and possibly others) may not open until the posted opening time. You can, like we did at TOT, be in front of line for when it does open, though. Comments from others on this would be welcome and help others in their planning.
    • We did not do early opening at the MK, because we had ridden most of the Fantasyland rides that would be open on a previous evening. At MGM we were almost first in the park for regular entry day only to find TOT did not start running until 9:00 posted opening time. At EPCOT we got there within 30 minutes after gates actually opened and had no trouble starting touring plans from step one.
    • All of this, of course, depends on the crowd level for the day you are there. We did notice that on the early entry days at MK that the crowd levels for the whole day were pretty heavy. So, I think that this substantiates the claim that the early entry park will be the most crowded park for a particular day.
    • I think that we could have saved a little more money by getting a refrigerator in the room and going to the grocery store. However, we did think that the food at Roaring Forks was very good and priced quite reasonably. It did get a little crowded at the breakfast rush times and also late in the evening after parks closed. But, the service is fast even if you order cooked food at the window. Also, it was so convenient. Plus, we were down there a lot filling up our mugs anyway.

    Well, I think I could go on here for a couple more pages. But, I want to get this uploaded. Now, that this is done, I have to do a travel story for work! Please be sure to e-mail or post your comments and questions. We used quite a bit of the advice we received from the boards while we planned our trip. I hope we can give all of you a few tips that will help make your trip as enjoyable as ours. If you did miss sections of this report, I'll be glad to e-mail to you. Now, if i just had a web site for our photos and videos..

    Rick, Pat, Marie and Robert Chase (DRCCACHETS@aol.com)

    These reports express our own opinions. The trademarked and otherwise restricted names and titles mentioned here are owned by their owners and are used here for informational and journalistic purposes only.

    These reports are for all practical purposes copyrighted (like you all are going to publish them and make a bundle, right?), but you can all use them as long as you don't make any money from them. If you do, let me know as we are still paying for the Goofy hats and TOT t-shirts from our trip! (Ha! Ha!).

    We hope the info here helps you walk up to the TOT or Space Mountain and find no waits! Hey, and spend the money and buy a copy of the Unofficial Guidebook to WDW. We don't work for them. We just want to thank them for their help in planning our vacation!

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------
    These reports reflect my personal opinions and not those of the Waterloo Courier or Howard Publications. Comments may be sent to the author at DRCCACHETS@aol.com if related to these posted reports or to WCFCourier@aol.com if referring to the published stories in the newspaper.
    You just read a trip report that was originally published in our MousePlanet Trip Reports column.

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